Today's Reading

"Mr. Kimoe," said the voice from the bench, the voice of life tenure and final judgment.

"Your Honor," said Donny, standing at the bar. The honorific was reflexive, something they programmed into you in law school moot courts, and if you thought about it, about the system to which it kneeled, it made it hard to say. But Donny had learned to be part of the system before he learned how rotten the system is, and now paid his bills guiding people through it, a job that required a habituation to losing, or at least a rather compromised idea of what constituted winning. When she'd had enough of it, Donny's ex- girlfriend Joyce, a philosophy professor at Rice, told him it was like dating the riverman of the underworld. Donny said sometimes I bring them back, but Joyce was already gone.

"Nice of you to join us this morning," said Judge Broyles, looking down over the rims of the old wire-framed glasses he had been wearing as long as Donny had known him. Broyles was all grey now, and it showed in his eyes. The silvery grey of old money, from one of those blue-blood Houston families that had come down from the East way back when and made successive fortunes building the railroads and then the oil-and-gas business and now the commercial space business. The first lawyer in a long line of financiers, he had the demeanor of a prep school headmaster in charge of a secret prison. One that needed to turn a profit.

The stockholders were watching. Some were right there in the back of the room.

"I'm sorry, Your Honor," said Donny. "I was stuck on a call in another case. A matter of life and death."

"You look about half-dead yourself, Mr. Kimoe. Still trying to annul my sentence in the Hardy case?"

"Exhausting our client's rights of appeal, yes."

"As is your right, even if you are wasting your time and the People's money."

"We'll see about that, Your Honor."

"Yes, we will. Before sunrise tomorrow, if I'm right."

Donny looked at the clock on the wall behind the judge. The execution was scheduled for midnight, and would proceed unless Donny could succeed in getting a last-minute reprieve. But the law governing his service required him to be here this morning, taking whatever cases the court assigned him to defend—which made it hard for him to do a good job for any of his clients.

Just the way the government that called itself "the People" wanted it. "Well," added Broyles, "fortunately for the client I was going to burden with you today, you were AWOL when his case came up, so I had Mr. Powell cover for you."

Donny looked over at Miles, who just raised his eyebrows.

"Mr. Powell proceeded to persuade us to let one detainee go free this morning. It will probably be our last. And so, Mr. Kimoe, I am going to give you the case I had assigned to Mr. Powell."

"Your Honor," said Miles, standing. "That's not fair to the defendant."

"Aren't you supposed to be in Austin trying to spring our scofflaw mayor, Mr. Powell?"

"Yes, Your Honor. But—"

"Please give my regards to Judge Leakey. And good luck getting her to invalidate the Governor's declaration of martial law. Though I have to say you have a better chance of winning that one than those avocado-sucking carpetbaggers they are flying in from San Francisco to help you."

"Thank you, Your Honor," said Miles, over the laughs from the gallery at the judge's derisive quip. "I'm happy to have all the help I can get."

"There's an election riding on the outcome, I hear." Broyles didn't mention it was the election of the President who had appointed him, one he had helped get elected the first time. "Go forth," he said, pointing Miles to the door. "I will help Mr. Kimoe wake up and provide our next contestant with an effective defense."

"Yes, sir," said Miles. He glanced at Donny with a face that shrugged.

Then he grabbed his briefcase to go.

"Judge," said Donny, "I don't have time to take up—"

"America is waiting," said Broyles, cutting Donny off. "And justice is not." He hit the gavel with a hard knock, the forgotten call of some vanquished wood god, and then summoned the appearance of Donny's new client, spinning the Spanish vowels with Anglo-Texan inflection. "Bring in Xelina Rocafuerte."

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