It was a dark and stormy night in the City that Never Sleeps unless Medicated.
“I say, beastly weather, what?” mumbled old Westcott Wainscott, passing around a decanter of sherry to his friends gathered in his modest but comfortable study to reminisce about their glory days at the Bar. “Shall I light a fire?”
“Rum idea, old chap,” said Ainsley Ainscott helping himself to a cigar. “The room appears to be without a fireplace.”
Quincy Quainscott chuckled drily. “This storm reminds me of the mysterious Appellate Division murders back in ’09.”
“Never heard of it,” said Wainscott. “I was in India at the time, newspapers came by ship and elephant, took six months to arrive, don’t you know.”
“The affair was hushed up by the authorities,” said Quainscott leaning back in his chair and lighting a joint. “But as I happened to be present at the time, I can tell you it was one of the most sinister plots since the sinking of the Titanic.”
“That was no plot, that was an accident,” protested Ainscott. “Bally iceberg got in the way.”
“That’s what you think,” said Quainscott cryptically. “Do you want to hear the story or not?”
“Yes, yes!” cried the others. “Do tell!”
“You may recall back in ’08,” said Quainscott, “the Governor of New York had that spot of bother over his commercial transactions of an intimate nature.”
“Bloody bounder!” ejaculated Wainscott. “Refused to take off his socks, I hear. Appalling lack of chivalry!”
“Quite,” said Quainscott. “And shortly afterwards a number of new judges were appointed to the Appellate Division. At first, the public were overjoyed. The common people threw their caps in the air shouting, ‘Huzzah!’ We young fellows at the Bar felt that a new day had dawned, a Phoenix had risen from the ashes, a corner had been turned, the empty glass had been refilled -”
“In a nutshell, you thought the new judges would be different because they were liberal,” said Ainscott.
“Yes,” said Quainscott. “For about two weeks they were reading the briefs and sometimes even a case or two. But it wasn’t long before they caught the habit of reading only the bench memos written by the same old-regime fossils who merely summarize the prosecution brief and recommend affirming the conviction. And I hardly need say that prosecution briefs are singularly uninformative. ‘Issue unpreserved, Judge Blow correct, defendant a villain,’ that sort of thing. Leaving the judges untainted by any knowledge of the case.”
“Might as well talk to a cabdriver about your case as to the Appellate Division,” agreed Ainscott.
“Cabdrivers are more open-minded,” said Wainscott. “But do continue, Quainscott. Your story interests me deeply.”
“It was a day like any other at the Appellate Division,” said Quainscott. “The lawyers gathered in the courtroom. At 2 o’clock a door opened and the five judges came out and took their places on the bench. The presiding judge launched into the traditional speech: ‘We’ll be here for 6 hours if you each take up ten whole minutes. Trust us, we’ve read your briefs and are thoroughly familiar with the facts and the law in your case. Let’s hurry this along so we can get it over with and do something more important.’
“The words were hardly out of his mouth when suddenly there was a blinding flash and he was incinerated on the spot. Nothing was left but the smell of burned plastic.
“The other judges, being occupied with reading the bench memos, failed to notice. Finally one of the guards whispered something to Judge Number Two who took the Presiding Judge’s place after using a brief to brush the ashes off the chair.
“As soon as the appellant’s lawyer stepped up to the podium, Judge Two demanded, ‘How do you distinguish People v. Rodriguez?'”
Wainscott and Ainscott groaned. “That old dodge,” said Wainscott disgustedly. “Of course the judge had no idea what People v. Rodriguez is about.”
“Precisely,” said Quainscott. “A transparent delaying tactic so the others can read the bench memo. The lawyer explains the distinction, the judge says, “Uh huh,” and never says another word for the rest of the argument. He’s done his part. But this time he went up in smoke.
“Then Judge Number Three, having taken no notice, started reading the bench memo aloud under the pretext of asking a question. Taking up about three minutes of the lawyer’s five. When she finally let him answer, Judge Number Four interrupted with a speech about his views on sex offenders. Poof! They both evaporated into little black clouds.
“It was discovered that the light on the podium, which indicates when the speaker’s time is up, had been adjusted so as to vaporize whatever judge was speaking. Who could possibly have had a motive to commit such a devilish deed? The police were baffled.
“But,” concluded Quainscott, draining his sherry, “I know who it is.”
Ainscott and Wainscott stared at him.
“Speak up, man, for heaven’s sake,” said Ainscott. “Who is it?”
“There were five judges, but only four were vaporized,” said Quainscott slowly. “Doesn’t that tell you anything?”
“The fifth judge was a woman,” said Wainscott quickly. “It couldn’t have been her. Everybody knows women don’t understand electricity.”
“Ah, but what if she wasn’t a woman?” said Quainscott. “What if she had a twin brother who secretly took her place while pretending to be in India?”
“I see the game is up,” groaned Wainscott. “I had to do it, don’t you see? I couldn’t bear to watch my darling sister Hetty – for that was her name – turn into a smug ignoramus haggling with lawyers about whether they could have eight minutes or seven. The shame! The disgrace! And, by George, I’d do it again!”
“Easy, old horse,” said Quainscott. “The better practice would have been not to vaporize your sister and four judges. But I think Ainscott will agree with me that it was harmless error.”
But Wainscott had already vaporized himself into a pin-striped cloud.