Sample text for In the forest of harm / Sallie Bissell ; [map by Jackie Aher].

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Counter Atlanta, Georgia, 2000

"Indian bitch!" Calhoun Whitman, Jr., uttered his first words in court as he lunged over the defense table. "Motherfucking squaw!"

Mary Crow did not flinch as Whitman rushed toward her. Jurors scrambled backwards in the jury box while Whitman's defense counsel leapt from his chair and threw himself at his client. Though Whitman was a slender young man, he had quick reflexes and astonishing strength. Even with the beefy attorney clinging to both his legs, Calhoun Whitman, Jr., writhed like a rattlesnake toward the prosecutor's table.

The two bailiffs who normally dozed on either side of the bench jolted forward. With a flurry of grunts, curses and the final sick thud of a skull striking the floor, the three men pinned the just-convicted murderer at the foot of the witness stand. An instant later both bailiffs had their service revolvers pressed against the base of Whitman's brain.

"Oh, my God!" Mrs. Calhoun Whitman, Sr., shrieked over the babble. "They're going to shoot him!"

"Order!" Judge Margaret McLean slammed her gavel on the desk. The sharp rap was swallowed in the din that enveloped the courtroom. "I will have order in this court!" She banged the gavel as if she were hammering nails. "Officers, put that man in cuffs and irons!"

"Oh, nooo . . ." Mrs. Whitman sobbed as one bailiff cuffed her son's hands behind his back while the other kept both his foot and pistol wedged against Cal's neck. Mary Crow sat motionless as the bailiffs snapped the leg irons around Cal's ankles and wrestled him to his feet. When everyone in the courtroom had retaken their seats and her heart had stopped its own rhumba in her chest, Mary stood up, as was customary, for Judge McLean to address the accused.

"John Calhoun Whitman, Jr., a jury of your peers has found you guilty of one count of sexual battery and one count of murder in the first degree upon the person of Sandra Dianne Manning. You will be sentenced by this court on Friday, November third, in accordance with the criminal code of the State of Georgia. Until that time, you are remanded to the custody of the State." Judge McLean scowled down at the strikingly handsome young man who now stood gasping before her in his torn Armani suit. "Take him away."

The two bailiffs grabbed Cal Whitman by his manacled arms and hustled him toward the door, his leg irons rattling like a cascade of dropped change. When they passed in front of the prosecutor's table, Cal locked his knees and elbowed both officers.

"Stupid whore!" he raged at Mary, his blond hair falling into his face. "Cherokee lesbo cunt! You're gonna pay for this!" Then he threw back his head and spit. Everyone gasped. A milky wad of saliva curved through the air, then plopped on Wynona, the small gray soapstone figure of an Indian goddess that Mary kept on her table at every trial. As his spit dripped from the little statue, Cal's pretty mouth stretched in a triumphant, mocking grin.

"Out of those spike heels, you're just a skinny piece of brown cooze!"

Mary felt her face grow hot. She despised men like Whitman, men who played rough with women and then expected their money or their power to put things right. She pressed her hands flat on the desk and leaned toward him, knowing the warm scent of her perfume would linger in his memory as an ever-present reminder of the day she hung him.

"Have a good time in jail, Cal," she murmured, not bothering to hide the pleasure in her voice. "I hear a few of the larger inmates are looking forward to being with you."

"I'll get you for this!" Cal screamed at her as the bailiffs dragged him out of the courtroom. "I swear to God I will!" The door slammed behind him, but his threats echoed crazily down the hall, fading only when they locked him in a padded, soundproofed cell.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, thank you for your service. This court stands adjourned." With a brisk nod at the jurors and a sharp glare at Whitman's attorney, Judge McLean withdrew to the calm blue interior of her office. Then the true bedlam began.

Mary looked at the sputum-drenched Wynona and shook her head. At last this case, this crime of passion which some wag in her office had termed "the muff snuff," was over. Atlanta had been shocked when the younger son of one of its wealthiest real-estate developers had been charged with raping and then killing a Gap salesgirl, but when the papers had implied that political forces had put pressure on the DA's office to charge Calhoun Whitman, Jr., with the crime, the whole city had gone nuts. All Mary knew was that the case landed on her desk. Although the late Sandra Manning had shown a proclivity for multiple sex partners, the evidence had pointed overwhelmingly to Whitman. Her boss and the mayor and even the governor had wanted this political bombshell out of the papers, so Mary had gone to trial with the evidence she had. For the past two weeks she had prosecuted. Today the jury had convicted.

Kate Summerfield, the chief crime reporter for the Journal-Clarion, was the first to corner Mary.

"Hey, Mary, doesn't this make six convictions for six indictments?"

Mary fought the urge to grin and raise one fist in triumph. It would be better if the press did not find out how good it felt to nail scum like Whitman. It was a rush better than coffee, better than skydiving, maybe even better than a talented man lingering between your legs. She glanced down at her papers and answered Kate's question with a modest nod. "Handsome Cal makes six."

Kate gave a low whistle. "That's amazing for one so young. Say, is it true that the old Cherokees chopped off one hand if someone killed a man, but two hands if someone killed a woman?" She scribbled in a long, skinny notebook that looked more suited for grocery lists than front-page headlines.

Mary laughed. "Who on earth told you that?"

"Read it somewhere. Is this old Cherokee tradition why you never bargain when the victim's a woman?"

"To tell you the truth, I've never thought about it one way or the other." Mary smiled, but did not elaborate. Actually, Kate had gotten it right. The old Cherokees were hand-lobbers and she didn't bargain when the victim was female, but Mary didn't want anybody attributing that to her over breakfast tomorrow morning.

"Is this the first time you've convicted someone from a prominent Atlanta family?"

It's the first time I've convicted someone whose aunt plays bridge with my grandmother, Mary thought, but again she smiled. "Kate, I go after whoever Jim assigns me."

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Cherokee women Fiction, Appalachian Region, Southern Fiction, Wilderness survival Fiction, Female friendship Fiction, Stalking victims Fiction, North Carolina Fiction, Women lawyers Fiction, Hiking Fiction