In the garlic-laden air defendants, lawyers, journalists and spectators pushed and shoved each other for seats on uncomfortable wooden benches. Reporters finally squatted on the steps of the judge's podium. One defendant, wearing dark glasses, was caught calmly sitting among 16 attorneys, instead of on the bench of the accused. There were not enough policemen to keep track of the shifty gang members, and they strolled out of the courtroom to smoke and hold impromptu press conferences in the corridors of the Palais de Justice. "This trial is a disgrace," they said indignantly to sympathetic little crowds. Inside the courtroom gesticulating, shouting spectators—all p�tanque fans—acted like an antique chorus that had gotten out of hand. But the good-natured judge never once threatened to clear the courtroom.
Cries of "quel dommage" (what a pity) greeted Defense Attorney Paul Tramoni's announcement that chief defendant Baptistin Ivaldi, 75, who sometimes played the role of the eccentric old p�tanque-playing millionaire, was in the hospital and too ill to appear in court. Judge Vincentelli agreed to try him later, separately. (Ivaldi really was an old man; the gang also used decoys, made up like character actors.)
To the 14 other defendants the judge read Ivaldi's signed statement on how the gang operated. Adolphe Bernasconi, Ivaldi's "secretary" with the briefcase full of banknotes, protested: "Sure, I sometimes carry a briefcase. What does that prove? There are always pigeons on a p�tanque field. I was born on a p�tanque field. It is true that I took a little advantage of the pigeons. But how can I live with the $400 old-age pension I get every year from the social security administration? I'm a father and a grandfather and have a hard time making two ends meet. So when I was $40 here and $80 there, it arranged things nicely for me. I've always seen people gamble at p�tanque. There's nothing criminal in that. Besides, it was the pigeons themselves who begged to be allowed to play. You can tell a pigeon by his face."
Judge Vincentelli asked: "But why did the victims always lose?" Replied Bernasconi: "Alors �a! No doubt they were victims of their nervousness." And he added: "The old man looked like such a pushover that even police officers took him on."
Another defendant, jolly ex-Welter-weight Boxer Louis Ricci, now a film stunt man, said: "The game of p�tanque, gentlemen, is joyful and pleasing. I love to play and I love to gamble—"
"Even in a dishonest manner?" the judge asked.
"Dishonest, dishonest, bah!" said Ricci. "In France there are the national lottery and horseracing. Aren't people robbed on horse tracks and in casinos?" Asked by his lawyer, Tramoni, if he had ever seen cheating in the game of p�tanque, Ricci said, "Everyone cheats at p�tanque. Even the plaintiffs did. I myself caught several of the 'victims' pushing their p�tanque balls with their feet, and I said to them, 'Don't do that, it's not right.' "
Onto the witness stand came stuttering Antoine Ceccaldi, owner of a building-trades company and dealer in Corsican real estate. "All the plaintiffs insisted upon playing p�tanque with the old man," he said. "They wanted to plume him."
The judge asked: "But weren't you surprised to find Ivaldi always playing p�tanque when you arrived with a client?"
Ceccaldi answered: "P�-p�-p�-tanque is Mon-mon-mon-sieur I-i-ivaldi's whole li-life."