“I am so glad that trial is over,” Southerlyn complained as she and McCoy stopped at the receptionist’s desk to collect their mail. “Eight weeks for one defendant is at least four weeks too long.”
“It would’ve gone a lot quicker if Mildred Kaskel hadn’t tied us up with so many witnesses giving totally irrelevant testimony. I’m surprised Judge Richter didn’t put a stop to it a lot sooner.”
As they continued toward their offices, Southerlyn asked, “Care to take a guess as to how long the jury will be out?”
He tucked his briefcase under one arm and tore open a letter as he asked casually, “Is there money or at least a free lunch involved?”
Southerlyn shook her head and smiled. “I am not falling for that again! You’ve been doing this far longer than I have. I’ve only been right about a handful of our cases to date. I’m not going to give you any more of my hard earned money.”
Grinning he noted, “I was hoping it would take you a little longer to catch on.” He shrugged and added, “I think this one will be a fairly short deliberation despite the amount of testimony to consider, say, no more than six hours.” As he turned his attention to the paper in his hand, a frown appeared on his face and his footsteps slowed. He came to a complete stop just outside the door to his office.
Taking note of his expression Southerlyn queried, “What is it? Bad news?”
Giving her a quick look, he shook his head. “It’s nothing. But I may have to cancel our lunch plans.”
“All right,” she responded. “Let me know once you’re sure.”
He nodded absent-mindedly and opened his door, then closed it practically in Southerlyn’s face, leaving her standing outside and wondering what had caused his abrupt change of mood.
***“Hello, Melissa. This is Jack McCoy. Is Calea in?”
“Yes, she is, Mr. McCoy.”
“What did I tell you about calling me ‘Mr. McCoy’?” he asked, trying to sound stern.
He heard the receptionist giggle into his ear. “I’m sorry. I’ll try to remember next time, Jack. Would you like me to put you through to Calea?”
“Yes, thank you,” he replied.
Moments later, Morgan’s voice queried, “Jack? What’s up?”
“I was wondering if you could make time to meet me for lunch today,” he answered. “I need to discuss something with you.”
Morgan sighed into the phone. “Today is really not a good day. It’s been a mad-house here all morning. Can we do it another time, maybe tomorrow?”
“It’s important,” he replied simply.
Morgan sighed again. “Let me check my schedule.” After a few seconds she continued, “I have one more appointment in a few minutes and then I have a little free time. If we can we meet about that should give me enough time to get back over here before my next client shows up.”
“That’ll work for me. How does Chinese sound?”
***As McCoy parked the city-owned sedan he was driving, he saw Morgan pull into the parking lot behind him. He walked over and met her as she was getting out of her car.
“I appreciate your choosing a restaurant on my side of town,” she noted. “This way I won’t have to gulp and run.”
“It was the least I could do after asking you on such short notice,” he said as he led the way to the restaurant’s entrance. “And they have a really good buffet here so that should also save us some time.”
A short time later, when they were both seated at a table with plates of steaming food, Morgan poured them each a cup of green tea from a ceramic pot. “So how long are you going to keep me in suspense?”
Keeping his tone light he responded, “How about until after dessert?”
Giving him a scrutinizing look, she questioned, “Is it that bad?”
McCoy sighed and pulled a folded paper from the breast pocket of his jacket. “Judge for yourself,” he suggested, handing it to her. “Mine came this morning. I knew you wouldn’t get your mail until this afternoon so I thought I would soften the blow.”
Morgan looked at him curiously and took the letter from him. After unfolding it, she read it silently, then looked up in surprise. “Six months?! That’s all he has left? I thought you said he would have at least nine, if not a year or more!”
“I also said that the Department of Corrections was steadily shortening the time prisoners waited on death row,” he reminded her. “Besides, I thought that’s what your client wanted, to not drag things out. I thought that was the whole point of your asking me on his behalf to file my recommendation to speed things along.”
Refolding the letter, she handed it back to him, avoiding his eyes. “It was. I just thought we’d have more time.”
McCoy silently watched her stab at her plate of vegetables with her chopsticks while making no attempt to actually eat anything. And though he tried to enjoy his own food, he found it difficult to do so. He had spent the drive over trying to predict what her reaction would be to the news. Now that he knew, he wished it had gone better. He also wished she didn’t appear to still care so much about a man who had been convicted of murder.
“Would you like more tea?” he asked, reaching to pour himself another cup.
“No, thank you,” she answered, glancing up at him long enough to catch his troubled expression. Concentrating on her food again she noted, “You know, you don’t have to read anything into my reaction. It isn’t in human nature to simply accept death – not anyone’s. In Eric’s case, I know it’s inevitable. I just didn’t expect it quite so soon.”
“I wasn’t reading anything into your reaction,” he quietly pointed out. “I didn’t think this was going to be good news for you. That’s why I wanted to tell you myself instead of merely letting you find out when you opened your mail.”
Morgan’s eyes met his briefly and she nodded. “I appreciate that.” With a sigh she added with annoyance, “It just took me by surprise. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to deal with this for a while yet.”
“I would think you’d want to get it over with,” he noted.
Anger immediately flashed in her eyes and she snapped, “Getting it over with, as you put it, means my client is going to die. Forgive me if I’m not in a hurry to see that happen.”
“I didn’t mean to imply that you should be.” He studied her briefly, wondering if meeting with her had been such a good idea. “It sounds like maybe you think the sentence handed down for him was a mistake.”
“I don’t know what to think,” she retorted, dropping her chopsticks. Rubbing her temple, she added only a bit more amenably, “I guess I have mixed emotions about the whole thing.”
“I suppose I can understand that,” he acknowledged. “My job causes me plenty of moments of inner conflict, too.”
She reached abruptly to refill her tea cup, suggesting curtly, “Spare me, Jack. You don’t have a clue what it feels like to sit on my side of the table.”
Slightly taken aback, he regarded her for a moment, trying to decipher her mood. Shaking his head, he finally asked, “Don’t you think I have my share of sleepless nights over some of the decisions handed down? Don’t you think I have my own moral dilemmas, especially where a capital offense is involved? I don’t take any of my cases lightly. I’m well aware that a person’s future hangs in the balance. And sometimes I can even understand why a person committed the crime they did. My world isn’t strictly black and white any more than yours is.”
Leaning toward him, she stated intently, “The difference is, when it’s all over, you get to be everyone’s hero. You have the pats on the back to assure you that you did the right thing. All I’m left with is watching a person who trusted me carted off to jail. They come to me for help when they’ve made a mistake, and they share a part of themselves with me in the process. It isn’t always easy for me to separate the person from the crime they’ve committed.”
He crossed his arms and rested them on the table. “You know, if I didn’t know you better, I’d say you were trying to pick a fight simply for the sake of fighting.”
Morgan regarded him sullenly for a few seconds before closing her eyes and sighing deeply. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I shouldn’t be taking my frustrations out on you.” Shaking her head she explained, “I’ve had a rough week at the office and now this. I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed.”
“What’s going on at your office? I thought you wrapped up your tough case last week.”
“I did,” she agreed. Concentrating on the table, she said, “It’s the whole thing with Eric. It has me tied in knots. I’m having a hard time concentrating on my other work. And it follows me home, too. I keep having these dreams where I see him smiling, telling me he knows I’m going to save him.” Shaking her head again, she added quietly, “If he only knew the truth.”
McCoy sat contemplating for a moment, then suggested, “That’s what’s really bothering you, isn’t it? You’re upset because you feel responsible in some way for what’s going to happen to him.” He bent forward. “He made his own choices. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“We both know that isn’t true,” she argued dejectedly.
“There’s nothing for you to regret. You know he belongs exactly where he is. Setting aside the punishment aspect, you know it’s the only way to stop him from going after another girl.”
Morgan sighed again. “On the one hand, I agree with you that what he did warrants the maximum punishment allowed by law, which the people of this state have decided is death. But on the other, I wish things had turned out differently. It just seems like such a waste.” Shrugging, she admitted, “Like I said, I have mixed feelings.”
“You have to let it go, Calea,” he advised gently. “Otherwise, it will eat you up.”
Looking into his eyes, her own full of conflict, she noted, “That’s easier said than done.”
He considered asking again if she had made a decision on whether or not to attend the execution. Knowing how she felt about Fisher, he was absolutely sure that doing so would be a huge mistake on her part. But she had told him she didn’t want to discuss it, so he decided to leave well enough alone for the time being.
“At least the threat of extradition will no longer be looming over you. Now that the date to carry out the sentence has been set, your client can admit his guilt for the other murders in writing and the prosecutors in the other cities can go ahead and close their files. Even though they all agreed to hold off on extradition for the 60 days, they kept it as an option in case he filed and won an appeal here. I’m sure they’d like to wrap things up.”
“I’m glad I don’t have to think about that. I really appreciate your help. I don’t know what I would’ve done without it.”
“No problem,” he said with a hint of a smile. “I didn’t want to see you have to go through that. Besides, who would I find to watch old movies with me if you had to go on the road?”
Morgan’s expression softened. “I’m sure you have another woman or two waiting in the wings for just such an occasion.”
“Oh, at least,” he claimed teasingly. “Speaking of movies, what’s on your agenda for this weekend? Painting more duplexes, or are you going to get a break?”
“We should finish up our last one on Saturday. There was a hold-up with a building permit for the next project, so we’ll have a couple of weekends off after this.”
“That’s good news. After you stood me up last weekend, I was beginning to think you were making that your second career. I thought I might have to buy a paintbrush and join in just to be able to talk with you.”
“Come on, now, it isn’t that bad. Last weekend was a fluke. I rarely spend more than half a day per week volunteering. And I keep telling you, it’s rewarding work. I know you’d enjoy it too, if you’d only give it a try.”
“I know, I know,” he nodded. “I’ll surprise you one day and show up.”
“Promise,” he agreed with a smile. “So are we on for Saturday afternoon?”
“Sure. And since I stood you up, I’ll make dinner this week. You can come over anytime after about . If I’m not going to be home by then, I’ll call you.”
“All right. Have you decided on a movie yet?”
“Not really,” she replied. “I haven’t had much time to think about it. Any suggestions?”
He shook his head. “You aren’t getting any help from me. It’s your week to pick and I’m leaving it strictly up to you.”
“Thanks a lot,” she retorted. Giving him a smile she suggested, “I guess it’ll be a surprise for both of us, then.”
***“I’m not willing to drop it down that far,” McCoy argued as he and Southerlyn approached the receptionist’s desk. “I might consider presenting a jury with the option for a lesser count, but if Dreason wants to keep his client out of a courtroom, he’ll have to talk him into accepting man one.”
“I’ll let him know,” Southerlyn promised, accepting the message slips handed to her.
“Jack, you have a call on line one,” the receptionist informed him.
“Thanks, Susan.” Picking up his pace, he continued toward his office, adding to Southerlyn, “Tell Dreason I need his decision by end of business today. I’m not going to let him drag this out any longer than necessary. He has an annoying habit of procrastinating until the last possible moment.”
When he reached his desk he picked up the phone and punched the blinking light. “McCoy.”
“This is Craig Larsen,” the voice responded curtly. “I just got off the phone from talking with someone in the district attorney’s office here in Indianapolis. She said they weren’t going to pursue the case against Fisher, that since he had been sentenced to death and had confessed to the other murders, there was no point in putting him on trial for the rest of them, including my daughter’s.”
“That is common procedure in a case like this,” McCoy explained, stretching the phone cord as he rounded his desk and eased into his chair. “Mr. Fisher can only pay with his life one time. Since he has chosen not to appeal the sentence handed down, the date for his execution has already been set.”
“That’s not good enough! You told me I would have the opportunity to face him, to speak my piece for the record. I shouldn’t be denied that. I want to hear him admit with his own mouth what he did to my little girl. I want him to acknowledge in my presence that he’s responsible for taking our child from us. And I want him to hear from me that I hope he rots in hell!”
“I can understand your feelings, but you have to understand that going through the formality of a trial for the rest of the murders would be a waste of time and taxpayers’ money. In this particular case, since it involves multiple locations, extradition would be costly as well as unnecessary. The court systems are already overloaded. We can’t expend resources trying someone who’s already confessed and is sentenced to die.”
“So what are the families supposed to do? When do we get justice?” he asked bitterly.
“You get justice when Eric Fisher ceases breathing, Mr. Larsen, the same as all the other families of all the other victims. It may be hollow, but at this point there’s nothing else anyone can offer you.”
***McCoy set a basket of rolls covered with a cloth on the coffee table, then tossed a couple of pillows from the sofa onto the floor. He was becoming increasingly comfortable with the familiar routine and had begun to look forward with even more anticipation than usual to the weekends. Although he and Morgan continued to trade off hosting and cooking each week, he preferred that they have dinner at her place rather than his own. It wasn’t only Morgan’s cooking that appealed to him. He also enjoyed her spacious, albeit sparsely furnished, apartment over his own. Somehow, sitting on the floor around her coffee table seemed much cozier and more intimate than when they were huddled over his. He had also come to realize that his apartment seemed unbearably empty after she had been there and left.
“If you will carry our plates, I’ll get the tea,” Morgan called from the kitchen.
He padded silently across the room to join her. “The chicken smells wonderful. Why doesn’t my cooking ever smell this good?”
“It does to me,” she assured him, leading the way to the coffee table. “I think food always smells and tastes better when someone else makes it.” Setting down the glasses she asked, “So does it smell good enough to make up for my being so late getting home?”
He gave her a look of skepticism. “I’ll reserve my judgment on that until after I’ve tasted it.”
“Fair enough,” Morgan grinned.
As they both settled on the floor he asked, “What movie did you rent?”
“I found the one you were looking for a couple of weekends ago, the one the video store was out of. I also rented a really old one called ‘Lost Horizon’. I read the book in high school. It was one of those stories that you don’t want to ever end. I’m hoping the movie is as good as the book.”
“I can’t wait. Add the old movie to how good the chicken is and you might’ve just gotten yourself off the hook for being late,” he noted, his eyes sparkling teasingly.
“Whew!” Morgan exclaimed, feigning a look of immense relief. Returning the teasing look, she added, “I was worried there for about… a whole minute.”
McCoy chuckled and then grew quiet for a moment, his expression turning more serious. After debating with himself about whether or not to broach the contentious subject, he finally said, “I got a phone call from Craig Larsen again today. He’s pretty upset that your client isn’t going to be dragged to Indiana to face the murder charge there. He was looking forward to facing Fisher in a courtroom in order to speak his piece. He isn’t too happy with the way things have turned out.”
Morgan regarded him silently for a moment before replying quietly, “Eric is paying with his life for the crimes he’s committed. What more does Mr. Larsen want?”
“I don’t believe he knows what he wants. I think he feels everything would be instantly better if only he could hear, with his own ears, Fisher confess to killing his daughter and then show some remorse. But if that’s what he thinks, he’s mistaken. No simple confession is going to make that kind of pain go away.”
“I guess not,” she agreed, avoiding his eyes.
He studied her for a moment, then watched her carefully as he said, “Mr. Larsen made it clear he would be there when the time came to carry out Fisher’s sentence. I doubt he’ll simply be a silent observer. One more reason for you to avoid the whole thing.”
She looked up from her plate, meeting his gaze steadily. “What do you think about the rolls? I tried a new recipe this time.”
After regarding her for a moment more, he nodded, recognizing her signal that there would be no further discussion of the subject of her attending Fisher’s execution. “The rolls are great,” he replied simply.
***McCoy held his hand out and pulled Morgan to her feet from her spot on the floor. Without releasing it, he led the way to the elevator door. “I don’t remember when I read the book. I do remember having much the same feeling that you did, of not wanting it to end. I guess we’d all like to believe that there’s a Shangri-La out there somewhere.”
Disengaging her hand from his as he reached for his shoes, Morgan asked, “Do you think you could be happy in that sort of utopia? Isolated from the rest of the world?”
He grew thoughtful as he slipped on his boots. “With good company and the right work, I think I could be,” he finally answered. “What about you?”
Shrugging, she replied, “Maybe. As far as being isolated, that I wouldn’t have a problem with. Some days I’d give anything for a little isolation. But like you said, I would need to do something satisfying. We all need a purpose in life.” Shaking her head she added, “Of course, in this day and age, a place like Shangri-La wouldn’t last long. Sooner or later, someone would feel compelled to check their e-mail and the secret would spread through cyberspace like a wildfire.”
Grinning he agreed, “Probably.” He stood up and looked down at her. “How does 11:00 sound for brunch tomorrow?”
Morgan nodded and pressed the call button for the elevator, then handed him his helmet after having retrieved it from the kitchen counter. “That’s fine. I’ll meet you at your place since I have to pick up a few groceries afterwards.”
As the elevator door opened, he turned and walked to the threshold. “Sounds like a plan.” Turning back, he said, “Good-night, Calea. I had a great time, as usual.”
Stuffing her hands into the pockets of her jeans, she smiled. “So did I, Jack. I’ll see you in the morning.”
***He took a longer route home that night, searching out less traveled streets, even ducking through a couple of alleyways. The cool night air was intoxicating and the motorcycle beneath him felt particularly responsive. But no matter how fast he drove, he couldn’t escape the unsettling thoughts pursuing him.
He was eager to take his relationship with Morgan forward and was becoming less and less content with the status quo between them. But he was forced by his own words to wait for her to make a move. The problem was no move was forthcoming. In the ten weeks prior, they had spent parts of seven weekends together and she had given absolutely no sign that she was even thinking along those lines. He had hoped that the more time they spent together, the more she would begin to see how much they enjoyed each other’s company, and that the realization would lead to a more intimate relationship. Now he was beginning to wonder if that was ever going to happen, especially considering that she still barely allowed him to as much as hold her hand. On the evenings they spent together, he had taken to leading her to the door when it was time for one or the other to leave, just for the simple pleasure of skin to skin contact. Even that was steadily becoming more a point of frustration than one of pacification, though. He longed for something more.
Not far from his apartment, as he rolled to a stop in order to wait for a traffic signal to change, he spotted the brightly lit sign of a familiar bar in the block ahead, one he had frequented on many occasions. He allowed himself to consider pulling over and entering the anonymously consoling atmosphere. But when the signal changed, he roared past the establishment instead. He was determined to face his frustrations head on rather than trying to drown them. If he needed a short drink to help him get to sleep, he reasoned, he could get that at home. The last thing he wanted to do was fall back into old habits.