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The Trial of Callista Blake By Edgar Pangborn Characters: 29396

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Cecil Warner turned toward the cold gleam of the courtroom window; an eastern window, the winter sunshine long gone. In the morning he had watched a glint of the sun on Callista's black hair, and on the polished bleakness of the table where her arm rested. The daily journey and decline of the sun affected him more deeply now than in past years, left him irrationally disappointed on the gray days, less willing to accept the approach and arrival of night. On such days, or at the tired conclusions of winter afternoons, the age of his body oppressed him-as now, when he turned his heavy head and felt a wobbling sag of cheeks, unwilling droop of eyelids, slight but irritating deafness, uncertainty of his powers. And in all activities between foggy waking and not quite desired sleep, a fading, a knowledge of relinquishment. If his eyes sought and cherished (as now) the delicate swell of Callista's breast, his mind said: My hand will not follow that curve, not ever. Or it said: Even the inner and almost hidden love that keeps the spirit alive and sometimes strong and sometimes angry-even that is only for a little while.

T. J. Hunter was up on his feet being stately and important. Warner advised himself: he must not, would not fall into the dangerous error of hating or even disliking T. J. Enact hostility, yes, whenever it might have a useful effect on the jury-enact anything at all, from sputtering rage to glacial contempt-but don't feel it! He could not afford to feel it, without a far more flexible control of his private emotions than he now possessed: much too easy for an angry man to look like a fool. And yet not hating T. J. was going to be intolerably difficult at times; for Callista could die, and T. J. was after all a good deal of a bloody bastard.

Hunter said: "Your Honor, I see it's getting on to four. My opening will be brief. If agreeable to the Court and Mr. Warner, may I make it now?"

Behind his mask Warner felt flustered and unready. He could protest; Terence Mann would obligingly call an early adjournment; Callista would have some rest, if you could give that name to her unknowable hours in the detention cell. The advantage T. J. probably hoped for, in having the jury sleep on his opening masterpiece, might be no advantage at all-a jury can forget impressions as well as facts.... Startled, he realized that Terence with his curious courtesy was deferring, looking down from the bench with harmless reminders of a ten-year friendship in his face, waiting for the defense to speak first. He said: "My client is very tired. However, I assume from what Mr. Hunter says that his opening will not run much past five o'clock-is that correct?"

"I'm sure it won't, sir. I only intend to summarize, to outline what the State expects to prove."

Sir from you?-gah! "In that case, the defense has no objection."

"Members of the jury, Callista Blake is the daughter of an artist, by all accounts a loving father, who died when she was seven, and a lady who is known to a wide circle of acquaintance as a devoted wife and mother. This lady, and Callista's father and stepfather, gave the girl a careful, decent upbringing. Callista's stepfather Dr. Herbert Chalmers of Winchester College is a distinguished man, author of a textbook in English widely used in the secondary schools. Her mother is active in the Presbyterian Church, past president of the Shanesville P.T.A.-in short I know of nothing in this girl's history or family surroundings to account for her present situation unless you attach more importance than I do to certain childhood accidents. As a baby she got a nitric acid burn, later repaired by plastic surgery. She had polio, which left her slightly lame, very slightly-as you can see, Miss Blake is not disfigured, and not at all unattractive. And don't we all know of cases where ugly accidents have happened to children without turning them against the human race?

"What are the origins of crime? Does anyone know? Psychiatrists? Well, the State is prepared to offer psychiatric testimony, if the defense elects to do so. I can't see the necessity myself. I can't imagine an insanity defense being made here. I think it's a case where the individual must be held clearly responsible for a wanton and cruel act, the one act that strikes most dangerously against the welfare and security of human society: namely murder. It was, and the State will prove it, a murder motivated by sex jealousy, but obviously not in any gust of passion. No, it was coldly premeditated, planned, and heartless."

Warner fought down the perilous anger. This was simply Hunter's opening barrage. I can roar, too. Yet he wished that without disturbing her by a touch he could will Callista to look toward him for comfort. He checked an impulsive motion of his hand. Still-faced, she was watching a spot on the wall above the gaunt grim skull of the juror Emerson Lake. She would turn to him and listen if he whispered, maybe even smile. But it might be that she needed those withdrawals, a kind of rest.

"In 1950, Mrs. Blake and her daughter Callista moved from New York City where Callista was born, to Winchester. Mrs. Blake was employed in the Registrar's office of Winchester College, and there met Dr. Herbert Chalmers; they were married in 1951. Dr. Chalmers had bought a Shanesville property a few years before-1946, I think. Callista lived there till she graduated from the Shanesville High School, Class of 1958-with high honors by the way. Dr. Chalmers wished to send her to college. She is a girl of exceptional intelligence, and don't forget it." (So, T. J.? She's on trial for unauthorized possession of a brain?) "But immediately after graduation, Callista Blake preferred to seek employment, and found it as an assistant in a photographic studio-Nolan's, on Hallam Street here in Winchester. Well, Dr. and Mrs. Chalmers have always wanted to satisfy any reasonable wish of Callista's." (Have they?) "They offered no objection to her taking this job. In fact for her eighteenth birthday, July of last year, Dr. Chalmers bought her a car of her own, a Volkswagen-it will be important in the evidence."

Important enough, Warner admitted. If there were any way to deny or even cast doubt on Callista's presence out there in Shanesville that night-but there was not. Callista herself would not have it so. On the stand, he knew, she would tell the truth so far as she knew it-the whole impossible clouded story that left her no defense except a reasonable doubt as to criminal intent. And if she did not take the stand, there was no defense at all.

"In that same month last year, July, Callista took an apartment in Winchester, at 21 Covent Street. Again her family indulged her and made the best of it." Indulged, you fool? It had been Callista's own money from her father's estate, plus her salary from Edith. Warner felt some wry pleasure, although it meant nothing, really, except an opportunity to rub Hunter's nose in a minor blunder. "There was no break in the family relation, members of the jury-so far as we know. We assume that like many parents, they simply wanted the child to have what she wanted." (And now, T. J., do you think you can transform her from a child into a woman fit for burning?)

"Another family is involved, a family now broken up by murder. When James Doherty, originally from Massachusetts, met and married Ann Pierce in Philadelphia, he was twenty-seven. He had served in Korea, finishing college on his return. They were married in 1955, and moved to this neighborhood. Mr. Nathaniel Judd of Winchester is the father of a friend of James Doherty's killed in Korea. Mr. Judd grew acquainted with Doherty through correspondence, and in '55 offered him a partnership in his real estate and insurance firm, now Judd and Doherty. In the spring of '55 the Dohertys purchased a house and land in Shanesville township adjoining the Chalmers place. I think Ann Doherty was a happy young wife that year. She started a flower garden."

Callista had a garden too; she poured ice-water in it. Warner glanced up to the spectators' benches, looking for Edith Nolan, feeling a warmth for her that puzzled him by its sudden increase. He supposed one got the habit of taking Edith too much for granted, of turning to her in trouble or weariness (Callista had done it too) without remembering that Edith also was vulnerable, quite as likely to be in the grip of fatigue or sorrow. Edith would be remembering that magical water garden, the emerald illusion of infinity, the darting, shifting arrows of living light that could not move without grace. His first sight of it had been about a year ago, an invitation to the little apartment at Covent Street soon after Edith had done his portrait and Callista's rapid pen had drawn that strangely affectionate cartoon of him, comedy without spite; as if at eighteen the girl could incredibly glimpse the quality of sixty-seven and find something there for the unhurtful entertainment of both of them-and of Edith, who had remarked laconically: "What the hell good is a camera?" Well, he thought, many thanks to the human species for Red Nolan, and he would send her flowers tonight and take her out to dinner like a boy with a date and why not? Never mind the boy-he was dead long ago: take her out like an old man still capable of friendship with a lively, tender, witty woman who understood friendship herself.... Edith met and acknowledged his look across the anonymous crowd-yes, she would be remembering that water garden, and its end, untouchable beauty transformed to a pathetic mess for the janitor to remove.

Two rows behind Edith he saw without pleasure the angular haunted features of James Doherty, and the opaque calm of the black-clad man on Doherty's left. It would be Father Bland's habit, Warner supposed, to show at all times that careful benignity smooth as quartz. Without pleasure, without much interest, he wondered in passing how it felt to be certain of one's own serene rightness.

Hunter's noise-oh, geography. Giving them the lie of the land.

"Those properties are on the outskirts of Shanesville proper. You go out Walton Road about three miles beyond the city line. There's a fork, and the right branch, Summer Avenue, reaches the village limits of Shanesville in a mile; Walton Road runs on south to Emmetville, Pritchett, other towns at the south end of the county. The Doherty place is near that right-angle fork of Summer and Walton, back from the road, its drive opening north on Summer Avenue. The house itself stands about a hundred yards west of the fork. The Chalmers house is south of Dohertys'-entrance on Walton Road about the same distance from the fork. Except for not very heavy traffic, the region's isolated. Peaceful. Closest neighbor is about a quarter-mile down Summer Avenue from Dohertys', a Mrs. Phelps Jason, who manages her twenty-acre place as a wild-life sanctuary. The back land behind it is unused pasture and woods belonging to the Chalmers property, which used to be operated as a farm.

"The Chalmers and Doherty houses are separated by a grove of trees that reaches all the way to Walton Road. On the west side of Dohertys' the woods are continuous, except for Mrs. Jason's place, to Shanesville. You can think of the Doherty place as a pocket cut out of woodland. The two families used a winding footpath through the grove for visiting back and forth. And you must imagine the region as it is in summer, leafed out so that the two houses are quite hidden from each other. Maple, pine, hemlock, oak-some very big pines at the edge of Walton Road.... In the grove near the property line there's a natural pond, fed by a brook from the Chalmers back land. Its outlet runs through the grove, into a culvert near the fork of the highway. The pond is small, oval, fifteen feet across at the widest, less than five feet deep last August because of several weeks of drouth.

"From the spur path or the pond, you can't see either house in summer. On the night Ann Doherty died there, it might have been possible to catch a glint of light from the Chalmers house, through the leaves. A hazy night, hot, a nearly full moon shining through the overcast. A still and oppressive night."

And that night, Warner remembered, the night of Ann Doherty's death and of Callista's longer and stranger ordeal, he had been at Mrs. Willoughby's discreet establishment on River Street, sharing a well-perfumed sheet with one of her young professionals. The memory remained clear because there had been no more such nights since August; the many other nights of hired love stretching back across thirty-odd years tended to blur and run together-here and there a face remembered, a word, a special instant of intensity, annoyance, amusement. The night in August had been delightful; relaxed, no attempt to achieve a counterfeit of youth, and no wish for it. Leisure of a sort was possible-it ought to be, at Mrs. Willoughby's rates!-and the girl, small, brown-eyed, pert, had been convincingly friendly; more so, once she understood that the Old Man, in spite of being sixty-eight and too fat, didn't care for elaborate variations but wanted only the bread-and-butter-steak-and-potatoes of natural intercourse. They had talked a while, he recalled, she comfortably smoking, braced up prettily naked on a thin elbow and chattering-perceptive enough, by the way, not to call him Daddy.... There might be no more such nights: a final recession of the need, or perhaps a suddenly yielding blood-vessel, a cancer taking over, a tumble in a slippery bathtub-never mind.... He could almost remember walking home from River Street (thinking very likely of Callista), but it must have been after the moon was down. A hazy night-"Out of the cradle endlessly rocking-"

T. J. Hunter was still pausing over a drink of water. Warner remembered-old things mainly, their intensity dissolved by distance in time; remembered, under the illusion of detachment that can make existence appear truly like a river, yourself able to look back upstream at nearly forgotten vistas: trees, meadow and town, eddies, dubious shoreline, floating trash. Warner shielded his face with his hand, closing away even Callista, as he had found he must sometimes do.

Boyhood was the sound of ocean, medicinal reek of kelp washed in on the night tide to wait for bare feet and a poking stick. It was the breakers, green ridges advancing out of the ever-distressed Atlantic and growing a snowy froth, never pausing yet seeming to pause when the froth spilled over the crest. Then a toppling, crash, inward flow. A receding; a mysterious accep

tance of an end, soft hiss and sigh and aftermath, swirl of light water become thin and harmless on the sand.

Boyhood was fishing boats and Montauk Light, gravely busy clam-diggers, Manuelo whom Cecil wasn't supposed to play with. It was the unseen journey of hollow-voiced titans in the fog; pressure and majestic riot of storm. It was an afternoon of watching the disappearance of an unknown sail over the southern curve of the earth. School, too. Helpless rage at long division; Papa's dry-goods store that was always going to do a little better next year; Manuelo in the empty boathouse showing off how many times he could do it in half an hour; Great-aunt Harriet who turned up every Thanksgiving, who liked to announce abruptly out of her world of deafness that she'd been in Ford's Theatre when Lincoln was shot-then she would read lips a minute while the company hollered how wonderful that was, and then, eating loudly and cheerfully, she would slip back contented into the mist of ancient times. Boyhood was windy nights, and surf hammering the muffled drums of sand a quarter-mile away; stillness also in the dark, and moonlight pouring into another midnight of black water. Tide inexorably rising to clean away the dead jellyfish and driftwood, blotting out barefoot stories written on the low-tide beach; clear sunshine over the whitecaps; and long gray days.

Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,

Out of the mocking-bird's throat, the musical shuttle,

Out of the Ninth-month midnight,

Over the sterile sands, and the fields beyond, where the child, leaving his bed, wander'd alone, bareheaded, barefoot ...

He had been twelve-anyway it was soon after Mother died-when he discovered Whitman. One of the volumes chastely silent behind glass, in the parlor over the store, undoubtedly a book of Mother's. Carried off to his room and secretly saved from disaster when his stepmother dismissed all the books in the parlor that didn't have pretty red or brown bindings. The fury of that ancient wound stirred. At sixty-eight, Cecil Warner smiled slightly, unknowingly, and shifted in the disagreeable courtroom chair to ease a discomfort in his defective left arm.

So much, so many million other images, reflections, happenings, accidents, in the forty-nine years of the river's journey before Callista Blake was born, the nineteen years since then! None of it (said the doctors) totally forgotten. "I, Cecil, take thee, Ellen...."

He remembered making the necessary uproar about his bad arm's disqualifying him for military service; most of it sincere enough too, in spite of a deep private happiness with his young wife. He remembered damning the Kaiser. The murky spooks of Stalin and Hitler bulked so much larger in the years between, in front of them the mushroom cloud-hard to reconstruct true images of 1917. Then 1918, and influenza, and Ellen dead. She couldn't be-not abruptly, incomprehensibly gone like that; but she was. He returned half willingly to a winter day of 1959.

At sixty-eight it is possible to look ahead-some; to form a purpose, with caution, remembering that if you don't make it, they'll say charitably: "Think of that! Sort of getting on, wasn't he?"

He would not drink tonight. Well-dinner with Edith, maybe (and flowers), so maybe a glass or two of wine, nothing more-

Never more shall I escape, never more the reverberations,

Never more the cries of unsatisfied love be absent from me,

Never again leave me to be the peaceful child I was before what there, in the night,

By the sea, under the yellow and sagging moon,

The messenger there aroused-the fire, the sweet hell within,

The unknown want, the destiny of me....

T. J. Hunter dropped the folder of notes he had been studying, possibly for effect, and turned back to the jury.

"In May of this year-the State will prove it-an illicit relation developed between Callista Blake and James Doherty, the husband of that Ann Doherty whose death, as you know, is the reason for this trial. Not to mince matters, the word is adultery, and I must remind you now, members of the jury, that Callista Blake is not here on trial for adultery. She is on trial for murder, nothing else. The State will prove the fact of adultery to establish motive-which, as you may also know, is not legally required, yet I think a rational mind is bound to demand it. How can we reasonably condemn anyone without at least some understanding of what made him act as the factual evidence says he did?

"I want to make one thing clear. In a case of this sort the husband is automatically suspect, the chance of conspiracy so obvious that the police would be derelict in duty if they didn't examine it to the last scrap of a clue. That's been done. If anything at all had been uncovered involving James Doherty in this crime, you know he would not be at liberty. Nothing of the sort has been found; everything points the other way. He decisively broke off the affair more than a month before the murder. He tried to make amends for his folly. The State is convinced that in the death of Ann Doherty, Callista Blake, consumed by hatred and jealousy-and by a certain fear for herself, since she was pregnant-acted entirely alone.

"I am sorry for her-who wouldn't be? You will be. Her difficulty was great, her position tragic. But as the State's representative, I remind you that instead of the many fair and decent solutions for her trouble that she might have chosen, the one she did choose was premeditated murder.

"On the evening of Sunday, August 16th, Ann Doherty called at Callista Blake's apartment, 21 Covent Street, leaving at 8:30. No third person was present, no one knew she was going there except Callista Blake who, by her own admission, had telephoned and asked her to come. James Doherty had gone to New York City by train the morning of that Sunday and did not return until Monday evening.... Before leaving Callista's apartment, Ann had a little drink of brandy for the road. It was poisoned, with aconite.

"On her way home, Ann was stopped by a state trooper because her driving was a bit erratic. The trooper dismissed her with a warning, and then followed her home because he thought she might be ill, felt uneasy about her welfare till he saw her drive in safely at her house on Summer Avenue-8:43 by his notebook. This trooper, Carlo San Giorgio, is the last person known to have spoken with Ann Doherty before her death. He will testify.

"At 9:10, less than half an hour after Ann reached home, Callista Blake's Volkswagen was parked on Walton Road, between the fork and the Chalmers house, hidden by the trees. At 9:40, another half-hour later, Callista Blake drove that car part way into the Chalmers drive, backed out and drove off in the direction of Winchester-no stop, no visit to her mother's house, just in and out and away.

"Ann Doherty died, by drowning in that pond in the woods, between quarter to nine and quarter to ten; this we know from medical evidence. We have excellent circumstantial evidence for most of Ann's actions after San Giorgio saw her reach home. She stopped her car in the driveway, off the gravel, almost colliding with the front porch. She turned off headlights and motor but left the car door open. Her key ring, with house and car keys, fell by the porch steps. She dropped her handbag on the path leading through the woods to the Chalmers house. Aconite causes numbness of the extremities, nausea, thirst, general muscular collapse, but usually no impairment of the intelligence. Evidently Ann's mind was at least clear enough to remember her husband was away, and the nearest help in her sudden sickness would be at the Chalmers house. She probably couldn't recover the key ring after her numb fingers dropped it, and that's why she couldn't get into the house and reach the telephone. She had locked up when she left, her custom whenever Jim was away.

"Coming down that path, Ann fell several times, she vomited, she lost one of her shoes. She fell again, half-way down the spur path leading to the pond. Why did she go that way, and not straight on to the Chalmers house? We don't know, for certain. Took the wrong turn in the moonlight, being sick and confused?-possible. She was found in the water, drowned. Stumbled and fell in, couldn't get out?-that also is possible, remotely possible. Admittedly the circumstantial evidence is imperfect at this point, and it's one of the questions of fact that you, members of the jury, will be called on to decide."

Grim, slow, brooding, Hunter returned to the prosecution's table for another sip of water, and Warner's gaze wandered to the face of Judge Terence Mann. What are you going to do to us, Terence?

In a sense, the Judge would do nothing. Warner assumed without reservations that the quiet introspective man up there would try his best to preserve an ideal impartiality. It seemed to Warner that Mann was almost devoid of vanity, incredible as that might seem in a judge. No fanaticism in Terence Mann, no insistence on the rightness of a view because it was his own, no false identification of self with idea. Incredible until you remembered that Terence was a judge more or less by accident, an interim appointment later confirmed by an election in which he had peacefully refused to do any serious campaigning.

Warner recalled their first meeting ten years ago, soon after Mann had been appointed special prosecutor for an investigation into county road construction frauds. The rats were running, and Terence, a youngish thirty-seven, appeared to be enjoying it. In the book-leather and walnut surroundings of Mann and Wheatley, Terence had looked at first like a revised version of his uncle Norden Mann who had died the year before. A superficial resemblance. Old Norden had been a born pettifogger, loving legal labyrinths for their own sake. Terence, skeptical, a bit sharp, would look for the simplest way to pass through a labyrinth and come out on the other side. Terence had served his apprenticeship in Norden's firm, re-entering it after his discharge from the Army. Until that graft-hunting appointment no one had heard much of him. Warner had gone to the office on Wilson Place off Main Street-"Lawyers' Hollow"-for a luncheon engagement with Joe Wheatley. Terence had been halted for a handshake, and Warner had fallen into a pose he could not always avoid: the aging lion. Terence wasn't scared. "Do you intend to be a famous prosecutor? Scourge of the unrighteous, huh?"

The loaded questions-they came out too, Grandfather roaring. Terence hadn't minded. "No, sir, I don't exactly see that ahead of me." No word of what he did see. Later they met at the University Club and began a more relaxed acquaintance over a few drinks. Then an invitation to Terence's apartment that became an evening of Chopin and Bach. Music was an aspect of Mann's life unsuspected, discovered by Warner with the abruptness of an opened door. The lawyer vanished; the hands were "beyond technique"; the keyboard voice spoke with the authority of intense feeling governed by insight.

And Warner recalled another meeting with someone else, in an almost empty bar, a few days after the election that confirmed Terence Mann in office. Idle for the afternoon and in a cool beery mood, he had glanced down the damp mahogany and noticed a sagging red-veined blob, the face of Boss Timmy Flack of the Third Ward-who, in a way, was the politics of Winchester, the half-submerged and partly useful human force, neither honest nor demonstrably a crook, The Man You Went To See. Himself honored and ancient, professionally secure, in any case seldom giving a damn what others said of him or of the company he kept, Warner had moved down the bar and bought Timmy another drink before The Man could buy him one. "Hear tell we got a new judge."

"Uh-huh."

"Happy, Timmy? Civic virtue and so on?"

"Shit."

"If not happy, what are you going to do about it?"

"You needling me, Counselor?"

"Little bit."

"What the hell's anybody going to do, now he's in? The son of a bitch doesn't want anything!"

Which was certainly not true, but just as certainly true in Timmy's sense. And Cecil Warner understood that he now feared Terence Mann only because Terence's mind demanded demonstration, when a demonstration of relative truth may be more arduous than any labors of the gods.

"Yes, she might have stumbled and fallen in. The State contends this is not probable. You will of course hear all the evidence that has led us to this conclusion. The State contends that Callista Blake followed Ann Doherty, searched her out, found her there helpless on the path, dragged her the rest of the way into the water. Perhaps even held her under, the way you might drown an unwanted kitten."

Chilled by the voice in spite of forty courtroom years, Warner saw Callista gazing down at her fingertips, frowning slightly as if bothered in the midst of concentration by an irrelevant uproar in another room.

"On Monday, August 17th, Detective Sergeant Lloyd Rankin of the Winchester Police was sent to Callista Blake's apartment, acting on information received from the State Police at Shanesville. The poison aconitine was found there, in two forms-in an opened bottle of brandy, and in a canister that held chopped-up monkshood roots, the source of aconitine, steeping in brandy. The State will prove Callista's opportunity to secure monkshood roots ten days earlier, from her mother's flower garden in Shanesville.

"The State contends that Ann Doherty could not have received that poison by accident. The State contends that Callista Blake gave it to her with malice aforethought, with full intent to cause her death. The State contends that the final act, the drowning, was done by Callista Blake, and that she is guilty of murder in the first degree."

Hunter was sitting down and mopping his face. Warner discovered that he himself had risen, for now his body was wavering in vertigo and he must grab the back of his chair and wait. The clock hands stood at three minutes past five. The Judge was gazing distantly down the slant of an unmoving pencil. "Your Honor, a word before adjournment if I may?"

Terence's voice was soft and friendly. "Certainly, Mr. Warner."

"The defense will waive the opening. At this time, before evidence, before the jury has had opportunity to learn the truth, I have nothing to say except that my client is innocent."

Whereto answering, the sea,

Delaying not, hurrying not,

Whispered me through the night, and very plainly before daybreak,

Lisp'd to me the low and delicious word DEATH ...

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