* * *
Day six of the trial, Steven thought as he stared out the two-foot-square of his jail cell. The steel bars embedded into the frame weren’t what disturbed him. It was the pitted and marred Plexiglas that prevented anything outside from getting in. Not that Steven would’ve had any contraband delivered – he didn’t have anyone who cared enough about him to bring him anything. No, the worst thing about the sealed window was that it didn’t allow nature in.
Lindsay had always sat on the narrow fire escape to Steven’s apartment to listen, watch, and smell the city beneath them. Occasionally, a bird or a butterfly would land nearby. Lindsay would ooh, and aah, or let out a fatuous giggle at the thought of nature refusing to admit defeat against the humans.
Lindsay would’ve loved the view here, Steven thought. Since no one wanted a facility for jailing the worst of them nearby, it was an hour-long trip by prison transport.
The case was harsh. Everyone accused Steven of assisting Lindsay to end her life. The parade of detractors sat on the stand, and they knew Steven was guilty. There wasn’t any actual evidence that Steven had done anything. But, the prosecution kept mentioning the text message. It was the only thing they could produce that even remotely supported their claims. The case ground on. Neither Steven or Robert, Lindsay’s two best friends had been called to testify.
How could they all think I’d do something like that?
Steven squeezed his eyes closed and leaned his head against the cold steel bars. He hugged his arms and willed the tears to end. Whether his attempts would’ve succeeded, he wouldn’t have found out. The large door of his cell rattled loudly, tearing his attention from his self-pity. A bulky man with tattoos from his wrists up both his arms walked into the cell. He carried blankets and bedding in those enormous arms, his defined biceps bulged as the man stared at Steven. The man offered a smile and a grunt before lowering his bulk onto the bottom bunk.
Steven couldn’t stop the wave of fear or the slight tremble. He was no longer alone in his cell. What would happen to him now?
* * *
Steven sat in his seat with a slight tremble. The people in the gallery made no attempts to hide their glee that Steven was having a hard time in prison. Rumors about his cellmate were the gossip that they traded in whispers that did little to hide their discourse. More than once, Steven caught a word or two about him deserving whatever pain he got behind bars.
“Your Honor, if it pleases the court, the prosecution calls Robert Robles to the stand.”
Steven froze. He could hear Robert’s distinctive shuffle as he walked to the stand. He placed his hand on a Bible and affirmed to all present his intention to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
The prosecutor looked up from his table and leaned back against his chair. A grimace of worry crept across Robert’s face.
“Councilor?” the judge asked after a moment or two of the prosecutor sizing up Robert.
The prosecutor stood, and his wooden chair creaked in the silent courtroom. Everyone waited with bated breath to hear Robert’s testimony.
“Robert,” the prosecutor asked, “are you a close friend of Steven Bass?”
“Son,” the judge said to him in a calm, almost understanding tone, “we need you to answer out loud for the official transcript.”
Robert cleared his throat. “Yes,” he squeaked.
The prosecutor gave Robert a warm smile. “How would you describe your relationship with Steven?”
Robert’s face fell, and it appeared that something interesting was on his lap. With his eyes still locked on his pants, Robert replied, “Well, he’s my best friend.”
Steven felt the corners of his lips tug upward. Support was a scarce commodity lately.
“You were a close friend with Lindsay, as well, weren’t you?”
Robert looked up, and his eyes met with Lindsay’s mother’s eyes. “Yes,” he replied in a small voice.
“Would you say you were best friends?”
Robert swallowed audibly. “Yes, we were all best friends.”
The prosecutor nodded, his eyebrows arched. “I know you’re upset over Lindsay’s murder…”
The bark from Steven’s lawyer startled him, and he almost fell out of his chair. The rage in his eyes was obvious.
“Sustained. Councilor,” the judge leaned forward in his chair, “I will not tolerate any shenanigans in my courtroom.”
The prosecutor nodded meekly. “You’re upset over Lindsay’s passing.” He glanced at Steven’s lawyer before continuing, “Please tell the court if Lindsay was acting strangely at any time that you can recall.”
“No,” whispered Robert. A murmur permeated through the gallery.
The prosecutor cleared his throat. “Did she talk about ending her own life?”
“No,” Robert declared through clenched teeth, “she never talked about that.”
“So she was a happy young lady? Never upset about anything?”
“No,” Robert hesitated. “She always seemed happy. Well, she was always upset over the constant arguments, but…” Robert closed his mouth with an audible snap.
The prosecutor had a wide grin. “‘Arguments,’ you say? Please tell us about the arguments. I remind you that you are under oath, and subject to penalty if you do not tell the truth.”
A slight shiver enveloped Robert. He appeared to look around the courtroom for support of any kind.
He found none. “Mister Robles?” asked the prosecutor.
“They were arguing,” Robert finally said, hanging his head. “Steven and Lindsay, I mean. She told me about it about two weeks before she… you know. She was upset like she wanted to vent about it or something. But they were always fighting, it wasn’t, like anything new, right?”
The prosecutor’s gaze hardened, and he looked at Steven. “So, there wasn’t any sign that she wanted to kill herself?” The volume of his statement rose, and he practically yelled the last two words.
“Objection! Mister Robles is not qualified to gauge someone’s mental state.”
The prosecutor smiled a wolfish smile and stared at the jury.
“The jury will disregard that last statement,” the judge ordered.
Like they could just forget that my best friend blamed me for her death, Steven thought as the jury members looked to one another. The prosecutor’s declaration seemed suspiciously specific.
“No further questions, your Honor,” the prosecutor declared and returned to his table.
On the stand, Robert’s head fell into his hands. The gallery murmured, the noise reaching a crescendo. The judge banged his gavel several times, but the gallery would not be pacified.
The noise and the sight of the courtroom fell away as Steven sat, tears welling in his eyes, a numbing dread had settled in his stomach. He was losing the trial.