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Eric Kloiber concentrated on the small tag of skin he was desperately trying to remove from the corner of his well-bitten nail. He wasnâ€™t normally a nail-biter, but his sore, bloody cuticles had suffered as much as his head and heart since the night he had been drugged and raped.
â€œSomethingâ€™s wrong,â€ Eric mumbled to himself.
Eric glanced at the police officer posted outside the courtroom door. â€œSorry. I was...â€ He shook his head. â€œNever mind.â€
The officer went back to his post, leaving Eric to wonder what the hell was going on. What should have been a speedy trial had turned into the hardest two weeks of his life. After his initial testimony, the defence had suddenly produced a copy of the prescription Jigger had used to get the Rohypnol in the first place. According to the defence attorney, Jigger had been prescribed the sleeping aid because of his odd employment hours. Coincidentally, the prescription had been signed by Jiggerâ€™s brother, Dr Adam Williams. The prosecutor argued that the evidence should have been presented to them in the discovery phase of the hearing, but the defence claimed theyâ€™d only just obtained the copy from a mail-in pharmacy Jigger used.
The whole thing was fucked up. Even worse, everyone had told him it should be a quick deliberation for the jury, but that hadnâ€™t turned out to be true either. Six days. What the hell was there to discuss in an open-and-shut case for six fucking days?
Eric stood and began to pace back and forth in the marbled hall. He wished heâ€™d asked Becket to sit with him while they waited for the juryâ€™s decision, but he couldnâ€™t bring himself to do that. Becket had attended every day of the trial with his boyfriend, Locky. It wouldnâ€™t have been fair to ask him to miss the verdict. Even though Jigger was being tried for Ericâ€™s rape, Becket had also been one of Jiggerâ€™s victims. Unfortunately, Becket had kept his rape a secret until it was too late to obtain the evidence needed for a conviction.
The heavy door to the courtroom opened and Eric stopped walking at the explosion of voices filtering into the hall. Cries of outrage from several familiar voices took Ericâ€™s breath away. He lowered himself back to the bench and stared up at the detective who had been in charge of the investigation. Will Jamesâ€™ light brown hair, was longer than it had been at the start of the investigation, but Eric assumed his attention had been too focused on putting Jigger away to worry about something as trivial as his appearance. The grim expression on Willâ€™s face seemed to confirm Ericâ€™s biggest fear.
â€œNot guilty,â€ Eric surmised.
Will nodded and sat beside Eric, his much larger frame making Eric feel small and vulnerable. â€œNot guilty on the drug charge. They couldnâ€™t reach an agreement on the rape charge. The judge had no choice but to issue a mistrial.â€
â€œMistrial.â€ As he said the word, Ericâ€™s body began to go numb. â€œWhat exactly does that mean?â€
Will rested his forearms on his thighs and rubbed his hands together. â€œThe prosecution will take a second look at the case and decide whether or not to retry it.â€
â€œYou mean they might not?â€
â€œTrials are expensive. Evidently we didnâ€™t have enough to convince this jury.â€ Will sighed. â€œSorry, kid, but I honestly donâ€™t know what Byron will decide.â€
Misplaced anger filled Eric. Whether he was mad at Byron Long, the prosecutor, or the whole fucking judicial system, he didnâ€™t know or care, but he lashed out at Will. â€œIâ€™m not a kid. You donâ€™t go through what Iâ€™ve been through and remain a damn kid.â€
Will sat up. â€œYouâ€™re right. I apologise.â€
The heavy door opened again as people began to leave the courtroom. The last place Eric wanted to be was at the centre of his friendsâ€™ pity. â€œI gotta get outta here.â€
Before Will or anyone else could stop him, Eric jumped to his feet and ran down the hall. He considered hiding out in the bathroom, but he knew that would be the first place Becket would search. Instead, he ran down the wide staircase, taking the steps two at a time. He slowed to a walk as he got to the security station and nodded to the guards before exiting the building.
Eric didnâ€™t realise until he was two blocks down the street that Will hadnâ€™t told him whether or not Jigger would be freed. â€œFuck!â€
* * * *
â€œHow the hell did that happen?â€ Will asked Byron as the prosecutor left the courtroom.
â€œNot enough concrete evidence.â€
â€œJiggerâ€™s an ex-con. His sperm was found on Ericâ€™s jeans. Eric was sitting at the bar being attended by Jigger at the end of the night, and Rohypnol was found behind the bar, in Jiggerâ€™s work locker and in his home.â€ Will took a deep breath as he continued to tick items off on his fingers. â€œNot to mention the array of sexual tools found in the trunk of his car.â€
â€œBut no one saw Mr Williams give Eric the drug or leave the club with him, and since Eric canâ€™t remember, it simply isnâ€™t enough,â€ Byron explained. â€œAnd going to prison for six months at the age of eighteen for stealing a car to go joyriding with his friends is a long way from a hardened criminal past.â€
Willâ€™s hands curled into fists. It wasnâ€™t the first time Byron had subtly reprimanded Will for his use of Paul Williamsâ€™ nickname. â€œAre you going to retry him?â€
Byron stopped walking and turned to face Will. â€œNot unless I have more evidence. You get me that, and Iâ€™ll do my part to get a conviction. In the meantime, Mr Williams will be released on bond, pending another trial.â€ He leaned towards Will. â€œIf you get me something more to take it to trial.â€
The thought of Jigger out on the streets brought Ericâ€™s safety to mind. â€œWhat about Eric, can he take out a restraining order or something?â€
â€œThe judge issued Mr Williams several warnings before he set bail. Unless he defies those warnings, Eric shouldnâ€™t need to petition for a restraining order.â€
Will inwardly groaned. The pressure to produce more evidence was overwhelming. Not only was Byron counting on him, but he knew Ericâ€™s faith in the justice system hinged on a conviction. It was something Will didnâ€™t know if he could deliver, because despite his skills as an investigator, he couldnâ€™t produce evidence out of thin air. Hell, heâ€™d worked his ass off building the case in the first place. Heâ€™d questioned every person Eric remembered seeing in the bar the night heâ€™d been drugged and raped and...nothing. He hadnâ€™t come up with a goddamn person who remembered seeing anything unusual the night Eric was left bleeding in the lobby of the dorm. It was something that had always bothered him.
After glancing at his watch, Byron set his briefcase on the floor and shrugged into his beige trench coat. â€œIâ€™m due at the office. By the way, the jury was locked at nine to three. Weâ€™re almost there, but not quite.â€
Will nodded as Byron picked up his briefcase and started down the steps. He should get back to the station, but before he dug back into the files, he needed to make sure Eric was okay. No, he admonished himself. The best way for him to assuage his guilt was to do his job. Holding Ericâ€™s hand would make Will feel better but not because it was the right thing to do. It wasnâ€™t the time to be selfish.
Before leaving the courthouse, he stopped in front of the Lady Justice statue in the Grand Rotunda. Heâ€™d always loved the statue and had spent hours as a kid looking up at it in awe.
Will turned to find his father, Henry. Although they resembled each other in hair colour and height, Henryâ€™s rounded stomach was a testament to years of eating Willâ€™s momâ€™s cooking. He pointed at the statue. â€œShe let me down today.â€
Laying a hand on Willâ€™s shoulder, his dad shook his head. â€œIâ€™ve cleaned this building for thirty-seven years. Watched all kinds of men and women stand right where youâ€™re standing and curse that lady.â€ He turned to stare at Will. â€œYou know what they all had in common?â€
â€œThey lost,â€ Will guessed.
â€œJust because someone doesnâ€™t get the verdict they want, doesnâ€™t mean it wasnâ€™t the right one.â€
Will looked away from the statue and studied his father for several moments. His dad loved the law, was fascinated by the entire process and even after thirty-seven years of sitting in on trial proceedings every break and lunch hour, Henry Jamesâ€™ faith in the system had never wavered. â€œDid you catch any of the trial?â€
â€œSure,â€ his dad replied.
Although his captain would probably kill him, Will trusted his dad over all others. â€œWhat went wrong?â€
His father shrugged. â€œI didnâ€™t know Mr Williams. Byron Long sat a handsome man in front of five women and seven men and tried to convince them heâ€™d committed a heinous act, but he didnâ€™t have the evidence to back it up.â€
Although his dad was using Byron as the scapegoat, Will knew his father was talking directly to him. â€œWhat wouldâ€™ve convinced you?â€
â€œHistory. Did he torture cats, look into the bedroom windows of his friends? A man who would drug and rape young men didnâ€™t start overnight. If I was sittinâ€™ on that jury, Iâ€™d want to know for sure that the man Iâ€™m putting away is bad.â€ Willâ€™s dad grinned. â€œSo prove to me heâ€™s a bad apple and a danger to society.â€
Will had checked for priors on Jigger, but he hadnâ€™t dug very deeply into the guyâ€™s past. His attention had been on Eric and making the entire process as easy as he could on the guy. Not that he would ever cross the line with a victim, but heâ€™d admitted to himself shortly after meeting Eric that there was something special about the young man.
Fuck. It wasnâ€™t Byronâ€™s, Lady Justiceâ€™s or the juryâ€™s fault the trial had ended the way it had. The majority of the blame could be squarely put on his shoulders, but he refused to carry the entire load. Vince, his captain, had assigned the investigation to Will because of its nature. He didnâ€™t feel the other cops would be comfortable with the victim or the subject matter, and heâ€™d been right. Still, Vince had scrutinised the time Will spent interviewing people who were at the club and dorm the night of Ericâ€™s rape. â€œI donâ€™t know how much more time Vinceâ€™ll let me spend on this,â€ Will admitted.
â€œIt wonâ€™t really matter if itâ€™s important enough to you.â€ His dad met Willâ€™s gaze. â€œIs it?â€
Will thought of Eric and his struggle to find balance in his life after being outed in such a horrific and public way. â€œI think Eric needs it. Iâ€™m not sure heâ€™ll be able to move on if we donâ€™t get a conviction.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not what I asked. Is. It. Important. To. You?â€ his dad asked again, stressing each word individually.
Will had been one of the lucky few. Heâ€™d come out to his parents at a young age without fear of reprisals, so he knew what his dad was really asking. He ran his hands through his hair, feeling the slight curls wrap around his fingers as he did. â€œYeah, I like him, but it would be unethical to take advantage of the situation.â€
His dad grinned. â€œSo do what you have to do to nail that sonofabitch, and the two of you can meet on a level playing field.â€
Will didnâ€™t even know if Eric would be interested in going out with him. â€œHeâ€™s been through a lot.â€
â€œOf course he has. I didnâ€™t say it would be easy, but Iâ€™ve never known you to back away from something you wanted just because it wasnâ€™t.â€
Hell, he needed to get away from his dad before he talked him into running to Eric and confessing everything. â€œIâ€™d better go. It seems I have a past to dig into.â€