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Certified Excerpt 3

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Justin reads. It is heartbreaking to see him struggle with it. He cannot read aloud well. He is trying so hard to read it as if it is a foreign document or the instructions to Kraft macaroni and cheese. The jury has stopped taking notes, studying him. Justin is by now exhausted. He knows the rest of his life hangs in the balance now, and he did not rehearse for this.

It is very hard to lie well under oath. People lie all the time. They think that if they rehearse, they will be able to lie to a courtroom of people the way they do to their spouse, their friends, or themselves. But it is not easy, not at all. It takes a sociopath to lie under these conditions and not give it away, eventually. All people, when being dishonest, have pantomimes that are subconscious and involuntary. I don’t have a lot of free time during my workday, but I have time to watch and listen, as you know by now, else how would I tell this story. So, I sit and listen and watch, waiting, a human lie detector machine. I would teach you the pantomimes, but we have enough liars in court.

Justin reads his soliloquy. It is obvious he wrote it. I have been writing him all day. People have speech patterns, and teenage boys are no exception. These forlorn, forsaken words reveal an abandoned psyche. Having tried desperately to control his breathing while reading, his heart is ready to leap out of his chest and fall on the floor by the time he finishes. I can see the artery in his neck throbbing beneath the sweat that has seeped into the open. The Judge is looking at the same thing.

There is a ghostly silence swaddling the room, enveloping all of us. It feels like blood red satin, as though Cheyenne is here. Christensen walks slowly to the witness stand, looking into Justin’s eyes, perhaps into his heart, as he takes the letter out of Justin’s hand. Fluidly, Christensen turns and begins that long stride back to his table.

Once behind his table, he about-faces, leans forward on his knuckles, primal, like a gorilla about to charge. His blue eyes bore across the room into Justin.

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Jake sinks into his chair and covers his face with his hands.

Gregor Pavao is sitting perfectly still. He is thinking. Justin returns to sit at his side. The Judge asks if he has anything further. Gregor stands, looks carefully at Justin, the jury, back up to the Judge, and asks for a recess. Christensen is so spent that he doesn’t hear Ivan say, “Please rise.” He just sits motionless with his face in his hands. Justin returns to his seat.

As soon as the jury has left the courtroom, Justin grabs the trashcan from under the table and begins to wretch. Intermittently, as he spits out the puke, a mewing, almost a cry, comes out of his mouth. He vomits up everything in his stomach and continues to dry heave, like a kid with alcohol poisoning.

When it is over, he sits back in his chair and begins to sob. This sobbing evolves into a quiet, yet plaintive wail, distorted by Justin’s clenched teeth, and his grip around his now doubled over torso. I cannot move. His pain transfixes me. This is the first evidence of it. It is so lonely and so regretful. The vibration he emanates is guttural, quarantined in his throat, the growl of a wolf caught in a trap. If he unclenched his jaws, the howling would fill the courthouse. I sit looking at him, and I realize that is what he is. He is a young wolf with his foreleg in a spring trap.

Just as a trial, the lawyers, all of it, is sorcery; what brought us here was sorcery, as well. I close my eyes and look into my crystal ball, and I can see Justin in his bed. He is a little boy, and it is a cold dark night, after his father has gone to the bar to work the swing shift, and there is no babysitter, just a number by the telephone.

Justin, in bed with dirty sheets that smelled like pee, cuddling his baby brother, realizing, resigning himself to the fact that his mommy is not ever coming home. One night, unprotected, in a wilderness of need, fear and loneliness, a wolf entered little Justin’s world.  Justin was so lonely that he gave the terrified part of his spirit over to the spirit of that wolf and its ferocity in order to protect himself and his baby brother.

Then one spring day, years later, while the wolf dozed, an enchantress, pure and powerful, looked Justin’s way and beckoned him. The enchantress cared for him, made love to him. Afterwards, his soul awakened and was transformed, between her clean sheets. He bathed in her, in her family, and in her bed. Justin had dared to hope that Cheyenne had cleansed him of the wolf or, better yet, that it had drowned in all the love and security.

It was more than he had ever dared to dream since he was that lonesome, little boy. The Enchantress Cheyenne with her clan nurtured him, even invited in his cub, Joey, rehydrating their bodies and their souls. There were dinners and parties. There was warmth and laughter. They gave Justin communion, the communion of family, the communion of humanity, and all this kept the wolf at bay.

Justin had once planned, lying next to Cheyenne with his hand on her perfect breast that they someday would have what her parents had. He believed in his soul that the pain was over and that his babies, his cubs, would never know what a cold, pissy bed in an empty house felt like.

At the threat of excommunication, Justin’s psyche shattered, and the spirit of the wolf returned with vengeance and fury. The wolf did not love the enchantress; it despised her. The wolf had not a moment to lose that ominous winter evening. It was back. It was inside. It knew in its keen, carnivorous mind it must hunt and hunt well. The wolf knew that to possess Justin forever, it must devour the bitch that had held it at bay, sometimes even chased him away. So, on the 19th day of January, the wolf went hunting the Fair Cheyenne, divine enchantress, and when it found her, it ripped her throat out, because that is what wolves do, how they maintain their status in the pack.

Ivan is outside with the jury. Pavao is in the back of the courtroom, talking with two associates. They have ignored Justin’s outburst completely. Christensen has not moved since he sat. He finally stands, pulls out his handkerchief and sticks it in his water jug on the table. He wrings it out and walks over to Justin.

Looking back at Pavao, he almost shouts, “Jesus Christ, Greg, you want to take care of your client?”

Jake hands the handkerchief to Justin and says, “Here, kid. Clean yourself up. It’s almost over.”

Gregor Pavao glances over. He does not wish to be bothered. Justin wipes his face and hands over and over again. Christensen takes the hankie and gets it wet again. “Keep it. Hold it on the back of your neck.”

Foley comes back on the bench just as Justin is calmed. Judge Foley asks if Justin is all right to proceed. He knows what happens in his courtroom whether he is in there or not. Pavao says he is, and my Judge shakes his head at Gregor. "Perhaps you should check with your client before you answer that question, sir, or perhaps I should ask Mr. Christensen, who was looking after him during the break, while you were detained by your friends.”

Gregor Pavao humiliated at last. “He is fine now, your Honor, and I was consulting with --”

“Your client is your responsibility, sir, and not Mr. Christensen’s. If I were you, I would thank Mr. Christensen for his compassion and efforts. He may have had things he wished to take care of during the break, too. The least you could do is to take the trashcan of vomit through the back hallway to the janitorial room for us, rinse it, and grab a clean one from my secretary on the way back in. Go ahead. We will wait for you, sir.”

Gregor turns and offers Jake his hand, like a child forced to say sorry. My Judge is such a good man. He just made Gregor Pavao take out the trash. I look up at Jake, but he does not find it amusing. Ivan does, though. He and I share a nod, a silent appointment to laugh about it later. Pavao returns at last with a clean trashcan.

Ivan brings the jury back in. Pavao puts Justin on for redirect and asks him to define homicide for the jury in his own words; then asks if he committed homicide the night that Cheyenne Connors died.

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