The accused, p.10
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       The Accused, p.10

         Part #3 of Theodore Boone series by John Grisham
 
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  He made it safely to Ike’s office, though, and bounded up the steps to a wonderfully messy room where his cranky old uncle barely earned enough money to survive. In spite of his cluttered desk and his Boone-like fondness of work, Ike did not really push himself. He lived alone in a small apartment. He drove an old Spitfire with a million miles on it. He didn’t need much, so he didn’t work much. Especially on Fridays. Theo knew from experience that most lawyers ran out of gas around noon on Friday. The courthouse was much quieter. It was hard to find a judge on Friday afternoon. The clerks took longer lunch breaks and began sneaking away as soon as possible.

  Ike, though no longer a real lawyer, certainly followed this tradition. He slept late, something he did almost every day, and puttered around his office until the crack of noon when he walked downstairs to the Greek deli for lunch. To start the weekend properly, Ike had two glasses of wine with his Friday lunch.

  Theo and Judge arrived around 10:30, and Ike, after three cups of coffee, was hyper and talkative. “I have a suspect, Theo, not a real person, not a name, not yet, but I have an idea that we must pursue. Are you with me?”

  “Sure, Ike.”

  “First, though, I want to hear all about the fight. Every detail. Every kick, punch, bloody nose. Tell me you punched some little thug in the face.”

  Ike’s feet were on his desk—dirty sandals, no socks. So Theo kicked back in his chair and put his feet on the desk, too. “Well, it happened real fast,” he began, and launched into a long and fairly accurate account of the fight. Ike was grinning, a very proud uncle. Theo did not embellish much, and he resisted the temptation to improve his skills as a brawler. When he finished describing the meeting with Mrs. Gladwell, and the suspension, Ike said, “Good for you, Theo. Sometimes you have no choice. Wear the suspension like a badge of honor.”

  “Did you hear about the search warrant?” Theo asked, anxious to share all of the week’s adventures.

  “What search warrant?” Ike demanded. Theo told that story, and Ike never stopped shaking his head. To lighten things up, Theo asked, “Have you ever heard of a spitting llama?” Ike had not, so Theo recounted in great detail his latest adventure in Animal Court.

  When the story time was over, Ike jumped to his feet, cracked his knuckles, and said, “Okay, Theo. Our task is to find the person who’s trying to frame you, right?”

  “Right.”

  “I’ve thought about nothing else for the past forty-eight hours. Tell me what you know so far.”

  “Not much. My dad is convinced that it’s someone from inside the school, most likely another student because an adult would have a hard time getting into my locker without being suspicious. He thinks it’s more than one kid.”

  “I agree completely. Who’s your number one suspect?”

  “I don’t have one, Ike. My parents have pushed me to make a list of all the kids who may have a grudge. I’m not saying I’m the greatest guy at school, but I really can’t think of anyone who would, (a) break into my locker and steal stuff on Monday, then, (b) break in and rob the computer store Tuesday night, leaving the cap behind, then, (c) break into my locker again on Wednesday and plant the stolen tablets, all in an effort to get me thrown in jail. Somebody out there really, really hates me, and I just can’t think of who it might be.”

  “That’s because you don’t know him. You’ve probably never met him. Maybe you’ve seen him, but you don’t know it.”

  Ike was pacing back and forth behind his desk, scratching his gray beard, frowning in deep thought.

  “Okay,” Theo replied. “Who is it?”

  Ike suddenly sat down and leaned across his desk, staring at Theo with glowing eyes. “Your parents are lawyers, and good ones. Lawyers take cases that involve people who are mad, upset, hurt, in trouble, ticked off enough to spend a lot of money filing a lawsuit. Now, your father is a real estate lawyer, which is a pretty dull way to make a living if you ask me. He does a lot of paperwork. He deals with people who are buying and selling homes, buildings, land, you know what I’m talking about.”

  “I’m not going to be a real estate lawyer,” Theo said.

  “Attaboy. My point being he does not deal with clients who are engaged in conflict. Right?”

  “Right.”

  “Your mother, on the other hand, deals with nothing but conflict, and the worst kind. Divorces. Marriages blow up. Husbands and wives fighting over who gets custody of the kids, who gets the house, the cars, the furniture, the money. Charges of adultery, abuse, neglect. Terrible cases sometimes, Theo. I never had the stomach for divorce. Your mother, though, is one of the best. Always has been.”

  Theo was nodding, listening, waiting. He knew all of this.

  Ike tapped his fingertips together and said, “A divorce is an awful thing for a child, Theo. The two people he loves most suddenly can’t live together, they no longer love each other, in fact they often hate each other, and in the process of splitting up they use the child as a prize to fight over. For the child, it is traumatic, bewildering, and quite painful. The child is not sure which parent will get custody, so the child does not know where he/she will be living. Often, the husband and wife are forced to sell the family home. Sometimes the child prefers one parent over another and is forced to choose. Imagine, Theo, being forced to choose whether you want to live with your mother or your father. A divorce is an emotional shock for a child, and the damage lasts for a long time.” He paused to scratch his beard. Then, “I think your problems are linked to one of your mother’s divorce cases. I think one of her clients has a kid in your school, and this kid secretly hates you because he doesn’t like the way the divorce is going. Since your mother always represents the wife, and the wife almost always gets custody of the children, maybe this kid doesn’t like his mother and wants to live with his father, who, for obvious reasons, really doesn’t like Marcella Boone. This intense dislike of your mother is not at all unusual in divorce cases, and it’s probably shared with the children who are caught in the crossfire.”

  Two bricks, one on each shoulder, suddenly vanished into the air, and Theo felt much lighter. What a brilliant idea! And one that had never occurred to Theo. But Ike, the wise old uncle, could see it all.

  He continued: “You may wonder why Marcella hasn’t mentioned this. She has probably given it some thought, but your mother is such a zealous advocate for her clients that she often does not see the big picture. And, she is such a professional that she would never consider giving away the secrets of her clients.”

  “Not even to protect her own son?”

  “Sure, Theo, if your mother thought you might be harmed by someone involved in one of her cases, I have no doubt she would do everything possible to protect you. But lawyers such as your mother can become so determined to protect their clients that they develop blind spots. They don’t see what others might see. And, you have to admit, Theo, this is some pretty outrageous behavior by our mystery kid. Not exactly the type of behavior that could be anticipated by your mother or anyone else for that matter. Your mother has handled so many divorces for so many years she probably doesn’t think about grudges being carried by the children of her clients.”

  “Do I have a chat with my mother?”

  “And ask her what? Who’s in the middle of a bad divorce, with kids at your school? Suppose she can think of a couple of cases. Suppose you narrow the list of suspects. Somehow, not sure exactly, but let’s say you’re able to prove the mystery kid is the real culprit. The kid gets arrested for burglarizing the computer store, kicked out of school, all the bad stuff that he deserves. You’re off the hook and the kid’s in big trouble, right?”

  “Right.”

  “There is the possibility your mother could get into some trouble herself. Her client will not be happy with her because she’s responsible, in part, for the client’s kid getting into a serious jam. I mean, this kid will do time in a detention facility, and the finger might be pointed at your mother. Sure the kid’s guilty and sho
uld be punished, but the client will feel as though your mother violated her privacy. It puts your mother in a dicey situation.”

  “You have a plan?”

  “Always. Did you bring your laptop?”

  Theo patted his backpack and said, “Right here.”

  “Good. Let’s go online and check the cases filed in Family Court. Make a list of all of the current divorce cases in which your mother is the lawyer. We’ll go through the most active ones and make a list of those in which there are kids involved, kids who go to your school. At that point, the list should be pretty short.”

  Theo was already unloading his laptop. “This is a brilliant idea, Ike.”

  “We’ll see.”

  The Family Court clerk’s docket divided divorces into various categories: Contested-Uncontested; Active-Inactive; Children-No Children; In Discovery-Awaiting Trial. After half an hour, with Theo on his laptop and Ike pecking away at his bulky desktop, they had a list of twenty-one active divorce cases in which Marcella Boone represented the wife. Of those, three were in the No Children category and therefore removed from the list. Five more were in the Uncontested category, and Ike felt as though these could be eliminated, too. Uncontested divorces were much easier and quicker and did not create the raw feelings that would lead someone to slash tires and throw rocks through windows.

  “What does ‘Secured’ mean?” Theo asked as they scanned the records.

  “It means trouble for us,” Ike said. “I had forgotten about the Secured Docket. There are some divorce cases in which the claims of bad conduct are particularly nasty, and either party can ask the judge to secure the file, which means it’s locked away and is only available to the attorneys involved. Nothing is made public. It could be our dead end, unless, of course, we have access to your mother’s files. But let’s keep going.”

  Ike made a list of the client’s last names involved in the thirteen cases on their list, and Theo downloaded the directory of students at Strattenburg Middle School. Cross-checking, the list shrunk to about half, with a possible seven cases involving kids in Theo’s school. Some names were so common, though, that they could not be included or excluded. There was a Smith, a Johnson, a Miller, and a Green. Looking at the names, Theo felt somewhat relieved. He did not know any of the kids with the last names on the list.

  Two years earlier, when Theo was in the sixth grade, a girl named Nancy Griffin told him his mother had been her mother’s lawyer in a recent divorce. The divorce was over, final, and Mrs. Griffin was quite pleased with the work Theo’s mother had done. This was the first time Theo realized Mrs. Boone’s job could affect his friends and classmates. He later asked his mother about it and demanded to know why she had not informed him. Mrs. Boone carefully, and sternly, explained that lawyers work with certain ethical rules, and one of the most important is complete secrecy about a client’s business.

  Ike scribbled on a legal pad, and said, “So we have a possibility of seven names, or seven divorce cases being handled by your mother with the kids in your school. Recognize anyone?”

  “Not really. There’s a kid named Tony Green in the seventh grade, but we don’t know if he’s in the right Green family. Other than that, nothing looks familiar.”

  “Let’s go back to the Secured Docket,” Ike said, and Theo was there a good ten seconds before his uncle. There were eight cases under lock and key, and identified only by the last name of the wife or husband who had filed the lawsuit for divorce. The names of the attorneys were not listed.

  Ike said, “You gotta figure that the divorce we’re looking for is a nasty one. The parents are fighting for custody, and our mystery kid prefers to live with his father. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be attacking the son of his mother’s lawyer. Make sense?”

  “I guess.”

  “For a father to gain custody, he must prove the mother is unfit to raise the kids. The law always prefers the mother, and it’s rare that the father gets custody.”

  “I know,” Theo said.

  “To prove a mother unfit, the father has to come up with all sorts of bad behavior on the part of the mother. Those cases often end up being protected by the Secured Docket, and for obvious reasons.”

  “Then we’re out of luck.”

  “Yes, unless we could take a peek at your mother’s files.”

  “Are you crazy?”

  “Yes, Theo, I’m crazy, been that way for some time now. And I’ll do crazy things to find out who’s stalking you, harassing you, and trying to get you convicted of a serious crime. Call me crazy, but maybe it’s time to break some rules. You got in a fight yesterday and broke a rule. But, you really had no choice, right?”

  “Right, I guess.”

  “I’m not talking about breaking the law, Theo. It would not be illegal to look at Marcella’s files. Might be a bit unethical, but we’re not going to give away sensitive information. And, it might be the only way to solve this little mystery.”

  “I don’t know, Ike.”

  “What type of digital storage system does the firm use?”

  “It’s called InfoBrief, a pretty basic system, just for storage, cataloging, and cutting down on paper.”

  “Who has access to it?”

  “Not me. My parents, Dorothy and Vince, and Elsa, but my dad and Dorothy rarely use it. My mom and Vince use it as a way to keep everything in order and find stuff without digging through a bunch of paperwork. Plus it has all the legal research built in.”

  “Can you get a password?”

  Theo thought about this for a long time. If he got the password, and gave it to Ike, then he would be an accomplice to something. Not a crime, maybe, but certainly something he would rather avoid. He was in enough hot water already. The last thing he wanted was his mother yelling at him for violating her clients’ privacy.

  “Look, Ike, I’ll just go to my mom and tell her what I think. I’ll lay out our theory, and ask for her help. She is my mother, you know?”

  “That’s a great idea, Theo, and it makes good sense. But don’t do it right now. Let’s see if we can crack this case without getting her involved. I don’t want to ask Marcella Boone to give me sensitive information about a client.”

  “Is this a long shot, Ike?”

  “Maybe, but it’s the best theory so far. The police are not looking at anyone else because they’re convinced you’re the thief. They might show up any day now with a warrant to haul you into Youth Court. If we don’t find the real criminal soon, Theo, this situation will get much worse. Do you understand?”

  “Yes, believe me, I understand.”

  “Listen to me, Theo. A long time ago, I was a successful lawyer in Strattenburg, had an office just down the hall from your mother, had lots of clients, and life was good. Then the cops showed up and started asking questions. I didn’t have all the answers. They came back with more questions, then more. I couldn’t believe what was happening and I slowly realized I was headed for trouble, but I couldn’t stop it. Once the criminal justice system starts moving against you, it’s hard to stop. Believe me, Theo, I’ve been there. It’s a rotten feeling. The sky is falling and there’s no place to hide.”

  It was the first time Ike had ever talked about his troubles, his past, and Theo was fascinated. He decided to ask the question he had always wanted to ask. “Were you guilty, Ike?”

  Ike thought about this, and finally said, “I did some things wrong, Theo, things I’ll always regret. You, on the other hand, have done nothing wrong, and that’s why I don’t mind breaking a few little rules to protect you. Let’s get to the bottom of this, now, and get the police off your back.”

  “Okay, okay.”

  “Can you get me the password?”

  “I think so.”

  Chapter 17

  Again, Theo and Judge avoided the busy streets as they returned to the law offices of Boone & Boone. Theo was so deep in thought, and so thoroughly confused, that he ran a stop sign and darted in front of a mail carrier. “Watch it, kid!” the ma
n yelled, and Theo said, “Sorry,” over his shoulder. Judge raced ahead, as if he wanted to keep his distance from Theo.

  It was lunchtime, and Elsa and Dorothy were eating salads in the kitchen, both talking at the same time. Theo slipped by without being seen. His mother’s office was empty. “Probably tied up in court,” he mumbled to himself. Vince’s door was open but he was gone. He usually left the building for lunch. His desktop was on, as always, with the screen saver visible.

  The easiest way to “borrow” the password was to take it from one of the five PCs. Each lawyer had one, plus Vince, Dorothy, and Elsa. If Theo really believed he could go so far as “borrowing” a password, then this was the perfect opportunity. But, he was having a difficult time convincing himself that it was the right thing to do. Ike was convinced, but Theo wasn’t Ike. Theo knew it was wrong, maybe not illegal, but certainly wrong.

  The line between right and wrong had always been clear; now, though, nothing was clear. The wrongs were piling on top of him. It was wrong for someone to break into his locker and plant stolen loot with the obvious goal of getting him in serious trouble. It was wrong for someone to stalk him, to slash his tires and throw a rock through his window. Theo had done nothing wrong, yet he was now being treated like a criminal. The police had the wrong suspect. The police were wrong in not believing him, and if Theo were to be charged by the police, another wrong would occur. It was wrong for Theo to jump into the fight, though his father and Vince and Ike seemed to think it was not so wrong. Was it wrong for Theo to break an office rule and steal a password, all in an effort to prevent another, much larger wrong? Could doing something wrong lead to the right result?

  It was all so confusing, but Theo trusted Ike, and Ike had no doubt that taking the password was the right thing to do.

  Theo led Judge back to his office and told him to take a nap. When the dog was situated, Theo eased down the hallway and listened for voices. Dorothy and Elsa were talking about recipes. No sound from his father upstairs—Woods Boone was known to take his own nap during lunch. Theo slipped into Vince’s office, closed the door, and locked it. He sat in Vince’s chair, and, careful not to disturb anything on his desk, examined his PC. The screen saver was a stock photo of a sunset over the ocean. Theo clicked on Main Menu, then on InfoBrief. A password was demanded, so he exited and went to My Computer. He clicked on Desktop, then Control Panel, then System and Security, then Passwords. Vince had a lot of passwords, and Theo felt like a creep for looking at them. Passwords for online retail accounts, cell phones, two dating sites, a travel site, fantasy football, and at least a dozen others. At the end of the list was InfoBrief, and Theo clicked on it. The password Avalanche88TeeBone33 appeared. Theo quickly wrote it down, then exited to Main Menu. He clicked on InfoBrief, entered the password, and the screen went blank for five seconds until “InfoBrief-Boone & Boone-Account Code: 647R” appeared. Theo wrote down the code and clicked on Enter. A long list of case names appeared, names such as Denise Sneiter versus William B. Sneiter, and Theo knew he had found his mother’s divorce cases. He quickly exited, returned to the screen saver, and stood without touching anything else. He took a deep breath and turned the doorknob, certain that someone was outside just waiting to pounce on him. But the coast was clear, and he hurried back to his little office where his dog was still sleeping and everything was safe.

  Theo knew that the InfoBrief account would record an entry at 12:14 p.m., Friday, from Vince’s computer, but he doubted if it would be noticed anytime soon. If anyone questioned him, he would simply deny everything. It was, after all, Friday afternoon and there was a good chance neither Vince nor his mother nor anyone else would use InfoBrief until Monday morning, and, more importantly, the system’s entry record was not something that was routinely pulled up and examined.

  Though his little crime so far seemed perfect, Theo felt lousy about it. He debated whether he would actually give Ike the password and code, and as the minutes passed he was inclined not to. It was one thing to sneak around and lift them from Vince’s lightly secured computer, but it was something far more serious for Ike to actually open the files and dig for sensitive information.

  His mother arrived just before 1:00 p.m. She had brought lunch and they ate at the conference room table with Mr. Boone. The mood was somber and they talked about things other than Theo’s mess. As he nibbled on a sandwich, he was tempted to bring up the idea that the conspiracy against him could be related to one of his mother’s bad divorce cases, but Ike had told him to wait.

  So he waited.

  Theo was in his office, plowing through homework and watching the clock move slowly, when Elsa buzzed him through the phone intercom. “Theo, there’s someone here to see you,” she said.

  “Who is it?” he asked, startled and then afraid the police were back.

  “A friend.”

  Theo hurried to the front of the building. Standing awkwardly by Elsa’s desk was Griff, who, when last seen the morning before, was receiving suspension from Mrs. Gladwell just like Theo. They walked into the conference room and Theo closed the door. They sat in the heavy leather chairs and Griff looked around the room. “Pretty cool,” he said. “Is this yours?”

  “I use it sometimes,” Theo said. “I have a small office in the back.”

  After an awkward pause, Griff asked, “Did your parents yell at you?”

  “Not too bad. What about you?”

  “They weren’t too happy. I’m grounded for a month, extra work around the house, no allowance for two weeks, but I guess it could’ve been worse.”

  “Sounds pretty bad.”

  “Look, Theo, the reason I’m here is that my parents want me to apologize for the fight. So, I apologize.”

  “No problem,” Theo said. “I apologize, too. It was all pretty stupid, you know?”

  “Yep, pretty stupid. Baxter’s got a big mouth and it gets him in trouble.”

  “Baxter apologized, too. Let’s forget about it.”

  “Done.” Another pause, but Griff had something else on his mind. “Look, Theo, the rumor is that the cops think you broke into Big Mac’s and stole a bunch of stuff and some of it was found in your locker. Is that right?”

  Theo nodded.

  “Well, I find it hard to believe because I don’t think you would break into a store at night and steal stuff, you know. That’s not like you.”

  “Tell that to the police.”

  “I will if you want me to.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Anyway, Big Mac has been telling people in the store that the police have
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