For my 200th blog with WordPress, I’m posting a sample chapter of my novella BUDDIES. This novella will be featured in my upcoming book of legal fiction A LAWYER’S CASEBOOK.
Jason Crofts was considered a petty criminal. He’d been to state prison on a burglary charge, but most of his run-ins with the law concerned petit larceny or marijuana possession.
One day in late October, the sheriff received a distress call. Jason’s girlfriend said that he was “going crazy.” In the background, the 9-1-1 operator heard Jason shouting and breaking objects.
A sheriff’s car pulled up outside a broken-down house bordering the woods. A state police car was already parked outside.
The two deputies approached a heavyset trooper, who stood further back on the property.
“I’m getting too old for this crap,” the trooper said. “I let him go back there.” He pointed back into the woods, obviously referring to his partner.
A pregnant young woman came out of the house. “I told him to stop. He just kept doing it,” she said. “I’m gonna get evicted for this shit.”
A toddler came onto the porch, putting her hand on a broken screen.
“Go back into the house,” he mother told her. “Did you hear what I said?”
The deputies were about to start questioning the woman when they heard a gunshot. The deputies ran into the woods, the trooper trotting behind them. They found a second trooper lying shot. He was still breathing.
While one deputy scanned the woods for Jason, the second deputy tended to the shot trooper. Through nodding his head and making minimal answers, the trooper indicated that Jason had grabbed his gun away from him, and shot him.
The deputy called for backup. Within the next few minutes, three other police cars pulled up. Deputies and troopers canvassed the woods. The shot trooper died before Crofts was shot and captured.
Henry Johnson was given the job of prosecuting Crofts on First Degree Murder charges. Henry was only thirty years old at the time, but he was already a senior assistant in the Crotona D.A.’s office.
Tom Doyle was assigned to be Henry’s co-counsel. Henry, up to this point, had not had much interaction with Doyle. Doyle was also young, only two years out of law school. But he was already gaining attention for his trial skills.
Henry devoted considerable time to the case. He met with the police officers in off-hours to interview them. He brought his growing file home to review it and take notes. He went to the site, where Crofts’ girlfriend no longer lived, and walked through the woods in which the slain trooper had pursued the suspect. He saw this case as an opportunity for gaining fame and political advancement.
But his excitement was ruined only three weeks after receiving the assignment. His father was indicted. State Senator Johnson had run afoul of New York’s governor, not supporting him in a matter that the governor considered crucial. The governor called for an investigation, and Johnson was indicted with two others.
People around Crotona and Albany shouted that the indictment had been politically based. The newspapers said as much. But the lawyers that Johnson hired told him that his chances for getting the charges dropped were poor.
Henry went to his parents’ house, and asked to see his father’s legal papers. He read through the multi-page indictment and the motion papers that his father’s attorneys had provided.
Henry told his father that he should fight the charges. His voice became loud when he spoke, and his mother watched his face turn red. His parents only hesitated when he persisted. He became quite angry. Finally, his mother told him that he was tiring his father.
“That’s enough, Henry,” she said.
Henry wondered how his father stayed calm. He watched his father continue to go to his offices each day in Albany and Crotona.
But his father only seemed to remain calm. While saying little about his situation with the governor, the senator experienced a significant rise in blood pressure. He was diagnosed as being diabetic. He started to see doctors much more frequently.
Henry did not suffer in silence. His moods were now most often foul. He frequently took to shouting at people, often with little provocation.
His girlfriend, Debbie Flynn, took none of this well. He had met her two years earlier through friends. Blonde and slim, Debbie was widely considered a catch.
Soon after they had started dating, Henry took to spending much of his free time with her. He took her to basketball and football games. They were seen together around the popular Crotona bars. When friends would visit Henry at his apartment, they would usually find Debbie there, either fussing in the kitchen or engaging the friends in conversation. It was generally expected that soon Henry and Debbie would become engaged.
But now, after the indictment, Debbie said she was getting the brunt of his outbursts. She wondered how much longer she would stay with him. When friends now stopped by to watch games or shoot pool, they no longer found Debbie there.
Henry also changed in less obvious ways. He had spent his life accepting the legal system as a noble endeavor. His only opinion had been that criminals were threats to society, and that they should be vigorously placed behind bars.
Yet now, with his father facing charges, Henry saw the system in new ways. He paid more than passing notice to the lies that police officers often told, or the tactics of some of his fellow assistants to alter or conceal evidence.
Henry changed in how he handled his cases. Some defendants he continued to rail against, but others, especially those who were poor, mentally ill or less culpable than their so-called victims, he showed surprising leniency toward.
Across the next few months, Henry came to know Tom Doyle. Tom’s father had recently retired from the Crotona police department. Tom had wanted to become an officer, but couldn’t pass the eye test. His main interest remained in law enforcement.
Tom seemed to do as much work on the Crofts case as Henry. Crofts insisted on going to trial, so the two assistant D.A.’s prepared. It took the jury only an hour to come back with a verdict of guilty.
A few weeks later, after final motions had been made, Jason Crofts stood before the court for sentencing. Tom and Henry stood together at the prosecution table. Tom noticed the smile that Crofts faced the judge with.
The judge sentenced Crofts to life without parole. Crofts continued to smile as the deputies led him out of the courtroom. He smiled at Tom, who was staring at him, and then at his girlfriend, now holding a baby.
Henry shook Tom’s hand. The two prosecutors went from the courtroom into the hallway. Reporters surrounded them. TV cameras glared their lights on them. Tom stood by as Henry answered questions.
When their work day ended that afternoon, Henry suggested to Tom that they get some drinks. They left the D.A.’s office. A shabby homeless man watched them as they got into Henry’s Corvette.
As Henry sped and stopped through downtown Crotona, mud and filthy snow splattered on curbs and the sides of buildings. Tom saw men grouped together. Perhaps transacting drug deals. Tom’s excitement turned to quick disgust that Crotona was still full of criminals.
Henry took him to a popular bar out on a wide suburban boulevard. Tom and Henry sat at the bar, and Henry ordered beers. Henry inferred that he would be buying the drinks that evening.
A trim blonde came up to Henry, and embraced him. Henry kissed her lips, and they lingered for a long moment in each other’s arms. Henry introduced her to Tom, patting her butt as he placed his arm around her waist.
When the woman left them, rejoining a female friend, Henry turned to Tom. “You oughta go after her,” he said, still staring at the woman’s butt. “If you don’t, I will.”
“You have a girlfriend,” Tom said.
“I don’t know.” Henry gave Tom a self-pitying look that would become familiar to Tom. “Do I?”
The six o’clock news came on the TVs of the bar. People whooped and applauded as the screens showed Crofts being led out of the courtroom, and Henry and Tom stepping before the cameras. Strangers patted Tom on the back.
Then, within minutes, the bar cleared out around them. People drove off to other bars, or to their homes. Others went to different parts of the room to eat dinner or play pool.
Henry sat resting, his head almost on the bar, in front of the beers he’d been unable to drink. “Should I call Debbie?” he asked Tom.
Tom didn’t answer him. His mind was racing. The Crofts case was only the beginning.
“We have our program now,” he told Henry. Henry didn’t look up. “We could end crime in Crotona.”
Henry looked over at him now.
“Make Crotona a crime-free zone,” Tom continued.
Henry smiled at him, almost laughed.
“Start with the ringleaders. Work down to the small operations.”
“Even the petty crimes?” Henry asked him. “Traffic infractions?”
When Tom went silent, Henry laughed and slapped his shoulder.
“They’d know who’s in charge,” Tom told him.
“It isn’t that simple,” Henry replied.
“It is simple. There are bad guys. We have to bring ‘em down. We have the ability. We have the will.”
“But who are the good guys?” Henry asked him.