SEP 13, 2022
Georgia's courage was put to the test. Her brave face, and Stan's support, were all that she had. The trip to the station was barely the tip of the reality she was about to face. She was swiftly taken in and fingerprinted. Stan sat beside her, clutching her hand as she filed her formal statement. That led to an arduous two-hour interrogation that she was unprepared for, with the experience leaving her battered.
Someone leaked her presence to the press, and they, seeking scandal, immediately camped outside the station. When it was finally over, Georgia and Stan, assuming the worst was behind them, casually walked out. The circus of cameras and press people took them by surprise. Getting to their truck was nearly impossible, and they hastily drove home. Through the chaos, they did not notice the black Ford shadowing them.
Georgia was trapped at home, terrorized by the press. They stuck to her and followed her everywhere. She wanted to camp at Cora's and Rob's, but that would mean returning to the cul-de-sac, which was already daunting thought. She fled to the beach, hoping for some time to herself, but there too, she found herself relentlessly pursued. They expected answers that she did not have. The world that she had grown accustomed to had now become despicable. Down the road, parked by the sidewalk, a lone figure went unnoticed, as he quietly watched the Norton house.
While Georgia's life crumbled, a few lines in the back of the newspaper mentioned Sandra's small, quiet funeral. She was forgotten. All eyes were on Georgia.
She believed the matter was settled, so when she was called down to the local police station to answer a few more questions, it came as a surprise. What more could she add to the story? Stan drove her down, except this time, everything was oddly different. They felt the gloom of accusatory glances cast their way. Stan instinctively sensed trouble, though Georgia was miles ahead in reading the atmosphere.
Detective Weller motioned for them to approach his desk.
“Good morning,” he greeted them.
They exchanged their pleasantries as they sat down.
“I’m sorry, Mrs Norton, but the news is not good. Based on the evidence collected, we have been asked to charge you with first-degree murder. . .”
Maybe it was the compounding stress or the shock of the growing horror, but Georgia's mind locked up, while her palms curled into fists. Everything was going wrong and worse, she could not remember anything, and this was what she needed the most. Her memory.
Stan, realizing the enormity of the matter, rang Rob, in his office, seeking advice. Rob asked for a few minutes to make a few calls, and when Stan called back, he informed him that a lawyer was coming to take charge of the situation.
Once he got there, he reviewed the paperwork, spoke with Detective Weller, and managed to get Georgia released on her own recognizance. They hastily left the station, as the press started gathering. Stan swiftly drove away. They were lost for the moment, and in the International, they rode around Los Angeles aimlessly. Neither of them noticed the black Ford spying on them about half a mile back.
* * *
On the day of her arraignment, she was formally charged before the court, and as advised by her lawyer, she pled not guilty. Her lawyer assured them of a quick resolution.
Georgia's murder trial soon began. She had curated her appearance, not wanting to look improper or disrespectful. The one blessing of the city was that it had turned her style.
She barely contained herself as the accusations flooded the courtroom, and it took her lawyer holding her back down to keep her from protesting. It pained her to be characterized as a criminal, despite lacking a police record. The process was slowly transforming her.
Over the next few days, the gallery benches were filling with attendants, some driven by curiosity, but more with press officers baying for blood. They characterized this beautiful woman as a cold murderess who had taken the life of a war veteran, yet, they could not explain why, not that it mattered to them.
Her lawyer argued that Georgia was merely a victim in a more complex crime, as she had been drugged and, worse, had suffered smoke inhalation that had left her hospitalized for weeks. The doctors agreed with the lawyer, adding credulity to her version of events. Back and forth the arguments continued. With each word thrown and each received, Georgia was slowly declining.
Eventually, they closed their arguments. The judge would make his ruling the following day, which would determine Georgia's fate.
* * *
They barely slept that night. Stan's quiet resolve, and encouragement, were all that kept everything together. Internally, he was lost for words, not quite sure of what was happening, and not quite sure of what to do. Normally, Georgia was the rock in their relationship, but this time, Stan had to carry the baton.
As they arrived at the court, there was tension everywhere. The press at this point had tattered Georgia's reputation, and the jeers were lashed viciously at them. They pushed through the crowd, with the help of the court bailiffs, walking up the long court staircase, into the hall, and finally settling in the courtroom. Stan, Rob, and Cora sat behind Georgia and her lawyer behind the barrier. The static coursed through the air, as the judge sat behind his bench. Slowly, and carefully, he read the judgement.
“. . . and therefore, given the circumstances and evidence presented here, I find the defendant, not guilty!”
The collective gasp could have been heard as far out as Montana. Georgia was sure she was done for. With tears freely streaming, she hugged her lawyer, turned, and hugged Stan, then Cora and finally Rob. It was finally over. Or was it? The court bailiffs escorted them from the court, out to the lot where they jumped into Stan's truck, and drove off.
There was no celebration. Over the next few days, all Georgia did was sit in the darkened house, with the blinds drawn. She had resolved to remain indoors, till the press finally gave up on ever questioning her. Stan had returned to work and would sneak out early and return late, hoping to avoid answering questions or being photographed. Georgia was looking haggard and deathly pale from the stress of the ordeal. To her, the trial had done more damage than the actual crime.
She was becoming dependent on medication for sleep. Stan tried everything to roll her out of the doldrums. They escaped over the weekends, but that failed, as did trips to the beach, city explorations, and even a new puppy. Georgia was simply not coming back. The city had chewed her and spat out a shell of her former self. For Stan, the painful decision was upon him. Their time in the city was over. It was time to go back home, to Montana.
Stan planned everything, sold their belongings, packed their suitcases back onto the International and with little fanfare, they drifted northwards, putting behind them the end of their nightmare.
* * *
Rob and Cora felt the vacuum of the loss of their friends. For Rob, however, having Cora to himself in this magnificent city was his dream come true. With her new job and with Georgia's influence gone, they returned to their usual domestic bliss.
One afternoon, Rob headed out to meet an acquaintance. He kissed Cora and drove off. Off the cul-de-sac, across the street, he did not notice the black Ford parked by the curb.
Cora and Rob were both brooding, and she knew it was time to start a family. Rob was keen to buy a house for them where they could settle. Cora, now an avid gardener, entered the shed at the back of the house to pick up her tools. She noticed a suitcase hidden underneath Rob's workbench that she had never seen before. The case was monogrammed 'R. H.' She heaved it out and tagged at the straps. Inside, the damning items shook her stiff. There was a black slicker, a vial filled with some chemical, a pair of heavy gloves and the most chilling, a knife. She looked them over once again, as fear slivered up her spine. The slicker alone was enough for Cora. She knew what it meant. With the items back in the case, she put them back underneath the bench, picked her tools and went out to her garden. Could Rob be the killer? Why? Would he kill her?
That evening, Rob returned to find Cora making dinner. Rob was chattering away about his day, as they ate. Cora sat quietly, lost in thought. Everything was clear now, but here she was, with the man she loved, the one who had rescued her from her torment. Could she betray him? Cora knew better than that. She was Rob's and he was hers. At that moment, she resolved to buy a gun. She might have loved Rob, but she would never allow herself to get caught up. After all, she was a New York girl.