April 1, 2024 Short Story

Under the Wig

Under the Wig Artwork by Rebel DeHart

The AC for the Judicial Annex to the Proudie County Hall and Public Records Building was on the fritz. Every few minutes the roof extractor fan would judder to a halt, then start up again with a crack, shaking the courtroom’s faux-woodgrain paneling. Members of the jury pool wore tweed jackets and heavy skirts for the cool autumn day forecasts had promised. Several of these citizens waiting for their turn at the stand were fanning themselves with envelopes or dabbing their foreheads with cloth hankies as the afternoon heat crept up on them. Voir dire had been going for over an hour already, and only three jurors had been picked out so far.

Justice Roosevelt Broyle’s wide liquid eyes stared past them all. He seemed to be trying to focus his wavering attention toward some mark high up on the back wall. His wispy combover flickered below the ceiling vent.

Hannah Guthrie, the county’s senior ADA, swallowed a yawn and stretched her arms out across the table before her. From just above her forehead, she heard a tiny creak and felt a miniscule shifting of weight. She had decided that morning to put on her recently deceased grandmother’s teetering blonde wig. It was sweaty and uncomfortable to wear, and she knew it would produce exaggerated double-takes and glances of genuine concern from the courthouse staff. But she also knew that nobody – least of all Judge Broyle – would dare to speak a word out loud. Even though she had been scolded in churchy tones by three different local jurists over the past six weeks for wearing a pantsuit to court.

Across from her Luther Welch, the defense counsel, writhed inside a sweaty blazer and droned his list of gotcha! questions at some luckless local conscript. “You got any problems with Latino folks, Mrs. Lederman? Think they maybe do more crimes than other people? No? Sure about that? ‘Kay, so, what about African Americans? Chinese?”

A tiny grey spider dangled from a single strand above the head of Hermán “Cootch” Coria, the accused. He sat with his palms squeezed together in his lap, flushed all over from the sheer effort of comprehension. His slender, knobby forehead shone brightly and his ragged breathing was the next loudest thing in the room after the air ducts and his attorney’s monotone. The two of them were hoping to persuade the jury, once it was fully staffed, that the crime he’d committed was done by some totally other dude.

That crime itself was a pretty straightforward hit-and-run. Five weeks ago after a nightlong bender, Cootch had staggered out of his mobile home half an hour late to work, slid behind the wheel of his Kia, and immediately run down his next-door neighbor, a Ms. Keisha Bozeman, whose head hit the tarmac hard enough to induce a coma. A few weeks after the case underwent its third continuance Keisha had come out of the coma and returned to her job as a part-time flower arranger. She said she “didn’t hold no grudge against the poor dumb boy.” But a crime – as the Proudie Examiner reminded its readers whenever this type of thing happened – was still a crime.

A ragged, slightly charred American flag hung behind glass on the courtroom’s side wall. A nearby plaque asserted that it had been retrieved from the field at Antietam. When an historian from UGA visited the building the previous year, she’d told the county commissioner it was almost certainly a fake. But nobody had paid her remarks any mind.

“Ms. Jefferson, you ever see somebody driving badly on the road and get, like, real mad? Like, maybe they shouldn’t even be allowed to have a car, in the first place?”

An older gentleman in the jury pool who hadn’t yet been questioned fished a candy out of his pocket. He half unwrapped the tiny treat noisily, then put it away again when a few heads turned. Another quarter-hour passed.

“Oh my gosh!” Sharon Cortez, the Bailiff, crashed through the swinging doors at the back of the room. The heel of her palm rested on the grip of her .380 revolver, in that way of hers that made co-workers twitchy. “There’s a monkey!”

Behind her came Gretchen Perdue, the judge’s brand-new secretary, jingling with jewelry. “A monkey there’s a monkey! Out in the hallway all climbin’ round on stuff, I swear.”

At least a dozen of those seated in the courtroom shot up out of their pew-like seats and rushed for the door. As their footsteps clattered, the old man dug his candy back out and slid it beneath his upper plate.

Hannah sat still for a moment, allowing herself to deliberate on the news. On the one hand a show of dignified restraint seemed called for. On the other, she was already wearing the wig. Also, Sharon, while over-excitable, wasn’t known for having weird hallucinations. Her gaze met Luther’s. They exchanged a quick eyeroll and followed the crowd outside.

“Where is it?”

“I can’t see!”

“I thought you said…”

Fingers pointed in multiple directions. But nobody spotted the creature until the overhead strip lights rattled and a long hairy tail flickered downward– obscenely, somehow – from behind one of the halogen tubes.


The creature gazing at them with black glass marble eyes was a member of the species cebus olivaceus – a Wedge Capped Capuchin Monkey. He had lived the first third of his life lunging back and forth between a few dozen treetops in southern Panama. Then one February afternoon in the middle of a nap he had been tranked, stuffed into a cloth sack by an exotic pet dealer named Eladio, and shipped north. He surveyed the assembled citizens with the edge of one lip curled back over a tiny yellowish incisor, and caressed his tail with a small withered hand.

The scrawny primate was trembling, with what seemed to Hannah to resemble rage more than terror.

A couple of staff from the Criminal Justice Annex – an aluminum-sided portable building with torn acoustic tile and a sloping floor – came walking down the corridor. At the head of the group was Liz Carmack, Junior Victim’s Advocate. She had a thick strip of cloth draped over her left shoulder did not appear surprised to encounter ooh-ing and aah-ing crowd with their faces all upturned.

“Lizzie! Oh, Lizzie – is she one o’ yours?” This from Sharon again. Her hand had finally slipped off the pistol butt.

“That’s right! It’s a he, though. Grayson got him for me for my birthday.”

“Oh my gosh! He’s so…”

“I just love him!”

“Where is it from?”

Liz had probably violated some black-letter policy or other by bringing the monkey to work, then letting it loose to leap and glide between the ceiling fixtures. But her parents were old money and she was engaged to the City Manager, so stuff like this just used to happen every now and again. A year earlier, a janitor had found four capsules of molly in her wastebasket, and the previous month she had been spotted in the parking lot necking with a criminal defendant. She and Hannah had zero in common, but would sometimes go drinking together on Friday evenings because they were the only two non-Baptists in the building.

“What’s his name?” asked one of the recently rejected jurors who’d been hanging around the building for some reason. “If I had one o’ them, I guess I’d call him…”

“His name’s Chico. He eats mainly nuts and dried crickets. He’s still pretty young…”

As though this was the monkey’s cue, he shifted slightly to the left, letting his tail dangle lower, revealing slender hips engirdled by a snug miniature diaper.

“Oh my God!”

“Is that a…is that a…?”

Liz grinned, pleased that her new plaything was a crowd-pleaser. “C’mon down here now, buddy, let’s introduce you to everyone.” She reached upward with one hand and made a clicking sound at the back of her throat, as though the creature was some backyard avian instead of an exotic primate. Chico twitched his tail and stayed put.

Hannah glanced back over her shoulder through the courtroom’s half-open door. Everybody who had been sitting in there was out in the hallway now except for the judge, whose eyes were closed in a way that suggested slumber, and Cootch, who continued to face forward, his hands curled into fists by his sides.

“Come on, Chico.” Liz was starting to freak a little. She had bought a book on Amazon about how to care for new world monkeys, but it hadn’t been delivered yet. Since her fiancé had made the surprise gift, Chico had already crapped twice into her laundry hamper and disappeared inside her house once for over two hours. Things hadn’t been going well for Liz for a while now. She had feuded with her family over religion and was worried she would be disowned. She had also worked for the Trump campaign in 2020, but upon reading about that whole mess in DC afterward, she’d made a secret plan to join the Peace Corps. In a few more years, she thought. Or else maybe just whenever Grayson found out she’d been serially cheating.

“Here’s a perch for you, little guy,” said a pre-teen girl with her hair in a braid who had been sitting in the back of the courtroom, probably waiting for a parent go on trial. She held up a glossy three-ring binder for Chico to hop onto. The monkey did not even glance in her direction.

“Come to me, beautiful,” said Shayleigh Pitts, the DA’s secretary, waving the corner of the rayon scarf she was still wearing in spite of the heat. She had spent the morning proofreading a wordy sentence recommendation for a multiple homicide. Her boss had requested the death penalty, but kept spelling “egregious” wrong. It was nice to take a little break.

“Maybe you should shoot him down,” chucked an old guy with slicked-back hair and suspenders, nudging Hannah with his elbow. Nobody else in the corridor laughed.

The monkey’s eyes were hard, imperious. He reared back, puffing his scrawny chest. A long silent moment passed, like a ghost through a banquet hall. Then Chico turned and hopped to the next fixture over. The delicate framework of glass and metal shuddered beneath his tread


“Whoops, lookout!”


Hannah had lost interest in the spectacle by this point, and was thinking about the guy she’d gone out with the previous weekend. They had found each other on Courtship.com and got acquainted via a civil, halfway-witty IM exchange about their jobs. He was a construction foreman, uneducated but smart; he had insisted on paying for dinner and flattered her appearance in a sincere, non-oily way. But he’d also worn a huge silver belt buckle and ranted a little about the “god damn unions.” The type of guy she used to laugh at back in college. But really, wasn’t that attitude something to be grown out of?

Glancing up, her eyes met Chico’s. The monkey did not look away. She immediately and viscerally felt that she was being judged – but for what and how severely, she had no idea.

The heavy door to the courtroom swung all the way outward. Faces turned and a frosty silence fell across the crowd. It was Judge Broyle – hands clasped behind his back, dark robes sleek and flowing, his expression no longer somnolent but alert and officious.

“Ladahs and gentlemen.” When he leaned on it a little, his aristocratic drawl brooked no dissent. “I understand that there is a spectacle of sorts occurring out heah. I appreciate that many of you are heah against your will, and have made sacrifices today in ordah to fulfill your civic duty.”

Hannah felt an ominous tickle in the back of her throat. Oh god, was she going to bust out laughing? She swallowed hard and clenched her teeth.

“But ah think it’s time that we all return to the courtroom now and help this unfortunate young man pay his debt to societah.”

The laugh’s ghostly precursor died inside Hannah’s chest. Behind the judge’s shoulder, she glimpsed Cooch turning halfway in his chair to gaze back at them, then thinking twice, facing forward again. Among the rest of the crowd eyes turned downward, and those at the edges shuffled backward toward their offices. Liz released a muffled sob.

The monkey chose precisely that moment to make a long, loping descent from the light, landing directly on top of Hannah’s wig. He glanced around the faces of his acolytes with a newly defiant air. The age-hardened hairpiece tilted over just enough reveal a brash streak of metallic blue, freshly dyed hair before Hannah reached up and pawed it back into place.

“Hannah, what’s that…?”

“Hannah, are you…?”

But none of them could find the words to finish. Only Judge Broyle let his gaze rest upon her forehead for a couple of extra seconds, the look on his face as ancient as Justice itself. The monkey screamed.