Authors: James Scott Bell
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Suspense
She had to get to her bike. The growl of her Harley was the only thing that could drown out her thoughts this day. But she knew, with a harsh, prophetic certainty, that no sound was going to help her this time.
The moment she realized she was waking up, Mona Romney cried out in her mind.
No, oh please no, dear God, don
t let me. Don
t let me wake up. Let
me die, dear God, let me die.
But her consciousness fought, dragging her toward wakefulness.
Where am I? I don
t want to be here. I want to go back.
She felt a coldness on the other side of what she determined were sheets. The lights were too bright. She wanted to go back to blackness, but her body would not let her.
The bright light was from sunshine streaming through the window.
Make it stop! Make the light go away!
She wanted to yell at somebody to close the curtains, but she had no voice. Her throat felt thick and her tongue was a sand weight on the bottom of her mouth.
Why do I want to die?
She struggled to remember.
The voice drifted into her ears, unwelcome.
“How you feeling? Can you hear me? You been out a long time.”
Brad. Her husband. Loving Brad. Faithful and strong. She wanted him to go away. She wanted to scream at him to go away.
She felt his hand on her forehead, stroking it. She wanted to jerk away from him but her body was too heavy with drowsiness. That was it. She remembered now. They’d given her a sedative. She’d been some kind of hysterical.
She was home.
No, no! I don
t want to be here. I don
t want to be anywhere Matthew
“Babe, it’s me. I love you so much.”
“I’ve been praying all night. I was on the floor in the living room on my face, just crying out to God. I’m so tired.”
“Yes?” Brad was a fuzzy blur next to the bed. He was holding her hand, squeezing it. “You want to say something?”
She opened her mouth and a guttural, wordless groan spilled out.
Mona swallowed. It was an effort, like pushing a wide rock down a narrow dirt hole. But she was going to speak, she had to speak or she’d go crazy. She was probably crazy anyway, and always would be.
“What is it?” Brad whispered.
“Don’t what? Are you uncomfortable?”
She squeezed his hand with all the strength she had, which was not very much, but enough to make his hand tremble in hers.
“Don’t. Talk about . . .”
She squeezed his hand harder. “Ever.”
She released him and he stood up. Stiff. She could tell. She knew when something hit her husband hard. Like when he got the news his dad had died. How he stood stock-still with the phone in his hand, like a granite statue titled
Man with Mouth Half Open
. Or when his former business partner served him with a lawsuit. That time it was
Man with Hurt on Face
Now he was stiff like that again. Wet clay fashioned into a kind, loving, Christian husband whose wife was telling him not to bring up the name of God in front of her.
Oh how she meant it.
Matthew Romney was only eleven years old. And he had one of those sunny outlooks that gets turned into a Disney film. His pitching arm had made him one of the stars of the league, but he had a side Mona was sure only she could fully understand. He was sensitive like her. He felt things deeply. He told her once, when she was tucking him in and it was just the two of them, that he wanted to make people feel better when they hurt. Because that’s what she did for him.
He was eight years old when he said that.
Now he was dead.
And now her husband was standing there, and she had hurt him. Or maybe just confused him. She didn’t care.
For a moment, that scared her.
But then she did not care that she was scared.
“Go away,” she said and then mustered the strength to turn her back to him and bury her face in the pillow.
“Lindy, good to see you.” Leon Colby had all the sincerity of a showroom smoothie. The only difference was he was bigger than any car salesman she’d ever seen, at least six foot six, and he still had that linebacker’s body. His hair was short and in his glasses he looked like a very large Ivy League professor. No wonder juries loved him. He possessed that aura of power and intelligence combined with a certain charisma that made superstars in any profession.
That’s why the buzz around town was that he would make a good run at becoming the first African-American district attorney in LA history.
Lindy felt her hands go clammy even as she tried to breathe steadily. Power flowed downward from Colby to her, and she knew it.
“Been what, a couple years?” Colby said. “Coffee?”
“No thanks.” Lindy sat on one of the hard chairs in front of Colby’s desk. She noticed it was almost pathologically neat. Even the small pad of Post-its was set so its lines were parallel with the desk edge. She couldn’t help comparing it to her own “desk”—a kitchen table that looked like a Dumpster behind a stationery store.
“So how you doing?” Colby said, turning and grabbing a small coffeepot from the credenza.
Better than Marcel Lee, thank you very much.
“Good. ’Cause I heard about . . . that you were in . . .”
“Well, good, it’s good to be fine.” He picked up the file folder sitting on his desk. Like all DA folders, this one had a form printed on the outside, with lots of boxes for checking off as the case progressed from arraignment to sentencing. It appeared Colby had made no check marks on this one. Yet.
“So Greene assigned you to Darren DiCinni,” Colby said.
“I’m going to handle the arraignment. After that, I don’t know.”
Colby opened the file and gave it a cursory look. “Maybe we can work something out.”
She had prepared for this moment and pounced. “I’m going to want a suspension of proceedings.”
Colby closed the file. “What for?”
“A 1368 hearing.”
“Mental competency exam?”
“You got it.”
“Come on, Lindy. You have to show he is unable—
—to understand the nature of the proceedings. Houseplants understand the nature of proceedings.”
“The statute also says he has to comprehend his own status
in those proceedings. You haven’t even seen him.”
“I haven’t seen Paris. Doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And just because he claims God talked to him doesn’t—”
“We are going to have a 1368.”
Colby didn’t flinch. “That just gives me more time to prepare for trial. And make no mistake, Lindy. This case is going to trial. Unless . . .” He raised his eyebrows, as if to signal it was now Lindy’s move.
“You have an offer?”
“He’s going to have to do time.A lot of it.”
“You don’t even know his background.”
“We don’t let murderers off because of background.”
“This kid needs help.”
“Based on what? Have you done any background on him?”
Lindy felt like a hostile witness skewered to the witness chair by Leon Colby’s almost legendary cross-examination skills. She cleared her throat.“We haven’t come close to doing a full probe on this one, but when—”
“Want me to make it easy for you?”
Lindy waited. He would make it easy for the jury too, unless she came up with something soon.
“This is no climate for mercy,” Colby said. “People are sick of this kind of thing, no matter what age the killer is. You want soft gloves? Forget it.”
“There’s a risk for you taking this to trial.”
“Get serious, Lindy. The only factual issue is going to be mental state at the time of the shootings. You got something I should hear about?”
“Let’s see.” Colby looked at his fingers as if they were a crib sheet. “You can’t go for duress. The Cal Supremes ruled that’s no longer a defense for murder. Maybe you could try to nullify premeditation-deliberation, keep it from the special circumstance of ‘lying in wait.’ But
People v. Hillhouse
says just walking up to a victim qualifies as ‘lying in wait.’ Here you’ve got a kid walking up to a whole field of vics. You want me to go on?”
“Fascinating.” And scary, because Leon Colby was brilliant. Lindy had researched him during the Lee case. Colby was second in his class at UCLA Law after finishing up an all-American football career for the Bruins. Only a blown-out knee kept him from getting millions in the pros.
And while Colby was getting the glory at UCLA, Lindy was slogging away in the night program at little Southwestern Law School, working during the day at Target. The difference in legal pedigree was not lost on her. In the world of criminal law, he was best in show. She was a night-school mutt.
“Now, you might be thinking some kind of insanity defense,” Colby continued. “The
God told me
thing.We all know how successful that defense is. Al Sharpton has a better chance of being elected mascot for the Ku Klux Klan. So where does that leave us?”
“We got a thirteen-year-old kid who I’ve seen up close and you haven’t. No jury is going to want to toss him to the wolves.”
“You think? You think after all the gang killings and—”
“There’s no gang connection here.”
“Close enough for government work.”
“I can’t believe you said that. Since when is
a legal standard?”
“I’m talking about perception, Lindy, about people being fed up with the streets going to juvis with guns.You want to get some sympathy going for this kid? Good luck.”
“Neither one of us knows jack about this kid. How can you sit there and say anything?”
“Because we’re holding all the cards here, and they come up L-WOP.”
“Life without parole? That’s your deal?” Some deal. L-WOP was the harshest sentence for murder short of lethal injection. Served in a maximum-security prison. Where Darren DiCinni wouldn’t last five minutes. And who would care? Prison rape was an issue the public or politicians didn’t want to look at. The harsh picture of what prisons had become was too disturbing, too disruptive for California dreamin’.
Lindy’s hands closed around the chair arms. “You can’t send this kid to state prison for life.”
“There was a case, a couple of years ago.
In re John J.
or something. Had to do with juveniles going to state.”
Colby smiled as a father would to a child who was delving into issues well beyond her understanding. “That case was depublished by the Supremes. There’s no authority on it now, and we’re going into this thing without any reservation. We think the Court of Appeal will back us up, if it comes to that.”
The words that formed in Lindy’s mind caused pain. But she knew she had to say them. “What sort of deal can we talk about?”
She almost did not look at his face when she said it. But when she did, she thought she saw something like pity in his eyes. Because he did hold all the cards, and they both knew it. A plea bargain was the best she could expect on this, and that was true most of the time anyway. Even though every citizen is supposed to have a right to trial, the fact was, judges would hold a trial against you at sentencing time. If you didn’t plead out, you’d face a much harsher penalty if the jury came back with a guilty verdict.
The justice system was a rigged roulette wheel.
“Murder second,” Colby said.
Lindy clenched her jaw. “Reverse remand.” A juvenile tried in adult court could, with the prosecution’s cooperation, be remanded back to the juvenile system. If a client got a sentence of fifteen to life under juvenile law, he would go to the California Youth Authority and not state prison. When he turned twenty-five, he could get out.