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A novel about life in an evangelical parsonage

Chapter 15:  Prison

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©1988, 1996 G. Edwin Lint

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The luncheon at the Carlisle Holiday Inn was very quiet.  Debra just picked at a salad, Jim ate very lightly, and Patricia didn't eat at all.  Only Paul ate a balanced meal.  He did most of the talking, also.

"Patricia, I think y'all need to be realistic about Dave's situation. He's charged with a very serious crime, the DA has some pretty solid evidence, and he has next to no alibi at all.  And, on top of all that, it still doesn't look good for bail, now or in the immediate future."

Patricia nodded silently, tears starting to spill down her cheeks.  After blowing her nose and wiping her face, she looked at Paul with both pain and fear in her eyes.  "Will you tell me what you were able to find out about the charges?"

Paul briefly reviewed Tessa's injuries and the physical evidence.  When the bat was mentioned, Jim spoke up.

"I remember that Louisville Slugger of Dave's, and the whole team knows he lost it down at York during the tournament.  Do you think the person who assaulted Tessa stole it that day?"

"It's possible."

"Maybe the criminal took it then just to frame Dave with," volunteered Debra.

Paul looked doubtful.  "If he did, that would be real tough to prove. Especially since that bat disappeared almost four months ago.  That would mean the perpetrator had a high level of animosity against Dave and planned this thing over a long period of time.  Possible but not probable.  Besides, sex crimes are rarely planned in advance.  They tend to be more spontaneous in nature."

"I know you're the legal expert," said Debra seriously "but this may not be what you might refer to as a 'normal' sex crime, if there is such a thing.  The extent of injuries Tessa suffered would seem to indicate sadistic involvement.  And with Tessa being so young, I'd say we should be including a pedophile in our list of possibilities."

"And you know how Debra and I feel about the connection between demon possession and sex crimes.  When you factor in demonic involvement, anything is possible."

"Possible, but not provable in a court of law," said Paul quietly.

Jim glanced at his watch.  "It's getting late.  What's the situation at the prison as far as visitation is concerned?  Find anything out about that?"

"Visiting hours are from two till four, as we already know, and only one person per prisoner can be in the visiting room at one time.  I'm not sure about anything beyond that."

Quietly they paid the check, went out to the cars, and drove down to the prison.  The desk sergeant's mood hadn't improved since earlier in the day.

"Sign the register, go in one at a time, and when you go in, leave all your belongings behind," he said curtly.  "If you have something for a prisoner, leave it here with me and we'll check it before the prisoner gets it."

"I'm Mr. Court's pastor," said Jim.  Does the one at a time rule apply to me, too?"

"Yep."

"Patricia, why don't you go in first," said Debra softly.  "Then we'll take turns."

The younger woman nodded and took out her compact to check her makeup.  In about five minutes, a uniformed matron informed the Court visitors that the first one could enter.  Patricia followed the matron's broad back down a corridor to a door marked 'registered visitors only'.  The matron unlocked the door and then locked it behind her.

The visiting room was divided by a partition which separated the prisoners from their visitors.  A counter ran the length of the partition on both sides, with a glass window above it.  Along the length of both counters, black dial-less phones were positioned every five feet.  A folding chair was at each phone but there was nothing to separate one visitor station from the next.  On the prisoners' side of the glass window, thin steel bars reinforced the separation of prisoners and their visitors.

When Patricia entered, all visitor chairs were taken except the one in the middle of the counter.  Patricia walked to that chair and sat down.  Five minutes passed and then Dave was escorted into the prisoner's half of the visiting room.  He was dressed in an orange jump suit with short sleeves and he was wearing hand cuffs.  On the back of his jump suit were large, black, stenciled letters which read "Cumberland Co Prison".  Patricia couldn't stop the tears but she was able to hold her smile steady as she picked up the phone and looked at her Dave through the glass and bars.

Dave had a little trouble picking up the phone on his side of the partition because of the cuffs.  Finally he got it in place by using a two-hand grip.  "What did the doctor say last night?" he asked intensely.

"I love you, Daddy," Patricia answered with a broad smile.

"Thank you, Jesus," was all Dave could say before he broke down and cried.

Patricia waited as he struggled to regain control, her heart breaking as she watched him carefully lay the phone in his lap.  He then wiped his eyes and nose on his fingers and leaned way down to wipe his hands on a pant leg near the cuff.  Apparently he didn't have a handkerchief or couldn't reach it with the cuffs on.  She glanced at the other prisoners in the room and was irritated to note that Dave was the only one wearing cuffs.

Finally Dave was ready to pick up his phone again.  "Are they treating you all right?  Do you need anything?" Patricia asked anxiously.

"The thing I need most is to get out of here.  Is Paul with you?  Did he tell you about the problem with bail?"

Patricia nodded and for the next several minutes they exchanged the private small talk which acts as the adhesive of a solid marital relationship.  In no time, it was two forty-five by the clock on the wall behind Dave.  After saying she would be back in later, she blew him a kiss through the partition and walked to the door by which she had entered the visiting room.  A correction officer was on hand to unlock it for her and the matron was in the hall to escort her back to the registration desk.  Tears flowed freely with each step she took.

Debra went in next, and made small talk with Dave for about fifteen minutes.  She hadn't gotten to know him real well and felt a little awkward visiting over the phone with all of the activity on both sides of the partition.  After promising to keep both Dave and Patricia in her prayers, she left and it was Jim's turn.

Pastors were able to visit prisoners in a special locked room off the main visiting room which did not have a partition.  Patricia had told Jim about Dave's need of a handkerchief and gave him some tissues to take with him.

The alcove in which they visited had a conventional cell door with bars.  A correction officer remained within earshot at all times.  When they first met, Jim hugged the young man fiercely and then they sat down to talk.

"First, I want to thank you and Debra for making arrangements for Paul Donaldson to represent me.  He really seems to know his stuff and I appreciate all you're doing for me.  I just don't know how we're going to pay for all this.  Maybe we ought to use a public defender after all.  You know we're going to have a baby and I can't let us get way in debt now, of all times."

Jim was firm in his denunciation of that idea.  "You just concentrate on being a proud poppa and let Paul and me take care of the business end of things."

"I thought I'd get right out on bail as soon as my lawyer appeared.  But now, I understand I may not be able to get bail because of the evidence they think they have against me."  Dave's intense gaze demanded straight information. "What do you think about all this?"

"Well, Paul's the expert.  All I really know is what he tells me, and I guess he's told you the same things.  The DA and the sheriff's office feel they have very strong physical evidence.  They're denying you bail because they're afraid you may be a danger to other little girls in the community."  Jim hated to be so blunt but he'd decided before he went in to visit Dave that we would tell him the facts as he understood them and not try to sugarcoat the situation one bit.

Dave struggled with his breathing for a few seconds.  Then he said very softly but with great intensity, "Jim, you know I could never hurt little Tessa or anyone, for that matter.  I love that little girl and she loves me, just like father and daughter.  I don't know if you've heard anything about this, but she gets very little attention from her father and absolutely no affection.  Carla told Patty that months ago, right after the Stetsons moved here and Tessa started going to day care.  I guess he's on the road a lot with his job, or something.  I really don't know all that much about him, for that matter.  But I do know this much.  We've had a real close relationship, right from the first time I saw her in Patty's class.  But every thing has been absolutely innocent, as God is my witness.  Totally innocent.  And I'd say, at least ninety five per cent of the time we've been together, it has been right under Patty's nose, right there in the day care at the church, of all places."  The broken young man leaned over, planted his elbows on his knees, and rested his head on his cuffed hands.

"How well do you understand what's going to be happening in the next week or so," asked Jim.

"Paul's explained it all pretty much, I guess," said Dave.  "About the arraignment, and the preliminary hearing, and the Grand Jury.  Stuff like that."

"Unfortunately for you", said Jim sadly, "this is a really touchy case.  You know how stirred up the country has become over preschool sexual abuse cases lately.  Everyone from Geraldo to Larry King has been focusing on this kind of thing with lots of TV and radio air time."

Dave stared off into space for a while and then asked, "Can you tell me anything about how Tessa is doing?"

It was Jim's turn to hesitate.  "I did stop at the hospital late last night.  She was sleeping under pretty heavy sedation but I got a chance to spend some time in prayer at the hospital before I left."

"She's going to be all right isn't she?" asked Dave, his blue eyes shining with tears.  "That's the really important thing.  What happens to her, not what happens to me."

"Paul told me he shared some of the medical facts with you this morning.  She's been hurt very, very badly and we all must pray with all of our combined faith that she will heal completely."

"Poor, poor Tessa.  Poor little girl," murmured Dave brokenly with his head once more propped on his cuffed hands.  "Pastor, can we pray together right now?  Let's agree together that Tessa will be completely well again," he said hoarsely.

"That was the very next thing on my agenda," agreed the pastor.  The men took turns praying, with Dave going first.  In Jim's prayer, he again emphasized Tessa's need for healing in her mind and spirit as well as her body.

After saying "amen", Jim glanced at his watch.  "Dave, it's almost quarter to four.  Why don't I leave now so Patricia can see you a couple minutes before visiting hours are over.  Dave nodded and both men rose, shook hands, and Jim left.

Patricia hurried down the corridor to the visiting room, well ahead of the sauntering matron who carried the keys.  She glanced at her watch.  If was three fifty.  Of course the matron had to try three times until she got the right key in the lock.

As Patricia rushed up to the counter between the two sections of the visiting room, Dave was being escorted to the exit which led out to the main part of the prison and his cell block.  Quickly she picked up the phone and rapped it frantically on the glass.  Dave turned, saw her, and stepped out of line to rush back to the partition and pick up the phone on his side.  The clock on the wall showed two minutes to four.  You might know that clock would be fast.

"I love you, Dave," Patricia said breathlessly, "and I'm praying for you every minute."

"I love you, too, Patty," responded her husband.  "Be sure to take real good care of yourself."  He wanted to say more but one of the correction officers who had been escorting the prisoners back to their cells took the receiver from Dave's hands and placed it in the cradle.  Then the guard mutely pointed to the clock where the red sweep second hand was climbing the last thirty seconds to four o'clock.

Quickly Patricia blew Dave a kiss.  But when he tried to return it, the man in uniform grasped him by the elbow and propelled him toward the visiting room exit.  That didn't keep Dave from turning and mouthing over his shoulder "I love you" before the steel door slammed behind him.

"Visiting hours are over, ma'am," said the matron from over by the visitors exit.  Numbly Patricia left the visiting room to rejoin the Hogans and Paul Donaldson in the waiting room.

Paul suggested that they all go across the street to a small mom and pop restaurant and have a cup of coffee while he brought them up to date.  The cafe-style restaurant was quaint outside and cozy inside.  They sat at a table for four with a red and white checkered tablecloth.  The Hogans and Paul ordered coffee but Patricia asked for a glass of water only.  She needed to take something for her headache.

Paul did have more information, but none of it was seemed to be good.

"Got a chance to talk to the DA a little this afternoon while y'all were visiting," Paul said.  "Kind of a hard nosed guy, I'm afraid.  Said 'preacher or no preacher, he's going to trial without bail'.  Any ideas what he meant by that 'preacher' thing?"  Paul paused to dump two cream containers and three packets of sugar into his coffee.

The Hogans and Patricia looked at each other and Jim spoke first.  "He probably knows Dave is employed by the church as assistant director of Wesley Day Care."

"I thought Patricia was in charge of the day care," Paul said a little sharply."

"She is," answered Jim, "and Dave is her assistant.  The board appointed him to that position effective August first.  He'd been doing a lot of volunteering in his free time and he got along great with the kids, so the board agreed to make the Courts a team."

Debra spoke for the first time.  "I suppose the DA just naturally assumed that anyone on the church payroll in a professional capacity would be a preacher, don't you think Jim?"

No one spoke for a while as Paul stroked his right jaw line.  Patricia and the Hogans would come to recognize that as a sure sign of deep thought, or deep trouble, or both.  This time it was both.

"Y'all know this already, but we need to get it out on the table and talk about it," Paul said in his North Carolina accent.  "Most folks who aren't in the evangelical movement think born-again Christians are some kind of crack pots.  The way the movies and TV show us Christians on the screen sure doesn't help none, either.  When's the last time you saw a Bible-believing and church-attending Christian being shown as someone even close to normal?  We're usually some kind of weirdo or sicko or both."  Paul paused to take a sip of his heavily-laden coffee.  "I'm afraid that when the press gets a hold of this preacher business, Dave's case and your church are going to get a lot of bad publicity."

"I can see how this could hurt the church," said Patricia, "but how can it hurt Dave's case?"

"Jurors," answered Paul with a heavy emphasis on the second syllable, "are human just like you and me.  We lawyers try to screen out the ones who have been unduly influenced by what they've already read and heard before the trial begins.  But there's a point of diminishing return with that.  Do you really want people hearing Dave's case who don't read the papers, don't read Time, don't listen to network news on radio or TV?  My guess is, you don't, because those kind of people are not going to be sharp enough to pay close attention to the testimony in a long trial and make an informed decision on innocence or guilt.  Maybe not sharp enough to stay awake, even."  Paul signaled the waitress for more coffee, having just finished one of his longer out-of-court speeches.  The group was silent while the lawyer poured cream and sugar into his cup.  Then Paul continued.

"So you got your choices.  You can have a dodo who's never heard of a well-publicized case.  Or you can have a sharper person who's been following the case in the media and may be prejudiced coming in.  Tough choices."

"Do you really think this case is going to draw that much publicity in a small town like this?" asked Jim seriously.

"Count on it," drawled Paul.  "When you put together a two-year-old child, alleged sexual assault, and a quote preacher, you have major news coverage.  And I'm talking the three networks plus MS-NBC, Fox News, the AP, UPI, syndicated columnists-- and those are just the good guys.  Add in the TV tabloids, to say nothing of the print tabloids.  That last group will be on this thing like a duck on a June bug.  After the OJ Simpson thing, all these guys have to do is punch a couple buttons and they're fully operational."

Jim glanced at his watch and then slapped the table in self-incrimination.  "Will you look at the time!  Four forty-five, and I'm on the air in twenty minutes!"

"You're not going to make it.  What're you going to do?" asked Debra anxiously.  Paul looked at both of them quizzically.

"Debbie, you pay the bill and Paul, can you take the ladies up to Mechanicsburg?  Owe you one, buddy."  He slapped Paul on the back and left the cafe at a dead run, door jingling in his wake.

Everyone else was ready to leave, also, so Debra paid the check and they left the cafe a little more sedately than Jim had done.  They walked to Paul's Matador which was parked in the court house parking lot.  Debra and Patricia were startled to see a cluster of reporters waiting at the car.  Paul seemed to expect it.

"May as well get used to it, Patty," Paul said.  "They're going to be part of your life to some degree or another for the next several weeks.  Let's do it this way.  Debbie, you take Patty's other arm and we'll keep her between us.  Both of you ladies get in the back seat on the left side.  I'll hop in the driver's seat and we're out of here."  Both ladies nodded.  "And remember, the only thing we say is 'no comment'.  Makes 'em madder'n hops but that's the scenario for now."

At that moment a reporter spotted them and they all rushed down the sidewalk to meet them, shoving and arguing for position.  Debra spotted a couple minicams from local TV stations and at least four reporters or sound men were carrying boom mikes on long extensions.  Suddenly one of those mikes was thrust in Patricia's face.

"How do you feel about your husband's arrest, Mrs. Court?" bawled the wielder of the pole mike.

"No comment," drawled Paul laconically while batting the mike aside.

One of the local reporters recognized Debra and a mike was thrust in her face.  "How come your church hired a child molester to run your day care?" the reporter asked abruptly.  Patricia gasped and stumbled but her friends supported her.  Again Paul batted the mike away and said no comment.

Finally the clot of reporters with Patricia, Paul, and Debra in the center reached the Matador.  A man with a minicam put a leg up on the Matador's left fender in preparation for hopping up on the hood.  "Off the paint, buddy, Paul growled as he grabbed him by the belt and jerked down firmly.  The man stumbled back and sat down hard on his rump.  His colleagues laughed hilariously.

Quickly Paul got the ladies into the back seat.  "Lock all the doors, Debbie," he instructed as he pushed down the lock button on his door and slammed it.  Then he turned and faced the reporters.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you're looking at a fully-restored 1972 American Motors Matador V-8 station wagon with air conditioning and full power.  My dad bought this car brand new and it means a lot to me.  My name is Paul Donaldson from Washington and I'm representing David Court.  That means we'll be seeing a lot of each other for some time.  Now get this and get it straight.  Nobody touches my car.  Got that?" and he looked directly at the camera man who was still brushing dirt and leaves from his clothes.  Paul turned and signaled Debra to unlock the front door.

"Can you give us a statement, Mr. Donaldson?" called someone from the back row as a boom mike appeared above his head.

"I just did," drawled Paul as he slammed the door.  Slowly he backed out of the parking place and they were on U.S. 11 headed north to Mechanicsburg.

"I can't believe that guy trying to stand on your hood," said Debra as she gazed around the interior appreciatively.  "You did a great job restoring this old lady.  Last time I saw her, she was a piece of junk, if you don't mind my saying so."

"You're right.  That must of been soon after I brought her back from North Carolina.  You see, while my dad still had her, the inspection station found major rustout underneath and wouldn't pass her.  Said she was structurally unsound and that the front end was not being properly supported.  It would have cost Dad five hundred dollars to get her back on the road and that was more than she was worth.  So he junked her and got twenty five dollars instead of paying five hundred.  The next week or so, I went down to Hickory to visit the folks and found out the Matador was at the junk yard.  The owner sold her back to me for a hundred dollars.  I got me one of those U-Haul towing rigs and towed her back to Ashtabula.  Couple thousand and a lot of hours of hard work and look at her now," and he patted the dash board affectionately.

Debra checked her watch.  "Oh, Paul," she said quickly.  "Do you have FM?  It's five minutes after five and Paul's program is coming on.  I want to see if he made it in time."

"Of course I have FM," he said, acting insulted.  "What's the numbers?"

"Ninety point seven, WMOR in Camp Hill."

"What's this radio thing all about, anyway?" asked Paul as he manually tuned to the proper spot on the old-fashioned analog dial.

You'll see," said Debra smugly.

Jim was torn between his need to get to his office before five oh seven and his long-standing policy of always driving no more than five m.p.h. above the legal limit.  When he got to the Carlisle exit of the Pennsylvania Turn Pike just north of the city, he decided to take it instead of risking traffic jams and lights along the more direct route.  He had his window down as he approached the toll booth.  He punched the red button, got his ticket, and rolled up his window without coming to a complete stop.  Ten miles to the Gettysburg exit where he would get off on US 15 North, just two miles below the church.  A total of twelve miles in just a little over ten minutes.  He'd have to watch and pray.  Watch for cops and pray for safety.  The Eagle's 1.5 engine was a puppy getting away from a light but it cruised very nicely at higher speeds.  Jim laid the needle on seventy and pressed the cruise button.

"Exit 17 Gettysburg 2 miles," the sign said.  The Eagle's dash clock, which was synchronized to CROSS network time for just such an eventuality, showed 5:02.  Jim fished a dollar out of his wallet and tucked it in his shirt pocket.  As he approached the Exit 15 toll booth, he rolled down the window and got the dollar and his ticket in his left hand.  He thrust them into a surprised toll taker's hand and said keep the change.  Fortunately traffic was light on 15 and he was able to merge without breaking stride.  As he approached the Wesley Drive exit of 15 he could hear WMOR start its sixty-second local weather forecast.  As he raced into the church driveway, all four tires were growling hoarsely in protest.  Instead of parking in back as he usually did, he squalled to a stop right in front of the main entrance.  The weather was over and WMOR was doing a station ID and time check.

Jim forced himself to stroll leisurely up the walk and into the church.  He knew if he ran, he'd be too out of breath to talk normally on the air.  Sandy flashed him a relieved smile as he entered the reception area and strode into his office.  He jerked on his headset and adjusted the boom mike.  The program theme was playing in his right ear and suddenly the red light above the digital clock was on.  Show time.

He vamped a little, giving the phone number and mailing address, stretching that meager information as long as he could.  And while he did that, he checked the four calls showing on his monitor.  A knot grew in his stomach as he realized that each call could have something to do with Dave and Tessa.  He picked the one which looked like it might be the least toxic and pressed its button.

"You're in 'The Pastor's Study'.  Hello, Veronica in Chula Vista, California."  Although she wanted to talk about day care, she surely couldn't know about Dave and Tessa.

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