“Heath! Get in here!”
Lou's husky yell was followed by his door-slamming as I slid into the greasy seat across from his paper-cluttered desk. I waited.
“Get down to the courthouse. I'm running front-page on the Mack Brown trial. Get me something. Seems it's all people are talkin'.”
“Mack Brown? The meter reader? Are you sure you want to run front page...?”
“Get the story! He's guilty of theft, embezzlement, kickbacks! Do it!”
“Lou, he's no Bernie Madoff. We're not talkin' ponzi scheme. Heck, our town hasn't got a deep-pocket among us. What's up?”
“Betrayal, swindle...it's all the same. People are tired of these no-good scammers. Front page! Now get down there before I give it to Pat and put you on obits! Go!”
So, it was with some reluctance I, Heath Harris, Globe Gazette reporter extraordinaire, took my seat in the packed courtroom.
The jury had been sworn in and was seated in the box; I knew most of them. Union City is a small town. Stretching my neck I got a glimpse of the accused. His dark hair was neat and brushed back from his face; his blue shirt was pressed - he looked nothing like Bernie Madoff.
“All rise! Judge Joseph Roberts, presiding.”
Judge Roberts motioned to the prosecutor, “Ready for opening statements, counselor?”
Grinning at the jury like a Cheshire Cat on the prowl, Sam Fielding spoke calmly.
“Men and women of the jury. I'm going to tell you a story of greed and corruption. That man, Mack Brown, has taken his last dime from this community! Wasn't enough that Union City folks provided him with foster homes. No sirree! How did he thank us? Born out of wedlock, his mother ran with a rock 'n roll band until she died of a drug overdose. She was a local girl. Now, I'm not about speakin' ill of the dead, but how does he thank us for takin' him in? He stole from us! I'm here to tell you how he did it.”
The first witness for the prosecution was Arnold Mabry, local manager of Duke Power Company and Mack Brown's former boss. His testimony spelled out how Mack was fired and eventually arrested for fraudulently changing the meter readings he recorded at 822 Walnut St, the home of Amelia Clarke. Evidence was found that it had been done every month for years.
Amelia Clarke sat near the front, her blue eyes staring a hole into the heart of the accused. Whispers of her soft silver hair floated into her face and she pushed it back impatiently, staining to hear every word.
One by one each witness for the prosecution was called.
Always knew that boy wouldn't mount to anything. Mother was a drug addict. Father...who knows?
In and out of foster homes...
Thought he would learn from his mother's mistakes.
A loner. No friends as I remember.
Mack watched as people he barely knew spoke as if they knew his innermost feelings.
The defense called only one witness, Mack Brown.
“Mr. Brown, you're accused of tampering with the readings you submitted as meter reader. Did you do that?”
No one stirred as he spoke softly, “Yes sir.”
“So, you defrauded your employer, Duke Power?”
“Son, look at the jury and tell them what you did.”
“I felt bad for Mrs. Clarke, her being a widow and all. She don't remember me, I guess. She taught me about Jesus at Vacation Bible School when I was only ten. Jesus got me through the rough times...still does. I owe her.”
“Well, seeing as I was working and all, I subtracted volume from her meter reading so her bill was manageable. I didn't steal or nothing. I added the difference to mine.”
“Judge, I'm submitting Exhibits to show every month the totals deducted from the bill at 822 Walnut St was added and paid for by Mack Brown at his residence. It was the least he could do for the lady who taught him about Jesus.”
I don't need to tell you he walked. Became something of a legend around here. Oh, the front page story? My readers loved it! Won me a Pulitzer! Me, Heath Harris, reporter extraordinaire.
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