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Best of the Best
I have always been the best of the best. I have always been the cleverest, the most elusive. I have always been great until now. Now, I am going to a hearing for theft. I wouldn’t be so worried if the crime were a misdemeanor. The judge would probably just give me a slap on the wrist, a warning, and make me pay for what was stolen. Case closed. But now as I’m being led through this depressing, grey cinderblock corridor, shackled and hand cuffed, I’m not so sure that I will even be capable of spending a month here.
I have lived here for three days, awaiting my trial date. I have seen what this place does to kids. It kills the joy in their eyes; they either look sad and hopeless, furious and aggressive, or simply…dead. People say places like this give delinquents the opportunity to think about what they have done. This isn’t time out, this is juvee: a place where childhood only exists in dreams.
We enter the courtroom. It looks just like the ones on TV. It has the judge’s stand, the witness’ stand, and two separate desks for prosecution and defense. The only two differences are the flag of Georgia, its dark blue background and gold Greek-like building, and there is no jury. My lawyer told me that for juvenile hearings. That is probably the only thing my dead-beat lawyer knows about law. He is a stupid old man who probably only passed the bar by guessing. If he were any good, he would be able to win a case for an innocent person like me.
I tried to explain to him that I was not at the crime scene, but he just couldn’t seem to fathom that.
“You were the one who stole the laptop. All of the evidence points to you,” he said in his I-know-everything-and-you-don’t manner.
“No I didn’t! I don’t even own a laptop. If I were goin’ to steal a laptop, why wouldn’t I keep it for myself?”
“Natasha,” the lawyer said in a-matter-of-fact way, “the judge would automatically assume that you disposed of the computer.”
“What about the evidence? You’ve been tellin’ me about some so-called evidence. What the heck is it? Are there any fingerprints? Pictures? Any video evidence? Huh, Mr. Lawyer?”
“All of it is detrimental to your cause. You are better off repenting. The judge will take pity on you—especially if you tear up on the stand—and commute your sentence.”
“That would be a great plan if I were guilty! The government pays you to help prove that I am innocent, which I am. Pleadin’ guilty is saying that I am not innocent. Get the picture?”
He sighed and said, “We will let the court work this out.”
I don’t know how this whole thing will work out, but all I do know is that I will have to sit next to that incompetent man for however long this thing lasts.
God, please let me be found innocent. Amen.
“Good morning, Natasha.” He was saying some other things, but I start tuning him out as soon as he wished me a good morning. He had combed his thinning gray hair, and he was wearing a well-fitting double breasted navy blue suit. It was probably from Big & Tall. He is dressed decently, but that doesn’t say much.
“. . .And all you have to do is say, ‘Your Honor, I know what I did was wrong. And as much as I would like to, I cannot change what I have done. I will accept whatever penalty you give me and serve it.’”
“What?” I was half listening to what he said, and hardly understood what he wanted me to do.
He sighs. “Natasha, please act according to our plan. Don’t mess this up for yourself.”
“Please rise for the honorable Judge Hawthorne,” interrupted the bailiff. He is a severe, skinny looking white guy with a bald head and a huge nose.
The judge enters the room in the traditional black robe. He is a pretty old, sickly looking black dude with white hair. Maybe he’s like 61. He looks like he should be retiring, or dying, soon. I’m afraid he’s gonna pass out during this thing. He sits down, and in a strong, booming voice, he says, “It says here that you stole a nine hundred dollars Mac laptop computer from CompUSA. What do you have to say for yourself, Miss Baxter?”
Mr. Willis, that stupid man, stands up and says, ”Your Honor, I am Frederick Willis, Miss Baxter’s lawyer, and I will be representing her.”
“Proceed, Mr. Willis.”
“Thank you, Your Honor. Miss Baxter admits that she is, in fact, guilty, and—“
“Your Honor, I object!” What was that man thinking? “I didn’t steal the laptop. This is—“
“Excuse me, but what is there to object to? “ The judge interrupts. “You have chosen Willis to represent you.”
“Not really, Your Honor, he is an appointed lawyer who was picked to represent me. But I don’t agree with what he’s sayin’. I’m not guilty.”
“Would you like to speak for yourself, then?”
“But, Your Honor, I have been chosen to represent her. She does not know the ways of the court, and besides, a minor cannot represent herself.”
“You are certainly right, Mr. Willis. She will act as a witness, giving her own testimony, and you will still be representing her.”
“Your Honor! The court would never—“
“This is my court,” interjects the judge. He then turns to me and says, “Now, Miss Baxter, explain to me how you are not guilty.”
“I’m not guilty because I haven’t ever stolen a laptop before.”
“What about the evidence? There is a video that shows you and another robbing CompUSA. “
“May I please see it now?”
The judge arches his right brow incredulously. “You mean you have not seen the video?”
“My lawyer wouldn’t let me see it.”
Again the judge whispers something to the bailiff, who brings out a DVD player to allow me to see the video.
Then the judge speaks. “How is this not you?”
I think for a moment. “That’s not me. I swear on my dead granny’s grave. The only reason why someone might think that’s me is because I know the guy with that girl.”
Shoot! Why did I say that? I’m so stupid! Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.
“How do you know this man?” Thanks, judge. Now I’m gonna end up incriminating myself, and I’ll go to jail. Unless. . . unless I lie. Or maybe I can just tell some of the truth, but not all of it. Yeah, that’s not lying, so it’s all good.
“Um, you see, I know him. We, uh, hang out sometimes. . . .”
“How, Miss Baxter?” the judge inquires.
“I don’t really want to like answer that.”
“You have sworn on the Bible to tell the whole truth. Remember?” Curse that stupid, retarded Bible! I completely forgot. How could I lie on the Bible? That’s sacrilege! If I lie on the Bible, I might get found innocent, but then I’ll go to Hell. But then again, jail is Hell. But one lasts for eternity, and the other doesn’t. But a year is an eternity, too. Three days here is unbearable. A year is unimaginable.
“We. . . .”
“How do you know him?” I say nothing. “Miss Baxter?”
Tell the truth or lie?
I look down and mumble a weak, “We just do.”
“We just do,” I murmur.
“Then how?” The judge is getting pretty annoyed, not that I really care about that. I only care that he got something really important out of me.
“Friend of a friend,” I say so low that the judge can barely hear.
“Friends? Good friends?”
I nod my head. Hopefully these are the last of the questions about him.
His name is Derek, and we met when my parents invited his family to dinner. We were not friends at all. I despised him with a passion that knew no bounds but he fascinated me. I committed my first crime with him, and we eventually became partners in crime. We were far from friendly, but I suppose you are friends of fortune, friends of opportunity, friends with similar interests…friends. We challenged each other to pull off heists even bigger than the last, with more cunning and stealth. But he held me back, and I had to let him go. And on my own, I got away with some crazy things:
Vandalism of a school building.
Grand theft auto.
Distribution and selling of illegal goods.
Skipped school twice.
But, I, in all honesty, did not steal that laptop. But I cannot prove that I didn’t.
“Were you the girl with him in this video?” the judge inquired.
No no no no.
“I promise you I wasn’t,” I pleaded.
“We need proof, you insolent girl!” exclaimed after his long period of silence.
“This is true. What proof do you have, Miss Baxter?” said the judge firmly though not unkindly. “But Mr. Willis, you would do well to conduct yourself in a court worthy manner.”
“I-I-I just didn’t do it. I didn’t.”
As I was saying this, tears were cascading down my face.
Those tears were my hope. As each pitiful drop swam down my nose and dripped down my chin, my hope fell away with them.
My case was transferred to adult court, and lasted one week. The jury found me guilty, and I was sentenced to three years. Because armed robbery is such a serious crime, none of my sentence was served in juvee. If only I knew that you couldn’t be charged for a crime that you weren’t on trial for. I would have been able to give them my true alibi.
Maybe I’ll get out a little early on good behavior. If not, I’ll still be able to get out before I turn 19. Either way, my stupidity will be on my record forever. I used to be so smart, all A’s— intelligent. I used to be able to get away with anything. I thought I would be found innocent for the laptop thing. I used to think that I was the best of the best. I was, but here I am.
Nothing ever lasts.