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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 9 July 2007 - 1:01am.

Chapter 12

The day had finally come for what Debra had incessantly been referring to as ‘the final showdown’. Ron and Denise were noticeably high-strung. It was hard to breathe and each lungful was shallow and labored. The climb of the courthouse steps was a tremendous feat, seemingly insurmountable, and for all the world it felt as though they were marching to their fate on death row. So engrossed in their own thoughts were they that both were startled to find Barbara and Paul standing beside them in the entry chamber.

Paul extended an arm to Ron, placing a firm hand upon his shoulder to reassure him. "Stiff upper lip, old man--as the British would say. You know we're with you all the way."

"Today I feel old, Paul. My feet won't move." You may have to carry me. He tried to force a smile, but couldn't get his facial muscles to respond.

Barbara just took Denise by the arm and stood with her silently, giving sympathetic looks and unspoken subliminal support as needed. There was no need for words between these two.

From down the hall Sims appeared and approached them quickly, a smile of confidence on his face. His outstretched hand shook each of theirs in succession. "Mr. and Mrs. Jameson, today is a great day in your lives. Today you will be free to start over in peace and quiet. Smile and enjoy." He gave Ron a mild slap on the back to emphasize the point.

"I wish I had your confidence, Mr. Sims." Ron was looking weak and shaken. For all his talk about fighting this one to the hilt, he now was afraid he would not have the strength to even lift the sword to do a deed he knew need be done decisively.

"You will, Ron. You will." He spoke the words sincerely, even affectionately and with great sympathy and Ron had no doubt that he meant them. Ron felt to instinctively trust Sims and nodded his assent. Some small degree of confidence began to return, for which he was immensely grateful. Sims now shuffled them off down the hall toward their final goal--freedom.

As they were about to enter the assigned courtroom, Denise suddenly stopped, looking around desperately. "Where is Mom? I need her here." She looked like a frightened little girl in dire need of parental consolation. Puzzled, Ron also began to search for Debra.

"Don't worry, now" Sims interrupted. "She'll be here when needed, I assure you, but not a moment before that. Will you trust me?" Baylor's eyes calmly pleaded with them to have faith and let him do what was required, but things never seemed to go as designed in their lives lately. It was difficult to dredge up even the remotest remnants of faith anymore. Sims waited for their reply. Ron nodded, but Denise was slow to respond, fighting back the doubts she was filled with. After what seemed an interminably long time she finally nodded in a 'what other choice is there' manner and slowly followed Sims into the courtroom.

The first point of focus was naturally the bench where the judge would soon preside. The seat was currently empty. Three men were already seated near the front of the room. Ron thought how very familiar they looked to him, but it was not until they turned around to see who had just entered that his suspicions were verified. The three were Bill, Mose and Hunter. Bill and Mose were the closest thing he had to brothers and had served with him in military duties several years before. Hunter was his only cousin and closest childhood playmate. Huge smiles adorned all the faces of these men. Ron thought how much in contrast he must look, with the stress-worn image and weary frame he now presented. No judge or jury in the country would ever be impressed with him, he knew.

The only one missing from this group was Jonathan, or Jon-Jon as they called him. He, too, was an old service buddy--another brother, really, in the dearest sense. Ron was buoyed up by the presence of these men. They had been such a strength and support to him recently in his misadventures with Ted Randall and had done all and more than most men would ever have done to help save Denise from that madman.

There were a few moments to exchanged greetings and respect and then the court Bailiff entered the room. Ron now noticed for the first time that the County Prosecutor was there, having quietly seated himself while the men were renewing their friendships. The Prosecutor was rising in anticipation of the Bailiff's announcement, which now came without hesitation.

"All rise for the honorable Judge Hallowell. This hearing is now in session." the Bailiff announced. The judge entered and was seated before all others were then invited to sit. It had begun.

Hallowell took and inordinate length of time to look over the papers he had before him, prior to acknowledgement of others in the room. Ron wondered that he had not taken time previously to study them in preparation. When Judge Hallowell did look up, he looked directly at Ron for an uncomfortably long time.

"Mr. Jameson, I wish to remind you that you are not on trial yet."

The choice of words was strange to Ron. Why would he say 'yet'?

"This is a preliminary hearing, where we will determine the need for a proper trial."

Again, a strange choice of words--he had slightly emphasized 'yet' and 'need'. The way he stared at Ron gave cause for concern. It was as if he had already decided their fate, a foregone conclusion in his own mind, and this hearing was simply a formality, a 'going through the motions' to make it all appear legitimate. Ron and Denise both looked to Sims for some small degree of hope and comfort, but Sims was seemingly laser-focused on the judge, his countenance grim and serious. Ron swallowed hard, trying not to be heard as he did so.

The judge continued, "Now, I believe in cutting to the chase. I hope you do, too."

Ron was not certain whether he was expected to speak, but he was beaten to the punch by Sims and held his peace. "Your Honor, my client is prepared to be cooperative in any examination you may wish." The inflection on 'examination' was subtle, but noted.

Of all present in the courtroom, Hallowell alone acted with indifference to Sims, making no notice of him, either verbally or visually. Ron sensed that there might very well be bad blood between them and his misgivings about the hearing returned with a vengeance. Was this the judge that had played such a foul role in the lives of Baylor Sim's parents years ago? Hallowell was indeed old enough that he could easily have been involved in the troubles regarding the faults of the justice system that Sims had witnessed firsthand. If there were contentions here, was this hearing destined to be no more than a grudge match between Sims and Hallowell? A sick feeling suddenly dropped into the pit of Ron's stomach and he looked at Denise, who was also ashen in appearance. Why do I feel like we are to be the lab rats here, Ron wondered.

Through several more exchanges Hallowell addressed Ron, with Sims answering for him each time and with each answer Sims was virtually ignored by Hallowell. Even the County Prosecutor was noticeably puzzled by the behavior he was witnessing.

At this point the door in the rear of the courtroom opened noisily and Ron turned to see Jonathan grinning from ear to ear and carrying a large stack of papers. He came directly to Sims and laid them on the table in front of him. Before he sat down he gave Ron a thumbs up sign. Something was going on here that Ron was not privy to yet, but he had little choice except to be quiet and patient until he knew.

Judge Hallowell eyed the stack of papers suspiciously and for the first time looked at Baylor Sims long enough to acknowledge awareness of his presence. It was not a friendly look by any stretch of the imagination. Sims chuckled quietly to himself as he began to organize the stack of papers before him. Ron noticed the furtive glances Hallowell made--first at the papers and then at Sims and away again, repeating this several times while trying to look nonchalant. There was, however, a sense of concern on Hallowell's part and he seemed to get slightly more irritable from that point on.

"Mr. Jameson, the nature of the charges being considered against you is quite serious. The evidence against you is quite convincing, I must say." He pulled from the pile of papers on his desk an envelope and letter he had been studying, which he now held aloft for effect, as if it were the grand key to the whole deal. He shifted his gaze toward Sims and locked eyes with him, but Baylor did not flinch, which seemed to only annoy Hallowell all the more. "Counselor, I have here a letter in the handwriting of one Theodore M. Randall. It was found in his apartment after his death. It seems the first search of his residence overlooked it, but here it is now and that is what counts."

Ron looked at Sims and Denise looked at Ron. Only Sims seemed unflustered.

"Counselor, this letter voices a concern expressed by Mr. Randall that he is targeted for death by someone who hates him."

Sims narrowed his eyes only by the slightest amount, barely noted even by Ron, who sat next to him. What was going through his mind could only be guessed at, but the wait was not long. "And what is the nature of the letter, your Honor? Does Mr. Randall suggest that the former Denise Payton is the one who wants to kill him? A defenseless woman?"

"Exactly, Mr. Sims." This time Hallowell addressed him without including the respect of the title 'Counselor'. Things were about to escalate and Ron did not welcome the new direction this was taking. "It mentions..." and he shifted his gaze toward Ron, "your wife specifically, Mr. Jameson." His gaze was steely and cold, causing Denise to shiver.

Ron leaned quickly toward Sims and whispered into his ear. "This is bogus, Baylor. Ted must have written it to somehow punish Denise. He was just that warped--you know that!"

Sims took hold of Ron with a firm hand. "Calm down. I know this is bogus. Things are much better than you think."

The judge now had the hint of a smirk on his face, but Sims pressed on. "Your Honor, what is the date on the letter, if I might ask?"

"There is no date." He looked unconcerned by the request.

"Then, your Honor, there is no reliable method by which we might establish the age of this letter. Or even whether it be in Mr. Randall's handwriting, perhaps."

"That remains to be seen now, doesn't it?" The smirk was still there, tinged with a generous degree of impatience. His voice was somewhat elevated in tone and volume, denoting his swing in mood.

"Yes, your Honor, I guess so." Sims remained unmoved by this display of hostility and began to conspicuously finger the papers in front of him on the desk. Judge Hallowell shifted his focus yet again, from Sims to the papers and back several times. He resituated himself in his seat and seemed even more annoyed.

"Your Honor, does this letter, purported to have been penned by Mr. Randall, mention specifically that the former Denise Payton intended to kill Mr. Randall? Does it mention that she hired anyone to do the job? Or does it even suggest that she ever threatened him while in the heat of anger?" Sims appeared as pleasant as if he were speaking to a beloved family member, which seemed to irk Hallowell all the more.

"What it says or doesn't say will come out in the trial, Mr. Sims. You will then have a copy of it for yourself." He fairly spat the words.

"If there is a trial, your Honor. That is what is yet to be decided, am I not correct?"

All were registering surprise that Sims would attempt what appeared to be the blatant aggravation of Hallowell. The County Prosecutor showed no less shock than the others. Again Sims fiddled with the papers he held in his possession. This time Hallowell took the bait.

"Do you have anything to offer as evidence to the contrary, Mr. Sims?" He leaned forward on his elbows and stared down as if sentence had already been passed.

Sims knew the time had arrived to set the hook and did so without hesitation. "Are you certain you want all of this now, your Honor? There is a lot here."

The facade of impatience grew again by another step, but Hallowell replied in a controlled manner. "I am greatly curious to see what you could possibly offer as evidence that would cause me to reconsider for one moment setting a date for trial." The County Prosecutor now began to fidget nervously and involuntarily dropped his pencil. He started to go after it and reconsidered, biting his lip and remaining still in his seat.

There. Hallowell had asked for it in so many words and he was about to get it in so many more than he would end up wanting. The bait was taken, the hook set and there was nothing yet but to reel him in. Sims pretended a look of quiet surrender and looked at the Bailiff, who turned to the judge for confirmation. It was immediately forthcoming.

"Bailiff, please bring me the papers Mr. Sims has before him." Again, not even the courtesy of the title Counselor.

Sims suppressed a smile that he so much wanted to let burst forth into actual laughter. Too early and you kill the deal. Patience, Baylor. Patience.

As Hallowell began to leaf through the papers, his color turned redder by the moment and with each page he perused. His rage was building and Ron and Denise looked at Sims as if to question whether he had lost his mind. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Ron whispered. Sims gave them both a 'wait for it' look and turned again to study Hallowell intently. He then grabbed his cell phone and punched a speed dial number and disconnected almost as quickly.

The courtroom was pin-drop quiet, awestruck by the turn of events, but a single and subtle ring of a cell phone had been heard in the hallway. It stopped just as the judge looked directly at Sims and appeared about to burst. With his mouth open and prepared to vent all his fury, Hallowell suddenly turned his attention to the door at the back of the courtroom and to the figure that had now burst noisily through the door. Judge Hallowell appeared as if he were about to order her to sit, when just as suddenly the rage turned to a stunned silence and the blood that had engorged his face now drained rapidly to leave him a ghostly white. He looked as if he had been shot through the heart and could not comprehend it. All eyes turned to follow his own. In the doorway stood Debra Payton, but a different Debra Payton than anyone who knew her was used to seeing.

Hallowell inhaled audibly and involuntarily aspirated saliva, setting him into coughing violently, adding to his embarrassment and discomfiture. The Bailiff ran to get him some water, but was as quickly followed by Judge Hallowell in his hurry to exit the courtroom as swiftly as possible.

"What just happened?" Denise asked insistently.

"Be patient and you'll soon see," Sims answered and motioned for Debra to come sit with them. Again Ron studied her. All eyes were drawn to her instinctively and involuntarily. Her clothing and hairstyle were at least thirty years out of date and she looked highly amused at the turn of events.

"Would someone please tell me what just happened here?" Denise repeated more insistently. "Mom, what is this all about?"

"Just wait, dear. Unless I miss my guess, you won't have long to wait." She smiled as muffled hollering could be heard coming from the direction of the door to the judge's chambers.

"Just wait...just wait...be patient! Argh! Wait for what?" Denise was anything but patient and Ron was still too stunned to know what to ask and of whom.

"You'll see, Mrs. Jameson. You'll see." Sims eyes were glued to the door of the judges' chambers and he did not have long to wait for what he expected. "Here it comes...."

Ron and Denise were shaking their heads in combined frustration as the Bailiff re-entered the room. All were about to rise for the judge when the Bailiff, looking shaken and confused, announced, "This hearing is now concluded due to illness on the part of Judge Hallowell. The charges will not be pursued at this time. All are free to go."

Debra, Baylor Sims and Jonathan were nearly jumping up and down in their excitement, hugging one another and laughing aloud while others just stood in mute shock and wondering what they had missed. The County Prosecutor was scratching his head and attempting to solve this unexpected puzzle just thrown at him.

"Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant, both of you!" Sims was nearly overcome with his admiration for Debra and Jon-Jon, but no one yet knew why. "Come on, everybody; let's get out of here and go celebrate!" His voice was more boisterous than usual and plainly, he could scarcely contain himself for his joy. He gathered all the papers that the judge had left on the bench and quickly vacated the room before anyone might wish to stop him from doing so. The rest of the party followed suit.

The County Prosecutor was now in hot pursuit of Sims and caught up with him just before he got to the front door of the courthouse. "Sims! Hang on, man! What happened in there? Anyone can see that you scared the daylights out of Hallowell, but what's in those papers?"

"Well, Counselor...that remains to be seen, now doesn't it?" He laughed as he parroted back Judge Hallowell's words and turned again to scurry from the building. The County Prosecutor just glanced from one to another of the party, in hopes one would volunteer an answer, but most of the party could only look back helplessly or shrug their shoulders in common display of their ignorance. When all had left, the man stood there alone and still in a daze.

Outside, Baylor Sims waited for all to gather and addressed them as a group. "I want to invite all of you to a celebration party at my home tomorrow at noon. Do not eat a big breakfast--lunch is on me." Turning now to Ron and Denise, Sims said simply, "Congratulations, you are now free!"

"Free? Hallowell said nothing of the sort," Denise chided.

Ron, with some annoyance, added, "Until he says so, how can you think we are free? He only said 'it will not be pursued at this time.'"

Baylor Sims now put an arm around them both as friends or even as would a father. His affection and reassurance were genuine. "You have my word that it is over and that you've won a great victory here today. And you helped me to win a great victory, too. One I've been waiting for many years to win. I am truly grateful to you both." He squeezed them affectionately and then called back as he turned to leave, "Remember--my house at noon tomorrow. Come hungry! Oh, you four men--" He addressed Mose, Bill, Hunter and Jonathan. "You are welcome to come stay at my place for as long as our party may last. Jonathan knows the way. What do you say?" With hearty affirmatives in response, he winked and was gone.

"Mom, I'm more confused than ever."

"Just wait one more day and you will know everything. You've been through hell the last few months and now that it really is over, do you want to unnecessarily punish yourself further?" Debra asked.

The couple simmered for a short time and then acquiesced. Denise spoke their feelings. "Okay, Mom, you win. What's one more day? The way I feel, I'm not sure I would comprehend it anyway." Ron nodded his agreement.

Ron thanked everyone for being there to support them, paying particular attention to how surprising it was to see his old army buddies again so soon. “You men are family to me and I'm deeply touched by your unselfish generosity.” The tear in his aye attested to the sentiment of his words.

“The feeling is mutual, Boss. Now, get some sleep for you and your bride tonight. We have a lot of partying to do tomorrow.” Jonathan grinned like a Cheshire cat at the thought. He was always one to welcome a party, for any reason or none at all.

"Tha’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout,” Bill interjected.

Debra gave him an unexpected slap on the arm, accompanied by a firm 'atta-boy' and turned to Ron with the admonition to go home and get some rest.

The ride home was rather quiet for Denise and Ron. Debra volunteered nothing at all and no one asked. They were too drained emotionally to worry about the details right now. A light dinner was consumed and all retired early for the evening.

“Babe, I’m still befuddled about what they’ve done and how they’ve done it, but in some strange way I feel that it really is over now. I’m not sure how I know it, Denise, but I do.”

“No more about that, Ron. Not tonight. Just come to bed and hold me, okay? We can sleep in tomorrow. I’ve taken the day off again. Thank goodness Mr. Jorgenson is so understanding.”

“He’s a good man.”

“You’re a good man, too. Come hold me.” She crawled beneath the sheet and patted his pillow to beckon him in beside her.

That was all he wanted in the world right now. He lay down next to her and kissed her tenderly, running his fingers through her hair and lovingly across her face.

“Ron, I want to melt when you touch me like that.”

“How else would I touch you? You’re my treasure.”

“And you’re my knight.”

He quickly found her head on his shoulder as she nestled into his side and was soon asleep, but Ron lay there awake for a long time, thanking God for such a great blessing as this woman he held next to him. Especially in this time of extreme trial. 'And thank you for such incredible friends as we have. Bless them for all they have done'.

The dream was nearly the same as before. Ron was upon the white sand beach and was standing near the water. Denise stood looking toward him and the ocean. Ted, too, was there again, but with a major difference this time. Ron knew what had happened before—recalled it fully—but this dream was very lucid, as if he had control over it. This time he vowed he would turn the tables on his enemy. As he marched toward Ted with determination in his heart, he found that his foe began to recede and fade further into the distance with each step that Ron advanced upon him. At length Ted was gone altogether and Ron turned about to find his wife at his side, smiling and more beautiful and radiant than ever he had recalled seeing her. Her eyes sparkled like the stars twinkling in the summer night sky and her teeth were as the pearls of the ocean’s depths. Her hair shone with a fire that dazzled and charmed him. There was no other woman in the world for him.

Ron woke slowly and knew that it was a dream, but the emotions had been so real and so strong that he could not resist acting upon them. Reaching across the bed for Denise, he ran his hand down her side from her neck to her knee. His heart was racing and in his throat as she stirred and reached back to touch him. He could not speak to say anything to her, so touched emotionally was he. There were no words that would have sufficed in any event. Denise moved closer and as her lips touched his he knew that they would again be one—in body, soul and purpose.

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