Woodville Municipal Courthouse, Woodville, Mississippi USA. Monday July 11th 1966.
Judge Bernard Remington the 3rd had just completed his daily ceremonial gluttonous coronary destroying dinner of prime T-bone steak, four eggs, a huge bowl of fries, onion rings and fried chicken to go. He was due back in the courthouse in twenty minutes time but that did not stop him enjoying a small glass of the finest Californian Merlot with his sumptuous daily feast. Wiping a huge slither of grease and egg yolk from his unkempt beard that he somehow seemed to think hid his enormous triple chin he stifled a lone satisfactory burp then stood. He was both revered and feared around Woodville town in the most copiously hefty and equal amounts. His daddy and his Grandaddy had been legends, both in and around town and the surrounding Wilkinson County. They made a name for themselves by dishing out heavy punishments for the local Negro’s, something the overwhelming white majority of townsfolk harmoniously agreed with. Bernard’s Daddy - Judge Bernard Remington the 2nd - lived a life of luxury, debauchment and revelry which was mostly financed by his unduly huge and proposterous wealth. It was absolutely not financed by illegal moonshine liquor sales or back hand bribes for lenient sentences – well that’s what he would categorically state to himself everyday. Truth be known the town did not care if Judge Bernard the 2nd was a crook, a thief or a gluttonous money hungry ogre. All that mattered was that he got results and appeased the white folk that attended his parties and bought his liquor. His fortune was vast and despite lavishing enormous amounts week on week the grim reaper appeased no one and took no prisoners. Three weeks after his 54th birthday he succumbed to a massive coronary brought on by years of degenerately unabashed swathes of dirty, greasy lumps of fodder that cascaded triumphantly down his oesophagus for each and every day of his life. His son Judge Bernard the 3rd inherited everything including the secret stash of moonshine hidden within the attic chimney breast. Despite the fortune that was left to him, and despite not having to work for the foreseeable future in respect of his acquired inheritance, Bernard the 3rd still saw fit to seek out a law school scholarship. Bernard the 3rd did not at any cost want his late Daddy to feel bad about him and he certainly did not want to miss all the fun that went on in the courthouse. Fun which his daddy constantly and most animatedly related to him night after night before every bedtime throughout his toddling years. How he laughed along with his Daddy when another male Negro was sentenced to two years for stealing to feed his family.
“Daddy you’re right, there are ways to get food without stealing. That is wrong Daddy.” He would innocently and naively utter to his father. Seeds were being sown, minds were being cleansed and the dark insidious nature of man was fast becoming a tool to suppress the weak and enslave the outspoken. Times though were gradually succumbing to change. Steadily but surely one blessed human at a time were beginning to step forward to fight for equality for all, and to defend their fellow man with a colossal heart and a compassionate hand. Much to the vexed annoyance of the uneducated majority. A young white male by the name of Harvey Lampton had ambled into Woodville three years previously after passing his scholarship and setting up a quaint easy going law practice on the edge of town. Somewhat quiet at first his office was now buzzing with excitement. Scores of negro’s stood resolutely in a tight but organised line outside Lampton’s office that meandered and twisted its way around the back of his adorable little building. They were all seeking representation and the mighty hand of Saviour Lampton.
Traipsing heavily out from his office and into the cool, humid air of the Mississippi delta Lampton stood casually upon the porch of his sparse office - that sat atop four wooden steps - and stared woefully at the sight that brushed his optic nerve from below. At the foot of the steps he began to weep at the heavy line of forlorn, ragged and sometimes angry souls that looked upon him as their only hope, their only salvation in a world of cruel suppression and heartless inequality. First in line stood a sad faced African female that Lampton recognised. Her name was Charity Babascoo, she was holding a small baby in her arms and at the sight of Lampton she wearily approached, her arms outstretched and offered her infant to him.
“Please Mr Lampton take my baby and look after him. They say I have to go to jail and that they will take my precious Grace away from me.” Her voice echoed achingly across the dry sandy roads as the line behind her looked on with sad conceding eyes.
He swallowed a little then loosened his tie. More of a loosening akin to the nervousness of how he would reply to this pitiable soul that required his help – and no more so than to loosen his tie because of the stifling heat. He was passionate, resolute and a humble caring individual one could always count on. These were trying times, but he believed that they would eventually pass. Until that time transpired he held fast to his faith. A faith that filled him with the insight to foresee that the dark times would only pass if someone cared and stood up for these poor souls and ultimately changed the opinion of a whole nation to look upon these people as equal. He was one of a growing number of whites around the great United States that were coming together to defend the Negro’s. As he stood staring into the eyes of the female before him with compassionate swells welling in his eyes, his heart fought bravely to overrule his head for the safety of the infant. Unfortunately his head prevailed as he took a step towards the female and reached out towards the infant with a trembling sombre hand
“I’m sorry Charity I really am.” He murmured, tenderly caressing the babies head. “I really would love to help you, but the law is the law. I am trying my best to change it for you all I really am.”
Charity flinched a little at his words and swiftly withdrew her infant to her bosom.
“They say you are the Saviour, they say you can help all of us. Don’t tell me what you cannot do just help me...help us all.” She indicated over her shoulder towards the rest of the line as she concluded her plea.
“Look I do not promise to be a Saviour, I am just a man who does not agree with what my fellow white folk are doing to you people. In time I will change all this for the better and this I do promise.” He directed, more towards the whole line than to Charity.
“If you promise this, then start by helping my child.”
He searched inwardly for an amicable solution to the situation that now engulfed him.
“I will try to help all I can, we have the sentencing next week remember Charity, and I promise you I will do everything I can to help you keep Grace.”
“They will take her I know it, they will.” She cried.
One by one further souls began to step forward from behind Charity to help ease her pain and to reason with the saviour. A tall heavyset man placed his arm upon Charity’s shoulder in a reassuring gentle manner and looked towards Lampton with heavy, oppressive eyes.
“Mr Lampton please help Charity, don’t let them take sweet Grace here from her mothers loving arms. Please Mr Lampton.” The heavyset Negro pleaded, wiping a loving palm tenderly across Graces tiny head as he did so.
“They say I stole a loaf of bread and for that they will take my child away Mr Lampton. I have no food Mr Lampton, and all that I have I give to little Grace here, she has to stay strong.” Charity spat.
“Wait and see what Judge Bernard rules Charity, it might not be so bad. I have a case I’m going to now. I Will try and catch a word with him later but I cannot promise anything.”
Lampton knew Judge Bernard was a ruthless cold hearted man who could not be swayed by any argument or any exhibition of devout sympathy and emotional outpouring. He was a powerhouse of a man with no heart, no emotion and posessed not a single empathic gene among his many millions of callous, insidious unfeeling dirty strands of DNA. Lampton was one of only a handful in town that did not fear Judge Bernard, one of only a handful that despised him enough to make it his own personal goal to bring the Judge down. He sighed, stepped forward a little more towards Charity and tenderly rubbed his palm against the side of her right shoulder in a touching gesture of reassurement.
“Charity I will do what I can okay, your Grace will be fine I promise. If you have no food you’re welcome to go inside my office, speak to my assistant Candice and she’ll rustle you up a sandwich. Feel free to come by everyday and I’ll make sure you get something to eat...you and Grace both...Okay?” He indicated towards his open office door and continued, directing his next speech towards the long line of miracle seekers.
“Thank you all for coming but I have to go to court now to fight for you all. If you have any life or death issues then please see my assistant Candice, if not please go home as I cannot help you here today. I do promise to be your voice in court but for now I have to go.”
Still keeping his hand upon Charity’s shoulder he leaned a touch forward and gently kissed her forehead.
“It will be okay, go see Candice.” He whispered, then swiftly meandered his way through the now uneasy and questioning crowd.
Charity followed him with her eyes until he faded away eerily into the distance. Holding her beloved Grace ever more tightly she kissed her tender forehead then made her way up the steps to Candice. Candice appeared in the open doorway and beckoned her inside with a meltingly kind smile.
A little over fifteen minutes later Lampton made it to the Woodville courthouse, sweating profusely. It was now 2.33 pm and the stifling heat showed no sign of abating as he wiped his brow, collected his thoughts and hurriedly traipsed up the busy steps to his next showdown with Judge Bernard the 3rd. Judge Bernard had just arrived and settled into his favourite leather swivel chair within his lavish office. His breath still reeking of sweet red wine and fat salty steak he hollored discourteously for his assistant. Being a controlling alpha male Bernards desk faced towards his door at all times. Today he sat with his back to the door and his legs upon the walnut window-ledge behind as he peered out onto the town of Woodville beyond. A gentle tap at his door permeated his eardrums and caused him to swirm.
“For goodness sake Ned come on in, what kind of a weak knock is that? Be more manly man.” His voice was gruff yet commanding, confident and controlling.
A slow creak resounded around the room as the door slowly opened to reveal the tall, thin silhoueete of Lampton. He came into the light, revealing a sheepish, nonchalant face. Swivelling towards the door Bernard composed himself a little then immediately relaxed when he glanced upon the figure that had entered his haven.
“Oh it’s you. You do know you are not supposed to converse with me before a trial man?"
Lampton caved a little inside. Bernard was a scary man that commanded respect at all times and could not be moved or swayed at any cost. Within the Woodville underworld he was known to take bribes, but only for a hefty price and only for a white verdict. Negro’s were not his friends and for them he would not take any amount of money from anyone. They were filthy, pathetic individuals who did not deserve his help and no amount of money would ever be enough to un-tarnish his hands from their filth and their lying, guilty ways. Fortunately for these individuals in question Lampton saw them as fellow humans, as his friends and as the most trustworthy, compassionately kind beings on the face of the earth and would defend them unto the ends of time. Face to face with Judge Bernard did little to heighten Lamptons reputation as a ruthless defender of the Negro’s as it was the frenzy and buzz of the courtroom that brought out the best in him, brought out the roaring lion from the shackles of his immensely loving heart. Timidly he stood, but inwardly he strived for the trial to begin so his inner lion could be released.
“Speak then man.” Judge Bernard shouted hoarsely after moments of frustrating silence that only added to his impatience and quick burning fuse of a nature.
“I er, I was wondering if we could talk later about the Babascoo case if you have a minute.”
“God sake Lampton, I cannot talk about a case you know that. She’ll get what she deserves. No doubt she’s guilty they always are and she’ll get the maximum penalty.”
Lampton cleared his throat and stretched a little to his full height.
“Come on Bernard you don’t mean that. She has a child, it will be taken into care if she’s found guilty. Surely you have some degree of emotion for a child’s wellbeing?”
“I do and that’s why her child will be taken into care. It is far better for her wellbeing than staying with a penniless wretch of a mother who cannot even afford to feed herself or her child. My god man why do these pathetic people have children, heh?”
Lamptons Lion was swiftly pacing within the background of his heart and waiting patiently to pounce.
“I shall pretend I did not hear that. Every soul has a right to bear a child and every mother has a right to defend their child. They did not ask to be in poverty, they are hard worjing but have been denied a job at every turn simply because they were born with the wrong coloured skin. It’s people like you who give other white folk more credence to carry on with their pathetic unjust persecutions.” Lampton hissed angrily.
Bernard coarsely sniggered.
“Look around Lampton. It doesn’t matter one bit how much ya wanna defend these creatures they will never amount to anything, they deserve everything they get and every sentence I decide to pass...Is that clear boy?”
“You’re a pathetic naive man Judge Bernard and I shall see you in thirty minutes as I’m defending one of your so called pathetic creatures.” Lampton croaked, his lion now pacing to the fore scouring for suitable prey.
“Ah yes the people versus Marcus Machozi case. Just give up now Lampton and stop defending these Negro’s, you won’t win.” Bernard casually spewed forth his venom, dismissing any hope of a fair trial for Lamptons client to the back of beyond.
Lampton turned and heqaded for the door, stopping only briefly to vent his frustration one final time.
“It is you who will not win Bernard, it is you who history will look upon as the villain and I as the victor.”
“Just one thing before you go.” Bernard snapped back.
“What is that?”
“When we’re in the courtroom you will address me as ‘your honour,’ and any attempt to undermine my authority I will not hesitate to hold you in contempt of court and throw you in the cells for thirty days. Do I make myself clear.”
“Absolutely, but I will win. If not today...then one day soon Bernard, one day soon.”
He did not wait for a reply, angrily stomping out into the courtroom leaving only a faint smell of Bernards ignorance and acrid tasting prejudice lingering in the air like a dark, permeating primordial fog. Bernard laughed heartily as the door closed behind Lampton, then swivelled back towards the window. Placing his huge pristine shoes upon the window-ledge he leaned back and reached over towards his desk. Having located what he was searching for he flicked open the clasp upon the ornately wooden carved box that sat atop his desk and pulled out a smooth Grade 8 saint Luis double perfecto Cuban cigar. Snapping the lid shut he brought the cigar to his upper lip, lazily sniffing the strong aromatic aroma that saturated his nostrils from below. From within his freshly pressed waistcoat pocket he pulled out a pure silver engraved family clipper - that had once been his daddies - and snipped the end of the cigar in one singular smooth motion. Sniffing the overpowering, enticing aroma once more he began to smile at the very thought of Lampton securing victory over him. Lampton you are pathetic, I hold court here in Woodville. I run this town he cried. He lit his cigar, sank back further into the sumptuous leather and inhaled the smooth, cool burning leaves of paradise into his huge carcinogen laden lungs with a smug and satisfying glow.
A little under thirty minutes later Bernard poured himself a quick straight bourbon, swallowing it back whole in one fluid tip of the neck. Fully satisfied after inhaling his beloved Cuban cigar and feeling the smooth warmth of the oseaphagus warming bourbon he composed himself, stood and headed for the courtroom beyond his chamber door. Stopping only briefly at the coat stand to grab his beloved gown. Inside the courtroom Lampton sat with his client Marcus Machozi whose crime was assaulting a police officer, an offence which carried a hefty jail sentence if committed by a negro. Lampton knew the circumstances surrounding the case and was adamant that he could win this case or at the very least get Marcus a reduced or suspended sentence. He reassured his profoundly nervous client that everything would be fine just as the court officer called out for all to rise for the honourable Judge Bernard the 3rd.
“Here we go.” Lampton whispered.
“Please don’t let me go to jail and leave my wife and kids with no one Mr Lampton.” Marcus pleaded tugging desperately at his sleeve.
Judge Bernard eased into his heavily padded throne at the head of the court, picked up his gavel and brought it down heavily onto his desk.
“The town of Woodville versus Marcus Machozi is now in session, how do you plead Mr Machozi?” he thundered.
Marcus opened his lips and began to speak but Lampton placed a firm hand upon his shoulders and stood.
“My client pleads guilty your honour but we intend to prove that he was acting in self defence and was simply defending his family.” Lampton spoke with a fully composed voice despite his anger towards Judge Bernard still boiling away freely within.
Bernard looked squarely at Lampton his smug demeanour still lingering around him like a lonely forgotten dog that you befriended once but then realised after the first initial encounter that you and it were meant to be, always together, always inseparable.
“That Mr Lampton will be for the Jury to decide.” Bernard sniggered, perhaps a tad too much.
Lampton glanced forlornly over his shoulder and his heart sank at the sight he'd already registered as he made his way into the courtroom earlier. Lampton knew Judge Bernard was mocking him but this time it had to stop, he had to make a stand, but had to make it in a firm commanding manner with a huge helping of confidence and gusto that would hopefully sway the jury to his side of the fence.
“Your Honour may I ask who picks the Jury?” He asked lazily, confidently.
“Why no one picks them Mr Lampton, it is randomly generated from the electoral roll.”
“Then is that why we have precisely twelve whites on the Jury and absolutely no negros your Honour?"
“What are you trying to say Mr Lampton?”
He loosened his tie a little and stepped down from the podium where he and Marcus were sat, then paced over to Bernard. He hesitated a little, glanced back towards the Jury then swaggered confidently over to within a foot of Bernards desk.
“What I am trying to say your honour is that Case No.73, United States vs The State of Mississippi ruled last year - I believe it was March eighth - that all United States citizens have the right to vote regardless of their race, distinction or colour.”
“Your point Mr Lampton?”
“My point your honour is that all Negroes in Woodville now have the right to vote, therefore they are now isted on the electoral roll. However your honour looking at the Jury – a fine Jury I am sure they all are – I cannot help but notice that it cannot be a coincidence that out of the thousands of black voters in our fair town and county, not one of them was randomly picked to be on this Jury.” Lampton snapped back sarcastically.
Behind Lampton the majority of Jury members and public gallery attendees erupted into sudden cries of indignation and disgust at the spurious suggestions that had just been laid down. A small minority remained silent causing Lampton to interpret that as a concurrence to his fact. Bernard raised himself up rather hastily and leaned a little forward. Lampton was trying his patience and he knew this could not continue as his initial carefree mood began to coil away from him, coalescing and twirling above him, paving the way for the anger of his soul to rise from within, to encompass him and take command.
“Are you trying to say that the selection of the Jury was rigged Mr Lampton?” Bernards cheeks already resonating with the heat of the day gradually began to swell with a profound redness reminiscent of a female marsupial’s swollen fertile bottom.
“Well it does kind of look that way your honour.” Lampton replied, regretting the words the instant they sprang forth into the eternal ether of molecules that pervade and hover around us. More gasps of derision and disbelief were heard from the Jury as Bernard stood and placed his hands firmly upon the wooden barrier that separated him from the courtroom. His knuckles began to turn a healthy shade of snowdrop as he clasped the bar tighter, splaying fine splinters of wood into his coarse, dry skin.
“Mr Lampton if you do not desist with these ludicrous and unfounded comments and concentrate on the case at hand, I shall have no choice but to hold you in contempt. Do I make myself clear on this Mr Lampton?”
“Absolutely your Honour and I shall desist as soon as my request is heard.”
“And what Mr Lampton would that be?” Bernard bellowed, his anger still flowing, his veins still coarsing with stinging fire and contemptuous disbelief towards the person who would so defiantly mock him in his own court...His own town.
“My request your Honour is for a new trial to be set with a new Jury, as I cannot continue with this unjust selection of Jury members.”
Marcus who had held his head in his hands throughout now sprang his head upwards like a lone meer-kat who had just sniffed out the apocalypse.
“Please Mr Lampton I will be okay, Judge will not do this for me.” Marcus tugged.
Lampton chose not to hear as Bernards thundering gavel and booming voice blocked out all stimuli from the Jury and almost half the surrounding county too.
“That’s it Mr Lampton my chambers now. Case adjourned we shall resume in one hour.”
Lampton proceeded to utter a challenge but thought better of it as the courthouse erupted into jostled echoes of frustration, angry murmurs and rapid adrenal cries of rage towards the perpetrator of the recess.
“Sorry.” Lampton whispered to his client and then made his way rather gingerly to Bernards chambers.
Bernard stood resolutely - arms folded, fingers still tingling from the tight clasping of the bar - and glared as Lampton sauntered past to the his chambers beyond. Lampton considered himself lucky not to have been in contempt of court and cursed himself for pushing his luck. Have to find another way to win this case, can’t rely on the Jury bluff again he inwardly mused.
“In you go Mr Lampton, we need to talk.” Bernard commanded as Lampton traipsed on onwards towards his goal. Reaching the heavy oak door he pushed it inwards a little - and entered the chambers - not daring to look back as he closed the door and awaited his fate. Bernard turned back towards the courtroom and urged everyone to sit tight. Before he entered his chambers he turned to remind the two officers at his side to hold point and control the courtroom until he returned. Bernards raised platform was a little over a foot high, twenty feet long and six feet wide with a single ornate walnut desk at its centre. At the foot of his desk stood a single piece of ornately carved oak as long as the platform itself and four feet tall. This was the barrier or 'bar' that separated the honoured Judge from the Jury but also served to metaphorically elevate him to the most superior and supreme authoritative figure in the room...A figure to honour and obey. It was the contempt for his authority that fuelled Bernards anger for Lampton, and it was the wooden bar that obscured the view of the Jury and the public gallery, preventing both parties from observing the events inside Bernards chambers.
No one failed to notice the strange enigmatic purple haze that permeated out from under the chamber door, mere seconds after Lampton had entered.
immediately after the haze dissipated, Bernard obliviously entered his chambers for some serious words about conduct with his new found nemesis.
One hour later the entire court was dismissed as Lampton could not be found.
Thirty six hours later the Woodville Guardian ran the headline;
Woodville’s Saviour lawyer mysteriously vanishes from court chambers.
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All characters contained in these tales are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.