After the Darkness

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The gods had demanded a sacrifice. A human sacrifice. In ancient Roman times, when the city was at war, captured enemy leaders would have been ritually strangled on the battlefield in front of a statue of Mars, the war god. Crowds of soldiers would have cheered, screaming not for justice but for vengeance. For blood.

This was not ancient Rome. It was modern-day New York, the beating heart of civilized America. But New York was also a city at war. It was a city full of suffering, angry people who needed somebody to blame for their pain. Today's human sacrifice would be offered up in the clinical, ordered surroundings of the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building. But it would be none the less bloody for that.

Normally, the TV crews and hordes of ghoulish spectators showed up only for murder trials. Today's defendant, Grace Brookstein, had not murdered anybody. Not directly anyway. Yet there were plenty of New Yorkers who would have rejoiced to see Grace Brookstein sent to the electric chair. Her son-of-a-bitch husband had cheated them. Worse, he had cheated justice. Lenny Brookstein - may he rot in hell - had laughed in the face of the gods. Well, now the gods must be appeased.

The man responsible for appeasing them - District Attorney Angelo Michele, representative of the people - looked across the courtroom at his intended victim. The woman sitting at the defendant's table, hands clasped calmly in front of her, did not look like a criminal. A slight, attractive blonde in her early twenties, Grace Brookstein had the sweet, angelic features of a child. A competitive gymnast in her teens, she still carried herself with a dancer's poise, back ramrod straight, hand gestures measured and fluid. Grace Brookstein was fragile. Delicate. Beautiful. She was the sort of woman whom men instinctively wanted to protect. Or rather she would have been, had she not stolen $75 billion in the largest, most catastrophic fraud in U.S. history.

The collapse of Quorum, the hedge fund founded by Lenny Brookstein and co-owned by his young wife, had dealt a fatal blow to the already crippled American economy. Between them, the Brooksteins had ruined families, destroyed entire industries, and brought the once great financial center of New York to its knees. They had stolen more than Madoff, but that wasn't what hurt the most. Unlike Madoff, the Brooksteins had stolen not from the rich, but from the poor. Their victims were ordinary people: the elderly, small charities, hardworking, blue-collar families already struggling to get by. At least one young father made destitute by Quorum had shot himself, unable to bear the shame of seeing his children turned out on the streets. Not once had Grace Brookstein displayed so much as a shred of remorse.

Of course, there were those who argued that Grace Brookstein was not guilty of the crimes that had brought her to this courtroom. That it was Lenny Brookstein, not his wife, who had masterminded the Quorum fraud. District Attorney Angelo Michele loathed such people. Bleeding-heart liberals. Fools! You think the wife didn't know what was going on? She knew. She knew everything. She just didn't care. She spent your pension funds, your life savings, your kids' college money...Just look at her now! Is she dressed like a woman who gives a shit that you lost your home?

Over the course of the trial, the press had made much of Grace Brookstein's courtroom attire. Today, for the verdict, she had chosen a white Chanel shift ($7,600), matching boucle jacket ($5,200), Louis Vuitton pumps ($1,200) and purse ($18,600), and an exquisite floor-length mink handmade for her in Paris, an anniversary present from her husband. The New York Post early edition was already on newsstands. Above a full-length shot of Grace Brookstein arriving at Court 14, the front-page headline screamed: LET THEM EAT CAKE!

District Attorney Angelo Michele intended to make sure that Grace Brookstein's cake-eating days were over. Enjoy those furs, lady. This'll be the last day you get to wear 'em.

Angelo Michele was a tall, lean man in his midforties. He wore a plain Brooks Brothers suit and his thick black hair slicked back till it gleamed on top of his head like a shiny black helmet. Angelo Michele was an ambitious man and a fearsome boss - all the junior D.A.s were terrified of him - but he was a good son. Angelo's parents ran a pizza parlor in Brooklyn. Or they had run one until Lenny Brookstein "lost" their life savings and forced them into bankruptcy. Thank God Angelo earned good money. Without his income the Micheles would have been out on the streets in their old age, destitute like so many other hardworking Americans. As far as Angelo Michele was concerned, prison was too good for Grace Brookstein. But it was a start. And he was going to be the man who put her there.

Sitting next to Grace at the defendant's table was the man whose job it was to stop him. Francis Hammond III, "Big Frank" as he was known in the New York legal community, was the shortest man in the room. At five foot four, he was barely taller than his tiny client. But Frank Hammond's intellect towered over his opponents like a behemoth. A brilliant defense attorney with the mind of a chess grand master and the morals of a gutter fighter, Frank Hammond was Grace Brookstein's Great White Hope. His specialty was playing juries, uncovering fears and desires and prejudices that people didn't even know they had and turning them to his clients' advantage. In the past year alone, Frank Hammond had been responsible for the acquittals of two murdering Mafia bosses and a child-molesting actor. His cases were always high profile, and his clients always began their trials as underdogs. Grace Brookstein had originally hired another lawyer to represent her, but her friend and confidant John Merrivale had insisted she fire him and go with Big Frank.

"You're innocent, Grace. We know that. But the rest of the world doesn't. The m-m-media wants you hanged, drawn and quartered. Frank Hammond's the only guy who can turn that around. He's a genius."

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