01. My Scandalous, Horrific Crime

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The bailiff stared at me down his long, hooked nose. It wasn't particularly difficult to stare down at me, because he was sitting high up on the bench behind the massive judge's table, whereas I – well, I was sitting in the dock.

'Why is he staring at me like that?' I whispered to my friend Eve.

'Perhaps because you're staring at him, Lilly,' she whispered back.

'I want him to stop.'

'Well, then maybe you should stop first.'

'Ha! In your dreams! I won't be the first one to give up!' And I intensified my glare. Eve sighed, leaned back and fished two knitting needles out of her bag. They were accompanied by what looked like a cross between a spider web and a patchwork quilt, but was probably supposed to be a sock. Her fingers started to move faster than my eyes could follow, and the clicking of needles echoed through the courtroom.

On my other side, my friend Flora sat, her lips trembling, trying not to cry. And next to her, on her other side, sat my best friend Patsy, who was busy throwing Flora thunderous looks, threatening death and damnation if she let as much as one tear slip. Patsy was of the firm opinion that a girl should always behave with strength and dignity – particularly when she had just been dragged into court by a bunch of chauvinistic bastards!

I, on the other hand, was of the opinion that Flora badly needed a hug. The dock didn't really allow enough room for that, so I leaned over and patted her on the shoulder.

'Don't worry. We'll be all right. You'll see.'

Glancing up, she gazed at me with moist, fearful eyes. A tiny smile lifted one corner of her lips. She might have actually believed me except, at that very moment, from somewhere at the back of the stately room, the sound of an opening door reached our ears. The bailiff rapped his knuckles on the table to call for attention.

'The court is now in session. His Lordship, Justice of the Peace Winston Montgomery Murgatroyd presiding. All rise for his Lordship, Justice of the Peace Winston Montgomery Murgatroyd.'

Flora shot to her feet.

I remained sitting. Patsy remained sitting. Eve kept knitting and remained sitting.

'All rise for Justice of the Peace Winston Montgomery Murgatroyd,' the bailiff repeated, his voice a little louder.

Patsy waved him off. 'We heard you the first time.'

'If you do not rise, Miss,' the bailiff said, stiffly, 'you shall be held in contempt of court!'

'Goodness! Now you've really frightened me.'

'Patsy!' Flora plead-hissed. 'Please!'

Patsy gave Flora a long, hard look. Then she exchanged one with me. I shrugged and nodded. Rolling her eyes, Patsy pushed her considerable bulk into a standing position. I followed, and so did Eve, after making sure her monster-sock was safely tucked away.

Footsteps sounded through the room. A tall, portly figure in black appeared behind the massive judge's table and settled into the big chair. He picked up the gavel, and it smacked down once, hard, on the wood.

'You may be seated,' announced a voice that was about as dry – and as friendly – as old bones in a graveyard.

We all sat down again. Except Flora, who remained respectfully standing just to be on the safe side and had to be tugged down into her seat by Patsy.

The bailiff cleared his throat. 'The case before the Court is the matter of the Crown versus Miss Eve Sanders, Miss Flora Milton, Miss Patsy Cusack, and Miss Lillian Linton.'

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