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Authors: Scott Turow

Tags: #Psychological, #Legal, #Fiction

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BOOK: Reversible Errors
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"Not as good-looking?"

"No, he's good-looking. His dad was a big good-looking stud, and he's a big good-looking stud, too. But he's a different tint than you and me."

"Ah," said Larry.

"My sister, you know-when I was a kid in the South End, all the old guys were ever on about was running the Nubians outta town. You know, we had 'em on three sides, and it's like we don't want them brown bastards, with their drugs and whoring. Fekete. Dark. That's the word in Hungarian. All the time, 'Fekete!' like it's cussing. So naturally, there are chicks, they get to the age when it's, Fuck you, Momma, Daddy, and all this Roman Catholic bullshit. Their idea of living dangerous is to give it up as fast as they can for the first black guy to say howdy-do. My kid sister, Ilona, she's one of these hunky broads, just couldn't stuff enough black meat into her cannoli.

"So this is how my nephew stumbles into the world. My parents, you know, they can't figure who to kill first, my sister or themselves, so right from the jump, its the big brother, Yours Truly, who's giving them a helping hand. And that's a soap opera with about six hundred installments. You got time for the skinny version? It'll help make sense of the rest of it."

"I'll put in for overtime," said Larry.

"Well, the kid, you know, he's a brown-skinned fatherless bastard, just to put it in a nutshell. The old neighborhood don't have much use for him and he got even less use for the neighborhood. My sister, she means to do right and only makes things worse. She sends him to public school, instead of Saint Jerome's, so he's not the only black kid, and soon enough, that's what he is, a black kid, talking just like them and running with the gangs and the dope. And I'm all the time like a guy with his hand in a fire, trying to pull him out. First conviction is Ts and Blues"-a prescription painkiller and cough syrup, the cheap high in the '80s before crack-"I go to the Favor Bank and get him the Honor Farm.

"But you know, I think it's in the genes with those people, I really do. He keeps going back down. With the drugs, of course. He's tried them all. And potential? Bright. But you know the race thing-it bugs him. He hates his ma, he despises me. We can't tell him what to do because we don't know what it's like, being a black man in white America. Oh, he can give you every asshole speech you ever heard. I had him working out here when we opened back up, but he needs to be a flipping executive, not some house darkie standing by the metal detectors, besides he wants to travel. Join the army, right? He's dishonorable out of the service in eight months-drugs, natch-so we send him to the old country. That ain't his roots, he says, and bugs out for Africa. But guess what? Nobody plays basketball, not old home week there either. So he comes back, and says he's ready to be a grown-up. Decided he wants to work in the industry after all."

"The industry?"

"Air travel. See the world and get paid for it. That's downright hilarious, because all the airlines do big-time dope screening, they'd sooner hire an orangutan than a kid with a drug felony. But I know a lot of the big travel agencies after all this time. So I just about wear out my knees, but he gets hired on at Time To Travel, and God strike me dead, he does okay. Collins -that's his name, Collins-Collins gets his associate's degree, and his agent's license. He likes wearing a coat and tie. He likes talking to people. He's good with the computers. He gets promoted to an actual agent, instead of a gofer. And for about five minutes I thought to myself, This might work, this kid might make it. And of course he gets fucked up on drugs again and cracked for selling. That's a three-fer. The first conviction gets reinstated. He does eighteen months. And in this state, he loses his travel agent license.

"The last part, I swear, when he got out, that irritated him more than his time inside. I tell him to move, get away from the influences. There are thirty-six states where he's still certified as an agent. But you know the end by now. I got the call last week. He's over in County."

"The jail or the hospital?"

"Crossbars Motel."

"For?"

"Buy-bust."

"How much?"

"Six zones, as they say." Six ounces. "Class X."

"That's tough."

"Terrible tough. This'll make him Triple X." Triple X, three felony convictions for narcotics, would mean life in prison, no parole, unless Erno's nephew offered something to prosecutors. Larry still couldn't see where this was going. Erno knew plenty of guys in Narcotics whose ring he could kiss.

"He'll have to find his tongue, I'd say," Larry told Erno.

"Yeah, well, those gangbangers he did business with -he'll look like punchboard, that's what he figures, if he snitches out any of them. But he might have something else. You know, he calls me whenever he gets it in the wringer. I tell myself not to pick up the phone anymore, but what can you do? Yesterday he's crying and carrying on, and in the middle of it he says he heard something or saw something on your case."

"This case?"

"That's what he says. He says he saw a guy with jewelry. And he thinks the jewelry belonged to one of your vies."

"Which one?"

"Didn't ask. I heard you were coming, I promised I'd mention it. Truth is, knowing Collins like I do, it's probably jailhouse bullshit- Rudy told Trudy who told Judy. But if it's actually something, Larry, if he hands it to you, you got to get him out from under."

"I don't have any problem with that," said Larry, "but he better hit the bull's-eye."

"It'd be a first," said Erno.

Larry took the name -Collins Farwell. The light was fading when he left the building, and across the street another jet with the zigzag TN logo on the tail drove itself up into the sky with shuddering force. For no reason he could think of at first, Larry was happy. Then it came to him: he had to call Muriel Wynn.

Chapter
6

may 15, 2001

Gillian $ Lette
r c
oming in from the rain, Gillian Sullivan looked as she always had to Arthur Raven, collected and serenely beautiful. She shook out her umbrella in the vast reception area of O'Grady, Steinberg, Marconi and Horgan and handed over her slick plastic raincoat. Her short, hedgehog hair had wilted a little in the damp air, but she was carefully dressed in a dark, tailored suit.

Arthur led her to a conference room dominated by a green granite table, veined in white. Through the steel-frame windows of the IBM Building, the River Kindle, three dozen floors below, was scaled in the dwindling light. Gillian had phoned yesterday, stating without elaboration that there was a matter to discuss, ending the conversation with one more apology for her rudeness the last time they'd met. Arthur had told her the incident was forgotten. It was his ingrained habit to shirk off the hurt arising from his dealings with women, and in this case, like many others, he might even have brought her reactions on himself. You couldn't really expect somebody to be polite, after you'd suggested they'd been too drunk or venal to care about another life.

He lifted a phone to summon Pamela. In the interval, he asked Gillian if she was working.

"I'm selling cosmetics at Morton's."

"How is that?"

"I spend the day delivering compliments of questionable sincerity. There's a check every two weeks, most of which, candidly, has gone to replenishing my wardrobe. But I feel competent. Makeup and clothing were probably the only other subjects I knew well besides law."

"You were always glamorous," said Arthur.

"I never felt glamorous."

"Oh, you were regal up there. You were. Really. I had a crush on you," Arthur offered. He felt like a schoolboy standing at the corner of the teacher's desk, but his embarrassment actually evoked a passing smile from her. Of course, 'crush' was not quite the right word. Arthur's attractions were seldom that innocuous. His fantasies were vivid, passionate, and utterly consuming. Every six months or so for most of his life since the age of twelve or thirteen he had fallen desperately for some glorious, unattainable female, who lingered in his mind like a mirage. Gillian Sullivan, the courthouse glamour girl, physically striking, intellectually formidable, had been a natural for this role, and he was smitten not long after he had been assigned to her courtroom. At sidebars or in an instruction conference, when he was close to the judge, always fastidiously assembled and powerfully scented, he had often been obliged to position his yellow pad strategically to hide an oncoming erection. He was hardly the only Deputy P
. A
. intensely aware of Gillian's carnal appeal. Mick Goya, in his cups at a tavern near the courthouse, had once watched Gillian pass by, cool and elegant as a palm, i would fuck a wall,' he'd said, 'if I thought she was behind it.'

Even after Gillian's long fall from her pinnacle, she continued to have an effect on Arthur. Her troubles had left her thin enough to be called skinny, but she looked far better than when he'd last seen her years ago, pale and addled by drink. Being himself, he had actually been excited by the notion of her visit.

Pamela arrived and shook hands quite formally without really managing a smile. Sentencing Rommy to death would have been enough to win Gillian a place on Pamela's enemies list, but the young woman had been appalled when Arthur had explained Gillian's circumstances. A judge taking bribes! Observing Pamela's frosty demeanor, Arthur realized that Gillian must have frequently encountered such reactions, especially when she wandered into the sanctuaries of the law. It was brave of her to come.

The three sat together at the end of the granite table where the coppery light fell. To Pamela, Arthur had speculated that his meeting with Judge Sullivan ten days ago had probably dislodged some detail from her memory. Instead Gillian opened the clasp on her handbag.

"I have something I think you should see." She held a white business envelope. Even before she slid it toward Arthur, he recognized its markings. In the upper left corner, the return address of the Rudyard penitentiary was printed, with the inmate's pen number handwritten below.

Inside was a letter dated in March of this year, carefully printed by hand on two yellow sheets. As Arthur read, Pamela stood over his shoulder.

.

Dear judge
,
My name is Emo Erdai. I am an inmate at the Maximum Security Facility at Rudyardy doing ten on an agg battery, for shooting a man in self-defense. My out-date is in 4/02, but I don't expect to see it, as I've had some cancer and am not in the best of health. You probably wouldn't remember, but I used to be Associate Chief of Security at TN Air in charge at DuSable Field and came into your courtroom a couple of times when we filed complaints about stuff at the airport, mostly unruly passengers. Anyway, I'm not trying to stroll down memory lane, although I have plenty of time for such things, if you ever care to. (That's a joke.)

Why I am writing is because I have some information concerning a case that was before you where you sentenced a man to death. He is on the Condemned Unit down here, and is actuall
y t
he next one scheduled to take The Walk, so this is kind of urgent because I expect what I have to say will make a big difference in whether that happens.

This is not the kind of thing I want to talk to just anybody about, and frankly Tm having a hell of a time getting the right people to pay any attention. A couple years back, I wrote to the Detective on the case, Larry Starczek, but he's not interested in me now that I can't do him any good. I also wrote the State Defender's Office, but those people don't answer their clients' letters, let alone from some con they never heard of Maybe it's just because I spent all these years being half a copy but I never met a defense lawyer I liked or trusted all that much. You might have had better experiences. But I'm off the subject.

If you hadn't of had your problemy I probably would have contacted you a while ago. I heard you were out and from my way of thinking I'm probably happier to talk to you now. Cons don't judge. I'm hoping you're willing to take the trouble to straighten out something where you didn't have all the right information. The mail I send from here gets screened-you probably know that yourself-so I'd rather not put any more in writing. You can never tell how people around here are going to react to stuff. It's a distance, but you should come down to hear this yourself. If you look me in the eye, you'll know I'm not fooling around.

Very Truly'Yoursf Erno Erdai

.

Pamela had gripped Arthurs shoulder-probably when she reached the line about this prisoner having information that would make a big difference in whether the next execution occurred-and as a result he felt the need to preach caution to her again. This letter didn't even mention Rommy. And there was no end to the attention- seeking antics of inmates who were, literally, the worst people around.

Gillian was awaiting their reactions. Arthur asked if she had any memory of this Erno Erdai, but she shook her head.

"And why are you sure he's talking about my client?" he added. "I only issued two death sentences, Arthur, and Texas executed th
e o
ther man, McKesson Wingo, a long time ago. Besides, Starczek wasn't the detective on that case."

He turned to Pamela, expecting jubilation, but she was examining the envelope Erdai's letter had come in, focused, it appeared, on the postmark.

"So you got this in March?" She was facing Gillian. "You just sat on it for two months?" Her confrontational tone surprised Arthur. Pamela generally maintained the outward manner familiar to her entire generation, a vague amiability suggesting that nothing in life was worth the strain of a disagreement.

BOOK: Reversible Errors
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