Eric knew he was being carried. His feet weren’t touching the floor, his wrists and ankles were tied to the chair he was sitting on, and he felt the pair of arms on holding the arms on each side. He was blindfolded and the place smelled of fresh paint. There was no other sound and it seemed to be a well-lit place since some of the light came through his blindfold. After a few steps, he was put down and he heard the two individuals move away. He sat there, waiting, not knowing where he was or how long he had been unconscious. Lina had sprayed him in the face with some sort of drug that knocked him unconscious in seconds. That much he remembered.
“Take the blindfold off, please”. Eric didn’t recognize the voice, but it was definitely a man’s voice as it resonated in the room. The voice was deep, commanding, and powerful. His brain was trying to assess what was going on, where he was, who was there and hopefully how he would get out, unscathed. Surely, the restaurant’s external camera had captured video of him getting into Lina’s car but what’s to stop the people holding him from sending someone who looked like him, dressed in his clothes and pick up the car while they did to him God knows what? He felt a rough hand take off his blindfold. It took 5 seconds for Eric’s eyes to adjust to the light within the room. He looked around and he realized the room was spacious, the ceiling was quite high but there were no windows. The walls were painted in a light gray and to his right, there was a door and a mirror, which might have been a two-sided mirror, like the ones law enforcement used for interrogations. The room he was in was well-lit and there was no other furniture aside from the chair he was sitting in and the table in front of him. He adjusted his eyes even more and looked right at the people sitting behind the long table that almost covered the whole width of the room.
Seven people were in front of him. They were staring at him, seizing him up. There was no warmth nor any hostility in their eyes. Eric started feeling uneasy, but he couldn’t figure out if he should be scared or anxious. There was no tablecloth covering the gray table, and he could see how they were dressed and behaving. However, Eric was interested in their faces and expressions more than anything. He looked at them intently, with the hope of detecting anything, the smallest information. Out of the seven people, five were women and the rest were men. He had never seen the men, but he knew two of the five women, and he couldn’t help but smile when he saw them.
On the right far end, his “date”, Lina, and on her right, there was Maude, their mutual friend, matchmaker and more importantly, Eric’s childhood friend. He shook his head when their gazes met as he couldn’t believe seeing Maude there. She looked away. She must have been slightly ashamed of Eric’s situation, tied up like a common criminal, the same Eric who never had trouble with the law. One thing was for certain; the night had been a whole adventure, so far. Eric looked on his left and then his right. Two men, both enormous by their height and width, were standing there, arms crossed, dressed in all black and silent as tombs. They looked like bodyguards, or football linemen. Eric could tell they were there to execute whatever orders the panel would give them. That thought didn’t help dissipate the fear in his heart. Certainly, seeing Maude, eased the terror he felt. Maude was his childhood friend, one of the few people who would never hurt him. Yet, after the night’s events, he wasn’t so sure anymore. Technically, he didn’t know what to think.
“Welcome, Eric”, finally said the person sitting in the middle. Eric recognized the voice from before asking the two mountains to remove his blindfold. The voice had the same bass, and gravitas. Moreover, his body language was as commanding as his voice.
“Thrilled to be here, person in charge who should introduce himself out of courtesy. And this is a hell of a welcome, dude!”, and he pointed to his restraints with his chin. He had decided to turn the sarcasm all the way up and see if he could rattle them. He was curious to see how it would go. Perhaps, if push comes to shove, Maude might very well defend him and hopefully get him out of there, alive and in one piece. The gentleman, who looked to be in his mid-sixties, gave Eric a somber look with his icy eyes, which made Eric uncomfortable. Then, he smiled but only with his mouth, not his eyes or his whole face.
“Well…Maude did warn us about your sense of humor, young man. However, you are right. I know your name so it’s only right we got to know each other a bit better. My name is Solomon and allow me to introduce the rest of my colleagues. So…”
“So, you are a judge”, interrupted Eric.
Solomon was so taken aback that he raised his shoulders out of surprise and one of the women let out a gasp. All members of the panel looked at each other and then they looked on their left, towards Maude and Lina. Even the two huge T-Rexes standing on each side of Eric’s looked utterly surprised. Maude looked down and shook her head as a sign of mild exasperation towards Eric. She was probably regretting her choice of implicating him in whatever this was.
“Maude…”, said Solomon while looking at her on his left, “what is the meaning of this?”
“If I may, your honor…”, and the whole panel looked at him, “before this gets out of hand, this isn’t Maude’s fault”.
“How do you know what I do for a living?”, asked Solomon, with his commanding voice, using a threatening tone.
“Well, your voice”.
“Yes, your Honor!”, and he smiled. Solomon didn’t look pleased and especially not amused by Eric’s antics, so he decided to tone it down.
“What about it?”
“Are you serious? Ok. Since you guys wanna play, let’s. First, your voice oozes command, authority. One can tell by the way you talk, you are used to being obeyed, listened to, and treated with a deep reverence. You are wearing a suit, a red tie, which usually symbolizes power, and you are sitting in the middle. Everyone was waiting for you to start whatever this is and when I called you dude, a few moments ago, you got offended, indicating you are not used to being addressed with familiar terms. You could have been a cop, a military man but you don’t strike me as a cop or a military man; cops don’t dress that sharply and you are not robotic like military dudes are. I took a stab in the dark with judge and none of you denied it, so…I guess I was right. Oh, and your name: Solomon! I mean…what are the odds that a man named Solomon by his parents would become a baker for example? You had to become a king or a wise judge. Since we are already part of the commonwealth and you are not related to Queen Lizzy of the UK, your natural calling was to become a wise judge. Finally, since everybody gasped when I said the word “judge”, I knew I was right. So… Nice to meet you, your honor!”, and he bowed his head. The self-satisfying smirk never left his face.
“Impressive. That is simply impressive, young man”.
“Thank you, sir. Now, as lovely as the company appears to be, I would love to know what I am doing here, you know. Because, as a judge yourself, I believe you might object to the way I have been treated since I had the misfortune of entering Lina’s car, who hasn’t said a word since I got here”.
“You are right, we owe you an explanation”.
“You owe me way more than that, but an explanation will suffice for now!”
“What do you mean we owe you more than that? You better calm down, boy!”, said the man sitting next to Solomon. He was in his early forties, clean shaven, and a few gray hairs on his temple. He was wearing a blue shirt, gray pants, and black combat boots.
“Well, officer, I don’t know exactly what you owe me but since I was drugged, kidnapped, held against my will and I am still tied down to this quite uncomfortable chair, I was hoping the cop you are and the judge sitting next to you might object to all these illegal and criminal actions. Just brainstorming, here. Nothing more”, and he smiled again while looking at the gentleman who couldn’t contain his surprise.
“How did you know he was a cop?”, asked Lina, with a curious and perplexed look on her face.
“Finally, my future wife speaks! I hope you understand we might not go to a second date after such a unique first date, right?”
“You didn’t answer my question”. Lina looked nervous. Perhaps she was being judged by this panel. She is the one who brought him. Perhaps her and Maude were in trouble for referring such an unruly person as Eric. The Lina he had met in the restaurant, was nowhere to be found.
“You truly were more fun before you drugged me, young lady! Well, how could this dude not be a cop? Who wears black combat boots with such a nice shirt and pants?”, and then everybody sitting at the table looked under it to see if Eric was telling the truth and he was. “I mean”, continued Eric, “only a man who is a cop and who is used to run into trouble would be elegantly dressed and throw his combat boots on. It was either that or him being a soldier, but I assumed cop because he ain’t robotic either. He did try to sound as commanding as his Honor but failed miserably. That part was quite funny”.
The cop wasn’t amused but Solomon chuckled. Eric saw a little crack between Solomon and the cop. He saw Solomon trying to conceal his superiority towards the cop, but his smirk was one of contempt. Perhaps this group wasn’t as solid as they wanted to make it appear. He looked on the far right and Maude was sitting there, silent as a grave. The other women were silent as well and the cop had opted for silence again. Solomon was in command, that was a fact, and one Eric should remember, before his mouth got him into trouble. He knew how much judges hated insubordination and jokes.
“So, who are you people and what the hell do you want?”. Eric decided to go on the offensive and be unpleasant. He wanted to rattle them or try to do something unexpected.
“Well, Eric”, responded judge Solomon, “we are a club of like-minded people whose sole purpose is to make society better”.
“Ok, what does that mean?”, said an overwhelmingly curious Eric.
“Allow me to introduce the members of our small club. On my left, at the end, Lina and on her right, Maude, both of whom you already know. Next to Maude, is Charlotte, an intensivist who has been working in the ER for the past 5 years. On my right, officer Terry, who has been on active duty with the Montreal police for the past 21 years. On his right, Sylvie, who has been working as a social worker for the past 17 years if I am not mistaken – Sylvie smiled and nodded– and finally, on the far end, meet Veronique, who…”
“Wait, I know Veronique”, interrupted Eric, “you are a singer and a songwriter if I remember correctly. The CBC did a profile on you a few years ago, right?”
Veronique nodded but didn’t smile. Eric found that odd, since everybody else had smiled politely. Perhaps he’d have to watch himself around Veronique a bit more.
“Eric”, said Solomon, “I am going to have to ask you to not interrupt me again. Is that understood?”. There was a threatening timber in his voice and even more in his eyes. A shiver went down Eric’s spine and he swallowed with difficulty. The terms of this game had suddenly changed.
“Yes, sir”. It was better for him to play their game for now.
“Are we ready?”, asked Solomon to the man on Eric’s left.
“Yes, sir, we are”.
“Good. Let’s begin”.
The man on Eric’s right grabbed the chair and turned in around, ninety degrees, forcing Eric to face the mirror. The humongous man pressed a button on his phone and the light came on in the small room. A man was sitting there, tied to a chair, the same way Eric was. The man was not blindfolded nor gagged, and Eric could see his face, clear as day. The man started screaming as soon as the light got turned on, but no sound came out of the room, proving it must have been soundproofed. The man kept screaming and after a few moments, he gave up. That’s when Eric understood the mirror must have been a two-way mirror. The man couldn’t see them, but they could easily see him. The man gave up and Eric could read the despair and hopelessness in his eyes, as if he knew he wouldn’t get out. Then, the man looked straight ahead, and it felt as if Eric and the man’s eyes met, for a few moments.
Eric sat up straight and kept looking at the man, intently. He could see the terror in the man’s face and body language but most importantly, with the lights on, he could see the man’s eyes, his truly distinctive eyes. Eric couldn’t believe it; he turned around and looked at Maude and she simply nodded, with a sad look on her face. He looked back at the man and saw his eyes again. His left eye was green, and his right was blue. He had a scar on his left cheek and despite the shaved head, Eric recognized him.
“No”, he said slowly to himself.
The first no was silent, no one heard it. The second no was louder. The third no came out roaring, screaming. By the fifth no, Eric was screaming like an enraged dog, and he was trying to get out of the zip ties that glued him to the chair. The feeling of powerlessness frustrated him even more and he screamed louder and louder by the second. His strength and resolve to get out of his zip ties, turned him into a possessed man who wouldn’t stop at nothing from getting out of his restraints. He started screaming “let me go! Let me go right now! LET ME GOOOOO!”. He stopped screaming and focused on getting out of the zip ties. He pulled on them, tried to bend down so he could bite them off, but he couldn’t reach them. He started shaking and moving sideways like someone who was having a seizure, but his ankles and wrists were zip tied to the chair, so nothing happened. Blood came out of his wrists; the zip ties didn’t break, but Eric’s skin did.
He kept fighting and moving uncontrollably. He was screaming so loudly and savagely that the two humongous men by his side, took a few steps back. Finally, after a few lateral movements that yielded no results, he made one backward movement and he fell. As soon as he hit the floor, he stopped screaming. He closed his eyes, took a few deep breaths and said nothing. Slowly he broke into tears. He had given up the fight. Maude ran to him and cut off the zip ties. He immediately hugged her and wailed like a little boy, letting out cries of pain and anger, for what seemed to be an eternity. The childhood friends simply stayed there, hugging each other, and crying together.
“You understand what we do now, don’t you?”
Eric looked up and saw Solomon towering over Eric and Maude. He looked profoundly imposing and righteous. Eric got up slowly, wiped the tears away and simply walked by Solomon. He had only made 2 more steps, but he had to stop. The first massive man was standing in front of him, and the other was behind him. Without turning around, Eric simply said, “tell them to get out of my way”.
“Or what?”, asked the mountain standing in front of him. He must have been 6 or 8 inches taller than Eric, larger, and he obviously knew the effect he had on regular sized people. Their eyes met and Eric got genuinely scared for half a second, so he decided to calm down. He looked around and saw all the others looking at him with pity. He hated that and he clenched his fists, which hurt terribly because of the bleeding.
“Please. Let me go in”.
“That’s not how we do things around here, Eric”.
“Yeah? How the hell do you do things around here, your honor? Please enlighten me”.
Maude put her hand on Solomon’s shoulder, and he turned around to face her. She shook her head and he moved away to let her pass. She stopped a few inches away from Eric.
“Eric, I am sorry, but we must do things our way”.
“Maude…how could you do this to me?”
“I knew it was gonna be hard, but I thought you’d be able to see that I am doing this for you!”
“How are you doing this for me? How is this helping me?”
“It isn’t? Who are you kidding? How long has it been? 8 years you’ve been looking for this scumbag? How did that go? Well, guess what, it doesn’t matter because we found him for you! He is all yours if you want him but there is a price to pay for that.”
“Seriously? You guys want money?”
“A price isn’t always about money, you idiot!”
“Well, I will pay whatever you want, so long as he is mine”.
“Eric, it isn’t that simple”, said Lina. He turned around and growled at her out of pure anger. He gave her a death stare that made her take a step back.
“Oh, suddenly it isn’t that simple, huh? What isn’t simple? I know you know who this man is to me and what he did to my family. I have been looking for him for the past 9 years, 4 months and 5 days. Yes, I count every minute of every day! There you go! I have bribed cops, done favors for despicable people, hoping that one day, I would find the man who raped my sister and got away with it on a legal technicality. He disappeared right after the mistrial and was never seen since. Did you know this scumbag confessed to me one day, during the trial?”, and Maude nodded. “Well,” continued Eric, “he simply confessed to me, in the courthouse bathroom, with a smile on his face, knowing he would get away with it! I guess when your father is a powerful and rich politician, who can lean on judges and cops, you will get away with shit!”
“We feel your pain, son”.
Eric turned around and got his face a few inches from Solomon’s face. “Let’s get something straight old man; I am not your son and do not say you feel my pain. Keep your condescendence in your mouth and away from me!”
Solomon smiled, yet again with his mouth but not with his eyes. Eric noticed it and took a step back. Up close, it looked creepy.
“You are a smart boy. Why do you think we are here? A judge, a police officer, a social worker, an ER doctor, and a few other people from all spheres of life? Do you think we are here out of fun or out of pain?”
Eric looked around and saw the solemn looks on everyone’s face, even the two bodyguards. They were here because they had something in common, of course.
“We all have dealt with some sort of trauma similar to your sister’s and we are here to punish those who get away with it because the laws are inadequate”.
“I mean, you are judge…”, and Eric’s voice trailed off.
“Who better than me to have seen a million cases about rape and sexual assault getting dismissed on technicalities? Who better than me to know how many guilty people are still walking the streets? Who better than a cop to know the same thing? Who better than an ER doctor to know the number of rape kits she has done over the years and see men go free? Who better than a social worker to know how women are battered, threatened, beaten up, raped, and sexually assaulted and flee their homes? Who better than us to know how the system has failed the women? Who better than us to know how we have failed people? Who better than us to know to possibly introduce change?”
“Ok. So, what now? If you think I will let that man slip away again, you are out of your minds!”
“He won’t be getting away but killing him is not an option”.
“What?”, replied Eric, visibly shocked. The man wouldn’t get away. He was going to make sure of that.
“You heard me, Eric! You are not going to kill that man. None of us is going to kill that man”.
“I don’t know a man who deserves it more!”
“Be that as it may, it will not happen”.
“Ok. Let me play your game. What should I do? Just watch him through the glass? Would that be enough?”
Eric looked around and saw hesitation on everyone’s faces. He looked at Maude again and she didn’t know what to say or do either.
“Jesus Christ! This is your first time doing this, isn’t it?”
The silence became heavier, as if it were possible. That same heavy silence confirmed his theory. He didn’t care if this was the group’s first time dealing with a criminal. The only thing that mattered was the man who had caused irreparable damage to his younger sister was a few feet away, within his grasp, after almost a decade of searching for him.
“We are still in the brainstorming process, to be candid”.
“Meaning, you literally do not know what the hell you are doing and let’s not mention the illegal side of this charade”.
“Hey! This is no charade, ok boy?”, said Terry, the cop who seemed more nervous than angry.
“Oh, give me a break, Serpico! You are all in over your heads. I mean, if you don’t have a laid-out plan, why catch this vermin and bring him here? I am no genius, but I always thought a plan needs to be drawn before doing all this”.
“We thought he might get away again, since he never stays in Canada more than 2 months a year. His dad has holdings all over Europe and Asia, so he travels a lot. He was scheduled to leave tomorrow, and we saw an opportunity. We grabbed him and brought him here. Plus, bringing him here might stop him from committing other crimes. God only knows what he’s been doing to other women overseas”, said Terry.
“If you say it like that…”
“Yeah. It doesn’t sound that bad now, does it, boy?”
“Listen Serpico, you seriously need to cut that “boy” shit out, ok?”
“Or what?”, said Terry, while taking his blazer off, ready to fight. One of the bodyguards intervened by simply saying “this is not going to happen. Both of you need to calm down!”. Terry didn’t say anything after that, and Eric looked at his wrists for the first time. He felt the pain now for some unknown reason.
“So, your honor”, said Eric, “you are a judge! In your experience and understanding of the law and justice, what is the appropriate punishment for someone who raped a 16-year-old girl? I defer to your wisdom.”
“That’s why our panel has more women on it; I want them to decide about the punishment because it affects their gender more than it affect us the men. Who better than a woman to…”
The thunderous sound made everybody freeze. Charlotte and Lina fell under the table. Terry went for his gun, Solomon raised his hands and turned around to shield himself from the noise. Maude jumped into Eric’s arms, and he did his best to shield her from whatever it was. The two gigantic men simply turned around. The noise, which sounded like a thousand fireworks going off simultaneously, had come from the right side of the room. All of them looked at the room where the man was tied down. His head and lifeless body were falling on the right and blood was coming out of his right temple. Sylvie was standing on the left side and the gun in her hand had a faint smoke coming out of it.
“Wow. That felt good!”, she finally said. She looked excited and invigorated by her act. She looked happy.
No one said anything. Sylvie had just shot a man, execution style.
“Sylvie…Oh my God! What did you do?”, managed to say a terrified, visibly shaken Lina, with a voice that had nothing but tremors.
“I finished it”, and she burst out laughing.
Eric turned to Solomon. “Well, your honor, this night is about to get longer”.
TO BE CONTINUED!