THE MERCY OF KINGS

by Jesse Ball


There he was, handcuffed, sitting in a chair in an interview room in my goddamned precinct. John Wilson Matthews, fabled billionaire, wearing the loveliest yellow suit you ever saw.  Hands actually still bloody from clubbing someone to death.  Who could believe it?  He had been brought in 10 minutes ago by some of the boys, and had been giggling the whole time.

—Mr. Matthews, I said, I’d like you to fill out this statement.

His lawyer, a man named Bodins, sat at his side.  The sort who always seems to be on the verge of smoking a cigar.

Matthews laughed.  He looked at Bodins who also began to laugh.  What pals these guys were.

I looked at my partner in disbelief.  He shook his head.

—You are in a very serious predicament, I said.  I would advise you to cooperate.  You are accused of murdering two young women with a hammer.

Matthews laughed again.  He whispered something in Bodins’ ear.

Bodins drew himself up.

—Mr. Matthews would like to extend an offer to both of you.  Although this will perhaps sound strange or unfamiliar, I advise you to keep an open mind.  Mr. Matthews is, as you may know, in control of major industries in several countries.  If you agree to help him leave this station house, he will move your families to one of the countries where he has great influence.  There you will live in relative wealth and ease.  You will never have to work again.  All this will take place immediately upon our leaving this station house.  It will be a reward for your service.  From this point forward, you are no longer a member of the police force.  You will immediately be in the employ of John Wilson Matthews, and gain all the privileges of that association.

—You realize this conversation is being recorded, I said.  What kind of…

Bodins turned to the camera.

—This offer stands for everyone who is watching the camera as well.  Help us to remove John Wilson Matthews from police custody and you will be rewarded.  If you are watching this, come to the room where he is being held, the fifth interview room on the second floor of Precinct 77.  Anyone who does not cooperate in the escape of John Wilson Matthews is to be restrained or removed.

—Are you out of your mind?

—It is a good offer, a better one than you probably have ever had.  Five minutes of work to assure your wife and child everything they could ever want.

Matthews winked at Bodins.  Bodins chuckled.

—At least take these handcuffs off him.

—Well.

—Let’s start with this, if you take those handcuffs off, I will give you one million dollars.

—No chance!

I could hear my partner unhooking his key ring from his belt.

A knocking came at the door.

—You see, said Bodins.  They are here already.

—What?

The door burst open.  Two officers came in, men I knew.

Bodins stood up.

—Handcuff key, he said.

My partner handed him the key.

—Thank you, said Bodins, removing Matthews’ handcuffs.

—Take off your uniform, he told one of the officers.  Matthews will use it to leave the station.

The officer began to remove his uniform.

I drew my service pistol and aimed it at Matthews.

—Easy, Jack, easy.

A hand was on my shoulder.  It was the on-duty captain.

I felt relief — someone to help me.

Suddenly he’d grabbed my hand and bent it back.  My gun was on the floor.  Two officers had me pinned down.

I could see from out of the corner of my eye as Matthews put on the police uniform.  He was smiling from ear to ear.

Meanwhile, Bodins was writing on a pad of paper the names of all the policemen.

—Forget your things, he was saying.  Just bring your families to this address in 3 hours time.  Yes, yes, this was an unfortunate situation.  Somehow people became confused about who was who, but it’s all worked out now.  It’s all worked out now.

Matthews and Bodins laughed and laughed and the officers began to laugh too.  Yes, they were all laughing like old friends.  I was laughing too, face down on the floor, but laughing, I don’t know why.

And then a marvelous thing happened.

—Oh, I forgive you, said John Wilson Matthews, coming over.  I forgive you.  Let him come along, Bodins.  Let Jack come along!  Put his name on the list!

He drew me up to my feet and clapped me on the shoulders.  The others all welcomed me back, clapping me on the shoulders too.

Oh, he looked so fine in that police uniform.  Just like a proper officer.  Why hadn’t I seen it immediately?

How grateful I felt!  My heart opened like a door.

—Sir, I said.  I’m your man.

He took my arm, and we went off all together like a hunting party on some beautiful pastoral morning.


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