Mourning a Cowboy
By the sheer number of cars parked in the lot and along the street next to the building, Kristoph could tell that he had reached the correct funeral home. As he drove slowly around to look for a free space, the twenty-one year old attorney noted that there were a fair number of police cars in the mix of parked vehicles—there were probably quite a few detectives attending the service that were supposed to be on duty at the moment. Given half an excuse, he was certain that a good majority of the police force would do just that: abandon their posts, leaving the unwashed rabble to freely murder, rape and loot the streets.
Finding the closest place he could park given the crowded circumstances, Kristoph stepped crisply towards the funeral home's front doors after locking up his car. Most people he passed were grouped in twos and threes, wearing all black and talking in hushed voices. Unlike them he had not changed his attire, though his dark overcoat for the late February weather was certainly sombre enough for the occasion. This was to be a short visit, and he was uninterested in displaying anything but the most basic formalities.
The front hall of the funeral parlour was filled with more sombre-faced people clad in dark clothes. They milled about, mainly entering and exiting one particular set of doors if they were not en route to leaving the building already. If that wasn't enough of an indicator as to which room he was looking for, a placard in formal script placed near the heavy traffic announced whose body lay waiting inside the doors; save for the total lack of joviality, the situation was not all that unlike a wedding reception.
An elderly man with a name tag opened the door for him when he approached, and then proceeded to follow him through to the viewing room itself. The man was clearly an employee of some sort: instead of walking further into the room he stayed back, regarding the scene with a detached if solemn air. Together with him, Kristoph hung behind the crowd to observe the various goings on.
The casket was open and on display at the furthest end of the room. Surprising, given the manner of the prosecutor's death, but Kristoph supposed the body had been cleaned up properly since Neil Marshall had met his untimely and violent fate three nights ago. Whatever ceremony had taken place in the room, it had long since concluded; people were approaching the casket in groups, offering up their last farewells. If they were actually speaking to the corpse they were doing so quietly, with very little audible from where he was standing—it was almost silent in the room, though there was easily upwards of thirty individuals within it at any moment.
At the right of the room, close to the casket, were a half-dozen people who stood stationary throughout the whole pilgrimatic ordeal. These individuals Kristoph studied carefully, in an effort to discern their identities and their relevance.
First there was an utterly unexceptional man in a white trenchcoat whom he could not recognize—probably a detective by the look of it, though certainly not a skilled one. The man stared blankly ahead, seemingly lost in thought and utterly oblivious to the shaking of the petite woman with long wavy hair who stood with crossed arms beside him. Kristoph couldn't make out the tears that dampened the woman's cheeks, but by her repeated attempts to wipe them away he could tell that they were indeed present. Judging from her expression, the crying was more due to anger than any sort of sorrow.
To the crying woman's other side were two figures he recognized: Senior Detective Lana Skye, pale, tight-lipped and standing stiffly next to the Vice Head of Criminal Affairs, Damon Gant. The man who was to be the next Chief of Police was a rather unusual sight, still with a benevolently bemused look on his face, but clad in a black suit instead of his horrifically neon orange one. The man had a gloved hand on his partner's back, in a seeming attempt to console her.
And off to the side of the immobile cluster was one last individual, a male with long straight hair and such a hollow, tired, pathetically sad expression. Though he wore a dark suit like the others and had no western felt hat in his possession, there was a certain resemblance, a certain hokey cowboyness that made Kristoph confident in his supposition that this was none other than Jake Marshall, older brother to the deceased. The man communicated such a despair that Kristoph could almost feel it, just by regarding him. He wondered offhandedly, sardonically, if he would look so frightfully distraught at his own brother's funeral.
"Are you a friend of the deceased?"
Startled out of his ruminations, Kristoph glanced over to his immediate side where the elderly gentleman was standing. His own stationary position at the back of the room must have caught the employee's attention; he offered a slight smile at the question as he considered how to answer.
"The court will adjourn for a fifteen minute recess!"
Dazedly, he made his way into the Defendant Lobby and took a seat on the couch, still gripping white-knuckled onto the handles of his briefcase. He fought hard to focus, to think up some plan of attack, but every possible thought was being overridden by one single panicked line that looped itself endlessly in his head.
His first trial, and he was going to lose. He was going to lose, to that pathetic excuse of a prosecutor. He didn't even have a single case to his name yet, and already his reputation was going down in flames.
His hands shook, but he ordered them up to the clasp of his briefcase to wrench the lock open. He had prepared for this—as simple and clear cut as the case had initially seemed, a deep-set anxiety had gnawed at him till he had gotten the items made: a receipt of a purchase paid via credit card and a half opened packet of cigarettes, crumpled slightly as though crushed in a struggle.
There was still a chance for him to redeem the situation.
His client had been the only person in the building along with the victim that afternoon. This was confirmed by the prosecution's witness, a prestigious attorney from out of town who had called at the victim's law office in the late morning. The fact that he was present at the crime scene at the time of the murder Kytes had admitted himself, though he attested to never having seen his employer the entirety of the afternoon—to never having heard Wilde struggle as she was strangled no more than a few feet from his own office, to never seeing her body being dragged out the side entrance and tossed into the nearest alley dumpster.
So if Wilde had stepped out briefly, perhaps to buy a packet of cigarettes at the corner convenience store, and had met an assailant along the way...
Was he ready for the implications of presenting such a possibility?
...But was he willing to lose if he wasn't?
He gripped the cigarettes tightly in his hands, steeling himself for what was to come.
"That stuff ain't good for your health, you know."
The sudden, unexpected voice nearly caused him to leap from his seat. Glancing up, he stared right into the beaming face of the "cowboy" prosecutor, who was leaning down towards him and sporting an annoyingly amused expression on his face. He immediately tried to mask his own look of surprise with a frown, pushing back the bridge of his half-rimmed glasses.
"I don't smoke."
The response only made the prosecutor grin all the wider.
"An' neither did any of the people involved in this case—including Miss Christina Wilde, who, may I add, was allergic to the fumes. Got that little detail from your client himself." Marshall chuckled, then stood back upright to adjust the brim of his hat. "Just thought you might like to know."
He must have blanched—he could feel the blood draining from his face and knew that the prosecutor could see it and would recognize it as a confirmation of his wrongdoing. He clutched onto his anger in an act of desperation.
"What do you want?! What are you even doing in here?"
Marshall seemed altogether unfazed. There was even something in his eyes resembling... sympathy? It boiled his blood, whatever it was—he did not need the man's pity anymore than he needed his condemnation. But the prosecutor was patient and would not be deterred.
"I know it's your first time, rookie. It looked like your nerves got shook up real bad in there—I came to check on how you were holdin' up."
"I'm quite well, I assure you."
It was clear the other man was skeptical; Marshall didn't back away, but glanced off as if in thought. When he spoke out again, it was in an altogether different tone.
"The outcome of the trial doesn't matter, you know."
To those whose paychecks didn't hinge on it, perhaps. Kristoph glared at the man, and in meeting his eyes again the prosecutor chuckled.
"Whaddya suppose the point of all of this is? This here trial: it's showdown, high noon—we arrive with guns a-blazin'. Are we just supposed t'shoot down the other man in whatever manner we got at our disposal? Is that what you think?"
He stared stonily up at the other man, still offering no response. Marshall continued on without waiting for him to answer, pointing out with thumb, index and middle finger outstretched like the firing of a gun to punctuate his words.
"Justice. Cuttin' through the lies and the unknown—uncoverin' the truth behind the matter. The truth is its own reward and it's our purpose, out there in the sandy desert of the courtroom." The prosecutor paused, then nodded at the items Kristoph was still gripping tightly onto in his hands. "So put that stuff away, you hear me?"
It was all naive, elementary school black-and-white morality. Foolish idealism. But from a man who had caught him in the midst of committing an act that would have seen him disbarred, he could not help but comply.
Seeing him do so, Marshall smiled, tipped his hat in brief farewell, and turned to stride out of the room. Court would reconvene in five minutes.
He had won that day. Not due to the forged receipt and the pack of cigarettes, but because of a seemingly trivial fact that he had caught onto seven minutes back from recess—a thread that he had pulled at and that the prosecutor had allowed him to pursue without voicing an objection. Through mutual cooperation, they were able to unravel Prower's testimony and prove that his credentials—that of a prestigious New York attorney—were in actuality entirely false. He wasn't even from New York but instead hailed all the way from Texas, being a fool of a man who liked to play pretend on the Internet to boost his ego. Having a legal practice herself, Wilde had caught on to the fact and called him out on it in public—and in a senseless rage Prower had flown to Los Angeles to silence her permanently, framing her assistant Kytes in the process to cover his own trail. Simple, really.
So the truth of the matter had been unravelled, all because of a minor, nearly overlooked detail. And perhaps something more had come out of that experience; since that first trial debut of his against Prosecutor Neil Marshall, Kristoph Gavin had not had a single item forged, had not attempted to obscure any evidence hidden at any crime scenes he had happened to investigate. There were certainly times where he felt the urge, the desire to do so—it gnawed at him each time he felt the anxiety of potentially losing a trial, but he had gritted his teeth and borne his losses along with his victories. Had he taken the prosecutor's words to heart? Perhaps.
Perhaps he had indeed deluded himself into thinking that acting 'morally' and taking the high road was enough.
The purpose of a trial was the pursuit of justice? Uncovering the truth was its own reward? So much for that. Here was the testament to its effectiveness. Here was the full, irrefutable evidence of its reward.
He had been quiet for too long. The custodian was looking at him with something like concern on his wrinkled, solemn features.
"Sir? Pardon me, but I asked whether you were a friend of the deceased. You've been standing back here for quite some time."
He smiled warmly at the man, taking the time to adjust the position of his glasses.
"I'm nothing of the sort."
The combination of his response and his smile must have shocked the custodian, as the elderly gentleman fell into an uncomfortable silence. It allowed him the time to change his expression back to a calmly reserved one, to regather his thoughts and to provide an explanation for his response.
"My apologies—I consider myself merely an acquaintance of Prosecutor Neil Marshall. I did not have the pleasure of knowing him very well in his lifetime." Turning away slightly, he feigned a reminiscent expression. "I faced him in the courtroom, and he taught me many things through the experience."
And he had indeed nearly fallen for those teachings, those lofty morals. Well, he had indeed learned his lesson, but not in the way the prosecutor would have expected. So much for that.
Kristoph excused himself from the custodian, who still seemed somewhat stunned, somewhat baffled by his demeanour. He took the time then to approach the casket, stopping close enough so that he could peer in at the still face of the former King of Prosecutors. They had indeed cleaned him up well.
He spoke out, being sure to keep his voice lowered, inaudible to the ears of the living.
"You see, Marshall? This is what you are awarded with for your pursuit of 'the truth'. Did you believe you were a just man? And did you believe that that would protect you somehow? Is this your 'reward'?"
His smile was present again, growing into a full grin though he had not sensed its arrival. He lowered his head, making sure his back was turned enough from the eyes that were surely upon him, so that no one else could witness his amusement. There was just something so dreadfully ironic about the whole situation—he couldn't help but shake lightly with a suppressed laugh, though it wasn't the sensible or the most decorous action. No matter; to anyone viewing him, the trembling laughter would likely be interpreted as restrained weeping.
He remained by the casket for a few minutes longer, steadying himself, with his emotions back under calm reign after that minor outburst. A few moments longer and then he departed the way he came—without speaking to anyone else, without seeing a need to give his regards to the mourners still mutely standing at the side of the room. Perhaps he would visit the prosecutor's grave some days from now, to address him in a manner that wouldn't possibly be overheard by anyone else. Yes, a bouquet of roses.