Little Aleppo had a Trial of the Century every decade or so. The neighborhood thought of Trials of the Century like it thought of water or waste disposal: something it was entitled to. There was once a 17-year span between Trials of the Century, and there were riots. The LAPD (No, Not That One) responded by framing a the owner of an art gallery in a murder-for-hire scheme involving a young and buxom secretary, a cache of gold coins, and a small goat named Peppy. Something for everyone, the cops figured: swanky people getting their comeuppance, and sex, and money, and goats. Unfortunately, the cops were so terrible at the frame-job that even Little Aleppo’s DA at the time–a man named James Paisley who was so crooked he was known as Pay Me Jamie–could not ignore it, and so the cops were all arrested and tried. Ironically, this became the Trial of the Century.
The judge at the time was Earnest Makhtesh, and he opened the proceedings by addressing the cops.
“Never read any Greek tragedies, huh?”
The jury found the cops not guilty after the cops visited the jury members at their homes, and that was that until the owner of the art gallery they had tried to frame–a man named Scotch Drucks–shot two of the cops who had tried to frame him. Terrible idea to let your pride around pistols. Scotch made it to the jail, and then he made it to the courtroom–which was unprecedented for someone who had shot a cop in Little Aleppo–and his trial became the second Trial of the Century in a year. Locals were very entertained, and the Cenotaph printed an evening edition with updates. In Scotch’s mugshot, it looks like he is shrugging and there were tee-shirts available for purchase outside the courthouse with his picture and DRUCKS SAYS “SHUCKS” in a bold font.
This was a proud history, too, not just some recent fad. Not too much history–this is America, and it hasn’t been around long enough for serious history–but a decent amount. The Pulaski, who lived in the area before it was Little Aleppo, had neither trials nor the concept of centuries. (They had years, obviously, but didn’t feel the need to partition them into ten-and-hundred-year chunks.) The Whites who killed the Pulaski and named the area Little Aleppo had both trials and centuries, but the former was different back then. First off, there weren’t that many trials; mostly, folks just got shot. Second, the ones that did occur lasted ten minutes and took place in the Wayside Inn with the Honorable Miss Valentine presiding, and all she wanted to do was declare the fucker guilty so she could let the dumdums back in to buy drinks and pussy. The best defense in a case heard in Little Aleppo was a fast horse.
The neighborhood grew more civilized. They do that. By the 20th century, locals had stopped murdering lawyers out of principle and there was a courthouse where they all argued with each other during billable hours and chatted with each other during non-billable hours. The Pamantha Valentine Courthouse was across the Main Drag from Town Hall. (Miss Valentine’s father wanted to name her Pamela, and her mother preferred Samantha; they compromised.) There were steep steps made of alabaster with smoky veins running through them, and Doric columns, and a triangular arch over the whole thing that cast the entrance into permanent gloom: the building was the most imposing Western Civilization got.
In 1912, residents crowded around the courthouse to hear the latest machinations in the Brixton Papp case. He owned the Davidian Theatre on the Downside. The shittier the location, the greater the chance that “theater” is spelled “theatre.” Brixton was an impresario, which meant he ripped off magicians and got blowjobs from acrobats, and the Davidian presented vaudeville. There were dancers and comics in blackface and jugglers, too. Tenors who sung arias. And comedy teams, with their comedy routines, like O’Brian and Scaramucci.
“I love the president, Has Noname.”
“The president has no name?”
“Right, President Has Noname.”
“How can the president have no name?”
“Don’t you correct my grammar, you wop bastard.”
“Fuck you, you freckled Fenian fuck.”
And then they would punch one another. It was a great act.
Frannie Caro was a dancer in the chorus, a blonde one; they would come out between acts that needed time to set up, and then again at the end of the show. They would high-kick, and they would sashay. They would give a glimpse of a stocking; they could can and can. She was 19, and Brixton was 52, and she was so much smarter than he was right up until the second he shot her.
Frannie had him wrapped around her finger, and she did this by wrapping herself around a part of Brixton that was not his finger. She had blonde curls and long legs, and Brixton would do whatever she said. Right up until he shot her. Brixton was 52, and Frannie was 19, and his cock was floppy and sporadically useless, and he lost his breath easily, and Frannie was 19 and wanted to be fucked properly. Stu Pendis was a sword swallower who worked the Davidian Theatre. They kept their relationship a secret, right up until he shot her.
Had he waited until she was offstage, there would have been fewer witnesses.
The prosecution had mountains of evidence. Brixton Papp had money. It was an even match. This was the first big case for the newly-formed law firm of Holly, Wood, and Vine; Lawrence Holly bribed the courtroom sketch artists to give him more hair. There was maneuvering, and objecting, and reversals of fortune. Crowds gathered outside the Valentine Courthouse in their hats and dresses; a clerk leaned halfway out of a second-floor window and shouted down updates. There was cheering, booing, pickpocketing.
The jury retired, and they took two days to deliberate. On the third morning, the crowds and the lawyers and the judges waited for Brixton Papp. No one saw him, so they waited some more, and they still did not see him. Had they been on a steamer bound for Taipan, they would have seen him, but not standing on the grass alongside the walk to the Valentine Courthouse. Papp was found guilty in absentia, which is Latin for doesn’t count.
The air went out of the neighborhood. A story needs an ending. Can’t have your main characters wiggling off into the who-cares-where. In absentia? What the fuck was that? Being convicted in absentia is like getting an honorary degree, but the opposite: getting an honorary degree doesn’t matter, but it’s lovely; in absentia doesn’t matter and it sucked. No satisfaction in it, and the neighborhood learned their lesson. From then on, defendants in Trials of the Century were not granted bail no matter how rich they were.
(There was a statute in the Town Charter that allowed a judge to declare a case the Trial of the Century. It was like the franchise tag in the NFL.)
The Harper Five were not granted bail.
The Honorable R.J. Fulsome was presiding. He was trim–a marathon runner–and had a thin, crooked nose. Rectangular skull. Dark hair that was thinning but not going gray, and he did not need glasses even for when he read. He looked as though he’d been born in his robe. Judge Fulsome was considered, and thorough; he had complex thoughts that he distilled into nuanced opinions backed up by concrete facts and bedrock precedents. His findings were argued in the Morning Tavern, and the Cenotaph alternately praised him and cursed him. R.J. Fulsome was a reasonable and careful man.
He immediately lost control of the trial.
“May I speak to Ms. Atherton, please?”
“Wonderful. Hello. I am Mr. Venable. I hope you’re well. Delightful. Anyhooooo, I move on to my topic of interest. Are you conversant with the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species compact?”
“Delightful. You are competent. You work for the EPA and the neighborhood within C—–A City known as Little Aleppo is within your purview?”
“Exceptional. Ms. Atherton, have you ever heard of the Peregrina maria tree?
“Yes. I believed it fictional as well. But there is a stand of them atop a mountain not a mile or so from where I sit.”
“I understand that you wish to dismiss me as a lunatic. Were I you, I would dismiss me as a lunatic as well. No one can fault you for your skepticism.”
“No, I have nothing to report about ‘squatch. Never seen one.”
“Nor have I been abducted by aliens.”
“Just let me ask you one question, Ms. Atherton. Are you a reader?”
“The question is directly stated. Are you a reader? Do you compulsively devour any sentence that comes within your reach, and then ask for more? If I were to ask you ‘How many books does one need to own?’ would you answer ‘Just one more?’ Are you a reader, Ms. Atherton?”
“I am, too.”
“I haven’t. Spell the author’s name.”
“Ms. Atherton, I understand you must think me a nutter. I would. The Peregrina maria is akin to the Loch Ness Monster. I realize this, and your skepticism is valid and correct. It’s not an endangered tree, it’s one that never existed in the first place. This is the common-sense opinion. It is the odds play. I do not ask you believe me. I just ask that you visit the site.”
“I am aware that you are busy. Thank you for the work you do. I am not particularly busy. Owning a bookstore is not as labor-intensive as it would seem. Would you like free books?”
“I meant just what I said. For you, every book in my shop is free. Forever. Just take a look at the trees I mentioned. I ask not for an outcome, but for a viewing. Just look at them.”
“As many books as you want. Forever.”
“And two hundred dollars, fine.”
Stewart Brand. Anacostia Hymen. Joseph “Joey the Spaz the Third” Seraph III, Molly McGlory, Melisandre Boone, AKA Violet Violence AKA Amber Lance. The Harper Five.
They were folk heroes. Folk heroes are always criminals. There were tee-shirts and pins, and local folk musicians wrote songs about them; they got the righteousness right, but got the facts wrong. The Harper Five was standing up for the neighborhood. Sure, an eyeball or two was loosed from its socket, but something something omelettes something something breaking eggs. There was right and there was righteous. Right?
Sexy chicks and hunky dudes played guitar and sang under the Harper Five’s jail cell windows. Men and women exposed themselves so the Five could masturbate. They didn’t do anything, and if they did, they didn’t mean it.
They were villains. Villains are usually criminals. Tommy Amici’s songs blared from Caligliostro’s, and from the open windows of Lincoln Continentals driving past the courthouse slowly. There were laws, and there was property, and each needed to be respected. Nothing–nothing at all–could justify plucking out a local legend’s eyeballs. There was right and there was wrong.
Large gentlemen and ancient, tiny women in black dresses waded into the hippies and college students with bats, socks full of quarters, and weaponized purses. They fired flares into the windows of the Five’s cells. They did it, and they were gonna get it.
Teevees across the neighborhood flickered and shizzed, and then a semi-crooked title card reading SPECIAL REPORT came on the screen. The Victory Diner got quiet and even Louis Bucca behind the grill paid attention. The Morning Tavern did not usually have a teevee, but several had been stolen specifically for the occasion and perched on stacked chairs so they were high enough for all to see.
“Good morning, Little Aleppo! I’m Cakey Frankel from KSOS reporting live from the Valentine Courthouse where the Trial of the Century is about to begin. On trial for the kidnapping and blinding of music legend Tommy Amici are five local college students known as the Harper Five. We’ll be bringing you updates and analysis around the clock, or at least until the battery on the camera dies.”
“The courtroom is full with family and spectators. All the pews are filled. I don’t think they’re called pews in a court, but they’re pews. I know a pew when I see one.”
“The bailiff is a hunk.”
Cakey turned around to see Judge Fulsome standing behind the bench with his gavel in his hand.
“Oh, hello, Your Honor.”
“You can’t broadcast from inside the courtroom.”
“Freedom of the press, Your Honor.”
Cakey looked around for support, but everyone was deliberately not making eye contact.
“What if I whispered?”
“Get out or I’m arresting you.”
“Now this is good teevee,” Big-Dicked Sheila said.
“Can’t believe they preempted Mister Hamburger for this,” answered Augusta O. Incandescente-Ponui, whom everyone called Gussy.
They were sitting up in Gussy’s enormous bed, pillows wadded behind their naked backs, and they were drinking coffee and smoking a joint. Sheila ran her foot up and down Gussy’s shin under the yellow blanket; it was prickly, and Sheila liked the sensation on her sole. Gussy’s nipples were large and dark brown, and Sheila’s were tiny and pointed. She leaned her head against Gussy’s shoulder.
“He’s been on a Celebrationism kick lately.”
“I have no idea what that is,” Sheila said, and sipped her very sweet coffee.
“As far as I can piece it together, it’s about taking joy in horror. I think it’s an Albanian philosophy.”
“I seriously don’t understand what children see in that guy. Or adults. Anyone.”
“I forget you didn’t grow up here sometimes,” Gussy said, and kissed Sheila half on her cheek and half on her eye. “You kinda gotta be indoctrinated into Mister Hamburger.”
“The Reverend doesn’t get him, either.”
“Let’s go see him today. We’ll take him out for a walk and air him out.”
“This is a good idea,” Gussy said and she inhaled from the joint, sucked the smoke way down into her lungs, and she leaned forward slightly and Sheila met her with her lips; they joined just barely touching and PHWOO Gussy blew the smoke into Sheila’s mouth and Sheila thanked her by pressing her lips against hers and sticking her tongue halfway down her throat. That was how Gussy liked to be kissed, and Sheila was good at knowing how people liked to be kissed.
The teevee was atop a white dresser on the other side of the bedroom. Behind it was a movie poster, framed. BOGART BERGMAN HENREID up top in big letters, and a torn and stylized newspaper page under the names with the name of a city and a man holding a gun. Gussy’s grandfather, Irving Incandescente-Ponui was a collector; he kept every poster ever displayed out in the lightboxes that ran the length of The Tahitian’s facade. He stored the flat, too, and out of the light in the basement of the theater. Gussy had not told anyone about this, but had made inquiries with several auction houses.
But she brought Casablanca home and hung it where it was the first thing she saw in the morning and the last thing she saw at night. Gussy wanted children, she’d have them one day, and she figured that poster from 1942 was their birthright. And the theater, obviously. The rest of the posters and standees and ads and memorabilia would pay for their college. But you can’t sell Casablanca. Some things are so valuable they’re worthless.
“Your Honor, members of the jury who are so good-looking and strong, esteemed onlookers, I thank you for allowing me to make my opening statement. I would also like to thank the Lord, if I may, for providing us with health and America. And I will also thank America for being so American. And the Lord. Also, I would like to state that the prosecution’s case is made up of lies, and that the District Attorney is a heathen and a pervert. Thank you, Your Honor. God bless America.”
The Harper Five were being tried together, despite all of the defendants’ lawyers’ arguments. A brief provided to the court from Stewart Brand’s attorney read, simply, “This isn’t how this works.” Judge Fulsome rejected all of their objections under the doctrine of Trial of the Century, and in his opinion stated, “It’s simply more entertaining this way.” Melisandre Boone’s family, having the most money, demanded to be in charge and hired the law firm of Holly, Wood, and Vine. The rumor on the Main Drag was that the retainer was a million. Whatever they paid, Strohman Bach was worth.
Strohman Bach was a get-out-of-jail-free card, except not free in the slightest. He had represented large gentleman, including The Friend for many years; women caught by the cops with the blood of their newly-dead husbands all over them; an arsonist who showed up to court with a hard-on and smelling of gasoline: not guilty, every one. Or a mistrial, or a hung jury, whatever; just not that slamming wooden hammer and then the slamming metal doors. If you went to court with Strohman Bach, then you were going home that night to sleep in your own bed.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my clients are innocent. Ms. Boone is more innocent than the other four, but they are all innocent. There is no–NO–forensic evidence linking any of my clients–ANY–to the crime scene.”
“I object, Your Honor!”
Vanessa Plushrot was the District Attorney of Little Aleppo, and this was the case that was going to let her stop being the DA of this bullshit fuckpalace of a neighborhood and run for Congress. She stood up at her table as she said,
“There are boxes and boxes of forensic evidence linking each and every defendant to the crime scene.”
Both the lawyers were standing, and wearing pinstriped navy blue. Bach’s suit was more expensive than Plushrot’s by several factors.
“Your Honor, there’s no objecting during opening statements,” Bach said.
“Trial of the Century rules, Your Honor,” Plushrot countered.
Judge Fulsome pointed his gavel at her and said,
“This is scandalous and prejudicial, sir. I call for a mistrial.”
TACK TACK TACK went the judge’s gavel, and he said,
“I call for an immediate guilty verdict,” Plushrot said.
TACK TACK TACK
Judge R.J. Fulsome did not need glasses for when he read, but he must have needed them for see farther away than that because the cameraman from KSOS was leaning halfway inside the courtroom doors. Cakey Frankel had her microphone shoved in, too.
“This is much better than the sketch artists,” Gussy said.
“I liked the last one.”
“The one who was into cubism?”
“Yeah,” Sheila said, rubbing Gussy’s neck. “She captured the context of the situation.”
Gussy leaned into her hand, and then she pulled away and opened the drawer of he nightstand. Purple vibrator the size of a deodorant can. She came back to Sheila and took her cock in hand.
“I’m gonna stick this up your ass and suck your dick.”
And Sheila said,
“Guys? Guys? I need you to pay attention. I need you to watch this. It’s important. This is the legal system, guys. This is how America works. This is how the courts work. Mr. Ramp, what are three branches of government?”
“Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.”
Branson Ramp looked around for support, but everyone was deliberately not making eye contact.
Paul Bunyan High did not really wake up until around lunch, and least not 95% of the building’s occupants. Teenagers need more sleep than infants, or sloths, or people in comas. You do most of your important growing when you’re a teenager, and your body only grows when you’re asleep. This not opinion, but scientific fact. Educators and parents throughout the centuries have responded to this scientific fact by making teenagers do trigonometry at 7:15 am. This is because, secretly and not-so-secretly, educators and parents hate teenagers and enjoy seeing them suffer.
And yawn. Mr. Bannigan’s first period Civics class was composed primarily of yawns, great flashing metal mouths and occasionally a rubber band would go shooting out of a student’s gob and hit a sleeping kid halfway across the room.
“No, Mr, Ramp. Guys? Guys?”
Every one of Mr. Bannigan’s students could do an impression of him. The teevee was strapped down to a double-decker cart that was prone to tipping over, and he stood next to it. The football team had a game that night; there were boys in green-and-yellow jerseys, and girls in cheerleader outfits with the same scheme. The school’s colors were technically emerald and gold, but you couldn’t fool a Little Aleppian: that was just fancy-talk for green and yellow.
“Executive, judicial, and legislative.”
“Thank you, Miss Schott.”
Julio Montez was sitting next to Romy Schott, and he reached his hand out and squeezed hers. She appreciated his touch, but didn’t think she needed congratulations for naming the three branches of government. Paul Bunyan High was a very progressive high school, and it recognized well over 70 forms of intelligence–linguistic, spatial, artistic, ambulatory–but Romy was weirdly old-fashioned about some things, and still believed in the concept of the dumbass. And frankly, she thought, if you couldn’t remember the very basis of the government you lived under, then you were a dumbass.
She still squeezed Julio’s hand back, though. His nose was big and crooked, and his eyes were brown, and he was wearing the sneakers she told him to wear; Romy loved him as hard as she could.
Harper Observatory is high atop Pulaski Peak, which is the tallest of the seven Segovian Hills. It is the exact shape of the White House, but bigger and with a telescope sticking out of it. The parking lot is to the north, and there is manicured grass stripped with walkways and pocked with benches to the east. Opposite the Observatory, there is a crescent-shaped stand of trees with knotty bark and waxy leaves the size of a child’s fist.
Pulaski Peak is steep, and there is only one route for vehicles. It is called Skyway Drive and it has been anomalous recently. Anomalous as shit, if you don’t mind the language.
Tommy Amici had left the hospital AMA. He had also kicked a number of nurses and thrown piss at a surgeon. Melisandre Boone, AKA Amber Lance, had ground his eyeballs into the warehouse’s concrete floor after removing them. The doctors at St. Agatha’s prevented infection, but that was all they could do. No more eyes for Tommy, not as green as the Verdance in the summer, and he was not taking it well. He ordered the Observatory destroyed the first day he returned home to Jeremiad Springs.
The lawyers had to go up the hill first. Order to Vacate. There were two of them, two chubby white men, in a cocoa-brown Mercedes 300d. Not a quarter of the way up Skyway Drive, the engine died. Damnedest thing. Tow truck came, removed the car. Flossy’s Garage overcharged the lawyers with a smile, and sent them back out. Same exact place. Same fucking place! Check the battery. Why are you looking in the trunk? The fucking battery, jackass! Tow truck came, removed the car.
This series of actions repeated itself nine times.
The two chubby lawyers were recalled to the law offices of Holly, Wood, and Vine (who were very busy lately) and an athletic paralegal was given the Order and told to put on her hiking boots. Wendy Wilkins walked all the way up and taped the Order to Vacate on the door of Harper Observatory; as she walked away, she did not see the Order ripped off the door by no one visible at all.
The bulldozers came next. They made it precisely as far up the mountain as the Mercedes had, and then were towed back down by Flossy. He was having a great week. The lawyers perched on the ‘dozers and yelled at the cars driving around them,
“You can’t go there anymore! It doesn’t exist, and it’s ours!”
And everyone gave the lawyers the finger, and some flicked their cigarettes. Flicking cigarettes at lawyers isn’t right, but it is understandable. Harper Observatory still rotated in sync with night sky, so smooth that you could not see anything was happening unless you looked away.
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
“Can you state your name for the record?”
There was quiet in the courtroom.
“Will you do so, please?”
“Thank you,” Vanessa Plushrot said. She had an ambitious haircut and a cream-colored blouse. “Mr. Lee–”
“Precarious is fine.”
“–Mr. Lee, can you describe the events that led up to Mr. Amici’s kidnapping?”
There was quiet again.
“Will you do so?”
“Don’t need your tone. You told me to answer the question that was asked.”
Strohman Bach leapt to his feet, and the sound of his chair scraping against the floor echoed.
“Your Honor, there’s clearly collusion going on here.”
“Collusion? Speaking to witnesses is not collusion, the DA said.
“I move for a mistrial.”
TACK TACK TACK
“I move for an immediate guilty verdict.”
TACK TACK TACK
Outside the Pamantha Valentine Courthouse, there were protestors and lookyloos. Tee-shirts promoting a number of different narratives could be purchased. There was cosplay. Several of the lunatics from Shrieker’s Corner had brought their soapboxes out of the Verdance for a chance to bother a much larger audience. Several food trucks, and Beer-Cooler Ethel. The LAPD (No, Not That One) had sent undercover men into the crowd.
“Hey, Stan. Undercover?”
The pretzel guy, the one who sold giant pretzels with flecks of salt the size of a rich woman’s diamonds, he was there too and strapped to his pushcart was a blue-and-white striped umbrella and a transistor radio.
“You ain’t listening, are you? There isn’t one single person out there, is there?
“You have left your Frankie Nickels high, and you have left her dry. Fickle, all of you. Ha ha ha.
“Can’t blame you: I got one eye on the teevee. Cakey looks good. Hi, Cakey. Cakey’s a good egg.
“Maybe that’s the purest art that is, huh? Something even the creator didn’t care about. Maybe! Art born without human interference! Virgin birth, cats and kittens, and then that art shall surely be the Christ. You know what I’m talking about here on KHAY–Hey!–early in the morning.
“Best kinda art. Best kinda anything. No forethought, no test screenings. Just hang your ass out there. Can’t assume an audience, but you still gotta try.
“The most beautiful things are made while no one’s paying attention.”
Gussy’s mouth tasted like Sheila’s cum, and she didn’t want to drink her coffee yet, just roll the seawater taste around her tongue and then roll her tongue around in Sheila’s mouth. The ceiling fan had two chain-link switches dangling from it, and was rotating quickly and shimmying slightly. Gussy kissed her again, again, again, and then she got out of bed and walked out of the room. She came back with a record and set it on the turntable on her dresser, dropped the needle. There was a CRACKLE and a SHPIFF and then FFT because Sheila had lit two cigarettes and when Gussy crawled into bed, she handed her one.
“Saw it in a movie once.”
It was American music, messy and full of its own ancestors, and it was made from wood and beards and boots, and verged on collapse. It lived right over the collapse, this music, and waggled around the beat like it was seasick. It failed with forward momentum. Old songs, seemed like, from Out West and Back East: railroad songs, minstrel songs, gospel songs, cowboy songs, and forgotten melodies from the tenements’ ethnic theaters. Music from the America that had burned down a long time ago. Singer long gone, the song remained.
It sounded damn good.
Weirdly good. Sheila had not noticed the speakers bracketing the record player before: they were plain wood, and clearly hand-made. She squinted her eyes. Were they even sanded? And the stickers. Ah.
“Precarious make those for you?”
“Technically, I guess. They were part of Wally.”
The bedroom was quiet, and the ceiling fan wobbled slightly.
“He’s not here,” Gussy said.
The bedroom was quiet again, and Gussy took the joint PHWOO and said,
“No. Not totally.”
Attaching a wrecking ball to a helicopter is not specifically against the law, mostly because lawmakers have poor imaginations. Admittedly, it’s not easy; the trick is finding the right pilot, but there are drunkards and degenerate gamblers in every profession, and if you hang around the bar by the heliport long enough you can find the right man for the job.
The chopper flew in from the east, over the crescent-shaped stand of trees, and then the engine died. Damnedest thing. When a helicopter’s power cuts, the rotors do not stop and the pilot can glide the craft down to the ground. The wrecking ball landed first, and took a divot out of the grass like God at a driving range. The ‘copter settled down in front of Harper Observatory, and the pilot got out. Penny Arrabbiata hit him with a cattle prod. The chopper was stripped for parts within hours.
“State your name for the record, please.”
“Miss Richardson, were you present on the afternoon of the –th when Mr. Amici was kidnapped?”
Strohman Bach leapt from his chair.
“Objection, Your Honor. Leading.”
“How is that leading?” the DA asked.
“‘Kidnapping’ is such an ugly word.”
Tiresias had one eye on the lawyers and the other on the camera thrust through the courtroom doors and broadcasting live. It occurred to her that this was the first time she’d been on KSOS as Tiresias and not Draculette, and then it occurred to her to turn to her good side. She was wearing gold earrings shaped like seashells, and the same wide-legged slacks she wore to the meeting at Tommy’s.
“Overruled,” Judge Fulsome said.
Vanessa Plushrot asked,
“Can you describe the day for the court, please?”
There was quiet in the courtroom, and Vanessa Plushrot muttered to herself,
“I hate this fucking neighborhood.”
And then she said out loud,
“Please describe the day for the court.”
Tiresias had been waiting for her big break since the age of six, and she turned into a spotlight that only existed in her mind and said,
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, are you familiar with the Pioneer Chicken Stand?”
And Vanessa Plushrot muttered again,
“I really hate this fucking neighborhood.”
“Understandable, understandable. Little Aleppo is not so much an acquired taste as it is an inherent taste. Perhaps even congenital. It’s the geographical equivalent of cilantro. Or rolling one’s tongue.”
“Also true. But such a lovely view from up here.”
“Yes, of course. You’ll notice the leaves. 13-points, and waxy.”
“The bark, mottled and knotty. And the branches.”
“Double-helix, Ms Atherton, yes.”
You’ll note the description in A Guide to North American Arboreuticals.”
“Yes, I’ve heard the supposed effect of the leaves, as well.”
“Proof of the pudding is in the eating, isn’t it?”
The Reverend Busybody Tyndale and Peter, who was not a Pulaski, emerged from the wood and saw their home. A few dozen kotchas around a communal hearth and store-building. The lake was beyond that. Men and women did their work, and children played. The wind was blowing in from the south, they could smell Tall As The Sun’s potions and medicines. Busybody slid off the horse, and Peter dismounted; he led the paint to the lake, and it drank.
They had been to the desert, where they swam, and traveled through a forest full of every growing thing, where they killed a horse out of kindness, and now they were home, which was not where they were born. Home does not have to be where you’re from in America.
The Pulaski ate together every week, a stew for the entire tribe, cooking on pots all day over a low fire and everything thrown in it: venison and radishes and biscayne root and carrots and raccoon. Busybody and Peter washed in the lake, and then they sat down and ate.
No one asked them where they had been.
Gussy and Sheila hurried up the Main Drag–Sheila’s shop opened in an hour–but still stopped at the Broadside Newsstand to hug Omar and nuzzle Argus.
“Is this my Gussy?”
“Your father was an asshole.”
“You keep telling me.”
And then they were on their way with the latest copies of several magazines devoted to sports. (Neither of them had any clue; Argus pointed his nose at the ones they wanted.) They passed Rose Street just as the Calling Judge in the belfry of the First Church of the Infinite Christ struck eleven, and then the other churches joined in: St Clement’s, and St. Martin’s, and St. Mary’s. The two turned west on Fantic Street, bumped into each other, laughed, kissed, and then they were at Deacon Blue’s house.
The Reverend Arcade Jones was on the couch watching the Trial of the Century and trying not to laugh. There was a puppy the color of rusty gold napping on his massive thigh.
“Please state your name for the record.”
“You know who the fuck I am.”
Judge Fulsom banged his gavel and said,
“Mr. Amici! You are in a court of law.”
To which Tommy replied,
“Suck my nuts! I got no eyes, you motherfucker!”
The Morning Tavern was split in its support, but everyone liked when a judge got told to suck nuts; a cheer went up among the drinkers and poets and the desolate and the dissolute. No one was playing pool, and the cocaine dealers in the bathrooms were doing brisk business: legalities were best understood after a snort. The teevees were close-captioned, and the jukebox was playing an old song about blood. All the best rock and roll songs were about bodily fluids. Wagering was present.
Bets were flowing, and opinions, and likewise bullshit–oh so much bullshit–up and down the Main Drag and filtering through KSOS and KHAY up to the antenna on Mt. Fortitude and back down through zippy-zap beams to the teevees and radios of the neighborhood and back again and echo. And back again and echo. An orange Porsche went east, and up Christy Canyon. Turnoff to Skyway Drive. Up up up, and Officer Romeo Rodriguez did not pay it any mind because it was a Porsche and not a bulldozer. The sports car gained altitude and crested, and the driver could see the sky; her medical license had finally been revoked–her drinking had done it–and so she was drunk and had a pistol and was going to kill herself by the Observatory, but Porsches have the engines all the way in the back and are tough to steer at high speed, and so the former doctor lost control of the orange car and spun through the parking lot in circles–at least five–and came to rest almost against a tree. Almost. There was an astronomer in between the car and tree.
Foole’s Yard is always cool. There is fog in the mornings, too. The graveside was not packed. There was a eulogy, and then there was the sound of dirt on oak.
Mr. Venable and Gussy walked south along the Main Drag.
“See the Cenotaph?”
“This morning’s? Yes.”
“Whole mountaintop declared protected.”
They walked some more.
“Story was on page seven.”
“Another buried lede,” he said.
Gussy took his hand, and Mr. Venable did not know how to respond, so he didn’t.
“How did you know Penny?”
“She bought me some suits once.”
Gussy did not let his hand go, and Mr. Venable did not try to take it back. They passed The Tahitian and she said,
“Who won here?”
He did not answer, and she did not press the question as they walked south down the Main Drag in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.