THE LOLITA FILE
When Michael Brockton agreed to defend a public school teacher against charges of statutory rape and assault, he didn't realize that he would face a corrupt cop, an assistant DA bent on revenge, and an overzealous teacher. Nor did he think that his personal drug use would become a danger. Yet as one of the best lawyers in the city, he had no intention of shrinking from the task of seeking justice for his client and facing down the pressures of a system that pretended to be objective. He, too, had friends, and would use them and his own wits to emerge the much admired, battle-scarred victor.
“Michael J. Brockton.” The voice came over the speaker embedded in the thick glass reception window. Brockton pulled his eyes away from the file he was reviewing. “Thank you,” he said, smiling briefly at the deputy behind the glass and wondering why they included his middle initial in the call. It wasn’t like there were any other Brocktons practicing law in this city.
The deputy’s reply was drowned out by the noise of a thick metal door opening next to him. Brockton stepped through the sally port and into the public safety building. He walked the few steps to an elevator, pushed the UP button and stepped back to wait.
No matter how often he had been in this building—“The Pub” they’d named it—Brockton was always impressed with the thickness of the walls. From the outside, the building promoted a sense of security from the criminals locked inside, some of the same ones he defended, he thought wryly. Once inside, the jail walls were even more reassuring. No one would get out of here without permission.
The elevator door opened. Several people were inside and he stepped back to allow them to exit. He looked fleetingly at an elderly couple, then a young girl. He caught the girl’s eye, but she looked away quickly and walked by him as if he was a common city street gawker. Maybe it was the tie he wore.
Brockton stepped into the elevator. Once the door had closed, he glanced at the folder he carried. John Sienkewicz. Seeing the name reminded him of the newspaper story, where he had first learned of the case. They had spelled his client’s name wrong, unforgivable given that the headline had been so big. The story had run on page one of the local news section because of the sexual abuse charge and the fact that Sienkewicz was a public school teacher.
Brockton leafed through the folder while the elevator ascended. There were some scattered notes he’d taken after speaking with his new client’s wife and a police report that was as accurate an account of the crime as he was going to get. He closed the folder as the elevator slowed. He’d give his client the benefit of a first impression; his was usually accurate.
The doors opened and Brockton stepped onto the third floor of the building. To his left was a wire fence cage. Two sheriff’s deputies lounged at a desk behind the cage.
“Good afternoon,” Brockton said.
“Sienkewicz,” one deputy, a woman, said. Brockton nodded.
The other deputy pulled his eyes away from the computer screen. “Three-oh-seven. He returned his face to the screen.
“We’ll have the scum bag for you in a minute,” the woman said. She left the caged office through a door that led into the cell area.
“Thanks.” Brockton signed in, then stood quietly and waited. He had grown accustomed to the sheriff deputies’ manner of treating prisoners. They dealt with too many criminals to be faulted for tough skin. He even understood their ill-concealed contempt for lawyers like him, although it irked him. They were out on the streets risking their lives to keep him safe by catching and incarcerating criminals so he could spend his time and energy freeing them. In court Brockton often portrayed law officers as inept and unlawful and that must irritate the shit out of them.
“Scum bag’s in there.” The deputy pointed to one of the consultation booths.
Brockton was reminded of why he did what he did. As difficult as the job might be, someone had to keep the law in check. There were rules to the game and cops tried to circumvent them when it served their purpose and they could get away with it.
“Thanks,” Brockton repeated, mentally rebuking himself for being so friendly to the jailer. He turned and pulled open the door to meet his client.
Sienkewicz was good-looking, about six feet tall with blonde hair and grayish blue eyes. He was not what Brockton expected.
“Hello, Mr. Brockton.” The man stuck his hand through the metal bars separating them. “You’re here to help me, I gather.”
“That’s right,” Brockton said, without extending his hand. He’d gotten into the habit of not shaking hands with his clients; they weren’t the cleanest lot although this one appeared an exception. “Your wife called me not long after you were arrested.”
Sienkewicz appeared to ignore the snub. “She said you were good. I don’t know much about lawyers in this town, but I trust her judgment.”
“I hope to prove her judgment sound,” Brockton said, trying to sound modest. He was one of the best defense attorneys in the city and everyone knew it. Once the research was done, it was a question of focus and concentration, not letting your mind wander in the courtroom.
Sienkewicz leaned away from him, straightening up. “Have to stretch my back,” he explained. “These cramped quarters make one ache.”
“They don’t give you a lot of room in here,” Brockton agreed. He looked around at the familiar sight of cement walls. The room was no larger than three feet by five feet.
“Not a place I want to spend a lot of time. It makes you question your own innocence.”
Brockton permitted himself a cynical smile. “Everyone in here is innocent until proven guilty.”
“The food’s pretty bad, too.” Sienkewicz yawned.
“We’ll be going to court tomorrow morning.” Brockton was surprised to see his client so relaxed. “I don’t think I’ll have much problem getting a reasonable bail set since you have no priors.” He looked up. “At least that’s what your wife said, no record. She also said you could make bail.”
“That’s correct. Besides a few traffic tickets, I haven’t had any run-ins with the law since my college days, when they caught me driving across the college president’s front lawn. And we have enough money.”
Brockton smiled, then laid the folder on the shelf in front of him. “First I need some background information. Are you ready to answer some questions?”
“I’ll go through them quickly. What’s your complete name?”
“John Albert Sienkewicz.”
“415 West Canfield Drive.”
“Nice area,” Brockton commented.
“Yeah, it was supposed to be 413 but they thought the 13 was bad luck.”
Brockton checked off the box that said his client was married. “Any kids?”
“Two. A girl and a boy. Sarah and Leonard.”
“Don’t need their names. Employment?”
“Public School. Fourteen years.”
Brockton remembered reading that in the paper. That was why it made the headlines, that someone who was around kids all day could assault and rape one. Worse, Sienkewicz had two of his own. Probably an absentee dad.
After another dozen questions, Brockton stopped writing and pulled a typed paper out of the file. “I have copies of the police and hospital reports, which I’ll refer to now and then, but first, why don’t you tell me what you know about the charges. Remember, tomorrow we’re going in front of the judge and you need to appear like an honest, hardworking man, so tailor your story that way as you’re telling it to me.”
“O Carmen, my little Carmen,” Sienkewicz said and Brockton looked up sharply. His client was looking straight at him, his eyes shining weirdly.
“What are you talking about?” Brockton asked, suddenly spooked.
“Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel. An older man falls in love with a girl of twelve. His main obstacle to consummating their relationship is her mother.”
“What does that have to do with you?”
“Larisa is fourteen and I love her. There’s a difference in age and it was a nurse not her mother who was the obstacle, but the rest of the story fits. The nurse reported me, I’m sure of it.”
Brockton scribbled notes, hiding his distaste for what Sienkewicz was saying. He had a fourteen year old daughter himself. “How long have you known ... Lolita?”
“Larisa. A couple of months, but I fell in love with her the first time we met.”
Brockton sat still, stunned. The guy showed no signs of remorse, was talking too logically. More shocking, he was coming right out with it, something Brockton wasn’t used to. What the hell was the real story? He looked at the police report again. “She turned you in. She talked to the police.”
“The nurse made her do it,” Sienkewicz said. “Or her social worker. Do you know what happens to Lolita’s mother?”
Brockton didn’t reply, the eerie feeling returning. He let his gaze linger on his client’s eyes, which still shone.
“She gets run over by a car,” Sienkewicz continued. “That’s how Vladimir manages to get to her daughter.”
Brockton tried to regain his composure, but couldn’t. He stood up. “I need some air.” He pulled open the door and stepped into the hall.
When Brockton stepped out of the consultation booth, the deputy looked up. “Finished?” she asked.
He shook his head and held up his hand.
“He doesn’t smell half as bad as most of ‘em,” the deputy commented, then returned her attention to the computer screen in front of her partner.
Brockton leaned against the wall and wiped the sweat off his brow with his shirt sleeve. Why had he left the room so suddenly? He had always been able to handle scum, prided himself in that. This was the first time he had ever been at a loss for words. No, spooked—he hadn’t even run the charges past his client yet.
Sienkewicz had taken him off guard. Although Brockton was used to defending sleaze balls, this guy was different. That’s what had shaken him. The guy was like him. Well groomed, especially for being in The Pub, had a family, and lived in a safe part of the city. Not that abuse didn’t happen in middle class families, but they were usually more sophisticated about it. What if this guy had lived in his neighborhood? There was no excuse for this.
Brockton had been surprised when Sienkewicz admitted his guilt right away. Most clients lied so often he’d begun to expect it, but this guy had come right out with the truth. And there was this Lolita thing. That was real weird. The guy’s eyes were glowing when he spoke.
“Mr. Brockton?” The voice came out of the room, reminding him where he was. He took a breath, smiled at the deputies and reentered the small, cement-walled room.
“Sorry,” he said. “I haven’t been feeling well.” Even that much was hard to say. He was never sick.
“Are you having second thoughts about my case?” Sienkewicz asked.
“No problems,” he replied. “Why do you say that?”
“I can understand if you are. Some lawyers would be hesitant to defend a sex abuser.”
“You don’t know much about lawyers,” Brockton replied, glad to have the conversation center on something besides his behavior.
“I can pay you more if that’s the problem,” Sienkewicz said. “I know you will be able to win this case. In fact, I’m sure of it.”
“Money’s not the problem. Like I said, I don’t feel well.”
“You can come back another time,” Sienkewicz said politely. He seemed genuinely concerned.
“No, your bail hearing’s tomorrow and I need to get some information.” Brockton returned his attention to the papers in front of him. “Do you know what the charges are?”
“No. What are they accusing me of?”
“They’re serious. Rape in the third degree and assault.”
“I would never assault my little Carmen. We love each other.”
“How did you meet her?” Brockton asked, stifling repellence.
“She came to me when she had no place to live. Her mother had kicked her out of her home.”
“How long ago was this?”
“Several months. Did you know that she is an alcoholic?”
Brockton said nothing at first, surprised. “You’re sure of that?” he asked after regaining his composure.
“Yes, I am sure. I met her in Millwood Treatment Center. She was an inpatient there and I was her tutor. She also used drugs frequently.”
After going over the reports in more detail and asking his client several questions about his financial situation, Brockton gathered his papers. “I’ll call you once I check out a few things you’ve told me.”
“You are staying with the case then? If you’re uncertain and it’s a question of money, I will have my wife send you a check for another thousand dollars, for the retainer.”
Brockton was about to decline the offer, but held back.
“I will not be offended if you don’t accept,” Sienkewicz continued. “I understand that you may not want to defend me for personal reasons.”
“What you’ve said turns things around a little,” Brockton replied. “I have to make a few telephone calls. I’ll call you tonight.”
After excusing himself, Brockton left The Pub and walked to his office. What a stroke of luck. He had momentarily panicked and the guy had thought he was backing out of the case. He’d take the extra money, could use it for the house renovation.
Brockton wasn’t surprised that his client knew the victim. Most sex offenders were acquainted with their victims. Most of the ones he’d prosecuted while an assistant DA had been live-in boyfriends of the mothers, a standard for these cases.
At least Sienkewicz had given him some ammunition. If he was telling the truth about the alcoholism and drug use, the DA’s office must know about it and would feel shaky about the case. They might offer an acceptable plea bargain despite the press coverage.
It was possible they had more evidence, a witness or something, but he doubted it. Since the election the police and DA’s office had been bickering and consequently the ADAs had brought some pretty weak cases to trial. They might not even know the girl’s background. If they didn’t, he’d let them know and hint at what he was going to ask her on the stand. He could tear the girl to pieces in front of a jury. It was never hard to trip up the young ones and he’d already found several holes in the police report. If drugs were involved as Sienkewicz claimed, it would make a defense even easier. Drug abusers never sat well with judges.
He mentally reviewed his schedule for the next few months. He could handle a trial. And he could use the money. Taxes had jumped, and with the new home and three kids expenses were plenty. He hadn’t talked to Stephanie about the case yet, but he planned to do that tonight. Even though he’d already decided to take a case, he’d always talk it over with his wife. It gave them a feeling of togetherness. If she felt uneasy about his representing a guy like Sienkewicz, he’d use the renovation angle. Just the other day she mentioned being impatient to begin. Hell, now he had the extra thousand to seal the argument.
Brockton briefly remembered bolting out of the room at the jail. His friends would laugh at that one. He had really jumped the gun. This was good money and every lawyer had a touch of the mercenary in him. That was how the system worked, assured that even the scum bags were defended. He’d use this case to keep his trial skills polished; it would be good for that. His feelings of distaste would disappear as soon as they were inundated with facts.
He reached the building that housed his office and took the outside steps two at a time. The DA’s office had chosen another weak case to prosecute, to his gain. He wondered who they’d assign to prosecute. They were so disorganized lately that they hadn’t even decided that yet. He’d mull the facts over a little more, then call Sienkewicz and his wife to say that he was in. He’d mention the extra mil, too. Then all he had to do was keep the guy from talking, acting freaky.
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