Absence of malice
[prologue] [one] [two] [three] [four] [five] [six] [seven] [TBC] [email] Home

Six: Bodies, rest and motion

Their lives leading up to the preliminary hearing were simple: work and sleep. Neither Joey nor Pacey could remember spending so much time at their desks, even when they had been studying for finals at law school. They spent their days talking to character witnesses, finding out everything they could about the Colemans, patching together what had happened in the days leading up to the murder. Nights were spent documenting every shred of evidence, every statement from the police investigation, every comment from someone who knew Lewis and Nora. They started the entire investigation from scratch, formulating their exact defense strategy. Both of them knew the prelim was merely a formality — Nora's case would go to trial, and they had to be ready.

Two days before the hearing, Pacey ran his hands through his hair as he tried to refocus his vision on the paper before him. He had been going over dry medical papers on non-insane automatism for hours, and the words were blurring and becoming incomprehensible. But it was only nine o'clock at night, he knew Joey expected them to work for at least a few more hours. Time was running out. Pacey glanced in her direction and noted with some degree of envy that she didn't appear tired at all. He knew Joey had been putting in more time on the case than he had — where she got her energy and drive from he didn't know. 

Pacey noticed the coffee pot had almost burned dry and used it as an excuse to get up and stretch his stiff body. He wasn't cut out for work like this. He made some fresh coffee, extra strong, and walked over to Joey's desk to give her a cup. She didn't acknowledge the gesture, too focused on her computer screen. Pacey peered over her shoulder and saw she was preparing their witness list for the pretrial hearing.

When it looked liked Joey was not going to say anything to him, Pacey took the initiative. He was tired of working in complete silence. Joey had not spoken to him for several hours, she was so immersed in her work.

"When are you going to call Dr Fielding to testify?" 

Joey was staring hard at her computer, and Pacey wondered if she even heard the question. He stopped himself from letting out a frustrated breath, and waited for her to return to the land of the living.

"Huh?" Joey staid with a start, after a full two minutes.

"When is Dr Fielding going to take the stand? I need to let her office know."

"Oh, she's not… I'm not going to call her," came the absent reply.

Pacey raised his eyebrows in surprise. Joey had been insistent that Nora be tested at the best sleep disorder clinic on the East Coast, and Pacey had spent some time arranging for the specialist to be available for the hearing at such short notice. He felt he deserved an explanation at the very least.

"What do you mean you're not going to call her? She is our expert witness — if she doesn't testify to Nora's sleepwalking, we have no case," he stated incredulously.

Joey was slightly annoyed that Pacey was bothering her with questions… she was losing her train of thought. She glanced at him dismissively.

"You know as well as I do that this case is not going to end at the prelim. I'd just rather not tip our hand too early, that's all. Campbell White doesn't need to know our exact defense strategy." 

"But you'll have to put her on our witness list for the trial. You know he's going to check her out," Pacey argued.

"Maybe, but she'll be buried in a long list of Nora's friends and family… and Campbell isn't always as thorough as he should be, especially when he thinks the case is already won." Joey turned back to her work, not bothering to meet his eyes. "No, it's best this way. I don't want him to know what we're up to. Not yet." 

Pacey silently conceded her point, but he wasn't about to let her get away so easily. Up until now he had been willing to go along with Joey's punishing work schedule. He had put in the hours, worked harder than he ever had in his life, all the while knowing they were doing everything they could for Nora. But he was beginning to get the feeling that, for all her initial protests, Joey seemed happier working by herself. In the past week she had rarely consulted him on any matter to do with the case, never asked his opinion about how they might proceed. Pacey was starting to feel like the junior office boy, instead of Joey's partner. 

"So, are you going to call any witnesses?" Pacey's voice dripped with sarcasm.

"Just character ones." If Joey noticed his mounting anger, she didn't pay attention to it.

"Campbell's going to think we don't know what we're doing… and so is everyone else."

"Is that such a bad thing?" she said, smiling to herself while still staring at the computer screen. "We can take him — and everyone else — by surprise. Besides, I don't want there to be a lot of pretrial media attention about the sleepwalking defense. It could turn into a circus, and Nora doesn't need that."

"Whatever you say, Chief," Pacey muttered bitterly, knowing there was no point in arguing when she obviously wasn't going to pay any attention to him. He walked away from her.

Something in his voice finally penetrated Joey's concentration and she looked up in surprise. Pacey sounded apathetic, like he didn't care anymore. Her expression grew dark. The last thing she needed was for Pacey to give up and not take their work seriously, not with Nora's life on the line. 

"I mean it, Pacey, this is important," Joey said urgently. "You can't tell anyone what we're planning to do. I don't want you mentioning it to anyone, especially Doug or your father."

Pacey was offended by the insinuation that he would even consider betraying her trust like that, not to mention Nora's. He whirled around angrily, his eyes burning.

"If memory serves, Josephine, you were the one who went to that Dick in Boston and told him our whole defense plan," Pacey said hotly. "If anyone has to keep their mouth shut, it's you."

Joey looked dismayed at his sudden anger, but it was soon replaced with fury of her own. They were both exhausted and overworked, and now their tempers had reached boiling point.

"Are you ever going to stop bringing that up? When are you going to stop punishing me for having anything to do with Richard?" Joey countered. She was sick and tired of Pacey's dislike for her former boyfriend. 

"I haven't talked to anyone about the case, only you," Pacey yelled back. "I don't appreciate the fact that you obviously don't trust my judgment… as if I would tell anyone what our defense strategy is…"

"I didn't mean it like that, I was wanted to make sure—" Joey back peddled, but Pacey didn't give her a chance to finish.

"You wanted to make sure that Pacey wouldn't screw everything up."

"You know that isn't true."

"Isn't it? When were you planning to tell me about the decision not to call Fielding, huh? The prelim is in two days, Joey."

"I only made the decision tonight—"

"Yeah, made the decision without even discussing it with me. I don't think you even need me on this case. You think you have to do it all by yourself."

Joey's anger drained rapidly. She could see Pacey actually believed what he was saying.

"Pacey, there is no way I could do this without you. You and I are a team, we're in this together."

"Then include me, Jo. Stop trying to save the world all on your own. I'm here for you." Pacey eyes were burning with intensity. "I always have been."

Joey felt a strange thud in her chest as he stared at her, and was suddenly so confused she didn't know what to say. She could only think about the truth in Pacey's words — he had always been there for her, for as long as they had known each other. Whether it was growing up in Capeside or their years at college in Boston, Pacey had always been her quiet supporter — always loyal, always looking out for her. And it had been Pacey who had taken her in and given her a job when no one else would. But Joey admitted to herself that it was more than a job he had offered her two years ago, it was a sense renewed self-confidence as well. She had been on the point of giving up, but Pacey had changed that. 

It seemed to her that all this time she had never shown him any gratitude for his lifelong friendship. All they ever seemed to do was argue, whether it be light-hearted banter or a fully blown fight. She had never told him how much it had meant to her when he asked her to stay in Capeside — or how she appreciated that he had been gracious enough to let her think she was doing him a favor by staying, when in truth it was the other way round. Joey suddenly felt bad that she had never once tried to tell him how much she needed him. 

Worse still, Joey found that she couldn't say it. Somehow she couldn't form the words that would reassure Pacey that he was one of the most valuable things in her life. He was standing in front of her, desperately needing to hear it, but she lacked the courage. She dropped her gaze, unable to look at him, so she didn't see Pacey's shoulders slump. She didn't see the anger that was still in his eyes, or the betrayal that was written all over his face.

When the telephone's jarring ring broke the intense silence in the room, Joey was relieved. Pacey held his ground, waiting for her to answer it. When she didn't, he snatched up the receiver in annoyance. 

"Pacey Witter."

Joey began to wonder if she and Pacey could work together properly without clearing the air between them. She wanted to avoid the confrontation, but she was afraid that if they didn't get everything out in the open, then they wouldn't be doing their best for Nora. At the end of the day, that was the most important thing. That was their job, that was the oath they had taken when they passed the Bar… Everything else, all the personal stuff, had to take a back seat. Joey didn't pretend it wasn't a little screwed up.

Consumed by these thoughts, it took a moment for her to realise that Pacey wasn't talking to whoever had called. He just stood there listening and wide-eyed, a fact which piqued her curiosity. But every thought was forgotten when Pacey's eyes suddenly darted up anxiously at her. Joey froze… something was wrong. She held her breath unconsciously as Pacey listened to the other person on the end of the line, occasionally nodding.

"Okay, we're coming now," he said after an agonizing minute. He slowly replaced the receiver, working up the courage to look at her again.

"What is it?" Joey whispered, half-afraid to hear the answer.

"It's Nora, she's been taken to the hospital… She was having chest pains and her brother called an ambulance…" Pacey explained gently so as not to alarm Joey any further.

"Is she all right?"

"John doesn't know, the doctor's examining her now. I said we'd go down there."

Joey nodded dumbly, but she didn't move. She had a very bad feeling about this. She couldn't help remembering how despondent Nora had been all week, how she had become increasingly apprehensive and depressed about the trial and the way people in the town treated her now. Joey had been secretly afraid that Nora would not be strong enough to face it all, that the idea of being tried for her husband's murder would take the ultimate toll on her. Chest pains… Joey suddenly knew deep down that Nora was dead. The idea would not leave her as she stayed rooted to the spot.

Pacey wordlessly collected their coats, their argument forgotten. He took in Joey's shaken appearance and felt guilty he had brought any of it up. She had enough to worry about without him adding to her stress level. Mad at himself now, Pacey pulled Joey's around her shoulders. His brow furrowed with concern and he gently placed his hands on either side of her face. 

"Jo, she'll be okay. Try not to worry."

After a few moments the warmth of his hands penetrated her skin and she looked deep into Pacey's eyes. Joey focused on the strength in his expression and his words, and managed to nod slightly.

"Let’s go."

Pacey took her hand as they exited the office and headed for his car. For once, Joey didn't push him away, instead she held on to him tighter than she ever had.

* * *

The hospital emergency room was bustling with activity when they arrived, the staff dealing with the usual Saturday night crowds. Joey kept a hold on Pacey's arm as he pushed his way to the front of the huddle of people around the nurses' station.

"Nora Coleman?" he demanded, ignoring the indignant looks of the people who had been there first.

"Curtain five," replied a harried nurse, pointing distractedly down the corridor.

Pacey and Joey walked down the line of examination areas until they found the right one. Joey was nervous as Pacey reached out to draw the curtain back, expecting the worst. But all of her anxiousness faded when they saw Nora, alive and well, sitting up on the bed and rebuttoning her blouse. The older woman smiled tiredly when she spotted them, and held out her arms to Joey.

"Are you all right?" Joey gasped, hugging Nora firmly. "What happened?"

"I'm fine, honey, I just had a few chest pains," Nora said dismissively, trying to allay Joey and Pacey's obvious fears. "John here got all worried over nothing and insisted on calling an ambulance."

A relieved Pacey shook hands with Nora's brother, who was standing protectively by her bed.

"The doctor said it wasn't a heart attack, but she looked so awful, I didn't know what else to do," said John quietly.

"You did the right thing, John," Pacey reassured him. 

Joey didn't stop looking at Nora, nor did she let go of her hand. She felt tears welling in her eyes from relief and worry, but instead she smiled bravely at Nora.

At that moment a young doctor entered the exam room, looking over a chart. He saw the two new occupants in the room and smiled perfunctorily, obviously pressed for time. 

"Hello, visitors already."

"This is Dr Bryant, he's been taking good care of me," said Nora, but somehow Pacey and Joey didn't quite believe her. 

"Joey Potter," she stated, shaking the doctor's hand. "Is Nora going to be all right?"

"Are you Mrs Coleman's daughter?"

"No, I'm her… friend," Joey answered, deciding he didn't need to know she was actually Nora's attorney.

"She's fine, no need to worry." Dr Bryant abruptly replaced Nora's chart on the end of the bed and went to stand beside her. "As I explained, Mrs Coleman, you didn't have a heart attack. The EKG and blood work confirms that. I'd say you just had a panic attack… the symptoms like shortness of breath and chest pains can initially seem like a heart attack."

"I feel so silly for worry everyone over nothing." Nora smiled weakly. "Thank you, doctor."

"Is there anything we can do to help her?" Pacey asked before Joey had the chance to. 

"You just need to take it easy, all right?" Bryant continued to address only Nora. "Try and avoid stressful situations, and get lots of sleep. If you have another episode, come back and see us. In the meantime, here's a prescription for a mild sedative if you're having trouble sleeping."

The physician, keen to move on to other patients who were waiting, was not going to prolong Nora's stay in the emergency room. Joey was astounded that he did not ask about the cause of the attack. He was too busy to stop and talk to her properly, and Joey could feel her temper getting the better of her. She followed the doctor out of the room.

"Excuse me, Dr Bryant?" 

The young man stopped tiredly and turned around to face her. From the look of him Joey guessed he had been working a long shift, but she had no sympathy for him. Her only concern was for Nora.

"Yes, Ms Potter. What can I do for you?" he sighed. The impatience in his voice was poorly masked.

"Is that all you're going to do to help her? You didn't even ask what caused the panic attack," Joey snapped, getting straight to the point.

"That's really not my concern. I have a dozen patients waiting to be seen… Mrs Coleman is fine."

"She may not be… you said she needed to avoid stress, but that isn't going to be easy the next few days."

"And why is that?"

Joey was conscious of the other people walking along the corridor, and motioned for the doctor to speak to her in an empty examination room where they might have some privacy.

"In two days, Mrs Coleman will be in court for the preliminary hearing for the murder of her husband," Joey said in a low voice. She hated divulging the information, but was reassured by the fact that the doctor was bound by the same confidentiality oath that she was. 

"That nice old woman killed her husband?" Bryant asked in disbelief.

"That remains to be proven in court, but she is standing trial for the crime, yes."

"Well, it just goes to show you can never tell about people, can you?" 

Joey ignored the amusement in his voice and eyed the doctor intently. 

"I'd like to get an affidavit from you stating the likely cause of tonight's panic attack, and the likely outcome if Nora's bail is revoked before the trial. She won't survive in prison, not even for a few months."

"She just had a panic attack, I don't like the idea of her getting off a murder charge because she's feeling a little stressed," the doctor replied dubiously.

Joey bit back the scathing words she was tempted to unleash, and let out a deep breath. "I am simply trying to prevent my client from spending any time in jail before this case is heard. She is innocent until proven guilty, after all."

When the doctor did not answer straight away, Joey took a step closer to him and her voice grew quieter. "If you don't give me the affidavit, I will subpoena you and tie you up in court for days. It's up to you, Doctor."

"Is that a threat, Ms Potter?" 

"That is simply a statement of fact. I will not have Nora's bail revoked at the preliminary hearing. I will get your statement, and I will get it tomorrow." Joey's eyes were clear and dark, her stare intense.

Dr Bryant thought about it for a few moments, and decided it wasn't worth arguing with her. "Give me your card. I'll have some time to come to your office in the morning." 

Joey handed over her details, and had the sense not to look pleased with herself in front of the doctor. Although she was worried about Nora and the fact that her stress over the case was now manifesting itself physically, she could not deny that this was probably the best thing that could have happened before the preliminary hearing. Nora would without a doubt be bound over for trial, and Joey knew the first thing the D.A. would do is try and get bail revoked. The doctor's statement would go a long way to keeping Nora out of prison before the trial.

Dr Bryant slipped Joey's business card in his pocket, and stepped in closer to her.

"I'll give you the affidavit, Ms Potter, but it will only state my medical opinion that any time spent in jail in the immediate future may be detrimental to Mrs Coleman's health. If she gets convicted, don't come here expecting me to keep her out of prison for good. I'm sure plenty of people put inside for murder get panic attacks."

"I'm hoping it will never come to that, Doctor," Joey replied evenly. "She is not guilty of this crime." 

Joey guessed the doctor didn't care either way, but she fixed him with a hard look before stalking away without another word. 

* * *

The preliminary hearing only took a day. Campbell White delivered no surprises, outlining the Commonwealth's case succinctly. He called police officers and the coroner and by lunchtime had given the court enough evidence to warrant a trial. Joey did not waste her time arguing the evidence, she simply called a few character witnesses to testify to the lack of motive for the murder. If the D.A. was surprised by the seemingly unspirited defense, he made no acknowledgment. 

When Judge Wilkins ruled the Commonwealth had provided enough evidence to proceed with the criminal trial, there was little reaction from the defense table. Both Pacey and Joey had prepared Nora for the outcome, and she remained stoically calm as the judge passed his ruling. Joey squeezed her hand, trying to reassure Nora that everything was still all right. Joey hadn't finished yet.

Right on cue, Campbell White rose to his feet.

"Your Honor, the Commonwealth calls for reassessment of bail. We would ask that Mrs Coleman's bail be revoked at this time… this is a charge of Murder in the First Degree, after all."

"Councilor?" The judge glanced over at Joey, who now also stood.

"Your Honor, Mrs Coleman was granted bail because she did not pose a flight risk or a threat to her community. These facts have not changed since the initial bail hearing. The Defense asks that bail be continued under the same terms."

"So, what are you saying, because she's a nice old lady she should receive special treatment? Come on…" the D.A. said incredulously.

"This is a very serious charge, Councilor. Bail is not usually continued after a preliminary hearing when the accused is bound over," the judge conceded. 

Joey reached for the all-important piece of paper that Pacey held out to her. "No, Your Honor, but the Court does, in some instances, show leniency when the accused is not healthy enough to spend time in a county lock up before trial."

"Now she's a nice sick old lady?" Campbell threw up his arms in disgust.

"I have an affidavit here from Dr Julian Bryant," Joey stated, ignoring the D.A. "Dr Bryant is an emergency room physician at Capeside General, Your Honor. Two days ago he treated Mrs Coleman for serious stress-related symptoms. It is Dr Bryant's belief that Mrs Coleman is not fit to be detained at this time."

"Show me the affidavit."

Joey dutifully gave the document to the court officer and waited as the judge looked it over. They had to wait an anxious few minutes before he was ready to address the court.

"Mr White, I believe there is nothing to be gained by revoking Mrs Coleman's bail at this point in time. Bank accounts have been frozen, she has no valid passport. In light of her ill health, it is my ruling that bail stands at $50 000."

"Thank you, Your Honor." Joey let a small smile escape her lips. "We would also ask that a speedy trial date be set, so as not to prolong Mrs Coleman's suffering."

"Agreed. Do you have any objections, Councilor?"

The D.A. shook his head, conceding defeat on this issue. It didn't really matter, Campbell thought to himself, the sooner the better. He would still get her at trial. 

"Then I am setting the trial for exactly four weeks, March 3rd. Jury selection will take place on the 1st." Judge Wilkins banged his gavel. "Court is adjourned."

As everyone else in the room began to shuffle out, the D.A. caught Joey's eye.

"See you in four weeks, Joey. Great performance today, by the way. I'd like to see you keep your nice old lady out of jail once I have secured a conviction." Campbell smiled victoriously, as if the verdict was a foregone conclusion. "Just a tip, you might actually want to put on a case next time. Don't make it so easy for me to win."

"Thanks for the advice, Campbell," Joey said sweetly. "I just might take it."

"You think you've got a few tricks up your sleeve? Well, just remember, you may not be the only one…" Campbell's eyes glittered as he gave her a final look and walked out of the room. 

Joey paused for a moment and watched him go, wondering what he meant by that. By the time Pacey and Nora stood up beside her and were ready to go, she had concluded Campbell was just trying to psyche her out. She decided not to let him rattle her, and gave Nora a confident smile.

"Only four weeks, Nora. Then we can finish this for good." 

Nora squeezed her arm and then walked over to speak with her brother who was waiting in the gallery. 

"I just hope you're right," Pacey whispered as he moved passed her. 

Joey's expression soured a little as she watched him walk out ahead of her. They hadn't spoken of their argument again, there had been no time after Nora's visit to the hospital. While Pacey showed no real animosity towards her, she still felt some residual uneasiness between them. With a sigh, she realised she could not worry about such things now. They only had four weeks to the trial, when they would both be tested to their limits. She could mend fences later.


[prologue] [one] [two] [three] [four] [five] [six] [seven] [TBC] [email] Home