Asher woke with a sudden jolt. Cold sweat coated his skin as he sat upright and glanced around the room. He was in a large office. The light was very dim. The walls were covered with the same dark wood paneling as the courtroom. The narrow couch creaked underneath Asher when he shifted his weight. It looked expensive. The elegant Jacquard fabric was made for the kind of furniture wealthy people displayed for show, but was never intended to actually sit on it.
“What happened?” Asher mumbled. “Where the hell am I? Where’s Michael?” Asher’s voice was panicked as he demanded answers from his parents. He was visibly shaken and nervous as his eyes darted around the darkened room.
Lilly Burkhart pressed the back of her hand to her son’s face, feeling his forehead. “Honey, everything is okay. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“But where’s Michael?” Asher winced from the pain throbbing inside his head. “Mom, where is he?”
Lilly and Tom looked at each other, then back to their son. “Asher, Michael isn’t here. Nobody’s been here except your mother and me. Judge McAvoy cleared the courtroom when you fainted. Luckily, one of the jurors is a doctor and he helped the bailiff and me carry you into the Judge’s chambers--”
“No, Dad, he was there! Michael was right in front of me, trying to reach me. He ran up to the witness stand--”
“Calm down, Ash,” Tom said, squeezing his son’s shoulders, stopping his erratic rant. “Michael was sitting in the back of the courtroom earlier today, but he never got anywhere near you.”
“But, Dad--” Asher’s protest was interrupted when the door opened.
Judge McAvoy returned to his office with an elderly gentleman. The man looked familiar. Asher recalled the man intensely examining the pictures of his injuries when Dr. Edwards was testifying. The man rushed over to Asher’s side. “I’m glad to see you’re awake,” the elderly doctor said as he placed an icepack on the back of Asher’s neck. He checked Asher’s pulse before flashing a small pen-light into his eyes.
“How are you feeling?” Judge McAvoy asked.
Asher rubbed his forehead and then rotated his aching shoulder. “I’m a little sore, but I guess I’m okay.”
“Good,” Judge McAvoy said, patting Asher’s leg. “You gave us a scare when you fell out of your chair and hit your head on the railing.”
“Oh my god,” Asher moaned, closing his eyes, humiliated by the utter embarrassment of today’s events. “Please tell me you’re joking!”
Judge McAvoy shot him a long glance. “I’m afraid not, but if it makes you feel any better, you’re not the first witness to pass out during a tedious cross examination. Between you and me, I was ready for a break anyways,” the Judge said with a coy wink.
“So, I don’t have to go back on the stand?” Asher asked.
Shaking his silvery head, the Judge told Asher, “Not today. Court is adjourned until tomorrow morning, but Petersen could still call you back to finish your testimony.”
“So, there wasn’t a mistrial?”
“Not this time. I instructed the jury to disregard your last statement, but if you get called back to the stand, I’m warning you right now, if you so much as utter a syllable that sounds like excluded evidence, I will hold you in contempt of court. You understand?”
Asher nodded his head. He could feel the color draining from his face at the thought of facing that bastard Petersen again. No amount of warning from Philip or Warren Everett could have prepared him for what he experienced in court today. Asher just wished Michael hadn’t been there to see his meltdown.
Once the doctor was confident that Asher would be fine, the bailiff escorted the man back to the jury room while Lilly and Tom helped their son to his feet.
“Thank you for all your help,” Tom said to Judge McAvoy, extending his hand towards the crabby old geezer, who quickly brushed it away.
“There’s no need to thank me,” the Judge gruffed. “Every person in my courtroom is my responsibility. It’s my duty to ensure everyone’s safety.”
When court reconvened, Asher was glad to learn that Petersen wouldn’t be calling him back to finish testifying. It was the only good news to come out of the trial so far. Unfortunately, Michael was absent from court the next three days. Asher was worried about him. He wanted to ask Philip about Michael, but every time he tried, the words got stuck in his throat.
“You miss him, don’t you?” Ziggy whispered during a brief recess.
Asher nodded his head, admitting he did. “I feel like such a hypocrite. I was furious with him for not standing up against his stupid boss. It was gut-wrenching, just standing there while Mike vehemently denied I was his boyfriend, but I was the one who really fucked things up. I didn’t make it easy on Michael. I knew he wasn’t ready to come out publicly. Shit, I even promised to support him as he worked through his feelings. It’s just…”
“Man, don’t beat yourself up. Everyone makes mistakes,” Ziggy said, trying to reassure Asher, but they were interrupted when Judge McAvoy instructed the prosecution to proceed with their case, and Warren Everett called Douglas Allen to the stand.
The tension in the room rose as the man accused of attempted murder strolled to the witness stand and placed his hand on top of a bible.
“Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” the bailiff asked.
“I do,” Allen’s voice was confident as he swore in to testify.
“Please state your name for the court.” Everett was polite to Allen, but there was no mistaking that it wasn’t a request.
“Douglas Walter Allen.”
Everett casually walked around the courtroom as he engaged Allen in seemingly friendly conversation. “What’s your occupation, Mr. Allen?”
“I own Allen Realty, a very prosperous real estate agency uptown.” Allen beamed with pride discussing his business.
Tapping his index finger on his chin, Everett smiled while Allen elaborated on his success. The guy was cocky. He smugly discussed multiple lucrative business deals. Before Allen could get too comfortable after a battery of routine questions, Everett unexpectedly changed gears and quickly dove right into a tense interrogation.
“Mr. Allen, did you shoot Asher Burkhart the afternoon of July17th?” Everett demanded.
The muscles in Allen’s jaw clenched. His eyes flashed with anger when the scene turned from friendly to hostile. “No!”
“Did you go to Chapel Chase at any time on the date in question?”
“I didn’t step one foot in that place.”
“Well, if you weren’t at Chapel Chase that day, where exactly where you?”
Allen scoffed, “I’m a very busy man, Mr. Everett. I don’t keep track of every move I make, that’s my secretary’s job!”
“So you were working that day? How many business appointments did you have day?” Everett grabbed a file off his desk marked with big red letters that read, ‘Allen Realty.’
“I was off that day.” Allen’s eyes hardened until they held no expression.
Everett continued to pace around the court, but he didn’t put the file down. “Were you enjoying your day off at home?”
“I was in and out most of the day.”
“Where did you go?”
“I don’t remember exactly,” Douglas Allen said with a quick shrug. “I was running errands around town.”
“Please elaborate for the court.” Everett stood close to the jury, siding with them as everyone stared at Allen for answers.
Allen pursed his lips together. “There was no place particular, just around town.”
“Did those errands include going anywhere near Chapel Chase or the business district?”
“Not that day.” Allen’s face flushed as he teetered on the edge of losing control.
“Then tell us where you were!” Everett demanded.
“I didn’t keep track of where I went, because I didn’t think it was that damn important. Who keeps track of every move they make? I don’t even remember where I went for dinner last week and you want me to remember where I was one particular afternoon, several months ago?” Allen snorted and shook his head. “I might have gotten coffee or jogged around the park for a while, I really don’t remember.” All of his answers were vague.
“Were you alone?”
Everett paused and glanced at the jurors. “Where did you purchase your coffee?”
“From a street vender.”
“On what street?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Was it uptown?”
“Did you pay with a credit card?”
“No, I always carry cash with me.”
“So, there’s no way to prove you got coffee from this mystery street vendor. You also didn’t talk to anyone who can corroborate where you were, and nobody can verify that you were even at the park that afternoon. Is that what you’re testifying today?”
“Yes,” Allen smugly admitted.
“Do you own a gun, Mr. Allen?” Everett asked.
“Yes, but so does my ninety-year-old grandmother, along with half the people in this city. Is that a crime?”
Everett smiled. It was obvious that he enjoyed watching Allen twist on the witness stand. “Do you own a Colt M1911, the same weapon that was used in the brutal attack against Asher Burkhart?”
“No, I don’t,” Allen replied smugly.
Turing on his heels, Everett glared at Allen. The game was on. “Isn’t this your signature on a gun registration for a Colt M1911 .45 caliber pistol, registered in your name?”
Allen nodded his head and smiled. “Yes it is, but I don’t have that gun anymore.”
“Did you sell it?”
“No, it was stolen!”
“Stolen? Did you file a police report?”
“Yes, I did.”
Everett picked up the report from his desk. He made a show of reading down the official document, before suddenly glancing at Allen. “This police report is dated one week after Asher Burkhart was shot.”
Allen arrogantly shrugged his shoulders.
“Why did you wait so long to tell the police it was stolen?”
“Because I didn’t know it had been stolen. The gun wasn’t kept in my home in the city. It was at our summer cabin at Lake Hood. I wasn’t aware someone had broken in and stolen the gun.” The man was extremely attractive. He batted his long dark eyelashes, faking a superb look of innocence as he tried to use his charm to sway the jury. “The thieves also took silverware that’s been in my family for years and a rare Nash O’Reilly painting. I wasn’t even aware anything was missing until the police issued a subpoena for the gun.” The smile that slithered across Allen’s face was revolting. “I took the police there myself.”
“Well, aren’t you an exemplary citizen?”
Allen cocked an eyebrow, his dark eyes flash with deceit. “Just trying to do my part to help out the American justice system.”
“Don’t you think it’s a little too convenient that you can’t produce the very weapon that could clear you of these charges?”
“Objection, Your Honor. That calls for speculation,” Petersen shouted from behind his desk.
“Sustained,” Judge McAvoy spoke overtop both men before banging his gavel, bringing the room to silence. “Mr. Everett, watch your line of questioning.”
“I don’t have any more questions for this witness, Your Honor, but I would like to call Stephanie Allen to the stand--”
“I object!” Petersen shouted over Everett.
Judge McAvoy glanced between the lawyers, who were now both on their feet, glaring at each other across the courtroom.
“Your Honor, the defense was not aware of this addition to the witness roster.”
Everett’s innocent smile didn’t fool anyone. “Her name was on the updated roster submitted to the court first thing this morning. That was,” Everett paused and glanced at the watch on his wrist, “Almost six hours ago, which is more than enough time to prepare your case.”
The Judge listened to both men before picking up the updated list of names on his desk. “Well, Mr. Petersen, it appears that Mr. Everett filed the appropriate paperwork. Stephanie Allen’s testimony shall proceed.”
“But Your Honor, I move to strike her testimony under spousal privilege. Anything she says will be in direct violation of the protected communication--”
“The prosecution is calling Stephanie Allen as a rebuttal witness.” Everett raised an eyebrow, challenging Petersen’s protest. “Since Mr. Allen opened this can of worms...”
“I’ll allow it,” Judge McAvoy said, smacking his gavel on the block. “Mr. Everett, you may continue.”
“I request a short recess to speak to my client, Your Honor,” Petersen begged the Judge as he scrambled to salvage his case.
Judge McAvoy shook his head. “Six hours is more than enough time, Mr. Petersen, it’s time to hear what Mrs. Allen has to say.”
Stephanie Allen sat on the witness stand, her hair and nails fashioned to perfection. The elegant business suit was cut low to reveal her surgically enhanced breasts. Expensive jewelry decorated her neck, ears, and fingers. She glanced around the room, nervously looking at everyone but her husband.
“Mrs. Allen,” Everett treaded gently during his questioning. The woman could stop her testimony at any moment and invoke spousal privilege. “Do you agree that you’re here today, testifying of your own free will?”
“Yes, I am,” she said, nodding her head. Blonde curls bounced around her beautiful face.
“Were you at Chapel Chase on the afternoon of July 17th?”
“Do you know if your husband went there that day?
“Yes, he did.”
“And how do you know this?” Everett asked.
Stephanie Allen took a deep breath and held it for several long seconds. “I know it because he told me.”
“I object!” Petersen shouted. “Your Honor, I move to strike anything this witness has to say--”
Judge McAvoy smacked his gavel on the block, bringing the court back to order. He then turned towards Stephanie Allen. “Mrs. Allen, do you understand that you don’t have to reveal anything your husband said to you? It falls under spousal privilege.”
“Yes,” Stephanie said, nodding her head. “I know.”
Everett continued his line of questions, “Did Douglas tell you why he was there?”
“Doug was very upset when he found out I was having an affair with a bartender from Chapel Chase.”
“Was it Asher Burkhart?” Everett asked.
“No,” she said softly, as she stared at the huge diamond ring on her finger. “I had been secretly seeing Andrew Zigler for a few weeks.”
“Andrew Zigler,” Everett questioned her further, “He’s Asher Burkhart’s co-worker?”
“Yes. That morning, Douglas swore he was going to kill Ziggy. He was waving his gun around and said nobody would make a fool of him, especially a lowlife bartender like Ziggy.”
Everett walked over to his desk and picked up a picture of an identical model of Allen’s gun. “Is this the same kind of gun?”
“Colt M1911, yes,” Stephanie said identifying the weapon.
“Did you try to stop Douglas?”
Stephanie shook her head as she softly whispered, “No.”
Everett paused for a moment for Stephanie to collect herself. “Mrs. Allen, did you sign a prenuptial agreement when you married Douglas Allen?”
“If your marriage ends as a result of you admitting to infidelity, you lose it all. Allen’s made sure that if you cheat, you walk away from the marriage without a dime to your name.”
“Your husband is worth millions, so why are you testifying in court today?”
Stephanie Allen finally looked at her husband. Her eyes were cold and unforgiving. “There’s no amount of money worth sacrificing my soul for. Yes, I will walk away from my marriage penniless, but I still have to live with myself after the jury makes their decision.”
Sooooooo there was no mistrial from Asher's outburst AND Allen's wife took the stand. What are your thoughts what happened? Trying to limit the court drama to just 1 chapter didn't work. I didn't want to cut out some important scenes and I think readers would feel cheated if I had tried. What did you think? Thanks so much for reading and I hope everyone is still enjoying!! KC