Bernard, A Special Case
Will Riley
Bernard Foote, CPA, a short, lonely man shaped like a turnip, sat shackled to a table in a courthouse holding cell. A small, barred window allowed some light into the room, but not enough to contribute warmth.
The door opened and a man entered the room. He carried a briefcase.
"Who are you?" Bernard asked.
"I'm your court-appointed attorney," the man said. "A public defender."
"But I have my own lawyer. What about my phone call? Aren't I entitled to a phone call?"
"Yours is a special case. Some rights have been suspended."
"I don't understand. I've done nothing wrong. Why am I here?"
"You are here because the thirteen-year-old girl you've been chatting with online is actually Special Agent Hans Whitmore of the Despicable Crimes Unit.
"You've been charged with vile behavior. Not something to be taken lightly, I assure you, Mr. Foote. We should get started. Your trial is already in progress."
"What? This is insane. I haven't even been arraigned."
"Yours is a special case."
"No, no! There's been a mistake. I've never chatted with anyone online. No, sir. Never."
"It's too late for feeble protests, Mr. Foote. The DA has your computer. I've read the emails, seen the jpegs. Creeped me out, I might add."
"Impossible! My computer..."
"Confiscated with a properly executed search warrant, Mr. Foote. And your wife showed the officers where you hid the glossy pictures in the garage. Horrible stuff. Incriminating beyond a reasonable doubt."
"My wife? I have no wife. I'm a bachelor."
The public defender opened his briefcase and removed a document. He set it out on the table. "Bernard Foote and Annabelle Horn," he said, pointing at the certificate. "Married in Reno, Nevada. July 10th, blah, blah, blah."
"Oh for chrissake! I've never married. You've got the wrong Bernard Foote. Any idiot would know that after a little investigating."
The public defender put up his hands. "Now, now, Mr. Foote. I'm on your side, after all. Let's stop quibbling and get started on an appeal."
"Appeal what?"
"With luck you'll get a life term, but juries can surprise you."
"And if I'm surprised?"
"You'll be shot."
Bernard shook his head, at a loss for words. The door opened again and several people entered the room. One of them, a tall man in a black robe, approached the table. He looked at Bernard.
"Bernard Foote," he said with a gruff voice. "A jury of your peers has found you guilty of vile behavior. Given the circumstances of your crime—the pictures, the emails, the chatroom transcripts, the testimonies of Special Agent Whitmore, your wife and your associates—I had no recourse but to apply the maximum sentence allowed by law. Would you like a cigarette?"
Bernard, nearing shock, shook his head. "I don't smoke," he said.
"A good choice," the judge replied before turning to nod at a guard standing at the door. The guard motioned to someone down the hallway and soon a slight, homely woman entered the room. Her eyes widened when she spotted Bernard.
"That's not my Bernie!" she said, clasping her hands to her chest. "Where's my Bernie? What have you done with my Bernie?"
The judge turned to face her, saying, "Now, now, Mrs. Foote. Please stay calm." He nodded once again at the guard, and the guard hustled her out of the room.
The judge shrugged. "Well, that was certainly an awkward moment."
"Awkward?!" Bernard said. He tried to rise out of the chair, but the shackles prevented him from doing so. "Wait'll I meet with my real attorney. I'll show you awkward. Now get these damn chains off me."
The judge shook his head. "You are the Bernard Foote in custody. You are the Bernard Foote who stood trial in my courtroom today. The verdict stands, therefore the sentencing must be carried out."
Bernard, speechless, stared at the judge. The judge, cool as could be, pulled a small caliber pistol from his robe and fired a shot neatly between Bernard's eyes. Bernard slumped forward, his head meeting the table with a thud.
The judge frowned at the public defender. "There appears to be sufficient grounds to appeal the verdict," he said.
The public defender nodded. "I'll get on it in the morning."
The judge turned to leave the room, pausing only to allow a jailhouse trustee, mop and bucket in hand, to enter.
Will Riley is retired, living at a mountain lake in Southern California. He writes to pass the time. His stories have appeared in various online zines.