The gumshoe’s name was Bauer and he’d been tailing me all day.
He came to the newspaper asking questions. When he got what he wanted, he vanished like smoke. Some say he climbed into a helicopter and swept away; others swear he just melted into the shadows.
Bauer was near. I could smell him.
I hid as much as I could, but by the middle of the afternoon, I was dogged. I could run no more. I let myself be found and Bauer appeared, like the downtown dog that he is.
“What do you want from me, Bauer?” I asked him.
I spit when I said it. He grinned like a devil.
“Only this, my friend. Only this.”
He handed me a sheet of paper. I recoiled, sensing a trick. But it was no trick, it was a subpoena calling me to testify at a court trial.
“Blast you, Bauer!” I cussed at him.
But when I looked up, he was gone. The wicked one had bested me.
I don’t like testifying in court. For one, I feel like everybody’s looking at me when I’m up there on the stand. For two, I’m always afraid the part of my brain that controls impulse will suddenly shut down and I’ll spring to my feet screaming: “You can’t handle the truth!” at a completely inappropriate moment.
The one time I had to deliver testimony at trial, I got through the whole affair without channeling Jack Nicholson. But it’s still fairly unnerving. You go in there fully intending to answer all questions with honesty while everyone in the courthouse — from the judge to the guy who changes the Coke machine — will insist you’re a filthy liar.
They even make you swear on a Bible. It singes the palm a little, but the pain isn’t too bad.
Swear to tell the truth? Yup.
The whole truth? Uh huh.
Nothing but the truth?
I’d like to pause at that point in the proceedings to ask of the court just what the hell the difference is between the truth and the whole truth? What if you agree to tell one form but not the other? Are you disqualified?
Court is great drama if you’re watching as an uninvolved observer. They don’t let you bring peanuts and hot dogs in there and giant foam fingers are out. You learn that the hard way. But watching our system of law in action is entertaining and educational.
The problem is when you are required to be a part of it. Take the witness stand and you have to wear a shirt, be reasonably sober and pay attention. It is especially important that you pay attention. That’s because even if you’re a trembling choirboy required to deliver just one word of testimony, a lawyer from one side or the other is going to lunge at you like some legal kung fu master with slicked hair and a shiny briefcase. He or she will come at you with questions in upside down, backwards, triple negative form in an attempt to trip you up.
“Mr. Snodgrass, is it not true that you don’t deny not having motive to burn down the photo hut?”
“That is correct.”
And while you may plan to tell the truth, the whole truth and also nothing but the truth, tactics like those described above will keep you on edge. Instead of concentrating on his recollections and earnestly trying to help the court, a witness must assume a defensive state of mind to prepare for the onslaught of attorney trickery.
And wear a shirt and be reasonably sober.
And so when Bauer delivered the subpoena, I was plenty prepared to complain about it. I hate testifying in court. I hate putting on a tie. Poor me, poor me, pour me a drink.
But on the very same day, a 14-year-old local girl was in court where she was required to describe how a schoolteacher had touched her when she was 11. She had to reveal where she was touched and how often. She had to disclose this to everyone who happened to be in the courthouse.
And suddenly, my insignificant role in that other matter didn’t seem like such a giant ordeal after all. It seemed like a tiny thing indeed in contrast with the horrible things others are required to reveal or to learn in courtrooms every day.
And so I stopped bitching about it, and in the end I wasn’t called to testify at all. The adversarial dance between me and Mr. Bauer and was over. The game was done.
Until next time. Because Bauer will be back. He’s close again, I can sense it. Sometimes when I sniff the wind just right, I can smell him. I will know when he comes and I will be prepared. And that, my friend, is the truth.
Though not necessarily the whole truth.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can tell him the truth at [email protected]