The bailiff brought me, still cuffed, into the courtroom where I was to be arraigned before the Honorable Judge Whitney Baird, magistrate for the Third District of All That Is Holy. A tall, gaunt, stern-looking man, he emanated condescension as he sat down and called the court into session. I had the feeling that I’d seen him before, but I couldn’t remember exactly where or when.
The prosecutor, a dark, swarthy man of a certain age (who closely resembled Alberto Gonzalez), stood and called criminal after criminal forward for his or her case to be heard. The offenses varied in gravity, from theft of a previously-happily married woman’s heart to the immoral electioneering charge against the campaign manager of the newest Democratic senator from the state of Missouri. I watched as one after another the charges were read, a plea was offered and each was found guilty and sentenced without any further discussion of the matter.
When the court clerk finally called my name, the bailiff jerked me to my feet.
“Your Honor,” the prosecutor said, his face now contorted into a pained expression, “Mr. Church is charged with violation of Article 38-A of the Personal Offenses Code, possession of an illegal smile with intent to distribute, a class B felony carrying a maximum penalty of two years in Purgatory.”
Judge Baird continued to look at the sworn complaint in front of him until, after a few seconds, he looked over the top rim of his bifocals and scowled at me. “You’re a Democrat, aren’t you?”
“Guilty, Your Honor!” I offered, in a voice unnecessarily loud and perhaps a bit more joyous than good sense might dictate under the circumstances.
“You disgust me…” he said, anger crawling out from between his clenched teeth with each word, like roaches who realized that the lights just went out, “How do you plead?”
“Guilty again, Your Honor!” I repeated, a smile representative of the exact offense for which I was being charged now plastered from ear to ear like a half-wit ten-year-old who’s just been told, screw the cavities, it’s Christmas and he could have more candy.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t throw the book at you,” he challenged, his face now twisted into a sneer worthy of Jimmy Cagney during his portrayal of the young tough in Boy’s Town.
Suddenly, I remember where I’d seen him! He was the guy I’d seen Tiffany Trim get into the cab with on Fifth Avenue, after she left my apartment. Quickly, I put two and two together.
“Well, Judge, may I approach the bench… alone?” My smile persisted.
A quick motion of his finger and the bailiff released me from his grasp. “I think a man of your obvious wisdom and great compassion might be inclined to reconsider a penalty if a certain defendant knew where his wife really spends each Tuesday evening from five to nine p.m. and was willing to inform the whole court of her, um, love of French culture.”
I swear the man’s face turned seven different shades of crimson before all color disappeared. “Step back…and not another word, do you understand?” he whispered, his eyes suddenly looking very sad and a bit teary.
Standing up, he declared, “Mr. Prosecutor, this is not an illegal smile! Have you never before seen a shit-eating grin? You are free to go, sir, with the apologies of this court.” The gavel slam was of sufficient ferocity to cause several spectators to jump. “Case dismissed!”
Never again will I question the ability of Karmic forces to protect the clueless or punish the haughty… another reason why this smile will last until next election when the job is finished.