In the three steps it took Blow to reach the witness room door he had managed to wrestle minimal control of the emotions jolted alive at the imminence of meeting Wheelchair Woman. He knew beyond doubt this was Leonard Bacon's “someone.” And he knew now beyond doubt she had something to do with Elvin Bacon's pleading guilty. What bothered him—enraged him--was the timing of whatever she was about to reveal.
Now that his role as defense counsel had ended, whatever Wheelchair Woman might bring to the table was of no consequence. Telling him now would be an insult, a denigration, a ha-ha-this-is-what-it-was-all-about-you-schmuck-thanks-for-playing-the-stooge-take-your-money-hop-on-your-bike-and-peddle-on-home. Yet at the same instant he felt the toxic sting of this adrenalin-jazzed suspicion, rescue arrived with its rational antidote: Such adolescent conceit could hardly be at play in a scenario that would end with his client's conviction of a felony. The embarrassment of this understanding tempered his volatility, which he further calmed with a quick, deep intake of breath, held for a heartbeat and released through pursed lips. The intervention of deliberate breathing in tandem with the focus on common sense seemed also to ease the trembling in his hands.
He realized, as clarity took charge, that what remained of his interest in Elvin Bacon's case had no professional implications, was simply curiosity. And seeing the absurdity of further emotional involvement lifted his spirits to giddy heights. He suppressed an impulse to laugh. After all, who could the Wheelchair Woman be but in fact the woman who called herself Priscilla Kochburn, the woman to whose “death” Elvin Bacon was about to plead guilty? So why was he pleading if he knew she was alive? She was punishing him, of course, laughing at him, knowing neither he nor anyone else could prove she had been his “victim.” This could only mean the woman has something on Bacon, something so dire he prefers a homicide conviction.
So why tell me, Blow wondered. With one step to go, suddenly fed to hell up with the Bacons, he entertained a percussive urge to stop, announce to Leonard he was “finished here,” pivot, and continue on to the corridor in time to catch a ride with the others back to Luigi's.
He dismissed the urge, which, had the situation not turned out as it did, he would have told the others when he joined their second attempt at lunch was an “ego fart.” In fact that was precisely what it was, he knew. An ego fart. He knew it while still entertaining the urge to reject Bacon's invitation to “meet someone.” Curiosity was ever a more compelling draw than pride, and this was why Blow squelched the impulse and took the final step to the door.
Bacon had remained standing in the open space between the door and the jamb as if to block anyone attempting to enter. As Blow drew near he saw the elder brother's face was drawn, his expression somber. The amused confidence Blow had noticed before in Leonard's gray-blue eyes had darkened to something akin to haunted. He gave no indication of stepping aside.
“Joe, I must ask you this before we proceed here.” His voice was muted, the tone grave. “I assume that as you were leaving you've spoken with my brother and perhaps the judge. I need to know if you in fact still represent Elvin.”
“I don't believe so, Leonard. He didn't fire me in so many words. In fact he was quite cordial when we spoke just now. But under the circumstances I should think he no longer regards me of counsel.” Bacon nodded. “But if you're concerned with privilege, as nothing has been put in writing or even spoken to the effect of severing my employment, I would consider that anything I might learn from you, at least before his plea is formally entered and judgment pronounced, that confidentiality would continue, although I suppose that might depend on particulars, at which--”
Bacon interrupted, raising a gentle hand and forcing a smile: “Understood, Joe. We can cross that bridge if at some point we find it prudent. Come on in.” He pulled the door open and stepped aside.
Blow saw the woman sitting to one side of the window across the small room. This put her in shade, as the only light in the room came from the sun, which also made it difficult for Blow to make out her face. He had a similar difficulty seeing clearly the young man who had stood near the woman's wheelchair in the courtroom. Now he sat next to her in a wooden chair. Blow also had trouble seeing the young man's face.
“Is there a shade for that window? The sun's right in my eyes.” Blow was unpleasantly surprised to see the window had no adjustable blind.
“Evidently not,” Leonard Bacon said. “I see what you mean. Maybe if we rearrange the seating a little.” He smiled at the woman and man. The man stood, looked at the window, and maneuvered the wheelchair to one end of a wooden conference table at the center of the room.
“This better?” the young man said. His voice sounded more mature than he'd appeared across the courtroom earlier. While he was moving the woman, Blow took a seat at the table's other end. Bacon remained standing. Situated as they were now, Blow saw the couple clearly. He immediately noticed a resemblance between the two. The woman seemed slightly older, but Blow realized this could be more a factor of her physical condition. If he'd had to come up with a description he would have said she was stouter than the man, albeit his perception was affected by the woman's Kelly green overcoat, which she had not removed. The man had draped his coat over a chair.
The similarity of their faces is what caught his eye. Smooth, he would have said first, both of them. No obvious cheek bones to break up the planes. The skin looked youthful, clear and healthy, dark eyes alert and spaced proportionately with trim noses and full lips. Because both had curly hair Blow assumed the curls were natural. Hers, straying carefully around her face, had sandy streaks, which, Blow realized, had given the gray appearance in the courtroom lighting. The man's hair, closely cropped, was a chestnut brown.
Blow was so intent in his study of this mysterious couple that he caught himself unaware of something Bacon was saying. It snared his attention only when he heard his own name. “I'm sorry,” he said, glancing sheepishly at Bacon seated beside him, “I missed that first part.”
Bacon grinned. “I'm the one who should apologize. I had what my mother used to call a frog in my throat. Sinuses always bother me this time of year. I was just trying to introduce you. I'll start over.” He made show of clearing his throat. “Mr. Joe Stone, this is Miss Priscilla--” Blow's mind went into overdrive at this point, and he heard no more. He took a deep breath and cleared his own throat, noisily, hoping he'd done it quickly enough to cover his shock. He finished, and laughed.
“I'm afraid the frog has gotten in my throat, now. I'm truly sorry, folks.” He fell back on an acting trick to sound vocally distressed. He shook his head and turned again to Bacon. “One more time, Mr. Bacon. Maybe the frog will have a little mercy on us both.” He smiled, hoping it looked confident despite the frantic questions racing through his head.
Bacon nodded, and directed his own, wearying smile at the couple. “This is Miss Priscilla Essex and her brother Ruben.
“Mr. Stone, they wish to retain your services as their attorney. They wish to establish positive identification of their sister and claim her body so they can give her a proper burial.”
[start at ch-1 http://tinyurl.com/of4gfq5]