It was a cool and cloudless morning but the haze of pollution still hung on the edges of the valley like a dirty ring in a once muddy bathtub. There was a slight breeze blowing from the north, and the air was promising a change from the staggering heat of a triple digit summer.
The peaks of the mountains served as a forested border around the northern-most boundary of Danbrier County. Few drove the mountain roads for access, other than weekend adventurers and sight-seeing tourists. The roads were narrow and difficult although the Danbrier Mountain chain was majestic with thick forests, purple in the evening sunset and a sea of varying shades of green in the day. Pines, fir and hemlock added dimension to the ancient peaks and plateaus while the valley was rich farmland now checkered with housing developments. The dairy business moved on when real estate development became so lucrative in the ‘80’s.
Patrick’s drive was uneventful as he was again lost in his thoughts about Judge Morrison, not noticing the usual traffic stops, slow-downs, or even the motorcycle accident on the freeway a couple of miles before the Main Street off ramp. When he drove off the freeway, he executed every move in mechanical fashion without a thought about his surroundings, a man whose world had been on lockdown since Rebecca, but now was experiencing a yearning. Although always ready for his courtroom appearances, he missed most of the world around him that day as though he had wandered into a cloud.
He arrived at the courthouse early, hoping he might see her, have some contact. He didn’t know how to go about making the next move, so he decided to wait her out, pacing slowly with purpose for he was a man of stature and knew that he must maintain his composure. He knew better than to want her but his senses were aroused, sexual desire mounting. He felt attraction from her, but thought she was being coy.
He had barely seen her, yet he wanted more. He was uncertain of himself, slowly emerging from the depths of the pool of woe into which his tormented soul had been cast.
Tim Fulton arrived shortly before 8:30. They discussed the hearing, which quickly brought Patrick back into the realm his mind knew at any given moment: the courtroom, the law, his kingdom—even when shadowed by the loss and humiliation of his mutilated and murdered Rebecca, who now called to him in his blackened moments of despair from her own private place of torment.
“You don’t really expect a reduction, do you? A million is standard for murder.” Tim was indignant and correct, but Patrick knew that his client would bail out regardless of the amount.
“I don’t know what to expect from this Judge. How well do you know her?” Patrick was hoping for even a tidbit of information to quench his thirst for knowledge about her. He could have asked Tommy, but found himself being secretive with his best friend.
“She’s in the wind, always. No one ever knows what to expect from her. She ran as a liberal with major support from Los Angeles firms. She has lots of friends in high places, but her politics are never clear. She no longer tries any serious cases, but when she did, she was fairly even-handed.”
Tim would never reveal what he knew about Priscilla Morrison. Although hers were closely guarded secrets, Tim knew about her as did others who kept quiet because their secrets were as closeted as hers, and speaking at all would surely bring the sun through the shades of their own misadventures. As a long-time a drunk, Tim had many secrets.
When the Bailiff came out of her courtroom, he advised Patrick and Tim that Judge Morrison was ill and that Judge Blanton in Department D-1 would hear the Department D-3 calendar.
“This is also part of her routine, Pat. She misses at least one day per week. No one seems to know whether she’s sick or simply takes the time off. It’s almost always a Wednesday.”
“I wish I’d known. I wouldn’t have set it a different day.” He was suddenly aware of the disappointment in his voice, hoping that Tim took it as case-related. He had an empty feeling in his stomach, a betrayal even though it was without reason to expect, without promise or even mention.
Somehow he found himself confused and out of sorts as though he were waking from a bad dream unable to shake the spell it had cast. It was a full hour before Judge Blanton took the bench in Department D-1. When he finally called the Van Peltzer case, he referred to the notes in the file from Judge Morrison.
“Good morning, gentlemen. From what Judge Morrison has indicated, it appears she intended to reduce the bail to $500,000. Is there any objection, Mr. Fulton?”
“The People do object. There is no reason to reduce the bail in this case. A million dollars is standard for a murder case, and the facts show a very brutal murder. The defendant has shown no remorse. He is clearly a danger to the community.” Tim knew he was fighting a losing battle. “Mr. Moynihan?”
“I would submit it on Judge Morrison’s recommendation, your Honor.” The California bail statutes allowed the prosecution to refer to the gravity of the offense, danger to the community, even absence of remorse when discussing bail. Most courts considered the defendant guilty for purposes of setting bail.
Patrick was encouraged by what she had done, took it as a message she was interested. He felt like a kid in high school, giddy with anticipation of physical activity about which he remembered little. He checked his demeanor, making certain he was not breaking character to the watchful eyes of his opponent, sensing he was the enemy from whom Tim Fulton desired retribution for the anguish of his own existence.
“Well then, I’m going to follow Judge Morrison’s recommendation. Bail is hereby reduced to $500,000.”
Patrick knew that Martin Van Peltzer would be released that evening. His father would have a cashier’s check on the way to the clerk’s office as soon as Patrick called him.
It would be cash bail, without the intervening cost of a bail bondsman, usually 10% of the bond. That way Karl Van Peltzer would get it all back after the case—all his money. It was proof of his superiority from humble beginnings; his hard early years spent demanding of himself that he never have less than the day before. As time passed his accumulation of affluence filled the immense vault of his ego. His claim of power came from never bending to weakness, never giving to those who should bow to him gratefully, surrendering their will as he commanded.
Karl Van Peltzer would see to the acquittal of his son with his well-honed skills at manipulation of power through purchased loyalties. There would be no reckoning for the life lost, taken in anger and vengeance. They already had a further proceedings date, so there was nothing left to deal with that day. Patrick went to Martin and said a few words quietly before he left the courtroom.
“You’ll be out tonight, Martin. I want to see you and your father at the office tomorrow. We have some very important things to discuss. In the meantime, remember the basics and don’t discuss your case with anyone.” “Thanks, Pat. See you tomorrow.”
Martin had a strange light in his eyes. Patrick sensed malevolence—a calculating being that knew only what he wanted at any given moment, never truly owning the cost of the greed that drove him to do all manner of things. It was all for him, and nothing else.
Again, when Patrick turned away from Martin, Tim Fulton was nowhere to be found. Patrick knew he was angry but was certain that Tim knew that Karl Van Peltzer could have posted any amount, and arguing over it would not prevent Martin’s release on bail. Regardless, Tim Fulton would come at him with a full arsenal of the unlimited power of the government and his own carefully crafted means of war.
Patrick left that morning subdued by disappointment but still excited. He did not recognize the magnitude of the conflict within him. Instead, he considered the bail reduction made him look good to his client, even though he’d never played that way before. Yet, because of the craving growing within him, while leaving the building he found himself giving in to something over which he had become powerless, not perceiving the significance of that first step toward the edge.