William Morrow & CompanyISBN: 0060726571
Nick Petrov, in the witness box, waited for the next question. The lawyer for the accused looked up from his yellow pad and fastened his skeptical gaze — familiar to millions of cable talk show viewers — on Petrov's face. The lawyer had eyebrows like Einstein's, resembled him in general, Petrov thought, but with a better haircut. Perfume from the previous witness still hung in the air.
"Been quite the career," said the lawyer, "hasn't it, Mr. Petrov? So far."
A better haircut and a meaner disposition. "That's not for me to say," Petrov said. He'd been on the stand for twenty-eight minutes, long enough to have formed the opinion that there was only one juror to worry about — the middle-aged woman in the back row, a lapis butterfly brooch on her lapel. The eleven other faces said guilty in the first degree, at least to him; but herface, soft, pretty, unadorned, had mercy written all over it. The defendant, Ty Canning, polishing his glasses on the end of his tie, had shown none.
"But it's what you think," said the lawyer. "That you're the sharpest tool in the shed."
"Is that a question?" Petrov said.
"Most definitely," said the lawyer.
"Do I have to answer it, Your Honor?"
"The witness will answer the question," said the judge.
"I'm more like a leaf blower," Petrov said.
Some people laughed; but not the butterfly woman.
"You think this is funny?" said the lawyer. Petrov remainedsilent, and the lawyer, perhaps slightly off-stride, didn't demandan answer. He flipped through the yellow pad in an irritatedway. Petrov, habitual noticer of little things, saw that his eyesweren't moving, meaning he wasn't actually reading. Was this adramatic pause or had he lost the thread? "Your Honor," thelawyer said, "I'd like the jury to hear that last question and answeragain." He'd lost the thread; the self-confident but inferioryounger brother who'd never arrived to disturb the Einsteinfamily dynamic. Petrov waited for an opening.
"Question," said the court reporter. "What did the defendantsay on the ride back from Mexico? Answer: He said, 'You gotme.' "" 'You got me,' " said the lawyer, facing the jury. "Sounds definitive. Practically an admission of guilt." He spun around to Petrov. "But in your deposition of June eleven, you stated the defendant'swords were 'What makes you think it was me?' Not anadmission of guilt, more like the aggrieved response of an innocentman." He paused. "Now, remembering that you are underoath, which one of your answers should the jury believe?"Petrov felt the butterfly woman's gaze on his face, knew thatphrase — the aggrieved response of an innocent man — touchedsomething deep inside her. The jurors, wide awake now, leanedforward in anticipation. "Both," Petrov said.
"Both?" Those eyebrows, lively and articulate, rose in disbelief."Are you aware of what would happen to your license if youput yourself in the position of giving false testimony?"
"I am aware," Petrov said. He met the lawyer's gaze. "In thedeposition, I was asked only what the defendant's first wordswere — 'What makes you think it was me?' It was after I explainedthe leads I'd followed that he made the second remark — 'You got me.' There was also a third remark, just before Iturned him over."
Silence. The lawyer understood, the judge understood,everyone with the slightest knowledge of cross-examination tacticsunderstood that you never asked a question without knowingthe answer. But a trial had dramatic form, and that formnow demanded the question be asked.
The lawyer licked his lips. "Third remark?"
"The defendant also said, 'I enjoyed every minute of it.' "
Before the lawyer could respond, Ty Canning, a rich youngman whose manner had been impeccable throughout the trial,shouted, "The fuck I did," and pounded his fist on the table. A veinthrobbed in his neck and his face swelled and reddened, the effectphallic, out of control, dangerous: one of those electric courtroommoments that happened mostly in stories. The butterfly womanrecoiled. The judge banged her gavel. The marshals moved in.
There were no further questions. Petrov stepped down.One of the marshals gave him a discreet pat on the back on theway out.
The Santa Ana was blowing, hot and dry. Petrov loved theheat, possibly some reaction to his birthplace, eventhough he'd left Russia at the age of two and had no memoriesof it. But crossing the parking lot outside the county courthouse,Petrov found himself thinking of a cooling swim. Fridayafternoon, a few minutes after three. He'd been planning tospend the weekend at the lake — why not leave now, arrive indaylight, maybe do a little fishing too? He had the car door openwhen a woman called, "Mr. Petrov?"
She was hurrying across the lot: midthirties, judging by herface, although her body looked ten years younger and herclotheshalter top and midthigh skirt — belonged on a teenager.Her eyes were the anxious eyes of a prospective client.
"My name's Liza," she said. She came to a stop, rocking backslightly on her high heels. "Lisa, really, but Liza professionally.Liza Rummel. It's about Amanda."
Liza Rummel shook her head, a quick side-to-side, erasingand starting over. "I saw on Court TV you'd be testifying today.That's why I came down here."
"From where? Van Nuys. We've been living in Encino butnow we're in Van Nuys. Amanda liked the old place much better,come to think of it — I wonder if that's a factor."
"Amanda's disappearance, Mr. Petrov, the reason I'm here.That's your specialty, right? Missing children?"Continues...