Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.
In the comfort of an air-conditioned room, Michael surveyed his surroundings and reflected on prison life. Mind you, the bottom line - a prison was still a prison and incarceration meant loss of freedom no matter what part of the world you lived in. But this was an ultra modern facility designed to make life as tolerable as possible for inmates. It was a far cry from the hastily erected tin sheds and barbed wire compounds that characterised his homeland at the height of 'The Troubles.' The clang of a heavy steel door interrupted his thoughts.
A large, black prisoner, accompanied by a guard entered.
"I'll be outside," the guard said, leaving the inmate and slamming the door behind him.
The prisoner, dressed in orange coveralls, stood still and glanced over his shoulder. He looked at the floor, then at Michael, and back towards the door. He scanned the room, looking nervous, like a child in school for the first time. Michael introduced himself and invited him to sit. He hesitated, scrutinised Michael, then sat.
"I don't mean to be disrespectful, Mr Michael, but you don't look like no lawyer to me. Where's your fancy suit, your briefcase and all your papers?"
"I travel light. Too many suits, too little substance. Why? You got a problem with the way I dress?"
"No, sir, not at all. You look . . . different, that's all."
"Good, I am different and don't forget it - that's why I'm here."
"Yes, sir, Mr Michael."
"Okay, we need to get a few things straight from the outset. As far as you're concerned my name is, Michael."
"You can forget the sir bit, too."
"Yes, Mr . . . Yes, Michael. As I say, I don't mean to be disrespectful, it's just the way I am."
Michael rested his elbows on the table and leaned forward.
"I know, but if you and I are going to work together, we need to establish ground rules that both of us understand."
"Sure . . . Michael, I know where you're coming from."
"Good. Your friend, Ron Pearlstein, came to visit me last week. He paid me a retainer. The guy just got out of prison and paid me fifty-thousand dollars upfront to take your case. So, here's the deal. We're not going to waste his money, or my time, and we're not going to give you false hopes. Is that clear?"
"Right. We're making progress already. Now, what I need from you are honest factual answers to my questions. I don't want to hear your opinions; your tales of woe; your hard-luck stories; your inner thoughts; how bad the joint is, or how the system failed you. Understood?"
The prisoner moved and rasped his chair off the floor.
"And stop your fidgeting. This is the real deal here. If we're going to get you back into a courtroom, you'll need to look confident and self-assured. Let's start here-and-now. Practise looking people in the eye and take that sheepish grin off your face. Pretend I'm going to kick your black ass and let's see how that works."
The prisoner straightened and dug his fingernails into the table.
"Much better. Now, fold your hands."
He responded as directed.
"What's your name?"
"My name is, Angel."
Michael threw his pen down. "What did I just say? Didn't I tell you I wanted honest answers to my questions?"
"People call me, Angel."
"I don't give a damn what people call you. I asked you your name."
The prisoner's shoulders drooped and he leaned over as if he were about to convey some great secret.
"My name is . . . Arthur, Andrew Adamson."
"Okay, let me guess. Your mother taught grade school down south somewhere?"
"How'd you know that?"
"What type of a person would give a guy like you a name that ought to belong to some goddamned poet?"
Arthur, Andrew Adamson pushed his chair back and jumped to his feet.
"That's it. You ain't gonna insult my mama."
"Sit down, before I knock you down - you're drawing attention to us."
The door thundered open and the guard rushed in. Arthur sat down.
"Everything all right here?"
"Sure, Officer, no problem. The prisoner was just stretching his legs. Isn't that right?"
"Yes, sir," Arthur answered.
The guard paused, nodded and left.
"Listen to me, you big burly piece of blubber - you pull a stunt like that again and I'll kick your oversized ass all the way back to your cell. If we're going to get through this, you'll need to work on your mental attitude. If I'm going to wheel you out before a judge, a public prosecutor and perhaps a jury again, you'd best forget your childish antics. What we need is a calm, confident response to whatever's put to you - not the actions of a hothead."
Arthur drew a deep breath. "I understand, Michael."
"Okay, Angel, let's get to work . . . Your occupation?"
"I'm a stone mason by trade. I work with natural stone, granite, marble and anything that can be quarried, I guess."
"This guy you allegedly killed - you were working at the time? Is that correct?"
"The guy was white?"
"In your own words. What happened?"
"Most of the guys on the job were good guys. A few didn't like to work with no black guy. These two, they hated me and called me names - day in and day out. We were working on the fifty second floor on scaffold erected on the outside of the building. There was only the three of us. He pushed me; I held on; he fell."
"You told this story at your trial?"
"No one believed you?"
"They had the other white witness. No one testified for me."
"When you say no one testified for you, do you mean someone else witnessed what happened and didn't come forward? Or, no one else saw what happened?"
"The first one . . . You talk just like him."
"I talk just like whom?"
"The guy I reckon saw what happened."
"Who were you working for?"
"O. D. C."
Michael's interest peaked. "O'Donnell Construction? But it's full of Irish guys. We all sound the same."
"No . . . Michael, you don't. Before I come to prison, I don't read nor write to well. But I listen and I hear real good. I mean real good. You guys from Ireland you talk different - like here in America. This guy, he talk exactly like you."
Michael leaned back. Angel knew the difference between a northern Irish accent and a southern Irish accent. People outside of Ireland could rarely make that distinction.
"This guy. Anything you remember about him?"
"Yeah. He had a tattoo of a naked woman on his arm - right here." He pointed to the inside of his left forearm.
Michael noted the observation. "Why do you think he might have seen what happened?"
"He was inside securing the scaffold."
"And the police questioned him?"
"Yeah. But he say at the time it happened he were tightening cables and he didn't see no accident."
"He didn't come forward as a witness?"
Michael looked into Angel's eyes.
"They called you names, didn't they?"
"They called you racist names, didn't they?"
"It hurt, didn't it?"
"The guy on the inside of the building that day. The guy securing the scaffold. He called you racist names too, didn't he?"
"No . . . no names from the Irish guy on the inside."
Michael cupped his hands over his face to think. Angel was not about to incriminate someone to help his cause. The Irish, for the most part, were not racist. Americans - black, white or brown, were Americans. Someone else saw what happened that day. He pushed his chair back and stood up.
"Okay. Good. That's it for now."
Angel looked up - puzzled.
"So whata you think, Michael?"
"Well, I got a lotta work to do"
"Do you think I might have a chance?"
"I'm taking your case. There's your chance?"
"That's good? Isn't it?"
"It's a start."
Angel stood up and shook his hand.
"I'm sorry, Michael, and I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but man, you be one arrogant sonofabitch at times."
Michael smiled. "That's where you're wrong. I was testing you. You need to work on your attitude. Nothing can rile you. Do you hear me? Nothing. You need to come across ice-cool. You got that? I wanna see, Angel, the iceman. And listen to how these city guys speak. Practise that. Listen carefully to their words. Hear the dialect. Teach yourself. Polish the accent. We must show you in your best light. Got it?
"Okay. I'll be back next week . . . Guard."
Michael watched as the guard led Angel back to his cell. He realised he had one hell of a fight on his hands - but he knew just where to start.