I misplayed the Caro-Kann Defense when I was nine. Father fed me only bread for three days.
Chess is everything, everything is chess. Everyone moves in patterns. A boy will never lose if he knows the patterns. A boy must only focus.
A boy faces nine pawns, a bishop, and a knight, all neatly arranged in black cloth chairs around a white table to which the judge sent us. The others all say guilty for now. There are two windows through which they uneasily glance for escape. A boy does not. A boy focuses.
“Blood is sensational. It is memorable. But when one views blood dispassionately it does not prove guilt,” I say.
The bishop holds forth with enmity not evident three hours before; his position is exposed. “Fine! Blood by itself proves nothing. But that man showed his character,” he says. “His poor girlfriend, don’t forget, found a flash drive full of violent, degrading pornography. Disgusting pornography.”
“And they fought about it,” nods pawn f2, but I’m observing pawn a2, whose eyes look down at the mention of degrading pornography.
“Many people watch many kinds of pornography,” I reply, “and your personal repugnance for it gives you no right to condemn a man. Or a woman, for that matter.” Nearly imperceptible gratitude softens the features of pawn a2. The athletic woman likes it rough.
A boy focuses.
“He punched the wall!” the bishop thunders. “She confronted him about—I’ll say it again—disgusting pornography, and he put a hole in the drywall. He’s a vicious, angry killer.”
His hold loosens with his temper. Mine remains firm and even as a tower wall. “That was the day before, and are we also to condemn anyone who has ever punched a wall?” Pawn f2 considers. “If you’re determined to lock up or execute every person who has ever accessed an adult website or hit something inanimate, then you’ll find yourself in a very lonely society.”
“Literal blood on hands.” The bishop, obviously immune to irony, pounds the table to emphasize each word: “Blood. On. Hands.”
Rook takes bishop. “You admitted not two minutes ago that blood by itself proves nothing. You have no evidence of his guilt. You have only your personal dislike and easily explained blood. He found his girlfriend’s body. He held her. But it does not follow that he made her bleed. It’s just as possible that she went out that night for some sordid Tinder hookup with the wrong man.”
“That’s uncalled for.” The knight sallies forth from the back row, and a few adoring pawns watch him gallop by. “There is no reason to slander the poor woman by saying she was cheating.”
“Supposing is not slander.”
“Yes, it is,” the knight answers. “Lay off her.”
Into the Lasker Trap. An aggressive opponent attacks a deliberately weak position. A boy takes the unsuspecting knight in four moves.
“Very well,” I say. “She met a suffering and unstable friend but misspoke and pushed him over the edge. Or she met a cousin with a dissolving marriage who came on to her, and who took her sainted rejection badly. Or she met her brother, who has sat in the front row every day of this trial with eyes so dry they must burn. Did you not notice his unweeping face?”
“You’re just confusing everyone.” True. The pawns shift in their seats and flick their eyes between us. “It had to be him. The earrings which he bought her were ripped out post-mortem. Why would a brother or a cousin do that?”
“Yes,” I say, “her diamond earrings were gone, nowhere to be found. Certainly not in the pockets of the accused. But very tempting for a random hoodlum.”
He hesitates to think, while the dizzy pawns cannot. The bishop remains out of play, and the endgame becomes inevitable.
Afterward, the athletic pawn told me I had done a good thing.
I replay the game in my study that evening. It amused. Perhaps next time a boy will play the white position.
By now the pawns question how reasonable their doubt was, and whether they were wrong to press the bishop and the knight into a corner. They lack conviction. They lack information.
I take up the diamond earrings from their fellow keepsakes in the drawer. Atypical and perhaps risky to play in one’s own county, but she looked fetching in the mornings with her latte.
A boy must take an unprotected queen.
Innocence is... Bliss?
Eleven pairs of eyes fix themselves upon me as I rise from my seat, my fingers trembling. I hear snickers coming from the audience, but they’re quieted as Judge Marbury silences them with a single glare.
He turns to face me, a stony look upon his face, which seems to be sculped from the earth itself. A long, reedy man with a billowing beard that flows over the top of his robes, he looks as though he has been around since the very first murder case. I wouldn’t doubt it.
I bow my head slightly, shuffling where I stand, but I don’t dare sit down. I clear my throat, awkwardly announcing to the room with a squeaky voice, “Um... permission to speak, Your... Judge-ness...?”
The snickers erupt again, and this time, Marbury doesn’t bother to quiet them. He strokes his beard with a single hand, the other clasped around his gavel, but his expression doesn’t change. A deep rumble escapes from his throat as he thinks.
“Miss...” He adjusts his glasses, squinting to read the nametag that’s fastened to my chest. “McKinsley.”
“McKinney,” I interrupt him. My mouth works faster than my brain sometimes, I swear. Biting my tongue, I hope he doesn’t hear me.
His hearing aids must have been turned all the way up, because he hears me perfectly. He raises a silvery eyebrow questioningly. “Excuse me?”
Sweat begins to drip down the nape of my neck, and I resist the urge to wipe it away. I’m sure the back of my blouse is soaked from the stress, but I know it will look worse if I try to fix it. I just can’t call attention to it.
Well, shit. It’s too late for that. I’ve already gotten the entire court’s eyes on me. My fingers fidget at my sides where I have them pinned down, going through the motions. I raise my voice again, trying to hide the stammer.
“You called me Miss McKinsley. It’s McKinney...” I trail off, fighting the temptation to look down at my feet. These heels are absolutely killing me, and all I want to do is go home and take them off, crawling into bed and sleeping the rest of the day away, but it’s too late for that.
If I would have just kept my goddamn mouth shut, I would have been able to leave by now. We were about to call the trial to a vote, but I had to go and ruin it all.
I saw the look in the suspect’s eyes as he sat on the chair, his head hung, his wrists bound in chains. Name’s Mateo Alvarez. A twenty-three year old Hispanic male, he’s on trial for the murder of Charlie Reynolds, who was found dead of numerous stab wounds.
Mateo’s denied killing the seventeen-year-old boy at least ten times now, refusing to plead guilty, saying he wasn’t anywhere near Bronx when it happened. He’s got somewhat of a rap sheet, though, mostly petty things like shoplifting and the occasional drug deal, but it’s enough to make the jury convinced that it was him.
They didn’t know just how wrong they were, blinded by the truth and the power of prejudice. Because of that, I knew I had to make a stand. Even though I had never seen the kid before in my life, I couldn’t just sit by and watch him get thrown in prison for the rest of his life. Those dark eyes were begging for a miracle, but they had already given up on getting one.
There was only thing to do- the right thing.
Marbury looks at me over the top of his glasses, taking in my petite frame from head to toe. He seems unimpressed, as if he’s wondering who chose me for jury duty.
He sighs, setting down his gavel. That’s when I know shit’s about to go down.
Shifting where he stands, he gestures at me with his veiny hands, complete with paper-thin skin, trademark of a near-corpse. I’d know.
“This is certainly... unusual, Miss McKinney,” he puts extra emphasis on my name this time, with a furtive look at me, “but I must say, I am interested to know why you are so convinced that Mr. Alvarez is innocent.”
I swallow. It’s now or never. I raise my voice, my hand drifting into my pocket slowly, gently tracing the outline of what lies inside. “Because he didn’t kill Charlie Reynolds. I did.”
The court breaks out in a panic, the rest of the jury around me flipping over their chairs in an attempt to get away from me, but I stay rooted where I stand. Screams can be heard from every corner of the room, taking me back to that night.
The way my knife glinted under the cover of the streetlamps, the crimson fountain as I buried it up to its hilt, the life leaving Charlie’s eyes as he lay in the gutter, bleeding out like some common homeless man or street rat, getting what he deserved.
No one wolf-whistles at me. That was certainly the first- and last- time he would ever make that mistake.
The security claps me in handcuffs, immediately pulling the knife out of my pocket, still stained with Charlie’s blood. They drop it in an evidence bag, wondering how they had missed it in my first place, and as I try to pull away, I feel the stun gun touch my side.
I drop to the ground, my every muscle convulsing and spasming and generally just hurting like hell, and even as I lay in pain, trying not to throw up from the combination of stimuli and memories, a smile crosses my face.
Because when I look up, I see Mateo’s eyes looking straight into mine. And I know what they’re saying.
The jurors were dropping like flies!
I smiled wickedly to myself in the jury lunchroom as I nibbled on my sandwich which I had brought from home. I knew the defendant was not guilty and I had enough remorse to make absolutely sure that the jury would not bring a guilty verdict.
The first two deceased jurors were replaced by two alternates. How did they die, you ask? Well, the first one died in the cafeteria of an alleged “heart attack” but I knew that I had slipped a small vial of sweet antifreeze in his iced tea. I had watched him two days ago and knew that he enjoyed it rather sweet. We were not sequestered so I was able to go home at night and slip the antifreeze into a hand sanitizer container in my purse. After all, who would suspect a hand sanitizer because we all knew the surfaces in the jury room were not very clean.
Unfortunately, the second juror slipped on spilled grease as he was getting into his chair in the lunchroom. Obviously, someone must have dropped something slippery by the chair where he usually sat. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital with a cracked skull and a hematoma and unfortunately did not make it.
Now there were ten! Somehow, I smirked as I thought of the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians” where the little Indians met their fate in nefarious ways.
Well, I knew I need not go further because without alternate jurors, a mistrial was called. The evidence was not deemed sufficient to retry the case although the “double jeopardy clause” did not apply in this case. The original witnesses were shaky at best and the evidence was circumstantial so it was decided not to retry the case.
I’ll bet you are wondering why, in my second paragraph, I admitted I felt some contrition. Do I seem like the type of person who would feel any sadness at their deaths?
I have to admit that I knew the murder victim. He had picked me out on a dating website and we began an affair (I later found out he was married, the skunk!) One night, after absolutely glorious hot and heavy sex, I stabbed him in the ear with a hatpin. After all, he deserved to die for his deceit. I could not let the innocent person, the defendant, suffer for my walk on the wild side, could I now?
Hung on a Smile
It is a hard thing, to look like something out of a horror tale, but over the years I have grown used to people avoiding me, or looking at me with addled faces, and wide eyes. It is more unusual for a stranger to smile at their first sight of me than it is for them not to. It’s the scarring left behind after the surgeries that shocks them, or it could be the patchy hair, or my rough, poor clothing. My name is Gerald Harper, but I go by Possum. They stitched the name Possum onto the scratchy blue shirts they gave me to work in, shirts that must be clean when I put them on or else Ms. Leona will send me home to change. Because they sewed that name on the shirts, I am now Possum to everyone who stands in front of me. The name often draws a smile when my appearance cannot, which is ok by me. The name Possum is probably a joke, but I don’t know what the joke is, so it doesn’t bother me. I can’t let it bother me, because the people who call me Possum are the closest people left to me in this world.
I work at the First America Building, the tallest building in Macon. I clean there... a lot. I clean the floors, I clean the restrooms, the breakrooms, the offices, and I empty the wastebaskets whether or not they are full. It is a good job, and I work with nice people, mostly. One of those nice people is Ms. Leona. When I got a letter from the courthouse and couldn’t figure out the big words, I took it to Ms. Leona. She said I’d been selected for jury duty, that all patriotic Americans must take their turns doing jury duty, and that I might get to cast the vote deciding whether someone is guilty or innocent in a very important trial, and maybe decide whether or not they go home, or to prison afterward. That first day I took some pride in being invited to the jury duty, but then later that night, when I was alone in my apartment, it got frightening to consider. I looked at that letter until I got a nervous stomach, and I wished I could fold it back up exactly as it was and send it back to the courthouse.
The trial was about to begin. I was sitting in the courtroom’s jury box with the other members of the jury when she looked at me and smiled.
As I pointed out earlier, it it a strange thing for me to be smiled at. I was sitting in my seat when she smiled, seated with the others, but alone. I am most always alone. It had flooded me with relief though to find that I wouldn’t be alone in deciding whether or not someone went to prison, just as it was relieving to find that most of the others in the jury box with me were real nice, and mostly helpful, friendly people. Before we were escorted into the courtroom we all ate tiny sandwiches together at a big table where we got to visit with each other for awhile, although I mostly stayed quiet. I am usually mostly quiet. After that a man in uniform read us the court’s rules. We listened politely while we drank iced tea poured from a glass pitcher. It was all real nice.
She was pretty, the smiling woman was, with beautiful, straight teeth, but her smile was empty, and didn’t make it all the way up to her eyes. I knew that smile well. It was the smile of someone lost, of someone falling through life’s cracks. Hers was a familiar smile that made me think of my mother, a woman who had taken her fair share of kickings from life, even after she was down. I looked around to see who the woman might be smiling at, but there was no one else looking her way. Sometimes things take a little longer to register with me than they do with most people, but I am not dumb. The doctors said that I was “neurologically impaired” after my surgeries, which means slow, I guess. I pointed at myself by way of asking the lady if it was me she was smiling at. When I pointed, her smile grew all the way up into her eyes this time. It was a beautiful smile then, filled with kindness for another sorry soul. I soon enough learned that her name was Adrienne Harlow, and that she was the person whose fate our jury would be deciding.
After a lot of people talked for a long time it began to sound, even to someone who is a mite slow, that this lady Adrienne Harlow, the one with the smile, had killed her own husband by running him over with a car. The question was whether she did it on purpose, or was it accidental? And if she did it on purpose, what was the reason she done it? The gist of what they said, of course, was that it ain’t alright to kill people, least of all your own husband, but I kept thinking about all those times I heard my own Momma say when I would ask her about my absent dad. “If your father was here I would shoot the son-of-a-bitch,” so I expected it was something a lot of wives wished to do.
When the talking was over the judge sent us back to the room where the iced tea waited, so we could do some more talking it over. I drank my tea quietly, but my fellow jurist, Mr. Vernon T. Lund, had a lot to say about how evil Ms. Adrienne Harlow was, how she ought to be put to death, and that we should not let ourselves be fooled by the fact that she was a woman.
Well, of course she was a woman. Nobody was being fooled by that! And of course she wasn’t evil, she only had an angry moment, which we all have from time to time, especially when we discover we’ve been cheated. Sometimes those cheatings can build up inside a person until they are like to burst. I couldn’t figure exactly what it was Mr. Harlow cheated her out of to make her run over him with her car, but it must have been something she held dear.
When it was decided by the loudest jury members that Adrienne Harlow was guilty, papers were passed around for us to place our “guilty” or “innocent” votes on. I scratched my X next to “innocent” on my piece of paper. I scratched it with a pen so fancy that I stuck it in my pocket afterwards when no one was looking. Across the table I watched as Mrs. Jenkins did the very same thing with her pen. I was startled to see her wink at me when she noticed me watching her do it, as though she knew I wouldn’t tell.
Mr. Lund‘s face turned to crimson when he pulled my paper out of his coffee can. I knew it was mine by the way it was folded. I felt bad that he was so angry, but Mrs. Harlow’s smile had made me feel a kinship with her that I didn’t feel with many people. At a time when she desperately needed an ally, without even knowing what she was doing she had reached out to the right person. That last ditch, last chance smile had been a cry for help that won her something that fancy words never could have... my loyalty. With that smile she chose me, “the freak,” to be her white knight, and she chose wisely. That smile was her standard, and her cross to bear. When she passed it to me, I determined that nothing bad would happen to her on my watch.
“I thought we were all decided! Who changed their mind?” Mr. Lund did his best to keep his voice steady, but in his anger spittle flew across the table and onto my only dress shirt.
I cleared my throat, digging deep inside for courage. “It was me that voted innocent, Mr. Lund. I can’t help wondering what exactly will happen to Mrs. Harlow if I vote guilty?” I didn’t think it was so much to ask, but Mr. Lund acted as if I’d dropped a cricket down his britches.
“Why, what would happen to her is she would get what she deserves, she would get the death sentence for killing her husband,” Mr. Lund stammered in his excitement! “Justice would be served. Don’t you understand that?”
“But what would ‘happen’ to her?” My voice cracked from fear of speaking up in front of the group.
Mr Lund was flustered now. “Why, she would die by lethal injection, like all convicted murderers in Georgia do nowadays. Now then, shall we vote again?”
“Wait. What is ‘lethal injection?’”
Mr. Lund was exasperated. “I don’t know, it’s drugs that they put into a syringe, and shoot into a body to kill it, I suppose.”
There was no more talk after that. The coffee can made its way around the table once more. When Mr. Lund pulled the papers from the can this time the most crinkled up one was still checked “innocent.” “Are you kidding me? What about this do you not understand? Are you stupid? I suppose the little retard is going to hang this jury!”
Ignoring his insult, I asked him in a lowered voice, practically a whisper. “Can you tell us what those drugs will do to her?”
A nice gentleman named Mr. Peabody answered my question this time. “The drugs will relax all of her muscles until they stop working, and finally her heart and lungs, until she is dead. It is not a nice thought, is it?”
“Does anyone know what that will feel like for her? I mean, while it is happening?”
Mr. Lund forced himself to stay somewhat calm. “Who cares what it feels like? She is fixing to be dead, and then she won’t feel a thing!”
My voice lowered even more, but I stood my ground. “I care. It will be me doing it to her, and you should care too.”
The coffee can made its way around the table once more, and we each dropped in our cards. This time there were three papers marked “innocent.” I looked over at Mrs. Jenkins, suspecting that one of those papers was hers. It was me who winked at her this time.
“Son!” Mr. Lund bellowed. “Don’t you see what you’ve done? Do you think it’s alright for folks to go around killing one another and getting away with it? What good can come from this foolishness?”
“I don’t know about all of that, Mr. Lund, but tell us, why do you think she ran her husband over?”
“It’s all in the evidence transcripts. It’s in that paperwork over there that you haven’t bothered to read! Or are you too dumb to read it?”
“Maybe I am too dumb to read it, but those lawyers in the courtroom said it was because he was cheating on her. What would you do if your wife was cheating you like he was doing to her?”
Vernon Lund smiled now, sure that he had me. “I don’t know what I’d do son, but I sure hope to hell that I wouldn’t kill her for doing it.”
“No, of course you wouldn’t kill her. Why would you? You are bigger, and stronger than she is, so you wouldn’t have to. You could beat her, or cheat her back without worry... you could do just about anything you wanted to do to a weaker person, because you are a bully Mr. Lund. You would bully her just like you are trying to bully me. But Mrs. Harlow couldn’t bully Mr. Harlow, could she? She was angry, and hurt, and she only had the one thing to do if she wanted to get away from his meanness.”
With our points made, the can was passed around once more. This time there were six innocent votes.
“Jesus Christ! Are you people siding with this freak show? You can’t be serious?”
“Mr. Lund, the reason I asked how you think those drugs will feel entering her body is because I think I know. Have you ever been close to death before? I have. I’ve been so close to death that my fingers and toes stiffened with it. I’ve had my blood chilled, and my heart stopped while the doctors prodded around in my skull, cutting out the bad pieces they found in there. Those drugs feel cold going in, Mr. Lund. Not cold like that iced tea there, but a deep inside cold that’s trying to freeze you up forever, a cold that moves a little further through your veins with each pulse. You can feel it inching up your arms, pumping slowly, oozing up to where you live, and breath, and think, and you can’t stop it, Mr Lund. You can only lie there as you try to summon up courage. You can only pray that you are stronger than that drug is, that it can’t put you down. You try to hold your eyes open, afraid that if they close they will never open up again. You pray that maybe you will wake up after, and the nightmare will be over. I woke up from my nightmare Mr. Lund. I only hope Mrs. Harlow gets that second chance.”
Vernon Lund bowed his head. He was beat. He could see it in every face around the table, and he even felt it in his own heart. Our little group lined up, and we made our way back to the jury box. From across the room Adrienne Harlow’s eyes found mine, only this time it was my turn to smile.
Now is not the time for the air-conditioning system to fall apart. It’s already near ninety-five outside, and in here with eleven other bodies, it was starting to feel like twice that much.
This room had seen better days. Some parts of the wall you could see where the paint had peeled. The overhead lighting from a fan with three light extensions attached were not the brightest in the world and all the fan did was circulate hot air. The curtains, a sea-green color were faded, dull and lifeless.
The coffee I was drinking tasted lifeless. This whole damn day was lifeless.
But, we are sitting around, deciding if one man’s life is worth saving, or… if he should die.
Four days we have been at this. Four long miserable days. Each time we decide to vote, via a secret ballot, only one vote comes back not guilty.
By day three, tempers were rising, swearing ensued, even threats and finger-pointing got out of hand.
“I know it was you, Carter!” yelled Sunderland. “I can see it in that beady-eyed face of yours.”
“Hold on, Sunderland. Don’t accuse me of something you don’t know. Besides, how do we know it wasn’t you.”
“Why you son of a….”
Yeah, that’s how things have been the last couple days. But today, today will be different. No secret ballot voting. Today we are to verbally cast our vote.
“Martin? Hey, Martin!”
I turned away from the window as I had been watching two birds skip-hopping across the street pavement. They had no worries or cares in the world.
I turned and looked at Harris. “What?”
“We’re about to vote.”
Harris is the foreperson, basically our lord and master, ruler of heaven and earth and the one who is supposed to maintain order, but Harris is a fat, disgusting racist slob. Fact is, day one when we first started voting, the first thing out of his mouth was, “You can tell by looking at him, he’s guilty.”
Janice Jones, one of those grandmotherly looking people asked, “How can you tell just by looking.”
Harris said, “Simple. He’s black, bald and has no teeth and a long scar on his face.”
People in the room at that time groaned. But that first day, the votes came back: 11 to 1.
If nothing else, today will tell everyone in the room will know who the holdout is.
Harris spoke to the room.
“Listen up ya’ll. We need to come back to the courtroom this time with a guilty verdict. If we don’t, this thing could up in a hung-jury, and you know what means. It means the bastard could get a new trial, or this whole mess becomes a mistrial, and if that happens, the state could decide not to prosecute, and that man walks away free.
“I for one am here to vote that that doesn’t happen. So one by one, I want each of you to stand or not, and say out loud guilty or not guilty. We’ll start with you Stevens.”
Stevens is a retired research assistant for the Berkshire Labs. Thin, bald, and just past sixty-five. How he got here is anyone’s guess. His voice, his whole demeanor is soft. From what I heard the man never married. Matters not to me.
Counting Harris; there had been eleven verbal guilty votes before my turn came up. I sat in my uncomfortable wooden chair and rubbed my chin.
“Martin,” Harris said impatiently, “we’re waiting.”
I slapped both hands on the stained oval table and stood up.
“Before I give my vote, I want to tell you all a story. This is true and…”
“Martin, for god’s sake, man, guilty or not guilty!”
“Look, Harris, we’ve been here four days over this, a ten-minute story isn’t going to make that much of a difference.”
Looking around the room at the other six men and four women, I continued.
“There was this man, fresh out of prison , and all he wanted was a fresh start and no trouble. Sounds simple enough, right?
“His first day of freedom found him in a convenience store. He was buying a pack of cigarettes, a soda, and a bag of chips. In walks a man with a gun to rob the place. The man just out of prison backed up but then something changed his mind, and he wrestled with the robber and they tussled pretty good.
“Meantime, the clerk hit a button behind the counter and before you knew what was happening, two police cars showed up. By that time, our just out of prison guy had disarmed the robber and was holding the robber’s gun in his left hand, arm hanging down by his side.
“The police came rushing in, guns drawn, saw him standing there with a gun, another man on the floor, face down, and without flinching a thought, the first two officers opened fire on our just out of prison guy.
“Of course later, regardless of what the clerk related in testimony; the police department declared it a righteous kill. Why was that? Because he had a record and no ther reason.
“The point of all this … not one of us were there when this crime happened. Not one of us really know what happened. We have listened to so-called expert witnesses, and mind you, they are classified as professional experts only. We listened to three different accounts leading up to this man’s arrest. So I had to ask myself, who do I believe?
“When Stanley Palmer was in the witness chair, if you all recall, all he said was, ‘I was walking by when the man was shot. I turned him over to see if he was still alive’.
“When the police arrived, he was standing there over the body, with blood on his hands. That’s all they needed to arrest him for murder. Kind of stupid if you ask me, especially since they never found the gun used to kill the victim.
“If any of you were in the position Stanley was that day, ask yourself what you would do. What you would say. Truth is, you more than likely would be sitting in his shoes right now. The bottom line for Stanley Palmer was the same thing for the just out of prison guy and no other reason. Wrong place. Wrong time.
“My vote is not guilty.”
Needless to say, Harris pitched a fit, three other men complained. Once again, we went another day without a clear vote.
As we left the room to go back to our secluded hotel rooms, Janice Jones tugged at my shirt sleeve.
“I just wanted to say, you might be right.”
#theholdout #randomhouse #theprose
It’s only sauce.
I like his smile.
I think he’s sexy.
I’d like to go on a date with him.
″...accused of murder in the first degree...”
He’s kind of cute.
Now that his wife is out of the way.
″...evidence clearly left behind the scene of the crime- a sock and two sets of fingerprints is enough to identify Mr. Jonathan Samuels as guilty of murder.”
I wish they’d hurry up with this trial. I’d like to run away with him.
He’s looking at me. He’s got nice green eyes. I wonder how his hands would feel all over me...
His lawyer's voice cut through my daydream.
″...the defendant was watching a football match in the living room when he heard a noise. He went to the garage and found his wife on the ground. She had slit her throat and was dying.
He tried to stop the blood flow with his sock and left some prints on the door before he called the hospital and the police. Mr. Samuels is devastated he lost his wife.”
I could make him forget her.
He’s tall. Taller than I’d dated before. He’s got a strong jawline. I can tell he’s very authoritative.
The fat presecuter started to speak again snapping me out of my thoughts.
“Mr Samuels has a history of domestic violence cases against him. In 2011 he was found guilty of punching his then girlfriend Amanda Miskin, in 2013 he was accused of shooting his neighbour’s dog, in 2014 he was booked for throwing a flower pot at his ex-wife Ms. Morena Gray. In 2016 he was fired from his job due to anger issues by Comet Company Ltd. where he worked as a manager. Since 2017, there have been rumours in the neighbourhood that Mr. Samuels regularly beat up his wife, as confirmed by ten friends of the victim Mrs Mary Samuels. The marks on her throat as verified by a qualified doctor clearly show she could not have inflected those wounds on herself.”
A man full of rage.
I could handle that.
I’d handled that before. I’d even stood in court and testified five years ago.
The jury found him not guilty. They let him go. His lawyer was too good.
He almost killed me when he got out. But died in a car crash a day later.
I still find people like him insanely hot.
The other jury members looked solemn. My jury hadn’t looked like that. What had I done differently? Maybe they didn’t believe my story because I was still alive.
″...court dismissed till 3 pm.” said the judge.
We all stood up to go to the cafeteria. I listened in on the other jurors.
“He’s guilty.” said the woman in a blue tunic. Self righteous and so utterly mistaken. She thinks the world is full of good people and bad people. She’s the kid who never had to settle for the grey crayons in kindergarden.
“I agree.” said the man in a brown suit. He was the accountant at the bank I always avoided. Always smiling, happy, son-of-a-bitch.
The nine other jurors nodded in agreement as they sat down at the table, plates of spaghetti in front of them.
It was fascinating how, if you put enough sauce, it would look like splattered blood on your clothes by the time you finished your meal.
“He’s innocent.” I said suddenly.
The table paused to listen to me explain, if only because their mouths were full.
“He’s got anger issues for sure, but he isn’t a murderer.” I said.
My abuser hadn’t killed me. He’d always liked to see me suffer.
“I think someone else did it.” I said taking a fork and twirliing it around my plate of spaghetti. “He wouldn’t have slit her throat because he knew he would get caught. It wasn’t him.”
“But the evidence points straight at him.” started old Mr. Harris. He was a good guy, had three grandkids, lived an easy life. Couldn’t be bothered to know how I, back then, living across the street, got such frequent black eyes.
“It’s been planted to make it look like he did it. But he didn’t.” I said firmly. “Believe me, there is someone else involved. A scorned former lover, a wellwisher, a hateful friend---even a robber.”
I hadn’t had anyone. Maybe that’s why I lived.
We returned for the afternoon session shortly after, my eyes meeting Mr. Samuels as I entered. He was more good looking than I had imagined.
He was neatly shaved. I could almost imagine the scruffy beard growing in a few weeks, reeeking of alcohol and overburned cigerettes.
″...just received CCTV footage from across the street, Mrs Mary Samuels is seen with a man, who is clearly not Mr. Jonathan Samuels. This man on the 53rd second mark, slits her throat and runs away after an argument. This clearly shows Mr. Jonathan Samuels is not guilty. Police are looking for a middle aged man, 5 foot 11 inches tall...”
The jury looked at me and nodded.
In a couple of hours they would all agree with what I had told them.
“The jury finds Mr. Jonathan Samuels not guilty.” was announced precisely at 5 pm.
As we left the room I quickened my pace, so I wouldn’t turn around and ask Jonathan Samuels for a drink. I had to get back and see my therapist.
But he was at the door speaking to every jury member as they filed out of the empty courtroom.
“Thanks.” he said to me with a charming smile. The bastard was smirking now.
I’d seen that look so many times before. I ran out of the building, before I kissed him.
He knew his wife had an affair. He knew her lover was abusive too. He knew he would eventually kill her for him.
He knew. He knew.
I thought of those haunting green eyes turning red. He’d be more careful next time.
And now he was free.
Just like me.
I boarded the cab and held my head in my hands.
But was I really?
Drunk In Wails
By Kevin Jackson
I’m alone. For the seventh straight day of this two weeklong trial, I stand alone against the other jurors. The fools! To make such unsubtle gestures of contempt towards me, it is infuriating. No matter, I will continue to declare innocence on the behalf of the defendant. I feel for him and for his wife. I can just hear the crying; the imitable sound of terror as one realizes that they’re about to die. She deserves justice, she does.
“Uh, Mr. Allen if I may, this is the seventh day in a row where you have expressed to us that the defendant is not guilty” juror five said.
“Yes, yes that’s correct” I said.
“Well, every rebuttal that you have mentioned has proven to be inadequate. The rest of the jurors here have all made valid and factual points against you to prove your theories incorrect.”
“What exactly are you trying to say?” I said.
“What he’s saying is that we’ve had enough.” Juror two said, “The reason you’ve been so quiet today is because you have nothing left to say. I mean, what is there left to say?”
I have nothing left to say? As annoyed as I am by her comment, it is a true statement. I’ve ran out of new points to bring into the discussion. I can still hear that poor woman’s cries of agony in my head. It’s so sad and loud! She deserves to have the real perpetrator be behind bars. I need to distract them until I can think of another angle that hasn’t been previously brought into the discussion before.
“It’s just—I still believe in the defendant’s alibi” I said.
My co-jurors collectively release a long and disjointed groan at my statement, the audacity.
“Yo man, you brought up that weak-ass argument a couple days ago” juror three said.
“And it’s a disprovable alibi” said juror five, “The young man claimed he went to take a, what did he call it?”
“A soft stroll” said juror three.
“Yes, That’s right, a soft stroll around his neighborhood after he and his wife got into an alleged argument.”
“Yes, and I believe him” I said.
“Come on man!” juror four exclaimed, “There were no witnesses who saw him walking around the neighborhood before the victim cried out, but witnesses did see the defendant run out of the house just a few minutes after the victim’s screams were heard.”
“Ahh, see! You and the witnesses that testified all said that a few minutes went by after the scream was heard.” I said, “So is it really such a leap in logic that the defendant returned to his home, perhaps just as he heard the screams himself, saw the body of his wife, and then decided to leave?”
“Even if that was the case, I don’t believe that there would have been enough time for the killer to escape” juror five said.
“Why not? I said, “Anything can happen in a matter of minutes,”
“According to the witness’s testimony, they immediately rushed to their window to see what had happened” juror ten said.
“Yeah, and didn’t they say that it took approximately a max of forty seconds to rush to their windows?” asked juror eight.
“Exactly right” juror ten responded, “and in that timeframe none of them saw the defendant run into the house; all that they saw was the defendant running out.”
Smart, very smart rebuttals from my fellow jurors. I was beginning to think that my point had some serious merit to it. Though, there are still flaws in their arguments just as much as mine. Ugh, if only they could hear that woman’s wailing like I can, then they would understand!
“For all we know, the real killer could have relieved themselves of their blooded gloves and clothing. They could have even hidden themselves within the confines of the woman’s closet” I said.
“That’s a very specific scenario” said juror five.
“I’m just trying to put all of you in the right headframe to see things the way I’m seeing them so you hear the terrible echoing of that woman’s screams!” I said.
“Screams? Well, none of us were there to have heard anything” juror eleven said.
“But you can imagine it!” I said.
“Wait, let’s back up a bit.” Juror six said, “You mentioned bloody gloves just a few moments ago right?”
“There were no gloves nor any out of place clothing that were found inside the house. Did you just make that up as part of your scenario?”
Those damn idiots! Why can’t they just listen and agree upon my rational! The woman’s wailing is continuous now. It’s louder.
“I’d assume that a killer who can commit a crime and flee without anyone seeing them is a killer who would be smart enough to wear gloves of some kind” I said.
“The killer is the defendant!” said juror two, “It wasn’t some made up conspiracy. The facts are the facts! Witnesses didn’t see anyone trying to flee and the CSI didn’t even find anything to suggest that there was another person in that house.”
I’ve held my feelings in long enough. I cannot handle this retched feeling inside me, this…regretful feeling!
“No!” I yelled standing up, “There was another person there that night! Just acknowledge the defendant’s innocence!”
“No, we will not!” said juror nine.
“I’ve had enough of this” said juror twelve, “the defendant is clearly guilty. I don’t understand why you’re so aggriva—”
I cannot contain it any longer! The wails have completely flooded my brain. I can’t think properly anymore. I just need to let it out!
“—ENOUGH!” I screeched at the top of my lungs, “The Murder was of my own doing! Yes, I killed the woman I loved because she didn’t love me back! Go on, go on! feel free to send me to the chair so I can finally be deprived of these aching screams!”
The Tongue Behind the Teeth
If I shoulda been upset at some point with my forebears for naming me at my birth Sherman Kermit Abernathy, a name riddled with portent potential for hurled sticks and stones, I was not, since it has never been my nature, far back as I can remember, to let any obstacle thrown in my path hinder me from getting from point A to point B arriving where I need to be, especially when the chips are down; there I am landing victorious as the last man standing, if not always, damn near close.
“Lest we forget up in the sky, it wasn’t a bird... it wasn’t a plane… It was Superman, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, fighting the unending battle for truth, justice, and the American way,” E pluribus unum, and yeah that was the title sequence for an old black and white TV show, a fantasy, but if you would be so kind as to do me the honor and let me explain some of my real life heroics you will come to understand how I alone was able to do the impossible, how I, on my desert island, was able to convince 11 of my fellow jurors within the confines of deliberation, all of them dead set on a guilty verdict, held up in a room with no view to see things my way, and trust me I’m not one to fabricate fish tales, nor am I a braggart, I am just trying to help you to understand my capabilities, my nature, truly, so far be it from me to boast since us Abernathy’s, we understand the benefits of humility, but at the same time, little ole’ regular me, well I’m not so little, but I am just one single solitary man with a receding hairline, uneven nostrils and big buck teeth I struggle to conceal, wearing jeans a size too small, all personal attributes that have nothing to do with my character, but do help keep me humble, the point being, I Sherman Kermit Abernathy do solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but I am not on trial and I certainly did not commit a crime during the process of persuading any of those fine 11 American citizens not to convict an innocent man of murder, jurors just like me only doing their civic duty, but the fact alone that I was able to convince them was sorta in line with who I am, meaning no easy accomplishment, because I am the guy that found a big red tiger cat running across a divided highway at midnight with a Chef Boyardee can stuck on his head, in the rain, stopped my car, stopped traffic, picked up the cat without a the slightest retaliatory scratch, found an all night diner, went around the back where sure enough some guy name Raul that I never met before, honorable guy, came to my aid grabbing his kitchen shears lickity split and while I held down the cat he did the can ectomy ever so gently and voila, off with can, back in the car, driving right back to the place I picked up the relieved red rover, singing Home Home on the Range in three different keys the whole way, dropping him off like he had ubered me, waited and watched until I saw him duck down stealthily under a rocking chair porch unscathed, unperturbed, since I know my demeanor on the ride home kept him calm while his little tongue continued to do some dirty work, the same tongue that caused a most unfortunate predicament in the first place, remedied by yours truly.
And if that doesn’t grab you, if cats and dogs don’t pull at your heartstrings the way they do mine, you may appreciate that I am also the guy that was there at the bank at 2:45 in the afternoon on a sunny Thursday in March to make a deposit of $2500 cash, all hundreds, entrusted to me by my boss Larry, that had the time to do it himself, but why should he when he has a guy like me working for him ready willing and able to tackle anything and I mean anything asked of me, but how could he know what would happen when I was waiting on line behind a guy wearing a cowboy hat and alligator boots that said “Thank you ma’am,” I heard him, real polite handsome guy, looked a little like a Jonas brother, couldn’t tell you which one, or maybe a young Clint Eastwood, and then he says the words no one wants to hear in a bank, “Stick em up,” and I thought he was kidding or pretending he had fallen back in time to the wild wild west, or auditioning for some part in a B movie, but he wasn’t kidding but he should a been, cause one two buckle my shoe, I took him down in a full nelson hold faster than a dog on a bone, retrieving his weapon that was fully loaded but fake, not knowing that at the time taking a chance when I stuck it in the back of my skinny jeans, not concerned that it would go off, phew, it didn’t cause it wasn’t real, and the nice lady teller with the high ponytail who was just doing her job until evil Clint Eastwood made her day, bravely tripped the alarm without screaming or nothing and I just kept his pretty face down on the cold terrazzo floor until the Calvary came marching through the front door to relieve me, must a been 5 or 6 of them badged heroes in blue, and that’s exactly what they called me, a hero, when the gave me a citizen’s award several weeks later, ceremoniously hosted by the Mayor, guest of honor yours truly.
See what I mean?
None of the other eleven knew a lick about any of this or anything else about me, except they were about to find out I like Werther’s candies since when we entered the jury deliberation room on that first day, ushered in by the court officer; sorta okay fella, but a bit on the short and chubby side for a man in uniform if you ask me, acting quite authoritative as he lead us into the jury room, then seeming a tad bit annoyed at me, I know because he made that tsk-tsk noise with his tongue, while I stood just inside the door next to him, real close, like we were a welcoming committee duo for the jury, me pressing one wrapped sweet morsel into each of their unique palms as they entered the room before they could sit down, gently, like a lover’s kiss, shaking the other unencumbered hand vigorously, sharing my name proudly, asking them their names with a big smile, in spite of my self consciousness regarding my chompers looking them hard in the eye, and I knew right then and there I had them cause double entendre sugar has a way of speaking to people and I suppose they learned something else about me soon after we all sat, that fact being I can talk and talk and talk, as they all soon came to realize, more likely not a surprise to anyone I gather, because talking is really what I do best, always has been an Abernathey strength, besides the feat of being somewhat of a real life superhero on occasion, and I worked them over with my opening salvo and legal sensibility, as it is a typical propensity of us heroes to know right from wrong, talking over all eleven of them, some of them at moments covering their ears, others lowering their weary heads, and I took no offense, call my tongue a weapon if you may, but I used it well, since I got them to see things my way, dagnabit, convincing each and every one of them it was the right thing to do to change their vote to not guilty, when clearly as I told them over and over and over again, the circumstantial evidence pointed in that direction. Yes. I made my case single handedly. Boom. That’s how you do it my way, sugar ah honey honey, and not cause it’s my way or the highway, it’s cause my way is the truth, justice and of course the American way. Might I share a Werther’s with you?
Death Sentence Circle
Juror Number Seven keeps his pet pig with him. He says it calms his nerves. It snorts and he hits it, but it keeps snorting. He is the first to speak.
“He said it himself, he was guilty the moment he was born.”
We sit at a round table reminiscent of meetings from the days of King Arthur’s knights. They are speaking in a consensus that the man accused is guilty which does not surprise me, nor does it worry me.
I have a thesis in my mind. The American law is clean and fair, it is a landscape of freedom and its language and upkeep are as letters planted upon its soil the sprouts of poetry and liberty and justice. From each coast, Pacific and Atlantic waters, it is one harmonious breath. I hum while I am thinking and my song is interrupted.
“I’m scared to even ask,” Juror Seven says. “But do you got anything you want to say.”
“He is not guilty until we allow for it,” I tell them. “Don’t you get what we’re driving at here--”
“He’s guilty twelve times over. Plain as the sun and the moon. Yesterday, and the next day. Guilty as hell.”
For three days, at eighteen hours a session, this is my fight and my heart.
The dust has risen and it hangs in the air. I open up a window and car horns blare and jackhammers tear up the sidewalk. Strangers cursing at other strangers.
A juror says shut the window and I do and wipe the sweat off my face. A sea of dust comes through my mouth as I speak.
“They’ve proven nothing,” I say. “Let’s go over the transcript. Nothing in it suggests--”
“They proved murder. You can’t see that? ” In a circle, they each nod and give a repeated form of justifiable conviction based on desired evidence made against the man whose life hangs in our balance.
“None of these things were even mentioned in the case,” I say. I speak with passion. I tremble inside but am not defeated by it. “He wasn’t even charged with murder. They never said the crime, nor a reason for arrest for that matter.”
“Didn’t need to. He said it himself, he don’t appreciate the earthly law.”
“He was accused of this notion. And this, he could not defend properly for himself. This, is why we are here, in this room, right now. To prove that--”
“And he had on record that he called for a man of God to come in and save his soul. He said he done what he done, right then and there.”
I get partway through an allegory, comparing the law to a type of code for the afterlife. It takes off from there, and I start really rolling. I feel I’m going to turn some minds and I roll up my sleeves. The words come together forming out of the dust.
“You’re taking us in circles,” I’m told. “Taking us nowhere.”
“But what have we learned from those who came before us and fought and died in the name of fairness and innocence? Do we not carry on their testament, the very blood that drove them? Is our Republic not unique, does it not offer humanity a chance, ideas of hope?”
“This ain’t no Ethics college course, college boy. This is real life and the real world, with real consequences. There ain’t no world to save here. No innocence to bring back up. He ain’t no youngern, he’s grown. And he done what he done. And done admitted it in more ways I can count.”
All agree. They stare me down. In their muted eyes I can hear Hell-hounds growling.
I’ve quoted the constitution, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. When I first arrived here I was glowing as though I were pregnant with the idea of democracy. I had no idea the only thing I’d walk out with would be great shame and grief, my senses consumed by death. I knew now my spirit would never again possess bliss or grace, satisfaction or even determination, that all I had to offer it now would be a wake.
We will take another vote, and it will be the last one counted.
I look outside and the sun melts and the sky turns to decay. The dying dust of stars float down to earth as it were the tears of Libra.
I try to speak as one last rally cry. My hands slip on the table and my forehead knocks against it, and I feel three of my vertebrae crack. They laugh at me. Then I hold my forehead in my own hands. I can no longer speak and am trying not to break down.
The beat of my heart, here, is the song of a caged bird. It chokes to death in my own neck. I stand, slouching from the table with a crooked spine.
In the bathroom I wash my hands. Scrubbing intensely, singing in my head, ‘By and by Lord, by and by,’ over and over. When I was younger, my mother rocked me to sleep humming these verses to me.
The soap cloaks my palms under the running water, but I can still smell my own sweat and dirt waiting underneath, and I punch the mirror above the faucet. Blood trickles from the gashed knuckles. The face I stare at seems an amateur’s imitation of a Picasso-styled self-portrait. Disfigured and alien, clattered features and a shattered jaw, an L shaped nose and a mind fissured by a cracked-glass pale lightning chain, the eyes of a drooping landscape and broken soul.
You want to escape. You can barely take it.
Jury duty and taxes are the same. Both unavoidable. You went there, said the right thing thinking it was the wrong thing, and now, here you are.
The other cases were basic. Petty theft, vandalism, trespassing. Those cases were over before they even started.
Then there was this one. Murder.
You were intrigued. Excited, even. This day was supposed to be the most interesting one you had had in awhile.
So far, it hasn't been not interesting.
Quite the opposite, unfortunately.
You wish you had thought to prepare. You wish you had bothered to find your reading glasses and looked at the court papers instead of mumbling ’Yes… uh huh… I do not know the defendant…”. You wish you had asked around. But no. You went into this blind.
Twenty-three minutes earlier, you had strode into the courtroom, your anticipation bubbling up, overflowing. Your heart was racing, running a 2 minute mile. Impossible, yes, but there you were.
Then, everything changed. In an instant, in a snap, in a flash of light.
When you saw who was being tried, your heart paused, tripped over its own feet, and face planted.
Her eyes are bloodshot, laced with hairline cracks of red. Her sweaty grey t-shirt is sprinkled with grease stains. Her posture is kinked like a broken slinky.
But she's still the same old Lisa.
You nearly broke your neck as you struggled to avoid eye contact. Why was this happening? What had you done to deserve this?
A lot. But still.
The judge, a sour-faced man who looks like he's just choked down a whole lemon doused in citric acid, lazily bangs his gavel against the grainy wood of his desk. "Order in the court, order in the court," he rasps, covering the courtroom in a blanket of semi-silence. There's still some noise left. The shuffle of feet. A cough. He ignores it all.
"We are gathered here today to try the defendant, Lisa Trent, of manslaughter of the third degree."
The room itself seems to gasp at this. Apparently, the other unprepared members of the court did not expect a woman who was 5' 1" and weighing in at about 105 pounds to be capable of something so deplorable.
"The date of the incident was August 14, 2019, and the time was roughly 8:45 p.m.."
This can’t be real.
With the unfolding of the date, you know Lisa is innocent.
You are her alibi.
And worst of all, the evidence, the end all, the turnaround, is nestled in your back pocket.
It won't save her. It will just weaken the blow. And you will be dragged down with her.
“Do you all swear that you do not know the people involved in this case, or witnessed the mentioned case?” A chorus of “yes’s”, toppling over like dominoes, follows. When the wave crashes into your area, your tongue is a rock, weighed down by deception.
“Yes. I swear.”
The judge begins emitting a string of undecipherable legal jargon, which from experience, you know it will swallow most of the remainder of the case.
Your eyes drift back to Lisa. This is a big risk.
She's staring blankly ahead, her arms limp at her side. It looks as if her mind is elsewhere. Until her head swings wildly and her gaze lands on you.
Recognition. Fear. Hate. It's tattooed across her face, in sharp slashes.
She knows, but not enough. She is unaware of the monster living in your pocket.
You stare down at your lap. Your palms are sweaty, your throat is dry. You try to concentrate on the bland papers perched atop your knees.
"She's so guilty, I don't see why they're even having a trial." The woman squeezed in next to you has an elaborate beehive that is obviously fake. Her doughy legs are straining against the denim fabric of her pencil skirt. Her words are coated in a layer of intense disgust.
You emit a sound that is neither an agreement nor a disagreement, and go back to shrinking yourself out of existence.
Day one eventually ends.
Day two: You can tell where this is going, but maybe if you hold out long enough, you'll change your mind.
Day three: Can't.
Day four: Take.
Day five: It.
Day six: Any.
Day seven: More.
Day eight: The decision is unanimous, except for you, but you pretend to agree. The same circles of evidence are being drawn over and over. The guilt, the inner demons, the truth. It drives you toward the end point.
You knew from the moment you saw her that this was going to happen.
"Your honor!" You burst out. The judge narrows his eyes, scowling. "I do not approve of disruptions in my courtroom, especially by the jury," he says. "Do it again and I will not hesitate to kick you out." He adjusts the glasses that sit on his bird beak nose. "But do tell me what was so urgent that you had to interrupt."
You take a deep breath. Your life will be over. You'll lose so much.
But not as much as Lisa.
"I, James Burk, would like to present evidence proving Lisa Trent's innocence."
"This is unexpected. No matter. Bring it up here."
You walk up to the judge, feeling like you're going to be executed.
Your phone is burning a hole in your pocket. You pull it out, fingers shaking.
It's surrounded by passwords. Passwords to prevent others from seeing. Ironically, you're the one who has chosen to show it. They swirl around, and you disperse them, like mist.
A triangle. On its side. Do it. Don't think. Do it. Save Lisa.
Two figures, you and Lisa.
A date, 8/14/19.
A time. 8:47 p.m.
Twin matches, alight.