Should Jurors who Acquit go to Prison?
I'll Have Mine Fried, Please

Dark Justice -- Seven

"Have you seen Les?" Eleanor was standing at the door of his study. "I don’t think he came home last night." As always, she was impeccably dressed, a pink silk sweater, grey wool slacks with sharp creases, and black pumps. Her hand was on the door jamb, and her face taut. Fear pulled at the faint creases forming on either side of her mouth.

"No, I haven’t. You’ve checked his room?" Harmon Fitzgerald was sitting behind his roll-top desk in the book-lined master bedroom they’d converted into a study. He was wearing his favorite Scotch-plaid flannel shirt and khakis. Before him was a draft of the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Chandler case. He was hoping to finish his dissenting opinion today.

"Nothing’s been moved. It’s unlike him not to call," Eleanor stood in the doorway, suddenly looking small and frail. She was nineteen years younger than Fitzgerald, but at times like this she seemed ancient. Her hands worked one another nervously, and her color was rising, her chest a bright red.

Eleanor Fuchs had been quite a catch a decade ago. Thirty-five, wispy red hair, a slender waist and the fine-tuned mind and willowy sensibilities of a classical pianist. Her first marriage to a surgeon ended in divorce; she was raising her son, Lester, alone. He was seven years old and already a handful; he was enrolled in the toniest private school in town, but there was talk of a learning disability. Eleanor wasn’t persuaded. What the boy needed was a father, she thought, and Fitzgerald was as happy to acquire a son as he was a wife. They married soon after meeting. The year after they were married he was appointed an associate justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court. For the past nine years, they’d remade themselves into a family.

Husband and wife now stood in the doorway of Lester’s room. The bed remained made, the tight almost military corners still in place. Their housekeeper went through the house each morning attending to these small details. Lester’s desk was still a mess, but nothing seemed to have shifted. The housekeeper knew enough to leave Lester some space all his own. It was July, so there was no homework scattered about. A dog-eared copy of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment lay face-down on the desk, next to a dirty plate bearing the remains of what looked like lasagna. Lester had been home in the afternoon. The housekeeper would never have left the plate. On the walls, photographs Lester had taken at the Cape, and posters of Mel Gibson in Braveheart, and one of a partially clad leggy blonde neither parent recognized. Lester’s aquarium bubbled on, a coven of exotic fish darting this way and that.

The room remained in this condition for the next two years. Eleanor made sure of it. She even replaced each fish as it died with one of an identical species. When Lester returned home, she wanted simply to close this gaping fissure in her life.

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"I don’t know, I just keep wondering what I have done," Eleanor sat on a couch in her therapist’s office. "It’s always the same, especially this month. I walk by his room, peek in, and expect to see him sitting there. Sometimes I actually see him sitting there, and we talk." She dragged from the cigarette in her left hand. It was a new habit, taken up in the weeks after Lester first disappeared.

"You know, it will be two years this month," she exhaled.

"I know," said the therapist. Every gesture conveyed acceptance, but she was wary now. Eleanor could go in any of a number of directions in an instant. Hysteria, withdrawal, a cynical crack. Marla Grantis sat waiting to see which defense would be chosen to shield Eleanor from grief.

"Do you believe he was murdered?" Eleanor appeared calm. It was the first time she had uttered the word murder in relation to her son.

Dr. Grantis sat silently, waiting for the silence to summon a response in Eleanor. She was no Freudian stone, sitting cryptically through every storm waiting to discern her patient’s responses. Dr. Grantis, actually she was a Ph.D., and not a physician, was an eclectic. Nothing barred her from sharing her thoughts and impressions. But instinct, no, common sense, told her that the word murder had deeper resonances. Eleanor was in uncharted waters now. Dr. Grantis opened her arms, one hand resting on each thigh, and sat in a welcoming pose.

"I sometimes think it might be true, you know?" Eleanor was calm now. Her eyes unfocused. She was testing a thought too horrible to accept. She needed to utter it so carefully, and in a place where she could withdraw the thought and hide it from view if the demons moved in too quickly. "He may well have been," she paused, testing the atmosphere to see if it was safe, "murdered." Her cigarette sad idly in her hand. She was quiet.

There was little doubt in Dr. Grantis’ mind that Lester Fuchs had been murdered. There was little doubt in the minds of the Belle Grande Police Department either, judging by what the newspapers had reported. Although no one had been convicted of the crime, a man had been charged in the slaying. The morning’s papers carried news that a court hearing was about to begin in the case. The defendant was a contemporary of Lester’s named Marcus Antoine. The case had created a stir nationwide. Antoine was the local football sensation, and had been recruited by the University of Michigan; a full-ride and talk of a career in the National Football League. It all came crashing to a halt months earlier when Antoine was arrested and charged with the murder of Lester. The papers reported that Antoine and two other men had murdered Fuchs and dismembered his body. The police had no idea where the body was, and Antoine was reportedly tight-lipped. There were as yet no other arrests. Eleanor became a chain smoker when Antoine’s arrest was announced.

"I’m not sure I can go through this," Eleanor said. "The trial, I mean." Her complection now grey; the small hairs at the back of her neck on end. A vein broke to the surface along the left of her forehead; pulse pounding out a mournful dirge. Deeper breaths now, trying to push away panic.

Who can imagine attending the funeral of their only child? Dr. Grantis thought. But still, a funeral brings closure. Rituals may not heel, but they signal to the world that the metes and bounds of our internal worlds have changed, unalterably. We are so bad at loss, Dr. Grantis thought. She recalled her own divorce more than a decade earlier. There were no ceremonies signifying the cataclysmic changes in her. No one congratulated her; the consolations she had been offered were furtive and cryptic. Half of marriages end in divorce, and still we cannot bear to look at the murderous and suicidal pain it yields. But it was worse when a child disappeared. Working with Eleanor had left no doubt in Dr. Grantis’s mind that such a disappearance is a special form of Hell. A disappearance makes liars of us all; it is so much easier to nurture the false expectation that the absent one will return. Those who utter something closer to the truth are accused of emotional treason.

"Why won’t that, that, kid just tell someone where Lester is? Can’t the prosecutor just promise to let him go if he tells me where to find my,..." and it happened, tears flowed now and a choking howl filled the room, ".. my," Eleanor gasped as though stabbed by some invisible lance, "... my baby."

The remainder of her hour dissolved into tears and a void swallowed Eleanor and pressed her down, down, down into immobilizing grief.

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