A Cast of Peers
New - 22 September 2008
We the Jury, a novel:
A Cast of Peers
The sliding weights suddenly began to slow, then stop, and then start back up the runners. Just below them was the vibrant, auburn hair of Katrina Gorlik (in her modern day incarnation). Katrina was working with the equipment, sweating and breathing hard. With one last extra effort, she raised the weights, and with careful control allowed them to slowly come back down to the resting position. Katrina took a deep breath, and let it out with only a slight diminishment of her typical, lady-like demeanor.
Stepping out of the exercise machine, she stretched some of the muscles she had just been using. She also, with the aid of information gathered out of the corner of her eye, braced for the expected onslaught of clever, witty remarks by the smiling stud-pretender now taking the opportunity to approach her.
It was always the same in health clubs. Attempting to put on moves when the intended female recipient was in the midst of pumping iron was always less successful than when the female was between machines – and hopefully between male companions. Clearly a male’s best lines could easily be missed when the female was focusing elsewhere, but this was never so much the problem when she was between sets of exercises. The latter situation also allowed a standard, much-used (and sadly largely unsuccessful) line – the kind that a misnamed Jock Strong would be inclined to use.
Smiling, and stepping up to Katrina and her machine, he observed, “Sixty pounds, eh? Hey... I’m impressed.”
Katrina turned only her head to look at the man, someone who obviously had spent a great deal of time in a health club. His stylishly tanned face and body (more from artificial sources than from an inconsistent and sometimes inconsiderate sun), along with the blatantly exposed superb physical conditioning said a great deal about Jock. He was likely only marginally employed and despite considerable free time was probably not inclined toward such occasional mental activities as reading and thinking.
Katrina smiled, but then intentionally failed to maintain eye contact. After all… how exactly does one reply to a sixty-pound observation?
Jock was not dissuaded. Persistence was his watchword, in large part because it was his only, albeit meager, hope. “Early in the morning, too! I guess we’re talking about a “quickie”, before heading off for work, eh?”
This was absolutely Jock’s favorite line. It had the appearance of being wholly innocent, but at the same time, it also allowed for the possibility of a slut response such as, “Sure, why not? Your place or mind? Or perhaps in the steam room? Broom closet? I don’t care, just as long as I can give you oral sex.”
Sadly, Jock had never quite encountered just the right woman for his favorite, imagined reply. It's a sad state of affairs in the land when such dreams and expectations are unlikely to be realized within a time span on the order of decades.
Katrina’s reply, however, had at least the virtue of being nebulous. “Something like that,” she replied, still refusing to actually look at Jock. She’d already seen enough.
Despite appearance, Jock thought, ‘Okay, I’ve got her attention. Time for a follow up… like I’m somehow interested in her… and not just her body.’ “So,” Jock said aloud, “What kind of work do you do?”
Katrina smiled, already having a precognitive sense of exactly what effect her answer would have on the intruder. “I’m an aeronautical engineer. What you might call, ‘a rocket scientist’.”
Jock’s managed to ask, “A ‘rocket scientist’? Really?”
As Katrina smiled and shook her head in the affirmative, Jock, his eyes starting to blink rapidly and glaze over indefinitely, began to silently walk away, his ardor dashed momentarily, his expression blank and vaguely uncomprehending. With luck, he would never again remember this brief conversation.
Katrina was enjoying her ‘rocket scientist’ reply, at least this time. It was not always the case, especially if she was even remotely attracted to a man. In the latter cases, it was always just a bit disappointing. But this one had been fun. 'And we're not even done yet,' she thought.
“But I’m out of work right now,” she called out to the dashed conqueror. “Would that make a difference?”
Not bothering to reply, the disheartened Jock continued to walk away. Katrina chuckled to herself. She then glanced at the clock on the wall. Reaching in a small, athlete’s bag near her, she pulled out an official looking piece of paper (government letterhead and the like), and began searching it for a single piece of information. With a slight grimace and another glance at the clock, she quickly picked up her stuff and began heading for the showers. Time for a... dare we say it... a 'quickie'!
George Brightman came running out of his apartment house, heading for the taxi parked at the curb with its motor running. From an obtuse angle, running down the street’s aging sidewalk, John “Duke” Hammond was approaching the same taxi. When their hands both met on the taxi’s rear door handle, Brightman nervously looked up at the bigger man… the big guy was decidedly not smiling.
Brightman decided to appeal to reason. “I called this taxi.”
“Maybe,” Duke managed to avoid conceding. “But I’m in a hurry.”
“So am I,” Brightman countered. “I’m supposed to report for jury duty. I can’t be late!”
Suddenly, Duke’s intensity lessened. “Jury duty, huh? Oh. Well I suppose that might make a difference. Being somewhat civic minded, I’ll tell you what we can do. We’ll let the taxi take you to the courthouse first, where you can pay for the taxi that far. Then I’ll pay from there. How’s that sound?”
“Great!” Brightman was always cordial. “That’s very generous of you.”
“Don’t say another word,” Duke answered. “It’s the least I can do for the model citizen.”
A relieved George got into the taxi and slid over, as Duke, smiling broadly, joined him in the back seat.
Charlie Milson was riding his new, clean, ultimate, lightweight, titanium spoked and platinum inspired superbike down the old, dilapidated, dirty city street. Two stuffed shoulder packs straddling the back tire -- Charlie's admission of pragmatism over the sheer sex appeal of his bicycle. Abruptly, a sporty automobile changed from the left to the right lane just ahead of Charlie. The swerve caused Charlie to very nearly crash and at the same time fall off his precious bike. Coming to a quick halt by the curb, he just managed to avoid a nearby tree. Tree hugging is one thing... tree crashing is another.
Taking a deep, heavy sigh, Charlie stared meaningfully at the offending automobile, the latter who for undoubtedly practical matters of highway safety had failed to stop and aid the bicyclist in order to avoid his sports car from interfering with the all important flow of traffic. Nothing can be allowed to restrict the unfettered flow of goods and services. It's positively un-American... not to mention uneconomical. Of course, the fact that the driver had failed to notice Charlie on his bike in the first place, very likely also played a role in the driver’s failure to stop. Besides, bikes on city streets are a menace! Right?
Charlie decided to make the mental gesture of communicating with the driver (as opposed to the physical gesture of current fashion), by yelling loud enough to make himself feel good (even when the driver could never have been expected to hear), “Mental defective! Learn to drive!” Ah... that felt better.
Nina Lawrence, an attractive young woman dressed for shopping and walking along the sidewalk, had witnessed the entire episode. She came up to Charlie, and asked with clearly genuine concern, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Charlie said with a heavy sigh. Then he took a closer look at Nina. “Yeah… I’m in… great shape!”
Nina smiled as only an attractive woman can. “Yes. It does sound as if you’re okay.” She then began to walk away, a smile still on her face.
“Better than okay,” Charlie offered. “And you haven’t even seen me in my best suit yet. It’s in the backpack. All pressed and everything.”
Nina glanced back, “Obviously nothing’s seriously damaged.”
Charlie could not help but ask, “But what about my pride?”
Nina simply smiled and continued on. Charlie managed a smile nonetheless, and shrugging his shoulders, began to slowly get his back into traffic.
Meanwhile, the world being one of infinite possibilities, laced with vast amounts of irony and humor, was already planning a future, second time around meeting for Charlie and Nina. The plan would depend upon Charlie's coming 15-day (as opposed to 30 second) fame, and Nina's predilection toward quality and honor. But the fledgling plan was already in the capable hands of the Fates... and thus could be banked upon.
Devon Sophing set the two heavy briefcases on the backseat of the car. After closing the back door, he slid into the passenger seat. Lisa Leigh, his paralegal aide was already in the driver’s seat, smiling brightly in Devon’s direction. With a smile just a shade beyond professionalism, she asked, “You have everything?”
“Everything I could carry,” Devon answered. He apparently did not relish a long conversation at this point, his mind otherwise engaged.
But then as the car pulled away from the curb, Devon took a longer, appreciate look at Lisa as she maneuvered the car into the increasingly heavy traffic. Approaching a red light, Lisa slowed the car to a full stop. With a nice smile, she tried again to stifle the silence.
“The boys okay with the defense?”
Devon scoffed. “I didn’t ask them. What other options do they have?”
Lisa’s smile dimmed, and she turned her attention to accelerating away from the now green light. Without looking at her boss, she said, “Hope you’re ready to run the gauntlet. I hear the courthouse steps are already packed.”
Devon laughed. “Don’t worry. I’ll protect you.”
For the first time that morning, they exchanged smiles. Devon continued to keep watching Lisa as she concentrated on driving through the busy streets.
The Denver courthouse at the corner of Bannock and Colfax did indeed sport a sizeable crowd of media and bystanders (some in transit, some having arrived at their destination by intent). The crowd included that strange breed of people who never seemed to have anything better to do than to join any convenient mob scene that had the potential for adding some excitement to their dull, drab, dreary lives. These same people had the time, motive, means, and opportunity to succinctly describe their life philosophies and current opinions on hastily made banners and placards-on-a-stick signs. They thereby contributed to the local economy of the sign makers as well as other locally owned businesses (and in the midst of a recession no less). It was, after all, not yet the next political season, and thus the sign makers needed something to keep their businesses open and functioning. Other related businesses could well afford to have some profit-generating activity as well. The good life does in fact have the characteristic of mutual back scratching at every level.
The shared taxi of Brightman and Duke arrived, and was then promptly ignored by the various journalists as none of the latter had a clue as to the two new arrival’s destination. Duke got out of the taxi first and held the door open for Brightman, who slid across the back seat rather than open his door in the heavy, on rushing and bustling traffic. Duke watched Brightman as he paid the fair through the passenger side front window. (Men almost always pay from outside the taxi, while women almost always pay across the backseat. Probably has to do with men being able to access their wallets easier while standing, while women would prefer their purses in their laps while they diligently search for their money -- and in the midst of the search discover that letter they were supposed to have mailed three weeks ago.)
His fee-for-hire duties completed, Brightman turned to Duke and said, “Thanks again.".
“My pleasure,” Duke answered.
Brightman’s face then took on a puzzled look, as Duke simply stood there, smiling, his hand still on the open taxi door. Then Duke shut the door, while still outside the taxi.
Duke said, simply, “I’ve got jury duty, too.”
The big man turned, not quite laughing in Brightman’s face, and headed up the broad stairs into the Courthouse. Brightman stood on the sidewalk for another full thirty seconds, his mouth hanging open, as he watched the Duke’s back… and as it turned out, not for the first... or last time.
Jack was already in the jury processing room. He checked in with a male clerk, who quickly identified Jack and directed him appropriately. As the clerk looked to the next arrival, Jack walked further into the room, found an empty seat, and sat down, taking the next moment to glance around and survey the scene. Everyone appeared to be unusually civil, some smiling, a few polite conversations here and there. As it turned out, Jack had managed to sit next to Lola Tinsle, a little old lady busy at her knitting. As Jack had sat down and after he had proved not to be an ogre or the understudy for Attila the Hun, Lola made a quick decision and reverted to her friendly-at-any-cost style.
“I’ve never been on a jury. Have you?”
Jack was never adverse to casual conversations, and Lola was as far from threatening as is possible in the human species. Clearly not the ravenous beast of Jack's dream, either. Accordingly, Jack answered in a friendly manner, “No, I haven’t. And we may not be this time. They may not select us.”
Lola was thinking that they had already been selected, else why would they be here this morning? Not understanding something was never a reason for Lola to interrupt the flow of conversation. Still… an actual response to Jack’s statement would have indeed seriously impeded things. She would have to try another tact. Continuing her knitting, she remarked, “Can you believe what those kids did? Killing all those people with their horrid experiments? Oh my, oh my! I really don’t know what this world is coming to!”
Jack looked askance at Lola. Not quite sure who in the world he was talking to, he managed only a brief reply, “Well… I suppose it remains to be seen if they’re actually guilty or not.” For several moments Jack looked at Lola and wondered if she were perhaps a plant, someone that might draw some novice like Jack into making statements that could later be literally be used in a court of law. Jack was not in fact the most trusting dude on the block. He had perhaps seen too much to ever assume the world was a friendly and hospitable place.
Meanwhile, Lola had again ignored Jack’s comment. Leaning forward, she began to search her large purse for something… a pen, perhaps, or maybe a notebook, a set of encyclopedias, something she would never dare leave home without. Jack took the moment to look away, silently relieved that Lola had put her brain on vibrate mode only, at least for the moment.
It was then Jack noticed the distinctly attractive woman sitting across from him and who had been observing Jack’s interaction with Lola. Jack smiled slightly, and received an answering smile from… he would soon learn her name… Lin Sue. Her name not withstanding, she did not have the distinctive appearance of being Oriental, but could probably have easily passed in any one of several cultures. Lin’s beauty was a subtle one, but the kind that opens a LOT of doors. Well... most of the time.
Two days prior, Lin Sue had been sitting in a chair facing the littered and hopelessly confused desk of the redoubtable John Robinson, Channel Seven's most exalted news producer. Lin was trying very hard to smile and be cordial, but Robinson’s demeanor managed to lack warmth and be sinister at the same time. It was hard to smile at. And for a job interview, one would have thought a certain degree of greater amiability would be part and parcel of the conversation – although the nature of this particular interview did have an extraordinary set of circumstances surrounding it. Robinson was even now attempting to put it all into context for the attractive lady sitting before him.
“I’m sure you can appreciate that in a major television market such as the Denver one, that we cannot hire just anyone fresh out of school. Even when -- as in your case -- they’re older, wiser and more experienced in life than say your average college graduate. We cannot even stretch things to allow hiring a member of a minority.” Robinson had always prided himself on being blunt. Why this would be a matter of pride was never adequately explained, but John took it as a matter of faith that it should be according such honors. Any self-suspecting, arrogant individual has the inalienable right to decide to be proud of any consistent personality trait that they’ve developed.
Lin Sue had already begun mentally packing up to leave, when Robinson did a near perfect, calculated pivot.
“However... we do appreciate very much your informing us of your possible lack of immediate availability for a position with us… due to your recent selection for jury duty. That sort of thing speaks quite well of you.”
Lin smiled. Honesty apparently did make the best policy. Well, maybe. Let's talk about it later.
Robinson glanced down, not quite ready to combine eye contact and the utterance of his next words. “In fact, I must admit to being rather intrigued by the possibilities. If you were selected as a member of the jury... for what is plausibly one of the trials of the century…” The words hung there for several seconds. “An insider report could be enormously valuable, both to us, and of course, to your career.”
It was then that Robinson looked up at Lin Sue. He was now very interested in her reaction. But about all that he could read was one of surprise and puzzlement.
“But even if I’m selected for the jury," Katrina finally managed to say, "Isn’t it likely that we could be sequestered? It’s not like I could come in and report daily... even if that were allowed... which I assume would not be.”
Robinson smiled in the traditional “no problemo” style. “Of course. It’s a fair bet the jury will be sequestered. But we do have a few tricks.”
Lin Sue turned her head slightly, trying for a slightly different point of view. “I wouldn’t want to do anything illegal.”
“Absolutely not,” Robinson scoffed in a reassuring sort of way. “Neither would we. But the fact remains that the freedom of speech, not to mention the freedom of the press, are absolutely basic tenets of the Constitution of the United States. This is something we must always keep in mind, despite any… temporary… or ill-considered rulings by the court on such matters. Timely reporting is important. …as is having just the right access to what’s really going on."
For several very long seconds, Lin Sue smiled bleakly at Robinson.
Lin Sue’s bleak smile abruptly vanished as she roused herself and looked around the room of prospective jurors. During her memory reverie, Jack had apparently been staring at her, but then leaned back as if to survey the rest of the room. Suddenly, he could not show any interest in Lin Sue. And for the sake of appearing casual, he was about to stretch our his arms, with one arm finding its way to rest behind Lola in the traditional male gesture of initiating the first romantic move on one's date. That's when he realized who his arm was going behind, and caught himself just in time. Lin smiled as he hastily retracted the arm.
The gesture had put Jack slightly ill at ease. He was bound and determined not to be caught at having stared unabashedly at the best looking woman in the room. Accordingly, he would have to continue to innocently glance about the room, hardly seeing anything, certainly not staring in just one direction or at one particular, attractive woman. It occurred to Jack that in order to make his subterfuge work he would have to alight his attention on some other person… rather like manufacturing an alibi. He accordingly focused on the man in a new, pressed suit. Suddenly Jack's polite smile vanished into the abyss.
Across the room Charlie Milson and Duke Hammond were sitting with two seats between them. Jack’s mouth slowly began to drop, as his eyes widened.
It was all coming back to him. The noise, the smoke, the cries and screams of battle seemingly every where. Early Roman soldiers -- notably earlier incarnations of Jack, Charlie and Duke -- were rushing toward the Sublican Bridge in ancient Rome, trying to reorganize the bridge's defenders amidst the smoke and confusion. Over the hill, Etruscan soldiers were seen descending in large numbers toward the bridge. It was the late 6th century B.C., and Jack was reliving a strong memory of the event.
Jack suddenly blinked and straightened his posture. The vision was gone. Jack was still sitting wide-eyed, staring off into space, when Lola brought him back to current reality.
“And the son of a great man! It’s simply disgraceful!”
Jack, not fully returned from the wars, could only ask, “Who?”
Lola smiled sweetly, but said nothing. Conversation was never her strong point. Unsolicited observations and comments; absolutely. But nothing requiring comprehension of another person’s words. Too risky. Too confusing.
Jack turned to face forward, closed his eyes, leaned back, and breathed deeply. For just a moment his body shuddered slightly.
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