Haven D. Allridge is the editor-in-chief of the News-Intelligencer newspaper in St. Howard, a town where he and his family have lived all their lives. Peggy, Randy and Marcia Staunton - Haven's married daughter, her husband, and their child - now live about thirty miles away in Bridgewood County, which is adjacent to the St. Howard town limits. Randy is the county prosecutor. Haven learns first hand the corruption of the county sheriff, K.C. Burke, and his associates when, in an innocent enough move in picking up an acquaintance, Wilfred Jackson, at a bus stop located within the county and lightly bumping but not damaging a county sign with his car in the process, Haven and Wilfred are hauled into jail, where they spend the night before appearing before the county judge the next morning. Beaten up by prisoners with who they shared the cell, Wilfred, who has no money and pleads not guilty to the charge of soliciting rides on the highway, is held at a labor camp for trial in thirty days. Haven, who does have money, is fined $68 for failure to produce a license, damaging county property and leaving the scene of a crime (the bumping of the sign), the fine only dropped when it comes to Burke's attention Haven's relationship to Randy. Regardless, Haven begins a media campaign against the corruption exacted by Burke and his associates, by writing a front page article about his experience and requesting readers to tell their stories, which he prints on subsequent front pages. As such, Haven compiles an extensive dossier of corruption within Bridgewood County. Burke fights back by his underhanded means against Haven and the newspaper. These stories get to the state's attorney general's office, with Charles Johnson - Chick to his friends - tasked with leading the case against Burke and his men. This case is to be Chick's last for the AG, as he is just about to move into working for a private firm, such a law career which is more financially lucrative than being a public prosecutor. Upon Chick's arrival in St. Howard, he finds that not only have the multitude of people who supplied those stories not willing to talk, even if subpoenaed to the hearing, but that Haven also has stopped his campaign against Burke and is not talking. Chick knows that Haven's testimony is key. He finds that Haven had a secret meeting with Burke, and among others his legal muscle Nelson S. Tarsson, which was before Haven's sudden change and the disappearance of all Haven's files on the matter. Chick has to get Haven to change his mind before the hearing, or at least find out what happened at that secret meeting as leverage if he has any hope of exacting justice against Burke and Tarsson.
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