The words rang out clearly and understandably, spoken by the judge as his gavel hammered down, releasing my wife from the charge of murder. She was innocent as far as the law was concerned but she was guilty of a crime a lot more personal and destructive to our marriage.
What had led up to my wife being charged with murder started a little over four months ago and it had come to me as a complete surprise.
Our old grandfather clock had just chimed eight o'clock when Stella and I sat down to watch TV together. Before I could get setttled the door bell summoned me. Imagine my surprise when I saw a New Jersey State trooper and another man standing on my doorstep.
"Mr. Lyons?" he asked, "Sidney Lyons?"
"Yes," that's me," I answered, wondering what the police would want from me, especially at this hour."
"I'm Trooper Hansen and this is Detective Michaels from the NYPD. May we come in?"
Oh, yes, sorry you caught me by surprise. Come in, what can I do for you? Is it about my kids? Are they in trouble?"
"We're not here about them; it's you we want to talk to."
"Me?" was my startled answer, "What could you want with me?"
"For starters, do you own a maroon Ford SUV, New Jersey license number XX-xxx?" It was the NY cop who posed the question.
"Yeah, it's registered to me, but it's my wife's car. I hardly ever drive it. Was she in an accident? She didn't tell me anything about it."
"Did you or she ever drive it into Manhattan, this past Friday, Saturday or Sunday?" He had completely ignored my query.
"Neither of us," I responded, "I was here in Short Hills and my wife was visiting her sister in Allentown. She drove there, so her car couldn't have been in New York."
"Is there any one else who can attest to your whereabouts over the weekend?"
"Yeah, my kids, they were with me, on and off, all weekend."
"And Mrs. Lyons?"
"Her sister could I presume. You would have to contact her in Allentown. Oh, and I called her there myself."
"You called your sister in law? When?"
"No, I called my wife on Saturday, when she was there."
"On your sister's house phone or her cell?"
I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. When I spoke to Stella, I had called her on her cell phone, I heard her relay a question I had asked about her brother in law and then got a relayed reply from her sister, but I never heard Paula's voice. Stella could have been anywhere in North America.
"On her cell." was my hesitant answer.
All I got was grunt from Michaels in response and then, "May I speak to her?"
"Of course, she's in watching TV. What's this all about detective?" I asked, and then before he answered me, "Darling, these men want to talk to you."
"Who wants to talk?" she had just seen the trooper behind Michaels.
"Mrs. Lyons, I am Detective Micheals from the NYPD and Trooper Hansen is here to make sure, and bear witness to the fact, that none of your rights are violated."
"My rights? Have I done anything wrong?"
"Can you please tell me your whereabouts from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon?"
Maybe it was the lighting or the flickering of the TV but I thought I could see her flinch and possibly go pale. But she stuck to her story repeatedly about being in Allentown.
"And your sister would testify to that in a court of law?" was his last question.
"Yes, of course." Again, the same flicker and the same tension.
"Then how can you explain this?" he asked again as he held out a piece of paper, showing her both sides.
"What is it? I can't tell anything from what yon are showing me."
"It's a receipt from a parking garage, underneath an apartment house, on the west side of Manhattan. On the back are two time stamps, one showing entry at 7:10 pm Friday and the other showing exit at 2:20 pm Sunday. On the front it shows a maroon Ford and the New Jersey license number XX-xxx? That car is registered to your husband and he claims it is driven by you. Do you still maintain that you were in Allentown?"
"Yes, I was with my sister." But her body language and her demeanor told me she was lying and I was sure the cops picked up on that too.
Michaels confirmed my thoughts when he said, "Mrs. Lyons, I am investigating a Class A felony and being untruthful to the police under these conditions can have serious consequences. Do still want to stick by your story?"
"Yes, of course I do, it's the truth."
"Thank you Mrs. Lyons. Rest assured that this is not the last you will hear from me." He turned and left followed by Trooper Hansen. Leaving me standing and looking at my wife.
"What the hell was that all about Stella?" I demanded. "It was as obvious to me as it was to them, that you were lying. Where the hell were you and what did you do?"
She was staring at the wall, somewhere to the left of me and my question shook her out of her daze. But all I got in answer to my question was a burst of tears and the sight of her back as she ran up the stairs and locked herself in the bathroom. I followed but all I got in reply to the questions I asked through the door was, "Go away, leave me alone."
I gave up asking after half an hour. I had no answer after waiting for her in bed until midnight when I fell asleep. When I awoke in the morning she was sleeping next to me, God knows what time she got there. I let her sleep; I didn't have time to interrogate her. I had to go to work. I fared no better the next night with my questions, all I got was stubborn silence or tears.
Friday evening, just as we were sitting down to dinner, the shit hit the fan. When I answered the door bell's summons, Detective Michaels and Trooper Hansen were again on my doorstep. I greeted them with, "I don't think I want you inside. Last time you upset my wife and caused a lot of unhappiness here......."
"I have a warrant; you have to let me in." Micheals stated.
I looked at Hansen, he nodded his head as Michaels bulled in past me, right into the dining room. As we followed I heard him say, "Mrs. Lyons, stand up please, hands behind your back. You have the right to remain silent," he began his recitation as he snapped the cuffs on her wrists and then finished it as he walked her out the door.
It happened so fast and was so unexpected I just stood there dumbfounded looking at Hansen. "Here's a copy of the warrant." he said as he handed it to me.
"What the hell just happened? Why did he arrest her? Why is she in cuffs? Why in front of my kids?" I had a million questions.
"Look," he said, "I'm only here because he is out of his jurisdiction and the State of New Jersey cooperates with New York. Everything he did was kosher. The warrant states the arrest was for 'suspicion of murder', that's a class A felony. The cuffs are mandatory. The way I understand it, they have visual proof she was in the building where a murder took place. She flat out lied about being in New York City from Friday until Sunday. That made her a prime suspect. You better get a good lawyer, she'll probably be arraigned Monday morning."
I called the only lawyer I knew, the one I used when I bought my house. When I told him my story, he told me that this case was way beyond his experience and recommended a criminal lawyer in New York City.
"Can I get a hold of him on the weekend?" I asked.
"It's a big firm," he laughed, "they work the asses off their associates. Somebody's probably there and it will probably cost you your ass if you use them. Ask for Sam Braverman, he's a partner, he's the best criminal attorney you can get."
I called, nine o'clock on a Friday night, and I got a receptionist. Did these guys work 24/7? She rattled off five names as the name of the firm before she asked how she could help me. Shit I thought, five partners, they must have twenty more associates. This is going to cost me more than I make in a year. I was wrong; they had twenty partners and another seventy associates. I asked for Mr. Braverman. Naturally he wasn't in, she gave me another lawyer.
I don't even remember his name but he told me that although they worked round the clock the courts didn't. There was nothing could be done until Monday morning when someone from their office would be there to represent her at her arraignment. I would meet her lawyer afterwards, but it wouldn't be Braverman. The associate would tell me when I could meet His Highness later. I felt like I was getting the runaround.
The upshot at her arraignment was that she would be held on a murder charge and bound over for a Grand Jury hearing later in the week. She was led away and I braced the lawyer on his way out. After I identified my self and demanded to know what's going on he told me he didn't know much more than I did and to come with him and we could ask her. Finally, after another half hour, we met her in an interview room down in the cell block. She looked like shit. She also couldn't look directly at me.
The lawyer put a recoding device on the table and began with, "Mrs. Lyons, you are here because the police believe that you murdered one Max Banhoff. You will probably be indicted by the Grand Jury and before we take your case, I have to ask you, did you do it?
"No," she vehemently denied, "I could never kill anybody."
"The police claim you lied to them when you denied being in New York last weekend, that's what made them suspicious of you. Were you lying then or now?"
"I was then but not now."
"Then tell me why you lied then and what you were doing that made you lie."
For the first time she looked at me and I could see the pain etched in her eyes and in her face. "Do I have to do this in front of my husband? Does he have to be here?" she asked.
"Lady," he said in exasperation, "It will come out at your trial, in front of the whole world. You might as well get the pain over with now."
"I was.........we were.........involved."
"Involved? Who was? Involved, how?"
"Max and .......me. We were having......... an..........affair."
I could see her struggle to say what she had to tell. Every word she spoke hit me like a blow to my gut. I couldn't find the breath to say a thing. I got up and walked out of the room to sit on a bench in the hallway. I had heard enough.
After about half an hour he came out and sat next to me, "You didn't know?"
"Not a clue." was my reply. Just then his cell phone rang.
"Murkowski," was his greeting, "Yeah Sam. I just got finished talking to her. She swears she didn't do it. Yeah, she was banging him. About four months. Yeah I'm with Lyons now. Four thirty today, your office."
Murkowski looked at me, I nodded.
"Yeah, he'll be there. No she wouldn't talk about any of that. Hell, I don't know, I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet. Yeah, I'm coming back now; I'll bring it right into you."
Then, looking at me he said, "You heard? Here's my card, Sam will tell you everything this afternoon. I gotta run." and he took off before I could ask a question.
I was beyond exasperated when I was admitted into Braverman's office promptly at four thirty. At least he didn't try to impress me by keeping me waiting.
"Mr. Lyons," was his jovial greeting. "Please sit down. May I call you Sid and you, please call me Sam, I like to keep things informal. I just finished listening to your wife's interview with Murkowski and I have a few questions for you........."
"Hold it I!" shouted, interrupting him, "Between Friday evening and this morning, the bottom fell out of my life and nobody has told me a God damn thing. I would just like to know what's going on."
"You really don't know? Didn't you read the warrant?"
"I'm a doctor, not a lawyer. My only brush with the law up until now has been a parking ticket and that was years ago."
"OK, she was arrested on a charge of "Suspicion of Murder' and she will appear before the Grand Jury within the next two days. The 'suspicion' means they don't yet have witness to the murder but they have strong reasons to suspect her. They will indict her and then a judge will set bail. Your wife swears, by all that's holy, that she didn't kill him and since I have a personal interest in this case, I want to see justice done. If it wasn't her then I want to find out who did."
"A personal interest? Were you fucking her too?" I was angry.
"Me? God no, I don't think I have ever set eyes on your wife. No, because of Banhoff. He and I went to law school together and we became partners as defense attorneys afterwards. We parted ways five years ago when he began defending mobsters. I only wanted to defend the innocent."
"I don't know how innocent she can be, she admitted to having an affair."
"She will be tried for murder not adultery. Adultery is not a crime in New York anymore. You might want to see her spend the rest of her life in jail for what she did to you, but that is not what she is charged with. You seem to have thought you had a good marriage before this past weekend, so why not wait and see how this plays out before you rush to judgment."
"It's not only that." I explained, "I'm only ten years out of medical school and it took me four of them to pay off my educational debts. Now I have two young kids to take care of and I just took on a mortgage on a house she had to have. I make a good living but I have no reserves. From the looks of this office, I don't know if I can afford your services or that I want to go into debt again. Especially if it's to save her cheating ass."
"I told you, I have a personal interest, and if she is innocent I'll do it for whatever is in your savings account as of today. If she is not, I'll make sure she rots in jail for the rest of her life. That will be your revenge and mine too. I just want to make sure the right person pays for killing him. Max was my best friend for a long time, that is up until the time he tried to put the make on my wife. Hell, he was the best man at my wedding and he probably screwed every bridesmaid, including the Matron of Honor. He never met a halfway decent looking woman he didn't try to fuck and he succeeded with most. If he set his sights on your wife, she probably never stood a chance. He had a silver tongue and could seduce any jury with more than two women on it, to vote not guilty or at least come in with no verdict at all. So, do we have a deal, do you want me to defend her?"
We shook hands and as predicted she was indicted. Bail was set at quarter of a million and I refused to put up the bond, her parents had to do it. I didn't even go to pick her up when she was released; they had to bring her to our home. They walked in behind her, all three walking as if on eggshells. Not knowing how I would greet her, fearing the worst. The kids of course went nuts, happy to have their mother back home. My feelings were not so exuberant.
It didn't take long for the excitement to settle down and the kids went out to play. Then her parents, assured that I wouldn't do anything violent, left. Just the two of us sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee, not knowing what to say.
Finally she broke the silence, "Please don't hate me."
"Hate you," I exploded, "What reason could I have to hate you? Could it be because you lied to me to be with your lover? Could it be because you cheated on me? Could it be that you wouldn't talk to me or tell me what was wrong? Could it be that you were fucking some hot shot lawyer while I was working my ass off getting us out of debt and buying you this house you had to live in? Or maybe it's just because you ripped apart my perfect life and turned it into shit. Hate you. How could I hate you? Christ, I don't even know you well enough to hate you."
She burst into tears and ran into our bedroom, slamming the door as she closed it. We spent the weekend in an armed truce, speaking only when we had to, being polite in front of our children. I had been sleeping on the pull out sofa bed in our den since she got home. The following week, she spent three days being interviewed by Braverman's associates. I got a call from him Friday.
"OK, Sid, I've got the whole story," Sam told me, "from the minute she met him four months ago to the minute she left him that Sunday afternoon. She still swears he was alive and well when she left. It's not pretty and she says she could never tell it to your face but that I can send you a copy of the recordings. If you want them, I'll overnight them to you."
Not pretty? Not tell me to my face? Four months? Do I want them? God damn right I do! This whole business has been eating me up alive.
"Send them." I said.
Stella answered the door when Fedex arrived Saturday morning; she brought the cardboard envelope to me.
"From Sam, she said, "The discs, I guess. I want you to know, I never wanted to hurt you. I'm so sorry for what I did and I don't know if you will ever forgive me. I love you, I really do, I.........I......." She couldn't finish and she fled the room, crying as she went.
Six discs, almost eighteen hours of interview. It was going to be a long weekend. It was painful to listen to. It began with a male voice that sounded like Murkowski's.
"Mrs. Lyons, I want you to tell me everything that happened to you in your relationship with Max Banhoff. Everything you can recall from the moment you met him, everything that was said and done and what you were feeling at the time."
"Everything? My God?" I could hear the embaressment in her voice.
"You are facing a murder charge; we are trying to salvage the rest of your life. Sometimes our knowing the minutest detail can make the difference. Anything that you say here is in complete confidence and will not be divulged to anyone without your permission. So begin with, how and when you met him."
"It was on the Friday, the weekend after the Fourth of July, I had gone to visit my sister in Allentown and we were on her back patio catching up on family gossip before dinner. Flo's neighbor, Felicia Maldonado, called over the fence to make sure she wouldn't be late for the bachelorette party Felica was throwing for her niece that evening.
Flo, my sister, told her she couldn't come because I was visiting. Felicia insisted that she come and bring me too. There would be over fifty women invited, one more wouldn't make any difference. I could see Flo wanted to go so I accepted her invitation and at eight o'clock we arrived at the Lucky Guy Gentlemen's Club.
I said to Flo, "Why, in the world would anyone throw a party here, for a bunch of women at a Gentlemen's strip club?"
"Wait until you see the kind of strippers they are. Maybe you will change your mind." was her smug reply.
The room was bedlam when we walked in. Over fifty women, mostly young twenty some things, chattering away at the top of heir lungs. All trying to be heard over the others talking at the same time. Before I sat down I looked around the room and besides the woman I saw half a dozen men scattered about. They all looked tough, probably bouncers here to keep the peace. One, seated with his back to the bar looked older, He looked like a business man. The owner, I thought, keeping an eye on his place. He caught me looking at him and smiled at me. I politely smiled back.
Then the lights dimmed and the show began. Five very young men, very well built young men, came out dressed as blue collar types. Singing and dancing to the song YMCA. The women went wild as the men stripped down to their jockey shorts. Cries of "Take it off., Take it all off." rang out all over the room. There was a sexual tension building in the audience, probably encouraged by the size of the bulges filling the underwear. All the alcohol consumed so far hadn't hurt either.
The leader on the stage said, "Do you want it all off?"
"Yes, all off." Answered fifty soprano voices. And off the jockeys came, followed by a collective gasp from the audience. Every penis exposed, was fat and long.