(Editor’s note: I found this story in my mailbox. There author did not identify him or herself.)
It was the kind of January day that was so cold it hurt. “The kind of cold the gets into your bones and freezes your soul,” was how his mother would describe it. But inside the verdictorium it was already warming up. Thanks to the glass dome of a roof that let in the sun it was possible even in the coldest days of winter to grow plants inside the circular chamber. In days of heated cases the windows would even fog. By-and-large it was a pleasant room and the Judge was happy to be in it. After all they were an advanced society and believed that everyone deserved a comfortable place to be heard no matter how guilty of their crimes they were.
The Judge wondered if this is what it felt like to be a pea in a pod as he took his seat and called the room to order. Three men stepped forward to make a claim. If he did not know them by sight the Judge knew them by the color of their robes, purple for the head of state, gold for the head of the Institution, and red for the chairman of the board. It was a rare occurrence for one of them to stand before him with a grievance. The Judge found the sight of three unnerving. The room grew cold and he shuddered under his robes.
“Who brings a case before the court in the verdictorium?” asked the Judge following legal protocol.
The man in the purple robe stepped forward, “I do.” It was the responsibility of the lead prosecutor to step forward and announce his intentions. “If it please the court I have brought two others to help me.” This did not please the Judge at all but there was nothing he could do about. “Proceed,” said the Judge.
“Your honor,” began the man in the purple robe, “we bring before you a most heinous crime. A crime of defilement.” Defilement was the worse crime short of murder, in some eyes, even worse. “On or about fifteen years ago a young boy was defiled. This hideous act was repeated again three years later by the same man.”
“And is this the man before me?”
“No your honor.”
“Is the man accused of this crime alive today?”
“Then why is he not here to stand before the court and answer these charges?”
“Your honor, if I may.” The man in the red robe stepped forward. “We would rather the man accused of these crimes crawls into the hell hole he undoubtedly came from and be forgotten for all eternity.”
“Then what is this case? What charges do you bring against this man? Was he an accomplice?”
“No your honor.”
“Did he hide the accused?”
“Did he obstruct the pursuit of justice in any way?”
“Your honor, this man is brought before you because he could have done more.”
“He broke no law?”
“Committed no crime?”
“Then what right have you to accuse him?”
The man in the purple robe spoke. “We have the right because his inaction has caused irrefutable harm to the Institution and the State.”
“And you can prove this?” asked the Judge. It took all his nerve to continue, “I am inclined to dismiss unless you can bring forth a strong case against this man as he is not the one who committed the crimes.”
“The defiler should hang himself and save us the embarrassment of having to do it,” snapped the man in the purple robe. “He is beneath our concern. It is this man who must pay.”
“Bring him forth then. But I must warn you if he can prove unjust cause I will dismiss this case immediately.”
“No worries there your honor,” said the man in the purple robe with a smile. “The accused!” he shouted and turned to face the audience.
A frail man stepped forward from the shadows. Dressed in a blue coat that seemed to weigh heavy on his stooped shoulders. His eyes were puffy and his lower lip drooped. His skin was almost translucent and covered in brown spots. The Judge could tell he did not have long to live.
“This is the man?”
The Judge turned his eye toward the old man. “How do you plead?”
The old man spoken softly, as if through a thick wad of cotton, “I wish I did more.”
The man in the red robe stepped forward to speak. “Your honor this man is guilty of bringing shame and ridicule upon this great Institution. His actions, or lack thereof allowed a degenerate, a monstrosity of a human being to prey upon the young people he was supposed to protect. For years his inactivity let this monster, this beast, run free through our Institution.”
The Judge asked the old man, “Is this true?”
“I wish I did more.”
The Judge indicated to the three prosecutors to proceed. His stomach sickened.
“On or about fifteen years ago,” continued the man in the red robe, “the defiler molested a boy while under the employ of the accused and thus in the employ of the Institution. And this man did nothing.”
“Did the assault happen on the Institution?”
“Did the accused witness or know about the assault and fail to report it?”
“The how do we know the assault happened?”
“Your honor, if I may,” the man in the purple robe stepped forward, “I was the chief prosecutor of the State during that time. The case was brought to my attention by another party.”
“An employee of the Institution?”
“No your honor. A private party.”
“Did this party contact the accused?”
“No, your honor.”
“And why did you not proceed with the charges?”
“Your honor, there was not enough evidence to proceed at the time.”
“But you told the accused to be on the lookout for the behavior of his employee.”
“No your honor.”
The man in the gold robe spoke. “Your honor. We are not on trial here. Our actions or inactions are not in question. This man is the one who brought shame to us all.”
“And how is that?”
“Your honor,” the man in the gold robe continued, “we are here because we are good men. Just men. We are here to be transparent in our actions because we believe that transparency is the only way to regain the trust of the public. We need to convict this man to prove to the public that we have learned from our mistakes and will do our best to win their trust back.”
“I am not inclined to see how convicting this dying man for something he knew nothing about will win the trust of the public. If our lead justice could do nothing…” the Judge let his words trail off. “I am inclined to dismiss.”
“Your honor that would be a grave mistake,” said the man in the purple robe, “Perhaps if we proceed to the second incident you eyes will be opened.” The judge recognized the threat in the request.
The man in the red robe spoke up, “On or about twelve years ago another child was assaulted. This time on the property of the Institution and the accused knew of it.”
“Is this true?” the Judge asked the old man.
“I wish I did more.” The man had grown lighter since the proceedings start. His skin color had so washed away that you could see the table and chairs in the back of the room by looking straight though him.
“You see your honor. He admits guilt,” said the man in the gold robe.
“Proceed.” If the old man wasn’t going to help himself what could the Judge do?
“On this second incident. We have a witness, another employee of the accused. And this witness went to the accused and told him what he saw.”
“And the accused did nothing?” asked the Judge.
“No, your honor. He notified me,” said the man in the gold robe.
“And what did you do with this information?”
“I took it to the lead prosecutor, of course. As was my minimal duty under law.”
The Judge turned his eye toward the man in the purple robe.
“Your honor, unfortunately at the this time again there was not enough evidence to bring charges. But we opened an investigation. An investigation that has remained open even now after I have moved on to higher office.”
“And did the accused fire his employee?”
“No your honor.”
“Perhaps I can answer that.” The man in the gold robe spoke up. “The beast was no longer in the employ of the Institution at the time.”
“But the accused let him on the property?”
“No your honor we did.”
“You see your honor,” the man in the red robe spoke, “the beast, while a monster, was guilty of no crime and therefore in appearance a respected member of our legacy program. We could not refuse him access to our facilities.”
“Your honor,” interrupted the man in the purple robe, “I am afraid we are drifting off track again. We are not on trial here. We did no wrong. The accused must pay so we can prove to the public we are transparent and worthy of their trust again.”
“So you believe that convicting this man will win back the public?”
“And with that their support? Their children? And their money.”
“Precisely, your honor.”
“I fail to see how making a martyr of an old man. A man who I know gave his life to the very Institution you say he disgraced, will win back the public.”
The man in the red robe spoke up. “Perhaps that is because your honor is not a businessman. You see, your honor, the business of the Institution is people, young people. And for more years than should be allowed this man stood as the mark of why parents should trust their children to us. If he would have stepped aside when it was his time all of this could have been avoided. But here we are. Now, he must pay to prove we are transparent and therefore trustworthy.”
The man in the gold robe picked up. “He is not the only one to pay. Others have already lost their jobs.”
“Really” asked the Judge. “Who?”
“Two others. My predecessor and the man who reported to him.”
“I do not remember them being brought to the verdictorium to face trial,” said the Judge.
“That is because the Board thought it best to handle these matters internally, your honor.”
“And concerning transparency?
“Again your honor. This was a business decision. The board thought it best to make swift appointments. We thought we had to show the public we were strong to win back their trust.”
“I thought that is why you were being transparent.”
“Your honor to be transparent at that level would be an admission of weakness. We had to sure up the top before we could be transparent enough to ferret out the real wrong doer.”
The accused had grown so thin he was almost completely made of air. “Look,” said the Judge, “this man is almost gone before our eyes. In moments he will be gone. What is the purpose of continuing?”
The man in the purple robe spoke, “That would be a mistake your honor.”
“It is because he is almost gone that we must convict him now, while he is alive. It is the only way to show transparency and win back the public trust.”
“I see,” said the Judge. “So you got the job of the past president,” the Judge said to the man in the gold robe. “And who got the other job?”
“That would be me your honor,” said the man in the red robe. “But it is not as devious as your question intimates. We are here because we love this Institution. We are here not for the lust for the position but because the position lusts for us. We are what is needed in order to restore the people’s trust.”
“By condemning this dying man.”
The Judge sighed. “Very well,” he said, “I have heard your evidence. Now let’s hear from the accused. Have you anything to offer in evidence?”
“I wish I did more.” He was almost completely invisible, his words a whisper.
“Is there anything else?” the Judge asked but the shadow just grew fainter. “Very well, then I am ready to offer judgment.” The Judge wanted nothing more than to get out of the courtroom and be sick.
“Wait your honor!” The man in the gold robe came up to the bench. “He is gone. The great man is gone.”
“Your honor I believe we have prevented you from making the most grievous decision. Look.”
The accused was now only a puff of smoke reflecting off the beam of light arching down from the ceiling.
“You can still have your justice even on a dead man,” said the Judge.
The man in the red robe spoke, “You honor we do not want justice. We never acted out of a need for justice. All we wanted, what we wanted the entire time was to restore the trust in the Institution. Do you think the public would trust us if we crucified a dead man?”
“Especially a man as beloved as this one,” said the man in the purple robe. “A man who gave his life to the Institution. A man, who I daresay, made this Institution.”
“Your honor,” said the man in the gold robe. “Your rush to justice would have crippled the Institution. Now you see why it was good that we were here to help set the record straight.
“Come my brothers. We have much to do. There are arrangements to make. Eulogies to write. We must wrap ourselves in the cloak of the great work of this man in order to win back the trust of the public. Come my brothers. We must be transparent.”