When Jim walked into the loft, Blair was on the phone.
"Yes, of course I've heard of it. … You're kidding--is this a joke? … Yeah, I'm interested. What do I have to do? … Yes. I have a few questions, though. … Okay, I'll read over the materials and call you. … Yep, as soon as I'm done reading it, I'll give you a call. … Thanks, Mr. Greer. Have a good day. Goodbye." He hung up the phone and looked at it for a second, shaking his head.
During the phone call, Jim had locked away his gun and pulled out two beers, opening one and taking a long drink. After the call ended, he handed the other to Blair, who took it with a smile. "What's up, Chief?"
"Jim, you're not going to believe this. That was a guy from the TV show 'Cascade Court'. It's like 'The People's Court' but covers local cases."
"Yeah, I know it. What did they want?"
"They want me to appear on the show. Isn't that wild?"
Jim frowned. "What do they want with you? Don't they cover civil cases?"
"Yeah. They search through small claims cases, looking for interesting ones. Then they offer the litigants a chance to be on the show if they agree to settle their claims through arbitration, which is really what the judges are; arbitrators."
"I've seen the show and some of the people are ridiculous. Why would they embarrass themselves in front of everyone on TV?"
Blair held out his arms, palms up, in an 'isn't it obvious' gesture. "For the money. The show pays the judgements out of a fund. So, even if you lose, you're a winner."
"It still doesn't seem worth the embarrassment," Jim said with a shrug. "Who're you suing, anyway?"
Jim looked at Blair in surprise. "Freeman? Why are you suing that scumbag?"
"To recover the money it cost me to repair the loft after that horse manure incident."
"I thought you were okay with that."
"I am. But that doesn't mean I don't have a case for recovering what I laid out because Freeman decided to go psycho on our home. The legal way to do it is through a civil suit."
Jim frowned, still puzzled. "Chief, he's in jail. How're you going to collect from him?"
Blair shrugged. "Lots of imprisoned criminals get sued by their victims. If they lose, they have to pay out of future earnings. If I win my case, when Freeman gets out he'll need to pay then. But the beauty of this TV thing is that if I win I get the money a whole lot sooner and I don't have to deal with him when he gets out."
Jim's frown changed from puzzled to worried. "It's going to bring up everything we went through with him. I don't want to be exposed to ridicule for a few thousand dollars. I'd rather pay the bill."
Blair nodded. "I get that. On the show, litigants have asked to remain anonymous or only use their first names. I'll make sure your name isn't mentioned or ask to use a pseudonym for you. If they can't guarantee it, I won't accept." He put his hand on Jim's arm to reassure him. "We've got time to think of any other objections. The contract will come in the mail. No one is going to force us into this. But I think it would be interesting--and fun," he said with a grin.
Jim nodded. "So, what's for dinner?"
Blair had been in the capable hands of Ginger, one of the show's beauticians, for the last hour. She'd buffed his nails (he'd refused nail polish), put a light mousse in his hair and applied makeup. She was looking at the two outfits he'd brought and chose the dark blue silk shirt and black slacks over his brown suit.
"That suit would look good in court, but it might seem like you're trying too hard. What do you wear your glasses for?"
She nodded. "Then you'll need to wear them. The shirt matches your eyes, so they'll look better behind the glasses. Besides, it will show off that ankh necklace with just a bit of chest hair--very strong-looking." He grinned and started to get dressed.
He sat in a chair while she did his hair, using a pick to fluff out the long strands. "So, have you ever been in a courtroom?" she asked.
"Yeah," he nodded, "quite a few, actually."
"Oh, am I fixing the hair of a desperado?" she teased.
He laughed. "Nah, I'm an anthropologist. I've been to court to observe human behavior."
She nixed his earrings ("it'll go better if you look less radical") but gave thumbs-up to everything else. She applied a light mist of hair spray and removed the paper sheets that protected his clothing. She turned him in the chair to face the mirror.
"So, what do you think?"
He looked at himself and was tempted to whistle. He'd been concerned that the makeup would be too much, especially when she'd applied eyeliner. But behind his glasses they made his eyes look rounder and softer. The pancake makeup had muted his ever-present five-o'clock-shadow, and the blush gave him a healthy glow. "'I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille'," he joked. "You are indeed an artist, Ginger. Thanks for making me look so good."
She patted him on the shoulder. "I had a head start--you've got great bone structure and you're fit and strong. I just had to add some finishing touches." She packed up her kit and put out her hand, which he took in two hands and shook warmly. "Good luck. And just remember to focus on the judge and it won't take but a minute for you to forget the cameras."
[Show announcer's voiceover: You are in the courtroom of Judge Maggie Hammer. This is Cascade Court--where everyday people come for justice!]
"All parties in the matter of Blair Sandburg vs Dan Freeman, please come forward," the bailiff said soberly. Blair walked down the aisle to the front of the courtroom.
[Show announcer's voiceover: The plaintiff, Blair Sandburg, is suing the defendant, Dan Freeman, for damage done to his home as the result of a prank. The defendant says he's not responsible.]
The bailiff pointed Blair toward one of the tables. Dan Freeman walked up the aisle, with a marshal behind him, and stood in front of the other table. Blair took a quick glance at Dan. He'd also been made up and was wearing a charcoal-gray suit. Blair was impressed with how well he looked. He also noticed that Dan was not handcuffed.
The bailiff spoke again. "This is case number 734, Judge Margaret Hammer presiding. Litigants have been sworn, Judge. Everyone can be seated."
Judge Hammer took the papers her bailiff handed her, then looked at Blair. "Mr. Sandburg, this is an unusual case. You're suing Mr. Freeman, who is currently serving time in a State Penitentiary. Is that correct?"
Blair had to keep from rolling his eyes. Of course it was correct; this judge had read the particulars of the case and had probably already made her decision long before they stepped to their places. He reminded himself that this was theater. "Yes, Your Honor," he answered respectfully.
"And you're seeking reimbursement for money you spent due to Mr. Freeman's actions?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
Judge Hammer turned toward Freeman. "Mr. Freeman, is it true that one of the reasons you're in prison is because of the actions described in Mr. Sandburg's statement?"
"I was framed," Freeman said testily.
"Most prisoners believe they are, Mr. Freeman." [titters in the courtroom.] Nevertheless, were you found guilty of breaking into Mr. Sandburg's place of residence?"
"Really?" asked Hammer, consulting her papers.
Blair raised his hand. "I can explain, Your Honor."
"Go ahead, Mr. Sandburg."
"I have the court papers from Mr. Freeman's convictions--"
"How'd you get those?" Freeman snarled.
"They're a matter of public record, man," Blair replied.
"Gentlemen, don't talk to each other," Judge Hammer admonished. "Continue, Mr. Sandburg."
"On August 24 of last year, Mr. Freeman entered my residence in order to play a prank on my roommate."
"I understand the roommate wishes to remain anonymous?" Blair nodded. "We're going to refer to your roommate as 'Bob'. Go on."
"Yes, Your Honor. Mr. Freeman entered our place of residence, which Bob owns, and dumped a very offensive product in the middle of our living room."
"And what was that?"
"About fifty pounds of fresh horse shit, Your Honor."
At that, the entire gallery reacted; some people gasped, others whispered, still others laughed out loud. The judge rapped her gavel and glared at the audience. When everyone was silent again, she raised her eyebrows at Freeman, then said to Blair, "Continue."
"Eventually, the police discovered Mr. Freeman was the culprit. Here's the police report," Blair said, handing the report to the bailiff. "Because Mr. Freeman used a key to get into the apartment, he wasn't technically breaking and entering. He eventually pled guilty to criminal mischief, which you can see in the court papers."
Judge Hammer read through the report, then addressed Blair. "You're suing for over two thousand dollars. Are these actual damages?"
"Yes, Your Honor. As you can imagine, the odor was terrible. We could smell it all the way down the hallway from our elevator to our apartment, although we didn't know at the time it was coming from inside. When we saw the sheer amount and the stink it created, we realized it was impossible for us to stay there. We contacted a company to remove the sh--manure and checked into a motel for the night. We also hired a cleaning service to remove and clean all permeable surfaces, such as the beds, upholstered furniture, curtains and bedding."
"Couldn't you have just aired out the place?"
"My roommate has severe allergies. We had a company that specializes in removing allergens come in to clean the entire apartment. Additionally, we had professional floor cleaners work on the hardwood floor where the stuff had been dropped. Unfortunately, because it was so fresh, it soaked into the hardwood floor and they couldn't clean it sufficiently. So, we had to have the affected floorboards replaced. Because it's an older building, it took a bit to match the wood and then, of course, the whole floor had to be stripped and refinished to match. That meant bringing in still another company to accomplish that. It took over two weeks and we had to stay in the motel during that time. We also had to buy clothes for the first couple of days until we were able to get ours from the apartment and wash them."
"Did you have insurance?"
"I didn't, Your Honor, since I was renting. Bob had homeowner's insurance, but they refused to cover it."
Blair sighed. "They said because he entered with a key, they considered it either tacit permission or contributory negligence that he was able to get in. Ironically, if he'd broken down the door, it would have cost more, but they would have covered it."
"I'm curious about why you're bringing this suit. Since you say the prank was aimed at Bob, why isn't he here?"
"Since I was the one who left the key that Mr. Freeman found and used to enter our place, and since the insurance didn't cover the damages, I felt obligated to pay Bob for the damages, which I did."
"Do you have proof of your expenses?"
"Yes," Blair answered, pulling out papers as he spoke. "Here are the bills for the motel, the cleaning services, the flooring, and the floor repair and refinish services. You can see everything except the motel bill was paid through loans I took out from my Rainier Credit Union. The motel bill was initially paid by Bob, but once we learned the insurance company wouldn't cover it, I reimbursed Bob by check. A copy of my cancelled check is there." Blair handed a sheaf of papers to the bailiff. "I've also included pictures of the manure pile and the stain on the floor that was left after it was removed.
"I'm still paying off those loans, Your Honor. The balance of what I'm seeking is the interest on the loans. Fortunately, because it is a credit union, the rate is reasonable. Oh," he said suddenly, pulling one more paper from his pile, "and two days' worth of clothes I had to buy."
Hammer looked at all the papers, then turned to Freeman. "All right, Mr. Freeman, you're up. What's your defense?"
"I've got no beef with this guy and I think his chickenshit roommate is hiding because he doesn't want to face me. I have no problem telling the world the identify of that coward--" Hammer rapped her pen several times on her bench and looked at the marshal standing next to Freeman, who grabbed his arm and gave it a tight squeeze and a shake. Freeman stopped talking.
"Mr. Freeman, let me ask you this," Hammer said. "Do you like being in prison?"
"No." At another warning shake, he added, "No, Your Honor."
She smiled. "I don't think anyone does. So, I expect being here today, without handcuffs, in regular clothes, is a treat for you. Did you order room service in your hotel last night?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"And probably watched cable television, perhaps even had a drink from the mini-bar?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"Well," she said sternly, "those privileges and that freedom come with a price. You signed a contract with us. One of the terms of that contract is to keep Bob's identity and any other information that might be used to identify him--his place of business, his residence and anything else--from being broadcast here. We can remove you right now and you can be on your way back to prison in five minutes and we'll conclude the case without you. Or you can behave and stay tonight in that very nice hotel with all its amenities. Your choice."
Freeman scrunched his face, but finally replied. "I'll abide by the rules, Your Honor."
"Good. Are you getting any therapy while you're in prison, perhaps some anger management classes?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"That's good. Because parole boards look at conduct when they make their decisions. You need to clean up your act, Mr. Freeman, if you want to qualify for good behavior." She said in a lecturing tone, looking straight at him with a steely glare. "You get me?"
Freeman deflated. "Yes, Your Honor."
"Very good. We'll be doing a follow up with you. When you're released, we can help you get a fresh start. I understand you held a reliable job but fell on hard times before all this happened. Let's see if we can't get you back into society, hmm?"
Freeman looked at her as if he couldn't believe his ears. He just nodded.
"All right. I'll ask you again, what is your defense?"
"Bob cut me off in traffic and when I told him, he pushed me against my car and got in my face. I thought he deserved to know what a piece of crap he was, so I did this harmless prank. I coulda done a lot worse. I had hours to do whatever I wanted, but I didn't. I'm not a bad person and I'm not violent.
Judge Hammer looked at him, a little stunned by the admission, then shook her head. "Mr. Freeman, I'm sure everyone here is glad you showed such self-restraint. [tittering in the courtroom.] So, when you did this so-called harmless prank, did you realize you were also hurting the plaintiff?"
Freeman looked at Blair, as if just recognizing him. He bowed his head. "No. I didn't know they lived together. He… he was actually pretty nice to me. He stopped Bob from assaulting me."
Hammer looked at Blair. "Is that true?"
Blair gave her a pained look. "Not exactly, Your Honor. This all started as a case of road rage. Both men were upset. I was just trying to de-escalate the situation. Since I didn't know Mr. Freeman or what his deal was, I tried to make Bob see reason, so it wouldn't get worse.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Freeman didn't let it go. He did a number of other things, from following Bob to the point of stalking, to phoning in his vehicle as stolen so it almost got towed, to hacking into Bob's credit cards and charging thousands of dollars of merchandise, to taking out a restraining order on Bob, to interfering with him on the job. He also pulled a gun and shot it several times. He missed Bob and, fortunately, everyone else who was on the street at that time. Once he was arrested, he confessed to all the crimes in exchange for a reduced sentence."
Judge Hammer looked at Freeman. "Tsk, tsk, Mr. Freeman, sounds like you got a bit obsessed with Bob. Those things you did were not only not nice, but it sounds like they put people in danger." When Freeman failed to respond, she looked at all the papers in front of her, then shuffled them together. "So, does anyone have anything else to add?" Hammer asked, looking at both litigants. Both men shook their heads. "Well, then, since the defendant has already been convicted of the things the plaintiff is suing him about and the plaintiff has submitted proof of monetary damages, I'm ruling in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $2,750 plus court costs. That's all, step out." With that, she left the bench. The bailiff moved to escort them out.
In the lobby outside the courtroom, Blair turned to Freeman. "Can I talk to you a minute?" He turned to the marshal. "Would that be okay, or is it against the rules?"
"If it's okay by him, it's okay by me, but I have to frisk you first and I have to stay in the room."
Blair looked at Freeman questioningly. "Okay," Freeman said.
One of the show personnel showed them to a green room. The marshal frisked Blair and took his backpack, keys and Swiss Army knife. Blair and Freeman sat in chairs next to each other.
"What do you want, an apology?" Freeman said belligerently.
"No, man, I just wanted to let you know why I agreed to this. After I racked up all those expenses, a friend suggested I file a claim against you. I didn't know whether I'd ever get anything. I did it now instead of waiting until you got out, because of the statute of limitations. When the show called me, I thought by doing this we could all win."
"How do you figure?"
"Well, I'd have won my case for sure, but I might've had to wait years for you to pay. This way, I win, because I get paid right away. But you win, too, because you don't have to pay the judgement--the show pays. Plus you got the appearance fee and something from the judgement fund and you got out for a few days on the show's dime."
Freeman shrugged. "Yeah, that was pretty good. Though now I have to go back."
Blair hitched forward, "Yeah, but the judge also said you could get time off for good behavior and they'll help you when you get out. That's something, isn't it?"
Freeman gave a reluctant nod. "I'm going through some occupational training and my mom picked up my stuff from the apartment."
Blair smiled. "There ya go, sounds like you're on a good path. Just try not to let things get to you, okay? You really went off the deep end and you almost died. Time to make a fresh start." Blair stood up. "Take it easy, man, and good luck."
When it didn't look like Freeman was going to say anything, Blair left.
Blair grinned when he exited the building and saw a familiar blue-and-white truck. He walked to the driver's side, where Jim had the window rolled down.
"You know, you can't save everyone, Chief."
"Wasn't trying to. I just wanted to leave it as good as I could."
"So, how'd your case go?"
"What, you didn't listen in?"
"Nah, I couldn't get away soon enough."
"Got the full amount, had a chance to see the show from the inside, and met this great woman named Ginger."
Jim rolled his eyes. "Is she the next girlfriend?"
Blair smacked Jim's shoulder. "No, man, she's way above my class--she's an artistic genius. Look at me," he turned around, showing off. "Whaddya think?"
Jim whistled. "Very pretty, Chief. I especially like the eyeliner. Now, since you're a rich man, how about buying dinner?"
Blair grinned. "Actually," he said, pulling out a debit card and waving it, "it's on the show. They gave me an expense account for meals and incidentals. Because they didn't have to put me up in a hotel, it's extra generous."
Jim smiled. "Great. I was thinking Mr. Tube Steak, but now I'm thinking The Chop House."
Blair got in the passenger's seat. "Lead on, Bob," he said, flourishing with his hand.
Jim put the truck in gear. "Who the hell is Bob?"
Blair laughed. "I'll tell you over dinner."