Congrats on that,” the man said. He looked over at me. “I’m figuring you’re the one wanting to know the facts.” He moved forward, a finger pushing his glasses up his nose. Holding out a hand, he waited for me to shake it. I held out my hand and he gripped it tightly, cranking it up and down. “Call me Rick. My mom named me Ricardo, which I always found stupid, being as Ricardo is a Mexi name and I’m a black man.” He smiled at me, his teeth a startling white against his dark skin.
Moving away, Rick walked over to one of the computers and jammed a thumb down on the monitor button. The computer blinked to life. He motioned for us to sit in the plastic chairs on either side of him, then drummed his thick fingers on the computer keyboard.
Crime date?” he asked.
Crime date? I… uh… ”
Don’t know it? Hmm, okay. Name of the victim or criminals?”
Leann and Alan 942B.” My mouth was fighting to go dry. “Criminals.”
Rick glanced at me a moment, then turned and typed in the names. The computer buzzed indignantly, still waking from sleep mode. After a moment a list appeared on the screen. Rick muttered to himself as he read down cases on the list, finally clicking on one. Another list came up, small paragraphs appearing below each link. Rick opened the first and read it.
Let’s see. Leann Summers was charged with Murder 1 and Assault. Alan Summers with Murder 1 and Aiding. Both sentenced with Life. Looks like…” He clicked his tongue, scanning the text that rolled down the screen. “Two men were murdered, deadly intent. The third escaped and was able to retrieve authorities. The accused were appointed their representative, and finally entered a plea of guilty. The surviving man pushed for death penalty, but they were sentenced life with no parole.” Rick paused a moment, thinking. “942B. The Life sentence walk. I thought so. Sound about right?”
I could only nod.
Alright,” Rick said, wiggling his fingers before bending over the keyboard again. “This is where the fun comes in. I don’t do this for everyone, but being as I hear nothing but good about Mr. Taylor here, and you,” he looked at me and smiled, “you just look like you need it, I won’t charge you extra.”
How much?” Reed asked.
One-fifty. That’s the going rate.” Reed started to reach into his pocket, but before he could grab his money I slammed the cash down on the table next to the keyboard. Reed lowered his hand, his eyes taking in the small pile of bills.
It’s alright, Reed,” I said softly. “This is something I need to do.”
Reed nodded at me, offering me a small smile before turning his face back to the screen. Rick shoved the money into his pocket then clicked on another link on the page.
This is weird,” he said, scanning the text.
I leaned in closer. Most of what appeared on the screen was strange legal wording. I had no idea what it actually said. “What is weird?” I asked.
There’s usually a recorded copy of the accused side of the story. Even if they settle, as these two did, there will still be a copy. It looks like they never even made one.” He clicked on other links, his thick lips puckered up in thought as he read the files that popped up. “The copy is nowhere. That’s just… weird.”
What’s that mean?” Reed asked, his voice on edge.
It means we get to talk to Lady Justice.” Rick smiled again, his fingers already typing fast. Reed glanced at me. I raised my eyebrows at him in question but he just shrugged and shook his head, obviously having no idea what Rick was talking about.
A box popped up on the screen, asking for a password. Rick glanced at us, then leaned in over the keyboard and quickly began to type in a long password. I wondered if it was ever going to end. Finally hitting the send button, he leaned back and waited. A little clock appeared, its hands quickly spinning. Then the screen went black.
Rick didn’t seem worried. A moment later, it came back to life, a bright white box popping up. A photo of a woman, her gown flowing over her curved body, a blindfold fastened tight over her eyes, stared back at us. In one hand she tightly gripped a sword. The other held out a set of hanging scales, perfectly balanced.
That, my friends, is Lady Justice.” Rick sat a moment, looking at the picture, then happily grunted to himself and started to type again. I had never seen her before. Yet there was something familiar about this woman, something that I knew I should know.
The computer buzzed.
Rick mumbled to himself, his fingers drumming on the desktop as he waited.
Who is Lady Justice?” Reed finally asked.
Lady Justice?” Rick perked up, his eyes focusing again on the black and white drawing on the computer screen. “She used to be a symbol for the justice system. You know: lawyers, judges, courts, all of that. It was the idea that justice is balanced. Those scales are truth and fairness, always balanced and always even.” Rick pointed to the blindfold. “Justice is blind. It is objective.” He pointed to the curved hips of the drawing, winking at Reed. “And man, this justice was hot.”
Chuckling to himself, Rick leaned back and folded his chubby fingers across his round belly. “Naturally, when the Nation took over, Lady Justice was the first to go. There used to be statues and paintings of her in every courthouse, but now there are none. Pity.
Anyway, a while back someone started printing a paper. She called herself Lady Justice. Made it her job to find out the truth about some of the court cases that seemed too simple. Then she would print it for everyone to read. The Nation has been trying to find her for years. Thing is, if you go by dates, this Lady Justice must be over one hundred years old now. Makes some think she is a phantom. Or a saint.
When I can’t find information on a case, such as yours, I pretty much know Lady here will have it.” Rick eyed the image again, smiling wide. “Man, what I would give to meet her.”
The machine finally stopped buzzing, a box popping up on the small screen.
An image of an old newspaper page had been scanned, framed now in the pop-up window. Across the top a smaller image of Lady Justice appeared, her name printed in block lettering next to her perfect form. Below it, in black and white, was a fading photograph of my parents.
I felt tears sting my eyes as I looked into their young faces. Though they were disheveled and strange looking, something still healthy clung to the young faces of Alan and Leann Summers. I felt a tear break free, running down my cheek.
Whoa. Are you alright?” Rick asked, his eyes wide as he looked over to me.
I tried to nod, but couldn’t move. I couldn’t take my eyes off of my parents. “She’s fine,” Reed said in a soft voice. “Those are her parents.”
Rick’s eyes shot to the photograph then back to me. Realization slowly spread on his face, his eyes softening in understanding. “Oh. Okay.” He licked his lips, scrolling the mouse down. “On we go. 942B, right?”
I nodded, my eyes never leaving the glowing screen.
Under the image was the same information Rick had already read to us. Their charges, their pleas, then their sentences. It all seemed so cold. As if they were just a number listed, a product waiting to be bought and used up.
Rick scrolled more. Another image appeared.
It seemed like a simple photograph of a pile of leaves. A tree trunk framed one side of the shot, a bush filling the other. The dirt had been kicked and turned, footsteps evident around the dried leaves. A number rested in the corner, propped up just like the numbers in the photographs Dr. Eriks had forced me to see before my release.
All three of us leaned closer. Something seemed strange. The leaves and dirt seemed staged, unnatural. They didn’t flow with the rise and fall of the land. The leaves were pushed into a pile, lines left in the dirt from the fingers that had moved them carefully together.
We all saw it at once. Reed let out a groan. Rick gasped. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t blink. I desperately wanted to look away, to be anywhere but sitting there in that white office.
Barely visible to the uncaring eye, a little hand reached through the leaves, its young chubby fingers limply clutching the ripped remains of a dirty, torn blanket.
| | |
Getting the pass to visit the prison turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. I didn’t need to fill out any paper work. They already had everything about me on file, including a daily report of my work in the Orchard. It seemed strange that someone, somewhere, was filling out all of that information about me. At that moment though, I didn’t have the time or energy to care.
While I sat with Lou and learned the rules about visiting, Reed hurried off to find Eddie and Oscar. My mind barely grasped anything Lou said to me. I nodded when I felt I needed to, answered with a word or two at other times. Inside I felt like a tornado had just torn me apart into pieces.
Lou finally held out a paper for me to sign. His face looked concerned, carefully watching me as I picked up the pen and signed my name along the dotted line. I forced a smile at him. He nodded once, then motioned that I could go. Picking up my copy of the signed paper, I quickly walked out of the house.
It wasn’t until the door to the house closed behind me that I realized Lou hadn’t scanned my bracelet. I turned back to the door, then stopped. He had been staring directly at it. Lou knew he hadn’t scanned my bracelet. Glancing at the door one more time, I turned and hurried toward the front gate of the Orchard.
Reed stood next to Oscar’s yellow truck, his hands shoved into his pockets. As soon as he saw me walk around the corner, he straightened. I walked closer and held out the paper. Without a word, he climbed into the driver seat and reached across to open the passenger door for me.
I climbed in and slammed it shut. Without pausing, I pulled the seat belt across my body and clicked it into place. Reed buckled himself in then cranked the key in the ignition. The engine turned over once then sputtered out.
Stupid Dodge,” he growled under his breath. Pumping the gas pedal, he cranked the key again. The engine roared to life, the entire truck rumbling.
I finally looked around. “No Eddie?”
Reed shook his head as he backed the truck out of the dirt drive way. “He thinks this is something you need to do. Said he will be waiting for us at dinner with extra rolls.”
A smile tried to tug at the corners of my lips, but quickly died away. I looked down at the small stack of papers in my hand, my fingers nervously rubbing the top sheet. My legs were shaking, my heart racing nonstop. Nothing I did could calm me.
We rolled through the town. The same people as always ambled around. I saw them differently now though. Through their smiles and laughter, I could see their eyes watching each other warily. They glanced over their shoulders. The mothers always remained close to the carefree children. Every person wandering the sidewalks walked in the same path that they had the day before, just barely avoiding each other until they finally saw someone they could smile at and greet. It was all rehearsed, all well practiced and careful.
It was all fake.
We rolled by the Records office. Rick watched us from his door, his magnified eyes barely blinking as we passed. Locking eyes a moment, he nodded at me, his lips set in a tight line. Then we pulled out of the town and turned onto the road that led back to Spokane, leaving the town in our rumbling dust.
I tried to watch the countryside roll by. The swaying grass used to intrigue me. Now it just looked dead, left to become forgotten in this abyss of a land that led to nothing good. I tore my eyes away and stared at my shaking hands.
Reed’s hand softly touched mine. His fingers stroked mine a moment then gently intertwined, locking our hands together. I stared at his hand holding mine. He gave me a soft squeeze, and I knew he was trying to offer me a smile, if I would just look back. I only seemed able to stare at his hand.
I didn’t let go.
Before I expected it, Spokane rose up in front of us. I could have sworn the ride away from the Prison two weeks ago had been much longer than that. My legs were barely cramped, my back still not fully settled into the worn seat. I looked over to the dash and saw the speedometer ticking over the speed limit. Seeing that I had noticed, Reed offered me a small smile and slowed the truck down. Slightly.
Reed rolled past the entry gate and pulled to a stop in a marked parking spot. We were in the same parking lot Oscar had picked me up in when I had been released. I could see the covered area he had pulled into just a few weeks earlier. The flowers still grew perfectly groomed along the edge of the building, bright and fake like the people wandering in the distant town. It truly seemed like only yesterday when I had been passed off into Oscar’s nervous hands.
The truck engine choked once then turned off. Reed moved to open the door, then stopped. He looked down at our hands, still clasped tightly together. My eyes were already glued to them. He squeezed my hand once more then reluctantly let go. Reed pulled the keys out of the ignition and shoved them into his pocket, then pushed his door open and climbed out. I followed, the sound of our doors slamming shut echoing in the near empty parking lot.