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Evan Hunter

The Paper Dragon



He felt giddy and foolish and awkward, and he also felt like a thief. He was fearful and elated and apprehensive and uncertain, but beneath it all he felt like a thief and this was confusing because it was he who had been wronged. And yet, he felt much the same as he had that day when he was eight years old and stole a box of crayons from the school supply closet.

Just that way, with the same sort of trembling nervousness, the same heady swiftness of triumph — he had stolen the crayons, he had got away without anyone having seen him, he had tucked them under his sweater with no one the wiser — coupled with guilt, the overriding shamefaced embarrassment sitting just behind his eyes, the sickly somewhat pale smile on his mouth, he could not understand this feeling of guilt. It was almost as if he were identifying fully with the real thief, experiencing the thief's own reaction to capture and exposure, that's the goddamn trouble with me, he thought, I empathize too easily.

He was a man of medium build, with black hair and brows, brown eyes darting nervously as he climbed the courthouse steps. There was an awesome scale to the architecture of the building, ten monstrous, white, Corinthian columns rising to support a windowed entablature, wide white steps flowing in a long horizontal swell toward brass revolving entrance doors, more windows ornately decorated with curvilinear bars. The solemn majesty of the law's trappings added to his nervousness, and yet he wanted to yell aloud as he entered the building, wanted to shatter the serenity of these hallowed marbled halls, but the nervousness persisted, the feeling that he, and not James Driscoll, was the thief.

He walked into one of the waiting elevators, and then stood in the far corner of the car, worrying his lower lip, staring at the floor indicator as the car climbed, come on, come on. It was December, and the car was briskly cool, but he could feel the sweat trickling from under his arms in a slow, sliding descent over his ribs. The car doors opened at last. He stepped uncertainly into the seventh-floor corridor. A bank of gray elevator doors, six in all, were ranged on either side of the windowless corridor, interspersed with wooden doors along its length and on either end. The corridor was rather like a badly designed room, too long for its width, dimly lighted, divided at its halfway point by the double doors to 705 and 706, which were the courtrooms. The doors were constructed of what seemed like heavy oak, panels repeating the low paneled ceiling, bronze studs shaped like daisies punctuating the wood, a brass knob set on each right-hand door. He saw the numerals 705 in bronze on the door opposite him, and was walking across the corridor toward it when Sidney Brackman looked up from the water fountain. He was forty-eight years old, a short undistinguished-looking person wearing a brown suit and shoes, a striped brown tie on his white shirt. His hair was prematurely gray, as was his closely cropped mustache. He turned as Arthur approached, and then extended his hand quickly and said, "Good morning, Arthur, how do you feel?"

"I'm worried," Arthur said.

"You have nothing to worry about. You'll make a good witness. Do you remember all the points we covered?"

"Yes, I remember."

"Good. We'll go over those points in court, you'll tell everything in your own words. It's the truth that will win this case for us."

"I hope so."

"I know so. I have no doubt. It's been a long road, Arthur, but the end is in sight, and the end will be victorious."

"How long will the trial last?"

"I imagine it will be over by Wednesday. Thursday at the very latest."

"That's what I thought. It seems like such a short time."

"A short time? For what?"

"To present everything. I mean, so the judge'll understand."

"McIntyre's a smart judge, Arthur. And a fair one. I know him from when he was first out of law school. He was a brilliant lawyer even then. Brilliant. He'll give you a fair hearing, and he'll make a fair decision."

"I hope so."

"Try to appear a little more confident on the stand, eh?" Brackman said, and smiled.

"I'll try," Arthur said. "But I'd be much happier with a jury."

"Juries are unpredictable. Besides, you'll remember that I did ask for a jury. But Willow made a motion to strike the demand because we were asking for an accounting of every dollar. Willow's point was that historically…"

"You know all this law talk goes completely over my head."

"Yes, I know that, but I wouldn't want you to think I'd made a mistake. I haven't made any mistakes so far, Arthur, not that I know of. We did ask for a jury. But it was ruled that an equity action, such as this is, has always been tried in a chancery court rather than a law court. The historical precedent goes all the way back to England."

"I don't know anything about historical precedent," Arthur said. "It just seems to me that our chances would have been better with a jury."

"Our chances are excellent just the way they are, Arthur. Now please don't start getting despondent. I know you get into these despondent moods every now and then that are difficult to—"

"I'm not despondent."

"Good. Leave everything to me. Please. Just answer the questions I "put to you as truthfully as you can, and everything will be all right."

"Is that a guarantee?"

Brackman smiled again. "No, Arthur. Nothing in the law is a guarantee, justice is not infallible. That's what makes practicing law so interesting. Let's go inside, shall we?"

The courtroom seemed too large for the scant handful of people it contained. Wood-paneled walls endlessly echoed themselves, like flecked mirrors repeating the same dull theme, a pattern broken only by the windowed wall facing the entrance. The windows were open just a crack to the winter street below. The sounds of traffic rose indolently, entering the courtroom in muted tones. A fierce December wind eddied in the right angle of wall-against-wall just outside the windows, and then fanned over the sills to riffle the papers on the long leather-topped tables. Jonah Willow and his assistant were at one of those tables, talking in normal speaking voices that somehow seemed like whispers. At the other end of the same table, Samuel Genitori, the attorney for API, leaned over to say something to his associate. As Arthur followed Brackman to the plaintiff's table, he heard Willow's assistant burst into laughter, and the sound infuriated him.

Seated in the otherwise empty jury box to the right of the judge's bench were James Driscoll and his wife. Arthur studiously avoided looking at either of them. The lone spectator, on one of the six benches at the rear of the room, was a thin boy carrying a spiral notebook imprinted with Columbia University's seal. There was an air of quiet displacement in the room, as though everyone were waiting for an event that would most certainly be canceled. When Judge McIntyre entered from his chambers at ten o'clock sharp, and the clerk called "All rise!" Arthur felt a new rush of panic, an urgent need to bolt from this arena with its alien trappings and its professional cold-eyed combatants. Quickly, he glanced toward Brackman to see if his fear had communicated itself, and then immediately dried the palms of his hands on his trouser legs.

"The United States District Court, Southern District of New York, is now in session," the clerk intoned, "the Honorable Frank H. McIntyre presiding. Take your seats, please. Arthur Nelson Constantine versus James Driscoll et al. Are all sides ready?"

Almost in a chorus, Brackman and the defense attorneys said, "Ready, your Honor."

"All ready, your Honor," the clerk repeated.

"Are you representing the plaintiff, Mr. Brackman?" McIntyre asked.



2011 - 2018