(Part 4 of The Rise & Fall of Donald Trumpet Esq.)
Fifi Fontaine was, as her Grande Tante was fond of saying, ‘puce hors l’ancien bloc’. She would also say, ‘il y a plus d’une façon d’accommoder un lapin’ or as les rosbifs say, there are more than two ways to skin a cat. She was ready for Alderman Trumpet but first, she had other guests to whom she must attend.
Mrs Mayfly greeted these guests as they arrived in their fancy carriages, two in all. Two gentleman travelled in the first carriage, one, a tall, distinguished man dressed in a top hat and fine silk suit, understated but expensive, the other, a short, beefy man, dressed well but in a suit a size smaller than his portly frame could accommodate. He had a goatee beard, beady eyes and sweated, profusely.
Five men travelled with them in the other carriage. These were well dressed, too if not as expensively and their manner was abrupt and cautious to Mrs Mayfly and her staff but obsequious and obeisant to the two men, their apparent employers.
Mrs Mayfly lead them to the main reception hall where the ladies of the house were assembled for them to see and get acquainted, as Mademoiselle Fifi had instructed. Drinks were served although, with a glance, the five men took up positions by the doors and windows while the two gentlemen accepted refreshments.
They were barely settled when Mademoiselle Fifi came into the room and they greeted her like she was a familiar friend of theirs. Without further ado, the three withdrew to one of La Confiture’s private rooms for a meeting that lasted less than ten minutes. When they emerged, Mrs Mayfly couldn’t help notice how Mademoiselle’s pallor had changed and she looked flushed and excited. The two gentlemen were equally animated. They called for drinks and invited their employees to join them. Then they set about introducing themselves to the ladies of the house.
Mademoiselle Fifi made her excuses, bid them well and withdrew to greet her supper guest, Alderman Trumpet who, at that very moment, arrived at the door clutching yet another bouquet of pink and red roses.
He was greeted, to his obvious delight, by Mademoiselle Fifi who led him straight to her private chambers, on the other side of the house.
Alderman Donald Trumpet woke late the following morning to the sound of thunderous hammering. First, he thought the hammering was self inflicted and allowed himself a wry grin. But it persisted and, in persisting, caused a complimentary tattoo. This time the hammering was in his head.
Disoriented, he stretched a hand and scrabbled for the bell rope to call a servant. He left strict instructions for no-one to disturb him this morning. The hammering persisted at his front door and in his head.
‘Who the devil is that making that infernal noise?’, he roared.
He threw one leg out of the bed and dragged the other beside it. Slumped, he reached for his drawers and yanked them on, hastily tucking his nightshirt inside. He slipped his feet into the slippers by his bed and stood up. A wave of dizziness hit him and he sat back down.
Just then Bench knocked and entered. The abruptness of his manservant’s entry he ignored, because it was so unusual for Bench to ever enter his bedroom.
‘Bench? What the devil is going on?’
Bench was smiling. Bench doesn’t smile but Bench was smiling. This added to his confusion.
‘The town advocate is here to see you, sir,’ said Bench, now grinning widely, ‘and the town constable.’
‘What? At this hour? What the devil do they want?’
‘They beg leave to speak to you, sir, on matters of some importance and discretion?’
‘Discretion? They think it’s discreet to call on me at home while I’m still abed, with an ague, too, I’ll warrant,’ he said, rubbing one side of his head with the flat of his hand.
Bench left without commenting. Trumpet dressed and followed him downstairs. The Advocate and the Constable were standing in the drawing room. The Advocate carried with him a sheaf of papers.
‘I hope you have a good explanation for this…,’ Trumpet began but the Advocate interrupted.
‘Donald Trumpet, I have here a warrant for your arrest.’
‘Preposterous,’ Trumpet bellowed, ‘on what charges?’
‘I was getting to that,’ the Advocate, a deliberate and careful man, said, before continuing, ‘on charges of using Government land for the purpose of illegal profiteering, abusing employment terms for Government agents, extorting illegal payments from citizens and gross abuse of your office of public representative.’
Trumpet listened, astonished. The charges, he knew, were flimsy, difficult to prove and wouldn’t stand scrutiny. He was about to say so to the Advocate until he held the palm of his hand up to silence him and continued, ‘there is a second warrant regarding the ownership of a bawdy house, a felonious condition that is clearly contrary to your office of Alderman.’
Trumpet slumped into a chair, confused, the ownership of a bawdy house?
‘I don’t understand,’ he said, ‘I don’t own a bawdy house.’
‘On the contrary, sir, we have copies of the deed and other documents related to that establishment, La Confiture, which cite you as the proprietor. In addition, you were seen leaving there, last night, by all accounts inebriated and just shortly before the house was raided following complaints regarding noise and boisterous behaviour.’
Trumpet stared at the document before him, dumbfounded.
‘If you are ready, sir, we wish to execute our warrant.’
‘Execute your warrant?’
‘We must arrest you and take you into custody for a hearing before the Magistrate, where you will be formally charged.’
Arrest, charges, warrants, Magistrate, all these words just became new discordant notes in the symphonic clamour that could, he thought, wrench his brain clear of its mooring. Bench stood there with his top hat and great coat, still wearing that inane grin.
‘Bench, fetch Mr Phibbs for me. Ask him to attend the Magistrate’s Court to have this confusion sorted.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Bench said, still grinning.
‘And wipe that stupid smile off your face.’
Trumpet’s lawyer, the Honourable Arthur Phibbs, took no time getting Donald Trumpet through the preliminaries of reading charges and then formal arrest but when it came to a question of bail, the Magistrate demurred.
The ‘illegal profiteering’ charge, it turned out, was far more serious than any of the others, even ownership of the bawdy house. It appears, according to the town Advocate, when Trumpet claimed ownership of the salt marshes and the foreshore to further his control of the shell fishing, he neglected to obtain a licence to fish on the foreshore, however, which is, by law, Government property.
Furthermore, he’d excluded many traditional fishing families from operating there and, since they did hold licences when they fished there, they were, technically, in the employ of the Government as agents. These fishermen, under the leadership of one Jack Connell, had banded together as an Independent Fisheries Co-Op and were the prime complainant in this case, beside the Town Advocate.
It was a tricky and convoluted set of charges but the sum of money involved could amount to 100,000 guineas or more. If it stayed in the Magistrate’s Court, the Advocate hinted, trumpet would incur a substantial fine but little else. However, if the charges were presented at the Crown Assizes Court, he might incur a heavy penalty but also a substantial jail term. Trumpet couldn’t help but admire the ingenuity of the charges and how they were framed which made him wonder how a bunch of ignorant fishermen could’ve put them together.
His question was answered with the appearance of Bench, his manservant, still grinning and in the company of Connell and his cohorts. His political rival, Thomas Wellspring II followed. Trumpet conferred with his lawyer, Mr Phibbs who then made an impassioned plea to the Court for leniency and leave to allow Alderman Trumpet time to make amends and retribution and the freedom to answer the charges before him.
After some deliberation and considering, in mitigation, the Council election that day for the Alderman’s own seat, the Magistrate gave him bail terms for a personal surety of 100,000 guineas.
There was a cheer as Trumpet stormed from the courthouse. The surety, he estimated, amounted to his total worth and he’d yet to find out how he acquired La Confiture and for what price?