فصل 03

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فصل 03

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Chapter three

Lonnie Shaver’s Opportunity

Easter made sure he was easy to follow over the weekend. On Saturday he worked all day selling computers, then he returned to his apartment and didn’t leave it.

On Sunday he drove to the harbor, where he met Jerry Fernandez. They left in a fishing boat with two others, and returned eight and a half hours later with red faces, a can full of fish, and a boat full of empty beer cans. Fishing was the first hobby of Nicholas Easter that anyone had been able to discover. And Jerry was the first friend.

There was no sign of the girl.


She waited only until Monday morning, thirty minutes before the trial restarted. Fitch was in his office. An assistant, Konrad, said, “There’s a phone call you might like to take.”

“Her name?”

“She won’t say.”

“Any idea how she got the number?”

“No.”

“Are you tracing it?”

“Yes. Give us a minute. Keep her on the line.”

Fitch lifted the telephone receiver. “Yes,” he said, as nicely as possible.

“Is this Mr. Fitch?” she asked, quite pleasantly.

“It is. And who is this?”

“Marlee. In about twenty minutes, juror number twelve, Fernandez, will walk into the courtroom holding a copy of Sports Illustrated, the October 12 issue.”

“I see,” said Fitch. “Anything else?”

“No, not now.”

Konrad raced in. “The call came from a pay phone in Gulfpoint, a convenience store.”

“What a surprise,” said Fitch as he grabbed his jacket and began straightening his tie. “I guess I’ll run to court.”


In the jury room Nicholas waited until the general conversation died down. He said loudly, “Well, did anyone get bribed or followed over the weekend?” There were a few laughs, but no confessions.

“Why does the Judge keep asking questions like that?” asked Millie Dupree.

“In similar cases there have been some problems with the jurors,” Nicholas explained.

“I don’t think we should discuss this,” Herman said.

“Why not? It’s harmless. This isn’t about evidence. This is about…” He hesitated a second for effect, then continued, “This is about trying to control the jury.” Nicholas had the jurors’ attention. “There was a tobacco trial, very similar to this, in Quitman County, Mississippi, about seven years ago. There was some pretty shocking behavior, before and during the trial. Judge Harkin is watching us carefully. Lots of people are watching us.”

“Who?” asked Millie.

“Both sides,” answered Nicholas. “Both sides hire these jury consultants and they come here to help pick the perfect jury. The perfect jury is one that will deliver the verdict that they want. They study us before we’re selected.”

“How do they do that?” one of the jurors asked.

“Well, they photograph us, our apartments, our offices, and our kids. It’s just legal, but it’s close to being illegal. They might check our tax records and talk to our neighbors.”

All eleven jurors were listening, trying to remember if they’d seen any strangers hiding around street corners with cameras. Nicholas drank some coffee and continued: “After the jury’s been picked, it’s a little different. Now they’re only watching fifteen people - the twelve jurors and the three extra jurors. Throughout the trial, each side will have jury consultants in the courtroom trying to read our reactions. They usually sit on the first two rows. They’re well dressed and they stare at us all the time.”

“I thought those folks were newspaper reporters,” said another juror, retired Colonel Frank Herrera.

“I hadn’t noticed,” said Herman Grimes. Everyone smiled. “Watch them today,” Nicholas said. “In fact, I have a great idea. There’s one woman who I’m almost positive is a jury consultant for the defense. Every morning since the trial began, she’s been on the front row behind Durwood Cable. When we go out this morning, let’s stare at her. All twelve of us.”

“Even me?” Herman asked.

“Yes, Herm, even you. Just turn to ten o’clock, and stare with the rest of us.”

“Why are we playing games?” asked Sylvia Taylor-Tatum. “Why not? What else have we got to do for the next eight hours? Let’s do it while Judge Harkin is reminding us about all the rules. That always takes ten minutes.”


Lou Dell came for them at nine. Nicholas held two magazines - one of which was Sports Illustrated. He walked beside Jerry Fernandez until they came to the courtroom, then said to his new friend, “Want something to read?”

Jerry took the magazine, “Sure, thanks,” he said. They walked through the door into the courtroom.

Fitch knew Fernandez, juror number twelve, would have the magazine, but the sight of it was still a shock. His surprise quickly turned to excitement. Marlee was clearly working on the outside; maybe there were two or three or four members of the jury who were plotting with her. It didn’t matter how many jurors were involved; Fitch just wanted to make a deal.

The jury consultant’s name was Ginger. She’d sat through dozens of trials. She looked at the jury and waited for the Judge to greet them, which he did. Most of the jurors nodded and smiled at the Judge. Then all of them, including the blind man, turned and stared directly at her.

She looked away.

Judge Harkin continued asking the jurors one question after another and he, too, quickly noticed that the jury were looking at the same person.

They kept staring, all together. Nicholas found it difficult not to laugh. His luck was unbelievable. Two rows behind Ginger sat Rankin Fitch. It was difficult to tell exactly who the jurors were staring at - Ginger or Fitch. Ginger certainly thought it was her. She found some notes to read. Fitch felt helpless as the twelve faces studied him.

Judge Harkin finished his questions quickly. “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Now we will continue with Dr. Milton Fricke.”

After Dr. Fricke had spoken, there was a short break as a new witness, Dr. Robert Bronsky, was called by Wendall Rohr. Fitch was in his office when the call came.

“It’s Marlee, line four,” Konrad whispered.

“Trace the call,” Fitch ordered. “Hello.”

“Mr. Fitch?” came the familiar voice.

“Yes.”

“Do you know why they were staring at you?”

“No.”

“I’ll tell you tomorrow. And if you keep tracing the calls, I’ll stop calling.”

Konrad arrived with the expected news that the call had been made from a payphone.


On Tuesday morning, Nicholas arrived at the jury room early. There were new cups and saucers. Nicholas claimed to hate coffee from a plastic cup, and two of the other jurors said they felt the same. The Judge had agreed to his request.

Retired Colonel Frank Herrera arrived just after eight. “Morning, Colonel,” Nicholas said warmly. “You’re early.”

“So are you.”

“I know. I couldn’t sleep. I was dreaming of black lungs.” Herrera sat down across the table. “I smoked for ten years in the Army,” he said. “But I had the good sense to stop.”

“Some people can’t, I guess. Like Jacob Wood.” The Colonel made a sound of disgust. “Why did you stop?”

“Because cigarettes are poison. Everybody knows that.”

If Herrera had given those opinions on the pre-trial forms, he wouldn’t have been selected. But he probably wanted to be on the jury. He was retired, bored with golf, and tired of his wife. “So should cigarettes be illegal?” Nicholas asked.

“No, I think people shouldn’t be stupid and smoke three packs a day for almost thirty years. What do they expect?” There was no doubt that his mind was made up.

“You should have said this during jury selection. We were asked questions just like these,” said Nicholas.

Herrera’s cheeks went red, but he hesitated for a second. This guy Easter knew the law. “Yes, well, I can be persuaded, you know,” Herrera said.

After a day in court looking at diagrams of lungs and listening to medical explanations from Dr. Bronsky, Lonnie drove to his supermarket.

“We have guests from Head Office for you” an assistant manager said with a frown.

In his office Lonnie found three men.

“Lonnie, good to see you,” said Troy Hadley, son of one of the owners. He quickly introduced the others. “Listen, Lonnie, Ken and Ben here are from a company called SuperHouse, and, well, for lots of reasons, my dad and my uncle have decided to sell all seventeen stores to them.”

Lonnie was finding it hard to swallow. “Why?”

“Two main reasons. Number one, my dad is sixty-eight, and Al, my uncle, has just had surgery, as you know. Also, SuperHouse is offering a good price. It’s time to sell.”

“Will this store be closed?” Lonnie asked, almost in defeat.

Ken picked up a piece of paper. “Well, there are always changes when this sort of thing happens. But we see a future for you with us, Lonnie. We’re ashamed to admit that we don’t have an African-American in a management position. We want this to change. We’d like you to come to Charlotte as soon as possible and spend a few days with us. When can you come?”

In a minute Lonnie had gone from near-unemployment to promotion in a new company. He said with obvious disappointment, “I’m on jury service. But what about the weekends?”

“Can you do this weekend?”

“Sure,” said Lonnie.


The first person Nicholas saw the following morning in court was the man who’d broken into his apartment. Nicholas had already decided what to do. He wrote a note and asked for it to be handed to the Judge.

Judge:

That man out there, left side, third row from the front, white shirt, blue and green tie, was following me yesterday. It’s the second time I’ve seen him. Can we find out who he is?

Nicholas Easter

The Judge called a ten-minute break, and asked for Nicholas. “Now, where did you see this man?”

Nicholas didn’t mention the video, but told the Judge that he’d seen the man a couple of times recently.

The Judge relaxed slightly. “Mr. Easter, have any of the other jurors mentioned anything like this?”

“No, sir.”

“Will you tell me if they do? If there’s something wrong I need to know. You can send a note through Lou Dell.”

“Well, there is something perhaps you ought to know…” He hesitated. “Colonel Herrera thinks that anyone who smokes three packs of cigarettes a day for almost thirty years deserves what he gets.

The Judge digested this information. “Mr. Easter, I’m not asking you to spy on the other jurors. But I am worried about this jury because of the pressure from the outside. If you see or hear anything, please tell me.”

“Sure, Judge.”

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