Eventually, I went on trial for me life.
A momentous occasion in the whole, actually. Quite personal, yet sometimes I felt detached, as if I were in the jury box or in the gallery watching everything unfold because sometimes it was utterly beyond comprehension that I was being subjected to this. I didn’t do it. There was credible evidence that somebody shot and killed the ambassador, of course – like his head wound – but there was some zero evidence tying me to it. Exasperating, too, because I was the only one there who knew I hadn’t shot the ambassador. There were others who knew I didn’t do it, of course. The actual shooter knew, and his handlers and assigners, if any, which was actually likely because events like this are difficult to pull off by oneself. But they weren’t here to help in me defense because had they been Abigail would have put them to good use.
Abigail said we were prepared. I was skeptical because not only were the papers ready to hang me, had I actually done it the evidence would have been rather convincing. There was video coverage of the shooter coming and going, plus eyewitnesses that were willing and able to ID the shooter. The only problem was everyone thought it was me and it wasn’t.
And I had some zero faith in the citizens that had been called for jury duty. None of them smiled or waved or anything. They all had rather serious looks and avoided eye contact. None of them wanted to be there.
Selecting the jury was tedious, but I took a healthy interest in it because they were the ones deciding me fate. The government got to dismiss six out of hand while Abigail got to dismiss ten and I helped her with a couple of them. The government did send home one reasonable sort who I had high hopes for because he looked like he would listen to sense, which is probably why the government sent him home. What government wants citizens that listen to sense? This broke my heart because in this country it only takes one to get a hung jury, but I have to admit Abigail dismissed some hardcore sorts that looked like they had nooses in their pockets.
Juries are twelve strong here in the States. About three dozen were seated in the courtroom at the start and between dismissals and some jurors whining about this and that, it took a couple of days before we had twelve plus some alternates and all of them filled out a questionnaire. After some basic stuff like where you work (are you a worker or supervisor/manager; union or professional), political and religious affiliations (though you could skip the religious stuff without prejudice) and the like there were several questions on whether or not you read. Newspapers or magazines and how about books? How informed were you? This caused Abigail no small amount of fussing. She said she generally liked well-read jurors. The more read they were the smarter they were and generally the smarties had open minds and were able to sift the crap from the truth. But, hell, she said, the press on me case was all negative. I knew that. I’d followed meself with great interest since me arrival in the nick and it is a rare and interesting feeling following a momentous case in the papers with you as the protagonist. The press, both here and across the pond, had already conducted the trial, found me guilty and were prepared to issue sentence, so maybe we didn’t want smarties on our jury. (That’s what she said, our jury. Made me feel good. Like part of a team, like a football side or a team at the Games. Our jury.) Maybe we wanted twelve dolts on our jury.
There were questions about prior jury and military service and it wrapped up with several questions about your gambling habits.
(I filled out the questionnaire, just to fill some idle time don’t you know, and after reading me responses Abigail laughed and said she would probably dismiss me from the jury. My work experience running courtesans and collecting ransoms was, charitably, unique and realistically not particularly desirable and besides, the Firm didn’t count as a proper professional organization. I pointed out they had their own logo, but Abigail wasn’t impressed.)
Abigail was reading through them and said she wasn’t entirely sure who she wanted. Well informed citizens may have already formed an opinion in this case and the press was building the gallows as we spoke, so if like some they blindly accepted what they read I could be in trouble. Abigail said she would trust her instincts.
Constable was a constant source of comfort. Abigail had talked about the possibility of her moving in and at first, I didn’t want to. I mean, what if I got sent off to a proper prison and me death? I would just have to say goodbye and that would hurt. But I miss her now and Abigail argued that any time with Constable would be good and if I am shipped off somewhere else, we would have a proper goodbye instead of me walking out of me flat and never coming back.
Constable recognized me, of course. When I came back to me cell after court one day there she was, lying on me bunk, probably because she recognized me scent. She took to her new home valiantly. I wasn’t allowed a can opener, so I couldn’t issue her a canned yummy ration. This was funny. I could have a cat but not a can opener. She made do. She slept on me bunk, nestled on top of the blanket, between me legs, just like she sometimes did at home. When I was gone Constable made herself useful around the office with the coppers.
I would have been happy to wear me orange jumpsuit to trial but Abigail said no, it made me look like a convict, so she pulled a suit from me closet, saying selection was done in league with Constable the cat. Very conservative. Me navy blue number, and she brought an assortment of shirts, plain, and conservative ties. We wanted potential jurors’ first impression to be of a gentleman, a smartly-clad gentleman who was utterly incapable of hurting a fly, much less assassinating an ambassador. If cat hair had to be picked off it, all the better. First impressions were important, she said, maybe not important enough to turn guilty into not guilty, but important enough to give a bloke the benefit of the doubt sometimes and turn ‘I don’t know’ into ‘not guilty’.
Beth was there, too. She said she was sad for me, but on the other hand, it wasn’t too often a girl her age got to see an ex on trial for murder, especially an ex who had all his teeth, which livened up her dull life which, like me, was probably merely being spent waiting to die. I was allowed a seat or two if needed for me rooting section and I half hoped Monica would show up. As it was, Beth was there every day. If Abigail was surprised when I told her Beth was an ex (she had wondered aloud who she was) she brilliantly kept it to herself.
Me daily deep breathing regimen helped. You would think deep breathing wouldn’t have been so difficult to keep at, but you would be wrong. At the start, every deep breath was an effort. Maybe it was because regular breathing was so easy, done as a matter of course with no thought, or maybe it was our human nature to take the easy way asserting itself. Whatever the reason, it demanded full concentration on my part. At first, I could get a couple-three deep breaths in at a time before I lost interest, but I kept plugging away. Three deep breaths uninterrupted, then five and seven and ten and fifteen…It took time but I had time. Lots of it, a full measure of it, especially if there wasn’t court that particular day. It was all I could do, really. The mediation book talked about following your heart and trusting your instincts and I was hardly in a position to do that because my heart yelped I was innocent and my instincts told me to walk out, which I was unable to do because I was a captive. I was limited, rather severely, in the dreams I could chase and the journeys I could take.
So I took deep breaths. It was the only journey I was allowed so, controlling what I could control I took it. Constable took the journey with me, too, curled up next to me. This was comforting. And I got pretty good at deep breathing, too. By the time the trial started, I was to the point where I could muster many minutes of deep breathing without interruption. I was grateful for that. The breathing itself did me body good even if the air wasn’t fresh and the concentration allowed me to block out me life for a while, resulting in no small amount of peace the rest of the day.
Not complete peace, though. I didn’t do what I was in the dock for and there were times you wanted to stand up and say stop this nonsense but nobody except Abigail wanted to hear this. I don’t think even an ascetic would have been able to completely divorce himself from the emotions that attend being on trial for one’s life. There’s bound to be some anxiety, but me regimen insured it wasn’t all-consuming.
This is not an easy life.
It is funny being innocent and on trial. You know you didn’t do it and yet there are people who think you did, people in a position to try and send you to the nick or the gurney for it. I knew from reading the papers that there was a lot of pressure to score a conviction. You got somebody in the hold for a popular crime, you just can’t shrug and say you were wrong and let him out. A conviction would be good for international morale. The citizens of the States could, finally, get their treasured closure on the matter and the government of the ambassador’s homeland could finally stop yapping like hyenas about it. Whether or not the person convicted actually did it or not was irrelevant. The cacophony from the ambassador’s native country was particularly noxious and the entire jury seemed to be wearing lapel pins of their national colors.
The whole thing was predictable. In opening statements the prosecutor said I shot the ambassador with frightfully well carried out malice aforethought and Abigail said I didn’t, that there would be no evidence presented tying me to either the planning or execution, so to speak, of the crime, so there you big bully. Both said the evidence, or lack thereof, would clearly show their point.
It was one big charade. We knew what they had and they knew what we had and we were merely putting on this bloody dog and pony show for seemingly the only 12 bloody people in this city of 12 million who weren’t bright enough to read newspapers or solvent enough to afford cable TV.
The constable testified. He talked in detail about my harassing him, the letters, the calls, the pictures. The whole point was to show what a cold and calculating bastard I was. Well, OK, it worked. Bastard yes, nuisance certainly and it was all rather calculating, but it did not prove me a killer. I’m sorry. It merely meant I was a pest. The constable and the prosecutor in no way established I was a killer because I wasn’t.
Abigail and I had discussed this because the constable had been on the witness list, of course, so his appearance was not a surprise. We had discussed whether to challenge his testimony or to let him in the witness box. There was, really, some zero point to his testimony. It had nothing to do with me or anyone else shooting the ambassador. Abigail, typically, turned it to advantage. On cross-examination, she merely reinforced the point that for several years – she actually spelled out how many down to the day – it appeared the constable continued his existence solely by my sufferance: I could have killed him pretty much whenever I wanted. The constable graciously acknowledged this to be the case. To reinforce this point Abigail made it so plain a schoolboy could understand I had many opportunities to kill him but didn’t. It was really all she could do. There was no testimony vis-a-vis me shooting the ambassador to impeach. Overall, I was glad Abigail didn’t not request his testimony be stricken. Sure, the constable established I was cold and calculating, but he also established for us that I could have killed the constable whenever I desired and didn’t. Point for me. I was not a killer.
The ultimate decision was mine, of course, but Abigail strongly recommended I take the stand. Killers do not take the stand. Non-killers have nothing to hide. We would be honest. I was a criminal. I’d done time in the past – not for me charity work – and had escaped. I worked for an outfit called the Firm. None of this was a bulletin. I still don’t know if Abigail recommended this because she was merely putting a final exclamation point on our case, or if it was a last act of desperation.
I took the stand. I put a hand on a book of ancient texts and assured everyone I would only be offering the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me god, whoever he was because I wasn’t feeling very close to him right now. Believers are told he has a plan for our lives, but if this is true his plan for me bloody sucked. What kind of supreme being would abandon the innocent?
Good luck keeping your head sitting in the dock like that. I was hoping I’d have the same focus I had collecting ransoms, complete focus where everything was in sharp focus and all objects significantly refined: it was just me and the job to be accomplished. Nothing else mattered or was even acknowledged.
Not here. If you’ve never sat in the dock in your own defense against a murder charge, I highly recommend it. It was a feeling I’d never had before. It was as if everyone was staring at me with really large eyes and they had these squiggly outlines about them. I felt every bit the center of attention I was.
Abigail had said this might happen because she had had other clients report the same thing. This was something else we went over. I asked if I should give a sign to show this was happening and she said no, she’d be able to tell. As arranged, she called me by my name, which she said would be my cue to focus on her, so I took a deep breath and did just that, and then it was only her and me. Nothing else registered. It was as if we were at me cell in the nick practicing for this moment, which we had done a lot.
She asked what I did for a living and I said I was a professional criminal, and this got some chuckles. “Professional” wasn’t in the script, but bragging like this is one of the few privileges afforded someone in the dock. The laughs weren’t sufficient for the judge to bang her hammer, but enough for her to look sternly at everyone. I said yes, I was at the assassination site that day, in my role as an advance scout for a kidnapping. I said my duties there were to report his arrival and departure to others. Abigail did not ask me to provide further details. She asked if I shot the ambassador and I said no, I did not. I wanted to say no, I most certainly bloody well did not, but giving testimony is not unlike putting on a play: the lines are well-rehearsed. I suppose. I’ve never been in a play, but it seems similar.
She replayed some of the video coverage showing the assassin coming and going. It was at distance and the resemblance was only general and could have been any one of a thousand short, trim men. Abigail asked if this was me and I said no. She asked if I’d ever seen the murder weapon that was found at the scene and introduced and I said no and the prosecution never could connect me to the weapon in any way, shape or form. Letters to the constable attesting that I meant him no harm, were introduced into evidence to show while I did have some organizational abilities and was a menace, I never meant the constable or anyone in his family harm.
On cross-examination, the bloody prosecutor tried to get me to identify who also was involved in the kidnapping plot and when I declined he tried to get the judge to compel me under threat of being held in contempt which made me laugh. Caught surprised, the prosecutor asked what was funny and I said I was on trial for murder, contempt was hardly my biggest worry. As it was the judge noted the ambassador was still dead, making him an unlikely candidate for further mischief and she declined to compel me to answer this question.
The prosecutor had no further questions. We could hardly call anyone to back it up, but it had been established I was already a criminal, so it was not completely out of the question that I might be there as part of a kidnapping plot. It did not, of course, necessarily preclude me from shooting him. I could have been freelancing on my own, so who the bloody hell knows if it did any good or not.
That was a lot of day. I was exhausted and too depressed to order dinner in. I had a jail dinner of some kind of meat in some sort of sauce that didn’t even interest Constable, with two slices of white bread that, at need, could have been used for personal defense. I was content to wallow in it. I did some deep breathing and curled up with Constable well before the screws usually turned the lights out. Grateful for the familiarity of both me cell and me cat, I slept rather well.
Closing arguments were really just opening arguments restated. The prosecution maintained I was an evil killer. Abigail said it was someone else because the eyewitnesses were heroically unreliable, the video coverage was inconclusive and there was no physical evidence tying me to the crime.
Of course, there wasn’t. I didn’t do it.
Both Abigail and the bastard prosecutor insisted the evidence offered no other possible conclusion than theirs. The judge gave a lot of instructions to the jury, none of them finding me innocent.
The jury took a day or so to do their work. While we waited, I went back to me cell and breathed deeply. It was late in the afternoon when they came and got me. In the courtroom I sat down until the jury came in, then I stood up. I was found guilty. I showed no emotion because I felt none. It was not a surprise. There was a lot of commotion going on. My head started swirling. I tried to deep breathe but this was difficult. Abigail said something but I didn’t comprehend it. She could tell me later. She knew where I was. I didn’t blame her. She did her work well. The court and the jury were both of a mind to convict so they did.
I was hustled out and taken to a room that had been used to store me during odd times when court was not in session. It was also where I took my meals while at court. I was handcuffed and leg irons were put on and I was taken back to me cell. I was strip-searched before I was allowed to enter despite the fact I had not been out of sight of any of my captors all day. I still don’t understand this.
I really just wanted to sleep. I don’t know, nor do I particularly care, how others may have felt upon returning to their cell after being convicted of murder, but I just wanted to sleep. I had nothing else to do.