By V J Willis
By the time we got to the restaurant, Brad has already been seated at a table. As expected, it was in a corner with no adjoining windows and easy access to the rear exit. He and I had often situated ourselves in the same manner when we were out on one of our assignments where the paperwork disappeared almost as quickly as we turned it in. We didn’t mind so much, because these assignments were much more liberal with expenses.
Mary seemed uneasy when we first stepped through the door, but a broad smile broke out as we approached Brad. I looked over at her and inquired, “What’s with you and that smile? Is someone about to take your picture?” She looked at me and punched me hard on the right shoulder. “I’ve no idea what you’re on about.” I’d never considered that a woman might consider Brad good looking, but I did remember that he had little trouble finding a lady of interest just about anywhere we went together.
Brad had looked up in time to see Mary punch me. He greeted the scene with has award winning smile sent Mary’s way. As we approached he quickly walked to our side of the table in time to greet Mary with his hand extended . As she placed her hand in his, he softly settled his other hand over hers. They exchanged a look as Brad said, “I think I understand why Mary hasn’t let us meet yet.” Mary grinned and responded, “Trust me, he had more than one chance!” The truth was, we had kissed once. It was like kissing your sister. I think there are some couples that God has preordained to be nothing more than friends, and good friends we were. There’s literally nothing I wouldn’t do for Mary, and the reverse was demonstrated as true countless times.
As Brad sat down, the smile was replaced by as stern and serious an expression as I had ever remembered seeing from him. “You guys have gotten yourselves into quite the mess haven’t you?” I should have known the scenario I had presented him with wouldn’t hold water. “I’ve already done a bit of investigating of you two. That’s quite the bend you’ve put into the rules.”, he offered. Mary was astonished, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t expected was likely to happen. “Ok Mike, brief me, and I expect nothing less than the complete story.” Mary and I took turns telling Brad about our scheme to enhance the process of jury selection and about our unwelcomed lunch meeting with Al. Brad listened carefully without taking a single note. He was always that way. He could hear a conversation and repeat it word for word years later. As we grew silent, Brad said, “And then?” Mary looked my way with a quizzical look. I wasn’t sure how, but it was clear that Brad knew about Al’s subsequent visit to my house. I had no choice but to finish our story. As I began to detail the events, I could see a mixture of disbelief and anger on Mary’s face. It was slowly replaced with a look of sorrow. Mary knew I was the sort that wouldn’t share this, but she was still upset that I hadn’t let her know on the way to the restaurant.
“These folks you guys have encountered are no one to be taken lightly. Their organization permeates virtually every aspect of government and business. Their connections are spread over this nation like a spider web, and they are ever so more dangerous than you could dream.”, Brad said. “The best advice I can give you both is to pack up everything you own and leave town. Don’t look back. Just keep going.”, Brad added. Mary looked over at him and said, “You mean run? There is no way. After what they did to Brad, I’m ready to take these goons on.” “I’m in!”, I said. Brad shook his head and added, “I expected that would be the case with Mike. But you need to be sure, Mary. This is no game. These guys have had the kid gloves on up to this point. It’s only going to get rougher.”, Brad stated dead seriously.
Brad meticulously explained his plan to us. It was going to be dicey, to say the least. It made some of the assignments he and I had shared look like the minor leagues by comparison. As we got up to leave, Brad came around to Mary and gave her a hug. She looked like the cat that ate the canary. He reached over and shook my hand firmly. “Where the hell is my hug?”, I joked. “You don’t hug that well.”, Brad shot back with a grin. “And how would you know that?”, Mary retorted. We all three chuckled. It was a welcome bit of humor that we three sorely needed just then. “I like this one!”, Brad offered as a parting comment.
On the way back to Austin, Mary and I chatted nonstop. Gladly, she didn’t harp on the fact that I had kept her in the dark about Al’s visit to my house. It was understood that any further omissions would not be mutually beneficial, and Mary wasn’t the kind of person that would continually chew on a bone.
Brad would be in town on Sunday. He told us that we wouldn’t notice, and he said that contacting him would not be possible for the time being. He assured us that he would be fully aware of everything that was going on. When it was time, he would be in touch with us.
Sunday was just an everyday respite, thankfully. Mary and I both needed the rest. She spent it with some of her girlfriends. I spent the day playing some online chess with a friend I had made while stationed in Iceland. It was a good thing we both had the opportunity to relax. Monday brought reality harshly in front of our faces.
As I opened the door of my Ram 2500, I spotted a single piece of paper sitting on the driver’s seat. It had a list of twenty-five names and nothing else. I stashed it in my briefcase as I drove to work. I figured that some time during the day, when no one else was around, I would make a point of making two copies; one for Mary and one to pass to Brad. Mary and I went to lunch together. Sadly, the day only turned worse. We had both just finished eating when Al showed up. He gave us a date when the list was to be added to the jury pool, together with a carefully worded warning. “Even a cat doesn’t know when the last of its nine lives will be used up.” Mary looked toward me as he walked away. “He doesn’t mince words, does he?” We both knew there was little utility in resisting at this point. As we got up to leave, I stepped behind Mary’s chair to help her up. She had long given up trying to curb my chivalry. As I did, the hair on the back of my neck began to bristle ever so slightly. I wondered if it was Brad or maybe one of Al’s goons. I was praying it was Brad, but only time would tell.
(Watch for The Jury Pool – Part 6 to find out who was following Mary and Mike)