THE HANGING OVERHEAD lights cast a greenish tint on the face of the jury foreperson as she passed the verdict form to the bailiff. As I stared at her, I wondered: Was the color green a good sign? Or a bad one?
I was hungry for an omen, some visible indication regarding the outcome of the trial. I wanted the woman to look at me. My eyes bored into her profile as I leaned in, the palms of my hands flat on the wooden surface of the counsel table. With all my might, I sent her an unspoken message: Look over here. At me. Do it.
The foreman didn’t glance my way. But I saw her briefly cut her eyes at the defense table before turning her attention to Judge Callahan.
I exhaled, my shoulders sagging as I released the breath I’d been holding. Because that was a bad sign. Bad for me as the prosecutor, anyway.
Judge Callahan reached out his black-shrouded arm. When the bailiff handed the verdict to him, the judge pushed his eyeglasses up over the prominent bump on the bridge of his nose and peered through them to read. I’d often wondered how he got the big bump on his nose. It looked like something or someone had broken it for him in the past. With every prejudiced ruling he’d made during the trial this past week, I’d fantasized about breaking his nose again. It would be simple, just a sharp blow with my left fist. I imagined seeing blood spurt from his nostrils every time he ruled against me.
He turned his gaze to the jury box. Giving them a small smile, just a twist of his lips, he asked, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is this your verdict?”
Several of them nodded. One juror, a young woman I’d pinned my hopes on, wore a defeated look as the foreman said, “It is, your honor.”
The judge shook the sheet of paper, and it crackled into his microphone. He read, “We, the jury, find the defendant, Maxwell Alfred James, not guilty.”
The two defense lawyers flanking the defendant broke into jubilant grins. One of them slapped Max James on the back, snickering like a teenage boy. The sound of his laughter had an ugly ring.
When the judge dismissed the jury, the young woman I’d been counting on shot me an apologetic glance. I wanted to shout, Why didn’t you hold out, for God’s sake?
Because the verdict of the jury had to be unanimous to convict or acquit. Even one juror who refused to buckle would have meant a hung jury. If she’d hung them up, we would get a new trial—and I’d get another shot.
And I wanted another shot at Max James. I despised that man. As long as he walked free, he was a threat to the women of New York City.
Once the jury departed, I saw James break away from his exultant legal counsel and beat a path straight to the bench. The sight of the defendant reaching out for a handshake from the judge almost made me lose my shit.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I swiveled and came face-to-face with Anna Sung, the victim in the felony assault case. She’d been present in court for the verdict.
At the sight of her tearstained face, my stomach twisted. I said, “Anna, I’m so sorry.”
“Why did he win, Kate?” she asked me. She hung her head. “The jury didn’t believe me.”
I took her hand and squeezed it. “Anna, you were an excellent witness. And you were strong during cross-examination . . . they never made you back down. But with a jury trial, there are no guarantees. Sometimes the jury doesn’t make the right decision.”
“They think I am a liar.”
Though Anna spoke with an accent, her English was excellent for a woman who’d been born and raised in China. I wasn’t lying when I told her she’d done well on the stand. And the medical evidence of her injuries was compelling— injuries she’d received from the brutal beating inflicted by Max James.
But James had the best defense team money could buy, and they were cronies of Judge Callahan. I had passion on my side—had that in spades. But they outgunned me. At twenty-eight, I was still a neophyte in the DA’s office. And the defense lawyers knew every dirty trick in the playbook.
Max James’s girlfriend sidled over. She had been eavesdropping on us. At trial, the girlfriend had provided an alibi for James. As she drew near, I gave her the evil eye. She stared back with a sneer on her face. I broke eye contact first. A woman who would willingly perjure herself to defend a scumbag like Max James probably deserved my pity.
In an undertone, I told Anna I’d call her in the morning. She nodded and left the courtroom, shooting a fearful glance at Max James as she departed.
As I packed my laptop into my briefcase, shoving my file folders in beside it with angry thrusts, Judge Callahan called to me from the bench.
“Ms. Stone, don’t forget to pick up your exhibits.”
I walked over and snatched up a packet of X-rays and photos from the table beside the court reporter. Max James was still snuggled up to the bench with his buddy the judge. I was determined not to look his way, but when I heard James laugh, my eyes flew up to his face.
He was grinning—actually smirking at me. My heart began to pound, and I felt the blood rush up my neck. A common criminal, a serial assaulter of women, had the gall to laugh in my face because he had beat the justice system once again.
Judge Callahan knew Max James’s reputation as well as I did. I glared at the judge with a silent challenge. He swiveled in his high chair and turned his back on me.
Returning to the counsel table, I swallowed the angry accusations I longed to toss at the judge. In a lot of ways, the miscarriage of justice was his fault. How many times had I jumped out of my chair during the trial to make valid objections to the smarmy tactics of the defense? Too many to count. I got a workout just flying out of and back into that chair. And Callahan had overruled me, time after time. Then he let the defense counsel shut me down without cause. I didn’t get a fair shot.
I’m a great believer in the US Constitution but sometimes I wish they’d omitted the language about double jeopardy in the Fifth Amendment. Because I deserved a second chance when it came to Max James.
In addition to the X-rays, a couple of color photographs taken at the hospital spilled out when I tossed the packet onto the counsel table. Angry tears burned my eyes as I looked at Anna Sung’s bruised face, broken nose, black eye, and swollen mouth. My left hand squeezed into a fist. With an effort, I relaxed my fingers and used them to massage the web of skin between my right thumb and forefinger. Chill, I thought.
I picked the photos up with a careful hand and slipped them into my briefcase. Prolonged examination of her injuries was bad for my mental health. But even though I locked the pictures into my bag, I couldn’t unsee them. The images were burned into my head.
As I left the courtroom, carrying my briefcase along with my personal failure, I just wished I could have the opportunity to strike the same blows into Max James’s smirking face that he’d enjoyed inflicting on Anna Sung. I thought of how cleansing it would feel, how supremely satisfying.
IT WASN’T 5:00 P.M. yet, but I was done—done for the day and ready to down a drink. I rode the elevator to the lobby, planning to dash from the courthouse. But when I stepped out, I was confronted by the sight of Max James. Again. Laughing with his attorneys while his girlfriend tagged along behind him.
I briefly considered returning to the DA’s office but I knew that my coworkers would ask about the outcome of the trial, and I was in no mood to enlighten them.
And my boss, the district attorney, would be certain to rub my nose in the not guilty verdict. Frank Rubenstein, the DA, had discouraged me from pursuing the felony charge, had warned against presenting it to a jury. He said the case boiled down to a swearing match between an immigrant and a Wall Street businessman, and the reasonable doubt standard would work in the defendant’s favor. As it turned out, he was right. But I wasn’t ready to hear him say “I told you so.”
So I dawdled in the lobby. I walked slowly along the marble wall. I stopped to check the time in the hanging clock: 4:34
p.m. I watched the second hand tick down and up again.
When I finally figured the coast was clear, I left the lobby and emerged outside. But James was still there, continuing his victory lap on the sidewalk.
The sensible choice would have been to avoid him, head to the subway and go home. But I wanted to cross the intersection and walk over to Walker Street; there’s a bar there that I like. And Max James was in my direct path. I almost changed direction and walked the opposite way. Unfortunately, the pit bull in me wouldn’t permit it. “Fuck that,” I muttered as I barreled down the sidewalk and swept past James and his entourage.
I kept my chin up, didn’t look their way. But I heard the heavy footfalls as he broke away from his lawyers and came after me.
“Look who’s running out. Hey! Kate Stone!” Increasing my stride, I walked faster. So did he.
“Got your tail between your legs, Stone? Looks like it to me. What else have you got between your legs?”
At that point, he was directly beside me, keeping pace. As he shouted in my ear, I felt the spit spray from his mouth and land on my face. I wanted to wipe it off my cheek, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
He said, “I saw you giving me the eye in court. Why won’t you look at me now? You afraid of me?”
That stopped me in my tracks. I spun and looked back at the courthouse steps, where his lawyers stood watching us.
I called out to them, “You need to control your client.”
One of the defense attorneys shrugged. The older one shook his head and looked away.
But I had lit a fire under James’s girlfriend. She trotted toward us on stiletto heels. When I tried to move on down the sidewalk, Max blocked me. It must have looked incongruous to the casual observer, this street brawl ignited by a man whose haircut cost more than my monthly rent. He stood so close I could smell his breath. In a tight voice, I said, “Back off, Mr. James. I have nothing to say to you.”
His eyes bulged with an artificial look of disbelief. “I can’t believe that. You’ve got nothing?”
His girlfriend slid to his side. Wrapping her fingers around his forearm, she tried to intervene. James snatched his arm away. She took a step back, watching him with apprehension in her eyes. James worked for a glossy asset management firm; I wondered whether his fellow traders on Wall Street had seen this side of his character. Maybe they didn’t care.
He said, “Oh, so now you’ve got nothing to say. You’ve been slandering me all week.”
People were staring. Even in New York, this was a note-worthy spat outside the Criminal Courthouse, and I wanted nothing to do with it. I pushed past him and strode to the street corner but the light was red. I’m a New Yorker, more than willing to jaywalk. But the rush hour traffic was thick.
His voice was directly behind me. “I’d like to see a ball gag in your mouth. That’s what it would take to shut you up.”
The ball-gag remark almost did it. I tensed, clenching both fists. But I held off, thinking, They’re only words. He can’t hurt me with words. Sticks and stones and all that bullshit.
That’s when I felt it. Two fingers in my back, shoving me.
Shoving so hard I almost stumbled forward into traffic.
Then he did it again. Harder. “Hey! I’m talking to you!”
My vision tunneled, graying out on the edges of my sight. I spun around. Without thinking it through, I acted on pure instinct. I landed a nasty uppercut to his chin. Seeing the surprise explode in his eyes, right as the blow was struck, was delicious.
James went down hard. I saw the back of his head bounce off the concrete when he landed on the pavement. Time had slowed for me. It felt like I waited a long stretch for him to react. But once he did, I was ready.
He sat up. Growling, he rose from the sidewalk with his fists clenched. I broadened my stance, prepared to fight. Looking forward to it, in fact.
But his lawyers were on the run and quickly separated us. The girlfriend gave me a kick in the leg before it was over. I didn’t even feel it. Our brief altercation evolved into a shouting match; James and I exchanged insults as his lawyers pulled him toward the far end of the block. Like a soprano in an Italian opera, the girlfriend shrieked curses at me.
When I pulled myself together enough to look around, I saw that a circle of onlookers had their cell phones out, undoubtedly recording every second of the confrontation. Some of the amateur reporters looked disgusted, a couple appeared amused. One young man with tousled blue hair lifted a fist in a salute.
“You rock,” he said.
I laughed a little at that. As the light changed, I limped into the crowd crossing the street. My laughter quickly faded as my leg started to throb; the girlfriend had kicked me harder than I realized.
I should have seen it coming. I am, after all, an avid student of martial arts. And kickboxing. And my dad taught me how to defend myself with my fists when I was in grade school. Dad spent thirty years as a cop in the NYPD, and he had been determined to ensure I could handle myself when the situation called for it. Before his untimely death, he took a lot of pride in my prowess. And living in the city, it’s a valuable skill to possess. My expertise is common knowledge around the criminal courthouse.
Maybe Max James’s lawyers should have mentioned that to him.
I never made it to Walker Street. Instead, I ran for the subway, where I took the train uptown. When I arrived in my own neighborhood, I went straight to my regular watering hole and ordered gin. Followed by more gin.
I HONESTLY MEANT to be on time for work the day after the James verdict. Before I’d collapsed onto my Murphy bed the night before, I set the alarm on my phone. Rookie mistake: I passed out before I had the chance to plug the phone into the charger.
So I was hustling down Centre Street at a trot, the courthouse looming before me like a granite prison. Storm clouds gathered overhead, promising a heavy April rainfall. If I wanted an omen, the threatening sky could be read as a bad one. But the sight disappeared as I trudged up to the DA’s entrance on Hogan Place and made my way through security. In my windowless office, I wouldn’t see the angry sky again until five o’clock.
When I dropped my briefcase on the floor next to the battered desk of the office I shared with Bill Parker, he looked at me with suspicious eyes.
“Morning. You look like shit,” he said.
I didn’t reply. Sitting in my sprung office chair, I buried my head in my arms on the desktop. I was thinking about a short nap.
“Kate?” he said.
Quiet, I thought.
“Kate. He’s looking for you.”
“Oh God,” I moaned into the vinyl desk pad. Lifting my head, I contorted my face. “Not today.”
Bill spoke in a hushed voice. “He stuck his head in here twenty minutes ago. He said he already texted you, but you didn’t answer. I tried to call, give you a heads-up. It went straight to voice mail.”
I didn’t have to ask who was looking for me. I knew. Francis, aka Frank Rubenstein, or “Ruby” to his friends.
We weren’t friends.
When I swiveled the chair to face Bill, he was picking at his cuticles—one of his nervous habits. “You need to go up there. If he has to come down here again, it’ll just make things worse,” he said.
I nodded. Digging in my bag, I found a compact and checked my face. The reflection wasn’t encouraging. Blood-shot eyes stared back at me. And my hair, scraped back into an elastic band, looked like a mug shot coiffure, but there was no time to remedy it. I pulled a box of breath mints out of my top drawer. Popped two.
When I approached Frank’s office, I shot what I hoped was a winning smile at his administrative assistant. She responded with a knowing look.
“Go on in, Kate. He’s been waiting for you.”
I walked in. He looked up from his computer monitors. “There you are.”
“Good morning, Frank.” I waited to be invited to sit. Like I said, we weren’t close.
He waved at the chair adjacent to his massive desk. I slid into it. A hank of hair had escaped from the elastic band and fell over my right eye. I tucked it behind an ear.
“I know why I’m here,” I said. His brow lifted. “You do?”
He leaned back in his chair and set his feet on top of the desk. He wore a slim black suit, and his brown calfskin oxfords were so shiny, they looked like they’d just come out of a pristine shoebox. The sight of his footwear made me want to tuck my own worn shoes under the chair.
Instead, I stretched my legs out and crossed my ankles, so Frank could get a good look at them. He knew my pay scale.
“I know you heard about the not guilty verdict in the Max James case. And you’re probably recalling that you told me it was unwinnable. Because she worked in a massage parlor.”
He was just sitting there. As he regarded me through hooded eyes, he twirled a pen between his fingers.
I forged ahead. “The judge was prejudiced against the prosecution. Totally unfair. I don’t mean to cast blame, but we should consider disqualifying him from future cases involving violence against women. I wanted to clue you in about that.”
He set the pen down and brought his feet back down to the floor. “I didn’t call you in here to talk about the verdict. Not precisely.”
That took me aback. I blinked, rubbed one of my bloodshot eyes and blinked again, waiting for him to continue. When he didn’t, I spoke up.
“So why am I here?”
Rubenstein’s face lit up, like I was a dull student who had finally asked the right question. He picked up a remote from his desk and said, “I have something to show you.”
He pointed the remote at a giant TV screen hanging on the far wall of his office. I shifted in my chair and watched, apprehensive.
The sound on the video was garbled; too many people on the sidewalk, too many conversations. But the image was clear. The video recorded my altercation with Max James outside the courthouse. Whoever held this particular iPhone came in close, just in time to see me throw the punch. The videographer followed James down to the ground, where the back of his head smacked on the pavement. Then the video returned to me, my clenched fists at the ready, and zoomed in on my face. The angle was not kind.
Rubenstein lifted the remote and hit pause. My face was frozen in a snarl on the screen, enlarged to a frightening degree.
He dropped the remote onto the desk. “So,” he said.
When he didn’t say anything else, I tried to go for a laugh. I said, “Honestly? I’m relieved. I thought for a minute you were going to play a sex tape. Of me,” I hastened to add.
It fell flat. He pointed at the screen. “What’s your reaction to that?”
I looked at it. It wasn’t pretty. But I’m stubborn. Got that from both sides of the family tree.
“That’s my resting bitch face,” I said. And laughed.
Frank wasn’t laughing. “Do you know who has seen this?” Actually, I didn’t. There was a television in the bar where
I had drowned my sorrows the night before, and I had been aware of the local news droning in the background. The scuffle apparently hadn’t been significant enough to catch their attention.
Rubenstein said, “That footage has made its way to every law firm and judge in New York City. Hell, the paralegals and interns are watching it by now.” His voice had a note of malice when he added, “I’ll bet even your mom has seen it.”
My left hand rubbed the web of skin between my thumb and forefinger in response to the suggestion. The revelation that the video was circulating in legal circles horrified me, and not because I worried about New York legal interns. Not my mother, please God, not that.
“How do you think this makes me look?” he said quietly, angrily.
At that, I held my tongue. Because the tension in the room had grown palpable. Even the weather reflected it. Raindrops pelted the windows of Frank’s corner office. I heard the crack of thunder. A bad sign, my superstitious mind warned me.
“You understand that with the video evidence, Max James could press charges against you for assault.”
That suggestion sent my blood pressure soaring. I could feel my pulse beating in my ears. “Is that a joke? You’re kidding, right? Because Max James provoked me. Threatened me.”
Rubenstein raised a hand. I fell silent. “I’ve talked to his lawyers. They’re not bringing the police into the matter.”
I settled back into my chair with an eye roll.
“But this video is troubling. I can’t ignore it. And it’s part of a larger pattern. Do I need to remind you? There was that time you threw the stapler at Bob.”
It was true; I had. But I apologized later.
“And you were almost held in contempt in Judge Callahan’s court last year, after he ignored your recommendation on sentencing. And I almost forgot—remember when you knocked the coffee out of the defense attorney’s hand during a pretrial conference?”
“The guy was an asshole.”
Frank fixed me with a somber look. “Kate, you need to seek assistance for anger management.”
“Anger management. There are a number of professionals and organizations in the city that provide counseling. You will sign up for one. And attend.”
The suggestion was laughable. And it made me angry. I rubbed the skin by my thumb again, harder.
“I don’t think so.”
Rubenstein remained calm. “You will.”
“I don’t have the time. And I don’t need any help.”
He pulled his chair up to the desk and fixed me with a sad look. “That’s exactly what people who need help the most always say.”
My mind was racing. I already had a full schedule. As an assistant district attorney, I regularly prepped for jury trials. Trial preparation was a grueling process; the term “overtime” didn’t begin to describe it. In addition, I tried to devote one or two nights a week to kickboxing.
And then there was my extracurricular bar time. It was high on my priority list, too.
“What if I refuse?”
His smile was rueful. “If you refuse, you’ll have to find another job.”
When I started to sputter an indignant reply, he cut me off. “Kate, I’m trying to help you. And I won’t accept any resistance to the proposition. It’s nonnegotiable.”
I sagged back into the chair. He had me. “Where do I sign up?”
Order the Book
Assistant DA Kate Stone has just suffered the biggest loss of her career. She’d worked so hard to prosecute a serial assaulter of women, and it was a case she should have won. But a corrupt judge allowed Max James to walk free. When he confronts her outside the courthouse, she punches James, and he goes down hard. After the footage is plastered across every TV screen, Kate’s boss demands that she either attend anger management meetings or give up the job she lives for.
Begrudgingly, Kate attends her first meeting. Inside is a group of people all failed by the justice system. Their mission: to do everything in their power to help right wrongs, even if outside the law. Unsure who to trust among this unlikely team of renegades, Kate begins to dig into Max James’s secret life and her explosive discoveries will lead to a stunning new twist in the case. And turn her into the prime suspect.