JUSTICE DELAYED: SS; THREE

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
DNA has resurrected a cold case from thirty-six years ago. Now, it seems, time has been compressed and the jury is involved in solving murder of Jemma Jefferson.

Submitted: September 05, 2016

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Submitted: September 05, 2016

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JUSTICE DELAYED

 A  Novel

Nicholas Cochran

Chapter Three

 

Up until this day—this moment—I  hadn’t really noticed Nell Gabert, juror number five. Mrs. Gabert was married with two grown kids. She looked about fifty or so.  Very pleasant face; outdoorsy type. She didn’t wear much make-up. No lipstick.

I guess I hadn’t thought much about her because the two attorneys hadn’t asked her very many questions; only the ones on the rolling blackboard just to my right.

Sally, the Court Clerk, had rolled it away to one side of the courtroom and it still sat there, turned out so that everyone could still see it and read the questions if they had nothing else to do on a break.

Mrs. Gabert was leaning over toward the back of Mrs.Barnstable who was sitting straight up in her chair, trying to stay awake today.

I couldn’t tell from my position—and from her distance from me—what look Nell Gabert had on her face; but her shoulders looked tensed up and after a moment she put out her hand onto the back of Mrs. Barnstable’s chair. 

 

The other three who had appeared to perk up when Mr.Washington took the stand were Allan Hamilton, juror one, Doctor Davies, the last alternate, and Neil Summers, juror number ten. Now isn’t that odd: Neil Summers.

I had more or less forgotten him along with Nell Gabert. He too had been asked only the standard questions on the blackboard. I only vaguely remembered his answers.

I do remember his voice. It was pinched and very high for a man his size—and his age which, again, I think I remember was around fifty-two. 

Mr. Summers had both his hands on the railing and was looking very intensely at Mr. Washington. 

From the overhead lighting in our courtroom I could see that Mr.Summers had knitted his brows and his mouth was slightly open.

The other two, Dr.Davies and Allan Hamilton looked like they were more curious than upset. Mr.Hamilton was slowly rubbing his chin, Dr. Davies was holding his breath.

 

Hilo asked her opening questions of Mr.Washington and established that he had owned the store thirty-six years ago at the time of the murder. He was retired now and living in Rossmoor.

He was a tall, slim, and very distinguished looking man. Only a little bit of grey hair was in his close-cropped hair cut. He looked extremely healthy  for a man of his age, seventy-one.

When he answered the question about his age, all the court personnel looked up at him, and even Judge Tan looked up from her desk and adjusted her glasses to look at him more clearly. 

Mr. Washington has an amazing voice; the kind I can listen to all day and type away without ever having to pause or ask for repetitions of a question—or an answer.

“I remember that day, even now, very clearly.

"It was Labor Day weekend and from the twenty or so years I had been involved with the store in Jensen, I knew that there were going to be many parties and barbecues, a lot of drinking, some wild boat rides---and at a few spots around the lake, there would be the annual Labor Day long weekend party beginning Friday night and going right through to late Monday night when they all go back to the city or the suburbs of the city.

“That day, the Saturday, I remember all three hosts of the all week-end parties coming by for cases of liquor and beer well as food and paper plates, plastic forks and the like."

“What makes you remember this Saturday so clearly after thirty-six years, Mr. Washington?”

Hilo’s question had all the jurors’ full attention now but the four who first leaned forward just before Mr. Washington was called, looked to me like they were even more interested in what Mr.Washington was saying—or would say.

“Well, it was my tenth wedding anniversary and  my twentieth-year anniversary of being associated with the store. I had started part time when I was fifteen as a bagger and a delivery boy. So all my antenna were turned up to the max.” He chuckled and when everyone else laughed, he laughed as well.

I quickly looked at those four jurors who had been the first ones to lean forward in anticipation of Mr. Washington’s testimony. 

Allan Hamilton was laughing loudly and two others were smiling and chuckling. I was smiling and almost laughing too. 

I looked down at my machine to disguise my emotion and when I looked up, for some reason my gaze was in a straight line with Doctor Davies.

He was not even smiling. 

He looked very pale, and quite grim. 

Then he looked away from Mr. Washington and looked down at his hands which he was clenching and unclenching as Mr. Washington continued.

“The three all-weekend party throwers were Mr. Wallman, Nevvy, or formally, Neville Wallman, Mr. Evans and Mr.Stevens.

"The last two are on the south end of the lake across the lake from the store. Mr. Wallman’s place is on the  same side as the store and about five or so miles from the store.
“They were in good humor and I congratulated them on keeping it down that first night; Friday night. 

"Only Nevvy; Neville Wallman, remarked that he expected a few dozen more guests that Saturday night and he would have his hands full trying to keep everyone civil and not too loud; but he promised me that he would get some of the guys to help him.

"He was a really nice young man. His family had owned that cottage and the one next to it for over fifty years.

"In fact I would see Mr. Wallman around all the time in the summer and we would talk and laugh and he and I got along really well. I really liked him.” and he stopped, almost as if he was remembering something and had to stop what he was talking about and consider some new thought.

His high handsome brow creased with memory marks. Then he continued.

“Yes; and now I just remembered that he said he had invited Miss Jefferson to the party and hoped that her family would agree. 

"In fact, he said that he was going to leave the store and go directly down to her family’s cottage to formally ask her parents if it was okay for her to come to the party as his guest. "He was full of confidence, as usual, and said that he had talked with Jemma and her family many times over the five years of them being up there in the summers and had liked the idea of keeping them involved in the lake activities.”

 

“What about the other two party throwers; any comment or discussions that you remember having with them?”

“No, just Mr. Wallman.”

“Are you aware of the day that the police found Miss.Jefferson?”

“Yes, it was the next day, Sunday.”

“And did they ask you any questions and did you give them any answers.”

“Yes, I did. I told them on several occasions just what I’ve said here in court.”

“Do you remember seeing Miss Jefferson on that Saturday during the day or in the evening—or early the next morning.

“Yes.”

“When and where did you see her?”

Mr. Washington shifted in his chair as though he was sitting on something sharp; or had a burr in his sock; something was clearly annoying him.

“It was about eleven-thirty or quarter of twelve that Saturday night. I was tidying up and setting out goods for the following day. Plus, I had a number of inventory matters to go over and then I had to count the receipts and put them in a safe.”

“And what did you see regarding Miss Jefferson?”

“I was out back. We have—we had," smiling, “a back patio to the store where we had tables and chairs and umbrellas so that if people wanted to eat outside and have a view of the lake, they could sit there rather than eat in their cars.” 

He paused to summon his recollections as clearly as he could manage after so many years.

“I saw Miss Jefferson; well I think it was Miss Jefferson; it was really dark and no moon, or at least I didn’t see any and there were clouds as well, but I think I recognized her walk and she was walking with a few people. It was really dark so I couldn’t even tell how many there were or like that.” 

He stopped and looked as though he was disgusted with himself for not being able to be more precise.

“Was there anything about her walk or anything at all that appeared to be different about her compared to the number of  times you had seen her before, either in your store or simply walking or driving around the area?"
 

Gail objected on the grounds that the question was compound and complex.

Judge Tan sustained the objection and asked Hilo to break down the questions in order to make it easier for the jury to understand, and for Mr. Washington to give a shorter and more compact answer.

Hilo did. Mr. Washington said that Miss Jefferson appeared to be staggering somewhat. Then he added.

“Or maybe she was being pushed or pulled; I couldn’t tell. There was a lot of noise coming from the group and their voices were loud and some were angry as well. Then they disappeared out of my sight.”

“In what direction was this group and Miss Jefferson going?”

“Away from the junction of the two roads and the store, in the direction of her family’s cottage.”

“Did you see Miss Jefferson again, Mr. Washington?”

“At the coroner’s office. The police asked me to come and see her and her clothes to see if that would spark any other memories of that group or any words I heard; and if her clothes looked familiar.”

“And, did they—her clothes? Did they look familiar to you? Did you recognize them?”

“No more so than what I just stated; they did look like the clothes but I couldn’t be certain. "But I was pretty sure that was Miss Jefferson who I saw in that group.”

“Did you see or hear anything regarding that group or any other group after the time you just told us about?”

“Yes. About fifteen or so minutes later—maybe twenty, I was locking up. I heard voices. A group of voices, but they were not loud. In fact, they were whispering.

"It took me a while to learn that sound carries clearer at night. And on water as well, but it was after midnight and dark and quite cool, probably sixty-five at most. So I heard a group whispering  but I couldn’t make out any distinct words. But they were clearly—at least to me—whispering among themselves.”

“What did you do next, Mr. Washington?”

“I turned off the day lights and put on the night lights, including the spotlights around the outside; the perimeter of the store; an insurance reduction for the store. Then I locked up, and started for my car.”

“What happened next?”

“Nevvy; Neville Wallman, came screeching around the corner and bounced into the dirt parking area for the store and jumped out and asked me if I had seen Jemma, and was she with anyone.

"I told him just what I’ve told you here today. He groaned; then thanked me and got in his car and took off down the side of the lake toward Miss Jefferson’s cottage. Then I drove home.”

"Thank you Mr. Washington, I have no further questions. Counsel, you may cross-examine.”

Gail got up and took Mr. Washington quickly through all his testimony; very quickly indeed, which told me that she was anxious to get to some part of his testimony that she and probably Mr. Sanderson were especially interested in.

“Now about this group, Mr. Washington, the first one, the loud one, did you see Mr. Sanderson in that group?”

“I can’t say for sure but I don’t think so, simply because I knew his voice pretty well and I think his walk; like I knew Miss Jefferson’s.”

“And how about the whispering group; anything there that gave you any idea that Mr. Sanderson was in that group?”

“No ma’am.”

“Now, during that Saturday—or even any of the few days running up to Labor Day weekend—do you remember Mr. Sanderson saying anything to you about going to any parties on the lake over the weekend?”

“No.”

“Did Mr. Sanderson say that he was taking Miss Jefferson anywhere on the week-end?”

“No. He never mentioned Miss Jefferson at all even though she was in the store three or four times before the weekend. In fact, he had never talked about Miss Jefferson to me or even mentioned her before then.”

“Now, sir, you had a great number of customers at your store on that Labor Day weekend, did you not? Were you in the habit of getting to know your customers; even the ones on their way somewhere other than Jensen; or evenLake Balfort? Do you understand my questions?”

“Yes, I think I do; you’ve been doing your homework.”

He laughed and so did Gail. And so do did the jurors except for two.

For some reason; some—goofy, maybe—reason, I felt like I was drawn to those two and I felt as though I should keep an eye on their reactions to this testimony.

“I have.” Said Gail matter-of-factly, but with a smile.

“Well, you know then that I was considered the source for all news, gossip, rumors, scandal; I don’t know why I did what I did, but I enjoy talking with people so much. That’s what I enjoyed most about owning that store; the people; the customers.

“I’m sure I ticked off a bunch of them; the ones who value being anonymous, but for the most part, I think the customers appreciated my interest because it was genuine. I couldn’t care if they just bought a couple of bubble gums, I’d still ask them questions and get to know them pretty well in a couple of minutes.” He laughed again.

I looked at the two. 

Nothing. 

They were grim—and they looked scared.

“I know it’s been a long time Mr. Washington; and you’ve done so many other things in your life plus raising five children, but do you have any sense that you could recognize some of those people if you were to meet them again today?”

 

Wow. My—the courtroom just chilled. 

I can’t really describe the silence in the courtroom, only the feeling I had about it.

Suddenly I felt as though we had been transported back to Mr. Washington’s store and we were going to meet some of the customers who were in his store the few days before and particularly the day of the murder.

The judge took off her glasses and looked to her side at the witness in the witness box.

Sally looked up.

I looked up.

Bob, the Bailiff got up and adjusted his gun belt.

I’m sure it was just a few seconds, but it seemed like minutes before Mr. Washington answered.

“Yes.”

“And have you seen anyone while you’ve been waiting to testify who you think might have been a customer of yours back then?

“Yes.”

 

End of Chapter Three


© Copyright 2017 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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