The next morning, when the sartorial splendor of Maurice stepped off the elevator on the sixth floor of the courthouse, waiting for him were a throng of reporters brandishing large television cameras and a gaggle of shouting reporters.
Apparently, the murder case of Randall Cooke had become a feeding frenzy for the local paparazzi. Cameramen and reporters compressed around the stout little man, this time dressed in a light blue three-piece suit and wearing a dark black, wide brimmed fedora with one brim rakishly pulled down over his left ear. Reporters were hammering loudly at him with demanding questions on why he was representing a known killer and rapist. Or, with even louder voices, demanding to know who exactly was he and why did he only use one name to on his office door or business card.
For his part, Maurice’s round face with its gigantic beaming smile painted on his thin lips, remained silent but kept nodding like a gentle Buddha as he began pushing his way through the crowd toward the courtroom. It took time but eventually the double oak doors to the courtroom were parted and uniformed security officers ushered Maurice into the courtroom first before allowing only a limited number of reporters into the hard church pews designated for the audience.
“Counselor, so good of you to show up this morning,” the tall, angular configuration of a man sitting in black robes of a judge, with a mop of thick, unruly and quite shocking white hair, rumbled dryly from behind the massive desk perched high above the courtroom. “Shall we begin?
Taking his attention away from the defense counselor the judge eyed the surprisingly packed courtroom and scowled.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a court of inquiry designed to make judgment on whether there is enough evidence to bring the defendant, one Randall Cooke, to trail on two counts of Murder in the First Degree. He is accused of killing a nineteen-year-old girl by the name of Tammy Charles and her eight-month-old son, Randall Charles. Mister Prosecutor, are you ready?”
“I am your honor.”
“Defense, are you ready?”
“Indeed so, your honor.”
“Very well. Mister Prosecutor, call your first witness.”
As the prosecutor rose from his seating, pushing thick glasses up his nose in the process, and clearing his throat she came sliding into the courtroom. Rolled out of the middle of the wooden floor directly in front of the court’s stenographer and drifted gently straight up and came to a halt just below the courtroom’s plain looking ceiling. The ghost crossed her legs into a sitting position as if she was sitting on the ground in front of a roaring campfire, her lovely young face wrinkled up in deep concentration as she waited for the first witness to be called. But she smiled quickly, lifting a hand up for a cheery little wave at the rotund young Maurice before concentrating again on the witness stand again.
And so it began. With expert chorography, the city’s chief prosecutor began sending one witness after the other up to the witness chair for a shot, concise sweep of offering evidence to the court on the vile reputation of Randall Cooke. Three witnesses each testified they knew the defendant and easily affirmed the man was very capable of cold-blooded murder.
Yet interestingly, when it came time for questions from the defense, the smiling man in the smartly cut three piece light blue suit stood up politely and said, “No questions, your honor.” Each time he declined to cross-examine the white haired, emaciated judge glared compressed his lips irritably into a thin white line and glared at the nattily dressed lawyer irritably over the tops of his half-moon shaped bifocals.
However, when the prosecuting attorney called up for the detective in charge of the investigation, Maurice leaned forward, rested his chin on one braced hand on the table in front of him, and listened to the questioning intensely. Above him, close to the ceiling, Tammy floated gently in courtroom’s eves yet remained unanimated as the detective presented his testimony.
But Maurice’s eyes seemed to be glowing with intensity as he listened to the detective describe in detail his investigation of the murder and the eventual arrest of his client. When the prosecutor half turned and told Maurice he was finished with his questions, he expected the little man to decline his turn for cross examination again. When Maurice stood up and began approaching the detective a look of mild amusement flirted across the old man’s face.
“Detective, could you tell the court for us, how long have you worked as a homicide detective?”
“Ten years. Ten long years.”
“In that ten year’s time I would conclude you’ve seen just about every form of horror called murder one human being can impose on another, is that not correct?”
“True, counselor. I have.”
“So in this particular homicide what set of actions told you that my client, Mr. Cooke, was unequivocally the perpetrator of this horrendous deed?”
“We found a closet full of his clothes. In the closet tucked away in an old suitcase, we found an assortment of weapons. There were fingerprints, tons of fingerprints, all over the apartment. And then, of course, there was his confession. He signed a written confession stating that he killed the girl and the child in a fit of drunken rage. That was good enough for me.”
“Ah,” Maurice nodded, smiling, as he looked down at the courtroom floor and walked to his left a step or two. “So, what you are saying is that, after the confession my client signed, all attempts at a further investigation came to an abrupt cessation. It that correct?”
“Objection!” roared the bespectacled, scowling prosecuting attorney as he came flying to his feet angrily. “It has been established that the defendant is a known criminal with a violent temper when in an alcoholic stupor. For the love of god, the man even confessed to the crime! I see no productive response this line of questioning can achieve, other than a determined effort on the defense’s part to antagonize the witness.”
A shaggy white eyebrow arched up thickly on the judge’s lined forehead as ice-cold eyes turned to gaze at the smiling Maurice questioningly. In the courtroom behind him, Maurice heard a soft rumble of noise drift across the audience like an errant ocean wave.
“Your response, counselor? Or do you want me to make a summary conclusion solely on the prosecutor’s theatrical vehemence?”
“Your honor, the prosecution’s central argument in accusing my client of the murder lies in the threefold lines of reasoning starting with the idea my client has a history of being a violent criminal when drunk, that his fingerprints and clothing were found in the deceased’s apartment, and finally, writing and signing a detailed confession when asked by the police to do so. My line of questioning is an attempt to destroy all three arguments. Especially the one concluding my client’s signed confession may have been unduly forced upon him.”
“Really, counselor? This sounds interesting,” the angular faced, bespectacled judge growled sardonically, yet with a note of curiosity in it. “Very well, continue. But this better not be a fishing expedition, young man. In my old age I have long lost any desire to listen to extemporaneous verbal flourishes of stilted intellect.”
“Thank you, your honor,” the amazingly agile man in the tailored blue said as he turned back to the homicide detective and spliced the fingertips of both hands together in front of him. “Just a few more questions, detective. One comes to mind instantly. Did it occur to you or to anyone in the department to run a DNA test on both the victims and compare the results with the DNA of my client?”
The grizzled old detective blinked eyes a couple of times toward Maurice in obvious surprise before finally shaking his head.
“No. Never occurred to us. Why would we waste both our time and the department’s money doing something like that? He confessed, for chrissakes!”
“To possibly find the real killer, detective. Perhaps this case is more complex than you believe.”
“Objection!” shouted the prosecutor, rising to his feet and slamming a heavy fist onto the oak tabletop angrily at the same time as he arose. “The counsel for defense is indeed fishing for any possible venue that will get his client off on a technicality! DNA testing would take weeks, if not months, to get the results back. We have signed confession from the prisoner that he killed this woman and child. We have established beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant is a known violent person when drunk. Plus the man has a rap sheet that goes back more than twenty years with convictions from various felonies. Surely we have established a just and reasonable supposition enough evidence exists to take this case to trial!”
“Your honor. My client did not kill either the woman or her child. He simple could not even if, by some cataclysmic regression on his part, he fell back into the pit of drinking again. Which, I point out, he had not.”
“And why is that, counselor?” The judge asked patiently.
“A year ago he found out he was a father and a grandfather. The sudden revelation dramatically changed his outlook on life. He immediately ceased his drinking habit, enrolled in programs to clean and detoxify himself, and moved in with his newfound family and accepted the role as being his new family’s main breadwinner. If I may have the opportunity to continue cross examining the witness I will establish these facts clearly and succinctly to one and all.”
The tired look of deep frustration left the judge’s face as he rolled eyes over the rims of his spectacles and glanced at the accused. For his part, the assistant district attorney stood in silent amazement and stared at Maurice for a second or two before, suddenly angry, turning to glare at the witness on the stand.
“Detective, when you apprehended my client and cuffed him, was he drunk?”
“No. He was cold stone sober.”
“When you arrested my client, was he attempting to flee from this horrendous crime?”
“No. He was not.”
“Where was he and what was in doing when you arrested him?
“He was . . . well . . . at work. Working on the back end of a trash truck down of Fifth and Gilmore.”
“Did you question the others of this truck’s crew about my client’s whereabouts that day?”
“Yes . . . uh . . . we did,” the detective grunted, nervously rotating his head around on his stubby neck to adjust the apparent tightness of his constricting shirt collar.
“What time did my client go to work on the morning of the crime?”
“What time did my client arrive at the refuse service’s garage that morning, detective?”
“Uh . . . well . . . a couple of witnesses claim he arrived around five thirty that morning.”
“This refuse yard where the many trash collection vehicles are kept and maintained, could you tell the court how long it takes for my client to travel from his place of residence to his job.”
“A good hour or more. More, really, if he’s driving in morning traffic.”
“While interviewing his fellow workers, did you ask these witnesses if my client was covered in blood perhaps? Or perhaps acted unusual, or maybe agitated in any way?”
“Uh . . . yes. We did,” the detective answered in a barely audible whisper.
“The witnesses said the accused came to work cracking jokes and ready to work. Like he usually did every morning.”
“What, detective, was the estimated time of death for the two victims?”
“Well, that’s kind of interesting. The ME said the murders took place somewhere between three and ten o’clock in the morning.”
“Why so late, detective? Was he out drinking in the bars?”
“Er . . . no. His second job ends around eleven every night. It takes him about an hour to get home”.
“His second job you say? You’re saying my client works two jobs? What is his second job?”
“He works as a part time counselor at a rehab center down on Troost Avenue from five in the afternoon to eleven every night.”
Maurice smiled as he stood in front of the witness chair with his hands splayed against his thickening midriff. The man’s round face and stout body gave everyone in the courtroom the impression of a young Buddha smiling at a recalcitrant schoolboy. Certainly, the once confident, almost cocky, detective of homicide felt as if he had been caught with his hand in the back porch beer cooler. He kept staring down at the courtroom floor in front of him, glancing nervously up at the odd-looking young Buddha reluctantly.
“So detective. My client comes home at midnight and has to leave the apartment around four in the morning to get to his main place of occupation by five thirty. The expiration from the living for the two victims in this crime has been established somewhere between three and ten o’clock in the morning. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” the detective grunted, slumping in lower on the witness stand.
“But my client definitely arrived at the maintenance yards at five thirty in the morning and was constantly under observation by his fellow employees from the time of his arrival until you and several uniformed officers arrived and pulled him off the garbage collection vehicle and arresting him sometime around nine thirty in the morning. Is that correct, detective?”
“Well . . . I guess so,” the detective replied, scowling and looking away from the smiling attorney.
“So the window of opportunity for my client to commit the murders was somewhere between three and four in the morning. Is that correct?”
“Yes, that’s our thinking.”
“Meaning, of course, that in that hour of journeying across town from the scene of the crime to his job, my client somehow had to wash his bloody hands, dispose of what had to be his blood soaked clothing, dispense with the bloody knife he used, and paint on his face a bright, cheerful mood of camaraderie. Is that correct, detective?”
“Objection!” screamed the assistant district attorney, angrily flying to his feet like a cheap Fourth of July rocket. “The defense is trying to confuse and obfuscate the detective’s ability to think. Again, I must object. There is more than enough evidence presented here to warrant going to trial, your honor. I demand this charade come to a conclusion and a proper ruling be issued from the bench.”
It was like the sudden discharge of a .357 magnum ramming against the walls of a small closet when the judge’s wooden gavel came down and slapped against the hard wood strike plate setting on the high judge’s podium in front of him. Loud, unexpected, and emphatic. Everyone in the parked courtroom visibly jumped when the crack of wood reverberated across the courtroom.
“Neither you nor anyone in this courtroom will make demands aimed at this bench, Mister Assistant District Attorney. Am I perfectly clear on this? Good. Motion denied. Proceed, counselor, your cross examination.”
“I have one final question, your honor.” the beaming Maurice nodded as he turned to face the witness stand. “Detective, how did your respected establishment become aware of this horrible affront on human domesticity?”
“Huh?” the man grunted, mapping a puzzled mask across his face.
“Who called in to report a crime, detective?”
“Oh. The apartment building manager. I guy by the name of Wilbur Harrows.”
“Thank you, detective.” the smiling Maurice answered, turning and bowing slightly to the judge. “I am finished with my cross examination, your honor.”
“Call your next witness, prosecutor,” the judge snapped glaring down at the assistant district attorney.
“We call Wilbur Harrows to the stand, your honor.”
Still floating above the court stenographer’s desk was the spectral image of the young girl, her ghostly form dipping and bobbing up and down in a slight oscillation of movement in the air, her legs crossed as if she was still sitting on a park bench, her young face intensely interested in all that had so far taken place in court. Maurice kept glancing up at the ghostly apparition waiting for something to happen which would make the pretty young girl suddenly remember a detail or incident that might help him in the proceedings. So far nothing. But when the name Wilbur Harrows was mentioned, she became very animated.
Suddenly she was standing in midair, jumping up and down excitedly as if she was standing on a street corner, waving her arms wildly around as she tried to catch the round faced lawyer’s attention. On her face was the splash of intense excitement. Maurice, looking up at her, frowned and silently whispered the word What? A mistake on his part. From high up behind his bench, the white haired judge’s sharp eyes caught Maurice’s silent question.
“Wait a moment, please. Counsel, are you suffering an epileptic seizure in my courtroom?”
“Uh . . . no, your honor. I am not. Just a slight strain of a neck muscle which sometimes bothers me at the most inopportune times.”
“Mmmmm . . . yes. Well see that you don’t. I have enough paperwork to deal with as it is. Someone dying in my courtroom, thus forcing me and my staff in completing its attending paperwork, is totally unacceptable,” the judge grunted unconvincingly, lifting a warning eyebrow. “Proceed with your swearing in the witness, bailiff.”
Maurice glanced up at the young girl again. For some reason this apparition could not speak to him. But she could communicate by writing. Using her right forefinger, she could write short sentences in midair directly in front of her. The words glowed a bright golden yellow for a few seconds before slowly fading away. Furiously she wrote across the emptiness in front of her.
Hands! I remember giant calloused hands. And a scar! A scar that ran across the full length of the killer’s right palm!
Maurice watched with interest as the new witness came to the witness chair and was sworn in. As he watched, he felt his client shift in his chain and lean slightly toward him.
“I know this guy, counselor. He’s a little prick. He and his cousin both. We spent time together in prison. This guy can tell lies so convincing the Devil himself wouldn’t know what the truth was and what was pure bullshit.”
An eyebrow lifted curiously, as he gently set fingertips of both hand together and watched the prosecutor approach the witness stand. Now floating just to one side above the stand Randall’s animated daughter began writing furiously in the air in front of her.
If he’s got that raspy, whiskey voice and big scars on both hands, he’s the guy who
Killed us. You can’t let him get away. Please don’t let him get away!
Randall Cooke sat ramrod straight in his chair beside Maurice, his face a stoic mask as he watched his old acquaintance swear The Truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the Truth. So help me god with a hand lying on the Bible in the process. But the defendant’s right hand, lying on his lap, unseen from all within the court except for Maurice, kept rolling and unrolling into a hard rock of a fist time and time again in a cycle of silent rage.
It turned out Wilbur Harrows had a very raspy voice. It also turned out Wilbur was indeed a very good liar. But not an infallible one. Maurice’s interest in the assistant district attorney’s questioning perked up visibly when the witness’ whereabouts on the night of the double murder arrived.
“Now on the morning of the murder, where were you and what were you doing?’
“I was in my apartment. Watching television and eating an early breakfast.”
“What time was this?”
“Around a quarter after five.”
“Five fifteen on the morning of the murders, is that correct?”
“While you were eating breakfast did anything out of the ordinary occur which caught your attention?”
“Yes sir. Upstairs. Directly above my apartment. I heard scuffling feet and dishes crashing to the floor and a man’s voice. A man’s angry voice.”
“You said the apartment directly above yours, is that correct?”
“Who lives in the apartment directly above yours?”
“It belonged to that girl and her baby. And the guy who moved in with her last month.”
“You’re referring to the victims, Tammy Charles and her son. Is that correct?”
“Yeah, sure.” the raspy voiced apartment manager with the big hands nodded and glancing toward the defendant.
“You said you heard scuffling of feet, dishes breaking, and a man’s angry voice. What happened next?”
“I decided to go check it out. The girl upstairs was not much older than a kid herself. And this guy’s voice sounded pretty angry. So I go running out into the hall and start slamming upstairs as fast as I can. ‘Bout half way up, I hear her scream really loud and then just cut off. Just stop like someone flipping off a light switch.”
“When you got upstairs, what did you find?” the assistant district attorney said, a frown of his lips, as he lifted a foot up to rest on the raised dais of the witness stand and then lean one elbow onto the witness stand’s wooden railing.
“Her apartment door was open and she was lying on the floor not looking too good. Down at the far end of the hall I see the backside of this guy turning and disappearing down the stairs. Big guy. Fast on his feet.”
“Did you recognize the killer of Tammy Charles?”
“Objection, your honor,” the ever-smiling defense counselor said, rising to his feet and holding up a hand like a schoolboy, his voice soft yet very distinct and clear. “The prosecuting attorney is asking the witness to make an assumption that has yet to be proven accurate. I’m afraid our friend in the district attorney’s office is trying to sway the jury of the Court of Public Opinion. Forgive me, your honor, but it is a move I must object to rather strenuously.”
“Hmmm, I’m inclined to agree with you, counselor. Objection sustained. Try it again, mister prosecutor.”
Behind the defense and prosecution tables a soft rumble of noise erupted from the gaggle of news reporters who had been, until now, sitting quietly and watching the proceedings in silence. Several pairs of eyes latched onto the flamboyantly dressed, but until now unknown, young defense attorney with interest. Extreme interest.
For his part the assistant district attorney flashed an angry, smoldering glare at the much younger lawyer and the smiled and shrugged as he turned back toward the person sitting in the witness stand.
“My apologies, your honor. I may have momentarily lost my normal courtroom equilibrium. I will indeed rephrase my question,” he said in a contrite voice as he bowed his head apologetically to the judge before turning to face the witness again. “Let me put it another way, Mister Harrows. Did you see anyone leaving this area when you reached the second floor landing?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Whom did you see?”
“I saw that guy go down the stairs so fast I thought he was going to trip over his feet and kill himself.”
Wilbur Harrows lifted a hand up and with a finger pointed straight at the sitting Randall Cooke. Behind them, in the gallery, the soft hum of reporters increased audibly yet, strangely, the beaming glow of light that was radiating from Maurice’s round face seemed to increase in luminosity as his smile widened.
Floating in the air above and to one side of the witness stand Tammy was beside herself with anger. She was standing now, feet apart and slightly bent over, screaming her head off at the apartment manager and shaking a fist at the man at the same time. To Maurice’s immense relief he was glad this apparition was incapable of making a sound. Otherwise, the court would have heard language far more colorful in meaning and intensity than that usually reserved for a courtroom setting.
“Your honor, I have no more questions. And the prosecution’s presentations of its case has come to a close.”
For his part, the assistant district attorney turned to face the courtroom gallery and smiled like a cat who had just plucked a fat mouse from out of its lair and dined upon it with consummate pleasure. He knew he had the gallery of reporters clearly on his side and he could see, in his imagination, the news headlines that were soon to follow. Walking past the defense table his smug smile increased slightly as he looked the colorfully dressed Maurice and nodded.
The smiling defense waited for the strutting older man to sit down and, as the judge turned his attention toward Maurice expectantly, came to his feet and took his time to straighten his coat’s lapels before stepping around the large table to approach the witness stand.
“Mister Harrows, are you comfortable with your testimony? Do you feel confident you have told this court the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
“Uh . . . sure. Sure I am. I saw Cooke go down the stairs as plain as I’m seeing you right now in front of me.”
“Let me restate my question, Mister Harrows. Is there anything in your testimony you wish to retract, or clarify more succinctly, to this court before I begin my cross examination.”
“Uh . . .” there was a note of panic in Wilbur Harrows voice as glanced quickly at the now not-so-smiling assistant district attorney. A flash of fear swept into his eyes. But he rallied. Forced the fear and hesitation out of his eyes and voice, set up in his chair, and looked directly at the defense counsel. “No. What I said is the truth.”
“Then you, sir, are a despicable liar and I plan to wring the actual truth out of you like a serving wench wringing the water out of a shredded wash cloth!”
As Maurice knew would happen, sheer pandemonium erupted in the spectator gallery behind him. The cacophony of noise now at the decibel level of a thundering avalanche. Turning to face the spectators, his grin was as wide and beatific as if the Buddha himself stood before them all.