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‘Okay, I’m sorry,’ she said, and then he felt a stab of guilt when he saw a deep flush to her cheeks. ‘Do you think the police will catch whoever broke into your office?’
Her naivety made him smile. ‘We haven’t called the police,’ he said. ‘And they won’t care anyway, particularly when there’s been a murder in town. A defence lawyer has had his office burgled – I wouldn’t figure in their priorities much, and what if it’s one of my own clients? Siding with the police would not be good for business.’
‘So you just ignore it?’
‘No point in trying to change things,’ he said, and set off walking again. When he heard her heels fall into step with his, he asked, ‘What are you expecting from this week?’
She seemed to take a long time to think about that. ‘Just to learn more about the law,’ she said.
‘Why law? Have you got a university place?’
‘At Manchester,’ Donia said. ‘I want to experience it first though.’
‘And so you thought my little practice would give you a taste of what it’s all about,’ Charlie said, and then he laughed. ‘Think of it like this; whatever your legal career has in store for you, this week will be just like real life.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘No money and no fun.’
‘Did you always think like that?’
He looked at her, and his mood darkened just for a moment. No, he hadn’t always thought like that, but things hadn’t turned out like he had hoped.
Then Charlie saw something in her eyes. Resentment? He was being dismissive of her career before it had started, when he had made the same decision as her too many years earlier.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, and then he smiled. ‘Try and enjoy your week. Maybe you’ll make a better job of your career than I have.’
Donia seemed pleased with that, although her joy lost some of its sheen when they arrived at the court and had to make their way through the pall of smoke that hung around the entrance, the nervous defendants taking a cigarette as they waited for their cases to be heard. Some of the more experienced nodded at Charlie, and someone shouted his name. He waved a greeting and tried to recall the client’s name, but he couldn’t. He was just another face from years of hopelessness. Society cast them aside, but this was Charlie’s kingdom, his role as champion of the oppressed and dispossessed. Or so the poster might say. The reality was different. He was where they were, at the bottom of his profession, except that amongst these people, he was still king.
Charlie heard a whistle, a long, drawn out sound that told him someone had spotted Donia. He couldn’t help smiling when a skinny man in a tracksuit and missing teeth leered at her. The whistler’s best years were a long way behind him, and Charlie thought they had probably never been that good, but he didn’t seem to realise how many leagues below her he was.
The court served all the towns in the valley, although it was always at the point of closure. The paint around the doors was peeling, and cracks were appearing in the plastered walls. Charlie remembered being distracted during a trial once as a mouse ran across the well of the court. The open doors were the only things that kept things bright, because once they creaked to a close, the inside was all gloom, brightened only by yellow strip lighting, so that everyone took on a jaundiced look.
Charlie paused for a while and looked towards the activity outside the police station, the road filled with cars and police officers grouped outside. People watched what was going on, and from the buzz of conversation, he knew that the murder acted like a magnet for the whispers and the gossip. It looked like some were going to make a day of it, red eyes flicking between the bustle of people and the bottle of sherry being handed around.
As he went in through the wooden doors, he had to step to one side to avoid a little girl running through the crowd giggling, her blonde hair in curls, all smiles as she sang to herself.
‘Cute,’ Donia said.
‘That’s the worst part, the children,’ Charlie replied. ‘They laugh and play like most kids, but their parents will mess it all up for them eventually. Drugs, booze, violence.’
‘Booze,’ she said, and she smiled. ‘Bad stuff.’
She blushed, embarrassed now.
‘What do you mean?’ he said.
Donia pointed to his mouth. ‘The mints, well, they don’t work as well as you think.’
Charlie smiled at her bluntness. ‘It’s better than nothing,’ he said, and then popped another mint into his mouth. He pulled the first blue file out of his bag and shouted out the name. A tall man with a stoop came towards him. A shoplifter. No profession for a small town, where everyone knows you.
Charlie pointed towards an interview room at one side of the waiting area, and as they all went inside, his client said, ‘I’m pleading not guilty.’
This was the part Charlie was most bored with, pretending like he cared. He’d heard mostly crap over the years. The innocents were pretty rare. ‘Go on then, Shaun, let’s play the game. If you go not guilty, the court will want to know what bullshit excuse you’ve got this time.’
‘That’s your job, to come up with the defence.’
Charlie closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, he saw that Shaun was still staring at him, waiting for an answer.
‘No, it isn’t,’ Charlie said. ‘You come up with the lies. I just repeat them and pretend I believe them.’ When Shaun scowled, Charlie added, ‘You’re just not very good at your job, as a shoplifter.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Shaun, every video I’ve watched of you shoplifting, you look around so much that even little old ladies know what you’re doing. Here’s a tip; if the cameras watch you from the minute you walk in, you’re going to get caught.’
‘I didn’t think your job was telling me how to be a better crook.’
‘Perhaps I’m just telling you to pick a different career, because you’re not good at the one you’ve chosen.’
‘Or go to a different town?’
Charlie shook his head and laughed. ‘If you think that will help.’
Shaun shrugged and then said, ‘I saw you Friday night.’
‘In the Gloves. You were fucking wasted.’
That wasn’t news, but he didn’t want to hear it. ‘Let me go speak to the prosecutor,’ Charlie said, and left the room, Donia behind him.
As they walked into the courtroom, the prosecutor was in his usual place, at the front desk, next to a large pile of files. Tall and greying, he was the slow and steady type, who had learned quicker than Charlie that calm and precise got further than bluster and adrenaline. He was flicking through his papers, just a refresher. Charlie knew that he’d already been through them once, but it beat staring at the wall, waiting for the court to start.
‘I’ve got Shaun Prescott,’ Charlie said, as he leaned over him.
He turned round and looked surprised. ‘Amelia not here? Or is she getting ready for the cameras?’
‘Cameras? You’ve lost me.’
‘The murder,’ he said.
‘I’ve heard about it.’
‘Between me and you, I was speaking to the court reporter before. He got a text from someone at the Express. The rumour is that the victim is Billy Privett.’
That was a surprise. ‘Billy Privett? You’re joking, right?’
‘That’s what I was told,’ the prosecutor said. He glanced up at Donia, and then leaned into Charlie so that he could whisper. ‘Tied up and face sliced off, so I heard, with his features posted to the local paper. They’ve got themselves really excited, because the scoop will keep the paper afloat for another year.’ Then he smiled. ‘So a bad day for you, because the killer won’t be coming your way, even when they catch him. Conflict of interest.’
‘I’ll worry about my ethics,’ Charlie said, even though his brain was still trying to take in what had been said.
Billy Privett had been all over the press for the last year, public enemy number one, the lottery winner with no class versus the poor but noble dead girl’s father.
Billy had played up to his image, knew that people were jealous of his money, and so he wanted to make sure everyone knew how much he had. Parties, cars, gold chains around his neck, diamonds in his teeth. The press loved him, even though they painted him as a hate figure, because someone to hate sells newspapers.
He’d been heading for a life of crime before the big win. Charlie had represented him before he made it rich with those magic six numbers. Billy had collected his winner’s cheque with an electronic tag on his leg, and he’d had to race back to Oulton before the curfew kicked in. Once the money arrived, Amelia represented him, because she was more ruthless with her billing, and looked better than Charlie whenever she spoke to the press.
But it was the girl that defined him. Alice Kenyon. Going places, from a good family, but ended up as the victim of a brutal sexual assault and found drowned in Billy’s pool at the end of another wild party. Alice’s father kept her name in the paper, campaigned for those who were at the party to speak out, but no one did.
Alice’s father found out the downside to fame, that a small moment of stupidity makes the front pages. Caught with a young woman in a car, he went from sympathy figure to pervert, and so the public clamour for answers about Alice died down.
Charlie was still thinking about Billy Privett when he realised that the prosecutor was still talking. ‘Amelia will get some publicity though, and so it all works out. Except for Billy, that is.’
Charlie nodded, just to get himself back into the conversation. ‘People like to go to a name they recognise.’ He lifted up his files. ‘And I could do with some better clientele.’
‘Doesn’t Amelia bring it in? Some of the rough trade we get in here must like a touch of glamour.’ He looked down at Charlie’s clothes. ‘No offence, Charlie, but you’re breaking mirrors these days.’
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