Authors: William Deverell
ALSO BY WILLIAM DEVERELL
The Dance of Shiva
Kill All the Lawyers
Street Legal: The Betrayal
Trial of Passion
The Laughing Falcon
Kill All the Judges
A Life on Trial
To the memory of Jim Fulton, 1950–2008,
selfless politician, passionate warrior for this planet
am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that … that thing over there, that statue or whatever you want to call it, is what the Criminal Code calls a disgusting object. Guilty as charged.” As Judge Wilkie stammered through this verdict, his unbelieving eyes were fixed — as they’d been through much of the trial — on Exhibit One, a twelve-foot sculpture of a winged, serpent-necked anthropoid with its head halfway up its rear end.
Arthur Beauchamp, Q.C., hadn’t expected to hear any brave and stirring tribute to artistic freedom, not from this clubby former small-town practitioner. In all honesty, he himself was repelled by his client’s
— he’d even found himself nodding at the prosecutorial rhetoric: “Is this something you’d allow your five-year-old to see?” Arthur knew he should hold modern, liberal views, but one has to be true to himself, and the hopeless truth was he was a stodgy old fart. Even in his youth he’d been a stodgy old fart.
He was annoyed at losing, of course, but mostly because of the blow to his pride — the judgment had brought his long string of victories, thirty-eight, to an ignoble end. A porno trial. If he were going to end his career at the bar — and he was determined this would be his last case — he’d have preferred to crash in the flames of a good old-fashioned murder.
The venue for this entertainment was Garibaldi Island’s unfinished community hall — the framing and siding were done, the
roof in place, but windows not. Papers rustled in the balmy breezes from without, a late-September day on warming planet Earth. A few score of the local
sat grinning on foldup metal chairs, amid sundry press and international art fanciers.
“Extraordinary.” That more satisfactory verdict had been whispered in awed tones by a museum curator during a break. “Breath-taking,” said a Boston gallery owner. “Such raw energy,” said a buyer for a California collector. Enthusiasts of the bizarre, they’d arrived on Garibaldi like aliens from some planet whose dwellers were required to be outfitted with Armani suits, Rolexes, and Prada bags. Arthur felt like a rube in his comfortable rumpled suit.
“That leaves the matter of sentence, Mr. Beauchamp.”
Arthur turned to Hamish McCoy, sitting at his elbow with his leprechaun grin, a pixie mix of Irish and Scots with a Newfoundland brogue. He’d been an artist of middling renown until he unveiled this work two years ago on Ferryboat Knoll. Now, thanks to all the tittering publicity and Internet traffic, he’d been discovered; his pieces, mostly giant mythical creatures, were fetching respectable prices.
McCoy had intended the statue as satire — it was his penance for an earlier crime, a grow-op, two hundred kilograms of Orange Super Skunk, a scheme to pay down his mortgage. Judge Wilkie had granted him a discharge conditional on his erecting a sculpture near the ferry landing, a tourism enhancer. All through the trial, the motions, the arguments, the drone of testimony from art experts, the judge had been in a sulking fury. Out of court, he’d been overheard fulminating about how he’d given McCoy a break only to be mocked.
“A suspended sentence would admirably reflect the gravity of this victimless minor offence,” Arthur said.
Wilkie sat back, offended. “A slap on the wrist? For this obscene garbage?” He again fixed his obsessive gaze upon the statue, a study in stilled motion: looped, whorled shapes, a great round belly, a serpentine neck coiled downward and up like an elephant’s trunk, a rat’s face seeking entry into that most inelegant of orifices. Plaster
over forms, rebar, and chicken wire. McCoy’s preferred medium was bronze, but that would have been hugely expensive, given this flying rodent’s girth and ten-foot wingspan, its humanoid legs with splayed bare feet. Wilkie may have found the tiny penis and testicles especially insulting.
“If it’s garbage, it’s worthless,” Arthur said. “Sentence should be commensurate with that.”
victims. It is the duty of the courts to protect those who may be morally corrupted by such filthy displays.”
That would probably include every man, woman, and child on Garibaldi, given it had been stored in the RCMP’s fenced compound, open to view through binoculars on well-tramped Chickadee Ridge. Stoney and Dog, Arthur’s occasional handymen, had earned handsome tips guiding tourists there.
Wilkie unhitched his eyes from the sculpture, turned to McCoy. “I ought to send you to jail, that’s my first impulse. But I’ve decided society should not be burdened with the cost of your upkeep. Fifty-thousand-dollar fine, six months in default.”
McCoy looked like he was about to blow his top. “Fifty …”
Arthur bent low to his client’s ear. “Zip it.”
“How much time does he need to pay?”
“I suggest fifteen years.”
“Payable in six months. Now what do we do with this thing? I don’t see anything in the Code about disposing of such items.”
“Exactly, Your Honour. It remains the property of the defendant. But maybe not for long.” Arthur turned to the gallery. “I understand there’s some interest in this unique abstraction.”
A pony-tailed gentleman in a double-breasted frock coat: “I represent an interested party.”
“Who might that be?” Arthur asked.
“The Shockley Foundation. I hold a certified cheque for eighty thousand dollars.”
Up jumped a bejewelled older woman in a chic pantsuit. “Manhattan Contemporary Gallery. Ninety thousand.”
Wilkie looked aghast.
“Thank you, I have ninety,” Arthur said. “Do I hear a hundred?” A hand was raised, the Armani suit.
“Mr. Beauchamp! This court is in session!”
“I beg forgiveness.”
“Please take your business outside.”
Arthur bowed solemnly to the judge, motioned to the bidders to join him on the lawn.
“Call the next case,” Wilkie said, his voice cracking.
“Regina versus Robert Stonewell. Thirteen counts of operating businesses without a licence, one count of maintaining unsightly premises.”
Wilkie blanched as Stoney shuffled forward, holding his tattered copy of the local bylaws. “Not guilty, Your Honour. These here charges deny my fundamental right to earn a livelihood.” He was an experienced hand at this, a pettifogging amateur lawyer.
Outside on the grass, under a hot fall sun, Arthur kept the media at bay while bargaining continued, the piece finally fetching a hundred and sixty thousand. McCoy would see a
of that, but Arthur wasn’t going to let him welsh on the fees this time. He had driven up his stock considerably.
McCoy shook hands with the winning bidder, the Armani suit, a German gallery owner. Arthur accepted a certified cheque for half, scribbled out a contract. As part of the deal, McCoy would enjoy an all-expenses trip to Berlin to oversee installation.
If only out of principle, the conviction would be appealed, but not by Arthur — let the Civil Liberties Association take it. He was at an age when most lawyers were packing it up, retreating to hobby farm and lakeside cottage. He’d undertaken this case only as a reprieve from Ottawa, from which he regularly fled to perform in another scene of this stop-and-go trial. Ottawa was his unhappy home away from home since his beloved wife won a federal by-election thirty months ago. Margaret Blake, diva of the environmental movement, Parliament’s sole Green Party member and its leader.
Another bitter Eastern winter looming. The apartment they’d rented was dismal, though well located near the Rideau Canal. But it was four thousand miles from his farm at Blunder Bay, from the gentle, forgiving winters of the Salish Sea.
On his every return to Ottawa, Arthur would endure ribbing from the reporters and politicians he’d befriended. McCoy’s
was the subject of much hilarity in the corridors of Parliament, even among normally censorial M.P.s, though they would don pious masks when in the chamber, pretending shock and offence, demanding an end to federal grants for such salacious art.
Arthur wondered if he’d been born with an abhorrence for politics, though likely it had been instilled early by his close-minded, right-wing, iconoclastic parents. He saw politics as a Machiavellian game of clandestine deals and low intrigue. To his dismay, Margaret enjoyed it, enjoyed her underdog role in the Commons, had proved herself agile at it, despite a tart tongue and an impatience with the eco-hypocrisy that pervaded the House.
She’d been isolated by the old boys’ club, orphaned to a rear seat on the Opposition side, but she was the poster girl of the Green set, darling of the liberal press, whom she worked with jokes and sound bites. Two decades younger than Arthur, vigorous, trim, and comely. Sort of a political sex object, her gams boldly displayed in that recent
profile. (When had she taken to wearing such short dresses?)
Sauntering from the hall came Robert Stonewell, fresh from beating his bylaw charges. Most of his illegal businesses were auto-related: motor mechanics, a taxi service, and rentals and sales from his sprawling used-car lot, Garibaldi’s infamous Centre Road eyesore. But Stoney ran other illegal trades, including a specialty crop called Purple Passion. By now, in late September, his plants will have budded out.
“He finally gave up.”
Wilkie, he meant, who’d probably developed one of his migraines trying to deal with Stoney’s convolutions. An imminent ferry
departure had also played a part: judge, prosecutor, and staff were rushing for their cars, with the local constable, Ernst Pound, escorting them, emergency lights flashing.
“Stoney, I hate to offend you by asking, but when am I going to see my truck again?” Arthur’s venerable Fargo had been sitting for a month in the reprobate’s yard, awaiting a transplant. It was Blunder Bay’s sole vehicle, other than a tractor, Margaret having sold the half-ton diesel. Arthur had been making do by walking or hitching.
“Well, I was gonna surprise you, but you spoiled it by asking. I found a skookum rebuilt trannie in Victoria which I plan to acquire maybe as early as tomorrow. Those babies don’t come cheap no more.”
The traditional bargaining ceremony followed, one that would not have been out of place in a Cairo souk. Finally, Arthur bowed to the inevitable, greased his palm.
The hall was emptying out. Arthur must get back to the farm. Assuming the caretakers weren’t in one of their squabbling modes, he would have a few more days’ repose before flying to Ottawa to serve as loyal consort to the member for Cowichan and the Islands.
“Listen, man,” Stoney said, “it’s that time of year, and a certain individual is in the process of getting his crop off, and this could be a chance to make a advantageous investment. The party I represent needs a little front money.”