Hector Mace was the shortest boy in each of his school classes. Frequent bullying created an urge to prove his worth to the world. A scholarship took him to law school where he excelled both as student and at his university’s Aikido Club. During the first part of his legal career, he practised the martial art twice a week. Then sciatica curtailed physical exertion, didn’t respond to treatments and bouts of pain etched grimace-like grooves into a once handsome if small face. His determination to do better than his childhood mockers meant that he continued to build his legal reputation and became a magistrate at the age of sixty.
Shortly after the appointment was confirmed, Derek Cindler, the Clerk to the Court, took Mace through the door reserved for the sitting magistrate. The bench, which was actually a high-backed chair with quilted red leather, stood on a platform surrounded by dark oak panelling.
Mace tried the chair and said, “It’s a shame it’s not adjustable.”
He regretted that the district’s other magistrate also used the courtroom, as a seat modified to allow his feet to rest flat on the ground would be far less painful.
Cindler said. “I’ll see what I can do, Sir.”
By the time Mace first presided, the chair was augmented by not only a dark oak footrest but also a thick, firm cushion covered in red leather that fitted the seat exactly and made writing on the ledge in front of the chair far more comfortable. The way these items matched the court’s decor and were always in place when Mace sat added to his appreciation of Cindler. The clerk was deferential without wasting time, competent, and, even going by court standards, sober-looking. Brilliantine kept his short hair so flat it suggested wet grey paint. He also had an unusually squat head. The longer-serving magistrate confided to his new colleague that criminals called Cindler Frog, though not to his misshapen face. Mace felt for the man because the name evoked memories of name calling by bullies and he assumed that the clerk had suffered similar abuse at school.
Mace and Cindler discussed little apart from where their duties overlapped. They belonged to different classes and the magistrate assumed that someone who had no wedding ring and never mentioned friends or leisure activities preferred to keep his private life to himself. And perhaps the clerk had little besides work because he never left the court building for lunch or appeared in a hurry to leave in the evening.
The modest banter of female staff made Cindler awkward or even tongue-tied. Mace again sympathised. He had been shy with women until meeting Lilith, a legal secretary no taller than him yet with a face and figure that turned heads. They had bonded during a picnic after she shared how her father’s serial infidelity had hurt his family. As he had recently died, she felt obliged to return to her home town and support her mother who was living alone. For the first time in his life, Hector acknowledged to another that his father had been a wife beater and the son had always been too puny to prevent this. A stroke had killed the father during the son’s first year at university; Hector regretted that his prowess at Aikido had arrived too late to stop the domestic violence and that his mother had died just as she was recovering from years of abuse. A mixture of grief and regret for not defending his late mother prompted Hector to cry. Lilith hugged the sobbing lawyer and he proposed soon after his tears ceased. She agreed on the condition that they would live near her mother. Lilith’s acceptance along with her support, outgoing personality, social skills and family contacts had boosted his confidence and helped his career. What a shame that Cindler had been too ugly to attract someone similar to prize him from his shell and help him to achieve more.
The magistrate rewarded the clerk’s diligence with a vintage port each December. Mace took pride in his cellar and presented a Christmas bottle from the same crate to his six closest friends. These were all long-standing members of the district’s foremost private club. Five of them had, like Mace, attended private schools and one, Trevor, from humble origins managed a property development business owned by his wife’s wealthy family. Hector and others at the club cited acceptance of Trevor as proof of their lack of snobbery. Lilith and the six male friends were the only people with whom Hector shared his views on issues such as immigrants, trade unions and politicians who were soft on crime. He trusted these intimates not to repeat comments that the more liberal-minded might consider ill-advised for a magistrate.
However, Mace never confided that his sciatica could affect his duties. During a flare up, he was like the princess who feels a pea under multiple mattresses, except in his case he couldn’t find ease on a padded chair topped with foam encased in supple leather. Alcohol helped, but never until he had completed any work brought home with him. Sciatica made life’s disappointments – such as share values falling or an election going the wrong way – more exasperating. A combination of pain and disappointment ratcheted up the severity of his tariffs and pronouncements about offenders. Counsel and seasoned defendants learned to study the magistrate’s face as he appeared in court to gauge the extent of his pain and displeasure, but there was little they could do as Mace avoided exceeding his powers or giving other credible grounds for an appeal. Although the torment abating and a lull in his routine sometimes allowed the magistrate to reflect on how the throbbing had influenced his behaviour in court, such insights failed to prevent further judicial spleen.
After four years of a smooth-running partnership between Mace and Cindler, the magistrate found the clerk perspiring and pale as he handed over the day’s list of cases.
“I hope you’re not coming down with something.”
“You won’t start coughing or sneezing in court?”
“Quite sure, Sir.”
“And you feel up to it?”
“I’d feel a cheat if I didn’t work.”
“Good man. Anything you want to draw my attention to?”
It was unlike Cindler to pause before saying, “Not today, Sir.”
Mace kept an eye on him as the session began. The clerk was fidgety until his duties absorbed him. The magistrate then relaxed as much as his sciatic nerve allowed and paid Cindler no special attention until the fifth case. Two women, both aged twenty-four, stood accused of keeping a brothel. The first shock for Mace was hearing they lived next door to his club in what had once been the home of a respectable family. Trevor’s company had turned the house, on a leafy street in an affluent area near to the town centre, into upmarket flats less than two years earlier. No one had objected as the building looked little different and the hedges, lawns and flowerbeds were as pretty and well-kept as before.
The defendants had their hair in pony tails, wore little make-up, minimal jewellery, plain white blouses and business suits. They might have passed as female lawyers had the suits been black rather than one navy and one charcoal. Joan was possibly a natural blond and tall even in the low-heels she wore that day. Pleasantly plump Alice had red hair and facial freckles that without powder made her appear much younger, as did her nervous smile. Both pleaded not guilty. It was Mace’s habit to study defendants as they answered charges. Alice avoided his eyes while Joan stared back with a haughty and knowing look.
A detective testified that he had gone to the flat at the back of the house occupied by the women. Alice had answered the door and he had posed as the friend of a man identified through surveillance as a regular visitor. She had taken the officer to her bedroom and outlined sexual services and their prices. When his colleagues had heard this via a concealed radio, they had come to the door and he had admitted them. They found Joan in her room wearing a black corset, fishnet tights, a leather mask and holding a riding crop. A naked man aged thirty-five was kneeling at her dressing table and polishing the scent bottles and ornaments on it. The man had insisted he was her boyfriend and that no fee was involved.
The magistrate noticed Joan watching Cindler rather than the detective; the clerk avoided glancing at the dock the way he usually did. Mace realised that he had seen men visiting the flat. His club had a toilet with windows above the sinks. One window was often ajar and anyone washing his hands could see part of the path that led to the flat’s entrance. The unmistakable face of Cindler, carrying a bouquet in one hand and a black sports bag in the other had appeared in light cast by a turning car. He had appeared purposeful rather than furtive and Mace had wondered if the flowers were for a sick relative.
Perhaps Joan stared at Cindler because she thought the clerk had some power over the verdict? Then again, she might just be conveying contempt for the hypocrisy of a punter supporting her trial for keeping a brothel. Although Mace couldn’t decide which explanation was more feasible, he suspected that Cindler had been a client of one or both of the women. However, consorting wasn’t an offence and the magistrate was ambivalent about prostitution being illegal. He might once have been grateful for their services, but young Hector, while tempted, hadn’t the money for floozies and he wouldn’t have dared after getting engaged to Lilith. And then she had proved to have the stronger sexual appetite even before the onset of his sciatica. Not that he had ever worried about Mrs Mace straying when her father’s philandering meant that adultery was impossible for her to commit as well as to forgive.
Despite neither defendant having other work, Trevor’s company reported regular payments for the furnished flat. The women’s counsel stated that, while both acknowledged entertaining gentleman friends in their bedrooms, Joan had not been aware of Alice discussing prices for sexual favours until the police had mentioned this. The nub of the defence was that with only one tenant a prostitute the flat wasn’t a brothel.
The prosecutor asked Joan, “Have you received money for sexual intercourse performed in the flat?”
“You could put it like that, but never upfront. Sometimes a lover wants to show his appreciation through a gift after he’s had a good time.” Joan looked at Cindler and then back to the prosecutor. “A lot of men complain that they’ve wasted money buying a girl a night out and not getting anything for it.”
“That’s irrelevant.” The prosecutor sounded cross and his shaggy grey eyebrows knitted.
“It’s relevant because it explains why some men give money and presents without me asking them.”
“I put it to you that these so called boyfriends agreed a fee before you provided intimate services.”
“Putter on. That’s your fantasy.”Mace was about to warn of contempt of court until he saw that counsel preferred to press on. The magistrate made do with glaring at Joan. She held his gaze while the prosecutor continued.
“So what did happen?”
“Men like my looks and the way I make love. They know there’s competition to be my lover. The fact that I sleep with them once doesn’t guarantee that I’ll be available again. So they try to keep me sweet. Is there a law against men who want to reward a woman who’s made them happy?”
“Yet your flatmate sought money in advance from sexual customers.”
“Alice lacks my confidence in the generosity of sated men. I should be cross with her, but she didn’t know that what she was doing could put me at risk.”
“And you never knew that she insisted on payment before prostituting herself?”
“No. I thought she received presents like me.”
“How many different men were generous to you in the month before the raid?”
“I don’t carve notches on my bedstead.”
“You must have some idea.”
“About a dozen.”
“Police surveillance suggest at least sixty men entered your flat.”
“Do you sleep with everyone who visits your home?”
“How many times have you gone to bed with a man in the same period?”
“More nights with a man than without.”
“So intercourse with about a dozen men on say twenty occasions over thirty days?”
“You make sex five times a week sound unusual, but many people of my age wouldn’t think so.”
“And your only reason for giving yourself to so many men on a regular basis was that you sought sexual enjoyment.”
“I wasn’t trying to get pregnant.”
“Just answer the question.”
“I like a good time and I like variety.”
“Were all of your partners during those three months sexually attractive?”
Joan looked at Cindler and gave an emphatic, “Yes.”
“All good looking and youngish?”
“Do you only fancy young women? How young do they have to be?”
Mace noticed the defence counsel’s wince at the way his client had hinted at under age sex. Again the prosecutor responded before the magistrate warned of contempt of court.
“You’re the defendant and your role is to answer questions, not to ask them.”
“I’d already said all the men were sexually attractive.” Joan glanced again at Cindler, whose ample cheeks were glowing. “You might interpret that as young and good looking; I’m not so narrow-minded.”
“Police found in your bedroom two riding crops, a bamboo cane, a cat of nine tails, two pairs of handcuffs, lengths of rope and a straightjacket. Do you seriously expect this court to believe these were for your, erm, pleasure rather than tools of your trade?”
“They are for my pleasure. I’m the sort of girl who needs to play games if she’s to really enjoy herself in bed.” She turned her gaze on Cindler. “That’s one reason a man doesn’t have to be handsome to appeal to me. And if you think the items you listed are curious, you should see some of the paraphernalia my boyfriends bring with them. One of them dresses in leather from head to toe apart from letting his manhood dangle.”
Mace noted Cindler blushing as he wrote. His usual neat handwriting looked more like a trail left by an ink-soaked spider.
“And you from simple kindness went along with their fantasies?”
“Kindness and the pursuit of my own pleasure.”
“The good-natured tart pops up in literature, but I’m not aware of a dominatrix, who after all trades on her sternness, with such a great heart that she doesn’t take money up front. You can’t expect this court to believe that your services never involved a pre-agreed price?”
“I don’t see why not. Lots of things work on a you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours basis. With me it’s more you spank my backside and I’ll cane yours, but the same principle applies.”
Mace postponed his verdict until after lunch despite having decided to find the pair guilty. He wanted to lie on his chamber’s chaise longue both to ease the sciatica and mentally rehearse comments to utter when sentencing. If ever a woman needed taking down a few pegs, it was that slut on stilts.
He considered summoning Cindler to ask if he had slept with Joan, and if so had he given money before or after? Not that the magistrate imagined for a second that Joan had told the truth; more to confirm his ability to see through her sham. But embarrassing Cindler might interfere with an excellent working relationship.
A few minutes after lying down, there was a knock. Cindler entered as Mace achieved a sitting position, moving that added to his pain.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Sir, but I need to say that I’ll be giving notice and quitting as soon as possible. It’s been a pleasure working with you.” His voice gargled with emotion.
The shock of this news made the sciatica less of an issue. Mace didn’t want to lose an excellent clerk who did so much without prompting. And then there would be the embarrassment of having to ask his replacement to deal with the cushion and footstool. Damn that woman for rattling Cindler. The poor chap must dread the prospect of Joan telling a Sunday paper how the court that had found her guilty of keeping a brothel included an official who had been a client.
“I’m going to pretend I haven’t heard that. Please wait until after my verdict.”
A stunned Cindler nodded his assent.
Mace gathered his thoughts once he was again lying down. He would find the women not guilty in order to keep his clerk and thereby preserve a magistrate’s dignity. The idea of Joan going unpunished for her haughtiness concerned him more than his malfeasance. He could still draw attention to her promiscuity and Alice’s admission that she was a whore. But someone as brazen as Joan might talk to the press if he laid it on too thick.
The sense of disappointment that came from accepting he would have to mince his words augmented the pain pulsating between his right thigh and the small of his back.
As he slowly adjusted his leg in the hope of easing the throbbing a fraction he said aloud, “God help the next defendant I find guilty or who gives grounds for contempt of court!”