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Authors: William J. Coughlin

The Judgment

PRAISE FOR WILLIAM J. COUGHLIN

“William Coughlin … has created another legal
thriller filled with the aching human frailties that
are hidden in all of us. Masterfully, he intersects his
characters into thunderous conflict.”
—Paul Lindsay on THE JUDGMENT

“Coughlin wrote taut and suspenseful novels of the
legal system before Scott Turow ever lifted a pen.”

Washington Times

“His spellbinding grasp of the courtroom held me
on the edge of my seat until the last page.”
—William J. Caunitz

“Coughlin knows his stuff.”

Playboy

“Horrifying … intense. This is one to keep you
sitting up straight.”
—Chicago Tribune
on
The Stalking Man

“Shadow of a Doubt
has much of the atmosphere
and intrigue of
Anatomy of a Murder
and a
humdinger of an ending … A great read.”
—Scott Turow

“First-rate entertainment.”

Booklist
on
Heart of Justice

“Satisfying and right on target.”

Detroit News
on
In the Presence of Enemies

“Coughlin is a consummate storyteller.”

Library Journal

A
LSO BY
W
ILLIAM
J. C
OUGHLIN

The Heart of Justice

In the Presence of Enemies

Death Penalty

Shadow of a Doubt

Her Honor

Her Father’s Daughter

The Twelve Apostles

No More Dreams

Day of Wrath

The Stalking Man

The Grinding Mill

The Destruction Committee

The Dividend Was Death

The Widow Wondered Why

Cain’s Chinese Adventure

(under the pseudonym Sean A. Key)

The Mark of Cain

(under the pseudonym Sean A. Key)

WILLIAM J.
COUGHLIN

St. Martin’s Paperbacks

NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

THE JUDGMENT

Copyright © 1997 by Ruth Coughlin.

Cover photograph by Alexa Garbarino.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 97-13265

ISBN: 978-0-312-96244-9
ISBN: 0-312-96244-4

Printed in the United States of America

St. Martin’s Press hardcover edition / September 1997
St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / January 1999

10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1

1

T
he jury came in just after four o’clock. It was Halloween, and they wanted to get home before dark. There wasn’t anyone in Detroit who didn’t want to get home before dark.

It hadn’t been much of a trial, just one day, although the charge of armed robbery was serious even in Detroit’s Recorder’s Court, where murder sometimes is considered small change. My man looked guilty, although there had been some question about identification. But the jury wasn’t about to sit around and waste a whole lot of time arguing about it. They gave him the benefit of the doubt, under the circumstances, and acquitted him so they could leave early.

Everyone told me I had done a good job, but they knew it was the clock that had really swung things in my client’s favor.

I walked to the nearly empty parking garage and retrieved my car. There was a chill in the damp air. My footsteps echoed in the concrete silence of the place, and even traffic sounds outside the garage seemed muted, as though the entire city were creeping on cats’ feet.

It was an hour’s drive back to Pickeral Point, the little city forty miles north of Detroit where I have my home and office, my private sanctuary on the banks of the St. Clair River. Detroit had once been my home, but that was
before my own troubles had nearly ended my legal career. Troubles that had forced a quiet exile to a quiet place.

In other American cities this was a special night, a magical one, a night for children and harmless mischief. Halloween. Armies of costumed kids carrying candy bags would assault lighted porches screeching the challenge, trick or treat.

But in Detroit, All Hallow’s Eve had reverted to the Celtic horror that inspired the death masks and mystic rituals of the ancient Druids and now echoed in those kids’ costumes. In the city, it had become a malevolent night for mindless burning. Porch lights were on, as well as back-alley lights. Detroiters waited, armed usually, behind curtains, watching for the silent figures who might emerge from the darkness and try to burn them out.

The situation had improved since the days when hundreds upon hundreds of houses went up in flames on Devil’s Night and Halloween, when television crews from all over the world came to film the blazing phenomenon. Still, it had been dry all day, so the shadowy figures would come, they always did. Fires, both large and small, would be set.

Everyone wanted to get home early. Hoses and guns would be at the ready. Here, trick or treat carried a more ominous meaning.

I was glad to get on the expressway headed north.

A fender bender plugged up traffic and it gradually became dark as all of us waited to move. Eventually, cars slowly rolled forward, locked together like prisoners on an endless march.

Finally, at the city limit, things began to loosen up, and by the time. I reached Mt. Clemens, just twenty miles out of the city, we were all traveling at well over the speed limit, and I was filled with a sense of release and escape.

The freeway after Mt. Clemens cuts mostly through farmland. Empty fields in autumn. A few spectral trees outlined against the dark clouds lent a real Halloween aura to the chilly night.

I was listening to Detroit’s classical music station, which was playing appropriately macabre music.

It first began as a light mist. I flipped on the windshield wipers, hoping that Detroit would catch some of the developing rain. It would help keep down the fires.

I was almost to the Pickeral Point turnoff when the flakes started. In lower Michigan, the rule of thumb is snow flurries approximately by Halloween and real snow by Thanksgiving.

It was the first snow of the season. Just a few wet flakes initially and then a quick and fierce whiteout. I slowed, adjusting to the new road conditions, and drove through.

The streaky pattern of the swirling white snow reminded me of skeleton hands, hands with long and bony fingers clawing at the windshield as if to seize the soul within.

Halloween thoughts. I was beginning to spook myself big time. I switched the radio to a jazz station, but it didn’t help much. Those ghostly snow fingers still relentlessly slapped against the windshield like a silent warning. I reminded myself that it was only snow.

Mrs. Fenton, my secretary, came quickly into my office midmorning next day. She, who generally was almost expressionless, looked like her eyes were about to pop. Dear Mrs. Fenton, efficient and organized and about as humorless as a dead mackerel. Plain and simple, her appearance was completely unremarkable. You could set your clock by Mildred, the name I never dared call her. She’s always on time and leaves each night at five. It’s a never-varying routine, but sometimes we cling to routine because it offers small comfort in a chaotic world. You don’t get to chat a lot with Mrs. Fenton because she disapproves of small talk. Sometimes I think she disapproves of me, too, but I don’t dwell on it too much.

“There’s a bishop on the phone, a real bishop,” she now said, “and he wants to talk to you.”

Titles meant so much to her. I don’t know why, but they did. I hoped for the sake of her health that the pope or the president would never have occasion to call the office, since I found the prospect of maybe having to administer CPR to Mrs. Fenton distasteful.

“Does this bishop have a name?” I asked.

“Bishop Solar,” she said. “He’s a Catholic bishop.” Her tone implied she would have preferred a Protestant denomination, but a bishop was still a bishop.

“I’ll take the call,” I said. I waited until she left the office. I wondered what was up. It was still very early in the morning, even for a bishop.

“Charles Sloan,” I said, thinking I would be talking to one of his assistants.

“Formal, aren’t we?” It was the bishop himself.

“Always. How are you, Joe?”

“Fine, Charley. This is a Holy Day of Obligation, All Saints’ Day. I trust you were able to get to Mass?”

“Would it make you feel better if I lied and said yes?”

He laughed. “Not really. Just testing. We’re going to get you back one of these days.”

“Anything’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet your retirement fund on it,” I said. “Now, besides my immortal soul, what else do you want?”

I could talk like that to him. We both belonged to the same organization. Even bishops could become alcoholics. Joe Solar, like me, was a member of AA. We had first become acquainted at a meeting, and a kind of loose friendship followed. He was a compact man, fiftyish, who had the hard look of a corporate executive, even when in his full bishop’s regalia.

I did a little legal work for him and the church once in a while. He ran a newly formed diocese that comprised most of Michigan’s Thumb area. It was a comedown from his former position as a big-city bishop marked for better things. Like myself, the booze hadn’t exactly enhanced his career. He had been on his way to a cardinal’s red hat.
But now that would never be. Still, if he regretted it, it didn’t show.

“I have a priest who’s in a spot of trouble and I think he could use some legal advice,” the bishop said.

“What kind of trouble?”

“A young man has accused him of molesting him.”

“Has the priest been charged?”

“I’m informed there will be no charges.”

“Are they giving licenses to the clergy now for that sort of thing?”

He laughed for the sake of politeness, but the tone reflected a flat lack of amusement. “The lad who made the charge withdrew it, then changed his mind. He has a history of mental problems. Also, the priest isn’t the first person he’s made this kind of charge against.”

“From the sound of it, then, your man doesn’t have much to worry about.”

“Not as far as the police are concerned. But the parents have called and threatened civil suit. I wonder if you might look into it, Charley. I think he could use some help.”

“And who do I look to for my fee, the Holy Ghost?”

“If you had true faith, you would. However, the diocese will pay reasonable legal fees. This sort of thing can rip up a parish, just the hint of it, not to mention the reputation of the priest involved. And the Church. If you could get the matter quietly taken care of, I would be most grateful.”

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