In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 25

A week after Beth’s hearing, Katherine was leaving her apartment when she felt a sudden wave of dizziness. Tony, who was standing near the door when she came through the lobby, grabbed hold of her elbow to steady her. “You all right, Ms. Winters?”

She laughed lightly. “I’m fine, Tony. I have a hearing this morning, and I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“Do you want me to call a cab? I’m not sure you should be driving to work if you’re not feeling well.”

“I’m fine.”

“Let me call Mr. Wheaton for you.”

She gently pushed his hands away, touched by his concern but at the same time, she felt anger rise to her face. She put a couple steps distance between them and forced a smile. “I’ll be fine.” To prove her point she steadied herself and walked down the street toward the parking garage. She turned and waved, shouting, “See, I told you.”

Tony returned the wave, and she was on her way.

By the time she arrived at her office, she was feeling worse. Her dizziness had persisted and to top it off, her stomach felt nauseous.

When Beth commented on her appearance, she said, “I guess I picked the wrong day to skip breakfast.”

“Are you going to be okay for court?”

Katherine waved it off. “I’m fine. I’ll just run down to the cafeteria and grab a yogurt or something.”

Beth disappeared and came back a few minutes later with a bagel and peanut butter. “You need some protein.”

Katherine lifted her head from the headrest and peered at her with one eye open. “You keep bagels and peanut butter at your desk,” Katherine said.

“I’m a mother. All mothers are prepared.”

Katherine didn’t argue as Beth split open the bagel and spread peanut butter on it. She handed it to Katherine. “Eat up.”

Katherine did as instructed, feeling as if she were a child scolded by her mother. When Beth hovered, she waved her off.

Beth’s eyebrows rose, and she cocked her head sideways.

“I can handle a bagel alone. I have Angie’s hearing in an hour, and I want to prepare. By the way, did you get information on that work camp I asked you about?”

“It’s in her file.” Beth looked at the bagel, her arms folded across her chest, her gaze directed toward the bagel.

Katherine held up the bagel, presenting it, and took a bite.

***

Angie’s case was an easy one. The only child of a single mother, Wendy Prentole, Angie had been testing her wings. Tired of being left alone, struggling with schoolwork—not to mention an abundance of peer pressure—Angie had started hanging with the wrong crowd—a crowd that attended concerts by groups such as Stampin Navajos—who protested strongly against the “Government” interfering in an individual’s right to free expression.

Their songs were vile, their outlandish costumes offensive to Native American tribes—who, they said, robbed America of precious funds that rightfully belonged to “true Americans.” They started riots in every city in which they performed, which is how Angie got into trouble.

When Katherine first encountered Angie in her waiting room a month ago, she had been concerned that her transformation might be only skin-deep. She had seen pictures of the girl in her concert costumes and watched videos of the group performing. It made Katherine’s stomach lurch. Angie had surprised her, though. The three of them had sat down together, outlined the key areas leading to Angie’s difficulties, and plotted a plan to present to the judge.

The area was gray for Katherine as juvenile law was not a typical practice for her. She had to admit, it had been a bit fun stepping away from the usual.

The work camp she had asked Beth about was a month-long program in which Angie would live and work among other struggling teens, so she could explore all the options available to her, now that graduation was approaching.

The first step had been to withdraw Angie from school and enroll her in a home study course. This idea, at first, had left Wendy feeling skeptical—after all, wasn’t the fact that Angie had too much time on her hands the reason she started getting into trouble? Thus entered the second problem—what to do with Angie’s extra time.

After a persuasive chat with her boss, Katherine had it worked out that Angie could be used around the office to work off some of her legal defenses and have a small income coming in. The extra income helped out the family and used up some of her free time. It would also go a long way in developing strong work ethics that Angie could use when she joined the adult world of having to earn oneself a living.

She and Angie made a list of her friends. Katherine asked Angie to review and pray over the list—deciding which friends were worthy enough to keep—and which ones were poison. Only two friends remained on the list when they finished cutting, but this did not seem to bother Angie any.

Now the idea was to present the plan, its results, and the recommendation that Angie would thrive from the work camp. She hoped she could be persuasive enough to the judge.

Katherine rose and walked out her office door. “Ready?” she asked Beth.

Beth stood. “I think I’m more nervous than Angie.”

Katherine laughed. “I’m not surprised. She’s your protégé.”

They entered the courthouse, and Katherine sighed in relief. The courthouse was like a second home to her, and while most people found them intimidating, Katherine found them exhilarating. The mere fact that so many people’s fates were decided within these walls was a comfort—a system that had proved to be fair and just—at least most of the time.

Angie spotted them and waved enthusiastically. “Over here!” she cried.

Beth rushed to her. “Look at you,” she said. “You look so…”

“Stupid?” Angie said. Her face dropped to the floor.

“No,” Beth protested. She picked up both of Angie’s hands and bent to look into her downturned face. “You look beautiful, elegant.”

She wore a peach pantsuit that made her look years older. She had pulled back her hair and secured it bun style at the nape of her neck. Her makeup, tastefully done, made her look like a model.

Katherine frowned.

“What’s the matter?” Angie asked. “Don’t you like my new outfit? I saw the way you all look when you go to court, and I thought…I thought you’d be pleased. I was lucky to find it at a thrift store.” She paused. A look of glee crossed her face as if she’d just discovered that Christmas came twice a year. “I can’t believe someone gave this away. Look how beautiful it is.”

“You look beautiful,” Katherine said. “And business-like, and you look like you’re twenty.” Katherine shook her head. “We want the judge to sympathize with a kid. Dressed that way you look as if you should have known better.”

“Oh,” Angie said.

Katherine reached up and pulled the pins from Angie’s hair, letting it fall around her shoulders. “Take off the jacket.” Angie took it off and handed it to Katherine. “Mom can hold it.” She passed it to Wendy. She took out a handkerchief. “Blot some of your lipstick.” Angie complied, still frowning. Katherine smiled. “Much better.”

Beth nodded. “She’s right. You still look beautiful, but now you look seventeen. That’s better.”

Angie shrugged. “I guess lawyers know best.”

“Okay then,” Katherine said. “We’re in juvenile court today, with Judge Whitcomb. She’s fair and nice.”

“Lucky for us,” Wendy said. “I don’t mind admitting I’m scared to death.”

They entered the courtroom and saw several teenagers sitting in the rows of chairs, waiting—most of whom looked as if they couldn’t care less. They each took a seat and waited for his or her turn.

There were two cases before them. The first, a boy, about fifteen or so, charged with breaking and entering.

“This is the fourth time you’ve been in front of me for the same thing, Clyde,” the judge said. Clyde just shrugged. “Where’s your foster mother?”

“Dunno,” Clyde said.

Judge Whitcomb sighed. “Your social worker?”

“Dunno that, neither,” Clyde repeated.

“Cop, lawyer, teacher…anyone who cares enough to be here with you?” she said, exasperated.

“Nope,” Clyde said.

Katherine resisted the urge to raise her hand. She even went as far as to hold her right hand down with her left.

The judge muttered something under her breath about representation and looked at the bailiff. She put on a tolerant smile. “Please reschedule this young man’s hearing and get him a public defender. Also, I want the name and number of his social worker on my desk by the end of the day. Next case,” she added.

A young girl stood, and Katherine wanted to gasp. She wore a sequined skirt, bright orange spaghetti-strapped top, black high-heeled pumps, and enough makeup to sustain the cosmetics company.

The judge narrowed her eyes at her. “How old are you?”

The girl threw back her head in defiance and said, “Eighteen.”

“Liar,” spat the woman standing beside her.

“Who might you be?” the judge asked, narrowing her eyes at the woman.

“She thinks she’s my mother,” the girl scoffed. She blew a bubble with her bubble gum, which popped with a loud bang.

“I spent twelve long hours—”

“Blah, blah, blah,” the girl said, cutting off her mother’s words.

The mother looked at the judge, cocked a thumb toward the girl, and said, “Ya see what I gotta put up with? All the little bitch wants to do is whore around all night and sleep all day.”

Katherine cringed. She wasn’t sure which was worse: the mother’s attitude, or her language. No matter which the case, she knew Judge Whitcomb well enough to know she would not put up with that in her courtroom.

“Mrs…” She looked down at the girl’s file, searching for a name. “Mrs. Baker.”

“It’s Flint. I got remarried,” the mother said.

“Mrs. Flint,” the judge said sternly. “I don’t know how things are in your home, although I can somewhat surmise, but in my courtroom we speak with respect and don’t call people names.”

Katherine wanted to laugh but used her file folder to hide her smile.

“Yeah,” the girl said. “You never respect me,” she argued.

“One earns respect,” the judge said, and the girl shrank beside her mother.

The judge rubbed her temple. Katherine took a deep breath and leaned over to Beth. “I don’t like this. The judge is getting short-tempered,” she whispered.

Beth nodded.

The judge looked down at the file again. “Ms. Baker,” she said. “You’re charged with prostitution—”

“It was a trap!” the girl interjected.

“Please do not interrupt me,” the judge said. She sighed. “Do you have an attorney?”

“I can’t afford one,” the mother said.

“Doesn’t anyone explain the law to these people before they hit my courtroom?”

She looked at the bailiff. “Reschedule this one, too please, and get her a public defender, as well. Next case.”

Katherine rose and approached the table. She set down her things and indicated Angie and Wendy should sit next to her.

The judge smiled. “Aw, Miss Winters, a real lawyer. It’s nice to see you.”

Katherine gave her a pleasant, appreciative smile. “And you as well, Your Honor.”

“I hope you have good news for me today. I could surely use some.”

“I believe so, Your Honor. My client,” she indicated Angie should rise, “had an altercation with a police officer following a Stampin Navajos concert.”

“A what?”

“Stampin Navajos—that’s the name of the band.”

“Oh. Thanks for clarifying. Proceed.”

“My client and her mother,” Wendy stood and smiled at the judge, who smiled back, “have been having a rough time of it lately. Some unexpected hardships have come upon the family lately, and Ms. Prentole has had to work many extra hours, leaving Angie alone too much. We’ve discussed the situation and have come up with a plan of action to curtail the problem.” She held up the chart they had put together. “May I?” she asked.

“Sure, bring it here.”

Katherine walked over and held up the chart. The judge perused it. “I’m impressed. Who’s monitoring the homeschooling?”

“Angie’s school offers a homeschool option. She does her schoolwork at home, and checks in once a week with a counselor to chart her progress. Ms. Prentole keeps her records and turns them into the school. They also offer to tutor low-income students. Angie qualifies.”

The judge nodded. “And the work camp is thirty days long?”

“Yes. Angie will get both in-depth and group counseling, as well as career guidance. They will also prepare her to take the SAT exam and counsel her on college choices and financial aid.”

“Who’s funding this program?”

“They run primarily on private donations. The students pay whatever they can afford.”

The judge sat back and smiled. “You’ve done your homework, Ms. Winters.”

“Angie did a lot of it herself,” Katherine said, smiling at Angie.

The judge picked up a stamp and pressed it down hard on Angie’s file. “It sounds like a fair choice to me.” She looked at Angie. “No more accosting police officers at Smashing Pumpkins concerts?”

Angie smiled. “Stampin Navajos,” she corrected. “And no, I have better things to do with my time now.”

The judge nodded. “I’ll want a report at the completion of work camp.”

“That’s not a problem,” Katherine said.

“Okay then.” She looked at Angie. “Good luck, Angie.”

“Thank you, Your Honor.”

“Next case,” the judge said.

Angie nearly leaped with glee as they headed toward the courtroom exit. As they neared the door, a woman grabbed Katherine by the arm. Katherine spun around to face her.

“I’d like to hire you to be my daughter’s lawyer.”

Katherine looked past her into the sullen face of a young girl with dark circles under her eyes and bruises along one side of her face.

“Next case, please,” Judge Whitcomb repeated.

The woman looked frantic. “That’s us.”

“What did she do?” Katherine asked.

“She shot her father.”

Katherine’s eyes softened. She cocked her head in her direction. “Has she been arrested?”

“She’s out on bail.”

“You must already have an attorney, then.”

“Public defender.”

“Next case,” the judge called again.

“That’s you?”

The woman nodded.

“A moment, Your Honor,” Katherine said, holding up one finger to indicate just one.

“Is this your client, too?” the judge asked. “I understood the public defender’s office is assigned this case.”

“Apparently they aren’t aware of that as I don’t see anyone here.”

“Will you take our case, please?” the woman pleaded.

Katherine looked at the girl again. The girl glanced her way, hardly gave her notice, and then looked down at her fingers. She had a lost look to her with unkempt hair and baggy clothes. Her eyes, when visible, looked haunted and lonely. “What’s her name?”

“Ariel.”

“Ms. Winters,” Judge Whitcomb called again. “We have a time schedule here.”

Katherine glanced quickly at the judge and approached Ariel. She sat down beside her. “Hi, Ariel,” she said.

She did not acknowledge her presence, except for the slight movement when she shifted her body away from Katherine.

Katherine looked at her mother. “Is she always this withdrawn?”

“She has been for several months. I’ve had her in for evaluation, but they say it’s just teenage stuff.”

“Ms. Winters?” the judge called from the bench. Katherine could hear the impatience in her voice. “Is this your client, or not?”

Katherine turned back toward Ariel just as the door swung open, and Albert Eckhart practically fell over his feet.

“Sorry I’m late, Your Honor, but I just got the case file this morning, and I had to read up on the case.”

Katherine turned back toward the woman. “Albert’s your public defender?”

The woman shrugged. “I have no idea. I’ve been calling every day, but no one ever calls me back.”

Katherine turned toward Ariel again. “Ariel, do you want me to be your attorney?”

For a few seconds, Ariel did not move, and then Katherine saw the slightest movement of her head as she nodded. Katherine reached out to pat her hand, intending to reassure her. Ariel snatched it back.

Katherine stood. “Your Honor, I would like to request a postponement to this hearing to confer with my client and review her case.”

Katherine saw the woman beside her sigh in relief.

“Your Honor,” Albert protested, “I’m not sure what is going on here, but the last I knew I was Ms. Parson’s attorney.”

“It seems your client has a different opinion,” Judge Whitcomb said.

Ariel’s mother stood up. “I’ve never seen this man before,” she objected. “The only contact I had with any attorney was when they arrested Ariel, and we had a bail hearing. I have been trying to call someone, but no one ever returns my call. I don’t even know why we’re here today.”

Judge Whitcomb looked down at her file, thumbed through it, and sighed. “You’re here for a bail hearing.”

Mrs. Parson looked confused. “Ariel’s been out on bail for a week.”

Judge Whitcomb shook her head. “I guess that explains the absence of the district attorney. Mrs. Parson, please accept this court’s apology. I don’t know how this happened.” She turned to the bailiff. “Please see that Miss Parson’s file is updated to reflect Ms. Winters as the attorney on record. How long will you need to prepare, Ms. Winters?”

“I haven’t even seen a file, and I’m going to want a psychiatric evaluation. Three weeks ought to do it.”

“Since I haven’t even reviewed the case myself,” the judge admitted, “I’m going to give you four. I’ll see you and the district attorney in my chambers on…” she turned to the bailiff, who thumbed through his calendar.

“August fourth, two pm?”

“Does that work Ms. Winters?”

Katherine turned to Beth, who was already perusing her calendar. Beth nodded. “That will be fine, Your Honor.”

“Very well, we’ll see you on August fourth.”

Katherine turned to leave, and then suddenly struck with inspiration, turned back around. “Your Honor?”

The judge looked up. “Yes, Ms. Winters?”

“May I have Clyde, too?”

“Who?”

“The young man who was in here earlier.”

Judge Whitcomb thumbed through her files. “You want Clyde Stanton?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

Judge Whitcomb tilted her head and leaned across her bench. She stared more intently at Katherine. She pulled her eyebrows together. “Why do you want Mr. Stanton?”

“Because I care,” Katherine said.

The judge nodded slowly. “Do you even know what he’s here for?”

“No.”

The judge laughed. “Do you eat, Ms. Winters?”

Katherine looked at her in puzzlement. “I beg your pardon?”

“You do know these kids can’t pay, don’t you?”

Katherine blushed. “I figured that out.”

The judge shook her head. “Very well. Please update Clyde Stanton’s file to reflect Katherine Winters as attorney of record.” She looked at Katherine, hard. “Have you ever thought of working for the public defender’s office?”

Katherine shook her head. “No, thank you,” she said, the corner of one side of her mouth rising in a lopsided grin, “too many restrictions.”

Judge Whitcomb laughed as Katherine turned to leave. Katherine grinned at Beth, just as a photographer snapped her picture.

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