I seem to be doing much better this year with Short Story Month, and am rather proud of myself. The goal about managing my time better isn’t going quite so well, but it’s still early in the year. Hope springs eternal.
Another story I greatly enjoyed in the MWA Vengeance anthology was my first introduction to the writing of Twist Phelan, “The Fourteenth Juror.”
The two detectives stood in the reception area of the judge’s chambers on the fifth floor of the county courthouse. Ebanks made the introductions.
“We have an appointment to see the judge,” he said.
The secretary smiled at them. She was a discreetly elegant woman with assisted blond hair and not too much pink lipstick.
“His Honor is expecting you,” she said. “He shouldn’t be too much longer. He’s finishing up a JNOV hearing.”
Ebanks had to cough.
“May I get you something to drink?” the secretary asked.
Ebanks cleared his throat. “No, thank you,” he said.
“Coffee would be good,” Martinez said.
Ebanks was pinning his hopes on Martinez. The guy was no genius, but once he got an idea in his head, he was relentless. If Ebanks could get him pointed in the right direction on this case, the rookie’s doggedness would pay off even after Ebanks retired next month.
A JNOV is an acronym standing for the Latin words for “judgment notwithstanding the verdict”, a legal term in civil courts where the judge can reverse the decision of the jury, or alter their verdict. Ebanks and Martinez, a veteran police detective nearing retirement age and his rookie partner, have come to see a civil judge who’d been pressed into presiding over a criminal case because of a backlog in criminal court; the Dolan case, which ended in a hung jury. Dolan, a minor league baseball celebrity, had been accused of killing his wife, but the jury hung and the day after, he died of a carbon monoxide leak up at his cabin at a nearby lake. The jury foreman, who had refused to believe in Dolan’s guilt at any time during the deliberations and eventually convinced two other jurors to help him hang the jury, was just killed in a hit-and-run accident.
The judge never has a name; he is only referred to as ‘the judge’, ‘His Honor’, or “Your Honor’ throughout the story.
As the story progresses with the two detectives questioning the judge about the Dolan case, it slowly but surely becomes obvious to the reader that there is a lot more going on here than appears on the surface, and Phelan masterfully drops clues and red herrings in so casually as the story moves along that the reader almost doesn’t notice them…and then the last few pages! Wow!
Here’s an example of the gems Phelan produces: The woman smoldered with unhappiness.
I wish I had written that sentence.
Phelan won a Thriller Award for another terrific short story, “Footprints in Water,” a few years back. The story was published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 2013, and it’s simply extraordinary. She also writes novels–I am currently enjoying the hell out of her Finn Teller series, which I will blog about at some point, and her Pinnacle Peak series is in my TBR pile–and also is quite the accomplished world traveler. She is also funny as all hell; she moderated a panel I was on at Sleuthfest in 2013 (?), which is where I met her the first time, and she always makes me laugh.
So, read Twist Phelan. And in honor of this wonderful story, here are some hot shirtless cops.