"If injustice is done by everyone, it becomes justice."
|THE LAWYER AND THE WITCH
I AM LIVING IN THE QUEEN’S WORLD. And it is really sickening. This is her stage. They are her puppets. The disgust of letting her pull our strings has been gnawing its way inside me. Her word is the law and my only joy is mocking it. It does not matter if you are a trifle thief of loaf or a full-fledged murderer, she will ask your head for it. And that’s it. Trials are just formalities. Courts are mere decorations. She rules with a hand of iron and in her code, everything is procedural. And why should anyone try to think if everything he ought to know was legislated in their laws?
She does not need her puppets to sprout some brains in their sorry skulls. No puppet can think after all. False evidences have hanged many. Those laws burnt a multitude at stakes. And all the constabularies can say is “The Queen said so.” She did not even spare her own daughter for having committed treason against her country. Apparently, the girl had boldly forgiven and freed prisoners to be executed. I heard she was hanged for the deed but her death was elusive.
I have been walking down an alleyway, desolate and penniless. I was offered a job this morning but I refused or should I say, it has been refused. Last night, the Earl of Desmond had been robbed of his well-stocked jewels, diamonds, sapphires and emeralds to name a few. A friend requested me to handle the case but dismissed the idea when I answered, “Serves him right. So he even commissioned a thief to help him in his charitable campaign? How remarkable.”
I am drinking a bottle of soda while musing over the newspaper which reported the said robbery. He dominated the front page … again.
“So it’s Robin Hood now, huh?” I whistled. He’s really at it. The Queen’s most embittered archenemy whose manifestos brazenly challenge the laws. Last time he tried being Jean Valjean by appearing right before the execution of an innocent man arrested in his name. The royal police cheered in victory when it seemed that he was turning himself. Well, they were dead wrong. No blood was shed that day.
He is the most interesting subject of my profession. I really want to find this—my stomach grumbled—well, find dinner first at—ouch!
“HEY YOU! FREEZE!”
The gruff ruffian voice urged me to gather all my spilled wits inside my spinning head. I stood up and lamented on the dribbling soda over my face. I have just run on a beggar in a tattered frock coat. The poor creature fell on her knees.
“What are you staring at!” one of the cops yelled even angrier at me than their chase. “SEIZE THE WITCH! SHE’S A MURDERER!”
I stared at them for a moment and switched my gaze to the creature. My eyes narrowed grimly. If she fell on their hands, then there’s the end of it. With that feline agility, she pounced past my shoulder; the wild look on her eyes suggested that she is never ignorant of the imminent penalty. I caught her by the wrist. She thrust and pulled herself frantically from my grip but all in vain.
“Good,” the diminutive constable grinned. “Your name will reach the Queen.”
“No. No—please,” the trembling whisper said. “I never did it. Believe me.”
“Now, lad. Hand her—”
“Well, my dear Sirs,” it’s my turn to grin. “What seems to be the problem with my client?”
“Client!” the fish-eyed cop laughed. “In the name of Her Majesty, what rubbish!”
I fumbled with my free hand from my chest pocket and drew a leather pouch. I threw it to the idiotic bunch. They examined it with pretentious scrutiny.
“Do lawyers always need to wear expensive suits with matching briefcases and an ever-scowling face?” I snickered and casually tossed my bottle of soda in the tin can. “I must ask that no one should ever touch or alter anything from the scene of the crime. Your Majesty’s laws give us lawyers all the rights to equally form our defense for the benefit of our subject. Hence, I would conclude that you would obediently follow the procedures of prosecution and call off such fruitless pursuit until such time a conclusive evidence has been procured against the defendant. I shall ask you then to formally meet us at court.”
That rang their heads, I know. They have left us grudgingly.
“Perhaps, we can start by hearing your account of what had happened,” I started, pouring her a cup of tea.
“You’re a poor lawyer,” she said bluntly, her eyes scanning my little quarters. “Are you really one?”
“If I’m not, I should have already given you to the police without any evidence to do so. I would excuse such skepticism. We all know that fakes have littered in the courts nowadays. I see that you are not used to such dwelling,” I gave away a hint of my irritation. “The cold streets are better, I suppose.”
“You lost your chance to live,” her manner composed and reserved. “Defending a witch in the court? You’re asking to be hanged.”
It was then that it struck me: her trembling voice was gone.
“I’m afraid to say I’m older than the hunchbacked Queen to believe in fairy tales,” I shrugged. “If you indeed used witchcraft to commit the crime, then why let the hounds sniffed your trail? It sounds inconceivable.”
“It’s just that they have nothing to place their noses on,” she replied casually. “The crime is impossible for a human, they said.”
“Impossible for a human, huh?” I mused while flipping over the papers. “Lack of results would definitely cost them their heads. The blame should find its host. Under the normal course of business, it’s natural for the impossible to meet the supernatural.”
“Well then, Mr. Lawyer,” she responded with a curious fascination. “You can take this as working hypothesis—that witches are supernatural beings.”
“If they even exist, that is.”
I eyed the reports warily and read it from the police perspective:
Duke Farnese of Richmond. One of the wealthiest and most influential in the peerage was allegedly murdered a couple of hours ago in a most peculiar, baffling method. Not a single trace of possible human fabrication was found. Rigor mortis had set in when the dead body sprawling limply beside the stone bench was discovered in the gentleman’s garden. No footprints. No fingerprints. Not even the slightest hint of resistance from the victim. The coroner reported that the cause of death was poisoning. No external wounds and other possible injuries were found. Doctors have confirmed deficiencies in the unusual stiffening of the cardiac muscles and paralysis of the nerve centers. Despite of all these claims, the autopsy defied the initial findings. Not a drop of any fatal chemical had been administered orally to the victim. The forensics team negatively declared the presence of any poison on his skin.
“Hmm. So this lack of evidence is what had actually pointed you as the culprit?” I snickered. “What a powerful deduction.”
The scene where the late duke was found had been searched and studied. The investigative team stated that nothing worth of consideration except his gilded flute was recovered. According to the household servants, it had been their master’s wont to play a tune during those hours of the day. Scratches have been identified from the instrument but the police concluded that they were from prolonged use. Opposing conjectures do not dismiss witchcraft as a possibility. As these how the circumstances stand, the accused was scheduled for a trial tomorrow morning.
“Scratches. Flute. Poison,” I muttered under my breath as I stood up and drew the curtains from the window, enhancing ventilation. So the link then is?
“Getting on the front page just to advertise a missing pet! Talk about spending money wisely.” the girl blurted, the newspaper covering her face. A vein pulsed on my temples. Tomorrow morning we might be dead and she does not seem to care. “His screws are loose, this baron.”
“Honestly, do you even understand—?”
I dropped dead on my tracks … and felt a string snapped inside me.
“I see. So that is why.”
“I guess I should see our man tonight,” I grinned. “And arrange for him to attend the trial tomorrow.”
“So you are denying every possibility of the defendant’s association with the case?” the bald judge with flaring nostrils (that was perhaps from my natural insolence) barely restrained another yell.
“I clearly made that point, your honor.”
“And at the same time you are saying that the deed was impossible for a human.”
“It might be a bit painful to pay a little accolade to the royal police for arriving at the correct conclusion. But yes, indeed it was impossible for a human. Well, we do not have the same facilities to commit the deed.” I answered in my rehearsed obedient tone. “So I am willing to respect their cleverness even with the little that they have.”
The cruel glint on his eyes which darted on my face from behind his monocle is proof of how he wanted us both in the execution chamber.
“The law is clear about witchcraft and any heinous act of deviltry. We do need neither discourse nor debate over such matter; you therefore shall receive your due judgment and suffer your own sentences in the name of—”
“I don’t think Your Majesty will not approve of that either. Especially if the real murderer is lurking in our presence.”
It had the intended effect. The court room was deafened in still silence.
“So I guess we can continue with the proceedings while deserving your delayed judgment. Have you perhaps heard the latest misfortune that has befallen to the Baron of Strafford? That was sure a huge amount for his beloved acquaintance, don’t you think?”
“Don’t make fools out of us! What are you—?”
I snickered. “Do you know that in Hinduism, there is a beast most sacred to their creator-destroyer, the primal force behind everything, the god, Shiva? Such beliefs form the backbone of the Indian culture—culture which persists until now. It pays reading history, your honor.”
“This is a hoax! A prank! You’re just delaying your deaths!”
“Perhaps we can try the same trick which killed the Duke of Richmond,” I smiled and reached something from my chest pocket. “Before I start, please know that in India, such bold death-defying performance forms part of their livelihood. Englishmen such as the Baron himself are so fascinated that they had brought home the skill. Well then.”
I played the flute and in a few seconds, I could hear the distinct hissing. The venomous threat was approaching. In that instant, I almost saw my life flashed right before my eyes. The serpent posed menacingly with his flaring hood; its fangs aiming for my arm. I opened my huge empty briefcase, threw it over the creature and slammed it shut. All in a speed I had never thought I was capable of.
“The Baron’s pet was responsible for the Duke’s unfortunate death. My client has nothing to with this right from the beginning. The scratches evidenced that the Duke tried to shun off the beast with his flute. If you would inspect the corpse, please look at the back of his knee and you will find the bite marks. This crucial clue had been neglected during the course of investigation. A king cobra subsists in the forests of tropical countries. The Baron must have constructed an artificial habitat. Now it had escaped and was not used in this environment, no doubt it is agitated.”
“Whether your client killed the duke or not, she’s still a witch and must therefore be executed!” the judge drenching in cold sweat declared.
I halted. The cold blade of a dagger was pressed on my neck.
“Move and you’re dead,” she whispered and chuckled behind my ear. “That was a fascinating show, Mr. Detective.” Then loudly she said, “Please give my message to your most stupid Queen. She will never get me inside her hellish chambers.”
The door burst open. Her Majesty’s royal pack of hounds was quick with the news. I retired. This is the end of it. Neither of us will survive. I turned at her but saw an expression I would only find on the face of a certain someone. She was actually grinning. They lunged towards us but in that moment, she removed her frock coat and threw it upward. All eyes were on it including mine but in that split second when everyone was frozen, she seized the chance and pulled us out from our execution. When the police noticed us, the tap-tap-tapping sound followed.
I have never known what it was until I managed a chance to look back: the court room was raining with dazzling jewels—the jewels of the Earl of Desmond.
When we reached my house, I just gazed at her. If it was from admiration or contempt, I never know.
“Let me guess your thoughts and answer them at the same time,” she proceeded to my sink and washed her face. The dirt and oil were evidently tools of her guise as a beggar or witch, whatever. When she returned to face me on the table (guess it pays to be honest), the sight of her gave me the feeling that my heart leapt a beat. “If you’re never expected us to return here, that exactly is the reason why we returned—because no one expects it. Let the fools search the ports and terminals.”
She stood again to close the curtains. “The hostage thing earlier was just an act. I am grateful for the service, Ace.”
“I see. So you have already searched me. How much do you know?”
“Everything that can be inferred from this little hut of yours,” she replied like she lives in some palace elsewhere. “Frankly, you do not need to help me but you have done it anyway. I admire your sense of justice. It is the rarest thing to see. I know you’re wondering why I am still here. But first let me hear your mind. Speak up. I know you noticed.”
“I admit it shocked me,” I replied. “To think I have the most wanted criminal in the empire as my guest. The Queen’s archenemy. What an honor.”
“That confirms it,” she smiled. “I know you’re well-capable but you’re poor. What can you do? Nothing.”
“So what do you propose?” I raised an eyebrow.
She fetched something from my cupboard. “I have to hide it here. I cannot risk it.”
She placed it on the table: the royal family’s crest, the insignia of the empire carved in purest diamond, rubies and emeralds. It hangs from a chain of glittering gold.
“How about forming a partnership with me?”
This girl is a real celebrated thief. I cannot imagine how she sneaked this from the palace catacombs. This jewel of the late princess, Selene, was buried with her.
“Fine. So what is your name exactly? No fake ones.”
“Hmm?” she sounded a bit surprised. “I’m Selene.”