photo caption: nobody expected a court of thirteen judges
The subterranean traveller told about Pep Q. and I found the story worth repeating here. Pep Q. was the local shop manager of a nationwide operating chain of luxury goods who got busted for having bought for private use any number buckets of white wash with company money. Those were the words the heavily armed and armoured officers used when they persuaded him to come with them. If he would be so kind to step in their van? Pep Q. was subsequently locked up in a cell and forgotten about for quite some time, in fact it can be said he seemed honestly forgotten by the judiciary and we only possess his own declarations of how he felt all that time, because, well, the traveller hadn't heard of him then. But see, after seventeen long months suddenly there was action and on a fly's note Pep was brought before court. From that moment on the subterranean claimed to have been on his tail and thus to speak from experience. I didn't ask for proof: poor man sounds like he must have been horrified by what happened to him, to which the subterranean traveller responded: he may have had ulterior reasons to break the law in the face of authority. Do go on, I begged him.
It was a funnily shaped building they were going to, the traveller related, Pep Q. and his guards whom he all knew from various turns during his long encarcelation, very wide but not high, like an old inn, with on the front lawn those boxed in parches of green providing the stifled sense of ruralness the capital was famous for, and as it turned out when they went in not too deep either. Inside was a long table, or rather a very wide one, decked with the finest cloth of state, behind which he counted up to thirteen judges. Poor Pep, I chimed in unnecessarily, the greater the number of judges, the smaller the chance to get out alive.
There's more, the subterranean told. The white wash was mostly an excuse to get at him. The story is he and his staff were unhappy with the way their shop was kept, as the owners, who lived far away in the capital, were unwilling to pay for sufficient maintenance. This had been an old complaint, apparently, and they had been feeling the shop deteriorate slowly, losing customers, especially old customers, on the way. So one day Pep called his team and they decided to do up the place themselves. And they were doing it with cash register money, as they felt they were entitled to some much needed investment and didn't need to wait any longer for answers that never came. So Pep bought paint and some tools from his turnover cash and reported as such to his overseers, there being no point in trying to hide the fact. Before they had been able to do much, he was brought in on charges of theft and then, as we already know, forgotten about. Nobody was allowed to see him and very few people, in the end, knew him, his staff discouraged from talking about him if they wanted to keep their jobs. With nothing but four walls to talk to, Pep felt he was slowly losing his mind and to counter the worst effects he began writing a novel in his mind. He would repeat passages until he remembered them and sometimes had a look back at what he had composed earlier. He promised himself to type it all out if he ever escaped from this ordeal and do her good, his story.
Get out? Hell, no. When they finally chose to judge Pep Q. in front of their megawide table, the accusation had been blown out of proportion to include the ominous sounding crimes of rebellion and rupture of the chain their shop belonged to. It was the judge most seated to the right who instructed him on this new reality. Taking value which doesn't belong to you, whether in the shape of money, effort or goods, must always be punished the harshest, the official at the end of the line decided. Hear, hear, his colleagues acclaimed in concert. Then the next arbiter professed that Pep was a particular vile criminal in that he had sought to rupture the chain. This was already known but apparently it was considered opportune to bring home the message full frontal. Rupturing the chain was clearly seen as the most serious crime of them all.
Did the defendant, our poor Pep Q, have a say in all this? Was he heard? I needed asking.
Of course he was, this court took itself very seriously. Look at all those judges, they had to pretend they held up an honest hearing, so naturally they would let their prey have a run around the yard, almost like a bull. Show yourself to the public, accused! Pep gave them the crowd friendly story: how the owner had been neglective and not answering their pleas, so he and his team, though mostly he as proponent of the idea, chose to invest some money in their aging shop as they were slowly losing customers. That's were the story ended as far as Pep Q. was concerned, but it was only the start for the prosecution. Now that they had him on admitting a deliberate minor offence, they were going to do it to him. That he had meant to take matters in his own hands clearly spoke of a rebellious nature which needed to be severely suppressed, another judge spoke, as rebellion was inherently against the good of the chain. There was the chain again. They spoke of many years in jail and Pep Q, who up to that moment had unwittingly taken it all with a grain of salt as the whole affair seemed both ridiculous and untainable and in fact a welcome distraction from life behind bars, now started to feel very hot under his shirt and up his neck right into his brain. Something was very much going wrong once again.
And then there was yet another accusation. The more the merrier, Pep thought defiantly. How much as the uprising to rebellion might have endangered the chain, there was a clear and pure desire palpable (palpable was the term the right honourable umpire used) to irreparably damage the chain, there was a tidal wave, a tsunami if you will, of forces breaking at its links. Judge pointed an old finger: Pep Q, shop manager entrusted with his percentage of the wellbeing of all and each, had deliberately been trying to break the holy chain. Hear, hear. I have never taken the concept of chain literally, Pep said in his defence, I think of us more as a family of individuals, you know, the ones that fight and cry and stay together. While it was highly likely that most judges knew exactly what he was talking about, they saw no value in Pep's words. In fact, they laughed. There's nothing but the chain, they said, you should know that by now. You shall be judged by your honest intentions and punished severely enough to refrain any other link from getting crazy ideas. They didn't even bother to use the word shop manager any longer, it was all this and that to them.
Then it dawned on Pep Q, shortly before he was condemned to twelve years of immiseration in the local for profit prison, that these thirteen judges in front of him, or whatever they really were, had no idea of the damage they were inflicting. For no other reason than suppressing initiative they were willing to risk the continuity of a local business employing seventeen people. But they were not going to ask him anymore questions, full as they were of their own rousing explanations. They were bursting with desire to inflict pain, to punish and hurt, see the other crumble and fall on their knees and beg for mercy. Like the bull. That's what this was to them, a bull fight. It wasn't going to hurt their particular incomes if they fucked a local shop into closure, was it? So what's the fuss? This is what he was up to and he knew nobody was going to save him. Time to start thinking about another novel, a trilogy this time perhaps.
I feel bad, the subterranean traveller confessed upon ending his narrative.
For having invented him?
The traveller smirked. You think what you want, boss.