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Evangeline - Sample Chapter

EVANGELINE
d. w. b u f fa

Chapter One
NO ONE SPOKE, NO ONE MOVED, the only sound a muffled cough that made the silence more profound. In the crowded solitude of the courtroom everyone waited, as much worried about what this trial might tell about themselves as about the man who was charged with the crime. Their solemn, troubled looks told you that, deep down, they wondered whether they might not have done the same thing—and whether it was really a crime at all.

 

At the far left, opposite the jury box, a wooden door flew open. Gray eyes blazing, the Honorable Homer Maitland moved quickly to the bench. He cast a long, thoughtful glance at the crowd and then, with a slight nod towards the clerk waiting obediently below, instructed her to bring in the jury. Judge Maitland greeted the six men and six women with a stern formality. It seemed to serve notice, as if any notice were needed, that this was not an ordinary trial, not the kind heard dozens of times each month. This was something different, something that none of those involved in were ever likely to forget. He turned away from the jury. The narrow creases at the edge of his mouth spread along his jaw as he studied the two lawyers at the tables set side by side at right angles to the jury box. ‘Mr Roberts,’ he said in a voice as rough and weathered as his hands.


‘Your Honor?’ replied Michael Roberts for the prosecution.

 

‘Call your first witness.’

 

It was there for just a second, a brief confession of reluctance, and something more than that: a doubt whether any of this was wise. But Roberts was not there to show doubt or hesitation; he was there to construct a case which, when he was finished, would leave no room for doubt that a crime had been committed and that the defendant—and no one else—was guilty of it. ‘The People call Benjamin Whitfield.’

 

Everyone turned to look. They had never met him, but they all knew who he was. Even before what had happened, everyone had known his name. Whitfield took the oath in a voice that, though steady, seemed to lack conviction.

 

‘Would you please state your name for the record,’ Roberts began as he took a position at the side of the counsel table, only a few feet from the jury box.

 

‘Benjamin Whitfield,’ replied the witness. Roberts struck a languid pose, his arms crossed in front of him, one foot crossed over the other.

 

‘You are the registered owner of a sailing vessel, the Evangeline?’

 

‘Yes, I am. Or, rather, I was.’

 

‘Of course. Would you describe that vessel for us, Mr Whitfield?’

 

‘She was a double-masted sailing ship, the finest of her kind.’

 

‘And it was registered in the United States?’

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘Did you purchase it new?’

 

‘I had her built. She was finished a year ago. She was in trial runs for several months. This was to have been her first real voyage.’ Roberts moved across the front of the courtroom to the clerk’s desk.

 

‘Would you be kind enough to identify these photographs?’ He handed the witness a large folder. Whitfield removed half a dozen photographs, examined each in turn and passed them back.

 

‘They’re photographs of the Evangeline. Two of them were taken the day she was christened;three of them while she was undergoing her first sea trials.’ Stepping away so everyone could see, Roberts held up the sixth and final photograph.

 

‘And this photograph, Mr Whitfield? When was this one taken?’ With a grim expression, Whitfield stared down at his hands.

 

‘The day she left.’ Roberts stood next to the railing in front of the jury box, waiting until Whitfield looked back. ‘The day she left Nice,’ Whitfield explained in a distant, hollow voice. ‘The day she started her last voyage.’ ....

The Evangeline by D.W. Buffa

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