The internet had told me everything I needed to know about him. Single, old money, career in public service, and at twenty-nine years old, he was the youngest district attorney in parish history. The only thing I didn’t know about him was why he would dare look at me, why he thought he had any right to pin me with his gaze after he’d ruined my life. I wanted to spit in his face, claw his eyes, and make him hurt the same way he’d hurt my father and me.
The door at the front of the courtroom opened and the judge entered, a stark, elderly man in black robes. Vinemont finally turned away, vanquished for the time being. Everyone in the courtroom stood. The judge shuffled to his seat behind a high wall of wood and state insignias, far above the spectators and lawyers.
“Be seated.” Despite his apparent age, his voice boomed, echoing off the dusty shutters and up into the gallery above. “Counsellor Vinemont…” He trailed off, sorting through the papers on his desk.
My father sank into his chair and turned to grant me a thin smile. I tried to smile back to give him some sort of comfort, but it was too late. He’d already faced forward, watching the judge. I willed the judge to let my father go, to suspend his sentence, to do anything except take him away from me. I had no one else. No mother. No one except Dylan, and I refused to rely on him for anything.
Vinemont stood and fastened the top button of his suit coat before stepping from behind the table. He was tall, and like so many dangerous things, effortlessly beautiful.
The bespectacled, bearded judge was still rifling through sheets upon sheets of documents when Vinemont spoke.
“Judge Montagnet, I have several victims lined up to speak against Mr. Rousseau.” His deep Southern drawl was an affront to my ears. Even so, words spilled off his tongue with ease. He could charm the devil himself. As far as I was concerned, Sinclair Vinemont was the devil.
I wished we’d never left New York, never travelled to this backwoods bayou full of snakes. Vinemont condemned my father with airy ease every chance he got. No one spoke against him. No one countered his venomous lies other than the ham-handed defense attorney my father hired. So many of the people we’d met in this town were good, forthright souls—or so I’d thought. They weren’t here. They didn’t sit on my father’s side to give him support against Vinemont’s false charges. They hadn’t come to testify that my father’s sentence should be reduced or that he should be granted mercy. It was only me and rows upon rows of empty, cold pews. We were alone.
On Vinemont’s side of the courtroom, two rows full of people, maybe twenty in all, sat and glared at Dad and me. Most of them were elderly men and women who had invested with my father. They blamed him for losing their money when all he did was invest as they requested. He had no control over the market, or the crashes, or the resulting instability. My father wasn’t the monster Vinemont had made him out to be.
One of the women, gray and wrinkly, met my gaze and made the sign of the evil eye. I only knew what it was because she’d done it before, the last time I’d seen her in court during my father’s trial. I’d looked it up and realized she was cursing me. With each movement of her hand, she was willing destruction down on my head. I looked away, back to the true reason for my father’s disgrace and my desperation. Sinclair Vinemont.
The judge nodded. “Bring up your first witness, Counsellor.”
I steeled myself as one by one, the alleged victims walked, limped, or wheeled past me to testify against my father. Their tears should have moved me, their tales of trust broken and fortunes lost should have forced some shred of empathy from my heart. All I felt was anger. Anger at them for getting my father into this mess. More than that, anger at Vinemont as he stood and patted the “victims” on the shoulder or the arm and gave out hugs like he was running for office. Every so often I could have sworn he leered back at me, some sort of smug satisfaction on his hard face.
The day droned on with story after story. With each witness, Dad slumped down farther in his chair, as if trying to melt away into the floor. I wanted to put my hand on his shoulder, tell him things could be fixed. Instead, I sat like a statue and listened.
The accusations stung me like a swarm of hornets. After the sixth or seventh witness, I went numb from their venom. Despite the breadth of the charges, I did not doubt my father. Not for a moment. Vinemont had done all this to ensure his reelection or for some other, similarly vile purpose.