The mess hall shuddered in the din of shouting, foot stomping, and clanging of pots and pans. The entire circus employ was in attendance. The clowns, the acrobats, the dancers, the jugglers, every last lever boy who cared a cent about his vocation, various speech-able creatures, and a few stray townsfolk who had heard about the trial and were curious to bear witness. Only a few of these people held Judgment Ballots in their hands.
“Get into your circles now, please” admonished a small lever boy named Samdei. He was one of Ossip’s braintrust, one of the original electors in the young man’s promotion to judge. He was marking off the groups in accordance with their pre-ordained system — heavily influenced by Doctor Lorelei — of grouping circus folks into quorums with each quorum represented by a single ballot.
Enormous horseflies bandied about the room. Attendees waved fans, newspapers, and their double jointed hands to wick away whatever heat they could. It was damp and oppressive inside the mess with so many persons. Violet and Binter found themselves trapped somewhere in the middle of the claustrophobic space but, happily, in the same quorum. Rustia and Mingey were in an adjacent quorum. Violet caught Mingey looking at her intently in the crowd. Mingey snarled and looked away. Violet wasn’t sure what to make of it.
A makeshift dais had been erected in the center of the room. On a little placard somebody had penciled in the phrase “HIS ONORABBLE, OSSIP P. BALICHENKO, JUDGE, JURY, EXECUTIONER OF LIBBERTIES FOR EQUAL CIRCUSES”
Samedi and the other members of the braintrust cried themselves hoarse, asking for the hundreds of circus people to quiet themselves. When the din had reached an acceptable nadir of muffled speaking, Samedi cocked his head towards the rafters.
A small pack of lever boys unloosed a length of rope, lowering Ossip P. Balichenko from the ceiling in a whiskey barrel that had been sawed in half and sanded down to outstanding, shell-like perfection. The craftsmanship of the barrel did not go unnoticed by all attending. Ossip was dressed in a suit he had found in a costume trunk and had brushed his cheeks with silver powder, believing it to add a sheen of authority to his young face.
Ossip alighted from the barrel and took his seat upon the dais. The circus employ cheered at Ossip’s grand entrance. Members of his brainstrust ferreted various items up and down the steps of the dais to Ossip and back out again to various tables and members of the crowd. They brought him a pen, some papers, a glass of apple juice, and a gavel in the form of a polished stone from the lake. The stone had a brilliant streak of quartz through it that had been coaxed through long hours of shaving and polishing.
Ossip gripped the gavel and brought is down twice upon his little table. A hush went over the crowd and things actually fell silent for a moment or two. The braintrust, upon this practiced command, suddenly lined up beneath the dais like carved soldiers in a stone mason’s frieze. All except for Samedi who rushed up onto the dais and took the stance of a daily caller.
“Here ye! Here ye!” Samedi beamed. “Our trial begins! Ossip the pure, free of bias or complaint, will oversee the proceeding inquiry into the crimes, wrongdoings, malpractice, and misparlances of Goren Hargus!”
The crowd lifted into a cry of excitement. Feet stamped. Hats were thrown. Ossip cleared his throat. He became nervous. Never before had so many important people been paying attention to him. Samedi bowed and left the dais.
Ossip lifted his chin, he closed his eyes. He tried to take in this moment forever. His voice came out squeakier than he had intended, “I call the first witness to the stand!”