Newly estranged from Donna, The Introvert is selected as one of twelve jurors on a notorious murder trial, forcing him to navigate a litany of uncomfortable social interactions, this time with no avenue of escape. Equal parts harrowing and hilarious, The Introvert Bears Filthy Witness is the third entry in the life of one very anti-social and unexpected anti-hero.
Did you really think you were going to get away with it?”
It wasn’t much of an opening sentence. It was a trite thing for a policeman to say, and it was also an unfair question, because either which way you answered it would make you look guilty. So, I decided not to answer it at all, which seemed like the smartest thing to do, and the only reasonable alternative.
It also wasn’t much of an interrogation room. The chairs were comfortable and the temperature was mild, and I didn’t even see a hot lamp or a phonebook anywhere.
It was the young, clean-shaven policeman who’d asked the question because the older one with the mustache had just then entered the room. The two of them proceeded to ask me a series of pointed questions about the man’s death, including whether it was premeditated and such, but there really wasn’t much that I could say. That was when the older, mustached officer left the room.
“Real emotional type, aren’t you?”
He wasn’t much of a police officer. He was wearing bright red suspenders and colored socks that all seemed too fashionable for someone investigating such a serious crime, and his tone was mocking and unprofessional.
The fact of the matter was that I wasn’t sad that he was gone, only I didn’t want to confirm it, because I felt that might make them even more suspicious than they already were.
“It is unfortunate that he was killed,” is all I said.
“Unfortunate you killed him, you mean?”
“No,” I said, only then he leaned in really close.
“So you don’t think it’s unfortunate that you killed him?”
He was trying to twist my words around as police officers often did.
“I did not say that I did any such thing,” I said.
“Yeah, and you sure as hell didn’t say you didn’t,” he said, as he slammed his fist down onto the table.
That was when the older officer with the mustache came quickly back into the room and said, “Whoa, whoa,” while guiding him aside. Then he came back to where I was and slowly took the seat beside me.
“You have to forgive my partner,” he said. “He’s just pretty wound up about this one. You understand?”
He said it really softly and gently as his partner stewed just a few feet away, pacing back and forth beside the wall.
I said that I understood, and then he asked me if he could get me anything, like a glass of water or a cigarette.
I believed them to be engaging in the “good cop, bad cop” routine, which was a psychological ploy police officers often utilized that was meant to lower the suspect’s defenses, such that it would engender trust between the suspect and the officer showing kindness, and thus lead to quicker and more fulsome confessions. We used similar techniques in my company in order to sell vacuums, and while there were likely nuances between convincing a customer to purchase a new model vacuum cleaner versus convincing them to confess to murder, I felt that the underlying psychology was likely quite similar.
“I will take a cigarette,” I said.
“Fuck this guy’s cigarette,” said the young policeman, still pacing back and forth.
“We’ll get you that cigarette,” said the mustached officer, ignoring his younger counterpart. He stood up slowly and stepped out of the room, returning shortly with a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He placed them both on the table in front of me with the lighter on top of the pack before he resumed his seat.
I hadn’t actually wanted a cigarette. I’d only said that I did because he’d offered it, and I had seen this type of encounter many times on television and in the movies, and I felt that it was the appropriate response. Only now that he’d gone to the effort of obtaining them, I felt compelled for the sake of etiquette to remove one from the package and light it, so that’s what I did.
I took a couple of puffs, but exhaled quickly. Then I watched as the smoke climbed toward the ceiling, wondering about what type of ventilation they had, and if we might be breaking any city by-laws.
The officer sat silently beside me for several more puffs, but finally he started to speak.
“It was the trial, right? Something about the trial, or maybe something that came up in the jury room?”
I didn’t answer him right away, because I was still watching the ceiling as more smoke collected. I’d already been wondering if it might set off the smoke alarm, and perhaps even the sprinkler system, and if all of the prisoners might then have to be evacuated, and if that happened, I wondered if they would be free to walk around outside until the danger had passed, or if they would be kept shackled and guarded. And I wondered what they would do with the prisoners from solitary confinement, and if they would have to sit by themselves outside, and if so, what radius from the other prisoners would be required.
“We’ll be speaking to the other jurors, of course.”
Still I didn’t respond, because by then I was thinking about how the firemen would probably have to come do a precautionary safety check if there was an evacuation, and it made me wonder if any of the prisoners might try to stow away on one of the fire trucks in order to escape, or how one of them might even try to subdue a fireman and take his uniform in order to blend in. Of course, it could also be a female prisoner trying to subdue a firewoman.
“Something happened between the two of you, didn’t it?”
The officer drew my attention back to the moment, and I saw how serious his face was, and how much he truly wanted me to answer his questions. It was obvious that they wanted to know what happened to the man, and if I’d had any involvement in his death. Only at that point I wasn’t thinking about murder, or vacuums, or even ventilation. At that point I wasn’t thinking about much of anything at all. Except for one thing.
I was thinking about a number.
Two nine two five six seven!”
That was my jury number, which had just been called aloud by the court registrar. I’d been provided it when I’d registered that morning with the rest of the prospective jurors before we were all corralled into the courtroom.
It wasn’t much of a courtroom. The inside was drab and dated and it didn’t have any windows, but at least the pews were in good shape, if they even still called them that.
There were nearly two hundred of us to begin with. That’s when the registrar lady put all of our numbers into a small metal cylinder and spun it around by the handle before drawing the numbers out one by one. In this way it was much like the lottery or bingo, except that you didn’t actually want your numbers to be called out, nor would you jump out of your seat to yell a trite phrase in the event that it was, so I suppose in hindsight it wasn’t much like those things at all.
I had tried to memorize my number very early and took pride in the fact that I could do so after less than a minute. Only, when the registrar called it out, I still glanced down at the paper to verify that I was correct. I’m not sure why I did it, only I think a lot of people probably did the same thing, which seemed not only unnecessary but to betray a level of insecurity. But what was done was done, so I figured there was no sense beating myself up about it.
I stepped into the witness box and looked at the judge. She was a middle-aged woman who seemed too young and too pretty to be a judge, only then I quickly recognized that this sort of thinking was a form of misogyny through preconceived stereotypes, and so I apologized to the judge for thinking it, only I did so quietly in my mind.
Two men were on trial for murder. One was black and one was white. The lawyer for the black man – Mr. Munroe – was allowed to ask a question about whether or not the prospective juror would be pre-disposed against his client based on the color of his skin. To me, this just seemed like he was drawing unnecessary attention to the obvious, and if someone was truly racist, they would likely not be inclined to say so, but he asked the question all the same.
“Sir,” he said, standing behind a wooden lectern, “would your ability to judge this case be affected by the fact that my client is of African-American descent?”
I didn’t immediately answer, because by then I had reconsidered whether a racist person would invariably hide their racism, or if they might actually appreciate the opportunity to express it. I knew that some racist people were genuinely proud of their Aryan ancestry, even if they misunderstood what that actually meant, like they misunderstood most other things.
Finally, I said, “My best friend is black,” and this was an easy statement to make because Gordon was indeed my best friend, even though the truth of the matter was that he was probably also my only friend. I hadn’t known Gordon very long, but he treated me differently from the way most people did, and when Donna asked me to leave our home last week due to a simple misconception, Gordon had offered me a place to sleep.
“Although at first I wasn’t sure he was sufficiently black to want to be called black,” I added.
“‘Sufficiently black’?” asked the defense lawyer, with a puzzled look on his face. That’s when I saw Mr. Crooks’ lawyer – who was seated next to his client and wearing a bolo tie – turn and smile arrogantly to the jury members who had already been picked ahead of me and were assembled in the jury box. I counted eight who’d been selected, and a number of them laughed when he did this. The person who laughed loudest was the fourth juror, who was a large balding man with a circumference of gray hair around the bottom of his head.
“Sir,” said the judge, leaning in from her dais, “do you not want to serve on this jury?”
“I would prefer not to,” I said. I said it because it was true, and in direct response to her question, only I saw her face turn ugly when I said it.
“And is there any particular reason why?”
There were actually many reasons why. Mostly it was because I didn’t like to be around people more than I absolutely had to, and from what little I’d seen, the criminal justice system seemed like a place where you would be routinely forced to come into contact with people you would ordinarily do your best to avoid. But it wasn’t just that. The fact was that Donna had recently asked me to leave the house because she incorrectly believed that I’d been having an affair with our neighbor, and I believed that serving on a jury would interfere with my efforts to regain her favor. Also, I sold vacuum cleaners for a living, and I couldn’t imagine I’d be able to sell very many from within a courtroom. I thought of all this in my mind but didn’t say any of it out loud, and before I could say anything at all the judge said, “All right then,” only she didn’t leave it at that.
“You do realize that this is your civic duty?” she said sternly.
“Yes,” I said.
“And that many would deem it an honor to serve their community.”
I hadn’t thought of it that way, and I was even prepared to say that it probably would be an honor, only before I had a chance to say how much of an honor it would be, she started talking again.
“Sir, I expect from this point on that you will refrain from any efforts to evade jury duty,” then she turned quickly toward the lawyer with the bolo tie and told him to ask his question again.
I’d found in life that the more you didn’t want to spend time with a woman the more she wanted to spend time with you in return, and from what I had seen so far, it seemed like judges acted the same way about prospective jurors. Though I suppose it could have just been female judges.
“I’ll ask the question again,” said the defense lawyer for Mr. Monroe, politely repeating his earlier question, “If you are selected for this jury would your ability to judge this case be affected by the fact that my client is of African-American descent?”
I thought I’d answered this question sufficiently before with my earlier answer, only this time I simply said, “No,” in an attempt to be more direct, and this seemed to be the answer they were looking for because then the judge said “Counsel?” and I saw both the prosecutor and the two defense lawyers look at each other and nod their heads.
“Unless you have any great objection?” asked the judge, leaning in toward me.
I figured this was a rhetorical, sarcastic question made at my expense, so I just walked over to the jury box where I stepped inside and sat down in the ninth chair.