Ditch Rider

Ditch Rider by Judith Van Gieson

Book: Ditch Rider by Judith Van Gieson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Judith Van Gieson
to convince me. These boys could well have been to more funerals than they had birthday parties, which would give them an older person’s perspective that death is the place where you go to reconnect with friends and family who have already passed on. The gang members were a dark cloud on Juan’s side of the courtroom. In front of them sat the women: a mother, aunts, sisters, a grandmother. All the grown men in this family appeared to be absent or dead. An old woman looked up from the soggy handkerchief she clutched and her eyes met mine. She had the long, furrowed face of a hound. Her white hair was slipping out of its bun. Her legs were thick as tree trunks. Her mournful brown eyes said Juan had been more than a gang member—he’d been a hope for the future. There was no accusation or threat in her look—only loss—so I couldn’t justify myself by getting angry or defensive.
    Cheyanne didn’t look at the Padillas or the Four O’s or her own family either when she entered. She wore her blue D Home uniform with the numbers on the back. Her arms still showed the marks of the assault. Her movements were sluggish. She wore no makeup and she’d wiped off the last of the blue nail polish. Her hair had been brushed until the curls had fallen out. She’d peeled off her bandages and her stitches were visible, giving her the sewn-together look of a rag doll. I wasn’t sure looking like a waif would convince anyone she was guilty of murder, but I could have been underestimating the weariness and experience of Juvenile Court Judge John Joseph, who was known for his unpredictability. The way he reacted could depend on whether his breakfast had agreed with him or whether he’d experienced road rage on his way to work. Cheyanne didn’t cry as she stood before him, but she did have the slouch of a victim deep in depression and the clenched hands of a wrongdoer full of remorse.
    When she appeared, the gangbangers looked away in unison, like a bunch of raw recruits under the command of a drill sergeant. But I couldn’t tell who was giving the orders; no one stood out as bigger or meaner or older. One guy wore a black baseball cap turned backward and a jacket with white stitching across the front. Maybe it was him. He was better-looking than the other gangbangers, with small features, pale and striking eyes. Sometimes good looks are authority enough, but I didn’t know if that would cut it among these tough guys.
    The eyes that had avoided Cheyanne glared at me as I approached the bench to face Judge Joseph, but that’s my job, to absorb the anger and the heat. Saia stood beside me, and if he was feeling any heat he didn’t let it show. His hair was slick and smooth. His clothes were deeply rumpled.
    Judge Joseph glared at my client over the top of his dime-store reading glasses, and his fine white hair shimmied with static. He’d been on the bench for years and had seen a whole lot of kids in trouble. He’d seen girls who’d killed and girls who’d been assaulted. He’d seen pretty girls, ugly girls, innocent girls, guilty girls, but it was unlikely he’d seen many girls who lived in harmony with their parents and he’d undoubtedly seen some whose parents hadn’t even shown up. The judge read off the charges against my client and asked her if I had explained the charges and the consequences.
    Cheyanne nodded.
    â€œDon’t nod, young lady,” he barked. “Answer me.”
    â€œYes,” Cheyanne mumbled.
    â€œWhat?” The judge cupped his hand to his ear.
    â€œYes, Your Honor.”
    â€œYou are charged with a capital offense. Do you understand what that means?”
    â€œIt means I killed somebody.” Cheyanne paused as if trying to remember something. Maybe it was my admonition to show remorse. “I’m very sorry for my actions, Your Honor,” she continued.
    â€œWhy is that?” queried the

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