It was an ordinary 12-gauge shotgun shell, a 2-and-a-half inch formerly loaded with No. 2 steel goose shot, one of a box, all of which had been damaged the same way. The ends had been cut off, the load and propellant removed. Curious.

It was from the estate sale at the Peterson house. I didn’t attend, having had my fill of the story. A friend did and brought me the shell and a copy of The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie–part of Michael Peterson’s library which contained also, by her report, medical books with his own marginal notes on injuries–hematomas and such. But the shell was what I wondered about. I figured it was probably part of Clayton’s bomb experiments. Why else would anyone remove powder from a whole box of shotgun shells?

Weird, but on a one to 10–probably around a six. Now the celebratory dinner at the Angus Barn was probably ticking at a good strong 8.5.

In the aftermath of the show that never ends, the CourtTV message board has proven to be the electronic equivalent of a runaway locomotive thundering down the tracks, engineerless. In the month since the verdict, it shows no sign of slowing. (See

I had checked in from time to time, never posted, and was surprised when the invitation came to appear at the Angus Barn as an “honored guest” at a fete thrown by some of the more ardent message boarders (I don’t know the proper verb)–which, turned out, translated as “free meal at the ‘Barn.”

I, of course, accepted. Even though I’m not what you call a dedicated carnivore, curiosity and respect for the invitation made the decision.

We were early and met by the hosts of the dinner, as well as the most gracious owner of the joint, Van Eure, in one of the side banquet rooms–full to popping with tables that left not enough room to swing a cat. An employee accompanied Ms. Eure.

“Can we get some of you to pose for pictures for our wall of fame?” I felt the need to flee and compose myself.

Cash bar. That’s cool. Got me a ‘Turkey on the rocks and steered outside to sit on the faux Wild West porch decorated, oddly, with 5-foot-tall wooden soldiers. Set back and lit a cigarette, I did.

Like a vision, there she was. I hailed her.

“Doctor Radisch.”

Dr. Deborah spun and a glimmer of recognition crossed her face. We’d talked on the phone, but never met. I introduced myself and we set to chatting about her testimony, the forensic medicine business–you know, shop talk. Then Durham District Attorney Jim Hardin, and his pretty wife, Lori, climbed the steps, he looking somehow smaller out of his domain, dressed in a shirt and slacks. “Good job,” I said, shaking his hand. Nice guy as long as he’s not trying to stick your ass in jail for the rest of your life. No, he’s even nice then. A real gentleman.

Back inside the banquet room I spotted Duane Deaver and his wife holding forth in a corner. The SBI’s blood-spatter expert and, arguably, the witness who did the most damage to Peterson’s case. Blood. All of a sudden the choice of restaurants began to make a bit of sense. Bloody rare, please.

A lot of the stars were there: Jeffhoo, Lifeform, Cary Sojourner, DurhamDawg, DurhamMeister as well as the notorious HunnyBunny who has since, I understand, been thrown out into the snow–banished from the message board island because she did not play well with others.

Assistant District Attorney Freda Black and her hunky boyfriend were the next to show. She looking like a million and change–the classic severe French twist she would wear in court when she was really ready to throw down.

I was having some serious context problems by now, a disassociate “what am I doing and why are all these people in my dream” like thing. And then, to make things even more kooky, who should come gliding into the scene–Aphrodite Jones, the Black Maria of the true-crime genre. That gal has resources. I hadn’t heard that she was on the invite list, but here she was. No one refuses that chick–no one. Especially in Raleigh.

Great platters of food arrive borne by servers. The evening has the feel of a baronial feast–a real Middle Ages feel what with all the dark wood and diners seated cheek to jowl. Oysters, salads, and finally the roast beast–great slabs of steaming beef. I stared at the huge hunk of flesh before me, vapor rising off it. I couldn’t eat it in a week. But I soldiered on, seated next to David Saacks, another Durham County assistant district attorney, who would pop up every now and then during the trial like an occasional character in an Italian opera, appearing to present an aria–the most memorable one, the reading of the coincidences between Liz and Kathleen’s deaths. In my life, I can safely say I’ve never had dinner with so many people who normally would be trying to relieve me of my license, or worse. Nice guy, too.

Aphie had muscled over to Hardin’s table. I couldn’t see her face but I could see his. Lori was smiling and chatting amiably. Jim’s eyebrows went up and they stayed up. She was working, pumping the table for information.

The general din, the laughter, the clink of tableware. The whole affair was a study in contrasts–all these decent, regular citizens roaring with laughter, toasting their camaraderie. It was all very civil and exuberant–until one soberly reflected on what had brought these strangers together. Death and destruction of at least two families.

Hardin and musician Jeff Hart (in some ways one of the ringleaders of the message board) had a few words, as did Freda and Deaver. Radisch begged off, happy to be standing and observing the packed dining room, wearing that winsome, sideways smile that just drives me crazy. Jeff brought his guitar and harmonica. He had composed a song for the event, one that he admitted his bandmates were–um–a tad skeptical of. When things began to wind down, he produced his instruments, handed out a lyric sheet and started playing away, admitting to some uncharacteristic butterflies in the old tum-tum before he sang.

It was good. Weird, but good.

Things began to wind down. Freda was in rare form, thoroughly enjoying herself. You don’t think about a DA being possessed of a wild streak, but everybody has to let it out every now and then, I reckon.

Time to go. We thanked Jeff and Lynn, our hosts, bid our adieus and headed out into an uncharacteristically warm November evening.

Later that week, one of the ‘boarders cherry-picked a paragraph from an LA Weekly story about Aphrodite, some scurrilous statements from a reckless entertainment journalist and got, I hear, under HunnyBunny’s skin–she and Aphie having gotten to be pals over the course of the trial. Apparently things got pretty vicious and HBO managed to get kicked off the board.

I hear she’s in detox, jonesing for her daily fix. The downside was that she seemed to have been the load of coal for the machine, which has begun to slow and falter as the whole bloody mess trudges off into the books.

And according to the latest U.S. economic figures, productivity in the office sector is way up. EndBlock