The Beauty Of Blackmail
--THE DA’s OFFICE—
“Mr. Jensen,” DA Travis Jensen heard the voice of his soft-spoken secretary say over the intercom sitting on the corner of his deep mahogany desk. “Ms. Jaymes is here. Shall I show her in?”
He was nodding even as he’d started to rise from his seat, pressing the button to speak his response. “Please do, Rebecca. Thank you,” he said. He was making his way around the desk as the door to his office opened and he saw his secretary walk in, holding the door with her arm politely just before Ms. Jaymes walked though. “Right this way, Ms. Jaymes,” he heard Rebecca say.
Ms. Jaymes smiled sweetly at the younger woman before heading towards him in a crisp, white silk-pressed pantsuit that gave her a refined look. The white accented her cream, pale-like complexion nicely, he observed. She appeared business like, as if she were walking into an appointment to speak with label executives about launching a new tour…and he wondered if this was her compartmentalizing the situation. The perfect, not a hair out of place, friendly smile—he knew it shouldn’t, but it unnerved him. He knew she had an image to uphold—that she was Rayna Jaymes—but she was also a victim. She shouldn’t have to be tough or put on a brave face. Not for the public or the media. Not even for him. Maybe it was the big brother seeking justice for remnants of sins passed…maybe it was just the man in him—something—but whatever it was, it bothered him to no end to have to see a woman suffer, especially in silence. He hoped that what he had to tell her today alleviated some of that suffering…although truth be told; he had his doubts that that would be the case. He smiled as he stepped forward, meeting her in the middle of the room, taking her hands in his. “Ms. Jaymes, thank you so much for coming in,” he greeted her, squeezing her hands lighting.
She smiled back. “Of course,” she replied, nodding.
He dropped her hands and stepped back, holding out his arm towards the chairs in front of his please. “Please sit,” he offered. “Would you care for something to drink? Rebecca?” His secretary stepped forward and rattled off a list of drinks she could prepare, to which Ms. Jaymes all politely declined as she took a seat in one of the plush chairs seated in front of the desk. “Alright then,” he said with a nod in Rebecca’s direction. “Thank you. That will be all, Rebecca. Please hold all my calls,” he said, dismissing the young woman, confident they wouldn’t be disturbed. As she walked from the walked from the room and closed the door behind her, he walked over to the desk. He decided to lean against the desk in front of it, rather than walk around to sit in his chair behind it. What he was about to say, he didn’t want to say from behind a desk.
He sighed and slipped his hands in his pants pockets as he looked at Ms. Jaymes, sitting quietly in the chair—leg crossed, hands on her hand, her expression nervous. “First off,” he started. “How are you holding up?”
She released a shaky breath, her smile faltering. “Um, okay…I think. This is all…really overwhelming, to be completely honest. I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t expecting the grand jury to side with me against Luke. I mean, I’d hoped…I think—I mean—I don’t know what I was hoping. This is all…it’s just…it’s a lot,” she said, her voice wavering. She swallowed hard and he saw her fight to keep her composure as she looked down at her hands in her lap.
He leaned forward and lightly set his hand down on her shoulder for a moment. “It’s okay,” he said softly. “I’d be worried if you weren’t feeling overwhelmed right now,” he empathized. When she lifted her head a few moments later, he removed his hand and continued. “This IS a lot. I’m not going to sugarcoat things and say that it’s not. The last thing I ever want to do is undermine what you went through. Nor am I going to say that it’s smooth-sailing from here on out, because that’s just not the case, especially not in your case. To get right to it…your celebrity standing and Mr. Wheeler’s—obviously that makes this case high-profile—as I’m sure you’re aware—already aware, I should say. That changes the playing field dramatically. And I’m sorry about that. That is has to be that way,” he apologized with genuine sincerity.
She shrugged, nodding. “So what happens now?” she asked.
He sighed. “Well, that’s actually why I asked to come to my office today,” he started. “As I informed you yesterday over the phone, the grand jury came back with a true bill “yes” finding for both of the charges we were presenting them with. The first being for domestic assault and sexual battery--for the assault itself. That’s a misdemeanor charge and it generally carries a sentence anywhere from one to six years, usually the lesser. The second charge was the long-shot, with the attempted sexual assault and rape. Now that charge is a felony charge so it comes with a harsher sentence of up to 7 years in a federal prison and chances are he’d have to register as a sex offender when he’s released as well.” He paused to allow her a moment to process the information.
“Oh…” she said softly. After a few minutes, she took a deep, steadying breath, and then nodded. “You don’t think we’ll get a conviction on the attempted rape, do you?”
He let out his breath slowly, and then shook his head. “Honestly…it’s a long-shot, like I said. I’m not going to say one way or another yes or no, because I’ve seen it go both ways. It all depends on the jury and the case. And you have a good case. I wouldn’t have presented the charge to the panel if I didn’t think it carried weight; you can trust me on that. You have a good, solid case. There’s evidence, testimony…I think once the jury hears your story and sees that tape…as sordid as it sounds with me saying it right now…I think they’ll know just as we do what Wheeler intended. It’s just a matter of getting good, unbiased people who know right from wrong and who want to do the right thing. That’s all,” he said, hesitation in his voice.
“I’m sensing a "but" in there…” she said, the anxiety creeping up in her voice once more.
He sighed heavily then and pushed away from the desk so that he was standing and not leaning back. “That’s because there is one,” he said. “Before I tell you what that is, I just want to say one thing and that is that I believe we can win this Ms. Jaymes. I truly do. I want to help you get you the justice you deserve. Unfortunately, I also feel that it’s my duty to inform you that that justice just might also come at a price you might not be willing to pay,” he said, his tone bitter even as he said the words.
Confusion filled her features as she looked at him. “What exactly do you mean Mr. Jensen?” she asked, her expression now worried.
He swallowed hard. “Mr. Wheeler and his legal counsel came to see me yesterday, shortly after I had called and spoke with you about the grand jury’s decision to indict Mr. Wheeler on the charges. According to his attorney, Mr. Wheeler is apparently willing to plead out in the hopes of avoiding the hassle of—and if you ask me, most likely to save himself the embarrassment of—a trial.”
“Oh…” she said, nodding. “Um…Ok. I’ve heard of that happening. Actually, I was kind of hoping for it, for my daughters’ sake. That—this a good thing, right?” she asked, expectantly.
His expression was anything but hopeful as he pursed his lips and shook his head. “I wish I could say yes. I really do. But no unfortunately…not exactly…” was his somber reply…
Rayna tried to ignore the chill that ran through her spine at the look in the DA’s eyes…the mix of pity and anger she saw conveyed there. Whatever he was about to tell her, it wasn’t good. She almost didn’t want to know. Not for the first time in the past few weeks, she wished she could crawl away somewhere and hide until the entire ordeal was all over. And then a little longer, for good measure. And for her own peace of mind. Naturally. Steeling herself, she did what she always did—what she’d been doing for longer than she cared to admit…what she despised more than anything…she prepared herself by putting up a calm front, though her stomach was rolling and her nerves were frayed. “What do you mean ‘not exactly’ Mr. Jensen?” she asked hesitantly.
“Well,” he began. “Mr. Wheeler is willing to make a deal, as I said. However, there are stipulations. Very steep stipulations, Ms. Jaymes. He’s willing to plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge for the assault. Considering this is his first criminal offense, he’ll most likely receive probation as punished,” he answered, perching back against the desk and slipping his hands in his slacks’ pockets.
“Okay,” she responded slowly, having a hard time reading him. “How generous of him,” she commented sarcastically.
“I’ll be honest, that’s about as generous as it gets,” he said, noticing how the sarcastic smile disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. “He’ll plead guilty to the assault charge and only the assault charge. He refuses to plead guilty to or accept a lower plea to the attempted rape and sexual assault felony charge,” he told her slowly, allowing her a moment to let it sink in.
Once she absorbed the news, she shook her head. “But he tried to rape me. He would have raped me. If Deacon and Gunnar hadn’t shown up when they did and grabbed him--stopped him—Godknows what he would have done,” she insisted, leaning forward in her chair, flustered…her cheeks red.
He nodded. “I know that. You know that. And he knows that. The issue that typically arises in cases such as these is that it’s hard to prosecute what might have happened—that is what someone might or might not have done. I’ve heard it and seen it happen a thousand times. Mr. Wheeler is going to argue that his emotions got the best of him for a moment. That, given the opportunity, he’d had stopped himself before anything of a criminal nature—like the kind he’s being accused of—even occurred. That’s what he’s going to say. Just so you’re prepared,” he told her.
Her eyes flashed. “Lies. All of it. Do you think the jury will buy it?” she asked. “I mean, I believed him for months…let him into my life…into my…well…he’s good. He’s charming. He’s manipulative. Believe me…he’s…he’s good at getting you to believe what he wants,” she said with a hint of distaste in her tone.
The DA shrugged. “Maybe so…but when it comes to juries…I’m better,” he said, the corner of his mouth turning up into a smile…then fading ever so into a serious line. “I believe you when you say that he’s manipulative, I do. Trust me, I do. I’m now seeing that first-hand, Ms. Jaymes and I can agree with you on this—that the city of Nashville hasn’t the slightest idea who the real Luke Wheeler is.”
“What aren’t you telling me?” she asked, eyes narrowing as she sat back in her chair and clasped her hands together tightly, working them in her lap.
“I think we both know what he would have done that night, Ms. Jaymes. I think the panel knew as well and that’s why they returned the verdict that they did. I also believe that if we go to trial, we will win. I think that behind the smooth voice and country boy looks, Luke Wheeler is a manipulative, violent predator of the worst sort and I think the jury will see that. I have a sense of these things and my instincts haven’t let me down yet, not in all my 15 years of practicing law. You have a strong case. The evidence and witness testimony is on your side. Your chances of winning are really good here,” he told her. “I’m not going to lie, it’s still going to be a battle. Wheeler’s attorneys aren’t going to make it easy. They’re going to make it as hard as they possibly can for you, especially if you decide to go through with the trial. Again, just so you’re prepared—they’ll drag your name through the papers and the media. Your face, your past lovers—they’ll say you wanted what happened—“ at the expression on her face he leaned out and put a hand on her shoulder as a gesture of comfort “—it’s not right, but it’s what they do. It’s called slut-shaming. The juries and judges generally frown on it—if it’s any consolation. But that’s something you’ll want to prepare yourself for—prepare your family for if they should see or hear something of that sort in the media—possibly even consider having your children stay with other family members outside of the Nashville area for the duration of the trial—that sort of thing. As I said, these are just some of the things that are going to come up. There will be others, I’m sure…but I want you to know what you’re signing up for,” he said. “Even so…all these things aside, I want you to know, you won’t be alone…I will be by your side, the entire time. As will your friends and family and everyone who wants to see you get the justice you deserve,” he reminded her.
She shuddered at the list of things he mentioned and the images they brought with them. The last thing she wanted was to drag her children into the center of the hell a trial would bring, but she also couldn’t stomach the thought of letting Luke get away with almost raping her—not to the mention the fact that he’d lied and slept with her for weeks in some sick, twisted, totally underhanded scheme to convince her to stay with Edge Hill Records for Jeff Fordham. What kind of message was she sending to women—to her own daughters—if she let a man do what Luke did to her—and let him walk free? She shook her head, dismissing the thought. She couldn’t let him do it. She just couldn’t. She was about to say just that when he started speaking again.
“Keeping that in mind, there’s more to Wheeler’s stipulations,” he continued. “Should you turn choose to turn down Mr. Wheeler’s offer of a plea deal and continue with a trial, his lawyers are prepared to mount charges of their own--”
Her eyes went wide at that and her jaw dropped as she flew up from her seat. “What?! Charges? Are you kidding me? What charges could he possibly—“
“--against Mr. Claybourne,” he finished.
He watched all color drain from her face as she sunk back down into the chair, the news hitting her. “Oh no…,” he heard her say as she shook her head back and forth, repeating the words over and over, her voice soft. After about a minute or so, she looked up at him, her eyes filled with unshed tears. “They can’t actually do that, can they?” she asked.
He swallowed hard, knowing his expression probably gave it away. He sighed. “Unfortunately, they can. And as much as I hate to hate to say it--from a prosecutor’s point of view—they have a pretty good case,” he told her, his voice gritty with emotion.
“H-How—?” she asked as a tear escaped and slid down her cheek—confirming both what he’d read in all the tabloids over the year and what he’d pretty much deduced from the meeting with Luke Wheeler and his legal team the day before which was that Deacon Claybourne was Rayna Jaymes’ Achilles heel.
“Well they could get him on aggravated felony assault, for him pulling him off of you and then going to town on Luke until Mr. Scott pulled him off. You see, because he caused serious bodily injury to Mr. Wheeler—he sustained two broken ribs, a fractured nose, and an eye injury—it wouldn’t be considered in defense of your attack, thus why it’s considered an aggravated felony assault. It’s a class C felony and considering Mr. Claybourne’s record with his DUI’s and history of bar fights…to be honest according to Tennessee State Law, if convicted, he could be looking at anywhere from 3-15 years in prison, Ms. Jaymes. Minimum…”
“Oh… my… God…” he heard her say, her voice barely a whisper as the tears fell unchecked…