By John Latta
The late winter rain hammered down on the little town’s courthouse, and the burnt smell of little-used space heaters and dirty light bulbs tainted the air in Courtroom No. 2, the only courtroom in the building.
The surgeon on trial was growing in confidence as the proceedings went on. It looked to him as the gloomy afternoon began that common sense might just prevail. But the facts were clear, he knew that, and numbers don’t lie. As heart transplants go, it was trickier than most, and he’d reached his hours limit about the time he realized the operation was going to run way long. He could have stopped. Sure he could have. Let the assistants put things on hold, and maybe the guy keeps ticking over on a life support machine for a couple of days and he can finish up Monday. Maybe not. The surgeon assessed his situation and kept working with his usual unhurried precision. As time ticked on, he could feel the miracle of a successful new life springing from his hands. It was going to be as good a heart swap as he had ever done.
At least it would have been. That’s when Officer Bear, no scrubs, no gloves, no hairnet, strolled into the hot floodlights of the operating room, pointed to his watch, shook his head and nonchalantly took the blood-dripping scalpel from the surgeon’s latex-gloved fingers.
In the drafty courtroom, the district attorney could feel his victory slipping away. His expert witness was crumbling as the defense attorney rattled him with probing questions and tied him up in knots in a stunning performance reminiscent of a chess master several steps ahead of a flustered opponent. Now the witness was talking about how excellent the surgeon’s work had been and how despite going over his hours limit he had been doing as fine a job as he’d ever seen, textbook, inspired, life-saving and stuff like that. The surgeon was going to walk!
It was then that Officer Bear, at the back of the courtroom, stood up. “Sit down,” thundered the judge. “No can do,” said the officer as he walked slowly to the front of the courtroom, flashing his badge and his pocket watch. “Your honor,” he said, jabbing his finger at the defense attorney who was stopped in full flight, “this lawyer was up all night preparing for this trial, and now he’s been here for so many hours that he’s just run out of time for today. He’s got to go home to bed.”
“Your honor,” said the attorney without hesitation, “10 minutes and the case is won, justice prevails.” But the judge helplessly shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
Officer Bear showed no emotion as the crestfallen attorney trudged out of the courtroom. “And don’t stop for dinner. Your wife can’t cook it for you anyway. She’d been up since before she made your breakfast, and she was out of hours, too. I sent her to bed. And don’t just sit in your easy chair watching television or reading a book. I want you under the covers and snoring before dark. I’ll be by later to check on it.”
It was over. The defense attorney was a good man, but the D.A. was also shrewd enough to get to the witness while he was still vulnerable after the defense attorney’s working over. The D.A. would get things back on track and get the witness to focus on the clock and not the quality of the work. It was a shame, though, thought the reporter as he waited to dash across the mud to his car, because the time the D.A. spent coaching the witness would put him over his hours limit. The reporter wondered if anyone would notice.
Before Officer Bear strode out into the rain, he turned to the reporter. “Understand that I’m just doing my job. If we’re not vigilant, we’ll have all sorts of people out there working when they’re tired.” He pulled his hat lower over his eyes, flipped up the collar of his raincoat, adjusted his sunglasses and started into the rain just as it turned to sleet. But then he paused and stepped back. “Didn’t you say you were on deadline?” The newspaperman nodded, “Yep, gotta get this story filed.” Officer Bear raised an eyebrow. “Whoa, now wait just a minute. Let me see your log book.” And the hail kept falling.