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Standing just outside the door of Nathan Stern's office suite, Tommy Dolan spoke rapid-fire into the microphone held by another KZAK reporter. He knew he didn't have much time.
"The horror of this crime scene is beyond description, beyond belief. Sarah Feldman's neck is twisted and bent at a grotesque, physically impossible angle. However it was done, the pain must have been excruciating.
"My friend Nathan Stern is out of his mind with grief. They'd just become engaged!
"Miss Feldman is obviously dead. But Nate's clinging to her, telling her over and over that whoever hurt her is gone - she's going to be all right - medics are coming to help her - he'll be with her going to the hospital, and he'll never let anyone hurt her again, never let her out of his sight again.
"I tried, gently, to tell him she's dead. He looked at me as if he'd never seen me before. When he finally registered what I was saying, he insisted he can hear her heart beating.
"The only heart he hears is his own. And he hears it breaking."
"Damn it, I'll 'break' your noggin!" The first cop to arrive on the scene yanked Dolan away from the mike, and smacked him upside the head.
"I did my civic duty, called the police first," Dolan declared righteously. "And I've kept people out of the office, so they wouldn't mess up fingerprints or other evidence. Is it my fault Kay-Zack moves faster than you do?"
"Thank God for small favors," said a second cop. "If this guy worked for a newspaper instead of a radio station, they would've had photographers here ahead of us."
Dolan wasn't surprised when, five minutes later, they cuffed him. In his line of work, it was par for the course.
But he let out a howl of genuine outrage when they also cuffed Nathan Stern.
After hours of separate questioning, the men were placed in side-by-side holding cells, separated only by bars.
If a crisis moved Dolan to think and act like a reporter (who sometimes embellished his reports for dramatic effect), it moved Nathan Stern to think and act like a lawyer. He immediately pantomimed to Dolan Be careful what you say. The walls may have ears.
What he saw in Dolan's reaction was not merely acknowledgment, but relief. Relief, he realized, that I'm not catatonic.
The walls did have ears...which availed them nothing.
But as the hours and days wore on, detained for questioning became booked and charged, and bail was denied, Nate almost wished he could escape into catatonia. Or worse.
At least they hadn't been remanded to the County Jail. That was being delayed pending his appeal of the denial of bail. But he wasn't hopeful.
This is all Tommy's fault. I never would've gotten Sally - or myself - involved in this if he'd told me upfront we were dealing with a demon.
But...would he have been more likely to tell me if I'd told him I'd heard a claim that Justin Crowe had beheaded one man, and disemboweled another, with a scythe?
I might not even have believed the "demon" story. But I did have reason to suspect Crowe was a vicious killer - at an early enough date that I could've walked away, without prejudicing Tommy's case. It would've looked as if I'd been scared off by the backlash, not that I'd necessarily concluded he was guilty.
No, it wasn't all Tommy's fault.
Face it. At least part of the reason I wanted to take the case was that I sensed Crowe's preaching was sugar-coated poison - and if Crowe was the "bad guy," that made Tommy a good guy.
If only I'd refused to have that talk with him without Sally, hadn't left her alone out there...
It's done. Over. Try to think about what comes next.
Can I possibly represent both of us in a murder trial? Dolan had categorically refused to retain another attorney.
What if I'm asked, on the stand, whether, to my knowledge, Tommy committed perjury in his first trial? Claiming attorney-client privilege would be as good as admitting it!
Can I commit perjury, for his sake?
If I do such a thing, even if we're acquitted, my life will be over. I'll never allow myself to practice law again.
Strangely, that troubled him more than did the prospect of being hanged.
A thousand miles away, another man was, if possible, more miserable than Nate.
"It's all my fault," Ben Hawkins lamented to Ruthie. "An innocent woman's dead, an' two men are probably gonna join her, because I tried to get revenge on Crowe by tellin' Stern the Crowes were Russians posin' as U.S. citizens. Stern never woulda found that out any other way."
Ruthie shook her head. "You're bein' too hard on yourself. I know it had to be Crowe killed Sarah Feldman. But from what's been in the news, the jury believed Dolan's testimony, an' woulda found him not guilty without all that other stuff comin' out. So Crowe woulda struck back at Dolan's defense team anyway."
Ben wasn't buying it. "No, Ruthie. There's a big difference. If it was just a case o' the jury believin' Dolan over Crowe about the fire, Crowe's followers woulda gone on believin' he'd been in the right, thought he got a bum deal. Maybe even thought the outcome o' the trial was fixed. That woulda made them madder than they already were at the government, people in power. His movement wouldn't o' suffered at all.
"But the stuff that came out about him an' his sister bein' Russians, usin' dead kids' names - I hadn't known that! - an' votin' in our elections when they weren't really citizens...all that could be proved, an' it cost him most o' his supporters. Like I, damn it, knew it would. That was what damaged him enough to make him strike back.
"I did warn Stern he was dangerous. But I shoulda made the warning stronger, told Stern more. Or better yet, never called him in the first place."
He wanted to pace the floor of Ruthie's trailer in frustration. But he couldn't. He couldn't walk at all, because the pull on his muscles would start his abdominal wound bleeding again. His left arm was almost useless too, slight though that wound had initially seemed. And he was living with constant pain.
As far as havin' use o' my limbs, I'm in as bad shape as Lucius Belyakov ever was.
An' I'm twenty years old.
Since he couldn't pace, he took a few gulps of whiskey, and resumed his rant about the Feldman murder and the wrongful arrests.
"Maybe the worst of it is, I know now that Tommy Dolan didn't set that fire. He was an innocent man, an' his lawyer was representin' an innocent man, from the start!"
He'd lost Ruthie. "Didn't you know that all along?"
"No. I didn't know whether Dolan was innocent or guilty, an' I didn't care. All I cared about was usin' that big trial, with the publicity it'd get, to discredit Crowe. But the case Stern made convinced me Dolan was innocent, like it did most everyone else.
"An' now him an' Stern are both likely to hang, because o' me!"
Ruthie tried to protest, but he was just getting warmed up.
"I'm an Avatar, damn it! Even if I do seem like a pathetic cripple. I have powers. I should be just as powerful as Crowe, even if we're a little different." Ruthie knew all about that by now. "But I can't think of a thing I can do about this! I can't even avenge these poor people by killin' Crowe. If I was physically able to do it - which I ain't - there wouldn't be no point to it, 'cause whoever brought him back to life the last time would just do it again."
He'd concluded that the only possible explanation of Crowe's return to life was that he had a Dark Avatar son who'd revived him. A son who could be anywhere, using any name.
Ben was furious at God's having given him no warning that enemy existed.
And now he was struck by a grim parallel. "I did to Nathan Stern what God did to me! Put him in danger, without tellin' him everything he needed to know.
"Does that mean the Maker o' the Universe is just as dumb an' thoughtless as a twenty-year-old carny?"
Over Ruthie's objections, he picked up the whiskey bottle and drained it to the dregs.
Tommy Dolan was experiencing much less angst than Nate or Ben.
Tommy Dolan had faith.