“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
“I do,” Hank said. “Lord, help me, I do.” He looked over at the stone-faced former mayor. All hopes he had of a reprieve died in that glare. He turned his attention to Hess’s representation, a Mr. Alexander Sturgess. Mr. Sturgess was a former student of Mr. Hess and one of the best litigators in the state. Mr. Hess, now at ninety-five, with a stroke under his belt and partial paralysis on one side, did not feel up to the rigors of cross-examination. So he had asked his old protégé, Mr. Sturgess, to be his co-counsel. Hank then looked to the empty desk where his counsel would have sat if he hadn’t chosen to represent himself. And finally to his daughter and grandson, who sat behind the railing, faithful to him, even when he didn’t deserve it.
“Mr. Wipple, did you at one time go by the alias ‘The Valiant’?” Mr. Sturgess asked.
“Yes, sir. I did.”
“I am told that you do not deny involvement in the death of one Rudolph Robert Hess, also known as Bobby. Is that correct?”
“What was that involvement?”
“Well, sir… We, my wife and I…we had nothing. We were broke. They were about to take the house. I had a daughter on the way. My wife couldn’t work. Bills piled up. With this stupid ‘alias’ I couldn’t hold down a job. We barely had food to eat. It wasn’t greed; it was desperation.”
“Mr. Wipple, I fail to see how this is relevant,” Mr. Sturgess said.
Hank disregarded him. His words flowed like blood from a fresh wound. “A company came to me offering a million dollars in a merchandising deal—cartoons, action figures, those kinds of things. That was more money than I could imagine. I turned them down at first, but the day the eviction notice came I couldn’t say no anymore.
“I investigated the company. I tried to find a reason to say no. Money hidden in off-shore accounts, spurious connections to the Mob, a botched celebrity endorsement deal, but they were squeaky clean.”
“Mr. Wipple, as fascinating as this is, I must insist that you return to the question.”
Hank looked up from his reverie. “Please, bear with me,” he said. “You need to understand the stress I was under, what drove me to it.”
“Thank you, but the facts will suffice. What was your involvement in the death of Bobby Hess?”
“It’s difficult to explain.”
“Simplify it, please.”
“My actions and my…well…inactionsled to his death.”
“Okay, please elaborate.”
“I put him in harm’s way and then…well…I…I didn’t save him.”
To Be Continued…