Blow became aware of a sense of disconnectedness as he followed Gobble from the judge's chambers into the courtroom. It was similar to the feeling—relief tainted by a vague disenchantment—that had come over him once in his acting days. He'd stepped back onstage, outside the curtain, following what he knew had been one of his finest performances. He was in his street clothes. The spotlights had been extinguished and the voices of stage hands working behind the curtain swept away any lingering wisps of illusion the performance might have left.
What he faced when he looked out over the rows of emptying seats where moments before a packed house had risen to its feet and given the players a sustained ovation with commanding applause, shouts of bravo! and the occasional shriek of a tooth whistle, what he faced now was an indifferent reality, the diminishing sounds of shuffling feet, private chatter, the mockery of one hand clapping. He had no presence.
The tension of pendency takes up residence in a courtroom during a trial. It hovers as a palpable current at all times, relenting only by degrees during the inevitable hiatuses—the restroom breaks, lunchtimes and overnight recesses in trials that last longer than a day. Blow had returned one night early in the Bacon trial to retrieve a file folder the janitors had found on the floor under the defense table. The bailiff had called him at home. He was eating dinner with his father and Lila. Embarrassed, he drove to the courthouse and was let in by a sheriff's deputy who waited for him at the front door. The janitors had finished up and gone home, leaving the folder on the table. Blow's relief to find nothing in the folder of any special importance was dampened by an odd feeling he was being seen, although the courtroom was deserted and contained no security cameras. He knew no one was watching him, yet the feeling persisted. It was the courtroom itself, he concluded. The courtroom was at rest but remained poised, as was the trial itself. It wasn't over, and until it was, until Judge Pendleton banged his gavel for the last time and delivered the word adjourned, the benches, the tables, the chairs, ceiling, lighting, portraits on the wall—everything, the very air in the room--hung in apprehension, waiting.
The suspense here was over for Blow, leaving only an odor of irony. He'd done a good job, he knew, persuaded the jury his client was innocent of the charge—he was willing to accept this now, it seemed obvious. But in doing so he'd apparently affected a change in his client, brought a moral imperative to the fore that Elvin Bacon had recognized and responded to in a way unexpected of him. Bacon had done the right thing.
Blow was wondering now at some sublevel of his mind whether he had done the right thing, as a lawyer. Had his gamble been overkill? Had the jurors needed to see the slick, arrogant Elvin Bacon humble himself when they might already have been disposed to acquit because the prosecution's evidence had fallen short? That had been Blow's strategy all along, to play strictly defense, until his last-minute inspiration to address the swimming question in a way that would catch his client off guard. Bacon would have expected the question from Gobble and been prepared with a plausible explanation, but from his own lawyer? Oh, well...
He looked out at the nearly empty rows and fixed his gaze on several people sitting near each other at the rear. A couple of them seemed familiar, but none was Bacon or his brother or father. Blow's eyes shifted to the back of the room after noticing his client was not at the defense table. Gone to lunch, he figured. He saw his father, Lila and Barbara Bassett across the aisle from the others, sitting so quietly they were almost invisible.
He was startled then to see Bacon further up, standing alone in a side aisle. He was studying one of the portraits and photos of former county and state officials. Most of the photos were brown with age. Bacon was looking at the painting of Blow's father. It was a good likeness, made from a photo soon after Judge Stone's retirement: The ever-vigilant blue eyes peering out from a face composed to suggest tempered good humor, the graying hair pulled back to form a nimbus that outlined aristocratic features without betraying the insouciant ponytail dangling behind.
Blow almost laughed when he realized his father's portrait at the moment had more presence than the charismatic Bacon. It occurred to him then only he and Gobble in the courtroom knew the trial's outcome. His client may well have been doubtless, of course, but until his assurance Bacon would have no certainty. While Gobble leaned over his table fussing with papers, Blow went to his client.
Bacon, staring up at the painting, registered no awareness of the other's approach. He spoke without turning when Blow stood next to him. “He has a good face.” His voice sounded gentle.
“It's a good likeness. Want to meet him?” Blow waited until Bacon turned his head, then nodded toward the back of the room. “Join us for lunch,” he added.
Bacon glanced in Judge Stone's direction, then came back to Blow. His face seemed relaxed. He smiled, a softer look than his usual grin. The eyes still kept their own agenda, but the edge was no longer there. “I don't have much of an appetite right now.” He allowed a single chuckle. “Maybe another time.”
“Sure,” Blow said. He stepped around Bacon and started toward the back of the room. He heard behind him, “Thanks, Stone, for everything.” After a pause, the voice, calm and low, added, “I mean that.” Blow turned his head enough to meet Bacon's eyes, and saluted, a single wave.
Judge Stone, Lila and Barbara Bassett were standing in the aisle when Blow reached them. “Let's get some lunch,” he said.
They looked at him, eyes questioning.
Blow shook his head. “Damn fool's pleading guilty.” His father's jaw dropped. Blow muttered, “His conscience.”
In the narrow hallway linking the courtroom and the main corridor, a door to one of the two witness rooms on either side opened as they passed. A voice called out, “Stone. Hold up a minute.” It was Leonard Bacon. Blow turned back as the door opened wider. Bacon stuck his head out. “Joe, I want you to meet someone.”
Blow urged the others to go on without him. They were headed back to Luigi's. “I'll join you in a minute.”
He waited until they'd closed the corridor door behind them, then he started toward the witness room.
[click here to start at Ch-1 http://tinyurl.com/of4gfq5]