Gloria? He couldn’t call her even if he wanted to, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to. Maggie? No, God, the last thing he wanted was to start that up again. He didn’t want to see anybody, didn’t really want to have a conversation with anybody, just somehow felt the need to check in with someone, though he couldn’t think who. He felt restless, he realized, a sort of full-moon restlessness, and the moon wasn’t even full, as far as he knew.
Or was it? He went to the window, but couldn’t see any moon from there, full or otherwise. He could go outside and look, but he had Chinese food coming. You could probably find information like that in the Farmer’s Almanac, but the only copy he had was five years old. He’d never bought it again, and couldn’t recall now what had made him buy it the first time.
He’d bought a paper, but left it on the train. There was probably something in it about phases of the moon. If it wasn’t in the weather report, it would probably be in the astrology column.
Louise Carpenter. That’s who he wanted to call. If nothing else, the woman would know whether or not the moon was full.
Was it too late to call? He decided it wasn’t, looked up the number and dialed it. She didn’t answer, and neither did her machine. He tried again, on the chance he’d misdialed, and no one answered, and then the buzzer sounded to announce the arrival of his dinner.
After he’d eaten he gave his attention to the selection of approvals that had arrived several days earlier from the woman in Maine. He chose the stamps he wanted, mounted them in his albums, and wrote out a check.
He wrote a note: “Dear Beatrice, Thanks for another nice selection. I found a few I could use, and I’m happy to have them. Enclosed is a check for $72.20. I’m on jury duty, but I’m not supposed to tell anyone about the case. Believe me, you wouldn’t want to hear about it!” He signed his name and tucked the note and the check and the stamps he wasn’t buying into the return envelope, then went downstairs and posted it in the corner mailbox. He was in the building again before he remembered the moon, and it didn’t seem worthwhile to go out again and look for it.
Back in his apartment, he stationed himself in front of the television set. Around midnight he drew a tub and took another hot bath. Before he went to bed he repacked his briefcase with a fresh shirt and a change of socks and underwear.
The foreman they had selected was named Milton Simmons. He was tall, forty-five or fifty, and he looked a little like Morgan Freeman. Keller figured that was why they had chosen him. Morgan Freeman had a kind of moral authority. Whether he was playing a good guy or a bad guy, you somehow knew you could count on him.
“Well,” Simmons said now, “we’re going to have to figure out how to do this. I guess the question is, did the state prove their case?”
“Beyond a reasonable doubt,” someone said, and a lot of heads nodded along with the phrase.
Keller felt keyed up, eager to get to it. Closing arguments had been extended, and Keller didn’t think either of the lawyers was particularly good. Nierstein had led off, picking the prosecution’s case apart piece by piece, switching from earnest reasoning to blistering sarcasm and back again. Then Sheehy, the prosecutor, took just as much time putting it back together again. Then, finally, the judge had charged the jury.
Keller loved the expression. He could picture the judge, lowering his head, pawing the ground, then charging the jury box like a bull, his black robes sweeping the floor.
The judge’s charge had been less dramatic than that, and lengthy, and impossibly tedious. He kept saying the same thing over and over, as if they were children, and not particularly bright children, either. And finally the twelve of them had been led away and locked up together, and here they were, entrusted with the awesome responsibility of determining the fate of a fellow human being.
“It seems to me,” one woman began, and left it at that when there was a knock on the door. The bailiff entered, followed by a pair of willowy young men who moved like dancers, each bearing a tray and depositing it gracefully on the side table.
“State of New York’s buying you lunch,” the bailiff announced. “There’s turkey sandwiches, all white meat, and there’s ham and cheese sandwiches, and the cheese is Swiss. I asked before was there any vegetarians, and nobody said a word, but just in case there’s a couple of peanut butter and jellies. Coffee and iced tea and Diet Coke, plus water if there’s any Mormons. Enjoy your meal.”
He followed the two young men out of the room. There was a silence, broken at length by Morgan Freeman. “I guess we’ll eat,” he said, “and talk later.”
Keller had a ham and cheese sandwich and a glass of iced tea. When there turned out to be no takers for the peanut butter sandwiches, he had one of those as well. Lunch was a curious business, with all conversation suspended, and the room dead silent but for the hum of the air conditioner and the resolute chomping of twelve pairs of jaws. When they’d all finished, one woman proposed summoning the bailiff and having the rest of the food removed. Mr. Bittner, who’d brightened up considerably when lunch arrived, pointed out that the bailiff hadn’t told them to do so, and suggested they leave the leftovers on the table, in case anyone got hungry during deliberations.
Keller looked across the table at Gloria, who rolled her eyes. One of the Asians said she couldn’t possibly eat another bite, and the foreman said neither could he at the moment, but that wasn’t to say he might not get the munchies down the line. Another woman said the sandwiches would get stale, just sitting out in the open like that, and someone countered that they were going to waste anyway, that the bailiff would just have them tossed out once they were removed from the room.
“It’s not like they could take them out of here and ship them to Somalia for famine relief,” she said, and a black woman across the table from Keller frowned momentarily, then evidently decided there was nothing essentially racist in the remark and let it go.
“Is there a consensus?” Morgan Freeman asked. “Are we all agreed that we’ll keep the food and drink handy?” No one said otherwise, and he smiled. “Well, we’ve settled the difficult issue,” he said. “Now we can turn our attention to the question of whether the defendant is guilty or innocent.”
“Guilty or not guilty,” Gloria said.
“I stand corrected,” he said, “and thank you. Judge hammered away at that one, didn’t he? We don’t need to believe in the man’s innocence to acquit him, just so he hasn’t been proved guilty. Anybody have any thoughts on how to approach the question?”
A hand went up, a Mrs. Estйvez. The foreman nodded to her, and smiled expectantly.
“I got to go to the bathroom,” she said.
The bailiff was summoned. He led the woman off. When he brought her back, he was accompanied by the two willowy young men, who began clearing away the leftovers. No one said a word.
“I wonder if we could go back to the VCR,” Gloria said.
“My cousin had one just like it,” somebody said, “and it was fine for playing movies from the video rental, but you could not get it to record a program.”
“She couldn’t program it,” someone else said.
“My cousin’s a man, thank you very much, and he programmed it just fine. It would start recording something, and then it would switch to another channel all by its own self. I swear that machine had a mind of its own.”
That put it ahead of the jury, Keller decided, which at the very least didn’t know its own mind, if it had one at all. They kept going off on tangents.
And now Gloria led them on a particularly oblique path. After the vagaries of VCRs in general had been explored at some length, she took up a thread the defense had pursued with some vigor. Nierstein had called several witnesses to trace the history of the VCR the prosecution had brought to the courtroom, from the moment when Clifford Mapes had allegedly purchased it from the defendant all the way to the present moment. The prosecution had taken pains to identify it as one of a shipment stolen from a Price Club warehouse on Long Island, and had produced a witness, one William Gubbins, who had acted as lookout for the thieves and had received the VCR as part of his share of the proceeds. Gubbins had testified that he sold the VCR to the defendant.
Nierstein’s contention was that the chain of evidence had been corrupted, that the electronic marvel on the evidence table was not the same one that his client had allegedly bought from William Gubbins and allegedly sold to the undercover policeman.
“Remember what he asked that property clerk? Asked him if he ever took home items entrusted to his own care?”
“The man said no,” said one of the Asians, a Ms. Chin.
“But Nierstein didn’t stop there,” Gloria reminded them. “He asked about a specific item, a video camcorder.”
“Wanted to know if the guy didn’t borrow it to film his daughter’s birthday party.”
“And he said no,” Ms. Chin countered.
Keller remembered the exchange. The property clerk, who Gloria felt would cut a much more impressive figure if he lost ten pounds and shaved off his mustache, had admitted that his daughter had a birthday party on such-and-such a date, that he himself had attended, and that he had immortalized the event on tape. He had admitted as well that he had not owned a video camera at the time, and did not own one now, but he steadfastly denied that he had taken one home from work, maintaining that he’d borrowed one belonging to his brother-in-law. Sheehy had objected to the whole line of questioning, calling it irrelevant, and suggesting sarcastically that the defense might next call for the tape of the party to be played in court. That brought a reprimand from the judge, who’d evidently found the whole business absorbing enough to overrule her objections.
“Well, I don’t know,” Gloria said.
“We can only go by the testimony,” Mrs. Estйvez said. “The lawyer asked the questions and the man answered them.”
Keller hadn’t wanted to say anything, but he couldn’t help himself. “But how did he know to ask?” They looked at him, and he said, “How did he know about the birthday party, and that the guy taped it?”
“Everybody tapes their kids’ parties,” somebody said.
Did they? Was every childhood birthday party captured that way, the moment frozen on time through the magic of videotape? Did anybody ever look at the tapes?
“But he knew the date,” Keller said. “He must have heard somewhere that the guy borrowed a camcorder. The clerk had to deny it, it’s a breach of regulations. Just because he denied it doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen.”
“It doesn’t mean it did, either,” a woman pointed out.
“Well, no,” Keller said. “It’s a question of who you’re going to believe.”
“But what’s it matter? There’s no camcorder in the prosecution’s case. Just a VCR. Who cares if the guy borrowed a camcorder? Nobody was using it, and he brought it back in the same condition he borrowed it.”