What a Clever Fox

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
Jesse van den Berg is on trial for a crime he didn't commit.

Submitted: March 09, 2009

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Submitted: March 09, 2009

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What a Clever Fox

Jesse refused to let his gaze wander. He knew that behind him sat a hundred or more people who would like nothing more than to kill him. Logically, this was a reasonable reaction. If only he’d thought of it earlier.

If only a lot of things had happened earlier.

“All rise, the Honorable Luther Baker presiding,” the bailiff called out. Shifting to his feet, Jesse watched as the judge strolled in through the door. Judge Baker was a small man, and looked like this trial was a great inconvenience to him. He sat down at the bench and motioned for everyone to sit. Once again, Jesse felt the heated stares of those watching the trial pierce his back.

He couldn’t bring himself to turn around, even for a little peek. Noah’s family was out there, somewhere. He didn’t know where, but he wasn’t about to find out.

“Jesse van den Berg, you are charged with, on April 14, 2008, a count of first-degree murder, in that you purposefully caused the death of Noah Fox,” Judge Baker looked up over his reading glasses at Jesse. “Ms. Osborn, how does your client plea?”

Jesse’s lawyer, appointed by the state, cleared her throat. “Not guilty, Your Honor.” As Germaine Osborn had warned him, there was a murmur of anger that spread throughout the courthouse. He even heard a girl in the back swear at him. The judge dismissed the court, and he was returned to police custody.

“I’ll be in to see you tomorrow Jesse, so we can go over this case together,” Germaine called out before he disappeared out the door towards his awaiting jail cell.

None of this was supposed to happen this way.

As he lay on his bunk awaiting sleep, Jesse’s mind wandered, and he couldn’t help thinking about the day everything had gone downhill for him. If he’d been more careful, he wouldn’t be trapped in this jail cell, waiting for his fate to come.

Jesse carefully picked up the gun from the box in which it lay. Its cold black surface gleamed in the light from the single lamp. He double-checked the window to make sure the shade was pulled closed.

Taking a deep breath, Jesse walked up to Noah, and placed the end of the barrel against his forehead. Noah shook violently and closed his eyes, quiet acceptance making its way onto his face.

Jesse took a deep breath, and pulled the trigger.

His eyes snapped open and he shot up in his bunk. His breaths came in short gasps, and there was a cold sweat coating his face. Trying to calm himself down, Jesse rubbed his hand over his face and wiped the sweat away. He mustn’t think about that day, as much as he knew he would have to.

His carelessness was what had landed him here. If he’d gone over the plan more carefully, he wouldn’t have made that one huge mistake. Although, at the time, he hadn’t counted on anybody seeing his shadow from the window. Usually Noah’s neighborhood was empty. The neighbors decided to finally be home at the wrong time.

Faintly, he heard the sound of whispers coming from the cell on the other side of the wall. As silent and quick as a fox, he went to the corner and listened to the whispers.

…wasn’t thinking right, was I? I know you must be horribly ashamed of me, and I know I am too. But what’s done is done, and now I’ve got my whole life to look forward to in here. But it doesn’t matter that no one will visit. I don’t need anybody but you.

It suddenly struck Jesse that this man was praying. Out of all things to happen in a prison, he certainly didn’t think anyone would pray. Jail was supposed to be for hardened criminals, people who ate evil for breakfast.

Jesse didn’t belong here. He knew he didn’t. But the evidence against him was stacked too high; he couldn’t possibly get acquitted for this. He’d spend life in jail, no doubt. Why’d I let myself get mixed up in this? he asked himself.

Unconsciously, Jesse curled his knees up against his chest and clutched them with his arms. He rocked back so that his head rested against the cold cement wall, and he closed his eyes tightly. Nothing was happening the way it was supposed to.

Jesse took deep, shuddering breaths, trying his hardest not to cry. Men didn’t cry, and he was trying as hard as possible to be a man these days. He had left his boyhood back with Noah, in a happier life, one that seemed so distant now it was almost as if it had never happened.

“Noah, help me,” Jesse whispered, choking on his breath.

“Let’s see if you can beat that,” Noah smiled, tossing the ball at Jesse. He caught it and dribbled a few times before he tossed it and sank a perfect three-pointer. Dumbstruck, Noah stared after the ball for a few seconds before he ran to fetch it out of the grass.

“When are you going to learn that I always win?” Jesse crossed his arms smugly and looked at his best friend.

“Around the same time you learn that I win in absolutely everything else.”

The two continued to play basketball until the sun set and dusk had fallen. Winded and grinning, they migrated inside for some cake leftover from Noah’s seventeenth birthday celebration the day before. With fresh sugar infused in their systems, they quickly became balls of energy, tearing up the living room in a spur-of-the-moment wrestling match.

“Uncle! Uncle!” Jesse called, and Noah relinquished his headlock. They collapsed on the floor and breathed deeply, trying to return their bodies to normal. Somehow, Noah’s head had come to rest gently on Jesse’s stomach.

Jesse jerked his head up as he heard footsteps approaching. The correctional officer opened the door to his cell and motioned for him to come out.

“Your attorney is here,” his gruff voice growled out as he led Jesse out to the conference room. Sitting across the table was Germaine Osborn. He took a deep breath and sat down in the chair opposite his lawyer, and the officer left the room.

“We need to go over what you’re going to say when you’re on the stand, Jesse,” Germaine straightened her papers and looked up at him.

Jesse blanched. “I don’t want to go up there.”

“You have to, Jess.”

“I promised Noah I’d never tell anybody anything.”

She sighed. “You can’t say anything that isn’t the truth. Do you want them to add perjury to your charges, too?”

“It’s not lying if I don’t say anything,” Jesse looked her straight in the eye.

“How do you expect to get acquitted with silence? I know you may have promised some things to Noah, but he’s not exactly with us anymore. Your life is still going on. Do you want to ruin it with your misinterpreted sense of loyalty?” Germaine was glowing. Her anger was literally in the air, able to be tasted by sticking out one’s tongue.

“No,” Jesse whispered, looking down at his hands. These hands should be cut off, he reasoned, for taking away the life of the most important person in his world.

Germaine sighed before jotting down a few notes on her pad calmly. “I know he meant a lot to you, but right now your main concern is your future. Do you want to spend it like this? In prison?”

“I didn’t murder him.”

“I know you didn’t. But the jury doesn’t know that. Judge Baker doesn’t know that. It’s my job to let them know what really happened on that day four months ago. I can’t do my job if you don’t help me out a little.”

Jesse looked up at Germaine. He saw the earnest in her dark eyes, and nodded. Noah wouldn’t want his life to be ruined at his expense.

“Do you really think this is a good idea? There are so many ways to fix this. You don’t have to…”

Noah sighed, angrily. “Yes, I have to! There’s nothing left for me, don’t you see? I can’t go on living like this.”

Jesse closed his eyes and rested his head on Noah’s shoulder. “We could tell them.”

“Are you insane? They already don’t like us. Why would telling them make it any better?”

“We don’t have to tell everyone. Just our parents, your sister. It might make things a little easier.”

“Oh, yeah? How?”

“It’ll be a few less people to lie to. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now.”

“Don’t you dare tell anybody about this, or so help me God Jesse…”

“See, that’s your problem!” Jesse hissed, turning to face him. “You think telling will make everything worse. What if it helps? I read somewhere that keeping things bottled up is bad, and that telling secrets this big helps people come to terms with it better.”

Noah sneered “Did you read that in one of your mommy’s magazines?”

“A schoolbook, actually.”

“Well, whoop-de-do. You may not be convinced yet, but I am. This is the only way. I’ve tried twice already. My last one was pathetic, look.” He rolled up his arm and showed Jesse a long gash on his wrist.

“You’ve tried this already? God, Noah, you can’t possibly—”

“I know I can’t,” Noah rolled his sleeve back down and averted his eyes. “That’s why you have to.”

“Is that all you want to say on the stand? Are you sure?” Germaine hammered out questions. She obviously didn’t know the meaning of “that’s it.”

“Yes. I didn’t do anything wrong. I was listening to him. I just did what Noah wanted me to do.”

“But you did do something wrong, Jesse. Assisted suicide is still a crime. You’ll be charged with manslaughter. If you go up to the stand with a story like that, there’s no hope of acquittal. You’re doing jail time no matter what.”

“Isn’t five years better than twenty-five?” Jesse asked.

“Well, yes,” Germaine admitted. “But do you know how many jobs won’t hire a former convict?”

“Enough for it to make a difference, I’m assuming.”

“Enough for it to be difficult after your release to hold down a job.”

“Not enough of a difference to lie,” Jesse argued. Germaine had no comment. It was true, after all.


He was acutely aware of all the eyes focused on him. Sitting front and center at the prosecution’s table, was Mr. Victor Fox, Noah’s father. In the first row directly behind the table were Mrs. Jaquelyn Fox and Bernadette, Noah’s mother and sister.

“And why did you not try and tell someone about what Noah was asking you to do?” Mr. James, the opposing counsel, was cross-examining him after Germaine had called him to the stand.

“I couldn’t. I promised I wouldn’t tell anybody,” Jesse said quietly into the microphone.

“But you went through with it and knowingly killed your best friend,” Mr. James stated.

“Objection! Speculation!” Germaine called from the defense table.

“Sustained,” Judge Baker replied. “Watch yourself, Counselor.”

The lawyer looked at him. “Why on earth would you do something so final, Mr. van den Berg?”

“Noah said it was the only thing that would finally make him happy.”

“How would losing his life improve anything? Care to tell me?”

Jesse glanced down at the bench. “He wouldn’t have to suffer anymore.”

“You say you were against this at the start. What made you change your mind? Did Noah do something that made you angry?” Mr. James asked.

“No,” Jesse glanced up at the prosecutor. “I couldn’t make him happy anymore.”

Jesse sat down on Noah’s bed and looked at him. His skin was tight and pale, and his eyes were huge and sunken. He was broken.

“Are you sure you still want to do this?” Jesse asked.

He nodded. “It’s the best thing you could possibly do for me right now.”

Jesse shook his head, “I don’t think I could stand to lose you. We’ve been through everything together.”

“But I can’t take it anymore Jesse! Please!” Noah looked at him. “You know I’ll always love you Jesse, even when I’m gone.”

“I know. And I’ll keep loving you all my life. You complete me,” he laid his head on Noah’s shoulder for the last time. Almost as an afterthought, Jesse kissed him.

“You’ll be in a better place soon,” he said, and stood up to go get the gun on the counter. His hand shook as he reached into the box to retrieve it. Soon he would help Noah in the only way left.

He placed the gleaming black barrel against Noah’s shaking forehead and pulled the trigger. The shot was loud and short. As he lay on the bed, blood oozing from his head, Jesse began to sob.

“You’ll always be with me, Noah.”
 

“Will the defense please rise,” Judge Baker said. “In the charge of the first-degree murder of Noah Fox, how do you find the defendant, Jesse van den Berg?”

The jury speaker looked up. “Not guilty, Your Honor.”

“And for voluntary manslaughter?”

“Guilty.”

“Jesse van den Berg, I sentence you to five years incarceration,” Judge Baker banged his gavel and dismissed the court.

The spectators filed out, shocked at what had been laid before them. Silence filled the court house with an almost suffocating presence. Slowly, Victor, Jaquelyn, and Bernadette Fox approached Jesse.

Jaquelyn nervously swallowed before asking, “How long were you two together before Noah died?”

Jesse held his head. “A little over a year.”

“When did he tell you he wanted to die?” Bernadette added.

“Four months before he did.”

She nodded and turned away. Combing her hair with her fingers, her eyes suddenly widened. “My God. What if this is our fault, Mom?” Bernadette covered her mouth with her hands and cried silently.

“None of it was your fault. It’s just the way he was,” Jesse answered. He looked up and saw the police officers approaching him. “I only did it because I thought that was what he truly wanted.”

“It may have been what he wanted, but you should have told someone. Maybe we could have helped him,” Jaquelyn fiddled with the strap on her purse. “I can’t believe…”

Victor walked up and put an arm around his wife and another around his daughter. “He thought he was helping,” he said quietly. He nodded at Jesse and began leading Jaquelyn and Bernadette out of the court room.

The police officers walked up to Jesse and escorted him away to the cell he had grown accustomed to over the several weeks of the trial. Sitting on the cot, he closed his eyes and thought of Noah, who had ruled his mind for what seemed forever.

“I helped you. I know I helped,” Jesse whispered. He heard a small sound and opened his eyes, searching his cell. For a moment, he almost swore he saw Noah’s face in the barred window, smiling at him. He blinked his eyes and the window was empty again.

Jesse took a deep breath and lay on his back. A bitter loneliness filled him inside, and he swallowed the lump forming in his throat. “Wherever you are Noah, I know I helped you. You’re finally happy now. You have to be happy.” Despite how hard he concentrated on not crying, a tear found its way down his cheek. “I just wish you could be happy here.”


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