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We the Jury; Fiction by Barbara Stanley
Emptying the Trash: Fiction by Rick McQuiston
Milepost 44: Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Planetary Perpetrator: Fiction by James Flynn
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What Is the Song the Children Sing?: Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
A Bottle of Sherry: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Junipers: Fiction by Liberty Price
Institution Inspector No. 23: Fiction by Michael Fowler
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When You're Dead, You're Done!: Fiction by Pamela Ebel
Family Business: Fiction by Donald Glass
Colors: Flash Fiction by Bernice Holtzman
Gladiators: Flash Fiction by John C. Mannone
Pigeons in the Park: Flash Fiction by Roy Dorman
Kitsy: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
the look of legs: Poem by Meg Baird
Mike's 80th Birthday: Poem by Elizabeth Zelvin
The Art of Flying: Poem by John C. Mannone
Magazine Sestina: Poem by Peter Mladinic
Been Down So Low, It Now Sounds Great: Poem by Bradford Middleton
the burnt globe and the pregnancy: Poem by Partha Sarkar
Evening Alone: Poem by Craig Kirchner
Larry, Moe, and Me: Poem by Craig Kirchner
I Live the Life I Chose: Poem by Richelle Slota
Death House: Poem by Richelle Slota
he died of cancer: Poem by Wayne F. Burke
Night: Poem by Wayne F. Burke
and they are prancing: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
full of thoughts and hopes: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
threading a needle: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Atlas Yearns for Retirement: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Frown: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Why is the Sky Cerulean?: Poem by Richard Allen Taylor
Awakening: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Swirling in the Chaos: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
The Moira: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Midnight Molt: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Moments Before Awakening: Poem by Michael Keshigian
The Messenger: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Cartoons by Cartwright
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ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Barbara Stanley: We the Jury

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Art by J. Elliott 2024

We the Jury

 

Barbara Stanley

 

 

 

 

 

We had received our instructions and were sequestered in the jury room and by mid-afternoon, were ready to kill juror number three.

The deliberations room was small, a compact rectangle at the back of the courtroom. A long oak table spanned the length of the room; 12 plastic folding chairs snugged neatly below. Three more folding chairs lined the inside wall. A plate-glass window ran the length of the opposite wall, shaded with yellowing mini-blinds. Not that anyone could spy on us as we began our deliberations. Our window looked out to the brick wall of the commons building next door. The only visitors were pigeons, and even they couldn’t spy on us—-plastic fringe rimmed the outside ledges, a roosting deterrent. 

At the far end of the room a plastic cart held a coffee maker, water pitcher, sugar packets, fake creamer, napkins and paper cups. At the close end, the bathroom.

“Okay,” said our foreman, juror number six. “Let’s take another vote, just to see where we are.” He was a stocky man in his mid-fifties, I guessed, with wiry gray hair and furrowed face. His name was Leonard and he worked in construction.

“In favor of the county, raise your hand.”

Three hands went up.

“In favor of Tommy Masterson, raise your hand.”

 Six hands went up, including mine.

Our foreman frowned.  “Undecided?” he said.

Two hands slowly went up. Juror number four, a redhead sitting to my right, blushed and raised her hand also.

Leonard sighed.  “Okay, let’s review the evidence.”

***

We were deliberating a conservatorship case. Tommy, the defendant, was the local rich kid who had run amok for years, spending his family’s money and wreaking general havoc in the area. He’d had a number of diagnoses, and now his family wanted him to enter a “locked facility” for six months, so he could be put on a regimen of drugs and therapy to hopefully get his shit straight. Tommy’s lawyer argued that the twenty-four-year old was perfectly capable of managing his affairs and his life without being locked-up against his will. He had initiative, she said, he was lively and colorful but essentially in control of his life. Some examples of that control were: quitting his job midweek and hitchhiking to Mexico, smashing his dad’s Mercedes into a phone pole after a family argument, inviting strangers to stay at his cottage on his parent’s estate, and providing them with a key to his parent’s home while said parents were on vacation and his newest friends needed a place to party.

“We’re not taking away Tommy’s freedom of choice.” The prosecuting attorney said. “We are giving Tommy a chance to get the care he needs, get him on a regular med schedule, help him to take control of his life once more. He will be in a locked facility for six months, after which he is free to leave should he so choose.”

Three of us found for the county in our first vote. Three voted for Tommy. Five wanted more deliberation before committing to a vote. And the last juror? 

He had just used the bathroom.

My God. The real criminal was the idiot who had designed the deliberations room. Who puts the bathroom smack in front, then builds paper-thin walls to surround it? And who doesn’t put in a fan?

Juror number three was noisy in there, bad enough. It’s pretty horrible to be holding a fake conversation with ten strangers while all of you pretend not to hear the explosions behind the door.

Then the guy opens the bathroom door, keeps it open, and our little room is enveloped in a noxious sewer-cloud.

Add to that windows that don’t open and you might understand why juror number nine, a tall thin guy with glasses, cursed and banged his fist on the table the second time it happened.

Our foreman stood up and quietly kicked the door shut, but the damage had already been done. Juror number four fanned herself and grimaced. I suppressed a glare at number three, who had taken the seat to my left and showed not a trace of embarrassment.

“Um, I’m just not sure Tommy isn’t being railroaded by his family.” Number seven got us back on track. “They’re a powerful family with a public image to support.”

“Are you kidding?” said number eight, a jumpy, ferret-faced engineer. “What does he have to do next, burn the house down?”

“Hold on.” Leonard said, raising a hand. “Remember our rules—-no sarcasm, no interrupting. Everyone has a turn, and one person at a time speaks.”

The afternoon dragged on.

***

He had been soft-spoken during voir dire-—a tall, narrow man with a slight stoop, moist eyes, shiny dome with four-strand comb-over.

There was an awkward charm to him, the way his hands jiggled while being questioned, the way his adam’s apple bobbed when he gave his answers.  No, he’d never served on a jury before. Yes, he would be able to be fair and impartial while reviewing evidence. No, he did not know anyone who had been committed. He swallowed hard and tugged at his tie. The attorney for the county rustled his papers and the defense attorney smiled. He was in.

Howard “call me Howie” Lodge, juror number three.

The first morning we began deliberations. We compared notes, voiced opinions on the validity of evidence and witnesses, batted “conservatorship” and “plaintiff” back and forth. Juror number seven brought us homemade muffins, chewy raison-y bran things that went down well with coffee.

Then we took a mid-morning break.

There was no way to have complete privacy while using the bathroom, not the way the room was situated. You did your best to muffle the thunder of your pee while outside people talked a little louder and moved closer to the coffee cart.

But when Howie used the bathroom he might as well have kept the door open, for all the privacy he afforded us. And when he finally left, he did not have the decency or brains to keep the door closed.

That was the first morning, and in the afternoon, after lunch, it got worse.

“Jeeee—zuz,” muttered number nine when Howie exited the bathroom a third time. “He’s gonna kill us all.”

The rest of the afternoon we debated on Tommy’s rights versus the threat he posed to himself and his family, all the while struggling not to breathe too deeply.

I considered writing a note to the judge. But what could I say? “Your Honor, juror number three takes deadly dumps. Kindly replace with the first alternate. Thank you.”

By the next morning break number one, a round grandmotherly type who hadn’t said much, clapped her hands together and exclaimed “Ooof!” when number three exited the bathroom yet again. Thirty minutes after that, she changed her vote.

Conservatorship: two

Tommy Masterson: eight

Undecided: two—red-headed number four, and number ten, a glassy-eyed retired accountant, newly widowed.

The rest of the morning was several more rounds of conservatorship versus personal freedom, with no one budging an inch. We were approaching a stalemate.

Just before lunch, jumpy ferret eight dove in.

“This guy is out of control. He’s been destructive, he’s put his family at risk. It’s one six month period out of his entire life. I don’t see the problem here. What if it was your kid? Yeah, maybe it’s tough love, but wouldn’t you want to do something, anything to help him?” Though he spoke to all of us, his eyes were on the two undecideds.

Red-headed four squirmed in her seat and glassy-eyed ten looked noncommittal. After a long, uncomfortable silence Leonard looked at the clock and called for a lunch break. The wave of relief that washed through the room was almost palpable, but I wondered how many also experienced the dread of deliberations to come.

***

We slogged back in after lunch. It was time to get things moving forward. I scanned the table, glanced briefly at juror five—who had hinted at a post-trial hook-up with me before changing his vote to Tommy—and spoke.

“I’m for Tommy,” I said. “Yes, he’s wild, but who among us hasn’t done crazy things when we were young? I’m young, and there’s lots of stuff I’ve done that I’m not proud of (at this juror five grinned). But locking him up—that seems like a violation of his rights. And his family has an image to preserve in this community, even though we all know they’re some of the biggest slumlords in the county—”

“Hold on, Alyssa,” Leonard said. “Let’s not fling opinions around as facts.”

“All right,” I said.  “All I’m saying is it’s a big jump from wanting Tommy to go to therapy to forcing him to stay somewhere for six months, against his will. We all heard the family’s testimony. They haven’t tried an intervention, they haven’t tried counselling, they just want to lock him up. That doesn’t sit right with me.”

I glanced over at number four, who was nodding her head in agreement. I smiled at glassy-eyed ten, who had flirted with me at the coffee cart.

I took a deep breath. “We may not like him, we may think he’s a jerk. But what if it was your kid? Would you do this to him?”

The minutes ticked by in silence as we breathed the last of the fetid air. Finally, number four cleared her throat and spoke, her cheeks as red as her hair.

“I just can’t do it, not in good conscience—locking Tommy away seems so harsh, when his family has money and other options. I just can’t find for the county.”

Ten also nodded in agreement, before giving me a roguish look.

Conservatorship: one

Tommy: eleven

We sat at the table, looking at the walls, looking at the windows, looking out into deep space, hoping for rescue. Then Howie cleared his throat several times and shifted in his chair. When he turned towards the bathroom and made a move to get up from his chair jumpy ferret eight, the conservatorship holdout, held up his hands in surrender.

 “All right, all right,” he said.” I find for Tommy.”

It was over, thank God. And not a minute too soon. We all scurried out before number three used the bathroom again.

***

The Tiki Room had been around forever, tucked off the main street but with an ample parking lot to accommodate its many long-time customers. I looked to be the only person under sixty in the place—even the servers had gray hair. I practically felt my way to the bar; the chocolate-colored walls, red vinyl booths, and worn wood tables with their mini electric tiki torches gave the whole place a cave-like goodfellas vibe, like I had accidentally stepped back into 1965. The bar was just beyond.

He sat at the end of the empty bar, nursing a drink—bourbon, from the looks of it, rolling the tumbler back and forth between his hands. Our eyes met, and he tipped his head to the empty stool next to him, smiling at me.

“Uncle Phil,” I said, “Good to see you!”

“Good to see you too,” “Uncle Phil” said, wrapping me in a bear hug as he slipped an envelope into my purse. A thousand bucks cash. I’d already concocted the cover story of a lucky scratcher—not that any of my friends would ask—and there was no way to connect me with Tommy. “Uncle Phil” would soon be on his way back to wherever he came from, in the covert employ of Tommy Masterson.

“You did good,” he said. Unanimous vote. Chances of re-trial—nil. Tommy Masterson was free to pursue his worthless pursuits, probably tucked away somewhere exotic, while his family foot the bill and preserved their benevolent local image.

My “uncle” bought me a drink—a Manhattan, in keeping with the retro vibe—and went over my last instructions.

“I stay here for dinner, you leave by the back entrance and make sure nobody sees you. Then we forget this ever happened and you go spend your money, but not too obvious. Easy, right?”

“Easy,” I nodded.

His eyes flicked to a distant booth. “Too bad. You two made a good team, but you shouldn’t be seen together again,” he said.

Huh? I didn’t know I’d been working in tandem, but after thinking it through…

Uncle Phil nodded towards the booth and through the murky dark I made out a familiar figure slurping down a bowl of what was probably extra spicy chili. Howie gave us an aborted wave that Uncle Phil batted down.

“Now we all go our separate ways and everybody lives happily ever after,” my fake uncle said.

Agreed.

With that, he exited the bar and went into the dining room to join two beefy-looking guys who had just been seated.

I lingered long enough to finish my drink, eyes down, avoiding Howie. When I looked up later, he was gone. The bartender nodded to someone, and next thing I knew a bird-like waitress appeared at my stool, took my elbow and gently ushered me through a maze-like hallway to the kitchen and out the back door.

I was about to round the corner and walk the two blocks to my car when a dark shape disengaged itself from the shadows of the parking lot. I didn’t scream though—this was a shape I recognized. Unfortunately.

“Hey partner,” Howie said, moving towards me. “We should celebrate. Like to go to dinner sometime?” He tugged at his tie and smiled what I assumed was his most dazzling smile. A piece of green something or other was stuck between his teeth.

“Um, sorry, I’m uh, engaged.” I said.  It was sort of the truth. I was engaged in making a quick exit—from him, from my “uncle,” from the whole thing.

Howie paused for a moment—presumably to give me a chance to reconsider—then turned on his heel and walked back into the night as I walked the opposite way to my car, a thousand dollars richer.

From far away a nightingale sang an exuberant song, congratulating me on my good work. I sat in my car and relished the moment, after deleting the contact info of jurors five and ten from my phone (sorry, guys). I patted the thick envelope in my bag, enjoying its heft, thinking about the situations that come up in life. This job, for instance—easy money, though not that easy when I pictured Howie’s smile as he exited the bathroom. But it was all over now and I was free with a fat purse and a rosy future—for a month or two, at least.

I started the engine to head home. Too bad I couldn’t tell anyone how this all came together, it was pretty unbelievable really.

Somebody should write a story about it.

END

Barbara Stanley likes to write good stories about bad things. Her fiction has appeared in print and online at Mystery Tribune, Fiction on the Web, Literally Stories, and Flash Fiction magazine, among others.

J. Elliott is an author and artist living in a small patch of old, rural Florida. Think Spanish moss, live oak trees, snakes, armadillos, mosquitoes. She has published (and illustrated) three collections of ghost stories and three books in a funny, cozy series. She's currently writing (and illustrating) a ghost story novel, Jiko Bukken, set in Kyoto, Japan in the winter of '92-'93. Episodes on Amazon's Kindle Vella. Paperback and eBook coming late this summer (2023). 

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2024