How I slept that night, I don't know. The nurse gave me a sedative, but my thoughts seemed to revolve in a continuous loop, going back over the events that led to me being in that hospital and facing the most feared of men in the morning. Eventually, though, I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep, and woke rested.
The doctor visited me after breakfast and gave me a thorough examination. He then made me take several pills, before escorting me to the dayroom where Pop waited.
I had a few minutes to talk before Officer Spiro arrived, and I told Pop what my Defender had said about pleading guilty. "Chuck," Pop said quietly, "we have brought you up to be honest, and that is what you must be now. We can only hope that the Magistrate will be kind to you. Remember, son, both Mom and I will stand by you."
Outside, we climbed on board a buggy for the short journey to the Town Hall where the Magistrate had his office. Pop and I waited outside in the corridor, where the Defender joined us, whilst Officer Spiro entered alone.
Pop and the Defender talked in hushed tones, standing far enough away from me so that I was unable to overhear. They were both watching me, and I knew that I was the subject of their discussion. I should have been concerned with being left out of the conversation, and worried about what was about to happen, but instead I just felt calm and content. I giggled ever so slightly as I remembered the tablets the doctor had me take, realizing that I had been given a strong sedative.
"Come in, please." I turned and saw Officer Spiro standing in the entrance to the office, holding the door open for us to go in. I looked at Pop, who put a hand on my shoulder, guiding me in ahead of him.
We entered a large room that was divided into two halves by a low wooden rail. The nearer half of the room was bare, except for a small stack of chairs against one wall. Beyond the barrier, though, sat the Magistrate at a large wood desk. To one side, behind another smaller desk, there sat a prim looking woman who had a thick notebook in front of her, whilst opposite was a chair on a low platform.
My Defender led us through a gate in the rail, to where three chairs were placed beside a table, and told me to stand in front of the middle one. We waited in silence for about a minute, as the Magistrate looked through some papers on his desk.
"Are you Chuck Walker?" The Magistrate asked, looking up and straight into my eyes.
"Y... Yes, Sir," I managed to say.
"Is your date of birth the twenty-second of September twenty eighty-six?"
"Then that makes you a minor. Do you have a parent with you?"
"Yes, my Pop, sir."
"And are you represented by a Public Defender?"
"Have you been given advice by him?"
"Then we can begin." The Magistrate looked down at the top document in front of him. "Chuck Walker, you are charged, that on June second, twenty ninety-eight, you did, in concert with Arthur Talltree, fail to report a Find, contrary to Statute Fourteen, twenty sixty-seven. How do you plead on that charge?"
My legs felt funny and began to give way. Pop put his arm around my shoulders supporting me. "P...P...Please Sir, guilty sir." I managed to say,
"Your Honor," My Defender spoke up. "In view of my client's age and health, I ask that he be allowed to sit."
"Yes, of course. Let the records show that the accused is in some physical distress. At this time, in view of his condition and also in the light of his plea, I will dispense with all formal procedures."
"Thank you, your Honor, May I make an appeal?"
"Yes, go ahead."
"I would like to ask that the further charges against my client be dropped in the light of his plea of guilty to the main charge. He is, as you have observed, barely up to facing this hearing now, without the added stress."
"Defender, I must point out to you that the physical and mental condition of the accused is not a valid reason for dismissing charges already made, but I will put them to one side for the moment. I feel that the main charge is of sufficient weight to satisfy this court."
"Thank you, your Honor."
"As you have advised your client to plead guilty, I presume that you wish to show mitigating circumstances. Am I correct?"
"Yes, your Honor, I would like to show you that my client was the submissive member of the two boys involved. May I draw your attention to page three of the initial interview Officer Spiro had with my client?"
"Just one moment, Defender. I think that it would be easier on young Chuck if you referred to him by name. You also have permission to drop the formal mode of address for the duration of this hearing."
"Thank you. As I was saying on page three, the second question Officer Spiro asked was, who threw a rock at the window first? Chuck replied that it was Art, but please notice the exact wording of his reply. Again on page seven, Officer Spiro asked who was the first to go into the cavern, and Chuck replied that it was always Art who was first."
The Magistrate looked through the papers on his desk, and studied them for a minute or two. "So it is your contention that Chuck was led to commit the crime out of loyalty to his friend."
"Yes, that is correct."
"Well, Chuck," the Magistrate looked at me. "Did you break into the storage area because of Art?"
I didn't want to answer. They were right, but I didn't want to get Art into trouble. Which was silly. He was beyond their reach. In the end, though, under pressure from the adults, I had to tell them.
For at least half an hour the questions continued. The Magistrate was firm but didn't bully me, and I told him more than I had ever even admitted to myself. I had to tell the truth, but their questions made it seem as if Art had been an evil criminal who had some sort of hold over me. I felt ashamed and was openly crying by the time they had finished.
The Magistrate sat deep in thought for a while, and Pop held me tightly to his chest. They waited until my tears stopped and I calmed down, then Pop sat me back in my chair. I wiped my face and looked at the man behind the desk, waiting for him to pronounce my fate.
"Chuck Walker, you have admitted your guilt in the court, and I have to pass sentence on you. There are very clear penalties for the offence you have committed, but I have some freedom to refer your case to a higher authority. In view of the mitigating circumstances of this case, I am releasing you into the custody of your parents, and recommending that you be sentenced to serve a period of public service, the said service to be carried out during the school breaks for the next year. I will also recommend that you be assigned to this department for those duties."
He looked at me smiling. "Do you understand what this means?"
"No, sir." I answered.
"It means that I am going to ask my superiors in the capital to let you off lightly. You will still have to face some punishment, though, and that will be losing your freedom during the holidays. I want you to come here then, and do all the little jobs we can find for you. It won't be easy, though; I will make you work hard. Will you accept my judgment?"\
"Yes, sir, but there is a problem, sir."
"Oh, and what is that?"
"I will be thirteen in September, sir. I should leave school at the end of the next term."
Oh, yes. I forgot your age. In that case, I will recommend that you work for your village Lawman at the weekends until you leave school. Then you can come here for a further six months. That should be enough. As an extra punishment, Chuck, I want you to write about what you have done, so that others can learn from your mistake. Give your story to your village officer next Friday, and he will send it to me."
That was a week ago, and I have to stop here because this morning I have to hand this work in. I hope that you, the reader, have understood my tale, and the stupid thing that I did. I should like to say that, given the chance to live the last few months again, I wouldn't make the same choices, but to be honest I can't be sure. I know that what we did was wrong, but we were kids, not angels.
No one has asked me to continue my story, but I feel that I hadn't finished. My sentence has yet to be confirmed, and there are other consequences of our action that were not in my first work.
Pop was keen on me writing the document that our village Lawman, Officer Hernandez, took to the Magistrate, but when I told him I was continuing he told me not to bother. He has been strange since that day, sort of remote and avoids me as if I have done something to upset him. Mom on the other hand fusses around me, treating me like I was six or seven again, not almost a man.
Enough of my rambling, it is time to get on with my story.