Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Crime and Punishment (not about the book) (07/21/11)
TITLE: The Price of Conviction
By Margaret McKinney
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When the jury finally retired, Mr. Walsh himself foretold it would take a week if it took a day, and literally banished us from the office. After a solid forty weeks of work it was the least he could do to pick up the tab at the local pub, but we would settle for a reprieve from the office.
Honestly, we were too tired to celebrate. Couldn’t really, anyway, not until the verdict came back. We weren’t really hungry, but there was no harm in a sandwich and a pint to pass the time. It might even ease us into a dreamless sleep, another rare commodity among our lot.
We gathered ourselves in the comfortable pub, enjoying the fire and the warmth. I glanced around the table at my mates- Colin, James, Emily, Ariadne, and Rachel. If I had friends or interests outside of the office, this case had done away with them.
I stared into my drink and watched my sandwich grow cold. James sat next to me.
“Lis,” he mumbled.
“I think he did it.”
Working as defense lawyers brought to bear an inevitable moral dilemma: what if your client actually was guilty? Attorneys through the ages sought refuge from that burning question through religion or philosophy, or the more base pursuits of money and drink. Our lot was fresh from school, however, and this was our first big case. Early on, the excitement had numbed our moral radar, and the backbreaking tempo set by the partners at the firm left little time for personal reflection. Now, however, our pace had come to a grinding halt, and our minds were dancing around that crucial question.
Although James was attempting secrecy, the noise at the table ceased and all eyes were on us.
James paled, but with quiet dignity he repeated his statement. “Don’t tell me none of you have considered this.”
We had, of course. At times the thought had leaped into our minds, only to be violently shunned moments later in a fury of exertion. The evidence to acquit Max Shelby was thin like gossamer, and like gossamer, was expertly spun into a woolen-thick defense in the hands of our senior partner. It was mesmerizing to watch, and a little revolting, too. But we were caught like flies in the glory of the high profile case.
I cut a glance at James. His expression was wary. “You’re bringing this up now?”
He shrugged. “Shelby looked satisfied when the bailiffs took him. Not anguished. Satisfied.”
The silence at our table was excruciating. We were drawing stares from the patrons of the pub, for we were well-known there and usually more animated. I whispered harshly at James. “If the press heard you say this, we’d be dead. Dead. The case? Dead. Our jobs? Dead. Don’t you get that?”
James trained his eyes on the rough-hewn table. He mumbled. “They didn’t teach us about this in law school.”
Colin pushed away from the table. “I’m not going to take part in this discussion.” He walked away. Ariadne and Rachel followed. Emily lingered, measuring the tension between James and me. We stared at her for several long, silent moments, watching her waver. She sighed. “I’m out of here, guys. Sorry.”
We watched her go.
James looked at me, his stare probing. “Lis?”
I slapped my hands on the table. “What are you planning to do, James? Throw the case? You’ll lose more than your job.”
“Nothing that dramatic. Just recuse myself.”
“Walsh will never let you. It will look bad.”
James knew I was right. We stared at our untouched food and wasted drinks. When I thought the silence would kill me, he rose from his chair.
“I’m going to talk to Walsh.”
I sighed and glanced at my courageous friend. “See you tomorrow?”
“I doubt it.”
A week later, the jury returned the ‘not guilty’ verdict.
I wasn’t sure if I was pleased.
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