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The arrangement court judge, Barry Stine, closed the folder on the last case and looked up. “What’s next?” he asked.
“State versus John Caprioara, your Honor,” the court clerk began. “Obtaining money by fraudulent means.”
“Oh, really?” Stine looked at the man who had been brought in. He was a slight figure, standing between the DA and the Public Defender, in a crumpled Hawaiian shirt and what Stine considered particularly ugly red trousers.
“Your Honor,” the DA began, “Mr. Caprioara was arrested downtown for fraud. He had set himself up at a table and was claiming to read people’s minds, for a price. The police arrested him for fraud, obviously.”
The public defender spoke up. “Your Honor, my client has done nothing wrong. He was simply providing some light entertainment. You can’t consider him fraudulent when everyone knows mind-reading doesn’t exist. I move for dismissal.”
“Hmm.” Stine looked the suspect in the eyes. “While I appreciate the Defender’s opinion, I am not a fan of fraud. I think we should ask the defendant. How do you plead, Mr. Caprioara?”
“Not...not guilty...your Honor.”
The DA spluttered. “Sir, the defendant was caught red-handed by an officer, in the process of defrauding members of the public. He can’t claim to be not...not guilty.”
“Thank you, Mr. Talbar, but why don’t we ask the man himself?” Stine replied. “Why do you say you are not guilty, Mr. Caprioara?”
“Because, your Honor...sir, I am not a fraud. I can read minds. So, I have done nothing wrong.” The last sentence seemed to explode from his thin frame.
“Really, Mr. Caprioara? The State does not recognize mind-reading. To claim you can read minds is, to the state, a fraudulent activity. However, I am a fair man. I’ll give you a chance.”
Stine reached for two pieces of paper, and then there was a scratching sound from his bench as he wrote something down. This was followed by a rustling of paper, before he held up two sealed envelopes.
“Mr. Caprioara, I have written two statements down, and sealed them in these envelopes. If you can make an intelligent response to these, I will believe you, and set you free. If you fail, you will be held over for trial on the charge of fraud. Is that fair?”
Caprioara’s eyes lit up, and his previously limp frame seemed suddenly energized. “Yes, your Honor. I can do this.”
Stine passed the first envelope over to Caprioara. He held the envelope lightly in one hand, and stared at it in a slightly dazed manner. A look of confusion and disbelief crossed his face. He looked up at the judge, and then his face seemed to light up with a flash of understanding.
“You are from New York. You have lived here for many years.”
Wordlessly, the judge held out the second envelope. Caprioara took it, and with much less hesitation said, “A new car, probably something European.”
Stine held out his hand, and Caprioara passed the two envelopes back.
In a flat voice, Stine said, “The case is dismissed. Mr. Caprioara, you are free to go.”
The DA was shocked. “What? Sorry, what, your Honor?”
Stine looked squarely at the DA, and spoke in a low monotone, his face devoid of expression. “In the first envelope I wrote, ‘Tell me about myself’. In the second I wrote, ‘What do I want?’ He answered both. You saw him. He didn’t open the envelope. Can you tell me how he did that?”
The DA managed, “Sir...he...obviously...I mean,” before he ran out of steam.
“Exactly,” said Stine. “Case dismissed. Get out of here, Mr. Caprioara, before you really do destroy my view of reality.”
Caprioara smiled at the judge. “Thank you, sir. You are a very fair man.”
It was nearly two in the morning by the time Stine finished up his paperwork and headed out of the court building. As he walked toward his car, a slight figure, in a crumpled Hawaiian shirt and red trousers, detached itself from the building and approached him.
“Why did you lie?” Caprioara asked.
Stine halted and sighed. “Honestly? There’s too much bad in the world today. Fear of this, fear of that. Extremists here and there. People claiming that anyone who disagrees with them is an extremist. Fake news, lies being spoken as truth. Viral internet conspiracies being taken for truth. It’s all too much. People need a break. They need a touch of mystery. They need something bigger than themselves to believe in. They need a ghost story, or at the very least mind-reading.”
“That’s why you put empty pieces of paper in the envelopes?”
“Exactly. Even if someone had wanted proof, I could have said the writing had mysteriously disappeared. Now, the story will be all over the media in the morning, and we’ll have given the people something to take their minds off all the crap in the world today.”
“You are a very caring man, Judge Stine. It’s been a pleasure to know you. Good night.”
Caprioara put out his hand and Stine shook it. “Good night, Mr. Caprioara,” he said, turning for his car.
Before he could open the door, a sudden thought struck him. He turned back. “Wait. How could you know the pages were blank?”
There was no one there. He was in an empty car park.
"I am a New Zealand writer who splits his time between South China, where I teach, and southern New Zealand, where I write as a freelancer - you can find me on UpWork. My stories have recently featured in some magazines and on line publications including Teach. Write, Wild Musette, Crimson Streets, and The Weird and Whatnot."
If you are interested learning more about David, you can find him at his website here and his Deviantart here.