Ailsa Cox was born in Read more [...]
Short Story Category: 10 Minutes
Lulworth Cove. Don’t you wish you were there? Like an ear carved in the sea – a big blue ear – fringed round with pure white sand. A picture in one of the magazines lying around. They have magazines. And a cupboard full of knitting wool and jigsaws. Have we been to Lulworth Cove? He texts the wife to ask.
You can just about see the Mersey through the windows, steal a glimpse of Albert Dock and the ferries. Some of the others keep their head down reading. Gerrard: My Autobiography – Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd – Cry Silent Tears – No Time For Goodbye. But if he picks up a book he knows he won’t get past the first few pages. So he spends most of his time, like the rest of them, lolling around, arms folded, gawping at the TV screens or just staring into space, bored out of his mind, what’s left of it, after five days.
Lulworth Cove. You’d remember if you’d been there.
A lot of people say this place is like an airport, but it isn’t, not really, because if you were at the airport, you’d be going somewhere, you’d have something to look forward to. No, it’s more like being in hospital. He was looking forward to jury service – anything to get a few days off work – plus he wanted to see if it was right, that the judges were letting them off too lightly, the little scrotes walking round with their ugly dogs, frightening the old folk, and he wanted to do his bit, what they call your civic duty. He started reading the Echo differently, thinking what he might have done, supposing he’d been on that case.
During a two-week trial at Liverpool crown court, Spencer, of Daisy Road, Kensington, admitted inflicting the fatal injuries. But the 27-year-old mum denied murder, claiming she had been provoked. After more than seven hours of deliberations, the jury yesterday announced they had failed to reach a verdict. They were discharged by Judge Robert Williams, as members of Ms Cartwright’s family hurled abuse at Spencer’s relatives. They fled court and were too upset to talk afterwards.
On his first day, he turned his collar up as he walked past a row of cameramen, standing in line outside the court like gladiators. Not likely to take much interest in thirty-nine-year-old Fazakerley, father of two, but no harm in being careful; if you were on some gangland case, you wouldn’t want your face on record. Deep inside, he was full of anticipation. He was hoping, not for a big trial necessarily, but something you could tell stories about, something worthwhile in its own way.
The eighty-one-year-old pensioner denied the offence, insisting his gestures were a symptom of Parkinson’s Disease. But a Liverpool crown court jury took less than an hour to convict the OAP of outraging public decency on June 23rd.
He pictured himself in the courtroom, Bible in hand. So help me God – the words said out loud send a shiver, even if you’re not a church-going Christian – I know not of any lawful impediment – standing there, facing each other, everyone else disappeared – he’d been with Chrissie ten years, they’ve got two kids together, still that day in the registry office, it was like laying eyes on her for the first time.
‘Was it murder though?’ he wondered as they watched the ten o’clock news. ‘If you go out to shoot someone, but you get the wrong person, is that actually murder?’
She said, ‘You’d better keep that opinion to yourself.’
Of course, you’re not supposed to tell stories at all. In the video they show you, you’re told not to discuss the case with anyone, not even your nearest and dearest, but how could you not? He’s already talked about the case, everyone in Liverpool talks about the case, the young lad shot dead on his way home from football practice. Everyone had tears in their eyes, watching the broken-hearted parents appeal for witnesses.
By Day Two you know what to expect. You learn the routine fast, like in a prison camp, you’re institutionalised. Or an old people’s home – you clock in, you claim a seat, same as the other seats, that’s yours for no special reason, you just go like a dog to the basket. The sunlight stripes through the blinds and lies in big slabs on the floor. You listen out for the names – Clive Rogers, Jennifer Perkins, Lee Chung – the cool female voice slithering through the speakers – Patricia Bailey, Nathan Parker – and by the time they’ve got to Douglas White, Maria Sandhurst – you know, you just know, you’re not on the list.
A white-haired woman, an Asian guy – one by one, they rise nonchalantly to their feet – to the lifts please – you will be known as Jury 52. On the TV screens, turned down to just within hearing, the talk is of markets plummeting, financial meltdown, credit crunch. Some loud-mouthed twat’s messing round with the knitting needles. He puts a half-knitted square on his head. ‘Guilty your honour!’
On Day Three, the place is packed, and this is the big day, you know it, the one you’ve been saved for. The room’s cordoned into two sections – Francis Riley, Karen Johnson, Mark Smith – a second and a third wave of names. The loud-voiced twat stands up with a smirk – and one by one they’re divided, the sheep and the goats, the sheep drifting to the far end of the room, while the goats are left sitting next to empty seats. There’s a silence in Mark’s half of the room, while those assembled at the far end are being addressed. Remember that cartoon, The Pied Piper? All the kids are led off into a cave, all except this one little cripple boy – he can’t keep up, can he? – and Natalie – how old was she – four, five? – she cried and cried. He kept trying to tell his sister it was just a story, but there was something about the little cripple boy, she couldn’t stop crying.
He should ring Natalie. Chrissie’s always going on, ‘You should ring her, Mark’.
At the tea counter, this guy looks at Mark as if he knows him: ‘I tell them I have an appointment, but they don’t listen. I told them. They better not pick me. I have a bad leg.’
‘Still not picked me. They don’t like the look of my ugly face.’
‘They’ve not picked you? I’ve been on three cases. Three cases. They say it is random. But it is not. You listen. Say your name begins with M, they call just one M, then they go back, maybe a D. But you don’t get two with M. Three cases.’
‘It’s not because you’re Chinese, by any chance?’
‘I think so. They like a minority person. You want to be on a case?’
‘Well yeah – since I’m here—’
‘Tell them. Tell them. Or they forget you.’
You are now released for lunch. Please be back in the building for two o’clock.
They rush down the concrete steps, out onto the street, like kids let out at playtime, out into the blinding autumn sunshine. Someone says, ‘Are you going for a bevvie,’ but once Mark’s in the ale house you won’t get him out. So he just wanders round the streets, and he thinks, ‘Now’s my chance. I should meet up with Nat. Yes, I’ll do that. Give her a bell.’
Last time he saw his sister it was at the wedding. Turning up in a white Mitsubishi Barbarian. How in fuck’s name could they afford a car like that?
‘You next!’ everyone crowed. ‘When are you and John getting married, Natalie?’ but any fool knew the answer. Never. Because if they got married she wouldn’t be able to claim any more, and she wouldn’t get housing benefit for the place she sublets for another few hundred on top. Natalie wouldn’t be called for jury service, John neither, because they wouldn’t be registered to vote. They’re invisible. They must be. That’s how they get away with it.
But he sees them alright. He doesn’t want to see, but he sees the new car flashed in front of him, the Armani suit, the Jimmy Choos, the things he and Chrissie pay for out of their taxes. He doesn’t want to hear, but he has to listen to them raving about their holidays in Mauritius, and catch the sneer in John’s voice when he says, ‘You still got that camper van? We should do that, eh Nat? Just stick the kids in the back and you’re off.’ And all the time he’s thinking, how do they get away with it? Why does everyone turn a blind eye? When he remembers that arsehole behind the wheel of the Mitsubishi – the nameplate, N4T – he likes, imagines wire-taps at that new house in Formby he’s heard so much about – sniffer dogs running up the stairs., tearing into walk-in wardrobes.
‘Call me. I’ll testify. Call me to the witness stand. I’d shop them.’
‘Don’t forget that name,’ he says, joking-like, when he signs in after the lunch break, leaning over the Perspex panel that blocks your view of the desk. (Why is that? Are they scared of something?) ‘Smedley. Don’t you like me?’
‘The computer picks you out,’ the clerk says, unsmiling. ‘It’s entirely random.’
The clerk – the officer, whatever she calls herself – is a disdainful, slightly bored looking woman, maybe in her early thirties. Like all the girls these days, she wears her hair dragged up in a raggedy topknot – Chrissie does too – how do women decide these things overnight? The lift pings, as another jury’s released from the secret realms below. The court officials in black gowns cross the floor like chess pieces, the women’s top-knots bobbing as they confer.
Jury 23 please come to the desk.
They’re being released. Case over. The men shake hands, the women hug. Pride. Relief. Satisfaction.
A jury accused Lancashire police of ‘institutional complacency’ yesterday as it convicted an officer of careless driving following the death of a pensioner during a high-speed training exercise. The seven men and five women of the jury sent a note to the judge criticising Lancashire Police for allowing the high-speed training exercise on the country B road which had a speed limit of sixty miles-per-hour.
‘Anything juicy?’ says Natalie.
She’s looking well. Caramel skin, acrylic nails, the hair gathered in a blonde topknot.
‘Yeah,’ he lies, ‘drug-dealing scum.’
‘I’m not allowed to say anything, like, but…’
‘So long as you’re not on that case with the little lad.’
‘Why not, it’d be interesting?’
She shudders – ‘Poor little bugger’ – sipping her coffee, the polished mouth leaving a faint bow on the cup.
They talk about his kids, how old they are, what school they go to. How big they are. ‘Go way!’ she keeps saying. ‘Go way!’ As if it was a miracle, kids getting older. He feels out of place in the coffee shop full of women spending cash they haven’t got, dozens of Primark bags nesting at their feet. She keeps quizzing him about things he’s forgotten or never knew. Giving him the third degree.
‘So how are things in the construction industry?’ he says pointedly.
‘Got a lot on has he, John?’
‘A couple of new developments…’
‘Oh yeah? Where’s that then?’
‘You know… round the docks and that… How about you two? Chrissie still got that little kiosk by the station?’
‘No, she jacked it in. Feller that sold it to her, he cooked the books, didn’t he?’
‘What do you mean, he cooked the books?’
He shrugs. ‘He was never making the money he said he was.’ They were lucky not to lose the house, though he doesn’t tell her so; he’s said enough already.
‘You shouldn’t let him get away with it.’
‘What can I do? That’s the way it is these days. Rob your mates. You’ll know who I’m talking about, you remember the Hacketts. You used to hang about with Debbie Hackett.’
‘Chris Hackett, was it, or Brian?’
‘Let’s just drop it.’
‘I wouldn’t let him get away with it. I’d smash his teeth in.’
The thought of that twenty thousand, the sight of Brian’s lying face, chafes back and forth across his guts, every day, every day; and that’s why he tries to keep it down. He’s not come here for that, he’s here to talk to Natalie, find out what’s really happening.
Natalie’s prattling on about some evening class she’s taking, something to do with art, ‘all the famous artists are men, you don’t think about it, do you, so we talk about how men have dominated history, it’s good. I might go to college, you know, I’m thinking about it – after we’ve finished the extension – you’re better off out of Liverpool, better for the kids…’
He wants to say, still renting out that place on St John’s Rd? but he keeps his mouth shut. Shouldn’t have come. What did he think was going to happen? That she was going to burst into tears and beg him to save her from a life of crime?
‘Bring the kids over to ours,’ she says when it’s time to get back, ‘take them to the beach. You’ve never seen our house.’
I don’t want to see it.
‘Catch up on old times.’
And then as they say goodbye she says carefully, ‘Brian Hackett, was it? Brian.’
He walks back towards the ugly court building – three cardboard boxes, one on top of the other. Through security and up the concrete stairs again. The place is nearly empty now, just a few of the aimless and unselected hanging about on the blue chairs. By three o’clock you know nothing more’s going to happen that day. Just a matter of time before you’re released for good. If you do hear your name called, that means it’s over. Dismissed. Go home. Justice doesn’t need you.
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