“Your Honor, my client has a busy schedule. Can we get started on her case as soon as possible, please?”
John looked at the nattily dressed man who had stood and made the request of the judge. He was wearing a three-piece suit and had an expensive haircut. But this was right and proper. May deserved the best.
The lady judge glared at him from her elevated seat and said, “Mr. Hanover, we all have busy schedules. We will get to your case, but there is still one to come before you. Now, if you will just sit down, we will attempt to proceed with the business of the court.”
Mr. Hanover huffed and puffed, but he sat down and held a whispered conversation with May. They sat in the same row as John, but across the aisle. He could watch them out of the corner of his eye without drawing attention to himself, because everyone in the courtroom was looking at May. After all, she was a great actress and people were expected to look at her. And point. And whisper behind their hands. And sometimes get up the courage to ask her for an autograph. But they couldn’t do that in the courtroom.
So May and Mr. Hanover didn’t look at John. But he looked at them. May was her elegant self, of course. She was wearing a gray skirt and jacket combination, with a blouse buttoned up to her neck. It was conservative, not like the cleavage-baring dresses she wore on the red carpet. But John liked her much better this way. He had always known in his heart that in spite of her public image she was really the girl next door.
As John watched them talk to each other, he saw Mr. Hanover’s hand creep up her thigh. The attorney thought that the backs of the wooden benches they sat on prevented the other people from seeing him do this. But John had a clear view. And this was wrong. May should slap him. But of course she didn’t want to cause a scene. She was modest and wouldn’t call attention to herself.
John pictured himself rushing to her rescue, the chivalrous knight saving the fair maiden. He would slay the monster and win her love forever. But he didn’t act. He sat and fumed instead. During the twenty minutes before the judge called their case, he became antsier and antsier. He was the reason that May had to show up here today and the longer she had to endure this man’s harassment the worse her memory of this courtroom was going to be. And John was afraid she would connect him with the memory.
Finally the judge said, “We’re ready to take up the matter of May Starr. Will the principals please come forward?”
Mr. Hanover and May stood up and proceeded to one of the tables located in front of the judge. John was so fascinated watching her move that for a few seconds he forgot that he was one of the principals. Belatedly, he rose and walked self-consciously to the other table. He sat down on one of the wooden chairs, worn by the rear ends of a thousand defendants, and looked at the judge, waiting for whatever came next.
The judge said, “My understanding is that Miss Starr is asking for a temporary restraining order to be made permanent. Is that correct?”
“That is correct, Your Honor,” Mr. Hanover said.
The judge then looked at John and said, “Mr. Webster, do you have an attorney?”
“No,” John said, and then belatedly added, “Your Honor,” as Mr. Hanover had done.
“Are you sure you don’t want an attorney? If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be provided for you by the court, you know.”
He knew. He had been asked that question before. He shook his head.
“Please speak out loud so the reporter can record what you say.”
“No ma’am, Your Honor. I don’t want an attorney.”
“All right then, you may proceed with your case, Mr. Hanover.”
Mr. Hanover stood up, looking important, and said, “Your Honor, I would like to make an opening statement.”
The judge scowled. “This isn’t a murder trial and we don’t have a jury. All right, make your statement, but keep it short.”
Mr. Hanover made eye contact with the judge and said, “Your Honor, my client is an internationally known actress in movies, television and on the stage. Her picture is in newspapers and magazines all the time. The number of her fans cannot be counted. She adores her fans, but when one crosses the line and starts to threaten her, she must take action to protect herself.”
Protect herself from you, John thought.
“I understand all that,” the judge said. “And I understand that she obtained the temporary restraining order because Mr. Webster is alleged to have threatened her. Now, can we get on with the case?”
“Yes, Your Honor,” Mr. Hanover said. “I will demonstrate that Mr. Webster is a threat to the safety of Miss Starr and that the restraining order should be made permanent.” He sat down.
They were bandying the words “threat” and “threaten” about. John had never threatened anybody in his life. Besides, who was this man to talk about John being a threat to May? An arrogant bastard in a three-piece suit. He was the threat to her.
The judge turned to John and said, “Mr. Webster, since you are representing yourself, would you like to make an opening statement?”
An opening statement? He should expose this perverted attorney for what he was. But he knew it would be in vain. The man was too powerful. He shook his head and then remembered to say, “No, Your Honor.”
The judge indicated that Mr. Hanover should proceed. He called Salvador Hernandez to the witness stand. John recognized him as the guard at May’s mansion. He had seen the man on several occasions when he had slipped poems through the front gate. So it was no surprise when the guard identified him and told what he had done. The guard told about the time he had caught John on the grounds. Sure, but the gate had been open. John had just wanted to see May’s house up close. When the judge asked him whether he wanted to cross-examine the guard, John said he didn’t.
The next witness was a woman with thick glasses and dyed hair. When Mr. Hanover asked her what she did, she said she was Miss Starr’s private secretary. Then she proceeded to read several of the poems that John had delivered to May. This was more than he could have hoped for. His love poems to May, written from the heart, were being read aloud in her presence. In case she had forgotten what they said. The words shimmered in the air.
John snuck a glance at May, sitting at the other table. Her hand covered what looked like a yawn, but actresses were trained to hide their true feelings. Again he declined a chance at cross-examination. The secretary had done a decent job of reading the poems aloud. He had spoken to May through his poetry.
Then Mr. Hanover called May to the witness stand. John watched as she walked, or rather glided, gracefully to the front of the courtroom and took the oath. He had seen her on several occasions, but not this close, and not with an unobstructed view. She looked more beautiful in person than she did in the magazines. She had the face of an angel. Her eyes were the bluest blue. Each red hair falling past her shoulders sparkled. She was perfection personified. John wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of his life gazing at her.
May testified that she had observed the same man watching her in several different places, including near her house. When Mr. Hanover asked her whether she could identify the person, she pointed at John. He got goose bumps. She actually looked at him. In answer to questions from Mr. Hanover, she said that he (John) made her nervous and that she feared for her safety.
That was ridiculous. Of course he would never hurt her. He was sad because he had frightened her. It was a misunderstanding; his love was pure. But when the judge asked if he wanted to cross-examine her, he became tongue-tied. It was a chance to straighten everything out, but he couldn’t have spoken to her if he had been held over boiling oil. Besides, she would hate him if he started asking her questions. He was sure, despite what she was saying, that she had a warm corner in her heart for him. That was enough. He couldn’t take the chance of destroying the love of a good woman. He didn’t look at her when he croaked a few words to the judge indicating that he didn’t wish to cross-examine her.
Mr. Hanover rested his case. The judge turned to John and told him to proceed with his defense. John was prepared. He said, “The defense rests.”
The judge looked at him, scowling, and said, “If you do not present a defense, then I will have to decide the case based on the evidence presented by Mr. Hanover.”
John nodded that it was all right with him. He remembered to say, “I will accept the decision of the court.”
* * *
John rang up a carton of cigarettes on the cash register and gave the customer his change. He looked at his watch. It was about 10 p.m. He got off work at midnight. Two more hours to go on his shift at the Qwiky Mart store. He actually didn’t want it to end too soon. He enjoyed his job, enjoyed chatting with the customers, even if it was only a word or two.
It kept him busy, kept him from thinking about May too much. Sometimes the prohibitions were almost too hard to bear. He couldn’t send her mail. He couldn’t go within a half mile of her house. He couldn’t attempt to communicate with her in any way. He was cut off from the woman he loved. But he didn’t want to go to jail, so he observed his sentence.
A woman came into the store dressed in a pantsuit and sporting short business-like hair. She looked more stylish than the average customer. She walked quickly, her heels clicking on the tile floor, sure of herself. John didn’t remember seeing her in the store before. Women with too much self-confidence intimidated him. And these days it seemed that all women had too much self-confidence. Instead of going down one of the aisles, she came directly to where he stood at the checkout counter and said, “You’re Mr. Webster, right?”
Startled that she knew his name, he nodded and stuttered. “Y-Yes.”
“I’m Peg Styles.”
She stuck her hand over the counter. He was slow to react, but she kept her hand there until he shook it. She had a firm grip.
“I’m a literary agent. I’d like to talk to you about representing you.”
John didn’t understand what she meant. “Representing me for what?”
“Getting a book of your poetry published.”
“My poetry?” He had never considered publishing his poetry before. How did she know he wrote poetry?
“I saw your poems in the fan magazines. Now they’re all over the Internet. I’ve taken the liberty of contacting several publishers and I think we can get an auction going. We might be looking at a seven figure advance.”
John stared at her and didn’t say anything. He didn’t understand. His poems were on the Internet? He’d never had much truck with computers.
She said, “You have written other poems, haven’t you? Enough to make a book?”
The three poems May’s secretary had read at the hearing had somehow found their way into newspapers and fan magazines. John had been mentioned by name. He had been thrilled to have his named linked to May. Several paparazzi had taken his picture, and a few reporters had asked for comments from him, but he hadn’t said anything because he could still remember the accusing face of the judge when she sentenced him. The furor had quickly died away, and he had tried to resign himself to living in a world without May.
John acknowledged that he had written many poems. Poems about his ideal woman. But only May had come up to the ideal.
Peg said, “We’ll schedule readings at bookstores all over the country. We’ll put you on talk shows. You’ll become the flavor of the month. We want to cash in while you’re hot.”
* * *
John shuffled into the attorney’s office with Peg. He didn’t like offices. He would much rather be in a bookstore or auditorium, reading poetry to his beloved fans. But there was a certain amount of administrative garbage associated with being rich and famous.
Mr. Hanover was dressed in a three-piece suit, just as he had been the other time John had seen him. He looked just as sharp as he stood and shook John’s hand. If he remembered the other occasion, he didn’t let on. John wondered if he was still harassing May. When Peg had mentioned his name, he had thought about May for the first time in months. He hadn’t wanted to use Mr. Hanover, but Peg had argued that he was the best.
“I’ll come right to the point,” Peg said to Mr. Hanover. “John has a stalker. She’s a woman, of course—almost all his fans are women—and she writes him letters. She also takes pictures of him. She also hangs around his house and a policeman caught her trying to climb the wall that borders his property.”
“Have you seen her?” Mr. Hanover asked John.
“Yes.” He had seen her in the custody of the police. And he thought she had been at a couple of his readings, but he couldn’t be sure if it was the same person. There were so many of them.
“Are you afraid for your safety?”
“Yes.” It was the answer that Peg had prompted him to give.
“Well, I think we can get a restraining order. You’ll probably have to go to court, you know.”
Get a restraining order against a helpless old woman? “All she wants is attention. What if I present her with a signed copy of my poetry book? Maybe then she’ll leave me alone.”
Mr. Hanover leaned back in his big chair and placed his fingertips together. “In my experience,” he said, “once a stalker, always a stalker. If we don’t take firm action, she’ll pursue you forever.”
* * *
Some of his fans had gotten wind of the case and were at the courtroom this morning. They smiled at him as he walked in. One of them proffered a pencil and paper, seeking his autograph. Flattered, as always, John would have given it, but Mr. Hanover grabbed his elbow and kept him moving.
His female fans packed the venues where he read his poetry. Many of these women were his age or older, but to his surprise, many were younger. They waited for him after his talks. He had more sex in a month now than he had experienced in the whole rest of his life.
John looked at the woman who was alleged to be his stalker. He would describe her as dowdy. Her jeans were too broad in the butt. Her sweater had a tear under the sleeve that he noticed when she raised her arm to point something out to the man beside her who must be her attorney. Many of his fans were better looking than she was.
Mr. Hanover stood up to get the attention of the judge, and said, “My client has to catch a plane in a few hours, Your Honor. We would appreciate it if his case could be dealt with expeditiously.”
“Mr. Hanover,” the judge growled, “we will get to your case. Now please sit down and show a little patience.”
John glanced appreciatively at Mr. Hanover. It was nice to have somebody of his caliber working for him.
* * *
It was all over. The restraining order was in place. The case had gone smoothly, just the way Mr. Hanover planned it. As evidence, he presented a series of black and white photographs, confiscated from the defendant. They were pictures of John taken at poetry readings and bookstores. The key photos showed John on his own property. The defendant had evidently been able to climb his wall without him or his security people realizing it.
John turned to Mr. Hanover, sitting beside him at the plaintiff’s table, and shook his hand as he thanked him.
“Piece of cake,” Mr. Hanover said with a grin, gathering up his papers. “Let me know when you get another stalker.”
John looked for Peg among the spectators. She wasn’t where she had been sitting. Then he saw her approaching the defendant. Why was she doing that? She was engaging the defendant in conversation. Upset, John walked toward them to hear what she was saying to this woman.
“…photos show a raw talent for capturing the human ethos. We can put together a book. It’ll sell like Harry Potter.”
Peg didn’t see John. She was too intent on making her point to the defendant. He felt betrayed. But only for a moment. Then he thought, why should I care? His fans were waiting. A female spectator was holding a copy of his book to be signed. And he had a plane to catch. He smiled at the good woman and took the pen she offered to him. He knew she was a good woman; all his fans were good women.