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The sunlight stretched like fingers through the wooden window blinds, and the day was new, like a bruise that wasn't there the night before. Between the snips of her pruning shears, next door I heard Mrs. McCullough explaining to that ball of fur and teeth she calls "FiFi" why it must have been the Van Sant boy who trampled her petunias. It was Sunday, I was running out of time; in the morning Jason Bartelli would go on trial for murder. I kicked the covers off and  stumbled toward the kitchen, and a song I hadn't heard in years came on the radio...  

...and they can see no reasons, 'cause there are no reasons—what reasons do you need ...Tell me why, I don't like Mondays...

If you heard the story once it wasn't likely you'd forget: home from school that day, 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer took a rifle from the closet, aimed it out the window, and fired; with two men dead and nine children bleeding on a playground, they asked her why and Brenda Spencer said, I don't like Mondays... I stood there in my not-so-tidy kitchen and watched the coffee sloshing on the countertop as I stirred it with the wrong end of a spoon...there were other crimes that needed my attention...and there were other reasons I didn't want to hear that song. I threw my coffee spoon down hard against the sink—just next door, everything was simple enough to explain to a puppy dog.   

Every Saturday night for the last five years, I spoke at a battered women's shelter, and with the fervor of a prophet, every week I said there was never—never—any circumstance where abuse was justified; now every time I said those words I thought about the girl in the photograph with the sagging ponytail. And every time some woman with those same black circles under her eyes shook my hand and thanked me,  I wondered what her circumstances really were

Bartelli's trial was the first thing I thought of every morning and the last thing in my head as I fell asleep at night. I would have to be persuasive—beyond that I had no idea of what to do. At work, I eavesdropped on any conversation within earshot, and pored through every document I could find, I barely ate and barely slept—six months went by and still it all seemed futile.  This was Homicide's case—by sticking my nose into it, I could easily wind up spending the rest of my career reminding so-and-so about the call on line three. And the DA wasn't going to waste his time on a case he couldn't win. Jason had the best defense attorney in town, but with no proof to speak of, even if I made the career-ending move of going to Stephen Ballard, what was I going to say— what was he going to say—"Salamanders, eh ? Well thanks for stopping by, Miss..." Even if he believed me, the "information" I had meant everything and nothing to the case. I worked hard to get where I was and I could lose it all, for what—to be a crusader, to make a point...to help a man I never even met ?  Besides, I told myself, I don't know exactly what Jason Bartelli did...

Still, I knew exactly what Jason Bartelli didn't do; I understand there are certain realities in law enforcement and in the justice system as a whole, but aside from what I knew about Mary Ellen Bartelli, there were one or two other things surrounding this case which gave me pause, ironically, in that same ill-defined way Mary Ellen had that first day. 

Granted, this is a very high profile case, and I know I haven't been in SA long—but I've seen Detective Morrow in interviews before, and suffice it to say, the seven hours he spent going 'round in circles with Bartelli were not his finest ones. No one mirandized Bartelli, no one gave him a phone to call his lawyer, basic things any cop knows to do to keep sharp-eyed lawyers like Steven Ballard from making an end run around justice on appeal, and after seven hours of tactics Detective Morrow knows better than to try with a guy like Bartelli, he came away from the interview with seven hours of "no comment".  I could only see two reasons why a man like Morrow doesn't pitch his best game—either he doesn't want to win, which in this case simply wasn't possible, or, he already knows he's won. 

And then last week, in what was hardly a coincidence, the DA announced that "pursuant to the interests of justice" Bartelli would go to trial separately on the rape and murder charges, or put more simply--Jason Bartelli was going to trial for murder first.

Justice notwithstanding, it's easier to win convictions on a multitude of rape charges if you already have the murder conviction cinched.  This late-breaking announcement from the DA made it appear the decision to separate the charges and hence the trials, had been reached with considerable difficulty, while it neatly obscured the fact we didn't have a speck of DNA. No one wants to seem soft on crime in an election year, and whatever else Bartelli might be guilty of wouldn't bring a lynch mob out to vote like an execution would...

...what reasons do you need..."

I could not get that song out of my head.

It seemed safe to assume, given what I had to say about Mary Ellen, that I would only get one shot at this and that's if I was lucky; another sleepless night went by with hours spent going over all the "besides..." and "even ifs", and finally I decided all I could do for now was go to Bartelli's trial on Monday morning; maybe there I'd  find the reason that I needed.

***

It was raining and I got there late and stepped on people's toes until I found a seat. It was warm inside the courtroom and after so many sleepless nights, I almost nodded off a time or two; a real jury trial is nothing like you see it on TV or in a movie. A lot of it's pretty tedious and despite all the hullabaloo over the Bartelli case, this was no exception. Thankfully it wasn't long before the judge called morning recess, and everyone stretched and mumbled and began to file out slowly, and just as I was wondering if the coffee machine was still on the third floor, a giggle that I wouldn't soon forget erased all thoughts of coffee.

Stephen Ballard must have thought I lost my mind as I leaned across the rail and poked him with my badge. "It's about Mrs. Bartelli", I whispered. Apparently convinced that I was harmless if not sane, he chuckled when he said, "Her name is not Bartelli anymore, Detective."

I've never known a lawyer who was prone to offhand comments, and ignoring for the moment Ballard's little dig at my detective skills, I pushed my way past all the people whose toes I had already stepped once before: I found her in the hallway just outside the courtroom and when I saw her standing there, all of my "besides" and "even ifs" were gone.

The witness for the prosecution was still five foot nothing and as manicured as ever—but now with her belly round and firm beneath her yellow dress, the former Mrs. Bartelli had a special glow that wasn't there six months before. Mary Ellen stood talking with a small group of maternity-wear clad women, her polished, sculpted nails flashing as she spoke: I watched the hands that would rock a cradle soon and saw nine children bleeding on a playground, heard them scream as rifle fire exploded in their backs.  In Stephen Ballard's office, the sunlight stretched like fingers through the window blinds that Monday afternoon.  And everything was simple enough to explain to a puppy dog

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