Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Bailiff by Jenean McBrearty


The Bailiff

If only Robert Johns hadn’t gone to court the day Marta testified. He’d been home with strep throat for a week, and hadn’t been at the Tyre County Courthouse when the trial of Seymore Saldaga began. Coleman Stephens, lawyer and close friend of Bob’s came by and told him all about it, of course, the voir dire, the swearing in, the opening statements all the circus acts that began with the bailiff’s convocation, “All rise. This court is now in session. Judge George Harlan presiding.”
 
Did you take anyone in custody? Bob wrote on a McDonald’s napkin Colman had stuffed into his Happy Meal box.
 
“Nope, everybody was good. They all knew the show was gonna be good once it started.”

And? Bob wrote.

“The D.A. said even old crimes committed by old people still have to be prosecuted. You gotta admit this one’s a doosey.”

You’d think after forty-five years a woman would forgive and forget, Bob wrote. 

No one in Tyre knew the third-grade teacher had been raped when she was twenty, much less that it was an unlucky bastard like Seymore. By the tine Bob and Coleman’s kids were in school, Marta Foxwell, was a middle-aged old-school taskmistress the kids called Miss meanie-pants. Now she was just Marta, a retired widow working part time at the Walmart as a greeter, non-descript and unfriendly, but able to tell every customer exactly where what they wanted was in the store. Eyes like a hawk. Good enough to recognize the stranger in overalls when he asked where he could find the motor oil.

“Nothing’s more dangerous than a woman with a grudge and a cell phone. She took pictures of him at the check-out counter, followed him out to his pick-up, and got pictures of his license plate and his three grandkids: Tennessee 079 JLM. Told the Sheriff he was just passing through taking his grandkids home to Indiana,” Coleman said. 

Day two of the trial was taken up with presentation of forensic evidence. “You’d think after forty-five years, there wouldn’t be any DNA left on those red Victoria’s Secret panties, either, but those lab folks in Lexington said Seymore’s cheek swab told the tale.”

 Red panties. The thought of them made dozing off difficult even though Bob swallowed enough codeine cough syrup to put away a hippo. He turned on his night stand lamp and stared at the pictures of the victim and her assailant, then and now photos separated by almost half a century, the newspaper had printed in anticipation of Marta’s testimony. Why hadn’t Seymore copped a plea?

“And lose all those tourist dollars? Not a chance. The small business people are making a killing and the D.A. is up for reelection,” Coleman said. 

Who? Bob wrote.

“Me. And I’m going to whip his ass.”

With two boxes of Smith Brothers cough drops in his pants pockets, Bob made it to 7:30 roll call. He’d cover the back door once the room reached spectator capacity, and rely on the police to keep people twenty feet away from the courthouse entrance. Sheriff Conway slipped him a suspicious glance, but pronounced him fit for duty because, “I need warm bodies to protect Salgada. Word has it, only menfolk are coming today. Pat ‘em down good.”

                        ***

There was something about knowing that the wrinkle-lined faced woman in the witness box had once been young and fragile that made Bob want to invent a time machine. A hundred and fifty pairs of eyes watched her ascend the stairs, and he could see it too. She still stood straight, still held her head high, and though she needed a cane to steady her, her hips still moved in that fluid way women walk, side to side, letting you know they can straddle a man with their emptiness. And in her other hand, she carried a fan. The courtroom did get warm by ten o’clock. And she used it, too. Waving it hypnotically back and forth, slow. Flirty-like.

“I was on my way to Miss Beauman’s for my piano lesson.”

Bob searched his mind-files. Did he know a Miss Beauman even existed?

“Salgada crossed the line, and stopped alongside the road and asked me for directions. ‘Which way to the highway?’ he said. Before I could answer, he grabbed my hair and pulled me inside the truck. I fought but the steering wheel was in the way, pinning me under it. He forced himself inside me, and when he was through, he pulled my legs, and I slid out of the truck, bumping my head on the chassis on the way down. When I woke up, I was on the shoulder, my panties around my ankles, and my sheet music spread across the road.”

“Are you sure this is the man?”

“Ecce homo,” she said, and raised her hand and pointed her finger at Seymore.
                       
***

Her testimony took ten minutes, but the memory of it lasted through the night for Bob. The fan, those red panties, like a matador’s cape, laying on the prosecutor’s table, the effects of codeine he was overcome with an irresistible urge. At least, that’s what his lawyer argued at his trial for Marta Foxwell’s rape and murder. “He didn’t see a sixty-five-year-old retired school teacher. He saw a twenty-year-old piece of luscious fruit who tempted him with her testimony.”

Newly elected Coleman Stephens approach it differently. “Robert Johns left his sickbed to hear a salacious story, not a victim’s testimony. He was the hundred and fifty first man who’d come to revel in the sadism of a detestable fantasy, not an officer of the court.”

“Tell you the truth, Coleman, I didn’t believe you’d to win. Even Judge Harlan says you’re not D.A. material. Not forceful enough.”

“A man’s better off using more foresight than force, Bob. Seymore deserved his right to confront his accuser, but Marta deserved her dignity. Ask the women voters.” Coleman Stephens was the only man in Tyre who wasn’t in court that day. 

-End-

Bio Jenean McBrearty is a graduate of San Diego State University, who taught Political Science and Sociology. Her fiction, poetry, and photographs have been published in over a hundred and eighty print and on-line journals. She won the Eastern Kentucky English Department Award for Graduate Creative Non-fiction in 2011, and a Silver Pen Award in 2015 for her noir short story: Red’s Not Your Color. Her novels and collections can be found on Amazon and Lulu.com.
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