Today's Reading

"And you let them know about your crimes, didn't you, because you're a man of your word?"

Raquel spoke quietly but distinctly. Even the dozens of spectators in the fully occupied gallery, many of them reporters from the Times, the Washington Post, Fox, and CNN, heard the clarity of her distinctive, measured voice.

"I did," Gordon Hughes answered. "I did what I said I would do."

"And yesterday you told Mr. Decker, the judge, and the jury what
your crimes were, correct?"

"Yes."

Raquel took a black Magic Marker from the narrow shelf on the easel that faced the jurors. She wrote rapidly at the top of the white sheet Gordon Hughes' Crimes.

"And the first thing you said was that you haven't filed tax returns for three years?"

"I'm late."

"Unlike the people on the jury, you don't have to pay taxes on time, do you?"

For the first time since Raquel started her cross-examination, Hunter Decker stood. "Objection."

Judge Naomi Goldstein, seventy-five and appointed by Ronald Reagan, didn't hesitate to say, "Overruled." No elaboration, no discussion. She rarely spoke. She was a minimalist judge.

In big, block-size letters Raquel wrote, in her best parochial school handwriting, Crime 1: Tax Cheat. "You see those words, Mr. Hughes?"

"I do."

"And you are a tax cheat, correct?"

"I was."

"You pleaded guilty to that?"

"Yes."

"Incidentally, sir, have you paid any of the taxes that you owe?"

"No one has asked me to."

"You have to be asked? Do you have some sort of special status that requires somebody to ask you before you pay?"

"No. I just don't have the money."

"Let me ask you this: You testified yesterday, didn't you, that you were in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco a year ago with Dr. Joseph Chuang?"

"I did. That was one of the questions I was asked by Mr. Decker."

"And you told Mr. Decker that Dr. Chuang was a high-level executive of the Sino Oil Company in Shanghai, correct?"

"Dr. Chuang told me that. I said it to Mr. Decker."

"The biggest oil producer in China, isn't that right?"

"I had been told that. I can't be sure. But it's big."

"And Dr. Chuang came to the meeting with two Chinese associates, correct? Mr. Wan and Mr. Tin?"

"Yes. The Chinese are like nuns. They travel in groups."

Raquel had one of those fleeting moments of pleasure any trial offers up for a lawyer: Hughes had just insulted the Chinese juror. "And that group, as you told Mr. Decker, left Tumi suitcases with you that contained two million dollars in used one hundred-dollar bills, correct, sir?"

"Yes."

"Did you use that money to pay your taxes?"

"Obviously not." Hughes paused, glancing at the jury. "In any event, it wasn't my money. The money belonged to Senator Baldesteri."

"Belonged to Senator Baldesteri, is that right, sir?"

"That's right."

"What does belong mean to you?"

"Belonged means belonged, Ms. Rematti."

"She owned it?"

"That's right."
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