From the start, Klein the Lawyer felt it was going to take another power, the hand of the unseen, a Christmas ghost to get him through the case. On the day he went to court to begin the case, back in the first week of December, all the signs were bad for Klein.
At lunch on his first day, a new waitress came up. She looked exactly like Klein’s wife. Klein is not with his wife at this time. He is with a woman named Rosalie, who also looks exactly like Klein’s wife. The waitress, Klein thought, would make a great new girlfriend for him. She would remind him of both his wife and his girlfriend.
“You must be very unhappy at home,” Klein the Lawyer said to the waitress.
“Who isn’t?” she said.
“Call me up at the office,” Klein the Lawyer said. He handed the girl his business card with a twenty-dollar bill folded around it. The waitress put the bill into her pocket and handed the card back to Klein.
“Going to order now?” she asked, pad and pencil out.
Walking back to the courthouse, Klein looked up at the sky. “Whoever you are, I need help.”
Usually, when he has a particularly rough case, Klein has ways of handling it. You will hear him, as he walks about, humming this little private tune: “It is far better/ To know the judge/ Than it is/ To know the law.”
Klein the Lawyer then goes to every Bar Association dinner for the next month. Sooner or later, the judge handling his case will be there. Around a barroom, judges think they should be treated like cops. While pouring whisky into the judge, Klein the Lawyer seeks to carve out any edge for himself.
“Justice is truly human,” Klein the Lawyer says.
“But when he started this particular case, defending a client named Richard, in a case of commercial fraud, Klein the Lawyer sensed he needed more than a drinking companion up on the bench.
“What happened here?” Klein asked the client.
“What happened?” Richard sneered. “Who the hell else do you know smart enough to pull off a thing like this?”
“You’d better not say that again as long as you live,” Klein the Lawyer said.
Actually, he was pleased. “All my clients are guilty,” he says. “I never want the burden of an innocent client.”
The case against his client Richard began on December 1. Klein the Lawyer estimated that it would take two and a half weeks. That would get him to December 17, which was too early for what he had in mind.
“My client is a Christian,” he said. “All he hurt were some suckers, and they’re entitled to be harmed at all times. Therefore, I think, my client deserves a nice Christmas verdict. I’ll have this jury settling this case on Christmas Eve.”
He liked the jury foreman, who was Chinese. Klein figured that the guy, new to the community, would conform more than anybody else. A guy like this, Klein felt, would not only have the spirit of Christmas, but also be able to handle the actuality of Christmas.
Klein the Lawyer sat in the Part One Bar on Queens Boulevard across the street from the courthouse, and began to make little notes to himself.
“I am getting my summation ready right now,” he said. “Do you know all the words to ‘God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen’? Christmas is going to get me out.”
“You’ll be through a whole week before Christmas,” somebody said.
“Watch me,” Klein the Lawyer said.
On the first day in court, he asked for frequent private conversations with the judge. Richard, the client, noticed that whenever Klein would hold up proceedings the Chinese man would squirm uncomfortably. He mentioned this to Klein.
“Don’t worry about it,” Klein said. “Those people can wait twenty years for a bus.”
In the middle of the first week, Klein the Lawyer got up early in the morning, took the thermometer out of the medicine cabinet, and walked into the kitchen with it. He put the thermometer in the oven. He took it out when it said a hundred and four. He called the judge and said, “I have the thermometer right here in my hand and it says a hundred and four. It must be swine flu.”
“Don’t come around here with it,” the judge said. “We’ll take a day off.”
In court the next morning, Richard said to Klein, “The Chinese guy went nuts yesterday morning, when they told him to go home.”
“Forget about it,” Klein said. “You worry about getting me the rest of the money for this case.”
The next week, Klein began talking with one hand clamped to his cheek. “Infected root canal,” he mumbled to the judge. When the judge told Klein to go to the dentist, there was a loud squeak in the jury box, caused by the Chinese man jumping up and down on his chair.
With a few other delaying tactics thrown in, Klein brought the case into last week, the week of Christmas. On Wednesday, when the jurors were told the case now was theirs, the Chinese man began pushing the jurors toward the room.
“What timing!” Klein said in the hallway. “There is no way a jury can convict at a time like this. It feels like Christmas, even inside the courtroom, doesn’t it?”
“The jury came back at midnight. The first thing Klein saw was that the Chinese man had his coat over his arm. Asked for the verdict, he dropped the coat, called out the word, “Guilty,” twice, then grabbed his coat and headed for the door.
Klein the Lawyer sat in the wreckage. A court attendant said to him, “Am I glad this is over. I never heard so much moaning.”
“What do you mean?” Klein the Lawyer asked.
“The Chinese guy,” the court attendant said. “All you could hear him saying was, ‘I’m getting killed. I’m getting killed.’ He owns some kind of novelty shop that sells Christmas decorations.”
All day yesterday, Klein the Lawyer sat at the bar, staring out at the emptiness of Queens Boulevard. By mid-afternoon he was lifeless. “Christmas verdicts,” he snarled, “are a myth to lure Jewish lawyers to trial.”