No Controlling Legal Authority Ch. 27...byTheScribe©
No Controlling Legal Authority Ch. 27: Courtroom Christmas
"Well, I guess it's OK," Deputy Suggs muttered as he unlocked the courthouse door and held it open for Anne to enter the darkened hallway. "I know he'll be glad to see that," he said nodding at the package under her arm. She had showed him the label inscription, sort of like a safe conduct pass, which he recognized warranted her immediate admission. "I'd sure like to know where it's been all these years; I bet we searched the courthouse a dozen times looking for that thing. Your new here so you wouldn't know, but there were five or six lawyers around town who were claiming that old Judge Montcastle wanted them to have that robe. They was figuring that, if they could show up with his robe, they could claim that he wanted them to have his seat on the bench, too, and that'd be a big boost for `em come election time."
"Tell you what, Deputy," she responded stepping into the building, "I promised not to tell anyone but Caleb, er, ah, I mean, Judge Montcastle, where it came from, but you can ask him about it later if you want."
"That'll be alright, ma'am," the deputy said with a grin. "I've been figuring that it would be turnin' up eventually, especially now that young Caleb's took to the bench and got his feet wet a little, and there ain't no trick to guessin' where it's been."
"What do you mean you can guess where it's been?" she challenged him, but she cut her eyes toward the package just to be sure a wayward clue hadn't escaped her notice.
"It's got the smell of that expensive French perfume on it, Miss," he replied wrinkling his nose like a puppy sniffing a bush, "that's strong enough to run most of the women in town out of Sunday mornin' church services, if you know what I mean."
"Oh," she gasped in surprise. She had forgotten how the heavy sweet scent of lilac had assailed her the minute she set foot inside Miss Kate's boarding house, because, in the ensuing days, she had grown accustomed to the smell and no longer noticed it.
"I'll just be heading back to the station, Miss," he grinned at her while touching the bill of his service cap in a casual, two fingered, salute. The Judge's office is at the top of the stairs, third door on the left. Y'all have a merry Christmas."
"Wait," she called after him, catching the door to prevent it from closing.
"Yes'm" he said, turning toward her.
"Please, don't say anything to anybody, about the robe, I mean."
"Don't you worry yourself about that, little lady. I bodyguarded old Judge Montcastle the last fifteen years he was on the bench, so there's not many of his secrets I don't know, and there ain't nobody alive that can say he learned one of them secrets from me. Now, you just run on up those stairs and give Judge Caleb his robe; it'll be good to see it back in action, kinda like old times."
"Thank you," she sighed, visibly relieved, "and a very merry Christmas to you too Deputy."
"'Night, ma'am," he said as he turned to go, and in the twinkling of an eye, like Santa disappearing up a chimney, he vanished into the shadows.
The door to Caleb's chambers was open and light was spilling from the doorway into the empty hall at the top of the stairs. Anne tiptoed toward the light, passing, along the way, a door which was inscribed with gilt lettering reading, "Judge Caleb Montcastle, Public Entrance," and beyond that another door with the inscription, "Court Library, NO Public Admittance." A little further, an empty metal folding chair had been pushed against the wall next to the open door and it was blocking her way like a silent sentry. She crept to the chair and peeked around the doorframe.
A glance confirmed that indeed Caleb was hard at work. Law books were strewn around the room, some open, others closed, and there were books stacked in piles on every flat surface. There were law books in chairs, and on the floor in discrete, towering stacks. There were opened books spread edge to edge across the entire breadth of the couch, and, of course, his desk had become the repository of so many volumes that she nearly had to stand on tiptoe just to establish his presence behind the towers of books.
Caleb was reclining in his chair with his feet propped on his desk, and he was studying an open volume in his lap. He had one pencil stuck behind his ear, and he was nibbling the eraser on another as he read. His hair was tousled and mostly sticking straight up like he had run his fingers through it and forgot to pat it down afterward. He had a sort of windblown, unshaven and disheveled, little boy look about him that was only partly offset by the presence of a dress shirt and a loosened necktie. A plate with what she guessed was part of a peanut butter sandwich tottered precariously atop an exceptionally tall stack of books on the corner of his desk. On an adjacent stack, which was nearly as lofty as its neighbor, a glass with the solidified remnants of what might have been milk was poised for imminent catastrophe like a high diver on a platform over an empty pool.
Anne loosened her belt and unbuttoned her trenchcoat, allowing the lapels to fall open freely to uncover the alluring ensemble that Miss Kate had helped her select for the occasion. Kate, she recalled, had brushed aside her concerns with a laugh, saying "Zee cashmere sweater wis zee tres belle décolletage veel have heem panting and snorting, Cherie, and zee rouge mini-skirt ees like zee cape of zee bullfighter, n'est pas; zee one look at vous een zis and he weel charge like zee bull.
She placed her package in the chair beside the door, checking, first, to be sure it couldn't be seen from within Caleb's office, and then, a little self-consciously, she ran her palms down the front of her skirt to smooth out any wrinkles and followed that bit of preening by slipping her thumbs inside her waist-band and tugging her skirt a little higher up her thighs.
"You look MAAAARVALOUS, daaaaling, simply MAAAARVALOUS," one of her many inner voices purred in her mind as she teased her plunging neckline to reveal a couple of additional inches of cleavage, and immediately the image of Billy Crystal materialized in her imagination like a genie coming out of a bottle.
"Where's Sam and Danny and the others?" she queried her tuxedoed comic character anxiously as he took a position behind a podium of crackling carnal flames. "They better not start messin' with my switches."
"Don't worry, kid, your switches are safe with me," Billy chortled wickedly and then, as he threw his arm forward in a widely sweeping, grand gesture, he proclaimed, "They're all here, everybody, waiting for the show to begin, daaaling, and what a crowd it is."
"Where? I don't see anybody," she said, eyeing him suspiciously.
"It's dark; I had 'em turn the house lights down so we could see the show better," Billy cackled, and then, turning to the audience he yelled so loudly that Anne feared the sound of his voice would rouse Caleb, "What'd ya say, everybody; let's give it up for Miss Anne, the sweetest little pussy, in all of…where?" He cupped his hand behind his ear and leaned expectantly toward the audience waiting for a response.
"Wisconsin," Danny Devito's unmistakable voice rang out followed immediately by a cacophony of laughter, shouting, whistling and generalized caterwauling.
"Shut up, you moron, that's cheese," Billy only half-seriously scolded the heckling Devito.
Anne strained to hear Devito's response, however the persisting tumult drowned him out, but Billy, hand still cupping his ear, shook his head dismissively and called out, "No, it does NOT smell like Limburger, you idiot. So, what do you say, folks…the best pussy where?"
The rafters shook with the vibration of a thousand stomping feet and the thunderous roar of clapping hands and a half a thousand voices rose in triumphant unison to chant, "Posey's Bend, Posey's Bend."
Billy glanced over his shoulder and shrugged, "Sorry 'bout that, kid; guess that'll have to do ya till the show gets started anyway."
"That'll do quite nicely for the time being," she smiled modestly, tapping her knuckles lightly against the frosted glass of the chamber door and calling out softly, "Caleb?"
"Hello!" he answered in a startled voice, yanking his feet off his desk and jerking upright in his chair. He squinted, looking into the shadows where the sound originated, and tried to identify the source of the interruption.
"It's just me, Caleb," she said reassuringly as she stepped into the light in the richly paneled office. Perfect lighting, she thought, as her shapely bare legs flashed a flattering golden bronze in the muted glow.
"Anne? Is that you?" he called out uncertainly. He reached to tilt the shade on his desk lamp toward her.
"Just me," she answered approaching his desk by carefully picking her way through the stacks of books, and, she observed moving closer, scattered files, papers and legal pads as well. "I was worried that maybe you had worked yourself to death up here and nobody would find you till after the holidays."
"Jesus," he moaned rubbing his hand across his face. "What day of the week is it, anyway?"
"It's Sunday, Christmas Eve."
"Oh, hell, it can't be Sunday already," he protested, leaping to his feet. "It was just Friday this morning." He began pushing things around on his desk, trying to locate his calendar, and the stacks of books along the edges wavered ominously.
"Better be careful there," she warned with a grimace, anticipating imminent chaos.
"Damn," he fumed in frustration when the calendar failed to appear, and then he reached across his desk and punched the button on the office intercom and yelled, "Mildred!" into the speaker.
In the distance, a couple of rooms away, she heard the muffled sound of his voice and the noise reverberated faintly in the deserted hallway behind her. "I think she's gone home already, Caleb; it IS nearly ten o'clock and it IS Christmas Eve, after all," she said reminding him gently.
"Damn," he said repeating himself and rubbing his head with both hands as though a massage would restore some lucidity to his thoughts. "Christmas Eve; that's what you said. I sent her home day before yesterday, and the last thing she did on the way out the door was to remind me to call you. God, what the hell happened to the time?"
"You've been busy from the look of things," she said scanning the debris of a dozen ongoing research projects.
"Don't look; it's a wreck," he pleaded. "I haven't even been able to get into my own bathroom since sometime yesterday," he said pointing toward an easel displaying an enormous blueprint marked "Plaintiff's Exhibit A," that was blocking a nearby door.
"I've seen worse," she lied charitably.
"I couldn't imagine where," he muttered distantly just as a look of real dismay darkened his face, and he gulped, "I didn't stand you up or anything, did I?"
"Not really," she answered. "Maurice called last night at nine and said he had a pretty good crowd with an hour wait, and he asked if he should hold your table any longer."
"Oh, damn, I did forget our date, then," he groaned dropping into his chair with a defeated thud.
"Not exactly," she corrected, letting him slip easily off the hook. "You said you were going to call me sometime, but it wasn't anything definite. I think Maurice just assumed, it being Saturday night and all, that we'd drop in for dinner."
"I can certainly understand how either one of you might have made that assumption," Caleb acknowledged dismally.
"I told him it was my fault; that you were working and had asked me to call and tell him not to hold our table past seven, but that it had slipped my mind."
"You told him that?" he asked incredulously. "You took the blame for my screw-up?"
"It's OK, really. He was totally cool about it and paid me a really nice compliment."
"Yeah?" he said with a hint of jealously. "What did he say?"
"He said that, 'Even when I am not there, the anticipation of my coming lights the room with excitement.'" As she repeated the compliment she shifted her weight and turned, subtly posing to give him a glimpse inside the folds of her trenchcoat so he could see for himself the source of inspiration behind Maurice's romanticism.
"That sounds like the pretentious bastard," he grumbled, kicking himself under the desk for not having the wit to think of such words himself.
She cocked her head to the side like she didn't quite believe what she just heard, and, flipping the tails of her trenchcoat behind her, she put her fists on her hips, and declared in a defiant tone, "I thought he was being sweet."
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and a Merry Christmas to you, he exclaimed to himself, when the act of sweeping aside the concealment of her coat fully revealed the splendor within. Skin-tight, finely woven cashmere molded transparently like wet Kleenex to her sumptuous curves and dipped at the neck to reveal a line of cleavage that stretched before his eyes like the Going to the Sun Highway. Her skirt, a strip of Christmas red bunting, snugly circled her hips in a narrow band that he judged wasn't much wider than most of the belts at a Wyoming rodeo.
"I didn't mean it like that," he muttered sheepishly without taking his eyes off her curves.
"How did you mean it, then?" she said with her hands still on her hips. Her jutting chin and tight fists gave her an air of pugnacity.
"I don't know, uh, you know," he began haltingly, "I guess I was feeling bad about letting Saturday get away from me like I did."
"When you're feeling badly about having let someone down, do you usually stomp on them like that?"
"Stomp on them?" he asked feigning bewilderment.
"I'd say calling someone a 'pretentious bastard' qualifies as stomping on them, wouldn't you?"
"Oh, that," he said, inching up in his seat so he could see over the books that were blocking his view of her legs. Big deal, he snickered inwardly, I shoulda called him what he is, a low-down, skirt-chasin,' girl-stealin,' redneck, Mississippi catfish farmer with a fake French accent. "You're right, of course," he continued, taking an insincere stab at contrition. "I'm sorry."
"He accepts your apology," Anne replied coolly, and, taking her fists off her hips, she began buttoning her coat. "I think you must be exhausted after all this work, so I'll just be heading on back to Miss Kate's."
"No, no, wait, please," he yelped in alarm, jumping to his feet. "Don't go, please. I was out of line; that was a stupid thing to say."
"It was out of character; I think you must be tired," she reproved him, continuing to fasten buttons.
"No, no, I'm not that tired, really," he protested. "I just wasn't thinking. Too many cases jumping around in my brain vying for attention, I guess."
"Well, I certainly shouldn't be interfering with that, should I?" she responded sensibly, while her hands sought the loose ends of her belt.
"You're not interfering with anything. Honestly, I meant to stop working yesterday." His inability to dissuade her was making him a little desperate. "Look," he continued earnestly, "We could still get something to eat, it's not too late."
"I'm not very hungry." She began threading the end of her belt through the buckle.
"Well, we could have a drink, then. I've got anything you could want in the credenza over there," he said; his speech was showing signs of becoming pressured.
"I don't know," she answered uncertainly. Her fingers paused. "Miss Kate and I had a couple of cognacs earlier; that's about my limit. I'd hate for Deputy Suggs to pull me over for DUI on the way home."
"Suggs?" he screeched in alarm at the mention of the familiar name. He's not still on duty out there in the hall, is he?"
"No, he's on duty over at the jail, watching the prisoner. I asked him to let me in the courthouse to see you, and he did."
"He let you in without asking me first? How'd you get him to do that? Deputy Dog wouldn't even let my mother in up here without Judge Montcastle telling him it was OK, first."
"Deputy Dog?" she echoed with a slight scowl, ignoring the question. "My goodness, you've got 'Trash Can,' and 'Moon Dog' and 'Pellet Head' and now, 'Deputy Dog'; nicknames for everybody. That's beginning to sound too much like that nitwit in the White House."
"Who?" he asked trying to follow the thread.
"George W. Bush, Caleb. You know, 'Bush Lite?' He's so fond of nicknames, someone gave HIM one and it fits him to a tee."
"You don't like our President; how come?" Caleb asked with a grin, thankfully rushing to embrace the diversion since it seemed to be the only thing keeping her from just fastening her belt and walking out on him.
"Dumb and lazy, that's why. Doesn't know beans from biscuits and too lazy to learn the difference. I hear he's even got Dick Cheney and Karen Hughes signed up to learn ventriloquism, so he won't have to do anything at press conferences but stand up and move his lips."
"Hey, I'll drink to that, but only if you'll join me," Caleb laughed. "And, don't tell that to anybody else around here, 'cause you and I are the only two people in Posey's Bend who think like that."
"You voted for Gore, then?" She was eyeing him dubiously.
"Yes, I surely did; the choice wasn't even close in my book."
"Well, in that case," she said, relenting without too much struggle, "I guess a weak one with a fellow Democrat would be OK, especially since it's almost Christmas."
"Great," he said, rubbing his hands together gleefully, and he quickly stepped to her side of the desk, offering solicitously as he approached her, "Come on, stay a while, let me help you with your coat."
"Sure, thanks, but just one," she said, turning away and unbuttoning her coat for the second time.
He tugged, and the coat slid easily down her back like a sheet slipping off a statue. In a couple of quickened heartbeats he had tossed the trenchcoat into a nearby chair, and she was turning again to face him. Her presence filled the room, and her seductive grace nearly took his breath. In that instant, as she turned, his heart fluttered with exhilaration, and he felt like a witness to Michaelangelo's unveiling of the Venus de Milo.
"Wow!" he exclaimed breathlessly, like a kid being handed a Nolan Ryan autographed baseball. His eyes, reddened and blood-shot from hours of sifting fine print for elusive answers, widened in excited appreciation and caromed from curve to curve like a pair of misdirected billiard balls.
"You really like it? she asked, playfully striking an exaggerated, pin-up pose with one hand on her hip and the other behind her head.
"Oops, I'll, oops, say," he replied enthusiastically but haltingly as he retreated to the liquor cabinet, stumbling blindly through the minefield of reference materials along the way. He was unable to tear his eyes away from her and crashed into the wall a few feet to the side of the credenza.
"Careful, Caleb, don't hurt yourself on my account," she warned too late to prevent the impact.
"I'm OK, I'm OK," he assured her, rebounding and orienting himself and then stooping to open the credenza.
"Scotch Ok with you? This is a really smooth 30 year old single malt," he said, extracting a crystal decanter of his best stock from the cabinet.
"Sure, why not? She answered with a devil may care lilt. "Scotch and cognac go together like gasoline and gunpowder, don't they?"
"Well, not quite that incendiary," he grinned, pouring out a generous portion and handing her the glass.
"Good," she replied swirling the liquid to release the vapor of smoldering peat, "I probably should leave the building under my own power."
"Even if you don't, there's nobody here but me to see you," he laughed, and then he reached toward her extending his glass and asked, "How about a toast?"