Until Proven Guilty
Ascending the courthouse steps, I was acutely aware but ignoring of the hundreds of lenses, bathing me in a sea of hot, white flashes. I wore a sporting blue suit, with an eldridge-knot done up tie. My sunken eyes, matted, greasy hair, and sullen features signified my lack of bail, and to the paparazzi, my undoubtable guilt. Not that it wasn’t a fair assessment; the amount of evidence against me was immense, and some of it went beyond even the circumstantial. I kept my head low as my path became barricaded with reporters, my vision slightly blurry from the intense flashing of cameras. Surrounded and barely pushing through the crowd, questions shot off towards me in rapid succession, the growing degradation with each one acting as the catalyst to the next, each becoming more bold and resolute in my guilt.
“Mr. Jameson, Stan Jameson, how does it feel to be convicted of the first degree murder of your wife-“
“Stan. Sandy Fletcher, Channel News. How does it feel to have an impending 20 year minimum as this trial begins to”-
As more comments, increasing in aggressiveness began to sound off, a fat slovenly man emerged to the front of the right of the crowd, and in a loud, mocking tone, screamed out:
“Stan. If you survive the chair, tell me about it, alright?”
A boorish remark, and yet one that elicited a hearty laughter from the crowd. I didn’t even look back; denying him the satisfaction of a reaction from me. The crowd of reporters was in hysterics. I kept my head down, as I had been instructed to not let them photograph my face. Security in dark blue suits pushed reporters out of my way and I was ushered inside the courthouse.
Lifting my neck, I realized I was safe from the persecution of the flashing cameras, but was now subject to a much more aggressive persecution that began, presently, when my personal lawyer Mr. Tuff, approached me.
“What the fuck happened; you didn’t let them see your face, did you?”
Mr. Tuff had quite the reputation as to the aforementioned statement; a dismissive, rhetorical question to break you down, followed sharply with another question to keep you in line. This tactic was used thoroughly throughout his career, from when I had seen him use it at the office on co-workers, to cross-checking witnesses, and finally, although I’d never thought I’d see the day, on his best friend in his time of need and pitiful desperation. I cast my eyes downward, dejectedly. I kept my face down as I spoke, my eyes cast away from his countenance of contempt.
“We are friends, or at least we used to be,” I started, my voice emotionless and resolute, “and I know you. I don’t need you to be cold and calculating with me, Vance. I just don’t need it at all.”
I looked up, matching his furious green eyes with my pair of emotionless, placating, big brown eyes, and yet he still flared his nostrils, his voice becoming angry quite quickly. “And what if I have to, Stan, to get through this? What would you say, huh?” Vance clutched onto my lapels and tugged at my shirt, pulling us in close so that no one could hear him speak. “You can’t even tell me you didn’t kill her. Tell me you didn’t fucking kill Sarah,” he said, his voice higher now, on the verge of tears that he would never cry, “and I’ll stop being cold and calculating. But of course you won’t, Stan. You won’t even give me a reason why.”
I said nothing, and I questioned again to myself whether even this comment had been rhetorical.
Mr. Tuff regained his composure slightly, letting go of my shirt and taking a step back. “You know where you have to be right now; I will talk with Jenna about cutting you some kind of deal here. Make sure not to speak to anyone.”
I looked him in the eyes this time. “I don’t want you to talk to the people trying to put me away and make a deal. I want you to win this case.”
“You would be the only one,” Mr. Tuff said as he turned around and walked away, muttering more obscene remarks as he disappeared around a bend. I was unfazed by this exchange; I would not let him undermine my innocence under the eyes of the law. Personal opinions aside, I turned to my right and ascended a staircase towards my trial room, security guards standing a respectful distance behind me and yet still tailing me all the way to the room. As I waited I noticed a tall attractive woman walking towards me, and placed her at once as my prior secretary, Ms. Baulder. Her shoulders stood tall, her arms crossed over her chest in a defensive, judging manner.
“Ms. Baulder,” I chimed, attempting to inject into my voice some former familiarity and joy, “thank you for coming. You have no idea how much it means to me.”
A peculiar thing happened presently as I finished what I had said. It was in her reaction to the very notion that she should support such a defamed and terrible man in his time of need, and yet wouldn’t talk to the effect, as to remain courteous in terms of her past business with me. This created a sort of rupture on her face, of flashes of anger that subsided, a furrow in the brow that passed, and her mouth opening and closing as if pulled time and time again from an invisible string. Her eyes became wide and her nostrils flared as she began to realize that she had stood next to me without speaking for a very long time, and yet couldn’t still be helped to utter a single word. I smiled again and nodded, releasing her from her obligation to speak, and allowing her to press on without a single word.
A part of me wished to be sad as a cause of this exchange, as I had been quite fond of Ms. Baulder and had wished her the best while working at the firm, but I still couldn’t find myself able to feel any sort of emotion to match her anger and resentment. I found myself straightening my posture, and walking on.
As I arrived to my hall early, I decided to sit just outside of it, back straight and arched vertically, chin up and a resounding look of content on my face. A well-proportioned man sat next to me, wearing a cheap suit and with a long, unkempt beard. I ignored him for a period of time, but turned as he began talking, addressed at me and yet not facing me, as if he was telling a story to a group of young boys around a campfire and wanted to appear lost within his own words.
“Parole hearing today.” His voice was comfortingly interested in conversation and not dismissive, as had been the theme today. “Third one to date.”
“Nervous?” I asked him, genuinely interested and bored of waiting for Mr. Tuff to reconvene with me.
“I was, the first time,” he talked back. Slow words, and a careful tongue. I wondered if serving a sentence had made him more careful about the way he spoke. “I thought I had had a chance back then. For my type, these hearings are just semantics.”
“Murderers,” he said, and the way he articulated the word scared me more than anything else I had heard today. “I suppose it’s all the well. My life for his.”
I sat back a little and relaxed my posture, no longer clawing at the pretense of innocence with this man.
“Do you regret it?” I asked him.
“If I had the chance, I would’ve done the same thing,” he said, and I smiled, knowing he was just like me. “I just wouldn’t have gotten caught.”
A guard in blue approached us and we fell silent. Motioning to the man next to me, this man akin to my thinking was taken away me, carried down a hall and to his hearing. I sat in silence a few moments, and then Mr. Tuff rounded the bend and walked towards me briskly.
“I did it,” he said, proud of himself and yet still full of resentment, “I got you a deal. Second degree, ten years.”
I shook my head immediately. “No, that will not do. I won’t go away for this.”
“Alright, Stan,” Mr. Tuff said, “you tell me you didn’t do it, and I will fight for you. But I know that-“
“I didn’t do it, Vance,” I said, my voice pleading and filled with emotion.
“Fuck you, Stan,” he responded, “you piece of shit. You plead guilty and serve the time. Sarah, she-“
Vance’s tears filled his eyes, but he would never allow them to fall.
“We all loved her.”
I looked at him with no emotion. His gaze confirmed his state of mind; his total hate of every fiber of my being. No longer did he see the friend that stayed late most nights to help him with his cases; the friend that got too helped him the one time he got too drunk at The Following, and got him home safely; and the friend that helped him find a new job when the company they both worked at was liquidated.
He now saw a client, and this was work.
There was nothing to respond with, and so I strolled into the courtroom and took my seat appropriately. Mr. Tuff took the seat next to me, and the trial began, the judge listing out pleasantries that prefaced the case. Finally he asked the question I had been waiting on.
“How does the defendant plead?”
Mr. Tuff attempted to speak but I was quicker, standing up and asserting my position, a singular thought taking over my brain; a focus on one idea that had been spoken to me by that murderer, just a few moments before.
I just wouldn’t have gotten caught.
“Not guilty, your honor.”