Man of mystery

number 9

Andrew was a skilled pettifogger from the Old School of Quibbling. A layman lawyer, he could out talk and out argue any Bar sanctioned attorney. His court was the Speakers’ Corner of the city square; his clients were the disenfranchised; the judge, and jury, were his fellow citizens congregating on the quad; and the gallery was filled with uniformed officers idling on the fringe hoping his presentation of evidence stayed civil.

Fair weather or foul, he stood at space No. 9 atop his wobbly advocate’s stage – a three-tired tower of repurposed wooden pallets – his black robe so old and worn, it looked mourning dove grey. His voice, a mélange of gravel and cigarette smoke, carried across the lawn, echoing around the brick and stone government buildings.

His unruly mane of white curls was a poor substitute for a dusted, and coiffed horsehair bench wig. Still, he tied the ends with a tattered strip of silk into the semblance of a proper queue at the nape of his neck.

Off to one side of the square, beneath a hunter green canopy that shaded a haphazard array of wooden benches, stood Hollis Drake. When he wasn’t spying on spouses suspected of infidelity, Drake did investigative work and other odd jobs for the law firm of Massey, Denton & Associates. It was his present contract that had Drake observing Andrew.

Indistinguishable from the rest of the corporate herd in his ubiquitous business suit, Drake counted on his blending in to camouflage him recording Andrew with his smartphone.

The inconspicuous video recorder, a standard feature on nearly every cell phone, was one of the greatest boons to PI surveillance in the last decade. The era of selfies and Instagram made taking photos in public as common as reading a newspaper.

Drake pocketed his phone after emailing the resulting video to his office, but stood around a little longer watching Andrew unimpeded by a cellphone view screen. With a bit of work – new clothes, a shower and hair cut at the very least – Andrew could clean up to look respectable, perhaps even professional. He had that learned, academia-type aura about him, making him believable in spite of his presently disheveled appearance.

As articulate and well-spoken Andrew was, Drake assumed the man was in equal measure quite mad. Why else would he spend all his days pontificating on the street corner.

Rising to leave, Drake went to one of the many trash cans surrounding the square. Leaning in to surreptitiously throw away his coffee cup, he instead removed a similar paper cup Andrew discarded minutes earlier. Together with the video and face recognition software he had at his office, Drake planned to use the law firm’s access to DNA testing to verify Andrew’s true identity.

Andrew was a wanted man, and the people who wanted him were very powerful.

This week’s Studio30 Plus: “Pettifog” and/or “Quibble”

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