The Courier Ch. 04bycaligula97236©
Chapter 4 -- The Arraignment Committee
Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna was determined to escort her client downtown as quickly as possible, so Maria Elena was spared the hassle of having to take the older couple's suitcases off the trolley. Kim enlisted a male criminal and ordered him to help out instead. Ordinarily he would have knelt while receiving her command, but in the crowded trolley kneeling was impractical and she excused him from doing so. He bowed his head and replied "Doc-doc, Advodkátna" as he positioned himself to take Maria Elena's place.
Apart from her two lovers, of whom she had only caught fleeting glimpses in a darkened room, Maria Elena had never seen a naked man, and certainly had never seen a naked man in broad daylight in a public location. She stared at his body with fascination. When he tried to return her glance, Kim snapped at him in Danubian and he immediately turned away. Maria Elena studied his backside, which was covered with the fading marks of a whipping that he must have endured about a week before. She shuddered, wondering about those marks and what the young man had done to be so severely punished.
The trolley was an express trolley, only stopping at transfer stations and bypassing everything else as it made its way downtown. There were only four transfer stations along the route, and as airport passengers got off, they were replaced by other commuters going to the government district in the center of the city. As the trolley approached the third transfer station, the older couple got off, along with Maria Elena's fellow criminal and their oversized luggage. She was very grateful she did not have to do anything more with those suitcases, because she was starting to feel sick again.
The trolley passed through an opening in an enormous ancient stone wall and entered into a district of elaborate Baroque-style buildings. A few blocks later it stopped behind a large Gothic cathedral. Cecilia tapped Maria Elena on the shoulder to let her know that was where they needed to get off. She explained in Spanish:
"The Spokeswoman needs to take you to her office to finish your in-processing, and then we need to figure out what we're gonna do with you."
"Do with me?"
"Yes. Under Danubian law you're supposed to be locked up until you go on trial, but I think Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna is gonna try to get a medical waiver for you so you don't have to go to court tomorrow. If that happens, you won't have to be locked up and you won't go before the judge until next week."
Cecilia pointed at a large compound-style building that was partly visible up the street in front of the cathedral.
"That's the Central Police Station, where Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna has her office. That's where we're going right now."
The three women walked alongside the church as they approached the police station. Maria Elena instinctively crossed herself when they passed the entrance. Cecilia commented:
"Stop that. They don't do that here. Their church is different from what you're used to."
Maria Elena looked at the front door of the cathedral and noticed a Priest wearing a simple black robe and a tall black hat. Alongside him were two women wearing black dresses. However, what shocked her was the sight of a group of naked men and women kneeling in front of the three Clergy members. The naked worshippers knelt forward in unison, touching their foreheads to the ground.
"Public Penance. They're big on that here. That's what those people are doing."
"And...they...they do it naked?"
"Yes. I'll explain later, but in this country if you're doing Public Penance, you do it naked."
Maria Elena shuddered at the idea of appearing naked in front of a Priest because, of course, in the Western Hemisphere something like that was unheard of.
The prisoner and her escort walked along a large plaza as they approached the main entrance of the Central Police Station. Although it was late afternoon, the doorway was full of people going in and out: cops, lawyers, civilians, and a few naked criminals.
As they ascended the steps, Maria Elena was greeted by a terrifying sight. Three naked criminals were descending, two very young men and a woman who looked about 30. The youngest male in the group looked barely 18. He was walking supported by his two companions, his face contorted with agony and tears flowing down his face. When Maria Elena and her escort passed the naked trio she saw why. The young man's bottom and upper thighs were covered with welts; dark painful-looking lines that criss-crossed his backside and extended to his shoulders. The Colombian was horrified. Then she noticed something that frightened her even more; that her two companions seemed not to think there was anything unusual about what had happened to that young criminal. Was that normal?
"Cecilia...I...that young guy...what...?"
"Probably he just received one of his scheduled switchings."
"Yes...I'd imagine it was part of his sentence."
A very sick feeling swept over Maria Elena. Scheduled switchings...part of his sentence... She turned back to look again at the punished criminal and his two companions. Then she noticed the unchanged expressions of Kim and Cecilia. She had one more question to ask, but couldn't bring herself to voice it. She didn't dare, because she feared that she already knew the answer...
The three women passed through the main door of the Central Police Station into a huge entryway topped by a dome. Elegant but very weathered marble staircases led off the ground floor to offices on the second and third stories. Spokeswoman Kimberly Lee-Dolkivna's office was located on the third floor; one of 20 such offices on a back wall opposite the main entrance. The hallway outside was full of people: naked criminals moving about alone or in pairs, Spokespersons walking with their assistants, mail couriers delivering legal documents, and cops escorting a couple of recently-arrested prisoners. However strange and frightening the scene may have been to Maria Elena, it was obvious there was nothing unusual going on as far as the Danubians were concerned.
As soon as Kim, Cecilia, and Maria Elena entered the Spokeswoman's office, a tall, attractive, naked pregnant woman immediately got up out of her chair and sank to her knees. She knelt forward, touching her forehead to the ground, and addressed her mentor in English:
"Good Afternoon, Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna. I am pleased you have returned safely."
"Good Afternoon, Criminal # 98946. Please rise, so we may fulfill our paths in life."
Criminal # 98946 immediately stood up. Cecilia introduced her to Maria Elena, explaining that she was yet another fellow US Citizen and the Spokeswoman's legal assistant. The pregnant criminal quietly opened a door leading into a back office.
The back room was dominated by a large desk. In front of the desk were two small chairs and an end-table. The naked pregnant woman entered with a tray of food and placed it on the table. She then spread a small towel on one of the chairs. Cecilia pointed at the covered chair and addressed Maria Elena in Spanish:
"Stand over there until she gives you permission to sit down. Then you will be permitted to eat."
Cecilia took a position next to the other chair, quietly standing at attention. Although she was Kim's friend, she fully understood that for the moment she was working under official capacity and was very careful to observe proper protocol. Kim took her position at her desk.
"Please sit down, Cecilia Sanchez and Prisoner # 101025."
Once seated, Kim told Cecilia to tell Maria Elena to eat. Maria Elena did not feel hungry, instead she felt nauseated. However, she forced herself to sip some blackberry punch and took a bite out of a roll. That first morsel of food, the first thing she had in her stomach other than cocaine for nearly three days, re-awakened her appetite. She ate and drank ravenously, completely emptying what was on the tray. Her stomach still hurt, but now she realized that part of her discomfort simply was the result of being hungry.
Kim moved on to Maria Elena's immediate legal situation and the circumstances of her arrest. She already knew the details from the Inspector's point of view, but now wanted to hear the same details from her client's perspective. She also wanted to gage how honest her client was in telling her story and how well she remembered what had happened at the airport. She called in her assistant to take notes, before asking the prisoner for a detailed re-telling of her smuggling venture, the diverted flight, her arrest, and her interrogation. Maria Elena spoke honestly, which was good news for Kim, but her story differed very little from the Inspector's report. She had committed two very serious crimes and several other lesser offenses. There would be very little Kim could do in the courtroom to help her because under Danubian law there were no mitigating factors. There was no question Maria Elena was guilty of both drug trafficking and perjury...no doubt whatsoever. There was no doubt that she would be spending most of the rest of her life, if not all of it, wearing a collar and serving the Danubian government as a convicted criminal.
Once her client finished talking, the Spokeswoman had to break the bad news:
"I hate to tell you this, but you might as well know right away. What you did in the interrogation room was commit perjury. That's a 20-year offense. From the way you're describing what happened, I'm not going to be able to get that reduced, especially if it's recorded."
Maria Elena went white when she heard Cecilia's translation.
"That's just for the perjury. You're getting at least five more on the possession charge, probably more than that. And I'm pretty sure they're going to go for trafficking, which is indeed what you were doing."
The prisoner was left speechless. Kim continued, convinced that it was important that her client knew how bad her legal situation was from the outset. She would go to trial fully aware of what to expect.
"Trafficking at your level carries a 20-year sentence. That's on top of 20 years for perjury, and at least five for possession. In Danubia there's no such thing as serving time concurrently, so you'll be wearing a collar for 45 years, minimum. And I can tell you that you face certain conviction, because there is no way I can contest the evidence the Inspector has against you. I can't refute what he has on that videotape."
Cecilia translated as Kim watched the Colombian's expression become increasingly anguished.
"But Spokeswoman...I didn't want to bring any cocaine here. I only came to Danubia because my flight got diverted. I was going to Germany..."
"The fact remains that you did bring cocaine into this country. Why that happened doesn't matter, as far as the government is concerned. All that matters is the fact you entered Danubia with a kilo of cocaine in your stomach, and the fact you repeatedly lied about what you were doing. I can't change any of that. I can't change what you did. All I can do is help you come to terms with what happened and help you begin your new life here in Danubia."
Kim paused to allow Cecilia to translate and continued: "Your old life in Colombia is gone. The only life you have left to live is the one you will lead as a criminal in Danubia."
Maria Elena sat quietly for several minutes, as tears rolled down her cheeks. Finally she managed to respond:
"Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna...I wasn't planning to go back to Colombia anyway...I wanted to go to Spain, and start a new life there. That was my plan...to get out of Colombia and start over in Spain. The money they were going to pay me was going to be what I lived off of until I got a job."
Maria Elena sat silent while Cecilia translated. She continued:
"After what I did at home, I was ashamed to face any of my family...so I was just going to leave. Go as far away from Pereira as I could."
"Well, if you think about it, the Creator gave you what you wanted. Right now you are about as far from Colombia as you can get, and I can tell you there's a very good chance you'll never see it again."
Maria Elena didn't know how to respond. Yes, her dream had always been to get out of Colombia, but this was not how she wanted to do it. To listen to the Spokeswoman, her departure from her home turned out to be much more final than she ever could have anticipated.
The Spokeswoman stood up and ordered her client to stand up as well.
"Turn around and stand still."
Maria Elena complied, allowing her mentor to study her backside. Her bottom still was badly bruised from the cruel paddling and two painful switch marks crossed her shoulders. Kim also was worried about the condition of her client's intestines and her over-all mental health. There was no question that Prisoner # 101025 was not ready to go to court, so arranging a delayed trial was the next issue she needed to address.
Kim called the arraignment committee to submit the request for a delay. The response was that Prisoner # 101025 would have to be arraigned that afternoon, and it would be up to the committee to determine when she should go to trial, not her Spokeswoman.
Four women, two of them dressed in fine linen, and the other two collared and naked, descended three flights of stairs and entered a large room where Maria Elena would be arraigned. Kim's legal assistant accompanied the Spokeswoman, carrying Prisoner # 101025's case file. The fact there was another naked member of the group made the situation slightly less daunting for Kim's newest client.
Cecilia whispered in Spanish: "The arraignment committee has had the same members forever...I think every criminal in Danube City has gone before those three for arraignment."
Kim and her party entered a large room dominated by a table with three very stern-looking officials seated behind it. There were two men who looked about 60 years old, and a woman who appeared to be in her 70's. Kim saluted the committee, while Cecilia stood at attention and Criminal # 98946 knelt, placing her forehead on the ground. Following her fellow criminal's lead, Maria Elena reluctantly knelt as well. She stayed in that position until she heard Cecilia's voice:
"OK, Maria Elena. You need to stand up and present yourself. What you need to do is stand on that small rug with your legs spread and your hands clasped behind your head. They call that 'the prisoner's stance'. Unless they tell you to move, you have to stay like that. Whenever any of them speaks, you need to look straight at them. And do NOT say anything unless you are asked a question. I'll translate and tell you what to do."
Prisoner # 101025 did as she was told. With every bit of willpower she possessed, she managed to spread her legs and put her hands behind her head. She desperately wanted to cover herself, to flee, to escape from her latest humiliation; but she knew that escape was hopeless. Even if she could somehow get past the cops standing at the door and somehow get out of the Central Police Station, she would be easy enough to catch because of her collar. It was at that moment she realized that she was every bit as trapped as if she were sitting in a high security jail cell. There was no escape, and there would never be an escape.
The man sitting in the middle spoke to Cecilia in Danubian, who in turn translated for the prisoner:
"He wants to know if you understand the charges against you. 'Doc' means 'yes' and 'negat' means 'no'. You need to answer in Danubian."
Maria Elena responded in Danubian: "Doc."
"He wants you to repeat the charges. You can tell me in Spanish and I'll translate."
"Drug trafficking, perjury, and possession of cocaine."
When Cecilia translated, the man spoke to her for a minute, every so often casting an angry look at the prisoner. Kim tightened her lips, but said nothing. Cecilia looked at Kim, who nodded for her to translate:
"There's another charge they're gonna add: violating the sanctity of your body. That's another 10 years."
The prisoner gasped with despair. Cecilia explained:
"The Danubian Church makes a big deal out of stuff like this. According to their religion, the body is sacred, because it is a gift to your soul from the Creator. You can't do anything to abuse or mutilate your body. In your case you used your body as a place to store cocaine, and you insulted the Creator when you did that. So, you're gonna have to be punished for it."
"But...I'm not from this country. It's not my religion...what they think...It's not what I believe..."
Cecilia thought for a moment before posing a question:
"Fair enough. But do you think God is happy with what you did with your body?"
"No...I suppose not."
"Well, the Creator isn't either. So you have to be punished for it. That's their logic. Doesn't matter that you're a foreigner. Doesn't matter that you're Catholic. What matters is that you dishonored your body."
The next concern was making sure Prisoner # 101025 understood the charges and the sentence each one would bring. Cecilia repeated the arraignment committee's declaration that drug trafficking and perjury carried 20 years each, possession 5 years, and the body abuse charge 10 years. Maria Elena did the math in her head. She was facing 55 years. She would not be released until she was 74 years old. Essentially she was facing a life sentence. However, the next item that Cecilia translated terrified her even more.
"Apart from the time wearing your collar, the committee is gonna recommend that you get the maximum sentence for perjury, which is a switching every three months. The trafficking charge is gonna get you a switching every four months. Since you'll be 59 years old when the perjury and trafficking sentences end, they'll wave the switchings on the other two charges."
"Remember that young guy on the steps?"
"He was switched. If the committee gets their way during your sentencing, that's what's gonna happen to you every three months, the same as what happened to that criminal on the stairs."
Maria Elena gasped and started shaking badly.
"Be quiet! Remember what I told you. Don't argue with the committee members or they'll also charge you with insurrection. Now, it's not gonna be that bad, because you won't get the maximum sentence as far as the switchings are concerned; it'll be less. That'll be worked out in you trial; Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna's gonna try to get the total number reduced. Usually the Inspector helps her out when the client has cooperated, which you did."
Cecilia paused, contemplating her companion's terrified expression.
"By the way, if there's anything else you can remember about your drug group, now's the time to come clean about it, because it would help you at trial."
Before Maria Elena had a chance to respond, the committee chairman addressed her again. Cecilia translated:
"He wants you to turn around and present your butt. They're gonna to decide whether or not to postpone your trial."
As much as she hated what was happening to her, Maria Elena had absolutely no desire to go on trial any sooner than was necessary. She turned around, showing the committee her badly bruised bottom and the two painful switch marks on her back. The committee members talked among themselves and finally addressed Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna. She stood at attention while being spoken to, but as soon as the committee chairman finished talking, her expression relaxed and she saluted. Cecilia told Maria Elena to face the committee and resume the prisoner's stance. She explained what had just happened:
"OK, you're in luck. They're gonna delay your trial for two weeks...give you a chance to recover. Everything else will be the same...for example you're gonna have to get a job within three days and all the rules of behavior for a criminal will apply to you."