Anna Gray is a native Virginian. She lives with her two shelter dogs, Maggie and Jack, her two hunt ponies, Dewey Redbird and the Ace of Spades, and her one human husband—all of whom wish she would spend less time at her desk and more time feeding them. This is the first time her work has been published.
Being convicted of a state crime was one thing, but a federal crime? That was something else altogether.
First of all, the sheer amount of paperwork required by the feds was intimidating. Winnie Chapin fanned the stack of pages attached to a beat-up clipboard. A federal probation officer, Agent Riley, had instructed her to fill out this “Presentence Report, Federal District Court of Georgia—Character Witness” before her interview. That was another thing about the feds: their probation officers were trim, neatly dressed F.B.I. agents with close-cropped crew cuts—a far cry from the doughy, indifferent social workers that handled probation for the state courts.
Winnie checked her watch and groaned: she’d never get to back to work. She fished a pen out of her purse and flipped back to the first page. At the top was printed:
“The defendant, William McKenzie Battle, has plead guilty to a Federal Class A Felony, Possession with an Intent to distribute Controlled Substances across state lines. The Probation Office of the Court is charged with preparing a recommendation for the Judge regarding the appropriate sentence, which by statute can range between 5 and 15 years, although the Judge may direct a lesser punishment to achieve a just result. The defendant has identified you as someone who can speak on his behalf to his character.”
Mac’s character? Winnie snorted quietly. In the past eight years, Mac had been convicted in state court for increasingly serious offenses—reckless driving, two DUI’s, assault with a deadly weapon (bar fight, broken Bud bottle) and possession of a stolen handgun—and he had been lucky. In the good old Georgia boy justice system of McDuffie County, where the McKenzies and the Battles were practically foundation stock, he’d managed to avoid any significant time in state prison—maybe six months total, tops.
But this time, Mac had transported three kilos of stolen OxyCodone into South Carolina and had landed smack-dab in the middle of an F.B.I. sting operation at the buyer’s warehouse, and the F.B.I. didn’t give a shit who Mac’s daddy or granddaddy were. Unable to make bail, Mac was being held in a federal detention center until the Judge handed down the sentence. Winnie shook her head. What a dumb-ass.
She pulled the top off her pen and began to write.
Name: Winnifred Lucille Chapin
Relationship to Defendant:
Winnie paused and pursed her lips. She and Mac were not married. She had wanted to marry him early on, back when she still believed that twinkle in Mac’s blue-gray eyes reflected some child-like innocence and fundamental goodness. He probably would have married her, too, if she had pushed him. But as he had drifted slowly and surely off course, his behavior evolving from aimless to reckless to downright dangerous, her own blind devotion to him had deteriorated into worry, frustration and dismay. Eventually, Winnie dropped the subject of marriage completely, and Mac had never mentioned it again, not once.
Her mother was appalled. “Are you stupid or just plain crazy? You should have made him marry you while you had the chance; the Battle name still means something in this county. It’s the dumbest decision you ever made.” Her mother was a Baptist and a pragmatist.
Her father had whispered (after her mother left the room, of course), “No, baby, it’s the smartest decision you ever made.”
The fact was, they were both wrong. She had never made any decision at all. It had just happened—a slow, downward spiral into a bleak emotional existence with a man who, these days, was so thin-skinned and short-fused, she kept her head down, her voice low, and steered clear whenever possible, like approaching a chained pit bull. She winced. It was just like that.
She turned back to the form. She was, what, to Mac? “Girlfriend?” Too inconsequential. “Significant Other?” Too contrived. “Partner?” Too legal. Mac often referred to her as “my old lady,” as in “My old lady’s home,” or “My old lady needs the car.”
Winnie loathed “old lady.” She wasn’t old; she was only crawling 30. Maybe her curves had melted into folds around her middle, maybe there were a few gray hairs in her dark curly hair, and maybe some days she just felt old, but then, living with Mac could do that to a person.
But still, she could spruce up pretty damn good when the occasion called for it.
She scribbled “Significant Other” in the appropriate space and moved on.
The next several pages asked for administrative information—age, employment, address and the like. Then came a section entitled “Financial Information,” under which was printed:
“If you are the spouse of the defendant, please list all assets, liabilities, sources of income and household expenses.”
Winnie stiffened, pen poised. What was this? Why would this be relevant? Then she remembered. Calvin Byrd, Mac’s lawyer, had asked about Mac’s ability to pay a fine. “As a general rule,” Calvin had said, “the greater the fine, the lesser the time.” She had dismissed that possibly out of hand. Mac had no assets, no job, no nothing.
But she did. The ancient Honda Accord was hers. The modest cottage in town was hers, thanks to the generosity of her dead grandmother. She made enough money as a bank teller at Hometown Trust to pay the bills and squirrel some away in an account Mac couldn’t touch. She had finally paid off his medical bills from an infected tooth, and she was hoping to finance a new car with the savings. It wasn’t much, but it was hers. Surely the feds couldn’t expect her to pay the fine just because they had lived together for eight years? Wouldn’t that just suck?
Her stomach turned at the thought. She scribbled “N/A” and prayed to God that eight years didn’t make her a common law wife or some such thing.
Agent Riley stuck his head out the door. “Ms. Chapin? You about ready?”
The purpose of this interview, Calvin Byrd had said at their conference with Mac at the detention center, was to share with the court the “real” Mac, any redeeming qualities or mitigating factors that might persuade the Judge that justice would be served by sentencing William McKenzie Battle to probation and community service rather than incarceration.
According to Calvin, it was more than a theoretical possibility. “Although he has a state criminal record, his state crimes were relatively minor,” said Calvin, “and it’s his first federal offense. The Court might be merciful if there is strong written and oral testimony from friends, community and family members regarding Mac’s character, which in your case would be, uh . . .” Calvin checked his notes, “hmm, a letter from your mother and an interview with Winnie.” He frowned and studied the two of them, drumming his fingers on the table. “Huh. Well, that should be okay,” he said without much conviction.
Mac reached for her hand across the table. “It’s up to you, Win. I need you, babe. If you can do this for me, things will be different. You’ll see.”
At that moment, staring into those magical blue-grey eyes, Winnie had believed him. She forgot the careless lies, the late night fights, the betrayals large and small. He needed her, and not just for posting bail like before. Her testimonial to the Probation Office could mean the difference between freedom and years confined to a prison cell.
“Focus on his remorse,” Calvin had said. “Those F.B.I. guys—they love to hear about remorse. They hear remorse and they think: this guy is going straight, he’ll never commit another crime.”
The truth was, Mac was not sorry he had attempted to sell three kilos of OxyCodone, not one bit. He was only sorry he had gotten caught. He had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Next time would be different. He was smarter than everyone else—smarter than the F.B.I., smarter than those dimwitted buyers, and certainly smarter than she was. He would play them all. He had no intention of going straight.
Agent Riley cleared his throat. “Ms. Chapin?”
Winnie surfaced from her thoughts, gave a tiny shake of her head and looked up. “Sorry?”
“You ready?” he repeated, holding the door open.
She was. Mac would be furious, maybe even dangerously so, but she was not going to lie to a federal agent; that would be a crime. She would have to move out of McDuffie County to escape the wrath of the Battle clan, but so what? Her only personal ties to the County was a bible-thumping mother and a cowardly father. Maybe she would move someplace with better weather, away from the crippling summer heat of Georgia, someplace like Rhode Island. Yeah, Rhode Island. No one would ever look for her in Rhode Island.
Winnie took a deep breath and stood. “I am,” she said and followed Agent Riley through the door.