“Hey Slickster, why are you sweating?” My buddy Curt was waiting outside in the courthouse parking lot for me.
“Oh, that courtroom’s air-conditioning system is broken. It’s hotter than hell in there. See all the windows are open?”
“Yeah, I noticed that while passing by earlier this morning on the way to the post office. I seen the bailiff chasing a black crow out of the first slash with a broom.”
“That cracked everyone up. It crapped on the judge’s bench while zigzagging around the room. Roy Bean was livid and called a fifteen-minute recess to have the mess cleaned and sanitized. What are you doing here?”
“Kat told me you might need some money and I want to help you out.”
“You can help me out by telling the prosecutor over there, coming down the steps, that it was you who threw the garbage in Tommy’s trash bin to begin with.”
“I couldn’t do that. I’m still on probation for releasing all the research-lab animals at the med school,” Curt said. “I wouldn’t have gotten caught if it wasn’t for being seen putting a cage with one of critters in the back seat of my car.”
“You certainly have a small zoo of wild beasts at your place for sure. Amazing how you train them.”
“Look, Mike, I appreciate you taking the rap for this. Here, take this in case you need it.” My obviously sincere, concerned friend handed me a wad of cash. “There’s one thousand dollars there. Pay the fine with it and don’t worry about paying me back.”
“Where did you get this much moola to throw away?”
“Part of my inheritance. My father left me a good bit of it. Don’t tell anyone. Everybody will be asking me for a loan.”
“Hey, man, I appreciate it; makes me feel a whole lot more secure. I’d say I owe you one, but this fiasco today makes up for the last time I told you that and then some.”
“No problem, I’ll even buy you lunch. Come on, lets go across the street to Mary Sue’s Pizzeria.”
While splitting a pizza with my generous compadre, I explained my proposed, outrageous defense for how I hoped to be found not guilty; for which I would give Curt back the loot. His face lit up, obviously pleased that a good chance for his not losing a grand was a decent possibility.
Back in the courtroom—more like a sauna—tall, standing fans surrounded the room to cool things down, making a racket like airplane propellers. I took my seat again in the first bench to hear things better and maybe pick up something useful for my intended vindication of being found guilty of aggravated criminal littering. The thoroughly riled judge better have had a pleasant lunch, I thought. Upon his pompous return, the no-nonsense jurist flew through the next two-dozen cases as if he was a man on a mission, clearing out his courtroom before three o’clock to hear my case. His piercing gaze cast my way on occasion, making me extremely paranoid, thinking he was pondering whether or not to sentence me to the gallows. My trial folder was indeed at the bottom of the pile. After my being sworn in by the bailiff, the esteemed prosecutor proclaimed my villainous charge.
“How do you plead, Mr. Slickster?” Judge Bean queried.
“Not guilty, Your Honor; I’m an innocent victim of unusual circumstance.”
“Littering is not an unusual circumstance in my courtroom,” he said. “I hear cases every week for littering, some worse than others. What makes yours so unusual?”
“I didn’t do it. Where was my check found, Your Honor?” Judge Bean turned to the prosecutor, who removed a few eight-by-ten, glossy, black-and-white photographs with tiny circles and arrows drawn in white, indicating the strewn bags of rubbish on the asphalt by Tommy’s dumpster, with emphasis to my cancelled check, lying on the ground amongst everything else. My Shyster showed me the photos and my actual check before handing them to the bailiff.
“Is this your check?” the judge asked.
“It is, Your Honor.”
“How about in these pictures: are the bags of garbage and the circled check yours, Mr. Slickster?”
“I can only say yes about the check on the ground, but not for the bags. They all look alike, don’t you think?” I exclaimed. “Besides, why would I want to tote my trash almost a mile from my house to Tommy’s lot, when I have regularly scheduled garbage pickup at my front curb?”
“Good question, but not all garbage bags look the same. Some are white.” What color bags do you use?” His Honor said.
“Both colors, depending what might be on sale at the market,” I replied.
“Do you have evidence of trash pickup?” Judge Bean inquired.
“I brought our monthly statement from Sal’s Refuse Company, the ones who take our garbage.” The bailiff took the bill, showed Mr. Shyster and handed the document to the judge.
“Objection, Your Honor,” the prosecutor bellowed. “What if the defendant forgot to put out the trash on garbage day and decided to get rid of it where his check was found?” Both the judge and most noticeably Mr. Shyster raised their eyebrows in unison, waiting for my reply.
“If that happens, I’ll take the bags to the landfill on Smithborough Road, closer to my house than Tommy’s General Store is. It doesn’t cost me anything.”
“That still doesn’t explain how his check ended up on the ground, Your Honor.” Shyster declared. “Can you explicate any further, Mr. Slickster?”
“As I said earlier, I’m an innocent victim of circumstance; but make that circumstantial evidence,” I said. “Did anyone actually see me put those garbage bags in the dumpster?”
“We have no record of such,” the prosecutor acknowledged; “but the check is clearly yours.”
“Did anyone actually see me placing my check there on the ground, which, for the record, is shown as being separated from all the other rubbish?”
“No record of that either,” the prosecuting attorney admitted.
“Well then, Your Honor, how can I be held responsible for something no one saw me doing; something I have no reason to do, with a piece of circumstantial evidence lying on the ground?” I proposed. “An animal could have found my check, which may have blown out of the garbage truck on the way to the dump,” I explicated further. “A rodent might have found it, taking my check for its nest, but got sidetracked by all the fallen garbage at Tommy’s and left it there.”
“That’s the most preposterous defense I have ever heard in all my years of being a justice, Mr. Slickster,” Judge Roy Bean said. “However, I can’t see how a measly animal would specifically carry your check directly to that exact spot. I find that hard to fathom.”
“But the main thing is, Your Honor, in my humble opinion, the benefit of a doubt falls in my favor, even if there’s only one in a million chances for it to happen,” I concluded. “The possibility is still there, and no one had actually seen me in the act of committing aggravated criminal littering.”
A woman by one of the open windows jumped up abruptly, pointing frantically at a gray squirrel on the window sill with what appeared to be a newspaper clipping in its mouth, dropping it after a moment onto the courtroom floor, jumping back outside and scurrying out of view. Glancing at the parking lot, I saw the little rascal hop into my cohort’s back seat of his car, parked alongside the curb below. My friend was grinning, beaming from cheek to cheek, flashing me the peace sign. The rodent was obviously one of his trained critters. Curtis shut the rear door, got into his black Cadillac and drove off with the intelligent creature, sticking its little snoot out the cracked-open rear window. I didn’t realize the bushy-tailed varmints liked to do that too. The bailiff had picked up the piece of newspaper the squirrel had dropped and handed it to the judge, who belly-laughed instantly, loosing his judicious composure and normally deadpan appearance, as if he had just inhaled copious amounts of nitrous oxide at the dentist’s office.
“Case dismissed! You are free to go,” the chortling justice said and waved over Mr. Shyster. “Look here, it’s my picture in the Cranston City Chronicle from last week’s article. I look very judicial, don’t you think?” The jurist took a minute or so to gain control of his mirth. “Cranston City General Court is now adjourned,” the Honorable Judge Roy Bean blared emphatically, slamming down his gavel sharply as if a cannon had just been fired, which this time was music to my ears.