April 21, 2011 by Ray Yanek
Prompt: Many crime stories are told in the moment. But it’s also fascinating to hear what happened after the fact, especially by an eloquent and clever attorney.
Let’s travel to the Court House, put on our Sunday best and let the lawyers do the talking.
Prompt: THEMED WORD LIST – money, foolish, kneecap, trace, widow
Genre: Courtroom Drama
Word Count: 1000 words or less
A Judas Kiss for Tiffany
Johnny Lee Horton stared, dumfounded, at the knife the prosecutor told the jury Horton had used to kill Tiffany Hardwin.
“You gotta object,” Horton whispered to his attorney. “I done told you that ain’t the knife I used. That shit ain’t real.”
Defense attorney Peter Simons turned to Horton. Simons’ eyes were blue, cool as the peppermint lozenges he constantly chewed. “You trust me, Johnny Lee?”
Horton pursed his lips.
“Then don’t you worry about that knife. You’ll get your freedom. You done everything right when you killed that girl. Ain’t no way they’ll convict, even with that knife. “
“Think of yourself as David, son. The state’s Goliath. Each new piece of evidence the state presents, whether real or made up, makes Goliath look a little bigger and you a little smaller.”
“Why the hell would I want that?”
“Because 60 Minutes and 48 Hours’ Mystery pay big money for stories just like this.”
Horton’s face fell blank with understanding. He leaned back into his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.
Horton grinned, even while the prosecutor presented evidence saying traces of both Horton and Hardwin’s blood had been found on the knife that Horton hadn’t really used to kill her.
* * *
Horton stood in the new suit that Simons bought him, one stomach-rumble away from shitting them fancy drawers.
“Imma ask you again, you trust me, son?” Simons’ hot breath, laced with the scent of peppermint lozenges, touched Horton’s ears. “Trust me like them disciples trusted our Lord Jesus Christ?”
Horton’s mouth was to dry to answer. He nodded instead.
Simons turned back to the jury. “That’s good. That’s real good.”
* * *
“On the count of Murder in the First Degree, we the jury find the defendant Jonathan Lee Horton—guilty.”
* * *
Horton sat in his orange jumpsuit behind the table bolted to the floor. The guards unshackled him. They left him alone. He was a model prisoner—no matter what the other convicts did to him. Simons had told him to keep his anger under control, which had always been his biggest damn problem.
He listened because Simons was right. The more Horton could handle, the better the story, and the better the story, the more 60 Minutes would pony up to pay for it after Horton won his appeal.
The thought almost made him forget what them convicts had done to him. Shit. The thought of that money almost made him believe he didn’t really gut that girl—what was her name?
The door buzzer squealed. Locks recede from the door behind him with a hiss and a pop. Horton caught a whiff of flowery cologne that seemed more appropriate for a woman than for the man who came in after it.
“Mr. Horton,” One-time State’s Attorney Bartholomew Marion said. Marion was no longer the prosecuting attorney. He had resigned his position after Horton’s conviction to take care of ‘personal matters’. Something concerning his friend’s widow.
When Horton asked Simons why he should talk with him, all his lawyer said was: “David and Goliath, son. David and Goliath.”
* * *
Marion took a chair and undid the buttons of his suit coat. He took the round spectacles from his face and wiped the lenses with a hanky from his breast pocket. To Horton, he looked like a sissified-version of that Nazi from the first Indiana Jones movie.
“Funny thing,” Marion said. “Being a lawyer.”
Horton flicked a piece of dust off his kneecap. “Why’s that?”
“’Cuz we got to deal with these God-awful things called ethics. We got rules to follow.”
“Don’t know nothing about that.”
Marion looked at Horton through the top of his eyes. “Of course not. You’re a murderer.”
“I didn’t kill that girl.”
“Of course you did.” Marion held his glasses to the light. “We both know it. Simons knows it. Even still, us lawyers got ethics. We got to do what’s right.”
The heat rose to Horton’s face. “Them ethics of yours, they saw it’s okay to use bullshit pieces of evidence to convict a man?”
Marion put his glasses back on. “If you’re referring to the knife with the blood, I really didn’t know that wasn’t the knife you used. I believe in ethics—unlike some other lawyers.”
“Like what other lawyers?” Horton felt the shakes coming back over him.
“Defending criminals everyone knows is guilty gets hard after awhile. Most people, unlike you, have a conscious.”
“Son, you’re as goddamn thick as Alabama mud in the spring. Where you think I got the knife from? Simons done gave it to me. Let me guess, David and Goliath? 60 Minutes?”
Horton stared at his bouncing leg.
“That’s why I resigned. Couldn’t work with unethical bastards like him no more.” Marion tssked and shook his head. “Trying to get his own client convicted. Hope you know your appeal ain’t gonna happen anytime soon, boy. Simons is getting way too much fame in front of them cameras.”
Horton couldn’t think a damn straight thought. He’d been played. Played the entire time. Tremors crawled up his chest until they covered his eyes and tinged everything red.
“Now son,” Marion said. “Don’t go getting your hackles up. Wouldn’t have been right for me not to tell you this. Ethics, you understand.”
* * *
“This is Cinda Cavallaras live from the Jefferson county jail, where convicted murderer Jonny Lee Horton has been arraigned for the murder of his defense attorney Peter Simons. Court documents say Horton strangled Simons in a meeting room after Simons insisted all guards leave the room…”
* * *
Bartholomew Marion stood above the mounded dirt over Simons’ coffin. He looked at the blue sky and took a breath of the clean morning air. Marion thought he smelled peppermint.
A tear fell from his eye. He wiped it away with the hanky from his breast pocket.
“Shame, Hoss. All of this. But you was right. Boy ain’t so smart after all. Ain’t no appeal for the bastard now, is there?”