New - 22 September 2008
We the Jury, a novel:
Jack opened his eyes and immediately caught his breath. He was back in the Sessions House of the Old Bailey. There were now less than thirty men in the room, as Howell and Sophing went down the line, selecting, rejecting, and attempting to wave away the fumes of body odors with sophisticated waves of their handkerchiefs. Howell would look at each man, sniff, use his hanky, quickly make the decision to either select or reject, and then move on. Edward, standing next to Jack, was frowning heavily and had begun without turning his head to quietly talk to Jack, the latter an alleged total stranger to upper class Edward.
“This is unbelievable!" Edward exclaimed. "I had no idea…”
Jack glanced at him. “You’re lost too, huh?”
“Do you see what they’re doing?” Edward might have pointed out the obvious to Jack, but instead avoided raising his arm lest the two of them obtain unwarranted and undesired attention. “They’re only selecting those they can easily manipulate. Anyone with a backbone is quickly dismissed.”
Jack was still on shaky ground. “Select them for what?”
Edward’s eyes never left the proceedings being conducted by Howell. Under his breath, he muttered, “Jury duty.”
Jack’s eyes flashed. “Oh. Interesting selection process.”
“Reprehensible,” Edward agreed. Then shrugging his shoulders, he mentally stepped back. For several seconds, neither man said anything. In that space, Edward’s expression went from disgust to… well… intrigue. He almost smiled.
“Reprehensible, yes… of course. But! What if…” For a moment his voice trailed off. Then he added, “Perhaps my dear fellow, this is a unique opportunity for us, a way to serve the Crown and our country in a most extraordinary fashion. Wouldn’t that be interesting?”
Jack turned his head to look at Edward, who was still watching the proceedings, but now with a mischievous smile developing. Jack turned to follow Edward’s gaze.
Howell, with Sophing in tow, had crossed the room to approach Edward. Howell stopped in front of Edward, his approach just slightly less dismissive.
“A gentleman, no doubt.”
Edward only stared back. Then he bowed his head slightly, his strong demeanor gone and replaced with a weak, ingratiating smile and a supplicant’s nervousness. Howell quickly became disenchanted with his initial assessment.
“Your name?” The boredom in his voice was abruptly apparent.
Edward stumbled with the words, “Edward Bushell, if it please my Lord.”
“It doesn’t particularly,” Howell replied. “But you are a loyal subject of the Crown, are you not?"
“Of course, my Lord. Loyal, yes. Whatever is required by my Lord.”
“And when a guilty verdict is necessary? When it is time to condemn a gang of criminals?”
“Whatever pleases my Lord...”
“Excellent! It will be nice to have a… gentleman on the jury. It will hopefully reduce the rather pungent odor we oft times encounter.” Turning to Freddie, Howell gestured toward Edward. “Another selectee.”
Howell then turned to Jack. “And you, Sir, do you personally know a William Penn or a William Mead?”
Jack’s eyebrows went up in surprise. Quickly, he glanced toward Edward, who had turned to intently watch him. Then, Jack’s mouth starting to slowly open, he turned back to Howell. Jack coughed to clear his throat, and avoiding Howell’s penetrating stare, waved his hand slightly.
“No, Sir. I don’t personally know ‘em.”
“Or a criminal group calling themselves Quakers?”
“Don’t recollect meeting him either.”
Howell hesitated. “You seem a little slow and confused. Do you have your wits about you?”
Jack swallowed before answering. “I’m a stranger in town. Just arrived…”
“From the country,” Howell smiled. “Excellent. Fresh blood.”
Turning again to Freddie, Howell again gestured that one more juror had been found. As they moved on down the line… Devon Sophing glancing curiously at Jack for a brief second, before moving on. As Howell and Sophing concentrated on other candidates, Jack turned to glance at Edward. For a moment, their eyes met on common ground… yet once again.
Jack was abruptly interrupted by Howell’s voice.
“And your stand on the death penalty?”
Jack had to look back to discover himself in the Denver courtroom, one filled to capacity. At the defense table he could see two young men and their defense attorneys. ‘Oh, yeah,’ Jack thought, ‘This is the Pence trial!’
Jack was suddenly startled to see Devon Sophing as one of the defense attorneys, as if the latter had had a change of heart and switched from aide to the prosecutor to that of defending the innocent. Or possibly, Devon was still aiding Howell. That would remain to be seen. Surely a character arc spanning centuries would be more pronounced... albeit not necessarily.
Jack then looked up at Howell in his pin-stripe suit – the guy always knew how to dress stylishly, in whatever era. But before Jack could reply, Sophing wearily got to his feet again and objected.
“Objection. Again. The prosecution continues to ask this same question, and I must continue to object. My clients are both opposed to the death penalty, and therefore their peers… by any definition…”
“Your honor! This is getting us nowhere," Howell countered. "We have before us one of the most heinous crimes in history. Anyone convicted of such a callous crime is obviously not going to be in favor of anything resembling the death penalty – particularly when it might be applied to them!”
Jack turned to see the judge’s reaction, and almost swallowed his teeth. It was Jack’s nemesis, Judge Samuel Starling – the same bum that had failed to even listen, much less give credence to Jack’s legal arguments. Jack had not realized that when any layman has the audacity to defend himself and appear pro se, he thereby insults the whole of the legal profession by suggesting that one might prefer to retain their legal rights and not casually hand them over to someone whose primary mission was to justify… if you’ll pardon the expression… his or her's exorbitant fees. Jack should have known that the judge was going to provide far less latitude to the layman than to the attorney. The latter, after all, had paid his dues… and would continue to do so. There was precious little a layman could contribute to the legal profession’s ongoing quest for prestige, status, and cold hard cash, other than pay the legal bills and keep his mouth otherwise shut! Thus the gross bias on the part of judges against the likes of Jack and his attempts at even a minimal sovereignty.
Meanwhile, just to add insult to injury, the bailiff was Frederick Strong, the strong arm of Jack’s personalized 1670 London. This constant infiltration of events over three centuries ago into Jack’s modern day reality was becoming a bit too precognitive and coincidental for Jack’s tastes. It had all the earmarks of a profound lesson to be learned, and therefore must be resisted accordingly. Of course, Jack could simply be imaging all of the past, without ever attributing any validity to it having actually occurred. That seemed to be the wiser course of thought. If one could rationalize what might have been reincarnation, and make it something on the mundane level of dreams and déjà vu… then all the better. A far simpler solution. And it avoids inconvenient epiphanies.
Meanwhile, Judge Starling was right on track with his own special brand of modus operandi. Clearly bored by innovative and plausible arguments (but clearly outside the mainstream), he simply said, “Overruled.”
Howell was appropriately appreciative. “Thank you, your honor.” Turning to Jack, the smile fashioned for the exclusive benefit of the judge slipped notably, as he asked Jack, “What is your line of work, Sir?”
Sophing was quick to object. “Is this relevant?”
Howell was clearly disgusted. “This is ridiculous! Of course, it’s relevant! I would not ask an irrelevant question! Your honor, this pathetic attempt by the Defense to delay these proceedings… when all of the Defense’s frivolous motions having already been dismissed out of hand…”
Judge Starling raised a hand. “Cool your jets, Mr. Howell. As for the Defense’s objection… if that’s what it was, Mr. Sophing… it is overruled. Again.”
“Thank you, your honor,” Howell noted, with a degree of genuine appreciation. Turning back to Jack, he asked “Now… where was I?”
Jack decided to be truthful, if not skipping about a bit. “I also own a landscape company. We do Feng Shui designs and…”
“Are you asking to be excused?” Howell was suddenly hostile.
Jack was momentarily taken back. His mind filled immediately with the conversation he’d had with Edward… or imagined he’d had… whatever… the one back in 1670. He could still see Edward’s approving expression of Jack’s replies, the ones that ensured him a seat on the Penn and Mead jury. He would also feel his wife's breath on his neck.
“No, sir,” Jack immediately answered, knowing that Terri would be very proud of him for this answer. “My wife can run the business if I’m on the jury. It’s also our slow season. It’s my belief that if I’m selected for a jury, then it’s my duty to serve.”
“Then can I assume that you’re a supporter of law and order… that seeking justice is important to you?”
Jack smiled slightly, as he thought of beheading Judge Starling and thereby supporting law, order, justice, and the joys of vengeance in a single stroke (pardon the pun). Then there was the vision of similar acts against a half-dozen or so attorneys. Jack's answer, however, did not convey his true feelings. “Is there an alternative?”
Howell smiled. He liked Jack. His kind of juror.
“No objections to this juror, your honor.”
Sophing then rose, and with a heavy sigh, picked up a pad of paper and laboriously walked toward Jack. Jack frowned, somehow already knowing what Devon Sophing was all about.
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