Honorable Mention - Avery k. Tingle

“The Victim”

June 13, 2000

           At the edge of the horizon, the large orange orb peered over the hill, flooding the area suddenly with fresh sunlight. It forced Thomas Hayward to acknowledge its presence, along with a colder reality; he had been out here all night.
            He exhaled, bracing his hands on his knees, feeling much older than he was, and stood up. No going back now.
            Courtney, his polite, efficient secretary at the DA’s office, had scheduled the press conference for six a.m., just an hour from now. Dressed in a plain white T-shirt and ragged blue jeans, Thomas knew he hardly looked the part he was about to play. He had packed one of his suits in the trunk of his rental car just in case. He could change here undisturbed; it would be some time before the construction crew showed up.
            He allowed himself a final look at the skeletal home he had helped to create. Down the row of the fledgling block, he could see other homes in various stages of construction, including a few finished ones at the very end. This was going to be an upscale, private neighborhood in about two years, and no matter where Thomas wound up after today, he felt pride at having a hand in bringing something useful into the world.
            Thomas walked over the dirt hill to the makeshift parking lot below, where his nondescript rented hatchback awaited. His mind drifted back to the previous night, and the good times that followed. With his new wife safely away—and under guard—in a hotel, Thomas had gone aimlessly driving, hoping to make heads or tails of the recent horror that had descended upon Middlesex county. He imagined it was his father’s ghost that had led him to the future home of Cornelius Court, where not only had the construction crew welcomed his assistance, they even knew who he was. Even better, they were not passing judgment.
            For nearly four hours, he had worked with them, making casual conversation and never once touching on the tragedy. They were impressed by “the suit’s” ability to nail wood together and assemble pipelines. They were so impressed that they wouldn’t take his money when the work day ended, treating him to a few beers at the local pub. Thomas had avoided getting drunk for fear of letting something crucial slip. When they had separated, Thomas made his way back here to continue working alone. Just maybe, he hoped he could assemble this house in one night, or at least become so engrossed in his duties that time could pass him by.
            Then the sun rose, and reality set back in.
            As he opened the door and slid into the car, the bad side of his conscience sprung forth; you don’t have to do this. It wasn’t your fault. No one has to know. Just go back to work, hand over your findings, and keep your career on track.
            The voice that rose to counter in his mind was not his own conscience, but that of his father, the man who had inspired his interest in construction and so much more in life; Thomas, your word is your currency, and no one deals with a broke man.
Closing his eyes, Thomas smiled. Thanks, dad…
            Almost without thinking, Thomas jammed the key into the ignition and turned. The car sputtered and jumped violently, and Thomas felt a flash of terror rip through him as he realized the car was rigged to detonate, and it was too late to do anything about it--
            The car started after a moment. Thomas exhaled, relieved.
            Feeling utterly exhausted, he laid his head on the steering wheel. What he was about to do would torpedo his career and political aspirations, to say nothing of his family’s safety; they would be looking over shoulder for the rest of their lives.
            He felt his father’s strength engulf him as he rose, looking through the windshield. None of this mattered in the end, because history would remember; he did the right thing.
            While he still had the presence of mind, he awkwardly changed clothes, swapping his work clothes for his professional appearance. He gave himself a once-over in the mirror; he hadn’t washed up or shaved, but he still looked like a lawyer.
            He eased the car out of the dirt lot and back onto the main road, and headed towards the Middlesex County Courthouse. As he did, his mind drifted back nearly three years, to the case of twelve-year-old Ashleigh Brighton. In life, she was not known beyond Hudson, but in death, the whole world knew her name.
            It had begun relatively simple; Ashleigh had been last seen walking to the local school bus stop. Somewhere between her home and the bus stop, separated by a block, she vanished.
            None of her friends had seen her that day, and by night, an unsettling horror had set in. Ashleigh, who got good grades and was not prone to bad behavior, became the Hudson’s first missing child in nearly two years.
            The case hit home for Thomas, who had recently been accepted as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office. To him, finding Ashleigh was about restoring a sense of security to his hometown. Back then, he was limited to white-collar crime, so his involvement was limited.
            There was the usual fanfare; the entire world seemed to be looking for Ashleigh Brighton, or “The Good Girl” as the press dubbed her. There was FBI involvement to bolster the police investigation, multiple news broadcasts, and even a few shots on Oprah, Maury, and the Jerry Springer show, if you could believe it. It was darkly humorous, but it was as though the world had set aside its insanity for a moment in hopes of finding this little girl alive.
            As time passed, hopes diminished. Months passed. Everyone whispered but no one said what they all knew. It became something no one spoke of. Ignore it long enough, it goes away.
            Sadly, it did go away, and Hudson returned to an uncomfortable sense of normalcy.
            A year ago, Ashleigh Brighton returned, and Hudson once again became the focus of the world’s attention.
            Ashleigh was found naked, beaten, raped, and very much dead, in a dumpster outside of a nearby Taco Bell. There were chunks torn from her body as though dogs or sharks had taken a run at her. The tragedy was that it appeared that she had never left the city.
            Middlesex County—the entire world—cried out for justice.
            Thomas threw himself wholeheartedly into the case. He seemed joined to the hip with the police; he fought for search warrants, he was present for every interrogation and spent entire days sifting through information. Although the District Attorney was the one making all the press conferences, Thomas Hayward was the face of the investigation.
            Ninety relentless days later, an arrest was made; Al Whitaker, a nobody who spent thirty years in the same hardware store, was arrested and confessed. This was his first offense; he hadn’t known what possessed him to do what he’d done.
            The confession alone should’ve assured that there wouldn’t be a trial, and when the District Attorney himself promised to see the case through, everyone assumed things would wrap up quickly, including Thomas. He had no idea how badly things would go wrong after the judge refused Al’s “Guilty” plea and remanded him pending trial.
            Although suspicious, the move wasn’t unprecedented, and Thomas didn’t think much of it. When the judge ordered a bench trial, rather than trial-by-jury, the public was outraged, but quieted by DA’s promise of swift justice. Thomas was in the courtroom for most of the trial, and the DA handled things well.
            Al was found guilty of first degree kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder.
            The judge sentenced him to life—of probation, and a quick trip out of town.
            Only members of the DA’s office were present in the courtroom when the verdict was handed down. Thomas was so outraged that he was nearly held in contempt. The DA didn’t seem adversely affected—as though he had been expecting this.
            Silently investigating on his own, Thomas uncovered a multitude of million-dollar payouts—including one to his own account. Fearful of the repercussions, Thomas desperately tried to trace the deposit and came back with nothing.
            Still, he had not touched the money.
            As always, he discussed his findings with his wife. They had come to the same conclusions; regardless of how Thomas received the money, the fact that he had it made him look guilty. He could keep his mouth shut, go on as though nothing had happened, and everything would more than likely be alright.
            Or he could tell the truth. Ashleigh had not gotten justice.
            When the time came, he moved his wife into protective custody, under the watchful care of officers he knew to be clean, and made his last request to Courtney.
            Coming back to the present, Thomas rounded the corner to the courthouse, taking in the plethora of news vans and reporters that had gathered on the front steps. All he had to do was mention Ashleigh and press from three towns over had come running.
            He parked, stepped out of the car, and leaned against it, lowering his head. This was it; he was casting away a certain future because he had been raised to do the right thing, and all he had left was his word.
            He sat up, heading towards the courthouse. He entered through the backdoor, made his way through the regal-looking interior, and exited through the front door where the press waited.         
            As he took those final steps to the podium, he noticed that District Attorney was suspiciously absent.
            Thomas stepped to the microphone and spent the next five minutes relaying everything he had just gone over in his head. The press was uncharacteristically quiet during his entire speech, which punctuated with his intention to resign.
            An uneasy murmur passed through the assembled press. Judgment was being passed. Thomas, resigned, prepared to step away. “Mr. Hayward,” A male voice in the assemblage surprised him, and he turned to acknowledge the man he didn’t know, “Yes?”
            “Did you personally accept any payout?”
            Thomas quickly shook his head. “No, no, I did not, but I didn’t try to stop those who were being paid off—“
            “Mr. Hayward,” Another reporter inquired, and Thomas acknowledged by pointing, “Did you impede the investigation into Ashleigh’s killer?”
            Again, Thomas shook his head. “No, I didn’t. I did everything in my power to get justice for Ashleigh—“
“Mr. Hayward,” Janice began, standing and raising her pencil. Thomas acknowledged her by pointing. “Yes, Janice…”
            “Do you still intend to run for Middlesex County District Attorney? You’re not really going to resign your position, are you?”
            Thomas was surprised; it was a question asked with hope. He stepped back to the podium.             “Yes,” Thomas answered, surprised at the confidence in his own voice, “I still intend to run, and no, I’m not going anywhere.”

funny bunny says:
2007-09-08, 06:45
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Me says:
2007-10-27, 13:33
Este e o novo método de comentar...
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2008-01-21, 04:36
This rocks...
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