I reached for the grimy tumbler. It was empty. Not even any ice. I reached for the whiskey bottle. It was empty too. This was the night the bottle let me down, and a savagely bright dawn poured through the dirty windows in my Private Investigator’s office.
I stared at the torn paper sack on the table in front of me. It was crammed so full of money that the seams were bursting. A Very Generous Bribe. All it took was for me not to lie, but not to say too much in Frog Court this morning.
We frogs are natural enemies of the Herons, and the charges against Billy Heron reflected it. Yet while Billy Heron was a rogue, and lived by different rules, he would never lie to you. He would never confess either. He told me once to live outside the law you must be honest.
Frogs are in the Bible, for better or worse. So I cannot bear false witness either.
A few weeks ago, surveillance photos showed Billy Heron eating a tiny frog. Since the small chorus frogs were in the vicinity, the Court (which was all Bullfrogs in contravention of judicial guidelines) ruled that Billy had preyed on a native species, violating Court Regulation 1538.5.
Billy sneered in the Court’s faces and refused to declare innocence or guilt beyond admitting yes it was a frog, and insisting Herons had the right to eat any !$#% thing they could get into his/her mouth and f–— you too.
Frog Court postponed judgement, but now they were prepared to impose the ultimate penalty against Billy Heron.
I had to make up my mind what to do. Then I remembered something my daddy said, that day we were all so proud of him, after he was acquitted the first time, ”If you can’t take their money, date their women, drink their liquor and still testify against them, you don’t belong in law enforcement.”
I staggered out of the chair and grabbed the envelope full of photos. The G— D—-d photos that came in over the transom and provided solid evidence of what I’d always known intuitively.
My shaking hand spilt the right amount of milk into my coffee, and I gulped it, washing down the alcoholic bile as I staggered down the street to Frog Court.
The distortion of reality almost made me toss my cookies as I entered the Frog Courthouse, but I soon recovered my sea legs, and found the right Court Room.
I fell into a seat in the back of the court room. I could not stagger another step. Dang. I was wearing the same clothes as yesterday and smelled like it. Paul Drake wrinkled his nose as he approached me.
“You Red? Red Woodman? “
“Yep,” I burped. Drake recoiled.
“I’m Mr. Mason’s researcher. Sit back here and try and sleep it off, we’ve got a few minutes before Court,” Drake advised.
The Judges gaveled the Court to order, and the pounding roared like a tornado in my alcohol-diluted brain. I heard voices. Court began. The District Attorney introduced what he thought was my slam-dunk testimony.
“DA Hamilton Berger for the State. An outside party, the Innocent Creature Project, has appealed against the upcoming conviction of Billy Heron for 1st degree taking of a native vertebrate, specifically that he ate a chorus frog name of Dapper Dan. The Defendant Heron refuses to deny this odious act and there is photographic evidence of the crime.”
“I have one witness. Will “Red” Woodman take the stand?”
I stumbled down the aisle, coughing, and took the witness’ seat next to the Judges.
“One small housekeeping matter,” said Perry Mason, the Innocence Project and heron’s attorney, ”Let the record note there are two Bullfrogs and one American Robin on today’s judicial panel. Frog Court regulations require 3 native frogs as Judges in these matters.”
“Shut your pie hole,” insisted Cocky Robin, the new Judge.
“Matter noted,” Judge Jeremiah interjected hastily, “Our third Judge, Bully Frog Esq., is tardy. Cocky Robin has water rights in the Frog Mitigation Area so we thought his participation and substitution would be appropriate.”
‘As another matter, will the Judges and participants declare any conflicts of interest.”
“I took a bribe,” I said.
“Me too. Me, too. Me, too,” the judges chimed in.
“Let the record show all participants and judges have been bribed and that will be considered in determining credibility.”
Mason popped up.
“This witness is drunk also.”
“In vino veritas is part of the judicial code in Frog Court, Mr. Mason. Please proceed, District Attorney.”
The DA stalked up until he was too close to me and leaned over.
“Welcome back to the witness stand, Mr. Woodman. You just retired as a police detective, did you not?”
“Yes, I’m a private investigator now.”
“Well! But getting to business, isn’t it true you personally witnessed Billy Heron stab and eat Dapper Dan, the chorus frog, and you took graphic photographs of the acts?”
I stared down at my barf-stained shoes and mustered all the dignity I could generate, and choked out a reply:
“It was impossible to determine if the victim was a chorus frog, or a bullfrog. The photographs did not provide a good view of the tympanic membrane and related folds that would clearly distinguish a bullfrog from a chorus frog.”
Time stopped. Berger froze in mid-follow-up question.
The gallery went so quiet you could hear a hummingbird fart.
“Mr. Berger?” Judge Cocky Robin asked.
“Gaacck.” Berger was stunned.
“Wait a second,” said Judge Jeremiah, “Isn’t that first picture of Bull Frog, Jr., son of our missing judge?”
“Please proceed,” Cocky Robin said loudly.
“Your witness, Mr. Mason,” Cocky Robin gestured the attorney forward.
“Howdy, Red,” Perry Mason started out warmly,”Is there any other evidence that it was a bullfrog, and not a chorus frog, whom my client consumed that fateful day?”
Now, or never, I had to fudge the evidence.
“Yes,” I insisted. “I offer exhibit A.” I placed it on the judges’ table.
“I’ve extrapolated the length of the victimized frog from the photographs of the event. The victim frog’s total length reached from the tip of the heron’s beak, almost to the heron’s eye, which would be 5.5 inches in length. That includes the frog’s snout to vent length, plus legs, which are an equal length or slightly more than the body.”
Now Mason turned to the judges. “Why is that important?”
“No chorus frogs have ever exceeded 4 inches in total length! Few are even two inches long.” There. I’d said it. “At 5.5 inches, it couldn’t have been a chorus frog!”
Rowdy cheers sounded from the rear of the courtroom. Drunken herons hooted and gawked but the bailiffs were afraid to approach them.
“Anything else?” Mason smirked.
“Yes. This time of year, there are no chorus frogs in the water during the day. In that pond, the male chorus frogs courted from an island of irises, but only after dark. The females, who are the larger chorus frogs, would not show up before dark, either. “
“But Billy attacked this frog on a sunny hot afternoon. Only bullfrogs would be in the water at this time of day and season.”
“I had not heard courting calls for a week, so chorus frogs had probably left the ponds for good. I see them in the yard now, eating bugs.”
“That pond corner where the Heron struck during the day, is the Southwest, and warmest corner, which the juvenile bullfrogs always prefer, and they usually lurk on the lily pads. I’ve found them there in prior years.”
“If the Heron had smited a male chorus frog, it would be a frog much less than two inches long, and measurably small in the photos.”
“I conclude that the victimized frog occupied a known bullfrog hangout; sitting on lilies in the afternoon sun. Because their estimated size is twice that of a male chorus frog, they could have been bull frogs.”
Mason sat down with a smug look.
“Thank you for your testimony.”
The DA, Berger, jumped up.
“There’s new evidence introduced, I’m entitled to rebuttal cross-examination.”
He never dreamed he was about to ask me to hand him a hand grenade.
The Judges all nodded, even Cocky Robin.
Berger bore in.
“Isn’t it true that Bullfrogs grow to obscenely large proportions? I have something here that you wrote; … Big as dinner plates!?!”
“Agreed. Here is Exhibit B.”
“Why do you insult the Court by asserting that tiny 5.5 inch frog was a bullfrog when everyone knows its just an outsized chorus frog?” Berger demanded,”Bullfrogs are never that small!”
“Wait a second,” Judge Jeremiah asked,”Isn’t that a picture of Bully Frog, our missing judge?”
“Get on with it!” Shouted Cocky Robin.
I assumed my haughty attitude.
“Close the Courtroom please. Sources and Methods are at stake.”
The Bailiffs locked the doors.
I showed the satellite photos (above). There was a 5.5” Bullfrog, on a lily Pad, southwest corner of the pond, right where the Heron would strike the next day. The close-up photo (above, 2nd from top) showed its tympanic membrane clearly.
“Billy Heron took a 5.5 inch frog. Known chorus frogs have never exceeded 4 inches. But Juvenile bullfrogs in that precise spot are confirmed as 5.5 inches long (including legs). “
“These pictures shows the bullfrog that Billy Heron probably ate. His name was Bully Frog Jr.”
Perry Mason jumped up.
“Please note this is a bribed witness, testifying against his own interest.”
“Oh, I’m keeping the bribe money, Frog Court rules allow it,” I interjected.
All three Judges nodded.
Judge Jeremiah pounded his gavel. “We’ve heard enough. I’ll poll the bench.”
“Wait a second!” blurted Cocky Robin, “There’s a second heron in these photos!”
“THIS HEARING IS CLOSED,” bellowed Judge Jeremiah.
“Well based on this new evidence of a 2nd Heron, I vote to acquit,” riposted Cocky Robin.
Judge Jeremiah went next, “In my opinion, the integrity of the judicial system is at stake. It is an important moral issue, whether a bribed judge should stay bribed in a weak case. I stand with my briber and vote to convict.”
We all turned to the 3rd judge, who hadn’t even croaked once during the whole proceeding. The docket sheet said his name was Judge Crater.
“I say, good fellows,” he began in a cockney accent,”I favor the English verdict of not proven.” And he was gone.
The Court room erupted into caws, shrieks, ribbets. croaks, gawks, and a dozen other creatures’ vocalisms.
Judge Jeremiah bellowed again.”This verdict will NOT be certified until an independent investigation shows what’s happened to Bully Frog and Junior.” But no one listened.
Everyone paraded through a side exit to an alternate reality with no diseases and free liquor and drugs, and began partying at the saloon. Or in the case of the bullfrogs, drinking away their anger.
Then the doors to the saloon swung open and banged loudly. The entire place went quiet as the stranger hopped into the room, and up to the bar.
“IW Harper double, straight up,” he demanded. He drank it in one gulp and turned to the room.
“I’m Bully Frog III, and I’m here to find out what happened to Pa and my brother.”
The only sound in the room was the unmistakable snap of a Daisy .177 BB gun getting racked into action, somewhere back in the shadows.
Billy the 3rd had stones, he hopped out without turning around, pausing only to say:
“You want me, I’ll be in the Pond’s southwest corner, on Pa’s old lily pad, in the sun.” And he is.