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Chapter 5 – Typical Situation
It's a typical situation,
In these typical times;
Too many choices.
It's a typical situation,
In these typical times.
We can't do a thing about it.
Bella and I follow Jason across the street to the Starbucks. The door makes a noise as we enter and Jason jumps. He looks around and then smiles sheepishly when Bella and I both look at him questioningly.
"I'm just a little jumpy," he says with a laugh. "I'll get a table. You two can order something if you'd like."
"You don't want anything?" Bella asks.
He shakes his head. "Ain't nothing in here strong enough for me, sweetheart." He walks away toward the tables.
I turn to Bella and say, "Get my usual, okay? I'm going to go with him. I have a feeling that he's a flight risk and I'd like to pick his brain before he disappears."
She nods and goes to the counter. I wind my way through the people and tables until I find Jason at the back of the coffee shop. He seems to have found the only table in the place where he could have his back to the wall. I pull out a chair and retrieve a pen and a pad from my briefcase.
"So, what can you tell me that can help me to understand how to proceed?" I ask.
He's smirking when I look up. "I knew your father… well; and I know you," he says. "I used to see you at the Chamber even before the Webber girl blew the back of her head off in your office." I flinch at the memory. "I remember how you used to come in with that big fella, McCarty. Before you lost it, you two would come in and take over that bar. You thought you were the shit." He chuckles.
"I remember when I finally saw you again after the suicide. You weren't the same. You still came in and the women still flocked to you, but your eyes were dead… like mine. I knew that you were damaged too. I knew that you thought that the alcohol could fix it… cure you somehow. How did that work out for you?"
I look over my shoulder and see that Bella is still at the counter. "Not too well. What does this have to do with Jacob's case?"
"We're not so different. I just didn't have a beautiful woman to save me."
"What are you talking about?"
"Bella… she saved you. I didn't have that. All I had… have is my bottle. She's the one that almost got you disbarred, isn't she? She's the reason that you gave it all up."
"Are you an alcoholic, Jason?"
"Call me J. And yes, I guess I am. Does that bother you?"
"No. Are you drunk now?"
"I'm not, but would it bother you if I were?"
"A little. You said that you can help me and I need the help. I don't see how you can be helpful if you're drunk."
"I can control it. I won't get completely wasted as long as we're working on this case. I'm good about that. I don't drink to excess when I'm working."
"What are you talking about? Are you suggesting that we be co-counsels on this?"
"That isn't possible."
"Why is that?"
"You weren't disbarred, but I was."
I wasn't completely shocked. I had assumed as much from the brief conversation we had had on the street. "So, how do you propose that we 'work' together?" I ask.
Bella places my coffee on the table in front of me and takes the seat across from J. He smiles at her and says, "I'd have given it all away for you, too. You're truly beautiful. I'm sorry about what happened to you. No one deserves it, especially someone like you."
"Thank you, Mr. Jenks, but in all honesty… you don't really know me," Bella replies.
"Call me J, please. And I do know you. I know both of you. How do you think that I found you today? Do you think that this was all just a coincidence or that I'm only interested in the case because it involves an Indian?
"I know all about the two of you. I've followed your career for a while," he says as he points at me. "I know that he used to be the second best criminal defense attorney in the state."
"The 'second best'?" I ask with a smirk.
"Your father was the best, boy. You know that. I also know that the Cavanaugh trial and the subsequent suicide broke you. I know that you were willing to throw it all away, your career, your livelihood, everything, for her.
"Hell, I think that you'd have given your life for her if that's what it would have taken to give her peace."
He points at Bella and says, "You were an up and coming journalist before that Cavanaugh prick attacked you. I know how long it's taken you to drag yourself out of your guilt and depression. I've read your stuff. I know that you're just as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside.
"I followed that trial. I kept up with you, boy. I know you and I know that you can do this. You just need someone to show you how.
"Your brother is innocent. When I heard the news and saw the name, I knew that you would be involved somehow. I hoped that you would agree to represent him, but I wasn't sure. When I saw you today, I knew that you would need my help."
I look at Bella and see that she has the same expression of disbelief that I know is on my face. "Well," I say as I try to regain my composure, "you've done your research. My wife and I are at a disadvantage. We know absolutely nothing about you… except that you're an alcoholic who has been disbarred."
"Why were you disbarred?" Bella asks.
"The Bar doesn't usually let you keep your license after you go to prison."
I feel Bella's hand on my leg. "Why were you in prison?" she asks.
"I killed someone," he says matter-of-factly. He reaches inside of his jacket and takes out a flask. He unscrews the cap and takes a sip. He grimaces slightly as he swallows. He replaces the cap and puts the flask back inside his jacket.
I cut my eyes and glance at Bella. I notice that she's doing the same. I feel her hand begin to squeeze my leg. I notice as the panic begins to form in her eyes.
I clear my throat and say, "You killed someone. Mind if we ask you for some specifics?"
J looks around the room. I notice a faint glistening of tears forming in his eyes. He licks his lips and says, "I'd rather talk about something else. Aren't you curious about how I connected you to Jacob Anthony Black?"
"Not as much as I am about how you can kill someone, go to prison, and be out right now. I assume that it wasn't capital murder. I would have heard if it had gone to trial here. Did you do it out of state? Was it manslaughter… self-defense with undue force? What happened?"
The old man's eyes shift to look out the windows behind me. "Have you ever defended an innocent man? A man that you know for a fact never committed a crime in his life?"
"Jacob will be my first," I reply.
"He was a patsy. The evidence… all that evidence… pointed directly to him, but I knew… I just knew he didn't do it. I couldn't find a single shred of proof though. The state's case was bullet-proof… perfect… too perfect." His eyes shift back to mine. "I'm sure you know how that feels."
I nod. "Did you kill your client?"
He chuckles. "God, no. I watched them take him out of that courtroom. I stood outside and watched the transport leave for the prison. Then I went to the closest bar and drank until I couldn't see. I woke up hand-cuffed to a hospital bed. I had tried to drive home and killed a single mother of four. She was on her way home from her third job.
"I didn't mean to do it, but I didn't plead innocent. I took my punishment, because I deserved it. I had committed a crime and I deserved to go to prison. My client, on the other hand, did not. I had intended to apologize to him when I arrived at the prison… for my failure. I was going to search him out and tell him that I knew he was innocent. I was going to convince him to write to your father and ask for assistance.
"I never got the chance. He had been killed on his third day inside. So I guess I killed two people, huh?"
His eyes shift to the windows again as he sits there in silence. I have no idea what to say. I take Bella's hand from my leg and squeeze it. Our eyes meet. If not for the grace of God that could have been me.
"I did my year, paid my fines and my restitution, and was released, but I had lost everything. I'd been disbarred, which was the least of my worries. I'd lost my job, of course, and my fiancée. I'd lost my car and my house. I had nothing… nothing, but a useless law degree."
He looks back at us and smiles. "That's where your father came in. He did a lot of pro bono work when he was an associate; mostly with Native American Affairs. He offered me a job… a second chance… as his personal paralegal specializing in those cases. That's how I learned the way the tribal system works. I learned by trial and error. I can help you."
"Is that how you associated me with Jacob?" I ask. "Through my father."
J smirks. "I was with him when he met Billie. We were working on a case on the reservation. It was a rape case. The alleged rapist was a 'pale face' and the victim…." He paused and bit his lip as he looked at the table.
"Was it Billie?" Bella asks.
J nods. "We stopped at that truck stop to kind of 'check her out.' You're dad was a ruthless bastard… but I'm sure that you knew that. He was hell bent on discrediting every victim whether it be a rape, a murder, a robbery… he didn't care. In his mind no victim was ever innocent." J looks into my eyes. "Sound familiar?"
I glare at him. "Are you trying to provoke me?"
"You aren't as different from your old man as you try to think that you are. That's not a bad thing. It will probably come in handy with this Jacob problem."
Bella touches my balled up fist and says, "So, Senior went to the truck stop to harass Billie. What happened?"
"The idiot fell in love. He saw her and it was instantaneous. He came back to the car and drove us back to Seattle so fast, I was afraid for my life. He recused himself the next day. Then he went back to that truck stop and I guess you know the rest."
I did. Father had another family that he loved and then he had Mom and me who he hated.
"Why didn't he just divorce my mom?" I mumble.
"And give up all the perks of being married to the daughter of Conrad Hollingsworth? Are you crazy? Your mother was always just a means to an end for that asshole."
"I thought that he was your friend," Bella says. "You talk about him like you hated him."
"Edward Masen didn't have any friends. He had associates, clients, and people who were afraid to cross him."
"And where did you fit in?" I ask.
With an evil grin, J replies, "I was the only man that he trusted. I was his confidant. I was his sounding board and his punching bag. And yes, Mrs. Masen, I hated him, but I owed him. I worked for him and I kept his secrets. I was handsomely rewarded… under the table of course; a similar arrangement that I expect to establish with you, Young Edward."
I stood from the table. "I've heard enough. I refuse to be a part of any illegal activity; therefore, you can't help me." I turn to my wife. "Let's go."
As Bella gathers her things, J says, "Sit down, boy."
I stare at him in disbelief. He has got to be joking. "Fuck you," I sneer.
"I am the only shot you have at getting Jacob out of this alive. Without me, he's a dead man… you're not exactly safe and neither is your pretty wife. So, sit down… now."
I slam my hands down on the table and lean in to look this prick in the eye. "You do anything to hurt my family and I'll kill you with my bare hands, I swear it," I seethe.
J doesn't even flinch. He smiles and says, "I'm not the one you have to worry about. But I know who you do need to keep an eye on and I know how to beat them. You need me… you'd best remember that. I won't say it again… SIT DOWN."
Bella takes my arm just above the elbow. She tugs it gently. I reluctantly rise up; my eyes never leaving the lush sitting, smirking, in front of me. She pulls harder on my arm and I lean in so that she can whisper in my ear, all the while keeping my eyes trained on J.
"We should stay," she says through her teeth.
"No," I say loudly.
"Yes," she insists. She pulls me and I reluctantly turn from the scoundrel at the table.
"Why?" I whisper to her. "I don't like him. I don't trust him. I don't want to be associated with him and I sure as hell don't want you anywhere near him. Let's just go. I'll figure it out."
"No, you won't," J says with a chuckle. "You won't even be able to get discovery and I'm certain that any interrogatories you have will never be answered."
I turn to glare at him. "And I suppose that you know the magic words to get all of this done."
"I know who to talk to and who to avoid. I know where to go to get the truth. I know who to trust and who to not. This isn't my first time at the rodeo, boy."
"Stop calling me that," I say through clenched teeth. "I don't trust you."
"Fine," J says with a shrug. "I don't particularly trust you either. And for the record, we have a mutual dislike for each other. I think that you're an asshole just like your father. You know… the apple doesn't fall far and all."
"You don't know him," Bella defends me. "Edward is nothing like his father."
"Did you know Edward, Sr.?" J asks. Bella shakes her head. "Then you should shut up about things in which you know nothing."
I reach across the table and grab his shirt in my fist. "Disrespect my wife one more time, asshole. Do it. Please give me an excuse."
"There he is! Hello, Senior. See, you are just like him. Well with maybe one exception." He looks around the crowded Starbucks. "He wouldn't have had so many witnesses in attendance." He smiles a knowing smile.
I release him and look around. People are staring. I see Bella blush with embarrassment. I straighten my tie and jacket before I reach over to pull Bella's chair out for her to sit. I sit at the table again and stare at the man in front of me. I so long to punch the smirk off of his face. I glare at him and he smiles even wider.
J laughs. "You want to hit me, don't you?"
"Yes," I say in a voice barely above a whisper.
J laughs again. "There will be plenty of time for that after the trial." He smiles widely this time before he says, "I'll gladly let you beat me senseless when we're finished with our business. I won't even fight back."
Bella draws in a breath and I see her eyes go wide. "Why would you do that?" she asks.
J shrugs. "To make him feel better. To make me feel better. I don't know. Maybe because I believe that I deserve it. Does it really matter?"
"Edward would never do anything like that," Bella says as she takes my hand. I wonder if she would be defending me if she knew that the thought of beating this son of a bitch to a bloody pulp is intriguing.
As if reading my thoughts, J says, "He's considering it."
I don't answer the question in Bella's expression. "Listen, I'm about done with this conversation. I need to see my brother. I need to talk with the AG who's pulled the case. I need to see what evidence that they have. In other words… I have shit to do. I just need to know where to start and what I need to do to get Jacob out of this. You tell me what I need to know and we'll never have to look at each other again."
"That's not how this works," J explains. "No one will talk to you. They don't know you. You need me. You have to hire me."
"I don't think so," I say. I can't believe that he would think that I would even consider it.
"Then I can't help you," he says and leans back in his chair.
"Wait," Bella says, "let's not be hasty. Explain what you mean by 'hire' you. What would that entail?"
"I can't work as an attorney… you know this… but I can work as a legal assistant or a paralegal. There are times when I will need to be 'officially' associated with you and the case to have access to people and materials. I can only do that if I'm working for you in some capacity. Otherwise, I'm just a citizen with a curiosity and I will be denied access.
"You have to 'hire' me to make it legit, but I will only use the credentials when absolutely necessary. All other times, I will be working strictly off the grid. The less you know about what I'm doing during those times the better it is for you. Rest assured that I won't do anything to jeopardize you or Jacob or Bella. I'm on your side. I want the truth to come out and Jacob to go free just as much as you do."
"I highly doubt that," I reply.
"Well, maybe not as much, but I do want him free. An innocent man should never go to prison for a crime he didn't commit."
"At least we can agree on that," I say. "So, if I 'hire' you, I suppose I have to pay you. How much?"
"Your father paid me fifty dollars an hour when I worked for him. Some of the other attorneys I've helped have paid more… some less. But it's always under the table. Cash only. I don't want to be on any payroll. I don't need any benefits or perks other than a box of business cards that says I work for you, which will only be used when absolutely necessary. Once our business is finished, you'll never see me again."
"Why is that?" Bella asks.
J grins. "I find that it's best that I disappear as soon as possible after a trial ends and stay away until I'm needed again or for as long as the money holds out. I'm not always popular right afterward and I like being alive."
"You could have fooled me," I mutter.
"I deserve to live with the misery and guilt of what I've done. Death would be a reward for me," he says and then looks down at the table. It's a long minute before he looks up and asks, "Do we have an understanding?"
"How do I know that I'm paying for the hours that you've worked? How do I know that you won't screw me?"
J sighs. "I hate to put it to you this way, but you're just going to have to trust me." I grunt. Not going to happen. He obviously notices my indignation. "This whole messy business won't work if we can't have some small level of trust with one another. We don't have to like each other. Hell, I hated your father and I haven't found many other attorneys that I've worked with to be very likable, but it isn't about us. We don't have to like each other. This is about Jacob and getting him home. That's the ultimate goal. Trust me enough to know that I won't do anything to harm an innocent man."
I turn to Bella. She nods her head and pats my hand.
"Forty dollars an hour… under the table… and you can guarantee that my brother goes free?" I ask.
"I can guarantee that I will do everything I know to do to help you make that happen," he replies.
"So how does this work? Is there a contract…?"
"Fuck, no, boy!" he says a little too loudly. He leans in and lowers his voice. "No paper trail, damnit. I try to stay as far under the radar as humanly possible. I'll tell you when I need the money. You'll know I'm working because I'll produce product."
"And you'll be sober?" I ask.
He grins and says, "More or less. I won't be falling down drunk, but I can't just stop drinking. I'm too far gone, boy."
"I really wish you wouldn't call me that."
"We don't always get what we wish for, do we… boy?"
I can see that this is a battle that I'll never win and it's really not worth it. I figure that I can get some information from him today and then see where it goes from there. With no contract I can always tell him to take a hike if it isn't working out. I'm finding it hard to see what I have to lose. I need some help and he's offering it. If a better offer comes along I can always just dump this drunkard; no harm, no foul.
"Okay. Where do I start?"
"First, I'm going to give you a little legal lesson in Indian law enforcement." I roll my eyes. "I know, I know. You've been to law school; you've been practicing law for years. Trust me when I tell you that you can throw all of that 'knowledge' out the window.
"Indian tribes possess inherent sovereignty that can only be diminished by treaty or act of Congress."
"I know this," I interrupt.
"Can you shut up and let me finish?" He pauses for my reply. I nod and he continues. "Intrinsic in this sovereignty is a tribe's power to create and administer a criminal justice system. Indian tribes have criminal jurisdiction over their members within the limits of the reservation, subordinate only to the expressed limitations of federal law. Indian tribes do not have inherent criminal jurisdiction to arrest, try, or punish non-Indians and may not assume such jurisdiction unless specifically authorized to do so by Congress."
"Jacob is half Quileute," I remind him.
"Do you know what the tribe sees when they look at him? Lighter skin, lighter hair, and those ice blue eyes. To them, he's a pale face."
"Why wouldn't they want to try and sentence him themselves?" Bella asks. "It seems to me that if they wanted to exact revenge, that treating him as one of their own would be a better option."
"You'd think that, but a further impediment to tribal authority is the limited sentencing power of the tribal courts. They can't impose a sentence greater than three years or a fine of five thousand dollars… or both. The feds can give him life… or the needle."
I see Bella shudder. I don't like to think about it either, but if Jacob is charged with capital murder, then the death penalty would be on the table.
"It won't even be the feds trying him. The state attorney general will get this one. The FBI will investigate it, but ultimately it will be the state prosecuting.
"Just so you're aware, the FBI is going to do a shitty job of investigating this. They hate going on the reservations. They half-ass these things. The tribe is never cooperative. It's always a clusterfuck."
"Then how can you help?"
"I know people," he says with a grin. "Not everything that I do will always be legal." My expression must have changed, because he says, "What? What have you done?"
I glance over to Bella and smile sheepishly. "I might have gone with my father-in-law to the murder site. I might have taken some pictures."
"Of what?" he asks.
I shrug. "Nothing really, just the little numbered flags they use when they collect evidence."
J's face lights up. "That's great," he says. "Now we have proof if they try to withhold anything."
"I can't tell the state's attorney that I was there. I'll get in trouble. It could jeopardize Jacob's defense."
J smiles. "We'll figure it out. It's still great. Can you send them to me?" He pulls the pad I have in front of me toward him and scrawls down an e-mail address. "Where was the murder site?"
I explain as best as I can how to get there. "I think I know where that is. I'll go there tomorrow and have a look around. You may have missed something and I can promise you that the FBI did."
"That's all great and wonderful and I really appreciate the legal lesson, but I'd really like to get Jacob home today, if possible. Do you think that you could maybe help me with that?"
"You don't want Jacob to go home. You don't want him out of that jail cell or anywhere near that reservation until well after this trial is over. It would be in his best interest for us to not just prove his innocence, but to also find the real murderer before he goes home."
"Why is that?" Bella asks.
"Because if he's released today, then he'll be dead tomorrow. The Indians do so like their revenge."
Sorry for the long wait. I have no excuse other than I started a new job and it's been kicking my butt. I'll try to do better. What do you guys think of J? Should Edward try to get Jacob out on bail anyway?