This new episode of Catherine Reynolds, after an 18 months hiatus, was partially written a year ago and tells the story of a case that Catherine really didn't want to take: defending a man accused of rape.
The Case of the Funeral (episode 7)
Letters : 30398 Words : 5644
Catherine Reynolds talks about the famous Vittorio Bene case which made her famous across the USA after it was covered by CNN.
I'm sorry I haven't written in a long time, but so much occurred in the last year !
Since I made partner, my life changed a lot more than I thought. Quickly, I understood why Susan would be working full time regardless of my actual workload.
In addition to occasional high level cases, I now had the delicate task of helping 4 lawyers assigned as my "apprentices" and who had to report directly to me, just like I had to report to Peter Green.
Well, not exactly in the same way, for most of their actual interactions were done with Susan, leaving me out of the loop for their daily tasks.
In fact, Susan got yet another raise and an new official title : "Senior Liaison Assistant". I am not sure it even means anything official, but it meant she could boss any lawyer in the firm who was not yet a partner.
At first, Susan didn't really fit well into her new role, but as soon as she realized that the lawyers actually feared her, she started to enjoy it a little too much to my tastes. A few times, I heard her threaten a lawyer to have him work directly from her office if he didn't do as she said, with full implication that he would need to follow the local dress code.
But personally, that mostly left me with paperwork, more paperwork and even more paperwork. In the past, Susan took care of most of it, but now, it was mostly more delicate reports. I had to help other lawyers (even partners) prepare their cases as if I was a junior lawyer, but from the point of view of a full partner.
In a few cases, I managed to impose myself on a case, but it became clear that I was no longer in the infantry. I was now behind the lines.
Sure, I still pleaded regularly but most of the closing arguments I wrote were actually delivered by someone else.
Eric, since his private show, became one of the top magicians of the area and even toured bars in the tri state area with Steven "Magneto" Vaughn.
The two discovered that they had a chemistry together. Steven was very intense and dynamic with Eric was warm and personal. Together, they really touched audiences.
To Eric, this meant access to many venues he couldn't dream accessing without Steven's contacts, but for me, that resulted more or less in my retirement as a magician's assistant.
I still went to most of their shows and even often took parts on stage, but my role as the counterpart to the magician was replaced by a two magician dynamic.
Don't misunderstand me, my personal relationship with Eric was untouched. We were (and still are) madly in love with each other, but that magical (pun intended) working relationship we had was over, at least for now.
I still was happy for him. I had Susan in my working relationship while he now had Steven in his life. But it also meant that Susan and I had lost our cook most of the time.
Nowadays, we have Eric back at the center full time, but back then, it left a void during the long working days.
But don't let me get ahead of myself. I know you all want to hear about the Vittorio Bene case.
After all, its the reason I ended up unable to update you guys on my progress, and its the case which gave me nationwide celebrity.
Between the end of the money laundering case and the publication of my article, I received e-mails from 17 different fans who asked me when I would write about it.
Since the moment that I was interviewed by CNN from the hospital after the Bene case, I have so far received over 20,000 different requests for a story publication as well as over a thousands visits to my own personal house by fans !
I never thought updating my blog like this would create such an impact, so thanks for your support !
You all have heard of Vittorio Bene, the rising star of the Italian Mafia in Miami. Sure, the Italian Mafia isn't as strong at the Cuban Mafia, but its still well implanted.
The police organizational charts placed Vittorio Bene as number 3 in the organization, but many observers and journalists tied him with Antonio Di Mare in the 2nd place. Unlike Vittorio, Antonio was rather discrete and secretive, possibly making Vittorio more attractive to the press.
In all cases, it was clear that when he was arrested, the police had caught a big fish. But the surprise wasn't over. As you all know, Vittorio decided to plead guilty on reduced charges in exchange for his testimony against the entire organization.
Thanks to his help, the Italian Mafia was completely disorganized by the arrest of most of its leaders, leaving a void in the upper ranks which Vittorio, with only 2 years to complete in jail before his release, hoped to fill.
R.K.D . failed to secure any of the defence attorney positions, leaving us on the sidewalk in one of the biggest trial of the criminal history of Florida.
This is probably why Vittorio hired us within an hour after his son, Joe, was killed in a drive-by shooting.
Well, he didn't actually hire us. He actually specified that I was to be his own personal lawyer until the end of his motion to be allowed to attend his son's funeral.
I met Vittorio in his cell. Alone. Vittorio was placed at all time in isolation at his own request, with guards not even allowed to enter his cell suite. He was convinced that the familia would try to kill him behind bars so he preferred to avoid the company of anybody else.
This, I realized, left him alone to his devise, with sole access to a pay phone to continue his operations.
But my job didn't have anything to do with his cell condition. All I had to do is convince the judge and the warden to allow my client to assist to his son's funeral.
"Hello Mr Bene"
"You are a lot more beautiful Mrs Reynolds than your reputation indicated."
"Thank you Mr Bene. I am terribly sorry for your loss"
"Thank you. Call me Vito."
"So, Mr Bene, you want to assist to your son's funeral ?"
"Yes. They can send as many guards as they want. They can chain me to the coffin. I don't care. I just want to be there. They can even charge me as much as they want."
"So, as long as you are present to the whole ceremony, you are fine with whatever arrangement I might make ?"
"I would prefer to wear a nice suit to be decent in church, but otherwise, as long as I can pray for my son, I am fine with almost anything, even an orange jump suit. I am not a difficult man, Mrs Reynolds."
I thanked him and quickly joined the warden who was visibly waiting for me, judging by the sweat on his forehead.
We exchange formalities and he apologized for the earlier strip search. I insisted my ego was not affected. If he only knew where I lived !
I quickly surmised that my biggest obstacle would be the warden. He avoided all direct questions and rapidly indicated that his only concern with the funeral was making sure he would get Vittorio Bene back in jail after the ceremony.
He pressed the issues to assure me that even the supreme court or the president couldn't change his mind and that, after all, he was the captain of this ship, second only to God himself.
I just reminded him of the various regulations which restricted his job, but he quickly dismissed my point by indicating that all of those regulations were set to insure the rights of the prisoners, of the guards and of the public at large while the prisoner is inside the prison, and that nothing forced him to let prisoners out before the end of the sentence or a conditional release.
I was shown the door of his office, and while I shook his hand, I assured him my client had no intentions of escaping. He looked me deeply into my eyes and just told me. "I believe you. I am convinced he will get back to jail after the ceremony. My only fear is that he might not make it alive."
I left troubled. I had visited many clients behind bars and never had I seen a prisoner which even the guards were unable to meet.
I began to think that perhaps, the best for my client would be to miss the ceremony, but my job often didn't require me to think about what my client wanted. Just to ensure he got what he wanted.
When I got home, Susan and I started to review all of the precedence to discover that in most cases, the judges simply rejected the request to leave it entirely in the hands of the warden.
The precedence seemed to point that during his stay in the prison, the prisoner is considered to be incarcerated even when he leaves the physical boundaries of the prison.
This is notably the case when a prisoner appears in front of the judge or when he visits an external hospital.
I called the judge's office to discuss the request and set-up an audience. When my calls weren't returned, I drove to the courtroom and met the judge in his office.
I'll try to quote him in exact words, but I cannot guarantee my memory is exact.
"I do not know who you think you are, Mrs Reynolds, but I send this man to jail over a year ago. He is now the responsibility of the Florida penal system. If you are telling me that the warden doesn't want to let your client attend his son's funeral, don't come crying to me. His decision is final."
I promptly left, seeing his warning as an actual victory. My fear is that he would over-extend his authority and prevent the funeral. Now, the only obstacle left was the warden.
Of course, my first step was to meet him another time now that the legal obstacles were lifted. I assured him my client and I would collaborate as much as possible to ease his mind.
I mentioned that Mr Bene was fine with any arrangement the warden seemed necessary, and that he would personally pay for any trouble.
The warden laughed indicating that if he wanted to make Mr Bene pay, he could ring up all of the state correctional officer and have them pull overtime for the funeral, amounting to a small fortune in fees.
He laughed, but I didn't. I clearly indicated that if that's what it took, my client would be willing to pay.
The warden looked me in the eyes, and after a good 30 to 45 seconds stare contest, he accepted to make a plan with me in case he did permit Mr Bene to attend.
Metal detector gates at the church, police dogs, complete inspection of the church a few hours prior to the funeral. Nothing was too much to ask for the warden.
In the end, he was convinced we had a solid plan. Even the cemetery would be completely cordoned off with Mr Bene surrounded by guards to prevent a sniper attack.
The warden was rather pleased with the plan, but insisted that the ceremony occur in a small church, preferably far from the city, to help establish a good security perimeter.
I thanked the warden, who reminded me he didn't approve of the plan yet, but this time he seemed less aggressive in his tone.
I relayed the plans to Mr Bene in his cell. His reaction was to hug me, thanking me for the opportunity to say a final goodbye to his son.
When I returned home, I was completely exhausted. Susan was still working in the office, but I barely said hi before I laid down on the bed.
Eric came back from his show around 2 in the morning and was surprised to find me still fully dressed on top of the sheets.
We spoke for a few minutes while I undressed and promptly fell asleep.
In the morning, I didn't feel much better. Perhaps the air in the prison is stale, or I just felt guilty at helping a man who is planning to basically become the new leader of the organized crime get out of jail, if only for an afternoon.
I relayed the newest details to Susan and we began writing a contract between the warden and Mr Bene.
I am not sure it was needed, but I preferred to be prepared in case he needed one. I notably added a huge bail for Mr Bene to be forfeited in case he found a way to somehow escape.
Peter Green called when we were halfway done to get an update, but sadly, I admitted that everything was in the hands of the warden.
We ate late, putting the last touches before stopping for lunch. Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing, since all we could do now was wait for the warden to call.
Around 3, I dressed back up and visited the warden for a third time. He was surprised I thought about a contract and made me wait outside of his office while he read it.
Around 5, his secretary told me the warden had signed the contract, and that Mr Bene would be asked to sign it later tonight. The funeral plans were accepted.
Overjoyed, I jumped in my car and called Susan, Peter and Eric to tell them of the big news. Everyone was rather happy, especially Peter since this meant a big bonus to a firm from Mr Bene.
Eric invited me to supper at the restaurant where he was performing tonight with Steven "Magneto" Vaughn .
It had been a long time since Eric and I managed to eat face to face with our clothes on without being constantly bothered.
When he was still working only on the week-ends, we would eat dinner with Susan at the house and supper either alone at our house or with others at the community center. We would be nude in all of those occasions.
The few times we did eat at a restaurant, we were almost always performing from table to table so would we eat on the go, sometimes not even at the same time. Occasionally, we did get a few moments together, but they were usually spent coordinating the rest evening.
Today was different. I felt a connection to my man like I didn't for while. We ate slowly, talking about our respective day and the fact that we didn't see each other as often as we did.
We bonded. I felt like we were once again falling in love, not that we had ever fallen out of love, but in the past months, the days had just flew by like birds in the fall.
After supper, I got to see the stage show that Steven and Eric had prepared. I had seen the early versions, but they were constantly fine-tuning it and I had missed the latest instalment.
In the past, each of the two magicians concentrated on doing their own tricks, alternating between them. This caused some chaos because by strictly alternating, the momentum wasn't regular. Sometimes, Eric would do a trick which caused strong emotions in the crowd which prevented them from reacting properly to Steven's more flamboyant style.
Other times, Steven had been so intense that the crowd were simply unable to concentrate during Eric's tricks.
Tonight was a different beast. Eric set himself up as the friend of the public. He stayed close to them. Did tricks directly at their tables. When he was active, the stage was in the dark while the tables were well lit.
He spoke to the patrons. Exchanged thoughts, predictions, warmth. When a trick was done and it was time to switch to Steven, Eric prepared the clients. He excused himself while the lights in the room slowly dimmed.
And suddenly, the stage exploded with light and smoke to give a major entrance to Steven who would present faster and more exiting tricks which usually required little interaction with the crowd.
Instead of just doing one, he would present a 10 to 15 minutes show blowing the mind of the audience with a succession of magical moments.
Upon his exit, Eric would join the crowd in the applause and comment on the performance to give a chance to the layman to appreciate the show while allowing them to calm down.
His first trick would always have a link to Stephen's show. For example, if Stephen had played with swords, Eric played with little plastic swords used to hold cherries in drinks.
By slowly getting back in the act, Eric was able to capture the crowd once more and get them personally interested in his tricks.
It worked. The crowd was totally captivated by both performers despite their opposite nature.
And the finale, instead of being a supercharged eccentric fireworks show from Stephen, Eric presented his best mentalist closers with Stephen serving as a calm assistant.
It made me laugh to see the magician Eric and I envied so much a year ago suddenly performing my own role to assist Eric.
After the show, both Magicians joined me at my table. I shared my impressions of the evening and both were rather happy to see that their efforts are paying off. We talked for about an hour before parting ways.
Sadly, Eric and I each used our own car to reach the restaurant, leaving me alone to my thoughts on the drive home.
Whether I liked it or not, I couldn't help but review in my mind the security arrangements for the funeral. I had the sense that something was missing, but I couldn't tell what.
With the amount of police officers, guards and marshals on location, it would be impossible for a close attack but the police kept insisting that a sniper would be unable to hit my client for a multiple of reasons, each of which, according to them, was sufficient to protect Mr Bene.
Notably, the perimeter around the church will have been evacuated and police snipers would already occupy the best roofs in the perimeter. My client would also always be surrounded by armed man, preventing a direct line of sight.
The church and the cemetery will have been completely searched and guarded until the ceremony to ensure that no explosive device would be hidden. Every person attending the events would be searched.
Still, call me paranoid, but I was sure I was missing something.
At home, neither of us could sleep so we decided to take a quiet walk in the resort to cool down. Well, cool down was the word since I regretted not bringing a towel or something else to protect my nude skin from the cold night.
In the morning, Peter Green made a call to announce us that Mr Bene had settled his bill and had included a letter of recommendation for me. The whole process had taken a lot less time then expected so Susan and I ended up with a whole morning of time off well spent in the spa while waiting for new cases or files to be sent for us to work on.
We did end up paying for our vacation time in extra hours. In a lawyer office, when you utter the words : "I have a full day of slack time, send me work", they usually find at least a week of new reports to write or cases to study.
Neither Susan nor I complained. We both loved our work and Eric was working at the restaurant again so we only stopped working around 8 and yet, Susan kept me company until Eric came back around midnight.
Susan and I had already developed a deep friendship, but somehow, these days, I was a little more emotional than usual. We recollected some of our finest hours together including some of our cases and of course, my wedding and I ended up crying a few times. Still, it was a great evening.
The rest of the week passed rather quickly. I was working in an almost robotic manner, with my thoughts constantly occupied by the funeral coming on the next Saturday and whether there was a risk or not.
I spoke to Susan, Eric, Peter and almost everybody at the naturist center and not a single person had any idea what I was even talking about.
I just knew I had forgotten a detail but I couldn't see it.
Still, even thought Eric wanted to go play volleyball, I decided to stay home to listen to the news about funeral on local news radio station.
The scene the reporter was describing was perfectly matching what I had imagined. The loud atmosphere of security. The overwhelming sense of doom. Ok, I am exaggerating, the reporter barely spoke about the security arrangements, but my imagination picked up on the little clues mentioned.
Every few minutes, the same report would be repeated with small changes every half and hour or so.
And then, he uttered the two words that made me realize exactly what I was missing. I dressed back as fast as I could and before Eric even realized what I was doing, I was already on the road driving as fast as possible.
I called 911 on my cell phone to try and reach someone but while they put me on hold to figure out who to reach, I hung up and tried reaching the warden.
In movies, the hero always tries to warn the authorities and is generally laughed at. In real life, normally, the police is really there and efficient.
But today, I don't know if it was my imagination or if they were really incompetent, but I ended up reaching the cemetery before receiving any confirmation that someone on location actually got my message.
And it showed. The police detail was still there and Mr Bene was present with his wife next to their deceased son's coffin, about to be lowered.
I ran as fast as I could to reach them, telling everyone to leave. Sergeant Parker, whom I had met for the preparation recognized me and decided to evacuate the location.
But it was almost too late.
I woke up in the hospital. Apparently, one of the wood pieces from the coffin hit me directly in the head and knocked me out cold. Two of the police officers died in addition to the priest and four of the guests of the family.
Eleven other witnesses and members of the security details were severely wounded including several amputations.
Ironically, Mr Bene and his wife came out without a scratch from the explosion thanks to the two police officers who gave their lives to push them out of the way.
Sergeant Parker was in the room with Eric, Susan and Peter. After the customary worrying about my health, the detective asked me how I knew there was a bomb.
"It was closed casket. The mafia usually doesn't damage the face of its victims to make identification easier. They hit Mr Bene's so hard that they couldn't open the casket despite all Mr Bene's money. I realized quickly that the only person who had not been searched would be his son. It has connected in my mind : the only reason they had to ensure his face could not be shown would be to guarantee a closed casket, the perfect vessel for a bomb"
I exchanged a few more words with Sergeant Parker and later with Peter Green, but soon enough, only Eric, Susan and the doctor were left in the room.
The doctor explained to me that I would be kept at least a few days to make sure I was alright, but that he had a big news to announce.
Both Eric and Susan looked pretty excited, so I wondered what it could be.
The doctor, after receiving a nod of approval from Eric announced: "You're pregnant. Congratulations"
Wow. I was pregnant.
It's not like Eric and I didn't want children, but we had never talked about it. Both Eric and Susan hugged me and both were visibly emotional about it.
But I remained stoned. Perhaps I was under pain killers, perhaps I had a post-traumatic shock. But I never expected this.
Sure, Eric and I were not perfect in our contraception usage, perhaps we knew that it was time for us to become parents, but I always expected to notice my missing periods and anxiously waiting to take a pregnancy test.
I didn't think I would simply wake up from an explosion and find out about it from a doctor.
I asked if the baby would be alright, and was assured that my uterus was not affected at all and that the baby and I were fine.
They just wanted to keep me in bed for a few days to make sure I recuperated properly from the accident.
Susan excused herself soon after the doctor left, but not before congratulating me once more.
This left a tense atmosphere between Eric and I. We had never really talked about having kids. Sure, it was implied because we didn't really use contraceptives recently, but we didn't have a frank discussion yet.
I think we both looked in each other's eyes for a long time, waiting for the other to break the silence. Oddly, we ended up both opening our mouths at the same time.
Ok, it wasn't pure serendipity : we both decided to talk right about the page for Doctor Finnegan was completed on the intercom.
A few garbles words were exchange, but soon enough, I was asking Eric what he wanted to do.
I was relieved to hear him simply reply : "Become a father". I confirmed I did indeed want a baby, especially with him, but that it scared the hell out of me.
"What do you think of Billy"
I just hugged him in silence, thanking him with my silent tears. Proposing to name our son after my late husband showed that Eric had perfectly accepted my past. Nothing could bring Bill back on this earth, but perhaps we can raise a son with his wonderful qualities to honour his memory.
My supper arrived quickly. It was tasteless and bland. I was not allowed to leave my bed yet but Eric got permission from the nurse to pick me up something from the cafeteria downstairs.
We weren't sure if Eric could also bring food for himself, so he snuck the sandwiches in the room and we ate with the excitement and fears of kids who had just discovered an unattended fresh batch of cookies cooling down on the oven.
Sadly, my excitement, and with it my appetite, when I realized mid-meal that I had a catheter that collected my urine to a very exposed bag attached to the side of the bed.
If you are reading my stories and are not a naturist yourself, you might not understand why we are not ashamed of being nude in front of others, just as some of us cannot understand why textiles are afraid to remove their clothes.
I have now been a naturist for close to 10 years, but never have I been ashamed of my body as I was when I saw that bag of urine.
It might be an odd quirk in my personality, but even thought I have frequently used the toilet in front of my husband, at that moment, I was frozen and couldn't do anything but think about it.
Eric saw my sudden change in demeanour but despite his pleas of knowing what was wrong, I was unable to speak of it.
Fortunately, the awkwardness was interrupted by a nurse and soon enough, we resumed our talks about our future parenting roles.
After supper, the Langley came to visit us. I was happy to see Lily and Kyle. Both had grown up so much since I first saw them. Their visit was pleasant and both Stephen and Sandra were excited to know I was pregnant. Lily told me I was her hero and that she wanted to be just like me when she grow up. I told her she would make a fine lawyer.
I got out of the hospital a few days later. The whole staff of RKD had signed a card which was sitting on my desk, placed there by Susan.
I was given a few weeks off to recuperate, so we booked a flight to Chicago to visit the Eric's family and give them the good news in person.
Once again, George and Marge welcomed us with warmth and attention. I noticed that George removed not only his shoes but also his socks when we arrived at their house after he had picked us up at the airport.
We quickly announced the news and both hugged us with the joy of becoming grand-parents. After supper, Marge asked us if we would appreciate it if they let us undress during our stay.
Eric and I explained that we didn't want to impose on them, that it was their house.
George however made it clear that when he was at our wedding, he was very uncomfortable because he realized that at his house, we followed his rules but that we didn't impose our rules while at our house. He said that the only way he could not feel guilty on remaining dressed at our wedding was if we went nude at his house.
Eventually, we ceded and soon enough, Eric and I were sitting on a towel in our birthday suit in the house he grew up in.
My man and his father shared a glass of Porto, but Marge and I stayed on non-alcoholic beverages. When Marge went into the kitchen to clean the dishes, I successfully convinced her that I wasn't handicapped and managed to get the role of dish dryer.
Marge and I shared children stories, but Eric later told me he had a weird conversation with his father about how sexy I was and how lucky he was to date me. Perhaps George drank a little too much Porto, but Eric said he had the impression that because I was nude, his father thought he could tell his son about how great my breasts looked.
Whether she is nude or not, hearing your father saying how fine your girlfriend looks is not something you really want to hear.
The rest of the trip was rather pleasant. Marge gave us a few of her things she had kept, including old fisher price toys, specifically so that her grand kids would get to follow in their father's footsteps.
It's only back home that I realized that we had received no clothes at all from her even if I saw some in her old boxes. Perhaps she thought the baby would be naked all day until school and not realized that naturist or not, newborn babies needed to stay warm.
In all cases, I was very happy about how the trip turned out. Back home, I called the Cottons to give them the news, including the name of our future son if it was indeed a boy. All three of them (especially Julie about becoming an aunt) were equally excited.
Jill decided that the birth of my child would make her a grand mother for the third time. It was as if Eric was playing the role of her dead son in her mind, allowing her to live in the fantasy that Bill was still there in our world.
She promised she would be at my house a week before the birth and that she would stay for as long as I wanted her there. She even added that since I didn't really get along with my parents, to consider Kelsey and her like my own parents.
Sadly, this reminded me that I had to inform my own parents of my pregnancy. It had been over 2 weeks since I had left the hospital and they still didn't know.
I had a long conversation with Eric about it, and we eventually decided to just tell them over the phone. Fortunately, when I called, I got the answering machine and just left the news on it.
As soon as I hung up, I realized that perhaps they had seen my caller id and ignored the call, but since I never heard from them, I guess I'll never know.