Thursday, June 21, 2012

Chapters 32 and 33: Beer and Other Tests; Old Eyes

(Haven't read the previous chapters?  Start  here.)
(Haven't read chapters 6 and 7?  Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapter 8? Find it here.)
(Haven't read chapter 9?  Find it here.)
(Haven't read chapters 10 and 11? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 12 through 14? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 15 through 16? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 17 through 19? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 20 and 21? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 22 and 23? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 24 through 26? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 28 and 29? Find them here.)
(Haven't read chapters 30 and 31? Find them here.)


On Saturday, I drove to a bar in the university district in Seattle to see The Traction Goats, an acoustic grunge band I had read about in an alternative newspaper.  I liked to go out by myself on the weekends because I could pretend that I was still in college, that I wasn’t a lawyer with a million worries.
I walked into the dark bar and let my eyes adjust.  The bar had some of my favorite features—it was small, crowded, and had a dance floor tucked on the side of the stage.  I saw a pool room through a door in the back.  I grabbed a small table by the wall, and squeezed into one of the chairs, happy to find a place to sit in the bustling room.  I was just beginning to relax when one of the chairs at my table scraped back.
I looked up.  Standing with one hand on the chair was Doug, looking more like a band member than a prosecutor.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I came to listen to the band.  Like everyone else here?”  He was wearing low-rise faded jeans that were tattered at the bottom, flip flops, and a vintage Jetson T-shirt.  I noticed that despite his lankiness, his muscles were defined.  I surprised myself by thinking he was good looking, not in the traditional way, but, without his suit, in a nerdy-hip kind of way.
I found myself grinning at him.  “I didn’t know you liked music.”
“Yeah, I just put on my prosecutor suit in the morning, send people to jail all day, go home and enter the sleeping pod that sucks all of the human goodness out of my soul.”
“That’s what I thought,” I said, recovering from the surprise of seeing him.  I reminded myself that I was mad at him from a case we had together last week.  “Well, you can pretend to be a person all you want with the other ladies here, but I know better.”  I noticed that I was sounding a little bitchy.  I told myself to be nice.  “Have you been working out?  You look sort of, you know, muscle-y.”  I blushed.  This was not what I had planned on saying.
He flexed his bicep for my benefit.  “Are you going to make me arm-wrestle you for this chair?”
“You heard that story?”
“Everybody heard that story.  Bradley can’t walk into the office without a secretary challenging him to a test of strength.”
“I almost feel bad for Bradley.  He’s a boob, though.”
Doug sat crammed himself in the chair beside me.  “I’ve always thought of Bradley as a Black Lab.”
“A Black Lab, as in the dog?”
“You know, Black Labs are such regal looking animals, but when you come down to it, they’re just not that smart.”
“What kind of dog are you, then?”
“Australian Shepard.”
“Australian Shepard?”
“You know, lovable and mangy, but very loyal.  And I can also herd sheep.”
“Are you allowed to say mean things about Bradley?”
“I was just talking about dogs.”  He smiled, then sighed.  “Sometimes the Bradleys get to me.  I wonder if I’d fit in better at your office.”
I didn’t know how to answer.  He had made his choice about where to work.  But had I really made a choice?  I debated whether to say, “I don’t know if I can really be friends with someone who works at the prosecutor’s office” or “Why don’t you just go work somewhere else?”  I said, “Can I get you a beer?”
            “Are you going to get me drunk?”
I noticed that he had a dimple on his left cheek.  “What kind?”
            “Shiner Bock.”
            “You want a Shiner Bock,” I repeated.
            “Yeah—don’t they have it?”
            I hadn’t had a Shiner Bock since I left Austin.  “I thought it was just a Texas beer.”
“They just got it in—I tried some the other week.  I really like it.”
I stood nonplussed in line at the bar.  Doug had passed the Beer Test.  Because I had blonde hair and an approachable demeanor, I was hit on a lot in bars.  During my years at the University of Texas, I had developed a few easy tests to eliminate undesirable dates.  The first test was the Beer Test.  If a guy was drinking Coors Light, for example, he was out.  Coors Light was the choice of most fraternity boys and eliminated them quickly and efficiently.  Next, I offered to pay for a guy’s beer.  If the guy insisted on paying himself, despite my offer, he was out.  I figured this eliminated the macho I-can’t-let-a-woman-pay-for-me type.  (Unfortunately, this test did not eliminate the moocher type, which I seemed to date a lot.)
The third and most nebulous standard:  you had to order something cool.  The beer had to be something I liked, or, at least have a name I liked.  Shiner Bock always passed the Beer Test.  When I lived in Austin, my friends and I made an annual pilgrimage to the brewery in Shiner, Texas, to show respect and consume free beer.  How had Doug known about Shiner Bock?  He wasn’t from Texas.
            I paid for our beers and brought them back to our tiny table.  As soon as I sat the beers on the table, he switched the bottles.
“What—did you think I poisoned it?”
“Yes,” he said flatly.  I raised one eyebrow, a special talent I had, brought the brown bottle to my mouth, and drank.  The music became too loud for conversation, and I sat, trying to ignore his leg pushing against mine.  I tried to act natural and enjoy the music.  When the set was over, Doug went to the bar for more beer.
Not even a moocher, I thought.  I scanned the room, trying to see if anyone I knew was there.
“What’s the matter, Kate?  You seem a little jumpy,” he said, putting the beers on the table.  He let me choose which beer to take.
“I’m just worried that someone might see us together.”  His injured look surprised me.  I didn’t let myself apologize.  He might pretend that our jobs didn’t matter, but I couldn’t.
“Maybe we would be less visible if we went out on the dance floor?” he suggested.
Dancing would not be a good idea.  “I don’t really like to dance.”
“Really.  That’s not the impression that I had.”  He clinked his beer bottle against mine and winked.  “How about a game of pool?  There’s a room in the back.”
I almost said no, but then realized that Doug would never pass the Pool Test.  I had learned how to play pool from my grandfather.  Back in the ’30s, my grandfather and his brother had owned a pool hall in Amarillo, a fact that my respectable parents did not advertise.  I loved the idea, though.  And my grandfather had taught me to play, starting at age 5.  He thought I was a natural, and I was pretty good, although not great.  I was better than most amateurs, however.
The test was this:  Most men, no matter how bad they were at pool, felt compelled to tell a woman how to play.  If a guy played pool with another guy, he would never tell his opponent which shot to make, or how to bank the ball, or suggest a possible run.  If the same guy, however, played with a girl, it was all advice all the time.  I didn’t show off or anything—any pool player who acts like a hot shot is a fool—but even casual observation would reveal that I knew how to play.  So when a guy told me how to play—and most of them did—it spoke to an inability to accept a woman as an equal.  “Here little girl,” the guy seemed to say, “Let me show you how to make that big, bad shot.”  Meanwhile, the guy was missing the fact that I was kicking his ass.
Doug led me through the crowd to the back room.  Because the band was still playing, the pool room was deserted.
“You want to break?” he asked, surprising me.  Most guys wanted to impress a girl with a rough if inaccurate break.
“Sure,” I said.  He racked the balls with a few easy movements.
I broke, sinking the nine ball, and made two shots after that.
“Nice run,” was all that Doug had to say.  Doug made four solids—all easy shots, I told myself.  He missed a tricky bank shot at the end.  Now he would tell me what to do.  I hit the 12 ball in the corner pocket, setting myself up for the 14 on the side.  I hesitated, giving Doug a chance to say something.  He just watched me, grinning.
I made the 14.  My next shot was obviously the 15 in the far corner.  I looked over at Doug, who was taking a drink of his Shiner Bock.  Instead of aiming for the 15, I lined up a foolish bank shot on the 13.  I lingered as I aimed the shot, making sure that Doug noticed what I was doing.  Finally, with no comment from him, I took the shot and missed.
“Guess I shouldn’t have tried that,” I said, handing him the chalk.
“I kinda wondered what you were doing—that was a tough shot.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“You seem to know what you’re doing.”
“Are you sure about that?”
He took the cue ball out of my hand, but kept his hand on mine.  “You have this way of making difficult things seem easy or even accidental.”
“I do?  I don’t do it on purpose.  I’m just trying to be myself.”
“That’s why you drive a lot of people crazy—You prance around doing everything better than them, and then you act like you’re not even trying.”
“I just try not to take myself too seriously.”
“I know.  That’s why you aggravate all of the people who do take themselves too seriously.  Which is a problem with a lot of prosecutors.”
“What about you?”
“You make me crazy, but that’s not why.”
When I wasn’t tall enough to reach my next shot across the table, he offered to get me a step stool.  Clowning around, he got on his hands and knees on the floor and offered to be my human step stool.  As a joke, I tried to step on him, and then fell over on top of him.  Giggling, we both ended up sitting on the floor with our backs against the pool table.
“I dare you to lick the floor,” I said, pointing at a spot with a horrifying stain.
“I’ll do anything for you, Kate,” he said, his eyes suddenly earnest.
I bolted to a standing position, freaking out about the sudden change in the conversation.
“Whose shot was it?” I asked quickly.  “Where’s my beer?”
He pushed himself off the floor.  “Ah, the two most common questions asked in pool.”  He made his next shots, seeming more focused than before.  He won, making us tied, each winning two games.
“Wanna play a tie breaker?” I asked.
“I think I’d like to keep it where it is.  Even.  Maintain the balance of power.”
“We have a balance?”  I lit a cigarette I had bummed from a guy at the bar.
“You shouldn’t do that Kate, it’s bad for you.”
“I know.”
“And no one will want to kiss you.”
“Who would want to kiss me?”
“Only a fool.”
I took a long drag off of the cigarette, just to be safe.  Doug was fun, but his job made him off limits.  There was no way we were going to get to the Kissing Test.


On Monday, I resolved to focus on work rather than extraneous matters.  I also decided to try to distance myself from my clients.  The empathy I felt for my clients and their terrible predicaments was exhausting.  I was their lawyer, not their friend, after all.  My job was to give legal advice and to help defend cases in trial.  It wasn’t my job to care about what happened to them.  I reasoned that if I didn’t care about what happened to them, maybe I could start sleeping at night.
Burt Fricke was the first client who I resolved not to care about.  He was charged with rape, which I thought might be interesting since I hadn’t had a sex case other than Ryan’s.  He came into my office early on a Monday morning.  He looked in his mid-60s, but was actually 45.  He had a large beer belly and a handlebar mustache.  He thought he was very smart.
In our initial meeting, he sat sprawled on one of my client chairs, his legs wide apart.  He leaned far back in the chair, casually, with one arm over the back of the chair.  It seemed like he was pointing his crotch at me.
“I just wish I had the money to hire a lawyer,” he said.
“I actually am a lawyer,” I said.
“I mean a real one.”
“Oh sorry, I didn’t understand that.”  This not-caring thing might be easier than I thought.
“I know you’re just going to try to sell me down the river.”
“Which river would you like to be sold down?”
He crossed his arms across his chest.  “I want a trial.”
“You can certainly have a trial.”
“Are you going to even try to help me?”
“Yes,” I said, realizing that not only did I not care for this man; I didn’t like him at all.
Burt was accused of raping Tiffany Greene, a friend of Burt’s 17-year-old son, Shawn.  According to the police report, Burt, Shawn, and Tiffany had all been at the Fricke residence on a Saturday evening.  Burt’s wife, Olivia, was having a night out with her girlfriends.  Burt had been drinking beer all day.  Shawn played video games in the basement while Burt and Tiffany talked at a picnic table in the back yard.  At some point, Burt asked Tiffany to join him in the guest bedroom.  Once in the bedroom, Burt raped Tiffany.  After the rape, Burt passed out, and Tiffany left the house.  A week later, Tiffany told Shawn what had happened.  After agonizing for a day or two, Shawn called the police.  When questioned by police, Burt said that he had no memory of what happened that night, but that he didn’t think Tiffany would tell a lie.
The strength of the state’s case would probably largely depend on Tiffany’s credibility.  Since she hadn’t reported the rape the night it supposedly happened, no physical evidence—semen, public hairs, etc.—had been preserved.  Lack of physical evidence would usually give me a strong argument that the state had failed to meet its burden of proof.  On the other hand, jurors would sometimes believe a compelling witness, whether there was physical evidence or not.  The police report mentioned that Tiffany was a student at Wilson High School.  I called the school and found out her schedule.
While I usually scheduled witness interviews through the prosecutors’ office, there was no requirement for this arrangement.  I could conduct an independent investigation by contacting witnesses on my own.  I thought it was always a better idea to talk to the witness outside the prosecutors’ office—the witnesses were more likely to be candid.  Practically, however, I interviewed most witnesses at the prosecutors’ office because it was easier.  In this case, though, I wanted to get a feeling for the girl in her own environment.  I needed to know what she was really like.
The next day, I drove to Wilson and waited outside Tiffany’s last class prior to lunch.  The bell rang, and a stream of students came out the door.  I didn’t know what she looked like, but thought I could pick her out.  “Tiffany Greene?” I asked a girl who had to be her—hair bleached blonde, a couple of eyebrow piercings, and heavy black eyeliner all around her eyes.
“She’s back there,” the girl said, pointing to a girl in the back of the line, walking with her head down.  The girl she indicated was more wholesome than I expected.  Her jeans were faded, but not too tight, and she wore a short sleeved T-shirt that actually covered her stomach.  Her hair was a pretty chestnut brunette, thick and straight, tucked behind her ears.
“Tiffany?” I said as she got closer to me.  She looked up.  I almost took a step back.  Her eyes were not teenager eyes, but older.  Older than mine, certainly, and tougher.
“I’m Kate Hamilton, from the public defenders’ office,” I said, handing her my business card.  “Do you have a couple of minutes to talk to me?”
“Can’t this all just go away?  Why do you guys keep bugging me?” she asked, but moved away from the stream of students.
“Can we go outside and talk for a minute?  I’d like to ask you a few questions about what happened.”
“Haven’t I been over that enough?  How many times are you guys going to ask me about this?”
“I’ll try to make it quick.”
She led me outside to a small courtyard where dangerous-looking kids congregated.  The courtyard floor was an ashtray of cigarette butts.  Tiffany offered me a cigarette and I accepted, hoping to bond.  She led me to a low cement wall, away from the others, and we sat.
“What do you want to know?” she asked.
“If you could just tell me what happened.  Like, how did you know Mr. Fricke?”
“I was friends with Shawn, his son.  I’ve already told you all of this before.”
I hesitated.  I had a feeling she thought I was from the prosecutors’ office, even though I hadn’t said anything to make her think that.  I also had a feeling that she might be more forthcoming if she thought I was a prosecutor, rather than Mr. Fricke’s attorney.
“What kind of dad was Burt Fricke?”
“That’s the worst part.  My parents are pretty out there, so I spent a lot of time at Shawn’s house.  Burt was pretty much always there, and he would talk to everybody.  He would really listen, you know?  He was like a father figure, or even a friend.”
Tiffany stopped for a minute to take a drag on her cigarette.  “The night this happened was like any other night, except Olivia, his wife, was having a girls’ night out.  Burt was drinking beer and sitting at the picnic table in the back yard.  Shawn went downstairs to play video games, but I stayed in the back yard, talking with Burt.”
            Tiffany described how Burt had asked her to come with him into a back room.  She figured he wanted to talk about his wife or his son, so she followed him.  When they got back into the room, he patted the bed next to him.  She sat down, but instead of talking, he pushed her down on the bed.  She told him to stop, thinking he was drunk and just goofing around.
“Then he got on top of me, and I started to realize that it wasn’t a joke.  I told him to get off of me again and again and he wouldn’t.  He pulled up my skirt and raped me.”
“And by raped, you mean …?”
            “He put his penis inside of me.  Is that clear enough?”
            I should have probably asked her more details about whose arm was where, etc., but I decided her description was clear enough for now.
            I left the school, thinking Mr. Fricke’s case was terrible, and not just because he annoyed me personally.  I had interviewed a lot of witnesses, and Tiffany was one of the most credible yet.  Partly because she didn’t seem to care whether the case was prosecuted.  But more importantly, I could feel that she’d been hurt, hurt by the complete betrayal of trust.  I could see it in her old eyes.

Want to read more?  New chapters coming this Friday, June 29, 2012!


Jeff Gamso said...

You know, Dickens published his novels in installments, and when a ship would dock in New York with the latest chapters, there'd be rioting from all the folks eager to get their copies.

I suspect I'm not the only one who's waiting at the dock for each installment you give us.

carol d said...

Ah, Jeff, my first Dickens comparison ;)

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I could have sworn the last sentence originally said that new chapters were coming this Friday, June 22nd, not 29th.

carol d said...

I post new chapters every Friday (ish). I posted chapters 32 and 33 a little early on Thursday June 21st, just to keep you guys guessing ;) New chapters coming this Friday, June 29.