October 3, 6:55 PM
“It is not that I want to take money from nuns,” Fauchelevent mutters as he and Valjean walk up the path towards the house. “But that was our third pro bono case in a row. If you’ve decided to add ‘All Services Free’ to the Valjean & Co. Law Office sign, please let me know.”
Valjean pretends to consider this as Fauchelevent hunts in his coat pocket for the front-door key. “Perhaps we should. We can afford it.” The autumn evening is cold and Fauchelevent’s head is almost completely hidden between his cap and scarf; still Valjean can make out the fondly exasperated smile Fauchelevent directs at him.
“Yes, yes, we are independently wealthy, so you remind me whenever I suggest charging a particular client.” Fauchelevent mutters something triumphant and pulls out his key. He purses his lips and pretends to squint dubiously at the house. Then he adds, “Though you would not think us rich, looking at this place. Our neighbors must think we cannot afford a landscaper.”
Valjean studies the house for a moment. It is almost strange to think that they have lived in this old one-story for seven years now, stranger still to think Fantine has not yet seen her home except in photographs. Outside, ivy covers most of the gray and white stones of the exterior and the front yard is lost to a rampant intermingling of weeds and flowers. Behind the house and concealed from view is the somewhat more organized garden of Fauchelevent’s melons, Cosette’s strawberries, and Valjean’s greenhouse.
The place has the air of being abandoned and slowly reclaimed by nature. Valjean smooths a hand over his beard and assumes a thoughtful look. “It does look quite wild. Perhaps I will call up a landscaper and have them clear everything out,” he suggests. At Fauchelevent’s half-scandalized look, he cannot repress a smile.
“Oh, you are not funny at all,” Fauchelevent says, belying his words with an amused chuckle. He unlocks the door and limps inside, adding over his shoulder, “But I should have known you weren’t serious. Imagine Cosette’s reaction!”
“She wouldn’t speak to me for weeks,” Valjean agrees. He raises his voice as he helps Fauchelevent out of his coat and hangs it on the nearby coat rack. “Cosette!” There is no answer. When he looks down the hallway, he sees that the living room is dark and empty. He frowns and glances at his watch, but it is seven o’clock. Cosette should be working on her homework, her books spread out on the coffee table and music playing in the background.
“Cosette?” Fauchelevent calls. He wears a puzzled look that Valjean suspects mirrors his own. “She didn’t mention that she’d be out. But maybe it’s tonight and not tomorrow that she was going to the movies with Eponine…?”
“No, that’s tomorrow,” Valjean says. His frown deepens. Perhaps she’s in the kitchen; she’s been trying to teach herself to cook in anticipation of Fantine’s release next month. He’s halfway down the hall when he hears the crying. Alarm tightens his chest and twists his stomach into knots, makes it difficult to breathe for a moment. He has not heard Cosette cry like this in years, loud, terrible sobs, not since the days and weeks following Fantine’s conviction….
He knocks on Cosette’s bedroom door. It takes a great effort not to pound on the frame, to keep the knocking soft but questioning. The crying pauses for a moment, and then starts up anew, though quieter, as though Cosette is trying to muffle the sound. He resists the urge to test the doorknob and see if it’s locked. “Cosette? Cosette, what’s wrong?”
There’s another lull in Cosette’s sobbing. Then the door opens and Cosette flings herself into Valjean’s arms. Her sobs are interspersed with words he cannot make out, garbled against his chest. He wraps one arm around her, strokes her hair with his free hand. He finds himself muttering alarmed reassurances against the top of her head, though the words fall without thought from his lips, loving but meaningless. His thoughts turn immediately to Fantine, that something has gone terribly wrong, but if anything happened, surely he would have been informed. And yet these tears are too intense for something as minor as failing a test or getting into a fight with one of her friends.
Next to him, Fauchelevent looks anxious and baffled. He pats Cosette’s shaking shoulder and adds his own comforting words to Valjean’s even as he shrugs helplessly at Valjean.
It takes a few minutes before Cosette’s sobs ebb to hitching breaths and her words resolve into a name. Valjean frowns and strokes her hair once more. He’s torn between relief that this disaster doesn’t seem to involve Fantine and concern that he doesn’t recognize the name Cosette keeps repeating.
“Who’s Marius?” he asks when Cosette pauses and takes in a shuddering breath.
Cosette lifts her head from his chest at last, though she still clutches at him. Her face is splotchy with tear tracks, her eyes swollen. She bites at her lower lip and doesn’t meet his eyes. “H-he’s in my French course.”
Valjean tries to keep the dread off his face. They had argued about Cosette taking college-level courses. Valjean and Fantine had disliked the idea of Cosette being surrounded by men, even young men just out of high school, but Cosette had argued that she was responsible and would focus on her studies. “The one you’re taking at the community college,” he says, slowly, and feels ill. “Cosette--”
“Oh no, it’s not-- it’s not that,” Cosette says hastily, blinking at him. Some of her anguish is momentarily replaced by embarrassment. She wrinkles her nose, shakes her head forcefully. “No, he’s-- I’m still in high school, we can’t-- he wouldn’t--” She pauses and takes in another deep breath, her eyes filling up with tears once more. “Dad. The police arrested him.”
“Arrested him,” Fauchelevent echoes, astonished. “For what?”
“He wasn’t in class this afternoon, w-which he never misses. Courfeyrac and Bossuet-- they’re two of his friends -- stayed just long enough to tell m-me that--” Cosette pauses, gulps down a sobbing breath. “That Marius was arrested for t-trying to kill his father. Someone poisoned him. But Marius wouldn’t! He hasn’t even seen his dad since he was a little kid! He lives with his grandfather and aunt, and he wouldn’t--” She clutches at Valjean even tighter, until her knuckles are white. Her eyes are tear-filled and pleading. “He wouldn’t,” she repeats, the words ringing with conviction. “Please take his case. Please.”
“Cosette,” Valjean says. He looks helplessly over her head at Fauchelevent, who stares back with the same dismay he knows must be reflected on his own face. “Marius doesn’t have a lawyer already?”
Cosette sniffles and wipes a hand across her eyes. “No. Courfeyrac said he doesn’t think anyone will take the case because of Marius’s family.”
“Marius’s family,” Valjean says, baffled again. “What about his family?”
“Oh. Marius is Marius Pontmercy.”
The name doesn’t ring any bells, but Valjean sees recognition in Fauchelevent’s face, hears his surprised gasp. Fauchelevent leans forward, his expression intent. “Cosette, is his father-- was Georges Pontmercy poisoned?”
Cosette’s grip tightens around Valjean’s neck. She nods. “Yes.”
“Who's Georges Pontmercy?” Valjean asks, glancing between them both.
“You don't know of Georges-- oh, this was all before you moved here,” Fauchelevent says with a grimace. “Sorry, it sometimes seems as though you’ve always been here. It must have been, oh, it has been nearly twelve years ago.” He huffs out a breath. “God, I am getting old! You’ve heard of Bonaparte, of course.”
“Yes,” Valjean says. How could he not? Napoleon Bonaparte had risen to power as mayor and controlled the city for about a decade before being indicted for a myriad of crimes including blackmail, embezzlement, and evidence tampering. When he had been arrested by the FBI, a good number of prosecutors had joined him in jail or been disbarred and most of the high-ranking police had been fired. It had made the national news. Valjean frowns. “Then Georges Pontmercy was--”
“He wasn't charged with any crime. I did not know him personally, but he was viewed as one of the few honest men in Bonaparte’s group. After Bonaparte was sentenced, Pontmercy retired and moved to a small town outside the city. I think it’s about an hour’s drive away.” Fauchelevent shakes his head. “I knew he had been married, of course, but I never knew they’d had a son.”
Valjean frowns. “So no one will take the case out of respect for Georges?”
Fauchelevent grimaces. “Well. That’s part of it, I think, but it’s his father-in-law who is the real problem. Marius’s mother was Corrine Gillenormand, you see.”
Enlightenment dawns like a sudden burst of sunlight, banishing most of Valjean’s confusion. “I see.” He pictures the Chief Prosecutor with his fierce temper, unpredictable moods, and well-known tendency to hold a grudge. Surely Gillenormand would ruin the career of any defense attorney who failed to prove Marius’s innocence; most would not want to risk it. A thought occurs to him. “But Gillenormand can't possibly be handling the case himself, so who…?”
“I-I think he had to show he’s impartial,” Cosette says, tears filling up her eyes. “I know I'd want to assign a prosecutor who wasn’t very good, to make things easier on Marius, though that would be wrong. But to choose him--” Her voice catches in her throat. Anger momentarily twists her features. Cosette doesn’t have a heart for hating, but there are three people that induce that expression in her. Two of them are in prison and will never hurt another child again. The last--
“Javert,” Valjean says. The name falls heavily from his lips. Beyond Cosette’s shoulder, he catches Fauchelevent’s wince. He tries to force his expression into some semblance of neutrality though he doubts he succeeds. His chest tightens at the mention of Javert, the memories of their shared past, Fantine's trial, and the Gorbeau House trials crowding out all other thoughts. He clears his throat. “At least Javert is an honest prosecutor, Cosette. He has never forged evidence or--”
“But he always goes for the harshest possible sentence,” Cosette says fiercely. “Always, even when it’s a first offense. Even when there’s extenuating circumstances like--” Her face is flushed with outrage now. “If he hadn’t pushed for the harshest sentence, Mom wouldn’t be in jail for eight years. And he would’ve put Eponine and Azelma in jail if you hadn’t--”
“I know, I know,” Valjean says. His stomach roils, his own conflicted emotions a knot in his stomach. He cannot let himself think of the Gorbeau House trials right now, not with Fauchelevent and Cosette watching him. His face would betray him. He strokes Cosette’s hair away from her face once more and tries to smile. “I’ll go and speak to Marius, see if he’ll have me as his lawyer.”
Relief brightens Cosette’s expression and her embrace turns into a hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she says into his shoulder, half-laughing, half-crying again. “I know you’ll save him.”
Valjean’s stomach twists again. He looks helplessly once more at Fauchelevent, who offers him a sympathetic smile. He wishes she did not have such faith in him. He hadn’t saved Fantine, had he? Even Eponine and Azelma had only just escaped juvenile detention.
“I'll do my best,” he promises, and prays he will not fail her.
October 4, 9:13 AM
The next morning, when Valjean and the prison guard enter the room, Marius starts to rise from his chair. He falls back into his seat with a loud rattle of chains, staring down at his handcuffs as though he had forgotten they were there. Then he swallows and attempts a weak smile. “You’re Cosette’s father, aren’t you?” Some surprise must show on Valjean’s face, because Marius blushes and adds, “She showed me a picture of her family once.”
Valjean almost smiles at that, because of course Cosette would. He can picture her in her French course, leaning across the desk and showing Marius the photos she keeps in her purse, the one of her and Fantine when she’s five and the one of her, Fauchelevent, and Valjean on the day Valjean became her official guardian. Then he remembers how Cosette blushed, talking about Marius, and his good humor sours a little. He resists the urge to grill Marius on all the minute details of his life and his feelings towards Cosette. That would have to wait until after the trial.
He says, instead, looking at Marius’s sensitive face, still handsome despite being swollen from lack of sleep, his light brown skin sallow from the unforgiving fluorescent lights, “Yes, I am Mr. Valjean. May I sit, Mr. Pontmercy?”
Marius winces. “Please, it’s Marius. And plea--” He starts to gesture and then stops with another wince, his handcuffs rattling loudly again. “Please, sit down, sir.”
Valjean nods to the prison guard, who’s watching them with a bored expression, and then sits at the table. He tries to ignore the knot in his stomach, though he’s uncomfortable in prisons. Whenever he visits, he always has a niggling, disquieting thought in the back of his head that this is the time where they will say, Oh, you thought you were a free man? Your mistake! and snap the handcuffs on his wrists and lead him to a cell.
He leans forward, trying to focus on Marius. “When Cosette spoke to your friends yesterday, they said you didn’t have a lawyer.”
“No, sir,” Marius says. He sinks a little lower in his chair. Something like despair colors his voice, touches his face. “I’m beginning to think I’ll have to represent myself tomorrow.”
Valjean looks at Marius for a long moment. It’s difficult to imagine this awkward young man poisoning his own father, but appearances can be deceiving. The Thenardiers looked respectable to the people from social services, after all, right up until their arrests. “Did you poison your father?” he asks at last. His voice is soft and matter-of-fact; he keeps his face inscrutable.
Marius flushes hotly. His expression twists, looking a mixture of outraged and hurt at the question. Then he shakes his head and leans across the table. “No,” he says forcefully, with the same ring of conviction as in Cosette’s voice when she declared Marius’s innocence. He’s painfully earnest now. “Mr. Valjean, before Monday night, I didn’t even know what my father looked like.”
Valjean is silent for another few seconds. That had been the blush of innocence, he’s almost certain. And Cosette is convinced of Marius's innocence. She has always had good instincts. If he does not entirely trust this Marius yet, he has complete faith in Cosette. And he made her a promise, one he can’t break. He must do his best for this young man. He clears his throat. “Then, if you’re willing, I’ll represent you. Cosette may not have mentioned it, but I’m a defense attorney.”
The blush leaves Marius’s face slowly as he stares at Valjean. There’s an astonished, quiet hope in his eyes. “You will? I-- sir--” His expression contorts and he drops his face into his hands, his shoulders shaking. “Thank you,” he says after a minute, the words muffled. He raises his head, scrubs a bright orange sleeve hastily across his face. “I’m sorry, I’m just-- I didn’t sleep last night. Please don’t tell Cosette I cried.”
Valjean almost smiles a second time, because that’s a boy’s pride speaking. “It’s all right. You’ve had an intense few days,” he says gently. “But I need to ask you a few questions.”
Marius attempts to straighten in his seat. He coughs, wipes again at his eyes. “Of course, sir.”
“Can you tell me what happened Monday?”
Marius nods. His voice takes on almost a rhythmic quality-- obviously he has already told his account of the events to both the arresting officers and Javert. “Monday I had class until 5:15. Courfeyrac -- he’s my friend, we’re roommates -- dragged me out afterwards to the Corinthe, a local bar. They do a trivia night, and Courfeyrac always gets me on his team somehow. But just before the game started, it would’ve been a little before 6:30, I got a text message. It was from an unlisted number and it said, ‘This is Georges Pontmercy. You must come immediately. It’s a matter of life or death,’ and then gave an address in Vernon.” He pauses and took in a deep breath. For a second he looks horribly young and lost. Then resignation replaces the hurt. “Did you know that my father lives an hour outside the city and hasn’t visited or contacted me, not once in twelve years? I knew he lived in Vernon, Grandfather told me, but I never knew his address. I wrote him letters every day at first, then every week, then every month, that my aunt sent for me, but-- I write him twice a year now, for his birthday in December and mine in July. Well, I knew that it must really be a matter of life or death for him to contact me, so I made some excuse to Courfeyrac, I don’t remember what, got in my car and drove to the address.”
He pauses, his expression shuttering. Although Valjean already has a question on the tip of his tongue, he keeps quiet, not wanting to interrupt the flow of Marius’s story. After a few seconds, Marius clears his throat and says slowly, “The door was open when I got there. I knocked and called, but there wasn’t any answer. I shouldn’t have gone in, I guess, but I wanted--” He stops and laughs, pained. “I wanted to see him and ask-- well. I had a few questions. I went in and there he was on the ground, not moving. I-- I don’t remember a lot of what happened next. I stepped on a teacup that was next to him, I remember the crack. I felt for a pulse, and he had one, it was weak and irregular but there. He wasn’t breathing. I know I did some CPR then. I’ve had the training, Joly insisted everyone learn just in case. And then he was breathing but still unconscious. I think that’s when I remembered my phone. I was going to call for help, but then the police burst into the house. T-they arrested me immediately.”
Valjean waits a moment to see if Marius is finished, and then frowns, leaning back in his chair. There are a few things that seem odd in the story. He is more and more convinced of Marius’s innocence. “I have a few questions. First, didn’t you think it was strange that the text message said ‘This is Georges Pontmercy’? Wouldn’t he have said ‘This is your father’?”
Marius blinks. “I-I didn’t even think about it,” he admits. “I guess that is a little strange….” He shrugs, that childish hurt creeping back into his expression. “Maybe he didn’t feel comfortable calling himself my father? He hasn’t been much of one.”
“Maybe. My second question: how did the police happen to arrive just then?”
Marius looks baffled. “I’m sorry?”
“It’s a little strange that the police showed up a few minutes after you did, even though you didn’t call for help.”
Enlightenment sparks in Marius’s eyes; he straightens a little. “That is weird.” He frowns. “I think the officer who arrested me said something about a tip?”
Valjean makes a mental note to speak to learn as much as he can about this tip. “Is the text message still on your phone? Did you show the message to any of your friends before you left?”
Marius shakes his head. “It should still be there, sir. I didn’t delete it, and the officer confiscated my phone. But I didn’t show the text to anyone. Courfeyrac asked what was so interesting about the message, but I was busy grabbing my coat and looking for my car keys. I didn’t tell him what it said, I don’t think.”
Valjean pushes aside a pang of regret. If someone else had seen the message, that might have helped Marius’s case. But at least it would still be on the cell phone. “Now, think carefully. Do you remember anything else? Was there evidence of anyone else having been in the house recently?”
“I don’t-- I don’t think so. I remember the room smelled of flowers. I remember he was wearing a suit and tie, because I loosened the knot, but I don’t-- I’m sorry. I don’t--”
Valjean hesitates. There’s frustration and fear in Marius’s face, and his voice keeps catching in his throat. Valjean reaches out and pats Marius’s clenched fist in reassurance. It’s a quick, furtive gesture, because the guard had been very clear on the no-touching rule. He feels silly doing it. He feels slightly less foolish when Marius looks wonderingly at him, a tentative smile upon his face. “Please don’t apologize. You’ve been very helpful,” he says. “I’ll visit later after I’ve done some investigating. If you think of anything else, let me know then.”
“Yes, sir, thank you.” Marius hesitates and then says, all in a rush, blushing, “And-- and tell Cosette thank you too. I’m sure she asked you to represent me.”
Valjean stares at Marius’s flushed face and represses a frown. He had forgotten for a minute or two that Marius and Cosette knew each other. For a few seconds, he wishes Marius was not his client, because he suspects you’re not allowed to demand answers about your client’s intentions towards your daughter. He barely manages to keep his irritation off his face. The boy’s innocent, he reminds himself. And he can talk to Fantine after the trial and see what she has to say about this Marius. He clears his throat and manages, “I’ll pass that along.”
It comes out more brusque than he intends, but Marius doesn’t seem to notice. “Thank you, sir.” This time the boy’s careful as he rises to his feet. His chains barely clink. “Good luck.”
Outside the prison, Valjean hesitates and considers his options. First he needs to go to the prosecutors office. Gillenormand should be informed that Valjean has taken the case, and Valjean must speak to Javert and examine the evidence, especially the cell phone. He also needs to visit the hospital and learn more about Georges Pontmercy’s condition. The newspapers had said he was in a coma, but anything more than that had been pure speculation. And then Valjean also needs to interview Marius’s friend Courfeyrac.
He grimaces, his stomach twisting at the thought of seeing Javert again. They haven’t interacted except for the occasional awkward nod of acknowledgement in the court halls since the Gorbeau House trials last year, Javert's expression soured by suspicion. Valjean’s been grateful for the reprieve. But he cannot avoid him any longer, and as the prosecuting attorney, Javert will be the one with the greatest access to the evidence.
After another moment’s consideration, he pulls out his phone and calls Fauchelevent. “I need to go to the prosecutors office to look at the evidence. Will you go to the hospital and check on Georges Pontmercy’s condition and see if the poison has been identified yet?”
“Of course! The newspapers said that he is at St. Vincent de Paul. Doctor Simplice is now head of orthopedics. She might not know anything, but she’ll vouch for me to Pontmercy’s doctors.”
Valjean smiles a little, both at Fauchelevent’s enthusiastic answer and at news of Simplice’s promotion. She had been the doctor who’d helped Fauchelevent through his rehabilitation after the car accident that had brought Fauchelevent and Valjean together. “Did she finally get the promotion? Tell her hello and congratulations.”
“I will,” Fauchelevent assures him. He pauses. Valjean shivers a little in the cold, waiting a few seconds before Fauchelevent asks, slowly, “You think this Marius is innocent?”
“Yes,” Valjean says. He almost laughs then, hearing the same certainty in his voice that had been in Marius and Cosette’s. He shakes his head and adds, “In fact, I suspect he’s being framed, though I don’t know why.”
Fauchelevent hisses out a sympathetic breath. “Well then, let us hope it’s someone without too many connections. Otherwise this case will be even more difficult.”
Valjean grimaces in agreement and hangs up. Then he makes a second call, this one to Marius’s friend Courfeyrac to schedule a meeting for four o’clock. Now he has nothing left to do but head to the prosecutors office. He sighs and squares his shoulders, pushes aside his anxiety. Both Gillenormand and Javert must be faced. Still, he cannot help but feel like Daniel entering the lion’s den.
October 4, 10:37 AM
Valjean can hear Gillenormand’s furious shouting halfway down the hall. He hesitates, but the assistant had assured him that Gillenormand was expecting him, and so he approaches the office and knocks upon the door.
When he enters, Gillenormand is standing next to his desk, his arms folded and his foot tapping out an angry beat upon the floor. There is an IT technician sitting and typing on a laptop, her expression pinched and strained. “Just get the email back!” Gillenormand shouts.
“I’m sorry, sir, but once an email has been sent, it’s sent,” says the tech in a strained voice that makes Valjean suspect she’s repeating herself for the third or fourth time. “But I can send a corrected email for you--”
“Fine!” Gillenormand snarls. “But I’ll be complaining to your boss about your ineptitude.”
“Yes, sir,” the tech says. Her face is a little pale, her eyes watery. She doesn’t seem to notice when Valjean smiles encouragingly at her. “I’m very sorry, sir.” She types quickly and then says, “Here you go, sir, what you originally wrote. D-did you want me to put in the corrected date and time for the event and then add a sentence that this is the corrected time?”
“Fine,” Gillenormand says impatiently. Then he turns and seems to notice Valjean’s presence for the first time. Some of the color fades from his face, and then he smiles warmly. He steps forward, clasping Valjean’s hand in a hearty handshake. “You are Valjean, of course, the only defense attorney brave enough to defend poor Marius. Thank you! Thank you! Please excuse this--” He gestures at his desk, where the IT tech is getting to her feet and picking up her bag. He scoffs as she leaves. “Modern technology! Some of it might be all right, but most of it’s worthless. Tell me, what’s wrong with actually talking to people on the phone? All this emailing and texting nonsense! I only put up with it as much as I have to.” He shakes his head. “Please, sit down.”
Valjean sits. “Thank you for seeing me at such short notice.”
“Nonsense,” Gillenormand says. “Anything for my boy.” His loud, intense presence diminishes like a flame doused by water as he speaks. He sinks into his chair. He looks old, suddenly. How often had Valjean heard whispers about the Chief Prosecutor’s apparent immortality, his only concession to his old age being white hair and a few wrinkles? Now all the years are stark upon his face. “Marius is innocent,” he says, with the certainty that Marius apparently inspires in people.
“I believe he is,” Valjean says softly. This earns him a small smile of gratitude. “Now I just need your help to prove it.”
Gillenormand grimaces and shifts a little in his chair. He rubs at his eyes. “I will help in any way I can, of course, but I don’t think either Javert or the judge will take me seriously as a witness. But Marius would never harm a soul! He’s a good boy. A little too sensitive, but then his mother was the same way, rest her soul. And with the same taste in friends.” Gillenormand’s expression darkens, and he scowls. “Or should I say, lack of taste. Corrine refused to see how awful that man was, no matter what I said. Marius is the same way with his group of friends.”
Gillenormand leans forward so suddenly that Valjean nearly flinches. There’s a furious intensity in his face now. “Marius has political friends, you see. I suspect that that Courfeyrac is some Bonapartist. Perhaps he was working with--” He cannot seem to say Georges Pontmercy’s name, his lips twisting as though he’s bitten into something sour. “Well, birds of a feather flock together. And I've heard that there are still Bonapartists who claim Bonaparte was framed. Framed! I wouldn’t be surprised in a month or two to open up my newspaper and find that Bonaparte has broken out of prison, and that Marius’s friends were a part of it.”
Valjean blinks. He’s not sure what to make of Gillenormand’s theory. It seems rather far-fetched. But the man is the Chief Prosecutor, with a nearly perfect conviction rate. Perhaps he’s seen something that others have missed. There’s no harm in looking into Courfeyrac and Marius’s other friends, especially when Valjean already needs to speak with Courfeyrac about the Corinthe and the text message. “I’ll look into that, Mr. Gillenormand,” he says.
A relieved smile forms on Gillenormand’s lips. “Good, good!”
“Now, can you tell me a little about Marius’s relationship with his father? Marius mentioned they weren’t on speaking terms--”
“No, they weren’t,” Gillenormand says, back to looking angry. “The man is--” He pauses and shakes his head. “I told Corinne not to marry him. He was ex-military when they met, though he said next to nothing about his service. He claimed most of it was classified, though I’m sure he just exaggerated to look mysterious. But it’s obvious he wasn’t meant to settle down and have a family, even when he got his law degree and became a prosecutor. He’s always been-- been--” Gillenormand hunts for a word, and settles on, “Flighty.”
He’s about to say more when there’s a knock at the door. “Who is it?” Gillenormand demands.
“Your mail, sir,” comes the answer.
Gillenormand huffs out an exasperated breath. “Well, bring it in!” He grimaces at Valjean and says, almost apologetically, “This will just take a minute.”
Valjean doubts that, since the woman offers him at least twenty envelopes, but Gillenormand flips through them quickly, pursing his lips and muttering, “Trash, idiotic, trash,” and flicking each envelope deemed trash or idiotic into his trash can. The others he places on his desk to presumably be opened and read later. He’s halfway through when his expression goes white, his eyes wide with shock.
“Mr. Gillenormand, are you okay?” Valjean asks, concerned by the man’s pallor.
Gillenormand swallows. He runs his tongue over his lips and then shakes his head, a scowl contorting his face. “Bastard,” he mutters, and crumples up the envelope and throws it away. After another second, he swears under his breath again and then strikes his desk with his fist. He looks up and catches Valjean staring. He grimaces and strikes the desk again. When he speaks, his voice is thick with rage. “I've told all the reporters no comment, by email and by phone, and now it seems they’re desperate enough to slip a letter into my personal mail, as though I might give in!”
That explains the outrage and venom. Valjean offers him a sympathetic smile. He’s had more than one run-in with an overzealous reporter. “I’m sorry. Reporters seem to forget common courtesy when it comes to big stories.”
Gillenormand grunts in acknowledgement. He picks up the second half of the letters, and immediately rolls his eyes. “You would think at least the prosecutors office would have intelligent staff in their mailroom, and yet they always manage to give me someone else’s mail. And Chabouillet’s been expecting this letter all week,” he mutters. He gets to his feet. “Excuse me for a second.”
“Of course,” Valjean says politely. After Gillenormand leaves, his heavy footfalls moving down the hall, Valjean reaches into his pocket for his business card. Doubtlessly Gillenormand will want one.
The business card comes out of his pocket, but so does his wallet, which lands on the ground. Valjean reaches for it and then stops, the crumpled envelope in the trashcan catching his eye. He shouldn’t look at the envelope, he knows. It is an invasion of Gillenormand’s privacy, and also slightly illegal, but if the reporter was this keen, either he or she is desperate for a scoop, or had a scoop.
He remembers Gillenormand’s pallor, the hatred in his voice. Before Valjean can second-guess himself, he takes the envelope. He has just enough time to read Gillenormand’s name and address on the front before the office door opens. Valjean stuffs the envelope hastily into his pocket and grabs his wallet, trying to keep the guilt off his face. He rises and turns, the excuse of his wallet on the tip of his tongue.
But it’s not Gillenormand at all but actually Javert, who freezes in the doorway the second his eyes land upon Valjean. They stare at each other for a long, startled moment. “I--” Javert stops. His thin lips press together tightly in an uncomfortable frown. His brow furrows. “I was looking for Mr. Gillenormand.” His tone skirts the edges of accusatory.
Valjean’s stomach flutters. He feels almost ill. He wishes he had been better prepared. Seeing Javert so suddenly has him at a loss for words and flustered, all the old memories stirring. He clears his throat. “He’ll be back in a minute. He was delivering something to Mr. Chabouillet.”
“Oh,” Javert says. His expression doesn’t change.
“But it’s good that you’re here,” Valjean says quickly. “I’m representing Marius Pontmercy--” He ignores the way enlightenment and then exasperation twists Javert’s features. “--and need to see the evidence. Will you be available soon?”
Javert doesn’t answer for a moment. There’s a faint sneer upon his face, and a look in his eyes that Valjean cannot quite interpret. At last he presses his lips together tightly and nods. “Once you’re finished with Mr. Gillenormand, come to my office. I’ll have the evidence and reports there for you. Tell Mr. Gillenormand I stopped by and that I’ll speak with him later.”
“I will,” Valjean says. Javert keeps staring. He wonders if Javert saw him put the envelope in his pocket, but if he had, he would’ve said something immediately. He coughs. “Mr. Gillenormand and I should be finished soon.”
Javert doesn’t say anything else, but the crease in his forehead deepens before he leaves.
Valjean sits back down in his chair. It is ridiculous how shaky he feels, as though he’s escaped something alarming by the skin of his teeth. His hands, he realizes, are trembling. He looks at them ruefully and breathes, slow and steady, until the aftereffects of adrenaline wear off and his hands are motionless upon his knees.
He’s being foolish, he knows, and yet he can’t help himself. The Gorbeau House trials seem like yesterday instead of a year ago, the memory so persistent that he finds himself reliving it in the quiet of Gillenormand’s office.
August 8, One Year Earlier, 2:57 PM
“Not guilty,” the judge proclaims with a bang of his gavel.
At the prosecution table, Javert is pale and speechless with fury. The distance between him and the defendant’s table doesn’t obscure his outraged look; he looks as though he longs to storm over, seize Valjean and the girls by the neck, and drag them straight to jail, the judge be damned.
Valjean doesn’t let himself feel guilty, especially when Azelma chooses that moment to hug him, crying relieved tears as she says, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” The words are almost lost beneath the clamor of voices from the gallery. As Valjean awkwardly pats her shoulder, he spots the social worker making her way down the gallery steps towards the bar, struggling against the crowd.
Eponine, meanwhile, hangs back from her sister. There’s a speculative look in her eyes, and her reserved expression holds a hint of grudging respect. He wonders how much she knows, if she suspects what he did.
Valjean hesitates and then smiles tentatively at her. “I thought it best to wait until after the trial, but do you remember my sister Jeanne, the one who brought Cosette to visit you both at the detention center?” Azelma and Eponine nod, slowly. “She’s been a foster-mother for several years now. If you’re willing, she’ll speak to social services about you and Gavroche coming to stay--”
He stops at Eponine’s disbelieving snort. She laughs and shakes her head, the movement so sharp that Valjean winces for her neck. “You can’t be that good,” she says, incredulous. “You can’t just keep us out of jail and then get us a foster-home together. That just doesn’t happen--”
“Eponine,” Azelma says, and Eponine shuts her mouth with a click of her teeth. Azelma shifts restlessly, her expression a painful mixture of hope and uncertainty. She looks at the floor and mutters, “I-- your sister seems nice, Mr. Valjean. But we-- can we talk to her first?”
Valjean smiles. “Of course.”
He’s about to assure them that he’ll work with the system to try and keep them all together even if they don’t choose Jeanne when he feels someone’s gaze boring into him. When he looks up, Javert scowls at him. Valjean keeps his expression calm despite the sudden nausea that unsettles his stomach, the instinctual urge to look for the nearest exit that tenses his shoulders.
He has done the right thing, he reminds himself, even if the right thing meant breaking the law. “Javert,” he says mildly.
“I need to speak with you,” Javert says through gritted teeth. His skin is now flushed rather than pale, his eyes narrowed to slits. He casts a contemptuous look at the girls. Azelma flinches, but Eponine bares her teeth in a challenging grin. “Alone.”
“All right. Azelma, Eponine, Ms. Marguerite will take you out for an early dinner,” Valjean says, nodding towards the services worker, who has finally broken free of the crowd. He smiles again at them both and hopes he looks reassuring. “She’ll help you set up a meeting with Jeanne and discuss all your options.”
“Okay,” Eponine says. She flashes Javert another challenging smirk, and then her mouth twitches in a genuine smile as she looks back at Valjean. There’s a flicker of something in her eyes that might almost be gratitude. Then she turns and says airily, “Bet you were worried, Ms. M! Told you Mr. Valjean would handle it, didn’t I?”
Valjean doesn’t watch them go. Instead he keeps his eyes on Javert. There’s a vein throbbing in Javert’s forehead, and his hands are clenched into fists at his sides. Even more worryingly, his collar isn't straight, as though at some point Javert wrested it away from his throat, unable to breathe in his indignation. Valjean has never seen Javert looking anything less than immaculate; it’s slightly unnerving to see him otherwise.
“I know what you did,” Javert hisses once Azelma and Eponine are gone. “You concealed evidence somehow, got their mother to lie on the stand, you-- you--”
Valjean looks steadily at him as Javert sputters into indignant silence. His stomach feels like a stone now, a heavy, impossible weight that keeps him pinned in place; his tense shoulders ache. He says, slowly and carefully, “Are you accusing me of concealing evidence and tampering with a witness, Javert?”
Javert snarls and slams his fist upon the table, hard enough that Valjean winces. “Don’t give me that astonished look and ridiculous question. You know if I had proof I would’ve had you up on charges the second the judge pronounced his sentence,” he snaps. “But I know-- I know what you did, and I will prove it--” He laughs, a harsh, terrible sound, and Valjean flinches despite himself. Javert continues, sounding like he’s choking on his hatred, “God! I knew you would do this someday, men like you are not fit to be lawyers, and I’ll--”
“Enough.” When Javert opens his mouth to protest, Valjean says firmly, “Enough, Javert. You’ve said your piece. I don’t have to stay and listen to these accusations, especially when you have no proof--”
“I will find it,” Javert says, and Valjean almost shivers at the dark resolve in his voice. “I’ll prove you had a hand in the missing evidence, and I’ll prove that you convinced the girls’ mother to lie on the stand. Those girls will go to jail like they should have today. You will be disbarred, and then you’ll be back--”
Valjean’s concern for his own safety is supplanted by worry for Azelma and Eponine and frustration that Javert is so indifferent to the girls’ suffering. “Stop,” he says. Something in his tone and his face makes Javert pause. “Javert, you are a good prosecutor--”
Javert barks out a bitter laugh. “Don’t flatter me.”
“You are a good prosecutor, but can’t you bend just a little? Can’t you look beyond the facts of the case and look at the circumstances as well? You prosecuted their father, you know how they lived, what kind of man he is. If Azelma and Eponine ever participated in any of the crimes, which they did not, they did it to survive. They’re good girls. You’ve seen Eponine’s grades. She’ll get into college on a scholarship and succeed at whatever she sets her mind to. They simply need a safe and healthy environment--”
“Spare me your spiel,” Javert says scornfully. “I've heard it all before. ‘They’re not bad, they’re a product of a terrible environment.’ ‘They’re not bad, they’re just misunderstood.’ Tell me this, Valjean. If those girls were so good, why didn’t they turn in their parents long before now?”
Valjean stares, taken aback. Javert can’t possibly be serious. “Javert, what child would turn in their own parents?”
“I would have!”
Javert spits the words in Valjean’s face, low and venomous; he’s braced against the table now, as though it’s only the table that keeps him from grabbing Valjean and shaking sense into him. “I would have,” he repeats, in a tone Valjean’s never heard from him before. “If my mother had broken parole, I would have turned her in!”
This isn’t hypothetical, Valjean realizes slowly. He doesn’t know much of Javert’s past, hasn’t been inclined to learn anything about it, for their combined history is long and complicated enough, but now he wishes he’d found out more about Javert. Perhaps then he’d know what to say. “Maybe they wanted to,” he says at last, “but they remembered what happened the last time someone tried to convince the police that their parents were criminals.”
For a second, Javert only stares, incomprehension on his features. Then understanding flickers across his face and he sneers. “You still think that woman didn’t deserve jail-time? She abducted a child and crossed state lines--”
If Valjean was frustrated before, he’s angry now. He can’t understand Javert’s blindness in this, how someone so good at spotting an incongruent fact in a witness’s testimony can ignore the obvious. “Abducted a child? Fantine took her daughter away from an abusive home, Javert! She was trying to protect Cosette!”
“Social services made several home-visits--”
“And found no evidence. I remember,” Valjean says. He thinks of the first time he saw Cosette, her small body struggling to reach the water fountain, how she flinched when he approached her and offered his briefcase as a temporary stepping stool. He shakes his head, tired. Fantine has a little over a year to go before her release. She’ll get to see Cosette graduate from high school, but she’s missed so many other milestones.“I don’t understand. You’re so convinced that I concealed evidence, but you scoff at the idea that the Thenardiers hid their abuse.”
Javert doesn’t immediately answer, scowling.
Valjean, in the sudden silence, realizes they are alone. Even the bailiff is nowhere to be found. He looks around the empty courtroom, sighs. “Javert, it has been a long few days,” he says. “We’re both tired.” He pauses, and adds, wearily, “If you wish to formally accuse me of anything, you know where to find me.”
He imagines going home and telling Fauchelevent of Javert’s accusation, how Fauchelevent will react, and can’t help but smile a little at the image this conjures. He turns to go, and is stopped by Javert’s low, incredulous, “You think this is funny?”
Valjean blinks at him. “What? No, I--” He’s not prepared for Javert to actually seize him by the shoulders and propel him back against the bar, only reacts when his back hits the hard, smooth wood. His breath catches in his throat. “Javert, I wasn’t smiling because of--”
Javert speaks over him. “I don’t know how no one else sees it,” he mutters, almost to himself. His eyes are fixed upon Valjean’s face as though he’s trying to find something there. He looks half-furious, half-bewildered, his lips drawn back in a grimace. Javert continues his aggravated muttering, his breath hot against Valjean’s face, “Maybe it’s because no one else saw you before. They all know you as a successful businessman and lawyer; your past is an afterthought to them. You’ve fooled everyone into thinking you’re a respectable citizen, but I remember, I saw you--”
Valjean feels a little sick. He doesn’t want to remember their first meeting, the way Javert laughed when Myriel explained that Valjean was teaching himself law, the curious gazes of the other students. He searches desperately for something to stop Javert’s words. “Yes, you saw me, but so did Dr. Myriel.”
Javert’s expression contorts then, as though he’s bitten into something sour. “Dr. Myriel,” he echoes flatly.
“Yes, Dr. Myriel. He believes in me. If you can’t trust me, at least trust his judgement.”
Javert hesitates. It’s obvious he doesn’t want to say anything that might imply the revered Myriel was deceived, but it’s equally obvious he believes Myriel was wrong about Valjean. It is a contradiction that has him distracted enough that his grip on Valjean’s arms loosens a little.
Valjean reaches out and takes hold of Javert’s wrists, pulls his unresisting hands away from his shoulders. “We are talking in circles,” he says. “Believe me or not, trust Dr. Myriel’s judgement or not, just let me go home. I promised Cosette I would cook dinner tonight.” He releases Javert, his own hands dropping to his sides. He looks at the shadows under Javert’s eyes, his mussed collar, and wonders when Javert last slept. He’s in charge of all the cases relating to the Gorbeau House; that means at least twelve cases he’s working on. Valjean sighs. “Get some rest, Javert.”
“Valjean,” Javert says, another snarl. This time Valjean ignores him, moving sideways towards the exit. “Valjean, I’ll prove that you concealed evidence and tampered with a witness! I swear I will.”
This time Valjean doesn’t look back. He already knows what he will see: Javert, shaking in anger, his expression flushed with frustrated determination. “As I said before, you know where to find me,” he says, and braces his shoulders against Javert’s harsh laughter as he leaves.
October 4, 11:54 AM
“Thank you for your help,” Valjean says, tucking his notes away in his briefcase and starting to rise to his feet.
Gillenormand shakes his head. He looks drained from Valjean’s questions, and frustrated with himself. Other than his suspicions of Marius’s friends, he doesn’t know much about his son-in-law and wasn’t able to offer up any more potential suspects or enemies the man might have. “Anything for Marius,” he says. He taps his finger against Valjean’s business card and frowns. “You’re going to see his friends next? I’ll call you tonight for updates.”
“I need to speak with Mr. Javert and examine the evidence, but after that I’ll look into Marius’s friends,” Valjean says, and watches satisfaction bloom upon Gillenormand’s face.
“Good! I know they had a hand in it. I trust you’ll figure out the how and the why.”
Valjean doesn’t answer immediately. He’s still doubtful about Gillenormand’s theory. In the end, he settles for nodding politely and offering a noncommittal, “I’ll speak to you later, sir.”
A few minutes later, he hesitates at Javert’s door. Javert never found the proof that he’d destroyed evidence, but it had been weeks before Valjean no longer startled at every unexpected phone call, no longer expected police and a triumphant Javert at the door every time someone knocked. He runs a hand through his beard, frowns at the door for another second before he gathers up his courage and knocks.
There’s a pause, and Valjean is about to knock again when Javert calls, sounding distracted, “Come in. The door’s unlocked.”
When Valjean enters, he finds Javert standing out on his balcony, snapping into his phone, “I didn’t ask your thoughts on the theory, I just want you to check with your sources and have some answers for me by tonight.” The frown darkens to a scowl when he hangs up and sees Valjean. “I have all the evidence and reports here,” he says sourly, striding over to his desk. “What did you want to look at first?”
“The medical report,” Valjean decides after a second, approaching the desk as well. He wants to know Pontmercy’s condition, not just out of concern for the man, though he does hope he recovers, but also because it’s good to know if this might turn into a murder charge. And Fauchelevent hasn’t called him yet from the hospital.
Javert purses his lips but slides the manila folder across the desk.
Valjean reads over the report, his eyebrows rising in surprise at the diagnosis. He knew Marius had been accused to poisoning his father, but no one had mentioned the particulars. He looks up. “Aconite poisoning?”
Javert nods. “Your client was clever, I’ll give him that,” he says, his voice cool and dispassionate. “The aconite concentrations leave the bloodstream very quickly and make the poisoning untraceable once they're gone. If the victim had died before the police arrived, the concentrations would have vanished by the time the autopsy was performed. Unfortunately for your client, he didn’t take into account that aconite poisoning can take effect anywhere from fifteen minutes to half an hour later, or that someone would spot him putting the poison in his father’s cup.”
“Marius is innocent,” Valjean says, stressing the name. It’s frustrating to watch Javert distance himself from the people involved in the case, casting them as victim and perpetrator rather than actual human beings. He looks back at the report as Javert snorts. Unknown medical terms like percutaneous cardiopulmonary support system and cardiopulmonary bypass leap out at him, but he knows enough to understand the prognosis. “It says Georges Pontmercy’s still in critical condition...and in a coma? So the news was right about that.”
“Yes. If he wakes up again, which the doctors don’t know if he will, they say it’s doubtful that he’ll regain consciousness for at least a week. Unfortunately, that means I won’t be able to use him as a witness.” Javert sounds genuinely regretful.
Valjean regrets it as well, though for an entirely different reason. If Georges Pontmercy wakes up, surely he’ll be able to say that it wasn’t Marius who poisoned him. “May I see the police report?” He reads it over. He keeps his expression reserved even when his eyes light upon an interesting fact. He keeps his tone matter-of-fact. “The police received a tip from an unlisted source who didn’t leave a name? Have they been able to trace the call?”
“They did, as the report states, and no, the number’s untraceable.” Javert frowns at this, presumably annoyed that he cannot produce the witness and put him on the stand.
Valjean nods and reads on.
The man, who refused to identify himself, said that he was walking past the house when he saw a suspicious man pour something into a teacup. When he paused, feeling that something strange was going on, an older man then entered the room, sipped from the teacup, and seemed to get dizzy and fell to the ground. The caller described the suspicious man as dark-haired and tall, but when pressed for more, hung up.
The police arrived at the house twenty minutes after the tip was called in, and found the door open and a nineteen-year-old male of indeterminate race kneeling next to an unconscious black male of approximately fifty or sixty, who was unconscious and having difficulty breathing. They arrested the suspect, who identified himself as Marius Pontmercy and stated that he believed the man on the ground was his father, but wasn’t sure because he hadn’t seen his father since he was a child. The EMTs arrived a minute later as the victim went into cardiac arrest a second time. They removed the victim from the scene. The suspect was taken to the precinct.
Further investigation found a broken tea-cup bearing the fingerprints of a Mr. Georges Pontmercy, aged 60, owner of the house and identified as the victim. Pieces of the tea-cup were found ground into the bottom of the suspect’s shoe. Dusting for prints further revealed that the suspect’s fingerprints were on the door handle. Partials were recovered from the buttons upon the victim’s shirt that also matched the suspect’s.
When Valjean looks up, Javert is smiling that small, nasty grin he wears whenever he’s thoroughly convinced Valjean has lost and supported a guilty client. He settles back in his chair. “I have fingerprints. I have a phone call that places a man matching your client’s description at the scene poisoning the victim. I have your client, found at the scene.”
Valjean doesn’t bother arguing. He’ll save that for the trial. Instead he says, “The police should have taken Marius’s cell phone. I need to see it.”
Javert’s eyes narrow in suspicion, but he sifts through the evidence bags and at last selects one. “It has already been dusted for prints,” he says, scribbling a note on the bag to verify he had opened it, and then hands the phone to Valjean.
Marius doesn’t have password-protection on his phone. Valjean quickly scrolls to the messages. Then he frowns and looks again, a sinking feeling beginning in his chest.
“Not finding something?”
“Marius received a text that night, a message telling him to come to his father’s house, but it’s not here,” Valjean says without thinking. He’s not surprised when Javert barks out a laugh.
“Let me guess, you are shocked, shocked that your client has lied to you.”
“Marius wouldn’t lie,” Valjean says. He frowns at the phone, bewildered. Marius seemed so certain he hadn’t deleted the message. “Who else has had custody of this phone?”
“Just the arresting officer, the print technician, and myself.” Javert’s smile is humorless. “Are you accusing one of us with tampering with the evidence?”
“No,” Valjean says slowly. Or at least, he silently amends, he knows Javert wouldn’t. The arresting officer and the print technician are unknown entities. He frowns at the phone one final time before he shakes his head and rises to his feet. “Marius’s phone records should show that he received a text message around 6:20 from an unlisted number.”
Javert snorts. “Yes, that’s why there’s no record of it in his messages.” At Valjean’s frown, he waves his hand. “We’re already going through his credit card history to find how he got a hold of the aconite. Adding a request for his phone records isn’t difficult. Though I don’t know how long it will take the phone company to comply.”
“The sooner, the better,” Valjean says, thinking of Marius’s earnest expression. “Thank you, Javert.”
Javert makes a face, as though Valjean’s gratitude makes him uncomfortable. “I would be a terrible prosecutor if I didn’t investigate every angle.” He smiles again; there’s still no humor in the quirk of those thin lips. “Besides, it’s good to know what sort of ridiculous objection you may make during the trial.”
Valjean doesn’t rise to the bait. Instead he picks up his briefcase and says, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
When he gets outside, he takes out his phone to call and confirm his meeting with Courfeyrac. Then he frowns in dismay. He turned off his phone to go through the metal detector at the prosecutors office and apparently forgot to turn it back on. There are two messages waiting for him. One’s a message from Jeanne, suggesting that they reschedule their weekly dinner for the weekend instead of tomorrow. He texts her back asking if Sunday after church would work.
The second is from Fauchelevent, his voice filled with repressed excitement.
“It’s 12:37 now. There’s someone here at the hospital I think-- no, I know you should interview. I don’t know if he’ll help or hurt your case, but he’s been telling me some interesting things about Georges Pontmercy. And Javert hasn’t found him yet. I’m treating him to lunch right now, at that Chinese buffet place you like with the impossible name, but he’s agreed to meet with you. Come to St. Vincent as soon as possible.”
October 4, 1:28 PM
St. Vincent de Paul Hospital
Fauchelevent almost pounces upon Valjean as he walks down the hallway that leads to the ICU. “He’s speaking with the doctor right now, but he’ll be out in a minute,” he says, looking pleased with himself. “His name is Mabeuf, and he and his brother seem to be Georges’s only friends. I thought he might be able to tell us more about Georges.”
“Mabeuf,” Valjean repeats, and frowns. “Why is that name familiar?”
“Mr. Mabeuf is a horticulturalist and at the top of his field. Remember? You gave me his book two Christmases ago.”
“Oh,” Valjean says, enlightened, and then turns at the tentative sound of his name.
“Mr. Valjean,” the man says again, still looking uncertain and anxious. His hands flutter nervously at his sides. Valjean notices the swollen, arthritic joints and resists the urge to ask if he’s been to a doctor about them. Mabeuf smiles awkwardly. “Your friend probably already told you, but I’m happy to answer any questions about Georges. Did you-- he’s still unconscious, but the doctor is in with him now if you have any questions for her.”
Valjean realizes then that he’s only ever seen the old driver’s license photo of Georges Pontmercy that the news has been showing; everyone seems to be unable to find a more current picture of him. He nods. “Thank you, I’ll only be a minute or two.”
The room’s being guarded; Valjean wonders if that was at Gillenormand’s insistence or Javert’s as he shows the police officer his ID and attorney badge. He steps inside and then stops short, blinking in surprise at Georges Pontmercy’s unconscious form.
He recalls Gillenormand’s skeptical comments about the man’s past.
He was ex-military when they met, though he said next to nothing about his service. He claimed most of it was classified, though I’m sure he just exaggerated to look mysterious.
But there is a large scar that runs from Georges’ forehead down to his chin, and other, paler marks upon his dark skin that look like scars from explosions. Valjean thinks he spots an old bullet-hole in his right shoulder, half-hidden by the sleeve of his hospital gown. Studying him, Valjean thinks that he looks like a man who’s seen battle, and wonders that Gillenormand thought Georges a liar.
“May I help you?” the doctor asks, looking up from studying one of the many beeping machines surrounding Georges’ bed.
“I’m Mr. Valjean,” Valjean explains with a smile and polite handshake. “I’m representing Mr. Pontmercy-- that is, the younger Mr. Pontmercy tomorrow.”
“I see,” the doctor says. She frowns. “I hope he’s innocent. Imagine, a son trying to kill his own father!”
“He’s innocent,” Valjean assures her. He looks at Georges Pontmercy again. “I've seen the medical report and his prognosis. Is there any chance at all of him waking up tonight or tomorrow?”
“It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely,” says the doctor. She looks ruefully at him. “I guess that would make your and Mr. Javert’s jobs easier, if he woke up and told everyone who poisoned him.”
Valjean half-smiles. “It would.”
The beeper attached to her pants buzzes. She checks her message and grimaces. “Excuse me. If you give me your card, I’ll contact you as well as Mr. Javert if Mr. Pontmercy unexpectedly wakes up.”
“Thank you,” Valjean says. This time he manages to get a card out of his pocket without losing his wallet. Once the doctor has gone, Valjean looks at the unconscious man for a moment. He’s about to head back to the hallway when the door opens and Mabeuf slips inside.
Mabeuf sighs, staring at the bed. He looks stricken as his gaze travels over the tubes attached to his friend and the machines monitoring Georges’ vitals. He shakes his head and says, his voice thick with grief, “God. It would break his heart, knowing that Marius is accused of hurting him.” Mabeuf turns watery eyes upon Valjean. “He loves his son more than anything in the world.”
Valjean frowns, puzzled. “I don’t mean to be rude, but he has a strange way of showing it,” he says quietly. When Mabeuf only squints at him, blinking owlishly, he elaborates, “I was told that he hasn’t visited or spoken with Marius since Marius was a child.”
Mabeuf stares at him, seemingly equally confused. “Well, of course he hasn’t! That was part of the agreement, you know.”
Valjean feels suddenly like they’re having two conversations at once. He shakes his head. “No, I don’t know. What agreement?”
Mabeuf frowns. Some of his anxiety lost in a quiet outrage as he folds his arms against his chest and explains. “You know he was part of Bonaparte’s group?” When Valjean nods, Mabeuf explains, “After Bonaparte was arrested, Georges quit his practice. He and his family moved out to Vernon. Corrine loved flowers, and they were going to start a nursery. But then she died, two months later. A brain aneurysm. Very sudden. It was at her funeral that Gillenormand made his ultimatum to Georges. Either Georges would give up all parental rights to Marius or Gillenormand would leave Marius out of his will.”
Mabeuf pauses, a pained look on his face. “Georges had just lost his wife. The nursery was still in the beginning stages. He and Marius were just living on their savings. And then there was Georges’ health as well-- he’s never said what exactly is wrong, but I know his time in the service left him with some medical issues. And there was Gillenormand, who had recently become the Chief Prosecutor in the aftermath of the Bonaparte scandal. Georges did what he thought was best for Marius. He gave up his rights and agreed to keep away from his son. The only concession he managed to get from Gillenormand was that he could send a monthly letter to Marius.”
Valjean blinks at the last statement. “A letter?”
“Yes,” Mabeuf says, misunderstanding his surprise. “Gillenormand refused to let him email Marius or call him on the phone, even kept the family’s phone numbers unlisted in case Georges wanted to break their agreement. He said that a written letter was more than generous.”
“Mr. Mabeuf,” Valjean says, frowning. “This morning Marius told me that his father never contacted him until two days ago.”
“Then either he’s lying or Gillenormand did something,” Mabeuf says instantly. “I saw him writing numerous letters, even though Marius didn’t write to him for years and then finally began to write two letters a year.” He shakes his head. “Those letters are the most impersonal things I’ve ever read, but Georges cherishes them.”
Valjean thinks of the childish hurt and resignation in Marius’s voice, the way he said, Did you know that my father lives an hour outside the city and hasn’t visited or contacted me, not once in twelve years? He says slowly, “I don’t think Marius was lying….”
Color leaps into Mabeuf’s face. The old man doesn’t have it in him to look fierce, but his voice is loud and angry as he declares, “Then if Gillenormand never gave Marius the letters, I’m glad Georges broke the agreement!”
“How did he break the agreement?”
“He sometimes came to the city to see Marius perform in school plays. That’s how my brother and I befriended him. My brother was the principal at Marius’s middle school and noticed Georges sitting in the back row at every performance. We approached him and learned his story.” Mabeuf smiles briefly, though it’s a sad smile. “My brother even got him a ticket so he could see Marius graduate from high school.”
“I see,” Valjean says slowly. “From what Mr. Gillenormand had told me, I thought Georges didn’t--”
“Didn’t what? Love his son? Gillenormand never liked Georges, Mr. Valjean. You shouldn’t accept what he says about Georges as truth, and if you do you’re--” Mabeuf stops then, and looks embarrassed. He flushes. “Mr. Valjean, I don’t know what to tell you except that Georges would do anything for Marius, that he’s a good father, that he's missed Marius every day of his life, that he--” Mabeuf stops, the words catching in his throat. He swipes his arthritic hand across his eyes. “God! Excuse me. If you’d heard him talk about Marius, you’d understand.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” Valjean says, watching the other man struggle not to cry. “Thank you for your help, Mr. Mabeuf. I think I have a much better understanding of Mr. Pontmercy now.”
“You’re welcome,” Mabeuf says, voice wobbling a little. He leans heavily against the foot of the bed, staring at his friend. “I’ll be in the gallery tomorrow. I know Georges is in a coma, but people can sometimes hear what’s being said to them. I’ll tell him all about Marius’s trial.”
“I think that’s a good idea. You’re a good friend,” Valjean says gently. He hesitates for a moment and then glances at his watch and excuses himself. He needs to get on the road if he’s going to get to his meeting with Courfeyrac on time. Still, as he says goodbye to Fauchelevent and heads out to his car, he finds himself turning over this new information in the back of his mind. Either Marius was lying about his contact with his father, or Gillenormand has kept the letters from him all these years. Remembering the way Gillenormand had been unable to say his son-in-law’s name, his obvious dislike for Georges Pontmercy, Valjean thinks the latter is much more likely. But at the same time, it's hard to believe Gillenormand would do that, that there hasn't been a miscommunication somehow.
October 4, 4:11 PM
Marius and Courfeyrac’s Dormitory
Courfeyrac agrees to meet with Valjean in the dormitory’s recreation room. It’s not until the resident assistant ushers him inside that Valjean realizes why. The dorm room Courfeyrac shares with Marius would hardly have fit Courfeyrac, Valjean, and Courfeyrac’s friends.
Valjean blinks a little uncertainly at the other students spread out through the room. A few of them smile back, but most just watch him with neutral expressions. He has the impression he’s being judged but has yet to be found wanting. He wishes that he hadn’t left his coat in the car in deference to the sudden warmth outside and resists the urge to fold his arms against his chest.
He wonders which one is the Bossuet Marius mentioned. After a second, he focuses his attention on Courfeyrac, a tall young man with dark hair and a face that seems inclined towards cheerfulness even when he’s frowning about Marius’s trial.
“I’m sure you figured it out about five seconds after meeting him, especially since you’re representing him tomorrow, but Marius didn’t do it,” Courfeyrac says. He shakes his head. “Marius is...Marius.”
“You have to admit that If he did try to murder someone, though, he’d get caught immediately,” offers one of his friends, who looks half-apologetic when Courfeyrac frowns in his direction.
Valjean clears his throat, and Courfeyrac looks back at him. “Can you tell me a little about the trivia night? Marius mentioned he received a message around 6:30.” He hesitates, and then decides against mentioning what was in the message, at least for the time being. He’s unconvinced of Gillenormand’s theory, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.
“Marius got a text at 6:25,” Courfeyrac says. When Valjean blinks in surprise at the preciseness of the time, Courfeyrac adds, “He pulled out his phone just as Mrs. Houchloup gave her five-minute warning for the game.”
“I see. Did you get a look at the message?”
Courfeyrac shakes his head. “Marius just made a face at his phone--” He demonstrates, and in his wide eyes and open-mouthed stare, his astonished blinking and squint of bewilderment, Valjean can see Marius staring down at his handcuffs at the detention center. “--and then muttered about having to go, that there was an emergency, and ran off. I figured something had happened to his grandfather. It wasn’t until the police showed up at our room that night that I heard what happened.” He turns towards the couch. “Did you get a look at the text?”
“No,” answers one of the men sitting there, shaking his head. He must be Bossuet. He smiles, briefly, though his eyes are filled with concern, and says lightly, “But you should be an actor instead of a lawyer. That was almost scary.”
“You’re pre-law as well?” Valjean asks, surprised. Laughter answers him from every corner of the room.
“Most of us are, though Joly’s pre-med, and Combeferre is...Combeferre,” someone says, as though that explains everything. The speaker’s leaning against the wall. When Valjean looks at him, he flashes a broad grin. “How else are we going to overthrow the system if we don’t take it on from within?”
“Overthrow the system,” Valjean echoes, blinking. Now Gillenormand’s theory makes slightly more sense. He says, slowly, studying the faces around him, “Marius’s grandfather mentioned you were political. He said something about Bonapartists--”
If the group laughed before, it’s nothing compared to how they howl now, except for the solemn-faced one in the back of the room, who’s been typing away on his laptop and ignoring the conversation. Now he rises to his feet, unfolding to an impossibly tall height, his dark, stern face looking offended. “Bonapartists!” he says with a curl of his lips. “Bonaparte is a criminal who manipulated and supported a cruel and unjust system in his own selfish desire for power--”
“Enjolras,” Courfeyrac says in a placating tone. “Mr. Valjean was only repeating what Gillenormand told him. You know Gillenormand’s an idiot.”
Some of the indignation ebbs from Enjolras’s expression, but the sternness remains. He keeps his gaze fixed upon Valjean’s face. “We aren’t Bonapartists, Mr. Valjean. We want to fix the system, not abuse it.”
“Though I still think it’d go faster if we just take over the courthouse and demand changes,” says the man who first suggested overthrowing the system. He grins, unrepentant, at Enjolras's deadpan, “Your suggestion’s noted, Bahorel.”
“We want similar things, Mr. Valjean,” says a new voice. This man is the one Bahorel looked at when he said the name Combeferre. “When you accepted Marius’s case, we looked into you. Your mentor’s Dr. Myriel, I believe? A lawyer who always discovers miracle evidence that no one else can find to save his clients from murder charges. I suspect that’s due to his sister, who’s rumored to be a spirit medium….” He pauses, his gaze sharpening, looking at Valjean as though he’s hoping Valjean will confirm or deny this. Someone groans under his breath into the silence. Combeferre ignores the sound. After a second, he continues. “Dr. Myriel has worked to end unduly harsh sentencing and to help prisoners receive education and resources and protection from abuse. You seem to have followed his example.”
“Yes,” Valjean says when that calm voice stops. His throat’s tight. He misses Myriel, who’s taking a doctor-enforced sabbatical. Baptistine whisked him off to their childhood home on the other side of the country. Valjean doesn’t want to disturb him during his well-earned rest, but he wishes he could. Myriel understands his past with Javert more than anyone else, would have advice on how to proceed. Baptistine’s advice would also be appreciated, although there would be no use for her spirit medium skills. Unless she’s able to communicate with people in comas. He’s briefly distracted by the thought. He’ll have to ask her when the sabbatical is over. Valjean clears his throat. “He’s a good man. I owe everything to him.”
“The legal system is a joke,” Courfeyrac says. For once he looks serious and isn’t speaking lightly, his brow furrowed.
“People deserve a jury of their peers, not a judge who decides their fate with a bang of his gavel,” say someone else, and there’s muttered agreement throughout the room.
“Mr. Valjean. You work with Dr. Myriel’s organizations, and co-created a lobby that’s trying to re-institute the jury system,” Enjolras says, studying him. “And you created a lobby of your own, arguing that defense attorneys should be able to call their own witnesses as well. And then there’s your business, which offers work to recent parolees, your scholarships and programs for at-risk youth, your work with local and national charities…. I believe we have similar goals.”
Valjean thinks of Fantine, who’s lost eight years of her life and missed most of her daughter’s childhood because of an unduly harsh sentence. Of Azelma and Eponine, who spent years living in a terrible home because the system failed to protect them. “We do,” he agrees quietly. Then he shakes his head. “I’m sorry, I'd gladly discuss this with you at any other time, but right now, Marius is my priority. Perhaps after the trial we can talk?” He waits for a nod of acknowledgement from Enjolras, and then turns back to Courfeyrac. “Can you tell me anything about Marius’s relationship with his father and grandfather?”
Courfeyrac looks thoughtful. “Marius doesn’t talk about his family that much. He doesn’t talk about himself that much. It was a full semester before I figured out he was from here. I’d thought he was from out-of-state! But he told me once he hadn’t seen or spoken to his father in at least ten years.” He pauses and makes a face. “And I’ve eaten dinner at his grandfather’s a couple times now. Gillenormand is-- he’s--”
“An asshole,” Bahorel supplies helpfully.
Courfeyrac makes another face but doesn’t disagree. “I think he cares about Marius, but he’s terrible at showing it. Yelling at Marius when he gets an A- in a course because he can do better? Constantly talking about what he expects Marius to do with his life? Marius is taking that French course in secret, using his own money, because Gillenormand doesn’t think he should waste his time with languages.”
Valjean thinks of Gillenormand, how he aged in a blink of an eye at the thought of Marius being convicted of attempted murder and the affection in his voice as he called Marius his boy. Courfeyrac’s words confirmed a few things, not the least of which is that Marius never received his father’s letters. At least, Valjean can see no reason why he would lie to Courfeyrac about them.
“Thank you,” he says. “I can’t call you up as a witness, of course, and I doubt Mr. Javert will, but you’ve been very helpful.”
Courfeyrac smiles back and offers him his hand. He has a strong, firm handshake. “Thanks for taking Marius’s case. I’ll be in the gallery, cheering you on.”
October 5, 7:23 AM
In Transit to the Courthouse
“I still think you should be in school,” Valjean says as the light turns green and he takes a left.
Cosette doesn’t answer immediately, but he can feel her making a face at him from the backseat. Then her fond, slightly exasperated sigh fills the car. “Do you think I’d have learned anything today?”
“No,” he admits. His phone begins to vibrate, and he jumps a little in his seat, barely managing to keep his hands steady on the wheel. “Could someone grab my phone? It’s ringing.”
Fauchelevent leans over from the passenger seat and fishes it out of Valjean’s pocket. He squints at the screen. “An unlisted number,” he says, his thumb hovering to swipe ignore or answer. “Should I--?”
“Answer it just in case,” Valjean says.
“Well, if it’s a reporter I can always hang up,” Fauchelevent says with a grin. “Hello, this is Fauchelevent of the Valjean and Co. Law Office--” From the corner of his eye, Valjean sees his expression go slack with surprise. “Oh, Mr. Gillenormand! Yes, Mr. Valjean is driving right now, but he can call you once we get to the courthouse-- oh, you wanted to be sure he was on his way?” Fauchelevent looks slightly offended by the implication Valjean would dawdle the morning of a trial. “Yes, sir, we’re about five minutes away. He’s never late for a trial!” He pauses for a long moment. Valjean wonders at the sudden reserve in his expression and the cool way Fauchelevent says, “Yes, sir. I understand. See you at the courthouse.”
Fauchelevent scowls at the phone after he hangs up, back to looking offended. “Well!”
“What did he say?” Cosette asks.
Fauchelevent doesn’t immediately answer, grumbling something aggrieved under his breath. Then he gives a shake of his head and says sourly, “Well, it seems Mr. Gillenormand doesn’t have much faith in us. He made some comments about how he’ll make our lives miserable if Marius is found guilty.”
In the rear-view mirror, Valjean sees Cosette join Fauchelevent in looking annoyed. “I thought Marius’s grandfather would be supportive! How is threatening us helpful?”
Valjean’s stomach twists as he thinks of Gillenormand’s threat. Gillenormand could very well ruin their practice, put them on a blacklist. They wouldn’t be penniless, of course, not with Valjean’s successful business, which he doesn’t think Gillenormand can damage too badly, but the thought of not practicing law, of not being able to help people like Eponine and Azelma, makes him feel ill. He coughs, drawing Fauchelevent and Cosette’s attention to him. “Cosette, Mr. Gillenormand is upset. He cares a lot for his grandson--”
“That’s no excuse,” Cosette says. “He’s being a bully.”
Valjean tries to smile. “He doesn’t know me,” he points out. “It must be hard for him to place Marius’s life in a stranger’s hands.”
“I guess,” Cosette says, unconvinced. Then she shakes her head. “Well, his threat doesn’t matter. You’ll prove Marius’s innocence.”
Valjean’s stomach sinks further. The pressure of everyone’s faith in him -- Cosette, Fauchelevent, Marius, Mabeuf, Courfeyrac, even Gillenormand -- settles upon his shoulders and weighs him down. He hunches a little over the steering wheel, and turns the last corner to the courthouse, praying their trust is not misplaced.
October 5, 9:05 AM
“Mr. Javert, you may question your first witness,” the judge says.
Javert rises to his feet in a single fluid movement, offering the judge a smile that’s almost wolfish. Watching him, Valjean thinks not for the first time that Javert is in his element in the courtroom, more comfortable during a trial than at any of the banquets Myriel and his superiors have forced him to attend over the years. “Thank you, Your Honor.” Javert turns slightly so that he’s facing the witness stand rather than the judge. “Please state your name and occupation for the record.”
The woman smooths a hand down the front of her uniform. She looks a little self-conscious. Obviously she’s unused to being in a courtroom, especially one filled with a large crowd of reporters and curious onlookers who want to see the Chief Prosecutor’s grandson on trial for attempted murder. After a second, though, she speaks, her voice steady. “I’m Sergeant Bernadette Mignon. I’m a police officer with the Vernon police department.”
“Thank you. You were on duty Monday evening, correct?”
“Please, tell us in your own words about Monday night and what led to the arrest of the accused.”
Mignon clears her throat. “Yes, sir. We received a tip at 7:20. The caller reported that he had seen a suspicious young man with dark hair pour something into Mr. Pontmercy's drink, and that Mr. Pontmercy drank from the cup and fell to the ground. My partner and I arrived first at the scene, at 7:40. The front door was open, and we entered to find the accused--”
Here she pauses and nods in the direction of Marius, who’s sitting ashen and miserable next to Valjean. The gallery is momentarily filled with excited conversation, but the whisperers quiet down before the judge can even reach for his gavel. “--bent over the victim, who was unconscious on the floor. We began questioning the accused as to why he was there, but he couldn’t give us a good answer. I arrested him on suspicion of attempted murder. The EMTs, who arrived a minute or two later, took the victim away. It’s my understanding that he was airlifted to St. Vincent’s. We don’t have a CSI team, Vernon’s too small for that, so we blocked off the scene and called in some experts from the city. They found the victim’s fingerprints on a broken teacup found at the scene, as well as a trace of a poison called aconite powder.” She pauses and then adds with a significant look, “The accused’s fingerprints were on the doorknob. Pieces from the teacup were recovered in the sole of his right tennis shoe as well.”
The courtroom is loud again as people begin to argue in the gallery. Javert’s wearing his confident grin as the judge demands silence. Javert offers the officer a quick bow. “Thank you, Sergeant Mignon. You’ve been very helpful. Your Honor, I would like to present exhibit A, which is the floor plan of the victim’s residence and where he and the accused were located when Sergeant Mignon entered the house. I would also like to offer up Exhibit B, which is the police report.” He produces the evidence as though from thin air and offers it to the bailiff with a flourish.
“Exhibits A and B are accepted into evidence,” the judge says.
Javert smiles and bows again. “Thank you. And I have no questions for the witness, Your Honor.”
“I should think not,” says the judge with a nod. “Sergeant Mignon seemed very thorough in her testimony!” He sounds doubtful as he asks, “Mr. Valjean, do you have any questions for the sergeant?”
“Yes, Your Honor,” Valjean says. He ignores the judge’s surprised look and Javert’s smirk. He looks down at the notes he has written over the course of the day before and last night, going over the contradictions already found in the case. He taps his finger against one particular data point he’d written down, and looks up. “Sergeant Mignon, you said that the tip was received at 7:20?”
“And that the caller claimed he’d just seen someone poison Mr. Pontmercy?”
Javert interrupts, though he sounds more amused than anything else. “Was my colleague asleep during Sergeant Mignon’s testimony? Or perhaps this is already an attempt to stall and delay the inevitable….”
Valjean shakes his head and holds up a placating hand. “Please, there’s a reason for my questions, Your Honor, just give me a minute. Sergeant Mignon, you say that the caller claimed he’d just seen someone poison Mr. Pontmercy?”
“So if we trust the caller’s testimony, then Mr. Pontmercy was poisoned shortly before 7:20.”
Sergeant Mignon begins to look irritated. “Yes, that’s right. Unless the caller time-traveled, he’d have to seen Mr. Pontmercy being poisoned before 7:20.”
“Objection!” Valjean says with satisfaction, and watches as both the sergeant and Javert blink at him. “The caller’s tip means that means to have committed the crime, my client must have been at his father’s house in Vernon before 7:20!”
“You are stating the obvious now, Valjean,” Javert snaps, though Valjean thinks there’s a hint of unease in his voice.
Valjean allows himself a small smile. “Not at all. The caller’s tip actually proves my client's innocence! It’s impossible for Marius to have been at Mr. Pontmercy’s house at the time of the poisoning.”
“What?” The judge leans forward, blinking at him. “What do you mean, Mr. Valjean?”
“My client was at a bar called the Corinthe until 6:25 that evening, about to participate in a weekly trivia night.”
“Even if he was, that doesn’t prove anything,” Javert says. He sounds irritated now. “Your client has a car. He simply left the bar and drove to the victim’s house.”
Valjean shakes his head. Next to him, some of the pallor has left Marius’s face and he looks almost hopeful. “I've researched the trip from the Corinthe to Mr. Pontmercy’s house in Vernon. Even with little to no traffic and even if he’d gone ten miles over the speed limit the entire way, it still would have taken Marius an hour and ten minutes to get to his father’s house.” He spreads his hands and shrugs. “If he didn’t leave the Corinthe until 6:25, how could he have entered his father’s house and poisoned him less than an hour later?”
“Order, order!” shouts the judge over the clamor of the gallery. He frowns. “Mr. Javert, do you have an answer for Mr. Valjean?”
Valjean looks towards the prosecution table. His stomach sinks when he realizes Javert’s smiling again. Something’s restored his confidence. “No, Your Honor,” Javert says smoothly. “I don’t have an answer for Mr. Valjean, but I do have a question. Where is the evidence that proves his client was at the Corinthe at 6:25?”
Valjean’s stomach sinks further as the judge looks at him and says, “Well, Mr. Valjean? Do you have evidence to support your claim?”
“I have two people who will testify--”
Javert laughs. There’s a mocking edge to the sound. “In his eagerness, Mr. Valjean seems to have forgotten how trials work. I am the one who calls the witnesses, not you, Mr. Valjean.”
Valjean looks steadily at him, until Javert’s smile twists. “At least one of the potential witnesses is sitting in the gallery right now,” he says. “If you truly wish for justice today, Javert, you’ll call Marius’s friend Courfeyrac to the stand.”
He can't read Javert’s expression as Javert lifts his eyes towards the gallery, presumably looking for Courfeyrac. After a moment, though, Javert’s expression hardens. “I only call on reliable witnesses,” he says, the words clipped and hard. “You’ll have to prove your client’s innocence another way, Valjean.”
Valjean shouldn't be disappointed in Javert, and yet he is. If he thinks Courfeyrac is unreliable, why not let Courfeyrac take the stand and then disprove him, as Valjean is forced to do with all the other witnesses Javert parades before the judge?
“I will,” he says, with one last look at Javert. He turns back to the sergeant. “Sergeant Mignon, when you arrested my client, did you search him as well?”
“Yes. That’s standard procedure.”
“What did you find on him?”
Mignon thinks for a moment. “His wallet, which had his driver’s license, a credit card, his student ID, and a couple dollars. His cell phone--”
“His cell phone,” Valjean says, and from the corner of his eye sees Javert give a little start.
There’s a pause, and then the judge says, “What is your objection, Mr. Javert?”
Javert grimaces. “I object to this line of questioning. Mr. Valjean is only wasting time. We discussed this particular piece of evidence yesterday and found it didn’t help his client’s case.”
The judge frowns. “You might have discussed it between yourselves, Mr. Javert, but I haven't heard about this evidence. Perhaps your colleague has learned something new since yesterday. Objection overruled. Continue, Mr. Valjean.”
“Thank you, Your Honor. Sergeant, when you took possession of my client’s cell phone, did you check the messages?”
Sergeant Mignon hesitates. “I did,” she says at last. For the first time since she marched up to the witness stand and promised to tell the truth, however, her cheeks flush. There’s a small tremor in her voice, and Valjean realizes that she is about to lie. “I didn’t find anything suspicious.”
Valjean looks at her for a long moment, but she doesn’t meet his eyes. He runs a hand over his beard, frowning. Why is she lying? Did she delete the message? If so, he wonders why and how he can possibly prove it. He turns to the bench. “Your Honor, I find that very strange. At 6:25 my client received a text message from an unlisted number that impelled him to go visit his father for the first time in twelve years. The fact that the police received a tip, also from an unlisted number, which brought about my client’s arrest seems like too much of a coincidence.” He raises his voice. “It leads to me to one conclusion: my client was framed, and whoever made that tip to the police is the real culprit!”
Javert’s “Objection!” is all but lost amid the tumult of the gallery. It takes several minutes and the judge’s consistent banging of the gavel before the courtroom quiets down. The judge scowls. “If the crowd cannot control itself, I will eject the entire gallery from the courtroom,” he warns, and then turns to Javert. “I believe you had an objection, Mr. Javert?”
“My colleague is once again throwing out baseless conjecture and trying to make it sound plausible, Your Honor,” Javert says. There’s an angry flush on his face. “May I ask the witness a few questions?” At the judge’s nod, he turns. “Sergeant Mignon, as you testified earlier, you checked the cell phone messages. Did you find one in question sent at 6:25 to the accused?”
“No, sir,” Mignon says, pale, the only color in her face now two bright spots of red in her cheeks. “I didn’t see anything like that.”
“The text message may have been deleted,” Valjean interjects. “I know Mr. Javert has been thoroughly investigating my client. Perhaps he can answer a question or two for me.” He looks over to the prosecution table and meets Javert’s irritated gaze. “Do you have Marius’s phone history?”
“No,” Javert says shortly. He grimaces at Valjean’s look of surprise and folds his arms against his chest. “There has been some sort of hold up in getting access since your client has an unlisted number. It’s in a separate database than the general public.”
Valjean opens his mouth to press him and then shuts it, frowning. There’s something niggling in the back of his mind, a half-formed thought, as though he has missed something and his subconscious is trying to put together the pieces. After a moment, when the idea has yet to form, he shakes his head and momentarily dismisses it. “Do you know when you will get access?”
Javert purses his lips. For the first time all morning he looks annoyed by someone other than Valjean. “I spoke to the phone company’s representative earlier. He assured me I would have the records by this afternoon.”
Valjean turns to the judge. “Your Honor, these phone records might prove my client’s innocence! I ask that we postpone the trial until Mr. Javert receives the records--”
“Objection! Your Honor, there’s no reason to believe that the phone records will offer such proof. After all, we have Sergeant Mignon here, who has repeatedly stated under oath that there was no message on the accused’s phone! Is Mr. Valjean suggesting that the sergeant, a respected veteran who’s been on the force for fifteen years and has a spotless record, is lying under oath and has tampered with evidence?”
Before Valjean can speak, Javert holds up the evidence bag containing the phone. “Exhibit C, Your Honor. The cell phone in question. If you will look at the phone’s messages, you’ll clearly see there was nothing sent to the accused at 6:25.”
It takes the judge a long moment to figure out how to work the phone, his gray eyebrows almost bristling as he scowls and mutters under his breath. At last he lets out an exultant, “Aha!” Then he frowns again and looks at the defendant’s table. “Mr. Javert is correct, Mr. Valjean. I don’t see any sign of the text message you claim your client received. Do you have an explanation?”
Valjean hesitates. Across from him, Javert’s back to looking triumphant. Valjean knows with absolute certainty that Mignon is lying. Further, he suspects that she deleted the text. But he has no proof, and no reason to suspect her. She’s a respected officer with no hint of corruption in her years on the force, and as far as he knows, she has no reason to help Georges Pontmercy’s poisoner. “No, Your Honor,” he says at last. “But I’m certain if you will postpone until we can see the phone records, we’ll--”
“I’m not postponing the trial to wait for potential evidence that may not even exist, Mr. Valjean. Now, do you have have any other questions for Sergeant Mignon?”
Valjean doesn’t dare look at Marius to see the mounting disappointment and discouragement on his face. “Not at this time, Your Honor,” he says. He glances at the clock. It’s not yet ten o’clock. He wonders if he can keep the trial going until the afternoon, when Javert will have to produce the phone records.
With a smirk and his usual grandstanding, Javert next parades Georges Pontmercy’s doctor and the medical report in front of the judge. She confirms what Valjean already knows: that Georges Pontmercy was poisoned with aconite powder, which he ingested sometime between 7:15 and 7:35; that he remains in critical condition and a deep coma; and that it is unlikely he’ll regain consciousness before next week, if he ever does wake up.
It’s only when the doctor steps down that Javert’s confidence seems to falter slightly.
“Your next witness, Mr. Javert,” the judge prompts. He pauses and scratches at his jaw. “Unless you feel that you’ve provided enough evidence to prove the accused’s guilt…?”
Valjean’s chest tightens in alarm, because Marius will surely be found guilty at this point, but Javert shakes his head in denial and says, “Not yet, Your Honor.” Still, he continues to hesitate. He glances towards the defendant’s table, his expression unreadable. His gaze moves slowly over Marius and Valjean. Then he looks towards the gallery. Valjean has a moment to wonder if perhaps he’s changed his mind and will call on Courfeyrac as a witness before Javert says, “Your Honor, I admit I’m not entirely comfortable putting this witness on the stand, but he has insisted. Out of deference to him, I can’t refuse--” He stops, grimacing, and runs a hand down his tie, an unwontedly agitated gesture that makes Valjean blink in surprise. “I would like to call Mr. Gillenormand to the stand.”
“Mr. Gill--” The judge straightens in his chair, his eyes going wide. “Oh!” He frowns. “Are you certain about this, Mr. Javert? I understand how the Chief Prosecutor must be feeling. If it were my grandson on trial, I would-- But I don’t see how he can provide any insight to the case. He wasn't a witness to the crime, and he can’t possibly be trying to help your prosecution of his own grandson!” A thought strikes him and he leans forward. “Unless he knows the motive?”
“Mr. Gillenormand raised the accused from the age of seven, when the victim gave up all parental rights,” Javert says, rather evasively, enough so that Valjean stares at him, puzzled. He, too, can’t see how Gillenormand’s testimony will do anything but sway the judge’s sympathy towards Marius. Javert runs his hand down his tie a second time, fidgeting with the knot, and adds, “I think he’ll be able to provide details about the accused’s relationship with the victim that might give a possible motive.”
The judge settles back in his chair, looking intrigued. “Very well.”
Marius shifts in his chair and lets out a quiet breath. When Valjean looks over, he sees that Marius is fighting back tears. “Can’t you object?” Marius whispers. His hands clench into fists on the table, his handcuffs rattling quietly. “This will kill him.”
Valjean shakes his head and squeezes Marius’s shoulder reassuringly, drawing his hand away when Marius startles at the touch. “I’m sorry. I can’t object to his witnesses, only to their testimony,” he says.
Marius looks resigned, and then all the color goes from his face as the gallery erupts in loud, excited whispers and Gillenormand enters the courtroom.
If Gillenormand looked old yesterday, it’s nothing to how he looks on the stand now, small and fragile, like his bones are made of glass and he’s liable to shatter. “My name is Alexandre Gillenormand. I’m the city’s Chief Prosecutor,” he says, the words hoarse and harsh.
“Mr. Gillenormand,” the judge says, his voice soft with sympathy. “This must be very difficult for you, but I will need you to be honest with the court. I know you might be tempted to protect your grandson, but justice must be served.”
“Yes,” Gillenormand says, and then has to repeat himself, louder, when the judge leans forward and asks him to speak up.
Javert doesn’t immediately begin his questioning. Instead he stands there for a moment, his arms folded against his chest, his head bowed. His hair’s fallen in front of his face, masking his expression, but Valjean can see tension in the set of his shoulders. “Mr. Gillenormand,” Javert says at last, raising his head. His expression’s unreadable, but his tone is respectful. “Please describe the victim’s relationship with your grandson.”
“They didn’t have one,” Gillenormand says. He appears somewhat strengthened by his dislike of Georges Pontmercy, straightening a little on the witness stand. His voice is louder than before, his scowl almost fierce. “After the Bonaparte scandal and my daughter’s death, that man couldn’t possibly take care of Marius. He signed his parental rights away and gave the boy to me.” He shakes his head. “Marius wrote to him twice a year, but he never bothered to answer the letters. They hadn’t seen each other in twelve years, not until Monday night.”
Valjean wonders what Mabeuf thinks of Gillenormand’s testimony, wherever he is in the gallery, sitting there indignant and wishing he could march over to the witness stand and call Gillenormand a liar. Not for the first time, Valjean wishes he could call his own witnesses and get Mabeuf on the stand. Still, he knows Javert would only demand to know where these supposed letters went, if not to Marius, and then look triumphant when Mabeuf and Valjean can only speculate. And if the judge’s sympathetic grimaces are any indication, he wouldn’t stand for it if Valjean accused Gillenormand of destroying the letters.
Javert clears his throat, but just then Gillenormand leans forward, his eyes lit by a feverish gleam that Valjean recognizes. He knows what the older man will say even before Gillenormand begins to speak. “Marius had no reason to kill him. Oh, perhaps he was a little resentful that his father abandoned him, who wouldn’t be? But hurt feelings are no reason to kill anyone! If anyone is the likely culprit it’s Marius’s friends, like that Courfeyrac--”
“Mr. Gillenormand!” Javert says in a tone that’s a strange mixture of reproof and embarrassment. In the silence that follows, Valjean thinks he hears a single incredulous laugh from the gallery. Javert coughs. He looks ill at ease, obviously uncomfortable at interrupting his superior. “Your Honor, may I speak with Mr. Gillenormand for a minute?”
The judge frowns. “Yes, Mr. Javert, though if there’s another potential suspect, shouldn’t the court be made aware of the possibility?”
“I have investigated this Courfeyrac and his friends,” Javert says shortly. “They’re not suspects.”
Mr. Gillenormand blanches at this and looks ready to protest. Javert darts to the witness stand. They argue in quiet whispers, the judge leaning over and obviously trying to eavesdrop. After a minute, however, Javert steps back and says, “Thank you, Your Honor. I think we’re ready to continue.” He walks back to the prosecution table, adjusting his tie one final time and running a hand through his hair. Once he’s back behind the table, he speaks again, his tone respectful once more. “Mr. Gillenormand, you said that the acc-- that your grandson felt resentment towards his father. Please elaborate on that.”
Gillenormand frowns. His gaze darts around the courtroom as though he’s looking for an exit. “I only meant-- it’s perfectly understandable. Marius confided in me that he was hurt by his father’s disinterest in his life. I told him it was not anything he did, that his father’s a flighty, irresponsible man who should never have been a father or a lawyer! But Marius is a sensitive boy. He was upset over being abandoned.”
“So he resented his father,” Javert says. He turns towards the judge. “Twelve years is a long time to resent someone, Your Honor. It’s easy to see how resentment might turn to hate, and hate might turn to thoughts of revenge.”
“Marius wouldn’t--” Gillenormand protests, but it’s a weak objection and trails off as the judge nods, his expression solemn, and says, “I see your point, Mr. Javert.”
Gillenormand sags suddenly in his seat. He casts an anguished look in Marius’s direction and then buries his face in his hands. “He wouldn’t,” he says, but he sounds defeated.
“Oh god. Oh god, he thinks I did it,” Marius moans, stricken. Valjean turns to reassure him, but Marius is already bolting upright, oblivious to the shackles keeping him chained to the defendant’s table. “Grandfather! I didn’t do it! Grandfather--” His voice breaks, and tears spill down his face when Gillenormand doesn’t look at him.
“Marius,” Valjean says, taking holding of Marius’s shoulders and forcing him back into his chair. He whispers into Marius’s ear as Marius struggles against his hands, “Marius, calm down. Your grandfather knows you’re innocent, I’m sure he does. But he realized he’s just given Javert a motive. It’s not you he’s upset with, it’s himself. Marius--”
“Mr. Valjean, get control of your client,” the judge orders, and Valjean whispers again, “Marius, I spoke with your grandfather yesterday. He knows you’re innocent. Now sit down and let me question him and prove it. Please.”
After another few seconds, Marius lets out a sobbing breath and stops struggling. He slumps down in his chair and accepts the packet of tissues Valjean passes to him. His hands are shaking. “I’m sorry,” he mutters.
This time he doesn’t flinch when Valjean pats his shoulder and says gently, “It’s all right.”
But that’s a lie. When Valjean looks back towards the bench, the judge’s face seems carved in stone, unsmiling and stern. Marius’s outburst has done them no favors. Valjean’s gaze rises further, looks with despair at the clock. It’s just past noon. Javert said he expected the phone records in the afternoon, but that could mean they will arrive in the next five minutes or in another five hours. Right now, if the judge makes his decision, he’ll find in favor of the prosecution.
Valjean has to stall somehow. He has no idea if Javert has more witnesses in store for the court, but he can't take the chance that Javert doesn’t. There’s a stone in the pit of his stomach, pinning him to the spot. He doesn’t dare to look towards the gallery where he knows Cosette and Fauchelevent are watching him, can't bear to see the look on Cosette’s face as she realizes he’s losing the case and failing both her and Marius.
He straightens slowly, gives Marius’s shoulder one last reassuring squeeze, and then offers the judge a conciliatory smile. “I apologize, Your Honor. That won’t happen again.”
“See that it doesn’t,” says the judge. He nods towards Javert, who, surprisingly, is wearing a frown of his own. Valjean would have expected him to be smiling in victory, knowing he’s won, but instead Javert looks almost as ill as Valjean feels. Perhaps he feels guilty for turning his superior’s words against him, moved by Gillenormand’s obvious suffering if not by the one whose innocent suffering he should care about. “Do you have any further questions for Mr. Gillenormand, Mr. Javert?”
“No, Your Honor,” comes the clipped answer.
“Mr. Valjean? Do you wish to the question the witness?”
Valjean glances at the clock once more. The minute hand doesn’t seem to have budged. Is time standing still? “I do, Your Honor.”
“Mr. Valjean.” Something in the judge’s tone makes the stone grow heavier. “Mr. Gillenormand has undergone quite a few traumatic days. This cannot be easy for him, participating in a trial where his own grandson stands accused of attempted murder.”
“No, it can’t be easy,” Valjean agrees slowly when the judge pauses and looks expectantly at him.
“Then you understand why I will not put up with any attempts to badger him. You may ask your questions, but I expect you to be respectful to our Chief Prosecutor. If you even think of suggesting something untoward as you almost did with Sergeant Mignon, I’ll have you charged with contempt. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes,” Valjean says, his lips numb with despair, and then has to clear his throat and say, “Yes, Your Honor,” as several voices in the gallery call out in agreement or protest.
“Good,” the judge says, and settles back in his chair. “Your witness, Mr. Valjean.” He hesitates. “Unless Mr. Gillenormand needs a moment.”
“No,” Gillenormand says, at last raising his head from his hands. His eyes are rimmed with red. “No, I’ll answer his questions.”
“If you need another minute,” Valjean says gently, both because Gillenormand does look shaky, his skin like wax, and because Valjean would be glad for the potential delay of even a few minutes.
Gillenormand only shakes his head.
Valjean clears his throat and tries to think of a question. But his mind is filled with the memory of Fantine’s stricken look as the judge pronounced her guilty, his ears filled with the sound of Cosette crying for her mother in the weeks afterwards. It’s difficult to breathe, much less think. He takes a deep breath, then another, vaguely aware that the judge is beginning to look impatient.
“I--” He clears his throat again. At last he remembers Javert’s earlier aggrieved look and his hasty interruption of Gillenormand. Offering up a silent apology to Courfeyrac in the gallery above for besmirching his name, he coughs and says, “Earlier, Mr. Javert interrupted you when you were trying to speak. I believe it was about your theory on who poisoned Mr. Pontmercy. I know Mr. Javert is doubtful of it, but I for one would like to hear more.” When Javert makes a sound of protest from the prosecution table, Valjean says firmly, “After all, we should explore any theory that Mr. Gillenormand, with his countless years as a lawyer and Chief Prosecutor, seems to believe in wholeheartedly.”
“Your Honor,” Javert objects, but the judge shakes his head.
“Mr. Valjean has a point. I’ll defer to Mr. Gillenormand’s experience and listen to his theory.”
Gillenormand looks almost grateful, a small, weak smile upon his face. Certainly he must be glad at any chance to redeem himself and distract the judge from Marius’s supposed motive. He launches into a speech very similar to the one he offered in his office, one accusing Courfeyrac and his friends of being members of some political intrigue, their intention being to free Bonaparte from jail, and that perhaps Georges, a Bonapartist himself but too much of a coward to assist in a breakout, ran afoul of them.
There’s no laughter from the gallery now but instead a fascinated silence. Gillenormand is painfully earnest, his gestures forceful and expressive, and if Valjean did not already know that the theory is absurd, he would probably find the man halfway convincing. When Gillenormand finally stops, almost breathless, his face flushed and shoulders heaving, Valjean says, “It’s an interesting premise, Mr. Gillenormand. Can you tell me more about what led you to your conclusion?”
Javert makes a bitten-back noise of frustration. When Valjean glances towards the prosecution table, he finds Javert glaring darkly in his direction, infuriated. “Your Honor,” he says in a clipped tone. “I object to this obvious stalling tactic. As I said before, I've looked into this theory, and--”
“Your objection is noted, Mr. Javert, and denied.” The judge leans forward, apparently enthralled by Gillenormand’s theory. “Please, Mr. Gillenormand, I’d like to hear your answer.”
Gillenormand purses his lips. He doesn’t look quite so old now, some of his returned confidence lessening the lines on his face. He says, “Marius has invited his friend Courfeyrac to our house several times over the past two years. During the visits, there’s often been discussion of Courfeyrac being political and that he has great plans for the government and judicial system.” He pauses and then adds with a grimace, “Though of course I didn’t listen to the details. Who cares what a Bonapartist thinks?”
This earns laughter and one or two shouts of agreement from the gallery. Emboldened, Gillenormand adds, “I don’t have proof that Courfeyrac and his group are planning anything, of course, or else I would’ve spoken to Police Chief Gisquet myself and had them arrested months ago. But I’m certain that if anyone had a hand in the poisoning, it’s them.”
Valjean waits, but Gillenormand settles back in the witness chair with a look of satisfaction on his face, apparently finished with his explanation. Valjean glances briefly at the clock. Gillenormand’s premise has bought him twenty minutes. It’s not enough. “Mr. Gillenormand,” he says, and waits until Gillenormand looks at him. He keeps his tone calm and vaguely apologetic. “Thank you for explaining your thoughts, sir. However, I’m sorry to say that your theory is impossible.”
Gillenormand startles. The color ebbs from his face again; a look of anxious dread wipes away his confidence. “What! Impossible? I heard it from his own lips that he wants to change the system! Now you’re telling me I misunderstood him?”
“I am, sir, because you did. I’ve spoken to Courfeyrac myself, as has, I believe, my associate, Mr. Javert.” Valjean pauses to nod at Javert, who glares back, still fuming. “You assumed that being political meant Courfeyrac and his friends were Bonapartists. They’re not. They’re political activists trying to improve the judicial system.”
“Improve the judicial system?” the judge says, straightening and blinking in surprise. He frowns. “I don’t see how we need any improvements.”
Valjean hesitates, looking at the judge’s puzzled, slightly offended expression. Then he thinks of the clock, the minute hand inching along, moving ever closer to the time a messenger will arrive with the phone records. Javert will see through this immediately, but it is the only card Valjean has in his deck at the moment. He wets his lips and says, carefully, “Your Honor, there are some citizens who believe that our current system is unjust. They argue that a jury system, where the accused are judged by their peers, would prevent unfair, biased convictions--”
“Excuse me?” The judge is outright scowling now. “Are they saying that I’m not able to hand down a fair sentence?” He stares up at the gallery, his eyes narrowed, as though he’s remembered that Courfeyrac is somewhere in the crowd and wants to give him a piece of his mind.
“They believe that one man can be more easily swayed by personal feelings than a jury,” Valjean explains, and then jumps a little as the judge slams his gavel.
“Objection!” the judge says. At the puzzled silence that follows, he blinks, looking sheepish, and coughs. “Ahem! Excuse me, I got carried away. But still, I can’t believe people think that I would let my personal feelings influence me when I sentence the accused! No wonder Mr. Javert didn't think this Courenrack or whatever his name is was a reliable witness!”
Valjean thinks of how the judge has practically fallen over himself to pay his respects to Gillenormand, how mercurial his moods are, and says, as diplomatically as possible, “That is what some people believe, Your Honor. But you must admit this makes Mr. Gillenormand’s theory quite impossible.”
“What?” The judge frowns. “Oh, yes! If the accused’s friends aren't Bonapartists, they wouldn’t have anything to do with the victim. So they’d have no reason to poison him!”
“Exactly, Your Honor,” Javert cuts in smoothly. “Which is, as I said before, why the accused’s friends were not suspects.” He smiles without humor at Valjean. “Now that is settled, we’re left only with the accused’s motive--”
“Wait!” Gillenormand says desperately, leaning forward. “Marius’s friends still have a motive!”
Javert winces. “Oh, Mr. Gillenormand?” he says reluctantly. “What motive might that be?”
“Greed,” Gillenormand says. The words are said hurriedly and with an edge of desperation. “I did not think of it before, but I once discussed Marius’s inheritance from his father in front of Courfeyrac during dinner. That was part of our agreement, you see. I would be Marius’s guardian, but he would set aside money for Marius if his gardening business didn't bankrupt him. When Marius turns twenty-one, he’ll receive that inheritance.” He waves a hand and adds, “It isn't much, but for some activist who needs money for lobbying and protests, it would be quite the temptation. Perhaps Courfeyrac meant to blackmail him, and things went wrong--”
“Grandfather!” Marius ignores Valjean’s hand on his shoulder. “Grandfather, please stop! Courfeyrac wouldn’t poison or blackmail anybody! I know you’re trying to help, but Mr. Valjean will prove my innocence, you can stop lying--”
“Mr. Valjean!” the judge snaps. “If I hear another word from your client, I’ll have him escorted from the courtroom. He can learn his sentence in one of our lobbies.”
“I’m sorry, Your Honor. It won’t happen again,” Valjean says and then whispers urgently, “Marius, the judge is serious. Please, you’re only hurting your case! Courfeyrac is safe, you don’t have to defend him.”
“But this isn’t fair to Courfeyrac,” Marius whispers back. “Granfather shouldn’t drag his name through the mud like this!”
Valjean almost wants to laugh at the earnest concern on the boy’s face. He’s so young, so worried for his friend’s reputation when it’s his own safety he should be concerned about. “I’ve met Courfeyrac. I think he’s probably amused by the accusations.” This earns a reluctant smile of agreement, and Valjean adds, “Let me handle this.”
At Marius’s nod, Valjean turns back to Gillenormand. “So you’re saying you believe now that the poisoning was a blackmail attempt gone wrong, Mr. Gillenormand?”
“I’m saying that the possibility should be investigated,” Gillenormand says.
Valjean shakes his head. “I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t see how this theory has any more merit than your first. Courfeyrac was at a trivia game night at the Corinthe, if you recall, and there must be dozens of witnesses--” He catches Javert’s frown from the corner of his eye, and amends, a trifle dryly, “There must be dozens of witnesses even my associate would find reliable who will testify that he was at the bar and nowhere near the Pontmercy residence that evening. Even if he somehow had someone else poison Mr. Pontmercy, why wouldn't Courfeyrac stop Marius from going to the house and being implicated in the crime? He couldn't have known someone would witness the poisoning. Why not keep Marius at the trivia night so that Mr. Pontmercy would be discovered later, after the aconite concentrations were gone? People would assume he died of a heart attack.”
Gillenormand says nothing for a second, his skin waxy pale again. There’s resentment burning in his eyes; Valjean thinks of the threat he made to Fauchelevent and must fight to keep his expression neutral. “You’re supposed to be helping Marius,” Gillenormand hisses through gritted teeth.
“I am, Mr. Gillenormand,” Valjean says gently. “I’m helping him by not letting you besmirch his friend’s name out of desperation.” He feels a pang of guilt at that, for he did much the same earlier in his efforts to delay the trial. He looks down, gathering his thoughts, his gaze falling upon his notebook. He pauses, looking at a particular circled sentence. “But there’s a question no one has asked yet, one that I’m curious to hear your thoughts on, Mr. Gillenormand.”
“You said that Marius hasn’t seen his father in twelve years. Why would Marius choose this particular night to go visit him?”
Gillenormand opens his mouth, and then closes it. He blinks. “I have no idea.”
For the first time since the he questioned Sergeant Mignon, Valjean feels hopeful. He represses the excitement in his voice as he says, “Your Honor, if I may direct your attention to the police report again?”
“What? Oh! Yes.” The judge squints at the report. “What am I looking at, exactly, Mr. Valjean?”
“When the police questioned Marius, he told them he was there because of a text message. The sergeant even wrote down the exact wording Marius used.”
“‘This is Georges Pontmercy. You must come immediately. It’s a matter of life or death,’” reads the judge. “And then there was apparently the victim’s address included in the text.” He looks up, frowning. “I don’t see what’s so strange about that, Mr. Valjean. As it happens, it was a matter of life and death.”
“Your Honor, doesn’t the wording strike you as odd? Why wouldn’t Mr. Pontmercy call himself Marius’s father in the message? ‘This is your father’ sounds much less awkward. It’s almost as if….” Here Valjean pauses significantly. “It’s almost as if the text message wasn’t intended for Marius at all.”
“Your Honor, my colleague is acting as though the text message is evidence and not still hearsay--” Javert begins, but the rest of his protest is lost as Gillenormand rises to his feet and snarls, his face flushed, “He didn’t have any right to call himself Marius’s father! I’ve been more of a father to Marius than he ever was! He wasn’t worthy of Corrine! He wasn’t worthy to breathe the same air as my grandson, much less speak to him--”
“Your Honor!” Javert says. “Mr. Gillenormand is obviously beside himself.” He gestures at Gillenormand, whose entire body shaking from the force of his outburst and who's gasping for breath. “We must remember his age. I would like to suggest a five-minute recess, to give the Chief Prosecutor some time to compose himself.”
The judge frowns, studying Gillenormand’s perspiring, ashen features. “Yes, I think that would be best, Mr. Javert. In fact, I think a doctor should look at Mr. Gillenormand. Bailiff, fetch a doctor.” He bangs his gavel. “The trial will reconvene in ten minutes!”
October 5, 12:29 PM
Defendant Lobby #2
Marius sinks into a chair in the lobby, burying his head in his hands. “Do trials always feel like this?” he asks. He laughs hollowly. “Or is just because it’s mine that it’s so awful? I feel like I’ve been run over by a train.”
“I’m afraid it always feels like this,” Valjean says with a rueful twitch of his lips. While he’s grateful for the ten minutes to think and plan his next move, he’s also exhausted. The strength from his earlier adrenaline rush has long since ebbed to nothing. He doesn’t dare sit down next to Marius, unsure if he’ll be able to get up again if he does. He runs a shaky hand over his face, trying to think over the morning’s testimony and consider their options, and then drops his hand to his side as Fauchelevent and Cosette head towards them.
Much to Valjean’s surprise, Mabeuf is with them, a determined look on the man’s face. Mabeuf walks straight up to Marius and says, the words quick and urgent, “Excuse me. This is probably a terrible time for it, but I have to speak to you about your father. He’s my friend and--”
“And you think I did it and hate me,” Marius says dully into his hands. He hasn’t looked up and seen Cosette yet. His voice is thick with despair.
Mabeuf blinks, taken aback. “No! I wanted to ask if you really never received any of the letters Georges wrote you.”
“My father didn’t write me any letters,” Marius says. Confusion replaces some of the despair. He raises his head, frowning at Mabeuf. “That first year, I remember, I checked the mailbox every day and never--”
Now Mabeuf looks even more bewildered than Marius. “The mailbox at your grandfather’s house? Well, of course there wasn’t anything there! Part of the agreement was that Georges had to send his letters to the prosecutors office and never to Gillenormand’s house.”
The words hit Valjean like a slap to the face. “What?” It’s only when Mabeuf jumps and Marius, Cosette, and Fauchelevent turn as one to stare at him that he realizes he shouted.
“Georges wasn’t allowed to send his letters to Gillenormand’s house. He had to send them to the prosecutors office,” Mabeuf says slowly.
Valjean remembers Gillenormand’s sudden pallor, the crumpled and discarded envelope. The excuse of a reporter now rings false. His mind whirls, his thoughts chasing themselves in circles. Where had the envelope gone? He’d put it in his pocket when Javert interrupted him, but where--
Fauchelevent is saying his name, his voice unusually sharp. There’s something bumping determinedly against his fingertips. When Valjean blinks and comes back to himself, he realizes that somehow he’s now seated in the chair next to Marius. He can't remember how he got there.
Cosette, kneeling between them, presses a paper cup into his hands. There’s a pinched look on her features, and her worried eyes are fixed on his face. “Drink some water. You went white as a sheet! We thought you were going to pass out.”
“I heard someone mention they found a doctor for Gillenormand, I can get--” Fauchelevent begins to offer. He stops when Valjean shakes his head.
Valjean takes a sip of the water and then another. Shock has parched his mouth. He finishes the entire cup before he can speak again. “Cosette, do you remember-- was my green coat still in the backseat when we came here this morning?”
Cosette frowns. “I think your coat was there, but you don’t need another layer….”
“No, there’s-- there’s an envelope in the pocket. You have to get it for me.” He leans forward, grabbing her hands and squeezing them. “I need you to bring it to the courtroom as soon as you can.”
Cosette’s lips part as though she’s going to question him, but something in his face makes her jump to her feet instead. “I’ll get it.” She lingers just long enough to kiss his cheek and offer Marius a quick, reassuring smile. Then she races down the hallway.
She won’t get back before the trial resumes, Valjean knows as he watches her go, not with the slowness of security and the fact that they’d had to park on the opposite end of the building because of the large crowd of interested onlookers at Marius's trial. Now he has two reasons to stall. Then he thinks of the judge’s concern for Gillenormand’s health. Dismay curdles his stomach. The judge will be even more protective of the Chief Prosecutor now; in fact, he might even try to prevent Valjean from questioning him further.
He has to gain more time somehow. He gets to his feet, grateful for Fauchelevent’s steadying hand. “Did you see where Javert went?” he asks, and Fauchelevent’s concerned look turns bemused.
“He was still at his table last time I saw him, arguing on his phone with someone. Why?”
“I need to speak with him.” Valjean can’t quite bring himself to look at Marius. He wets his lips with his tongue and says slowly, “Marius, I might not be finished talking to Mr. Javert before the judge calls us back, but I need you to promise me something.”
“Promise you something?”
“No matter what happens in court, I need you to stay calm and silent. You can’t react to any of what happens next. Can you promise me that?”
“I-I’ll do my best,” Marius says, sounding bewildered.
It will have to be enough. Valjean pats Fauchelevent’s arm, tries to smile. Judging by Fauchelevent’s frown, it’s a pitiful attempt. “Mr. Mabeuf, I think you should tell Marius a little about his father. He deserves the truth.”
“What? Oh, yes! Marius, I don’t know what your grandfather has been saying, but your father….”
“Valjean,” Fauchelevent says as Mabeuf continues to speak. The name’s not quite a question. He huffs out a fond, exasperated breath when Valjean offers him another weak smile, and then shakes his head. “Good luck with Javert.”
When Valjean re-enters the courtroom, it’s mostly empty. Even the people in the gallery have dispersed, presumably to discuss the proceedings. He’s reminded of last year again, only this time the roles are reversed and he’s walking over to the prosecution table, where Javert is apparently finished with his phone call and now frowns over his notes.
“Javert,” he says. The name scratches at his throat.
Javert startles. He looks up, his eyes narrowing. “Valjean. The phone records still haven’t arrived, if that’s what you’re after.”
“No,” Valjean says. His mouth is dry. He wishes he had another cup of water. “No, I have a favor to ask you.”
Javert laughs. It’s a harsh, incredulous sound. “A favor? Why would I ever--”
“There’s a piece of evidence that Cosette’s getting for me, one that will prove Marius’s innocence, but I need more time.” At Javert’s skeptical look, he says, “Just thirty minutes. But the judge is ready to pronounce his sentence as soon as we get back. You saw his face. He’s not going to let me question G-- Mr. Gillenormand for much longer, and Marius is innocent, Javert, I swear it.”
Javert snorts, still disbelieving. “You’re just trying to stall until the phone records get here--”
“No, I have other evidence, something I’ve touched with my own hands.” There’s a doubtful sneer on Javert’s face. Valjean leans over the desk, ignoring the way Javert twitches and almost steps away from him, and says desperately, “What will it take for you to believe me? I swear to you--”
“I know that you concealed evidence last year. Write and sign a document explaining how you did it, and I’ll give you your thirty minutes.”
For a few seconds the words make no sense, and then they sink in and drive all the warmth from him. His chest tightens; something like fear claws at his stomach. He stares at Javert. “Write how I….”
Javert speaks over his strained whisper, his tone cool and dispassionate, his eyes fixed upon Valjean’s face. “Dr. Myriel said once that if your client is innocent you must do everything you can to prove it.” A grimace passes over his face. “I’m sure he didn’t mean break the law as you did, but if you believe your client is innocent, then you’ll write….” His voice turns indistinct as though he’s in another room.
It’s at once both the hardest choice of Valjean’s life and the easiest one. He weighs his options, but any scale that has Cosette’s trust in him will tip in her favor, even if the other pan holds his freedom. Besides, he thinks, his chest tightening again, Cosette will have her mother back in a month. Surely she won’t need him anymore once she has Fantine again. Fauchelevent has the company and the house. With the damning evidence destroyed, Azelma and Eponine are still safe from further prosecution even if he does this. And then there is Marius, who has his whole future ahead of him and who has placed his life in Valjean’s hands.
Yes, in the end it’s a simple choice, really. He doesn’t let himself think of prison, the way the walls close in until it’s impossible to breathe or think clearly, the contemptuous looks of the guards, the misery and anger that radiates off the other inmates.
Javert’s notebook is open on the table. Valjean takes it, flips to a blank page, and then picks up Javert’s pen. He writes a few succinct sentences detailing how he destroyed the letter Eponine wrote to the Montparnasse boy, a letter which showed she and her sister were complicit in at least one of their father’s crimes. He signs his name carefully.
When he slides the notebook back across the table and looks up, Javert is staring at him. The other man’s expression is slack with astonishment; even that furrow between his eyes that Valjean has always thought permanent is now gone. “You,” Javert says, and then stops. The crease returns to his brow. He frowns in angry bewilderment, as though he didn’t expect Valjean to actually agree to the bargain and is certain there’s a trick in Valjean’s confession somehow.
“This won’t hold up in court,” Valjean says. His voice is more even than he expects. His heart pounds unsteadily in his chest and he still feels cold. “After the trial, I’ll go with you to the precinct and give them my statement in person.”
“Valjean--” Javert’s cut off by the bailiff announcing that the trial will resume in one minute.
“Thirty minutes,” Valjean says, meeting Javert’s narrowed eyes. “That was the agreement.”
Javert hesitates, and then grimaces. “Thirty minutes.”
Valjean returns to his table. He can feel the weight of Javert’s stare; it drags at him like shackles and slows down his steps. He runs a hand over the smooth wooden surface, remembering the first time he stood in court as an attorney, the trials that followed, the victories, the defeats. He lets out his breath slowly, not quite a sigh.
He looks up into Marius’s worried face and hears the hoarseness in his voice as though Marius’s been crying.
“Mr. Valjean, d-do you believe Mr. Mabeuf? About my father?” Marius whispers. There’s a terrible, wondering hope in his eyes. Apparently he’s too overwhelmed by the idea that his father actually cares about him to consider any other implications in Mabeuf’s words.
“I don’t think he has any reason to lie,” Valjean says, and is again surprised at how his voice comes out reassuring and mild. He forces a corner of his mouth up in a semblance of a smile, and Marius smiles awkwardly back. “Everything will be all right. Just remember, you can’t react to anything that happens for the rest of the trial.”
Marius nods, bewilderment creeping back into his expression. That sentiment is squelched and replaced by anxiety as the bailiff announces the judge back into court.
October 5, 12:41 PM
“Will you be all right to continue with your testimony, Mr. Gillenormand?” the judge asks, his voice soft with concern and respect. “If you need some more time, I can call for another--”
“No,” Gillenormand says with a shake of his head. Most of the color’s returned to his face during the recess. He still looks old and tired, but Valjean, searching his face for clues, thinks perhaps it’s not entirely grief that’s aged him so much in the past few days.
The judge turns a stern eye upon Valjean. “Mr. Valjean, tread carefully. I am quite serious about those contempt charges.”
Valjean almost smiles at that. The threat is hollow now, though the judge doesn’t know it. Somehow he manages to keep his rueful amusement off his face. “Yes, Your Honor. I understand.” He turns back to Gillenormand. “Before the recess, we had been discussing the text message--”
Valjean jerks and turns a disbelieving look upon the prosecution table. Surely Javert would not go back on the bargain. Surely he would allow Valjean the promised thirty minutes. He was a man of his word, if nothing else. “J-- Mr. Javert,” he says. He wonders if anyone else can hear the repressed plea.
Javert doesn’t look in his direction, his expression remote and unreadable. To Valjean’s slow horror, he says, “I would like to state again for the record that this text message is purely hypothetical. There was no trace of a text on the accused’s phone. We have a veteran police officer’s word to that effect. Surely we cannot place our trust in the accused’s statement to the police, a man who has every reason to lie.”
“Yes, that’s true,” the judge agrees, frowning. “Mr. Valjean, perhaps this line of questioning is--” He stops at a polite cough from Javert. “Mr. Javert?”
Javert sounds almost embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Your Honor. I wasn’t quite finished.”
“Ah! My apologies, Mr. Javert.”
But if Javert wasn't finished, it seems he’s temporarily at a loss for words. As Valjean watches, Javert fiddles with the knot in his tie, works at it with his fingers until he’s half-exposed his throat. He drums his fingers against the table’s surface and grimaces. He still doesn't look at Valjean. At last he says, slowly, as though each word is being dragged from him by force, “While I still don’t believe the text message exists, I am curious about this hypothetical scenario Mr.-- my colleague has created in his head. What does he actually think happened that night?”
Relief almost makes Valjean dizzy. He presses his palms against the wood, takes in a deep breath. Javert has not reneged on their agreement after all. “I will happily answer Mr. Javert’s question, Your Honor, though I’ll need Mr. Gillenormand’s assistance to do so.”
“Very well,” the judge says after a moment. “You may proceed, Mr. Valjean.”
Every word must be chosen carefully, Valjean knows. There’s no room for error. Javert might be willing to give him the thirty minutes, but the judge is still inclined to end the trial here and now. Valjean can see it in his face. He clears his throat. “Mr. Gillenormand, you may be correct about why Mr. Pontmercy didn’t call himself Marius’s father. Perhaps he didn’t feel he had the right to that title. Marius also suggested that possibility when I first pointed out the strange phrasing in the text.” Here Valjean forces his voice to softness, turns his smile to one of understanding. “After all, you said it yourself. Mr. Pontmercy, in twelve years, never made a single attempt to contact his son. You raised Marius. You’ve been more of a father to Marius than Mr. Pontmercy ever was.”
“Yes,” Gillenormand says. He leans forward and smiles, looking pleased that Valjean understands. “You’re exactly right.”
Valjean continues in that same sympathetic tone. “That’s why you made those demands in your agreement with Mr. Pontmercy when he gave up his parental rights, wasn’t it? He wasn’t fit to be a father. He’d be a terrible influence on Marius. That’s why he wasn’t allowed to email or visit even if he wanted to, which we both know he didn’t.”
There’s a sharp, shocked inhale from Marius, but otherwise the boy stays silent, and thankfully Gillenormand doesn’t seem to notice Marius’s reaction, too busy nodding.
“Yes! He would have been a bad influence. There was his politics, for one, and then all that nonsense about his military record! Classified! He was just too embarrassed to admit that he spent most of his career holed up on some base somewhere.” Grief suddenly contorts his face. “Corrine wouldn’t listen to reason, she didn’t see what kind of man he was. She died away from the city, away from me.” He shakes his head. “He would have destroyed Marius like he destroyed Corrine. I couldn’t let that happen.”
“And so you kept your phone numbers unlisted, and only allowed contact through handwritten letters.”
“Yes, though--” Gillenormand checks himself abruptly. For the first time since the court reconvened, he looks at Valjean with suspicion. “Though of course he never wrote a single one, even though Marius must have written him a letter every day that first year.”
It’s difficult to keep the false sympathy on his face, but somehow Valjean manages it as he shakes his head. “Apparently you were right. Mr. Pontmercy wasn’t father material at all.”
“Are you done dragging the victim’s name through the mud?” Javert asks through gritted teeth. “I don’t understand where this is leading. If he was a terrible father, then it only shows that the accused has even more reason to resent and hate him.”
“This is quite important to my case, Your Honor. We have Mr. Gillenormand’s testimony that Mr. Pontmercy never contacted my client during their separation. This naturally leads me to a few questions we haven’t asked. Why would Mr. Pontmercy contact Marius that night after a dozen years of silence? What was this ‘matter of life or death’ the text referred to?” He pauses. “And last but not least, how did Mr. Pontmercy get Marius’s phone number?”
Valjean’s attention is on the judge, who looks startled and then thoughtful, but from the corner of his eye he sees Javert give a small start. When he turns back to the witness stand, Gillenormand is pale again. “Do you have any idea, Mr. Gillenormand? After all, Mr. Javert can confirm that Marius’s phone number is unlisted. How did Mr. Pontmercy get a hold of it to call that night?”
“I have no idea,” Gillenormand snaps.
Valjean wonders what everyone else thinks of Gillenormand’s tone. Do they hear exasperation or defensiveness? He says, keeping his voice polite but puzzled, “Perhaps Marius’s aunt--”
“She wouldn’t disobey me,” says Gillenormand firmly. He glances towards the gallery, presumably to wherever his daughter is sitting, and then adds, “And she didn’t trust him either.” He shakes his head and frowns. “Why does it matter? Obviously he got Marius’s number somehow.”
“It matters because it’s an incongruity and Marius is my client. I must look at anything that doesn’t fit the facts of the case, in case that incongruity proves his innocence.” Valjean pauses and then says with slow deliberation, “It matters, sir, because it also lends credence to my suspicion that the person who contacted Marius wasn’t his father at all, but someone pretending to be him.”
Gillenormand leaps up from the witness stand. His eyes blaze. “What? That’s--”
“Your Honor, I refer you to the evidence Mr. Javert has provided so far. We have Marius’s statement to the police in the police report as well as Mr. Pontmercy’s medical records.” Valjean hesitates a moment, wondering which piece of evidence he should present first. “Look at the medical report, Your Honor. It says that Mr. Pontmercy was poisoned sometime between 7:15 and 7:35. However, the tip was called in at 7:20, which, if we take it to be the truth, means he was poisoned between 7:15 and 7:20. Couldn’t the real poisoner have texted Marius at 6:25, knowing it would take him a little over an hour to get there? Then the poisoner could have slipped the aconite into Mr. Pontmercy’s tea at 7:15, called in the tip five minutes later as the poison began to take effect, and then left the house. Marius would have arrived there a few minutes later, just in time for the police to arrive and arrest him.”
Gillenormand stares at him. “That’s absurd,” he says through gritted teeth. “Who would want to frame Marius? He doesn’t have a single enemy.”
“You make a good point, sir. Let’s look at police statement again,” Valjean says. “We have the odd wording in the text message. Again, I think it’s strange that Mr. Pontmercy referred to himself by his full name rather than calling himself Marius’s father. It makes me think that perhaps the text message wasn’t meant for Marius at all, but someone else, someone who wouldn't win himself any favors during his trial because of his political agenda. Remember, the caller described the poisoner as a tall man with dark hair. Marius's friend Courfeyrac has a similar physical description. And he would have been a much better scapegoat if he’d been found at Mr. Pontmercy’s that night instead.”
“Your Honor!” Javert objects. When Valjean turns towards him, Javert is scowling, apparently unable to bear Valjean's propositions another minute longer despite the agreement. He gives a hard shake of his head. “Your Honor, while this is a fascinating scenario, I must point out again that this is all conjecture. We have no evidence this text message even exists. And what does it matter why the accused chose that particular day to visit and poison his father? It only matters that all the evidence says that he did! Further, unlike the accused’s address, the victim’s home address is easily found online if anyone wants to find him.”
Valjean glances up at the clock, but he still has five more minutes before he can hope Cosette will be back with the envelope. “Mr. Javert,” he says, the other man’s name catching in his throat. He looks over, willing Javert to hold to his promise.
Javert meets his gaze, but grimaces, as though just looking at Valjean makes him ill. He purses his lips, staring back at Valjean for a long moment before his gaze rises past Valjean. Is he looking at the clock and recalling their agreement? Before Valjean can gather enough breath to speak and plead with him, Javert shakes his head, very sharply, and says, “Unless Mr. Valjean has any other questions, then I don’t see why we are putting Mr. Gillenormand through further testimony.”
“Yes, I--” the judge begins, and then stops as Javert continues.
His voice is slow but steady, and Valjean realizes that Javert has not forgotten the bargain. “It’s obvious what happened. The accused finally decided to seek out his father and demand answers for why he was abandoned. As for why he brought the aconite powder with him, well, I said it before. Twelve years is a long time to feel resentment towards someone. It’s little wonder that a child’s love for his father might sour and turn to hatred after twelve years of being ignored.”
Valjean watches as Javert continues to speak, painting a vivid image of Marius going to his father’s house, the heated discussion between the father and son, the way Marius slipped the powder into his father’s cup while Georges was distracted. “The accused simply didn’t take into account that the effects sometimes take a while to appear after ingestion,” Javert says at last. He shrugs. “He remained at the house for too long, and the police arrived before he could escape. It’s perfectly simple.”
“Yes,” the judge says, nodding and smiling. “That makes perfect sense, Mr. Javert. You’ve provided the motive and a compelling picture of what happened that night. Thank you.” He turns towards Valjean. His smile vanishes. “Now, Mr. Valjean, unless you have any new evidence to present, or some further questions for Mr. Gillenormand, I am ready to pronounce sentence.”
Valjean’s mouth goes dry. He looks again towards the clock, but it's been thirty minutes and Cosette is still not here. Has she been held up by security? His stomach sinks like a stone. It is too much to hope that Javert will give him any help past the agreed thirty minutes. He clears his throat. “Your Honor, I do have new evidence, it should be here in just a minute, and then I will have further questions--”
The judge frowns. “Mr. Valjean, I told you before, I am not holding up this trial to wait for possible evidence.”
“But Your Honor, I have someone bringing the evidence. She must have been delayed by security. If you could just have the bailiff call to the security desk--” A bang of the gavel and the judge’s sharp, “Mr. Valjean, that’s enough!” makes him pause. He can feel Javert’s gaze upon him, but he can’t waste time wondering what Javert is thinking now. He licks his lips, says, “Your Honor, just a few more minutes--”
“I am not warning you again, Mr. Valjean,” the judge says, his frown deepening to a scowl. “I understand you’re upset that your client is guilty, but if you continue to argue based on mere conjecture rather than evidence, I will have to report you to the board.” His voice softens and turns apologetic. “Mr. Gillenormand, I’m sorry that you were caught up in this. Please, step down from--”
“Objection!” yells a breathless voice, and Cosette vaults over the bar and waves the envelope in triumph. Her face is flushed, her dress sticking to her from sweat, and she’s panting for breath. She takes another step forward, into Valjean’s waiting arms. He hugs her tightly even as he says, “Your Honor, here is the new evidence I mentioned.”
“Ah,” the judge says, sounding almost sheepish. “Mr. Gillenormand, I’m sorry. If you’ll give us just another minute….”
“Here,” Cosette says, pressing the envelope into Valjean’s hand and smiling. “I hope it helps.”
Valjean smooths out the crumpled envelope. He stares at it for a long moment, reading over the carefully penned names and addresses on the front, something like hope sparking in his chest and chasing away a little of the chill that settled into his bones at his bargain with Javert.
“It will,” he says at last, offering Cosette a small smile in return. He reluctantly lets her go. “Thank you.” When he turns back towards the witness box, Gillenormand’s face looks haggard, his stricken gaze fixed upon the envelope in Valjean’s hands. “Mr. Gillenormand, perhaps you’d like to explain this?”
The judge leans forward. “Explain what? What is this new evidence, Mr. Valjean?”
“It’s an envelope postmarked two days before Mr. Pontmercy was poisoned, sent by Mr. Pontmercy to Mr. Gillenormand.”
“Oh!” The judge straightens, his eyes wide with surprise. The gallery erupts into conversation, quieting only at the bang of the judge’s gavel. Baffled, he asks, “Where did you find that, Mr. Valjean?”
Valjean keeps his gaze on the judge, watches how the other man’s eyes widen even more as he says, “Yesterday I witnessed Mr. Gillenormand throw it into his trash can in his office, Your Honor.”
“From my trash can? That’s an invasion of my privacy,” Gillenormand mutters, but he sounds winded, like Valjean’s hit him. “You have no right-- and besides!” He rallies, leaning forward and scowling at Valjean, anger and desperation giving him strength. “That only proves that he wrote to me-- it’s probably some update on Marius’s inheritance.” He turns a look of appeal upon the judge, back to looking old and feeble. “Your Honor, that is my private correspondence. Surely you can’t let him present it as evidence.”
The judge hesitates, and for a second Valjean’s heart sinks and he’s certain that the judge will be swayed. Then a harsh voice fills the air. It’s Javert, sounding as though the words hurt his throat. “Your Honor, I agree it’s unorthodox, but this letter might be vital to the case. I think Mr. Valjean should present it as evidence.”
Gillenormand’s eyes narrow, and for the briefest instant he shoots Javert a look of betrayed hatred. “Your Honor--”
“No,” the judge says, half-apologetically. He nods to himself. “The victim’s letter might answer all our questions, Mr. Gillenormand. I’m sorry for the imposition, but I must allow Mr. Valjean to read the letter--”
“This is an outrage,” Gillenormand hisses, and slams his fist upon the stand. “This is--”
Valjean opens the envelope. His hands shake as he unfolds the letter. It’s only now that he thinks to wonder about the actual contents of the letter, that it might prove useless. He swallows. “Dear sir,” he reads, straining to keep his voice steady. “I have given you several chances to let me see Marius. He’s nineteen now, a man in his own right, and I think he is old enough to make his own decisions. Surely you can’t still threaten to take away his inheritance if I see him once or twice a year! If he doesn’t want to see me, I understand, but he should tell me that himself, not through you. If you ignore this letter as you ignored my earlier ones, I will have no choice but to visit Marius on my own. I know which university he attends. It shouldn’t be too hard to find him--”
“Enough!” Gillenormand’s yell makes the judge jump. “What is the point of this? What does it matter if he’s changed his mind? Now that he has no responsibilities towards Marius, he’s decided to visit, that’s all. It changes nothing!”
Valjean stares at him for a long moment, imagining Georges Pontmercy seated at a table, the long scar on his face twisting as he frowns down at the letter he’s writing to Marius, ignorant that Marius will never receive it. Gillenormand has kept a father and son apart for over a decade, would have separated them forever if he’d been able, all because he disliked the father. It’s difficult to keep his voice steady, but Valjean manages after a few seconds.
“It changes everything, sir, because I have a friend of the victim -- a witness that even Mr. Javert will find reliable -- who will testify that Mr. Pontmercy has faithfully written a letter every month to his son. He even gained special, secret permission from Marius’s high school principal to watch Marius graduate. That doesn’t sound like a man who didn’t want to spend time with his son. That sounds like a man who was kept away from his son because you--”
“Of course I kept him away!” Gillenormand snarls. His face is red now, twisted with rage. The judge stares at him in alarmed astonishment. “That man had no right to Marius at all! How many times have I said that Marius is better off without some fool of a father who was Bonaparte’s lapdog, who quit being a lawyer to become some sort of gardener?”
“Is that why you threw away every letter that Mr. Pontmercy wrote to Marius? And kept Marius’s phone number and email address from him?”
Gillenormand laughs harshly. “Yes, of course that’s why. He would have ruined Marius’s life like he ruined Corrine’s.”
Marius makes a quiet, muffled sound, like he has his hands clamped over his mouth. It’s a pained moan, filled with horrified disbelief.
Valjean wishes he could turn and reassure him that everything will be all right, because it won’t be, not really. He doesn’t look away from Gillenormand as he says, “But if Marius’s number is unlisted, then how did Mr. Pontmercy contact him? In fact, Mr. Gillenormand, the only people involved this case that I’m aware have unlisted numbers are Marius and yourself.”
Valjean ignores the judge’s astonished exclamation. “I think you were the caller, Mr. Gillenormand,” he says, keeping his eyes fixed upon Gillenormand’s ashen, furious face. “I think you intended to frame your grandson’s friend, but something went wrong and you accidentally texted Marius instead. It must have been an accident. I’m sure you didn’t mean for Marius to get caught up in all this.”
He wishes he were closer to Gillenormand, or that he could approach the witness stand, because something changes in Gillenormand’s face then, a subtle shift Valjean cannot read from this distance. Gillenormand sinks back in his chair, folds his arms against his chest. “You have no proof,” he says coldly. “I should sue you for defamation. If you weren’t defending Marius and obviously desperate to save him, I would.”
Valjean tries to find some hint of guilt in Gillenormand’s face, but if he feels any remorse over letting Marius be accused of the crime, Valjean cannot find it. Still, he remembers Gillenormand’s desperate insistence that Marius is innocent, his determined attempts to turn suspicion towards Courfeyrac instead. There must be some love there, even if it’s a selfish, twisted love that separated Mr. Pontmercy from his son, a love supplanted by Gillenormand’s sense of self-preservation.
Still, there’s love, buried deep beneath the fear for his own safety; perhaps Valjean can coax a confession from Gillenormand. He has to try. “Mr. Gillenormand,” he says. The courtroom is silent, as though everyone is holding their breath. He doesn’t let himself think of Mr. Pontmercy any longer; he can’t afford to if he wants to sound compassionate rather than judgmental. “I know you love Marius. You raised him. You went to his parent-teacher conferences. You helped him with his homework. You watched him graduate. You were his father for all intents and purposes. So why are you letting this continue when you know Marius is innocent? Why are you letting him suffer?”
Gillenormand says nothing.
Valjean takes a deep breath. He closes his eyes for a moment, gathering what little strength he has left, though he’s so tired. Tired at the thought of how Mr. Pontmercy and Marius have suffered through the years, tired at the thought of how soon he will lose Cosette and Fauchelevent and the life he has built for himself over the past fourteen years, tired at the thought of what he has to do now.
He opens his eyes. “Have you considered it, Mr. Gillenormand? What it would be like for Marius in jail? But maybe you don't know what prison is like. I’m sure as Chief Prosecutor, you’ve been to the detention center many times, but have you ever been inside a prison? I can tell you about it. I spent five years inside one after all.”
Something flickers in Gillenormand’s face, recognition and something like dismay.
Valjean smiles without humor. “My sister raised me,” he says into the collective silence. “We were poor, but we managed. But then her husband died and the bills started piling up. We worked, god, we both worked two jobs each, but no one hired full-time workers any more. And part-time meant the company didn’t have to give you benefits. And then one day, Jeanne’s youngest got sick.” He takes a deep breath, Jeanne’s terrified look at the front of his mind, Joseph’s laboring breaths in his ears. “He was in the hospital for a week. But that was fine-- they don’t bill your insurance immediately, you see, so we had a few weeks before we had to worry about the hospital bill we couldn’t possibly pay. But then he relapsed and the hospital sent a prescription to our pharmacy and--” He stops for a moment. “The pharmacy bills your insurance immediately. And the insurance didn’t cover the medicine. Mr. Isabeau, the pharmacist, tried everything he could think of-- he found a discount card, but the medicine was still over a thousand dollars. We’d maxed out our credit cards, we couldn’t-- When he was on the phone arguing with the insurance company, I reached over the counter and took the bottle.” He recalls marveling at the light weight and how important such a small thing could be, and then running.
“The police showed up as I was pulling into Jeanne’s driveway,” he says, remembering how he fought the officers and begged them to let him give the medicine to Joseph, how he promised that he would go quietly if they just let him give Joseph the pills. “Joseph ended up back in the hospital. I was charged with resisting arrest and grand theft. The judge sentenced me to five years. He felt giving me a lesser sentence due to the extenuating circumstances would only encourage others.” He shrugs. It's an old bitterness, one that's lessened but never completely gone away in all these years. He gestures towards the prosecution table. “Mr. Javert knows. We met when I was still in jail, when he was in law school and working with Dr. Myriel, and when I was teaching myself business management and law from the prison library. I’m certain he’ll gladly verify that I speak from first-hand experience.”
He leans forward, willing his words to touch Gillenormand. “Imagine Marius there, Mr. Gillenormand. His time is no longer his own. Everything is dictated to him down to the minute. The prison decides when he eats, when he sleeps, when he works, when he gets fresh air. There’s no privacy, no peace, even at night. At night he’ll have to listen to the nightmares of the other inmates. If he has visitors, if you and your daughter come, you’ll be allowed perhaps one hug, and that’s if the guard looks the other way. Marius plans to be a lawyer, a prosecutor like you, I think. It will be a struggle to work on his degree in jail, but not impossible. I remember how limited the prison library is, although I’m certain Marius will learn all he can. That is, he'll learn when he isn’t being forced to work for $1.25 an hour, eight hours a day--”
“Enough!” Gillenormand howls, his voice filled with anguish. “Enough!” He covers his ears as though to stave off any more of Valjean’s words, hunching down in his seat, looking old and broken. “Enough,” he says again, in a despairing whisper. Valjean only knows he has spoken again by the way his lips shape the word. Gillenormand squeezes his eyes shut, says, “Marius, I didn’t-- haven’t I said cell phones are more trouble than they’re worth? The message was meant for Courfeyrac! I never meant-- I thought--” He trails off into an agonized muttering.
“Your Honor,” Javert says over Gillenormand’s low-voiced confession. Valjean can’t quite bring himself to look over at him. He listens instead as Javert says tonelessly, “I have one last piece of evidence to offer the court. I apologize for the delay, but there were some...complications in obtaining it. The acc-- Marius Pontmercy’s phone records are here. They clearly show that he received a text message at 6:25, as he first told police. The message is from Mr. Gillenormand. My associate, Mr. Chaboullet, has questioned Sergeant Mignon, and she’s confessed to deleting the message from the phone. She says Mr. Gillenormand paid her to do it.”
“I-- I see.” The judge looks stunned. “Mr. Gillenormand, I can’t-- well!” He straightens in his chair. “Bailiff, take Mr. Gillenormand into custody. And as for you...” The judge turns to the defendant’s table. For the first time, he smiles at Marius, a smile tinged with embarrassment.
“Mr. Pontmercy, based on the evidence presented and the confession from your grandfather, I find you not guilty. Court is dismissed!”
It’s only now that Valjean dares to look over at the prosecution table. He finds Javert watching him with an unreadable look. Valjean tries to signal with his eyes that he’ll be with Javert shortly, but then Marius says in a choked voice, “Mr. Valjean, did my father-- did Grandfather really--?” and Valjean turns away as Marius begins to gasp like he’s drowning.
October 5, 1:27 PM
Defendant Lobby #2
Marius doesn’t look like someone found innocent of attempted murder. His skin is more gray than brown; there are more lines of strain on his face now than there were during the trial. He's curled up on the lobby couch, his shoulders hunched like he's received a kick to the stomach.
“I’m sorry,” Valjean says, placing a gentle hand on Marius’s shoulder. “I wish it hadn’t been him.” This time Marius doesn’t even seem to notice the touch, his gaze distant. Valjean wonders what he’s thinking, if he’s still struggling to reconcile the events of the trial and his new knowledge of his family with all the lies he’s been told.
Valjean draws his hand away from Marius’s shoulder a second before Cosette hugs Marius, bending over him awkwardly and flinging her arms around his neck. It’s a quick, impulsive hug. She steps back before Valjean can even start to frown. She watches Marius anxiously, her face soft with sympathy. “Are you okay? No, of course you aren’t, that’s a stupid question, but--” She takes his hand, squeezes it. “I’m sorry.”
Marius blinks, and some of the distance leaves his face. He looks at Cosette, trying and failing to smile at her, and then shakes his head. “He lied to me for so long, Cosette. How many letters….?”
“Dozens, at least,” Mabeuf says quietly as he approaches with Fauchelevent.
Valjean’s not surprised to find that they’re followed close behind by Courfeyrac. The young man offers him a quick smile, gratitude warming his eyes, before he sprawls out next to Marius on the couch and slings an arm around his friend’s neck. “I can’t let you out of my sight,” he scolds lightly, injecting cheerfulness into his voice, though he has the same anxious look in his eyes as Cosette. “The one time you go off somewhere alone you get yourself arrested! How did you survive seventeen years without me?”
Marius manages a weak smile at that, though he still looks gray and drained.
Valjean touches the envelope still in his pocket. Weariness presses down upon him again. His own words haunt him. He remembers those long five years. It takes everything in him not to turn and run, to delay the handcuffs on his wrists and those prison doors locking behind him even for just an hour or two. He can’t even be concerned by the way Cosette is still holding Marius’s hand; he’ll have to leave that particular problem to Fauchelevent and Fantine. He clears his throat. When Marius glances at him, he says, “I’m afraid I have to give your father’s letter to Mr. Javert as evidence, but I’ll try to have it returned to you after your grandfather’s trial.”
Marius attempts another smile, this one seeming more genuine than the others, though he looks pained at the mention of Gillenormand. “Thank you, Mr. Valjean. I just hope my father will be awake by then.”
“I just spoke with the hospital,” Mabeuf says quietly. “Georges is still unconscious, but the doctors seem more optimistic than before that he’ll wake up.”
When Marius doesn’t seem to know how to process the news, staring at Mabeuf, Courfeyrac glances between them and suggests, “How about we pay Mr. Pontmercy a visit? Since I was accused of trying to kill your father too, I’m a little curious about him.”
“That’s a good idea,” Valjean says. He tries to smile and knows by the way Fauchelevent’s eyes suddenly narrow that he fails. “Cosette, you should go with them. I have to give this envelope to Mr. Javert, and I--” He hesitates, not wanting these last words to Cosette to be a lie. “It may take some time.”
Cosette’s still smiling at Marius, but she turns a look of concern upon Valjean. “I can stay,” she offers. “After the hospital, we can meet up at Marius’s favorite restaurant.”
“No, you should go with them,” Valjean says. He wants to reach out and hug her, but he doesn’t quite dare. If he did, he thinks, he wouldn’t be able to let go. He remembers instead the feel of her in his arms when she brought him the envelope, the weight of her head on his shoulder when they watch movies together, the tremulous but trusting smile she wore the first time they met. He blinks away the sudden prickling sensation in his eyes and adds, lightly, “But the restaurant is a good idea.”
“And who is going to pay for that?” Fauchelevent objects, but it’s said absently. He’s still studying Valjean with a faint frown. As Cosette laughs and tugs on Marius’s hand, dragging him and then Courfeyrac to their feet, Fauchelevent steps close to Valjean and mutters, “What’s wrong? You look like you lost the case. Is it because you talked about your past?” Fauchelevent scowls. “If anyone thinks any less of you for trying to help your nephew, they’re an idiot. Or if you’re worried about Gillenormand’s threats, well, he can hardly do anything to us now!”
He doesn’t deserve such friends, Valjean thinks, listening to Fauchelevent’s impassioned speech, but he’s grateful for Fauchelevent nevertheless. He lets himself reach out, stops Fauchelevent’s words with a touch of his palm to Fauchelevent’s shoulder. He draws his hand away before the light touch can turn into a desperate clutch. “That’s not why--” Valjean wishes Fauchelevent did not know him so well, that he won’t see through any lies Valjean offers.
“I’m tired,” he says at last, a partial truth.
Fauchelevent frowns, not quite convinced, but at last he sighs and nods as he did during the recess. “After you’re done with Javert, go home and sleep. I’ll pay the restaurant bill.” A half-smile ghosts across his face. “Although it’s your money, so I suppose technically--”
“No, it’s yours,” Valjean says firmly, with a faint answering smile. After all, one-fourth of the company belongs to Fauchelevent now, and has for years.
Fauchelevent huffs but doesn't bother resuming the old argument. Instead he studies Valjean’s face for another second, and then says quietly, “You did a good job today. You saved an innocent boy.”
Valjean shakes his head. “I couldn’t have done it if you hadn’t met Mr. Mabeuf, and if Cosette hadn’t brought that envelope,” he says. He ignores Fauchelevent’s half-exasperated, “Will you ever learn to take a compliment?” His hand drifts to his pocket again, brushing against the envelope, and then he pulls out the car keys and hands them to Fauchelevent. “It makes more sense for me to take a taxi,” he says vaguely in answer to Fauchelevent’s questioning look. Then he clears his throat. He wants to linger another moment, to look at Fauchelevent and Cosette a little longer, but if he waits any more, Javert might come searching for him.
“Good-bye,” he says. He's glad when the word doesn’t catch in his throat and betray him. He turns and walks away, a chorus of farewells breaking upon his back like a warm wave of goodwill, Cosette’s rising over the rest. His eyes prickle with tears; this time he doesn’t bother to fight them. He keeps his head down until he re-enters the courtroom. Then Valjean wipes hastily at his eyes and looks up.
He stops in surprise. Javert isn’t waiting for him at the prosecution table. Valjean looks around, but there’s no sign of Javert anywhere. He spots the bailiff. “Sir, I was looking for Mr. Javert….”
The bailiff shrugs. “He said something about going back to his office.”
“His office? But we--” Valjean stops at the bailiff’s curious look. “Never mind. I must have misunderstood him earlier.” Javert must intend for him to hand over the envelope before they go to the precinct together. “Thank you.”
The prosecutors office is only a five minute walk away. Valjean’s grateful for the miscommunication, if it means he can breathe in the autumn air and walk one final walk as a free man. Somewhere on the next block -- or perhaps halfway across the city, for the wind has picked up -- someone is burning leaves. Valjean has always loved the smell. He takes in another deep breath and then enters the prosecutors office building.
When he knocks at Javert’s door, there’s no answer. He frowns and knocks again, this time hard enough that the door moves a little and he realizes the door is slightly ajar. He pushes the door open. “Javert, I--” Then he stops in astonishment, frozen in the doorway. Javert’s normally meticulous office looks like a tornado has swept through; half of his case-files are scattered upon the floor, some perched in dangerously tall piles, some on their own. There doesn’t seem to be any safe place to step. Valjean hovers in the doorway, uncertain.
Javert whirls to face him, clutching one of his case-files to his chest. “Who--” He flinches when he meets Valjean’s gaze, teeth half-bared in a snarl. For a second he looks strange, almost guilty, though that can’t be right. Then he scowls with familiar exasperation. “What are you doing here?”
Valjean frowns, puzzled by the question. The proof of Gillenormand’s guilt must be a great shock to Javert, who has always held his fellow prosecutors in the highest regard, but he can’t possibly have forgotten about their agreement. “I came to give you Mr. Pontmercy’s envelope for Gillenormand’s trial,” he says slowly, touching his pocket. “And to go with you to the precinct.” He winces when Javert laughs suddenly, the sound harsh and mocking.
Just as suddenly as Javert’s laughter begins, it stops. He shakes his head, mutters through gritted teeth, half-disbelieving, “You came here so we can-- but of course you did! We had a bargain, and you're a man of your word.” He turns away and sets the case-file on his desk. When he speaks again, he sounds almost as tired as Valjean feels. “Go away.”
Valjean doesn’t move. He can’t make sense of it. He expected Javert’s self-satisfied smirk, a few remarks about how Javert knew this day would come, not a weary dismissal as though Javert doesn’t have his signed confession tucked away in his briefcase. “Javert….” He looks at the case-files scattered on the floor. “What are you doing?”
“It’s none of your business,” Javert snaps. He whirls and advances on Valjean, his face flushed, his eyes dark. His tie is gone. His throat’s bared, and once Valjean notices that, he finds he cannot look away from that exposed skin, the way Javert’s throat works as he swallows and spits out a second, “Go away.” Then Javert goes still. Another low laugh escapes him, humorless. “Wait. You should look at my cases instead. I can’t-- I am no judge of character, it seems, but you--” He waves his hand at the cases. “These are all the cases I won,” he says flatly.
When Valjean looks up from Javert’s throat, Javert is grimacing. “I don’t understand,” he says, confused by the way Javert looks wretched at the sight of his previous cases.
“God!” Javert flings his hand at the case-files again and snarls, “Some of them must have been wrongfully convicted! Valjean, I knew, I knew your client was guilty. I saw it in his face as he gave me his statement, as he begged me to believe him. I knew he was guilty like I knew that every single one of these men and women were guilty. I ignored their explanations, their pleas, when some of them must have been--” He breaks off and begins to pace, savagely kicking aside a case-file.
Watching him, Valjean has the impression of a trapped animal. It’s such a strange reversal that for a moment Valjean can’t speak. He recognizes the look on Javert’s face now: self-recrimination. “Javert,” he says.
Javert flinches like he’s been struck and stumbles to a stop. “I need to go through the cases again,” he says as though Valjean hasn’t spoken. He picks up a case-file from his desk and mutters, “There must be some clues to their innocence that I didn’t see, something I missed--”
“Let me help you.”
The offer is out before Valjean can think better of it. It’s his turn to wince as Javert turns an incredulous look on him. Still, he thinks of innocent men and women in jail, people it seems Javert now wants to help, and he can’t help but be moved by their suffering. “Let me help you,” he says again. “I can be a fresh pair of eyes.” He hesitates, remembering the bargain. “Afterwards, we’ll go--”
The rest of the sentence stills on his tongue as Javert pulls out a folded piece of paper from his pocket and unfolds it. It’s Valjean’s signed confession. “You don’t get it, do you?” Javert says. Another hoarse laugh scrapes its way from his throat. "You really don't--" He rips the confession in two.
Valjean can’t move, staring in a mixture of wonder and disbelief as Javert tears the confession into a dozen pieces and then throws them at his trash can. A smile that doesn’t reach Javert’s eyes touches his mouth. “Valjean, I don’t want your confession. I don’t want--” He passes a hand over his face. “I watched the girls too, after the trial. I knew they were guilty even if you’d destroyed the evidence somehow, so I-- but they didn’t do anything. This last year they have studied, worked, gone out with friends. I thought I was just missing something, that they were being more careful, but perhaps they are good girls like you said. And I would’ve taken the rest of their teenage years away from them, thrown them in jail if you hadn’t--”
Javert stops, half-gasping for breath. He shakes his head. “But you saved them from my foolishness. Now I just need-- I want-- I need to fix my mistakes.”
“Let me help,” Valjean says again, seeing the desperate sincerity in Javert’s face.
Just like in the fairy tales he used to read to Cosette, a third request apparently can’t be refused. Javert nods stiffly and says, “Fine.” He waves his hand at the pile of cases across the room, as far away from him as possible. “You can start there.”
They go to work, sorting through Javert’s cases, Javert silent and scowling, Valjean quiet and uncomfortable. His few attempts to engage Javert in conversation end in total failure, Javert answering his questions about the cases in short, clipped sentences that don’t invite further discussion or staring at him until he gives up.
Valjean divides the cases into ‘guilty’ and ‘possibly innocent’ piles, reads until his eyes burn and the words begin to waver on the page. It’s only then he thinks to look at the clock. With a start, he realizes it’s nearly midnight and they have been working for hours. He straightens, wincing as his stiff back and shoulders protest the movement. “Javert,” he says. The name scratches at his dry throat. “It’s almost midnight. We should get some sleep. I’ll….” He pauses. He looks towards the scraps of paper that was his confession. He still can’t quite believe Javert isn’t turning him over to the police; he keeps expecting any second for Javert to change his mind and drag him to the precinct. “I’ll come again in the morning and we can keep working.”
Javert is seated at his desk, his head bent over a file. “All right,” he says. “Go home.” He looks up slowly, as though it takes a great effort to raise his head. His expression is as unfathomable as before, when he and Valjean looked at each other after the judge pronounced Marius innocent. He pauses, and then says, struggling to speak, his own exhaustion obviously catching up with him, “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Valjean leaves, still half-expecting Javert to call him back and tell him the police will be here shortly. But Javert doesn’t call out after him, and slowly Valjean begins to believe he’s safe, that Javert is sincere in not wanting to see him back in prison. Once he’s in the elevator, he fumbles for his cell phone with weak fingers, suddenly trembling all over as though he’s had a narrow escape. His fingers brush paper instead, and he realizes that he never gave Javert the envelope.
He hesitates. He supposes it could wait until the morning, but it's an important piece of evidence, especially if Gillenormand has a change of heart and tries to claim he confessed to protect Marius. They should follow procedure. When the elevator reaches the ground level, he sighs and presses the button for Javert’s floor.
“Javert,” he says apologetically, opening the door with his one hand and brandishing Georges Pontmercy’s letter with the other to stave off Javert’s irritation. “I forgot to give you--”
For a second he thinks Javert is only leaning against his balcony railing, getting fresh air. Then understanding strikes. Valjean drops the envelope and runs. He has never moved so fast, but it seems like eternity between standing in the doorway and seizing Javert around the waist a second before the man would’ve gone over.
The sound Javert makes when Valjean grabs him is barely human, a snarled, wordless protest.
“Javert, what are you--” He narrowly avoids Javert’s elbow to his eye. He tightens his grip. He can’t understand it. Suicide has always been incomprehensible to him, the utter waste of it, and yet Javert--
“Let go,” he realizes Javert is saying. Javert actually sounds frustrated, like Valjean is in the wrong. Valjean tightens his grip further as Javert keeps struggling, says into Javert’s ear, “Stop. I won’t let you do this!” It takes all his strength to drag Javert back away from the railing and back into the office, Javert fighting him all the way.
It’s not until Valjean forces Javert down onto the couch that the fight goes out of the other man. Javert’s expression twists, and he covers his face with his hand. “Couldn’t you have come a minute later?” he mutters, but he remains seated even when Valjean releases him.
“Javert,” Valjean says, or tries to. He starts to shake, even worse than he had in the elevator, and can’t stop. He’s dizzy, and there’s a queer buzzing in his ears. Javert wavers in front of him like a mirage and Valjean wants to reach out and reassure himself that Javert is still there, but his hands are suddenly impossibly heavy at his sides.
“God damn it, Valjean,” Javert says, the weary exclamation coming as though from underwater. Then there are hands on Valjean’s shoulders, firm, fingernails biting through Valjean's suit. He goes where they lead and sinks onto the couch. Javert says, half-exasperated, half-bemused, “Calm down, Valjean, before you give yourself a heart attack. I won’t try the balcony trick again.”
Some of the lightheadedness goes once he’s seated. Valjean can almost think clearly again, though he’s all at sea. He wishes he could read Javert’s mind, understand what might have driven him to such desperate lengths. He watches as Javert sits back down on the couch, his movements stiff and angry. He says, “Javert-- why?”
Javert’s silent for so long that Valjean thinks he won’t answer. Then he waves his hand at the case-files, as though they’re all the explanation he needs. His gaze travels slowly across the room and then lingers upon an open file at his desk.
When Valjean glances at the name on the top of the file, he sees it's Fantine’s. He turns, puzzled, to see shame twisting Javert’s features. “Javert….”
Javert doesn’t meet his eyes. “She committed the crime, but-- you said something at her trial, I think about how the system failed her first. And I--” Javert has always had such an overwhelming presence, his height and his single-minded intensity making it impossible to ignore him, but now he seems diminished, almost small. He makes a noiseless laugh. “God, Valjean, I took eight years from her for trying to protect her daughter from monsters. I can’t make amends for that.”
“And do you think she’d be happy with your death?” Valjean doesn’t realize he’s leaning towards Javert until Javert shifts away. He leans back, trying to give Javert some semblance of space, though the couch isn't large. “Killing yourself won’t solve anything. Javert, you’re tired. We haven’t eaten since this morning. Get some rest, eat a good breakfast in the morning. I swear things will seem less hopeless after you’ve slept and eaten.”
Javert looks unconvinced, but nods. He scrubs at his face again. “This couch is a fold-out bed. I’ll sleep here.”
Valjean remembers Javert’s earlier lie: I’ll see you in the morning. He can’t help but look towards the balcony, imagining Javert returning to the railing once he’s left. When he looks back at Javert, Javert grimaces and says sourly, “You can have the key to the balcony, if it will make you happy.”
Javert huffs out something that could have been a laugh if there’d been a trace of humor in the sound. He reaches into his pocket, pulls a key-chain out and throws it at Valjean, who barely catches it, his hands still shaky.
Valjean rises to his feet. He still feels reluctant, though the key fits the balcony’s lock. He tucks the key-chain into his pocket and turns. Awkwardly, he says, “Perhaps we should eat now. I’m sure there’s something open nearby--”
“Valjean.” Javert sounds strange again, but not in the same way as before. It's only that there might be genuine amusement in his voice. He shakes his head. “You don’t have to treat me to dinner. Go home.”
“All right,” Valjean says. Still he lingers, watching from the doorway as Javert turns the couch into a bed. “Javert,” he says when Javert straightens. He meets those tired eyes. “I’ll be back in the morning to help with the rest of the files. And I’m sure Dr. Myriel will help us once he’s back from his sabbatical.”
“Go home, Valjean,” Javert answers, wearily, and Valjean does, though it takes a good thirty minutes to convince a taxi service to come out to the courthouse.
He’s almost to his front door when his phone buzzes in his pocket. When he takes it out, he sees a text from an unfamiliar number. It says only, Thank you. Valjean looks at the two words for a long moment, and then smiles to himself, relieved. He looks up, blinking against the sudden brightness as the porch lights turn on.
Then Fauchelevent opens the door, demanding in a quiet whisper how delivering a single piece of evidence took so long.
October 6, 9:36 AM
Valjean feels foolish as he picks up breakfast at the Musain, a local coffee-shop. He doesn’t know what Javert likes and waffles about what he should buy. Somehow he can only picture Javert drinking black coffee and eating a plain bagel each morning. It's impossible to imagine him actually enjoying food. Valjean ends up buying the coffee and bagels and grabbing some cream and sugar just in case.
When he passes through the prosecutors office's doors, a curious voice hails him. “Mr. Valjean?” The man's only vaguely familiar. After a moment, Valjean dredges up his name from the recesses of his memory. He’s a prosecutor by the name of Chabouillet. Valjean hasn’t faced him in the courtroom, but they’ve met once or twice at Myriel’s fundraisers. “What are you doing here?” Chabouillet studies Valjean’s bag of bagels and the coffee cup curiously.
Valjean has the absurd notion to hide the bag behind his back, feeling even more foolish. He clears his throat. “Mr. Javert and I--” He stops at the look on Chabouillet’s face. His stomach drops to the ground. He thinks, stupidly, But I locked the balcony door. But there were other ways, of course. He should never have left Javert alone--
“Careful, you’ll burn yourself,” Chabouillet says, and snatches the coffee from him. The lid's come undone from the shaking of Valjean's hands, the coffee threatening to spill.
“Is he-- did he--?” The words catch in his throat, strangle him.
“You had a meeting with him?” Chabouillet asks. Valjean can only nod. Chabouillet sighs heavily. “I probably shouldn’t say anything, not until the investigation is over, but...apparently Javert went through half his files and left scribbled post-its on about a third of them. He left a final note that said those marked files might be wrongful convictions and should be investigated, and that he was no longer fit to be a prosecutor and that he had to-- to disappear.” He shakes his head, slowly, baffled and pained. “I can’t understand it.”
Valjean feels numb with despair. He’s an idiot, he thinks distantly. He’d known that Javert wasn’t in his right mind. He should have dragged Javert home. Fauchelevent would have given them the restaurant’s leftovers and let Javert sleep on the couch. And Fauchelevent is better with words. Maybe he would have talked sense into Javert. Valjean should have--
“Mr. Valjean? Your phone is ringing.”
Valjean blinks, belatedly feeling his phone vibrate in his pocket. It takes him a second to pull it out and squint at the screen, his vision blurry. He can’t make sense of the name at first and then he blinks in surprise. He accepts the call and raises the phone to his ear. “Dr. Myriel?”
The phone crackles, and then Myriel says, voice filled with familiar good cheer, “I think you’re missing something.”
“I’m sorry?” Some of the haze of Valjean’s grief lifts, replaced by confusion. He wishes Myriel wouldn’t speak in riddles. “Missing something?”
“A certain prosecutor? I was a little surprised when I opened my front door this morning and instead of my newspaper, found Mr. Javert on my doorstep. It seems he needs a little sabbatical of his own.”
Valjean knows his expression must be a sight, if Chabouillet’s startled look is anything to go by. He blurts out, “Mr. Javert’s with you?” and watches relief flood Chabouillet’s face. “Then why did he--”
“In retrospect, he probably should have worded his letter better,” Myriel says, and then actually laughs. “That’s why I called, to make certain you and his associates didn’t get the wrong impression.” He adds cheerfully, as Valjean listens with a sense of growing amazement and relief, “Baptistine and Magloire say hello, by the way. Javert didn’t, but I’m sure he would have, if he wasn’t asleep on my couch. I’ll bring him back once my sabbatical is done.”
"Dr. Myriel," Valjean says, but it's to no one, because Myriel has hung up. He pulls the phone away from his ear slowly and blinks at it. Relief makes him almost giddy. He turns a smile upon Chabouillet. "It seems Mr. Javert's note meant he needed a vacation. Dr. Myriel says they'll be back after his sabbatical, which ends in...five weeks, I think."
"A vacation?" Chabouillet seems infected by the same giddy relief, because he laughs. "I don't think Javert's ever had a vacation."
Valjean hesitates. Somehow he's kept hold of the bagels. He looks down at the bag. He thinks of Javert, sound asleep on Myriel's couch, and then of the case-files waiting to be examined further in the office upstairs. He smiles tentatively at Chabouillet. He can continue Javert's work, and maybe have a few answers for him when he returns. "Did you need some help with those cases he marked? I looked over some of them last night, I might be able to explain a few of Javert's notes."
Chabouillet smiles back, surprised but pleased. "We need all the help we can get. Thank you."
As they head towards the elevator, Valjean calls Fauchelevent. "How would you like to come to the prosecutors office and help me look through some files?"
There's a pause. "And are we being paid for this service?" Fauchelevent asks, sounding as though he already knows the answer.
"No," Valjean admits, smiling into the phone. "But we'll be helping people who may have been wrongfully convicted."
There's silence on the other end of the line. Valjean imagines Fauchelevent rolling his eyes and smiling. "Of course we will. I'll be there soon. Just let me change our sign first. 'Valjean and Co. Law Offices, Providing Free Counsel to Everyone, Even the Prosecutors Office--'" His half-teasing mutter cuts off abruptly as he hangs up.
Valjean tucks his phone in his pocket and smiles at Chabouillet as the elevator doors slide open. "After you, sir."