The judge rose from his place, bowed low and shuffled out of the courtroom. Danny remained in the dock, despite the fact that the two policemen who'd been guarding him had already disappeared downstairs. Sarah walked across as the usher opened the little gate to allow him to step out of the dock and into the well of the court.
"Can you join me for lunch?" he asked.
"No," said Sarah, switching off her mobile. "Mr. Munro has just texted to say he wants you on the next flight to Edinburgh -and please call him on the way to the airport."
"IN CHAMBERS" WAS a term Danny had not come across before. Mr. Munro explained in great detail why he and Mr. Desmond Galbraith had agreed on this approach for settling the dispute between the two parties.
Both sides had agreed that it would not be wise to air any family grievances in public. Galbraith went as far as to admit that his client had a loathing of the press, and Munro had already warned Sir Nicholas that if their grievances were to be picked over in open court, his period in prison would end up covering far more column inches than any disagreement over his grandfather's will.
Both sides also accepted that the case should be tried in front of a high court judge, and that his decision would be final: once judgment had been made, neither side would be given leave to appeal. Sir Nicholas and Mr. Hugo Moncrieff both signed a binding legal agreement to this effect before the judge would agree to consider proceeding.
Danny sat at a table next to Mr. Munro on one side of the room, while Hugo and Margaret Moncrieff sat alongside Mr. Desmond Galbraith on the other. Mr. Justice Sanderson was seated at his desk facing them. None of the participants was dressed in court garb, which allowed a far more relaxed atmosphere to prevail. The judge opened proceedings by reminding both parties that despite the case being heard privately in chambers, the outcome still carried the full weight of the law. He seemed pleased to see both counsel nodding.
Mr. Justice Sanderson had not only proved acceptable to both sides, but was, in the words of Munro, "a wise old bird."
"Gentlemen," he began. "Having acquainted myself with the background to this case, I am aware just how much is at stake for both parties. Before I begin, I am bound to ask if every attempt to reach a compromise has been made?"
Mr. Desmond Galbraith rose from his place and stated that Sir Alexander had written an uncompromising letter, making it clear that he wished to disinherit his grandson after he had been court-martialed, and his client, Mr. Hugo Moncrieff, simply wished to carry out his late father's wishes.
Mr. Munro rose to state that his client had not issued the original writ, and had never sought this quarrel in the first place, but that like Mr. Hugo Moncrieff he felt that it was imperative that his grandfather's wishes were carried out. He paused. "To the letter."
The judge shrugged his shoulders and resigned himself to not being able to achieve any form of compromise between the two parties. "Then let's get on with it," he said. "I have read all the papers put before me and I have also considered any further submissions entered by both parties as evidence. With that in mind, I intend to state from the outset what I consider to be relevant in this case, and what I consider to be irrelevant. Neither side disputes that Sir Alexander Moncrieff executed a will on January seventeenth, 1997, in which he left the bulk of his estate to his grandson Nicholas, then a serving officer in Kosovo." He looked up to seek confirmation, and both Galbraith and Munro nodded.
"However, what is being claimed by Mr. Galbraith, on behalf of his client Mr. Hugo Moncrieff, is that this document was not his last Will and Testament, and that at a later date-" the judge looked down at his notes-"November first, 1998, Sir Alexander executed a second will, leaving the entire estate to his son Angus. Sir Angus died on the twentieth of May 2002, and in his last Will and Testament he in turn left everything to his younger brother, Hugo.
"Also offered in evidence by Mr. Galbraith on behalf of his client is a letter signed by Sir Alexander stating his reasons for this change of heart. Mr. Munro does not dispute the authenticity of the signature on the second page of this letter, but suggests that the first page was in fact drawn up at a later date. He states that although he will not be putting forward any evidence to support this claim, its truth will become self-evident when the second will is proved to be invalid.
"Mr. Munro has also made it known to the court that he will not be suggesting that Sir Alexander was, to use the legal term, not of sound mind at the relevant time. On the contrary, they spent an evening together only a week before Sir Alexander died, and after dinner his host soundly beat him at a game of chess.
"So I am bound to say to both parties that in my opinion the only question to be settled in this dispute is the validity of the second will, which Mr. Galbraith claims on behalf of his client was Sir Alexander Moncrieff's last Will and Testament, while Mr. Munro states, without putting too fine a point on it, that it's a fake. I hope that both sides consider this to be a fair assessment of the present position. If so, I will ask Mr. Galbraith to present his case on behalf of Mr. Hugo Moncrieff."
Desmond Galbraith rose from his place. "My lord, my client and I for our part accept that the only disagreement between the two parties concerns the second will, which as you have stated we are in no doubt was Sir Alexander's last Will and Testament. We offer the will and the attached letter as proof of our claim, and we would also like to present a witness who we believe will put this matter to rest once and for all."
"By all means," said Mr. Justice Sanderson. "Please call your witness."
"I call Professor Nigel Fleming," said Galbraith, looking toward the door.
Danny leaned across and asked Mr. Munro if he knew the professor. "Only by reputation," Munro replied as a tall, elegant man with a full head of gray hair walked into the room. As he took the oath, Danny thought that the professor reminded him of the sort of visiting dignitary who used to come to Clement Attlee Comprehensive once a year to present the prizes-though never to him.
"Please have a seat, Professor Fleming," said Mr. Justice Sanderson.
Galbraith remained standing. "Professor, I feel it is important for the court to be made aware of the expertise and authority you bring to this case, so I hope you will forgive me if I ask you a few questions concerning your background."
The professor gave a slight bow.
"What is your present position?"
"I am the Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at Edinburgh University."
"And have you written a book on the relevance of that field to crime, which has become the standard work on the subject and is taught as part of the legal syllabus in most universities?"
"I cannot speak for most universities, Mr. Galbraith, but that is certainly the case at Edinburgh."
"Have you in the past, professor, represented several governments to advise them on disputes of this nature?"
"I would not wish to overstate my authority, Mr. Galbraith. I have on three occasions been called in by governments to advise them on the validity of documents when a disagreement has arisen between two or more nations."
"Quite so. Then let me ask you, professor, if you have ever given evidence in court when the validity of a will has been called into question?"