Hello fellow Bloggers and beautiful people everywhere! I hope y’all are doing well and thriving today.
It’s been a year since I wrote my last Copperhead County short story, which was my response to a List Story Blogger Challenge, something I had never tried before. If you’re interested, you can read it here, and of course you can find all of my Copperhead County stories under the category of the same name in the dropdown menu in the right margin.
Some courtroom antics on 5/15/19 inspired me to begin a new Copperhead County short story, and I had a great time writing it. I finished the 1st draft the other day. The story below is my first revision, and I’m in need of some constructive criticism, so I’m asking for your feedback. Specifically, I’m trying to convey the barely-controlled chaos of the average rural General Sessions court, but I’m worried the story may come across as too busy, frenetic, or confusing.
Please enjoy “One Day’s Good Deed” then let me know what you think. Don’t be afraid to be brutally honest; I have very thick skin. One must in my profession.
One Day’s Good Deed
Brock Stone settled into his chair in the witness stand to the left of the judge’s bench, his customary workstation for the weekly criminal docket. At exactly 8:30 AM, he and the 200 defendants sitting in the gallery stood as the judge entered the courtroom, and the court officer bellowed, “All rise! The Copperhead County General Sessions Court is now in session, the honorable Judge Truman Gunn presiding. May God bless the Court, his Honor, and the great state of Tennessee!”
Stone sat down when the court officer began his brief speech and scanned the gallery for faces he recognized, a ritual he’d developed early in his career after realizing how often so many defendants returned.
“You may be seated,” the court officer barked, and the defendants sat, grunting, shuffling, and muttering their discontent. Someone in the right rear corner of the gallery farted loudly, and muffled chuckles and gasps ensued.
As Judge Gunn made his introductory announcements, Stone concluded his count. There were only 15 repeat defendants today, nowhere near a record high. Burley Shue was among them, a probationer being arraigned on several new charges including a Violation of Probation that Stone had issued. Burley was bouncing a 2 year-old girl, Truth, on his knee, stroking her unbrushed brown hair and whispering in her ear. Truth, thumb socked firmly into her mouth and snot dribbling from her left nostril, flicked her gaze around the courtroom. Burley was in the habit of bringing one of the several young children he acted as father to with him every time he came to the courthouse because he committed petty crimes with such frequency that he couldn’t keep track of which ones he hadn’t yet been arrested for. Despite repeated prior evidence to the contrary, he believed having a young child with him would serve as guarantee against arrest for any as-yet unserved warrants.
Judge Gunn worked through the traffic and arraignment dockets, the number of defendants dwindled, and Stone finished preparing the necessary paperwork and his laptop to sign up the 4 new probationers he anticipated would plead guilty to Driving Under the Influence.
While Stone began interviewing his first new probationer of the day, and Judge Gunn disposed of lesser matters, the court officers escorted two long lines of inmates clad in dingy, ill-fitting orange jumpsuits up from the jail, seating the males in a narrow corridor behind a cinder block wall on Stone’s left flank and out of sight of the gallery. The females were seated on a pew along the front of the wall and in full view of the gallery. Stone noticed that Curly Shue, one of his former probationers and Burley’s current wife and mother of 5 minor children including Truth, was among the females. Stone leaned to his right and whispered to his partner, Jenny Mews, “Burley brought one of his kids. Guess he’s worried about going to jail today.”
Mews snorted and rolled her eyes. “Yeah,” she whispered, “like that’ll help. That boy’ll never learn.” Throughout the day, the male inmates would sometimes become overly boisterous in their protestations of innocence, exclamations of the unfairness of the system or incompetence of their defense attorneys, or their endless competition to assert their dominance over fellow inmates, and the females’ running commentary on the court’s proceedings, the virtues of the various male inmates present, and their blatant though prohibited efforts to communicate with people in the gallery would prompt a stern glare and a harsh “Hush!” from Mews or one of the court officers. Stone never bothered trying to quiet the inmates; it wasn’t in his job description.
When his name was called, Burley approached the podium, pulling a red bandana from his pocket and wiping the sweat from his shaved & tattooed scalp. Truth toddled along with her soggy diaper drooping and her fingers entwined in the loop of Burley’s sagging carpenter pants. “Yes, your honor. I’m sorry, sir,” he said, shoulders slumped and head bowed.
“Well, Burley,” Judge Gunn replied, “I’m sorry too. What brings you here today?”
Truth began to whine, so Burley picked her up and snugged her to his right hip. He was short and shaped like a bowling pin, so there was little danger of her sliding off. “I was hoping you could tell me, sir. Far’s I know, it’s just for driving on a revoked again then Mr. Stone violated me, too.” Truth giggled, stuck her finger through the large plug in Burley’s right earlobe, and tugged downward. He winced and almost dropped her. “Ow, shit, sugar, stop that!” His head turned purple. “I’m sorry, your honor.” He daubed his scalp again. “Guess I’m just payin’ out more rope, ain’t I?”
Everyone in court, Judge Gunn included, laughed. “That sounds right, Burley. And I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings,” he said as a blue-clad Emberton police officer approached from Burley’s left, “but it looks like the City has some business to discuss with you. Are you going to retain a lawyer for your County charges today, or do you need me to appoint one?”
Shue hung his head, shook it slowly back and forth, and began to sniffle. “What’d I do now?” he whined, “I don’t need no public pretender, your honor, just tell me when to be here.”
With Shue’s head bowed, Truth noticed the police officer standing opposite him. She scrunched up her face and began shaking her fist at him. “Pig, pig, piggie!” she screamed, then stuck her tongue out at him and blew a raspberry while pushing the tip of her nose upward with her thumb.
Judge Gunn had to bang his gavel several times to restore order. “These matters are set for June nineteenth, Burley. Get a card and come back then. Unless you’re locked up somewhere, in which case have someone contact the Court Clerk’s office and let them know. And Burley,” he added, “whenever you get out, don’t be driving. Surely you know every sheriff’s deputy, police officer, and State Trooper who works in this county knows you don’t have a legal right to operate a motor vehicle!”
Burley took his appointment card from the court officer and said, “Thank you, your honor. I’ll see you on June nineteenth.” He allowed the police officer to escort him from the courtroom to the adjoining hall.
Stone noticed that one of the female inmates’ leg irons began to rattle fast and loud as her leg began to bounce, distracting him as he tried to interview his second new DUI offender of the morning.
“Psst! Psssst! PSSSTT!! Hey, Rocky!” Curly Shue whisper-yelled.
When Brock Stone had first started working for Copperhead County Adult Probation in 2004, the very first probationer with whom he’d met on his first reporting day had been amused by his name and had declared, voice raised intentionally that the lobby full of probationers waiting to meet their new P.O. would hear it, “Brock Stone? Aw, hell no! We gotta call you Rocky!” The nickname had stuck, at least among the small but not insignificant self-perpetuating segment of Copperhead County society that had ever since formed the basis of Stone’s livelihood.
Stone ignored Curly Shue and continued speaking with his new probationer until he was finished giving her instructions. He slid her paperwork into his expanding file, finished setting up her computer file, then stood, smoothed the creases in his slacks, and straightened his tie. He stepped down from the witness stand, walked three steps to Curly Shue, then went to one knee in front of her and leaned in close, whispering, “What can I do for you, Mrs. Shue?”
Curly stopped chewing her nails but continued bouncing her leg. “What’s Burley bein’ arrested for, Rocky? Is he gettin’ locked up today? Does he have a bond?”
Making a superhuman effort not to recoil from her body odor and jail breath, Stone answered, “I don’t know why he’s being arrested. I have no idea what his bond is.”
Curly began to breathe shallow and fast and to blink rapidly. “If he gets locked up, somebody needs to go pick Trip up! Burley was s’posed to pick him up from school at 10:45!” She moaned.
“What do you mean, Mrs. Shue? Burley isn’t supposed to be driving. Is he really the only person y’all could find to pick Trip up? What about Burley’s Mom?”
Curly dropped her head into her hands, covering her face. “Mrs. Louisa’s watchin’ Patience, Rocky. An’ she just had surgery an’ can’t lift no more’n 10 pounds. She can’t put Patience in the car and go get Trip.”
“Are you kidding me?” Stone asked. “Y’all left baby Patience alone with Mrs. Louisa when she can’t even lift her?”
“Hell, Rocky, she was sleepin’ when they come pick me up for failure to appear th’other night,” Curly explained, “and Mrs. Louisa was still in the hospital. I didn’t want the cops callin’ Child Protective Services t’come get Patience, Truth, and Trip, so I hid ‘em down in the basement ’til Burley got home from the plant.”
Stone glared at Curly, clenched his teeth, narrowed his lips, and hissed, slowly, “Jeeeesus Chrrrist.” His lips didn’t move.
Curly stared at her feet. Her ears turned crimson. “Please, Rocky,” she sniffled, “please find someone to pick Trip up. If there ain’t no one there for him when school’s out, they already done told me next time it happens they’re callin’ CPS. Can you go get him for us? Please?”
Stone’s eyes widened. He placed his right palm on his brow and slowly smoothed his hand back over his head until it rested on his neck, which he began to knead. He locked eyes with Curly. He was calm but firm. “Mrs. Shue. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to go get Trip. Is there anyone else I can call for you real quick? I have to get back to work.”
“Uhh… You can call my… My aunt?” Her brow furrowed, and she rubbed the tip of her nose. “Yeah, call my aunt!”
Stone asked, “What’s your aunt’s name and number, Mrs. Shue?”
“Uh, her name is… Shoot, what’s her name? Um, Johnna?” Her brows knitted together. “No, Tisha, it’s my Aunt Tisha!”
Stone sighed. “Mrs. Shue, please, what’s her number? Judge just called the next DUI up, I have to get to work!”
Curly muttered several strings of numbers. Her eyes rolled wildly, she chewed her nails, and her leg irons rattled like mad as her leg jackhammered. After several moments, she gave Stone a number. He exited to the hall, dialed it, and was unsurprised when a digitized voice informed him that the subscriber’s voice mail was not yet set up.
Nearby, Officer Withers was explaining to Burley that he was being arrested for Shoplifting and Vandalism. Burley threw his hands up and yelled, “What? What the hell did I steal this time, Withers? What did I vandalize?” Truth sat down, began to wail, and wrapped her arms around Burley’s right leg.
Stone dialed Mrs. Louisa’s number and asked Withers, “What’s Mr. Shue’s bond, Chuck?”
“It’s ten thousand, Brock, five for each charge.” Withers said, before replying to Burley, “According to the affidavit, Mr. Shue,” he began, scanning the warrant, “On 12/23/18, you rolled past the last point of sale at Krall’s Market with a cart full of miscellaneous items with a total value of $252.47, loaded said items into the trunk of your vehicle, and began to drive off. When you saw the loss prevention officer approaching your vehicle, you accelerated away at such a high rate of speed that you lost control, fishtailed into a cart corral, and damaged it and the several carts corralled therein to the tune of an additional $748.33.”
“Wh – I – that wasn’t me!” Burley spluttered, “He’s lyin’ on me! That wasn’t my car and I wasn’t drivin’ it! Hell, I don’t even have no license!”
“I’m just reading you what the warrant alleges, Mr. Shue.” Withers folded the warrant and slipped it into his breast pocket then placed his right hand firmly on Burley’s left shoulder and applied pressure. “Turn around and place your hands on the wall above your head, Mr. Shue. Is there anyone present who can take custody of the child, or do I need to call CPS?”
Burley did as commanded. “Shit. Yeah, my cousin Landon’s in the courtroom, he can prob’ly take Truth for me. He ain’t tryin’ to go to jail today.”
Stone spoke into his cell phone, “Mrs. Louisa, this is Brock Stone with Copperhead County Probation. I’m calling to let you know both Burley and Curly are presently in custody, and someone needs to go pick Trip up from school.” He listened as Mrs. Louisa responded.
Before beginning to pat Burley down, Withers asked, “Do you have any sharp items, weapons, or contraband on or about your person, Mr. Shue?”
“Naw, nothin’,” he averred, “hey, Rocky, will you ask Landon to come out here and get Truth?”
“I know you can’t do it, Mrs. Louisa,” Stone said, “I’m telling you because I have to get back in the courtroom and go to work. I don’t have time to call around to find Trip a ride.” He listened for a moment. “If you can’t locate someone to get Trip, Mrs. Louisa, CPS will take him into State’s custody. I have to go now. Good luck.” He nodded at Burley before returning to the courtroom.
Withers unclipped a pair of handcuffs from his duty belt. “Place your hands behind your back, Mr. Shue.”
As Burley was being cuffed, his cousin Landon walked into the hall and scooped Truth up. She snuggled into his neck and cooed, “Hi, Unca Wandon!”
“What’s your bond, Burley?” Landon asked, “I’ll meet you down in booking soon’s I get ahold of a bondsman.”
“It’s $10,000, Cuz, thanks. Take me on down, Withers,” Burley said with a grin.
Withers gave Landon the wallet, bandana, and crushed pack of Camels he’d removed from Burley’s pockets then walked Burley to the elevator.
Stone returned to the witness stand, sat down, and began writing up the referral for the defendant who was at the podium pleading guilty to DUI. He looked at Mews, and they rolled their eyes at each other and shared a quiet laugh. “Drama,” he whispered, shaking his head.
“No kidding,” Mews whispered back, winking, “did any of them bother to thank you?”
Stone didn’t even try to mute his laughter, earning a head tilt and raised eyebrow from Judge Gunn. “I’ll tell you about it later, Judge,” he promised.
“Hey,” Mews said, “did you ever figure out whose kid Truth is?”
Stone thought for a moment. “Hmm… Burley claims Truth and Patience are his, but I wouldn’t put any money on that bet. I think Truth bears a strong resemblance to Landon, actually.”
Mews’ eyebrows shot up. “Now that you mention it, I see that.” She smiled and winked. “Next generation job security, right?”
Stone finished the referral packet, clipped it onto a clipboard, and offered it along with a blue ink pen to the approaching new probationer. “My name is Brock Stone, and I’ll be your P.O. for the next 11 months and 29 days or so.” The well-dressed, sweating young man extended a shaking left hand and accepted the clipboard. “I’ll have several additional documents for you to read and sign before I take you into the hall, give you reporting instructions, and answer any questions you have. Start by filling out this contact info form, front and back, as completely and accurately as you can.”
Stone took a drink from his water bottle, popped a wintergreen Lifesaver into his mouth, opened his laptop, and began updating Burley’s case notes before starting a file for his newest offender. He looked at the clock: 10:45. He wondered whose car Trip was getting into right about then, family member, friend, stranger, or CPS agent. He shook his head and let the thought go.
* * * * *
So whadda ya think, folks? Hit me!
–via Ragtag Daily Prompt for Tue., 6/4/19, “Line”
–via Word of the Day Challenge for Tue., 6/4/19, “Rope“
13 thoughts on “Tales Out of Court #1”
I really liked it. I thought it flowed quite nicely.
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Thank you, sir!
I enjoyed the twisting plot of people involved. The drama and the ‘yeah, that’s what it is really like in the court’ feeling to the story were convincing. I would encourage you to keep the character names consistent. I got lost a couple of times (but recovered by re-reading the previous paragraph) when you switched from first to last names. Happy writing, Denny – you’re a great story teller!
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Thank you, Shelley, that’s valuable feedback. I worried that doing so might be confusing but hoped that readers would realize, even if they had to double back to get it, that the different personality types address other characters with varying degrees of respect. But maybe that’s too much to ask even of sophisticated readers like you.
Co-workers in criminal justice usually address each other by first name and always address civilians & defendants by last name preceded by Mr. or Mrs. Civilians & defendants, usually according to socio-economic status, address CJ workers as Mr. _ and Mrs. _ or by our first name.
Also, it cheers me to know I’m not alone in doubling back when I realize I’ve missed something or am confused. I get so tired of reading Goodreads reviews in which reviewers complain about giving up on a story because they didn’t get it. Sometimes a little extra work pays off, right?
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You’re welcome for the feedback. I was thinking the same thing about the addressing each other in court, but I’m less versed in the protocols like you are.
A little extra work helps us pay attention – I know I did reading your story, so that’s a good thing!
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Brilliant, was it perhaps inspired at all by your own personal observations at court during your job?
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Oh yes, very much so. That’s the whole point of most of my Copperhead County stories. They are fictionalized tales of the people who and events that inspire me in my job every day.
And thank you again, Em!
very detailed…copying St. King? 🙂
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He’s my longest-term favorite author. It’s probably inevitable that some of his style shows through in my writing.
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Yes it shows … 😂🤓😉
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Thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment while trying harder in the future to tone my Kingness down a bit.
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Well, why not …we have to learn from the best 🙂
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