A CHANGE OF CLOTHES - MARK PRYOR
She was the first one in days, maybe weeks, who didn’t stink. Who didn’t shuffle or cower, or prowl through the metal door like an angry dog.
She was the first one in days, weeks, who made me stand up straight and pay attention to the paperwork.
One by one, the deputy brought them out, made them stand on the black line in front of the judge, and two feet to my right. The deputy would give me a nod if they were compliant, raise an eyebrow if he expected a fight. Very few of them fight.
One by one, the judge lets them plead guilty, asking me, the state’s prosecutor, to detail the plea agreement. This one gets probation, this one gets jail. And this one, the stinking fat man who likes little kids, he gets ten years in prison and then ten years of probation. Yeah, I’m looking at you, fat man, what the fuck are you gonna do about it?
But when the deputy brought her out, he just looked at me, our secret code abandoned. Hardly surprising, it’s not like we had a signal for hot chicks. Never needed one.
So it was my turn to raise an eyebrow, his turn to smirk.
She wore black and white stripes like the rest, but her set was new and almost fit her. They could have been pajamas, or a carefully-chosen Halloween costume - “Ha! Look at me, I’m in jail!" I often wondered if those floppy jail rags were comfortable, and usually decided they were. More so than my suit and fucking tie, no doubt.
She walked tall, her back straight, with none of that hesitant shuffling most of them do, scared and a little bewildered. Or acting scared, angling for some pity. Most don’t look at me, the tall guy in a suit looking calm and at home at the judge’s bench, standing there with a file in one hand and a cheap pen in the other. That said, when they do look at me I usually catch their eye and nod. I’m a decent human being, after all. I may be putting them in jail but it’s not personal and I bear them no ill will. Couldn’t care less, most of the time.
But this one held my eye and I wondered at first if she was challenging me. Then I thought maybe she was just seeing who I was, what role I played. When she looked away, I wondered if she thought me a nerd in a suit, not good enough, or not interesting enough for her. Her eyes were blue, like mine, but bigger and not tired from a too many whiskeys the night before. Light brown hair in a simple ponytail, springing out from high on the back of her head, confident, like her. No visible tattoos, which made a nice change.
The judge didn’t seem to notice her, but then he’d drunk more than me the night before and could barely stay awake. I’m not even sure he likes girls, to be honest, but that’s okay, no crime there. Tucked deep into his black robe he started to read the indictment and drone on about her rights, the same routine as usual, same words, same inflection. She just nodded along.
Then he stopped. He’d forgotten to swear her in. Maybe he had noticed her. Old fox.
She was given the oath, raising her right hand to swear to tell the truth, a slim, delicate wrist poking out of the hooped pajama top. As the judge started droning again, I looked through the file to see what she’d done.
She was a thief, so the file said. She and her brother, a drug addict, had stolen a car and gotten about two miles before he drove it into oncoming traffic. I’d sentenced him, too, I remembered now. He’d wanted probation and treatment but he didn’t get it. I remembered his face, angry and a little scared as the judge sentenced him to the eighteen months I’d recommended. You see that face a lot in this job.
I looked over at her lawyer, pushed the file his way on the little ledge in front of us just so I could lean closer to her. She didn’t lean closer to me, but she didn’t lean away, either. I straightened back up and looked at the front of the file, where we write our recommendations for punishment. Jail or probation, them’s your choices. Or, to be accurate, my choices.
How about a good spanking, though, change it up just for her? Administered by me, of course, and right now. Afterwards, a cuddle to make it all right.
Swift justice. Everyone happy.
According to the notes in the file, her brother, decent guy after all, had taken the rap for the car theft and her lawyer had worked out a thirty day sentence for her in the county jail. According to the clerk’s records, she'd done a week waiting for her case to come up. With two-for-one credit, she’d done a couple weeks with a couple more to go.
All I had to do was say, “Thirty days in the county jail, Your Honor.”
But I didn’t. Or couldn’t. Or just didn’t.
“The State’s recommendation?” the judge said to me.
Quick math, just to be sure. “Two weeks in the county jail, Your Honor.”
Her lawyer, bless him, trying to be honest, to abide by our agreement, said: “I thought we’d said thirty days?”
“I’m pretty sure I offered fourteen,” I said, “and if I offered it, I will stick to it.” The Honorable Prosecutor.
“Of course, if she wants to do the thirty...” Yeah, right.
“No, no, Your Honor, fourteen days is fine.”
“With credit for time already served?” said the judge, no idea what was happening.
“Yes, Your Honor,” I said.
I could feel her watching me now, but I knew her lawyer was, too, so I played it cool, writing the judgment details on the back of the file for our records, turning slowly and nodding at her lawyer first, then eyes moving naturally westward to her, a tight smile and gentle nod, but Look at my eyes, can you see what I’m thinking?
She was waiting when I left for the day, perched under the blistering sun on the low brick wall by the parking lot where she could see the courthouse doors. I stopped when I saw her and then started again. Another nod but my smile looser now that her case was done. She stood when I got close, so I slowed.
“Why did you do that?” she said.
I stopped, car keys in my hand. Her head was tilted to one side and I couldn’t imagine this girl, now in low-cut jeans and a sky-blue T-shirt, wearing black and white hoops. “I don’t know. I guess I thought that was the deal.”
Her smile was soft, but there was an edge to her voice. “No. You changed it.”
I shrugged, had trouble meeting her eyes. “You just get out?”
“This morning. Feels good.”
“I bet. A little hot outside, though. You been waiting here all day?”
“Yes. No transport. Thought I’d wait for my lawyer to come out and ask him for a ride.”
What about me, was I allowed to? Seemed like it, she wasn’t a defendant anymore. And it was a hundred degrees out here, I could feel my ears crisping up nicely. She hadn’t broken a sweat. “I’ll give you one. Ride.”
Pretty teeth, too. “Sure,” she said.
She lived by herself, now that her brother was hosteling with the State. A worn apartment complex in a nice neighborhood in south Austin. Nor more than two miles from me and my dog. Who knew criminals lived down here?
Maybe she had aspirations.
“I’m going to nursing school,” she said as she got out of the car. “You want to come up?”
“Yeah. I’ve never met a prosecutor before. It’s hot.” She said it so matter-of-factly I assumed she meant the weather. But there was reasonable doubt.
“I’ve never met a nurse defendant before.” I said it so lamely.
I went up, curious to see the home of a nurse-in-training defendant, and to make up for my stupid comment. I didn’t want the last thing she heard from me to be so... lame.
It was clean and tidy. A long white couch dominated the room and above it hung framed prints, not posters, on the wall. I didn’t even know how old she was.
“Sit,” she said. “I’ll be right back.” But before she disappeared into her bedroom, she leaned against the jamb and asked if I liked games.
“Sure,” I said. “What kind of games?”
She rolled her eyes and left me alone. I looked at the front door but stayed put. My legs wouldn’t have carried me anyway. Put me in front of a jury and I’m like Iron Man, but a pretty girl melts me like butter. The word ‘wicked’ sprang to mind.
She reappeared in her nurse uniform. Not the kind you’d get from an adult store at all, and on anyone else not sexy in the least. But she’d changed into it, apparently, for me.
“Ah, those kinds of games,” I said.
“Yeah.” She sat down, slid in next to me, and whispered in my ear. “And more.”
We played by her rules, which were pretty simple. I held her ponytail and told her the things she wanted to hear, about how she was a bad girl and needed to prove she was repentant, to show me how good she could be else I’d put her back in jail, one way or another. She whispered what to say and I said it, sounding gruff and mean, which was hard when I was feeling so grateful. I started to wonder half way through whether I’d get to spank her after all, but she kept the nurses uniform pulled down and kept me entertained in other ways.
I don’t know how she got the recorder into the room without me seeing it. I don’t know how she got it to my boss. And I don't know how much of it he listened to before he called me into his office. I didn’t bother telling him it was consensual, you could hear from the tape it wasn’t.
So here I am, with my head down as I stand on that little black line in front of the judge, two feet away from a former colleague. I can hear cameras behind me, people jostling to try and get a clear shot of my face. I fidget to foil them, and also because the hooped pajamas are not as comfortable as they look from the free world. Scratchy, and I don’t even want to think about the stinking inmates who wore the socks and underwear before me.
I got a letter last night. From her. Fake name, probably a fake return address. Just five words long. ‘Should have given him probation.’
BIO: Mark Pryor is a former journalist and now fiction writer living in Austin, Texas. At night he shoots, stabs, and poisons people on paper, but during the day he works as a felony prosecutor putting away the bad guys and freeing the innocent. And he blogs at D.A. Confidential.
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