Authors: David Rosenfelt
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #FIC022000
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2009 by David Rosenfelt
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.
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Open and Shut
Bury the Lead
I am raising a literary glass in a toast to a long and wonderful life for Oliver Baron Rosenfelt.
Lawyer to the Dogs.”
That was the
headline on a piece that ran about me a couple of months ago. It was a favorable story overall, but the headline was obviously
designed to make a humorous comparison between me and those celebrity attorneys who are often referred to as “lawyers to the
While you would naturally think it would have exposed me to ridicule from my colleagues in the legal profession and my friends,
it really hasn’t. This is because I don’t hang out with colleagues in the legal profession, and my friends already have plenty
of other reasons to ridicule me.
Actually, referring to me this way makes perfect sense. Last year I went to court to defend a golden retriever who had been
scheduled to die at the hands of the animal control system here in Paterson, New Jersey. I saved his life, and the media ate
it up with a spoon. Then I learned that the dog was a witness to a murder five years prior, and I successfully defended his
owner, the man who had been wrongly convicted and imprisoned for that murder.
Three months ago I cemented my reputation as a dog lunatic by representing all the dogs in the Passaic County Animal Shelter
in a class action suit. I correctly claimed that my clients were being treated inhumanely, a legally difficult posture since
the opposition took the position that a key part of “humane” is “human,” and my clients fell a little short in that area.
With the media covering it as if it were the trial of the century, we won, and living conditions in the shelters have been
improved dramatically. I’m in a good position to confirm this, because my former client Willie Miller and I run a dog-rescue
operation called the Tara Foundation, named after my own golden retriever. We are in the shelters frequently to rescue dogs
to place in homes, and if we see any slippage back to the old policies, we’re not exactly shy about pointing it out.
Since that stirring court victory, I’ve been on a three-month vacation from work. I find that my vacations are getting longer
and longer, almost to the point that vacationing is my status quo, from which I take infrequent “work breaks.” Two things
enable me to do this: my mostly inherited wealth, and my laziness.
Unfortunately, my extended siesta is about to come to an unwelcome conclusion. I’ve been summoned to the courthouse by Judge
Henry Henderson, nicknamed “Hatchet” by lawyers who have practiced in his court. It’s not exactly a term of endearment.
Hatchet’s not inviting me to make a social call, and it’s unlikely we’ll be sipping tea. He doesn’t like me and finds me rather
annoying, which doesn’t make him particularly unique. The problem is that he’s in a position to do something about it.
Hatchet has been assigned to a murder case that has dominated the local media. Walter Timmerman, a man who could accurately
be referred to as a semi-titan in the pharmaceutical industry, was murdered three weeks ago. It was not your everyday case
of “semi-titan-murdering”; he wasn’t killed on the golf course at the country club, or by an intruder breaking into his mansion.
Timmerman was killed at night in the most run-down area of downtown Paterson, a neighborhood filled with hookers and drug
dealers, not caddies or butlers.
Within twenty-four hours, police arrested a twenty-two-year-old Hispanic man for the crime. He was in possession of Timmerman’s
wallet the day after the murder. The police are operating on the safe assumption that Timmerman did not give the wallet to
this young man for safekeeping, knowing he was soon to be murdered.
This is where I am unfortunately going to enter the picture. The accused cannot afford an attorney, so the court will appoint
one for him. I have not handled pro bono work in years, but I’m on the list, and Hatchet is obviously going to stick me with
I arrive at the courthouse at eight thirty, which is when Hatchet has instructed me to be in his chambers. The arraignment
is at nine, and since I haven’t even met my client-to-be, I’ll have to ask for a postponement. I’ll try to get it postponed
for fifty years, but I’ll probably have to settle for a few days.
I’m surprised when I arrive to see Billy “Bulldog” Cameron, the attorney who runs the Public Defender’s Office in Passaic
County. I’ve never had a conversation of more than three sentences with Billy in which he hasn’t mentioned that he’s overworked
and underfunded. Since both those things are true, and since I’m personally underworked and overfunded, I usually nod sympathetically.
This time I don’t have time to nod, because I’m in danger of being late for my meeting with Hatchet. Lawyers who arrive late
to Hatchet’s chambers are often never heard of or seen again, except for occasional body parts that wash up on shore. I also
don’t get to ask Billy what he’s doing here. If I’m going to get stuck with this client, then he’s off the hook, because I’m
I hate being on hooks.
says Hatchet, which is technically true by thirty-five seconds.
“I’m sorry, Your Honor. There was an accident on Market Street, and—”
He interrupts. “You are under the impression that I want to hear a story about your morning drive?”
“For the purpose of this meeting, I will do the talking, and you will do the listening, with very few exceptions.”
I start to say
but don’t, because I don’t know if that is one of the allowable exceptions. Instead I just listen.
“I have an assignment for you, one that you are uniquely qualified to handle.”
I nod, because if I cringe it will piss him off.
“Are you at all familiar with the case before me, the Timmerman murder?”
“Only what I’ve read in the paper and seen on television.” I wish I had more of a connection to the case, like if I were a
cousin of the victim, or if I were one of the suspects in the case. It would disqualify me from being involved. Unfortunately,
I checked my family tree, and there’s not a Timmerman to be found.
“It would seem to be a straightforward murder case, if such a thing existed,” he says and then chuckles, so I assume that
what he said passes in Hatchet-land for a joke. “But the victim was a prominent man of great wealth.”
I nod again. It’s sort of nice being in a conversation in which I have no responsibilities.
“I’m told that you haven’t taken on any pro bono work in over two years.”
Another nod from me.
“I assume you’re ready and willing to fulfill your civic responsibility now?” he asks. “You may speak.”
I have to clear my throat from lack of use before responding. “Actually, Your Honor, my schedule is such that a murder case
He interrupts again. “Who said anything about you participating in a murder case?”
“Well, I thought—”
“A lawyer thinking. Now, that’s a novel concept. You are not being assigned to represent the accused. The Public Defender’s
Office is handling that.”
Relief and confusion are fighting for a dominant position in my mind, and I’m actually surprised that confusion is winning.
“Then why am I here?”
“I’ve been asked to handle a related matter that is technically before Judge Parker in the probate court. He has taken ill,
and I said I would do it because of my unfortunate familiarity with you. Are you aware that the victim was very much involved
with show dogs?”
“No,” I say. While I rescue dogs, I have little or no knowledge of dog shows or breeders.
“Well, he was, and he had a seven-month-old, apparently a descendant of a champion, that his widow and son are fighting over.
The animal was not included in the will.”
This may not be so bad. “So because of my experience with dogs, you want me to help adjudicate it?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“Glad to help, Your Honor. Civic responsibility is my middle name.”
“I’ll remember to include it on the Christmas card. I assume you have a satisfactory place to keep your client?”
He nods. “The dog. You will retain possession of him until the issue is resolved.”
“I’m representing a dog in a custody fight? Is that what you’re asking me to do?”
“I wouldn’t categorize it as ‘asking,’ ” he says. “I already have a dog, Your Honor.”
“And now you have two.”
ARA KNOWS SOMETHING IS GOING ON
I don’t know how she knows, but I can see it in her face when I get home. She stares at me with that all-knowing golden retriever
stare, and even when she’s eating her dinner, she occasionally looks up at me to let me know that she’s on to me.
I take her for a long walk through Eastside Park, which is about six blocks from where I live on 42nd Street in Paterson.
Except for a six-year span while I was married, it is where I’ve lived all my life, and no place could feel more like home.
No one that I grew up with lives here anymore, but I keep expecting to see them reappear as I walk, as if I were in a
It’s home to Tara as well, and even though the sights and smells must be completely familiar to her, she relishes them as
if experiencing them for the first time. It is one of the many millions of things I love about her.
It’s been really hot out lately, but the evenings have been cool, and tonight especially so. All in all it’s a perfect couple
of hours, but the ringing phone when I get home is a reminder that perfection is fleeting, and not everything is as it should
be. I can see by the caller ID that it’s Laurie Collins calling from her home in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin that is nowhere
near New Jersey.