The room was designed for natural light. Grand windows, set high in the southern wall, were now dark, lit only by a feeble moon and a handful of faint stars. Harsh fluorescents hung awkwardly from the ornate, carved ceiling, filling the court with light better suited to a gymnasium, or a morgue. The last day of my trial started at 10 p.m.
Two nameless guards in pale blue shirts and dark blue pants, armed with batons, led me from the antechamber to the defendant’s table. Elena Ruiz, my attorney, was waiting with a smile for me and a nod for the guards. She wore what I had come to think of as Trial Suit Number 3: a charcoal skirt and jacket with a white blouse and black shoes. She always looked the part, which was just as well. The trial certainly wasn’t going to make her look very good as a lawyer. She would have pleaded out the case long ago if I had let her. I wanted my day in court, my time on the stand, my chance to be heard.
Donald Rowe, the prosecutor, sliced through the crowd like a yacht through still water, head held high, the certainty of his success written on his long, narrow face. His thin, pale assistant, Toland Franks, followed in silence, Aaron to Rowe’s Moses, carrying the heavy paperwork that would ensure my conviction. Neither spared a moment to look at me or Elena. We were a means to an end. A way to make a point.
The murmuring of the crowd died down, replaced by the unified shuffling of a hundred people standing for the judge as he climbed to his bench.
“The court of the Honorable Craig Ellison is now in session.”
The bailiff paused. He glanced at Ellison, a rotund man in his late sixties with a shockingly red, though thinning, head of hair. The inmates in the county lockup had a pool going. The odds were currently three-to-two that he dyed it. I bet five bucks against the odds. Why not, I figured. His hair looked real enough to me. After a careful review of the entire room, which was solidly packed with press and curiosity seekers, Ellison finally said, “Be seated.”
In previous days, the prosecution had made their case. Two police officers, the ones who had arrested me, gave their damning testimony. The medical examiner, with the help of several antiseptic yet grisly diagrams, had described the details of the killing. Since my defense was temporary insanity, a city shrink sat in the witness chair and said, under oath, that I was totally sane throughout my stabbing of Gabriel Moore. Donald Rowe did not leave a detail out, not on such a landmark case.
Elena’s case, on the other hand, was a joke. One doctor, clearly on the take, said that I had undergone “transitory diminished capacity” which was why I had taken part of a shattered two-by-four and plunged the jagged end of it deep into the chest of Gabriel Moore, stopping his heart, ending his life. My former employer testified to my personality in the workplace. Apparently, since I had never impaled anyone before, perhaps this time was just an aberration.
Only my testimony remained, and then the closing arguments. Before I knew it, I was on the stand.
“Mr. Brenner,” Elena began, “you’ve heard the testimony so far regarding the events of September 23 of last year?”
“Do you dispute any of these facts?”
“I don’t know if Dr. Chiano is right that I was sane at the time, but everything else, no, I don’t dispute any of that.”
I followed the script Elena had written to the letter.
“Thank you. Could you tell us, please, why you did what you did? Why did you kill Gabriel Moore?”
And now, finally on the stand, I almost couldn’t speak. “It was because of Emily.”
“That’s right. Emily was my wife—is my wife.”
“What did Gabriel Moore do to your wife?”
“Objection!” Rowe’s only worry—and it wasn’t much of a worry at that—was this part of my testimony. Pre-trial motions had already answered the point. Rowe objected for the crowd.
“Overruled,” Ellison said. “Go ahead, Mr. Brenner.”
“Okay. Gabriel Moore took my wife away from me. He…”
“He brought the change in her, didn’t he, Mr. Brenner?”
I almost laughed at the turn of phrase. Brought the change. It had a Victorian quality to it.
“Yes. That’s what he did. And I couldn’t forgive him for that. She was gone. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t think! All I knew to do was to kill him.” You could’ve heard a pin drop. “I had heard that if you kill the one who… brought the change… then she would change back.” Murmurs from the crowd. “I would’ve done anything to get her back. I thought that would get her back… I was wrong.”
“One last question, Mr. Brenner. If you could go back, would you have done the same thing again?”
I fought with myself to tell the truth. “No. No, I wouldn’t.” I hated myself for lying.
“Thank you. No further questions.” Elena glided back to our table, a satisfied smile plastered on her face.
Rowe stood up and practically raced toward me. He shot his questions at me like machine gun bursts.
“You say you killed Gabriel Moore because he brought the change to your wife.”
“And you think that’s a justification for murder.”
“So you admit that you committed murder?”
“I admit I killed him. But I didn’t think there was anything else I could do.”
“You could have done nothing. You could have said goodbye to your wife and forgotten about it.”
“Easier said than done.”
Elena and I had talked about this. Rowe was probably going to win this case. But he wanted to be sure. I couldn’t let him get to me. The only thing I had going for me was whatever sympathy I had with the jury. I had to be very careful what I said, or else I would certainly lose.
“Was your marriage a happy one?”
“There are always problems.”
“So what kinds of problems did you have?”
“Until Gabriel Moore.”
“Yes. Until Gabriel Moore.”
“Were they lovers?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Did they steal from you?”
“I asked you if they stole from you? Money? Or jewelry?”
“Did they harm you in any way?”
“He harmed her.”
“He harmed her? In what way?”
“I told you.” Teeth clenched too tight. I could feel the blood rising to my face. Franks, the assistant DA, leaned forward in his chair, watching intently, a hungry look on his face. The jury was riveted. Even Ellison seemed interested for a change.
“You told us he brought the change.”
“So you’re saying that bringing the change was a harmful act.”
“I’m saying that he changed her and we couldn’t be happy anymore.”
“Your happiness is worth a man’s life?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“I think you did, Mr. Brenner.”
“He took her away from me. Can’t you see that?”
“And that’s what harmed her, taking her away from you? You seem to have a very high opinion of yourself.”
I heard the beginnings of laughter from the crowd. I heard a distinctive squeak from Elena’s chair as she stood to object. But I couldn’t stop. I had to say it.
“Do you think she wanted to be turned into a vampire?”
And would you believe it, there was an actual collective gasp from the crowd. I couldn’t believe it. In just a few short years since the Emergence, the word “vampire” had become almost as taboo as “nigger.” My eyes flicked to Franks. He kept his composure quite well, I thought. Much better than Elena. She slumped back down in her chair, her objection forgotten.
“Mr. Brenner,” said the judge, “I’ll ask you to refer to them as ‘nocturnals’ if you wouldn’t mind.”
“I have no more questions,” Rowe said.
I was shocked. Elena seemed to be, too. In fact, looking around, most of the room looked surprised that Rowe would back off after I had been so expertly maneuvered. Everyone but Franks. He calmly made a note on his pad then looked back at me. When he smiled, he didn’t quite bare his canines.
“You may step down, Mr. Brenner.”
“Your honor,” Rowe said, “I would like to call a rebuttal witness.”
I waited at the defense table while Elena and Rowe spoke in hushed tones to Judge Ellison. Finally, they stepped back. Elena didn’t look good. When she sat down, she put a reassuring hand on my arm.
“The State calls Emily Brenner.”
I felt myself fall into a state of shock. I must have looked as white as Franks. I couldn’t watch as my wife walked up to the stand. I didn’t want to see the pale face, the sunken cheeks. You know how they talk about the freshman fifteen, the fifteen pounds you always gain when you first go to college? When you first undergo the change you usually lose fifteen pounds. It can take a long time to gain the weight back. It can take a very long time.
Emily was on the stand for about twenty minutes. Of the swearing in and preliminary questions and cross-examination, I only remember one exchange.
“Mrs. Brenner, did you undergo the change willingly?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Karl Brenner killed Gabriel Moore,” Elena started. “He stabbed him in the chest and killed him. We don’t dispute that. The police testimony, the medical examiner, even Mrs. Brenner herself, all of these pieces of evidence are irrelevant to the question here. The question, the only question, is this: Did Karl Brenner, in the moment he stabbed Gabriel Moore, know right from wrong? Did he think to himself, ‘If I do this, Emily will be better off?’ Yes, he did. What he did was not right, and it wasn’t even very smart. But we’re not asking you to tell us if Karl Brenner is smart or if what he did was right or wrong. We’re asking you to tell us if he thought he was doing something right.
“No. I take that back. You don’t have to determine what he thought or didn’t think. That’s not necessary. You have to determine whether or not there is a reasonable doubt that he was sane at the time of the murder. Is it reasonable to think that he might have snapped? Is it reasonable to think that this sudden change in his wife might have had a terrible impact on his psyche, so terrible that the only recourse he saw was murder?
“So, ask yourself, what would you do if you learned that your husband, or your wife, or your father, or your daughter was taken away from you? If your relationship with them would be forever altered, forever severed? Of course you wouldn’t kill someone as a result. Most people probably wouldn’t. But is it reasonable that this man, Karl Brenner, might have snapped? If it is… you must acquit.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Rowe said, “I need you to do something quite extraordinary for just a moment or two. I need you to forget every horror movie you ever saw, every scary story you ever read, every wives’ tale that you ever heard around a campfire late one night. Forget that Gabriel Moore was a nocturnal. Forget that Emily Brenner became a nocturnal. Forget about garlic and crosses and holy water.
“Now, imagine that Karl Brenner killed Gabriel Moore because he convinced Emily Moore to become a homosexual. Quick, what would your verdict be?! You know what your verdict would be. The deliberations would take all of five minutes. You would toss Karl Brenner into jail and throw away the key. What’s more, you’d be proud that you did. Now imagine that Gabriel Moore had convinced Emily Moore to become a Jew. This time it’s even easier, isn’t it? Five minutes would be too long to deliberate. Or what if, instead of becoming a nocturnal, Emily Moore had become an Asian. Or a Republican. Or a vegetarian.
“It is time. Is it time, right here, right now, to say once and for all that we do not allow discrimination and prejudice to hold sway in this country. Now is the time to say that race does not matter! That meant something very different fifty years ago, didn’t it? Fifty years ago, being black was being less than human. Twenty-five years ago, being gay was being less than human. And now?
“Nocturnals are a new part of our culture. They are, truly, a new race of beings. That kind of integration is never easy, but our society comes out the other side of the struggle stronger than it was before. Nocturnals deserve no less protection or consideration under the law than African-Americans or Arab-Americans or Native Americans.
“You may think I’m saying that nocturnals get a free ride. They don’t. We’ve accorded them the same protections as anyone else, but they also have the same responsibilities. Bringing the change in someone without their consent is against the law. We had no precedent for legislation of that crime, so the code was modeled on the laws against rape. And make no mistake; it is a very serious charge. I remind you of this to make the point that this did not happen to Emily Brenner! She was changed of her own free will, as you heard her testify.
“So what do we have? When you boil down all the politics and psychological maneuvering and protestations of lost love? What’s left? Karl Brenner killed Gabriel Moore because Gabriel Moore helped effect a lifestyle change in Emily Brenner. This is not justification for murder. This is motive for murder.
“You must convict Karl Brenner.”
And they did.
I only have a few more minutes to finish writing this before the nameless guards in the blue shirts with the batons return to this conference room to take me away. I want to kill myself. I think I could probably do it with this pen. I could brace it, point up, on the table and bring my head crashing down on the table with enough force to push the tip of the pen through my eye and into my brain. I wish I had the guts to do that. I think I used them all up killing Gabriel Moore.
So, in just a few moments I start a life sentence for murdering a vampire.
I’ve thought it through.
The best thing that could happen would be one of the vampire gangs killing me as soon as I get to the prison. But they wouldn’t kill me quickly. They would toy with me, torture me, for hours, days, weeks. I’ve heard the stories. They’re… creative.
I might fall in with a human gang who would protect me. I’m sure the price for that protection would be high... Very high.
But none of that is going to happen. I know what’s going to happen to me. I’ve known it ever since I was arrested, ever since the two police officers came to the back yard of my house and found me sitting, catatonic, under a tarp in the unfinished extra room, clutching a bloody, shattered two-by-four, next to the cold, dead body of a vampire named Gabriel. They didn’t nod and tell me to wash up, they’d take care of everything. They put me in handcuffs.
I know what’s going to happen to me. I have a life sentence, life without the possibility of parole. That will be a very long sentence after they bring the change.