My whole body had gone numb with fear. It was impossible to focus. I sat there, shivering in my suit, damp with sweat. I looked down at the little box I was confined in, then up to the judge’s menacing glare, and finally back over to the prosecutor.
“...Can you identify that man in the courtroom today?”
As hard as I tried… I couldn’t.
I remember wishing this whole thing was over so I could go back home, where it was safe.
I could feel my heart beat faster and faster with every passing moment. I wheezed and strained my lungs. It was getting harder and harder to breathe. It felt like monster trucks were doing backflips in my head. The pounding was drowning out everyone in the room. My vision was getting blurry and the prosecutor’s voice became distorted. My stomach would twist and turn with every second that went by, it felt like torture.
And then almost at once, I started to feel reality slip away. Everything was going dark. As I struggled to stay lucid, I was reminded of the events that led me to this moment. The murder we had all been brought to the courtroom for.
It began like any other day; I was late for work, again. Dreading the inevitable attack on my character by Mr. Jameson, again. He’d seen me walk in late three times this week alone, and I knew that blaming it on yet another restless night. or panic attack just wouldn’t do. Just the thought of him glaring at me through his glass door was enough to make me sick with worry. In fact, I imagined a million scenarios that could come to pass if I was late again, each worse than the last. However, that day, to my delight, he was away for a meeting with potential clients. Or something, I’m not entirely sure. That’s what I was told by his assistant when she caught me trying to sneak by her desk at a quarter past ten.
All the over-thinking had done a number on my stomach. I found myself hunched over my desk for a better part of the day. I could feel last night’s pizza tumbling around inside my stomach as I struggled to focus.
I had been working for Echotech for about two years now, and overall it wasn’t the worst job I’d ever had. The worst part of my day came from having to answer to the complete and utter dick that was Jerry Jameson. Jerry Jameson had a poor business acumen. He never acknowledged when he was wrong (more often than not) and although I can’t prove it, I think he was embezzling. He didn’t care at all about this company and was realistically the most disliked person in the office.
It was about noon, or a little after, and my stomach had gone from a pot bubbling over to Mt. Vesuvius. I needed something to settle my stomach, and my nerves. I decided I would quietly slip out to grab some tea, and a quick excursion would serve as a great opportunity to pick up my sister’s medication. However sneaking out during the workday, and on a day that I had come in late? Not at all my style, but my stomach pain was quickly becoming a personal medical emergency.
I have always been more of an introvert and anything that drew attention to me made me insanely nervous. On my way through the door, I was hit with crippling paranoia, worrying about Mr. Jameson coming into the office while I was gone. What if he needed me, or noticed I was gone? The possible confrontations filled my head like a balloon being filled with helium. I took a deep breath. He was out for the day. I was going to get me some tea, grab Alice’s prescription and be back before anyone could be the wiser. After checking one last time for Mr. Jameson, I scurried downstairs to the parking garage.
I figured I had about an hour before I would be noticed missing, so I took off with a bit of a skip. I walked to the pharmacy, and then as I was crossing the street towards the cafe, I saw Mr. Jameson. I yelped and I ran inside. My heart started beating out of my chest so hard and so loud I felt it in my feet. I peeked out of the window. He was talking to a large man next to a black SUV. He looked like he was getting ready to throw a punch when he abruptly turned around. He clenched both fists and aggressively stormed off. The large man got into his SUV and loudly drove away. Mr. Jameson was furiously walking back to the office. I wasn’t in the office. He was going to see me walk in, incredibly late, holding a goddamn chamomile-peppermint black tea with two spoons of sugar. He was going to rip me a new one.
I abandoned my desire for a tea and ran back towards the office. I couldn’t go up the front entrance or he would notice me. I rounded the corner leading to the parking garage. I saw Patty come out of the elevator just as I walked in. Probably going to smoke a joint on her break. I did not want to have a conversation with her. I sped-walked through the rows of cars, nearing the elevator. I saw her go outside and turn the corner. Phewph.
There was a sudden loud echo throughout the entire garage. I ducked beside a dirty green car. Someone was screaming for help. I peeked through the window. “Please, please, don’t do this!” A chain saw revved. A man was screaming in agony. A thud. Two men held a third, bloodied man on his knees near the fire exit on the opposite end of the garage. I looked over the hood of the car, I couldn’t see clearly through the grime on the window. A bloody hand laid on the ground in front of the captive. They were sawing a man apart. I threw up. All over the hood of the dirty green car. I looked back up at the bloody, beaten man for some reason. I saw his face. When I realized that man being sawed apart mercilessly was Mr. Jameson, I threw up, again.
I’ve never been a physically dominant man, in fact the only time I had ever been in a fight was in the sixth grade, over pizza lunch. This was not that, and I had no intention of involving myself, especially not for this asshole. Jerry Jameson had made my life a living hell for a long time since the moment I stepped foot in this building. I’d even go as far as to attribute him as the primary cause of what I struggled with daily. I’ve always been a pretty meek person, but anyone would develop anxiety and high blood pressure in this environment. On my first day, I made the terrible mistake of being nervous and stuttering through my meeting. He embarrassed me in front of the entire staff, people I hadn’t even introduced myself to yet were already laughing directly in my face. I didn’t owe him anything.
That’s when it happened. The smallest man in the group, clearly the leader, grabbed Mr. Jameson by the top of his hair, speaking very closely to his face.
I began trying to squeeze myself through the cracks in between the cars attempting to reach the door leading into the building without them noticing. I’m not a very graceful person. They had noticed me, I looked up to see a bloody, unconscious Mr. Jameson, and two of the large men holding him staring back at me. I had seen enough, I jumped up and ran, full sprint for the door. The last thing I saw was his body, slumped over in a pool of his own blood, and one of the men holding the chainsaw at the nape of his neck. The door slammed behind me, I sat with my back to the door still panting, sweating and running over the images in my head.
Once I was back in my cubicle, it was impossible to sit still. I couldn’t get the image of his bloody, disfigured face out of my head.
Who were those men? What could he have done to deserve this? Would they be back for me?
I hadn’t a ton of time to contemplate these questions because by the time I had settled back into my desk, Patty had returned from her own break.
“HE’S DEAD, JAMESON IS DEAD, THEY TOOK HIS HEAD”
I tried to feign a surprised look on my face, I couldn’t let the rest of the staff know I just hid and watched. They’d think I was a coward. So, there I sat, hair damp from the sweat, chest tight from heaving too hard.
“Are you high?” someone asked.
“That’s not the point, I know what I saw. It was blood, a lot of blood... And his head, his head was just sitting on the top of the car!”
The room erupted in a mix of questions, and concerns that didn’t cease until Gabe entered the room, accompanied by two uniformed officers. The pair of them went around the room asking everyone if they had seen anything. As they approached me, I knew I’d have to answer a bunch of questions I was not prepared to. While they were busy with a frantic Patty, I snuck back out the door and down into the parking garage for my bike. A crime scene had already been set up, I felt my stomach turn over and my knees buckle when I saw the head, staring back at me. I left the parking garage and headed for the front door, where I was met by Gabe.
“Did you hear what happened? The police are everywhere!”
“Yeah they already questioned me, I’m going home now, not feeling well.”
I lied as I pushed past him and out the front door. There was no way to explain where I was, and I didn’t want to have to try.
Later that night, I called my sister Alice. She would know what to do. She was always the strongest, smartest person in the room. When she arrived, I was in my armchair, hugging my knees, rocking back and forth. I muttered a small hello; she nodded and went into the kitchen. Alice handed me a glass of water, then sat across from me. “Go on,” she said, as she was taking off her prosthetic leg. “what happened?”
I described the events of the day through quiet sobs, I must have stuttered the entire way through. Alice just sat there quiet, a concerned look on her face, but quiet, nonetheless. When I was finished, she got up, came over to me and embraced me in a hug.
“We’re gonna figure this out.” she said, and something about her relaxed demeanor calmed me right down. She was good at that.
Over the course of the next couple weeks, Alice had come by a lot more than usual, worrying for her little brother brought her closer than ever before. UIt was because of her proximity to me that things took a turn for the worst.
Three weeks after the murder of Jerry Jameson, things at the office were starting to go back to normal. The police presence had finally started to die down, Patty had gone back to smoking in her car on breaks, and new management was being interviewed. It seemed that it was all going to blow over, right up until I saw that black SUV pull into the parking garage.
I locked my bike up to the rack and took my helmet off. The SUV pulled in and parked not too far from me. This would have been the most opportune time to run, but my legs wouldn’t work for some reason.
A large man climbed out of the vehicle; he didn’t look like police, but he seemed to know who I was. Was I about to be arrested? The men from before, what if they pinned it all on me? My dislike for Jameson was widely known, this is too much.
“We would love to have a conversation” said the rounder of the two while walking towards me.
I stood frozen; my mind was flooded with visions of being incarcerated, having to pee in front of others, dropping the soap…
The slim man outstretched his hand and handed me my work ID badge with a smile. When did I even drop it? What else did he know about me? I was in over my head.
Shakily, I took the badge back and slid it into my back pocket. “I-I-I’m not sure what you think happened, but I don’t know a thing, I swear, please”.
“Of course not, we just wanted to bring this back to it’s rightful owner. We showed up at your apartment, but your sister was there alone...”
My heart sank in my chest… Alice. She had gone by my place to prepare our weekly dinner, and now she was in their crosshairs.
“Now before you make some insane threat you can’t back up; nothing is going to happen to her if you play along.” I would have cried at the mention of her if I could, but I didn’t’ want to look even more weak than I already did.
The night before the trial was one of the hardest nights that I’ve ever had to experience. Alice was coming by, expecting dinner and it was my turn to cook (since she always cooked for me), and was already underway when she arrived. I wanted to show her some appreciation for helping to keep my mind from spiraling into disaster the last few weeks. When I heard the knocking at the door, I turned off the stove and went to open it, looking through the peep hole as I unlocked it. She wasn’t alone, one of the thugs was standing beside her. She looked confused, but I knew what was going on.
“She won’t be staying for dinner; just thought we’d stop by and say hello” he said while brandishing his gun at her.
They’d keep her hostage until after the trial was over to make sure I didn’t tell the police. It seemed unnecessary to me because I was too frightened to try anything, my hands shook just thinking about it. Once they left, I retreated into my living room to sit and contemplate how to proceed. Obviously, I wasn’t hungry anymore at that point.
It felt like that night would never end. I spent the first hour after they left just pacing back and forth, and the next in tears. Imagining what would happen to my sister if I didn’t comply was too much to bear, I felt myself going insane.
After a restless night, I wrestled my unwilling body out of bed, and took a cold shower. I’d need nerves of steel to get through today and that wasn’t my strong point. I went into my closet, looking for a suit that would mask the shivering that was bound to happen. I picked out one of my father’s old suits, it was a bit large on me but at least they wouldn’t see me shaking in it as much.
I made my way out of my apartment complex and headed towards the courthouse. I wasn’t bothered by anymore goons, I guess they assumed they had gotten their message across. Besides, they had my sister for collateral, I didn’t have a play to make.
Once the trial had begun, the pressure inside me began to build at an exponential rate, I just wanted it all to be over. To be sitting at my dinner table with my sister once again, safe.
The courtroom was quiet, as most usually are, but when David Rosetelli entered the room, it felt like sound had literally been drained out of the building. He and I locked eyes from across the room, it made my stomach jump, and I immediately shifted my focus to the jury. It was a mix of people, all from different walks of life. It seemed the only thing they had in common was their obvious contempt for the accused.
The prosecutor called me to the stand and the entire room seemed to melt away beneath my feet. I stumbled getting out of my seat and could feel the eyes around the room focus in on my every move.
My head got heavy, my chest constricted, and with every step I took I could feel my shoes filling up with sweat. My suit was starting to sag off my body. I sat down in the box and looked at the judge. He nodded to me, and then asked the bailiff to swear me in.
“I swe—” my voice began to break; I investigated the crowd of people sitting and saw one of the men who had kidnapped Alice smiling back at me.
I think that’s the moment I broke, I couldn’t hear the bailiff, nor could I hear the prosecutor, I completely blanked during her questioning. All I could hear was the sound of my heavy breathing, my jackrabbit of a heartbeat and the pounding in my skull.
“Mr. Wheeler? Are you okay?”
“I will repeat, can you identify the man—”
Those were the last words I remember hearing before I woke up in the hospital bed. Groggily I opened my eyes to see one of the thugs from before, his hands were shaking, but not from fear, he was livid.
“You had one job; it was simple. Instead, you wanted to play hero. Cool, here’s your trophy.”
I looked down to see Alice’s prosthetic leg laying on my stomach, covered in blood.