Audrey Spencer folded her arms and leaned back in her chair as she regarded the two men sitting across the table from her. The air had gone cold, despite the stifling heat of the small room.
“Excuse me?” Audrey could barely keep the consternation from her voice. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been called such a word, if ever. She was no stranger to angry outbursts, but she hadn’t tolerated such behavior from her boys, and she certainly wouldn’t put up with it here.
Not without severe consequences.
“You heard me,” Lyle Bennett said.
Lyle wore an orange jumpsuit, and his hands were shackled to the table. He gave her an unpleasant smile. His teeth were stained yellow and seemed to have something growing on them. She could smell his breath from three feet away, and his odor had entered the room ahead of him when escorted in by the prison guards. He was in prison for a different crime and had recently been charged with the new crime that had brought Audrey here today.
She and Thane McMurtry, Lyle Bennett’s defense attorney, had exchanged pleasantries before Lyle was shown into the room. McMurtry was a talented lawyer. Audrey had worked with him on several matters before joining the District Attorney’s Office and had worked opposite him multiple times since.
McMurtry was a straight shooter who didn’t take advantage of his opponent’s mistakes, something Audrey was grateful for as she pushed back into the daily grind of a demanding full-time job. He also zealously represented his clients, even when they didn’t deserve it.
Thane had requested this conference, so it surprised her when he didn’t immediately start off talking about a plea bargain while they waited for Lyle.
Audrey could tell he wanted his client present before they spoke of anything substantive.
Now Lyle was in the room and she had a better take on him—there was only so much she could glean from a photograph—she better understood McMurtry’s reason for requesting this meeting.
McMurtry had a hard time keeping a neutral face as he studied Audrey to gauge her reaction to Lyle Bennett’s insult.
At first, Audrey wondered if perhaps McMurtry had put Bennett up to this, but as she continued to watch Bennett and analyze McMurtry’s face, she recognized this was an inaccurate assessment.
McMurtry didn’t look surprised, but he also didn’t look complicit.
What’s going on? Audrey wondered as she stared at Lyle, who continued to grin with his fuzzy yellow teeth.
“If you say something like that to me again, Mr. Bennett,” Audrey finally said after she’d considered how to respond appropriately, “I will walk out right now, and I will do everything I can to seek the death penalty.”
Lyle Bennett smiled as if he enjoyed taunting her and opened his mouth, but his attorney cleared his throat and spoke over him.
“Mrs. Spencer, please excuse my client’s lack of respect. I fear he knows no better.”
Lyle gave a ferocious roar and made as if to jump across the table at Audrey. His chains restrained him only so much, but she didn’t move, though he came within several inches of her before the guards burst into the room and restrained him, forcing him back into his chair.
“Down!” she said. “Down right now, or this is over.”
Audrey tilted her head to the side and gave McMurtry a frown that seemed to suggest he had a hand in this, even though the implication probably wasn’t fair. Thane returned to his chair—Audrey hadn’t noticed him standing—but scooted it away from his client as if afraid the man might lash out at him too.
Thane looked pained when his client jumped and was forced into the chair again. One guard warned Lyle that any more bad behavior would cause immediate termination of Lyle’s presence at the meeting.
“I got to talk to the lawyer!”
“Even one more outburst, and you won’t be allowed in the same room with this woman until trial.” The guard was massive and had a scar on his neck that bulged as he spoke. “That includes any more names. Last chance.”
Unhinged, Audrey thought.
If she had to describe Lyle Bennett with one word, that is the word she’d choose. From his wispy hair, to his sickening teeth, to his unkempt presence, to his detestable smell, everything about this man made her think something was seriously wrong with him.
But is that what Bennett wants me to think?
“We certainly have an interesting situation,” Audrey said slowly. “I came prepared to talk about a plea bargain, Mr. Bennett, but I’m now convinced that’s the wrong approach.” She watched Lyle’s face closely for what came next. “I’m going to request a psych eval—”
“I’m not crazy!” Lyle jumped up and lunged for her, but the guards were faster. They slammed Lyle down into his chair, held him down, radioed for help, and within minutes, the guards plus two more dragged Lyle Bennett from the room.
“I apologize for that,” McMurtry said once Lyle had gone. “On the psychological evaluation, I don’t think I’ll oppose it.”
Audrey stared at Thane McMurtry for several moments. She got the idea Thane had requested this meeting because he wanted her to see his client specifically, so she would make this recommendation.
“I didn’t hear anything unusual about his arraignment.” Audrey had only recently been assigned to this case, so she was coming in after the fact. “Are we sure he hasn’t developed a condition since?”
Audrey gave McMurtry a pleasant smile as she packed her briefcase and stood. “Are you representing this guy pro bono?”
The question did more than an accusation would have.
“Unfortunately, yes. I’m afraid this will require more work than I initially expected.”
Audrey nodded, her suspicions confirmed. McMurtry was trying to save on expenses by having her use state funds to request a psych evaluation. He probably wouldn’t involve his own expert if he was happy with what came back.
Audrey couldn’t blame him. She’d faced similar circumstances in private practice where she needed to get something done but couldn’t find the funds.
“Good seeing you, Thane.”
“Likewise. I just wish it were under different circumstances.” He nodded at the door. “Can I walk you out?”