In for two years and Finn was still struggling with the bitterness. He still believed in his own innocence, still dreamed of conquering his enemies. But the dreams were fading. He spent a lot of time on the jogging track, alone, baking in the sun and dreaming of another life.
"First case is Schneiter versus Magruder," Spicer announced as if a major antitrust trial was about to start.
"Schneiter's not here," Beech said.
"Where is he?"
"Infirmary. Gallstones again. I just left there."
Hatlee Beech was the third member of the tribunal. He spent most of his time in the infirmary because of hemorrhoids, or headaches, or swollen glands. Beech was fifty-six, the youngest of the three, and with nine years to go he was convinced he would die in prison. He'd been a federal judge in East Texas, a hardfisted conservative who knew lots of Scripture and liked to quote it during trials.
He'd had political ambitions, a nice family, money from his wife's family's oil trust. He also had a drinking problem which no one knew about until he ran over two hikers in Yellowstone. Both died. The car Beech had been driving was owned by a young lady he was not married to. She was found naked in the front seat, too drunk to walk.
They sent him away for twelve years.
Joe Roy Spicer, Finn Yarber, Hatlee Beech. The Inferior Court of North Florida, better known as the Brethren around Trumble, a minimum security federal prison with no fences, no guard towers, no razor wire. If you had to do time, do it the federal way, and do it in a place like Trumble.
"Should we default him?" Spicer asked Beech.
"No, just continue it until next week."
"Okay. I don't suppose he's going anywhere."
"I object to a continuance," Magruder said from the crowd.
"Too bad," said Spicer. "It's continued until next week."
Magruder was on his feet. "That's the third time it's been continued. I'm the plaintiff. I sued him. He runs to the infirmary every time we have a docket."
"What're ya'll fightin over?" Spicer asked.
"Seventeen dollars and two magazines," T. Karl said helpfully.
"That much, huh?" Spicer said. Seventeen dollars would get you sued every time at Trumble.
Finn Yarber was already bored. With one hand he stroked his shaggy gray beard, and with the other he raked his long fingernails across the table. Then he popped his toes, loudly, crunching them into the floor in an efficient little workout that grated on the nerves. In his other life, when he had titles--Mr. Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court--he often presided while wearing leather clogs, no socks, so that he could exercise his toes during the dull oral arguments. "Continue it," he said.
"Justice delayed is justice denied," Magruder said solemnly.
"Now that's original," said Beech. "One more week, then we'll default Schneiter."
"So ordered," Spicer said, with great finality. T. Karl made a note in the docket book. Magruder sat down in a huff. He'd filed his complaint in the Inferior Court by handing to T. Karl a one-page summary of his allegations against Schneiter. Only one page. The Brethren didn't tolerate paperwork. One page and you got your day in court. Schneiter had replied with six pages of invective, all of which had been summarily stricken by T. Karl.
The rules were kept simple. Short pleadings. No discovery. Quick justice. Decisions on the spot, and all decisions were binding if both parties submitted to the jurisdiction of the court. No appeals; there was nowhere to take one. Witnesses were not given an oath to tell the truth. Lying was completely expected. It was, after all, a prison.
"What's next?" Spicer asked.
T. Karl hesitated for a second, then said, "It's the Whiz case."
Excerpted from The Brethren by John Grisham. Copyright© 2000 by Belfry Holdings, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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