William Bernhardt

Dark Justice

The question is not what you look at, but what you see.

— Henry David Thoreau, Journals, November 16, 1830


One Hundred Years Before

In 1906, a journalist named James MacGillivray struggled to think of something different to fill the pages of the Oscoda Press, a small-town northern Michigan newspaper. In those days, papers were more flexible and often used fiction pieces to liven up their pages. Because the town had recently seen an influx of lumberjacks and businessmen in the fledgling logging industry, MacGillivray concocted a tale, based in part on stories he had heard around town, about the Goliath of loggers, a superhuman lumberjack called Paul Bunyan. In “The Round River Drive,” the mighty Bunyan fells “about a mile a day” of forestland. “You see,” MacGillivray wrote, “back in those days the government didn’t care nothin’ about the timber and all you had to do was hunt up a good tract on some runnin’ stream-cut her and float her down.”

The Bunyan story was very popular, and in the years that followed, more appeared by a variety of writers. In 1914, an advertising copywriter working for the Red River Lumber Company produced a booklet collecting and embellishing the Bunyan saga-adding, for instance, Babe the blue ox. The company’s advertising circulars gave the “legend” national prominence, popularizing both the logging industry and the stouthearted, manly lifestyle of the lumberjack.

The logging industry boomed. Settlers came from far and wide to be a part of the “taming” of the national wilderness. Ancient forests, silent for centuries, were suddenly noisy as factories, as men and equipment swarmed through cutting down everything in sight. Lumbering, dominated by larger and larger corporations, was an attack operation in which profits depended on the speedy, efficient felling of trees-as many as possible, as quickly as possible. In 1850, more than forty percent of the United States was densely forested; by 1920, less than ten percent was. Entire forests disappeared, and to their surprise, the loggers learned that, even when new trees were planted, the forests did not grow back …

Six Years Before

Ben Kincaid gripped the podium, a grim expression set on his face.

He was staring across the courtroom at the man in the witness box. Evan Taulbert was his name, and he was the critical witness for the prosecution. He was a lab researcher in a clinical research facility in a small town near Tulsa called Chesterson, and one of only two staffers on the premises the night of what the Tulsa World was calling the “Great Chesterson Chimp Raid.” As the jury had already learned, the research facility was conducting experiments for a major cosmetics company, using chimps as test subjects. A local animal rights group, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Our Other-Than-Human Neighbors, had been protesting outside the facility for months. On the night of the raid, they stopped protesting and took decisive action.

And by the time the raid was over, a man was dead.

Ben was representing the leader of the raid, one George Zakin, a young activist. He claimed that the death of Dr. David Dodd was an accident in which he played no part. Zakin admitted trespassing on the property, but claimed he did so to free the chimps, not to harm anyone. The prosecution, unfortunately, took a different view. They were pushing for Murder One, arguing that Zakin had entered the premises with the express premeditated motive of killing Dr. Dodd. The case was built entirely on circumstantial evidence, but there was plenty of it. Ben had spent the better part of the last three days cross-examining prosecution witnesses, bolstering his client’s alibi, proving those witnesses didn’t see what they thought they saw.

Except for Evan Taulbert. He resolutely maintained that he saw the defendant race past his office window at 3:05 A.M., just before the time of death-which destroyed Zakin’s claim that he had left the premises about an hour before.

Ben felt certain Taulbert was mistaken or lying, but how to prove it? He could only do what he always did in these circumstances-try to get the man talking, on the theory that if Taulbert talked long enough, eventually he would trip up.

“So you were in your office when you claim you saw my client race past your window?” Ben asked.

“I was,” Taulbert replied, supremely confident. “When I did see him race by.”

“Awfully late to be at the office.”

“I often stay late. I’m very dedicated to my work.”

“Were you planning to sleep there?”

“Indeed. I have a sofa in my office that folds out into a bed.”

How cozy. Ben flipped a page in the outline Christina had prepared for him. “I see from the police report that you also had a lab assistant in your office.”

“Nothing unusual about that,” Taulbert replied, but Ben thought something about the way the man stroked his beard suggested otherwise.

“You know,” Ben said, “I don’t seem to have the assistant’s name. What is it?”

Taulbert coughed into his hand. “That would be Kelly Prescott.”

A suitably ambiguous name, Ben thought. “And would Kelly be a man or a woman?”

“A woman.”

Out the corner of his eye, Ben saw some of the jurors leaning slightly forward. This cross was already more interesting than they had expected. “You were alone with a female assistant?”

“Male or female-it makes no difference to me,” Taulbert replied, still stroking away at that beard. “I don’t discriminate in my hiring.”

“And was Ms. Prescott also awake when you saw George Zakin run by the window?”

“She was. But she didn’t see him. She was facing the other direction.”

“She was facing the other direction.” Ben’s imagination reeled. “Were the two of you … engaged in an experiment at the time?”

The first red blotches began to appear on the man’s neck. “No. We had closed down shop for the day.”

“So the two of you were just …?”

“Unwinding. Relieving the stress of a difficult workday.”

Ben nodded gamely. “And did the two of you employ any special … stress-reduction techniques?”

A titter emerged from the jury box. The prosecutor, Jack Bullock, rose to his feet. “Your honor, I object. Relevance.”

“I’m exploring the circumstances surrounding the man’s identification of my client,” Ben explained. “Testing its credibility.”

Judge Peters brushed a shock of hair out of his eyes, looking supremely bored. “I’ll allow it.”

Ben thanked the judge. “Now where were we? Oh yes-stress-reduction techniques.”

Taulbert straightened. “I don’t know what you’re trying to insinuate.”

“Well, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to insinuate …”

“If you’re trying to find out if Kelly and I are fond of each other, we are. But it doesn’t alter the fact that I saw your man running down the corridor just before my colleague was killed.”

Ben frowned, then flipped another page in his outline. It was, of course, always pleasing to take a pompous ass and rake him over the coals a bit. But ultimately Taulbert was right. The fact that he was messing around with

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