The honorable Judge William T. Stanley had grown tired of watching them come in, one after another, each expressing less remorse than the one before. Very little of what he saw shocked him any longer and it was this that concerned him the most.
From time to time there would be an act of disrespect, a crime so utterly insolent that it left his insides writhing in disconnect, recoiled at what this generation was capable, or how utterly incapable of, that at times he had to excuse himself. He tried to summon the strength to carry on without losing all hope in mankind completely, but in most cases he slept through the process, his eyes heavy and his ears closed as the proceedings churned along.
His dull state of disinterest had not happened overnight, but rather as the months became years he had gradually fell into a slump that of which he would never return. As retirement approached, he thought back to the day he had taken this position along with the nobility and honor that came with its lofty title 32 long years ago. At a youthful 38, he had promised to be fair, and treat each case equally. But over time, the harsh reality of bureaucracy and politics had long ago eliminated any naive thoughts he had about public office.
Sipping his black coffee, he adjusted his robe and wondered just when he had gotten too old to understand the ways of the world. It was as if he had missed the exit; society had turned off long ago, leaving him on a path of his own and disengaged from the expressway and heavy traffic of modern times. He thought back to when decisions were made, not avoided, when justice was easily chosen.
His mind continued to drift as the man in the cheap suit spoke, making excuses for actions of another. There was a time when we owned up for our mistakes he thought. Words like respect, honor, and dignity were understood, not announced. We worried about our conscience, not getting caught. And if we did get caught, we worried about our fathers.
For the better part of the morning, he had listened to the case of a 19 year old boy who had allegedly stolen a generator from an amputee during a recent power outage. Being a Vietnam vet himself, this one had hit home. Can’t I just throw him in the cell?
As much as he wanted to blame the children, or pop culture, or music, or video games, he knew that it was the parents who were the guilty ones. Yes, these worthless parents. His brown, deep-set eyes sat under bushy silver eyebrows and had witnessed countless appalling acts by the misguided, half illiterate, delinquents who roamed the streets, looking for a quick buck or an easy target. What did we expect? he thought, look where they come from, they never had a chance. He wanted just once, to look over at the uninterested parents, and ask them just what they had expected when the only parental act had been giving birth to the suspect?
Impulsively, he shook his head while under his breath he cursed the man in the cheap suit until he finally ended his yawn-inducing soliloquy. He glanced at the mother of the suspect who stood before him. She sat in court, openly text messaging from her phone.
Unbelievable, he thought to himself, glancing at the clock as he waited to adjourn for lunch. The apologist motioned to the baby maker, and she slowly stood up and proceeded to butcher the English language to the point that the stenographer looked up, bewildered and unable to transcribe what was being said. Judge Stanley had had enough, he grabbed his gavel, debating whether to adjourn court or instead beat the lawyer over the head with it. After a deep breath he decided it was time for recess.
Clyde Hargis, his trusty bailiff, joined him as they stepped out into the fresh air for lunch at Della’s, the local diner that had served breakfast and lunch for over almost a century without the slightest change to the menu.
They walked the three blocks, as Judge Stanley enjoyed the outdoor air and the few steps of movement. They waited for the light to change before crossing, noticing a demonstration of some sort across the street. There were signs displaying their support of the troops overseas and a smaller group with signs demanding an end to the war for oil. A shouting match had ensued as the local authorities stood between the two groups in an effort to prevent the shouting from escalating.
The sign flashed Walk but the judge watched as the two groups angrily hurled insults, both young and old, refusing to back down. He shook his head--something that had become all too common to him--as he and Clyde began to cross.
“Judge….. excuse me Judge Stanley.”
The irritated judge turned around, as Clyde gave a moment’s thought about the pistol on his holster. It was man in dressed in fatigues. He crossed the street, as the judge tried to put his face to a case.
“Victor, Victor Gutierrez sir. It’s been a few years.” He thrust his hand out to the judge, who after a brief pause shook it while nodding his head.
“Hey Judge, I've only got a minute.... I came into your courtroom about five years ago, on a vandalism charge, remember?”
The judge racked his brain; there had been so many cases, not to mention his fading memory. The young soldier sensed his befuddlement.
“I was young and falling in with the wrong crowd after my brother died, running with one of the gangs. You mentioned the Army, offered to drop the charges and even wrote a letter of recommendation to the recruiter.”
The old judge looked at the soldier’s eyes; the kid’s eyes had spoken to him in court, casting a sincere light that had compelled the judge to take a chance on him. The judge thought back to when he still cared to make a difference.
“Yes, yes I remember. How are things?”
“Well I just got back from Afghanistan and came home to my baby girl.” He was digging into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet, he handed the judge a wrinkled picture of a beautiful newborn girl.
“Oh she’s beautiful.” The judge said, Clyde noticed the life in the old Judge’s voice.
“Thanks, that picture got me through some tough times." A nervous laugh, "I finally met her a few days ago. My wife and I are buying a house in the county.”
"Wow, soldier, looks like you’re doing well for yourself.”
"Yes sir.” He glanced over towards the crowd. “Well, I’ve got head back, it’s good to see you judge.”
“You too Victor, you take care now, hear?”
The sound of the microphone on the podium screeched as a voice echoed as it came over the speakers, richocheting off of the old city buildings. A man approached and said a few words to the soldier.
"Yes, sir, see you later Judge Stanley.”
The judge swelled as a surge of gratitude came over him as they shook hands once again. The soldier adjusted his hat and walked back to towards the crowd. It was then that the judge noticed the visible limp, along with the other soldiers in the crowd. Some were missing limbs and others were in wheelchairs. There he noticed the banner hung over the street that read "Wounded Warriors".
He watched as the young soldier made his way to the platform, his face beaming with pride as he slowly climbed the stairs. The protesters quieted as a local politician announced that a living Medal of Honor recipient was about to speak. Victor Gutierrez took the podium, confident and proud, his voice unwavering as he began.
Copyright 2012 Pete Fanning