From the author: George Gleason needs a lawyer. Will Mr. Iris take his case?
“I’m glad you could meet with me today, Mr. Iris,” George Gleason said, extending a hand across the steel-gray table. “I need a good lawyer.”
Gleason smiled at me with perfect white teeth and sky-blue eyes. His thin fingers closed over mine and the chains of his cuffs clinked. I gave his hand a quick squeeze and then released it.
“I’d like to go over your case first, Mr. Gleason. I haven’t agreed to take you on as a client yet.”
I leaned down to retrieve the first of two briefcases. The locks opened with a loud click, and I pulled out a thick folder.
A large horsefly buzzed past, making its rounds of the room. It landed on the table and then took off once more.
“There’s a lot of evidence here, Mr. Gleason,” I said adjusting the spectacles on my nose. “I’ve sifted through it and I think I’ve found a few things which may help you. But, first things first. I heard you had some trouble with your memory?”
He bit his lip. “A little. I was sick you know. I got out of the infirmary yesterday. That’s when I found out they’d removed my lawyer from the case. The warden recommended you to me.”
“How far back can you remember?”
Gleason shrugged. “I don’t remember coming to the infirmary. I don’t even know how I got into this prison. The last thing I remember, I was out driving and a cop stopped me for speeding.”
“Do you remember anything before that? Your college years? High School? Your childhood?”
“I had a happy childhood. Did well in school. Had a couple girlfriends. Pretty hum-drum, I guess.”
“Did you do well with the girls?”
“Are you asking if I’m a ladies man?”
Gleason chuckled. “I wouldn’t say that.”
I reached into my briefcase and removed the electronic tablet from it. A press of the button and the device powered on. I handed it to Gleason.
“This might help you recall a few things. Just touch the screen and swipe to the right when you’re ready to move on to the next picture.”
Gleason studied the first picture. Three teenage boys and a blonde teenage girl smiled up at him.
“Do you know the boys?”
He shook his head.
“What about the girl?”
“That’s Mary Simpson. I went to school with her.”
“Swipe to the next picture, please.”
Gleason obeyed. This time one teenage boy smiled from the image. He stood beside a blonde girl, her hair parted in the middle. Judging by their formal attire, it was a prom picture.
“What about these two?”
“I…I don’t know the guy. I know the girl. She was a couple years behind me in school. The name is Callie Jacobs.”
The horsefly landed on Gleason’s hand. He didn’t seem to notice its exploration of his skin.
Gleason swiped to the side. A girl smiled at us. She too had blonde hair which parted in the middle. She sat at a table in what looked like a French or Italian restaurant.
“Her name was Gladys Richards. We dated for a while.” He looked up. “Next picture?”
I nodded and he moved on.
The next picture depicted a blue-eyed woman sitting on a bus. She was dressed in jeans and a sweater, her blonde hair parted in the middle. She seemed to be immersed in a paperback book.
“Her name is Elsie. I…I can’t remember her last name. I don’t think I knew it.”
“Why is that?”
“We had a one-night stand and I never saw her again. Dreamed about her a lot though.”
I reached across to slide the next picture into view. Another blonde, her hair parted in the middle, appeared. She lay on the beach, dressed in a black bikini.
“What about her?”
“I want to say Moira. Don’t know her last name either.”
“Yeah.” A smile played over his lips. “Yeah, she was.”
“Mr. Gleason, do you remember why you were arrested?”
His face grew red. “I think the police were out to get me. They seemed to think I was someone else. They kept harassing me.”
“Who did they think you were?”
“A guy called Red Burns,” Gleason said. He cradled his head in his hands. “I went through school with him. We even went to the same college. That guy…he was a real piece of shit.”
“What did he do?”
“Jesus…my head hurts.” He glanced up toward the door. “Did you hear that?”
I paused. “I don’t hear anything.”
“Are you sure? It sounded like…screaming.”
“Are you all right, Mr. Gleason?”
“I’m ok. What was your question?”
“I asked what Red Burns did.”
“Oh, yeah. Let’s see. There was a case of breaking and entering, a charge of attempted rape, and a couple kidnappings.” He leaned forward. “I heard he did a lot of other things but he never got caught for those. I used to run around with him which is why the cops came after me. A lot of people judge you by the company you keep.”
I took the tablet from Gleason and slid back to the first picture, the one with three boys and a girl.
“Do you recognize any of these boys now?”
“Oh, my…that’s him. That’s Red Burns.” He pointed to a red-headed boy standing beside Mary Simpson.
I nodded and placed the file back in my briefcase. The click of the lock seemed louder this time.
“What…what are you going?”
“I’m afraid I can’t take your case, Mr. Gleason.”
“For several reasons.”
“I don’t understand.”
I pointed to the remaining boys in the picture. “That’s Chris and Clancy Gleason. They’re your brothers.”
“Do you know what happened to Mary?”
The images sped by beneath my fingers. I paused when I reached the one following Moira. Gleason gasped.
The black and white photo contrasted with the color one we’d seen moments before. Mary lay alone in what looked like a forest, eyes glazed, a wound in her throat.
I switched to the next picture. “Callie was Clancy’s girlfriend throughout high school. Until they found her face down in the ditch.”
Gleason stared at the picture. He licked his lips.
“And, Gladys, Elsie, and Moira, well…worse things happened to them. Strange how you remembered them and Red Burns but not your own flesh and blood.”
I picked up the tablet. Gleason reached for it, looking as though he might tear it from me, but then dropped his hands to his lap.
“It wasn’t me,” he said. “It was Red Burns. He did it. He killed them.”
“All of them?”
“It was him! I swear!”
“Red Burns died when he was 13.”
I picked the second case up and opened it. A set of scales lay inside and I quickly assembled them.
“What are you doing?” Gleason asked.
I set a feather on one side of the scales and then turned to the man before me.
“Do you remember what happened before you wound up here in the infirmary?”
“I told you I don’t.”
“You were executed, Mr. Gleason. Two-thousand volts went through your body in a matter of seconds. You’re dead.”
The color drained from Gleason’s face.
“I’ve come here to measure the darkness within,” I said as I approached him. “Though my initial investigation has informed me the guilty verdict is true, I must make sure no innocence resides within your heart. If it weighs less than the feather, I’ll have to let you go.”
Bones cracked as I reached into his chest. He gazed at me, eyes wide as I withdrew the lifeless heart from his breast. I set it on the scale.
The heart fell, the feather rose.
George Gleason screamed.
This story originally appeared in The Sirens Call e-Zine.