Keller steered a middle course, one that made him acceptable to both the prosecution and the defense. He made the cut. He was on the jury.
And so was Gloria Dantone.
At nine the next morning, Keller was seated in the jury box, along with the other lucky thirteen. Both sides had gotten through opening arguments by the time the judge declared a recess for lunch. Automatically, Keller and Gloria drifted apart from the others in the exodus from the courtroom. Just as automatically, they went straight to the Saigon Pearl, where they both ordered the daily special.
They’d talked about the weather on the way to the restaurant, and how fresh the air was compared to the courtroom. Waiting for the food to come, they were both stuck for something to say. “We’re not supposed to discuss the case,” she said. “In fact I’m not a hundred percent sure we’re supposed to be having lunch together.”
“The judge didn’t say we couldn’t.”
“No. Can we talk about the other jurors?”
“I don’t know. We’re not supposed to talk about the lawyers, or what we thought of their opening arguments.”
“How about their clothes? How about their hairstyles?”
She rolled her eyes, and Keller got the message that Gloria didn’t much care for the prosecutor’s clothes, or the way she did her hair. The woman’s hair-medium brown with red highlights, shoulder length, worn back off her face-seemed okay to Keller, and she was wearing what looked to him like fairly standard women’s business attire, but Keller knew his limitations. When it came to looking at clothes and hairstyles, any heterosexual male was like a noncollector looking at a page full of stamps. He missed the fine points.
“I wonder what they talk about during those bench conferences,” he said. “But I have a feeling we’re not even supposed to speculate.”
“A couple of times I could almost make out what they were saying.”
“So I tried not to listen, and that’s like trying not to think of something, like a white rhinoceros.”
“Go ahead,” she said. “Try not to think of one.”
There were a lot of things they couldn’t talk about, but that left them the whole world outside of the courtroom. Keller told her how he’d been up late finishing the book, and she told him a story about one of the senior partners at her firm, who was having an affair with a client. They didn’t run out of conversation.
At one-thirty they were back in the jury box. The assistant DA who was trying the case began presenting witnesses, and Keller concentrated on their testimony. It was close to five by the time the judge adjourned for the day.
The next day, Friday, he was sorry he’d finished his book. Everybody told you to bring something to read while you waited to see if you drew a case. What they didn’t tell you was that you were just as much in need of diversion after you’d been impaneled. You couldn’t read during bench conferences-it wouldn’t look good if a juror whipped out a paperback the minute the judge and the lawyers got in a huddle-but there were plenty of other opportunities.
“In my chambers,” the judge said around ten o’clock, and he and the two lawyers were gone for twenty minutes. A couple of the jurors closed their eyes during their absence, and one of them didn’t manage to open them after things got going again.
“I think Mr. Bittner may have nodded off,” he said at lunch, and Gloria said the man was either sleeping or he’d mastered the art of wide-awake snoring.
“But we’re probably not supposed to talk about it,” she said, and he agreed that they probably weren’t.
During the afternoon there were a couple more bench conferences and one long break where the judge and the attorneys stayed in the courtroom but the jury had to leave. The bailiff escorted them to another room, where they all sat around a table as if to deliberate the verdict. But they had nothing to ponder, and they were under orders not to discuss the case, and they were seated too close together to have private conversations among themselves, so all they could do, really, was sit there. That was when a book would have come in handy.
Around four-thirty the judge sent them home for the weekend. Keller, who’d packed a briefcase with a clean shirt and a change of socks and underwear, went straight to Penn Station.
The previous weekend Keller had stayed at a hotel near the train station, but he’d come across a bed and breakfast in Fells Point that looked inviting and was certainly more convenient. He’d reserved a room the night before, and checked in a little after nine. It was almost midnight when he called White Plains from a pay phone around the corner.
“I’m in Baltimore,” he said.
“That’s nice,” she said. “Everybody’s got to be someplace. And, since you’ve got something to do in Baltimore-“
“Not this weekend I don’t.”
“Our friend left town. She’s on the Eastern Shore.”
“Aren’t we all? Isn’t New York on the eastern shore, and Baltimore, and all points in between?”
It was a section of Maryland, he explained, a sort of peninsula on the other side of Chesapeake Bay. And that’s where Irene Macnamara was, and would be until Monday morning.
“At which time you’ll be in a stuffy old courtroom,” she said. “Unless you’re going to make old Aunt Dorothy very happy by telling her the trial’s all wrapped up.”
“How could that happen? It didn’t even start until yesterday morning.”
“There’s always the miracle of plea bargaining. Not this time, huh?”
“Was it a purse snatcher, Keller? Are you going to make sure the little bastard gets what’s coming to him?”
“I’m not supposed to talk about the case.”
“Say that again, Keller.”
“Is there something wrong with the connection? I said-“
“I know what you said.”
“Then why did you ask me to repeat it?”
“So that you could hear it for yourself. Keller, think about what you just said and who you said it to. And think of all the things you’re not supposed to do, including the one you’re not going to be able to do this weekend, on account of somebody went to the Eastern Shore.”
“This cop bought a VCR,” he said.
“Probably a good idea, Keller. The poor guys work long hours, and sometimes they pull double shifts, so how can they be sure of keeping up with their favorite soap operas? The only answer is to tape the shows and watch them later on.”
“It was stolen.”
“Which means he’ll have to buy another one. I hope he’s got insurance.”
“Look, it’s late,” he said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“I’ll behave,” she said. “I promise. The cop bought a stolen VCR. I suppose the question is did he know it was stolen when he bought it.”
“That’s why he bought it. The guy who sold it to him didn’t know he was a cop, and now he’s on trial for trafficking in stolen property.”
“Sounds open and shut.”
“If the cop’s telling the truth.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “We haven’t even heard the cop’s testimony yet.”
“We’ve hardly heard anything. The lawyers keep having private conversations, and I gather what they’re mostly doing is arguing about what we get to hear. The way it works, the people with the least knowledge of what’s going on are the ones on the jury.”
“Well, that’s the American Way, isn’t it?”
“Evidently. The judge said we could read the papers and watch TV, but if there’s anything about the case we’ve got to stop reading.”
“Or change the channel.”
“A guy got hold of a hot VCR and sold it to a cop, I don’t think that’s going to be the lead item on ‘Live at Five.’ But you’re playing it safe, hiding out in Baltimore. Or are you planning on coming home early?”
“I’ve got the room booked. I might as well stay.”
“The more time you spend there, the more attention you attract.”
“I leave the inn ahead of schedule, that attracts attention, too.”
“You’re staying at an inn?”
“Sort of a bed and breakfast.”
“Is it quaint?”
“It’s nice,” he said. “I’m never too sure what quaint means.”
“It depends on your tone of voice when you say it. I’m sleepy, Keller. I’m going to bed.”
He rang off. He was tired himself, and his canopied four-poster bed had looked inviting, although you wouldn’t notice the posts or the canopy once you had your eyes shut.
He hesitated, then started walking in the opposite direction from the inn. He wasn’t that tired, and he could sleep as late as he wanted in the morning. So there was no reason not to drop in for a nightcap at Counterpoint.
At lunch Monday Gloria said, “You know how I spent the weekend? You’ll think I’m completely nuts.”
“You bungee-jumped off the World Trade Center.”
“Close. I sat on the couch watching Court TV.”
“Bungee-jumping would be nuttier.”
“It would also be more exciting. Like I don’t get enough of this garbage during the week. You know what I was doing?”
“You just told me.”
“No, what I was really up to, in my heart of hearts. It took me a while before I realized it. I was hoping I’d accidentally-on-purpose wind up watching some coverage of our case.”
“Unconsciously, you mean.”
“Unconsciously at first, right, and then consciously, because I saw what I was doing and went right on doing it. Of course, you know how likely it is that Court TV would waste their time on our case. It’s not exactly the Great Train Robbery.” She took a forkful of whatever it was they were eating. “And of course they didn’t. I don’t think there are even any cameras in the courtroom, are there?”
“Not that I noticed.”
“When I said I’d been picked for a jury, the first thing my sister-in-law said was maybe I’d be on TV. You know, if they panned the jury. Which I don’t think they’re supposed to, but who cares anyway? What’s the big deal about having your face on a few million television screens?”
“I think it makes it real,” Keller said. “You’ll see some woman, her baby gets eaten by a coyote, and some reporter sticks a microphone in her face and asks her how she feels.”
“And instead of telling him to go fuck himself, like you’d think a normal human being would do-“
“She answers the question and shares her pain with the world. People think that’s what they’re supposed to do. They think you have to be on television if you get the chance, because it validates your experience.”