Authors: Richard Herman
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thrillers
“The court decides its own protocols,” Denise said. “You will be referred to as Mr. Tyler.”
“May I ask why?” Gus asked.
“The court will not cover your crimes with the respectability of a military title,” Denise answered.
“Yet, I’m here because I fought a war, acted under orders, and was wearing the uniform of my country at the time.”
Again, Landis conferred with the other two judges. “As the defendant is retired and no longer on active duty, the court will refer to him as Mr. Tyler.”
Denise nailed Gus with a cold stare, fixing her first triumph. She waited for the cameras to swing onto her. “To answer your original question, Mr. Tyler, the court has jurisdiction over you because you are a citizen of Panama.”
“My father was a sergeant in the United States Army and stationed in the Canal Zone at the time of my birth. I am an American citizen who happened to be born in Panama. I left there when I was eleven months old and haven’t been back.”
Denise’s lips compressed into a tight smile. “Panama recognizes dual citizenship. Therefore, you are also a citizen of Panama. As Panama is a signatory to the Rome Statute forming the International Criminal Court,
is established.” She tilted her head and looked at Gus as though that explained everything. He mouthed a few words and both guards smiled. One had to place his hand over his mouth and look away.
“May I ask what is so funny?” Denise demanded, now fully aware the cameras were fixed on Gus and not her.
“I said, ‘I love it when she talks dirty like that.’”
Landis tapped his pen and a camera swung in his direction. “Mr. Tyler, do not insult this court or make light of its authority.”
“I apologize, your Honor. It won’t happen again.”
“Mr. Tyler, our purpose today is four fold. First, to establish if you understand the charges lodged against you. Second, to inform you of the evidence against you. Third, to hear your plea to the charges, and, lastly, to consider any request for your interim release. To satisfy the court in the first matter, can you explain the charges in your own words?”
“I am charged with the war crimes of committing murder on the night of 25-26 February, 1991, on Mutlah Ridge in Iraq, and using prohibited weapons.”
“The first charge,” Landis explained, satisfied that he was back in control of his court, “is the war crime of willful killing one or more persons protected under The Geneva Conventions of 1949. The second charge is the war crime of using weapons prohibited under the same conventions. How do you plead to the charges?”
Gus’s voice boomed in answer, again full of command. “Not guilty.”
Landis made a note. “Madam Prosecutor, you may present the evidence against the defendant.”
Denise picked up a thick document and placed it on the clerk’s desk. “If it pleases the court, I will summarize the evidence proving Mr. Tyler’s guilt.”
“The court concurs,” Landis said.
She adjusted her reading glasses and started to read. “The defendant was in command of an F-15E fighter-bomber on the night of February 25 to 26, 1991, and that he did attack an unarmed convoy comprised of many civilians in the vicinity of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border known as Mutlah Ridge. Further, witnesses confirm he knew civilians were traveling in the convoy in civilian vehicles, were not taking a direct part in hostilities, and that he did bomb such vehicles carrying innocent civilians.” Denise continued to read in a monotone, surprising Gus by the depth of operational and technical detail in her summary. After each point, her assistant passed a folder of documents to the court clerk, piling up a visible mountain of evidence for the TV cameras. The visual effect was damning. For Gus, it was an eternity before she ended.
Landis cleared his throat. “We have reviewed the evidence against Mr. Tyler in enough detail and find it sufficient and admissible. Therefore the defendant will be bound over to trial commencing on a date to be determined.” Landis jotted down a note. “We have one last issue to resolve. Should the defendant be released from custody prior to trial? Mr. Tyler, do you have anything to say in this regard?”
“Your Honor, my wife suffers from a severe degenerative disease and is dying. I should be with her. I give my word that I will return for the trial.”
Denise scoffed loudly as she stood. She waited until all three cameras were on her. “While I do not doubt the intentions of the honorable gentleman, I seriously doubt the United States government will allow him to return for trial. Therefore, we recommend that he remains in confinement.”
Landis tapped his pen, and glanced at the other two judges. Both nodded. “The court agrees. Mr. Tyler will remain in confinement in the Netherlands.”
“Your Honor,” Gus said, “will I now have access to competent counsel and be allowed visitors?”
Landis gave him a studied look. “The court has already ruled that the registrar will review your request for counsel. For your information, outside counsel is allowed as a second chair, subject to certain restrictions. The issue of visitors is between the prosecutor and the incarcerating authority, which is the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This hearing is adjourned.” He stood.
The clerk popped to her feet. “Please stand.” The room was silent as Landis and the other two judges hurried out of the room. Immediately, a clutch of reporters rushed at Denise.
“Signora Du Milan,” a reporter asked in Italian, “is this the first time you’ve seen Tyler?”
“That is correct,” Denise answered in the same language.
Another reporter asked in Spanish, “What do you make of him?”
Denise gathered up her notes and stuffed her briefcase, forgetting to sign the confinement order. “He’s another arrogant American cowboy,” she said in Spanish. “It is time we brought them to the bar of civilization, don’t you agree?” Nods all around. “Please remember that this man, no matter how charming and handsome he may appear, slaughtered thousands of innocent civilians in a few seconds. He must be held accountable.”
She glanced at Gus who was staring at her, his face passive, his eyes fixed and unblinking. A jolt of fear rocked her when she realized it was the look of a hunter and she was in his sights. She reached into her briefcase and extracted the confinement order. She uncapped her OMAS and signed it with a flourish.
San Francisco, California
The old VW minivan belched smoke as it lumbered up the westbound approach to the new Oakland Bay Bridge, slowing the Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. “I haven’t seen one of those in years,” Hank Sutherland said to himself as he fell in behind. He made a mental note to stop talking to himself. Henry “Hank” Sutherland was not an imposing man, and at forty-seven years old, he tended to blend into the background. He stood a shade over five feet ten inches tall, had a boyish face with freckles, all topped with a full head of barely controlled sandy-brown hair. Unfortunately, he had been spending too much time in the classroom – he taught law at the University of California, Berkeley – and was out of shape and putting on weight. For reasons totally beyond him, women found him attractive and men trusted him. But behind his friendly hazel eyes lurked a soaring intellect and the tenacity of a pit bull.
The minivan slowed as it pulled onto the recently completed suspension span leading to Yerba Buena Island in the middle of the Bay. Traffic piled up behind him. Hank closed the outside air vent and resigned himself to the usual stop-and-go Friday rush hour traffic. He turned on the radio and hit the button for his favorite news station. Unfortunately, nothing had changed and the commentators were still fixated on the same subject. “… according to an Associated Press news flash from The Hague in the Netherlands, the International Criminal Court has identified the pilot accused of war crimes as August William Tyler, a retired United States Air Force colonel.”
Directly in front of him, a convoy of four vans and an old school bus loaded with people coalesced around the old VW minivan and slowed even more, effectively blocking any traffic from passing. The blockade slowed and let the old VW minivan set the pace. The lanes in front of the convoy rapidly opened as frustrated drivers leaned on their horns.
The horns grew louder as the convoy halted in mid span, well short of Yerba Buena Island. “What the hell,” Hank said. Men and women streamed off the bus and unfurled a large banner. On cue, a TV crew drove up on motorcycles to record the demonstration. More signs appeared, all condemning the United States for committing war crimes. Two men, one on each side of the bridge shinnied up the suspension cables. Both were carrying the end of a long line attached to the banner. The lines were quickly attached, and the men slid down, hoisting the banner above the stopped traffic.
STOP AMERICAN WAR CRIMES AGAINST THE WORLD
Horns blared behind him. “Don’t do this!” Hank shouted. Then he saw it. A woman was holding a poster with a man’s photo and the word
scrawled in red across it.
Another woman climbed up a small ladder clutching a bullhorn. “Oh no,” Hank moaned. It was one of his students at the University of California at Berkeley. “The ditzy one.” Hank taught at Boalt Hall, Berkeley’s law school, but he had been shanghaied to conduct a graduate level seminar on international law, his specialty, for the political science department. It was a decision he had regretted from day one. He couldn’t remember the young woman’s name, and while she was intelligent, he despaired of her critical thinking skills and feared for the legal profession should she pursue a law degree. “Madison,” he mumbled, finally recalling her name. He set the parking brake and got out to hear.
“We need the TV cameras over there,” Madison ordered, pointing to the clear traffic lanes. “I want the stopped cars as background.” The TV reporters dutifully obliged and moved to their appointed location.
An attractive young woman got out of a car two lanes to Hank’s left. “I’ve got to catch a flight!”
Madison turned her bullhorn on the woman. “This is more important than you catching an airplane, lady.”
“My job depends on it!”
Madison blasted her with “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
The loud bass of truck air horns echoed over them. Hank stood on his car’s doorsill in order to see. Six truck drivers were out of their trucks and headed his way, picking up angry drivers as they came. “Now it gets interesting.” He reached for his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1. He quickly described the situation. “You got a riot about to start. And it’s gonna get very ugly very fast.” He broke the connection. He looked skyward and spread his arms. “Why me?”
“Here come the rednecks,” Madison announced over her bullhorn.
“Now that really helped,” Hank muttered. He opened the sunroof to his car and stood on the driver’s seat. His eyes narrowed as he surveyed the combatants. He calculated there were at least eighty demonstrators, about half women. He counted the men surging past his car. Seventeen. But more irate motorists were joining them by the second.
One of the truck drivers pointed at Madison who was still standing on the ladder orchestrating the demonstration. “Get her!” The battle was joined as a dozen or so of the demonstrators formed a defensive line.
“We come in peace!” a young woman shouted as the demonstrators locked arms.
“Peace my ass!” the same truck driver yelled. He barreled into the line, his muscular arms pumping with short, hard jabs. More men piled in behind him, giving weight to the attack. The line split apart and the men headed straight for Madison. “Grab the fuckin’ bitch!” the truck driver shouted.
Another shout echoed from the rear. “Over the side!”
The mob picked it up it as a war cry. “Over the side! Over the side!”
Madison dropped her bullhorn and jumped from the ladder. But she was too slow in reacting to the threat and two men grabbed her. The chant grew louder as the men carried her to the nearside of the bridge. More demonstrators joined in trying to save Madison.
Hank climbed out through the sunroof and slid down onto the hood of his car as a man banged a baseball bat against his car’s fender. He glared at Hank, his eyes filled with hate. “Hey man!” Hank yelled. “You got the wrong car.” He pointed at the old VW van directly in front. “Nail that one!” He slid off the hood and gave him an encouraging look. “Let’s get the bastards.” Again, he pointed at the VW van.
The man yelled an obscenity at Hank but turned toward the VW van. It was the wrong move. Hank pounded at his back with four, blindingly fast rabbit punches. The man went down as Hank grabbed the baseball bat out of his hands. “Crazy bastard,” Hank said. “Get out of here.” The man scrambled for safety. Hank used the bat as a battering ram and bulldozed his way straight for the kicking and screaming Madison. He held the baseball bat low to keep it hidden and reached the girl just as the men started to heave her over the side. He brought the tip of the bat up in a sharp upward motion into the elbow of the man holding her feet. He collapsed in a spasm of pain, dropping Madison’s legs. Hank straddled her.
“Not her,” Hank shouted, now holding the bat high, ready to swing. “The van! Get the van!” A man grabbed him from the rear. Hank bent his knees and went into a crouch as he jerked his body sideways. At the same time, he twisted into his assailant and drove the butt of the bat into his stomach. The man went down spewing vomit over Madison. “Throw the goddamn van over the side!” Hank shouted.