James Halwick’s Trial; Greldow District – Planet Ur’Meri
I made it a point to get up early for a head start on the day. Shirt buttoned, tie straight, and a hand through my hair to the base of my neck, I grab my folders and close the door before heading down for coffee. With a check of my watch and a ‘Ding’ from the elevator, I step onto the ground floor and opt to be first in the little café by the entrance. The hotel was one of the finest in the area. Elegant halls, marble pillars, high-class bar and restaurant, I put Thera’s money to work when they sent me here. The service doesn’t let their patriots hang out to dry if called upon. If I were to have traveled on my own dime then I never would have been able to afford all this.
Four days ago I arrived on Ur’Meri to act as a character witness for James Halwick, a sailor I served with some years ago. His trial was high visibility for his social class, being put on trial for his suspected part in the murder of a senator’s ex-wife and their son after a business dispute gone wrong. This all happened after he honorably left the service, so I opted not to wear the uniform – much to James’ dissatisfaction.
“Sir” the waiter says while pouring coffee with a nod before leaving the pot. He already knew me too well, though we don’t know each other’s names. With only one other patron downstairs this early, I sat near the entrance to keep watch for her, hoping to steal a moment of her time before the verdict was read this afternoon. I tried my damnedest to catch her yesterday morning, but she was elusive.
The sound of the elevator doors bring me back to reality as Audrey walks toward the entrance with her small team. I set my coffee down, rise, and begin to move that way before the small group walks by with a purpose. I stop short as they pass by and head out the door. The doors close as I let out a slow and frustrated breath from behind closed lips. Well…I wouldn’t expect any less today. I check my watch, a coffee to go, and begin the short trip to the courthouse.
I wasn’t in any rush to get inside while the attendees filtered in. James and his lawyer stopped for a moment when they saw me. Even in a suit he looked terrible. This trial had worn on him and, in his defense, wasn’t looking good.
“Clay” he says with a nod.
“Jimmy” I reply in a low voice, watching the passersby as they hardly take notice of us. Hands in my pocket, not really sure what to say or do, I just tried to listen to his thoughts.
“Thanks again for this. I know their attorney treated you rough yesterday, but you did well. They wouldn’t expect less if they really knew the brave Leftenant” he says with a forced muster of a smirk. He was a good man, that is, the man I knew back then. He was right, though. Their lawyer really dug into me on the stand, but I didn’t get carried away. I knew what was coming. If I could have stopped and talked to her this morning for even just a moment, then maybe this afternoon would be a little easier to bear for all of us. No matter how this unfolded, it was bound to be tense.
Shortly afterward, Audrey was walking around in front of the judge and jury delivering the prosecutions closing arguments for every reason to jail James for life. After these past few days I had come to despise that bun of hair on her head. It was so tightly pent up it was almost pretentious. Her pantsuit only varied by color, the sight of them having come to dull my senses mixed with her matter-of-fact voice as she delivered her remarks. Her voice was dry and course – it got under my skin the way she pointed the end of her sentences to a sharp edge. James was already getting a rough deal out of all this, so why be so condescending even up to the last minute? Her gestures were calm and collected, though her fingers would press together between thoughts. When she was finished and finally sat down, it appeared as though she took one single breath that lasted minutes, as if previously having forgotten to breathe during her efforts. I listened to James’ lawyer, the verdict read aloud, and it was over.
Later that evening I did my best to stay busy. The look on James’ face when they read the verdict was imprinted in my mind. Drinking wasn’t an option yet since there were still things to do. Bags mostly packed, next day’s clothes set out, room cleaned up as best I could – I needed to get in a quick shave before it got too terribly late. The thin curtains were dotted with lights from the city as the night settled in. White and blue from structures, red and green from traffic, silver and blue from the moon. The room takes on the mixture of dim lights as a sense of anxiety slowly grows within me. I flip open the pocket watch for the fifth time, knowing full well that it was only minutes later than the last time I checked as it closes with a click.
A key in the door, a slow tick from the handle, and a dull tap as the deadbolt snaps shut. It’s difficult to retain a sense of calm as these seconds tick by. My anxious want turns to burning need as Audrey lets the keys land and slide across the counter. Turning to the clamor of keys and watching her come closer, she’s on a deliberate path and makes a hard line straight to me as her arms stretch out and a short hop into my lap. She doesn’t say a word but doesn’t have to – the eagerness of her lips and tight hold was telling enough. She wraps her legs around my waist, flicking one leg at a time as high heels come into contact with solid objects somewhere in the room.
She lets out pleased and selfish sound as she presses her lips to mine, an arm around my neck while tugging on my buttoned shirt and open collar. Still we kiss as she presses herself to me, seemingly able to close the distance between us as we become more attached.
“Congratulations” I say from the side of my mouth, causing her to smile white teeth against my lips with a short laugh. She doesn’t take the bait – just continues as she was before I interrupted her.
After these past few days I had come to despise that bun of hair on her head. It was so tightly pent up it was almost pretentious. It looked so much better down around her shoulders, shaken out and flowing past her face while my fingers run through auburn brown streaks. I struggle to undo her hair as she touches her feet to the floor, helping me to free and reveal the beautifully tussled mess.
Her pantsuit only varied by color, the sight of them having come to dull my senses mixed with her matter-of-fact voice as she delivered her remarks. We were both more than happy to relive her of the tyranny of that formality – using a bit of excessive force one button at a time. The matching bright red underneath maroon was a stark contrast and, under different pretenses, would be a surprise. With dark brown eyes fixed on mine, she wraps one leg back around me before I help her hop back up.
That voice was dry and course – it got under my skin the way she pointed the end of her sentences to a sharp edge. The more she leaned into me, though, the smoother her voice became – especially those deep, brief sounds she made within every other kiss. I could barely make out some words more than others, almost like whispers mixed within her confessions. She says it’s like slowly dying of thirst. Like taking a deep breath after being underwater too long. Like suddenly being caught in the rain after excessive heat.
Her gestures were calm and collected, though now her fingers relaxed and eased as they expressed her thoughts. Sliding comfortable and smooth hands along my neck and shoulders, she showed the distaste for my attire after casting maroon on the chair, splashes of red on the desk and lamp. Sliding into my lap, she put it on me to hold on tightly – herself gently easing herself down with a few quick, sharp, and quiet breaths. It appeared as though she took a single breath that lasted minutes, as if previously having forgotten to breathe during her efforts.
“Tell me you love me, Clay” she says with eyes closed, her cheek against my temple, fingers sliding through my hair to my neck. As I trail my fingers up her back, she lets out a twitch and smile, pushing back on me as a punishment.
“I love you, Audrey” I say past her calmly. It’s not true, but she had a way of needing to hear certain things. After these past few nights I came to know she needed me to say words that were desperately needed. Maybe things she had never heard. Maybe things she never will.
Now – I’m not a lawyer. I’m not really sure what it’s called, but there has to be some ethical laws regarding what was happening between the prosecution and a character witness. In the service we call it fraternizing with the enemy. If this were a crime, then it would be a one witness testimony. If revealed, then I assume that I would be instantly discredited.
“I won’t be the same” she says as we continue showing our delayed need for the other after somehow making it through the last twenty two hours without going completely insane. “You’ve killed any first expectations I’ll ever have again” she continues. “I’ll never get through another trial the same.” The stress from the course of the past week melts from her body. The strain is felt slipping away from her soul. That tireless anticipation disappears from her face as she allows herself to settle onto me while I take in the scent of her perfume, smiling against her neck with tussled hair resting on her shoulders. “Murder” she says into the half-darkness, working towards the edge of one last night as we escaped our lives if only for a moment…