When We Were Married Ch. 03AbyDanielQSteele1©
My name is William Maitland. I'm an Assistant State Attorney in Jacksonville, Florida. Until three months ago I thought I was happily married to the gorgeous, big breasted and long-legged Debbie Bascomb who was helping me raise our teenage daughter and son.
Then one night she said four words that at the time I think she regretted but which in hind sight was probably the best thing that could have happened because at least it gave me a heads up on what was coming my way. She asked me for a divorce within three weeks, started having her 28-year-old lover started spending nights in my house, and things got nasty on both sides.
It looked like we were headed for a Twilight of the Gods epic court battle when a friend of mine showed her copies of emails between herself and her current lover, exchanged when she was lying through her teeth that there was no "there" there. It kind of knocked the wind out of her sails and she very meekly agreed to my conditions for a divorce.
We made our goodbyes while I was half naked and sweating it out at an Avondale gym where she had surprised me late that night in an attempt to apologize – I think – for falling out of love with me. She surprised me by showing up and I could see it in her eyes that I had surprised the hell out of her by transforming myself from a Pillsbury dough boy to a shaved-head, merely out-of-shape middle-aged guy.
I think there were other things she might have said, but it was too late. Entirely too late. So here I am the following Monday trying not to look backward but forward to the trial of a man who had murdered his wife, the love of his life. I'd murdered my marriage. He murdered his wife. And I had to decide his fate.
Monday - July 11, 2005 – 9 a.m.
As I walked into the office I heard the buzzing start. It grew louder with every step I took, every floor I rode up in the elevator, everyone who got on or off the elevator stared at me for a second, then tore their eyes away quickly. I got out of the fifth floor and walked to my office. The whispering, an occasional gasp, followed in my wake. I began to wonder if this was the way Great Whites felt as they glided past schools of potential prey.
Cheryl just stared at me wordlessly as I walked into my office at 8:30 a.m., hours late for me, and opened up the Bingham file.
Charles Bingham was on trial today for killing his wife Mabel by injecting five times the amount of morphine she'd been receiving into her veins. It was enough to depress her breathing sufficiently to kill her. It was an open and shut case in a way. He had confessed.
But, unfortunately, I had devoted a bit more time to an open and shut case than a prosecutor usually does, because it was so open and shut. I'd found out things I didn't want to find out. And now I had to play God; Literally. I do a lot of that figuratively, but today it was for real.
I was lost in the notes when I heard Cheryl clear her throat. She was standing inside the door. I looked up at her. She almost jumped.
"What's going on here, Cheryl?"
"Bill – Mr. Maitland. Uh....."
"Is my zipper open?"
"Nooooo...Mr. M – do you....I mean...have you.......do you know..."
She gestured vaguely in my direction.
"What are you talking about?"
She said, "Wait a minute," and came back a moment later with a large, hand-held mirror.
"Mafia? What in the hell?'..."
She took a deep breath.
"You look like you could have walked out of a 'Sopranos' casting call. The shaved head. You're dressed all in black. You're so damned pale you look white against that black. You look like a Mafia hit man. Or a damned vampire. You look scary."
"Close the door and sit down," I told her.
"You know I shaved my head last Thursday. You saw me Friday. I'm wearing black because – well I haven't really been keeping up with my laundry, since...Anyway, this was the cleanest outfit I had and it matches. Deb....used to....I'm not the world's best at matching my own clothes. It was just simpler to wear this outfit. If it looks a little spooky, so much the better. And I'm not much paler than I ever am. I just never get any sun anymore."
She looked at me again and just shook her head.
"I guess that all makes sense, but Jesus Christ, Bill, you're flat-assed spooky."
"Maybe it'll spook some defense attorneys to plead instead of fighting. That would be nice."
She just shook her head. And backed out. I started to look through the files in front of me. There was another knock at the door. I yelled at Cheryl, "Come in."
A man walked in. Not many people can do that, but Carl Cameron had been covering this beat as well as doing general assignment and feature writing almost as long as I'd been with the State Attorney's Office. Like any good reporter, he'd nurtured a relationship with me and he worked it. I wasn't in love with the guy, but he was a decent sort and sometimes you need the press on your side.
He took one look at me and did a double take.
"Gee, Cheryl was right. You are flat-assed spooky."
"Thank you, and why the hell did you turn down Jessica Stephens' offer to share a bed with you?"
The smile was wiped out.
"That's crossing the line. I've never done anything about your divorce, and I know more shit about that than you'd ever want getting out."
That stopped me. I'd known him to some extent for more than eight years, and I'd never gotten under his skin. He was always professional. You could never tell for sure if he was being friendly or working a source, and the few times I'd had to give him a professional bruising he was able to shake it off and we went back to where we'd been before. I'd never hit a nerve.
"I didn't....shit, you are in love with her, aren't you?"
He gave me a look that might have made some men shut up. Carl was a pencil pusher, but definitely not a pencil necked geek, to use the old expression. He was no taller than me but as wide as a door and probably outweighed me by 60 or 70 pounds, not much of which appeared to be fat. He was just solid up and down. He had dark black hair, a permanent 5 o'clock shadow like Richard Nixon on steroids, and he looked more like a college blocker than anything else. Right now he looked like a pissed-off blocker.
"I don't want to go there, Mr. Maitland. Let's get it back on track."
I nodded, but couldn't help adding, thinking of her seeming to become thinner and more ethereal every time I saw her, "You know she's head over heels in love with you? I'm not going to give anybody love advice, but you are one stupid fucker if you let her get away from you for the reason she told me."
"She told you?"
"I thought you knew everything, Carl. Couple of months ago we went out drinking. We almost wound up in bed."
I didn't have to be a mind reader to read his thoughts.
"We didn't, but if you don't stop being an idiot she'll be with somebody else. Not because she wants anybody else, but you're stupid to turn down sex with her for – what a stupid damned reason. If it happens, you only have yourself to blame."
He just stared at me and then said, "Like you said, Bill, you're the last damned person on earth to offer any advice on relationships. Not after you threw away the 2nd hottest piece of ass to ever walk these halls. Anyway, I just wanted to talk to you about the Bingham case."
"What? It's nothing all that big time. It's going to be interesting, but –"
"If it's not big time why is the number two guy in this office working it? There's got to be more to it than I can find out on the record."
"There is. Look, if I asked you to let this one slide, would you. Just give it a few paragraphs, page or two and bury it. You don't have to do a quote by quote treatment of the trial itself."
He sat down across from me. I knew his answer before he spoke. He was a reporter. As much as I was a prosecutor.
"Sorry. It's a criminal case and the more you talk, the more I realize this could be a hot one. You know me. I'll be fair, but I can't pass up a story. I'm getting vibes about this thing."
I sighed. I had tried. We had talked one time and he had told me about a girl he'd known when he was a young newspaper reporter down in Sarasota, Florida. Her father had been a reporter in his time and she had been an understanding girlfriend because she said her father had told her the definition of a true reporter was a guy that would get up from the best fuck he'd ever had to follow a siren.
Her father had been that kind of guy, which was why he had been married five times before he keeled over with a heart attack at the age of 49, and Carl was the same kind of guy. I had known he wasn't going to back off, but I had to try.
"There are some – elements – to it that are out of the ordinary, Carl. If you're going to cover this, try to be – as gentle as you can. Can I ask you that?"
He looked at me with a questioning look on his face.
"What the hell is going on, Bill? I've never known you to worry that much about the feelings of a criminal defendant, not in a murder case. Even one of these mercy killing cases."
"This is...this is a little different. I can't explain right now, but you'll see what I'm talking about."
He looked at me and I stared back at him for a few moments, but neither one of us broke the silence. Finally he got up and headed for the door. He stopped just before walking out and looked back at me with his hand on the doorknob.
"You're right, Bill. I do love her. But, it's never going to work. I'd cut off my left nut to make it work, but I can't."
After he left I just looked at the door. It should have made me feel better about myself, but I hated seeing someone more stupid than me.
A half hour later I was in court in Circuit Judge Dominic Dellaro's courtroom. There was no jury. Bingham had already pled guilty to first degree, premeditated murder, and the plea had been accepted. This was basically just a sentencing hearing to introduce information that judge could use in handing down a sentence. It could range anywhere from a visit to the death chamber or a slap on the wrist and warning not to do it again.
Jessica Stephens had made the opening statement for us, outlining the prosecution case. She smiled wanly at me and refused to look in Cameron's direction where he sat in the public section of the seats behind the defense attorney's table.
Dennis Leary, a wild, ash-blonde, florid-faced attorney with the Public Defender's Office had made the defense opening. He wasn't trying to deny – he couldn't with a plea entered and accepted - that his client had murdered his wife, but attempted to play on the judge's heartstrings as he described in detail his client's 52-year marriage and the hell his life had become as the cancer claimed his wife over the past several years.
Leary had a nose redder than the old-time comedian W.C. Fields, could and had drunk three other attorneys under the table in numerous drinking bouts, had fucked- I think – every willing single and/or married female staff member and attorney with the Public Defender's Office, and generally acted like a clown in and out of the courtroom. But he had skinned some of my best assistants alive. I'd tried to hire him away from the Public Defender's Office and Public Defender Johnny August on numerous occasions, but he always turned me down.
"I just plain fucking hate cops and prosecutors, yourself being the notable exception," he said with a grin and what sounded like the remains of a real Irish brogue that robbed the words of their sting. But I think he really did hate cops and prosecutors and he brought that passion to the courtroom. He was better than 90 percent of the defense attorneys making ten times his salary in the private arena.
He looked over at me and raised his eyebrows slightly. He wanted badly to make a joke about my appearance, but he couldn't. He was probably planning for his closing speech right now and enjoying the thrill of sticking it to the prosecution again with a suspended sentence, and probably anticipating it more because it was me he was going to be sticking it to.
He was going to get a nasty surprise today.
I stood up and smiled at Jessica, who was trying with everything in her not to look over at Cameron. Tears glistened in her eyes. Then I addressed Dellaro.
"Your honor, I'd like to call Mr. Bingham to the stand."
Bingham was tall, about six-four, bald, and thin with long arms and legs.. He reminded me of nothing so much as a human preying mantis. He walked slowly and painfully to the witness stand. I knew he had rheumatoid arthritis and it probably did hurt him to walk, but it seemed more than he had no strength, no energy. His wife's long dying had sapped his life force.
I looked at Dellaro. He was a handsome 56-year-old Italian American jurist with a head of black starting to turn silver hair and a proud Roman nose. He smiled at me. More than once while waiting for juries to come back, he and I and several other attorneys and bailiffs had played poker in his office. I usually managed to lose and throw a few dollars his way. It never hurts.
I walked up to stand within a foot of Bingham. He looked at me apathetically. A lot of times when you get a defendant up there they can't hide the fear, the tension. Their lives are on the line. But I didn't read that in Bingham. He really didn't care what happened.
"Mr. Bingham, I'm Assistant State Attorney William Maitland. We've met before. Do you remember me?"
He just nodded.
"You're an honest man, aren't you Mr. Bingham?"
That caught his attention. He opened his eyes wider and said, "I...try to be. I....think my daughters would say I was an honest man."
He glanced over at the public section of the seating and I saw them both. Tall, one dark haired and the other younger daughter sporting long brown hair. They were already wet-cheeked. They tried to smile at him as he looked at them. They had just lost their mother and knew they might lose their father. Even a one or two-year-sentence at his age and with his physical problems meant he might never walk out of prison a free man.
"You didn't attempt to lie when they found you with your wife. You admitted giving her the fatal dose of pain medicine."
He didn't answer. They weren't questions.
I walked back to my table and picked up two items. Returning to the witness stand I handed them to him and he took them with trembling hands. I pointed to the tall, dark haired woman in both pictures. She was in her early 20s in one, smiling with a tall, young dark haired man. The other taken a couple of decades later. She had been tall, but buxom. She had a good body.
"That is your wife, Mabel, isn't it?"
He just nodded and now tears rolled freely down his face.
"She was a really beautiful woman, Mr. Bingham. You were a lucky man."
He looked up at me and licked his dry lips.
"She was so beautiful it hurt to look at her when I met her," he said. "She was too good for me, and I always told her that. We had a wonderful life. And she gave me two of the best daughters a man could ask for."
I looked into his eyes and told him, "I can tell. You obviously loved her very much."
I leaned toward him and lowered my voice. But I knew I could be heard by the judge. Leary leaned forward in his seat trying to hear every word.
"Mr. Bingham, you had two daughters and it's obvious you and she loved each other very much. Would I be correct to assume that you were – happy – in every way?"
He looked at me with a puzzled expression.
"I don't mean to be indelicate, but this is important. You were – physically – compatible?"
Leary almost stood up but sat back, obviously not wanting to waste an objection until he got a better target.
I leaned in closer.
"Please don't take offense. We're both adults. Every one in this courtroom is an adult. You were married. It's a part of life. You had a good physical relationship?"
He looked as if he were retreating into some hidden part of his mind, and then his vision cleared and
He almost whispered, but again his words carried clearly.
"You don't want to talk about that in front of your children, even when they're grown, but yes, we were very physically compatible. To be honest, when we first married I couldn't keep my hands off her. And she- she was a passionate woman."
"You've had a hard life and I know that disease has caused you problems in your later years, but these photos show a young, strong, handsome man. I'll bet the ladies were after you before you married, weren't they?"
He rubbed his lips with his forefinger and looked back at the photos. I could see him almost physically return to a happier period of his life. He smiled and had what could only be a called a guilty expression on his face for a moment. I leaned forward and talked to him, one man to another.
"It's alright, Mr. Bingham. We were all young once. And a guy that looked like you wasn't going to be a saint. I'll bet anything that your daughters never knew about your....adventures...before you met their mother, did they?"
Leary was walking by me and standing in front of the judge, trying as hard as he could to keep his voice down so he couldn't be heard by the public spectators, but he was so loud it was a hard thing to do
"Your honor, I've held my tongue so hard it's starting to turn black and blue, but this is...I'm going to object on the grounds of general squeamishness. I don't know if Mr. Maitland woke up ...aroused...this morning and is trying to get his jollies, or if he really has some voyeuristic tendencies, but bringing us up to speed on my client's early sex life has absolutely nothing to do with this case. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing."
I just looked at Dellaro.
"You've seen me work before, your honor. I promise you this line of question has EVERYTHING to do with this case. Give me a little leeway."
The judge just nodded. On his way back to his table Leary stopped close to me and managed to whisper so no one but he and I and Bingham heard, "You're on thin ice, brother, and I'm going to push you under. Fair warning."
"Mr. Bingham? Do you remember the question?"
He stopped for a moment and stared at his daughters, then looked back at me.
"I wasn't always this burnt out husk of a man, Mr. Maitland. I was young and strong and – I had the normal urges. It wasn't like today. It was the 50s. But, yes, women liked me. And I liked them. I never kept any secrets from Mabel. She knew, but you don't tell your children about stuff like that."
"Thank you for being honest."
I spoke a little louder, so Dellaro could hear me better but Bingham wouldn't be spooked by the change in tone.
"The reason I asked you those questions is that I wanted to understand...your situation as your wife lay dying. You were a young, strong man with normal urges and you married a beautiful passionate woman. You had a good physical relationship. Now I'm going to ask you a difficult question. You were a good looking guy. Women liked you when you were single. Again, I'm not judging you, but people are human. Did you ever – slip? Did you ever go outside your marriage with another woman?"
Leary bounced up like a Jack in the Box, unable to control himself, almost shouting, "Oh shit! Sorry your honor, I apologize. But honestly.. Judge, you have to shut him down before he embarrasses himself and the State Attorney's Office."
Bingham's daughters were standing in their seats and glaring at me.
"Your honor, you've known me for awhile. I don't go on fishing trips without a reason. Give me a little more leeway."
He nodded and I glanced back at Leary. He just shook his head and muttered under his breath just loudly enough that I could hear him, "God, I hate prosecutors."