The Price of Justice
Written November 2005
Synopsis: The rape and subsequent murder of a prominent judge leave the squad with no evidence and no suspects.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of Wolf Films, Universal Television, Studios USA, and other corporations. No infringement is intended.
Criminal Court of New York City
100 Centre Street
Tuesday, October 26
“We could just schedule a hearing for a trial date,” Casey suggested as she followed Steve Adams into the courthouse. “Follow standard procedure.”
“My client is entitled to a speedy trial per the Constitution, and I intend to give him one.”
She tried not to roll her eyes. She’d heard from other district attorneys that Adams was gung ho both in and out of the courtroom. A transplant from upstate, this was their first tête-à-tête. She was already hoping it would be their last. “But there are extenuating circumstances, given Judge Woodward’s death. She was our judge, and it’ll take the court a while to sort things out. I’m sure Judge Leonard hasn’t even begun to adjust his calendar.”
“What do you want to do, file a Motion for Substitution of Judge? ‘The People request that this case be transferred to a judge other than the Honorable Marianne Woodward as the Honorable Marianne Woodward has died.’ That’d be a waste of time.” He continued down the hall, and Casey almost had to run to keep up with him.
“Don’t you have any respect for the dead?”
He shrugged and punched the button for the elevator. “I don’t have any respect for the living; why discriminate?” The doors opened, and they stepped inside.
“So you’d rather just knock on his door? ‘Your Honor, in the interest of speedy trials’–”
“Yes, I would. There’s already been a continuance at the People’s request, and now with Judge Woodward’s untimely passing … I’d like to see justice served.” The elevator doors slid open, and he headed for the reception desk. Adams flashed the woman an award-winning grin, and Casey crossed her arms. So what if he looked a little like Clark Gable; he was a jerk. “Good afternoon,” he greeted, “Steve Adams and Casey Novak to see Judge Leonard please.”
The grin seemed to work, and Michelle, as her nameplate read, picked up the phone to call the judge. When she hung up, she gave Adams a wink. “Go on in.”
“Thank you.” Adams led the way to the judge’s chambers and knocked on the door.
“Come in,” came a faint, distracted voice, and he turned the handle. Judge Martin Leonard was seated at his desk, reading over a pleading. Casey followed Adams into the room, and they waited for the judge to acknowledge their arrival. The nickname that Munch had given him Friday night crept into her mind: Judge Big Head. She suppressed a chuckle.
Finally, he looked up from the document and gave a pleasant albeit fake smile. “Counselors, how may I help you?”
Adams beamed. “People versus McElroy, Your Honor. This case was recently transferred to you following Judge Woodward’s death. Ms. Novak and I have met delay after delay in trying this case. We’ve come to ask you if there was any way you could expedite same.”
Casey looked at him in bemusement, and Judge Leonard’s expression wasn’t much different. “I’m sorry that the tragic murder of one of New York’s finest judges is delaying you further. Please accept my apologies.”
Adams’s face fell, and Casey felt a slight twinge of satisfaction. “That didn’t come out right. I–”
“I know what you meant. Let me see what I can do.” He slid on a pair of reading glasses and opened his day planner. “Normally, my clerk keeps my calendar, so this will take a few moments.”
Casey remained standing as the judge pondered over the scheduling. He would mumble to himself on occasion, drawing lines and arrows that looked like a football coach’s diagram.
He really did have a disproportionately large head. His tiny reading glasses seemed to disappear on his face. Sure, his body was long and lean, but his head was the size of a big pumpkin and just as round. Pumpkinhead, she thought, clearing her throat to disguise the laugh that threatened to escape.
“How does mid-November sound? The fifteenth?”
Adams nodded. “We’ll take it.” He stood and extended his hand to the judge. “Thank you, Your Honor.”
“My pleasure. I love it when a plan comes together.”
Casey’s heart gave one final thump before skipping two beats. I love it when a plan comes together. No, no, she didn’t hear him correctly. Her face paled, and when he turned to her, she drew in a breath. “Wh–” She was conscious of her trembling hands, but she was powerless to stop them. Powerless, like Marianne Woodward.
“Ms. Novak?” I love it when…
“Casey, are you okay?”
She whipped her head toward Adams. He looked confused, even concerned. Of course he did; the phrase had never been reported to the public. The only people who knew of it were the police, herself … and the man who raped Marianne Woodward.
Judge Leonard gave a deep chuckle, and she looked at him again, her stomach churning. His face twisted into a sick smile, and she took a few steps backward. “Be careful, Ms. Novak.”
She bumped into a short bookcase, the corner piercing her between the shoulder blades. It felt like a knife had been thrust into her back. He knows, she thought. He knows that I know.
“Excuse me,” she said, spinning toward the door and fumbling with the handle. She heard Adams call after her, then the receptionist, but she ignored them both as she bolted from the office.
Martin Leonard raped Marianne Woodward.
She turned the corner and stumbled, twisting her ankle. I love it when a plan comes together. The words echoed in her head, and she pushed the palms of her hands against her ears in an effort to silence them.
A criminal circuit judge raped one of his colleagues. Oh, God. She had to tell the police. He raped her — and possibly murdered her, too. Casey’s stomach lurched, and she ran for the nearest restroom.
I love it when…
She burst through the door, dropped to her knees in the first stall, and vomited.
Casey’s mind barely registered that a mug of coffee had been placed in front of her. She rested her forehead in the palm of her hand, staring into oblivion, the A-Team phrase running through her head, quickly at first then slowly, as if someone was adjusting the speed of a recording.
Cragen sat at his desk and stared at her. His four detectives were present as well, equally interested in her story. She had told it once, but she was talking so fast that they had only caught the gist of it: Casey knew who had raped and possibly murdered Judge Woodward.
“You all right?”
She glanced up at Cragen and nodded. “Yeah.”
“Can you go through it again? Every detail, from the beginning.”
A hand closed around her upper arm, and she jumped in her chair. Her heart had been pounding hard since the meeting with the judge. She grasped the hand and felt the fingers: long, a little rough. Munch. She looked up at him and gave him a weak smile.
“You went to the courthouse with Steve Adams?” he prompted.
“Yeah, People versus McElroy. You know, the guy with the hidden cameras in the high school locker room. We had one continuance to locate a witness, and Steve wasn’t happy about having another one with Judge Woodward’s death.” She looked away, forcing the bile back down her throat. Breathe, Casey. “He wanted to speak to Judge Leonard personally, to see if he could do anything to expedite trial. So we went to his chambers, and he checked his calendar.”
“Did you have any indication that Leonard had done it up to that point?” Cragen asked.
“No.” She smiled to herself. “I was focused on his big head.” Munch squeezed her arm but said nothing. “Then he gave us the date, we agreed, and … that’s when he said it.”
Fin’s voice sounded behind her. “Exactly like that?”
“Word for word.” Casey sighed. “But it’s circumstantial. All things considered, ‘I love it when a plan comes together’ is not an uncommon phrase. It ran rampant during the eighties when The A-Team was popular, right along with ‘Shut up, fool’ and ‘He’s on the jazz’. He could’ve been using it since the series aired. It might even be in a few court transcripts, depending on his frequency of use. It proves nothing.”
Olivia straightened suddenly, her eyes bright. “Wait a second. The lab said they found black fibers in the bedding from Judge Woodward’s apartment, and they matched those fibers to the ones used for a judge’s robe. Now we assumed that those fibers came from Marianne’s robe. But…” She reached for the file and withdrew the photograph from the stairwell’s security camera. “What if–”
“Son of a bitch.” Elliot took the picture from her and stared at it before turning it around to show the others. “He wore his own robe.”
Cragen looked between Elliot and Olivia. “See what you can find out about Judge Leonard. Quietly. We don’t have a warrant, and no judge is going to issue one.” They nodded and filed out of the office, giving Casey comforting smiles on their way out. “Casey, one last question. Is Leonard left-handed or right-handed?”
“Absolutely; we pitch for each other at the field.” She frowned. “Why?”
Munch held the gaze with his captain before answering. “Judge Woodward was strangled by someone using his left hand. It doesn’t mean anything, necessarily…” She shaded her eyes with a hand, and his voice trailed off.
Cragen sighed quietly. “Munch, take her home.”
She lifted her head. “No, I need to go back to my office.”
“I’m fine.” She started to stand, but her legs wobbled and she sat back down. “A little dizzy, but fine.”
“I’ll take her back to work,” Munch offered. He helped her up and opened the door for her.
“Casey.” Cragen rose as well. “If you need anything or feel unsafe, give any of us a call.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
Elliot’s curse was loud enough to be heard by the entire squadroom, but only his partner looked up. “What’s wrong?”
“How could we miss this?”
He slid the paper to her desk. “Martin Leonard lives in Marianne Woodward’s building. Five floors down.”
“What did he tell Patrol about his whereabouts the night of the rape?” He rummaged around on his desk for the report. “Here we go. He was home alone from six-thirty on. Spoke to Judge Terhune later in the evening, around eight-thirty. Went to bed at ten. How convenient.”
She gazed at the resident names and apartment numbers. “I recognize quite a few people from this list. Lena Petrovsky, seventh floor. Your friend Gloria Brady lives on the eleventh floor.”
“No woman did this.” He held up a hand before Olivia could protest. “Neither of those women did this. Gloria Brady is in her sixties and a chain smoker, and Lena Petrovsky is roughly the same size as Marianne Woodward.”
“How about Daniel Groth?”
Elliot frowned then shook his head. “Who?”
“He was a suspect in a rape back in April. He was an assistant DA in Brooklyn.”
“Yeah.” He shook his finger as he recalled the case. “Yeah, I remember. He met his victim at some charity function; he got her liquored up, escorted her back to her hotel room, and raped her.”
“We did some investigation but before we could find anything concrete, she recanted her story.”
“I always thought he paid her off.” Elliot leaned forward. “He lives in the judge’s building?”
“Two floors below. And…” She pulled a copy of Casey’s JAASA photograph out of her file. “Far left, second to last row.”
He looked at the picture, eyes drawn to the spot that Olivia had mentioned. There was the smiling face of Dan Groth.
“Steve Adams called three times.”
Casey picked up the pink slips in her message box and smiled at Maggie. “I’m not surprised.”
“Judge Leonard called, too.”
“Oh.” She squeezed her hand into a fist, hoping it would stop her fingers from shaking. Why would he call?
“You all right? You look pale.”
“I always look pale.”
“Well … paler than usual.”
Her grin widened. Out of all of the secretaries in the office, Maggie Delaney was her favorite. She’d been working for the district attorneys longer than Casey had been practicing law, and that kind of longevity was rare for a secretary, particularly for the firm.
Casey continued thumbing through the messages as she walked to her office. Steve did call three times, once every hour. No reference, so she assumed it had to do with her abrupt departure. She crumpled each message individually and aimed for the miniature basketball hoop affixed to her trash can.
There were still two pink message slips remaining. The first was from Mary Clark, asking to meet her for lunch on Wednesday. “Sure,” she muttered, marking it in her calendar. Then she called Mary’s office.
“Ms. Clark isn’t in right now,” came the voice of the new receptionist, whom Casey had yet to meet. “Could I take a message?”
“Could you tell her Casey Novak will meet her for lunch tomorrow?”
“Casey Novak … lunch … tomorrow. Got it.”
“Thanks.” She hung up and looked at the remaining pink slip. The message from Judge Leonard. The regards line contained the words People v. McElroy written in Maggie’s fat, kindergarten-esque handwriting. The case she and Steve had discussed with him earlier, when she realized that…
Casey pressed her palms flat against the desk and took a few deep breaths. She’d faced rapists and murderers before and kept her cool. Why did this one have to bother her? She needed to spend an hour at the batting cages. Where she and Leonard used to go together.
“Okay,” she said as she dialed the judge’s phone number. Michelle answered. “Is Judge Leonard in? This is Casey Novak, returning his call.”
The ‘one moment’ seemed a lot longer, and she resisted the urge to hang up the phone. Munch tried to assure her on the way over here that she was safe, that Leonard had no idea that he was a suspect. “Act natural,” he had told her. Easier said than done.
She sat up straight. “Judge Leonard, I was told you called.”
“You left before I had a chance to talk to you.”
“Regarding what, Your Honor?”
“I received notice from the Court that I would be presiding over two of your other cases. Yates and Buehler. I thought we might arrange a time to discuss their scheduling.”
Her brow creased in suspicion. “I will notify the defense attorneys in those cases and see when they’re available … sir.”
“Very well. Are you feeling better, Counselor? In chambers, you looked as if you’d seen a ghost.”
“Must’ve been something I ate. But yes, I feel better.”
“Good. It would be a shame to lose another member of the legal community.” He paused. “Have a good evening, Counselor.”
The line disconnected, and she put the receiver back in place with a sigh.
Groth Law Office
Broadway and West 52nd Street
Tuesday, October 26
“Detectives!” Dan Groth had been walking out of his office when he spotted Elliot and Olivia. His greeting was a mixture of amusement and disdain, the kind of tone that only a lawyer could pull off. “How can I help you today? Looking to destroy my career for a second time?”
Elliot grinned. “Depends on if you’re guilty or not.”
“If you remember correctly, I wasn’t guilty the last time.”
“Oh, you were guilty. You just got off easy. How much did it cost you to buy her silence? A couple grand?”
Groth’s brown eyes seemed to grow darker. “I’d love to stay and reminisce, but I’m late for a meeting with a client.”
“That’s right. You’re a divorce lawyer now. How’s that working out for you?”
“It’s miserable, but since the DA’s office fired me after Annie accused me of raping her, I don’t have much choice in the matter.”
Olivia raised an eyebrow. “I’m surprised to hear you say that. You make good money now, more than the DA’s office ever paid you. I mean, look at your apartment — Upper West Side, great view of Central Park.”
“This is about that judge who was raped, isn’t it?” He sighed deeply. “Look, I already talked to the officers who stopped by last Friday. I spent that night at my girlfriend’s house and got into work Monday morning around nine.”
“What’s your girlfriend’s name?” she asked.
“You’re serious.” He chuckled. “All right, I’ll play your game. Her name is Lyndsey Brooker; she lives in Jersey City. Look, Detectives, I didn’t even know Judge Woodward had been raped until that patrol officer came asking for my alibi.”
“Did you know she was murdered?” Elliot asked.
“I read about it in yesterday’s paper. Front page news.”
“So where were you Friday night?”
“My record was expunged,” Groth said through gritted teeth. “I didn’t rape Annie, and I certainly didn’t rape Judge Woodward.”
“But you knew her,” Olivia said.
“Of course I knew her. The whole city knew her. While I worked at the DA’s office, I was a member of JAASA — the Judicial Advocates Against Sexual Assault. Marianne did a lot of good for the community. It’s unfortunate that she fell victim to the same thing she fought against.” He looked at each of them in turn. “Now, if you’re finished harassing me, I’d like to get to my client.”
They watched him climb into a taxi and speed away. Elliot glared at the disappearing vehicle. “I still like him for Annie’s rape.”
“That’s how we missed him on our initial search,” she said suddenly. “We weren’t focused on names, just on criminal records. Maybe there are others. Other suspects who–”
“What about Judge Leonard?”
Olivia started to speak then closed her mouth. “Every suspect we’ve had so far has come up clean, and who knows? Maybe Carly or Elena or the paraplegic who lives downstairs really is guilty. The perp could have been hired. Besides — a judge killing another judge?”
“Why not? Factory employees come into work with semi-automatic rifles and start taking out co-workers. Cops have killed other cops. Why can’t judges kill other judges?”
Olivia shook her head, looking down the street with her hands in her pockets.
“Come on, Liv. I’ll buy you dinner; we’ll drive to Jersey City and talk to Lyndsey Brooker tomorrow.”
That drew a laugh. “You’re in a cheerful mood for someone whose case is going nowhere fast.”
“Case, maybe. Marriage, no.” He smiled. “Pregnancy test was taken by one of our neighbors who wanted to surprise her husband with the news.”
“I told you it wasn’t Kathy or the kids.”
He linked his arm in hers. “That’s why you’re the sensible one.”
Casey worked well into the evening, catching up on newsletters and solicitations from expert witnesses. Then she read through the latest Supreme Court decisions and reviewed a motion prepared by the defense in one of her cases. By the time she finished drafting a response, she was the only one left in the office.
An occasional boom of thunder interrupted her thoughts, which was nothing compared to the growling of her stomach. She had skipped lunch, and it was nearing eight-thirty. Chinese takeout sounded good. She flipped through her Rolodex in search of a number.
There was a squeak from the main door, and Casey lifted her head to see who was there. The hall light was still off, so whoever had entered was either walking around in the dark or loitering near the receptionist’s desk. She strained to hear any signs of life, but there was nothing. Just silence.
“Hello?” She walked to her door and looked up and down the hallway. It was dark and empty. With the shake of her head — You’re imagining things, she told herself — she returned to her desk. “Get a grip, Casey,” she said aloud, the sound of her own voice working to quell her fears.
A screech echoed through the empty office, like a chair being dragged across a tile floor. Her head snapped up. She definitely didn’t imagine that one. Cautiously, she rose from her chair again and this time went into the hallway. She slid her fingertips across the wall as she crept toward the reception area. Maggie’s desk lamp was on; had she forgotten something and returned to the office?
She jumped back with a gasp. Munch frowned at her. “Jesus, John, what are you doing here?”
“I tried your cell but didn’t get an answer. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. How did you get in the building?”
“I switched into my Spiderman costume and scaled the wall.” She stared at him, clearly unamused, and he sighed. “I showed my badge to the officer on duty downstairs and signed in.”
She flipped the light switch and led him down the now-illuminated hallway to her office. “So did you need something?”
“Just checking to see that you were all right. You could barely walk straight when you left the station.” He took a step toward her then stopped. “Are you all right?”
“Then why were you sneaking around in the dark?”
She began to gather files together to take home, ignoring his question. It must’ve been him making all the noise that she heard. He probably turned on Maggie’s desk lamp, too. If there had been someone else there, he would’ve noticed. She glanced over at him; he was still staring. “John, I’m fine!”
“Obviously.” He shoved his hands in his suit coat pockets. “See you tomorrow.”
He turned toward the door, and she heaved a sigh. “John…” He stopped but didn’t look at her. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast. You wanna … go somewhere? I promise I’ll be better company once I’ve got food in my stomach.”
Munch gazed at her over his shoulder. “I hear you know this great little Indian place.”
One corner of her mouth turned upward. “You hear correctly.”
Special Victims Unit
Wednesday, October 27
“Are you ready?”
With a nod to her partner, Olivia finished the last of her coffee in two big gulps. “Yeah, let me get my coat.”
Munch walked into the squadroom and greeted them with a mock salute. “Guess I’m not the only one running behind today.”
“Nah, we’re on our way out,” Elliot said. “Daniel Groth’s alibi lives in Jersey City. How’s your new case?”
“Easier than the Woodward rape.” He hung his coat on the back of his chair and headed to the coffee pot. “Where’s Fin?”
“Stuck in traffic.”
Cragen stepped out of his office, followed by George Huang. “Olivia, Elliot, got a minute before you leave?”
“Yeah, what’s up, Cap?” Elliot propped himself up on the edge of his desk.
“I asked Doctor Huang to take a look at the Woodward rape/murder, see if he could help us find a suspect.”
Olivia’s smile was genuine, but Elliot’s was thin and forced. “We have a few possibilities,” he clarified, “but motive isn’t clear.”
Huang nodded. “This wasn’t a stranger rape; this was personal. Something that Judge Woodward did made him angry.”
“Yeah, the multiple stab wounds and strangulation made that pretty clear.”
Olivia shot a sideways glance at her partner. “Are the rapist and the murderer the same person?”
“It’s likely. The housekeeper wasn’t supposed to be home at all on the night of the rape, and she had been given the night off when Judge Woodward was murdered. This was probably your guy’s first rape and murder, but he’s given it a lot of thought. His ability to move off camera, studying both the judge’s and the housekeeper’s schedules… He’s very intelligent. Highly organized, functions well in society. And he most likely has some knowledge of forensics since he managed to leave little, if any, trace evidence.”
“A judge would have that knowledge,” Munch said, thinking of Casey’s run-in with Martin Leonard.
Elliot sighed. “So would a former district attorney like Daniel Groth. And they both knew the victim, live in the same building…”
“It’s possible that he intended to kill Judge Woodward on the night of the rape,” Huang continued. “His hatred was directed toward the judge, not the housekeeper. That’s why he didn’t attack her, too. He was only after the judge, and hurting Elena would be wrong.”
“A rapist with a conscience,” Elliot muttered.
It was Cragen’s turn to give him a warning look. “What can you tell us about the murder, Doctor?”
“Choking and other sorts of strangulation takes physical strength and time, and it’s also more risky because the victim isn’t immediately incapacitated. I suspect that he chose that method because it was satisfying to him. He wanted to watch her die.”
“And the stabbing?” Munch asked.
“It served no purpose. He could have choked her to death; the deep bruising on her throat indicated that he had the strength to do it. The stabbing was just a way to further expel his anger and frustration. Maybe he wanted her to suffer more. Maybe it excited him.”
“But stabbing is a method usually chosen in a sexually motivated crime,” Olivia said. “This doesn’t feel like one.”
Munch tapped his chin in thought. “Well, she was killed in the kitchen. Maybe he set out to choke her but found it didn’t give him the pleasure he was seeking. The knife was the closest weapon, so he reached for it instead.”
“It’s a very strong possibility,” Huang admitted. “The fact that he left her in plain sight, without covering her head or body afterwards, shows that he didn’t feel guilty about it. Killing her satisfied a personal motive. It wasn’t about sex or domination; it was about anger, possibly revenge.”
“Revenge for what?” Olivia wondered aloud.
Cragen looked at the psychologist. “Any suggestions for dealing with him?”
“He doesn’t feel remorse for what he’s done. In his mind, it was the means to an end. If he’s caught, it won’t matter how much evidence you have against him; he will deny it.”
“If he’s caught?” Elliot repeated, narrowing his eyes.
Huang offered him a smile. “He’s adamant about not being punished for his crimes because he doesn’t see them as wrong, and he’s done well to cover his tracks. If he senses you getting close, he’ll run … or fight back. He’s only dangerous once he’s been pegged for a suspect.”
Munch dropped his gaze. A thousand thoughts — none of them good — plagued his brain. “Dangerous to everyone?” he asked quietly. Elliot and Olivia turned toward him.
“Probably not,” Huang replied. “The person in the most danger is the one who opened the proverbial can of worms: the one who turned suspicion on him in the first place.”
She looked up from her menu to see Mary Clark weaving her way through the dining room obstacle course, her purse held high enough to avoid hitting other restaurant patrons in the head. “Hi, Mary.”
“Sorry I’m late. My oldest son was trying to convince me to co-sign on a lease for a motorcycle. I told him to talk to his father.” Mary’s grin slipped into a frown. “God, Casey, are you okay? You look exhausted.”
“What? Oh, I’m fine.” She had tried to hide the dark circles under her eyes with makeup; evidently, she hadn’t been successful. “Late night.”
“I’ll say.” Mary skimmed over her menu and started talking about her son’s Harley Davidson obsession. “I think he’s going to join the Hell’s Angels.”
Casey nodded and smiled when appropriate, but her mind refused to focus. She’d been unable to sleep, her dreams interjected by repetitions of ‘I love it when a plan comes together’ said in Leonard’s distinguished tone. At one point, she’d called Munch, who was also awake and watching infomercials. It had been just before midnight when she’d dialed his number, and it was almost two o’clock when they’d hung up. She’d slept the remainder of the night but still felt tired, like she’d fought an endless battle in her mind.
“So I hear your department is covering the Woodward murder.”
The phrase brought her out of her reverie, and she looked at Mary. “Uh, yes, they are. Benson and Stabler are the primaries.”
The waiter came for their order and disappeared without a ‘thank you’. “I knew Marianne back when she was an attorney and I was a judge. Very noble, very passionate, but an absolute witch during trial. If there wasn’t a gag order, she’d be on the front steps at recess, hand-feeding the press like sea lions at the zoo.”
Casey took a sip of her lukewarm coffee. “What do your friends on the bench have to say about her death?”
“I went to Judge Woodward’s party on Friday night, and they didn’t strike me as the sympathetic type.”
“Imagine your least favorite co-worker. Now imagine if he or she was raped and a week later murdered. How would you feel?”
She sighed. “Devastated.”
“If anything, it’s bringing the legal community closer together. I heard them discussing a resurrection of JAASA.”
“Led by whom?”
“I don’t know.” Their meals arrived, and Mary sprinkled pepper over her fettuccine. “I love this place, but the food is getting bland,” she said in a low tone. “So you got an invitation to the judge’s party.”
“What, you didn’t?”
“No, we have different political affiliations. Come to think of it, so do you. How’d you manage to get invited?”
“I was a guest of the Special Victims Unit.”
“Of course.” She flashed a devilish grin. “I also heard you were the belle of the ball.”
“I wouldn’t go that far.”
“Casey, please. There’s no need to be modest.”
A slow smile spread across her face. “I did look really good.” She stifled a laugh and began cutting her grilled chicken. “Who told you I was there anyway?”
Casey dropped her fork, and it clattered against the plate. “Judge Leonard?”
“He said you were quite a dancer.”
“Why were you talking to him?”
“We were just making conversation. We were on the bench at the same time, you know. We’re old friends.” She dabbed at the corner of her mouth with her napkin. “Sometimes you take things too seriously.”
They discussed difficulties with current cases throughout lunch. Mary had a few funny stories to tell, as usual, but Casey found herself struggling to focus on their conversation instead of the unsettling feeling in her stomach. Maybe she was taking Judge Leonard’s comment too seriously and overreacting. She had said it herself: ‘I love it when a plan comes together’ was a common phrase, and any 80s television buff would recognize it. Leonard could be completely innocent.
After paying for their meals, they walked back to the courthouse with the rest of the lunch hour crowd. The streets were packed with cars, and Casey was sideswiped by more than one bicyclist trying to get through the hoard of pedestrians. Fortunately, the puddles from last night’s storm had dried, or she probably would have found herself soaked.
“What’s going on?” Mary gestured to the courthouse steps, where a mob of reporters had surrounded a man on the stairs. “Court’s not in session right now.”
“I don’t know.”
They hurried toward the crowd, peering around heads to catch a glimpse of the speaker. Eventually, they made their way around the group to a suitable location. “That looks like Martin.”
Casey nodded. Judge Leonard stood in the center, his large head making him easy to spot. The reporters shouted question after question, none of which he answered right away. Instead, he looked pleased, basking in the attention. When he finally did speak, the journalists quieted down and fought over microphone placement.
“I know this all seems sudden, but it’s what Marianne would have wanted. If I am elected to the Supreme Court, I will serve in her memory. I promise to keep the same ideals, and I will work to keep convicted child molesters off the street.”
“He’s running for Justice,” Casey whispered. “He’s taking Marianne’s place as their party’s nominee.”
“He doesn’t have Marianne’s spirit,” Mary replied, “but he’s got longevity. He’s a good choice.”
Casey turned back toward Leonard as he continued speaking. “Further, I intend to start a fund in her honor: the Marianne Woodward Memorial Fund. Keeping rapists off the street was her life’s work, and that money will be used to continue her dreams. But the one thing I want — even more than winning this election for Marianne — is to see the man who did this to her brought to justice.”
There was a mild smattering of applause before another barrage of questions began. Leonard scanned the crowd with a smile, and his gaze fell on Casey. The grin faltered for an instant before widening, and she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. I love it when a plan comes together.The phrase began to pulse in her head as he stared at her with eyes void of the emotion he’d just expressed to the public.
“Judge Leonard!” a reporter shouted, and he turned his attention to her. “You say you’re running for Supreme Court Justice in Marianne Woodward’s memory. Prior to her death, did you want to run for this position?”
Casey didn’t need to hear his answer; suddenly, everything made sense. She hurried down the courthouse steps toward the street, and Mary followed. “Where are you going?”
“To the precinct,” she said as she flagged a taxi. “I forgot something.”
Her brows creased. “Casey–”
“Thank you for lunch.” The cab that pulled to the curb was still moving when Casey opened the door and jumped in. “I’ll call you.” She gave the address to the driver, and he merged back into traffic.
Maybe she wasn’t overreacting after all.
End of part six