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A Barrister Pox Afternoon
Last Whiteman Chapter 3
The halls of the ancient building rang with the muted cries of the incarcerated. An age ago this had been a newly raised school, a “middle school” for children sent to learn the language and the ways of the race who had built this city. Today, Barrister Pox mused, that language reigned but muddied, and those ways it had once proclaimed where glibly stained.
Police court was heard at noon, when the lobby was lit by the sun, for the power no longer worked. Those who resided at Hamilton Corrections Facility of their own free will were either janitors of Mexican ancestry, guards from Haiti, Egyptian nurses, or “Goldies” like him, children of the hallowed American “Melting Pot” and ushers to the doomed.
Barrister Pox's chamber was a former classroom on the first floor, lit by candle at night and by the afternoon sun when he was on duty. Once candlelight reigned, barristering work was suspended for his distillery in the closet, the product gained thereof being used to compensate the guards to release those for whom he had been paid a consideration to have released into the arms of friend, family or pitiless co-conspirator.
Many was the time that he had been paid to release a punk on charges that might lead the police to his gang leader or her pimp only to be released into silence—they called it the Alley of Witnesses behind the old church. Of course, if the resident was young and fair, she might be sold to the Watchmen...
Justice often troubled Barrister Pox, so that more often than not, there was little rum left with which to compensate the Guards. He took mental inventory of his unopened closet—recalling three quart mason jars of Jungle Juice he gussied up with Cool Ade packets for the guardsmen, one over-proofed pint and only 25-pounds of sugar in the hamper. He then took historical inventory of his stock of sorrow and patted his pear-shaped gut with his golden-hued hand wondering how such as he had ever conquered a world.
'It was our better hearts, of course, soon to fall to the machinations of our lesser hearts. And here I sit sadly on my empty throne, ruling by TV phone.'
Then came the tread, a booted tread, preceded by a simpering whine propelled by shuffling slippers. The boots were not the hard hollow military boots of the Guardsmen or the hobnailed ones of the Watchmen and belonged to only one striding figure, by his cadence as tall as the Watchmen, who were a bit taller than the Guardsmen. The shuffling slippers he guessed to belong to a merchant who had so often come this way with consignments to be held for the Watchmen—for the Watchmen were Christians and the merchant was Muslim. Thus it fell to Barrister Pox, in honor of his Judaic forefathers, to serve as go-between for the two faiths that had so long harried his own.
Just as it was the lot of his trace of Faith, albeit descending a muddied blood trace, to serve two enemies to avoid becoming the target of one or both, it served a Barrister well—since one no longer went to District Court save for the annual re-certification and then one did so under heavy guard—to read in the tone, cadence, weight and intent of approaching steps sounding in these dark halls, both the context and the content of the characters about to appear.
Into the ancient teacher's desk drawer went his flask of confidence and his glass of regret.
Up turned his once starched collar to cover his sag of chin.
Straighter did he sit, as he observed that the tomes of his office remained dusty from ill-use, for this had been a drought season for his profession as police conducted evermore TV trials with Central Judgment and the Watchmen were apt as not to sell a suspect into a labor contract for disorder as bring him to Corrections.
Thus the remaining residents were such sad cases in part because they had escaped even the valuation of the criminally sane functionaries of Baltimore Corporate Government as worthy of exploitation.
On his broad wooden desk was arrayed:
Foremost among his books of office, regarded with awe by the largely illiterate masses of The City, was the Bible, an Episcopalian edition tendered from the Commandant of the Watchmen, in return for Barrister Pox reading passages on Sunday morning to the illiterate keepers of public order as they sat up on the very pews they slept upon and cleared the morning grime from their eyes.
Secondly, and to the left of the Good Book upon which people swore, was the Annotated Code of Maryland of 2038, the last year that particular mass of legalese had been updated. Though it had been largely rendered obsolete by corporate policies, recent robotic case law reviews, federal edicts and impositions of occasional martial law, the fact that he was one of the few humans to have read this document vested him with a sometimes awesome moral authority over the Lower Orders of humanity as it sank into the mire of its own sloth.
Lastly, and most importantly, since he could not for the life of him figure out how to program let alone reprogram his TV watch—with this hallowed instrument of communication being his line to Baltimore Corporation and the subsidiary Judiciary—was the TV Guide. In an age past this thick book of some thousands of pages had white and yellow pages for public and private business and had been called a “phone book.” But as the TV and the phone had been merged into one instrument of social concourse, concord and control, the TV guide for news and entertainment programming and the phone book had been merged. The batteries for half of the Robotic Operators on the TV watch switchboard, had long since gone unserviced. Hence, the ownership of a poorly programmed TV watch necessitated a TV Guide. Of his three official books, this one was his crutch.
Indeed, Barrister Pox had acquired an entire TV switchboard Robot Operator as a payment for release of a suspect. He had named that robot Rummy, and he was sustained by batteries regularly supplied by the Guardsmen from deactivated cars and had been reprogrammed by a Canadian Robotics Engineer abducted for and released upon this service by the Guardsmen, to monitor the rum proofing. For this magical occurrence, the Guardsmen had, two years hence, Christened the robot, Pappa Loi 151, for the over-proofed rum Pox had delivered them on New Year's Eve.
All upon the desk and bedecking his person was judged in order as the scuffing slippers and strident tread, heavily booted but not of rubber-coated steel Police heels, came to a halt at is open door. As long as the sun did shine through his ancient schoolroom windows from the quarter where the brick tower of the furnace loomed beyond the once concrete-paved expanse of the sterile school yard, now overgrown with a riot of weeds and vines, did the Welcome Door of Barrister Pox stand open, of night in the hours of distilling to close...
'I say by his furtive breath that old Ahmed comes as supplicant rather than soul-driver. And what manner of man or robot casts that long broad shadow upon my door?'
“My Door is ever open, my counsel ever ready, in the light of the hallowed day. Enter and name your concern, need or deed.”
Ahmed—it was Ahmed true if unseen—then whimpered as he was shoved into the room and fell sprawling face first to the left of barrister Pox's 120-year-old desk upon which once apples were left for caring matrons by diligently-studying children slated for extinction.
Ahmed's fez fell from his greasy head, his bloody chin shorn of beard smeared the tile floor, his flaring pants and bellhop's jacket were grass-stained and smudged, his slippers in tatters, indicating that he was not pushed here in his bicycle-wheeled litter by his bullies, but had suffered the indignity of the servant's procession.
The doorway was now filled with the broad-shouldered form of a man that evoked something of the Old West Gunfighter, the medieval executioner and the Viking raider all in one sinister sweep—if all could somehow be vested with the moral gravity of the Crusader Knight. The man had ancient European eyes, a wrecked nose apparently once worthy of Solomon himself, and had the overwhelming air of the Hinterlands about him.
Barrister Pox, suddenly self-conscious of his plague-pitted face, noted that this man was certainly a Whiteman under his sooty face paint, which seemed to mark him like an Indian of old as a death bringer. Few residents of The City could have made these historic connections concerning the Hinterlander. But under that ireful glare of eye out of the naked places of the world, sat one of the few men to have read a book in Baltimore since 2040—and he had read them in their hundreds, having released many a resident for a box of books, now piled high upon the forty odd desks that would never seat a student again...
“Magnificent!” blurted some fool, and Barrister Pox, new that voice to belong to the middle-aged wreck of a man who had a long time ago been born Alvin Morris, in Upper Park Heights, lover of John Wayne movies, to be sadly orphaned after the first mass Nigerian boat-lift to Baltimore...
Ahmed simpered, “Master Hinterland, consigns Poor Bereaved Ahmed to you power, Barrister Pox—for an answer.”
His heart went out to cruel Ahmed; to see such a vulture reduced to piteous supplication somehow put Alvin's soul in kinship with old Pontius Pilot.
“Have a seat among the stacks, Ahmed.”
As Ahmed began to scurry towards the nearest book-piled desk, he looked first over his shoulder for permission, like an ape turning into a serpent yet unsure if God wills it, fear writ large on his pained and fallen face.
The big bounty hunter, for Alvin's wonder-kindled imagination could not think of this man as anything other than an avenger of the storied American Frontier come forward in time into a half-life—for something was dead about the man's countenance despite the cold firelight in his blue eyes—nodded “Yes,” and Ahmed slithered to his seat.
'I am like a just king enthroned in a sudden position to help a hero realize his noble quest! At last, some good I can do in this world of shadow!'
“Sir, Rogue Judge of laws more ancient than those I curate, I sense, what can Humble Barrister Pox provide towards the completion of your errand?”
The shadow of a man strode—for walk was too small a thing to describe his heavy-booted progress across four paces to the tiny Barrister's side—over to and loomed above Barrister Pox sitting in his old, leather swivel chair, placed one heavy, hardened hand upon Little Orphan Alvin's narrow, time-sloped shoulder, and with the other hand before his seated advocate's face, activated his TV watch.
The watch top opened and yawned showing the picture of the most beautiful young woman Barrister Pox had ever signed transport papers for, a women so pretty and innocent that just to look into her tear-puddled eyes had been like a glimpse of paradise lost.
Alvin would have never done such a thing!
Alvin would have plead for her release and appealed to the police!
But Barrister Pox had corporate responsibilities, ongoing contractual obligations and—Alvin cried like he had when his mother and father had been butchered before his boyish eyes, cried like the orphan that he was, cried into and beyond uncaring tomorrow as he was wheeled towards the distillery closet with one unforgiving hand while the other hand dragged Ahmed like a discarded doll that knew he was to be rendered back into the rags he had been made of.
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