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Peterson on trial

Jodie

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Friday, 1:45 p.m., Main Street. I'm lying on my back in the hedges at the foot of the towering shuttered Liggett & Myers factory on Main Street, camera in hand. I've a picture in mind--a low shot of the Chesterfield plaque--but it's also that I just really don't feel quite like standing right this moment. "Drank this," he'd said. So I did.

Now I'm lying on my back in the dirt in merciless storm-scoured daylight. The rental idles at the curb, a Durham PD unit behind it, the cop mopping up some wreck courtesy of no traffic signals.

One week: This case. My grandma dies. My stepfather retires. A hurricane--on top of everything else? Sure, why not. Bring it on.

Wednesday, there'd been one of those awkward elevator moments when the wrong people crowd into one of the overburdened courthouse elevators that actually worked. So there was that--um--pause before someone started talking about the weather--only this time there actually is something to talk about. Then everyone, at once it seemed, noticed Judge Orlando Hudson's low-key presence.

"Um um um," he shook his head. "Every major jury trial I've had has been interrupted by a hurricane."

***

" 'No media event occurs without a camera and a script.' " Robert is reading from Michael Peterson's Charlie Two Shoes and the Marines of Love Company. Four of us, Robert, Affie, Joan (who'd dug the book out of a library) and I are having a pleasant meal at Charlie's place over on Elliott Road later that night.

"' 'Ron Sibit wrote the script. He also called the reporters and arranged for the cameras.' " Robert continues. "'He created the event and the star, becoming the manager of the event and agent for the star. But the event became a circus, with the star dressed in a Chinese peasant outfit shilling for coins.' "

Charlie cooled his heels behind the cash register, the wall crowded with photos of him with guys in uniforms, a big Marine insignia above.

Like some High Plains Drifter, one day, she'd entered Courtroom 1 like a cross between Morticia Adams and Nefertiti--like some dark angel of true-crime. I understand Mikey blanched when he spotted her.

At break, I trotted over to the stranger.

"OK," I said," I know everybody here. Who are you?"

"Aphrodite Jones."

"Yeah, honey," I'd almost said, "Sure. And I'm Captain Crunch. Now you wanna try that again?" Nevertheless, it was she--a whole 'nother layer of weirdness to this already improbable story.

So we latched onto her like a remora--not to suck her brains, just to get pulled along by this whirlwind for a while. I have my own routine.

Oh, the intrigue. The dark maze. The circuitous backroom betrayal--the book biz.

"What's-her-name has a deal. I have nothing," she said later.

"Hey," I said, "There's a big old world out there. Look at McGinness and Bledsoe. They both wrote books about the same crimes in the good, old days.

"That was the good old days, sweetie. You don't understand. It's all different now-- money, honey. There's only one book and right now she's got a contract. That's the way the publishing business is now. Corporate. No second acts. Jesus, I don't even know what I'm doing here."

On top of the--oh-yeah--trial, we are in a real story now, far removed from the stagy parade of stars the defense is trotting out: We're in a Chinese man's restaurant, reading from a book written about him while lurking in the background is today's testimony from another Chinese man dressed not in a "Chinese peasant outfit shilling for coins," but a suit--the first act after the second commercial on the Ed Sullivan show. While Henry Lee was on stage flinging and spitting ink, Rudolf flinched like he'd been sliced with a cut-throat razor. Mmm. A thousand-dollar suit. Hard to top those kind of theatrics.

The next day, the blow came and there was nothing to do but hunker down, and wait.

Friday the glorious sunrise dawned cool and crisp, the earth blasted clean. "One day a real rain's gonna come and wash all the scum from the streets," I think, recalling Taxi Driver, as we pull off the Durham Freeway. There are no TV masts and the tents have been struck--no sign of the media except a couple of buckets of ballast sand.

We poke around for a bit. Nothing left to do but hit it back to Raleigh. At Main and Gregson I get a hunch. "Let's go to the James Joyce and get us a pint."

We saunter into the joint and sit down. There are some very drunk people there speaking in off-the-boat Irish accents. The doors are open, there are no lights, it is hot inside and there is dust blowing down the street. The only thing missing are horses tied up out front. It's 1904.

I order Guinness.

"It's all hot. I get yuh a bottle beer," our new host says to me.

"A Guinness."

"Gawd man, no true Irishman drinks that bottled swill."

"A warm Guinness. Whatever."

"Yar mad, but sure." He draws a stout.

We talk more.

"You know," he says, "Todd used to come in here chasin' one of the waitresses."

"Tomesetti?"

"That's the one."

"No shit?" Jodie. Just like Mike. I'm deep in my fourth pint--really, really time to go.

"Not s' quick thar, man. Afar ye go, gotta drink on o' these."

He produces another pint, hands it my way and as I take it, he drops a shot of Bailey's into it--kerplook--shot glass and all. Just what I need now--an Irish Car Bomb.

Seventy-six seconds later, I'm on the ground with the camera. The cop pulls up.

"Excuse me, what are you doing, sir?"

"The Peterson case," I say, flailing in the dirt and waving my courthouse laminate. "Working."

There is a long pause. "Oooookay," he says, and motors off.

***

Tuesday, 11 a.m., Main Street

Another Durham cop's entered the scene--and he looks like he's about to puke. In a display of the biggest clanking legal brass balls the world has witnessed in some time, lead investigator Art Holland has been called to the stand--by David Rudolf, the defense. And all of a sudden we have two blow-pokes, two--one for the defense and one for the prosecution. There was no discovery, and no objections from the prosecution. Rudolf slapped Judge Hudson's order on the prosecution's table and like a rabbit out of a hat, produced the alleged murder weapon.

And away from the media circus at the courthouse, hundreds of clowns will be crowding the streets of downtown Durham this week. There's a clown convention coming. EndBlock

Jodie
You had a good home when you left
You're right
Jodie was there when you left
You're right
Her mamma was there when you left
You're right
Her papa was there when you left
You're right
You had a good home when you left
You're right
Your baby was there when you left
You're right
The police were there when you left
You're right
And that's why you left
You're right
1 - 2
SOUND OFF
3 - 4
CADENCE COUNT
1 - 2 - 3 - 4, 1 - 2 --- 3 - 4
--World War II Cadence Call
(www.hardscrabblefarm.com/ww2/cadence_calls.htm)

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