(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ferdinand Kugler dies in a gunfight with a police officer. Numerous warrants for his arrest are outstanding, and at the time of his death, he is a fugitive from an army of police officers and detectives. In Heaven, an overworked network of courts faces the chaotic task of delineating which souls will be allowed to remain and which will be sentenced to Hell. As a result of the number and severity of his crimes, Kugler must wait an indeterminate period until his case can be judged. For the same reason, his case is reserved for a special panel of three judges rather than a jury.

The defendant must state his name, occupation, and the dates of his birth and death. Kugler’s inability to remember the date of his death bodes poorly with the judges, intensifying his own naturally contentious attitude. Without further formalities, the presiding judge summons the sole witness in Kugler’s case: God. Before God testifies, the presiding judge explains why God need not swear the oath and then instructs him to avoid particulars that have no legal bearing on the case. The judge also warns Kugler against interrupting the witness, pointing out that it would be useless to deny any part of God’s testimony.

God begins with a brief statement on Kugler’s unruliness as a child. The defendant’s first crime was his failure to express his love for his mother. When God describes Kugler’s first act of larceny—stealing a rose from the notary’s garden before...

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