The Whole Truth So Help Me God
July 25, 2012
Writing Revelation: Authors are not unlike attorneys who place complete strangers on the witness stand. They often never know exactly what their characters are going to say until it’s too late and already been said.
Truth. That was all the young prosecutor wanted. He had heard the stories, the lies, the rumors, the gossip that spilled out on the beer joint parking lot like alcohol from a broken bottle of cheap whiskey. Everybody had seen it happen. Nobody had seen it happen. Maybe it hadn’t happened at all, and a little too much of the distilled spirits had tainted their senses, and maybe all they remembered were frayed bits and pieces of a drunken imagination, which was quite possible if Archie Woodrow had not been lying in the gravel with a bullet wound in his gut. Some doctor in the hospital emergency room had pronounced him dead on arrival, and now the prosecutor was determined to cut through the stories, the lies, the gossip, the fabrications, and get to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – or at least a reasonable facsimile of it.
He glanced across the courtroom. He looked at his witnesses, both of them. They knew the truth. He had no doubts about it. He wanted to make sure that their eyes had not begun to waver.
He nodded. He was ready.
The Prosecutor had a dead man in the ground and a gunman on trial for a two-bit murder. He had the perpetrator dead to rights.
The fifty-four-year old day laborer had wandered into the tavern a little before sundown. It was payday. He had a pocketful of dollar bills and had no intention of leaving until the money or the beer ran out. The prosecutor could bring in half of the east side of town to prove he was there. He had the murder weapon. He had the ballistics report. He had the defendant’s fingerprints on the small caliber pistol. All he had to do was tie up the loose ends and wait for the jury to render a verdict of guilty. He was really good at tying up loose ends. There were times when he seriously thought he might wind up as district attorney some day.
He looked toward the jury. He knew them all. They knew him. They knew he would find the truth, exploit the truth, pour the truth in their laps, and make their job easy for them. The prosecutor had a solid reputation. He didn’t like to lose.
He called his first witness.
She was the constable. Her precinct took in bloody highway 31, which meant she had thirty-one beer joints, taverns, and liquor stores lining the oil roads she drove at night. She had broken up a lot of fights and investigated a lot of shootings. She was tough. She was feared. No one confronted her, which meant she had never had to shoot anybody because they were convinced she would do it as easily as taking a yellow jacket out with a flyswatter. She knew the victims who deserved to die and those who were only passing through town.
Courtrooms did not bother her anymore than the beer joints did.
The constable methodically gave the prosecutor a perfect timeline of the events that took place that night. She had tracked down each piece of the puzzle, and the pieces all fit.
The victim had arrived at twenty-eight minutes past seven o’clock.
The defendant had walked in sixteen minutes later. One drank at a table beside the door. One drank on the far side of the bar. They jawed a while. They drank some more. They yelled a few profanities.
They both liked the same woman. She didn’t like either one of them. Neither of them knew it.
A shot was fired. The tavern was dark. The witnesses saw a spit of flame in the darkness. The victim grunted once, then staggered outside. The defendant chased him. Someone told her he heard another shot. He couldn’t be sure. The constable didn’t believe him for a moment.
The owner of the tavern called the funeral home, which operated the only ambulance service in town, while blood was still running between the chunks of gravel and weeds on the parking lot. The victim was placed in the ambulance and driven away. The time, she said, was exactly fifteen minutes to midnight.
Thank you, the prosecutor said.
The constable nodded and marched out of the courtroom. No need to wait for the verdict, she thought. Convict him or set him free. It didn’t make any difference. She would probably have him in custody again before the end month anyway. She had arrested him so many times he usually sent her birthday cards, and she thought he needed his own custom pair of handcuffs.
The next witness was the ambulance driver, a tall, lanky, distinguished gentleman who was proud of his station in life. He was on the witness stand before God and everybody. His mama wouldn’t have believed it. But he always told her he would be important some day, and now he was.
He straightened his shoulders and waited for the first question.
“What time did you arrive at Jenkins Tavern?” the prosecutor asked.
“Promptly at eleven forty-five,” he said. “I keeps my records straight.” He grinned broadly. Most of his teeth were missing, and he would probably lose them all before the year was out.
“Was the victim dead or alive when you arrived?”
“He was still breathing, sir.”
“Was he conscious?”
“He didn’t say, sir.”
“And you loaded him in the ambulance.”
“Me and Mister Jenkins did. He owns the tavern, you know.”
“I know,” said the prosecutor. “And what time did you reach the hospital?”
“At exactly twelve thirty-six, sir.” The driver smiled. “I keeps my records straight,” he said. He wiped his mouth. The teeth were still missing.
The prosecutor’s shoulders went rigid. Something was terribly wrong. He sensed the case beginning to unravel. But he asked the next questions anyway. He might as well. The defense attorney certainly would.
“That’s a good forty-five minutes, isn’t it,” the prosecutor said.
“It is indeed, sir, depending, of course, on the red light.”
“How was the red light that night?”
“It was green.”
“But it’s only a ten minute drive from the tavern to the hospital,” the prosecutor said.
“Yes, sir, it is.”
“Then why did the drive take you forty-five minutes?”
The ambulance driver leaned back, squared his frail shoulders, and grinned a toothless grin. He only wished his mama could see him now.
“Well, sir,” he said. “in my business, if you drives real slow, you gets the funeral, too.”
The prosecutor turned away. He had heard the truth, and the truth might set somebody free. He might have a pretty good assault case on his hands.
But the charge of murder had packed up and left the courtroom.
Caleb Pirtle III is the author of the Christian thriller, Golgotha Connection.