The old County Courthouse was almost hidden in the large spreading elms that circled the square. It was still early, but the two-hour parking along Cortez Street and the designated spaces at the Courthouse were already taken. A nondescript white van pulled in, stopped in the middle of the restricted parking area, and three men staggered out in body chains. The men were dressed in baggy orange jumpsuits and scuffs and followed a slightly overweight police officer to a hidden doorway under the stairs that led to the courtrooms above.

Willy stopped on the front steps to watch the police officer corral the men dressed in orange. One of them, a heavyset young Indian, glanced up at him on the stairs, quickly looked away, and followed the other chained men into the building. The heavyset kid had called him the night before to ask if he could, “Do anything about his situation” and Willy promised him that he would try.

Willy continued his climb up the Courthouse steps where several people were waiting to go through the metal detector just inside the door. He got on line, took out his keys and a whittling knife, dropped them into the little woven basket, and waited his turn. Just ahead, a woman had set off the alarm and one of the guards took her aside, opened her purse and began to examine what she had in it.

Willy was waved through, retrieved his keys, and headed down the dark hall to look for Judge Earl Lester’s courtroom. Several people were already waiting, and when the large doors swung open they all moved in and sat down. Willy took a seat on the aisle, and watched as the others moved ahead to fill the benches in front.

The bailiff and clerks came in from a side door and Judge Earl Lester followed behind them. He was the tall man in the black robe, and he skipped up the few short steps to his place on the bench. “Aaallll riiiiise,” came the call and the people rose to watch the judge take his seat and begin separating his papers into three neat piles before they sat down again. The bailiff waited for Judge Earl’s nod and when it came he signaled for the three prisoners to be brought in. The guards had taken off the men’s shackles and orange coverings and the prisoners, now dressed in street clothes, marched to a long table to sit with their lawyers.

Judge Earl shuffled the papers in front of him, looked down at the three men in question, and glanced up at the spectators. Willy could feel the man’s gaze on him as he called out the name, “Mr. Mayo Stockman.” The young heavyset Indian at the table rose along with his lawyer.

“Drunk, disorderly, disturbing the peace, and resisting arrest,” Judge Earl said in a clear cold voice. “Guilty or not guilty?” he asked.

“Guilty, Sir,” the kid mumbled.

“Am I to understand this is the first offense for this young man?” Judge Earl asked the lawyer.

“That’s correct, your Honor.”

“There seems to be an inordinate amount of damage here,” the judge said, shuffling through the papers. “The bar’s front windows, chairs, barstools, and a rather large amount of glassware. No one appears to have been injured. Is that right, Counselor?”

“The defendant was cut by flying glass, your Honor,” the lawyer replied.

“Is the defendant prepared to pay for these damages?”

“Apparently, that’s all been taken care of, Sir.”

Judge Earl put the papers aside and looked up. His gaze moved straight to Willy. “Do you know anything about this payment arrangement, Mr. Two Horse?” he asked.

Willy rose, walked to the railing, and said, “The Tupai Tribe will pay for the damages on the condition that the young man works to pay them back, your Honor.”

“Does he have a job waiting for him?”

“He’ll work for the Tribe until the loan is paid, your Honor,” Willy replied.

Judge Earl nodded and said in a loud clear voice, “The defendant, Mayo Stockman, is released into the custody of Chief Two Horse, and will report to him twice a week. He is also required to fulfill the County’s Anger-Management Program, and attend any counseling mandated by the County Prosecutor’s Office.” Judge Earl stared down at the boy, “Is that clear, son?”

“Yes, your Honor,” the young Indian said.

“Are those conditions satisfactory with you, Mr. Two Horse?” the Judge asked.

“Yes, Sir,” Willy said. “I will personally take care of this matter, your Honor.”

“I’m sure you will, Sir.”

“Thanks for your time,” Willy said, and led the boy up the aisle and out through the large doors. Neither one looked back. “Let’s go to my townie office,” Willy said when they reached the hallway. “We can talk there.”

“Sorry I dragged you into all this,” the kid muttered as they went down the Courthouse steps; “I didn’t know what else to do.”

“That’s why I told your father not to come. Too much emotion in these matters gets in the way,” Willy answered, and the boy had to run a few steps to catch up with him. When they got to one of the benches along the Cortez side of the Square, Willy invited the kid to sit down with a short wave of his hand.

According to Indian custom Willy was supposed to speak first but he wasn’t quite sure what to say, so they just stared over at Toby’s Hamburger Palace on the other side of Cortez Street.

Many older townies believed that the Hamburger Palace had been there long before the Indians settled the area, and several of them had even formed a Committee to put an historic plaque on the building. Prosserites loved historic brass plaques. They were hung on a variety of buildings in town, including one for President Nixon, but most of the citizens in Prosser questioned a plaque for Toby’s Hamburger Palace because of the two Coca-Cola signs that had been screwed in above the front window when the Hamburger Palace first opened in the mid-forties, just after World War II. The subject still came up at Town Meetings, but no one seemed to do anything about it or the plaque they had made for the place years before.

“Is this your office?” the kid asked, breaking Indian precedent.

Willy took in a deep sigh, and said, “This is the office-where-I-come-to-think on Wednesday mornings before the tribal board meeting on Wednesday afternoons. It’s not a real office because it doesn’t have a desk or a phone. Things like that are required for a real office.”

“But you have a cell phone…don’t you?”

“If I had a cell phone then this wouldn’t be the office-where-I-come-to-think,” Willy said; “No place is safe from the cell phone.”

“I understand,” the kid nodded.

“Try not to understand too much until you pay off those damages. Understanding too much can get in your way. It’s human nature.”

“Three thousand, two hundred-five dollars, and twenty-three cents. I can probably pay it back in a year if I get a couple of jobs,” the kid said.

“Just don’t start drinking, or buying drugs with what you earn. There’s too much of that goes on at the Reservation already.”

“You mean like my father?” Willy didn’t answer and stared straight ahead at the Hamburger Palace; “I drink a little, but I don’t take drugs,” the kid said.

“Maybe that’s why you’re so angry,” Willy said.

“I never really thought about it,” Mayo answered.

“Three thousand, two hundred-five dollars and twenty-three cents is a lot of anger. Think it was worth it?”

“No,” the kid said, but I don’t think the stuff I smashed was worth that much either.”

“Stuff like that gets expensive after you break it,” Willy said. “But that’s not the point, is it?”

“What is the point?” the kid asked.

“I don’t really know,” Willy said. “And that’s another problem.”

They continued staring at the Hamburger Palace across the street as Toby, the stocky owner, jammed the door open to air the place out. A few doors down one of the girls from the pizza parlor came out to set the sidewalk tables for lunch.

This time the kid waited for Willy to speak and figured he was about to get a long lecture on the evils of liquor, the responsibilities of being a Native American, and the importance of attending all of the Anger-Management classes the County gave…plus explaining exactly how he was going to pay the tribe back for his bar bill and the property he destroyed.

“The main point right now is that I don’t believe you should go to jail,” Willy said; “The White Man’s jail only makes things worse for Indians. I’ve seen that happen over and over.” The kid sensed that Willy hadn’t finished and waited for him to continue; “I know you heard Judge Earl say that the tribe paid the expenses for all the damage you did at the bar, and now you have to pay them back.”

“Yes sir,” the kid acknowledged.

“Well, that’s not exactly how it is.”

“It isn’t?”

“The damages were paid, but the tribe didn’t pay them,” he told the kid; “I did.”

“But the Judge said…”

“I know, but I lied to Judge Earl about the tribe because he’s an old friend and old friends believe other old friends when they lie to them. He’s a wise man.”

“But how can he be wise if he believes lies?”

“You picked up on that real fast. I’m impressed.” The kid smiled, nodded his head, and before he could answer Willy said, “I went to the Judge to get you out of jail because you’d just be wasted in there and probably come out worse than you went in. The Judge understands that part because he’s a good man.”

“Is there another part?”

“The other part is about my needing an assistant. The Judge doesn’t know anything about that part.”

“What kind of assistant do you need?”

“The kind that can assist with things,” Willy said.

“What kind of money do you pay for assisting?”

Whatever I can afford.”

“But I have to take Anger-Management classes and get at least two jobs to pay back all that money you put up. How can I do that and be your Assistant at the same time?”

“You make good points.”

The kid began to think that Willy Two Horse was a little crazy, and would have mentioned it to the old man if he hadn’t pulled a lot of deep strings to get him out of jail. All of it had happened so fast that he wasn’t sure it happened at all, especially this new part about being his Assistant. Complicating things even more was the fact that he hadn’t voted for Willy Two Horse for President in the last election. He’d voted for his father’s drinking buddy, Mandrake Johnson, who was a lot younger and a lot crazier than Willy Two Horse. He had voted for Mandrake as a joke but now realized that it wasn’t funny at all. Being Chief of the tribe was serious business. He also realized that Willy was old enough to have been taught by the Ravens, and that it might be why he said things in “slanted reasoning.” That was a sure sign of Raven teachings. The Ravens had taught a lot of the older tribal members before their teachings were finally banned in the seventies, long before he was born. Having anything to do with the Ravens now was absolutely forbidden, along with shape shifting, drum beating, night dancing, and all other forms of mysticism or what was called “weird behavior.” There was even talk that the Ravens were trying to get back into power again, and that older tribal members were still in contact with them, but no one really knew for sure.

The girl at the pizza shop went back inside and Willy said, “I know you didn’t vote for me, but that’s all right. We’re all entitled to one or two mistakes in our lives.” The kid glanced over at the old man who had just read his thoughts, and knew it could only have been the Ravens that could teach him how to do something like that.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” the kid blurted.

“I understand,” Willy said. “Complicated times make young men confused and they vote the wrong way, or they get frustrated and destroy a nice place where…”

“It’s not a nice place,” the kid snapped. “The owner waters the drinks, and makes double the money on every shot. And he cheats on the Indian tabs too.”

“Did you tell Judge Earl that?”

“He didn’t ask,” the boy mumbled.

“How do you know these things?”

“I caught him watering the booze!”

“What did he say?”

“He just laughed. Said he was doing the Indians a favor just having the place so close to the Reservation. All they had to do was cross the street. He figured the more he watered the booze the less liver damage they’d get, and that he was just recycling the casino’s gambling money for the good of the community.”

“And that’s when you started throwing the barstools through the windows.” Mayo nodded, and they sat watching the slow curve of a breeze flutter the early buds on the trees. “I knew it had to be something like that,” Willy mumbled. “That’s why I want you to be my Assistant.”

For a long time they just sat watching the traffic go by on Cortez Street, and then the early lunch crowd began drifting toward Bill’s Pizza Joint and Toby’s Hamburger Palace. “Sir,” Mayo asked, “did you really pay for those damages and court costs yourself?”

“Three thousand, two hundred five dollars, and twenty-three cents,” Willy said; “Just about everything I had.”

“That’s what I figured,” Mayo mumbled, and rose up off the bench; “If you don’t mind, I’d rather go back and serve my time. It’ll be a lot easier on everybody.”

“That’s another good point,” Willy said, and Mayo started back to the Courthouse. “They won’t let you serve your time though,” Willy yelled after him; “Your time has already been paid for. That’s the way things work in the White Man’s World. The deal’s covered, set, and done. They got their money. And by this time, they cashed the check and gave those other two guys the one empty cell they had left. Taking you back now would just ruin everything. Besides, I expect dividends on my investment in you.

“What kind of dividends?” Mayo yelled back.

“Positive dividends,” Willy said, and for the first time the kid noticed the Ravens perched in the trees just behind them. The large black birds seemed to drip over the branches like black ink. It was odd to see so many of them in one place, and Mayo backed away a step at a time and sat down next to Willy again. “It’s like the Stock Market,” Willy went on. “You ask around, look around, and make your bet. I asked around, looked around, and your name kept coming up, so I expect dividends.”

“I think you’re a little crazy,” Mayo muttered.

“Lots of people think that,” Willy acknowledged, and smiled over at the boy sitting next to him on the bench. “Are they still there?” he asked without turning around.

“I think so,” Mayo said, checking to see if the Ravens were still squatting in the corner of his eye.

“I try not to encourage them,” Willy said, impressed by Mayo’s quick answer. “How many are here?”

“A couple of dozen. Maybe more.”

“The crowd keeps getting bigger,” Willy said; “You’re why they haven’t come over to bother me. They don’t know who you are. That’s an advantage. You see how the dividends are starting to pay off already?” Mayo nodded, and tried not to look back at the Ravens in the trees. “They won’t hurt you, they’re hanging around to see me.”

“I figured that when I saw so many of them.”

“For some reason they always make me hungry. Would you like a hamburger?” Willy asked.

“Palace burgers are my favorite, sir.”

“Mine too,” Willy said, and got up off the bench to start across the street. “We can sit in a booth and I can interview you for the job of being my assistant, even though you’ve already got the position. You’ll have to fill out the usual employment forms for the government. When I find out where they keep them I’ll get you one.”

“What about the birds?” the kid asked.

“Oh, they’ll get their own lunch. How do you take your burger? Ketchup? Pickles and mustard?”

“Just mayonnaise, Sir.”

“Mayo. Of course,” Willy acknowledged, and the kid followed him across the street to the Hamburger Palace.

J.S. Kierland is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and the Yale Drama School. He has been writer-in-residence at New York’s Lincoln Center and Lab Theatre, Brandeis University, and Los Angeles Actor’s Theatre. He’s written two Hollywood films and rewritten several others. Over ninety publications of his short stories have been published around the country in Collections, Reviews, and Magazines like Playboy, Fiction International, Oracle, International Short Story, Emry’s, Colere and many others. He has also edited two one-act play books, and has the best of his short stories, “15” now out in a collection from Underground Voices, along with a novella ebook titled, HARD TO LEARN.