The trial took place on a sunny Thursday inside the courthouse, an event which everyone and his mother – save for Auguste Deontre, whose mother was dead and was the cause of the commotion in the first place - decided to attend out of sheer boredom and good old-fashioned bloodlust. As the one lawyer present, Claude Pichette, arranged his case at the table up front amidst whispers from the two foremost jury members, the two ragged prisoners were led in by the wrists and fastened securely to the human hitchin’ post conveniently placed at the front and center of the room. Both looked as if they could use a decent meal and a nap, neither of which had been dealt to either for a good long time, due to careless security and its habit of spending altogether too much of its free time gambling away spare change to shady blonds from the operahouse. Both captives had sunken eyes and matted hair, indicating their state of loathsome treatment; the blond one of French descent, otherwise known to many as Jeannot Fournier, had an unusual, delirious look about him, as though he weren’t quite certain where he was or where he was supposed to be, and was prepared to attack at the slightest sign of threat. His state was the result of a long, untreated sickness which began with an infected shoulder and had yet to end; it left him looking like a caged and starved lion, who would undoubtedly, if given the chance, kill the nearest source of food with his bare hands.
Assuming, that is, that they weren’t cuffed and chained to the wooden stake in front of him. Which they were.
The darker convict, Dragos Aurili, wore the expression of someone who had become entranced in a very pleasant dream and was not likely to step out of it anytime in the near future. The airy smile on his face spoke of unimaginable torture, the glaze in his eyes reminiscent of those of a bird who had just run into a window and was staggering around, disoriented and cawing weakly, yet hiding within it the conniving devious nature that all birds house and wait to express until someone bald is standing directly beneath them.
In this way they both stood, poised and ready for battle, and at the same time so exhausted from two weeks of neglect that it wasn’t likely they could put up the fight of which they were most certainly capable. They had, fortunately for everyone, been permitted to bathe before the event, which rid them of the filth coating their skin from four weeks’ neglect and battering. Though both had had hair nearly down to their shoulders on their arrests, it had become so blood-encrusted and untenable that one of their prosecutors, Brujon Beauvais (who just happened to be a barber) had completely shorn their heads and left them with little more than nubs. Each looked oddly naked without it, and at the same time oddly clean, as their faces had also been shaven to suit the occasion. Jeannot especially, who rarely went without an unkempt layer of whiskers around his mouth, was nearly unrecognizable.
The entire family of Fourniers (the father, Gerard, the mother, Josephine, the youngest and only daughter, Jadide, and the sons, Jean-Luc, Jean-Edouard, Jean-Gabriel, Julien, and Jaques) spanned the first bench, most of them hunched uncomfortably and glancing around with furtive brown eyes, wondering what on Earth they did to deserve being dragged to Paris so they could see their youngest son/brother get what all but a few of them knew was coming to him. Jaques, second from the end, fanned himself with a sheet of paper, appearing the most nervous of the lot; Jean-Gabriel, at his side, sat stone-faced and pensive, glaring forward in thought. He wasn’t the least bit happy about the circumstances in which they were there, but not for the same reasons as their father: he had seen that it was a hoax, and was desperate to dispel it as one. No ideas had come to him as of yet, and his partner in crime had yet to appear.
This was, of course, because she wasn’t allowed inside. There had been a commotion, not too long ago, involving a well-dressed Romanian woman and her more subdued younger sister attempting to fight their way into the courthouse, for the complete lack of good it did them. It was to be understood that the only reason their kind was welcome there in the first place was that one of them stood at the front, about to be judged with a severe bias.
Pipere hovered outside, her legs embraced by younger sister Ileana, fingers clasped around the bars of one of the windows as her dark blue eyes wandered as much of the courtroom as they could and her eyebrows knotted in an expression of the utmost frustration. Though she caught JG’s eye, his wasn’t the only eye she caught. Gerard Fournier, the father, sent a quizzical and slightly offended look in her direction before turning to his wife and exchanging a suspicious glance. It was obvious that the gypsy would not be able to appeal to anyone else for a chance to get inside; Jean-Gabriel was only one man, had no leverage with the court, and had other things on his mind. Other things concerning the same person, like the fact that nobody knew exactly why Jeannot was being tried for anything. Beside JG, Jaques bit at one of his nails, worriedly observing the judge as the man slowly made his way to the front of the room and shuffled his papers through his wrinkled hands.
Claude Pichette, the prosecuting lawyer, was doing his own shuffling, narrowing his eyes at the prepared paperwork through his thin spectacles. His outlook toward the proceedings was a grim one, though not for the same reasons as one with a heart might have thought—he simply didn’t want to be there. He was on the side of whomever provided him with the biggest paycheck, and in this case, his loyalties lay with the two ominous looking gentlemen in the back of the courtroom, the aforementioned Beauvais and the undertaker Gaunte, who leered forward with cruel expectancy. There was no way they could lose. The defendants didn’t have a lawyer; they hadn’t found one in time, and besides—who would want to waste his time on a drunk and a witch doctor?
At approximately two o’ clock, the trial began with the bang of the judge’s gavel. The blond prisoner snapped to attention with an air of surprise, delirium in his eyes from so many nights of insomnia and untended illness, while those of the dark one simply skirted upward, watching the proceedings with the prejudice of one who knew only a prejudiced world. He focused with intent while Jeannot fought to pay attention, occasionally tossing his head in an unintentionally exaggerated twitch.
"Shall we begin?" boomed the judge, and was answered by affirmative grunts from the lawyer and several of the jury members.
The judge adjusted his spectacles to see a masked juvenile sitting in the center of the aisle, messily peeling an orange with his fingers.
"Get out," he suggested.
"Suit yourself," snipped the youth, and he stood in a stately manner, saluted to the jury with fingers still embedded in the orange, and marched out of the courtroom. There was a brief, awkward pause before it seemed the time was right to continue.
“Monsieurs Dragos Aurili and Jean-Michel Fournier,” recited the judge, looking over his spectacles at the two, “you are here to be tried for the crimes of, in the case of Monsieur Aurili, assault and battery, witchcraft…” He paused, rolled his eyes, and continued, “…and premeditated murder by means of planting ideas in the mind of… a simpleton.” He raised his eyebrows and turned to Jeannot, whose gaze was intently focused on his chained hands. “…and Monsieur Fournier…” The judge began, and waited several moments for Jeannot to look up—it took a gentle elbow in the arm from Dragos for Jean to return to the real world and shakily meet the judge’s eyes. “…for public drunkenness, violence against women, consorting with unregistered prostitutes, public vulgarity, vulgarity in a house of God, vulgarity against women, vulgarity against children, and second-degree murder.” He took a deep breath. “What do both of you plead?”
From the window came the sound of Pipere hitting her forehead against the bars in dismay. It was something like a ‘thunk’, but could also have been described as a muffled ‘bonk’.
Meanwhile, the non-Parisian Fourniers all looked as though they’d swallowed something unpleasant, and the mother, more than once, checked over her shoulder to see how many of the jurors were staring directly at them. Jadide had, by this point, burst into tears, and Jaques consoled her by putting an arm around her shoulder, looking no more hopeful himself.
All eyes were on the prisoners as Dragos answered with a husky “innocent,” and elbowed Jeannot again to merit the same response from him. It was then that Pichette, the lawyer, rose from his chair and crossed to stand in front of them, glaring levelly into both pairs of eyes before turning away to regard the jury.
“It’s despicable,” he spat, “that brothers and sons of established families can fall to such lows as to be influenced so greatly by those who consort with the devil.” A pointed glance was sent to Dragos, who bristled with indignation. “But then, some, it seems, were born with the devil within them; a perfectly respectable family can produce such men, who commit atrocities by day, spreading filth by word of mouth in every which way, and by night, liaison with fallen women and can’t even sleep without screaming to revive the dead.” By the time his sentence was finished, he was almost nose to nose with Jean, who was back to staring at his hands. “…some are simply born into Lucifer’s hands, it seems, and pairing them with His servants is bound to result in the degeneration of society. Of Paris. Which is what we are here to discuss.”
Jaques, for the record, looked both incensed and torn at this new angle of looking at things. His hand tightened on Jadide’s shoulder, but relaxed at a shake of the head from Jean-Gabriel. No, Jaqi, our brother is not a child of Satan…
“As you may know,” Pichette continued, “a woman was murdered not too long ago. Witnesses say she was torn apart, with very little left behind; a sick woman, and yet a harmless woman who wanted only to live out the rest of her days in peace. Madame Violette Deontre, a good, Christian mother, was destroyed without apparent cause. But I suppose the cause… we will see.” He turned to cast a smug sideways glance at Pipere, whose face was contorted in horror at where this was going. “I call Auguste Deontre, her elder son, to the stand.”
Many of the jurors looked around in confusion until they finally saw one row shifting slightly as the people on the bench stood to let the man by. It was no surprise that they might not notice him, being that he was tiny and frail, and barely seemed capable of holding himself up. With his thick woolen scarf donned atop what would have been a nice suit if it weren’t many sizes too big, Auguste shuffled to the front, skirting away from the prisoners, who regarded him with confused curiosity, and finally slunk into the stand. Dragos, for no apparent reason, stood bolt upright and narrowed his eyes; Pipere, though still at the window, followed suit.
“M’sieur Deontre,” Pichette began, “where were you when you first heard of your mother’s untimely demise?” Auguste thought for a moment, nervously hunching his shoulders, before responding.
“..I… I’d just woken up, and… went into her room to see if… she wanted anything.”
“And what did she look like when you found her?”
Auguste pursed his lips and looked down at his lap, scrunching up his face for a moment. This obviously wasn’t a question he was entirely looking forward to answering.
“…she was…” He looked up at Pichette, who waved him on. “nn… there was blood everywhere,” he finally choked, “blood and… and…” A quaver in his voice indicated that he might not be too much help after all; he confirmed this by burying his face in his hands.
“…mutilated beyond recognition,” gravely finished Pichette, and placed a hand on Auguste’s shaking shoulder while taking a moment to gaze meaningfully out at the audience. “Whoever killed her was sick. And had no consideration for human life. Precisely the crimes of which our two guests of honor are being charged.” As a look of dawning passed over first Dragos’ face, and then Jeannot’s, the lawyer gave the small witness’ shoulder a tender pat and moved away from the stand. “Can you tell us precisely what day this happened, Monsieur Deontre?” he politely inquired, looking back over his shoulder at the bereaved Auguste.
“I… ah… October the Sixteenth, I b’lieve,” Auguste stammered, and shrunk down a little more, as if to hide from the Aurilis’ piercing glares, which he had finally noticed. Suddenly, Jeannot sprang to life, startling everyone, including the mournful Pipere at the window.
“October sixteenth?!” he demanded, wild-eyed and yet serious, “I was in the stocks on October sixteenth! The rent was due on the fourteenth, Jaques was groaning about it, and that was the day I was put there, and I’d been there two d-“
“Be quiet,” Pichette snapped, shattering the hopeful and reassuring smile which had sprung onto Jaques’ face. “It’s not your turn to-“
“That’s the chandler, isn’t it!” Jeannot barked, and met eyes with Auguste, who then met eyes with Pichette and shrugged. “The chandlery is right there, isn’t it! I could see ‘im through the fuckin’ window when he was working!” Growing more excited, Jean tugged on his chains. Dragos watched him carefully. “You saw me, right? You saw me out there, you know I couldn’t have moved to save my motherfucking lif-“
“ENOUGH!” roared Pichette, and looked angrily to the judge, who belatedly banged his gavel. “Deontre! Did you see him outside your window the days before and after the incident, as he claims?”
Auguste fiddled with his scarf while he thought, and then, avoiding Pichette’s gaze, began to reply “well… I do remember there being someone out there… in fact, it could very well have been-“
“This is a complete fabrication!” Pichette suddenly broke in, much to the surprise of the jury, “M’sieur Deontre, this isn’t your fault. There was indeed a man out in the stocks when you saw one there, I recollect, but he was there for an entirely different reason. Your loss has muddled your memory, and M’sieur Fournier is trying to use it to his advantage.”
“WHAT?!” Jeannot snarled, tugging so hard on his chains that the wooden post groaned, “you’ve got a lot of bloody gall telling me when I was or wasn’t out in your godforsaken square!”
“BE! QUIET!” Pichette shrieked, and the judge, too enraptured by the scene to really pay attention to his duties, banged his gavel again a few seconds later. “Monsieur Deontre, you may go.”
“I really do think it w-“
Never one to argue with such a sternly given command, Auguste obediently left the stand and slunk, followed by the watchful gazes of Dragos and Pipere, back to his seat. Pichette directed his attention once more to Jeannot, who, quivering and breathing heavily with the exertion of getting so worked up while still in his dilapidated state, glared fiercely back at the lawyer with the air of a raging bull about to charge.
“Tell us, M’sieur Fournier,” curtly began Pichette.
“If you’re so eager to speak, I would love to know why you were in the stocks in the first place, as you claim?”
Suddenly pacified, Jeannot’s anxious gaze left the lawyer’s and searched as much of the room as he could see. He finally noticed Pipere, who shook her head in desperation and began to mouth something, but his gaze moved on before he could read her lips. He regarded his family, the elder half of whom avoided his eyes and stared intently forward, and of whom Jean-Gabriel, Jaques, and Jadide returned the look with pleading reassurance.
“…I don’t know,” he weakly offered, the fight suddenly gone from him like a fleeting thunderstorm. Pichette smirked.
“We mustn’t blame you for being unable to keep your stories straight,” he cooed, his voice laden with saccharine, “after all, you, too, have been through a lot, Monsieur Fournier. Would you care to enlighten us as to how, exactly, Dragos Aurili convinced you to kill the late Madame Deontre?”
Jeannot’s face took on an expression of mixed horror and disgust. “I didn’t kill anyone,” he hoarsely replied, pinching his gnarled eyebrows. Dragos watched him more carefully than ever, as though the two of them were dangling from a cliff and Jean was responsible for keeping them alive as long as possible.
“Please,” said the lawyer, changing his look to a more genial one- a more trustworthy one. “It’s obvious that your mind has never been quite complete, Jean. The average whole-brained man has morals, you see. And don’t think everyone doesn’t know how you’re known to act, M’sieur. You’ve been described as an animal—surely you know this?”
Jeannot watched Pichette carefully, with a nauseating sort of horror welling up inside him. “…I’m not insane,” he rasped, barely able to make the words come.
“Of course you’re not,” Pichette kindly replied, and patted him on the shoulder, only to jerk his hand away when the man’s head turned edgily toward it. “You’re as much a victim as the good Madame in this situation, Fournier,” he languidly continued, “it’s not your fault you were influenced by this man of notably evil persuasion. ...and his sister.”
A slew of Romanic curses flew from the open window, momentarily drawing attention away from the tense look exchanged between Dragos and the lawyer. Jeannot, more offended than anything by the implications, quickly drew his temper back.
“I wasn’t INFLUENCED by anyone!” he roared, beginning to quiver with exertion, “I don’t even fucking LIKE him, like hell if I’d let him INFLUENCE me!” He left out Pipere, of course, not wanting to have to testify against her as well.
“Then you acted of your own accord,” coolly stated Pichette, who had trouble suppressing a smile at the fireworks that ensued.
“I didn’t act AT ALL!” barked the blond, “arrest me for being a goddamn drunk, sure, why the hell not, but don’t you stand there calling me a half-wit and a murderer when you’ve got no motherfucking PROOF, you snide son of an assraped bitch!”
In spite of the context, Jaques felt obligated to cover Jadide’s ears.
“See how easy it is,” loftily declared the lawyer, now addressing the jury as he gestured to the seething Jeannot. “See how easy it is to bring him to that murderous, inhuman state?” As he spoke, Jean strained against his chains, mindlessly desperate to get a good punch in. Dragos grimly watched, still as a statue, with a hopeless deadness behind his eyes.
“I think what we’re trying to prove is all too obvious,” Pichette smugly continued, “and I don’t feel that it’s necessary to drag this out any longer. Monsieur Aurili knows full well of what he is guilty, and as long as there is no one present to testify in his favor, I believe this may be concluded. …somebody get that witch away from the window.”
More Romanic obscenities had been flooding the courtroom since about halfway through the lawyer’s sentence, as well as the rattling of the window. They quickly died away, however, as Ileana, who had been supporting Pipere by the legs the entire time, felt that now would be a good time to run from the approaching policemen and let her older sister drop gently. Pipere had time only to breathily shriek “BIAS! MONSTERS!” before fleeing herself. She, however, simply made a turn around the courthouse and slipped into the bushes at the entrance, evading the lazy policemen who jogged by and then figured they were both ‘gone enough’.
With order restored, the judge banged his gavel a final time.
“For murder,” he bellowed, “Dragos Aurili and Jean-Michel Fournier, I sentence you each to fifteen years in prison, without parole.” While stepping away, he gave a mutter of “God bless us, every one.”
Amidst Jadide’s wailing sobs, the stunned prisoners were unchained long enough only to be handcuffed again, and were hence led out of the courtroom by their wrists. As Jaques and Julien strove to calm her, not so cheerful themselves, Jean-Gabriel rose abruptly and stormed out after the small procession to furiously watch his and his closest friend’s brothers be loaded into the police carriage. Though his hardened eyes were fixed on the scene before him, JG could not help but be distracted by a small tug on the hem of his pants; without a pause, he reached down into the bush and pulled out the woeful Pipere, who embraced him with a sob.
“I’ll try harder,” she forcefully declared into his shoulder, “I won’t stop trying until we’re all dead!”
With Jeannot restrained toward the back of the compartment, the barred window was occupied only by Dragos, who watched dolefully as his twin and only ally disappeared from view.