Officer Duvall signed underneath Asher’s signature once he was done giving his statement. It had taken less time than Asher had expected. He recounted the events of the morning of the shooting and ended when he was rushed to the hospital. His hands trembled, remembering the fear he felt when he was placed inside the cold ambulance, unsure if he was going to live or die.
“With that out of the way, there’s just one last thing I need you to do,” The officer said, picking up the thick folder. Just as he spoke, there was a faint jingling at the door.
Michael used his keys to let himself into the apartment. He swung the door open and immediately stopped just a few steps inside. Michael’s dark eyes darted between Asher and the large man sitting on the couch beside him.
The officer stood up and extended his hand for Michael to shake. “Hello, Mr. Waters, I’m glad you’re here,” He said as he stepped back and directed Michael take the seat he vacated. “I was just getting ready to show Mr. Burkhart a photo lineup and it’s always nice for witnesses to have the support of family and friends.”
“Why do you need a photo lineup?” Michael asked, setting his briefcase on the floor beside the couch. “I thought you caught the guy--”
“He was released.” Asher’s voice cracked when he spoke.
“Released?” Michael suddenly shouted, abruptly standing back up, inching closer to the officer. “Why the hell would you release him? That piece of shit confessed--”
Officer Duvall held up his hands. “Mr. Waters, calm down. Like I was explaining to Mr. Burkhart earlier, even when a suspect confesses, like in this case, Mr. Allen’s lawyer convinced him to enter a not-guilty plea to the court.”
Michael ran one hand through his hair while the other massaged the tight muscles cording the back of his neck. “But he fucking confessed!”
“I know that you’re upset, but yelling isn’t going to help anyone. You need to let us do our jobs, so we can make sure this guy gets put away for a long time.”
“Shouldn’t they have notified Asher that this psycho was out and roaming the city again?” Michael growled through his teeth.
“They did.” Asher pointed to his cell phone. “It’s my fault, Mike. I got several calls from the police station and the courthouse, but I let the calls go to voice mail instead of answering them.”
Michael’s expression softened when he looked at Asher. “Why?” He asked.
Asher winced when he shrugged his shoulders. “I wasn’t ready to relive that moment, so I just avoided it, but now we have to do everything we can to make sure this guy spends a long time behind bars.”
The officer pulled several photographs from the case file and arranged them on the coffee table in two rows. It was a collection of six different men. “I want you to take your time, Mr. Burkhart. The man who shot you may or may not be in these pictures. You need to take a moment and look at each one and let me know if you see him.”
Clucking his tongue, Asher rolled his eyes as he immediately picked up two photos. “Is this some kind of fucking trick? Did you think I wouldn’t recognize these men? This first guy was one of the paramedics that saved my life,” He said as he tossed the photo back to the officer, “and this other guy is a nurse at the hospital. He’s cute, but not my type.”
Office Duvall glared at Asher. “It’s not a game. We have to make sure that your memories of the people and events of that night are accurate. A man’s life hangs in the balance.”
Asher’s hands trembled when he reached for Douglas Allen’s picture. He grabbed it off the table and stared at it. The room started to spin. Gasping for air, Asher felt lightheaded. “This is the man who shot me. This bastard should have thought about his own life, hanging in the balance, before trying to take mine.”
Michael inched closer to Asher. He took the photograph out of Asher’s hand and handed it back to Officer Duvall. “I think that’s a positive identification. If you don’t have any more questions, I think your business here is done.”
Frowning, the officer slowly nodded his head. “I’ll get this information over to the district attorney’s office. They’ll be contacting you regarding the trial.” As the man gathered his file, he glanced at Asher one last time before heading towards the door, “And Asher, don’t avoid their phone calls this time. It’s very important that you stay in touch with us.” He paused and added, “I really am glad to see that you’re doing much better.” The man smiled as he left Asher’s apartment.
“Mr. Morgan will see you now,” the tall blond woman said as she waited for Asher and Michael to follow her. Michael’s eyes skimmed over the woman’s curves before locking on her voluptuous breasts. His grin grew to a full smile as he approached the attractive woman. Reluctantly, Asher stood and joined them.
The office was in the heart of the business district. A combination of glass and polished metal made the place look cold and uninviting. Lawyers had the reputation of being heartless bastards and by the show of this place, that was a perception they wanted to keep.
The woman’s patent leather stilettos clacked as she walked along the black marble tiled hallway. The fabric of her skirt pulled tighter over her round butt as she swished her hips back and forth, walking a few steps ahead.
Pain shot through Asher’s chest as he watched Michael continue to gawk at the woman’s body. His stomach roiled and churned. Asher’s feet felt like lead weights had been attached to his ankles, making it difficult to keep up with their brisk pace.
Asher’s mind raced. Michael had never claimed to actually love him. In fact, Michael had adamantly professed on several occasions that he was not gay, yet the man had volunteered to stay with Asher while he recovered from his injuries. During that time they had gotten to know each other, but Michael’s sexuality had remained questionable. The man might be curious, but this Michael Waters, following the lascivious blond, was definitely not gay.
“Are you coming?” Michael’s voice pulled Asher out of his depressing thoughts. He might have Michael’s attention at the moment, but he wasn’t sure how long the man would be able to resist female temptation.
Quickly catching up, Asher forced a smile at the same time the woman knocked on the wide metal door.
Philip stood up from behind his wooden desk and waved Michael and Asher inside. The older man smiled when they entered his upscale office. “Come in boys, and make yourselves at home.” He didn’t come around to meet them, instead pointing to the two large leather chairs on the opposite side of his desk.
This area was more inviting and comfortable than the rest of the office. A mix of natural materials and warm colors decorated Philip’s office. An amazing painting, depicting snow covered mountaintops, hung on the far wall. The room was relaxing, yet didn’t lose its sophistication.
“Thank you for seeing us on such short notice,” Michael said, approaching the desk.
Silver crutches were propped up against the cabinet beside the desk. Philip thanked his young assistant. She grinned and her eyes glanced to Michael one last time before she pulled the door closed when she left.
“You don’t have to thank me, Michael, besides I still owe Asher for saving my ass back on the basketball court.” Philip pointed to his injured knee. “The doctors said if it wasn’t for Ash’s quick thinking, it could have been a lot worse. I came through surgery with flying colors. Now I just have to get through a few more weeks of rehab to make this old dog good as new.”
Philip glanced at Asher’s chest. His smile wavered. The thick red scars marking Asher’s body were hidden behind a designer shirt and tie, but Philip still expressed his sympathy, “I’m sorry to hear what happened to you, son.”
Asher swallowed the lump forming in his throat. It was still too early to talk about the shooting, but after Detective Duvall’s visit, Michael thought it was best to look into the case for themselves.
“After you called the other night, Michael, I pulled a few strings with some friends down at the D.A.’s office.” Philip laid his hand on a large brown box on the corner of his desk. “Mike, you know I’m a corporate lawyer and I can’t legally represent you guys, but I can give you advice, friend to friend.”
Asher stared at the cardboard monstrosity. Underneath his name and birthday was a blue label, ‘Attempted Murder,’ with the date and time of the shooting. The anger that flushed Asher’s cheeks, just moments before, washed away while staring at the ominous box. A chill ran through him, shaking him to his core.
“What did you find out?” Michael asked.
“The defense has done a lot of research into Asher’s personal life--”
“What?” Michael shouted.
“Why?” Asher blurted out at the same time.
Philip raised his voice overtop of them. “My guess would be that’s the key of their defense, they are going to try and cast doubt on Asher being an innocent victim.”
“But I am innocent,” Asher growled. “I didn’t sleep with that asshole’s wife. I might not be a saint, but I’ve never done anything in my life to deserve to be fucking shot!”
Trying to get them calmed down, Philip put his hands up. “Guys, that’s not the point. Douglas Allen has hired Mitchell Petersen. He’s one of the top defense attorneys in the country. This guy knows he doesn’t have to prove that Allen didn’t pull the trigger, he only needs to convince one person on that jury that someone else might have done it, instead.”
“Like who?” Asher trembled in his seat. “I don’t have any enemies.”
“It doesn’t matter. Petersen’s team will dig up every piece of dirt they can find on you. I’m willing to bet that they are going to parade angry ex-lovers, disgruntled co-workers, even nosey neighbors into the courtroom to try and make Asher’s character appear suspicious.”
“So they’re going to blame the victim? But, that’s not right, Philip,” Michael protested. “How can they do that and get away with it?”
Philip shook his head, “Unfortunately, Michael, that’s what defense attorneys do. Allen is paying these guys a lot of money and it’s their job to sway the jury by any means necessary. It’s called reasonable doubt and they only need to convince one person that Allen is innocent to get a hung jury. If they make it look like Asher has a shady past, they could get the entire jury to believe that someone else committed the crime altogether.”
Once Asher and Michael calmed down, Philip explained to them what to expect when the case finally went to court. “The courtroom is a well-choreographed show. Each player knows his part to play before they even step foot on Judge McAvoy’s stage.” Philip’s face hardened as he said the judge’s name.
“Do you know him?” Asher asked.
Philip slowly nodded his head. “Yes, Judge McAvoy is a right-wing extremist, who in past years has been very vocal of his opposition on liberal issues.”
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