Who Prosecutes the Prosecutors? [extract]

[Learn more about Lyubov Budyakov’s “Who Prosecutes the Prosecutors”]

“I’d gone for a beer, like. Well, truth be told, I had some beer and a wee drop of vodka. Drink beer without vodka, Judge, you might as well cut out the middleman and flush your money straight down the drain.” The complainant glanced shamefacedly up from under his clump of eyebrows at the fair-haired woman on the bench: she, ever the professional, had suddenly taken a very close interest in the documents in front of her. “Anyhow, then this bloke turns up,” an injured nod in the direction of the accused, “and we had a drink, like. A bit later on, I started feeling off-colour, like, so I went outside. And what happened next, Judge… And you too, Mr. Prosecutor, on my mother’s grave, I don’t remember. I come to in the infirmary, don’t have a fu-, um, the first clue what’s gone on, like, and then they tell me: I’ve been poisoned, or summat. Never had that before, know what I mean? Sure, I’ve been banged out, like. A bunch of boy scouts once took sticks to me, got me in the windpipe, nearly did for me, an’ all. But poisoned, like? No, never. He,” and a dirty finger pointed unwaveringly at the accused, “he nicked my cash, my watch, my shoes, all earned with the sweat of my… well. You know how it is, like.”

Oleg Savelev, lawyer for the accused, was sitting at a desk to the right of the witness stand, right alongside it, in fact. So close that the dirty hand of the man speaking flitted past the lawyer’s very nose, threatening to make contact. The lawyer instinctively swayed back. There was unkempt growth on the  complainant’s head and cheeks, his shirts — for some reason he was wearing two, one on top of the other — had been untroubled by washing powder for at least the last hundred years, and his slang – that bald address “Judge”, or being “banged out” – showed he was no stranger to the criminal world. “Really, Tatiana Ivanovna, did you lift this poor sap right out of a cell? You couldn’t even manage to find the time to spruce him up a bit, but he’ll do for court as he is, is that what you thought?” mused the lawyer. Tatiana Ivanovna Ivanova, counsel for the prosecution, was sitting opposite him, at a desk that was both newer and classier than the defence lawyer’s —  this was an unwritten law dating back to Soviet times.
A swelling clap of summer thunder alarmed the injured party. When the ill-tempered roll of thunder sounded, his nervy fingers clutched hold of the wooden edge of the witness stand. “I wonder what’s playing on his nerves like that, why is he so jumpy? The culprit has been caught, look, he’s sitting right there, justice triumphs more with every minute that passes.” Savelev chuckled to himself: “Don’t tell me he’s got a conscience? Conscience and vileness. They go hand-in-hand, constant companions. They can’t live with each other, can’t live without each other. Only, how come this fine fellow’s conscience is troubling him now..?”

The courtroom door opened slightly, a shapely female arm passed through a folded piece of paper, and a manicured finger pointed, somewhat vaguely: over there, down the front. Oleg idly watched as the note made its way around the room and landed on his desk. A swollen cloud, the same yellow colour as the paint on the custody cell walls, crawled south from the north, occluding the windows with its pregnant belly. It grew dark, like consciousness fading. The blow struck from above, a cannonade ricocheting out to the suburbs, and, following the thunder, lightning drew stripes across the heavens.

“What did I tell you!” The complainant was terrified. “Lightning coming after thunder, that’s, like, … against nature! A cataclysm! A curse from God, like.” A light gust of alarm rippled around the room, carried in from the open windows. The judge presiding over the hearing, Anna Fadeeva, rapped her gavel on the desk, calling for order.

“I’d taken this guy for a nutter,” thought Savelev. “But, however daft it sounds, all the same he’s right: you’d have expected the lightning to come first.” The accused undid his shirt collar. It had grown unbearably stuffy, yet there was still no rain. The lawyer used the opportunity of the interruption to unfold his note. Anna waited for him to catch her eye, mutely seeking permission to leave the room. Not a chance, sunshine, we might be friends, but don’t push your luck in my courtroom. Your virgin client in his snow-white shirt is as helpless as a young puppy without you alongside. Get on with it and put forward your version of events; you’ll be done by lunch, anyway.
“Counsel for the defence, your questions? Keep them to the point,” she warned sternly. “Do not begin your cross-examination by discussing fluctuations on the stock market.” An obliging nod of the head in reply: certainly not.

“Nikolai Fomich, what is your favourite beer?” The complainant, unused to being addressed politely by first name and patronymic, struggled to gather his thoughts.
“Ah, well, that depends how you look at it. If you mean after a good steam in the sauna, like, you want a beer that’s not too strong. But if you want to get in the mood…”
“Objection! The counsel for the defence seems to have forgotten that we are not at a beer festival. This is simply an attempt to delay the inevitable.”
“It most certainly is not, your honour. I am solely aiming to establish the truth.
“Objection overruled.”
“And after work, I daresay, a nice glass of ‘Obolon’?”
“Not really, like. I drink Becks. And anyhow, I’m not in work. Not just at the moment …”
“And yet that cafe doesn’t sell Becks, does it?”
“It’s even classier than that. There’s a little grocer’s shop round there, you know, just as you come out of the archway, on the right. That’s where I get my beer, and my little bottle of vodka too, like.”
“But what brand of beer did you buy in the cafe?”
“What beer have you been drinking, Mr. Defender? I’m telling you, I brought mine with me.” Savelev set aside one scribbled-on piece of paper and picked up another.
“You were found to have injuries. Who hit you, Nikolai Fomich?” Nikolai Fomich’s screwed-up face carried an expression of deadly anguish.
“Well, it was your lad there, like.”

The skies were leaden. The gusting wind was playfully skittering a rusty litter bin along the pavement. Sheets of newspaper, multi-coloured carrier bags and similar such rubbish flew through the air like flocks of exotic birds. Dry branches were breaking off and falling from trees. One clattered into the window. The thin outer pane gave a mournful crack, and a silvery cascade tinkled down onto the pavement. There were gasps in the courtroom. The complainant slumped across the witness stand and hurriedly crossed himself.

“Do you believe in god?” The judge’s voice sounded from somewhere above, and at the same time, from all around. “Repent!” was what Nikolai Fomich heard. But to repent… no, it was out of the question. For if he was to repent even just a little… “What did the investigator promise you if you stood up in court?” she went on to ask. The complainant threw a pleading glance at the prosecutor, but saw only the top of her bouffant hairdo; he wanted to look across the room, too, where his mate had come to offer moral support, but could not bring himself to do so. He was done for! The clever sods had stitched him up! The courtroom was silent. The only sounds to be heard were the last gusts of the wind as it died down. “He told you that you would not face charges for wrecking that bottle shop a month or two back, didn’t he?”

The prosecutor’s assistant stared at the judge in astonishment: this would be grounds for your disqualification, you just can’t do that! The judge cast a steely gaze over her: I can, maybe now you won’t be so quick to drag the first poor sap you can get hold of before the court. The unfortunate man’s head sank onto his shoulders. And who knows, maybe Nikolai Fomich would not have been able to wriggle out of a confession, had not fairy fate guided his unwashed finger to one side, switching the judge’s attention to his fellow protagonist.