Art by Hank Blaustein
by Mat Coward
Tuesday was a great day. Wednesday less so, of course, because that was when he got the letter saying that someone was planning to murder him, but Tuesday went better than Des could have hoped. The whole business with the open-top bus had started as a throwaway gag, and ended as just about the funniest thing he’d ever been involved in. He woke up the next morning with ribs sore from all the laughing and a slightly acid stomach from all the champagne. He made his breakfast, had a shower, and then he opened the post. Apart from the thing saying he was going to be murdered, it was mostly junk.
“The good news,” said Detective Constable Vicki, “is that this is not a real Osman warning. It’s definitely a fake.”
“Okay,” said Des. “On the one hand, great, phew, you’ve put my mind at rest, et cetera. On the other hand, I don’t know what an Osmond Warning is.”
“An Osman warning,” D.C. Abi explained, “is a letter delivered to a member of the public by the police, who have reason to believe that there is a credible and imminent threat against that person’s life, but don’t have sufficient cause to make an arrest.”
Des nodded. “So, it’s sort of the exact opposite of what I mostly get in the post. You have already won ten thousand pounds!”
“It’s more formally known as a Threat to Life Notice,” said D.C. Abi. D.C. Vicki was very fond of her thin, gingery colleague, but she wished she could cure her absolute inability to accept humorous remarks from members of the public with anything but a frown.
“Under case law,” Vicki told Des Bennett, the intriguingly unflustered man sitting opposite her in the interview room, “we’re required to inform you if we think someone’s planning to do you in. Give you security advice, that sort of thing. So the Osman letter is basically to cover ourselves if your widow decides to sue us.”
She could hear D.C. Abi rolling her eyes at her. She did that a lot, and she did it very noisily.
“I haven’t got a widow,” said Des.
“Well, not yet, obviously—”
“Haven’t got a wife,” he said. “Just me.”
Vicki wondered if that was why he didn’t seem too bothered about receiving a death threat: no one to worry about except himself, and he reckoned he could take care of himself. Or was it just—he hadn’t yet realized that it was a death threat?
“I know you, don’t I?” she asked him. There was something familiar about his smile; not the one he used when he was smiling, but the at-ease one that sat on his face the rest of the time, ready to be deployed. “We’ve met before?”
“Don’t think so,” said Des, the smile, sure enough, deploying as expected. “But do you watch the regional news on TV?”
“How dare you? I’m thirty-seven, not sixty-seven.”
Art by Tim Foley
by Kevin Egan
It was such a thin line, Foxx realized later, the difference between him being there and not. He might have banged in sick. He might have been assigned to a trial. The officer posted at the security desk might have been feeling well enough that she didn’t need to take a break. But Foxx came to the courthouse that day. The captain did not pull him from his usual duties of circulating throughout the building. And it was that time of the month.
The fifth floor security desk was one of several choke points around the courthouse. It stood at the head of a small lobby that was the only public access to the twelve judicial chambers strung out along the corridor that followed the building’s hexagonal outer wall. The desk was a potentially crucial security post that rarely lived up to its potential. Most people who ambled into the lobby had legitimate business—lunch orders to deliver, legal papers to submit, or social invites to keep. The officer’s job was to identify the reason for the visit, phone the judge’s chambers, and then either allow the visitor to pass or relay alternate instructions. Hardly difficult, rarely dangerous, often boring.
The woman who appeared shortly after Foxx took over the desk was nice looking, a fiftysomething holding on to thirtysomething in most respects and graciously letting go in a few others.
“I have an order to show cause for Judge Decker,” she said.
Foxx slipped the directory card from under the phone and punched in the number for Judge Decker’s chambers. The law clerk answered gruffly. Foxx said that someone was here with an order to show cause, and the law clerk said he would come out to get it.
There were four wooden benches in the lobby, two on one wall and two on the other. The woman settled lightly on the bench closest to Foxx. Her outfit was neat, but neither expensive nor fancy. Not a lawyer, Foxx thought, more likely a legal secretary or a paralegal. Then she shifted the file folder from one hand to the other, and Foxx spotted the distinctive markings of the Help Center down on the main floor. The woman was a litigant representing herself.
The law clerk announced himself by banging through the fire door down the short corridor to Foxx’s right. He was portly and gray, older than most of the law clerks in the building. Foxx had assumed him to be a judge, then learned that he relished being taken for a judge after several frustrating years of trying to become a judge. His name was Conrad Lozier.
“I’ll take that,” he said, grabbing at the folder.
The woman began to speak, but Lozier turned on his heel to cut her off. The fire door slammed shut behind him.
The woman slouched back on the bench. She caught Foxx’s eye momentarily, then stared right through him.
Lozier returned five minutes later and handed the woman two sets of papers.
“Your copies,” he said. “Mail one to plaintiff’s counsel and keep the other for yourself.”