The Reach of Justice
Please Enjoy A Short Story by George L. Duncan
The Reach of Justice - By George L. Duncan
“You don’t want justice. Justice is harsh and swift. It is not a sweet little pink and white teddy bear. You want leniency or mercy. There’s a difference and lawyers should know that difference.”
I smiled as Tom Dorgan shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He was representing a defendant accused of assault, a defendant with a number of previous encounters with the criminal justice system. The judge had ordered a recess so we were in the corridor outside the courtroom.
“I merely want a fair chance for my client,” Dorgan said.
“The victim didn’t get a fair chance. Your client should be roughed up before he does prison time. Justice is stern. It has to be,” said Bailiff John MacDonald. MacDonald is a six-foot three black Baptist deacon and he can speak with the booming authority of his Biblical Baptist counterpart.
MacDonald’s words brought to mind the statue of Justice in front of the courthouse. I cover courts and the police beat for the Belle Glade News and Tribune so I walk by the gray lady almost every day. She’s an impressive figure. More than six feet tall, with a stern but fair expression, the scales of justice in one hand and a tall sword in the other.
MacDonald pointed his long forefinger at the attorney. “You want to know what justice is? Read the Old Testament. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Life for a life. That is justice. What the criminal does to the defendant is done to him. What most people don’t realize is that was an improvement over previous laws. At that time, if you caused blindness in an eye, you could be executed. An eye for an eye was justice.”
“You’d probably want to go back to the Old Testament law. Or would like to see a few more people killed the way Mose Laurent was? Is that justice for you? Or was it zombies, as the rumor goes. Zombie justice?”
I smiled again. In the small town of Belle Glade, Florida, many Haitians had moved in and brought with them Voodoo stories and beliefs. The late Mr. Laurent was a reputed drug smuggler. He was also rumored to have ordered the killing of a local family. The husband, wife and two children were found slain and local gossip tied Laurent to the homicides. But Mr. Laurent was not long for this world. Three days ago the newspaper ran his obit. Two days ago a second man was killed. Rumor was he was one of Laurent’s executioners. Police speculated there was at least one other hitman still breathing.
The deaths started rumors of a serial killer. Among the Haitian community, there was talk of a Zombie, although I wasn’t sure a large knife was a Zombie weapon of choice.
“That slimy killer got what he deserved,” MacDonald said. “He should have been executed long ago but the state attorney could never prove anything. Witnesses kept disappearing, or dying.”
“Maybe he was executed,” I said. “Somebody did a private execution. It costs less money than when the state does it. Of course, this way the condemned man doesn’t get to request a last meal.”
“Was that justice, John? With no trial and no judge. Do you think that was justice?” Dorgan said.
Despite their differences of opinion on almost everything, the bailiff and the attorney maintained a cordial friendship. Other lawyers, bailiffs and courthouse observers often enjoyed their debates.
“Yes, Tom. You reap what you sow. That’s a spiritual law. That dead man had killed others, or ordered them to be killed. In our society we want to understand the criminal and even sympathize with him. We’ve forgotten how harsh justice has to be. God hasn’t,” MacDonald said.
“If you believe the Haitians, neither have zombies,” I said.
It was the end of the day and I walked over to my office, which was just across the street from the courthouse. I spied Adam Hensick, the correspondent for the Palm Beach Times. He waved and I waved back.
“Come on in,” I said, as I opened the office door.
It was winter so Hensick wore a light blue jacket on. Even in January, Palm Beach County usually doesn’t get chilly but the southern part of the state was experiencing a minor cold wave. Well, minor cold wave if you are a Wyoming native, or Colorado resident. They would probably still walk around in short sleeves. For Florida residents, it was the equivalent of a Russian winter.
“Want a cup of coffee,” I said.
I washed out a blue mug, filled it with coffee and handed it to Hensick. He eased down by the desk.
“Any big news?” I said.
“The big news we already know about. Two people sliced up in two weeks. That’s why I’m over here. Usually my paper doesn’t pay much attention to Belle Glade. But two murders and all the juicy rumors get the editors’ attention.”
“And I thought you were sent to cover Palm Cabbage Day. That’s big here in Belle Glade.”
He laughed. Then shook his head and frowned. “Just been out to the Haitian section of town. There’s a lot of Haitians over on the coast too. You are aware of the rumors. They say there is a zombie among us. I was getting to believe it. I was looking over my shoulder when I was driving back to town.”
“I must admit I’ve jumped at a few shadows too. But what is the best defense against a zombie. How do you defend yourself against something that’s already dead?”
“Don’t know. Maybe a silver cross. Doesn’t that work with vampires? They’re also undead, aren’t they?”
“Yes, think so. Although I think a zombie would rate higher on the undead scale than a vampire. Just a guess. Do we have any experts we can consult on this matter?”
“Yes, I can see that, consulting an expert for my news story. Dr. Zwig Brokonstky, noted authority on zombies and vampires, said…The editors would laugh me out of the newsroom, if not fire me,” Hensick said.
“Well, after having worked for a few of my editors, I’m thinking zombies are probably not all that bad.”
“Yeah, they’d probably be better bosses than some of the guys I work for.” He took another sip from his coffee. “Heard one of those radio preachers when I was driving back here. He had a different take on the two murders.”
“Wrath of God?” I asked.
“Almost. He said these were the end times, the last days and we would see things on Earth never seen before. New things, possibly frightening things. This age was coming to a close so keep your eyes open and expect the unexpected.”
He shook his head. “You remember the good old days when all we had to write about was government corruption and incompetence.”
“Yes, that was last week, wasn’t it?”
I waved him good-bye. I had a story to write too. Two stories actually. Night and a heavy fog had rolled in by the time I was done. Florida is thought of as sunny and most of the time it is. But under the right conditions, a Londoner would be comfortable with our gray, dense fog. As I locked the office door, the gray fingers curled around me. Thick fog. If you spit, it would take fifteen minutes to hit the ground. I could hardly see two feet in front of me. The orange crescent moon cast an eerie light on the ground. The dark shadow of a bird passed over the moon. This was a night to go with all the dark rumors.
I crossed the street to get to my car. After a mid-afternoon interview, all the parking spots in front of the office were taken so I parked in front of the courthouse. I tripped on the curb and sprawled on the pavement. My hand hit the sidewalk to break my fall.
I stood up and shook my head.
The noise behind me caused goosebumps. It wasn’t really a frightening noise. Just unexpected. Not a growling sound. Not the sound of a zombie seeking victims. Almost the hiss of the wind. Or possibly a fast Florida rabbit or raccoon running over wet grass.
When I turned I knew what had killed Laurent. It wasn’t a serial killer. No zombie. No vampire. The lady wasn’t dripping blood from her lips.
I looked where the statue should be but saw only night air.
Justice stood in front of me. Without the scales but definitely with the tall, sharp sword. She pointed it at me. The tip almost touched my chest.
But I wasn’t afraid.
I was innocent. Always a good thing to be.
But other people in the town were not.
She raised the sword and moved on. She had business to do.
Justice would be meted out tonight.