Red Bicycle 19-20
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In the days before his trial, Alexander came to a hard realisation. There would be no justice for either Katya or himself. In the cold, efficient eyes of the state, it was an open and shut case. The scruffy lawyer seemed more interested in raising his professional profile. Perhaps a deal been done for him to act as Alexander’s defence in return for a promotion that would otherwise take many years to achieve. And then there was the detective in his long grey mac, who had silently dismissed the mitigating circumstances of Katya’s death. The whole charade was nothing but a set-up. After all, Molloch was a prominent businessman who supplied garlands to the city police department. What other favours and contributions had the elderly man distributed in the city’s corridors of power ? Even the prison priest’s willingness to utter sweet words of comfort rang false – a token gesture to make sure he accepted his sentence with the minimum of fuss. In death, it seemed that Molloch still held all the cards. The city’s corruption swirled like dark fog in the air.
When Alexander shuffled into the courtroom - dressed in a prison regulation boiler suit, his ankles and wrists manacled - he looked towards the packed public gallery for the only two faces that would bring him a degree of comfort. Natalya and Lukas were sitting near the back, overlooking the brutal iron barred cage Alexander was required to sit in for the duration of his trial. Lukas shouted to his father ‘Dad!’ but was quickly ordered to quieten himself. Heartened by the sound of his son’s voice, Alexander smiled whereupon he too was reprimanded by the two burly police guards escorting him and pushed roughly onto his seat.
It was a convention in the land that murder trials were held without a jury. And there was no appeal procedure that Alexander could make against the sentence handed down. A presiding judge sat, draped in a purple robe, flanked by two other judges, draped in deep red. Only they were allowed to deliberate on Alexander’s guilt or innocence. Alexander regarded his surroundings, and the people in it, with contempt.
The trial followed a simple pattern. First, photographs were shown of the burned-out nursery building; then evidence was presented linking Alexander to the scene. A clear motive was put forward by the prosecution: Alexander had been jealous of his wife’s growing friendship with the elderly businessman. Molloch, it was noted, had given them a house. Perhaps, the prosecution said, Alexander had in fact encouraged the old man’s infatuation as part a devious plan to wrestle all of Molloch’s fortune for himself.
There were murmurings in the public gallery at this. Alexander’s lawyer stood up and indicated that he would not be disputing the prosecution’s assertion. Natalya began to cry and had to be ushered out.
When it was Alexander’s lawyer’s turn to speak, he told the presiding judge that the defendant wished to plead guilty to all charges, adding only that a merciful sentence might be considered due to his client’s mental incapacity. Booing could be heard from the gallery. The public had expected more of a fight. The presiding judge reprimanded the defence lawyer on a point of order. He had not been asked to make the defendant’s plea known, and asked him to retract his previous statement. Worse was to follow. Alexander stood up and shouted that he was not mentally incapacitated at all – he was in full possession of his faculties. He stated that he wished to take revenge on Molloch for the murder of his sister and the court should be adjourned while the police re-opened the lapsed investigation into his sister’s death. As the trial descended into farce the guards took hold of Alexander. The presiding judge pounded the desk with his gavel and called for order to be restored.
At three o’clock, the judges retired to consider their verdict. Barely twenty minutes passed before the court was re-convened. Alexander was found guilty of first-degree murder. Due to the inhuman nature of the fateful act, a sentence of death was passed down. In two days’ time Alexander would be removed from his cell at dawn and hanged. The judge ended by imploring God to have mercy on the condemned man’s soul.
Some people in the public gallery began to cheer (nothing excited a public gallery more than a death penalty). Alexander – strangely indifferent to what had just taken place - watched as the scruffy lawyer shook hands with members of the prosecution team, who in turn slapped their younger colleague on the back and congratulated him on a ‘good effort.’
As he was escorted from the courtroom Alexander looked up. Natalya and Lukas were nowhere to be seen.
A few hours after he was returned to his cell Alexander was told that a request from his wife to visit him had been cleared by the prison governor. Natalya and Lukas, said the chief prison officer, were waiting for him in one of the prison’s high security visiting rooms.
At first Alexander considered refusing the visit. Seeing them would be too painful. And did he really want Lukas to look upon his father in such desperate circumstances ? ‘Your wrists and ankles will remain chained’ said the chief. ‘The high security visiting rooms are arranged so that a thick plastic shield stands between prisoner and visitor. You won’t be able to touch them or interact in any way. Harsh, I know, but that’s the way it is.’
Alexander shook his head. ‘I can’t.’
The chief officer said: ‘Can I offer you some advice, Alexander ? Go and see your wife and son. I’ve lost count how many times a condemned prisoner has voiced their regret at not seeing their loved ones for a final time, usually for the same reason that you’ve put forward - shame and despair at what you’ve become. But are you ashamed, Alexander ? I don’t believe so. I believe that deep down you’re proud of what you did. And if that’s the case, go and say farewell to them with your head held high. It’ll be a comfort, and not just for you. Remember - they’re the ones who will be left behind.’
Natalya had to hold Lukas close to her throughout the visit. Alexander couldn’t bear to see his son’s tears and was glad when Lukas buried his head in his mother’s arms.
‘I’m sorry’ Alexander said to Natalya. ‘Can you forgive me ?’
Natalya nodded. ‘All I know is that you have been a good husband to me and a fine father to Lukas. That’s what I’ll always tell people when they ask.’
They spoke about Natalya’s life, the new life without Alexander that she would have to endure. The apartment at least would remain in her possession. Alexander begged her not to give it up, even when the day came that she met someone else. The only other request he made was that Katya’s bicycle should not be disposed of. It was at this moment that a bell rang, and Natalya and Lukas were ordered to leave.
He spent his final hours alone in his cell. He had no desire to walk around the exercise yard. The chief prison officer looked in through the cell’s spyhole once every hour and the priest was on hand in case Alexander wished to talk. Alexander had told him he would not be needed but the priest insisted he remain close by. It wasn’t unusual for the condemned, he said, to have a change of heart.
At five o’clock on the afternoon before his execution he was asked to choose a final meal. Alexander said he was not hungry. He’d finished with eating and drinking.
The last hours before dawn were spent in silence and darkness. Alexander continued to mull over the role the elderly man had played in Katya’s death, as well as the strange way her bike had come alive, and the night at the garden centre when the horned figure had risen behind the empty shell of Molloch. He would meet his end without knowing the definitive answers to what had occurred. His final wish was that Lukas would one day discover the truth and tell everyone that his father had been correct about Molloch’s evil nature.
Alexander began to drift into half sleep. Time lost all meaning. Only when he heard heavy footsteps approach did he realise that dawn was close by. The familiar jangle of keys sounded, and his cell door was pushed open. The chief officer, accompanied by two other prison guards and the priest, entered. Alexander rubbed his tired eyes and stood up. The chief officer read out Alexander’s name; the priest stepped forward. He took hold of Alexander’s hand and said: ‘There has been a development, Alexander. A glorious intervention. The good lord has spoken through another. He has come to your aid.’
Alexander didn’t understand. ‘What do you mean ?’
‘Your capital sentence has been commuted. On the order of the president, no less. You are a free man once again, Alexander! Free!’
Next instalment: Red Bicycle 21-22 | ABCtales
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Wow! What a turn up for the
Wow! What a turn up for the books. I didn't see that coming. A real page turner indeed.
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I didn't see it coming either
I didn't see it coming either - but I am very glad it did!
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