By – V. J. Willis Jr.
It was the one time in my career as a bureaucrat that doing my job actually nauseated me. I guess some would consider inputting the names from Al’s list just one step worse than the variation which Mary and I had developed. Some postulate that “the law” is a matter of right or wrong, with no leeway for circumstances. Others would argue that rules, regulations, and laws should be enforced with a measure of common sense. Mary and I obviously fall into the latter category. But, what we were being forced to do now was such a perversion of the justice system we both served and loved as to make us ashamed of even our seemingly innocent and well-meaning previous circumventions.
The date Al had verbally required was just ten days ahead. If Brad had a plan, I prayed it would be able to unfurl within that time frame. The wheels of bureaucracy do not turn quickly. What if Brad didn’t have the background information, organizational structure, names, addresses, etc. in place in time for action to be taken.
What was going to happen with Mary and me after the dust settled? The chances that Brad could arrest every single one of Al’s cohorts would seem rather slim to me. How would we protect ourselves from retribution? These and dozens of other questions were flooding my mind as I sent the notifications of jury duty to dozens of potential jurors, including those on Al’s list.
After what seemed an eternal afternoon at work, and a drive home that took too long because of two traffic accidents along my path, I was quickly brought back from my dazed consciousness as I walked in the front door to the ringing of my home phone. It was Mary. “Hey you!” Mary chimed with her usual phone greeting. “Hey back at you!” I responded with mine. “I need your help moving that super heavy sofa of mine before my reading group gets here in a bit. Could you come right over?” “Sure, I said, just give me a few minutes to change into some work clothes.”
Ten minutes later I was walking out the door and into my truck. As I was making the short drive I found myself checking my mirrors for telltale signs that someone might be following me. It dawned on me all at once that some things about Mary’s call didn’t quite add up. First of all, why was she so chipper? We had both parted after the lunchtime encounter with Al in a sullen mood. What had changed hers? Next, her reading group met on Wednesday nights, not Mondays. It wouldn’t be long before the reasons would be revealed.
I knocked twice, paused and knocked once on her front door before I opened the door. It was our signal to identify that it was one of us about to enter. As I opened the door, I spotted Brad sitting on one end of the sofa, turned slightly toward Mary, who was seated on the opposite end, turned toward Brad. They were both laughing about something as yet undisclosed joke. An uncontrolled feeling rushed over me, closely akin to that a brother would get when walking in to discover his best friend with his sister.
I quickly recovered; realizing that if any relationship was beginning between to two, it was a matter of no reason to worry. I couldn’t have suggested a better match for either of my best friends. I guess I had just never considered the possibility.
Brad suddenly got up, moved toward me and gave me a big hug, laughing as he did. “Mary and I figured that I owed you a hug since I didn’t give you one at the restaurant.” I playfully pushed him away at the same time that Mary and he burst into roaring laughter. “Is that what you two were scheming just before I walked in?” I asked. The look on their faces answered without words.
I was a bit surprised to see Brad there, just slightly more than twenty-four hours after our meeting at the restaurant. As Brad’s expression changed, I realized there was more to this obviously planned meeting than just pulling a practical joke on me.
Brad pulled out his briefcase from his side of the sofa, opened it, and pulled out a stack of files about three inches thick. He spread them out across Mary’s coffee table and began explaining the roots of the organization, of which Al was a very small cog. “Wait a minute; aren’t you going to get into trouble sharing all this information with us?” I asked. “Everything I’m showing you today is available through the Freedom of Information Act, although I would appreciate if you didn’t reveal that I shared it anyway. There’s no sense stirring up a hornet’s nest for nothing.” he said.
The arrest records for Al, and the two thugs we had encountered, were menacing enough. One folder was stamped “Classified” in big red letters. Brad looked up at me, then down at the folder, and said, “. I need to take a bathroom break. I’ll be back, in say five minutes.” As he turned his back to walk away, Mary opened the folder and spread a folded organizational chart. We noticed Al’s name on the third tier from the bottom. What was really eye-opening were the names farther up the chart. There were judges whose names we recognized, district attorneys, higher level police officials, federal law enforcement officers (including FBI, Treasury, DOJ, and a myriad of others). As I scanned back down the list, I spotted several bureaucrats who Mary and I knew.
We heard the toilet from the nearby bathroom flush. Mary quickly and neatly folded the chart and put it back in the folder. Brad had a slight smirk on his face. He seemed assured by the shock on our faces that we had stolen a glance at the chart. The seriousness of our situation reached an even higher level of acuteness in both of our minds.
I mentioned the awkward uneasiness I had sensed at lunch after Al left Mary and I. “I was wondering, if it was Al’s men or yours following us.” I asked. “Both”, Brad answered quickly. “I expected from your slight hesitancy as you pulled out Mary’s chair that you haven’t lost that sixth sense of yours, Mike.” Mary asked, “Aren’t you afraid they might have followed you here, Brad?” “Actually”, Brad said, I had my men get close enough behind Al’s thugs that they would know that they were being followed. That way they would focus on trying to lose their own tail, and wouldn’t notice that my vehicle had peeled away from the detail. However, we did notice that they have placed tracing devices on Mary’s car. Mike, I hope you put the one you found back.” I assured him that I had as soon as we got back from Houston.
I started to explain to Brad that the list Al gave me was for jurors slated for a trial in ten days. Brad stopped me in mid-sentence. “We know. We were expecting it to be then. As I offered to go home and get Al’s list, he mentioned that they already knew who was on the list. The look of surprise on my face prompted Brad to interject, “The technology since you and I worked together has improved by leaps and bounds”, Brad asserted proudly. “I don’t doubt that!” I responded, impressed by what I was just beginning to realize.
Brad glanced at both Mary and I and stated, “This is going to go very quickly now. I would love to give you both time to think over this decision, but we don’t have the time. As soon as moves are made to arrest Al’s underlings and bosses, things are going to become untenable for you two. I’m afraid the only safe alternative for you both is going to be Witness Protection.” “But we have lives here!” Mary protested. “Had would be more accurate.” Brad stated. “And that’s not all. You need to know that it’s too dangerous for you to go into protection together. You will have to be in the program separately.” The possibility of Witness Protection had occurred to me, but I hadn’t thought about also being separated from my best friend, Mary. From her expression, I could tell that it hit her like a ton of bricks. It was clear that she hadn’t even considered that she would have to enter Witness Protection. She uncharacteristically plopped down on the sofa, dumbfounded.
“Well, it’s obvious to me that the program is our only route,” I offered, “but when will this happen?” Brad dropped his head a bit and said, “We will need you both to testify. You both will get immunity, of course. I’m afraid we will be turning you over to the federal marshals at the courthouse, immediately after your testimonies.” That left less than ten days to have our lives prepared for the single largest change that either of us had ever experienced. Personally, the only things I would regret leaving behind were Mary and Brad. It felt like I had suffered the loss of a loved one. It reminded me of the horrible pain and loneliness I had experienced when my mom and dad passed away.
We made some plans about how to signal the need to meet surreptitiously. As we parted, my heart was breaking. I was in my truck, driving home before I even fully realized I had left Mary’s. About halfway home, I came to my senses and looked around. I thought I detected a dark sedan two cars back that just didn’t look right. It made two more turns with me. I knew it was trouble. Suddenly, a large box truck in front of me came to an abrupt stop. The dark sedan lightly made contact with my rear bumper. They had me pinned in. There was no way to escape except on foot. Before I could react and get out of my truck, one thug was on each side of my truck with guns drawn and no other traffic in sight.
As I stepped out of my truck, a third man joined the thug on the driver side of my truck. I crouched low and launched into a spinning kick to the head of the thug with the gun. The kick had no sooner landed than one leg was swept off the pavement, causing me to tumble. “Al said to tell you that you are not to see Mary again until he says it is ok.” the thug I had kicked said. That said; they took turns kicking me repeatedly. The last thing I remembered was the night sky, full of stars because of the cloudless night that had fallen.
(Will Mike be okay? Find out in The Jury Pool – Part 7.)