New - 22 September 2008
We the Jury, a novel:
It was a foggy evening. Come to think of it, it was almost always a foggy evening hereabouts. This place had become known for its friggin’ foggy fortnights! One might even conjecture that much of the locale's folklore, traditions, claims to fame, and raw material for stories yet to be told… were all based on the blasted fog. It was enough to make you puke… which inasmuch as the fog was everywhere, one could probably do without undue embarrassment. I mean, after all, who would see you?
The good news… if such there ever be… is that this was a genuine fog, that is to say: water droplets suspended in air due to a combination of humidity and temperature, said combination being prevalent throughout the entire country at this time of year. It was not… as they say… something disguised as… oh say… smog. Smog had in fact not yet been discovered… or at least not recognized as such. The industrial revolution and its associated smog were still several centuries in the future. In fact, Catholicism was only just now being allowed back into the England of Charles II and Spanish frigates had just done their thing, attacking Charleston, South Carolina. These were just a few of the many happenings occurring all around the world, all bits of evidence suggesting an era of living in interesting times. Weren't they lucky!
Give up? Okay… the scene was London, 1670 A.D., night, the beginnings of fog and the incipient action prepped to take place along a nearly deserted, cobblestone street.
Please note that this particular cobblestone street was not some run of the mill back alley. It was instead something of a thoroughfare -- a thoroughfare in a city that at the time had not yet imagined the idea of anything being a thoroughfare… especially at night. At the same time, the external lighting sources were lousy and the permeating dampness threatening to one’s health (and thus prompting many of the street people to ensure that they would routinely be found in bars and pubs whenever night fell… all in the interests of health, of course!) Oh yes… traffic jams had not yet reached the status of occurring in the dark of night. Accordingly, the general consensus was, “Why aren’t you home in bed, you dork?”
A white male, John Bailey, also known as Jack, was rather precisely what the locals would have termed a “dork" or possibly by law enforcement standards, a white male dork. For clearly, if Jack's actions could be taken at face value – and typically in this particular time and space, they always were -- then the man was obviously out of his element. He was lost somewhere in time and space -- in every sense of the words -- and he was currently wandering the streets in a 17th Century daze. The man might have been having a dream, for it is in such a state that he could be acceptably disoriented and find himself in clothing totally alien to him, amidst surroundings more appropriate to his fruitful imagination than to anything that he might have conjured as his reality.
Dreams in fact allow many souls to avoid alternative, albeit inconvenient possibilities. For example, memories out of time and space need not necessarily imply reincarnation, where souls keep coming back over and over, trying one more time to finally get it right. Instead of being caught on a perpetual wheel of life, one could instead attribute fantastical dream experiences to something one ate before bedtime, or simply some form of weird and strange, inexplicable happenings. I.e., nothing to worry about. Besides... Jack didn’t believe in reincarnation. This dogma of non-belief thus required a belief in dreams being a product of imagination and fantasy, and not representative of things done in prior lives.
Not withstanding the inconsequential dream theory, there was, however, the current circumstances. The alleged inconsequential nature of Jack's dream was belied by the bewildered expression on Jack's face, and the gut wrenching sense of something being very seriously amiss. That was probably the clincher. Yup! The guy really was lost. No kidding! He had no clues as to when and where he was, no real idea as to who he was (other than “me”), and probably the most important question – the one that had not yet entered his conscious mind -- Why was whatever was happening… in fact happening?
Fortunately for Jack's peace of mind, the latter, more profound question pretty much got lost in the perils of the moment, specifically the challenge of walking in a straight line. As is well known to those to live on such public avenues, dark cobblestone streets are not the most easily navigable paths. They’re lumpy and inconsistent, provide innumerable opportunities for tripping trespassers, and insist that keeping one’s footing in the dark is a talent gained only by experience -- something our hero had a serious shortage of. Jack was in fact losing his balance a lot. He was not accustomed to the unevenness of rounded stones, surfaces that constantly stressed among other things the strength of his ankles. Jack also had to contend with the lack of what he would have assumed to be “normal” night sounds. There really weren’t such sounds… no sirens, no dogs barking, no trains rumbling past, no music slipping out of living spaces, and most importantly, no screams from open windows announcing that some poor soul was sick and tired and wasn't going to put up with it any longer.
There was instead only the occasional extraneous noise of what inexplicably sounded like horse-drawn wagons in an uncertain distance. That in itself was enough to confuse Jack... and I dare say anyone else. After all, when's the last time you heard the sounds of horse-drawn wagons on cobblestone streets in an uncertain distance... at night? Sounds pretty creepy to me!
Nevertheless, life is never completely without variations on a theme. Having already reached the point of realizing his status of being a stranger in an even stranger land, Jack was accordingly hoping to encounter other such travelers... or even a local or two. He was wandering around yet another strange and bleak corner, when as it turned out, he was just in time to see another human being toward the end of the street. Jack’s momentary delight at seeing someone alive in the fog -- someone who could perhaps enlighten Jack as to his current circumstances -- was suddenly dampened (pardon the foggy pun), when Jack realized the individual was running toward a darkened pub. Not walking rapidly or while maintaining a degree of decorum… Not a casual stroll, but running with a great purpose as if some ravenous beast were on his tail.
One might have thought that ravenous beasts would have been in short supply in 1670 London… and literally one would have been correct. Figuratively, however, beasts even in those long ago times did in fact come in numerous forms, including ravenous. This was one of those cases. Any "beast" capable of chewing you up and spitting you out -- e.g., various military organizations -- have seemingly always been present. It's just one of the attributes of civilizations.
Jack, meanwhile, was suddenly aware that his possible link to normality, that man toward the end of the street, just might be about to escape. Jack began running toward him, raising one arm to attract the man’s attention. Adding sound to movement, Jack called out, “Excuse me! Can you help me? I’m lost!”
The man, in the midst of just reaching his intended safe haven, took one look in Jack’s direction, made a split second decision, and began knocking hard on the pub’s heavy, wooden door. Without waiting for a response, the man simultaneously said something through the door to whoever might be listening. Jack could not hear what the man was saying, but it was clear that the man was in a hurry to communicate something!
Abruptly the door opened, the man darted inside, and the door slammed with singular authority behind him. There seemed to be a pretty good bet that the door was not going to be opened again in the near future, and only the man’s apparent relationship with the pub’s customary denizens had resulted in the rather extraordinary circumstance of their making an exception for their friend.
Jack made it to the door on a dead, stumbling run, and just in time to hear one of several bolts being forced home. The castle gate had been shut in a decisive manner, and had the pub been blessed with a moat, the drawbridge would already have been raised. (Actually the pub had the illusion of a moat in that the gutter was uncommonly wide and because of the lay of the land, never properly drained itself. Nor were the residents keen to visualize or aspire to the pretensions of having a genuine moat. Such creativity was not part of their imaginations.)
Momentarily stopped in his tracks by what now had all of the appearances of an impenetrable wall, Jack quickly recovered from the unexpected setback and knocked on the door. Nothing. This was followed by Jack knocking again, this time, considerably harder. Then an even more vigorous knocking… the kind that could not be easily dismissed. And yet… obviously, the door was resisting... not to mention dismissing.
Jack had, over the course of many years (in particular those associated with another life entirely), come to believe that when one or more doors close on someone during their journey through life, that they need only look around for the inevitably opened door somewhere else. This marvelous, metaphysical advice was, however, apparently not yet operational in 17th Century London. There were in fact NO open doors anywhere in sight … at least of the form to which Jack would have rushed. The night was dark, it was still a long hard day’s night until dawn, and there was not even so much as a lantern in a window. Jack began pounding on the door with both fists.
The door continued to ignore him. There was to be no response. The password – the one identifying the penitent as a friend, ally, or someone not to be toyed with... and embellished with the customary foul language and accusations of illegitimate birth, wretched ancestry, and inevitable hellish destiny – had not been uttered, recognized, and then complied with. Jack might have tried the traditional (and oddly appropriate) “Open, Sesame”… but he didn’t think of it in time to do any good. Confusion and a lack of clear thinking were common characteristics in straights such as Jack’s.
Jack did have the presence of mind to stop pounding on the door… if for no other reason than it was hurting his hands. Taking a deep breath, he looked around, saw a small cobble stone dislodged from its accustomed space, picked it up, and was about to raise his now well armed, rocky fist to knock again with even greater authority… when he heard yet more running footsteps, accompanied by the sounds of a potentially nearby horse-drawn carriage.
Jack stepped back into the thoroughfare… apparently the proverbial “open door” was being provided to him just in time. Of course, it didn’t look like an open door… more like two burly men coming around the corner, walking rapidly and purposefully. They were also carrying Billy clubs… not exactly an encouraging sight. Still, one should never be overly skeptical of open doors in general. They can always be disguised so as to conceal their great potential. The esoteric path is inevitably hidden to all but the true disciples. Besides, upon seeing Jack, the two men suddenly smiled broadly (if not gleefully) and slowed their pace… as if they were expecting him. The open door policy was apparently live and well and living in 17th Century London. It even seemed friendly.
But then, as is well known among experienced travelers of time and space, it’s always better to greet strangers in a strange land by smiling. But then again… Jack could not help but notice that the two men were approaching him in such a way as to flank Jack on both sides and possibly cut off any attempt by Jack to run like a flushed rabbit. And then there was the way they held their Billy clubs: threatening, as if they were used to applying them to others, their craniums, legs, and other extremities. The Billy clubs were not exactly the equivalent of the bright yellow armbands used to denote helpful tourist guides.
One of the men, Frederick Strong, had in fact begun modifying his smile into a grin. It’s been said that when you smile, the whole world smiles with you. But when you grin… the world in general wants to know just exactly what the hell you’re grinning about! And in most cases, they will want you to wipe that grin off your face! Now, buster!
For Jack, this was one of those moments.
In a heavy accent – Hey! We’re talking about London in the Seventeenth Century – Freddie said, “You’re in luck, mate! You’re about to have the honor of serving the Crown!”
The second man, Jock Strong, the strong, silent type, didn’t bother to confirm his brother’s assessment. He was instead using the time honored technique of allowing one person to speak and grab the quarry’s attention, while the silent member of the duo took the physical route. Jock had already closed the distant and grabbed Jack by the arm before Jack had even thought about resisting. Jack simply looked bewildered, while Freddie joined Jock on the other side of Jack, and together begin moving Jack toward the middle of the street.
A two-horse, partially enclosed paddy wagon came around the corner right on cue and quickly pulled up to greet the three pedestrians. The Strong brothers took Jack to the rear of the wagon, where Jack was unceremoniously shoved into the barred wagon by the two strong-arm enforcers.
“In you go, mate! No trouble, now,” Freddie ordered.
Obviously the tourist bureau was going to hear about this treatment, even if perhaps not for another couple of centuries. But with the bureaucracy involved, what can you do? A couple of centuries is pretty much standard waiting time whenever it comes to registering complaints and receiving a useful reply.
Inside the paddy wagon, Jack found himself with two other men. The man to his right and sitting on the makeshift bench Jack had managed to reach after several stumbles and gropes in the darkened carriage, was the most honorable Charles Milson. Mr. Milson was a well-dressed man, a man who was seemingly still in possession of his wits and who was looking upon the activities with an early version of English style aplomb and stiff upper lip. Charlie, if we might call him that -- without any suggestion of giving offense for a lack of protocol -- was watching Jack with something akin to curiosity or even amusement. It was not the sort of intrigue that would ever in polite circles be acknowledged as such – how utterly rude! On the other hand, Charlie's appraisal was genuine and fully authorized by the appearance of Jack’s obvious bewilderment. Jack was also dressed rather funny. A foreigner, Charlie wondered? A Dutch agent, perhaps? A not overly clever Dutch agent who had missed out on or slept through Local Disguises 101?
The second, mobile-incarcerated man sitting across from Jack, was George Brightman. George was by contrast to Charlie a poorly dressed, less educated, frightened, and slightly over-weight individual, who was looking at Jack not with a detached curiosity and/or amusement, but with a sudden and abiding suspicion. Any thought that Milson and Brightman might have something in common (other than their current predicament) should be immediately dismissed. Instead, one should applaud this early manifestation of English equality and the lack of class distinctions… at least in the business end of an early English paddy wagon.
Jack looked at Charlie, trying to gauge the kind of man he was sitting next to. Charlie merely returned Jack’s stare with a wry smile, but otherwise declined to say a word. Brightman, on the other hand, was not about to even make eye contact with Jack. One does not trust strangers; it just isn't done in impolite societies. As a result, this was obviously not likely to become a book reading or current affairs discussion group -- despite the fact that the latter can sometimes be extraordinarily entertaining.
The paddy wagon continued over the rough cobblestone street, rounding several corners, and convincing its occupants (for those who needed such enlightenment) that stumbling along a cobblestone street was often far preferable to riding in a carriage that had never been exposed to the concept of springs or other road-leveling devices. Admittedly, at some point in time, paddy wagons would eventually receive their just due – according to their place at the bottom of the applied technology hierarchy – and be fitted with such modern conveniences. Eventually! But by that time in the far distant future, the original paddy wagon design would likely be resurrected and installed as a new ride at Disneyland. Life is, as they say, all about cycles… if you’ll pardon the pun.
Upon rounding another corner, the carriage with the lousy suspension system suddenly came up short, proving in spades just how important vehicle suspension systems might become. Clearly, it was stopping for yet another pick up. Jack, in his position in the paddy wagon in accordance with the Last In First Out (LIFO) management technique, could see through the back door’s small, barred window. It appeared to Jack that a well-to-do carriage had been stopped by the Strong brothers, and that an elegantly dressed man was being pulled out… rather roughly.
“Keep your grimy hands off me! I’m not resisting! Can’t you see that?” The new recruit, one Edward Bushell by name, was clearly not intimidated by the Strong duo. At the same time, Bushell was sufficiently sophisticated to know when resistance was futile. With considerable stature and bearing, Bushell… without assistance it must be noted … headed for the rear of the paddy wagon.
Katrina Gorlik, Bushell’s companion, an attractive, well-dressed woman, leaned out of the well-to-do carriage and cried, “Edward!” She had been almost asleep in the carriage, had been shaken by the sudden, unexpected events, had never been exposed to the cruder aspects of her adopted society, and in any number of other respects was not ready for this situation.
“Back in the carriage, my love,” Bushell quickly ordered. “Contact Sir Richard. Tell him what’s happened. Beg his assistance.”
After their quick exchange, Edward turned his attention away from Katrina and allowed Freddie to open the rear door to the paddy wagon. Without assistance or encouragement, Edward crawled inside, sat down, kept his chin up, and studiously avoided making eye contact with anyone else.
Brightman, sitting next to Edward, took a moment to size up the immaculate and well-dressed Bushell. Then he asked hesitantly, “But… you’re a gentleman, are you not?”
Charlie suspected that a true gentleman would be unlikely to answer, and offered his own assessment before Edward could be inconvenienced. “Don’t worry, my friend. Gentlemen are seldom detained for long… particularly when they know the likes of those such as… ‘Sir Richard’.” The assessment seemed to be sufficient for Brightman, and with a quick raising and lowering of eyebrows, he sat back and readied himself for the carriage’s continuing journey.
Meanwhile, Edward had hardly glanced at Brightman. But curiously, Charlie’s grin and remark had caught his attention. Looking across the wagon’s interior at Charlie and Jack seated together on the other side, Edward’s casual glance suddenly became an intrigued stare. Now there was the trigger for a memory!
In Edward’s eyes -- in the form of an extraordinarily vivid memory -- Jack and Charlie were standing before him dressed in the garb of Roman soldiers. The two men were clearly bone weary: their faces blackened from the smoke of recent battles, their uniforms streaked with blood and grime. Jack held a lowered sword, but with the stance of being ready to immediately bring it to bear should he be called to do so. Charlie was leaning slightly into the spear he held in his left hand, his right arm wearing a dirty rag as a bandage. The two men were standing side-by-side, their expressions intense and expectant in what must have constituted a momentary lull from the battle. Each was apparently awaiting further orders from the officer before them, someone Edward felt in his innermost core to be himself.
Edward’s eye flickered, his manner softening, as he stared at what had now become two men sitting across from him in a 1670 English paddy wagon. As he watched Jack and Charlie – who had themselves become intrigued by Edward’s attention on them – Edward felt an unaccustomed familiarity.
In his deep, low voice, Edward inquired of Charlie, the one dressed in a more civil fashion, “Have we met before, Sir?”
Charlie could not help but register a slight surprise. But then, as he quickly gathered his wits, answered, “My dear fellow… I don’t think that’s likely.”
The fledgling attempt at conversation was quickly interrupted by a bailiff sitting atop the wagon and next to it ’s driver, who ordered, “Quiet in there! No talking!”
Edward held his tongue, but continued to stare, first at Charlie… and then at Jack. His eyes squinted slightly in the process, until an unexpected smile began to creep across Edward’s face. He began to slowly stroke his chin with one hand… as if he had just recognized something quite extraordinary.
Inside a long hall, forty men stood in two approximate lines. Judging by their dress and manner, it was clear that these forty hearty souls hailed from various and very different walks of life -- and furthermore, in a day and age in which different walks of life were neatly and definitively captured in extreme variations in dress and manner. This group would never be mistaken for the members of a college fraternity.
The forty had been roughly lined up on two sides of a dim, damp room located, as the men eventually learned, in the Sessions House of Old Bailey. Walking between the two lines were the Strong brothers and six other men, all dressed in plain blue policemen uniforms. It was their job to herd, intimidate, keep order, and ensure the ready attention of their wards. In one of the lines stood Charlie, Brightman, Edward, Jack and in addition a man named John Duke Hammond. The latter fellow was a large, muscular man dressed in commoner clothes. He would have been intimidating himself, except for an unseen gentle nature which somehow communicated to the world that they need not fear this particular "Duke".
Lord Thomas Howell, clearly an aristocrat of serious lineage, entered the room and without any fanfare began walking down the corridor between the two lines. Behind him, trailing at a respectful distance – albeit close enough to respond to any and all of Howell’s whims – was Devon Sophing. The latter was, as it turned out, a well-dressed Member of Parliament, but one who was clearly subservient to Howell. Being an MP was simply not yet what it might have been cracked up to be.
Jack watched as Howell turned to one moderately well dressed man, asked him a question (which Jack could not hear), and then with a wry smile, raised his hand in dismissal. The man was immediately escorted out of the room by Jock Strong, but in a comparatively gentle fashion. Jack looked at the rest of the lined-up men, which included commoners, members of the middle class, and the poor -- most of whom were nervous, somewhat bewildered, and ill-prepared for the moment.
The one thing that Jack was suddenly certain of was that it was going to be a long night.
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