Rory sat in a cheap folding chair toward the back of the packed courtroom. He knew he didn’t belong here. He knew he had right on his side.
“Will all parties in the matter of the State versus Albert Alma please step up to be heard,” said the slouching old man in a rumpled police uniform.
A guy with a mullet to Rory’s left got up and walked to the front. He had on a light blue suit that Rory was sure he had seen at Goodwill on Tuesday. He had passed on it in favor of a very serious grey. He was glad he did.
The judge looked at some papers in a manila folder. To Rory everything looked to be right out of Judge Judy, the serious-looking judge behind a high desk wearing a black robe, two tables across from him. Meanwhile, the packed courtroom strangely smelled of popcorn as babies cried and people slept; “Mr. Alma, you are charged with petty larceny. AKA, shoplifting. How do you plead?”
“What does ‘AKA’ mean?” said Mullet Man.
“What does AKA mean your honor.” The judge said without looking up.
Mullet Guy looked around as if seeking support, before saying, “I don’t know; that’s why I asked.”
The judge sighed. “Prosecutor?”
A very short man with a beard and bowtie started rattling off about something, how Mullet Man tried to steal floor mats from Champion Auto, Rory thought he said. Rory couldn’t quite hear.
A woman started moaning a couple rows in front of Rory. Rory wanted to listen, but the woman moaned louder and louder. The judge banged his gavel. “Bailiff! That woman seems to be having a medical emergency. Will you please check on her?”
The old bailiff walked as quickly as he could—AKA slowly—back to the woman, who was now standing and yelling about “little men in her blood.”
“Shush now, come along,” the bailiff said. She was amazingly compliant as he led her out of the courtroom, not letting the door hit her on the way out.
“Mr. Alma, what do you have to say for yourself?” the judge said, chin in palm.
Mullet Moron started talking about something Rory couldn’t hear. Mullet Man gestured wildly. Rory laughed a little. He could see—everyone who was awake could see—that the loser was going down.
Rory was not that guy, he was sure. Rory had been railroaded. He was entrapped. The cop was out to get him. Black Lives Matter! he thought, even though he was as white as snow.
The judge banged the gavel, just like in movies. “Guilty. Pay the fine,” he said, writing something in his folder. Mullet Dude stood there, apparently confused as to what to do. He looked right, then left, then walked to the back, head down.
The judge kept writing. Babies kept crying. People kept snoring.
The judge gave the old bailiff another sheet of paper, “All parties in the matter of the State verses Rory Tull, step up and be heard.”
Rory’s big chance! Time to clear this “matter” without another ding on his record, his insurance going through the roof, his dad calling him a loser. He stood up from the sea of queued up future defendants in cheap folding chairs and walked toward the front slowly, formally, as if in a wedding. He saw the cop who had pulled him over sitting in the second row, smiling at him.
“Mr. Tull, we don’t have all day,” said the judge.
Rory hustled it the rest of the way to the table. He didn’t know why he was walking slow, anyway.
The judge wrote in another folder. Then he looked at Rory for the first time and said, “Let me guess: you are representing yourself.”
“Words, Mr. Tull. Words.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
The judge sighed again, “Whatever. Guilty or not guilty?”
“Of course.” Back to head down, scribbling. Then, “Prosecutor?”
The bearded man read from some piece of paper about how the highway patrol officer clocked him going 75 in a 50 zone. Pulled him over and cited him. Open and shut he said.
“Is the officer here?” the judge said. The prosecutor said, yes, and the cop stood. The judge asked him what happened.
Still in the second row, the cop held his hat in front of him and said he clocked a 98 Impala going blah blah blah and he “exercised” a traffic stop and wrote a citation yadda yadda yadda.
“What say you, Mr. Tull?”
This was what Rory had been waiting for, planning for, and excited about for weeks. Time to stand up for his rights. Time to show that cop for the fascist he really was. “Well, your high honor, it was like this.” Rory gestured wildly. “So, I was going down Highway 10. You know, by Northtown Shopping center. It was dark. Like, really dark. Not much traffic. But dark, you know?”
“Dark, got it.”
Rory looked around him. Few people were paying attention. Even the bailiff appeared to be napping while standing up; “So there’s a car behind me. Close, you know? So, I speed up. As I went faster, the other car went faster. Freaked me out. Whatever I did, he was right behind me. Pretty soon, I was going 75. I don’t deny it. I was worried, you know? It’s eight o’clock at night, and this car is right behind me going 75.”
“So, Mr. Tull, you admit you were going 75?”
“Yes … I mean, no … you see …”
The judge scribbled. The Bailiff leaned against a wall, eyes closed. Rory looked behind him. No one cared. He said, quietly, “It’s not right. No, no way is it right.” Rory heard himself for the first time. Rory looked at his suit.
William E Burleson’s short stories have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including The New Guard and American Fiction 14 and 16; as well as Hennepin History Magazine, and numerous other publications. Burleson’s book is Bi America (Haworth Press, 2005), Burleson is also the founder of Flexible Press. For more information: www.williamburleson.com.