“I can’t believe you pulled out the bird thing!” Bruce exclaimed, pacing back and forth in front of Ned Wakefield’s desk. “Does everyone really need to know about that?”
“Bruce, you have to understand what my strategy is here,” Ned argued, flipping open the file folder that held all of his notes on the case. “I barely understand it myself. But we’re trying to paint you as a harmless, non-date-rapey kind of guy.”
“All right, so a man who’s scared of birds is unlikely to be a date rapist,” Bruce said, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “What else have you got?”
“Not much, I’m afraid,” Ned said. “We could bring up your intentions of opening up the Patman Date Rape Crisis Center. I know it was all Elizabeth’s idea and that you’re not too into it, but the idea is so crazy, it just might work.”
“That’s it?” Bruce cried, stopping and fixing a steely stare on Ned. “That’s all we’ve got?” He sat down in one of the chairs across from Ned and buried his head in his hands. “I am so screwed,” he moaned.
“It’s looking that way,” Ned confirmed. “Bruce, is there anyone in town — anyone at all — who you think may have framed you for the recent string of date rapes?”
“No, not really,” Bruce said, looking back up at Ned. “I mean, no one around here likes me all that much, let’s face it. But I don’t think anyone hates me enough to try to ruin my life.”
A knock sounded at Ned’s office door. “Come in,” Ned called.
Steven Wakefield, Ned’s son and the twins’ older brother, entered the room, breathless. In his hand, he was holding a stack of papers, which he was waving about wildly. “Dad, I’ve been doing some research on this case, and I think I may have found something that may be of interest to you and Bruce,” he said.
“What is it, son?” Ned asked, taking the papers from Steven.
“You’ll never believe it,” Steven panted. “I had to do some digging, but this could really change the whole direction of your defense strategy.”
“I doubt it,” Ned said as he flipped through the pages. “I didn’t really have a defense strategy to begin with.”
“What the fuck am I paying you assholes for?” Bruce demanded, shaking his head angrily. Steven ignored Bruce’s outburst and took the seat next to him.
“Hmm,” Ned said, looking up from the papers. “Are you sure about this, Steven?”
“I’m one hundred percent sure,” Steven said. “I’ve checked and double checked my sources, and I’ve confirmed everything. All you need to do is clear it with the judge.”
“Good work, Steven,” Ned said, shaking his son’s hand. “Time to head back to court, guys. This little piece of information is really going to change everything.”
* * *
“Elizabeth, come on,” Jessica said, standing at the open passenger’s side door of the Jeep. She looked over her shoulder. “Everyone is going back into the courthouse.”
“Fine, this will only take a second,” Elizabeth said, tipping back the paper-bag-wrapped bottle of vodka she and Jessica had just bought at the Sweet Valley Liquor Store. She gulped greedily at it and then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Honestly, Liz,” Jessica said, glancing around. “That’s the most trashy thing I’ve ever seen you do.”
“You want to know the most trashiest thing I’ve ever seen you do?” Elizabeth said, slurring her words. “Shaking your naked body at the Unicorn Club. Do you know how embarrassing that was?”
“Come on,” Jessica said, taking the bag out of her sister’s hand and shoving it down in the Jeep’s cup holder. She pulled her twin out of the car and half dragged her over to the entrance to the courthouse.
They were among the last to file into the courtroom, but thankfully the seats they had been sitting in that morning were still available. As Elizabeth slid into her seat, she caught Bruce’s eye and mouthed the words “I love you.”
Bruce shook his head wildly. “That’s too much commitment,” he whispered.
“Sorry, Bruce, she’s drunk,” Jessica whispered back.
“I am not,” Elizabeth said a little too loudly.
The judge entered the courtroom, and this time, it was Jessica who pulled Elizabeth to her feet when everyone in the courtroom was asked to rise. Elizabeth giggled as she leaned heavily on Jessica, who looked mildly annoyed.
“If it’s not one of us, it’s another, right, Jess?” Elizabeth whispered loudly.
“Shh,” Jessica said, clapping a hand over her sister’s mouth.
As they sat back down, Elizabeth tripped over her own feet and landed back on the wooden bench with a loud thud, which set her off on another giggling fit.
Ned turned around and hushed his daughers.
“Sorry, Dad,” Elizabeth mouthed before she burst into even more laughter.
Jessica looked around the courtroom to see if anyone new had decided to show up for the afternoon session. Mom? she wondered, spotting her mother, who looked unusually pale, at the back of the courtroom. What is she doing here? I thought she had some big design project she was working on these days.
Alice Wakefield, who was often mistaken for the twins’ sister, rather than their mother, due to her youthful good looks, was wringing her hands. Her knuckles had turned white.
Why does Mom look so worried? Jessica thought. It’s only Bruce Patman. Who cares about him?
“Lizzie,” Jessica hissed, poking her sister in the side. “Mom’s here.”
“Mom?” Elizabeth said loudly. Several people around them shushed her. “What is she doing here?”
“I don’t know,” Jessica said. “But she looks awfully worried, don’t you think?”
“It’s just because Dad’s trying a case,” Elizabeth whispered. “She’s here to support him.”
“I don’t know,” Jessica said, frowning. She turned her attention to the front of the courtroom, where the prosecutor had inexplicably called Bruce himself to the stand.
“Mr. Patman, how many breasts have you touched in your life?” the prosecutor asked.
“My whole life?” Bruce asked, looking up as he began to tally up the number in his head.
“Yes, your entire life, Mr. Patman,” the prosecutor snapped. “An estimate will be fine.”
Bruce sighed, counting off the number on his fingers. After about ten minutes, he answered, “I’m not sure, but I’d put it somewhere between five hundred and a thousand.”
“Somewhere between five hundred and a thousand,” the prosecutor mused, pacing back and forth in front of the witness stand. He stopped in front of Bruce. “So you can’t narrow it down any more than that?”
“Objection,” Ned said, standing up. “Your honor, we all know Bruce Patman can’t do math.”
“Fine,” the judge said.
“So, Mr. Patman, you mean to tell me and the ladies and gentlemen of the jury that you’re the CEO of a successful major corporation — the biggest one in Sweet Valley, in fact — and you can’t even do simple arithmetic?”
“No, sir,” Bruce said. “That’s why I hired my cousinbro.”
“Your cousinbro,” the prosecutor repeated, leaning over the witness stand and getting right up in Bruce’s face. “Can you please explain that term to the members of the jury?”
“Objection,” Ned said, standing up again. “That’s irrelevant.”
“I’m going to allow the question,” the judge said. “I don’t know what the hell a cousinbro is, either.”
“Please explain, Mr. Patman,” the prosecutor said.
“Roger’s like, my cousin and my brother,” Bruce said. “You know, cousinbro.”
“And is your cousinbro the same Roger Barrett Patman who was recently arrested for a disturbance in a strip club?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes,” Bruce answered.
“Was Roger trying to protect you in that incident?” the prosecutor asked.
“Maybe, although I don’t know why,” Bruce said. He shrugged his shoulders. “I treat him like shit.”
“But it’s possible then, Mr. Patman, that Roger could have been trying to protect you?” the prosecutor said. He took out a pad of paper and flipped through his notes.
“I don’t know, I guess so,” Bruce said.
“Would Roger protect you under other circumstances?” the prosecutor asked. “Say, deflecting attention from date rapes you had committed?”
“I didn’t date rape anybody,” Bruce insisted, pounding his fist on the divider that separated the witness stand from the rest of the courtroom.
“Really, Mr. Patman?” the prosecutor said snidely. “I have a female witness that would beg to differ with that statement. Your honor, I call Elizabeth Wakefield to the stand.”
Elizabeth froze. “I can’t go up there,” she whispered to her sister. “I’m too drunk.”
Jessica drew in a deep breath. “Twin switch?” she asked.
“Twin switch,” Elizabeth confirmed.