30 November 2012

November Novel: Chapter 11

[Chapter 1] . . . [Chapter 2] . . . [Chapter 3] . . . [Chapter 4] . . . [Chapter 5] . . . [Chapter 6] . . . [Chapter 7] . . . [Chapter 8] . . . [Chapter 9] . . . [Chapter 10]

When Brad got to work on Monday there was the normal pile of phone messages on his desk which Paula had gleaned from the weekend's voicemail. On top was the usual message from Marty Elkins. Norton High School's football team came to town last Friday and destroyed the Bartlette Unified Tritons. Marty would have complaints about the refs and be absolutely certain they were on the take. He had been the first quarterback at Bartlette Unified when the county's three high schools were merged into one and ten years later he stilled lived or died each week in accord with the Triton's latest game. For himself, Brad doubted the thirty-five to thirteen loss had much to do with anything other than the fact that eleven starters graduated last year and a third of this year's starters were sophomores.

He smiled. Paula purposefully put that one on top so his day would start with a bit of humor. She knew the problems he was having at home and was trying to help in what little ways she could.

Of course, after that first message, there were about twenty others which were not so much fun. Most of them were about the judges throwing every single case that came before them out of court. Each of the three judges decided that since the original paperwork was destroyed in the fire that the cases based upon that paperwork had to be dismissed. All Brad and Yusif could do was weather that storm and indict anyone with a serious charge. The next grand jury was scheduled for a week from Thursday and he had already told Judge Isom and the clerk of court that it would take at least two days because they had to re-indict everyone whose original indictment was destroyed in the fire and all the serious cases which had been dumped by the judges in the lower courts. In a normal month they indicted somewhere around thirty-five people. This month they would be indicting at least four hundred. Poor Paula would go nuts this week trying to get everything set up.

There were two messages from law enforcement officers. The first, received Saturday, was from Special Agent Mazzota of the FBI. Mazzota was the lead FBI agent for the federal team that showed up after the explosion. He had not been especially cooperative with the Sheriff's Department or even Brad's office and in the call at three in the afternoon on Saturday his message only stated that he wanted to speak to "the head prosecutor." Apparently, it was too much trouble to remember Brad's name or even look it up on the internet. The second message was from a Detective Barry Shifflet, a Roanoke officer. It was from earlier this morning and said it concerned an abduction.

In a fit of pique, Brad decided to call the detective in Roanoke first. If the FBI agent could not be bothered to remember Brad's name then Brad would not bother to give him top priority. However, Brad's pettiness was stymied when the number rang through to voice mail. He dutifully left his contact information and then hung up so that he could call Special Agent Mazzota.

Mazzota had left a cell number and it got answered before the second ring. "Mazzota here."

"Hi. This is Brad Dollerby, the Bartlette Commonwealth Attorney. You called my office over the weekend. I'm returning your call."

"Thank you for calling back, Mr. Dollerby. I was just trying to confirm the identity of a Father Jerome Tolton. He gave your name as someone who could verify his identity." The voice was coolly professional.

"Um, sure. Black guy. Skinny. Maybe mid-thirties. Priest. Presided over my wedding and he's some sort of trouble shooter for his Church. Also claims to be a lawyer, although I can't confirm that." Brad tried to match Mazzota's professional tone, but surprise, curiosity, and some anger tinged his words. "What has the Father gotten into now?"

"Thank you. We called Bishop Mannion after we could not contact you and he confirmed the identity of Father Tolton." The FBI agent pointedly did not answer the question. "I'll be sure to advise you if anything comes up involving your office. Thank you for your assistance."

With that, the line went dead. Brad had dealt with federal agents before and you just had to accept a certain degree of sanctimony and self righteousness from them, but this jerk was just plain rude. More troubling was the refusal to tell him what Father Tolton had meddled in now. He also found himself mulling over the "advise you if anything comes up involving your office" line. There were all sorts of implications which could be read into that statement. Well, there was only one way to find out.

He pulled up a search engine on his computer and looked up Saint Berlinda's phone number. He called and the phone rang seven times before a man picked up. It was Lyle. Lyle was a retiree who volunteered at the church. Brad was uncertain what he did exactly, but he was always at Saint Berlinda.

"Hey, Lyle, it's Brad Dollerby. I'm looking for Father Tolton."

"Oh, he's on his way Mr. Dollerby. The troopers picked him up about thirty minutes back. They must have stopped for breakfast - otherwise they'd be at your office already."

Brad rolled with what felt like a body blow and kept his voice light. "Yeah, they must have. Do you know which troopers picked him up? I think maybe I ought to give them a call and hurry 'em up a little. You know how people can sit around at the Hardees all morning."

Lyle chuckled. He was one of the old men who sat around every morning at the Hardees talking politics and remembering how great things used to be. "Nope. Both of them were in suits and one didn't even come into the church. They weren't even in a gray car; it was just a white SUV. Only reason I know who they were is that I heard Father Jerome tell Father Gabe that he was 'leaving with the troopers.'"

"Okay. Well, I better get off the phone. I need to clean my office up a little bit before Father Jerome gets here." After a couple more words of goodbye Brad hung up the phone.

What was the priest doing now? It had to have something to do with the ambush and the FBI and state police were involved. He was not. He wondered if the Sheriff was cut out too. He called over to the Sheriff's Department, but the Sheriff was off at a prayer breakfast. So, he asked to speak to Jeff Sanger. The chief of investigations picked up on the second ring. They exchanged quick greetings and Jeff beat Brad to the punch.

"So, I guess you're either calling about Squire dying or Dave getting arrested."

Brad was startled by Jeff's abruptness and the unexpected topics stupefied him for several beats. Then it all came pouring out at once. "Wait, I thought Tolliver was supposed to be okay. What happened? And what do you mean Dave got arrested? Dave who? You arrested someone on this?"

"Something went wrong with Squire's surgery. He died this morning from complications - about six. And, no, we haven't arrested anybody on this yet. Dave Jordan got himself arrested yesterday in Roanoke."

"Dave Jordan? You mean your Dave Jordan?" The only Dave Jordan that Brad knew was Sergeant Dave Jordan, one of the investigators directly under Jeff's supervision.

"Yeah. Apparently, Dave found out who that guy was who spoke to Yusif last week - the one who wouldn't tell Yusif who he was. It was some lawyer out of Roanoke. Anyway, Dave drove to Roanoke yesterday without telling anyone here or contacting anyone there and found the guy. He arrested this lawyer, cuffed him, and started questioning him. Seems he got pretty rough and when local PD arrived on the scene they arrested him and charged Dave with abduction, malicious wounding, and two charges of using a firearm in a felony. I spoke to the detective assigned to the case and they are pissed. I don't know if the Sheriff and ya'll are going to be able to help him this time."

Brad was not particularly disposed to help Dave Jordan. The guy was a jerk and not quite half as clever as he thought he was. In an equitable world Jordan would have never risen above street patrol and probably not lasted too long as a deputy. In the real world, he was the Sheriff's step son and he had been promoted to someplace where no one thought he would do any harm. Brad knew that Jeff only gave Jordan the most basic assignments and even then kept a fairly close eye on his work. Even so, at its peak Jordan's work only occaisionally rose to the level of adequate. Brad would not be bothered a bit if Jordan was no longer working for the Sheriff's Department. Unfortunately, the Sheriff would not see it that way; he would want some help.

"Jeff, is the Roanoke detective a guy named Shifflet? I got a call from somebody by that name before I got to the office today."

"Yeah, that's him." Jeff paused for a moment. "I've got his info here . . . Lieutenant Barry Shifflet, Roanoke Police Department. You want his phone number?"

"No, I've already go that. I left him a voicemail a couple minutes ago. Is there any other news about the case? You heard anything from Father Tolton?"

"The priest? I got an email about him. Let me check." After about ten seconds Jeff continued. "Here it is. Apparently, last Thursday Father Tolton tried to talk to Bo about the incident, but Bo wouldn't talk about it without the Sheriff's permission. Bo sent an email to the Sheriff about it, who forwarded it to me and I sent an email back to the Sheriff saying I don't want information about the case being handed out to anyone while we're investigating. Heck, Brad, I know y'all are close to this priest, but we can't let somebody come in and mess around in this when we haven't even figured out who did it yet."

Brad knew he had to immediately squash that notion. "I don't want you to do anything for this man that you would not do for anybody else. My wife's the Catholic. I'm still a member of United Methodist here in Mount View. If he starts throwing my name around trying to get things, you let me know. The only reason I asked about Tolton was that the FBI called and asked about him. I thought maybe he'd gotten into something."

"The FBI hasn't said anything to me about him, but then the FBI pretty much hasn't said 'boo' to me since all this started. They don't seem to have any real interest in cooperating. And, I wouldn't worry about Tolton using your name to open doors. Best I can tell, he didn't try that and we all know that Bo wouldn't help someone who dropped your name anyway."

It was an ongoing joke. Bo "blamed" Brad for his marriage. After Bo waded into the Mahans at Brad and Maggie's wedding reception the Mahan women had targeted him. Brad was not sure why exactly; all he knew was that every time he brought the subject up with Maggie or Abby they chortled or grinned like cats that had eaten several canaries. After the reception and before they left town two women from Boston actually tracked Bo down and got him to exchange email addresses with them. Two others found him online within a week and Bo had a lively exchange with three women from Boston and one from New York over the next several months. Obviously, he thought nothing would come of it. After all, these were big city women who could not possibly want to live in the mountains of Virginia and they were hundreds of miles away. He was just having fun flirting with them. Then, Mary Elizabeth Mahan left Boston, moved to Bartlette, and put an end to all of that. Within four months Mary had shouldered aside both her local and internet competition and had a thoroughly bewildered Bo Ross in front of a priest saying wedding vows. However, this time the wedding and reception were in the next county over because Norton had both a larger Catholic church so that everyone could get in this time and a bigger hotel where the Mahans could have their monster reception in peace and not get Bo in trouble with his Sheriff. From that day on, Bo would gripe whenever he saw Brad that his carefree bachelor days ended because Brad brought Mahans to Bartlette County.

Brad gave the obligatory chuckle. "Watch yourself, Jeff. Today's not the day to get on my bad side. The Tritons lost on Friday so I've gotten a call from your favorite person, Mister Marty Elkins, with the usual complaints. I could decide that my office isn't equipped to investigate such an important allegation and refer him over to you. Maybe I'll be extra helpful and give him your direct number."

"Ug! I take it all back!" Both men chuckled this time. Marty's phone messages to the Sheriff's Department about the corruption in high school football tended to get lost somewhere between the receptionist's desk and Jeff's office. In fact, the non-responsiveness of the Sheriff's Department was the reason that Marty now called the Commonwealth Attorney instead.

With that, the conversation wound down. After hanging up the phone, Brad spent a couple seconds thinking how good it was that people were getting back to the point they could kid around again. Then he found his thoughts turning sour as he mulled over any possible meaning or connections between all the things going on. He still did not know what Tolton was up to, but the situation with Dave Jordan was even more troubling. Jordan was just dumb enough that it was believable that he would go cowboy and try a stupid stunt like going to Roanoke to make an illegal arrest. Yet, somehow it did not feel right. Things were going on that Brad did not have enough information to understand and he did not like that at all.

28 November 2012

November Novel: Chapter 10

[Chapter 1] . . . [Chapter 2] . . . [Chapter 3] . . . [Chapter 4] . . . [Chapter 5] . . . [Chapter 6] . . . [Chapter 7] . . . [Chapter 8] . . . [Chapter 9]

The third floor of Veteran's Administration Hospital was quiet. It was after ten, but a man of the cloth usually went unchallenged if he stayed out of the way. In fact, the nurse at the central table had been quite helpful when Jerome asked for Mark Carr's room. Everyone knew that it was only a matter of time for Mark so it was no surprise that a member of the clergy would show up to comfort the family and say final prayers for the dying.

Yet, that was not Jerome's purpose in being here. In fact, even Jerome did not know exactly why he was here. He had spent his entire Friday running down the victims of the ambush. His first visits were with the two lawyers, both of whom were patients at the Beauregard Medical Center. Grant Lasley had been sitting up in his bed and using his cell phone to talk to clients and his secretary. The man acted as though getting ambushed and shot was an inconvenience designed to keep him from representing his clients. While Jerome was there a young nurse arrived with about six different pills for Lasley to take and he almost ripped her head off when he realized one of them was a lortab. The nurse kept trying to explain that pain management was necessary and he kept talking over her. Finally, Jerome intervened.

"Mister Lasley, all she's doing is following the doctor's instructions and trying to give you something for your pain."

Lasley paused and made an obvious effort to get himself under control. "Respectfully, Father, that is not what is happening here. The opioids are extremely addictive and both she and her doctor know it. They are trying to turn me into another one of the pill zombies like they have half the people out here. It starts with a few tabs, then oxys, then fentanyl or oxymorphone. They can justify every step of the way as they increase the depth of your addiction and guarantee that doctors, pharmacies, and pill companies keep making money off you."

Jerome tried to speak in a soothing tone. This man was obviously being more than a little paranoid. "I'm sure the doctor is just trying to do his job. He's not trying to turn you into an addict."

The lawyer almost sneered at him. "It's so obvious you're not from here, Padre. The doctors, all just trying to do their jobs, have flooded us with these damned pills and addicted a huge number of people. If you don't believe me, start counting pharmacies. You think Mount View needs seven pharmacies for thirty-five hundred people or that Yared needs four in a town of about one thousand? The medical-pill industry is booming Father. And, if you need further proof of bad intent, note the fact that this nurse, her doctor, and this hospital are trying to give me an addictive medicine like lortab when they could just as easily give me a non-addictive pain pill like torodal."

Then came a fifteen minute lecture on how "big pharma" was neglecting the development of non-opioid, non-addictive pain suppressors because they did not lead to addiction like the narcotics and therefore fewer pills were sold and less profits made. Jerome eventually gave up trying to talk sense to the man and starting asking him about the ambush.

Lasley waved his remaining hand dismissively. "Not much I can tell you there. I assume you're here investigating the death of Father Pahl?" After Jerome nodded he continued. "Well, we were all standing in the alley. The deputies were letting the Pahl brothers smoke. We were all chatting about something inane because we couldn't talk about the case in front of the deputies. I heard the shots and saw the Pahl brothers get hit. I turned and dove behind the nearest cover. I'd like to say I was noble and pulled Father Pahl down with me, but the truth is that he got in my way and I shoved him down so that I could get down. I don't remember getting hit myself and I don't remember the explosion. There's a huge blank spot in my memory between hitting the gravel behind the deputies and waking up here with my arm sawed off."

After a few more questions which yielded no useful information and a couple very impatient looks from the Lasley, Jerome left and went a couple floors up to speak to the other lawyer. Keith Tolliver was in far worse shape than Lasley. He was only semi-lucid and after about ten minutes of mumbled and unfocused conversation prompted by Tolliver's wife Tara, the attorney lapsed into unconsciousness. Tara kept apologizing to Jerome because her husband could not help him and explaining that he had been much clearer before he had surgery two days ago. She was obviously worried and Jerome spent well over an hour comforting her and assuring her that he was not upset because her husband was not in any condition to talk with him.

After a break for supper in the hospital cafeteria, Jerome had tried to visit the Pahl brothers at the same hospital, but they had a police officer stationed outside their door and standing orders from their father that no visitors could see them. Neither of them were conscious anyway, but he felt obligated to visit all the victims and the Pahls were Catholics. He might not be able to talk to them, but at the very least he could perform an anointing. After about forty five minutes of reasoning and outright wheedling someone finally called the men's father. That proved fruitless when the elder Pahl both refused to speak to Jerome and refused to allow him to visit the brothers. Apparently, the man had several experts flying in to see if they could do anything to help his sons and he viewed allowing an anointing as giving up. The poor nurse who made the call out of kindness got yelled at loud enough that Jerome could could hear it himself and after she hung up she told him that the man said he "would not allow a priest to bless his children to death." She looked confused so he explained the anointing to her, after which she just looked dubious.

The next visit had been simple in comparison. Deputy Ed Boyd was in a room by himself, covered in bandages and hooked to machines which were performing his bodily functions. There was no one with him. The nurse told Jerome that deputies would come by and visit every day, but no family. It turned out he had no close relatives at all and a board of doctors had decided that they would wait until Monday and if there was no improvement they would detach him from the machines preserving his life. Judging from the way the deputy looked and the nurse's resigned attitude, Jerome understood that this basically meant the deputy would die on Monday. He did not know the man's faith but sat praying for him for some few minutes before he stood and approached the bed. He made the sign of the cross, dabbed his finger in his bottle of oil, and lightly made the sign of the cross on the sheet over the man's heart as he recited the blessing. "Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up." That done, he prayed a little longer for the man and then left for his final visit.

And found out that the last hospitalized victim was not at Beauregard Medical. When Deputy Carr's family decided to remove him from life support everyone expected him pass quickly; his father even signed a no resuscitation order. However, the deputy hung on and it looked like there was a chance he would transit into a persistent vegetative state. As soon as the family was told this they insisted on moving him to the V.A. hospital. The doctors recommended against it, but the family was adamant. He had been moved earlier that day. The nice, young doctor whom the nurse summoned to explain this also launched unbidden into an explanation of Deputy Carr's condition. Jerome listened politely, but he was fairly certain the majority of the explanation would have taken a couple years of medical training to understand. The gist of it seemed to be that the deputy's internal wounds were severe, but stabilized. Even so, the doctors were surprised he was still alive. There was a high probability that Mark Carr would be dead within a week. After thanking the doctor and assuring him that he understood and would not inappropriately raise the hopes of the deputy's family, Jerome took his leave and drove to the V.A. hospital.

A little over an hour later he was standing in the hallway of the George Jordan V.A. Medical Center outside Deputy Carr's room. Walking into the room he found Mark Carr laying in the bed. This deputy had less equipment hooked up to him than his fellow had in the other hospital and Jerome could hear his shallow, somewhat erratic breathing. It took him a couple seconds to realize that there was another man in a chair in the corner of the room.

The man had obviously been dozing. He started awake and shambled to his feet. "Can I help you Preacher?"

Jerome caught himself before the automatic correction which sprang to his tongue could come out. This was not the time to squabble over religious trivialities. "I'm trying to visit all the people who were hurt in the explosion. I went round to Beauregard earlier today and visited everyone I could, but Deputy Carr was moved here before I could see him."

"Well, there ain't much to see." The man looked at Jerome more closely. "You're one of those Roman priests, right? A Vicar? And a n . . . a black boy at that. You must be having all sorts of fun in these mountains."

For a second, Jerome stood stunned. Then he felt the wave of anger building and bowed his head to pray a quick Hail Mary and calm himself. The man seemed to take that as a signal to go on. "What can I do for you Vicar? We surely ain't part of your flock. I don't go nowhere and I'm pretty sure that Mark and Dad still go to listen to Brother Charles at Yared Mountain Christian on Sundays."

Shaking off the what had almost been said - and what had - Jerome fastened on the question. "I was sent to look into the death of Father Pahl and I felt I ought to visit as many of the victims as I could. I got here late because Deputy Carr was transferred here."

"Yeah, you said that. Just like Mark here to inconvenience somebody else right up to even the way he dies. You ain't the only one. I'm here 'cuz Dad wouldn't leave unless someone was here to watch his favorite son and a couple of his deputy buddies showed up at my trailer and told me they were taking our Dad home at eight and I better be here to take his place or be able to explain why I wasn't. Give an asshole a badge and a gun and he thinks he rules the world. Anyway, I got to be here too, but it wasn't God who sent me."

The conversation stumbled on for another ten minutes. Jerome found out this man was the deputy's younger half brother Andy and that Brother Charles was coming by tomorrow to try a laying on of hands so no praying by a Roman priest was needed. Certain that he was not wanted here, Jerome started to leave when Andy stepped between him and the door.

"I need to hit the john and go take a smoke, can you watch him for a while?" Before Jerome could say anything, Andy started for the door, only to stop again when a gasping noise came from the direction of the bed. Both men looked back and saw Mark Carr moving his right arm as his eyes fluttered open. The brother practically knocked Jerome over as he shoved him aside to get to the bed. "I'm here, Mark. It's me, Andy."

However, the deputy looked right past his brother at Jerome and started mumbling something. Jerome walked up to the bed and the voice was barely audible. " . . . brownie . . . brownie . . . why . . . we did it . . . why . . . why?" The voice slid into an unintelligible mumble as the man's eyes lost focus. Then the eyes caught on his brother and strength came back. " . . . get Dad out . . . he'll kill him . . . did what told us . . . killed Ross . . . brownie . . . flare . . . Dad out . . ." With that, the man in the bed took a couple deeper breathes and his eyes blinked twice before remaining closed. Once again the only noise in the room was the breathing of the three men.

Jerome started to turn toward the door when the younger Carr's hand grabbed his arm. "Nothing happened here, Vicar."

Jerome tried to yank his arm free, but the man had a firm grip. "What do you mean, 'nothing happened?' We both heard him. We need to get a doctor in here to look at him and tell the police. And warn your father."

"Out here people take care of their own Don't you worry about our dad. Worry about yourself. You ain't the only brownie around here. He's talking about the Sheriff's pet melungeun. You tell the law and we're all dead."

The man loosened his grip on Jerome's arm. "You tell whatever story you want. I didn't see a thing. Ain't getting killed 'cuz Mark did something stupid."

Jerome left without saying a word, only stopping long enough to tell the nurse on duty that he saw Deputy Carr wake for a few seconds and say something to his brother. The nurse did not seem to care too much, but wrote something on a notepad and promised she would tell the doctor when he came back around.

With that, Jerome left the hospital behind. It was after midnight as he started to drive back to Bartlette, wondering whom he could speak to about this - wondering whom he could speak to safely about this.

27 November 2012

November Novel: Chapter 9

[Chapter 1] . . . [Chapter 2] . . . [Chapter 3] . . . [Chapter 4] . . . [Chapter 5] . . . [Chapter 6] . . . [Chapter 7] . . . [Chapter 8]

Yusif watched his boss leaving the courthouse at a clip. The man had barely stood still long enough to hear half of Yusif's story before telling him to tell Captain Sanger about it and continuing on his way. There was no telling where he was heading, but at least he did not seem to be acting out of anger.  Yusif figured that was a good sign.

He continued up to his office. Once there, he tried to call Captain Sanger's cell number and got voice-mail.  That could mean the Chief  Investigator was already at lunch or it could mean the deputy was in the eighty percent of the county without cell phone reception.  There were only four places in Bartlette County where cell phones would usually work: the three towns and Yared State Penitentiary.   In any event, Yusif put a note on his computer to call Sanger that afternoon. 

By then it was noon and he started his regular lunch ritual.  He reached behind the phone on his desk and walked over to shut the door to the office.  As he reached the door he saw Maggie walking up the stairs toward his office.  She saw him too.

"Just about to lock yourself into your Fortress of Solitude, Yusif?"

Backing up a couple steps Yusif gestured for Maggie to come in, but she stopped at the door. When she paused for a second he spoke. "You know how it is Maggie.  If I don't lock myself away I'll never be able to get enough time to eat my sandwich and call my evil minions."

She smiled a little at his reference to an ongoing joke which had sprung from how suspicious people had been when an Arab-American moved to Bartlette, but she did not join in this time.  Instead, she asked if he had seen Brad.

"Last I saw, he was leaving the courthouse, moving fast.  He must have had a meeting or something. Didn't he call you?"

"He left without his cell phone." Maggie dug around in her purse and then handed a phone to Yusif. "Make sure he gets this, would you?"

Yusif took the phone. "Sure, Maggie.  I'll be in court after lunch, but I'll give it to Paula. She'll make sure he gets it."

"I'd appreciate it if you'd give it to him yourself."  She stood there looking at him until he spoke.

"The thing is, he's mad at me for not coming to your party last night.  I think it's best if I leave him alone for a while."

Maggie turned to walk away, speaking back to him over her shoulder.  "Yusif, you've been his best friend since law school. He may be angry, but it's not about you missing a party for Father Tolton.  I can pretty much guarantee that. Just do me a favor and make sure you hand him the phone yourself."

Then she was gone and Yusif was left standing there holding the phone.  He stuck it in a pocket and closed the office door, locking it.  Then he went back to his desk and pulled out the two ham and cheese sandwiches he packed this morning. He had about forty minutes left before he had to be back in court to watch Judge Fleming do his next batch of dismissals.


"Hey Joseph, I got your message. What's up?"

The man on the other end of the phone did not bother with an introduction. Jeff Sanger was the only person who called him Joseph.  The chief of investigations could not pronounce Yusif's actual name correctly. He had tried for months and butchered it every time.  The mixture of mountain accent with Arabic pronunciation would not work for Jeff. When he found out that Yusif was the Arabic version of Joseph he immediately switched to the English pronunciation and never looked back.  Yusif found this annoying; after all, if his parents wanted to name him Joseph they would have done so when he was born. However, Jeff was a decent sort and there was nothing to be gained by forcing him to continue butchering Yusif's name so he did his best to ignore it.

"Hey, Jeff. I had something weird happen today and the boss wanted me to call you about it."

"Wait a sec. Let me get a pen and some paper."  Yusif could hear scrabbling through items in the car which had become the Captain's de facto office since the Sheriff's Office burned to the ground. "Okay, got 'em.  Is this something to do with ambush?"

"Truth be told, I don't know, Jeff.  I think it probably does, but the conversation never got that far.  Some guy claiming to be a lawyer showed up this morning and insisted on talking to me in private.  Wouldn't even go up to my office, so we ended up in the law library."

Yusif paused to give Jeff a chance to write that down and the investigator filled the silence with questions.

"What was his name? What law firm was he with? And where's the law library?"

"He wouldn't identify himself at all.  He wasn't from around here though. His hair was a little too fancy and he looked like he was dressing down to blend in with the little people.  The law library's that room on the first floor of the courthouse with the big oak table."

Yusif waited a couple of seconds then went on.

"Anyway, this guy asked me to promise not to tell Brad or anyone in the Sheriff's Department about our conversation.  When I refused, he left.  He drove off in a red lexus; I couldn't get the whole plate, but it was one of those with a seal in the middle and three numbers on both sides. I'm pretty sure the last three were 'ESQ.'"

Jeff asked a few more questions about what the man and his car looked like then he finished the conversation.  "Right. I think that's about everything I need.  I should be able to locate this man and send someone to talk to him.  If all else fails, I guess we subpoena his client list and that should give us whoever it is we need to talk to."

Yusif hung up the phone sure that this puzzle would be figured out in the fullness of time.  Captain Sanger was not the smartest man Yusif had ever met, but he was perhaps the most thorough.  He would not have brilliant Sherlock Holmes style insights.  Instead, he would steadfastly hunt down every lead and doggedly pursue any suspect.  He might not solve every case, but every bit of evidence which could be found would be.

With that finished, Yusif turned to the docket for Thursday's Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.  He had the rest of the day to figure out how he was going to keep Judge Mullins from following Judge Fleming's example and throwing all the cases involving minors and domestic abuse out because the original paperwork was destroyed.

26 November 2012

November Novel: Chapter 8

[Chapter 1] . . . [Chapter 2] . . . [Chapter 3] . . . [Chapter 4] . . . [Chapter 5] . . . [Chapter 6] . . . [Chapter 7]

Things were bad and the priest meddling about was making them worse. Being ambushed by Father Awesome came as a complete shock yesterday.  The priest, without any warning, just showed up and tried to shoehorn himself into Brad's office.  The conversation got extremely awkward when Brad shut that down and told Father Tolton that when they caught whoever killed the men in the alley he was going to get the death penalty for them.  Then, after Father Tolton left, Brad vented his spleen at Yusif for about forty five minutes because he had supported the priest's proposal without talking to him first.

Consequently, Yusif had ducked the get together his mother-in-law and Maggie set up for Father Tolton.  Brad was already annoyed by the mother-in-law who would not move out of his house now deciding to use it as a place for entertaining crowds of people.  Yusif's pointed absence added to his foul mood.  Brad did his best to stay in the background all night and watched as his father and mother-in-law ushered the guest of honor around Brad's house introducing him to everyone in both families.

The party ended with a prayer which the Father kept vague enough that most just left the party with good feelings.  However, there was a part at the end which sounded entirely too much like the priest had decided that he had not yet done enough to fulfill his duty to his Church and his God.  Brad heard in that prayer a promise that Father Tolton would be interfering in matters which he should leave alone. Nothing good could come from that.

However, the party had been the least of the night.  After the guests left, Maggie found him sitting in the living room and lit into him about not participating in the party and not kissing up to the priest.  Maggie sniped at him all the time and she had a quick temper that would flare up constantly.  Sometimes he just rode the wave of the scoldings she sent his way, secure in the knowledge that ten minutes later she would move on; often he sniped back at her in a playful way.  Last night he exploded. Her anger was based on a social slight that occurred one night and a belief he could do better.  His anger was based in the deaths of people he knew most of his life, his inability to do anything about it, and the unnecessary interference he knew was going to come from this priest. 

His deep raging fury overwhelmed his wife's choler.  He did not know how long he screamed at her, but when enough reason took hold for him to think again he found himself yelling ". . . All this shit started when a fucking priest from your fucking church came down here to interfere and now there's another fucking priest from your fucking church here to interfere more! Well, fuck them all and fuck you too!" As he paused to breathe in, his wife's appearance got through to him. She had retreated to the exit from the living room into the kitchen and she looked scared.  The was what broke through.  Maggie was scared of him.  He stopped, walked to the nearest door and left the house.  He left without even getting his coat.  He could not stay. The woman he loved was afraid of him and the black rage which caused that fear was still in him; if he stayed it would come out again.

He got in his SUV and drove off.  As he backed out of the driveway, Maggie came outside and he heard her calling his name, but he kept going.  Nothing good could possibly come from going back; it would just add to the disaster.

After driving around for a couple hours, he headed for the courthouse.  He used his key to get in and went up to his office.  There was no way he was going home.  He knew Maggie; she would be sitting up waiting for him and she would want to talk.  She would not want to yell and argue now; she would want to have a deep, meaningful conversation and get this worked out.  He could not do anything like that.  He needed time alone to get himself back under control and deal with what was going on.  Someone messing with him and trying to make him talk out his emotions, even if in the most well intentioned way, would only make it worse and probably end up with him blowing up again.  Maggie would never understand that and she would insist on trying to help.  

To avoid that he slept in the reclining office chair behind his desk.  He got maybe ninety minutes of sleep before he took the spare suit he kept in his office and went down to the bathroom, washed up, and put the suit on.  A little after five o'clock, he sat back down at his desk and tried to do some work to get his mind off everything else. His concentration faded quickly and he found himself staring mindlessly at the screen between periods of dozing.

Finally, at about eight, Brad left the office and went down to the local eZee Stop to buy a couple sausage and egg biscuits and some coffee.  When he drove back to the courthouse he arrived in the parking lot just as Yusif pulled in.  They walked in side by side but neither said anything except to exchange meaningless greetings.

When Paula got to the office at eight thirty she told Brad that there several messages from his wife asking him to call home. She looked at him curiously as she handed him the messages, but he took them from her without comment and she retreated to her desk.

Shortly after nine, a call came in from Charles Poplin, the chief of police in the Town of Yared.  Including himself, Chief Poplin had six officers on his payroll and most of them made Barney Fife look competent.  The two other towns in Bartlette County, Mount View and Saint Minas, had small offices that tried hard.  There was a gap between their work and the work done by the Sheriff's Department or State Police, but that was mainly because the Sheriff and the Virginia State Police had more money and resources.  In fact, Brad had a lot of sympathy for the chiefs in Saint Minas and Mount View because he knew the towns could only afford to pay their officers so much and almost every time one of the towns found a really good officer, trained him up, and sent him to the academy that officer would get hired away by a sheriff's department that could pay him more.  However, Brad had no sympathy in his heart for Yared.  The town was basically owned and run by the Poplins.  Mayor Mark Poplin and his cronies controlled everything that happened in the town and had for thirty years.  Charles Poplin had been made chief of police a couple decades back so the Mayor could use the police department to keep his fiefdom under his control.  As best Brad could tell, whether you broke the law in Yared had little to do with whether you were charged with a crime.  If the Poplins disliked you, you would eventually get a criminal charge.

Chief Poplin was mad because a charge against a member of the Hope family had been dismissed by the judge.  The Hopes had backed the other side in the last town election and failed to depose the Poplins.  Ever since, if a Hope even jaywalked he got arrested and usually charged with obstruction of justice.  There was more than one Hope who showed up at the jail with a lot of bruises because "he resisted arrest."  The regional jail now routinely took pictures of anyone who was arrested in Yared so that no one could claim the injuries happened in the jail.  Not that Brad thought the Hopes were anything less than a rough crowd themselves.  They opposed the Poplins in the last election not out of any great sense of morality, but because they thought they could snatch the power for themselves. As well, no officer went to the Ritz Road area - more generally known as "Hope Hollow" - by himself.  Every house back there was full of Hopes and a single officer who went in might not make it back out.  Still, the sheer number of overcharged and wrongly charged Hopes who came before the judges in the last couple years had made it almost impossible to convince a judge that any Hope charged with a crime by any Yared officer should be convicted.

Mikey Hope stood accused of keying the car of a girlfriend of one of the Yared police officers. Mikey was definitely a bad guy.  However, the entirety of the evidence at the preliminary hearing consisted of the girlfriend seeing him leave the Yared Food Time store as she went in and her car being keyed.  The magistrate somehow allowed the officer to swear out a misdemeanor destruction of property charge based on those facts.  Judge Fleming, on the other hand, had thrown it out of his court as quickly as he could and told the officer, in no uncertain terms, not to bring any more cases like this.

Today, Chief Poplin wanted a perjury charge placed on Mikey Hope because Mikey had stood in general district court and dared to say that he did not do it.  The man's tunnel vision was incredible.  He only cared about one thing - putting Mikey Hope in jail one way or another.  Brad explained to him three times - rather sharply the third time - that a man could not be charged with perjury just because you thought he lied under oath. You had to have proof.  The conversation ended badly with Brad telling the Chief to get a sense of perspective and the Chief telling him to do his job.

The rest of the morning dragged on slowly.  As lunch approached, he knew he had to get out of the courthouse before noon.  Maggie brought him lunch every day at noon and if he was not stuck in court they ate together.  That was not going to happen today.  At eleven thirty, he got up and told Paula he was leaving for lunch.

As he was walking down the stairs, he ran into Yusif.  He had some story about a guy wanting to talk with him and not Brad.  Pausing for a couple seconds, he told Yusif that if his instincts told him something was wrong he should tell Jeff Sanger, the chief investigator for the Sheriff's Department and let him track it down.  Then he turned, walked down the stairs and left the courthouse.

20 November 2012

November Novel: Chapter 7


[Chapter 1] . . . [Chapter 2] . . . [Chapter 3] . . . [Chapter 4] . . . [Chapter 5] . . . [Chapter 6]

The Boss was really upset. Yusif had only seen him in this foul a mood once before back when Yared police officer had not done anything about one man stabbing another in a fight over a girl in the parking lot of the local eZee Stop. He had not even sent the stabbed man to the hospital or taken the knife from the aggressor. He just sent everybody home and the victim's father had actually driven the guy to the hospital. The officer would not even come to the courthouse to talk to Brad and when Brad finally got him on the phone his explanation had been "It's just two thugs. They ain't worth the trouble." The case was so screwed up that Brad had to settle it as an assault and battery with no jail time. Yared had stayed up in his attic retreat as much as possible for the week or so that it took Brad to calm down that time.

This time the anger looked worse. After the priest left yesterday there had been a long "discussion" in which Brad made it very clear to Yusif that he was never to talk to anyone about joining the office unless Brad had told him he could. When Brad left the office he had been angry; when he came back this morning he was furious. The get together at his house the night before had clearly gone sideways.

Yusif did not go to the party in honor of Father Awesome. Few things actually got Brad angry, but it was usually best to avoid him for a while if you were the cause of that anger. Just in case the subject came up, Yusif had met with one of the Saint Minas police officers last night at seven thirty about a case in General District Court this morning. That gave him some cover if Brad cornered him and asked why he skipped the party. So far, he had only seen Brad when they arrived at the courthouse at the same time and walked in together and for a minute or so when he picked up some of the blank plea agreements they filled out by hand because Judge Fleming hated verbal plea agreements. Brad had said nothing other than a muttered greeting in the parking lot and he actually yelled at someone on the phone while Yusif was down in the main office. All things considered, Yusif planned to stay as far away from his boss as he could for the next week or two.

General District Court was a disaster this morning. Judge Fleming decided rather quickly that no case could go forward unless he had the original summons or warrant which had been signed by the defendant - all of which had been destroyed in the fire. The fact that the Virginia Supreme Court's database had the charge and the officers had copies of the warrants or summons signed by the defendant did not budge the judge from that position. When Yusif pointed out that a statute allowed the judge to sign off on warrants and summons himself upon testimony of the officer, Judge Fleming had looked him in the eye and explained in simple words that he was not going to hear evidence and sign off on warrants for the two hundred people on the docket today. He was going to dismiss those charges, without prejudice, and if the Commonwealth thought they were serious enough he could send the officers back over to the magistrate to swear out new warrants.

Starting at nine, there were about thirty people scheduled for trial each hour. Every hour, when the people came in and sat down, the judge came in and announced he was dismissing their cases and sent them on their way. After the eleven o'clock crowd wandered away, Yusif left the courtroom and found a man whom he did not know waiting in hallway.

"Yusif Habib?"

"Can I help you, sir?"

"We'll see." The man reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a business card.  Then he seemed to think better of it and put the card back. "Sorry. It's a natural instinct. I don't think I should give you my name yet.  I represent someone who asked me to talk with you. Is there any place private we can go to talk?"

"We can go to my office."

The man waved his hand, rejecting that option. "No, it needs to be someplace where nobody else will see or hear us."

Yusif looked the man over.  "I know you're not from here, but you've got to realize that the moment a lawyer from somewhere else shows up people around here notice."

The man smiled.  "Oh, I'm sure that's true, but I haven't told anybody who I am or where I'm from and I'm sure you've had enough outsiders poking around for the last couple weeks that people will forget me pretty quickly.  Do you have a witness room where we can talk privately?"

Yusif looked around pointedly and then back at this guy.  "You must have noticed when you came in that this is a courthouse built in the eighteen hundreds.  We have one courtroom. Up those stairs," He pointed to the right, "are Mr. Dollerby's office, in the old balcony, and another set of stairs which lead to my office in the bell tower.  Down here all we've got are the two restrooms and the law library."  

Before Yusif finished speaking the man started walking toward the door with the plastic sign on it reading "LIBRARY."  Yusif hesitated for a second then stuck his head back in the door of the courtroom and told the bailiff that he would be in the library if the judge needed him.  Then he followed the stranger into the room.

The law library was a small rectangular room with bookshelves on all four walls and one circular blue and yellow stained glass window above the shelves on the outside wall.  The books on those shelves were ancient.  In one corner there was a copy of Virginia's statutes so old that they were all in a single large book.  The other books ranged from an old set of Corpus Juris with the name of the lawyer who had bequeathed them to the library on their bindings through a set of law reviews from Washington and Lee Law School that were all from the nineteen eighties.  In fact, the only books that were not at least twenty years old were a single set of modern Virginia statutes kept next to the door and Yusif knew from experience that the books containing the criminal and traffic codes would be missing.  They were always carried away somewhere by lawyers, although the judge's secretary putting two inch strips of red and white tape on them had stopped lawyers from taking the books back to their offices anymore so a search of the courthouse usually turned them up.  The entire room was almost filled by a worn oak table that was so large Yusif thought it must have been built inside the library.  The nearest concession to modernity was a single computer at one end of the table which was about five years old and allowed research over the internet for those patient enough to coax the information out of it.

As usual, the library was empty.  The man walked to the other side of the table and sat waving Yusif toward one of the chairs opposite him, acting for all the world as though this was his office and Yusif were the stranger.  Yusif shook his head and instead leaned back against the book shelf.

The man nodded once and began speaking.  "I'm here because someone contacted my office yesterday and asked me to come speak to you without involving local law enforcement or Mr. Dollerby.  Can I get your promise that you won't talk to either about our conversation?"

Yusif looked at the stranger.  He was a man in his late twenties or early thirties and wore the same sort of plain business suit as any courtroom lawyer, but his haircut was a little too fancy and his accent was not one that Yusif had ever heard in the mountains.  Further, he had just asked Yusif if he would betray his boss.

"I don't know who you are and I don't know why you're here, but I'm not promising anything like that. What do you want to talk to me about?"

The man stood again and walked back around the table.  As he did he spoke again.  "I'm sorry Mister Habib.  I have a specific set of instructions and I'm not allowed to discuss the matter without your agreement to those conditions."  He stopped at the door.  "You're sure you won't reconsider?"

As the man came around the table, Yusif stopped leaning on the shelves and took a couple steps back from the door.  "No. If I am told something important I will tell Mister Dollerby.  He makes the decision about whether to tell anyone else."

The man seemed to consider that for a moment. "I thank you for taking the time to speak to me this morning Mister Habib and I thank you for your honesty.  I'll tell the client what you've said and see how the client wants to proceed." Then he turned and started to walk through the door.

As the man walked out, Yusif tried to get some sort of information.  "Can you at least tell me what this concerns?"

The man stopped in the opened door and half turned back. "Are you going to talk to Mister Dollerby about this conversation?"

The answer from Yusif came back without any thought. "I already told you that."

"Then," the man said as he turned and walked out the door, "I'm afraid I can't."

Yusif stood there for a couple beats and then headed out the door himself.  The man was already out the front door of the courthouse and Yusif followed behind him, hoping to at least get the guy's license plate.  However, the man did not get into any of the cars on the street. Instead, he started walking down the street in the direction of the the Food Time grocery.  There were very few parking spots in town so a lot of people parked in the Food Time's parking lot.  About a minute after after the man turned into the parking lot so that Yusif could not see him a red Lexus sedan which Yusif had never seen before came out.  It was too far, and moving too fast for Yusif to get the entire plate, but he was pretty sure that the last three letters were "ESQ."

Going back into the building, he headed up the stairs. This was entirely too weird and even if it meant facing an angry boss, he had to report this to Brad.