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‘Crime Meridian: A Murder Mystery Story’ — Chapter One

By Josmar16 @ReviewsByJosmar

‘Crime Meridian: A Murder Mystery Story’ — Chapter One

The Old Bailey Court Building in London

"M y life?" Evelyn repeated. Addressing the words to herself at first, she inclined her head directly towards her solicitor. "What of it?" Receiving no response, she stared back at the window, looking out onto the world as it went about its affairs. A second later, she turned her gaze upward towards the sky, a particularly threatening sky which, in the span of several minutes, cleared up to reveal a dull yellow sun. A cloudless but steady gray mist covered what there was of her field of vision. Your typical Monday morning, she thought glumly to herself. Time for most people to get up and trudge themselves off to work.

"Fair weather, for once," Evelyn muttered aloud. "We needed a change. Don't you think so, Sir Edward?"

Sir Edward Bromley nodded. He had served as a solicitor to the so-termed "upper crust" classes for most of his adult life. At one point in his legal career, he flirted with the idea of a possible judgeship and the untold prestige and honors that surely went with the title. Such an appointment would have meant both social and financial security for his family, not to mention for himself. After serving in the Old Bailey for, what, some thirty-odd years give or take, Sir Edward was content for the moment with a solicitor's lot and the satisfaction he derived from his position: a certain peace of mind, if you want to call it that, and a degree of favor with the courts.

"Your life - and mine, if you must know - need not have any importance in this world, except my dear Evelyn to ourselves. As I've argued on previous occasions, we are looking at life imprisonment, but under the accepted rules and guidelines of a limited incarceration, strictly for your protection of course - the public be damned. That means a twenty or thirty year sentence, at the most."

"At the most?" Evelyn shook her head. "That does not sound reassuring - "

"But it's life," Sir Edward interrupted. "Life. Let me emphasize that aspect. Does that not mean something to you? Something positive? Reassuring? Something on which to build upon?"

‘Crime Meridian: A Murder Mystery Story’ — Chapter One

He felt that last bit might have sunk in a tad deeper. He prayed it would. Strongly insistent, firmly delivered, well argued. Well done, Sir Edward, he mused silently to himself. This is what solicitors do. But around herself, Eveyln Forster possessed, as Sir Edward was fond of repeating, a very hard nutshell. A most difficult one to crack open.

"What life is there in prison?" she interjected. "A life behind a façade of stone and mortar? Walls made of brick and stone, wrought iron bars on windows for company, iron fences for comfort? Guards for security? No comfort in that, is there? And not my idea of a life worth living. That is more of a living death."

"I'm well aware of your, shall we say, 'unique gifts' for overstatement. You know as well as I do that what you are claiming is an exaggeration."

"Hah! You flatter me."

"Nothing of the kind. I'm being as forthright with you as I can be."

"Straightforward and to the point, as always."

"What is one's life worth if one is incapable of coming clean about one's motives? About one's... criminal tendencies?"

It was obvious to Evelyn that Sir Edward was attempting, with all his knowledge and experience in the practice of criminal law, to entice her into some sort of compromise, or at best a situation where he could suggest a bargaining chip with the proper authorities. But to Eveyln's mind, it smacked of a declaration of guilt. A confession, to be blunt about it. That's what his suggestion would come down to; something she was ill-equipped to provide or countenance. Not where she was concerned.

"Criminal tendencies? You call my act of self-preservation criminal tendencies?" She did not wait for his rebuttal. "I'm disappointed in you. Sir Edward. And here I am, all this time, harboring such thoughts that, of all people, you would be my most ardent supporter. My rock of Gibraltar, to coin a well-worn phrase. Should I not be contemplating a life outside of permanent incarceration? Is this another of your attempts at 'plea bargaining,' as we Americans like to say? Tell me, why must I accept the inevitability of an underserving fate by allowing myself to make amends for my so-called baser instincts?"

"If that's what you Americans prefer to describe as 'survival,' so be it then."

"That is not what I meant!" Evelyn responded, if a pitch or two above her natural speaking voice and at a higher than normal volume. The gruffness of his client's voice startled the normally unruffled Sir Edward. And he, as a solicitor by profession and design, was the type most used to being startled.

"Your tone today is...rather harsh."

"I know," she repeated, trying her best to get a hold of herself. "My apologies. I...can't help voicing that which is...voiceless. The concern, the fear..."

"I'm aware of your concerns and am here because of them -"

"You're not asking me to change my plea? That's what it sounded like to me."

"No, I am not. I am here merely as your advisor, duty bound by the law to pass on what knowledge of the law I have to you, my client. And my friend. The law, my dear, with all its limitations, all its peculiarities and subtleties, such as they are. To inform you of the consequences of your actions and, more importantly, of your inaction; of the choices you must make in this - how shall I put it - delicate matter. And to assure you that if you take this course of action, of pleading to and accepting your guilt while conceding to the judgment and mercy of the court, you will avoid the harshest of penalties."

‘Crime Meridian: A Murder Mystery Story’ — Chapter One

Courtroom in the Criminal Court of the Old Bailey

Evelyn looked deeply into Sir Edward's eyes. Instinctively, she knew what her fate would be if she gave in to his entreaties. That she would face a lifetime of ostracization by her peers and by the individuals she most dearly loved and respected: both in England and in North America. "Love," she repeated wordlessly to herself. "Respect." Mouthing the terms, mulling them over and over again in her head, Evelyn felt a certain sorrow for Sir Edward's position. Such a noble, selfless public servant. And an even finer gentleman. For a man born into wealth and privilege, he was an exceptionally caring individual. A rarity among his social class.

Strange, wasn't it? To feel pain and pity for one's defense lawyer, her solicitor in this case. The lead barrister at the Old Bailey, the portly Sir Hubert Humbolt Dunfree, the person charged with delivering her plea to the "Court of Bewigged In-Justices," as he was fond of pointing out to her, was an old hand at legal maneuvers. A most convincing sort, and a bruised and bloodied veteran of lawful defenses for nearly as long as Sir Edward's tenure there, "Humpty Dunfree" as he was joked about by his peers, was a rough and tumble, roly-poly sort. A professional through and through and a credit to his vocation - one whose rumpled looks and stout bearing were but a book cover - yes, even dear old Sir Hubert was no match for "Boneless Brom," an unfunny poke at Sir Edward's leaner form.

Sir Edward, too, was once a legal barn stormer in his day. They say the halls of the Old Bailey still resonate with his verbal parries and barbed thrusts at the opposition. But the stress of performance had taken a toll on Sir Edward's heart and health. So it was that, faced with a future marked by endless infirmities and weeks away from the profession he so dearly adored, Sir Edward opted to limit his practice to seeking justice for unjust causes. Advice, as it were, that was taken to heart. Hers most of all.

"Where have I failed you, Evelyn?" he suddenly blurted out. "Where?"

"Oh, my dear friend. It is I who have failed you. In everything...and in every way. I have tried - oh, how I have tried! - to reconcile my actions with the situation that has brought me to this...horrid place. Regret has taken over my being. Remorse has filled the void where once assurance dwelled. The rightness of my cause has given way to sorrow...deep, dark sorrow. Disgust and loathing have replaced them. What I have done cannot ever be undone. I am appalled by what has transpired, and sickened to the heart by it all. Be it here or in Heaven, if such a place exists, I swear by all that is right...I had no choice."

Sir Edward stared unblinkingly at his client. He searched her darkened features in vain for the telltale signs of deceit. A flicker of the eyelids, an imperceptible motion of the neck and shoulders. A flinch here, a nervous tick or twitch somewhere else. Anything he could grab hold of. But there were none. Then he lowered his gaze to the hardwood floor. It was polished to a high shine. Not so much soiled with the stains of others who preceded his client to justice, as they were in the days of holding pens and filthy jail cells. The words that Dr. Evelyn M. Forster spoke, had her predecessors been blessed with her ability to voice as eloquently in their defense, would have shouted from every British or American rooftop of the unfairness that capital punishment had imposed upon their system of justice. What unspeakable acts had been committed in the name of divine retribution, he reflected silently to himself; the kind that helped to reinstate the dreaded death penalty in the once United Kingdom - in this specific case, above all others? Sir Edward raised his eyes to meet Evelyn's still sorrowful ones.

"Think on it again," he finally whispered to her. "You...have some time yet."

"I shall give it my full consideration."

They stood up and shook hands. Evelyn stared at Sir Edward for a moment. She detected a glimmer of hope in his pale, blue-gray eyes, but one mixed with an unbearable gloom.

"Guard!" Sir Edward called out loudly. A large, rather rugged military officer appeared in the doorway. Entering the room, the guard motioned for Sir Edward to lead the way. Another guard stool ramrod straight outside the poorly lit hallway. He would escort Sir Edward from the premises. "They leave nothing to chance," he whispered in an aside to Evelyn. "I'll call on you later, then."

"Thank you, my friend," she replied. Forcing a smile - a rather tentative one - Sir Edward moved on. He wasn't given to smiling much these days, considering the weight of affairs and the current state of his client's case. Nevertheless, Sir Edward had accomplished what he had set out to do, which was to place a spark of optimism inside Dr. Evelyn Forster's bonnet, as pale and wan as that spark might be. There was still time to sort the issues out. The most troubling ones, he correctly reasoned. And there were many.

"Yes. Time." Sir Edward mouthed the word silently to himself. "Must have more time."

(To be continued...)

Copyright © 2024 by Josmar F. Lopes

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