Who’s at risk, and who has the most to lose?


IT COULD HAVE BEEN any small town in America.

It happened to be in Tennessee.

I sat on a park bench overlooking the town square.

The town had been built around a stone courthouse with gargoyles above the windows.

It was old.

It was musty.

It was out of date.

It was beautiful.

It was court day.

The gentleman sat with me and we watched the attorneys come swaggering across the square, suits pressed, hair slicked back, briefcases swinging beside them, sweating profusely.

For some, it was judgment day.

For some, it was payday.

For all, it was a good day.

Then, one by one, here came the defendants, those who had been walking the streets because of some charitable contribution made to the court by a bail bondsman.

They represented a cross section of the town and the county.





Different ages.

Different colors.

Hard luck.

Bad luck.

Down on their luck.

The gentleman leaned back on the bench and nodded to the passing parade.

“Somewhere among them,” he said, “you have a pretty damn good story waiting to be told.”

“You know them?” I asked.

“Most of them.”

“You must have a pretty good memory,” I said.

“It’s a small town,” he said.

The woman climbing out of the taxi was in no hurry.

She was two years shy of being young.

She was a tube of lop stick away from being beautiful.”

Long legs.

Short dress.

High heels.

She was smacking chewing gum.

“That’s Shirley,” the gentleman said. “Works in a beauty salon. Cuts hair for old women. Likes diamond rings and husbands.”

“How many has she had?”

“A dozen.”


“Diamond rings.” The old man laughed. “Osborne Jewelers named her the most engaging woman in town.”

She glanced at us as she walked by and smiled.

I smiled back.

She winked.

“You married?” the gentleman asked.

“I am.”

“Stay clear of Shirley.”


“I hear she’s looking for another one.”


“Diamond ring.”

“Maybe she was winking at you,” I told him.

“It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“You have a history with Shirley?”

“I was number four.”

“Diamond ring?”


The gentleman shook his head sadly. “She just got rid of number eight,” he said


“Shot him.”

“Is he pressing charges?”

“He’s pushing up daisies.”

The gentleman glanced my way and asked, “What makes the best story?”

“It depends on who has the greatest risk,” I said. “It depends on who has the most to lose.”
The gentleman smiled, slowly got to his feet, straightened his jacket, and walked toward the courthouse. “Then I guess you’ll have to write about me,” he said.

“Why?” I walked with him.

“It looks like I have the most to lose.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Shirley’s gonna tell the jury she doesn’t remember a thing about the night her husband died.”

“She telling the truth?”

“Might be.”

“It’s a tangled web she weaves.”

He smiled.

“I’ll testify Shirley was spending the night with me when some dastardly house breaker shot her husband down.”

“Was she?”

He smiled again.

“Could have been,” he said.

“You said you had the most at risk,” I reminded him.

“I do.”

“So what do you have to lose?”

The gentleman opened the courtroom door and walked in.

“A diamond ring if I’m lucky,” he said.

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