The Celebrated Frog Forger of Clackamas County
1026 words long
Say what you like, there was inarguable demand for his services.
Notes from the author:
Hey, look! Continuity. I couldn't help it. Watchout4Snakes gave me "croaking cad," so there was our talking frog again, and Virtual Writers World was on a legal fiction kick with "verdict" and "forgery" as the prompts for the August 18th Daily Dashes. So there you go.
The protagonist of this fictionette isn't James Pond under a new pseudonym. This is a different frog in a different neighborhood--in a different U.S. state, in fact--some weeks later. No matter where you go, frogs that have learned how to talk are real troublemakers. So say the humans, in any case.
The cad was about to croak. The plaintiff's team knew it, and they thought it was about time. The frog hadn't uttered a word throughout the trial, silently allowing testimony to come and go; it would be a relief to finally hear the scoundrel admit his guilt.
By now we've probably all held a conversation with a frog or two since Spreading Sentience Syndrome first hit the scene. And given that most of the frogs we encounter live pretty close to humanity, such conversations tend to reflect known literary traditions. So while nobody likes to admit a frog propositioned us, we'll happily talk about that little sister or cousin who's met a frog that claimed to be a prince. Many of us have been woken up at night by hopefuls practicing for their upcoming auditions--if only they'd sing something other than "Hello! Ma Baby," and double damn Warner Bros. for that. I personally have met an amphibian who offered to go into the entertainment industry with me as our home county's very own Celebrated Jumping Frog.
Frogs who get arrested for forging signatures are somewhat more rare.
This particular one was very good, a champion forger. It isn't a thing you'd expect of a creature with webbed fingers, but there it was. Show him any example signature and he'd copy it so accurately you wouldn't know your own handwriting from his. He got his start with permission slips and report cards for desperate children, and he was now in the courtroom over personal checks, property deeds, and a notorious last will and testament. He was just that good.
But they'd caught him dead to rights. The witnesses had spoken. The evidence had been shown. The verdict seemed a foregone conclusion. All that was left to find out was what kind of sentence a human court would pronounce over an amphibious criminal--and what the cad himself had to say about the whole thing.
It was time for the defense's closing statement.
He hopped slowly, under his own power and without any show of urgency, to the witness stand. This took upward of two minutes. He had made it clear to both his public defender and to the court bailiff that any human who undertook to carry him without his consent would be carrying out a grave miscarriage of justice by such a shameful demonstration of high-handed anti-amphibian prejudice. Now he danced and chirped as though passing through puddles in the rain, each leap reaching the greatest height to which his powerful back legs could propel him. Sometimes he made a few preparatory hops, low to the ground, before pushing off into another prodigious feat: one, two, three! He appeared to be enjoying himself immensely.
The plaintiff looked exasperated. The public defender looked embarrassed. The judge looked more than a little peeved. At last she said, "Mr. Hancock, you will proceed without further delay to the witness stand, or you will be found in contempt of court."
"Apologies, your honor," croaked the frog. He launched himself up and over, landing square on the polished wooden seat without further ado. One more hop got him perched on the rail. "I'm ready."
"Finally." The judge leveled her gaze at the amphibian, and, in slow tones of disgust, she said, "Mr. John F. Hancock, you stand accused of several instances of forgery in the second and third degrees. The documents in question have been shown to the court, their provenance identified beyond reasonable doubt. Witnesses have provided testimony corroborating your offense. Even your own assumed name testifies against you--for crying out loud, Frog," the judge broke off, having apparently reached the very limit of her patience, "could you be any more insulting?"
"Indubitably, your honor," croaked the frog, "I could, as could we all, but the obligation to courtesy restrains us."
The judge sighed. "Just make your statement, Mr. Hancock."
The frog drew a deep breath. He kept on drawing it, such that he inflated to three times his size. Then he let it out again. He said, "Your honor, I'm a frog."
After some thirty seconds or so, when it became clear that Mr. Hancock had nothing more to say, the judge responded. "Yes, you are a frog. And?"
"And that's it, your honor."
The judge clapped a hand over her eyes and wiped it slowly down her face. "Mr. Hancock, how does your reiterating the obvious constitute a statement in your defense?"
"Well, the law of the land doesn't apply to frogs just yet, does it?" Now the amphibian drew another great big belly-swelling breath and used it to grant his next words extra gravity (although not, in fact, extra volume, for like all animals affected by SSS, he spoke by means of something like telepathy). "For all the great efforts of your animal rights activists, you humans haven't yet granted citizen status to us non-humans yet, have you? Your lawmakers haven't decided whether we're people or property or some kind of illegal immigrants. Until you figure out how the law sits on a frog, you can't convict one under it, can you?"
The judge seemed, for the moment, speechless. But when the rest of the courtroom began murmuring in about twenty separate conversations, she banged her gavel and called for "Order! Order in the court! I don't care, you can all just shut up and let us figure this out!" When the talk had diminished sufficiently for her satisfaction, she said, "Please continue, Mr. Hancock."
"Well, there's not much more to say, is there? With all due respect to the plaintiff, your real complaint should be to the ne'er-do-wells who engaged my services. You've met them all; they're the witnesses who testified against me. Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a little girl I was supposed to meet this afternoon to talk about an upcoming field trip."
And with that, Mr. John Froggie Hancock rocketed off the rail and out of the courtroom at an appreciable fraction of the speed of sound, confounding all attempts to recapture him or even follow with one's eyes the path of his flight.
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