Law & Orders — Moot Court
Madison van Hoyt found herself on her knees in her room, a woman she vaguely felt like she should know with her. This was, to put it mildly, not a situation a van Hoyt was used to finding herself in.
The fact that she was kneeling peacefully, and that just being on her knees seemed to make her feel unusually serene, was therefore a little out of the ordinary.
Still, they did say college was an opportunity for experimentation.
She didn’t make the connection to her time with Professor Nolan. The Professor had gone to great lengths to explain to her how perfectly normal it was for her mind to wander in his office. For memory of her time studying with him to be, at best, vague.
“Who are you?” Madison asked.
“You don’t need to know that yet.”
Madison knelt there quietly for a few moments, trying to work out why that sounded reasonable. It patently wasn’t reasonable, but somehow it did still sound like it should be.
“I’m not happy about this,” she said. “You’ve done something to me and I don’t like it.” Which wasn’t true; it actually felt pretty good. But it was important not to lose the upper hand in a situation like this.
Unfortunately for Madison, Lauren had a similar attitude and, more importantly, already had the upper hand.
She leaned forward and met the gaze of the younger woman. “I have permission,” she said, with the confidence of an H,Y,P lawyer who’d had exactly how good she could be drilled into her, “to treat the witness as docile.”
Madison’s vision swam for a second as her eyes briefly rolled, unfocused. It wasn’t a suggestion Nolan used often, but it was one he’d put a lot of stress on many times in the past. Kneeling with thighs apart, hands resting on her thighs, she felt everything seem to shift.
And Madison ceased to know how to think proactively. Strategy for dominance dissolved into so much mist in her mind. Out of the mist came a happy, carefree sense of obligation and agreeability.
Lauren took a seat in front of Madison and smiled. “You’re currently seducing a young man on this campus. True or false?”
“True,” Madison said, then added, dreamily, “Is he yours?”
“Would you like that?”
Madison wasn’t sure, but she kind of liked the curious, excited tone in the woman’s voice when she asked. “What do you mean?”
“Do you like the idea of taking him from me?”
“If you say I do.”
That got a laugh, a gentle snicker. Madison couldn’t make head or tail of this, but it was hard to know what answer would please this woman.
And all she wanted was to please this woman.
“I want to know the truth, Madison. You wouldn’t lie under oath, would you?”
“No, miss.” Madison was surprised at how meek she sounded. Van Hoyts were not meek. Van Hoyts didn’t kneel. Van Hoyts did not behave like this, and Madison felt strongly that she should be deeply displeased here.
“That’s better.” The woman took a step closer. “You know you’re under oath?”
“Yes, I understand. I… don’t know how or why, though.”
“You don’t need to.” Lauren smiled. “You just need to provide testimony and accept sentence.”
It wasn’t the approved response but it was within the spirit of the law. Lauren wondered idly whether making a van Hoyt into an H,Y,P lawyer might not cause trouble in the future; the girl seemed to have her own ingrained assumptions.
“Better,” the woman sighed. “So, let’s talk about Matthew and Jessica.”
“Yes, Miss,” Madison said promptly. Without really knowing why she volunteered “Although I’m not sure I want to be with both of them.”
The woman blinked. “Uh—not sure?” she asked. “What do you mean?”
Madison approved of the woman’s approach. It was important not to lead the witness, and she wasn’t.
Matthew opened up his laptop. Best not to try visiting Madison right now; it was too late to go over there and not drag her name through the mud, and that was… not good. She was so clearly proud of her name…
He sent a message instead, just checking his phone was there and asking how she’d like him to collect it.
That done, his thoughts drifted back to Jessica. She seemed somehow out of focus, a part of his life that might be important but one he couldn’t concentrate on properly. It was very strange, but then he was keeping a secret from her now.
And he had to, even if he didn’t understand why in the slightest. It was just something he needed to do.
Maybe it was guilt that made her seem distant.
He’d call her, but his phone was elsewhere. He could go round, but he wasn’t sure he’d be welcome—she’d been very angry with him for reasons he couldn’t make his brain make sense of.
His thoughts slid easily off the painful subject and settled once again on the project occupying his and Madison’s time, the assignment they’d been set by Professor Nolan.
Jessica wasn’t a cars woman, but she recognised the car pulling up to collect her was an old-school muscle car, something Nick had clearly bought because classic cars didn’t go out of style the way modern models could. The car was very comfortable, smelled firmly of new leather seating, and had an odd metallic grind to its rumble, as if replacing the seating had been a priority but servicing the engine shouldn’t.
In short, much like Nick, his car was flashy, undeniably expensive, and probably not all that dependable.
He leaned across to open the door for her as she stood on the curb. She was feeling a little self-conscious in her dress; it was a tasteful dark red, cut to turn heads, and she’d felt impossibly daring when she bought it a year earlier, but a year on, deep in studies, she’d had less time to exercise, and while stressing over law had a reputation for keeping you lean, the cloth was tauter over her belly, her rear, and her chest than she was entirely happy with.
On the other hand, the wolf whistles she’d been getting while waiting for Nick confirmed that it was still a look that worked. Maybe she could try flaunting this at Matthew…?
She got into the car and gave Nick a smile, surprised to find how warm it actually was. There was nothing really wrong with him; it’s just the fact he wasn’t Matthew that left her frustrated.
And a good meal at his expense was a good way to balance that out a little…
(Jessica wasn’t completely happy with herself at how quickly that idea presented itself, but her mind was her mind and she was willing to accept it, strange whims and all. She was pretty sure nagging guilts were in her future, sure that every lawyer would always feel frustrations when they felt their clients had been hard done by, even if they’d done the best they could for them.)
The restaurant was stunning, all weathered stone cladding outside and sleek burnished steel and black glass furnishings inside. “I’ve been saving investigating this for a special occasion,” Nick told her. “The presentation is something else.”
Most of the food was finished and plated tableside; complex pasta and seafood creations where the finishing touches being visible was a clear part of the value offered. Nick had, of course, chosen a lobster, the most expensive offering on the menu; Jessica had intended to do something similar before her attention was caught by a scallop salad creation which ticked several dream boxes. Nick should be relieved, she thought, but at the same time, he probably wouldn’t notice the difference in the price tags.
Law, she thought, shouldn’t be exclusive to people from that kind of money. At least Professor Nolan understood that.
Conversation was desultory for the drinks and appetisers, Nick’s first gambits being all about why the word babe should be fine for her. As so many had before her, Jessica asked how he thought he’d feel about it, only for him to jauntily guarantee he’d be fine with it.
As their main courses were arriving, though, Nick finally got to what had been on his mind. “Anyway,” he said. “You know that hypothetical we’ve been discussing?”
Jessica’s attention immediately focused. There was something strange about the idea; it grabbed their attention every time, to the exclusion of all else. She’d found herself gravitating to Nick to talk it over for a few days now, confident he’d be thinking about the same thing. It was something she hadn’t wanted to talk about with anyone else, and even if Matthew hadn’t been (she was beginning to admit to herself) at least dabbling with the idea of cheating on her, she felt like it was somehow too personal to share with him.
Which made it very strange that she’d chosen Nick, but she knew he’d understand, that he’d find the same aspects of this imaginary case fascinating.
“Intimately,” she said. Nick grinned.
“Nice,” he said. “Anyway, like I said on the phone, it’s not just us looking at it.”
“Right, you said, but I don’t see how that happens. Matthew wouldn’t be interested.” That was an article of faith in her head, present and unshakeable. It was why she’d never discussed it with him. And Nick’s word wasn’t enough to change that. Why would it be? How could she put more faith in his word than in how well she knew her boyfriend?
Nick produced his phone with a flourish and a smirk. He called up his gallery, selected his chosen image, and passed it across.
There was Matthew’s handwriting. And while it wasn’t the easiest thing to read in the world, she could still make out enough that it was clear he was producing an argument on the same case.
An opposing argument.
“I don’t understand,” she said quietly. “How does he even know about this?”
Nick shrugged. “I think someone must have put it up in the lecture notes a year or so ago,” he said. “It’s stuck in our heads, that’s all, babe. Subliminal learning and everything.”
It was possible, but it didn’t seem likely. Jessica kept puzzling over the notes until Nick held his hand back out for the return of his phone.
“Sorry,” she said with an embarrassed smile. “But this is weird.”
“It is,” Nick said. “But he’s arguing the other side to us.”
She nodded. She’d noticed.
“That gives us the advantage, right?”
Jessica hesitated. Obviously it did—a part of her was delighted by the idea of having the extra data—but the advantage at what? This was a hypothetical idea, for heaven’s sake. It wasn’t a thing you could win.
She wanted a watertight argument, one she’d feel comfortable presenting in court, one she could back with confidence.
That was all. Nothing less, nothing more.
She pulled out her own phone and dialled Matthew’s number, but Nick, uncertain, reached out and closed his hand around hers. “Is that a good idea?”
They looked at each other, mouths open, minds churning, neither able to articulate what they thought at more than a gut instinct level. For a moment, Jessica nearly continued the call, but Professor Nolan’s work held true, and she hung up.
Louise would have described the music currently playing in their living room as 70s guitar rock, but she wouldn’t have been entirely surprised to hear it had come from the 80s, or had been played in the last decade by a new era of bands who’d grown up listening to their dads’ childhood records.
When they’d first got together, Jonathan had been “into music” but had owned perhaps twelve albums. It was little wonder he’d found the launch of Spotify playlists to be a godsend and, much later in life, had finally begun discovering the music of his youth properly.
However, she was doing her best to ignore the music. Jonathan would often put his playlists on during their evening game, looking for any advantage in the contest.
After all, whoever lost would submit for the evening, and as much as Jonathan enjoyed his time under her control, as he liked to say, “Well, you should have to work for it, shouldn’t you?”
Louise was no less willing to throw a curveball to Jonathan, but she liked to make hers unique every time. She occasionally wondered if, in contrast, Jonathan was hoping the sound of his playlist would become an indoctrinating factor.
Time for her own curveball. She selected her moves, put her hand on the knight, and as she moved it, said “So, what do you think of how our proteges are handling the Court?”
Jonathan looked up at her as the piece moved. By the time he looked down, it was in a different spot, and Louise was pretty confident he’d have failed to fully register the change in board state. He often did.
The fact it meant they could have a needed conversation was a bonus.
“I think they’ve got very… invested,” he said. “They’re focused on the outcome, which candidates will end up in their teams. They’re seeing the two pairs as two ‘teams’, and they care more which team wins.”
Louise smiled. “Something you and I are completely immune to, darling?” she asked lightly. Jonathan moved a pawn and acknowledged the humour of it, mid-game.
“I don’t think either of us mind losing, though,” he said, his eyes darting up to meet hers. Both grinned, their eyes sparkling. They’d each come to realise, privately, just how much they delighted in this sort of play, just as much as the other. “Just as neither of us object to the idea that sometimes we have to pass on an evening of this because work gets in the way, we know what we’re getting into. I’m not sure they do.”
Louise put her hand on her bishop. “So do we intervene?” she asked as she moved.
This time Jonathan kept his eyes on the board, and as she looked to meet his eyes she saw instead a rueful smile on his downturned face. Jonathan was getting wise to her tactics, chiding himself for missing the last one.
But he still had missed the last one. And she still had the advantage. Jonathan was still trying both to decide on his answer to her question and his next move.
He chose to take her bishop. “I don’t see that we should,” he said. “I think obviously some correction to their mindsets is needed. But I think it’s going to have to happen afterward.”
“So no immediate fixes?” Louise said as her rook took his queen.
“Goodness, no. They’re not puppies, you don’t need to rub their noses in it. They’re both intelligent, we recognise that, yes?”
“I’m tempted to say it’s not David’s strongest suit,” Louise said with a grin. “But, yes, he’s sharp. So is she.”
“Then it’s therapy and fix, not punishment,” he said, his eyes on the board. He sat back, then exhaled slowly. “I think I have about five moves before I’m done,” he offered. “Does that fit your read of the game?”
Louise fell silent herself in turn. She’d felt confident she was approaching victory, but Jonathan had surprised her often enough. She hadn’t been calculating in terms of moves, and she’d kept an eye for other options for him.
After almost two minutes’ thought, she was confident there were two separate plays Jonathan could use to get out of it. Odds were good he’d seen one of them, and was choosing not to mention it.
So Louise looked up and smiled. “It’s an acceptable read.”
There was a twinkle in his eyes in turn, and Louise was happy she’d correctly guessed his intent. “I concede,” Jonathan said simply.
Louise grinned. “Do you swear to follow my truth, my whole truth, and nothing but my truth?”
“I do,” he murmured, his eyes glazing as he did.
“Topple your king,” she told him. It was always her first command on nights she won. She liked the little sigh of acceptance he always made as he did so.
While Lauren as occupied working through someone’s mind in advance of their more formal indoctrination to the Bylaws, David had started in on key preparatory work for the trial.
There was, of course, a ‘true’ story to the case the students would be asked to try. But no student would need to know what that story was in order to win. Lauren and David had just had to decide what it was to create the depositions and to know where there were mistakes, errors, or deliberate lies.
The depositions had then been written by current H,Y,P interns—writing a fictional deposition was, for many of them, a pleasant positive reward after a couple of weeks of poring over other reports. Now it was time to prepare the witnesses who’d “given” these depositions for cross-examination.
Some of these witnesses would be students, and Lauren and Professor Nolan would be preparing them. David, however, was working with H,Y,P interns and other volunteers for witnesses whose appearances might have a bearing on how the students would react to them.
Which was how it came to be that, in a conference room on H,Y,P’s third level, David was the only conscious mind while eight men and women sat at the table, eyes glassy, reading their depositions.
He had a little bit of time to wait before he needed to start working on what had been going on behind their minds, where they might give under questioning, what weaknesses if any there were in their testimony.
He was looking out of the window and enjoying the view of one of the city’s finest parks, and he was thinking about Lauren.
He had every confidence that the current tension between them would dissolve, pretty much instantaneously, once court was in session. The sheer joy of knowing they’d pulled it off would be enough shared buzz for both of them.
Somehow, though, he found himself thinking that their connection had only just started to become clear to them.
It wasn’t that H,Y,P had paired them, exactly, although he often wondered if maybe Nolan had. The more he got to know the professor as something akin to a peer, the more he recognised the romantic streak in the man’s nature.
It was a common water-cooler joke at H,Y,P that Nolan—and the previous Orton professors supplied by the firm, in years past—was clearly far too interested in the just-graduated-to-law-school coeds for a man his age. David’s perspective was a little different; he knew the older man indulged, but he also knew that there were two other professors resident on campus who, while completely unaware of their connection to the firm, followed its bylaws instinctively and could be called upon reliably.
So, were David’s feelings for Lauren artificial? Perhaps. Did that matter? David tended to think not. Artificial they might be, but they were artificial the way roses climbing the trelliswork on the side of a house were artificial. The ground had been prepared, the seeds had been planted, and in the early days there had been efforts made to encourage the seeds to grow correctly.
Now those artificial feelings were a living, breathing part of the landscape. David loved Lauren and had no doubt that would continue for a long time to come. The two of them being groomed for each other just made for an easier time growing together. And while there might be arguments from time to time, they understood their mutual priorities and they had respect.
He considered again before nodding firmly to himself. Yes, he determined; he had assessed the situation correctly.
Satisfied with his work, he turned back from the window.
Looking around the table at the eight others, three were now sat quietly gazing forward, their depositions resting in a neatly-aligned stack on the table.
David smiled to himself and moved to the head of the table, where the extra chair rested. He put his hand on the back of the chair, ready to begin steering it toward his selected target, and he looked around thoughtfully.
Finally he selected as his first target Mrs. Morgan, a redoubtable woman in her early fifties. Mrs Morgan took pains to look younger than her age, but the H,Y,P Head of Records was a busy woman, and to fulfil her duties quickly seemed best. It was a natural implication of Bylaw 5; while the logical extensions were not stated, they were obvious and were often treated as a matter of law.
Bylaw 5: Time is for working or for taking pleasure. It is not to be wasted by poor timekeeping.
Still, he wanted to be courteous, so after he wheeled his chair over to sit on her right, he brushed the back of his left hand gently across her unresisting cheek, then reached back behind her and put his hand flat against the small of her back.
Watching closely, David saw her eyelids flicker shut, her eyes remaining unfocused, and the corner of her lips quirked into something closer to a smile as her lips gently parted.
Signs were positive that Mrs Morgan was enjoying her duty. Emboldened, he reached out with his right hand, cupping her breast for a moment before dropping his hand to her thigh.
Scooting his chair closer, he began to murmur into her ear. “You are a key witness in this case, and you know how important you are to its outcome. You lied in your deposition; you’ve known the defendant was not using his real name for months. But he is a charming man, and you have a soft spot for him.” He smiled. “You are slightly on his side in this case, Mrs Morgan, and so you have lied…”