Chapter 17

Alice Reynolds had undergone an extraordinary and sudden transformation since Olive had agreed to put her in charge of the upcoming legal case.

            In the seven days leading up to the hearing, Alice woke up every morning at half past five and climbed off her bed (Mary’s pool table covered in a thin blanket) and did fifteen minutes of press-ups. At least, she tried to do fifteen minutes of press-ups; at her age, she decided, she was lucky to be able to manage one minute. But after this, she got down to business: seating herself smartly at Mary Maveryck’s computer, Alice researched and wrote, wrote and researched, until most of the rest of the Team awoke (this was usually around midday). She had not yet succeeded in finding a previous law case which was similar enough to the one in which Olive and the Team now found themselves so that she might compare the strategies and outcomes, but she had been busy writing speeches for everybody anyway.

            When Olive did get up, Alice marched into the hallway to formally salute her as she stomped down the stairs. Olive was usually half-asleep and still in her dressing gown when this happened, so she hadn’t been paying enough attention to notice the startling change in Alice’s attitude towards the Team. Everyone else had.

            “You’re really taking this seriously nowadays,” said Mary carefully one particular morning, around three days after the plans to break into Lucy Waters’s house and discourage Raymond from moving to Timbuktu had failed.

            They were eating breakfast. Olive was sitting at the head of the kitchen table in a large armchair, eating an enormous plate of sausages, eggs, bacon, baked beans, hash browns and fried tomatoes. Mary, Hetty, Edith, Frederick, Augustus, Adolphus and James were sitting along the side on hard wooden stools, miserably stirring unappetising bowls of thin, watery porridge.

            “I don’t like porridge,” Mary mumbled. Suddenly, she felt a peculiar urge to lift up the table cloth and begin subtly spooning her bowl of porridge into the large dog bowl at her feet, but when she checked she suddenly remembered that she didn’t have a dog. She couldn’t imagine where she’d got the idea from.

            “Actually, it’s gruel,” Alice said brusquely. “Lovely, nourishing gruel! I had mine earlier, and now I feel fabulous! Eat up, Mary.”

            Mary simply made a quiet whining noise in her throat and glanced appealingly at Olive, but the Supreme Leader was too busy wolfing down her own breakfast to worry about Mary’s selfishness. Frederick and his brothers were also staring enviously at Olive’s plate, their mouths watering.

            “Can’t I have some bacon?” Frederick asked Alice, who seemed to have put herself in charge of the kitchen as well as everything else.

            “Or some eggs?” suggested Augustus hopefully.

            “Or just some baked beans?” Adolphus whispered.

            “No, no!” Alice snapped. “Only the Leader gets that sort of thing; you all know that. Just eat up your gruel. We’ve got a hard day ahead of us!”

            “We always have a hard day ahead of us!” Hetty complained, raising her spoon so that it was several inches above her bowl and then allowing a thin trickle of the greyish-white substance to splash back into it.

            “Of course,” Alice insisted. “We need to work hard if we’re ever going to succeed with this law case. And we still need to do something about Lucy; I hope you all know that! I mean, do any of you know how she knew we’d be in her house that day? Do any of you know about her secrets? Do any of you know how she suddenly appeared in Mary’s kitchen that day?”

            “I thought you said we weren’t going to concentrate on Lucy anymore!” Edith whined, practically in tears as she thought about the Sugar Puffs in her cupboard at home. “You said we needed to concentrate on this legal thing in the court that Olive has to go to for stalking Raymond and Ethel!”

“Besides, I’ve got a fairly good idea of how Lucy appeared in Mary’s house anyway…” Hetty piped up.

            “Shut up, Hetty!” Alice barked, looking anxiously at Olive to see if her Leader had noticed Alice’ newly-trained Olive-style voice, which she’d been practising. Olive took no notice, so Alice simply resumed: “And shut up, Edith! Please don’t argue. Now that I’ve been made commander in charge of the law suit as well as temporary co-leader…”

            “I don’t remember anything about you being made a temporary co-leader,” Mary interrupted, jealously narrowing her eyes.

            “Quiet, Mary,” Alice commanded. “Madame High Leader said so herself!”

            “Did I?” Olive asked wonderingly, looking up from her breakfast momentarily.

            “Oh, yes! You said I could be a temporary co-leader when you put me in charge of the law case,” Alice lied. “Don’t you remember, Madame High Leader, who after all is so wise and could never be replaced anyway?”

            “Yeah, whatever,” Olive said carelessly, continuing to eat.

            Alice just smiled; a sinister sort of smirk which made her eyes look darker and more secretive than usual. Holding her head up high, she thought about how her Team t-shirt would look once it had all her extra titles printed onto it, possibly with a smart photograph of her next to the picture of Olive…or maybe even above it…

            “Good, good,” said Alice, feeling powerful as she stood watching over everyone moodily stirring their porridge, her arms tightly folded and her chin raised. “Finish up quickly, everyone. We’re going to rehearse our parts.”

Ten minutes later, the Team was sitting in a circle in Mary’s living room. Olive was up on her throne as usual, and Alice had strategically provided her with a distracting box of Belgian truffles. She hadn’t arranged anything dodgy to be implemented into the trial which she didn’t want Olive to notice, but she was eager not to have any interruptions. After all, she was organising the court case.

            Alice chose, however, to give away one piece of information (which she could do with Olive being aware of), before the Supreme Leader became sufficiently engrossed:

            “Olive, I’ve made myself into your lawyer instead of your second witness,” Alice explained quickly, knowing that Olive might not like the fact that her decision as to everyone’s roles had been altered.

            “What?” Olive said, snapping her head up. “What do you mean?”

            “I’m your lawyer now,” Alice repeated. “Hetty’s going to be your second witness. I’ll explain everything in a moment to do with that. But basically, I looked up a whole load of professional lawyers with high success rates, but none of them were particularly willing to take up the job when I described the case to them, so I thought I’d be your lawyer. It’s fine, seriously; I know exactly what to do!”

            Olive raised her eyebrows. She decided not to mention that she didn’t really know what a lawyer did; it would be too embarrassing. Besides, Alice seemed to be aware of what she was doing.

            “Just one ruddy minute!” objected Edith suddenly, standing up. “Mary, Hetty and Fred are all witnesses, Alice is a lawyer, Augustus and Adolphus are managing the evidence, but what am I doing?”

            “You’re observing,” said Alice wisely. “You’re going to be a spectator. Very important job. All you basically have to do is sit down and not say anything at all.”

            “Why?” asked Edith suspiciously.

            “Oh, you’re contributing to the atmosphere,” Alice explained, wondering whether Edith understood what she was saying. “You sit there and be really quiet. You’re in charge of making sure that no one speaks or anything whilst the trial’s going on.”

            Edith was quiet for a few seconds, but then her face brightened as though she’d finally understood something. “Oh, right!” she said.

            Alice gave a subtle sigh of relief and turned back to the real participants in the trial. “Right, Mary,” she began. “Do you remember what I told you about when you first come into the courtroom?”

            “Yes,” said Mary, thinking hard. “Somebody calls my name, don’t they?”

            “Yeah; I think that’s the deputy clerk of the court,” Alice muttered, looking at the notes James had printed off the internet for her. “Go on.”

            “So I come in and go to the interrogation box,” Mary continued carefully. “Then they swear me in with a Bible or something. And then I just answer the questions, right? Going from my speech?”

            “Not your speech,” snapped Alice, speaking slowly, as she would to a child, to ensure that Mary understood her. She snatched away the several pieces of paper that Mary was holding up. “You’re not writing the speeches here, Mary! Just answer the questions, following my guidelines. But whatever you do, you need to make sure that you present Olive as someone who isn’t likely to go around stalking her son-in-law, right?”

            “But…Olive is someone who’s likely to go around stalking her son-in-law. She’s been doing it for the past several years now!”

            “I know.”

            “So…that’s a lie?”

            “In theory, yes.”

            “But…Alice, I thought I wasn’t meant to lie. They swear me in, don’t they? Say something about telling the truth or whatever? They swear me in using the Bible…”

            “They do swear you in using the Bible and tell you to tell the truth,” Alice agreed. Then she smiled and tried to appear relaxed. “But let’s face it, Mary; you’re not particularly religious, are you?”

            Mary thought about it. Her only real experience of religion was made up of those rather terrifying services from Reverend Lucifer in the countryside, and she’d be wrong to say that he had ever inspired a great devotion to the Christian faith in her. All he ever seemed to talk about was devils stabbing people with tridents.

            “I suppose not,” Mary admitted. “So, you want me to lie, Alice?”

            “No, no!” Alice cried, as though this suggestion was mind-bogglingly ridiculous. “It’s not lying, Mary. Just think of it as…oh, I don’t know…adapting the truth to suit the needs of your dearest friends in pursuit of the greater good. Utilitarianism, you know. You want your dearest friends to be happy, don’t you, Mary?”

            “Well….”

            “Of course you do. Now, Mary, it’s all going to be very simple, all right? All you have to do is go against anything that Raymond and Ethel’s lawyer says. If you always stick to making out that Olive is a kind, respectful and boundary-keeping person, he won’t be able to trick you.”

            “Make out that Olive is a kind, respectful and boundary-keeping person,” Mary repeated. She deliberated on it, and couldn’t help thinking that this would be somewhat challenging. “I think I’ve got it.”

            “Great,” said Alice conclusively, turning away from Mary and looking eagerly at Hetty. “Hetty, do you remember what I told you would happen?”

            “Someone calls my name,” Hetty said slowly.

            “Yes, the deputy clerk of the court,” Alice said for the second time. “He’ll say your full name, and you come in and stand in the interrogation box.”

            “What’s the interrogation box?” Hetty asked innocently.

            Alice breathed out slowly and massaged her temples. “Haven’t you been listening, Hetty?” she demanded.

            “Not really,” Hetty admitted guiltily.

            “Hetty, that was a rhetorical question,” Alice sighed. “I knew you hadn’t been listening. Look, the interrogation box is a little wooden platform surrounded by some short walls where you have to stand whilst you’re being the witness.”

            “Oh, I see,” said Hetty unconvincingly. “Right, so do I wait until the lawyer starts asking me questions to say anything?”

            “Yes,” answered Alice. “After you’ve been sworn in, of course. You won’t have to lie-I mean, you won’t have to adapt the truth as much as Mary will have to, because your real purpose is to explain about your sister!”

            “Explain about her sister?” Olive said, looking up from her box of chocolates.

            Alice would have sighed if not for the respect she knew she owed to her Supreme Leader. She had been hoping that the truffles, in addition to her using the phrase ‘your sister’ rather than the more noticeable ‘Lucy’, would prevent Olive from noticing and possibly criticising the argument concerning her hated enemy. There was nothing particularly suspicious about what Alice had done here, but she had rather wanted to get through this quickly without having to explain everything to someone else as well. “Hetty’s going to explain why Lucy is bad. This way, we can say that Lucy is trying deliberately to target Raymond, and from that, we give the impression that rather than stalking Raymond, Olive’s only trying to protect him. Do you see what I mean?”

            “Yes, yes,” said Olive, having lost interest again. She plucked another chocolate from the box and put it in her mouth. The glazed expression returned to her face, and Alice smiled.

            “That’s Hetty’s part,” she concluded. “Hetty, have you been learning about the sort of thing you’re going to say from that piece of paper I gave you?”

            “Yes!” said Hetty. “All the stuff about her crazy hobbies and everything! You won’t tell Lucy, will you, Alice? She’ll be so upset with me if she knows I said bad things about her to a proper court. She’s very fond of her hobbies.”

            “Don’t worry; I’ll never say a word to her about this,” Alice lied. She knew she’d have to mention it after the court order when Lucy would come to realise that Raymond was inaccessible to her now, but she’d tell Hetty about that later. “That’s good, Hetty. Keep learning the stuff to make sure you won’t forget it, and you ought to be fine.”

            “Roger,” answered Hetty.

            “Now. Fred,” Alice said, relieved that she had moved on to her third and final witness.

            Frederick had been no easier than Mary and Hetty to tame into a strong and useful instrument for the force of goodness. His poor memory meant that he found it extremely difficult to remember what he was supposed to be doing, let alone what he was supposed to say, yet he had an irritating tendency to suddenly remember that he had to watch some documentary about the advantages and disadvantages of toothpicks in the modern world. He had therefore taken the longest out of Olive’s three witnesses to be able to actually explain to Alice what he was meant to be doing. Alice, though knowing that Frederick wasn’t the strongest of speakers, was relatively proud of the result.

            “First of all you get called in,” Alice prompted him, realising that she had to at least start him off.

            “I see,” said Frederick, trying to sound professional and intelligent. Then he paused. “Who calls me in?”

            Alice buried her face in her hands. “The deputy clerk of the court,” she groaned.

            “Well, that’s the first I’ve heard of it!” Frederick said, deeply hurt. “So I go into the whatsit box, right?”

            “The interrogation box,” Alice said icily. Her patience for stupidity had now almost reached zero. “Try to remember, Fred. For Olive’s sake.”

            “For Olive’s sake,” Frederick repeated quietly, furrowing his brow. “Ah, yes, it’s about Raymond, isn’t it? I’m surprised she’s still into him, to be fair.”

            “Try to stay on topic, Fred…”

            “I mean, he’s no better than me really, is he? I mean, he’s only got some stupid job working in Timbuktu and I’m one of the most renowned stamp-collectors in the district!”

            “Fred!” said Alice loudly. Frederick stopped talking and stared back at her meekly. Alice continued: “Do you see what’s happened so far? Mary’s main aim was to emphasise the good quality of Olive’s character, whereas Hetty’s was to show that Olive had a good reason for following Raymond around. Your aim is what?”

            “What?” Frederick asked.

            “No, Fred; I’m asking you!” Alice said. “Tell me what your aim is! Give him a minute, everyone.”

            Frederick needed much more than a minute, plus several detailed hints from Alice, to explain to the Team what his main aim in the courtroom would be. His forgetfulness was so pronounced that he even managed to distract Olive from her truffles, and for a few minutes he was put off even further by the way in which his wife was looking vaguely disgusted at his inadequacy. But he eventually managed to stammer out the fact that his prime purpose was to provide a sort of summary: he would be reinforcing Olive’s good points, highlighting Lucy’s bad points in order to re-establish the fact that Olive had only been trying to protect Raymond, and using his own experience to describe Olive’s devotion to her eldest child.

            “Ethel might have something to say about that,” Hetty said solemnly.

            “No, she won’t,” Olive snapped. She was unhappy because she had finished her truffles, and Alice silently cursed herself for not having asked Mary to buy a second box. “Well, she might, but that’s only because she didn’t understand what was really happening. I wasn’t a bad mother; I was a good mother with a difficult and selfish child. We have to try and get that across.”

            “In a way, yes, Madam High Leader,” Alice said quickly. “We won’t say it directly, of course. The court may think that we are being….ooh, let’s just say that the court might think that we are being slightly biased towards our Leader. We’ll just say that we always knew that Olive did her best, and the belief that she was a good mother should follow on from there.”

            “Fair enough,” Olive muttered. “Just make sure it works.”

            “It will,” said Alice proudly. If this went well, it would be as though she had fulfilled her purpose in life. Managing her very own law case…

The stage was set.

            The scene was of a large, high-ceilinged courtroom. A relatively young male judge with a fierce, commanding presence which could have silenced Lucy Waters sat at an abnormally high desk, and the desks all around him were full of people. To one side of the room, seated at a wooden table, were Alice (who had worn her best twenty-year-old suit for the occasion, and was clasping a pile of paper to her chest to make herself look more intellectual), Augustus and Adolphus, who were managing the somewhat small pile of evidence Alice had accumulated, and, seated to their left, was Olive. In the space behind this, there were rows and rows of pew-like benches for spectators. Directly behind Olive and Alice sat Edith on the edge of her seat, excitedly waiting to start her duties in which she would monitor the quietness of the audience once the trial began. Next to her was James, who seemed to be paying close attention; as Alice had mentioned before, he was very interested in the law.

            On the opposite side of the room, a few of Raymond’s friends from the Loopy Swan had turned up to cheer on their friend in his bid to prove that his mother-in-law was a mentally deficient stalker, and in front of them, paying as much rapt attention as James, were Madeline, Nathaniel and Anastasia, whose expressions suggested that they were interested rather than a little disturbed by the situation that fate had presented. But in front, sitting with their lawyer at another table, were Raymond and Ethel Calzone.

            “Order, order!” barked the judge, just as Olive thought she’d be tempted to steal a glance at the Calzones to check what sort of expressions they had on their faces, or what sort of lawyer they had.

            “It’s starting!” Alice squealed. This was rather like watching Frederick and his brothers watch a play in which they were keen to monitor the quality of the acting. Also as in that sort of situation, Olive decided not to pay any attention.

            Something was read out – some stupid, useless introduction to the case in which Olive was described as ‘senile’ and ‘obsessive’ by the accusing party – and then Olive blocked her ears as the judge spoke to the Calzones. She didn’t want to break down when she heard Raymond’s voice in its current disapproving tone. But before long, attention had turned to her.

“Are you Olive Juliet Whinging?” Judge Friggit asked in a very boring voice.

            Olive felt like saying something really clever and comic, like, “No, I’m Winnie the Pooh”, but she felt deterred when she stared into Judge Friggit’s stern eyes, and Alice had told her specifically not to annoy the judge. So she simply replied, with a touch of annoyance, “Yes.”

            “You stand accused,” Judge Friggit continued. “Of persistently and suspiciously stalking certain members of the Calzone family, in particular Raymond Calzone, and the accusation suggests that you have repeatedly photographed, filmed and followed Mr. Calzone.”

            “Actually, your honour, it was mainly my friends who did the filming and taking pictures, and Mary was with me when we followed them…”

            “Silence!” boomed Judge Friggit.

            Olive was surprised to find that her mouth seemed to be clamped shut at the sound of his voice. Raymond and Ethel were introduced, and Olive finally had a valid excuse to look over at their table, and she saw that rather than looking disapproving, Raymond Calzone’s expression suggested that he was somewhat bored, though he did take an occasional look around the courtroom to see who was present on the defence side – Olive tried to tell herself that he was looking at her, but as time went on, it seemed less and less likely.

            Less importantly, Olive got a look at the lawyer for Raymond and Ethel who would in a moment be questioning her own witnesses: Mr. Ramp was an eccentric, determined-looking man with gelled black hair and a habit of speaking as though he thought everything he was about to say would be a complete revelation which would shock everyone; he emphasised every stressed syllable so much that he gave the impression of constantly shouting, and seemed to be always leaning forward, like he would suddenly jump at you and shriek, “Boo!” to try and distract you from whatever you were saying.

But there was no time for all of this dwelling on people’s appearances and physical characteristics. There was not even time to concentrate on Raymond’s body language or the suspicious things that Ethel seemed to be mouthing to Judge Friggit, who occasionally aimed a wise, confidential nod in her direction. The proper hearing had finally begun, and the deputy clerk of the court now uttered the words that Olive had been dreading since she had entered the courtroom:

“Call Mary Maveryck!”

            The curtains were pulled back with a flourish, and the doors to the courtroom opened. Mary Maveryck stepped in nervously. Glancing firstly at Olive and then at Alice, she was given a couple of threatening scowls as a last little symbol of encouragement. As Mary stepped into the interrogation box, the eyes of the Calzones, the witnesses and most members of the Team were on her. Olive could see that Raymond had begun to pay attention to what was happening, and, probably for the first time in her whole life, she found herself praying.

            The deputy clerk of the court stepped forward in front of the box in which Mary was now standing and spent a few minutes looking with puzzled expression at a table which sat just beside the Calzones. Then, frowning, he checked underneath it, to both sides of it, all around it and even high above it, at the ceiling, and it became immediately evident that he had lost something.

            “Clarke! What’s taking you so long?” Judge Friggit demanded, restlessly looking at his watch. It was almost time for lunch…

            “Erm, I’m very sorry, your honour, but I appear to have mislaid the Bible,” Clarke said timidly.

            Judge Friggit snarled and slammed one fist onto the desk in front of him. “You idiot!” he growled. “How can you have mislaid the Bible? It’s always in the exact same place, fool! Anyway, what are we going to swear the witness on now?”

            For a moment everyone in the courtroom peered around them and checked their pockets, as though Mary could be sworn in using Tesco clubcards, eye tests or charity leaflets. Strangely enough, it turned out to be Mary herself who, in a state of absent-mindedness and apparent stupidity, discovered an answer:

“Why don’t you swear me in using this instead?” she asked brightly. Everyone looked, and saw that she was holding a thick, glossy magazine. “It’s the latest copy of Gun Owners weekly. I’m hardly likely to lie after swearing on that, am I….oh. Oh! Oh, dear…”

            Looking across at Alice, Mary could see that she was tearing her hair out with rage; she had anticipated Frederick or even Hetty completely forgetting everything that they were meant to be doing and the whole aim of the exercise, but not Mary. Everyone, including Mary, knew that Mary would not be able to lie after swearing on the thing she held most dear in the world, and the copy of Gun Owners weekly was symbolic of her recent entry into the exclusive town gun club. But now that Mary had accidentally said this, it appeared that there would be no going back.

Judge Friggit raised an eyebrow at several of his colleagues, but after a few moments everyone simply shrugged, and the deputy clerk rolled his eyes and resumed his duty:

            “Please place your left hand on the magazine and your right in the air,” he said exhaustedly.

            Mary waited a few seconds, looking desperately at Olive and Alice, but then unwillingly did so.

            “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

            “Nothing but the truth…?” Mary asked, her confusion mounting even more as she struggled to think of what to do. “Does that mean I can’t use any word that I didn’t ever say? I’m not sure I’ll remember when I used certain words, you know…and does the whole truth bit mean that I have to say absolutely everything that’s ever happened? I probably won’t remember that, either…”

            “Just say yes, Mary!” Alice cried, grabbing at her hair in frustration.

            “Shut up, Alice,” Olive growled, giving her a push.

            “Silence!” commanded Judge Friggit. Everyone was deathly silent. “Please continue, Miss Maveryck.”

            “Umm…yes,” Mary said uncertainly, looking worried as she looked down at the cover of Gun Owners weekly.

            “Right!” Mr. Ramp practically screamed at Mary as he marched over to the interrogation box. He slammed his hands down on the sides of the box when he arrived.  

            “There’s no need to do that,” Mary muttered. “I know you’re there.”

            Mr. Ramp chose not to answer her. “Miss Maveryck,” he said simply.

            There was a short silence. “Yes?” said Mary eventually, peering oddly at him.

            “Miss Maveryck, you are a close friend of the defendant, are you not?”

            “Oh, well, yes, I am,” Mary admitted. “We’ve been friends ever since we were children.”

            “So, I am correct in my assumption that you are thoroughly well acquainted with her idiosyncratic characteristics?”

            Another silence. “I’m sorry?” said Mary.

            “He means is he right in thinking that you know Olive well!” Alice shrieked, sweat trickling down her forehead.

            “Silence!” barked Judge Friggit.

            Silence.

            “Of course I know Olive well,” Mary resumed after a few seconds.

            “Therefore,” Mr. Ramp began in his dramatic, eccentric way, surveying the room to make sure that everyone was paying attention, “are you fully able to say that your friend is not the type of person to start obsessive romantic attachments to young men?”

            Mary stared at Mr. Ramp for a few seconds. Mr. Ramp recognised the panicked, wondering look and aimed a triumphant smirk at the audience. Mary then swivelled her eyes from his face and gazed appealingly at Alice. Alice nodded her head wildly and mouthed, “Yes!”

            But Mary looked at a loss. For a moment, a flicker of hope appeared on Alice’ face as Mary’s mouth formed the shape of a ‘y’, but that was when Mary happened to spot the copy of Gun Owners weekly still sitting on the wall of the box beside her. She couldn’t do it.

“Not exactly,” Mary said after several seconds, with noticeable reluctance. There was a sharp banging noise as Alice’ head collided with the table, and she uttered a long, low groan.

“Please elaborate,” Mr. Ramp said, smiling manically in the direction of Raymond and Ethel. Ethel looked like all her Christmases had come at once.

“Well…,” said Mary, trying to ignore the disgustingly rude words that Olive was now silently screaming at her. “Olive had always been in love with the young boys in our neighbourhood when we were growing up after we came back from the countryside at the end of the War, except that when she got crushes they didn’t usually last for very long.”

“But she did have crushes? Obsessive ones?” Mr. Ramp prompted eagerly, gripping the wall of the interrogation box with his hands and leaning forward. His eyes were wide and almost bloodshot with excitement, and Mary couldn’t help feeling intimidated.

Mary looked down at her feet. The copy of Gun Owners weekly was still visible in the corner of her eye, and for a moment, as she briefly considered not telling the truth, she could almost hear Miss Trigger telling her that she was to be removed from the gun club for her dishonesty and obvious lack of regard for the club’s precious magazine. “Yes,” she croaked, hardly daring to look up in case her eyes strayed in the direction of Olive and Alice.

“And is your friend likely to form a romantic attachment to the said Raymond Calzone, resulting in her following him around and victimising his family?”

Mary knew what her answer was, but she was barely able to force the word out: “Yes,” she whispered.

Silence for a minute as Mr. Ramp looked through the massive pile of paper he had under his arm. He had anticipated that Mary would put up slightly more of a fight in defence of her friend, but suddenly he didn’t need any more of his material that he had researched. In a few seconds, he had looked over at the rest of the court and smirked.

“No further questions,” he announced.

Mary was dismissed. She stood up slowly, clutching her magazine to her chest and still making an effort not to look at Olive and Alice. The moment she had got to the door and the curtains had closed behind her, everybody heard her burst into noisy tears.

Judge Friggit didn’t know quite what to say to this. “Call the next witness,” he ordered eventually.

“Call Hetty Waters!” the deputy clerk cried.

Once again, the doors were opened and the curtains parted. Hetty stumbled into the courtroom, almost tripping over the curtains. She reached the interrogation box. And that was when Ethel spoke:

“Do you know, judge, I believe I’ve found the Bible!” she cried in triumph. She suddenly took out a thick, brown volume from her handbag, and everyone immediately saw that it was indeed the Bible. Then she aimed a sly smirk over at her mother, and at Alice Reynolds.

Alice’ mouth fell open in a mixture of rage and disbelief, and she made strange choking noises as she stabbed her forefinger in Ethel’s direction. “She knew!” she managed to gasp. “She knew….oh, Lord….everyone knows! How does everyone know, Olive?”

“Know what?” Olive asked, not daring to look in Ethel’s direction.

Alice paused as she tried to work out the right words to use to describe the feelings of terror and hopelessness that were currently dominating her mind. She didn’t know how Ethel knew that Mary would only agree to tell the truth after being sworn in on a magazine about guns. But then, when she thought about it, Mary had been present the whole time that Ethel was growing up. Maybe the reason wasn’t such a mystery after all…

Alice didn’t answer Olive’s question. She put her head in her hands and entered a period of deep thought. Meanwhile, Hetty was sworn in (with the Bible).

“Miss Waters,” said Mr. Ramp.

A pause. “Yes?” answered Hetty after a few moments.

“Miss Waters, can you think of a valid reason for why your friend Olive Whinging would want to follow around the Calzone family, other than the fact that she was in love with Mr. Calzone here?”

“Well, yes, I can, actually!” said Hetty boisterously. “It’s because of my sister!”

“Your sister?” said Mr. Ramp, raising one eyebrow. “Who is your sister?”

“Well, basically I have this sister called Lucy, and she’s in love with Raymond just like Olive is…I mean, just like Olive isn’t, and one day she came and told Olive to stay away from Raymond, and after that they found out that Lucy is actually a bit of an odd ball because she’s really into cursing people and things like that. Alice saw her. And so Olive felt it was her duty to follow Raymond around to make sure that Raymond wasn’t cursed, if you see what I mean.”

“Wait a second!” Ethel shouted at that moment, standing up from the table. “Lucy Waters? Lucy Waters isn’t in love with Raymond! Only Mother is! In her sick, twisted way…”

“She is!” Hetty insisted excitably, her voice increasing in pitch. “She told Olive herself!”

“You must be joking. Lucy….”

“She is!” Hetty insisted again. “Anyway, how do you know who Lucy is?”

“Wait a second!” Edith shouted suddenly. Everyone turned around and saw that she was standing up in her seat.

“Be quiet, Edith!” Alice hissed fiercely.

“No, no, don’t you see, Alice?” Edith cried. “I’m fulfilling my duty; the one that you gave me! Ethel shouldn’t’ve been talking when Mr. Ramp was asking Hetty questions, should she?”

“That’s right, actually,” said Alice thoughtfully. She suddenly peered suspiciously at the judge and narrowed her eyes before entering the period of deep thought again.

Judge Friggit looked slightly embarrassed, but he didn’t let this stop shouting, “Order”. He didn’t offer any kind of explanation, but simply gestured to Mr. Ramp to carry on.

“So, Miss Waters,” Mr. Ramp said. “You are under the impression that your sister Lucy has somehow been the cause which appears to have made Mrs. Whinging develop an obsessive passion for her son-in-law?”

“I wouldn’t say that, no,” said Hetty, awkwardly, spotting Alice’ desperate signals a little too late. Then she frowned, and looked panicked. “Oh! Did I do something wrong? What does that signal mean, Alice?”

Alice’ head banged down on the table again, and this time Olive’s did as well.

“How can you be so completely thick, Hetty?” Edith wailed from her bench.

“How dare you!” shouted Hetty, pounding her fist on the wall of the box. “You’re not exactly a genius either, you know! Why, I’m never talking to you ever again, Edith James…”

“Silence!” boomed Judge Friggit, glaring at Edith. Honestly, anyone would think these people were insane…

That was when the curtains in front of the courtroom door parted for the third time, and on this occasion, no one had given them official permission to do so. In a second, the grinning face of Frederick Whinging appeared between them.

“Is it my go yet?” he asked cheerfully, looking up at Judge Friggit like he was an old friend from the past whom Frederick couldn’t wait to talk to again.

            “Fred! You have to wait until you’re called in!” Alice yelped.

            Frederick frowned. “Called in?” he repeated. “What do you mean? Who calls me in?”

            That was when Alice, through a mixture of nervous tension and sheer frustration, snapped. “The deputy clerk of the court!” she yelled at the top of her voice.

            This shout was so loud that it echoed throughout the entire building, and so the silence that followed it seemed even more silent than its less startled predecessors. Everyone stared at Alice, who had begun to actually sob with a mixture of frustration and the acknowledgement that all her efforts with this case were falling to pieces. Ethel looked delighted, but the members of the court, especially the judge, looked disgusted.

            “I’ve had enough,” Judge Friggit muttered, more to himself than to anyone else. Alice looked over and saw that Ethel was practically laughing in triumph. He looked at his watch again. “We’ve been here long enough.”

            “We’ve been here for ten minutes,” Alice groaned, struggling to stop crying. 

            “Quiet!” Judge Friggit ordered. “I’ve seen quite enough, I believe. The Calzones have clearly been victimised here, and I think they should have the right to live their lives in peace without a bunch of senior citizens terrorising them…”

            Ethel grinned. “Thanks, Peregrine,” she said.

            “No problem,” said Judge Friggit blankly in his monotonous voice.

            That was when Frederick recognised Peregrine Friggit. “Hey! You played Sampson in my daughter’s school play!” he cried. “You were the boy with the lazy eye!”

            “Of course he did,” said Ethel. “We were at school together.”

            “What?” shrieked Alice. She couldn’t believe her ears. “That’s favouritism!”

            “Nonsense,” Judge Friggit insisted. “It’s obvious to me what the true outcome of this case should be. What on earth can Mrs. Whinging expect when she goes around following Raymond…I mean, Mr. Calzone like this? It’s insane!”

“But we haven’t finished yet! And can’t I even question the witnesses?” Alice shrieked. “Judge Friggit, by constitutional right we have are able to question the party which accuses us…”

            “And I have a constitutional right not to have my time wasted by a bunch of senile old women!” Judge Friggit roared.

            Alice could see that Raymond, Ethel and Mr. Ramp looked delighted, and Mr. Ramp appeared to be whispering something in Raymond’s ear about could he have his money now, please, and Judge Friggit was busy holding his hands up in the air dramatically as he prepared to pass the verdict…

*

Later that evening, the members of the Team sat in Mary’s kitchen simply staring at one another. The disgraced Mary Maveryck was not currently taking part in the conversation. Instead, she was locked in her own understairs cupboard with only a couple of dead spiders tangled in their webs to keep her company, and had been given only a stale jam sandwich to survive on. Olive was not taking part in the conversation either, but this wasn’t surprising. She was sitting upstairs in Mary’s bedroom. Everyone was secretly glad that they had not had the chance to witness her inevitable emotional outburst.

            “Five counselling sessions?” Alice whispered, quoting part of Judge Friggit’s sentence. “Why does Olive need to do counselling? It’s not like she’s insane or anything. You’d think that the restraining order would be enough, wouldn’t you?”

            “Well…,” Edith intervened.

            “And she’s not that old,” Alice interrupted. “She’s three months younger than me!”

            “I can’t even see Olive agreeing to go,” said Frederick. He was especially disappointed with the outcome, and held the view that it would have been very different if only he’s been able to present his defence.

            Alice, in contrast, was glad that Frederick had not had a chance to present his argument, which she was sure would only have made things a lot worse. “She has to go,” Alice snapped. “Judge Friggit ordered it. If she doesn’t go they’ll probably put her in a Home or something.”

            “She’s already in a home,” said Frederick, misunderstanding. “Mary’s home.”

            “No, Fred; I mean…oh, never mind,” Alice sighed.

            Another silence. “It was a complete travesty, wasn’t it, Alice?” asked Hetty expectantly.

            Alice looked at Hetty and saw that she actually looked relatively unhappy at what had happened. Perhaps the Team had been working on this for so long that they had forgotten all their other aims in life. It certainly seemed that way to her, anyway.

            “Yes,” she whispered. “A travesty.”

            And with this travesty, all hope had apparently gone from the heart of Olive Whinging. Again.

Published by CuriousWriter

Read and you will find out.

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