The story about justice...
Anyone who has driven through Sedona would be in awe of this picturesque town set in the middle of nowhere. Not far away ran the tributaries of Oak Creek.
The weather outside was pretty crappy. The forecasts on TV only confirmed its further deterioration. Somewhere off in the distance, gray clouds were moving in, looming menacingly, and it might just become too dangerous to walk the streets, even with an umbrella. Heavy showers of hail were expected. Passers-by were in a hurry to get home. Such weather was not at all usual for the state's climate.
The Sedona courthouse courtroom was hushed, but every now and then the quiet buzz of mosquitoes could be heard - a real scourge for the local population.
Everyone knew he was innocent. Even the trial was pretty rocky. They did not grant him the right to a duty counsel. The judge had returned from a business trip and was now just observing all the formalities of the case and not giving himself much trouble to go into the details. After hearing the defendant, he appointed an expert. Everything was precise and clear and matched like a textbook.
The magistrate maintained his stern expression as he looked searchingly into the defendant's face. Somewhere deep down, he too was convinced of his innocence, even though all the evidence he had gathered pointed to the contrary. He was more than certain that the best lawyer would have a hard time getting him off without a plea bargain.
The jury stood together with exam faces. They were well aware of it too. The man was leaning meekly in the corner awaiting his verdict. He claimed nothing. He was only staring at a point, and his hands and feet were chained.
No sobs could be heard from his wife, or the children, for he was a loner. Living extremely modestly.
He had come to Arizona to fulfill his dream - the famous American dream that so many people believed in. He worked like an ox, paid off a mortgage for so many years. No one had told him anything. The emptiness in his life was murderous. He paid off his debts in no time, but then there came a moment when he wondered what his next goal would be. He decided to get a new car. He started working again and collecting money. He settled on a nice Chevrolet model. It had a pretty big trunk and tires capable of going over the roughest obstacles. Naturally he bought it.
His neighbors had remembered him as a kind, considerate and very well-mannered young man in what they called his "second age." When you saw an individual like that, living according to a pattern, and strictly following the laws of the state in which he resided, you couldn't help but feel sorry for him. He was simply single-mindedness itself.
There was also a garage near the house. It wasn't anything special, but it was enough to stow his vehicle inside with all the junk that invariably rolled around such places.
When he first moved in, the people around greeted him with the strawberry pie they had prepared. It was an invariable act of hospitality with which he had to comply and return the gesture a little later.
And that's when the real trouble began. The man in question lived on the outskirts of the settlement and had the opportunity to observe the Red Rocks. In fact, the population of Sedona was small enough that everyone knew each other.
His workplace was far to the south. He traveled more than a hundred miles each day in his own vehicle, which filled him with pride. He was a typical American, living a very normal life, but completely devoid of human contact, something all too typical of most workaholics.
The man's name was Duncan Salt, a former Ranger who was currently just breaking from working in one of the local factories and drinking beer on his porch every Friday night.
The popular Budweiser was definitely not the greatest drink, but compared to many others, it was simply divine. It stood for hours, killing the huge amount of mosquitoes that were introduced at this time of year. It was fun. And he always used an old issue of the New York Times to do it with.
After the long and exhausting day was over, he came home and realized all too clearly that he was just wasting his life. He had accomplished a lot, but only on paper. Nothing concrete in life - he had no one to fight for but himself.
Suddenly he heard a sound that was very strange. Apparently a thief had broken in. The authorities were persuading anyone who allowed such a thing to happen to avoid any kind of self-incrimination, and to call 911 immediately. The phone was literally overheating with calls from all sorts of lunatics, but the officers were forced to respond. There was no other way.
For some inexplicable reason, she decided to convince herself of her suspicions first.
Whoever the thief was, he was very resourceful. Apparently he had cut the wire fence in the backyard with some small and very sharp pliers.
Duncan glanced around the perimeter, for there was a small wood behind the house, with an avenue extending beyond. There was no living person.
And just as he was turning around, he took a great punch to the face. He remembered nothing after that except the courtroom where he was about to be tried as an extremely dangerous first-degree felon in the premeditated murder of a police officer.
The strange thing was that whoever had walked in had left no trace. Duncan didn't even try to defend himself, as there was obviously little point. Things seemed more than clear. There wasn't much to think about or drag out. The jurors simply had to rule within the prescribed time.
Before hearing his verdict, the judge asked him if he had anything to say to them or if he should try to have his case remanded, although the chance of that was more than slim.
All were hushed. The whole trial had now been going on for almost ten minutes, a slightly unusual thing for Judge Douglas, who usually rehearsed his cases in no more than five. It was so annoying to him. He'd rather just do his job and get rid of having to listen to stupid explanations from already doomed people. That was his philosophy of life.
The defendant nodded negatively.
The bailiff rose, but the magistrate motioned for him to wait a moment longer. Something inside him was burning. Why such a man, such a model citizen, had not made the faintest attempt to put forward something in his own defence, or at least to avail himself of his right to use a lawyer.
He looked at him testily over his horn-rimmed glasses. Then he waved at the bailiff. "If he wants to kill himself, right on his way. I've done my job," he thought and signed his name to the deed.
They locked him up in custody while they transported him to one of the scariest jails in the state. Arizona State Prison was known for its vegetarian habits, as the warden wanted to shine as an innovator and see his name in the papers. But from there on the perversions began, as they did in every other prison, by the way. It was a prison full of all kinds of scum from several states, because very often there were not enough places in other prisons.
In the morning the truck with the convicts started. It wasn't anything special - just a bunch of condemned to death or life in prison with no right of appeal. Naturally their security was too tight.
On the way to the prison Duncan Salt could see again the Red Rocks, so characteristic of Arizona.
The warders were not afraid that anyone would attempt an escape since everything appeared to be quite calm and the convoy was further reinforced by two patrol cars.
It was not uncommon for prisoners to try to break windows or attack guards with their handcuffs or even their teeth. The law enforcement officers' huge ebon batons should have talked them out of doing anything stupid.
Sergeant Stalker was downright green with anger because these "monkeys" as he called them were only opening up extra work for them. Not that the prisoners had anywhere to run, but they were trying their best, like a caged tiger, to survive.
When they arrived at the prison, Duncan had a chance to look around for a second or two. The huge towers and the wide main courtyard were impressive. Then they were quickly ushered into the rooms and given numbers. They had them hand over their belongings to the management and that was that. Now they had lost their human identity.
A quote popped into Salt's mind, "Don't imagine that when they strip you of your civil rights they won't strip you of your human rights."
So far, as a new prisoner, he hadn't had time to become the object of ridicule as he had accidentally been left alone in his cell. But it wouldn't be for long. They'd be sure to put a mate on him. Maybe some bigger and meaner tanned pimp.
On the dirty wall it said "Rogers. Spent more than half his life here." The inscription was unreadable. And it hardly had any hidden meaning.
Salt turned his face to the wall and fell asleep.
In the middle of the night he was awakened by wild roars and curses. Apparently one of the prisoners had seen fit simply to throw a Molotov cocktail into the next cell. The other inmate was cursing as he put out the fire with all his strength. Immediately the warders rushed in and ground them to a pulp.
Salt pretended to be asleep. Then he heard a voice from behind the wall:
- Have they gone?
The hoarse voice was simply unrecognizable, but it seemed to be that of a high school teacher. It sounded rather reassuring. The white bricks in the wall moved and he slipped into the cell.
- I'm Jasper. I'll be back in the morning before morning check.
Then he returned the bricks to the wall and the cell regained its original appearance.
Salt knew they were going to send him to the electric chair. Regardless, there was no certain confirmation of his guilt. After all, the law was the law.
He remembered the long years of deprivation, the house and car he'd bought, his dreams of just being left alone. All things that were too simple on the surface but very difficult in reality.
Somewhere inside he knew it was caused by a bureaucratic machine that didn't care about people's feelings. It was crushing them at will. And no one had the right to be angry.
Jasper's offer seemed as tempting and sweet as a chance to win the lottery.
Salt figured he could be useful with his ranger skills and the two of them could slip under the barricades. It was the most common method of escape. He didn't know if his partner had the prison plan, though.
In the middle of the night he was approached by Dave Cooper, a large sergeant of African-American descent, who simply told him that in four or five hours he would be moved to solitary confinement, where he would be safe until his sentence was finally carried out.
- Man, to tell you the truth I don't care if you're guilty or innocent. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes.
He turned his back and walked away. His footsteps echoed down the hallway, slow and measured. When everything quieted down, Salt now knew for sure what to do.
There wasn't a prisoner who wasn't aware of a sentence of this kind. The very thought of such a fate made his hair stand on end.
Naturally the defendant was due a confessor. Father Benedict had to undertake this uneasy task.
He entered his cell. Salt still stood facing the wall, keeping the secret of his soon deliverance.
- Son, I believe you are innocent, despite the evidence. But you've clearly been the victim of bad circumstances. And consequently you have come to this. Let me help you in your final minutes.
Salt wasn't religious or fanatic about confessions. He had heard that they put a special sponge over the victim's head to avoid the short-circuiting when the voltage increased. A special officer wet it with water beforehand. There was also the possibility that the execution could be observed, but no one was likely to be present at his.
- Father, there is no point in lying to you. I am guilty in spite of everything. The fact that I got hit by my attacker doesn't change things much.
Father Benedict listened intently. For the first time he found it difficult to anticipate what sort of man he had in his sights. His appearance said he was innocent, but inwardly he felt he was dealing with an excellent artist who could hide his true feelings and intentions.
Far beyond the Red Cliffs, the sun was about to rise. It was very early in the morning. The execution would be in little more than three hours.
- "Do you at least regret your actions? Do you repent before God?," the holy officer whispered.
- "It was my destiny," muttered Salt, "I tried to become a Ranger and serve my country. To live honestly, pay my taxes, buy a house and a car. But it didn't work out. Now I'll take my punishment."
- "You are clearly in the hands of powerful higher powers," Father summed up, "I will try to beg a little reprieve from your execution and your right to one last walk around the prison yard. Even a man like you deserves that."
The father turned his back and walked out.
Not fifteen minutes had passed when Jasper stirred the bricks again. He had kept his promise.
- "Shall we act, man?," he uttered breathlessly. - "We haven't much time to think it over. The guard will change, and then we'll lose this last chance."
- "All right," replied Salt shortly.
The two slipped into the tunnel Jasper had dug.
Jasper Skoules had a reputation as the most brutal gangster and psychopath in the Central Arizona State Prison. He needed Salt because of his physique - there was no way he could jump the fence without someone else's help. They walked quickly through the kitchen areas, and then through the laundry room. The typical escape plan. Jasper had tried at least a dozen times, but he'd always failed and been stopped before he even got close to the enclosure.
Father Benedict soon returned and was astonished to find the cell empty. He immediately gave the alarm and everyone was on their feet. Naturally the fugitives already had some lead of about twenty minutes.
They had emerged from the courtyard and were no more than ten yards from the outer wire fence. The sentries on the towers had not yet made their presence felt, and so they were able to reach their destination unmolested. Jasper appeared to be carrying a pair of pliers with which to cut the wire and get away.
He handed them to Duncan:
- "You're more experienced and good than me. Weren't you a ranger? Act!," he muttered.
Salt handled himself with ease. He'd been to Afghanistan and done far more complicated things. He'd even killed people with his bare hands. It was child's work.
They began to squirm. First it was Salt, and shortly after him, Jasper. Then the spotlight shone on them. They couldn't have gotten any faster. Jasper hung on to the fence. He started wriggling like a worm.
- "For God's sake, man, I got tangled up. Pull me out. I want to live!," he almost cried.
Salt dragged his feet and turned.
- The important thing is that I saved myself. I fooled even the priest. Let that be a lesson to you.
Then he quickly hid in the night. The cursed Jasper took his place at the execution in the morning. The prison authorities looked to whitewash the situation as much as was at all possible and to release false news. But somewhere out there in the darkness Duncan Salt was laughing evilly. He had slipped away rather meanly. All he had to do was head to the next state to sell his numbers. Smarter, stronger, and not least a lot more cunning than before.
The morning's execution began rather unusually. The defendant's face was pinned up to make the escape unintelligible. They put the damp sponge on his forehead.
The prison director felt very uneasy. When they turned on the electricity and the wretch began to writhe in agony, the mask on his face became soaked with blood and his eyes popped out of their orbits. The inside of his brain was turned to charcoal, and bloody foam rose from his mouth.
This was the end of Jasper Scholes's life. He was betrayed by the man whose life he had saved.
Somewhere far away in the state of Nevada, Duncan Salt had bought brand new clothes and fake papers with stolen money. And a little while later, he'd gotten himself a gun. His final destination was Alaska. And then no one heard from him. So divine and human justice was served.
After the execution, they buried Jasper in the prison cemetery. A stone angel was placed on the grave next to his. Because the morning was damp, a dewdrop had fallen on his eye and he appeared to be weeping.