I’m pretty peeved right now, and it’s got me tempted to be a total leadfoot as I drive into town. On the other hand, swerving into the parking lot of the local constabulary at thirty miles over the speed limit would probably raise a few eyebrows that I don’t particularly need raised. When I finally arrive, the first thing that strikes me is how unimposing the sherrif’s office is. It almost looks like it was converted from a strip mall hair and nails place, or a bakery. All pale-pink stucco and old-fashioned windowpanes, as if the building was custom tailored to suit our plush doll of a sheriff. Luckily, I seem to be the only one who has a beef with Charlotte today; the parking lot is barren except for a pair of squad cars.
The interior is equally barren. The only soul around is a dormouse in a uniform that hangs off of her delicate frame like a nightgown, face down on her desk, napping. It’d be nice if there was a bell or something to get her attention, but there’s no such convenience to be found.
The dormouse at the desk doesn’t stir in the slightest.
She sighs softly in her sleep and draws her arms in a little closer. If I were anywhere else I’d just leave her there and explore the place on my own, but intruding too far into a police station uninvited seems like a really bad idea, so I knock as loudly as I dare on the desk and hope it’s enough to rouse her.
The tiny dormouse groans lightly into the plywood and gives an agonized stretch from head to toe. Her eyes water at the corners as she shifts in her chair, and she dabs at them with a tissue from the box at the corner of her desk before squinting at me sleepily.
“Have you been helped?”
“I just needed to see Charlotte.”
The dormouse yawns and nods at the same time, then plants one digit of her tiny pink paw on the intercom button.
“Someone here to see you Chief.”
We both stare expectantly at the speaker in silence until it becomes clear that no response is forthcoming.
“She’s probably asleep. Here, bring this in to her.”
The dormouse pushes her chair away from the desk and gingerly climbs down from it, revealing herself to be even shorter than average. She shuffles past me, her baggy pants swishing across the tile floor, to the table against the wall and retrieves a sugar-dusted cruller from a pink box at its end.
“Put it under her nose and she should wake right up.” She says, pushing the sugary pastry into my hands.
Charlotte is leaning back in her chair, hooves propped up on her desk, surrounded on all sides by empty Starbucks cups. Her hands are folded neatly in her lap, but her head is tilted back toward the ceiling, her mouth is wide open and she’s snoring in a most unladylike manner. Well, I’m sure that deputy wouldn’t have given me the donut if there was a better way of waking her. Weresheep are hard to rouse once they’ve bedded down.
I position myself behind her and to the side and hold the pastry up to her nose. A childish grin appears on her sleeping face and she leans forward absently to take a bite. Still dozing, she follows the donut as it moves away from her inch by inch until she throws herself off balance and both she and her chair drop to the floor with a crash.
Charlotte flails in surprise for a split second before she realizes that she’s not actually in a magical donut dreamland. She scrambles to her feet and eyes me nervously, perhaps knowing by instinct when someone is angry at her.
“M-mornin’. What brings you here so early?”
I cross my arms and try to look menacing.
“I think you know.”
“…To bring me a donut?” she asks hopefully.
I can’t help but roll my eyes at her as I hold my hand out and drop the sugary treat into the wastebasket at the side of her desk. The pint-sized herbivore visibly deflates and gives me the betrayed look of a little girl who’s just watched her brother yank the head off her doll. I grab one of her fuzzy ears and pinch, and it abruptly becomes a look of pure panic.
“To ask how a certain deputy found Kaitlyn when only two other people knew where she was in the first place!”
“Leggoa my ear! That’s not faiiiiiiiirrr”
Charlotte flails in panic, trying to wriggle out of my grasp.
“Answer my question!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking abbbouuuuuut.”
Charlotte scrambles at her belt for a second and comes up with a matte-finished handgun that emits a rather suspicious slosh with each movement of her shaking hands.
“Are you actually going to shoot me?”
“Uhh don’t be scared th-this is actually just a water gun…”
So much for bluffing.
“…the real one was so loud and I kept dropping it, so they gave me this…”
If I wasn’t so annoyed I’d probably be in hysterics right now.
“…but it still counts as discharging a weapon in the reports! So don’t make me use it!”
“Hey Chief?” the tinny crackle of Charlotte’s intercom interrupts us. We exchange a look and temporarily halt our little altercation.
“Judge Spooner on line one for you.”
Charlotte gives me an apologetic smile, as if embarrassed that her duties have interrupted my bullying her.
“Can I please take this?”
“Sure.” I let go of her ear and she reaches across the desk to hit the speakerphone button.
Even through the fuzz of the telephone, the voice of the woman on the other end of the line still sounds like it could be used as an industrial solvent.
Charlotte, worried that her superior might sense that her uniform was out of order over the phone, smooths her shirt out and pushes her glasses higher onto her nose, then begins tugging at her tie like she’s trying to pull-start her neck.
“I’ve got good news and bad news. Which would you like first?”
“The correct answer is the bad news. You always take the bad news first so that you can savor the good news.”
“…I-I’ll take the bad news first then…”
I swear she’s going to rip that tie right off her neck.
“Excellent choice: The bad news is that I’m going to need you to clean up a cell.”
“The good news is that it’s because we’ve finally caught Kaitlyn!”
“Did you now?” Charlotte fixes me with what is probably meant as a glare, but comes off as more of a pout.
“Yep! I caught a glimpse of her in the passenger seat of some filthy old rustbucket…”
Hey! I just washed that thing last week!
“...ran the plates, called it in, and BAM!”, a rather disturbing gleefulness works its way into the judge’s voice.
“That’s…good. Where is she now?”
“Over in Big Rock, but she’ll be transferred back here for the trial.”
“When can we expect her?”
“A few weeks. The transfer papers should be here in a day or so, but the ink for my special pen is on backorder.”
“You could use mine…”
“Don’t be ridiculous. All official papers that pass through this office must be officially signed with the official signatory pen using the official signatory ink.”
If that tie could speak it would be begging for mercy
“Which means you’ll have plenty of time to get that cell in ship-shape.”
“Make sure to wash the linens.”
“And don’t do them on the comforter setting! Set it to…”
This is tedious. Luckily, Charlotte has become completely absorbed in writing down everything the judge says on a scratch pad and belting out a hearty ‘Yes ma’am’ every time she pauses, so I’m able to sneak back to the coffee machine. I doubt I’ll be missing much.
Part of me was expecting deputy dormouse to have gone back to sleep, but she actually looks more alert than any dormouse I’ve ever seen. Which is still much less alert than most people, but it’s all about perspective. She waves me over with a conspiratory look as soon as she spots me leaving Charlotte’s office.
“Anything interesting happening?” she whispers.
“Just the finer points of laundering bedclothes.”
“Bah,” she slumps in her chair, “Nothing exciting ever happens around here. I should have joined the Little Sisters when I had the chance.”
A high-pitched yawn signals the end of any further conversation, so I saunter over to the coffee machine, help myself to a cup, find that it’s been on the hot plate for far too long, discard it, brew a fresh pot, serve myself a new cup, and mozy back to Charlotte. She’s just wrapping up her conversation with the judge.
“…and stop fussing with your tie. I can hear you wrinkling it.”
“I’ll come by to help you at my earliest opportunity.”
“Thank you ma’am.”
Charlotte slouches backwards into her chair and slaps her notepad, now four pages into whatever instructions she was being given, onto the desk so hard it actually shakes.
“Boss gotcha down?”
Charlotte slowly tilts her head in my direction and glare-pouts again.
“Well, I guess I owe you an apology.”
Her eyes narrow and she huffs, blowing a woolen curl off her forehead.
“I don’t suppose there’s anything I can do to make it up to you?”
A startlingly wicked grin suddenly splits Charlotte’s face and her ears wiggle in excitement. That can’t be good.
“You want me to forgive you?”
I’m not so sure anymore actually.
Her smile grows wider.
“Go up to the store and get me some fresh crullers.”
“AND a hot chocolate.”
“So they finally got her,” Charlotte muses, poking at the fluffy dome of marshmallows rising out of her cup, “I suppose it was just a matter of time really.”
“Isn’t there something we can do about this?”
“Besides helping her out with the litigation? Not really.”
“And how do we go about doing that?”
“Well, you can start by reading up on law. Take this.”
Charlotte sets her drink down and fishes a 2-inch thick book covered in a nondescript dust jacket from the pile of texts on her desk. A title rendered in thin, efficient letters reads ‘Legal Considerations for Lower Court Trials, Claims, Suits, Sentences, Pleas, Commutations and Other Proceedings with Special Emphasis On Mamono, Elementals, Miscellaneous Demonic Entities and Associated Meta-humanoids at the County Level, Third Revised Edition’.
“It’s rather dry I’m afraid. You’ll want this too.”
Charlotte produces another, equally thick text, this one with a gaily colored cover and the title “Litigation Made Easy” spelled out in friendly block type.
“It’s more or less a layman’s companion book to the official volume. One of my favorites.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
“You go ahead and beef up on your legaleze. In the meantime I’ll try and find a lawyer actually willing to drive all the way out here to defend someone who’s probably undefendable.”
“Is her case really that hopeless?”
“Well,” Charlotte’s ears dip and she draws her mouth into a thin line, “She’s guilty as all hell, and everyone knows it. And the ones who don’t probably suspect it very strongly. I think a plea bargain or something might be the only way out of this.”
“Your optimism is inspiring.”
“Anything else I can do?”
“You might want to get yourself a nice suit and a good dry cleaner. The judge is a bit of a neat freak, and she’ll like you better if you’re clean.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
I don’t linger in town once I bid Charlotte goodbye; just long enough to grab business cards from a few cleaning services and top off my gas tank. The ride back seems to take twice as long as the ride over, perhaps because the daunting bundle of lawbooks on the seat next to me promises to be slow going no matter how soon I start in on them.
Camacho pokes his head around the corner and mewls in greeting when I return, then slinks back into the living room. He starts padding back and forth across the couch, sniffing at the blanket Kaitlyn and I slept under, then looks up at me with his head tilted to the side, as if trying to ask where our new housemate has gone.
“Oh don’t look at me like that. You used to get after her like she owed you money.”
“Yeah, I suppose I wasn’t that keen on her at first either.”
“That’s -hardly- the same thing as trying to julienne her face.”
“Nothing to do except crack these books. I’m involved in this whether I want to be or not.”
It occurs to me as I wake up the next morning, face down on a drool-stained note sheet next to Charlotte’s books, that I’ve probably bitten off more than I can chew. As it turns out, the finer points of monstergirl law are a veritable thicket of bullshit. There are entire chapters dedicated to how astrology, climate, and even time of day influence the culpability of a defendant, complete with exhaustive histories of precedents, and all of that varies for just about every known species of monster. I ‘worked’ all night and all I have to show for it is a dozen-odd vague bulletpoints that even Johnnie Cochran couldn’t turn into a favorable ruling. We may really be up the creek unless Charlotte can deliver on her promise of a lawyer. On the other hand, I don’t want anyone trying to say that I half-assed this. A quick break for the four S’s and a fresh pot of coffee, then back at it. It may not be fun, but at least its more productive than loafing around avoiding the typewriter all day.
Damn I wish I was loafing around avoiding the typewriter right now.
Fortunately, my long afternoon of tedium is cut off at the knees by the ringing of the phone halfway up the stairs. I manage to catch it by the third ring and am greeted by the sound of what I must assume is the entire audience of a hockey game crumpling paper while the coaches make keys.
"Oh hey. It's me."
"Yeah I'm calling from jail....paperwork....lots of..."
"Oh my god are you okay? Are they treating you right? Is that whole dropping the soap thing for real?”
“I’m fine…worry about a thing…small problem.”
“Kaitlyn you’re breaking up. Give the phone a smack or something.”
A hollow, metallic clang resonates from the other end of the phone, then Kaitlyn cuts in clear as day.
"...and anyway my bail is set at five grand. Do me a favor and post that will ya?"
"My. Bail. Is. Five. Gees."
"I heard you the first time."
"What's the hangup then?"
"I’m not Stephanie King. I don’t have that kind of money just lying around.”
"Awww come on. Do it for the kids!"
"Any kids, it doesn't matter. Grab some of that money we used to pay for your terrible books and help me out. I only get one phone call for bail."
"...fine. I'll try to weasel my way into an advance. But it might take a while."
"That's fine. Gives me time to get to know my fellow prisoners...Hmmm? Okay the guard is pointing at his watch, I gotta go. Bye!"
"Bye. Stay Safe.”
Crap. Ten grand. I can't just pull that money out of thin air. I'm going to have to see if my publisher will give me an advance. A shiver works it’s way up my spine. That means I'll have to talk to-
"Hey. It's me again."
"I thought you said you only got one phone call?"
"One for bail, yeah. You get another one for your conjugal visit."
"Yeah you know. Bleak, shameful prison sex.”
"I know what a conjugal visit is."
"Good, because I put you down as mine for this friday."
"That's not even a week from now."
"That's when the next visit day is scheduled. I can't control it."
"What about bail?"
"It's not like it's getting any higher."
"So I'll see you then?"
"Good. Make sure to have a hearty breakfast before you come, I’m not gonna touch myself until you get here. And not just because we have no privacy here. That is part of the equation, but also I want to savor riding you like a rented Harley after a week of saving up.”
“You’re not taking this seriously at all are you?”
“I’m not taking any of this seriously until I get an orange jumpsuit. I’m still in the same getup I was arrested in and-“
“GET OFF THE PHONE ALREADY YOU DITZ!”
A metallic click is the last I hear of her. I’ve got a whole new mess on my plate, but preparing for a taxing session in a monstergirl’s bed still beats the hell out of trying to make heads or tails of the demonic legal system, so I’ve got that going for me.
But on the other hand, I need cash now, and J.G. Wentworth probably can’t help me on this one. That means I’ll have to beg my publisher, and there’s only one woman in that office who ever takes my calls. Ugh. Forget about showering, once I’m done dealing with her even a sandblaster won’t get me clean. Suddenly dealing with all these volumes of red tape doesn’t seem so bad.