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The Trial

Paperback|Oct 2004
Product Rating: 5(2)


A lawyer ready to die takes one final case...the trial of his life. ^Attorney Kent "Mac" MacClain has nothing left to live for. Nine years after the horrific accident that claimed the life of his wife and two sons, he's...

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A lawyer ready to die takes one final case...the trial of his life. ^Attorney Kent "Mac" MacClain has nothing left to live for. Nine years after the horrific accident that claimed the life of his wife and two sons, he's finally given up. His empty house is a mirror for his empty soul, it seems suicide is his only escape. And then the phone rings. ^Angela Hightower, the beautiful heiress and daughter of the most powerful man in Dennison Springs, has been found dead at the bottom of a ravine. The accused killer, Peter Thomason, needs a lawyer. But Mac has come up against the Hightowers and their ruthless, high-powered lawyers before -- an encounter that left his practice and reputation reeling. ^The evidence pointing to Thoomason's guilt seems insurmountable. Is Mac definding an ingenious psychopath, or has Thomason been framed--possibly by a member of the victim's family? It comes down to one last trial. For Thomason, the opponent is the electric chair. For Mac, it is his own tor

  • Catalogue Code 216499
  • Product Code 0849945194
  • EAN 9780849945199
  • UPC 023755023711
  • Pages 464
  • Department General Books
  • Category Fiction
  • Sub-Category General
  • Publisher Thomas Nelson Publishers
  • Publication Date Oct 2004
  • Sales Rank 17387
  • Dimensions 213 x 134 x 33mm
  • Weight 0.417kg

Robert Whitlow

Whitlow is a Merit Scholar graduate of Furman University and the University of Georgia School of Law. He has been in private legal practice since 1976.

Chapter One

Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows.
--richard ii, act 2, scene 3

Kent "Mac" McClain checked the time on the grandfather clock that faced him impassively from the far corner of his walnut-paneled law office. The old clock was an antique inherited from his mother's side of the family and worked perfectly as long as the weights and chains were kept in proper tension. As a child, Mac would lie in bed and listen to the old clock's solemn announcement of each passing hour from its spot in the foyer of his parents' home. Many years later he cleared a place for it in the corner of his office; however, the clock's loud striking every quarter-hour disrupted meetings with clients, so Mac disabled the chiming mechanism. Now, except for a steady ticking, the ivory face with its large, black Roman numerals kept a silent, closed-lipped vigil.

It was almost 5:00 p.m. In a few minutes the office staff would pass through the reception room door and go home for the weekend. He would be alone.

His neatly combed brown hair was heavily streaked with gray, but Mac was in better than average physical shape for age fifty-six. Just under six feet, he only weighed twenty-five pounds more than when he graduated from law school at the University of Georgia, and he could still spend an afternoon hiking in the mountains east of Dennison Springs. But he couldn't take total credit for his good physical condition; it was genetic.

He'd also inherited his father's dry wit and his mother's compassionate brown eyes. Mac still maintained his wit, now a facade he hid behind, but it had been a long time since he felt compassion for another's pain. He hadn't blinked away tears for someone else's sorrow in years.

He heard the front door close and slowly poured a beer into the cold mug sitting on the corner of his desk. Except for Friday afternoons, he never drank at the office. Friday afternoons were different. On Fridays he didn't drink to mask the malaise he carefully concealed from the eyes of the world. Rather, he renewed a ritual from a happier time, a thirty-five-year-old tradition begun on crisp autumn Fridays during college days in Athens, Georgia. Mac lived in a fraternity house his senior year, and as soon as classes were finished for the week, he would take an iced mug from the refrigerator, carefully pour a beer, sit on the front porch in a rocking chair, and watch the traffic go by on Milledge Avenue. But today was different. Today was no celebration.

His heart beating a little faster than normal, he opened the bottom left drawer of his desk and took out the Colt .45 pistol issued to his father during World War II.

At the beginning of the war, the standard side arm for military officers was a six-shot Smith and Wesson .38 revolver, but the ferocity of the Japanese soldiers in the Pacific forced the American military to rethink its strategy. In close combat, a .38-caliber shell might wound a charging infantryman, but it did not have sufficient mass to knock him down. The arms makers answered with a more potent weapon, and when Mac's father made the shift from head of the trust department for a local bank to captain in the U.S. Army, he acquired the drab olive weapon that now rested on his son's desk.

Mac snapped out the clip. One by one, he extracted the bullets and lined them up like polished sentries on the edge of the dark wood. Bullets were small objects that could have devastating and deadly effect, especially when fired directly into the human skull at close range.

Opening the narrow middle drawer of the desk, he took out a bottle of prescription pain pills. In some ways, pills and bullets were remarkably similar. Of course, the pills were intended to relieve pain; bullets were designed to inflict it. But for Mac's purposes, bullets or pills would serve the same purpose-to end his suffering, once and for all. Mac shook the bottle. It was full.

How many of the potent pain relievers would it take? Half a bottle? Three-quarters? It wouldn't be that difficult to take them all. And then what would happen? Dizziness? Sleepiness? Nothingness?

Mac had not been able to decide which would be the best method of death-bullet or pill. Each had its advantages. There was something masculine about a bullet to the brain. Messy, but manly. Pills were more suitable for Hollywood starlets who discovered that bright lights and fame were just another path into the black hole of depression and despair. But pills were tidy; no hair need be disturbed, and whoever found him wouldn't have to deal with a horrific death scene. Mac's sense of decency and decorum argued for the pain relievers. His desire for swift certainty drew him toward one of the shiny metal sentinels. The issue remained undecided.

The phone on his desk buzzed. Startled, he set down the pill bottle, knocking over some of the bullets.

"Who is it?" he barked into the receiver.

"Judge Danielson on line one," his secretary answered.

Stepping back from the edge of the cliff, Mac brushed the bullets into his hand. "I'll take it, Judy. I thought you'd gone home."

"I wanted to finish the first draft of the Morgan brief. I'll be going in a few minutes. Have a good weekend."

"Uh, thanks. You, too."

Mac punched the phone button. "Hello, Judge."

"Glad I caught you before you started your weekend. Do you still have a cold one every Friday?"

"I'm looking at it as we speak." Mac held the phone to his ear with his shoulder, snapped the clip back into the gun, and returned it to its place in the desk drawer.

"Come over to the courthouse," the judge said. "I need to talk to you."

"What is it?" he asked. "I'm off duty."

"Just come. I'll explain when you get here."

"Can it wait until Monday?"

"No," the judge said simply.

Mac sighed. "Give me five minutes."

"Thanks. See you then."

Mac put the phone receiver back in its cradle. His hands slightly sweaty, he held the pill bottle up between his fingers. He resented the interruption of the judge's call. He was getting closer to a verdict in the hidden trial raging within the dark brooding of his soul. Life or death. Bullet or pill. He knew he didn't have to go to the courthouse; he could continue the secret trial interrupted by the judge's call. But the spell was broken; the jury deciding his fate would have to continue its deliberations at a later date.


Mac buttoned the top button on his shirt and straightened his silk tie. Grabbing a blank yellow legal pad, he locked the front door of the small, red-brick house he'd converted into an attractive law office and began the short walk to the courthouse. One of the advantages of practicing law in a town like Dennison Springs was convenience. The courthouse, the offices of the three major law firms, and two of the main banks were all close-by. Unless it was raining or bitter cold, he would often hand-deliver legal papers or go to the bank to make a deposit as an excuse to take a walk.

Mac knew every tree, stray blade of grass, and crack in the sidewalk along the way. He crossed the street and climbed the wide steps of the Echota County Courthouse. Built as a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression, the large, square, red-brick building with its silver domed roof would not win any architectural awards, but it had a certain crude charm. Surrounded on three sides by long rows of crepe myrtles, it was wreathed in purple for a few glorious months in late summer.

The ground floor contained the office for the clerk of court, the probate judge, and a large vault where the deed records were stored. Except when he had to go to the clerk's office to file papers, Mac rarely stayed on the first level of the building. Climbing the worn steps, he went upstairs to the main courtroom with its high ceiling and tall windows that provided a spectacular view of the southern Appalachians. Mac didn't need to "See Rock City," the mountaintop tourist trap in Chattanooga. He could take in the panorama of the mountains free of charge every time he went to court. During the past thirty years, he had witnessed every nuance of the changing seasons on the distant hills from the courtroom vantage point. This afternoon, the pale yellows, oranges, and reds of mid-October dominated the view.

The courtroom was laid out like a miniamphitheater. The floor sloped gradually downward from the back of the room to a level area where the jury box directly faced the elevated judge's bench and witness stand. When trying a case, the lawyers sat on opposite sides of the jury, and everybody had a clear view of those called to testify.


Judge William L. Danielson was three years younger than Mac. Short and stocky, he was raised on a pecan farm in middle Georgia and moved to Dennison Springs after graduating from Mercer Law School in Macon. For the next fifteen years, he practiced corporate and commercial law as an associate and partner with one of the "big three," the law firms in town with more than five attorneys. During his years in private practice, Bill Danielson and Mac only squared off in court on one occasion. Mac won.


Judge Danielson's chambers were to the right of the bench where he presided. Mac walked into the office suite and knocked on the wooden frame of the open door.

"Come in and have a seat, Mac." The judge motioned toward a pair of wooden armchairs across from his light-colored oak desk. "I need your help."

Mac sat and waited.

Holding up a single sheet of paper, the judge said, "I'll get to the point. This is an order appointing you to represent Peter Thomason."

Mac's jaw dropped. "What! I haven't tried a major criminal case in years."

"I have a good reason-"

"Gene Nelson is public defender," Mac interrupted. "He handles these types of cases."

"Take it easy," the judge lifted his hand. "Gene called me an hour ago. He has a conflict. The pathologist from Atlanta who tested the defendant's blood for drugs is Gene's new brother-in-law. The man is certain to testify as an expert witness and will have to be cross-examined by Thomason's lawyer. If there is a conviction, I can't risk a habeas corpus from a smarty-pants lawyer down the road based on ineffective assistance of counsel."

"But why me?" Mac asked, slumping back in his chair.

"Because it involves the Hightower family," the judge said slowly. "Who else could do it?"

Mac didn't answer. Peter Thomason was charged with murder. But it wasn't a sordid domestic killing or the result of a botched drug deal. The victim was nineteen-year-old Angela Hightower, the only child of Alexander and Sarah Hightower, the most influential family in Dennison Springs.

A friend of Mac's once suggested that the Echota County Chamber of Commerce should sell bumper stickers that read, "Dennison Springs, Georgia. Owned and Operated by Hightower & Co." Alex Hightower's ancestors were among the first settlers in the area after Andrew Jackson ordered the U.S. Army to remove the Cherokee Indians from northwest Georgia and march them along the "Trail of Tears" to Oklahoma in the 1830s. By 1880, the Hightower family had built the first textile mill, chartered the first bank, and controlled the First Methodist Church. During the next hundred years, their economic interests expanded beyond the boundaries of Dennison Springs, and the family moved seventy-five miles south to Atlanta. But they kept strong ties to the area and spent a month each summer at the family estate on the edge of town. Hightower money was the backbone of several major business ventures in the area, and no local lawyer in his right mind did anything to antagonize them. No lawyer, that is, except Mac.

"I see," Mac said. "You don't know a young lawyer who would take the case without caring about the consequences?"

"Do you?" the judge responded.

Mac mentally ran down the list of possibilities and shook his head. "None with any criminal defense experience."

"I can't appoint someone who's handled a few nolo pleas in traffic court to a murder case."

Mac shrugged. "It's been awhile. The last major criminal case I handled was-"

"State versus Jefferson," the judge interrupted. "Three and a half years ago. You tried the case for three days to a hung jury. The D.A.'s office decided to nol-pros the charges and turn him loose."

Mac suppressed a slight smile. "You didn't think he was guilty, either, did you?"

"No comment. My point is that under the Sixth Amendment Thomason deserves quality representation."

"And you don't want to jeopardize another young lawyer's career by asking him to defend the man who may have murdered the Hightowers' daughter."

"Right." The judge leaned forward and picked up the order. "Even though you're an officer of the court, I'm not going to make you do this."

Mac raised his eyebrows. "I can refuse?"

"Yes. Consider it over the weekend and call me Monday morning."

"Does Thomason know about the conflict of interest?"

"Gene Nelson is going to talk to him this evening."

"Fair enough." Mac got up to leave. "I'll let you know first thing on Monday."

"One other matter," the judge said. "I understand Alex Hightower has hired Joe Whetstone from Atlanta to act as special prosecutor."

"Really? Bringing in the big guns for the execution."

"It will be a challenge."

"And you think I want a challenge?" Mac asked.

The judge shook his head. "You don't have to prove anything to me, Mac."

Mac stepped to the open door. "Will the county pay for an investigator and expert witnesses?"

"Anything within reason. I'll try to get it for you."

Mac walked down the steps of the courthouse. He'd read articles about the murder in the local newspaper. It would be a difficult case to handle. The Hightowers would spare no expense to obtain a conviction. Hiring Joe Whetstone as special prosecutor was just one step. The Atlanta lawyer would be supported by a cadre of associates, an army of paralegals, and the best investigators and expert witnesses money could buy.

Forgetting about the bullets, the pills, and his beer, he crossed the street. With each step, the secret, dark thoughts of his own death retreated. Thoughts about another man whose life hung in the balance before the eyes of everyone in Echota County took their place.

Chapter Two

The best mirror is an old friend.
--george herbert

After the automobile accident that claimed the lives of his wife, Laura, and their two sons, Zach and Ben, Mac lived six months in the two-story, white-frame house where he and Laura raised their family. Only a couple of minutes from his law office, the house sat peacefully at the end of a tree-lined street in an older neighborhood behind the local high school.

The house with the green shutters was Laura's creation, an expression of her artistic ability and attention to detail. During construction, Mac worked long hours to pay the bills and left every major and minor decision to her. He didn't care what she did; he just wanted her to love it, and her delight was his reward.

For many years he came home for lunch on Wednesdays, a fringe benefit of practicing law only a few blocks away. The winter when Ben was four and Zach was two, Mac would wash Zach's hands, fix Ben a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and together with Laura they would sit in the sunroom on the east side of the house eating soup and sandwiches for lunch. Later, when the boys were in school, Laura and Mac spent the time by themselves. They didn't say much. Mac talked all day at work and he needed silence, but quietly sitting in the same room with Laura yielded its own unspoken pleasure.

At other times Laura was his cheerleader, encouraging him during the lean years when he first started his law practice and occasionally kidnapping him to do something fun when his business prospered and work became too hectic. Whether he won or lost a case, her assessment never wavered. "You're a good lawyer," she told him matter-of-factly. Her words motivated Mac to make them come true.


After the funeral, a friend suggested that Mac ought to stay in the house and work through his grief, but after a few months of lonely evenings and restless nights, he put the house on the market. He couldn't continue walking into the kitchen and expecting to see Laura leaning against the counter drinking a cup of coffee.

He sold the house with green shutters and purchased fifteen wooded acres ten miles north of town. Picking the highest spot on the property, he hired a local contractor to build a spacious stone-and-cedar cabin that faced the mountains to the east and brought the outdoors inside through several large, plate-glass windows. The master bedroom was predominantly glass on two sides and came as close to sleeping outside as possible while still providing the comforts of home. His nearest neighbors were out of sight from his secluded vantage point, and he lived in scenic, if lonely, isolation.

As a boy, Mac had a male beagle named Buster who spent most of his time with Mac's grandfather in the country. Though small in size, pure-bred beagles make a lot of noise when they bay and bugle like silver-throated trumpets, so Mac's parents only let Buster inside the city limits for brief overnight visits. Mac enjoyed Buster so much that he always harbored the desire to own another beagle at some point in the future.

Now that he was in the country by himself, Mac indulged himself by purchasing two female beagles-Flo and Sue, and behind his new house, he built a large, chain-link dog run, where his pets stayed until he came home and released the brown-and-white sisters to roam and sniff in the woods each evening. Except during the coldest months of the year, Mac liked to sit on the long wooden deck that extended along the back of the house and listen with an experienced ear to the sound of the dogs as they chased rabbits or harassed an unfortunate opossum.

Turning onto the long asphalt driveway, he drove up the hill to the house and pulled into the garage. Flo and Sue barked wildly at the sound of his car, and he walked directly to the backyard to open the gate to the pen. The dogs jumped up to greet him for a few seconds then chased each other down the hill through the rustling leaves. Mac climbed the steps to the deck and looked toward the west. The sun was already below the tops of the trees, and the shadows cast by the branches reached out toward the house like long, black fingers along the ground beneath him.

The double doors to the deck opened into a combination living/dining room. The main living area of the house was a large open space with no dividing wall between the kitchen, dining room, and living room. A massive stone fireplace flanked by tall, clear windows provided a view of the mountains to the east. The master suite dominated the south end of the house; the sandstone-tiled kitchen and laundry room occupied the north end. Upstairs were two empty bedrooms and another bath.

Mac went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. He ate lunch at restaurants in town and rarely cooked anything more complicated than a scrambled egg at home. He fixed a roast beef sandwich and flipped on the evening news, which offered the usual spate of roped-off crime scenes. As he watched, he thought about the Thomason case. The change in lawyers wouldn't be on TV, but the trial itself might attract limited mass-media coverage. The final clip on the newscast was a story about a high-profile drug case in Atlanta. The defense lawyer, a man not much younger than Mac, sported a long, gray ponytail that would make a thoroughbred mare jealous. While talking to a TV reporter outside the federal courthouse, the lawyer slid in a pitch to the viewing audience for future business. Mac shook his head. He doubted an Echota County jury would be mesmerized by the man flipping his hair around the courtroom in Dennison Springs.

It wasn't cold enough to build a fire in the fireplace, but winter was on the way, and Mac's supply of firewood needed to be replenished. Pouring a whiskey, he watched a made-for-TV movie until his eyelids grew heavy and he dozed. Forcing himself awake, he went outside and found the dogs curled up on the deck. They scampered into their pen, and he gave them fresh food and water. He watched while they lapped out of the same dish. In a few minutes, they barked a good-night farewell and disappeared into the doghouse. Mac went to his bedroom and crawled into bed.


He woke up sweating and gasping for breath at 3:00 a.m. It was the usual nightmare. It began in different forms but always ended the same. Tonight it started in peace on a beautiful fall afternoon. Mac, Laura, and their two sons were walking around a lake. Mac looked at his boys and remembered another day, many years past, when they had taken off their shoes and waded into the cold water to catch tadpoles with paper cups. The dark mud squished under Mac's feet, and the tadpoles zigzagged crazily back and forth near the surface of the water. Laura sat on the grass and watched.

The scene shifted. Snow on the ground. The lake deserted. Mac in a hurry to get home. They were all in the four-wheel-drive vehicle. Even asleep, he knew what was coming, but in his unconscious state he could not stop the projector from flashing the scenes that came before his eyes. He looked at the boys sitting in the backseat. They were watching out the windows as flakes fell. He glanced at Laura, who smiled, reached out, and laid her hand on his shoulder. His heart beat faster, and he tried to turn his head away from the pictures that started coming more rapidly. The line between dream and reality blurred. Mac gripped the steering wheel and slammed his foot down on the brake pedal. Blackness descended. Mac didn't see the horror but felt its presence and knew what lay behind the veil. In the dream, he screamed. In his sleep he moaned and woke up. Immediately, his hand went to Laura's side of the bed and came up empty.

Splashing his face at the bathroom sink, he tried to wash away the guilt and grief neither water nor time could erase.


Several hours later, the morning sun flooded the bedroom with light. Mac rolled over for an extra few minutes of semiconsciousness before stumbling into the kitchen to fix a cup of black coffee. After a few sips the phone rang.

"Hello," he mumbled.

"Has the sun come up in the far north?" a deep voice asked.

"Barely," Mac answered. "I've not finished my first cup of coffee."

"I'm way ahead of you. Peggy fixed my favorite breakfast-I've already eaten three fried eggs, a couple of sausage patties, and several biscuits. I wanted to come out to see you this morning. How about breakfast in bed?"

"A single sausage patty on a flaky biscuit would be nice."

"The delivery truck will leave as soon as I put in a quart of oil."

Mac took a bigger gulp of coffee and came fully awake. "Ray, could you bring your chain saw and splitting maul? I was going to cut some firewood this morning."

"I'll wear my woodcutting overalls."


Mac and Ray Morrison had known each other since Mrs. Warlick's second grade class. They played next to each other on the offensive line for the high school football team and during the summers fished for rainbow trout in the cold water of mountain streams. After graduation, Ray married Peggy and joined the Marine Corps. After a few years in Korea and a tour of duty during the earliest days of the war in Vietnam, Ray returned home and moved to a neighboring county where he worked as a deputy for the local sheriff's department. He rose through the ranks and eventually ran for sheriff himself. He lost the election and moved back to Dennison Springs. Mac encouraged him to try his hand as a private detective, and within a few years, Ray was making plenty of money without the political hassles of being a county sheriff. Mac paid him a modest monthly retainer to ensure that no one on the opposing side of a case hired him before Mac could give him a call for help.

Wood splitting would go a lot quicker with Ray on the end of a maul. Mac put on his own work clothes and poured another cup of coffee. In a few minutes he heard the sound of Ray's truck coming up the driveway. Without knocking, the big man walked in the door from the garage.

"Here's your birthday present," he drawled, handing Mac a brown paper sack.

Mac held up the bag. "You know it's not my birthday. My birthday is in June."

"In case I forget, consider this your birthday present."

Mac took out four biscuits and sausage wrapped in wax paper. The pungent aroma filled the kitchen. "I thought I said one," he said.

"That's right. One for your birthday present. The other three are in case I get hungry while we're chopping wood. You never have much to eat around here. I bet you ate a sandwich for supper, didn't you?"

"Good guess. You should have gone to law school."

"And take a cut in pay?" Ray asked, wide-eyed. "Not me."

Mac bit into the biscuit. It was slightly crunchy on top, soft inside, with just the right baking-soda tingle. The sausage was crisp and cooked to perfection.

"Tell Peggy this biscuit was almost too good to eat. Do you want another cup of coffee?"


The two men sat in the living room, looking out the big windows for a few minutes until their cups were empty.

Mac got up and stretched. "Ready?"

"Let's do it," Ray responded. "One of my grandsons has a junior league football game at one-thirty, and I want to give you an honest day's work before I have to leave."


Mac drove his old brown International Harvester pickup truck around to the back of the house. The truck had a small winch on the front, which came in handy if the truck slid off the road into a ditch or got stuck in the mud. This morning the two men used the winch to drag dead trees out of the woods to a flat spot near the house where they could be sawed and split. Once they collected a half-dozen trees, Mac and Ray started cutting up the logs into twenty-four-inch sections with chain saws. Flo and Sue barked excitedly at the angry buzz of the saws and ran back and forth from the house to the woods. In an hour and a half, a respectable pile of cut wood lay on the ground.

Mac motioned to Ray, who flipped the kill switch on the saw. "Let's take a break before we split it."

They sat in rocking chairs on the deck and drank cold water. Ray popped an entire sausage biscuit in his mouth like a soda cracker.

"Are you feeling any older?" Mac asked, wiping his forehead with a red bandana.

Ray swallowed the biscuit and took another gulp of water. "Well, if I remember correctly, I'm about three months older than you are, but you don't have to rub it in."

"You look it on top," Mac said, eyeing the few stubborn strands of black hair clinging to the top of Ray's balding head.

"I've had my head in too many tight spots, that's for sure. But, to answer your question: When we all get together at Thanksgiving and Christmas and I see my kids and how old they look and my grandkids and how they've grown-" Ray stopped when he saw the look in Mac eyes.

"I'm sorry, Mac. That was stupid of me; I wasn't thinking."

Mac shook his head. "I asked, didn't I? I know what you meant. I've just been thinking recently."

"About what?"

"I'm tired."

"Of the legal wars?"

Mac paused, "Maybe."

Ray was silent for a moment. "You've been keeping to yourself for several months. That's one reason I called this morning. Peggy and I are worried about you."

"I'm not looking for sympathy."

"It's not that. It's being a friend."

A pair of bluebirds swooped down into the backyard and captured some insects stirred up by the woodcutting activity. Part of Mac wanted to tell Ray about the desperate debate that had been raging in his mind. About the loneliness, the nightmares, the bullets, and the pills. But entrenched masculinity kept his lips sealed. Even with a friend of fifty years, he couldn't bare his soul.

"Maybe I need a challenge," he said.

"What kind of challenge?" Ray asked.

"Something to get my adrenaline going."

They rocked in silence.

Ray broke in. "I have an idea."


"Have you considered rock climbing?"

Mac sat up in his chair and laughed. "Only if we did it together."

Ray patted his ample stomach. "It will take a big rock. One with steps and handrails already cut into it."

"I have a better idea," Mac said. "I could quit practicing law and work for you as your bodyguard."

"You're not broad enough," Ray grinned. "You couldn't shield me from a bullet unless it was coming at me dead center."

"Well," Mac said slowly, "Maybe you could protect me."


"From myself, by making me laugh. Come on, let's get to the wood."


Mac found splitting wood therapeutic. There was a swift finality to it. Stand the log up; take aim; swing the splitter over his head; strike with all his might; two pieces of wood fall apart. End of story. He was always amazed that a single, well-placed blow could split a substantial piece of wood in two. Mac used a twelve-pound maul with a fiberglass handle. Ray had a monster eighteen pounder with a steel handle that shook the earth and shattered logs as wide as thirty inches across with a single hit.

When they were in their twenties, Mac and Ray could split wood all morning with a couple of fifteen-minute breaks. Now they worked steadily for ten minutes and leaned on their mauls for five. Even so, by noon the light-colored inside of the split wood covered the clearing.

"That's enough," Mac said. "Do you want to throw a load on your truck?"

"Yeah. Sorry I don't have time to help you stack this under the deck."

"I'll do that another day. I'm beat."

Ray drove a shiny blue Ford pickup with a black vinyl bed liner and heavily tinted windows. They carefully stacked the wood until the rear of the truck sank to the frame under the heavy load. When they finished, Ray put his maul in the passenger seat.

"If my grandson makes the all-stars, I want you to come to a game with us."

"Just let me know. Thanks for helping."

"And I might bring him out one weekend to play with the dogs."

"Only if you bring more biscuits."

"Sure." Ray opened the door of his truck. "Oh, one thing."


"About the job. You know, coming to work for me."

Mac grinned. "Give it to me straight."

"You're too old and weak."

Mac hit the side of the truck with the palm of his hand. "Just because you use a heavier maul than I do! That's discrimination."

Ray smiled and rubbed his hands against the sides of his overalls. "Maybe so. But, seriously, you're a good lawyer, Mac. You've got a gift, and God gives those gifts to be used, whether someone is a cop or an attorney. I'm sure there are challenges for you as a lawyer. Something you can do to help someone else."

"Thank you," Mac said, remembering the same words from Laura's lips many years before and his conversation with Judge Danielson the previous day. "Thank you very much."

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