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Greed and a Mistress (A Jackie Harlan Mystery)   

     by Marti Talbott
 Their current case had taken six months and they were so close they could taste it. Every case was special, but this one was more urgent than most. It concerned the dying wish of a very famous person.

It was well past nine-thirty in the morning and still the courtroom had not been called to order. In soft tones, people talked, and more than once, the man sitting next to Jackie looked directly at her as though he hoped to start a conversation. His aftershave was a bit too strong, and he seemed nice enough, but she wasn’t interested.

To Michael, Jackie looked bored, so in an earpiece that allowed only her to hear, he said, “Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about courtrooms. One of those two doors in front leads to the judge’s chambers and the other one to the jury waiting room. The jury box is to your left, so I bet the jury is behind the left door. The judge gets to sit in that fancy black, tall back chair behind his sharp looking wood bench. He gets the best seat in the house. That’s not fair.”

Jackie looked at the front camera and held her composure in check. Not laughing at Michael’s antics was not going to be any easier this time, than it had been in the past. Hoping she had his attention, she put her hand over her ear.

“Too loud?” Michael asked. He watched as his employer slightly nodded, and then began to adjust the volume. “Okay, testing, testing, testing...” Again, she nodded, so he went back to reading the article. “It says here, some of the benches are bulletproof. I wonder if this one is. Most courtrooms are computerized these days, but it doesn’t look like the judge has a computer on his bench. Too bad, I’d be happy to help him out from time to time.”

He paused to look at the slight scowl on Jackie’s face. “Just kidding. In front of the bench, there are two desks, one for the clerk and one for the court reporter. The third table, which you probably can’t see, doesn’t have much on it, but it’s likely the evidence table. Hey, here’s something I didn’t know. There is an imaginary bar that runs right up the middle of the aisle to the bench.  That’s why they call it the bar association. Don’t that beat all?

Naturally, the State has the most to prove, so the DA’s table is closest to the jury. The other side is for the defense. If you lean into the aisle a little, you can see that cute short fence behind the lawyer dude tables.” He paused and watched as Jackie leaned out a little. “That’s to keep you from choking the defense attorney, when you know darn well he is trying to get the bad guy off. Wait, I just saw something about the lectern. It sits right on the middle of the imaginary bar line, and guess what? Another imaginary line runs crosswise from the jury box to the opposite wall. No one, I mean, no one, is supposed to cross that line without permission. Whew, I never wanted to be a lawyer and now I know why. I’m exhausted just reading all the rules.”

As soon as a door to the left of the Judge’s bench opened, everyone quieted and watched as the Assistant District Attorney and the defense attorney entered. Each carried a briefcase and a laptop. They walked to their respective tables, sat down, and began to getting organized. Behind them walked two women – the court clerk and the court recorder. Both took their places facing the spectators at a table half as tall as the judge’s bench. A few minutes later, the defendant was brought in and escorted to the defense table by two uniformed bailiffs.

The pictures of Mark Barrett in the press did not do him justice. He was strikingly handsome, although he appeared several pounds thinner than when he was arrested. His dark suit highlighted his light blond hair, and when he smiled at someone in the row behind the defense table, his blue eyes oddly sparkled. Mark Barrett didn’t appear to be worried about his circumstances. In fact, before he took a seat, he glanced and smiled at all the spectators as though he thought himself a celebrity.

As soon as he was seated, the two bailiffs took up their assigned positions. One went to stand in front of a chair near the jury box, and the other opened the small gate in the fence that separated the spectators from the participants, and then walked to the door in the back of the courtroom. A third bailiff entered and took a seat in a chair against the wall that faced the defense table.

“Barrett looks pretty good for having been in jail for eighteen months,” Michael said in Jackie’s ear. “Mark Barrett is twenty-four, is married to Holly Gardner Barrett, his high school sweetheart, and has two children, Bethany age two, and Sarah, six months. He opted for a two year technical school instead of college, was well liked and made above average grades. Holly is that knockout blonde sitting right behind him. By the way, she didn’t smile when he came into the room, but he smiled at the two people sitting beside her, and then at her. I think his wife might be a shade miffed at having to be here.”

“All rise,” the bailiff standing beside the jury box said. “The Honorable Judge J. P. Blackwell, presiding.”

Just as the people were standing up, the judge entered through the door to the right of his bench. He wore the traditional black robe, and quickly sat down at his oversized, elevated bench.

“Judge J. P. Blackwell is short like me,” said Michael. “I like him already.” When he heard Jackie clear her throat a little, Michael rolled his eyes. “Okay, okay. Judge J. P. Blackwell is forty. He is young for a judge, but that’s what being brilliant will do for you. The Judge is married to Marcie C. Blackwell and has one child, a son named Jake. He has been on the bench for eight years and has an excellent reputation for never being overturned on appeal. They say his rulings are swift, detailed and concise, which saves the court a lot of time and trouble. Oh, the J. P. stands for John Patrick.”

Carl added, “The judge likes his cameras on at all times, even when he is not in the courtroom. If an appeal claims an error in the court reporter’s notes, he’s got the DVDs to clear it up.”

The Bailiff’s voice again filled the courtroom, “You may be seated.” He sat down as well.

Judge J. P. Blackwell put on a pair of glasses and appeared to be reading something on his desk. When he finished, the man with dark wavy hair softly tapped his gavel on the pad. “Court will come to order. Ladies and Gentlemen, cellphones are strictly forbidden in my courtroom. If your cellphone is not turned off, I suggest you do that now. If you receive a call, the bailiff will remove you and you will not be allowed back in for the duration of this trial.” He glanced at the spectators, saw several making sure their phones were turned off, and he waited until they all settled down. Next, he looked at the defense attorney and then at the District Attorney. “Gentlemen, are we ready to begin?”

Both attorneys stood up. “Yes, Your Honor,” they said at the same time.