Shootings is a story about two men with completely different goals, and how their actions affect the same group of women. It will unfold here in serial format.
Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12
Martin’s back and neck muscles locked into place as the jury’s foreman handed the verdict to the bailiff.
The prosecution’s closing arguments had tried to paint him as a dangerously impulsive man who needed to be punished for what he had done. “We can’t allow people to think it’s okay to open fire on objects on a whim,” Colleen had said.
In any other case, Martin would have agreed.
In his own final statement, Rigoberto had graciously admitted that Martin was impulsive, but that the danger in this case had been an accident, and he had learned his lesson. “My client has never hurt anyone before, and never will again,” he said.
The bailiff handed the verdict to the court clerk, who stood and read it aloud. “Your Honor, on the charge of Assault and Battery, we, the members of the jury, find the defendant, Martin Thandle, not guilty.”
Martin slumped slightly and his head fell back, his eyes shut and his mouth in a closed grin. He heard the chatters and mumbles of the audience, then felt a hand clamp over his shoulder.
“We did it,” Rigoberto said.
“No, you did it,” Martin said and lifted his head to turn and face him. You, Rigoberto “Old Lawyer” Miralda, saved me.
The judge banged his gavel once to silence the crowd. “Madame Foreman, was your verdict unanimous?” he said.
The foreman stood. “Yes, your honor,” she said.
Martin looked over at Colleen Willis, his former high school crush, who worked quickly to clear her papers from the prosecutor’s table and tuck them into a plain manila folder. She opened a worn leather satchel, placed the folder inside, and flapped it shut. She approached the bench.
“Be right back, kid,” Rigoberto said. “I have to go thank the judge and then tell Colleen to kiss my ass,” Rigoberto said.
As he watched them speak with the judge, Martin realized that the one he truly had to thank for his freedom was Brenda Yeager. His brash behavior had slammed her and her son to the asphalt and sent them to the hospital, and yet she forgave him. He definitely needed to ask her why. Yes, that was the only thing that would do.
Greg’s phone vibrated his hip. He slipped it from its holster and read the display. “Raelynn.” Unless he was in a meeting or already on another call, that was one he always answered. He pushed Send.
“Hello, daaahhhlink,” he said. Then, in another voice, “‘Sup?”
“Not much,” Raelynn said. “Just thought you might like to know that Thandle was found not guilty.”
“Really? That’s good. I guess. How did you find out?”
“Janie — you don’t know her — was there. She texted me. You know what that means, right?”
“That you and your friends have an insatiable need for instant gratification?”
She groaned. “Real funny, Greg. You know I meant the verdict. It means that some of the negative vibes around the calendar will go away.”
And it will drop out of the media spotlight and lose all that free publicity. That’s just grand. “That is good news,” Greg said.
At that he thought of Matt and his plans to move back into the newspaper business. He looked back at his computer monitor, where Matt’s resignation letter stared back like a monochromatic portent of doom. Since his conversation with the Mayor the night before, Greg had been avoiding the subject, but he knew he needed to confront his employee.
“You there?” Raelynn said.
“Sorry, babe, but I have to get back to work,” Greg said and they wrapped up their conversation.
He looked through the doorway to the other side of the Systems Group office. Matt sat there, surfing the web on his phone.
“I guess there’s not much else you can do without a login,” Greg said.
Matt looked over at him with a grin on his face. “If this is what the Mayor wants me to do for the next two weeks, I can find ways to kill the time.”
Greg stood and walked over to Matt’s area, then sat on one of the barstools at the workbench. He peered inside an open computer case and pushed down on the video card, pretending to make sure it was seated properly. “You know, I miss this side of the house sometimes. I love the break-and-fix part of the job.”
“It’s not bad,” Matt said. He set down his phone. “But that isn’t why you’re over here, is it? You got my letter of resignation that I sent last night?”
Greg sighed. “Yep. Got it. I’m a little confused, though. When you came on board you said this was the perfect opportunity for you to get back into computers. Journalism wasn’t your bag, you said.”
“I know, I know, but I missed it within a week of quitting. The deadlines, the variety. Just, never doing the same thing twice. It’s worlds apart from these,” Matt said and gestured toward the servers in the racks.
“Point taken. There’s one particular thing I wanted to go over with you.”
“That video we — you — deleted. Are we good on that?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Matt said.
“You know, that test — ”
“No, I mean, I have no recollection of any test video that may or may not have existed,”
Greg finally caught on to what Matt was saying. “So, it’s really…”
“Good. Let’s forget about that and see about creating a restricted login for you so you can at least surf the web on a bigger screen.”
Martin sat in his car in the hospital parking lot. A lightpost, only a few feet from his front bumper, featured a sign made of foam core board. It read “5K Fun Run Parking.” A larger sign above it read, “Susan G. Komen for the Cure.”
This is where her group is supposed to be.
He got out and walked quickly to an open field bordered by vendors under tents. They were giving away wristbands and visors, but selling t-shirts. Centered in the field were long tables filled with plates of muffins, coffee cake, and bananas. Bottled water chilled in cylindrical coolers at each end of every table.
At one end of the field a line of portable restrooms stood like fiberglass soldiers at attention. A line of people — mostly women, most wearing pink, all wearing a bold black number on a large white sheet of paper — waited to use them.
Martin approached one of the food tables and reached for a piece of coffee cake.
“Excuse me, sir,” said a woman to his right.
He looked at her. “Yes?”
“Sorry, hun, those are only for the participants. No number on your chest, no free food. But you can get something to drink at the Starbucks kiosk over there.” She pointed to a temporary bar draped in a green cloth bearing the ubiquitous coffee merchant’s name. At least 15 people waited in line.
“Um, thanks,” Martin said and moved away from the table.
A man’s voice came from a loudspeaker. “Attention, runners and walkers. The race will begin in five minutes. If you are not at the starting line already, please make your way there now.” The trailing half of the group waiting for the restrooms turned away and did just that.
Martin scanned those left in line. Gotta find her. I’ll lose her once they start.. He saw one of the calendar moms — Miss May, maybe? — but not Brenda Yeager. Satisfied that he had looked at every face, he moved on to the starting line.
Several little boys and girls sat on men’s shoulders for a better look at the participants. Some waved. “Hi, mommy!” a few said. A few racers were men, and in many cases entire families and large groups had come to race together.
The faces were too concentrated here, moving too much, for Martin to get a good look at everybody.
“Two minutes to the starting gun,” the announcer said. “Please join your group. And, remember, slower racers please begin at the back of the pack.”
Two minutes? Was her group fast or slow? He had now way of knowing. He cast his eyes about quickly now, anxious and no closer to finding her than when he had parked. There must be at least a thousand people here.
Martin walked over a grass median and squeezed into the pack at the starting line. He worked his way into the middle, figuring he could just jog along slowly and watch for her to pass him.
“Excuse me, sir?” said a person wearing a bright yellow vest, in the same tone of voice as the food table lady. Martin looked away and bent down to do a toe-touch stretch.
A loud airhorn sounded. The runners all around him started moving.
“Sir!” louder now.
Martin straightened up and took off with the rest of the racers. They quickly made their way through the hospital parking lot and onto a narrow residential street flanked by large shade trees.
Someone wearing a bright yellow vest jogged alongside the group, searching. “Sir, you need to register and get a number to participate in the race.”
The runners around him noticed that he was the target of the directive. “Hey, that’s the guy from the news,” one of them said.
“What?” said another.
“The one who shot the big coffee cup.”
The runners parted to leave him all alone within a 10-foot radius, but kept moving at a steady pace. He left their ranks and jogged the opposite direction.
“Brenda Yeager!” he shouted. “I need to speak to Brenda Yeager! Please, she won’t answer my calls!”
“Sir, please stop shouting,” said Yellow Vest, now following him.
He scanned the faces as he ran against and just outside the flow of humanity. “Brenda Yeager! Are you here?” he shouted.
Greg walked near the back of the 5K Fun Run pack with Alex, while Raelynn and her jogging friends ran up ahead. They had just passed over the starting line and walked out of the parking lot of the event’s sponsoring hospital. The shady, unpainted asphalt road reminded him of his smalltown upbringing. His camera hung from his neckstrap and gently bumped against his chest with each step.
“Now, why are we out here, Daddy?” Alex said.
“To raise money to help people get well,” Greg said. “And to remember those who can’t come out and do this themselves.” He didn’t feel like bringing up and trying to explain cancer.
“So doctors can give them medicine?”
“Sort of like that.”
Greg heard a man shouting up ahead, but he couldn’t quite make out the words. Two men wearing yellow vests dashed past the group of walkers, headed for the front of the pack. “We’re coming!” one of them said into a walkie-talkie.
Two more people wearing yellow vests, this time large men, converged and grabbed Martin’s shoulders. They stopped him. “Please, let me go! I have to talk to her!” he shouted frantically and twisted to try to break free. The men pushed down until he fell to his knees.
“Brenda Yeager! Why did you forgive me?”
When he saw the runners looking at him, some with mouths agape, some shaking their heads, he stopped struggling and slumped to the ground. “Why did she forgive me?” he whimpered. “What did I do to deserve it?” Tears welled up and ran down his face. “Why couldn’t he forgive my brother? He didn’t mean to kill her.”
He sobbed openly now and, between breaths, repeated, “He didn’t mean to kill her, but you blamed him. Why did Brenda forgive me?”
These feelings hadn’t come up in years. He had pushed them back to survive, but now the dam inside his mind had broken.
“Can you tell what he’s saying?” one of the men said.
“No, something about killing and forgiving.”
“Daddy, why is that man lying on the ground?” Alex said.
A man lay on the ground in the fetal position, crying and mumbling. The two men who had run past knelt down next to him.
Greg turned on his camera. “I don’t know, son. Just, stay right next to me.”
(to be continued)