Part 8: link
“Mr. Pendragon? My name is Keith Godwin. I was given a somewhat illuminating message yesterday…”
“Ah, yes, Mr. Godwin. I have some information that you might find very
illuminating,” Arthur says, leaning back in his chair. “What are your plans for this weekend, may I ask?”
Over lunch, Arthur’s phone rings again. “Arthur Pendragon,” he answers, his mouth full of hamburger.
“Arthur?” Percy’s hesitant voice greets him.
Arthur swallows. “Sorry. Been eatin’ lunch in my office these days, since that’s usually when you or Guinevere calls me. You caught me with a mouth full o’ burger.”
“Sorry,” Percy chuckles. “I got ’em. Waited till Alined went to lunch, since he always goes out on Wednesdays, and they were right where he said they’d be.”
“And they’re how we expect?”
“Good. Oh, I got called back this morning.”
“Mmm-hmm. Everything’s all set. You’re safe.”
“Thank you, Arthur, really. I was pretty worried, you know.”
“I know. Call your mama tonight, Percy.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Hello?” Arthur answers his phone Thursday night. It’s nearly nine, and his phone rarely rings this late.
“Guinevere,” he says, smiling.
“I didn’t wake you, did I?”
“It’s not even nine,” Arthur says. Then he grins into the phone. “I’m allowed to stay up till eleven if I eat all my dinner, you know.”
“Don’t be usin’ my own words against me, now, Superman,” she snaps back, but he can hear the smile in her voice.
I’m beginning to love it when she calls me that.
“What’s on your mind?”
She pauses. “I’m scared.”
“I know,” he says. “I am, too.”
“Why should you be scared?”
“Lots o’ reasons. I’m scared ’cause this is my first big trial, even though Leon’s doin’ most of the work now. I’m scared ’cause I don’t know what kind of shit Boudreaux is goin’ to try and pull. And most of all, I’m scared ’cause if we fail, then I’ll have failed you, Guinevere. And I don’t think I could live with that.”
“That’s a lot to be scared of,” she says after a moment, choosing file his last statement under Deal With that Later.
“I’m mostly scared for Duncan and Ezra. Especially Ezra. I think he should talk to someone. Like a doctor or somethin’. And I know you said that you weren’t going to call me to the stand, but what if Boudreaux does?”
“Then you go up there and be your normal charming and beautiful self, and most importantly, do not let him make you nervous.”
“I wish you wouldn’t say things like that,” Gwen says quietly.
“You said I was charming and beautiful.”
“Well, you are.”
“Even if that’s true, I wish you wouldn’t.”
“I mean, thank you, but… it just does funny things to me when you say things like that,” she admits.
“And the last thing you need right now is more stress,” Arthur realizes. “I don’t mean to… make you uncomfortable. I’m sorry. I’ll try to… rein it in.”
“I don’t know if I should say thank you or tell you not to.”
“Well, I don’t even realize I’m doin’ it most of the time, so I can’t really make any promises,” Arthur says.
Gwen just sighs, and Arthur can tell if it’s a sigh of contentment or exasperation.
“Is Elyan coming tomorrow?”
“I think so. He ain’t home right now.”
“He goes out a lot.”
“I think he doesn’t like bein’ home because it reminds him of Daddy. His absence is very loud for him, I think.”
“Are all of Tom’s things still there?”
“Some. We gave his clothes to Duncan to give out to anyone who needed them at the warehouse. I told Elyan he should redecorate, or at least move the furniture around. Make the place his now.”
“That’s good advice,” Arthur nods.
“Yeah, but honestly I don’t know if I’d be able to make that step myself. It’s easy for me to sit up here in my own space and tell him what he should do, but if I was in his place, would I be any better, I wonder?”
Arthur smiles sadly. “You’re very smart, Guinevere.”
“Stop complimenting me, Arthur.”
“I should let you go. Sleep well.”
“You, too. Try to get some rest, Guinevere.”
Dream of me.
“Is this all right?” Gwen asks outside the courtroom. She is dressed in a simple lavender sleeveless dress with a matching pillbox hat on her head. Her hair is gathered into a very dignified bun at her nape.
“Perfect,” Arthur smiles. “Mrs. Kennedy would be envious.”
“Stop,” she tells him, but she is smiling despite herself.
“Ready?” he asks just as Leon joins them.
“No,” she answers, the smile slipping from her face. “Let’s go.”
“Where’s Elyan?” Arthur asks.
“He’ll be here. Trial starts at two; he’ll be here at 1:59,” she sighs. The three of them walk into the courtroom, Leon in the lead, followed by Gwen and then Arthur.
Leon finishes his opening remarks, then Duncan takes the stand. He is sworn in and sits, folding his hands in front of him to keep them still. He does not look at Alined, as he has been instructed.
“Would you state your full name please?” Leon asks.
“Duncan Isaiah Matthews.”
“And what is your job at Alined Paper?”
“I oversee the loading dock in the warehouse.”
“What does that involve, exactly?”
“I take care of the shipments what comes in, checkin’ that what’s unloaded matches the invoice – the sheet that tells what’s s’posed to be on the truck. I tells the other men where to put the supplies. On the shipments that goes out, I tells the men where to find the order and make sure that what’s loaded matches the order.”
“So you have a fair amount of responsibility there,” Leon comments.
“How long have you been with the company?” Leon asks, consciously choosing his words carefully.
“Hmm. But Alined Paper has only been in existence for eight years…”
“Yessuh. Before that it was Blue Mountain Paper.”
“So you worked for Blue Mountain Paper for two years before Eugene Alined took over, is that correct?”
“Yessuh,” Duncan nods.
“And Blue Mountain Paper was owned by a mister… Hank Powell,” he says, consulting a sheet of paper. Mainly for show. He knows exactly who and what and why.
“Mr. Powell, yes,” Duncan nods again.
“And eight years ago, Mr. Alined purchased the company from Mr. Powell, is that correct?” Leon asks.
“Not really, sir, no.”
“Care to explain?”
“Well, the public word is that it was a straight purchase. But everyone knowed that Mr. Powell had a bit of a problem when it came to playin’ cards.”
“Well, his last day, he come in stinkin’ o’ gin, spoutin’ off about how he lost his whole company to this… beggin’ your pardon… ugly, cheatin’ bastard. Then he started cryin’, sayin’ that he was sorry that we’s gonna have such a bad boss.”
“Objection, your honor,” Aggy Boudreaux speaks up for the first time now. “How is this relevant?”
Judge Rodor looks questioningly at Leon.
“My witness is giving background on the general work environment at Alined Paper, specifically in the warehouse. Explaining the workplace atmosphere.”
“Overruled, for the moment. But you’d better get to your point soon, Mr. Winters,” Rodor says.
“And what happened when Mr. Alined took over?” Leon asks.
Duncan furrows his brow a moment. “Not much. That is to say, things stopped happenin’. We had orders goin’ out, shipments comin’ in, but we was all feelin’ like we was treadin’ water. Doin’ lots o’ work and gettin’ nowhere, you see.”
“Not very rewarding,” Leon nods. “And what can you tell us about Paul Baker?”
“He was the old warehouse manager, before Mr. Andersen. Left all sudden-like in the middle of the day about a year and a half ago.”
“Do you know why he left?”
“Yessuh. He wa’n’t quiet about it nohow. He slammed out o’ the office, spoutin’ off things like… excuse my language again, please… ‘cheap asshole’ and ‘this place is gon’ fall down inside o’ two year’ and ‘someone’s gon’ get killed.’ Then he stormed out.”
“And what were these colorful comments in reference to?”
“Well, things break down and need fixin’. I sees the things that need fixin’, and I tells the boss. He fills out a form and gives it to the big boss. But nothin’ was gettin’ fixed. Mr. Baker got to the end of his rope, I reckon.”
“How long was it before Percy Andersen arrived?”
“Five, six months. We had all been thinkin’ that Tom Thompson was goin’ to be made manager. He’d been kinda runnin’ things durin’ that time. Then one day Mr. Alined brings Mr. Andersen in, announces that he’s our new manager, and leaves.”
“Was Tom upset?”
“No. He was the only one who didn’t
think he’d be put in charge o’ the warehouse,” Duncan says, chuckling a little. He meets Gwen’s eye and she smiles fondly at him, understanding completely. “And Mr. Andersen has proved to be a good boss, so after a month or so we stopped bein’ difficult.” Duncan grins a little now and sees Percy sitting in the crowd, chuckling and shaking his head.
“Does Mr. Andersen submit the repair requests you give him?” Leon asks.
“Yessuh, he does. I knows he does,” Duncan nods.
“And do the repairs get done?”
“No. That’s somethin’ that hasn’t changed.”
“I see. What can you tell us about Tom Thompson? Was he a good worker?” Leon steers the testimony in a slightly different direction.
“Yessuh. Like I said, we’s all expectin’ that he was gon’ be our boss. He’d been there as long as me. Little longer, actually. Always on time, followed the rules, and made sure we all followed them, too. Everyone liked him. Had a… a way about him. Tom could tell you you did somethin’ wrong and you’d find yourself wanting to thank him for correctin’ you.” He glances at Gwen again. She is looking a little wistful now, thinking of her father.
“Never did anything… reckless or dangerous?” Leon asks.
“Never. I don’t think he would even think of it. Even when we was, um, breakin’ in Boss – Mr. Andersen, I mean – he was always tryin’ to get us to go easy on him.”
“So then, the events of September 18, then… he wasn’t behaving recklessly or in an unsafe manner?”
“No. He was just doin’ his job, same as Ezra Johnson was just tryin’ to do his.”
“How would you classify what happened that day?”
Duncan takes a breath. “It was a terrible accident that wouldn’t have happened if the repairs had been seen to on that forklift truck.”
“Thank you, Mr. Matthews, I have nothing further,” Leon says and sits.
“Mr. Boudreaux?” Judge Rodor turns to Aggy.
Aggy stands and saunters over towards the witness stand. “Mr. Matthews, how is it you seem to know so much about my client’s acquisition
of Blue Mountain Paper?”
“Well, sir, it’s like I said. Mr. Powell came in and pret’ much tole us that Mr. Alined done won it off him in a poker game.”
“You also said that Mr. Powell stank of gin at the time.”
“Yessuh. He was drunk at the time.”
“So you believed his drunken ravings?”
“Anyone that’s been around anyone who’s had a few too many could prob’ly tell you that the drink makes a person more honest than they normally would be.”
“Sounds like you know something about liquor,” Aggy says, insinuation clear in his voice.
Duncan glances at Leon and Arthur, remembering Leon’s words. “If he’s resortin’ to trickery, that means he doesn’t have a case.”
They do not look worried, so he answers. “I have had a drink or two in my day, but so have half the people in this courtroom, I reckon.”
“But especially you,” Aggy says. He produces a sheet of paper. “Police records. You’ve had some tangles with the law due to your taste for alcohol, Mr. Matthews.”
Duncan lifts his chin, refusing to be baited. “If you look at those reports, sir, you’ll see that the most recent charge was fifteen year ago. I haven’t touched a drop since then and I never will again.”
Aggy’s eyes flash briefly, then, and Duncan can’t quite gauge the emotion. He knows it’s anger, but he’s not exactly sure of the reason.
“I have nothing further,” he snaps, sitting. Apparently that was his only card for this hand, and it was trumped before he could even play it.
Ezra’s turn is next, and Gwen finds she is very nervous for him.
“I hope he does okay,” she leans over and whispers to Arthur as Ezra makes his way up. “I’m so worried about him.”
“We recommended a psychiatrist to him,” Arthur tells her. “If we win, he should get a part of the settlement as well. Alined should pay for Ezra’s therapy.”
Gwen stares at him, struck by his thoughtfulness. She smiles at him, and he feels her smile burrowing into his heart and making itself comfortable.
Leon starts much the same way with Ezra. Full name, his position at the warehouse.
“Ezra, I know you have been struggling since Tom’s death, but would you be so kind as to tell us what happened that day?”
“Yessuh,” Ezra nods. His voice is soft, and the courtroom goes completely silent as he starts to talk.
“I just took a pallet to the row where Duncan tole me. Was makin’ my way back to the truck, and let me tell you, it wa’n’t easy. I turn the wheel left, it go straight. I hit the brakes, it don’t stop. ’Fore I knew it, I was headin’ down the wrong aisle with the forks stuck half up. I seen Tom ahead of me, checkin’ another pallet, and I right away knowed he was trapped.”
Ezra pauses, swallowing hard.
“Can you continue, Mr. Johnson?”
He nods. “I stomped on them brakes like they was a big ol’ spider. I tried turnin’ the wheel, but there was nowhere I could go and… the truck don’t stop…”
He closes his eyes, squeezing them shut, and when he opens them again he looks at Gwen and sees her dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief.
“In the end I just put my hands over my eyes. I thought about jumpin’ from the truck but I knew I’d get hurt, too, if I done that. The truck only stopped when it hit the wall. Tom was stuck between the truck and the wall. One o’ the forks, it… it went right through him…” his voice breaks off and he wipes at one of his eyes. “I kilt him. I’m sorry, Miss Gwen, you know I am, but I couldn’t…”
“It’s all right, Ezra,” Leon says quietly. “Miss Thompson has already stated that she does not hold you responsible.”
Ezra nods, and he looks at Gwen again. Her eyes are red but she is attempting to smile encouragingly at him.
“Did you sustain any injuries in this accident, Mr. Johnson?” Leon asks.
“Some bruises, mainly.”
“And?” he presses.
“Objection, your honor. A nightmare is not an injury,” Aggy huffs.
“Recent research states that mental trauma after an accident such as this should indeed be considered an injury. Mr. Johnson suffered great mental trauma, as you can plainly see, and these nightmares are a manifestation of this.”
Leon changes direction. “What can you tell us about this faulty forklift truck, Ezra? When you are able.”
Ezra takes a deep breath, wipes at his eyes again, and speaks again. “We have two forklift trucks in the warehouse. One o’ them works pretty well, and the other one, well, we’d gone to flippin’ a coin to see who had to drive it each day.”
“What was wrong with it?”
“Um, the brakes was goin’. The steerin’ was…” he searches for the right word, “unpredictable. Tires bald. The hydraulics, what makes the forks go up and down? They was startin’ to malfunction. The forks would get stuck.”
“Would they get stuck in any particular place? All the way up? All the way down?”
“No. We never could tell where they was gon’ get stuck. Oh, and every once in a while there’d be this squealin’ noise comin’ from somewhere.”
“So quite a few things, then,” Leon says, nodding. “And requests were made for service?”
“Yessuh. Still waitin’ on the maintenance people to come.”
“You have no on-site maintenance?”
“No. Mr. Alined got rid of the one we had when he took over. Said we didn’t need them and he’d hire in men when we needed things fixed.”
“And did you ever see any of these hired maintenance men?”
“Once or twice. It’s been two years since I last saw one, I reckon.”
“Thank you Ezra, I know this has been difficult for you. I have no further questions.” Leon goes to his seat, silently praying that Ezra can hold it together through Boudreaux’s questioning.
Judge Rodor looks at Aggy. “Your witness, Boudreaux.”
Aggy does something surprising then. “I don’t believe I’m gonna ask this witness any questions, your honor.”
Leon and Arthur look at each other across Gwen, puzzled. Ezra visibly relaxes.
Then Boudreaux continues. “No point in questioning the mentally unstable.”
“Of course,” Arthur mutters. “Asshole.”
“You may step down, Mr. Johnson,” Rodor says.
“That was very…” Gwen says quietly.
“Go ahead and say it Guinevere,” Arthur says.
“Shitty,” she finishes.
“Atta girl,” he nods. Then he glances over her at Leon. “And now, for our next trick?”
Leon stands again. “Prosecution calls Jack Aredian, your honor.”
“Shit.” From the other side of the aisle, Leon smirks as he just barely hears Aggy curse under his breath.
Part 10: link