M presents the last of the five entries shortlisted in our short story contest.
A day in court
I am not sure how I ended up here. Wait. That's not true. I'm here because they say I killed 13 women. They say I skinned them while they were still alive and then hung them on meat hooks inside the butchery that I work in. I'm here because they say that I then sprayed salt on them until all the water drained out of their bodies and they were left dangling like dried Christmas meat in the freezer. They say that since the women had similar features, and I fit the profile, I must be a serial killer. They say they found my hair on one of the bodies; hence I am guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm here to tell you that they are wrong. And I want you all to listen carefully because this is the last time that I will be allowed to speak, and no matter what your verdict is, I want you to know that I never lie.
And I want you to know that I didn't kill 13 women.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have heard all the testimony that the district attorney's office has provided you. Did they find 13 bodies in Robbie's Butchery two months ago? Yes, they did. No one is denying that, and least of all me, who worked two shifts there so that I could put myself through law school.
Did I kill 13 women? No, I did not.
They then said that I skinned the women while they were still alive. Watch me closely for a second. I am five feet eight inches tall, and I weigh less than 120 pounds. The team of board-certified doctors and kinesiology experts have first demonstrated and then testified in front of you all about how I could not have done the heinous crimes that have been attributed to me. The muscle biopsy that they took from me showed that I have a high percentage of slow-contracting muscles, which although make me an ideal long-distance runner, unfortunately do not give me the brute strength required to hoist, many of whom weighed more than me, these ladies up onto the meat hook.
The coroner's report also tells you that the level of coagulation in the blood of the victims indicate that they were all killed within a 40-minute window. Now unless I am of Kryptonian descent, I doubt I would be able to hang 13 women, kicking and screaming, skin them while they were still alive and then pour salt on them to dry them out like slugs and leeches. Perhaps if the ladies were drugged, this could have been achieved, the district attorney cajoled. But once again, the coroner's report mentioned that there were not even trace amounts of Rohypnol, or any other paralysis-inducing agent found on any of the victims. Moreover, during cross examination, when the district attorney asked the experts whether they thought that I could have pulled this feat off by myself, they all unanimously replied "No." And before yougo there, I tested negative for any anabolic substances too.
Moving on to their next part - motive. Each of the 13 women possessed brown hair and emerald green eyes. They asked me if I thought that this could be the work of a serial killer and I simply said that since I was not going to forensic psychology school but law school, I was not qualified to answer that question. The district attorney jumped at this and triumphantly announced to you in his closing address that if I were truly innocent, then I would have definitely answered in the affirmative, which then would have been a lie because ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am not a criminal psychologist. I am a meat packer. I skin goats and pigs in the freezing cold, load them onto the meat hooks, slap salt around them before putting wax paper on them and then the big boys lug it all into the trucks for delivery. Yes. You heard the process correctly from the other packers. It sounds exactly like what they said I did to the girls, but this is what every meat packer in the state of Montana does, so why pick on me? Because it's a sensational case that makes the Billings police department look bad? Because they need to show the world how safe and secure Billings, Montana is and how efficient their local law enforcement is in tackling crime?
They tried to build me up as a classic serial killer. They started by proving that I didn't have many friends. Even in that respect their attempt was futile and poorly researched, because I can tell you now that I don't have any friends at all. You can't make friends when you pack meat for 16 hours and then run to night school without a shower. Late at night, even while I am asleep, I can still smell the tangy stench of decaying blood and salt, still see the shivering bones and the dreary dance of the bodies suspended on the meat hooks. That is why I don't have friends. I don't have time for any.
Sticking with their serial killer angle, they next showed you that my parents had divorced when I was 5, and brought in one of my foster parents who stood here and testified that I used to be a bed-wetter. According to the district attorney, this is another prerequisite that makes me the perfect candidate to be a serial killer. Yes. I did wet my bed. But that was not because I was dreaming of killing women. My father was a deadbeat drunk who had used a broken beer bottle to skin my pet dog once, while my mum stood watching, helpless to stop him. That was the image that I would think of when I'd wet the bed. The psychologists who have interviewed me over the last two months all agreed that seeing such a sight could have easily triggered multiple instances of bed wetting in even the strongest of children, let alone one who had to witness his mother being beaten to a pulp regularly. It doesn't necessarily make me a serial killer.
Neither does the "irrefutable" physical evidence that was presented to you. They found a single strand of hair on one of the victims. DNA says that the hair is mine, and I accept that. But subsequent tests of other areas of the butchery revealed multiple strands of hair. They found my hair, along with 10 other meat packers'. Notice how the district attorney breezed through that part and spent his entire closing address concentrating on my hair that was found on one of the victims? We work long shifts there and sometimes we forget to put the hygienic head cover on because we're too tired or we're too wired or both. So that makes us human, not serial killers.
The crowd breaks into applause. A single tear rolls down my eye, looking at the support around the room. "Veritas vincit," I remember my Latin teacher saying once. "Truth conquers."
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I did not kill 13 women. And as for the district attorney's case, you know what this is? It's not even circumstantial evidence. It is insulting, incoherent and it is nonsense. It is insulting your intelligence, incoherent with the presentation of facts and evidence, and it is nonsense because I can see it in your eyes too. You can see bull coming a mile away, and that is what fuels this case. I have never lied since knowing what lying was and that is why I chose to represent myself today in court.
I did not kill 13 women. The rest is up to you.
The reporters are flocking me now. They're all asking the same questions. "What happened?" "Are you going to sue the city?" "Are you going to get your old job back?"
"Veritas numquam perit," I reply to them. More questions. "What does that mean?" "What language is that?"
"The truth never perishes," I say to them, trying to maintain eye contact, but there are so many of them. The last two months have been hell. Ever since they found that hair at the butchery and dragged me out of my night school like a barnyard dog with rabies, I have not seen daylight. The jail cell where I was raped and tortured by others had no window. There was nothing but besmirching darkness in which I sat alone, eating stale, maggoty bread, waiting. Waiting for the bed bugs to return and begin sucking not my blood but bits of my soul every night.
It's getting difficult to breathe. There is too much light. A shadow falls on me. I look up.
There is a brunette standing with a microphone. She has emerald green eyes. She turns and walks away, not wanting to bother me like the other vulturine reporters. An act of kindness in this rude and uncouth world. I watch her closely. I am breathing fine now. I can hear my heart beating in my ears. The rest of the world has merged into a blur. I follow her as she takes a turn into a deserted alley next to the courthouse. The district attorney just came out of the courthouse, and the reporters have thronged him for his comment. They have forgotten me.
She reaches her news van. She looks around, confused. My mother had eyes just like that. And her brown hair would cascade down her beautiful broad shoulders just like this reporter's. She is looking for her cameraman, who is not here. She is all alone as she turns and looks at me, surprised. My dog is dying. He's skinning my dog alive. Why doesn't she help my dog? Why is she just standing there? It's her fault my dog's dead. It's all her fault.
"Mother," I hear myself say. My right hand shoots out and pinches her carotid artery, stopping blood supply to her brain. My left hand is simultaneously driven into her solar plexus, stopping her from screaming out. In four seconds, she is unconscious. My adrenal glands are working overtime. I have three times my normal strength. I push her inside the van with ease. I don't even need a knife to skin her. My teeth and nails will suffice.
They say I killed 13 women. It's a lie.
I've killed more.
About the author
Razib Reza Khan, 30, lives in Sharjah. Raz, as he is better known, is a Bangladeshi citizen who has lived in the UAE for nearly 27 years. He has coached cricket, basketball and tennis in Dubai since 2003, heads the operations of Excel Sports and works as an environmental education officer with Bee'ah, one of the nation's leading environmental companies. He published his first article at the age of 11, and went on to publish numerous short stories and two novels. He says: "Ever since I can remember, I have always had an inexplicable drive to draw or colour outside the lines. Outside the box of reality is where imagination lies, and that is where the best fiction is written."