Juror 8 by Stuart Neville
‘Juror 8’ by Stuart Neville is taken from OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers published by Profile Books at £9.99 paperback/£7.99 ebook.
The following is the short story Juror 8 by Stuart Neville as included in Oxcrimes.
My name is Emmet McArdle. I am seventy-six years old, and I feel every day of it. I don’t sleep well. I don’t pass water well. I don’t eat much. Which leaves me a lot of time to think. And I’ve been doing far too much of that lately.
I wish I could say all this started after the trial, but that wouldn’t be true. I’m just an old man with old man complaints, and my discomforts go back long before I did jury duty nine months ago in August of ’57. But now, when I can’t sleep at night, it’s the trial that plays on my mind.
The boy we saved from the chair.
That boy went free because of us twelve men.
You’d think that would be easier to live with than if we’d sent him to burn. Probably should be. But ever since I left that courthouse, he’s nagged at me. Kept whispering in my ear, saying maybe you were wrong, maybe I did kill my father after all. And maybe I’m fixing to kill again.
Well, a week and a half ago, that’s exactly what he did.
I heard the news on the radio. I didn’t make the connection straight away, mind you, but there it was. I was in the back room of the store, what used to be my store, and I guess on paper it still is. But my boy Eugene runs it now.
McArdle Musical Instruments of 48th Street.
When my father survived the boat trip from Ireland, escaping the poverty that devoured his own parents, he and his brother brought with them four piano accordions, two melodeons, three mandolins, and a suitcase full of D-whistles. His brother, my uncle, also made it across, but he died within a week of landing. He coughed his lungs up from pneumonia. I don’t know what they did with his body.
My father, Emmet Senior, found a room somewhere in the Bowery, probably sharing a floor with a gang of other Irishmen, all of them wondering where those streets paved with gold were located. He used the little money he’d brought with him, and what he’d taken from his brother’s pockets, to rent a stall on Canal Street. As he told it to me, he wound up selling those fancy accordions for less than they cost him, but he made a killing on the whistles, snapped up by immigrants who wanted to hear a little Londonderry Air to remind them of home. He made enough to buy more stock and establish a paying business.
A year later, he was making a profit on accordions, and mandolins, and banjos, as well as playing in a ceilidh band in the evenings. That was how he met my mother, a brownhaired girl from Clonmel, at a neighbourhood dance. I never knew her. She died giving birth to me, and my father never married again. Not unless you consider whiskey a wife.
I took over the running of the store at age sixteen. I never got much schooling, at least not the proper kind, learning everything I needed to know on the shop floor.
How to tell what a customer wanted, how much he had to spend, whether he was good for credit. My father remained the boss, of course. We walked to the store together every morning from our apartment on the next block. While I opened up, Emmet Senior went to the back office, with its big old mahogany desk and the portrait of that brownhaired girl from Clonmel, and sat down. He’d leave it a decent time, maybe until noon, and then he’d open the right hand drawer, remove the bottle of liquor, and start drinking.
I carried him home most evenings, his arm slung around my shoulder, his feet dragging on the ground. And the store takings in my pocket, ready to stow in the safe in his bedroom. I never saw the money again. I don’t know what he did with it, whether he banked it or drank it. All I know was the rent got paid, and I got my salary. Weekends he’d go out and play at the local ceilidhs.
I was twenty-five when he died. He touched up some young woman at a dance, neither realising that her fiancé was only a few feet away, nor that said fiancé was in the habit of carrying a pistol.
I cried when I buried him, not that he deserved it.
Ten years later, I had a wife and five children of my own, and I’d made enough money that I could move the store from the Bowery up to 48th Street.
My two girls grew up to be schoolteachers, same as their mother. I met Mary at a dance, just like my father had met my mother, but I took better care of her. I paid for proper care when she gave birth to our children, rather than giving some backstreet witchdoctor a dollar for the job.
My eldest, Jarlath, became a police officer. Don’t ask me where he got that from. All right, we’re Irish, but that doesn’t mean we’re all born with badges.
Eugene had the music in him since he was a baby. I knew before his first birthday that he would take over the store for me. And he did, not long after he came back from fighting the Nazis in Europe.
His younger brother Columba was not so fortunate. He never made it off the beach, cut down by machine-gun fire along with hundreds of other good men. I miss him too much to be proud of him, hold too much resentment in my heart to be glad of what he sacrificed. He was my son and it isn’t fair that he died, no matter what for. I am angry about it, and that’s that.
I still show up to work every day. I live with Eugene and his wife – Mary was taken by a stroke five years ago – and we both travel to the store every morning, just like me and my father did. We don’t walk all the way, of course; some of the journey is by train, but we go together all the same.
And just like my father, I go to the back office. I took his desk with me when I moved the store, and it’s still there now, along with that portrait of the girl from Clonmel, and another of my absent son. Sometimes I talk to my mother, as if we had known each other. I hope she’d be proud of me, proud of the life I’d made for me and my children. I talk to her more now than I used to. Perhaps the growing awareness that I’ll see her before too long makes me want to know her better.
I only get called out of the office when someone’s interested in an accordion, or they want one repaired. The store’s ground floor used to be a gallery of pearloid, rows of Hohners, Paolo Sopranis, Victorias, big 120-bass monsters right down to little 12-bass tiddlers.
Not any more. Nowadays, everybody wants a guitar.
And not even real instruments, proper acoustic instruments with air in them to make a decent sound. Now the ground floor is full of these planks with strings on them, Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, and I don’t know what. I swear it’s a race to see how much paint they can put on a stick of wood and still get money for it. The Gibson rep came by last week, and he had a guitar with him that looked like an arrowhead. He called it a flying something or other. I asked him how someone was supposed to sit down and play the darned thing without it sliding off his knee.
Eugene took one even though I told him it was a damn fool thing to do. Mark my words, it’ll still be hanging there five years from now.
Anyway, I spend my days in the back room, looking at that photograph of my mother, wondering how I’m going to get through the day. If I’m honest, I was relieved to get the letter calling me for jury duty. I grumbled about it to Eugene, but inside, I relished the idea of getting out and doing something that mattered.
And when I realised what the trial was, I felt good, I felt the importance of this burden I’d been given.
All twelve of us had the boy strapped down and wired up the minute the prosecutor opened his mouth. Not a chance in the world this young thug was innocent. They talked till I was dizzy, and not a word told me anything but this young man had stabbed his father in the heart in a fit of anger. They had two witnesses, a man about my age, and a woman in her forties. One saw the boy do it, the other heard him.
And yet, and yet, and yet.
The foreman held a ballot, and we all raised our hands to say guilty. All but one.
The man next to me, Juror 8.
Let’s talk, he said.
And we talked.
We talked until God cracked the sky. We talked until every other man in that room had been reduced to a sweating pulp. That man, Juror 8, didn’t stop until he’d broken every one of us.
I was the first to fall.
When he stood against the rest of them, saying let’s talk, I’m not sure, let’s go over it again – when he said that, when he made his stand, I listened.
Because I’m a contrary old bastard, that’s why. Pardon my language. And I’m Irish. Show an Irishman a lost cause, and he’ll fight to the death for it, just out of pure wickedness.
So I changed my vote. When all the rest of them protested, thought me an old fool, I dug my heels in and said I wanted to hear what Juror 8 had to say. If I hadn’t, he would’ve let it go, and the boy would’ve got fried. And that young couple in the new Pontiac Star Chief would be breathing this morning.
The young man had called at his sweetheart’s building on West 127th to take her to the movies. They were approached by two Hispanic males, threatened with a knife, ordered to hand over the keys to the shining new car. The young man resisted. He was stabbed in the heart.
They took the girl with them. Her parents found the young man’s body on the sidewalk and called in the description of the vehicle. Lord alone knows what they went through, knowing their daughter had been taken by the same people who had killed her boyfriend.
The police caught up with them out in Queens. The two males didn’t show their hands quickly enough, and they were shot dead right there in the car. The cops found the girl’s body in the trunk. She must have put up a fight, made too much noise. They’d killed her before they had a chance to molest her.
I shook my head when I heard the report on the radio the following morning, wondered at the state of the world. But that was all. It wasn’t until Jarlath called by that night for supper that I learned the truth of it.
Jarlath had a wife at one time, but she couldn’t hack being married to a cop. At least that’s what he said. God forgive me, my eldest son has a mean streak in him, and he’s hard to like. His brother barely tolerates him, only has him over for supper once a week in order to placate me.
‘You hear about that double homicide last night, Pop?’
Jarlath asked between mouthfuls of pork chop with applesauce.
Eugene and his wife Wendy exchanged a look. Their three girls remained silent as they ate.
‘Not at the table, Jarlath, all right?’ Eugene said.
Jarlath ignored him. ‘You hear about it, Pop?’
‘I heard something on the radio,’ I said. ‘Let’s maybe talk about it after supper.’
I swear Jarlath is as thick in the skull as a gorilla. He kept right on talking.
‘You heard the perps got shot over near Flushing Meadows, right?’
Eugene shook his head and rolled his eyes.
‘Yes,’ I said, deciding to humour Jarlath in hopes of finishing the conversation as quickly as possible.
He put his fork down, ran his tongue around his teeth, seeking stray morsels of pork.
‘Well,’ he said, sitting back in his chair, ‘you’ve come across one of them before.’
‘Hugo Fuente,’ he said.
My scalp prickled. I felt the hairs on my arms stand up like soldiers. A loose feeling low down in my stomach.
‘Pop?’ Eugene said.
Jarlath’s crooked smile fell off his face.
They must have seen it on me. The horror. My fork fell from my fingers and rattled on Wendy’s good china plate, taking a chip off it.
‘Pop,’ Eugene said once more, reaching for my hand.
‘You’re shaking. What’s wrong?’
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘Please excuse me.’
I left the table and made for my room at the back of the house. The door hit the frame harder than I meant it to. I sat on the edge of my bed and chewed on my knuckle.
Eugene calling from the corridor. I sprang to my feet, or as near as a man my age can manage, and turned the key in the door. The handle rattled, then he knocked hard.
‘Pop? What’s wrong? Open the door.’
‘I’m fine,’ I called. ‘I just want to lie down for a little while.’
‘Come on, Pop. You’re scaring me.’
‘I’m all right,’ I said. ‘Let me alone. Please.’
‘Pop, you got me worried. C’mon, open the door.’
‘Let me alone, dammit.’
I didn’t mean to yell, but it did the trick.
‘All right,’ Eugene said. ‘Wendy can warm your supper when you feel like eating.’
I returned to my bed, sat on the edge, my hands clasped together.
Just a kid, we’d said, all twelve of us. A boy. How could we send an eighteen-year-old to die? Some of us wanted to. Some of us fought hard. But Juror 8 ground them down.
This boy, he said, had been hit on the head every day of his life. I didn’t doubt it. But he didn’t look like a mean kid. I can still see him there in the courtroom, small, lean like a greyhound, and those frightened eyes.
I thought about the other eleven men. Had they heard the news? Had they dismissed it as they had all the other murders they’d read about in the papers? Just another couple of unfortunates caught up in the violence that haunted the darker parts of town. Nothing for them to worry about.
Had Juror 8 heard it?
I wondered, had he?
It was the day after we delivered the verdict that the worry set in, gnawing at my conscience like a woodworm. One part of me said Juror 8 was right. We were all pretty sure the boy had killed his father, but the law says pretty sure isn’t enough. It’s black or white, this or that, yes or no. That’s all right. I can live with that.
The other part of me kept asking, is possibly innocent enough? Does it weigh more than probably guilty? I guess men have wrestled with that question since human beings first invented trials. And I guess many men have had tougher decisions to make than I had.
But few men could’ve had Juror 8 by their sides, pushing and pulling them, making them question every measure of their being. Making them turn on themselves. Turning them into children, shying from their parents’ hands, nodding, red-faced, tears and snot on their lips, saying yessir, I’ll behave.
I went to bed, but I didn’t sleep a wink.
My belly growled with hunger, but I didn’t get up to reclaim the dinner I’d abandoned. I just lay there, thinking. Thinking hard as I’d ever done in my life. But still no answer came. I’d have to go out for one of those, ask my questions out loud, not bounce them around inside my skull like it was a pinball machine ready to scream tilt.
I called by Jarlath’s precinct early the following morning. I knew he always turned in an hour before he went on his beat. The desk sergeant watched me approach in much the same way a chimpanzee might watch a human through the bars in the zoo. A look on its face that says it’d tear you to pieces if it ever got the opportunity, but for now it’s content to watch you pass.
‘Jarlath McArdle,’ I said, taking off my hat.
The desk sergeant seemed to look past me. ‘What about him?’
‘He’s my son,’ I said. ‘I’d like to see him.’
The desk sergeant raised his eyes to really look at me for the first time.
‘You’re the Jar’s old man? Jesus.’
‘I’d like to talk to him, please,’ I said.
He called over my shoulder. ‘Mickey. Hey, Mickey. The Jar down in the locker room?’
‘I think so,’ a big man behind me said.
‘Well get him up here. His old man wants him.’
‘Thanks,’ I said.
The desk sergeant didn’t reply. He kept his eyes on whatever paperwork he had in front of him.
‘Should I take a seat?’ I asked.
He waved his fingers toward the wall, and the bench that leaned against it.
I sat down and waited. The man next to me fell asleep, his head on my shoulder, breath smelling of beer. The woman on the other side applied make-up. I believe fifteen minutes passed before Jarlath appeared.
‘What’s up, Pop?’ he asked. ‘I was just about to go out. Kenny’s waiting for me in the car.’
‘I could use your help with something,’ I said.
‘Sure, Pop, what do you need?’
I looked at the people either side of me. ‘I need to talk in private.’
‘Sure,’ he said, taking me by the arm and helping me to my feet.
He held on to my elbow as he led me down a corridor. I shook him off.
‘Easy, Pop,’ he said. ‘Just don’t want you falling.’
I stopped, turned to him, and asked, ‘Do you see me landing on my face?’
‘No, Pop,’ he said.
‘All right,’ I said. ‘Where are we going?’
‘The squad room should be empty,’ Jarlath said. ‘In here.’
He led me into a room that looked like it belonged in a schoolhouse. A dusty blackboard covering most of the wall at one end and a podium, a dozen desks facing it.
Jarlath sat me down at one of the desks, pulled a chair up next to me.
‘So, what’s up?’
I looked down at my hands and marvelled at how papery my skin had become, the blue of the veins, the dark liver spots.
I took a breath and said, ‘I want you to find some information on a man for me.’
I wet my lips. ‘One of the jurors on the Hugo Fuente trial.’
Jarlath sat quiet for a few seconds. ‘Why, Pop?’
‘I have my reasons,’ I said. ‘He was Juror 8. He told me his name was Davis.’
‘I don’t know,’ Jarlath said. He worried at his cap with his fingers. ‘Maybe you need a private eye or something. There isn’t much I can find out about a man. Least, not legally, and not with that little information to go on.’
‘There must be a record,’ I said. ‘At the courthouse, or the district attorney’s office. They must have kept a note of who he was, where he lived.’
‘Yeah, sure, but what do you want with him?’
I’m not sure I knew the answer to that question.
‘Just to talk,’ I said. It was the best I could think of.
‘All right, Pop.’ He put his big hand on my shoulder. I felt the weight of it there and for the millionth time I wondered how I had begot such a hulk of a man. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’
We both stood. Jarlath looked at his feet. I looked at the door. Between us, the awkward static of men who love each other but don’t know how to admit it.
‘Well, I’ll be going,’ I said. ‘You’ve got work to do.’
I made my way to the door, but Jarlath called from behind.
‘You okay, Pop?’
I stopped at the doorway and turned to face him.
Concern deepened the lines on his face.
‘What I told you last night, about the Fuente kid, that rattled you, didn’t it?’
‘A little, I guess.’
A lot, I should’ve said. Enough that I hadn’t slept all night.
He came closer, shuffling like a man unsure of his footing.
‘Well, don’t worry, you hear? Maybe he did that murder, and maybe he didn’t. Plenty of juries get it wrong. You did the best you could with the evidence you had. Those kids he killed the other night, that had nothing to do with you. You know that, right?’
‘I know,’ I said.
I’ve lost count of the lies I’ve told in my life, even if God hasn’t. I left Jarlath there in the squad room and made my way home.
I didn’t expect to hear from him until he was due to call for supper the following week. Instead, he rang Eugene’s buzzer the very next night. I knew it was him as soon as I heard it.
Little rivers of chills ran across my skin.
Voices at the door, then Eugene’s eldest, Colette, calling, ‘Grandpa? Grandpa, it’s Uncle Jarlath for you.’
He waited for me in the hall. Eugene arrived at the same moment I did.
‘What’s going on?’ he asked.
‘I need to talk with Pop,’ Jarlath said.
‘Nothing you need to worry about,’ I said, more curtly than I’d intended. I grabbed my coat from the stand by the door and turned to Jarlath. ‘Come on, I feel like an egg cream.’
Eugene watched us leave, irritation and worry on his face.
Jarlath and I took a couple of stools at the farthest end of the counter in the drugstore three blocks from Eugene’s place. I ordered two egg creams, but Jarlath said, no, a Pepsi Cola. I guess he’d rather I’d taken him to a bar. He had that dry-lipped look about him, like he craved a beer or a whiskey, the same look my father used to get right around lunchtime every day.
A pretty young lady brought us our drinks then left us in peace. The chatter of teenage couples jangled in the air around us. Couples like the boy and girl who’d died a few nights ago.
No, they didn’t die. They were murdered.
I shook the image away.
‘I’m guessing you have something for me,’ I said.
‘Yeah, I got something,’ he said, wiping cola from his lips. ‘I got something all right.’
Eventually, he said, ‘Before I tell you this, Pop, you gotta promise me something.’
‘Promise you what?’
‘That you don’t go near this guy. Okay? Just promise me that. Don’t go near him, don’t talk to him, just stay away. All right?’
I didn’t hesitate. ‘All right,’ I said.
One more lie couldn’t damn me any more than I was damned already.
‘His name is Willard Davis,’ Jarlath said. ‘He’s an architect, a partner in a firm on Madison. Reynolds & Waylan, they do big commercial stuff, skyscrapers, all that. A big shot. He’s got a fancy apartment on Central Park West, around 68th or 69th, overlooking the park. A wife and two boys. A family man, a good career, a beautiful home, drives one of those little British sports cars.’
I nodded slowly. ‘Sounds like a nice life. And it sounds like any second now, you’re going to say “but”.’
‘Yeah,’ Jarlath said. ‘A big but.’
I took a swig of the egg cream, sickly sweet, chocolate syrup cloying at the back of my throat. ‘Go on,’ I said.
‘When I got the name, I knew it sounded familiar. So I looked it up. I went down to records and ran him. This guy, Pop, he’s bad news.’
‘Tell me,’ I said.
‘About four years ago, a girl went missing, a secretary at that architecture firm. Marian Wallace, she was called. I mean, just gone, like in a puff of smoke. You know, one minute she was there, next thing she’s gone and no one knows where to. Except …’
‘I know one of the detectives who worked that case. Paddy Comiskey, big guy, he was at me and Joanie’s wedding. Got drunk and hit on Wendy. I had to stop Eugene from trying to lay one on him. Anyway, another girl in that office, she told Paddy about Marian, how she was getting friendly with one of the senior architects, how he’d taken her to dinner a couple times, maybe a club, maybe some drinks. And next thing, he’s going to take her up to Vermont for a weekend. ‘So, that was a Friday when Marian said this to her
friend. Come Monday, Marian doesn’t show up for work. It’s three days before anyone thinks to report her missing.’
The egg cream felt cold in my stomach, oily and sugary on my tongue.
‘And this senior architect,’ I said.
Jarlath nodded. ‘Yeah, it was Willard Davis. He denied it, of course. His wife said he never left the city that weekend. But Paddy didn’t buy it. He interrogated this Davis guy. Said he was the coldest son of a bitch he ever come across, and believe me, Paddy’s seen some cold fish in his time. But he told me he ain’t never seen cold like this. He grilled Davis for eight hours straight, never got a goddam scrap out of him. Said Davis just kept looking him in the eye all the while, like he was daring him, saying, come on, catch me if you can. You got no body, you got no weapon, you got nothing but suspicion. Leading him on, like it was a game. And this guy can talk, Paddy says. Davis had him doubting his own mind.’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘That sounds like Juror 8.’
‘But here’s the thing, Pop. The girl, the witness who said Marian had told her this stuff. A month or so after Paddy dropped his case against Davis, this girl is found drowned in her own bathtub.’
‘A coincidence, maybe?’
Jarlath shook his head. ‘Cops believe in coincidences like they believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Paddy had Davis for the killing. He didn’t have a shred of real evidence, nothing physical, but he was sure Willard Davis killed that girl.’
‘Why?’ I asked. ‘With no evidence, why did he think that?’
‘He didn’t think it,’ Jarlath said. ‘He knew it. See, Pop, there’s two sides to nailing a perpetrator. There’s knowing and there’s proving. You understand?’
‘I guess,’ I said, but I really didn’t.
‘Anyway, Pop, stay away from this Davis guy. Just let the whole thing go. All right?’
‘All right,’ I said.
I finished my egg cream without saying another word, deaf to the clamour of the kids all around us, thinking only of what I would say to Willard Davis when I found him.
At breakfast the next morning, after another sleepless night, I told Eugene that I wouldn’t be going to work at the store
‘What’s up, Pop? Don’t you feel well?’
‘I’m a little tired, that’s all. I might go back to bed, catch up on my sleep.’
Eugene nodded. ‘You do that, Pop. Take it easy.’
I waited until Eugene had left, and his girls had gone to school, before I slipped back out of my room and made for the door. I heard Wendy humming in the kitchen, the clink of plates, the rattle of cutlery. Quiet as the dead, I let myself out, down the stairs and onto the sidewalk.
The stairs from the subway station on 68th and Lexington led up to the street beneath the towering grandeur of Thomas Hunter Hall, like a gothic castle that had sprouted up from the pavement, its battlements seeming too high off the ground. I had looked up Reynolds & Waylan in the Yellow Pages that morning, and walked southwest toward their building on the corner of 66th and Madison.
I brushed shoulders with young men in good suits rushing to meetings, wealthy housewives heading to coffee dates or shopping in the swanky stores, bags dangling from their elbows. Strange how I had shared a city with these people all my life, yet they seemed from a different world. The constant rumble of cars, blaring of horns, the thrum of it all.
I found the door to Reynolds & Waylan’s building between a bridal shop and a chocolatier. Pushing my way through the revolving door, I entered the lobby, all pink marble, dull brass and moulded ceilings. I approached the desk, a hefty man in a uniform and a peaked cap sitting behind it.
‘Who you looking for?’ he asked with less courtesy than I expected.
I told him.
‘On sixth,’ he said, pointing to the row of three elevators.
A hard-faced woman gave me a forced smile as I crossed the lobby, extended her hand in the direction of the middle elevator, where a girl waited, ready to press whichever button I required.
We did not speak as the car rose through the floors, a bell ringing as each passed.
‘Sixth,’ she said eventually. ‘Mind the doors.’
I stepped out into a reception area that looked more like a hospital, all clean lines, black granite, white marble, glass everywhere.
A young woman behind the desk asked, ‘Can I help you?’
I stood mute for a moment, suddenly aware of the foolishness of my actions. Suddenly, and quite reasonably, afraid.
I removed my hat, gripped it in front of me. ‘I … uh … I want to see Willard Davis.’
‘Is Mr Davis expecting you?’ she asked.
I shook my head.
‘Who should I say is calling?’
‘My name is Emmet McArdle,’ I said. ‘Tell him, Juror 9. He’ll know.’
A small ripple of uncertainty on her face. She indicated a row of leather-upholstered chairs by the elevator.
‘Please take a seat,’ she said.
I did so. The chair was square-edged and uncomfortable. A modern design, I guess, the sort of thing young professional
types like. I watched as she spoke into a telephone, her hand shielding her lips and the mouthpiece, as if she shared some conspiracy with the plastic and wires.
When she finally hung up, she called across the reception to me. ‘I’m sorry, sir, Mr Davis is in a meeting right now. If you’d like to leave a telephone number, he’ll be glad to get in touch.’
‘I can wait,’ I said.
‘Mr Davis expects to be busy all day. Like I say, I can give him your number and he can contact you at another time.’
‘I can wait all day,’ I said.
A moment’s pause, her smile faltering. ‘Sir, Mr Davis will be busy all day. He will contact you when he can.’
My mouth dried. I felt the jangle of adrenalin and anger crackling out to my fingertips. ‘I can wait all day,’ I said.
‘Mr Davis has to go to lunch some time. He has to leave when he’s finished work for the day. I promise you, I won’t take up any more of his valuable time than I have to.’
Her smile dissolved. ‘Sir, again, Mr Davis won’t be able to see you today. Our reception area is only for people who have business here, so I’m afraid I must ask you to leave.’
I sat there, silent, my heart bouncing in my chest.
The young woman’s voice hardened. ‘Sir, I must ask you to leave.’
I stood rather too quickly, and my head went light. I staggered a little.
‘Sir, are you feeling all right?’
‘I’m fine,’ I said, steadying myself with a hand against the chair. ‘Thank you for your help.’
I leaned against the elevator wall on the way down, sweat prickling my brow.
Willard Davis left the building, alone, at a quarter of six.
I expected him to perhaps visit a bar for an after work cocktail with some colleagues, or maybe that receptionist. Instead he walked the block westward to Fifth Avenue, across, and into the park.
The day had passed slowly for me, wandering the pathways among the trees, touring the blocks around Lenox Hill. The owner of a coffee shop gave me angry looks every time I used his restroom without buying anything. By the time I took up position some yards further along Madison, a newspaper held open in front of me, I neared a state of exhaustion. But when Davis emerged and started walking, I ditched the paper in a trashcan and did my best to keep pace with him.
Early May is a fine time to take an evening stroll through Central Park, the place flooding with new green, the new-born leaves and flowers masking the smell of the exhaust fumes. The sun, now low in the sky, made glowing pools on the path as it twisted one way and another.
Willard Davis walked like he owned the world. Tall as I remembered him, and thin like a whip. Late forties, dark hair combed back, showing a little scalp on top. One hand carried a good leather briefcase, the other nestled in his pocket. His light grey suit clung to his lean body, the fabric rippling on the breeze.
I started to breathe hard as I struggled to keep him in sight. Cars rumbled and roared on the 65th Street Transverse, a few yards to my left. I heard the clip-clopping of horses, the rattle of the carriages they pulled. But Davis stuck to the small paths, the branches overhanging, loose stones stirred by his feet. I could not match his pace.
‘Dammit,’ I whispered as I lost him around the corner up ahead.
I dug deep inside myself for some reserve of energy, but found none. Defeated, I slowed as the splendid buildings of Central Park West came into view. The evening had dimmed, the breeze a little cooler on my skin.
‘God dammit,’ I said aloud as I slowed to a stop, my shoulders rising and falling, air wheezing in and out of me.
After a minute or so, I had enough wind in me to go on. I crossed between the traffic on Central Park West, ignoring
angry blasts of taxi horns.
Jarlath had said Davis lived around 68th or 69th. I headed north, but I don’t know why I felt I had to. I had lost him, and that was that. I didn’t believe he would have called me, even if I’d left a number with the receptionist.
But still, I kept walking, looking up at the buildings as I passed, imagining him being greeted home by his loving family.
As I passed beneath the awning of a building, a voice said, ‘Mr McArdle.’
My heart leapt in my chest. I spun around, my arm up in a defensive gesture, though I had no reason for it.
Willard Davis stood there, watching me, briefcase in his hand. A thin smile on his lips that didn’t reach his grey-blue eyes.
I have never been more frightened in my life.
‘Why have you been following me?’ he asked.
‘I … I … I wanted to …’
He interrupted my stammering. ‘I would like to have been able to speak with you at the office, Mr McArdle, but as Hattie told you, I was busy all day. And now you’ve followed me home. Why?’
‘I’m sorry,’ I said, my fear giving way to a strange kind of shame, the shame of being caught in a despicable act even though I knew I had done no wrong. ‘I just wanted to talk,’ I said.
He studied me for a few seconds, like I was a bug on a pin.
‘How did you know where I worked?’
‘My eldest boy,’ I said. ‘He’s a policeman.’
‘I expect that’s against the law. For a policeman to give out personal information like that.’
I nodded. ‘I expect it is.’
‘All right,’ he said. ‘You’d better come up.’
‘Sarah, boys, this is Mr McArdle, an old friend of mine.’
The two boys, one around eleven, the other a year or two older, had been standing in the drawing room like soldiers awaiting an inspection.
‘Pleased to meet you, sir,’ they said in unison.
Clean-scrubbed faces, their clothes pressed and spotless. When my boys were that age, there was never a moment when they didn’t look like they’d been pulled feet-first from a muddy ditch.
Sarah, the wife, didn’t respond. She sat in an armchair, her gaze fixed on some far away place that I believe only existed in her mind.
‘Sarah?’ Davis said. ‘Sarah, darling, this is Mr McArdle.’
She looked at me, startled, as if I had appeared in a flash of sparks and smoke. A smile visited her lips.
‘Pleased to meet you,’ she said, her words dull and thick.
I wondered what medication she was on to blunt her so.
Davis spoke to a coloured lady in a dark pinafore.
‘Elizabeth, go ahead and serve Sarah and the boys dinner. Keep mine warm for later. Mr McArdle and I will be in my study. I’d like not to be disturbed.’
‘Yessir,’ she said, bending at the knee.
Davis showed me to a cavernous room lined with book cases, oil paintings on the walls, an antique desk at the far end, not unlike the one I’d moved uptown with my music store, but in far better condition. The room smelled of old
paper and wood varnish.
He sat down in a leather swivel chair on one side of the desk, indicated the seat opposite. ‘So what can I do for you, Mr McArdle?’
I took the seat, feeling very small in this room, like a fish in the belly of a shark.
‘Maybe you heard the news a few nights ago,’ I said. ‘Or maybe you read about it in the papers. A double homicide. A young couple, not so very far uptown from here. They were killed by two Hispanic males.’
‘Tragic,’ Davis said.
He reached for a stack of mail that waited on his desk, lifted the first letter, and slipped the dagger-like blade of an opener beneath the flap.
‘The two killers were shot by the police over in Queens,’ I said. ‘One of them was Hugo Fuente.’
Davis paused, the blade clear of the envelope, his stony eyes on me.
‘The boy we let go,’ I said.
He blinked. Nodded. ‘Like I said, tragic.’
‘That young couple would be alive if we hadn’t saved that boy from the chair.’
‘Maybe,’ Davis said. ‘Maybe not. We didn’t try him for the murder of that couple. We tried him for the killing of his father. And we found him not guilty. Whatever he did before or after the trial, it has nothing to do with you, me, or any man on that jury.’
‘I wish I could believe that,’ I said. ‘I wish I could turn away from this, convince myself that two young people didn’t die because I changed my vote from guilty to not guilty.’
‘There were ten men in that room besides you and me,’ Davis said. ‘Ten men who changed their votes. You have nothing to feel bad about.’
‘Yes I do,’ I said, my voice rising. ‘Because I fell first. Because I allowed you to go on and take every other man down, one by one.’
He set the blade on the desktop, slid the letter from its envelope, and spoke as he skimmed the pages. ‘All we did was talk. No one had a gun to his head. We reasoned it out. You know that.’
Davis looked up from the letter, fixed his gaze on mine, hard like flint.
‘Now, here you are, wanting to talk some more. The time to talk was nine months ago. It’s too late now.’
‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘It’s too late. But I want to ask you one question.’
He dropped the pages on his desk. ‘Go on.’
I took a breath and said, ‘Why?’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Why did you do it? Why did you go on a crusade to save the boy?’
Davis shrugged. ‘You know why. Because I didn’t believe the evidence was strong enough to put him in the chair. Do you want to pick over it all again? The old man in the apartment below, the woman across the El track, the knife with the carved handle. Shall we do it all again, Mr McArdle?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘I’ve gone over it enough times myself since that day.’
‘Well, then. What more is there to say?’ He got to his feet. ‘If you don’t mind, Mr McArdle, I have work to do tonight, and I’d like to take an hour with my family if I can.’
I remained seated and asked, ‘You want to know what I think?’
Davis’s face hardened as he lowered himself back into his chair. ‘All right, what do you think?’
Leaning forward, I said, ‘I think it was just a game to you. I think you didn’t give a hoot if that boy was guilty or innocent. I think it mattered not one jot to you if he went to the chair or walked free.’
Davis sat quite still as I talked, his stare never leaving me, his face blank as an unmarked grave.
‘I think you wanted to prove yourself better than any other man in the room. To be smarter than them, to outthink them, to outtalk them. I remember the look on your face when each one of them broke down, the pleasure, almost savage. And when one of us stood up to you, you mind him? Juror 3. The man with the messenger business. When he stood his ground, when he didn’t allow himself to be beaten into submission by you, you went for him like a torpedo. You didn’t let up till he was crying his heart out, you didn’t stop until you’d humiliated him in front of the rest of us. It was just a game, wasn’t it, Mr Davis? We were playthings to you. That boy’s life was a ball for you to bat around the room, like a cat toys with a mouse before he gobbles it up.’
Davis watched from the other side of his antique desk, still, silent and dead-eyed as a statue.
‘Am I right, Mr Davis?’ I asked, breathless, my nerves carrying the charge like bell wire.
He picked up the letter opener, ran its edge along the pad of his thumb, leaving a string of tiny red beads. His tongue licked them away. He asked, ‘Exactly what kind of man do you think I am, Mr McArdle?’
I’m not sure what rose in me then, I thought it was courage, but I realise now that it was not.
‘I know what kind of man you are,’ I said. ‘My son told me. I know about the girl from your office who disappeared, and about the one who drowned in her own bathtub. I guess you’ll never answer for those young women, or for the couple who died because you talked eleven men into giving the wrong verdict. You’ll get away with it, I suppose.’
I stood, wavered, gripped the edge of the desk, breathed deep.
‘I just want you to know, Mr Davis, that your sin did not go unnoticed. I can see myself out.’
He did not speak as I left the room, as the heavy door closed behind me.
I walked to the apartment door, the one that opened onto its own private entrance hall, leading to the elevator. As I passed the drawing room, I saw his wife, Sarah, watching me from the doorway. She said nothing as our eyes met, but even now I wonder if, somewhere deep in her consciousness, somewhere behind the veil of whatever drugs Davis kept her on, I wonder if part of her mind begged me for help?
We buried Jarlath one week later.
Eugene took it worse than anybody. He had no time for his brother when he was alive. Now he’s grieving so hard I fear it might unman him.
Jarlath left a bar on Charles Street at two in the morning, steaming drunk. One witness, a vagrant, saw a tall thin man with dark hair slip out of a doorway as Jarlath passed, slide a blade between his ribs three times, and walk on as if nothing had happened. Jarlath died on the sidewalk, his lungs filling with blood. No one to hold his hand as he faded. I hope there wasn’t a great deal of pain or fear for him in those last minutes. I will carry the knowledge that I caused his death to my grave, that if I had heeded his advice and stayed away,
my son would not be in the ground today.
I expect he’ll come for me. When enough time has passed, when the receptionist has forgotten about the strange old man who wouldn’t go away, I imagine I’ll feel a hand on my shoulder, something cold and sharp in my side.
But I will keep my mouth shut.
I solemnly swear, so help me God, that I will never breathe a word about Juror 8, a man called Willard Davis, to another living soul.