Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

  "I can't go to court," Josie murmured.

  Her mother shook her head. "You have a signed affidavit from Josie stating that she doesn't remember anything--"

  "I know you're upset. But the reality is, Jordan's calling Josie on Monday, and we'd rather talk to her about her testimony beforehand than have her come in cold. It's better for us, and it's better for Josie." She hesitated. "You can do it the hard way, Judge, or you can do it this way."

  Josie's mother clenched her jaw. "Two o'clock," she gritted out, and she slammed the door in Selena's face.

  "You promised," Josie cried. "You promised me I didn't have to get up there and testify. You said I wouldn't have to do this!"

  Her mother grabbed her by the shoulders. "Honey, I know this is scary. I know you don't want to be there. But nothing you say is going to help him. It's going to be very short and painless." She glanced at Patrick. "Why the hell is he doing this?"

  "Because his case is in the toilet," Patrick said. "He wants Josie to save it."

  That was all it took: Josie burst into tears.


  Jordan opened the door of his office, carrying Sam like a football in his arms. It was two o'clock on the dot, and Josie Cormier and her mother had arrived. Judge Cormier looked about as inviting as a sheer cliff wall; by contrast, her daughter was shaking like a leaf. "Thanks for coming," he said, pasting an enormous, friendly smile on his face. Above all else, he wanted Josie to feel at ease.

  Neither of the women said a word.

  "I'm sorry about this," Jordan said, gesturing toward Sam. "My wife was supposed to be here by now to get the baby so that we could talk, but a logging truck overturned on Route 10." He stretched his smile wider. "It should only be a minute."

  He gestured toward the couch and chairs in his office, offering a seat. There were cookies on the table, and a pitcher of water. "Please have something to eat, or drink."

  "No," the judge said.

  Jordan sat down, bouncing the baby on his knee. "Right."

  He stared at the clock, amazed at how very long sixty seconds could be when you wanted them to pass quickly, and then suddenly the door flew open and Selena ran inside. "Sorry, sorry," she said, flustered, reaching for the baby. As she did, the diaper bag fell off her shoulder, skittering across the floor to land in front of Josie.

  Josie stood up, staring at Selena's fallen backpack. She backed away, stumbling over her mother's legs and the side of the couch. "No," she whimpered, and she curled into a ball in the corner, covering her head with her hands as she started to cry. The noise set Sam off shrieking, and Selena pressed him up against her shoulder as Jordan watched, speechless.

  Judge Cormier crouched beside her daughter. "Josie, what's the matter. Josie? What's going on?"

  The girl rocked back and forth, sobbing. She glanced up at her mother. "I remember," she whispered. "More than I said I did."

  The judge's mouth dropped open, and Jordan used her shock to seize the moment. "What do you remember?" he asked, kneeling beside Josie.

  Judge Cormier pushed him out of the way and helped Josie to her feet. She sat her down on the couch and poured her a glass of water from the pitcher on the table. "It's okay," the judge murmured.

  Josie took a shuddering breath. "The backpack," she said, jerking her chin toward the one on the floor. "It fell off Peter's shoulder, like that one did. The zipper was open, and . . . and a gun fell out. Matt grabbed it." Her face contorted. "He fired at Peter, but he missed. And Peter . . . and he . . ." She closed her eyes. "That's when Peter shot him."

  Jordan caught Selena's eye. Peter's defense hinged on PTSD--how one event might trigger another; how a person who was traumatized might be unable to recall anything about the event at all. How someone like Josie might watch a diaper bag fall and instead see what had happened in the locker room months earlier: Peter, with a gun pointing at him--a real and present threat, a bully about to kill him.

  Or, in other words, what Jordan had been saying all along.


  "It's a mess," Jordan said to Selena after the Cormiers had gone home. "And that works for me."

  Selena hadn't left with the baby; Sam was now asleep in an empty filing cabinet drawer. She and Jordan sat at the table where, less than an hour ago, Josie had confessed that she'd recently started to remember bits and pieces of the shooting but hadn't told anyone, out of fear of having to go to court and talk about it. That when the diaper bag had fallen, it had all come flooding back, full-force.

  "If I'd found this out before the trial started, I would have taken it to Diana and used it tactically," Jordan said. "But since the jury's already sitting, maybe I can do something even better."

  "Nothing like an eleventh-hour Hail Mary pass," Selena said.

  "Let's assume we put Josie on the stand to say all this in court. All of a sudden, those ten deaths aren't what they seemed to be. No one knew the real story behind this one, and that calls into question everything else the prosecution's told the jury about the shootings. In other words, if the state didn't know this, what else don't they know?"

  "And," Selena pointed out, "it highlights what King Wah said. Here was one of the kids who'd tormented Peter, holding a gun on him, just like he'd figured all along would happen." She hesitated. "Granted, Peter was the one who brought in the gun . . ."

  "That's irrelevant," Jordan said. "I don't have to have all the answers." He kissed Selena square on the mouth. "I just need to make sure that the state doesn't either."


  Alex sat on the bench, watching a ragged crew of college students playing Ultimate Frisbee as if they had no idea that the world had split at its seams. Beside her, Josie hugged her knees to her chest. "Why didn't you tell me?" Alex asked.

  Josie lifted her face. "I couldn't. You were the judge on the case."

  Alex felt a stab beneath her breastbone. "But even after I recused myself, Josie . . . when we went to see Jordan, and you said you didn't remember anything . . . That's why I had you swear the affidavit."

  "I thought that's what you wanted me to do," Josie said. "You told me if I signed it, I wouldn't have to be a witness . . . and I didn't want to go to court. I didn't want to see Peter again."

  One of the college players leaped and missed the Frisbee. It sailed toward Alex, landing in a scuffle of dust at her feet. "Sorry," the boy called, waving.

  Alex picked it up and sent it soaring. The wind lifted the Frisbee and carried it higher, a stain against a perfectly blue sky.

  "Mommy," Josie said, although she had not called Alex that for years. "What's going to happen to me?"

  She didn't know. Not as a judge, not as a lawyer, not as a mother. The only thing she could do was offer good counsel and hope it withstood what was yet to come. "From here on out," Alex told Josie, "all you have to do is tell the truth."


  Patrick had been called into a domestic-violence hostage negotiation down in Cornish and did not reach Sterling until it was nearly midnight. Instead of heading to his own house, he went to Alex's--it felt more like home, anyway. He'd tried to call her several times today to see what had happened with Jordan McAfee, but he couldn't get cell phone service where he was.

  He found her sitting in the dark on the living room sofa, and sank down beside her. For a moment, he stared at the wall, just like Alex. "What are we doing?" he whispered.

  She faced him, and that's when he realized she had been crying. He blamed himself--You should have tried harder to call, you should have come home earlier. "What's wrong?"

  "I screwed up, Patrick," Alex said. "I thought I was helping her. I thought I knew what I was doing. As it turned out, I didn't know anything at all."

  "Josie?" he asked, trying to fit together the pieces. "Where is she?"

  "Asleep. I gave her a sleeping pill."

  "You want to talk about it?"

  "We saw Jordan McAfee today, and Josie told him . . . she told him that she remembered something about the shooting. In fact, she remembe
red everything."

  Patrick whistled softly. "So she was lying?"

  "I don't know. I think she was scared." Alex glanced up at Patrick. "That's not all. According to Josie, Matt shot at Peter first."


  "The knapsack Peter was carrying fell down in front of Matt, and he got hold of one of the guns. He shot, but he missed."

  Patrick rubbed a hand down his face. Diana Leven was not going to be happy.

  "What's going to happen to Josie?" Alex said. "The best-case scenario is that she gets on the stand and the entire town hates her for testifying on Peter's behalf. The worst-case scenario is that she commits perjury on the stand and gets charged with it."

  Patrick's mind was racing. "You can't worry about this. It's out of your hands. Besides, Josie will be fine. She's a survivor."

  He leaned down and kissed her, softly, his mouth rounding over words he couldn't yet tell her, and promises he was afraid to make. He kissed her until he felt the tightness go out of her spine. "You ought to go take one of those sleeping pills," he whispered.

  Alex tilted her head. "You're not staying?"

  "Can't. I've still got work to do."

  "You came all the way over here to tell me you're leaving?"

  Patrick looked at her, wishing he could explain what he had to do. "I'll see you later, Alex," he said.


  Alex had confided in him, but as a judge, she would know that Patrick could not keep her secret. On Monday morning, when Patrick saw the prosecutor, he'd have to tell Diana what he now knew about Matt Royston firing the first shot in the locker room. Legally, he was obligated to disclose this new wrinkle. However, technically, he had all day Sunday to do with that information whatever he liked.

  If Patrick could find evidence to back up Josie's allegations, then it would soften the blow for her on the stand--and make him a hero in Alex's eyes. But there was another part of him that wanted to search the locker room again for another reason. Patrick knew he had personally combed that small space for evidence, that no other bullet had been found. And if Matt had shot first at Peter, there should have been one.

  He hadn't wanted to say this to Alex, but Josie had lied to them once. There was no reason she couldn't be doing it again.

  At six in the morning, Sterling High School was a sleeping giant. Patrick unlocked the front door and moved through the corridors in the dark. They had been professionally cleaned, but that didn't stop him from seeing, in the beam of his flashlight, the spots where bullets had broken windows and blood had stained the floor. He moved quickly, the heels of his boots echoing, as he pushed aside blue construction tarps and avoided stacks of lumber.

  Patrick opened the double doors of the gym and squeaked his way across the Morse-coded markings on the polyurethaned boards. He flicked a bank of switches and the gym flooded with light. The last time he'd been in here, there had been emergency blankets lying on the floor, corresponding to the numbers that had been inked on the foreheads of Noah James and Michael Beach and Justin Friedman and Dusty Spears and Austin Prokiov. There had been crimescene techs crawling on their hands and knees, taking photographs of chips in the cement block, digging bullets out of the backboard of the basketball hoop.

  He had spent hours at the police station, his first stop after leaving Alex's house, scrutinizing the enlarged fingerprint that had been on Gun B. An inconclusive one; one that he'd assumed, lazily, to be Peter's. But what if it was Matt's? Was there any way to prove that Royston had held the gun, as Josie claimed? Patrick had studied the prints taken from Matt's dead body and held them up every which way against the partial print, until the lines and ridges blurred even more than they should have.

  If he was going to find proof, it was going to have to be in the school itself.

  The locker room looked exactly like the photo he'd used during his testimony earlier this week, except that the bodies, of course, had been removed. Unlike the corridors and classrooms of the school, the locker room hadn't been cleaned or patched. The small area held too much damage--not physical, but psychological--and the administration had unanimously agreed to tear it down, along with the rest of the gym and the cafeteria, later this month.

  The locker room was a rectangle. The door that led into it, from the gym, was in the middle of one long wall. A wooden bench sat directly opposite, and a line of metal lockers. In the far left corner of the locker room was a small doorway that opened into a communal shower stall. In this corner, Matt's body had been found, with Josie lying beside him; thirty feet away in the far right corner of the locker room, Peter had been crouching. The blue backpack had fallen just to the left of the doorway.

  If Patrick believed Josie, then Peter had come running into the locker room, where Josie and Matt had gone to hide. Presumably, he was holding Gun A. He dropped his backpack, and Matt--who would have been standing in the middle of the room, close enough to reach it--grabbed Gun B. Matt shot at Peter--the bullet that had never been found, the one that proved Gun B was fired at all--and missed. When he tried to shoot again, the gun jammed. At that moment, Peter shot him, twice.

  The problem was, Matt's body had been found at least fifteen feet away from the backpack where he'd grabbed the gun.

  Why would Matt have backed up, and then shot at Peter? It didn't make sense. It was possible that Peter's shots had sent Matt's body recoiling, but basic physics told Patrick that a shot fired from where Peter was standing would still not have landed Matt where he'd been found. In addition, there had been no blood-spatter pattern to suggest that Matt had been standing anywhere near the backpack when he was hit by Peter. He'd pretty much dropped where he'd been shot.

  Patrick walked toward the wall where he'd apprehended Peter. He started at the upper corner and methodically ran his fingers over every divot and niche, over the edges of the lockers and inside them, around the bend of the perpendicular walls. He crawled beneath the wooden bench and scrutinized the underside. He held his flashlight up to the ceiling. In such close quarters, any bullet fired by Matt should have made enough serious damage to be noticeable, and yet, there was absolutely no evidence that any gun had been fired--successfully--in Peter's direction.

  Patrick walked to the opposite corner of the locker room. There was still a dark bloodstain on the floor, and a dried boot print. He stepped over the stain and into the shower stall, repeating the same meticulous investigation of the tiled wall that would have been behind Matt.

  If he found that missing bullet here, where Matt's body had been found, then Matt clearly hadn't been the one to fire Gun B--it would have been Peter wielding that weapon, as well as Gun A. Or in other words: Josie would have been lying to Jordan McAfee.

  It was easy work, because the tile was white, pristine. There were no cracks or flakes, no chips, nothing that would suggest a bullet had gone through Matt's stomach and struck the shower wall.

  Patrick turned around, looking in places that didn't make sense: the top of the shower, the ceiling, the drain. He took off his shoes and socks and shuffled along the shower floor.

  It was when he'd just scraped his little toe along the line of the drain that he felt it.

  Patrick got down on his hands and knees and felt along the edge of the metal. There was a long, raw scuff on the tile that bordered the drainage grate. It would have easily gone unnoticed because of its location--techs who saw it had probably assumed it was grout. He rubbed it with his finger and then peered with a flashlight into the drain. If the bullet had slipped through, it was long gone--and yet, the drainage holes were tiny enough that this shouldn't have been possible.

  Opening a locker, Patrick ripped a tiny square of mirror off with his hands and set it face-up on the floor of the shower, just where the scuff mark was. Then he turned off the lights and took out a laser pointer. He stood where Peter had been apprehended and pointed the beam at the mirror, watched it bounce onto the far wall of the showers, where no bullet had left a mark.

  Circling around, he continued to point
the beam until it ricocheted up--right through the center of a small window that served as ventilation. He knelt, marking the spot where he stood with a pencil from his pocket. Then he dug out his cell phone. "Diana," he said when the prosecutor answered. "Don't let that trial start tomorrow."


  "I know it's unusual," Diana said in court the next morning, "and that we have a jury sitting here, but I have to ask for a recess until my detective gets here. He's investigating something new on the case . . . possibly something exculpatory."

  "Have you called him?" Judge Wagner asked.

  "Several times." Patrick was not answering his phone. If he was, then she could have told him directly how much she wanted to kill him.

  "I have to object, Your Honor," Jordan said. "We're ready to go forward. I'm sure that Ms. Leven will give me that exculpatory information, if and when it ever arrives, but I'm willing at this point to take my chances. And since we're all here at the bench, I'd like to add that I have a witness who's prepared to testify right now."

  "What witness?" Diana said. "You don't have anyone else to call."

  He smiled at her. "Judge Cormier's daughter."


  Alex sat outside the courtroom, holding tight to Josie's hand. "This is going to be over before you know it."

  The great irony here, Alex knew, was that months ago when she'd fought so hard to be the judge on this case, it was because she felt more at ease offering legal comfort to her daughter than emotional comfort. Well, here she was, and Josie was about to testify in the arena Alex knew better than anyone else, and she still didn't have any grand judicial advice that could help her.

  It would be scary. It would be painful. And all Alex could do was watch her suffer.

  A bailiff came out to them. "Judge," he said. "If your daughter's ready?"

  Alex squeezed Josie's hand. "Just tell them what you know," she said, and she stood up to take a seat in the courtroom.

  "Mom?" Josie called after her, and Alex turned. "What if what you know isn't what people want to hear?"

  Alex tried to smile. "Tell the truth," she said. "You can't lose."


  To comply with discovery rules, Jordan handed Diana a synopsis of Josie's testimony as she was walking up to the stand. "When did you get this?" the prosecutor whispered.

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