Queen of Swords: a novel

Chapter XXXIII – Judgment

As we, the jury, filed out, the whole courtroom rose to their collective feet – everyone except the judge – who looked at us as if he had never seen us before.

With the door closing behind us Roccam rubbed his hands with the infernal busybody’s pleasure. “Shall we order dinner?” he asked, reveling in his appointment as foreman. “Let’s get right to it. We can get a couple of hours in anyway.”

He wasn’t fooling me. He just wanted to see that video. They all did. The judge’s clerk wheeled in the audiovisual cart, but we weren’t going to play it with her around.

They insisted on watching it twice; Howling Woodchuck had the nerve to slow it down and follow it frame by frame. The jerky stop-motion didn’t do the participants any favors. I rolled my eyes.

My husband considered himself as a “serious” collector of pornography. Art, he sometimes had the nerve to call it. Did you know that all women’s bodies are considered Art? He was a silly, silly man. Of course it had to be a great big secret – one of many of Papa’s nasty little secrets I was deputized to keep. Secrets of the diaper, secrets of the catheter. The precious daughters weren’t to know. Porn served as his instructional and physical therapy textbook, unfortunately, and since he was so disabled it was up to me to do all the work.

After he died, mouth open, hands coiled around the pillow, I tossed out most of his collection with a sense of considerable satisfaction. All but a few choice pieces I positioned for Whitney to find. Time she was apprised of the extent of Daddy’s distinctly unwholesome breast fixation.

In the jury room, at last the TV was turned off and the binders of evidence handed round. We each received our own. At that point the sandwiches and Snapples arrived; just in time for an “amuse bouche”; making such a nice counterpoint with the apparently endless crime scene photos and the autopsy report. The rest of them picnicked carelessly atop their evidence binders. Luna and Bea squabbled, in an intense yet polite way, over the sour cream versus the onion potato chips. Bea won. Age before Obesity, my dear.

I couldn’t eat. These people were savages. I know I had to go through this for you, but whatever compromise I must invent to keep me from up and murdering the lot of them, I will just have to pursue. I have the self-control. I have the power. Eyes on the prize. The prize, of course, being you.
“I’ll take notes,” I offered. Now they won’t question your presence in our midst. If they ask me what any one of them actually said, I’ll make up any old damn thing I please. Our notes are ours alone – nothing else could be so private. I’ve been told we take them home. No one else will read them, except for you. They’ll just have to trust me. Har, har.

“Guilt and innocence,” said the crone, whose name was Bea. “It’s a big responsibility.”

The guilty and the innocent? I wrote. Or the detected and undetected? How many of the innocent wish they were guilty, would be, if they could only summon up the nerve. The worms. Yawn.

“Fortunately we don’t have to deal with such unfathomable concepts,” said C.D. in a superior way. “We only have to decide if the state has proved its case.”

I was rifling the fashion magazines for the Bond girl – Selina Kavanaugh’s address. Just in case. Oh! Found it!. 14-B, Pierce Point Acres. I secreted it gracefully in my bag.

“Maybe we should take an anonymous vote,” said Roccam. “Just to see which way everyone is leaning. It would be more democratic.”

“I don’t know what’s so democratic about anonymity,” I contributed, unable to resist. “Surely people should stand up for what they believe.” So I know what I’m up against. My husband was not much of a democrat. He prided himself on being an “elitist.” He used the word “Kantian” pejoratively, trying to force me to agree that if Kant’s theorem came true and we actually behaved the way we wanted other people to act the world would be simply unbearable; a miserable place where everyone was the same. That’s “democracy” for you. Fortunately, the thing’s impossible.

“I don’t think we should vote yet,” said one of the clone-men. “We gave an oath to pass judgment after due deliberation, not off the top of our heads.”

I could tell he was really just annoyed at Roccam for winning foreman.

“I think she’s guilty,” said Luna boldly. “That girl’s the manipulative type. You can see her twining herself around the whole defense table like some sort of Virginia creeper. That poor old Haymaker was in enough hot water already, why would he borrow trouble? I understand he was all coked out, but really. If she really had nothing to do with it, why did she act so guilty? Why run away? Why not turn him in immediately after the crime?”

“She talked to this guy nonstop about her problems,” objected Howling Woodchuck, “And suddenly the problem’s removed. She goes rushing off to Europe? The way I see it, she’s afraid to dump him, she’s afraid to turn him in, but she’s also afraid to be with him. Maybe he was going to have her offed, for all she knew! I mean, he knew where to find hitmen and she obviously didn’t. I have to say her behavior looks like innocence to me.”

“She did turn him in,” said, Bea, and Luna joined in, “Because the FBI made her. They said to her, like, it’s either him or you.”

Honestly these people don’t have a pair of working brain cells to rub together. I began to think maybe it was my best gambit to let them talk and talk until they all got sick of each other. When they were ready to go home they would be ready to listen to reason. But can I stand it?

“I believe Haymaker,” said one of the alternates. “People tell the truth when they’ve nothing left to lose.”

“Heck no, that’s nonsense” said a white haired trucker leaving most of his meatball grinder in his beard. “People act the way they’ve always acted. Selfish people continue to act selfish. People who like throwing a wrench into the works – what do they call them – saboteurs – continue to throw wrenches. Sociopath, that’s what the doctor called him. He doesn’t want to see anybody win. Spread the grief around. Misery loves company.”

“Are you sure you’re not feeling favorable towards the defendant just because she’s so good looking?” Bea asked acidly.

The schoolmarm said, “You can’t believe Haymaker because the defense got him to admit he’s a perjurer! How can we possibly believe a guy like that?”

I looked daggers at her. What a jackass! If they were going to continue being so stupid I wouldn’t be able to stay out of it.

And then the old black woman, who had never said a word, spoke up.

“Well, you know what I think,” she said, “ I think that little girl doesn’t have the personality of a killer.”

“How can you possibly know what a killer’s personality is like?” demanded Luna.

“Well, you see,” the retired housecleaner – or whoever she was – offered shyly, “I read lots of true crime. It’s my favorite. And murderers can’t help bragging. They always brag. They think they’re the center of the universe and everything revolves around them! They want people knowing just how smart they’ve been. They’re so sharp they cut themselves! But she didn’t tell anyone. She refused to even talk about it with Haymaker. Don’t you think they would have caught her on tape if they could?”

Now we had an authority on murderers! My pen jabbed right through the paper.
“You know what I hate,” said Lacey, speaking up haltingly for the first time. I think she’s one of those agoraphobes. The more people present, the more trouble they have participating. “If we acquit her then she’s getting away with it. Then she’s committed the perfect murder!”

Really, I had to speak up. You would have been proud of me. “Having someone commit your murder for you is hardly the perfect murder,” I objected. “If she’s guilty she involved no less than three people to get the job done! Not to mention Tobin’s girlfriend and God knows who else. It’s the mark of an idiot.”

They all turned and stared at me, chewing with their mouths open.

“I just didn’t believe that shrink,” said Luna, changing the subject in order to push her weight around. “All I know is, they’ll say anything to keep the paying customers coming. You don’t ever get well with one of those guys. They always keep changing their diagnoses. First it’s manic depression and then its bipolar and then it’s not bipolar and then it’s type one or type two. They’re the ones that should be on trial.”

“So you’re saying that he’s not a sociopath,” said Woodchuck, folding his arms across his belly like it was going to be a long night. “So what is he? Just a mean, evil guy?”

“He’s sick,” said Bea. “There must be something wrong with him, to do all the things he did.”
I imagined tying them to their chairs and setting the room on fire, their piteous eyes and hysterical wails. Denial! Bargaining! Bribery! The exits barred. Should we let them go? Never! The two of us, laughing together. A good time had by all. Sick!

The pleasure of being rich is that your voice, you will counts for so much more than anybody else’s. You get what you want, they stand in line. You don’t have to waste your precious time arguing with the little people. It was gong to be a long night.

Eventually anybody will vote anything, just to get out of this room. These are the wolves, sniffing at each other’s behinds. Almost idly, I announced, “Not all murderers are sociopaths.”
“Oh, that can’t be true,” the schoolmarm lectured me. “There has to be something wrong with a person who thinks they have the right to take another’s life.”

Let them talk. In my mind I pulled a card. The Judgment card of course. Cosmic forces have been set in motion. My card displays a robed dignitary weighing a “blood payment” in his golden scales. Balance. Ancient justice was based on compensation, not punishment. What’s past is past. The Sivarros give the Zanellis a couple of cows, they throw a big party, and everybody’s happy. When bloodshed is necessary, it’s a balm for our rage, a force for change, the milk that nourishes our future.

I looked at my watch. After eight already! Outside there was a commotion in the corridor and a series of knocks at our door. Rescue! I rose expectantly. Have you noticed how often when I desire something, it automatically appears? See how the universe continually confirms my royalty?

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