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The People Versus

Jun 16, 2008
Tough as a tire iron and proud as a parson in paradise, Jeff Sanders, Private Investigator, was good at his job, always cool and always composed, never rancorous or rattled on the witness stand. Fit at 40, he was a wiz at bending the truth toward the side that hired him, but he never blatantly lied. "No yellow Jellyfish, that Jeff Sanders," the Chief of Police always said. He should see me now, Jeff thought.

Jeff had often sat on a marble bench in the hall outside a courtroom. But this time it was different. This time he slouched, head hanging down, bristled chin in hand, eyes closed waiting his turn to testify. His palms were as wet as his mouth was dry; his pallor merged seamlessly with his only rumpled white shirt, the one he reserved for court appearances. This time, there'd be no run-of-the-mill, roll-me-over-in-the-clover testimony.

Jeff was eyewitness to a horrifying homicide, called by the DA to testify for the People Versus Jimmy "Weasel" Ingra, the Godfather's hit man from Detroit and the Godfather himself. The Godfather got word to Jeff promising a long and languishing death if he ratted. The DA swished Jeff into witness protection. Bodyguards chaperoned him everywhere. It made dates with Alice pretty clumsy.

Even in guarded witness protection a crooked cop had come to see him. "The mob has bruisers bad as bloodhounds at search and destroy," the cop told him. "They can find a mite in a mile-high pile of muck and smash it into a droplet of dew on a dam. Everyone likes you, Sanders. Try to stay alive." Jeff had swallowed hard.

The great oak courtroom door opened. A cherubic face with double chin and dark curly hair appeared. "You're up next, Jeff. About 10 minutes," the bailiff said.

"Thanks, Herby," Jeff replied. "I'm about as ready as I'm ever going to be." Jeff knew that wasn't true.

The ten minutes that followed were the longest Jeff had ever known.

* * *

"The whole thing's a fluke," Jeff had told Alice at dinner last week. His petite blond girlfriend reached to take his hand in hers and squeezed it gently.

"Alice, I just want to get out of this alive and not hunted by hoods or wanted by the FBI. It's a fluke! I thought it was an ordinary climb -the-fire-escape-and-get-pictures-of-the- dame-in-bed-with-a-lover and what do I see? The weasel was sitting on this DEA drug agent's face while the Godfather walloped the guy's ribs with a steel club 'til they're turned to sand. Then he makes mince meat of the guy's manhood. I got so scared I forgot to film it. The DA thinks I did take pictures and burned them. Honest, Alice, I didn't do that. But I did see it pretty clearly. If I hadn't lost my keys at the scene, the DA wouldn't know I was there." He squeezed her hand. "Aw, honey. I just want to get out alive and marry you." Alice forced a scared smile. The uniformed cop standing over by the door chuckled.

* * *

Jeff's heartbeat resonated rhythmically in his ears, a thumping metronome unable to distract him from his dreadful dilemma. He felt as vulnerable as a vulture on a weather vane.

Ten minutes to show time, Jeff told himself. I got to figure out what I'm gonna do. I'm not ready to die, but dammit, somebody's got to stop the mob. I tell it like it is, the Godfather goes down and his lieutenants come after me. I can say maybe I didn't see it all clearly. I was twenty-five yards away and the window was dirty. My glasses were smudged. How could I be sure beyond the shadow of a doubt? After all It was, night. It was cloudy. No moon. They were in a dark corner of a large room, from where I watched. I'd had a couple a beers before climbing that fire escape. I hadn't slept for a couple a days. He could bend the testimony in favor of the Godfather.

Jeff thought about his father. He didn't know why for sure, but he could see his father telling him, "When you lie, Jeff, you have to remember every detail or you'll get caught up in it." Jeff remembered his dad. In the dark he could still see himself sitting on his dad's knee, twirling dad's graying locks between the thumb and forefinger of one hand while sucking his thumb on the other. "Daddy, I don't want to tell any lies." He felt his throat choking, his eyes beginning to tear. He suppressed sobs..

Now he heard the screaming; the bones breaking; the explosive fart when the Godfather smashed the bat across the guy's belly. He smelled the sickening smell and heard the last yelp of the victim. Surely he died with that blow, Jeff thought.

Daddy, where are you? I need you, daddy, he thought. What should I do daddy? Daddy, I'm scared.

Then Alice jumped into his mind's eye. "I love you, Jeff," he could hear her saying. He could hear her voice cracking; see her eyes searching his soul. He felt her warm breath on his chest."I want you with me forever, Jeff."

"You can be a real hero, Jeff." Now it was the DA. "We got a good shot at putting these bastards so far away you'd need a space searching telescope to find them. Tell what you saw, Jeff. Just the truth."

"You have to remember your lie or you get caught in it, Jeff. Better, don't lie." It was his dad. Jeff rolled his left thumb against his forefinger and put he his right thumb in his mouth.

* * *

The bailiff's hand on his shoulder jolted Jeff back to reality. He looked up to see the policeman who guarded him unsnap the flap on his holster so the gun would come out easily. He rose. He pursed his lips, pulled down the back skirt of his jacket and then straightened his tie. "OK," he said. "Let's boogey."

Flanked by the bailiff and the policeman, Jeff stood straight and tall walking down the aisle. The back rows of the courtroom were filled with mostly shabby looking spectators. Some whispered as he walked by. "Nail 'em, Mr. Sanders. Give 'em hell" and things like that. Jeff recognized a few mobsters scattered in the crowd. They looked at him and shook their heads slowly. One of them raised his forefinger to his lips and nodded. Jeff clenched his teeth.

The bailiff opened the gate in front of the spectators' section and Jeff passed between two large desks covered with folders and files. The DA and his staff sat in wooden captain's chairs behind the desk to the left. Their suits had "Men's Warehouse" written all over them. The defense team sat on his right. Imported Italian duds, Jeff thought. The Godfather stared at Jeff and pursed his lips into an upside down smile. He looked like a fashion plate out of Gentlemen's Quarterly.

Then he saw Alice. Second to the left in the third row. She put on her stoic face made up perfectly as if her cosmetics were painted by numbers. No smile. No tears. A little like the Mona Lisa, Jeff thought. She glows. She always glows. A giant glob of molasses seemed to have gotten caught between Jeff's heavy heart and stiffened stomach.

At the witness stand Jeff stood. "Put your left hand on the bible, Mr. Sanders, and raise your right hand," the bailiff said. Jeff forced a smiled and complied. The bailiff spoke slowly:

"Jeffery Sanders, do you solemnly swear . . .?"
About the Author
Melvin M. Harter is a retired physician. He specialized in evaluation of the causes and extent of injury and disability. He has become a freelance writer and author of the novel, Some Kind of Angel. This sci-fi thriller explores the world of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and genocide. For more, visit Some Kind of Angel and view the video trailer.
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