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Tami’s Day in Court

“Hear, hear!  All rise, Campbell County District Court, State of Vermont, Honorable Prudence Stanton presiding.”

 

        All rose, the lawyers and the crime victim and the three dozen or so spectators in the gallery and overflowing to the jury seats on the side, as the wrinkled old lady in black robes entered and ascended the bench in the historic old courtroom, built in 1773 according to the cornerstone outside.

 

        She sat down and everyone else did too.  She nodded to the young male stenographer to her side, who poised his hands over the little machine.  “Court now in sesson.  Good morning, all.  As y’know I have strict standards of decorum in heah,” she said, lilting in her old-Vermonty accent.  She put on the reading glasses hanging from her neck and looked down.  “I have here a note from the state medical examiner as to our complaining witness’s allergy and I give it due respect.  Sorry if it’s a bit chilly in here,” she said to the only unclothed person in the room.  “It’s cold in this place even in the summer.

 

        “Now I see we have only one case on the calendar today, People versus Henry Ross.  The charge is endangerment in the second degree, which has a statute of limitations of two and a half years, and the motion is to upgrade the charge to first degree, which has a statute of four years.  The two and a half years runs out today, which under Section 789 means also that this is the last day the motion can be made.  Miss Granby-White?”

 

        At the lawyers’ table were the assistant D.A., a thin, young white woman in glasses and a smart business outfit; Jen’s father, Marcus McIntyre, in his three-piece suit and shined black shoes; and Tami Smithers.  The assistant D.A.  and Mr. McIntyre got up and stood in front of the bench.  Ms. Granby-White looked up and said, “Your Honor, I believe you have our out of state attorney application for Mr. McIntyre for this case?”

 

        “Yes I do,” the judge said, looking at the thin file in front of her.  “And it’s granted.  Welcome to our court, Mr. McIntyre.”

 

        “Thank you, Your Honor.”  Marcus McIntyre motioned for Tami to stand up next to him.  She hesitantly and nervously stood her barefoot and naked self beside the two well-dressed lawyers, her hair, once again plum color, carefully braided up, her fingernails and toenails done up nicely in the same color.

 

        Marcus was well aware of Tami’s fear of lawyers and courtrooms, a fear well justified by what she had been through.  But he always liked to have his clients in court if it made for good theater.  This was certainly true of Tami, whose nakedness vividly illustrated the wrong that had been done to her.  Last night he had sat down with her, with Jen and Rod in attendance, and went over what was to happen.  He explained the status of his investigation, the legal issues involved, the importance of her being there, and the probability that the judge would ask her questions.  Tami bit her lip and agreed to appear for the motion.

 

        He began in his usual poised manner.  “Your Honor, my client as a freshman at your local college underwent a horrible and unending series of humiliations and intimidations at the hands of the defendant.  Her clothes were stripped from her, all her shoes too, and she was forced to spend the entire academic year totally naked, not only while on campus, but wherever she went.  Naked and barefoot through the cruel blizzards of winter, the cold rains of spring, her most private areas on view for anyone to see, while being prohibited from showing any sign of modesty upon the threat of having her scholarship revoked, the scholarship which was such a source of pride to her and her family --”

 

        “Yes, yes, I’ve read the indictment,” the judge said.  “Now why should the charge be upgraded?”

 

        Marcus was used to giving long, lurid accounts of his clients’ suffering and did not expect to get cut off.  He quickly sized up this judge as one of those old yankees who hated wordiness.  He changed gears.  “Since the scheme was exposed, I have had investigators looking for Mr. Ross, necessary because the police could not do it, it being clear that Mr. Ross had immediately left the state.  For two years we could not find him.  Last month an investigative search finally retrieved a ‘hit’, an airplane ticket bought by Mr. Ross a year ago in Phoenix, Arizona for a trip to Beaumont, Texas.  We subpoenaed the airline records and found an address in Arizona, but by that time the residence had been deserted with no sign of where he had gone.

 

        He dramatically lowered his voice.  “Then, four days ago, a person matching Mr. Ross’s physical description was seen purchasing a handgun at a shop in Boca Raton, Florida.  Unfortunately we could not get verification.”

 

        “Why is that?”

 

        “Well as you might know, a new federal rule requires all background information as to gun purchases to be destroyed within 24 hours.”

 

        The judge rolled her eyes.  “Oh, right.”

 

        “By the time we got a subpoena signed and served it, it was too late.  It would be a grave miscarriage of justice if at the last moment this person, who had subjected my client to such abuse, solely for his sadistic purposes, who took a young female of her tender years and -- “

 

        “Get to the point!”

 

        “Uh, my point being that we are this close” -- he put his thumb and forefinger an inch apart -- “to capturing this man.  Witnesses can be interviewed, and the gun shop owner himself seems cooperative.  It was a cash sale and he had kept the paper receipt, which said ‘Henry Ross’, which he had checked by asking to see the buyer’s driver’s license.  So it seems we finally have a real lead on tracking the defendant down.”

 

        Marcus went to the table and took out a folder from his briefcase.  “I would like to present documentation of what I’ve told you.”

 

        “That’s all right, Mr. McIntyre, I stipulate to what you say, and I say so on the record.”

 

        “Well if you don’t mind, I’d like to put it in your file anyway...”

        Ms. Granby-White whispered to Marcus, “What are you doing?” She whispered as lowly as possible but in the quiet courtroom it was impossible not to hear.

 

        “I’m building a record on appeal,” he whispered back.

 

        “If she rules against us, it’s not appealable,” she said.  “Not in this state.”

 

        Marcus missed only a beat before putting the folder back.  Best not to piss the judge off.

 

        The judge said, “Mr. McIntyre, I see your point as to imminent capture” -- with her accent it was more like “capcheh” -- “but that is not relevant to why the charge should be upgraded.  I see you have your client with you.  If it’s OK with you, Miss, I’d like to ask you something.”

 

        Tami had been standing quietly, her hands clasped politely in front of her, as it happened over her pubic bush.  She cleared her throat and said, “Y-yes, Ma’am.”  Marcus bit his lip.  He had told her to address the judge as “Your Honor”, not “Ma’am”.  But Tami’s upbringing was too strong.

 

        “Miss Smithers . . .”  The judge turned to the stenographer.  “Off the record, please.”  She looked down at her file and then up at Tami.

 

        She was at a loss for words, seeing what she saw.

 

        Tami, still looking up at her obediently, had crossed one arm over to cover her breasts, and put the other hand over her crotch.

 

        Tami never did that.  There was a silent gasp from the audience, from Rod and Jen in the gallery behind her, and especially from those in the jury seats to the side who had a better view.

 

        Marcus looked over in surprise, then down at Tami’s bare toes nervously flexing against the polished wood floor.  Tami’s motions were great theater, but that could not be why she did it.  And any sense of modesty had been burned out of her long ago.  Maybe this was an expression of “modesty” in the deeper sense of the word, the modesty that Tami always had.  A sign of respect for the judge and an uncertainty as to how she should be presenting herself.

        The judge collected herself and said what she had been about to say.  “You’re not under oath, my dear.  Let’s discuss this informally.  I see here, from what I read, what amounted to a threat to take away your scholarship if you put on any clothes.  That fits the bill for endangerment in the second degree.  But there’s first degree endangerment if the threat was physical.  At any time, did Henry Ross, or either of the persons listed as accomplices here, Percy Jorgon or Nevada McMasters, or any of that whole crowd, did they threaten you physically, threaten you with bodily harm?”

 

        This was the key point.  Last night Marcus had gone over this carefully.  He could not, of course, coach his client as to what to say, but had gone as far as the ethics of his profession allowed: “Tami, you should search your memory and think, were you ever physically threatened? At any time, did Henry Ross, or anyone involved in this say, Tami, if you put on the merest scrap of clothing, or show any sign of trying to cover up, you will be harmed bodily? Beaten up or something? It didn’t have to be in so many words, it could be indirect, or a matter of you putting two and two together.  Of course,” he continued, dropping his voice, “with all the horrible deeds that will go into evidence at trial, if Henry Ross testifies that he never threatened you, and you say he did, it’s obvious who the jury will believe.”

 

        Tami not answering, the judge said again, “Did they ever threaten you physically, dear?”

 

        In the chilly courtroom everyone held their breath, all eyes on the naked young woman.  Rod and Jen could see goose pimples rising on her butt.  She seemed to clutch her nakedness tighter and looked down at her flexing toes.  For the first time in a long long time, she seemed uncomfortable with being naked.  She looked frightened and cold, like a scared 18-year-old away from home for the first time and overwhelmed by her unwanted nudity and the powerful clothed men determined to break her.

        Then she looked up and said, “N-no, Ma’am.”

 

        “Never?”

 

        Tami looked down and shook her head.  She sniffled and rubbed her nose.

 

        The judge and Tami looked at each other for a second, perhaps with a common understanding as women, but mostly across a wide gulf, separated by age, power, and the ownership of clothes.

 

        The judge turned to the stenographer.  “Back on the record.  Mr. McIntyre, the statute is clear as can be.  Without an allegation that there was a threat to Ms. Smithers’, uh, body, there is no basis for an upgrade.  Motion denied.  The statute of limitations has run.  The case of People versus Henry Ross is closed.”

 

        She banged her gavel.  In the gallery there was weeping, Jen’s.  A couple of TL’s also sobbed.  The judge got up to leave.

        “Your Honor,” Ms. Granby-White piped up, presenting a paper from her jacket pocket.  “Will you sign an order of protection?”

 

        The judge hesitated and then took the paper as it was handed up to her.  She put her glasses back up and read it.

 

        “On this matter I do have some discretion,” she said, sitting down.  “I’ve never signed an order of protection against someone who has never threatened bodily harm, but in this case I don’t mind.”  As she signed it she said, “Also I don’t like it that this man bought a handgun.  Here you are, dear.  Henry Ross is not allowed to enter your home, or call you, or go within 50 feet of you.  If he does any of that, Sheriff Wheeler will toss him into jail and I will personally throw away the key.”

        Tami, still clutching her breasts and her crotch, approached hesitantly as the judge beckoned.  She read the official-looking document as she returned to her place next to Marcus and the assistant D.A.

 

        “This court is adjourned.”  The judge gathered her robes and went back to her chambers.

 

        Tami’s hands dropped from covering herself as she passed by Rod and took his hand on the way out.  Rod folded up the order of protection and put it into the pocket of his coat.

 

        Outside it was a nasty, freezing, blustery day.  Everyone had to put on their hats and gloves right away, Tami in their midst.  They stood around silently, not knowing what to say, feeling pretty miserable as they watched Tami’s nipples grow stiff in the frigid breeze.

 

        Finally Marcus spoke up.  “Sorry, Tami,” he said, putting on his gloves and suppressing a shiver.  “You are a rare gem . . . You’ve had it rough.  Let me suggest that the best thing for you to do right now is get drunk.  Let me take you and Jen and Rod to the pub for some brews and something to eat.  It’s all on me.”

 

        Tami seemed tempted.  But after a moment she said, “No thanks.  I’d rather be alone.  I’m going home.”

 

        And she left them, off to her house by the shortest route, which involved cutting across the village green.  Rod started after her but tactfully not too close, as if he was in a marching band and she was the majorette whom he was to follow at a certain distance.

 

        As they watched her stride across the bleak commons, icy wind biting every inch of her nakedness, her bare feet squishing through the freezing mud, they thought of Henry Ross, sitting on a warm beach in Florida somewhere, or maybe in elegant clothes living the high life on an offshore casino.

 

        Wherever he was, Henry Ross was now off the hook.

 

        And, with very minor exceptions, free to go wherever he wanted.

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