Rankled by the prospect of more wasted time, Arthur nudged the cruise control wand a bit higher and felt some dim satisfaction in the big auto's response. He had purchased the car two months ago as a trophy of sorts after he became a full partner in his law firm. It was one of the few luxuries he'd ever permitted himself, but he had barely turned the key when he began to feel he was disrespecting the memory of his father, who had recently passed, a loving man, but one whose eccentricities had included a cramped frugality.
"And listen to this," Pamela was saying. She had withdrawn Rommy Gandolph's rap sheet from the thick folder on her lap and read out the entries. Gandolph was a thief and a fence. He'd had half a dozen convictions -- burglary, theft, possession of stolen property several times. "But nothing with a gun," said Pamela. "No violence. No female victims. How does he suddenly become a rapist and a murderer?"
"Practice, practice, practice," answered Arthur.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Pamela's full mouth turn briefly downward. He was screwing this up. As always. Arthur did not know exactly what he had done wrong with women to leave him single at the age of thirty-eight. Appearance was one issue, he realized. He'd had the droop and pallor of middle age since his teens. In law school, he'd had a brief, hurtful marriage to Marjya, a Romanian immigrant. After that, for a period he'd seemed to have neither the inclination nor the time to start again. He had given so much to the law -- so much fury and passion in every case, so many nights and weekends where he actually felt pleasure in having solitary time to concentrate. And his father's declining health, and the question of what would become of his sister, Susan, had also been draining preoccupations for years. But now, seeking even the faintest sign that Pamela had some interest in him, he felt humbled by his foolishness. His hopes with her were as unlikely as hers for Gandolph. He felt the need to chasten them both.
"Look," said Arthur, "our client, Gandolph. 'Rommy'? Not only did Rommy confess early and often, but when he went to trial, his defense was insanity. Which requires his lawyer to admit Rommy committed the crime. Then we have ten more years of appeals, and post-conviction petitions, and habeas corpus proceedings, with two different sets of new attorneys, and none of them happens to mention that Rommy is the wrong man. Let alone Rommy, who only remembered that he didn't do it when he was about forty-five days away from getting the needle. Really, Pamela. Do you think he told the lawyers before us he was innocent? Every con knows this game -- new lawyers, new story."
Arthur smiled, attempting to appear worldly-wise, but the truth was he'd never really accommodated himself to criminal defendants' shenanigans. Since leaving the Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Arthur had played defense lawyer infrequently, only when one of the firm's corporate clients or its bosses was suspected of some financial manipulation. The law he lived most days as a civil litigator was a tidier, happier law, where both sides fudged and the issues raised were minuscule matters of economic policy. His years as a prosecutor seemed to be a time when he'd been assigned each day to clean out a flooded basement where coliform bacteria and sewer stink rotted almost everything. Someone had said that power corrupted. But the saying applied equally to evil. Evil corrupted. A single twisted act, some piece of gross psychopathology that went beyond the boundaries of what almost anybody else could envision -- father who tossed his infant out a tenth-floor window; a former student who forced lye down the throat of a teacher; or someone like Arthur's new client who not only killed but then sodomized one of the corpses -- the backflow from such acts polluted everyone who came near. Cops. Prosecutors. Defense lawyers. Judges. No one in the face of these horrors reacted with the dispassion the law supposed. There was a single lesson: things fall apart. Arthur had harbored no desire to return to that realm where chaos was always imminent.
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