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Chapter 88 – Logan’s Day in Court

 

The sun was streaming through the window above the bed and flooding the space with the promise of a beautiful day.  I wasn’t of the mind to accept that just yet, though, and rolled over to try to catch a few more winks.  That lasted for all of four or five minutes before somebody started poking me in the shoulder and telling me I had to get up.  Like a rotisserie spit on the grill, I rolled over again to face my abuser.

 

“C’mon, Da-a-a-a-ad,” Logan drawled, his face inches from my own.  “It’s eight-thirty already.  You gotta get movin’, ya old fart.”  Despite his seemingly cheery attitude, I could see the worry in his eyes.

 

“Okay, buddy,” I groaned in defeat.  “I see you’re dressed and ready to go.  And you look very nice.  What about your brothers?”

 

“Yeah, man, we’re all ready, just waitin’ on you, lazy butt.”

 

“All right, already.  Let me hit the john and get dressed and I’ll be there,” I protested.

 

As he turned around and headed for the door, I heard him mumble something along the lines of, ‘jeez, you’d never make it as a farmer’.  I chuckled to myself and thought, lord, I hope not.  Throwing off the covers, I finally realized I was alone, so I swung my feet off the bed and let them dangle just above the floor for a minute or two before finally aiming my body for the bathroom.  My immediate needs handled there, I got dressed and headed for the kitchen to see if the family had left me anything to eat.

 

Stepping into the kitchen, I found Ron pulling a plate of waffles from the oven where he’d been keeping them warm for me.  I poured myself a mug of hot java, then sat at the bar counter to dig in.  Another plate, this one still bearing about six strips of bacon, quickly materialized next to the one holding the waffles.

 

After taking my first bite, I muttered, “Thanks for watching out for me, Ron.  I’m surprised there was any bacon left.”

 

“Well, if I hadn’t held these few strips back to begin with, there wouldn’t o’ been, trust me.”

 

“I don’t doubt it.  Those boys just don’t know when to quit, do they?” I chuckled.

 

“Boys, hell,” Ron retorted.  “Your fiancé can’t seem to say no to the stuff, either.  You’d think it was all laced with crack or somethin’,” he added with a laugh.

 

“Speakin’ of tall, dark and furry, where is he?” I asked with a grin.

 

“Him and Dylan are goin’ over the interviews Dylan covered yesterday and fillin’ out reports for Carol.  He does have to work for a livin’, ya know that, right?”

 

“Well, no, he really doesn’t, but I’m sure not gonna stop him from doin’ something he loves.”

 

“Be a waste of time if you tried, that’s for damn sure,” Ron snickered in reply.

 

“I’m sure you’re right about that,” I agreed.

 

“Well, you need to finish up there, hombre, or those boys are gonna drag you outta here like a sack of potatoes on its way to a French fry factory.”

 

Without need for further admonishment, I continued stuffing my face with waffles and bacon.  I’d cleaned as much syrup off the plate with the last bite of waffle and as soon as it was in my mouth, Ron whisked my plate from in front of me, rinsed it and dropped it in the dishwasher.  I was just barely able to snag the last slice of bacon before that plate also disappeared as if by magic.  I tell ya, that Ron is, indeed, a miracle worker sometimes and I was happy he was performing those miracles for us.

 

After taking a sip of coffee to help wash the food down, I commented, “It looks like it’s going to be just you and Mike at home for a bit today.  You gonna be okay with that?” I added with a knowing smirk.

 

Though Ron blushed just a bit at the question, he answered with a firm, “You bet, Max.  Mike and me are best buds now, don’tcha know?”

 

“I thought as much,” I retorted.  “Just use your head, okay.”

 

“Um, thought that wasn’t allowed,” Ron chortled in response.

 

“Your big head, ya goofball.  Geez, and you thought the boys were bad with their minds in the gutter.  They got nothin’ on you.”

 

We both laughed for a quick moment before I drained my mug and handed it over to join my other items already in the dishwasher.  “Thanks for saving some breakfast for me, Ron.  I hate flying on an empty stomach.”

 

“Hey, I know who signs my paychecks around here and I’ll make sure you’re always taken care of, Max.”

 

“Good to hear,” I replied with a smile.  “Well, I guess I better round up the herd so we can make like bananas and split,” I added as I slid off the stool and pushed it back under the bar counter.

 

“Hope you guys have a safe trip and good luck with the court thingy.  You better bring that skinny little runt back home with ya,” he scolded me.

 

“That’s my plan, for sure.”  I turned to leave and then stopped abruptly and wheeled back around to add, “Did we remember to tell you that Logan’s aunt and two cousins are coming back up with us?  Oh, and Logan’s brother William will be here for a couple of nights as well.”

 

“Where the hell we gonna put ‘em all?” Ron asked with serious concern.  “We’re plum outta beds, ya know?”

 

“Well, Arlene, Daril and Arley are going to be moving into Logan’s farmhouse and we’ll take them out there tonight to get them settled in after supper.  William will be staying here tonight and tomorrow night.  He goes back to Normal Sunday afternoon.”

 

“Well, that helps, but I still don’t know where the kid’s gonna sleep.”

 

“There’s a queen-sized mattress, box spring and bedframe out in the storage building that we brought out from Tom’s apartment.  Maybe you guys could get it moved into the house before Tom and Dylan have to leave to take care of their interviews.”

 

“Yeah, we could probably make that happen,” Ron agreed.  “We’ll just strap it all to the top of the Flex.”

 

“No go, bonehead, ‘cause I’m takin’ the Flex.”

 

“Oh, didn’t think about that.  No sweat, your Shelby’ll work out just as well.  Probably better since the roof is lower to the ground by about a foot,” Ron laughed.

 

“Try it and die,” I threatened with a cheeky smirk.  “I think Tom’s car would be the more appropriate choice.  ‘Specially since it’s his bed.”

 

“Just yankin’ your chain, Max,” Ron laughed heartily.  “Don’t have a hemorrhage, all right?  We’ll take care of it.  Any idea where you want it set up?”

 

“Well, the kid’s fifteen and probably wouldn’t be too thrilled to be sharing a room with the boys.  I hate to ask, but do you think it’d be okay if we put him in with you for the duration of his stay?”

 

“I don’t have a problem with it.  Especially if he’s a cute little fucker,” Ron grinned evilly.

 

“Keep it in your pants, there, man,” I scolded him.  “I don’t want to scare him off on his first visit.”

 

Ron looked at his feet and then back to me and I knew what was coming before he could open his mouth.  That didn’t stop Ron from retorting, “What pants?”

 

“Yep, mind in the gutter,” I muttered in defeat.    

 

“You just go take care of Logan and get back home safe and sound.  We’ll deal with everything else.”

 

“Thanks, Ron.”

 

At that moment, Logan rounded the corner from the dining room and yelled, “Are we ever gonna go!?  I wanna get this carp done and over with.”

 

“Right behind ya, kiddo,” I replied, laying a hand on his shoulder so he could lead the way.

 

“Good luck, farm-boy,” Ron called to our backs.

 

“Thanks, skinny,” Logan replied.  “Hope supper’s ready when we get back home ‘cause I’m gonna be hungry as an ox so you better hope it’s good or there’s gonna be hell to pay,” he added quickly.

 

I could hear Ron laughing in the background as we crossed the empty living room.  “Where’s your brothers?” I asked.

 

“We been waitin’ in the stinkin’ car for ten minutes.  They finally decided I was gonna hafta drag your butt outta here if we’re gonna be on time.”

 

“Well, okay then.  You head back out and get buckled in while I let Tom know we’re leavin’.”

 

“If you ain’t in the car in one minute, we’re comin’ back in to hogtie ya and drag you out,” Logan vented with frustration.  “You hear me, old man?”

 

“Yes, I hear ya, buddy.  One minute, I promise.”  On that note, Logan continued on to the garage while I made the right turn into the sleuths’ office.

 

“I don’t have much time, hon, but I just wanted to wish you a good day and best of luck picking up William,” I commented while crossing the threshold of the office to share a hug and kiss with my fiancé.

 

“Thanks, babe, but I think you and Logan need more luck today than I will,” Tom replied.

 

“Any last-minute sage advice from the two of you?”

 

“We already told Logan to do whatever Clarence tells him to and he should be just fine,” Tom answered.

 

“Okay, I guess we’ll be off.”

 

“Have a safe flight and hurry back home.  And don’t forget to bring that brat back with ya,” Tom cautioned me with a tremble of nervousness in his voice.

 

“I’ll do my best, you know that,” I offered lamely.  With our hug and kiss completed, I turned to take my leave and found my path blocked by a statue named Dylan.  He immediately pulled me into his arms for a bone-crushing hug, but he kept any thoughts he may have had to himself.  Even as big and formidable as Dylan is, I could feel him shaking like a leaf.  When we separated, he turned for his chair, but I still caught the tear dripping onto his cheek.  Knowing full well how he felt if things should go horribly wrong this afternoon, I left the room and headed for the garage before I could join him in his little breakdown.

 

Once I’d settled myself into the Flex where the boys were patiently waiting, I buckled myself in and hit the road for the airport and the next leg of our trip.

 

 

Dylan and I were putting the finishing touches on a report for Carol when there was a light rap on the door.  We each took a quick moment to make sure any identifying papers on our desks were covered before I answered with, “Yeah, Ron, c’mon in.”

 

The door slowly popped open and Ron stuck his head inside while asking, “How’d you know it was me?”

 

“Well, you and Mike are the only other people in the house right now,” I replied before adding, “and the sound of the knock was too high on the door to have been Mike.”

 

“You’re good,” Ron smiled.

 

“Thanks.  What’s up?”

 

“Yeah, that.  Max asked me to get your old bed moved from the storage building and into my room so this William kid has somewhere to sleep this weekend.  I was hoping you and the big guy would be willing to help.”

 

“Yeah we can do that,” I answered while receiving an affirmative nod from my business partner.  “Give us about five minutes to finish what we’re in the middle of, though.”

 

“No sweat, guys.  I appreciate it.  Mike and I will be reading Tom Sawyer in the living room.”

 

“We’ll find you in a few, then,” I replied.

 

On that note, Dylan and I were left alone to complete our current task before we moved on with the rest of our busy day.

 

 

I was so deeply lost in my own thoughts on the trip to the airport, I hadn’t realized just how quiet it had been in the car until I was parked in the lot of the FBO and the engine had been shut off.  It was very unlike the boys to be this quiet for any length of time, most especially in the car when they’re usually watching a movie to help keep them entertained, but there was no denying the silence that reigned supreme inside the Flex.

 

“You guys still awake back there?” I asked.

 

“Yeah, Dad,” Joey answered.

 

“I done changed my mind,” Logan muttered before quickly adding, “I don’t wanna go.”

 

“I know you don’t, buddy, but if you don’t, they can charge you with breaking even more laws.  I think you’ve got plenty to deal with already, don’t you?”

 

“More than I ever wanted,” he grumbled moodily.

 

“Let’s go, guys.  The sooner we leave, the sooner we get to come back home.”

 

On that command, the back doors flew open and the crew started climbing from the car.  Since we’d been through this drill a couple of times before, the boys all headed inside and left me alone to secure the car before joining them.  Once I stepped inside, I found the boys all huddled around Clarence and they were introducing themselves.  Since they were occupied, I continued to the service counter to review and sign off on our flight plans and retrieve the key to unlock the airplane that was waiting on the tarmac for us.  As I crossed the lobby to join the rest of my traveling companions for the day, Clarence left his chair and we shared a hearty handshake.

 

“Good to see you, Clarence,” I greeted the man.  “Did the boys introduce themselves?”

 

“Good to see you, as well, Max.  And they did.  What a fine group of young gentlemen you have here.”

 

I gawked at the five munchkins and asked in mock horror, “Who are you and what have you done with my sons?” 

 

When their laughter subsided, Alex and Joey chimed with cheesy grins, “Hey, we told you a long time ago we had manners, we just didn’t like to use ‘em much.”

 

“Ah, yes, I remember that well.  Well, let’s get a move on and head on out.  Logan, you still bein’ my copilot for the flight?”

 

“You bet, Dad,” he responded with enthusiasm as he turned and led the group outside.

 

On reaching the plane, I unlocked and opened the door, dropped the steps and stood back so I didn’t get trampled by the herd rushing inside.

 

“Hop in, Clarence,” I offered.  “We’ll be ready for takeoff as soon as I do my pre-flight.”

 

“Mind if I walk it with you?” he asked.

 

“Fine by me, but at least set your case inside,” I replied.  He followed my suggestion then fell in behind me as I aimed for the port wingtip on my way to the tail.

 

“Nice lookin’ plane, Max.  It’s a Cessna, right?” Clarence asked as we cleared the tail and continued up the starboard side towards the nose.

 

“Yep, a Citation CJ4.”

 

“Mind if I ask how much you paid for it?”

 

“What, you don’t remember?  You handled all the paperwork for me when I bought it.”

 

“Yeah, but that was what, six or seven years ago?  If it didn’t happen in the past six months, I don’t remember much.”

 

“Ha, I suffer from the same problem,” I laughed.  “Well, it was worth about five and a half million with the condition it was in and the way it was outfitted, but I got it for about four point one at that auction of government confiscated property.  It was a helluva deal.”

 

“Any idea which drug dealer lost his sweet ride before you stole it?”

 

“Not a clue,” I laughed.  “And as long as he or she stays locked up in prison, can’t say I care.”

 

“Seems odd you doing your own inspection.  Most of the others I’ve flown with out of here let the FBO guys do it when they’re getting the plane ready for them.”

 

“Well, they always hit the basics for me, too, but I refuse to fly any plane I haven’t given a good once-over myself.  That, of course, explains why I don’t like to fly commercial.  They won’t let me do a pre-flight at O’Hare or Lambert.”

 

“No, I bet they won’t,” Clarence laughed heartily as we rounded the nose.  “So, I was hoping to talk to Logan on the trip down, but that’s gonna be difficult if he’s takin’ the right seat,” he added softly just before we were about to join the others inside.

 

“Sorry, Clarence.  I wasn’t thinking about that when I offered the seat to him Tuesday.  Will you be able to go over what you need with him while we have lunch?”

 

“Um, yeah, that oughta work out okay,” he replied.  “We’ll have to sit at a separate table, though.”

 

“No worries.  I’d just as soon not know what you’re planning.  It’d probably scare me shitless.”

 

“Nothin’ devious or underhanded, Max.  I promise.  I would never put a client’s freedom at risk with cheap stunts like that.”

 

“Well, I already knew that, or I never would have asked you to represent Logan.”

 

“Then you should know you have nothing to worry about,” Clarence replied calmly.

 

“I can’t help it, man.  Not after what he’s been through the last couple of years.  Anything else bad happens to Logan and it’ll just crush the tiny scrap of spirit he’s got left in him.”

 

Clarence clapped his hands on my shoulders, turned me a bit so I was looking straight at him and asked, “You trust me?”  I simply nodded my head in reply because I couldn’t trust that my voice wouldn’t betray my inner thoughts.  “Then you have to believe I got this covered from every possible angle, Max.  Now, let’s get this plane in the air so we can bring Logan back home with us this afternoon.”

 

“Yeah, all right,” I muttered with resignation.  While I did trust Clarence implicitly, I just couldn’t see how he was gonna pull the rabbit out of his hat and magically free Logan from his legal problems.  I finally put an end to the mental gymnastics tumbling through my mind and climbed aboard, pulling up the steps and securing the door behind me.  I checked the boys in the cabin to ensure each was properly buckled in place, then joined Logan in the cockpit where I performed the same inspections on his straps.  Satisfied he wasn’t going anywhere, I took my own seat, strapped myself in and started getting everything ready to take to the skies.

 

I tried to talk to Logan on the intercom, but he wasn’t responding.  When I looked over to see if he was okay, his chin was resting on his chest and he seemed to be contemplating the knots in his shoelaces.  I couldn’t imagine the turmoil running through his troubled mind at the moment, so I laid my right hand on his shoulder while activating the intercom with my left thumb.

 

“You okay, kiddo?” I asked with serious concern. 

 

His meager response was to give me a thumbs up sign, hand nervously shaking in midair between us.  He didn’t move his head to change his viewpoint a bit and realizing I had no sage advice to share that would lift his spirits, I resumed my preparations for takeoff.  After one final check of the instruments, I radioed the tower and received my taxi instructions.  I paused just before making the turn onto the runway to await my clearance for takeoff.  Hearing that through the radio less than ten seconds later, I inched the plane onto the runway and lined up on the centerline.

 

One more full stop and a fifteen second scan of all the instruments told me were ready to go.  I jammed the throttles to ninety-five percent thrust and ol’ Annabelle (yes, I’ve named my plane) leapt down the runway like a cheetah launching itself after the gazelle that was about to become its next meal.  Unlike the poor gazelle, however, Annabelle had wings and we were very soon clawing our way skyward and aiming for an airport in southeast Missouri I’d never seen before.

 

Since our time in the air was going to be very short this morning, our maximum altitude was only going to be 24,000 feet.  I allowed the plane to drift slowly upward to that flight level before retarding the throttles to maintain altitude and about 430 knots into the light headwind.  Less than twenty-five minutes later, it was time to start our descent into Sikeston Memorial Airport.  Being a small airport with only one runway, our options were limited.  Since the winds were from the south and other air traffic was non-existent, I was able to line up and fly a straight-in approach to runway 20.

 

Following my radioed instructions, I was soon lining Annabelle up in a parking slot for private planes, joining two others already tied down there.  A man in greasy coveralls and dragging a couple of wooden wheel chocks behind him exited a hangar directly in front of us and slowly ambled our way.  While awaiting his arrival, I ran through the shutdown checklists in the book.  By the time I felt the thump of a block hitting the nosewheel, the plane was secured, and we were ready to deboard.

 

As I removed my straps, I let Logan know it was time to get moving.  After receiving no response from my copilot, I glanced in his direction and realized he hadn’t moved a bit during the flight.  On closer inspection, I noticed his eyes were closed and assumed he’d fallen asleep.  I slowly extracted myself from my own seat and stepped behind his to release the straps that were the only thing holding him upright. 

 

When he was freed from his temporary restraints, he jerked wide awake and mumbled, “Where we at?”

 

“On the ground in Sikeston, buddy.”

 

“Dang it!” he grumbled angrily.  “I slept through the whole thing!?”

 

“Appears that way,” I agreed.

 

“Then this don’t count as my turn flyin’ up here with ya, does it?” he begged as he turned in the seat and gazed pleadingly into my eyes.

 

“Yeah, I guess so,” I agreed lamely in the hope it might cheer him up just a little.

 

“Sweet, thanks, Dad,” Logan cheered as he jumped up onto the seat and leaned over to give me a hug.

 

“You ready to scoot?” I asked.

 

“Not really, but ain’t got no choice, do I?”

 

“Unfortunately, no.  And while we eat lunch, Clarence is going to talk to you about what he needs you to do this afternoon.  And I want you to follow his instructions to the letter, you got me?”

 

“ ‘Course I do,” the youngster retorted smartly.  “I may talk like these flippin’ hicks down here but that don’t mean I am one.”

 

“Okay, then,” I giggled before placing my hands in Logan’s armpits and lifting him up over the console between our seats and setting him on the floor.  As he left the cockpit for the now open cabin door, my last act was to flip the switch to shut off the battery.  Finally stepping out of the cockpit, I discovered I was going to be the last man out, so I quickly joined the rest of the group on the ground, stowed the stairs, then closed and locked the door.  When I turned back around, I came face to face with the man in the greasy coveralls.  The couple spots of grease that marked his face told me this man worked hard to scratch out a living in this dusty corner of the state.  He had his hand raised, waiting for the obligatory handshake, and I hate to admit it, but I hesitated just a moment before returning the gesture, and that was only after seeing his hands were spotlessly clean.

 

“Mornin’, y’all,” the man greeted cheerily through a lopsided grin that would do well to be seen by a good dentist.  “Name’s Bobby Joe.  How long y’all gonna be hangin’ ‘round?”

 

“We’ll be headed back to Springfield later this afternoon,” I replied.

 

“Y’all need anything while ya here?”

 

“Well, we need to rent a car first and then find somewhere decent to have lunch, I suppose.”

 

“This everybody ya got wit’ ya,” Bobby Joe asked.

 

“For now, yes.  But when we come back, we’ll have three more and some luggage.”

 

“Then you’re SOL (shit outta luck) for gettin’ an’thing from Enterprise ‘cross the way.  Biggest thing they got will only hold six or seven folks, and no room for no luggage.”

 

“I don’t mind getting two cars,” I commented.

 

“Don’t bother wit’ that, I can fix ya right up.  Y’all follow me to the hangar.”

 

He spun on his heels and took off across the tarmac at a fair clip while the rest of us fell in line behind him, mostly because we didn’t have very many options at the moment. When we reached the hangar, Bobby Joe was continuing into a dark corner of the structure towards what appeared to be a large van that had to be at least thirty years old.  Soon enough, he had the vehicle fired up and was pulling it towards us waiting just inside the big open door of the hangar.  Judging by the thin light cloud of smoke emanating from the decrepit vehicle’s exhaust system, I was glad the big doors were open.

 

After stopping ten feet away from us, Bobby Joe shut the van off and climbed down from the driver’s seat.  “This here’s Dolly,” he commented, affectionately patting a fender as he stepped closer to us.  “She ain’t much to look at, that’s for sure, and the ride’s a bit rough, but she runs good and she’ll get ya where ya need to be when ya need to be there.  The best news for you, though, is she can haul ten people and all their bags in one shot.”

 

“Well, thanks, Bobby Joe,” I replied lamely while shooting a nervous glance towards Clarence.  Receiving nothing more than an indifferent shrug of the shoulders from him, I returned my attention to Bobby Joe.  “How much will it cost?”

 

“Nothin’, y’all.  Just bring her back in one piece.  Me an’ Dolly got a long hist’ry,” Bobby Joe responded as his eyes misted over with fond memories.

 

“I promise we’ll take good care of her for you,” I agreed.

 

“Well, keys are in ‘er.  Y’all better saddle up an’ get a move on.”  Clarence and the boys headed on around to the passenger side of our transportation and as Clarence was opening the side door for the munchkins, I asked Bobby Joe one more question.

 

“So, can you recommend a place where we can get a good lunch before we have to go to Bloomfield?”

 

“Only place ‘round here out-o’-towners like you folks wanna go to is Lambert’s.  It’s across the main drag and down that way just a piece,” he offered while pointing to the east.

 

“Well, thanks for your help today, Bobby Joe.  We’ll try to be back by five so we can get your van back to ya.”

 

“Don’t worry ‘bout it,” Bobby Joe replied simply.  “See that Mercedes SLS in the corner over yonder?” he asked while pointing to the opposite corner of the hangar from which Dolly was in.  “That there’s my daily driver,” he volunteered with his regular half-toothless and crooked grin.  “And if’n y’all ain’t back ‘fore I head home for the day, just leave ol’ Dolly outside the big door with the keys in the ignition.”

 

“Aren’t you worried somebody will steal it?  I mean her,” I quickly corrected myself.

 

“Not a chance, mister.  Folks ‘round here know you don’t screw with Dolly unless they wanna get screwed back by me. Ten times over,” he added with an evil laugh.

 

“Well, okay then,” I offered, at a loss for a better response at the moment.  “Thanks again for your help and we’ll try to get back before five.”

 

We quickly shook hands and I climbed in the driver’s seat to get away from our helper as quickly as possible.  Once settled into place, I have to admit I was very nicely surprised.  Despite the outside of the van being very rough, the inside was immaculate.  I’m not saying it was so clean I’d be willing to eat off the floor, but the carpets had been replaced, the seats recovered and very comfortable, a new and plush headliner had also been installed, the windows were as clean as any I’d ever seen on a vehicle and an entertainment console had been installed between the front seats that held a high-quality Blu-Ray player, a ten-disc CD changer and a radio system that looked better than the one installed in my Shelby.  Located in the middle of the dash where the radio used to be, was a fifteen-inch LCD screen for a satellite navigation system. 

 

I turned my astonished face to Clarence and found myself looking at what I was sure was a mirror image of my own flustered countenance.  Turning back to look through the windshield, I reached down, turned the key and fired the engine back to life.  Despite what I may have previously thought about the trail of smoke the van left in its wake, the engine ran smoothly and quietly.  I slipped our transport into drive and followed the road that would lead us to the airport exit.

 

“Y’all remember where we parked the plane,” I called out.

 

“You’re the one drivin’, Dad,” Joey began.

 

“So, you need to remember, not us,” Alex added.

 

“What happened to those manners you had just a short time ago?” I queried.

 

“Back on vacation, old man,” Joey laughed. 

 

Alex, T.J. and Andy also enjoyed the moment of hilarity, and even Clarence joined them briefly.  Logan, for his part, did nothing but gaze forlornly out the side window of the van at the traffic that was flowing by.  When Bobby Joe referred to this stretch of road as the ‘main drag’, he wasn’t kidding.  I had to wait almost two full minutes before a wide enough gap between vehicles presented itself to be sure I could get across all four lanes and the fifth center turn lane.  I’ll give Dolly credit for being responsive to the gas, even if she was wallowing a bit due to a very dated and worn out suspension.  We located Lambert’s about half a mile from the airport and I pulled into the parking lot and found an empty space that would contain the monster we were in.

 

Joey tapped Logan on the shoulder and said, “C’mon, dude, time to eat.”

 

“I ain’t hungry,” Logan responded angrily.

 

“Hey, don’t get all pissy with me,” Joey retorted.  “Ain’t my fault we’re down here.”

 

“Joey, that’s enough of that,” I admonished the young man as I spun around in my seat.

 

“Hey, he started it,” Joey countered.

 

“And I’m ending it right now.  You got me?”

 

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” he muttered in return.  He then turned to the others and said, “C’mon guys, let’s go eat and leave the little troublemaker to pout by himself.”  On that comment, Alex opened the side door and led the other three boys outside.  Logan curled up into a ball in his seat and the tears started pouring from his eyes.

 

I turned to Clarence and said, “I hate to impose, but would you mind taking the others inside and finding tables for us?  I’ll be in with Logan as soon as I can.”

 

“No problem, Max.  You take however long you need,” Clarence agreed.

 

After he was gone and the door closed, I climbed over the entertainment console, sat next to Logan and pulled the blubbering ball of terrified child into my lap.  I held onto him for several minutes before he started to calm back down, stroking his head and back the whole time.  When his chest finally quit heaving, he wrapped his arms around my midsection and tried to squeeze the stuffing right out of me.

 

“You okay, Logan?” I asked with serious concern.

 

“NO! I ain’t okay!” he yelled as he lifted his head and practically blasted my left eardrum away.  “That fuckin’ prick threatened to kill me so goddam many times while I was there, I lost count.  And I’m the one who’s in trouble for doin’ what I had to do to get the hell outta that shithole with my skin still attached.  That’s all kinds o’ fucked up, Dad.”

 

“I sure can’t argue that with you one tiny bit, buddy.  But you need to hold it together and do what Clarence tells you to do.  We’ve been over this, right?”

 

“Yeah, I know,” he hesitantly grumbled in a surly tone.  “I’m sorry, Dad, I really don’t mean to be a troublemaker, but I guess that’s all I’m good for.”

 

“Don’t you dare go there, young man,” I retorted.  “You’re just a kid who’s had a few very rough years and needs some love in his life.”

 

“You can say that again,” Logan smirked.

 

“Okay, you’re just a ki…,” was all I got out before the munchkin smacked me in the gut and cut me off mid-word.

 

“I was just kiddin’, old man,” he giggled lightly as he leaned back and looked up at my face.

 

“I know, and I was just tryin’ to be funny,” I replied.

 

“Well, ya done screwed that up, didn’t ya?” the rugrat shot back at me with a mischievous grin.  “You need to leave the funny stuff to the people on TV.  They’re way better at it.”

 

“Gee, thanks.  You’re all heart, young man.”

 

“And don’t you ever forget it,” he replied smartly.  “So, what’s for lunch?”

 

“Oh, you’re hungry now?” I asked in surprise.

 

“Starvin’ like Marvin, man.  C’mon, let’s go,” he added as he slid off my lap, stepped out of the van and down to the ground.  “Oh, hey, this is Lambert’s!  They got some dang good grub here,” he exclaimed.  I followed him out of the van, then closed up and locked the vehicle before grabbing Logan’s hand and leading him to the entrance. As we slowly ambled across the parking lot, Logan offered, “Hey, Dad, I’m sorry for saying those things I did.  I know I’m not s’posed to say those kinds o’ words but I couldn’t help myself.”

 

“I understand that Logan and before you get too worried, you’re not going to be in trouble for it.  You’ve been an emotional wreck for a while and people sometimes need to vent that stuff so they don’t go crazy.”

 

“That’s it!” he yelled as he came to a sudden stop just outside the entrance.

 

“What’s it?”

 

“I been wrecked ever since you told me Daddy was dead.  My brain’s been so screwed up since that night I can’t freakin’ think straight no more.”

 

“What do you mean?” I asked with interest as I knelt down to his level and took both his hands in mine.

 

“Well, one minute, I’ll be feelin’ all happy and shit and the next, I get so pissed off at nothin’, I wanna rip somebody’s head off or punch holes in a wall.  And I know that ain’t right, but I ain’t got no control over it.”

 

“That’s what grieving for someone you’ve lost is like, kiddo.  You’ll get through this in due time.”

 

“Yeah?  How?”

 

“One step and one day at a time, remember?”

 

“Oh, yeah.  I didn’t know you was talkin’ ‘bout crap like this.”

 

“It’s all a part of the process, Logan.  Losing someone you love hits everybody in different ways.  If you want to talk to someone about what you’re feeling and dealing with, I’m sure Dr. Kirkland would be happy to help you work through this.”

 

“No way, man,” he protested immediately.  “Ain’t no way I’m spillin’ my guts to a total stranger.”

 

“Well, you know you can talk to Tom and me any time, right?  And I’m sure Joey and Alex could help you better understand and deal with some of your anger and frustration.  They’ve been through this themselves, remember?”

 

“Yeah, like Joey’s gonna talk to me ‘bout anything right now.  Don’t see that happenin’.”

 

“I bet if you told him you were sorry and you didn’t mean to react the way you did, he’d be fine.”

 

“Let’s go find out,” Logan replied cheerily as he pulled me into a hug which I gladly returned.  Just before we separated, he whispered, “I love you, Dad.  Thanks for everything.”

 

“We all love you, too, buddy,” I whispered.  As we broke apart, I held out my hands and added, “Help an ‘old man’ back to his feet, please.  My knees are killin’ me.”  With a big giggle, Logan grabbed my hands in his and leaned back.  In no time, I was upright again, and we were ready to join the others.  Logan snagged my hand and I used my unencumbered appendage to open the door.  Stepping inside the much darker interior, we were immediately confronted with the obligatory hostess stand.  At the moment, the gates to the deeper realms of the restaurant were being guarded by a shapely middle-aged brunette named Betty, according to the nametag firmly attached to her vest.

 

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” she greeted us with a cheery lilt to her voice.  “My name is Betty and thank you for choosing Lambert’s, the home of throwed rolls.  Will it be just the two of you for lunch today?”

 

“No, actually,” I replied.  “We’re with another man and four boys that came in a few minutes ago.”

 

“Ah yes, I won’t forget those four wild ones anytime soon,” she grinned.  “Bear with me for one moment and I’ll have Stephanie guide you to them.”

 

Our guide arrived quickly enough and greeted us with, “If you two will follow me, I’ll get you reconnected with the rest of your party.”

 

As we followed Stephanie through the crowded and noisy throng, Logan’s eyes never left her gently swaying hips or the globes of the tight and curvaceous posterior that were contained in pants that seem to have been painted onto her very shapely body just this morning.  When we finally reached our table in the voluminous main dining area, Clarence left his seat so I could take his place and he put a hand on Logan’s shoulder.

 

“Logan, would you come with me so we can talk?”

 

“Yeah, one sec’, though, Mr. Cantrell,” he replied before turning, grabbing Joey’s hand and pulling him out of the booth.  Once Joey could walk, they moved about ten feet away for a hushed conversation.  “Listen, dude, I’m really sorry ‘bout yellin’ at ya but my brain’s all kinda whacked right now.”

 

“I know, bro, don’t worry ‘bout it.  I’m sorry for callin’ you a troublemaker, too.  That was way over the line,” Joey responded.

 

“Well, not really,” Logan countered.  “I done caused all kinds o’ trouble for ever’one lately, can’t seem to help it.  But listen, when we get back home, I, uh, wanna talk to you and Alex ‘bout some shit.  If you’ll listen to me, that is.”

 

“Yeah, we know that already,” Joey replied with a smile.  “We knew you’d get there ‘ventually and were just waitin’ on you to wake the hell up and ask, dude.  You should know that.  Losing one parent is hard enough, losing both like the three of us have bites the big one.  So, we know the crap you’re dealin’ with, believe me.”

 

“Does it ever get any better?” Logan asked.

 

“It’ll take a long time, Logan, but yeah, it does.”

 

“Guess that makes sense,” Logan agreed.  “So, we still friends?”

 

“No way in hell, dude,” Joey replied before adding, “we’re fuckin’ brothers, now and forever.”  Joey pulled Logan into his arms and the two shared a sweet hug right in the middle of the boisterous dining room.  When the duo separated, they wrapped arms around each other’s shoulders and came back to our table.  After Joey slid back into the booth next to Alex, Clarence and Logan turned and headed even deeper into the building.

 

“You guys okay?” I asked after Joey had settled in.

 

“Yeah, Dad, we’re fine.  And I’m sorry for what I said in the van.”

 

“Good, ‘nough said about that, then.  Andy, would you hand me a menu, please?” I asked the munchkin so I could decide what I wanted to eat.

 

 

As per my request to the hostess when I brought the boys inside, Logan and I settled ourselves at a table that was in a somewhat quieter corner of the main dining room where we could talk about what he should expect to happen this afternoon.  Our first order of business, though, was to peruse the menus and select our meals.  Logan spent less than thirty seconds before making his choice and placing the menu back in the rack on the table.

 

“That was quick,” I commented.

 

“Yeah, I’m just having the same thing I had the last time I ate here,” Logan replied.

 

“You’ve been here before?” I asked.

 

“Yeah, the day I cut up Uncle Dirtbag.”

 

“That hamburger sounds good, but I think I’m gonna go for the grilled ham an’ cheese,” I commented.

 

“So, what’s gonna happen to me?  Am I goin’ to jail?” my young lunching partner asked nervously.

 

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” I retorted.  “But let’s wait for the waitress to come take our orders before we get too deep into that.” 

 

Receiving a simple nod of agreement to my suggestion, we stared blankly around the restaurant.  If the crowd that had gathered for lunch was any indication, the food should be good.  Our server arrived momentarily and happily noted our food requests before disappearing into the kitchen.  As soon as she left the two of us alone again, Logan wasted no time in staring at me silently, imploring me to get our chat started.

 

“Okay, Logan, here’s what’s going to happen today.  Once we’re in the courtroom and everyone has taken their seats, the judge will come in.  Since this is supposed to be just a preliminary hearing, he’ll ask the prosecutor and me if we have any motions we’d like to file.  Then the charges the prosecutor has filed against you will be read aloud to the court and they’ll be entered into the record.  The judge will then ask you to stand and he’ll have a few questions for you.”

 

“Most likely, the first will be ‘do you understand the charges against you’.  If he asks that, your answer should be nothing more than a simple ‘yes’.  The next probable question will be ‘how do you plead to the charges’.  Of course, your answer to that will be a solid and convincing ‘not guilty’.  That’s very important, young man, you have to believe one-hundred percent that you’re not guilty of any wrongdoing.”

 

“But I did do it, I cut that bastard ‘cause he was gonna kill me,” Logan protested.

 

“We all know that, Logan, but I’m pretty sure the prosecutor doesn’t.  And that’s going to be our ace in the hole.”

 

“You better be right ‘bout that, Mr. Cantrell, or my goose is cooked.”

 

“Like I told your dad before we left Springfield, you have to trust that I have this covered.”

 

“I’ll try, but I’m still scared to death,” Logan muttered quietly as our server arrived with our food.

 

I gently laid my hand on Logan’s and tried to silently reassure him that everything would be fine, but I don’t think he was very accepting of my efforts.  We ate our meals in silence.  Well, I did, anyway, as Logan seemed to have lost his appetite and only nibbled at his hamburger and fries before pushing them away and curling up on the seat across from me.

 

 

“So, what’re they talkin’ ‘bout over there,” T.J. asked between bites of his chicken strips.

 

“Clarence needed to talk to Logan about what to expect in court today so he wouldn’t be surprised,” I replied.  I looked in the direction of their table and could see Clarence was still stuffing his face, but there was no sign of Logan still being in the booth with him.  If it had been anyone else, I would have been worried about that development, but I knew Clarence would not let my son out of his sight for even a moment.

 

All too soon for any of us, we cleaned our plates and they were whisked away by our very attentive server, only to be replaced by a bill for our meals.  After delivering our dishes to the kitchen, she returned to take my card and run the charge.  With my receipt in hand and card back in my wallet, I stood and gathered the boys up to retrieve Clarence and Logan.  We didn’t spot Logan until we were ten feet away from their booth and as soon as the youngsters saw him curled into a ball on the seat, they all hustled over and pulled him into a reassuring hug.

 

“I guess we’re ready to go,” I muttered flatly to Clarence.

 

“Then let’s get this show on the road,” he agreed.

 

While Clarence slid out of the booth, the munchkins grabbed Logan’s arms and belt to pull him out and get him on his feet.  They led the way out of the restaurant with Joey in front, T.J. and Andy on each side of Logan and Alex brought up the rear.  T.J. and Andy had one of Logan’s hands tightly gripped in their own and Alex was resting his hands on his brother’s shoulders.  As Joey forged a path through the other customers, he made sure there was plenty of room behind him to ensure the three-wide group in the middle could get through without bumping into anybody.

 

After piling back into the van named Dolly, I took a minute to enter the courthouse’s address into the navigation system since I had no clue where Bloomfield was or how to get there from here.  Following the precise directions provided by the unit, we were parked on the square in the center of Bloomfield forty minutes later, the courthouse in the middle of the square casting an imposing presence over the area.  The building was only two stories tall and the brick appeared to have been in place since the Civil War, but that didn’t detract from the seriousness of the situation.  On any other day, taking a tour of the structure might have been interesting and educational, but today was not that day.

 

Now that we were solidly in Clarence’s wheelhouse, I let him take the lead.  He walked into the building like he owned it, stepped up to a counter just inside the door and announced, “We’re here for a preliminary hearing at one.  Could you please give us directions on where we need to go?”

 

“The only case on the docket this afternoon is in courtroom three up on the second floor,” the gentleman manning the counter replied.  “Just take those stairs up and turn left at the top.  You can’t miss it.”

 

“Thank you, sir,” Clarence replied before turning to follow the man’s directions.

 

“Wait, who are all these other people?”

 

After turning back to face the counter, Clarence replied, “One is my client, of course, and the others are his father and brothers.”

 

“Not sure they’re gonna let the kids inside the court,” the man mused.

 

“They will or there won’t be any hearing taking place today,” Logan’s attorney replied with confidence.

 

“Well, good luck with that, I guess.  From the scuttlebutt we’ve been hearing, you don’t stand a chance.”

 

“Good thing I don’t listen or pay any heed to the average courthouse rumor mongering, then,” Clarence retorted smartly before again taking aim for the wide staircase in the center of the building.  We dutifully followed along and at the top of the marble staircase, made the left turn as per our instructions.  Courtroom three was at the end of the gallery and the doors were located in the right wall and the rear corner of the large space.  That put the judge’s bench against the exterior wall of the building with the jury box, defense and prosecutor’s tables next.  An ancient-looking wooden railing separated that area of the courtroom from the pews bolted to the floor where an audience would sit.

 

We slowly made our way up the aisle that ran right down the middle of the room.  When we reached the wood railing, Clarence and Logan stepped through the swinging gate in the bar and he directed us to get comfortable on the first row of seating behind them.  While we settled in on the ancient pew, Logan and Clarence took seats at the table in front of us.  As Clarence busied himself with unpacking files and paperwork from his case, Logan rested his arms on the table and then laid his head down on them, trying to block out his surroundings as much as possible.  We had arrived about twenty minutes before the hearing was to begin, so we had the room to ourselves.  That peace was shattered five minutes into our interminable wait when none other than the obnoxious asshole Troy sauntered into the courtroom behind us. 

 

As soon as he spotted Logan cowering at the defense table, he loudly proclaimed, “Glad ya could make it, ya little bastard.  I hope the judge fries your ass for what you did to me.”

 

Clarence was on his feet in an instant, stepped through the gate and strode towards Troy with purpose.  “I would advise you to refrain from any direct communications with my client, sir.  If you are a part of today’s proceedings, then sit your ass down and shut the hell up.”

 

“Just who the hell …?” Troy began to respond just as the bailiff joined us through another door at the far end of the jury box, cutting off Troy mid rampage.

 

“Troy!” the new arrival yelled.  After Troy and Clarence were focused on the bailiff, he continued, “You would do well to follow this man’s advice.”

 

“What the fuck, Luther?” Troy protested.  “You know what that faggot-lovin’ little prick did to me.  I thought you was on my side.”

 

“I’m on the side of the law, Troy.  And in this courtroom, you don’t speak until and unless you’ve been spoken to.  You either get on board with that and, like, right now, or I’ll be forced to remove you from these proceedings.  If you think you can behave yourself and be quiet like a responsible adult, then sit down at the far end of the front row.”

 

Despite wanting to continue his harangue of Clarence, and by extension, Logan, Troy finally backed down and followed the directions he was given.  I finally noticed that he was still moving rather gingerly and couldn’t suppress the tight grin that had formed on my face thanks to his ongoing discomfort.

 

“Thank you for intervening when you did, bailiff,” Clarence offered.

 

“Don’t bother tryin’ to suck up to me, counselor.  I’m just doing my job and trying to keep the peace.  From what I know about this case already, your client will be lucky if he sees the light of day in forty to fifty years.”

 

“Already been tried, convicted and sentenced, has he?” Clarence asked with a tinge of humor.

 

“All but,” the bailiff agreed.

 

“Well, we’ll see about that,” Clarence retorted with confidence as the bailiff stepped back through the gate and sat on the prosecutor’s table to keep an eye on Troy.

 

Before Clarence could rejoin Logan, I flagged him down and said, “I don’t like this situation one bit.  I think we need to get the hell outta here while the gettin’s good.”

 

“Faith, Max,” Clarence intoned calmly.

 

“Oh, I have tons of faith in you, my friend.  Can’t say I have much in these redneck hillbillies, though.”

 

“You worry too, much.  You’ve never seen me in action in court before, have you?”  After a quick negative shake of my head admitting I hadn’t, he continued.  “Well, sit back and enjoy the show.  You’re about to find out firsthand why I’ve never lost a case.”

 

With nothing else to do to occupy my mind, I started a game of rock, paper, scissors with Alex, Joey, T.J. and Andy to fritter away the time we still had to wait for this nightmare to truly begin.  We’d just finished the fourth round when the doors behind us opened again.  We turned in our seats and found Arlene, Daril and Arley being ushered in by another gentleman.  The look Troy gave his wife and sons on seeing them could have peeled the paint right off the wall.  The quartet stopped just before turning up the aisle and the man waved to the bailiff to summon him closer.

 

When the guard joined them, the man raised his hands to shoulder height and said, “Luther, you should know I’m armed, but it’s holstered in the middle of my back.  I didn’t want to bring it into the courthouse, but Arlene insisted on it.”

 

“Turn ‘round, then, Rocky.”  Rocky complied with Luther’s command, pausing briefly mid-spin before completing his pirouette.  “You plannin’ on stayin’?”

 

“No, sir, I’se just bringin’ Arlene and her boys here since they’re afraid for their lives right now.  As long as you make sure they stay safe, she’ll let me leave.”

 

Luther turned to face Arlene, offering, “Ma’am, I swear on my momma’s grave that you’re as safe here as you can possibly be.  If’n ya can trust me to take care of ya, then Rocky can leave.”  A tight nod from Arlene was all it took for Luther to turn back to Rocky and add, “Thanks for makin’ sure they got here safe this afternoon, Rocky.  We knew there was some concern ‘bout that and I’m glad to see Ms. Campbell made the appropriate arrangements.  See ya later.”  On that note, Arlene, Daril and Arley’s escort turned on his heels and left the courtroom.

 

“Ma’am, boys, why don’t y’all leave your bags ‘n’ things back here and then come with me,” Luther offered as he aimed back towards the front of the court.  When the group reached the row behind us, he offered them the chance to take the bench for themselves, just with the added request they sit at the far end.

 

“There’s plenty of room for them to sit with us if they’d like,” I offered while pointing past Andy who was the last in our group.

 

“Only if you’re sure it’s not a problem,” Arlene replied demurely.

 

“Nonsense,” I retorted.  “Boys, let them through,” I called out and the four stood as one so the three new arrivals could join us.  Daril led the trio, Arley was second in line and Arlene was bringing up the rear.  As she moved behind Logan, she reached over the rail separating them, laid a hand on his shoulder and gave him a gentle squeeze.

 

Surprised at the unexpected contact, Logan jumped from his chair and spun around to see who or what had touched him.  On seeing his aunt right behind him and his cousins a little further down the pew, he practically jumped the rail to give her a hug while squealing, “Aunt Arlene!”

 

“Sh-h-h-h, Logan, you’ll be fine.  We all know what a bastard Troy is and we’re ready to tell the judge everything we know about what he did to you and why,” Arlene offered as she lowered the munchkin back to the floor.  Once his arms were freed from her grasp, he sent a big wave combined with a toothy grin to his cousins and they both returned the cheery greeting, Daril adding a thumbs-up sign after the wave.

 

“So, y’all ready to move?” Logan shouted happily.

 

“You bet,” Arlene answered.  “We can’t get away from here fast enough,” she added at a volume just loud enough for Troy to hear it as well.  If the man kept shooting that same look throughout today’s activities, I knew one courtroom that was going to need a new paint job.  “You better get back in your seat, Logan,” she commented.

 

Before she could join her sons, I asked, “Did Vinnie and his guys show up on time and get everything loaded up that you want?”

 

“They sure did,” Arlene replied happily.  “Even managed to get that piano I was worried ‘bout leavin’ behind.  They’re already on their way back to Illinois with it all.”

 

“I’m glad to hear it,” I agreed.  “We’ll make arrangements for them to bring it to your new home sometime next week.  That’ll give you and your boys a chance to see what’s there already and decide where you want everything.”

 

“That sounds perfect, Max.  We’ll never be able to thank you enough for helping us make this happen.”

 

“Sure you can, just be good family for Logan since both his mom and dad are gone.”

 

A somber looked flashed through her face before she brightened back up and replied, “You can be sure of that.”

 

At that moment, the door beside the jury box opened and a self-important looking man in a snappy suit stepped in and quickly surveyed the room, taking stock of everyone in attendance.  Despite the impassive glance shared with our side of the room, when he caught view of Troy hiding in the opposite corner, his face visibly soured, even with Troy giving him a big wave and smile.  Now, I wasn’t blaming him for that reaction one bit, but it still caught me a bit off-guard.  We soon learned that this new man was the prosecutor for Stoddard County, and he seemed to be ecstatic to be in charge of a case that appeared to be a slam-dunk win for him.

 

After laying his case on the table reserved for the prosecutor, he stepped over to greet Clarence.  We would later learn the man’s name was George, but what appeared to be the most important at the moment was his seemingly pompous ‘I’m better than you are’ demeanor he conveyed with his body language.  Every twitch and otherwise innocuous nuance of his personality appeared to be coldly calculating, as if to convey to others that none of us commoners were worthy of breathing the same air as him.  It was my most sincere hope that before the afternoon was over, Clarence would be able to knock some of that overblown puffery from his sails.  After the obligatory and perfunctory greeting was completed, George retreated to his own space where Luther was still camped out and keeping a very close watch on Troy.

 

“You got a handle on this situation?” Luther asked while angrily shaking a finger in Troy’s direction.

 

“Yes, bailiff,” George replied condescendingly.  “Please let Stonewall know everyone is present and we’re ready to proceed whenever he is.”

 

Luther gave George a quick look of displeasure before replying, “I’ll let his Honor know, counselor.”  On that note, he finally left the table and retreated to the far corner of the courtroom before disappearing through the door.  Less than a minute passed when the door reopened, and Luther stepped back into the room.

 

“All rise,” he called out as he held the door open.  “Circuit Court for Stoddard County, State of Missouri, is now in session.  The Honorable Thomas Jackson presiding.”  We all rose from our seats, Clarence providing a little assistance to a very nervous Logan.  The judge strode purposefully into the room, closely followed by the court reporter. 

 

As the judge reached the halfway point between the door and his bench, Troy gave him a big wave and called out, “Howdy, Stonewall.”  Thomas didn’t seem to let the impromptu and unwelcome greeting faze him and he was soon settled into his chair.  With the judge in place, the bailiff gestured with a hand for the rest of us to retake our seats, which we gladly did.

 

“Before we get started this afternoon,” the judge began, “I can see a little lesson in proper courtroom decorum is necessary.  We are obviously not in the local bar knockin’ back a few cold ones together on a Friday night after a long week.  No, we are in my house and under my own little set of very finely-honed rules.  The first and most important of those rules is you will address me as either ‘your Honor’ or ‘sir’.  Is that understood by everyone here,” he added while glaring directly at Troy.  While all of us silently nodded our assent, Troy seemed to shrink even deeper into the corner in which he was huddled.

 

“Excellent,” Thomas beamed happily.  “The second most important rule to be followed in my house is you will only speak after you have been spoken to by myself or either of the two attorneys present.  Is that rule understood by everyone?”  Again, silent nods from all of us.  “I’m happy to see we have some quick learners in attendance this afternoon,” he commented.  “Any individual who fails to follow either of those two very simple rules will be found in contempt of court, subject to fines and time in a jail cell depending on the severity of your infraction.

 

“Next, would somebody care to explain why there are children in my courtroom?” Thomas asked testily while glaring menacingly at the four munchkins seated next me.

 

Clarence stood and responded, “Yes, your Honor.  The gentleman behind me is my client’s father and the four young boys with him are his brothers.  The woman and two older boys are my client’s aunt and cousins.  They are all here to support their son, brother, nephew and cousin during these proceedings.”

 

“Thank you for that succinct explanation, counselor.  I guess an exception to my unmentioned rule about not allowing such young children to be present in my house will be waived this afternoon.  I must say I find it interesting that the aunt and cousins are seated on the defendant’s side of the room and not with the victim of these crimes.  Is there a particular reason for that?”

 

“I’m sure there is, your Honor, but it’s not my place to speculate on what that reason might be,” Clarence replied smoothly.

 

“Quite right, counselor,” Thomas agreed.  “Now that all that is on the record, bailiff, call the case.”

 

Luther stood from his seat in front of the empty jury box and recited, “The court calls case number 25-00078, State of Missouri versus Logan Campbell, a minor.”

 

“Read the charges, please,” the judge ordered.

 

Clarence was back on his feet in moments and saying, “Begging your Honor’s pardon, Clarence Cantrell for the defense, and we stipulate to the reading of charges.”

 

Thomas faced the prosecutor and asked, “Counselor?”

 

George stood and replied, “I think we should hear the charges against the defendant just to remind us of why we’re all here.”

 

“Very well, be seated, you two.”  Thomas returned his attention to Luther and added, “Continue, bailiff.”

 

“Yes, your Honor.  The state brings the following charges against defendant Logan Campbell; assault in the first degree, assault in the first degree with intent to commit grievous bodily harm, battery in the first degree, armed robbery in the first degree, fleeing the scene of a crime, resisting arrest, obstruction of justice, and attempted murder.”  When he was done with his little speech, Luther retook his seat.  I was watching Logan the whole time Luther was talking and each charge hit him like a blow to the body.  How he was able to stay in his chair after eight such shots will remain a mystery to me.

 

“Those are some very serious charges for such a young man,” Thomas intoned to nobody in particular.  “Mr. Prosecutor, do you have anything you’d like to add before we continue?”

 

George stood and offered, “Yes, your Honor, thank you.  After much deliberation in our office, we feel that due to the heinous nature of defendant’s actions, Mr. Campbell should be tried as an adult.”  A collective gasp of surprise ran through the meager audience and I distinctly heard Logan’s head hit the bare table in front of him with a soft ‘thwack’ after that proclamation.  Clarence quickly wrapped an arm around his shoulder and pulled him closer.

 

“We will see if such drastic measures are called for, Counselor, and I’ll take that suggestion under advisement.”  Thomas then turned to face Clarence and Logan before asking, “Will the defendant please rise?”  It took several prods from Clarence before it became real, but Logan finally stood up, eyes still focused intently on the table in front of him.  “Mister Campbell, please look at me.  I want to see your eyes.”  Once Logan was giving his undivided attention to the judge, he continued with, “How old are you, young man?”

 

“Nine, your Honor,” Logan croaked nervously.  The judge eyed the prosecutor questioningly and received a tight nod from him before moving on.

 

“These are some very, very serious and troubling charges the state has brought against you.  Do you understand the charges as they were read?”

 

“Yes, your Honor,” Logan replied meekly.

 

“And how do you plead?” Thomas queried.

 

After a short hesitation as he screwed up his courage, Logan held his head up high before he loudly and proudly proclaimed, “Guilty as sin, your Honor!”

 

While the prosecutor let a wide smile flood his face for an easy win and Troy gave a little fist pump of joy on hearing that, Clarence shot to his feet and bellowed, “OBJECTION!!”

 

“Excuse me, Mr. Cantrell, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard an attorney object to something his own client said,” Thomas replied with an evil smirk.

 

“I’m sorry, sir, I’m just as surprised as you are right now,” a very flustered Clarence apologized.  “May I have a brief moment to confer with my client?” he requested with a hint of begging buried in his tone of voice.

 

“I think that would be a wise course of action, counselor.  I’ll give you two minutes.”  I quickly leaned in as closely as I could to hear what was said.

 

“Logan, you were supposed to say ‘not guilty’.  Don’t you remember that?”

 

“ ‘Course I do.  I might be guilty as hell right now but I ain’t stupid, ya know?”

 

“So why did you just declare your guilt to everyone?”

 

“We’re in court, right?”  Clarence nodded and Logan continued, “That means we’re s’posed to tell the truth, right?”  Another curt nod and Logan carried on.  “Well, they can throw my butt in jail for the crap I actually done, then, ‘cause I ain’t lyin’ in court, not even to save my own ass.”

 

“Logan, this makes my job more difficult, you understand that, right?”

 

“Not my problem, man,” he retorted.  “I done seen enough cop shows on TV to know the lawyer gots to do what his client wants.  ‘Sides, it’s the right thing to.”

 

“How do you figure that, young man,” Clarence asked with serious interest.

 

“If’n somebody gonna get in deep poo for lyin’ in court, it ain’t gonna be me ‘cause I ain’t gonna tell nothin’ but the truth.  No, if that’s gonna happen to somebody today, it’s gonna be Uncle Dirtbag.  You know that lowdown weasel done lied his ass off to those cops.  If anybody’s lyin’ through their damn rotten teeth, it’s him and he should go down for it,” Logan offered logically and forcefully.  By the time he finished his little spiel, I could see the sadistic smile curling across Clarence’s face and knew exactly what was going to happen next.  While I was still worried about how it would all play out, I was willing to give it a chance before I snagged Logan, threw him over my shoulder and ran for the hills with the other boys hot on my heels in close pursuit.

 

That issue settled, Clarence and Logan turned back to face the judge and with calm smiles on both of their faces, the attorney offered, “Thank you, your Honor.  We’re ready to continue.”

 

“Very well,” Thomas replied.  “Am I going to hear a change of plea?”

 

“No, your Honor.  My client insists on pleading guilty to all the charges against him.  I would like to add this small addendum to his plea, though; there are mitigating circumstances that factor into and influenced my client’s actions.”

 

“Mr. Campbell, are you absolutely sure you understand the seriousness of the charges against you and the punishment that will follow a free admission of guilt on your part?”

 

“Yes, sir, your Honor,” Logan replied earnestly.

 

“I normally wouldn’t ask this of a defendant in my courtroom, and I’m only doing so now because of your age and my concern you don’t fully comprehend the import of these proceedings, but why are you doing this to yourself?  You do understand that if you plead not guilty, you will receive a fair trial by jury.  Why don’t you want to do that?”

 

“Well the first problem with that, sir, is the Constitution gives me a right to trial by a jury of my peers, right?”  A quick nod of acknowledgement from the judge and Logan continued.  “Well, I may be just a little kid, but I know what a peer is and I gotta wonder if you’re gonna pick a jury with nothin’ but nine-year-old kids who grew up on farms.”

 

“Well, of course, we’re not going to do that.”

 

“Then it ain’t gonna be a fair trial, so what’s the point, sir?”

 

“And what’s your second excuse for bypassing that option.”

 

“ ‘Cause I ain’t gonna lie in court, your Honor.”

 

The judge looked completely flabbergasted at that statement and it took him a moment to recover from it before he could mutter in surprise, “ ‘Scuse me?”

 

“My momma and daddy done told me for long as I can ‘member how ‘portant it was to always tell the truth.  After momma died, my daddy still kept remindin’ me of that.  And now that he’s gone and back with my momma again, my new dads keep poundin’ the same thing into our heads, ‘tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth’.  Well, I ain’t always done what they told me since I ain’t no George Washington, but I’ve tried really hard.  And I swear to you right now that nothin’ I say in this courtroom is gonna be a lie, and that begins with admittin’ I did ever’thing that fool says I did,” Logan ended while angrily pointing a shaking finger at Troy.

 

“Admirable, young man.  A touch crazy, for sure, but admirable, nonetheless,” Thomas replied.  “Any motions from the attorneys?”

 

The prosecutor immediately stood up and stated, “I believe the defendant’s guilty plea says it all, your Honor, and I’d like to recommend we proceed straight to sentencing.”

 

“Why am I not a bit surprised at that?” the judge commented before turning to Clarence and saying, “Mr. Cantrell?”

 

Clarence stood up slowly and replied, “I know the request I’m about to make is unusual for a preliminary hearing your Honor, but since my client lives out of state and has not been interviewed by the police who investigated this case, I would beg the court’s indulgence as I’d like to take some time to establish exactly what happened between my client and his uncle that led up to and precipitated my client’s actions.”

 

“I have to admit that seems to be a rather fair request, especially since, as you say, the investigating department didn’t bother to interview the defendant or take any steps arrest him.  As such, I’m inclined to grant your request, counselor.  Any objections from the state?” Thomas asked.

 

With his firm belief this case was in the bag, George stood and replied, “None, your Honor.”

 

“Carry on, Mr. Cantrell.”

 

“If it pleases the court, I’d like to call Troy Campbell to the stand to answer some questions about the complaint he filed against my client.”  Every head in the room swiveled in Troy’s direction, only to find him looking like a deer caught squarely in a semi’s headlights and about to meet his maker.

 

“Mr. Campbell, if you would please join me up here?” Thomas requested politely, gesturing to the witness stand right next to the judge.  Despite looking as though the witness stand was the last place he wanted to be at the moment, Troy did slowly step through the bar and settle uncomfortably into the indicated chair.  “Bailiff, swear him in.”

 

Luther approached with the Bible in his hand and demanded, “Raise your right hand and place your left on the Bible.”  After just a moment’s hesitation, Troy did so and Luther regurgitated from memory, “Do you swear that the testimony you are about to provide in this court is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

 

“I do,” Troy gulped nervously.

 

“Please ask your questions, Mr. Cantrell, and try not to stray too far from the case at hand.”

 

“Yes, sir.  Thank you, your Honor.”  Clarence walked slowly in front of the bench until he stood about five feet away from Troy, leaning casually against the railing surrounding the empty jury box.  “Mr. Campbell, would you please state the nature of your relationship to my client?”

 

“Ya mean, Logan?  The kid’s my nephew.”

 

“I see,” Clarence toyed with the man.  “Is he a nephew on your side of the family or your wife’s?”

 

“He’s my brother’s son, so my side.  What’s that got to do with anything?”

 

“I’ll be asking the questions this afternoon, Mr. Campbell,” Clarence retorted sarcastically. “Now, would you please explain the circumstances that led to Logan being with you and your family recently.”

 

“Well, my brother, Charlie, was killed in a farm accident a few weeks ago, so Logan was s’posed to come live with us.”  The first few questions were easy ones to answer and I could see Troy was slowly slipping into his regular self-assured cockiness as he grew more and more comfortable with the unfamiliar situation.

 

“Was that something your brother requested of you before he passed?  And were you happy to give Logan a home after your brother’s untimely death?”

 

“Well, yeah, ‘course it was.  Charlie even put it in his will since we was the only other family he had left.  ‘Sides, you think I’d take in a little brat like him if’n I didn’t want to?”  That last comment caused the judge to wrinkle his eyebrows in interest.

 

“And do you know what was going to happen to the farmland, house and equipment your brother owned at the time of his death?”

 

“Well, far as I know, it all became Logan’s.  I just assumed since the kid was gonna be livin’ with us ‘til he was old ‘nough to be on his own, he’d probably sell it all.”

 

“And what would have happened to that money if he did, indeed, sell said property?”

 

“Not a clue.  Guess it’d gone into a bank somewhere so Logan’d have it later.”

 

George stood before Clarence could pose his next query and asked, “Excuse me, you Honor, but how, exactly, does any of this pertain to this case?”

 

“Fair question, counselor,” Thomas agreed.  Turning his attention to Clarence, he commented, “I assume all of this is somehow relevant and important to your defense.”

 

“Oh, yes, sir,” Clarence replied emphatically.

 

“Well, I hope you tie it all together soon, counselor.  Just know I don’t have a lot of patience for pompous windbags who have nothing better to do than to waste my time.”

 

“I would never dream of doing such a thing, your Honor.”

 

“You’d be the first, then,” Thomas grinned.  “Carry on.”

 

“Thank you, sir,” Clarence replied politely before adding, “Excuse me for one moment, please.  I’d like to retrieve a copy of the fairy tale, um, I mean statement, you provided to the Dexter police department.”  He walked briskly across the room, snatched a sheaf of papers from his case and returned to his perch against the jury box before continuing.  “I just want to make sure of a few things you claimed in here,” he commented offhandedly.  “Now, when you brought Logan home with you for the first time, what sort of accommodations had you arranged for him?”

 

“Uh, whatd’ya mean?” Troy muttered.

 

“Well, did Logan have his own bedroom or would he be sharing a room with your sons?”

 

“Oh, that.  Well, we only got two bedrooms to begin with, and with Daril and Arley bein’ as big as they are, there really wasn’t room for Logan to be in with them, so I let him have free run of the basement.”

 

“That was rather generous of you,” Clarence remarked with a knowing smirk.  “Does this basement have any exterior doors or windows, and does it have its own facilities?”

 

“No windows, no, but there’s a door in the back wall that leads to the backyard and the small lake out there.  Ain’t no bathroom down there, neither, so he’d have to come upstairs for that,” Troy lied smoothly.  Logan was doing his best to maintain a straight face through all of this, but I could see by the way he was stifling his giggles he was slowly losing the battle.

 

“What about meals?  Did you find it difficult or burdensome to suddenly have another child to feed?”

 

“Um, you’d have to ask the wife ‘bout that.  She don’t let me cook nothin’,” Troy smirked as he sidestepped answering the question entirely.

 

“You said Logan had free run of the basement, what about the rest of the house?”

 

“Well, ‘course.  He could go anywhere he wanted that wasn’t locked up, like our bedroom,” was the response as Troy kept digging his own grave even deeper.

 

“We already briefly talked about the money Logan would receive from the sale of what had become his farm in Illinois.  What about the rest of his inheritance?”

 

“What the devil you talkin’ ‘bout,” Troy blustered in surprise.

 

“Well, he was due to receive a shade over five million dollars that had been his mother’s, wasn’t he?” Clarence asked with as much innocence as possible.

 

“I didn’t know bean one ‘bout that ‘til just now, mister.  Never knew the little punk was gonna be a rich little orphan bastard.”  Again, I saw the judge raise an eyebrow and out of the corner of my eye, I could see Arlene holding her head in her hands, shaking it in disbelief.

 

“So, though I’ve read your statement, would you please tell the court what occurred between you and your nephew that triggered his attack on you?

 

“Ain’t got a clue, mister.  I went downstairs ‘bout one or so to let Logan know lunch was ready and he should come up and join us.  He really hadn’t been eatin’ that much durin’ the week ‘cause he was still purty torn up ‘bout his dad dyin’, but I didn’t think he should miss a meal, neither.”

 

“And what happened next?”

 

“Well, soon as I stepped off the last step, the little bastard just up and kicked me in the nuts.  It hurt so damn bad, I could hardly breathe.  At some point, I passed out and when I woke back up, there was all kinds of folks millin’ ‘round.  There was some guys with an ambulance, two other yokels I ain’t never seen before, one white ‘n’ one nigger, the wife was there, too, and I don’t know who else.”

 

“What about Logan?  Was he still there?”

 

“I don’t ‘member seein’ him, so I guess he done skedaddled as soon as he thought he killed me.  Can’t really blame ‘im for that ‘cause if I’da seen him, I’da kicked his ass so hard he wouldn’t a been able to sit down for a freakin’ month.”

 

“So, do you have lots of practice beating on other people?” Clarence offered as he dropped the grenade right into Troy’s lap.

 

“What!?  No way, man,” Troy protested vehemently.  Daril was halfway to his feet to protest when Arlene grabbed his wrist and yanked him back down to the hard wooden pew we were occupying. 

 

I heard her whisper to her boys, “Let him dig it as deep as he can by hisself.  We’ll fill it in for him later if need be.”

 

“What’s your current financial condition, Mr. Campbell?” Clarence quietly asked.

 

“Well, things’re always tight this time of year, though it’s worse now than it’s been in a long time.  But once we can start harvestin’ peaches and apples in a few months, I reckon we’ll be all right.”

 

“I’m glad to hear it,” Clarence commented.  “So, to sum all this up, you recently lost your brother and, as a promise made to him after his wife died, you were to become the legal guardian of your nephew.   A young man who is about to inherit well over five million dollars in cash and property.  Money it sounds like you desperately need to keep your own property.  Is that a fair summation of how things are?”

 

“I don’t like what you’re thinkin’, mister,” Troy retorted smugly.

 

“Objection, your Honor,” George stood and complained.  “I don’t see a connection between any of that and the defendant’s attack on the victim.”

 

“That’s right!” Troy agreed loudly.  “I’m the victim in all this.  That little bastard cut off my balls!” he screamed while angrily shaking his hand in Logan’s direction.  Well, that was just too much for the munchkin to handle as he slid off his chair and onto floor, clutching his sides as gales of laughter rolled out from somewhere under the table, only to echo around the courtroom.

 

“Counselor, please tell your client to get a grip on his emotions,” Thomas admonished Clarence.

 

“Right away, your Honor,” he replied as he hustled over to the defense table, crawled underneath it and slowly extracted the still giggling Logan from where he’d collapsed.  Once he was clear of the table, I leaned over the rail between us and helped get the kiddo back into his chair and calmed down. 

 

With order restored to the courtroom, Thomas asked, “Mr. Cantrell, do you have any further questions for Mr. Campbell.”

 

“No, your Honor, thank you.  And I solemnly apologize for my client’s outburst.  It won’t happen again.”

 

“See that it doesn’t, counselor.”  Thomas then turned to George and asked, “Do you have any questions for Mr. Campbell?”

 

“No, sir.  His answers today simply back up the statement he gave to the police and me from his hospital bed as he recovered from the horrendous and life-altering attack by the defendant.”

 

“Mr. Campbell, you’re excused and may retake your seat behind the prosecutor,” Thomas ordered.  After Troy had returned to his original position, the judge turned to Clarence and said, “You painted a nice picture there, counselor, full of supposition and innuendo, but not a whole lot of new facts that would put a frame on what I’m sure is a lovely portrait.  Do you think you could take care of that for us?”

 

“Sidebar, your Honor?” Clarence requested.  After a curt nod from the judge, both attorneys approached the bench and carried out a hushed conversation. 

 

 

 

After the prosecutor and I joined the judge at his bench, he asked, “What is it now, Mr. Cantrell?”

 

“I apologize for seemingly accomplishing nothing with my questioning of Mr. Campbell, but I needed him on the record with his answers before I present my other evidence in this matter.”

 

“If you have new evidence, counselor,” George interrupted testily, “why doesn’t my office have it?”

 

“Well, if this case had proceeded to trial, I, of course, would have provided my evidence to you in due time as called for under the rules of discovery.  Since there isn’t going to be a trial now thanks to my client’s guilty plea, I feel this is the appropriate time for you to see and hear that evidence before any further decisions are made concerning my client’s future,” I replied evenly.

 

“He’s got a fair point there, George,” Thomas admitted while looking to the prosecutor.  “You told me yourself you were relying entirely on Mr. Campbell’s statement of events as the basis for the charges you brought against the defendant.  I told you when you dropped this nightmare in my lap that I didn’t like the idea of charging such a young kid with attempted murder, but you insisted it was warranted in this case.  Then, for you to add today you wanted to try him as an adult?  That’s really unconscionable, George.  Are you so hard up to get re-elected this fall, this is how low you’ll go to do it?”

 

George blushed mightily before replying, “Just applying the laws of the state to the case in front of me, your Honor, just as my oath of office requires me to do.”

 

“Well, it’s my job to uphold those same laws,” Thomas retorted angrily.  He then came back to me and asked, “How are we going to hear from your client, Mr. Cantrell?  I really don’t think putting a nine-year-old child on the stand is feasible.  Not under these circumstances, anyway.  I suppose I’d be willing to let him testify in my chambers with just you, me, George and the court reporter in attendance.  That’s assuming, of course, the prosecutor will allow such a deviation from the normal routine.”

 

“It’s your courtroom, your Honor, so whatever you feel is acceptable is fine with me,” George offered.

 

“Nice to know I have your permission,” Thomas retorted condescendingly.

 

“Actually, gentlemen, I have an even easier solution to your concerns.  While my client was at his uncle’s house and under his supposed care, he used a phone he’d been given by his new fathers and recorded all of his interactions with the ‘victim’ of these alleged crimes.  I have all those videos loaded onto my laptop and I believe you need to see them to ensure justice is done in this case.  They will go a long way in explaining my client’s actions towards the man who was supposed to take care of him for the next nine years.”

 

“Fine, let’s get it set up and watch a movie,” the judge agreed.

 

“I have one minor request, your Honor,” I added quickly.  After receiving a hand gesture from him I took to mean ‘let’s hear it’, I carried on.  “My client has been severely traumatized from his dealings with his uncle and …”

 

“That brat’s been traumatized,” George scoffed angrily.  “How the hell you think Mr. Campbell’s dealin’ with things right now?”

 

“His welfare is not my concern, my client’s is,” I replied smoothly.  “Now, may I continue?”  After receiving tense nods from both men, I did just that.  “As I was trying to say, I would prefer these videos not be shown in open court.  If just the three of us could view them in your chambers, your Honor, I think it would be much better for all involved.  If you feel they should be seen by everyone after viewing them yourself, then we’ll do that.”

 

Thomas looked to George and received a simple nod in response.  It was a nod that spoke more of resignation than acceptance of the situation, but it was still begrudging agreement and I was going to take it any way I could.  The judge looked back at me and gave me the same tentative nod to which I responded, “Thank you for your understanding, gentlemen.  Let me retrieve my computer and I’ll be with you post-haste.”

 

Before the two headed for the far corner of the courtroom, Thomas banged his gavel on his bench and announced, “We’re going to take a short recess to go over some issues in my chambers.  Feel free to wander the courthouse while we do so, but don’t go too far.  You’ll be called back when we’re ready to reconvene.  Luther, a quick word, please.”

 

As Thomas and George headed for the doorway in the far corner of the courtroom, Luther joined them briefly, then returned to sit on the prosecutor’s table to keep eye on those of us who would be staying where we were.  I saw him tap the court reporter on the shoulder as he passed her by, and then jerk his head in the direction of the door the judge and prosecutor has just passed through.  The reporter took the not so subtle hint, grabbed her equipment and dutifully disappeared.  As I snagged my laptop, I gave Logan a quick pat on the top of his head and a thumbs-up to Max before joining the others and ruining their afternoon.

 

 

Several minutes later and after several concerned glances between the judge and the prosecutor, Clarence returned to the defense table, picked up his laptop and then followed Thomas, George and the court reporter through the door into the judge’s chambers.

 

As soon as the door closed behind him, Luther said, “Okay, folks, feel free to chat quietly amongst yourselves or, as the judge offered, enjoy a nice walk around our historic courthouse.  Troy, you keep your ass planted right where it is and keep your obnoxious mouth shut.”

 

On that note, Logan quickly asked the bailiff, “Can I sit with my dad ‘til they come back?”

 

“I don’t see why not,” Luther agreed.

 

A very happy young lad pushed his chair to the bar, then climbed up and over the railing before jumping into my lap and wrapping his arms around my midsection.  We were immediately swamped by the other four as they joined the hug and tried to squeeze the stuffing out of their brother.  It took a few minutes, but our grips finally began to loosen, and we began to chat about the afternoon’s events so far, making sure to include Arlene and her sons in the conversation.  The entire time we were visiting and getting to know each other a little better, Troy stewed in silence on the other side of the room.

 

 

“Okay, Mr. Cantrell, we’re alone.  Will you please explain what we’re about to see and the need to watch these videos in my chambers?”

 

“Before we get into that, I want to thank you both for being so fair-minded as to allow me some leeway this afternoon and your courtesy will not be forgotten.  To your question, your Honor, what my client recorded while in Mr. Campbell’s custody is a series of nine videos from the Sunday night he arrived in Dexter to the Thursday afternoon when he escaped his imprisonment and certain death.”

 

“Oh, cry me a fuckin’ river,” George vented theatrically.  “You really expect us to believe Mr. Campbell was going to murder his nephew?”

 

“We’re still on the record, George, so rein yourself in,” Thomas admonished the prosecutor.  “Another outburst like that and you’ll be fined for contempt.”  George rolled his eyes in disbelief but kept any retort he may have had to himself.

 

“You can believe whatever you like after you see the videos, gentlemen.  Obviously, I’ve watched all of them and I believe they back up my client’s version of events.  I think you will, too, once you’ve seen them.  Shall we get started?”

 

“By all means,” Thomas replied.

 

“Okay, this first video was recorded fairly early Monday morning after Logan had arrived and spent his first night in what was supposed to become his new home for the next nine years.  It’s just him giving his own impressions of his new situation.”  I clicked play on the video program and let the video run.

 

“Howdy and welcome to my new home,” Logan said as he panned the camera from the steps down into the hellhole, all the way around the space and back to the shelves under the steps.  “Ain’t this just the loveliest shithole ya ever seen?  Believe it or not, it looked even worse when I got locked down here last night.  I spent several hours cleanin’ all the crap outta here so I could at least get rid of the smell.  Hell, I ain’t even got a crapper or shower down here I can use.  I gotta go outside to piss, take a dump or even wash my hands.  Don’t have no bed, neither, so I made a bunk on that bottom shelf over there in the corner with some stinky ol’ sleepin’ bag.  Ain’t great, but it sure beats the hell outta sleepin’ on the floor.

“And now Uncle Dirtbag thinks this is where I’m gonna live for the next nine years.  Well, let me tell ya, he’s wrong ‘bout that ‘cause I ain’t gonna put up with his shit no more than I hafta.  According to the note my cousins gave me on the way down here, he needs my money real bad ‘cause he’s ‘bout to lose his orchard.

“They also said in that note that Unc plans for me to disappear once he’s got my money, but I’m ready for him to try it, and boy is he in for a big surprise.  I done warned him what was I was gonna do if he ever laid a hand on me, but I don’t think he believes I’ll do it.  Guess we’ll find out.  Well, I gotta cut this short ‘cause I ain’t got no way to recharge the phone down here and I wanna make sure I got plenty o’ juice to record when the shithead comes down the stairs.  Guess I’ll see y’all later.”

 

When the video ended, Thomas and George shared a glance of astonishment with each other before looking back me.

 

“Wait, that’s the basement Mr. Campbell says Logan had the ‘free run’ of?” Thomas queried.

 

“Yes, sir, dirt floor and all,” I replied.

 

“That’s despicable.  I wouldn’t let my dog sleep in that filth.  And I thought Mr. Campbell said Logan could go anywhere in the house he wanted, including use of the bathroom upstairs.”

 

“All lies, your Honor,” I replied simply.

 

“What I got out of that was premeditation for the assault on his uncle,” George commented blandly.

 

Thomas and I both glared daggers at the unfeeling prosecutor before I prefaced the next video with, “Okay, this follow-up takes place a little later the same morning.”

 

“Okay, ya little faggot lovin’ piece o’ shit, time for you to cough it up.”

“Cough what up, ya dirtbag?”

“MY money, dumbass.  I need it and you’re gonna get it for me.”

“Like hell I am, Troy.  That’s my money and you ain’t never gonna see a dime of it.”

“Look, kid, I ain’t playin’ no damn games here.”

“That’s a good thing ‘cause you probably don’t understand how to play nothin’, not even somethin’ as simple as Uno.  And any moron can play that game it’s so easy.”

“It’s no secret I don’t like you, punk.  Never did, never will.”

“Good, ‘cause I don’t like you either.”

“Never understood what my brother saw in that bitch you called mommy.”

“Don’t you dare talk ‘bout my momma like that, ya loser!  She was a great woman and Daddy loved her with all his heart.  It tore him up somethin’ awful when she died.”

“She got what she fuckin’ deserved for breakin’ our family up!  She always thought we weren’t good ‘nough for her and she forced Charlie to move.”

“Good for her.  And daddy, too.  Ain’t nobody should hafta deal with a jackass like you their whole life.”

Troy suddenly grabbed Logan by the shoulders and shook him like a rag doll, all while screaming in his face, “Get me my goddam money!!”

“I can’t, ya freakin’ dumbass!  It takes two people to sign ‘fore the bank will give me anything.  And the others who can sign won’t do it ‘less I tell ‘em to.  And I ain’t gonna do it.”

“Yeah?  Let’s see how you feel ‘bout that in a few days.  You ain’t goin’ nowhere ‘til I save my orchard.”

“You wanna save it so goddam bad, why don’t you get your lazy ass out there and work for it ‘stead of hangin’ out in the bar all day long?  That’s what Daddy did, he worked hard every day of his life and he took good care of Momma and me.  You should be more like him.  Maybe if you was, your wife and kids might actually love you!”

“You little prick!  I’d fuckin’ kill you right now if I didn’t need your money so bad.  We’ll see if you’re feeling more generous tomorrow, ya little bastard.”  The image of the enraged Troy left the camera’s view and we could hear him stomp on every step as he went back upstairs.

After the door slammed shut, Logan appeared on camera and he said, “Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?  I swear on Momma and Daddy’s graves, that fuckin’ loser ain’t gettin’ shit outta me, I don’t care what he says or does.  Guess I just have to wait and see what happens tomorrow.  Hey Siri, stop recording.” 

 

The video had the expected effect on the two other men in the office with me as both were so pale, they looked like they’d just seen a ghost.  I glanced at the court reporter and could see she was feeling the same way.

 

When he could finally speak, Thomas asked with fear, “Are the rest of the videos like that one?”

 

“Pretty much, sir.  Troy would go down to the basement a couple times a day to berate Logan, all in an effort to get control of his money and save his orchard.  Some are longer, some shorter, but the content doesn’t really change much.”

 

“Jesus,” George interrupted, “I thought Arlene and the boys were makin’ up the stories of Mr. Campbell abusing them out of some twisted revenge motive for Logan being dumped on them.  That’s exactly what Mr. Campbell claimed they’d do when I talked to him in the hospital.”

 

“Just more lies from him, George,” I offered quietly.  “Abusers like Troy are great at covering up the truth and they go to great lengths to do just that.  Do you want to see any more?” I asked.

 

“Not really,” Thomas replied with a grumble of disgust, “but I have to know.  Was Logan able to record what happened the day he attacked his uncle?”

 

“Yes, your Honor, he did.  And even if you don’t watch any of the others, you really should see that one.”

 

He looked to George and commented flatly, “I know neither of us really wants to see it, but I think we have to, don’t you?  We need to be positive that Logan’s attack was truly carried out in self-defense if we’re going to end up doing what I’m thinking.”  A quick nod from George was all I needed to locate and start the playback of the last recording.

 

“Okay, I’m tired o’ screwin’ ‘round with ya, ya little shit.  You’re gonna tell me how to get my money today or you’re just gonna fuckin’ disappear!”

“You ain’t been listenin’ to me, asshole!  I can’t get it!  It takes two people to sign anything and you ain’t one of them.”

“Then who is, ya bastard?”

“Max and Tom and me are the only ones.”

“Then you’re just gonna have to figure out how to get one of them fuckin’ faggots to sign a check.”

“Ain’t never gonna happen, ya lowlife.  That’s my money and I got other plans for it.”

“Screw your plans, brat, I need that fuckin’ money and you’re gonna get it for me.”

“Shit in one hand, wish in the other, Troy.  Let’s see which gets filled first.”  Thomas and George watched in horror as Troy stepped closer to Logan, raised his arm high above his head, then brought his fist back down at blinding speed and smashed it into Logan’s jaw.  The bone-jarring blow sent the youngster sailing about five feet across the basement before he landed on his back and his head slammed into the dirt floor.  Thomas and George watched in amazement as Logan staggered back to his feet and screamed “That the best you got, ya fuckin’ loser!?”

The onscreen action continued as Troy moved towards Logan again and just as Troy was about to wrap his hands around Logan’s neck to choke the life out of him, the dirtbag howled in pain, his eye’s suddenly crossed and he toppled over backward, out of view of the camera.

“I told you what was gonna happen if you ever laid a hand on me, you bastard!  You better get ready!”

 

We finished the video with both Thomas and George grimacing in anguish as Logan performed a very delicate surgical procedure on the comatose Troy.  When the playback finally ended, all of us released a huge sigh of relief that this part of the ordeal was over.  Now it was down to the legal wrangling, wheeling and dealing that is all too common in today’s justice system.

 

“So, gentlemen, your thoughts?” I asked as I calmly closed the lid on the laptop.

 

Thomas was the first to answer with, “First, all charges against young Mr. Campbell will be dismissed without prejudice.  It’s plainly obvious the young man was in fear for his life and he acted purely out of self-defense.  Do you agree with that assessment, George?”  A quick nod of agreement from the still pale prosecutor and the judge plowed on.  “Second, charges will be filed against that disgusting prick, Troy, for everything from kidnapping and false imprisonment to spousal and child abuse, along with anything else we think we can make stick.  You good with that, also, George?”

 

“Damn right, I am.  I can’t believe I ever believed that lyin’ sack of shit.”  A quick flush filled the prosecutor’s face and he added, “Oops, sorry ‘bout that, your Honor.  Are we still on the record?”

 

“Yes, but don’t worry about it.  Okay, third, our victim will be immediately arrested and booked into the county jail for the minor offenses of filing a false police report and perjury.  Those will allow us to hold him until we can get all the other charges filed and presented to a grand jury.  You’ve got your work cut out for you, George.”

 

“Don’t worry, sir, we’re up to the task and will get it all dealt with as quickly as possible.”

 

“You better,” Thomas warned him.

 

“And once this mess is cleared up, I’ll be resigning as the county prosecutor.”

 

“What!?”  Thomas exclaimed in surprise.

 

“Yes, sir.  I can’t live with the fact that in my zeal to prosecute this case, I ignored valuable evidence and almost cost a kid his life.  I’m never going to allow myself to be blinded by bloodlust like that ever again.”

 

“Well, we’ll surely miss you and the good work you do, but I understand your reasoning, George.  If you have a change of heart, I’ll support you all the way and we’ll act as if this conversation never happened.”

 

“Can’t do that, your Honor, we’re on the record, remember?” George commented.

 

“I can fix that in a heartbeat,” Thomas offered.

 

“Don’t you dare, sir.”  The two finally looked back to me and reeled me back into the conversation.

 

“Does everything we just agreed to work for you, Mr. Cantrell?” Thomas asked.

 

“As long as it all means Logan walks out of here this afternoon, he can go home with his family and never has to worry about this episode coming back to haunt him, then yes, I’ll be a happy camper.  Your Honor,” I quickly added with a smile.

 

“One more thing, then, before we return to the courtroom,” Thomas commented.  “Do you have copies of the note given to Logan by his cousins and extra DVDs with the videos?”

 

“Yes, sir, I have several of each in my case.  I thought you’d probably want them if this afternoon went the way I expected it would.”

 

“You were absolutely right about that,” Thomas agreed.  “Once we return to the court, please give copies to me and George.  Once we have those in hand, I’ll take immense pleasure in ruining Troy’s day.  And the rest of his miserable life, to boot.”

 

“Consider it done, sir.”

 

“Can I ask you a question, Mr. Cantrell?” George asked.

 

“Fire away,” I replied with a cocky smirk since I’d just accomplished what I’d set out to do when I crawled out of bed this morning.

 

“Is this the way you always practice law?”

 

“Well, not always,” I admitted, “but often enough, I guess.”

 

“And have you ever lost a case?”

 

“Never!” I exclaimed proudly.  “Perish the thought.”

 

“I figured as much,” George chuckled.  “You ever need a flunky who needs to learn some humility, give me call.  I’ll need a few months to wrap up this mess and get my head straightened out first, though.”

 

“You never know, do ya?” I commented.  “Well, shall we go get this wrapped up?”

 

“Before we do, there’s something I’d to say off the record,” George commented.  Thomas asked the court reporter to leave the office and send Luther back in a few minutes to receive some special instructions.

 

Once the door closed behind her, Thomas said, “Okay, George, what’s up?”

 

“Mr. Cantrell, I want you to promise me you’ll pass this on to Logan when y’all get back home.”  I gave a quick nod of agreement and he continued.  “First, please tell him how sorry I am for what he’s been through.  It’s hard enough on a kid to lose his parents like he has, but to turn around and be dumped into a situation like he was with his uncle, well, I just don’t know how he can deal with somethin’ like that after all the other crap.  I would also like for you to apologize to him for me and the department not doing our due diligence in this case.  We don’t screw up like this very often, but when we do, we go all out and royally fuck it up.”

 

“I’ll be sure to let him know all that and I’m sure he’ll appreciate it, George.”

 

“I got one more thing I’d like to say but it’ll be up to you whether you share it with Logan or not.  That kid has one helluva a mouth on him, and someday it’s gonna get him in a giant heap o’ shit he ain’t gonna be able to dig out of by himself.  But, if it ever comes down to a fair fight between him and anybody else, I’m layin my money on Logan to kick the ever-lovin’ shit outta any poor schmuck who’s dumb enough to try and take him on.  The kid thinks fast under pressure and he’s got a survival instinct that’s second to none.  I’m proud as hell of him for standin’ up to a Gawd awful prick like Troy and livin’ to tell the tale.  Well, guess that’s all I got, but I had to get all that off my chest.”

 

“Thanks, George.”

 

Our conversation ended just as there was a knock on the door, and it popped open to reveal Luther stepping in to receive his orders.  After a quick chat with Thomas, the bailiff left the judge’s chambers by way of the back door to carry out his assigned task and George and I returned to the courtroom to take our places at our respective tables, waiting patiently for the fireworks that were sure to explode when Judge Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson rejoined us and pulled the pin from the grenade I’d just dropped in Troy’s lap.

 

 

The moment we’d all been anxiously and nervously waiting for arrived without warning when Clarence and George abruptly exited the judge’s chambers and rejoined the rest of us in the courtroom.  Conspicuously absent at the moment were the bailiff and the judge himself, and we could only assume both would be putting in their appearances all too soon.  While I tried to read both attorney’s faces to get some feel of what was to come, the duo shared the same impassive and blank face that made it impossible to discern their mood.  I realized at that instant that I never wanted to get into a game of high-stakes poker with Clarence as I was sure he would take me and everyone else at the table to the cleaners.

 

As the two took their seats, Logan scuttled back over the railing, pushed his chair back up to the table and climbed back into the seat next to his attorney.  He leaned over and whispered a quick question to Clarence who answered the inquiry with nothing more than a quick and simple nod.  Unfortunately, I didn’t hear what Logan asked so I didn’t know if I should take that nod as good or bad news.  One thing I did notice was Clarence rummaging in his case and pulling out two files that contained documents of obvious importance.  We could only sit there quietly and stew in our own thoughts as we awaited the decision that would forever impact all our lives.

 

The moment of truth kept creeping up on us and soon enough, the door behind us from the gallery into the courtroom was slammed open with a loud bang.  Everyone spun in their seats to see what was happening and we were surprised to see the bailiff coming in that entrance when he’d stepped into the judge’s chambers just a few moments ago.  The most important part of his dramatic entrance that I caught was the contingent of four uniformed police officers who remained in the gallery just outside the slowly closing door.  Luther wasted no time in covering the distance to the judge’s chambers and he lightly rapped on the door when he reached it.  He then pulled the handle attached to the solid wooden slab and held it open.

 

“All rise,” he bellowed, and we immediately followed his command as Judge Jackson stepped in and strode back to his lofty perch behind the bench.  As Thomas settled into his chair and the door closed behind Luther as he headed back for his table, he added, “Court is now back in session, please take your seats.”

 

As soon as everyone was seated again, Clarence jumped back up like an errant pogo stick and grabbed the files he’d just retrieved.  He then stepped over to George to hand one to him and followed that up by approaching the bench and passing the second one to Thomas.  His deliveries made, Clarence calmly returned to the defense table and took his seat, patiently waiting for next act of the ongoing drama to unfold.

 

We all watched the prosecutor and judge with interest as they perused whatever Clarence had just given them, neither man giving any hint of their emotions or attitude.  God, this was nerve-wracking.  All of us were sitting on the edges of our rock-hard seats, just waiting for the giant shoe to drop from the ceiling and squish the fragile little spider named Logan.  With a tense nod from Thomas, he finally closed the file, laid it on the bench before him and slowly raised his head to focus on the prosecutor.  After receiving a quick nod from George, the judge was finally ready to move things along.

 

“Will the defendant please rise?”  Logan slowly left his chair and stood at attention next to Clarence.  It was at this point I seriously considered my hastily planned kidnapping and rapid getaway, but quickly realized I wouldn’t get very far with the four cops I’d seen waiting just outside the courtroom, so I remained firmly planted on my seat.

 

“Young man, you have been charged by the state with some very serious crimes for your actions against your uncle.  I want to make sure you fully understand the predicament you put yourself and this court in by taking matters into your own hands and not asking for help when you needed it.”

 

“Yes, sir, I do,” Logan muttered flatly as Troy began to wiggle in celebration.

 

“I’m glad to hear that, Mr. Campbell.  While the court appreciates your unflagging honesty and misguided attempt to accept complete responsibility for your actions with your guilty plea, I feel the only just course of action at this juncture is to reject your plea.”  A ripple of various exclamations filtered through the room and the judge waited a moment for quiet to be restored before continuing.  “After reviewing the available evidence pertaining to this case in my chambers with both counsels present, it is my decision, and it’s a decision fully supported by the prosecutor, that all charges against you shall be immediately dismissed.”

 

A stunned silence took over for just a moment before the boys, including Arley and Daril, found their voices and let go a gigantic ‘whoop’ of victory.  Logan, for his part, could do nothing more but collapse back into his chair with a huge sigh of relief.  Clarence quickly wrapped an arm around the young man to ensure he didn’t slide back to the floor again.  As for me, I simply laid my head in my hands and began to weep, hot tears of joy slowly leaking from my bloodshot eyes and wetting my palms.

 

The victory celebration was cut short by an ear-splitting screech of anger from the other side of the courtroom as the enraged Troy jumped to his feet as quickly as his sore groin would allow and bellowed, “WHAT!!?  That nigger-lovin’ little faggot bastard cuts off my balls, steals my money, leaves me for dead, and he gets to walk out o’ here like none o’ that shit ever happened?  What the fuck, Stonewall!?”

 

“Bailiff, please call your friends to join us and restrain Mr. Campbell, please,” Thomas intoned calmly.

 

“With pleasure, your Honor,” Luther responded happily before he let loose a whistle that threatened to shatter the glass in the room and every dog in Stoddard County heard.  Suddenly, the back doors to the courtroom burst open and the four cops darted in.  While Troy had spun around to see the cause of the commotion taking place behind him, Luther jumped the railing and in moments, he had the furious and quaking Troy bound up in a headlock, holding him in place until a pair of handcuffs were placed snugly around Troy’s wrists and his feet were securely shackled so he couldn’t run.  Once calm had been restored to the courtroom and Troy was firmly reseated by the four officers, the judge continued his commentary.

 

“Mr. Campbell, you are, without a doubt, the absolute lowest form of pond scum I’ve ever had the displeasure to see slither its way into my courtroom and in front of my bench,” he began in a calm but still scathing tone.  The rage that was flowing freely beneath his robes was felt by every one of us.  “You’ve beat on your wife and children for years as if they meant absolutely nothing to you.  You’ve terrorized and threatened the life of your only nephew just to get control of his money to save your own miserable existence. You’ve conned, lied and cheated your way through life, taking advantage of every poor soul that’s had the misfortune to cross your path.

 

“You lied to the police about what happened between you and your nephew, and you lied in this courtroom today when you answered Mr. Cantrell’s questions, assuming, I guess, there wouldn’t be anybody to refute those lies.  Well, you made a very grave miscalculation in your evil plotting to fleece and then exterminate your young nephew.  You see, sir, you were no match for such a young, intelligent, brave and resourceful young man such as Logan, not by a long shot.  You’d have had a better chance of survival showing up to a gunfight with only a pocketknife to ward off the hail of bullets coming your way.”

 

“What the hell you talkin’ ‘bout?” Troy protested as he struggled to get free from the four cops holding him securely in place.

 

“What you didn’t know, Mr. Campbell, and probably wouldn’t have cared if you did, is that Logan recorded your every interaction with him during the five days he was in your home,” Thomas explained quietly.  Troy immediately paled until he was as white as a sheet on hearing that revelation.  “Thanks to having new fathers who love their new son so very much, Logan had a phone with him, and he videoed the threats, abuse, and harassment you dumped on him the whole time he was in your custody.  Your nearly fatal mistake, though, was when you hit him, coward that you are.

 

“He said in the first video he recorded in that hellhole you locked him in that he’d warned you what he was going to do if you ever hit him.  You apparently didn’t believe him or felt you could still overpower him and force him to bend to your demands.  Well, whatever you thought, you were quite obviously sorely mistaken.  One should never underestimate the cunning and power that tremendous gut-wrenching fear will instill in another individual.  While you thought you had beaten this young man into submission, he was actually coiled as tightly as a snake wrapped around its next meal and ready to strike the moment an opportunity presented itself.  The secret to such an attack, of course, is you have to catch your opponent when they’re at their weakest.

 

“And that’s exactly what Logan did.  He waited you out until he knew that your insatiable greed and unrelenting anger would blind you to everything else.  Every time you went into that pigsty you euphemistically called a ‘basement’ to continue your abuse of your young and defenseless nephew, he was sizing you up, and you didn’t have a clue he was doing so.  By the time you went down to that hellhole on Thursday afternoon to ‘let Logan know it was time for lunch’, your goose had already been plucked, cooked and fricasseed, you were just too all-fire ignorant to understand you were stepping into the biggest, meanest and best built rattrap ever created.  And you have only yourself to blame for all of it.

 

“But, the instant the opportunity presented itself, Logan took advantage of your now obvious weakness in the moment and he lashed out viciously, striking with a sense of self-preservation and a resolve to win at all costs, an attack you were woefully unprepared for and had no way to counter.  In my humble opinion, you are a very lucky man to be alive right now as I have no doubt your nephew had it in himself at that moment to kill you, just as you were prepared to kill him.  And all over a little bit of money.  Fortunately for you, I guess, he only castrated you.  And if there was ever a man to walk the face of the Earth who didn’t deserve to keep his testicles, it’s you. 

 

“It gives me great pleasure to be the one to tell you that your privilege of claiming to be a free man in this country has been summarily revoked, hopefully for the rest of your natural life.  Officers, would you kindly remove this fetid sack of shit from my sight and deposit his despicable sorry ass into the worst jail cell you have available?  Preferably one with a dirt floor and no bed or toilet, if that’s possible.”

 

“Gladly, your Honor,” the lead officer replied as two of the hulking men slipped their arms under Troy’s and forcefully lifted him from his seat.  With one officer leading, two on each side supporting the broken man and one trailing, they began their long walk down the center aisle towards the exit.

 

As the rest of us watched the sad and pathetic little parade, Logan jumped up onto the seat of his chair and called out, “ ‘Scuse me, your Honor!”  The group of five stopped moving and every head in the courtroom rapidly swiveled towards Logan.  With all eyes on him, he quickly asked, “Can I say somethin’ to that good-for-nothin’ lowlife ‘fore they haul his ass outta here?”

 

“After what you went through, young man, I do believe you’ve earned that right, so, you go right ahead,” Thomas replied with smile.

 

“Thank you, sir,” Logan replied politely.  While still standing on the seat of the chair to ensure Troy would be able to see and hear him without any problems, Logan turned back around to face his uncle and yelled, “Hey, scumbag, BITE ME!  I hope you eat shit and die!”  When the laughter died down, the four officers continued their task and soon enough, we’d been magically transported to a new reality, one without the foul stench of Troy polluting the air.

 

“Thanks, Your Honor!” Logan said as we all turned back around to face the front of the room.  “I feel a helluva lot better now,” he quickly added with a toothy grin.

 

“I don’t think any of us could have said it better, Logan,” Thomas agreed.  “On that note, my last official words on this case are to say this; Logan Campbell, you are free to go home with the rest of your family.  Have a blessed life, young man.  Court is adjourned!” he exclaimed as he rapped the bench with his gavel.

 

Logan pushed his chair back to the railing and quickly climbed over it, only to be immediately smothered by his brothers and cousins in a celebratory hug.  While they were jumping for joy, Clarence packed and closed his case before stepping through the swinging gate.  As soon as he joined me and set his case down on the pew, I wrapped the man in a grateful hug.

 

“Thank you for taking care of my son,” I offered through my continuing sniffles of giddiness.

 

“Happy to do it, Max.  At least you never have worry about Troy darkening your door any time soon.”

 

“That bastard ever shows up at my home, I’m gonna have Tom kill him,” I replied in all seriousness.  “You’ll still defend him, though, right?”

 

“Damn right, I will.  And I’ll win that case, too,” he added with a laugh.

 

Just as we were separating, Thomas stepped through the gate and he commented, “I have to assume you’re Logan’s new dad.”

 

“One of them, yes,” I confirmed.  “I’m Max Sanders,”

 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Sanders.  And I’m Thomas Jackson,” he replied.  “Well, I just want you to know that Logan is one of the finest, strongest and bravest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.  I hope you’ll take good care of him.”

 

“Thank you, sir, we’ll do our best.”

 

“I’d expect nothing less.  If you don’t mind, could I have a short moment with Logan?”

 

“Certainly.”  I turned to the group huddle behind me and said, “Logan, front and center, young man.”

 

As soon as he could wiggle his way free from the others, he stepped over and asked, “What’s up, Dad?”

 

“Judge Jackson would like a word with you.”

 

“Uh-oh, here it comes,” he muttered under his breath.

 

“Nothing like that,” Thomas assured the nervous youngster.  “Let’s sit over here for just a minute,” he added while indicating the pew recently vacated by his uncle.  Once they’d taken their seats, Clarence and I started to chat with Arlene about her impending move to Illinois.

 

 

“What’s up, sir,” I asked bluntly.

 

“I just wanted to tell you that I’m highly impressed with how you handled yourself today, Logan.”  I could feel the heat rise in my face as I blushed at the compliment.  “Don’t you dare be embarrassed about that, young man, not one bit.  I’ve had fully grown men stand before me and almost wet themselves out of fear, men who were in much less trouble than you were when you first stepped foot into my courtroom today.  But not you.  You stood your ground and were ready to fall on a sword because you knew you were in the right.  That took a ton of gumption and I’m proud of the way you stood up for yourself, both today and against your uncle.”

 

“Wait a sec’, you’re really okay with me cuttin’ him like I did?”

 

“I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t one bit happy with that when I first found out about it and I was more than ready to see you were severely punished for what you’d done.  That said, however, after seeing a few of the videos you recorded, I completely understand why you did it.  I may not agree with your methods one hundred percent, mind you, but you were in a very tough spot and you made a snap decision on how you felt was the best way to protect yourself.  One I’m sure that saved your life.  I don’t know if I would’ve reacted any better or different had it been me in your place.”

 

“Well, yeah, it was either him or me.  And it dang sure weren’t gonna be me if I had any say in it.”

 

“You also need to know that violence is not the proper way to settle differences between people.  If you ever get into any other kind of trouble, I hope you’ll call somebody for help.”

 

“Yeah, I know that.  And as long as I got plenty of time, you can be sure I’ll call the cops, sir.  But I sure as heck wouldn’t bet against me not denuttin’ another scumbag who looks like he’s gonna kill me, either,” I giggled, and Stonewall giggled with me.

 

“Well, with some luck on your side, and it looks like you have plenty of that coming your way, you won’t be put in a position where you have to make a decision like that ever again,” the judge replied with a crooked grin.  “I guess the next thing I’d like to know is this; what the devil were you thinkin’ when you attacked your uncle like you did?”

 

“Oh, that’s all Ender’s fault,” I replied.

 

“And who or what’s Ender?” the judge asked curiously.

 

“Well, after the last time my daddy done beat the crap outta me and I’d moved in with Dad, Pops and my brothers, I wanted a book to read.  The one Dad found he thought I might like is named Ender’s Game.  In the book, Ender was really a pretty nice kid who tried to get along with everybody, but he got into fights with a couple other kids who’d been pickin’ on him.  And see, Ender knew that if he didn’t win those fights, the others’d just keep on doin’ what they was doin’, you know, makin’ his life miserable and all.  So, he went after them with ever’thing he had until he knew they couldn’t never hurt ‘im again.  What he didn’t know until way later in the book was that he’d really killed both of ‘em, though he didn’t mean to.”

 

“And how did that make you think you could win a fight with a man who’s easily twice your size?” he asked with curiosity.

 

“I fought the way Ender fought.  You attack your enemy with full force and cause as much damage as you can as quick as you can.  If you do it right, they won’t never wanna fight you again ‘cause they know they’re gonna get their ass handed to ‘em in a sling.  So, once that bastard punched me in the face like he did, he was my enemy and I was Ender.  I knew only one o’ us was gonna walk outta that shithole in one piece, and I made dang sure it was me.”

 

“I’m really surprised you didn’t kill him,” he commented quietly.

 

“Don’t you think for sec I didn’t feel like doin’ it, ‘cause I surely did,” I retorted.

 

“Then why is he still alive?”

 

“ ‘Cause I’m a survivor, sir, but I sure as heck ain’t no killer, and don’t never wanna be known as one.  Guess that’s the big difference ‘tween me and ol’ Ender.  I know when it’s time to quit and he don’t,” I answered with a giggle.

 

“I may have to buy that book and read it for myself.”

 

“You won’t be sorry. It’s a good one, that’s for sure,” I responded.

 

“The last thing I want to tell you is you have one big ol’ pair of brass, uh, well, you know whats.”

 

“Yeah, I know,” I giggled.

 

“Well, don’t let them write any checks you can’t cash.”

 

“Huh?” I asked while cocking my head a bit sideways.

 

“That means, keep yourself out of trouble, young man.”

 

“Gotcha,” I agreed with a quick nod.  “Ya know, I never go lookin’ for trouble, but it still seems to find me, no matter where I am or what I’m doin’,” I added with a smile.  “But I promise to do the best I can, judge.”

 

“That’s all anyone can ever do, Logan, is their best.  You stick to that and you’ll be fine.”

 

“Well, looks like Dad’s ready to get the heck outta Dodge, so I gotta scoot.  Thanks for ever’thing, sir,” I commented as I slipped off the pew and leaned in to give my new friend, Stonewall, a hug.  As he squeezed me back, I felt a little vibration run through his chest, almost like the ones I feel when I’m tryin’ not to cry.  I couldn’t imagine a big man like him would be cryin’ ‘bout nothin’, though, so the thought slipped away as fast as it hit me.  Once we let go of each other, I skipped back across the aisle, wrapped my arms around Dad’s waist, and said, “Let’s go, old man.”

 

 

Once Logan rejoined our group and announced he was ready to leave, everyone formed a line and headed for the exit with Logan happily and proudly leading the troupe.  Clarence and I shared a quick handshake with Thomas as we passed by, and Joey, Alex, T.J. and Andy all gave him a hug while thanking him for letting their brother go back home with them.  Daril and Arley stuck with a simple handshake, but Arlene insisted on giving Thomas another hug.

 

“Thank you for putting that man away and getting him out of our lives forever.  I know we’re moving, but I wouldn’t a felt safe anywhere if he was free.”

 

“I was happy to do it, Ms. Campbell,” Thomas replied.  “I wish the best of luck for a bright future to you and your boys as you all start this new chapter in your lives.”

 

After one more quick hug between the two, it was time to get this show on the road.  After a brief stop at the last row of seating to retrieve their meager belongings, we left the courtroom, trampled down the steps sounding like a herd of stampeding elephants, then stepped outside into the still bright and sunny afternoon.  We quickly turned the corner to the right and crossed the street to our transportation for the day.

 

As we drew closer to the big van, Arlene perked up and commented, “Oh, you’ve got Dolly!”

 

“You know this van?” I asked in surprise.

 

“Sure do.  Know Bobby Joe pretty good, too.  ‘Course, most ever’body ‘round these parts knows ‘bout Bobby Joe and his love affair with ol’ Dolly,” she laughed.

 

“Well, let’s get your bags stowed in the back and everybody climb in.  We should be able to be in the air and on the way home in about an hour.”

 

After unlocking and opening the rear doors, I continued on around to the passenger side to unlock those doors as well.  Clarence opted to ride shotgun again while the five younger boys clambered into the back two rows of seats, leaving the bench right behind Clarence and me for Arlene, Arley and Daril.  After climbing into the driver’s seat and ensuring everyone was buckled into place, I began retracing our route back to Sikeston and the airport where our winged chariot waited for us.

 

The mood in the vehicle on our return trip was much brighter and more festive than it had been on the trip in just a few short hours ago.  The boys were doing their level best to keep Arlene, Daril and Arley entertained, regaling them with tales of trails, cemeteries and spooks as something they all had to look forward to.  As for Clarence and me, we were uncharacteristically quiet for once, neither of us really being in the mood to discuss our day.

 

On our return to the airport, we were met by Bobby Joe as I slowed the van to halt just outside the large open door of the hangar.  The rest of the crew piled out of the van, Arlene and her sons grabbed their belongings from the back and I handed the key to the plane to Clarence so he could open it up while I chatted with Bobby Joe for just a minute.

 

“Well, did Dolly take good care of ya?” he asked as we shook hands.

 

“She sure did,” I offered.  “I can’t thank you enough for letting us borrow her this afternoon.”

 

“No sweat, sir,” Bobby Joe replied.  “Did y’all have a good trip?”

 

“The absolute best trip I’ve ever had,” I gushed as I was still overjoyed that Logan was coming home with us.

 

“Glad to hear it.  Was that Arlene Campbell and her boys with ya?” he asked with curiosity.

 

“Well, yeah.  They’re moving to Illinois so they can live closer to Logan.  Make it easier to be a real family.”

 

“Good for them,” Bobby Joe commented happily.  “ ‘Bout time she got the hell away from that lowlife, good-for-nothin’ hillbilly scum, Troy.”

 

“Well thanks, again, for everything Bobby Joe,” I offered.

 

“Y’all ever come back down this way, you make sure to look me up.  I’m sure Dolly will be happy to run ya wherever y’all need to go.”

 

On that final note, I turned and aimed myself for our ride home, flipping one last quick wave goodbye to the friendly and ever helpful Bobby Joe, the hillbilly with a heart of pure gold.  Within ten minutes of reaching ol’ Annabelle, we were buttoned up, buckled in and setting sail for points north and home sweet home.

 

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