The Ellis County Court House was a conglomerate of cutting edge 1940’s design updated every ten or fifteen years since so that it would fall within whatever the current building safety codes for public buildings were at the time. From the outside it looked exactly as it was supposed to; warm, graceful, a shining island of laidback country legality and justice amid an ever encroaching tide of big city corporate America corruption. On the inside, however, corruption, literally and figuratively had gotten more than a just foot inside the door.
The faux Italian marble flooring in the halls was cracked and dulled by years of wear, the wood grain walls scuffed and peeling, the tiles in the dropped ceilings were colored a hideous brown from water damage, and the carpet in the hearing room might have been dark red at some point, but now it was just one big questionable deep stain that spread from the judges chair outward. Most of the doors creaked, the glass in the windows was smudged and in some spots painted over, the big wooden desk where the attending officer sat was noticeably and shoddily repaired in numerous places with plywood and roofing nails, and the plumbing in the bathrooms roared and shook and purged out great gasps of air any time you attempted to run the faucets or flush the often clogged toilets.
Peter Larson was sitting in one of the old pews that were donated by the First Baptist Church that served as the seating in the room reading various obscenities that were carved into the armrest and half listening to Judge Winton Davis Jr. officiate over his late sisters will. He had read the document a hundred times, hearing it once more wasn’t exactly necessary. Normally these sorts of proceedings have no place in a public forum, but the circumstances surrounding Meredith Larson’s death and the curious happenings afterwards dictated that it must be so. Peter, who had been in town for a little over a month, had been named the sole beneficiary of her surprisingly sizeable estate, something that a good number of people in Ellis took personal offense to, not to mention great interest in.
Meredith had moved to Ellis County 20 years ago after getting her masters in education. She had said to Peter before she left Ohio that, even though the money wasn’t great, the atmosphere Ellis provided would be perfect for her children; should she ever have any. Within a month of accepting a job in the school system, she was gone. Peter visited Meredith quite frequently since then, he made it a point to visit once every two years, and each time he left feeling something was amiss. A first it was little things, he way she spoke or carried herself, the curious habits she had developed, the look in her eyes. But little by little Ellis had managed to completely consume his sister, and finally, buried in Falls Church Cemetery, she had become a permanent part of the town that she was unable to get out of her head.
A quick look around the courtroom that afternoon read like a who’s who of Ellis County officials; police chief Hanley Masters and his wife Lydia, Mayor Elizabeth Valentine, Dr. Richard Blank, clerk-of-court Chris Sanders, a handful of deputies from the Sheriffs office, Buddy Gibbs, one of the richest men in Ellis, two well dressed men (possibly lawyers) that Peter had seen around but never spoken to, Samantha Kayn, the principal of the local high school where Meredith had worked for the last 15 years, and, in the very back row, a local mechanic named Jeremy Ayers with whom Peter had struck up a surprisingly easy friendship a few years back when he took Meredith’s car into the shop for an oil change. The two kept in touch afterwards and it was from this relationship that, in record time, Peter had learned exactly who was screwing whom, who wasn’t completely on the level, who owed and who paid; anything and everything about everyone worth talking about in Ellis County. Ellis, Peter had noted after taking it all in, was equal parts Twin Peaks and Mayberry, a correlation that was more than a little disconcerting.
Peter glanced up at the massive old clock that was hanging above Judge Davis Jr’s head. The gold paint had long since flaked off and the second hand was trapped in a perpetual spasm, clicking and twitching endlessly at around 2:03. It was almost nine o’clock, the hearing had been going on since a little before eight and if Peter was expected to ride this thing out he was going to need more coffee. He picked up the aluminum coffee tumbler from off of the pew and set about exiting the hearing room. As he stood, the carpet squished curiously beneath and he shuddered at the wealth of implications that this offered up.
Making his way towards the door he was silently acknowledged by everyone in attendance, with the exception of Samantha Kayn. She made eye contact with him, but it was frigid and hatefully accusing. Peter had spoken to her only once a few earlier when he went out to dinner with Meredith a few of her colleges from the high school, and she was extremely cordial and friendly then. He didn’t exactly care if she hated him, but he couldn’t fathom a reason that she would, and this bothered him. He considered himself a generally likeable guy.
A slap on the back of the knee tugged him out of his thoughts for the moment and he looked down to see Jeremy Ayers rising from his seat to follow him out. The pair exited the room, with Peter making sure to let the huge oak doors slam shut and rattle the aging frame that held them. A little “fuck you” from Peter to these vultures that were swarming over his sister. The racket echoed down the hall and the old cop at the front desk eased his head around the corner to see what was going on, even though he knew exactly what it was.
Jeremy started in, “Look, Pete, I’m really sorry about this whole thing. It’s not right the way they’re reading the will like this. It’s no one else’s business but yours what Meredith left and…” Peter cut him off.
“Don’t worry about it, besides, I don’t need an apology from a guy that’s actually in the court room listening.” He smiled as he said it, flashing his teeth like a wolf. Jeremy winced and then jabbed him in the shoulder with an index finger laughing, “You snake, you told me to come!” Peter had and he was glad that Jeremy had shown up. A face that he felt he could trust among the crowd vying for a piece of his sister was comforting.
Full of lies.
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