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Home > Caught(4)

Caught(4)
Author: Harlan Coben

“And you broke into his house, didn’t you?”

Wendy tried to hold his gaze, tried not to look guilty, whatever the heck that meant. “That’s not really accurate, no.”

“It’s not? Well, my dear, I want to make sure that we are as accurate as humanly possible, so let’s back up, shall we?” He strolled across the courtroom as though it were a catwalk in Milan. He even had the audacity to smile at the families of the victims. Most made a point of not looking at Flair, but one of the fathers, Ed Grayson, stared daggers. Flair seemed unfazed.

“How did you first encounter my client?”

“He came on to me in a chat room.”

Flair’s eyebrows went skyward. “Really?” Like it was the most fascinating thing anyone had ever said. “What sort of chat room?”

“A chat room frequented by children.”

“And you were in this chat room?”

“Yes.”

“You’re not a child, Ms. Tynes. I mean, you may not be to my taste, but even I can see that you are a rather luscious female adult.”

“Objection!”

Judge Howard sighed. “Mr. Hickory?”

Flair smiled, waved his apology. This was the kind of thing only Flair could get away with. “Now, Ms. Tynes, when you were in this chat room, you were pretending to be an underage girl, isn’t that correct?”

“Yes.”

“You then engaged in conversations designed to entice men into wanting sex with you, isn’t that also correct?”

“No.”

“How’s that?”

“I always let them make the first move.”

Flair shook his head and made a tsk-tsk noise. “If I had a dollar for every time I said that . . .”

A smattering of laughter rippled through the courtroom.

The judge said, “We have the transcripts, Mr. Hickory. We can read them and decide for ourselves.”

“Excellent point, Your Honor, thank you.”

Wendy wondered why Dan Mercer wasn’t here, but that was probably obvious. This was an evidentiary hearing, ergo, there was no requirement to attend. Flair Hickory was hoping to persuade the judge to throw out the horrible, sickening, stomach-turning material the police had found on Mercer’s computer and hidden throughout his house. If he could pull this off—everyone agreed it was a long shot—the case against Dan Mercer would probably vanish and a sick predator would be out on the streets.

“By the way”—Flair spun back toward Wendy—“how did you know it was my client on the other end of these online conversations?”

“I didn’t at first.”

“Oh? With whom did you think you were conversing?”

“I didn’t have a name. That’s part of it. I just knew at that stage that it was some guy who was trolling for sex with underage girls.”

“How did you know that?”

“Excuse me?”

Flair made quote marks with his fingers. “ ‘ Trolling for sex with underage girls,’ as you put it. How did you know that was what the person on the other end of the conversation was doing?”

“Like the judge said, Mr. Hickory. Read the transcripts.”

“Oh, I have. And do you know what I concluded?”

That got Lee Portnoi up. “Objection. We don’t care what Mr. Hickory concluded. He isn’t giving testimony here.”

“Sustained.”

Flair moved back to his desk and started checking through notes. Wendy looked over at the gallery. It helped her resolve. Those people out there had suffered greatly. Wendy was helping them find justice. Much as you could pretend to be jaded or claim that it was just her job, it meant a great deal to her—the good she had done. But when she met Ed Grayson’s eyes, she saw something there that she didn’t like. Something angry in his stare. Challenging maybe.

Flair put the papers down. “Well, let me put it to you this way, Ms. Tynes: If a reasonable person were to read those transcripts, would they definitely, without a doubt, conclude that one of the participants was a luscious, thirty-six-year-old, female news reporter—”

“Objection!”

“—or might they conclude that it had been written by a thirteen-year-old girl?”

Wendy opened her mouth, closed it, waited. Judge Howard said, “You can answer.”

“I was pretending to be a thirteen-year-old girl.”

“Ah,” Flair said, “who hasn’t?”

“Mr. Hickory,” the judge warned.

“Sorry, Your Honor, couldn’t resist. Well, Ms. Tynes, if I were just reading those messages, I wouldn’t know that you were pretending, would I? I would think you were indeed a thirteen-year-old girl.”

Lee Portnoi threw up his hands. “Is there a question in there?”

“Here it comes, sweetie, so listen up: Were those messages written by a thirteen-year-old girl?”

“Asked and answered, Your Honor.”

Flair said, “It’s a simple yes or no. Was the author of those messages a thirteen-year-old girl?”

Judge Howard nodded that she could answer.

“No,” Wendy said.

“In fact, as you said, you were pretending to be a thirteen-year-old girl, correct?”

“Correct.”

“And for all you know, the person on the other end was pretending to be an adult male seeking underage sex. For all you knew, you were talking to an albino nun with herpes, correct?”

“Objection.”

Wendy met Flair’s eyes. “An albino nun with herpes didn’t show up looking for sex at the child’s house.”

But Flair would have none of it. “What house would that be, Ms. Tynes? The house where you set up your cameras? Tell me, did an underage girl live there?”

Wendy said nothing.

“Please answer the question,” the judge said.

“No.”

“But you were there, correct? Perhaps whoever was on the other side of your online communications—and we really don’t know who that was at this point—but perhaps that person had seen your news”—Flair said it as though the word “news” itself tasted bad in his mouth—“program and decided to play along so he could meet a luscious thirty-six-year-old TV star. Isn’t that possible?”

Portnoi was up. “Objection, Your Honor. These are matters for the jury.”

“True enough,” Flair said. “We can argue the obvious case of false entrapment there.” He turned back to Wendy. “Let’s stay on the night of January seventeenth, shall we? What happened after you confronted my client at your sting house?”

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