FREE OF THE CATHETER

A short time later, free of the catheter, Strait said to the Watanabes, “Thanks. I really hate those damned things.”

A minute after the Watanabes left, someone appeared in the doorway. A man in a blue suit.

“Mr. Strait?”

“Yes?”

“I’m Dirk Wight. I’m with the county public defender’s office. I’ve been assigned as your attorney.”

“I didn’t ask for an attorney.”

“The county provides you one automatically.”

The lawyer observed Strait for a few seconds through his square, black-framed spectacles. He was an elderly man, very tall, with a stooped posture and a face like a sad-eyed hound. Grandiose bags of blue-green flesh hung under his eyes. “You haven’t hired a private attorney since your arrest, have you?”

“I haven’t even been conscious.”

“Unless you’re hiring a private lawyer, I’m now your attorney by default. Usually you’re assigned one at the jail, but, given your hospitalization, the judge made an exception.”

“I didn’t do anything they’re claiming I did. It’s ridiculous.”

“May I sit down?”

“Sure.”

The lawyer sat on the institutional plastic chair next to the bed.

“So the arrest had no basis, you say?”

“Absolutely none.”

“Can I be frank with you, Mr. Strait?”

“Please.”

“I was able to get a look at the evidence the prosecution has against you. It’s overwhelming.”

“I’m being framed. By a woman who pretended to be that teacher who was killed. She was at the church when the bomb went off. Probably used a cell phone to set it off.”

“And what would this person’s motive be? Why would someone frame you?”

“You know about my history, right?”

“I know that up until recently, you were considered by many to be a national hero. I personally had never heard of you, but it seems you are well known because of a couple of adventurous things you did.”

“Adventurous?”

Wight nodded placidly, the lenses of his eyeglasses glinting from the overhead fluorescent rods.

“Those weren’t adventures for me. I was forced into conflicts with some pretty nasty people, and I made them pay. Some are in prison. Others are dead. They have friends who would love to get revenge.”

“Like who?”

“Any white supremacist, for one. Members of the New Confederation. Anti-government fanatics. And don’t forget members of the Barton Cult. Except all of the dangerous ones are in prison.”

“I see,” said the lawyer.

“Come to think of it, the Bartons had access to precursor chemicals to make bombs.”

The Barton Cult had consisted of a large extended family whose founding members had, back in the 1950s, established Angstrom Chemical, one of the largest industrial chemical companies in the U.S. Like Shoko Asahara, who had cultivated an educated class of members of Aum Shinrikyo with skills to create biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, Aemon Barton, the polygamous patriarch now on death row in a Colorado prison, had made sure a large number of his children and grandchildren had been educated in fields of science he regarded as valuable to developing technology that could be used in his prophesied Final War with the evil U.S. government. Angstrom still existed, but the name was changed after the original one acquired ugly associations after the Barton family came close to killing most of the citizens of Colorado Springs using VX nerve agent.

Wight frowned. “These are interesting speculations.”

“But?”

The lawyer cupped his hands in front of him and looked at his fingers. “But as
your lawyer, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that, as things stand now, you don’t have much hope of getting off from these crimes. The evidence is just too copious and airtight.”

“How can it be airtight if it’s all bullshit?”

Wight shrugged. “I can’t really comment on that, but I can say that this is an accurate depiction of the state of things.”

“Then we need to change the state of things, right? The police need to investigate this more. For one thing, that woman who framed me might have been caught on the security cameras here at the hospital. Or maybe on the street somewhere when she was driving.”

The lawyer didn’t seem impressed. “Mr. Strait, there is no more investigation. The police are in charge, and they have wrapped up the case because of the overwhelming evidence they’ve used to bring forth charges against you.”

“The local police are a bunch of incompetent yahoos with a personal grudge against me. The FBI is the agency that needs to be overseeing this.”

The lawyer massaged the bridge of his nose between a thumb and finger. “Sorry, but the FBI is the agency that provided much of the evidence against you. The agent they sent down, this man, um…”

“Vlad Prostruda.”

“Yes, Prostruda. I spoke with him on the phone already. He stated the FBI’s position is that you are the guilty party. He acknowledges the likelihood of an accomplice, whose identity will likely be revealed upon further interrogation of you.”

“Jesus.”

“Furthermore, he said that after state charges are processed, he will make certain federal charges will come next.”

“Prostruda’s from the Phoenix field office, where they all have a grudge against me. He’s probably working with them to get back at me.”

“James, can I say you sound a little paranoid?”

“I have a friend in the FBI who will back me up on this.”

“Is this friend by chance Special Agent Graham Footer?”

“Yeah. So?”

“Prostruda mentioned him too. He’s not stationed in Arizona. The federal investigation for the bombing is under the direction, as you yourself noted, of the Phoenix field office. Your friend has no say in this case.”

“You’re a real sunbeam, you know that?”

“I don’t want to sugarcoat the situation.”

“So what should I do? Just give up?”

“No. Play to your strengths. You’re facing the death penalty. But if you plead guilty, I could probably get that reduced to life in prison.”

Strait stared at his new lawyer the way one would when viewing some grotesque creature from the deep sea. “You call that playing to my strengths?”

“I grant you, life in prison doesn’t sound like a weekend in Cape Cod. But it beats death.”

“I’m not sure I’d agree.”

“If you’re alive, you still have a chance to continue your fight to get your charges reduced, get a new trial, and so on. You have a lot of fans out there. You could start a support group. Drum up some publicity. You might get a new trial somewhere down the road. Maybe, who knows? Even get released.”

“Given all you know about the evidence, do you think that would actually occur?”

“Crazier things have happened.”

Strait snapped his fingers. “Bail!”

“Bail?”

“Get me out on bail. I can investigate this myself, find the real perpetrators, and clear my name.”

Wight gave him a look of pity. “I’m sorry, Mr. Strait. But judges rarely grant bail for this sort of crime. Especially Judge Rosect.”

“Who?”

“The senior judge working in the local court and the only one remotely qualified in the kind of law that would be relevant to your case. Prosecutor’s judge, strict as they come. If hell had a judge, it would be Judge Rosect.”

“I see. Well, thanks for popping by.”

“What do you think about pleading guilty and cutting a deal?”

“Mr. Wight, you make it sound awfully tempting, but I’d like to mull it over a bit if you don’t mind.”

“Okay. But don’t take too long. The judge is probably going to schedule a prelim in the next day or two, depending on how bad your injuries are. Incidentally, how bad are your injuries?”

Strait’s gaze settled on Wight for a very long time. “Injuries?”

“Injuries.”

“What injuries?”

Wight laughed nervously. “Your injuries. You’re in a hospital. You’re covered with bandages.”

Strait grinned. “You know, it’s been edifying having you here. I promise to seriously consider all you’ve told me.”

“Thank you.” Wight stood. “I’ll stop in again tomorrow morning. I really need your decision by then.”

“You’ll have it.”

“Have a pleasant day, Mr. Strait.”

The moment the lawyer was out of sight, Strait sat forward and examined the ankle cuff.

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