Gone Again:A Jack Swyteck Novel

By: James Grippando

CHAPTER 1




Welcome Home, Jack!

Jack Swyteck was standing outside the Freedom Institute, and the handwritten greeting on a Post-it was stuck to the front door. It was Monday morning, and Jack had moved in his office furnishings over the weekend. The doormat at his feet displayed a less welcoming message, but it summed up the sense of humor of the lawyers who worked there: COME BACK WITH A WARRANT.

It made Jack smile, even if this wasn’t the full-blown homecoming that his former colleagues wanted.

More than a decade had passed since Jack’s resignation, but a four-year stint with the Freedom Institute had been his first job out of law school. At the time, “law-and-order” governor Harry Swyteck—Jack’s father—was on his way toward signing more death warrants than any chief executive in Florida history. Their public clash was a political embarrassment. Harry might not have taken it so personally if Jack hadn’t aligned himself with a ragtag group of former hippies who were under the mistaken impression that the state flower was cannabis and the national anthem was “Kumbaya.” There was Eve, the only woman Jack had ever known to smoke a pipe. Brian, the gay surfer dude. And Neil Goderich, their fearless leader, a ponytailed genius who had survived Woodstock. To outsiders, Jack was the odd man out. But they became friends, and his resignation didn’t change that. The split was more about style than substance. Forcing the government to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt was enough for Jack. Getting another guilty man off death row didn’t make him want to break out a three-dollar bottle of cold duck and throw a party. Or issue a press release.

Jack pushed open the door and stepped inside.

“Jack is back!” shouted Hannah. Neil’s daughter was as young and idealistic as Jack had been when Neil had taken him under his wing. It was hard to believe that his mentor was gone forever, walking on over the hill with Abraham, Martin, and John.

“I guess you could say I’m back,” said Jack. “Sort of.”

Hannah was a foot shorter than Jack, and she raised up on her toes to give him a big hug and a peck on the cheek. Eve and Brian were standing right behind her, each with a small suitcase in hand. Jack would have bet money that Brian’s corduroy jacket was the same one he’d worn on the day of Jack’s resignation. Maybe the elbow patches were new.

“Sorry to say hi and bye,” said Hannah. “But Governor Scott signed two more death warrants last night. We’re off to FSP to see our client.”

Jack remembered those trips to Florida State Prison. That was how he’d met his best friend, Theo Knight, the only innocent man Jack had ever defended at the Institute. “Safe travels,” said Jack.

“You wanna come with?” she asked.

“Nope.”

“You sure?”

Jack almost said “Dead sure,” but caught himself. “I’m positive.”

“Okay, then. You know where Mr. Coffee is. Be sure to lock up when you leave. Three of our neighbors had break-ins this month.”

“Is there an alarm I should set?”

She chortled. “Have you been gone that long? We’re lucky if the lights go on when we flip the switch.”

He knew money was tight; it was the reason he’d returned.

They filed past him and out the door, looking less like the talented lawyers they were and more like something from the Island of Misfit Toys. It wasn’t really necessary for them to travel all the way to Florida State Prison; the sojourn was a holdover from the old days, when Neil would organize a vigil outside the prison gates before an execution. Back in the days of an old electric chair that was prone to misfire, resulting in flaming heads and contorted purple faces, they might draw a hundred impassioned protesters or more. Lately, it was basically Hannah, Eve, and Brian.

The door closed, and Jack was alone. He’d requested no fanfare to mark his return, and his old friends had more than honored the request, thanks to Governor Scott.

Jack put down his briefcase and looked around. The historic house on the Miami River had changed little. The foyer doubled as a storage room for old case files, one box stacked on top of the other. The bottom ones sagged beneath the weight of denied motions for stay of execution, the box tops having warped into sad smiles. The old living room was the reception area and secretarial work station. The dining room, Florida room, and a downstairs bedroom served as offices for the lawyers. The furniture screamed “flea market”—chairs that didn’t match, tables made stable with a deck of playing cards under one leg. The sixties-vintage kitchen was not only where lawyers and staff ate their bagged lunches; it also served as the main (and only) conference room. Hanging on the wall over the coffeemaker was the same framed photograph of Bobby Kennedy that had once hung in Neil’s dorm room at Harvard.

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