Steve Huddleston has written an outstanding short story about the importance of legal representation for anyone charged with a crime.

Steve Huddleston, an attorney in Warsaw, Kentucky has written an outstanding short story about the importance of legal representation for anyone charged with a crime. This story should be widely read. Defense attorneys will understand the public reaction they have had when they represented people who were “obviously guilty”. Huddleston may be contacted at (859) 816-4005.

Stan Billingsley
Senior Editor LawReader.com

THE SILENT PARTNER
By: S.P. Huddleston (Copyrighted)

Did you know that venom from reptiles, arachnids and marine life may hold the cure for heart disease and diabetes, even autoimmune diseases and cancer? This isn’t new. Venom-based cures are mentioned in the Sanskrit from the second century. Under the sea there is a creature called a stonefish which is nearly impossible to see. This poses grave danger because if the venom from its dorsal spines doesn’t kill you, the pain will be so intense you’re likely to beg for the amputation of the affected limb.
I didn’t know any of this stuff. Not, that is, until I found myself flipping through a National Geographic magazine in the waiting room of Labon Hodge’s office.
It struck me as odd I’d never before been there. Hodge’s office was on the second floor, above a savings and loan association. I owned the pharmacy straight across the courthouse square only yards away.
Hodge, of course, would know why I was there, as would all others in the office or elsewhere. It had been splashed all over the local papers.
So, fate had compelled me to make the short walk across the square from my drug store to Hodge’s office. And yet, while the distance was short, the trip had been long. I had come from afar. My journey began about a year ago.

I am at my drug store’s lunch counter taking my morning coffee with a few pals, as was our custom.
“Well look, there,” somebody said.
Past our window a tall, skinny man in a rumpled scotch-plaid suit which was too big for him, strode toward the courthouse with several manila folders under his arm. The collars of his white shirt could have used a clasp.
“There’s a man, I don’t know how he lives with himself,” one of my mates said.
Said another, “What do you reckon he sees in the mirror?”
The talk continued. “I heard he’s going to appeal.”
“Appeal what? Just a waste of taxpayer money.”
As others chattered, I said nothing, but was thinking along the same general lines.
Labon Hodge was a familiar figure on the courthouse square. He had practiced law in our town for decades.
Even so, he was not so well known as one might expect. He seemed a quiet man by nature and mostly kept to himself.
I knew him a little. He had handled my deceased partner’s estate. We had a buy-sell agreement requiring me to buy his widow out of the business. I felt Hodge handled the matter efficiently and with tact. Professionally, I’d say.
Occasionally Hodge showed up at our church. As a deacon, I took up the collection. Sometimes Hodge didn’t fold his checks very well and I couldn’t help but notice his donations were on the large side, as if to make up for his frequent absences.
I knew Hodge had three children and at least two ex-wives. Of the children I was sure as they were in school with my own kids. As to the ex-wives, I wasn’t certain but that was of no consequence to me. I had marital problems of my own more than enough to keep me occupied.
A year earlier our community had suffered a terrible tragedy. A local hardware store was destroyed in a spectacular blaze fueled in part by the paint and other chemical solutions housed there.
It was arson and everyone knew who did it. Jackie Jones was a mean and dishonest man who seemed to relish going out of his way to foster the enmity of others. He was found hours after the fire unconscious in his own front yard reeking of whiskey and gasoline, his hair singed and eyebrows lost to the heat.
At least two witnesses stepped quickly forward to avow that Jones had sworn vengeance against the hardware store owner for suing him to collect his delinquent account and thereafter garnishing his wages.
That was bad enough, but there is more to it. A single mother and her two young children lived in the apartment above the hardware store and were incinerated. It is said the little seven-year-old girl had shown signs of musical genius.
So it was murder. And it was murder by a despised low-life perpetrated for no good reason. Hodge defended Jones. That was his offense.
Of course it didn’t help. After nearly a year of what seemed to the community to be pointless legal wrangling and unnecessary delays a jury convicted Jones and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
To most, including me, this result had been inevitable and the whole process of getting there a waste of tax money which served only to prolong the agony and grief.
So, while my general impression of Hodge was favorable, I had to wonder about him. A man with children of his own working so hard for the murderer of innocent children – it was hard to figure.
I referred to my marital problems in passing. Alas, neither you nor I can get off that easily. To tell this story, I’m afraid it can’t be avoided.
Let’s start with the crux of the matter and work back. I had a fling and I got caught. The ramifications of the latter fact still bedevil me. Indeed, it is the reason I am sitting in Labon Hodge’s waiting room reading about scorpions, sea snakes and mambas.
If you know the circumstances, perhaps you will grant me a little understanding.
Everything started with a tree struck by lightning. This tree happened to be in my business partner’s back yard. My partner became disturbed to the point of obsession. He convinced himself of the impending death of his entire family as the stricken tree crashed through the roof of his house in the wee hours of the morning.
I went to see for myself. I assured my partner that his fear was unlikely to materialize during the lifetime of any person now living, for it was a sturdy tulip poplar which, while injured by the lightning, was far from dead.
It was not enough. Partner decided that it must come down. As he was notoriously scotch with money, he determined to fell it himself, which he did. Sadly, the tree fell on top of him, as did the chainsaw, and well, you get the picture.
Apart from the genuine grief I suffered at the loss of my dear, old friend, his untimely demise had a profound effect on my workload. You can’t operate a pharmacy legally without the physical presence of a licensed pharmacist at all times. So I was pulling double-duty, seven days a week.
My wife was unhappy with this and became shrewish. The workplace was the source of my problems, yet at the same time it became my haven to which I escaped from the friction at home.
I was aided by our able and long-time assistant who agreed to work extra hours until I could locate a retired pharmacist looking for part-time work. This was unlikely to happen easily or quickly as our town was not large and the national chain stores were soaking up available personnel.
The assistant was both helpful and cheerful. She knew the business and its customers well, and was thus a huge asset. To have lost her would have been a grievous blow at any time, more so now than ever. Working into the night together and under pressure, we became closer.
While hardly a raving beauty, she was shapely in a way that attracted me. I gathered she liked me as well. One thing led to another.
You don’t need the details. We’re all grown-ups here. You know what happened.
I probably shouldn’t say it (although at this juncture it hardly matters), but I enjoyed our arrangement. It kept me going, really.
They say nothing lasts forever, and this didn’t. As I said, we got caught.
My wife took this as license to have flings of her own, which by now is the least of my worries.
We were caught by my assistant’s husband. Did I mention my assistant was married to the Chief of Police? Yeah, well, you can see that this is not likely to go well for me.
It happened like this, according to Chief John Hampton. He was making the usual nightly rounds checking on the security of local businesses, as a diligent public servant should. At my drug store he saw a light from within and found the back door, which should have been locked that hour, open. I am yet unconvinced that he didn’t have a key. In any event, he entered to check out the situation. The situation was that my assistant and I were in pari delicto. (I have since had reason to look up certain legal terms and stumbled across that one. If you know what it means, you will understand why it has stuck with me.)
Of course I had to fire her. My wife insisted. So now she hates me, too.
Some months later I was awakened at 3:00 a.m. by the pharmacy’s burglar alarm which was wired into my home. I noticed my wife was not in her place beside me, but I had no time to fret about that. I rushed downtown.
I got there first for some reason. The front door of the store was locked. I fumbled with the keys, but finally opened it and ran to the back of the store where the pharmacy was located. As you would know, the opiates and ephedrines were rifled. The burglars had somehow cracked the safe in which they were stored.
Chief John Hampton arrived and began looking around and making notes. The burglars had entered from a back window they had cut through with some sort of knife.
As you might expect, it was no fun for me to be in the same room with John Hampton under any circumstances. But I was befogged and numb and most of the tension was lost on me.
After an hour or so, I am sitting on a stool trying to grasp what all this will mean, when Hampton approaches me.
“It looks like an inside job to me,” he says.
For a moment I am unresponsive. Then the light comes on, “What!”
“You heard me,” Hampton says.
Now I am incredulous. “John,” I say, “I know we have our differences, but you know damn well I didn’t have anything to do with this.”
A strikingly unfriendly smile spread across Hampton’s face. “I don’t know and I don’t care,” he said.
In the days that followed my business dropped off. Only slightly, but noticeably.
Circulating rumors began getting back to me.
“I heard Henry Matthews has financial trouble.”
“Did you hear Matthews’ wife is divorcing him?”
“Did you know Matthews’ nephew is part of a drug cartel?”
It was maddening, but I’d lived in this town all my life and had been through the rumor mill before. It would pass if I kept my mouth shut, which I did. Next month they’d be talking about someone else.
I took comfort in one irrefutable fact. I was 47 years old and had never once been in legal trouble. My record was squeaky clean. My fellow townspeople knew me to be an honest, hard-working and law-abiding citizen. This couldn’t be taken from me.
You might imagine then how I felt when I opened my morning paper some time later only to be greeted with the headline; “LOCAL DRUGGIST INDICTED IN DRUG
THEFT.” I say “imagine” because you can’t begin to know how I felt unless its happened to you.
That afternoon John Hampton marched into my store bearing his most serious mien and ceremoniously handed me a summons, making sure all my customers noticed in the process. I snatched it from his hand and tried to stare him down, but he quickly turned away and departed.
Now I was angry. This had gone way too far. Who did these people think they were anyway? I was a respected citizen. A good man. Past president of the Rotary Club and The Founder’s Day Festival.
Sure, my finances had deteriorated some lately. A new chain pharmacy on the outskirts of town had siphoned off some business. And my wife, who did not like me much but wasn’t divorcing me, yet, had quit her job with the school system in a pique of indignation, which I suspect was actually meant to spite me. That didn’t help the household finances.
Hampton would have discovered this, as his sister-in-law worked at the bank. But I was far from insolvent. My balance sheet was still better than most.
And, yes, my 19 year old nephew had got himself hooked on pain pills hanging out with the wrong crowd. But he was away doing in-patient rehab, and his punk friends were hardly a cartel. Hell, they probably couldn’t even spell cartel.
So, come on now. This whole thing was an outrage. I was fairly chomping at the bit to go to court and give them all a piece of my mind.
I began to give some thought to the legal system and its processes, about which I knew nothing. Until then I had paid little attention. I only knew that it was confusing, unpredictable and seemed to produce non-sensical results. And it was expensive. A thing to be avoided.
My experience with the regulation of my own industry was more than enough law stuff for me.
Now, though, it seemed to make sense for me to give it some thought.
So when I noticed Labon Hodge sitting on the sidewalk bench next to my store, eating a sandwich for lunch, I walked outside and sat beside him.
“How you doing, Hodge,” I asked.
“Very well, thank you,” he answered. “And you, Henry?”
“I’ve been better,” I said.
“Yes, I see you’re in a tough spot,” Hodge said.
“Oh, I’m not worried about that. I’m mad, yes, but not worried. It’s just a bunch of trumped up bull. Everybody with any sense knows it,” I said.
“I’m sure that’s right,” Hodge said.
I said, “I’ve got nothing to worry about because I’m innocent.”
“Of course you are,” said Hodge, a slight smile forming on his lips.
“I mean it,” I snapped. “I’m not guilty.”
“I mean it, too,” said Hodge. “You are in the United States of America. Here you are innocent unless and until the government proves you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So, that having not occurred, you most certainly sit before me as an innocent man.”
“I wish other people knew that,” I said.
Hodge said, “I know it and the legal system knows it.”
I studied Hodge closely. I believed him to be about 55, but he looked older. He seemed little concerned with his appearance. The tie-knot crooked, shirt gaping above the belt, shoes unshined, one sock drooping about his ankle.
“Well, I don’t want to talk about all that right now,” I said.
“Probably a good idea,” Hodge responded.
I asked, “May I ask you a question, though?”
“You may,” answered Hodge, “although I may choose not to answer.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “How can you defend a man you know is guilty of a terrible crime?”
“A man like Jackie Jones,” Hodge asked.
I said, “Yeah, like Jackie Jones.”
Hodge smiled. “I didn’t know him to be guilty,” he said.
“Everybody knew he was guilty,” I said.
“Did you know he was guilty, Henry?”
“Of course,” I said. “Everybody did.”
“How did you know he was guilty, Henry?”
“He had the revenge motive. He told people he was going to do it. He was found nearly half burned up and smelling of gasoline. And everything else,” I answered.
“Besides,” I continued, “Jones is just like that. He is a worthless creep. They say he burned down old Joe Ramsey’s barn a few years ago.”
Hodge began. “Henry, did you see Jones lying in his yard singed and reeking.”
“No,” I say, “but the police did.”
Hodge says, “If you didn’t see it yourself, how do you know what the police found?”
“Because they said so,” I say.
“How do you know they weren’t lying?” Hodge asked.
“I don’t think they’d lie about something like that. And, anyway, I saw the photos in the newspaper,” I countered.
Said Hodge, “I don’t expect they’d lie either. Not as a whole, but what about one out of a thousand? And do you think the chances of lying would be greater if they knew no one would double-check the story?”
Hodge went on, “How do you know the photos weren’t staged, or faked, or taken at some other time? How do you know Jones swore revenge?”
“Well, I don’t know, but more than one person said they heard him,” I say.
Hodge said, “Maybe they lied. As you pointed out, Jones is a creep. Many dislike him. I dare say hate him. Perhaps for good reason.”
He went on. “As for all the other evidence, did you observe or analyze any of it? And back to lying, maybe no witness lied, maybe they were just wrong. Do you think it possible you might have arrived at different conclusions if confronted with the same set of circumstances as the police?”
“Not in this case,” I responded.
“In any case,” Hodge rejoined.
I was eager to turn this conversation around. “Look Hodge,” I say, “don’t you believe Jones was found just like they said?”
“Yes, I believe so,” Hodge answered.
Feeling vindicated, I continued, “Don’t you believe he threatened vengeance?”
“Yes, I believe that, too,” Hodge answered.
I pounced. “Are you saying you don’t believe he is guilty?”
Hodge answered. “I am certain now that he is guilty because a jury of his peers has unanimously found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As to what I believe, yes, I believe he committed the crime charged.”
“Then what are we arguing about?” I wasn’t sure what had just happened.
“We’re not arguing,” Hodge said. “I get paid to argue. I don’t like to do it on my own time. If we were arguing you’d know it.”
Somehow, after all of this, a flicker of cogency danced in my brain. “Hodge,” I say, “You’re very clever at shifting the subject, but my original question concerned how you can defend a man like Jones.”
Hodge rubbed his chin. He hesitated, then began. “Let me try this. As both a taxpayer and citizen, you, Henry, are responsible for the judicial system which is operated by our society. Do you want to support a system that imprisons innocent people?”
“Of course not,” I snap, “but Jones wasn’t innocent.”
“We know that now,” Hodge says. “But how could we know it if the state’s case against him wasn’t put to an honest test? What do you suppose would happen if the criminally accused were not afforded a vigorous defense?”
“The taxpayers would probably save a lot of money,” I retort,
Hodge smiles. “Perhaps, but it is very expensive to incarcerate a man. To imprison an innocent man is a monumental waste, in every respect. Henry, the legal system is based on logic. Indeed, it may fairly be termed entirely logic. Everything we practice is designed to ensure a fair trial. Not a perfect one, mind you. We’re mere mortals and cannot ensure perfection, although we strive for it. What we can ensure is fairness. And yet, with all that is done toward that purpose, innocent men still get convicted.”
“One thing I know would happen if defendants didn’t receive honest defenses is that Henry Matthews could not sleep at night with the confidence that the system of laws he supports strives to do its dead level best to ensure that our government does not deprive innocent men of liberty, the most precious of all rights.”
“I suppose your’re right,” I say. “Still, in a case like Jones’ the system seems a ponderous thing, making it unnecessarily difficult to reach an obvious result.”
“It is only obvious now,” Hodge says. “Henry, here’s the difference in our thinking. You came to your conclusion on the basis of what other people told you. It was an easy conclusion, as it comported with that of everyone you knew.”
“I have come to the same conclusion, but only after testing, probing and questioning all of the evidence. Only after the state was required to openly, and in a manner consistent with legal rules guaranteeing fairness, display its evidence and expose it to the test of question, skepticism and counter-evidence. I have formed my conclusions only after being shown that the evidence against Jones was reliable, sensible, relevant and material to the issue and true.”
“I believe Jones was found as claimed because I’ve questioned the witnesses under oath, viewed the photos, visited the scene, reviewed the forensic evidence and interrogated the scientists who performed the tests. The same for all else I’ve said I believe. If it had not been proven to me, I would have drawn no such conclusions.”
“Well,” I say, “you’re a lawyer. That’s your job. I’m just relying on my common sense.”
“Yes, and you have good sense, Henry. Well, I must get back to the office. Good to see you, Henry. I do have one question for you before I go.”
“Shoot,” I say, then added, “but I might not answer.”
Hodge chuckled and asked, “If no one stood between an accused and his prosecutors, putting up the strongest defense possible in his behalf, what would prevent the state from running amok? What would stop it from falsifying charges against, and imprisoning, innocent people at will, just because it wanted to for some reason?”
I had heard enough. “I have to think about that,” I said and rose.
We parted.
The day of my court appearance arrived at last. I was ready early, but contained my eagerness until I had just enough time to arrive as scheduled. Then I walked out of the front door of my store and across the street to the courthouse with head held high. I hadn’t wanted to arrive early, so as to seem over-anxious or insecure. They could wait on me if need be.
As it turned out, I was hardly noticed and was forced to wait anyway, other court business being in process. I sat quietly alone, and watched and listened.
I can now confess nervousness. The place, proceedings and language employed were all strange to me. I was a minute away from my old, familiar second home, my pharmacy, and yet I felt like a stranger, even among people I knew and in the seat of my own local government. My palms began to sweat as nausea roiled my guts. Still, I was able to maintain calm on the outside.
I found one saving grace. I was to stand before Judge Mary Cee Strawn. I had known Strawn since childhood. We started kindergarten together. Her husband was one of my steady customers. No, I can’t tell you why. My son even dated Mary Lee’s daughter for a while. A big mistake by my son to let her get away. She was an outstanding young lady in every respect. She had gone to the city and become a successful business executive last I heard. My son has a stubborn streak, believe it or not. Sometimes he doesn’t know what’s good for himself.
By watching, I noticed Mary Cee was calm and polite in her demeanor. She spoke matter-of-factly, but was not brusque. This helped set me at ease some.
When my name was finally called, I suddenly went from unnoticed to very much noticed. The courtroom fell deathly silent for the first time since I’d come in.
As I approached the Judge, I sensed every eye in the courtroom upon me. I stared straight ahead, feeling as if I were an alien being just dropped in from the sky.
I stood at a podium, microphone in my face. “State your name, address and date of birth,” the Judge commanded, which seemed senseless as everybody knew who I was and why I was there. I managed to comply with the order without falter, although it was harder than I could have imagined.
Then from the Judge, “Henry, do you understand the nature of the charges against you?”
“I understand them well enough,” I said, “but I don’t understand why I’ve been charged.”
“Do you have an attorney,” the Judge asked.
“No,” I answered, “I don’t need a lawyer. This is a bunch of nonsense. I could call it something else, but I won’t here.”
The Judge looked at me silently for a moment. She then removed her spectacles and leaned forward slightly. She spoke looking directly into my eyes. “Henry, you need an attorney.”
“What on earth for?” I went on, “Mary Cee, you darn well know I didn’t have anything to do with that break-in.” And with a sweep of my arm, “We all know what this is all about.”
The Judge said, “Don’t say any more Henry. Listen to me closely. Henry, you have spent many years in business. You are expert in your business. From what I’ve seen, I believe you have been successful in your chosen field. Until recently you were blessed with an able partner. The two of you made a good team. And, by the way, I am sorry about his death. He was a fine man. But my point is, you are about to enter into a field about which you have little or no understanding, and, to your credit perhaps, absolutely no experience. I would never presume to go to your store and mix medicines. You can’t come into this place and expect to perform as you can behind the pharmacy counter. In this field of endeavor, just as in your chosen field, you need a partner. A skilled and experienced partner who can protect and promote your interests.”
“Why,” I said, “I haven’t done anything wrong?”
The Judge replaced her glasses, looked down and rapidly wrote something. She then looked up at me and said, “I’ve entered your plea of not guilty. Henry, be back here in four weeks with your lawyer.”
That was that. I adopted a sullen countenance, turned and walked out.
I liked Mary Cee Strawn. We had even dated some in high school.
I had to believe she meant well. Even so, I don’t like being told what to do. I still could not accept that a fellow needed a lawyer when he’d done nothing wrong. Well, at least nothing criminal. Besides, lawyers were expensive, I was given to understand. By this time my income stream was but a trickle and my expenses had not diminished accordingly, if at all. This damnable travesty was going to break me if I let it.
I didn’t know what to do, really. I wrestled with it for days. I didn’t want to hire a lawyer. That would only make me look guilty, I told myself. Yet I couldn’t just dismiss Mary Cee’s advice. A nagging thought in the back of my mind insisted that she had been trying to tell me something.
Though it might be good advice, I was loathe to take it. Once, for a few fleeting moments, I even considered absconding to Surinam. I really hated myself for that and got drunk in self-disgust. I hate to admit it, but by this point I was a mess and in over my head.
Last night I had a dream. I could call it a nightmare for it was the most frightening experience of my life, which says something, as you know if you’ve read this story. But I won’t call it a nightmare for it may save my life. At least I hope so.
In most of my bad dreams I can sense that I’m only dreaming and that the horrifying events are but conjured up by my imagination. This sense that the images are not real comforts me as the dream-story plays out. In most of the scarier ones, when my innate sense of the real and surreal fails, I manage to awaken myself before the imminent catastrophe occurs. This one was unlike any in my experience.
I was struggling to reach the courthouse but could barely move, as if walking in wet cement. I was fearful and running late. I had a vague notion that I was in trouble, but didn’t know why exactly. Whenever I began to make progress, I realized I had forgotten something. A book, a document, an article of clothing, and back to the drug store I trudged. I begged for help from everyone I saw. All looked away. Some said, “I can’t help you, it’s against the law.” I knew some of the people and called them by name, yet no one dared help. “You’re trying to get me in trouble,” one said.
At long last I reached the courtroom. There, clerks scurried around ignoring me. None would speak with me. Finally I screamed, “I am Henry Matthews. I am here to prove my innocence.”
“Hmm, Henry Matthews you say,” one woman responded. “Have you identification?”
I reached for my wallet but it was missing. “No,” I said, “I must have left it at the store. But you know me. I’m Henry Matthews. I own the drug store across the street.”
“Well, this is highly irregular, but let me check,” said the woman. She began thumbing through a stack of papers. “Oh yes, Henry Matthews. Here you are,” she said. “You are supposed to be here tomorrow. Come back tomorrow.” She went back to her business.
“But wait,” I said. “I have the summons right here.” But I didn’t have it. I had a handful of papers of all kind, except the right one.
I somehow managed to return to the pharmacy where I tried to sleep on a cot in the storage room.
Sleep was denied me. A chanting crowd outside kept me unsettled. Finally, I went to the front door of the store and peered out. A mob of folks seemed to be gathered about a bonfire on the courthouse lawn. I couldn’t make out the words of their chant. I opened the door to listen. I heard but could not understand. They seemed to be speaking a foreign language.
I grabbed the arm of a man walking by in the direction of the bonfire. “What is going on,” I asked.
He answered, “We are standing guard over a man named Matthews so that he doesn’t escape. No one knows him, but he is to be hanged soon on the courthouse lawn, in front of the whole town.”
Next, I was again plodding to the courthouse in wet cement. I was making better progress this time for I was very determined and cared not whether I carried all necessary items.
In the courtroom I encountered the same scene as before. I made the same announcement as before. The same clerk leafed through the pile of papers.
“Henry Matthews,” she said. “Oh yes, you were supposed to be here yesterday.”
“I was here yesterday,” I screamed. “You told me to come back today. I want to proclaim my innocence.”
“Oh well,” she said, “you can’t do that here anyway. If you want a trial you must go to the bank building across the street and you better hurry because they will all be leaving there soon to come over here.”
“Then I will wait for them here,” I said.
“You can’t do that,” she said.
“Why not,” I ask. “I just want a chance to clear myself.”
She stated, “Like I said, you can’t do that here.” She then returned to stamping documents and would speak to me no more.
Off I slogged to the bank. There I was greeted by a pretty young teller behind a counter-wall. “There you are Henry, you’re late.”
“Where can I prove my innocence”, I asked.
“Oh, I’m afraid it is too late for that. You were found guilty yesterday. You will be hanged tonight on the courthouse lawn. No one stood up for you. No one. Face it Henry, everybody knows you’re guilty.”
I bolted upright in the bed, bathed in sweat, trembling uncontrollably. My wife stirred. She had the decency to ask, “Is there anything wrong.”
“Everything, I think,” I answered.
With the dawn I made ready to journey to the office on the courthouse square above the savings and loan association.
And that is how I have come to be sitting in the waiting room of Labon Hodge’s office educating myself about the beneficial effects of deadly venom.

EPILOGUE
Two years have passed and I am now one of those semi-retired pharmacists working part-time at a national chain drug store, having been forced to sell my business to stave off bankruptcy.
My wife finally got around to divorcing me and I now live alone in a sub-leased condo.
But I am a free man, thanks to the hard work and honest efforts of Labon Hodge. Freedom transcends all else. People, money, things, prestige, relationships and all else are temporal. Freedom is eternal. Without freedom, all else is worthless. Take it from one who nearly lost his and likely would have but for a partner I didn’t even know I had.
Next month, former Chief of Police John Hampton faces trial for framing me, thanks again to the efforts of Hodge.
I use the word “imagine” often as I have embraced the conviction that none of us “know” much of anything.
My youngest daughter will graduate college early at year’s end. She tells me she plans to enter law school. I am well-pleased with her.

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