“Is that what happened to you?”

“During the morning I didn’t even get out of the jury room,” he said. “In the afternoon I got herded to a courtroom, and they found fourteen jurors they could live with before they even got to me.”

“So they tossed you back in the pool.”

“And I started paddling, keeping my head above water, and they dismissed us for the day. I’d say the odds are I won’t get on a jury at all. But it’s not up to me. It’s up to the lawyers.”

“Now there’s a bad idea,” she said. “You want to ruin a system, just leave things up to the lawyers. Look, Keller, I think what you want to do is be a little proactive on this one.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you ought to be able to keep from getting chosen. There’s a word I want, but what the hell is it?”

“Impaneled.”

“The very word. You can make sure you don’t get impaneled. When they ask you how you feel about the death penalty, you tell ’em you’re unequivocally opposed to it, that as far as you’re concerned it’s just a form of judicial murder. The DA’ll kick you out so fast you’ll have boot marks on your behind.”

“That’s brilliant,” he said.

“Actually it’s pretty obvious, Keller. But it’ll work. Two more days, huh?”

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“That’s what they tell me.”

“One more day,” Keller said.

Tuesday morning he had exchanged nods and smiles with his lunch companion from the previous day, and when lunch hour rolled around they fell into step and into conversation. Without either of them actually suggesting it, they walked straight to the Saigon Pearl and took the same table they’d shared the day before.

“Unless we win the lottery,” Gloria said.

That was her name, Gloria Dantone. She was a few years younger than Keller, with short dark hair and a lopsided smile. She worked as a legal secretary at a midtown law firm. (“But they’re never in court,” she’d confided. “They do corporate real estate, they represent lenders at closings.”) She lived in Inwood with her husband, an accountant who worked at the World Financial Center. (“One of the Big Four firms. When he started they were the Big Eight, and then the Big Six, and now it’s down to four. They keep merging. Pretty soon it’ll be the Huge Two, I guess, but it doesn’t matter to Jerry. He just goes to the office and deals with what’s on his desk.”) Keller didn’t know what she was talking about. He knew the Big Ten was a college football conference, but this had to be something else. He figured he didn’t need to know more.

“Win the lottery,” he said. “It’s a matter of chance, all right. But look what you get if you win.”

“We might get on an interesting case. Listen, it’s got to be as interesting as what I do at the office. And it’s not like it costs me money to be here. The company pays my salary.”

“And the city pays me,” Keller said.

“Yeah, all of forty bucks a day. At those prices you’d think people’d be fighting to get on a jury. You’re pretty young to be retired.”

“Downsizing,” he said. “My job disappeared and the severance package was good, and I had money put aside. I pick up some freelance work now and then.”

On the way back she asked him how he was enjoying the book. “It’s okay,” he said. “I had to stop myself from finishing it last night.”

“She’s not really six years old, is she?”

“Midthirties.”

“You smartass. Of course that’s just what I was being, busting you for calling her a girl. I hope I get on a case.”

“Really?”

“Why not? I’m having fun.”

He called Dot Wednesday afternoon. “They sent you home early,” she said. “I guess that means for you the war is over.”

“I got on a jury.”

“You’re kidding,” she said. “Did you tell them how you felt about the death penalty?”

“It didn’t come up,” he said. “I guess when some kid runs off with a woman’s purse, they don’t much care how you feel about the death penalty.”

“Some little bastard snatches a woman’s purse, he damn well ought to get the needle. Is that the case they stuck you with? A purse-snatching?”

“No, I think it involves stolen goods. The defendant was sitting there throughout voir dire, and he looks too old and slow for purse-snatching. I’ll find out more tomorrow, when we hear the opening arguments.”

“You’ll be up all night wondering.”

“I’ll be up all night finishing this book.”

“The one about the plague? I thought you were saving it to read in court.”

“Once you’re on a jury,” he said, “they make you stop reading. You have to pay attention.”

“Unless you’re the judge. Keller, couldn’t you have done something during the whatchacallit?”

“Voir dire.”

“Whatever. Couldn’t you have expressed an extreme opinion?”

“I didn’t really know what they would or wouldn’t like,” he said, “so I gave up trying to figure it out and just answered the questions. And they picked me.”

“Lucky you. You still get weekends off, right?”

“Friday afternoon to Monday morning.”

“Unless you get sequestered.”

“The kind of trial where they lock up the jury every night,” he said, “is the kind where it takes them a week to select a jury. They picked all twelve jurors and two alternates in a few hours.”

“Small potatoes, in other words. How long will it last?”

“A few days. Maybe a week.”

“That’s not too bad.”

“No.”

“You’ll go down to Baltimore this weekend?”

“As soon as they send us home.”

“And either you’ll get it done right away or you’ll go back a few days later when the trial’s over. I don’t see a problem. Do you, Keller?”

“No,” he said. “No problem.”

Alone in his apartment, with nothing to distract him, he got caught up in the book. The evolving relationship of the hero and the heroine, prickly at first and increasingly romantic, left him unmoved, but there was an urgency to the rest of the plot that kept him turning pages.

And he couldn’t help liking the bad guy. The author tried to humanize the villain by telling you what a rotten childhood he had, how his father abused him and his mother died and all the other bad things that happened to him. That might explain why he was the way he was, though Keller didn’t really buy it. Keller liked him because he liked the way the guy operated, the way his mind worked.

Early on, there was this scene where this cute little girl is playing with her puppy, and the bad guy befriends her, and it’s sweet, how he has these nice conversations with the kid. And then he tests the virus on her, spikes her milk shake with it, and she dies the way people die from this disease, bleeding from every orifice and writhing in agony. That was to show you what a son of a bitch he was, in case you’d been harboring any doubts.

Keller didn’t see it that way. The only reason the guy befriended the kid in the first place was because he intended to feed her the virus. So it wasn’t as though they had a real friendship. The friendship was just part of the act.

Besides, the man was planning on killing off the entire population of New York City, if not the world. The kid would die anyway, along with everybody else. This way she’d beat the crowds, and would wind up in a hospital while there were still doctors and nurses alive to take care of her. They couldn’t help her, but they could at least make her halfway comfortable.

Of course, Keller thought, he had a tendency to root for the bad guys. In books, anyway, and in movies. His favorite actors were the guys who got mowed down one after the other by Bruce Willis and Steven Seagall and Jean-Claude Van Damme. There were plenty of good Hollywood villains these days, but as far as he was concerned none of them could hold a torch to Jack Elam, possibly the greatest bad guy who ever got in front of a camera. And when did Jack Elam ever still have a pulse by the time they rolled the final credits?

He wasn’t exactly pulling for this particular villain. How could you root for the annihilation of the entire human race? Even if you’d had a bad day, even if you were pissed off at everything and everybody, that had to be considered a little extreme. Still, when the golden couple succeeded in stopping him and saving the world, Keller couldn’t help feeling cheated. Here was this major disaster waiting to happen, and what’s the payoff? The payoff is that nothing happens. It was like lighting a firecracker and having it fizzle out.

He thought about this in bed, the book finished. He’d forced himself to stay awake long enough to finish it, and now he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t afford to toss and turn, he had to be wide awake in the morning so he could sit in judgment on another human being, and-

And that was it. He was excited at the prospect. And he had to admit to himself what he hadn’t admitted to Dot. He’d wanted to get on the jury.

Part of it, he supposed, was the impulse that made a person want to pass any test, whether or not he’d wanted to take it in the first place. Just like Charlie the Tuna, you wanted to be good enough to be Star-Kist, even if it meant winding up in the can.

So he’d done his best to get chosen. A lot of the questions had to do with the police. Did the prospective juror have any relatives who were cops? Did he believe that cops generally told the truth? Did he believe it was likely that a police officer might bend the truth in order to secure a conviction?

That suggested to Keller-and to anybody else who was paying attention-that some cop’s testimony was going to be a key element of the prosecution’s case, and that the defense was going to be that the cops were lying to frame an innocent man. If Keller had just wanted to answer the questions honestly, he would have had a hard time doing it. He’d had comfortingly few dealings with the police over the years, and how he felt about them generally depended on what film or TV program he’d watched most recently. He liked the cops from the Baltimore show, and he liked the fact that they sometimes had joint cases with cops on another program set in New York. In fact Munch, Keller’s favorite cop from Baltimore, had now moved to New York to be on a new program about sex crimes. It wasn’t just the actor who had switched, it was Munch, the character himself. Keller liked that a lot.

But there were other programs where the cops were stupid and brutal and an all-around pain in the ass, and Keller didn’t like those cops. They’d stand up in court and lie their heads off, whereas Munch might introduce a lot of irrelevant stuff, blaming the system and the government and his ex-wife whenever he got the chance. But he certainly wouldn’t perjure himself.

So Keller didn’t follow the example of one woman who preceded him through voir dire. If cops could plant evidence in an attempt to frame a public figure like O. J., she said, then they were capable of anything. Bang! Excused for cause. She was followed by a man, every bit as matter-of-fact about it, who said that sometimes it was a cop’s obligation to lie in court, or otherwise criminals would get off scot-free. Whack! Excused for cause.