Spiritual Fiction posted September 8, 2018

This work has reached the exceptional level
The cross-examination of the heart continues.

Guilt By Association, Chapter Two

by Sally Law

There was no lack of lunch choices in the downtown Atlanta area here today. There was everything from Cuban Cuisine to Southern fried chicken served on top of a sweet potato waffle. You could dine inside or out; the majority enjoyed a shady spot near their favorite food truck. The options in the metro Atlanta area--with a little time on your hands--were endless.

Marie tapped Jared on the shoulder after most of the crowd had vacated the courtroom. She spoke in her usual reassuring tone, "Jackson has the car waiting for us at the side entrance and a security guard will escort us out. We will need to eat somewhere private so we can talk. He said he has a few suggestions on where to eat that are out of the way."

Jared laced his arm through Marie's to help her to the car. They slipped out the courtroom amazingly undetected by the press.

Marie and Jackson Dupree had been married a lifetime, one of those rare couples you sight walking down the street who still hold hands and act like they have neither grown old, or tired, especially of each other. Jackson drove Marie everywhere, as Marie had declining eyesight and was no longer able to drive a car. This handicap did not seem to bother either of them, and they were able to take everything in stride on most days.

Jared not only held Marie in high esteem, but Jackson as well. He saw them both as the loving parents and family relationships he had lost...a little taste of what might have been.

The car was idling with Jackson inside, waiting at the side entrance as planned. He always greeted his wife with a kiss--first, and Jared with a big bear-hug. He never disappointed Jared with his friendly demeanor and kind heart. "I have a sweater for you if you want to dress down a bit for lunch," he said.

"That would be great Jackson, thank you." He quickly changed before he hopped into the backseat.

Jackson asked, "Where do y'all want to go?" They both said in unison--"Food truck!"

Jackson was the king of backroads and shortcuts especially when food was involved. He had a new citywide food truck app he was dying to try, and the location was already loaded onto his GPS. They were making great time to get there; approximately fifteen minutes to the Peachtree Plaza area.

" 'Joe's Crazy Good Tacos' it is," said Jackson, as he sped along the rolling hills of Atlanta, not far from the federal courthouse. No oldies were playing on satellite radio as Jared and Marie had to discuss the text she received this morning during the trial.

Marie tried to remain calm, but what she had to tell Jared today, in this moment, would be life changing. The text was so important, it was worth interrupting the trial for.

Jared leaned forward as much as he could in order to speak to Marie. His long legs made this a bit uncomfortable and Jackson reported that the brightly colored food truck was in sight and they would be stopping shortly. He decided to wait a few more minutes in order to give this matter his full attention. Besides, everyone was famished and waiting to discuss it without interruption would be the best use of their long lunch recess. They spotted a parking place adjacent to the taco truck and a long row of gorgeous white ash trees arrayed in autumnal glory.

A vacant park bench was sited for their alfresco lunch, and was offered in the shade. Jared retrieved the oversized, plaid picnic blanket from the trunk--just in case anyone wanted to sit on the grass. This setting reminded him of a happy memory he had of his family...a time very long ago.

As Jackson placed their order, Marie turned to Jared, unable to contain herself any longer, and with happy tears rolling down her cheeks, she said, "The private investigator you hired a year ago...he has a solid lead. He thinks he may have found your twin brother, Aaron!"

Jared Alman had a giant hole in his heart--no, deeper, way down in his soul, where only Marie had been given a glimpse. She saw past the varnished exterior and the fancy clothes--right into the depths of this man. She thought that most people who had been through the degree of loss Jared had experienced, usually turned out to be a sad statistic. To lose one's Mother and Father in an auto accident and be separated from your twin brother and newborn sibling at the tender age of four was unfathomable.

He was a very smart man and had a few memories of his early childhood. He had put those bits of memory together, piece by piece, and kept them in a journal as a young boy; tragically being passed along in the foster system. He had given these clues to the private investigator hoping to shed some light into his fragmented past. It had been over a year since the investigation was first initiated by Jared and the Duprees'.

Through these clues, the investigator pinpointed Aaron's adoptive parents were still living in the state of Georgia--within an hour of Atlanta. It was the first lead that produced anything since the investigation began.

If hope was sunshine, it shone for the very first time on Jared Alman today. He was seated on the plaid blanket, his legs crossed in front of him Indian style as he faced her. He had on sunglasses, but his emotions could not be disguised or stopped. He buried his head in his hands, bending over as if this information was too much to bear. Tears spilled onto Jackson's borrowed sweater--uncontrollable--soaking tears.

Jackson returned with their lunches, but slipped quietly to Marie's side, sitting next to her on the bench. No one said a word for a long time.

The voices and laughter that surrounded them drifted off into the distance. A nearby nest of baby birds that awaited their meal were the only sounds audible. All of heaven and earth were quiet for a moment, and looked down upon this man--this broken human being--and showered him with compassion.

He leaned forward on his knees towards Marie and Jackson and uttered in a whisper, "Thank you both...with all my heart."

Marie knew this information was going to be a lot for Jared to take in. She also knew he would want to track down Aaron's adoptive parents and speak to them as soon as possible in order to locate his brother.

Jared would not--could not--lose his brother again. He had another sibling, a sister, that was just weeks old when his parents were killed in a car crash as their sedan swerved off an icy road late one night in December of 1980 in an attempt to avoid a drunk driver. This too, gave him hope for another family relation that had slipped away, and was intertwined with a lifetime of questioning.

There was not a day that went by that he did not wonder...where are they? Are they happy? Safe? Does Aaron remember how our Father dabbed a little "Old Spice" on us in the bathroom on special big boy occasions?

Marie always had faith this day would come, she just did not think it would come on day one of an important trial. However, Jared Alman, Assistant District Attorney, was not alone. He had an entire team--a very capable team--that could step in today and continue where he left off, resuming at 2 o'clock.

Marie interjected, "It's almost 1 o'clock, and we need to make a decision about the afternoon lineup of witnesses, and whether or not you need to be there." Marie was lead paralegal for Jared, but also his personal assistant. She arranged everything from his trial briefs to flower deliveries for friends and co-workers.

In their personal lives, he considered Marie and Jackson Dupree to be his parents. They were family to him, and their three sons were close to him as well. As close as they could be, anyway. His only group of friends were the Dupree's. He worked so much, it was his only natural consideration.

Marie pulled out her laptop and looked at Jared over the rim of her bifocals. "I see on the witness schedule for today, we have the woman who will be testifying she saw the defendant driving the getaway car, a...Mrs. Dolores Black. If there is time, then...we have the expert on the surveillance cam at the gas station. Our team can handle this--I already spoke with Leonard briefly before the recess, and he said he would be more than happy to step in."

Leonard Smith was Jared's right-hand man with years of trial law under his belt. "Len" Smith had been with the Georgia State Prosecutor's office for about five years. He assured Marie, he was up for the task.

Marie, as always, was a step ahead of everyone. Today however, was a shining example of what she was capable of.

Jared was thinking as he nibbled on his tacos. His sense of duty to the court nagged him, as well. And...the press....oh no...the press is sure to exploit his absence in court this afternoon, he thought. It was a momentary fear, but nothing compared to the possibility of being reunited with missing family.

He went back and forth in his thoughts. Finally resolved, he said, "Marie, go ahead and confirm with Leonard--he is on for this afternoon. Please thank him for me."

Marie called Leonard right away. He immediately answered, and Jared overheard the discussion. It was just Marie's go-get-em speech, and making sure Leonard had everything he needed for the direct examinations this afternoon. She always clearly marked everything and sectioned them for easy access. Jared wondered, as he typically did, how his team ever made it through a trial without this woman.

After Marie spoke with Leonard, she was quickly planning her next strategic move: Get this man some closure and help him reunite with any remaining family.

She polished off her tacos, and washed them down with a strawberry-banana smoothie. A phone call came in and she excused herself for a few minutes as she headed away from earshot.

Jared rested on the blanket to take in the show of fall leaves. He inhaled the invigorating, crisp afternoon air, "It's probably just Len, again."

However, who Marie spoke to was quickly forgotten. The call was related to both the trial and the information she had just delivered to Jared.

She finished her phone conversation, and smiled as she spoke, "We all look forward to meeting you both. Yes, he was overwhelmed with the good news, just as anyone would be. As for the remainder...I will let you tell him yourself. He deserves to hear it from you."

Everyone was amazingly calm as they dined among the beauty of northern Georgia in the fall; red, purple and burnished gold leaves scattered all around them. The baby birds finally settled down; mama bird satisfied them with a tasty earthworm.

As soon as Marie rejoined them, Jared quizzed her about their plans for the remainder of the day. For he knew, without a doubt, she was always a step ahead.

"Okay, besides our beautiful outdoor dining experience and delivering the best news I have ever heard, what is on your agenda for the rest of the day, Mz. Dupree?"

Marie began packing up; a sure sign it was time to move. She issued a public service announcement, as most women do when they have been without a ladies room for two hours.

Her tone became more urgent, "I have GOT to freshen up first and go to the bathroom!!"

She continued, "We are not far from the house...we all probably need to change, and get ready for our scheduled dinner plans for this evening. What do you think?"

Jared and Jackson spoke at the exact same time, "Dinner plans...what are you talking about...tonight?"

Marie prattled on oblivious to their drama, "And, I want to stop at the farmer's market and pick up some fresh flowers...yellow roses would be perfect...or possibly sunflowers. Women just love yellow flowers on the dinner table."

Jared sighed, "Marie, where are we going tonight?"

Marie smiled and replied "Oh...oh, just to have dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Klein... your brother Aaron's adoptive parents."
******* ******* *******

At precisely 2:00, court was called into session at the federal courthouse in downtown Atlanta.

The Bailiff announced: All rise. Court is now in session, the Honorable Judge Clarence T. Lattimore presiding. Draw near that you may be heard."

The court attendees remained standing until the judge was seated.

Almost everyone was seated in the same place they were this morning when the opening statements were presented. The reporters noted right away the absence of Assistant District Attorney Jared Alman and his lead paralegal and assistant, Marie Dupree. They knew instinctively that Leonard Smith would be the state prosecutor's man of the hour. They turned their attention immediately on Mr. Smith.

The afternoon sun was coming in the west-facing windows, showcasing a beautiful maple tree with ruby-red foliage in the center courtyard. A large, hand carved mahogany clock hung majestically above the entrance to the courtroom; a continual reminder of the importance of time in a court of law.

In his slow southern drawl, Judge Lattimore led the way, "Defense, you may call your first witness. Will the witness please stand to be sworn in by the bailiff."

Leonard Smith was fully prepared and confident to bring the state's first witness.

He addressed the court, "Your honor, the state would like to call to the witness stand, Mrs. Dolores Black."

Mrs. Black walked very slowly and hesitated with every step towards the witness stand. It was obvious to everyone here today, this woman was very uncomfortable.

The Bailiff continued, "Please raise your right hand. I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

It is customary to respond immediately when being sworn in. A few seconds later, Mrs. Black replied in a weak voice, "Yes...I do."
The Bailiff continued, "Please state your full name for the court record."

"Dolores Ann Black." She adjusted her glasses as she spoke, and continued to look uneasy with each passing minute.

Defense attorney Jay Lawson, leaned into his client and handed him a quickly scribbled note. It said-- something seems off with this witness.

Leonard Smith approached the witness stand. He eased into his direct examination in an attempt to put the witness in a more confident light.

The burden of proof lies with the state prosecutor, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the accused person committed a crime. In this case, it was accessory to second degree murder and bank robbery. These were the charges brought here today against the defendant.

Dolores Black claimed during her previously sworn deposition, she saw the defendant driving the getaway car.

Leonard Smith recounted the events on the afternoon Liberty Savings and Loan was robbed at gun point and the elderly security guard was shot and killed.

The bank robber fled the scene in a car waiting for him at the front entrance of the bank. The idling car sped off into the side streets of downtown Alpharetta traffic. The vehicle well exceeded the legal speed limit as it traveled into the Georgia backwoods where it pulled off the road and released the assailant. He disappeared into the dense woodlands; along with twenty thousand dollars stuffed into a bank depositor's bag, without a trace.

The gun, however, was retrieved days later, and the defendant's prints were all over the "Glock 26 9mm". This very popular handgun fits into a handbag, but delivers a powerful force. Unfortunately, it was not verifiably registered; as the serial number had been filed off.

The defendant had pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence, claiming he was forced at gunpoint to be an accomplice to this crime.

In Mrs. Black's previous deposition, she stated she was walking past the idling car, saw into the driver's side of the vehicle with a clear view of the defendant as the robbery was in progress.

Not sensing anything suspicious, or out of the ordinary, she continued on down the street and went inside a small beauty shop; one she frequented for her regular hair appointments.

Mrs. Black did not come across today, as being completely sure of what she had seen the afternoon of the alleged crime. Mr. Smith continued in his examination, hoping to draw out something from this witness to save her credibility. Her answers were coming slow and labored, but worse than that, are the contradictions between the initial statements she made in her sworn deposition and today's direct examination.

It was very clear this witness had possibly changed her mind. Her body language was restless; her eyes looking at everything but Mr. Smith as he questioned her.

He wrapped up his examination with a final question, "Mrs. Black, can you please identify for the court, the man you saw in the getaway car on the afternoon of February 8th 2018?"


Leonard Smith broke the silence--the kind of silence that hung in the air while everyone held their collective breath.

"Mrs. Black...do you need a moment?"

"Mrs. Black...."

Novelette Contest Part Two contest entry


The photo is courtesy of my dear and talented son, Adam.
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