Can I Get a Witness? and Cold Comfort both sprang from watching a murder trial on TV. I have had jury duty once in my life [and that was not a murder trial], so that’s very limited real-world experience with lawyers, trials, courtrooms, and legal procedures. I do not watch any of the “reality” type courtroom shows. I have enjoyed fictional courtroom scenes from Perry Mason to Law & Order, but ain’t nothin’ like the real thing.
Near where I lived in central Florida there was a highly-publicized murder trial this summer. The place was a media circus — as bad as, if not worse than, three years ago when the tragedy exploded on the scene. I usually avoid media circuses to the point of turning off the media. But this time I watched some of the trial, much more of it than I ever thought I would.
I learned that witnesses fill a spectrum of fame, poise, hostility, preparedness, professionalism, interest, and clarity in their testimony. A significant portion of the testimony in this case was provided by experts in a variety of mostly very technical fields. As one might expect, the prosecution and defense produced witnesses that gave conflicting and contradictory opinions on the same evidence. As one might expect, the examinations ran the gamut from watching-paint-dry tedium to highly emotional contention. As I did not expect, I sometimes shook my head and muttered, “Are you kidding me?” I was amazed at the number of times some witnesses failed to grasp the concept of yes-or-no questions. And thus, Can I Get a Witness? was born.
A grief counselor and expert on trauma mentioned in her testimony someone, unrelated to the case, that she was working with — a mother who had lost a child. On the first rainy night after the child’s burial the mother called the counselor upset that her child would be alone in the dark and the rain. So the counselor took a blanket and umbrella to her. That, of course, gave me Cold Comfort, which I thought worked best pared down to minimal proportions. I will continue to leave it to my readers’ imaginations whether the narrator is totally empathetic or rolling his/her eyes.
The same witness started to quote Ira Gershwin at one point before she was stopped by an objection. That, of course, made it’s way into Can I Get a Witness? as well, but I had my witness try to quote George Bernard Shaw. To close on a humorous note, I tried to look up what Gershwin might have said [based on the few words the witness got out before the objection]. I still have no idea what the quote is, but on one page of Ira Gershwin quotes was a list of “Related Authors” including [the top three listed] Eminem, Tupac Shakur, and Kurt Cobain. Yeah, I get those four mixed up all the time.