Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Guilty by Gabriel Boutros

Chapter 1

At half-past midnight there was almost no traffic on Sherbrooke Street West. A strong wind blew the thin, granular snowflakes horizontally past the streetlights, slamming them into the sides of buildings lining the deserted road. Gazing out a fifteenth-story window, shielded from the storm, Robert Bratt stood alone. He was wearing his favorite silk pajamas on the off-chance that he would ever get to sleep again, and he sipped a freshly poured glass of Chivas in the hope that it would help get him there.

His thoughts were miles away from the Montreal winter that froze the streets below him. For the briefest moment his eyes focused on his own reflection in the window. His tall frame looked thinner than usual tonight in the pajamas that Jeannie had bought him for Christmas. His face was gaunt and tired-looking, his brown hair disheveled.

He blinked a few times and quickly turned his gaze back to the street where he spotted a lone pedestrian braving the cold night wind. Bratt watched the man walk, bent forward, head down into the gale, and wondered where he could be going at that time of night. The distraction was all too brief, though, and he found himself deep in thought again. He drank deeply from the glass in his hand. He was having absolutely no success trying not to think about what had happened that day.

It was a day that had begun well enough, but had turned sour very fast. The stars must have been aligned just right for Bratt to end up in the gallery at Nate Morris’s rape trial that afternoon, instead of being the one defending him. It was one of the few times in the almost twenty years he had been a lawyer that he had sat in a courtroom and watched another defense attorney at work.

Nate Morris had been a good client for Bratt, well-connected and willing to pay handsomely for his lawyer’s services. Four years earlier, Bratt had successfully defended him against an identical accusation and Morris had naturally begged Bratt to defend him again when he had been arrested last summer. But this time Bratt couldn’t get involved because he knew the victim; knew her very well, in fact.

Claire Brockway had been friends with his eighteen year old daughter, Jeannie, since they were both in pre-school. When Bratt’s wife had died eight years earlier Jeannie had begun spending more and more time with Claire and her family, and he had been glad to let her find some comfort there. Through their turbulent adolescent years their friendship had survived and grown stronger.

When he had learned that Claire had been raped, he had shared Jeannie’s grief for her friend. That the alleged rapist had been a former client only added to his daughter’s bitterness and his own sense of responsibility.

Bratt, of course, had refused Morris’s request to represent him. But when his partner, J.P. Leblanc, had suggested that they refer Morris to Antoine Perron, the best lawyer they knew outside their firm, Bratt had agreed after some hesitation. Perron was Bratt’s former protégé, a lawyer to whom he had taught all the tricks of his trade, before going out on his own five years earlier.

Despite Bratt’s connection to the victim his years of training told him that it was only right that Morris should get the best defense that he could afford. Jeannie hadn’t really understood that at the time. She had angrily accused him of favoring Morris over Claire. It had taken weeks before the tension between them had eased and, until earlier today, he had thought this issue was behind them.

As for his own caseload, Bratt had spent the previous eight weeks fighting a seemingly endless fraud trial, plowing through mounds of accounting books, questioning tax experts, and generally boring himself stiff. His client was Cooper Hall, a nervous mouse of a man who wore rumpled tweed jackets and constantly ran his thin fingers through his even thinner hair. That those fingers had allowed him to expertly forge enough bearer bonds to buy and sell everyone in the courtroom several times over was one of many confidences that he had made to Bratt, subject to attorney-client privilege, of course.

On this very morning the seemingly interminable fraud trial had finally ended. Judge Smythe had granted Bratt’s motion to exclude two very damaging auditor’s reports since the auditor who drafted them had not bothered showing up to testify at the trial as he had been subpoenaed to do. It seemed that he had recently come into a bit of money and spontaneously moved to a seaside villa in Costa Rica. Bratt wasn’t one to look a gift-horse in the mouth by asking where all that money had come from.

Judge Smythe’s ruling had effectively brought the the prosecution’s case to a close. Bratt did not present a defense because any claim of innocence by his client would have been an outright lie. Bratt had never been above bending the truth when it suited him or even ignoring it now and then, but he wasn’t prepared to suborn his client’s perjury outright. Hall was such a nervous wreck his testimony would undoubtedly have been disastrous anyway, and that would have wasted the masterful job the lawyer had done of destroying the credibility of the Crown’s other witnesses. Bratt knew he had a better chance of winning by relying on his own cross-examination skills than by risking having his client lose his case for him by testifying badly. He always considered the cases as his own. The clients were just there to pay him to do what he had always loved best and to interfere as little as possible with his work.

Sam Brenton, the Crown prosecutor, had asked the judge for two days to prepare his final arguments, not an unreasonable request considering the twenty-six boxes of sleep-inducing documentary evidence he’d be trying to summarize. Bratt, having been left free to do as he wished that afternoon, decided to join Jeannie, who had been attending Morris’s trial from the morning. For the most part he had been concerned about how Claire would do on the stand. But another part of him, the part Bratt would never tell Jeannie about, had just been interested in watching Perron at work.

Now Bratt stood alone in his apartment, wondering if he wouldn’t have been better off not going at all and not seeing what he had seen. He should have realized how different a trial would seem when he was on the outside looking in. With his daughter at his side, watching her emotions rise and fall with her friend’s fortunes, he had seen a side of his profession that he had always known existed, but never cared to think about.

Watching Claire get roughed up on the witness stand was bad enough, but Bratt felt even worse knowing he had trained the attorney who asked all those insinuating questions, manipulating the victim into looking guiltier than the man accused of raping her.  

At home now, hours after the trial, Bratt realized that his misgivings went beyond this one particular trial. After all, if it hadn’t been Claire, it would have been somebody else’s closest friend up on the stand, somebody else’s daughter testifying, and she would have come out of the cross-examination looking just as bad, and feeling even worse than she looked. And if Perron hadn’t been the one asking the questions, it might well have been Bratt doing the hatchet job. It certainly wouldn’t have been the first time.

Such a prospect had rarely bothered him before. In the past he had considered himself a gladiator, looking down at the mangled forms of the helpless victims of his cross-examinations, savoring the taste of victory. He had never spent too much time worrying about the witnesses who had fallen under his attacks. Their fate was the prosecutor’s problem.

It was winning that he had lived for, that gave him the rush that nothing else could ever come close to. In his arena there was no room for the softhearted or the weak-kneed, who were forever relegated to pleading shoplifting cases at Montreal Municipal Court. 

He had always prided himself on his reputation as a “tough as nails” attorney. It was the only way he knew to do the job that he had loved for so many years. Yet it was now past midnight and he was still brooding over the day’s events, events that had shaken his confidence in himself and his work. He wondered if this wasn’t some sort of punishment for his years of professional arrogance.

Turning away from the window and from his own reflection he shuffled back into his bedroom, his bare feet sliding along the thick, cream-colored carpet. He swirled the ice in the glass absentmindedly, the soft clinking the only sound in the otherwise silent apartment. He sat down on the edge of his bed and thought that the one good thing about Jeannie spending the night with Claire was that she wouldn’t be there to see him drinking again. Then he emptied the glass in one gulp.

I haven’t needed a real nightcap like that in a long time, he thought. This shit has really gotten to me. 

He stretched out on the bed, closed his eyes and waited for sleep to come. But the only thing that came was the sound of Jeannie’s voice, yelling at him in the courthouse corridor earlier that day.

THE GUILTY has been described as “A Brilliant Courtroom Drama.” (Charles Bray,

It is the story of Robert Bratt, once a high-flying defense attorney, but now haunted by doubts over his chosen profession and the violent people he represents. He is hired to defend Marlon Small, a young tough who is accused of a brutal double-slaying. The accused’s mother is a devoutly religious woman who is certain that her son has been falsely accused, and looks to Bratt to save him. Despite the mother’s protestations, Bratt’s instincts tell him that Small’s airtight alibi is too good to be true, and he is very probably guilty. But Bratt’s drive to succeed, combined with his sympathy for the heartbroken mother, push him to defend the young man.

-Can he continue to turn a blind eye to what his client has done, and manipulate the truth as he so often has in the past, while no longer being able to look himself in the mirror?

-Loosely based on a multiple-murder that shocked Montreal in the 1990s, this riveting story pulls the reader into the inner workings of a murder trial, and reveals what one lawyer must do when he has to defend “The Guilty.”

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Genre – Courtroom Drama

Rating – R

More details about the author & the book

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