by Steve Benson
“You full of shit, marshal.”
“Look, I know you got a job to do, but aint no way a U.S. Deputy Marshal gonna put his life on the line for me. Face it. I’m just a punk to you; a worthless little fly on your shoulder. If they put the moves on me, the first thing on your mind would be your wife and kids. You got kids?”
“Your wife then. How long you been married?”
“None of your business. Now finish your breakfast.”
“OK, I get that too. The less that scum like me knows about you and your family, the better. All I’m saying is that you have your priorities. And I don’t blame you for that.”
U.S. Deputy Marshal Joe DeMaio washed down his last bite of toast with a glass of orange juice. He stood, walked across the hotel room and opened the door as far as the chain would allow. Two Muskogee police officers looked back over their shoulders at him. Joe nodded and shut the door. He looked back at Leon Fix who was now standing in front of the mirror, wiping crumbs from his tie. “Let’s go,” Joe said.
“Gimme a minute to get presentable.” Leon replied. He put on his suit coat and brushed at it the same way he did with the tie. “I got to look good for the judge.”
You’re gorgeous,” Joe said as he opened the door. “Now let’s go.”
Both officers turned and looked into the room. “Stay behind Mr. Fix here and don’t be shy about keeping your hands on your weapons,” Joe said to the officers.
The four of them walked down the hallway, Joe in the front, Leon in the middle and the officers bringing up the rear. Leon strutted down the brightly colored carpet, seeming to enjoy the convoy of law enforcement that surrounded him.
“It’s the same with these two cops here,” said Leon. “Lucky if they making forty grand a year, and now their chief tell them to guard me with their lives. With their mother fucking lives! Aint gonna happen.”
“You sound like you’re expecting trouble,” said Joe as he continued to walk toward the elevator. “Anything I should know about.”
“Naw, just talking. That’s all.”
Joe stopped and turned around. “Then shut up and get serious,” he said.
“I am serious marshal. Just want to make sure you are.”
Joe turned and continued on; the others followed. He hoped that there would only be one day of testimony. He’d had his fill of Leon Fix.
The group arrived at the Muskogee County Courthouse and entered through a nondescript side entrance where they met Chief Bailiff Stewart. Boxes of court records teetered halfway to the ceiling of the small musty room. Stewart stood next to the only desk in the room; his face craggy and suspicious. Joe had met with Stewart the day before so there were no security check points or metal detectors. Stewart did a quick pat down of Leon and then signed off on the police officer’s escort papers so they could leave.
“We’re going to leave through that door,” said Stewart as he pointed his meaty finger. Joe noticed a dried splotch of shaving cream under Stewart’s left ear. “We’ll make a right and two lefts. We’ll enter the courtroom through a wooden swinging door with a small window in it. Fix, you sit with your attorney and Deputy Marshal DeMaio will sit behind you in the gallery. Any questions?”
“Yeah, I got one,” said Fix. “What a nigga gotta do to get a cup of coffee?”
Stewart’s flat top haircut seemed to bristle at Fix’s question, like a dog whose fur had been stroked the wrong way. He sighed, looked from Leon to Joe and spoke. “He does know he’s white, right?”
Joe couldn’t help but chuckle at Stewart’s question and the unexpressive way he’d asked it. “I think they call it race confusion,” Joe replied.
“Shit. I know I’m white. I’m just being who I am. Ghetto aint got no color.” Leon smiled wide revealing two gold plated canines. “It’s all attitude.”
A bailiff, a Deputy Marshal and a low level meth transporter walk into a courtroom. As Joe looked through the small window on the side door to the courtroom, he thought of this joke setup but couldn’t pin down a good punch line. The jurors were already out and sitting at the opposite end of the room. To Joe’s right was the judge’s bench and to his left were the prosecution and defense tables with the gallery directly behind them. Leon’s attorney sat with the prosecutor while the defendant and his attorney chatted back and forth at the other table.
“Show time,” said Stewart. He pushed the door open and held it as first Leon and then Joe walked in.
Leon sat down next to his attorney. Joe stood for a moment, looking at the people seated in the gallery. The first row was filled with suits and stern faces. He guessed DEA. The others seemed to be a mix of media and curious members of the public. One small group on the back row of the defense side of the room had him concerned. He recognized them as relatives of Marco Trujillo, the defendant. Two armed bailiffs stood behind them on either side of the main courtroom entrance, so Joe was somewhat reassured. He walked to the first row of the gallery and stared at two men until they both scooted in opposite directions, opening up a spot directly behind Leon. Joe sat down and noticed a strong odor of cologne on the men who sat on each side of him. Yep, definitely DEA.
“All rise,” said Bailiff Stewart from the front of the courtroom as the judge entered through the chamber door. “The Honorable Judge Thomas Stoffers now presiding.”
Joe noticed that Stewart’s eyes were darting around the courtroom as the judge made his way to the bench. He hoped that the bailiffs at the back of the courtroom were as serious as Stewart.
“You may be seated,” said Judge Stoffers as he sat down. He placed his glasses on the end of his nose and began reading a file on his desk.
From behind him, Joe could hear the beginnings of a commotion. A male voice spoke in irritated tones. “He was set up. He didn’t do nothing.”
The outburst was followed by a female voice shushing him. Joe assumed it was members of Trujillo’s family. Bailiff Stewart moved several steps toward the gallery. His eyes were on whoever was making the disturbance. Joe could again see the dried shaving cream under Stewart’s ear. He smiled, realizing that Stewart was just too damned imposing for anyone to tell him about it. The male voice at the back of the courtroom grew louder but Joe, unlike the DEA Agents who surrounded him, kept his head forward. What happened behind him was the bailiff’s business. His business was currently sitting in from of him wearing a mustard yellow suit and scratching the back of his shaved head.
“Bailiffs, please escort that gentleman from the courtroom,” Stewart said. Joe could hear the footsteps as the bailiffs did as they were told.
“Get the fuck away from me. I’m gonna be heard. My brother didn’t do nothing!” Stewart stepped forward even further, he was now standing between the defense and prosecution tables.
“Bailiffs, get him under control!” he said. Joe could now hear shuffling as the bailiffs grabbed at the man. A woman began to cry and plead with the man to calm down but he continued.
“Get offa me cops! I can say what I want!” One of the gallery benches scraped across the hardwood floor as the bailiffs wrestled with the man. Stewart was now standing at the gate that separated the gallery from the front of the courtroom. He opened the gate and stepped through to help the other two bailiffs.
Just as the gate swung shut, Trujillo stood from his seat at the defense table. Joe was the only law enforcement officer who saw him get up. The bailiffs were still trying to get Trujillo’s family out of the courtroom and the rest of them were watching the show.
Trujillo ran toward the front of the prosecution table, he was staring directly at Leon Fix. Joe put his hand in his jacket and grabbed his gun. There was something in Trujillo’s right hand but he was moving too fast for Joe to see what it was. Trujillo came to a stop in front of the prosecution table. The judge, who could also see what was happening, yelled for Stewart, but he was too far away to do anything.
Joe leaned to his left and pulled his gun out. He was practically laying on a DEA agents lap. Trujillo pulled back his right arm, meaning to stab fix. Joe could see it now, Trujillo was holding a pen. Joe aimed at Trujillo’s chest and pulled the trigger. The pen, which was halfway to its target, fell onto the table while Trujillo fell backward to the floor. The Muskogee County Court emblem on the front of the judge’s bench was now coated with a layer of Trujillo’s blood.
Joe could again hear a commotion behind him, this time much louder. The thirty or so people in the gallery were now trying to run through the double door entrance to the courtroom at the same time while Trujillo’s family screamed and cried. Joe jumped over the railing to the front of the courtroom, grabbed Fix by the back of his collar and pulled him to his feet. They exited through the same side door that they had entered through earlier and didn’t stop until they were again in the room where Stewart had met them. Joe pushed Fix into a chair in the corner of the room.
“Sit down and keep your mouth shut.” Joe pulled his cell phone out with his left hand while still pointing his gun at the door with his right. He called the first Deputy he saw in his contact list, U.S. Deputy Chuck Miller. Miller answered on the first ring.
“What’s up DeMaio?” Miller said.
“Miller, listen up. There was an attempt on my witness’s life. I’m currently in a storeroom in the Muskogee County Courthouse. I need backup ASAP! I shot the perp, it was the defendant. Get someone here as soon as you can. Bailiffs tend to get itchy trigger fingers when you shoot up one of their courtrooms.”
Joe ended the call and looked down at Fix. “Are you OK? Any injuries?”
“No,” said fix as he patted himself, looking for stab wounds or bullet holes.
“Good, just sit tight. The cavalry will be here soon.”
“Hey marshal, thanks for proving me wrong,” said Fix. “You still crazy for doing it, but thanks.”
“Just my job Fix. You’re court property and I’m protecting it. Nothing more.”
Fix slowly nodded his head. Joe thought that it was the first time he’d seen anything close to a deep thought in his expression.
“Still…thanks,” said Fix.
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Steve Benson was born in Corpus Christi Texas and has lived most of his life in the American Midwest. He currently lives in Merida Mexico with his wife Jill. Steve has collaborated with Jill on writing and creating two short films. They are currently working together on a feature length script, a ghost story set in the 1870’s. Imagine Cabin in the Woods meets Little House on the Prairie. This is Steve’s second novel.
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Remedy Diner by Sally Davies