It had taken the jury three days of sequestered deliberations, including a request to Judge Mallory for some clarifications on a few details of legalese, but in the end to Orville and Kathryn’s crushing dismay, a verdict of guilty was returned for Sarah. Only Alberto’s quick reaction kept Sarah from collapsing to the floor in shock and horror as the verdict was announced. They all looked on helplessly and with great sorrow and grief as their friend was led away by the bailiff to be held pending a formal sentencing. There was still an outside chance that Mallory might lift the death sentence that Redding had been pushing for the entire trial but based on how he had seemed biased toward the prosecution during the trial, they held out little hope.
Alberto packed up his things looking just as beaten down and defeated as Orville and Kathryn and walked over to them.
“Now what?” Orville asked.
“Appeals, of course,” he replied with a heavy sigh, “but that will take time and in the meantime they will lock her away in a state facility. I am sure I do not need to tell you what it is like in there. And how it is likely to destroy someone as gentle and mild as Sarah.”
Kathryn reached out to grab Orville’s arm as his words sank in. In her mind, she had already known this, but to hear them spoken out loud was another thing altogether. Her heart ached and she kept wondering when they would all wake up from this never-ending nightmare.
“Her sentencing from Mallory is next week?” Orville asked.
Alberto nodded grimly.
“In your opinion what are her chances of escaping the death penalty?” Orville inquired hesitantly.
Alberto looked up at him, his face pale and drained.
“Always a chance, I guess,” he replied finally, “but with my experience of Mallory I would not get my hopes up.”
“Really?” Kathryn asked.
“Afraid so. Like Redding, when the judge was a prosecutor years ago, he was just as much of a proponent of capital punishment as Redding is now. Likes to keep this image as a no-nonsense judge, tough on crime and not burdening taxpayers by keeping anyone locked up indefinitely. It plays well with the conservative base here in Tennessee, especially at election time.”
Orville nodded his understanding, but like Kathryn he had never felt so depressed and hopeless about anything in his life. He thanked Alberto again for his heroic efforts despite Winter’s continued apologies at having come up short. They said their goodbyes at the courthouse and Alberto promised to keep them apprised of what happened next as soon as he knew. He told them they were welcome to attend Sarah’s sentencing hearing, but he strongly advised against it.
“I know you want to support her, but in this case it may just beat all three of you down more than help. I know it will be difficult to hear Mallory’s decision on your part and I am not sure it will be helpful to Sarah to have you there to witness it. Understand?”
“Sure, Alberto,” Orville said, “I understand. I will think that over.”
He and Kathryn stood on the steps of the courthouse and watched Alberto walk away not knowing what to say or do next. They had purposefully side-stepped Redding’s victory lap with the press not needing one more thing that day to further crush their spirits.
“Wanna get a drink, Kathryn?”
“Normally I would say yes, Orville,” she replied, “but I just…I guess I just need to be alone for now, OK?”
He nodded suddenly feeling the same himself. He walked her to her car.
“You call me if you need anything, Kathryn.”
“Same here, Orville.”
He then stepped back and watched her drive away feeling numb and completely disconnected from the world around him. In his wildest imagination, he could not imagine what was going through Sarah’s mind right now as she sat in her cell awaiting her fate. Orville looked up as the sun began to diminish as a bank of dark, gray clouds were obscuring the formerly bright display. As distant rumbling began over on the outskirts of Laconia, Orville jogged to his own car just missing the first big, fat drops of rain as they spattered and drummed over the roof of his car and on the windshield. It was, he thought to himself, the perfect statement to put an exclamation point on this hideous and gruesome day.
As the rain picked up and began to pound the car relentlessly, Orville turned on the ignition and ramped up his wipers to full force as he eased away from the curb and began the sad and melancholy drive home. As he neared his house the rain continued to come down in sheets while the thunder rumbled by wave after wave, though not with the violent intensity that sometimes came with late summer storms in Laconia. Oddly, though, the associated lightning did not really manifest other than to just flash and glow in an attenuated fashion far away lighting up the heavy cloud cover from inside the thick mass. It was what his Grandmother had often referred to as heat lightning when he was a kid, though the day was not especially hot or humid, even for early August.
Orville sat in his car as the rain pounded away for a few minutes unable to find the energy to run inside the house. All he could think of at the moment was how unsettled and upended his life felt right then, the repetitive rolls of thunder only emphasizing his growing dark mood. Eventually he shook off the black cloud hanging over him and despite the continued downpour dashed to the house slamming the car door behind him as he got doused by the storm before he was even halfway to the front door. Orville stood on the tile entryway as water dripped from his skin and clothing and just stripped down where he was before getting dry clothes and tossing the wet stuff into the wash. It was only mid-afternoon but looking outside at the storm Orville got the sensation that it was more like early evening as the heavy, dark clouds dimmed the sky.
He knew continuing to stay focused on Sarah’s predicament was not helping anyone, but still the lingering fallout from her guilty verdict hung on him like a weight he could not shed. Realizing he had not eaten all day, he was suddenly starving, Orville threw a dish of a frozen vegetarian casserole that he had stored away last week into the oven and fell into his favorite reading chair in the den with a beer. He tried several times to continue on with the new book he had begun just a few days ago, but his mind was elsewhere. After re-reading the same few paragraphs a few times and realizing he could not remember any of it he gave up and set the book aside.
Though it was not his normal pursuit, Orville turned on the television just to try and distract his mind from the day’s events. He flipped through an array of selections before settling on this series about unsolved historical mysteries that he had discovered a few months ago. Soon his mind was absorbed in this episode about the Copper Scroll, one of the lessor known of the Dead Sea Scrolls found in Cave 3 near Khirbet Qumran in 1952. Not only was this scroll unique in its composition, being written on a copper/tin alloy composite but its contents suggest a vast hidden treasure of gold and silver. The scroll dated back over 1,900 years to a time when the Roman Empire controlled Qumran. The story went on to state that based on a number of revolts against Roman rule at the time the scroll was written that the treasure was hidden to prevent its discovery by Roman adversaries. Extensive searches for this treasure, based on the actual scroll which had been on display at the Jordan Museum in Anman since 2013, had all come up empty with many scholars and other experts in the field suggesting that the idea of this treasure is fiction…there was, they said just too much described to actually be real.
Soon Orville was totally immersed in the documentary and as he ate his dinner, he found that though his concerns over Sarah and her fate had not been totally erased from his mind that he had been able to ease away from being overly occupied with it. It was, in most cases, exactly what Orville sought from television these days…a distraction or a way to decompress after a hard day. He figured learning something new was just a bonus. As he took the last bite of the casserole the narrator of the show indicated this was likely to be a mystery that would never be solved. Orville cleaned up from dinner and finished his second beer while the storm continued to pelt the house. He looked up briefly from the sink as he folded the hand towel over the handle of the oven noticing his lights flickering slightly.
It would not be the first time he had lost power during a heavy rain and wind storm and he took this as hint to call it a night. He went through the house to douse the lights but everything went black as he reached for the switch in the living room. The perfect end to a perfect day, Orville muttered sarcastically to himself. He sighed deeply and continued to move all the switches in the house to the off position as he did not want to be woken in the middle of the night by all the lights coming back on once the power was restored. He was sure this would happen soon as Fayette Gas & Electric was very good about making quick repairs when things went down. He weaved his way back through the house skirting furniture by memory and dressed for bed.
As Orville lay in his bed and stared at the ceiling in the dark still feeling the after effects of his day, that last phrase in the documentary echoed around in his head… likely to be a mystery that would never be solved. As hard as he tried he just could not quiet the inner dialogue of that phrase. Why he wondered…was something out there trying to send him a message? This was nothing Orville put much stock in, but the grip of those words were unrelenting. Just before he finally fell asleep, he wondered if this had any connection to Sarah? He knew she was innocent…was this just to be an unsolved mystery for him as well?