«WHEN the jury foreman stood up and read the verdict, Warren Selvey, the prosecuting attorney, listened to the pronouncement of guilt as if the words ...»
THE DAY OF THE EXECUTION
By Henry Slesar (1957)
WHEN the jury foreman stood up and read the verdict, Warren Selvey, the prosecuting attorney, listened to the
pronouncement of guilt as if the words were a personal citation of merit. He heard in the foreman's somber
tones, not a condemnation of the accused man who shriveled like a burnt match on the courtroom chair, but a
tribute to Selvey's own brilliance. "Guilty as charged..." No, Warren Selvey thought triumphantly, guilty as I've proved...
5 For a moment, the judge's melancholy eye caught Selvey's and the old man on the bench showed shock at the light of rejoicing that he saw there. But Selvey couldn't conceal his flush of happiness, his satisfaction with his own efforts, with his first major conviction.
He gathered up his documents briskly, fighting to keep his mouth appropriately grim, though it ached to smile all over his thin, brown face. He put his briefcase beneath his arm, and when he turned, faced the buzzing 10 spectators. "Excuse me," he said soberly, and pushed his way through to the exit doors, thinking now only of Doreen.
He tried to visualize her face, tried to see the red mouth that could be hard or meltingly soft, depending on which one of her many moods happened to be dominant. He tried to imagine how she would look when she heard his good news, how her warm body would feel against his, how her arms would encompass him.
15 But this imagined foretaste of Doreen's delights was interrupted. There were men's eyes seeking his now, and men's hands reaching towards him to grip his hand in congratulation. Garson, the District Attorney, smiling heavily and nodding his lion's head in approval of his cub's behavior. Vance, the assistant D.A., grinning with half a mouth, not altogether pleased to see his junior in the spotlight. Reporters, too, and photographers, asking for statements, requesting poses.
20 Once, all this would have been enough for Warren Selvey. This moment, and these admiring men. But now there was Doreen, too, and thought of her made him eager to leave the arena of his victory for a quieter, more satisfying reward.
But he didn't make good his escape. Garson caught his arm and steered him into the gray car that waited at the curb.
25 "How's it feel?" Garson grinned, thumping Selvey's knee as they drove off.
"Feels pretty good," Selvey said mildly, trying for the appearance of modesty. "But, hell, I can't take all the glory, Gar. Your boys made the conviction."
"You don't really mean that." Garson's eyes twinkled. "I watched you through the trial, Warren. You were tasting blood. You were an avenging sword. You put him on the waiting list for the chair, not me."
30 "Don't say that!" Selvey said sharply. "He was guilty as sin, and you know it. Why, the evidence was clear-cut.
The jury did the only thing it could."
"That's right. The way you handled things, they did the only thing they could. But let's face it, Warren. With another prosecutor, maybe they would have done something else. Credit where credit's due, Warren."
Selvey couldn't hold back the smile any longer. It illumined his long, sharp-chinned face, and he felt the relief 35 of having it relax his features. He leaned back against the thick cushion of the car.
"Maybe so," he said. "But I thought he was guilty, and I tried to convince everybody else. It's not just A-B-C evidence that counts, Gar. That's law school sophistry, you know that. Sometimes you just feel..."
"Sure." The D.A. looked out of the window, "How's the bride, Warren?" "Oh, Doreen's fine."
40 "Glad to hear it. Lovely woman, Doreen."
She was lying on the couch when he entered the apartment. He hadn't imagined this detail of his triumphant homecoming.
He came over to her and shifted slightly on the couch to let his arms surround her.
45 He said: "Did you hear, Doreen? Did you hear what happened?" "I heard it on the radio."
"Well? Don't you know what it means? I've got my conviction. My first conviction, and a big one. I'm no junior anymore, Doreen."
"What will they do to that man?" 50 He blinked at her, tried to determine what her mood might be. "I asked for the death penalty,'' he said. "He killed his wife in cold blood. Why should he get anything else?" "I just asked, Warren." She put her cheek against his shoulder.
"Death is part of the job," he said. "You know that as well as I do, Doreen. You're not holding that against me?" 55 She pushed him away for a moment, appeared to be deciding whether to be angry or not. Then she drew him quickly to her, her breath hot and rapid in his ear.
They embarked on a week of celebration. Quiet, intimate celebration, in dim supper clubs and with close acquaintances. It wouldn't do for Selvey to appear publicly gay under the circumstances.
On the evening of the day the convicted Murray Rodman was sentenced to death, they stayed at home and 60 drank hand-warmed brandy from big glasses. Doreen got drunk and playfully passionate, and Selvey thought he could never be happier. He had parlayed a mediocre law school record and an appointment as a third-class member of the state legal department into a position of importance and respect. He had married a beautiful, pampered woman and could make her whimper in his arms. He was proud of himself. He was grateful for the opportunity Murray Rodman had given him.
65 It was on the day of Rodman's scheduled execution that Selvey was approached by the stooped, gray-haired man with the grease-spotted hat.
He stepped out of the doorway of a drug store, his hands shoved into the pockets of his dirty tweed overcoat, his hat low over his eyes. He had white stubble on his face.
"Please," he said, "can I talk to you a minute?" 70 Selvey looked him over, and put a hand in his pocket for change.
"No," the man said quickly. I don't want a handout. I just want to talk to you, Mr. Selvey.'' "You know who I am?" "Yeah, sure, Mr. Selvey. I read all about you."
Selvey's hard glance softened. "Well, I'm kind of rushed right now. Got an appointment."
75 "This is important, Mr. Selvey, Honest to God. Can't we go someplace? Have coffee maybe? Five minutes is all."
"Why don't you drop me a letter, or come down to the office? We're on Chambers Street -" "It's about that man, Mr. Selvey. The one they're executing tonight."
The attorney examined the man's eyes. He saw how intent and penetrating they were.
80 "All right," he said. "There's a coffee shop down the street. But only five minutes, mind you."
It was almost two-thirty; the lunchtime rush at the coffee shop was over. They found a booth in the rear, and sat silently while a waiter cleared the remnants of a hasty meal from the table.
Finally, the old man leaned forward and said: "My name's Arlington, Phil Arlington. I've been out of town, in Florida, else I wouldn't have let things go this far. I didn't see a paper, hear a radio, nothing like that."
85 "I don't get you, Mr. Arlington. Are you talking about the Rodman trial?" "Yeah, the Rodman business. When I came back and heard what happened, I didn't know what to do. You can see that, can't you? It hurt me, hurt me bad to read what was happening to that poor man. But I was afraid. You can understand that. I was afraid."
"Afraid of what?" 90 The man talked to his coffee. "I had an awful time with myself, trying to decide what to do. But then I figured
- hell, this Rodman is a young man. What is he, thirty-eight? I'm sixty-four, Mr. Selvey. Which is better?" "Better for what?" Selvey was getting annoyed; he shot a look at his watch. "Talk sense, Mr. Arlington. I'm a busy man."
"I thought I'd ask your advice," The gray-haired man licked his lips. "I was afraid to go to the police right off, I 95 thought I should ask you. Should I tell them what I did, Mr. Selvey? Should I tell them I killed that woman? Tell me. Should I?" The world suddenly shifted on its axis. Warren Selvey's hands grew cold around the coffee cup. He stared at the man across from him.
"What are you talking about?" he said. "Rodman killed his wife. We proved that."
100 "No, no, that's the point. I was hitchhiking east. I got a lift into Wilford. I was walking around town, trying to figure out where to get food, a job, anything. I knocked on this door. This nice lady answered. She didn't have no job, but she gave me a sandwich. It was a ham sandwich."
"What house? How do you know it was Mrs. Rodman's house?" I know it was. I seen her picture, in the newspapers. She was a nice lady. If she hadn't walked into that 105 kitchen after, it would have been okay."
"What, what?" Selvey snapped.
"I shouldn't have done it. I mean, she was real nice to me, but I was so broke. I was looking around the jars in the cupboard. You know how women are; they're always hiding dough in the jars, house money they call it. She caught me at it and got mad. She didn't yell or anything, but I could see she meant trouble. That's when I did it, 110 Mr. Selvey. I went off my head."
"I don't believe you," Selvey said. "Nobody saw any - anybody in the neighborhood. Rodman and his wife quarreled all the time-" The gray-haired man shrugged. "I wouldn't know anything about that, Mr. Selvey. I don't know anything about those people. But that's what happened, and that's why I want your advice." He rubbed his forehead. I 115 mean, if I confess now, what would they do to me?" "Burn you," Selvey said coldly. "Burn you instead of Rodman. Is that what you want?" Arlington paled. "No. Prison, okay. But not that."
"Then just forget about it. Understand me, Mr. Arlington? I think you dreamed the whole thing, don't you?
just think of it that way. A bad dream. Now get back on the road and forget it."
120 "But that man. They're killing him tonight -" "Because he's guilty." Selvey's palm hit the table. "I proved him guilty. Understand?" The man's lip trembled.
"Yes sir," he said.
Selvey got up and tossed a five on the table.
125 "Pay the bill," he said curtly. "Keep the change."
That night, Doreen asked him the hour for the fourth time.
"Eleven," he said sullenly.
"Just another hour." She sank deep into the sofa cushions. "I wonder how he feels right now..."
130 "Cut it out!" "My, we're jumpy tonight."
"My part's done with, Doreen. I told you that again and again. Now the State's doing its job."
She held the tip of her pink tongue between her teeth, thoughtfully. "But you put him where he is, Warren.
You can't deny that."
135 "The jury put him there!" "You don't have to shout at me, attorney.'' "Oh, Doreen..." He leaned across to make some apologetic gesture, but the telephone rang. He picked it up angrily.
"Mr. Selvey? This is Arlington."
140 All over Selvey's body, a pulse throbbed.
"What do you want?" "Mr. Selvey, I been thinking it over. What you told me today. Only I don't think it would be right, just forgetting about it. I mean -" "Arlington, listen to me. I'd like to see you at my apartment. I'd like to see you right now."
145 From the sofa, Doreen said: "Hey!" "Did you hear me, Arlington? Before you do anything rash, I want to talk to you, tell you where you stand legally. I think you owe that to yourself."
There was a pause at the other end.
"Guess maybe you're right, Mr. Selvey. Only I'm way downtown, and by the time I get there - " 150 "You can make it. Take the IRT subway, it's quickest. Get off at 86th Street."
When he hung up, Doreen was standing.
"Doreen, wait. I'm sorry about this. This man is - an important witness in a case I'm handling. The only time I can see him is now."
"Have fun she said airily, and went to the bedroom.
155 "Doreen –" The door closed behind her. For a moment, there was silence. Then she clicked the lock.
Selvey cursed his wife's moods beneath his breath, and stalked over to the bar.
By the time Arlington sounded the door chimes, Selvey had downed six inches of bourbon.
Arlington's grease-spotted hat and dirty coat looked worse than ever in the plush apartment. He took them 160 off and looked around timidly.
"We've only got three-quarters of a hour," he said. "I've just got to do something, Mr. Selvey.'' "I know what you can do," the attorney smiled. "You can have a drink and talk things over."
"I don't think I should -" But the man's eyes were already fixed on the bottle in Selvey's hands. The lawyer's smile widened.
165 By eleven-thirty, Arlington's voice was thick and blurred, his eyes no longer so intense, his concern over Rodman no longer so compelling.
Selvey kept his visitor's glass filled.
The old man began to mutter. He muttered about his childhood, about some past respectability, and inveighed a string of strangers who had done him dirt. After a while, his shaggy head began to roll on his 170 shoulders, and his heavy lidded eyes began to close.
He was jarred out of his doze by the mantel clock's chiming.
"Whazzat?" "Only the clock," Selvey grinned.
"Clock? What time? What time?" 175 "Twelve, Mr. Arlington. Your worries are over. Mr. Rodman's already paid for his crime."
"No!" The old man stood up, circling wildly. "No, that's not true. I killed that woman. Not him! They can't kill him for something he –" "Relax, Mr. Arlington. Nothing you can do about it now."
"Yes, Yes! Must tell them - the police -" 180 "But why? Rodman's been executed. As soon as that clock struck, he was dead. What good can you do him now?" "Have to!" the old man sobbed. "Don't you see? Couldn't live with myself, Mr. Selvey. Please -" He tottered over to the telephone. Swiftly, the attorney put his hand on the receiver.
"Don't," he said.
185 Their hands fought for the instrument, and the younger man's won easily.
"You won't stop me, Mr. Selvey. I'll go down there myself I'll tell them all about it. And I'll tell them about you-" He staggered towards the door. Selvey's arm went out and spun him around.