Solomon Had It Easier
Chapter 26: Note of Suspicion

Copyright© 2016 by Scriptorius

Another day, another dollar thought Judge Embert Wimple as he applied his forefingers to a small spot on his chin. He burst the offender, applied a blob of antiseptic cream and was then ready to be whisked off to officiate at another bout of legal tussling. The last year had been busy one and at almost eighty-four, the judge was feeling the strain of offering what was ostensibly part-time assistance to his colleagues. In fact, having agreed to put in two days a week after reaching seventy-five, he was now employed almost every weekday and would have thrown in the towel, but for the latest domestic development.

Mrs Esmeralda Wimple, having in what seemed next to no time become an accomplished painter and teacher, had once again threatened to turn her hand to more physical things – this time woodcarving. His honour had reacted as he had to her abandoned sculpting and pottery ambitions, in that he was striving to discourage the departure and had pointed out that at his wife’s age, which was close to his own, her body would not take kindly to the necessary exertions. In fact, his real concern was the horrifying thought of long sessions of chipping and rasping around the house. Embert Wimple was an extreme devotee of peace and quiet. One of his juniors, a stripling of seventy-two, had recently observed that when the old man was finally consigned to the grave, he would notice no difference in the noise level around him.

Mrs Wimple, who had shrugged off her few recent muscle and joint twinges, thanks – she maintained – to her habit of swigging copious quantities of cod liver oil, straight from the bottle, had pooh-poohed her husband’s fears. Still, she was touched by his concern for her health and had agreed to postpone a decision. An uneasy truce prevailed at maison Wimple.

It was not until he reached his chambers that the judge acquainted himself with the day’s business, which consisted of one case – Ashton versus Weekes – in which the plaintiff alleged that he been pressured into a transaction in which he had been duped. Well, at least it didn’t seem to be another of those silly neighbourhood things.

The plaintiff, Selwyn Ashton, was represented by the youthful, thrusting Cedric Thistle, the defendant George Weekes by the older, graver Henry Bullivant. Both counsels were known to Judge Wimple, though neither entertained any serious thought of being addressed correctly. The judge was increasingly inclined to think of people he had known half a century earlier. Rustling his papers, he addressed Thistle. “Let us hear your case, Mr Armitage.”

Not being the servile type, Thistle offered a barely noticeable nod. “May it please Your Honour, my client seeks satisfaction, having been swindled by the defendant, perhaps with the collusion of a third party, not represented here.”

“Really,” said the judge. “Then it seems we are short of a quorum, so to speak. However, please carry on.”

“We speak of an incident which took place on the seventeenth of December last. My client had been working late and on his way home he called at the City Tavern which, as Your Honour may be aware, is quite close to us here. Mr Ashton, who does not normally patronise public houses, intended to drink a pint of beer and proceed homewards. He was engaged in conversation by the defendant, who seemed to be ... ah ... imbued with the Christmas spirit. Mr Weekes had noted that my client was carrying a package, wrapped in decorative paper. At one point, the barman referred jokingly to this item, which my client said was a bottle of Armagnac, a distinctive type of French brandy, not widely obtainable. The defendant expressed a wish to buy the liquor from my client, and became most vociferous. He was aided and abetted by the barman, who incited my client to part with the item, suggesting that this would be an appropriate seasonal gesture. The defendant became aggressive and Mr Ashton began to feel himself intimidated. Furthermore, he recalled that the off-licence shop in which he had bought the brandy had had a further bottle on display and as far as he knew, was still open for business.”

Here, Thistle paused to arrange his thoughts, masking this by pretending to take a sip of water before proceeding: “Fearing for his safety, my client said that he might consider selling the bottle, but pointed out that he had paid fourteen pounds for it, Armagnac being none too common and usually expensive. The defendant brandished a banknote and demanded that a deal be done forthwith. The barman again intervened, pressing my client to conclude the proposed transaction. Mr Ashton did so, saying that he would accept what he had paid – he was by then becoming desperate to get out of the situation. He took the banknote, the denomination being twenty-five pounds, giving the defendant eleven pounds in change. He then left the establishment, returning to the off-licence shop, where he tried to buy a further bottle to replace original one, only to find that his twenty-five pound note was counterfeit.”

“Astounding,” barked the judge. “You seem to be saying that your client accepted a twenty-five pound note. I think an explanation might be in order.”

Thistle nodded. “Your Honour, my client is not what one might call a man of the world. He has little day to day contact with cash, as he settles most of his transactions by credit card and normally carries little money about his person. On account of the approach of Christmas, the evening in question was an exception.”

“I see,” said the judge, “but this seems to be contradictory. On the one hand you imply that your client has a very simple lifestyle and on the other hand, he seems to be fairly sophisticated, in that he is accustomed to using a credit card. I am wondering how he came to be deceived in the way you suggest. Can you enlighten me?”

“I fear not, Your Honour. Perhaps we cannot do more than conjecture as to how many people might have been fooled in the same way. I am able to say only that Mr Ashton, having ascertained the true state of affairs from his visit to the off-licence shop, hurried back to the City Tavern, to find that it was closed. He was distressed, as was his wife, since the Armagnac was intended for a double celebration, the couple marking their wedding anniversary as well as Christmas. The following evening, my client returned to the City Tavern to make enquiries. For a time, no-one could help him, then an elderly patron intervened, remarking that there had been complicity between the defendant and the barman, who seemed to be well acquainted with one another. The old gentleman said that he had heard the barman and the defendant agreeing to collaborate in seeking a gullible patron whom they could snare.”

“Indeed,” said the judge. “Was any effort made to contact this barman?”

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