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Chapter 1

Leopold Plotkin, the infamous kosher butcher accused of High Crimes against the Republic, slouched despondently in Courtroom No. 36 of the Low Court of Criminal Transgressions.  His mournful eyes fixated on Umberto Malatesta, the Republic’s narcissistic Prosecutor General, who was poised to deliver the government’s Opening Rant.  

Until that morning, Plotkin had never seen Malatesta in the flesh. His only exposure to the notoriously aggressive prosecutionist was a pen and ink caricature in The Monthly Contrarian, an obscure anti-authoritarian journal his father occasionally read. The drawing depicted Malatesta strangling Plotkin while a smiling judge and chortling jurors applauded. Malatesta’s eyes were bulging; Plotkin’s were closed.  The butcher appeared to be dead. When his father showed him the rendering, Plotkin shuddered. “This is what you have to look forward to,” the patriarch told him before mounting the caricature on a kitchen wall to remind Plotkin that he had “stained the family name.”

In the weeks leading to trial, Plotkin’s anxiety multiplied as variations of the strangling incident invaded his dreams.  Sleeping became problematic.  Eating was a chore.  Cutting meat seemed superfluous.

Suddenly, Malatesta sprung from his chair at the Prosecution’s Table to begin the Rant. Towering above a pack of minions seated at his flanks, the self-centered prosecutionist pivoted dramatically toward the Jury Stall, a move that enabled the seven Deciders of Plotkin’s fate to admire a pair of massive shoulders that stretched his trialmonger robe to the brink of bursting; a neck that uncoiled like an elaborate periscope; and an elephantine head twice the size of a conventional skull. 

Anticipatory murmurs lapped through the Courtroom as Malatesta stretched his arms like wings, preened, and waved to dignitaries seated in the first row center of the crowded Spectator Pews.  Despondent over murmurings from the Jury Stall, Plotkin slinked further into his chair at the Accused’s Table, preparing for the worst. 

“He’s immense,” Plotkin whined anxiously in a side-of-the-mouth whisper to Bernard Talisman, the butcher’s urbane pro bono trialmonger from the prestigious lawhouse of Talisman, Steinbloom, Rogoff, Barebottom and Babel. The lawyer, who was reviewing documents, paid no attention Malatesta’s affectations.

“Larger than life, if one considers only his anatomy,” Talisman agreed nonchalantly while turning a page. “A thespian in lawmonger’s clothing, belching lines written by somewhat less stupid underlings.”

“His head is massive,” the butcher gasped.

“A monumental waste of space.  Nothing resembling a brain between the ears,” Talisman replied.

“Such confidence,” Plotkin mourned.

“What else would one expect from a practicing egomaniac?” Talisman mused.

Before Talisman was able to comment further on Malatesta’s enormity, Malatesta clutched the script authored by his Chief Minion in a fleshy hand.  With the ease of an accomplished actor, the long-limbed actor effortlessly repositioned his black wig to a more ominous position on his capacious skull, placed half-moon reading glasses at the tip of his nose, and loped across the marble stage where the drama would unfold.  Reaching the base of the Great Bench in a few strides, Malatesta craned his neck upward to meet the hooded eyes of Justice Wolfgang Stifel, the diminutive Presiding Judge who hovered thirty feet above him on the edge of the Judicial Perch. 

“May it please his Omniscience,” the Prosecutor General bleated obsequiously. “Umberto Malatesta, the People’s Advocate is prepared to Rant at his Honor’s pleasure and convenience.”

“The Court is extremely pleased and convenienced,” Stifel effused tenderly, not bothering to conceal the fact that he was delighted that The Republic against Plotkin was finally being presented for adjudication. Copiously pro-prosecution, the elderly jurist viewed the butcher’s conviction under his direction as the capstone of his lengthy, undistinguished career.  He was looking forward to sentencing the butcher to a squalid penitentiary for the maximum term permitted by law, something certain to appeal to most politicians, members of the Bar, and the public-at-large.  “Feel free to rant at-length,” Stifel intoned with injudicious delight.

After completing the elaborate display of genuflections required by the Rules of Courtroom Etiquette, Malatesta waited until the bewigged Presider eased into the Judicial Armchair and disappeared from view before commencing the Rant.  He looked rightward and nodded semi-courteously to his adversary, Bernard Talisman, before glaring malignantly at his prey.

When confident that the glare had served its purpose, the Prosecutor General turned away from Plotkin and bounded to the railing of the Jury Stall, inches from the feckless Deciders. Malatesta lifted his treelike limbs toward the Courtroom’s gilded ceiling, opened his cavernous mouth and, in a contrived basso profundo, greeted the adjudicators with a perfectly executed “Good morning, gentlemen.” Stirred by the profundity of the salutation, Jurymembers were mesmerized.  They leaned forward in rapt anticipation of Malatesta’s next utterance. While the Jurors leaned, spectators swooned, journalists scribbled, and photographers snapped shutters to capture the historic moment for posterity.

Malatesta rested his hands on the ornate wood railing that separated him from the decisionmakers.  He eyed each Juror lovingly before launching the prepared, well-rehearsed rhetoric.

“Inasmuch as the particulars of this fiend’s crimes are already well known,” the Prosecutor General bombasted, “Umberto Malatesta will not burden you yet with the details of the pariah’s atrocities. It is enough to say that what the retrograde has done is heinous in the extreme; shocking even to a jaded official like me, who selflessly grapples with criminality every day to protect citizens like you.”

The People’s Advocate paused while Jurymembers mouthed words of appreciation for his selfless undertakings, then resumed the personal attacks with inspired vehemence.

“Reduced to his motely essence,” Malatesta screamed, “Leopold Plotkin is the lowest form of animal life! In fact, he does not even rise to the level of animality!  He’s an insect!  Yes, a spider that sucks the lifeblood of our Great Republic, placing us at imminent risk of death by a thousand cuts!  More to the point, if there is a point, the accused is the putrid detritus of moral decay, an anti-capitalist masquerading as a capitalist, and a scoundrel who respects no boundaries!  The reprobate’s acts and omissions as well as his omissions and acts have frayed the fabric of society to a previously unimaginable point! He has fomented a crisis of unspeakable proportions; unspeakable because the full extent of the crisis has yet to be determined!”

The Prosecutor General leaned toward the Jury Stall and wagged his head belligerently, prompting a nearby Juror, who feared an inadvertent collision, to lean back.

“This rodent, if I may disparage other rodents by referring to him as such, is an enemy of the state!” Malatesta shouted. “His sordid crimes—crimes that are at once beneath and above contempt—are unprecedented in the history of this Republic!  His web of outrageous acts, which continues to expand, has damaged the economic, social, agricultural, political, and ecological well-being of the greatest nation in the known civilized world!”

Malatesta fell silent to provide Jurymembers an opportunity to absorb the essence of the pillorying. After sufficient time elapsed, he arched his back and thundered, “Must the Prosecutor General, say more to enable you to come to terms with who, whom, or what you are dealing with?”

As Jurymembers shook their heads to confirm that nothing more was required, the disconsolate butcher sensed that his peers were even more firmly against him than originally feared. Rivulets of sweat cascaded from his thicket of graying hair toward his pendulous jowls.  His heart pulsated arrhythmicly. Several toes throbbed before losing feeling. A devout hypochondriac, Plotkin deduced from the cluster of symptoms that he was on the cusp of a major medical incident.

Malatesta turned to him. “Look at the reptile!” he thundered, baring his incisors at his wounded prey. “He sits there calmly, not a care in the world!  He is unconcerned with the destruction caught by his crime spree! He shows no contrition as economists, sociologists and anti-vivisectionists attempt to calculate the incalculable damage he has inflicted!”

The prosecutionist pivoted back to the Jury. “Has this centipede no shame?” he asked rhetorically. Is this cockroach devoid of conscience?  Does this maggot lack all basic human decency?”

Malatesta was pleased to see Jurors shaking their heads.  Encouraged, he bellowed, “Gentlemen of the Jury, this once-heralded Hebraic merchant’s fall from grace has been swift and steep!  The fall is almost of tragic proportions, if one can turn that phrase when speaking of someone so immoral!  The fall will not be complete, however, until the ritual of a trial and rendering of a guilty verdict.  Umberto Malatesta submits that unless this monster is convicted, as day follows night, spring follows winter, and so forth and so on, this Republic will remain in jeopardy, subject to his whims and caprices!  You must send a message to all criminals-in-waiting that such outlandish behavior will not be tolerated in a society governed by The Rules of Law—where no man, regardless of religious preference, ethnic persuasion, or social station is above or even at the same level of the Law.  For if freedom is to ring, no stone may be left unturned and people who live in glass houses must rue the day when they cast the first stone!”

A chorus of “Amens” issued from the Spectator Pews in recognition of the sanctity of The Rules, a revered collection of edicts credited with the Republic’s evolution from a brutish state of nature, where people routinely preyed on each other to a civil society where predation, though still frequent, was better organized. 

Among the most vocal of the Pew chanters were public officials who were responsible for Leopold Plotkin’s pretrial suffering:  Cicero Bookbinder, Leader of the Inner Chamber, the body that enacted the law the butcher allegedly breached; Mendel Sprem, Bookbinder’s Alter Ego and so-called “Brain,” who authored the law; Emil Threadbare, the Republic’s High Executive, who coerced Bookbinder into proposing the law; Giacomo Proust, Director of the National Constabulary, whose apprehensionists arrested Plotkin for ostensibly violating the law; and Hans Gogol, Warden of the Purgatory House of Detention, the squalid institution where Plotkin was  systematically abused following his arrest. 

After the Amens subsided, Malatesta launched a narrative of the events that culminated in the criminal charges.  As the prosecutionist narrated, he pounded his powerful fists against the Jury Stall for dramatic effect, as his Chief Minion, the Rant’s author, had instructed.  Then, to allow Jurors to absorb what had been related, he abruptly dropped his massive arms to his sides and stopped speaking. 

As Malatesta transfixed the Jury with his silence, Plotkin glanced at Bernard Talisman to see how his lawmonger was holding-up. Talisman’s face was inscrutable.  It revealed none of the outrage or empathy the butcher yearned for.  In need of emotional succor, Plotkin turned toward the back of the Pews, where a small contingent of family members and unrelated supporters sat in solidarity with him despite deep-seated aversions to one another.

The first face Plotkin saw belonged to Primo Astigmatopolous, his gaunt chicken plucker, devoted disciple, close confidant, and only male friend.  The next belonged to Ana Bloom, a handsome woman with porcelain skin and an unusually long, graceful neck, who was the unrequited love of his difficult life, only female friend, and Talisman’s paramour.  Both gestured with encouraging nods. 

Plotkin next spotted his closest relatives: Jacob Plotkin, his troubled father; Emma Plotkin, his long-suffering mother; and Moishe and Misha Plotkin, his psychologically unmoored twin uncles.  The family elders, attired in funereal black, silently mouthed his name. Slightly buoyed by their extravagant display of support, Plotkin shuttered his eyelids, pursed his lips, and lowered his head in gratitude.

The butcher turned his attention to a flock of more distant relations, also dressed in black.  Most ignored him.  A few turned away.  All were annoyed at him for staining the family’s previously nondescript family name.

After exhausting the last of the relatives, Plotkin peered at Hinta Gelb, the despotic former Head Librarian of the National Library of Pedantic Writings who had mentored him in his youth.  Though Gelb’s eyes were closed, she was not asleep.  Instead, she was recalling Plotkin’s unbounded potential as an intellectual child prodigy and bemoaning the fact that he had turned to a life of crime in middle-age.  Misapprehending Gelb’s closed eyes as a sign of indifference, Plotkin was disappointed. 

Looking to Gelb’s right, he was pleased to see Milos Gorky, the Inner Chamber’s “Great Dissenter,” an anarchist who voted against enactment of the law he allegedly violated. Philosophically opposed to lawmaking per se, Gorky had publically pledged his support for the butcher’s anti-authoritarian behavior.  To confirm that his support had not waned since the pledge, Gorky met Plotkin’s gaze with a two-thumbs-up gesture.  Relieved that Gorky was still on his side, Plotkin returned the gesture with a single thumb-up.


Continuing to scan the Pews, he was shocked to discover the part-time rabbi of the Tree of Temptation Prayer Enclave, the cleric who presided at his aborted bar mitzvah decades earlier.  The bar mitzvah had ended in public humiliation for Plotkin and permanent scarring of his psyche.  Seeing the man he believed was responsible for the debacle that partially ruined his life ignited memories of the short-lived coming-of-age ceremony and other troubling aspects of the years leading to trail.  As Malatesta continued his tirade, images of past travails coursed through Plotkin’s mind, causing the prosecutor’s voice to grow progressively fainter until it disappeared from his consciousness. 

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