This type of portrait is known as a head shot. The flag is obligatory for federal officials, but the pattern is a visual distraction and it divides the picture into two fields.



Preet Bharara inserted the business end of the nose hair trimmer into his left nostril, held his breath and pressed the power button. The unit whirred and he worked it around then pulled it out and blew out that nostril onto the small towel hung round his neck by the chain and clamps rig a former lawclerk had left behind in her desk.

He was still stinging from the Woodchipper Incident. He could have gotten away with that, too, for at least for long enough to have gotten their addresses, if it hadn’t been for the pesky internet. He had been publicly humiliated, even called a “muttonhead,” by a prominent First Amendment attorney. His attempt to use a court order to prevent them from even talking about it had backfired spectacularly. But he had taken the heat and managed to keep Judge Forrest’s profile as low as possible; something the bench was sure to notice.

He trimmed inside his right nasal passage and blew out his right nostril productively. He removed the thin towel with the words “US GOVERNMENT” woven into one end and shook it out over the trashcan before dropping it in the official government hamper. He washed his face and took a fresh towel from the stack. He inspected himself again in the mirror.

Fortune had smiled upon him unexpectedly. At that very moment his top man was strolling through the offices of Thought! magazine tagging along with NYPD on a crazy girl call that had come in that morning during the taskforce meeting. No warrant needed. Even if they were squeaky clean, and he knew they weren’t, NYPD would manage to find something.

Having found no flaw, he opened the dry cleaning bag hanging from the back of the door and removed a black robe which he slipped over his head. Next, the wig, from its wooden stand next to the mirror. Once properly enrobed and bewigged he examined himself one final time. Perfect.

Preet exited the bathroom into the robing room. He pressed the button that caused a light on the court clerk’s bench to flash, then slowly walked to the door to the courtoom. Sarah was right on time with the gavel; three perfectly timed raps. He was foregoing the “oyez” and formal opening of court for the occasion. Richard and Corey, the courthouse technicians, were crouched behind their video cameras, grinning. Court staff loved to torture interns and lawclerks whenever possible, and this was a welcome break from taping oral arguments and portrait ceremonies.

Interns Dorian, Raymond and Ming stood awkwardly behind the lawclerk bench wearing robes and wigs shorter and less ornate than his own, making their tights and silver-buckled shoes more prominent. Mediocre legal scholars, but gifted singers, all. Last June he had had Ramesh assemble all of the serious resumes into a single pdf document so he could search that for “choir,” “chorus,” and so on. Once he had his backup singers chosen he read their resumes and created notes justifying his hiring decisions based on their legal merits – just like creating a parallel construction for a prosecution.

Ramesh. His favorite. His protege. A brilliant legal mind, but the boy couldn’t carry a tune in a sack. He so wanted to text Rami to ask for a progress report, but he had resolved to let Rami conduct this all by himself. He trusted Rami, despite the boy’s penchant for independent, sometimes unorthodox, thought. He was glad Ramesh was soon to be married, a good, practical Indian wife would whip him into shape.

The robing room door opened behind the judge’s bench, the judge’s chair had been removed for the taping. He strode measuredly towards the bench to give the door a chance to close; Richard flashed him the thumbs up to cue him that the door had shut. The guys were really good at what they did; he’d have never thought about the open door and robing room lights being a distracting background.

He daintily grasped the slender shaft of the judge’s gavel, raising it theatrically and miming a rap in the air. Sarah hit the play button on the Karaoke machine and everyone started to sway to the doo-wop beat. The interns had been rehearsing for months. This was their big moment, the culmination of their internships. The next few minutes would determine their careers, if not the future course of American jurisprudence.

Lyrics appeared on the screen in the back of the courtoom behind the cameras. He waited for the ball to touch the first letter, and began singing.



Oh, yes, I’m the Great Preetinder,

He remembered hearing the song on the radio as a young boy in Eatontown, New Jersey. He had always thought the song was about someone named Preetinder, someone like him. Until the day in sixth grade when Angus Cohen had slammed him up against a locker. “That song isn’t about you, fag, it’s about pretending to be something you’re not.”

He had abandoned the song until one day it occurred to him that it didn’t matter what the actual lyrics said; what mattered was the interpretation which sounded right to a contemporary audience. The song should be interpreted in manner that made the most sense the context of today, author’s original intentions be damned. By the time he was in high school it had become his personal fight song which he hummed to psych up for tests and debate matches.

Do, Re, and Mi, as they were known throughout the courthouse, harmonized “woo, woo,” sweat running down their faces under the hot television lighting.

Preetinding that I’m doing well,

Doing very well indeed, thank you. And not pretending, in either sense of the word, but Preetinding. A special sort of thing that only someone named Preetinder could do. Preetidude. The Preetness.

He was getting interviewed on Thursday by Judy Woodruff about his take-down of Silk Road. Normally he wouldn’t grant an interview, but PBS was respectable television. And it didn’t hurt that Ms. Woodruff was still quite attractive. Washington had not only approved of the Woodruff interview, but had broadly hinted that it would be a very good thing for him. That could only mean he was being groomed for something higher.

He’d instantiate the humble civil servant saving the internet from organized crime. Unfortunately, a website which just moved money around didn’t sound very sinister. But DOJ had prepared a slideshow explaining why untraceable financial transactions were a Very Bad Thing. And illegal. And drugs.

Woodruff’s people had asked if they could redo the slideshow with “higher production values,” to which DOJ headquarters had also, surprisingly, agreed provided that DOJ got to review the final for accuracy. Media people were notorious for wanting to “simplify” things which meant sexing them up at the expense of accuracy.

My need is such I Preetind to much,

It had been a long, hard climb to get to where he was today. Chess club. Forensic speaking. Debate club. Law review. Internships.

He had worked not only for himself, but for all Indians. The Indian-American community was strongly self-policing. They were determined to prove themselves as a hard-working, modern people. Doctors, lawyers, small merchants. Indians left all that village shaman bullshit back in India. And the swastikas. The woodchipper people had trolled him hard on that. They had no sense of restraint; there was nothing funny about Nazism or even the snarky implication thereof, and there was particularly nothing funny about debating which way to feed a federal judge into a woodchipper.


A headshot with a uniform background. This is a female US Supreme Court justice from the early Twenty-First century wearing much simpler court dress.


I’m lonely but no one can tell,

Someone who was lonely because he spent too much time on work to have real friends. But loneliness and hard work were the price for becoming the man of the hour. He’d show Jindal and Haley who was the chief Indian; national office beckoned him like a Seventh Avenue whore.

Laughing and gay like the clown.

He’d have the last laugh over the Woodchipper people, and clowns were sinister after all. They’d never see this, but in his heart he’d know that he could put on a better production number than them. Rip off Bollywood, would they? He’d reach deep into American culture and show them he could best them at their own game. Bum-flashing antics, bad lyrics and muddy single-camera recording were no match for what the mighty powers of the federal government could bring to bear.


Another dreadful example of official portraiture. Bookshelves of law books are an almost obligatory background for judicial portraits. The shelves create lines going through the subject’s body, making the whole thing look choppy.


Word of it would eventually get back to them, though. He was planning to show the finished product at Bar Talent Night at the Second Circuit Judicial Conference this Summer. The Woodchipper people had friends in surprising places; he could think of at least two law professors who would be there who he knew participated anonymously in Thought! Magazine’s online fora.

The interns harmonized the final line perfectly.

All the performers froze.

“Cut,” yelled Corey.

It’s just like a real one, only smaller.