small, neat goatee. But his voice was deep and soothing, and his many years in front of judge and jury had left the indelible marks of confidence and wisdom on his brow. And what he lacked in looks he made up for in flamboyant dress. His clothes weren't only expensive, they were colorful. Some people would even say loud.

'Innocent until proven guilty,' he said. 'We all know that.'

'Maybe we should talk to him,' Casey said as if she were casually considering the move.

Tony knew her game, not that he minded. He was an outsider in this setting, just as much as she was, probably more. She, at least, had married into the upper crust of Texas society, the Vanderhorns and the Watts, the Gardeners, the Rienholfs, and, of course, her own husband's family, the Jordans. They were rich, every one of them, and most of them had earned their money the old-fashioned way: They had inherited it. The ones who could took great delight in drawing a direct line to some distant forefather who manufactured paint or firearms or had owned one particular county or another. A snobbish, worthless group in Tony Cronic's estimation, but he was almost used to them by now, and he knew how Casey loved to impress them.

He didn't fault her for it. He knew how deep she wanted to bury her modest beginnings, a small, dusty farm outside Odessa. The clear image of her family in attendance at her grand wedding came suddenly into his mind. They were a worn-out, sad-looking bunch, and their ill-fitting formal clothes were so far out of style that they might have been a troop of comics. But there hadn't been anything comical about them. They drank too much and grew louder as the evening wore on. Casey, everyone knew, had been mortified. A lesser woman would have been reduced to tears when her father stood on his chair in the midst of Texas society and flipped his middle finger to the band when they were unable to play a rendition of 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia.'

But Casey came through it like she came through everything else, with her chin held high. She had run from her past in search of a glamorous life. All anyone had to do was look at her now to know she had made it. Still, there were times when Tony thought she was overeager to please a set of people who paled in comparison to her. He had subtly suggested on more than one occasion that she not demean herself by pandering to them, but she would only slap his arm playfully and say, 'Oh, Tony,' the way she did when she was refusing to talk about something. So he'd given up years ago. In fact, he'd given up on the day that she married into that 'society.'

He supposed that if she had to join the company of such an overrated bunch that at least she'd taken the best they had to offer. Her husband did something anyway, or at least he pretended to. Taylor Jordan never stopped talking about the deals he made all over the globe. But Tony looked at the man and had to wonder. Right now, he was covertly leering past the centerpiece at old-man Rienholf 's twenty-eight-year-old blond bride.

Who knew if he was really doing deals in the first place? Tony wouldn't be surprised if he simply used his 'deals' as an excuse to gallivant around the globe. And, if he was really at work and not play, how hard was it to do deals when you had a couple hundred million in your trust fund? Either way, Tony afforded Casey's husband only nominally more respect than he did the rest of the cast of characters.

Casey herself was a different story altogether. Tony had known she was special from the first day he saw her in the DA's office, more than ten years before. It wasn't her stunning beauty, either. If anything, her perfectly petite frame, her big brown eyes, and her delicate nose were detractions for a female lawyer. Arguing in front of a jury wasn't a beauty contest, Tony could attest to that.

But Casey had an innate fire that burned so fast and so hard that you knew the minute she opened her mouth that you were dealing with someone who was as formidable as she was smart. In Tony's experience, pretty women had a hard time being aggressive. He thought it was a biological thing, a protection against warding off the most desirable males. But Casey shot his theory to hell.

There was only one man he'd ever seen her want, and that was the one she got. Jordan was the handsomest rich man in Austin, if not all of Texas. Outwardly, he was so nearly perfect that Tony had never really trusted him. He'd been with Casey the first time she met Jordan. She told him that very night that the polished socialite would be hers. It sounded as strange then as it did now, a woman openly staking her claim on a man.

But after ten years of knowing Casey, there wasn't much that surprised him anymore. The first surprise she'd given him he'd never forget. His chin had dropped when she said she'd join his practice. Over a lunch he had gone on and on about the nobility of defense work, about every man's right to a fair trial, the integrity of the system and how it broke down if the common man had no defense against the ominously powerful state. When he finished, she looked at him with those beautiful incandescent eyes and simply said yes.

'I'm at the DA's office for the experience,' she explained, stabbing her fork into a braised scallop. 'I have no intention of being a prosecutor for the rest of my life. Besides, I like your style.'

That conversation hadn't taken place right away. It was only after a year of licking his wounds that Tony had been able to bring himself to talk to her. She was a twenty-six-year-old junior attorney only three years out of law school when she whipped him in her first rape case ever. That hurt him. But once he got over the shame, he had his epiphany. She could be the most notable trial lawyer since F. Lee Bailey. He could train her. She had all the raw materials and he knew all the tricks. He also knew how to sell.

And Casey knew, as he did, that she couldn't reach her goals from the prosecutor's side of the bar. Prosecutors were limited to the cases that came to them from the crimes committed in their jurisdictions. A defense lawyer could go out and get cases anywhere. A photogenic, savvy female lawyer could go from one big media case to another if she had the proper training and the proper handling. And Tony had known that Casey Woodgate-she was Woodgate at the time-could make them both very rich.

It wasn't that Tony Cronic was a slouch. He was a respected attorney who had at one time served for three years as the president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. He had been making a comfortable living, but it was nothing compared to what he was doing now. With Casey as his partner, he had been able to focus on acquiring the clients and handling the media. That let her focus exclusively on trying cases, and she was proving to be one of the very best.

Today, that perfect symbiotic relationship had opened yet another door. Tony had spent the past day and a half on the phone with Culpepper's brother, who was also his manager, trying to sell him on the notion of Casey as his attorney rather than the one his agent, Harvey Weissman, was recommending.

'I've got seats on a plane first thing in the morning,' Tony told her.

'I have closing arguments Monday, you know,' Casey replied.

Tony had completely forgotten. Suddenly he realized that her reserve hadn't been entirely feigned. She was working on the case of a young woman named Catalina Enos. The young Mexican-American woman had electrocuted her husband by tossing a boom box into his bathtub. As she sometimes did, Casey was representing the woman for free. Pro bono legal work was something every lawyer thought was a noble endeavor; few ever really did much of it.

But Casey was a ferocious defender of the rights of the accused. She believed, as Tony did, that in order for justice to be served, every person accused of a crime deserved competent legal representation. Although she didn't mind her rates being exorbitant for those who could afford them, Casey also insisted on offering her services to those in need as much as her cramped schedule allowed. It was an annoying reality that Tony had presumed would wear away after time, but it hadn't. Casey was still doing her pro bono work as devotedly, if not as frequently, as their paying work.

'We'll be back tomorrow night,' Tony argued. 'Look, you don't get a chance like this very often.'

Tony knew that despite Casey's noble disposition, she, like most people, could be persuaded at least in part by the thought of a remarkably profitable undertaking. And if they were to represent Culpepper, it would be profitable not only in itself but in what it could lead to. While they had represented notable businessmen, politicians, and even a couple of professional baseball players, they had yet to represent a legitimate major entertainer. Since their ultimate goal was to be the legal team of the stars, they might one day look back on this case as the linchpin of their success.

Tony didn't even try to hold back his smile when Casey said with feigned indifference in a hushed tone, 'I presume he's innocent.'

'No one did it until they're proven guilty, Casey,' he said glibly. 'You know that. That's our motto.'

'Yes, I know that's our motto,' she whispered. 'But I mean it, Tony. I don't want to do this if he did it.'

Tony tugged at his goatee. The prospect of losing a deal this big was intolerable. He knew Casey would represent someone even if all the odds were against them. As long as she thought there was a chance a person was innocent, she would represent them with all her considerable means. He also knew that she was particularly sensitive when it came to sex crimes.

'I doubt he did it,' Tony muttered. 'He's denied it in the newspapers.'

'I don't like these kinds of cases, Tony,' she said, still in a low tone, regretful now that she'd opened their discussion in a public forum. 'You know that. I heard about it on the radio. I don't want to represent him if he's as bad as he sounds. I really don't.'

'Will you go up there with me and at least talk to him?' Tony whispered, conscious of the gaping onlookers and trying not to beg. 'You know how these things can be. People like Culpepper are targets. This is what we've been waiting for…' His speech ended with a nervous laugh that he tried to make sound offhand.

Casey looked at her husband. He made a smooth transition from his prolonged assessment of the young Mrs. Rienholf to a noncommittal smile. He was proud of his wife. In truth, though he would never admit it even to himself, she was his greatest achievement. And, while they both knew she would do whatever she damn well pleased, he did appreciate the public show she made of consulting him on important decisions.

'You'll do the right thing,' he told her. His standard line.

After a pause she said to the table, 'I'm sorry, would you excuse us?'

Tony followed her outside into the warm darkness. The quiet night was a sharp contrast to the buzz of the immense dining room. They stood away from the door on the walkway, where they could be certain of being alone.

'I want to go,' Casey said, glad to be free to speak in a normal tone, 'but it can't be until after the trial.'

Tony frowned. 'We've got to go now, Casey. If we wait, he'll get another lawyer. Weissman, the agent, is trying to get him to go with Devon Black out of Chicago. But I've got the brother on our side, and he said if we get there this weekend, he knows he can get Pierce to go with us.'

'But I've got a woman who could go to jail if I can't lock up the jury with my closing argument,' Casey argued.

'Is it really that critical?' Tony asked doubtfully. He knew she'd spent much of her time the past month working on the case, but he didn't get very involved when there was no money at stake.

'Yes, it's that critical,' Casey countered. 'Van Rawlins is the judge…'

Tony winced. Rawlins was the former DA, one whose career as a prosecutor Casey had practically destroyed. After working in his organization for only a short time, she had electrified the city by joining Tony and immediately turning around and whipping her old boss in a major murder trial. The blow had cost him the next election, and Casey presumed she'd seen the last of him. But Rawlins, a political animal, had recently wormed his way from a struggling private practice into the Republican nomination for a vacated seat on the bench. If Rawlins was given a chance to foil Casey, he would.

'And,' Casey continued, 'the DA had all the good witnesses. My God, Tony, that house was like a prison. Catalina lived in that house with her husband's entire family. She was like a slave. She had no one, and they're all lined up against her.

'No,' Casey added, 'that girl is counting on me. I've got to be back.'

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