A man walks up to you, solemn in the mouth and hard in the eyes. “Greetings, friend. Things have gone amiss in this world. People have turned towards cruelty, and compassion has become misguided. Criminals are sweet-talking their way out of confinement, but I have caught one such man before he had a chance to slip away. He asks for leniency. We have need of an arbitrary person to look at the story from all perspectives and determine if his wish for leniency is deserved.”
A television is rolled out as the man withdraws a disk from a pocket on his red jacket. After he makes a few deft movements, the disk is accepted by the DVD player, and the black screen flickers to life.
A steel-haired woman sits in a simple blue dress, her hair pulled up into a bun. She wears reading glasses, the frames pointed at the ends for stylish reasons. There’s a box of tissues in front of her, and a single tissue wrapped up in her hand. Her eyes are puffy, but there are no tears. Not right now. “Nick killed my son,” she begins. “He never denied it. The worst part is the fact that I let him into our home. I should have known he was mentally unstable. That thing with his father… Look, he needed a friend, and I brought Noah up right. If someone needs a helping hand, you give it to them.
But right now I wish my son had grown up cold. At the very least, that he’d turned a blind eye to that boy’s needs and looked out for himself for once. They were just so close. Noah was so calm and confident when he was around Nick. I thought it was good for them both. I… I’m sorry. I still can’t believe he’s the one responsible for killing my boy. We didn’t have much, my husband and I, as we were raising Noah. But the two made do, had their own fun. I was so proud for the both of them when they graduated. We sat next to Nick’s mom at the ceremony. We were both crying. And the two of them, when they came back out to meet us with their diplomas and their caps… it was like they’d conquered the entire world in a day. The future was entirely open to them.” The woman pauses, and fights back tears.
“They hardly told me anything about his death. I ended up learning most of it on the news. Not that it’s important, but I did give the department a stern talking to, once the tears had gone away. That monster, that boy I’d once considered as a second son, slipped into Noah’s house and waited for him until he got home from work. When Noah got there, he didn’t realize anything was wrong. He just set his dog out in his back yard and sat on the chair opposite Nick and asked what’s wrong.
The fight… it must’ve got heated. Sometimes Nick had trouble controlling his anger as a kid. Not all the time, but enough. And… and it ended with my boy getting shot in the chest.” Tears begin to fall, and the woman scrubs at her face with the wrinkled tissue. “I’m sorry.
Oh. It was Noah’s dog that alerted the neighbors to something being wrong. That’s how they found him dead. By then, of course, Nick had disappeared. And my son… my beautiful boy, was gone.”
A blonde-haired woman in jeans and a gray blouse bounces a baby on her knee. Her eyes are puffy, but she looks angry more than anything else. The baby blubbers on happily, oblivious. “How am I going to tell Charlie that his dad killed someone? How? Things were nothing like this when we got married. He did tell me he had commitment issues because of his dad, but I thought it was more of a promise to me that he wouldn’t walk out on me. I didn’t realize he was saying it because he didn’t trust me either.
We’ve been happily married for over two years. We’d dated for three years before that. I thought he was dragging its feet, true, but I was willing to give him the space he needed. If he wasn’t certain when he walked into the marriage, then I didn’t want into it either. So when he asked, it was the best feeling in the world. I felt like things were finally falling into place. And of course Noah was his best man at the wedding. They were incredibly close even when we were dating. Things only backed off a little after we got married.
When I heard what happened to Noah, it was from Nick. I remember I’d just put little Charlie to bed. He came home, and there were these red spots on him. He looked… I’m not even sure how to describe it. Terribly sad, and also a little angry. But some small perverted part of him looked happy. We’d had a few heated arguments regarding his belief that I was cheating on him with his best friend, but he stopped after a little while. I thought he was over it. Then when he came home, I asked if that was blood, and he said he didn’t have to worry about me and Noah anymore.
He told me he’d shot Noah. Shot him, right in the heart. Said he didn’t mean to, that it sort of just happened. I don’t even know where he got the gun. It’s just such a terrible tragedy. I was suddenly very terrified of him. Of Nick. I said some things. I lied. And then slipped away with Charlie. It wasn’t until some distance was put between us that I got so unbelievably angry. He’d killed Noah, who’d become a friend of sorts to me over the course of my relationship with Nick. Noah was an incredibly nice man. But I mean, up until this point, so was Nick.”
Look, me and Noah… It’s not what Nick thought. It was all just a big misunderstanding. All I know is that, because of what my husband did, my son will never meet his father.”
A middle-aged man in a clean suit sits behind a table. His hands are constantly moving and he is clearly nervous. “My name is Nikolas Clark,” he says, “And before you even think to make any snap decisions, let me say that yes I did kill Noah Gibbs but it wasn’t as if I walked into his house knowing that I wanted him to die. It goes like this:
Noah Gibbs was most certainly my friend, up until maybe three weeks ago… See, we had this barbecue thing to celebrate my son’s first birthday. And Noah seemed awfully friendly with Sarah, my wife. I admit, I have jealous tendencies, and I’m truly sorry about that, but my dad… Well, I might as well be honest, here, since my life depends on it. My dad cheated on my mom and then walked out on her, and we grew up poor even though my mom was always working. Everyone at school would avoid me or pick on me because I never wore what was “in style.” Kids… My son won’t grow up like that, I swear it.
Anyway, Noah was one of my first friends. It’s like in those impossible movies where you look at something and think that can’t actually happen. Preschool friends never stay connected after high school, if they even make it that far. But Noah knew about my dad’s cheating. He convinced his mom to let me stay over at their place some days when I was feeling really down. We were close.
I really did not want to kill him, okay? He was my best friend. But he knew my past. He should have known better. And when I walked in, I thought it would be a simple matter of demanding the truth out of him. But he refused to say. And then of course I got angry, because the lying’s almost as bad as the cheating. He never said…
Did he actually sleep with Sarah? See, that’s the thing. I’ll never know. He never admitted to it, and Sarah was the first to find out I did it and she’s the one who gave the tip about my having killed him. Then she took our kid and ran off. I never got the truth out of her. It’s even worse, though. The not knowing. Because what if, by some chance, they weren’t having an affair and I killed my best friend for no reason? But I don’t know. Sarah’s running off kind of speaks for itself. ”
The man returns, holding a ballot and pencil in his hand. He hands them over to you. The ballot says “Granted” on one line and “Denied” on the other.
“The man will be punished for his crimes if you say his wish for leniency ought to be denied, if you think his crime doesn’t warrant compassion.” the man says. “We will let him go if you grant him his wish. We await your decision.” Then he leaves you to make your choice.