Besides the reporters, there were only five spectators willing to stay this late. Usually, the only reason to hold a court session at night was for arraignments, pleas, and other hearings, not for high-profile lawsuits. Outside, it was a cold and dark winter. Inside, it was almost as hard to stay comfortable. The plaintiff seemed to carry night with her wherever she went.
The case was Irina Solstice v. Hank Trine. The judge presiding was Whitley Haczerak.
Solstice, the vampiric owner of Nightshade Castle, had demanded the hearings be held at night for her own health—she could survive in daylight, but she became weak and frail if she didn't sleep. She accused Hank Trine of trespassing on her property and vandalizing it. Most people watching the case rooted for Trine. Everyone knew someone who'd lost blood to the plaintiff.
Trine, an auto mechanic with a shop on Belcourt Avenue, did not dispute the charges, but insisted he could not be held responsible, as he was not in his right mind when the incident took place.
The case had already faced numerous delays and setbacks. The incident occurred at Nightshade Castle, which only materialized at night. Judge Mike Terrell had to recuse himself after it became apparent that the plaintiff had hypnotized him. There was also the matter of whether to include religious objects in the courtroom to keep the vampire at bay. Judge Haczerak allowed the defendant's lawyers to set up a table by the window with a crucifix, an Eastern Orthodox icon, a portrait of Shiva, a statue of Buddha, a Qur'an, and on the insistence of the local Church of Satan, a plastic figurine of Baphomet. Solstice claimed to have nothing to do with the Satanists.
Both Judges, Terrell and Haczerak, had to remind Solstice that she could only seek monetary damages, not the defendant's head.
Other aspects of the case were strange, at least from a legal standpoint. By all logic, Solstice should have been charged with the many murders she'd committed in the five months since Nightshade Castle suddenly appeared. But since she was already legally dead, the District Attorney only saw further entanglements over precedent and technicalities, and decided to delay any criminal proceedings until the Trine case was resolved.
Also strange was the purely lopsided nature of the case. Trine was just a humble auto mechanic, a grease monkey who went to church every Sunday, played pool every Tuesday, and went to ball games on Fridays. He was a small business owner who made enough to get by. Frankly, Solstice was powerful enough that she could take revenge against Trine whenever and however she wanted. To file civil charges, demanding more than Trine could possibly offer, seemed to make sense only to Solstice. Was she trying to win goodwill from the public by presenting herself as a law-abiding citizen? Did she simply not find murder cruel enough?
Solstice had testified the night before. According to her, Trine had appeared on her property on the night of November 1st, shouting obscenities. He then proceeded to urinate on the wall, defecate in her garden, and attack her guard dog. Solstice had heard his voice, and her servants had witnessed it.
Trine's lawyer asked, "Did you happen to notice anything unusual about Mr. Trine when he was on your property?"
"I've never met him," Solstice said, "so I would have no way to determine what was or wasn't unusual."
"Would you say that he appeared to be in his right mind?"
"Did he seem somewhat articulate?"
"What did he say when you heard him yelling?"
"He said, 'Shrivel up and die, monster.'"
Trine sat and listened quietly. Behind him sat a woman with a white streak in her hair. She never spoke with anyone else in the courtroom, nor when she left the building. But when Solstice testified about Trine, the woman leaned toward him, as if wishing to reach out to him, but unwilling to risk the exposure.
Tonight it would be Trine's turn to testify. His attorney called him up to the stand, a bailiff swore him in, and after Trine gave his name, address, and occupation, the questions began.
"Mr. Trine, tell us what happened on the night of November 1st."
"Well, I was watching TV, eating some chips and salsa, when all of a sudden, I had hair growing on my arms, and big, sharp teeth coming out of my mouth." The next thing he knew, he was running down the road on all fours, with a blind rage he couldn't control. He went to Nightshade Castle. No one was there, but he recalled howling at the windows, running around the walls, and relieving himself in various places on the property. He assured the court that he did not have full control of himself, as he had transformed into a wolf.
"Definitely a wolf?" his lawyer said. "And not, say, a cat?"
"No sir. I read in the paper the next morning about a wolf being spotted in the neighborhood at night, and knew it was me."
"And not some other wolf that might have appeared."
"So then that would make you a werewolf."
"I suppose it would, yes."
"So you were therefore acting not on the reason and intellect of a man, but on the pure instinct of a wolf."
"That's right. Ask anybody around town, they'll tell you I've always been an upstanding citizen. I'd never do such disgusting things unless something was seriously wrong."
Now it was time for cross-examination. Murmurs crisscrossed through the courtroom. This was the first anyone had heard of Trine being a werewolf, and no one could be sure it was true. Plenty of wolves had been sighted around town, even though the last packs had been driven out by overhunting decades ago. Some thought such an outlandish claim might be part of his insanity defense. On the other hand, the plaintiff was a vampire, so anything was possible. Many also wondered about her lawyer, Ralph Bussinger, a bulky man with pallid skin and numerous scars.
Bussinger rose unsteadily and creaked back and forth across the courtroom. "Mr. Trine," he said, his voice rough and slow like an old truck on a dirt road. "You say that you are a werewolf, and had taken wolf form on the night in question."
"Do you have any control over these transformations?"
"Not at that time. It happened completely unexpected, and once it started, I couldn't stop it." Asked if he could reverse his transformations, Trine said, "Nope. I was like that until the next morning, when I found myself in the middle of the living room."
"How long have you been a werewolf?"
"Near as I can tell, about three months."
"Can you tell us how you might have become afflicted with lycanthropy, Mr. Trine?"
For the first time since taking the stand, Trine hesitated. "I was attacked by a wolf while I was out hunting." His favorite hunting spot was the same forest where Nightshade Castle normally appeared. The sun hadn't set all the way, and he tried to leave before it did. The wolf attacked him just as he opened the door of his pickup. He had since transformed into a wolf three times, including the night of November 1st. The last time he changed, he "Went out to the woods a mile in the other direction. Drove home the next morning."
Solstice's lawyer paced in silence for a moment. His feet landed heavily on the floorboards. "The wolf that attacked you—where do you think it could have come from?"
Again, Trine hesitated. Only a close observer would have noticed his glance toward the woman with the silver streak. "I think it came from the castle." Did he suspect that the plaintiff might have sent this wolf to attack him? "Couldn't say. I'm no mind-reader." Did he think the attack would have occurred if the plaintiff had not brought her castle to those woods? "No, I do not."
For a moment, people wondered if Bussinger was putting his own client on trial. He grimaced as if wondering the same thing. "So it's not possible that you could have been interested in taking revenge against her?"
"I don't believe in revenge."
"So you say. Yet you don't dispute vandalizing her property. Do you dispute what the plaintiff says you uttered when you appeared at the castle?"
"I don't recall saying a thing. Only howling and barking."
"She also states that you attacked her guard dog. Do you wish to dispute that?"
"Yes I do," Trine said. "I didn't attack her, and she ain't a dog. She was just as much wolf as I was."
The lawyer pursed his lips. This seemed to be a surprise to him, more than he was expecting. "Then you did not fight with the… let's go ahead say 'wolf.'"
"No sir. Exactly the opposite."
Trine looked at the woman with the gray streak. She nodded. He told Bussinger, "We made love."
Groans of disgust waved through the courtroom. Even the judge seemed to wince. Trine's lawyer was hanging his head in shame. Even if Trine was in wolf form at the time, how could he recover from an admission like this?
"Ahem, so then," Bussinger said, "you did not intend to cause harm to the wolf?"
"Her name's Emily, and no, I wouldn't. If anyone hurt her, it wasn't me."
Irina Solstice shot a glare at the woman with the silver streak, who was rubbing a strangely swollen part of her cheek.
"You sound like you've gotten to know this 'Emily' rather well," Bussinger said.
"She's the werewolf that 'afflicted' me, as you say. I was there to see her." He proceeded to explain, "Y'see, she visited me in the hospital after she first bit me, and apologized for her actions. We've struck up more of an acquaintance, and when I changed on November 1st, all I could think about was her."
Bussinger seemed to deflate as he paced across the courtroom. Meanwhile Trine's own attorney straightened his back and his neck. It was hard to call Trine a pervert when neither he nor his partner were ordinary wolves.
Asked about the feelings of rage he'd mentioned earlier, he said, "One thing I remember is how angry I was at how Emily was being treated. Sometimes she has bruises when I see her, but I don't know how to get her away from there. She's a person, but she's treated worse than a pet."
"Would Emily happen to be in this courtroom right now?"
"Yes, she is."
"Could you point her out to us?"
Trine pointed at the woman with the gray streak. She stared forward, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. Solstice pounded her fists, leaving cracks on the table.
Why didn't he bring her up before now? "I didn't want her to be hurt." He didn't resent her "afflicting" him at all. Only Irina Solstice for the things she's done to her.
"I see… No further questions." Bussinger hobbled back to to his table. Ms. Solstice whispered what were clearly death threats against him. He'd set out to undermine the werewolf story and force Trine to waver, but he'd only reinforced the defense's case.
Even though it was late, the defense called one more witness: Emily Mellstrom.
The woman with the white streak took the stand. The bailiff swore her in. The attorney began his questions, and she gave firm and forthright answers. She gave her place of residence as Nightshade Castle. Her occupation? As Ms. Solstice would put it, Mellstrom was the "guard dog." She had taken over the job from the previous guard werewolf, who had bitten her. Ms. Solstice had promised better benefits than she delivered.
"Is it true that you are the one who bit the defendant next to his pickup truck?"
"Yes, it is. I had just assumed wolf form, and Ms. Solstice urged me to drive him off as soon as possible."
"Yet Mr. Trine seems to think quite fondly of you."
"That's right. I apologized, like he said, and we've started dating. I'd tried to keep it a secret from Ms. Solstice. She doesn't like her servants to focus on anything but her."
"Would the plaintiff have known of your relationship before now?"
"Yes. She found out a week before Halloween. She beat me for insubordination."
"Did you meet with the defendant on the night of November 1st?"
"Yes. I abandoned my post to be with him. We chased each other around the castle, hunted rabbits, barked our lungs out. It was really quite lovely."
"The plaintiff claims he yelled, 'Shrivel up and die, monster.' Is this accurate?"
"No. Hank doesn't know how to speak Wolf. Whatever he said, no one could understand it."
"And he inflicted no harm on you that night?"
"Has the plaintiff tried to harm you since that night?"
"Yes, she has." Emily rubbed a welt on her face. "And this suit is another way to hurt me." According to Mellstrom, Solstice didn't think simply killing him would teach the right lesson. This is her way of grinding Trine under her heel. She'd force him through the courts, bankrupt him, get an enforceable restraining order, and publicly humiliate him. His own people would punish him.
Solstice did not anticipate both Trine and Mellstrom admitting upfront to be werewolves. Mellstrom described being happy with the way the case proceeded. "Ms. Solstice is right here in a court of law, with religious objects on display, dozens of reporters as witnesses, and several armed guards. Anything that happens will be a matter of public record. So I feel safe saying I know Irina Solstice's weakness."
Solstice scratched clawmarks onto the tabletop. Emily was right—in a public venue like this, with so many people watching, with the crosses and statues by the window, Solstice couldn't retaliate. Everyone knew she preferred stealth. She was a serial killer, not a mass murderer.
Emily went on right away: "Go to the castle grounds during the day. Bury a clove of garlic, a leaf of wolfsbane, and a teaspoon of olive oil, arranged in a triangle. When the sun comes up the next day, the castle won't disappear, and Ms. Solstice will either be asleep or too weak to hold up her head."
The shadow around Solstice grew even darker. Bussinger shrank away from her. "Objection. The witness is clearly trying to issue a death threat against my client."
"Sustained," the judge said.
It was too late, and everyone knew it. Already people were furiously texting Mellstrom's instructions to friends or relatives, despite rules against phones in the courtroom. In two days, Nightshade Castle would be swarming with would-be vampire hunters.
Solstice shot from her seat. "You traitor! I will drain the life from your carotid artery this very night!"
The judge banged the gavel. Solstice pushed her lawyer aside and stormed out of the courtroom.
"Your honor," Trine's lawyer said, "I move that we adjourn for the day."
"Agreed," Judge Haczerak said. "Ms. Mellstrom, I'm concerned for your safety. Would you be opposed to staying under guard until this case is resolved?"
"I'd be fine with that," Emily Mellstrom said.
Court was adjourned for the night.
The next day, several stores, online and off, sold a higher-than-usual amount of olive oil, garlic, and wolfsbane.