In the kitchen, the Shark’s husband handed her a travel mug with hot coffee, Raven’s Brew. Best Christmas gift he had ever given her. “Do you get to cross examine today, Jan?”
She took the mug. “Finally.”
Her husband clacked his teeth. Normally, he wouldn’t have taken an interest in a case; he would have only known a limited amount about it. It was unusual for the city’s Prosecuting Attorney to handle this kind of trial, the stabbing death of a thirty year old black prostitute. It might not even have been thoroughly investigated except for the circumstances. But this was about much more than a single woman and her killer. That clack meant, Eat him up. Jan kissed her husband. She clacked her teeth back.
She had fought to keep this trial closed to the public because of its gruesome nature, and because the defendant was a charismatic gang leader. But she lost that battle, and the courthouse was more like a circus grounds with the defendant arriving each day in ever more elaborate limousines with ever more obsequious chauffeurs. The judge who had granted bail was right about one thing: Shaun Devry was anything but a flight risk. He liked the way his neatly braided cornrows looked in the limelight. But, in the end, Jan was glad he had insisted upon his sixth amendment rights. All of his charisma couldn’t stand up against his dental records and a soft spoken ten year old girl.
Makiah Henderson was as tough on the inside as she appeared to be weak on the outside. Her vehement certainty had driven police and prosecutors from the beginning. The responding officers reported that she was quaking when she crawled out from under the bed where her mother’s body sprawled. But she whispered the same thing over and over. “Shaun Devry killed the best Mama I ever had. You go put him in prison. Ain’t that what you cops do?”
Jan used a mock courtroom as part of the girl’s preparation. She had expected the child to be so intimidated by the setting that she might make a poor witness. Children were rarely comfortable in such adult surroundings. But she found that the only instruction Makiah needed was to speak loudly and enunciate clearly. Makiah walked to Jan at their first meeting and asked, “Can I see your teeth?”
“My teeth? What for?”
“Aunt Tish swears they come out of your mouth just like a shark’s.”
Jan bared an awkward grin and even let Makiah tap her incisors until the girl was satisfied that the prosecutor’s bite was only metaphorical. After that, she was a model witness. She was steadfast in her testimony, and nothing Jan said could rattle her from her position. In preparation, and again in court, she said, “Shaun was mad because he said Mama stole some money off of him.”
“How much money?” Jan asked.
“He say… said a thousand.”
Jan hated the next question, because it felt like putting the victim, instead of the the criminal, on trial. But if she didn’t ask it, the defense attorney would. “Do you know if she had, in fact, stolen the money?”
“Depends on how you look at it,” said Makiah. “She earned that money working on her back. The way she saw things, he’s the one stole it from her.” In court, the defense attorney challenged that assertion, but the judge let it stand. Makiah was not herself accusing the defendant of anything in this instance. She was simply answering a question.
“Can you tell us what happened on the day your mother was killed.”
“Shaun and Mama used to go around together, back when she was pretty, so he come by to get the money himself. Only she wouldn’t give it to him, and they took to fighting. I was in the bedroom when he busted in, and I hid under the bed.”
The defense attorney tried to turn that statement on Makiah, asking, “If you were under the bed, how could you be sure it was Mr. Devry in the apartment?”
Makiah said, “I know his voice. And I peeped out the door to see what he was going to do to my mama. He never saw me. When I saw he had a knife, I grabbed her phone and got out of sight. But I couldn’t get a signal, and then he chased her into the bedroom and up on the bed. She was bleeding pretty bad, and I was too scared, and I kept quiet. He kept saying, ‘You see these teeth? The better to eat you with, my dear. Give me that money.’”
“And what did your mother say?”
“Not a word. She screamed and screamed, but she didn’t say a thing.”
On the first day of the trial, nine silent women had materialized in the viewing gallery. They had not missed so much as an hour of the proceedings that followed. Jan only knew one of them, whom she had prosecuted on a drug charge early in her career, long before she had achieved an elected office. But she still recognized the pocked scar that ran in a circle on the woman’s cheek. She had always thought it looked like a bite, but now she knew it for sure. It wasn’t hard to guess how she had gotten it, given the current situation. They had never spoken to her, these nine. But Jan felt a connection with the strangers who waited each day.
When Makiah testified, they looped their arms over each other’s shoulders and stared right at the little girl. She looked back at them the whole time she was answering questions. Impossible to say what passed between them, but the child was rock solid. They didn’t grant news interviews, although their daily arrival together in identical sleeveless dresses certainly garnered media attention. All of them were marked in some way. Lateisha, the one Jan knew from the years-old drug prosecution, had the most visible wound, that white scar on her black cheek. Jan thought, though she couldn’t be sure, that this was Makiah’s Aunt Tish, the one who told the girl that the prosecutor had a retractable jaw. Another woman was missing an earlobe. Still another had an oblong mark on her shoulder. A third carried a series of cuts on her collarbone. Jan had an idea that, had she wished to do so, she could have devoted a week’s testimony to the women Shaun Devry had bitten or maimed and still not interviewed all his victims.
She felt them sitting behind her all day long, and every time she got up, she felt a palpable rush of emotion. It rode forward with her to the witness stand or the judge’s bench. Once, she looked back and caught Lateisha’s eye. The woman nodded to Jan, almost imperceptibly, like she was saying Yes, you did feel that. That was our energy blowing in your sails. And then Jan moved on like nothing had happened. It wouldn’t do to expose her secret weapon.
Today, Jan didn’t even turn her head as she joined her team. She didn’t need to look to feel the row of women at her back. Everyone rose as the judge entered. Then, they sat and he called the courtroom to order.
The defendant resumed the stand, where he had spent the better part of the day before suggesting that Makiah was so distraught by her mother’s death that she had been in error to point to him and say, “That man. He’s the one that killed my best Mama. “
Today, he was sure to argue that the bite marks found on the victim’s body didn’t match his teeth, even though the dentist who had recently pulled two of those teeth had already been subpoenaed and had given evidence. Based on his testimony when his own lawyer led him through the dance, Shaun planned to claim the dentist, too, had him confused with someone else. Someone who happened to have the same name and bite pattern except for two extra teeth on the bottom.
Jan did not expect his cocky demeanor to waver in the face of her cross examination, but she thought his attitude would hurt his status with the jury rather than helping him. There were parents in that box, parents who had wept when Makiah looked at them one by one, like she was memorizing their faces.
Shaun Devry threw a shining white grin in Jan’s direction, and she forced her own body and face to remain neutral. If he thought he could charm her, so much the better. The easier to twist his own words upon him. The better to eat him with.
When the time came, Jan got up to begin her cross examination. She drew in a deep breath through her nose. She liked what she smelled. There was blood in the water, and Shaun Devry, beaming around the courtroom like the guest star on a morning talk show, didn’t seem to realize it was his own. She approached the stand without opening her mouth, savoring that red iron odor. Behind her closed lips, the Great White Shark clacked her teeth. Never had she looked so forward to doing her job.
I gave Diane this prompt: Blood rained down from the ceiling, but Jack refused to acknowledge it. His wife came in for breakfast and looked up. “Stupid demon,” she muttered. “Can we just eat at I-Hop today?”
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.