by jkatejohnston

12 April 2014

Dear Max,

I’m pretty giddy about your having commented. (Internal squeal.) And I’m going to print here a chapter from my mystery that follows the italics method of attribution. (First one to figure out the source of the italicized passage gets–a glow of satisfaction.) I guess I should mention that it’s not an exact quotation.


Chapter Six: Nobody’s Perfect

Before I can tell you what happened next, I have to go back to beginning.

About six months earlier, in the middle of a late summer heat wave, it was my day to sit the arraignment calendar and accept appointment on any new case where the Public Defender had a legal conflict. Heat waves are also crime waves. People out at night. Nerves frayed. But I looked over the calendar, and it was pretty thin. Maybe it was too hot for the cops to get out of their air conditioned cars and catch anyone.

The Public Defender came over. It was Andrew Lodge, a ferociously good lawyer, but it takes clients a long time to believe it because he looks so sweet with his round face and glasses and hair in wild ringlets. We once had a trial together, and his client’s defense was that my guy forced him to go along. And Andrew cheerfully and sweetly and professionally wiped the floor with me, nothing personal.

“Just one for you today. But it’s a beaut.” He handed over the file, and as the judge started going through the calendar, I flipped through the police report to find the victim’s statement. That’s a little game I play. Read the victim’s statement first. Then try to figure out the charges. Usually the DA thinks of a few that would never occur to me. And often makes them stick.

In a police report, the victim’s statement is a cop’s summary, so it’s got a lot of weird cop talk in it. But sometimes a human voice does come through and almost stops your heart. I hate that.

On September 18, 2010 at approximately 0200 hours, I, Angie Knight, was asleep in my bedroom when something woke me with a loud bang. I heard my front door crash open. I was wearing a t-shirt and underwear. I pulled on some navy blue sweatpants and ran out to the living room. I didn’t know if there was a fire or some emergency. A subject stood in the doorway. He was a WMA. He was holding a piece of wood in his hand. The wood was from the broken doorframe. He said, “I’m here to check on you.” His voice was calm. He was about six feet, thin build, short brown hair, brown or green eyes, and he wore glasses. The only light was from street outside my trailer, coming through the broken front door. The light was behind him.

He grabbed me and turned me around and held the sharp piece of wood to my throat. He told me not to move. He secured my hands behind my back with duct tape. He walked to the kitchen and got a chair. He told me to take off my sweatpants, and I complied.

He was wearing a dark-colored t-shirt and dark cargo shorts. I could not tell what color the shorts were. He told me to sit in the chair, and I did. He secured my bound hands to the slats on the back of the chair, using more tape.

He started to slap me on the face. He didn’t say anything. He slapped hard. He did not punch me. He slapped me between thirty and forty times. Then he grabbed me by the hair and pulled my head to one side and bit me on the collarbone on the left side.

Then he cut me loose from the chair. My hands were still bound. He dragged me into the kitchen and threw me on the floor. He opened the fridge and got a beer. When the fridge door was open I saw that he had a dark mark on his left knee, like a scar or a birthmark.

He drank about half the beer. Then he asked me where the sandwich baggies were and I pointed to the drawer. He got out a Ziploc sandwich baggy. Then he unzipped his shorts. He got a condom out of the pocket of his shorts and opened it and rolled it on. Then he masturbated. When he had ejeculated, he put the condom in the Ziploc baggy and put it in his one of the pockets of his cargo shorts. He also took the empty beer bottle and the roll of tape and put those in two other pockets of his shorts. He took all the tape off the chair and off my hands and rolled it up in a ball and put it in another pocket. He was wearing latex gloves, and he kept changing them the whole time he was in my apartment, putting the used ones in his pockets. He changed them about three times total.

When he left he said, “You really should get a dog. But I’ll check on you.”

As soon as he was gone, I grabbed a kitchen knife. Then I ran to the living room to get my sweatpants, but they were gone. I ran to my bedroom and found some pants. Then I ran to my car and drove myself to the police station.

I tried to go through my usual exercise of guessing the charges, but some part of my brain was just creeped out and puzzled. Weenie wagging with a condom? And what a pro, taking all the evidence with him. Usually, in sex cases, they leave the condom behind for CSI to collect. They might as well put a bow on it.

The calm and control was the creepiest part. I’ve read many police reports that describe multiple fatalities, as the cops put it. Those are awful, but not really scary. Most murders, especially with guns, are far more stupid than cruel. But here was real cruelty: rare and unsettling.

Right. Guess the charges. Stick with routine: Home invasion robbery (he took the beer and the sweatpants), res burg, false imprisonment, a whole bunch of battery counts for the slapping and the bite, assault with a deadly weapon (the splintered wood), indecent exposure, and maybe a criminal threats charge for that strange warning at the end—I’ll check on you.

I caught Lodge’s eye, pointed to the file and silently mouthed, “Whack Job.” He smiled and raised his hands in a shrug of apology. There was no legal conflict. David’s boss had thought exactly what I did: “Whack job. Give it to the conflict panel.” And today, that was me.

During a break, I walked over to the DA’s side of counsel table. It was Hurt. “Is this all the discovery for Michael Merrick?” The file was pretty thin.

“There’s a DVD. I’ll burn a copy and leave it for pick up tomorrow.”

“A DVD of what?”

Another half-apologetic shrug, this time from the DA. Hurt wasn’t a bad guy. He almost liked the defense to have a sporting chance.

His confession. Of course.

Then the judge called the case. Michael Merrick came out into the caged area where the in-custody defendants stand. He lifted both hands to his glasses and adjusted them, then adjusted them again.

“Bury your hands,” said the bailiff. In-custodies are supposed to keep their hands tucked into the elastic waistband of their pants. I guess it helps them keep their hands to themselves, reduces fisticuffs in the hallways. He gave one jerky nod that was almost a lunge and tucked his fingers into his waistband.

I walked over to him, but he wasn’t my client yet, and I said nothing but hello. He was about six feet, thin, dark hair and dark eyes in a pale face, a bit of a hipster, or maybe just old-fashioned, with his old-school haircut and nerdy glasses. The judge read the charges. As usual, the DA came up with a few that had never occurred to me: kidnapping?—oh please.

“Bury your hands.” Again with the glasses.

Merrick quickly tapped his elbows together. “Bury! Bury!” And he put his hands in his waistband.

Judge Staveley gave him a long look and asked if he could afford an attorney. He said no, and she appointed Mr. Lodge. Andrew declared a legal conflict (my ass). Then Staveley appointed me and set the case for settlement conference two days later.

“I’ll come see you tonight,” I whispered to Merrick. “I’ll bring you copies of the police reports and the charges.

“I have to talk to you,” he whispered. “One of the guards keeps yelling at me. He’s getting in my space.”

“Okay, we’ll talk about it tonight,” I whispered. “Don’t talk about the case to anyone.”

“I’m innocent,” he said.

“I don’t care. I’ll see you tonight.”

Walking away from the jail, I thought about how sincerely offended he was by the pushy guard. As I knew very well from domestic violence court, where the jealousy of unfaithful husbands is on full display, people don’t confine themselves to the emotions they’re entitled to. But still, I couldn’t help thinking of “I, Angie Knight” from the police report, and how he didn’t rape her, and he didn’t kill her, and that was nice. But still, some people might say he got in her space.

I shook the thought out of my head. Jesus! You’re assuming he’s guilty. (Well, they usually are. And there is a confession.) Confession! So says the DA, who probably hasn’t even watched the DVD yet. And he said he was innocent. (He only said that because he knows he took all the DNA evidence with him. Cold, competent son of a bitch.)

Then I remembered the bite on Angie’s collarbone. I sat on a low wall and opened the file again, flipping through to find the CSI reports. Yes, they swabbed her collarbone. Of course they did. Yes, it was amylase positive, meaning the there was saliva, meaning there would be DNA.

Whoever did this was good. The Ziploc bag was a nice touch. But nobody’s perfect.