This story is about a judge who finds his long lost son.
|The Grand Prosecutor
By Hasan Fernandez
Leon had an excruciating pain in his spine when he got up to another day in the scorching heat of Phoenix, Arizona. He felt unable to move his head up from his soiled pillow. The bed sheet seemed to increase his discomfort with the warmth of the morning sun. He removed his dusty white bed sheet and with a huge effort rose from his spring bed. The alarm clock had stopped functioning when he came home the previous night, impotent with rage at a bungled robbery that he committed. All over the walls were posters of far off places like the islands of Crete, and Majorca, which he knew he would never be able to visit.
The bulb was shining overhead and he cursed a little for forgetting to turn it off. Opening his window allowed the noise of the traffic to annoy him further until he hit the wall with his fist. On days like these, he wished for the luxury of a shower. For now, he had to make do with a smelly and dingy bathroom and toilet.
Someone sounded his horn on the road nearby which made him swear abuse at all the world for a few minutes. Heaving in his breath when he stopped swearing, he thought he would have a drink for himself. He looked in an old refrigerator for some beer and found only cola. ‘That will do for the morning I suppose.’ he said to himself glumly.
Soon, he began to feel hungry and a pain seeped through his stomach. He knew he had very little food until about two days later, and with this realization, he sank onto his metal chair, and wept silently with his head in his hands. Wondering whether to steal some food reminded him of his need to get dressed.
Leon had slept in his jogging trousers that were already damp with grime and dust. He pulled out a pair of chinos from a heap of clothes nearby and reluctantly got into them. He decided not to change the shirt he was wearing, since he had only a few.
The searing heat outside hit his face as he walked out onto the streets of Phoenix in Arizona just a few minutes after getting ready. He took a gulp to see if he had brushed his teeth and was not quite bothered to brush them again to make certain of doing so. The traffic mercilessly sped past him and some motorists seemed to take pleasure in sounding their horns in his presence. A taxi driver yelled at him from his window:
‘Hey thief, when are you going to do time in prison?’
‘Go to hell, you slut!’ Leon shouted back.
The cab driver yelled abuse at Leon in return and sped off with a roaring accelerator.
Sandra Wells looked through her shop window in anticipation of more customers to her shop. A retired tax collector, she thought she would make amends for her excesses in her career by selling second hand clothes. This morning she experienced some of the worst customers she could ever dream of.. One couple in particular succeeded in causing the disappearance of the best clothes in the shop. The classic technique was used for this theft and she kicked herself for not being alert to it. The young wife stood at the clothes shelf saying soothing phrases that flattered Sandra enormously while the husband stayed at the counter near Sandra and talked in a singsong voice about the lack of good music on the radio and television.
About four expensive looking suits were stolen, which meant that as soon as Sergeant Robinson entered the shop, she leapt with joy and hugged him warmly.
‘Hey you,’ he said, ‘I am on duty please.’
‘I am so glad to see you that’s all.’
‘What is special about today?’
‘You came at the right time.’
‘Just had a robbery.’
‘Then I obviously have not come at the right time. The thief or thieves have disappeared.’
Sandra released her hold on the cop. She felt stupid but was not inclined to say so.
‘I came to inform you about a small time pickpocket. Are you familiar with the name Leon?’
‘No. I can’t say that I am.’
‘No worries. Just do not upset him or he turns abusive. I heard from his neighbors that the kid is feeling bitter.’
‘So are all gangsters.’ Sandra said throwing up her arms.
‘Somehow I don’t see it that way. Incidentally, he is not a gangster. He works alone at his mischief.’
‘A thief, a loner.’
Sergeant Robinson smiled sadly. ‘You know something. You were better in your old job’
‘Get lost,’ she replied coldly.
Having had his shouting match with a taxi driver, Leon thought it would help him to do some window shopping, even though he could not afford to buy a single item that he really wanted. On turning a street corner, he received a slap on the shoulder from an acquaintance who pointed out a second hand clothes shop.
‘You can get some bargains there,’ said the acquaintance, pointing at Sandra’s shop window.
‘Thanks,’ Leon replied dismissively, though within minutes he found himself in her shop.
Leon browsed through the second hand clothes. At first sight, they appeared to be bargains, but when he looked more closely, they all had some repair or serious wash that needed to be done. He went up to the counter and asked Sandra if she ever did credit. Sandra vehemently declared she did no such thing.
‘How about if you reserve an item for me?’ Leon said wistfully.
‘Can you afford to buy?’ was the stiff reply.
‘Not at the moment.’
‘Please come only if you can afford it.’ Sandra looked at him with a sneer.
‘So you don’t even keep things aside for customers.’
‘That’s my right.’
‘Oh well,’ replied Leon walking away to the door, ‘I expect you never heard of Human Rights.’
‘Don’t be so rude.’ Sandra yelled loudly as he shut the door behind him.
Leon rushed home in a filthy temper, and all the way there, he was made uncomfortable with the sound of police sirens screaming. He kept on having to check if they were screaming at him. Once he got home, he fell face down on his bed and dreamed of better days when his mother was still alive. He stayed in this dormant mood and tried to picture what his father looked like. His parents had divorced when he was a baby and his father had tried to kidnap him and take him into custody when he was just 8 years old. The police had been called and his father surrendered the child voluntarily to avoid criminal charges. On the side of his bed was a picture of his father as a young graduate, receiving his degree certificate.
At a luxury hotel in downtown Phoenix, an executive dinner was being hosted for the new local businesses in the area by David Irvin the head of the town’s Chamber of Commerce. Sandra Wells was dressed in her perennial grey trouser suit, and seated herself on arrival at the banquet Hall. The long rectangular table was well laid out with the most expensive cutlery and crockery. The shining silver spoons and forks made her mouth water for a menu of food she had not yet seen. David stood at the entrance to the banquet hall while Sandra threw roguish glances at him. He was puzzled as to why she came so early to the banquet but thought that he would ask her after dinner. His tuxedo suit was a welcome sight to the executives and women who arrived slowly. Sandra felt somewhat outnumbered with all the other executives dressed in their finest eveningwear.
‘Just arrived from work,’ asked one executive.
‘Why no. I mean, no. I was just, well, tired before I came.’
‘Never mind. The lobsters will cheer you up’
‘Who are the lobsters?’
‘Poor thing. You are exhausted. Why, I simply meant the food.’
‘Oh I see.’ Sandra’s face hung low suddenly on this realization.
She began to feel sick even before the food was served. Hurriedly she went over to David, and asked him if she could go home.
‘But we haven’t even started.’ he replied.
‘Please be my witness. Look at my face. I feel ill.’
‘We will miss you.’
‘Look, here. Take the money, here.’ she forced some dollar notes into his pocket. ‘You can be my witness.’
Sandra rushed home leaving David with a longing for a sexual adventure with her. ‘Hmm. She is loaded and very well built. Promising.’ He counted the notes with glee and looked forward to putting her under his control.
The next day would be payday for Leon. He looked forward to receiving his food vouchers and other concessions from the local dole office when he got up on Monday. His temper was at knife-edge after the row with the shopkeeper the previous afternoon. He wiped his cheeks, as was his habit only to find them soaking wet. His face now had a stubble and his hair was a mess.
He got up and dressed himself with a heavy heart, all the time debating to himself whether he should steal some goods from that second hand shop to punish the owner for shouting at him. ‘At any rate’ he thought to himself ‘I need some second hand clothes.’
As he finished his drink of cola for the morning, he made his decision to rob the shop at night in the pitch dark. He pulled on his usual clothes of sweatshirt and chinos and went out window-shopping downtown.
A friend of his greeted him on his way to the city centre. Harold offered him a drink of coffee, which he accepted, and which Harold hoped he would refuse. With a sense of embarrassment, the offer was kept and the two friends went to the cheapest café in town.
‘What do you do with yourself nowadays?’ he asked Leon.
‘Not a lot.’
‘Don’t start that please.’
They drank in silence for a while and then Leon asked if his friend was still working. It seemed to Harold a silly question but he confirmed he was working.
Again, there was silence for a while. Then Harold thought for a minute and spoke:
‘Are you hard up? I can lend you cash.’
‘Thanks but I get paid tomorrow.’
‘Dole vouchers I meant.’
‘Hey, anytime you need help let me know. Here is my business card with my contact details.’
On finishing the drinks, Harold wondered if this was the Leon that he knew so well. He could see his friend was low in spirits.
That night as Sandra slept soundly, a figure appeared at her shop window and within seconds, a loud crash could be heard by the entire neighborhood. No one appeared near the shop until Sandra had already woken up to see a figure in the darkness helping himself to her clothes on the shop displays. She let out a scream that sent the stranger running away, but she was not consoled until she had torn her clothes by beating them with both her fists and nails. When the alarm was raised to the police, she said in a gasping voice to Sergeant Robinson:
‘He tried to rape me.’
‘How do you know it was a man?’ the sergeant wanted to know.
‘He stole my shop items and tried to rape me. Look at this.’
‘You keep saying it is a man who robbed you. I suppose you can tell me his name.’
‘Don’t be funny, sir,’ she shouted. ‘There has been a burglary here.’
‘Okay madam, no need to shout at a police officer. Now can we check how much is stolen?’
The federal police searched the shop thoroughly and went through every corner of the shop to look for clues to the robber’s identity. They found nothing stolen. Sergeant Robinson did however find a torn piece of cloth belonging to Leon.
‘Was he young looking?’ Sergeant Robinson inquired.
‘How could I tell? It was so dark when the robber came.’
‘Yet you know this much that it was a male robber. Now does this piece of cloth look familiar to you?’
‘Oh no. Oh dear. How could Leon, I mean….’
‘We certainly made a lot of progress. How close was Leon to you when he assaulted you?’
‘Oh well, he just ran away when I screamed.’
‘Yet he still assaulted you, you say?’
‘Look sir. Please do your job and arrest that young Leon.’ Sandra said with an air of arrogance.
The police surrounded the door to Leon’s flat the next morning. Sergeant Robinson knocked hard on the door and shouted through the letterbox:
‘Police, open up.’
The door slowly opened and Leon, dressed in pajamas looked straight at the police. He knew why they had come, and let them in without a whisper. The police issued the usual warning and arrested him, after allowing him to put on his day clothes. They took him away silently to the cars outside and drove him to prison.
Leon was permitted to write to his friend, due to the fact he had no living relatives. He wrote to Harold explaining what had happened, and allowed him to take custody of his flat. His friend agreed to look after the flat as long as Leon was in prison.
The jail keeper looked at Leon through the corner of the eyes. ‘Bit young for this business surely?’ he asked Leon.
There was no reply. Leon sat solidly like a statue for a long time. The jail keeper thought for a while and telephoned someone.
‘Hi sir, it’s Phoenix State Prison. I got a young man here. Want to have a chat with him?’
‘What’s the charge?’
‘Been done for robbery and assault.’
‘I am coming. Meanwhile please humor him.’
John Rosenberg put down the phone and drove at a fast speed to see Leon in the State prison. Once he reached his new client he said ‘Oh no.’
‘What is the matter sir.’ asked the jail keeper.
‘He is just a boy. I hate to think what he will become once he is released’
Rosenberg entered Leon’s cell and with great difficulty managed to get him to talk. He came out and said to himself: ‘Obviously the boy is going to be scarred for life.’
A distraught Sandra Wells telephoned David Irvin the same morning with concerns about her business. Her voice was hoarse and her hands were shaky as she held her mobile in her hands.
In the street in front, the traffic suddenly increased in intensity.
‘Hello, can you hear me, David?’
‘Yes, dear,’ he replied, licking his lips.
‘I need help, please.’
‘Anything you fancy. Where can we meet?’
‘You really mean to help? That is great. Why not come over now to my shop. I feel frightened nowadays.’
‘It’s my pleasure,’ he replied and put down the phone with a roguish smile.
He reached her in her shop and offered to help her under certain conditions, which he was not able to disclose straight away. He studied her closely and warned her that if she did not comply he would tell the court she bribed him.
‘What are the conditions?’ she asked with a nervous smile.
‘Well, let’s see.’ He went behind her and without warning; he wrapped her in his arms. She giggled nervously and this encouraged his ambitions on her.
‘David, stop.’ she said, feeling embarrassed but flattered at the same time.
‘What? What about tonight?’ She tried to avoid his gaze but was too late to stop him from holding her bosom in his hands.
‘And don’t argue, or else jail.’
‘What? Oh, I see. Okay.’
By the time he left her for the day, she found her shirt buttons had been undone. She felt powerless and without a friend, yet also dependent entirely on him.
The trial was due for the next day. Judge Arthur Daniels inquired about the defendant called Leon as to whether the young man was mentally stable. A tall stiff faced redneck of a man, Judge Daniels was keen to allow clemency on grounds of mental instability. However if the defendant named Leon were to be of sound mental disposition he would make sure of the harshest penalty he could find. That afternoon, he had a four-course meal at a luxury hotel before preparing for the trial ahead.
That same afternoon, Harold had been to his friends flat to look after it as usual, but today he unconsciously looked for any items that would prove Leon’s innocence or at least go in his friends favor. He found a picture of a young man that was dated 1970, and seemed to be Leon’s relative. He rummaged through the rest of his friends belongings, and took custody of anything and everything that would help prove his friends innocence.
He rushed to the prison where Leon was held and showed him the picture that he found. The jail keeper would not let him enter the cell, so Harold showed the picture through the small window at the door while he talked to Leon.
‘It may not be too late then, if this is your dad.’
‘I just don’t see what you mean.’
‘Leon, keep calm. I know its tough at a time like this but keep hopeful.’
Leon’s eyes glistened with sorrow. ‘What difference is that picture going to make?’
‘I can always try to present some sort of defense. There has to be some way.’
‘I don’t have a hope.’
‘Have you a defense attorney?’
‘Yes. Why?’ Leon looked more puzzled than ever.
‘Let me meet him. Please. We have to get you out of here.’
‘His name is John Rosenberg.’ replied Leon and proceeded to give Harold the contact details of Mr. Rosenberg.
Harold reached the defense attorney’s office in a state of exhaustion and excitement. He showed him the picture that he had kept carefully in his coat pocket.
Sandra Wells, in her customary trouser suit, met the attorney George Fritz, at his office near the courtroom on the morning of the trial. Her eyes were sunken and she had aged a bit too much in just a day or so. Through her bloodshot eyes, she looked at an angry Mr. Fritz, who lectured her about presenting her papers at the last minute.
‘And where is Mr. Irvin?’
‘We were. I mean he is at home.’ she replied nervously.
‘What is he doing at home, Mrs. Wells? He should be here at this minute.’ Mr. Fritz pounded his desk in anger.
‘I am so sorry. I will call him on my mobile now.’
‘Good, and tell him to hurry.’
Sandra did as she was told rather quickly, which made Mr. Fritz even more annoyed. He instructed her to wait outside the courtroom. The heavy wooden doors looked formidable to her and she sat on a bench trembling in fear of something she did not understand. Soon, the doors opened and the guard allowed her in with a look of curiosity and concern.
‘You okay missus?’ he said as she entered the daunting environment of the Courtroom.
‘Yes. I am, okay, yes.’ she said slowly.
The interested parties to the trial arrived and later members of the public. Harold was present and was amazed how quickly everyone filled the benches. Just in front of the foremost benches, sat a nervous and depressed Leon with his attorney Mr. Rosenberg and a clerk at a rectangular table.
On a similar table next to them were seated Sandra Wells and her attorney Mr. Fritz. She looked around and saw that David had arrived. He winked at her.
Judge Daniels entered the hushed courtroom with stress lines that added a touch of malice to his stiff and stony face.
‘Are the witnesses present?’ he said in a coarse voice.
‘Yes, your honor.’ replied Fritz.
The Judge sounded his hammer. ‘Let the trial begin.’
‘Let the council for the prosecution begin.’ said Judge Daniels.
‘Your honor,’ said Fritz, as he stood up to face the bench. ‘We have here an uncouth, bad tempered young man who is obviously a failure with the female sex.’
‘Your honor, I object.’ said Rosenberg.
‘Objection overruled. You may proceed Mr. Fritz.’
‘Your honor, on the night of Tuesday the 10th of October the accused broke into a charity clothes shop and not only stole some items but attempted to rape Mrs. Wells.’
‘Do you have witnesses?’
‘Yes. I would like to call David Irvin, the head of the Chamber of Commerce in our town. He was present just after the crime and noticed the damage to Mrs. Well’s physical health and loss of property.’
‘Your honor, counsel for the prosecution has not a shred of material evidence. He says himself the witness arrived after the felony was committed.’
‘Mr. Irvin, can you in your own words tell the court what occurred on the night of Tuesday at the charity shop run by Mrs. Wells.’ George Fritz looked at him directly in the eye.
‘Your honor, the accused broke into the shop by smashing the front windows with the minimum of weaponry. So intense was his hatred for Mrs. Well’s charitable work that the windows came crashing down anyway. On encountering Mrs. Wells, he immediately set upon and assaulted her.’
‘Your honor, I object.’ said Rosenberg.
‘Objection overruled.’ Judge Daniels said stiffly. ‘I shall be grateful if you did not interrupt Mr. Fritz in his questioning.’
‘Have you anything else to ask the witness?’
‘Case is adjourned until the evening.’
‘I can’t believe it.’ said Leon to Mr. Rosenberg. ‘What has Mr. Irvin got to do with it.?’
The darkness of the evening outside gave the courtroom a morbid appearance of a place where the accused were ultimately always sent to the gas chamber. The shadows of the window curtains deepened the gloomy character of the courtroom to that of a nightmarish scene.
Judge Daniels sounded his hammer with an unusual ferocity. ‘Counsel for the defense will you take your stand.’
‘Your honor, I would like to present my witness, Mr. Harold Marvin, a bookkeeper and a friend of Leon.’
‘Is he a personal friend of Leon?’
‘Permission is denied on grounds of personal interest. Have you any other witnesses?’
‘None have come forward.’
‘Then I would like you to present your closing speech as this trial is taking too long.’
‘Then I will proceed.’ John Rosenberg glanced reassuringly at both Leon and his friend and then began speaking:
‘Your honor, counsel for the prosecution has just provided the most unconvincing case against the accused, Leon Wilson Abrams. He maintains that Leon not only stole items from the plaintiff’s shop but also assaulted her sexually. The only witness he has arrived after the incident. What is most significant is that no items were found stolen when the police searched the shop just after the felony was committed. Yet how strange it is that both Mr. Irvin and Mrs. Wells are adamant that things were stolen. On arrival at the scene of the crime, the police found Mrs. Wells very distraught indeed. But I have made inquiries from the police who insist that she was extraordinarily assertive about arresting the accused, who she herself says ran away as soon as she threatened him.’
‘I would like Sergeant Robinson to stand in the witness box.’ said Judge Daniels.
The sergeant arrived in the witness box with an air of embarrassment and a drooping head. ‘Sergeant Robinson, can you confirm what the counsel for the defense has just said.’ Judge Daniels ordered the police chief to speak clearly when he did.
‘All of it is true?’
‘Case is adjourned for an hour until the verdict.’ said Judge Daniels pounding his hammer.
The night outside the courtroom was pitch black with a full moon and a starless sky. Judge Daniels pounded his hammer fiercely. Dressed in his black robe and wig, his stress lines, vertical along his face had grown during this court trial.
‘Before we hear the verdict, is there anything the counsel for the defense would like to show me.’
Leon froze in terror at the Judge causing Rosenberg to place his hand on the shoulder of his client before proceeding. ‘Yes, your honor. I have a photograph of Leon’s only relative with me here.’
Judge Daniels spoke like an automated machine when he made his statement to the jury about America being the land of the free and how miscreants were to be punished no matter what their circumstances. ‘This is the land of opportunity. Does not the inscription at the Statue of Liberty call upon the world to give us their teeming masses? Does not every single citizen of this country have the right to work and to raise a family? Must we condone such barbarous acts as armed robberies however unsuccessful they may be as in this case? Gentlemen of the Jury, here we have a spoilt brat who has the luxury of dole handouts while so many pay taxes and sweat for their wages. I leave you to decide the fate of this scum from the tenements of Phoenix, Arizona.’
‘Your honor, here is the photograph. This was Leon’s father before he disappeared. Harold found his photograph on Leon’s bed.’
There was pin drop silence as Judge Daniels stared knowingly at the photograph.
‘Your honor. Your honor we have to hear the verdict.’ Rosenberg spoke quietly to the Judge.
‘The Judge forced through a whisper from his mouth. ‘Verdict please.’ he said with a glazed expression.
‘The jury finds the defendant Leon Wilson Abrams, Not Guilty.’ came a faint voice into the Judge’s ears as he collapsed onto the floor.
‘Someone call the doctor.’ said George Irvin aloud.
‘Where is my son?’ said the Judge with a heavy wheezing breath. ‘Let me look at him.’
Thus occurred the father and child reunion from the opposite ends of the social order. Leon hurried to his father with great jubilation and helped him to his seat. The trial was closed and Leon was a free man.
Judge Daniels was admitted to hospital that night for what he felt to be fatigue and a low blood pressure. He returned to work a more optimistic Judge and a more lenient one at that.
For the next several years, Sandra and David were hounded by housewives who pestered them by lifting their babies and asking them if they knew what it was like to have children. David spent a short time in a sanatorium and never returned to his work in the Chamber of Commerce.
Judge Daniels eventually bought a one bedroom apartment for his son in confidence that he would progress to be a working and responsible man.
Ó ‘The Grand Prosecutor’ by Hasan Abdulla, 12/2008