R v Upward Day 9: Justice And Tears

The trial of Luke Upward on charges of criminal damage (in defence of the night sky) to a neon sign advertising the Polo Lounge nightclub resumed after proceedings on whether an adjournment granted indefinitely by Cocklecarrot J was void or voidable because it should have been granted sine die. Upward could sense that the jury remained hostile to him both qua counsel and qua defendant, as representative of an idle and inert upper class. He was still paying for his error in inviting his witness Dr Strabismus (Whom God Hath Preserved In Utrecht) to describe neon as a “noble gas.”

He tried to repair his image. For the first time in his adult life he wore something made of artificial fibre. In place of his perfectly polished periods, he tried to speak in the stubby staccato sentences of the prosecuting counsel, Hardy Prodnose. He even split an infinitive, an event normally as improbable as his splitting the atom or splitting his trousers. All these efforts were fruitless. He could not detect a single friendly face among the jury. The dealer in aggregates glared at him as if he were an unwanted bag of nails and even the timid tailor looked down on him as on a dangling button. Most worrying of all was the contemptuous response to any of his dramatic gestures from the foreman of the jury, followed almost instantly by the identical response from the newest juror, Mr Leo Pard.

At a recess, Upward gave a gloomy assessment of his prospects to his loyal disciple, Ted Level, who had followed every day of the trial. “We’re going to get nothing out of this jury unless the judge orders them to acquit – and that won’t happen unless he’s spellbound by Susan Sarandon.” He confessed himself gravely alarmed by the delayed response to her subpoena as a witness. He gave Level some instructions for a stratagem. It would be expensive and exhaust all the funds raised by well-wishers for his defence. He might even have to pawn his unique collection of zithers. Its chances were little better than those of his selections on the racetrack. But it gave the anxious Level something to do.

To allow more time for the appearance of Susan Sarandon Upward called more uninteresting witnesses who added little to the court’s understanding of the stars. As often happened to his friend, the cocktail pianist Ricky Rubato, he had been forced to “vamp till ready.”

While Upward was cross-examining yet another infants school teacher on her use of stars as a reward, Cocklecarrot J received a message and rent the stagnant air of the courtroom with a mighty epithet, which Mr Reporter by name and by profession prudently bowdlerized. “Approach the bench, Mr Upward.” The self-represented man-of-letters made every effort to glide towards the judge with his usual nonchalance, but an unaccustomed loose lace in his faultless brogues suggested his unease. “She’s not coming,” hissed the judge. “Miss Sarandon. Look at this letter from her lawyers, Messrs Gumby, Pokey and Prickle from some place called Beverley Hills. Declining service of my subpoena on the grounds that she has no knowledge of the facts of the case, or the parties or the matters at issue. What difference does that make? They haven’t even sent a signed photograph. Look here, Upward, you’ve had a good run. How about a change of plea to guilty? I’ll do a serious discount.”

Upward walked back to consult himself in the dock. “M’lud, my client is a freeborn Englishman who places his trust in that most English of inventions, the jury of twelve good men, women and wild cats.”

“This boy’s a fool,” said the judge, reprising his successful “turn” as Mr Eric Morecambe. “Members of the jury,” he intoned in his normal unfunny voice. “You have heard enough. Further witnesses would be otiose, redundant, unnecessary, needless and even supererogatory. It is time to hurry this petty matter to a conclusion. I will accept a majority verdict. I will accept a minority verdict. I will accept a coin-toss verdict. I will accept any coherent response from you which is capable of being transcribed by our reporter, whom I compliment on his punctuation through all the rolling periods of defence counsel. Now go to it!”

The jury retired. But they were back barely five minutes later. Upward remained outwardly imperturbable, but his inner turmoil was betrayed by a handkerchief misaligned beyond the 15 degrees allowed by the International Cricket Council.

“Have you reached a verdict?”

“We have,” said the foreman, whose stern gaze was perfectly matched by the newest juror, Mr Leo Pard.

“And is it the verdict of you all, not that I care?”

“It is.”

“Well, spill it.”

“Guilty.” Upward was still for a moment, and then calmly adjusted his handkerchief back to the permitted angle. “Well, Mr Upward, have you anything to say before I pronounce sentence?”

There was a sudden commotion: the loyal Level had burst back into the courtroom. His momentum took him past a thicket of ushers and he pressed a message into Upward’s hands. The s-r m-of-l bestowed on his disciple a brief private smile. “By leave of your Lordship, I would put one question to the newest juror. Mr Pard, were you ever known as Lenny the Talking Leopard, star performer among the Carnival Carnivores? And to the foreman, Mr…” He consulted the message. “Mr Samuel Ossa. Were you ever known as the Great Zamboni, trainer of the said Carnivores?”

However, the latter question was clearly otiose, redundant, etc, because the foreman had clasped the newest juror in a gigantic hug, murmuring “Lenny, is it you, is it really you?”

“Can a leopard change his spots, even with the aid of Snibbo which removes all household stains and warts?” was the soft assent of the newest juror.

“The circus was never the same after you ran away. There was no one to talk to any more. I retired from the ring. I’ve missed you so.” The reunited artistes dissolved into happy tears.

“M’lud, I could not help noticing in the trial that Mr Pard followed with remarkable promptness the cues given by the foreman of the jury, which suggested some intense previous relationship. I wondered at first if they were identical twins, but on rejecting that explanation I could only assume that they had met in the circus ring. I had inquiries made by the legendary detective, Mr Saul Panzer of New York, under the direction of the even more legendary Mr Nero Wolfe. These established that Lenny the Talking Leopard had deserted the circus at a private performance for a petroleum convention, and had subsequently established himself as a ‘wild cat’ in the oil industry. It is intriguing, perhaps that a leopard should be exposed by a panther and a wolf?”

But this sally, and the whole of Upward’s exposition, passed unnoticed. The whole court, even including the stony Prodnose, was now blubbering away like Fanny Burney. Mr Reporter by name and profession made an emphatic entry for [TEARS].

At last Cocklecarrot J was able to stifle his sobs. “Mr Upward, this new information has serious consequences. It is a cardinal rule that each juror must make up his or her mind independently. A verdict is vitiated if two jurors are linked by the lifetime circus bond between a leopard and his tamer. The previous verdict must be quashed. Mr Upward, you are discharged without a stain on your character.”

And that was almost that. In admiration for his talent and his cause, Messrs Panzer and Wolfe dispensed with their usual fees and Upward was not obliged to hock his zithers. Mr Farley Cheese of the Polo Lounge nightclub had his neon sign repaired. The job was botched and the sign when lit had a missing letter, indicating the Polo Lunge. The reopened establishment failed to prosper and was sold to the dealer in aggregates who had served on the jury. He had no use for neon and in the absence of its putrid purple glare it became possible (very occasionally) for Upward and his neighbours to see the planets skating gracefully across their dark vaulted rink.

Reviewing the trial in their usual salon, Ted Level suggested to Upward that legal procedures were absurd, abstruse and affected.

“Not at all,” replied the s-r m-of-l. “Justice must not only be seen to be done, it must be seen to be overdone.”

18. February 2013 by rkh
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