Boris poured himself a stiff scotch. He needed to unwind from a day of stressful courts, pedantic attendants, aggressive office brownie point scoring. Pick your excuse but Boris just wanted a drink. Everyone else happy to wait for wine with dinner.
‘You’ve got a good team, don’t worry,’ his partner’s empty, non-therapeutic words. ‘We all know it’s not possible to rely on eye witnesses,’ said David Meyer. His usual sweeping generalizations, oft spruiked. This man might soften his views, compensate for a world with variant shades of grey, thought Boris.
Mouth warmed with spirit, liquid heat descending slowly as Boris switched on his court voice, even though he knew this irritated David. ‘Some serious cases go to sentencing based on say-so of a distant spectator,’
‘Yes, but 75% of eyewitnesses are overturned by DNA evidence,’ replied David.
For some reason, not clear to Boris, he felt an overwhelming urge to rebut everything David uttered, this desire strengthened, especially over the last few months.
‘And many statistics can be manipulated. Or are simply untrue.’
‘Come on Boris, human minds are not tape recorders. Witness memory, like any other crime scene evidence, can be contaminated. Many factors play havoc with memory. Any astute defence lawyer, worth a percentage of their fee, should be able to shoot holes in any evidence.’ By now, David positioned himself closer to Boris’s wife, Rachel. ‘Pardon the pun.’ His hand rested lightly on her shoulder.
Boris chewed over his reply. Though they worked in the same office, tonight something smug inhabited this prick’s half grin. As if David observed something, now residing, stored in mind’s depths ready to use against Boris, exacting maximum belittlement. Perhaps some gross error of judgement made in law school. Maybe a mishandled case, fees misdirected, or something shared in confidence. To counter this unreasonable impulse, Boris often looked into mirrors and often did a little self-talk session … beware of David; stay ahead, never let your guard down.
David continued with, ‘We often watch a movie and no one can say, for sure if the star has straight or curly hair.’ Then he looked down, into Rachel’s eyes, ‘Elton John wrote a song dedicated to a lover, unsure were his eyes green or blue? Saying they were the prettiest eyes he’d ever seen.’
‘Classic back pedal by Sir Elton too, covering up a lack of knowledge with a compliment.’ Boris retorted.
Rachel unwrapped her long fingers from clutching her elbows and chirped, ‘Typical of you to see a compliment as a cover up.’ Then she turned away. On her feet, Rachel turned to face views over Bondi Beach rooftops.
‘Don’t you love her scorn?’ Boris mumbled to David, hopeful of some masculine complicity.
‘Listen mate, you really should follow up on that.’
Then David leant back to touch Rachel’s hand, and slid a finger over her slim gold wedding band, saying, ‘Poor dear, you really are under-rated by your husband.’
‘Thank you, David. At least I can rely on you to notice my husband’s short comings.’
Her expression embodied, I told you so…or you never listen to me… tearful conclusions to recent domestic disagreements. Similar partial truces littered battlegrounds of Seligman’s marriage. Intonation and word choice still surprized, at least Boris had learnt to recognize his wife’s rendition of a victim face, and fast. Frequently a signal to leave the room, to be silent, or attempt an apology. Tonight Boris used her pinched mouth and flushed lips as a signal to turn his attention elsewhere.
‘Remember Neihmayer’s American study in 1979,’ David continued. ‘Where fewer than half test subjects identified a real penny from replicas. A coin they touched every day. Not an item cloaked in trauma. Surely any criminal activity would further fuzz any imprinted images.’
‘I disagree,’ Boris replied. ‘Being a victim must strengthen memories. What about much abused Jennifer Thompson case, where she I.D’ed wrongly. When photographs of the actual perpetrator came to light, there were very limited similarities.’ Boris took another sip of spirit, enjoying a slight tingle as he moistened his lips. ‘She linked a violent ex with images burnt into her mind. Indisputable account she identified a perpetrator of crimes against her, just not one police sort to prosecute.’
Boris held his breath, surely David wasn’t conceding a point.
‘…Interesting subject, perception, particularly when it comes to crime scenes. What joins disparate views?’
‘There must be a bottom line, with perpetrator identification.’
‘I’m not sure what you mean,’ said David.
‘Take crime scene witnesses, one says he’s bonde, to another he is dark haired, one might say he’s wearing a hat. But they all say the perp is a man, right?’
‘You’re correct, yet only when caught, a perp turns out to be a slender woman with very short hair. Short red hair. What you call bottom line is what psychologist call unified perception, and there isn’t any such animal.’
Rachel rolled her eyes, and sighed heavily, ‘must you guy’s discuss work so much?’
‘Tell you what Boris, seeing as your cited examples are, with only one biased exception, American, let’s test these theory. Why don’t I get into a line up and see what happens.’
‘Like a line up featured in Usual Suspects, where a real criminal found a way to stay hidden. Simply by masking his limp.’
‘Again, an Americanised, not to mentioned fictionalised, example. Let’s try something local, shall we? Do it on April 1st, so if anything goes wrong we can call it a prank.’
Carried away with this idea, Boris failed to notice Rachel’s raised eyebrow, her neck stretch and chin lift. Nor did he see David’s nod or his tongue slide over his bottom lip. Had Boris seen these signals, things might be clearer. Or at least his suspicions about connections between David and Rachel, especially in relation to what type of ruse they were constructing.
‘So you agree then? I’ll make arrangements.’ David pushed for an agreement before Boris could barely blink. ‘There is a case we’ve got, with a suspect who isn’t too far from your description.’
‘You mean dark, brooding and devastatingly good looking.’
Rachel rolled her eyes again and scoured at his thickening waist-line and hirsute features, everywhere but on his head, or course. ‘Take more of a look at yourself, husband of mine,’ she mumbled under her breath.
‘Something like that,’ said David, stifling a giggle. ‘I’ll get you into the line-up. We will see what my victim thinks of you.’
‘Police would not conduct a line up unless they had a strong suspect.’
‘Well they do in this case.’
‘What exactly is he being accused of?’ Rachel asked.
‘Not sure if I should read charges before the event. Especially when my new number one suspect is present. This isn’t an Agatha Christie denouement. Nor do I want to pre-empt his reactions, you know Boris is a terrible actor.’
‘How can you say that when you were part of university reviews and theatre sports team with me.’
‘For this exact reason I can be a resident expert on matters pertaining to your thespian skills.’
‘Oh my God,’ said Rachel. ‘Do you remember one dreadful tango number with Boris in drag? Cringe-worthy.’
So it came to be, one bright, sparkling Sydney morning Boris Seligman, for an April fool’s joke, agreed to join a police line-up in a case of alleged burglary and attempted rape. He slipped a chit indicating he should stand in position four, failed to notice the date was already April, 2nd, into the front pocket of his Armani suit. Then strolled leisurely in with a group of alleged criminals, avoiding eye contact and tried not to pass judgement on his, in this case, line-up peers. Of course Boris alone wore a suit. While others dressed with less affluence. Efforts were made to counter obvious quality of lawyer clothing, eliminate a farcical spot-the-odd-one-out competition and further cloak the muse. So one lawyer nonchalantly passed suspect number seven a suit coat. These ‘perps’ resembled best dressed alleged rapist in town, thought Boris. Along with trying to dismiss considering said coat might never be returned to its rightful owner.
To astonishment of others watching, the victim, a still traumatized woman identified Seligman as her attacker.
‘Are you sure, ma’am? No need to rush,’ reassured supervising policemen. Doubts filled every building crevice; crouched unspoken in corners. Regardless, staff tried to save the girl more embarrassment. They’d all attended workshops in victim affirmation, and this poor, droopy woman recently encountered more than her share of problems. Everyone empathizsed with this shaken creature, who didn’t need to hear from a whole lot of doubting Thomas constables. Besides most of them were in on this lawyer’s joke, meaning any attempts to highlight her incorrect finger of guilt included getting past burgeoning giggles.
Other lawyers instantly feared, not for the first time, a prank went too far, but Seligman remained sanguine. He had sure-fire alibi: on night in question he and his wife dined with David Meyer, friends since law school. David, best man at Boris’s wedding, for God sake. Both men held senior partner status in a prestigious law firm. You can’t get more water tight. But David, after consulting his desk diary denied attending said dinner party. Then Seligman’s wife confirmed, ‘no gathering at their apartment, this event didn’t occure on 19th, Boris got dates wrong, again. No, their dinner party occurred on the 23rd. An altered date due to longer than expected hearing out at a country court.’
Facts easy to cross check. Yet Boris remained adamant, he too could check a diary. Pity he’d already failed to notice a slip-up of 24 hours. Wouldn’t you know this particular page, and two either side, proved to be torn out. His personal assistant, while looking complicit knew nothing about why these pages were missing. Boris often wanted to apply notions of incrimination concerning facial expressions, but admitted you can’t punish a woman for twinkles in her eyes, contortions of lips or slight blush on cheeks.
‘I distinctly remember this occasion?’ Boris tried to explain to interviewing officers. ‘We meet every three weeks. On our most recent gathering, we set up for me to be in a line up to test eye witness theories and now you see what has now happened.’ CCTV recording equipment looked down on him like an evil eye. ‘Ipso facto I am right now sure an incorrect person is identified. Ring my wife again. Rachel will confirm, please re-check with her. Woman of razor sharp recall, particularly if it means I am, as a result of her input, found to be incorrect.’ He scratched at nasty pimple below his ear, trying to recall as many details as possible. ‘Now, if I remember correctly on said dinner 19th, she poached fantastic salmon and did a white chocolate cheese cake for dessert.’ Another image floated into his brain, ‘…and, spent a tidy sum on a new Weiss dress to wear. For why I can only wonder. Right now I am unable to address issues of who, or whom, she wanted to impress. And am in a quandary as why she is telling you a different date?’
Although Rachel agreed to be available for any such police matters requiring further discussion, their house phone rang un-answered.
‘Mobile won’t let me leave a voice message,’ a desk sergeant complained, ‘It’s almost as if she dropped off the face of earth.’
But then a patrol car radioed in, her BMW seen entering Sebel-on-the-Harbour, near Circular Quay, recognizable as computerised parking system captured numberplate details, and a female driver who resembled Mrs Seligman, proceeded down to an underground car-park ramp. Sure enough CCTV footage from foyer and lift zones showed David Meyer and Rachel Seligman unable to keep their hands off each other.
‘That’s some serious face-sucking,’ a comment heard from one member of a police gallery gathered to review footage.