Tis a Gift

Clarence Bariss needs to find clemency, for acts he did, and didn't do.

Tis a Gift
by Angela Rasch

“Mr. Bariss, you have been found guilty of a pattern of most egregious activities that extended over two decades -- resulting in severe damage to people who placed their trust in you. Before I sentence you, do you have anything to say for yourself?”

Clarence Bariss had been preparing for this moment for months. The evidence against him had been piled on by the U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors in a way that couldn’t be denied. The jury had taken less than a day to deliberate before bringing back a guilty verdict on all counts.

He stood cursing his cheap haircut and off-the-rack suit — a counselor ordered costume meant to persuade the judge and jury that Clarence Bariss was one of them.

His back stiffened as he recalled the polling of the jury a month earlier.

Securities fraud.

Guilty!

Investment advisor fraud.

Guilty!

Mail fraud.

Guilty!

Wire fraud.

Guilty!

Money Laundering.

Guilty!

Perjury.

Guilty!

Theft from an employee benefit plan.

Guilty!

It had been months since Clarence had felt anything, maybe years. He had dealt with the immense pressure of staying one jump ahead of the world by simply not thinking about it. As the scope of his crimes multiplied he thought about less and less, until it was too painful to think about. . .anything.

“Mr. Bariss?” the judge asked impatiently.

Clarence hadn’t testified in his defense. His lawyers had said it was futile and would simply anger the judge. Everyone assumed Clarence couldn’t keep his infamous massive ego in check. Perhaps they were right. I’ve never been able to control myself, ergo this horrible jam I’m in. He chuckled, which was not missed by anyone in the court.

His lawyer poked him sharply on the thigh.

He did that in such a way so that the judge and members of the press could see him. Even my own attorney hates me and wants to put distance between us so he isn’t painted with the same God-awful brush that I’ve been. I’m going to enjoy the next few minutes — if only to see his slacked-jaw face.

Clarence stood and much to his surprise felt his knees betray him. He placed both hands on the table in front of him to keep from toppling. “Your honor.” My God -- my voice is quaking. My attorney has spent weeks and a thousand billable hours scripting a lengthy plea for mercy, and it will never be heard. . .if I can find it in me to do what has to be done.

He stared at his lawyer. I hate that stupid bastard. I hate his white-on-white shirts, his over-sized cufflinks, and the ineffective mouthwash he uses during every break. I’m screwed. For once in my life I’m going to tell a story that gets me what I want.

“Your honor. It’s horrible being a damned liar.” He stopped and was surprised when he felt an unfamiliar wetness on his cheek. A tear! I’ve got to go with it. If I believe, the judge will believe. He gathered himself, struggling to say words he had never before spoken. Suddenly it all clicked for him.

I can’t even remember the last time I cried. Hell, when I was a kid I cried every night to finally get to sleep. Those bastards never let up on me. Clara this and Clara that. He shook involuntarily. It’s been years since I gave those prick kids in the neighborhood even a thought.

“I haven’t had an easy life and now when I need to tell you. . .tell someone. . .explain why in God’s name I did all this to so many people I loved. . .I’ve made it so no one will ever believe me.” He stopped again, and then shook his head.

After twenty seconds or so the judge obviously felt the glare of the TV cameras that had crowded his court to see the great Clarence Bariss brought to his knees. A judge can order his court closed, but he hadn’t. “Mr. Bariss. . .we need to move this along. Are you finished?”

“No, sir.” Clarence felt his legs grow stronger, and then stood erect.

“Just follow our plan,” his mouthpiece whispered, loud enough so that the evening news would quote him accurately. He smiled unctuously in seven or eight directions at once.

“Shut the hell up,” Clarence said quietly, but it rang in every corner of the oak-paneled room he had been brought to in manacles every day for months, while watching his life criticized in accurate, but very hurtful terms.

“What did you say, Mr. Bariss?” the judge demanded. “I will have order, and that includes you.”

I’m going to prison for life. He can tack on twenty years for contempt, but it’s meaningless. “I just told my attorney to shut the hell up, your honor.”

“I envy you, Mr. Bariss,” the judge said in a rare moment of levity. “Had I been able to say that to your attorney, we all could have wrapped this up weeks ago. Do you have a statement you wish to make?”

He slowly nodded. “I’ve got a great statement that my attorney wants me to make, but I don’t have the stomach for more lies.”

“Your honor!” His attorney jumped to his feet. “I need a ten-minute recess to speak with my client.”

“Obviously,” the judge said, clearly wishing to be someplace else.

“No,” Clarence said quietly. Seize the moment. “No. There’s a lot of people I’ve hurt who want to know one thing. They want to know why. Why’d I do it? They deserve at least that. Don’t you think so judge?”

“Your honor. . . .” Clarence’s attorney sounded even more frantic. “Five minutes. All I need is five minutes with my client.”

“This is a sentencing,” the judge intoned. “My guidelines give me great latitude. I have little to fear from a motion to appeal based on improper procedures. I’m going to deny your request and ask Mr. Bariss to ignore anything you have to say for the next few minutes while he completes his statement.”

“Your honor, I. . . .” Clarence’s attorney pounded the table, his jewelry leaving visible marks.

My attorney’s pinky ring cost the equivalent of his fees for two depositions.

The judge did a little pounding of his own with his gavel. “You’re very close to earning a slice of contempt. Sit down and be extremely quiet. If I hear so much as a peep I will instruct the bailiff to gag you.” He looked sternly at Clarence. “Please. . . .”

Concentrate on what you really want. Despite his circumstances Clarence smiled. For once. . .the whole. . .truth. . .about my secret -- and nothing but the truth. “It all started for me when I was four years old. I was playing with my older sister’s tea set and dolls when my dad walked in. He asked me what the hell was going on. He accused me of being a little girl . . . and told me if I didn’t shape up and be a man, he’d tan my hide.”

“Mr. Bariss,” the judge warned, “if this is some wild story you and your attorney have concocted I must warn you to save your breath.”

“No, sir,” Clarence said plainly.

His attorney shook his head broadly from side-to-side and shrugged his shoulders.

The judge continued. “Do you expect this court to believe you remember verbatim conversations you had going way back to when you were four?”

Clarence bit his lip before he spoke. “If you asked me to tell you what happened on any other day before I was six and went to my first day of school, I couldn’t tell you. . .but that day I remember as plainly as yesterday. My dad was wearing a dark blue tie. He was a postal employee and had to wear a coat and tie to work.”

“Go on,” the judge ordered dubiously.

No one said it was going to be easy. Clarence snorted briefly at his own thoughts. Easy. . .nothing about my life has been easy. “As I said, the next thing I remember was going to school my first day. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. My teacher couldn’t have been nicer. It was clear she liked me, until she caught me playing with the girls during recess and made me stand in the corner. I became very familiar with that corner. It seemed I consistently picked the wrong books to look at, used pink crayons on my pictures when I should have used brown or black, wore the yellow apron to do my finger-painting, instead of a blue one. . . . In short I didn’t do anything right. . .for a boy. She said I was being a cut-up on purpose and gave me a note to take home to my parents. When my dad got home that night he took off his belt and gave me what for. . . .”

The courtroom had gone completely silent. Obviously no one had been prepared for this kind of testimony.

“I’ll never forget what she wrote in the note. My dad read it to me and punctuated every word with a hard whack of his belt across my bare bottom. ‘Your son is a very clever boy, who loves attention. He’s got it in his head that by telling everyone he wants to be a girl or do girl things he can be in the limelight. He’s disrupting my class, which cannot go on. Please have a discussion with him so that kind of odious behavior doesn’t happen again.’ My dad’s ‘discussion’ left me so bruised I could hardly sit for a week. But I learned a good lesson about not telling people what I was thinking.”

Clarence stopped and took a drink of water. “My dad told me every day how much I embarrassed him. He told me how people were talking about me and how I acted, and made it clear that I was going to ‘shape-up, God dammit’.”

People in the courtroom took advantage of Clarence’s stopping to organize his thoughts to shift in their seats. Then they became deathly quiet — apparently not wanting to miss a word.

“I tried hard to be the person my father wanted me to be. I spoke in masculine terms, thinking before I opened my mouth to make sure I didn’t say anything that was ‘fucking girly’, as my dad put it. By the third grade I had a very pronounced stutter, which everyone thought was hilarious — including several of my teachers.“

Clarence’s attorney nosily slid his chair as far away from Clarence as he could.

“I still wanted to be a girl. I knew it was the worst thing in the world I could wish for myself, but every night I wished on the wishing star and every morning I woke disappointed.”

“Mr. Bariss,” the judge said with more kindness than Clarence had heard for months. “I want to believe you - - I want to understand how anyone could do what you did . . . but a ‘wishing star’?”

“The first star you see every night is the wishing start. Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight. Every night I wished I would wake up the next day as a girl and had been a girl all my life.”

The judge nodded, but clearly was skeptical.

“My dad whipped me with his belt nearly every day trying to knock the ‘female bullshit’ out of me. When I was twelve I got a growth spurt and he couldn’t hold me down any longer, so he took to berating me. I quickly learned his tongue hurt more than his belt ever had.”

The judge then talked to Clarence as if they were the only two people in the court. “A lot of us had fathers who went a little overboard, but we didn’t steal billions of dollars when we grew up.”

“No, sir. . .and I never intended to steal a dime. It just happened. . .and I couldn’t. . .be. . .sorrier.”

Several people in the courtroom laughed dryly. They had seemingly heard Clarence lie many times before and weren’t going to be sucked in.

The judge rapped his gavel once. “So, was your father successful in making you quit wanting to be a girl?”

Clarence shrugged. “How do you define success? He taught me to be an accomplished liar. On the surface I was 100% male. . .and in my heart a total girl. He taught me to hide my every move and intention. Whenever I could I would dress in my sister’s clothing, honing my craft of hiding what I was doing when I knew even the slightest slip-up would mean total ruin.”

“Is that your excuse for what you did? Are you saying your hideous conduct was due to you having a speech impediment and because everyone picked on you because you were a sissy. . . ?”

“Not at all.” Clarence looked bewildered for a moment and then picked up his train of thought. “My stuttering went away almost as quickly as it started. I’ve always had a great amount of personal control over certain actions. My dad’s lessons taught me to mask my true self so well that no one knew I was really a girl. In fact, I was probably one of the cruelest in my class when it came to picking on boys for being feminine.”

The judge shook his head at the twist in what Clarence was saying.

“As I said, I grew quite a bit when I was twelve -- consequently I became good at sports, which made it easier to keep my innermost secrets to myself. But the desires never diminished. I leered at the girls in my class, just like every other boy, but my thoughts ran to wondering how she fixed her hair like that so I could try it, or why she wore a certain blouse with a certain skirt.”

At this point in his discussion Clarence allowed his body to adopt a different posture. Even the most casual observer would be able to detect a much more feminine stance. His hands became animated and demonstrative — waving through the air like delicate feathers catching even the slightest breeze.

“I had grown several sizes larger than my sister and could only use my mother’s clothing, which were . . . matronly. Did you know, judge. . . ? Did you know the hardest person to lie to -- is yourself? Did you know that when you stand in front of a mirror -- a strapping teenager with broad shoulders and a bulging Adam’s apple. . .stuffed in a completely revolting dress and consider yourself beautiful that you’ve learned to lie so that no one can ever know you’re doing it?”

The judge looked as if he could use a recess, but said nothing.

“I suppose any trained psychologist could have taken one look at me during my youth and on through college and shouted, ‘He compensating.’ But I had become damned good at hiding my true intentions and no one ever thought of having a shrink talk to me.

“I was a war hero,” he said at almost a whisper. “During the first Gulf War I did some things that a lot of people thought were pretty darned brave. The truth was, I had become so frustrated with my life that I didn’t give a damn. Army life doesn’t leave a lot of room for secret dressing. The thing . . . the thing is . . . I wanted to die.”

“I’ve taken your war record into consideration,” the judge allowed. “That still doesn’t . . . .”

Clarence raised a hand and then extended his index finger, begging for a moment before continuing. “When I got home from Iraq I decided my dad had been right all along. I decided to ‘buck up’ and be a man. I used my good college grades to get a job with a brokerage firm selling securities to my friends and family. At first I did okay. . .but the market can be vicious, and I could see the disappointment in my clients’ eyes every time I had to deliver them bad news. It was that kind of disappointment my first grade teacher had shown me when I was playing house with the girls on the playground. My clients’ facial expressions were just like my dad’s when he caught me wanting to be a girl that first time. I couldn’t stand it.”

The judge shook his head. “It doesn’t wash. Why didn’t you work harder to make sure your clients were making good investments?”

“I tried. . . . I tried as hard to make money legitimately for my clients as I had tried to be a boy for my dad. I worked fifteen — sixteen hours a day pouring over the research, but the market was almost totally unpredictable. I soon concluded the public buying and selling of stock is a shell game manipulated by insiders to fleece the average buyer.”

“Really? Mr. Bariss, if the stock market wasn’t ethical enough for your high standards why didn’t you just take up another line of work?”

Clarence shook his head. “Don’t you see? I could give my clients what they wanted. I could make it seem like things turned out as they should have, if the market wasn’t controlled by a few rich bastards. I had developed all the basic skills I needed hiding my transgendered nature. I could lie, deceive, and make it seem like nothing in the world was wrong, while I made phoney account statements and told people about the huge number of trades I’d made. When, in fact, I had done nothing at all but rob from what was coming in from new investors to make old investors very happy.”

“Do you finally admit you ran a Ponzi scheme?”

“Oh — what I did was far beyond anything Charles Ponzi ever imagined. Not only did I attract investors with makeshift earnings, but I became an officer of the NASD, and served on the boards of several large non-profits. My legitimacy became the Emperor’s new clothes. My clients were happy.” He smiled daintily and sighed.

The judge frowned. “You had a lavish lifestyle and spent money like water.”

Clarence’s face softened to become a feminine puddle. “I was miserable.”

The courtroom buzzed. He had spoken in a voice that sounded very much like Barbara Streisand.

“Is something wrong with your throat, Mr. Bariss?” the judge asked.

She shook her head. “What you’re hearing is my real voice. All these years I’ve had to consciously talk like a man to get along in life.”

The judge looked perplexed, but didn’t say anything. Several people spoke in hushed conversations, but neither Clarence, nor the judge, paid them any heed.

“Once things took off,” she continued, “I didn’t dare even dress in female clothing within my own home. If my flow of new investors hiccupped, because of rumors about my sexuality, the whole dynamics would have folded in on me. You saw what happened when the real estate market tanked and. . . .”

From the looks on the faces in the courtroom Clarence’s head could have spun completely around and no one would have considered it odd. As it was she had abandoned all pretext of maleness. Her every gesture and nuance was completely and utterly as feminine as anyone could imagine.

The judge pounded his gavel. “I think we’ve heard enough, Mr. Bariss, we’ll break for lunch and proceed with sentencing when we return in two hours.”

Clarence’s attorney tried to have a word with him, but Clarence slipped away quickly with the bailiff to the holding cell two floors down and left word he didn’t want to talk to counsel.

Two hours later Clarence was brought into court and immediately ordered to rise for sentencing.

“Mr. Bariss,” the judge said. “I know a bit about the transgendered. I have a sister who was once my brother. She had a similar life to yours, but to my knowledge has managed to a be a positive member of our society. While I have sympathy for what you’ve gone through I cannot excuse your egregious behavior. Under the mandatory guidelines I’m bound to sentence you to a total of one hundred and fifty years of imprisonment. “

Clarence’s shoulders sagged. Shoulders that somehow looked a lot less square than they had, despite the pads in the inexpensive suit. She looked like she could slide into a dress quite nicely.

“I did some research during our lunch; or rather, my clerks went without lunch. Although it might seem strange, what I’m about to do has precedent and will stand scrutiny from higher courts. Mr. Bariss, you are hereby ordered to liquidate all your assets and make restitution as much as possible to all your clients.”

“That’s only fair,” she said sweetly.

“But, I’ve been moved by your testimony, Mr. Bariss. I’m hereby ordering your incarceration to be carried out in women’s facilities.” The buzz in the courtroom resembled that of the whine created by Firestone Firehawk tires when pushed into a skid at Indy. The judge banged his gavel. “Furthermore, I’m ordering the penal system to immediately start you on a program of hormone injections and to arrange for you to undergo sexual reassignment surgery at the earliest possible date.”

Clarence broke into a wide smile.

The judge once again used his gavel to bring his court under control. “Tis a gift Mr. Bariss. Your life will be the simplest. Your duties in jail will be as a matron. You won’t be free, but you will come down a long ways from your billionaire lifestyle. You will no longer be ashamed, Mr. Bariss; that much I can do for you.”

Amidst the bedlam in the court Clarence’s attorney spoke into his ear. “What the fuck was that all about? Your father died a month after you were born.”

“You’re the only person who knows about my real past. Everyone else believes that history I circulated years ago. And, you’re bound by attorney/client privilege.”

“You’re no more transgendered than I am.”

“Nope,” Clarence said in his normal tenor. “When I got the dossier on the judge I noted the part about his brother/sister. I just wanted to see if I had it in me to pull off one more scam. All it took was some mental self-discipline to get into character and. . . .”

“But they’re going to. . . .” His attorney motioned with two fingers to simulate snipping.

“Everything comes at a price,” he said happily as they led him away to a life of perpetrating perhaps his biggest fraud.

The End



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