The Symbiotic Club
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents
are either the product of the author's imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events
or locales is entirely coincidental.
This work contains adult themes and is not intended for children.
Chapter 5 - The Lawyer Game
When I got the sports job, I did what any single young male would've done: I bought a sports car, howbeit a Volkswagen. I loaded all my belongings into it and headed east and then south.
My salary was adequate since I didn't need much. The car payment and rent were my major monthly expenses. I managed to save some. The advantage of small town living, from my initial impression, was that there weren't many reasons to waste money.
During the fall and winter of that first year, college and high school football and then basketball kept me busy. The local university was in the same division as my alma mater, and played a few of the same colleges. On the other hand, I knew nothing about the area high schools. The local squad met teams in a six-county area; so, I was required to learn much about the local geography in traveling to the different stadiums/gyms. I had to learn all about the schools' players, their coaching personnel, their playing strategies, and even their traditions. I guess I should have been thankful that it was a time and location where sports were reserved for boys; that probably cut my work load in half.
I saw many attractive women, but had little opportunity to even meet them. From my early, naive perception of the social workings of the town, it seemed the totality of the social events was connected with some church or another. At 26, I wasn't much of a religious person and after my experience with Liz Anchor, I couldn't attend church simply to meet women. So, once again, I lived a fairly lonely existence. I absorbed myself in my work.
In my egotistical moods, I felt that it was totally unjust that I was the sports reporter for a small town newspaper. Surely my training and abilities qualified me for better. In my calmer moods, I knew that times were tough for print journalists. I might count myself lucky that I was able to follow my chosen profession at all. I wrote at least one story every day, five days a week, and each with a by-line. I was building a solid portfolio.
The highlights of my first year in the south, besides my by-lines, were a couple of trips to Atlanta. I enjoyed Six Flags and Peach Tree Street, but the trips served only to emphasize my otherwise mundane, solitary existence.
With spring, I had worked into the job more. I had baseball and track to cover, but emphasis on them didn't seem great. Also, I knew the area much better. The job became routine. I had more idle time.
The high-school track and assistant football coach suggested that I join the club. When he made the suggestion, I basically ignored it. I had passed the building many times in my trips across the county, but didn't know any more about the club than that it existed. Without any real knowledge, my mind created its own impression of the Circle of Stars. I imagined that it was a front organization for the KKK.
My first indication that the club was a place for fun came in a way as to give me one reason to avoid it. Miss DuBouses, the owner and publisher of the Daily Democrat singularly opposed giving anything more than token coverage to anything related to the Circle. The club sponsored a youth baseball team during the summer. The team played exceptionally well that year so I was giving them extensive coverage. Not much else locally merited reporting. My editor told me to minimize the coverage and wherever possible to report on the team in ways as not to include the official name of its sponsor. When I asked why, I was told, clearly, that Miss DuBouses didn't endorse the wicked life style of the members of the Star and wouldn't allow her newspaper to support that organization.
As the summer progressed, the knowledge that there existed a place for socializing, increasingly interested me, especially since the summer was so slow professionally and physically so hot. I wanted something to compensate for what I didn't have.
As an escape, I began to visualize myself as a news reporter. I paid close attention to the reporting of local news and simulated how I would write the stories. Most of the events were routine except for the trials in the circuit court.
The District Attorney was a young lawyer named Tom Bruce. He was a short stocky man with a commanding voice.
I became especially interested when he brought to trial a white college football player who was charged with raping a black coed. A case of rape, much less one involving a black female, was still unusual. I was surprised when it received no coverage from national or even state media. It wasn't even front page in our paper. I managed to attend the trial just after opening statements.
Bruce was distinguished. He always stood when asking questions. His voice like an amplifier, he generated the exact emotion appropriate to his case. I had found him interesting during previous trials, but, during this one, my attention soon was drawn to the beauty and poise of the woman supplying him with materials. She had bright red hair, prompting me to reflect on my bad luck with red heads. Perhaps, I thought, the third time would be the charm. I learned that she was Wanda Drake, the Assistant D. A.
For its last witness, the prosecution called the victim to the stand. Wanda conducted the direct. In contrast to Bruce, she brought a quiet gentleness to the courtroom. She stood and moved to within two foot of the coed. Drake, at 5'6", served as a shield deflecting the attention from the smaller student. Wanda, question by question, encouraged the witness to tell every detail of the assault.
"Yes, I was attracted to him. Who wouldn't be? I was excited when we went parking at the lake."
"You enjoyed his kissing you?"
"Yes, I enjoyed kissing him. I enjoyed his hands on me; but then he got rough. He ripped my dress! Pulled my Grandma's ruby necklace from my neck! He's still got that. He chocked me until I passed out. When I came to, I felt him in me. As I moved to get my legs under me to push him off, I ... felt ... him finish. He pushed me back as he got off and laughed. 'You better not tell anyone,' he said and called me a name. He laughed some more and said, 'go ahead, no one's going to believe ' ... well someone of my race."
I felt so sad for the young woman, afraid as she had been for her very life. What courage she must have had to report the incident! I also felt anger at the arrogant defendant who could force himself on this young woman. Mostly, I recognized another emotion, one of utter admiration for Wanda Drake.
Harrison Murphy, the defense counsel, as usual, didn't rise from his seat for the cross examination. Murphy was known to be the best lawyer in those parts. As he asked questions of the victim, his every word sounded of contempt. He raised the expected questions about the enticements she used in attracting men, the suggestive style of clothes she wore, the quality of her reputation. Bruce objected, but Murphy was able to get them overruled. Finally, the witness began to cry uncontrollably. Bruce asked for and obtained a recess.
My mind turned its focus on the beautiful Wanda Drake. All her features were vertical and sharp. The sharpness obviously went beyond the surface. "That's my type of woman," I thought. "How in the world could I ever meet her?"
The next day at work, I learned that Wanda was single. It was her first job after law school. Her scholastic record had been mediocre, but mock trials demonstrated her command of oratory. Tom had hired her fresh from law school. The report was that her ambitions were political and she planned to capitalize on this first appointment. However, Bruce had kept her in the shadows, keeping the spotlight for himself. She, also, liked to dance and frequented the Star's dances.
I called Coach West just before noon and asked him for an application to the Star. He told me he would bring me one later; there was no rush since the next initiation wasn't until November.
My mind danced with thoughts of Wanda and the trial. I saw the face of the black coed. She had retained her composure through much of Murphy's cross examination. Still the most potent image was of her in tears, unable to continue. I hoped that the prosecution would be capable of preparing her for today's interrogation.
When the trial reconvened that afternoon, I managed to be there. The young victim was dressed conservatively in navy blue. Her face set with determination. Hostility rested in her eyes.
The evening's rest had bolstered her spirits. She appeared prepared for the onslaught that had unnerved her the day before. But, Murphy changed the thrust of his questioning. In a calm, pleasant voice he asked, "Do you hate men?
"No!" Bitterness rang through the voice that yesterday had been so meek and eventually broke.
"Then, it is only white men?"
"Yes!" she reacted quickly.
"Or all white people? Is that why you lead this young man on and made up this story to ruin his life?"
"What did I say?" The witness again sounded less confident.
"Your Honor, Mr. Murphy is badgering the witness. He must allow her to answer one question before asking another."
The judge leaned forward and smiled at Mr. Murphy before giving his ruling. "Sustained. Harrison, please allow the witness time to respond before you continue your questions."
Murphy smiled back at the judge. He, then, turned slowly in his seat to stare at the witness as one in a hurry might observe an obstacle to be negotiated.
His voice sounded more hostile, challenging, "Was it your hatred for white men that caused you to fabricate this tale against my client?"
"I didn't mean to say that I hate white men. I just told what happened."
"I have no further questions for this witness." Again he ended the statement with an edge of contempt.
The defense called several character witnesses, including the football coach, a minister, and white coeds. All testified that the football player was an upstanding citizen and more importantly a fine Christian. The prosecution didn't push these witnesses to discuss character flaws. I wondered whether the
District Attorney was polite because of some cultural etiquette, or if the victim's confusion in response to Murphy's complex questions had prompted Bruce to question his own case. I wondered why he didn't allow Wanda to do the cross examination. Certainly, she could have done a better job. She seemed repressed.
The next morning, I routinely edited and arranged press releases for my daily column and had it finished before the 1:00 reconvening of the trial.
The defendant, Mitchell Miller Martin, in a gray pinstripe suit, walked erectly to the stand. His version of "their meeting" contrasted with the victim's only in the extent of her desire for force. He contended that she enjoyed his aggressiveness. He used measured tones. His description was worded to sound reasonable. With his hair styled, tall, muscular, handsome, he communicated the confidence of the affluent, white southern male. As he responded to Harrison's questions, the jury had to ask why this young man would ever need to rape anyone.
In contrast, the victim had to be restrained twice during his testimony. Her hostile outbursts probably didn't coincide with the white jury's image of a victim. Ironically so, since the anger she expressed was borne from years of discrimination.
Tom Bruce challenged the defendant's testimony in light of the factual evidence of the assault. The athlete didn't deny using force, only that the force was unwelcomed. Bruce was ineffective in disrupting the defendant's composure. The football player exited the stand in a near strut.
Bruce's closing arguments underscored the factual evidence presented. He emphasized that "the facts spoke for themselves, and justify conviction." He ended with a sober appeal to their sense of justice.
Harrison Murphy rose slowly from his chair. He was much taller than I had thought. He had long legs, out of proportion to his body. He pulled his pants up over his slightly protruding waistline. His jacket hung loosely. He looked at the jury members as he ambled to the barrier in front of their section. His gravely voice was soft as he spoke. I couldn't understand the first part of what he said. His thesis soon became clear.
"Your decision depends on which of these fine young people you believe. We all know that things get confused with young people today. Here you have two people from different races. They meet on campus and are attracted to one another. In the passion of the evening, they get carried away and do things they both regret. These things happen often, perhaps more often than any of us care to admit. The woman involved here refused to admit it. Who else could she blame? Only this young man!
"And race does become an issue here. She admitted under cross examination that she disliked white men. She didn't want to admit this. She may have difficulty admitting it to herself. These resentments are so deep seated.
"I ask you to remember that they have the burden of proof. If you agree that it is impossible to know what happened that night, you must vote for acquittal. If you believe that the fine young man, whose character was praised by civic, educational and religious leaders, if you believe that his perception of that evening was correct, you must vote for acquittal."
The jury didn't return its verdict that day.
The victim had clearly presented the more believable testimony. I reached this conclusion knowing that the defendant reminded me of another football player who disparaged women. The brave young coed had detailed the assault; she had plainly resisted the attack. She didn't desire the intercourse. It was highly improbable that she could have fabricated the whole thing.
It was inconceivable that she would want to do so. Her presentation during direct testimony was honest, direct and convincing. Unfortunately, that had been two days prior. In the interim, Harrison Murphy had demonstrated how he had earned his reputation as defense attorney. His treatment of her throughout the trial would have angered anyone. Then, after badgering her during cross examination, he tapped her justified anger and beguiled her into using it against herself. In contrast to the prosecution, from that point forward, his strategy and rhetorical techniques dominated the courtroom, and, I feared, the minds of the jurors.
The next morning, Coach West brought me an application for the Star. It brought my mind back to my personal realities. Fortune provided no clear opportunities for me on any front. Alone in a socially restricted milieu, stymied in an apparently dead-end job, this fresh college graduate spent his energies reflecting on the problems of others. The realization saddened me. I completed the short application while West waited.
The application asked simple questions; still two gave me problems. One asked names of members for references from members of the Star. Sam West assured me that he would supply those. The other asked, "Do you believe in God?" I hesitated but marked "yes."
That morning, the jury announced its verdict. The facts in the case had spoken for themselves but obviously not loudly enough. The jurors believed the white male more than the black female.
The victim transferred to a predominantly black college down state.
M. M. Martin started at safety that fall.