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THE TERROR, THE BRAVERY
“We only have ten days until the trial starts,” Matthew Bennett said. “Do you feel ready?”
Cheyenne Wilder nodded. She heard the Multnomah County prosecutor sigh.
“When we’re in court, please remember to answer out loud. All testimony is recorded.”
“Okay.” Cheyenne swallowed. Even though this was just practice in Mr. Bennett’s office, her tongue felt too big for her mouth. What was it going to be like in the witness stand in a crowded courtroom?
She was glad he had made everyone else stay in the waiting room: Danielle; her dad, Nick; and even Jaydra, who now accompanied Cheyenne every time she left the house.
Jaydra, her bodyguard. Her keeper. Her dad said it was just until attention died down. What if someone else got it into their head to kidnap her, knowing he had already paid a million for her once?
“And keep your hands away from your mouth,” Mr. Bennett said. “You need to speak clearly. The juror farthest from you should be able to hear every syllable.”
Cheyenne started to nod, then caught herself. “Yes. Okay.”
“And be sure not to chew gum.” He hesitated. “Although, hmm, it could make you look younger. Let me think about it.”
She straightened up. “Why would I want to look younger?” Because she was only five foot two, Cheyenne always sat and stood tall. She wore makeup, knowing it made her look older.
“We want the jury’s sympathy.” His voice firmed. “Ask your mom to pick out something that makes you look younger. Maybe something pink or with ruffles.”
Cheyenne didn’t bother telling him she didn’t own anything like that. Or that Danielle was her stepmom and certainly didn’t pick out her clothes. She had already figured out this was a one-way conversation. Mr. Bennett wanted the jury to look at her and think she was helpless. Incapable. That she was a victim.
She hated that word.
“It’s a fine line,” he continued. “We want the jury to feel for you, but we also want them to trust every word you say. Initially, I’m going to take you through what happened, step by step. How you were kidnapped, how you escaped. I want them to feel the same things you did those three days. The terror of your kidnapping, the bravery of your escape.”
Cheyenne hadn’t felt brave, though. She shivered at the memory of running through the woods at night. Branches clawing her face. Tree roots tripping her up. Then it started to snow, adding the horrible knowledge that she must be leaving behind footprints.
“When it’s the opposing counsel’s turn to cross-examine you, he might ask if we’ve met before. It’s fine to say yes. Just say I told you to tell the truth. If you tell the truth and tell it accurately, Wheeler can’t cross you up. Never guess or make up an answer. If you don’t know or don’t remember, just say that. Answer only the exact question and then stop. For example, if I asked you how old you are, you would just say sixteen. You wouldn’t tell me the time of day you were born or the name of the hospital. Don’t volunteer anything.”
“Okay.” Cheyenne wanted to correct him, to say she would turn seventeen the day before the trial started, but Mr. Bennett didn’t like interruptions. Her stomach felt queasy. What if she messed something up? What if Roy walked free? She remembered how he had howled her name as he did his best to kill her.
“That’s another thing we might as well start practicing. Say ‘yes, sir,’ and ‘no, sir,’ to me and to Mr. Wheeler. If you speak to the judge, say ‘Your Honor.’ And no joking around or getting agitated, even if you’re feeling nervous. I’m not just talking about when you’re on the stand. You need to keep it together at all times, even if you have an unexpected interaction in the hallway or outside the courthouse. Your behavior could be observed and factored into the jury’s decision.”
Interaction in the hallway. “Are you saying I might run into Griffin?” Her stomach twisted again. She pressed her fingers to her lips.
He touched her shoulder. The surprise of it, coming out of nowhere like that, made her jerk back.
“You don’t need to worry. We’ll make sure he never gets anywhere near you. And you’ve got Ms. Hamilton to protect you, of course.” He meant Jaydra.
“Have you talked to him? To Griffin?” Cheyenne managed to sound like she didn’t care.
“Yes. He’s in town now. We’ve met several times to discuss his testimony.”
Her heart sped up.
“He’s the one who really has to worry, not you. Wheeler’s going to focus on him like a laser. He’ll try to get under his skin, make him lash out. He’ll argue Griffin’s the one who kidnapped you. Not his father.”
“But it was an accident.” Cheyenne didn’t know who had been more surprised when each of them figured out the other was in the car. “Griffin was just trying to steal the Escalade, not me. He saw Danielle’s keys, but he didn’t notice me because I was lying down in the back. And he was going to let me go. It was his father’s idea to ask for the money.”
Mr. Bennett made a humming noise. “We only have Griffin’s word for what he would have done. James Hixon is dead, and Thomas Meadors is in a mental hospital. And even though Griffin freely admitted stealing the car, I’m sure Wheeler’s going to make a big deal about his plea bargain. He’ll probably claim Griffin is lying about his father’s involvement in exchange for not being sent to prison as an adult.” He sighed. “Wheeler’s going to eat him alive on cross.”
Cheyenne must have made some small sound of protest because Mr. Bennett added, “I doubt he’s going to ask much of you, since the jury will see you sympathetically. The one thing he might focus on is whether you’re really capable of identifying Roy as the man who told your father to pay him five million dollars or else he would send you back in pieces. He’s going to say it’s impossible to identify someone by only voice or scent.”
“I’m blind,” Cheyenne said, “not stupid. Sir.”
Copyright © 2017 by April Henry