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DON’T JUDGE ME

By

G.A.HAUSER


Smashwords Edition

Copyright © G.A. Hauser, 2017

DON’T JUDGE ME

Copyright © G.A. Hauser, 2017

ISBN Trade paperback: 978-1974-4338-7-2

© The G.A. Hauser Collection LLC


This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or business establishments, events or locales is coincidental.

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


WARNING

This book contains material that maybe offensive to some: graphic language, homosexual relations, adult situations. Please store your books carefully where they cannot be accessed by underage readers.


First The G.A. Hauser Collection LLC publication:

October 2017

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Chapter 1


“The court issues a warrant for five-hundred dollars.” Judge Lawrence Powers read the statements. “Failure to appear.”

Loud murmuring echoed in the courtroom as the docket was announced for trials and room assignments.

The forty-five year old judge slammed his gavel down. “Order! I’ll have order!”

The rumbling quieted as lawyers discussed cases with defendants and uniformed cops lingered together, overtime slips in their hands.

The judge continued working from his schedule. “Next case… Simon versus the County of Bradford.”

“The defense is ready, Your Honor.”

“The prosecution is ready.”

Judge Powers met the gaze of the public defender and his client. “Courtroom two.”

“Thank you, Your Honor.”

The judge read the next name on the list. “McMullen bench trial.”

“The defense is ready to accept a plea, Your Honor.”

Judge Powers knocked the gavel. “Meet in room 110.”

“Thank you, Your Honor.”

The young man who stood with his lawyer gave Lawrence a steely stare.

The judge hid his amusement. He’d been glared at by scarier men than him. That was the last name on the list. He signaled to his bailiff he was ready to leave the courtroom.

“All rise!” was yelled over the noise.

Judge Powers stood and left the courtroom, stopping in his chambers first before presiding over his cases.

~

“He looks like a prick.”

“Charlie… be quiet.” Sharice Campbell held her briefcase and gestured for him to go first, out of the doors in the back of the room.

Twenty-two year old Charlie McMullen stuffed his hands into his jean’s pockets. He walked with his lawyer to a conference room, one used for bench trials. Since he and his lawyer opted to forgo a jury, they were now at the judge’s mercy after offering a plea.

Charlie ran his hand over his long brown hair and opened the door. The air inside the room smelled like dust or wood, and it was warm even though the fall had brought cooler temperatures.

He took a seat as Sharice opened her briefcase and removed paperwork. Charlie looked at his nails and tried to clean under them, since he was bored and angry.

The door opened and a man in a suit entered the room. It was the prosecutor they had been working with, one that represented the county.

“Hi, Sharice.”

“Hi, Dean.”

Charlie glared at the man. It felt as if the world was out to get him, because he didn’t do anything wrong.

Dean set his briefcase down as well, and the two attorneys removed their files while they waited for the judge.

Charlie listened to the lawyers talking with each other about a deferred sentence, a plea… no jail time…

He sighed and sank in the hard wooden chair.

~

Judge Powers read the brief while in his chambers. He drank from a cup of coffee and then slipped his reading glasses into his pocket. A small five by seven frame was near his phone; his wife, Wynn, and three children; Bo; twenty, Lynn; seventeen, and Lee; fifteen.

He stood from his desk, straightened his black robe, and picked up the file. Leaving his chambers, he walked down a hallway to the conference room. The sterile corridor echoed with the noise of loud conversations, footfalls, and slamming doors.

He opened a door as a court reporter scurried towards him. He waited for her, allowing her to pass through first.

“Thank you, judge.”

“No problem, Lois.”

The two attorneys in the room stood at his arrival. He watched as Sharice tapped the young man, gesturing for him to stand.

He did, but didn’t meet Lawrence’s gaze. Lawrence took his seat at the head of the table and Lois sat down behind her stenotype at his left.

Everyone sat down as Lawrence put his reading glasses on and read the charge; possession of a controlled substance.

He reviewed the young man’s rap-sheet. There was nothing on it except one juvenile arrest for breaking a streetlight with a rock. And, since it wasn’t an arrest, and just a police contact, that would soon to be deleted from his file.

Judge Lawrence gestured to his prosecutor, Dean Johnson. “Why don’t we begin?”

“Thank you, Your Honor. Counsel and I have reached an agreement.”

Lawrence tried to gain the young man’s gaze, but he was staring at the table. “What have you agreed on?”

“Credit for time served and fifty hours of community service.”

Ms Campbell added, “I’d like this purged from his record so it won’t interfere with Mr McMullen becoming gainfully employed.”

Lawrence addressed Dean, “You agree to having this content purged from his record?”

“I do, Your Honor. Mr McMullen claims the baggie of cannabis was not his, and it was under twenty grams. There was no attempt to distribute.”

Lawrence looked at the young man. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

Charlie cleared his throat and sat up higher in the chair. “It wasn’t mine. How many times do I have to say it?”

“Do you have a drug problem, Charlie?”

“No!” He lowered his voice, “No, sir.”

“Do you live alone?” Lawrence rested his arms on the table.

“No. I live with my older brother. He’s twenty-seven.”

Lawrence addressed Sharice, “Where are his parents?”

“His father is incarcerated in Calistoga and his mother died of an overdose.”

The news didn’t sit well with Lawrence. “Are you enrolled in college?”

“I can’t afford college.”

“Are you working?”

“Not full time, sir.”

“Who will make sure Mr McMullen is looked after?”

“Your Honor,” Sharice replied, “Mr McMullen is twenty-two and states he is capable of looking after himself.”

Lawrence studied this young man, his long brown hair, and powder blue eyes. “Give me a minute with him alone.”

The attorneys exchanged glances and stood. Lawrence gestured for the court reporter to leave as well.

~

Charlie wiped his clammy hands on his jeans. While the two attorneys left, Charlie inhaled deeply, calming himself.

The judge removed his reading glasses and his gaze felt as if it went right through him. He gulped in anxiety.

~

Once he was left alone with this young man, Lawrence spoke softly, “Do you and your brother get along?”

“Sort of.”

Lawrence fanned through his paperwork to read the home address of this youth. He knew the neighborhood and wasn’t impressed. “Am I to believe you have no other living relative to look after you?”

“I’m twenty-two!” Charlie appeared sheepish immediately. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to shout.”

Lawrence studied him, gnawing on the temple end of his glasses. “Do you have a drug habit?”

“No. The weed wasn’t mine.”

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me the dope wasn’t theirs

“Do you own a car?”

“Why?”

“I want to know how you’re going to perform the community service.”

“I’ll figure it out.”

“Did you finish high-school?”

“Yes.”

“What do you want to do with your life?”

“I can’t decide.”

“If you could go to college, would you?”

“I’m not sure.”

Lawrence was granted the gaze of those light blue eyes. In them was fear and rejection. After putting his glasses on, he reviewed the plea, including the community service clause. He picked up his pen and crossed out a line, then added one of his own.

~

Charlie didn’t lie. The weed was his brother’s friend’s. He was just stupid enough to be the one holding it when they were caught.

He toyed with his long hair, twirling it around his finger as he watched this man in a robe write on his paperwork.

The judge rose to his feet and called the other three back into the room. They took their seats.

Charlie shifted in his chair nervously and tried not to bite his nails.

“I’ve amended the community service to read ‘terms of service shall be at my discretion’.” He gave each of the attorneys a copy.

They read his input.

Both initialed it.

“Charlie,” Lawrence addressed him, “I want you to understand how serious this is. Today can be a turning point for you. If you decide to follow one path, you will be a productive member of our society. If you choose to go down a different path, your future will be one of incarceration and heartbreak.”

“Yes, sir.”

The judge gestured for Sharice to speak to him.

Charlie fidgeted in his chair.

Sharice said, “Charlie, Judge Powers has updated your community service. He has asked for you to do work for him and be paid.”

Charlie blinked and looked at the judge.

“You’ll receive fifteen dollars an hour for services which may include yard work, washing cars, simple handyman tasks and/or domestic errands. Do you agree?”

Charlie took another look at the judge; the big man with the steely green eyes and dark black hair. “He wants me to work for him?”

“Yes. All the details will be discussed with you.”

“And, if I say yes, I get a clean record and no other community service?”

“Yes.”

“Then, I agree.”

The paperwork was passed around for signatures.

Charlie signed it and then smiled to himself, happy he wasn’t going to be picking up trash on a highway somewhere.

When the judge rose to his feet, the lawyers did as well. Charlie scrambled to stand and the judge left the room.

He exhaled loudly as the lawyers discussed the results, and they were laughing softly.

Charlie perked up and tried to get a read on the situation. “What’s so funny?”

“He must like you, kid.” The prosecutor picked up his papers. “He usually tosses possession suspects into prison with a mandatory sentence and throws away the key.” He winked at Sharice and she smiled at him. “Good luck.” He shook Charlie’s hand and left the room.

Charlie waited for Sharice. “Thanks. I can’t imagine a better result than that.”

“Just go where he needs you. If you don’t show up he’s going to probably send you to jail for violating the agreement.”

“I will. Promise.”

“Let’s file these papers and get you out of here.” She held the door for him.

Charlie glanced down the long corridor and spotted the judge on his way out of the building. The older man opened a metal door and then turned to look his way. They met gazes and then the judge vanished.

~

By four-thirty, Lawrence hung his robe up on a tree rack in his chambers. He gathered paperwork from his desk, upcoming cases he needed to review, and filled his valise. Taking a last look around, Lawrence turned off the light and headed out of the courthouse. As he went, staff and police officers wished him a good weekend.

A cool October afternoon greeted him as the daylight became shorter and trees changed colors, welcoming the end of summer.

His black Audi was parked in his reserved spot. He sat behind the wheel and drove home, his mind preoccupied with his caseload.

Twenty minutes later, he pulled into his driveway of his five-bedroom/six-bathroom split-level home. His oldest son was away at college, his daughter was in her senior year of high-school, and his youngest son was a sophomore in the same school.

Halloween decorations adorned his porch since his wife, Wynn, enjoyed making the house festive.

He parked and as he exited his car he noticed his lawn was covered in leaves from the mature elms and maples on his property.

The air smelled like wood smoke, a pleasant scent, cozy and welcoming. He entered the home and set his briefcase down in his study.

On his way to his bedroom he heard the TV on in the basement where they had a den, as well as the sound of Wynn preparing supper. Lawrence removed his business suit and hung it up, changing into running shorts and a T-shirt. He washed up and relieved himself in the master bath, and then put on white socks and running shoes.

“Lawrence?”

He checked his phone and then met his wife in the kitchen.

“Oh. Are you running?” she asked, wearing a potholder mitt and holding a wooden spoon.

“Yes.”

“How long will you be?”

“Less than an hour.” He picked up a baseball cap and put it on his head.

“Must you go now?”

“I must.” He headed to the front door and left, jogging in the crisp cool air, loving this time of year. As he ran he cleared his mind of his week of work and enjoyed the exercise. Since he’d been in the marines he kept fit, weightlifting, punching a bag, and running.

~

After riding the bus, Charlie walked down his street, noticing Halloween decorations appearing on the neighboring homes. He made his way to his brother’s apartment building and used his key in the lobby door. Once inside he checked the secure mailbox, seeing it was empty, which meant his brother, Henry, was probably home.

Taking the stairs, Charlie held the banister and climbed them two at a time, then walked along the grimy hall to his unit door. He used his key once more and as he entered the small one bedroom/one bathroom home, he heard talking. He stepped inside the living room and spotted his brother with his girlfriend, Jasmine.

“Hi, Charlie.” She waved.

“Hi.” He toed off his shoes and stood at the kitchen sink to wash his hands.

“You hungry?” she asked.

“Yup.”

“How did court go?” Henry asked, seated at their folding table, drinking soda.

Charlie dried his hands and took a can of pop out of the fridge. “Okay. All I got was community service.”

“I don’t know why they didn’t just dismiss it.” Jasmine set a colander into the sink and drained a pot of spaghetti.

“For weed, do you believe that?” Henry shook his head. “It should be legal in every state. It’s just fucked up.”

Charlie set his soda pop on the table. “Do you need help, Jaz?”

“Nah. I’ve got it.” She stirred bottled sauce into the spaghetti pot.

Charlie headed to the den, which had been converted into a bedroom for him. He shut the door and changed into sweats and a hoodie. He set the paperwork down on his single bed and as he dressed he read the details of his plea bargain.

It was better than jail. Way better.

And the irony was, his lawyer had said this judge was tough on drug offenders. He was lucky he’d gotten off easy.

~

Lawrence ran five miles and sprinted on the homestretch. He paused on his porch and caught his breath, taking off his ball cap and looking up through the trees to the stars in the sky. Once he’d recovered from the run, he removed his shoes and entered his house.

When he noticed his family eating dinner without him, he grew annoyed. After dropping his shoes and cap off in the mudroom, Lawrence stood at the kitchen threshold. “You couldn’t wait for me?”

“Hi, Dad.” Lynn had her phone at the table, which was another no-no.

“I didn’t want the meal to overcook.” Wynn kept eating.

His youngest son, Lee, gave him a sheepish look.

Lawrence headed to the master bathroom to shower. The little irritations of this family shouldn’t have mattered, but, he was the man of the house, didn’t that count anymore?

He stripped off his clothing and started the water running in shower. As he waited for it to warm, he looked into the mirror.

Gray hair was beginning to show at his temples, but he had managed to keep marine-fit. He touched his jaw, feeling the coarse stubble, and stepped into the tub, decompressing under the water’s spray.

He should be happy.

He had everything he had set out to achieve.

…but, he wasn’t happy.

Chapter 2


Saturday morning, Charlie chewed on a piece of toast while standing in their galley kitchen. The dishes from last night were in the sink, soaking and a little crusty. He used the microwave to heat up water, mixing in powdered coffee, and drank it down.

Wearing faded jeans and a T-shirt, plus his beige work boots, Charlie brushed the crumbs off his hands and made sure he had bus fare.

Wearing his gray hoodie, his phone charged and inside his pocket, Charlie closed the door to the unit and jogged down the stairs. The sky was overcast and the wind felt cold.

He zipped his hoodie, tugged up the hood, and walked to the bus stop. As he stood with his back to the wind, Charlie yawned and rubbed his eyes. The bus pulled up to the stop, and he dropped coins into the slot and asked, “Can I get a transfer?”

The driver handed him one and Charlie sat in the back, his foot on the metal seat in front of him.

~

Standing in his spotless kitchen, Lawrence filled his mug with coffee. After waking early and punching a bag which he had hanging in his garage, Lawrence had showered and dressed in faded jeans and a long-sleeved black pullover.

His mug in his hand, he sipped the strong coffee and moved through the home to stare out of the front window.

It looked like it may rain, but the clouds may burn off before they soaked the land. He loved this time of year and wished the temperatures would be this mild all year long.

He checked the time on his gold watch and then leaned closer to his front window. When he spotted a lone hooded figure walking down the street, he wondered if it was Charlie.

As the youth turned down his front path, Lawrence walked to his door and opened it.

Charlie’s large blue eyes peered out from under his hood.

Lawrence opened the door for him. “Come in.”

His hands stuffed into his hoodie pockets, Charlie entered, but didn’t move into the room, standing still.

“Do you want a cup of coffee?”

Charlie shrugged.

Lawrence gestured for him to follow. He set his own mug on the counter and took a mug from the cupboard, pouring coffee for Charlie. He handed it to him. “Cream or sugar?”

“No. Thanks.” Charlie used two hands on the mug as if his fingers may be cold.

“Did you eat breakfast?”

He nodded.

Lawrence studied him, wondering what kind of home life this young man had.

Charlie finally made eye contact. The stare was intense but Lawrence couldn’t read him. Lawrence placed his mug in the sink and folded his arms. “How did you get here?”

“By bus.”

Lawrence tried to figure out where the closest bus stop was to his home. “Wait. What? You rode buses here?”

Nodding, Charlie finished the coffee and rinsed the cup.

“It’s fine, Charlie, just leave it in the sink.”

“Can I hit the bathroom first?”

Lawrence showed him where a half-bath was located near the kitchen. Charlie closed himself in.

Lee, wearing pajamas, emerged from his bedroom, his hair a mess, yawning and scuffing his feet. “Is Mom up yet?”

“No.”

Lee paused at the sound of the toilet flushing. “Who’s here?”

“The young man I mentioned at dinner.” Lawrence knew no one was listening.

Lee didn’t react and kept heading towards the kitchen. “Is she making breakfast?”

“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask her.”

The bathroom door opened and Lawrence walked with Charlie to the front door. He stepped outside and showed Charlie where the rakes were kept; in a shed on the side of the property. “Here’s the yard-waste bin.” Lawrence rolled it closer to the front of the house. “When you fill it, and I mean, packed down, you’re done for the day.”

“Okay.” Charlie pulled his long hair back from his face as the wind blew it.

“Do you have gloves?”

“Gloves?”

“Yes. The raking will most likely give you blisters.”

Charlie looked at his hands.

Lawrence stepped into the shed and located a pair of gardening gloves. He gave them to Charlie.

As he put them on, Charlie took a look at the front lawn.

“Okay?” Lawrence asked.

“Yes, sir.”

Lawrence returned to the house, glancing back to see Charlie wheeling the bin to the sidewalk before he began raking. He heard talking coming from the kitchen. Wynn was up, wearing a robe and slippers, as she discussed pancakes or waffles with Lee.

Lawrence filled a clean mug with more coffee.

“Where were you?” Wynn asked.

“I was making sure Charlie was all set.”

“Charlie?”

Lawrence tried not to grow angry. “I discussed this with you last evening.”

She shrugged and removed bowls from the cupboard.

Worn out from arguing constantly, Lawrence took his coffee with him to the study, and prepared himself for a few hours of work.


Two hours later, Lawrence removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He picked up his coffee mug and peered out of the window to see how Charlie was managing.

He blinked and then laughed.

Charlie had piled all of the leaves into a mound and was taking running leaps onto it.

Priceless.

He dabbed at the corners of his eyes as he enjoyed his exuberance.

“What are you looking at?” Wynn approached. She was wearing her wool dress coat, matching blue leather gloves and black high-heeled boots.

Lawrence tilted his head to the window.

She took a look. “I can’t believe you asked one of the degenerates you met to work here. I’m not happy about it, Lawrence.”

“Other than my bank account, what does make you happy, Wynn?”

She turned up her nose at him. “I’ll be out all day. I’m working with the women’s auxiliary group at the church.”

“What are the kids up to?”

“They’re already out.” She tucked her purse under her arm and left.

Lawrence watched her from the window. She didn’t even greet Charlie. He had stopped playing and raked the leaves into a pile again.

It made him smile, seeing that pretty boy being mischievous. He placed his coffee mug into the dishwasher and stepped outside, standing on the porch.

Charlie peered up at him shyly.

Lawrence walked towards his driveway. He turned on his heels, then stared at Charlie.

~

Charlie had a feeling he’d just fucked up. But, come on… how could anyone resist—

He gasped and dropped the rake when the judge jumped into the pile of leaves. “Dude! You rock!” He raced over and threw the leaves up in the air.

~

Lawrence wasn’t going to do it. But, the kids had left, his wife had left… and well… why not?

On his back on the pile, he stared up at the tree, still loaded with colorful leaves, dropping one or two at a time in silent spinning spirals.

Charlie knelt beside him, his eyes gleaming with joy. He buried Lawrence in the huge pile and then sat beside him. “You’re not so scary now.”

Lawrence gazed at the mound he was under. “Should I pay you for playing?”

“Oh. Duh.” Charlie chuckled and brushed the leaves off of Lawrence.

Lawrence sat up and bent his knees, looking at the neighborhood. The sun had burned through the cloud cover.

Charlie propped himself up on his hands. “I love fall.”

“I do as well.”

“Was that your wife?”

“Yes.”

“She seems nice.”

Lawrence stood and brushed the leaves off himself. As if that was a signal, Charlie picked up the rake and used it as a scoop to pick up the leaves and put them into the bin.

Taking a look into the yard waste container, Lawrence could see it was almost empty. He shook his head at Charlie. “Do you hate raking?”

“I don’t mind.” He made another pile and dumped it into the bin.

Lawrence headed to the shed, took out a second rake, and put on canvas gloves. Between the two of them, they managed to get the pile into the bin. When Charlie tried to pack them down so they could fit more, Lawrence said, “Why don’t you stomp on them?”

“Do you have a stepladder?”

“Come here.” Lawrence waved Charlie over. He picked him up by the waist and set him inside the bin.

~

Charlie held the rim and stomped the leaves down, pressing them so he made room for more. With the judge holding the plastic bin steady, Charlie used his feet to squash the pile.

When he was done, Charlie stared at the big man.

“Ready?”

Charlie nodded.

The judge picked him up, as if he were a feather. A rush of chills washed over Charlie as he was set back on his feet.

~

“Do you think you can finish?” Lawrence asked.

“Yup.” Charlie raked more leaves into a pile and dropped them in the bin.

Lawrence smiled at him and returned to the house. He took off the gloves and looked back over his shoulder, shaking his head at this young man, who… he just may have made the right decision about.

~

After another hour, Charlie had filled the bin to capacity. He raked all the leaves into piles, but had nowhere to put them.

Taking a break, he removed the gloves, and looked at his hands. Even with gloves, he could feel sore spots on the pads of his palms, and was very glad the judge had recommended he wear them. He took both rakes and the gloves to the shed, opened the door and noticed a wall-hook where they belonged. He hung them up, left the gloves on a shelf and brushed off his hoodie and jeans, then made his way towards the front door. He knocked and checked his feet weren’t muddy.

The door opened for him and he was invited in.

He sniffled and wiped his nose with his sleeve, then tossed back the hood. “The bin is full. Do you have bags?”

“I do, but why don’t you take a break?”

“Pit stop.” Charlie pointed down the hallway.

“That’s fine. Are you hungry?”

“I can grab something at home…” Charlie thumbed behind him. “I’ll be back.”

The judge acknowledged him.

Charlie closed himself into the bathroom and raised the toilet seat. He urinated and then washed his hands and checked his appearance. He had leaf-crumbs in his hair and it made him laugh as he shook them off. Then, he crouched down and made sure the spotless floor was cleaned up.

He caught his breath and stared into his own eyes. What had been an intimidating thought, coming to a judge’s home and doing chores, had changed into time he didn’t mind spending with a man he sort of liked.

Charlie shut the light and peeked down the hallway of this large, split-level home, but didn’t get too nosy. He found the judge in the kitchen.

He had poured a tumbler glass with juice for him. Charlie picked it up. “Thanks.” As he drank it, he stared at the judge.

~

Lawrence noticed a leaf in Charlie’s long, dark hair. He went to take it out for him, and Charlie froze, the glass at his mouth.

He held the leaf up for Charlie’s inspection, twirling it in his fingers.

Charlie chuckled and kept the drink to his lips as if he were shy.

“A souvenir?”

Charlie cracked up. “You’re fun. Man, I was shitting a brick before I got here.” He blinked and said, “Oops. Sorry.”

Lawrence threw the leaf in the trash under the sink. “Sorry about what?”

“Swearing.”

“I was a marine. You have permission to swear.” Lawrence crossed his arms.

Finishing the juice, Charlie rinsed the cup and left it in the sink.

“How about we grab a bite to eat?”

“If you really want to. Sure.” Charlie smiled.

Lawrence stopped at his bedroom first, getting his wallet and phone. He returned to see Charlie offering him another sweet smile.

Extending his arm, Lawrence gestured for Charlie to go first, and they left the house and climbed into his car.

~

Sitting beside this powerful guy made Charlie nervous. Not only was the judge smart, he was brawny. And when he picked Charlie up off his feet, he made Charlie weak in the knees.

He parked in the lot of a tiny café on the corner of an intersection with a street light. Charlie exited the car and waited, never having been to this area of ‘old’ downtown. It was like a Hollywood set with 1950s storefronts with a big clock face on a post outside a jewelry store and old fashioned mailboxes.

When he entered the café a bell jingled.

“Hiya, judge!”

“Hello, Carmen.”

“Take any table you want.”

“Thanks.”

Charlie was led to a booth near the window. He slid in and unzipped his hoodie.

The woman who had greeted them brought over menus and two glasses of ice water. “Who have we here?”

“Carmen, this is Charlie.”

“Hi, Charlie.”

“Hi.” Charlie felt his cheeks warm.

“What a handsome young man.” She addressed the judge. “Coffee for you?”

“Uh… I think just ice water for now. I’ve had enough coffee. Any specials?”

“Cobb salad with crab.”

“That sounds good.”

“Can I get you something to drink, Charlie?”

“Water is fine.”

“I’ll give you a minute.”

Charlie watched her leave. There weren’t many people in the café, considering it was a Saturday. But, it was late for lunch and early for dinner. He read the small menu and then peeked at the judge.

~

Lawrence decided on his selection and folded the menu. After a look outside at the pedestrians walking by, he glanced at Charlie. “All the food is good here. It’s fresh made.”

Charlie nodded, biting his lower lip.

“On me, Charlie.” Lawrence sipped his ice water.

As if that was something he needed to hear, Charlie sat up and smiled at him. “The smoked bacon and turkey club sounds good.”

Lawrence placed his napkin on his lap and studied his young companion. “You and your brother have been on your own for a while, haven’t you?”

“We do okay.”

“Is he working full time?”

“Yes. He’s a full time employee at one of those big hardware stores.”

“And you get along?”

“Pretty much.”

The waitress returned. “Are you ready to order?”

“We are.” Lawrence gestured to Charlie.

“I’ll have the bacon, turkey club with no tomatoes or onions.”

“Sourdough or wheat bread?”

“Sourdough.”

“And your choice of sides?”

“Oh.” Charlie opened the menu again.

Carmen pointed to the selection.

“Steak fries and coleslaw.”

“And you, judge?”

“The Cobb salad you mentioned.” He handed her both menus.

“Perfect.” She took the menus, refilled their glasses of water and walked off.

As Charlie stared out of the window, Lawrence studied him, lost in his thoughts, when the young man asked, “Do you like being a judge?”

“I do.”

“Why?”

“I suppose I feel as if I’m making a contribution.”

“By putting people in jail?”

Raising an eyebrow, Lawrence asked, “Do you mean like I put you in jail?”

“Oh. Ha. Sorry.” Charlie chuckled. “Like, what’s it take? I mean, are the decisions hard?”

“Yes. Sometimes.” Lawrence leaned his elbows on the table. “Okay, let’s see how you are as a judge.”

Charlie perked up and mirrored his position so they were nose to nose.

“I have a pending case right now. A woman who was drunk while driving hit a man who was walking on the side of a dark roadway. One without streetlights.”

Charlie’s expression changed to apprehension.

“She didn’t stop. The man died.”

“Yipes.”

“She was sentenced by a different judge to twenty years.”

Charlie’s light eyes widened.

“I’ve been asked to weigh in on that sentence. Her family thinks it’s too harsh.” He lowered his voice, “Should she get the same sentence as a suspect who has committed an armed robbery?”

“Huh. Wow.”

“What do you think? Let’s hear it.” Lawrence smirked.

“Well… on one hand, she did kill a guy. She should have stopped and called for help.” Charlie interlaced his fingers. “But, twenty years? That’s rough. Did she ever go to jail before?”

“Yes. But not for anything violent. And, she had cocaine in her blood.”

Charlie expressed his apprehension. “Huh.”

“What would you sentence her to?” Lawrence sat back. “She served three years while the trial proceeded. She couldn’t make the bail since it was very high.”

Charlie appeared to be thinking carefully.

“Not so simple, is it?” Lawrence figured Charlie had no clue.

~

Charlie considered the facts and needed more. “Let me get this straight.”

Lawrence’s face remained passive.

“She was committing a crime, driving while under the influence of booze and coke.”

Lawrence perked up.

“And during the commission of that offense, she killed a man.”

“Yes.”

“And this hypothetical robber… all he did was rob someone?”

“Yes.”

He shrugged. “She should get a longer sentence than a guy who just stole money.”

~

Lawrence was pleasantly surprised. “You think she should serve the full twenty years?”

“How old is she?”

“Thirty-two.”

“She should do at least ten. That dead guy? He was someone’s brother or son, or dad…”

Lawrence parted his lips to reply but he was tickled pink with Charlie’s well-considered answer.

“I’m just sayin’… just because it was with a car, doesn’t mean she didn’t murder someone. What was she charged with?”

“Vehicular manslaughter.”

Charlie sipped his water through a straw. “Well, it’s not premeditated, but her initial crime of driving under the influence was the big factor. That made what she did later a bigger crime. I mean, how hard would it have been to just stop and see if the guy was okay?”

“Well done, Charlie. I’m impressed.”

“Did I help, judge?”

“You did. And, you can call me Lawrence, Charlie.”

Carmen approached them with their lunch. “Here you go.” She set the plates down as well as ketchup and hot sauce. “Anything else?”

Charlie ate a steak fry, shaking his head.

“We’re good.” Lawrence smiled at her.

She set the tab on the table and winked at Lawrence. “Enjoy.”

Lawrence watched Charlie devour the good food, and smiled.

Chapter 3


After lunch and a very informative chat, Lawrence pulled his car in front of an apartment house. He had a look at it and then placed his car in park.

“Thanks for the ride home.” Charlie unfastened the seatbelt.

“Hang on, hot shot.” Lawrence removed his wallet and counted out cash. “I said fifteen dollars an hour.” He handed Charlie the money.

“Hmm. Do I have to pay taxes on it?” He grinned.

“That depends on just how honest you are, and… if you make enough to pay anything at all at the end of the year.”

“I’m honest.” Charlie put the cash into his wallet. “The weed wasn’t mine.”

Lawrence met Charlie’s gaze. “Whose was it?”

“One of my brother’s friends stuffed it into my pocket when the cop stopped us.”

“One of your brother’s friends?” Lawrence looked at the apartment house again.

“He’s on probation. He told me he freaked.” Charlie shrugged. “He should have just thrown it away.”

Lawrence shut off the car and unfastened his seatbelt.

“What are you doing?” Charlie asked.

“I want to meet your brother.” He opened the car door and climbed out.

“Why?” Charlie scrambled out of the car and stood on the sidewalk. “No way. Come on.”

Lawrence gestured to the lobby. “Let’s go.”

“Shit. He’s going to kill me.”

Not if I kill him first. Lawrence prodded Charlie to unlock the security door.

~

Shit, shit, shit. Charlie cursed himself for being honest. He grumbled as he walked up the stairs to his unit.

Looking back at Lawrence, Charlie hoped like hell Henry wasn’t up to no good. After taking a deep breath, Charlie opened the door. He entered the unit and called out, “Henry?”

He spotted Lawrence inspecting the room, which wasn’t exactly neat as a pin.

~

It was better than he expected. It wasn’t perfect, but he figured he’d find so much clutter and dirt it’d be unlivable.

“Looks like he’s out.” Charlie shrugged.

“When is he due back?”

“I’m not sure. He works a lot.” Charlie held his phone. “Do you want to call him?”

“Not if he’s working.” Lawrence walked down a short hall and found a bedroom, bathroom, and a den, with a single bed in it. “Is this where you sleep?”

“Yeah. I didn’t know you’d do a spot check or I would have made the bed.”

Lawrence took a quick glance at the space and was about to leave when he noticed a shelf with books. He became curious.

~

Fuck. Charlie winced as Lawrence had a closer look.

Lawrence picked up a paperback and read the back cover. He replaced it, and stared at Charlie for a moment.

Feeling as if he had to explain, Charlie said, “I like erotic fiction.”

“That’s not against the law.” Lawrence selected another and also read the back cover.

“I read other books, like the classics. I enjoy reading.”

~

Gay? Gay erotica? I never knew there was such a thing.

Lawrence took another look at Charlie. Along with the erotica was science fiction, as well as books by Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson. The last thing he wanted to do was embarrass Charlie. He also noticed the books had been purchased second hand, since they had prices penciled inside the front cover. The prices for the used books were as low as fifty cents.

“I read this one.” He held up Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.

“Scientists are my heroes.” Charlie beamed proudly.

Lawrence wondered why the hell this young man wasn’t in college on a scholarship or grant. His own kids hadn’t read this book, too busy on social media to bother. He slipped it back in its slot on the shelf and gestured for Charlie to sit with him on the bed.

Charlie did, tucking one leg under him.

“Charlie, I want you to give me a well-thought out answer. Just like you did when we discussed my court case.”

“I’ll try.”

“If you could have your dream job, what would it be?”

“Huh. Wow.” Charlie stared at his own lap.

A strand of hair fell across Charlie’s face. Lawrence didn’t hesitate to tuck it behind Charlie’s ear.

~

At the unexpected touch, Charlie held his breath and then slowly gazed at Lawrence’s lap, his long solid legs in his faded jeans, and then his attention was drawn to his large hands, and broad shoulders.

His mouth grew dry and his heart pounded.


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