It was the first day of trial.
Ben and Dylan woke early and had breakfast together in the flat. They were both excited, and could hardly eat. Ben had five cigarettes before they left the flat. They wore their best suits and caught a taxi to the office, arriving around 7.30am. Ben busied himself by putting the box files close to the door, for ease of collection. Dylan annoyed him by following him around everywhere, even to the toilet. Wai and Jacob arrived on the dot of 8.00am, and the two clerks Peter and Deepak a few minutes later. They had arranged for a van to collect them at 8.30am, and so moved all the files to the front door of the building to wait for the driver. He came a few minutes late, by which time Ben was beside himself with worry. They loaded the files and set off for the five minute drive to the court. They arrived at the Supreme Court building at 9.00am, one hour to go until start of trial. Plenty of time. Dylan and Ben went to the canteen to meet Richard and Gordon whilst the others took the files upstairs to Court 25
Gordon and Richard were already sitting there, having breakfast. They were joined by Junior Counsel Peachey Wong, a pretty, petite young barrister who was there mainly to do the dogsbody work for Gordon and Richard and was not expected to add anything substantive. She was pleased for the work and experience though, and would certainly make the trial a more pleasant experience for all concerned. Dylan already had his eye on her, and sat down beside her and introduced himself.
“Good morning, young sirs”, grinned Gordon. “Are we all ready for the fray?”
“Well, yes”, said Ben. “More to the point, are you?”
“Oh yes, Richard and I have been through the opening, it should take the day, I think. I understand Judge Lee is a quiet man, and so I don’t expect many interruptions.”
“Still no sign of settlement, Benjamin?” asked Richard hopefully.
“I’m afraid not. Unless the Government capitulate completely, we’re going ahead.”
“Ah well, that’s what I’m here for!” said Gordon jovially. “I must say I’m looking forward to this immensely, a most unusual case, not the sort we get in England.” Gordon of course was the type of lawyer who enjoyed the law. A lawyer did not reach the top of his profession without a love for the law. Ben, and especially Dylan, had little love for the law at all, to them it was a means of making money, and that was it. They enjoyed helping people, but looking through the latest cases and statutes was not for them. Gordon, and indeed Richard, actually enjoyed the intellectual cut and thrust, the endless hours of research. Gordon was known the whole legal world over as a leading authority on charity law. Once again, Ben thanked his lucky stars clients were able to afford his brief, which was US$200,000.00. Such expertise did not come cheap. Richard’s brief fee was only slightly lower.
“Ah, here’s Ronnie”, said Richard. Ronnie Yuen, Leading Government Counsel, was introduced to Gordon, as they had not met. Ben had had little time for Ronnie ever since the Pre-Trial Review before the judge months earlier. He thought he was a complete moron. He may know the law, thought Ben, but he had less personality than a boiled cabbage.
“I think you know my instructing solicitor, Ronnie”, said Richard, indicating to myself. Ronnie sniffed.
“Yes, we have met. Richard, a word if I may.” Ronnie led Richard to the other end of the lounge and had a short chat. Richard returned and told us that Ronnie was incredulous that we would not accept the offer on the table, and would we reconsider. Richard had told him that client found it unacceptable. So be it, Ronnie had said, let’s proceed.
“It is extreme folly on clients’ behalf, Benjamin”, said Richard sadly. Ben sighed.
“I know it, Richard, you know it, Gordon knows it, but clients don’t. We’ve done all we can”, said Ben.
“Yes”, said Richard. “Ah well, time to go. Peachey, could you carry this bag for me?”
They took the elevator to the 7th floor and court Number 25, Judge Lee’s court. An amazing scene beheld them as the elevator doors opened. There must have been nearly one hundred of the Clan present! Ben had been warned by Tang to expect a lot, but not this many. They were unlikely to fit into the public gallery, he thought. He sought out Wai to express his worries. Wai had already thought of this, and had told twenty or so to go home.
“At least it’ll show the Court that the Clan are serious about this case’, remarked Dylan. Indeed Ben was cheered to see so many there, after getting over his initial shock, it would certainly make a good first impression with the judge. Ben also noticed with shock that Chan Chi Wah was outside court, how dare he make an appearance, thought Ben. He was admittedly a party to the proceedings, but his attendance at trial had been excused long ago, pending determination of the Tang Clan’s claim. Chan gave Ben a broad wink, which he totally ignored.
At a few minutes to 10.00am, all parties took their places in Judge Lee’s court. As Counsels for the Plaintiffs, Gordon, Richard and Peachey sat on the front bench, to the right. Ben, Dylan, Wai and Jacob sat immediately behind them, surrounded by numerous box files. Wai and Jacob had acquainted themselves with the files thoroughly, much more so than Ben and Dylan, and would spend every minute in court. Ben and Dylan agreed to take turns in sitting there. There would hopefully be little for them to do, but as the losing party would have to pay for the attendance of one solicitor in court, it was potentially money in the bank for either Ben or Dylan to be there at all times.
On the other side of Gordon, to his left, was Ronnie Yuen, and his junior counsel Tommy Wu. Behind them in the second row, to the left of Ben, sat Mandy, and two clerks. To Mandy’s left sat the current abbott, who seemed most unconcerned, reading his racing paper. He sat with an interpreter, who would interpret the proceedings into Cantonese for him.
The heaving masses of the Tang Clan sat in the public gallery, tightly packed. The court remained silent as they waited for the Judge’s entry, There were three loud knocks, an “all stand” from somewhere, and Judge Lee entered and sat down behind his bench.
“Act One, Scene One” whispered Dylan to Ben.
The Judge looked out over his court. Dressed in the usual ceremonial red garb, he looked an imposing figure, despite his slight build. He had a reputation as a fair judge, and Ben hoped for a decent hearing.
“Yes, Mr. Stewart”, said the Judge.
“If it may please My Lord”, began Gordon, as he started his tale of ancient ancestors, temple builders, memorial stones, inscribed stone tablets, the takeover of Hong Kong by the British, subsequent registration of all New Territories land, Government treachery and the right of the Tang Clan to ownership of the temple and it’s assets. It was riveting stuff, and Gordon was a good storyteller. There were at least ten members of the press in court, and this being a case where the Government were being sued, apart from a genuine human interest story, guaranteed a spot at least on page three of the next day’s papers.
Ben relaxed as the day went on. Truth be told, his work was virtually done. His firm had done it’s best in the preparation of the case, a damn fine job too, he thought, considering their resources. It was out of his hands now, it was up to Gordon and Richard. Ben stayed until lunchtime and then excused himself, Dylan would take the afternoon shift. The courtroom was very stuffy and the air- conditioning was poor. Ben had trouble sleeping at the best of times, and despite the importance of the case to his whole future career, found himself nodding off at various times in the morning. It would not do to start snoring in court, he thought. He must have been close to it one point, as earlier that morning Jacob had kicked his shins violently to wake him up.
Ben spent the afternoon in his office catching up on other matters. He felt guilty as all other clients had taken a back seat to the Tang Clan over the previous weeks, when they had all hands to the pump. Now that the trial had started he had time to spare. He pored over a new personal injury matter, and lost track of time. He was surprised when Dylan entered his office. He looked at his watch, 5.00pm.
“How did it go this afternoon?” asked Ben.
“OK” replied Dylan. “Gordon continued the tale, the judge sat there quietly listening, the only excitement was when Ronnie Yuen farted, so it seemed. He turned bright red and the Judge gave him an evil look. Ronnie must have been on the curries last night!
“Has Gordon finished the opening?”
“Yes, just finished. We start our first witness tomorrow, Wai has him primed.”
“Good. I’m going to be late tomorrow morning, I’m going to see Tyler, so make sure you’re in court.”
“Of course. I’m off the beer for a week anyway, so no problem.” Dylan did this from time to time, and what a difference it made, he actually became reliable during his periods of abstinence.
“Good stuff. Well, I’m off, another early night for me”, said Ben.
“I’ll be home soon too, just got a quick meeting with Donny, apparently there’s a chance of getting U2 to Hong Kong, fancy a night out with Bono?”
“Yes, I think I have a window in my diary. Give me a call later with the arrangements”. Over the years Dylan had threatened nights out with Mick Jagger, Madonna, Robert De Niro, David Copperfield, Will Smith and Mike Tyson, amongst others. Mysteriously, none had come to pass. Ben left the office, leaving Dylan to dream on.
For once, Ben had a relatively good night’s sleep, and was in the waiting room at Lai Chi Kok prison at 10.00am. Tyler was ushered in shortly thereafter. He still looked pale and gaunt, and Ben felt the usual pangs of sympathy and guilt.
“How are you?” asked Ben.
“I’m alright”, said Tyler. “I’m getting a new client nearly every day. Roberts McCann have quite a reputation here. I’m serious, a few of the lads here want to change lawyers. Here’s a list.” Tyler handed Ben a scrap of paper with names and their prison numbers.”
“Contact these lads, some have a bit of money, serious charges too, some of them. Of course, not as serious as mine.” Tyler grinned.
“Excellent”, said Ben. “Perhaps we should get a lawyer from the firm banged up every year, it’s obviously good for business.”
“Yeah, well, as long as it’s not me next year, I don’t mind.” “How are things, seriously?”
“There’re OK. The lads here don’t bother me. I get some sort of kudos on a murder charge, funny, they seem to respect me for doing in a judge. A gay judge at that. I’m quite a personality here.”
“You know it’s only two months to go. Dylan and I have decided to give evidence on your behalf, to tell the truth about what happened.”
“That’s good, because I was going to tell anyway.” They both laughed.
“You know better than me we only have to show reasonable doubt. Richard Yap says you have a good chance. He may not be able to do the trial, as there is no guarantee the Tang Clan trial will be over, but Dermot Maclean is an excellent barrister.”
“I know. I’ve instructed him a few times, he’s one of the best. Frankly, I would prefer him to Yap, Yap is more civil than criminal.”
“That’s true.” “How’s the trial going?” asked Tyler.
“Well, it’s only the second day today, too early to tell. We should know more by the end of the week, after we’ve called a few of our witnesses.”
They chatted for a few minutes about this and that, and Ben had Tyler in fits of laughter when he regaled the story of Dylan vomiting over the girl Ben had brought home recently. Ben had also brought in some newspapers from England with reports upon Tyler’s favourite football team, Bradford City, which he knew he would enjoy.
“They’ve been doing even worse than you recently” laughed Ben.
“Yeah, they might go down this year. At least if I get twenty years I’ll save a bit of money on season tickets.”
“Yes, always look on the bright side.”
They chatted for a while longer before Ben took his leave. He thought he had cheered him up, which was the whole idea of the visits. It was true that he and Dylan had decided to come clean to the Court about their involvement. Dylan had been against it, believing Tyler would get off anyway, but after ferocious rows Ben had persuaded him otherwise. It was, after all, a murder charge.
Ben stepped out into the sunshine. Immediately his mobile phone rang. It was Dylan.
“You’d better get down to Court immediately” he said.