Audrey walked into the conference room while panting for breath. She was much later than she’d anticipated. She’d finally remembered the case her appointment was about on the drive over and had considered calling the other attorney until she recalled it was the mercurial Saul Boyle.
The man already got under her skin enough during their regularly scheduled interactions. There was no sense in giving him another opportunity. It was always tricky to work with Saul Boyle, and in this matter, in particular, she wasn’t looking forward to wrangling with him. People were often best served when represented by an attorney, but in this case, the client would have done better representing himself. Saul would just muddy the water to muddy the water, even if it accomplished nothing. He was a former prosecutor who had turned to defense work just a few years back. The man had a chip on his shoulder because he hadn’t left the DA’s office on good terms.
Her heart squirmed inside her chest as she looked across the conference room table and the people waiting for her. Saul Boyle didn’t stand when she entered, but the other two did, the boy—Billy Wilder—dragged to his feet by his mother. Saul scowled and looked at his watch.
“My apologies for running late,” Audrey said as she set a file folder on the table in front of her, pulled out the chair, and sat down. “It’s a busy day.”
Many years ago, Audrey had worked as a part-time juvenile defender. That’s why this case had landed on her desk when it technically should have gone elsewhere. She had the experience, and the Juvenile Division was currently behind due to staffing issues.
“Why’d you keep us waiting?” Saul demanded. He was a bulldog who didn’t care who he bit. Once he latched down, he didn’t let go easily.
“An urgent matter came up. I had to deal with it.”
“Sounds like an excuse.”
Audrey held Saul’s eyes. “I assure you it is not. It was quite an urgent matter, and unfortunately, I had to come late. My apologies. Again.”
“Why didn’t you call?”
“I didn’t. I’m sorry. Can we just move on?”
“I expect something for this.”
Audrey held Saul’s eyes. “You’re hardly in a bargaining position as it is.”
Once the words left her mouth, she immediately regretted them, not because of Saul, but because of the wide-eyed fifteen-year-old boy who was staring at her, watching these two adults bicker while his future hung in the balance.
“It’s okay you’re late,” Ms. Wilder said quickly. “We don’t mind waiting. We know you’re busy.”
Audrey gave her a tight smile and turned her attention to the pale youth as she straightened the papers in front of her.
“I understand you got caught trying to shoplift some beer, that accurate?”
“Before he says anything,” Saul said, “this is a negotiation conference. Nothing he says is admissible—”
“Save it,” Audrey said, “we’re not in court. There’s no judge. I understand how negotiation works.”
“Then,” Saul said, glancing over to his client, “you can answer the question.” He had a smug look as if he’d just proven his value.
“I went…” Billy trailed off. “I’m not sure what to say.”
Audrey smiled at him, the most genuine expression she’d given since walking into the room. She had some empathy for the mother and no empathy for Saul, but she could relate to the boy sitting scared in front of her.
“How about you tell me what happened beforehand?”
“Me and some friends decided we wanted to go get something from the convenience store.”
“I… I’m not sure I want to answer that.”
“Okay,” Audrey said as if it weren’t a problem, “tell me what happened.”
“We went into the store. I don’t know what I was thinking. I think I decided to—”
“Is this really necessary?” Saul said, breaking in. Audrey wasn’t surprised. “You don’t need to hear a confession from the kid. You’re not his priest. We all know what happened. I’m sure you saw the tape already.” His eyes narrowed. “You did, didn’t you?”
Audrey ignored the question. “I would like to hear it from the boy himself, if you don’t mind.” She had, in fact, watched the security camera footage, but she didn’t like Saul’s needling accusation. Answering it would result in more.
The mother was pale, and tears were forming in her eyes. She glanced at Audrey and then looked away.
“But I do mind!” Saul leaned forward, jamming a finger into the table. “You come late! You’re wasting our time rehashing—”
“If you want to talk turkey, I need to hear it from the boy’s mouth.” Audrey almost looked at the boy and told him he needed a better attorney but decided that would be inappropriate.
“We’re going—” Saul stood, but he was alone.
“I can tell her what happened,” Billy said in a small voice. “It’s okay.”
“You don’t have to!” Saul banged on the table as he sat back down. “You shouldn’t have to.”
Audrey refrained from rolling her eyes. The mother looked embarrassed.
“Please go on,” Audrey said after it was apparent Saul was done.
“I unzipped the backpack. I put the beer inside. I tried to walk out with it.”
“That’s when the shopkeeper confronted you?”
The boy nodded. He was pale now, with his arms folded in front of him.
“So, what happened next?”
“My friends were outside. They all ran.”
“And who are they?” Audrey asked, hoping the memory of their betrayal would loosen his tongue.
The boy said nothing.
“Fine. Just tell me why you did it?”
He shrugged. “Heard it tasted good.”
“You’ve tried it before?” The boy glanced at his mother. He started to shake his head, but then he stopped. “Yes, once.”
His mother gasped. “Where?”
“A friend’s house.”
“Which friend?” Ms. Wilder demanded.
“I’d rather not say.”
“Was it Kip’s place?”
He hesitated before finally nodding.
“Kip.” The mother muttered something, pulled out her phone, and acted like she would make a call but must have remembered where she was because she threw it back into her purse and turned her attention to Audrey.
“This is a serious matter,” Audrey said in an authoritative voice, wishing Saul wasn’t glaring at her. He was making it impossible to carry out this meeting in the way she’d planned.
“It’s hardly your place to lecture him,” Saul said. “You’re not the judge. Enough of this. If you have a deal, tell us, otherwise…” It looked like he was going to threaten that they’d walk again but had just remembered in time how well that had gone a moment ago.
Audrey gritted her teeth. As usual, Saul was making things worse for his clients while barely helping. It was not an unusual occurrence. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, glanced at Saul, and then tried to avoid making eye contact with him further as she turned her focus to the boy.
“As I was saying, this is a serious thing. Shoplifting is a crime. Underage drinking is also—”
“You can’t prove that—”
“Mr. Boyle, please let me get a word out. You—”
“Save your sanctimony for the courtroom,” Saul said, venom practically dripping from his tongue.
Audrey would have asked to speak with Saul in private if he were anybody else. She knew from past experience this would do no good with Saul.
“Let’s talk about consequences,” Audrey said.
“Consequences?” Billy shuddered. “Am I going to prison?”
“Stop scaring him,” Saul interjected. “That beer wasn’t even $10.”
Audrey gritted her teeth. She gave Saul what she hoped was a pleasant smile and focused on the young boy. Chuck was now twenty-one. It wasn’t hard to remember him at this age. “If you were an adult, I would propose something different—”
“But he’s not an adult, is he?”
“Since you are still a minor, I will propose something more lenient.”
“Which is?” Saul demanded.
“I want to hear the story from you one more time,” Audrey said in a quiet voice. “Just once more, please, if you don’t mind.”
Saul held up his hand. “There’s no benefit to hearing it a second time.”
Saul looked like he would argue the point further but then glanced at his watch. He must have realized he had another appointment he would be late for if he continued to drag this out.
There was a slight shift in Saul’s demeanor as he glanced over at Billy Wilder and gave a small nod. Audrey hid a smile. Perhaps it was to her benefit she’d arrived late. She’d have to remember it in the future when dealing with Saul Boyle.
“I just went into the store. I’m not sure what I was thinking. I just slipped the beer into the backpack and thought I could just walk out.”
“Was it your pack?”
Billy hesitated. “No.”
“Who else was with you?”
“I’m no tattletale.”
“What is this?” Saul demanded. “Are you trying to get him to testify against other boys in the neighborhood? Over $10.00? Is that what this is? You want him to turn state’s evidence?”
Audrey ignored Saul. “Underage drinking is a big problem. It could ruin your life before you even get started. I feel for the other boys who were in this with you.” She paused. “Those who left you holding their bag.”
“Come on, Spencer, is this necessary?” Saul shook his head. “There’s no need for my client to testify against 15-year-old boys. They’re just being kids.”
Audrey didn’t take her eyes off the boy.
“Answer me,” she gently prodded.
“He’ll do no such thing.”
“It’s not just for your own good. It’s for theirs, too.”
The boy swallowed. “I’m not gonna tell.”
“Was Kip one of the others?” Audrey asked, glancing at the boy’s mother, who seemed to be growing in anger. She, too, wanted an answer.
Billy hesitated before he finally gave a tiny nod. “Yes, he was there.”
“How many were there?”
“There were three others besides me.”
“What are the other names?”
“Jamie and Mark.”
The mother took careful note of each new name. Audrey hid another smile. She didn’t know if she would do anything about the other boys, but it looked like the mother certainly would.
“Who came up with the idea?”
“Kip. We went to his house because he promised us more beer, but he didn’t know they were out. He said it wasn’t a problem. We could just go get more.”
The mother took note of the word ‘more’ and did not look pleased. Whatever Audrey did would likely pale in comparison to the mother’s punishment.
“Who owned the backpack?”
Audrey nodded. She felt like she was getting the truth out of him.
That’s what she’d wanted. She leaned back in her chair. She’d come in convinced that if this boy were her own son, she could get him to talk. If it wouldn’t have been for Saul looking at his watch and deciding he needed to be somewhere else, she doubted she could have gotten these final details out of the boy with the lawyer sitting beside him.
“Listen, Billy,” Audrey said, not looking at Saul. “It’s clear you were all in this together. Is that correct?”
“Where is this going?” Saul demanded.
She ignored the man. “It’s lucky for you you’re here today.” She leaned back in her chair.
“What is this?” Saul leaned forward. “We’re talking about a juvenile crime here. This is hardly—”
“How am I lucky?”
Audrey gave the boy a thin smile. “Because you’re going to learn a lesson the others won’t.”
“Community service. I have a list of several things you can choose from. You have to go every other Saturday for two months, just two hours each time. You’ll also need to pay a fine, but I’ll keep it small.”
Saul nodded as if he’d negotiated this. “Now we’re finally getting somewhere.”
“I wasn’t done. As part of the deal, you’re also going to meet with me once a month for the next six months.”
“This is highly unusual,” Saul said, frowning.
“I just want a report from the boy about how he is doing.”
“If I may—”
Audrey cut Saul off. “This is nonnegotiable.”
If I may? Look who’s suddenly polite now I’m handing him something he couldn’t negotiate if he tried.
Saul glanced at Billy. “It’s not a bad deal.”
Audrey’s phone rang. She took it out and was surprised to see Gregory Pope was calling. Her first instinct was to let it go to voice mail because she was in a meeting, but she couldn’t do that, not with everything Pope had going on.
She held up a finger. “I need to take this. I’ll be right back.”
She snapped the folder shut, slipping it under her arm as she walked out the door. She answered only after the door was closed behind her.
“Spencer, you there?” Pope asked.
“Yes.” She paused. “Any developments?”
“Several. They found the guy, and I’ve made a decision. You’re going to prosecute him.”
Audrey swallowed. She didn’t know what to say. She was flattered her boss had thought of her, but this could blow up in her face. Gregory Pope was a difficult man under the best of circumstances.
He didn’t ask, he told. That was another problem. Audrey hoped it wouldn’t set the tone for the case.
Pope grunted. “You there?”
“Are you sure I’m the right choice?” Audrey asked. “Don’t get me wrong, I want to make sure we get the guy, but wouldn’t it be better if an independent prosecutor were appointed?”
“I’ve already thought it through. You’re the one I want to do it. You’ll have free rein, and I won’t say anything to you.”
I don’t believe that for a second, Audrey thought, but how can I say no?
Pope had also dodged her question about an independent prosecutor. That wasn’t an accident.
She waited, weighing everything she knew.
“I’ll do it.”
“Excellent. The guy is here now. Come on down. I want you to watch while they interrogate him.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Audrey hesitated. She didn’t know what to make of this, but she needed to hurry.
She opened the door. “You guys have until tomorrow to think about this.”
“We’ve decided,” Ms. Wilder said, nodding at Billy.
“I’ll take it.”
“Perfect. The most important part is you’re here in my office on the first Thursday of every month at 3:00 PM. I’ll call to reschedule if I can’t make it.”
She shut the door just as Saul was commenting on how unusual of an arrangement it was, but she didn’t care. She would do everything she could to keep the boy from getting into trouble with the law again.