New - 22 September 2008
We the Jury, a novel:
The jurors were momentarily alone on the juror’s bus, as it sat undisturbed in the secure holding area of the Denver Federal Court House. For just a brief spate of time, their escorts (aka jailers) were leaving the jurors in peace. There were, apparently, some incredibly important decisions that first needed to be made by their escorts concerning meals, scheduling, and overtime considerations… as opposed to the rather mundane task of providing security and ferrying the jury to its enclave in one of downtown hotels. (The exact identity of the hotel was, of course for obvious security reasons, never released to the public… but nevertheless this information appeared on eighty-four different websites within roughly eight hours of the jurors first entering the hotel by a back door and being taken to their rooms on their very own private floor.)
On the bus, meanwhile, there were no decisions being made; just the heavy silence of stunned, pre-decision bewilderment. The jurors were still experiencing the sudden comedown from being intently focused on important matters, trying to sort conflicting and emotionally charged arguments, and then suddenly being herded like cattle into a mandatory quiet zone. Admittedly, these were prized, very expensive beef cattle, but merely meat on the hoof nonetheless.
The momentary quietness of the bus and the sudden lack of screaming expressions of outrage by spectators and its assault on the sensory organs of the jurors were, however, having a positive effect. A semblance of sanity was slowly but irresistibly returning. Tentatively, several began to glance around at the others, looking for mutual support. There was no initial eagerness to speak, but then Henry Henley, a naturally verbose and demonstrative man, could no longer limit himself to knowing glances and heavy sighs.
“Brother, what a day!”
Okay… It was not terribly profound, but it was enough to initiate and perhaps even encourage the beginnings of a conversation. Greater profundity has been achieved in the past from even less profound initial comments. One is reminded, for example, of one great philosopher’s initial comment, “Oh, shit”… which was then followed by a world famous dialogue concerning death and taxes.
Back at the bus, Thena had taken the bait. “All those children. The families. It must have been terrifying.”
In response and in a low voice appropriate for his immediate comrades only, Bill Plumstead asked, “Yeah, but what’s the point? All I heard was four overly emotional witnesses. I’ll admit it was very moving, but not a single witness actually connected the defendants to the crime!”
Thomas Veer could not accept such an observation. “Can you blame them? They underwent an incredible trauma!”
“I’m not arguing that,’ Plumstead countered. “But it’s the defendants on trial; not the scope of the disaster.”
Walklet, following the conversation, was genuinely perplexed. “But isn’t their story part of the trial?”
“Not as far as I can see,” Plumstead answered.
Charlie Milson then interrupted them. “Better hold it down. Our jailors are coming. I don’t think they want us talking about the trial.”
The others shrugged in agreement, just as two guards and a driver boarded the bus. With all the really relevant issues now under control, the driver started the bus and began to leave the protected courtyard and enter the city street.
It was at this point when the quiet introspection and lowered voices were suddenly extinguished; the bus had just run across, so to speak, a phalanx of demonstrators. Police officers had managed to clear a narrow path for the bus, but groups on both sides were still yelling and shoving and trying to make their presence felt. The police were clearly choosing discretion as the better part of valor, and thereby allowing the demonstrators to convey any thoughts or gestures to which the police might have found themselves in agreement.
However, before the allegedly democratic voice of the mob was able to make itself heard, one demonstrator, the lone anarchist of the group, screamed, “It’s not the defendants who kill! It’s the government! They’re trying to kill us all!”
That statement of that one’s man philosophy really didn’t go over that well with the mob. Mobs are, in general, not prone to the give and take of quiet reflection and thoughtful analysis. And thus two other demonstrators promptly turned on the anarchist, with one of the latter using the flat part of his sign to shove the unruly man back. It probably should be noted that the sign read, in multiple, heavy felt-tip-pen style the words, “Uphold Law and Order; Convict the Bastards!”
As the anarchist was shoved aside to suffer the fate of… well… anarchy… a monk-robed, dirty individual leapt up and grabbed one of the bus windows.
“Who,” he yelled, “stood for justice when Jesus was condemned?”
Two police officers responded to the Christ freak -- after having ignored the anarchist -- by rushing to drag the man from the bus, while the crowd continued to scream for blood, weep uncontrollably, or hold up signs with all manner of exhortations. One evoked, curiously, the possible culinary benefits of “eating at Jimmy’s”. Ah… the spirit of the true entrepreneur.
On the bus, several jurors (Walklet, Brightman, Henley, and Lola) recoiled from the windows with horror. Lola was especially terrified and tried to condense herself into an inconspicuous ball of yarn. Seeing her reaction, Thena moved to Lola’s side and began to try and comfort her. Most of the other jurors were surprised and shocked by the demonstration, but remained stoic, swallowing their fears and trying to appear unaffected. Plumstead and Damask exchanged studied glances, as Duke suddenly let his frustration become known.
“Back off, dirt-bags! We’re the jury; not the defendants!”
The others looked at Duke, smiled in silent agreement, but otherwise said nothing… until Plumstead looked at Damask.
“They’re not going to make this easy for us, are they?”
“You got that right, man!” Damask shook his head in disgust.
In many respects the two men momentarily bonded by exchanging wry smiles. Nothing like a trip to hell and back to encourage male bonding, even one between races. In a crisis, everyone needs someone to watch their back.
Meanwhile Lin Sue was looking around the crowd as if searching for something. Then she spotted the Channel 7 TV news producer, John Robinson, near one of the TV vans. Lin Sue leaned back and closed her eyes, one hand coming up to massage the bridge or her nose. Her only thought was that ‘no, they were not going to make this easy.’
The hotel accommodations could not be overly faulted. Not only were the rooms clean and comfortable, with one spacious room per juror and all of the juror rooms cordoned off from any possibility of another hotel guest intentionally or unintentionally wandering in their now private enclave, but there was also a mini-lounge where the twelve could congregate for such group activities as board games, television watching, as well as life and death struggles for control of the all important remote control.
Toward the end of a very quiet but nutritious dinner, all twelve jurors found themselves in their mini-lounge, their unanimous presence an unspoken but intentional gesture toward solidarity and mutual support. It was also preferable to being alone in their rooms, the latter that was just a bit scary right now. Private room service – which was available -- had absolutely no appeal at this point. Solidarity was the watchword.
There was no group discussion, however, just the nearness and in view presence of the others. Some sat alone, while others sat in pairs and threesomes. Three guards were in the room as well, always at discrete distances, but also casually watching in the event of a general melee, or an attempt to bolt for unknown bars and pubs.
Eventually, the silent treatment wore very, very thin.
Damask and Plumstead had been quietly sitting at one table, where Plumstead had been reviewing his juror’s notepad. Taking a drink of his free soft drink… the latter a fringe benefit of his pseudo-incarceration… he leaned back, trying to see the notes in the book from a slightly different perspective… about three inches to the right. Very quietly, he remarked, almost to himself, “I can’t figure out where all that jet fuel might have come from. The burning was all over the adjoining building, but there was no opening between the buildings, was there? At least I don’t think so.”
“Without looking at him,” Damask answered the largely rhetorical question in an equally conspiratorial tone, “Not the last time I saw anything like that. It’s definitely not code.”
Plumstead glanced at his tablemate, without ever turning his head. “What are you talking about?”
Damask avoided eye contact as well, his eyes on the magazine he was perusing. “I used to be a building inspector… that is, until the graft and crap got to be just too damned much. I’ve done those buildings… a couple of times. And there were no openings between them then.”
Plumstead looked down. “But how did the fire…”
Damask replied, flipping through his own set of pages, “All I know is that the sidewalls of those old buildings are heavy rock. And what we’ve seen so far tells me they’re still standing.”
Plumstead took another swig, his mind meandering along several lines of inquiry. “So how did the fire cross between the two?”
Damask leaned back. “No idea.”
As the two men begin to lean toward one another and exchange other concerns, across the room a guard picked up his cell phone.
Jack and Lin Sue were sitting at another table with Lola. Lola seemed content to knit, to weave her tangled webs in ancient and traditional ways, while her tablemates ate and talked about anything but the trial. (Lola had said when she sat down that her brain was already brim full from the trial… there was just no more room… at least until some of it had been digested.)
Lin Sue had one arm resting on the table, while the other wielded a fork in an apparently random search of the next morsel to be consumed. “I was the classic non-traditional student,” she was saying, “signing up for classes with kids fifteen years younger than me. I hadn’t studied for years, but I still managed to beat them out. Of course, when I applied to virtually every TV station in the state, the young lovelies were way ahead of me. The kids will work for virtually anything. They figure double a baby-sitter's wages is pretty cool. ”
“I don’t know,” Jack countered, will all due gallantry. “You look to me like you could compete with them on any basis, including looks.”
Lin smiled at the compliment… which, incidentally, had gone completely over Lola’s head. “Why thank you, kind sir,” she replied with sincerity.
Jack then added some sugar-free frosting. “I also think that brains win out in the end. At least I hope so, as that’s probably my strongest suit.”
“Or luck,” Lin added, her tone thoughtful and laced with a dash of guilt. “Like being on the right jury. As if that might help one’s career.”
Jack started as if he had just been found out. But from Lin’s unfocused gaze, he guessed she was talking about someone or something else. Jack was accordingly able to reply with a bit more calm, “You sound like my wife.”
Lin looked at him intently. “Is that good?”
Now there was a question that could open a dozen or so Pandora's boxes, maybe even her hope chest. It could be dodged, but it was also an invitation to fess up on every thing. The only suspense came from whether or not Jack would accept the invite. As it turned out, he kept it brief and thus nebulous, and seasoned it with a laugh.
“Sometimes," he admitted. But then he changed subjects, "But I’m afraid if we end up with anything but a “guilty” verdict... Then being here will not be very lucky for us.”
Lin Sue showed immediate surprise. “You think that’s a possibility?”
“Why not? You know the drill: ‘Innocent until proven otherwise.’ And we haven’t even heard from the Defense.”
Lin looked surprised and said without thinking, “But if the authorities are convinced, that’s pretty damning evidence… Isn’t it?”
Lola suddenly stopped knitting and looked up, her face bright and shining. “Oh, I think this is all so very exciting. Usually most people don’t ask for my opinion. I guess it’s the price of growing old. But now… It’s kind of nice.”
Jack and Lin Sue both looked at Lola… and then to each other, smiling bleakly as the “little old lady” returned to her knitting.
Across from them, Olivia was sitting with Thena. Not unexpectedly, it was Olivia leading the conversation. She was also expressing a certain frustration with the whole thing.
“Being the last alternate is not exactly my concept of the ideal. I get to endure the whole trial, but then I probably won’t have any say in the verdict. Even if I do make the full jury, then there’s a real chance that we’ll lose just one more and they’ll have to start all over without us.”
“That is tough,” Thena agreed. “At the same time, I must admit that I’m not looking forward to making any decisions on this.”
Olivia grimaced. “On the one hand, it’s kind of exciting… a whole lot better than sitting in the courtroom, trying to see over some fat guy with a cowboy hat. I’ll grant that there’s a lot of boredom, with the lawyers haggling over everything from the price of tea in China to the legal definition of sex. But then, you just never know what to expect.”
Thena was about to answer Olivia, when she looked up to see the door open and Gerry Mander and two policemen enter the room. The new arrivals were led by the guard with the cell phone directly to the table where Plumstead and Damask had been surreptitiously comparing notes. The two jurors looked up at Mander and the policemen.
Mander, clearly in charge, asked, “May I see what you’re writing?”
“Sure,” Plumstead shrugged.
Mander took the notebooks, and studied them for a moment. “If you gentlemen would accompany me.”
Damask straightened up and asked the obvious, “Who are you?”
“Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Gerry Mander.”
“Where are we going?” Plumstead was suddenly uncomfortable.
“To see the judge,” Mander answered.
“I don’t think so,” Damask replied, already pulling the gauntlet out and making it ready to throw. “Did the judge ask to see us?
“As a matter of fact, he did. But it was more of an order. I’m afraid he won't be taking ‘no’ for an answer.”
As the policemen took positions behind each of them, Plumstead looked at Damask, who seemed to relent… albeit with a very heavy frown on his face. As they stood up, Plumstead could not refrain from some form of defense. “We were simply trying to look at and understand the evidence. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?”
Damask assumed that the dye was cast, but did want to get one dig in. “Is there some rule about our not using our brains in this?”
Both comments were noted, recorded for the archives, filed in the Akashic Records, and summarily dismissed with an icy silence. When the summary dismissal became more than evident, the two former jurors turned to follow Mander of the room.
Nearby and in the perfect position to follow the conversation, Edward was sitting next to Katrina. Edward leaned forward as if he were about to rise and say something… when Katrina put her hand on his arm. Glancing at her, and seeing immediately her good intentions, Edward smiled awkwardly and leaned back to await the final count.
Plumstead and Damask walked out of the room, both shaking their heads, while Mander carried their notebooks like a spear on a long trek. As it turned out, the notebooks of every juror were henceforth kept under lock and key during the course of the trial, lest any juror contemplate the inexcusable sin of attempting to put things into perspective before all the evidence and testimony had been presented. Once the case went to the jury, they would have full access to the notebooks they had so carefully compiled in the courtroom. But not now.
As the doors closed, the other jurors looked at each other, the mood suddenly subdued, an icy chill from the mountains seemingly having invaded the room and caused frostbite on any number of extremities.
Under her breathe and almost covered by taking yet another mouthful held just before her lips, Lin Sue mused, “They told me I was the first alternate, number thirteen in the poll. I guess this means I’m one of the twelve now.”
Jack seemingly paid no notice to Lin’s remark, but did momentarily make eye contact… and that act spoke volumes of understanding.
Lola suddenly looked up, glancing back between Jack and Lin Sue. In her wonderment voice, she asked, “What happened?”
Lin Sue, her eyes widening slightly, began eating with more gusto than normal.
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