‘Most of you would not make it to the end; some of you would get missing in action, some of you would quit after a few months, some would end up on wheelchairs and would have to be honorably discharged. Many would suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and their lives would never be the same again. Others would die in combat, and their bodies might lie out in the open for days, and flies would do them justice. But they would be brought back home, wrapped in an American flag, gunshots would resound in their honor, while we lay them to rest, never forgetting the price they paid for this beloved country.’
‘I hope some of you would make it out of here alive and complete.’ he said and paused a little for the impact of his words to be felt all over the open-field. ‘But today is a day for fresh greens and grilled chicken; for your hearts are merry, and deservedly so. You have made it into your rookie year. My name is General Ashford – You are welcome to FORT KNOX’
The 6 footer debonair General walked off the stage amidst chants from the new intakes. General Ashford had been head of the Military Intelligence Unit at FORT KNOX for almost 20 years. He had been one of the most decorated officers still in active service.
‘Hey, Rookie!’ Lance said, stretching out his right hand for a handshake while holding a can of beer in his left. He was dressed in camouflage shorts and a fitted top.
‘Hey!’ Forester replied, receiving the handshake.
‘What do I call you if I might ask?’
‘Call me – The General.’ Lance replied. The other two rookies in the room laughed out loud.
‘Your name is Lance Cavalli, only son of General Bridge Cavalli, an intelligent drop-out from Harvard.’ Forester said, still holding onto Cavalli’s hand.
‘The other dude who was rapping to Tupac’s ‘dear mama’ must be Seth, and that leaves one more roommate unnamed – Adam.’
‘Wow! This dude seems super-smart.’ Adam Baning said, clapping his hands slowly as he stood, walking towards Forester to give him a handshake.
‘He’s not that smart. I knew all your names before I met any of you; it’s on the notice board.’ Lance said, having a jealous look on his face. ‘Want some beer?’ He asked Forester, lifting the open end of the can towards Forester’s mouth.
‘No, I don’t drink.’
‘Wow! Have we got a sissy for a roommate?’ Lance said, turning towards Adam and Seth, trying to get a laugh out of them.
‘If he doesn’t drink, smoke, or listen to Tupac, then he’s definitely a sissy.’ Seth replied.
‘Shut up Seth, white boys don’t listen to rap.’ Adam retorted. He seemed the most gentle amongst the pack.
‘So, tell us a little about you.’ Lance said, curving his mouth upward, already looking unimpressed with whatever Forester was going to say.
‘My name is Forester. A legal junkie and I go to church three times a week.’
‘Church boy!’ Lance replied Forester, moving a little closer, and slowly sniffing at Forester. ‘But I think you smell like a loser.’ Lance added.
Forester went ahead to repay the gesture. ‘I think you smell like a teenager who has been caged all his life and has just been set free.’
‘Woooooooo!’ The quiet Adam said. ‘I guess that should enough for our first day. What do you all think?’
Lance had his hands held tight in a closed fist. Fighting had been his trademark for many years, that’s why he had been forced to drop out of Harvard. ‘I guess, we are done for today’ Lance said to Forester and winked at him before walking to his bed.
Forester dropped his bag on one of the free beds in the room; there were just two at the time.
‘Hey homie, that bed is mine.’ Seth quickly informed Forester. Seth was African-American and he was the most physically built of them all. There was something queer about him; he seemed to have a chip on his shoulder.
‘Ok, that’s fine.’ Forester replied and moved his bag to the next bed. Unpacking his bag, he emptied its contents on the bed. He seemed to be searching for something he had kept in the bag. Dipping his hands into all the corners, he finally found it. It was two medium-sized posters. The first was a classic black and white image of Kenneth Hagin, while the other was a picture of Stephen Curry doing a slam dunk; below the poster was inscribed – I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. Pasting the posters on the wall beside his bed, he felt good, as though he had properly branded his corner.
‘Out of bed you lazy slimes’ The voice yelled repeatedly, while his hand kept hitting every door, window and everything else it could. There was so much noise and jostling around, as everyone strove to get to the parade ground.
‘You boys still having sweet dreams at 5:00 am?’ The drill instructor yelled again. It seemed his voice was as loud as a megaphone.
‘No sir!’ They all answered uniformly, still trying to adjust themselves to a formation.
‘You sleep when I say you should. You talk when I say you should. You wake up when I say you should. I am your new father and drill instructor for the next few weeks. You can call me Sergeant Price.’
It was cold. All the boys were kitted in their military boots, combat shorts designed in the operational camouflage pattern, and khaki colored short sleeve T-shirts.
‘Follow me.’ Sergeant Price hollered, and then he initiated a cadence;
Oh mama mama cant u see
What this core has done for me
Put me in a barber’s chair
Snip snap and I had no hair
And if I die in a combat zone
Box me up and ship me home
Put me in a Santa dress blues
Comb my hair and shine my shoes
Pin my medals upon my chest
Tell my mama I did my best
But my mama don’t u cry
The Marine Corps motto is do or die
Left right left
Left right left
Low right left
A lefty righter low
They group kept the chant up, until it was apparent that they had begun to enjoy the camaraderie amongst themselves. After they had run for about twenty minutes, Sergeant Price took them through several other drills; replace push-ups and squats, plank pose, regular and reverse crunches, and he continued till all them boys felt sore.
‘Hey Sissy, yo held out quite well during the drill. I’m impressed.’ Lance said to Forester, intending to brew a little trouble.
‘Ever read Proverbs 10:23?’ Forester asked Lance while trying to get out of his sweat-drenched outfit.
‘What does it say?’
‘It talks about you; such a powerful verse.’ Forester said and flipped his towel over his neck while walking to the bathroom to take a shower.
‘Can I get a little more of the cottage cheese?’ Adam asked the chef, who seemed to have a cruel face that said ‘don’t come back for more’.
‘This is the military son, not your mama’s kitchen. You’ve had your breakfast, go take a walk, and you’d be fine.’
‘Four slices of toast, a boiled egg, one banana and cottage cheese – and you tell me to take a walk. That’s baby food.’ Adam said as he walked back to the table to meet Forester. Adam seemed to get along more with Forester while Seth seemed to be in comradeship with Lance.
‘What did he say?’ Forester asked.
‘He said I should take a walk, that this wasn’t my mama’s kitchen.’
Forester began to laugh.
‘Is there something funny about that?’
‘Not really.’ Forester replied and tried to control himself.
‘You can have one of my toast, and my banana too. But my cottage cheese goes down my belly, all of it.’
‘Thanks, pal, you’re a lifesaver.’
‘Military intelligence is a military discipline that uses information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions. Most of you might think you are so smart, and that’s why you’ve found yourself in this class.’ said the disheveled professor, who was not sure if he wanted to wear his hair like David Beckham or have it stretching to the skies like James Brown did. He was one of the few civilians teaching at FORT KNOX. He had been a lecturer there since the Gulf war and was a consultant to the CIA.
‘Believe me, even Einstein would have struggled in my class.’ The professor continued with so much pomp, waving his hand and spitting cotton like he were Julius Caesar or some great emperor who was to be revered. ‘If you all make it through this class, you would make it out of FORT KNOX in one peace.’
‘What class is this?’ Adam asked, whispering to Forester, who seemed mesmerized by the professor’s sycophancy.
‘Shhhhhhh! It’s Strategic Intelligence, and Einstein would have struggled to pass it. What does that mean? You are likely to fail it.’ Forester replied sarcastically.
Intermittently, the Professor would pull his trousers up as the lecture went on. His trouser had gone way past his waist-line and was already swallowing his upper region; it kept moving up till all of his socks could be seen (he wore a white pair of socks on his left leg and black on the other). It appeared to everyone that he was really oblivious to his looks.
Professor Mildew was done with his lecture, and stayed back for a few minutes to enjoy the accolades and hand claps; not that most of the students understood the lecture, they were just impressed with his mannerism and awed by the weird look.
‘It’s 7:47 pm’ Forester said, ‘lights out in an h and 13 minutes. This is the part of this phase I find hard to understand; why does the light have to go off by 9:00 pm and then we have to sleep. It’s been two weeks, and I still cannot get used to this.’
‘Is you asking me?’ Adam replied.
‘Why would he be asking you? When he could ask his daddy – Professor Mildew’ Lance replied, looking to the ceiling with both his arms locked together, under his head.
‘That was unkind.’ Adam said, coming to the defense of Forester.
‘Unkind is when I walk up to you and smack you in the face for replying me when I wasn’t talking to you.’ Lance said, directing his words to Adam.
‘Let’s go for a walk, Seth.’ Lance began. ‘I wonder why they paired us in the same room with these losers.’ Seth and Lance walked out of the room and banged the door behind them.
‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Forester whispered, but it was audible enough for Adam to hear. It infuriated Adam the more.
‘Is that all you can say when that boy talks down to you?’
‘Believe me, I could fight and punch hard. But that only makes me the loser he thinks I am. I just think Lance and Seth are a little high on bourbon.’ Forester replied Adam, and then he turned to look at the poster of Kenneth Hagin and Stephen Curry and began to smile.
It’s 8:36 pm already, and Forester was already getting worried about his roommates. ‘Lights out’ was in 24 minutes, and neither Lance nor Adam had returned.
‘I’d like to go for a walk.’ Forester said to Adam, not wanting to fill him in on the details; because Adam would have been irritated to know that Forester actually intended to go search for Lance and Seth.
‘It’s almost lights out. Why now?’ Adam asked, sitting up on his bed, nibbling on a cookie.
‘I could do a lot with a few minutes of stretching my legs.’ Forester replied.
‘Alright, do as you please.’ Adam said to Forester, throwing the remaining pack of cookies to him. At least, he could chew something while stretching his legs.
I know Lance was high when he snapped on Adam, I wonder if the same can be said of Seth. It’s too early for those boys to get into trouble, Forester thought to himself as he walked down the dormitory hallway. It was still lively, and didn’t look like anyone was slowing down for the ‘lights out’.
Going past the dorm, Forester took a walk towards the administrative block. Looking at his watch, the long hand was at 45, and the shorthand was slowly approaching 9. ‘I have 15 minutes to get back to the dorm.’ Forester said out loud while considering whether to keep up with the search, or just return to the room.
Walking past the first two blocks, he turned around, headed for his last point of search. He could hear some movement close by, so he suddenly stopped, so that shuffling wouldn’t drown the sound he heard.
‘Don’t say that. I was always there for you as a little child. I had to do my job as a soldier, but I also performed my duty as a father too.’ One of the speakers said
‘Tell me; when is my birthday?’ The other said.
Forester tip-toed, moving closer to the location from where the words were being spoken. He could only hear in bits and pieces.
‘I’m sorry I cannot remember. But I can’t forget the day you were born, and what that day means to me.’
‘You have not changed from being the man you were. Don’t ever come around me, and I’d also never let anyone know that you are my father. That’s why I changed my first and last name.’ The other speaker responded.
‘Don’t walk away son, I love you!’
‘You don’t love me.’ The other speaker screamed, sounding very mean.
At this point, Forester looked at his watch and it was 8:50 pm. Not wanting to be one of the bad ones, and the one to be used as a common lesson, he decided to abort his mission, ignore whatever was happening and run back to the dorm.
Forester had just taken about twenty steps, before he heard a scream, more like a howl. Forester stopped, dead still; frozen by the sound he had just heard. It was after many seconds he continued to proceed towards the dorm again. Looking at his watch it was 8:52 pm. He knew that if he ran as fast, he could make it back to the dorm in about four minutes. So, he turned around and rushed towards the sound of the mournful cry.
‘Sir! Sir!!’ The voice said out loud. There was no response. ‘General! General!!’ The voice said out louder.
Peeping from a corner, Forester could see a tall figure on the ground, and a slimmer one holding the head of the other in his arms. He made a run for the scene, giving the slimmer one little time to run away.
‘Who are you? And what have you done?’ Forester said, his heart racing, being more conscious of the limited time he had than to notice who actually was lying on the floor.
There was no answer, so Forester picked up the plank beside him, in case he needed it for self-defense, and then he approached closer.
‘Adam!’ Forester said in shock.
‘Someone killed him.’ Adam said, with tears in his eyes.
‘Who is he?’ Forester said, walking closer for a better view.
‘We better get out of here.’ Forester screamed as soon as he realized it was General Ashford who had been on the floor bleeding.
‘What are you doing here in the first place Adam?’
Adam began to stutter as he was trying to explain.
‘It’s already 8:58 pm Adam. If we don’t leave now, we’d never make it back to the dorm in good time.’
So, both boys began to run as fast as they could. As soon as it was 9:00 pm, the lights started to go off all over the dorm. Forester and Adam had to slow down because they now had limited visibility. Just a few meters away from their room, they made a final turn that should usher them into the room.
As both boys walked in, the lights went on; and beside the door stood the drill inspector – Sergeant Price.
‘Where are you boys coming from?’ Sergeant Price asked Forester.
‘Sir, we went. No, I went for a walk.’ Forester answered.
‘What time did you go for this walk?’
‘I left the room by 8:36 pm. I actually meant to check on my roommates – Lance and Seth who had been out of the room.’
‘Why would you ever want to check up on me? Loser!.’ Lance quickly replied, sounding disgusted.
‘Shut up soldier!’ Sergeant Price said sternly, pointing his right index finger at Lance.
‘So, why didn’t you come back before 9 pm?’ Sergeant Price asked Forester.
At this point, Forester was torn between his convictions as a Christian and telling the truth. If he said he heard a noise, and then an argument and then having walked towards the direction of the noise, he found Adam holding General Ashford in his arms; it was going to be a messy issue, both for Adam and himself.
‘Lord, I need your help.’ Adam said under his breath.
‘What did you say soldier?’ asked the Sergeant.
Just then, Sergeant Price received a phone call. He talked with the caller for a few minutes, and then he promised to be there shortly.
‘Hey, Soldier! What’s your name?’ Sergeant Price asked Adam.
‘Adam Baning Jr., sir.’
‘What’s your own story soldier?’ The Sergeant asked in a hurry, wanting not to waste more time.
Adam began to stutter again. While trying to explain with the aid of his hands, Sergeant Price noticed that he had blood stains on it.
‘Why do you have blood on your hand?’
‘I killed nobody.’ Adam hastily said.
‘I never said you did.’ Sergeant Price replied.
‘I cut my palm while working out tonight.’ Adam said.
‘What are you; a lady with tender palms?’ Sergeant Price asked Adam, and then he turned the light off and stepped out of the room. Seth had his eyes closed all through Sergeant Price’s interrogation, but he wasn’t asleep.
‘Why will a loser want to look out for me?’ Lance said out loud after the Sergeant had left, trying to provoke Forester.
‘You lied; Adam. You lied!’ Forester whispered.
‘Let’s go to bed, Forester.’ Adam whispered back, and then he lay on his bed.
It was 4:00 am, and there was a bang on the door. Forester, Adam, Lance, and Seth quickly jumped out of bed, thinking it was 5:00 am already, and time for the morning drill.
The lights came on, and there stood – Sergeant Price, Colonel Dwight, and three Military Police Officers.
‘Arrest both of them.’ Sergeant Price said, pointing to Adam and Forester.
‘What have we done?’ Forester asked, in a respectful tone.
There was no answer, just sounds of handcuffs being unlocked for use.
Forester and Adam were transported to a somewhere within FORT KNOX that they had never been to. It was an underground facility. As they walked down into this basement, they could see a little gathering of top military officers who stayed on the base.
‘Are these the suspects?’ General Fowler asked.
‘Yes, sir.’ Sergeant Price answered.
‘General Ashford is dead.’ Said General Fowler, who was the oldest serving General in FORT KNOX. He was a man of few words, but mighty in deeds.
‘Where were you boys at 2100 hours yesterday?’
Forester tried to explain all he could, omitting vital details that would have implicated Adam. Adam couldn’t really say much, he had been stuttering on the issue since Forester first found him holding General Ashford.
‘Lock them, boys, up, and break them, till you get all you need.’ General Fowler said to the Colonel standing beside him. The Colonel looked more like an executioner from the medieval era.
‘Though I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me. Your rod and your sta…’ before the full word could be uttered, another punch was buried on the left part of his face, close to his eyes.
‘How did you kill General Ashford?’ The Colonel screamed into his ears, pulling his hair from behind.
‘Jesus! Help me.’ Forester cried, struggling to breathe.
‘You should have asked Jesus to restrain you from killing General Ashford.’
‘I didn’t kill General Ashford.’ Forester screamed as if he were using his last energy to vindicate himself, shortly before he was killed.
Adam lay on the corner of the floor, passed out after he had been beaten black and blue. Forester was gradually losing the war, but winning the battle of maintaining silence.
‘You won’t break, right?’ The fearsome Colonel began, ‘I have seen your type, and believe me, I have outlived all of them. You know what that means, right?’
‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…’ Forester quoted, wreathing in pain.
‘No soldier… you quoted it wrong. You are not going through that valley. That valley will become your home in a few minutes if you don’t start talking.’
Just when the ‘hangman’ Colonel was about to land another blow to the face of Forester, General Earl Kariski walked in with his entourage. General Earl was the Chief of Staff to the then US Government. As soon as he stepped inside, the Colonel stopped the torture and quickly saluted. Forester was very weak to stand up, but right there on the floor, he saluted him – giving honor to whom it was due.
‘Clean these boys up, but keep them in custody. No further torturing. Investigations are on-going, and a court-martial would follow as soon if they are found guilty. General Ashford was too important to the United States and the World at large for him to die this way. We will televise the court-martial if we have evidence against these boys.’
‘Sir, yes sir!’ The colonel responded.
‘Right here, the dead body of General Ashford, one of America’s finest, was found. He was murdered in cold blood a few days ago.’ The CNN reporter said, bending down and touching the sand on the field. ‘There’s been a lot of speculation as to who took his life. But undisclosed sources within FORT KNOX said he was killed by two drunk rookies. It’s a shame that America has lost one of its most decorated soldiers. I’m Elvis Mosley, reporting for CNN, from FORT KNOX.’
Forester was angry when he watched the news on TV, sitting beside Adam in the detention bay.
‘I’ll ask you as a friend for the last time Adam; what were you doing outside the room by that time of the night?’
‘The same thing you were doing.’ Adam replied.
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘When you left the room, I decided to also take a walk. So, I got out of bed and went over to Patton Museum, and then I decided to go back to the hostel using the east route. I was playing music on my cell phone, and singing along too. While walking through the field, I found the General’s body lying on the floor. It appeared that someone had just tried to murder him. He wasn’t dead yet, so I tried to quiz him, but words wouldn’t escape out of his lips. And just a minute before you came, he stopped breathing.’
‘That’s a lie, Adam.’ Forester shouted. ‘I heard an argument. I didn’t hear everything that was said, but I know two people were arguing, and then I heard a howl. Coming back to the scene, I find you holding General Ashford in your arms, and you sit here and tell me lies.’
‘I tell you the truth, brother.’
‘Don’t call me brother. My life is about to become a mess because of you.’ Forester replied in an angry tone. Adam just kept mute and said no more words.
‘Get up soldiers, or should I say, murderers. You have a visitor.’ The Master Sergeant said.
It was Lance Cavalli, and as usual, he was gloating.
‘This is a nightmare, not a visit.’ Forester said out loud, loud enough for Adam to hear him.
‘Hello Corporal Forester and Adam – the two most dangerous men on FORT KNOX. Who would have thought that the church boy and his manservant would commit murder? This is unbelievable.’
‘What’s unbelievable is that you come around here, smelling like garlic, and talking crap. Who do you think you are Lance?’ Adam asked. Adam wasn’t as patient as Forester and was in no mood for Lance’s foolishness. ‘Please, get him out of here.’ Adam shouted to the Master Chief.
‘I’m leaving, but I want you to know that I would not rest until you boys are hung, or locked up forever, and the keys are thrown into the deep blue sea.’ Lance said and walked out.
‘The investigation had been on for almost two weeks now. The post-mortem report showed that General Ashford suffered a severe blow to his head from close range, which was probably caused by someone hitting him with a plank from behind. The forensic unit had also concluded their investigation; the plank at the crime scene had the fingerprints of one Forester, and General Ashford’s body had the fingerprints of one Adam all over it. Both students are rookies.’ The FOX News correspondent said. ‘There has been no official statement from the military yet on the identity of the suspects, but this information was gathered from our investigative journalist, and confirmed by an insider who wouldn’t want his name mentioned.
‘We are making headlines all over the world. My mother would be heartbroken if she knew that the Forester that reporter just talked about is me. I have failed her and everything she stands for. I’m innocent, and you know that Adam. Why wouldn’t you just tell everyone the truth?’ Forester asked, looking desperate.
‘Why didn’t you also tell them the truth Forester?’ Adam said, boldly looking into Forester’s eyes.
‘I didn’t want to implicate you, Adam.’
‘Do you have any evidence that incriminates me?’ Adam responded.
‘I saw you at the scene with my own eyes, Adam.’
‘You were also close to the scene too, Forester.’ Adam said sharply.
‘Was it a mistake?’ Forester asked.
‘I had absolutely nothing to do with it. You either believe me, or you tell them what you know.’
‘So, what do we do?’ Forester asked.
‘You once said you were a legal junkie. You have to start thinking like one. We have to trust ourselves because no one else does, and we have to work together on this.’
‘It’s hard to wrap my mind around this. I shouldn’t be under detention.’ Forester said, still not really sure he wanted to trust Adam.
‘You are in this already, Forester.’
‘If I might ask a few questions… why didn’t you run for help or scream when you found General Ashford lying on the floor?’
‘How would my screaming for help save the dying man? You said you heard two people arguing. Why didn’t you scream out, or try to go stop them from arguing?’ Adam asked Forester.
‘It’s all about instincts bro. Sometimes you respond one way, at other times, it’s different.’
It seemed to Forester that Adam was either a hardened criminal who just made his way into the army, or he was just too composed for someone who had a murder charge about to be tied around his neck.
‘So, what do we do?’ Forester asked.
‘If the evidence found incriminates us…’
‘It does already, brother, didn’t you listen to the news? They called my first name and yours too. They even said we were drunk. I have never tasted anything alcoholic, and yet, I was drunk?’
‘It’s a high-profile military death Forester. General Ashford was no small figure. The investigations would end very fast, because of media pressure. They would try to frame us up, so as to close on this immediately.’
‘They can’t frame us up. Why would they want to?’ Forester asked.
‘It’s been so many years since Abraham Lincoln, J.F Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr.,
Chauncey Bailey and others were assassinated, and till now, some of these deaths have gone unpunished. The military doesn’t run like the civil society, Forester. You can’t have an unsolved murder in the military. So, if nothing concrete is found to exonerate us, we are going down.’
‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I’d fear no evil.’ Forester whispered, slumping further into the chair on which he sat.
‘The investigations have been concluded,’ said the officer, who was holding a brown file.
‘You might want to take a look at it, sir.’ Then, he handed the file to General Fowler.
The file contained pictures of the scene, the presumed weapon used and analysis of both forensic and investigative reports. The plank had the prints of Forester on it, and it also had the blood of General Ashford on it. The fingerprints of Adam were all over the Generals body. Forester’s number was also the last dialed number on the General’s phone. These were a few amidst other incriminating evidences.
‘Set up a team for the court-martial.’ General Fowler said over the phone to his next in command.
‘The murder weapon had my prints? My cell-phone number was on his call log? I never even had the privilege of meeting the man. How does my number end up as the last number he dialed?’ said Forester, who was more than bewildered with the evidence stacked up against him.
‘Actually, I was the one who called you with the General’s number.’ Adam said.
‘When I saw General Ashford on the floor, I tried to call you because I couldn’t think of anyone else to call. But then my phone fell off my hand and scattered in different directions because I was so nervous. So, I picked the General’s phone and tried dialing your number, but it wouldn’t connect.’
‘How long have you been planning this lie?’ Forester screamed, and then he kicked the flower vase beside him and broke it. ‘Forgive me Lord – I lost control. Have mercy on me.’
‘This is not a lie.’
‘So, how long have you been planning to tell me this truth?’ Forester interjected, still very angry, but more in control of his temper.
‘I was waiting for the right time.’
‘Adam, I’m a changed man. You wouldn’t have been able to say that sitting just a few meters away from me a few years ago.’ Forester replied.
Forester’s prints were on the plank because he had picked it up to use as a weapon for self-defense when he confronted the scene from which he had heard the noise. But unfortunately, whoever had hit General Ashford on the head, had thrown the plank on the ground as he ran away. Now, the case against them seemed stronger than Forester would have imagined. It was actually too late for Forester to tell them what he had seen. No one would believe he and Adam didn’t kill General Ashford.
‘This letter says we have four days to pick a defense counsel & that General Sutherland would be the judge of our court-martial. Somebody, please tell me this is a lie.’ Adam said.
Forester was still very upset with Adam, so he didn’t ask him any question, nor make a comment.
General Sutherland was also known as ‘The Bulldog’. He was a favorite for special court-martials.
‘What are we going to do Forest?’ Adam asked.
‘My name is Forester, not Forest. Don’t try to act familiar with me. I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for you.’
‘I’m sorry you have been brought into this. You have known me for over a month now. Do I look like someone who would kill?’ Adam asked, ‘apart from doing so in a war, or when it is necessitated?’
Forester had to take a few minutes to think about the question Adam had posed to him. The truth was that, as much as Forester wanted to blame Adam for General Ashford’s death, a part of him still believed that Adam was innocent.
‘Tell me what you heard or saw that night. I want to hear all of it, not just a part.’ Forester said, without batting an eyelid.
‘I’ll go over this slowly. When you walked out of the room, I decided I was going to sleep right away. Then again, I thought it wise to just walk around the block for a few minutes too. I decided to go east because I saw you go west.’
‘Why didn’t you want to go in the same direction with me?’
‘I live with you in the same room. I just needed to walk alone. Anything wrong with that?’
‘That’s fine. Ride on.’
‘I took out my cell phone and searched for something soothing to listen to as I walked. While trying to maneuver my way back to the hostel, I heard a noise. It sounded like two people were arguing over something. Then I heard a scream, and then someone seemed to be asking – why did you hit him with that?’
‘I’m listening.’ Forester said, spurring Adam to keep telling his side of the story.
‘I rushed toward the noise. I guess whoever it was could hear my footsteps and he, or they ran away.’
‘Are you saying they were two?’
‘Maybe three or four. Or maybe just one insane person who was talking to himself and replying at the same time. But when I got there, I found General Ashford gasping for breath on the floor. I admired him as much as you do, you know. He’s was my hero.’
‘I can corroborate some parts of your story. I also heard an argument, but I only heard two people talking. Your narration makes it look like there was someone else there, apart from the two arguing.’
‘Yes. So, do we have a case to argue?’ Adam asked.
‘I can’t tell if we do, or if we do not. We have been requested to pick a defense counsel for the trial. The names sent to us are; Major Cartwright, Lt. Colonel Erwin, and Brig. General Lindsey.’
‘Let’s go with the lowest ranking officer. He would want to prove a lot.’
‘No. Let’s go with someone who has a heart, someone who would believe that we are actually innocent.’ Forester said with all conviction.
‘So, who do you think that would be?’
* 8:00 am the next day*
‘Hello, Boys! I heard you requested for me to be your counsel?’ Brig. General Lindsey said. She was in her early forties and quite very pretty but tough too.
‘Yes, ma’am. Sorry, Yes General.’ Adam said, stammering.
‘If we are going to work together, the first thing you’d have to do is to learn to be comfortable around me. Yes, I’m many ranks ahead of you, but at the moment, see me as your friend; your ticket to freedom. So, ease up on my rank a little.’
‘Does that mean we can call you Lindsey?’
‘No, you shall both address me as – Counsel Lindsey’
That was strange, Adam and Forester thought to themselves.
‘Yes, Counsel Lindsey.’
‘I prefer that, so we can curtail familiarity, whilst maintaining an open room for friendship.’
‘That would be fine ma’am’
‘Ah! Ah!!’ Brig. General Lindsey said, pointing her right index finger at both boys.
‘Sorry, that would be fine Counsel Lindsey.’
‘Much better. Now, tell me all I need to know.’
Both boys took turns to narrate their story. Counsel Lindsey listened carefully and jotted down important points as Forester and Adam spoke respectively.
‘Now, you said you heard an argument, Forester?’
‘Yes, I did. It seemed like a normal conversation before it got much more heated.’
‘Can you recall anything that was said?’ Counsel Lindsey asked while taking a gulp from the coffee mug that had been placed in front of her.
Forester paced around the room, staring at the ceiling as if it held the answer to the Counsel’s question.
‘I remember one of the speakers saying he loved the other.’
‘You think it was a love affair between a female soldier and General Ashford?’ Counsel Lindsey asked.
‘No. Both speakers were male. One called the other son, and the other seemed not to want any ties with the other speaker who called him – son.’
‘So, you think it’s a father and son conversation?’
‘Yes. I think it was.’ Forester answered.
‘Ok. That’s noted.’
‘I’ll search through all the available records of General Ashford to find out if he had any biological or adopted sons that might be on US soil.’ Counsel Lindsey began, ‘And as for you Adam, You are certain you heard someone ask – why did you hit him with that?’
‘Yes, I’m certain.’ Adam replied.
‘That means there was someone else there.’ Counsel Lindsey said. ‘I’ll let you boys rest for now.
Your trial starts tomorrow. But I must tell you one thing. General Sutherland is the judge, and he is a bulldog. Try to develop a thick skin and some self-control, and you boys would be fine.’
‘Thank you, Counsel Lindsey.’ Forester and Adam replied respectively.
Everyone kept saluting as the fierce figure walked on. He was in his late sixties, but still as nimble. His appearance was neat, and his features were fine and looked as if they were chiseled. He was the epitome of what a successful military career could be defined as. Everyone stood up and kept standing till he had walked in and sat down.
‘Who is that?’ Forester asked Counsel Lindsey as they were sitting down.
‘He’s your worst nightmare; your ticket to freedom, or pass to the gallows.’
When Counsel Lindsey said that, Adam was nervous, and he began to sweat and uncontrollably swallow a lot of spit. That was the first time Adam was showing any sign of anxiety since he had been accused. The four other judges were also seated; two on the right, and two on the left, while the ‘bulldog’ was stationed in the middle.
‘You may have the floor.’ General Sutherland said, pointing to the prosecutor and his team.
‘We have pictures, we have the weapon used, and we have the phone record of General Ashford, showing that the last dialed number on the night he was murdered is the number of Corporal Forester. If these are not satisfactory to prove to this distinguished military court that these two are guilty, then we also have witnesses who would testify to that.’
‘Do we have any witnesses ready to testify?’ General Sutherland asked the prosecutor and his team.
‘Yes, we do, and it might interest you to know sir, that these witnesses are honest and trustworthy.’ Sergeant Major Olly said; he was the lead man for the prosecution.
‘Who determines their credibility, you?’ General Sutherland barked at the lead prosecutor. It seemed Sutherland’s voice had a natural echo that sent a shock through the room.
‘I’m sorry General.’ Sergeant Major Olly said. He was just encountering General Sutherland in a court-martial for the first time.
‘Proceed with your first witness.’ General Sutherland said, pointing to the row where the prosecutor was sited.
‘I’d like to call on Sergeant Price Moseley, sir.’ Sergeant Major Olly said.
‘Does this place feel cramped and stuffy, or is it just me?’ Forester asked, using a handkerchief to clean the sweat off his face.
Sergeant Price walked up to the stand, dressed in his military regalia, looking much different than he would when he was screaming at a parade or during a drill.
The oath was taken, and all formalities were observed. Sergeant Major Olly stood up and walked a little closer to the witness stand.
‘Sergeant Price, would you kindly tell this military court all you know about this case before it?’
‘I was on a routine check before lights out, and I went from room to room, ensuring that everyone was in his place. But when I got to the room which happens to be the abode of General Ashford’s murderers…’
‘One more misplaced assumption and you are out of my court.’ The ‘Bulldog’ said, pointing his finger at the witness.
General Sutherland being as fair thus far in the proceedings was quite encouraging to Adam and Forester, who were now more relaxed than they had been before.
‘I’m sorry General. When I got into the room, I noticed there were only two of the four there should have been. I made an inquiry and the two I met seemed not to know the whereabouts of their roommates.’
‘At what time was this Sergeant?’
‘That would a few minutes before 2100 hours.’
‘Can you be more specific please?’ Sergeant Major Olly requested.
‘It was 5 minutes to the hour of 9 pm.’
‘Thank you! You can ride on.’
‘Both boys rushed in at about 7 minutes past 9 pm. I had been in the room for about 12 minutes now, waiting for their return.
‘You said they rushed in?’
‘Yes, they did, and they were very nervous and apprehensive too.’
‘Did you suspect anything immediately Sergeant?’
‘No, I didn’t. It was only when I asked Corporal Adam where he had been, and he immediately claimed not to have killed anyone, I became a little suspicious. The General’s body was found in the early hours of the morning. But it was obvious he hadn’t just been murdered at that time. His body was cold, and the blood had become congealed. Asking Major Ford, the doctor who examined him some questions, we came to a conclusion that he had been killed at about 6 hours before his body was found. That would be around 2100 hours when these two were missing from their hostel.’
‘His testimony sounds very convincing.’ Counsel Lindsey said.
‘You believe him?’ Forester asked her, looking a little confused.
‘Yes, I do. But it’s my duty to find out if his testimony is really true or not.’
‘I’m done with examining the witness.’ Sergeant Major Olly said as he walked towards the bench to take a seat.
‘Would you like to cross-examine the witness?’ General Sutherland asked the defense counsel.
‘No General, not at this time. I’d request a cross-examination much later into the proceedings.’ Counsel Lindsey replied.
‘Do you have another witness you’d like to call up?’ The ‘Bulldog’ asked.
‘Yes sir, and I think this witness will really interest you.’ Sergeant Major Olly said.
General Sutherland wanted to bark at him again, but he decided to keep cool and let the witness take the stand. That witness was Lance Cavalli.
‘Hello, Lance!’ Sergeant Major Olly said.
‘You shall address every officer that breathes in my court by their rank and first name. Failure to do so, I’ll have you thrown out of here. Hope you copy that loud and clear?’ The Court Martial judge, General Sutherland, yelled.
‘My apologies General, I’d do better to stick to your terms.’ Sergeant Major Olly replied. ‘Hello, Corporal Lance! Can you tell this competent panel of Judges what you know about this case.’
‘I was out that night; I needed to take a break. So, walking out of the room with my homie Seth, we…..’
‘What does homie mean?’ said one of the military judges sitting to the left of General Sutherland.
‘It’s a slang for someone who you consider as your friend.’
‘We are all not in the new school like you rookies. No more slangs please.’
A few of the officers chuckled at what had just transpired. But the panel of Judges seemed very serious.
‘We walked to the officer’s mess, and there we spent some time listening to some good old country music. But I remember, before I left the room, I saw Forester and Adam whispering something to each other and looking at their watch shortly before we left the room. At the mess, Seth and I had something to eat, and we drank a little too, and then we left the mess.’
‘What time was that precisely?’
‘That would be around 8:40 pm.’ Lance replied.
‘What time did you get to the room?’
‘That would be at about 8:51 pm.’
‘When you did not see your roommates – Adam and Forester, what did you think?’
‘I thought Forester had gone to the chapel. He always claims to be coming back from there most times. As for Adam, I couldn’t guess. Adam has no compass to guide his life, he goes wherever the wind blows, or he’s always following Forester around.’
‘You will take those words back right now, or spend the day regretting, and wishing you had a lid over that cylinder you call – mouth.’ General Sutherland said, meaning every single word.
‘I’m sorry General, I take that back.’ Lance said.
‘What else can you remember?’
‘Forester was so obsessed with the General, he always talked about how he wanted to be like him. How he would give the world to stand by his side. At some point, he even began to stalk the General, and would tell us all the places he had been to each day.’
‘That’s a lie.’ Forester whispered to Counsel Lindsey.
‘Leave that for me to prove.’ Lindsey replied.
‘That‘ll be all for now, General.’ Sergeant Major Olly said.
‘I wouldn’t want to cross-examine the witness today, sir. I need to prepare my defense.’
General Sutherland moved the case to the next day. That’s why he was a favorite for a special Court Martial. He had never handled any case that lasted over a week. Forester and Adam were sure that within a week, they would know their fate. After the proceedings for that day, Counsel Lindsey first response was to once again go over the forensic reports.
‘The plank had Forester’s fingerprints. Was his fingerprint the module used to find a print, or was the wood thoroughly examined for all the available finger prints?’ Lindsey said out loud, while glancing at the pictures. That was one of the important assessments to be made.
The phone rings.
Counsel Lindsey seems more preoccupied with searching for clues that could help her put up a strong defense the next day. But the caller kept calling.
‘Hello Lindsey, it’s me, Roscoe.’ Roscoe was a private investigator, who had once been in the army, and he had worked with Lindsey for about two years at this time.
‘Fill me in.’ Counsel Lindsey responded.
‘General Ashford has an estranged wife by name Elizabeth Estefani. They were married for 5 years before things went south. They have a son, Ashford Cooper Hankins Jr., namesake of the late General.’
‘Got any pictures?’
‘I’m sorry, General Ashford got married to Elizabeth while he was serving as NATO commander in the Baltics. She lived with him in the US for two years out of those five. Their marriage was most secretive, and there are no records or pictures in public domain. The only way to get pictures of both the estranged wife and son might be to search the late General’s house on the base. But I learned that Elizabeth left for Lithuania immediately things got sour, but her son might be on US soil as we speak.’
‘Oh, my! This just gets more complicated. It will take forever to get a warrant to search the General’s house. That’s if we are even given the warrant considering his high-profile. And now to think that his son could be on US soil… that gives credibility to Forester’s account of events. However, this means that his son must have visited him on the day he was murdered.’
‘You are a General and you’d have a higher level of clearance access. You can make a request for the visitors’ log for that day.’
‘I can get that before sundown.’ Brig. General Lindsey said.
‘I’ll keep you posted on more findings.’
‘Thanks, Roscoe, time is running out on us. Do all you can, please.’
General Lindsey dropped the call, and then she quickly scrolled through her phone, finding the number of the officer in charge of the security unit, she requested to have the visitor’s records for 13 July 2011, the day the General was killed.
‘I’ll have that forwarded to you ma, right away.’ The officer said.
‘He had only two visitors – Kenushi Inamoto and Rear Admiral Ralph. Both happen to be his personal Friends. That must mean that whoever killed the General must have been on this base because nothing crosses that gate without being caught on camera.’ Lindsey said, talking out loud to herself. It had been six hours of brainstorming, and phone calls, and more brainstorming, scrutinization, coffee and more phone calls. Little progress had been made thus far. Taking a break, she walked to the coffee maker and poured a cup of black coffee. No sugar and milk, just pure black. Sipping on the coffee, she stood still staring hard at the étagère before her, as if it held the key to unlocking the puzzle. Reliving Lance’s story would help answer some questions.
‘Want something to drink?’ The barman at the officer’s mess asked Lindsey, who went visiting, not dressed in her uniform.
‘No, just want to ask a few questions.’
‘That’s something we are not so good at doing here – answering questions.’
‘Well, you can choose to answer it here, under no duress. Or you can choose to do so before the Court Martial.’ Linsey said to the bearded barman who looked a lot like a winebibber, and then she pulled out her ID card. ‘Look at the name, look at it well.’
‘What do you want to know?’
‘Do you know Corporal Lance Cavalli?’ Lindsey asked, pulling out his picture from a diary in her hand, and showing it to the barman.
‘He’s popular. He has a buddy named Seth and they both hang out here, most evenings.’
‘Can you remember the night General Ashford died?’
‘Did Lance and Seth come around here?’
‘Yes, they did, twice that day. They drank a little the first time, and then returned to the dorm. An hour later they were back again for another round, but it seemed Lance did more of the drinking the second time.’
‘Can you remember the time when both boys left?’
‘Yes. Lance was very tipsy and had already begun to make a lot of trouble. This mess is for only junior officers. But as you know, in the military, there are ranks. I recall the highest ranking officer in the mess asking me to kick Lance out because he was talking loud and laughing wildly.’
‘What time was it?’ ‘That was 5 minutes past 8 pm.’
‘What about Seth?
‘Seth wasn’t drunk; he only left because his friend was asked to.’
‘Thank you, sir! You have been very kind.’ Brig General Lindsey said, and then she walked away.
‘Find something helpful?’ Forester asked as he sat down beside Counsel Lindsey for another day of proceedings.
Adam and Forester’s eyes seemed to light up like neon signs.
‘General, I’d like to cross-examine one of the witnesses that testified yesterday.’
‘Make a call.’ General Sutherland said.
‘Corporal Lance Cavalli, can you please come forward?’
That was a polite question that really wasn’t optional to answer. So, Corporal Lance humbled himself and walked down the aisle to the witness booth and then he sat down.
‘You are a soldier, right?
‘It’s obvious he is one, Brig. General Lindsey, why the question?’ General Sutherland asked abruptly.
‘General, if he is a soldier, then he should know the implication of lying in a Court Martial.’
‘Yes, I am a soldier.’ Corporal Lance answered.
‘How many drinks did you have the day General Ashford was murdered?’
‘I can’t remember.’
‘Why can’t you? Is it one, two, three, or were you so stoned that you lost count?’
‘I just don’t know.’
‘You claimed to have been in the mess till 8:40 pm when you left.
‘That’s a lie Corporal Lance; you were ordered out of the mess at exactly 5 minutes past 8 pm to avoid an altercation. Do you recall who ordered for you to be kicked out that night?’
Counsel Lindsey asked, waiting for a minute for Lance to respond. And then she asked him the same question again.
‘Do you remember the officer who asked that you be taken out of the mess? Or were you too drunk to remember most of what happened that night?’ Lance had been put in a terrible corner. One he had never anticipated.
‘The Sergeant sitting beside Master Chief Plusher, who happened to be the highest ranking officer in the mess that night, was the one who ordered your expulsion from the mess. I’m not a judge of character, but the least of us here knows that he is an honorable man, one who wouldn’t lie. Do you want him to take the stand to testify Lance?’
Lance just put his head down in shame. It was the first time Forester and Adam had seen Lance look that remorseful.
‘Did you kill General Ashford?’
‘No. No. No. I wouldn’t for any reason in this world. I knew the man right from when I was a child. He and my father, General Cavalli were best friends. I will never do that.’ Lance quickly said in his defense.
‘No further questions General.’ Counsel Lindsey said.
‘Does the prosecutor have anything to say?’
‘No sir. Not at the moment.’
‘The defense has been able to puncture a hole in the testimony of Corporal Lance. However, it has not been able to provide evidence to vindicate Corporals Forester and Adam. You both have till Friday when we reconvene to wrap up. Take Corporal Lance into custody.’ General Sutherland said, and then he dismissed the proceedings for that day and left the building, going through the back door.
‘That was some good work you pulled off today.’ Adam said, being appreciative of Counsel Lindsey.
‘I just want to say thank you for believing in us, Counsel Lindsey.’ Forester said, with so much adoration in his eyes for the lady that had spent the last few days, committed to their fight for justice.
‘I’ll keep fighting hard for justice, and I hope we have victory, come Friday – when a verdict is reached and judgment is passed.’
Going through the evidence again, looking for clues, Counsel Lindsey spent the entire night poring over the pictures and all the reports on her desk. Taking a closer look at the forensic report again, she found a discrepancy.
The report reads;
Examination of supposed murder weapon shows that it indeed was used as a tool to take the life of General Ashford. The blood on the wood matches his. The fingerprints on the plank were 1 sets…’
“That’s weird…. were & sets are both plural words, why would any educated fellow say the fingerprints were 1 sets. Looking closely at the number – 1, it seemed it be changed from what was originally written down.”
‘Hey, Roscoe! Sorry to call you by this time of the night.’
‘It’s alright Lindsey. Anything you need?’
‘The Forensic report was done by a private outfit – Allen & Fords Private Laboratory in Michigan. They usually would send this report sealed to the base administrative unit. But it seems that someone tampered with the result.’
‘You think someone in that unit had a hand in General Ashford’s death?’
‘No, I’m not saying that. I just believe that someone altered this report, and that should be the man who is behind the General’s death.’
‘How do I help?’ asked Roscoe.
‘I need you to get an original copy of the document, and also, I need to know who signed off for this report on behalf of the base. Can you pull that off?’
‘Sure, that’s my job. I would have feedback for you by tomorrow.’
‘Thank you, Roscoe.’
Brig. General Lindsey was able to go to bed once she had made the call to Roscoe. It seemed she had made the first breakthrough.
After three hours of sleep, Lindsey was up, and already going over the evidence and reports once again, wondering if she was going to find any other clue. It seemed like there were no ideas coming up, so she got into her car and sped off to the detention bay to talk to Forester and Adam.
‘You said the argument was likely between a father and son; that would mean General Forester and his son. We have good news and bad news too.’
‘Let’s hear the good.’ Forester said, speaking also for Adam.
‘General Forester actually has a son from an estranged marriage with a lady he met in Lithuania. That son he named Ashford Cooper Hankins Jr. There are no records of him in our database, apparently because he was not born here. I really wonder why we couldn’t get any help from the Army database, Immigration, or the IRS, the last would apply if he had been paying tax.’
‘That’s really bitter-sweet.’ Adam said.
‘Now, I want you and Adam to think back. I need to know if by any means there’s anything else you heard that night. Even if it’s just a name. Think like we have all day to do so, but remember as quick because we have only today to figure out the truth.’ Counsel Lindsey said.
For twenty minutes, both boys; sat, stood up, paced around, bit their fingernails, and kept looking at the ceiling as if their memory was hiding up there.
‘I can’t remember anything else that happened that night, which I haven’t already told you.’ Adam said.
‘How ‘bout you Forester?’
‘Give me some more time to think.’
While Adam was thinking, Counsel Lindsey decided to sort out the call record issue by talking it over with Adam.
‘The call record shows that Forester’s line was dialed from the General’s phone at about 8:55 pm. I would need to simulate this tonight to know how long it would take me to get to the hostel from the murder spot, under same conditions.’
‘How does that help?’ Adam asked.
‘I need to find out how long it will take to get to the dorm if the lights had stayed on.’
‘I don’t still understand how that helps.’
‘Never-mind Adam. You would wrap your mind around it during the proceedings tomorrow.’
‘Yes, I recall one more thing. I heard one of the speakers say – I don’t want anything to do with you, that’s why I changed my first and last name.’
‘Eureka!’ Counsel Lindsey screamed.
‘Now, I have got something to work with. See you, boys, tomorrow.’ The beautiful Lindsey said and quickly rushed out of the room.
‘Hey, Roscoe! It seems that whoever we are looking for changed his first name, and last name.’ Lindsey said, sounding excited that there had been some progress on the issue.
‘Got anything for me?’
‘Yes. The forensic report was delivered to one Sergeant Luke.’
‘Who is in his circle of friends?’ Lindsey asked.
‘We have Sergeant Hunters, Master Chief Odessa, Major Wright, and Sergeant Price.’
‘Yes. Know him?’
‘He is one of the witnesses testifying for the prosecution.’
‘Ok. What do you think?’
‘I can’t really tell. His testimony seemed unbiased and genuine. He’ll be up for cross-examination tomorrow though. Thank you so much, Roscoe.’
That night, Brig. General Lindsey and her aide were at the murder spot simulating the event. The simulated it using Adams narration, as well as Forester, and she was able to gather some useful information. ‘
Would Brig. General Lindsey and Sergeant Major Olly, please come over?’ General Sutherland said, motioning for both of them with his hands.
‘This case has to be wrapped up today. There’s no room for an adjournment. Lindsey, the onus lies on you more to prove the innocence of those two boys. Should you fail to do that, I’ll have to give a verdict. But you know you can always appeal through the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, right?’
‘Yes sir!’ Lindsey answered.
‘Ok, let the proceedings start.’ General Sutherland said.
Just when Lindsey turned around to go back to her seat, the guard who manned the door started to walk towards her, and then he handed her an envelope. It was tagged as sent from Roscoe. When she opened it, it seemed her face lightened up and then she chuckled.
‘I’d like to call Sergeant Price, sir.’
Sergeant Price stood up and walked down to the booth confidently.
‘Sergeant Price, when you sat in this witness booth the first time, you said that on that night, you were going from room to room, making sure that everyone was in his place before lights out?’
‘Yes, ma’am that is exactly what I said.’
‘If I might ask, how often do you do that?’
‘Not often, once in a while.’
‘What time did you start on that day?’
‘I started at about 8:45 pm.’
‘There are about sixty rooms on each wing of the dorm. That is thirty to the left and thirty to the right. How many minutes would it take you to cover both wings?’
‘About 10 minutes.’
‘That would be wrong. I did a simulation last night. I did it twice, and the best possible time that would have taken would have been 20 minutes; except you decided to skip several rooms on purpose. But considering that Forester and Adam stay almost at the end of the wing, there’s no way you should have been in their room by 8:55 pm like you claimed during your testimony.’
‘I maintain my claim that I was in their room exactly by 8:55 pm.’ Sergeant Price said. He also wanted to add the fact that Lance could bear him witness, but he remembered that Lance had been in custody and was going to face a tribunal for perjury, so he refrained from saying that.
‘Sergeant Price, do you think that it could have been anyone else on this base that murdered General Ashford, except these two?’ Counsel Lindsey asked.
‘I really doubt it because everyone was in their room as at ‘lights out’. So, I don’t see how anyone else could probably have done it.’
‘You said you stopped at Forester’s and Adam’s room when you realized they were not around. There are seven rooms; three on the left and 4 on the right, before the end of the wing. Since you said you stayed back in the room to wait for their return, which means you didn’t search these other remaining rooms. So how can you be so sure that everyone was in their room?’
Sergeant Price for the first time seemed to break a sweat, and suddenly he became thirsty and asked for a glass of water.
‘How many minutes would it take to run from the open field to the hostel, let’s assume the culprit was a fast runner?’
‘About 4 – 5 minutes, all other things being equal.’
‘What other things? Would you like to elaborate?’
‘Visibility, the frame of mind, Physical health. It depends on a lot of factors.’
‘That’s well said. I did a simulation, and I was able to run from the same spot where General Ashford lay, to their room in 4 minutes 20 seconds.’ Lindsey said, pointing her fingers at Forester and Adam, to let the court know who she meant by ‘their’.
‘I really don’t understand what you are driving at, ma’am.’
‘It means that anyone would have killed General Ashford, and would have still been able to get to the hostel before lights out.’
‘I doubt he was killed before lights out.’ Sergeant Price said.
‘The call record of the General shows that the last dialed number was that of Forester.’
‘Yes, it does.’ Price answered.
‘Now, that call was placed by Adam to his roommate and friend Forester when he found the body of General Ashford lying in open field.’
‘It means that anyone would have killed General Ashford, and would have still been able to get to the hostel before lights out.’
‘I doubt he was killed before lights out.’ Sergeant Price said.
‘The call record of the General shows that the last dialed number was that of Forester.’
‘Yes, it does.’ Price answered.
‘Now, that call was placed by Adam to his roommate and friend Forester when he found the body of General Ashford lying in open field.’
‘I do not want to believe that ma.’
‘You’re not in that box to believe anything. You are there to be cross-examined. The time log shows that the call wall made at 8:55 pm. That means; if someone else had killed the General, he probably could have done so by 8:53 pm, or 8:54 pm or even 8:55 pm, and that killer would have gotten back to the hostel assuming he could be as fast as I am. And I am not as nimble as I used to be, take note of that.’
‘Yes, that is possible.’ Sergeant Price replied.
‘Honorable court, my clients; Forester and Adam are yet to tell their story. But maybe it’s because we all believe we might have heard it already. No, we haven’t. On the night in which our beloved General was killed, Forester had heard an argument between two people. It was a father and son. We all never knew General Ashford to be married, so a lot of us might think this isn’t relevant, but it is. General Ashford had been secretly married to a lady he met in Lithuania while he served as Chief of NATO. General Sutherland, before I delve further into this, I’ll like the court to examine the forensic report that was sent by Allen & Fords Private Laboratory in Michigan, there was an alteration on it.’ Lindsey said, walking back to her seat, and pulling out a copy of the report.
‘If you look at paragraph 3, it states – the fingerprints on the plank were 1 sets. That is grammatically inaccurate. But again, it’s inaccurate because someone changed the meaning of what it was trying to say. It actually stated that the fingerprints on the plank were 2 sets. Of which one set would belong to Forester, and the other would belong to the killer. You see, the fingerprints were extracted, and each person’s identity was attached to this report, but what we have as evidence in court only has my client’s name linked to his prints.’
‘Do you have proof for the things you say, Brig. General Lindsey?’ General Sutherland asked.
‘Yes General, I do.’
‘You can ride on.’
‘Back to the point, I was trying to make before I got off on the fingerprints. General Ashford had an estranged wife, who had a son for him, and that son is in this court as we speak.’
Everyone seemed to gasp for air at the same time. There was a look of surprise and anticipation slowly building up.
‘That night, Forester heard one of the speakers, which I assume to be General Ashford, tell the other that he loved him. The other denied him and claimed to have changed his first name and last name so that there would be no association between them.’
Lindsey walked up to the bench and pulled out a paper from the file Roscoe had sent to her that morning.
‘Honorable judges, this is a copy of the birth certificate of Ashford Cooper Hankins Jr. It is boldly stated here who his father and mother is. Now, this is a valid copy obtained from the Lithuanian Population Commission.’
At this point, the prosecutor wanted to stop Lindsey from going further, by objecting, but he was scared of General Sutherland, so he just kept mute.
‘The first name and last name that was changed should have been Ashford and Hankins respectively. So, that leaves Cooper still valid as his middle name.’
‘Sergeant Price, what is your full name?’
‘My name is Sergeant Price Moseley.’
‘Do you have a middle name?’
It took almost 20 seconds and a loud bark from General Sutherland before the question was answered.
‘Yes, I do.’
‘What will that middle name be?’
‘So, your name is Sergeant Price Cooper Moseley.’
‘Here with me are documents from a Lithuanian court showing that you changed your name shortly before you relocated to the US in 2007 to Price Moseley. Sergeant Price, I put it to you that you are the one who stole part of the Forensic evidence, you are the one who stood there that night and had an argument with General Ashford, your father.’
‘Why did you kill him Sergeant Price?’
‘I didn’t kill him.’ Sergeant Price said. At this time, he had lost the composure he usually exuded during the morning drill that made everyone fear him, and he was now in tears.
‘I believe you. I know you didn’t intend to kill him. Because it was you who also asked the assailant – why did you hit him with that? Was it not you who asked that?’ Lindsey barked at him.
‘Yes, it was me.’ Sergeant Price said, still in tears.
‘So, who did it? Tell this court and all the honorable men seated who have given their lives for this nation just like General Ashford did. Tell them the truth. Who did it?’
‘It was Seth.’ The Sergeant said.
Forester was shocked and immediately looked back at Seth, who had a blank look on his face.
‘How did it happen, Sergeant Price?’
‘Seth and I had known each other before I joined the army in 2009. We had the same kind of story. His father was never there for him, just like mine. I had not seen General Ashford, my father since he got separated from my mother. I wondered; what could I have done wrong to make him despise me this much. No calls, no SMS’, no birthday wishes, no true memories. When I left Lithuania, I promised that I was going to track my father down, and at least know why he detested me and my mother that much to have left us. On getting to the US, I had no contact or access to him, and I didn’t want to tell the world that America’s most loved General was my father, who neglected me. When I was transferred to FORT KNOX three months ago, I knew that was going to be the chance I had waited for all my life. On that night, Seth had taken Lance to the room because he was drunk. Walking towards the gym, we met and decided to go for a walk. While in the open field, General Ashford walked by, he seemed to be taking a walk too. We both saluted him, and then I asked him if I could talk with him for a minute. I asked him a few questions like – what his motivation was, how he rose to the top, and his secret for success. Then, I asked him about his family, and he lost the smile on his face. I asked him if he had a son, and he said he did not. That was when I disclosed my identity to him, and suddenly, he began to act like he had missed me all his life. He actually started crying, and he was trying to hug me. Then I started to shout at him and we got into an argument. I decided it was best if I just ran away. As soon as I turned, he held me and then, we began to struggle. That was when Seth picked up the plank beside him and used it to hit General Ashford from behind. I never meant for him to die. I loved him even though I felt he didn’t love me.’
‘So, it was Seth that hit the General with the plank?’
‘That‘ll be all, General.’ Counsel Lindsey said, and then she walked to her seat.
‘Thank you, Jesus!’ Forester said under his breath several times as Judges were deciding on the case. ‘
It took about 30 minutes for a decision to be reached. General Sutherland and his panel examined all the evidence that Counsel Lindsey had used for her cross-examination, and based on the personal confession of Sergeant Price, they came to a conclusion.
This Military Court has found Corporals Forester and Adam not guilty of the death of General Ashford. They are to be released immediately, resume duty, and their names publicly cleared. As for Corporal Seth and Sergeant Price, they would face a court-martial, and the necessary punishment will be meted out to them.’
Forester and Adam couldn’t believe the nightmare was over. It was a beautiful feeling.
‘Thank you, Counsel Lindsey, could we give you a hug?’
With tears in their eyes, Forester and Adam held Counsel Lindsey very close, it was a hug that lasted for over two minutes.
‘Could I invite you over for a date?’ Forester asked Counsel Lindsey.
‘You boys shall now address me as Brig. General Lindsey.’
Both boys smiled and saluted her immediately, adorningly watching, as she walked out of the court amidst cheers from other officers.
1 Corinthians 10:13
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