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  • Silent Justice
  • Written by William Bernhardt
  • Format: Paperback | ISBN: 9780345428134
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Silent Justice

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

When a powerful corporation is charged with dumping toxic chemicals into a community's drinking water and killing innocent children, Ben Kincaid knows the class action suit is a suicide mission. Facing off against the small Kincaid staff is Tulsa's largest law firm. Challenging Ben in the courtroom is the firm's fabled top gun--not to mention a hot-headed judge with a notorious soft spot for big business. But as Ben prepares for legal battle, a sadistic killer strikes. With each gruesome murder, a terrifying connection is more deeply drawn between Ben's quest for justice and another man's relentless hunt for the spoils of his own private--and very dirty--war.

Excerpt

* Six Months Before *

Who let him in here? Ben Kincaid wondered.

He peered across the study quad at the scruffy-looking
older man hovering near the front double doors to the University
of Tulsa College of Law. Ben's attention was drawn by
the fact that the man was wearing a long overcoat; it was ill-fitting,
wrinkled, and stained. The man's chin was covered
with salt-and-pepper stubble. His eyes were red and ringed,
as if he hadn't had a good night's sleep in weeks. He was
looking for something, or someone.

Ben couldn't imagine who or what that might be. The man
did not look as if he belonged here. Even the lawyers-to-be
with the most rudimentary grasp of personal hygiene did not
rise to this level of dishevelment. Ben wondered if maybe the
man had gotten lost on his way to . . .

To what? The homeless shelter? Come to think of it, there
wasn't anyone or anything anywhere on the TU campus that
was likely to welcome this visitor. Ben wondered if he should
ask the man what he wanted. Or perhaps whisper a word into
the ear of Stanley Robinson, the security guard he'd just seen
outside the dean's office.

Ben was distracted by a petite, attractive woman making
her way toward him. She had a creamy complexion perfectly
accented by two tiny patches of freckles on either side
of her aquiline nose. Her engaging gait not only spoke of extreme
self-confidence but, as an added bonus, did remarkable
things to the curly strawberry-blond hair dancing just above
her shoulders. As she sidled up to Ben, he admired her crazy-quilt
miniskirt, which had more colors than a jumbo box of
Crayolas.

Ben arched an eyebrow. "Is that a dress or a cry for help?"

Christina McCall didn't bridle. "It's ethnic chic. I'll have
you know this pattern is all the rage in Mozambique."

"Is that a fact?"

"It is."

"I haven't kept up with Mozambiquii fashion trends the
way I used to."

"More's the pity." Christina tilted her head back, sending her
hair bouncing behind her shoulders. "I hear you're teaching
The Tiger's class this afternoon."

"True." Although Ben had been practicing law for years,
only recently had he begun teaching classes at the local law
school as an adjunct professor. As he had quickly learned,
The Tiger was Professor Joseph Canino, a curmudgeonly
Ichabod Crane who'd been teaching Civil Procedure since the
dawn of time. "Apparently he was called away at the last moment.
Some kind of emergency."

"Probably heard of a law student somewhere he hadn't
publicly humiliated and rushed off to remedy the omission."

"Quite possible."

"I don't know where such a student might be, though.
Mozambique, perhaps."

Ben smiled. Professor Canino was of the old school; he
used the Socratic method like a dagger to slit the throats of
the unwary or unwitting. "I gather you're in this class?"

Christina had worked as Ben's legal assistant for as long as
he'd been in solo practice in Tulsa. Two years before, she'd decided
to expand her horizons and start law school. Since they
worked together and knew each other personally, they both
agreed it was best that she not be in any of Ben's regular
classes. But it looked like this morning they were going to be
in the same classroom whether they liked it or not.

"I am," she replied. "So don't be cruel."

"I'll try to restrain myself."

Christina scampered off toward class, leaving Ben to admire
once again her seemingly inexhaustible high spirits. It had
been almost ten years since Ben finished law school, but it
hadn't been so long that he'd forgotten how much he'd hated
it. Egomaniacal professors, arbitrary subjective grading, unrelenting
pressure to succeed, unrestrained favoritism--a hideous
gauntlet one was required to run in order to practice the
world's least respected profession. What a deal.

As Ben crossed the study quad, he observed that most
of the students' sentiments were aligned with his own, not
Christina's. The sweaty brows and twisted grimaces of those
purporting to study told him that law school had not changed
much over the past decade.

In a carrel just off the main hallway, Ben spotted the
grizzled man in the overcoat he'd seen near the front doors.
What was he doing? Certainly not studying; he wasn't even
carrying a book. His eyes were still roaming about. Who was
he expecting to see?

Or maybe he had it wrong, Ben reasoned. Maybe his first
impression had been correct. Perhaps the man was homeless
and he was just looking for a place to lie down where security
guards wouldn't hassle him. Ben considered recommending
one of the cushioned sofas in the library. It was quiet in there,
and if he covered his face with his hands, the staff would take
him for another student who had fallen asleep while reading
the rapturous words of the distinguished Learned Hand.

"Which class did you draw this time?"

Ben turned and saw Professor John Matthews, the leading
tort law expert in the state of Oklahoma. He'd written
texts and hornbooks on the subject; he was the unquestioned
authority.

"I'm filling in for The Tiger."

Matthews stroked his beard and smiled. "Ah. Lucky man."

"How do you figure?"

"If those kids are expecting to see The Tiger walk through
that door, they'll be virtually orgasmic when they see anyone
else. Even you."

"You sure know how to flatter a guy, John."

Matthews laughed and headed down the corridor.

Ben entered the classroom. All at once, the students fell
silent, shifted around, and turned their eyes front and center.

What a marvelous ego trip, Ben thought, not for the first
time. This must be how judges feel when they enter the
courtroom.

The classroom was designed in the Greek theater style:
three tiers of elevated seats and continuous tabletops formed
a semicircle around the podium, which was on the lowest
level. Ben took his place in the center, opened his teacher's
edition of the textbook, and started.

"My name's Ben Kincaid, and I'm filling in for Professor
Canino this morning, as I expect most of you already know.
So let's get to it. Who can tell me what a JNOV is?" He
glanced at his seating chart. "Mr. Brunner?"

A middle-sized man in his early twenties pushed himself
unhappily to his feet. "Uh . . . what were those letters again?"

"JNOV," Ben repeated, enunciating clearly.

"JNOV," Brunner repeated thoughtfully. "Is that a rock
band?"

There was a tittering of laughter throughout the classroom.
This would never happen if The Tiger were present, Ben
knew. Apparently Ben had a less imposing reputation. He
wondered what his nickname was. The Titmouse, perhaps.

"No, Mr. Brunner, you must be thinking of Run-DMC. Or
perhaps, ELO, if you're as old as I am." He turned his attention
to the rest of the classroom. "Who can tell me what a
JNOV is?"

The first hand up rose above a very familiar head of red
hair. Ben supposed he was obliged to call on her. She
shouldn't be penalized for knowing the substitute prof. "Ms.
McCall?"

Christina bounced to her feet. "A JNOV is a judgment
notwithstanding the verdict."

"Excellent." Ben put a little check mark beneath her name
on the seating chart. He had no idea what, if anything, The
Tiger planned to do with these check marks, but Christina
had certainly earned hers. "And what does that mean?"

"It means that after the jury delivers its verdict, the judge
may set it aside."

"You're two for two, Ms. McCall. On what grounds may
the judge disregard the jury's verdict?"

"Well . . . it looks to me like the judge can do it on just
about any legal grounds he wants. Anything the judge believes
calls the verdict into question."

"That's exactly right." Ben's eyes swept across the three
raised tiers of seats. "There's a lesson to be learned here, future
advocates--one you must never forget. In the courtroom,
the judge is King of the Forest. So try not to cross him or her."
He glanced down at his notes. "Ms. McCall, could you give
me the facts of Conrad versus Richmond Pharmaceuticals?"

To his surprise, Ben saw that she was no longer looking at
him. Her eyes had diverted toward the door.

He glanced over his shoulder. It was that shabby man in the
overcoat--the homeless man, or whatever he was. He was
peering through the glass in the door, the expression in his
eyes strange and intense.

What was his problem? Ben wondered. He was definitely
beginning to regret not reporting the man to Security. Something
about the sight of him lurking outside the door was
unsettling.

Ben turned back around and cleared his throat. "The case,
Ms. McCall?"

"Oh. Right. Sorry." She glanced down at her textbook.

"Conrad was a woman who had been advised to use a new
sedative manufactured by Richmond while she was pregnant.
Turned out the drug had serious side effects, although that did
not become apparent for--"

Ben heard the click of the door behind him. The man in the
overcoat was entering the classroom.

"Can I help you?" Ben said, not doing a very good job of
masking his irritation. Somehow he knew The Tiger would
never tolerate such an intrusion.

The man kept walking until he was far too close to Ben for
comfort. His breath reeked; Ben detected traces of several diverse
meals and perhaps some alcohol as well. His body was
not much better; the smell rising from beneath that coat was
so pronounced Ben almost winced.

The stranger spoke in a quiet, hushed voice. "You the
professor?"

"I'm trying to be," Ben said, with an edge that could cut
butter. "What is it you want?"

"You know what I want." The man stepped even closer and
whispered in Ben's ear. "Is the merchandise secure?"

"What?"

"You heard me. Is it?"

"I'm afraid I must ask you to leave."

"Not until you tell me what I want to know."

Ben's irritation was augmented by the feeling that he was
losing control of the classroom. "Sir, once again, I must insist
that you leave."

"Answer me!" The hush was gone; the man's voice swelled.
"Is the merchandise secure?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Ben looked at
Christina, then jerked his head toward the door. Intuitive as
ever, she received the message and started for help.

"Is it secure?" The man's breathing accelerated. Sweat
trickled down the sides of his grimy face. "Is it?"

Out of the corner of his eye, the man saw Christina making
her way toward the door. "Stop!" he shouted.

Christina did not stop. On the contrary, she picked up
the pace.

In the blink of an eye, the man reached beneath his wrinkled
overcoat. Less than a blink later, he was holding a sawed-off
shotgun in his hands, cocked and ready to fire. "I said, stop!"
Christina froze in place, obviously unsure what to do next.

Shrieks pealed out of the gallery. Some of the students
rose; some of them ducked under the desks.

"He's got a gun!" someone cried.

"He's crazy!" shouted someone else. Frenzied confusion
followed.

Damn! Ben thought. Where had that shotgun come from?
This man was crazier than he'd thought--and more dangerous,
too.

Ben took a hesitant step forward. "Now, look, let's stay
calm."

The man whipped the sawed-off around so it was pointed
at Ben's face. "Stay back! Stay away from me!"

Someone in the rear of the classroom screamed, a loud,
ear-piercing cry that sent chills down Ben's spine. The
stranger faded back till he was pressed against the chalk-board.
He panned back and forth with the weapon, assuring
everyone present that they were within his line of sight.

Ben felt his knees beginning to tremble, but he tried to
block that out of his mind. He was in charge in here--in
theory, anyway. If anyone had a chance of bringing this maniac
around, it was him.

He took a cautious step toward the man. "Please stay calm.
I'm sure we can find out whatever it is you want--"

"Stay back, I said!" The man pressed forward, his eyes
wild and crazed. "Don't think I won't fire. I will! I got
nothing left to lose!"

Behind him, Ben saw Christina quietly roll back into action.
She was trying to take advantage of the momentary diversion
of the stranger's attention to slip out the door.

No! Ben tried to send her an unspoken message with
his eyes. But it was no use. Christina kept edging toward
the door.

"I warned you!" the man bellowed as he whirled around
with his shotgun--and fired.

Ben's heart stopped at the report of the shotgun, like a
sonic boom in the small classroom. The shot hit the wall just
above Christina's head, spewing plaster and chalky dust all
over her.

Christina threw up her hands. "All right! I'm not moving!
I'm not moving!"

The intruder rushed toward her, gun still at the ready. He
grabbed her by the hair, wrapped it around his fist, then
shoved her back against the wall, hard.

More of the students shrieked as Christina's head slammed
against the wall. Her eyes batted rapidly as she struggled to
maintain consciousness.

"Don't hurt her!" Ben shouted.

The man with the gun stepped back, bringing Ben into his
line of sight. "I can hurt all of you. I will hurt all of you. If you
don't tell me what I want to know!"

He fired the gun again, this time into the ceiling. Ben
ducked behind the podium. This man was insane, Ben
thought grimly. He had to be. And he couldn't count on reasoning
with a man who had no reason. They were all in
deadly danger.

"Fine," Ben said, choking on the plaster dust that filled the
air. "Fine. I'll tell you anything. Anything. Just ask."

The man's teeth were clenched tightly together. "I already
did! Is the merchandise secure?"

Ben stretched out his hands. "I don't know what you're
talking about!"

The man fired the gun again, this time near Ben's feet. "Is
the merchandise secure?"

"Yes!" Ben shouted. "Yes! It is! It's so secure--you
wouldn't believe how secure it is."

The man rushed toward him. He grabbed Ben's lapel and
shook him. "You're lying to me!"

"I'm not! I don't know anything about your . . . merchandise!"

There was a momentary flicker in the man's steely gaze, as
if a new thought was being processed for the first time. "Isn't
this your classroom?"

"Yes, but . . ." Ben's lips parted. "Do you think I'm Professor
Canino? Because I'm not."

"You're not? But you said--"

"I'm filling in for him. I'm a substitute teacher."

The man stepped away from Ben, slowly and cautiously,
keeping his wild eyes on the entire classroom, daring anyone
to move.

His retreat was interrupted by the clattering of footsteps
just outside the door. Security, Ben saw through the window.
Thank God. Stanley must've heard the shots.

Three security officers started through the doors, including
Stanley. As soon as Stanley saw the man holding the shot-gun,
he drew his own weapon. Ben feared there would be a
shoot-out--and then he realized it was going to be something
else, something far worse.

The man with the shotgun grabbed the back of Christina's
head and shoved her forward, using her as a human shield.

"Stand back! I'll shoot her! I will!"

The three security officers froze.

"Drop your guns!"

Ben could well imagine what was going through Stanley's
mind. Normally, cops were taught never to relinquish their
weapons. But Stanley wasn't a cop. What's more, the man
with the shotgun was acting crazy. They might be able to talk
him down, prevent him from doing anything brutal. But if
they continued to threaten the man now, he would probably
explode--and Christina would be caught in the fallout.

With evident reluctance, Stanley laid his pistol on the floor.
The other security officers did the same. The man with the
shotgun rushed forward, pushing Christina ahead all the way,
till he had recovered the weapons and shoved them into one
of his outer coat pockets. "Now, get out of here! Now!"

Stanley tried to maintain a calm demeanor. "Couldn't I
stay and talk? I know you don't really want to hurt anyone.
Why don't we--"

The gun exploded in Stanley's face. The shot struck just
over and behind him, splattering the wall. Stanley ducked,
horrified, clutching the side of his face. The shot had come so
close it had singed his cheek.

"Now get out of here!" the man screamed. "Now! Now!
Now!"

This time the security guards left, including Stanley. After
the door closed, the man with the shotgun whipped around.
He shoved Christina down to the floor.

"Nobody moves! Nobody goes anywhere! We're all staying
right here until I get what I want!"

Ben rushed to Christina's side. He took her hand and
helped her up. "How are you?"

Christina shrugged. "I'm fine, damn it." She gazed at the
maniac with the shotgun. "Wish I'd moved a little faster."

"You and me both." Ben helped her to an empty seat in the
front row. He had a sinking feeling they were both going to be
here for a good long while.
William Bernhardt

About William Bernhardt

William Bernhardt - Silent Justice

Photo © Marcia Bernhardt

William Bernhardt is the author of more than twenty novels, including Primary Justice, Murder One, Criminal Intent, Death Row, Capitol Murder, Capitol Threat, Capitol Conspiracy, and Nemesis. He is one of fewer than a dozen recipients of the H. Louise Cobb Distinguished Author Award given “in recognition of an outstanding body of work in which we understand ourselves and American society at large.” He is also one of the country’s most popular writing instructors, teaching at various conferences throughout the year. A former trial attorney, Bernhardt has received several awards for his public service. He lives in Tulsa with his wife, Marcia, and their children.
Praise

Praise

"A FAST-PACED, ENJOYABLE MYSTERY . . . BERNHARDT JUST GETS BETTER AND BETTER."
--The Daily Oklahoman

"IT'S HARD NOT TO LIKE [BERNHARDT'S] FEISTY MAIN CHARACTER."
--Chicago Tribune

  • Silent Justice by William Bernhardt
  • February 27, 2001
  • Fiction - Thrillers
  • Ballantine Books
  • $7.99
  • 9780345428134

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