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BERNHARDT IS A "MASTER OF THE COURTROOM DRAMA."
"Thrillingly interwoven plots are Bernhardt's forte, a talent he once again demonstrates full-blown in [Dark Justice] . . . . Subplots swirl and crash around Ben's feet, but these only serve to enrich the entertainment value of this wonderfully riveting read."
ONE HUNDRED YEARS BEFORE
IN 1906, a journalist named James MacGillivray struggled to think of something different to fill the pages of the Oscoda Press, a small-town northern Michigan newspaper. In those days, papers were more flexible and often used fiction pieces to liven up their pages. Because the town had recently seen an influx of lumberjacks and businessmen in the fledgling logging industry, MacGillivray concocted a tale, based in part on stories he had heard around town, about the Goliath of loggers, a superhuman lumberjack called Paul Bunyan. In "The Round River Drive," the mighty Bunyan fells "about a mile a day" of forestland. "You see," MacGillivray wrote, "back in those days the government didn't care nothin' about the timber and all you had to do was hunt up a good tract on some runnin' stream -- cut her and float her down."
The Bunyan story was very popular, and in the years that followed, more appeared by a variety of writers. In 1914, an advertising copywriter working for the Red River Lumber Company produced a booklet collecting and embellishing the Bunyan saga -- adding, for instance, Babe the Blue Ox. The company's advertising circulars gave the "legend" national prominence, popularizing both the logging industry and the stouthearted, manly lifestyle of the lumberjack.
The logging industry boomed. Settlers came from far and wide to be a part of the "taming" of the national wilderness. Ancient forests, silent for centuries, were suddenly noisy as factories, as men and equipment swarmed through cutting down everything in sight. Lumbering, dominated by larger and larger corporations, was an attack operation in which profits depended on the speedy, efficient felling of trees -- as many as possible, as quickly as possible. In 1850, more than forty percent of the United States was densely forested; by 1920, less than ten percent was. Entire forests disappeared, and to their surprise, the loggers learned that, even when new trees were planted, the forests did not grow back...
SIX YEARS BEFORE
Ben Kincaid gripped the podium, a grim expression set on his face.
He was staring across the courtroom at the man in the witness box. Evan Taulbert was his name, and he was the critical witness for the prosecution. He was a lab researcher in a clinical research facility in a small town near Tulsa called Chesterson, and one of only two staffers on the premises the night of what the Tulsa World was calling the "Great Chesterson Chimp Raid." As the jury had already learned, the research facility was conducting experiments for a major cosmetics company, using chimps as test subjects. A local animal rights group, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Our Other-Than-Human Neighbors, had been protesting outside the facility for months. On the night of the raid, they stopped protesting and took decisive action.
And by the time the raid was over, a man was dead.
Ben was representing the leader of the raid, one George Zakin, a young activist. He claimed that the death of Dr. David Dodd was an accident in which he played no part. Zakin admitted trespassing on the property, but claimed he did so to free the chimps, not to harm anyone. The prosecution, unfortunately, took a different view. They were pushing for Murder One, arguing that Zakin had entered the premises with the express premeditated motive of killing Dr. Dodd. The case was built entirely on circumstantial evidence, but there was plenty of it. Ben had spent the better part of the last three days cross-examining prosecution witnesses, bolstering his client's alibi, proving those witnesses didn't see what they thought they saw.
Except for Evan Taulbert. He resolutely maintained that he saw the defendant race past his office window at 3:05 A.M., just before the time of death -- which destroyed Zakin's claim that he had left the premises about an hour before.
Ben felt certain Taulbert was mistaken or lying, but how to prove it? He could only do what he always did in these circumstances -- try to get the man talking, on the theory that if Taulbert talked long enough, eventually he would trip up.
"So you were in your office when you claim you saw my client race past your window?" Ben asked.
"I was," Taulbert replied, supremely confident. "When I did see him race by."
"Awfully late to be at the office."
"I often stay late. I'm very dedicated to my work."
"Were you planning to sleep there?"
"Indeed. I have a sofa in my office that folds out into a bed."
How cozy. Ben flipped a page in the outline Christina had prepared for him. "I see from the police report that you also had a lab assistant in your office."
"Nothing unusual about that," Taulbert replied, but Ben thought something about the way the man stroked his beard suggested otherwise.
"You know," Ben said, "I don't seem to have the assistant's name. What is it?"
Taulbert coughed into his hand. "That would be Kelly Prescott."
A suitably ambiguous name, Ben thought. "And would Kelly be a man or a woman?"
Out the corner of his eye, Ben saw some of the jurors leaning slightly forward. This cross was already more interesting than they had expected. "You were alone with a female assistant?"
"Male or female -- it makes no difference to me," Taulbert replied, still stroking away at that beard. "I don't discriminate in my hiring."
"And was Ms. Prescott also awake when you saw George Zakin run by the window?"
"She was. But she didn't see him. She was facing the other direction."
"She was facing the other direction." Ben's imagination reeled. "Were the two of you...engaged in an experiment at the time?"
The first red blotches began to appear on the man's neck. "No. We had closed down shop for the day."
"So the two of you were just...?"
"Unwinding. Relieving the stress of a difficult workday."
Ben nodded gamely. "And did the two of you employ any special...stress-reduction techniques?"
A titter emerged from the jury box. The prosecutor, Jack Bullock, rose to his feet. "Your honor, I object. Relevance."
"I'm exploring the circumstances surrounding the man's identification of my client," Ben explained. "Testing its credibility."
Judge Peters brushed a shock of hair out of his eyes, looking supremely bored. "I'll allow it."
Ben thanked the judge. "Now where were we? Oh yes -- stress-reduction techniques."
Taulbert straightened. "I don't know what you're trying to insinuate."
"Well, I was hoping I wouldn't have to insinuate..."
"If you're trying to find out if Kelly and I are fond of each other, we are. But it doesn't alter the fact that I saw your man running down the corridor just before my colleague was killed."
Ben frowned, then flipped another page in his outline. It was, of course, always pleasing to take a pompous ass and rake him over the coals a bit. But ultimately Taulbert was right. The fact that he was messing around with his lab assistant didn't prove he was lying about seeing Zakin.
"Mr. Taulbert, do you know what I find most unusual about your testimony?"
"I'm sure I don't know," he answered, folding his arms across his chest.
"What I find most unusual is your behavior."
"My behavior? I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Your man was the one who trespassed and killed -- "
Ben cut him off at the pass. "Imagine this situation with me. It's late at night. You and your female assistant are...relieving one another's stress. Suddenly a man you don't know races by your office window -- and you don't do anything."
"I reported the incident to the police -- "
"By phone, yes, about five minutes later, when it was far too late to do Dr. Dodd any good."
"I moved as quickly as I could."
"Five minutes later? Why didn't you chase after the intruder immediately?"
Taulbert's left eye twitched. "What?"
"The man you saw in the window was an intruder, right?"
"He wasn't supposed to be there."
"You had tons of valuable equipment on the premises."
"You had ongoing experiments that could easily be ruined."
"And they were. Your client -- "
"So why didn't you run after him?"
"I -- I don't see -- "
"Well, if I saw an intruder in my lab late at night, and I knew he could destroy months of work without even trying hard, I'd run after him. I think most people would." Ben was relieved to see several heads in the jury box nodding in agreement. "So why didn't you?"
"I -- I guess I didn't think of it."
"Didn't think of it?" Ben couldn't have shown much more disbelief if the man had claimed he'd been beamed up to Saturn. "Are you the absent-minded professor or the nutty professor?"
Prosecutor Bullock jumped to his feet. "Your honor -- "
"I'm sorry," Ben said quickly. "I'll withdraw that. Mr. Taulbert, why didn't you run after this alleged intruder?"
"It -- it could have been dangerous."
"So you're saying you were too scared to step out into the hallway?"
Taulbert pressed a hand against his forehead. "All right, to tell you the truth -- I couldn't move."
Ben tucked in his chin. "You were paralyzed with fear?"
"No." Taulbert's eyes drifted downward. "I was handcuffed."
Ben closed his eyes with sweet, sweet joy. Some days you get the bear...
"Excuse me, sir. Did you say handcuffed?"
"Oh, you know perfectly well I did." Taulbert's head twitched, rather like a dead frog receiving electroshock therapy. "There's nothing wrong with it. We're both consenting adults."
Ben spoke slowly, making sure everyone absorbed all the details. "We being -- you and your assistant. Ms. Prescott."
"The handcuffs were part of your...stress-reduction technique?"
"That's one way of putting it."
"Could you perhaps describe..."
"She cuffed my hands behind my back. I couldn't budge."
"And she was facing the opposite direction."
"We were making love, you pious twit, and she was on top. It's not against the law, you know."
"No, of course not."
"But I couldn't move. As soon as I saw your client race down the corridor, I told Kelly to uncuff me, but it took her a while to, um, stop what she was doing and find the key. By the time I was free, your client was gone."
"I see. Thank you for clearing that up." Ben eagerly turned another page in his trial notebook. It was all downhill from here.
Bullock rose to his feet. "Your honor, are we going to continue prying into this man's personal life? This is of no interest whatsoever."
The judge smiled. "If it was of no interest, you wouldn't be trying to shut it down."
"It's all right, your honor," Ben said. "I'm moving on." He returned his attention to the witness. "You know, Mr. Taulbert, there's one detail I haven't been able to clarify. The local Chesterson police received two 911 phone calls that night, one around two A.M., the other just after three. Unfortunately, they did not yet have Caller ID trace capability, so the operator did not get an automatic record of the calls' places of origin. The first call was so garbled and incoherent they couldn't understand it. The second was the one that brought them to your lab."
"My call would have been the second."
"I can see where you would want us to think that. The 911 operator recorded that the first call was an 'incoherent blast from a man either frightened out of his wits or totally insane who wasn't even able to tell us where he was.' "
"Clearly that wasn't me."
"Ah, but here's the rub, Mr. Taulbert. I think it was. I think you saw my client around two, when he was still there and Dr. Dodd was still very much alive. I think later, when you read the police report, you changed your testimony so your call would be thought to be the one that brought the police to the scene, not the one from the man 'either frightened out of his wits or totally insane.' "
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"I think I do."
"I have never been incoherent in my entire life, much less totally insane."
"Well, sometimes in a difficult situation -- "
"I am perfectly capable of handling a difficult situation!"
"Mr. Taulbert, the way I see it, you saw the intruder or intruders and panicked."
"I most certainly did not. You should be careful what you say, young man. There are laws against libel."
"Uh-huh. Against perjury, too."
"I have given you my testimony, and I'm sticking by it."
"But I still think you made the two o'clock call."
"Don't you think I know what time it was when I called?"
"How could you?"
"How could I? I made a note the moment I saw the man in the corridor."
"Made a note of what?"
"Of the time, of course."
"But how? I've seen pictures of your office. There are no clocks."
"I didn't need a clock, you fool. I had a wristwatch."
"Of course I did. Every lab clinician does."
"Where was it?"
"On my wrist, you nincompoop. Hence the name."
"You're sure about this?"
"And that's how you know when you saw my client."
"Because you had a watch."
"It was the only timepiece in the room."
"And you checked it?"
"The second I saw the man race down the corridor."
Ben paused, drew a breath. "Mr. Taulbert, would you please explain how you could check your wristwatch when your hands were cuffed behind your back?"
All at once the agitated bobbing of his head ceased. His lips froze as if in mid-thought.
"As I recall, you said you couldn't budge an inch. So how could you possibly look at your watch?"
"Well -- uh -- "
"I -- uh -- "
Ben turned toward the jury box and smiled. "Is the word you're searching for by any chance oops? "
Ben had almost made it out of the courtroom and into the elevator when Bullock stopped him.
"Well, Kincaid, I guess you're -- "
"Stop right there. I know the drill. You complain because I had the audacity to defend the accused and actually win. I say that every man has a right to a zealous defense. You say that doesn't mean I have to put crooks back on the street. I point out that my client was working for a good cause and should never have been charged, since the only real evidence against him was unreliable, as you probably knew from the start. Eventually we start shouting and calling each other names till the bailiffs drag one or both of us out of the courthouse. Neither of us convinces the other of anything. So why don't we just skip it this time, okay?"
Bullock pursed his lips together. "Think you're pretty smart, don't you?"
Ben rolled his eyes. "Smart enough to avoid this conversation." He stepped around Bullock and punched the Down button for the elevator.
Bullock didn't disappear. "You made a mistake in there today, Kincaid. You set a dangerous man free."
"Dangerous? He's an animal lover, for Pete's sake. He protects chimpanzees! He's harmless."
"You're wrong. I looked deep into the man's eyes. And I didn't like what I saw."
The bell rang and the elevator doors opened. Ben started to step inside, but Bullock grabbed his arm. "Remember this, Kincaid. If that man kills again -- and I think he will -- it'll be on your head. It'll be your fault."
Ben brushed Bullock away. "Stop being so damn melodramatic. You're just bitter because you can't stand to lose a case." He entered the elevator. "The truth is, we'll probably never hear from the man again."
The elevator doors closed and Bullock faded, first from Ben's vision, then from his consciousness. Only years later would Ben learn that, of his last two statements, although the first was certainly true, the last was altogether, absolutely, wrong.
Tess O'connell pushed the thick foliage out of her path, but her hand snagged on a sharp thorn. She yelped, then let go. A tree branch came crashing back into her face, knocking her onto her backside.
Mumbling unrepeatable obscenities under her breath, Tess brushed the dark, dank loam off her pant legs and pushed herself back to her feet. She hated the Great Outdoors. Hated it with a passion. When she found out who volunteered her for this gig deep in the forests of northwest Washington, miles and miles from civilization as she knew it...
She detoured off the path, avoiding the unbreachable thicket of thorns and bramble. She knew there was a clearing somewhere -- wasn't there? It was so dark out here at night, even with a flashlight. Fear began to creep into her brain, making her breathing accelerate and her palms sweat. What if she never found the way out? What if something else found her? She had heard that grizzlies liked to roam at night.
She tried to put all those what-ifs out of her head. First things first: she needed to find the clearing. She couldn't see where she was going and she was constantly bumping into things that were dirty, squishy, or alive. Her clothes were a mess, and her hair was a disaster. And she itched almost everywhere there was to itch. She had inadvertently stepped into a nest of seed ticks the day before, and she still hadn't managed to scrape all those tiny black crawling dots off her skin. And trees were everywhere -- densely packed huge trees, everywhere she looked. All day long she'd heard the sound of high-powered machinery clear-cutting trees at a breathtaking rate. So why was it she couldn't see anything but trees?
She should've known better than to come out here at night. On a good day, she was -- how to say it? -- geographically challenged. And this wasn't a good day. And she had no experience with woods or wildlife or whatever it was that kept making that creepy ooh-ooh noise. Even as a girl, she had never gone in for Girl Scouts or camp-outs or any of that living-off-the-land rot. So why was she stuck out here, lugging two cameras around the Crescent National Forest, all by herself?
And as the paper goes, so go its reporters. Tess had sunk from stalking celebrities to unearthing freaks, misfits, and mutants.
And then there was Sasquatch. Honestly, did anyone still believe there was some big hairy ape wandering around the timberline? Surely that one had died out with the Loch Ness Monster and the human face on the moon. But there had been a flurry of Sasquatch spottings in this forest during the past month. And no story was too stupid for the National Whisper, right? So here she was -- desperately seeking Sasquatch.
She'd been here for three days, and so far all she'd managed to discover was sunburn, mosquito bites, and poison ivy. And seed ticks. She constantly wanted to scratch, including some places you couldn't scratch in polite society. But she hadn't given up. Every day at sunup, she had stumbled out of her motel room and plunged back into the forest, tracing and retracing the paths from which campers had made their sightings. It seemed like a futile, foolish quest, but by God, if there was a Sasquatch, Tess was going to be the one who found him.
After three days, she was about ready to give up. She had pored over her files, looking for something to give her an edge, something she had missed before. It was the third time through before she picked up on it -- all the sightings had occurred at night. Could it be Sasquatch was a nocturnal beast? More related to the owl than the ape? Or could it be a survival instinct? She had read that grizzly bears now mostly traveled at night -- to avoid humans. It was a classic example of natural selection; those that learned to move at night survived, while those that didn't -- didn't. Could Bigfoot have evolved the same way? Even if it was a long shot, it merited a nighttime excursion. She just wished nighttime in the forest wasn't so incredibly...dark.
Up ahead, she detected a break in the brush. A few steps closer and she could see moonlight streaming through the tree branches. A few more steps and she was out of the woods.
It was almost as if she had stepped onto a foreign planet. Where before the path had been so thick with green she could barely move, the tableau now before her was so barren a stranger might wonder if anything had ever grown here or ever could again. Only when Tess lowered her eyes did she see the telltale signs of former life -- low-cut stumps dotting the ground, the last remnants of thousands and thousands of trees.
Her eyes were diverted by faint traces of life, down the slope about five hundred feet or so. She saw a large tree cutter, one just like the dozens she had seen since she came to the forest. And beside the tree cutter, she saw two silhouetted figures. One was much larger than the other. Both were moving slightly; one had his arms raised above his head.
Tess strained her eyes, trying to see more clearly. Were they talking or arguing or what?
She started moving down the steep incline. She had to move carefully, one cautious step at a time. The ground was covered with branches and debris, and there was nothing to hold for support.
The larger of the two figures turned sideways as she approached; its profile was backlit by the moon. The silhouette was massive and irregular, wild and hairy --
Tess moved faster down the incline, still watching the spectacle below. She could hear a voice now, loud and angry, shouting, but she couldn't pick up any of the words.
Tess hit something -- she never knew what it was -- and started to tumble. She was rolling down the hill feet first, unable to stop herself, her camera bag alternately pounding the ground and her head.
She reached around on all sides, desperately grabbing for something to stop her fall. Her hands finally managed to light on a thick tree root half protruding from the dirt. She clamped the root and braced herself.
She felt like her arm was being ripped out of the socket, but fortunately, the root held. She stopped sliding. Slowly she lifted herself to her feet.
Sasquatch and the other silhouetted figure were definitely fighting -- and not just with words. Blows were being exchanged. Sasquatch seemed to be getting the worst of it; the other figure was landing punch after punch. It was almost as if the poor beast didn't have his heart in it, didn't want to fight back. Sasquatch was getting creamed.
The other man landed a sharp blow, sending Sasquatch reeling backwards against the huge mechanical tree cutter. The man picked up a long metal object -- a crowbar, she thought, or maybe a tire iron. Sasquatch was pinned down and trapped. He was a goner -- or so Tess thought.
Out of nowhere, Sasquatch raised his hairy arm, and this time it was holding a gun. She winced as the sound of a shot echoed through the clearing. She heard a sickening cracking noise as the other man crumpled to the ground. He must be dead, she thought, shot at such close range. But no -- the fallen figure was moving, if slowly. He was still alive.
Sasquatch started running, away from both his opponent and Tess.
Tess kept moving cautiously forward. She didn't know what was going on, but there was bound to be a story in it. Maybe even a story for the National Whisper; after all, it did feature Sasquatch. And besides, this was a heck of a lot more interesting than traipsing through the woods.
The man left behind slowly climbed up to the cab of the tree cutter. What on earth? Tess wondered. Was he planning to chase Bigfoot in the tree cutter? She kept moving forward and was less than a hundred feet away when the man turned the ignition.
The night sky was suddenly illuminated by a hot white flash. An instant later, a huge booming sound rocked the clearing. The force of the explosion knocked Tess off her feet, left her clutching red dirt for dear life. She kept her head down while smoke and metal debris flew through the air.
What is happening? she wondered. She felt the radiant heat of the explosion warming her, and for the first time became frightened. What was she doing out here all alone, separated from police, doctors, any semblance of civilization?
Up on the tree cutter, she heard the man scream. He was still alive! She looked up, and her eyes widened with horror. He was burning, flames radiating from every part of his body. He stumbled away from what remained of the tree cutter and began running in circles, as if desperately searching for something, anything to take him out of his misery.
And then all at once his howling stopped. The burning man stood still for a final moment, then crumbled to the ground. The human being was gone, replaced by a heap of charred flesh.
Tess pulled herself out of the mud, trembling. What happened? she asked herself. What have I stumbled onto? And -- as her reporter persona reasserted itself -- why the hell aren't I taking pictures?
Idiot. She pulled the Nikon .35 millimeter out of her camera bag, turned it on, and peered through the viewfinder. It was much too dark. She knew the pictures wouldn't come out, even with the flash.
She also had a palm-size Sony camcorder in her bag. She remembered that when she had checked it out, Chuck, the guy in Property, had explained that it had a twenty lux rating -- meaning it could take decent pictures in candlelight.
Maybe it could do some good here, she reasoned. She yanked it out of her bag and started recording. The tree cutter was still burning, like a fiery funeral pyre. She videoed the destruction, then panned over to tape what was left of the burning man.
She almost had the corpse in her viewfinder when she saw Sasquatch reappear. He was moving forward, making a beeline in her direction.
He'd seen her.
Tess turned and ran. She avoided the slope and moved in the other direction, barreling past the burning metal and heading toward the safety of the woods on the other side of the clearing. If she could just make it to the woods, there was a chance she might be able to lose him. Might make it back to civilization to file her story.
She couldn't be sure of much, but one fact was abundantly clear. Hairy Neanderthal evolutionary throwbacks didn't pack pistols. Plus, when he had run at her, Tess had seen a face illuminated by the light of the flames. The mask was clenched in his hand. The conclusion was inescapable -- Sasquatch was a human being.
A human being she'd just seen kill someone.
The heel of her shoe dug into the soft loam of the earth. Her ankle twisted and she fell crashing to the ground. No! she told herself. You may not give up that easily! She pushed herself back to her feet, leaving a shoe behind. She didn't dare turn her head and look, but she could hear him behind her, hear him running, panting, grunting.
She had to keep moving, had to keep pushing herself. The other edge of the clearing was still hundreds of feet away. She had to make it. She had to. She could not give up.
All at once, she realized she didn't care about getting a story anymore. She didn't care about her clothes, she didn't care about her hair, and she didn't care whether she ever worked again at the National Whisper.
She just wanted to live.
And she felt absolutely certain that if Sasquatch got his hairy paws on her, she wouldn't. Copyright © 1999 by William Bernhardt. Published in the United States by The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
Posted February 25, 2001
This was an awesome book! Did not really think I would like it too much, but I am glad that I took the chance. From page 1 until the end there is non-stop action! Recommended!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 29, 2000
William bernhardt as written another outstanding book..once I started reading I couldn't put it down..a real supurb ending...Can't wait to start the next book...my most favorite author.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 20, 2012
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Posted March 4, 2009
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Posted March 4, 2009
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