Suffer the Children
synopsis: SinCorp’s CEO, Henry Holmes’ biggest fear is the Class Action Lawsuit will expose skeletons in his company’s closet, creating a PR nightmare and a drop in stock prices. But it’s the little things that come back to haunt him, small injustices that won’t stay buried.
“A belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary;
men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.” –Joseph Conrad
“Fear has many eyes and can see things underground.” –Miguel de Cervantes
The Plaintiff’s attorney continued, “SinCorp poisons our air and water. Now our children.”
Drama Queen, Henry wrote on the legal pad between himself and his lead counsel. His lawyer nodded no differently than if Henry’s note included evidence vital to their defense. SinCorp’s lawyers were nondescript men in nondescript suits which hid six-figure legal minds. The attorney representing the class action suit against SinCorp was passionate but pro bono. In court, as in life, Henry knew you got what you paid for.
“They hide behind subcontractors using cheap, unsafe materials to make cheap, unsafe toys.” The attorney held up a purple stuffed toy. The cartoonish llama was SinCorp’s mascot and the logo for their line of children’s goods.
Henry H. Holmes, CEO of SinCorp and signatory on the paychecks of the cadre of lawyers and minor executives that sat beside him, straightened his $700 tie; the executive equivalent of rolling his eyes.
“SinCorp has no concern for anything but profit. Not their customers. Not the community. For the children,” the attorney set the toy llama beside a row of photographs, “make SinCorp pay.”
Overdramatic but effective. It would have played well to the TV cameras. Fortunately, media was barred as prejudicial and potentially damaging to SinCorp’s stockholders. Only the jury would see. Henry had seen to the jury. That was his job: To win. Whatever the cost.
The Press waited outside for sound-bites. Not in here with the Oscar-performance pro bono guy and his damning wall of photos of little victims. Just morbid, those dead little faces staring at him every day. He wouldn’t flinch, Henry wouldn’t give his opponent the satisfaction. Kids die every day. Bad things happened to good people. Boo hoo. So what?
Sound-bites were why Henry was here. Like Llucy Llama, Henry was a mascot. The symbol of SinCorp’s success –and its Americanism, despite increasing investment in third world labor and foreign currency markets. When it was over, Henry would read what his over-paid speech-writer had written while wearing the tie his over-paid image consultant had picked. If everyone did their job right, confidence in the company and stock prices would rise. Crisis averted and many overpaid necks, including his own, saved from the chopping block.
Henry’s pocket vibrated. Break, he wrote. His lawyer obediently made the appropriate motion to the judge and Henry stepped into the hall to check his messages. Sender unknown. Just a jpeg of a purple Llucy Llama doll, identical to the one held up in court. Weird. If it was a joke someone left off the punchline.
Henry smiled at the jurors as he re-entered. No one met his eyes. Not too proud to cash my checks though. Only the dead smiled back at him.
On the legal pad someone had written: Judgment. Henry wrote a question mark beside it. His lawyer shrugged. Out of boredom, Henry made words out of JUDGMENT. Jug, dent, due, gent, judge.
SinCorp’s lawyers began their summation. “My colleague suggests playing with this toy is akin to wrapping your child in a smallpox-infected blanket. He should have been a novelist, their case is complete fiction.”
Henry looked at his blackberry again. No background. No part of the person holding the toy that might give away their race, gender or age. The sender’s number wasn’t blocked, just unfamiliar. He shouldn’t have his phone out in court but Henry couldn’t resist. “Who’s this?” he texted.
Immediate response. A closer close-up. Just Llucy’s face: eyes, grotesque nose, mouth.
Henry looked up. SinCorp’s lawyer had picked up one of the photographs.
“Her name was Sofia,” he repeated. “Her death is a tragedy. When a tragedy happens you want to make sense of it. You want someone to blame, to punish.”
He held the photo out. Dressed for her first communion, the girl looked like a doll or a tiny bride.
Creepy little bitch, Henry thought.
“The men sitting over there aren’t devils. They’re fathers themselves. Their children play with this same toy. Thousands of happy, healthy children play with Llucy Llama every day. Pinning blame on SinCorp won’t bring Sofia back. It only encourages unscrupulous lawyers who take advantage of grieving families.
During the lunch recess, Henry showed the jpegs to a junior colleague.
“Do you think it could be their attorney?”
“A plaintiff? Or a protester?”
The courthouse steps had been strewn with the usual protesters hoping for a glimpse of themselves on the evening news.
“Whoever. It’s childish and harmless.”
Henry paid attention to protesters as he climbed the courthouse steps. FREE TRADE ISN’T FAIR TRADE. The sign touting that slogan was bent, dirty, and had clearly been to more than one demonstration. Way to recycle, you dirty hippie. Now get a job. Another poster caught Henry’s eye. It was the girl in the communion dress. The words THE COST OF DOING BUSINESS scrawled over her face in red ink. No one was holding this sign. It was leaned against a pillar, surrounded by candles and toys; a makeshift shrine. No purple llamas, thank god. Someone relit candles that had sputtered out. An old woman stood, click-clacking rosary beads with both hands. She saw Henry looking.
“You!” she said.
A lawyer stepped forward protectively.
“I’m Sofia’s grandmother.”
Henry could think of nothing to say.
“She was all I had.”
“I’m so sorry,” the lawyer offered. “My sincere condol-”
She spat on Henry’s shoes. Her angry muttering followed as they hurried inside.
“Final summation today,” the lawyer said cheerfully. “Then verdict. Press conference. Champagne.”
“Don’t open the bottle without me,” Henry said. “I’ll just be a minute.”
In the men’s room, Henry wiped phlegm off his Italian shoes with a wet paper towel. A man entered, stepped up to the urinal. It was Lead Counsel for the Plaintiffs. Henry moved away. His shoes didn’t need further abuse.
“Where’s your dolly?” Henry asked.
The lawyer laughed. “I’m done with it if you want your little death doll back.”
“Don’t mess with me,” Henry warned.
“Mr. Holmes, my clients would like to settle.”
“Too late,” Henry said. “Tell them: They. Can. Get. Fucked.”
Henry patted his shoe dry. His pocket buzzed. Two more pictures. One mad eye. The other out of focus, a red blur. Llucy Llama’s mouth. She’s getting closer.
“I’ve got you now.”
Henry dashed into the hall, hit call back on his phone. He could hear the distant ringtone, an electronic melody retreating. Henry ran after the sound. He rounded a corner. At the end of the hall, a door was closing. Henry followed. The room was empty. A stack of chairs. An eraser board. Something small and purple, half in shadows. He picked up the Llucy Llama, strangling the toy in his furious grip. The room was darker than when he first entered. The door he had come in was lost in shadow. The walls too. He wasn’t alone in here. Henry threw the toy down and held his fists in front of him like a boxer.
“Come out, coward. Get what you deserve.”
A small voice echoed, “What you deserve.”
Sofia had been buried in her communion dress. Otherwise, Henry wouldn’t have been able to recognize her. Her face was sliding across her skull. The muscle held tight like lichen to rock, but the skin now distended by bloating gases was torn and hung in folds like tattered linen. The flesh was rotting. With every move she took toward him, the meat of her quivered like the yolk of an undercooked egg. Henry knew she was going to touch him. If she didn’t kill him outright, he would go mad from it.
She kept coming. She wasn’t alone. More children poured in from the shadows. He smelled them first. Then he could hear the rustling of their burial clothes as they walked or crawled toward him. So many children. Illegal child-laborers. Little employees and customers –in various states of decay.
“I’ll give you anything.”
A skeletal finger pierced his expensive shoe as if it were made of wax-paper. Then his foot.
“Anything,” Henry sobbed.
Henry had nothing to bargain with. They had what they’d come for. What Sofia’s grandmother had muttered to her beads, what was promised by the word carved in marble over the courthouse doors. Justicia. Iustitia. Justice.
Llucy Llama lay where Henry dropped it, smiling viciously.