|Chapter 2: Juror Number 12
Vince Costello knew that his friend couldnt produce the time scan he requested. Not that he didnt have the technical ability, but because it was against the law. On the other hand, if enough evidence could be put before a circuit judge to justify that intrusive look into the past, Vince and Aaron were convinced that it would show a violent crime.
Vince adjusted his form-fitting Virtual Reality Visor to better fit the form of his face across the bridge of his nose. A VRV wasnt nearly the same as a virtual reality chamber like the one he had in his recreation room at home, or an office that could be turned into one at the touch of a button like the one Aaron McPhail had in his home. The trouble was, Vince wasnt in his home or his friends. He was sequestered in a crummy little room on the 5th floor of a hotel in downtown Detroit.
His visor gave him a perfect view of the park, and his ear-plug receiver gave him all of the sounds of laughing children, singing birds and tree leaves rustling in the wind. But unlike the full sensory immersion his friend was experiencing, Vince had to deal with the "Powder Puff" scent of the hotel air-freshener, the ambient sounds of traffic below his hotel window and the noisy hum of a linoleum buffer outside his room door.
"Can you hear that noise?" he asked.
"No," said Aaron. "I filtered out everything in your environment except your voice."
"You can do anything with electronics, cant you?"
"Pretty much. I dont think anybody else has done a VRS/VRV hookup like this, though. Dont know why, except that everybody seems to think youre only supposed to run fixed disk T-window programs through a visor. You dont even see VRV to VRV hookups. If I can figure out a way to market the technique, I wouldnt have to wait another ten years to retire."
"Thats easy," said Vince. "All you gotta do is sell your own VRVs with your own brand name and maybe an olfactory capability or something like that, then advertise the hell of what you can do with it like it was all in the hardware, instead of how you use it."
"You have a devious mind, Vince"
"It helps me catch criminals."
"What criminals have you caught, other than the ones on that telewindow show you like to watch? What is it?"
"Crime Scene 2000. But, hey, these were real crimes that nobody solved until they did time scans onem so you could watch the perpetrator in the act. They dont show that until the following week, but if you pay attention to the little things everybody thinks is irrelevant in the beginning, you can tell who did it every time. I mean, all the clues are there, everything you need to know."
"They have to give you all the clues. It would be like cheating if they didnt. People like you would get pissed. The real world isnt like that. Look at the O.J. case. You couldnt ask for more clues than they had in that trial and nobody still knows for sure if he was innocent or guilty cause the evidence got so garbaged up."
"Thats part of the solution," said Vince, "not part of the problem...."
The sound of the buffer grew louder, and with it the sound of Vinces voice before he remembered that it wasnt necessary to talk louder.
"People decided too early in the trial that O.J. was guilty and didnt look for the evidence that would have ruled out anybody but him. The cop who said he found the second bloody glove was the only other person who could have done it. He had the intelligence, the resources, the opportunity and some powerful motives, yet, nobody ever looked at him as a suspect."
"What about the footprints?"
"Shoe prints. The cop could have left the prints and driven the car. He had months to plan it and plenty of opportunity to plant bugs at both houses so he would know how to do it and when. If there were bugs, he was where he needed to be to pick them up afterward. He bragged about planting evidence against black people and having friends on the force who did the same thing. Rosa Lopez, the housekeeper next door, said she heard men talking between the houses after the killing. She didnt recognize the voices. The next day, she said the cop who said he found the glove paid her a visit. He never reported it. Why not? Why didnt some other officers talk to her? If somebody did plant the glove, she was the only one who could have seen or heard them."
"Youre saying the cop committed the murders and planted the glove he used to do the killing."
"Im saying that he could have, and there is no excuse for not exhausting every avenue of investigation to find out whether he did or not. Some evidence in the trial was definitely planted. We dont know who did it and we dont know why. Hell, maybe the defense team did to make the LAPD look bad. Maybe they found enough stuff they knew was planted to give themselves a reasonable doubt and didnt want to take it any further. The fact is, if you eliminate that one cop as a suspect, you got O.J. If you dont, you got nothin. He was never eliminated because he was never considered as a murder suspect by anybody. Why the hell not? And why havent we seen a time scan of the actual commission of the crime after all these years?"
"Oh Vince," said Aaron, catching the key words and the subtle hint about the American Party that allowed him to inquire about the progress of the Monday trial without appearing to. "The Party didnt even exist back then. How could it have had anything to do with that trial?"
By telling Aaron how he felt about the Party, Vince would also be telling him how he felt about the progress of deliberations in the trial of Blue Monday. So far, it sounded as though he was saying that things didnt look good.
"Who said anything about the party?" argued Vince. "You dont need a formal organization to get widespread agreement on somebodys idea of the truth. All you need is widespread circulation of their idea with the voice of authority behind it."
"Sounds like the old Condor Broadcasting Incorporated to me," said Aaron.
Vince shook his head. "How many times I gotta tell ya? The chief executive officer of CBI is more powerful than the President of the United States ever was. It doesnt matter that the American Party has held the Presidency, the Congress and the federal courts for a couple of decades now, with no prospect that the Republicans or the Democrats will ever give them a serious challenge. The control of the process is in the hands of the media. And the media is Dean Pipers CBI."
"Was Dean Pipers CBI," corrected Aaron.
"Hey," said Vince. I dont care what stooge they put in his seat, Piper is still the man at the top."
"He hasnt been seen or heard from in months. Clay tells me theres a whole nother regime in power. You can see that yourself by the programming. I mean, whats the likelihood that the WQST, telewindow station that Hector Clay broadcasts for would be plugged into the CBI network if the Party still controlled it?"
Vince shrugged. "Maybe Piper is settin him up for somethin, givin him enough rope to hang himself, you know, lettin him make a big name for himself so Condor can bring him down hard. I wouldnt put anything past that son-of-a-bitch."
The buffing machine had either been turned off or pushed so far down the hall that Vince could no longer hear it. The outdoor sounds filtering in through the walls were also less intrusive. Vince was so wrapped up in his favorite subject that he didnt notice.
Aaron sighed. The tide of deliberations in the trial of Blue Monday was impossible to discern. The talk about Dean Piper was another matter. It was exactly what it appeared to be; an attack on the Partys most prominent and powerful booster. The fact that the audio portion of their communication was being monitored by the Party supervised court was not a problem. People without influence were permitted to attack the Party or anyone closely associated with it all they wanted to in private or public. It only served to make the Party appear more tolerant then it was of criticism from people who could make a difference. Those people, the ones who could make a difference, had a way of showing up on the X Channel in flagrante delicto with strange, inanimate objects or partners of the wrong age, sex, color or species.
"Why is it we always end up talking about the CEO of CBI.?" asked Aaron.
"We dont," countered Vince
"Sure we do. Every time."
Vince paused, taking a moment to look around the VR park and share the joy of two little boys, one white the other black, rough-housing with a spotted puppy while their parents joked and laughed and barbecued ribs and hot dogs on the same grille. It was a scene that Dean Piper would not have felt comfortable with and therefore one that would not have been allowed in a family telewindow program. If that isnt power nothing is, he thought. Then he thought, We do always end up talking about Dean Piper and Condor.
"You know," said Vince, "youre right. We ought to give the old guy a rest."
"Good. Now tell me more about juror number 12."
Vince's muscles tightened. "You mean the Brown Belt Strangler."
"What makes you think hes the Strangleraside from the incompetent, immaterial and irrelevant fact that he gives you the creeps? What did he do?"
Vince felt as though he had spiders crawling down the back of his shirt. He squirmed in his chair as his Virtual Reality Persona squirmed on the park bench. "Have you ever looked into the eyes of a cobra? Huh, have you Aaron?"
"Cant say I have. I had a close encounter with a Pit Bull once. Well, an iron gate was between us but he still scared the crap out of me."
"My cobra was behind a thick plate glass. Made no difference to how I felt when I got close enough to look him in the eyes. Dont ever wanna do that again. Thats how it is with number 12. His face is like that glass with the cobra inside. Only you cant actually see whats in there but you can feel it the same as if you could."
Aaron didnt have to search the face of his friend to see his sincere anxiety at the mere thought of being close to his fellow juror. He knew the man too well to dismiss it as an irrational, emotional reaction. "Damn, Vince, there must be more to it than that."
"There is...Well, maybe there is and maybe there isnt. Maybe Ive been watching too much Crime Scene 2000 and making too much out of a little coincidence."
Aarons ears perked up. "Little coincidence?"
"I thought that would grab you." said Vince. "Trackers dont believe in coincidence, do they?"
"We dont believe in the little ones with the big consequences."
"What would you say if number 12 fit the profile of the Brown Belt Strangler?"
Aaron snickered. "So you really think Snake Eyes is the Strangler?"
"Answer the question."
Aaron rubbed his virtual reality chin. "Id say you know more than you could possibly know from close observation and casual conversation in the deliberation room."
"Youre right again, buddy....I think I dated his mother. In fact, Im sure I did."
Aaron wished that he could have taken back his snicker. Hed had no reason to doubt the grounding of his friends concerns in something more substantial than a disagreeable feeling. "Im listening," he said.
"How many 26-year-old men would you say live in Melvindale."
"I dont know," said Aaron looking around the park at all the bike riders, joggers and football-tossing men who might have fit the bill. "Thousands, I suppose?"
"Less than a 300. How many of those men would you guess would be named Piedmont?"
"I never knew anybody named Piedmont."
"How about Piedmont Jay Shields."
"Is that his name?"
"Yeah. He likes to be called P.J. Never would have known what the P stood for if he hadnt missed his jury duty orientation call. The clerk must have called him Piedmont because he made a point of telling the judge in open court that he preferred not to be called that."
Aaron gestured for an explanation with a raised finger. "If the clerk was the only one who knew the name why did he repeat it to the world?"
"You havent been called for jury duty in a while, have you old man?"
Aaron pointed the index finger of each hand at his dark brown eyes.
Vince nodded his acknowledgment of the situation. Michigans obscenity law, put eye-color, hair quantity and breast size in the same category of regulated public displays as "beavers and buttholes," as the laws critics dubbed it. In other states, similar laws were known colloquially by other names, but in each case the local units of government were left to write their own specific obscenity codes. Alternatively, as in Detroits case, they could adopt an unwritten policy that was strictly enforced. The end result was the same.
By a subtle, but pervasive process of conditioning, an absurd notion became common wisdom. It began as a poll on social preferences. The poll somehow became a study on eye color and social disease. The study evolved into laws that no one of influence could question without ending up in a compromising situation on the X Channel. Vince didnt like to think about it.
He resumed his story about the man named Piedmont, saying, "He probably didnt realize when he was in the court clerks confidential T-window and when all of us were connected to the courtroom net. The whole selection process is done through T-windows," he said. "Since P.J. was the last one to be seated he didnt have to be in the courthouse yet. He could have been anywhere within a 10 mile radius of the 36th District Court, doing anything."
"And you think he was on the fringe of a New Economic Zone giving some young, attractive brunette a tight fit around the neck with a plain, brown belt."
Vince had looked as though he wanted to spit at the official name given to urban districts where the only laws rigorously enforced were the ones that ensured dominance by the most ruthless criminal elements. "Callem what they are," he said. "Theyre not NEZs; theyre fucking DZsdisposal zones for people who dont measure up to the Partys idea of what a real American should be. If the murders had happened inside the DZs they wouldnt have made news. If the first one had happened in one of Dean Pipers real American neighborhoods, there wouldnt have been a second one."
Aaron rolled his virtual reality eyes.
Vince got the message. "All right," he said, "I know you think I like to sprinkle a little Piper on everything whether he belongs in the recipe or not, but one day youll see that it belongs everywhere I put it."
"You were telling me that you thought P.J. was busy strangling"
"Oh, yeah," said Vince, reminded that he had been digressing again. "Yes, I do. The timing is right for the last murder. I checked. There hasnt been one like it since this trial began. The thing is, the woman I knew in Melvindale was an unwed mother with a fair-haired boy named Piedmont who would be P.J.s age. Her name was Jay. She was the only natural blond I knew who dyed her hair dark brown. She was sweet and really good-looking but you could tell that she didnt see herself as being anywhere near as desirable as she was. She overdid it with the makeup and the clothes and the French perfume. Lotta times she got mistaken for a whore. I think that bothered her, but it bothered her more not to be noticed. She liked men a lot. Lots of men."
Aaron nodded slowly. "She sounds like the victims," he said, "and it would be one heck of a coincidence if Snake Eyes wasnt her son. But according to all the media shrinks Ive heard, the profile of the killer includes a pattern of physical and psychological abuse. From what you said, his mother didnt sound like a child abuser and I dont think he would have told you if she was."
"P.J. Shields hasnt said ten words to me and I wouldnt have it any other way."
"Then how do you figure he fits the profile of the killer?"
"I knew his mother, remember? Her mother was the child abuser. The courts gave her custody of the boy when he was a baby because Jay couldnt name the father."
"She didnt know the father?"
"I didnt say that. I said she couldnt name him."
"She never came right out and said it but...Does the word incest mean anything to you?"
"Jesus! You dont mean her own father?"
"Im guessing about that from her reaction to a couple we saw in a restaurant once. They looked too much like father and daughter to be lovers and too much like lovers to be anything else. She got so upset we had to leave. Thats when other things shed told me about her old man started to make sense. Like why she was so afraid of him even though she swore he never beat her the way her mother didand why he vanished when she got pregnant. I started seeing Jay about six weeks before her mother died. Thats when she got custody of the boy. He was 11 years old."
"I take it," said Aaron, "that you never met him."
A look of sadness and regret passed across the younger mans face. "Jay broke things off with us before she went back to her mothers house in Melvindale to live with him. I think she was hoping I would ask her to marry me. Hell, I hadnt known her long enough to make a commitment like that, and what I did know didnt bode well for a lasting relationship."
"I understand...You still think about her, dont you? I mean, you were thinking about her before you ran into the kid."
"It was all those women with the belts cinched around their necks. How could I have avoided it. The general description is her, right down to her favorite shade of lipstick. Obviously, it fits a lot of women or there wouldnt have been so many of them turning up dead."
"Man, youve given me a lot to think about. Maybe I should tell my son-in-law what you told me. Hes not assigned to the case but he does work in homicide and might know the detectives who are."
"Will you, Aaron? Really?"
The question of whether Vinces old girlfriend was dead or alive did not have to be made explicit. It was one of the things that was bound to turn up in the normal course of the investigation. If Vince was right about the Stranglers identity, it didnt necessarily follow that he had killed his own mother. On the contrary, hadnt Aaron and Vince seen or heard somewhere that men who committed these kinds of crimes against other women did so because they couldnt bring themselves to do it to the real object of their pathological hatred and desire? Or could it have been a figment of some screen writers imagination that found its way into the great pool of popular wisdom where sense and nonsense swam side-by-side?
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison