From his seat at the defense table, Ross McCallum sent a prayer to Heaven, to a God he’d never trusted, and silently bargained for his freedom. In his hasty words with God, Ross vowed that if he was found innocent of the murder conviction, he’d turn over a new leaf, walk the straight and narrow, go door to door giving out Bibles, even become a preacher, a reformed sinner who had quit his lawless ways.
Shifting in his chair, his leg shackles clinking loudly, he was reminded that his chances of beating this trumped-up charge were slime to none. Not after Caleb Swaggert’s damning testimony. The old son of a bitch had sat right up on the witness stand and lied through the few teeth still in his mouth.
He’d only hoped that the jury, at least one he’d pinned his hopes on was an older woman, well north of seventy, from the looks of her, with white, kinked hair and deep grooves in skin tanned by years in the sun. During Caleb’s testimony, juror seven had seemed to dislike what she’d heard, wrinkling her nose and shaking her head, just slightly. She’d even set McCallum worried, but encouraging, glances. She, alone, seemed to be on his side.
That was enough. Just one vote in his favor.
The decision to find him guilty had to be unanimous.
Now, the courtroom was sweltering, here in this county courthouse where the air-conditioning had given out, and the lazy Texas sun was beating down with ferocity that melted the tar in the streets and burned through the windows of this hundred-year-old building.
He felt a trickle of sweat roll down from his temple, but didn’t lift his hands to swipe it away as his wrists, too, were bound. Behind him, in the seats positioned behind the railing, he heard the whispers and felt dozens of pairs of eyes staring at the back of his head, their accusatory gazes drilling through his skull. The courtroom was filled to capacity and he imagined there were people waiting outside the steps, in the shade, in cars. Newspeople as well as the curious, all wanting to see him punished for this crime.
Well, let ‘em look!
Of course, she was among those who hoped his soul rotted in hell.
Shelby Cole, daughter of Judge Jerome “Red” Cole, who probably played cards with the bastard who was presiding over his case, the Honorable Judge Leonard Fry. McCallum didn’t glance behind him, just kept his eyes fixed straight ahead to the carpet in front of the bench.
The members of the jury filed in and the courtroom became quiet – deathly quiet. Every muscle in McCallum’s body tensed, but he forced his face to remain calm, emotionless. The jurors wouldn’t look his direction, not even the little granny with the kinky white hair and the weathered face. He’d counted on her, but she avoided eye contact with him, as did all the others.
Not a good sign. Was it possible? Had they really decided to convict him on the flimsy, circumstantial evidence that the prosecution had thrown at them? No murder weapon had been found and nothing linked Ross McCallum to the crime except the flimsy testimony of an old geezer known for his love of whiskey.
And yet, he felt his guts clench with a new desperation.
“Has the jury reached a verdict?” Judge Fry, a beanpole of a man in heavy black robes, asked the foreman of the twelve men and women who’d been chosen to determine the course of Ross McCallum’s life.
“We have, Your Honor,” the foreman responded. Wearing glasses that were always tinted gray, the heavyset man in his Western-cut suit handed the bailiff the paper that would change the course of Ross McCallum’s life forever. Ross followed the motion without any expression. But his heart pounded with dread, and sweat drizzled down the side of his face.
Reading over the tops of half glasses, the judge read the papers and the next few minutes were a blur as McCallum was urged to his feet by his court—appointed attorney, a snot-nosed kid fresh out of law school who was smart enough, just unwilling to bend the rules, and the foreman read the verdict of “Guilty.”
The word echoed through the courtroom and around him, people began to talk. Like bombs exploding, the verdict blasted through his head. Guilty! For the murder of Ramon Estevan, a miserable bastard who deserved to die! Oh, Jesus. No! No! No!
Vaguely conscious of each member of the jury being polled, he somehow remained standing, his jaw set, his legs feeling as steady as sand. He only realized it was time to move when the guards came to usher him away.
For the rest of his miserable life.
If he let them.
But he wouldn’t.
He glanced over his shoulder and saw the spectators, all staring back at him and, sure enough, Shelby Cole was there, looking down her straight nose at him, defying him, feeling a glimmer of satisfaction at his doom. He forced a grin he knew was a leer, and felt the same heat rise in him that he always did when his gaze landed upon her.
“I’ll be back,” he whispered under his breath. “I’ll be back and when I do, I’ll find you.”
As if she’d heard him, she visibly started and for the briefest of seconds, she remembered. Just as he did. All that had happened. The hot night. The hotter sex. The fear.
His grin widened and she turned ashen, as if she might just faint.
That was a good start.
A damned good one.
“Hey!” One of the guards pulled at him, but not before he lifted his hands, clasped together, only his two index finders pointing outward. He aimed them straight at Shelby Cole, then blew her a kiss.
The bitch had the audacity to shake her head at him, as if she wasn’t afraid. But he knew better. And his cock threatened to get hard just at the thought.
Oh yeah, McCallum thought in silent fury, I’ll be back, you fuckers! And when I return, I’m gonna extract my vengeance . . . slowly, and surely, on each and every one of you who set me up. Get ready. ‘Cause you’ll see me coming. You’ll know your fate, you sorry sons of bitches. And Shelby-girl, you better take note. You’re on top of my list.
I swear to God, Bad Luck, Texas, will never be the same!
Escorted out of the courtroom, he realized his prayers at the defense table had been for naught.
As it turned out, once again, God wasn’t listening.