Law & Orders — Moot Court
Professor Nolan looked between the two glassy-eyed students in front of him, counting quietly in his head.
Both Matthew and Madison were looking forwards fixedly, but the pens in their hands moved smoothly across the paper in front of them, compiling two lists.
There were other ways to ask a moot court team which witnesses they would be applying to call, but this technique had been settled on after Nolan argued for it strongly and persuasively.
He had two reasons for this technique, and put both forward. Only one was practical—that if both individuals produced different lists, it indicated that they had not been willing to fully and frankly discuss strategy, which would be a mark against one or both—and that argument had been found sufficient in and of itself. If it had not been, the second reason would likely not have been considered enough.
The second reason was simply that Professor Nolan enjoyed creating this state, and that employing this check not only allowed but required him to do something he enjoyed at least twice in each academic year.
Once he’d finished the count of ninety, he stood and moved toward the desks at which they sat, and collected their papers. Scanning down the lists, he nodded to himself; the names tallied exactly, including by order. He clipped them together, then passed the bundle back to Matthew. “Sign and initial,” he directed; once Matthew had done so, he passed it on to Madison. “Sign and initial.”
The paperwork was then duly filed. Nolan stooped to kiss Madison’s cheek, and watched as her lips twitched in a not-quite-smile on her blank face.
He smiled softly to himself. It was probably time he looked to get a replacement and started talking to the Senior Partners about inclusion in a retirement package. Another year would doubtless go well.
“Dismissed,” he told them both. They got up together and filed toward his office door.
Matthew and Madison emerged from Nolan’s office, heard the door click behind them, and blinked. Immediately after blinking, life entered their faces, they ceased to be expressionless, and the slack look vanished.
As they became aware of their surroundings, they saw Jessica and Nick standing about ten feet away. Nick’s face wore a slight smirk; Jess’ expression was a strange mix of concern and frustration.
Matthew felt Madison’s hand slip inside his arm at the elbow. She squeezed his arm gently. “Oh, hi,” she said, and Matthew didn’t know what to make of her tone. “It’s Jessica, right?”
Jessica’s face smoothed into a mask, guarded, hidden. Matthew had a pang of concern; had he hurt her somehow? “Yes,” Jessica said, her voice as neutral as the mask she wore. Matthew winced. Madison was completely ruining this potential first moment.
…What potential first moment? Where had that idea come from?
“Matthew’s told me so much about you.” That was what was wrong with Madison’s tone; this was clearly a moment for a power play, but there was nothing of that in her voice; it was warm, open, and utterly guileless.
And that was the first time Matthew had heard Madison talk without there being some smug satisfaction at hidden meanings in her words. It was just part of who she was. As a trial lawyer, it would be a huge negative, but he was sure that wasn’t her goal.
Madison took two long, sashaying strides forward, releasing her grip on Matthew’s arm only when she was far enough forward that she could no longer hold on. Her other hand reached out and found Jessica’s, giving it a quick squeeze. “I hope you and I will be very close,” she continued, her voice suddenly as sultry as it was affectionate.
Even watching this moment, Matthew felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, his spine tingle. He had no idea what Jessica made of it, but that look she was giving Madison… it didn’t look angry, didn’t look frustrated, didn’t look competitive. It looked… welcoming? That seemed right, but surely it couldn’t be?
And then Madison kissed Jessica on the cheek and slinked on past her, taking a seat on one of the benches beside the office opposite Nolan’s.
Flushed, Matthew scrambled past Nick and Jessica, not meeting their eyes. He mumbled something that might have been conciliatory and kept going, finally sitting down next to Madison.
They watched the other students approach Professor Nolan’s office door, knock, and enter.
Jessica’s mind was reeling as she and Nick entered Nolan’s office. What had that all been about? What was going on? And why did the feel of the kiss on her cheek linger, a warm, buzzing tingle that seemed to draw her thoughts back to it over and over again?
The layout of the office had changed slightly. The two chairs Professor Nolan kept on the other side of his vast desk and tchotchke collection now each had a small folding table in front of them.
Neither of them had seen it like that before, and each had the sudden uncomfortable, instinctive feeling that they’d forgotten to study for a test. The churning in Jessica’s stomach temporarily took her attention away from the lingering kiss.
Professor Nolan smiled, and ushered them toward the chairs with a kindly gesture. They came forward cautiously.
Seeming to sense the nervousness in the room, Nolan reached out and idly started to fiddle with his Rubik’s cube. In picking it up, he knocked his fidget spinner stand and set it whirring again.
As always, Jessica’s eyes were drawn immediately to it. She was used to Nolan talking, but this time he didn’t. He sat there, and he let the uncomfortable mood sit.
Jessica found that she was less uncomfortable the more closely her eyes followed the motion of the spinner. There was something about it. As she stared, the rest of the room started to fade away. As she stared, the nervousness in her belly evaporated. She continued to stare, more and more of her surroundings vanishing, and even some of the person staring seeming to be lost, now, possibly beyond all recall.
The last thing she remembered before her mind fully submerged again was the feeling of Madison’s kips on her cheek, Madison’s hand squeezing hers. It was a very confused Jessica who was lost to trance.
Jessica had always found it easy to sink when alone with Professor Nolan, and in recent weeks had found it was still simple even with others in the room. But she knew, now, that others took longer to go deep, though she couldn’t imagine why. And so she was content to stare, and be absent, and wait.
A lawyer needed patience. A lawyer needed focus. Jessica now knew that a lawyer also needed to sink deeply and wonderfully into trance when the opportunity presented itself.
An unmeasured time after she sank, Nolan spoke. “I am about to enter information into the record,” he said. Both Jessica and Nick found a peaceful, hidden part of their memory, in which they were allowed to know that the case was not hypothetical, opening back up.
Nolan picked up the sheets that Madison and Matthew had filled out and read their witness list aloud. “These will be the witnesses for the prosecution,” he informed them. “Repeat.”
The two hypnotised students echoed the names back to him, out of step at first, but synchronising more closely the more they talked.
Nolan nodded, then set down a piece of paper on each desk. He tucked pens into their unresisting hands as they continued to gaze forward toward the spinner.
“Set down your own witness list to call,” he instructed.
Jessica and Nick were looking forward fixedly, but the pens in their hands moved smoothly across the paper in front of them, compiling two lists.
Nolan finished his silent count to ninety and moved to collect both papers again. The names tallied well, and were in the same order; however, Nick’s list added two witnesses that Jessica’s had skipped.
“Are you both agreed on calling Tyler Owens?” he asked. There was a shift in the atmosphere, even with their eyes vacant and their body language listless. He had often been surprised when there was a stirring of near-consciousness when working in trances, earlier in his career; now he had the confidence to know what was likely to come of it (if anything).
“No,” Jessica said decisively. Nick said nothing.
“Why not?” Nolan asked.
“He’d be a liability,” Jessica said. “Everything about his preliminary statement is hedged. He’s on our side but he’s so careful our argument would look much, much weaker.”
Nolan made a note to himself, and crossed Owens off Nick’s list.
“And Jon Brevis?”
“No,” came a voice again. But this time it was Nick, who’d entered the name. Nolan’s attention sharpened much further. Nick was willing to climb down on his own accord? That was a surprisingly positive sign.
He crossed the offending names out and passed the pages back to be signed and initialled.
Finally, Matthew had caught up with Madison for long enough to recover his phone. It was… a bit surprising how many messages he’d apparently missed.
Madison wouldn’t quite meet his eye as he took it. “It seems you’re a lot more popular than I thought,” she commented.
Matthew looked at her sharply. The words sounded like she was deliberately feeling superior. The tone sounded like she was just stating facts as she saw them.
Was that the difference between the average person and the very-rich-since-birth?
Walking side by side away from the building that housed Nolan’s office, the two of them fell back into companionable silence.
Matthew was vaguely aware that he should be thinking about Jessica. About all those messages. About the weird interaction between Jessica and Madison outside Nolan’s office. And yet his mind was chasing a hypothetical, and as absurd as it was, he knew without asking that Madison’s thoughts were in the same place.
He was confident both of them were contemplating the same hypothetical case, and both of them were evaluating what it would do to one side of that case if the opposition were to choose a specific set of witnesses. And he was absolutely confident they had identical lists in mind.
They didn’t need to talk to one another, it felt like. And that was honestly…
That was something he’d rarely had before. The ability to take pleasure in someone else’s presence in silence… that was new.
The silence was eventually broken just as Madison paused outside her room door. “It’s a shame that Owens isn’t being called.”
Matthew nodded sympathetically, making a noise of agreement. They’d debated whether or not a reasonable defence witness would want to call him. His initial statement was full of highly coloured language, and neither of them were under any illusion which side he was on, or how strongly he’d advocate.
But at the same time, neither of them had really expected him to make it. The statement’s colourful language didn’t actually hide that he wasn’t sure enough of his facts to survive a cross-examination. An honest witness isn’t your friend unless they’re absolutely sure of what they know.
“Let’s go over our own choices,” he said as Madison closed the door behind him. As if the door clicking shut were a signal, both of them immediately started slipping out of their clothes; Matthew enjoyed the reveal of Madison’s near-flawless body and her own glances were sultry enough that he knew she wasn’t unhappy either.
While they enjoyed the show, neither of them were really conscious of the decision to strip. Both had every intent of continuing to study, even as their lips met for the first time that day.
By now, the messages on his phone were long forgotten. “I’m still worried about what might come up on cross, and how we might need to deflect,” he continued.
Madison smiled brightly, placing one of his hands on her bare breast, a touch that startled him like a jolt of electricity. “I had some thoughts about that,” she said. Even as they came closer and closer to the bed, they continued to discuss and prepare.
The call to wake up was only delivered to one of the jury. Her phone rang at three-thirty am, loud enough that her roommate swore for a moment before turning over in her sleep.
This had happened several times this semester, and every time, she’d been asked to mute her phone at night. The roommate had watched her do it after the third time. Yet it always turned back on, and she was always apologetic about it.
It had never quite become the cause of an argument, and thankfully, this would be the last time it would be needed. After that night, Gwen would have no difficulty in remembering to mute her phone at night, and she’d never find herself turning it back up without noticing.
Gwen answered the phone—much to her roommate’s frustration. “Hello?”
A short silence, then Gwen’s tone completely changed. In what seemed to her roommate an eerie calm, she said “Yes, I understand.” Another pause. “Yes, of course. Now?” The final thing she said was “Yes, Professor.” She hung up, and her roommate, irritated, sat up in her bunk.
“What the hell is going on, Gw—”
“You have been selected for jury duty.” Gwen’s tone cut across her protests, her soft voice somehow drowning them out by virtue of the importance of the words. The roommate’s eyes flickered for a moment, then she slid wordlessly from bed. Coming down from the top bunk, Gwen’s feet hit the floor at the same time. The two silently began dressing, then left their dorm room, each with a list of five others in their head to summon for jury duty.
David would remark to one of his fellow Junior Partners, afterwards, that it hadn’t occurred to him how much more frustrating it was to start the moot court for six am when you knew it was coming and had to be conscious beforehand. It turned out (a thing he had known, but had forgotten, as is often true for all of us) that it wasn’t easy to persuade yourself to cut your evening short even if you knew you’d have to be up early.
His body was a creature of habit just as much as his mind was governed by the Bylaws.
Still, he and Lauren made it up on the day, and managed to keep their grumbling about the alarm to a minimum. They showered together, as they usually did, and kissed before they left it. “Good luck today,” Lauren said cheerfully. David grinned. “You too,” he said.
Neither said anything about the best man winning. They were perfectly aware that the point of the moot court was to find out who the best men and women were; it wasn’t about them but about the two teams at the trial.
David made two travel mugs full of coffee before the pair went down to their waiting car, the driver sitting with the patience of one deeply in trance.
The jurors split into groups of three. As if it was a choreographed dance, between four and five, each of the trios criss-crossed campus, moving along the paths between accommodation blocks and lecture halls with nobody awake to see them. Each had a specific destination in mind, and each group knew the urgency of their task.
Doors that should have been locked had been left open by security officers experiencing programmed lapses in their memory. Dormitories were easy to access.
There was a loud knocking at Jessica’s door. Muttering to herself, she rolled out of bed and made her way across, shrugging the strap of her sleep shirt back over her shoulder so she was at least halfway decent.
She was still wiping sleep out of one eye with the palm of her hand as she opened the door, mumbling “This better be good…”
The door fully opened and Jessica lost awareness.
She opened her eyes again, hand still on a door, but suddenly the world was much brighter. The doors were double doors, not the single door she’d opened originally. Her hand held it open, looking into…
…a busy court, bustling; the bailiff in place, a crowd already gathered in the observation gallery.
For a moment she thought she was dreaming, that image of total panic, arriving for work in your bedwear. Then she realised she could feel the unobtrusive presence of her tights, that her hips weren’t in the comfortable looseness of her sleep shorts but in the tight embrace of her skirt, and that her feet weren’t flat against the floor but snug in her heels. Glancing down for a moment, she realised the cheap suit that was all she’d been able to afford for her summer office job was fully in place, and that the pressure on her head of her hair being tied back into a bun was there.
Nick was stood beside her, blinking owlishly. After a few moments, everything clicked. Jessica remembered getting ready for the case; remembered her prep, remembered jury selection. It was strange that she’d forgotten, that was all. Must be nerves.
She strode forward, taking her place at her desk. The documents in front of her seemed to be annotated in someone else’s handwriting, not her own; still, it all fitted together perfectly. She knew what she was dealing with.
Jessica had a moment or two to collect her bearings. Looking across, she saw Matthew and Madison seated at the other desk.
She wanted to wave, but that didn’t seem appropriate. Looking at Madison still gave her those strange butterflies in her stomach.
“All rise,” a voice instructed.
Jessica had often wondered what it would be like to hear those words for the first time as an attorney. She had imagined that there might be a thrill to it. A quiet dignity, too.
She had not for a moment imagined that the sudden noise of everyone around her rising to their feet would be because none of them could disobey the instruction.
Was this what being a lawyer was like? Did it involve the same pleasing feeling of helpless continuance she associated with Professor Nolan?
If so… she could definitely get more into this.
The man who swept out of the doorway on the other side of the room and up to the bench was vaguely familiar; Jessica had seen him on campus once or twice, usually in conference with a teacher. Most often Professor Nolan, but it was clear he’d made extensive friendships in the teaching hierarchy.
The bailiff continued “Court is now in session, the honourable David Locke presiding.”
“Bring in the jury,” the judge instructed. Jessica had researched Locke before, but her research was clearly incomplete; she remembered the name, but not as a judge. He worked instead at H,Y,P—but obviously he must have progressed his career to the bench without her noticing.
There wasn’t time, but it was the only thing that made sense.
She watched the jury file in and take their seats, and sat up straighter. She made sure to smile at any juror who looked over to her, hoping to make a connection from the start.
“…with all that in mind, Mrs Morgan,” Nick began smoothly on cross-examination, “is it true that you’d seen another name for the defendant well ahead of the events in question?”
Madison bridled by Matthew’s side. This wasn’t what she wanted. Nick not rubbing the jury the wrong way? Maybe he’d been paying more attention to his lecturers than they’d anticipated.
A van Hoyt wasn’t supposed to go down to someone like Nick, not on their first outing anyway.
Mrs Morgan looked affronted, but hesitated. “I don’t remember.”
“Now, Mrs Morgan, you are under oath.”
“Objection,” Madison called smoothly. “Badgering the witness, your Honour—and there’s no reason to think she’s lying.”
She was chancing her arm with the second half of that, she knew, but if it paid off it would be worth it to have the judge accept that in front of the jury.
Judge Locke looked at her for a long moment, then back to Nick. “Well, Mr Warren?”
Giving Nick a chance to defend his action was a little unusual for an objection challenge. Did Locke disapprove of her attempt to sneak that idea forwards?
She watched tensely, but Nick shrugged. “Question withdrawn, your Honour.” He moved back to his desk and glanced at his notes. “Right. One last thing, Mrs Morgan—in your professional capacity, you took a number of phone calls intended for the defendant, correct? And took messages?”
The witness visibly relaxed. Back on firmer ground, evidently. “Oh, yes.”
“And did you ever take any calls which asked for a Mr Hardison?”
Madison watched Mrs Morgan twitch, and she winced in her turn. The jury were definitely going to have picked up on that; Morgan’s value as a witness was massively hurt.
“I did,” Mrs Morgan admitted.
“To the best of your knowledge, there was nobody of that name at your company?”
“There was not.”
“But you took the message?”
“Well, I listened and I put it out onto our Slack in case I wasn’t familiar with the employee in question.”
“So anyone in your company could have seen it?”
“Does that include the defendant?”
“…I suppose so.”
Madison and Matthew both winced.
Matthew didn’t move far from his desk, consulting the paperwork in front of him. “Now, Doctor Roy, you’ve stated before that this money was paid out to Mr Hardison in early July?”
“Correct.” The witness gave off an air of confidence and precision. He’d been the first witness Jessica and Nick had agreed on, although they’d both agreed he’d have to come later in the order. Jessica was watching Matthew work, but she was comfortable and confident. Roy’s testimony was watertight.
“And it was paid out for…?”
“For services we never received.”
“Mm-hm.” Matthew nodded slowly. “You paid by electronic transfer?”
Doctor Roy nodded.
“For the record, Doctor Roy?”
“Mmm-hm.” As Matthew continued, a sinking feeling started to creep up on Jessica. She knew his mannerisms well enough to know he had something.
Which meant they’d missed something. She shot a glance at Nick—he was the one who came from money, he’d claimed responsibility for going over the financials. He was still smiling calmly; she found herself glad again that she hadn’t partnered with Eric, who would have just not caught this. Nick wasn’t worried, so she probably shouldn’t be.
Matthew had caught this, though. Why had she let him partner with Madison?
Her eyes wandered from Nick to Madison. Little Miss Haughty, as she’d always thought of her, seemed warm and approachable now in the courtroom. This wasn’t a lawyer who juries couldn’t relate to. She seemed positive, but wasn’t smiling; her eyes were on Doctor Roy, watching his reactions. Her lips were parted in concentration.
Something about that happy, unreadable stare, the parted lips, resonated with Jessica. She heard a fleeting echo of something she’d heard Professor Nolan say once: “a model of how a H,Y,P partner should act. Almost a role model for you, that way.”
Something flickered in her mind about that blissful, quiet openness and how well it fitted the role of a lawyer.
Matthew, meanwhile, was continuing his cross-examination.
“The payment details submitted in Exhibit F, they show this payment?”
Doctor Roy shifted slightly at the witness stand. “Yes.”
Matthew paused for a few moments. “Now, we have another transaction that you paid to Mr Hardison in early April here,” he continued, shifting from one spot in his notes to another. “This one was approximately half the size. Yes?”
“There was no issue with the services for this payment?”
The doctor assumed a dignified air. “Services were perhaps a little slow to materialise. But nothing so much that myself and the Board were unwilling to give him a second contract.”
“And this is also shown in Exhibit F?”
“Thank you, Doctor Roy. Can I just ask you to confirm that the two payments go to different account IDs?” He offered the witness a copy of the exhibit.
Nick sat up suddenly, the calm smile gone. Suddenly he was deeply concerned. Jessica’s sinking feeling came back much stronger than before. He’d missed something.
“That seems to be correct,” Doctor Roy admitted uncomfortably.
“I see. Thank you. Now, Doctor Roy, can I draw your attention to Exhibit J?” Matthew collected another piece of paper.
“Exhibit J is the compiled list of accounts connected to the defendant,” Matthew reminded the jury.
“Doctor Roy, can you point to the account from the July payment on this list?”
Nick, trying to follow along with their own copies, was skimming a finger down the list on J, comparing it to the account ID from the July payment.
It didn’t seem to be on the list.
He stared up at Jessica, open-mouthed, his expression not of panic but of someone who realises too late they’d misunderstood a key question in their test.
Doctor Roy didn’t take as long as Nick. His shoulders slumped as soon as he was asked the question. The dignity and poise went right out of his body language.
“I don’t see it there,” he allowed.
Matthew smiled. “Your Honour, I’d like to invite you to confirm this for yourself. May I approach the bench?”
Judge Locke nodded fractionally. He seemed to Jessica’s eyes to be smiling. Was he on their side? He’d also seemed to be smiling when Nick had showed up Mrs Morgan. This definitely wasn’t how judges were supposed to behave.
Matthew passed him both documents. There was a silent period where Judge Locke compared them meticulously and Nick shifted uncomfortably on his chair beside Jessica.
“No connection appears to have been found between the defendant and this account.”
Matthew nodded. He took a couple of steps back from the bench. “Doctor Roy, I’d like to remind you you’re under oath.” Jessica tensed, waiting for what was next. A trap, a bomb, or an error.
“Do you own the account that received the July payment?”
That had to be wrong, didn’t it? Please let it -
Jessica slumped in her chair as she read the resignation on Doctor Roy’s face.
“…Well, I guess there’s no sense concealing it now,” he said quietly. The audience gallery exploded with enthusiastic chatter and Judge Locke banged his gavel. “Order! Order!”