Marcus Fennic had represented a lot of people during his time as a lawyer, and some of them had been pretty sleazy.

There had been a burly Texan man who sold metal safes that had been flimsily designed and were easily cracked, seeking libel damages.

There had been a man claiming that he had the phone number of Jesus, and there had been a crazed axe murderer who had killed a bunch of children who claimed “he was trying to save them from the real axe murderer.”

(Yeah, that son of bitch had gone to the chair. And there, he’d fried.)

There had even been a man who claimed that he’d managed to create a rejuvenating serum made from the damp skin of reptiles and was bottling it, selling it to rich heiresses, and saw nothing wrong with the fact that it didn’t work and often left the ladies with horrible purple welts that would last weeks.

But as Marcus Fennic sat with Jeff Combes, he missed the days where he could defend a literal snake oil salesman. Because of Jeff Combes’ case? Fuck it; he didn’t want to represent him. Nobody did. It was a shut case already, four days into the trial. Jeff was not getting through this one, and Fennic knew it.

“Jeff,” said Marcus. “I don’t want you to give up hope, because I think you could get through this.”

He looked up at the tear-stained face of the man he was supposed to be defending, sitting on a bland table that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a secondary school. He took in his puffy face, red eyes, and scraggly ginger locks matted with the nervous sweat of sitting in the stands for three hours a day.

Marcus didn’t know how long he could keep kneeling on the floor, looking up at the downturned face of his silent client. His 40-year-old knees were already whining at him.

And then Jeff Combes opened his mouth.

“But I don’t have the money,” he said. “Can’t I pay half the child support every month?”

“Kid, I don’t know.” Marcus said.

He did.

Jeff would have to pay in full.

Plus alimony.

And no custody of Max.

At all.



“I won’t have enough to pay for food, let alone for rent!” Jeff said, barely holding it together and looking as if he was about to descend into another 30 minutes of sobbing.

“Well, we can plead that you’re sorry, and that you want custody of—“

The mere mention of custody sent Jeff over the line again. “I don’t want custody of no bastard child!” he wailed. “Just take my damn money!”

He tugged at his clothes, frantically. “Take my damn clothes! Take my damn house! Just don’t make me raise a kid that ain’t even mine!” He was in near-hysterics, and even though Marcus didn’t particularly like his client, he felt a sudden sting of sadness.

Sure, the DNA sample had proven, without a doubt, that Max was Jeff’s child.

And Jeff was lying and stomping his feet, no doubt bitter that his ex-wife had moved on so fast.

And he didn’t particularly like Chad Williams either, with his bulging muscles and rippling chest covered in that oil-stained T-shirt he bought to the courthouse every day and left the stands covered in black smudges.

But there was something piteous about a fully grown man who was angry and bawling and still saying, even with all evidence pointing to the contrary, that he wasn’t Max’s father.

As Jeff continued his tirade, Marcus’s mobile pinged in his back pocket. He took it out and read the text. Someone called Dr. Holden, claiming he had to see him urgently.

Yeah, and you’re definitely not a fame-hungry jackass who saw this case on television and decided to play a little fuckabout with the lawyer of the “case of the week.”

Sure, definitely not from the blocked number you’re sending it from. Asshole.

He pocketed the phone as the door behind him open and Judge Terry peeked in, still wearing his judge’s wig and smiling the smile of a hungry wolf at the tearful Jeff and the stolid Marcus.

“Is Mr. Combes ready to come back into the courtroom now, or does he need a few more minutes to collect himself?”

“My client is ready, your honour,” Marcus said, knowing full well that Judge Terry (Marcus always thought of him as “Terrapin” due to his slow deliberations.) did not care one jot either way.

Marcus Fennic took the arm of his client and lead him back to the stands, as if he were leading an oversized toddler.

At first, Jeff didn’t want to go, but he quickly gave up.

He was just that sort of person.

The two men slid back into the stands.

Marcus kept his client distracted. Jeffrey Combes was a sensitive man, easily stricken by bouts of emotion. Just looking over at a crowing ex-wife who was kissing her new partner affectionately, or a well-placed jeer from one of the jury members, could set him off.

As Fennic had already found out.

Judge Terry spoke up. “And let the record state that we have removed the member of the jury calling the client Jeffrey Combes a “pathetic toerag of a father.”

He cleared his throat and organised the paperwork on his desk absentmindedly.

“We’ve heard today from Kacey Rivers, who claims that one-year-old Maximilian Rivers is the son of her estranged partner, Jeffrey Combes. The DNA test results have shown conclusively that Max is the son of Jeffrey, and so I would like to go to the jury for a verdict.”

He looked over at Marcus Fennic, and when no reply was forthcoming, looked over to the jury.

They didn’t need to be here. In fact, it was usually unheard of for a jury to act in civil court.

But because Jeff refused paternity, refused child support, and had refused alimony, he faced criminal charges.

“How do you find the defendant?” Judge Terry said, his words hanging in the air.

The presiding juror looked from the judge, to Jeffrey Combes, and then back again.

“We find him guilty, your honour.”

Kacey smiled widely, as Jeff broke down and Marcus let out a sigh.

Chad didn’t do much.

He wasn’t very bright and happened to be daydreaming about cars and bodybuilding, anyway.

Judge Terry nodded and opened his mouth to speak. There was no gavel to bang when the judge made their decision. Marcus remembered when he watched daytime television during his unemployed stint, and remembered when he thought the gavel was actually used in a court of a law.

Right now, looking at the crying man next to him looking at him with a look of rage, confusion, and betrayal, unemployment looked somehow more glamorous than being a lawyer.

Suddenly, a judicial assistant was whispering in Terry’s ear. The entire courtroom hushed.

The judicial assistant pulled back and Terry looked out at the gallery. The old worn velvet seating, worn down from purple to a blue. The chandelier that hung above them all, dotted with a hundred opalescent lights.

“I will conclude the trial tomorrow,” Judge Terry said, his voice solemn.

As Judge Terry walked out of the stand, amidst the confused ruckus, there was only one thing on his mind.

“Who the hell has parked in my parking space?”


Annabelle Carlson was a childhood friend of Kacey Rivers, but as she parked up outside the courthouse, she considered just how good of a friend she was. Worth throwing away your entire professional career over? Hardly.

Not without due payment, at least.

She didn’t look over as Kacey pulled open the door of the white Mini and pulled herself in.

Annabelle gestured to a small tub of mints sitting in the cupholder.

“No thanks, hun. I’m watching my weight. Anyway, I’ve got it.”

She handed over a bulky brown envelope and as Annabelle reached inside to pull out the wad of cash, Kacey slapped her wrist.

“Not here, you idiot! We’re outside the damn courthouse!”

Annabelle replied in a very polite and simpering tone. “I could very easily explain to Judge Terry that I switched Max’s hair sample with Jeff’s hair sample, if you’d like?”

Kacey turned the colour of gone-off milk as Annabelle continued smiling. And there was the intelligence that had got her childhood friend the degree in forensics. She idly wondered how long Annabelle would keep milking her finances. Possibly for the rest of her life.

A knock at the window made the two of them jump. Chad Williams’ big, gormless face beamed in at them as he waved.

Kacey shoed him back, and his face fell. He meandered back towards the courthouse.

“I don’t know what you see in the fella, to be honest with you,” said Annabelle, sticking her hand back in the envelope and pulling out a handful of notes. She froze. “You don’t think he’s going to go and tell the judge, do you?”


Kacey burst out laughing.

“Honey, I think his elevator stops about two floors from the top, if you get my drift.” said Kacey, watching Chad as we wandered around the car park slightly aimlessly. “He’s lovely, and he works all day. but I only want to keep him on for a year or two, like Jeff.”

Annabelle shrugged and went back to counting her money. “And the kid’s his?”

“Sure is!” Kacey replied. “And he’ll be well looked after with all the alimony money, won’t he?” She smiled over her shoulder as something cooed from the backseat.

Annabelle hadn’t notice the little cot in the back of the car that little Max was sitting in, gurgling happily away.

Kacey clicked open the car door, then wrapped her arm around the handle of the cot and hauled her baby out of the car.

Annabelle watched her as she went, baby in arms and her Igor-ish new partner shambling after her.

She drove off into the afternoon, stopping once at a small burger joint where she bought a box of steaming hot chicken nuggets and lukewarm fries. As she ate them, she wondered if she’d ever met anyone as evil as Kacey Rivers. By the time she’d finished her meal, chewing thoughtfully, she hadn’t thought of anyone worse.


In a doctor’s surgery only about a mile’s walk away from the burger joint, Marcus Fennic sat in a waiting room painted in drab green, listening to ambient music that sounded slightly Spanish. Opposite him were posters detailing the negative effect of smoking and a sad little corkboard covered with tiny pamphlets advertising yard sales that had happened two months ago, paper stubs promoting a small bouncy castle hire company, and other tear-offs and lost pets and small local sales.

“Mr. Fennic?” said a man in a white coat, holding open a door that Marcus hadn’t seen open.

“Uh, yeah. That’s me,” he said, brushing down his suit and following Dr. Holden into his surgery.

For a prankster, Marcus thought as he noted a brass plaque with the good doctor’s name inscribed upon it, he sure is putting a lot at stake here.

Dr. Holden shut the door to his surgery as Marcus spoke up. “I hope you know that wasting the time of legal representatives is a bad idea.”

“It probably is, yes,” said Dr Holden, unperturbed.

“And if you give me false evidence, you can be indicted.”

Dr. Holden nodded, but a smile was playing on his face as he pulled a slip of paper from a desk drawer. “Oh, I know. And I trust that you won’t tell anyone that I’m giving out patient information, yes?”

Dr. Holden handed over the slip of paper to the lawyer standing in the clinically clean surgery room. Marcus Fennic all but snatched it and began running his eyes over it.

“I don’t promise you anything, man. You’ve called me in for no reason, you’re breaking professional rules and—“

His eyes hit a single word and they stayed there.

His mouth opened and closed as her looked up at the doctor. And his quiet smile.

Fennic pocketed the paper.

“Got yourself a deal, doc.”

He walked out of the office, feeling at least a thousand times lighter.


The next day, the sun rose over the old courthouse that stood on the outskirts of the warm and pleasant county in a different way as Jeff drove into the car park.

He didn’t quite know what was so different about it, but the sunlight seemed less cold. Somehow more warm. More friendlier. But according to the car thermostat, the temperature hadn’t changed overnight.

It was just something in the air, perhaps.

Jeff raised a hand at Marcus, who was getting out of his silver Mercedes with, somehow, a smile on his face. Jeff didn’t know why, but he almost felt like smiling back.

He didn’t know why, which was odd. Because in the brief after the trial, Marcus had told him he might even face a jail sentence. So why did the world feel so open and free? The sunshine warm? The smile?

The two men entered the courtroom side-by-side, where the entire gallery was packed to the rafters. Vulturous journalists were padded around every side with their snapping cameras. Others were simply locals who’d snuck in. On each side of the galley were two giant TV network cameras the size of medieval cannons.

Kacey and Chad watched them come in, Kacey wondering irritatedly why her ex-husband and his bozo lawyer were 30 minutes late to a court proceeding.

Judge Terry loomed over the proceedings like a dragon, furious that two people had wasted 30 minutes of court time that he knew would come out of his time later, when he liked to slouch on the couch and eat potato chips whilst calling his favourite escorts to try and score free dates with them. (It never worked; they almost always said they were too busy working.)

“Before I deliver my verdict, do you have anything to say?” Judge Terry said.

“Just one thing, your honour,” said Marcus, standing up and moving over to the judge, where he placed a slip of paper in front of him.

He stood back and basked in the reactions around him. The journalists buzzing, the cameras clicking rapidly, the dawning look on Jeff’s face as he remembered the doctor’s appointment he’d had two years ago where he was told by the bored Dr. Holden something that hadn’t been important at all at the time.

He looked over and saw Kacey’s triumphant expression turn, in a matter of microseconds, into a mask of purest horror.

The feeling to speak was welling up inside of Marcus Fennic, who felt like the ringleader of the biggest circus on earth.

He adjusted his tie and opened his mouth.

“Your honour.”


“My client is infertile.”

The courtroom erupted.