11-21-2012, 11:26 PM
Almost a year had passed since what the press called "The Perfecting Church Conspiracy" had been front page news. The furor had gradually died down, especially among the Loyals as they shifted their attention to Criss' latest injuries, whatever new girlfriend he had been seen with, or the latest episode of MindFreak. Criss' production of Believe continued to draw sellouts, with ticket purchases made months if not years in advance. It had been estimated that the Luxor would recoup its investment by 2010 at the latest.
Criss had won his fifth Magician of the Year award for 2009, entering him in the Guinness Book of World Records for such a feat. MindFreak Productions announced that a large coffee-table book about Criss with photos and interviews would be released in December of 2009, quickly becoming the number one item on every Loyal's Christmas list. He had also taped another special hourlong episode for the troops in Iraq, shooting at Fort Pendleton in San Diego, and another live special to raise funds for a children's hospital in danger of closing due to lack of funding. Criss had so many irons in the fire he could hardly see the embers.
Only when he received a summons to appear in the Clark County District Court as a witness did the past come back to haunt him. He was summoned to appear in court on November 12, 2009, at 10:30 AM. But why? he wondered. He really wasn't a "witness", he thought. He was more of a victim, the target of the little conspiracy concocted by Talbot. He felt that he really didn't need to testify; besides, they had Mendoza's photos--that was evidence enough. But the image of Abigail's white casket being lifted into the cargo hold of the commercial airplane destined for Littleton, Texas, floated back into his memory like a wraith. He looked at the summons again, a pang of conscience needling inside his soul.
I'll do it, he said to himself, for Abby.
A jury notice for one Courtney Paige Sollis arrived in the mail one mid-October afternoon, courtesy of the Clark County District Court. Courtney Paige Sollis was less than thrilled when she received it, courtesy of her sister Hayley who had just picked up the mail under the front door mailslot.
"Oh, that is just great!" Courtney groaned. "I have to give up work and my day for studying for mid-terms for this!"
"Well, you do get paid for the time you're there," her mother pointed out.
"Yeah," she sneered, tossing the summons onto the kitchen table, "a lousy twenty bucks. I make more money in tips at the bar in one shift."
"Courtney, it is a civic duty, you know" Mother reminded her. "It's the price you pay for living in a democracy such as ours. I served on a jury once, and I'm proud I did. And just because you got summoned doesn't mean you'll get chosen. They draw numbers, and if yours doesn't come up, you can go home. And even if yours is drawn, they question you to see if you are impartial enough to be seated."
"How long does that take?" Courtney asked.
"As long as it takes," he mother replied. "You just wait until either you are called or everyone is seated for the trial and you can go. The important thing is to show up in the first place. If you skip your jury date, you either pay a fine or go to jail."
Hayley picked up the summons and read it. "Whose trial is it?" she asked.
"No one knows until the jury is selected," Mother explained. "And then the selected jury members are sworn to secrecy, so as not to prejudice the trial. I'm sure it's nothing really serious, like a murder trial or anything like that."
Murder trial? Hayley's memory rewound to the Criss Angel shooting the summer before last. No mention of any trial concerning it had been made anywhere in the press. Could it be...?
Hayley dashed up to her room, retrieved her cell phone from her purse, and speed-dialed Crystal Rathbone. "Hello, Crys? It's me, Haye."
"I know it's you, Haye," Crystal told her. "I got Caller ID."
"Well, anyway, the reason I called is that Courtney got called in for jury duty, see, and I think, but I'm not sure, that it might be the Perfecting Church trial."
"Come again?" Crystal asked, perplexed.
"You know, the guy who shot Criss Angel?" Hayley reminded her. "What's his name? Block?"
Crystal suddenly remembered. "Hiram Block, yeah. You sure Courtney will be on the jury for it?"
"Well, I don't know for sure. Mom says no one will know until they get all the jurors seated. But she did get a summons, and it's for mid-November. You keep close tabs on everything concerning Criss Angel. Do you know when the trial will be?"
"Don't have a clue," Crystal replied. "Sorry."
Hayley sighed in disappointment. "My guess is that they're keeping it a secret because they don't want a big group of Loyals hanging around the courthouse," Crystal reasoned.
"Yeah, probably," Hayley said.
"And, anyway, it might not even be that particular trial," Crystal went on. "It could be some other thing, like someone holding up a liquor store or something. I mean, what are the chances of Courtney being on the jury of Criss Angel's would-be killer?"
"Yeah, maybe you're right," Hayley concurred. "In any case, she's not too happy about it."
"Well, tell her if it is the Criss Angel trial, she can get excused by telling them that her sister is a Loyal," Crystal suggested. "They want an impartial jury, and they won't get one if she's the relative of a Loyal."
"I don't think they're gonna buy that, Crys."
Crystal siezed onto a new thought. "Hey! If she is going to be on the jury, maybe we can get into the courtroom the day of the trial, and maybe get to see Criss!" she exclaimed. "I mean, they have to let us in if your sister's on the jury, right?"
"Well, I can ask," Hayley told her, "but I'm not making any promises."
"Okay, fine," Crystal said. "Talk to you later, 'bye!"
Courtney, aka Juror Number 212, sat in the jam-packed waiting area of the Clark County District Court, burning with impatience and resentment. She had been there for over two hours, and her butt was starting to go numb, but she knew if she got up, she'd lose her seat, and she wasn't going to spend another two hours standing up. Studying was futile, cell phones weren't allowed, her nail file had been confiscated as a "lethal weapon" by security, and what little reading material available was years out of date. The overhead television screen showed some lame-assed G-rated movie with the sound turned down so low she could barely hear it over the din of conversation if she had bothered to listen.
"This really bites!" she muttered. "Can't they understand I got better things to do than sit around with a bunch of strangers?"
"Numbers two hundred to three hundred," the voice over the loudspeaker called out, "please line up at the door. Numbers two hundred to three hundred, please line up at the door."
Finally! Courtney picked up her purse and bookbag and headed for the door, relieved to be moving again. She stood in place as the court clerk called out which numbers were to report to which courtroom. Courtney and her group were assigned Courtroom B-132, just down the west corridor. She and her fellow jurors trudged to the courtroom as if they were prisoners themselves, then directed to the jury bench, which were more like theater seats set to one side, and told to be seated. At least these were more comfortable than the hard plastic chairs in the waiting room, Courtney thought.
The counsels for the defense and prosecution entered the courtroom, as did the defendant, an old man of about sixty or so, his neon orange prison garb barely hanging onto his skeletal frame. What the hell is he in for? Courtney asked herself. What did he do? Cheat on his Social Security or something?
"All rise," commanded the bailiff.
Everyone present respectfully rose to their feet as the Honorable William Brocke entered the courtroom and seated himself on the bench. "Be seated," he intoned.
All sat down again. "The counsel for the prosecution may begin questioning the jury for selection."
Courtney half listened to the counsel's droning about being truthful and impartial and so on and so on. Then the questioning began. No, she had never seen the defendant before, no, she had no prejudices against him, and no, she had no excuse to be dismissed, though God knew she tried to think of one. Then the defense counsel came up for another round. Again no excuses or alibis to weasel out of jury duty. The judge and the lawyers were satisfied. To her chagrin, she found herself chosen as Juror Number Five in what would become one of the hottest trials in the history of Las Vegas.