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PSTPWD: Jason Wood in "Trial Run", part II

And here is the finish of the Wretched Work!




viii.
The prosecution's case was pretty darn good. Not that I doubted it would be, and to be honest not that it needed to be, at least at this point. The rest of the day had been devoted to the prosecution, starting with a description of the bare facts of the case and then calling Lieutenant Ferrin to the stand. After establishing Ferrin's name, rank, and relation to the case, the prosecutor asked him to describe the events of that night, which the Lieutenant did, and then began asking him questions. "Now, Lieutenant, how did you know for sure that you were facing a Werewolf?"

"Well, me and Jack had seen it." Ferrin replied.

"By your own words, only for a split second, almost like, what was it… 'a flash of shadow'. That was why you arrested the monster rather than –"

I was on my feet. "Objection, your Honor!"

"What is it, Mr. Wood?"

"I didn't object during the opening statements, because they're not considered evidence, but the prosecutor cannot refer to my client as 'the monster' or 'a monster'. The term, and similar terms, are prejudicial and shouldn't be used in this context."

One thing going for me here was that Judge Freeman was black; I knew that he would immediately think of similarly insulting and prejudicial terms. "Objection sustained. Mr. Hume, unless the term is being used in an evidentiary context, you will refrain from using such terms for the defendant. You will use her name or the term 'the defendant'."

"Yes, sir." Hume's quick glance at me was something of a minor salute – I'd at least noticed the tactic and countered it, which as a lawyer he respected. He clearly wasn't worried about it. "As I was saying, Lieutenant, by your own report it was the fact that you had not clearly seen the Werewolf – that she had resumed human form – that kept you from just gunning down the defendant, but instead arrested her?"

The Lieutenant nodded. "CryWolf devices don't work at long range, and shooting down a 5-foot tall woman instead of an eight foot monster … well, sir, the Department doesn't want to encourage that level of judgment."

"Understandable, Lieutenant. Still, if you weren't certain enough to shoot, how were you certain enough to take the precautions you did?"

"The condition of the body, sir."

Hume turned to the Judge. "Exhibits 4a through 4g show various angles of the body of Frederic Delacroix as the officers found it." A display visible to the jury – but not easily viewable by the audience – came on. Some of the jurors paled, one – Alfred Flint – looked away, clearly nauseated. I knew they were seeing what looked like a man who'd gone through a paper shredder; sliced by four straight bloody lines that had cut through him like a wire through cheese, leaving five almost-aligned pieces. "Did you verify that she was a Werewolf, Lieutenant?"

"Not at that time, sir. But later at the station we did, and she didn't deny it at any time."

"Did she appear upset in any way, Lieutenant?"

"Not really, sir. Calm and clear-headed was my impression, even with the scratches and blood."

"Not exactly like a woman who'd almost been raped and killed her attacker, then?"

"No, sir, definitely not as I'd expect someone like that to be."

It continued like that for some time. Hume established how they'd arrested her, her call to me, and subsequent police work. He then called up the medical examiner and got his testimony on the wounds and cause of death – no surprises there. Frederic had been killed by a Werewolf, from in front, in a single strike. I had no direct questions for the M.E.; what I needed I found in his report, after getting them to do an examination of certain items found on the deceased. I wanted to bring those points up during the defense. Once I'd explained my reasoning, Mr. Opal (of Rosenfeld, Opal, and O'Brien) had agreed. He was the legal representative of the firm who was currently sitting with me to provide on-the-spot legal advice. He would also, hopefully, help me catch any tactical lapses or openings on the part of our opposition.

I spent some time during the M.E. interview examining the crowd. While they weren't technically participants in the trial, it was far from impossible that any large-scale reaction could influence the impressions of the jury. And, more importantly, anyone with an axe to grind – or an intention to murder my client – might be in that group.

A lined, tanned face with rough-hewn angles and narrow, sharp gaze instantly stood out. James Achernar gave me an almost imperceptible nod as our eyes met. Agent and, I sometimes suspected, leader of the secret U.N. intelligence taskforce Project Pantheon, Achernar had not only been assisting in getting the verification of Angela's background but had applied some level of pressure to ensure that a trial actually happened. I was hoping to find out why he was interested in doing this, but for now it was a good thing he was on our side.

A lot of news organization reporters were scattered through the audience. I also recognized several other faces – politicians, pillars of the local business community, others – from the list of "clients" Angela had given us. Those, and their associates, were much more worth studying. They had good reason to be afraid of this trial, in more ways than one.

One other face seemed to ring a faint bell. I couldn't place it, though. A pretty woman, maybe about 30, with very long red hair, serving as an assistant to one of the "clients". I made a note to find out who she was. I didn't see anyone else who seemed significant, so I returned my attention to the stand, where the M.E. was just standing down.

Hume then called other witnesses who established, through various chains of evidence, what kind of business Frederic was involved in (while avoiding going into just how far the "escorts" went in their escort duty). The first real surprise was his next witness -- Patricia Shire, or "Trisha", one of Frederic's other escorts and the one Angela suspected of pointing Frederic in her direction that night. "Miss Shire, you worked for the deceased?"

Trisha wasn't quite as cute, at least from my point of view, as Angela, but she did make a good impression on the stand – about three inches taller than Angela, more buxom, long brown hair and eyes which, Angela informed me, were a very attractive green. She wore a subdued business suit and looked forlorn. "Yes, sir."

"Did the defendant also work for the deceased?"

"Yes." She shot a look of horrified venom at Angela, who barely restrained a taunting smile; I saw the corner of her mouth start to curl.

"So you knew the defendant and deceased well?"

"Well… I knew Freddie well. I thought I knew A…Angela well, but obviously I didn't. I mean, I knew she was hunting him, I just didn't…"

I saw where this was going. And it went there quickly. Trisha testified that Frederic had become increasingly focused on Angela since she joined, and that Angela had kept teasing him. The rest of the story was obvious – Angela had kept stringing Frederic along until he pursued her to a location where there would be no witnesses, leaving her free to kill him. By this theory, it was the fact that the police just happened on the scene that screwed up her plans – after all, in just another few seconds she'd have been gone and in another untraceable form. Or possibly, Hume pointed out, as it was known that the Wolves could rather efficiently dispose of a body if they were so inclined, she'd have returned… AS Frederic Delacroix. Either way, the fortunate arrival of the police forced her to try this desperate stunt to keep from being gunned down where she stood.

I wondered why they weren't taking it to the next level. While I hadn't thought of the subtle use the Wolves were making of Angela's position, it did somewhat surprise me that the prosecution hadn't. There must be some reason they weren't bringing it up. Unless… I had another question to ask Angela.

Hume brought up a few other witnesses from Frederic's agency, confirming Delacroix increasing focus on Angela, and then describing her behavior during the night in question – that she'd embarrassed him, got him angry while drunk, and then led him out of the building. Angela indicated which one I should cross-examine. "That's Kitty." She said, as Hume swore in Kimberley Carronada. Kitty was one of the ones that Angela thought had considered her a friend, one that had confided in her and which Angela had traded favors with from time to time; not part of Trisha's clique.

Once Hume had gotten her to confirm the story from an overall perspective and give her description of the events of that night, I got up and walked over to the witness stand. "Kimberley, until that night, you considered Angela a friend, didn't you?"

She nodded, looking uncertain. "Yes."

"Did you see Angela leave the party?"

"Yes. She told me she was leaving."

"Did she say why?"

Kimberley was silent.

"Kimberley, I know the situation is difficult, but remember back to that night. Is it true that she told you that Frederic had tried to take advantage of her?"

I thought for a minute she might simply refuse to answer, given that she now knew Angela was a monster, but it really is hard to believe a friend has changed that much. I remembered trying to argue Elias Klein out of killing me, even when I knew he wasn't human, was crazy, when he was changing right in front of me. I counted on that gut-level disbelief.

"Yes." She said finally. "She did."

"Did you believe her?"

"Oh, yes. Freddie was like that when he got drunk, especially when he was mad at one of us for… well, for not …"

I passed over the implication; the expressions on the jurors showed that I probably didn't need to, they'd already figured out the score, which wasn't hard. "Did you see the deceased, Frederic Delacroix, after Angela left?"

"Yes. Just after she left."

"And what was he doing at that time?"

Kimberley hesitated. "He… he looked really mad. His hair was mussed, and so was his suit, and he was asking for Angela."

"Did he ask you where Angela was?"

"Yes."

"Did you tell him?"

A pause. "No."

"Why didn't you tell him where she was?" I asked. When there was no answer, I sighed. "Kimberley, your close friends call you 'Kitty', don't they?"

She nodded.

"Was Angela one of the ones who called you 'Kitty'?"

Keeping her eyes averted from Angela, she answered, "Y…yes."

"Then, Kimberley, isn't it really the truth that you tried to tell Frederic that Angela went off with someone else, one of the other guests at the party, because you were afraid of what would happen if he caught her?"

Very quietly, she said, "Yes."

"You heard some of your other friends try to do the same thing, didn't you?"

"Yes."

"Did you hear Trisha tell Frederic that she'd actually just left, alone?"

A momentary flicker of anger. "Yes."

"And Frederic then left quickly?"

"He ran out the door after Angela, yes."

I looked her in the eyes. "And at that time, when Frederic ran out in pursuit of your friend Angela, did you think Angela was in danger?"

"Y… yes. Yes, I did. I thought Freddy was going to… well, hurt her bad."

"Did you have reason to believe this? Had you ever seen Frederic Delacroix hurt some one, or heard convincing evidence that he had done so?"

Her eyes wide, she just nodded her head. A moment later she said, "Yes."

"Your Honor," Hume said, "the dead man is not on trial here."

"True, Your Honor." I agreed. "But the character of the dead man is one of the elements which the defense will need to prove in order to establish some of the points of the defense. I have no more questions at this time, but I may call this witness or some of the others from Mr. Delacroix to the stand for the defense."

Judge Freeman nodded. "You're done with this witness for now?" He glanced at Hume. "Any redirect? No? You may stand down, Ms. Carronada."

I saw Angela flash a grateful, relieved smile at Kimberley, who hesitantly returned it. Damn she was good. Very, very good. We just might – if we were really lucky – win this one.

How I wished that I could feel good about that.

ix.


I sat down in my fuzzy bathrobe and pulled my laptop to me. I'd rather be pulling Syl to me, I thought, but she couldn't also afford to be spending weeks here in California rather than working on her business (and filtering the nutcases from mine). Syl had Samantha Prince, her other psychic friend, visiting, so at least she wasn't totally alone. I had a computer for company; the best thing I could say about that was that the machine was pretty undemanding.

I'd managed to get one nagging worry cleared up – although the clearing-up simply caused me more heartburn. After that day's trial proceedings, I'd had another private conversation with Angela. "The prosecuting attorney in this isn't stupid." I pointed out. "I find it hard to believe that he, or at least some of his investigative staff, wouldn't have any suspicion that you might have had an ulterior motive in working for Freddy. In which case it wouldn't take very long to find out that someone had screwed all the CryWolf units in the area of your clients."

Angela laughed. "Oh, certainly, that wouldn't have been good, would it? But don't worry. The first thing my… pack, I suppose you could say… was to do if any of us were compromised in such a way was to go back and restore the functionality of the systems, immediately. This is obviously a terrible setback for us, a year's worth of work totally gone, and we'll have to be even more careful for the next few years to make sure no one catches on. But you don't need to worry about them bringing that up at trial." She smiled sweetly. "See? All taken care of."

I winced at the memory. Ugh. And as I took my confidentiality seriously, I couldn't tell people about the whole ugly situation. The best my conscience would allow me to do would be – some time WELL after the trial – to hint about the possible approach that Wolves could use to circumvent security. Sometimes I find having a conscience is a pain in the ass.

Right now, I wanted to do some work that didn't threaten me with Pyrrhic victories; my laptop had my notes and thoughts on Ferrin's problem cases, which was a challenge I could feel better about than the ambivalent hell I had just gone through.

I had – in a way – managed to find a common thread between all the victims, but I didn't know if was really a significant common thread. In his original narration of the problem, he'd mentioned that both the Roquettes and Buckley had recently attended a party. A fairly quick investigation turned up the fact that all of them had attended some big bash within a few days of their deaths. Of course, given the higher-society nature of the neighborhood, parties were awfully common. And in going over the guest lists, we hadn't found any set of guests in common with the majority of the victims. Oh, there were a lot of names that turned up on, say, three or four victims' parties, but none that showed up in all of them or even a majority. This was again not much of a surprise; people in the same neighborhood with similar interests, or employed by the same or related organizations, would likely know some of the other people, but not all of them.

I studied the arrays of evidence gathered in each case. Ferrin hadn't exaggerated about the variety of killing methods. Knives, poison, strangulation, just dropped dead somehow, and one involving homemade explosives. That one hadn't left much to examine in the way of intact body parts; I found the pictures in that case to be even worse than those of the not-too-lamented Frederic. Still, there was almost too much evidence. I agreed with the Lieutenant; individually any of these cases was… okay, but all of them had something just slightly not quite right in the evidence. The bomb guy, for instance; there wasn't any good evidence he'd had any skill in that direction, just a couple mentions by people that he'd recently mentioned something about how easy it was to make them, and some evidence that he'd hit some webpages on the subject. The bomb used was awfully, awfully good for someone who hadn't been doing this stuff long. Then again, maybe he was just a natural at bomb making and really, really bad at bomb safety.

I concentrated on the pieces of collected evidence that appeared to have no bearing on the case – that is, the kind of stuff you pick up in the investigation that turns out to not be relevant, like fingerprints from the once-a-week cleaning lady, or undeveloped film which has just pictures of the kids at the beach, or that giant dust-bunny under the bed which simply gives evidence that the deceased didn't do much vacuuming. It was as I went back over the first two folders the Lieutenant had given me that it finally hit me.

That woman at the trial – the one with the spectacularly long, red hair – had strongly reminded me of the pictures of the murdered Jesse Rocquette. I grabbed the file and looked up her maiden name: Grandis. Armed with that, search skills, and the name of the politician the woman had apparently been working with, it took me only a few minutes to confirm that Virginia "Ginny" Grandis was indeed working with California State Senator Henry Reed, and was undoubtedly the slightly older sister of Jesse Rocquette, neé Grandis.

Now the whole thing was clear. Everything made sense. I picked up the phone. I could at least confirm or deny the crucial question. Then it would just be a very very tricky matter of proof and timing. Which might get me killed if I screwed it up, but hell, that was no surprise.

"Verne," I said, once he'd gotten on the line, "Tell me something. You know that little stunt that Angela pulled on me while she was yanking my strings – hitting me with a supercharge from the energy she'd taken from Delacroix?"

"Yes. I understand how such things could work, certainly. What do you want to know?"

"I guess… well, you fought these things and even ended up having to do unto one of them as they would've done unto you."

"Yes." His voice was unusually … cold? Restrained? Nervous? I knew that particular event embarrassed and upset him, but I thought he'd have been over it by now.

"Anyway, from what I got out of her I guess she used maneuvers like that fairly frequently with her 'clients'. What I want to know is, how much energy would that be in their terms? I mean, if you were a wolf and killed one guy, could you jazz up one client, ten, a hundred that way with the energy?"

"That," he said, more animation coming back into his voice, "is a very interesting question. Let me think on what I have sensed and what impressions remain from those and similar contacts." He was silent for several minutes. "Not many, Jason. The transfer in that direction would not be tremendously efficient – humans are not designed for input, so to speak, and Wolves not generally for output, though they are certainly capable of it. More than one, less than ten I would guess."

"Thanks, Verne." I took a deep breath. "Exactly what I needed to know." I hung up after a quick goodbye.

Now the real dangerous game would begin.


x.

I stood before the Court now, the Prosecution having just rested its case. I turned to face the jury. "You have heard the prosecution's case, and you have been instructed as to what the requirements of the law are in this case.

"I think it is important, however, to establish that the broad general principle – that non-human, intelligent creatures deserve the same justice as those who are human – is one in need of establishment. If the Wolves are what we believe them to be, it would be difficult to argue that there is any justification – for the protection of our own species – for according them such rights." I took a deep breath.

"I am going to present to you – with the approval of the Court – some evidence previously shown only to a very limited number of people, prior to this trial, on which basis the trial was permitted to proceed. In short, I want to show you someone it would be worthwhile to protect – by giving them the right to trial."

"Objection, Your Honor." David Hume said. We'd already hashed this out in chambers, but we both knew he needed to get his objection on the official records, and I didn't mind as it meant my rebuttal would be there too. "Defense is attempting to sway the jury through introducing irrelevant facts designed for emotional appeal."

"In a sense true, Your Honor," I responded, "But if we are honest about this trial and its setting, it would be essentially impossible to get a truly impartial jury. For the past year and a half and more, entire governments have changed their courses of action because of the revelation of the existence of the Wolves – and not always for the better. I simply want to prove to the jury – and the world – that allowing such justice is not merely and solely going to be an avenue to permit monsters to go free."

Judge Freeman nodded. "Objection overruled. Proceed, Mr. Wood."

The screens were this time visible to the courtroom. While specific identification had been eliminated from the video, any sufficiently determined and intelligent researcher would probably be able to trace the source – and that was why it had taken a great deal of soul-searching and courage on the part of the principals to allow me to show this video. I felt anew my gratitude towards the whole family as Lizzie Plunkett, face blurred digitally, appeared. "Hi. You can call me… Victoria. I want you to meet my best friend in the whole entire world." Her voice was also subtly altered, but still clearly that of a young girl. "This is Arischadel."

A tiny dragon, seemed sculpted of smoky black quartz, flew into view. A murmur sprang up around the courtroom. "He can't talk English very well because his throat isn't made for it, but he's just as smart as you or me. So he's going to write for you."

Arischadel took a little notebook from her outstretched hand and, gripping a small pencil in his claw, began writing in a clear, if somewhat shaky, script. The camera zoomed in to show him actually writing each word, and Lizzie read out each line as he completed it. "Hello, ar…arbiters?" she glanced suspiciously at Arischadel. "Is that a real word?" He bobbed his head again. "Okay. Hello, arbiters of justice. I am Arischadel. I am one of many kinds of creatures you would call supernatural or magical. I live with –" here Aris almost started to write an "l" but managed to convert it to a "V", "Vicky and her family and watch over them as I can. I cannot journey to your court-room, as I am bound to this place." The little dragon looked directly into the camera, large dark eyes giving an appeal which was reinforced by the slightly childlike proportions of the creature's head and body. "I do not ask you to set the one called Angela free for my sake. All that I ask is that you judge her fairly for myself and all other creatures that are not of your blood, but are still of your world."

Lizzie looked up as he finished. "And that's all we ask. We're afraid of Wolves too. But people like Aris need to be protected by the law. That's the point of this trial to us. Thanks for listening and… good luck."

I nodded to the jury, some of whom were looking startled, a few looking suspicious. "That video was taken by me personally. It has been verified – and the facts in it examined directly – by personnel attached to the prosecutor's office as well. You were seeing no special effects there, except the blurring of the girl's face and certain background details to protect her anonymity. Arischadel is a real, living, thinking being, and he is far from the only non-Wolf, non-Human out there.

"This will be an emotional trial, and decisions are and have always been affected by emotions. But this is also a question, in many ways, of what is a person, of whether we have the right to pass summary judgment on someone because they are different from us. The Wolves are, to us, truly horrifying. Perhaps Angela is truly as much a monster as the prosecution wishes you to believe. But her people think, and feel, and hate, and I believe they can choose to love, to care, and to protect. Anything that thinks and lives can do those things. Arischadel certainly can, and certainly has. Remember this, when the time comes to render your verdict."

I turned. "The defense calls Angela McIntyre to the stand."

Another ripple of murmurs went around the courtroom as the petite form of the shapeshifted Werewolf entered the witness box. They swore her in, but in this case adding a line specifically for her: "I swear to tell the truth by the name of our King, Virigar himself." Angela had very, very much not wanted to accept that change, but in the end she'd realized that I wasn't budging on that one.

I advanced to the witness stand. "Angela, that oath you've sworn does actually bind you, doesn't it?"

She glared at me, although the glare at this point was mostly for show. "Yes. As you well know."

"What would happen to you if you were to directly lie on the stand, having given that oath?"

She looked bleak for a moment. "Worse than the death your people threaten me with. I will not elaborate."

I nodded. "Good enough. So we can count on your testimony at least as much as we could with any other witness."

"More, I would think, Mr. Wood."

I led through a series of questions establishing, in an abbreviated form, her identity and history. "Exibits 10A through 10F verify that the identity of 'Angela McIntyre' one used solely by the Wolf before us, over the last several years. This is not an identity stolen from a human being but a unique identity of her own."

From that point I quickly rehashed her career with Frederic Delacroix, again avoiding the rather intimate nature of the "escort" duties. Sure, many of the jurors and audience probably guessed it, but it wasn't a necessary part of the trial. "Now, Angela, is it true that Frederic Delacroix pressured you, as one of his employees in a rather… intimate sort of industry, to be more than merely professionally involved with him?"

"Yes. Freddy didn't just choose his employees for the target clientele. He had his own interests."

"Would it be fair to say that he applied this pressure to most of his escorts?"

Angela nodded. "Yes."

"But you refused."

"I did. He wasn't my type, you might say."

"How did he accept your refusal?"

"Poorly." Angela gave a half-smile. "He wasn't bad-looking for a human and could behave decently, so given that plus money, connections, and his position as employer, I do not think he was accustomed to being refused."

"Did you at any time lead him on, give him the impression that you might be accessible?"

She shook her head emphatically. "I was professionally friendly but no more. I had no interest in him and I tried to make that clear."

"Tell us about the night in question."

The story pretty much followed what had been established, until we reached her flight from the party. "So you left the party?"

"It was pretty clear to me that Freddie just wasn't giving up, he was getting almost obsessive actually, and I just didn't want to put up with it any more."

"Did you realize he was going to follow you?"

"Most of us girls stick together, actually, so no, I thought he wouldn't realize I was gone until it was too late and he'd calmed down a bit." For a moment she DID look venomously angry, glaring at Trisha who was just visible in the audience. The girl shrank back. "But someone told him I'd gone."

"Were you afraid of Frederic?"

"Not at that time, no."

"What happened?"

"I was about half a block from Freddy's when I heard a shout behind me, and I saw him coming after me. So I ran." She sighed. "But as you can see I'm not built to outrun people like Freddy. He was a running back in college, you know."

"Now, you weren't afraid of him at that point, right? So why run?"

"Because fighting him might be too revealing. I was trying to get out of his sight for long enough to do a good shift to some other shape – one that he wouldn't recognize – so that he'd think he just lost track of me. But he kept way too close for that. And if he'd seen me change, well, that would have been bad. I didn't want to kill him and have to leave the area, I had everything pretty nicely set up."

"So Mr. Delacroix caught up with you. What happened then?"

She grimaced, the pretty face looking both repelled and slightly frightened. "He grabbed my arm, said something close to 'where the fuck do you think you're going, bitch', and then backhanded me across the face."

"Were you afraid of him then?"

She hesitated, looking almost embarrassed, then nodded. "Yes. Yes I was, after he hit me."

"Why would you be afraid of him then?"

"Because he hurt me." She took a tissue and swabbed makeup from the side of her face. A shadowy bruise, along with some still-visible scarring, came into view.

I turned to the judge and jury. "Exhibit 12 is a photograph of Angela's face shortly after she was taken into custody. You will note the cuts and heavy bruising on her face, in the same place as these scars. Referring to Exhibit 4e, it can be seen that Mr. Delacroix wore a set of rings on his right hand. Trace material found caught on points and angles of the rings has been analyzed and shown to have DNA content identical to the DNA of Angela McIntyre." I glanced over at Prosecutor Hume as I continued, "In the accounting of the deceased's possessions, in the M.E. report, page 7, these rings are described. The most important point of the descriptions is that the two rings which made the injuries seen contain a high proportion of silver."

That got a reaction. "Exactly. Until that point, Angela was not afraid of Frederic. But when he struck her, it was with a weapon known to be very deadly indeed to her kind, one which could easily kill her if she did not defend herself." I returned to Angela. "Was that when you changed and fought back?"

She shook her head. "Not quite. He'd knocked me down, and I tried to get away, but he was really very fast and pushed me back down. Then he pulled out his knife and I realized what he intended to do, and then I fought back. And then the police came around the corner, just at the wrong time for me to be able to get away."

"Thank you, Angela." I nodded to Hume. "Your witness."

Hume was conferring with a couple of people at his table. "Your Honor, as it is getting late, we would like to begin our cross-examination tomorrow."

Judge Freeman nodded. "I certainly have no objection to adjourning until tomorrow. Does the defense object?"

"No, sir."

"Then court adjourned until tomorrow. When we re-convene, the prosecution may begin its cross-examination of the witness."

xi.


"Mr. Wood, do you think you have a chance to win this case?"

"Mr. Wood, don't you feel you're betraying your own people by doing this?"

There were a dozen other questions, all being shouted at once, as I exited the courtroom with Angela. Other questions were being bellowed at Angela, of course, but she was completely ignoring them, looking scared and small with an Oscar-winning performance, all the way to the car that was taking her back to the lockup. I stopped before I reached my car, though. "Okay, people, I'll give you some footage. Do I feel I have a chance to win? Yes, I do, as long as the jury is fair. The evidence we just presented shows – contrary to the Prosecution's original contention – that Angela did in fact have reason to fear for her life.

"No, I'm not betraying anyone. I don't like the Wolves any more than most people, and – in fact – there isn't anyone alive that has more reason to be afraid of them than me. But if we let our justice system be run by anything other than fairness, or at least the willingness to try to be fair, we've already lost what makes this country worth living in."

Brian Clement of CNN knew an opening when he saw one. "What do you mean by that, Mr. Wood?"

"I mentioned in court today that entire governments have changed after the Wolves became known. The fact is that a lot of the panic over the Werewolves has been used by opportunists to get away with things that would never fly in ordinary times. The WAS Act – Werewolf Alertness and Security – made a lot of things legal that simply shouldn't have been, all in the guise of allowing the Federal government to detect and deal with Wolves. Monitoring cameras sprouting up everywhere, background traces to detect discontinuities, my own CryWolf systems doing double-duty as security monitors in thousands of places that never were watched before – there's a serious, serious danger here, worse than anything those monsters could do. They live on fear, you know, and if they make our whole society based on fear, I'm not at all sure they wouldn't be willing to risk the increased so-called security measures."

"But if that's the only way to be safe –" someone began.

" – then we had better accept that there's no such thing as real safety." I cut him off. "Ben Franklin said it best: 'Those who would give up essential liberty , to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.' Yes, by not allowing the government to monitor everything as it desires, it's possible for Werewolves, or murderers, or terrorists, or whatever, to sometimes get away with something. That's the price you pay for living in a free society. Sometimes a monster – human or otherwise – will abuse that freedom to do something to you or yours." I shrugged. "I would rather take that risk, than allow a slowly-creeping fear to erode the freedom until there's nothing left." I opened my car door. "That's all."

"You're really playing with fire, Wood." Clement whispered.

Thinking of how the endgame of this whole mess might play out, I agreed. Timing was going to be absolutely everything in this one… and I had to make sure that all three sides involved – mine, the prosecutor's, and the police themselves – knew the right info, at the right time, to act on it, or else the whole thing would blow up in my face – and I'd be the first casualty. I had the proof in hand, though, courtesy of poor dead Joe Buckley and a very thorough scene investigator who'd bagged a single hair that was out of place. Now if I could just get through these next few days…

xii.


"Mr. Clarke, can you tell me your profession?"

The prosecution had cross-examined Angela efficiently. Bound by her oath as she was, she had admitted that even with silver rings, Frederic could not have beaten her to death without her having several chances to escape, and that in fact she could probably have incapacitated him without killing him. She had also been forced to take the Fifth on other potentially incriminating questions, such as whether she had ever killed anyone else. I knew some damage had been done by the time she stood down… but I'd expected that. Thus Mr. Caston Clarke.

"Yes, sir. I am a private investigator. CC Investigations."

"I hired you to perform an investigation, correct?"

"You did, sir."

"What were my instructions to you, exactly?"

"I was to go to the crime scene relevant to this case, at the parking garage, and search outside of the scene in a specific direction for any object or objects which seemed out of place. If I found such an object, I was to call you and follow further instructions."

I nodded. "Tell me about your investigation."

Clarke leaned back. He was a medium-sized man, who at first glance looked portly, but who was actually mostly muscle, surprisingly strong and quick. He'd been strongly recommended to me by Lieutenant Ferrin. "Well, sir, I returned to the crime scene and began searching outward from the perimeter in the direction indicated – a fan-shaped area roughly centered northward."

"And did you find any object of significance?"

"Yes, sir, I found an object I considered quite significant about seventy-five feet from the perimeter, in a storm drain where it appeared to have fallen through very recently."

"You took pictures of the object as it lay and then called me, correct?"

"Yes, sir. You then instructed me to wait until you arrived."

"And after I arrived?"

"I removed the object, using gloves and other means to prevent contamination, while you took a careful video of the process. We then brought the object to an independent laboratory – VeriAnalysis Incorporated – where it was examined."

"What was the object that you discovered, Mr. Clarke?"

"A large combat folding knife, blade found locked in the extended position. Research showed that it was number 127 in a limited series of 300 such knives sold by the DiamondEdge Corporation under the brand name Excalibur. Inquiries at DiamondEdge further showed that this particular weapon was sold to Mr. Frederic Delacroix."

After a few more questions from me and the prosecution (which didn't bring out anything of consequence) I let Clarke stand down and called Dr. Herman Dell to the stand. "Dr. Dell, you work for VeriAnalysis Incorporated, correct?"

"Indeed, Mr. Wood."

"What is your job there?"

"I am an independent forensic researcher, specializing in the examination of physical evidence in accordance with proper police procedure. I am qualified through 15 prior years of work with the New York State Forensics Laboratory."

"Were you the researcher assigned to examine the knife brought to VeriAnalysis by Mr. Clarke at my request?"

"I was."

"Can you describe any significant findings?"

"Certainly. The weapon in question was last held by Mr. Frederic Delacroix. He was holding it in a manner indicating that he had the blade out for use. Blurring of some of the prints, and a sharp indentation on the blade, indicate that it was knocked violently from his grasp. A comparison of the indentation with a number of possibilities shows that the most likely cause of this damage to the blade is an impact by a Werewolf claw." He managed to say the last phrase without even hesitating, something I still found difficut. "There was a significant amount of blood on the knife, which analysis showed was that of the decedent Frederic Delacroix. The blade, however, also featured epithelial cells of another individual, which when analyzed proved to be those of Miss Angela McIntyre."

"So this is consistent, then, with her statement that she struck Mr. Delacroix when he had her held down with a knife to her throat?"

"Very much so, if we take into account the sequence of events. The photographs of the scene show the orientation of the body. As the shapechanging would have taken place beneath Mr. Delacroix, he would have been elevated and struck by the claws on the arm moving laterally from right to left, from the point of view of the attacker. Given the orientation of the body, the attack lifted Mr. Delacroix up and the claws passed through his body along that line, striking the knife toward the end of their passage (as the knife would have been held on the opposite side of the body from the striking claws), and then flinging the knife outward by that impact."

"Thank you, Doctor." I looked to the jury. "There is one extremely significant additional fact of which you should be aware. DiamondEdge's Excalibur line of combat blades are a relatively new addition to the market. Their distinguishing feature is that they all include a significant proportion of silver in the blade.

"Such a blade, held to the throat, goes far beyond the threat of beating offered by the silver rings Frederic wore. The deceased was threatening Angela's life. He was attempting to rape her. The silver blade at her throat was a clear, immediate, and very much credible threat of death even to a Werewolf. And so – just as any of us would have – she struck out in self defense."

"The defense rests."

xiii.

The testimony and cross-examinations were over. We'd each given our closing arguments. I felt – on the evidence – that we'd done pretty well; the prosecution hadn't been able to seriously damage the evidence of the knife. Whether the jury was going to be willing to consider the evidence rather than the monster in front of them, however, was still in question. Now all that was left was the wait for the verdict.

"How long?" Angela whispered tensely for the tenth time.

"You think they're going to come back fast on this verdict?" I snapped. The tension was worse on me than she realized. "Even if they're all agreed, they'll probably want to make it look good. But I don't think they were all agreed – just judging by looks on the juror's faces. Which, believe you me, is very good from my point of view. If they'd all been firmly decided on the way out, I'd be pretty damn sure that they were all firmly decided on you taking that last long walk."

"Which you wouldn't mind."

"Personally not at all, as you well know, but professionally and tactically it would suck."

I glanced over at Ferrin, who nodded very slightly. Angela caught it. "What was that?"

"Just exchanging greetings."

She looked at me narrowly. "I think you're up to something."

"I keep my word. You know that. You wouldn't have brought me into this without you being damn sure of that. Even your King trusts me on that level, if not on any other."

She nodded unwillingly.

Time dragged by on leaden feet. I finally got up and went out for a quick snack from the vending machine. I was just watching my selection rattle its sluggish way down the when a bailiff came charging into sight. "Mr. Wood – the Jury –"

"Of course it would be now." I sprinted back to the courtroom.

I sat down next to Angela just as the last of the jurors was seated. "Well, this is it."

For once she was speechless, staring at the jury, none of which was looking at her.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," Judge Freeman said, "Have you come to a unanimous verdict?"

Alle Schumacher, the sharp-eyed old woman, was acting as jury foreman. She rose and stated in a clear, carrying voice, ""We have, your honor."

"The defendant will please rise."

Angela did so, with a shakiness that I didn't think was feigned.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what is your verdict?"

Alle looked at the Judge, then at Angela and me, and back to the Judge. "Sir, we find the defendant, Angela McIntyre, not guilty."

NOT GUILTY.

The words brought me to my feet with a combination of triumph and concern. This was going to be the most dangerous time; if anyone out there felt she shouldn't go free, now was the time they'd have to try something. Angela's face lit up with relief, so innocently beautiful that it was almost impossible to remember what lay underneath. But Mrs. Schumacher was speaking again.

"We also have a statement to read, Your Honor, if it please the court."

Judge Freeman considered a moment. "Very well. Proceed."

Alle nodded to Jim Sherry, who stood and began reading. "We, the jury in the case of State Versus McIntyre (werewolf), recognize the unusual nature of the case we have been presented. Many of us have grave reservations about any finding which could result in the defendant being released, as it is clearly true that she could be a clear and present danger to any other people she encounters.

"Still, we also recognize the points of procedure and law as emphasized by the defense and the much greater responsibility which may result from any ruling we make here. We agreed at the beginning, therefore, that we must come to a final and clear unanimous verdict, so that whatever message this trial might send would not be confused.

"In the end, the judgment came to the evidence and to the question of whether Angela McIntyre, a Werewolf, should be judged on that evidence. The evidence is clear and unambiguous to us; were Angela human, there would be no doubt of her acquittal. And therefore, by the letter and spirit of the law, despite our grave reservations as to her personal future conduct, we the jury have rendered the same verdict to her as we would to any human being. Perhaps she does not deserve that justice. But there are those out there who do, and for them and our own self-respect, we give it to her."

The Judge's gavel came down. "The verdict has been reached. The accused is found innocent and is therefore free from this moment on."

I turned to the jury. "Thank you. For your statement, not merely the verdict."

Angela had taken my arm. "Thank you, THANK YOU, Jason! As soon as I get my wallet, I'll pay the law firm. YOU may be working pro bono but I'm sure they aren't."

We continued out through the crowd towards the street, policemen clearing a perimeter around us; I saw Achernar scanning the crowd like radar, alert for anything. We stepped out the front doors into California sunshine; the murmur turned into a roar, overlaid with a thousand questions being shouted at us by eager news crews.

At that moment, Lieutenant Ferrin came up behind us and in a single swift move, locked a pair of handcuffs on Angela. As she swung around in shock, he stepped back a pace, calmly saying, "Angela McIntyre, I arrest you on multiple charges of murder in the first degree, including the murders of Jessie and James Roquette; Joseph Buckley; and others named in the arresting warrant. You have the right –"

The little blonde gave a snarl three octaves too deep for her shape and balloonedinto a towering mass of teeth and fur, crouched low to the ground as if ready to spring. Screams resounded around the plaza and I could see some people trying to get a bead on her… but there were a lot of people in the way. She whirled on me. "Treacherous little –"

"Go ahead." I said, looking her in the eye. "Give my regards to Virigar."

She was so furious that I saw her claws start forward of their own accord. But they stopped. "How? HOW did you…"

"It wasn't easy." I said. "You were careful. You never actually stated you hadn't killed anyone recently, but you did leave me with that impression at first. None of the murders had any overt ties. None of them had the same M.O., same apparent motive, or any of that. Hardly any real evidence turned up, and no one would have had any reason to tie it to you.

"There was the fact that they'd all gone to some large party in the recent past… but that didn't mean much. Not in this neighborhood." I grinned as I saw her collapse back into human form, the broken handcuffs dropping to the ground. "But when I noticed a relative of one of the victims with a certain person, I made the connection.

"Of course, just the fact that all the victims had been at a party where one of your clients had been didn't mean that much. As an escort you might not be on the guest list – except as "Mr. Client and Guest" – and in fact you might have been able to go as a different face. Not hard for you to arrange. But we needed to prove you were the connecting factor. And just as importantly, I needed motive.

"You actually gave me that info."

She snarled something at me which I generously interpreted as a request to go on. "Your little energy stunt. I had to do some digging, but I was able to find out that you couldn't be doing that very often without some heavy-duty recharging – a lot more than you could get from passively feeding off of nearby people. A kill gives you a LOT more power. And you were using a lot, given that you probably used that stunt at least once on most of your, um, dates. You had to be killing people. And once I knew that for sure, and suspected your connection, there was a little appropriate evidence. Courtesy of Joe Buckley. I suppose he died pretty happy, but you left a little of Angela McIntyre behind. Once they had someone to try a match with, it was open-and-shut."

I saw her glancing around, measuring the crowd and the police ringing her. "Oh, and in case you forgot – I didn't put any time limit on how long you had to obey human law. And you swore according to my wording, remember."

Her jaw dropped. "You…"

"Good luck on this next trial, Angela." I said. "I think you'll be needing it."

She stared at me for a long moment, icy blue eyes boring into mine. Then, startlingly, she grinned. "So you win the entire game, Mr. Wood. Congratulations." With startling quickness, she stepped forward and kissed me.

The detonation of ecstasy was like a sledgehammer, such pure pleasure that I couldn't even for a moment remember who I was or where I was, only that this vision of perfection in front of me was the source of paradise. I staggered back, caught by Ferrin while other police pulled her back. As my brain started to come back online, a sense of forboding loss began to settle on me; the predator's triumphant grin was back on her face. "You have won that game, Mr. Wood. But now you will never… quite… be satisfied with anything else on Earth. Will you?"

I couldn't manage an appropriate comeback as they dragged Angela away.

xiv.

I sagged back into the cushions of the small private jet. One of the compensations of being rich was not having to wait in an airport line and ride among a mob of people, and I definitely didn't want to ride in a public conveyance after this fiasco. Not until the fuss died down. No, just me, lone passenger, with two attendants to serve me on the flight back to New York and home.

She'd gotten in a good last stroke, but I'm not really an addictive personality – fortunately. She didn't understand the way humans think, I suspect. Yes, for pure enjoyment, luxury of the senses, that one perfect moment would be ever there, but there were pleasures much more subtle, complex, and broad. And going home to Syl was one of those. I smiled and leaned the chair back, closing my eyes.

"An excellent piece of work, Mr. Wood. I particularly enjoyed the endgame," said a cheerful, urbane voice beside me.

Icicles seemed to spear my heart as my eyes snapped open.

Standing over me, wearing a cheerful smile without even the faintest hint of malice present, was a blond man with more than a passing resemblance to Robert Redford. A man I recognized all too well.

"V… Virigar." I managed.

"Indeed." He dropped into the seat next to me. "As I said, beautifully done." He glanced sideways at me. "Oh, please, Mr. Wood, relax. You realize I could certainly kill you now – and none of the crew would even notice anything. However, there are two excellent reasons why I will not."

"Oh? What are those?" I said in a surprisingly normal tone.

"Firstly, unless I simply caused you to die of … no apparent causes, rather than slashing you to ribbons, the false comfort of your CryWolf devices would be damaged. I find it personally useful, even if my children find them annoying. Secondly, and far more important, is that it would be very unamusing for me. I do not find a kill of a worthy adversary to be worthwhile if there's no significant struggle, no chance whatsoever for the victim to win."

This did make grim sense and fit with what Verne had said about him. "What about Angela? She's likely to be executed. Aren't you a bit peeved at me over that?"

He laughed, a big, happy sound at total variance with what I knew him to be. "Oh, far from it, Jason. Tanmorrai was old enough, and thought herself clever enough, to actually be contemplating a… change in leadership, one might say. I'd been observing her preparations for years. Now she'll be humiliated as well as killed off."

"And she'll stay there? Not escape? What could you possibly threaten her with?"

He smiled, and now I saw the glitter of diamond teeth, the cold joy of hatred. "Why, Jason, I'm surprised you cannot guess. But then, you are new to this sort of thing." He looked around the plane, as though examining it for aspects he had not yet seen. "The most amusing thing about your little court case was that you were saying things you didn't entirely believe, yet they were in fact all completely true. Any being – even my children – which thinks and feels is as capable as you are of love and affection and tolerance. We all – including myself, you must understand – choose our paths. I chose mine quite consciously. And I want my children to carry on my good work."

The matter-of-fact way in which he said that gave me the creeps. "And what does this…"

"… have to do with the punishment? Oh, everything. You see, there was – once – one of my children with whom I had, shall we say, some philosophical disagreements. He decided he didn't want to follow our path and rebelled against me – protecting, in fact, some of your people. I actually welcomed this little rebellion. You see, it provided me with an ideal – how should I put it? – ah, yes, an ideal object lesson for any others who might ever think they had any freedom to choose."

"What did you do?" I said finally.

The smile was broader and as cold as a night of glaciers. "I ate him, of course. But in a very special way. I consumed his energy, but left him just enough to be conscious. So he could watch – from within me – and see as I destroyed everything he protected. And he still does, to this day. And will, for as long as I live."

I shuddered. I knew that was a victory for him, but I couldn't help it. Now I truly understood why the other Wolves would rather face simple death. "You…"

"You haven't words for that, I know. We'll meet again, Jason, and one day – when you least expect it, but when I have the time to devote to it – I will begin to destroy everything you know and love.

"And then, after I've deprived you of your friends, your lovely Sylvia, and even my esteemed opponent Verne Domingo, I will give you the highest honor of all." I knew what he was going to say even before he finished. "I will place you within me, alongside the Traitor." His pleasant, boyish smile was back, all the more horrid for looking normal and friendly. "Think of it as a favor. Eternal life."

I turned away, trying to think of something to say that would even vaguely have a chance of sounding defiant without being futile. When I looked back, he was gone.

I glanced around, probably looking a bit wild. The attendants were both towards the front of the cabin. There was no one else in sight. He was gone. Somewhere.

"Fine." I said at last. "Your point. But I did beat you once. And when that time comes, I'll beat you again." I looked down at my ring finger and thought of my wife. A smile came back to my lips. "And there are some things you can't kill. I'm going home."




I hope you all enjoyed this. "Trial Run" was almost unique as a story -- I got the idea when I was driving home one day, and it hit so hard that I ended up writing the first 2,000 words or so immediately as I got home, partly at the dinner table even.
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