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Queen of Swords: a novel


Chapter III – The Judge

What do you give the woman who has everything? It’s a problem. By definition, femininity is yearning for a never-to-arrive completion. Queens, of course, are different. Power is what we yearn for. One thing I’ve learned, if it’s masculine “approval” you’re waiting for; you’ll never get that! Men call us “insatiable” in self- excuse. So what new toy could tempt me?

I hesitated a little as I opened the mailbox. Usually it’s a pleasure to stand in my immaculately groomed garden looking through trust and bank statements, but last week, for the first tie in my life I received an anonymous letter. It was postmarked Colorado Springs, the old neighborhood, but the address had been made by label and the return address was “Suite 7, Flatirons Office Park”. So even though the envelope said “Hallmark” I opened it with a distinct lack of excitement. Almost certain to be begging disguised as an invitation. Strangely enough, it was both.

Inside were cut out letters assembled to form the words:


A chill ran through me and I looked up hastily, but as far as one can see through woods and leaves, I was alone. Things that seem very unpleasant at first conceal hidden delights; there’s a life lesson for you. Emotions first repelled as shocks to the system can even become addictive. So I thought hard about it. In fact, I had been thinking about it all week.

A new game. I used to love games. A hazard of wealth is a lack of surprises, since you control everything. I usually visit the sex club as a corrective. Plenty of surprises there. Here’s a game with a new disguised player. Someone jealous, obviously. Someone who feared coming out from behind the mask; someone who hoped to upset me from a distance.

I’ve done some terrible things in my life, that’s for certain. A Queenship that’s routinely handed over isn’t worth having. On the other hand, it’s literally impossible for anyone to know what those were. So here’s a person – a disguised person, a gameplayer – trying to manipulate me into acting in some way I wouldn’t have acted without this incitement. Now what could that be?

Criminal psychology says it’s a woman, an older woman (what junior would ever choose this mode of communication?) but it might be a man. A man-woman. I know plenty of those.
That’s the reason that I put my hand slowly into the mailbox as if a second coachwhip waited in the dark to pounce. But no Colorado Springs Hallmark card. Instead, a summons to jury duty!

What could be more intriguingly amusing than a power of life or death? In Colorado, death sentences are decided by the jury. My whole life has been about deciding when to cut the cord. I might have to share it with eleven others, but most people are easily manipulateable, and our jury system is such that one holdout is all it takes to derail a prosecution.

KDVR has been screaming at me for weeks about the Sivarro-Haymaker case. Did pretty Karen Sivarro, dragged back from Europe in chains, really ask her boyfriend to hire a hitman? Is she as responsible as said hitman or perhaps even more so? The murder of Rafe Zanelli – we had all seen pictures of his bullet-ridden body sprawled in the roadway – wouldn’t have occurred without her, that’s for certain.

I became aware of someone creeping up behind me. It could only be my neighbor, Judge Sugarman, who has lately been stalking me. I steeled myself to face him with a smile.
The Judge came lumbering at me with such speed he must have been spying from his kitchen window with binoculars. Judge Sugarman has a sort of a wife – what is left of her. She’s already been outsourced to a nursing home so he is frantically shopping for a replacement. He has a fine pool to select from – literally vans of women arrive carrying electric brooms and casseroles and baskets of flowers — but in the most ancient tradition of romance, he doesn’t want anyone who wants him.

He wants me. His only love affair at present is with the internal combustion engine, so a racket of clippers or weed whacking usually precedes him as he angles towards the privet separating our lawns. I tried not to gag at the love light in his eyes. After all, this summons I held in my hand could give him an opportunity to be useful. Quid pro quo makes the world go round, as my dear, late, late husband used to say.

I could have told him that being alone these days is no reason to go without sex. As a local potentate he probably knows about the sex club. I see plenty like him on my nights there – suited up and eager for excitement. But they don’t last. They soon discover that anonymity removes their sole attraction. Suddenly they experience the kind of catastrophic fall in status it used to be their professional obligation to inflict on the rest of us. They find themselves subject to a new order – the rule of beauty. If they expect to dance, they had better bring a partner. Judge Sugarman has big shoes that need filling.

He is looking to purchase, not rent. His clothes say Nieman Marcus but his jowls say prenup. Someone patient with him in bed, supportive at public events, self-effacing at parties and ready to memorize the birthdays and anniversaries of children and grandchildren. Been there, done that. This man doesn’t need a beginner, he needs an immigrant. Off the boat, or under the fence. An indentured servant with a huge bill hanging over her head. He had better look elsewhere. Now I please only myself.

I made a magnanimous effort to pretend I’m not automatically repulsed by wandering nasal hair and a gym-free torso – Goddess knows I’ve had worse. His needs and my needs do not match up. Yet he possessed a small capability to be of service. The judge took my hand and as I touched his Mount of Venus I could read that he is an ungenerous lover. Failure to achieve paradise is your own damn fault. I relinquished his hand by the simple stratagem of spewing my mail at his feet.
He half bent – half knelt – to pick it up, allowing my eyes to stray to a more delectable sight – the arrival of Brainerd’s assistant.

Brainerd is my gardener, and there is nothing attractive about him. He is slowly becoming skeletally thin – Paris Hilton would be jealous – but on him it’s not attractive and suggests some terminal condition unresponsive to modern meds. Lately he has started bringing an assistant – his heir, one supposes – who is as radiant as sunrise. I don’t know his name, but I have stood at my bathroom window many times watching the muscles slide around under his tattoos. He’s probably gay, but I can play male. One has the obligation to explore all appetites, creating new ones as necessary.

Only the dead don’t hunger. Nostalgie de la boue, as my late husband used to say. We all suffer from an atavistic longing for the primeval mud. I admit, I’ve even been tempted to slide a guest card to the sex club underneath the bent windshield wipers of the ramshackle steamship he uses for transportation, but frankly, I’m too lazy.

Brainerd’s assistant acknowledged my presence shyly and began unloading a collection of rakes and sprays. I favored him with a luxurious smile while Judge Sugarman staggered red-faced to his feet. “You certainly get a lot of catalogs,” he puffed.

I dazzled him with a leftover lip-pleat.
“Oh, you know how it is,” I told him, “So much money, so little time. Why should my stepdaughters get spoiled? We must prevent the heirs from plundering the estate.”
He laughed gamely. He loves it when I flirt with him, but I like to go beyond flirtation into actual discomfort. Because it’s fun.

“Here’s my latest acquisition,” I said, dangling the jury notice in front of his yellow-orbed irises. “The Sivarro-Haymaker case is the one I want.”

“That’s the one everybody wants,” he said, and I saw his mind struggling with the realization that I was asking for something in his power to grant.

He backpedalled. “They usually divide the pool randomly between civil and criminal.”
I pouted. “I don’t want to waste my time on a civil case.”

Still, he hesitated. “I could make a call but…even if you had a very high number and were interviewed late the prosecution might use a strike against you.”

“Why the prosecution?” I was annoyed. Dr. Quantreau’s widow was a celebrant of the status quo, why should anyone assume I automatically identify with the accused? I have personal reason to know, where there’s smoke there’s usually a smoldering ember someplace. I felt insulted by the ugly film muddying his eyes. I could hear what he was thinking – yes, I read minds when it’s worth my while. Isn’t he thinking the trophy second wife is just the kind of predatory adventuress poor Karen Sivarro is accused of being? Yet it’s a damned poor adventuress who ends up on a murder rap. They had to drag her back from England in chains.

Cut to the chase. “So who’s their ideal juror?” No false pride here. I can play anything. Pick his brains since that’s what he’s here for.

“The different sides want different things. They’ll give you a questionnaire. The trick is to appeal to both of them.”

“And how would I do that?”

“You’re uninterested in gossip. Never read “bad” news or watch frightening television. No relatives in prison or law enforcement. No crime victims in the family tree.” He leaned forward to whisper in my ear, “Easily swayed.”

I laughed out loud. “Why that old thing!” I exclaimed in my best Southern accent. “I can fake that twice a day!”

I rapped him on the shoulder with my invisible fan. “Don’t forget to make that phone call! I’m counting on you now!” And then I was sprinting for the house, leaving him standing there as if he had forgotten why he had come, as, given his advanced age, quite possibly he had. Bastard! He owed me that phone call! The more I thought about it, the more it seemed likely that he himself was my anonymous correspondent. It was just the kind of thing an elderly law-saturated geezer would get up to.

He’d probably had plenty of cases like this, when he was on the bench. Why should a beautiful, rich young woman with all of life as her plaything have anything to do with the likes of him, unless she required his counsel, expertise, and a professional shoulder to lean on? It certainly would explain why he hovered for the “trigger” of me at my mailbox.
Men are so transparent.

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