The rain that had threatened all day finally retreated without delivering a single drop; the heavy clouds scattered to the east and the late afternoon sun breached the tall windows in the office, banking off the bookshelves on the wall opposite where Mickey Dupree sat, leaning back in his chair, his feet up on the desk, his passive expression belying the impatience lingering within. On top of the bookshelves was gathered the usual bric-a-brac one might find in a law office—commendations from various community groups, letters of gratitude from prominent clients, declarations attesting to this accomplishment or that. Among these insignificant items was a framed certificate stating that Mickey had scored a hole in one on the sixteenth hole at the Burr Oak Golf and Country Club. Glancing at it now served only to remind him that he was at this minute supposed to be teeing off at the course, rather than sitting idly waiting for Chuck and Sally Fairchild to arrive.
The certificate in its walnut frame was coated with a thin layer of dust, as were the other items there. Mickey noticed the dust only when the sun hit the window at a certain angle late in the day, at an hour when he was usually finishing his second Rusty Nail at Harry’s Pub, and he always made a note to tell the cleaning woman to take care of it, invariably forgetting about it by the following day. He’d made the hole in one in September 1989, and it had been his first and only ace to date. The year itself had held a number of firsts for Mickey, and a more sentimental individual might from time to time give pause to the memory of them. Mickey was not a man to fall victim to such whimsy, but if he were, he would recall that 1989 was the year in which he married his first wife—the former Margaret Louise Jensen—a few months after Margaret’s father made him junior partner in his firm. He also bought his first new car that year—a Mercedes coupe that seated just two and, as such, Margaret insisted, was entirely impractical for a couple with a child due in the fall. Mickey ignored her, an act that did not fall into the category of firsts.
There were other firsts that year of varying degrees of significance, but only one could Mickey accurately say changed the course of his life, or at least of his career. It was in 1989 that he first successfully defended a client in a capital murder case. The accused was Ronnie Dillard, a drunkard and layabout and sometime cokehead who robbed and shot a dealer from White Plains and was found a few hours later in a stupor in a motel room outside of Coxsackie, cocaine scattered around the bathroom and the murder weapon lying on the pillow, inches from Ronnie’s muddled head.
Looking back, Mickey had no business getting an acquittal for the royal mess known as Ronnie Dillard. But the local cops who found Dillard, after being tipped off by the motel’s owner, bungled the arrest and the subsequent investigation in a number of ways, first denying the suspect his Miranda rights, then neglecting to secure the room before the forensics unit arrived. The coup de grâce, however, came during the actual trial, when the district attorney produced a gun designated as the murder weapon, along with a damning ballistics report. Ronnie Dillard, in a rare observant moment, noticed that the front sight was intact on the Smith & Wesson presented as evidence, whereas the one on his own revolver had been filed off. At Mickey’s request, the unit performed a new ballistics test, which showed that the prosecution had the wrong gun. It was later determined that the revolvers had been switched, quite accidentally, in the evidence room at the police station, and that the real murder weapon had since disappeared, probably taken home by a cop who’d taken a fancy to it, unaware of its role in the case. By that time it no longer mattered, as Ronnie Dillard was a free man, back on the street and headed for whatever slippery slope his moronic nature had in store for him.
And with that Mickey Dupree had his first murder acquittal. Since then, he’d added seven more to his credit, the most recent coming just ten days ago with the exoneration of Alan Comstock. He’d become the go-to guy in upstate New York when it came to murder one. However, Mickey was more than just the lawyer who had won eight capital murder cases, he was the lawyer who had never lost one.
Now he sat impatiently waiting for his meeting with the Fairchilds, a meeting he really didn’t want, about a capital murder case he didn’t want. The fact that the couple was keeping him from the stag nine at Burr Oak did nothing to improve his disposition.
Mickey had joined the old country club in 1987 and had managed to remain a member of good standing ever since. With the notable exception of the seventh hole, he loved everything about the club and the extended privileges that membership provided. Located a few miles south of Kingston, the course was fifteen minutes away from his home. The food in the clubhouse was good, if not inspiring, and the staff was cordial but rarely fawning. The course itself was kept in immaculate condition and had been rated one of the top twenty in the state for several years running. Not long at sixty-one hundred yards, it was nevertheless a difficult test of a demanding game. Built in 1927 by a dipsomaniac Scotsman named McDougal, and then redesigned in the 1960s by Robert Trent Jones, it was a gorgeous layout, a meandering old-style course that featured hundreds of ancient hardwoods—huge sugar maples, black walnuts, ironwoods, and the white oaks that gave the place its name. Stands of pine and spruce had been integrated into the landscape over the decades. Gibson’s Creek tumbled down from the White Mountains and crisscrossed the course in several spots, eventually pooling up in a pond in front of the eighteenth green before continuing on toward the Hudson.
Mickey was a decent golfer, better than the average duffer at Burr Oak, but not nearly as good as the best members there. The best players teed it up virtually every morning, whereas Mickey usually played on Sundays, and in the occasional Saturday tournament. And on Tuesdays, of course.
Every spring, the membership was divided by draft into four teams, which competed for a title that was significant only for the bragging rights it carried. The stag was nine holes, alternating the front and the back, every Tuesday throughout the summer. Most guys played in the afternoon and afterward had dinner and drinks in the clubhouse, and then darts and shuffleboard in the game room, the social side often lasting until the wee hours and resulting in some monumental hangovers Wednesday morning. Mickey played in the afternoon when he could, but work often made that impossible, especially if he was in court for the day. Occasionally he played the nine alone early Tuesday morning, just to get his score in, but since his last divorce he’d drifted back into his old habits, late nights at the bars on Broadway, where he would fall victim to too many drinks, too many animated conversations, and too many pretty waitresses. He rarely got out of bed before nine these days and that left no time for morning golf.
So he often played late on Tuesday, squeezing the round in on his own just before dusk. Gregarious by nature, Mickey nonetheless did not mind golfing alone. He usually had the course to himself and there was something clean and unblemished about the deserted landscape in the gloaming, stretched out before him like a fresh slate. It was a metaphor that cropped up constantly in Mickey’s line of work. Everybody was deserving of a fresh slate. It was a cliché, but unlike most clichés, it was patently untrue. There were a number of people out there who were deserving of no such thing.
Par for nine holes was thirty-six, both front and back, and Mickey usually scored three or four above that. Mickey never cheated on his scorecard, even when playing alone. This wasn’t due to any inherent honesty on his part—he was, in fact, an inveterate cheater in many aspects of his life, both personally and professionally. However, in the rough camaraderie of the clubhouse, where crooked lawyer jokes abounded, Mickey was not about to give his fellow members any additional ammunition to fire at his profession. Not only that, but cheating at golf when there was no money involved was like cheating at solitaire: it made no sense. So he dutifully recorded his thirty-nine or forty most weeks and handed in his card. He rarely shot higher than that.
Unless, of course, number seven got him. The seventh hole at Burr Oak had been Mickey’s nemesis since his first year there. Like many a scourge in history, it was unassuming and short: a par three, a hundred and sixty yards, slightly uphill, with a long and narrow green that sloped downward to the left. At the front corner of the green was a sand trap, small and oval and very deep. An opposing trap waited at the far end, to the left. But it was the front trap that was the consistent thorn in Mickey’s side these many years. Off the tee, he could not stay out of it and once in, he could not get out of it. On the rare occasion that he did, he usually thinned the ball, rocketing it across the green into the opposite bunker.
“You’re going to find me dead in that bunker one day,” he would often say in the clubhouse bar, rattling the ice in his bourbon and water. “Starved to death. When it happens, bury me where I lay. I give up.”
On the first Tuesday in July, Mickey wasn’t due in court so he planned to be at Burr Oak early enough to join up with some other members for the stag nine. He would have made it too, if it wasn’t for Chuck and Sally Fairchild. Shortly past six, Mickey had been getting ready to leave his office when his secretary came in to tell him that the couple had called from their car on their way from the county jail and had asked if they could stop to see him. It was a meeting that Mickey had been avoiding and he was tempted to just leave, have his secretary say they had missed him, but then he said to hell with it. Might as well do it and have it done.
It wasn’t Chuck Fairchild who was the problem. Chuck was a former NFL quarterback who had subsequently worked as a color man on the Jets telecast for a few years. He was retired now, an ex-jock with bad knees and nothing to do most days. He was a member at Burr Oak and Mickey liked the man. Sally was a different story; she had been a model in her twenties, a career that had been short but apparently long enough to instill in her an elevated opinion of herself. She was now a writer of lifestyle pieces and coauthor of a book on holiday entertaining. The Fairchilds had a house on five acres south of Albany, a summer place in Maine, and a condo in St. Lucia. What Chuck and Sally didn’t have was the slightest notion of how much of a fuckup their only son was.
Byron Fairchild was currently sitting in the county lockup, awaiting trial for murder one. Mickey had been working on the case for nearly eighteen months, doing whatever he could do to avoid going to trial, and the district attorney was growing impatient. He had even suggested that Mickey was deliberately delaying the matter because he had no defense for Byron Fairchild. The DA was right. Mickey needed no convincing of the fact.
But Chuck and Sally Fairchild did.
The couple arrived and sat opposite Mickey in his office, Chuck in his usual Dockers and polo shirt, Sally wearing designer jeans and T-shirt, her face still vaguely beautiful despite the surgeries and injections that conspired to steal away that beauty.
“I’ve been asking the DA for a year now,” Mickey told them. “I’ve asked him when he’s been sober; I’ve asked him when he was drunk. I asked him when he was practically doing cartwheels when the Yankees won the Series last year. I get the same answer. Second degree is the best he’ll do. If he hasn’t budged by now, he’s not going to.”
Chuck and Sally sat silent for a moment. Mickey reached over and poured himself a glass of water from a pitcher on his desk. The Fairchilds had, upon arriving, declined water, or iced tea, or anything.
“But that means fifteen years,” Sally said. “That’s what you said.”
Sally glanced at her husband. He sat looking at his big hands, perhaps recalling his glory days on the gridiron, when those hands could influence the outcome of a thing. Mickey couldn’t know, though. Chuck was stoic, the quiet one. Any suffering he did, he did it internally. As a football star, he was known for his ability to play hurt.
“What I don’t understand . . .” Sally began slowly. “What I don’t understand is why they can’t make it manslaughter. My son is not a criminal. He is only twenty-two years old. He is not some drug addict from the street who is going to re-offend. Manslaughter, you said he could be out in three years with the time he’s already served.”
“We’ve gone over this,” Mickey said, speaking just as slowly. “Manslaughter is by definition death by involuntary means. Now, we know the victim here was involved with your son’s ex-girlfriend. If, for instance, Byron and this fellow had a fistfight over the girl at a bar, and the victim died from a blow to the head—that would be manslaughter. The intent to kill would not be there. However, that’s not what happened.”
Mickey opened the file on his desk while he took another drink of water.
“Your son bought a nine-millimeter Glock at a sporting goods store in Syracuse a month before the murder. He bought a silencer from a disreputable citizen named Ducky Sands here in Kingston four days later. His computer shows that he used MapQuest to find the victim’s address, and his cell phone records indicate that he called the victim’s place of employment several times to determine his schedule. Your son shot the man in the parking lot of his apartment building when he got home from work. When the police arrived, your son admitted to the act. And he said he was glad he did it.” Mickey closed the file. “I’m really struggling to find a spot where we might make the word ‘involuntary’ apply here.”
Sally shifted her eyes past Mickey, to the windows, and the leafy maples outside. “My son is not a criminal.”
Mickey nodded after a moment, as if agreeing to the stupid statement, and then looked at Chuck. “I’m sorry, Chuck. Second is the best we can do here. Unless you want to go to trial. And then he’s looking at life.”
“Not if you get an acquittal,” Chuck said. “I mean, that’s what you do. That’s what you’re known for. You find a technicality, or improper police work. We’re willing to pay you whatever it costs.”
Mickey picked up the case file and dropped it on the desk before the Fairchilds. “I’ve been looking for eighteen months. It’s not there.”
Chuck looked at his hands again. “We just came from the jail,” he said. “Byron’s not interested in a plea bargain. Not for second degree, anyway. He wants a trial.”
Mickey winced theatrically, as if despairing of the very notion of a trial. This was nothing but fucking nonsense, utter and complete denial. He wanted to be on the golf course, a cold Coors in his hand as he drove the cart. He wanted to be away from these disillusioned people. After a moment he nodded. “Then that’s what he’ll get,” he said. “He is the defendant here. It’s your dime, but he is the defendant.” He opened up a thick leather binder in front of him. “We won’t be able to delay this any longer. Unfortunately . . .” Mickey took a moment for a well-rehearsed perusal of his schedule. “Unfortunately, I’m not going to be available for the actual trial. My colleague Dan Wilson can fit it in, though. I’ve spoken to him, contingent on your decision.”
A heavy silence fell over the room. Mickey, pretending to glance again at the ledger, took the opportunity to check his watch.
“You sonofabitch,” Sally said softly. Then, upon further reflection, “You fucking asshole!”
“I beg your pardon.” Mickey closed the schedule.
“We were told you would do this,” she said. “You don’t want to go to trial because you’re afraid you’ll lose. You’re trying to protect your record. You don’t care about my son.”
“I care enough that I’m advising him not to do this,” Mickey said. “But either way, my slate is full. We’ve dragged this out for more than a year at his insistence.”
Chuck stood up. By his expression it was quite evident that he shared his wife’s opinion. But he was not about to verbalize it. He was a professional athlete who had been forced to retire because of gimpy knees, and a TV talking head who had lost his job due to his increasing years and inherent blandness. Mickey suspected that he fully understood the concept of inevitability. His wife, however, had not arrived at that place yet.
“You’re a self-serving little cocksucker,” she told Mickey before they walked out.
By the time Mickey arrived at Burr Oak, it was nearly eight o’clock. The final few groups were just finishing the stag, which was the front nine this week. Mickey teed it up alone and set out in a cart, thinking he could just get the round in if he hurried.
Driving down the first fairway, he thought about the meeting with the Fairchilds. He was a little offended by Sally’s accusation, even though it was fundamentally true. Man is prideful by nature, and, as such, Mickey was proud of his unblemished record in capital cases. But it was also true that this reputation delivered to him the highest-profile clients. These cases had netted him over two million dollars the previous year, money that he required to keep two ex-wives happy, and to maintain his home and hobbies and lifestyle. Relinquishing his perfect score would undoubtedly hurt his future business.
But there was more to it than that, in this particular instance anyway. Mickey had no desire to represent Byron Fairchild in court. The kid was a nasty little prick, a sociopath with dead eyes and a detached manner bordering at times on narcolepsy. Mickey had no doubt he would re-offend. He had grown up alone and coddled in a rambling house in the country, where, Mickey had learned, he had begun shooting squirrels and rabbits and the neighbors’ cats with his father’s .22 at the age of five or six.
Mickey Dupree was not about to risk his own reputation on a punk like that. In truth, he was hardly dismayed at the prospect of the kid going upriver for life.
Mindful of the approaching dusk, he played quickly and evidently the pace was good for his game. He was even par after six holes. If he could get past the treacherous seventh, he just might post a good score and help out his team. Maybe even birdie the par five ninth and come in under par. Seven was playing short, with the pin in the right front. Mickey hit a seven iron that headed straight for the flag, landed short, bounced once toward the green, then hit something and kicked right. And into the bunker.
“Gimme a fucking break,” Mickey said as he jammed the club back into the bag.
When he arrived at the green he found that the ball was on a downslope in the sand, with the pin a mere twenty feet away. It was a tough shot. Mickey got out of the cart and walked to the deep bunker, carrying his sand wedge. Other than the downslope, the ball was lying decently, sitting up in the sand. Before stepping into the bunker, Mickey thought he heard something and paused for a look around. He was the only one on the course and it was a beautiful summer evening. The setting sun threw fingers of light through the sugar maples to the west, illuminating the shallow water of Gibson’s Creek where it crossed the eighth fairway. Mickey could hear the faint gurgle of the stream. To the south there was a copse of pine trees and then the iron fence, which marked the course boundary. Beyond the fence was a deep ravine. Mickey could hear the squawks of blue jays and the machine-gun rat-a-tat-tat of woodpeckers, the soft rustle of leaves in the wind. Perhaps it had been the birds he had heard. He felt a strange and uncharacteristic wave of contentment pass over him.
The news reached the maintenance barn first, and then went to the pro shop before finally whipping through the clubhouse like a prairie fire. Just before dusk, one of the grounds crew had driven a Gator out to turn on the sprinklers surrounding the seventh and eighth greens and spotted the abandoned cart. Mickey Dupree was still in the bunker. His ball, however, was on the green, roughly three feet from the pin, suggesting that Mickey had finally made a good sand shot on the hole. The par putt, however, would remain unstruck. Mickey was on his knees, bent back awkwardly, the sand wedge in his hand, a sizable welt on his cheekbone, and a look of surprise on his face.
The broken shaft of a five iron had been driven through his heart.
© 2012 Brad Smith