Rudolph vs. Rabb
"All rise. This court is now in session, the Honorable O. M. Winter presiding."
Long habit brought Harmon Rabb, Jr. to his feet as his mind raced to recall just which case he was here to argue today. Eyes forward, it was a credit to years of training and discipline that Harm managed to keep his jaw from dropping as he took in the tiny bailiff in his white uniform. He squinted slightly to make out the man's nametag.
The old man who settled onto the judges bench was another surprise. He was also dressed all in white ('Since when do judges wear white?' Harm wondered) and was as massive as his bailiff was small. Harm assumed the man had just entered the building, judging by the ice and snow that still covered his long white hair and beard.
Opening the file folder on the desk in front of him, the judge finally looked up, spearing Harm with an icy blue glare.
"You may be seated. This is the time set aside for the case of 'Rudolph vs. Rabb'," the man announced. "Are both parties ready to proceed?"
'Rudolph vs. Rabb?' Harm wondered. He glanced quickly to his left where his client should be. The only people at the table with him were Bud Roberts and Grandma Sarah. His grandmother looked up at him and smiled sweetly. Surely his grandmother wasn't on trial. And who the heck was this Rudolph person?
"Ready for the plaintiff," a familiar voice called from his right.
Of course, Mac would be representing the person who was dragging his poor, innocent grandmother into court. He turned to throw her a menacing look.
What was she doing wearing an outfit like that in court? And why was there a reindeer in a wheelchair at the table next to her?
He suddenly realized that everyone was looking at him.
"Mr. Rabb?" the judge's icy voice asked.
Harm glanced again at his grandmother, who reached out and patted his arm.
"The nice judge wants to know if we're ready, Harm. Aren't you supposed to say that we are?"
Ready? He had no idea what was going on. Before he could comment, though, Sarah Rabb turned and faced the judge.
"I'm sure everything is ready, Your Honor. My grandson is a very responsible young man," she told him, pride evident in her voice.
"Then let's get started," the judge responded, a slight smile gracing his leathery face. "Ms. MacKenzie?"
Mac rose from her seat and Harm leaned back in his to take stock of the situation. A tiny green, felt cap perched atop her dark hair. A tunic of matching emerald green brought out the glow in her skin. A red sash was tied around her narrow waist, below which the tunic continued to mid thigh. There, red tights took over, covering her shapely legs down to feet encased in little green slippers…with bells on the toes.
The bells jingles softly as she pace in front of the jury box.
"Grandmas and reindeer of the jury…"
Startled, Harm turned his attention to the jury in question.
Sure enough, the box was filled by six tiny reindeer, huge brown eyes intently watching Mac, and six tiny women, all wearing pastel cardigan sweaters, eyeglasses on chains hanging around their necks, and hands flashing as they quietly knitted. They all had shiny blue eyes, also riveted on Mac.
"I intend to prove that on the 24th of December, this woman, Mrs. Sarah Rabb, did maliciously assault, with a motor vehicle, my client, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer."
Huh? Harm remembered the wheelchair bound reindeer at the desk and turned for a better look. Yes, it really was a reindeer and it really was in a wheelchair. A large cast encased one leg and a sling held an arm immobile against its chest. Its antlers were stubby and scratched, apparently recently broken off. A turban of white gauze covered the top of its head and soft, brown eyes peeked out just beneath that.
Mac's voice interrupted his thoughts.
"Mrs. Rabb was upset at the recent rash of grandmas being run over by reindeer. In fact, I believe she had recently been a victim of such an assault herself. Her feelings are understandable. Good, honest reindeer are upset by this, too. The few, disturbed reindeer who habitually run over grandmas reflect badly on the community as a whole and many of them are trying to find ways to combat this epidemic of grandma assaulting. In fact, my client started an organization, Reindeer Against Grandma Assaults (RAGA) to address this problem and to discourage young reindeer from becoming grandma assaulters. Mrs. Rabb, though, didn't stop to think about my client as an individual. She didn't see him as an honest employee, a community leader, or a father with a family to provide for," Mac continued, a gesture indicating the sweet young doe in the seat behind him and the two small fawns sitting next to her.
"She only saw a reindeer, a member of a hated minority, and she took action to stop him."
Mac concluded and returned to her seat. After a moment, Harm rose. He looked down at his grandma. Without missing a stitch in her own knitting, she smiled up at him. He knew that no matter what had happened in the past, his grandmother didn't have a malicious bone in her body and would never, ever intentionally hurt anyone.
"Reindeer. Grandmas. Your honor." He turned slowly to face the poor, crippled deer. "Rudolph."
His steps in front of the jury box were slow and measured, intended to show his sorrow over the situation. "What we have here is an accident, plain and simple. Like the plaintiff, the defendant in this suit is an upstanding member of her community. She has lived in harmony with all, human and reindeer, for many years. She has always shown kindness to the reindeer community, both the locals and those like Rudolph and his companions who only visit once a year. It was never enough for the Rabb household to leave cookies and milk for Santa," he continued, the words of his defense coming as needed. "I remember as a boy dragging hay on to the porch for his reindeer and helping grandma fill up nine bowls with water because surely the reindeer would be as hungry and thirsty as Mr. Claus himself."
In the seats behind Rudolph, Harm could see some of the other reindeer nodding. They obviously remembered the kindness shown them at the Rabb farm.
"Yes, Mrs. Rabb was the victim of a reindeer assault a few days previous to this incident. It startled her, shook her up a bit, but not enough to seek revenge. Mrs. Rabb lost a husband to the Germans in a war, but when a German family relocated to Bellesville a few years later, she was the first to welcome them. Her son was shot down over Vietnam during another war. Does she hate the Vietnamese people as a whole? No. Instead, she regularly makes donations to a group that does relief work over there. Yes, there are rogue groups of vigilante grandmas out there, seeking revenge for the attacks they have suffered at the hooves of reindeer. But like the few bad reindeer who commit these assaults, these are simply misguided grandmas who are frightened and lashing out. Mrs. Sarah Rabb, my grandma, is trying to help these poor women find better outlets for their time and energy. GSG, the Grandma Support Group, teaches these women how to knit, crochet, and tat. A part of their organization works closely with the RAGA to help these grandmas and those young reindeer to learn to see each other as individuals, worthy of respect and care."
"Mrs. Rabb, the founder of GSG, would never deliberately injure anyone, man or reindeer. The anguish she has suffered as a result of this tragic accident is more punishment than anything this court could inflict on her. Rudolph has indeed suffered, that much is obvious. But, tragic and sad as the situation is, to call it anything but the accident it was would only compound the tragedy."
Harm resumed his seat, receiving a few smiles and nods from the jury.
"Ms. MacKenzie, you may call your first witness."
The first witness, of course, was the victim. Rudolph was rolled to the front of the courtroom and sworn in.
"Rudolph," Mac said. "Can you tell us what happened on the 24th of December?"
Rudolph nodded slightly and cleared his throat.
"As you said, it was Christmas eve. I was out doing some last minute scouting. We keep track of all the children by computer now, but we still like to take a last minute fly over to be sure that we have a correct location for everyone. If, for example, some child makes a last minute trip to grand…to see his grandparents, we wouldn't want to deliver his gifts to his house and leave him with nothing to wake up to on Christmas morning."
Mac smiled at him. "That's a very considerate thing to do. I'm sure the children appreciate your attention to detail."
Rudolph blushed. "It's just part of the job, ma'am. Before Santa allows any reindeer to fly with him, he does very careful interviews to make sure that that reindeer has the utmost of commitment to providing joy and happiness to the children."
"You do him proud," Mac reassured the reindeer.
"I hope I did," the reindeer replied softly, a tear leaking from his big brown eye. "But now I can't do much of anything."
"And why is that?" Mac asked him, turning a glare towards Grandma Rabb.
"With my injuries, the doctor won't clear me to fly," Rudolph answered. "This year, I won't be able to guide Santa's sleigh as he delivers toys to all the good little girls and boys. I mean, I know they don't really need me, but this is my job, and I feel like I'm failing everyone if I don't do it."
Next to Harm, Sarah Rabb sniffled softly. "Oh, that poor dear…deer," she whispered to her grandson.
"It was an accident, Grandma," Harm reminded her with a gentle hug.
"Yes, but still…"
At the front of the courtroom, Rudolph broke down in tears.
"Without my job, I'm nothing," he wailed.
Mac patted his shoulder and waited, but the tears kept coming.
Finally, she looked up at the judge.
"Your honor, I'd like to request a short recess while my client pulls himself together."
The judge nodded as he wiped a tear from his eye. "This court is in recess for ten minutes," he declared, banging his gavel.
"Your honor," Sarah Rabb called, reaching into the bag that sat by her chair. "Since it's recess, I wonder if you might like one of these delicious cookies that I baked last night."
"Cookies? What kind of cookies?" Old Man Winter asked.
"Oh, I've got chocolate chip, oatmeal, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, gingersnaps, sugar cookies…"
"Sounds like you did a lot of baking last night," the judge told her.
"Oh, yes," Sarah replied. "I've been so upset since this happened that I have hardly been able to sleep, worrying about poor Rudolph," she told him.
"Try one of the peanut butter ones," Santa Clause called from the gallery. "Mrs. Rabb's peanut butter cookies are the best I've ever tasted…and I've eaten a lot of cookies in my time," the jolly man added, patting his rounded belly.
"Objection!" Mac called out. "The defendant is trying to bribe the judge."
"Bribe?" Grandma Rabb said, her voice shocked. "Oh, my, no, dear. I just wanted to try to make the proceedings today a little more pleasant. I also brought some brownies with walnuts for you, dear. It seems like Harm mentioned that those are a favorite of yours."
Mac paused. "Brownies? With walnuts?"
"Big chunks of walnuts, not the little bitty chopped pieces," Grandma Rabb assured her. "And there's plenty for everyone," she added, pulling plate after plate of fresh, warm cookies out of her knitting bag. As the grandmas filed out of the jury box, sampling and comparing recipes, Sarah Rabb reached under her chair and pulled out another bag. "And I didn't want to forget out reindeer friends, so I brought along some hay also."
Harm watched in shock as she pulled a bale of hay out of a bag much too small to hold it.
"I would have brought some milk to go with the cookies, but it's just so hard to transport," she added with a small sigh.
"That's no problem," the judge assured her. He turned to the bailiff. Mr. Frost, if you would be so kind as to fetch some milk to wash down Grandma Rabb's delicious cookies?"
"And some fresh water for the reindeer?" Mrs. Rabb added.
"Certainly," the little man answered, dashing from the room and returning moments later with glasses and pitchers of icy water and ice cold milk.
Grandma Rabb made her way to the front of the courtroom and pulled up a chair to sit next to Rudolph's wheelchair. She brought a plate of hay and a bowl of cool water which she helped him consume. After a few minutes of conversation, she called Harm and Mac both to the front of the room.
"We've come to an understanding. Rudolph here realizes that I never meant to hurt him," Sarah told them. Rudolph nodded in agreement.
"But Grandma Rabb realizes that, whatever her intention, she did hurt me," Rudolph added, Sarah nodding her agreement.
"So Rudolph and his family will be staying with me at the farm until he is recovered. We'll set up a computer and electronic tracking equipment so that he can keep track of Santa and the rest of the team as they make their rounds. We'll basically be acting as air traffic controllers for the big guy and keep his list of who gets what. That way, he won't have to depend on his laptop."
"Yeah," Rudolph told them. "One year, it accidentally got dropped in the ocean and we ended up giving some girl named Ellen a truck instead of the doll she was supposed to get."
"Are you sure about this, Grandma?" Harm asked her.
"Oh, yes," she assured him. "It's not like I haven't taken care of a grounded flyer before."
"Well," Harm said. "Sounds like that takes care of everything."
"Not quite," Grandma Rabb said. She looked pointedly at Harm and Mac standing side by side, then looked up over their heads. Harm followed her gaze.
Now how did a piece of mistletoe get into a courtroom? He looked at Mac and she shrugged.
"You have two choices," Grandma informed them. "You can do what you're supposed to do, or you can argue with me about it and then do what you're supposed to do."
He looked at Mac again, and again, she shrugged. They both leaned forward and…
Pounding. Loud pounding.
Harm sat up in bed and looked at the clock.
He saw his overnight bag sitting on the floor and everything came back to him. He and Mac had returned earlier that evening from an overseas case. She was going to drop him at his place, then continue back to her own apartment. She was as exhausted as he was, though, and it hadn't taken very much urging for him to convince her to grab a few hours on his sofa.
The pounding on the front door continued and he heard Mac groan as he pulled on some sweat pants and went to open it.
His neighbor, Shanna was standing there, a large box in her arms.
"Hey, Harm. My husband said that he thought he saw you come back. I hope it's not too late, but the delivery people left this package from your grandmother with us. It smells so good that I've been having to fight to keep from tearing into it."
She smiled as she handed him the box.
"Thanks, Shanna. I appreciate you taking care of it for me. Grandma usually sends me some of her Christmas baking to share with friends and family. I'll bring you some after I sort through it."
"Thanks. Talk to you later." With a smile and a wave, she disappeared back towards her apartment.
As Harm closed the door, he looked at Mac. Then he looked again.
For sleeping, she had changed into a oversized green t-shirt and red leggings. She pulled on a pair of green slippers and walked into the kitchen.
"Whatcha' got there, partner?" she asked.
"Christmas goodies from Grandma," he told her, setting the box on the table and carefully tearing it open.
Mac looked over his shoulder at the array of bags that filled the box. As he opened the letter enclosed, she started pulling the bags out and reading the labels.
"Chocolate chip…peanut butter…oatmeal…oatmeal raisin…gingersnaps…sugar cookies…brownies with walnuts…mmm…I'd better get some of those, Harm." She dug deeper. "Hey, there's another bag of those and it has my name on it."
Harm looked up from the letter. "Yeah. Grandma says that she sent a bag for you, too, because I told her they were your favorite."
"And the walnuts are big chunks, not the little bitty pieces." She pulled one out and bit down happily.
"So, what else does Grandma Rabb have to say?" Mac asked him as she brought two glasses and the milk carton to the table.
He laughed. "Well, seems like the reindeer incident kind of caught the town's interest. They held a mock trial and convicted her of reindeer assault. She was sentenced to playing Mrs. Clause at the town's Christmas open house. That's something she does every year anyway," he added.
"Convicted?" Mac said indignantly. "I don't see how they could convict her. It was clearly an accident."
"Yeah, but after that reindeer hit her a few days earlier, they felt that they had enough evidence to indicate that it might have been retaliation rather than an accident," Harm told her.
"Hey," Mac told him, a mischievous grin on her face. "Maybe we should work on an appeal for her…"
Harm could have sworn he heard the sound of jingle bells outside his window.
Unless I decide to do more…