417: Defensive Posturing

on November 2, 2009 in Book 15

In Which, Hey, Lee’s Got To Make A Living. He’s Getting Married, Remember?

It was at least thirty minutes from the time Lee got to the Crystal Palace until he came to the restaurant. We didn’t talk much while we waited… there was a definite sense of any minute now that made conversation seem a little pointless, especially the kind of bantering we had been doing. It felt like it was time to get serious… but in the absence of anything in particular to be done, we just sat around being seriously awkward.

“You all settled up?” Lee asked us, by way of greeting. He looked at Amaranth when he spoke. I didn’t know if that was because his eyes naturally gravitated towards her or because he’d noticed that she had a lot more charge-taking impulse than I did. She nodded, and he said. “Good. I have a coach that will meet us around at the side street. Let’s go.”

We followed him out of the restaurant, back into the ground floor hallway and towards the exit at the end of it.

He set a brisk pace. I was curious if something else had happened to instill this sense of urgency into him… not that the situation on itself wasn’t plenty urgent, but it seemed odd to be hustled out of the hotel so quickly, like he thought we might be stopped at any moment. I wondered if maybe he hadn’t been completely successful in his talk with Gregory… but no one interfered with us on the way out.

I might have asked him what was going on, but he was acting so tight-lipped… the implication was clear: move now, talk later.

A long black coach was waiting at the curb outside, with a pair of private guards sitting on the driver’s bench. Lee nodded at them and then opened the door, holding it open for the three of us and then climbing in after us. The coach was moving as soon as the door closed.

“Okay, good,” Lee said. “Mackenzie, I’ve got some things you’ll need to sign.”

“Just to clarify something, Lee,” Amaranth said, “are you working for Mackenzie now, or…”

“I’m representing her,” Lee said. He looked at me. “My interest is your interests, no matter who supplied the gold. That’s something to talk about later, when we’re alone. I’d advise you not to speculate about it. If anybody asks, tell them the truth: that you don’t know.”

“You don’t suspect that there’s something illegal about it, do you?” Amaranth asked.

“I don’t know that it’s anything but a perfectly legal if slightly unorthodox transaction,” Lee said. “There’s nothing to be gained by speculating.”

He shot me a brief but pointed look. I gathered that he might want to talk about that with me in private, but I didn’t ask him to clarify. We’d already gone over the fact that Amaranth couldn’t be compelled to testify, but I had no idea how something like attorney-client privilege would work in this case, and Ian was an ordinary citizen of the Imperial Republic. He’d probably hear my theory eventually, but only when the current situation was over and we were past the point where he might find himself answering questions for an imperial agent.

I didn’t know how much of a risk Lee was taking by accepting gold that might have been from a demon… I had no idea how the law worked if he had no knowledge but might have suspected. But he was willing to represent me, whatever the risk was, so I would just follow his lead and try not to get him disbarred or arrested over it.

Lee pulled some papers out of a folder.

“Now, there was some… I’m going to say ‘open-ended language’ in the instructions we received,” Lee said. “I would not be exceeding the scope of them by offering to represent all three of you.”

“Do we need representation?” Amaranth said. “I mean, sure, we’re going to be questioned, but…”

“Yes, and you’ve just answered your own question,” Lee said. He looked at Ian. “Are you eighteen?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m going to be blunt,” he said. “If you’re on Mackenzie’s side, you’re going to want to talk to the imperials, but if you want to be on her side effectively, you won’t try to do it alone. You could probably get a local referral from the firm that represents your parents, but if you do that, you might wind up with an attorney who’s going to see throwing Mackenzie to the ghouls as being in your best interests.”

“Wouldn’t I have a say in that?” Ian asked.

“We lawyers can be a very persuasive bunch,” Lee said. “Especially when they’re telling you the same thing that imperial investigators are. I don’t want to impugn your willpower, Ian, but if you do that you’ll be going alone. That fact alone will make Mackenzie look bad, and it might make people curious why you aren’t with her.”

“Okay, but what about payment?” I asked. “I know I’m covered, but…”

“Well, that’s the other reason I’m doing this,” Lee said. “There was a sizable sum of gold in the pouch, but it’s under a returning enchantment. When our business with its owner is included, it will return to its owner, along with the unused portion.”

“That seems a little… trusting,” I said.

“It’s unusual, but not completely unheard of,” Lee said. “One of our major clients pays that way. Not that there aren’t crooked lawyers out there, but blatantly stealing money from the sort of wealthy and powerful clients who use such devices is not a good business practice, in general.”

“So, you have to be subtle about it?” Ian asked.

“Mackenzie’s benefactor chose how much money to make available,” Lee said. “I wouldn’t be dipping into it just for the hell of it, but I can protect her better… which serves his or her wishes… by taking you all on as a group.”

“What exactly were the instructions?” I asked.

“To use the money to protect you,” he said.

“Seriously?”

“Seriously,” he said. “As I said, a little open-ended, but given that they were delivered to a law firm and not an armourer or enchanter, I think it can be inferred that the intention was to offer you legal protection Anyway, if everyone is on board, then just look these over, then sign where I’ve flagged and we’ll make this official.”

He handed papers to each of us. They didn’t say much, though they took its time doing so… it was just a contract much like the one I’d signed when Lee first took on my arbitration case.

“So… when you were talking to Mike Gregory, you weren’t actually my lawyer yet?” I asked as I handed my signed form back to him.

“We had a verbal agreement,” Lee said. “But paper protects everyone.”

Amaranth also signed hers without hesitation. Ian looked his over, then said, “Fuck it,” and signed, as well.

“So, what was with the great escape?” he asked. “I felt like we were fugitives or something.”

“I’m sorry, I just realized we haven’t been properly introduced. Usually I take care of that before I take a client on,” Lee said. He held out his hand. “Lee Jenkins.”

“Ian Mason,” Ian said.

“Anyway, to answer your question: the imperials declined to detain any of you, just as I’d hoped, but I still wanted to get the three of you out of there quickly, in case the press showed up… or in case Mr. Gregory had a change of heart, or someone higher up the ladder got wind of it and decided to overrule him.”

“Why would they do that?” I asked.

“It wouldn’t immediately matter why, if they did,” Lee said. “While we were there, we were under their surveillance and their control. You don’t linger in a situation like that and hope that nothing goes wrong. ‘Full cooperation’ with authorities actually means doing as little as possible to provoke them while giving them as little chance as possible to screw one’s client over. My immediate goal is to get you back to your dorm, where you’ll be relatively safe.”

“Couldn’t we meet the investigators at your office or something?” I asked him. Even qualifying it with “relative“, I thought he was overstating the safety of Harlowe. And if the IBF was centering their investigation on the non-human students, then it seemed like we were sliding out of one potential trap into another.

“I don’t think that would give the best impression of our position,” Lee said. “You’re just another student, one who might appear to be a person of interest in the case but whom the facts will quickly disqualify as a candidate. If you don’t show up on campus, people will speculate about where you are and why… and when the answer turns out to be ‘holed up with an attorney’…”

“Point taken,” I said.

“Harlowe Hall is where it’s least suspicious for you to be. People will see you coming back from a night on the town with a couple of your friends,” he said. “Your human boyfriend and divinely beautiful girlfriend, as it happens… to be blunt, that’ll be helpful. You aren’t going to be arrested and convicted on public opinion if the facts get a chance to speak, Mackenzie, but the facts will speak louder if the rabble is quieter. I’ve been looking at a map of campus and it looks like there’s a carriage turnaround in front of your dorm?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Good. They’re checking carriages going in and out…”

“Oh!” Amaranth said. “Excuse me, Lee, I hate to interrupt, but… the wards around the town. They poke at Mack every time she comes to Enwich. If they keep records… and I’m sure that they must… then that would prove that she didn’t leave and come back or anything, right?”

“It might,” Lee said. “I’m not intimately familiar with the municipal protection spells.”

“Um… it’s actually tied to the school carriages,” I said. “When I was in a private coach with Sooni, we didn’t get ‘buzzed’.”

“Nevertheless, security on the walls tightens over night,” Lee said. “And the gates are actually closed to regular traffic overnight. All of which makes it more unlikely that you could have gone to campus and back in the middle of the night, but as you would have had to somehow circumvent security to do so in the first place, well… if somebody is truly determined to believe you were involved, the lack of evidence that you left town will more likely be read as lack of evidence that you remained. Now, Mike Gregory is heading up the investigation, and he doesn’t seem like the type… I went through a lot of background material on him this morning and it seems like we really couldn’t have done any better than him. He has a bit of a reputation for stubbornness, but he’s also sensitive to non-human concerns. He seems unlikely to willingly swallow an ‘official version’ that doesn’t match the facts.”

“But he might not have a choice?” I said.

“He’s a respected finder, but he has to answer to his higher-ups, and they have to answer to political pressure,” Lee said. “Still, he’s not a Yes-Man and our profile indicates that integrity is important to him. That’s good, though it may be a sticky point… he doesn’t want to be here, and I got the impression from him that he may use his liaison with you as an excuse to bow out,” he said, nodding at Amaranth. “That would be bad, not only because his replacement would be an unknown quantity, but because… well, it could be spun into something unsavory if the lead investigator is taken off the case because of a sexual encounter with a suspect’s partner the day before the crime was committed.”

“Wouldn’t it look just as bad if he stays on the case after that?” I asked.

“For him,” Lee said. “Possibly for us. But ‘lead investigator leads investigation’ isn’t a story that demands to be told. If he drops out, somebody desperate for a fresh angle or a new lead will find out why. Otherwise, there’s no reason for it to come up. He isn’t going to go around advertising it. Neither should you. Don’t talk about it among yourselves, don’t tell anybody else, don’t even think about it, if you can help it.”

“Oh, I’m way ahead of you there,” Ian said.

“The other reason I want to get you back to Harlowe Hall is that a lot of your dormmates are the children of foreign potentates or are otherwise VIBs. The place is going to be crawling with attorneys and diplomats,” Lee said. “The colony of underfolk at Ceilos have apparently gated in some sort of eyeless fish-beast to observe things and make sure their people aren’t being mistreated. Ideally, all of this attention will keep the imps on their best behavior. The reality is that we can’t count on any sort of solidarity… people who are advocating on someone else’s behalf might be satisfied with any resolution that leaves their clients untouched.”

“Excuse me, Lee?” Amaranth said. “I have a thought about something, but it’s not really legal strategy, per se.”

“It isn’t illegal strategy, is it?” Lee asked.

“Well, no,” she said. “I just meant… I’m not sure if it falls within your purview or not.”

“What is it, exactly?”

“Well… as I understand it, the biggest risk to Mack is that she’ll be an attractive enough scapegoat that the facts won’t matter,” Amaranth said. “More so than any of the other more ‘monstrous’ students who have powerful connections, since the risk of some kind of backlash is lower?”

“Yes, that’s a succinct summary,” Lee said.

“Okay, but when Mackenzie disappeared in the teleportation incident, we got a whole cross-section of the campus coming out to demonstrate for her,” Amaranth said. “I think part of it was that she was a fellow student and part of it was anger at the perception that she’s been unfairly demo… vilified. Obviously the students who’ve been doing the vilification didn’t turn out, but there’s a certain segment of the campus population that might have her back.”

“Well, that is a thought,” Lee said. “But it has to be considered that the alleged murder victim in this case is also a fellow student, and so are most of the people who will fall under suspicion. Trying to shore up support for Mackenzie in particular might be more difficult in this case than it was when it was one student being abused by the powerful and faceless administration.”

“But if we could do it, wouldn’t it be useful?” Amaranth said. “I mean, yeah, the consequences of riling up a bunch of students probably aren’t the same as the international or interracial stuff that could come down on the Imperium, but it’s close to home and it could be very visible.”

“It’s something to think about,” Lee said. “Our first statement to the press will certainly play up the fact that Mackenzie is an imperial citizen and half human, as a reminder to all involved that she does have civil rights.”

“Would it be crass to point out that she has more human blood than the victim does?” Ian asked. “Did, I mean.”

“Crass and inaccurate,” Lee said. “We spent some time doing some quick research on her people. She’s technically at least half human, and arguably more, since her mother was the offspring of a human and a swan woman, too.”

“I don’t know if I’d be comfortable playing that particular card,” I said.

“But if it helps protect you…” Ian said.

Beside me, Amaranth made a little noise kind of like a strangled, throaty growl. I figured she was torn between her impulse towards fairness for everybody and her protectiveness for me… she knew she wanted to say something but she wasn’t sure what.

“Listen, Mackenzie,” Lee said. “We’d be foolish to ignore public opinion, but clichĂ©s aside, that isn’t the court where trials are held. We’ll work to head off any pitfalls in that area, but in this case, the best defense is a good defense. What we really want to happen is for the investigators to cross your name off the suspect list and move on to greener pastures. So, let’s go over your movements yesterday so you’ll be ready to talk to the investigators.”

“They’re not going to grab me out of the coach right when we get there, are they?” I asked.

“It would be unexpected and sort of foolish for them to be that aggressive when we’re cooperating,” Lee said. “But we don’t want to throw up a lot of arbitrary delays. We want you cleared and cleared quickly, and there’s nothing to be gained by ironwalling the authorities.”

I nodded, and then we proceeded to go over what we’d done the night before… the broad strokes, when it came to the nightclub. Lee asked us to clarify and be more specific in a few places. He tapped along on a stone tablet as we spoke.

“Okay,” he said. “I’m drafting a request for the Crystal Palace to release any security images of you that the authorities request. The owner would likely withhold them unless a tribune ordered it. Since those images will establish the time you returned, we don’t particularly need the benefits of dwarven privacy protection. You did come in through the main lobby?”

“Yeah,” I said. “We didn’t really have any reason to be sneaking around.”

“You don’t actually need a reason to sneak around, within the confines of the law,” he said. “But it doesn’t always look good if you do so, and it can also interfere with mounting an effective defense.”

“Um, Lee?” Amaranth said. “On that subject? At the nightclub, we kind of… well, they take privacy kind of serious there, too, so their security divination doesn’t capture images without consent. And… we didn’t give consent for Mack. Is that a problem?”

“Did she fill out a form going in?” he asked.

“Yes,” Amaranth said. “And they were hooked into some sort of spell that verified our identities, too. I don’t know if it keeps records of the queries, but there’s a small chance the bouncers will remember us since there was some confusion over my status.”

Lee nodded thoughtfully.

“Hey, isn’t it the investigators’ job to… you know… investigate?” Ian asked. “I mean, if they’re interested in poking holes in our story, aren’t they going to have to go out and try to prove us wrong, and then find out all this stuff?”

“Broadly speaking, you’re correct,” Lee said. “But it can be dangerous to assume that the investigators will do their job. And the nightclub stuff is all secondary anyway. If we had no other way of establishing you were in town, it would be more important. I left a message for the night auditor at the Crystal Palace to contact my office. If he or she… they wouldn’t even give me a name… saw you coming in, that coupled with any images from the lobby crystals should be fairly compelling. If it comes down to a trial, we’ll dig up everyone we can to build a clear picture of students having a weekend getaway, but right now I’m focusing on making sure that doesn’t happen in the first place.”

For the rest of the trip back to campus, we focused on minutiae of strategy. Lee thought it was likely that Gregory would want to interrogate me himself. He was going to suggest that the imperial agent could deal with all three of us at once to save time.

“It’ll be a good sign if he says yes,” Lee said. “It will mean he’s interested in crossing Mackenzie’s name off the list in the most efficient way possible. Whether it’s separately or together, the rules are going to be the same. Don’t volunteer information, but don’t get cute and play games, either. Don’t try to hide anything about your evening because it’s embarrassing. Don’t make up details like time to fill in gaps in your knowledge. To put it shortly, answer no more than the questions that are put to you with no more than the truth. If you’re not sure how to answer a question, look at me. If I’m not sure about a question, I’ll stop you before you answer it. Follow my lead and we’ll get through this.”

“Um…” Ian said.

“Question, Ian?” Lee said.

“No, not exactly… I’m having a moment of doubt here,” he said. “I feel like I’ve turned myself from someone the authorities are going to probably want to talk to into a co-suspect.”

“Well, a little jitters are to be expected,” Lee said. “If you provide Mackenzie with an alibi, that means that you’re a suspect if she is. You’re doing the right thing by standing up for her, Ian… but even if you don’t, you’re still going to find yourself subject to imperial scrutiny to the same extent that her story is.”

“Hey, I’m not backing down or anything,” Ian said. “I just… well, like I said. Moment of doubt.”

“So, you’re totally on board, then?” Lee said.

“Totally,” Ian said.

“Good,” Lee said. “Now, we should be just about there… there’s a front entrance on Harlowe that goes through a common lounge area?”

“Yes, but we hardly ever use it,” Amaranth said.

“We’re going to be going in there today,” he said. “We want to be visible. I understand that a number of students have been congregating there since the news broke.”

“Lee… I trust your judgment about legal stuff, but I’m not sure that’s the best idea,” I said. “I’m not exactly the most popular person in the dorm.”

“We can’t do anything about that, unfortunately,” Lee said. “But those people you aren’t popular with may be less inclined to invent or extrapolate things about you to investigators or reporters if they know that you’re not actually in hiding or on the run but are walking around freely in your residence hall the same as they are. We walk in openly, together, the three of you and your friendly neighborhood legal representative… we let the agents on site know that you’re available, and we’ll take it from there. If everything goes well, they should be finished with you pretty quickly and we’ll be done, unless they need to follow up on something.”

“If it doesn’t?” I asked.

“Then you have the full legal expertise of Pendragon and Associates standing behind you,” Lee said.

He said it so confidently, but as we drew close to the campus I couldn’t help thinking that there were at least a few worst case scenarios where a really good lawyer wouldn’t help. They were somewhat ineffective against lynch mobs, for instance, or overly-nervous cops. The wheels of justice ground slowly, after all… far slower than a magic crossbow or deadly wand.


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10 Responses to “417: Defensive Posturing”

  1. BMeph says:

    “When our business with its owner is included, it will return…”

    When our business with its owner is concluded, perhaps? 🙂

    Current score: 0
  2. Daezed says:

    Pendragon and Associates…. Previous OT story about dragons and their ”pendragons” as representatives to the world for legal matters… a special P&A client… Embries being a dragon… I feel like a complete idiot for not making this connection the last two times I read this story, lol.

    Current score: 0
  3. pedestrian says:

    Thanks Daezed for pointing that out. Your posting clarifies a couple of issues that had been puzzling me.

    Current score: 0
  4. The Chosen One says:

    “friendly neighborhood legal representative”
    Now I really want to see how comic book super heroes are affected by the whole science/magic thing. Was Spider-Man bitten by a cursed spider rather than a radioactive one, and is the whole concept offensive to dark elves? Does Thor’s counterpart come from a land beyond the celestial dome where the universe is Orderly, such that science prevails? Though I could totally see a fantasy version of Iron Man in full plate armor, powered by a large enchanted gem.

    Current score: 2
    • Jechtael says:

      Was Spider-Man originally bitten by a spider charged with unknown magic energy, then more recently revamped to have been bitten by some kind of robotic spider when more was discovered about that magic and it became implausible? …oh, I would LOVE to see a Bruce Banner who got his Hulk powers from a confluence of nature magic, and a Jennifer Walters who became She-Hulk because she needed some kind of life-force transfusion to cure a family curse that landed on her and ended up getting part of his powers.

      Current score: 0
  5. Reader says:

    Man, I’d love to read the questioning session they had with Trina. Ought to be a laugh riot.

    Current score: 0
    • capybroa says:

      I kinda hope that Puddy’s cousin gets roped into this as well, for similar reasons. Maybe circumstances will require her to give a joint testimonial with Prof. Aaron Hart?

      Current score: 1
      • Reb says:

        The adventures of Keri LaBelle and Professor Hart forced to converse in a variety of increasingly improbable settings would make a good comedy spin-off.

        Current score: 9
        • Kalamorda says:

          Keri:What kind of variety?
          Hart:Whitman’s……and the chocolate covered cherry is Santorum

          Current score: 0
  6. Jechtael says:

    I wonder why “some sort of eyeless fish-beast” didn’t set off Mackenzie’s memory, given how… “focused”, she was, on the hole-like eyes of Feejee’s true form.

    Current score: 1