Two Lost Boys by L. F. Robertson is a debut novel and a legal thriller that deals with the controversial subject of the death penalty (available May 16, 2017).
Janet Moodie has spent years as a death row appeals attorney. Overworked and recently widowed, she’s had her fill of hopeless cases, and is determined that this will be her last. Her client is Marion ‘Andy’ Hardy, convicted along with his brother Emory of the rape and murder of two women. But Emory received a life sentence while Andy got the death penalty, labeled the ringleader despite his low IQ and Emory’s dominant personality.
Convinced that Andy’s previous lawyers missed mitigating evidence that would have kept him off death row, Janet investigates Andy’s past. She discovers a sordid and damaged upbringing, a series of errors on the part of his previous counsel, and most worrying of all, the possibility that there is far more to the murders than was first thought. Andy may be guilty, but does he deserve to die?
While I waited for the guards to fetch Andy Hardy, I made a trip to the restroom down the hall. As I was walking back toward the cages, a tall, light-haired man in a suit caught my eye and flagged me down. “Are you Janet Moodie?”
“Yep,” I said. “You’re Jim, then?”
“I am. Nice to meet you.” He stuck out a hand, and I managed to extricate mine from my notebook and coin purse for a handshake.
There were things I wanted to ask Jim about the case, but we were surrounded by guards moving prisoners in and out of the cages. So we made small talk, or tried to. He said something about baseball, and I said something apologetic about not really following it. Then the metal door to the back opened with a chinking of metal chains, and a sandy-haired man in blue denim limped out, flanked by two guards.
“Here’s our man,” Jim said. “Hey, Andy!”
Andy looked over and flashed a weak smile. “Mr. Christie? Hey, could you get me a coupla cokes and a cheeseburger?”
“Let me take care of that,” I said. When I came back, my tray laden with a burger hot from the microwave, chips, drinks, ketchup packets and a fistful of the brown paper towels the prison puts out for napkins, the guard was waiting by the cubicle, and Jim and Hardy were already in conversation over some papers.
As the guard let me into the cell, locked it again, and left, Jim introduced me to Andy. Andy looked pleased, in a muted way. I knew he was around forty, but he looked younger. He was pale and clean-shaven, with a long, nondescript face and close-set pale blue eyes. His hair was combed straight back from his forehead. In his loose chambray shirt and prison jeans, he looked rangy, but it was hard to tell. He reached out to shake my hand, and I noticed he had no tattoos on his forearms.
“I’ve just started reading about your case,” I said. “And I’m curious how you got your nickname.”
“It was my mama’s idea. The kids at school kept saying Marion was a girl’s name. So she said I should say my name was Andy. She said it came from some old movie.”
“So naming you Marion wasn’t her idea?”
“Nah. It was my dad’s. It was his grandfather’s name. He was some kind of train robber; I guess they hung ’im back in Idaho. But my dad was real proud of ’im, named me after him. Then he used to say he should have given my name to Emory, ’cause Emory had more of the old man in him.”
“How did you and your dad get along?” I asked.
“Not so good. But we didn’t see too much of him. He was in prison up in Walla Walla for a long time, and then he left town.”
“What’s he do now?”
“Do you ever hear from him?”
Andy looked at me and shifted a little in his chair. “Nope. Never have since he left.”
“Oh,” I said, “I’m sorry. That must have been hard on you and your mother.”
“Not really. I didn’t like him. And Mama—she said she never cried over no man—’specially not him.”
Jim looked at the plastic-wrapped burger on the table. “Better eat your sandwich before it gets cold.”
“Oh, yeah.” Andy pulled open the wrapper, peeled back the top half of the bun and smeared ketchup from a plastic packet onto the half-melted cheese and wilted onion that topped the burger patty.
As he ate, Andy complained amiably about the congealed oatmeal and tough pancakes, the gristly stews and watery mashed potatoes that made up his diet between visits. When he had finished, he wiped his mouth with a paper towel and wrapped up the remains of his lunch with surprising tidiness, then tossed them into the scuffed plastic wastebasket next to the table. “Thank you,” he said, leaning back for a moment and patting his stomach a couple of times as if for emphasis. He sat up again, took a drink from his can of soda and looked at Jim and me. “Don’t you want to talk about my case?”
“Well, I do have some questions I’d like to ask,” I said, “to help me get started on it.”
“Okay.” He folded his hands on the table in front of him and waited for the questioning to begin. There was something in the gesture and in the directness with which he answered that reminded me suddenly of my son at about five years old.
I turned to a clean page on my legal pad. “Let’s see. The files say you were born in Washington and lived there until—what, about junior high?”
“No, high school,” Andy said. “We moved down here after my dad left.”
“Where did you live?”
“Lots of places. We moved around a lot till my dad went to prison. Then we lived in Leesville for a long time—till after my dad got out.”
“Do you remember any of the schools you went to?”
Andy thought for a moment, squinting with the effort of remembering. “I remember a couple,” he said. “McKinley was one. Gardner. Redbud—that was middle school—after we moved to California I was at Shasta City High. I went to some other schools, too, ’cause we were always moving. I don’t remember all their names. Mama knows all that stuff.”
“How did you like school?” I asked.
“Mostly not much.”
“Oh, I never did too good. Never that interested in it.”
“Ever get in trouble?”
“Little stuff—cutting classes, acting up. Got in a fight once during recess.”
“Couple kids jumped me. Teacher sent us all to the principal’s office. They tried to suspend me, but Mama went and told them off, and they took me back.”
“Nah, that’s about it.”
“Did you have any friends?”
He looked up. “Yeah, a couple.”
“What were their names?”
“There was a kid named Eddy. Eddy Ford. But he moved away. In grade school he and I and Greg… Greg—I think my mom might remember his last name—we used to hang out together.”
“What about junior high and high school?”
“A couple of the girls were okay to me. Althea Soames, Lisa Koslovsky.”
“Do you remember any of your teachers?”
“Oh, boy, let me think.” He stopped and looked down for a long moment, frowning with effort. “All’s I can remember in high school, in Shasta City High, are Mr. Muller or maybe Mueller; he taught shop. Mr. Geleitner, or something like that, he was the principal.”
“What about grade school and middle school?”
He thought for a moment. “I only remember one nice teacher and one mean one. Miss Brandon was the nice one. Mrs. Cooley, she didn’t like me. She was fourth grade. I had to repeat it, ’cause she wouldn’t pass me. Mama was mad. Went and talked to her about it, but it didn’t do no good.”
“Do you remember what school Miss Brandon was in?”
He frowned in concentration again and shook his head. “No, I sure can’t.”
“What about high school; did you graduate?”
“No. I got tired of school. I wanted to work, make some money.”
“How old were you when you left?”
“Seventeen. Or maybe eighteen. I’m not sure.”
“What year were you in then?”
We went on like this for the rest of the visit. By the time the guard—a different one this time—came to take Andy back to his cell, I had a half-dozen pages of notes on schools, towns, doctors’ and dentists’ names, friends, relatives, hospitals, and so forth. Andy looked up at the guard and then back to us. “Well, guess I gotta go now. Would you send me some stamps and drawing paper?”
“Sure,” Jim said. Andy stood up, and when the guard opened the metal port in the cage door, Andy turned and held his hands behind him for the cuffs.
We followed them out of the passageway and watched as they made their awkward progress toward the painted iron door that led to the cell blocks. Then we waited some more near the row of cages while, somewhere behind the door, Andy was searched to make sure we hadn’t passed him anything illegal during our visit. When the guard behind the window told us we were cleared to leave and flipped the switch that opened the barred gates to the outside, I tried not to look too glad to be out of there.
Copyright © 2017 L. F. Robertson.
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L. F. Robertson is a practising defense attorney who for the last two decades has handled only death penalty appeals. Linda is the co-author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Unsolved Mysteries, and a contributor to the forensic handbooks How to Try a Murder and Irrefutable Evidence. She has had short stories published in the anthologies My Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes: the Hidden Years and Sherlock Holmes: The American Years.