Bullets Across the Bay


Sheldon Siegel read the following excerpt from John Lescroart’s The 13th Juror (1994).

The 13th Juror
FOR FORTY-THREE WORKDAYS IN A ROW Dismas Hardy had put on his suit and tie and made a point of coming downtown to the office that he had rented. The office was an interim step, not a commitment. He wasn’t quite ready to go to work for a corporate law firm—not yet, at least, not without first seeing if he could work for himself and make a decent living doing something involving the law.

   He was beginning to doubt if he could.

   His landlord was David Freeman, another attorney who had hung up a shingle to make a go of it—except Freeman had done it. Sixty years old and crustier than San Francisco’s famed sourdough bread, the old man had become a legend in the city. His shingle now was a burnished brass plate—David Freeman & Associates—riveted to the front of the Freeman Building, a gracious four-story structure on Sutter Street in the heart of the financial district.

   Freeman and Hardy had met as adversaries in a murder case a year before. Before it was over, they had begun grudgingly to admire one another for the traits they shared—a certain relentless doggedness, a rogue streak regarding how the law game was played, a passion for details, a personal need for independence. The admiration had gradually turned to friendship.

   Over the next months Freeman had courted Hardy, subtly, counseling him on the perils of life in the big corporate firms. Oh sure, the money was great but there was also the tedium of the paperwork, the burden of having to find forty billable hours week after week after week, the dependence on some partner you’d have to kiss up to (who was probably younger than Hardy’s forty-one). You lived in a beehive and every decision you made—from where you indented the paragraphs in your briefs to what you were going to plead for your clients—was subject to some committee’s approval. Did Hardy want all that?

   Why didn’t he give his real dream and instincts a chance? Freeman would let him rent an office upstairs, use the library, borrow his receptionist, pay a nominal rent, at least while he made up his mind.

   So forty-three days ago Hardy had come in.

   He had been in the courtroom at the Hall of Justice four times since. Three of these cases—two referred to him by David—had been DUIs, driving under the influence, where Hardy’s involvement had been, at best, tangential. The clients wound up paying their fines and going home. In the fourth case, one of Hardy’s acquaintance had a friend, Evan Peterson, with fifteen unpaid parking tickets. Pulled over for gliding through a stop sign, Peterson had been arrested on the spot on the outstanding warrant. Peterson had called for his friend who’d called Hardy and asked if he’d come down to the hall and walk him through the administrative maze, which Hardy had done.

   Life on the cutting edge of the law.

   It was the middle of the afternoon. At lunchtime he had gone home to see his wife, Frannie, and their two children, Rebecca and Vincent. After lunch, he had run four miles along the beach, through Golden Gate Park, back along the Avenues to his house on 34th. Then, giving in to his old Catholic guilt—what if a client was pounding on his door and he wasn’t there?—he dressed in his suit again and drove back downtown.

   Hardy had his feet up, reading. Looking up from the pages, he took a breath, trying to be philosophical about it, telling himself that today was the forty-third day of the rest of his life.

   “Mr. Hardy.”

   Freeman’s receptionist, Phyllis, stood at the door to his office. She was a rigid, but, Hardy thought, potentially sweet woman in her mid-fifties, smiling hesitantly. Hardy took his feet off his desk, put down his copy of A Year in Provence—dreams, dreams—and motioned her in.

   “You’re not busy? I’m not interrupting you?”

   He allowed as how he had few moments he could spare.

   “I just got a call from a woman named Jennifer Witt. Do you know who she is?”

   Hardy’s feet were suddenly on the floor. Phyllis stepped further into the office. “She was arrested this morning and wanted to talk to David but he’s in court.” Freeman was always in court. “And none of the associates is here.”

   Freeman had a small crew of young lawyers working for him and managed to keep them all busy.

   “David want me to go down?” Hardy was already up.

   “I buzzed him and he just called me back. They were having a recess. He’s afraid Mrs. Witt will go to someone else if we don’t get a representative down there in a hurry. He asked if you wouldn’t mind...”

   “Jennifer Witt?” Hardy repeated.

   Phyllis nodded. “I think it’s maybe a big one,” she said.

~The 13th Juror (1994) by John Lescroart, p. 9-13


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