The second of two posts about the time I was a teenage prime suspect, until I slid extravagantly off the Wanted List in my own tears and sighs… Read Part One here.
In any event, I now understood why the police felt compelled to question me. My shock and profound hurt were not about whether they had reasonable and probable grounds; it was about injustice, that my former colleagues had dropped me in the soup, with no forethought, compunction, or sense of irony. Clearly they had felt nothing for me, knew nothing about me, and didn’t want to know.
So, without consulting Herbie, who throughout the whole business remained blasé (yes, possibly because I was more than sufficiently outraged for the both of us), I offered to take a polygraph. I pretty well dared the detectives to administer it, which seemed to surprise them, but they accepted the offer. Cousin Herb drove me back to Littleton, where the detective introduced us to the polygraph examiner. As Herb and the detectives watched from behind a one-way mirror, the examiner chatted with me for what seemed a couple of hours but probably was considerably less, mostly about the polygraph process. And as a pedant even in my youth, I had to admit that I found his monologue fascinating, such that I had just about forgotten that I was accused of what was possibly a felony. Apparently that was the reaction the examiner had intended, and it was why Herb congratulated him when it was all over, for a job well done. And yes, as my lawyer made nice with the authorities like this I experienced the hot flush of what I have come to recognize as the client’s “What the hell?” moment, as when your lawyer calls opposing counsel “my learned friend” or chats in a friendly way with the court clerk or the woman prosecuting you. What the hell?
Fair enough, though, the examiner actually had said to me as he unhitched me from the equipment, “There’s no way you did this.” But before he had even put the cuffs, straps, and electrode clips on me (perhaps aware that they made me think of torture), he explained that with the more hardened, I-couldn’t-give-a-crap types, he had to be aggressive and accusatory, get them revved up to establish a baseline. With the hysterical types like me (he didn’t say it that way, of course), he had to try to calm “the subject” down; otherwise, the graph would be all melodrama, even for questions such as, “Your name is Jeffrey Miller?”
It turned out that, upon answering questions even of this utterly innocuous nature, my chest expanded and then deflated so extravagantly under the measuring strap, he could tell I was “unusually conscientious.” The extravagance was especially convincing, apparently, on more contorted questions such as “I was Jeffrey Miller the day before yesterday and I still am today.” “The machine says that you thought carefully before answering those baseline questions,” the examiner said, “to be accurate even on things you knew were not in question.” Apparently – absurdly – I thought just as hard about whether I had ever taken a typewriter belonging to a daycare centre. I remain that sort of nebbish, albeit a nebbish now with a licence “to practise before Her Majesty’s courts.” Reflexively, I am prone to think the worst of myself, worse even than others might, no matter the evidence.
It might have been transference or the Stockholm syndrome, and it certainly was unmitigated relief, but by the time we were done I felt that the examiner and I could have been best friends. I think I probably wanted to hug him, which is another reason I suppose I can forgive Herb his praise of the guy. The examiner remained politely non-committal. I gushed an apology to the detectives for my earlier outburst, and, to their credit, they actually seemed abashed (never mind their having arranged the polygraph exam). Maybe that was the spillover of my transference, but I imagine they got yelled at a lot, albeit not generally in the way I had done, in words of two, three, or more syllables. Still, as my first experience with a lawyer reached its denouement, Herb seemed a little chummier with the cops than I thought he had to be. But of course, at the time, all I understood was my own hurt, never mind what I learned later to call exculpation. I did not see that it was in the interest of Herb’s future clientele, and possibly good spade-work for future advocacy not to mention politics, that he develop good relations with the prosecution.
And even though whatever injustice existed was mild compared to the graver injustices of the world, I felt the hurt of this for decades. I haven’t been able to write about these events until now, forty-five years after they happened, never mind that I have mined and retailed just about every other experience of my life in my long career as a writer, most often on legal subjects. But like probably every painful event, they have sharpened my acquaintance with justice as against law, a distinction that has permeated my work, but also my life and most adamantine principles.