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Vengeance is Mine
Normally I’m not a vengeful type of guy, you know?
Yeah, I get grief from people from time to time, but with most of them I can just let it go. Like when my older brother popped me in the eye when we were wrestling – Mom was real mad and started into how bad he was to do that but I didn’t hold it against him. We were kids, we were goofing around.
John Robin – now, there’s a different story. He gave me grief since grade school. Him so big and bad, with the wavy blond hair and the athletic body the girls swooned over – yeah, he was the Golden Boy. And he liked to show it, you know? And he showed it best against the skinny wimpy guys, the geeks. Guys like me.
Yeah, I was a geek with a capital G. Major acne during high school – John Robin thought it was a hoot one time to squirt pimple cream on my sandwich at lunch. I wasn’t into athletics either – and while we had some girls in the Chess Club it wasn’t exactly the thing that impressed a date, you know?
It probably didn’t help that I had straight black hair my old man insisted on cutting in a bowl cut himself. He’s a good man, don’t get me wrong, but if we’d have had to depend on his skill with hair clippers to eat, we’d of starved to death. Add the glasses I had to wear in order to see more than 2 feet in front of me, and I guess I had a “Kick Me” sign around my neck for most of my schooling career. And John Robin was more than happy to oblige.
Funny the curves life could throw you. If John Robin hadn’t treated me like trash back in school, I’d never been, in the hallway outside of Courtroom A in the Dillsburg County Courthouse, sitting five years after high school graduation waiting to testify for the prosecution in the case of The State of
vs. John Patrick Robin. Florida
I was perched on a hard wooden bench, my ankles crossed on the black and white tiled floor. My black shoes gleamed with an unaccustomed polish. My arms folded in front of me, I leaned my head back against the smooth gray stone wall and closed my eyes. Taking a deep breath I smelled my own sweat beading under my armpits and dotting my forehead. The sweat was only partially due to the fact that the air conditioning in this part of the building wasn’t up to the task on a mid-June day in Central Florida.
I opened my eyes and wiped my face, taking a deep breath to steady myself. Down the hallway what looked like a family group sat on a bench outside the other courtroom on this floor. A woman was bouncing a toddler her knee while holding the shoulder of a kid who didn’t look a day over 14, who seemed more interested in the scuff marks his sneakers were making on the floor then whatever the woman was saying to him.
The door to my right opened. A court officer poked her head out. “Mr. Miller?”
I took one last deep breath and got up, moved past the officer and entered the small courtroom.
It was packed. A local high school sports figure who was accused of pedophilia by one of the kids he’s coaching was front page news around here. The spectator benches were filled, people packed like sardines. No cameras in the courtroom so I didn’t worry about having my picture taken, but I kept my eyes down on the industrial blue carpet as I made my way to the front of the courtroom.
I did spare a glance to my left as I approached the witness chair. John Robin was sitting there, dressed in a blue pinstripe suit, not a blond hair out of place. He met my gaze, his face unreadable.
As I took the oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I checked out the jury box, where twelve men and women of John Robin’s peers sat in comfortable looking padded blue chairs. These were the people I had to convince. They were my audience. Everyone else was superfluous, including one John Robin.
“State your name for the record,” the bailiff said in a bored voice.
“Joseph Sean Miller,” I answered.
I took my seat as the District Attorney, Robert Sellers, strutted up to begin questioning. He had black hair with gray temples and was dressed in a gray suit with a red power tie. He paused a moment and treated the jury to his this-is-serious-stuff gaze.
Sellers had been easy to manipulate, you know? He was a typical politician, and when the 10 year old boy went public with his accusation of John Robin sexually assaulting him, the D.A. jumped on it like a dog on a bone. When I read about his intention to prosecute John Robin, I saw my opportunity. I did some research on the unsavory topic of sexual assault and then called Sellers, expressing a willingness to “bare my soul” to help put away this dangerous individual. The D.A. was more than happy to hear me out. The evidence he had was circumstantial, and I was going to be the guy who closed the deal.
Now he walked me through my history with the defendant, how I was one of John Robin’s favorite chew toys throughout our school history.
“Now, could you tell the jury of an incident that occurred in one of the boy’s restrooms in the spring of your senior year?” Sellers asked.
I nodded and began. I started out with the truth – I had ducked into one of the restrooms for a quick bathroom break after lunch. John Robin was already there, enjoying a forbidden cigarette. When he saw me, he grinned and tossed the ciggie into one of the sinks. Then he grabbed me by the collar before I beat a retreat out the door.
Now the truth of the matter was that once he had his hands on me John Robin forced me to endure what was known among the guys in our school as a “swirly” – which meant I got dunked head first into one of the toilets and swished around. Bad enough, you know? But not anything criminal, at least not like sexual assault.
So I took a break from the truth at the point of getting grabbed, and told a lurid tale of sexual assault. It wasn’t easy – believe me, I’m no prude, but you don’t talk out loud about this kind of stuff usually and I found my face getting hot. I didn’t mind so much, I figured it helped my credibility, you know?
I looked at my hands a lot during my testimony, but I snuck a glance at the jury a couple of times, and man, they were riveted. They couldn’t take their eyes off me. They were buying it, I could tell.
I did risk one glance at the defense table. John Robin was staring at me too, but he wasn’t fascinated. He was livid. His face was red, his hands were bunched into fists, and his attorney had a hand on his arm as if to keep him from jumping out of his chair and strangling me. That kind of made me stammer, so I didn’t look at him for the rest of my testimony.
The D.A. finished with me, saying “No more questions,” and sitting down. John Robin’s attorney strode toward the podium. I noticed the navy band holding back her blond hair was the same shade as her tailored suit. She looked at me like I was some lower life form.
“So you claim my client treated you badly in school?” she asked.
I shrugged. I knew I had to be careful with my answers here. “That’s a nice way to put it.”
“It must have made you very angry,” she commented, cocking her head.
I knew where she was going with this. “Look,” I said, spreading my hands, “it was part of growing up. I’m not the first guy who was bullied at school, probably won’t be the last.”
“You didn’t answer my question, Mr. Miller,” she said politely. Her blue eyes were ice chips. “Did you resent my client?”
I shrugged. “He wasn’t my favorite person,” I allowed.
The attorney nodded. “And isn’t that why you are here today? To smear my client by making false allegations?”
I shook my head. “Ma’am -” I knew I had to stay polite “- I’m not gonna risk perjury and going to jail to get back at anyone. I’m not that kind of guy, you know?”
She looked down at her legal pad. “Yet you made no mention of this alleged assault until you contacted the District Attorney, isn’t that true?”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “Look, if I’d said something then I’d have been ragged on by the guys at school. They’d have called me gay and stuff. I didn’t want to deal with that.”
She continued to try to poke holes in my story and my credibility. I stood my ground, trying my best to act like the poor geek victim. I caught one or two of the jurors nodding at me as I answered.
Finally, she ran out of questions to ask me. “You may step down,” the judge told me. With a sigh of relief, I stepped out of the witness box. As I passed the defense table, I couldn’t resist. I met John Robin’s eyes over the head of his attorney. My back was to the jury, so they couldn’t see the smile I shot at him.
John Robin jumped up and headed for me, his hands out making clenching motions. He all but knocked over his attorney to get to me. He roared as he approached – I had never heard a person roar before, and it was almost animal-like – “You lying creep!”
His fingers brushed my collar before the uniformed guys swarmed him. The crowd was babbling, some people in the back standing on the benches for a better look, the judge was pounding his gavel and yelling for attention, and my heart felt as if it was trying to pound its way right out of my chest.
With all that, I was pleased, even though I was careful not to show it. I felt a hand on my shoulder – I turn to see the D.A. “Are you OK?” he asked, the question barely audible over the tumult.
I nodded, turning back to see the cops dragging John Robin out of the courtroom. He was still yelling, calling me all kinds of names and stuff. His attorney – I never did get her name – was trailing him making patting motions with her hands trying to calm him down. The crowd finally noticed the judge banging his gavel and started to settle down.
The judge looked at the clock and said, “Given it is 4:45 PM I declare court to be adjourned until nine AM tomorrow.” Bang! went the gavel. The babble of people sharing their opinions picked up again.
The D. A. shook my hand. “Thank you for coming forward, Mr. Miller. Because of your testimony I am more confident about putting Mr. Robin behind bars.”
I tried to keep my smile small. “I am glad I could be of help,” I said quite truthfully.
Outside, I blinked in the
Florida sun. The humid air hit me and I realized the AC in
the courthouse had been doing a better job than I thought. I moved quickly past the mob of reporters,
muttering “no comment” as they tried to shove mikes in my face and yell questions
I got to my battered Honda Accord in a nearby parking garage and sat in it for a minute, the air conditioning full blast, suddenly tired. After the careful planning I had done it. Even if John Robin beat the charge – and I had just made that harder – pedophilia was one of those accusations that never really went away. Even if some thought I was lying through my teeth, there would be enough doubt to stain him.
A banging at my driver’s side window startled me. A cop was outside, and I almost swallowed my tongue. Had someone caught me after all?
I rolled down my window. “Problem, officer?”
“You OK, buddy?” The cop asked, his face filled with concern. You looked like you passed out or something.”
I looked at my dash clock and swore. I must have dozed off – I had been sitting there a good hour. “I’m fine, officer, just tired.”
The cop looked doubtful. His eyes traveled to the passenger side of my car – looking for beer, I guessed. I managed a smile. “I really appreciate your concern, officer, but really, it’s just fatigue.”
The cop leaned in a little further and seemed satisfied I didn’t smell of alcohol. “OK, then. Sorry to bother you.” He nodded at me and backed off.
I nodded and got out of the parking garage before he could change his mind. All I wanted was a cold drink and maybe a roast beef sandwich before I collapsed into bed.
My first clue something was up was when I saw my parents’ tan Chrysler parked in my guest slot at my apartment building. I hurried up the three flights of stairs and there they were, standing outside my door. They both looked terrible, and my first thought was that one of my grandparents had died.
“Oh, Joey!” Mom burst out when she saw me. Her eyes were red and she clutched a tattered Kleenex in one hand as she threw her arms around me. “Oh, baby, why didn’t you tell us?”
“Huh?” I said, returning the hug. I looked over her shoulder at my dad, who was studying the tan carpet in front of my door. “What are you talking about, Mom?”
“It’s been in the news,” Mom said, and she started to cry. I yanked my keys out of my pocket and unlocked the door. We all moved into the main room and I hit a light switch. “Mom, what?”
It was Dad who answered. “About that bully from school. The news reports say he…” Dad got red in his face and started studying his feet again.
“Oh,” I said, and my mind, which had performed so brilliantly in the courtroom, went blank. Somehow, in all my planning, my parents getting wind of the story never occurred to me.
“Sweetie,” Mom said, cupping my face. “Why didn’t you tell us? We could have done something, helped you deal with it…it breaks my heart you didn’t feel you could talk to us about this.”
“Mom…” I said, looking from her to my dad and back again. They looked like they had aged five years. “I – I was embarrassed, I just –”
“It’s my fault,” my dad said, dropping into the blue and white plaid recliner I’d picked up at Goodwill. “You kept telling us about kids picking on you, and all I could tell you was deal with it like a man.”
“We didn’t listen,” Mom said. She looked around the room, taking in the clothes piled on one end of the couch, the stack of newspapers on the end table, the layer of dust on everything. She went to the papers first, gathering them up.
“Mom, come on, you don’t have to -” I started towards her, but my dad stopped me with a hand on my arm and a look.
“Let her,” he said. “It’ll help her.”
I sank onto the uncluttered end of the green couch, and looked them both over. Dad was sitting with his hands clasped loosely between his knees, his shoulders hunched. Mom was moving around, picking over the clothes on the other end of the sofa and muttering about how I needed a good hot meal.
I was trapped. Even if I confessed all, they would probably have said I was just trying to spare their feelings. Worse, they could have believed me – and the betrayal they experienced might be as bad as the guilt they were carrying now. Or they’d have tried to get me to do the “right thing.” It would have been a major fight, one I had no energy for, you know?
I looked at these two people I cared about and who I had wounded by one lie, and then I thought about John Robin and I tried to tell myself it was all worth it.
And I almost convinced myself of it.
Vengeance is Mine. Copyright © 2010 by Laura Ware
Published by JJ Press
Cover design by JJ Press
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part in any form. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.