I swish my hair back, turn to Patrick and say, “But you know, we could always try moving out of Bondi Beach? Rent for a while in Newtown?”
Well, there are a couple of untruths in that sentence. First, this thing about “my hair”. Well, it is hair, and it is attached to my head and I am attached to it – oh in so many ways! And it’s half-way down my back. But the “my” is a bit of a lie. It’s mine in terms of I ordered it and paid for it and taped it on. But not mine in the sense that it grew out of my own scalp. So, I am eternally grateful for the Russian chick who – through luck or genes – has or had these gorgeous locks.
But really, she ought to be grateful too. The money probably funded her college education – are there colleges in Russia? Anyway, it went towards some Trotsky thing, maybe a communal monument or something.
So, there’s that.
The other little untruth is that I would never ever move out of Bondi Beach. Never. I was just saying it to Patrick because well, I am in love with him. And when we’re in love we say silly billy things that we never mean – everyone knows that. And the person who is the receiver of this love gobbledeegoo really should know this. So that these sentences don’t really count. And I was counting on Patrick to not count it at all, but he says:
“Yes, we could move out of Bondi Beach…”
Which doesn’t make sense at all. Either he’s not listening or, well, he’s distracted.
He’s had these major matters recently including the aggravated robbery where he represented—
"—Silence! All stand!" The Sheriff’s officer’s voice booms and I shoot up arrow straight. Pure instinct. After fifteen years as a lawyer, a criminal lawyer, if anyone anywhere begins to say, “silen—” I stand up immediately.
“Court One is now in session!”
It is Judge McBeer. That crow. That evil crow who asks these arcane questions about the Evidence Act or the Bystanders on Bondi Beach at Dusk Act. I’m sure it doesn’t exist, but Judge McBeer would know if it did. She’d know all the sections, the subsections, the regulations, the amendments. The lady is a machine. When she practised as a lawyer, her nickname was The Terminatress. It was bad.
Judge McBeer takes her place.
“You may now be seated,” hollers the Sheriff’s Officer. “The first matter on the list is Police and Reginald!”
It’s my matter. I go to the bar table. Judge McBeer shakes her head. What, already? I haven’t even said a word.
“I suppose, Ms. Knox,” she says wearily, “That your client will plead not guilty.”
“That is so,” I say. “He is seated in the front row and, Your Honour, we are ready for the matter to proceed.”
“He’s pleading not guilty to all the charges?”
“All of them,” I say.
“Your Honour,” the prosecutor jumps up. “There is an additional charge of driving unlicensed.”
“Is your client pleading not guilty to that too?” Judge McBeer says.
“Not guilty, Your Honour,” I confirm. Of course he’s pleading not guilty. Of course. Pleading guilty is for the uninitiated. The weaklings.
Or the guilty.
But really, get a good enough criminal lawyer and though you may be guilty, you won’t be found guilty. It’s beyond reasonable doubt, after all. Not beyond all doubt.
“But there is the certificate from the Road Transport Authority, Ms. Knox,” the Terminatress continues. “It clearly states that your client was unlicensed?”
“That is so, Your Honour,” I say.
“So you’re not disputing that?”
“No your Honour.”
“So it’s admissible?”
“No, Your Honour.”
“We are disputing its legality.”
“In what way?”
“It was illegally obtained, Your Honour.”
“Illegally obtained?” Judge McBeer’s voice rises a notch. “How so?”
“Your Honour, I would prefer to leave the details for the Hearing,” I say firmly. I’m a tough bitch when I want to be. “After all, the defence does not have to disclose its case.”
Another shake of the head. “Well, Madame Prosecutor, what do you say?”
“Only that it’s a strong prosecution case, Your Honour.”
“Right,” Judge McTerminatress says. “And what’s your estimate?”
“Four hours,” says the prosecutor.
“Four days,” I pounce.
“Four days?” Judgie McBeery says. “Did I hear that correctly, Ms. Knox?”
“Everything is disputed, Your Honour. In our view, it’s a weak, a very weak prosecution case.”
“The drink driving charge? With the vodka bottles in the front seat?” says Judge McBeer.
“Two things that we will be disputing. One, yes, they were vodka bottles but did they contain alcohol? Second, were they in the possession of the defendant? We say clearly not.”
Judge McBeer sighs. If I said she hated me, that would be an underestimation. But really, deep down, I think she hated me because we were too similar. I followed some of her cases when she was practising. She disputed everything, everything. Maybe she hates me because I kind of remind her of the older version of herself, but the cocaine version. I have longer hair, bigger boobs (thank you Dr. Mendelsohn – genius! Going for the DD was just brilliant – and fast fast recovery), and shorter skirts.
The thing is if you saw me outside Court you’d probably think I was one of the criminals not one of the lawyers. That’s because I kind of look like, well, let me just describe it and you can decide for yourself.
The hair – thank you Random Russian Chick.
Then there are the Dr. Mendelsohn boobs. Oh how I wish he also did liposuction, he’s so so good. But no, for the lipo, I had to go see Dr. Stevens – another genius. Sucked seven years of ice-cream and sausages right off my thighs and stomach in under two hours. Recovery took a while though, with the compression garment and the pain. It hurt like hell. But worth it, worth it.
Then the other thing, which no-one and I mean no-one, not Patrick, not my two best friends Ness and Kitty know about. Not my mum. Not my twin brother Tobias. No-one
My nose job.
That I got when I was 25. Dr. Shubert. He put to death that wide slightly-hooked sphinx monster that was on my face and replaced it with a cute little thing that when they peeled off the bandages I couldn’t ever imagine that I would breathe through it. It looked so adorable! And it was mine! A little nose person. That was me!
So yes. I am fake. But necessary fake. Not like personality fake. Just a few fake things kind of fake. So, really it’s ok.
“Well, Ms. Knox,” Judge McBeer says. “How about the fifteenth? We have room for a four day hearing then.”
I turn to my client, he nods. “Perfect,” I say. “The defence will take it.”
Outside court, the air is charged. It’s not just the heat, it’s the defendants, the criminal lawyers, the barristers, the Court Officers. Like a country within a country.
I spot a group of lawyers from our firm hanging around in a little huddle. Files in one hand, coffees in the other. I join them. Patrick is still inside, finishing off his matter. He shouldn’t take long.
The day is hot. Really, we should all be in bikinis on Bondi Beach rather than black suits in Pitt Street.
“Arabella! How’d you go?”
This is David. Fifty or sixty years old. Has been at the firm forever. I think he was there at the founding stone when it was still called Gregory Morrison Legal.
Now it’s Gregory Peppers Legal. You might have heard of them. They represented that serial killer a few years back. The one who kept his victims in a vat and fed them fried chicken. He fattened them up then cut them up. Kind of like Silence of the Lambs but in reverse. This guy was Silence of the Fatties.
Anyway, gruesome stuff.
But for us lawyers it was heaven.
Trial went on for three years. Everything was appealed. From the fingerprint evidence, which we said was illegally obtained, to the CCTV footage of him buying the vats, which we said had no probative value.
Anyway, what that trial did was give me a pay rise, though I only appeared in the preliminary legal arguments and oh, it got us new offices in Bondi Beach. It’s amazing how much money three years of legal tangle and wrangle bring. And in case you’re wondering, he was found guilty. But we’re appealing that too. So, here is to another three years.
“Great!” I reply and they widen the circle for me. “We got a hearing date.”
We talk shop for a few minutes, but I’m not really listening. I’m waiting for Patrick to finish and we can walk back together.
I love that we work together. It’s so intimate. So satisfying. We have nicknames for every single person in the office. Like Morgan Backerhaus – he’s the partner. A mean legal machine who takes no prisoners. He’s fired lawyers for sending out letters with one, yes one, spelling mistake. And he is the king of humiliation. If he was going to fire you, he made sure his door was open. He wanted the whole office to hear.
The guy had supplemented his law degree with a Masters in Hitler. So naturally the nickname that Patrick and I had for him was Hitler. It was a joke, it made us giggle like kids.
But deep down, we all feared him. Me, on a scale of one to ten of fear for Morgan Backerhaus, I was about a three, okay, maybe four. My spine did kind of straighten a little bit when he walked past, but it quickly came back with a voice that said, “He can’t fire you! You’re doing a fantastic job!”
But yes, the voice was there. And the fear was there. But a three or a four was really nothing. Others were maxxed out at a ten out of ten fear for the guy.
“And do you remember the Robinson matter?” David says to no-one in particular.
“Yes! Oh that was so complicated!” says Anna. She’s one of the younger lawyers. She’s ok.
Then the last part of the circle, Gloria, says, “Did you guys hear about the new Court Lists that they are introducing?” Gloria is lovely. Mid-forties, very able, has three kids and a husband who I think is a plumber. She was the one to go to if you had any questions about any High Court decisions. She breathed, lived Law. I was astonished when I found out she had a family. Where had she gotten the time.
“Yeah, yeah,” David says. “It’s just more work for nothing.”
I nod and smile, contributing little. I just want Patrick to come out. Then we’ll have coffee at a little coffee shop which only we know about. Then back to the office for the afternoon. Oh, there was lunch today. With the girls. At 1pm. Yes, our Monday lunch. I can’t forget that. But I wouldn’t.
We chat for a while longer. I look at my watch, look up and there is Patrick. Perfect. I was all out of small talk.
I smile as I see him, give a little wave, but something is off. He’s walking towards us. Yes, that is good.
But there is something on his left. Not a suitcase, not a file. It’s…
Well, it’s another human being.
It’s that lawyer.
What was her name?
That new lawyer who started at our firm a couple of weeks ago. Her name, her name, Pippy something?
For some reason, none of this feels right. Had he been waiting for her to finish her matter so that they could walk out together? Crazy thoughts Arabella. Crazy.
But look at that alignment. Left leg, right leg. They are walking in sync. Arabella, you’re being crazy.
I plaster a fake smile and say.
The circle widens once more.
“Everyone,” says Patrick. “This is Penelope Banks.”
Everyone, this is Queen Elizabeth. That’s what he could have said.
Really, he said it with such a smile and such a feeling of, what was it, pride? Possession?
“Of course!” David replies. “Yes, the new junior lawyer at the office. There was that morning tea when you first came.”
“But you know how it is,” Anna said. “Everyone is just so busy! It’s hard to keep track.”
“Penelope!” Gloria says, stepping back and making room for them. “Was this your first matter in Court?”
So now the circle is kind of a rectangle, but it’s also kind of weird because Patrick has inserted himself between David and Gloria. He’s opposite me. He’s always, always been next to me in circle situations. And sometimes, though it hasn’t happened for a while, we secretly clutch each other’s hands.
But no, that hadn’t happened for a while.
“Uh, yes, it was kind of stressful actually.”
Was it a human voice? Because really, it sounded like a little dying bird stuck in some tree and evolution should wipe it out.
But no, it was Penelope.
And what was this? They were all smiling benevolently at her. Like her benefactors. Like she was an angel.
And Patrick. What the heck was that thing on his face? Why were his lips like that? Was that how he smiled? I’d never seen him smile so broadly. I’m sure I could make out his back teeth.
“Well, it only gets easier,” Gloria slapped on a cliché. Then another one. “You know, you can always reach out to any of us if you need anything. And I mean, anything.”
Well, I had something.
I was ready to slap her face right now. Her pretty face. Oh, how pretty it was. She has blue eyes, shoulder length hair and this skin. The kind of skin that glowed from the inside out. The kind of skin that looks fake. All of her looks fake. Like a touched up photo, that kind of fake. Well, at least I have no need to be fake. I am a natural beauty, I think savagely. Natural in so far as botox was natural – isn’t is derived from some native plant in Africa? And that boob job and the lipo, well, they had felt like the most natural thing on earth.
And what’s more, there is this look in her eyes, this innocent Anne Frank thing about her. Like she still looked at clouds and dreamt dreams.
No-one had ever described me as pretty – not even Patrick. I was hot. I was gorgeous. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But pretty I never got.
“The Judge asked for the Priors and,” Penelope says, looking down at her hands then looking up again. “Well, I handed up the Bail application instead.”
Oh well, they all roared with laughter.
In my books, that was a fire-able offence. Morgan would shoot her in the face for making a mistake like that. But here we are, with the sun shining on our lovely coiffured legal heads and they are all laughing about it.
And Patrick is being, well, unforgiveable. He’s laughing along. This would usually be when we look at each other and kind of roll our eyes without rolling our eyes. But we had a secret language and he seems to have totally forgotten it and now all he could speak was idiot-speak.
“Penelope has another matter on at 11,” Patrick says. What was he? Her guardian? “So, we’ll hang out here for a while.”
“Patrick is helping me prepare.”
Each word is a knife.
And now I can see it. At 10:30, they are preparing, then it gets kind of hot. Then she takes of that new suit jacket of hers, then Patrick leans in, because he really needs to show her that on page 4 of the affidavit there is an admission of guilt and she looks at him because he’s such a legal eagle and he says oh no, I really don’t know much at all, then they kiss and they are on the floor and when 11 o’clock comes, well, they’re making babies.
“Arabella? Are you okay?” Gloria asks.
“Perfect. A million percent.”
“Shall we get out of the heat?” David says. “Head back to the office.”
And communally, they all move off. I do too.
Leaving Patrick and Penelope.
Patrick with Penelope.
Patrick Tyler and Penelope Banks.