Brett was smiling to himself, a tight but smug smile as his eyes ran over the headlines in the newspapers scattered on his desk. His name was on every single one of them. He was the front-page news. The TV channels were not far behind either. Criminal Lawyer Brett O’Connor’s sensational and unexpected win was breaking news on every media channel.
It had taken him two gruelling months and endless sleepless nights to get here. The case was a very difficult one. Public opinion was heavily biased against his client at the start. All superficial evidence seemed to point to the foregone conclusion: Naomi had stabbed her boyfriend, Vin Lo, to death. It was a murder of passion, fuelled by jealousy, perhaps. But murder nonetheless.
Naomi was the one who had found the body and called the ambulance. Who says she didn’t kill him first and then fake the rest? The other occupants of the building had testified to screaming matches between the couple being an almost daily occurrence lately.
“Innocent until proven guilty.” was the go-to phrase of Brett’s to all journalists. “There are no witnesses. No one has actually seen her do it. I believe my client is innocent.”
Did he actually believe that? Didn’t really matter to Brett.
He was here to win.
The prosecuting lawyer was confident about this being an open and shut case. And that was the chink in the armour Brett planned to exploit. As also the heartbroken expression in Naomi’s eyes. She was pretty, young, and looked so innocent every time she broke down and wept uncontrollably when cross-examined!
The media exploited the drama to the hilt. The victim, Vin, was the youngest son of the wealthy diamond merchant, Yuhang Lo. Though not an outright rotten apple, Vin had a reputation of being a ‘ladies’ man.’
Naomi, on the other hand, came from the middle class. She was educated, soft-spoken, and a receptionist at a bank. A perfect ‘girl next door’ that the public could grow to love.
And that was exactly what ended up happening. Public opinion, especially that of the younger generation, tilted in favour of Naomi. The more the media showcased her tear-stained face, scared eyes and her desperate plea for understanding, the more strongly the case leaned in Naomi’s favour.
Naomi blamed it all on ‘the other woman’ in Vin’s life.
“It’s Lara, I know it is. She has been sending him love letters for months, asking him to break off with me. When he didn’t agree, Lara killed him.” This had been Naomi’s refrain all along.
The only problem was, no-one knew who this Lara was. Naomi couldn’t say anything concrete about where Lara lived, what she did, or how she knew Vin. No neighbour of Vin’s could recall seeing any other young woman entering his apartment. Naomi was the only one who claimed to have caught glimpses of her. ‘Very fashionable, always in designer outfits, Jimmy Choo heels, and reeking of the latest perfume,’ was Naomi’s description of Lara.
Naomi did produce a couple of love notes from the apartment. They were raw declarations of passion for Vin, signed with a stylised L.
“Vin always threw them out. I found these two in his trash one day, “Naomi claimed. “Lara shadowed him. She was at his gym, in the nightclubs he went to, even when I was with him. Vin told me Lara wasn’t there. But, I always saw her. All our fights were because of Lara,” Naomi sobbed.”
Brett knew how unconvincing these claims would be in a court of law unless he could locate this elusive Lara soon. Luck, however, was on Brett’s side as the murder weapon, the one crucial piece of evidence, was still missing. And that was a big loophole he intended to take advantage of. The absence of a witness and the knife used to stab Vin, weakened the case as it dragged on.
Eventually, a stellar closing argument by Brett caused the Jury to hang, and the Judge ended the trial.
“We cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. The Justice System cannot withhold freedom from an innocent person.” he ruled.
Naomi was free to go for now. Though not free to leave the country. Another trial would begin eventually. Brett knew that. Yuhang Lo would not let the murderer of his beloved son go unpunished. Money would talk and pressure would mount to start a retrial.
But for now, Brett had won. The law firm Findlay and Associates that Brett worked for was a swanky, up and coming firm run by the Findlay brothers. But there was a rift between the two. The younger brother was eyeing the European market and threatening to start his own firm if Patrick Findley, the older brother and CEO, did not agree to the expansion.
Brett knew he was next in line if the rift happened. A partnership chance was brewing for him. He didn’t miss any chances to advance his career. Brett could see his name fitting in very well indeed; Findley and O’Connor. Didn’t that sound super swanky?
His goals seemed closer than ever.
Brett was jolted out of his reverie as Patrick Findley walked in. They had all been celebrating. The publicity was good for the firm. Champagne and several other empty bottles of alcohol lay around the office. The staff had all gone home.
Patrick winked at Brett, “Hero of the hour, still at it, eh?“ he nodded at the half-empty glass of whiskey in Brett’s hand. Brett tried to scramble to his feet, but Patrick waved at him to stay seated. “I’m off now, it’s almost 1 AM. You calling a cab?”
“No Patrick, the streets will be empty. I’ll drive,” Brett replied. Though he did feel quite unsteady from the large amounts of alcohol consumption all evening.
Brett slowly got to his feet as he heard Patrick’s footsteps fade into the distance. He suddenly became aware of how quiet his surroundings were. Brett was looking forward to a well earned, long sleep in.
The sound of his own mobile made him almost jump. It was a message from Naomi.
“I just needed to thank you for one last time for everything you did,” it read. Brett blinked, trying to clear the alcohol and sleep-induced fog in his brain. ‘for the last time!’ What on earth does she mean by that?
“Are you at home? Is everything ok? “he texted back.
“I am in your work car park,” came the reply.
Brett groaned. This over-emotional girl was going to do something stupid and ruin his victory, he feared. Who would remember Brett O’ Connor’s glorious win if his client tried to take her own life!
“Hey, just wait, I’ll be out there. I’ll drop you home,” replied Brett, as he headed out.
The basement car park was dark and deserted. A few dim lights flickered at intervals as Brett walked unsteadily towards his own car, looking around for Naomi. It took him almost five minutes to locate his car in the distance, parked in the shadows. The lights overhead were dead. “Where is this stupid girl?” Brett muttered as he fumbled in his pocket trying to locate his car keys.
A strong smell of perfume assailed his nostrils. Suddenly, he spotted a figure half-hidden by a pillar.
“Naomi?” he called out unsurely, still fumbling for the car keys. The woman stepped out from behind the pillar, under the gloomy, flickering light. She was dressed in a skimpy dress, her face, though pretty, was over made up even for that dim light.
“Hi Attorney O’Connor, nice to meet you at last,” she said in a strange, raspy voice. Brett felt a frisson of unease run down his spine. “Naomi?” he called out again, “is that you?”
Click! Clack! went the high heels as the woman began to walk towards him. “ You are really fond of Naomi, aren’t you?” You had to save that killer. You knew she killed my Vin!” she screeched in an unnatural voice.
Brett broke out in a sweat. He was backing away from this woman now, squinting to see her features more clearly. “Who are you?” he asked in a shaky voice, even though a part of him already knew the answer.
“Oh come now, a clever lawyer like you cannot figure that out?” she mocked. The woman was approaching him fast. Brett looked behind him. How far was the lift door? He needed to get back to the office.
Brett had left his car keys on his desk.
The alcohol and the fear were a potent combination now, making Brett quite unsteady on his feet. His hands were clammy and he really, really needed to relieve himself. But the woman was closing in on him like a deadly nemesis.
“Ok, this is ridiculous. So, you are Lara? Where were you during the trial? Why didn’t you come forward to prove Naomi’s guilt?” he asked, trying to distract her.
The woman stopped in her tracks. Her head cocked to one side as she listened intently. Then, eyes blazing, she screeched again, “Because Naomi wouldn’t let me. Do you think I didn’t try to come? That bitch stopped me.”
“But how?” asked Brett, stalling for time, as his hand pressed the button to summon the lift.
“She chained me, she throttled me,” the woman was whining now. Making an eerie animal-like sound that, coupled with her garish make-up, made her look like the living dead.
To his relief, Brett could hear the whirring sound of the elevator as it made its way down to the basement.
He just needed to distract this madwoman, get back into the safety of his office, and call the police.
“So, where is Naomi now?” Brett asked, almost not wanting to know.
The elevator door opened behind him, and Brett tried to step back inside. But his shoe caught the lip on the door and he stumbled backwards, slamming his body against the wall of the elevator and knocking the wind out of himself.
By the time Brett regained his composure and his balance, the woman was inside the lift with him and the door had closed. Her face, only a few inches away from his, was clearly visible in the brightly lit interior.
Brett stared at the face, his eyes widening in disbelief as he finally recognised the make-up smeared features of Naomi.
“Naomi is dead,” the woman hissed, grabbing Brett’s chin and forcing him to look into her eyes. “I killed her. That was the only way Lara could come to see you.”
Only then Brett noticed the large knife in Naomi’s (or Lara’s) hand. Its steel blade glinting ruthlessly in the bright elevator lights. His instincts told him this was the knife that had taken Vin Lo’s life.
He tried to speak, but his throat was too parched. Naomi looked at him intently. “Am I scaring you? Vin was scared of me too.”
“Why?” she demanded angrily. “Why can’t you guys like Lara? What is so special about Naomi?”
Brett looked around desperately. If only he could open the lift door somehow. But the knife-wielding woman was blocking it solidly.
“I could like you,” he said in a hoarse whisper. ” Why don’t you come back to my office with me, let me pour you a drink?” He suggested hopefully.
The woman pouted, the bright red lipstick making her mouth look sinister.
“Vin offered me a drink too, you know. Let’s sit and talk,” he said. But do you know what he called me? “Naomi, he called me Naomi!” she screeched again.
“I won’t. I know Naomi is dead. You killed her,” Brett pleaded.
His tormentor tut-tutted,
“That’s the problem, babe, she hissed. You know I killed Naomi. You will call the police on me if I trust you.”
“I promise you I..” Brett’s sentence remained unfinished. He screamed in pain instead. The knife moved swiftly, slashing his right cheek.
“Liar, liar,” said his attacker in a sing-song voice as Brett helplessly pressed his hand against the cut on his cheek to stop the dripping blood.
In desperation, Brett lunged forward, trying to overpower his opponent, to snatch the knife from her hand. But he had too much alcohol in his system. He was fatigued, terrified and completely unarmed.
Lara slashed him quite badly a few times before Brett gave up. He sat huddled on the elevator floor, wrapping his arms around himself for comfort.
His Nemesis watched him with triumphant eyes. “You shouldn’t have saved Naomi, she said again and…”
“And Vin should have loved Lara,” Brett snatched the sentence from her lips.
“Only, he didn’t. He loved Naomi, everyone will always love Naomi.” he finished quietly.
Lara’s eyes were ablaze again. “Why?” she screamed.
“Because Naomi is dead.” continued Brett. “Everyone always loves and remembers the one who is dead. Don’t you know that Lara?”
Lara looked around wildly. “They will forget her and remember me.” she declared impetuously.
“No, they won’t.” Brett retorted as a faint glimmer of hope awakened within him.” The newspapers will immortalise her, make a martyr out of her. You are alive. No one will make a martyr out of you.” he concluded.
Lara was shaking with rage now. Brett watched that blood-stained knife in her hand with dread. He knew he was gambling with his life by arguing with this psychotic woman.
But he was not going to give up without a fight.
“If Naomi comes back to life, I can be the martyr then,” Lara whispered almost inaudibly at last.
Brett didn’t respond. He wasn’t going to interrupt the flow of thought in Lara’s head. Besides, he was beginning to feel nauseous and faint from the loss of blood.
“I will be the martyr,” Lara repeated, as if in a trance.
She opened the elevator door and began to walk across the car park. As Brett dragged his body across the floor to close the elevator door, he could see Lara sprinting towards the car park exit.
Brett crawled along the lobby to reach his office door. Once inside, he bolted the door and collapsed on the floor, at last allowing himself to lose consciousness.
The newspapers and TV reporters had a tough time piecing the puzzle together for the next few days. Naomi’s body had been found. She had jumped off the flyover outside the office building of Findley and Associates.
Brett was recovering in hospital. He had given his statement to the police but refused to talk to any media for the foreseeable future. The limelight had lost its glamour for him.
Listlessly, he turned on the TV. A reporter was interviewing a psychiatrist about Naomi’s AKA Lara’s mental disorder.
“We call it Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID these days.” Explained the doctor, “It’s a multiple personality disorder. This woman could have had childhood experiences that…”
Brett shuddered and switched the TV off. He didn’t want to hear any more.
He just wanted to forget.
To be able to sleep without having nightmares.
To feel normal again.