Monday, November 12, 2007

Chapter 11, Part 1

Danny's final meeting with Rodney Casterman before they went to court took place in Danny's dressing room. Danny had intended to look his very best for his court date, and had laid out his finest handmade French suit, handmade English shirt, handmade Italian shoes, and a thousand-dollar platinum silk necktie that Valerien had just given him.

Casterman, on the other hand, wanted Danny to run down to Macy's and buy something blue and unbranded off the rack... he wanted Danny to not look like a pampered prince, but rather a "regular guy." Danny was horrified by the suggestion, and flatly refused to wear a blue suit with a red tie in any case; they therefore spent an hour combing through Danny's wardrobe seeking a compromise.

Eventually they decided on a Brooks Brothers tweed jacket and grey slacks with cordovan loafers that filled Danny with misgivings ("It's so casual, no one will take me seriously"), a button-down Oxford shirt and his Stanford school tie. With his hair combed back and no jewelry ("Don't you own anything simple? Buy yourself a Timex, for God's sake"), Danny looked incredibly young and rather painfully naïve, which is exactly the look Casterman wanted for his client.

This last piece of defense established, the great attorney wished Danny a good night's sleep and left him to entertain the Aunt Ems and Mademoiselle Marnie, as well as Officer Pete Kelley, all of whom had been flown down from Vandervere in Valerien's private jet.

The Aunt Ems were simply delighted to be out of Vandervere, and had made a holiday of the trip, even going so far as to wear festive corsages on the shoulders of their matching flowered silk dresses. They were identical twins, a pair of frail birdlike creatures, plump and quick with small heads and teased white cotton-candy hair. The only way to tell them apart was that Aunt Maude was left-handed, so her corsage was on her right shoulder; closer study also revealed that Aunt Myrtle was slightly plumper, being even more fond of sweets than her sister.

Mademoiselle Marnie seemed uncomfortable with the august old ladies, or just uncomfortable to be away from home; she worried a crystal rosary in her hand and kept making nervous gestures around her frizzed henna-red hair. She was dressed quite formally in a shapeless black wool gown and several strands of glass beads, with clunky black shoes making her legs look even skinnier than they already were; she was also very small and birdlike, but thin as a rake, with a slightly beaky nose and brilliant round black eyes.

Officer Kelley was even more uncomfortable in the presence of his "social betters" (eight years spent in the feudal atmosphere of Vandervere had taken its toll on him) but the Aunt Ems had taken a shine to the kind-faced officer and made a pet of him, asking his opinion on every topic under the sun, complimenting him endlessly on his unusual green-brown eyes and freckles, and treating him as a newfound beau. He greeted Danny with a hearty handshake and expressed his gratitude at being called and brought to San Francisco in such luxury.

Danny took the four of them to dinner at the Palm Court, as he always did with out-of-town visitors, and they enjoyed themselves over a long and lavish meal. Danny had quartered them all in suites at the Palace, so he was able to escort them from the restaurant to their rooms without the bother of cars.

Returning home late and alone for the first time in a long time, Danny poured himself a relaxing glass of wine and sat down in the wing-chair by the fireplace for a couple of hours, just enjoying the beauty of his living room and appreciating his life as it stood... he was terribly conscious that he could lose his freedom tomorrow, and wanted to be prepared for it: in a way, he was saying good-bye to his life, just in case.

He didn't expect to get any sleep with so much on his mind, and so he was quite shocked when the alarm-clock went off and he discovered he'd had a full eight hours of dreamless sleep. He actually felt quite cheerful as he made his coffee, groomed himself for the day, and wolfed down a fairly hearty breakfast, even going so far as to scramble some eggs and eat them on toast.

Valerien picked him up at nine, dressed in a rather conservative (for him) dark blue pinstripe suit; only on closer inspection did one notice that it was cut in the Edwardian fashion, with a double-breasted waistcoat and a deep violet necktie that was so wide it was almost an ascot. Danny smiled at the foppishness of the little bunch of violets in the buttonhole, the silvery suede gloves and shoes, and the silver-headed walking-stick.

"What are you wearing?" Valerien was aghast at Danny's carefully-chosen clothes, "And what happened to the Sulka tie I got you the other day? I thought you were going to wear it for me."

"I was," Danny grimaced with regret, "But Mr. Casterman put the kibosh on it and made me wear this mess instead. But it could have been worse... can you believe he actually wanted me to buy something off the rack? Blue with a red tie?"

"Quel horreur!" Valerien exclaimed without humor, genuinely disturbed by the idea of his friend dressing like a poor politician.

"Still, it's better than an orange jumpsuit," Danny remarked grimly, still worried about the possibility of having his bail revoked.

"Actually, I thought you looked quite nice in that jumpsuit," Valerien said, giving Danny's hand a reassuring pat, "Orange is definitely your color."

"Where are we going?" Danny wondered, looking out the window.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you," Valerien was distressed, "I hope you don't mind, but Marquesa's coming along with us this morning. He was called as a witness, too."

"I don't mind," Danny said truthfully, "I don't want to keep avoiding Marquesa... I'll never get over him if I never see him."

"That's a very sensible approach," Valerien patted his hand as they pulled into the courtyard of Marquesa's building.

The building was a very grand Art Deco tower on a very steep side of Nob Hill, flanked by three-storied garages, with a blue canvas marquee stretching out to a circular drive that wrapped itself around a dancing fountain. Marquesa was waiting at the door with the liveried doorman, dressed in a very simple black suit with a black Persian lamb coat slung over his shoulders like a cape, black boots and gloves, a pearl dog-collar and a Victorian diamond brooch, and a smart black cloche hat with a little spray of black feathers on one side.

"Darling, you look like a schoolboy," Marquesa said to Danny, planting a lipstick kiss on the side of his face as he entered the car.

"Lawyer's orders," Danny replied, pulling out his handkerchief to wipe off the paint, "He thinks this makes me look innocent."

"Well, he should know. Valerien, good morning... do you have any coffee in this hearse?"

The rest of the drive passed in silence while each sipped coffee and worried over his own part in the courtroom drama that was coming; Valerien and Marquesa had been called as witnesses to Danny's behavior upon leaving Marshall's apartment, as well as witnesses to Danny's character, and both were nervous about putting the most flattering light on their friend without appearing dishonestly fulsome.

Eventually the car pulled up at the Hall of Justice, where Danny was greeted by his Aunts, his former nanny, and his policeman friend. The Aunt Ems were dressed in identical Chanel suits of gray tweed with black velvet edging and triple-strand pearl necklaces, riotous lavender orchid corsages fluttering on their shoulders and old-fashioned flowered hats with veils perched on their fluffy white heads. Mademoiselle Marnie was in the same dress she'd worn the night before, but without the rattling beads, and had a much more cheerful aspect than when she'd arrived ("I did your cards, mon petit, and it's all going to turn out splendidly"). Officer Kelley wore his uniform and looked quite dashing.

The group filed together through the metal-detectors, where Valerien was relieved of his walking-stick and Marquesa had to surrender a small handgun ("Damn, I forgot to take that out of my purse...sorry.") and into the same drab and ugly courtroom where Danny's bail had been set.

The courtroom was packed with photographers, all of whom swarmed around Danny and his retinue as they entered the courtroom. The Aunt Ems were thrilled and did their best not to actually pose for the cameras. Danny went and sat beside Mr. Casterman (who was wearing a blue suit with a red tie) at the Defense table, and stole glances back at his friends and family for reassurance every now and then.

During one of those looks backward, Danny caught sight of someone who struck him as familiar, but he couldn't think why... he was a rather nondescript young man, with a thin mouth and small eyes, medium brown hair buzzed to military shortness, dressed in a tan suit and a brown tie. He was sitting next to Cissie Marshall, so Danny assumed that it was her son, and that the familiarity was based on his inevitable resemblance to Drayton Marshall, but there was something else about him that nagged Danny's memory... he'd seen that young man before, in another context, but where?

The arraignment began with Assistant District Attorney Reese Moon calling for testimony from the arresting officers. Detective Spevik was stiff and obviously uncomfortable, while Detective Varajian was smooth and competent; it was clear from the testimony which officer believed in Danny's guilt and which didn't; the Prosecution made much of Danny's initial mistaken confession, while Casterman focused on the initial interview and Danny's stated belief that he'd killed Marshall by accident, and the complete lack of mention of knives and stabbing in the confession.

Next on the stand was Medical Examiner Marriott Griggs, who rambled on at some length, and spent a great deal of time discoursing on unrelated information. He was obviously hostile to the prosecution and friendly to the defense, but the evidence (once boiled out of the discursive descriptions) was nevertheless damaging. ME Griggs was asked by the Prosecution to repeat several times that Danny's fingerprint and DNA were found on the murder weapon; Casterman asked him to repeat that there were no boot-prints found in the kitchen, as well as taking him through the issue of the bleached toilet and hallways several times from different angles of inquiry.

Danny had a hard time guessing what the judge might be making of all this contradictory information: Judge Everard Manning had a smooth and completely expressionless face that gave absolutely nothing away. He was one of the socially ambitious judges whom Marquesa and Valerien had influenced over Danny's bail hearing, but there was no way of knowing whether the man would be swayed by such considerations during something as serious and career-affecting as a brightly publicized arraignment.

The final piece of evidence that the Prosecution presented was the video of Danny's violent behavior with Marshall; the judge elected to view that video in chambers rather than in open court, and a short recess was called. Danny breathed a sigh of relief that his aunts wouldn't be forced to see the very indelicate goings-on of the tape; it was bad enough that the thing existed, but to have even the R-rated portions broadcast in public would be too humiliating to bear.

During the recess, Danny kept one eye on Marshall's son, trying to figure out where he'd seen the man before. Danny was sure they'd never actually been introduced, and was equally certain he'd never been pointed out before. Danny so prided himself on his social memory, though, that this gap in recognition drove him quite mad. When court was resumed after the judge returned (looking distinctly embarrassed) from viewing the tape, Danny found it difficult to concentrate on the proceedings, distracted by trying to remember where he'd seen Drayton Marshall IV (assuming that's who the young man was) before.

With the video off its hands, the Prosecution turned the floor over to Casterman, who called Aunt Myrtle, and then Aunt Maude to the stand to give identical and quite endearing portraits of Danny's childhood and youth, both swearing up and down that Danny didn't have a violent bone in his body. The Prosecution, who knew better from the video, wisely declined to cross-question the sweet little old ladies. However, ADA Moon did cross-question Mademoiselle Marnie, who gave almost the exact same testimony as the Aunt Ems, and he made much of her vagueness and eccentricity by asking indirect and slightly confusing questions.

Casterman next called Valerien to the stand to give an account of Danny's behavior when they met on the elevator... Valerien swore that he seemed quite as composed as one could be, covered in oil and confronted with two strangers in an elevator. He did not observe any blood on his person, other than from the cut on Danny's hand from the broken elevator button.

The Prosecution tried to discount Valerien's testimony with a rather clumsy ploy: in hopes of irritating Valerien into a state of hauteur that might make him look bad to the judge, he mangled his name, addressing him as "Mister Segwamount"

"Baron de Seguemont, if you don't mind," Valerien replied, correcting him with a gentle smile.

"The court doesn't recognize foreign titles," ADA Moon responded.

"Very well," Valerien shrugged and smiled again, blinking submissively, refusing to be drawn.

Moon and Valerien went back and forth in this vein for quite some time, the ADA continuously trying to rile Valerien's famous prideful temper, but Valerien was almost cloyingly polite as he went through his testimony again, repeating himself almost word-for-word, and speaking very slowly as if to someone who hadn't been listening the first time. The whole exercise made the ADA look rather foolish.

Valerien was dismissed and his place taken by Marquesa; after Casterman walked him through their meeting in the elevator, as well as describing their subsequent friendship and Danny's character as he saw it, ADA Moon tried again to discredit the witness by irritating him into a fury.

"Your legal name is Marc-Antony Wilkes?" Moon asked in a rather condescending tone, his eyes raking over Marquesa's dress and hat.

"That is my birth name; my legal name is Marque Willard-Wilkes," Marquesa said, a hint of the desired irritation in his voice. And though he was hostile toward Moon during the cross-examination, Marquesa answered all of his questions and underlined that Danny was a nonviolent and generally even-tempered person, and that he'd never even seen the defendant angry.

The last witness called was Officer Kelley of the Vandervere Police, who gave a glowing testimonial to Danny's kindness and gentleness; when cross-examined, he (with a disarming blush) also gave an account of Danny's one brush with the law when he was liable to a charge of indecent exposure and committing a lewd act in a public place; he explained that the charges were never brought because of Officer Kelley's friendship with the defendant, but stressed that such a friendship would have been terminated if Danny had ever been caught doing something violent or cruel, as his brother and cousins often had been.

ADA Moon tried to undermine this last statement with questions about why charges were never brought against the other Vanderveres who had committed violent or cruel acts, but Officer Kelley was so open about the state of things in Vandervere and the Vandervere family's control of the workings of the town, pretty much ensuring that he wouldn't remain much longer in his position there, that it was impossible to doubt him.

With this last witness finished, the judge recessed the court for lunch so that he could review and deliberate on the evidence presented.

When Danny stood and turned to join his friends for lunch, he was surprised by Drayton Marshall's son glaring at him in a manner that was instantly familiar.

"It's the purple-haired kid!" Danny whispered to Casterman.

"The who?" Casterman responded distractedly.

"The purple-haired kid! Right there, standing next to Cissie Marshall. He's the kid I saw at The Brat, the one who called himself Cort Johnson... of course! It's not Cort with a C, it was Quart with a Q! As in Quartus! The fourth! It's a common prep-school nickname. It all makes sense!"

"What are you babbling about?" Casterman turned to follow Danny's gaze toward Drayton Holyfield Marshall IV, who was now leading his mother from the courtroom.

"That man there is the purple-haired boy, Cort Johnson!" Danny repeated, his mind becoming dazzled by the implications, "Which means that he might have killed his father. And he appeared on Marshall's tapes, too, which means his own father handcuffed and fucked him without even recognizing him! That's disgusting."

"Now, wait a minute," Casterman grasped Danny's elbow, "Are you absolutely certain? This is a serious thing you're saying."

"I'm completely sure," Danny replied, excited, "I never forget things like this, I was only distracted because he looks so much like Marshall now, as obviously he would; but then when he looked directly at me, I recognized him immediately. That's Cort Johnson! The Purple-Haired Kid. Aunt Tittie's houseboy. I thought that Mexican alibi was weak. He was here the whole time!"

"Now, don't get ahead of yourself. Let me talk to RJ about this, and see what we can find out. Go have lunch with the Baron and Mr. Willard-Wilkes, but don't talk about this until I have a chance to get some preliminary investigation underway, do you understand?"

"I can't tell Valerien and Marquesa?" Danny asked, wondering what else he'd be able to talk about in his excitement.

"Yes, but don't let anyone hear you. If you accuse Marshall's son of his murder, even indirectly or casually, and we can't back it up, we could have a libel case on our hands."

It wasn't necessary to lower their voices, after all, as Valerien had arranged a picnic lunch in the back of his limousine, so Danny was able to discuss this new development with his friends uninterrupted.

"It's a brilliant plan," Danny enthused as he puzzled out how Marshall's son had done it, "All he'd have to do is go down to Mexico for a week or two, establish himself somewhere and bribe some people to say he'd never left, then sneak back across the border in disguise."

"Is it that easy?" Marquesa wondered, "I mean, you hear about illegal immigrants all the time, but I don't feature a Marshall allowing himself to be smuggled across the Rio Grande in a melon truck."

"It's super easy... all he'd have to do is come back on a tour bus on a busy weekend, nobody'd ever recognize him. Americans have free entry, they don't even require passports at the border crossings."

"But doesn't that make the whole alibi weak?" Valerien asked, "He couldn't really prove he'd gone in or come out at any particular time."

"He could if he flew. Airlines have so much security, and such detailed records, that they make perfect alibis. And if he got fined for something, like trying to bring in some tequila without paying duty on it, that would cement his presence in the airport security's minds... he probably made a spectacle of himself going in the first time and coming out for his father's funeral, but snuck quietly in and out as Cort Johnson without calling any attention to himself at all."

"It must have been awfully risky, living here in town for all those weeks without anybody recognizing him," Marquesa said.

"Not really," Danny replied, "Consider how stratified this city is... if he was hanging out on Polk Street and living with Aunt Tittie, nobody he knew, except his father, would ever see him. And his disguise was enough to make his father not recognize him."

"Are you really that sure? If his own father didn't recognize him, how can you?"

"Because I have that kind of memory, I learned a long time ago to memorize eyes and noses, they tend not to change, when hair and clothes do. If he hadn't stared at me so fixedly at The Brat, and then again in the courtroom, I never would have noticed him except as a purple-haired kid or as Marshall's son; but since he did call himself to my attention by staring at me, the same way both times, I took the time to memorize his features. And I'll bet Aunt Tittie will recognize him, too. I learned the eyes-and-nose trick from her in the first place, it's how you recognize a drag queen out of drag."

"I have a hard time believing that Marshall didn't recognize his own son. That's so unlikely," Marquesa put in after thinking quietly for a few moments.

"Why? If I put on purple hair and a pair of sunglasses, my father wouldn't recognize me, either... he never really looked at me, he just glanced my way and glanced away again. Marshall was probably the same way, and didn't look directly at the kid if he could help it. I doubt he looked directly at most of the hustlers he brought home, they were just fodder for his fantasy and didn't matter as individuals."

"I just can't imagine living life that way," Marquesa shrugged, "Not noticing things. I notice everything, all the time."

"So do I," Valerien said, "as does Danny. But in this, as in so many things, we are not average. I've known people to not recognize someone just because he put on a hat. I think most people don't see details, particularly really self-involved people; they just see a fuzzy overall picture of other people, focusing only on the salient points that they consider important, not the people themselves in their entirety."

"But why bother with such an elaborate scheme, anyway?" Marquesa asked after digesting that idea, "It would be so much simpler for Marshall Junior to just hire someone."

"Hiring someone always leaves you open to blackmail," Danny countered, "And if he really hated his father, as I'm sure he did, he'd want the pleasure of killing him himself."

"We'd better get back inside," Valerien warned, looking at his watch.

As the crowds reassembled in the courtroom, Danny tried to get another look at Drayton Marshall VI, but it seemed that the young man had left... Cissie Marshall was still there, but she was alone and looked rather put-out. Had the younger Marshall realized Danny had recognized him? Danny knew his own face concealed very little in the way of emotions, and that recognition had probably been quite readable; but someone who had the nerve to show up in the first place at the arraignment hearing for a crime he had himself committed, even though another stood as defendant, might have been expected to brave out such a recognition.

"Having reviewed all of the available information," Judge Manning began, once the court had been called to order, "I find that, although the defendant is an unlikely candidate, the physical evidence is far too compelling to dismiss the charges. Marcus Daniel Vandervere IV, you are hereby accused of murder in the second degree. How do you plead?"

"Not guilty, your honor," Danny replied as convincingly as he knew how.

"Very well," the judge went on, "A trial will be scheduled at the earliest opportunity, the principals will be informed of the dates by the end of business tomorrow. I understand the People have a motion regarding bail?"

"The People move that bail be revoked," ADA Moon said with a certain hopelessness in his voice, "We believe that the flight risk has increased significantly since the original bail hearing."

"Considering that the defendant has so far abided by the terms of his bail, I see no reason why it should not be continued. Motion denied. This court is adjourned. Thank you, everyone."

"Fuckety-fuck!" Danny swore under his breath.

"Well, it's no less than we expected, though less than we hoped for, and certainly better than it might have been. At it gives us a few more months to trace this Cort Johnson Drayton Marshall IV connection, and see if we can't hand the SFPD a better suspect."

"I suppose so," Danny sulked, "But I'm sick of having this hanging over my head."

"We all have our crosses to bear, dear boy. Buck up, and RJ will be in touch with you as soon as he finds something."

"I swear, I'm going to get that guy," Danny vowed to himself as he made his way out of the court behind his attorney, "if it's the last thing I ever do."