Just in Case

The following piece was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre event – Noir: A Celebration of Detective Fiction. Please enjoy.

“Jersey City man with knife gets conked on the noggin with ceramic decoration” was the Joisey’s headline the day I was charged.  The official charges were lots of fancy gibberish:  1) aggravated assault, 2) burglary, 3) possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, and 4) hindering apprehension by giving false information.  

My name is Duncan, and I swear on my mama’s Bible that list of charges is longer than anything I ever done put together.  Here’s what happened that day.  Zig slashed up my face while I was napping on my stoop.  That’s not the way a gentlemen in our hood should act.  He should have woken me up first so I could defend myself.  After I got the bleeding stopped, I went to Zig’s house and was waving my knife at him.

Sure, I was aggravated as I waved my knife, but I didn’t even manage to nick the dude. How could it be called aggravated assault if I didn’t even touch him with my knife?  Yeah, I meant to cut him, but his sister, Bonnie, knocked me unconscious with a hideous garden gnome before I could.  Bonnie’s whack gave me a concussion.  Zig’s slash made this ugly scab.  The gnome, not my knife, was the weapon.   Bonnie and Zig are the ones who should have been charged.  

And yet, I’m the one at the courthouse getting sentenced now.  I can’t even believe how packed the room is.  Why are there so many people here to see me sentenced for the crimes I didn’t commit?

After all, the last time I was sentenced, the only people besides me who came were the ones who had to show up because it was their job.  I guess it was also my job to be there, since you need a criminal to have a sentencing.     Let’s just consider it my contribution to society to keep people employed.  

At least the burglary was a noteworthy crime.  I had stolen a crown reportedly worn by Miss America.  I spent hours plotting how to crack the impervious security system at Christie’s Auction House.  My crime got publicity on national television.  I even managed to avoid getting caught for an entire week.  It would have been the perfect crime, except that I picked the wrong accomplice, who turned on me.  Maybe I should have let Rex wear the crown. Anyway, no one showed up to see me sentenced for my famous crime.   The crazy headline for this one was no reason for them to come out now.  

I looked out into the crowd and saw my neighbor, Angela.  She once dated the judge who was about to sentence me.  My mama told me he had humiliated her when he dumped her, but I never could remember the specifics of that kind of gossip.  What I did remember about Angela was that she was famous for writing mystery books based on murders in my hood.  One was about the waitress whose head had been stuffed in a bowling bag.  Another was about a guy who ended up in a shopping cart.  We had some really grisly murders, but at least no innocent bystanders got caught in the cross fire like in other parts of town.  Personally, I thought Angela was a serial killer. She kept giving tips to the cops to help them crack their cases.  The only mystery to me was why I wasn’t as clever as Angela.   Maybe if I had her cover as a mystery writer, I could have pinned the robbery, or today’s charges, on someone else.

I hit my forehead with my palm in disgust.  I saw my girlfriend Annie with a baby she had borrowed for the occasion.  Annie had gotten the idea after overhearing someone on the jitney saying, “They took my baby in her carrier from me while I walked through the metal detector and didn’t pat the baby down or nuthin’.  I could’ve smuggled a weapon in under her blanket!” When I looked at Annie, she tapped the baby’s nose, our signal she’d managed to pull it off.

I nodded back at Annie.  The baby was starting to fuss, and Annie was fumbling with the carrier’s straps.  I felt a bead of sweat at the sight.  I’d told her to practice taking care of the baby, but Annie never listened.  She’d also somehow managed to avoid babysitting her many nieces and nephews.   She’d also somehow managed not to have any of her pregnancies result in making me or anyone else a baby daddy.  I kept deleting the number for Planned Parenthood from her phone in vain.  The baby’s squalls snapped me out of my memories of finding positive EPT sticks in the trash.  Before the shrieks became unbearable, Annie managed to disentangle the baby, stick a bottle in its mouth and, thank you baby Jesus, the crying quit.

Since I always liked to have a backup plan, especially since I didn’t trust Annie to pull hers off, I had come up with my own.  I was pleased by the cleverness it took to even think it up.  First I asked for some water.  After I claimed I had an allergy to the plastic cup they originally gave to me, they gave it to me in a glass.  They were none the wiser that it wasn’t really an accident when it fell off the table’s edge.   I managed to hide some shards of it under my shoe as the janitor swept up the rest.   Later I bent down to retrieve the pieces.  I made the sharpest piece into a shiv by wrapping one end in the gauze they’d given me to stop my finger from bleeding.  I kept it hidden under my palm on the table.  I even managed to keep it hidden when I had to stand when the bailiff recited, “All rise”.  

What are the odds that the bailiff would be the fat fifth grader who used to steal my lunch money when I was in first grade?  My former bully had become a star on the gridiron.  He played with my brother Bud on the only championship team from the local high school.   I cheered for him the day they won, even though he’d been so mean to me.  When my mama heard the name of the judge assigned for my sentencing, she reminded me the judge had also played football on the championship team.  My mama told me what a shame it was that the judge had tackled his own teammate, my former bully turned bailiff.   The injury prevented the bailiff from ever playing football again on the very day the bailiff found out he had gotten a full scholarship to play at Ohio State.  What are the odds that the bailiff would be assigned to work in the judge’s courtroom today?  And that the bailiff was legally allowed to carry a gun in the courtroom?

I was so entertained by the idea that at least four people in the courtroom had motives and the means to off the judge, I started giggling just as the judge started to announce my sentence.  “Silence in the courtroom,” the judge bellowed.  My giggling escalated into laughter that escalated into loud snorts.  “Silence or I will hold you in contempt of court.”

The mystery was solved.  I could close the case.  I didn’t care that I was being sentenced to spend the rest of my life in prison for an incident where I had been the victim.  I was too ecstatic that the court house was completely packed and not a single person in it cared about my case.  It wasn’t just four people who wanted to off the judge.  Maybe the rest of them did, too.

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