The Scars Above My Heart

by Sean English

Chapter 19

Paper Wings … Unfolded

"Richard, they're ready for you now. If you would, please, come with me."

The agent spoke quietly from the entry, after initiating a gentle knock before leaning his head into the narrow space after he opened the door. Richard stood, looked and smiled at his family before winking at Alex. This was it, he thought. After two plus years of being on the run and hiding, they had finally made it. Holding his head high, he sighed and muttered excitedly, "Here we go!", before strolling across and exiting the room, the door closing quietly behind him.

Patty, sitting next to Alex, turned and smiled as she glanced at her son. She said nothing, but instead reached her arm to engulf the teenager's shoulders, pulling the boy up close. The couch they sat upon was not all that comfortable, being made of a simulated leather and plastic which was somewhat worn, but Alex assumed it was better than the alternative - a collection of plastic, folding picnic-like chairs placed around the room. He sat back against his mother, knowing that she drew as much comfort from him as he was getting from her for the moment. "Are you sure you don't want to go in and listen to Dad's testimony and all?" he asked his mother for the third time that morning.

Patty looked slightly down into the bright blue eyes that met hers. No longer did she see the boy who had always been shorter than herself. In his place now was the bright young man he had grown up to be. "No, it's fine. I'll go in with you, if you like. Your father will be alright on his own, I'm sure of it."

Alex nodded, though he felt guilty as he sat back and closed his eyes. If not for him being there, his mother would definitely be in the courtroom giving his father a level of moral support, if nothing else. He grudgingly admitted to himself, however, that he did appreciate her staying with him. There was something to be said about not being alone right now, given what he knew was about to happen. The teen tried to relax, but with only marginal success, which his mother picked up on and continued to hold him warmly.

Alex thought briefly about Brett, wondering what and how his friend was doing at that moment. As the new day had dawned, he discovered an emptiness inside that could only be expressed by how much he was missing home, school, and his best friend. Soon, however, Alex pushed those thoughts aside, knowing they would not be useful in the coming hours. He needed to focus so that he listened, heard and responded in the way he was expected to do so. In their place, his thoughts returned to the evening before, and how Mr. Banks had tried to both explain and mentally prepare the two for this moment. No one knew exactly what was going to happen, but the U.S. Attorney believed his counterpart was either going to be ill-prepared for the day, or that the man would attempt to hit the two witnesses hard. The attorney admitted that, being this close to trial, there was little he could do to prepare them any better, so instead he focused primarily on their eyewitness testimony. Mr. Banks had told them repeatedly, that as long as they took the time to listen and answer everything directly, then neither would require any coaching whatsoever. So, in his mind, Alex replayed that fateful night over and over, as he had done countless times before, to assure himself he wouldn't forget anything. It was a refreshing distraction, to say the least.

Alex recalled Mr. Bank's warning that the defense might choose him, because of his age, to concentrate on discrediting his testimony. "Just stick to what you know. Don't offer any conjecture, unless it comes from something that I ask you to explain or reason out. No matter what that man does, or tries to do, sticking with what you know is always the best route. Then, if he asks you something you don't have any knowledge of first hand, simply say so." Alex had nodded, already realizing the stakes might hinge on his own testimony, since he offered several details that his father had been too preoccupied to observe at the time.

Surprisingly, although Alex did have a level of anxiousness building, he didn't feel nervous on this morning. The teenager felt as if he was proverbially riding a much smoother carpet, at least better than he had compared to the previous day. As he and his mother sat there, time passed slowly, and Alex actually dozed for several minutes while in his mother's arms. At one point, an agent entered the room, bringing with him a selection of cold waters and sodas. Alex eyed the man before sitting up and thanking him, grateful for the refreshment. His wasn't a thirst brought on by anxiety, but instead a natural one where he felt dehydrated. Taking a can of soda, the teenager quietly popped the top and began drinking quickly. When finished, he belched quietly, then saw his mother observing him with amusement. "Sorry," he muttered, "but... that did hit the spot!" She laughed at him as he rose and crossed over to the door, tossing the can into a wastebasket nearby. Knocking, he spoke to the attendant and politely asked if he could have another one, or at least one of the bottled waters. The man smiled and nodded, before stepping away and returning with another drink. Afterwards, the teen and his mother continued to sit quietly and continue to wait.

Two hours passed before the door opened again just before 11:00, but this time Jonathan Banks himself strolled inside with one of his aides. "We're taking a 10-minute recess, and then you'll be up, Alex. I think our strategy seems to be working well. The defense council was definitely not prepared for taking on your father, and I suspect it will be the same with you. It took him several minutes to regroup before he began cross-examination. Richard, on the other hand, did magnificently in my opinion. Not that I doubted he wouldn't, but still." The man gazed directly at Alex and smiled. "Just like I expect you'll do, young man. Just stay focused, is all. I have no doubt your testimony will be just as fine."

Alex simply nodded, then watched as the attorney turned to his aide and whispered something low. They both then started to exit the room, but at the doorway the attorney turned and addressed them both again. "I'll call you up right away, once the break is over, and someone will come here to collect you. Mrs. Dennison, I'd suggest if you want to join us, that you do so in the back of the courtroom with your husband, before the judge returns."

Patty nodded, then rose as the door closed. "I think I'll go to the lady's room now, and then head into the courtroom," she told her son, before hesitating. "You're sure now, right? Your father and I won't distract you if we sit in the back, right?"

Alex rose as well. "It'll be fine, Mom. I know, I have to hold my own, but it'll be okay." He stepped to the door with her. "You know, I think I'll go now, too. I'd hate to interrupt everything because I had to suddenly pee in the middle of the big show!" Patty giggled as she put her arm around his shoulders again, then informed the attendant what they intended to do. Both were then escorted to the lavatory, which was only a short distance away from the room, but they were stopped as other agents checked inside first. When Alex was admitted, the agent stood guard outside the door. 'Wow,' Alex thought. 'They really aren't taking any chances!'

Upon returning to the waiting room, Alex noted he was now alone for the first time since the family had come together. Standing as nonchalantly as possible while he waited, it was not long until he heard another soft knock at the door. "Okay young man, you're up!" came the friendly voice of the attendant, who then proceeded to escort him to the courtroom. Once he stepped through the two huge, main doors that led inside, Alex paused to look around. The room was packed with people, and practically all eyes were simultaneously cast upon him as he arrived. For the first time, Alex silently gulped at the excessive attention. He shook the feeling away immediately, however, reasoning it would be that way regardless for whoever sat in the witness chair next.

Centrally located in front of the room was a large bench and desk, elevated above the general floor. A man wearing the standard black robe of most judges, smiled and waved the teenager to come forward. "Good morning, young sir. If you would be so kind, please join us down here in front." The voice was non-threatening, but Alex mentally kicked himself for having hesitated at all. Of course, he would be expected to step in front of the crowd. What would he have anticipated otherwise! With a slow deliberateness, he made his way down the open aisle until he reached a railing, one which separated the spectators from the legal teams. As he approached, another court official walked over and held a portion of the rail back, smiling as the teen nodded and then stepped through. Once inside, Alex moved up beside the judge's bench and entered the boxed area to his side as indicated, presumably where he would remain while the questioning took place. As expected, the teenager was sworn in, and then was asked to be seated.

Alex glanced about the room briefly, first identifying his parents in the back row, seated and smiling encouragingly to him. His father even gave him a subtle thumbs up, which for some reason made the teen smile in relief. Looking about the rest of the room, he recognized no other faces in the crowd other than the US Attorney, which was expected. He saw the courtroom was almost filled to capacity, and that those present had a grave look of seriousness in their expressions. Inside the front area reserved for the court personnel, Mr. Banks and his legal team sat almost directly across from the witness box. Their rather large table was covered with various notepads, folders and laptops as the man stood, organizing his notes. Offset to the other side in front, was another similar table where four men in expensive-looking suits sat, all of them looking upon the witness with expressionless faces. A fifth man also sat with them, dressed just as elaborately, but not using a suit. His attire consisted of only a white shirt, sports jacket, and slacks, making him stand apart from his colleagues. He was the only one who seemed to be smiling in the group, but Alex thought he saw a rapt sharpness in his eyes as he looked on. There could be no mistake, as Alex readily identified the man. This was none other than Nick-the-Pick, himself. The man's face, though cleaner and less grizzled in appearance, was the man he had seen all those months before, on the night of the murders.

A noise distracted the teen briefly, and as he turned to follow it, he saw a group of people, both young and old, comprised of both men and women alike, collectively sitting in a larger area set aside for the panel. They rounded off the remaining participants in the room, being the fortunate selected to perform their duty as members of the jury.

Mr. Banks cleared his throat then and turned, with his notes in hand, before walking and standing at a podium that faced neatly between the judge and the witness stand. "Good morning. Please, state your name for the record, if you will." Alex did as he was requested, before Mr. Banks continued. "Alex, for the record, would you confirm for the court that you are the son of Richard Allen Dennison?" Again, Alex acknowledged affirmatively, before Mr. Banks turned toward the court reporter and the judge. "Let the record show, your honor, that this young man is the son of our previous witness, from whom we've heard testimony earlier this morning, and therefore we establish that relationship here at the outset."

"So acknowledged," Judge Moore stated.

Mr. Banks turned his attention back to Alex and smiled. "Alex, let's begin by asking how old you are, today?"

"I'm 15-years old, sir."

"So, do you recall events that happened on the evening of April 27th, two years ago, at a Tanger Outlet Mall, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania?"

"Objection your honor, counsel is leading the witness." Alex glanced at the defense table and noted that one of the suited men had spoken up to log the complaint.

"Your honor..." Mr. Banks had turned to the judge already, and was having to restrain himself from laughing. "The location and time of the incident in question has already been brought out, and previously entered into record. There is no leading concerning facts that are not already ascertained. My intent is to simply bring our current witness here, back to that specified point in time as we review it, at that specific location."

Judge Moore hesitated only slightly before nodding. "I concur with counsel, objection overruled. The witness may answer the question."

Alex looked forward and nodded. "Yes, sir. I and my family, meaning my parents, were at that mall beginning in the latter part of the afternoon, doing some shopping. Or, at least, my Mom was."

There was a slight outbreak of subdued laughter throughout the courtroom, but it quickly returned to silence. The U.S. Attorney smiled before he continued. "I take it then, that you were not as caught up in the shopping experience as much as your mother?"

Alex suddenly blushed. "Sorry, sir. No, I was... it was a place that mostly held clothing stores and all. Not my thing, really."

Another round of light laughter circled the room before Mr. Banks continued. "Don't feel bad son, I know of many men who would sympathize with you in that situation. Tell me though, approximately how long do you think you were there?"

Alex shrugged. "I would guess at least a couple of hours, maybe longer. Not to pick on her about it or anything, but my mother likes shopping at outlets like that, and sometimes we end up staying a while, going into a lot more stores than we might commonly go into elsewhere."

Mr. Banks nodded, and then grew serious. "Alex, can you describe what was happening at the end of your visit on this evening, leading up to and including the incident for which we are gathered here today? Take your time son, there is no rush. I'm simply asking you to walk us through it, very concisely, and tell us what happened."

Alex hesitated briefly while taking a deep breath. "That evening, we had pretty much finished our shopping, and were making our way back in the direction of where we had parked. We almost got there when we passed by this shoe store, and my mother saw something that caught her attention. I don't remember what it was, only that it was interesting enough for her to go inside and check it out. My Dad and I initially stayed outside on the sidewalk."

"Now, let me be clear here. Where were you on this sidewalk, Alex?"

"Um, not really that far from the edge. I remember there was a bench there, and I recall thinking about sitting down, especially if we were going to have to wait very long. So, we were not near the windows or anything, really. Dad, he had started talking to me, saying something about finding a hotel for the night because it was getting late. Then he stopped, like, right in the middle of a sentence, and when I looked up, and I saw him staring out into the parking lot, so I turned to look, too," Alex continued.

"Do you recall anything that might hint to what time it was then?" Mr. Banks asked.

Alex narrowed his eyebrows. "Not exactly sir, only for the time of year that it was, the sun was going down behind the mall. It wasn't like dusky or anything yet, but there was a shadow cast out into the lot, that sort of subdued things spreading out into the lane. I mean, the lane that went up by the sidewalk and all, where vehicles traveled. So, my best guess might be, say, maybe 6:30, or 7:00 in the evening?"

"Alright. Now, when you say the sun was behind the mall, could you be more specific?"

"Well, the mall's buildings are at least two-floors high in most places, I guess, if not more. If the sun was in front of us, then I could tell you how high it was and all, but we were facing East, toward the parking lot, and so the building was behind us and all," Alex explained. He saw the prosecutor smile at that, encouraging the teen to continue. "Well, my Dad and I watched as this truck was coming down the lane, ahead of us and in front of where we had stopped. Inside was a man, holding something up to his chest with his right hand. At first, it was kind of weird, but I think Dad must have sensed or noticed something before I did, because he reached an arm out to stop me from going any further."

"Did you know the man was carrying a gun at that point, Alex?" Mr. Banks inquired directly.

"No - at least, I don't think so. You see, that's when I noticed this other man and woman already out in the lot, walking down the lane, moving toward and meeting the truck coming from the other direction. When they got close, maybe 12 to 15 feet away or so, the man in the truck stuck his arm out the window and pointed something at both of them. I saw it then, and that's when I knew for sure it was a gun. Especially after the man in the truck pulled the trigger and fired off four rounds."

"What happened next?" Mr. Banks encouraged.

"Well, those two people just kind of fell to the concrete, or blacktop, or whatever you want to call the stuff in the parking lot. The man in the truck, he pulled his arm back in and then just kept going forward, approaching us. When he reached the lane between the parking spaces and the sidewalk, he smiled at us and nodded, like we were just old friends or something, and then turned to our left, but it would have been his right, before making his way toward the exit. He pulled up to the highway entrance, then turned right and was gone."

"He smiled at you?" the attorney asked. "Why do you think he did that?"

Alex grunted. "Yes, sir, but I really have no idea. That's when I got a really good look at him, though. He drove off, and for a second it actually looked like he was laughing."

Mr. Banks turned toward the bench. "May we approach the witness your honor?" Receiving a nod, the attorney procured an item from a nearby table and turned to display it to Alex. "Alex, would you say this weapon I'm holding, resembles the gun you eventually observed that evening?"

Immediately, Alex shook his head. "No, sir. The gun I saw, especially after the man extended his arm through the window, wasn't black coated, but more like chrome or something. I remember because of the reflection it made, which is what drew my attention to it."

Again the U.S. Attorney smiled, then replaced the gun and picked up another. "So, perhaps this one, then?"

Alex studied for a few seconds. "I'm not sure. Would you mind holding it, say, from about the middle of the room over there, sir?"

The question seemed to surprise the attorney, and there was a brief murmur that broke the silence in the courtroom. Mr. Banks, however, obliged the teen by proceeding to stroll away from the witness box, stopping at the requested distance and turning back to face his witness again. Alex scrutinized the weapon as it was held out to the side in the distance, but then shook his head. "I'm sorry sir, but no. The gun I saw was smaller than that. That weapon fills your whole hand and then some, I think. The gun I saw was not as long, and it fit into the hand that was holding it more, uh, naturally, I think. Inside the hand, I mean."

There was a general murmur that drifted through the crowd again, as Mr. Banks smiled widely. He returned back to the table once more and exchanged the weapon for yet a third time. Returning to his previous position, he held it out once again. "Okay then, how about this one?"

This time Alex nodded almost immediately. "That's more like it. I can't say if it's the actual gun itself, but it does have the right proportion and finish for sure."

"Your honor, I must object, rather strenuously, too," the defense counsel interrupted again as he stood up. "This... it is almost laughable what the District Attorney is trying to establish here. This ... boy, is certainly no expert at firearms, and he cannot possibly be expected to identify, with any certainty, whether this is the murder weapon in question."

"Once again, your honor, I am merely presenting a picture. In this particular instance, I'm demonstrating something that indicates the level of detail this witness has been fortunate to subscribe himself to. He himself just offered, in his own statement, that he could not declare this to be the murder weapon, but that he could ascertain particular characteristics that he identified that night, as being in line with this weapon. We will certify, later in this trial and via professional analysis and ballistics, that this device IS the actual weapon that matched the bullets fired at the crime scene."

Judge Moore studied the attorney thoughtfully before he nodded. "Alright, Mr. Banks, I will allow it for that purpose then. Beware, however, that you are skirting a very thin line here using these proceedings in this order. Evidence must be placed in exhibition before having testimony corresponding to the devices, weapons or other objects of note collaborated. Let's get on with it," the judge ruled.

The attorney nodded. "Of course, your honor. My apologies. I will attempt to comply as we move along." He turned back to the teenager then. "Now Alex, you're up to where you witnessed the gun firing upon the two people you noted. What happened next?"

"My Dad instructed me to go inside and alert my Mom, or at least someone, to call 9-1-1, so I did that. As I hurried away, Dad started running toward the couple in the lot, I assumed to see if there was anything he could do to help them. After I ran inside the store, I told both my Mom and a store clerk who was standing there what happened, and what Dad requested they do. Then I rushed back outside and ran over to where my Dad was."

"What was your father doing at the time?"

"Well, when I got there, he was mostly just standing, but he grabbed me and kept me back before I got too close. Before I could ask why, he told me we'd have to wait, because they were already 'gone'," Alex explained. "They were already dead, I mean."

"Why did he say that? Did either of you check for a pulse?" Mr. Banks asked.

"No, sir, I didn't. I don't know if Dad did or not, but there was blood splattered around them and everything, and from what I could tell, it looked like both of them had each taken a shot twice in the head."

"Twice? Each?"

"Yes, sir. It wasn't very pretty. I mean, uh, you could see the blood kind of squirting out of one of the bullet-holes and all on one," Alex explained. "Their heads, their faces I mean, were really messed up, too. Neither was moving, and although I don't know about the woman, I stared at the man and never saw him even take a breath or anything. He had a gash on his right cheek, where I assumed a bullet went in, and there was another one above his ear. The woman, well, she took one directly in the face, I think, and another one on the side, too. You could see them, but... like I said, kind of messed up and all, really bloody."

Jonathan Banks stood taller just then, thoughtfully considering the testimony. "We have already submitted photographic evidence of this, your honor. Due to its graphic nature, and since it has already been validated by prior testimony, we won't recall them for this witness to confirm, given his descriptions are detailed enough, and since they really have no direct bearing for his testimony in this specific instance."

"I concur," Judge Moore nodded.

Mr. Banks turned back to his witness. "Tell us, Alex, is there anything else on this matter you can offer to this court?" When Alex shook his head, the man continued. "Okay, let's move forward then. When the man turned in his vehicle toward the exit, for one brief moment, you said you were able to see him clearly, correct?" Alex nodded. "Then, one final question: is the man that you saw, driving away from the scene, in this courtroom today?"

Alex smiled before turning to the defense table. "Yes, sir. He is the older man sitting next at the end of that table there."

"You're absolutely positive?"

"Yes, sir." Alex replied with a conviction he had rarely felt before, and it showed clearly in his expression.

"May the court please note that the witness has identified Nicholas Picante, presently sitting at the defense table." Mr. Banks then returned to his own table. "The State has no more questions for the witness at this time, you honor."

Judge Moore glanced at his watch. "Gentlemen, we are nearing the lunch hour. What do you say we break for now, and continue this questioning afterwards? How about 1:15 this afternoon?" Seeing no objections, he pounded his gavel upon the desk. "Good, then we are recessed until 1:15."

"You did brilliantly in there, son! Absolutely brilliant!"

The praise coming from the U.S. Attorney was highly appreciated, as Alex and his parents were escorted back to their waiting room. "When you asked me to hold the gun at a more discernable distance, like it was that night? That showed the jurors that you were indeed paying strict attention! I think that stunt even surprised the defense team!"

Patty, sitting down, sighed deeply. "Well, it's half-over at least."

Mr. Banks sat down. "She's right, but please be careful, Alex. Don't get caught up with any level of overconfidence. That other team will now be gunning for you full force, and they're expecting - if not hoping - to trip you up. Judge Moore and I both will watch and keep things as sane as we can, with respect to the legal side, but it will really be up to you now. In the end, we need to build the scene in the jury's eyes, and do it in such a way that no one can refute your testimony." He leaned in. "Mind you, son, this is nothing to get frightened or nervous about. We discussed this last night, remember? It is just the way a trial works at this level. All you have to really do is just stick with what you know. Leave anything you don't know up in the air, or else state it explicitly if asked. Stick to the facts - it will be fine."

Alex smiled. "It's okay, sir. I'm not really worried." Indeed, the teen seemed to be calmer than everyone expected he would be. "I mean, I might get a little jittery when we go back in, but I think I can handle it." He grew quiet before asking, "You know, that wasn't intended to be a stunt in there."

"Yes, I do know that," the man admitted, drawing back. "Forgive me, Alex, it was a poor choice of words." Just then one of the attorney's assistants walked in with a huge bag of food. "I really don't like ordering for other people, but given the shortened time-frame, and the fact I do not want you stepping outside this courthouse in the open until we're finished, I do make exceptions. This, folks, is a large selection of sandwiches and salads, all of which comes from a diner just down the street. Have a go at it, please, and don't hold back. When we're finished, I'll send whatever is left down to the break room."

"Ah, young Mr. Dennison, we finally meet."

The defense counsel sat back into his chair, looking smartly at the witness stand as he paused in silence. In fact, the silence carried overly long, and Judge Moore decidedly intervened. "Is there a question, counsel? Or are you going to simply sit there like a diamond on a python, waiting for the cows to come home?"

The courtroom erupted with quiet laughter as the man being addressed turned his attention to the bench and shook his head, smiling. "Indeed, your honor, there are a good-many question that should be asked. Deciding which to bring out, however, I will admit has been puzzling, to say the least."

"Then I would encourage counsel to make a choice with respect to the hour, as I do not intend to sit here and nap for the afternoon, while you ponder the answer to life, the universe, and everything in between!" Another general murmur of laughter swept through the room.

The defense counsel then stood and approached the podium. "Yes, your honor. Mr. Alex, I-"

"Objection, your honor," Mr. Banks spoke up. "The witness' name has already been entered into record, and thus should be given equal accreditation under the law. I request the court to instruct counsel to either address the witness by his first name, or as Mr. Dennison."

"It is so ordered. Mr. Pendleton, proceed," Judge Moore instructed.

Mr. Pendleton turned and gave Jonathan Banks a sharp glare, before returning his attention to the teenager. "Mr. Dennison then, how old were you at the time that this incident occurred?"

"I had just turned 13, sir, a little over 2 weeks before that evening," Alex answered firmly.

With an incredulous look at first the judge, and then the jury, Mr. Pendleton stood dubiously. "Now, how, may I ask, are we to expect a jury to believe that the testimony of a 13-year old boy..."

"Objection, your honor!"

Judge Moore leaned forward. "Sustained. Is there a question for the witness in this line, Mr. Pendleton? Because if not, I would prefer you move along, sir!"

"Your honor, I would desire to hear from the witness his own reasons, as to why he would have us place such a high level of believability in his testimony. After all, this incident took place over two years ago, at a time-"

"Your honor, I must strongly object here, for prior precedent discussed earlier," Mr. Banks interrupted once again. "If for no other reason than the grounds of client corroboration in this matter. First of all, his testimony has already been corroborated by his father-"

"Of which there will be considerable bias, thank you," Mr. Pendleton interjected. "These two are father and son, are they not? Did you not establish this initially?"

"I did, yes. But as I was saying, the testimony offered thus far has already been documented. There is also an abundance of video evidence, and other affirmative indications that will be introduced, all of which supports everything that has been discussed thus far. Mr. Pendleton knows this, your honor. He and his team have had ample opportunity to review this said evidence, for over two years to boot! His attempts at thus using this opportunity to taint those facts which have not yet been entered into compulsory evidence, only makes a mockery of this court. Furthermore, these attempts are designed, I believe, to intimidate this witness, by belittling his creditability on the stand. A pair of homicides are on trial here! Whether testimony offered is from a young child, a teenager, an middle-aged adult, or a senior citizen, it is still exemplified by that person's believability, and the circumstances around which they offer it!" Mr. Banks paused, and was about to continue when Judge Moore waved him silent before turning.

"Mr. Pendleton, I am inclined to agree with the U.S. Attorney on this matter. Your line of questioning is approaching dangerous territory, and I believe you are moving down a path that will draw no sympathy from this court."

The defense counsel looked from one face to the other, then back at Alex, who sat there with a smirk, enjoying the circus as it unfolded. The man was not to be discounted yet, however. Mr. Pendleton drew a deep breath, and then replied, keeping his voice dangerously low and neutral. "Your honor, it will be difficult, if not near impossible, to question this witness about any of such given testimony or evidence, unless that evidence has already been presented in review, and it is shown to substantiate his, or his father's, earlier testimony. My goal here is nothing outside of achieving that function. We, as the people of the court, have a right to gather some level of insight into this youth's mental state, during the time of the supposed incident. As has already been pointed out, this is a murder trial, your honor! My client here has the potential of being sentenced to the maximum amount, or even the death penalty, should he be found guilty! It is our argument that this should weigh heavily on the minds of all those present, when we consider the testimony of a said witness who was 13-years old at the time it occurred!" The man's voice, which had been rising steadily, suddenly returned to a more normal volume. "Since he is being asked, by the people, to present personal testimony, our hands are tied in almost all other respects. That leaves me with no other approach than having a strong need to assess this young man's personal character, and to evaluate what he has seen, or thought he saw, and whether it could have possibly been influenced by outside parties-"

"My dear counsel, you didn't say you were doing any such thing," Mr. Banks shot back. "You said you were questioning why the court should believe his testimony as it was presented. Those are two entirely separate objectives, especially when you're attempting to evaluate a person's credibility, or character, as you called it."

"I agree," Judge Moore announced. Leaning forward, he continued. "I will concur that the people have short changed the order in which evidence has been presented in their case, but it is not without precedent, and certainly not without cause. I assume all evidence will be managed, according to law, by the time this trial has reached its conclusion, or we may have to reassess that evidence as it was presented. Do not make the mistake that I am not keeping notes on these matters, counsel. They will all be dealt with before the people rest their case, or we will have some... discussions." Sitting back, the judge's tone changed. "I am not, however, unsympathetic to the entirety of your argument, so we'll do this: I will allow questioning facts already presented, which the witness may answer - provided the context is with just reason as you argued. Just be warned, I will not tolerate you berating this witness in any form. If such action is observed, I will terminate your questioning, and allow him to leave these proceedings immediately afterwards. Are we clear on this?"

"Yes, your honor." With that, Mr. Banks nodded and returned to his seat, before the defense attorney spoke again. "Okay, Alex, in case you didn't understand the implication here..."

"I understood it completely, sir," Alex replied. There was another murmur of amusement that swept through the crowd, which prompted Judge Moore to rap his gavel again. The room fell quiet.

"Well then, young man, let's see if we can do this a little differently. Would you please tell the court about my client, as you identified driving a truck and leaving the scene of the so-called crime."

Alex sat there, slightly confused. When he remained silent, Judge Moore spoke up. "Is there a problem, son?"

"Well, I'm uncertain sir, to tell the truth, what the question is. He asked me to tell about his client, but exactly what he wants to know, I have no idea." Alex presented his reasoning in an even tone, short of genuine confusion. When Judge Moore turned to counsel, Alex saw Mr. Banks in the background nodding his head in approval.

"What I mean, son, is-"

"Your honor, please," Mr. Banks suddenly spoke aloud, rising from his seat.

Judge Moore, however, had already had enough. "Mr. Pendleton, you will address the witness as you have been previously instructed. If you cannot do so, you will be excused from fulfilling your role in respect of this witness, and one of your assistants can take your place. Am I clear on this matter?"

Mr. Pendleton feigned incredulity as he was admonished, then held up his hands. "Okay, my apologies people, quit getting your panties in a twist!" The courtroom was dead silent, and Alex noted that the attempt at humor, though attempted in seemingly goodwill, fell flat on all who were present in the courtroom. When he continued, the attorney raised his voice, enunciating his words clearly. "What I am referring to, Mr. Dennison, are the circumstances surrounding your identification of my client. For example, you stated earlier that he was driving a truck. What kind of truck, if I may ask, was the vehicle? Can you describe it?"

Alex half-smiled. "It was a mid-1970's Dodge pickup truck, mostly red with white accents. What I mean by that is the hood and upper cabin were white, for example, as was the tailgate. It also had runners along the side, the type that looked like weathered, steel-boxed attachments. The rear window had a sticker, and although I could not read all of the letters, because they looked to be worn off or something, I was able to read that the first part of the sticker read V-A-R. On the tailgate, there was a dent in the back panel on the lower left, and there were two bumper stickers on the right side, one of which referred to Valley Forge. I recognized it because we, meaning my family and myself, had just visited Valley Forge the day before, and I saw several similar items in the gift shop there that were kind of, well, they were kind of unique looking. Plus, some of the lettering stood out against a dark blue, maybe black, background, which made it easy enough to discern. The other bumper sticker, well..."

"Oh, you recall it as well? What did it say?" Mr. Pendleton asked.

Alex hesitated, before blushing. "It said 'If You Can Read This, Get Off My Ass'." Looking up to the judge, he added. "Sorry, your honor."

Judge Moore smiled at him and then nodded. Another low murmur rolled through the courtroom before Alex returned to the question at hand. "I also noticed the license plate. The first character was totally covered with mud or something, along with the smaller characters that identified the county or state or anything. I could make out the remaining part of the license number pretty clearly, though. It read '78-XNX'."

Whether it was the amount of detail he gave, or the manner in which he asserted a high level of self-assuredness, Mr. Pendleton was obviously impressed. "That's remarkable, young man... err, I mean, Alex," the attorney added quickly, glancing at the judge. "But... to clarify, you saw all of this, in the fading evening light at dusk, as a vehicle was speeding away?"

"Um, it wasn't a fading light, sir. I admit it wasn't like, bright sunlight or anything, but the evening was not melting away into shadows or anything quite yet. There was still plenty of light left to see things," Alex offered.

Mr. Pendleton looked down at his notes. "Really? Tell me, were the parking lot lights active at the time?"

Alex shook his head. "They did not come on for about another 20 to 30 minutes after the shooting."

"So certain, are you? Are you sure?" the man asked quizzically.

"No, I can't say exactly when they came on, other than it's a kind of general feel. I do know they were not on while the shooting took place, and that afterwards while we sat with all the emergency vehicles and everything, they eventually started coming on then." Alex fell silent, and waited.

"Okay, then, let's discuss something else. Tell me, if the sun was at your back at this time, as you described, how could you identify that the occupant held a gun, from a distance of 125 to 150 feet away, inside the cab of the truck? Would there not have been considerable reflection upon the windshield?"

Alex shrugged. "Well, first, I don't believe I said it quite like that, sir. I mean, it wasn't until the, uh, weapon was stuck out the window that I made out its shape and what it was. When it was in the truck, I only saw something flash maybe, like for just a second, and that told me he was holding something, kind of up and over the left side of his chest."

"A flash. So, you had no idea it was a gun at that point, correct?"

"Your honor, I ask the court to consider the relevancy of this," Mr. Banks announced as he stood. "Within seconds of the point in question, it became clear what the object, or device, was afterwards."

Judge Moore turned to Mr. Pendleton. "Counsel?"

"We are only attempting to ascertain, your honor, how much the witness actually saw, versus what he thinks he may have filled in after the fact, since the time the incident occurred," the man explained. Judge Moore hesitated, then nodded. "Overruled. Alex, please answer the question."

"Well, there was a reflection of the skyline on the windshield for part of the distance, as the truck approached all of us. But there was also stuff in the skyline behind us, like signs or something, that kind of inked itself inside the reflection. When that happened, we were close enough to see the inside of the truck's cab pretty clearly, I think, because those items were darker in nature and all. I can remember it being kind of flashy, I guess, for just an instant, but even then, I don't think I knew it was a gun until the truck got closer to the man and woman, and the man inside the truck stuck his arm out the window. So, at some point he must have switched the gun from his right hand to his left, because when he took aim, it was with his left hand that I saw him shoot, and I heard four bangs, excuse me, four shots come from it. Each one caused the hand holding the gun to recoil somewhat, but they made me certainly believe it was a real, actual gun by then by its actions and results to the man and woman. When the man in the truck pulled his arm back in, he was a good 10- to 15-feet closer by then, and I saw it was a shiny, kind of chrome-like weapon."

Mr. Pendleton stared at Alex for a long time before just shaking his head. "Let's talk about the truck again, sir. Earlier, you gave us an abundance of details, mentioning something about stickers and the vehicle's license number. Yet, over two years have passed since then, and you still remember all of this. Personally, I find that amazing in itself, but here is what I am even more impressed at: you saw all of this on the back end of a truck, speeding away, accelerating through a parking lot. How, forgive me, but how do you account for that, Mr. Dennison?"

Alex shrugged. "I don't, really. I mean, I just witnessed two people get killed in front of me for the first time in my life. Not on TV, or in a movie, but right there - in front of me and my Dad. That's something that's not easy to forget, you know? Or, maybe it is for some people, but not for me. As to the truck, I don't think he was really pulling away that fast. I had, I don't know, four to five seconds to see everything before he got too far away."

Mr. Pendleton, however, shook his head. "That's not a lot of time though, to recall everything you have just mentioned now. No matter how old you were."

Judge Moore leaned forward. "Is there a question in that statement, Mr. Pendleton? Because if there isn't, we're finished here."

"But, your honor!"

"Don't 'but-your-honor' me! You've been warned, and I am not going to let you and your client turn this courtroom into a circus. You are finished, sir." As Mr. Pendleton gazed upon the judge, there was a look of sadistic displeasure slowly seeping to the surface. Rather than be threatened with contempt, however, the man slowly returned to his seat and sat down.

Surprisingly, Mr. Banks stood. "Your honor, if it will please the court, I'd like to redirect the witness on one particular point for clarification if I may, before he is dismissed."

Judge Moore looked at the man strangely, but then nodded. "Go ahead, then."

Mr. Banks approached the podium again. "Alex, you testified that you recalled the details of the bumper sticker, the license plate and more, within the span of a few seconds. How far away would you say the vehicle was at the beginning point where you were looking toward it."

Alex frowned. "I- I'm sorry, sir. I'm not really that good at guessing distances. I - I'd really be afraid to guess."

Mr. Banks smiled. "Well, let's say the distance was like, oh, between the two of us here. Would it be farther away, or closer?"

Alex sat back. "Farther, sir. I'd say probably twice as far, maybe?"

Mr. Banks glanced at the judge, and then moved to approximate the distance Alex suggested. With a raised voice, he spoke again. "So, perhaps this far?"

Alex studied for a second and then nodded. "Maybe just a little closer, but yes sir, that's about right."

Mr. Banks approached the podium again. "I was wondering, if your honor and the court will indulge us for a moment, if we might try a little experiment here to test that perception. You see, I have here in my possession, 10 license plates just pulled from the county Sheriff's office, across and down the street. They are still, as most of you can see, shrink wrapped as a package, which the DMV, I mean the Department of Motor Vehicles, normally accepts when they are stocked together. At my request, one of the Sheriff's deputies, uh, stand up back there Mr. Grimes, is willing to testify that he just delivered these to me about a half hour ago, straight from the DMV, and that they have been in his possession until just now. There is a stamping date along the back as well, which denotes that this set was just run assembled no less than four days ago, with a variety of plates used in several states." The attorney looked up. "In other words, your honor, no one in this courtroom could possibly have seen or know their contents as of yet, since they were just randomly selected from production."

Judge Moore hesitated only slightly before leaning forward. "Alright, Mr. Banks, you have our curiosity. What is this experiment you wish to perform?"

"Well, your honor, I'd like to propose that we dim the lighting here in this room, and then back approximately where Alex identified was the probable distance from the vehicle that night, I'd like to present these plates for his view - all in a rapid sequence. Then I'd like to have him recall as much of the details he can for each one afterwards," the U.S. Attorney stated.

Mr. Pendleton was on his feet almost immediately. "Objection, your honor. Relevance?"

"I believe that will become clear, your honor. The defense has introduced the idea that the amount of information the witness observed that night, under mediocre conditions and in the timeframe given, was too minutely delivered for someone his age. I believe it would be interesting to see if, at his current age, he is still as adept at doing it again, but with a challenge. It will not do as much for the time factor aspect, being two years plus, but it WILL show whether this young man can derive such details as given, and under accelerated conditions."

Judge Moore sat back in his chair to consider the request. There were appealing aspects of the proposal, and he could find no precedent to deny the request. "Proceed Mr. Banks."

The U.S. Attorney turned to Alex. "I should probably first ask if this would be agreeable with you, Alex?" The teen nodded, so within about a minute, Mr. Banks stood at his previous position and waved to one of his assistants. The lights in the courtroom began to fade. "Now, Alex, we had a certified meteorologist determine that, for the date in question, what the level of ambiance should be prior to sundown, for that area of the country, at roughly the time of the incident. We understand it is not an exact science, as I'm told, but there is a fairly accurate base from which to work from. For the purpose of this experiment, however, I am going to suggest we reduce the lighting another 6%, which will preclude a margin of error with no more than plus or minus 2%. Do you agree?"

Just then the lighting dimmed even more, but Alex felt it was still plenty sufficient. "Sure."

"Now, lastly, I am also going to add about 10 additional feet to the length here, because the lettering on the plates is going to be somewhat larger than what normally appears on the bumper stickers in question. Your honor..." Mr. Banks paused as he moved further away and raised his voice even more. "This approximates us being close to the worst possible conditions which could have prevailed that night, as our witness would have had better circumstances as it were. I am now going to ask that these 10 plates be placed by a random member of the courtroom, if you please, on this board we're bringing up here now. Your honor, if you would, please choose a volunteer candidate for us."

Intrigued, Judge Moore chose his court stenographer, instructing her to step forward and assist. Within minutes the board was assembled out of Alex's sight, and then the woman returned to her position. "Now, Alex," Mr. Banks announced. "You had a period of roughly five-seconds, given the distance and the amount of time we witnessed in previous video evidence, again which will be submitted later in this trial. So, if you're ready, we're going to uncover this board for that same amount of time. Alright?"

Nodding, Alex watched as the man did as he foretold. Each plate he noted was beside a large, clear black numeral to denote its place in the collection. In only seconds, the board was then covered again, with Alex blinking only once before sitting back. Mr. Banks signaled for the lighting in the courtroom to be returned to normal, before approaching the podium again. "Now, Alex, may I ask - were you able to see each of the plates as they were displayed."

"Yes, sir."

"And you were able to read their contents, correct?" Again, Alex acknowledged, so Mr. Banks then had his attendant turn the board toward the jury, with its back to Alex, and remove the cover. "If the court pleases, let's see how well our witness can recall the details. Now, let's say we start at number three Alex."

Alex took a deep breath. "That plate had a picture of a horse and buggy on it, with a license number of 344TXA, belonging to the state of Pennsylvania. I could not make out the county, however."

An audible gasp made its way throughout the courtroom. "How about number seven, if you would?"

"That plate was kind of plain, with a mostly white background, but it did have a wheelchair in the corner, making me think it was some kind of a handicapped plate. Its license number was 6FF009." An even bigger audible gasp emerged from the crowd. Alex continued, doing the same for the remaining eight plates, and when he had finished with the last, most of the courtroom erupted with applause. Judge Moore permitted the outburst only momentarily before he raised his hand to silence them. As all grew quiet, Mr. Banks turned to his witness again. "Alex, is there any reason you know of as to why you have this ability of yours, to recall things you've seen with such clarity?"

Alex shook his head. "None that I know of sir. I've just, like, always been able to remember stuff, especially when I pay attention to it."

"And how long do some of these memories usually hang around?" the attorney asked.

Alex shrugged. "I don't know. A long time, I guess. Some of them for years."

Mr. Banks smiled and nodded. "Thank you, sir. I'd also like to thank your honor, as well as the court, for its patience. I would like to submit these results as a part of referential evidence, to coincide with Mr. Dennison's testimony, in portraying his ability to, well, notice things, as I believe he put it."

Judge Moore agreed. "It is so ordered. Mr. Pendleton, re-cross?"

Samuel Pendleton sat in his chair, still in a dumbfounded state. After a few seconds, he slowly shook his head. "No, your honor. No re-cross."

"Then the witness is excused."

Alex let go a deep breath, closing his eyes and trying to calm his nerves. He was venting a considerable amount of frustration, given the fact that not only himself, but his family as a whole had been cooped up in the small, two-bedroom apartment since he and his father had given their testimony. They were all attempting to make the best of the situation, but there was little offered in the way of help to combat the weariness and fatigue they were all feeling. Stretching hard, the teen lay back upon his bed, staring at the tiled ceiling above him. Once again he absently counted them for the umpteenth time, and noted the count still remained the same.

The teenager had just finished watching a movie on HBO, a cable channel known for broadcasting movies with little to no restrictions or censorship. This particular movie had been one that contained quite a bit of nudity and language, but Alex did not really care. It wasn't the first time he had seen such films, and he doubted it would ever be the last. In truth, although it had been on for almost two hours and was now over, he realized he could hardly tell anyone what he had just watched anyway. He grunted, thinking about parts of it and how most teen boys would have ogled over it, but to Alex it was just a film - and in this case, one which he had paid little attention to overall. Some teenagers might have to go all out, sneaking under their parent's radar in some way to watch it. Not Alex, not really. He had watched R-rated movies before, or the newly labeled TV-Mature rated flicks, even in the presence of his parents. If the film had a merit or value, his parents seemed to never worry about it. Richard and Patty had placed a trust in their son's level of maturity in recent years. As long as the movie had a purpose, and was not one of those foolish flicks focused around nothing but sex or other useless facades, they were okay with it.

This movie was one that had been nothing more than a time-killer, in every sense of the word. Alex missed being home, and he missed being with his best friend more than anything. Having spent the week away now had made the teenager realize, even more, how much he had become dependent on having Brett by his side. Mr. Banks had not offered him the cell phone again since their first night, and Alex had respectfully refrained from asking for it. He imagined Brett was probably finding their separation a welcome change by now, and although unwarranted, Alex's idle mind fashioned a whole host of scenarios where their friendship may have begun fading. That depressed the teen considerably, and as he turned off the TV, he aimlessly gazed around him with a feeling of hopelessness. There was nothing he could do about it right now, and he knew it. He just hoped Brett would still be there, and still have their bonding link, as Alex called it now, when he was finally able to go home.

Passing the time to kill dead space around the family was simply nerve racking. Patty had seemed to adjust the best, having brought a thick novel of some sort with her from home to sink into. Due to her obligations toward Alex and his education, she rarely had the opportunity to do anything but light reading in recent years. This was an opportunity that represented a welcome change, and she used it to keep herself occupied. Richard, on the other hand, had brought his laptop from work, which he used to continuously plow through several development and programming exercises, to whatever end he needed. Although it occupied the man to some degree, like Alex, he too was beginning to feel the effects of being so painfully confined.

The trial had continued throughout the week as expected, and because of the ceaseless uncertainty whether either of its two chief witnesses might be recalled, the family had had to remain in Philadelphia, ready to return at a moment's notice. Each evening, Mr. Banks paid them a visit to give them the latest updates, telling the family that all seemed to be going well. The evening before, the attorney reported that the government had concluded its case that day, and that the defense had begun to move into action. It was a long and drawn-out process, something none of the family had really expected to be caught up in. The attorney apologized profusely, feeling that his unusual management of the case had created the situation that made them wait, but Alex wasn't so sure. He pointed out to the man that even if the build-up had been reversed, wouldn't that have taken just as long up front? Moreover, wouldn't they still have to wait until both sides were finished before they could go home? Mr. Banks had regarded him thoughtfully that night, before finally nodding. "I guess you're right, Alex, when you look at it in that sense." The attorney had increasingly become more impressed by the teenager as each day passed.

As early afternoon approached, Alex got up and walked to the kitchen, with the intention of obtaining another fruit juice. As he crossed to the refrigerator, a sudden knock came from the door. Patty looked up from her perch on the couch as Richard turned away from his computer, all three looking on in surprise. Alex, standing the closest, made his way over to the door and opened it to find Mr. Banks standing outside. After a warm greeting, he invited the man inside.

"How are you folks doing?" the man asked, pleasantly, although he was far from ready to initiate any small talk. Without waiting for a response, he continued. "I thought you folks might be interested to know, the defense counsel has rested their case this morning, just a little before noon."

Richard rose from his seat, startled. "Really? So soon?" Patty also lay her book aside and sat up.

Mr. Banks shrugged. "I believe they have seen the odds stacked against them and, for whatever purposes, were simply ill-prepared. As we've discussed before, Mr. Picante has had a number of run-ins with law enforcement over the years, but this is the first time where hard, really hard, evidence has ever made its way through to trial. There just wasn't any legal maneuvering to be made this time, especially since you two gentlemen made it into court and provided first-hand testimony to what happened."

Patty sighed with relief. "Then, is it over? Is it really over?"

"Yes, ma'am, I believe we can declare that it is, indeed, behind us." He waited as the woman stood, and saw the immense look of relief cross her features. Richard also stood and walked up beside her, slipping an arm around his wife's waist. Alex observed with curiosity that his father's eyes were misty, something he could not recall ever seeing in recent times. Perhaps both of his parents had been more emotionally invested with the situation than the teenager had realized.

After a moment, Mr. Banks continued. "I slipped out here, however, to extend a personal invitation to you. You've been confined here for days, and that has not gone unnoticed, believe me. I still have to give a closing this afternoon, and I wondered if you might like to get out and stretch your legs for a bit. Perhaps come down to the courtroom and listen in to the closing arguments for both sides. Afterwards, then we'll see if we can't all take a little drive downtown to a diner that my wife and I visit frequently. As the case goes to the jury though, I fear we can't make it a truly full outing. That's because I have to be ready just in case, if they call me back with a verdict. However, we won't be very far away, and I know just getting out a bit will be a welcome change to you folks."

Both parents turned to Alex. "What do you say son?" Richard asked. "Want to go down and see this to the end?"

Alex smiled. "Honestly? Yeah, I'd really like to, I think."

Richard nodded and saw his wife smile at him before he turned to their host. "Can we have, say, 15 minutes or so to change and get ready?"

"Oh, yes. In fact, we're not due to resume until 2:30, so that gives us, oh, about a half hour before we have to be on our way," the man replied.

"Your honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, and officers of the court," Jonathan Banks began.

There was a subdued hush that fell over the crowd, not unlike previous sessions as the case unfolded, but this time the atmosphere felt different. Alex, sitting with his parents near the back row, could almost sense an air of anticipation throughout the crowd. He also noted that sitting in the back as they were, the teenager had a slightly different perception of the room than before. This time he got to observe people sitting almost motionless, some even leaning forward, as if they were afraid of missing a word or exchange. As Alex watched though, he could hear the U.S. Attorney clearly, his voice assisted by carefully spaced speakers mounted in the room. As Mr. Banks paused, he gazed out at the crowd of spectators, before returning to glance at his notes. He cleared his throat and then proceeded to address the jury.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have here a fairly straight-forward case, built on a given timeline that is substantiated by hard evidence. Without rehashing a lot of those details, let me recap only a few highlights, for the sole purpose of refreshing our memories of the timeline in which events have unfolded. Two years ago, on the evening of April 27th, a double homicide occurred in the parking lot of a Tanger Outlet Mall, located near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Two individuals, who had just completed a shopping excursion for the evening, stepped away from the said establishment, presumably with the intent of locating their vehicle and leaving. Before arriving, however, they were met by another vehicle, a 1974 Dodge pickup truck, which was being driven that evening by Mr. Nicholas Greyson Picante. As the individuals and the vehicle met, Mr. Picante proceeded to extend his arm out the driver's side window, and then fire four bullets from the weapon, striking a Mr. Harrison Dorsette, and his fiancée, Miss Anita Ann Pitka, killing them both. He then proceeded to drive away calmly, as we've heard and seen video evidence, leaving the couple behind."

"This event was caught on security footage obtained from roof-mounted cameras, as well as by two eye-witnesses at the scene. The witnesses, a father and his son, delivered crucial details to the investigating authorities that led police to track down and discover the vehicle in question the next day. A few hours later, Mr. Picante was located and arrested. The distinctly personal accounts offered by these eye-witnesses, detailed at the beginning of this trial, showed that Mr. Picante held a distinct lack of concern for the victims of this atrocity. He drove away from the crime scene smiling, without any concern. The defendant neither offered assistance to the victims, nor moved in any way to provide assistance after the crime. When he was arrested, as we heard from Office Willis's account, the defendant outright laughed and joked about the incident. This carefree, or rather careless, attitude is what has prompted authorities to file charges of first-degree murder for each of the victims in the incident."

The attorney then looked up from his notes and stepped away from the podium toward the jurors. "Although there have been several attempts to discredit, or create questionable alternatives to these facts, I remind you that this case revolves around simply that scenario, and that scenario alone. Mr. Picante's history or past is not on trial here, and does not account for any of the reasons we have been gathered this week. Both witnesses to this event, a father and son who stood on the walkway outside of a series of stores at the given location that evening, observed and provided clear, first-account testimony of the atrocious act. The video footage, which you also watched, substantiated most of their testimony, for the time of day, general location of all criteria involved, and more. The given forensics we have presented of the murder weapon, the bullets fired, and the prints retrieved from the gun, the truck and other items, clearly identified that the device was discharged by the said defendant, and it was these matching elements that tied the three together - meaning the perpetrator, the gun and the victims. These facts have remained relatively undisputed, leaving as I believe, a clear-cut avenue for you to pursue in mandating a guilty verdict be returned."

"In a more circumstantial frame of reference, however, additional insight can be offered regarding Mr. Picante himself. The defendant has been arraigned, time and again, and brought before the Federal Grand Jury on multiple charges in the past, many of them similar in nature to this case. In many of those instances, however, Nicholas Picante has been like a paper airplane - folded and creased, ready to fly away from a system of justice full of loop-holes and red tape. We cannot, and do not even suggest we're trying the man for those episodes. It does, however, depict an individual who has a grand history of successfully evading the wheels of justice repeatedly. With this case, however, we get to look at a man who has not been able to repeat it this time. His paper wings, if you'll permit, have unfolded in this instance and turned back into that of the plain paper from which they were created, leaving him helplessly grounded. As you've seen on display here, there are no words, no scenarios, no evidence - nothing to refute the act for which he stands trial."

"Perhaps there is one matter we only touched on, that should be given equal due process. You may have noted that both I and my defense counterpart, have been reluctant to address motive in this series of events. I'm unsure as to the reasoning by my counterpart, but mine is rather simple and straight-forward: it does not matter. All the evidence we've presented, has been created from a timeline that began with two witnesses, and the fallout of the investigation afterwards. You've seen how concretely these facts have been established. They are absolute and irrefutable. Why then, did this happen at all? Why did Nick Picante show up, waiting in the parking lot that afternoon, for the two victims to appear?"

Mr. Banks paused for effect, before continuing. "We didn't establish motive because, from an outside point of view, we realized it could be for a great number of reasons. Perhaps the two were old friends who had a dispute, or perhaps they were rivals, where Mr. Dorsette encroached upon something that Mr. Picante thought was his territory. Those, plus other possibilities, certainly exist, but I'll say it again: the act itself, and the evidence for which all elements have been established, is indisputable. However, the defendant took the law into his own hands for reasons we don't know, and, quite frankly, we do not rightly find it to be of concern. The actions resulted into a double-homicide, where two people, not one, but two, were gunned down in cold blood."

"Mr. Picante is here because two brave individuals, with no ties whatsoever to law enforcement or other government services, witnessed this horrible event, and then came forward of their own free will. Mr. Picante is also here because of the efforts supplied by a department of professional resources, all of whom expedited their investigation in a timely and commendable manner. More disturbing, however, is the fact that Mr. Picante is here because he sought to think himself outside the law. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, Nicholas Picante is here because he was caught, with a combination of efforts that has provided you with clear and convincing evidence. Do your duty, please. Without question, this individual needs to be incarcerated for this crime, to prevent it from happening again. He needs to be found, in a simple word, guilty. Thank you."

Alex, listening and hanging onto every word, suddenly sat back in his seat with relief. His father, seated next to him, smiled and placed an arm around his son's shoulders, squeezing warmly. Alex glanced across and saw his mother let go a huge sigh of relief as well. Then the family, with the rest of the audience, watched as Mr. Banks gathered his notes and returned to his seat. With a quick glance in their direction, the man spied the family and smiled at them, before nodding and taking his seat. Alex was grateful they were now approaching the end.

As the family returned their attention to the courtroom, they saw the lawyer for the defense stand silently, pausing for a moment before asking to approach the bench. As Mr. Banks joined them, there was a quiet, brief discussion amongst the three, before both attorneys stepped away and returned to their seats. Judge Moore then cleared his throat. "We have had a request to break due to extenuating circumstances, and thus postponing closing arguments for the defense until tomorrow morning. I am thus so ordering that we adjourn, to return tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM, where we will hear the final arguments of the case before going into deliberations." Rapping his gavel, the man rose. The rest of the courtroom rose with him, maintaining silence until the judge exited into his chambers.

As soon as the judge had disappeared, the entire courtroom came alive, with people emphatically chatting and discussing what had just happened. Alex noted for the first time, members of the press corps were rushing away to report the progress thus far, something he found amusing. As this was a federal trial, pictures were not allowed inside the courtroom, but that did not prevent the press being present he realized, perhaps for the first time.

The family watched as the defendant was led away, and noted that his attorneys began packing up their notes and various notebooks at their table. No one, it seemed, appeared to be talking or chatting amongst the group, which was in stark contrast to Mr. Banks group on the other side of the aisle, where a multitude of people converged upon them, including what appeared to be some of the reporters.

Alex was about to turn to his parents when all three were suddenly surprised by a familiar face approaching them. "Hello there," came the friendly voice of Mike Dory. The family cordially greeted the man, before he continued. "If I may, I need to escort you folks back to the waiting room for just a few minutes. Mr. Banks will join us there shortly, I'm sure."

Surprised, Richard simply nodded acceptance, and all three followed the man as requested. Once they were in the room, Mike closed and secured the door before remaining inside with them. The agent turned one a plastic chair around so he could straddle it and face the family as they sat down. "I'm sure it won't be long. So, what did you think in there? Nice closing, wasn't it?"

Something about the man's attitude caused Alex to hesitate as he furrowed his brow. Although he had felt favorably toward the agent before, something now seemed to be totally off, or different. The man's eyes were darting about the room furtively, and his face held a certain hollowness that looked like he hadn't slept in days. Alex wasn't the only one who seemed to detect the difference either, as his father decidedly answered using a carefully measured tone. "I would say so, yes. It was an interesting closure, especially that reference to paper airplanes."

Mike smiled, but there was little warmth in the expression. "I think I can help with that, if you like. As I understand it, it's been reported that since a very young age, Nicholas had always been fascinated with making paper airplanes. He would buy books, or rather, his family would find him books, on every shape or form about them that they could uncover. He supposedly spent hours making them and letting them fly all over the neighborhoods where he grew up. Kind of a fetish, I think. My bet is that the attorney uncovered that little detail somewhere along the way, and decided to use it as an analogy."

Patty scoffed. "Well, unusual, I guess, but that would make sense." An eerie silence followed then, with Mike simply sitting and watching all three of them closely. Alex frowned, because of the growing uneasiness he felt. Although the teen did not believe in the paranormal sixth-sense that some people presumed existed, he was definitely feeling like something was subconsciously putting him on alert. Eventually the feeling became unbearable. Alex climbed to his feet. "Um, is it okay if I go to the bathroom?"

The agent seemed to suddenly come out of a trance just then. "Sure, you know where it is, through that door and to the right," Mike replied in a neutral tone. Alex proceed then to exit the room as casually as he could, but once the door shut behind him, his heightened sense of awareness suddenly went into overdrive. Outside, there were no guards or agents standing nearby as there had been days before. In fact, the entire corridor was empty. Only the night before, Mr. Banks had told them all they would remain under close scrutiny, unchanged since their arrival, until they departed and were done. That was NOT what the teenager saw now.

Quickly, Alex hurried further down the corridor and into the main hall, arriving just in time to see the U.S. Attorney appear in the distance, looking about in various directions frantically. Two men were with him, replicating his actions, until one of them spotted Alex. "There's one of them, there!" he cried, pointing.

Alex suddenly started waving his hands frantically, and as the men rapidly approached, the teen called out to them. "Quick, come quick!" Before they caught up, however, the teen turned and rushed back toward the waiting room. Seconds later, Mr. Banks and his assistants quickly caught up. "In here!" Alex whispered hoarsely, before punching the coded sequence that he knew would unlock the door.

Once the door was opened, the scene inside the room had turned into one of total chaos. Chairs were overturned, books were strewn everywhere, and the room's single table was upended. In one corner near them was Alex's mother, collapsed and unmoving on the floor. Elsewhere, Richard and Mike were both engaged in a struggle, where at the moment Richard was being held by the agent from behind, with one arm curled around his neck. As Alex looked on, his father was frantically trying to free himself by shoving an elbow into the agent's side. Realizing the danger this position posed, he drove with extra effort, trying to break the hold that threatened to strangle him. Alex took a step forward, but then saw his father drive yet another blow, this one landing hard into the agent's gut. Although Mike gasped, the effort failed as he tightened his hold even further.

What drove Alex to react as he did, he didn't know. Even later the teen would not be able to recall exactly what he did, or how. Seeing his father's struggle in front of him, and noting the determined face of the agent behind him, caused the teenager to pick up a thick, hardback volume from the floor. Then with a careful but swift aim, the teenager threw it hard toward both men. When it arrived however, amazingly enough the volume's edge landed right above the agent's right temple. With the full book's weight and force of throw, the agent howled with pain and finally loosened his grip, which Richard took quick advantage of. Turning, he was able to this time drive a fist into man's gut, followed by lifting his right knee into his opponent's groin. That combination sent Mike sprawling backward, tripping over a set of overturned chairs behind him. Losing his balance, the agent fell hard to the floor.

By that time, one of the U.S. Attorney's assistants had rushed past Alex and quickly apprehended Mike into the corner of the room. Without another thought, Alex then quickly turned his attention to his mother. Mr. Banks was already beside her, checking her out as Alex fell to his knees and leaned forward. "Mom? Mom!?" the teen desperately called out, looking for any signs of response. He then heard a groan and saw his mother take a deep breath, which gave the teen a momentary rush of relief. As the teen took her hand and quietly held it, his eyes teared up with relief, especially when Patty started opening her eyes.

By that time, more people began arriving in and outside the room, where for the first moment it appeared pure bedlam had broken loose. Another agent entered, gun drawn, and glaring at the men struggling in the corner. It was all over though, as soon as Mike spied the weapon pointed directly at him. The agent knew he was caught completely by then, and he quietly ceased struggling, surrendering as he watched Richard work himself free, to stumble in the direction of his wife and son. Another agent entered, also with gun drawn, but upon seeing the scene was under control, the man quickly holstered his weapon and approached. Now with four agents surrounding Mike, he allowed himself to be handcuffed uneventfully, before he was pushed roughly into a chair that had been righted for him.

When the chaos had dialed down, it was Mr. Banks who stood and watched as Patty slowly climbed to her feet. "Careful now, young lady, don't do this too fast," he advised, but the woman ignored him. When she stood steadily, the man smiled grimly and then turned, addressing the various people around him. "Get these folks some medical attention, and then return them directly to their apartment. Get them out, and I mean now. Charles, you and James are in charge, understood? Go, I think I want to have a little talk with this man here, before we send him down to the basement."

Alex and his parents were then quickly ushered away from the room. Outside, the three were taken through a series of corridors none had been thru before, until they suddenly descended a flight of steps. Once at the bottom, they found themselves shepherded into the building's parking garage. Near the door was parked a series of black SUVs, and they were guided to one of the nearest before being ushered into the back. Upon being seated, Alex immediately recognized Anthony sitting behind the wheel, which caused the teenager to give a sudden start. The agent, however, turned and grinned at him, holding both hands up, palms empty. "Hey, it's okay! Don't be alarmed, Mr. James will be here any second, you'll see!"

Sure enough, only seconds passed before the passenger door opened and James stepped inside. Seating himself with the family, the man said little initially, except to motion for Anthony to proceed. Alex breathed easier then and noted that as they left the garage, they were joined by two more vehicles, one each ahead and behind them. The family sat in silence however, as the group moved quickly through the streets, only to turn moments later into the emergency entrance of a local hospital.

"I must apologize to each of you folks, and express my deepest, sincerest regrets," James stated, seated across from the trio, looking solemn and defeated.

Only hours before, the family had returned to the apartment, after being cleared and dismissed by emergency room personnel at one of the area hospitals. Their spirits were low, as a feeling of depression enveloped them on all sides, given the recent turn of events. What had begun as an interesting respite for the afternoon, turned into something that was everything but. They had spoken little, other than Patty had grabbed hold of Alex and clung to him desperately after leaving the hospital. For the first time since leaving the safety of their home, the danger had suddenly become real for her. More than once, she had wept silently while watching the hospital staff examine her husband and herself, to ascertain the extent of their injuries. Neither required bandages, as there were no physical wounds other than a slight swelling along Patty's upper side where her head had hit the floor. They were all grateful it was not worse than a few scratches and bruises that had been found otherwise.

Some of the details of what had happened were filtered down to them slowly. Once the door had shut behind Alex when he left the room, Mike had quickly stood and announced that he, too, needed to make use of the restroom. As he had started for the door, however, Richard stood and blocked his way. **"Shouldn't you wait for Alex to return, first?"** he asked, his suspicions deeply heightened by that point. That was when Mike suddenly threw a right punch into the side of Richard's jaw, causing him to stagger backwards and fall against the table. Immediately, Patty stood up, but before she could mount any assistance for her husband, the agent struck her not once, but twice, sending her backwards haphazardly into the bookcase and set of chairs. She had then tripped and collapsed immediately to the floor.

Mike then started for the door again, only to be tackled by Alex's father as he was readying to exit, and thus the two men pursued to fight between them. Though Richard was far from a weakling in any shape or size, compared to the agent, he knew he was outmatched in both fighting skill and prowess. Their physical altercation had not taken long, as Alex found out upon his quick return with help.

"I really have no words for you outside of that," James continued. "I'm unsure where the overall process broke down, and I suspect it will be some time before we learn all the necessary details. Mike Dory has been a member of my staff for twenty-plus years, and I'm personally floored by his actions today."

"Well, we came out of it okay, that's the important thing," Richard replied, though tiredly. "I'm not sure you should be blaming yourself, though. I suspect the man has been pretty adept at staying under the radar."

James grunted. "He has passed every drug test, psychological evaluation, background check - you name it, repeatedly. For obvious reasons, we don't let people reach this level of security without a very thorough vetting. To top it all, Mike was one of my personal picks into this detail. I originally sponsored him, see. He has often worked with me one-on-one with various, highly specialized projects that needed the utmost security. So, you can imagine the humiliation I feel right now."

"Like my husband said, I doubt any of it was your fault," Patty spoke up softly.

"You are exceedingly kind, both of you, but that does not negate the fact of what he almost pulled off here, today," James admonished, mostly to himself. "What that may be exactly, I'm unsure, but I do believe we will get to the bottom of it eventually."

"You aren't the only one, though. He fooled me, too. Well, mostly anyway," Alex spoke up. When James gave the teen a questioning look, he continued. "I talked with him a little on the way up here, Monday. On the flight, I mean. He seemed, I don't know, like he went out of his way being friendly and everything to me. I thought he was just trying to make me feel better or something, because I admit, my nerves were getting pretty rough at the time, with as long as it was taking Mom and Dad to get here." Alex made a face. "The only thing I remember that was kind of odd, was he said something about having a good 'lady boss', as he called it. I thought, well, you were his boss."

James snorted, then reflected on that little tidbit. "Interesting, I thought so too, to tell the truth. Whatever he meant, I have no idea, really. I don't even know any female in my direct chain of command, above or below." They could tell the man was filing that piece of information away for future reference. There was a considerable pause before the sighed again. "Well, for whatever its worth, you folks are heading home tomorrow. I know, it's long overdue. Jonathan and I have been discussing the strategy here, and we think for now it is the best for all of us, if we get you released and back into Indiana. Just so you know, I actually tried to see if I could get you out tonight, but unfortunately all of our available resources are booked up until morning. I'll have a plane available tomorrow, however, at around 10:30 in the morning, give or take. So, if you will, let's plan for you to leave here around an hour before that."

"Will we be going back in two planes again?" Alex asked timidly.

James smiled. "No, son. I think with Mike's capture, combined with the fact the trial is now over and your testimony is a matter of official record before the jury, I suspect we'll start seeing a change in the amount of attention you folks have been getting. I will grant you, in some cases there is always an outright fear of retaliation of some sort, but I suspect you won't have to worry about that here. Just to be sure, however, we'll still closely monitor everything, don't get me wrong, and that is not a weak, word-of-mouth promise, either. You see, we have to monitor things like this because it's our job. You'll find we'll be watching out for you for quite a while, I think. Insofar as the system goes, you'll still be members of WITSEC, and you'll probably stay that way for the better part of your life. The difference, however, is that as long as no one goes off-grid and disappears, you'll always have me or my replacement to help you along. It would be prudent that you keep us abreast of where you're at overall, but in return we'll loosen the bolts that have held you down so tightly for the last few years."

"Seriously?" Patty asked.

"Yes, I'm serious. Also, the money you're been receiving is yours, and it will continue to be issued monthly at least through the end of this fiscal year, which is September 30th. In fact, it will probably continue through into next year as well, because I can imagine you're still getting a lot of things in your life put back together, especially after that fire. WITSEC may have not been responsible for that, but we take extreme pride in making sure you're given everything needed to rebuild yourselves in this kind of situation, after the trial is done. It is the least we could do, given you have been living on borrowed time, for helping us to completely put Nick-the-Pick behind bars once and for all." The man paused, leaning back. "Just so you know, insofar as funding goes, be warned that it will stop eventually somewhere down the road. You'll be expected to become self-sufficient and independent in the meantime. Believe me, I have no doubt that you will, given your computer skills," James added with a smile as he looked at Richard. "I've already heard reports of miraculous things you've been doing already for your employer."

James then turned to Alex. "This also affects and includes you, believe it or not. There is a small, shall we say 'rider', within WITSEC that provides assistance for our younger family members who want to go into college. In fact, there are a number of American universities which happen to honor special agreements with us. The type of agreements that are, oh, very much like scholarships. If, and when, you decide to attend one of them before a certain age, you'll find that most, if not all, of your basic expenses will be covered."

Alex stared as Patty leaned back in surprise. "That IS a nice, uh, gesture! Alex will deeply appreciate that, I think!" The teenager, sitting beside her, nodded enthusiastically.

James shrugged. "WITSEC can be intimately cruel sometimes, but in the end, we try to be fair with people who enter the program and actually work with us. Their lives, like yours, are turned inside out at times, not for the favor of protection, but for the need of it. When we can, we want people to have the opportunity to live semi-normal lives as best as possible. Some of them, if you'll pardon the expression, come from rather shitty situations, living in an abysmal hell that stands away from everything they've ever known. We try our best, to bring some level of normalcy back to them. Sometimes, it doesn't work out as neatly as we'd like it to, but there are other times when we get done, it turns out about as virtuous as you can expect." The man sat back in his chair. "Now, there is one thing I highly, highly suggest you consider. It is NOT a requirement, but you have no idea the impact it can have, or the level of importance it represents, but regardless, it is critical."

"And what's that?" Richard asked.

"We recommend you do not return to using your original surnames. Your current name is recognized as Branham, and it is integrated at several layers around the system, including government services, local and national, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security office, and more. To try and reverse that will create a huge mountain of paperwork, with a lot of traceable audits and the like if they get triggered. Please understand, it's not that we're afraid of re-establishing your heritage along with your family name. Mind you, instead this is something that could seriously jeopardize the security you have now achieved for yourselves. It truly is better, I believe, for you to treat your new names as a start over in life, like you've already been doing this year, and let your old one just 'disappear'," James explained. "Your working peers, the schools, everyone there - already know you as you are now. That adds a heightened level of comfort you won't find elsewhere. Does that make sense to you?"

Richard glanced at his wife and son and saw no objection, so he nodded. "I think we can live with that, sure. You won't try to stop us from going back to visit our real families though, right?"

James nodded. "I honestly believe you are now free to do that as you like. I suggest in-person visits to be in order first, and for future communications, it would be best if everyone used your new cell numbers. Sometimes our, uh, people like to discard their numbers when they reach this stage, and you are perfectly free to do so. Consider this, though: each time your phones are used now, the actual numbers go through a system that scrambles any kind of data identifiers the call makes. Also, note - unlike what you see in the movies, we don't listen in to conversations, believe me if you can. We do try to take care of anything outside of that to keep things from being traceable. You'll like that, I think, because as an added convenience, it also keeps scammers and phishing calls to a minimum." All four laughed, and James finally began to relax. "So, enough of this stuff. You folks tell me, what kind of dinner would make you feel better tonight? I know you have to be exhausted, especially after the craziness this afternoon, but I'd really like to try and take you somewhere nice for a change. Especially as a personal thank you for not blistering my rear end for Mike's actions. If you don't object, I'll see if my wife can join us too, and I'll put in a call to Mr. Banks. Given today's adventure though, and the fact he and the defense team have been holed up with the judge all afternoon, I'm fairly certain he'll not be able to join us as he originally planned."

Richard glanced at both Patty and Alex, soliciting their opinions if they had any. When neither spoke, he looked directly at Alex. "Want to do a man-sized excursion, maybe? What do you think?"

Alex hesitated. "Won't that be kind of expensive?"

James turned to the teen. "For once, it's on the department, Alex. Don't worry about expense. Tell me though, what does a man-sized excursion mean?"

Alex grinned. "Well, uh, usually Dad means how about a ribeye. We haven't been to a steak house in ages, I think."

James grinned. "Steak it will be then, and believe it or not, I know just the place!"

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