by Henry Simpson
Costa followed a
cobblestone path through the thick green lawn to the courthouse. A peaked arch
framed a side entrance on which were chiseled the words, “Reason Is The Life Of
The Law.” Seven wide steps rose from the path to an entrance well and, beyond
it, four more to a wrought iron and glass door. Through the door, Costa found
himself in a white hallway with high beamed ceilings punctuated by white arches
and suspended chandeliers over a sparkling red tile floor. Murals and courtroom
doors alternated along walls.
He sat on a wooden bench
against a wall. With courtroom action behind closed doors, the hallway was
quiet except for distant faint echoes of voices and footsteps.
After a minute or so, a
young man in an ill-fitting suit opened a courtroom door, entered the hallway,
and disappeared through an exit; a paralegal on an urgent errand for a lawyer
inside the courtroom?
Minutes later, a police
officer carrying a briefcase opened a door and entered a courtroom; a
prosecution witness carrying evidence?
Irregular footsteps drew
Costa’s attention to a one-legged woman on crutches, moving through the hallway
beside a man; wife and husband suing for loss of a limb?
More movement, doors
opening and closing, distant voices and footsteps.
He closed his eyes and
revisited his last case, in a sterile, noisy, and malodorous L.A. courthouse
larger and less grand than this one. It involved contract killer Wade Voss and
his nitwit accomplice Larry Lenz. With Lenz as lookout, Voss murdered a Federal
judge in his office. Lenz was later stopped at a DUI checkpoint and arrested
when the murder weapon was found during a search of his car. He incriminated
Voss during interrogation. When Voss was arrested, Lenz recanted his statement.
Jail guards later found Lenz in his cell, hanging from a noose.
Absent prosecution witness
Lenz, Costa could easily have won Voss’ acquittal, but he withdrew from the
case and had it reassigned to a colleague. To Costa, it marked the end of his
association with the Carbones and career with Kern, Brough, and Klein. After
court on the day of his resignation, he followed Voss through a crowd of
reporters to a limousine waiting at curbside. Voss slid into the backseat,
looked up at him, and drew an index finger across his throat. At that moment,
Costa decided to leave L.A.
Since then, he had spoken
occasionally to John and Carlo. Only once was Voss’ death threat mentioned. “He
was real steamed up,” Carlo said.
“I got that impression,”
“Keep that brick on the
nightstand.” Carlo made a deep rumbling laugh, followed by a struggle to regain
breath. The Capo had nicknamed Costa “Joey Brick” for breaking the skull of a
thug with a brick when he tried to hijack his Porsche near a Carbon
Construction Company building site. Man and brick were now entombed in the
foundation of a high-rise condominium building.
“If he wants me, I’m not
hard to find,” Costa said.
“You’re still family,
Joey. Wade knows the rules. If he touches you, he’ll go on our list.”
It was nice to hear that
his death would be avenged, but Costa preferred a less fatalistic option.
Lost in thought on the
bench, he became aware of a red dot light flitting like a hummingbird along a
wall and then vanishing at a window. What was that?
He stood, checked his
surroundings, and scanned the hallway. Darkness and shadows. He focused afar,
his eyes adapting to the dimness at the end of the hallway. He sensed movement,
a figure walking briskly. Possibly a man, but the hallway was too dim and the
figure too distant to be sure. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it
Voices and footstep echoes
approached from his left. He turned that way, stood still against the wall, and
waited. Soon a docent led a tour group from a stairway landing into the hallway
toward him while describing the architectural details, murals, and other points
of interest. They were a motley crew of middle-aged and senior tourist couples
in shorts, bright tops, and baseball caps, armed with digital cameras and
toting souvenir bags. Laggards with kids in tow trailed the main body.
The docent, a well-dressed
gray-haired woman, recited her lines like a member of an amateur theatre group:
“This courthouse is a truly magnificent structure. It covers one full city
block in the center of downtown. It is four stories tall, built in an L shape,
with two wings, each 370 feet long. It was designed by Thomas Mooser Architects
after the 1925 earthquake in a classical style that combines elements of
Spanish and Moorish architecture, with turrets, stained glass windows, and huge
wooden doors. The Santa Barbara Police Department occupies the north wing, and
the windows on the upper two stories are covered with bars to prevent prisoners
from escaping the city jail. From the outside, it is hard to imagine that
prisoners dwell there; it would better suit the chambers of judges or other
high municipal officials. This exquisite and noble structure at once comprises
the entire legal system, from police to courtrooms to jailhouse. Moreover, it
is a first-rate tourist attraction that draws visitors to its architectural
splendor every day and to concerts and shows staged on the verdant bowl of its
Sunken Garden during the summer.”
Costa smiled as he watched
the tour group pass, its members gawking in all directions and chatting among
themselves. The courthouse was a rich confection, and he found it hard to
imagine any lawyer actually working in its courtrooms.
Suddenly, a door banged
open, and out charged a queue seeking fresh air, a cigarette, lunch, a
restroom, or simple escape. Soon they were gone, and peace reigned again.
So much for architecture.
“Joe Costa,” said a man’s
Costa noticed a man
leaning against the wall, looking directly at him. Early forties, medium
height, well dressed in tailored tan suit and blue tie.
“Have we met?” Costa said.
“I know you,” the man
said, extending his hand. “You’re Joe Costa, right?” His voice was cloying and
overfamiliar, like a pushy salesman’s.
Costa nodded, ignoring the
“I heard some guys in L.A.
Criminal Court. They called you Joe Goldbrick, or maybe it was Joey the Brick,
something like that. Those guys, I don’t think they were lawyers, maybe they
were your clients, you know, wiseguys. They called you that, smoking in the
hall. That’s illegal now, smoking in the courthouse hall.”
“Who the fuck are you?”
“Apparently, you don’t
recognize me, though we frequented common environs. Let me introduce myself.
I’m Tom Price. I’m a lawyer, too, from L.A. I used to watch you dance in court,
saw you on TV, read about you in the papers. Then you disappeared. What
“Change of career.”
Price smiled with a set of
perfect white teeth. “No kidding. You were hot stuff, a major league player.
So, why’d you quit?”
Costa moved closer to
Price. “For reasons of health.”
Price snickered. “Okay, so
. . . what’s your new game?”
“You’re selling real
estate?” He shook his head. “Then, what’re you doing in a courthouse?”
“You got a card, Joey?”
“Why? You must be kidding.
I thought real estate people were hustlers. I might be interested in looking at
Costa handed him a
“You’re still Joey the
Brick,” Price said.
Costa stiffened, and then
kicked a leg out from under Price, who collapsed to the floor hard, a fountain
pen and laser pointer popping from his coat pocket onto the red tiles.
“Stay away from me,” Costa
He walked down the hallway
to the stairwell, and then climbed up it step by step to the bell tower
lookout. It was a lovely sunny day, and he lingered there enjoying the rooftop
view of downtown Santa Barbara—terra cotta tiles, white walls, arches, palms,
slow-moving traffic on narrow, quiet streets, green hills rising to the
sheltering Santa Ynez mountains.
Simpson is the author of several novels, two short story collections, many book
reviews, and occasional pieces in literary journals. His most recent novel
is Golden Girl (Newgame, 2017).
Christopher Goss, longtime
Black Petals and Yellow Mama contributor, has recently
made some lifestyle changes, moving from Del Rio Texas, where he made his
living building and servicing radio and TV towers, to Spearville, Kansas, where
he now works on giant generators on a 300-unit wind farm. He has also started
dabbling in some photo art, along with his dark fiction and poetry.