22 November 2016

Ambush in Bartlette - The Final Chapter (39)


“LIFE”

Yusif Habib looked around the empty office. It was stripped bare. Nothing was on the walls. The only thing on the desk was a closed portable computer. And, taped to the back of chair behind the desk was the front page of the latest Mountain Democrat. The two inch high headline said it all.

Underneath it, in Brad's unmistakeable scrawl was one word.

“congratulations”

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Madeline Mullins sat at the kitchen table at her house looking at the medium sized rock on her left hand. Every romance novel she'd ever read told her that her heart should be about to burst from joy. And yet, the best she was able to come up with so far was ambivalence.

Sure, Yusif was a good guy. Heck, he was probably the best guy she could hope to catch unless she moved to Roanoke or Knoxville or some other city. Still, if he hadn't sprung it on her at the stroke of midnight New Year's Eve – the very moment he officially became the commonwealth attorney - she wasn't sure she would have accepted.

What was further troubling, she suspected that Yusif knew it. She found herself questioning whether he knew she would waiver and manipulated her so that she couldn't refuse without looking like an ass. Or maybe he was just trying to be romantic and made the moment as special as he could. All she was certain about was that she really didn't feel like she had any choice when she accepted.

Well, she had months before any viable wedding date. She'd probably go through with it. Maybe.


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Robert “Bo” Ross stood in the courtroom as Judge Isom swore him and his deputies in. The room only had about half the usual number of deputies. Greg Harvey and a number of other deputies had retired or found other jobs between the election and now. Bo had refused to rehire several more. He was still uncertain about a few of the remaining deputies, but he couldn't fire everybody. Actually, he could, but then he and his chief deputy would have to patrol the entire county twenty-four hours a day until new ones could be hired. And, besides that, some of these guys deserved a chance to prove themselves.

Next to Bo stood Patrick Mahan, now wearing the gold oak leafs of a major. He was the new chief deputy and Bo was happy to have him. Bo knew that Pat had left his job in Boston after he got in trouble for being too honest in his testimony during a major trial. As far as Bo was concerned that spoke volumes for Pat's character. He could do worse than having a chief deputy who was too honest.

As soon as all the formalities were done, the two of them were going to get down to the business of making the Bartlette County Sheriff's Department the best department this side of Roanoke. And then they would make it even better.


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Father Jerome Tolton drove toward his next job for Bishop Mannion. He'd thought the Bishop would return him to the monasteries he'd been working with before he'd been sent to Bartlette, but that was already being handled by another and Jerome was being sent to Winchester instead.

The local church was thriving and well run so there wouldn't be the usual problems Jerome dealt with. However, the local prosecutor had just indicted the son of a parishioner on a capital murder charge. An overly clever defense attorney who saw how things turned out in Bartlette asked the Bishop if the Church could help there too. Bishop Mannion had been all too happy to assign Jerome to the task. Now Jerome was on his way to be one of the attorneys representing Kyle Bialik.

He heard a chuckle from behind him in the pickup truck's half-seat. “Murder and moral ambiguities. Your God seems to be abandoning you to my keeping. We're going to have fun, Father. Lots and lots of fun.”


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Gill Pinsky sat at his desk enjoying a bagel for the first time in weeks. The biggest problem with going out to the stix was the lack of good, civilized food. The second biggest was all the stuff that piled up in his office. So, he was killing two birds with one stone.

He skimmed over a request by a judge that he take a capital murder case in Lee County. It was over a week old so he was certain someone had undertaken the defense by now. Still, he would call the judge later today and politely decline. His last foray to the wilderness would satisfy him for quite a while. The end had never actually been in question, but dealing with the rubes got under his skin after a while. He was going to be certain that all his cases were in the civilized parts of Virginia for the foreseeable future.

He picked up the next sheet of paper and shoved all thoughts of backward counties in the middle of nowhere from his mind.


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Brad Dollerby sat in his new office reading the secret agent novel his mother-in-law had bought him for Christmas. The hero was some sort of generic mix between Jason Bourne and James Bond and there was nothing particularly original in it. He knew the reason Abby had bought it for him. The whole story revolved around someone setting off a suitcase nuke in Haysi, Virginia which was about forty minutes north of Bartlette County. So far, the book hadn't explained why anyone would nuke a town of five-hundred people. It just had secret agents chasing each other around the world stalking and shooting at each other. Normally, he would have thrown away a book this bad after a couple chapters, but he knew Abby would ask him about it and he didn't want to lie to her. Besides, he didn't have anything else to do at the moment. Reading the book kept him from dwelling on the disasters of the last few months.

He had appointments scheduled for this afternoon, but this morning he was just sitting there in the hopes that someone would come in and plop down a hefty retainer to sue his neighbor because the jerk built a fence three inches over the property line or some other vitally important issue which people were willing to squabble about until the end of eternity.

He was in the middle of reading a portion of the book where the bad-girl villainess was revealed to be a misguided eco-warrior who bombed Haysi because . . . when Maggs yelled through the open door at him.

“You've got a phone call on line one.”

“Tell them to make an appointment like everybody else.”

“Sure, Nickel, I'll tell the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia that he should get his butt in a car and drive down from Richmond so that he can have an audience with your majesty.”

On second thought, Brad reflected as he reached for the phone, maybe I ought to take this call.


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FINIS
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17 November 2016

05 November 2016

Ambush in Bartlette: Chapter 38


­Gil Pinsky sat in the courtroom alternating between boredom and worry. There was no other place to go. His client was being held by the deputies in the room they jokingly called a law library and the prosecutor was up in his office. That left the defense table for Gil and his people.

Not that Gil was wasting the time. He was reading through files in his other capital murder case out of Newport News. However, it was a little difficult to concentrate on because he didn't really expect that one to go all the way to trial. The local African-American prosecutor had gotten himself elected a year back promising “equal justice for people of all hues and hopes.” When he charged a young African-American man with capital murder it sparked an uproar and Gil was doing everything in his power to fan the flames. The local NAACP chapter had proven easy enough to get active, but the higher ups both in the NAACP and ACLU were proving skeptical. There was nothing too unusual there. It was always easy to manipulate the dedicated and gullible members of local organizations, but their leaders in D.C. had to be at least a little perceptive to rise to the top. And they weren't proving too eager to fall in behind a guy who killed six people on a ten day armed burglary spree. Still, he'd find some leverage somewhere to force them to get involved. Within six months the prosecutor would cave and offer murder one or maybe – if Gil played got the national organizations to play the media right – murder two.

It would be good to get back to a part of the world where things made sense. There was no media here that was worth a dam. Sure, there were three television news vans out front of the courthouse, but one was from a Roanoke channel nobody even got on their cable here, one was from a Tennessee channel, and one was even from Kentucky. The situation with the local paper was even worse. The Mountain Democrat published once a week and mostly ran puff pieces on the front page with coverage of the local high school's sports on page two. Gil read it from front to back the first two weeks he was here and never picked up another copy. There was no worthwhile local media to engage with during this case.

And that was just one of the multitude of things that were wrong with this place both inside the courtroom and out. Everything he tried here fell to pieces. The latest failure had been the Christmas gambit. He'd been certain that the good Christian jurors of Bartlette would never go to Christmas dinner with the prospect of ordering someone's death hanging over their heads. The judge had even cooperated, although Gil had no illusions that it was to help his defense. The judge was obviously worried about what would happen if this case ran into the new year when the new prosecutor took over. Still, whatever his motivation, the judge held the jury in the courthouse until three in the afternoon the day before Christmas. The deputies and clerks had been beside themselves and the courthouse emptied in seconds once the judge released the jurors.

But, the judge wasn't finished. He'd ordered the jurors to return Friday the twenty-sixth and Saturday the twenty-seventh. When Gil objected to the Saturday – pointing out that he could not work on Saturdays for religious reasons – the judge had been singularly unimpressed and reminded Gil that he wasn't the only attorney appointed to the case. Gil was forced to leave Saturday in the hands of the local co-counsel and by some miracle nothing happened which required a lawyer who knew what he was doing.

Now it was eleven o'clock Monday the twenty-ninth and Gil was really starting to worry. Every day that Christmas faded into the past the chance for a sentence of death increased. These people weren't like those in other parts of the state. The grasp on civilization here was tenuous. During trial preparation, Gil found out that the first local attorney Judge Isom attempted to appoint to this case turned the judge down because he was afraid it would interfere with bear hunting season and he'd bought a bunch of dogs and spent months training them to chase bears down. If an attorney prioritized a barbarism like hunting bears with a pack of dogs over defending a human life it said all sorts of disturbing things about the community's character. And the longer those jurors were out the more Gil worried about that character.

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Brad sat alone in the room which would be his office for only a couple more days. He'd given Paula vacation until the new year so no one was answering the phone and he was ignoring it. There wasn't much he could do to fill the time. Maggs came over on Saturday and they cleaned out all his personal stuff and he'd even gone into each computer and wiped them. When the traitor got the office there wouldn't be anything on the computers he could use against Brad.

So, basically all Brad could do was watch shows on his phone. He finished an episode of Justified and looked up at the clock on the wall. It was one forty-five and there was no sign that the jury was anywhere near a verdict. When Sanger's attorney refused to put on a defense Brad thought there was a good chance the jury would come in before Christmas and thinking back on it he was fairly certain that was what Pinsky was trying to make happen. That backfired because it was too obvious; if Brad could figure it out then the jurors could too. However, when the judge required them all to come back the Friday after Christmas and Saturday too he'd been sure they would come back with a quick verdict. They didn't. So, now it was Monday and everybody was sitting around on pins and needles waiting.

His thoughts wandered to his new law office. Maggs presented it to him as his Christmas present and it was directly across from the courthouse in the old Vincent Coal building. He'd been so wrapped up in this trial and all the other stuff he had to do running the office himself without a deputy prosecutor that he hadn't even looked for an office. Maggs found him one on the second floor with a big space on the building for a sign facing the courthouse. It had a room for his desk and books, a conference room, and a waiting room out front with a little desk where Maggs informed him she would be working as his secretary. When she took him there Christmas morning it had been a poignant moment that both reminded him why he loved Maggs so much and drove home the fact that he was being forced out of a job he was devoted to.

The rest of Christmas had been touchy. His mother-in-law asked if he would invite the Priest over for Christmas dinner, but Brad refused using the fact that he always went to his parents’ get-together as an excuse. Consequently, Abby cooked a meal and took it to the church while Brad and Maggie went to his Dad’s house. There the men ate and watched football. The women did whatever women do on big holidays which Brad suspected involved making fun of the neanderthals in the other room who were celebrating the birth of Jesus by yelling about how much the Cowboys suck. Then he returned home with his wife where Abigail Mahan was waiting to ignore them.

When they got back, Abby went into her room, closed the door, and turned on her television. Brad didn’t have a problem with that, but it drove his wife nuts. She tried to get her mother to come out three times and when Abby refused to come out for supper Maggie went into silent mode. Brad spent the rest of his Christmas very carefully doing absolutely nothing which could cause that tinderbox to burst into flames. The next morning he rose early and went to the courthouse before the two women started back at each other and they seemed to have solved their problems while he was gone. So now he was free to just feel the pressure of the trial without too much tension at home.

He turned back to his phone, but fired up YouTube this time and started watching whatever videos popped up.

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Everyone stood as the jurors re-entered the courtroom. Jerome was on the front row trying to read the jurors as they file back in. They all looked somber and didn't make eye contact with either attorney. Jerome couldn't make anything from their demeanor. Twenty minutes earlier, the state trooper acting as one of the bailiffs came out to the courthouse's tiny hallway and told the waiting reporters that the jury was coming back in. Now, as the clock on the wall of the courtroom said it was four-thirty-seven, the jurors were taking their seats.

The judge sent the deputy bailiff over to take the verdict form from the forewoman. He gave it to the judge who read it and then asked the forewoman if this was their unanimous sentence. When she replied “Yes”, the judge handed the form to the clerk. He looked at the paper and started to read.

“In the first degree murder of Keith Tolliver, we sentence the defendant Jefferson Sanger to life in prison.”

“In the capital murder of Theodore Pahl, we sentence the defendant Jefferson Sanger to . . .”