Surrounded By Darkness

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“Is the defense ready to call your next witness?” Judge Gonzalez asked.

“Yes, Your Honor.” The high-priced defense counsel rose from his chair and buttoned his navy suit jacket. Layton Alito had hired one of the best criminal lawyers in the state of Illinois.

Olivia Murray sucked in a breath as she sat in the courtroom clenching her fists. She wasn’t used to this spectator role, and it wasn’t one she liked. It had been over six months since Nina Marie had been brutally attacked and left for dead by Layton Alito. And now it was time for Layton to be held accountable by the justice system, but things weren’t going as planned.

As Olivia looked over at Nina Marie’s pale cheeks, she wondered if her friend would be strong enough to get through the rest of the trial. She couldn’t even imagine the psychological toll this was taking on her, but Nina Marie refused to back down, even if she was much weaker than ever before.

 “The defense calls the Honorable Louise Martinique to the stand.”

Murmurs sounded throughout the courtroom at the mention of calling a sitting judge to the witness stand. Given how discovery worked in criminal cases, the prosecution didn’t have the benefit of knowing what Louise would testify to. But Olivia had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach and knew it wasn’t going to be anything that could help the prosecution.

While it wasn’t public knowledge, Louise was aligned with Layton and his New Age group called Optimism.

Looking at Louise, though, you’d never think that. Her long gray hair was pulled back in a low bun. Of course, she didn’t have on her judge’s robe, but her occupation was going to be presented very clearly to the jury. She was playing the role of a friendly grandmother perfectly today, and that concerned Olivia greatly.

Louise was sworn in and took her seat in the witness box.

“Ms. Martinique,” the defense lawyer started, “for the purposes of today’s trial, I’ll refer to you as Ms. Martinique, is that all right with you?”

Louise gave him a warm smile. “Of course.”

The lawyer took a step toward the jury. “But just to be clear so the jury understands a bit about you, you are a sitting judge. That’s your job, correct?”

Louise nodded. “Yes, sir, I am, but today I’m here purely in my personal capacity, not as a judge.”

The lawyer glanced back at his notes and then continued. “Thank you again for your time, and I’ll do my best to get through this quickly, but as you can imagine the allegations against my client here are quite serious. Let’s get right to it. How do you know Mr. Layton Alito?”

“Mr. Alito and I have known each other for years—probably around ten or so. I met him because of my charitable work in the community and service on various boards.”

“What type of boards?” the lawyer asked.

“The one I work with him the most on is for Optimism’s nonprofit division.”

Defense counsel nodded. “In all the years that you’ve known him, what can you say about his reputation?”

“Objection, Your Honor,” the prosecutor said. “I’m not sure how general reputational testimony is relevant at this point.”

The defense lawyer turned and looked at the jury. “It’s actually highly relevant. We have an esteemed member of the community here to talk about her relationship and knowledge of Mr. Alito and what type of man he is. Given the nature of the charges against him, the jury should be permitted to hear that.”

“I tend to agree,” the judge said. “Objection overruled.”

Olivia wasn’t shocked in the least about the judge’s ruling. She was actually surprised the prosecutor made the objection, but she knew second-guessing and playing armchair quarterback wasn’t the best thing for her to do at this point, even though it was incredibly difficult for her to stay quiet. She tried to settle in and figure out what the defense lawyer’s play was. Louise’s testimony about Layton’s character may have some weight, but it wouldn’t determine the entire case.

The attorney turned his attention back to Louise. “You may go ahead and answer the question.”

Louise took a breath. “I’ve known Mr. Alito to be a man of great integrity. He is highly generous with his time and financial contributions to the community. The nonprofit we work on together has been instrumental in preparing people to go back into the workplace after periods of unemployment. We’ve been able to make a positive and tangible impact on people’s lives.”

“And in the time that you have known Mr. Alito, have you ever had any concerns about him being a violent person?”

Louise shook her head. “Absolutely not. Just the opposite. I’ve known him to be a kind and gentle man, slow to anger, with a very good head on his shoulders.”

Hearing those words almost made Olivia sick because she knew the true Layton Alito. The man was ruthless, conniving, and extremely violent. But even more important than all those things, he was directly tied to evil. He sold his soul a long time ago and was proud of it. Olivia knew all too well what he was capable of. She was certain his supernatural activities would not be on display today in courtroom. Very few people knew what his company really stood for.

Olivia took a moment and surveyed the courtroom. It was such a shame Stacey Malone was sitting there on the defense side rooting for Layton. She’d been seduced by everything Layton could provide her, including what she believed was her freedom but was her captivity. The college student had probably just started to learn what Layton was all about, and Olivia could only hope and pray that one day Stacey would change her mind and leave that type of life. Pushing those thoughts aside, Olivia focused back on the issue at hand and Louise’s testimony.

“I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, so I’ll get right to the bottom line. Ms. Martinique, do you know where you were on the night of February the twentieth?”

Louise nodded. “Why yes, I do.”

“And can you please tell the jury your whereabouts that night?” the lawyer asked.

“I was having dinner at my home with Mr. Alito.”

“And when did Mr. Alito leave your house that evening?”

Louise glanced over at the jury. “It was probably around 11 p.m. We had a late dinner because we were working on various budget issues for the annual board meeting.”

The defense lawyer took a step forward. “And do you recall what time Mr. Alito arrived at your home that night?”

“I believe it was around six p.m. We had quite a bit of work to do so we got to it. We took a break for dinner before finishing up.”

“And you’re sure about the date of this dinner meeting you had with Mr. Alito?”

“Yes, and we don’t have to just rely on my memory. It’s in my calendar.”

“Your Honor, I’d like to enter that page from Ms. Martinique’s desk calendar into evidence.” The defense attorney walked over and provided a copy to the prosecutor and then approached the bench after asking for permission.

“Any objection?” the judge asked.

“No, Your Honor,” the prosecutor responded.

Olivia figured the judge was almost certainly going to let in anything Louise said was in her calendar. They spent a minute authenticating the document, and it was introduced into evidence. The defense wrapped up his questions, and the prosecutor would now get his chance.

Olivia so wished she could be the one conducting the cross-examination. She’d tried her best to convince the prosecutor that there were forces of evil at work in the midst of this seemingly regular case, but the prosecutor had given her the brush off. He didn’t believe in anything and thought Olivia was a bit crazy—well, more than a bit crazy. Absolutely crazy and he had said as much. The cross-examination wasn’t going to be as effective as it could’ve been.

She glanced over and saw Nina Marie’s boyfriend Abe Perez squeeze her hand. Not only had Nina Marie almost been killed by Layton, now she had to live in fear that he would come back and try to finish the job. Thankfully, Abe was sticking close to make sure that didn’t happen.

Olivia took a deep, steadying breath before the prosecutor jumped into his questioning.

He cleared his throat and approached the witness. It occurred to Olivia this prosecutor most likely knew Louise. That couldn’t be a good thing because he wouldn’t want to rock the boat with a judge he would have to be in front of again in his career. This was all going downhill quickly.

“Ms. Martinique, I appreciate your time today.”

Already highly deferential.

“You’re more than welcome,” Louise responded.

“I looked closely at your calendar, and it appears you do keep a very meticulous record. But what would you say about the eyewitness testimony from the victim in this case? She did identify Mr. Alito as the man who attacked and tried to kill her.”

Louise didn’t look at the prosecutor. No, she was far too seasoned for that. She put on her best grandma face and looked directly at the jurors. “I know all too well about false identifications in my line of work. Eyewitness testimony, especially after a terrible trauma, is notoriously unreliable.”

That question had opened the door to a harmful response and let Louise set up the stage perfectly to make her point.

“So, you aren’t calling Ms. Crane a liar?”

Louise’s eyes widened in feigned disbelief. “Of course not. My heart goes out to her for what she suffered, but I also don’t want an innocent man to go to jail over this.”

“And it’s still your contention that Mr. Alito was with you that night?”


Olivia shifted in her seat. This was beginning to sound like a second direct exam instead of a cross-examination. The prosecutor wasn’t getting anywhere and was just solidifying her already strong testimony. If things kept going like this, there was no doubt in her mind Layton would walk out of the courtroom a free man.

A sense of powerlessness washed over her. Lord, is this really your plan? That Layton would go free? Olivia had learned the hard way that things in Windy Ridge weren’t always surface level. There was so much spiritual activity in the town with the two big New Age groups that had thriving front companies. She had to remember there was a larger picture here, and Layton was only one piece of it—albeit a very evil one.

A chill shot down her arms as she looked at Nina Marie who turned even more pale. Olivia couldn’t help but glance over at Stacey and her friend Morena. There was something sinister happening in the courtroom, and Olivia couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

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