His charcoal suit had been tailored on State Street and drew an intimidating line across his shoulders. It tapered at his thin waist and billowed subtly at his ankles. His left sleeve had been cut just millimeters shorter than his right to better expose his father’s heavy platinum watch. In all his suits, he looked tall and confident and independent. But everyone in this warm fifth-floor Chicago courtroom—jury, judge, media, spectators, prosecutors—already knew Reggie Vallentine was smart.
“Regardless of the facts, the state’s attorney wants you to believe that convicting my client would achieve some noble result,” he told the jury while orbiting the lectern at a radius of six or so feet. “Remember what the prosecution said in its opening statement: ‘We cannot have two systems of justice, one for the poor and unknown and another for the rich and famous.’ The government’s own case, however, has convinced me that two such systems really do exist. The truth is, my client never would have been indicted if not for the fact that he is a celebrity.
“As someone who makes a living at the far table in these courtrooms, I have always had great respect for the state of Illinois. The state of Illinois does not prosecute unknown people when it has not a single microbe of physical evidence. The state of Illinois does not prosecute unknown people on hearsay. The state of Illinois does not prosecute unknown people with uncorroborated testimony from witnesses whose character, as you have seen, compares unfavorably to the accused in every respect.”
His client had wanted to wear pinstripes on certain days, but Reggie convinced him that stripes make defendants look guilty. Instead, Reggie selected for him a number of dark suits with brightly colored shirts and patterned ties—a different combination for every day of the sixteen-week trial. An innocent man isn’t afraid to stand out in court, Reggie said. It’s the guilty man who wants to disappear. The outfits had to be approved by a stable of advisers, consultants, handlers, and hangers-on, but the defendant had made it clear to his people: We all work for Reggie Vallentine now. The only element of his appearance that was off-limits to Reggie was the trademark silver hair, which stuck from his head in all directions like a saint’s halo in a Byzantine mural.
“So you ask yourself, Why Solomon Gold? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question. Only the state’s attorney himself knows why he has mounted so vigorous a crusade for the purpose of sending my client to prison.”
On the first day of his defense, Reggie never even mentioned the ?vic?tim, a twenty-two-year-old cellist in the Chicago Symphony’s training orchestra. Instead, he introduced controversial testimony indicating that state’s attorney (and gubernatorial candidate) Bradley Spelling had a long record of bringing charges against high-profile defendants and, in advance of this trial, had lobbied hard and successfully to change state law so the proceedings could be televised.
“I speculate about the reason we are all here only because I know the state’s attorney to be an intelligent man, and his experienced prosecutors can’t possibly look at the evidence they presented in this courtroom and come to the conclusion that my client is guilty. And the only reason I have slept soundly at night throughout months of this Kafkaesque trial is that I know the twelve of you are intelligent, as well. I am certain the only motive you will have in your deliberations will be to ascertain the truth. Therefore, I know the only verdict with which you can return is not guilty.”
He modulated his rich baritone for the spacious courtroom, which was paneled on all sides by stained oak and attentive reporters, three floors and another world of opulence away from the cramped bench where this same judge dispatched the cases of everyday defendants—drug dealers and addicts and thieves—who weren’t so flush with money and fame. Three national cable networks were covering the trial in real time. Reggie wore makeup specially formulated for live-television performers who must look natural both on camera and before an audience. He told his client to wear it, too. The prosecutors wore no makeup at all.
“The state has made a tremendous deal about the cruelty of this crime, and by some transitive property it hopes you will apply that awful quality to my client. The prosecutors organized a parade of experts to testify that Erica Liu continued to be bludgeoned about the head—gouged in the eye—even after she was unconscious. Yet they have not produced a weapon. As you heard from the medical examiner, they aren’t even sure what that instrument could have been! How many times did you hear those three words from prosecution witnesses, ‘I’m not sure’ or ‘I’m not certain’? Do you know? One hundred and forty-seven times. One hundred and forty-seven times, they weren’t sure. Yet somehow they are sure that my client is a murderer.”
Only in his late thirties, Reggie had been a respected and prominent Chicago litigator before Gold, the Oscar-winning composer and music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, tapped him for this case. Now he was a national star. Late-night comedians constructed terrible punch lines around his name. (“The queen of England was too ill to meet with the president this week and apparently she felt really guilty about that. She felt so guilty, in fact, that she hired Reggie Vallentine.”) Sketch comedy shows lampooned him. Glossy periodicals celebrated him. Tabloids shortened his last name to “Valli” for headline convenience. (ain’t this valli low enough? read the front-page wood in the Sun-Times after his aggressive and effective cross-examinations of the victim’s father and twin brother.) Chicago magazine had just named him one of the fifty sexiest men in the city, essentially trading him for his own disgraced client, who had dropped off the list from the year before. There was not an African-American publication in the country that had not featured Reggie Vallentine on its cover at least once.
“Solomon Gold had consensual sex with Erica Liu in her apartment and again in his car after a performance in Millennium Park on the night of June fourteenth. That is the only thing the prosecution’s much- heralded DNA evidence has proved, and it is a point the defense has conceded. Her body was found in an alley, closer to the home of an ex-boyfriend than to Solomon Gold’s home in Lincoln Park. You heard detectives testify there was every indication that the crime scene represented a robbery. Erica Liu had no money in her purse, no watch on her wrist, and her own brother testified that a diamond necklace she always wore on performance nights was missing from around Erica’s neck.
“The prosecution wants you to believe that the illicit nature of my client’s relationship with Erica constitutes motive. Ladies and gentlemen, if every man who was having an extramarital affair were a murder suspect in Cook County, then the rest of us would have time to do little but sit on their juries.” He paused for the laugh, and it arrived as he had hoped, an audible spike in the jury’s approval. “What does a famous and successful man like Solomon Gold have to gain by murdering a sweet and talented young woman, a young woman he had mentored, whose talents he had nourished, for more than eight months? Nothing. Nothing at all. What does an ambitious man like Brad Spelling have to gain by prosecuting a famous individual like Solomon Gold? You heard the media consultant, Mr. Carroll, say ‘the sky’s the limit’ for a promising young politician in a world where name recognition and television exposure are more important than sound policies and personal ethics. And despite your unfortunate sequestering, I don’t need to remind responsible individuals like yourselves that there’s an election on Tuesday.”
Reggie used his final minutes to acknowledge the pain felt by Erica Liu’s mourning father, and he compared it to the shame felt by Solomon Gold’s teenage daughter. “When someone is hurt, it is our instinct to hurt someone in return,” Reggie said. “But this courtroom is not about in?stinct. It is about reason. Reason is the active ingredient in reasonable doubt. And you have not a single good reason to convict Solomon Gold of this crime. All Brad Spelling has given you is a short list of very bad reasons. They are his reasons, not yours.”
The jury deliberated for only two days—another forty-eight hours for Reggie behind his inscrutable trial face, another forty-eight hours for Solomon Gold in his jailhouse tans.
Then the surprise verdict, with Brad Spelling himself sitting in the gallery for its reading, graying head between his manicured hands.
“You did great, hon,” said Reggie’s wife, Steph, over dinner at Spiaggia, their first night out together in almost a year.
He agreed but didn’t seem happy.
A dozen important people approached their table with not always sincere congratulations. Reggie and Steph made celebratory love and he tried to fall asleep with his own face all over the muted news glowing at the end of the bed. Undoubtedly, he was now the most famous criminal attorney in America. His fees were about to triple. He had a book contract waiting for his signature. An agent on each coast. Fifteen offers a day to appear on this television show or that one—prime time, daytime, morning, late night.
Life is about to change for all of us, Reggie thought. This verdict would be a ticket to big things. Expensive things. A life unimaginable.
His wife asked why he looked depressed. Reggie told her it was nothing. He said he wasn’t getting much sleep. Stress, he said. All the attention. “Don’t you ever sometimes feel bad when everything around you is good? Don’t you sometimes feel good when everything around you is bad?”
He didn’t tell her he couldn’t sleep because he knew the Gold trial would be his legacy. Whatever else he accomplished, Reggie would always be famous as the lawyer who successfully defended Solomon Gold. The composer’s name would be in the headline of Reggie’s obituary, and between this day and that one the long wake of this trial would carry waves of cash and opportunity his way.
Solomon Gold’s acquittal would be the best thing that ever happened to Reggie Vallentine.
But Reggie knew something no one else knew. A secret that could be shared, thanks to confidentiality laws and the constitutional principle of double jeopardy, by Reggie and his client alone.
Solomon Gold was guilty as hell.
Little about the girl’s demeanor suggested she was giving much thought to the square metal frame that had been screwed onto her head the previous morning, or the dime-size holes that had been drilled into her skull, or the incision that had been opened at the base of her neck, or the long wires that had been pulled from her collarbone to her brain like new wires in an old house. She appeared neither brave nor afraid.
Her pale, shaven scalp was hidden under a stocking cap, her bloodred locks having been dispatched to a wig maker, who would refashion them, at the girl’s request, for a child in the cancer wing. She wore a hospital gown covered in Donalds and Mickeys. The day nurse was partial to these patterns. She said they made the kids happy. The night nurse, who had two children of her own, thought it insidious that the hospital allowed sick kids to be made into advertising billboards.
And this girl’s a little old for Mickey Mouse anyway, the night nurse thought.
“Do you want me to find you a different gown, dear?” she asked.
The girl shrugged, barely.
“Do you even still like Mickey Mouse?”
The girl looked puzzled. She pulled the material away from her abdomen and stared at it. “I hadn’t even noticed.” Smiling, she added, “These are okay for now. In the morning, I’ll change.”
The night nurse scribbled a note to the day nurse: “She hates the Mickey Mouse. Says she’s too old for that!”
The girl was staring at a West Coast Cubs game on television, but the night nurse couldn’t tell if she was watching. The drip from the bag above her bed delivered a slow calm up and down the girl’s body, along with one last powerful dose of the drug cocktail that had barely managed her life for the last four years. There were headphones around her thin neck. On the table next to her bed, along with a tall Styrofoam cup of ice water topped with a cap and impaled with a straw, was a rubber mouthpiece in case the seizures recurred, and a CD by a band called Bomb Pop. The nurse even recognized it.
“My daughter likes Bomb Pop, too,” the nurse said.
The girl took a moment to respond. A delay, not very long, but almost as if there were a translator whispering in her ear. “Everybody likes them,” she said finally and pleasantly. “Not my dad, though. He doesn’t like any new music, only music by dead people.” She seemed immediately horrified by the implications of what she had said, and with wide eyes and a bitten lip, she appealed for both forgiveness and discretion, which the nurse granted with a smile. Watching the television news over the last few months, the night nurse had developed the impression that Solomon Gold was not someone you spoke frankly about in public—even if you were his only daughter.
The operation had gone well and the night nurse had little to do in the room besides housekeeping. She circled the bed and closed the drapes against the parking-lot halogens outside. Canada was an odd name for a girl, but pretty. “NAH-duh,” they sometimes called her. The mother had been to visit only once and very briefly. Rumor was that she had left the state, choosing to abandon her tragic, tabloid life altogether, leaving her troubled daughter as well as her husband—“She’s throwing out the baby with the bad father,” one of the doctors had punned. The night nurse didn’t think that was funny. Daytime visitors were limited mostly to a woman thought to be a nanny and another woman thought to be an aunt. The nurse had seen not a single friend the girl’s own age, but then, what parent would really want their kid playing at the Gold house these days?
Solomon Gold, accused killer recently freed by jury, had been here each night since the girl was admitted, avoiding the gawkers and cameras by keeping an odd schedule, after visiting hours, often when Canada was asleep, sometimes singing to her, humming to her, in murmurs and whispers. The nurse saw him arguing with Dr. Falcone, his arms swinging wildly between them, as if the doctor were a flutist in his orchestra, someone he could control like a marionette with his hands. The nurse found Solomon Gold intimidating, to be sure, and often rude, but like half the population, according to polls, she was happy for his acquittal. Her gut told her he couldn’t be a murderer. Despite what joking doctors might say, murderers wouldn’t care this much about their daughters.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Thousand
by Kevin Guilfoile
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are
provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or
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