Opening arguments for the prosecution
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you: look here, at me. What do you see? A man in the middle of his life, 40 or so, full head of lightly waved dark brown hair, off-gray suit shaded with a hint rust-red, shined off-red shoes – I shine them myself – white skin, clean shaven face, straight posture. Decent jaw, maybe. Well, that depends.
Some of you see something a little different, certainly different than what I see, of course. I can’t see you, not directly, though if you’re imagining yourself sitting in this gallery listening to me as I address the jury, maybe I can. See you, that is. You might already be there, or here, even if a little detached. Something like a fly on the wall, or a bird on the window sill outside, listening.
Maybe you hear my voice, a tenor, clear with a slight shift toward the earnest. Maybe you hear and see something different, or nothing at all, only the words on this page, their rhythm, the tone. Maybe the images they describe remaining fleeting and square or flat, like… clothes in your closet. But I hope you hear a voice, a voice above all. Because that single voice you hear is very important. They always are, singular voices. Almost, anyway.
You can describe one, qualify it: a mean voice, a kind one, superficial, intense, experienced, young, old, wise – any word, any part of it that might help you wrap yourself around it, or vice versa. My name is Berchtold, so you might call this voice ‘Berchtold’s voice’.
Sometimes you hear the words being said before any voice speaks. You know what I mean? Yes? No? Well, let’s see – look over there, at those people sitting in the accused stand. Or at the others in this hall – their colleagues, friends, family. Just look and listen a second. It’s different, isn’t it, the way you hear, the tone, their voices, the words to qualify, a little fuzzy still, a murmur. Like you’re searching, a pause. The intro to a familiar song before you recognize it. Now… if you listen a little more closely, try to really imagine those people and that sound… you might hear your own voice quieting, and in that quiet hear a different part of you growing louder. Hear it? It’s a … pretty deep part of you. A part of all of us.
Anyway. I realize opening a trial by talking about words and voices seems weird but – this isn’t an ordinary trial, and the voice thing is an important point, that change in what you hear, maybe what you feel, when you listen closely to me or to these words or if you lift your eyes from this screen and stop – to listen to everything around you, wherever you are. Maybe the most important point.
Because this trial is about what you hear and why. What we hear. And why. Outside, inside, real, imagined. And about having enough silence inside to let yourself hear things in the first place.
And it’s about deciding which voice you choose to hear, not the voice someone else tries to make you hear. That man sitting at the beginning of the accused stand, see him? The short one there on the seat in front closest to you? Well, he’s gone now from your world, though he’s still in this one.
He had a lot of trouble listening to people – because he couldn’t stand that silence. So he listened to voices instead, ones he chose. Bad ones. One of them even caused his premature death, but we’ll get to that later. Sometimes voices outside can be so loud, and so convincing – kind of like those old Looney tunes cartoons about the battle between good and evil, a small white angel on the right, a little red devil on the left, each whispering in your ear. “Take out the garbage.” “No, do it tomorrow morning. Sit back in the couch and have another beer,” and so on. Right? “Don’t eat the whole quart of ice cream.” “Do it, do it!” I usually do. The whole quart. Coffee and pistachio. And then I feel guilty about it the next day and don’t eat. Anyway.
I be a little careful. I’m overstepping: those aspects of this trial, the sort of deeper things like causes, motivations, emotions, those things, belong more to the attorney for the defense, in her way, my colleague Francesca, sitting over there. I’m the prosecutor, an accuser and public defender seeking justice. But a limited one. I’ll present the main narrative, in pieces, the almost bureaucratic parts of – this divorce, the main story at hand. The people directly and indirectly involved, events, facts, history, the law – though laws are easily bent, we all know that. Powerful people don’t follow the same laws as the est of us, at least in our world. But they have to here, in this one. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. In a word, I’m the storyteller of this divorce. Who doesn’t like a good divorce story?
So. Let’s take another look at the accused. They’re not all accused of doing harm, by the way. There are a couple of good people there, guilty only of trying to make the world a better place. I wish there were more. Actually there are. Most people, most of us, have kind hearts, or want to. But you won’t find many sitting over here.
That first person I mentioned there on the left, let’s call him Mike. I’ve placed him there as he was a few years ago at age 51 but sometimes you’ll see him differently. Like I said, he’s gone from your world now, the real one, so I suppose he’s more like a voiceless ghost than a personage here. There may be one or two of those in this word-filled room. Mike is sitting so you can’t really tell how short he was. Really short. Barely taller than a…. garden gnome. Which is no fault of his, not even a fault. Neither is that wide, small face he has that makes his eyes seem bigger than they are. But the bulging of those eyes, his empty expression – look close. See what I mean? Empty. Joyless. A little bored. Even a little sad – and those red pants he has, very expensive red pants. Sigh. Well… those are on him.
You probably wouldn’t imagine he was a what we call a VIP – I don’t get why we call them ‘very important persons’. More important than who? A life-saving surgeon? A biologist who discovers a new way to treat cancer? A mother who worked 2 jobs to pay for her kids university? He wasn’t any of those. Just one of the more powerful business executives in his country for awhile, before he started screwing up…. pretty badly. Nothing else, no lives saved, no new discoveries.
But he was filthy rich. Mike, would you kindly take out your wallet and show the jury your American Express card? Thank you. See? It’s not an an urban legend. Black. No spending limit. He could have walked into a Ferrari dealership and drive away in a roadster. Or take a friend and drive away with two. Or stroll into a watch store on a whim – even if they were closing, by the way: he just had to flash the card and they would’ve gladly reopen to let him in, wrap a watch around his wrist that costs, well, about as much as the one he has on, actually. Mike, would you show the jury how much you paid for that? It’s a Patek Philippe, right? Just raise fingers. 5-6-7. Seven thousand? No? Ah, 70 thousand. You had a small collection of those, if I recall. Any of them more expensive that the one you have on? My apology. A dumb question. Ok, you can sit back down.
link to Patek Philippe: https://www.patek.com/en/collection/new-models-2018?gclid=Cj0KCQjw5qrXBRC3ARIsAJq3bwq5ss-DPJ7bAUEi80kdYzwoVZodZ4zZligtwu7LFlEZdDuW0DMtU5MaAl2sEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds&gclid=Cj0KCQjw5qrXBRC3ARIsAJq3bwq5ss-DPJ7bAUEi80kdYzwoVZodZ4zZligtwu7LFlEZdDuW0DMtU5MaAl2sEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds
70 thousand. I would guess that’s more than at least a few of you earn in a year. Before taxes. Which reminds me: Mike, would you stand again and show the jury how much you paid in capital gains taxes over the last decade of your life? Zero? No answer. A finance exec like you didn’t make any money at all in the stock market or investing, art, books, real estate? I’ll remind you that here even in gesture, all lies are forbidden. It is however your right to choose not to answer. No answer? Hmm. Sit back down. Red pants. Even dead, he’s still a tax evader. Can’t help himself. That’s what they call it for us anyway, non-vip ordinary folk. They call it ‘fiscal optimization.’ Really, they do.
That was only to show you – money, in this case, there’s no shortage of. Of course all that money didn’t save him from a relatively early grave, probably actually contributed to it. Anyway.
A few of you might be thinking that he and others on trial, deserve their wealth. The usual spiel: they worked hard, the worked smart, free markets, competition and all that. Sometimes that’s true, and you’d be right. But I’ll be showing you how badly he fucked up and damaged the companies he worked for, even destroying a nationally strategic one, basically. And it wasn’t only him, of course. You’d be surprised how badly and how how often many famous managers, we confuse them now-a-day with businessmen but they’re not, fuck up. I’ll be presenting evidence that will condemn most of those people sitting there in the front row. And not a few seated behind. But the thing is, like the law, once you’re a certain kind of VIP – you don’t have to worry about that, about actually doing a good job, even a bad job. You only have to make sure that you fuck up big enough. Too many of the rest of us are always ready to compromise responsibility, find scapegoats in exchange for… table scraps.
Like that sun-tanned guy near the end, with the wavy, longish, really black hair. Mr. Olive, we’ll call him. He’s a practicing Italian suburban lawyer. His story is gonna piss you off, I’m sure. A real slimy bastard. It’ll be rough, once we get to his case, for not to at least suppose his complicity with his client’s adversaries – even rougher than supposing that that’s his natural hair color. Be kind. The associate he hired is at least 20 years younger than he is. And she has long, really black hair, to. They’re… friends. Wink wink. At least he isn’t wearing red pants. It will be up to you to determine wether his complicity was implicit or explicit. In the very least, I’ll prove he is guilty of perjury – against his own ex-client, for personal gain. Table scraps.
Sometimes it’s more than a few than a few scraps. Many more. Millions more. You might recognize that old guy in back, the one with the mustache. He’s a well-known leftist politician in Italy, at least he calls himself left. We use ‘liberal’ sometimes. Though we’ll only have Mike’s words regarding a specific case of a pay-out – a pretty big one. Politics is an expensive business. Corruption and politics, wow, ya’ think? At least he has gray his hair. He’s vip enough that he doesn’t need to color it. That politician’s name also begins with an M. by the way. Maybe it isn’t only a coincidence. In Italy many first born boys have name that begins with an M but that’s a subject for Francesca, the defending attorney. Anyway. It’s important because the subsequent management, or mismanagement, of that company in question then resulted in the demise of a strategic industry for their country. Let me take a sip of water.
I had thought, when I was assigned this trial, that it would be a direct example of gender discrepancies, male chauvinism. You know, the usual divorce story. And there is a lot of that here. So I was surprised when it turned out to be not at all a men vs. women thing. It’s pretty much an everyone against women thing. That, to, is a topic more down Francesca’s ally. But those women on the accused stand, well, I suppose, from a woman’ perspective, you could call them traitors. As many witnesses in the gallery. Lawyers, judges, ex-prostitutes… all of them misogynists. It doesn’t matter much whether you have a sausage in the middle.
Let me take an example or two. Let’s see – her, the woman sitting in the middle, the honorable judge Star. I’ll be showing you how her career took an unlikely upturn after a series of… creative sentences, let’s say. Sentences always in favor of rich or powerful men. Which usually means against women, usually first wives. But I’m sure the judge won’t agree. Or the career of that woman in the back, the pretty one. Yes, you, Francesca, her name is Francesca as well. Don’t worry, you’re not on trial here, merely a parenthesis. That Francesca was an ordinary banking clerk when she became one of Mike’s many lovers. 6 months later she was a vice president at the branch where she worked. Which turned out to be very convenient for Mike. Because mysteriously, his signature appeared as a full investment manager on his ex-wife and mother-in-law’s savings account at that same branch, an account opened by the same Francesca. That means, in case you don’t know, that he could not only manage the account but also make withdrawals. Even though, according to both his ex-wife and mother.in-law, he wasn’t in the room, not even the building, not even in the same street, when the account was drawn up and the paper worked signed. But when Mike tossed his ex-wife out of their house after 25 years of marriage and 35 years as a couple, then decided to divorce, that his signature came in handy. He emptied the account – even though for him there wasn’t much in it. Even more mysteriously, neither his ex-wife nor ex mother-in-law were ever notified of those his odd withdrawals – even though policy and law, for that matter, would have obliged the bank to notify them. His ex-wife merely found the account emptied, later, when she went to check. Nice goin’ Francesca. Sisters. Doin’ it for themselves.
That’s the smallest of stuff in this case. You’ll be hearing much more… awful things as this story unfolds, and I am sorry about that. I wish you didn’t have to. That was only to demonstrate that it isn’t at all only a man thing, and corruption, in this case, there’s no shortage of. And sex. Prostitution in this way or that. Excuse me. Another sip of water.
Ahh. Clean and cool. When you’re thirsty, nothing’s better. It’s kind of …the place of all our beginnings. Water, I mean. Water can have a kind of voice. You pause whatever you’re doing to move yourself wherever you’ll find something to quell your thirst, when you’re thirsty. And drink. And afterwards go do something else. Imagine what would happen if you became thirsty all the time? What do you think you would do? What would it feel like? How would it change you? Just a thought. For now.
So, where was I? Ah. Sex. Prostitution. Voices. What kind of voice do you hear now? A bored one? Maybe curious? Indifferent? I hope not the last. But in case you are, let’s shake things up and change the scene. Literally. We can do that here, by the way: take a breath, exhale and before its end you and I can be somewhere else. Like taking a sip of water. See the courtroom disappearing? New walls, new… colors, different smells. A different place.
The place at the beginning. Not the beginning of the whole story. Or of all the stories of all the people involved in this case. But it is, or it was, a beginning. The …difficult finding of all those other starting points falls to Francesca, my colleague for the defense, who will be up in awhile. My job is much easier. All I have to do is start at the beginning of the divorce, here – in this clean, well-painted, well-lit stairwell. That woman standing there, fixed in time, in tears, suitcase beside her on the floor. See her, her long, straight hair, dark? Olive skin, sharp features… but pretty, isn’t she, despite the tears. And very thin. If you think she looks a little like her, the woman on Mike’s other side, you’re right. It’s his first wife, though a younger version. Much younger – this was and is a terribly long, horribly destructive divorce even by Italian standards. It’s amazing how she’s held up.
Before I explain what’s going on in this scene, click the ‘play’ button to let its time start to move, I have to ask you to remember something. Though there may be reasons why or how people become rotten inside and out, hard times, sad stories, dramatic childhoods and the like or even simply ‘doing it because everyone else does it’, those reasons rarely provide justification, let alone excuse. We do have space, all of us, to decide. Decide which voices we listen to, and what we do. Most of the accused here are… monsters, real monsters, who enjoyed and enjoy hurting people, stealing from them – that means all or any of the rest of us, and several of the remaining others gleefully sell themselves into unconditional servitude to the powerful. You know, VIP slaves. Voluntary ones. Slaves. That’s one word you can use. I would use more colorful ones.
Let me step over to Pippa, we’ll call her, the woman in tears – who looks a lot younger than her age. She’s already 48 in this scene. About 15 years have gone by since. Really.
Look at the …sadness, would you say? Resignation though, is more like it. On her face. Now I’ll turn on the chronology, get time moving again, and let her step into the arriving elevator. She lifts her bag, in she steps, door closes, away she goes – there’s a taxi arriving on the street outside.
The taxi will take her to a second apartment, a tiny place in the suburbs she bought with money her mother gave her after selling the family home. It’s the place she stays when her mother needs someone near. Which is frequent.
Now, let me hold time still again and step through to the other side of the apartment door. Now you can see – yes, it’s good’ol Mike. And yup, he still has red pants on. And is wearing a Patek Philippe. Now you can see how short he was. See the difference when I stand close – and I’m not that tall.
Let’s go in close so we can focus on the expression on his face. Ouch. Scary. Determined, would you say? Or – certain. Very sure of himself. A little cold. And… bemusement, I think. There is pleasure there. And still that emptiness in his eyes Looks oddly familiar. That guy will appear in this story to, believe or not. He and Mike knew each other. Birds of a feather.
Oh, I’d like to take a stroll into his mind and show you how happy Mike is at this moment – he just kicked Pippa out of their house, made her pack her pack her bags, shoved her out the door – he wasn’t so new to using the physical, at least with small, thin women and girls. Again though, those kinds of things are the province of the defense but I can tell you monsters… are monsters all the way down. They’re not like you and me. They do stuff, bad things, and we let them get off without consequence.
Let’s back away, get a view of that apartment inside. Gorgeous, isn’t it? It was made up of 2 apartments that Pippa looked very hard to find, then designed their unification, the new floor plan, supervised all the restructuring, all colors, textures, furniture, artwork, everything – all the way down to the book lamps and door handles. Turned out well. Mike intends to use it as a sort of … demonstration of his wealth and taste. He needs to hire someone for that. He was a bit of a goat in those things, they say in Italy. A Gomer. Shame his first wife won’t be allowed in ever again after all that work – ever. Despite being legally the owner, at least of a part of it. 85 percent of this apartment, along with nearly everything else including the Patek Phillipes, will end up in – her hands, his second wife, Ursula. She wanted all of it, even the scraps but had to let go of a few. At the time of this scene she’s still working, selling her …services. Her number is on Mike’s cellphone. He will be calling her shortly, maybe already proposing a kind of deal.
When his first wife and Mike were younger and not so well off he hadn’t wanted children. The usual reasons, career and such – the career he’d convinced her was paramount to everything else, including her own. He’d even used his ‘sad’ face. Like most monsters he has faces he uses. At the time of this scene he’d changed his mind. Nothing wrong with that but… how can I phrase this. He’d…. asked around, to not much avail. Lots of ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you.’Irina’s rejection, Irina was another one of his younger mistresses, a GFE, a very expensive one, actually stung him a bit – we’ll get to her later. She was actually pretty important in all this. They met in the states. Anyway. You probably get the idea. Mike isn’t looking to have children like the rest of us do. He’s looking to hire someone to be the mother of his child. Which isn’t the same thing. At all.
I’m abusing my space – my colleague has the same rights as I, maybe more because she has more interesting things to say. Let’s take a last look here and then get back to the courtroom to let her speak. Sigh. Red pants.
That moment, that scene, I’m using as the beginning. Mike had already prepared for the moment of course: that savings account I mentioned earlier had already been emptied, all their mutual properties had been sold and the proceeds disappeared into the labyrinth of offshore shell companies he used. The apartment had just been completed – he was well aware how efficient and competent his first wife was and is for those sorts of things. He simply waited until she finished the job to make up an excuse to toss her out, to bring in Ursala to have a child. You might wonder why his first wife had been so – gullible. I’ll answer: we all have a history. That to, is an important point in this trial. Those personal histories.
Because it’s from that history, our own personal culture, that we learn – not only what voice to listen to or the voices we hear, but also the one we speak with. The world we allow. There’s no shortage of dramatic personal history in this case. We’ll get to it soon, chapter by chapter. Even Mikes, or maybe especially Mike’s. Who learned to listen to a kind of never ending thirst early on. A thirst or voice that was always there in his background, like a distant murmur. That became louder and louder as time moved forward. Voices.
Thank you for listening to mine. I will now leave the floor for Francesca….