Jack Brierly was something of a recluse, yet he was at an embassy reception, where he saw a woman, who had a powerful effect on him…
Her face was familiar, but I couldn’t place where I had seen her before. Although she wasn’t conventionally pretty, there was something compelling, almost bewitching about her. By today’s fashion standards, she was maybe just a hint on the plump side, a kind of Marilyn Monroe figure – as much as I could see under what looked remarkably like a graduation robe. Dark auburn hair fell in waves around her shoulders and framed an oval face devoid of make-up, save perhaps the merest suspicion of eye shadow, and lipstick that was dark pink and not quite red. Set against her olive complexion, it served to enhance, rather than exaggerate her lips.
I couldn’t take my eyes off her as she walked across the room towards me. She was looking straight at me. I don’t know quite what I was feeling. It wasn’t sexual attraction – since the accident, ten years ago, I had not felt that towards anyone. It wasn’t a romantic attraction, either. It was just a deep need to be in her presence; to gain nothing from it apart from the relief – yes, that was it – the knowledge that I was where I needed to be, where I had to be.
She walked straight past me. It wasn’t me she was looking at, it was someone behind me. I felt… I felt empty. I felt cheated. I felt as though I had been used and abused, that the only thing in life that ever mattered had been snatched from me, heartlessly and brutally. I felt wronged, and I felt wrong.
I turned and walked after her. She was talking to a man who was younger, fitter and more handsome than I. My stomach churned, and I felt like throwing up on the spot.
I knew, in my heart, that I should not have accepted the invitation to this embassy reception. I never attend these things. I am, fundamentally, a loner. I am comfortable on my own; I avoid gatherings of any kind. I buy my groceries on-line and have them delivered, so I don’t have to deal with the mass of people in the supermarkets. What possessed me to accept this invitation, to subject myself to the purgatory that is a crowded party, I shall never know. My nerves were already frayed, just by being here. Seeing the woman gave me a heady feeling that I could neither explain nor cope with. When she walked straight past me to him, it was as though my head exploded with mixed emotions.
Maybe that’s why I hit him. Hard. And then started kicking him, once he had fallen to the ground. I couldn’t stop myself. This man, ultimately, was the cause of all my pain, all my difficulties, every problem I had ever had in my entire life. He had to pay.
I was in what looked like a police station interview room. I had no idea how I came to be there. I was in handcuffs, facing what I assumed to be a detective. There was a uniformed police officer behind him.
“Name?” he barked, gruffly.
“Jack. Jack Brierly.”
“Jack Brierly, I am charging you with assaulting Isaac Conway, causing him grievous bodily harm with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. If Mr Conway does not recover from his injuries, we shall press for the charge to be elevated to murder. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Do you want to tell me what happened?”
“Do I need a solicitor?”
“I think you do, but I don’t think any solicitor, no matter how clever, can get you off this one, Jack. Far too many witnesses saw your attack, and it was caught on CCTV. It’s a matter of record.”
“I’m not sure what happened. I was at this party. It’s not like me, I never go to parties; hate them. Don’t like people much, and people in large numbers just make me feel – I don’t know – claustrophobic, perhaps. I feel threatened, not safe. Anyway, I was in this party, and this woman came towards me. I was spellbound. Not fancying her; I didn’t want to have sex with her or anything like that, I just had the feeling that my whole life had been leading up to this, and that as long as I was with her, everything would be alright. Sounds a bit weird, but can you understand what I mean?”
The look on the detective’s face made it quite clear that he did not understand what I was trying to say. “Describe this woman to me,” he said.
“Long dark red hair, olive complexion, classic hourglass figure, wearing a dress that looked like a graduation robe.”
“Did you get her name?”
“She didn’t talk to me. She just walked straight past me, to him. It was as though I didn’t exist. That’s what made me so bloody angry.” I started to struggle against my handcuffs.
“Okay, Jack, calm down. Smoke?”
“No, I don’t. I could use a drink of water, though.”
He sent the uniformed officer to fetch me a glass of water, which he offered to my lips. I drank thirstily, thanking the detective.
“Jack. There’s something I have to tell you, and I have a feeling you’re not going to like it.” He paused, before continuing, “Every room in the embassy is covered by CCTV, as are all the entrances and exits. We have examined the feeds from all the cameras, including the one in the ballroom. That one clearly shows you charging at Mr Conway and brutally attacking him. None of the cameras shows a woman fitting your description. No-one was with Mr Conway when you attacked him. He was totally alone.”
“But… That’s not possible. Are you suggesting I made up the whole thing? Why would I want to attack an innocent man? It doesn’t make sense. Of course she was there.”
“Jack. My boss is pressing me to treat this as a hate crime. I don’t want to do that, but I need to know why you attacked him, and your story isn’t adding up at the moment. I’m going to leave you to think for a while.” With that, he got up and left the room, leaving me alone with the uniformed police officer, who didn’t look as though he was here for conversation.
I was standing in the dock in a courtroom. I had no idea how I came to be there. The jury had apparently completed their deliberations and were ready to deliver their decision.
“Foreman of the jury, have you reached a verdict?”
“Yes, Your Honour, we have.”
“And is this the verdict of all of you?”
“Yes, Your Honour, it is.”
“How do you find the accused in the charge of racially aggravated murder?”
“Guilty, Your Honour.”
“Prisoner at the dock, is there anything you wish to say to the court before I pass sentence?”
There was much I wanted to say, but no sound came from my mouth. How could it be racially aggravated? I didn’t recall Isaac Conway being black or Asian – come to think of it, I couldn’t remember what he looked like. All the events of that fateful evening were becoming quite sketchy. Perhaps I was losing my mind.
I looked at the judge. She wasn’t conventionally pretty, but there was something compelling, almost bewitching about her. In her official judge’s robe, she looked to be just a little on the plump side, a kind of Marilyn Monroe figure. Under her judicial wig, dark auburn hair fell in waves around her shoulders and framed an oval face, devoid of make-up save perhaps a hint of eye shadow and lipstick that was not quite red. Set against her olive complexion, it served to enhance, rather than exaggerate her lips.
She looked at me and spoke, in a voice that was at first distant, but gradually became clearer, as my eyes fogged with tears.
“Oh wow, Jack. Mushroom omelette has never done that to me before!”