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Arles

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Aug. 5th, 2012 | 05:17 pm

This story intersects with this one; they also stand alone.
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On the way to work, he passed a white van, the sides of which had been painted gold with spray paint. On the driver’s side door, in the same gold paint, someone had carefully written “Arles”. The letters were actually what he had noticed first, he realized later, because they were so nicely made that until he saw the blotchy gold panels on the side of the van, he thought they were a company logo, feathery-edged on purpose.

As he robed and wigged in the Dressing-Room, he wondered what kind of company “Arles” was, and whether they knew about the field in France over which his father had flown. Under the fluorescent lights, incongruous against the crown molding and paneled walls, his face looked pasty and a little damp in the mirror over the basin. He handed his coat and jacket to the valet, tucking the cashmere scarf carefully into an inner pocket, and picked up his case, heavy despite MacAlastair, in his own wig and robe, coming behind with the file-box.

“It should finish today, don’t you think?” asked his pupil barrister as they went down the corridor. His wig was slipping, and Brogan gave him a look. MacAlastair flushed, his freckles fading into the red splotches on his cheeks, and juggled the box with his knee for a moment as he hitched the white wool forward on his head.

“Depends on Kent.”

“Well, of course you never know with a witness, but we’ve got him pretty much to rights, don’t you think?”

Brogan swung the door into the courtroom aside and held it as MacAlastair went ahead with the box, keeping the door from closing too sharply on his own heels. He looked at the dock, noting again how the bullet-proof glass added in the late Eighties made it feel even more like an extension of gaol, and wondered about Arles.


In Prague, he’d picked up a girl, a Canadian, who’d been walking near Geordie’s stag.  Mark had wanted to do a stag-and-hen, to pacify his girlfriend who’d heard about Prague from a friend of hers who’d finished her own boyfriend after his stag had gone to a brothel, but Brogan had overruled him, claiming prerogative as best man to do the planning. And after all, he’d picked up the tickets, why should he spend extra for chaperones? The Canadian girl had walked near them from the astrological clock in the square all the way down Čeletna, perhaps feeling safer after midnight near a group, and when they turned off for the club, she called out, “Why the haircuts?”


Kent was in the box, clearly in clothes he’d bought, the shirt a little too big and the pants a little too long and the tie tied to perfection, probably by his mother, since his girlfriend was in the dock. Acne mapped across his forehead.

“How many drinks had she had?” MacAlastair was doing well, sticking to the list they’d practiced in chambers. His posture was getting better, his voice starting to shed the last remnants of the student trying not to give offense.

“I don’t know.”

“And how many drinks had you had?”

“Perhaps three?” Kent sounded like a liar.

“Any drugs in the flat that night?” Defending counsel objected, as Brogan had told MacAlastair they would, and he rephrased the question. “The police report has stated that there were quantities of crack cocaine and marijuana in the flat. Did you and the Prisoner take any drugs on the night in question?” Brogan smiled at opposing counsel, pleased to remind the jury of the report. Someone’s mobile went off in the gallery, and there was a pause while the upstairs bailiff removed the offending visitor.

The questions droned on, Kent getting progressively more flustered and looking more and more like a criminal himself. The victim was a shorter man than Kent estimated. He was passed out, by which Kent meant he had been unconscious for some time, perhaps twenty minutes, perhaps as long as an hour, he couldn’t say for certain. He hadn’t noticed when the Prisoner left the lounge. He didn’t notice her behavior or mood especially at that time. When the recess came, Brogan and MacAlastair stayed at the table.

“Shuffle some papers and shake your head,” he told his junior.  “Let the jury see you looking for some excuse for her crime and not finding it, on their way out.”

“What I don’t understand,” said MacAlastair when the jury and opposing counsel had gone, “is why he keeps saying he doesn’t know. If he came right out and said, ‘The victim was a horrible man. He beat his wife and raped his daughter all their lives. He deserved to have his head bashed in with a hammer, and I’m sorry I wasn’t man enough to do it for my girlfriend,’ they’d all sympathize, at least with her.”

Brogan left off shuffling and shaking and relaxed into the straight-backed chair. “He hasn’t the brains or the bollocks. Anyway, counsel’s probably told him to be as fuzzy as possible, in case he’s tried.”

“I thought he made a bargain for testimony.”

“Nothing official. You’re not allowed these days to have anything official. He may get a bit of leniency for testifying, but no guarantees.”


The Canadian girl was a good dancer, and Brogan liked to dance, even to Eurotechno played at top volume in a white basement room with vibrating lasers and mirrors on the ceiling. They shouted into each others’ ears for twenty minutes on the floor before returning to the conversation pit occupied by the stag.

“Have you seen the signs?” she asked them all. “No Stag Parties, on half the restaurants on the square.”

“Reckon they’re thinking of the younger ones,” Geordie said. “Us, we’re just a quiet bunch with a pint, eh mates?”

“How do you all know each other?” She finished her drink, something orange, they’d all bought rounds in turn since noon, and it was probably Brogan’s turn again. He stood at the circular bar and looked at a sushi menu under the Lucite surface while Jeremy told her about the motorbike club. His and Jeremy’s hair had already been buzzed, and they’d held down Geordie while Mark shaved his head to match the rest of the stag, leaving his blond hair on the floor of the airport smoking lounge.

“Louise’s goin’ ta kill me!” he’d finally gotten out, laughing and already half-drunk.

“Cheer up mate,” Brogan replied, “If she doesn’t love you like this, she doesn’t really love you.”

His father had flown a bomber over Arles, and he was supposed to go into the RAF, too, but his mother had put her foot down when the Oxbridge acceptances came. He’d taken up Classics and Law, and felt no regret giving up the former when it became clear there was no money to be made. His parents lived now in a cottage near his old university, and he saw them on weekends that weren’t too busy or needed for relaxation.

He told this to the Canadian girl in his hotel room, pleased he’d insisted on a single when the other lads were doubling up. The hotel was internationally beige-carpeted and heavily curtained, with bottled water to offer the girl in a plastic hotel cup, and thick towels to show how much the room cost. It was nearly three, and the two of them had left the club together, she was tired, he would walk her, the stag knowing as one that the walk would be to the hotel, only a block away.


The jury returned to the box after the recess, and sat silently as the Prisoner was led in. MacAlastair watched her head bow as she sat in the dock, her braids fuzzy and coming undone from four weeks in gaol without a hairdresser or perhaps even a fellow prisoner who could braid, who came from the same island and might comfort her with fingers in her hair. The loose hair made her head soft-edged, impressionist. Brogan watched the jury. Half looked towards her, still wanting to believe, half turned away, already sentencing.

“Now, when did you see the Prisoner take up the hammer?” Kent was back in the box, acne no less lustrous, and Brogan took up the line of questioning where MacAlastair had left off. The defense objected, and Brogan smoothly showed surprise and corrected himself. “I’m sorry, I thought you had said you saw her take up the hammer.  I see that you instead saw her standing over the body of the victim with the hammer?”

“Not really standing over him—”

“Where was the Prisoner standing?” Brogan liked this part, the drawing of lines until they formed a cage.

“Beside the mattress.”

“And the victim was where?”

“He was lying on the mattress.” Kent’s voice raised slightly, the pitch showing he sensed the cage was coming.

“So if the Prisoner was standing and the victim lying down, she was…where? Under him?”

“Of course not, but not really over him, more beside—”

“We’ll let that go for now.” Brogan flicked a glance at the jury, and MacAlastair recognized ‘If He Wasn’t So Pathetic, He’d Be Evil,’ conveyed to the twelve in half a second. “And you saw the Prisoner holding the hammer.”

“Yes.” This, at least, defense knew Kent had to say.

“What was her motion at that time?” Brogan could feel MacAlastair learning, observing in the chair beside him. Kent gestured, a convulsion in his elbows. “I’m sorry, could you state that in words, please, Mr. Kent?”

“She, well, she was sort of digging at him.”

Brogan reached without looking for the report MacAlastair put in his hand. It was like being a surgeon, the instruments of dissection ready on a tray. “In your initial interview with the police, you said the Prisoner ‘struck him with the hammer.’”

“I did?”

“Shall I read it to you?” Brogan didn’t wait. “‘I saw Annelise standing over her dad. She was holding the ball-hammer. She struck him a few times with the hammer.’ So, Mr. Kent, did she dig at him, or did she strike him?”


They undressed and on his suggestion got into the shower, both to revive a little and so that he could see she was clean. She had a nice body, a little soft, good-sized breasts, long dark hair that she tied on itself into a knot to keep it out of the water. There was good water pressure, and he angled his back to keep the spray out of her eyes while she knelt in front of him.  They went into the bedroom again, and she asked if he had a condom.  

“I’m clean. When my daughter was born, we saved the cord, stem cells, and we both had to be tested for that.”

“How do I know you haven’t had an affair? Surely I’m not the first,” she said, straddling him. He pushed her back from his stomach, pressed his pelvis into her.

“There’ve been plenty of chances, but there were always strings attached,” Brogan said, remembering secretaries, clerks, interns, a fellow barrister.

“Not with me.  No strings.” She hadn’t even told him her surname, saying, “Jenny. Just Jenny,” after he told her Sean Michael Brogan, Mike for short. “And besides,” she went on, “you don’t know anything about me. Here we are, in a strange city, I could be a heroin addict.” She was leaning forward over him, and he took her forearms in his hands, turned her arms out to see the inside of her elbows, and shook his head.


Kent kept looking to the dock as he testified, as if to apologize to the Prisoner, to show unwilling. Finally, Brogan turned to the bench. “I have no further questions for this witness.” He sat, with a brief, sad smile at the jury, and bent his head to confer with MacAlastair as the defense shuffled their own papers.

“Have they any hope?” asked MacAlastair, behind a sheaf of foolscap.

“Not a chance in the world.  They’d have been better off pleading manslaughter and hoping for deadly assault.” It always mystified the pupils why the obviously guilty came to court. “Everyone thinks the jury will excuse them, once they hear the reason,” Brogan had told four pupils in their first six before MacAlastair, three now with chambers of their own, one aspiring to the MP seat in a suburban riding. He didn’t bother to say it a fifth time, trusting that MacAlastair would puzzle it through and think it his own thought. It wasn’t easy being green, the new one, but MacAlastair would learn to look with an eye for power instead of a heart of pity.

The two men sat while counsel re-directed, MacAlastair’s freckled nose bent too closely to his papers, scribbling earnestly, as if revising for an exam. Brogan leaned forward upright, as if attending to any point of innocence, occasionally making a note on his own tidy pad, feeling the weight of his pen in his left hand.

When the woman barrister finally sat, having established Kent’s place as the boyfriend, his physical overpowering by the victim in matters of the Prisoner’s curfew and how the drugs in the flat should be divided, Brogan rose for summation. MacAlastair marveled that plain facts already heard could carry such weight when preceded by words like “claimed” and “would have you believe.”


Brogan watched as she came, or pretended to, and felt he was done.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” she asked.

“I’m fine.”

“Don’t you want to come?”

“It’s giving away too much, isn’t it,” and from her small smile in response he knew she’d faked. It didn’t matter, she probably looked and sounded the same either way, and it wasn’t his responsibility if she chose not to.

She curled up next to him, under the sheet, her body damp from sweat and the shower, and he thought she fell asleep. 

He lay there in the Prague hotel and thought about infidelity, and how in the end, something this removed couldn’t really be disloyal. He brought home a good salary, their child went to public school, one of the better ones, he always remembered birthdays and anniversaries, writing them in both his diary and his secretary’s appointment software, the last week of every year. It came to him that his mobile and wallet were still on the table, and he got up quietly and gathered them up and shut them in the room safe. When he turned away from the buzz of the lock, the Canadian girl was looking at him.

“I’m not going to roll you in the night,” she said from the bed.

“Sorry?” Her accent and the slang confused him.

“I’m not going to steal your things.”

“I always do that, I’d just forgotten.” He could see her deciding whether or not to be hurt, and eventually she must have been, because she was gone when he woke the next morning.


The jury filed back in and sat in the box. MacAlastair counted who looked at the Prisoner and who looked away, and bet himself a pint she’d go through the door to confinement instead of the door to the Strand. He wondered if the women’s toilet had gentler graffiti than the men’s—perhaps “Hold on, Annelise, we still believe” instead of “Racist fucking cops die”. When the verdict came, the Prisoner’s head was already bowed, receiving what she’d expected, what perhaps she’d been born expecting. When had she known? Had the first rape told her, or the first spliff, or had she not known until she raised the hammer?

Next to him, Brogan tidied up the papers and waited for him to lift the lid of the file-box. MacAlastair saw him, his slightly paunchy frame hidden under the gathers of his black gown, and wondered what he looked like in leathers, racing his motorbike across country on the weekends.



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whipchick was fascinated by the graffiti in the ladies' room at the Old Bailey.



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Comments {7}

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from: faerie_spark
date: Aug. 5th, 2012 11:15 pm (UTC)
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Wow!!!!all this emotion. Simple story feels so complicated.

Love this part:

braids fuzzy and coming undone from four weeks in gaol without a hairdresser or perhaps even a fellow prisoner who could braid, who came from the same island and might comfort her with fingers in her hair. The loose hair made her head soft-edged, impressionist.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Aug. 7th, 2012 02:11 pm (UTC)
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Thanks :) Trying for literary texture on this one!

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Lose 10 Pounds of Ugly Fat...  Cut Off Your Head.

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from: n3m3sis42
date: Aug. 8th, 2012 01:09 am (UTC)
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Interesting to see the other side. :)

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Aug. 13th, 2012 02:39 pm (UTC)
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Thanks - it was fun to try and make two very different voices.

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alycewilson

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from: alycewilson
date: Aug. 8th, 2012 10:27 pm (UTC)
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So I'm curious now about the graffiti. Did it say what you have at the end of the piece? I kept wondering if there'd be a connection between the barrister and the defendant.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Aug. 13th, 2012 02:40 pm (UTC)
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It did, yes! The women's toilet was covered in graffiti messages to prisoners, enough that it made me wonder if they actually got to use the public bathroom while they were on trial. I created this out of an actual trial I witnessed at the Old Bailey, where they do let the public sit in.

The only connection is that he's the prosecutor, but that's something I may have to explore...

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lordgrip

Your writing

from: lordgrip
date: Aug. 30th, 2012 03:25 pm (UTC)
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It has always impressed me.

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