A Hard Rain; chapter ten, part one

“God, this is boring,” Leslie mutters as she sits in the back of Judge Anthony’s courtroom.  She is not paying any attention to the trial.  She knows it’s some kind of manslaughter charge, but that’s it.  She watches Judge Anthony, trying to discern what type of judge he might be.  Folly, really, as if she could tell by sitting in his courtroom during a trial.  She nods off several times as the attorneys drone on and on and on.  Finally, the judge calls for a recess.  Leslie wonders if she can catch the judge in his chambers.  Doubtful.  She’s pretty sure that she can’t.  She thinks for a minute before she walks outside the courtroom, cell phone in hand.  She pulls out her list and calls the judge.

“Hello.  Judge Anthony.  Who are you, and why are you calling me?”  The judge has a supercilious edge to his words, as if he were born with the right to rule.

“My name is Sandra Scoppettone.  I am with the Sun-Times.  I have information on the murder—“

“No you’re not,” Judge Anthony says briskly, barely letting Leslie speak.  “Try again, or I’m hanging up.”

“OK, look.  I want to write for the Sun-Times.  I just need a break.  I heard that there is new information as to the whereabouts of Freddy Amato and—“

“I’ll be right—where are you?”

“Outside your courtroom.”

“Meet me outside the building in two.”  Judge Anthony hangs up the phone abruptly, leaving Leslie to stare at hers incredulously.  What a rude man.  She makes it outside before Judge Anthony does.  She watches as he emerges from the building.  He is not a bad-looking man with his dark, slicked-back hair, intense blue eyes, and slim build.  He is wearing a black suit with a magenta tie.  Leslie remembers that he is noted for his flashy ties.  He looks around, but of course he has no idea what Leslie looks like.  Leslie stands up and walks over to the judge.  His eyes are glued on her chest as she approaches.  She has her coat unzipped and those three buttons unbuttoned—the judge is definitely a chest man.  Leslie keeps that in mind as she holds out her hand.

“Judge Anthony.  I’m Sandy.  Thank you for meeting me.”

“It’s my pleasure, Sandy.”  Judge Anthony shakes Leslie’s hand, finally dragging his eyes up to her face.  Apparently, he is pleased with that as well because his surprisingly sensuous lips curve into a generous smile.  Despite herself, Leslie feels a tug towards this man.  She shakes herself sternly to snap out of it.  This might be the man who killed her John—that’s enough to douse water on any spark that flickers in Leslie as she looks as the judge.  “You said there was some new information about the murder of Amy Robertson?  Something about her boyfriend, Freddy Amato?”  There is a flicker in Judge Anthony’s eyes—a flicker that disappears before Leslie can decipher what exactly it means.  She pauses a minute.  If this man is the one who killed John, then he’ll know if she makes up some shit about him.  However, if he isn’t the murderer, he may not know anything about “John Smith”.  Damn.  She wishes she had planned this better.  Oh well.  Nothing to do but ad lib it.

“Yes.  However, I want to verify a few things first, if that’s OK with you, Judge Anthony.”  Leslie wonders why the man is not wearing a coat, but she doesn’t ask him.  Perhaps he is even more of a cold-lover than is she.

“Certainly.”  Judge Anthony’s eyes drift downwards again, and Leslie realizes that he’s not even aware that he does it.  Interesting.  He is on his second wife, too, and she’s quite a few years younger than he is.

“You were the judge for her mother’s DUI trial.  Most of the press thought you’d sentence her to the maximum term.  And yet, you let her off with probation and treatment.  Why is that?”

“You’re not from around here, Sandy, are you?”  Judge Anthony doesn’t seem perturbed by her question, but there is a sliver of impatience in his tone.  “Sometimes, one has to take into account extraneous factors that may not be readily apparent to the outside observer.  And, sometimes, one has a good reason for doing what one does.”  Another flash of something enters Judge Anthony’s eyes, and this time Leslie is sure it’s lust.  That reminds her of John’s assertion that he had proof that Judge Anthony and Mrs. Robertson were having an affair at the time of her court hearing.

“A source has told me that you and Mrs. Robertson were intimately involved when she hit the pedestrian.  Any truth in that?”  Leslie leans slightly forward and pushes her breasts together to create a deeper cleavage.  The judge cannot keep his eyes off Leslie’s breasts, so it takes several seconds for him to process the question.  When he does, however, the expression on his face turns to…anger?  Apprehension?  A mixture of both?  Leslie is not sure.

“That is nonsense.  Bel and I, that is, Mrs. Robertson and I move in the same circles.  That’s it.  It’s true that we were good friends in high school, but that was many years ago.”  Judge Anthony’s tone is stiff, and Leslie knows she has to tread carefully.

“It’s a shame about her alcohol addiction, isn’t it?”  Leslie bats her eyelashes, and the judge softens once again.  For a judge, he sure is susceptible to feminine wiles.

“Bel’s had a tough life.  It may seem like she has it all, but it’s not easy being a senator’s wife.  She’s supported him all these years without complaint.  She’s a good woman.”  Judge Anthony doesn’t realize that he’s called Mrs. Robertson by her nickname or that his voice is warm as he talks about her.

“There’s ample evidence that Senator Robertson hasn’t been faithful to his wife all these years.  That has to be hard on Mrs. Robertson.”  Again, Leslie is careful to make her statement as nonthreatening as possible so the judge won’t react negatively to it.

“Yes.  Well, that is neither here nor there.  You said you have information on Freddy Amato?”  Judge Anthony abruptly changes the subject, and Leslie resolves to return to the elder Robertsons in a bit.

“I have a source who claims to have received material from Freddy Amato that irrefutable establishes his innocence of the Amy Robertson’s murder,” Leslie says.  It’s not all a lie; she had received material from John with evidence that points towards other suspects.  Close enough.

“Who is this source?”  Judge Anthony leans into Leslie, his eyes staring down at hers.  With a jolt, Leslie realizes that Judge Anthony is tensed as if he is going to strike her.  She looks around and is reassured to see numerous people milling about; the judge will not do anything untoward to her right now.

“I can’t tell you that, Judge Anthony.  You know that.”  Leslie smiles at the judge, but it has no effect on him this time.

“Freddy Amato is guilty.  Everybody knows it.  All the evidence points to him.”  Judge Anthony lowers his voice to a hiss, which is more impressive than if he had shouted.

“Yes.  All of it.  Every last bit.  And, doesn’t it seem suspicious that ALL the available evidence points to one man?”  Leslie tilts her head to the side and studies the judge.  He is lightly perspiring, despite the bitter cold.  She knows that she is honing in on something sensitive.  “It’s seems like a frame to me, Judge Anthony.”

“Have you told this ridiculous theory of you to anyone?”  Judge Anthony asks coldly.  Leslie is painfully conscious that she’s pissing off a very powerful man, so she tells another lie.  “Yes.  I pitched it to my editor who said it had merit.  He told me to run with it.”

“Well, you better keep it to yourself.  I wouldn’t want to have to put you in jail for libel.”  Even though the judge’s tone is bland, there is definitely a threat to his words.  Leslie blinks.  She has hit a big nerve.

“It’s not libel if I can back it up, Judge.  And, your reaction has me believing that perhaps there’s truth to what I’m telling you.  Maybe there’s even truth to the rumor that you and Mrs. Robertson are having an affair.  I should ask Mrs. Robertson about that, don’t you think?”

“You leave Bel alone,” Judge Anthony said, his eyes darkening.  “I will not have you bothering her with these baseless rumors.  Do you know how hard her life has been since her daughter’s murder?  It’s been a living hell!  She’s had to deal with triple the number of reporters.  She can’t escape them no matter what she does.  Why, one reporter even followed her from home to the senator’s office and hounded her as soon as she stepped out of her car.  No wonder she’s so worn out she has to take Valium to sleep at night!”

“You know an awful lot about Mrs. Robertson, considering you’re only social acquaintances,” Leslie says softly.  “Tell me, do you think Mrs. Robertson is grieving over Amy?”

“Of course she is.  She’s Amy’s mother.”  Judge Anthony is staring at Leslie as if she’s a bug under his foot.

“I think Amy got an unfair deal by the press, don’t you?”  Leslie asks, taking the conversation in another direction.  “I mean, she was trying to pull her life together after drying out.”

“Yes, well, she was stoned when she was dead, so perhaps she wasn’t trying as hard as she could have.”

“Or she just slipped once with someone she knew.  It happens.”

“She’s a weak girl.  She’s always been weak.  Ever since she was a little girl, she used her looks to get what she wanted.  It was all she had, really.”  Judge Anthony paused, then added with a malicious smile.  “She was beautiful, though.  And very sexy.”  Leslie stares hard at Judge Anthony.  Something in his tone indicates that he knows this from personal experience.  She files that away without comment.  Judge Anthony glances at his watch.  “I must go.”  Without so much as a goodbye, he turns on his heels and strides back into the court building.  Leslie thinks about her next move and then pulls out her phone.  She needs to get back to the hotel, text Siobhan, do some more research, and take a short rest.  The cabbie gets her back to the hotel in no time.  Leslie texts Siobhan, sets the alarm, and then powers up her laptop.

“Chief Matthews.”  Leslie remembers what Rex had told her about Chief Matthews taking over the investigation after receiving a phone call and that the chief was out of town at the time of the murders.  If the latter is true, then Leslie can put the chief on the backburner for now.  She’s pretty convinced that Chief Matthews falsified evidence, but it only matters to her because she’s tracking John’s killer.  Otherwise, she honestly wouldn’t give a damn.  Then, Leslie remembers what Rex had let slip about Senator Bronson and Prosecutor Erickson being seen at Amy’s house the day of her murder.  Leslie has a hunch that Rex will not be a cop for long, but that doesn’t matter to her, either.  Prosecutor Erickson lying to her does.  She calls him from the hotel phone once again.

“Erickson.”  Prosecutor Erickson’s voice is flat as he says his name.  Leslie winces because she knows the kind of depression that leads to that kind of flatness.

“Prosecutor Erickson, this is Gretchen Wilson.  I called you earlier—“

“Yes, I remember.”  Prosecutor Erickson’s voice warms marginally.  “You are covering a similar case to Amy’s.”

“Yes.  And you told me the last time you saw her was a week before she died.  My sources say this isn’t true.”  Leslie isn’t able to be as hard as she would like because she feels pity for this broken man.

“Your sources are wrong,” Prosecutor Erickson says weakly.  “I saw her the one time, a week before she died.”

“You saw her the night she died,” Leslie corrects him.  She can tell by his sudden inhalation that it’s true, no matter how much he wished it weren’t.  “You’ve been carrying it around ever since.  Why don’t you tell me about it?”  She waits calmly.  She knows he is burdened by his secret, and she also knows that he needs to tell someone.  She doesn’t have to wait long.

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