Heyes’ fingers tightened on the back of the wooden bench in front of him, his knuckles whitening as he stared over at the judge at the other side of the court. “He’s looking over here.”
“Yeah,” hissed the Kid. “Because you won’t shut up.”
Heyes wriggled uncomfortably in his brown suit. “I’m telling you, Kid. If I end up doing twenty years because of one of your needy people I’ll swing for you.”
“And if you don’t stop drawin’ attention to us you won’t even see me comin’. Just be quiet. I was only a witness. I want to see what happens now.”
Heyes caught the sharp eyes of the judge and silently sat back, dropping his eyes and pretended to listen intently to the witness droning on and on about almost everything but the subject at hand. The woman was clearly relishing being the centre of attention and was making the most of it. “...and then I took the dolly and started poundin’...”
“Dolly?” the judge cut in. “A toy?”
“No, your highness. It’s a tool.”
“I’ve told you before, Mrs. Quimby. You don’t call me ‘your highness.’ You call me ‘your honor.’”
“Sorry, your honor.” She pursed her lips theatrically. “I ain’t never been in a court before.”
“It’s fine Mrs. Quimby, just carry on and tell me about this dolly.”
She nodded. “Yes, your highness. It’s a long wooden thing, with something that looks like a three-legged stool at the end. You use it to move the clothes around in the tub,” her substantial bosom jiggled comically as she imitated the motion in the witness box of stirring laundry around the tub with the dolly. “There’s a word for it. I calls it swirlin’, but the boss calls it agritation. So you know what I mean, your majesty?”
“Agitation is what I think you meant,” the Judge rolled his eyes, “and I’m becoming more and more familiar with it as this case goes on.” He nodded over to the defense lawyer. “Please hurry this up, Mr. Clark.”
“Certainly, your honor.” The lawyer approached the witness and gestured over to a pretty young blonde sitting at the table he had just left. “Mrs. Quimby, the whole point of this case is the claim that Miss Kelly deliberately damaged a customer’s clothes when they were brought to her laundry.” He pointed over to the redhead sitting in the front bench. “Miss Brand contends that Miss Kelly was jealous of the attentions of a young man was paying her, and spitefully damaged the clothes by shrinking them.”
“We know what the case is about, Mr. Clark. Evidence has already been led by Mr. Jones to the effect that he never courted either woman. He asserts he was just polite and that was misconstrued by the plaintiff,” all eyes drifted over to the Kid as Heyes shrunk away from him on the public benches. “He appears to be an example of the type of male pulchritude which can turn the head of an innocent maiden.” He extricated his spectacles from their case and snapped it shut with a click. “At least, that’s what he says. He could have been playing the field for all we know. He could have been a catalyst for the whole thing by being licentious.”
Mrs. Quimby frowned in confusion. “You need a license?”
“I truly wish that some people did require a license before playing the mating game,” muttered the judge. “I really do. It means lascivious, profligate, dissipated.” He stared into the blank eyes of the witness who clearly still needed help with translation. “Over-sexed.”
“Hey!” exclaimed an indignant Kid. “I’m a perfect gentleman. None of this is my fault.”
“Silence in court!” barked the judge. “Who is at fault here is yet to be established.
“Yeah, shut up,” hissed Heyes.
The lawyer continued. “Mrs. Quimby, who washed Miss Brand’s clothes that day?”
“I did. I ain’t too high and mighty to do a day’s work,” she glanced over at her employer. “Not like some.”
“And who dried and ironed the clothes?”
“I hung them out on the line and I pressed them,” the washer woman asserted. “I pressed them up right before I went home.”
“So Miss Kelly never touched the clothes?”
“She did. She took the order and gave them to me.”
“And did she give you any special instructions, Mrs. Quimby? Something along the lines of how to treat them?”
“Not a thing,” replied the washerwoman.
“So all she did was hold them for a few seconds?” The young lawyer gave the red-headed accuser a long hard stare. “It makes you wonder how this case ever made it to court.”
“Oh, that’s easy. I can tell you that,” Mrs. Quimby grinned through gapped teeth. “Maude Brand’s pa owns half the country around here but she’s always been jealous of Mary Kelly’s looks. She’s a real cow.”
The court erupted in laughter as the redhead flushed puce.
“Silence in court!” was yelled a couple more times as the room settled down.
“And don’t you go lookin’ at me like that Maude Brand. I ain’t afraid of you. I’ve known you since you were a snotty little nipper. You took far too long to potty train too. You always had wet drawers.”
“Enough!” the Judge dropped his head on the desk. “This is the most ridiculous case I’ve ever tried.”
“My clothes were damaged,” Maude Brand protested. “If it wasn’t Mary then it was her. It was still malicious and I want them to pay damages and be punished. She just told you all how much she hates me. How do we know that it wasn’t deliberate?”
“A good question,” the judge mused. “Mr. Clark, can you lead any evidence to show that the damage was accidental and not malicious?”
The lawyer shook his head. “I’m here to represent Miss Kelly. I haven’t been retained by Mrs. Quimby. All I can do is show that my client is not guilty of criminal damage.”
“Yeah,” muttered the judge. “As a travelling circuit judge I have to try to sort these cases rather than depend on legal technicalities. If I don’t, it just ends up here in a different form for me on my next visit.”
“She deliberately damaged my best dress,” Maude shouted. “I want her to be punished.”
“Me?” Mrs. Quimby’s brows rose imperiously. “The biggest damage you did to that dress was squeeze that thick neck o’yourn in it.”
“It shrunk, it didn’t stretch,” the full implications of the insult suddenly landed and the woman’s eyes widened. “Hey!”
“Mrs. Quimby, did you damage Miss Brand’s property deliberately?” demanded the lawyer.
“Of course I didn’t. It was just cheap fabric,” she smiled across the court at Maude Brand. “Nothing but cheap rubbish.”
“Mrs. Quimby,” the judge scowled, “you are not helping yourself. Did you deliberately damage those clothes because of your antipathy towards the plaintiff?”
“I ain’t her auntie.”
The judge dropped his head into his hands. “Look, if this is just a case of accidental damage, explain to me why the only person who had anything damaged was the woman you openly dislike.”
“I can’t explain it. It was just bad luck.”
The Kid gave his partner a huge dig in the ribs and gestured towards Mrs. Quimby with his head.
“Madam, unless you can explain yourself you leave me with no alternative but to have the charges laid against you instead.”
“Joshua.” The Kid’s fierce whisper cut across the room causing the judge to look their way once more.
“Is there something you need to say, young man?”
“Not me, your honor.” The Kid dragged a reluctant Heyes to his feet. “My cousin has though.”
The ex-outlaw leader’s dark glower brightened as a he pulled the mask of charm together to face the court. He stood. “Your honor. I think I can help here. I’m here with Mr. Jones who was a witness. As you know we’ve been doing some odd jobs for the Kelly family around their boarding house.”
“Is this relevant to the case?” The judge motioned for him to come forward with his hand. “Get on the stand and be sworn in.”
Heyes gritted his teeth as he threaded his way through the people standing to allow him to leave the bench, talking all the way. “I helped Mrs. Quimby by chopping wood for her to boil the water, so as a thank you she offered to do some laundry for me. Sorry, ma’am,” he wriggled past a well-upholstered woman to the end of the bench, “and I needed some clothes cleaned for a date I’d made with Miss Kelly’s friend.” He stepped out into the aisle as all heads turned to stare at him, his jaw hardening as giggles started to roll around the room gathering pace until a crescendo of laughter crested all the way to the judge who blinked in disbelief.
“She cleaned clothes for you and shrunk them too?”
“Yes,” he nodded. “If you need me to go and fetch the shirts, they’re in my room.”
“No need.” The judge sat back in his chair. “I can’t see why you’d lie about some shrunk shirts.”
“I don’t mind.” he unbuttoned his jacket, clearly uncomfortable with the scrutiny. He gave the Kid an accusing stare. “I was hoping not to have to do this. She was being nice and I didn’t like to complain.”
“Aw, ain’t he sweet,” Mrs. Quimby asserted. “He never said a word. I’m sorry son.”
“It’s fine, Mrs. Quimby. You didn’t mean it. I guess the water was just too hot.”
“Nah, I’ll sort it. Come and see me afterward this”
“Or you could just go to the town charity box,” quipped someone from the public gallery.”
The room dissolved into laughter as the clatter of the gavel cut through the clamor. “Order! Order in court.” The judge turned to the blond woman. “Case dismissed. You are free to go, Miss Kelly. So are you, Mrs. Quimby. This is a clear case of accidental damage by an unskilled worker.”
“No!” Maude Brand jumped to her feet. “That’s not fair.”
“It’s perfectly fair, Miss Brand. Look at the state of that poor man’s suit, and he’s not complaining. He’s been prepared to deal with the matter with civility. I suggest you do the same and come to an agreement with Miss Kelly over damages. There’s nothing criminal here. Case dismissed.” He gave one final bang on the desk and stood. “I need a drink.”
Heyes stood in the aisle as people filed past him, looking him up and down and smiling. He glared at the wide grin approaching him. “Ready for your date, Joshua?”
“She didn’t clean my suit,” muttered Heyes.
The blue eyes danced with laughter. “I know.”
“The whole town’s laughing at me. How can I wear this now?”
“The same way you did any other time, Joshua. Too tight and with the hems flappin’ around your shins. Come on. We’ve got a couple of ladies waitin’ for us.” The Kid strolled towards the door, turning back to stare at the man who stayed rooted to the spot. “Don’t give me that hurt look. I’ve been tellin’ you about that horrible suit for years.”
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight Old Scottish proverb