Finding Hope
Chapter 19 - Contemptuous Proceedings


With sunrise came tepid porridge and the announcement of His Honor's arrival by the morning stage. Slim sat and listened in wonder as he heard the whole jail come to life - or maybe he simply had finally come out of his stupor long enough to notice the activity. Whatever the case, the men - jailed and jailer alike - shuffled about with pent up anxiety as prisoners were chained together and shuffled off to meet with the judge.

Slim's own anxiety shot up, as he contemplated his own appearance before the bench in a few hours. Though he still believed in his purpose, he was exhausted, and wanted nothing more to simply lay down and let the lawyer take over. He'd confess and plead out, and then the judge wouldn't have to listen to anything, and that would be that. But the voice of Not-Jess kept ringing through his ears, reminding him not to let go. Jess wasn't a bad man. They've got to remember that!

Just when Slim thought he might go mad if he had to watch another group of men marched out of the jail without him, the rattling of keys at his cell signaled the beginning of the end of his long wait. "Alright, Sherman. Let's go."

Slim allowed himself to be chained up and led to the line for the slaughterhouse. He was taken out of the cell blocks as part of a small group of other frightening looking men - men with deep scars on their faces and hands, and foul mouths that only the threat of a good whipping - or the delivery of said threat - could silence. They were marched right past the exit that lead to the street, through the desks and lobby of the jail, to another doorway that opened into a grand hall.

Through this hall, which was decorated with marble and smooth colored stones from various regions, they were herded first deeper into the belly of the great building, then up a flight of plushly carpeted stairs. At the top of the stairs was a wide vestibule, the focal point of which was a heavy set of double doors. At each of the far ends of the vestibule along the same wall, sat a single door, so that there was either three offices at the top of the stairs, or three entrances to the same room. A deputy stood sentry in front of the double doors in the center, and the group was marched past him to the single door on the right.

The three sets of doorways opened into a mostly empty courtroom, big enough to hold at least forty spectators all at once, and nearly as plush and ornate as the downstairs hall. The spectator gallery was bisected by a large path that lead from the set of double doors, where Slim presumed the guard waited in silence on the other side. A pair of narrower aisles on the outside of the spectator area corresponded to each of the single doors. Slim watched as another small group of inmates shuffled out of the narrow aisle across the room through the opposite door.

At the front of the wide, center path, was an elevated desk made of beautiful dark, hard wood. A stocky man in a black robe sat behind it, where he watched the shuffling of inmates with the sort of calm contemplative expression that only a man who had the weight of the world on his shoulders seemed to bear. An old, wizened geezer who looked like he'd come west right after the Boston Tea Party hovered near the bench, occasionally shining his badge with a too long shirt sleeve, and another man sat a little ways away from the bench, pen and paper at the ready. Across from them sat a pair of men, one of whom Slim recognized as the lawyer he'd taken to thinking of as Don Times Three. The other man, he assumed, had to be the prosecution, then.

Once the other group of prisoners was out of the court room, and Slim and his group had stopped shuffling long enough for the chains to stop clinking together, the shriveled up old-timer cleared his throat and bellowed to the near empty room, "All rise for the Honorable Judge Clarence Taylor." The lawyers got to their feet, Don Three Times popping up like a jack-in-the-box, the other fellow taking his slow sweet time. One of the escorting deputies handed the old fella some paperwork, who passed it up to the judge to inspect, before taking most of it back to the unknown lawyer.

Finally, Judge Taylor said in a soft but firm voice, "Be seated." Everyone sat down, and the judge continued, "Court is now in session. The record will show the continued arraignment of the local prisoners for the township of Buckeye, in the state of Colorado." So began the slow process of unchaining and reattaching each individual from the pack for his turn at arraignment. Slim watched in growing horror as each chained man was called to stand before the judge with the same lazy fool of a lawyer, and laid himself out like a sacrifice before the court. The judge looked bored as he set dates for sentencing and sent each man back to sit with the waiting guards.

"Matthew Sherman Junior, approach the bench," the bailiff called, in a voice loud enough to be heard west of San Francisco.

Slim got wearily to his feet and took his place next to Don Times Three. Judge Taylor shuffled his paper pile around, and asked the papers, rather than Slim, "How do you plead?"

"Not guilty."

Don Times Three whipped his head around to look at Slim, and the prosecutor unsuccessfully swallowed a laugh. The judge banged his gavel and glared at the prosecutor. "Mr. Prescott, are we to have a repeat of this morning's foolishness?"

The prosecutor's face turned a deep scarlet. "No, Your Honor."

"So then you do recognize that these men are in fact allowed to plead for the opportunity to go to trial, and not simply bow to your scare tactics?"

"We don-"

"So we are to have a repeat of this morning's foolishness?"

"No, no, Your Honor."

"Good, because I'm just about out of patience with you, with that dolt Donaldson, with these infernal deputies in this backwater, and with the obvious bias this town holds against anyone who didn't precede the current set of councilmen to this town - myself included. Now, you might have railroaded Mr. Donaldson here into doing your bidding, but you won't railroad me. If this man is guilty, then you'll be able to prove it, without a shadow of a doubt. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

"It had better be. State's evidence?"

The prosecutor took a moment to compose himself before he spoke. "In addition to the defendant practically delivering himself to the nearest set of authorities, we have two eye witnesses who, when interviewed separately and thoroughly, your Honor, have presented accountings which match precisely what was found at the scene. Given the severity of the crime, and the fact that the defendant has already made an attempt on his own life, the state requests that bail be denied - for the defendant's protection as well as that of the case."

The judge snorted. "I wouldn't let a man accused of taking the last biscuit from your morning plate walk the streets without an armed escort, Prescott. Have you anything to add, Donaldson?"

Don Three Times looked lost as he said, "No, Your Honor. Just... I... erm, no."

"Well, spit it out, man," the judge snapped.

Donaldson looked at Slim nervously. "My client is entering his plea against counsel's advice."

The judge pursed his lips. "That's likely because your client has some vague notion of how law works in the rest of the United States. Fortunately for him, I too have some ideas about how trial law is meant to operate. Bail is set at fifty thousand dollars. The preliminary hearing is to be held no later than ten o'clock in the morning, ten working days from today."

Slim's jaw dropped with the slam of the gavel. The prosecutor harrumphed and nearly won himself an apparent second contempt of court charge, but there was no reason for the state to be unhappy with the bail - there was no way Slim could raise that kind of money even if he was being held right in Laramie, with his own bank holdings across the street and a town full of loving citizens who'd vouch for him to the Devil himself. He listened in awe as the judge dismissed his group of inmates, and wondered if he would still have the resolve to face down a jury, the prosecution and his own idiot lawyer.


A few hours earlier

Breakfast went by in a blur, and the stranger found himself chained to a gang and hustled at dawn's first light to a second story courtroom as folks whispered about the important arrival on the morning stage. Before he knew it, he was shoved forward at the demand that "John Doe, also known as Jesse James, approach the bench."

The stranger ignored the tittering laughter of his fellow inmates, and dragged himself to stand before the judge.

"Which is it," the judge asked. "John Doe, or Jesse James?"

"Your Honor, the defendant cla-"

"I was asking the defendant, Mr. Prescott," the judge said sharply. The stranger raised an eyebrow as the prosecutor snapped his mouth shut, and he gulped nervously at the robed man who had the power to make or break every chained man in the room. "Well?"

The stranger cleared his throat. "I don't know my name, Your Honor."

The judge raised an eyebrow of his own before asking, "You don't know your name, so you chose the name of a notorious bank robber?"

"It wasn't my choice, sir."

"You'd have chosen John Doe?"

"I choose it now," the stranger said.

"He hadn't chosen it when he'd signed the hotel register, Your Honor," Mr. Prescott intervened.

The judge smiled thinly. "Why, Mr. Prescott. I do believe you would like to be held in contempt of court."

The prosecutor smiled back, rather nervously. "No, sir."

"Good. We have a long, long day ahead of us, Mr. Prescott. According to this docket, we are going to be together for at least a day, possibly a second, should we need to take frequent pauses such as this one. Let's not have any sort of foolishness between us?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

"Now. Mister... Doe. You don't remember your name, but you stand before me, not with intent to request a competency hearing, but to enter a plea. I have to say, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of having you speak your mind to such an important matter if you don't know who you actually are. How can you say whether or not you've done what you've been accused of?"

The stranger looked back at Donaldson, who smiled stupidly and gestured back to the judge. Apparently, Donaldson wasn't the kind of lawyer who believed in speaking up for his clients. Okay, then. "Your Honor, I lost my memory several months ago in an attack which I still don't know the details of. I've had... dreams, but I don't understand them, and I don't try. But I can remember very clearly that I woke up in the care of an elderly couple who nursed me back to health, and I know what's happened to me since then - at least, in the same way any man knows everything about what's happened to him in the last ten or fifteen weeks."

The judge looked thoughtful. "Do you know the date?"

The stranger shook his head. "Not to the day. I haven't had access to a newspaper since my incarceration. But I know it's summer time. I know I was shot in the spring. And I know that it's got to be around the Fourth of July, because the last paper I did see was discussing the times and route of the parade."

Judge Taylor leaned back and considered all of this. "You are aware, Mr. Doe, that if you are found guilty of your crimes, you will not be able to fall back on the defense of insanity? That what the jury decides can only be overturned in the course of the proper legal channels, by a United States Supreme Court?"

The stranger grew nervous. But what choice did he have? If he claimed insanity now, he would certainly be asked to serve time. If he went forward with a trial, it wasn't up to him to prove he hadn't taken those things - but he also knew that he wasn't going to get any help from anyone in this godforsaken town, either. Still, he had to fight. "I understand, Your Honor."

To his surprise, the judge smiled warmly at him. "Very well, Mr. Doe. How do you plead?"

"Not guilty."

The deputies immediately began to grumble, and the other four jailbirds began to jeer. Mr. Prescott himself bellowed, "That's ridiculous!"

"Order in the court!" The judge's soft, crisp voice carried surprising power when he shouted, and the entire room fell silent almost instantly. "I absolutely will not tolerate any such horseplay in this courtroom! Let the record show, I hold Alan Prescott in contempt of court, with a fine to be paid of fifty dollars, and if he continues to protest, that fine will double!" Judge Taylor narrowed his eyes at the prosecutor, and said in a voice so quiet the stranger had to strain to hear, "Every man is allowed his day in court, and this one is absolutely no exception." He instructed the clerk to set a date for the preliminary hearing for five days away in the court calendar. "Don't you worry, Mr. Doe. No matter what these people feel, you'll be given your day free and clear."


Chapter 18
Chapter 20

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