Richard Daybell – Novels, stories and short humor
“All of y’rise,” said Victor Clovis who most of the time drove a taxi, shuffling tourists from one island rendezvous to another, but who, on the rare occasions when court was in session, served as whatever court personnel might be needed. Except judge, of course. Those duties fell to the short gentlemen who stood rather pretentiously behind the unpretentious teacher’s desk in one of the three rooms in Ste. Catherine School. Student desks had been pushed to one side of the room to make room for grown-up folding chairs, and court was now in session.
Everyone in the classroom/courtroom did indeed rise as instructed, everyone being Regina Napoleon, her husband Corso, his friend Max Rollo, and a good dozen townspeople who had nothing to do on this hot summer day. Court proceedings were rare on the island, and they were timed to fit into the judge’s semi-annual visits.
Mrs. Napoleon was the plaintiff in this particular case, her husband and his friend Rollo the defendants. She stood before a chair to the judge’s right, facing, at about six feet away on the judge’s left, the two men.
“Okay, be seated,” Victor intoned, after the judge had seated himself.
The judge was not long on ceremony. Victor felt a little slighted that he was not given the opportunity to instruct Mrs. Napoleon on the matter of the whole truth and nothing but the truth before the judge started right in with questions.
“So you are charging the two defendants with attempted murder, is that correct?”
“That’s absolutely correct, your most honorific sir, “ answered Mrs. Napoleon.
“Even though one of them is your husband?”
“He’s the worst of the two, don’t you know. He’s an animal.”
“And they attempted this murder by immersion in a barrel of rum?”
“If that means they tried to drown me, that they did. That they did.”
“I was whacking some conch with a board – that makes them tender, perfect for conch chowder. I make a nice conch chowder, lots of conch and good vegetables – well they came in with big grins on their ugly faces and the look of evil in their eyes.”
Defendant Napoleon stood and grinned at the judge. “I was drunk, you see.”
Defendant Rollo rose and added: “So was I, that’s the truth.”
“We’ll hear your story by and by,” snapped the judge. “Now please sit. Mrs. Napoleon, you were saying the two defendants had the look of evil in their eyes. Do you agree that they were drunk?”
“Oh my yes,” answered Mrs. Napoleon. “They were lit up to their very gills. I never like to see the two of them together, especially not when they’re in their cups. And still they were drinking. ‘There’ll be mischief,’ I said to myself.”
“They were drinking from this barrel of rum?”
“They weren’t, and that was odd. They’d take a drink from a bottle then pour the rest of it into the barrel until it was filled to the brim.”
“And how is it that there is a barrel of rum in your kitchen?” the judge asked.
“Napoleon makes rum,” Mrs. Napoleon answered, and then, glowering at her husband, added: “Very bad rum.”
“They were drinking and making strange talk. ‘Kind of scrawny,’ says the one. ‘Not so much as you’d think,’ says the other. ‘I’d say not over 120 pounds,’ says the one. ‘You’d be surprised,’ says the other. ‘Ready?’ says the one. ‘Ready,’ says the other. Then they stand up and stagger toward me. ‘How much do you weigh?’ says the one. And when I refused to tell them, they were happy about it. Grinning like drunk crocodiles. And the one takes me by the head and the other by the feet and they lift me off the ground. ‘Stop, let me down,’ I shouted. Napoleon just says, ‘Hush, it’ll be all right.’ ‘Take her shoes off,’ says the other. ‘And her dress.’ ‘We’ll make allowance for the dress,’ says Napoleon. I start screaming, and they dump me into the barrel of rum, right up to my neck.” She shook a fist at the defendants and shouted: “You assassins. I want you hung.”
“Please, Mrs. Napoleon,” soothed the judge. “I know this is very trying, but if you could continue.”
“I’ll try,” sobbed Mrs. Napoleon. “I was right up to my neck in rum. And Rollo says ‘I guess we’re set.’ And Napoleon, the fiend, says ‘oh no, we’ve got to count her head.’ ‘Well, push it in then,’ says Rollo. And Napoleon pushed my head down and rum came into my nose and I knew I’d breathed my last and he kept pushing until my head was completely under and I saw the good Lord beckoning me and I said a last prayer that both of my murderers would rot in Hell and suddenly they pulled me out and I ran screaming into the night all soaked in rum like I was the one who was drunk. I ran to the station and told the policeman what had happened. At first he didn’t believe me, thought I was drunk, but finally he followed me back. And there we found Napoleon and Rollo going at each other like a couple of wild animals, shouting about how many bottles of rum there were and how much that much rum should weigh. The policeman hauled them away and that’s the last I know.” She sat down exhausted but triumphant, and in what should have been a somber moment, the spectators, who had been giggling throughout, broke into loud laughter.
“Quiet please,” said the judge, ‘or I’ll empty the class. .er . . Courtroom.” They obediently reverted to subdued snickering. “Well, gentlemen,” said the judge turning to the defendants. “I guess it’s time to hear your version of these strange events. Prisoner Rollo, I sense that you’re somehow instrumental in this curious business. Why don’t you go first?”
Rollo stood. “I was drunk, your honor.”
“I was drunk, too,” Napoleon chimed in.
“I know that,” said the judge. “Please continue.”
“I am the owner of a drinking establishment known as Leeward Lounge. On occasion I purchase rum from Mr. Napoleon, because I know he needs the money and I try to help in my own little way.”
“He pours it into bottles with fancy labels,” said Napoleon.
“On the day in question,” continued Rollo, “he came into my place at about noon and called for two drinks which I served up. He said: ‘this one’s for you, dear friend.’ To be polite, I sat down and drank with him, and in turn I produced two more drinks. He did the same again, and I did the same again and so on – you know how it goes, your honor.”
“No I don’t, but please continue.”
“Well, it got to be evening and we were fairly tipsy.”
“We were wicked drunk, your honor,” Napoleon interjected.
“Napoleon starts getting very serious and starts talking about how he needs money for new equipment and he just doesn’t know what he’ll do. When I show reluctance, he suddenly says, ‘I’ll sell you my wife.’ Well, I was quite surprised. The woman is fairly unattractive, as you here in court can see, but I’ve been without a woman for some time and I was drunk, as you know. So I asked him how much he’d sell her for. He didn’t seem to have thought that part out. I suppose the whole idea had been a spur of the moment thing.”
“And I was drunk,” said Napoleon.
“He thought for a while then said ‘I’ll sell her for two thousand dollars.’ I told him I thought that was too much and we went back and forth a bit. We somehow reached the point where we agreed the price should be based on her weight, but we were both guessing at it, and we were a good thirty pounds apart. Being drunk, that didn’t discourage us. It just made the whole transaction more interesting, a gamble. We finally settled on the amount of fourteen dollars per pound. Being a devoted husband, Napoleon insisted that the price be higher than the finest cut of beef.”
Napoleon grinned and turned red.
“Since we knew of no way to weigh the woman, we devised an ingenious plan – well, it seemed ingenious at the time – to learn her true weight. In my business, I know rum. I know it by volume, and I know it by weight. Napoleon’s rum weighs exactly 28 ounces the bottle. So our plan was this: We would put the woman in Napoleon’s barrel of rum, and she would push rum out of it. Then we fill it up again, figuring how many bottles it took. And that would tell us her weight.” Rollo looked smugly at the spectators as if expecting them to applaud.
“And the rest of the operation was pretty much as Mrs. Napoleon described it?” asked the judge.
“Pretty much,” answered Rollo. “When she ran away I was a bit upset, but Napoleon told me not to worry. So we measured the rum, and it was just what I expected. But Napoleon wouldn’t accept this. ‘It’s not right,’ he shouted, ‘it should be more.’ He began yelling that I was cheating him, and I felt duty bound to hit him. And he hit me back. And I hit him back. Well, you know how it goes, your honor.”
“No, I don’t,” said the judge, “but go on.”
“Then the policeman showed up and dragged us away and threw us in jail. And we were just drunk. We deserve an apology. We deserve damages!”
“Damages!” echoed Napoleon.
“Prisoner Napoleon,” said the judge, “Do you agree with this account?”
“Yes,” answered Napoleon. “Except for the part where he said Mrs. Napoleon was unattractive. And I’m sorry for my part in this, but I was drunk”
The judge sat silently for a moment, then said: “Given that Mrs. Napoleon was not harmed and that there was no intention to harm her and given that the two defendants have had several days in jail to reflect on their misdeeds, I’m going to release them with a reprimand and an order that they never drink together again. Mrs. Napoleon, I regret your ordeal and suggest you might think of separation as a possible solution to your situation.”
“Oh no, sir,” she answered looking at her husband, who began to sweat and shake under her gaze, “Napoleon’s not getting off that easy. No indeed. We’re going to spend many, many long years together.”