Before we begin, let me explain what I'm doing here: This phic was originally based off an rp of mine with my good friend, the lovely Cree, in which she played Robert Corbin and Christine Daaé. She provided the reflector that was needed for my initiation! The "what if?" question that inspired Cree to prompt the rpwas originally posted by Jonathan and Karen from the old, old POTO mailing list.
This story will generally follow Leroux's order of events, Kay's history, and ALW's ending (But a final lair that is a mix of all three). Don't worry if that doesn't make sense; it will be explained throughout the course of the story. Basically, think of all of that and transpose everything exactly as it was to a modern day American setting. I chose to set it in America because I am absolutely no expert on legal procedure (I'm learning though! Any help is greatly appreciated!), and as little as I know about the legal procedure here in the US, I'd know MUCH less about how it goes in France. I'm doing what research I can for the details, but I generally plan to avoid them where unnecessary and focus on the characters we know and love in this sublime "what if?" situation! I'd appreciate any and all possible feedback, so please review! And, if you know something about law and trial procedures and can give me some pointers, please email me or IM: CHRlSTINEDAAE (AOL), instead of leaving it in your review, as I don't think anyone else would much care to see all that mumbo jumbo :)
Now get ready for some angst, hope you enjoy and much fmeek to all!!!
SomeWeeks After the Arrest
Robert Corbin was seated at the table in the penitentiary's meeting room, his briefcase open. With one hand, he shifted through some papers and, with the other, lifted a Starbucks coffee cup and took a drink. His partner, Clara Varlese, stood behind him and once again impatiently checked the plain, round clock on the wall.
"It's late. I hate it when they're late."
Corbin set the coffee down as something in the document he read caught his attention. "They're usually late. It just gives us more time to prepare. I have a feeling this is going to be tough to win."
"Tough?" Varlese asked rhetorically, her foul mood more than apparent in her tone. "They're all tough, and we can't always win. Why should this one be any tougher?"
Corbin lifted an eyebrow. "Have you seen the notes on this one?"
Varlese had just been thrown into this case by their state firm that morning when Corbin had requested help after being assigned this trial the day before. It wasn't like him to ask for help. He was the confident sort. Varlese was the practical sort. She'd dealt with too many guilty criminals to be foolishly confident about winning everything she tried. She did what she could and she did her best. And her best was usually good.
"Sort of...Not really," she admitted. "But they're all the same, these guys."
Corbin handed her his most recent case summary. "You should read them on this guy."
She read over them silently only for a minute before she let out a low whistle. "Mamma mia..."
"Exactly." Corbin massaged his temples, fighting back the onset of a headache. He had been up all night trying to find out what he could on their client, but information had proved to be very strangely lacking. "We can use all the time we have."
His new partner and old friend shrugged and handed the papers back to him. "Well this makes it easy for us, actually. We'll advise him to plea-bargain and hopefully he'll get off with life."
"Yeah, but they hate pleading guilty," he commented, miffed at how lightly she seemed to be taking what looked like would be the most complicated case of his career.
"There's no way we could defend this case," she pointed out, just as offhandedly.
That was what the last lawyer had thought as well. And the one before that. Before they'd asked to be reassigned. Corbin was the third to be commissioned, but he was determined to go through with it. He could do this, he knew. It was getting down to the wire and he'd only agreed less than 24 hours ago and now he was already in the prison, ready for his first meeting with the accused. "If they think they can get off, they go with it...And all we can do is strongly advise."
She laughed at him. "You think he'd think he could get off? You think you could get him off...?"
"Hell, I'm not an idiot," he consented, "But I had a case once where this guy was seen by the judge and half the jury committing the crime...He still thought he could get off."
"Well you're going to grow a few more gray hairs over this one..."
"Tell me about it. I'm only thirty-six, for God's sake!"
She started to laugh at his misfortune when she heard the approaching sounds of the guards. "Shh," she hissed as if he had been the one about to make some sound. "They're coming."
He nodded, pushing his briefcase aside as she stood next to him, her eyes on the door.
The defendant was brought in by two guards. Two guards instead of the customary single escort accompanied with the observation that the prisoner was handcuffed was odd to both of them. However, neither of the details were so strange as the fact that the man's entire face was covered with an expressionless, yet strangely intimidating looking black mask.
Corbin stood, a look of steady professionalism on his face. The defendant did not look at either of his attorneys or seem to pay attention to anything at all as one of the guards pulled out the chair for him. Varlese studied the man with her lawyer's eye. Tall, she thought. Very tall. And it was true, he was a head above both of the guards, and security officers in state prisons are generally never exactly chosen for their minds over their size. She also thought he looked a lot more withdrawn than she'd expected...Maybe he really regretted everything...That could be used to their advantage. Despite his height, he actually looked rather pathetic with the orange prison clothes all too wide on his thin, almost emaciated frame.
Both officers went back to the door but looked to the lawyers before leaving to see if they wanted them to stay. They were taking extra precautions with this inmate.
Corbin nodded to them, telling them to go, and then turned to his client. "Good afternoon."
When the man gave absolutely no response whatsoever, Varlese glanced over at Corbin and then back to the prisoner and addressed him professionally. "Please, have a seat."
As the first guard left, the second looked back and addressed the lawyers. "We'll be waiting outside. Knock on the door when you're done and I'll unlock it."
Varlese nodded impatiently, well aware of the procedure.
The guard gestured rudely back to the man before he went. "I think you know what to do with this one."
Corbin impatiently waved the guard out of the room before turning back to his new client who, in a strange display of repressive silence, had continued to stand as perfectly immobile as a statue. "Please, sit down. We have quite a few things to go over."
He glanced back to the door as he heard the buzz of the electric lock activate, and when he turned again, the man was in his seat, his handcuffed wrists resting on the tabletop. He hadn't heard him move at all and had only looked away for a split second! As he looked at him now, he seemed completely unfocused on reality and very much off in his own world.
Corbin cleared his throat, automatically going into business, and reopened his briefcase to look among the documents for a last name he somehow had not noticed before. Meanwhile, Varlese scrutinized their subject very closely, trying to gain what she could from his appearance. She didn't understand why he was wearing a mask...But that was her own fault for not yet reading the case summary. She'd check that out later. It took her a moment to realize that the man she studied had gradually shifted his eyes and was now staring at her in a look that spelled lethal contempt. She was startled momentarily and immediately pretended to take interest in what her associate was doing.
But Corbin couldn't find what he was searching for and looked up apologetically. "I'm not seeing a last name. Do you prefer to go by Erik?"
Erik's eyes shifted back to look at Corbin, but he didn't answer him as if the question did not deserve a response.
Corbin continued to try to make the best of the situation. "Alright then. I'll assume Erik is appropriate. Now, are you aware of all charges being held against you?"
Perplexingly, he received absolutely no reply other than Erik's continuing stare.
Varlese frowned, already not liking the way this was going. Corbin lifted his eyes expectantly when, after another minute, he still hadn't an answer but only came in contact with a look from the still silent and immobile Erik that, had he known his client any better, would have plainly told him that if he'd wanted to, he could have ended Corbin's life very quickly at that moment.
He felt the need to break the silence and cool the feeling that it was becoming strangely warm in the small room. "...Would you rather not talk about this right now?"
Once again, he got no response.
Now, Varlese saw this sort of thing often and usually wasn't intimidated in the least, but there was something weird about this guy...She spoke authoritatively to make up for her uncharacteristic lack of inner strength. "Mr. Corbin asked you a question. Please answer him. If we are to defend you in court, you will need to cooperate with us; otherwise your case is going nowhere fast."
Erik did not even acknowledge her presence, and Corbin was becoming secretly intimidated by his unbroken stare. He avoided it, turning back to his briefcase.
"We will return at a later time..." He glanced back down at the papers, and then added, hoping to get a reaction out of Erik, "Perhaps next time we'll bring this 'Christine Daaé' with us."
He had succeeded, and Erik's eyes flashed with an incomprehensible personal association to the name. "No."
Both attorneys were startled by the word. Varlese would never have expected a sound like that to come from the man who sat on the other side of the table. Corbin was more troubled somehow than surprised by the voice. He had hooked something, though, and he wasn't about to let it go.
"...If she is the only way to get you to speak with us, then I suppose it is necessary."
Erik's demeanor changed in a second from his previous reticent state to obvious anger. "I will not have her see me. Do not try to manipulate me, Mr. Corbin. It will not work."
Without taking his eyes off the man, Erik removed the handcuffs from own his slender wrists quite effortlessly, pushed them aside, and folded his hands on the table.
The action was too quickly and smoothly accomplished for either observer to comprehend. Varlese masked the surprise Corbin couldn't by demanding in a strongly defensive tone, "Is that a threat, sir?"
Corbin collected himself, choosing to not let the lack of handcuffs on the prisoner be of concern to him. "I strongly advise you to talk to us, sir, if you want any chance of survival outside of bars. I will do whatever necessary to accomplish that, and if bringing the young lady in is the only way, then I will...In your best interest, of course."
It almost seemed to them that the low and menacing laugh did not even come from Erik himself. It was in the air and met their ears, but was as if its origin never had existed.
"My best interest? What do you care of my best interest?"
"We are your lawyers," Corbin answered, attempting his best effort not to betray how intimidated he was. "That is generally the point."
Erik leaned back in his chair, the tips of his peculiarly skeletal fingers pressed together. "I don't like lawyers."
That fact was more than obvious to Corbin. "We are not here to discuss your dislikes. We are here to discuss your future."
Erik chose not to respond to that. He made no move whatsoever and simply continued to watch a bit too closely for Corbin's comfort.
"If you talk to us, I will not bring in Miss Daaé against your request. If you do not, I will. It's your choice."
Erik said nothing for a moment more while simply staring at Corbin with those strange eyes that seemed to glow in the shadows cast by the deep sockets of the mask in the fluorescent lights. And then, just as Corbin was seriously starting to regret his words, Erik spoke:
Varlese didn't follow. Yes what? Corbin asked the question before she could.
"Yes, you'll talk?"
Erik seemed annoyed. "Yes, I am aware of all charges being held against me."
That was enough for Corbin and he looked satisfied. "Good. Do you believe you are guilty of each crime selected?"
Erik simply shrugged his shoulders as if to say he didn't care.
"Verbally, please," Corbin prompted.
" 'Guilt' is relative." It was the only answer he offered.
Erik then proceeded to explain the meaning of 'relative' for his defender. "To some it would be and to some it would not."
"I am aware of the definition," Corbin responded, slightly irritated. "I am more interested in which crimes you are referring to as possible guilt."
Erik's annoyance with this man was beginning to grow, however, he was also half starting to become amused with him. It had been quite some time since anything had managed to actually amuse Erik. "That is entirely dependant on which of the charges against me you would consider 'crimes.' "
"The court rules all of these as potential crimes."
"And what do you think?"
"I believe what you tell me and no more."
Erik then leaned forward and, resting his elbows on the table, gave the lawyer a look cold enough to chill blood. "Tell me, Mr. Corbin, just how much do they pay you for lying in court to release criminals like me back into the world?"
Varlese had had enough of this and wasn't going to stand for it any longer. She smacked her hand down on the table next to her partner in anger and with the intention to startle. "That is enough! Do you admit guilt or don't you? Or shall we go through the charges against you one by one?"
Though the only one who was startled was Corbin himself, he didn't say a word and only narrowed his eyes at Erik in severity.
Erik, on the other hand, calmly turned to look at his questioner and then leaned back in the chair again and once more shrugged in apathy.
"Answer her question, please," Corbin said with well-learned authority. "Or answer this: are you admitting guilt?"
"Guilt to what?" he asked insolently.
Corbin's frustration was inflating with Erik's impudence. "The charges against you."
Because Erik had managed to get Corbin to ask him about the charges collectively, he then only replied in terms of admitting guilt to all of them. "No."
Corbin was simply relieved to at last get a straight answer and nodded. "Then we will try to make your case as strong as possible."
"And what do you hope to accomplish by that?"
That was hostility Varlese heard in those words. Corbin looked back to Erik, only seeming confused by the question. "Your freedom, of course. What else?"
"Freedom." Erik repeated the word as if the fact that Corbin had used it disgusted him.
Meanwhile, Varlese was thinking that she didn't really want to try to have to make this case as strong as possible. There was no way they could win it and, truly, Erik would very likely get off with his life if they moved to plea-bargain. She looked to her partner doubtfully. He met her eye, understanding her apprehension.
"Unless that is not what you want?" he asked of Erik in response to his utterance of revulsion as Varlese took up the case summary and began to look at the specifics again.
Erik responded flatly. "I will never have what I want."
Corbin looked up at him again from the court case. "What is it that you want?"
Erik only continued to look at him, not answering that.
Varlese, who was adding things up, began to speak aloud as she read. "We have here...Three accounts of first degree murder, one of first degree felony murder, blackmail and extortion for 1.48 million dollars, large scale destruction of property, minor scale property theft, and...horse theft? All federal charges...And these against a state institution...And then there are these other charges...Kidnapping, manipulation, fraud, burglary, aggravated assault, causing lasting mental anguish..." She trailed off as she flipped a page and her eyes began to scan further the descriptions of yet other charges.
Corbin's impending headache suddenly let itself free to stampede around his temples. "And you do not believe you are guilty of any of these crimes?"
"Hm." Erik thought about it a moment before beginning to speak evenly, "Did I kill Joseph Bouquet? No, that was suicide. Philippe Chagny? No, he was dead when I found him. Did I make the chandelier fall and kill that old woman? No, it was quite old...quite old and in need of repair; it fell rather on its own. Did I steal money from the management? No, they gave it to me very willingly. And as for the horse...I saw a neglected animal in need of care, and simply gave it the proper attention it deserved. And theft can hardly be considered theft if the objects never leave the building..." His eyes stayed trained on them for a moment of silence before he continued. "But am I lying? Who can say." He then shrugged a little as he began to slip again into his own thoughts.
Corbin just gaped at him, stunned beyond words for a moment. "I...I suppose you're right..."
Varlese blinked a couple times, trying to sort out all that was said before looking back to the papers in her hand. "What about the death of the Italian tenor on stage?...And the kidnapping of Christine Daaé?"
He didn't say a word. He was wholly unfocused and seemed to have not really heard her.
Corbin waited a moment before speaking up. "Sir? Could you answer her question please?"
Erik slowly glanced up at him, taking a moment to understand what he was being asked. "Question...?"
"What of the kidnapping of Miss Daaé, the death of the tenor?" Corbin repeated with more patience than his associate would have been able to muster. "What have you to say about that?"
Erik answered absently: "Theft of a person is hardly different than theft of a horse...She never left the building either...And Piangi...I didn't murder him, he died."
"But did you hold her against her will? You are charged with false imprisonment."
"I didn't hold her, the walls did."
Corbin's patience was fading and he sent his client a look. "I doubt that will convince a jury. What would Miss Daaé say if she were asked if you took her against her will?"
"She would give whatever answer best suited her motives at the time, I should think," Erik answered simply.
"And what would her motives be?"
"If they were to see me convicted, I'm quite sure she would say whatever was necessary to make that happen."
"Does Miss Daaé hold a grudge against you?"
Erik was quickly becoming more withdrawn into himself again and merely shrugged as if to say that he didn't know and that it didn't matter.
Corbin was at a loss and looked to Varlese. Her answering look didn't offer much. He sighed under his breath, standing once more. "I think we're done here for today."
She nodded and laid the papers back down on the table before going over to knock on the door to let the guards know that they were done. Meanwhile, Erik absently put the handcuffs back on his own wrists in the most normal fashion and stood as Corbin watched and felt very uncomfortable. Of all the murderers and criminals he had ever dealt with, never had he encountered something...or someone...like this.
"We'll return later," he said as he closed his briefcase and Varlese stood back, watching the guards enter and escort out Erik who had completely returned to the same silent, withdrawn state that had possessed him when he'd arrived.
Once he was gone, she turned to look at Corbin. "Well..."
Suddenly, he just looked immensely tired. "There is no way we're going to win this one...Especially if Miss Daaé holds a grudge. Though he does have points. Truly, can it be considered stealing if it never leaves the building?"
She pitied him then. It was only the first day and he was already asking stupid, hopeless questions. "Taking something that doesn't belong to you and keeping it from the person it belongs to is stealing...There's no way that argument would hold up."
He nodded a little. At least she was humoring him. "Our next step will be to try and pay a visit to Miss Daaé to see her views on the whole thing. That way, we'll know what were up against."
Varlese looked doubtful. "Is she already a witness for the prosecution? If they've already got her, we probably won't be able to get much out of her."
"I'm not sure." Corbin cursed himself for being so behind on this case. "We should try at least."
"If her case is favorable," she mused, "We might be able to get some sympathy for Erik, here...But what he's going get the electric chair for are the murders."
"Yes, you're right, of course. What do you suggest we do?"
"The only way he'll be acquitted for those would be through lack of evidence...Or an alibi...If somebody saw him elsewhere when they happened..." She felt like she was explaining the process for a five-year-old...Not her esteemed colleague. But Erik's case was certainly unique. "Although...The actual times of death for each are so sketchy, it would be hard to float..."
"I don't even want to think about that..." he cut her off, knowing fully well he would have to think about it. A lot. He stood and collected his things. "Apparently the tenor didn't 'just die.' He had a rope around his neck, according to several witnesses."
"Yes...But there was no room for hanging," she recalled from the report she'd just glazed. "And it's hardly likely that he just hung himself on stage...According to the medics, he had simply been strangled by the rope. Someone had to have been pulling the rope to strangle him. There's no way that could be palmed off as an accident."
"I know. We hardly have a case."
She shook her head. "I still say the best thing would be to get him to plead guilty and show a lot of remorse...A lot of remorse...He may get two life sentences, but they won't fry him..."
Corbin walked to the door, already analyzing the whole strange meeting. "We'll talk to him more next time. He seems indifferent to the whole thing, Clara. It might be easier than we expect to get him to plead guilty."
He opened the door and she nodded in agreement as they left the prison. "I don't see why he wouldn't. He doesn't exactly seem to care much about principle."
"Not at all." He stopped outside the door, looking out at the dreary late April clouds. "Can I buy you a cup of coffee?"
She checked her watch before answering and then shook her head. She hated when they were late. "No, I have to be back at the firm in a few. E-mail me when you find out whether Daaé is supporting the prosecution or not."
He nodded, "Alright, I will. See you later."
"Right." She waved a goodbye and then was off to her car.