Excerpt from chapter 8 of the first book in my Windy Mountain Tasmanian Tiger series.
ALL JOHNNO saw was a flash of purple as someone sat down beside him on the wooden bench outside Court No. 1. When the bench wobbled beneath him, he looked sideways and came face to face with a peroxide blonde.
‘What are you looking at?’ He got a blast of stale cigarette breath.
‘Sorry. It was a reflex action.’
‘My boyfriend doesn’t like other blokes hitting on me.’
‘You’re just lucky he’s not here.’
‘Shouldn’t he be supporting you?’
‘That’s a laugh. I’m here to support him.’ She sniffed loudly. ‘I don’t know why they don’t let him sit here with us instead of making him sit in that cell in the basement? They reckon he’s violent, but he hasn’t got a violent bone in his body. If he ever gets out of those handcuffs, I reckon he’ll kill the next fucking person who says he’s violent.’
At this, Johnno turned and looked ahead at the opposite wall. It was hard to get the vision of the woman with the three chins and purple leisure suit out of his mind’s eye. This wasn’t helped by the fact he could smell her cheap perfume and hear her raspy intakes of breath. He consoled himself it was 1.45pm, and the court was due to start in 15 minutes.
He had arrived on foot early.
From the road, the sign on the awning of the grand white sandstone building announced it was the Courthouse, built in 1842. Only he knew it wasn’t. Yet he also knew it was.
The building’s chief use these days was as the local council chambers. Rooms once occupied by various court officials now housed council officers and the mayor, and what used to be used as the actual courtroom upstairs was now used to convene the weekly meeting of councillors every Tuesday night.
But the council also hired out the venue every second Monday so it could host the Windy Mountain Magistrate’s Court.
Johnno had found his name on a list that was pinned to a noticeboard in the foyer downstairs, and it had directed him up here.
He was the first one. Then a bubble-gum chomping teenager came up the stairs with a young mother and her toddler in tow, and they sat together on an adjoining bench. Four more young strangers arrived together, and they sat down on a bench a bit further along. Then Purple Leisure Suit arrived and sat in a space that ought to have seated one more person. This wasn’t a problem until a latecomer staggered up the stairs. He was clearly under the influence of something. He stopped and looked around until his addled gaze fell on Johnno’s bench. He stared as he swayed. He was wearing a tatty sleeveless denim jacket, had tattoos on his biceps, and hadn’t bothered shaving.
‘Why don’t you move your fat arse?’ he finally said. Johnno heard Purple Leisure Suit sniff again. ‘Who’s going to make me? You?’ Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her raise an index finger. ‘You don’t recognise me, do you? I’m Rollo’s better half?’
Next to arrive was Father O’Shannessy. Johnno nodded towards him as he paced up and down. One more man arrived, and he found a wall to slump against. By this time, Staggering Man was sitting on the lino floor, his back against the same wall.
The first person was called on the stroke of 2pm. Every now and then, the court door opened and the last person to go in came out wearing a grin, either of jubilation, defiance or plain stupidity depending on how his or her case had gone. Johnno was the only one left when Purple Leisure Suit came storming out. She looked at him as if he were prey. ‘I’m not wasting the best years of my life while he’s inside for three years. You looking for a girlfriend?’
Johnno was mightily relieved at what happened next. A court bailiff stuck his neck out of the doorway and called in Johnno. He was ushered into the room and directed to a small wood-panelled box at the front of the court, a few yards away from a man in a black gown.
‘Are you Leslie John Johnson?’ he asked.
‘I am, Your Worship.’ Johnno bowed.
‘I am not His Worship.’ The man nodded towards the raised platform. ‘I’m the clerk of the court. The magistrate is Mr Rockingham.’
The clerk continued: ‘Leslie John Johnson, you are charged with, on or about September 12, on a public road in the State of Tasmania, namely the High Street in Windy Mountain, you did commit a crime, namely that you did appear in public, between the hours of sunset and sunrise, dressed in female attire, namely a pink dress and green stockings, with a Red Delicious apple and a Golden Delicious apple stuffed down the respective cups of a brassiere, which was attached to your person. How do you plead?’
Terry Mason, who was sitting at the big table behind Johnno, sprang to his feet.
‘If it pleases Your Worship. I appear for this defendant. He has instructed me to enter a plea of guilty but there are mitigating circumstances.’
As the legal talk began, Johnno looked around the plush surroundings. He was still annoyed about having to plead guilty but he was heartened by Mason’s reassurances. Besides, it was out of his control now. He had no choice but to let the lawyer go into bat for him. Mason stood at the table opposite a thick-set police prosecutor. At the back of the room were three rows of bench seats where Junior Constable Stretch and Constable Smith sat. At one side of the room was a long bench with a hooded desktop, which was obviously the press box. The first person he had talked to when he came to town was sitting there.
Johnno’s mind-wandering was interrupted by the bang of the magistrate’s gavel. ‘Mr Johnson, are you listening to me?’
‘Oh, um, yes . . .’ Johnno hadn’t actually absorbed a word of the proceedings.
‘Do you understand what the sentence implies?’ The magistrate exhaled. ‘It means that instead of parading around this town like a fairy princess, you will devote 82 hours of your time doing community work.’
Johnno looked towards Mason but the lawyer wouldn’t make eye contact. Johnno turned back to the magistrate.
‘Is that clear, Mr Johnson?’ Mr Rockingham said.
‘Er, um . . . yes,’ said Johnno, head bowed.
‘Yes what?’ bellowed the magistrate.
‘Yes, Your Majesty.’
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