This is Part 13 of a serial story. The story began here.
Judge Brockade smiled warmly as we entered her office. “Nice to see you again, Counsel,” she said as she offered me her hand. She pointedly turned her back to the two men standing nearby.
“Good to see you, your honor,” I said. I shook her hand gladly.
With her perfectly coiffed caramel hair and expertly tailored clothes, Judge Brockade gave the impression of a society woman pereneially en route to a fundraising luncheon. Then she put her judicial robe on. And you learned the meaning of respect.
I'd been fortunate my first time in Judge Brockade's court to impress her with my preparedness and professionalism. I also made a point of giving her the respect she was due. So, she liked me.
“The courthouse looks great. Are all the renovations complete?” I asked. Judge Brockade was the driving force behind the courthouse renovations, and she was dang proud of the results.
“Just about. There's a little bit of work left to be done on the third floor. But it's coming along nicely.”
“I notice you left the old tin 'Nuclear Fallout Shelter' sign on the wall outside.”
Judge Brockade laughed. “Isn't it great? Such a neat little reminder of out county's history. I smile everytime I see it. Not surprised that you noticed it. You don't miss much.”
I smiled and nodded at the compliment. “Thank you, your honor. I do what I can.”
The judge crossed her arms. Her expression suddenly turned serious. “And now you're on this case.”
“Yes, your honor.”
She looked over at the two men standing near the conference table. “Well. Introduce yourselves,” she said brusequely.
Both men wore dark suits, crisp-lined and well-fitted. One, the slightly older of the two, carried a briefcase with looks of wear. The other had more styling product in his lacquered hair than my actress roommate used during an average run of a play. He stood with his arms sharply folded, hands topmost to display perfectly manicured nails. The fabric of his suit jacket showed an odd wet pattern near one pocket. I looked at it briefly, wondering.
Please, I thought, please let the briefcase carrying non-mousse using ragged-cuticle one be the lawyer. If the snooty effiminate one is the lawyer, he'll be impossible to talk to. But if the effiminate one is the dead guy's son I can just ignore him.
“Hello, I'm Roger Seren. I'm the attorney representing Mr. Johnson,” said the one without the helmet hair.
I shook his hand, relieved. “Maryanne Wells. Nice to meet you.”
“I've heard of you, Ms. Wells. You have a reputation in Dallas for taking on some very ugly cases.”
“Cases aren't ugly. People who make trouble for innocents are what's ugly,” I said without thinking. Behind me, Steve sighed. It sounded like Judge Brockade was trying not to laugh.
“Who's paying for you to be here,” the other man suddenly demanded.
I looked at him coolly and said, “What was that?”
“Who's paying your fees.”
“Please, Christian, let it go,” Seren said quietly.
“I have a right to know.”
“The hell you do,” interjected Steve.
“Enough,” barked Judge Seren. “Everyone take a seat at the table.”
Christian Johnson glared at her coldly. “I don't like the fact that Nora has another attorney. And I know she can't afford it, so I want to know who's footing the bill.”
“No one's stopping you from hiring a second attorney,” I said.
“We should each have one attorney. More lawyers mean more time is wasted. I don't like it.” He unbuttoned his suit jacket, and seated himself ungraciously in the nearest chair.
I looked him over and smirked. “That's funny, coming from a man who wastes as much time in the bathroom as you do.”
“What does that mean?”
Pointing at the wet marks on Christian's suit jacket, I said, “You took your jacket off when you went to wash your hands. You hung it up on the paper towel dispenser. That's why there's a wet mark near the pocket on one side; you got the jacket wet when you reached for the dispenser handle. You leaned in too close to the mirror while you were at the sink, probably checking your hair, and got water on your shirt near your waistline. You spent more time in the bathroom primping than a teenage girl getting ready for prom, but you did a crappy job. Time wasted.”
Everyone in the room stared at me. Christian Johnson flushed red.
“You can't possibly know any of that. How do you know I was ever in a bathroom? You don't know.”
I helped myself to a chair on the opposite side of the table from the damp Mr. Johnson. “Sure. Whatever. By the way, your flie's undone.”
Christian looked down and gasped. He turned his chair away from all of us, and corrected the problem. “That's the sort of thing you should say politely and in private,” he snapped.
“You and I are never going to have a conversation in private,” I said coldly. “And as for being polite...I'm happy to follow your lead.” Turning to the judge I suggested, “Shall we get down to business, your honor?”
Judge Brockade's looked at Steve. Amused, she asked, “Did I say Ms. Wells doesn't miss much?”
“Yes, your honor,” Steve replied.
“Well, I take it back. She doesn't miss anything.”
I smiled. “How would you like us to begin?”
The judge sat down and looked me right in the eye. “Suppose you start by giving me your professional opinion on a critical matter. Is the Johnson house haunted?”