Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons Page 14

“What did you find when you arrived at the crime scene on April 19th?”

Detective Taylor cleared his throat. “I arrived at the crime scene at 11:41 p.m. and found the rear emergency exit standing open. Upon entry, I discovered the victim, later identified as Frank Mitchell, near the door to the office, lying on the floor in a pool of blood, a concave wound on his right temple.”

“And did you find the murder weapon on the premises?”

“We did not.”

Mr. Deveraux turned to the judge. “Your Honor, the state would like to present evidence A-1, a photo of the victim at the crime scene.”

Cat Lady on my left, also known as Mrs. Baker, stopped fanning herself with her paper accordion, her eyes wide in anticipation.

A picture of the victim appeared on a wall screen. He lay on the concrete floor in a dark puddle, surrounded by pieces of PVC joints and tubes. His eyes were open, staring at nothing, his mouth twisted in an odd shape.

An image of Momma on our old sofa filled my head. She sat in the dark, a goose-egg-sized dent in her head, and blood splattered on the walls and furniture. I wondered how right Mr. Yates had been that I would find the evidence in the trial upsetting. But I caught him watching me, and I stiffened my back even though I felt like I was gonna barf. I was consoled to see that half the jury looked like they were about to lose their lunches too.

“Did you find anything else?”

“We found an open safe, with a small amount of cash missing.”

The deputy walked in with a white box. Within seconds, the box beeped repeatedly.

“What in tarnation is that racket?” the judge growled.

Bailiff Spencer’s shoulders hunched. “It’s a thermometer, Your Honor.”

“Well? How hot is it?”

“Ninety-one degrees.”

Judge McClary swore under his breath. “Mr. Deveraux, continue on until you’re done with your questioning, and Mr. Yates,” he looked across the bench, “you can cross-examine the witness tomorrow morning. It’s too damn hot to think in here.”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

Mr. Deveraux’s face had frozen in a scowl. It was a wonder his face wasn’t permanently stuck that way, seeing how he wore that scowl ninety percent of the time. “And did you discover anything else, Detective Taylor?”

“Yes, we found a small lapel pin with a dog and a bird in a tree.”

The vision I’d had in the restroom came crashing back into my memory.

Don’t you worry, Felix. They’ll never figure out who that lapel pin belonged to. How many pins got dogs on ’em with a bird and a tree?

We’re going to get away with murder.

My eyesight faded to black, but it wasn’t because I was having another vision. Mr. Decker was innocent and I’d peed next to a murderer.

Chapter Five

I woke up with Cat Lady waving her paper accordion in my face and a stench that made me gag. Just above her fan were the faces of Mr. Deveraux and Mr. Yates. While Mr. Deveraux looked concerned, Mr. Yates looked angry. I’d done it now.

I realized my head was in the lap of the man on my right, explaining the terrible odor. I jerked upright.

“Careful, now.” Mr. Deveraux reached over the wall in front of the juror box, his hand resting on my arm as I swayed.

“I’m okay.” I insisted, smoothing back my hair.

“See, Your Honor?” Mr. Yates screeched, pointing at me. “I told you she couldn’t handle being on the jury.”

“Oh, for God sakes, Yates,” Mr. Deveraux boomed. “I was questioning the witness about a pin.” He turned to me with a glare, his eyes daring me to contradict him. “Did all that talk about pins frighten you into a faint, Miss Gardner?”

In that moment, I realized a couple of things. One, Mr. Deveraux had put himself on the line by getting me on the jury, although for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. And two, Mr. Deveraux knew my name. “No, of course not. Don’t be silly.” I swayed for effect, flapping the front of my blouse. “I got too hot, is all.”

“That’s it!” Judge McClary shouted, banging his gavel with more force than necessary. “I can’t have jurors droppin’ like flies. Court is adjourned for the day!”

Voices buzzed throughout the room and Mr. Yates wandered back to his table, but Mr. Deveraux watched me for a moment, his face expressionless, before he turned away.

After we got back to the juror room, Marjorie Grace pounced on me like a cat on a ball of yarn. “Are you all right, Rose?”

I waved my hand, thoroughly embarrassed. “Yeah, I’m fine. It was just so hot in there.”

“Thank God you passed out,” Cat Lady said, fanning herself, although her paper was now limp and damp. “I was dyin’.”

“I can’t believe they expect us to sit in there,” another woman said.

Marjorie Grace pushed me into a chair and placed a wet paper towel on my forehead.

I looked up into her warm eyes. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to cause a fuss.”

She leaned forward with a smile. “Don’t you be worryin’ about it.”

“But Mr. Yates was so angry and Mr. Deveraux…” Mason Van de Camp Deveraux III confused me. One minute he was meaner than a coon dog attacking a copperhead, and the next he actually looked worried about me. I still couldn’t get over the fact that he’d wanted me on the jury. He’d probably had to fight to get me since Mr. Yates was so adamant that I recuse myself. Maybe that was the answer right there. Mr. Deveraux could have done it just to tick off Mr. Yates.

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