“Good morning, Russ,” Justin greeted the sheriff early the next morning.
“Morning, Justin. What brings you to my humble office so early? I’d think you’d be over at your own office cramming for the trail today.” He motioned Justin through the door, and nodded at Andi. “‘Morning, Andi.”
“Hi,” Andi replied, scooting through the door as quickly as she could. She really, really hoped none of Henderson’s men had seen her going into the sheriff’s office.
If they saw me, I’m dead, she thought dismally. Shivers skittered up her spine.
“I’d like to see my client,” Justin said.
“Of course.” The sheriff pulled a set of keys down from a hook and indicated that they should follow him. He headed down the short hallway where the cells were located. “Zeke’s been mighty quiet these past few days. I think he senses there’s not much of a chance, what with him being found with the gun an’ all.”
“Hmmm,” Justin commented neutrally.
“It’s a real shame he can’t recover his memory, even partially. Might’ve helped, I suppose. You think?”
“Maybe,” Justin replied, glancing back. “You coming, Andi?”
Andi nodded and caught up.
“Wake up, Zeke,” Russ called out. “Your lawyer’s here.” He turned to Justin as he unlocked Zeke’s cell. “Just yell when you’re finished.”
“How would you expect I’m doing, Mr. Carter?” Zeke looked up from his cot. His eyes were red-rimmed, his features haggard. “I lie here day and night, wonderin’ fer the life of me why I’d of done such a thing to that Barnes-fella.”
He shook his head. “Sure, I was downright mad at him, but I never thought I’d stoop so low as to kill another human being, no matter how drunk I was.”
Andi bit her lip and listened in silence. The man sounded beaten. Defeated. Despairing of all hope.
Zeke sighed. “I reckon some things are never meant to be understood.” He gave Justin a slight smile. “Good luck with my trial, Counselor. I don’t suppose you’ve found anything that’ll help spare me the hangman’s noose? Maybe enough to get me life in prison instead?”
Justin sat down on the cot across from Zeke. “I’m real sorry. There’s precious little to go on, I’m afraid.” He motioned to Andi, who came, although grudgingly. “This is my sister Andi. She thought she’d come along with me to say hi.”
“Howdy, Miss Carter,” Zeke greeted her politely.
“Hi,” came Andi’s whispered reply.
She swallowed. This didn’t seem like the same Zeke Blazer that Cory and the others had been so nosy about just two weeks ago. He wasn’t being rude, or drunk, or yelling at Philip Barnes like she’d seen him last. He was quiet, and sort of sad, and accepting of his fate.
“Nice of you to come see me,” Zeke said. “Not many folks think much o’ me even on a good day. And now”—he shrugged and lost his smile—“well, your brother’s a good man, Miss Carter, to defend me. I know the court had to appoint somebody, but it didn’t have to be him.”
Andi nodded. Justin could have said no. Why, oh why, hadn’t he?
Too late now to mourn over that. She kept silent. There was nothing to say. She just looked at Zeke, struck to the heart at the sight of the pitiful old man. It was true he was a drunk, a slothful old thing, and an object of ridicule and gossip among the folks of Fresno, but he was not a murderer.
And that’s the truth.
“I’m sorry to see you here, Mr. Blazer,” she finally managed, turning to Justin.
He said nothing.
“You and me both,” Zeke agreed.
Silence fell. Andi didn’t talk. Justin didn’t talk. Zeke lay back and stared at the ceiling.
What is Justin waiting for? I want to go home.
The longer Andi stood there looking at Zeke, but more her conscience seared her. She was the only witness. She knew he had not done this thing. Justin now knew it too. Oh, what should she do?
Justin suddenly rose and reached out to shake the old man’s hand. “Well, I’ve got to stop over at the office for a few minutes and pull together the last bit of my preparation. I’ll see you in a couple of hours in court, Zeke.”
“Thank you, Mr. Carter.” Zeke rose with difficulty from his cot, and reached out a hand to Andi. “And thank you, Miss Carter, for dropping by to see me. It did my heart good to see such a pretty, young girl in this dank old cell. I won’t be forgettin’ it.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Andi said quietly. She didn’t want to, but she let Zeke grip her hand for a moment. “I hardly said a word to you.”
“Oh, that’s all right. Just seeing you brightened my day considerably.” He nodded at her. “Good-bye.”
“Good-bye, Mr. Blazer,” Andi replied quietly, then followed her brother from the cell.
“Justin,” Andi spoke up the minute the door closed behind her. “Zeke Blazer is . . . well, he’s not what everybody says. I mean—”
Justin smiled grimly while Andi stumbled for words. “Of course he isn’t.” He opened the door to his office and motioned her inside. “He’s been clean sober for two weeks now, ever since he found himself in jail on the murder. He was a decent man before the bottle took him over.”
They entered Justin’s private office, where he sat down at his desk and began to gather his papers together. He sighed. He didn’t say anything, but Andi knew just what her brother was thinking.
He’s hoping my little visit to Zeke has convinced me he’s a poor man who is being charged with a crime he didn’t commit. I bet Justin is hoping I’ll see the light and testify—no matter what the consequences.
Andi sat down in the chair across from Justin’s desk and laid her head down on her arms on his desktop. She was so tired. The last two weeks had been terrible, and her late-night confession the night before had only relieved her temporarily. She knew what Justin wanted her to do, and she suddenly knew why he had asked her to visit old Zeke.
Seeing Zeke Blazer as an innocent victim in Marvin Henderson’s grand schemes pricked her conscience even more. Just then, she knew. She would never forgive herself if she was party to an innocent man being hanged. She would do whatever she had to do—for her own peace of mind and to save Zeke Blazer.
With that decided, it was as if a huge burden suddenly lifted from her heart and left her drained. “Justin?” she asked, raising her head to look across the desk.
“Hmmm?” Justin was reading his briefs, ignoring her, but he put the papers down at sound of her voice.
“I think I want to go ahead and testify at the trial. I’ll be scared, but it’s the only thing to be done.”
Justin stood up and came around the desk. He placed his hands on Andi’s shoulders and gave them a slight squeeze. “You’re right, honey. It’s the only way. I’m glad to see you have come to that conclusion yourself. You would always regret remaining silent, and I wouldn’t have that hanging over your head for the rest of your life. This way is better, trust me.”
“I guess I’ll have to, since I don’t have much choice anymore,” Andi replied listlessly. “I guess if they kill us, they kill us.”
“No more of that kind of talk,” Justin exhorted her firmly. He crossed back to his chair and sat down. “I think it’s best if we stay here in the office until the trial begins. As soon as my clerical assistant, Tim, arrives, I’ll send him out for something to eat.”
Andi rubbed her eyes and yawned, then laid her head back down.
“Don’t worry, honey. You’ll do fine.”
“If I don’t fall asleep during questioning, that is,” Andi amended, then fell silent.
“They’re both in there, Gordon.” Sandy and his partner watched the lawyer’s office from a safe distance.
“The boss ain’t gonna like this one bit.” Gordon spat and shook his head. “First those two head for the jail-house. Now they’re closed up tight in Carter’s office. What’s it look like to you?”
“Looks t’me like that girl got tired of following instructions.”
“That’s what it looks like t’me too.” Gordon wondered what he should do. He was heartily sick of following that dark-haired Carter girl around the town of Fresno. He was also pretty sure Sandy had wearied of watching her every move out on her ranch.. They knew where she went, who she spent time with, and almost what she ate! It was becoming tiresome.
I’d just as soon get rid of her than watch her, he thought in disgust.
And that other day! When that blond-haired kid snatched the girl right out from under him, he couldn’t believe it! Gordon had meant to shove the girl right under Henderson’s nose and demand that he do something more permanent, and that dratted boy had interfered. There was no doubt that at least he knew something fishy was going on.
“So what’re we gonna do, Gordon?” Sandy persisted.
“I’ll be back. I’m gonna have a talk with the boss.”
“What’re you gonna tell him?”
“That I think the girl told the lawyer what really happened. With that trial in just a couple of hours, the boss may have a little job for us this morning.” He turned to Sandy. “You stay here and let me know if they come out of there. This won’t take long.”
With that, he strode away at a fast walk. Maybe we can get rid of them both at the same time.