IT WAS JUST AFTER THE 1962 EASTER WEEKEND when Beauchamp’s first murder file landed on his desk. Only twenty-five, he was in his fourth year of practice and still regretting his choice of criminal law over pursuit of a doctorate in classical studies. So it was a matter of extreme irony that the case that finally tilted him toward the law involved the death of his respected – nay, idolized – tutor in the Greek and Roman classics, Dermot Mulligan, D.Th., Ph.D.
Let us put this life-shaping event in context. His firm, Tragger, Inglis, Bullingham, was perhaps the most conservative, the most staid of Vancouver’s major law offices, and it regarded its small criminal division almost with embarrassment, its staff as untouchables. This is where Beauchamp toiled, in a windowless office on the fourteenth floor of a West Hastings bank building.
By the spring of that year he had built a creditable record of victories, but only one of note: a dangerous driving charge against the Highways minister, Phil Gaglardi. Many had been cases from the Legal Aid Society, earning a paltry thirty-five-dollar per diem. Occasionally, to the disapproval of his seniors, he would even act pro bono – a beggar, a vagrant, a street drunk. He was a pushover for the sad stories of the oppressed.
Earlier that year he’d finally escaped from the stifling oppression of his parental home on University Hill, to a West End bachelor flat. One might often see him having a fifty-cent breakfast in one of the busy diners on Denman Street, or on lonely walks by English Bay: gangly at six foot three (friends called him Stretch), hair clipped short, sombre of expression, his lugubrious eyes and heroic nose combining to give an impression of craggy world-weariness. Picture him on a chill and misty April morning in Tragger, Inglis’s requisite uniform – overcoat, hat, dark suit, black shoes – striding beneath the pink-blossoming trees of the West End toward the crypt, as he called his windowless office, to prepare the cross-examination of a young woman whose front teeth had been knocked out by a detested client . . . Tuesday, April 24, 1962
Ah, yes, Schlott – Hugo Schlott – that was his name. A beefy, red-faced, post-pubescent progeny of a doting, disbelieving mother who was paying my fee. The chief of the criminal section and my immediate superior, Alex Pappas, had handed it off to me with a smirking “Do your best, pal.” Truly the Schlott case represented the low point of twenty-five years of a life poorly lived, spent in random wandering without clear direction. It offered stark proof I had taken an ill-conceived detour from the path of enlightenment to the path of shame. The doors of academia had been opened wide, bounteous scholarships offered. Instead I was bound upon my barrister’s oath to defend an odious bully.
I had no stomach for the trial, and I fully intended not to punch in that day. Instead I would march into the den of the managing partner, Roy Bullingham, and announce I would be applying to Cambridge to complete my thesis on The Aeneid.
I owed that to Dermot Mulligan, for he had opened those academic doors and I had failed him. Dr. Mulligan – author, classicist, philosopher, mentor throughout my master’s program at ubc – had disappeared on Easter weekend, only a few days before, from his retreat by the Squamish River, and it was feared the river had taken him to his death.
That it was a pleasant spring morning seemed only to add to my malaise. That I entered my building amid a hurrying group of pretty secretaries only made me feel more lonely. Members of the intimidating other sex tended to spurn this socially dysfunctional sad sack; I’d never known the touch of Venus, that which they call love.
For no accountable reason, those few moments in the rattling elevator stick in my mind (though withheld from my prying biographer as too delicate for his omnivorous ears). I’d plastered myself to the back wall of the crowded cage behind the comely Gertrude Isbister: nineteen, newly hired, among the loveliest of the flowers that adorned our secretarial pool. As the lift lurched in ascent, she made a misstep while adjusting her skirt. Without thought I reached out to steady her, my hand resting for an electric second on the fluffy fabric of her tight angora sweater.
I said, “I truly beg pardon. Excuse me” – something like that, my face aflame. Whether out of shyness or reproach, she did not respond, though she didn’t move away and continued tugging at her skirt. We were let out on the fourteenth floor (in reality the thirteenth, which, according to local legend, was the haunt of ghosts wailing from the air conditioners). As Gertrude preceded me, I saw that her right stocking was poorly aligned, puckered at the knee. Staring rapturously at that juncture of skirt and knee, I barely missed colliding with Geoffrey Tragger as he exited his office.
“Steady there, son,” he said, adjusting his glasses. “Beauchamp,
“Yes, sir. Arthur Beauchamp.” I was surprised. This absentminded senior partner, a corporate tax specialist, rarely recognized, let alone spoke to the forty-odd inferiors in practice there. “You’re on the criminal end, are you not?” (These and following conversations are reconstructed as best I can remember; do not call it creative non-fiction – I seek to offer a fair rendering, without gloss.) “Your name was mentioned this morning . . . Yes, Mr. Bullingham wants a tête-à-tête. Something that’s been in the news . . . Well, never mind. He’s waiting for you.”
Bully’s secretary showed me straight in. He was seated behind his massive oaken desk, a gaunt man of middle years, a skindeep sheen of affability disguising the Scrooge within. Lolling in an easy chair across from him was Alex Pappas, wearing a rumpled suit and a vanity hairpiece, fleshy wattles quivering below a stubbly chin.
“We got something for you, kid,” he said.
“Alex believes you’re up for this,” said Bully. “Your first murder.”
I had rehearsed an exit line from Pliny: Multi famam, conscientiam pauci verentur.
Many fear their reputation, few their conscience. My conscience (I might have added) will not let me defend a violent misogynist, sir. Fie, I say, to reputation. But my tongue was tied. A murder? Something that had been in the news? I trolled through the possibilities: the gangland turf war then adorning the front pages, or maybe that psychotic who’d mistaken his mailman for the Antichrist.
Bully was sifting through the papers in a thin folder. “You really think he has it in him?”
“He’s streaky,” Pappas said. “Won five straight, dropped the next two. Then four wins – charity cases.”
“Yes, I’ve heard of his penchant for defending life’s losers. Noble intentions, I’m sure, but we can’t have too much of that. What about Crawford?”
Pappas lit a cigarette. “Too lazy. Arthur is the best of a poor lot. Not much jury experience, a couple of cases. He’s not afraid of work. Seems to have some innate tools. Almost unconsciously eloquent at times.”
I might not have been there. I retain an image of myself shifting from foot to foot, hands hanging loosely, staring at a framed photograph of a younger Bully greeting my hero, John George Diefenbaker, the famed orator, criminal lawyer, and then prime minister. A similar photo, Bully clasping the hand of Louis St. Laurent, had disappeared after the Tories submerged the Liberals four years earlier. Another campaign was underway that year, Dief fighting to hang on to his job. (By the mid-sixties Lester Pearson had replaced him on Bully’s wall.)
“Am I to be allowed in on the secret?” I asked boldly. “Which murder case is this?”
Pappas blew a stream of smoke. “Dermot Mulligan.”
My mouth fell open. “Dermot Mulligan? Murdered?
“Read the papers much, kid? Some loudmouth Indian got charged yesterday. Maybe you should tell him to shut his yap before he talks his way to the gallows.”
I stammered, “I . . . I can’t take it on. Professor Mulligan was . . . I knew him. I took courses from him. A hugely respected scholar. I’d be fouling his memory.”
I was met with incredulous stares.
On the Saturday of Easter weekend, Mulligan had disappeared from his hobby farm – ten acres along the Squamish River, across from the snow-capped peaks of the Tantalus Mountains. In late March he’d begun a sabbatical there to write his memoirs; he was later joined by his wife, Irene. They were both about fifty, and childless. But I’d heard speculation from mutual friends that Gabriel Swift, a young aboriginal, had taken on a filial role, and that the Mulligans had begun to dote on him.
I was aware from news accounts that Swift was twenty-one and had worked a few years as their caretaker, looking after their A-frame cottage when they were at their Vancouver home. For the term of Mulligan’s sabbatical, Swift had moved back to the Cheakamus Reserve, though he returned daily for chores: splitting wood, operating a small tractor, tending a pair of riding horses. Shortly after Mulligan’s disappearance he’d been arrested, questioned, and released. But apparently on Easter Monday – just yesterday – he had been detained again, and this time charged with Mulligan’s murder.
A theologian and philosopher, Dr. Mulligan was also famed as a translator and expositor of classic literature, which he had taught me to love. A rebel within his once-revered Roman Catholic Church, he was a bit of an oddity, awkward and jumpy, slightly fey. His lectures were often brilliant, yet peppered with anecdotes that rarely seemed on point. A powerful scholar, he’d published nine books on philosophy, religion, and morality, the best of them meditations on the ancient gods and the poets who’d praised them. Thin, balding, given to wearing heavy horn-rims, he was a man reclusive in habits, rarely appearing outside home, hobby farm, and lecture hall. But I’d shared a glass of Madeira with him, had been among the privileged few to be invited into his book-lined den. Had I been his favourite? I wanted to believe so.
“I revered him . . . It’s hard to explain.”
“Well, as long as he wasn’t going up your ass, I don’t see a problem.”
That salacious innuendo from Pappas I recall distinctly – I was contemplating ripping the toupée from his head.
“All the better that you hold a reverence for the deceased,” said Bully. “The jury will be the more impressed that you would defend his killer.”
This eye-popping presumption of guilt was, I think now, Bully’s effort to shock me, to force me into waving the flag for presumption of innocence. In putting my sense of justice to the test he thought to bend me, break my will.
“One must occasionally do the charitable thing,” Bully continued. “The image of the grasping lawyer is all too prevalent. So when the Legal Aid Society calls upon us to show our good heart, we do not demur, particularly for a high-profile case. And there are rewards beyond printer’s ink. They have offered an unusually generous hundred dollars per diem, plus a smaller amount for your junior counsel.”
“Out of curiosity, whom do you have in mind?” I asked.
“Ophelia Moore,” Pappas said. “Spin this baby out and we may even turn a profit. And maybe you’ll get laid in the bargain.” The female staff called Pappas “Mister Hands” behind his back. It was all around the office that when he squeezed Mrs. Moore’s rear, she’d grabbed his testicles so hard he yelped.
Bully scowled at Pappas. “We don’t suggest you’ll win, young man. The odds are stacked against you. Eminent scholar slain by a hot-tempered Native with, doubtless, your typical drinking problem. But justice must seem to be done, and you, young Arthur, are the one who must seem to do it.”
There was more along this line. It was the ethical duty of counsel not to turn away the impoverished supplicant. This would be my chance, even in defeat, to embellish a growing reputation. A career-maker. Winnable cases would follow. Tragger, Inglis had its eye on me.
Despite my reservations, I felt challenged – I’d been worked over well. And I was intrigued; I had dreamed of putting what skills I had to the supreme test. A murder, a hanging offence! Maybe I owed Dr. Mulligan this – after all, he’d been not only an opponent of capital punishment but a vigorous supporter of Native rights. In his early years he’d been the principal of one of the Native residential schools that he later spoke of so scathingly. I suspected Swift had been his project of redemption.
Pappas stubbed out his smoke. “He’s waiting to meet you at Oakie.” Oakalla, in Burnaby, the regional prison.
“I have a trial. Hugo Schlott.”
“That bum? You’ll have to find some way to put it over, pal.”
“It’s set peremptorily. I’ve adjourned it seven times.”
“Mr. Pappas will be pleased to do it in your stead.” Bully’s expression warned that he would not hear debate. Pappas looked as if he’d taken a boot in the groin.
Before heading off to Oakalla Prison, I squirreled myself away in the Crypt with the file and several back issues of the Sun
and the Province.
The file was skimpy indeed: a legal aid form and a sheet of paper with some phone numbers – no details, no police report. The news stories (still extant, crisp, yellowed, and well-fondled by Wentworth Chance) revealed little. After Dr. Mulligan’s disappearance, some clothing, presumably his, was found by the riverbank half a mile from his cottage. They were being examined for bloodstains. Irene Mulligan was speechless with grief, secluding herself and refusing to be interviewed by the press.
A person of interest had been questioned, held, and released, but Swift’s name wasn’t mentioned until his re-arrest. In his remarks to the press, Staff Sergeant Roscoe Knepp of the Squamish rcmp had used the typically prolix phraseology of his trade: “I can only affirm at this point in time that the arrested individual had been in the employ of Dr. Mulligan for approximately two years and five months. A formal charge of murder in the first degree has been preferred against the aforesaid individual. We are pursuing further investigative leads.”
Press photos showed Swift being bundled into a cruiser: a young, slender, bronze-skinned lad in rough clothes, a pair of braids, sparking black eyes. He’d called out to reporters that he was being “framed by a fascist f—ing cabal of racist brownshirts.” That gave me a jolt. Such bluntness would gain him little sympathy in a white man’s court. What in God’s name had I gotten myself into?
Swift was obviously a much-politicized young upstart. He was a farmhand, a labourer, a son of the Cheakamus tribe, born on its reserve, educated in a church-run school. No interviews with his friends or family decorated those pages, though encomiums for Dr. Mulligan filled columns.
The few neighbours who would speak of Swift – all white and working-class – claimed to know little of him. Thelma McLean, who lived across the road with her tree-faller husband, had often seen him “lazing about on their porch with a book,” a curious observation, implying an association between reading and laziness. “I can’t remember speaking to him, but he seemed troubled, always hiding in a book.” Mrs. McLean and other neighbours were attending to Irene Mulligan, shielding her from the media swarm outside her house.
Before slipping the file into my briefcase, I looked through the contacts Pappas had jotted down. Staff Sergeant Knepp’s number was there, and that of the court clerk in Squamish. The final name caused me tremors. M. Cyrus Smythe-Baldwin, Q.C., the lion of the criminal courts, had been named special prosecutor.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from I'll See You in My Dreams by William Deverell. Copyright © 2011 by William Deverell. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.