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CHAPTER 41

We stand like human islands in Judge Franklin's chambers, an archipelago of attorneys situated around the mainland of her mahogany desk. Blake Sims to the left. I'm in the center with Jenny behind me. Livy stands to the right, apart and alone, reading the spines of the books in Franklin's shelves.

"Ms. Sutter, are you with us?"

Livy half turns to the judge but doesn't come close to eye contact with me or Jenny. "Yes, Your Honor."

The judge looks up at me, her eyes hard. "All right, Mr. Cage. What exactly is on this tape?"

Blake Sims is shaking his head, but he doesn't speak.

"I haven't heard it myself, Judge. But this woman claims that it refers directly to the murder of Del Payton, and I have reason to believe she's telling the truth."

Franklin transfers her glare to Jenny. "How did you come by this tape, young lady?"

"I worked for Clayton Lacour. The lawyer who made the tape. I went to work for him to try to find out the identities of my birth parents. I'm an adopted child, and I knew that Lacour had handled my adoption." Jenny glances at Livy, who is pointedly ignoring her. "While working for Lacour, I found out Leo Marston had been involved in my adoption. When I quit that job, I took all the files and tapes pertaining to Judge Marston with me."

"You mean you stole them?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Judge Franklin looks like she wants a cigarette or a drink, and probably both. "I don't understand. Why were there tapes at all?"

"Mr. Lacour taped most of his phone calls. He was connected with the Marcello family in New Orleans. You know, Mafia. He was seriously paranoid."

Franklin sighs and holds out her hand. "Let me have the tape."

I hand over the cassette. The judge studies it for a few moments, then speaks without looking up. "Did you learn who your birth parents were?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

"Who are they?"

Livy goes rigid beside the shelves.

"At least one of them is in this room right now, Judge. Do you want me to say more?"

Franklin shakes her head in amazement. "Not at this time." She looks up at me. "I don't know exactly what's going on behind this lawsuit, but I don't appreciate having my court used as an arena to play out private vendettas. Is that clear?"

"Absolutely, Your Honor."

"I want counsel back at their respective tables. You"-Franklin points at Jenny-"stay with me. I'm going to listen to this tape. Then I'll make my decision as to admissibility. If I walk back into that courtroom and announce that the tape will be played, I don't want to hear a single objection. If I don't mention the tape, the same holds true, and I will give this case to the jury. It's late, and there's too much craziness surrounding this trial to drag it into tomorrow if we don't have to." She claps her hands together. "Everybody out."

As I walk back to my table, Caitlin nods in encouragement from the bar. I take my seat and slide back within earshot of her.

"What do you have?" she whispers.

"I'm not sure. A tape of Marston and a New Orleans lawyer. Jenny says it will nail Marston."

"You haven't heard it?"

"No. Franklin's listening to it now. She's going to rule on admissibility."

"I'm praying here," Caitlin says. "I'm actually praying."

The wait is almost impossible to bear. Two minutes stretch to five, then ten. The spectators are silent at first, but as the minutes drag on, they begin to whisper. Without Franklin to intimidate them, the whisper grows to a hum, then a dull roar. It reminds me of students assembled in a gymnasium. Twice I look across the aisle to Marston's table, but Leo and Livy stare straight ahead, their faces set in stone. Only Blake Sims looks worried. Sims looks, in fact, like he would rather be getting a root canal than sitting at his client's table.

At last Judge Franklin's chamber door opens, silencing the court. Jenny Doe walks through first and heads for the spectators' benches, her head bowed. Franklin emerges carrying a cassette tape player, a cheap jam box with a silver antenna sticking up off of it.

At Marston's table, Blake Sims actually covers his eyes.

"Yes," whispers Caitlin from behind me.

Judge Franklin takes the bench, sets the tape player before her, then turns to the jury box. "Members of the jury, I am about to play a tape recording of two voices having a telephone conversation. One, I am told, belongs to a lawyer in New Orleans. The other, I am convinced, belongs to the plaintiff in this case, Leo Marston. I have instructed counsel to make no objections to the playing of this tape. The supreme court might disagree with my decision, but this is not a murder trial, and I suspect that it will never see an appeals court."

A murmur of anticipation ripples through the crowd.

"The language on the tape is profane," Judge Franklin goes on, "as language spoken between men in private sometimes tends to be. I will play only that portion of the tape I believe relevant to this case. I want no displays of emotion. I want absolute silence. I will eject anyone who disobeys that order."

She rubs the bridge of her nose and sighs. Then another liver-spotted hand emerges from the black robe. It presses a button on the machine and turns the speakers toward the jury.

Static fills the courtroom. Then an unfamiliar male voice comes from the speakers, the New Orleans accent plain: Brooklyn with a little crawfish thrown in. This must be Clayton Lacour.

" and this problem, Leo, it's, you know, one of those things you could earn a lot of gratitude by fixing. "

"I'm listening."

A collective intake of breath by the crowd as it recognizes the resonant voice of Leo Marston.

"Order!" demands Judge Franklin.

"This goddamn new guy they got at the field office here," Lacour goes on, "Hughes, his name is, he's not playing by the old rules. This is the new SAC I'm talkin' 'bout. He's stoppin' by for coffee at Carlos's office at the Town and Country, for God's sake, got surveillance on him around the clock. Uncle C is gettin' ulcers. You gotta help me out here, cher."

"I'm not sure what you want."

"What I want? It's not me, Leo. I'm just passing a message from the man."

"From Marcello? "

"Yeah. Elvis was down here a few months ago, and he told Carlos you were tight with Hoover. He said-"

"Elvis?"

"Yeah. Presley. That, ah what's his first name? Ray. Carlos's guys call him Elvis."

A pause on Marston's end. Then: "/ thought Frank Costello greased the skids with Hoover for Marcello."

"Well, you didn't hear it from me, okay? But Carlos and Frank are on the outs just now. Not a good time for Carlos to call New York for a favor. So anyway, Elvis was down here, and he told the man you guys cooled out a nigger down there two or three years back, and Hoover let it slide for you-"

A gasp from the jury box.

"-said you call him Edgar, like he's your uncle or something. " Lacour laughing now. "Anyway, Carlos wants you to talk to the old queen and get this Harold Hughes off his back. This fucking guy don't know how it works down here."

"Does Marcello understand how things work with Hoover? "

"What do you mean? "

"Hoover expects a quid pro quo."

"Hey, there's always a quid pro quo, right? That's business. But look, Elvis wasn't just talkin shit about this nigger, was he? "

"No. Hoover grew up in Washington, D.C., when it was still a Southern town. This business you're talking about was in sixty-eight. Hoover would have traded twenty nigras for one electoral vote for Nixon. It was that close. You tell Marcello I'll speak to Edgar, but remember quid pro quo. That goes for me as well."

"Hey, do I know you or don't I? Now, what about those gas leases where they 're dredging down by Houma-."

Judge Franklin switches off the machine.

The silence is total. I'm not sure anyone in the courtroom is breathing. The jury appears to be in shock, particularly the black jurors, who are staring at Leo Marston as they might at a dangerous wild animal. Blake Sims gets to his feet to start listing objections, but Franklin stops him with a gesture.

A chilling screech of chair legs rips through the courtroom. As all heads turn toward the source of the sound-the plaintiff's table-Livy rises from her chair, puts her purse over her shoulder, and without looking at her father or anyone else walks around the table and down the aisle to the door at the back of the courtroom.

This act is probably more damning to her father than the tape. To me it suggests a chance for the possibility of redemption. At least she draws the line somewhere. I suppress the urge to go after her, even though I know that at this moment she might do something truly desperate. I must play my part in this grotesquerie to the end. As I turn back toward the bench, Austin Mackey stands and hurries after Livy. I'll have to wait to find out what he's up to.

"Mr. Sims," Judge Franklin says from the bench. "I know what you're going to say. First, that the voice on this tape is not Leo Marston's. Second, that if the voice is Marston's, it has been spliced together using some miracle of modern technology. Third, you want to request a continuance while your experts examine the tape."

Franklin drums her fingers on her desk. "Mr. Sims, that is not going to happen. I am not going to recall this jury three weeks from now just to hear your experts denounce the tape and Mr. Cage's experts argue that it's genuine. I've known Leo Marston for twenty:five years, and I believe the tape is genuine. Mr. Sims, I am giving this case to the jury."

Most of the heads in the jury box are nodding.

"Does the plaintiff rest?" Franklin asks.

"Under protest," Sims says weakly.

"Noted." Franklin turns to me. "Does the defense rest?"

"Your Honor, the defense rests."

Franklin is about to begin instructing the jury when Leo Marston rises from his chair and walks toward the aisle as though to follow Livy out.

"Judge Marston?" Franklin says from the bench.

He gives the judge his broad back and starts down the aisle.

"Leo?" she calls.

Marston ignores her. He is nearly to the doors, his enormous shoulders rocking with purposeful motion.

"Bailiff," says Franklin, her voice quavering with what sounds like fear. "Please restrain Mr. Marston."

The bailiff, a middle-aged black man, stands in front of the door and lays a hand on the butt of his holstered gun. Leo looks prepared to make the poor man use it.

"You will stay to hear the verdict of this jury, Mr. Marston," Franklin says in a firmer voice. "Unless you're dismissing this suit."

Leonidas Marston finally stops and turns back to Judge Franklin, his face a mask of contempt. "I'm entitled to a jury of my peers," he says, his voice booming through the courtroom. "I won't be judged by that rabble sitting up there."

Franklin's face reddens to the point that I fear she might stroke out. "Leo, I'm holding you-"

"I'm dismissing the suit," he growls. Then he turns back to the door as though he could as easily dismiss the consequences of this proceeding from his life.

As the bailiff looks to Judge Franklin for guidance, the door behind him is yanked open and Austin Mackey walks through, followed by two large deputies. The deputies block the door while Mackey walks far enough up the aisle to make sure the TV cameras capture the full range of his limited charisma.

"Judge Franklin," he says in the deepest voice he can muster. "Regardless of the verdict of this jury, I am ordering the arrest of Leo Marston for the crime of capital murder."

Pandemonium erupts in the courtroom.

"Order!" Franklin shouts. "Quiet in this court!"

"The grand jury will be convened in two weeks," Mackey goes on, "and I intend to bring the case before them at that time."

Judge Franklin shakes her head and gives the district attorney a sarcastic smile. "Let me state for the record, Mr. Mackey, that you are a day late, and a dollar short. Since Mr. Cage has proved your case for you, I suggest you forward your salary for the month to him."

Mackey blushes from his neck to the top of his head, but he recovers quickly and turns back to the deputies blocking the door. "Place Mr. Marston under arrest. The charge is capital murder."

It must gall Mackey to have to get the deputies to make this arrest. But even with his overarching ambition, Mackey hasn't the nerve to try to arrest Leo Marston. It would be like a rabbit confronting a Bengal tiger. I half expect Leo to fight the deputies to the floor, but he allows himself to be quietly handcuffed.

"Judge Franklin," says Blake Sims. "I request that Judge Marston be taken out through a side door, to spare the embarrassment of a mob scene. He's done great service to this city and this state, no matter what else he might have done."

Technically, Leo is Mackey's prisoner now, but this is Eunice Franklin's court. He defers to her.

Franklin stares at Leo, who is looking indifferently ahead, as though bored by the events around him. His problem has become one for the criminal courts, and he knows that particular jungle better than most.

"Take him out the front door," Franklin says.

As the deputies escort Marston out, Judge Franklin looks to the jury box. "Ladies and gentlemen, you have done your duty. I apologize for the incompleteness of the process. At least it only took one day. You are discharged." She turns to the gallery. "This court is dismissed."

A wild roar erupts from outside the building, undoubtedly prompted by the appearance of Leo Marston in handcuffs. I have no desire to be in that crowd of jubilant blacks and confused whites, people who still know nothing of the facts of this case, and who probably won't fully absorb them for several days. As the spectators rise from the benches in a rush, I am surrounded by people slapping my back and trying to shake my hand.

The first hand I take is my father's. His grip is firm and strong, his eyes filled with pride. "You did a fair job, son." He breaks into a smile.

My mother is in tears beside him. She reaches out and hugs me, while behind her Charles Evers and Willie Pinder give me brief salutes, then turn and move toward the door. As I stare after them, Caitlin materializes out of the crowd, smiling with relief.

"Well, I guess we won," she says. "Right?"

"You're damn right," Dad agrees.

"I'm thinking of Ruby," my mother says quietly.

"Me too," I tell her.

She takes my hand. "You had to do it. I see that now."

Before I can say anything else, Caitlin steps up to me, stands on tiptoe, and kisses me on the cheek. "I've been wanting to do that all day." She turns to my parents. "I hope you don't mind public displays of affection."

My mother surprises the hell out of me by saying, "That's quite all right."

I punch Caitlin's shoulder. "Can you win the Pulitzer if you're personally involved in the story you're covering?"

She waves her hand as though swatting a fly. "To hell with the Pulitzer. I'll take it if they offer it, but I'm not chasing it anymore."

My father grips my right shoulder and turns me in place. Judge Franklin is standing behind me in her black robe. She extends her hand and shakes mine. "That's the first time I've ever seen a slander case hijacked into a murder trial," she says.

"I couldn't figure any other way to do it. I apologize."

"Don't. Sometimes you have to go the long way around to get justice."

"I appreciate what you did. The hearsay exception letting the tape in."

A hint of a smile comes to her lips. "The truth will out. Good-bye, Mr. Cage."

I nod thanks and turn back to Caitlin, who takes my hand, pulls it behind her back, and squeezes it tight.

Out of the swirl of my parents' friends, Althea Payton steps forward wearing a dark blue dress. Behind her stands Del, looking very uncomfortable in a Sunday suit.

"I can finally get on with living," Althea says softly. Her liquid brown eyes meet mine, and for a moment there is no one in the courtroom but us. "I think you know what I'm talking about," she adds.

An image of Sarah flashes behind my eyes, but too much has happened today to let it in. "I do."

Del reaches over his mother's shoulder and shakes my hand. "Thanks, man."

I shake his hand, nod thanks, then prepare to accept the congratulations of all the others waiting behind him. But my thoughts are already far away. Somewhere outside this building Livy Marston is walking or driving alone, pondering the wreckage of her life. Her father is right where I hoped he would be, but Livy isn't. Despite all I have seen of her-the coldness and dishonesty and manipulation-part of me longs to be with her now. The bottle of wine we sank twenty years ago still waits at the bottom of that cold, clear pool, buried under mud and sand and time, but there all the same. And God help me, I wish I were going to her bed tonight.

But I'm not. I will not.

The past is dead.


CHAPTER 40 | The Quiet Game | EPILOGUE