A Bar Called Banger’s

The angry growl of a motorcycle engine accompanies blinding V-shaped headlights reflecting upon the windows of an Irish bar.

Sean Flynn cuts the engine and climbs off his bike. He removes his helmet and sets it on the seat of his sleek VFR 1200F. There is a black and white CRIME PAY$ bumper sticker on the topcase. The bike has a New York plate.

Cigarette smoke clouds the face of Chuck Flynn, seated inside. A whiskey and an ashtray are on the bar in front of him. Chuck watches Banger wipe up some ashes that he spilled on the bar next to him.

Sean tries to peer through the tinted windows before entering, but he can only see himself. He walks in and sits down next to Chuck at the bar, noticeably put off by the drink in front of him. He sets his helmet down and looks around.

“Banger’s,” Sean says.

“Hasn’t changed,” Chuck says.

“You got my message?” Sean says.

Chuck takes a sip of his whiskey after pointing out Banger, who is now working the crowd.

“Banger says you can use the place upstairs.”

“That’s not necessary,” Sean says.

Chuck smiles. “For a small fee.”

“How small?” Sean says.

A waitress, who appears too young to be serving drinks, checks in on them from behind the bar.

“How we doing, Chuck?”

“Steal me a pack of Banger’s smokes, will you?”

“Know a good lawyer if I get caught?”

“He owes me,” Chuck says. “And grab me the keys for upstairs.”

The waitress turns to Sean. “How about you?”

“Coffee,” Sean says. “And a water.”

“Coffee?”

“That’s what I said,” Sean says.

“Okay then. Coffee,” the waitress says.

Sean spots a blond TV reporter about his age, Nikki Wallace, across the bar in a corner doing Tequila shots with an off-duty detective, Mark Mitchell. Banger has made his way over to join them.

Banger does a shot then shakes Mitchell’s hand in a way that allows him to secretly pass him something. Sean sees Mitchell reach into his coat pocket.

Sean’s eyes briefly meet Nikki’s.

Chuck watches Sean check her out and can see how spent he is from riding his bike all day. More people start filing into Banger’s, making it standing room only. Sean’s view of Nikki is obstructed.

“Safe trip?” Chuck says.

“Ten hours. New York to Riverport,” Sean says.

“Fuck me.”

Sean stretches around the guy in front of him to get a clear look at Nikki’s ass.

“They set a real trial date?” Sean says.

“Guess so,” Chuck says.

“Adams got enough money to drag it out?”

“Adams hasn’t got dick except for some secretary he’s fucking who doesn’t know he’s broke. Second wife cleaned him out before she went to the DA. Why else would he hire me?”

Chuck’s words just hang there.

“Fucking these bastards will be its own reward.”

Chuck kills what’s left of his whiskey, choking a little on it afterward. It’s hard for Sean to watch.

“And some fool is paying you for this?” Chuck says.

“Cold cases are the latest rage.”

Chuck shakes his head.

“Ever done any involving exhumations?” Sean says.

“Pseudo-fucking-science.” Chuck grabs his empty drink. “Trying to make sense of anything from a twenty-year-old box full of bones.”

The waitress returns with Sean’s coffee and an open pack of cigarettes for Chuck.

“I’m gonna need to hear from the other side,” Sean says, sipping his coffee.

“The dead don’t say hi,” Chuck says.

“Sometimes,” Sean says.

“Come again, pal?”

“But I’m talking about The State,” Sean says.

“Primetime Tommy,” Chuck says.

“Think he’ll talk to me?”

“He’s a politician,” Chuck says.

“Have you forgotten you’re involved?”

Sean reaches for the pack of cigarettes next to Chuck’s glass and pulls one out. Chuck then slides a pack of matches across the bar.

“Who plays with fire.”

The Page County Courthouse

Tommy Roberts and Sean walk down the hall toward Tommy’s corner office on the third floor. Tommy is the District Attorney for Page County, North Carolina, home to The City of Riverport. A bunch of public service bulletins line the walls, including a big poster with a cop on it that reads: Use METH – Lose It All!

Sean follows Tommy into his office. Tommy’s nameplate is outside the door.

Tommy motions for Sean to sit down in front of his desk. A copy of each of Sean’s three true crime books are already on the desk for him to sign.

Tommy hands Sean a pen from inside his jacket pocket before taking a seat. He gestures to the books with both hands.

“Do me the honor?”

The books are cheesy mass-market paperbacks that Sean still hates himself for writing. One is titled Bloodsport. Another is Vengeance. The third is Massacre. All are written under the name S.C. Flynn.

“Read them all,” Tommy says. “Both me and Melissa. Great stuff, Sean. The real deal.”

Sean looks at a picture of Tommy with a woman on his desk.

“Melissa?”

“My lovely wife,” Tommy says. “Big reader, Sean. We both are.”

Sean signs the books and slides them across Tommy’s desk.

Tommy reads the inscriptions.

“You know all lawyers secretly dream of being writers, don’t you?”

“Some of the best crime writers are lawyers,” Sean says.

“Maybe you can show me a few tricks of the trade.”

“No tricks here, it would seem, short of some old bones and a love triangle.”

Tommy smiles, recognizing Sean’s potential to either enhance his profile or cause him all kinds of trouble.

“Hell hath no fury like an ex-wife,” Sean says.

“Or, like Melissa likes to say, whatever bad a man will do for you he’ll eventually do to you.”

“Patty Adams finally decided not to find out,” Sean says.

Tommy smiles.

“My main concern is preserving the integrity of the case.”

“Wouldn’t make any sense for me to jeopardize it,” Sean says.

“And I appreciate that,” Tommy says. “But there’s been concern about your father’s connection to the case.”

Sean nods, looks reflective, pretends to be a little sad.

“I don’t imagine this becoming a book about an innocent man.”

“Nor do I,” Tommy says.

“There’s just not much demand out there for stories like this that don’t end in convictions,” Sean says.

Tommy can already see his name in print.

“Just thought you should know there’s been some concern.”

Sean acknowledges the point with another somber nod.

“After I convict Richard Adams for first degree murder, your father is going to have a more serious problem.”

“He’s a lawyer. I’m a writer.”

Tommy gets the message. “Fair enough.”

Tommy’s Assistant District Attorney, Linda Boykin, pops her head in.

“Linda, meet Sean Flynn. The true crime writer, home from New York.”

Sean stands up to greet her. Boykin smiles politely at him, but then turns back to Tommy with a look as if to say you’ve lost your mind to let Flynn’s kid anywhere near the case.

The Private Practice Of Chuck Flynn

Sean is waiting for Chuck outside his office. CHARLES R. FLYNN, ATTORNEY AT LAW is printed in large black lettering across the window. Sean’s bike is parked in front, and he’s wiping it off with a rag.

Chuck comes out and stops next to the bike. He notices the sticker on the topcase.

“Crime pays?” Chucks says.

“Paid for this,” Sean says.

“Congratulations.”

Sean sets his rag down on the topcase next to the sticker.

“The family business.”

“It’s a living,” Chuck says. He reaches into his pocket for his cigarettes.

“Let me have one of those,” Sean says.

Chuck hands him the pack, offers him a light.

“How’s your pal Tommy?”

“Likes to read. Loves his wife,” Sean says.

Sean puts his rag back in the bike’s topcase.

“All wife, no cattle,” Chuck says.

Sean passes the cigarettes back to Chuck.

“Yeah,” Sean says. “All wife’s cattle.”

Chuck laughs. They walk across the street.

A Bar Called Banger’s

Banger comes over to greet Chuck and Sean after they sit down at a table. Banger’s been chatting up a secretary type sitting at the bar.

“It’s Banger himself,” Chuck says to Sean. To Banger, “Junior’s home from New York in search of local color.”

“Stay away from me, stud,” Banger says. “Ain’t nothin’ but a shitload of trouble.”

Chuck laughs.

“Everything okay upstairs?” Banger says.

“Thanks for putting me up,” Sean says.

“Thank him,” Banger says of Chuck, less than thrilled. “That your ride out front?”

“Yeah,” Sean says.

“Ain’t no Harley,” Banger says.

“Wouldn’t be caught dead on a Harley.”

“Can die on one just as easy as the other,” Chuck says.

“Plenty of ways to die, partner,” Banger says.

“Banger doesn’t have any kids,” Chucks says to Sean.

“None that know it,” Banger says. “What’ll it be?”

“Just take a black coffee,” Sean says.

“This look like fucking Starbucks?”

“Get the kid a coffee, Banger,” Chuck says.

Banger turns to a waitress nearby. “Sweetheart, make John Grisham some fresh coffee will ya.”

Sean laughs.

“I didn’t know you could read,” Chuck says to Banger.

“That’s the shit I pay you for,” Banger says.

Banger turns to Sean. “Let’s take a look at that ride.”

“Don’t encourage him,” Chucks says.

“Ask him who bought me my first dirtbike in sixth grade,” Sean says to Banger.

“Only to piss off his mother,” Chuck says.

“Let me see the ride,” Banger says.

“Better hurry before I hire someone to steal it,” Chuck says.

“Name your price,” Banger says.

“You couldn’t steal the cash out of your own register without getting caught. Stick to my free drinks.”

“Shit,” Banger says.

“Banger’s not much of a criminal,” Chuck says to Sean.

“Ain’t bad,” Banger says.

Banger and Sean walk outside to check out the bike. Chuck stays where he is, takes a drink.

Banger circles the bike, studying it from all angles. He bends down on one knee to take a close look at the inverted front forks and then V-shaped headlights.

“Don’t see a lot of these here in Buttfuck, USA.”

“It’s sophisticated,” Sean says.

“Ugliest fucking motorcycle I’ve ever seen,” Banger says.

Sean laughs it off. “You ride?”

“Not like I used to.”

“Used to?” Sean says. “Before you went down, right? Or a friend broke his leg? Or the dude who lived down the street got hit by a truck and died?”

“Heard that story before?”

“Everybody’s got their favorite accident story,” Sean says.

Banger twists his neck in an awkward position to study the wiring and run his hands over a cable to see where it goes. He then notices the bike has no clutch lever or gear pedal.

“Where the fuck’s the clutch?” Banger says.

“DCT,” Sean says.

“DC what?”

“Dual clutch transmission,” Sean says. He places his hand on the left bar and demonstrates how to shift up and down by using a trigger system with the mere touch of a finger. “Tiptronic/toggle system.”

“What about neutral?” Banger says.

Sean places his other hand on the right bar, pushing another button.

“Neutral.”

Banger can’t quite get his head around it all, still staring at the empty space where the clutch would normally be.

“Yeah, everybody’s got an accident story.”

The Loft Above A Bar Called Banger’s

Sean sits in the windowsill of a shabby loft smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee with his cell to his ear. One of his legs is shaking from too much caffeine. The loft is one floor above Banger’s in a building directly across from Chuck’s office on one side of the street and the courthouse on the other.

Sean looks down at his bike parked in front of Chuck’s office below. He’s still listening on the cell when he hears a monster roar and then sees Banger pull up on an old Harley.

“Hang on a second,” Sean says into the phone.

He puts his hand over it as Banger looks up at him in the window. Banger cuts the engine. He’s not wearing a helmet. Sean raises his coffee cup to Banger in sort of a toast and takes a sip as Banger enters the bar. Sean then steps back inside the loft from his seat in the windowsill and starts to pace.

“Yeah, sorry. So thinking fiction would be better this time. A novel. As in my breakout novel.”

Sean listens to his agent in New York.

“The Times won’t review true crime,” Sean says.

Sean listens, more irritated.

“I know, Andrea. That’s what they bought. More true crime. I also know true crime is a dead end. It’s a literary ghetto, a career killer. You’re my agent. You should be telling me this.”

One of the walls in the loft has a number of photos and documents tacked up to it like a large bulletin board. A series of old news articles from Riverport’s local paper, The Register, are the most prominent:

Adams Indicted for Wife’s Murder (May 11, 2010)

19-year-old Case Reopened; Officials Say was Murder (January 6, 2010)

Brady Upsets Flynn for District Attorney, Adams Case Cited by Voters (November 5, 1992)

Flynn Refuses to Seek Indictment in Adams Case (December 4, 1991)

Parents Question Accidental Death Ruling (October 16, 1991)

Woman Found Dead in Car Accident East of Riverport (October 9, 1991)

Sean begins pacing in front of the wall.

“Listen,” he says. “It’s just not exactly clear what the story is yet.”

Sean stops pacing.

“Yeah, right. I’ll keep you posted.”

He hangs up and walks toward the window to look out, taking stock of where he is and why. He then turns back inside and throws his cell down hard on the bed.

The Page County Courthouse

Chuck sits alone at a table inside the courtroom. He has a legal pad in front of him he is doodling on. Sean sits in the front row directly behind Chuck’s table.

Tommy and Boykin sit next to each other at another table. Tommy shuffles through a stack of papers. Boykin whispers something in his ear.

Four other people are spread out in the first couple rows on the other side of the courtroom behind Tommy and Boykin. Mark Mitchell, the lead detective in the case is sitting directly behind their table. Stuart Farrell, cops and courts reporter for The Register, and Nikki Wallace are one row back.

Nikki is tweaking like she hasn’t slept in a week. Sean is distracted by it and can’t take his eyes off her. Mitchell keeps looking over his shoulder at Sean like he wants to shake him down.

Judge Ronald Sullivan is already seated at the bench and has been going back and forth with the lawyers about key dates for filing motions. He now turns to the subject of the trial.

“Mr. Roberts?”

Tommy stands up. “Your Honor, we believe the State’s case can be presented in its entirety in no more than two weeks, provided the defense will agree to several stipulations we anticipate will be satisfactory to both sides, as well as the Court.”

“Mr. Flynn?” Judge Sullivan says.

Chuck remains seated. “I’ll need three days, Judge.”

Sean is checking his voicemail just outside the courtroom on his cell after the hearing when Farrell approaches him.

“Hey, Stuart Farrell with The Register. Sean, right?”

“Yeah,” Sean says.

They shake hands.

“What do you think so far?”

“Not much,” Sean says.

“Strange case,” Farrell says. “Especially with your dad on the other side all these years later.”

“It’s different.”

Farrell is a little in awe of Sean.

“Curious if you’d be up for an interview? You know, successful writer returns home to cover a big case kind of thing.”

“Successful is a relative term,” Sean says.

“Three books for sale at the local Barnes & Noble? Folks here eat that stuff up.”

“Probably better to keep a low profile for now,” Sean says.

Farrell is surprised someone would turn down the publicity.

“Right. Can kind of see that.”

Chuck walks down the hall with a coffee. Sean and Farrell both notice him coming.

“A living legend around here,” Farrell says.

Chuck walks up to Sean and Farrell.

“Tommy produce the murder weapon yet?”

“How’s it going, Chuck?” Farrell says.

“Same old shit.”

“He says you’re a living legend,” Sean says to Chuck.

“You’re both famous around here,” Farrell says.

Sean rolls his eyes at Chuck.

“Judge wants you to pop in and say hi,” Chuck says to Sean.

Chuck leads Sean back into the courtroom, now empty, and through the same door Judge Sullivan used to exit it.

Judge Sullivan sits at a computer in his chambers with his back to the door. Chuck walks in with Sean following behind him.

“Knock knock?” Chuck says.

Judge Sullivan motions Chuck and Sean in. He then holds his hand three feet above the floor.

“I remember when you were this high, Sean.”

“I don’t,” Sean says.

Judge Sullivan winks at Sean.

“Sharp kid, Chuck. Chip off the old block.”

“Smarter than me,” Chuck says. “Never became a lawyer.”

“God bless you, son,” Judge Sullivan says. “How’s your mom?”

“She’s okay,” Sean says.

“Still in Atlanta?”

“Still there.”

“Was always fond of her,” Judge Sullivan says.

“So when’s this thing actually going to trial?” Sean says to Judge Sullivan.

“This case?” Judge Sullivan smirks at Chuck. “What do you say, Chuck. First week after hell freezes over?”

“We’re in no hurry, Judge,” Chuck says. “Adams is out on bond.”

“At least maybe there’s a book in it for you,” Judge Sullivan says to Sean.

“That’s why I’m here,” Sean says.

Judge Sullivan looks at Chuck.

“An interesting dilemma.”

Nikki’s WRFO Newscar

Nikki is in the passenger seat of her newscar waiting for her cameraman, Joe, while he loads some gear in the back. She listens to Mitchell on her cell with a headset while sneaking a quick blast of meth.

Nikki starts fixing her lipstick in the mirror when Joe gets in.

“Tommy is Tommy,” Nikki says into the phone. “He just needs to get this in front of a jury and the verdict will take care of itself.”

Nikki listens to Mitchell.

“His father’s a lush. Forget about his father,” she says. “Anything more from Adams’s daughter?”

Nikki listens to Mitchell.

“He did something to that girl,” she says.

Nikki listens to Mitchell.

“Yep,” she says. “And wife knew it. Fucking asshole.”

Nikki listens to Mitchell.

“Like what, Mark?” she says.

Nikki listens to Mitchell.

“It’s strange he’s back, yes, considering I hear he and his father have barely spoken for years,” she says.

Nikki puts the lid back on her lipstick and wipes her nose while listening to Mitchell.

“Just keeping working the girl, and leave Flynn’s son to me.”

Interstate

Sean rides past a mileage sign that reads: CHARLOTTE 124.

A Bar Called Banger’s

Banger is washing a glass behind the bar, while Chuck and drinking buddy Wayne Copeland, editor of The Register, are catching an afternoon buzz. The bar only has a few other people in it.

Sean walks in and acknowledges Banger cleaning up behind the bar.

“What’s up, Banger?”

“You tell me, clutch.”

Sean walks over to Chuck and Copeland.

Chuck puts his finger to his lips. “Careful. Here comes a writer.”

“That makes one of us,” Copeland says.

“Have a seat, pal,” Chuck says to Sean.

Sean remains standing.

“I’m running out of Biff stories for the kid here,” Chuck says to Copeland. “What can you tell him about the way the Sheriff cracked the Adams case back in the day?”

Chuck turns to Sean. “Wayne Copeland. Editor of our local rag.”

Copeland remains seated, but reaches a hand up to Sean.

“Good to meet you, Sean.”

Sean sits down.

“I’ve read your original articles from 1991,” he says to Copeland.

“Bob Woodward I was not.”

“The old man here tells me you pissed off the Sheriff pretty good at the time?” Sean says.

“Yeah,” Copeland says.

“Tore me a new one as well,” Chuck says.

“I let you off too easy, Chuck.”

“So what are they thinking with this guy?” Sean says. “Why go after him now?”

“Thinking?” Copeland says.

“All right, doing?” Sean says. “Why now?”

“One does not necessarily lead to the other with this crowd,” Copeland says.

Copeland glances over at Chuck. Chuck’s eyes tell him it is okay to continue.

“Adams’s second wife finds a letter in his briefcase, more or less proposing to his secretary by saying his wife is leaving him.”

“Inadmissible,” Chuck says.

“And second wife is both pissed and scared shitless because it’s word for word the same set of lies he wrote her almost twenty-five years earlier.”

“Inadmissible,” Chuck says.

“And seeing how things worked our for the first wife,” Copeland says. “The second wife takes her story to Tommy’s office.”

“After taking Adams to the bank,” Chuck says.

“Why inadmissible?” Sean says.

“Where are the letters?” Chuck says.

“Heresay,” Sean says.

“Her say,” Chuck says.

“Her say was suspicious enough to spark Tommy to look back at the old case files and exhume the body,” Copeland says.

“Cold cases are the latest rage,” Chuck says.

“Hires a celebrity expert, who says Sara Adams was strangled instead of drown and Tommy gets to play CSI: Riverport for a few weeks in the local media leading up to his race for a first full term this fall,” Copeland says.

Sean looks at Chuck.

“Primetime Tommy.”

Chuck puts down his drink. “Toss in a cop who wants to be sheriff and some slut reporter desperate for her ticket out of here, and you’ve got a recipe for a world-class clusterfuck.”

“Makes as much sense as anything else I’ve heard,” Copeland says. “Give me a call, Sean, and I’ll see what I can remember.”

Copeland removes a business card from his wallet and hands it to Sean.

Chuck grabs his cigarettes and some files off the table as they all get up to leave.

The Page County Courthouse

Chuck, Tommy, and Boykin enter the courtroom from the door leading back to Judge Sullivan’s chambers. Chuck walks toward a corner behind the empty jury box and signals a man and a woman seated at the defense team’s table to join him.

The man is Richard Adams, an insurance executive in his forties. The woman is his girlfriend, April Vaughn, a pretty secretary who could be his daughter. The three huddle in the corner. Chuck whispers something to them.

Chuck’s eyes then wander slowly past Adams and April, first pausing on Mitchell, who sits intensely behind the prosecution’s table and stares at Adams, then past Mitchell to Nikki’s legs sticking out in the aisle of the courtroom, up just enough to see it’s her, and finally to Sean across the aisle on the defense side of the courtroom, who is fixated on Nikki’s legs.

Sean looks up to catch Chuck’s eye.

Nikki leans across the aisle toward Sean, sensing he has been checking her out.

“Nikki Wallace,” she says.

“Sean Flynn.”

“I know,” Nikki says.

“Know what?” Sean says.

Nikki smiles at Sean.

A Bar Called Banger’s

Chuck is sitting at the bar with a whiskey. Banger is mixing drinks directly in front of him. The place is filling up with the after-work crowd, making it hard to hear an anchor delivering local news on the TV above the bar.

“How’s he doing?” Banger says.

“Won Tommy over easy enough,” Chuck says. “Got some old witnesses to talk. Her parents. Hear he’s pissed off the cops.”

Chuck takes a drink. Looks up at the TV. Nikki is now reporting from the banks of the Page River. She couldn’t look more uninspired.

“Hasn’t wasted any time getting into it then?” Banger says

“Seems to know the drill.”

Chuck glances back up at Nikki and takes another drink, prompting Banger to do the same.

“You sure keeping him so close is a good idea?” Banger says.

Chuck doesn’t say anything.

“This ain’t the corner bakery,” Banger says.

“He’s paying you ain’t he?”

“Ain’t talking about the fucking rent, Chuck.”

“Sounds like he got real money this time,” Chuck says. “Probably afford to fix the place up for you.”

“Your kid,” Banger says. “Just hope you know what you’re doing.”

Chuck sets his drink down on the bar but doesn’t let go of the glass.

The Page County Courthouse

Tommy thumbs through a stack of discovery material, handing each item to Nikki before he moves on to the next. There are copies of old news articles, family photos, a life insurance policy, mortgage papers on Richard Adams’s first house in Charlotte with his second wife, and Sara Adams’s driver’s license.

Nikki briefly reviews each item before setting it face down on a chair next to her.

“This is everything from the defense?”

“Mainly articles,” Tommy says. “And here’s the report from their expert as to cause of death. Consistent with an accident.”

Tommy hands Nikki the report.

“Big surprise,” she says.

Tommy hands Nikki the entire file.

“Flynn’s got nothing,” Nikki says.

“Appears that way.”

“No mention of the girl?”

“Richard Adams killed his first wife so he could marry his second wife,” Tommy says.

“I’ve spent time with Susie,” Nikki says, forcefully.

“Not a part of this case.” Tommy’s tone signals Nikki should drop the subject if she expects his continued cooperation.

“And still no chance the Judge will toss him off the case for a conflict of interest?”

“Not unless I file a motion asking him to,” Tommy says.

“Adams is so stupid I can’t believe he got away with killing her in the first place,” Nikki says. “What was he thinking to hire a local lush like Chuck Flynn?”

“He couldn’t do much worse.”

A Bar Called Banger’s

Copeland and Sean sit together at a table. Copeland takes a drink of his beer. Sean has a notebook next to his coffee and a cigarette burning in an ashtray. Banger is lurking in the background, replacing some bottles above the bar.

“So you got into it with that Sheriff at the time?” Sean says.

“Biff as he was fondly known,” Copeland says.

“My dad says he fucked it up from day one.”

Copeland takes another drink.

“Biff’s theory was the woman had banged her head when she went into the water and then lay there and drown. He then had his crony medical examiner look at the body for five minutes before signing the death certificate.”

“A real pro,” Sean says.

“It was over with. And I think after that they were all just covering their asses to the end.”

“Also hear you went for a little joyride?” Sean says.

“Is that what your dad called it?”

“Called it a joyride.”

“Yeah. Just old Biff and me. Plus the shotgun mounted on the dash. We get out there to the scene of the wreck, and he puts on this dog and pony show. Oh, the car came around. It was blackened night. And you could just hear it squealing. And she loses control. And it goes in the river. And she hits her head. And she falls down on the seat. And the water comes up through the dashboard. And that’s it.”

Copeland grabs some Beer Nuts and washes them down with what’s left of his beer.

“One car accident, he said. And so I went back and wrote something to the effect that it’s an ongoing investigation and so on.”

Sean looks out the window at the courthouse. Copeland senses there’s more to the case for him than just a good drinking story so many years later.

“When Brady decided to run against your dad for District Attorney and make it an issue, I suspect Biff realized they’d made a mistake and conveniently lost all the files. Your dad was right to leave it alone, even though he knew it would likely cost him the next election.”

“Cost him a lot more than that,” Sean says.

“He knows it did, Sean. The voters didn’t believe him. His own wife didn’t believe him. Everyone thought he was hiding something. Most folks have ever since.”

“Your paper thought so,” Sean says.

“I was just a reporter at the time. Brady was a crook, but he was smart. He knew Biff fucked up and he rode that fact all the way into office. Your dad was in a no-win situation.”

“No win?”

“If he charges the guy without a solid case it looks like he’s bowing to political pressure. If he doesn’t, he looks like part of some cover-up.”

“It was a cover-up,” Sean says.

“Yes and no,” Copeland says. “Richard Adams was just a young claims agent for State Farm. Why would they bother to protect somebody like that? What was there about him? There wasn’t anything. The Sheriff and his cronies were protecting themselves.”

“Then why didn’t he just say so at the time instead of go and lose an election over it? Sacrifice his political future.”

“Easy to say now. At the time things weren’t so clear.”

“He hated that Sheriff,” Sean says.

“Yeah, but he needed him. Adams was one case,” Copeland says. “You don’t win the rest of them in a town like this without the Sheriff’s help.”

“So Adams gets away with murder? None of this ever made any sense.”

“Brady never ended up charging him either before he was run out of office.”

Sean thinks about it, sips some more coffee.

“Look, your dad’s a good defense lawyer, but he was a great prosecutor. Best I’ve ever seen,” Copeland says. “He loved putting assholes like Adams away, and he’d have gone after him like a bad habit if he thought he had a case.”

Sean’s still not convinced.

“In the end,” Copeland says. “He simply did what was right both legally and ethically. He didn’t bring a case without sufficient evidence. That’s the way the system is supposed to work.”

“It cost him,” Sean says.

“Doing the right thing around here usually does.”

Copeland reaches for his empty beer glass again. Banger sees this and starts to pour him another before he has to ask.

Once Sean is outside, he notices there is a parking ticket on his bike parked across the street in front of Chuck’s office. Banger’s Harley is parked right next to it, but doesn’t have a ticket. Sean walks over to grab it.

Standing in between the old Harley and his VFR, Sean looks back at Banger’s and then into the front window of Chuck’s office, next door. A number of loser clients wait in the lobby. He tucks the ticket inside his breast pocket, letting his hand rest over his heart.

The Page County Courthouse

Sean and Nikki are seated across the aisle from each other in the front row. Sean is behind the defense table. Nikki is behind the prosecution table. April is in the seat to Sean’s right. She has a legal pad on her lap and looks like she’s pretending to be a paralegal. Farrell and other reporters are in the rows behind them. Copeland, Farrell’s boss, has also come to watch.

Tommy, who is standing at a podium in front of the jury, is about to deliver his opening statement. Mitchell is watching Tommy like his own future is at stake.

Sara Adams’s father, mother, and brother are also seated in the front row behind the prosecution’s table. An army of friends and relatives who have come to lend their moral support sits behind them.

Tommy signals Boykin, who is operating a laptop projector, to display Slide 1. A picture of Sara’s face circa 1991 lights up the room.

The Bailiff dims the lights.

“Ladies and Gentleman, this case is not about that man over there, the defendant,” Tommy says. He points to Adams, and then to the picture of Sara Adams. “It’s about what he did to his wife, Sara Adams, the mother of his five-year-old daughter, on the night of October 7th, 1991.”

Sean looks at Chuck, who is combatively sizing up Tommy. Adams, seated next to Chuck, betrays no emotion. Mitchell also turns to look at Chuck and Adams, then at Sean. Sean stares back at him.

Chuck addresses the jury following a short break after Tommy has finished. He’s not using the podium or reading from any notes. He has no slides or visual aids. He paces in front of the jury box, taking turns looking individual jurors in the eye.

“My client, Richard Adams, is on trial for first degree murder, not a marital indiscretion,” Chuck says, forcefully. “We are going to tell you and the evidence will be that in 1991 Mr. Adams did have a physical and a romantic relationship with someone other than his wife, and it was before the death of Mrs. Adams, and it was with Patty Randall. She and Mr. Adams were ultimately married in 1992 after they moved to Charlotte , where he began work with the Family Capital Insurance Company.”

Tommy can’t believe Chuck just admitted the affair. He turns to Boykin with a hand over his mouth.

“What’s he thinking?”

“Shit,” Boykin says.

Outside the courtroom, the principals prepare to leave, with relatives and other spectators still mulling about. Nikki is talking with Mitchell and Joe, who is holding a TV camera. Sean and Chuck are standing in a corner where no one can hear them.

Sean is confused

“Why give up the affair?”

“Can’t make this a fight over his fucking someone else,” Chuck says.

“And no mention of the daughter?” Sean says.

“What daughter?” Chuck says.

Mitchell sees them talking.

“Doesn’t look like father and son barely speak to each other anymore to me,” he says to Nikki. “Tommy’s a fucking idiot for talking to Flynn’s kid.”

“We’re fine,” Nikki says.

“Flynn just took away our motive.”

“He didn’t take away anything,” Nikki says. “But that’s why we need another one. Just to be safe.”

Mitchell then shakes his head as he takes off toward the stairs. Nikki grabs him by the arm and pulls herself up to his ear.

“Tell her you were raped by your football coach. Raised by wolves. Make her remember.”

Chuck and Sean watch from their corner as Mitchell breaks free of Nikki and walks down the stairs.

“There goes your fan club,” Chuck says.

“And yours,” Sean says.

“I just want to win this case so these cocksuckers don’t.”

The Loft Above A Bar Called Banger’s

The door to Sean’s loft is cracked open when Chuck walks in carrying a large coffee and a carton of cigarettes. He also has a cigarette in his mouth. Sean is standing at his desk, talking on the phone.

Chuck sets the coffee and carton down on a table. He taps an ash from his cigarette in an empty paper cup next to them and moves over toward the story wall. A picture of Sara Adams tacked to the wall is close to his head. He looks down at the bed on the floor. The bed is shoved into a corner directly beneath the story wall. It is covered in files, books, newspapers, and other scattered papers, making it seem like a mere extension of the wall itself.

The wall has grown. Most noticeable are several Xeroxed shots from police reports of the 1989 Ford Escort that went into the river. There are also more files and notebooks scattered around. A TV, turned on, sits on the floor in the corner.

“Opening statements were today,” Sean says into the phone, defensively.

Sean listens.

“Probably about three weeks,” he says.

Sean listens.

“It’s a murder trial. I don’t have a crystal ball.”

Sean gets off the phone, rattled. He sees the coffee and carton of cigarettes.

“What’s that?” he says to Chuck.

“Consider it a housewarming. I needed a little break.”

“Don’t we all.”

“Problem with New York?” Chuck says.

“Atlanta,” Sean says.

Chuck turns back toward the wall and focuses on one of the original news articles tacked to the story wall, his back to Sean.

Brady Upsets Flynn for District Attorney, Adams Case Cited by Voters (November 5, 1992).

Sean looks around his loft, and then back at Chuck in front of the wall.

“Everyone wants to know if there’s actually a story here,” he says.

Chuck keeps studying the wall.

“Can always just make up the good shit. That’s what the cops do.”

“What about prosecutors?” Sean says.

Chuck suddenly turns around to face Sean.

“Good prosecutors never trust the cops.”

Sean turns away and checks out the TV. He sees the local news has come on. He turns up the volume with the remote.

“Opening statements began today in the murder trial of former Riverport man Richard Adams,” an anchor says on the TV. “Adams is accused of killing his first wife, Sara Adams, a court reporter for Page County at the time, in 1991 and making it look like a car accident. Nikki Wallace has the story from Riverport.”

“Spare me,” Chuck says.

“District Attorney Tommy Roberts asked jurors today to know what is knowable,” Nikki says on the TV, “And to learn what is learnable as he laid out the case against—

Chuck reaches over and hits the power button on the front of the TV.

“What?” Sean says.

“She might as well be assistant prosecutor.”

Chuck flicks his cigarette out the window before reaching into his pocket to light another one. He leans over the sill with the new cigarette in his mouth to see where the old one landed.

“She should stick to cock teasing the cops and covering the tides.”

Sean hits the remote only in time to catch the end of Nikki’s report.

“Prosecutors plan to call a key expert witness tomorrow: Dr. Virginia Richardson, a forensic anthropologist and best-selling mystery writer from Boston. Richardson is expected to testify that Sara Adams’s death was likely caused by manual strangulation rather than drowning and other injuries associated with a car accident, as authorities ruled back in 1991. Nikki Wallace reporting from Riverport, WRFO News.”

“Stick to the fucking tides,” Chuck says.

The Page County Courthouse

Celebrity forensic anthropologist Virginia Richardson, Ph.D. is in the witness box. Sean is sitting across the aisle again from Nikki in the front row. He leans in her direction and shows her his notebook on his lap, where he’s written SPOOK!

Nikki tries not to laugh out loud.

Tommy is questioning Richardson. Several large textbooks are open on the table in front of him, one she wrote, Forensic Anthropology, Third Edition.

Boykin is operating the projector. A slide of old bones is visible on a large screen.

Mitchell looks up at the slide as Tommy concludes his questioning.

“Doctor, I appreciate your patience in taking us through the highly technical nature of your report. Could I now please ask you to summarize your findings pertaining to the neck region of Sara Adams’s remains?”

“Mrs. Adams’s hyoid bone is fractured bilaterally at the greater wings of each cornu,” Richardson says.

“Would it be fair to say that bilateral fractures of the hyoid bone are highly consistent with manual strangulation?” Tommy says.

“Yes it would.”

“I have no further questions for Dr. Richardson, Your Honor,” Tommy says.

Sean watches Nikki take manic notes. Chuck has taken none.

Before getting up to exit the courtroom for a lunch recess, Sean shows Nikki a hardcover mystery novel he has under his seat: Dead And Buried by Gina Rich. He turns it over to show her the author photo on the back, a far more glamorous studio shot of Virginia Richardson than she appears in real life.

“She got 1.2 million for it,” Sean says. “I know her publicist.”

Chuck hears them and sees they are looking at the book. He leans over the railing from behind his table.

“That what you got?” Chuck says to Sean.

“1.2 million!” Nikki says.

Chuck grabs the book and mockingly opens it.

“For that money, I hope this makes more sense than what we just heard.”

A Mom And Pop Place Near The Page County Courthouse

Sean drinks coffee with two hands wrapped around his cup, while absorbed in the menu on the table. Nikki has yet to open hers.

“Any good sources I should know about?” Nikki says.

“You seem to have them sewn up,” Sean says. “The lead detective hasn’t been too friendly.”

“Not returning your calls?”

“Doesn’t seem like the sharp tools here called on anybody in this case,” Sean says. “Except each other.”

“That’s more than you can say for the authorities in 1991,” Nikki says.

“You talking about a dead sheriff?”

“Among others,” Nikki says.

Sean slams back what’s left of his coffee. He looks for his waitress and then signals her for more.

“Split a basket of fried mushrooms?”

“I’ll have a few,” Nikki says.

“What else?” Sean says.

“Order anything. I don’t really eat lunch.”

“Too busy solving old crimes?”

“Are you flirting with me, or are you just being a dick?”

“You want to explain the difference?”

“Explain to me why anyone with a clue would spend more than ten minutes in Riverport, North Carolina, if they didn’t have to?”

“Don’t see anyone holding a gun to your head,” Sean says.

“Bad early career move, but I’ll be out of here soon enough,” Nikki says.

“You will if Tommy and company have their way.”

“That’s the idea.”

There is a mirror behind the bar. Sean watches himself over Nikki’s shoulder as they continue to talk. Nikki is annoyed that he seems to be looking at someone else.

“Or onion rings?” Sean says. “Do you think the onion rings are better?”

“Serious,” Nikki says. “I’m stuck here trying to get to New York and you go and leave it for some asshole who killed his wife?”

“Is that a question?”

“I’ve asked around. You spent time here in the summers after your mom moved to Atlanta, but you basically left after your parents got divorced.”

“What about my sign?” Sean says. “You know my sign, too?”

“Divorced after your father lost to Brady. Your mother knew he covered something up.”

“Taurus.”

“His life has been a slow burn ever since by all accounts,” Nikki says.

“Actually, it’s Leo. I lied. I’m a fucking Leo.”

Sean looks for the waitress again in search of his coffee. She sees him and hurries off to get the pot.

“I’m trying to have a conversation with you. This is called a conversation,” Nikki says.

“Telling me what my mother thinks of my old man?”

“I’m just curious why you would come back. I hate it here.”

“Bet your mother was a school teacher. And let me guess, father,” Sean says. “Father, let’s see.”

Sean gives Nikki the once over.

“Father a cop.”

Nikki suddenly starts scratching the top of her left hand with her right. She then brushes her hair out of her face.

“Fucking hate it here. So we’re clear.”

“Money,” Sean says. “Does money make sense to you?”

“Blood money,” Nikki says.

Nikki turns around to see who Sean has been looking at. She sees her own reflection in the mirror, and Sean laughs.

The waitress then appears with the coffee and refills his cup. Nikki hasn’t yet touched her first one.

“You drink that stuff like it’s water.”

“Think I need to slow down?” Sean says.

They lock eyes, stuck for a second, waiting to see who will make the next move.

“You know, it’s not like we’re competitors,” Nikki says. “I’ll be done with this case long before any book of yours comes out.”

“You’ll be done with the case? So it’s your case?”

“It’s just a case,” Nikki says. “A good story, good for TV. A good cause. Some asshole goes to jail. Justice is done. The sun comes up in the morning.”

“Your buddy Mitchell comes out a hero and runs for sheriff. Tommy the legal genius shoots for North Carolina Attorney General.”

“I prefer Governor Roberts.”

“Sounds like you got it all figured out,” Sean says.

“Except why you came back?” Nikki says.

“Blood money doesn’t work for you?”

“Blood, maybe, but not money. You want me to be honest? I think you’re protecting your father.”

“From what? From folks like you?”

“From making a fool of himself,” Nikki says. “Maybe worse.”

“He doesn’t need my help.”

“Have we been watching the same trial? First thing he does is tell the jury Adams was having an affair with the woman who ratted him out. How brilliant.”

“I thought so, too,” Sean says.

“To be honest, I don’t know why he would ever try to take this on. And God knows what Adams was thinking when he asked him to. His mouth is wired shut. Then all of a sudden you show up. It’s maybe a little weird? Then again, maybe not? You’re only in it for the money.”

Sean tries to laugh it off, but Nikki has already homed in on how to push his buttons.

“What’s the matter, Nikki? People don’t have bills to pay in Riverport?”

“You’re not fooling anybody.”

“Nobody fools Nikki Wallace around here,” Sean says.

“Not you, writer. Or your daddy.”

“Spoken like a real daddy’s girl,” Sean says.

Nikki instinctively turns away, like Sean tried to kiss her without her permission.

“Where’s that waitress?” Nikki says.

“Sore spot?” Sean says.

Sean grabs his coffee with both hands again while Nikki looks down at the menu for the first time.

“We should order,” Nikki says.

The Page County Courthouse

Richardson looks like she’s got a plane to catch in the witness box. Chuck is only a few feet in front of her.

“Are you telling this jury that there is no possible explanation as to the cause of Sara Adams’s death other than the theory proposed by Mr. Roberts and the County Medical Examiner who testified before you?”

“I was retained in this case to render an opinion on the skeletal remains of the victim,” Richardson says. “Assigning an official cause of death is the responsibility of the Medical Examiner.”

“Are you telling this jury that it is impossible to conclude that Sara Adams died due to the fatal injuries suffered from the result of an automobile accident?” Chuck says.

Richardson rolls her eyes, sighs, like she can’t be bothered.

“Are you!?” Chucks voices echoes across the courtroom. A quarter century of his life lost summed up in his sudden change of tone.

Richardson is taken aback, almost frightened.

Tommy stands up to defend her.

“Your Honor!”

“Sit down, Mr. Roberts.”

Chuck takes another step toward the witness box.

“The witness will answer the question,” Judge Sullivan says.

“Anything is possible,” Richardson says, defensively.

“Including an accident.” Chuck phrases his question in the form of a statement to the jury. Richardson’s failure to respond quick enough is all the answer Chuck needs to end on.

“Thank you,” he says.

Chuck and Adams walk through the doors into the area outside the courtroom. Chuck is pleased, especially as he sees Richardson exit the women’s bathroom with a swollen red face, a clear sign that she’s lost it.

Sean walks over to Chuck after Adams moves away.

“Interesting.”

“Perhaps Dr. Richardson should limit her opinions to fiction,” Chuck says.

Nikki is interviewing Richardson in the courthouse lobby when Sean comes down the stairs with Farrell. Richardson looks far more comfortable in front of the camera than she did under cross examination.

Nikki finishes so Sean and Farrell walk over to give her shit for being so satisfied with herself over getting the State’s star witness to talk.

“You offer her a shoulder to cry on?” Farrell says.

“Jealous I got to her first?”

Nikki spots Tommy coming down the stairs to make one of his daily statements to the press.

“Here comes Tommy.”

“Primetime!” Farrell says.

“Give him your other shoulder,” Sean says.

“I’m starting to think you two are just lazy,” Nikki says.

“I’m starting to think Sara Adams died in a car crash,” Farrell says.

The Loft Above A Bar Called Bangers

Sean is writing while standing up at his desk. A coffee cup is next to his laptop. He pauses to sip from the cup, peering out the window at the entrance to Banger’s. He watches a few people go in.

Banger stumbles out with a drink. A young woman he’s trying to pick up, likely underage, walks out with him.

Sean sees Nikki come out of the bar. Mitchell is right behind her. They appear to be arguing, but playfully. They stop to shoot the shit with Banger for a second. Nikki wraps her arms around Banger like she wants to fuck him. He plays along, then shakes Mitchell’s hand.

Nikki starts up the sidewalk toward her car. Mitchell keeps stepping in front of her to slow her down. She teasingly brushes off his advances.

Sean looks at his story wall. There’s an old picture he found of Chuck. The new addition is a flyer from Chuck’s losing re-election campaign for District Attorney in 1992. Sean turns away from the wall and looks back out the window at Nikki. She continues to tease Mitchell. He sees Mitchell finally look around to check if anyone is watching before passing what he received from Banger by way of a handshake on to Nikki. The object is too small for Sean to identify, but it is welcome enough for Nikki to signal that Mitchell should get into her car.

The Page County Courthouse

Sean is sitting in the back of the empty courtroom with his iPad. Nikki pokes her head in, and Sean signals her to come sit down next to him. She’s tweaking again and can’t sit still.

“Brodart’s husband took off for work with her car keys,” Sean says. “Can’t start without her.”

“Who’s Brodart?”

“Rene Brodart. Juror #139.”

“So one of the morons then,” Nikki says.

“Tommy and company are waiting upstairs,” Sean says.

Nikki flicks her hair out of her face, crosses her legs.

“There you go taking sides again.”

“You’re accusing me of taking sides?” Sean says.

“Get over yourself.”

“This trial’s what’s over,’ Sean says. “Tommy fucked himself sideways with Ms. Gina Rich. Couldn’t have been any worse.”

“Maybe you grew up here, but you’re not from here anymore,” Nikki says.

“In English?” Sean says.

“We’re not in L.A.,” Nikki says. “Richard Adams isn’t O.J. How many people do you think have been acquitted of first degree murder charges in the history of Page County?

“You tell me.”

“Zero.”

“What do you mean zero?”

“As in never,” Nikki says. “No one has ever been found not guilty on a murder charge in this town since they started keeping track.”

“That’s insane,” Sean says.

“Check the record, writer. Juries here don’t let them go.”

Nikki gets a call on her cell. She pulls it out of her purse and sees who it is, but doesn’t answer it.

“Gotta run.”

Tommy, Boykin, and Mitchell are in their war room adjacent to Tommy’s office. They are planning their next move, waiting for the late juror to show up.

The room is chaotic, filled with snacks, soda cans, coffee cups, some fruit, legal pads, books, transcripts, newspapers. A timeline exhibit is leaning against the wall. A manual for a 1989 Ford Escort sits on a bookshelf. Cardboard boxes are on the floor. A picture of Sara’s face is taped to the wall.

“Flynn killed us on the hyoid stuff,” Mitchell says. “We’ve got to do better with the car.”

Tommy looks at Mitchell like he’s about had it with his meddling. Boykin hates Mitchell even more.

“Let us try the case, Mark. If you want to be helpful go find us some more evidence,” Boykin says.

“You know what else we have,” Mitchell says.

“A prostitute who believes in ghosts is not evidence,” Boykin says.

“She’s an incest survivor,” Mitchell says. “Textbook case, whether she knows it or not.”

“Susie Adams doesn’t want to testify and the Judge will never allow it.”

“If called, she has no choice,” Mitchell says. “All a jury has to do is look at her to see something is wrong here.”

“You cannot put a witness on the stand because you think you know something they don’t,” Boykin says. “It’s grounds for appeal, if not a mistrial.”

“We’re all on the same side here,” Tommy says.

Mitchell decides it’s time to go. “I need some coffee. Anybody?”

“Not me, Mark,” Tommy says. “Thanks.”

Boykin shakes her head as Mitchell leaves the room.

“Nothing worse than a cop who thinks he’s a lawyer,” Boykin says to Tommy.

“And our next sheriff,” Tommy says.

The courtroom is now packed.

Chuck is ready to rip into a series of State witnesses. He begins by cross-examining Vince Shelton, a State Farm employee.

“Now if I understand your direct testimony, Mr. Shelton, you went to see Mrs. Adams’s car on October 8th, 1991, the day after the accident, as part of your work as a claims agent for State Farm.”

“That’s correct,” Shelton says.

“And this morning you told Mr. Roberts you examined the car, still at the Old Benson Road location, at approximately 2:00 p.m. Is that right?” Chuck says.

“Yes.”

“You’re sure it was in the afternoon?”

“Yes, sir,” Shelton says. “Mr. Adams only filed his claim that same morning of the 8th, so I could not have been out to the accident scene before then.”

Next is Charles Tanner, a tow truck operator and garage owner.

“Mr. Tanner, you operated the tow truck that removed Mrs. Adams’s car from the accident scene on Old Benson Road?” Chuck says.

“That’s right,” Tanner says.

“Do you recall the approximate time you responded to the scene and removed the vehicle?”

“Yes. It was the next morning.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“I know it was early,” Tanner says. “I would say sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m.”

“You’ve also testified that Sara Adams’s body was still in the vehicle when you arrived at the scene,” Chuck says. “Is that correct?”

“That’s correct.”

Ted Kohl, an FBI agent and former sheriff’s deputy, takes the stand.

“You were the first police officer on the scene of Sara Adams’s death in the early morning hours of October 8th, 1991?” Chucks says.

“Yes I was,” Kohl says.

“What time?” Chuck says.

“My partner and I found the vehicle at approximately 3:00 a.m.”

“Still submerged?”

“It was still in the river,” Kohl says.

“At that point you did not know the condition of the driver inside?”

“No,” Kohl says. “It was only after we removed the victim from the vehicle that we discovered she was dead.”

“So you quickly removed Sara Adams from her submerged vehicle because you assumed she may still be alive?” Chuck says.

“Yes.”

“And you’ve testified that you stayed with the vehicle until the tow truck arrived to remove it?”

“Yes.”

“Could you please tell us what time the vehicle was removed from the scene?”

“I believe it was shortly after the body was removed from the scene,” Kohl says. “Early the next morning, I’d say around 6:00 a.m.”

“Mr. Kohl, you’ve told us you were the first officer responding to the scene, and that you stayed with the vehicle until it was towed away several hours later. During that time did you see any evidence that the vehicle had been tampered with?”

“No I did not.”

Retired Riverport police officer Arnie Cochran is the last witness of the day called by the State. Cochran is the one Chuck has been waiting for.

“You claim to have arrived at the Old Benson Road location in the afternoon of October 8th, 1991 to find Sara Adams’s vehicle still parked near the bank of the river with the hood up,” Chuck says. “Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Cochran says.

“All by yourself?” Chuck says. “You arrived alone, and no one else was there watching the car?”

“I was off duty at the time. No one was there with the car.”

“In the afternoon? At the Old Benson Road location?”

“Yes,” Cochran says.

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.”

“Mr. Cochran, you’ve also stated you looked inside the vehicle and noticed that the vehicle was in neutral. Is that right?”

“That’s what I saw.”

“And you were a police officer at the time?” Chuck says.

“Yes, with the Riverport Police Department,” Cochran says.

You’ve also testified that you told no one at the time, including your colleagues in the Sheriff’s Department, who were handling the case?”

“That’s true,” Cochran says.

“It also apparently slipped your mind when you testified before the grand jury in the spring of 2010?”

“I was not asked about it.”

“Sir,” Chuck says. “Isn’t indeed a fact that no one ever heard a word from you about the vehicle in this case until you told your story to Detective Mark Mitchell some nineteen years after the accident and some four months after Richard Adams had already been indicted by the grand jury?”

“When Detective Mitchell came by the house a second time and shared some of the new facts he’d developed in the case, it helped me remember what I’d seen,” Cochran says.

Chuck turns to look at Mitchell sitting behind Tommy in the front row. He pauses, glances over at the jury, and then takes a drink of water while still facing them.

“Oh, I’m sure it did. I’m sure Detective Mitchell was very helpful in that regard.”

A Bar Called Banger’s

Chuck is slumped over an ashtray at the bar. An empty whiskey is next to him. His eyes are glassy and sad, but he’s glad to see Sean come in.

Banger pours Chuck another drink. “For luck.”

Chuck takes a drink as Sean approaches. He can barely sit up straight on the bar stool, let alone talk without slurring his words. It’s hard for Sean to watch.

“What’s the latest, pal?”

“You certainly beat the shit out of the old cops this afternoon, especially Arnie Cochran.”

“Good old Arnie,” Chucks says.

“Neutral?” Sean says.

“Mr. IQ himself.”

Chuck tries to stand up, but stumbles. He tries to regain his balance and sit back down on the stool, but misses. He falls to the floor. Sean instantly helps him up. Banger also hurries over from behind the bar. Sean takes one of Chuck’s arms and Banger grabs the other to help him up. Rather than working together, it’s more like they’re engaged in a tug-of-war.

Chuck returns to his feet first with Sean’s help, since his pull is stronger. Sean guides him up to his bar stool and places a hand on his back making sure he doesn’t fall again. Chuck turns to face him.

“Thanks, pal.”

The Page County Courthouse

Chuck turns his head toward the back of the courtroom. He appears to be staring directly at Sean, seated behind him, but he’s actually looking over Sean’s shoulder at the door.

Patty Adams walks in. All eyes are on her.

Patty is wearing tight clothes with her hair bouncing down past her shoulders, a clear effort to demonstrate what a strikingly beautiful woman she remains in her forties. As Patty takes the stand and is sworn in by the Bailiff, Sean leans across the aisle to whisper in Nikki’s ear.

“Your last best hope.”

Boykin approaches the witness box holding a legal pad with only a few notes. Patty is here far more for show than tell.

“Would you please state your full name for the record?”

“Patricia Randall Adams.”

“Would you please state your relationship to the defendant?” Boykin says.

“Ex-wife,” Patty says.

“Could you tell us in what month and year you were married to the defendant?”

“May 1992.”

“And divorced?”

“August 2010.”

Sara’s family and friends cannot hide their disdain for Patty. The jury doesn’t seem to care much for her either.

“Prior to your marriage in May of 1992, what was your relationship to the defendant, if any?”

“I worked as his assistant at State Farm Insurance,” Patty says.

“Here in Riverport?”

“Yes.”

Mitchell is leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. Tommy is nodding along approvingly with Patty’s answers. Adams is staring straight down at the table in front of him. Chuck is studying the jury.

“Was there also a personal relationship?”

“Yes,” Patty says.

“A sexual relationship?”

“Yes.”

“Did this sexual relationship exist prior to the night of October 7, 1991?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you,” Boykin says. “No further questions, Your Honor.”

Adams and Patty make eye contact as Boykin returns to her table.

“Mr. Flynn?” Judge Sullivan says.

Chuck stands up. “We have no questions for this witness, Your Honor.”

Murmurs and looks of surprise from the spectators sweep through the courtroom.

“Mr. Roberts?” Judge Sullivan says.

Tommy stands up. “The State rests, Your Honor.”

Farrell is sitting next to Copeland a row behind Sean. He leans over to get Sean’s ear.

“That’s it?”

“That’s all it’s ever been,” Copeland says.

“Mr. Flynn?” Judge Sullivan says. “Is the defense prepared to present its first witness?”

Chuck stands up again. He waits a few seconds before speaking.

“Your Honor, the defense rests upon the completion of the State’s case and we move at this time to offer a motion outside the presence of the jury.”

More sounds of disbelief fill the courtroom. Even Judge Sullivan is shocked.

“Bailiff, would you please escort the jury out of the courtroom.”

Jurors slowly file out one by one. There is now snickering from the crowd. Sean is embarrassed. It appears as if everyone thinks his father has given up.

“Quiet, please!” Judge Sullivan says. “Mr. Flynn, your motion?”

“Judge, we move for a directed verdict of not guilty at this time on the grounds of insufficient evidence.”

Tommy shakes his head, mockingly.

“Are you requesting additional argument on this motion, Mr. Flynn?” Judge Sullivan says. “A directed verdict at this juncture is highly unusual in a first degree murder case.”

“No, Your Honor. We simply believe the State has offered no evidence either in law or in fact that could anyway justify a conviction in this case and therefore move for a directed verdict of not guilty.”

Judge Sullivan leans back in his chair and removes his glasses as he surveys his courtroom and considers Chuck’s motion. He thinks carefully about his next words while staring directly at Tommy, as if to warn him.

“I will reserve ruling on the motion at this time and allow the case to go to the jury following closing arguments.”

Tommy smirks at Boykin like Chuck’s motion never had a chance.

Tommy’s eyes are misting as he finishes his closing argument an hour later.

“Ladies and gentleman, we’re not asking you to turn back the clock. All we’re asking for is justice. And we thank you for your commitment to it.”

Tommy returns to his table fighting back tears. None of the jurors are crying.

A Bar Called Banger’s

Sean, Nikki, and Farrell are sitting at a table sharing a bowl of Beer Nuts. Sean is sipping coffee. Farrell has a beer. Nikki is on her second scotch.

Banger keeps an eye on them in the background while working behind the bar.

“It’s gonna hang,” Farrell says. “Only question is how long they stay out.”

“And if Tommy will retry it,” Sean says.

“Too stupid not to,” Farrell says.

“You’re too stupid to assume a jury here won’t convict on a murder charge,” Nikki says.

“Not this time,” Farrell says.

“You did your best,” Sean says to Nikki.

“Did it ever occur to either of you this asshole killed his wife?” Nikki says.

“I think Tommy Roberts secretly dreams of killing his wife,” Sean says.

“Melissa?” Farrell says.

“Becoming his own man by killing Melissa Page Roberts,” Sean says.

Farrell laughs.

“Kissing Riverport’s royal Page family and their political lock on Page County goodbye,” Sean says.

“Free at last,” Farrell says.

“Adams is guilty as well as an asshole,” Nikki says.

“Some evidence might have helped,” Sean says.

“Your dad put on a better case than Tommy,” Farrell says.

“No case,” Sean says.

“Brilliant move,” Nikki says.

“It may be,” Farrell says.

“Everyone knows he killed her,” Nikki says to Farrell. Then to Sean, “Especially your father.”

Nikki reaches for her drink. Farrell looks at Sean, who is stung by the comment. Sean notices Banger has been watching him from behind the bar.

The lights come on. Closing time.

Nikki gets up to go to the bathroom. She’s a mess.

“Time to powder her nose,” Farrell says to Sean.

“If she can find it,” Sean says.

Sean and Nikki walk up the street outside Banger’s where Nikki’s newscar is parked next to his bike. Nikki is hanging on to him and can’t walk in a straight line. There is another parking ticket on his windscreen, which he ignores.

Nikki starts simulating riding the bike. Sean realizes she’s too drunk to either drive home or for him to give her a ride on the back. He looks at some stragglers leaving Banger’s and then up at his open window on the second floor. As he leads Nikki toward the entrance to his loft, he trips over the curb and falls. Nikki bursts out laughing.

The Private Practice Of Chuck Flynn

Chuck enters his office as Nikki is leaving Sean’s loft directly across the street the next morning. She looks like she had a rough night. Chuck sees her first and just stares at her. They hate each other and don’t say anything as she turns to walk away and rustles through her purse for her keys.

The Page County Courthouse

Sean is sitting outside the courtroom on the floor writing on his laptop. Chuck walks down the hall holding a Styrofoam cup of coffee.

“You’re fucking her?” Chuck says.

“What?” Sean says.

Chuck pauses, sizing Sean up like he would a hostile witness.

“You’re fucking her.”

Chuck walks away in disgust.

Tommy, Boykin, and Mitchell are meeting in their war room. Everyone is stressed out and exhausted. Mitchell is the most agitated of the bunch.

“Not good,” Mitchell says.

Tommy can barely look at Mitchell by this point in the trial.

“What do you want to say, Mark?” Tommy says.

“We know their initial vote was 7-5 for us,” Boykin says.

“Two days ago,” Mitchell says.

“Seven jurors are not going to change their minds,” Boykin says.

“I thought we were playing to win. Not tie,” Mitchell says.

“That’s enough,” Tommy says. “The central question before us now is what we want to do with this jury vis-a-vis a potential instruction. Linda?”

“Wherever they were in the beginning, or now, there’s a chance they’ll turn on us if we keep them sequestered over the weekend,” Boykin says.

“She’s right,” Tommy says. “They could kill us over the weekend.”

“They’re already killing us!” Mitchell says. “We never should have allowed Flynn to try the case.”

Tommy knows Mitchell is right, but won’t admit it.

“If we don’t get anything by this afternoon let’s reconvene when they break for dinner,” Tommy says.

“We can force Susie Adams to testify,” Mitchell says.

“To what?” Boykin says. “It’s ridiculous. Nothing she could offer is anything but totally inadmissible.”

“We should at least put it before the Judge,” Mitchell says.

Boykin fears Tommy is actually considering it, despite what he thinks about Mitchell. She stands up pretending to address Judge Sullivan.

“Yes, Your Honor. Detective Mitchell here has been convinced by his friend the reporter that Mr. Adams killed his wife when she discovered he was molesting their little girl, who just so happens is all grown up now and cannot testify to any such thing because she has never said one word about being sexually abused under oath nor otherwise and has no recollection that it ever occurred.”

Boykin tosses her pen on the table. “We can’t go there.”

“Let’s pick this up after dinner,” Tommy says.

Chuck and Sean are drinking coffee in a waiting room across from the courtroom. It’s the room Judge Sullivan turned over to the defense for the duration of the trial, but there’s not much in it now except for a couple boxes of transcripts and files on the floor.

Chuck is spinning his cell around on the table.

“There’s nothing with the reporter,” Sean says.

“Doesn’t matter,” Chuck says.

“She was drunk. And she couldn’t—

“Least of her problems,” Chuck says.

“Drive,” Sean says.

“I said forget it.”

Chuck puts his hand up like a traffic cop to shut it down. He has bigger concerns for the moment.

“Where do you think they’re at?” Sean says.

“They?” Chuck says.

“The jury.”

“No idea.”

“Still 7-5?” Sean says.

“I’ve learned never to believe courthouse leaks either.”

“Just gotta wait?”

“You learn how to wait for it,” Chuck says.

Later the same night, Sean, Nikki, Joe, Farrell, and a few other reporters are sitting around outside the courtroom when the Bailiff approaches.

“Jury’s gone to dinner folks,” the Bailiff says. “They’ll resume deliberations at 8:00 p.m.”

“Hungry?” Sean says to Nikki.

“Maybe.”

Nikki’s WRFO Newscar

Sean and Nikki sit parked on the street near the courthouse.

“Okay, can I just say I don’t remember what happened last night,” Nikki says.

“Jury’s still out,” Sean says. “If that’s what you’re asking.”

A Bar Called Banger’s

The next night Sean, Nikki, Farrell, and Joe, Nikki’s cameraman, are having drinks while the jury is on their dinner break. Banger, as always, is keeping an eye on Sean.

“Maybe these morons just like the free meals,” Nikki says.

Joe sees the clock above the bar reads 7:55 p.m.

“I should probably go back and babysit the verdict,” he says. “It’s almost eight.”

“I’ll go,” Sean says.

The Page County Courthouse

Chuck is trying to relax with Sean inside his waiting room. It’s just the two of them and the door is open. Everyone else is still at dinner.

“Come up with an ending yet?” Chuck says.

“Your client killed her, but he should still walk for a lack of evidence.”

“You’re only half right, but I can live with that,” Chuck says, smiling.

“I’m sounding a little like you,” Sean says.

“A little.”

“Like a lawyer instead of a writer.”

“Tell it to the jury,” Chuck says.

“I’ll tell them to vote Tommy off the island.”

“An acquittal will have the same effect.”

Sean laughs. “Guys killing for pussy. Oldest story there is.”

“An accident,” Chuck says.

“Off the record?”

Chuck twirls his cell on the table. “No such thing, pal.”

“Not guilty is going to cost me. You know that, don’t you?”

Chuck shrugs his shoulders.

“Big time,” Sean says.

Chuck twirls his cell again. “Ever tell you about Crazy Larry?”

“Crazy Larry?” Sean says.

“One of my all-time favorites.”

“Never heard of him.”

“Larry Barnhill,” Chuck says. “He killed two hookers here and an eighty-two-year-old woman in Greenville. His only crime before that being the murder of three other hookers in Charlotte twelve years earlier.”

“That’s killing for pussy,” Sean says. “Except maybe the old lady.”

“I know for a fact he left others out there. I’d guess as many as ten.”

“Hookers?”

“Yep. And this was the first time when I can honestly say that being in his presence was like being in the company of the Devil. This guy was simply evil. Pure evil. Only client I’ve had in thirty years of practicing law that I could find nothing to connect with. Usually there’s something about their background to see where they’re coming from. But, no, this guy was the fucking Devil.”

“Crazy Larry,” Sean says.

“Yeah, “Chuck says. “And so I’ll tell you a story about this guy. My associate at the time, Eric, must have been just a year or two out of law school, was sitting second chair with me on this one, helping me try it, and one day we’re sitting there in court and Larry leans over to Eric, all big, fat, ugly, eyes crossed, and he’s looking over at some young thing in the courtroom. And so he says to Eric, he says, Eric. Eric, that girl over there, man, that girl, think she’s looking at you, Eric. And so all I hear coming from Eric, and this is an exact quote, Eric leans back toward Larry and he says, Shut up you sick fucking psycho-killer. She’s fucking looking at you. And old Larry just starts to laugh like the Devil, and he’s like, No, Eric, man, I think she’s looking at you, Eric.”

Sean is sort of confused by the point of the story, but appreciates the skill by which it’s been delivered.

“You get him off?”

“He’s sitting on death row,” Chuck says. “Maybe you should give him a call.”

“You think?”

“He’d be happy to talk to you.”

A Bar Called Banger’s

Nikki, Farrell, and Joe are still at their table when Nikki gets a call on her cell.

“When?” Nikki says into the phone.

The Page County Courthouse

Chuck, Adams, April, Tommy, Boykin, Mitchell, Sean, Nikki, Farrell, Joe, and a few other reporters wait for Judge Sullivan to enter. The Bailiff is sitting at his desk. The Court Reporter is sitting at hers. The clock on the courtroom wall reads 9:18 p.m. No one says a word.

“All rise,” the Bailiff says. “Court is now in session. The Honorable Judge Ronald Sullivan, presiding.”

Judge Sullivan walks in.

“Thank you. Be seated. Will the Clerk call the case?”

“People of the State of North Carolina in the County of Page vs. Richard Adams OSCF 1208,” the Clerk says.

Everyone sits, including Judge Sullivan.

“Let the record reflect the jury is not present and that both sides are represented by Counsel and that the defendant is present,” Judge Sullivan says. “The jury has communicated with the Court via written note that it is unable to reach a verdict in this case and that further deliberation will not result in a verdict.”

Adams looks slightly confused and turns to Chuck, but Chuck keeps his eyes squarely on Judge Sullivan. Tommy and Boykin are talking quietly to each other under their breath. Mitchell, however, is staring at Sean like he wants to step outside.

Farrell leans over to Sean. “Was that a threat?”

“Meter maid,” Sean says.

“I believe I can anticipate the defendant’s position on this matter,” Judge Sullivan says. “Mr. Flynn?”

Chuck stands up. “Yes, Your Honor. Thank you. The defense moves for a mistrial at this time.”

“Thank you, Counselor. Mr. Roberts?”

Tommy stands up. “May we approach, Your Honor?”

“You may,” Judge Sullivan says. “Mr. Flynn.”

Tommy walks toward the bench with Boykin and Chuck.

“Your Honor,” Tommy says. “Perhaps it would be helpful to both sides to get a sense of what the Court is thinking in terms of further instructions to the jury.”

“Let me see Counsel in chambers.”

The lawyers follow Judge Sullivan back to his chambers. Everyone else remains seated.

“Now what?” Nikki says.

“They’re hung. That’s what,” Farrell says.

“At least somebody here is,” Nikki says. She playfully places her hand on Sean’s leg.

Sean is pissing in a stall in the men’s room outside the courtroom during a break when Chuck kicks open the door in a rage.

“Cocksucker! Chicken-shit-cocksucker Judge!”

Sean stands still inside the stall.

Chuck stares into the mirror. “Fucking son-of-a-bitch-cocksucker!”

Sean flushes the toilet and then comes out of the stall to find Chuck getting ready to piss in a urinal.

“What?” Chuck says.

“Nothing,” Sean says.

Chuck finishes his piss and cools off a bit.

“Judge has agreed to a fucking hearing in the morning so Tommy can file an emergency motion.”

Chuck washes his hands.

“Can he do that?” Sean says.

“He’s a judge. He can do whatever he fucking wants.”

“I mean Tommy?” Sean says.

“What about him?”

“Why would he do that?”

“Why don’t you tell me?” Chuck says.

“You’re asking me about Tommy Roberts?”

“You’ve been talking to that dipshit,” Chuck says. “Not me.”

Sean takes a step away from Chuck toward the door.

“What are we talking about here?” Sean says.

Chuck tries to walk it back. “I’m talking about a chicken-shit judge.”

“No, I don’t think we are,” Sean says. “If you’re suggesting—

“Just tell me what you know!”

“What I know?” Sean says.

Sean moves further away from Chuck toward the door.

“I know it smells like shit in here.”

Sean walks out. Chuck is left alone to dry his hands.

The Loft Above A Bar Called Banger’s

Sean stands at his desk with a cup of coffee, studying his story wall. The wall is completely covered from floor to ceiling with material from the Adams case.

He gets a call.

“Hey,” Sean says into the phone. He sticks his head out the window and sees that Nikki is standing in front of his door with her cell to her ear.

Later, the lights are off. Candles are burning. A Mogwai download plays softly in the background. Sean is standing up near his desk with his pants still on, but no shirt. He bends over to unfasten his motorcycle boots.

Nikki is leaning over the back of a leather reading chair on the other side of the room in a blouse and underwear. Her head rests on her forearms as she studies the story wall, waiting for Sean.

Sean watches her closely. The way the room is lit up by candles and filled with shadows makes it look like they are both attached to the story wall themselves, which has fully evolved into a collage of Chuck marked by a haunting photograph of Sara Adams in the center.

Nikki is quiet, respectful.

“You’ve done so much work.”

Sean steps toward her. She closes her eyes as he gently places his hands on her back.

“Read me something,” she says.

“Right now?”

Nikki turns around to face him. “Anything you want.”

Sean thinks about it. He steps over to his bed on the floor in the corner and looks through a stack of papers on top of it. He removes some pages and returns to the chair and sits down on the footrest.

Sean and Nikki now face each other. Nikki wraps one of her legs around his.

Sean reads what he has written.

“Queens is a Charlotte shithole that serves Coors by the can. Susie Adams is drinking a Silver Bullet when I walk in to join her about half past three in the afternoon. A red lighter is next to a pack of cigarettes in front of her on the bar. She is the only woman present other than the stiff in charge. I order a Budlight, which the stiff brings in a bottle and costs a dollar fifty.”

Sean looks up first at Nikki, then the wall.

“Unedited.”

“Go on,” Nikki says.

Sean reads what he has written.

“Someone without the same problem could never know the amount of thinking that goes into an otherwise mindless decision. I’ve been making it all day. Making it every day for years. I’ve believed for months that Susie is essential to my story. With the drink now staring me in the face, it’s almost as if finally meeting her no longer matters at all.

“Susie is nervous, but her hands would be shaking anyway. She is scared, and so am I. Like an old flame, I’ve built her up in my mind to near mythic proportions. There is no other possibility in such cases except to be disappointed. She hasn’t said anything yet, but I already know she will let me down. She harbors no great secrets. Her life is simply as fucked up as I’ve been told otherwise this would be the last place she would have suggested we talk.

“This whole thing must be very difficult for you, I say to her. And it, it must not be that easy. I just stop and reach for my beer. I cry a lot, Susie says. About your father? Just about everything. No particular thing? No. Not really. Just everything. I just cry sometimes.”

Sean pauses to pull one of the candles next to the chair closer to him so he can see. Nikki scoots in even closer. She has started to tear up.

Sean reads what he has written.

“The man to my left is a corpse. Everyone in here is dead. The music sucks. Some kind of radio blues that just sucks to listen to. Susie looks like the strung out whore I’ve heard she is. She’s got on a red leather skirt and a tight cream shirt that shows off her tits. Her hair is frizzy, long, and dark. One of her top teeth is missing on the left side of her mouth. Her skin is pasty and pale. She could be fifty, but I know from my notes she turns twenty-four next week. The stiff brings her another beer and I pay for it.”

Sean reads from a new page of what he has written.

“Only then do I reach for my own. Every cell in my body always feels the first sip. Each cell is instantly satisfied before screaming for more. It enters my bloodstream like a mild electric shock, sliding past my tongue and back into the shadows of physical memory. I never forget the taste. Doesn’t matter how long it’s been. The feel of a bottle between my lips. The weight of twelve ounces in my right hand. It’s all tucked away in my brain somewhere. It’s always just waiting to be tapped. The warmth of it hitting the lining of my stomach. The smile that spreads across my face. The sweet anger. It all goes together like some cognitive set. Could quit after the first or close this shithole down. Makes no difference. How much isn’t the issue. That’s never been a problem. It’s ritual that counts. The smell of my father’s stale breath.”

Sean gets up to grab his cigarettes on his desk. When he returns, Nikki puts her hand on his leg this time. He lights a cigarette using the candle.

Sean reads what he has written.

“I start to feed Susie information about her mother’s death. There’s something so wrong about what I’m doing, but I can’t stop. Insurance inspector said it wasn’t an accident. Tow-truck driver, too. And on and on. I share one piece of evidence after another. Some of it the cops already told her. Most she never knew, and neither of us are supposed to. I was ten years old when Sara died, but speak like I was a witness to what happened. Susie listens as if I’m some kind of God. Some messenger sent down from on high to help her salvage whatever time she has left.

“Susie has no memory of her mother. All she knows is what her grandparents have told her, and even this doesn’t amount to much. She resents her father for never describing what her mother was like. It seems as though this is a greater crime in her eyes than the fact he may have killed her. Susie asks me if I mind if she smokes. Before long my eyes are watering from the smoke as we talk. It’s as if I’m crying about nothing in particular, too.

“Do you think I’ll see her when I’m gone? Susie asks. See her? When I die? she says. Do you think there’s a place we go where I’ll see her? I don’t know, I say. The first time I felt like it was her she was there in the car with me. I was laying there, laying on the backseat the first time, but it wasn’t just me. I mean I wasn’t alone. But I was on my back looking out the window at the moon, and it was so full. I’d never seen a moon like that before and I can remember feeling she was in the car with me, and I can remember seeing like this shadow on the window in the shape of a woman’s body, and I knew it was her. How old were you? I ask. I was fifteen, she says. You could feel her there with you? I did. I knew it was her.”

Sean stops again. This time he just stares at Nikki before he picks up with a new page. Nikki’s eyes are now completely red.

“What color are they, exactly?” Sean says.

“Color?” Nikki says.

“Your eyes?”

“I used to always think they were green,” Nikki says. “But only recently discovered they are actually blue. And they have gold circles around the pupils.”

“All I see is red,” Sean says.

“Look closer.”

Nikki points to his pages as a signal to continue reading.

Sean reads what he has written.

“We sit still for a moment. Susie seems happy that she’s told me this. I feel like I may be the only one. It’s the first time I’ve seen her smile in a way not accompanied by fear. She tells me about the time she got a tattoo on her mother’s birthday. She says it’s on her right hip and then stands up to show me. By giving her information I’ve gained her trust. Paying for her drinks hasn’t hurt either. She’s made no secret of the fact that she thinks her father is probably guilty of the crime for which he’s been accused, but keeps saying she just doesn’t know.

“I don’t know, she repeats whenever I ask what she truly believes happened that night. I just don’t know.”

Sean stops and drops his pages on the floor. There’s more, but he can’t continue. It seems like he might be fighting back tears of his own.

“I spoke with her, too,” Nikki says. “Before Adams was ever charged. I don’t know if she told you that. She told me she believes in ghosts.”

“And you told her how your father did terrible things to you when you were almost too young to remember.”

Nikki is stunned. She can’t tell if Sean actually believes she was abused, or if she was just baiting Susie to say as much about herself. Sean gives nothing away, staring her straight in the eyes. She’s been out investigated either way, and she knows it.

“She still calls me,” Sean says. “And I’ve been back to see her a few times. She doesn’t know anything about this case, but I like talking to her.”

“She’s right,” Nikki says. “About ghosts.”

“She believes she saw something,” Sean says.

The candle closest to them begins to crack as the others continue to flicker against the story wall, making the loft suddenly feel haunted.

“I’ve got to get out of this place,” Nikki says.

Sean cups her face and then does the most generous thing either of them has ever felt. He doesn’t kiss her, but stares directly into her eyes.

“With gold circles around them.”

“Yes,” Nikki says.

“You will.”

The Page County Courthouse.

Mitchell secretly escorts Susie Adams from the back of an unmarked police cruiser into the courthouse through a rear entrance. He couldn’t be more pleased with the slutty look of the lost soul in front of him.

Sean, Farrell, Nikki, Joe, and other reporters sit outside the courtroom, which is still locked. Chuck, Adams, and April sit inside their waiting room with the door open.

Tommy, Boykin, and Mitchell are waiting in their war room preparing to head downstairs.

Susie Adams sits nervously in a small room in the basement. It is clear by the guards in the hall her presence in Riverport is a carefully guarded secret.

Mitchell is now just inside the courtroom, eyeing each person like a bouncer as they walk in to find a seat. When Nikki and Sean enter together, Sean pauses and lets Nikki get a step ahead of him. She turns back around just in time to witness the exchange.

“Need some ID?” Sean says.

“Get fucked, junior,” Mitchell says.

Sean ignores him to rub it in. He walks down the aisle after Nikki and takes a seat in the front row behind the defense table.

A dozen or so more people walk in when Chuck then enters the courtroom by himself. He looks at Mitchell, who is standing in his way and still acting like he’s in charge.

“You ain’t Sheriff yet, Detective,” Chuck says.

“Find your seat, Flynn,” Mitchell says.

Chuck makes a subtle snorting gesture by putting his knuckle up to his nose, reminding Mitchell that there are few secrets in Riverport he doesn’t know.

The courtroom is packed with all the principles, including Sara Adams’s family and many people who work in the building. Copeland has also come again to watch.

“All rise,” the Bailiff says. “Court is now in session. The Honorable Judge Ronald Sullivan presiding.”

Judge Sullivan walks in.

“Thank you. Be seated. Will the Clerk call the case.”

“People of the State of North Carolina in the County of Page vs. Richard Adams OSCF 1208,” the Clerk says.

Everyone sits, including Judge Sullivan.

“Let the record reflect the jury is not present and as Counsel knows last evening I directed them to return today at 9:30 a.m. for further deliberations on their verdict,” Judge Sullivan says. “Mr. Roberts, you requested yesterday at adjournment the appearance at 9:00 a.m. for a motion. Does your motion have to do with a mistrial because there has been no verdict after three days of deliberations?”

Tommy stands up. “No, Your Honor. This is another matter.”

“What is it then?” Judge Sullivan says.

“Your Honor. May it please the Court, I must move at this time for leave to reopen the evidence in this case in this matter which could materially affect the jury’s ability to reach a verdict and further to—

“Hold on, Counselor.” Judge Sullivan is dumbfounded and nearing the end of his rope with Tommy Roberts.

Chuck can’t believe what he is hearing either. He is too shocked to immediately respond.

“Mr. Roberts,” Judge Sullivan says. “I have to assume you are aware that reopening evidence after arguments, jury instructions, and three days deliberating is highly unusual to say the least?”

“Your Honor,” Tommy says. “The prosecution team wishes to reopen the case and call Susie Adams, Richard Adams’s daughter, as a witness for the prosecution and—

“Hold on!” Judge Sullivan says. “You want to call the defendant’s daughter now, at this juncture, to give some sort of evidence against the defendant in order to help convict?”

Boykin winces like she’s been slapped.

Chuck is furious but does not yet object as one would expect him to. Sean looks at him like he wants him to stand up and defend himself. Adams meets Sean’s eye. He’s terrified.

“Your Honor,” Tommy says.

“What you could do, Mr. Roberts,” Judge Sullivan says. “Is tell the Court what is this last minute earth shattering information that I should let into this trial at the risk of turning the case into a circus?”

Chuck finally speaks up. “May I be heard before Mr. Roberts speaks again since I have said nothing so far and now—

“I’m not finished!” Tommy says.

Chuck explodes out of his seat. It is the first time he has lost control in the courtroom throughout the trial.

“Your Honor!” Chuck says. “Your Honor! On what possible legal—

Judge Sullivan waves Chuck off with his hand.

“Will this witness testify she has direct evidence as to the cause of Sara Adams’s death?” Judge Sullivan says to Tommy.

“Your Honor!” Chuck says.

“Mr. Roberts?” Judge Sullivan says.

“Not exactly direct evidence, Your Honor,” Tommy says. “However—

“Your Honor!” Chuck says.

Boykin, seated next to Tommy, is horrified. Tommy looks down at her for help but she won’t even meet his eyes.

“Judge,” Chuck says. “May I please address the Court?”

“Go ahead,” Judge Sullivan says.

“When I asked you for a court order directing the jury to find the defendant not guilty you said that you would reserve ruling on the motion and let the case go to the jury.”

“I am well aware of my ruling,” Judge Sullivan says.

“I now renew my motion for a court finding to order the jury to find the defendant not guilty,” Chuck says. “By our system of justice you have that right and that power.”

“I am also quite familiar with my rights and responsibilities, Mr. Flynn.”

“Of course, Your Honor,” Chuck says. “Forgive me, but the Prosecutor by what he has said and done here today is guilty of gross misconduct and a fraud upon the court.”

Chuck paces angrily toward the prosecution’s table and is now standing very close to Tommy, who is also still standing.

“Mr. Roberts believes he may have lost this case and is looking for an excuse to explain it away to voters in the court of public opinion.”

Tommy steps away from Chuck toward the bench.

“Your Honor!” Tommy says.

“Sit down!” Judge Sullivan says.

“Your Honor! I demand—

“No one makes demands in my courtroom, especially you, Sir. Be seated!”

Tommy falls into his chair. Chuck, who has remained standing, respectfully returns to his table and takes a seat.

“Mr. Flynn, your motion for a directed finding of not guilty is allowed,” Judge Sullivan says. “Bailiff, go to the jury room, knock on the door, and tell the jury to stop their deliberations immediately. I want no verdict until I order them in writing to find a not guilty verdict.”

“Your Honor!” Tommy says, rising to his feet.

“Sit!” Judge Sullivan says. “I will not hear another word from you! And I will also give you a small piece of personal advice. When you hold your press conference on the courthouse steps, I would recommend that all you say is you disagree with the Court’s ruling and stop right there.”

The crowd in the courtroom is stunned. To a person, they are silent, speechless, and completely still.

“This case is over upon my ruling,” Judge Sullivan says. “And when the jury returns my directed finding of not guilty you, Mr. Adams, will be discharged with the apologies of the Court for what you have seen and heard here today. Court is adjourned.”

Judge Sullivan quickly exits the bench and returns to his chambers. Everyone else in the courtroom remains shocked.

Tommy has his head in his hands. Mitchell is already on the way out the door.

Nikki is totally confused.

“What just happened here?” she says to Sean.

Sean is still processing the sudden turn of events.

Chuck addresses reporters in the courthouse lobby thirty minutes later.

Sean has stepped back from the crowd and is taking in the scene from a distance.

“I believe he’s innocent,” Chuck says. “And the Judge believed the evidence supported the fact that he’s innocent.”

April is behind the wheel of a car parked near the rear entrance to the courthouse. A sheriff’s deputy escorts Adams through a service door and into the car in order to avoid the mob out front.

Reporters are shouting questions at Chuck. He takes one from Nikki first.

“Will Mr. Adams be making a statement?”

“I’m very happy to report to you that Mr. Adams is already headed home,” Chuck says.

Interstate

April is driving. She turns to look at Adams, who is gazing out the window.

The Page County Courthouse

Tommy, surrounded by his team, is giving a press conference. They still look shell-shocked. Mitchell is standing a few feet away from them, leaning against the wall. All the life has been drained out of him.

Chuck finished his comments to the press earlier, so all the same reporters are assembled to grill Tommy. Farrell is poised to ask the first question. Nikki is staring at Mitchell like she can’t believe they lost.

“How will this surprising verdict, particularly the way it was directed by the Judge, impact your campaign later this year?” Farrell says.

Roberts briefly turns to look at Mitchell before answering the question.

The Street Dividing The Page County Courthouse From A Bar Called Banger’s

Sean and Nikki walk up to Nikki’s newscar parked near the courthouse. Joe is already waiting for her in the driver’s seat. Nikki opens the passenger door and tosses her notebook on the seat.

“Just so you know, I really did want to help Susie.”

Sean ignores her comment, disgusted by it. He sees Chuck walking down the street from the courthouse in the direction of his office with a cigarette in his mouth. Nikki climbs into the passenger’s seat, and Joe drives off.

Sean starts to walk down the street in Chuck’s direction. When he sees that Chuck is almost to his office he starts walking faster, hoping to catch up with him before he gets inside. Sean turns to see that Nikki’s newscar is almost out of sight going the other way. He then starts walking again only to suddenly stop.

Chuck has crossed the street and is now about to walk into Banger’s.

Interstate

April reaches over to grab Adams’s hand. She keeps her eyes on the road ahead. He’s still looking out the window.

Susie Adams is driven home by an unmarked police cruiser in the lane next to Adams. She is dialing a number on her cell. Adams’s sees her as the cruiser passes them in front of a mileage sign that reads: CHARLOTTE 124.

Richard and Susie Adams stare at each other as Susie places the cell to her ear in the backseat.

The Page County Courthouse

Tommy’s press conference is over, but Farrell is tailing him all the way back to his office.

“Where does Richard Adams go now to get his life back?”

Tommy, furious, stops and snaps his head around. “It was the life of Sara Adams we were concerned with here, Mr. Farrell.”

Nikki’s WRFO Newscar

Nikki stares straight ahead with Joe driving. Her tired eyes begin to swell up with tears, prompting her to put on her sunglasses.

The Street Dividing The Page County Courthouse From A Bar Called Banger’s

Sean’s cell rings. He looks at the number, thinks about answering it for several rings, but doesn’t. He then starts walking down the street toward Banger’s.

A Bar Called Banger’s

Chuck and Banger share a bottle of whiskey at the bar. No one else is inside.

“Adams hand you his left nut?” Banger says.

“Fuck Adams,” Chuck says.

Banger pours Chuck another drink, but spills a little whiskey in the ashtray on the bar. He takes a few steps down the bar to find a rag.

Interstate

Susie finishes leaving a message.

“I see her, Sean,” she says into the phone. “She’s here again. On the window. And she just said the most beautiful thing to me. She said, They were the river, but you’re my angel.”

A Bar Called Banger’s

Chuck sees Sean come in before Banger does. There is a hint of shame on his face over Sean finding him with a drink so early in the day. Sean sits down next to Chuck at the bar. He points at Chuck’s glass.

“Same,” Sean says to Banger.

Banger pours Sean his drink, leaves the bottle on the bar, and backs away. He senses there’s something about the moment only father and son should share.

Sean raises his glass to Chuck filled with twisted emotions.

“Never too early to celebrate.”

They take a drink together for the first time in their lives.

“Fiction right?” Chuck eventually says.

“Fiction?” Sean says.

“Your book,” Chuck says. “It’s a novel?”

Sean reaches for the whiskey bottle and fills both glasses. It’s the only thing he can think to do. Chuck feels Sean’s disappointment to his very core. Any elation he has left over the morning’s events is instantly erased. It’s like winning never mattered at all once they took their first drink.

Chuck signals Banger to back away another step with a tilt of his head. He then reaches for his cigarettes on the bar.

“You want your ending, pal?”

Sean looks at him like it’s another wise-ass remark he’s been hearing his whole life. He just stares at his whiskey.

“Yeah. An accident,” Sean says.

“You want your 1.2 million dollar ending or don’t you?”

Sean looks up.

“It was an accident,” Chuck says. “Mine.”

Sean doesn’t follow.

“Here.” Chuck hands him his pack of cigarettes. “Better take two.”

Chuck waits for Sean to light the first.

“I knew Sara from the courthouse. She came to me because of the girl. Suspected something was wrong. Very wrong. Couldn’t prove it.”

Banger is listening. His worst fears since Sean rode into town are coming true.

“We’d been talking. We’d met a couple times in the office. I told her what to look for. Explained we needed to build a case. There just wasn’t anything solid.”

Sean exhales the smoke from his lungs. He’s not sure what he’s hearing.

“So one night after work we get to talking. She follows me from the courthouse in here. She’s coming apart,” Chuck says. “She’s had too many. Talking too loud. So we move to the back. Back to the office.”

Chuck points to Banger’s office.

“She says she’s got to confront him, but I say no. She needs to catch him in the act or it will never stick. The girl’s too young. She’s got to prove it. She’s got to see it with her own eyes.”

Banger and Sean meet eyes.

“But that really sets her back. Thought of seeing her husband do things like that to their daughter. She keeps drinking so I take her keys and give them to Banger, telling her we’re driving her home. Banger sneaks her out the back and walks her over to her car, puts her in the passenger seat. She’s not going to remember how she got home she’s so far gone. And I don’t want Adams knowing we’ve been talking so I tell Banger before he leaves we’re taking her out to the Dixie to sober her up first. I follow behind to bring him back to the bar after we’ve dropped her off.”

Chuck turns his head slightly in Banger’s direction and then pauses. He’s the one coming apart now.

“Trouble is I’ve also had too many. Always been the trouble, even back then.”

Chuck pauses.

“We take her out to the Dixie. Nobody there short of a few truckers. Never any locals at night. Sara wants to go home and has a fit as soon as Banger pulls in, refusing to get out of the car. She’s a screaming mess, so he drives past the diner to a dark end of the lot where nobody can hear. She keeps fucking screaming, starts to beat on him. He gets a little rough back and I’m still pulling in when I see her break free of him and open her door, but I, I just don’t see it develop in time. Don’t stop in time. And, well I drive, I—

“What the fuck, Chuck?” Banger has heard enough. He steps toward them with a threatening look on his face.

“I couldn’t stop,” Chuck can’t continue. He reaches for his drink, but somehow wills himself not to take it and finish the story instead.

“I hit her.”

“You hit her?” Sean says.

“That’s what I did. I hit her. I hit her getting out of her car. In the back of the lot by the service road. There’s your ending. It’s yours. I don’t want it anymore.”

Chuck closes his eyes. Sean’s first thought is only now does his story of the man sitting on death row make any sense.

“And the river?” Sean says.

“You can have that, too.”

Sean’s eyes tear up. Chuck’s don’t. Having sat inside the same bar for so many years reliving the story, there’s nothing left inside them to come out.

Sean stares at Banger, then down at his own drink.

“So Richard Adams is innocent, but not an angel?”

“None of us are angels,” Chuck says.

Sean remains silent, trying to make sense of it all. He looks at Banger again, then Chuck.

“Susie Adams has a tattoo. She showed it to me.”

“She never had a chance,” Chuck says, turning toward Sean.

“It’s an angel. On her right hip.”

“Nothing I could do.”

“Nothing!” Sean explodes.

Chuck shakes his head, looks down.

“You did nothing!”

Chuck doesn’t know what to say.

“What about mom?” Sean stands up, waiting for his father to look him in the eye.

“She wants those old bones back in the ground as much as anybody,” Chuck sighs.

“She knew?” Sean says, moving closer.

Chuck can only nod.

“Say it!” Sean shouts.

Sean’s eyes burn right through Chuck’s toward the back of his skull. It’s as if Chuck has been waiting half his life for this, too.

“You owe me more than a nod you son-of-a-bitch. Say it!”

Sean remains standing while his father sits. For this first time in his life, he can see over him.

“You made her lie to me all those years?”

Chuck stares down at his drink.

“To save your drunken, sorry ass!” Sean shouts.

Chuck still can’t look at him.

“That’s right, take another drink, Chuck. Our lives have been nothing but a long and terrible lie,” Sean says, lowering his voice to a violent whisper. “Yours.”

Chuck remains perfectly still.

“You’re a coward,” Sean says in his ear and walks out.

Sunlight creeps through the tinted windows as the door closes behind him.

The Loft Above A Bar Called Banger’s

The story wall is now blank and there are cardboard boxes taped up that look ready to be mailed on the floor. Sean sits in the windowsill with his cell up to his ear and looking down at his bike. There are two parking tickets tucked into the windscreen. He watches a client walk past his bike into Chuck’s office below as he listens to the person on the other end.

Sean steps back inside the loft.

“You’re the agent, Andrea,” he says into the phone. “Either find a way for me to pay the advance back or get them to put it toward a novel.”

Sean listens as he stands in front of the blank white wall full of little tack holes.

“Fuck it then. I’ll write an ebook. No publisher. No advance. No shitty agent’s commission.”

The Street Connecting The Page County Courthouse To A Bar Called Banger’s To The Private Practice Of Chuck Flynn

Sean’s bike is parked up on the curb. The seat is removed and a few tools are scattered about. There are now three parking tickets on the windscreen and there is only an outline on the topcase where the CRIME PAY$ sticker used to be.

Sean is on his back changing the oil. He’s unscrewing the bolt to drain it when he looks up and sees Chuck staring down on him with a stack of files under his arm.

Sean gives the bolt a few more twists. It drops into the pan under the bike. Oil spills out. Chuck removes the tickets from Sean’s windscreen and puts them in his coat pocket.

“So long Riverport?” Chuck says, sadly.

Sean slowly gets up, no idea what if anything to say. He stares at his father, the files, his bike. Then, finally.

“Can’t afford the parking.”

Chuck looks down at the ground.

“But hey.” Sean moves toward him and reaches out to shake his hand. “Thanks for fixing the tickets.”

When Sean lets go, Chuck spreads his right hand out and holds it up to his face. They both see it is covered with oil. Chuck just stares at it, his dirty hand a symbol of everything his life has become since the death of Sara Adams.

“Sorry,” Sean says. “An accident.”

Chuck knows it’s the best they will ever have between them, but it’s enough.

“Be careful on that thing, pal.”

Sean smiles.

“Never.”

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