General District Judge Melanie Lambert held the bond hearing for Chip Morowitz in her chambers Saturday afternoon. It was the first such court proceeding known in Virginia in which some participants were present via Skype. These were Chip’s parents, who had been unable to get a flight to the U.S. until Monday morning. Judge Lambert had agreed to the unusual arrangement, including the Saturday hearing, in large part to avoid the crush of media attention certain to be in full fettle as early as Monday. As of yet the only news organization aware of the killings was the Leicester Weekly Messenger, whose reporter, Mary Lloyd, attended the hearing. She would be posting on the Messenger’s website that evening, thus breaking the story for any of the region’s several papers and TV stations with staff savvy or diligent enough to check, and from thence via commercial networks to anywhere in the world the double murder of two talented young people searching for Blackbeard’s treasure and involving a probable love triangle would sell newspapers and stimulate TV ratings. On orders from Leicester’s sheriff, Buford Oglethorpe, the usual bored weekend reporters making their routine calls were given no notice of the incident, as no formal charges had been placed at that point, nor had the social media grapevine yet reached critical fruition.
“No.” The judge said it so quietly Blow wasn’t certain he’d heard it correctly, as if there might have been something more, or as if she’d spoken just to herself. Or maybe he only imagined she’d said it, as “no” was the word he was thinking. It was the word hovering in the judge’s chambers. Even Chip Morowitz was thinking “no”, a different “no”, Blow knew from the hunched, cringing shoulders in the too-large orange jumpsuit and the pursed lips warding off the “no” he feared was an instant away condemning him to another two nights in the Leicester County Jail.
The only “yes” in the room was coming from the squeaky, hidden speaker in the laptop on Judge Lambert’s desk. But of the two faces on the screen, only the one displaying a repertoire of emotional contortions under a carefully cropped cap of sandy curls could be heard arguing in the affirmative. And the argument was directed not at the camera on the digital device in Heidelberg but at the other face in front of the camera, the sharp-featured snowy white composed face partially visible through the artfully mussed cascade of auburn spirals Blow found it difficult to keep his eyes off.
“I don’t think so, Allen,” Julie Morowitz had said, her calm contralto resonating with adenoidal conviction as she countered her husband’s too-earnest defense of his suggestion their son could spend the two nights with his sister and her husband, whom, Blow could tell from the discussion’s dynamics, Julie Morowitz didn’t like. Her final response to her husband’s repeated insistence the Newport News couple could stay at the Morowitz home those two days, after the judge stipulated Chip must remain in Leicester County were she to release him on bond, was simply to gyrate her head several times, jigging the auburn spirals like a miniature hula skirt.
Allen Bradley Morowitz II seemed to be trying one more time, but Blow heard nothing beyond “but” when his attention jumped to what he thought the judge had just said.
Blow had asked in his motion for bond that Judge Lambert consider releasing Chip to a relative until the parents were home, anticipating two days at the most before they could get a flight out of Germany. His intent was threefold: The first as a pro forma gesture to the parents whom he assumed would want their boy out of jail as soon as possible. At the same time Blow hoped to divert the judge from thinking yes or no on any pretrial release, as Fred Gobble would follow the prosecutor’s requisite to insist on no bond, period, because granting bond in any capital murder case was invariably a dicey proposition.
More importantly—more important than the de rigueur theoretical safety of the community--was the boy’s safety in light of what apparently had happened to Blow’s confidential informant, the elusive, unquestionably dangerous woman calling herself “Jamie Moriarty”. If in fact she had been arrested by Leicester deputies, this was one thing. As her attorney, Blow was responsible for following legal procedure to determine her status. But she had not contacted him since the curious text message he’d received less than an hour before the arrest—if that’s what it was, and if the men who appeared to be Teach and Callahan were in fact Teach and Callahan. If they weren’t, or, even worse, if they’d been chosen to resemble Teach and Callahan, Blow’s concern to keep Chip Morowitz from a death sentence by the court might well be moot. Callahan—the real Maj. Carl Callahan, whom Blow had come to trust as far as he’d trusted any cop in his career, was in the courtroom at that moment waiting to testify if needed. He’d gotten there before Blow and was talking with Gobble when Blow arrived. The two had acknowledged each other as usual with polite nods and muttered greetings, but Blow remained unable to shake a feeling he’d not quite recognized a dissonant nuance in what appeared to be Callahan’s routine professional manner.
Blow’s big gamble of the day was about to break. He’d requested the Skyped inclusion of his client’s parents on the chance they would make a favorable impression on Judge Lambert. He’d met Chip’s father handling a real estate matter for him, and found him to be intelligent and engaging. Blow had not met the mother, but he’d noted her pleasing appearance and dignity and the respect the two exhibited toward each other when he’d spoken with them earlier via Homer Price’s Skype connection. He was betting this impression would tip the scales with the judge, encourage her to feel more comfortable releasing Chip to these two people pending his trial. He knew the early release now was impossible, and hoped the “no” he’d thought he heard was for that and not for releasing the boy to his parents when they got home.
Melanie Lambert had won her appointment to the bench succeeding Roger Pendleton when he advanced to the circuit court. This had taken place not long before Blow opened his practice. He knew her appointment had caused some ill-feeling in the Leicester Bar, as she had been a York County lawyer. Presumably the most ill-felt was Fred Gobble, who had assumed the district court would be his by tradition. Gobble never complained, nor had he shown any resentment in his appearances before Judge Lambert. But Blow’s father, retired Circuit Judge Joseph Stone, hinted to him that Gobble had been devastated. Nonetheless his response to Lambert’s ruling was not surprising, as any prosecutor would have been expected to drop his or her jaw in consternation, feigned or natural, when she issued her ruling after interrupting the parents.
“No more arguments, please,” she said in her soft, languid voice, which matched her heavily lidded pale blue eyes, the combination of which lured more than one inexperienced Leicester lawyer to learn the startling consequences of underestimating her in court when the voice suddenly hardened with a snapped reprimand followed by reddening of the normally pallid cheeks in a fashion that reflected only the embarrassment of her displeasure’s recipient. “I’m releasing Mr. Morowitz on bond, which I’m setting at five hundred thousand dollars, surety or property, to the custody of his parents only.”
“But--” Two voices, simultaneous, from Chip and from his father via the laptop speaker, cut short by the hardened alto of Judge Lambert: “This hearing is adjourned.”
She flipped the laptop off, and motioned to the bailiff to take his prisoner back to jail.