The lawyer spent all of Saturday morning searching for the weapon’s counterpart.
He finally found one in a dingy variety store four blocks from the scene of the
stabbing. The proprietor had exactly five left in stock; he took them all.
There was a two-hour wait that afternoon before he could see Hagerty
«I have the solution all ready», he said crisply. «You sure this is the
same make of knife?».
Hagerty sprung the large blade. Then he removed a bottle of whole blood
from a cabinet and dipped it inside. Vernon
swallowed in revulsion as Hagerty wiped the blade clean with a soft cloth, and
marked the knife with a pencil.
«Any trace?», he said, offering it for examination.
«Clean as a whistle».
Hagerty brought all five blades to a beaker filled with a murky liquid.
«Mix ’em up good», Hagerty said. «It’s like a magic trick; you shuffle ’em
up, I’ll find the асе».
Vernon scrambled the knives. Then, one by
one, Hagerty dipped them into the solution.
The third one turned the liquid pink. It was the knife that had been
«It works», Vernon
breathed. «It really works».
«The metal is porous. If there were bloodstains on it from years ago,
this test would show it up».
«Thank you», Vernon
said humbly. «You’ve saved my life, Doc».
«Your life?», Hagerty said
entered Benjy’s cell, the boy was reading a pulp magazine (20) with intense
concentration. He seemed detached, disinterested. Vernon understood it; he had seen this
rapture before in the mood of the condemned.
«Listen to me», he said harshly. «Listen good. I’ve got an idea that might
save you, but I have to know the truth».
«I told you everything –».
«There’s a test», the lawyer said. «A test that can determine whether or
not there was ever blood on that knife of yours».
«I propose to make that test in court on Monday. If it’s negative, the
jury will know that you didn’t kill Kenny Tarcher».
«I don’t understand that kind of stuff –».
«I’m not asking you to understand», Vernon said tautly. «If you stabbed that boy,
a solution is going to turn pink and you can kiss your freedom good-by. What’s
more, if you ever cut anybody with
that knife, even yourself, it’ll turn pink. So I want you to tell me now. Was there ever blood on that knife?».
«I told you I didn’t cut him!».
«Yon moron!», Vernon
shouted. «Do you understand my question? Was there ever blood of any kind on that knife?».
«No! It was brand new. I never cut anybody with it».
«You’re sure? Absolutely sure?».
«I told you, didn’t I?».
«This is scientific stuffy, boy, don’t think you can fool a test tube!».
«I said it’s clean!».
Vernon Wedge sighed and stood up.
«Okay, Benjy. We’ll see how clean it is. We’ll give it a bath. And God
help you if you lied to me».
On Monday, Wickers rose to make his final peroration. He was bland-faced,
a picture of confidence. Vernon
looked at the vacant faces of the jurors, waiting for their emotional rubdown
(21). But he wasn’t going to allow it.
He stood up, and addressed Judge Dwight.
«Your Honor, something occurred over the week end which I consider of
paramount importance to this case. I ask the court’s permission to introduce
«Objection», Wickers said calmly. «The defense has had sufficient time
for the introduction of evidence. I suggest this is a delaying tactic».
Vernon looked defeated, but he was only playing
possum (22). Judge Dwight prompted him.
«What sort of evidence, Mr. Wedge?».
«It’s a demonstration, your Honor», he said weakly. «In my opinion, it
will clearly establish my client’s guilt or innocence. But if the court rules –».
«Very well, Mr. Wedge, you may proceed».
undid the clasps of the black box, in front of him. He removed the wide-mouthed
beaker, and then the foil lid that covered it. He brought the murky solution to
the bench that held the trial exhibits.
«And what is this?», Judge Dwight said.
«This, your Honor, is a chemical solution specifically formulated for
the detection of blood».
The courtroom buzzed; on the prosecution’s side of the room, there was a
Vernon faced the jurors.
«Ladies and gentlemen, Exhibit A in this case is the knife which presumably
killed Kenneth Tarcher. This is the knife which was in the possession of
Benjamin Blesker the night of the slaying. Yet not one shred of testimony has
been heard during this trial concerning the vital factor of blood».
He picked up the knife, and sprung the long, shining blade.
«This knife!», he said, waving it in the air. «Look at it carefully. It
has never left the court’s possession since my client’s arrest. Yet this clean,
shiny blade can still tell a story of guilt or innocence. For as every
biochemist knows, there is an infallible test which can determine whether an
object of such porous metal has ever
been stained with even one drop of blood».
He poised the knife over the mouth of the beaker.
«Ladies and gentlemen, I intend to prove once and for all whether I have
been defending a boy falsely accused, or a lying murderer. I intend to dip this
blade in the solution. If it turns pink – you must punish him for his guilt. If
it remains clear – you must do what is just, and set him free».
Slowly, he brought the knife down.
Wickers was on his feet, and Vernon
«Your Honor, objection! Objection!».
«Yes, Mr. Wickers?».
Winkers’ eyes flashed angrily. «Defense counsel is acting improperly.
The police laboratory has already made the standard benzidine test of the
weapon and found no bloodstains on the knife. We admit that the knife has been
«Your Honor», Vernon
said loudly, «the sensitivity of this test far exceeds the benzidine –».
«This performance is irrelevant, immaterial and completely improper!».
Wickers whirled to the jury. «At no time during this trial has the prosecution
denied the absence of blood on Benjamin Blesker’s knife. Any so-called «test»
that corroborates this is completely gratuitous, and is intended as pure
theatrics to mislead and befuddle the jury, I demand this farcical
demonstration be stopped!».
There was a moment’s silence. Vernon
looked up at the judge hopefully, waiting.
Dwight folded his hands.
«Mr. Wedge, I’m afraid you’re not in a position to quality as an expert
in forensic chemistry. And, as Mr. Wickers says, mere corroboration of the
police laboratory report is gratuitous evidence that cannot be properly admitted.
Therefore, the objection is sustained».
«But your Honor –».
«Sustained», Judge Dwight said gravely. «You cannot make the test, Mr.
His summation was the briefest of his career.
«I believe this because of a test I was not permitted to make. This boy
knew that the results of this test might have condemned him, yet he told me to
proceed. No guilty man would have allowed it; no innocent man would have had it
any other way».
The jury was out less than an hour. When they returned, they declared
that Benjamin Blesker was innocent.
Vernon was permitted the use of an
adjoining chamber for a meeting with his client. It wasn’t a victory
celebration. The boy seemed stunned, and the happiness in old man Blesker’s
face looked more like sorrow. When the lawyer entered the room, he stood up
shakily and held out his hand.
«God bless you», he whispered. «Bless you for what you did».
«I didn’t come to be congratulated», Vernon said coldly. «I wanted to see you both
for another reason».
The bailiff entered, and placed the beaker on the desk. When he left, Vernon took the knife out
of his pocket, and put it down beside the beaker. The old man picked it up, and
looked at the weapon as if he had never seen it before.
«Wickers was right», Vernon
said flatly. «What I did out there was theatrics. I didn’t want to make the demonstration;
I was counting on the prosecution halting it».
«You didn’t want to?», Blesker said blankly. «You didn’t want to make
«I could have gotten an expert, a real one, like Doc Hagerty. But I didn’t
want to take the chance; if this stuff had turned red ...». He looked at the
beaker and frowned. «No», he said. «The risk was too great. If Wickers had
played along, I would have been forced to do it. But I figured they would
object, and the jury would be impressed the right way. They were, thank God».
Blesker let out a long sigh.
«But now there’s something we have to do», Vernon said. «Something to satisfy us all».
«What do you mean?».
Vernon looked at the boy. Benjy wouldn’t
meet his eyes.
«I still don’t know the truth», the lawyer said. «I don’t know it, and
neither did you. Only Benjy here knows it».
«You can’t mean that! You said yourself –».
«Never mind what I said out there. There’s only one way we can really
know, Mr. Blesker».
He held out his hand.
«Give me the knife, Mr. Blesker. We’re going to make the test the judge
wouldn’t allow. For our own sakes».
«But why?», the old man cried. «What difference does it make?».
«Because I want to know! Even
if you don’t, Mr. Blesker, I want to know. Give me the knife».
Blesker picked up the knife. He touched its cool blade thoughtfully.
«Of course», he said.
Then, slowly, he drew the blade deliberately across the back of his
hand. The sharp edge bit deep. Blood welled like a crimson river in the cut and
stained his hand, his cuff, his sleeve, the surface of the desk. He looked at
the wound sadly, indifferently, and then handed the dripping weapon to the
«Make your test», he said dreamily. «Make your test now, Mr. Wedge».
And as Vernon
stared at him, he removed a crumpled handkerchief from his pocket and wound it
about his injured hand. Then he took his son’s arm, and they left the room
Henry Slesar, a modern American short story
writer, winner of the Mystery Writers of America Award for 1959.
1. youth worker: a social
welfare worker responsible for work among youngsters from poor families.
2. settlement house: a
community center offering social and educational activities; the services are
usually free and directed at the underprivileged groups of the population.
3. street pack: a street
4. police blotter: a record
of arrests and charges.
5. Manual Trades: Manual Trades
School, a school for
training skilled workers.
6. bum (sl): here a disreputable
or disliked youth or youngster.
7. rumble (sl): a fight or battle, usually
prearranged, between rival teenage street gangs.
8. hood (sl): a hoodlum, gangster.
9. boy scout knife: an
ordinary sort of penknife used by boy scouts in their outdoor activities; the
Boy Scouts is a middle-class-oriented boys’ organization, founded in England
10. horseplay: rough
11. cop a plea (sl): plead guilty to a criminal charge
in order to receive a lighter sentence than if one pleads innocent, is tried,
and found guilty.
12. parole: a release from
prison, given to a prisoner before his sentence has expired, on condition of
future good behaviour; the sentence is not set aside and he remains under the supervision
of a parole board.
13. degree: in law, the word indicates the
seriousness of the crime, thus «murder in the first degree» may serve to
describe such criminal homicide as «murder and non-negligent manslaughter»,
while «murder in the second degree» may stand for «manslaughter by negligence».
14. Adonis: here a very handsome young man; in Greek mythology, a young man loved by
Aphrodite because he was so handsome.
15. boozing (coll): hard-drinking; habitually drunk.
16. jury-smart: wise in the
ways of juries.
17. curtain closer: here the damning admission. Wickers
wrung from the boy that he had the knife in his pocket or maybe even in his
hands at the time of the killing; in fact, this was the last thing the people
present in court heard before the trial was adjourned.
18. head-shrinker (sl): a psychiatrist, especially a
abbreviation for «general practitioner», a practising physician who does not
specialize in any particular field of medicine.
20. pulp magazine (sl): a magazine printed on rough,
inferior paper stock made from wood pulp, usually containing sensational
stories of love, crime, etc.
21. rubdown: literally, massage; here the words that would give direction to emotions, affect the
emotions in a particular way.
22. play possum (coll): act with great caution.
1. Why did Mr. Blesker want Vernon Wedge to take his son’s case?
2. What explained Vernon
Wedge’s reluctance in taking up this particular case?
3. What was the charge brought against Benjy Blesker?
4. How did the lawyer’s first interview with the boy come off?
5. What was Benjy Blesker’s story?
6. Why did the lawyer suggest that Benjy Blesker plead guilty to murder
in the second degree?
7. What did the witnesses for the prosecution have to say at the trial?
8. Why did the lawyer make a second attempt to persuade Benjy to plead
9. What put Vernon Wedge in mind of Doctor Hagerty?
10. How did the lawyer propose to establish his client’s innocence?
11. Why wasn’t Vernon Wedge allowed to make the test in court?
12. What was the verdict of the jury?
13. Why wouldn’t Mr. Blesker allow the test after his son had been
(b) Read through the
story once again and see if you can find facts to prove that:
1. Vernon Wedge was an experienced lawyer.
2. Benjy Blesker made an unfavourable impression on Vernon Wedge.
3. Vernon Wedge did not believe in Benjy’s innocence.
4. Benjy Blesker had knifed Kenneth Tarcher.
5. Benjy Blesker was innocent.
6. Mr. Blesker knew his son was guilty.
7. The main object for both the Prosecuting Attorney and the Defense
Attorney was to win over the jury, not to establish the truth.
8. It had, indeed, been a narrow escape for Benjy Blesker.
(c) Talking points:
1. What do you believe turned the scale and made the jury pass the
verdict of Not Guilty?
2. Like father, like son. Give
examples from the story to illustrate the proverb.
3. Explain the title of the story.
4. Say whether you think that trial by jury can ensure a fairer
administration of justice.
5. The terror of teenage street gangs as described in the story.
6. Juvenile delinquency is an explosive and complex problem in