"All rise. The court of the Honorable Aloysius Q. Butler is now in session."
Judge Butler? Uh oh.
"Order, order, you may all be seated," the judge began, banging a gavel. "Bailiff, read the thing you're supposed to read."
The bailiff, the same guy who was the doctor (I'm trying to economize), stood and read from a piece of parchment, no -- make it paper.
"Random House, Simon and Schuster, A.E. Knopf, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, and the rest of the publishing world, versus James M. Reynolds, a k a -- "
"Don't say it!" I screamed, cutting him off just in time.
"And what is the charge, bailiff?" the judge asked.
"Breach of contract."
"Very well. Mr. Reynolds? Are you being represented in this court by anyone?" Judge Butler looked over at an empty defense table.
"Yes, your honor." I reached down and took off one of my loose-fitting loafers, but -- where was he? -- "Where is he?" I blurted out. And then I realized, he was in my pocket! The judge was getting impatient.
"Mr. Reynolds, please, if you don't mind, would you introduce your attorney to the court?"
I pulled Abe out, snapped him open and taut for everyone to see, and smiled confidently. "Your Honor, members of the jury, allow me to introduce my lawyer -- the one, the only -- Abraham Lincoln!"
There was a gasp that seemed to suck the air right out of the courtroom. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. (I tested the theory by dropping a pin and yes, you could hear it!) The silence was broken when Judge Butler decided to speak.
"Mr. Reynolds, are you... all right?"
"Me? I'm fine, your Honor. It's Abe I'm worried about. I don't understand why he's not talking." And then I realized, too late, that my thumb was covering Abe's mouth!
"Bailiff, guard -- restrain Mr. Reynolds please. We'll recess for ten minutes." He banged his gavel as a guard, the bailiff, and several others from previous chapters quickly surrounded me, snapped some cuffs on my wrists and led me off to a holding cell in the back of the courthouse.
Rather than start another chapter so soon, though, we'll stay with this one for awhile. Besides, the holding cell was filled with all sorts of colorful characters: There was Greg, and Sonny, and --
"Mr. Reynolds? Court's back in session." That was fast. They dragged me back in before I could get to know all those colorful characters. Maybe I'll return. Who knows? I guess I should, but I don't. That's a good sign, isn't it? (Yes, it is -- Ed.)
Judge Butler's gavel brought everyone back to their seats and we were ready to begin again.
"Mr. Reynolds, are you and/or your attorney prepared to begin?"
"Yes, sir -- I mean -- Your Honor. We're ready."
"Good. I'll let you go first because you haven't described the prosecuting attorney yet."
"Fair enough." I approached the jury, a group of twelve of the most indistinguishable, lifeless ciphers you're ever likely to meet. Nevertheless, I walked toward them with respect -- slowly, deliberately, trying to make eye contact with each and every one. I wanted to connect, to reach down into their inner beings, their souls. And then, when I felt the proper mood had been established, I dramatically pulled Abe out of my pocket, and away he went.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I speak to you today as just a poor country lawyer from the backwoods of Illinois, a regular fella just like yourselves. I don't profess to have any special knowledge or information beyond the plain common sense that the Good Lord gave me. And I can tell you this, folks, as sure as the skunk smells, that there's somethin' awful smelly about this here law suit bein' filed here by these highfalutin' fellas from the big city. In their pin-striped suits and silk bowler hats, and with their teams of big-city lawyers in their vests and suspenders, they're comin' in here to convince you twelve fine, fair, American citizens who believe in the freedom of speech and the sanctity of a free press that this unassuming, humble fella standin' here holdin' me up before you broke some vaguely-worded agreement that they forced him to sign, under duress."
"Objection!" shouted one of the suspender-wearing prosecuting attorneys. While the judge deliberated I whispered my thanks to Abe for coming up with a nice description of the prosecuting team.
"Sustained," the judge announced. "Strike that last comment. Continue, Mr. Lincoln. And speak up, I can barely hear you." Abe cleared his throat, and continued.
"Once again, ladies and gentlemen, free speech is under attack. Mr. Reynolds here was simply minding his own business, about a quarter of the way through this current work -- which I might remind you we're all in -- when strange things began to happen. Beyond the usual re-writing and revising that you'd expect in this process, Mr. Reynolds has had to endure repeated intrusions and disruptions involving overzealous editors, uncooperative characters, and even disgruntled readers. It has gotten to the point where Mr. Reynolds cannot sleep, or eat, or, worst of all -- write. He's at the end of his rope, at wit's end, at the precipice, on the brink, and so on and so forth."
"Objection, Your Honor," objected the other side.
"Sustained. Mr. Lincoln, we all respect what you did as our fifteenth President -- "
"Sixteenth!" I corrected him.
"Excuse me, sixteenth. In any case, try to steer away from highly subjective characterizations. Continue."
"Now, folks," Abe went on, tilting his head in the direction of the prosecution, "I want you to look over there at them high-powered fellas in their ten-dollar suits."
I stopped Abe to remind him that suits have gone up in price a bit since the 1850's.
"In any case ladies and gentlemen," he continued, "what we're dealing with here is a dispute between, on the one side, a struggling young writer with ambitions of some day getting published; and, on the other side, a consortium of billion-dollar publishing houses trying to take a few pennies back from that struggling young writer because he didn't write exactly what they wanted him to write. Just imagine the same stipulations being forced upon Nathaniel Hawthorne, or Shakespeare, or Homer! Now, it's true that Mr. Reynolds here is no Nathaniel Hawthorne, but he certainly has the right to try. That's all I'll say right now. I'll have more after these mouthpieces for the robber barons have had their chance to wheeze."
"Sustained. Mr. Nutwick, you may begin." Nutwick? What an inspired name! Did I think of that? Or did the Judge Butler character ad-lib it on his own? In any case...
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," Nutwick, giggle giggle -- excuse me -- began, "his distinguished lawyer may characterize Mr. Reynolds as just another first-time novelist with the ambition of getting his work published, but we all know better. Much better. Mr. Reynolds here is, in essence, a megalomaniacal tyrant, a tyrant who has terrorized us all."
"Objection!" Abe wouldn't let him get away with that one.
"Sustained. Mr. Nutwick, please stick to what we know as, or presume to be, fact."
"Yes, Your Honor." Nutwick opened an attach‚ case and removed some documents, and then started to pace. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it's quite simple: You hire someone to mow your lawn; they mow your lawn; you pay them. That's not what happened here. Mr. Reynolds was paid seven thousand five hundred dollars to write, and I quote, 'a novel, narrated in a jarring, stream-of-consciousness prose style by a confused individual who can't seem to get it together.' That's what it says here, in living black and white. Mr. Reynolds's signature is here as well, and the signature 'seals the deal' as we say in the legal profession. Your Honor, I would like to enter this contract into the record as Exhibit A."
"Objection!" Abe objected.
"Objection?" The judge looked over skeptically. "To what are you objecting, Mr. Lincoln?"
"I'm objecting to the admission of evidence that doesn't exist."
"Doesn't exist? Explain yourself."
"You see, from where I sit, Mr. Reynolds here made up the whole thing about the contract, as well as the idea that the contract was for the kind of book it says it was. In fact, Mr. Reynolds here made up everything that led up to this trial, as well as all the characters in this courtroom, as well as you, and me, and all the fish in the sea. D'ya see where I'm going with this, Your Honor?"
"Yes, I do, Mr. Lincoln, and in spite of the general truthfulness of your statement, I must still overrule your objection to the admission of Exhibit A into the record."
And with that the judge banged his gavel. "Court will recess for lunch. Mr. Nutwick? Mr. Lincoln? I'd like to see both of you in my chambers." Butler got up and motioned to Nutwick, who grabbed Abe out of my hand and followed the ersatz judge into his chambers. It was at this point that I realized that I hadn't eaten a thing all day -- or ever, for that matter. So it seemed like a good time to run out and grab a quick bite.
(This ends Chapter Nineteen. Things seem to be settling down just a bit, don't you think?)