Chapter Three: The Practice
Warren Coleman met his wife halfway into the living room. Shontel had transversed half the first floor of their six room house to meet him, as usual, with a hand for his satchel of paperwork and books and pursed lips for a quick kiss. William and James called out from the television. The cat spared a mostly-disinterested glance from the recliner. The stresses of court, the office, and his day dissipated into the sounds of blaring television, scents of Shontel’s Cajun cooking and Warren’s natural relief to be home. All too often the couple had joked of the effect of their idyllic home life, that the love and wholeness they shared couldn’t be real, because, with genuine love, good children, a nice home and professional jobs, they were too much like the Huxtables to be real.
"You guys finished the homework?" Warren called above the roars, whistles, and bangs of cartoon characters smashing each other with mallets.
"All aces!" James called.
"Done and math double-checked," the older William promised.
"How was the day?" Shontel asked as she placed Warren’s satchel by the den door and led him by the hand into the kitchen. "Dinner’s almost ready and my day went swimmingly, man-o’-mine."
"That’s good. Mine good. I got the Hanover case. Don’t know if you heard anything on the news. Elderly millionairess killed—"
"—By greedy opportunistic boyfriend," Shontel finished in demonstration that the news had reached the medical office in which she was a receptionist.
"So they say," Warren whispered as he took clean plates from the dishwasher and began setting the table.
Shontel leaned back into the living room and ordered, "Turn it down, guys!" before she crossed the eat-in kitchen to the stove. "You sound like you have doubts. Think it’s winnable?"
He shrugged. "She was found today. M.E.’s preliminary said she died this morning. They had Hanover by two, arraignment at four. Cops think it’s wrapped up in a neat little package, weapon, motive and murderer in a neat ball. They couldn’t have had time to look at other suspects."
"Hanover? He barely said anything except ‘I didn’t do it. I loved her.’ over and over. Not much help today, but, if he didn’t, and he did love her, first hearing that your girlfriend had been stabbed to death while the police are arresting you for it might shock a bro."
Shontel removed an amber Pyrex casserole dish from the oven and clicked off the gas. "And you think?"
"I don’t know. Arraignment at four? No time to talk except to get his plea. I’m meeting with him first thing tomorrow. No bail."
"Dad!" James shouted from the joining of carpet and linoleum that officially marked the boundary between kitchen and living room. "You got the guy who axed the old lady?"
"So far. Maybe I was the only one in the office available for arraignment."
"You can’t win that. He killed her!" James proclaimed.
"You got it on video?" Warren demanded.
"Everybody knows! I saw it on TV!"
"Innocent until proven guilty, Jimmy. It’s what I do." Warren’s younger son shrugged away from the well-known standard lecture on the ideals of American justice. "‘Sides, I’ve gotten guilty homes off before." Warren frowned at his own joke as he wondered what he was teaching his son with such a remark.
"Wil, in here!" Shontel called. "James, glasses and silverware," she ordered smoothly.
Warren settled at the head of the table and watched Shontel’s fluid motions in serving dinner with roasted potatoes and orange juice. As he had since his sophomore year of college, he admired her precise, decisive movements. James asked generic questions about the Hanover case. He answered without real thought, but the cumulative effect of his son’s curiosity led him down a path to a place he hated: obsession.
"This could be the teletrial?" William asked halfway through the meal, the twelve-year-old’s first apparent interest.
"Could be. Might be a big factor in if I get to try it."
William stabbed at his chicken. "Why should that make a difference? You arraigned him."
"You get him off for that?" James shot out.
"No." Warren turned to the more pressing question from his elder son. "Same politics as your Mom not getting the office manager’s position."
"White folks," James grunted in the frequent tone that often worried his father.
Warren mustered more conviction than he felt. "This one could be for us. It might be good for the office to have a token on TV." He scowled. "Not that I think that will matter." His eyes met Shontel’s in mutual vulnerability. No matter how often they color-blinded themselves, too many people, including their own sons, couldn’t be bothered. Or couldn’t escape into a fantasy land fast enough to outrun the tides.
Shontel had remained peculiarly quiet throughout dinner, but Warren found his wife frequently studying him. "Do you want this case?" she finally asked over desert.
"I’ll take it. Why?"
"It’s bothering you."
Warned by the gravity of their mother’s tone, the boys fell into a silence. Typical to their normal routine, William studied their father and James their mother. They’d compare notes later, Warren was sure. He maintained his calm and stoic veneer, that of the role model for his children like the one he had longed for growing up.
"Why do you say that?"
Shontel smiled her gentlest expression. "Because it is."
"His attitude," Warren whispered. He placed his fork down. "I’ve seen cold hearted rapists act like angels and I’ve seen Snow-Lilly-White pure-and-innocents act like Charles Manson. But this Hanover boy? He spooks me. He didn’t say a thing except ‘I didn’t do it. I loved her.’ Said it so many times, and nothing else. He spooked me. Just kept saying it. I don’t know if I’m dealing with some disassociative who doesn’t feel like he did what his body did, or just some poor innocent blow shocked by his girl’s murder."
"How old was he?" Shontel asked quietly, drawing out what she thought may have been her husband’s true disbelief.
"And the woman?"
He resumed eating with a shrug. "Maybe fifty years older?"
"That’s gross," William stated.
Shontel smiled, and faced her husband directly. "Is the age thing what bothers you?"
Warren shrugged again and wiped the spicy grease on his plate with sliced rye. He waved the dripping bread towards William and whispered, "What he said."
Shontel laughed. The boys joined the new break in mood until Warren couldn’t help himself. He changed the subject to the boys’ school and if they’d researched vacations for the next August on the web. But the haunted blue eyes of his publicly-paid client refused to wander from the top of Warren’s consciousness, and even in his sleep that night, he kept hearing Michael Hanover’s cold whisper, ‘I didn’t do it. I loved her. I didn’t do it. I loved her...’
3. The Practice
5. Family Ties