Almost 8:30 AM, it was just before court would begin when his dead client, Mr. Black showed up to talk.
Benny knew the consequences for being late, so was short with him.
“Why are you here now?” He spoke in a hushed tone to the apparition in front of him, glancing around as the Alameda County Court room began to fill up. It would ruin his reputation as the best Public Defender in the County if people thought he spoke to ghosts.
Mr. Black’s gray suit, the one he used to always wear, appeared now to fit him well, his cuffs were no longer frayed, the holes gone. Benny tasted the bitter shame of his failure with Mr. Black’s case as his stomach knotted.
“You owe me more.” Mr. Black’s voice was flat and emotionless, so different from his last day in this courtroom when the coughs racked his body, his handkerchief filled with blood.
Benny’s elbows pressed into the table, the air in the courtroom hung thick and stale. His thin fingers nudged the yellow pad, straightening it imperceptibly. He moved his two pens, one black and one red, so that they were even to the pad.
“I paid my debt.” Benny whispered. “With the last one.”
Mr. Black’s anger roared like a fire, heating up the air around Benny like a blast furnace. The other, past inhabitants of this room raged, their hate overwhelming him.
Even with so many clients, Benny prided himself that he cared about every one, those he had saved from jail time, and those who were put away. Mr. Black was the first one to come back and visit him though, after dying in prison, professing his innocence with his last breath.
For the accused, Benny, ‘King of the Pleas’, was the PD to get in
Alameda County. Most of his clients walked, or at least avoided jail time. Benny averaged 600 cases each year however, so had some losses, and Benny felt the pain of every one.
But innocence and guilt have no place in the Criminal Justice system, and Benny had begun to wonder if his work meant anything. Some of his clients were monsters, and better off behind bars. Benny worked for his client's, but he lived in this City, had to deal with the crime and violence. Should he put his thumb on the scales of justice?
Today his past clients were weighing in. Screaming in thunderous rage, frustration, and anger at what happened to them in this cursed room.
“I shouldn’t be here, it’s not my fault.” One voice called out.
“I’m innocent!” Shouted another, then echoed over and over again into a cacophony overwhelming Benny.
Mr. Black’s face leaned in to Benny, his voice roaring. “Pay up, or else.”
Bang, bang bang! A gavel thundered, echoing off the wood walls around him.
Mr. Black left, fading into the crowd and taking the voices with him.
Benny released his breath, trying to focus on where he was, and why.
"The court is called to order!” The Judge called out. A pale, gray man with red and piercing eyes, his head floated above his black cloak.
Benny blinked, looking around as the colors of the room came into focus. A man in an ill fitting suit slumped next to him, eyes downcast. Fear vibrated in waves off the man. The fingers of his left hand pick at the nails of his right, over and over, the scraping sound like claws on steel bars. He leaned over to Benny.
“Mr. Benny, we’re going to be OK right? You’re going to save me- I mean we have the receipt- it proves I wasn't there for the rape. They can’t put this one on me.”
Benny nodded, but didn't turn. The man's high pitched voice whined like a broken motor, his breath hot. Benny suddenly hated him, loathed him for being here and needing Benny’s help. His life depended on Benny doing his job correctly. Did this man even deserve it?
Benny peered toward him, just a glance out of the corner of his eye.
Lean as a mop handle, he could not keep still, shoulders moving, fingers picking at imaginary flecks on his borrowed suit, and the skin of his hands. Benny’s lip curled in disgust. He opened the file, the case notes in perfect order, the receipt on top, stamped with proof of this man’s location across town at the time of the sexual assault.
The man’s arm crossed in front of Benny, his skin red and mottled with sores. He pushed the receipt with a scarred finger.
“My Monopoly card, Get out of Jail Free.” He laughed. “I need to keep that, there are a few other girls they don’t know about yet-” The man winked.
Benny brushed his fingers on the receipt, manicured fingernails pale over his dark skin, smoothing the wrinkled paper.
A loud rushing sound filled Benny’s head. They called to him, his clients who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whose lives he could not save, due to a lack of this kind of solid alibi. He heard them screaming, shouting at the unfairness, the inhumanity.
At the District Attorney’s table across from him a tall, thin woman stared with shrewd, cold eyes. She turned away to put her head down into a stack of files.
Voices cried out from her table too, people wronged and insulted in the worst way. Losing property, their self respect, or their family, and then forced to sit in this horrible room and go home with nothing but tears and anger. Their voices were loud. "Punish. Vengeance. An eye for an eye!”
The screams wracked Benny’s brain and he shut his eyes, his hands flew to his temple, pressing in to quiet their cries.
Bang, bang bang!
The gavel thundered again. Benny stood, motioning to his client to stand as well. Benny clenched his jaw, and knew the answer to his dilemma.
Forget what was best for the client, or society. Benny needed to look out for himself. This man will be sacrificed to Mr. Black, to appease him and the demons chasing Benny. This man was guilty, of course. Maybe not for this crime, but for another Benny was certain.
Benny will change places, go from the defender to the accuser, from the protector, to the judge.
His fingers moved, just a brief sweep, and the paper receipt floated unseen, down out of the file, into the trash can. Gone.
The trial moved fast, a Police Officer, serious and trustworthy in his pressed blue uniform pointed at the man next to Benny.
“That’s the guy.”
Whispers erupted from the court room, bodies shifted on the wooded seats squeaking with their movements.
“That man is just evil, I could tell right off.” Some one said.
“The monster should hang for what he did to that girl.” Another voice added.
Bang, bang bang!
Justice thundered down from on high.
“The verdict is guilty!” The Judge shouted, a sneer on his face. "Next!"
Benny squeezed his eyes shut as the voices in his head roared out, echoing, “Guilty, guilty!”
The Bailiff pulled on the man next to him.
“No, I’m innocent!” He screamed. “Mr. Benny- what happened!”
Mr. Black appeared in front of Benny, nodding before he left with the man to his future hell.
Then the voices were gone, the sudden silence deafening.
Benny picked up his red pen to carefully put a small ‘x’ to the end of the line of thousands of black and red marks, then lifted the next file off the foot high stack next to him.
Justice will be done.