“All Rise"

Fiction by Sidney B. Silverman

Promptly at 10 a.m., facing a crowded federal courtroom, the bailiff signaled for silence: “Hear ye, hear ye, court is now in session. All persons having business before the court, draw near and ye shall be heard. All rise. The Honorable Milton Black presiding. God save these United States and this honorable court.” 

He made a 180-degree turn and stared at a door at the back of the room. Through this door the judge would enter, wish the assembled persons a good morning, motion to them to be seated, and take his seat at a high-backed swivel chair in front of the bench, a raised mahogany table.

Not this morning.

About 10 seconds later — some later recalled it as 10 minutes — Simon Cohen, the judge’s law clerk, walked to the door and opened it. He shouted, “Judge, are you all right?” 

Judge Black was clearly not all right. He was lying in a pool of blood, a gag over his mouth and the slender black handle of a dagger protruding from his chest. Emergency medical services were called, much too late. The judge was dead.

Henry Rogers, a retired New York City policeman, now a federal marshal, was in the courtroom. He called the New York field office of the F.B.I. a few blocks away. Grace Loomey, an assistant director, rushed to the courthouse, shouting orders to the agents following as she ran up the steps. “The courthouse is a crime scene, shut and lock the doors. No one enters or leaves until I say so.”

Rogers approached her. During his cop days he’d known her father, Mark Loomey, the highest-ranking uniformed officer in the New York Police Department a living legend famous for his bravery and integrity. Meeting his daughter, who looked and talked like her father, was like a dream. Rogers had been assigned a desk job, and taken early retirement out of frustration; now he was a crime buff, reading every detective story he could get his hands on. 

When she introduced herself, he said eagerly, “Ma’am, I would be honored to assist you.”

Grace sighed, as if she had read his mind. “Detective work in novels seems exciting; in this case, it will be tedious,” she said. Like sifting through the sand at Coney Island searching for coins, thought Henry. But he couldn’t wait.

“You’re hired, on condition you call me Grace. Your knowledge of the court is invaluable. And,” she added, smiling, “you’re already on the federal payroll.” Henry beamed. 

Within an hour, Grace had instructed Henry to clear the courtroom and assigned an agent to seal off the judge’s antechamber with yellow crime-scene tape. She asked Rogers if there were exits other than the main one. Yes, he said, but they’d been sealed years ago for security reasons. She told him to call in marshals to guard those doors, knowing that the assassins could still be in the building — especially if they had planned to escape by mixing with the crowd of hundreds who would soon be pouring out. She wasn’t going to let that happen. Criminals made mistakes, or, if not mistakes, miscalculations.

“We’re probably not going to be that lucky,” she told Rogers. But it was worth a try. 

Loomey took a moment to call Jim Hudson, an F.B.I. agent. “Jim, do a background on Judge Black. Check his bank accounts, his computer, phone calls, any places they may lead you.” 

Only then did she take an elevator to the courtroom on the sixth floor. 

They could hardly hope for fingerprints, she told Henry, who was staying close, but the department had a new machine, an electrostatic dust-lifter. “It can see footprints, especially latent ones, and tell size, weight, even the path taken.” 

“In my day,” Rogers said ruefully, “you mostly depended on mud.”

Loomey was impatient for Forensics to arrive. They would gather threads, strands of hair, saliva, skin, drops of blood. These were the silent witnesses, and prosecutors loved them. Unlike people, physical evidence never forgets, and you can’t accuse it of perjury, or bias. 

A young agent approached, cupping his hands and whispering in her ear, unsure if he should talk in front of Rogers. The judge’s private elevator, it seemed, had gone from the 11th floor, where his chambers were, to the sixth, his courtroom, and then back up to the 15th.

“What’s on the 15th floor?” Loomey asked Rogers, thinking, “Besides an escape route.”

“That’s easy,” he answered. “One of the four judges’ chambers on the 15th is empty, waiting for Senate confirmation of a new judge.” 

She smiled. “Dante had Virgil to guide him through the circles of Hell. I have you.” 

Emboldened, Henry put his hand on her arm. “I have something to tell you,” he said. “There’s a rumor . . .” he started, then began again. “Listen. Judge Black was a widower. All his clerks were men. Some judges hire young women. They chase them around their chambers. The clerks compare tips on how to avoid groping.”

Grace waited for him to get to the point. 

“One morning, Judge Black and the court stenographer were late. They both went to the courtroom in the private elevator. When they came out, her dress was partly unzipped, and his robe was askew. The judge said, ‘It’s not what you think.’ And the whole courtroom laughed.”

“She had big . . . ” Henry stopped. “. . . a nice figure,” he ended lamely.

What’s so wonderful about tits, except if you’re me, and flat-chested, Grace thought. Men liked her and she liked men. But she fussed about her looks as little as possible. Tall and slim, with dark-blonde hair, she had long legs and thin ankles, but she concealed them in pants. Easier to move about. Don’t have to worry what’s creeping up your skirt.

She’d had a goal since she was a girl. “I want to be the first female director of the F.B.I. Do you think a president will ever appoint a woman to lead the G-men?” 

“I don’t see why not,” her father had answered. “For many years, the F.B.I. was headed by a fag in drag. Why not my brilliant daughter in a pantsuit?” 

And from the day she’d graduated from Fordham Law and started work with the agency, she’d been in love with her career. Marriage was out. Sure, on vacations she’d invite someone along. It was fun for a few weeks, but she made it plain — no permanent attachments. 

“What’s the stenographer’s name?” she asked Henry. It could be something, but most likely Judge Black’s dalliance and his murder were unrelated. If every judge who messed around was murdered, the courts of New York would be empty.

Henry told her, and she made a note of it. “I could tell you lots of dirt about other judges,” he said, “but it’s not relevant. Judges like to rule on morality. But from what I’ve seen, they violate their own sermons.”

Downstairs it was bedlam. On the ground floor they were met by an angry mob, hundreds of people screaming to be released. Henry signaled to one of the marshals to clear a path. When they got to the front, Grace borrowed a bullhorn. “My name is Grace Loomey,” she said. “I am an assistant director of the F.B.I.” The crowd quieted. “You may have heard rumors. An investigation is ongoing, and we will release more details as they are available.”

Murmurs started, but she waved them off. “As soon as you write down your name, address, and phone number, and confirm your photo I.D., you will be free to leave. Form six lines,” she ordered. “Those without photo I.D.s, form a seventh line.” 

Grace asked Henry to appoint a deputy to head each line. 

The crowd grumbled again but obeyed, forming six lines. No one lined up in the seventh. 

TO BE CONTINUED


Sidney B. Silverman, an Amagansett resident, was a corporate litigator for 43 years. After retiring, he earned a master’s degree with a concentration in philosophy from Columbia University. In addition to a memoir, “A Happy Life: From Courtroom to Classroom,” he is the author of six novels, including “All Rise,” from which this is an excerpt.