Short Story: Holding Cell

Frank Leggaro slowly opened his eyes. Something felt wrong. His normally plush bed felt hard as a rock. Frank’s back was stiff and the warm air was making Frank sweat. Frank usually kept his central air at a crisp 65 degrees. This was not 65 degrees. His blanket seemed too heavy. Where normally Frank could count each of the 500 threads in his comforter, running his fingers over this piece of cloth left a lot to be desired. With growing concern, Frank shook himself awake. Frank began to realize he was not in his palatial home but some place else. Some place far away from his comfort zone.
Eyes wide open now, Frank’s first clear sight was a concrete wall. On that wall there were tick marks and rude sayings. Things about mothers and where the authorities can stick it. The light filtering in around Frank was that of the fluorescent kind, harsh and bright. Frank knew those sorts of illuminations were found mostly in government buildings and once again he wondered where he was. When he turned onto his other side, away from the concrete wall, he got his answer. He saw three sets of bars. He was in hail. And he had no recollection of how he got there.
The last thing Frank remembered was taking another shot of tequila with his colleagues. This was in celebration of Frank’s latest successful prosecution of a low-life criminal scum. It was a particularly tough case since physical evidence was scarce and Frank had to rely on eye witness accounts, but he was sure the stirring testimony of the witnesses would put the thug behind bars. And Frank was right. He was able to use that testimony to hammer home his points about justice and got the guilty verdict.
But now thinking back to that case and the trial itself, Frank could recall very little of the specifics. When he tried to picture the thug, he saw only himself. Frank sat up in the bed and shook his head. He was sure he drank too much the night before and was in the local drunk tank. Not going to be a gold star next to his name for this one, he thought. Yet, for apparently drinking copious amounts of alcohol, Frank’s head was clear. Frank thought it odd that he had no hangover. He was sure he blacked out due to his drinking though, as he has done before.
Frank called out to no one in particular to gauge his situation. “Hey, what am I doing here? I think I am fine to leave.”
As if in response to his question, whispers from nearby and unseen cells rose up.
“Larceny. Breaking and Entering. Rape.”
Frank staggered off his bed and towards the iron bars.
“I said, what am I in here for?”
Once again, voices, speakers unseen, rose around him, this time louder.
“Assault. Resisting Arrest. MURDER!”
Frank flashed back to a trial. One of the million he had tried. Except, once again, he was the one sitting in the defendant’s chair. And the voices crying out to him all merged into one, that of a judge listing charges against Frank. Now Frank’s head was pounding. He sat back down on the hard cot.
Frank had run the gamut of prosecution in the ten or so years he had worked at the District Attorney’s office. He had the highest success rate and rumor was that he was on the short list to become the next state Attorney General. Some politicos were in office last week, or at least Frank thought it was last week, gauging his interest. Of course he was interested, he said. Any potential landmines in your case history, they asked. No, he replied, pointing out that it was varied, full of many examples of his aptness for the job. One of the men leaned to his left, towards the man who seemed to be in charge. They whispered, almost conspiratorially, to each other. Frank could only make out one word, “railroaded”, but the bossman brushed it off and smiled at Frank. They left the room with promises of a bright future ahead for Frank.
Frank knew there were some fellow litigators who felt he pushed his cases through too quickly. Frank did not care for that criticism and always dismissed it. After all, all his convictions were based on some form of evidence, whether it be a fingerprint or a witness account. Thinking of witnesses, Frank once again flashed back to his last trial and this time a real memory popped up. He saw his star witness, a little old lady of about seventy, crying, pleading for it to stop, saying she’ll do anything. Frank snapped back to reality and his current situation.
Frank took stock of his surroundings and situation. He bounced, really propelled himself up and down, on the hard cot. He counted each bar, 66 in all. He counted each tick mark on the wall, 333 in total. He read the scribbles on the wall.
“Lou can suck it!”
“Death to all!”
“Frank Leggaro can rot in hell!”
The last sentence caught Frank’s attention. He saw his name everywhere after that.
“Frank is Unfair!”
“Swift Justice is No Justice, Frank!”
“Frank LEggaro is the Last Railroad Man!”
And then one that seemed to be a novel in itself.
“Why’d you put me in here, Frank? I was innocent. You knew it. You knew the case was flimsy. But I looked like a criminal, didn’t I? And that was enough for you. The authorities put us in front of you and you did whatever it took to get that conviction. If we were so innocent, we wouldn’t be there in the first place, right Frank?”
Then sprawled underneath that, in angrily written letters:
“HEY HEY FRANKIE HEY, HOW MANY WITNESSES DID YOU MAKE CRY TODAY?”
Frank ran his fingers across the engravings. He could feel a heat radiating from them. An impossible warmth that burned his fingertips. A deep fear gripped him. He almost jumped out of his skin when a voice came from behind him.
“That one’s my favorite, though I liked it better when it was used against LBJ.”
Frank turned around. A man in a sharp suit was smiling at him behind the bars. Must be the warden, thought Frank. Then a contradictory thought: Why would the drunk tank need a warden? Maybe he was a fellow lawyer, sent to retrieve Frank. But the man looked different from every other lawyer Frank had met. All Frank knew for certain was this man was somehow in charge. As frank took a step towards him, the man momentarily seemed to morph into the judge from his vision, the man who “sentenced” him. Frank tossed that thought off and saw the suited man once more. He went to the bars and placed his hands on them. They were even hotter than the letters, as if closer to the unknown heat source. Frank pulled his hands away in pain and the suited man continued smiling.
“Where am I,” Frank asked.
The suited man just laughed. “I thought you would know where you sent your victims, I mean defendants, after you won, Frank. Or do you not care what happens outside of your court? And yes, I am implying pre-trial as well!” The man laughed heartily again.
Frank was scared but determined to get a straight answer. “Look, I don’t know who you are-”
“-and I am enjoying that immensely.”
“But I don’t care for your implications and I don’t care to be in here. So tell me the fine and I’ll pay it and I can get out of here.”
The well-dressed man nodded his head. “Yes, we’ll soon sort this out. As we always do. That’s the fun part. You see there is no fine. At least one you are paying in cash. No, I am sorry, well really happy, to say that you’re in here for a while.”
Frank’s face drained of color. “What did I do last night?”
The suited man thought for a second. “You woke up, yelled for a little bit, read the wall, then I showed up.”
“Wait, what? I meant what did I do to get in here?”
“Oh, that was many nights ago. I am afraid what got you here was the ole firewater.”
Frank furrowed his brow. “I knew it. Public intoxication? Don’t tell me, DUI?”
The other man smiled again. “Oh, both. But you weren’t caught, you sly dog.” The man winked.
“But you said…”
The man waved his hand. “I said you weren’t caught, not that nothing happened. You ran some red lights. Unfortunately, the last one you ran, you hit another car. A minivan, I believe. What happened to its passengers, I don’t care. They aren’t here, that’s for sure.”
“Oh God,” said Frank.
The man shrugged. “He shouldn’t be of concern to you.”
“So, manslaughter?” asked Frank, trembling.
“And murder.”
“Murder? But I didn’t-”
The suited man’s demeanor changed. He became deadly serious and to Frank, deadly terrifying. “Frank, you haven’t gotten it yet, have you? You are always so slow. 333 marks on the wall? One for each of your convictions. Your memory loss? No, nothing dawning? You never get this one your own. That’s why I am here. Frankie, my boy, you are dead.”
Whatever color Frank had left on his face turned pale. “And I’m here to be judged?”
The man regained some of his jolliness and laughed. “No. You’ve already been judged.”
“But I didn’t get to defend myself!”
“Imagine that. We had some witnesses though and they totally vouched for you.”
Frank felt reluctant to ask, but he managed to squeak out, “The verdict?”
“Yes, the verdict. The only thing that matters, right? Guilty on all counts. Of sending innocent men and women to the chair or to stabbing by shivs or their suicides and not caring. Murder. Manslaughter, as I said earlier.”
The suited slowly seemed to be getting larger and bigger. “Your punishment, I am sure you are wondering, is simple. You will wake up in this cell, confused and disorientated. How did you get here you will wonder. Then why you are here you will ponder. You will be accused of crimes you didn’t commit by voices you are powerless to quiet. You will face your victims in the plainest way possible. And then I will come to you, seemingly to offer salvation but really damnation. And each day it will be the same. And each day it will seem to be a new terror for you.”
“But I was only looking for justice!”
The man smiled his widest yet, revealing an impossible number of teeth. “And so are the forces I represent. Only difference between them and you though is they get things right. Their conviction rate is 100%.”
Frank’s trembling returned. “Who, who are you?”
The suited man was much larger now than when he first appeared before Frank. His suit was ripping at the seams. Horns were growing out of his forehead. His eyes appeared on fire and that fire was burning Frank up.
“Why, I’m the judge, jury and executioner. Everything except a lawyer.”

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