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Judgement Day

By: Dale Uhlmann

Julius I. Bullinger, Esq. and Dorothea B. Stoneard, Parole Officer, were the two most powerful, yet vilest souls in Clark County, Michigan-squalid, wretched, parasites, whose only joy came from praying on the miseries and misfortunes of others. Bullinger was Clark County's Chief Prosecutor-tough, tenacious, but, by his own admission, vitriolic and vituperative. He bragged that the "I" in his name stood for "Intimidation," and he had loved burying his legal opponents in voluminous mounds of pleadings, counter-amendments, and excessive records requests, all spitefully worded in his own unique, caustic style, when he had practiced combined civil and criminal law in his own private firm before having won election to the Prosecutor's job. Now, he openly admitted that had enjoyed the predatory aspects of criminal law, the thrill of the chase, and of the kill-of vindictively applying a legal coupe de gras that would destroy his opponent's defense by exposing the prey's soft underbelly, and thus allowing him to sink his ravenous teeth and claws into the tender flesh of the other side's time bar limitations, unauthenticated documents, and off-point litigation. Bullinger reveled in his reputation as the Clark County's legal community's "man you love to hate." Like Edward Hyde in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, everyone who had ever met the self-proclaimed "Mountain Lion Prosecutor"-from fellow attorneys to local postal workers-took an instant and lasting dislike to him. He could never phrase anything tactfully, and oozed such an aura of arrogance and self-superiority that all agreed that there was something "downright detestable" about the man.

Dorothea B. Stoneard, Clark County's most feared and pugnacious parole officer, rivaled Bullinger in the hatred that she evoked. Indeed, they had such similarly prickly personalities that it was rumored that, like two porcupines who could never find any other mates that they could possibly be intimate with, that they were sleeping together (neither one was married). Others didn't believe a word of this story, however, convinced that the petite 5'8" girl, even though she didn't fit the physical stereotype, especially with her mane of flowing red hair, was a lesbian. All who were under her charge, though, could justifiably say that, as balladeers Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye had sung of Jane Fonda's title character in Cat Ballou, she was "mean and evil through and through!" "The 'B' in her name stands for Bitch!" had remarked more than one bitter parolee. Her job, she felt, was to not only make sure that her charges followed their paroles, but to find-or even to invent-violations that would place them behind bars. "I'll violate you!" was her favorite threat, and she treasured each past violation like notches on a Western gunfighter's belt. Those trophies gave her public recognition-as well as a secret pleasure that her only real friend, her vibrator, could match. Both were "bottom feeders," but Bullinger and Stoneard were intriguing opposites in style.

Bullinger, both in and out of court, eviscerated people with a tongue that his peers claimed should have been registered as a lethal weapon. He regularly baited and derided his opponents, cavalierly dismissing their arguments as "unintelligible tripe," and branding all opposing lawyers' motions as abuses of the legal system. And in court he seemed like more of an attack dog than a mountain lion, at times barking questions at witnesses in a voice that sounded like a cross between a drill instructor and a rottweiler. But he loved, most of all, the finely tuned put-down or "zinger," and couldn't resist needling his victims on cross-examinations with such snide responses as "What does that have to do with the price of coffee in Brazil?" He was in rare form in a recent deposition for a money laundering case, in which he insisted on calling the rather heavy-set woman, Rose Carlton, "Roseanne." Her attorney objected, "Stop referring her to as 'Roseanne.' It sounds like you're calling her 'Roseanne Barr.'" Bullinger retorted, "O.K., ROSEANNE BARR. What do you know about Mr. Morton's finances?" Carlton's attorney, normally a nonviolent man, felt like shoving the tall, rail-thin "Mountain Lion Prosecutor" down a drain pipe. It was also whispered that Bullinger was not above accepting kickbacks or bribes from special interest groups-that he was "anybody's dog who would hunt with him," or "anybody's whore who would pay him."

But where Bullinger sliced and diced his opponents, generally favoring a fine stiletto to a cleaver, Stoneard preferred a sledge hammer. "Get your ass down to this courthouse!," she would shout over her cell phone to a parolee who was running late for a show-cause hearing, which she would frequently intimidate the by now thoroughly frightened wretch into attending ex-parte, without an attorney. "Log on to that computer!," she had ordered a convicted gambler, whom she was hoping to trick into violating his probation's edict against Internet use. When he said that he could not, claiming that this was his wife's computer, and that he didn't know the password, she then filed charges against him for having disobeyed a verbal order from her, a representative of the Court. And when, on another surprise inspection, she tore apart a convicted drunk driver's living room bit by bit in a futile effort to discover the illegal whiskey that she had, without proof, convinced herself that he had no doubt hidden there, she was determined to not leave empty-handed. Instead, she came away with a consolation prize, a charge for ownership of a "deadly weapon": his late father's hunting knife proudly displayed on the wall as a cherished family heirloom. These and numerous other abuses, none of which she had yet been called to account for, had earned for her the name "Dorothea the Dyke" by friends and family members of people to whom she had coldly refused to grant their fair chance at atonement.

Clark County, then, was ruled by these two ogres, dubbed by wags "Big Bitch" and "Little Bitch," respectively. And it was poor Perry Costello's misfortune to be the latest victim of these un-benevolent despots' tyranny.

Perry Costello was the owner of a small, struggling Toyota dealership in Smithville, Michigan. He routinely ordered vehicles on credit from the town's Toyota Auto Auction under a system that was primed for disaster-especially in the hands of an incompetent financier like Perry. He was a wonderful salesman with an ingratiating personality, but an inept businessman who now, at age fifty-five, found himself floundering in a morass of personal debt, and coping with the added burden of a divorce and child support payments, which he was now three months behind. Hoping that a special March sale would improve his finances, he ordered a total of six new Toyotas from the Auction, paying for them, on credit, with six undated checks totaling $35,400.00, a sum which also included the Auction's service fees. Thirty days later, when Perry had sold the vehicles, he told the Auction that it could now date the checks and deposit them, with the assurance that he now had, as a result of the sales, sufficient funds in his checking account to cover them. The only problem was that Perry had been forced to sell the vehicles for only $21,240.00, which meant that he still owed the Auction the remaining balance. When the Auction learned about the NFC checks, Perry assured its Financial Operating Officer that, within ten days, he could raise the remaining money by either (1) selling his remaining BP Oil stock, or (2) apply for a home equity loan, which he was certain that he would be granted. Like all of Perry's plans, however, neither one came to fruition, and the Auction now found itself out $14,160.00. He had to find another means of covering the debt, and the Auction was convinced that he might have ultimately no other choice than to declare bankruptcy, and, in any event, the Auction was determined not to chase him for the next fifteen years for money that they would never collect, and had far different plans, after having discussed the matter with the "Mountain Lion Prosecutor."

Bullinger knew that the Auction was technically presenting him with a private credit dispute, but he agreed to prosecute the case under Criminal Law anyway when he saw the potential personal profit to be made. "Let me explain this in a bite-sized nugget," Bullinger informed the Auction's Financial Operating Officer, in a telephone conference. "If I can stick a criminal bad check charge on this little butter ball, the Court will order him to pay a restitution that cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, so, you'll get your money. But in return, as just compensation for my efforts in the cause of justice, I will naturally expect a small gratuity."

"How small?," asked the Officer.

"$10,000.00," answered Bullinger.

"Did you say $10,000?"

"Precisely," Bullinger replied.

"That's a bribe!," retorted the Officer.

"Well, what does that have to do with the price of coffee in Brazil?-or with the cost of six new Toyotas in Michigan?"

So it was that the "Mountain Lion Prosecutor" and the Smithville Auto Auction jumped into bed together that day. The subsequent trial, held six months later, ended with Perry Costello convicted on a criminal bad check charge, resulting in Court-ordered restitution of the full amount owed the Auction, a $25,000.00 fine, which included Court costs, and five years probation, the first year of which would be spent under the tyrannical Dorothea B. Stoneard.

Perry's life was now ruined, for he was a convicted felon who now faced the prospect of prison, since he knew that he could not possibly pay the full $39,000.00 in six months. With bankruptcy now completely out of the question, his only hope was a new trial, based on the argument that he should never have been prosecuted on a criminal charge; that he owed the Auto Auction money, he had never denied, but this had clearly been a civil suit, a fact which both Bullinger and the Auction had known all along. But what did either one of them care? Bullinger had successfully prosecuted another case for Clark County, and, unbeknownst to the public, was now $10,000.00 richer, due to his client's eternal gratitude for a favor that would save them a $14,160.00 loss. More importantly, the sentence would serve, as a strong deterrent to the Auction's other would-be Perry Costellos, something that its Board of Directors felt would save them far more future money than the $10,000.00 that they had been forced to pay Bullinger. Even Dorothea B. Stoneard was happy, for the cat now had another mouse to torment.

And what sport Stoneard could now enjoy with her new prey! The small, mustachioed Perry, although normally happy-go-lucky and gregarious, was also nervous and highung, and suffering from high blood pressure, qualities which Stoneard could instantly spot, and take advantage of. "Drop and give me twenty," she as much as ordered him on their first meeting. She especially enjoyed making him late for work at the dealership by, as one of their bi-weekly meeting was about to conclude, commanding him to first give a urine sample for drug testing. By the time a male officer from the fifth floor could meet them in her first floor office and accompany Perry to the men's room, he would normally lose another fifteen minutes-ten more if his chronic nervousness prevented him from achieving a quick and easy discharge. "Why'd you keep me waiting all this time?" she would ask derisively, and loudly enough for all to hear when Perry had finally completed his task. "What the hell's the matter with you? Can't you even piss into a Goddamned cup?" Such humiliation was painful enough-worse yet were the unsettling, unannounced inspections of both his house and his business, during which she would act far worse than any bull in a China shop ever could, on one occasion, ordering him to empty his clothes drawer and strip his bed so that she could search for any incriminating evidence that would allow her to violate his probation, such as alcohol, which, because Perry had developed a serious drinking problem during the last two years, due to stress over his mounting financial problems, he was prohibited from having. As with the earlier client that she had tried to violate, she lived for the day when she could catch Perry with the proverbial whiskey or vodka bottle hidden on his premises. This time, however, she had not even been able to win a consolation prize, as she had with the confiscation of the "dangerous weapon" family heirloom. Disappointed, but still defiant, she vowed to find that booze some day. "Now," she added, referring to the chaos that she had just caused, the clothes and bed sheets strewn everywhere, "Clean up this fucking place. It looks like a pigsty!"

Her greatest pleasure he was convinced, though, came when she had denied his request to leave on a weekend trip to Massachusetts for a family reunion that he had been looking forward to for over four months. "Absolutely not!" she had snapped over the phone.

"Why not? Dorothea? It wouldn't violate my probation, and it would mean so much to both my family and myself. Why, some of these people I haven't seen in fifteen years."

"Tough shit!" she replied. "That's not my concern. It would just be an excuse for you to sneak some of that 'fine wine' that you've been hiding from me up here. Besides," she added, temporarily distracted by the sight of an attractive young couple walking outside her office window, and trying to decide if the beefy guy or the leggy blonde appealed to her more, "I don't really think those people are your relatives anyway!" she screamed as she slammed down the receiver. Perry now seriously wondered about his parole officer's sanity, and even more so when she called two days after the reunion had been held, and announced, "I've changed my mind. I've done a little digging, and I've found that they are your relatives after all, so you can go."

"I can't now, Dorothea," Perry answered. "I've already missed it!"

"Oh, well," she responded indifferently. "That's the breaks. Anyway, remember to get your butt over to my office at 9AM Wednesday for our meeting-and bring a cup with you 'cause I need another urine sample," and hung up abruptly.

"Good luck to yourself, too," Perry said under his breath.

"So what if Dorothea acts like a horse's ass?," he consoled himself. He had filed, pro se, a request with the Appeals Court, citing his financial difficulties, to stay his restitution for a full year, hoping that he would raise enough extra money and/or borrow the remainder from his family, to pay the debt and stay out of prison. He was not a bad man, he reassured himself-he had really intended to repay the Auto Auction's money. He was merely a bad businessman who had simply made a mistake, and he knew that a prison term, which he feared more than anything else, was an experience that, given his age and health concerns, he could not survive. It was now six weeks, and he hoped to receive a reply from the Court any day now. In the meantime, he decided to supplement his income by taking a part-time job with the Clark County Fair, cleaning up the fairgrounds. This one balmy summer night, he was told to help pick up the empty beer bottles and dispose of them in the trash. As he was delivering a whole carton load of bottles to the dumpster, out from behind the Freak Show Pavilion, which advertised an attraction called Gemorra, the Gorilla Woman, was Dorothea, who was deciding whether she wanted to take in the show or not, when she spotted Perry on his errands. "What do I see in that carton, Perry Costello? That better not be what I think it is. You know you're not allowed around any alcohol while you're on Probation!"

"You don't understand, Dorothea. It's my job to dispose of these bottles. See, they're empty!" he tried to explain, holding one of them out for her inspection. She promptly flung the bottle, which shattered into a thousand glass fragments, on the cigaretteewn ground.

"Oh, you always have a smart answer for everything, don't you? Never mind! I'm going to violate you, and file a request for a show-cause hearing over this!"

"Dorothea, please, you cant!" the forlorn little man pleaded, impulsively grabbing her right forearm.

"Take your hands off of me, Perry Costello, or I'll arrest you right here and now!"

Perry quickly drew back. The only words he could muster were "It's not fair…it's not fair!"

After that night, Perry Costello's world fell apart. The day before the scheduled show-cause hearing, Perry received a letter from the Appeals Court informing him that it had denied his request for the restitution stay. Now facing the almost certain prospect of prison within six months, or even sooner, with his probation in danger of being revoked tomorrow, he felt that there was now no other option open to him than that which he had been contemplating for the last half-year. As he placed a loaded pistol to his mouth, he prayed that the Lord would forgive him for this act, but that He would also somehow allow him "another bite of the apple," a true chance at justice-his very own Judgment Day. Then, he pulled the trigger.

Two weeks passed following Perry Costello's suicide, and life went on as usual in Clark County. Julius Bullinger was still ruthlessly mowing down opponents, and Dorothea Stoneard was still terrorizing her charges. Then, one August Tuesday afternoon, both Bullinger and Stoneard met in the courthouse, having each received, of all things, a summons to appear before a visiting judge by the name of I. P. Freley. As soon as they were seated in the empty, darkened courtroom and began comparing their two subpoenas, the room suddenly became flooded with bright, halo-like light, the doors suddenly slammed shut-by their own accord-and the wall thermometer began to rapidly drop, from 65% to 25% Fahrenheit. The "Mountain Lion Prosecutor" and the "parole officer from hell" began to shiver, not only from the increasing cold, which evident now not only in the visible carbon monoxide of their breaths, but in each one's own mounting terror.

Then, a hollow , disembodied voice from some invisible bailiff, a voice which seemed to come from some realm outside the courtroom, broke the unearthly silence: "The Court of Eternal Justice will now hear the case of Perry J. Costello, Plaintiff, vs. Julius I. Bullinger and Dorothea B. Stoneard, Defendants, the honorable I. P. Freley presiding. All rise!" The "all" in the courtroom, Bulliner and Stoneard, spontaneously, as if on reflex, jumped quickly to their feet. The name "Perry Costello"-that of a dead man-filled them with terror, and both wondered what this "Court of Eternal Justice" could possibly be, and what it had to do with them. Their questions were answered when Judge I. P. Freley entered the courtroom, and took his place on the stand.

Bullinger's face collapsed; Stoneard's heart skipped a dozen beats. There, in the flesh, and in a judge's black robes, was none other than a grinning Perry Costello himself, powder burns plainly visible around his mouth, but, otherwise, none the worse for wear. He playfully tossed an empty specimen cup in Stoneard's direction, pounded his gavel for order, and bid the two to be seated.

"Costello! How could it be you're dead?" stammered Bullinger.

"You will address the Court as 'your honor,' Mr. Bullinger," Judge Freley/Costello solemnly responded.

"What Court?" Stoneard objected. Before she could say another word, the Judge silenced her with one slam of his gavel, and threatened her with Contempt of Court if she spoke out of line again.

"The Court of Eternal Justice will decide the fate of Julius I. Bullinger and Dorothea B. Stoneard, both of whom stand accused of having willfully driven Perry Jeffries Costello to his death. The jury will now be seated."

With those words, in jauntily walked the jury-all Perry Costellos, attired in the same navy blue suit and red power tie, and each face twisted into a grin of smug self-satisfaction. "Perry Costello…Perry Costello…Perry Costello," the invisible bailiff's voice announced, as each smiling little clone took his place in the jury box.

"Mr. Costello, you may proceed," said the Judge, as the doors once again swung open, and the Prosecutor proudly strutted into the courtroom. It was yet another Perry Costello, this one dressed in a three-piece pinstripe suit. "Thank you, your honor," responded the lawyer, to which the Judge nodded and smiled in recognition of his clone's courtesy and respect. "Gentlemen of the jury," he began, facing the collection of Perry Costellos directly, "the Court of Eternal Justice has chosen to hear this case because of the gross injustice done to Perry Costello by two people whose words and actions violated the very values on which our system of justice is based." He then sauntered toward the box where the two defendants were seated, and first faced his former enemy. "You love the word 'violate,' don't you Dorothea? To you, human beings are slaves for you to trap, torture, and humiliate. And you, Mr. Bullinger," he announced, swinging his face in the Prosecutor's direction, "you understand the letter of the law, but not its heart. To you, the law is a cold ledger of sections and sub-sections--principles to bend according to your whim, and to your benefit. You have forgotten the lives and the people behind those numbers--those whom you had sworn to serve and protect. Instead, you've taken bribes, and deliberately ruined those lives--including that of Perry Costello-for the sake of your own personal gain."

"Your honor, may I speak?" Bullinger pleaded.

"You may," Judge Freley/Costello answered.

"I'm a tough lawyer--the "'Mountain Lion Prosecutor.'"

"What does that have to do with the price of coffee in Brazil, Julie?" With that question, the jury of Perry Costellos laughed with delight, with no call for order from the Judge.

"Don't call me 'Julie!' My name is 'Julius.'"

"Again I ask, what does that have to do with the price of coffee in Brazil?"

"Well, it sounds like you're calling me Julie Andrews."

"Very well, JULIE ANDREWS."

"Your honor--," protested Bullinger.

"I'm going to allow it," declared the Judge, to which his jolly counterparts in the jury box turned in each other's direction, all smiling, laughing, and nodding in unison.

Prosecutor Costello then continued his diatribe, chronicling in detail the two's crimes and abuses, and beginning his final argument, whose words he venomously spat in the defendants' direction: "You're gargoyles-both of you, and Perry Costello must be granted the justice that he, like so many other unfortunate souls who have crossed your paths, had been denied in life: his very own Judgment Day! Gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case."

The Costello clones nodded in polite recognition, rising and applauding together when their attorney counterpart left the courtroom, the doors, for a final time, opening and closing on their own.

"Gentlemen of the Jury, have you reached a verdict?" asked the Judge when the jury had once again been seated. "We have, your honor," answered Perry Costello #1, who rose from his seat, cleared his throat dramatically, and, in a booming voice that reverberated throughout the courtroom's corridors, announced, "Guilty as charged!"

With those words, a swirling vortex erupted in the center of the room, as a screaming Bullinger and Stoneard were separated from each other and swept away to parallel universes, where each would serve his or her own sentence, as had been decided by the Court of Eternal Justice.

Stoneard now found herself in her own office, where she was ordered to sit on the opposite side of the desk by the parole office to whom she had just been assigned, and whose voice and face were all too familiar to her-for the woman who was facing her was herself! Immediately, she found herself harassed by phone calls from herself, and in her own shrill voice, every hour on the hour following 9PM to make sure that she wasn't violating her probation's curfew, robbing her each night of the sleep that she so badly craved and needed. If there weren't intolerable enough, her relentless clone insisted on Stoneard giving her urine samples three times a day, each day throughout eternity (another term of her probation). "What's the matter? Can't you even pee into a Goddamned cup?" she ridiculed her when she had trouble filling the cup on demand. And then there were the unannounced home inspections-seven days a week-one of which had included a recent bed strip search that had resulted in the discovery of an item definitely prohibited under her probation. "What is that? What the hell is that?" her clone had demanded, literally shoving the item into her charge's face. "Is that a vibrator, Stoneard?" The punishment for this violation she could not bring herself to imagine.

In the meantime, Bullinger was enduring his own private hell. Locked in a small, cramped holding cell furnished with only a chair and a paper shredder, the "Mountain Lion Prosecutor" was deluged with every single pleading, subpoena, and evidence request he had ever plagued his opponents with during his past career as a civil lawyer, dropped, one by one, from a small opening the ceiling. Soon, the never-ending supply of papers started to form a mound that began to reach his waist, and he feared that he would soon be suffocated in the litter. Feverishly, he shoved what papers he could into the shredder, but instead of disposing of the mess, each piece would emerge complete and undamaged. Gradually, the mound reached his chin-if it should grow much higher, he would literally smother to death. He screamed and thrashed about violently, but to no avail, for the documents kept falling.

Meanwhile, Stoneard was near the end of her endurance. Her eyes were bloodshot and bleary from lack of sleep, due to her vindictive doppelganger's constant night-time calls. Now sick and emaciated, she could not face another visit or word from the worst tormenter she had ever known in her life, herself, and she knew only one way of ending her torture. As her own double furiously pounded on the front door of her apartment and demanded to be let in for another inspection, Dorothea Stoneard took a pistol that she had hidden in her bedroom's top bureau drawer, placed it in her mouth, and closed her eyes. The last words she heard before pulling the trigger were, in her own voice, "Open that door or I'll violate you!" As her limp body crashed to the floor, the room instantly reverberated with the voices of the Land of Oz Munchkins singing, "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead!"

At that very moment, in his own parallel universe, the "Mountain Lion Prosecutor's" roar was about to be silenced forever. His face and form were no longer distinguishable from the paper mountain that had now reached the cell's ceiling. His desperate pleas for help became weaker and weaker, and the paper pile shimmied with each increasingly laborious, torturous, breath that Bullinger struggled to take. Soon, he could no longer breathe at all, and, as life left his inert body, he fell backward (resulting in a slight vertical shift in the layers of paperwork), forcing his trouser legs to ride up and to expose the garish white, navy-blue striped stocking that he always wore under his trademark reddish-brown designer shoes. His feet protruded from beneath the bottom layer of filings, the toes even now curling upward in rigormortis, like those of the Wicked Witch of the East after Dorothy's tornado-bourn Kansas farmhouse had fallen on her from the sky. A few seconds later, one sole remaining Bullinger filing dropped from the ceiling and softly landed, like a feather, on the now silent, unmoving heap.

But even with the demise of these two tin pot tyrants, the Court of Eternal Justice's work was not done. It would never be done, for, in a world that could spawn -and venerate-a Julius I. Bullinger and a Dorothea B. Stoneard, its docket would always be full.

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