Saturday, March 26, 2016
Although the exact hour of the night will never be known, history shall record that sometime after 9:00 pm on Friday, February 12, 2016, the controversial justice of the United States Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia, died. The passing of the formidable jurist was reported midday on the 13th of February. Mr. Justice Scalia was famous for his radically conservative jurisprudence as well as the venom and wit with which he expressed his opinions in his celebrated dissents. Persons with liberal leanings loathed Scalia and blamed his malign influence on many decisions issued by the High Court considered noxious by progressives. For instance, liberal commentators accused him playing politics with the presidential election in the case of Gore v. Bush, the decision that authorized the first-term of George W. Bush’s presidency. If Scalia could be blamed for that decision, then, of course, all of the misdeeds, errors, and deceptions practiced by that president – including untruths that allegedly led to a series of disastrous foreign wars in the Middle East – could be ascribed to that Judge. To his detractors, Mr. Justice Scalia seemed to be perversely enthusiastic about both capitol punishment and corporations – he was one of the authors of the Citizens United decision, a case declaring that corporations enjoy the same right of free speech as individuals and, thus, unleashing the war chests of big business on the American electoral process. Judge Scalia dependably opposed same sex marriage and abortion and once asserted that, if due process were observed, it would be well within the constitutional authority of the government to execute an innocent person.
Predictably, Justice Scalia’s death, occurring within the vehement season of an intensely contested presidential election, inflamed partisan passions, already at fever pitch, into adversarial paroxysms – Democrats asserted that President Obama should appoint Scalia’s successor immediately; Republicans responded with equal vigor that no judge appointed by the President would survive congressional challenge and, indeed, that Republican senators would not even meet with President Obama’s candidate, let alone authorize a hearing. At stake, of course, was control of the Supreme Court, divided between four dependably liberal and four dependably conservative justices.
Justice Scalia’s death occurred at the Cibola Creek Ranch, an expensive resort in the remote Chinati Mountains about 30 miles from Marfa, Texas. This is a peculiar place for a judge of the United States Supreme Court to die – at least, eighty miles from the nearest coroner in circumstances that might be said to be cloaked in mystery. Justice Scalia’s family did not order an autopsy. Conspiracy enthusiasts devised elaborate and paranoid theories about the judge’s death. Sudden death always inspires the sense that circumstances are contingent and that things might have taken a different aspect but for an invisible hand guiding events. Even when the victim is elderly and his torso congested with disease, death can not but seem unnatural to us, a deviation from what is ordinary and expected. Although such opinions are in error, they are, nonetheless, common among the living – the views of the dead on these subjects are not known.
Scorpions are plentiful in West Texas. In most cases, the sting of a scorpion is painful but not dangerous – the injury is like a wasp’s sting without the inconvenience of the embedded dart. Only one species of scorpion found in the United States, Centruroides sculpturatus, (a kind of bark scorpion) has a deadly sting. This scorpion may be rarely encountered in Arizona, but not Texas. If a scorpion of this species were discovered near Marfa, in the Chinati Mountains, two possibilities might explain this anomaly. It may be that climate change has so altered the range of the sculpturatus scorpion and the animal, previously thought to live only in the Sonoran desert of Arizona, has now crossed the mountain passes to take up habitation in the Chihuahuan deserts of West Texas. Or, perhaps, some person transported the scorpion to the Cibola Creek Resort for nefarious purposes.
Justice Scalia looked at the scorpion. It’s body was amber-colored and extraordinarily complex, built from intricate-looking prismatic segments. The creature’s mouthparts were a nightmare of complex jointed shears and the animal bore its pincers above it as if they were chitinous banners. The animal’s stinger was the shape of a question mark.
What did the Emperor recommend?
Do not neglect to consider carefully even the smallest of things. Small things often mirror those larger aspects of reality with which we are concerned. And be mindful to penetrate to the heart of these things, asking yourself: What is its form? Of what material is it comprised? How does it move and change? What is its use to the rational man? After these considerations, consider that all things are part of the universal whole. Take time to assess how they contribute to that Reason that governs all things.
When he attended speaking engagements or commencement exercises, when he traveled with Bryan Gardner to promote the books that they had jointly written, when he went to sporting events or political meetings or joined hunting parties others than those sponsored by the secret society of St. Hubertus, Justice Scalia notified the Federal marshals office and arranged for a security escort. He did not require security when dining in public with his wife and friends. Antonin Scalia did not require a marshal to attend the opera with him.
Since the shooting party at the Cibola Creek Ranch was an event sanctioned by the Society of St. Hubertus, Justice Scalia advised the Federal marshals assigned to protect him that no agent need accompany him to west Texas. A marshal escorted him to airport in Washington and another Federal marshal met him in Dallas where the Judge was ushered through private corridors and tunnels to an isolated runway where a Hawker 400 XP jet was waiting for him.
A suntanned man wearing dark glasses asked Mr. Justice Scalia to sit beside him on a small golf cart the color of a southern California swimming pool. The jet, shaped like a flying syringe, sat on the tarmac humming like a basement dehumidifier. Scalia was distressed – the jet looked very small and cramped and he recalled with dismay a previous flight in a similarly cramped aircraft. The changes in barometric pressure that he had endured on the commercial flight had left his throat dry and his eyes aching and his ears blocked by bubbles of trapped air. He was sweating and felt out of sorts and the muscle torn in his shoulder ached. But the plane flights were supplied gratis and it would have a breach of etiquette to complain about the accommodations and, so, Scalia shrugged, muttered a prayer, and, then, crossed himself before scaling the flimsy-looking steps into the aircraft.
On a previous trip to the Cibola Creek Ranch, Mr. Justice Scalia had flown from Washington to Denver and, then, to El Paso. At El Paso, he had boarded small turbo-prop Cessna for the final 200 mile flight to Marfa, Texas. That flight also occurred in the Spring, although in mid-March, when rainy weather on the Gulf coast fired up thunderstorms over the Chihuahan desert, massive anvil-shaped clouds as blue and ice-green as the ocean abyss. The little Cessna was not well-equipped to penetrate those clouds and so the plane wandered among them, kicked up and down and sideway by torrents of wind bursting from the thunderheads. Antonin Scalia looked out his small round porthole and saw the walls of the clouds, hollowed out by blasts of lightning. He had forgotten his IPOD and, so, couldn’t distract himself with Tosca and Turandot. Ahead of the Cessna a fortress-like wall of thunderheads blocked the way. The grin on the pilot’s face looked insincere as he pulled shut the curtain separating the cockpit from the passenger’s compartment. Then, the plane wobbled before tilting sideways and Judge Scalia’s valise, bound in fetal skin, fell from an overhead compartment as a drink spilled. The radio behind the curtain whispered warnings and Mr. Justice Scalia could hear all of them – the visibility was limited at the Cibola Creek airstrip and there was hail pelting the ground. The pilot asked about other landing strips and, then, there was an colloquy about fuel capacity and range – the discussion was like the side-bar conferences that lawyers have at the bench when evidence is disputed, something that jurors are not supposed to hear. But Judge Scalia could hear every word, at least, before the light plane plunged into the darkness. The Cessna dropped and dropped, descending through chaotic strata of raging air, and, then, after what seemed a very great time, emerged from the fog, the broken rocks of the desert shockingly close, wet gravel and arroyos surging with water like ruptured arteries. A side-shear almost knocked the plane onto its side when its little wheels clawed at the runway.
The storm’s violence was so great that it ripped the clouds apart and beams of bright light fell from the heavens and illuminated the desert. The air smelled of sage and agave honey. There is nothing as beautiful as the immense desert after a rain storm. Mr. Justice Scalia was surprised at the vehemence of his reaction to the rough ride in the Cessna. He had thought that his stoicism and piety inured him against the fear of death and so he was appalled with himself. As he stood on the tarmac next to the small plane, Mr. Justice Scalia resolved that he would be a better man, that is, one more cruel, logical, and indifferent to the suffering of others.
On the flight from Dallas, Mr. Justice Scalia felt surprisingly tired. Something about the change in climate between Washington and Dallas affected him with deep melancholy. His shoulder hurt and his bowels felt uncertain and his great barrel chest ached with pangs that he attributed to the breakfast burrito he had eaten at Dulles a few hours earlier. (He wondered if the marshal who had tasted the burrito for him out of – as they say – "an abundance of caution" was similar inconvenienced.)
When the plane reached cruising altitude, Judge Scalia unbuckled his seat belt, rose, and removed his brief-case, bound in cured fetal skin, from the overhead compartment. He had been commissioned to write the constitution for newest country in the world and, so, he idly studied the pages clipped together in the manila folder on his lap. He felt drowsy. Outside, the winter-barren earth far below seemed to mellow and he saw great round circles of green crops growing around center-pivot irrigation. The big green targets made patterns on the earth between small towns where the chrome of parked cars and the silver grain bins shimmered in the sunlight. The plane was high above the earth in a zone of bright crystalline light and the ride was very soft and mellow. The Judge set aside the South Sudanese constitution and dialed his IPOD to Tosca (Tebaldi - Stefano - Gobb, La Scala 1953). He tried to close his eyes but the jet was bright and, when he shut his eyes, ugly visions appeared to vex him.
The earth below had become unearthly – long black dikes like cyclopean walls, volcanic craters leaking rays of inky lava tentacles across the scuffed yellow desert. Barren mountains cupping glaciers of brown and quartz gravel rose above bone-white playas. A row of volcanic cinder cones passed underneath – the little round peaks looked like half-melted chocolate kisses. A river with vast sand dunes choking its throat slid by, outlined in dusty-looking green and Mr. Justice Scalia saw shallow waterless canyons intermeshed below, a network of gorges and, then, a soot-black plain scored with the tread-marks of a thousand armored vehicles, a military reservation, where fumaroles of ash rose above shell-craters and, at last, rounded mountains rising from the high chaparral, lifting crowns of fissured basalt up into the sky, a mesa like a stranded aircraft carrier at first drowned in the deep abyss, then, rotating and coming closer, and rising until, finally, the plane skidded along the runway under the high escarpment.
This afternoon the air smelled of fire. Something was burning. John Poindexter limped along the runway to shake his moist hand. It was a security arrangement pre-approved. Mr. Poindexter, the master of the Cibola Creek lodge, had agreed to drive Mr. Justice Scalia, the four miles from the private airstrip to the lodge. As they shook hands, the Judge noticed that Mr. Poindexter’s little finger on his right hand was missing.
Outside the perfumed interior of the Land Rover, Mr. Justice Scalia saw the ocotillo plants, dry and unflowering, pointed like the lance of Longinus at the desert sky and the strange, crucified mountains.
The Cibolo Creek Lodge occupies an old adobe and field-rock fort raised in the desert as a refuge against marauding Indians. The ranch where the resort is located is vast and, in fact, the original pioneers built three forts, places to which they could retreat if a Comanche war party crossed the Rio Bravo del Norte to raid the Big Bend Country. If a cowboy were caught far from the Cibola Creek fort, called El Fortin del Cibola, when the dust raised by hostile Indians advancing on horseback marked the horizon, the ranch-hand could defend himself in the Cienaga redoubt, now remodeled to offer five rustic guest rooms, or, perhaps, the tiny Morita fort, a hermitage in the high chaparral. During a previous St. Hubertus hunt, Mr. Justice Scalia had spent several nights at Morita, a low-slung adobe structure that was more of a heavy hollow wall than a building, slit windows commanding vantages over the treeless brown slopes descending to a dry creek bed where green and blue lizards sunned themselves on shelves of crumbling limestone. Mr. Justice Scalia was entertaining Justice Sotomeyer at that time and had brought her to this remote place, (the rooms were without electricity) to impart to the woman an object lesson in self-reliance. He was chagrined to discover that she was the better shot, killing more quail and grouse than he – but, "it’s not a competition," he had told her, patting the lady-justice on the shoulder, before she brought down the first bird with the blast of her shotgun and, then, the second so that it became a competition indeed and one that he was sorry to lose.
On this present occasion, Mr. Justice Scalia was not staying at Morita. The place was pleasant enough but it was remote, a forty-minute jeep ride away from the dining room at Cibola Creek’s principal lodge and the darkness at night, a dozen miles away from any electric lights, was more than a bit unnerving, particularly when the coyotes crept close to the mud hut and cried out in the voices of the dead and exterminated Comanches. Instead, he checked into the central lodge, a long narrow building with exposed vigas and a low parapet wall above the guest rooms. The lodge was set in a hollow in the hills perfumed by flowing water, some ancient cottonwood trees standing in the grassy oasis and casting their shadows on the inn. One side of the lodge was featureless, mud plastered over adobe bricks, a long brown embankment that ended in a stone tower, round as a silo and, also, without windows except for several defensive slits cut in the yard-thick wall. On the other side of the lodge, citron and rose-wood columns separated the individual guest rooms that opened onto a flagstone piazza and an elliptical pool with turquoise-colored sides. Some Mission-style chairs, simple and yet elegant, flanked the pool. At the edge of the turquoise opposite the lodge there was an oblong infinity pool thrust out to drizzle water over its edge into a small, carefully curated lake. A hidden dam impounded a tiny creek flowing down from a seep in the hills to create the body of water, one and a half acres in extent and stocked with bass and small trout. A paddle-boat was tethered to one of the treeless shores of the artificial lake and some row-boats lurked under an aluminum fishing pier extending over the colorless, inert water. Among the weathered cottonwood trees, a small ramada made from bamboo cut in the canyons of the Rio Bravo del Norte and thorns protected a stone fire pit. A hornito oven stood near the corral and a single pony, apparently loose, grazed in the wet meadow by a tiny bridge made from planks that crossed the creek. Beyond the ridge above the lodge, on the stony hump of a low hill, there was a small astronomical observatory, hidden from the lights of the resort, a place where Keith Richards had once spent the night from dusk to dawn, inspecting the heavens with a seven-inch Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope. On the horizons around the small, moist basin, mirages dissolved the boundary between sky and earth and mountains floated in the air like islands made from chiseled blue quartz.
Although he did not know it, this was the place where Mr. Justice Antonin Scalia had come to die.
Mr. Justice Scalia was assigned the Presidential Suite, a room with a four-poster bed under a canopy fashioned from an antique Navajo rug. In the corner of the room, on a pedestal, there was a heart-shaped hot tub that looked like something in which you might boil a missionary. A sitting room faced the patio and the pool – the place was said to be a "lakeside room", although, in fact, the melancholy little lake was sixty-yards away, beyond the limpid swimming pool. In other more merry circumstances, the room was a bridal suite and there were his and her bathrooms with gilded faucets and showers with a dozen or more hidden shower-heads. The notice posted on the inside of the heavy oak door that opened into the corridor said that the official room rate was $850 dollars a night. The charge didn’t matter to Mr. Justice Scalia – when he came to the Cibola Creek Ranch he stayed as a guest of the house.
The Judge felt a bit peckish. His belly rumbled unpleasantly. He freshened up and, then, sat in a leather easy chair to read some death warrants that he had brought with him. Reading death warrants improved his mood. He was an enthusiast of executions. The death penalty brought a certain gravitas to the world; it demonstrated certain syllogisms that Mr. Justice Scalia thought important and, even, refreshing from an existential point of view.
Remember that Mr. Justice Scalia in his dissent in Georgia v. Troy Davis memorable wrote:
The (Supreme) Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial, but is later able to persuade a habeas corpus court that he is "actually innocent." Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged "actual innocence" is constitutionally cognizable.
Judge Scalia liked the scare quotes that he placed around the phrase "actually innocent." No one was "actually innocent." After signing a dozen or so secret Star Chamber death warrants, Mr. Justice Scalia felt drowsy. He went to the big Himmelbett and removing his shoes and socks, but not his tie, reclined to take a nap.
Like most of the menial staff at the Cibola Creek Ranch, Inez came from the Mexican city of Ojinaga, across the border from Presidio, Texas and about 25 miles away. You can see Inez in the background of pictures taken at Ranch banquets, some of them published on the society pages of Houston and Fort Worth newspapers: she is a middle-aged woman with her dark hair gathered into a bun, a frightened expression on her face and eyes that look like black buttons in the snapshots; she seems to be slipping sideways between smiling guests, careful to glide between the women with their big hair and dour, grim-faced men without brushing against them or touching accidentally, a carafe of water in her hands or, perhaps, a tray of hors d’oeuvres – oysters on the half-shell if you look closely. Inez is married to an unemployed miner from the central highlands. With her husband and family, she moved to Ciudad Juarez when the mine closed. In Juarez, Inez worked for a while at a Maquilladora where aluminum and stainless steel ladders were assembled. Her neighborhood was dangerous and, after a gun battle in the alley, left the siding of her small home pockmarked with bullet holes, she moved again to Ojinaga, a dreary place where the homes and cantinas and shops were spread out like deposits of flood debris along the sullen, brown river. On the days that she worked, Inez crossed the border in her old Dodge Ram pickup and drove through the desert toward the Chinati Mountains, a ridge shaped like spinal vertebrae colorless apparently because a vessel for all colors: pink at dawn, then, orangish mid-morning and, at last yellow at noon, darkening into blue in the afternoon, then, purple, then, black tipped with rose-red as the last rays of sun set. (In case you are concerned, Inez holds LPR status as an "alien commuter," crossing the border for "regular and stable employment" as defined by ICE standards.) Because she worked different shifts, Inez saw the mountains painted every imaginable color, gently rounded buttes and mesas that looked like the curves of a naked woman gradually resolving into stark pillars of stone and steep talus fields under beetling cliffs at the place where the cast-iron scorpion gates and the sentry house marked the long graded gravel road to the air-strip and the lodge.
The country Inez traversed going to and from work was harsh and empty and scorched by the sun and she knew that it was also full of hidden pathways and trails, arteries along which fierce-looking people-smugglers, Coyotes as they are called, trafficked men and women and, sometimes, whole families through the wasteland to places where vans and trucks could take them deeper in the land of free and the home of the brave. A few years before, Inez’ brother-in-law, Jesus, hoping to make a downpayment on a ranch in the coastal range in Michoacan province set off for Denver, planning to work in the dry-wall business with his uncle for a season or two to finance the transaction. Jesus never reached Denver. At that time, Inez was working at the ladder factory. The family made inquiries and, finally, a man met with Inez and her husband in the Parque Central on a bench by the lake. The man had Jesus’ bracelet, a cloisonne image of the Virgin of Guadalupe with the missing man’s name spelled in gold letters beneath the Mother of God. The man said that the Coyote managing Jesus’ border crossing had been corrupt and that the immigrants were intercepted by armed men in the Chinati Mountains. Two or three of the strongest and most well-built men were handcuffed and taken away, ostensibly for ransom, although no demands were ever made. The rest of the immigrants were robbed and the women raped. Then, they were released to go on their way. The man sitting on the bench with Inez and her husband said that he had worked for a time at the Cibolo Creek Ranch. He told them that there was nothing more that he wished to say and that things that he had seen on the ranch were none of his business and, in any event, he was too busy with his work, helping to lay drainage tile near the old stables, to observe anything beyond the earth that his shovel was cutting and the gravel bed on which the ceramic pipe segments were laid. He had not heard anything either because as he maintained there was nothing to hear, but he did have the relic from Jesus’ final hours and he had made certain promises and, now, he was discharging those promised duties.
A year later, the cartels began fighting in Juarez and shooting up dance-halls and, then, Inez found bullets embedded in the siding her house and so quit the job at the Maquilladora and moved to Ojinaga, where her aunt lived. Then, she found a job at the Cibola Creek Ranch and I can point her out in the background of pictures of wealthy Texans taken for the society pages in the Fort Worth and Houston newspapers, a figure with a furtive look on her face, underlit because the focus is on the persons enjoying their feast, a menial or peon always walking sideways so as not to rudely turn her back on the people that she was serving.
The major domo took Mr. Justice Scalia to the stables to see what the Coyote had brought. There were two creatures in the iron cages. They glared out at the two men from between the bars. "That one," Mr. Justice Scalia said, pointing to one of them, "looks like it would like to eat me." The cages smelled of feces and urine and there were flies on the food in stainless steel dog bowls. The Master of the Hunt appeared on another soundless electric golf cart. He spoke in Spanish, using a soothing tone of voice. The female captive shrieked at him. The male simply turned his face to the wall.
The Master of the Hunt stooped to examine a pool of urine that had just leaked from the female. The urine was orangish and looked syrupy. "It’s dehydrated," the Master of the Hunt told the Major Domo. "If it’s dehydrated," Mr. Justice Scalia said, "it won’t be able to run very far or hard tomorrow." The Master of the Hunt shrugged and made a scathing remark in Spanish to the Major Domo. The Major Domo grinned but his eyes were troubled. ‘It could be you with the dogs in pursuit," the Master of the Hunt said. The Major Domo grinned even more broadly and made a sound in his throat that was supposed to sound like laughter but came out as a grunting noise. He took a hose and sprayed the female and it screamed some more. Mr. Justice Scalia laughed at the creature’s antics. "It should be a good quail hunt tomorrow," Judge Scalia said.
Now, of course, I don’t expect you to believe any of this. Like all fiction-writers, I am merely presenting you with alternatives to the truth, more or less plausible. These are allegations. In the law, one makes allegations – that is, facts that one proposes to prove. It is not a crime, nor immoral, to allege something that you believe to be true and, then, discover that the fact can not be proven. Indeed, Mr. Justice Scalia once noted publicly that the fact that people have different versions of the truth and tell inconsistent stories under oath should be viewed charitably – the fact that one affidavit differs from another doesn’t mean, necessarily, that one of the two affiants is lying. Rather, the only meaning, Judge Scalia insisted, to be derived from inconsistent affidavits, each attested in good faith, is that the two witnesses saw events from different perspectives and drew different conclusions from what they witnessed or that memories of the circumstances have faded at different rates and in different ways. After all, psychological testing shows us that reality is not a given, but rather something that we construct.
Also relevant to these considerations is the fact that the law allows a party to plead causes of action in the alternative – in other words, I can admit that I may be, at fault, for some purposes, but deny fault for other purposes. In a third-party complaint, a lawyer will allege that his client is wholly without culpability for the negligence or other breach of duty committed. But, in the alternative, that same lawyer may allege that if his client is found to be at fault hypothetically then that fault was caused or contributed to by another. Pleading in the alternative means that at the outset of a legal action, a party may allege different and inconsistent versions of the same transaction. This is not duplicity but instead proceeding in workmanlike manner to effectively protect a client’s rights. Therefore, it is well to keep in mind that there may be alternative versions of the same story, all of them different, but none necessarily false.
Mr. Justice Scalia gave a speech on the interpretation of legal documents at the Federalist Society of Illinois. He lectured at the University of Chicago at the Harper Memorial Library mid-afternoon and, then, toured the Oriental Institute. Mr. Justice Scalia told his the Federal Marshal accompanying him that he didn’t need an escort in the museum.
The high-ceilinged exhibition rooms were empty and still and the chill from the Chicago winter seeped upward through the cold, tile floors. Judge Scalia looked at a replica of Code of Hammurabi, a sleek black column shaped like an index finger pointing at the stars. At the stone digit’s tip, at the location of the fingernail, the ruler stood before an enthroned god wearing a peculiar ziggurat-shaped hat. Both the god and the ruler had billy-goat beards that reminded the Judge of Taliban fighters. The rounded surface of the stela was inscribed with cuneiform letters, ranks of them cascading down the side of the monument. It is a tall stone, more than seven feet in height so as to require that persons approaching the monument look up to the god and the ruler at its peak.
In a glass case nearby, Judge Scalia saw a fragment of one of the Dead Sea scrolls, a shred of papyrus that seemed very inert and dead, a scrap of mummy. In another case, a tablet bearing part of the story of Gilgamesh was displayed. A yellowing 3 x 5 index card told the Judge that he was seeing Tablet IX of the ancient legend, Gilgamesh’s encounter with Scorpion Beings at Mount Mashu.
The marshal was smoking a Swisher Sweet cigarillo on front steps of the museum. Students passing him stared with disapproval, but didn’t approach. It is a tobacco-free campus. Judge Scalia met the federal marshal and they strolled to the Quadrangle Club. Snow was heaped between the sidewalks but there was a faint trace of spring, a hint of water and mint julep in the air.
Several judges, including Federal Judge Posner, met Mr. Justice Scalia at the Club. The Dean of the Law School was present and several faculty, including a middle-aged man wearing a burgundy-colored red silk bow-tie. Mr. Justice Scalia had a glass of red wine and discussed the Chicago Lyric Opera with the law school Dean and Judge Posner. He ordered a Diet Coke with his meal together with another glass of wine. The middle-aged man wearing the red silk bow-tie mentioned that some years before, while working for the Solicitor General, he had argued a case before the Supreme Court. Judge Scalia seemed disinterested: he sniffed slightly and said: "Oh really." The man in the bow-tie said that the case involved eminent domain. "There have been many cases like that," Mr. Justice Scalia said. Judge Posner said something about a famous basketball player that he had met at a party a few weeks before. Mr. Justice Scalia perked up and asked about the athlete. The bow-tie man said that his appearance before the Supreme Court was very memorable. "How did I do?’ Scalia asked. The bow-tie man said: "You should ask me how I did." "Lawyers are fungible," Scalia replied. He took sip from his diet Coke and the ice in his glass made a faint clicking noise. The man wearing the bow-tie said: "You stopped me one-and-a-half minutes into my argument." Scalia nodded. "For a question," the Judge said. "No," the bow-tie man said, "you castigated me for reading from my notes. You shouted at me and said: ‘Counsel, you’re not reading are you?’ That’s what you did." "Really," Mr. Justice Scalia said looking over his bifocals with a bemused, owlish expression. "I choked," the bow-tie man said. "I wouldn’t have been able to proceed if Judge Alito hadn’t told me it was all right." "Well, you shouldn’t read from your notes when you argue to the Court," Mr. Justice Scalia said mildly. Judge Posner asked: "How did the case turn out?" The professor wearing the bow-tie said: "I won...or, I mean...my client prevailed." Judge Scalia smiled over his tipped bifocals: "So, there you have it."
Before dinner is served at the lodge, the Cibola Creek staff offers "turn-down" service. The service is a suggestion that guests enjoy a late-afternoon siesta before their evening repast.
The weather was fine, warm but not hot. Mr. Justice Scalia rummaged in his duffel bag and found that he forgotten to bring two books that he was reading. For a moment, he felt a twinge of fear – was his memory failing? Was he losing his intellectual powers?
The Judge met Mr. Poindexter, the owner of the lodge, in the lobby. Poindexter was gathering some charred bones from the big flagstone hearth in the room’s inglenook. The black glass eyes of a dozen heads mounted on the wall surveyed him with their benumbed and dispassionate stare.
"I’m afraid I will have to borrow a book from you," Mr. Justice Scalia said. He mentioned that he had left on his night-stand the two volumes that he had hoped to read this weekend. Mr. Poindexter courteously asked him about those books and the Judge named them.
"I have a little lending library for guests," Mr. Poindexter said. He led the Judge behind the bar into a room where two Jackalope mounts seemed to nod their antlers at one another. A massive bookcase made from Amazonian iron-wood stood like a threatening ebony giant against the wall. Mr. Justice Scalia perused the books: works by Graham Cunningham, J. Frank Dobie, de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom in the Grove Press edition and, also, in a photo-illustrated volume printed in Thailand, a collection of short stories by James Thurber, Gone with the Wind, the Library of America editions of Robert Frost and Stevens, Nietzsche’s Menschlich, allzu Menschliches, a half-dozen books by George Herter including all three editions of the Bull Cook series, How to Live with a Bitch, and How to get out of the Rat Race and live for 10 dollars a month, together with all of the Herters’ taxidermy manuals. Mr. Justice Scalia perused the books for a while and, then, asked if he could borrow The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola and Mari Sandoz’ Old Jules.
Mr. Justice Scalia carried the books to a Mission-style rocking chair set under the old cottonwood tree a dozen feet from the plank crossing over the creek. He read for a half hour. The air was warm and fragrant. The distant mountains beckoned. A black man wearing a grey shirt and trousers knelt in a flower-bed running along a wall made from jagged black volcanic fieldstone. The Judge shut his eyes to rest them and, then, fell asleep.
It was the most delicious sleep that he had experienced for many months, a great and voluptuous pleasure.
Dr. David Estrent heard the maid knock on his door for the late-afternoon "turn-down" service. Through the door, he told her that he was fine and didn’t require any services. Then, he put on his trousers and flannel shirt and went outside. Dr. Estrent walked from the lodge past the swimming pool, the pool-side recliners all empty at this hour, although a martini glass with a sliver of lemon sat next to one of the chairs. In his pocket, he carried a small collecting bottle in case he encountered any unusual specimens on his stroll.
He walked under the old cottonwood trees toward the little improvised bridge over the creek. A black gardener crouched among bright flowers by a retaining wall. A man was sleeping in a Mission-style rocker under the big tree closest to the plank crossing over the creek. The man looked old and weary and his sleep seemed to be disturbed with evil dreams. His head was turned to the side and slobber in thick ropy strands dangled from his mouth onto his left shoulder and chest. Dr. Estrent tiptoed by the man thinking that he had the face of a Roman emperor, someone like Caligula or Nero.
The trail passed the acre-and-a-half water feature and led onto a stony treeless terrace under a range of smooth pyramidal hills. His footsteps in the short bleached grass startled a couple of horned jack-rabbits, jackalopes, that darted with lightning speed away from him. With each step up the hill, the ground became drier and the grass thinned and ,then, the desert was so barren that there was no place to hide anything larger than a pen or pocketknife. Dr. Estrent crossed the desert pavement, hard, although with a brittle crust underfoot, and, then, climbed onto the flat sun-baked slabs of rock tilting up to the crest of one of the low hills. He left the trail and passed through by a quartzite ledge to a place where there was a big boulder, fallen from the sky it seemed since there were no rock heights anywhere above. The boulder was shaped like a skull. Behind the boulder, there was a field of loaf-sized rocks tilting upward. The rocks had a black surface, a patina that the sun and dust had made on them, and Dr. Estrent scrutinized them, locating four stones on which marks had been scratched. The marks were lighter colored than the surrounding stone and would not be obvious except to someone who knew to look for them.
Some serpents were sunning themselves in the field of rocks. Dr. Estrent stepped carefully among the stones, scrambling over them to reach the first marked rock. Behind the rock, there was a mason jar with holes poked in its lid. There had been three Arizona bark scorpions in that jar, but, now, he found only one of them remaining – some broken legs and the scimitar of the stinger was all that remained of the other captives. At the second marked rock, Dr. Estrent found that all three scorpions previously imprisoned in the bottle were alive. They were approximately the same size and so had been unable to devour one another. One of the scorpions looked limp, however, and Dr. Estrent wondered how much longer it would survie. In the third bottle, two scorpions remained with no trace of the smaller one that had previously been in that container. He lifted the fourth bottle from behind its inscribed stone – one scorpion was dismembering another, while the third, scuttled to the front of the bottle, looked on impassively.
"Scorpions eat scorpions," Dr. Estrent said to himself.
Mr. Justice Scalia opened his eyes. The copy of the Spiritual Exercises lay across his lap. The other book, Old Jules, had fallen down in the grass. His ankles itched. Were there chiggers in the buffalo-grass?
The law is everywhere, the Judge thought. It is underfoot and hiding beneath stones. It clings to trees and conceals itself under leaves. It writhes in the tall grass and burrows under the sod and it swims in the lake among the large- and small-mouth bass and the brown trout. It secretes itself under rugs and tables and hides under the dry-wall. It lives in the corners of attics and on the slabs under the houses. Sometimes, it flies on leathery wings. Sometimes, its wings are soft with feathers.
Dr. Estrent was converted to serving as a covert Russian agent when he attended the International Convention on Stinging and Biting Insects in St. Petersburg. Raised among the grey and biting swarms of mosquitos at Yellowknife in the Northwest territories of Canada, Estrent did his doctoral work in entomology at the University of Winnipeg. One of his advisors was an elderly French-Canadian professor who had begun his career during the second World War working at Queens College in Ontario on entomological warfare using mosquitos as vectors of infectious disease. This man suggested that Estrent consider selling his services as an entomologist to the American Department of Defense. Estrent was married and had several children and he was dissatisfied with the compensation otherwise available to him as a post-doctoral research fellow in Canada. Accordingly, Estrent acquired a Green Card, migrated to the United States and went to work at the U.S. Army Institute for Entomological Studies near Savannah, Georgia. At that place, he specialized in weaponizing biting midges and sand gnats, the so-called ceratopogonidae. After a dozen years in Savannah, Dr. Estrent published several papers on the hematophagic midges, ostensibly focusing on their breeding cycles and chromosomal triggers for predation. By this time, Dr. Estrent was divorced and cash-strapped. He had financed alimony and child support payments to his ex-wife by taking a second mortgage on his Savannah home and the economic downturn in 2008 proved to be calamitous to him. In the midst of these troubles, Dr. Estrent received an invitation to present his upcoming paper Cannibalistic larval predation among New Zealand Sandflies of the genus Phlebotomus at the 2010 annual conference on Stinging and Biting Insects. Dr. Estrent expected that his employer at the DOD would deny his application to attend the conference. But to his surprise, Estrent was approved to travel to the convention in St. Petersburg. (The Defense Department’s willingness to authorize foreign travel to a rival State suggests that, perhaps, the subsequently occurreing Zersetzung operation designed to convert Estrent into a Russian spy was a ruse to secure the entomologist’s infiltration of Russian covert services – if this is true, then, his mission at the Cibola Creek Ranch may well have been sanctioned by rogue elements of the CIA, a disquieting possibility that will not be explored here.)
There’s no need to detail the means used to procure Dr. Estrent’s cooperation with Russian secret services – a couple of girls were involved, some large cash payments, allegations of professional plagiarism, and, then, extortionate threats. Estrent returned from Russia as an agent of FSB, a status that didn’t concern him unduly because, after all, he remained a Canadian citizen. Estrent dutifully reported his activities and those of his colleagues to the Russians for a couple of years. Then, in 2013 the Department of Defense sent him to the Rift Valley in Ethiopia to study in the field the effects of midge-borne hemorrhagic fever, a variant of Tete, then afflicting the area. Like many academics involved in recondite technical studies, Dr. Estrent had an austere logical and abstract imagination – he was unworldly, one of the reasons that his marriage had failed. In the poor villages in the Rift Valley, Estrent saw first-hand the human suffering caused by sand-fly viruses and was appalled. He suffered a crisis of conscience and, upon returning to Georgia, resigned his position with the DOD research laboratory. This rendered him useless to his Russian masters and he was told that evidence as to his espionage would be anonymously delivered to the FBI unless he cooperated on a final mission. (In the alternative, he may have agreed to work for the CIA in exchange for immunity from prosecution of his espionage – this aspect of the story is obscure). This mission involved an entomological or, more correctly characterized, an arachnid attack on a controversial Supreme Court justice, an operation designed to destabilize the American presidential elections scheduled for November 2016 and favor Donald Trump, a close associate of Vladimir Putin. Dr. Estrent was provided a dossier on Mr. Justice Scalia, a public figure about which he knew next to nothing. After reading that dossier, Estrent concluded that it would morally justifiable to arrange for Judge Scalia’s death. His concern was using scorpions as an instrument of the attack. "I’m not really any kind of expert in genus Chelicerata," he told his handlers. "You’re a scientist," his spy-master told him, "do the research and, then, implement the operation."
Several Russian agents had infiltrated the St. Hubertus Society. For ten weekends, Dr. Estrent was taken quail hunting to establish his expertise. He became a good shot. Indeed, the Russians reported to Moscow that his aim had become "lethal."
The Garden Chinese Restaurant at the Union Plaza is reputed to have the best, and most fresh, sushi in El Paso. Around 2:30 on Friday afternoon, February 12, Gabriel Garza, the manager of the restaurant received a fax ordering a large quantity of premium quality sushi. The sushi was to be delivered in white styrofoam cases on a bed of dry-ice to the heliport at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base. Delivery was to be made around 5:00 pm. and a password was supplied to assure access to the military compound. Garza called in several prep cooks and his sushi chef. Because the order was large and complex, he borrowed the sushi chef from a competitor restaurant, the Tokyo Bullet, to augment his staff.
The faxed order contained an unanticipated request: "Please locate and buy copy of the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Dover thrift edition if possible) and the book, The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius (Penguin). These books should be readily available at any good bookseller. Include in your invoice reimbursement for the books and time incurred in locating and acquiring them calculated at a commercially reasonable rate." Garza circled the request, copied the order, and called his nephew, a student at the community college who sometimes made take-out deliveries for The Garden Restaurant. Garza handed his nephew, Juan, the photocopied order, and told him to make haste to locate and buy the two books.
Juan went to the Barnes and Noble at the Sunland Park Mall. Neither book was in stock. The clerk offered to order the book but, instead, Juan asked that she call the Barnes and Noble at The Fountains at Farah. That store had a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations but not The Twelve Caesars. Juan used his cell-phone to call his uncle to tell him that he was hurrying to The Fountains, but that, so far, only one of the books was available. Mr. Garza was perturbed and told Juan to see if a professor at the Community College could loan him the books or would sell them at a premium price. By this time, it was about 3:30 pm. Juan called the Community College, but not surprisingly was told that all of the teaching staff had gone home – it was, after all, a Friday. Juan went to the University of West Texas with the idea that he would steal a copy of The Twelve Caesars from the library. He found the library, double-parked, and ran inside only to discover that University’s only copy of the book was checked-out. The librarian told Juan that the professor of Classics, Oracio Grazios, was still on-campus – she had just seen him walking back to his office a moment earlier. Juan ran at full-pitch to Grazios office and found the elderly professor seated behind his desk drinking a cup of tea. The old man said that all of his editions of The Twelve Caesars were in Latin only. He said that an accurate, if archaic, translation was available on line under the aegis of the Gutenberg Project. Professor Grazios mentioned a colleague in Juarez, Professor David Rodriguez, at the Autonomous University. Grazios gave Juan, Dr. Rodriguez’ telephone number. Juan called the Mexican professor, verified that he had a copy of The Twelve Caesars in English, indeed, a "rather battered copy of the Penguin edition" the professor told him and a book that he was willing sell for forty American dollars. Juan raced to his car and found the campus police present with a tow-truck. He bribed the police man with a hundred dollar bill and, then, drove to the border crossing. He entered Mexico without incident, went to Dr. Rodriguez stucco bungalow near the UCAJ and purchased the book. It was 4:45 pm. Juan called his uncle and was told to hustle to the Cheyenne Air Force heliport. "Meet me there, as soon as you can," Mr. Garza told him, providing the password that would get him through the military bases’ gate.
At that time of day, all the traffic at the river-crossing was against him, Mexican day laborers returning home to Juarez. Around 5:00 pm, he started up the dry, windy slopes toward the military base in the mountains. Unfortunately, an exhibition football game was scheduled between the Odessa Drillers and the West Texas Scorpions and he encountered heavy traffic in the area by the Stadium. As he sat in the traffic jam, Juan was certain that he would arrive too late at the heliport and he wondered if his Uncle would refuse to pay his expenses because he had been delayed and, therefore, the mission had been fruitless. He reached the gates to the military base at 5:30, was authorized to enter, and skidded to a stop at the heliport on a concrete terrace cut into the barren slope of the mountain. His uncle Garza’s catering van was parked a few yards away and he saw the restauranteur standing beside the yellow and black target painted on the heliport pad. It was stormy to the east and south, dark clouds dragging fringes of rain that fell from the sky but didn’t reach the earth. Threading a passageway between the menacing clouds was the gnat of the helicopter, two red lights on its skids blinking.
"The helicopter is late," Garza told his nephew. Juan handed him the two books and said that it had been an expensive expedition.
As the helicopter dropped from the sky, the rotor stirred up the dust and gravel and blew grit into Juan’s right eye.
(Were untraceable blowfish toxins, complex organic agents similar to curare, injected into the sushi? Were avocado shards in the California Roll laced with cyanide? Were poisonous and stinging strands of Man-of-War jelly concealed in snake-shaped tubes of sea eel and calamari? Put your mind to rest – none of the sushi was poisoned.)
After the champagne-colored limousine bearing Chihuahua license plates passed through the scorpion gates, the old man with the walkie-talkie notified the lodge. Then, he drew the gates shut and locked them with a padlock and steel chain, setting out a NO VACANCY sign on saw-horse barricade. Each of the hinged gates was decorated with the cast-iron silhouette of a scorpion with pincers extended and stinger raised to strike. Closed, the two iron scorpions faced one another as if poised for combat.
The old man limped down the gravel road. The sun had set but a red glow outlined the pinnacles and bare stone basilicas of the Chinati Mountains.
A tin-roofed sentry hut commanded a knoll overlooking the locked gates. The old man went into the sentry station. He prepared a plate with beef jerky, refried beans, and raw sliced jalapenos and, then, put a Cantinflas DVD in the machine. The old man watched the movie without laughing or, even, smiling. His face was inexpressive with tiny bead-like eyes and palps that didn’t move vertically but rather sheared side-to-side. From time to time, he absentmindedly fingered his stinger but it never became erect.
A half-hour or so later, he heard the helicopter passing overhead.
The banquet hall had bare whitewashed walls, adobe as cold to the touch as the sides of a cavern. The table was Spanish, heavy dark wood with uncomfortable-looking chairs like stiff-backed thrones ranged around it. Food sat on shields of silver between heavy candelabra of an ecclesiastical aspect. For effect, the room was lit with candles at each of its corners. The candles were corpse-white and set within sconces made of beaten copper to reflect the flickering light toward the room’s center. Between courses, posture women imported from Ojinaga performed and there were sexual demonstrations of various sorts. One woman with tattooed breasts and belly opened her mouth widely and produced from between her jaws, a live tarantula striped like a tiger. Another woman spread her legs and gave birth to a mouse and a scorpion. The scorpion and mouse were confined under a crystal cheese dome so that they would fight. But the mouse seemed uninterested in combat, licking its paws, while the scorpion likewise scuttled to the edge of the wooden platter, pressing itself motionless against the glass.
Mr. Justice Scalia was bored by the proceedings at the banquet. He was used to amusements more piquant and penetrating. Conversation flagged. The long silences were broken only by sighs and gasps from the sexual exhibitions, most of which seemed obviously simulated. The Judge was tired and his whole body ached so that he wondered if he was coming down with some kind of illness. In the rest room, a younger man with a pointed goatee and mustard-colored bow-tie approached the Judge just as he emerged from a stall. Mr. Justice Scalia had entered the stall because he thought it vulgar to use a urinal for two reasons – first, the splash-back from the urinal might speckle his trousers and create a disagreeable impression when he resumed the banquet and, second, he didn’t like other men glancing sideways in amazement at his 15 inch penis. The younger man extended his hand to shake, but Mr. Justice Scalia had not yet reached the watch basin and, so, he simply gestured with the back of his own hand, brushing the man away. But the man with goatee did not leave the toilet. Instead, he stood next to the Supreme Court Justice as he ran hot water over his palms and fingers and, then, anointed them with French-milled soap waiting unwrapped and unused on a small silver tray between the faucets.
"Do you remember me?" the man with the goatee and mustard-colored bow-tie asked.
"Of course not," Mr. Justice Scalia said.
"I met you in Chicago," the man said. "And I argued a case to the Court when I worked with the solicitor general."
"There have been so many cases," Mr. Justice Scalia said. He wiped his hands carefully on a white towel and, then, returned to the orgy.
The people at the table looked away from the naked girls, cocking their ears to listen to the sound above them and outside. Heavy wings stirred the black air. Something was rowing through the turbulent skies over the mountains coming toward them. The throb of the wings came closer, beating rhythmically against the hot updrafts rising from the bare stone crowning the mountains.
"The sushi will be here in less than five minutes," Mr. Poindexter proclaimed.
Some of the girls crouched in the center of the table so that the sushi could be served on their buttocks.
Mr. Justice Scali yawned. It was all so terribly tedious, particularly when there was work in the world to do – more death warrants to sign, decisions to be written and fearsome dissents to be framed, the constitution for South Sudan, the newest country in the world, awaiting the work of his savage pen.
At the banquet, the wine that Inez was pouring was a noble vintage from the Vinhas do Alto Douro (1982), a rich and full-bodied ruby port. Although the port was famously rare and expensive, most of the guests put the palms of their hands over their cups, preferring the punch in the great terrene in the middle of the table, a decoction lightly laced with hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms. As she served, Inez heard great wings battering the humid air above the basin where the fortified lodge stood among the ancient cottonwoods by the artificial lake. She had heard that sound many times before and, each time, hoped that it was San Miguel. The angel wore a breast plate strewn with twinkling stars and the blazing galaxies of the Milky Way and his boots were iron and his chaplets shone with the silvery reflected light of the moon and his wings were iridescent at their tips but otherwise as densely feathered and brown as the pinions of an eagle. San Miguel carried a blazing sword in his left hand and the scales of justice were in his right hand, held in equipoise despite the fact that he was hurtling downward like a meteor fallen from outer space. The Santo’s eyes roamed over the world seeking out injustice and the cloak slung over his shoulders extended behind him crimson and agitated, the tail of a comet as it swam against the solar wind.
But, of course, it was merely the sushi arrived from El Paso. The major domo told Inez to set the bottle of port wine on the sideboard and, then, go outside to meet the helicopter. Inez called a couple of chamber-maids to help her. The women left the warm banquet hall and the night clerk handed them UV scorpinator flashlights so that they would not be stung as they crossed the desert pavement to the heliport on the ridge.
If I know you well, you probably misremember Flaubert’s story entitled "St. Julian Hospitaller" as involving a huntsman who encounters a great stag bearing the crucified Christ between his antlers. Although the story does involve a magical stag, the beast does not carry a crucifix between his horns. Rather, the stag has the power of speech: the animal denounces Julian for orchestrating a savage and wasteful massacre of deer in remote and wooded valley in the French Ardennes. Flaubert’s account of the deer hunt is memorable, an astounding and savage tour de force that has a surreal, even hallucinatory effect on the reader. It was the custom of the Secret Society of St. Hubertus to appoint a man to read those paragraphs from the Conte narrating the medieval hunt to inspire a proper blood lust in its members. On the evening of Judge Scalia’s death, John Poindexter was assigned the role of reading the story to the members of the Society and, as toasts of Jaegermeister were made (people shouting "Prost!"during the reading) he declaimed loudly from that text, his podium lit by torches held by the naked girls flanking him.
About a dozen years earlier, Mr. Poindexter was hunting in Mexico with Dick Cheney. The party had been invited to a rancho owned by a Mexican Judge in Monterrey. The place, called Rancho del Casito, was located in Coahuila, accessible only by jeep or helicopter, a remote and mountainous place where dome-shaped stone mountains enclosed sandy basins dotted with grey sage and thorn bushes. The Judge, connected with narco-trafficking across the Rio Grande in the area of Piedras Negras, was a wealthy and powerful man and the ranch was so large that he had never seen all of it, even from the air. He told his guests that there were steep-walled valleys that no human being had ever entered, malpais that could not be crossed, and rivers flowing north to the Rio Bravo del Norte that had never been traced. A great canyon two-thousand feet deep zigzagged through the mesa overlooking the ranch house and the quarters for the vaqueros. The canyon was so deep and narrow that there were places in the abyss where the sunlight shone only a couple days of the year and, then, for not more than an hour or a half-hour.
The prey was released from steel cages annexed to a pole barn where some pickup trucks, a jeep, and a front-end loader were kept, and, after a sportsmanlike interval during which the huntsman drank shots of tequila, the armed party departed toward the hills, bloodhounds baying as they caught the scent and a little boy, a waif adopted by the Judge, winding his horn so that the bright brassy tones echoed off the rock walls of the mesa. The vaqueros herded the fleeing prey toward a ladder-like ascent to the top of the mesa – some of the figures were caught against the steep incline, clearly visible at a 1000 meters and, thereby, giving the marksmen an opportunity to demonstrate their prowess and a half-dozen were shot down during the climb, toppling picturesquely down the talus slopes. But most of the prey reached the mesa top scattering out across the flat plateau. In the end, of course, their escape was blocked by the abyss of the canyon, a great slit in the rock that was impassable. The hunting party cornered the convicts and gunned them down, some of the bodies falling off the rim of the canyon, others leaping from the precipice to cheat the huntsmen of their prey. Photographs were taken of the naked corpses, one or the other of the hunters standing with a boot astride a bare shoulder or hip. Trophies were taken and the blood hounds were fed the entrails of the prey and, after a picnic overlooking the grey depths of the canyon where a little ribbon of dark green river was visible far below, the hunters mounted their horses and ATVs to return to the lodge in the valley.
Dick Cheney and Mr. Poindexter drove back to the lodge on an ATV. They started some grouse from the chaparral on a terrace of the mesa and, following those fowl, became separated from the rest of the shooting party. In a narrow stony valley, Cheney rolled the ATV. No one was hurt but both hunters were now afoot during a particularly scorching part of the day. A mountain lion lurched across the golden and brown grass on a hillside, crossing the trail on which they staggered downhill, and they shot the animal. Then, there were rabbits chased by several mangy coyotes – they shot down both predators and prey. Wild turkey scattered before them, but without escaping their shot gun blasts and, then, they saw a herd of dark brown peccaries grazing among the prickly pear cactus. They killed the peccaries including a sow with ten piglets. The blasts from their shotguns butchered the animals and left gouts of blood on the stones. A dense herd of jackalopes appeared from the brush and both men spun in circles blasting away at them with their shot guns. Cheney fired recklessly and the buckshot from his gun ripped off Mr. Poindexter’s little finger. Poindexter knelt in the dust, blood spurting from his injured right hand. Cheney threw down his bird-gun in disgust, pitching it away from him as if it were golf club thrown out of frustration after a particular bad shot on the links, and the weapon discharged again, knocking a golden eagle out of the sky.
At that moment, when both men were effectively disarmed, a large, silver-furred jackalope appeared from behind a great black boulder shaped like a savage pagan idol. The jackalope hopped toward the wounded man kneeling in the dust where Vice-president Cheney struggled to knot his handkerchief into a tourniquet. Cheney was cursing under his breath and the sun was very hot and both men had lost their canteens when the ATV rolled and so had been without water for several hours. They had been deafened by the blasts of their shotguns and their hands were burned from loading and reloading their weapons that had become blazing hot with the slaughter and, both men, smelled of fire and cordite and gun smoke impregnated their hair and clothing. The big jackalope crouched a half-dozen feet from the two men and they cringed to see that the rodent’s head blossomed with a great, multi-pointed rack of antlers, the most beautiful set of horns that they had ever seen and that they were powerless to take because both were unarmed. The jackalope displayed his horns to them and Mr. Poindexter saw a golden crucifix dangling in those antlers. Jesus body was stapled to the gold cross like some kind of caterpillar, like a white larval slug. His body was limp but the Savior’s little oil-dark head rolled from shoulder to shoulder emitting terrible shrill screams. The jackalope had a surprisingly deep and resonant voice. "Why dost thou persecute me? John, why doest thou persecute me?" the Jackalope asked. Jesus shrieked like a rabbit in the jaws of a coyote. The jackalope reared up to better exhibit the cross and Mr. Poindexter felt himself swooning as he he fell face forward in the dust of the ravine.
Someone raised an ice-frosted bottle of Jaegermeister above the banquet tables. The naked girls turned their torches down to extinguish them in buckets of water. One of foreign dignitaries, a representative of the St. Hubertus Society in Austria, recited a poem:
Das is des Jaegers Ehrenschild
Dass er schuetz und behegt sein Wild,
weidmaennisch jagt, wie sich’s gehoert,
den Schoepfer in Geschoepfe ehrt.
(This is the hunter’s badge of glory,
That he protect and tend his quarry,
Hunt with honor as is true
To the beast through God is due.)
The Austrian count sounded the umlauted words in the verse so that they boomed like howitzers being fired.
After toasting the company with Krautlikor, a shot glass brimming with the stuff that he lifted to his voluptuous purplish lips but did not drink, Mr. Justice Scalia retired from banqueting hall into the adjacent billiards parlor. It was cooler there, without the feral fever in the air that had gripped the huntsmen, and the pool tables were deep green fields, three of them, each bathed in the sunny light of an overhead lamp, bright and serene as meadows where sheep might safely graze in April’s mild season. A walk-in humidor built as an alcove in the old fort’s thick wall was open and some of those who had withdrawn from the banqueting room selected cigars and lit them. The Black gardener, normally not allowed inside the lodge, had been pressed into service this evening because of the overflow throng of hunters gathered at the resort, every room occupied, it was said, and, indeed, the two smaller forts in the back-country also filled to capacity, with more than a dozen pavilion-style tents, each flying armorial banners, pitched among the hills overlooking the little Morita bulwark, three white trucks parked among the tents to nurse the campers: a buffet truck, a long, tubular water truck, and, of course, a third semi towing a flatbed on which there were lavatories and showers in cells curtained by white plastic. The Black man was fitted-out in a scarlet vest and blue velvet trousers and he wore highly polished leather boots that pinched his feet so that he grimaced as he moved to and fro. It was the Black servant’s task to light cigars for the men in the billiard room and to provide them with trays for their ashes, work that he accomplished by shuffling silently back and forth across the room, replacing dirty ash trays with fresh ones. One of the hunters said that he had spoken to the Black man and that he was an African, a Nuer tribesman from the South Sudan, his ethnic identity clearly designated by the six horizontal gaar scars incised in his forehead.
Mr. Justice Scalia mentioned that he had agreed to write the constitution for South Sudan, the newest nation on Earth. "I have even assigned a motto to the country," the Judge said: "Manus haec inimica tyrannis" – this hand despises tyrants."
"I suppose your inspiration was our Federal constitution," the man in the mustard-colored bow tie said.
"No, no, I have taken a different approach," Mr. Justice Scalia said. He told the man wearing the bow-tie that the South Sudanese constitution, at least, in its present draft, was articulated into four segments, each of them comprising an element of the body-politic: that is, warriors, merchants, bureacrats and technicians. These four social segments each had one fundamental right conjoined with an equally fundamental duty or obligation – hence, the body politic, although constructed from four segments was equipped with eight matching rights and duties, appropriately jointed to allow for reasonable flexibility – "to make the whole thing mobile," Judge Scalia said.
"There is no reason why government should be limited to three branches," Mr. Justice Scalia continuded. "In fact, my constitution for South Sudan establishes eight fundamental mechanism for governance, each itself independent but establishing checks and balances on the others seven procedural systems. Then, the State religions are factored into the polity – these are what I call leading edge institutions, configured to protect the head of the government from attacks from the left or the right. You see, I understand, that separation of State and Church is a fallacy, an error of the enlightenment that has never been viable. So the State religions, Muslim and Christian, are placed in equipoise, like pincers flanking the organs of apprehension or perception if you will. The police caste, here with inherited privileges and obligations, serves as a sort of stinger mechanism, capable of very swift and deadly response if necesary but otherwise poised in an ornamental repose – at least, that’s the idea. You see the instrument of execution must always be on display if order is to be preserved. The judiciary is not single but customary and regarded as parasitic, mite-like appendages affixed to the torso of the body politic, everywhere diffused so that actual power doesn’t lie in any one organ or even any several members of the whole but is integrally infused throughout the entire political organism."
"This seems very complicated," the man in the mustard-colored tie said.
Officious, grinning broadly, mute, the Black man exchanged ash-trays on the table between Mr. Justice Scalia and his interlocutor. Blue smoke hung in the air and billiard balls tapped together or bounced off the padded edges of the tables, a dull thud that contrasted with the cracking sound that the ivory balls made when they collided. Pole cues suavely poked at balls and the balls rolled gracefully over their lush green meadows and all was well.
"The South Sudan is a complex place," Mr. Justice Scalia said.
"Won’t the Judges in that land necessarily interpret their constitution by citing your dissents, your opinions written for the United States Supreme Court?"
Mr. Justice Scalia scowled. "I hope not."
"But if a Judge applies a canon of original intent, won’t your decisions recorded in the proceedings of the Supreme Court be relevant to determining what you intended?" the man in the bow-tie asked.
"If I have drafted the South Sudanese Constitution correctly, it will not require interpretation," Mr. Justice Scalia said. "A law only requires interpretive exegesis if its ambiguous, that is, if the words admit of two or more inconsistent meanings. I have taken care to write the South Sudanese Constitution to eliminate all ambiguities."
"How is that possible?"
"By making the text as long as necessary, by spelling out self-sufficient interpretative canons of construction, by avoiding the sort of ellipsis that characterizes our Constitution."
"What would be wrong with interpreting the South Sudanese Constitution in light of our federal constitution?"
"A constitution," Judge Scalia said, "must spring organically from the soil of the republic that it serves. Our republic is climatically, historically, and culturally different from the Nile valley and the deserts of the Sudan. It would be a travesty to attempt to impose our type of laws, organically derived from our natural temperament, to the South Sudan – to make this error is to misunderstand the nature of a constitution."
"Your own doctrine of interpreting texts by original intent is going to require that the Federal Constitution of the United States be, in fact, considered in interpreting the South Sudanese Constitution," the man in the mustard-colored bow tie maintained. "How can it be otherwise? And I can see that the courts in that country will have recourse to your body of jurisprudence to ascertain what you intended by writing certain measures into the law."
"Only if I’ve failed by allowing ambiguities to creep into the text," Mr. Justice Scalia said.
"But language is inherently ambiguous," the bow-tie man said.
"Not so," Mr. Justice Scalia said. "Ambiguity doesn’t occur by accident, at least not when you are reading the words composed by a competent writer. Poor writers make lame excuses. They argue that ambiguity must always arise. I’m not a poor writer. So I don’t make that excuse."
"But its unavoidable that your model was our Federal Constitution."
Mr. Justice Scalia sniffed: "Not so, in fact, if you have listened with any attention to my description of the organic constitution and laws of South Sudan, you will understand that my constitutional model is zoological not legal."
"Indeed," said Mr. Justice Scalia.
At that moment, a servant entered the room, bowing to both the men gathered around Mr. Justice Scalia and the groups attending the pool tables. She carried a wrapped package. The woman excused herself, bowed again, and approached the Judge, slipping into his hands the parcel that she was carrying.
"With the compliments of Mr. Poindexter," the girl said.
Judge Scalia unwrapped the parcel: there were two books – Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations in a slender Dover edition and a somewhat dog-eared copy of Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars.
Judge Scalia nodded his thanks to the servant and, then, stood up.
"I see I have some reading to do this evening," he said.
And, excusing himself, the Judge left the billiards room.
I will not identify the three assassins dispatched to murder Mr. Justice Scalia by opponents of Citizens United v. FEC (2010 – holding that Congress cannot prohibit corporations and Unions from engaging in political speech) except to say that they were anti-business terrorists, bomb-throwing anarchists whose shaggy hair and beards, much on display during the so-called Battle of Seattle and, later, at the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park, had been sheared away to groom them for this assignment. Clean-shaven and with flat-top crew cuts, the three killers planned to orchestrate a Dick Cheney-style shooting, a misadventure on the firing line that would ensue when the first ruffed grouse (a species imported to the Ranch for hunting purposes) flushed: at that instant the assassins would fire their shotguns on the pass and, one or more of the blasts, would knock the old Judge down so that the hounds might gather and lick his blood as he lay mortally wounded in the sage. Of course, the whole tragedy would be ruled a death by misadventure as would also be the case if Mr. Justice Scalia were found with broken neck and bilateral shattered femurs at the base of a fluted, basalt cliff, its talus with petroglyphs pecked into the stone by ancient Indians, a fate and fall to which he had been led by a sinister guide aggrieved, perhaps, by the Judge’s dissenting opinions in Grutter v. Bollingen (2003) mocking the notion of affirmative action (racial preferences) with respect to University of Michigan law school admissions. And there were military men in attendance at the Lodge, adjutants to several of the generals who had subscribed to a petition calling upon Mr. Justice Scalia to recuse himself from deciding Hamden v. Rumsfeld (2004 – applying federal jurisdiction to detainees captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan), former Special Forces operatives, masquerading as mere businessmen (a faux oil executive and a rowdy, party-hearty lobbyist for big pharma) covertly ordered to misuse the elderly Justice with homicidal intent in retaliation for the Judge’s defiance in the face of the five-general petition, the directive being to put the old gent in some Abu Ghraib approved stress postures for a couple hours, hammer out a few tunes on his testicles and, then, water-board the Judte to death – an exercise in rather pointless retribution, one might hasten to observe, since the position advocated by the generals, namely that federal law and not military tribunals be applied to management of the detainees, was, in fact, adopted by SCOTUS albeit by a 5 to 4 majority, Mr. Justice Scalia among the dissenters. (At a speech in Fribourg, Switzerland, Judge Scalia had previously announced that his son was serving with American armed forces in Afghanistan and that the Judge was not about to accord trial by jury to villains who had fired upon his own kith and kin.) And, of course, lurking in the shadows, was a homosexual Sommelier, a neatly appointed and obviously effeminate fellow with something of the manner of airplane stewardess, the assassin carrying in his vest-pocket a vial of botulism so as to dose Mr. Justice Scalia’s wine as a punishment for certain scathing words published in the dissent to Romers v. Evans (1995 – striking down a Colorado statute denying protected class status to homosexuals), to say nothing of that hurtful sarcasm and mockery on display in his dissents to Lawrence v. Texas (2003 – striking down Texas criminal law prohibiting sodomy) and to Obergefell v.Hodges (2015 – prohibiting bans against same-sex marriage), in the latter of which Judge Scalia declared that the majority opinion sanctioning homosexual marriages had descended to the level of "the mystic aphorisms of fortune cookies" – a phrase that had incited several Chinese plutocrats to also retain highly trained Ninja assassins encamped in a remote valley in the Chinati massif, heavily armed and awaiting their chance to strike at the Judge and revenge this slur on the honor the great nation of China and its baked cookies. And this is to say nothing of the hit men retained by the Innocence Project to execute Mr. Justice Scalia on the morrow at their very first opportunity, snipers poised at the borders of the Ranch and ready to take action if any hunting party adorned by Mr. Justice Scalia approached them, their long guns locked and loaded with hot lead to recompense the Judge for his dissents in Thompson v. Oklahoma (1988 – Scalia arguing that the State may constitutionally execute children) and Atkins v. Virginia (2002 – Scalia arguing that the State may constitutionally execute the mentally retarded) as well as for his opinions limiting habeas corpus (for instance, Osborne v. State of Alaska, 2009 holding that habeas corpus petitioner has no constitutional right to require State to provide DNA samples that might exonerate person convicted of rape). And, last but not least, there was a call-girl, one of several recruited from El Toreo, a notorious cantina in Ojinaga, the woman to whom we have previously alluded as giving birth to a scorpion and mouse – this lady had secreted on her person, in another orifice, a small but deadly handgun, ostentatiously marked with serial numbers documenting that the weapon had been purchased in the District of Columbia. Legal scholars will recall that Mr. Justice Scalia was assigned the majority opinion in Heller v. District of Columbia, the 2008 decision in which SCOTUS ruled that laws prohibiting the sale of so-called "Saturday Night Specials" in the District of Columbia were unconstitutional, Scalia’s rationale was based upon his scholarly determination that the Founding Fathers desired that individual citizens be appropriately armed so as to constitute militias for the defense of their freedoms. The call-girl was to wend her way to Mr. Justice Scalia’s guest room, importune him for entrance, and, then, while disrobing, reach around to extract the hand-gun from its hiding place, using the diminutive weapon to fire a bullet through the elderly judge’s ice-cold and stony heart – whether the lead projectile could possibly penetrate that petrified organ, of course, was uncertain – this entire plot devised so that the victim would be killed with precisely the same species of gun that he had warranted for use in the notional militias of Washington D. C., a scheme that was, in fact, an elaborate exercise in irony.
With the exception of the assassination plot premised upon Heller, the alert reader will, perhaps, have detected a pattern in the foregoing. In almost every case, the death penalty planned to be exacted upon Mr. Justice Scalia was premised upon cases in which the judge’s decision was a dissent. In other words, the rage that Mr. Justice Scalia incited did not relate to decisions with outcomes actually binding upon anyone – to the contrary, Mr. Justice Scalia was largely hated for words that he wrote in the defense of lost causes. In this respect, there may be an argument that the man was more to be pitied than despised.
The hearse with Chihuahua license plates met the black limousine at Shafter on Highway 67. Among the ruins of the ghost town, there was a white church with a crooked, lopsided roof. Hedges of prickly pears enclosed the church and the barren cemetery. A couple of stock tanks beyond steel posts wrapped in barbed wire reflected trough-shaped patches of the blue sky. The houses had fallen down except for their corners, shredded adobe pillars that pointed like accusatory fingers at the hot sun. The scaffold of the old silver mine’s head-shaft stood at the crest of a hill stark as an instrument of execution.
The black limousine had U. S. government license plates. Two men in blue suits came from the limousine that had been parked in the gravel next to the church with the crooked roof. A man climbed out of the back of the hearse and shook the hands of the men in blue suits. Everyone was wearing dark sunglasses.
With the limousine leading the way, the two vehicles drove three miles to the Cibola Creek Ranch road and, then, turned right onto the graded gravel. The day was dry and plumes of dust reddish-gold dust rose behind the vehicles and lingered in the still air.
At the lodge, the African man from the South Sudan sat on a folding deck chair outside of the room where Mr. Justice Scalia’s body reposed. It was hot on the shadeless patio next to the swimming pool and the Black man was sweating under his broad-brimmed cowboy hat. On both sides of the room containing the corpse, Latino chamber-maids were working. The sound of vacuum cleaners that the women were pushing to and fro in the rooms vacated of their guests this mid-morning hummed in the air. Service carts stacked with linen were parked on the patio next to the rooms that were being cleaned. From time to time the maids came from rooms where they were working to dump trash in one of the canvas pouches, big as a mail-bag, suspended from the cart. The other pouch was used for sheets and pillow-cases stripped from the beds.
After awhile, one of the maids approached the African man posted as a sentry outside of Mr. Justice Scalia’s suite. He shrugged, stood up, and led the maid into the dead man’s rooms. In the room, already a little foul with smell of death, the Sudanese gardener put his finger to his lips, reminding her to remain silent. The gardener knew that there was another guard posted inside the building on the other side of the interior door leading to the lodge corridor. (The gardener need not have enjoined the maid to silence – the inside sentry, a waiter from the dining room, was listening to Ranchero music on his headphones.) The Sudanese gardener pulled the sheet off the Judge’s lower body exposing him. Someone had placed a pillow over the dead man’s face so that they would not have to look into his open eyes.
The chamber-maid left the suite, went to the room where she was working. She used her hands to measure a distance of about 15 inches and, then, giggled. The other maid giggled as well and about ten minutes later, she also approached the African man, whispered something to him, grimaced when he pretended to deny her access, and, then, was ushered into the room with the corpse. She came out, shaking her head, and, after twenty minutes or so, went to confer with the other two chamber maids working on the other side of the lodge. Giggling, they shyly approached the gardener and, also, were briefly escorted into the room.
The old man at the guard post next to the scorpion gate saw the ribbon of dust rising over the gravel road like an approaching con-trail. He used his cell-phone to call the lodge. The old man surmised that the two black vehicles were carrying prostitutes from Ojinaga – the year before he had seen a half-dozen whores transported to the ranch in a hearse for the Dia de los Muertos celebration. The front desk at the lodge told him to open the gate for the vehicles. The old man scratched the spiracle openings on his abdomen and, then, walked out of the shack to greet the vehicles.
From the lodge’s office, the desk clerk called the African gardener. He stood up quickly and went into the room. He lifted the sheet over Judge Scalia’s body and, bending down, quickly tugged the dead man’s pajama pants back over his groin. Then, he went outside again and awaited the arrival of the coroner, the undertaker, and the federal marshals.
Five and a half years before Scalia’s death, the Sunday society pages in the Houston Chronicle reported on the first meeting of the International Order of St. Hubertus at the Cibola Creek Ranch. The article is archived at the newspaper’s web-site with a gallery of photographs. The article explains the origin of the Order of St. Hubertus, an ancient secret society that arose in Austria in 1695, a bizarre counter-reformation association founded by the papist Count Anton von Spork. (Spork is also known for inventing an eating utensil that combines features of the spoon and fork, an innovation that he made so that royal hunting parties could eliminate one-third of the cutlery that they had previously required in the field.) The writer notes that Keith Richards, Julia Roberts, and the German movie star, Udo Kier, were frequent guests at the exclusive Cibola Creek resort.
The photographs accompanying the article show Mr. Poindexter standing next to a jauntily dressed billionaire and his blonde wife. The wife wears a fawn-colored suede cowboy hat tied under her chin; the billionaire squints against the bright light, his eyes partially covered by a baseball cap bearing the words Odessa Drillers above its projecting bill. All three of the people tenderly cradle shotguns in their arms. In the background, the eye roams a featureless wilderness, empty to the horizon, brown and wrinkled like an old horse-blanket thrown over a corpse splayed out across the floor. Another photograph shows Inez serving at a banquet, she looks sideways incidental to a flashlit portrait of another couple sitting at a banquet table with several wine-glasses flanking their plates, the fluid in those crystal goblets blood-colored or tinted like a sunrise depicted in a medieval stained glass window. Inez has an expression of alert terror on his face. The picture inserted in the article listing the Houston politicians and oil men who attended the St. Hubertus society hunt shows the outcome of an afternoon’s hunting: a row of people bearing arms stands over an array of dead quails and grouse (some of the guests wearing strange-looking leather vests and berets plumed with pheasant feathers) – the fowl are arranged in a vertiginous spiral comprised of winged corpses leaking blood into the hot sand.
At the end of the article, as a bonus, a recipe for the preparation of roast quail with lentils and watercress is appended. Semi-boneless quail carcasses are rubbed in herb (garlic, thyme, basil and sage) and, then, roasted with shallots and bulbs of garlic at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the quail legs wobble in their joints. Simultaneously, lentils are simmered in water combined with bay leaves, lemon, and a tbsp. of white wine. Pour off excess fluid from the lentils and combine with cooked quail. Add 4 cups of wilted watercress leaves – cook for two more minutes after adding trimmed water cress to the quail. Serve quail immediately while succulent and moist. If an assassination is desired, conceal a young and nimble Arizona bark scorpion (centruroides sculpturatus) within the body cavity of the quail. This recipe is sure to satisfy all your guests.
It happened like this: Inez entered Mr. Justice Scalia’s room. The night was stormy and, through a gap in the curtains drawn over outside door leading to the pool, Inez saw ragged, crab-shaped clouds scuttling over the broad impassive face of the moon. Between the armadas of clouds, the stars of the Milky War flared, seeming to tremble a little in the roaring wind.
Inez stood motionlessly for a couple of minutes, allowing her eyes to accustom themselves to the darkness in the room. Judge Scalia was snoring loudly and his mouth was open so that his blubbery, wet lips formed a perfect O-shaped cavity in the middle of his large leonine head. When she could see in the dark, Inez moved stealthily toward the still figure lying on the catafalque of the Himmel-bed.
Mr. Justice Scalia was dreaming: with his wife and children, he was seated at an outdoor picnic table at a seafood restaurant at the marina at Wellfleet. The sun shone wanly overhead and the air smelled of salt and seaweed and, across the road, some floating wooden piers ran between moored galleons with curious casket-shaped fo’c’sles. At another picnic table, a psychologist and her fat husband were discussing Jung – the couple looked weary and spoke with Midwestern accents that the Judge found irritating. His children were young once more, gazing at him with adoration, and his wife’s breasts were exposed because she was nursing an infant. Somewhere offstage, the waiters were performing the second act of Tosca. There was corn-on-the-cob as bright as the sun and fluffy white cole-slaw on the picnic table and seagulls screamed overhead. The lobster thrashed in Mr. Justice Scalia’s mouth and it tasted like shrimp and earthworm and cashews dipped in citrus. The jointed legs abraded his tongue and the sides of his mouth and, then, the stinger penetrated his soft-palate filling his sinuses with venom. Judge Scalia sat bolt upright, choking as the creature tried to burrow into his esophagus, stinging him again and again. He gagged and spit out the scorpion and saw that it shone in the dark, moving with surprising speed and agility across the bedclothes. His mouth filled with the taste of metal, copper coins on which he was sucking like pomegranate seeds. Convulsions shook his body so fiercely that his injured right shoulder, the place where he had torn his supraspinatus playing tennis a dozen years earlier, dislocated itself. Then, he began to dream again – for a moment, he saw the restaurant at Wellfleet, the annoying Minnesota couple, the wan light tremulous between the strangely shaped galleons. The scene faded and it was dark for a moment and, then, Mr. Justice Scalia found that he was in the hell that he had so intensely imagined.
It didn’t happen anything like what I have just written – the previous section is a lie. Here are the true facts:
Inez held a towel in her hands. The towel concealed a jar where a small Centruroides sculpturatus was pressed flat against the glass. A sharp instrument, possibly an ice-pick had been used pierce the aluminum cap of the glass. Inez held the jar to her nose and sniffed at the holes in the jar’s lid: there was a faint odor like earthworms on a wet sidewalk mixed the sharp citric smell of lemon.
The old man looked nothing like his photograph. He was heavier and his face darker and more swollen and there seemed to be something wrong with his right shoulder – he wore a kind of bandage or immobilizer as a sling. The old man was reclining in a chair next to the bed, plastic ear-buds pressed into the canals on both sides of his head so that his silhouette was that of a kid working in a fast food restaurant, taking orders from drive-up customers. The silver IPOD was resting next to him on a small, round table. Perhaps, he was asleep or merely resting his eyes – a slender book with its cover decorated by a picture of a Roman emperor lay opened but page-down across his chest.
When he was a young man, Mr. Justice Scalia had sympathized with Angelotti, the political prisoner, or Caravadossi, the painter and Tosca’s lover. He identified his father with Scarpia. But one matured and, now, the Judge imagined himself to be someone like Baron Scarpia, the inquisitor and chief of the Roman police. He was listening to the end of Act Two of Tosca (Tebaldi - Stefano - Gobb, La Scala 1953), enfolded in the music.
Inez wondered if the scorpion was even alive. She shook the bottle very slightly and the creature twitched and pinched at the air with one of its tiny lobster-like pincers. The old man didn’t seem to be breathing. He was probably already dead. Carefully, she unscrewed the lid of the jar, approaching the old man from behind.
Baron Scarpia scribbled an order on a piece of paper. Red velvet, the color of calf-liver, covered the walls secreting dark, gory shadows. The candelabra on the lavishly set table flickered. Tosca ripped open her bodice and lowered her head submissively. With one of her pincers, she gestured the old man into her embrace.
Tosca, finalmente mia!
With the dagger clasped between tarsus and manus, she lunged and stabbed him. The music unscrolled in a series of exclamation points.
Questo e’ d bacio di Tosca.
"This is Tosca’s kiss."
Something dropped from above onto the bald spot on Mr. Justice Scalia’s head. He felt a sudden sharp pain as if a cigarette were being extinguished on his scalp. He swatted at the pain and some of the agony transferred to his middle finger, a sensation of cutting that seared his hand before he felt the pins and needles of numbness spreading through his wrist and up his arm.
Inez stepped back. Mr. Justice Scalia looked around and tried to stand up. The book by the Roman emperor fell from his chest and the scorpion, surprisingly swift and nimble, darted away from the falling volume.
The music continued: Ti suffoca il sangue?
Mr. Justice Scalia’s mouth filled with the taste of metal. He sheltered his eyes from the bright light and croaked something. Inez watched him.
A wave of purgatorial fire washed over him. He thrashed on the gridiron as his crimes were burned away. On a high mountain, a choir was singing but this was odd because the curtain had already fallen on Act Two of the opera and it should have been silent.
The gardener from the South Sudan, Mr. Guer Bol, sat across from Mr. Justice Scalia in the judge’s room. He held a small glass jar on his lap. In Mr. Bol’s breast pocket, next to a pen marked with the name of the lodge, there was a silver-colored tweezers.
Mr. Bol told the Judge that he had come to kill him with a scorpion. "This breed is not indigenous," Mr. Bol said, "and, so, nobody will suspect that your death was an unnatural one."
Mr. Justice Scalia said that he could shout for help and that, instantly, the room would be filled with armed federal marshals.
"Oh no, sir," Mr. Bol said. "I know that you have left your security detail behind."
"This is ridiculous," the Judge said.
"I agree," Mr. Bol said. "It was absurd for the Dinka majority to commission you to write a constitution for us. I am Nuer. I will not accept any constitution endorsed by my ancestral enemies."
"Ancestral enemies," Mr. Justice Scalia said, grimacing slightly. "You see, it is that kind of thinking that my constitution will eliminate."
Mr. Bol rubbed the keloid scars striating his forehead. The scars gave him an expression of brooding, a scowl of determination, but, in fact, the man was smiling broadly and showing his white teeth and pink gums.
"We want to proceed without the White man’s law, without your colonialist constitution," Mr. Bol told the judge.
"My constitution is organic. It is designed to spring from the deserts of the South Sudan," Mr. Justice Scalia said. "It’s a very beautiful living thing."
"Such presumptuousness," Mr. Bol replied.
He squinted at the little scorpion in the glass jar.
"We don’t want any constitution associated with you," Mr. Bol continued. "Your constitution, your history, your original intent – that’s what you would say, wouldn’t you?"
"You don’t like the fact that the Dinka are more prosperous and that they control the law improvement committee," Mr. Justice Scalia said.
"That’s only part of it," Mr. Bol said. "Real law is customary. It’s not law if you write it down. The moment you take a law out of the law-speaker’s mouth and put it on paper, you falsify the law."
"That will work in a village," Mr. Justice Scalia said. "Not in a modern nation-state."
"We don’t want to be a modern nation-state," Mr. Bol said. "See, you always assume that we want to be like you. We don’t want to be like you, we don’t want to adopt your ways."
Mr. Justice Scalia looked ancient and weary. His skin was dark, mottled with age, strangely discolored. One of his shoulders was immobilized in a kind of harness. On the table next to his chair, there was an IPOD with ear-buds attached, a stack of death warrants, two books, and the folder containing the thousand-pages of the draft South Sudanese constitution.
"People put too much faith in the law anyway," Mr. Justice Scalia said. "The body politic blunders on regardless of the law – it has its own blind energy. I put a sting in my dissents and stab at the body politic but it just keeps staggering forward, not changing direction – it’s like a zombie, my friend, a living corpse. You can’t direct its course try as you might."
"Then, it won’t matter whether we adopt your constitution or not," Mr. Bol said.
"Probably not," the Judge replied. "You can leave me in peace. There’s no need to kill me here."
"But I will take the constitution," Mr. Bol said. He lifted the file from the table and found that it was surprisingly heavy. The pages shifted in his hand as if to strike free from the folder, writhing a little as if a living thing.
"I’ll leave you alone," Mr. Bol said.
He took the scorpion from the jar, gripping the creature behind its head with the silver tweezers. The scorpion writhed and tried to strike Mr. Bol’s hand with its stinger and telson. Mr. Bol stood up and took the scorpion into the bathroom where he dropped it into the toilet. He waited a moment, watching the arachnid spinning in the water. Then, he closed the toilet’s lid and flushed.
"I’ve spared you," Mr. Bol said. "If a Dinka assassin had come, you would not have been so fortunate."
Mr. Bol left the room carrying the constitution. He went outside and lit a small fire in a bundle of twig and thorn kindling in the fire pit. Then, page-by-page he burned the written constitution for the newest country on earth, the South Sudan. It took him a long time because he wanted every word and letter, every jot and tittle, reduced to illegible ashes. The sound of mariachi music came from the lodge and a drunken prostitute staggered out onto the patio, stumbling at the threshold of the sliding glass door. A couple men followed her. She eluded their embrace but, then, slipped into the waters of the swimming pool. She squealed and the man called to her and she bobbed in the water, the heavy make-up on her face running in dark rivulets from beneath her eyes, the edges and corners of her lips smeared with scarlet paste as if she had been feasting on bloody flesh.
As he burned the last couple pages of the constitution, the African gardener saw a large jackalope with gentle green eyes watching him. It was windy and a few tattered clouds blew by overhead obscuring the innumerable stars adorning the ebony vault of the sky.
In the middle of the night, Mr. Justice Scalia awoke with stomach cramps. Something that he had eaten had not agreed with him. He sat bolt upright in the bed, waiting for his head to clear – where was he? What was this room? When he felt oriented, he stepped carefully from the bed, noting the mattress was very thick and the distance to the floor greater than he anticipated. He groped with outstretched hands along the wall until he found the door to the toilet. He flicked on the light. There was a faint smell in the room like a minnow mixed with the scent of citrus. The tiles were cold and slippery.
Mr. Justice Scalia lifted the toilet seat and, then, squatted. He felt a stabbing pain in his scrotum, an intense twinge as if he had been stung by a wasp. A crab-like form dropped from the edge of the toilet and scuttled across the floor. The Judge tried to wipe himself but his hand had become numb and he couldn’t find his anus with it. He tasted metal in his mouth as if he were sucking on the muzzle of a D.C. "Saturday Night Special." Moaning, Mr. Justice Scalia fell sideways.
He closed his eyes and there was nothing more, nothing at all.
During the day, the Questar Seven was used for birding and observing wildlife. The right ascension and the equatorial drives were switched off and the telescope was aimed laterally, across the dry stony valleys to the flanks of the Chinati Mountains where sometimes mountain lions could be seen stalking the pronghorn antelope. The telescope was mounted in an adobe shelter with an elegant dome supported by narrow concrete pillars rising from a four foot high knee-wall. The structure stood on the prominence of a low hill, at the end of a quarter-mile asphalt trail leading through a grassy swale between the ridge overlooking the lodge and observatory. Sometimes, peccaries sunned themselves on the trail and left it slippery with their dung and a burrowing owl lived an abandoned prairie dog den among the prickly pear near the path. The observatory was located on the chaparral-grass mound sufficiently far from the lodge, concealed behind the higher ridge, to avoid any seepage of light from that place.
At siesta time, Dr. Estrent walked from the lodge up to the ridge-top where he left the path and located a glass jar hidden in the shade of a rock. The sun was very hot and the stones radiated warmth like the inside of an oven. He put the jar in his backpack and, then, returned to the trail, hiking down from the ridge through the hollow in the desert to the little camelback where the observatory was located. The whitewash on the adobe knee-walls caught the light and blazed against the brown sun-parched landscape and the telescope’s chrome cast off a blinding radiance that seemed to bruise his eyes. Dr. Estrent bent over the eyepiece of the telescope, rotating it the big seven-inch barrel on its mount as if to survey the distant silver-grey ridges for prong-horn antelopes or desert big-horn sheep. Brown and tan-colored stones shimmered in the heat haze and, something, moved lazily, perhaps, a coyote or a jackalope. Looking around him to confirm that he was not being observed, he withdrew the jar from his backpack, inspected the torpid, inert scorpion inside, and, then, hid the container next to the observatory wall.
That night, after the banquet, Mr. Poindexter asked Mr. Justice Scalia if he would like to inspect the heavens through the Questar 7 Cassegrain telescope. Mr. Justice Scalia nodded and a small company of men, among them Dr. Estrent, gathered next to the swimming pool that glowed like a turquoise gem in the enveloping darkness. The wind boomed in the hollow places of the desert and some clouds ripped to shreds scudded across the luminous terrain of the Milky Way. "I can drive you to the observatory," Mr. Poindexter said, gesturing toward an ATV parked under the ramada. "No," Judge Scalia said. "I need my evening constitutional, particularly after a meal of the kind we have just enjoyed." A servant handed out ultra-violet spectrum flashlights and, then, the small group of men, perhaps a half-dozen, departed walking slowly past the pool and crossing the creek to climb the trail switchbacking up to the ridge top.
Mr. Poindexter said that it would be an excellent night to use the telescope, moonless and clear, good "seeing" conditions and that they would inspect the Pleiades, the rings of Saturn, and the dance of the moons around Jupiter and, then, perhaps, he would show them several ring nebulae and some spiral galaxies lying lazily like tabby cats on their sides at the edge of the universe. "It is Astronomia," Mr. Justice Scalia said, "that is Star-law." Their voices seemed to carry a great distance in the night. "Nomos," Mr. Justice Scalia said, "that is, law."
Mr. Poindexter played the beam of his flashlight across the desert. "See the scorpions," he said. "They are florescent in the UV light." On the terraces of the ridge, embedded in the rocks, they saw the scorpions glowing faintly like jade fragments of the moon fallen from the sky but still shining among the tangled rocks and ocotillo. None of the scorpions moved. They rested motionless among the stones, watching and waiting.
"It picks them up in the black light," Mr. Poindexter said. "You can also use it to test currency for being counterfeit."
The climb up the hill was painful to Mr. Justice Scalia and his breath was stentorion, rasping and a bit labored in the barrel of his chest. At the top of the ridge, they paused to catch their breath and, looking to the sky, saw the stars spilling in great rapturous cascades out of the velvet blue of outer space. The downhill trail led among the bulging, gourd-shaped prickly pear and the air smelled faintly of the peccaries that inhabited this area – an odor of acrid shit and pig wafted to them from the warm grass.
They reached the telescope and Mr. Poindexter adjusted it so that each man could look at the rings of Saturn. The planet shimmered, a pale larval color like the carapaces of the scorpions in the UV light and its rings were golden. Mr. Estrent stepped outside the observatory, stooping beside one of the walls. Mr. Justice Scalia said that the stars were very beautiful and that they observed a strict order in all of their multitude. Somewhere an owl hooted and a night-flying bat brushed by them. The Judge said that he had been reading Marcus Aurelius and that to the Greek and Roman stoics, the fixed stars represented the deity, indeed, were the deity, a divine presence guaranteeing lawful order in the cosmos.
As he bent his eye to the lens, Mr. Poindexter cried out that a scorpion had fallen from above, apparently, dropping off the dome overhead onto Mr. Justice Scalia’s neck. The Judge’s neck was huge and bull-like and, as he swatted the scorpion clinging to his cervical spine, the creature’s sting pierced him. The scorpion was flung like a stone out across the desert and its carapace made a sound like a sea shell dropped among rocks as it landed on the hard boulders.
"It has stung me," Mr. Justice Scalia said.
"Our local breed can’t hurt you much," Mr. Poindexter said. "They’re not really all that venomous."
"I’ll put ice on the sting when I get back to the lodge," Mr. Justice Scalia said. He, then, bent over the eyepiece again to admire the spiral of a galaxy pinned like an entomological specimen to the dark background of the sky.
"Are you okay?" Mr. Poindexter asked.
"It is less than the sting of a hornet," Mr. Justice Scalia.
Here is Big Warm, not food, but danger. No longer ( = ) but +. So, then, all hairs alert and throbbing an alarm against the +, encircling, girdling, transmitted inward to the core. Upper eyes sensing only dark, the season of motion, the encompass of night, starless because a scorpion’s eyes don’t distinguish speck-radiance but only the color overhead and its intensity and vectors -- whether there is a shadow moving to signal dart downward as opposed to the protracted shadow that is the night when the impulse is lateral, not dart downward nor burrow, but, instead, to slide sideways, to hunt and prosper: lateral eyes sensing motion and augmenting the electric tingle of pressure-receptor body hairs. All aflare with alert for an instant of nerves firing, the spurt of motion organized as escape all away from Big Warm, but spinning to stab – the ejaculatory spurt like an orgasm, the bulb-sphincter squeezing like heart contracting, the surge of fluid pumping out into the wound, hot to hot – here is one who’s words were writ on water, fluid into fluid. Then, the dagger twisted sideways to stab again as the Big Warm recoils, knife like the weapon gripped in San Miguel’s right-hand, pressure-sensing, scales set once more in equipoise, neither too much inside nor too much outside, just the right balance: the equal( = )on all sides, perfect = which lulls into security and puts to sleep, after the spasm, slumber so long as the encircling hairs continue to signal = and the vectors of polarized light are uninterrupted in their radiant spatter through the darkness into the brain – my prey, my friend, my beloved, we can’t mate without risk of the greater devouring the smaller, that is just the way of it, the warm rush that goes from outside to inside through the complex interlocking gears of the mouth – it could be cricket, mate, or infant. What is the creature’s intent? Does the question have any meaning? It is the primordial intent of the Most Ancient, the Most Venerable, the scuttling life beneath the very throne of days, the tower of days rising up from that first sunlight on that first desert animate with chitinous life – original intent Mr. Justice Big Warm, to strike before being struck, to sting before being stung – do you feel that the original stasis has returned? the great = that is the same as death except it is not death but merely immobility, a kind of waiting, a vigilance that doesn’t know that it is vigilant until the unequal (not = ) arises again and the impulse expands to occupy every atom of consciousness – stab again, stab fiercely, little San Miguel, stab again into Big Warm and stab fiercely...
Eye still clapped on the lens, Mr. Justice Scalia sees the galaxy fade into a blur. Try as he might, he can’t quite focus on the vortex of a hundred-million suns. He tastes copper coins in his mouth, as if he were bearing under his tongue an obol with which to recompense the dark ferryman now coming across the water. The scorpion people stand at the gates of paradise as tall as the World Trade Center, two of them like skyscrapers – the vastness of the light encompasses him and instead of falling he is rising upward into the radiance of heaven.
Mr. Justice Scalia stepped away from the telescope, said that his eyes would no longer focus and that his tongue seemed to be choking him and, then, he fell down in the dust.