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Counsel: Your name is Katherine Willard?
Witness: It is.
Counsel: Could you briefly tell us what your work is?
Witness: It is boring, repetitive, badly paid and bereft of any cultural interest.
Counsel: Yes, maybe, but what do you do for a living?
Witness: I run a bookshop.
Judge: If I may intervene here..
Counsel: Of course, m'lud.
Judge: I was under the impression that a bookshop was a place of learning and dignity. You make it sound like a factory.
Witness: Oh, a bookshop is a fine place if you are a customer. It's very different if you have to run it.
Judge: But I have spent such civilised afternoons in bookshops browsing! They are the epitome of civilisation to me.
Witness: You sound like the kind of customer who makes a bookseller's life hell.  Always browsing, fingering, asking and complaining, but never buying.
Judge: Hmm. Am I, indeed? I shall try to mend my ways. Carry on!
Counsel: You run, I believe, the Bell, Book and Candle bookshop in a small town in Sussex?
Witness: I do.
Counsel: Could you describe for us the events that took place in your shop on the afternoon of July 14 last?
Witness: Certainly. A woman entered the shop and went to the fiction shelves. A bus passed. The Mozart piano concerto to which I had been listening came to an end ...
Judge: If I may intervene again...
Counsel: Certainly, m'lud.
Judge: Is your shop a second-hand bookshop ?
Witness: I prefer to call it antiquarian.
Judge: I have noticed that in almost all the antiquarian bookshops I have been into recently, the music of Mozart has inevitably been playing. Yet Mozart crops up only rarely on Radio 3 or Classic FM. Do you booksellers all possess tapes of his works?
Witness: No. There is a central antiquarian bookshop music service which pipes out non-stop Mozart to all antiquarian bookshops. We all like Mozart. He is the Sir Walter Scott of the trade.
Judge: In what way?
Witness: He wrote a lot and he is out of copyright.
Judge: Thank you. By the way, you may call me m'lud, if you wish.
Witness: I should not like that at all.
Judge: Bravely spoken! You are a gal with spirit!  Carry on.
Counsel: What else happened on that afternoon?
Witness: Another bus passed. The phone rang. It was a wrong number. Someone came in to ask if I had the latest Dick Francis. I told her it wasn't that sort of bookshop.
Counsel: Did you tell her what kind of bookshop it was?
Witness: Yes. I told her it was the sort of bookshop which, if anything, would have the first Dick Francis, not the latest. She went out looking puzzled.
Counsel: I see. What happened next?
Witness: The woman who had been reading at the fiction shelf finally closed her book. She went over to the travel section and took out another book.
Counsel: Did you say anything to her at this juncture?
Witness: Yes, I did.
Counsel: Could you tell the court what you said?
Witness: I said - "If you don't get out of here at once, I shall send for the police and have you put out!"
Counsel: Had she committed a crime of any kind?
Witness: In my eyes,yes. She had just finished reading a novel in my shop without paying for it.
Counsel: It seems hard to believe that she could have read a novel in one sitting.
Witness: In one sitting? She had been returning repeatedly to the bookshop over a period of weeks, reading this novel in instalments! She had even left a bookmark in the book to mark her place!
Counsel: Did you ever talk to her about it?
Witness: I tried to. I got no response. All she ever said was that she was thinking of going on holiday to Egypt and might well take this book with her.
Counsel: And did she?
Witness: No. She finished the novel in my shop. She then moved to the travel shelves.
Counsel: It was at this point that you threatened to fetch the police.
Witness: Yes.
Counsel: Could you perhaps tell the court why?
Witness: Yes. It was because she had taken down a guide book to Egypt and had started to copy down notes out of it! It was at this point that my nerve snapped.
Judge: And you shot her?
Witness: No, my lord. I sent for the police.
Judge: Pity. Haven't had a good murder trial for yonks. Oh well, carry on.
The case continues.

The Independent Friday Jan 27 1995



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© Caroline Kington
© Caroline Kington