Bewildering Stories

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You Be the Judge!

by Catfish Russ

Sarah was trying to figure out where she was. On a boat of some kind, most likely. The swaying was hard to mistake. Of course, she had been handcuffed, hooded and earmuffed for about two days as best she could tell.

About a day ago, after they came into her apartment and arrested her, someone opened her hood and put a cup of water to her lips. That sip was the last real contact she had had with anyone since the planes trains and automobiles she had been carted on. After the water, the hood came back down, and that was that.

Now the boat was stopping, the engine vibration increased as the boat idled, then stopped. Someone came into the boat, unhooked Sarah from the wall she was chained to, and walked her up the stairs to a deck. She was led up a ramp and into a car where she was to be driven somewhere. In an accident while seating her, her right earmuff moved up under her hood; after two days she could hear for a moment. Cars. Horns. A New York accent from someone outside the car.

“57th Street and Broadway. They’re waiting. You’ll see some PA holding up a sign,” she heard. Her heart jumped into her throat. She wasn’t even going to jail. She was headed to a TV station. They had picked her for a public trial.

In the first hour after men broke into her house and seized her she had figured out what had happened. They didn’t give her a chance to speak or scream. They didn’t ask any questions or identify themselves, but these days you just had to expect that a job this professional was the Police. No high-ransom kidnappers for Sarah. Just your garden variety Ton-Ton Macoutes. Her father had died penniless, and she had never known her mother who died when she was one.

Then again, she might have been grabbed by a private company on a fake warrant. Perhaps one of these companies that looks for criminals, makes citizen’s arrests, and then sells the TV and internet rights to a broadcaster for a nice fee. And then off they go. Citizens can make Patriot Act arrests if they have reasonable cause. The abductors had probably held her on a boat so police would have a harder time finding her. Maybe they had to negotiate a sales price. Maybe they had to pay off a D.A. There is a lot you don’t know when you have a hood over your head.

Sarah was not the typical person who you’d consider a potential criminal. She had spent six years as a public affairs official in the United States Air Force. She had made the rank of Captain and thought of it as her first good, reasonable accomplishment. So why would she, only two weeks after leaving the force, go into a bar with friends and go home on the first night with a total stranger? Maybe because after six years of regimentation, it felt good to do something out of line and scandalous and naughty.

There was no more internet porn. There was no more anything that was fun or bad for you. All that was left was going to a bar and asking a tall, dark handsome man to follow you home.

Perhaps dark was a wrong descriptor.

Perhaps Arab was a better word.

Perhaps sleeping with him was not the mistake. The mistake was giving him a ride to the airport afterwards.

The new Uniform Code of Military Justice requires that no service person be married or have a significant other. It made the Armed Forces a virtual Singles Night of temptation. Then again, when you’re dead, no family or extended family or friends show up and protest.

Protest, per se, was not allowed in regards to military matters. Every patriot knows that. But you are allowed to file a Complaint To Correct through your local RPR (Republican Party Representative). Many Complaint To Corrects have been filed over servicemen’s being lonely. That was Armed Forces policy; nothing would come of it.

In the first few hours after her abduction, this is what Sarah had concluded. So Sarah just assumed that somehow, she had aided and abetted someone the U.S. was after, and what a coincidence that it was the first man she saw after she left the Air Force. Or maybe a couple of bounty hunters working for a security firm saw her leave with an Arab and it pissed them off. They get her back by arresting her and starting a wave of accusations about secrecy that few courts could ever hope to penetrate.

Of course, you have to wonder what important Air Force secrets she would have access to in the Public Affairs Division. “Well, your honor, right before I climaxed he asked me where we keep our copy paper and in a moment of weakness I told him... IN... THE... THIRD... FILING CABINET!!!!... Oooooohhhh.”

She was led into a building. She could smell the car fumes and imagined the silent stares of hundreds of strangers that she could not see herself. She was led onto an elevator and eventually into a seat.

The hood came off. Then the blinders. Klieg lights, like in a stadium were in her face. She couldn’t open her eyes. The cuffs stayed on.

Oh, God... television cameras... network correspondents... visiting officials munching on hors d’oeuvres... Crowds of people making it to their seats.

Then the earmuffs came off. The loudspeaker boomed: “Ladies and gentlemen, Fox Entertainment in association with the Nancy Grace Victims Foundation brings you a special double feature of You Be the JudgeTM ! Tonight we have a criminal trial with a real criminal. And, if the tribunal adjudicates tonight, punishment will be televised in a special additional hour immediately following the conviction. Stand by your phones or go online to and type in guilty.”

The announcer was a woman Sarah had seen before but did not know her name. A former Court TV tart that probably couldn’t resist hinting that there would be a conviction tonight no matter what. That would ensure more ratings. People would send wireless messages to family and friends to tune in; and if the ratings went up, the chances of a following punishment would increase.

She saw Marge, her attorney behind a glass partition and her heart sank even lower when she discerned the look of resignation on Marge’s face. Something had happened in the two or three days since she had been hooded. Something bad. She tried to mouth something to her attorney, but hands came around her face and she was gagged.

“So get to your phone folks, go on line and get ready to administer a little people’s justice here on You Be the JudgeTM... right after this.”

A male announcer had joined the tart and as soon as they stopped for the commercial, make-up artists rushed to his cheeks. They patted and frowned, and he just kept talking to Ms. Tart. Then they received a wave or two from the producer who started a countdown. The pretentious smiling returned.

“Three... two... one... you’re on.”

“We’re back. I’m Joan Waterbury and this John Wettner, and we’re here on Court TV. Tonight we bring you a traitor in the War on Terrorism that just weeks ago had left after a stint in the U.S. Air Force.”

The audience booed.

Wettner picked up where the tart left off. “Or is she completely innocent? Well we’ll find out, hopefully. Or rather we’ll see if you think she’s guilty.”

The tart had the last word, all smiles and lipstick and eye shadow. “Now, here’s the evidence against Captain Sarah Lassiter.”

The room went dark and on a giant screen in what she assumed the viewers were watching was a fairly well crafted and scored mini-case against her, starting with pictures of her growing up. Sappy music. All the money the State spent educating this poor rural girl. All the time she spent in the Air Force around sensitive data. And then the coup de grâce, the security camera footage of her leaving with a man who obviously was an Arab.

Lurching around to see over her shoulder, she caught the nervous glances of studio executives. They knew what was coming, and now Sarah knew. This whole thing had probably been planned a while ago. She was the first maiden delivered to the networks.

One guy stood there with a drink and laughed. More calmly than she imagined she ever would be, she forgave him. Laughter makes you more comfortable when you’re actually scared. She took it as a sign of sympathy.

When she turned back around, the Guilty/Not Guilty chart came up.

Joan Weatherbury said, “It’s time to vote, and You Be the Judge.”

A bar chart teased her. It began with a tiny motion upwards on Not Guilty. The audience oohed and aahed in sympathy. Like they were happy she wouldn’t get it. Then the Guilty meter climbed to the top and “93%” flashed over Guilty.

Sarah wouldn’t allow herself to sob. Don’t give them anything. No weeping and looks of fear to put on the Internet or play over and over again on documentaries. Just take it.

The Punishment Chart flashed on the screen in sophisticated animation and a flourish from the band. Under it, three choices: Life in Prison. Death by Hanging. Death by Audience.

“Death by Audience” would allow groups of people to e-mail suggestions for torture to the show producers. The torture that made the best TV won. The people sending in the winning suggestions could opt not to perform the torture themselves but have surrogates do it.

The last guy who was tortured to death by audience members was a Supreme Court justice who had cast the only dissenting opinion in The People vs. Donald Wildmon. Sarah could only hope the audience would think she was too weak for anything but imprisonment or hanging.

Sarah lost consciousness as the second chart came up. The last thing she could remember before passing out was that she was worried she might scream if she was tortured. Maybe she’d luck out... But 93% guilty?

Not this audience.

Copyright © 2005 by Catfish Russ

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