Juror 8197

Juror 8197

A Story by Chopstix
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What would you do to get out of jury duty? Make a deal with a judge? Caveat emptor, Baby!

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Law in Motion.

Law in motion, flashed through Judge Roberts mind as a cyclist entered the elevator.  She noted his odd attire: Bright orange LA Galaxy soccer jersey, black cotton shorts and loud cleated cycling shoes clicking on marble flooring.  A luggage strap suspended a large bag with hooks and clips on one side.  She noted his Juror ID from a badge clipped to the strap.  Badge ID 084188197.  He turned to his side.  Judge Roberts noticed a bright orange headband peeking through damp, dark hair.  She smiled.  He spoke into his cell phone:

“Clara, good.  Please tell Jim and Marissa that I have jury duty again … No I’m not on a jury, we haven’t even started voir dire yet … I don’t know.  With any luck, I’ll be kicked from the jury panel and return to work after lunch …  I don’t know, I’ll be off at the end of the day or at the end of September. We’ll just see how it goes … Thanx.” 

Judge Roberts envied "Law In Motion" judges and commissioners.  Their cases entertained new legal theories and techniques.  Why should they have all the fun? She thought.  Complications in the Miller case required innovative thinking lest it end in a jury trial.

The cyclist exited the elevator, endured security and headed for a restroom.  Judge Roberts followed him.  After he went into the restroom, she surveyed the corridor.  Eleven departments; three reported to her.  She rested on a bench opposite the restroom’s door and gathered her thoughts.  

Late yesterday, Scott Norris filed papers replacing James Cooper as defense attorney.  As a prosecutor, Judge Roberts faced Norris three times.  She lost twice.  The third time, Norris backed out, and Yannick Gregorian stepped in.  Juror’s awe over Gregorian's celebrity swept away Judge Roberts’ case.  Norris’ own star power has ascended.  Joan will be furious.  

Fifteen minutes later, the juror emerged wearing olive drab cotton cargo pants, a tan dress shirt and light brown leather shoes.  His enormous bag hanging off his shoulder remained the last cyclist trait.  He headed past security towards the elevators.  After he boarded, she pressed the elevator’s call button.  Once inside she pressed the elevator’s “11” request button.

“Janice,” she beckoned.  “Contact Juror Services and find out where juror 084188197 is assigned.”  

“You know they don’t give out juror information,” Janice said.  “So what’s up?”

“This is a ‘Do what I say’ thing,” she said.  “Tell them something fell out of his monstrous bag.  I recovered it.  It looks confidential, so I won’t trust it with anyone else.  Hell, tell them anything.  Mostly tell them it’s me asking.  That should be enough.  OK?”

“I’ll try,” Janice said.  She went to desk just outside Judge Roberts office, picked up the phone, started to dial, replaced the handset, rested her head on the desk and wept.  “Not again,” she muttered, “I might as well just go myself.”  She wiped away her tears and headed down the corridor to the Juror assembly room.

All the Pretty Prosecutors.

Juror 8197 strode into the first floor cafeteria and scanned the room.  His body wanted calories.  His mind specified a diet of lean protein, potassium laden fruit and complex carbohydrates.  His fancy, however, lingered on the two Hispanic women in dark pant suits and pastel silk blouses subtly clinging to their breasts; accentuating their breasts.  

And calcium, he mentally added.  He read an article in the LA Times health section recounting cyclists proclivity for bone injuries.  To combat this risk, cyclists should engage in high impact activities and consume calcium.  He nabbed a tray and walked to the “Grab and Go” section.  He found a package of warm hard boiled eggs and  chose a fruit cup with sufficient amounts of kiwi.  He rounded out his breakfast with a small box of whole grain granola and a small carton of non fat milk.

He scanned the cafeteria again.  Three more dark suited, shiny bloused women stood around the coffee pots.  None of them purchased any food.  

Patterns intrigue him: Fibonacci numbers, stream eddies, traffic patterns and all observable anomalies.  He checked out, found a table, placed his tray on it and placed his pannier on a nearby chair.  And he thought:

These women are generally thin and attractive ranging in age from their mid twenty’s to their late forties.  Mostly in the twenty-nine to forty range.  The dark suit part of the uniform consists of a dark pants or a long skirt.  They show top contours of their a*s’s well but drop off before revealing much.  The jacket frames the blouse and the blouse draws attention to the women’s breasts.  As the triangle opens further, it draws eyes to the women’s face.


He peeled the first hardboiled egg, set it aside, peeled the second and reached for the pepper shaker.

A piece on NPR radio stated both men and women focus attention on attractive women.  The piece reported that women liked seeing attractive women in advertising but dislike images of unattractive women.  Men did not care for images of attractive men.  The piece went off on other tangential findings, but a crucial fact remains: An attractive woman is likely to command attention from both sexes in the courtroom.  Men don’t.


Eggs finished, he poured the milk into the bowl of granola.  He saw another woman dressed like the others at the cash register.

Legal consultants know all about courtroom psychology.  Both the District Attorney and the defense lawyers hire legal consultants.  No clients accompany these attorneys.  All of these pretty dark clad women are probably prosecutors, a rare case where the public sector adapted quicker than the private.  But why would the DA be ahead of the curve on this?


He popped off the fruit cup lid and pawed for a fork.

Perhaps the problem isn’t related to litigation skills.  Private law firms are like wolf packs.  It’s a constant hunt for billable hours.  Wolves fight to advance towards Alpha wolf status, challenge for partnership then named partnership.  The general public, business men, tend to trust professional men more than professional women.  Let’s call it the Marcus Welby/Perry Mason effect.  Male litigators recruit and bond with clients.  It’s unlikely they’d turn over billable hours to female litigators. In most cases, female litigators in private law firms, unable to get quality court time, bump their heads against glass ceilings.


After stuffing packaging into his empty plastic fruit cup, he pulled a book from his pannier and continued speculating.

Glass ceilings persist for female prosecutors as well.  The DA’s office is a pride of lions.  Fat lion administrators take credit for high conviction rates lionesses provide.  Courtrooms are their Serengeti, their hunting grounds, where stray wolves get slaughtered.  The forest, skyscrapers where deals are made, remains wolves’ domain.


Satisfied with his conclusion, he looked around.  A trio approached, noticed his juror ID badge and selected a table fifteen feet away.  The woman, blond, five foot four perhaps five, wore the standard black pantsuit with a pink blouse.  The older gentleman wore a brown and beige tweed suit, white shirt and a green tie with gold diagonal stripes.  The other man wore blue jeans, black soft-sole shoes and a blue short sleeve shirt with a white lattice pattern.  Rats, a counter example.

While attempting to read his book, he observed this trio.  More than one thing seemed wrong.  Unlike other lionesses this one associated with non-lionesses.  She wore her air messed up, a little, on the right side.  He couldn’t decide if this was an omission or a tactic.  All other lionesses appeared well coiffed.  The older gentleman looked like a lawyer.  He couldn’t place the type.  The man in the blue jeans made the least sense.  He couldn’t be a defendant.  No criminal lawyer would allow his client to appear in court that way.  Perhaps he was a witness.  Nope.  A prosecutor wouldn’t allow a witness to dress so casually.

Juror 8197 attempted to read.  He couldn’t let it go.  He observed the trio concentrating on the younger man.  Dark skinned perhaps Hispanic, trim, hair cut short, good posture and demeanor. More military than gangsta, he thought.  A colleague once told him police detectives wear Hawaiian shirts because they are loose and conceal holsters.  The blue shirt might be an adaptation.  It’s more subtle than a loud Hawaiian shirt.  It fits, he thought, he’s a detective and he’s in some sort of trouble.  He finished his conclusion speculating that the wannabe lioness was really a city attorney looking to lessen the city's liability.  The older gentleman hailed from the Police Protective League fulfilling his role by making sure the officer doesn't get into more trouble.

Now That’s Good News.

Janice Dewitt left the jury waiting room with a yellow sticky note.  She rushed to Judge Roberts’ chambers, knocked on the door and entered without permission.  Judge Roberts was on the phone.  With a wave of her hand, Judge Roberts drew her to the front of the desk.

“Yes,” said Judge Roberts spoke into the phone.  “Thanks Joan, I’m already on top of it …. we’ll just have to see … goodbye.”

“Juror 084188197 is impaneled to Department 105 on the ninth floor,” Janice said.

After a pause, they chorused, “Judge Powers.”

Janice waited for Judge Roberts to shock her with another unreasonable request.  Janice worked as a court reporter for five years before landing a job as a Judge Gary Simmons administrative assistant.  Three years later Supervising Judge William Powell asked her to be his administrative assistant. One of her early tasks was to acquaint Judge Roberts, a Deputy DA recently appointed to the bench, to the courts behind the bench workings.  “Keep your eyes on that one,” Judge Powell warned, “she’s a mover.”  When Judge Powell retired, Judge Roberts took his bench.  Ever since, she pushed and prodded boundaries to expand her influence. Judge Roberts often pressed Janice into emissary service. 

“That’s good news,” Judge Roberts smiled.  “Call me a panel of thirty, no, forty five jurors and have them meet me here.”

“Your chambers?” Janice challenged.

“That’s what I said,” Judge Roberts mocked.

“For what case?” Janice asked.

“Just make one up,” Judge Roberts started to chide before she paused for a thought.  “The Miller case.”  Before Janice could protest, Judge Roberts added, “And schedule a plea meeting for this morning.  Let’s see if we can’t get the Miller case settled today.”

“I’ll contact Gibson and Cooper,” Janice confirmed.

“Cooper’s out,” Judge Roberts said, “Norris is in.”

“Scott Norris?” Janice gaped astonished.  “A star attorney?”

“You’re surprised?”  Judge Roberts returned.  “Get along now.  You have a lot to do.”

Janice returned to her desk, placed her forehead on her mouse pad and cried for moment.  Judge Roberts was going to push her through flames again.  Today,  the fire will be bigger and hotter than before.  She wondered how much longer can she endure, how can she make it through the day, how can she make it through the day with a shadow of her dignity intact?

Janice gathered herself and, in quick succession, she called jury services, found an empty meeting room for the day, scheduled it, looked up Scott Norris’s contact information in the petitioner registry and called his secretary.

“That’s really short notice,” said the secretary.

“He’s must be on his way to the courthouse,” Janice countered.

“For motions at 10:00 am,” the secretary said.

“Then tell him to step on it,” Janice said.

“He’ll be late,” the secretary countered.

“How late?”  Janice pressed.

“Twenty minutes,” the secretary warned.

Janice contained a chuckle.  It’s always twenty minutes with star attorneys.  Just enough time to be spotted by the media and drop a couple of sound bites.  “Twenty minutes,” Janice confirmed.

Janice took the side door to Department 118 and stopped to tell the court clerk the new panel Judge Roberts ordered is to follow her after roll call.  “They should be here in about five minutes.”  It actually took ten minutes.

Janice guided the panel’s forty-five prospective jurors to Judge Roberts’ chambers and waited outside.

Braveheart.

Melissa Gibson looked at the number on the cell phone and knew today would be big.  The text message from Judge Roberts’ office read:

         Plea meeting.  Room: 11-244.  Time: 9:00 am.  
         Case: 2009-1607304 Ppl vs Penelope Miller.
         Sender: Dept 118.  Date: 08/24/2009-08:15:35am.

She pressed the right option button (close), turned to Terry Turner and said, “It’s Judge Roberts.  I gotta get my stuff together for that other case.”

Terry Turner showed her the ropes at the City Attorney’s office three years ago.  After UCLA law school, she got a job at a mid sized downtown law firm.  They helped her pass the bar, but the eighty to one hundred hour weeks took a toll.  It’d be different if she saw the inside of a court room every once in a while.  Most of her work involved contracts, probate and research for litigators.  

Melissa often met Joan Rivers, a classmate, for lunch. Joan implored her to apply at the DA’s office offering a referral.  While she was at it, Melissa applied to the City Attorney’s office.  The City Attorney’s office interviewed her the next week and made an offer two weeks later.  She called Joan.  Joan explained mentioned some sort of problem in the County HR office resulting in months before they processed her application.  Melissa couldn’t wait.  

Hours at the City Attorney’s office were just as long as hours at her previous job.  After two months, she litigated liability cases.  Los Angeles was a large city with lots of potential liabilities including: pot holes damaging axles; policemen using excessive force; inspectors delaying development projects; any employee being accused of sexual harassment; eminent domain and the persistent variants of city hall corruption cases. The goal, cynically put, “save tax payer money so elected and appointed officials can award inflated contracts to their fat-cat friends.”  Settling valid claims quickly and cheaply saves taxpayers outside counsel costs.  Pouncing on gadflies who never retain competent attorneys also reduced liability costs.  Interesting cases, Melissa lamented, went to big, expensive downtown law firms, who, more often than not, coughed up large sums in settlements, awards and fees.

Occasionally, the DA’s office let City Attorney’s try criminal prosecutions.  These tended to be lesser charges and open and shut cases.  Melissa landed a juicy one.  James Cooper, an up and coming lawyer at The Law Offices of Yannick Gregorian, took Penny Miller’s defense pro bono.  

Even by LA standards, Yannick Gregorian’s rise to fame is legendary.  He amassed an impressive acquittal rate at Wilson, Dukmejian and Brown representing several celebrities, both entertainment and businessmen.  After acquittals, he minimized any subsequent civil case damages.  He left WDB amicably with a third of the firm and his client list.  Scott Norris became Gregorian’s best recruit.  This was no surprise.  Six foot three and athletically built Yannick Gregorian was an accomplished beach volleyball player.  He teamed up with six foot five Scott Norris a year before.  Their individual AVP rankings never dipped below 200.  They dominate Santa Monica’s courts on weekends.  Such are good partnerships forged.

Court dominance continued downtown.  Norris guided cases through discovery and pre-trial motions.  At the last minute, Gregorian comes in and steals the show.  The DA’s call it “set and spike.”  Scott Norris built a reputation on his own.  He, single-handedly, won a series of improbable cases.  He maintained his own roster of entertainment clients.  The Metropolitan News-Enterprise speculated Norris will start his own firm.  Two years ago, Gregorian and Norris recruited James Cooper.  Cooper starts the cases with interrogatories and discovery, Norris takes over excluding evidence in pre-trial motions and, if needed, Gregorian finishes with a flurry of media and posturing.  Joan called the act “bump, set and spike.”

Melissa contemplated her upcoming plea meeting as she walked to her car to retrieve a file.  She did not expect a plea.  She figured Cooper would stonewall her and gather information.  This case was open and shut but going to trial.  She doubted she would have to face the full “bump, set and spike” team on a case this small.

On the walk back to the court house, she reviewed all of Coopers know stratagems.  He had a two year head start in criminal litigation.  She would have to stay aggressive to keep him on the defensive, but she would have to check her position, avoid over extension and be aware of his traps.  She knew in her heart she was brave enough to face him.

As she approached 11-244, she saw Janice Dewitt leaning against door.  

“Good morning Janice,” she saluted.

“Scott Norris called,” Janice said, “He said he’ll be about twenty minutes late.  You can go in now or I’ll call when he’s ready.”

Melissa checked her heart again.  “I’m ready,” she said.

Sam Be Powerful.

Grey in Judge Samuel B. Powers’ beard betrayed his age more than any of his other attributes.  His tall, six foot six, physique changed little since college.  He ran four miles a day during the week and played pick-up basketball on weekends.  His team of law school alums, though aged, held court against all other old-man teams.  Against youngsters, they usually lost.  Every time one of the youngsters appeared in his court, he was surprised that they never recognized him.  He let it go figuring that, on their court, he was just another old man and, in his court, he was just another tool of “the man.”

Many DAs speculated proximity to criminal youth on the basketball courts led to his soft and uncertain manner on the bench.  When Judge Roberts confronted him with these rumors, Judge Powers insisted that it was just “his way;” a cultural thing.  “Not all people are brunette, white, female former DA’s and you shouldn’t expect everyone to run their court the same way you ran yours.  Hell,” he removed his left foot from his right knee, stomped it to the floor, leaned forward and said, “And I’ve been running my court longer than you’ve been running yours.”  He stood and looked just long enough to confirm his actions caused Judge Roberts pause.  In that pause, he turned to the door and headed out.  “Sam be powerful,” he said in the corridor.

“Sam be powerful” was the phrase he used in high school after ripping down a rebound.  Around the same time, he grew his beard and cut his hair in the fashion of his hero, World B. Free of the Philadelphia 76ers. Unlike his hero, however, Sam Powers specialized in defense.  He read his opponent's moves, got inside their minds or, as his coach's demanded, got inside their shirts.  Ten sometimes twenty times a game, Sam Powers positioned himself to take a charge, positioned himself to block a shot or blocked out and grabbed a rebound.  “Sam be Powerful” and another tally mark on the stat sheet.

A few DA’s on his basketball team dismissed any claim of the judge’s affection for ganging banging basketball players.  Judge Powers displayed far too much competitiveness for that.  “A good judge,” they stated, “has to be on top of case.  Powers’ inclination is defensive but who does he cover?  The prosecution?  The defense?  It’s a two on one fast break and Powers doesn’t want to commit too soon and leave the other player open but at some point he has to commit.”

Judge Powers chuckled at that theory.  He knew the truth.  Ever since Paul Cicero conveyed the governor’s intent to appoint him to the bench, he found himself in another fight.  A year before, he left the Public Defenders Office and opened a private practice.  It floundered.  Cicero told him that he would have work as a prosecutor before becoming Judge.  “You have to put someone away if you want to stay.”  

Every few years, every Superior Court judge comes up for re-election.  Any perceived weakness will draw an ambitious DA anxious to circumvent judicial politics.  A record of successfully defending petty criminals (major criminals retain private counsel) looks bad in the press and leaflets.  Judge Powers’ statistically successful, but nonetheless woeful, record looked worse.  Cicero helped him to a federal prosecutors post.  After eight consecutive convictions, his judgeship came through.  Though he never discussed these cases with anyone, not even Paul Cicero, at least one of these convictions disturbed Judge Powers.  It’s an adversarial system, he rationalized but, in the back of his mind, Put someone away if you want to stay resounded.  His true fight, the reason for his cautious and seemingly uncertain behavior on the bench, was for his soul.  He needed to defend it from ambitious prosecutors, influence wielding defense attorneys and political pressures inherent in our judicial system.  His defense mechanisms, he believed, made him a better Judge.

Judge Powers fought to retain balance during admonishments to a panel of prospective jurors when Janice Dewitt entered the court and delivered a note to his court clerk.  The clerk waived over the bailiff.  The bailiff approached the bench and interrupted him.  The note read:

I’ve got five vetted high quality jurors in the corridor in exchange for juror 084188197. 

Roberts.


“Juror 8197,” Judge Powers announced.

“Here!” Juror 8197 said reflexively after many roll calls.

“Follow the bailiff to my chambers,” Judge Powers ordered.  Juror 8197 stood up and wrestled with a large black bag.  Deputy John Steele strode towards him.

“We are in recess,” Judge Powers gaveled, “Mary take the other jurors to the corridor.  I’ll be about fifteen minutes.”

Deputy DA Sandra Black started her objection but Judge Powers covered with “It’s nothing to do with the case.  I’ll be back in about fifteen minutes.  We’re in recess.”

Deputy Steele led juror 8197 out of the courtroom, through a secured door off the main corridor, around a labyrinth of halls and passage ways ending at Judge Powers’ chambers.  Deputy Steele knocked twice.

“Let him in,” Judge Powers said.

Juror 8197 walked into the largish office shared by Judge Powers and Judge Fairbanks.  Bright lights failed to brighten old dark oak paneling, bookcases and furniture.  Sunlight peeking through dingy vertical plastic blinds helped a little.  Judge Powers’ desk was on the right.  Juror 8197 sat in the left most chair facing Judge Powers’ desk.

“I didn’t say you can be seated,” Judge Powers said.

Juror 8197 shrugged off his heavy bag as a justification.

“How do you know Julia Roberts,” Judge Powers asked.

“Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, uh…” juror 8197 responded.

Smart A*s, Judge Powers thought.  He put his fingers together forming the steeple of the childhood game but put his index fingers to his bottom lip.  “No, Judge Julia Roberts.”

“I don’t know her.” Juror 8197 shook his head.  

“Then,” Judge Powers inquired, “how does she know you?”

Juror 8197 tilted his head to the left dismissively.  Judge Powers unclasped his hands prompting with upturned palms.

“You’ll have to ask her,” Juror 8197 said.

This time, Judge Powers clasped his hands pressing his thumbs to his top lip.  He swung his chair to the left facing the blinded window.  Judge Roberts was up to something.  This wasn't good, he thought.  This deal would put him plus four on prospective jurors on a day he’d have to use all of his knowledge and wit to retain jurors.  He would have to thank Judge Roberts: an unpleasant prospect.  He’d be rid of this snake in the grass smart a*s juror.  

“Stand,” Judge Powers said softly, almost absent mindedly.

Juror 8197 stood grabbing the bag’s luggage strap and lifted it over his head.

“You’re … “ Judge Powell began.

“Excused!” Juror 8197 interrupted hopefully.

Definite smart a*s, Judge Powers confirmed.  “Assigned to Department 118 on the eleventh floor.  Find Ms. Dewitt and follow her instructions.”

Juror 8197 stood still.

“Yes?” Judge Powers prompted.

“So far, you keep saying that jurors are valuable,”Juror 8197 said.

“Yes?” Judge Powers re-prompted.

“Then why do you treat us like such s**t?” Juror 8197 asked.

This sudden and unwarranted affront  to Judge Powers aback.  He didn’t know what this juror’s beef was but he was sure he’ll have none of it.  “Because,” he said, “questions like that can land you in contempt of court.”

“Good answer,” complimented juror 8197.  He pivoted on his heel and exited.  Janice Dewitt greeted him and led him away.

“That was a good answer,” Judge Powers congratulated himself.  He kept that line ready for nine years.  Delivering it was not as gratifying as he hoped, but it deserved to be tallied.  “Sam be Powerful.”  He slapped the desk, raced out the door and set in motion the complex machinery necessary to restart proceedings.

Jury Duty 2.0.

Judge Roberts received Janice Dewitt’s text message, ruled on the present motion, put her court in recess, sat down at her desk and texted Janice to deliver Juror 8197 to her chambers.  She reflected on her plans for a few moments before juror 8197 walked through her door, approached her desk, cocked his head to right and chuckled.

“Ok,” she said, “out with it.”

“You don’t look anything like Erin Brockovich,” he smirked.

“I hoped for something original,” she replied.  

“My apologies your honor.”

“You may be seated.”

Judge Roberts watched juror 8197 slough off that large bag of his and take the chair to her right.  He surveyed the room, leaned forward and asked, “How often do prospective jurors get invited into judges’ offices?”

“Chambers,” Judge Roberts corrected. “Never.”

“Then why have I been inside twice?” Juror 8197 pressed.

“Call it,” Judge Roberts smiled, “jury duty redefined.”

Juror 8197 leaned back, reached up and loosened his top button.  Great, Judge Roberts thought, a complete a*****e.  It’s a shame I won't get to watch him and Norris go at each other.  This day just gets better and better.  Judge Roberts turned her whimsical smile into a cold, commanding stare.  Juror 8197 cocked his head to the right, straightened it, re-buttoned his shirt, leaned forward to meet her stare with his own, brought his hands together into a loose clasp resting his left thumb on his chin, paused and let his hands fall to his knees.

“Ok,” Juror 8197 said, “can you be more specific?”

Judge Roberts uncrossed her legs and placed her feet flat on the floor.  This was the first step towards aggression.  The sequence: 
Step 2.  Lean forward.
Step 3.  Place palms on the desk.
Step 4.  Stand with palms turned slightly inward and elbows bent just a little.

The remainder of the steps were never executed but she imagined jumping on the desk, bringing her legs near the far side, leaping, biting the hamstring and then ripping out his neck with her teeth.  Judge Roberts let this predatory flash wash over her and subside,  Deal with this a*****e coolly, she reasoned.  She relaxed but still leaned forward.

“I’ve got a case,” she began.  “Open and shut.  This girl ran over a cyclist.  The case has been assigned to our City Attorneys office.  Somehow, this girl got a good attorney to represent her pro bono.  That was no problem.  This morning Scott Norris called …”

“Andersen and Blade,” Juror 8197 interjected.

“You follow the law?” Judge Roberts inquired.

“I watch the news,” Juror 8197 replied.

“I think Norris is going to eat the City Attorney alive and spit her out,” Judge Roberts said.  “I don’t want that to happen in my court.  I’ve arranged for a plea meeting this morning.  It’s probably started. “

“And I’m here? Why?” Juror 8197 asked.

“They’re not going to settle without help.  You’re the help.” Judge Roberts said.  “You go in there, work out the plea, deliver it in open court and you’ll be thanked and excused with the gratitude of the court.  Your jury duty will be over today.”

Juror 8197 smiled for just a moment.  He clasped his hands loosely and rested them on his chin.  

“What if I refuse?” he said.

“And risk contempt?”  Judge Roberts countered.

“Always contempt with you guys,” Juror 8197 complained.  

Judge Roberts smiled.  Juror 8197 closed his eyes, looked around and said, “The City Attorney is trying to make a name for herself.”

“That’s a good guess,” Judge Roberts said.

“Hmm …” Juror 8197 pondered.  “And she’s the only one who thinks he won’t win.”

“Perhaps the defendant has her doubts,” Judge Roberts said.  

This juror impressed her.  He was drawing up battle plans.  She remembered overhearing a pack of bicycle messengers talk about the way they can slice, stop and manipulate traffic.  Beneath the bravado, these messengers were confident, competent and capable of making a series of stone cold calculations from their bike saddles.  They move left when they see a car in a drive way, run a stop sign or red light if there is a gap in traffic to the right, no gap, turn right and shoot the street when clear.  Bold tactics to survive in a hostile environment.  This cyclist seems to be made of the same metal.

“Since neither side has any incentive to accept a plea,” Juror 8197 reasoned, “when do I get to call it quits?”

Backpedaling, Judge Roberts thought.  “When someone powerful enough forces me to stop this.”

“You said I’d be done today, let’s say noon,” Juror 8197 bargained.

“4:30,” Judge Roberts countered, “but you can have an hour for lunch.”

“3:30,” Juror 8197 said.  “It’ll give me time to change and get home.”

“4:00,” Judge Roberts offered.

“Done,” Juror 8197 agreed.

“Good,” Judge Roberts said.  “Here are your instructions.”

“Instructions?” Juror 8197 expressed surprise.

“Judges always give jurors instructions,” Judge Roberts said.  “And here are yours: First Penelope Miller is guilty …”

“What happened to the presumption of innocence?”  Juror 8197 asked.

“That’s for trials,” Judge Roberts said.  “This is a plea agreement.”

“So, it’s a presumption of guilt,” Juror 8197 said.

“No presumption,” Judge Roberts insisted.  “She is guilty.  Now repeat it.”

“Penelope Miller is guilty,” Juror 8197 intoned.

“Once more,” Judge Roberts commanded, “with conviction.”

“So to speak,” Juror 8197 jested.  

Judge Roberts smiled while thinking, What an a*****e before her countenance hardened into a hot stare.  With a firm voice, Juror 8197 affirmed Miller’s guilt.

“Good,” said Judge Roberts, “now listen so you don’t have to repeat all of my instructions.  It doesn’t matter that the facts do not fit the crime.  It only matters that the sentence fits the deal.  When everyone agrees on the sentence, it’s easy to find a crime to fit.  CA Gibson will be your resource for this.  Ignore all advice from Norris.  Got it.”

Juror 8197 repeated these instructions without embellishment.  Judge Roberts described legal tactics and tricks focusing on Scott Norris’ stratagems.  She checked the clock.  A few minutes left to change her mind.  

She knew the difference between the criminals she’s seen in court and those she hadn’t.  The ones she never met were smart enough to create foolproof plans.  It’s neither a matter of luck nor a matter of execution.  A perfect crime only fails to achieve its criminal intent but never leads to an arrest.  Leave nothing behind or, if you must leave something, leave red herrings.  One hacker managed to stamp all of the audit trails with the CEO’s user-code during times the CEO was logged on.  This went unreported for over a decade until Info World’s Bob Cringley insinuated that Unisys was hit.  The next week thirty Fortune 100 companies reported the “CEO hack.”  Attacks, or at least reports of attacks, halted.  The “CEO hacker” was never caught, but, apparently, reluctance of the victims to report the crime was part of his foolproof plan.

Judge Roberts reevaluated the risks.  Juror 8197 won’t complain.  She rescued him from a three day voir dire process and a potential three week trial.  The other five jurors:  They’d serve on one panel or another.  Joan will handle the CA one way or the other.  It was her bad luck to face Gregorian’s bump, set and spike game.  Perhaps a plea will further her ambitions.  This left Scott Norris.  She intended  to throw him off his game.  If the plan succeeds, he’ll be satisfied, by definition, with the outcome.  If it fails, he’ll win another improbable case.  Still, he might recognize her intent and lodge a compliant with Jury Services.  Judge Roberts played too many games with them already.  Janice was reluctant to fetch her special panels pleading that the court clerk should be the only one to contact Jury Services.  She might lose Janice.  No Big Loss, she thought.

“Follow me,” Judge Roberts said.

Juror 8197 stooped to grab his bags strap.

“You can leave that thing behind,” she said.

“For one hour,” he said.

“Ok,” she said, “just take it.”

Toolin’ the Block.

It’s almost 10:15, I’ll give it till 10:20 and end this, Scott Norris thought.  CA Gibson brought potent emotional evidence in her manila file folder.  She arranged graphic photos.  He signaled Penny to look away.  However powerful the photos, they can’t win a case.  He dismissed them.  CA Gibson gathered them up.  The exercise filled ten minutes. Politeness to the judge and nothing more kept him in the small meeting room.  He and CA Gibson bantered over a couple of deal proposals.  She pitched the low end of vehicular manslaughter, a non starter.  He pitched a suspended sentence on the lower charges with dismissal of any manslaughter charges.  The last twenty minutes were a staring contest.  He advised Penny to look down, fall asleep if it helps.  He will stare the kitten down.

Scott Norris enjoyed staring down female adversaries.  Gibson prettiness matched any of the latest generation of DAs.  A blond sylph with blue eyes.  Her hair messed-up a little on the right side and she’s about five foot six.  A pretty face nicely aged, he thought .  Norris preferred the latest generation of female DAs.  They were recruited straight out of law school, given a wardrobe allowance as a signing bonus, sent to six months orientation while they passed the bar and, then, given massive cases loads and a ninety percent conviction rate performance yard stick.  Plea deals count as convictions.

Three quick knocks and the door opened.  Judge Roberts, enrobed, entered with a medium height, forty-ish, a little heavy, encumbered by a heavy bag man behind her.  He dumped his bag behind CA Gibson and fell in behind Judge Roberts.

“You may remain seated,” Judge Roberts said turning to CA Gibson.  “Got a plea yet?”  

“Not yet,” CA Gibson replied.

“Any closer?” Judge Roberts asked Norris.

“Not even,” Norris scoffed.

“I’m not surprised,” Judge Roberts said.  “So I brought help.  This is juror 8197.  I vetted him myself.  His task is to recommend a plea.  If you two agree to it, were done.  If not, I’ll here motions tomorrow at 10:30.”

“I thought you’d hear motions today,” Norris objected.

“And I thought you’d be willing to settle on an obvious open and shut case,” Judge Roberts said.  “And to that end, I give you juror 8197.  He’s in charge of this meeting now and he’ll be the one who reports back to me.”

“This is not standard procedure,” Norris objected.

“What is?” Judge Roberts exited.

Juror 8197 took a side chair and placed it catty-corner to Norris’ chair, sort of across from Penny and down from CA Gibson.  He settled in, dug his elbows into the table, put his hands together and rested his nose on them.  

“You’ve guys been at this awhile,” Juror 8197 said, “I’ll need your help to catch up.”

“First,” Norris said, “In what part of the county do you live?”

“Save it for jury selection,” Juror 8197 snapped.  “This ain’t a trial.  Now can you tell me what happened?”

Nice block, Norris thought.  He’s playing the big man for his team.  Norris encountered several big men on the beach.  Many of them played for USC, UCLA and UC Santa Barbara.  Some were Olympians.  One is six foot ten.  It’s a large court, however, and smarts beat size everyday.  He and Yannick arrived at the beach a little late, position themselves behind good teams and warm up.  While there, they watch the team’s signals.  Not to steal them.  They analyze patterns.  Does the big man block line more than cross?  How often do they fall back from the net instead putting up a block?  Float serves or running drive serves?  By the time they get on the court, they developed battle plans for three or four opposing teams.  When they face an unanalyzed team, they play a quiet game.  Concentrate on siding out until they figure out their opponent.

“The defense will show that Miss Miller was involved in an innocent traffic accident and nothing more,” Norris said.

“The defense?” Juror 8197 mocked.  “There is no defense.  This ain’t a trial.  There’s only you, me, Cutie and Blondie.”  Juror 8197 ignored a chorus of “Hey”s.  “This is a plea deal.  We start off with ‘Cutie is guilty.’  The only questions are: ‘What is she guilty of?’ ‘How much does she have to pay?’ Got it?  If it works out, then it doesn’t matter what you can show.  If it doesn’t, you can show whatever you’re gonna show to some other jurors.”

Stuff block and a couple of ace serves, Norris thought.

“My name is Deputy City Attorney Melissa Gibson,” CA Gibson insisted.  “Never call me ‘Blondie’ again or you’ll face sexual harassment charges.”

“And my name is Penelope Miller,” Penny added.

“But you’re cute,” Juror 8197 said.  Turning to CA Gibson, “And so are you.  Do you have any evidence or anything I can look at?”

CA Gibson opened her manila folder and walked Juror 8197 through the twenty or so crime scene photos including the hospital photos showing wounds and the last photo depicting the victim lying in The Hospital of the Good Samaritan’s coma ward.  Juror 8197 snatched the folder out of her hand and read through the three witness reports. 

“Where’s the rest?” Juror 8197 looked up to CA Gibson.

“The rest of what?” CA Gibson asked.

“Police reports, doctor’s reports, investigator’s reports,” Juror 8197 rattled off.  “This poor dude was taken to the hospital.  Where is the inventory of his possessions? Cutie was arrested?  Where’s the arrest report and inventory of her possessions?  Her car’s impounded, right?  Where’s the impound report and catalog of items found in the car?  Where’s your case?”

“The car was not impounded,” CA Gibson declared.

“OK,” juror 8197 said.  “Get the rest.”

Way to spike the kitten, Norris thought.  Perhaps now she’ll realize this is not an open and shut case. CA Gibson stood over Juror 8197. her arms akimbo.  Juror 8197 reached into his left cargo pocket, withdrew his cell and offered it her.

“I’ve got my own cell phone,” CA Gibson said.  “I think we all do.”

“Sorry,” Juror 8197 apologized.  “I don’t know how much City Attorneys make these days.”

CA Gibson walked towards the door and dialed her office.  Norris heard her direct some clerk to find her files, and she gave delivery instructions.

“More than you,” Norris volunteered.

“Probably true,” Juror 8197 agreed.  

When CA Gibson ended her call, Juror 8197 shuffling the pictures.  After shuffling the pictures, he leafed through them, set them down and looked up.

“That’s CA Gibson,” he nodded in her direction.  “And she’s Penelope Miller, but you didn’t introduce yourself.”

“Do I need to,” Norris affirmed thinking.

“Scott Norris?” Juror 8197 ventured.

“Yep,” Norris said.

“Andersen and Blade?” Juror 8197 asked.

“Yep,” Norris repeated.

“Do you know why you lost Andersen?” Juror 8197 prompted.

“Do you presume to tell me how to do my job?” Norris countered.

“I got a theory,” Juror 8197 said.

Gregorian took on high profile, no win, cases to raise his firms profile.  This included Anderson’s.  The prosecution's case was circumstantial at best. In a series of pretrial motions, Norris excluded about twenty percent of the prosecution's evidence.  In the end, sympathy for the dead, pregnant wife of a philandering husband overwhelmed a brilliant defence.  

“And that is?” Norris prompted.

“You attacked the evidence,” Juror 8197 said.  “You should have belittled the prosecutors.  They mounted a ‘The Butler Did It’ prosecution.  Innocent or not, the butler, the husband and anyone in the household always have means, motive and opportunity and they are always linked to the evidence.  You should have accused the prosecution of being trite, cliché, unimaginative and lazy.  Diminish the prosecutors in front of the jury and you diminish their case.”

Norris recalled the Andersen strategy sessions.  “Attack the prosecution” was dismissed along with “attack the victim” and for much the same reason, sympathetic backfire.  {i/}People hire high priced attorneys for a good reason, he thought, they know how to win.  No-one second guesses a winner.  Lose one and every crack pot with an opinion thinks they know the law better.

“Really?” Norris smirked.  “And who are you to second guess Yannick Gregorian?”

“Me,” Juror 8197 shuffled the pictures again.  “I’m a gambler, and I have a bet.”  He paused but Norris didn’t bite.  “I bet the money I made last month against the money you made last month that I’m demonstrably smarter than you.”

“And how would you go about doing that?” Norris challenged.

“The first piece of evidence,” Juror 8197 touted, “is that I know a way and you don’t.”

“Sounds like a carnie trick, and I don’t fall for carnie tricks,” Norris pronounced.

Juror 8197 stared at Norris for a long while.  Norris met and matched his stare.  Juror 8197 broke of his stare first.  The room seemed to relax. Tooled the Block, Norris thought.  CA Gibson continued talking on the phone.  Penny smiled.

“So,” Juror 8197 said, “Tell me about your client.”

“She’s innocent,” Norris quipped.

“In this room, she’s guilty.” Juror 8197 countered, “So it'd be nice to know something about her before sentencing.”

Norris tapped Penny on the knee; a prearranged signal to let him do the talking no matter what else anybody says.  

“Miss Miller,” Norris began, “is a twenty-six year old college graduate from the University of California at Santa Barbara majoring in the humanities.  She is currently employed with the Judd Smith Taylor Foundation, a non profit organization benefiting children with Tourette’s  and Asperger's syndromes world wide.  She has been employed for three years.  She lives in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles for the past eighteen months.  Previously she lived with her parents in Claremont.”

“Really, Norris,” Juror 8197 said, “you should stop pimpin’ her out.”

CA Gibson finally put away her cell phone and grabbed a large insulated cylinder of coffee.  Penny continued looking down at the table.  Norris tried to stare down Juror 8197 who seemed to smile in state of self amusement.  

“You should write personal ads,” Juror 8197 jested.  “How tall is she? It’s not in these records.”

“Because it’s not relevant,” Norris countered.  He still considered Juror 8197 an amateur attorney.  The reason amateurs don’t get paid is because they’re worthless.  The best strategy to employ is to put this amateur in his place and petition the judge for a speedy trial.  

Juror 8197 pawed through the manila folder and produced a few stapled sheets of paper.  “This witness says she saw cutie straighten up in an arching fashion from the passenger, right side, to the driver’s side.”

“Your point?” Norris blocked.

Juror 8197 took a pen out of his right cargo pocket and drew two arcs on the back of the witness statement.  CA Gibson complained about destroying her evidence.  He reminded her that she must have made several copies while pulling off his right shoe removing the shoe lace.

“Distance equals rate times time.” Juror 8197 declared.  “So if we measure the distance of the smaller arc.”  He used his left hand to cover the smaller arc with his shoelace, marked the end of the arc with his pen and used the shoelace to draw a line on the paper.  He repeated the process with the larger arc.  “If we know her height we can approximate the distance her head traveled while straightening up.  So what’s your height?”

Penny looked up to meet Norris’ nodding head.  “I’m five foot eight inches.”

“Weight?” Juror 8197 asked.

“Would you like my measurements too?” Penny said.

“Yes,” Juror 8197 quipped, “but then I’d have to buy a whole new wardrobe.”

CA Gibson snorted out some coffee.  Penny, though still annoyed, giggled.  Norris laughed.  He now rated Juror 8197 as an entertaining amateur jerk.  Part of him wanted to let the show go on.  The lawyer in him, however, wanted this act to end.

“Weight please?” Juror 8197 asked.

“One thirty,” Penny answered.  Juror 8197 raised his eyebrows.  “Five,” she added.

“Muscle tone?” Juror 8197 continued.

“Do you want me to take off my clothes?” Penny objected.

Juror 8197 pushed back his chair and placed his left foot on the table resting his right foot over his left ankle.  “I’m up for a strip tease,” he asserted.

“I’m not,” CA Gibson said. “That’s going too far.”

Norris was amazed.  She beat him to the punch.

“I’m going to kick myself for saying this,” Juror 8197 admitted, “but she’s right.”  He took his feet off the table and started re-lacing his right shoe.  “Just tell me what physical activities you participated in the month before this incident.”

Penny described an active schedule of running and gym days.  Juror 8197 seemed interested in her abdominal exercises and stretching.  Norris found himself drawn into a long discussion of various weight machines and the behavior of some people at the gym.  Norris went twice a week during the beach volleyball season and six days a week in the off season.  He thought Juror 8197 didn’t look like a gym rat before admitting to himself he rarely noticed unattractive members though he was sure they were there.

CA Gibson answered the knock on the door, thanked a courier and plopped a file box on the table.  Against her objections, Juror 8197 started to unpack and arrange the contents on the table.  Norris looked at his watch.

“How long is this going to take?: Norris inquired.

“About half an hour,” Juror 8197 responded.  “You can go if you want.  I’m sure the city attorney won't.  She’ll want to make sure I don’t damage any more evidence.  So if there’s something you need to do, go.  Cutie stays.  I’m sure she doesn’t have anywhere she needs to go.”

Norris left to call the office.  He reached Yannick who just left the Van Nuys courthouse after another successful jury verdict.  He filled in Yannick but stopped after he found himself complaining about the juror too much.  Yannick thought Judge Roberts would be his biggest problem.  Norris believed the juror represented a bigger threat than he first thought.  He’s not just an amateur, he’s resourceful.  Squelching him would not be an easy task.  

“You’re on deck,” he warned Yannick.  “I’ll make sure nothing happens today but keep your afternoon open tomorrow in case I need you to spike this CA.”

Norris entered the room without knocking.  He found Juror 8197 annoying CA Gibson with failed attempts at flirting.  Penny looked amused.  When Norris unbuttoned his suit jacked and sat, Juror 8197 snapped his head around to face him.

“Glad you’re back,” Juror 8197 said.  “Stipulate,” he paused.  “Stipulate is a word, right?”

“Right,” Norris agreed.

“Ok,” Juror 8197 began, “can we stipulate to a few things before we begin in earnest.”  The suggestion met a choreography of nods.  “First, this is a plea meeting so the defendant is not only presumed guilty, but is guilty.  Second, the crime scene is six months old.  The only evidence we’ll get is the evidence we have here.”  Juror 8197 waved his hand over the table and the others nodded agreement.  “Third, this is my proceeding.  It’s done my way.  I don’t know the law and I don’t care.  At the end, if you don’t like what I come up with you can just tell the judge and let proceedings continue.”

“I don’t know about that ,” Norris said.

“Well,” juror 8197 mocked, “you’ll let me know when you know, now?”

Norris shook off his insolence.  Juror 8197 pulled out a police report and gave it quick inspection.  He looked over to Penny.

“You were going to the Bonaventure that morning,” he said.  Penny affirmed.  “But you live in Hollywood … What were you doing on North Main?”  Before Penny could answer, he put out his hand to indicate that these questions were rhetorical.  “You were lost … You didn’t leave from your place did you? … That one wasn’t rhetorical.”

“Oh,” Penny said, “No I spent the night with …”

“Is that necessary,” Norris objected.

“Perhaps later,” Juror 8197 continued.  “Have you been to the Bonaventure before?”  

“Several times,” Penny answered.

“Why were you going there?” Juror 8197 asked.

“To set up a donor meeting,” Penny said.

“Sub seven?” Juror 8197 asked.

“I don’t know that one,” Penny confessed.  “We use the Bona Vista Lounge, the rotating one at the top. ” 

“He meant, ‘Before seven in the morning.’” Norris interjected.

“These things,” Penny explained, “take more than you think.  There were going to be seventeen large donors and their companions.  Each has specific likes and dislikes.  One is even afraid of heights.  I needed to make sure that her seat had the least amount of scenery.  And all of the special diet requirements.  I need to make special arrangements with the bartender and chef and wait staff.  There are a lot of details.”

“All right,” Juror 8197 said.  “Where did your trip start?”

“Glendale Heights,” Penny said looking over for Norris’ approval.

“The 2 to the 5 to the 110,” Juror 8197 rattled off.  “Off at 3rd, left on Beaudry, left on 4th and park.  That puts you nowhere near North Main.  What went wrong?  What went wrong? … You missed the 110, right?”

“You know your streets,” CA Gibson said.

“How did you guess?” Penny asked.

“Don’t prompt him,” Norris warned.

“Because the next exit dumps you onto Daly,” Juror 8197 said.  “Left to North Main and head towards the skyscrapers.  Were you lost or did you stop off at the winery for a glass of Merlot?”

“There’s a winery?” Norris pondered.

“The San Antonio Winery is just off Main,” CA Gibson volunteered, “just past the train tracks.  I’ve been there.”

“A lot?” Juror 8197 asked.

“I was lost,” Penny redirected the conversation.

“And a cyclist is in a coma,” Juror 8197 stated.  Penny bowed her head down.  “With a DNR?  How’s that?”  Juror 8197 looked to CA Gibson.

“The family insists,” CA Gibson said, “that his heart never stopped.  This would be in accordance with their religious beliefs.” 

Juror 8197 pawed through the documents again.  “No living will or other supporting documents?”

“Their lawyer has been very resistant,” CA Gibson said.

“Is this part necessary?” Norris asked.

“Yes,” CA Gibson and Juror 8197 chorused.  “It’s the difference between vehicular assault and vehicular manslaughter,” CA Gibson said.

“And manslaughter doesn’t carry the burden of proving intent,” Juror 8197 said.

“Now you’re a law expert?” Norris challenged.

“That’s not important,” Juror 8197 said.

“What is important?” Norris asked.

“Cutie, here, was lost and didn’t even know she was near a famous LA landmark,” Juror 8197 said.  “When you’re lost, your attention is focused.  You’re not in that weird autopilot state.  Although distracted, her attention was, or should have been on driving.  The important question is why did she mow down a cyclist?  What could have been more important than driving?”

Juror 8197 flipped through the stack of photos stopping on the inside of Penny’s car.  The photo showed the contents of her purse strewn on the passenger seat and floorboards.  He stared at the photo for a minute, looked at Penny then CA Gibson then he scanned the room.

“Is that your purse over on that chair?” He asked Penny.

“Yes,” she said.

“Can you put it on the table?” He requested.  Penny complied. Norris looked at CA Gibson.  “And where’s yours?”

“At the office,” CA Gibson answered.

“OK,” Juror 8197 started, “when you drive, is your purse fastened or unfastened?”

“Fastened?” CA Gibson said.

“Zippered, snapped, buckled,” he listed, “you know, what ever it takes to secure it’s contents.”

“Secured,” she said.

“And your friends?”  He asked.

“I don’t know,” she said.  

He turned to Penny.  “How about your friends?” 

“Fastened, mostly,” Penny said.  “Carly leaves hers open.  I think Sharon does sometimes.”

“Can I see your cell phone?”  He asked Penny.  She froze.

“What for?” CA Gibson asked.  “None of the witnesses saw her talking on her cell.”

“Text message,” Juror 8197 and Norris chorused.  

There was a moment of silence.  

“Aren’t one of you going to say ‘Jinx?’” Penny asked.  They all chuckled.

“Look,” Juror 8197 said, “Blondie can always subpoena the phone records.  It shouldn’t take more than a week.  I’m sure Judge Roberts will issue a continuance.”

Norris understood the threat.  He doubted the jurors grasp of the facts but he knew the jerk was on to something.  Or was it a bluff.  Norris became aware of the silence in the room.  He felt the juror’s anxiousness. 

“Counselor,” Juror 8197 intoned, “please ask your client to hand over her phone.”  The silence resumed for a couple of moments.  “To me,” he added.

Norris nodded his assent.  Penny dug her cell phone out of her purse and handed it over.  Juror 8197 accepted the cell phone and rapidly pressed buttons. 

“How could this be more important than paying attention to the road?” Juror 8197 asked himself.  “Wait.  This is wrong.  Who is ‘J?’.  This is curious.”  In a series of button sequences, eye rolls and silly finger calculations reminiscent of Service Counter geeks at Best Buy, Juror 8197 unlocked secrets from Penny’s cell phone.

“You two broke up three days after the incident,” he said,  “Not amicable.  You deleted him right out of your contacts.”  He looked at Penny.  “Silly boy.  This should be good.”

In another series of button sequences, Juror 8197 explored information in Penny’s cell phone.  He grabbed a pen off the table and wrote down “Sherry” and “May” before he dialed.

“I’m not Penny.  We had dinner last night and she left her cell behind … I picked it up … Yeah, can we forget that for a minute … Are you Jon? … May said she dumped you because the sex is bad.  And Sherry said it’s because you have a small penis that couldn’t satisfy any woman not even a Pygmy … Yeah … yeah … uh huh … yeah.” 

“You two seemed to agree a lot,” CA Gibson observed.

“Maybe,” Juror 8197 said, “I don’t speak Russian.”

“It’s Ar…,” Penny started.  “He’s American.  He’s an American boy.”

“City Attorney Gibson,” Juror 8197 addressed.  “Do they call you Melissa, or Mel?”

This change of tact relieved Norris.  There’s a point in each match when the winner is evident.  It’s time to call for a timeout.  If you expended yours, your opponent calls one for you.  It’s only sporting.  Condescending, but sporting.  In this case, Juror 8197 was definitely condescending, but Norris welcomed it nonetheless.

“My friends call me Mel,” she said. “You can call me Miss Gibson.”

Wrong play, Norris thought.

“Miss Gibson,” Juror 8197 offered, “can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

“What?” she said.

“You like coffee don’t you?” Juror 8197 asked.  “I’d like to buy you a cup of coffee.  These two need to talk.”  Turning to Norris, “It’s OK, right?”

“Go ahead,” Norris said.  He heard CA Gibson say something like, “This must be my lucky day.”  Norris agreed.  Sometimes during a timeout, volleyball teams figure out what’s gone wrong and what they need to do to reverse their fortunes.  It’s rare.  In law, such turnarounds are legendary.  This juror beat him.  Bringing Yannick in would be counterproductive.  He needed to settle this case.  He had to settle it today and focus on damage control.

A new thought hit him.  This juror is Judge Roberts’ proxy. “Your client’s guilty,” is how she started plea meetings the two times he faced DA Roberts.  That’s why it sounded familiar to him.  Norris wondered if the proxy was guessing or did Roberts fill him in.  How could she know?  Norris juggled all of these questions before he determined what he really wanted to know, Who is this guy?

Like a Lunch Date With a Pig

So Miss Miller’s boyfriend is Armenian.  That explains Scott Norris’ sudden appearance.  Bump, set and Yannick Gregorian.  I should have seen it coming, Melissa thought.  She descended in an elevator with the cocky juror Judge Roberts threw into her plea meeting.  Despite his rude manner, he performed well.  He wrested control of the meeting from the lawyers and uncovered two interesting details.  

She did not know what to do next.  Her friend Joan would flirt, but this juror seemed already on her side.  She took her cell phone out of her purse and composed.

         N, day not as expected.  TwistsNTurns.  Still feel lucky.
         Lucky 2 have U. CU2nite. LuvU, M.

Out of the elevator, they enter the cafeteria.  Melissa poured herself a large coffee which she takes black.  Juror 8197 grabs six prepackaged sandwiches and a canned energy drink.  Melissa approached the cashier. 

“Hi Irma,” Melissa said.

“Good morning, how’s your day?” Irma asked.

Before Melissa answers, Juror 8197 rushed up behind her and said, “All this, together.”  He pulled out his wallet and unfolded three twenty dollar bills.  As he gathered the change, she found a table.  He stood at a closer table motioning her over. An odd dance ensued.  Melissa and Juror 8197 each gestured the other their chosen table.  Melissa acquiesced ending the dance.  He waited for her to sit before unloading his arms and taking his seat.

“You sure like sandwiches,” she says.

“Most of them are for later.  I want to wrap things up,” he said unwrapping a chicken salad sandwich.  “If I play my cards right, I’ll be done with jury duty today.  Would you like one?”

“No thanks,” she said. “And if you play your cards wrong?”

“There’s a high probability Judge Roberts will put me in restrictive protective custody and the only time I’ll see the light of day is when she drags my pale a*s into her court,” he said.

“Don’t you think that’s a little melodramatic?” she asked.

“Perhaps,” he said.  “Do you all know each other?”

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“Dark pants or long skirt, matching jacket, bright or shiny blouse,” he said.  “At first glimpse conservative, business like.  At closer quarters it’s quite flattering, sexy even.”

Some women in the City Attorney’s office already dress this way for court appearances but not everyday.  Most city attorneys don’t see courtrooms often.  Joan helped her buy this outfit.  It started as an off the rack outfit.  They visited Joan’s tailor.  Joan directed him over every seam and contour not only of the slacks and jacket but also three blouses she selected for the ensemble.  When the suit and blouses were ready, they went to Veronica’s Closet.  She felt strange wearing thong panties and a shear push-up bra.  Joan insisted.  “Court is a battlefield, you go in with all your best weapons.”  By the end of it all, Joan had spent over eight hundred of Melissa’s dollars.  Afterwards, Joan admonished her to go to the gym regularly.  “Do not gain an inch,” she warned, “and if you loose an inch, every thing will need re-tailoring.”

To get used to their feel, Melissa wore the panties and bras around the house arousing passions in her boyfriend, Noel.  His sudden lust transferred to her new suit as well.  So, when he saw her this morning, he couldn’t resist.  “Don’t worry,” Melissa heard as he gently disrobed her, “this is your lucky day.”  She was able to re-adorn her battle suit.  She only wished she checked her hair before she rushed to work.

“So you like it?” Melissa primped and posed for Juror 8197.

“You look great,” he said, “so do those two.  Do you know them?”

Melissa was taken aback.  Her beauty normally dominated every room she occupied.  This jerk, however, didn’t pay her the least attention.  She doubted her flirting skills before she chalked his diverted attention to his desire to focus on the case.

“They’re with the DA’s office,” she said.  “I think the one on the left works with my friend Joan.”

“Are they single?” he followed.

“I think so,” she said.  “Why?”

“I’m developing a theory,” he said.  

“Another theory?” She pursued.  “What can that be?”

“The big day theory,” he announced.  “There seems to be a whole class of attractive women, who have several big, important days.  They’re completely out of my league, but I think that they’re susceptible to sexual advances on big days.  If I can find a way to exploit it, gratifying opportunities may present themselves.”

“You could try good deeds,” she said.  “Women like to show their gratitude.”

“Gratitude?” he mocked.

“Yes, gratitude,” she explained.  “Like, I’m grateful that you uncovered that text message.” 

Juror 8197 turned in his seat to face Melissa.  Fighting to suppress his wide grin he said, “Wow, you’re coming on to me even after you had big-day sex!”

“What?” She faltered.  “I wasn’t.  I didn’t.”

“Right,” he said.  “This morning you had a breakfast meeting with a police detective and some dude from Police Protective Association.  You were over at that table where you wanted me to join you just now.  I was over there just two tables way.  I clearly saw your hair messed up on the right side.  I thought it might be some sort of trial tactic, but you brushed it out before the plea meeting.”

“He wasn’t from the PPA,” she said.

“Huh?” He grunted.

“That was Deputy City Attorney Turner,” she said.

“Well,” Juror 8197 conceded, “I guess I got that one wrong.” 

“You get a lot of things wrong,” she accused.

“Really?” He challeneged with his elbows bent, palms upward.  “I was right about the text message.  I was right about her ex-boyfriend and I bet I’m right that Cutie indulged in big-day sex with her boyfriend before she missed her freeway off ramp and mowed down some schmuck cyclist.”  He turned his body ninety degrees to the right.  “Cutie had sex, you’re having sex, a good looking, ultra successful guy like Scott Norris is having sex.  The only hope for me is to be with that pretty Asian DA on the morning of her next big day.”  

He traced Deputy District Attorney Alisa Wong’s exit path with is right index finger.

“You’re a pig!” Melissa declared.  She felt hurt:  hurt, exposed, humiliated, rejected, overlooked, un-pretty but mostly hurt.  She wondered why this jerk thought he could talk to her about other women.  She flirted with him.  Innocent flirting, but still flirting.  Why was he so pally, treating her likes some big sister or something?

“I’m a pig?” Juror 8197 contested.

“Yes,” she confirmed.

“Well this oinker maneuvered Scott Norris into a position where he has to settle,” he boasted.  “That’s gotta be something.”

“Who says I’ll settle?”  Melissa parried.

Juror 8197 was, for just an instant, wordless.  He turned back to face Melissa.  

“Do you know why Norris and Gregorian got Blade off?” 

“So, you’re a legal analyst now,” she said.  Melissa’s annoyance with Juror 8197 started its slow eruption.

“No GSR no conviction,” he said.  “It’s just that simple.”

“OH! You’re one of those,” she said.  “You expect everything to be like on TV.  You think there are CSIs running around with science kits everywhere.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “You just don’t get it.  CSI may be gussied up a little, but it’s not science fiction.  They’ve got high paid technical consultants who vet the science.  They draw their stories from the headlines.  These things really happen.”

“Who are you?” Her voice rising.  “Who are you to say?”

“I’m a juror,” he said.  “Look, a couple a hundred years ago, some guys got together and mandated that defendants have the right to face their accusers.  It raised the standard of evidence to a new level.  All sorts of professionals learned the science of tripping up witnesses and discrediting their testimony, right?  Now there are newer scientific tests: DNA, GSR, projectile trajectories.  You know.  As jurors, we demand this higher grade evidence or a compelling reason why it ain’t there.  You want convictions? You better make sure LAPD provides that stuff from your crime scenes.”

“Are you done pontificating?” She asked.

“You don’t get it,” he said.  “If you walk into court with that box full of sloth you showed me this morning, you’ll get blown out of the water.”

“Well,” she said pushing her chair back.  “We’ll just have to see.”

Melissa realized her opportunity to flirt with this juror past.  Remembrances of all of her worst dates flashed through her mind as she dismounted her seat and turned towards the exit.  She paused to read the latest text messages Noel sent her. 

Juror 8197 stood and gathered his remaining sandwiches.

“Hey,” he called.  “Can you grab a couple of these?”

“You  bought ‘em,” she chastised, “you carry ‘em.”

Melissa headed for the exit.  Juror 8197 scooped up the sandwiches and trotted after her.

Damage Control.

Scott Norris hired a drama coach to help Penny Miller drive the incident from her demeanor.  Up till today, she accomplished blank, non incriminating facial expressions.  Except during some phone calls, she did not feel like a participant in her own case.  James Cooper seemed proficient.  She understood that as the trial drew closer, Scott Norris and possibly Yannick Gregorian would take over.  She expressed gratitude when Scott picked her up at her apartment.  He was confident today would go well.  The prosecutions case overstated their evidence, a common prosecution mistake.  The “people” will be represented by a wannabe DA from the City Attorney’s office.  Judge Roberts represented the last real obstacle to her resuming her life.  Scott got a call from his office informing him of the Judge’s insistence on another plea meeting.

Scott seemed rattled by the juror at the plea meeting.  It wasn’t the juror’s unexpected presence.  The juror challenged and shook him.  She felt it was her fault.  She shouldn’t have handed over the phone, she shouldn’t have hit the cyclist, she shouldn’t have looked at the cell phone.  The list kept growing.  Despite her drama coach's exercises, she couldn’t hold back feelings of regret, feelings of guilt.

“I’m sorry,” she offered.

“Sorry for what?” Scott said.

“My cell phone,” she said.

“Couldn’t be helped,” he consoled.  “But, should the police or the prosecutors ask for it, just turn it over again.  It’ll just save time.”

“But shouldn’t we try, you know, keep things away from them?” She asked.

“Normally, yes,” he said.  “But that a*****e changed things up a little.  Makes you wonder, don’t it?”  

Scott stood up and walked to the end of the room near the door.  With a grunt he lifted the juror’s large black bag onto the table.

“What’s that?”  She asked.

“His pannier,” Scott answered.

“His what?” She pursued.

“It’s the saddle bag bicycle riders hang from their racks,” he informed.  “Maybe there’s something in here we can use.” 

She stood up and joined the inspection.  Scott narrated as he pulled items out of the bag.  In the lid compartment, they found a medical kit and a bright yellow rain cover for the pannier.  In the side compartment, they found a water bottle, filled.  In the front mesh compartment they found two pairs of gloves: one full fingered for cold weather and one bright yellow fingerless pair smelling of sweat.  They replaced these items and opened the main compartment.  Scott removed a series of items some in plastic bags.

“What’s the funny looking thing in that bag?” She asked.

“That’s his saddle and seat post,” he said.  “Some bicyclists remove the seat to deter theft.  And these shoes,” he showed her the black, blue and silver cycling shoes, “they have metal cleats on the bottom that lock into the pedals.  The bike rider you hit wore them too, though not as fancy as these.”

Penny’s sense of curiosity waned as the image of the bloody twisted body on the side of the road filled her mind.  He wore a grey hoodie with a Clippers logo and grey sweat pants.  They were ripped as if a rake swiped them.  His body was entwined with the bicycle frame.  His head must have hit the pavement hard.  Blood oozed through his hair.  She recalled details from that March morning.  At first, she thought the scene was horrible.  She wondered if she were the cause.  For some reason, she sat next to him stroking his hair.  Another car came to a screeching halt almost hitting her Honda.  After yelling obscenities, the driver pulled out her cell phone and called 911.  Penny felt helpless as paramedics brushed her aside.  A policeman detained her.  She heard him say, “Victim Male Hispanic Identity Unknown Unconscious on his way to County USC Assailant in a State of Shock Witness Livid.”  Penny whimpered.

“Look what we have here,” Scott announced.  

Penny looked up to see Scott holding a bright green purse like thing.  It was actually a fanny pack with its waist strap stowed into a docking compartment.  Scott pawed through the pens, mp3 player, cords and adapters.  He withdrew a slender photo ID badge.

“Well we got a name,” he said.

Scott pulled out his cell, placed it in speaker phone mode and dialed.

“Welcome to the Law Offices of Yannick Gregorian.  I’m Maria.  How can I help you,” the voice on the other end answered.

“Make it ‘Gregorian and Norris,’” Scott said.

“Good morning, Scott. How’s it goin’?” Maria said.

“I’ve had better days,” he said.  “Can you Google ‘DAVID ARKIN’ for me please?”

“I’m mostly getting a dead actor who was in MASH the movie,” she said.

“Anything else?” He asked.

“Dead song writer, father of Alan Arkin,” she said.

“Anyone alive?” He prodded.

“Eco friendly architect in Berkeley, California,” she mused.

“Maria,” he commanded, “Find me a few live David Arkins in LA County.”

“Is it OK if I step out for a moment?” Scott said as pressed the end button.

Penny nodded her permission.  She surveyed the bags contents and, puzzle like, repacked the pannier.  The problem helped her focus.  While finding space for the shoes, helmet, and smelly clothes bag, she remembered her drama coach notes for extra’s who were required to stay on stage, in character, for a long time.  It helped her regain control of her emotions.  The puzzle bag complete, she replaced the bag along the wall and took her seat.  Scott came in carrying four cans of soda.  He placed two cans of Diet Sprite in front of her and two Cokes in front of his seat.

“I called Yannick,” he announced softly, “we’ll have to settle today.”

“Because of the cell phone?” she asked.

“Sorta.”  He explained.  “The police, the DA’s office and CA Gibson all missed it.  It’s not much, but it puts all sorts of pressure on the case.  We’re in damage control now.  You’ll have to do some prison time.  I’ll fight like hell to keep it as short as possible, but it’s probably for the best that we settle today.”

“But …” A new set of emotions flowed though Penny.  For five months, she worked herself into feeling protected by a powerful and resourceful knight.  Betrayal.  Rage and betrayal drove her thoughts.  “But James said that you guys would beat …‘Not to worry’ he always said.  If he got into trouble you’d fill in and if need be Mr. Gregorian.  I did everything you said.  Everything!” 

“It can’t be helped,” he assured.

Fear drove her thoughts, informed her posture and tightened her face.  Scott launched a pre-emptive strike.

“Look,” he said, “we’ve represented you pro bono and we’ve provided the same quality legal representation we provide the rich and famous.  We’ve spared no expense on your case.  We even paid for your drama coach, fashion adviser and I even drove you here today.  You could drop us.  Hire lesser legal talent.  They’ll cost.  You might get your family to help.  You can bankrupt them and end up with more prison time.  Our involvement in this case ends today.  Let me do my best.  If, at the end, you don’t like the deal, scrub it and start again with somebody else.”

Penny felt stung.  Not by the rough treatment.  Scott knew her parents just paid off their house.  After decades of long work, putting her and her brother through college and suffering the loss of her kid sister to leukemia, they started feeling they could retire.  Penny told James she was grateful his law firm was helping her.  She didn’t want the awful incident last March to burden them.  She felt her lawyers were suddenly selling her out.  It was bad enough her parents seemed evasive since April.  But prison?

Penny adopted the semi submissive, downward looking and attentive pose her drama coach made her rehearse.  Scott recognized her decision and patted her shoulder.  She concentrated, tried to control her breathing, control her muscles and focus her mind on her calm hands resting on the table.

The door opened without a knock.  The City Attorney rushed through and plopped herself in the seat opposite Scott.  The juror used his right leg to keep the door open while he juggled an armful of sandwiches.  Penny guessed their date coffee did not go well.

“Good,” the juror said, “you got drinks.”  He set the sandwiches on the table.  “Mind if I join you.”

Penny picked through the sandwiches.  It must have been past noon.  She felt drained and hungry.  The juror turned to his pannier on the floor, retrieved his water bottle, stared at the pannier for a moment and cocked his head to the left.

“How’d the Google search go?” He inquired.

“You’re still an enigma,” Scott replied.

The juror took his seat near the door. 

“No chicken salad?”  Penny commented.

“Sorry,” the juror said, “That’s my favorite too.  Try the turkey breast with light pesto.  It has extra virgin olive oil.”  Turning to Scott, he suggested, “Roast beef?”

“Nope,” Scott said, “I’m as cool as a cucumber.”  Scott selected the Caprese salad sandwich.

“Cool as a cheesy tomato,” the juror commented.

The City Attorney snorted suppressing a laugh.  Penny looked at Scott.  Scott chewed on it for awhile, but offered no response.

“Are you ready for a verdict?”  The juror asked.

“Why not?” Scott mumbled swallowing.

“She’s guilty,” the juror said.  Penny’s felt heaviness in her chest every time he said that.  She wished he would stop.  “So let’s start at a five year revoked license with …”

“I object!” The City Attorney pounced. “She …”

“This isn’t a trial,” Scott countered.  “”Let’s hear what he’s come up with.”

“Let’s not,” the City Attorney said.  “She committed manslaughter …”

“He’s not dead!” Scott stood bearing down on the City Attorney.

“He might as well be,” the juror interceded.  “I don’t know what’s keeping him alive, but time, money, his parents' supposed religious convictions will soon run out and he’ll be dead.  Sit down.  You can disagree all you want, but I’m basing my deal on manslaughter.”  Turning to the City Attorney, “so what do you recommend?”

“Let’s start at five years prison,” she said.

Before Scott could say anything, the juror said, “A bullet would be cheaper.”

“Hey!” Penny shouted.  “I don’t deserve that.”  She looked at Scott who motioned her to settle down.  She felt like this was getting out of hand.  No-one mentioned the death penalty before.  

“What do you base that on?” The juror directed to the City Attorney.

“I have her dead to rights on manslaughter,” she said.  “And if he doesn’t die I still have her on vehicular assault.”

The juror turned to Scott.  “Still eating?”  Scott put his sandwich down and sipped his Coke.  “Do you want to break it to her or should I?”

“You’ve been doing good so far,” Scott conceded.

“There was no alcohol at the scene right?” The juror asked.

“No,” the City Attorney admitted.

The juror started arranging the photos.  “As I understand it, without alcohol, vehicular assault requires intent.  Road rage will do, perhaps an exchange of obscenities.  What do you have that goes towards intent?”

The City Attorney wore an indignant face but remained silent.  Penny sensed a turnaround.  She looked to Scott.  Scott smiled and gestured her to practice her defendant role.

“You have an accident,” the juror stated.

“Accidents can be criminal,” the City Attorney objected.

“Yeah, but the rules are changed,” the juror continued.  Plopping the photo of the victim on the table in front of the City Attorney, the juror said, “Even if Zippie on the fixie here dies, you still don’t have manslaughter.” 

“Yeah, right,” the City Attorney disagreed.  “The cell phone proves she was texting just before the incident”

Simultaneously, Scott said, “it does not,” while the juror said “no it don’t.”  They look at one another.  After the briefest moment the juror said, “Jinx.  You owe me a coke.”

“Nope,” Scott declared.  “You said ‘No it don’t’ while I said ‘It does not.’”

“Liar!” The juror accused.

“’Lawyer’,” Scott said, “pronounce it correctly.”

The juror grunted before he quickly sorted photo’s and arranged a stack of papers from the evidence box.  “Where was I?”

“You were on a roll.  Go ahead,” Scott said.

“You’ll correct me when I stray from the law?”

“Nope, that’s her job,” Scott leaned back.  “I’m just going to watch the show.”

As the juror turned his attention to the City Attorney, Scott placed his hand on Penny’s shoulder, leaned in and whispered, “This is the part where I told you not to worry.”  The juror slapped down two of the crime scene photos and the hospital’s inventory of the victim’s personal affects. 

“What’s missing?” The juror addressed the City Attorney.

“I’m sure you’ll tell me,” she said.

“There’s no helmet,” the juror said.

“Adult’s don’t have to wear bicycle helmets in the State of California,” she countered.

“But they do so at their own risk,” the juror said.  “The statistics are impressive.  Helmets may not prevent brain injury, but they reduce the risk by over ninety percent.”  Before the City Attorney could get a word in, he continued.  “So, in order for your accident to be criminal, you have to ascribe fault.  Hard to do when the victim is taking an unnecessary risk.  But that’s not all.  Take a close look at the fixie.  No lights.  No lights on the messenger bag.  No lights on the non-existent helmet.  No lights in the inventory.  And, since January 1, it’s illegal in the State of California to operate a bicycle in the dark without lights.”

“What’s a fixie?”  Penny couldn’t resist asking.

“Messengers,” Scott stated, “can’t afford nice bikes.  They get old bikes, strip off the all of the extra gears, derailleurs and the back brake.  They leave one gear on the cranks and one gear on the back wheel.  This gives them a fixed gear ratio.  A fixie.”

“Without the derailleur,” the juror added, “there is less slack in the chain.  It’s more efficient, more responsive than a typical road bike.  Sprinters do the same thing for their pursuit cycles.  They’re the ones who ride in velodromes.  That’s not all.  It’s become a bit of a fad.  Some fixies are factory made like the Bianchi Pista.  Zippies’ was custom conversion.”

“Why do you keep calling him Zippie?” The City Attorney asked. 

The juror pointed to the crime scene photo.  “Take a close look at those rims,” he said.  “Those are Zipp Weaponry 404’s.  The wheel set costs around one thousand dollars new; six hundred used on Craig’s List.  Messengers dart in and out of office buildings.  Some don’t lock their bikes at all.  Others quickly lock the frames and perhaps one wheel.  None, none leave that much value exposed.”

“Zippie’s not a messenger?” Penny asked.  Scott’s warning about prison time slipped away.  For the first time, she felt involved in her case.  She did not notice Scott’s signals for her to stay detached.

“Sharpie over there,” the juror said, “didn’t read past the police reports.”

“Sharpie?” Scott protested.

“Take it as a complement,” the juror responded.

“Is it?” Scott followed. 

“Blondie’s victim profile has him as some sorta office clerk on 14th,” the juror said.  “Zippie is a wannabe following a fad.”

Penny looked over to Scott.  Scott smiled widely.  Penny returned the smile.  She felt confident.  The fog surrounding her since that March morning lifted.  She felt the warmth of July fill her.

“Do you know what else is missing?”  The juror pressed the City Attorney.

“No what?” She challenged.

The juror placed the hospital personal affects inventory in front of the City Attorney.  “The iPod,” the juror stated.  He pointed to another photo.  “But it’s right there,” he pointed to spot on the photo away from the bicycle.  “Blow up this part right here and you’ll see his iPod Nano.  The force of whatever happened pulled it out of Zippie’s messenger bag disengaged the ear bud jack.”

“What do you mean by ‘what ever happened?’” The City Attorney objected.

“This is the coup de grace,” the juror gloated.  He turned to Penny.  “Think back.  What did you see?  Was the cyclist in front of you?  A little to the left? Over to the right?  What do you recall?”

After initial police reports, Penny never relived the incident in any way.  Scott, her new drama coach, her friends, her parents and her sister all dissuaded her delving into it.  The juror made her feel more comfortable about that morning.  Perhaps she was innocent.  Perhaps she had done nothing wrong.  She closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths and it started to come back.  The stereo played her favorite gym music.  She danced to it behind the wheel.  She was lost, but she saw LA’s skyscrapers ahead.  She was finally heading in the right direction.  Her cell phone sounded the incoming message tune.  She reached over to her purse on the passenger seat and pressed the buttons to see it.  She felt her car climb over the North Main Street bridge spanning the LA river.  She looked up soon enough to see the road curve to the left.  She looked to the right as her right rear wheel caught part of the curb.  She fought the wheel to straighten out the car.  She took a long breath, shut her eyes and said a little of prayer of thanks for surviving a near accident.  Then, things went wrong.  She felt her right front tire run over something and she saw sparks come from the right front.  She slammed on the brakes.  Her heart raced matching its pace just after the accident.  Penny composed herself.  

“I didn’t see him,” she said.

“So he could have already been down?” The juror asked.

“He could have,” Penny said.  “I didn’t see him.”

The juror turned to the City Attorney and made sure their eyes met.  
“So how’s your manslaughter charge look now.” 

“Oh! Really!”  She said.  “That doesn’t prove anything.”

“The burden of proof lies with the prosecution,” the juror recited.  “Like Cutie here, Zippie had just gone over the main street bridge.  Incline, two sets of railroad tracks bounced him around, over the top, two more sets of railroad tracks and a hard turn to the left.  In the middle of the corner is a patch of smooth concrete.  Zippie just rides along listening to his tunes, congratulates himself for correcting his bike, hits the concrete, loses control, wobbles and down on the pavement.”

“That didn’t happen!” The City Attorney stood for emphasis.  

The juror rose to meet her.  “It’s plausible.”

Scott sat up.  “That’s it,” he slapped his hands on the table, “I see no reason to continue …”

Before Scott finished his thought, the juror turned to Penny and asked, “What song was playing?”

Penny’s mind remained at the scene.  She finished reading Jon’s message and straightened up.  She heard the juror’s question.  She sang “Gonna sing my own song like Michael’s song.  Gonna sing my own song like Michael’s song. PLEASE DON’T STOP THE, PLEASE DON’T STOP THE, PLEASE DON’T STOP THE MUSIC,” without realizing how inconsiderate it sounded.

“Did you even hear his screams or cries?” The juror pressed.  

She felt the heat of August in his stare.  After her car came to a rest, she backed up.  Her right front wheel rolled over something.  All she heard was Rhianna’s singing.  She unbuckled and rushed out of the car.  “Please Don’t Stop the Music” still played on her car’s stereo.  “No,” she confessed.

The weight of the remembrance overwhelmed Penny.  Her head finally bowed to the position Scott wanted, but her emotions swelled to the surface.  She was lost wishing the music in her head would stop. 

For a while, Scott, the juror and the City Attorney watch Penny fall apart.  

“And you let her on the stand,” the juror accused.

“A mistake I won’t make twice,” Scott said.

“But you’ll make others,” the juror forewarned.  “If you don’t settle, I’ll make sure I’m there to capitalize on them.”

“You’re not a lawyer,” Scott said.

“No but she is,” the juror said.  “I’ll be Blondie’s best friend.  Or whatever lioness DA gets the case after her.  They’ll all line up for the opportunity to take you and Gregorian down.”  Turning to the City Attorney, he added, “You wouldn’t mind a volunteer consultant would you?”

“Perhaps a little,” the City Attorney smiled.  She took her seat and sat adopting an aggressive posture.

“So we settle?” The juror asked taking his seat.

“You just made my case for me,” Scott reminded.

“The evidence is s**t,” the juror declared.  “It can go either way.  I can make it go either way.  I don’t think it matters, though.  It’s bad enough for Blondie to get a continuance.  Zippie’s gonna die soon.  The sympathy will go to the victim’s family and to the prosecution.  Time’s not on your side.”

Scott remained silent.  The juror stared at the City Attorney.  “And I’ll work for him if you don’t settle this today.”

“And I’ll hire him,” Scott chimed in.

The City Attorney nodded.  “Lets start with a five year revoked driver’s license and a pile of traffic infractions to support it. That should make you happy.”

“She rejected as much this morning,” Scott said.

“And we’ll add some special restrictions to make me happy,” the juror continued.  

Penny finally controlled her emotions and lifted her head.  Tears rolled down her cheecks.  The City Attorney picked some napkins off the table and offered them to her.  Penny felt the full impact of the incident.  She felt the City Attorney finally saw her as a remorseful human, not a legal case. 

“To make Blondie happy,” the juror said, “any violation of the special restrictions results in a full confession to manslaughter with a full sentence.”

“He’s not dead,” Penny whimpered.

Something in the juror snapped.  Although he pressed everyone in the room, his attacks were calculated, calm, sly and often sarcastic.  

“He might as well be!” He stood yelling. He took two paces.  

“You don’t get.  None of you get it.”  

Penny thought he would cry through his rage.  He bore down on her. 

“You killed him.  I don’t care if you didn’t mean to.  You know what all you motorists say after hitting a cyclist?”

“Don’t you think you’ve battered her enough?” The City Attorney stood by Penny’s side.

“NO!” The juror screamed.  He turned to the wall, placed his palms on his temples and pulled back his hair.  After a few breaths, some of his calm returned.  He leaned on the back of a chair.  

“They say ‘I didn’t see him.’  They say it like it’s the cyclists fault.  They say it like listening to the radio, speaking on their cell phone, eating a burrito are all more important than paying attention to the road.  They say it like cyclists don’t deserve their attention and I can’t live with that.”

“And getting hit by a car is your biggest fear?” Scott offered.

“Fourth,” the juror quipped.

The City Attorney’s face twisted.  Penny realized she wasn’t the most clueless person in the room.  This realization lifted her spirits.  She stopped her self recriminations and self pity finding the strength, the courage to face her sentence.

“He’s a biker?” The City Attorney finally teased out of her mind.

“Where have you been?” Scott criticized.  “That heavy bag of his, it’s a pannier, a saddle bag cyclists hang off their racks.  It’s a dead give away.”  The juror’s and the City Attorney’s heads snapped to face Scott.  “So to speak,” Scott corrected.

Penny admired Scott’s sense of humor.  She saw what happened then and she saw what’s happening now.  For the first time since March, she felt completely up to speed; ready to face up to the incident.

“So what’s number one?” Penny asked.

“Yeah,” Scott added, “now I’m curious.”

Facing Penny, the juror said, “Being down on the road and getting run over.” 

Penny felt the blow of his statement and recovered.  

“All we have is our wits, a little maneuverability and a helmet.  None of that helps you once your down, and quite a few things can take us down:  Ruts in the road, pot holes, the air cushion of passing semi trucks, a floating plastic bag entangled in our spokes, our own bad judgment.  Once, going over those very same railroad tracks, my pannier broke loose and pitched forward.  My rear wheel ran over it.  I panicked and stopped.  Unfortunately, I was still clipped into my pedals.  You stall, you fall.  Fall to the right, fall to the right, fall to the right.”

“Fall to the right?” The City Attorney asked.

“Because on the left, there’s cars,” he finished.

“Ok,” the City Attorney said, “what’s number two?”

“The sneaking suspicion that cycling on city streets, while touted as a healthy activity, is actually an effective method of driving air pollution deep into my lungs and through my body.  That every hour I ride, I lose an hour of my life,” the juror turned to the City Attorney.

“So you advocate segregated bike paths?” Scott surmised.

“Number three,” the juror turned to a grinning Scott, “is pedestrians.”  

Penny mouthed “pedestrians” quizzically.  Scotts grin vanished.  

“Just last month,” the juror continued.  “Santa Ana police found a cyclist in the mouth of an ally.  They assumed some motorist ran him over and left him for dead.  The autopsy revealed that he was struck, hard,  by a blunt object.  I’d guess a baseball bat.  Someone hit him as he was riding peaceably by, dragged him and his bicycle to the ally, cut his back pack straps with a knife and he died from the injuries.  They found the backpack four blocks away.  Wallet is still missing.  So, no, I’m not a fan of bike paths.  Any two thugs can prey on commuter cyclists and I’m sure the police will not adequately patrol them.”

The juror surveyed their faces.

“You guys still don’t get it,” the juror ranted.  “Cyclists are exposed, vulnerable to many threats.  Pedestrians just need a baseball bat, a broom stick, a rope or just an opportune moment to take out a cyclist.  Two, working in concert, can rob us at will.  The only solution, the only solution, is to educate motorists.  I can’t get to them all, but I’ve got cutie here.  She’s getting away with murder …”

“… Manslaughter …” Scott interjected.

“… manslaughter, whatever.”  He leaned towards Penny.  “Look up,” he commanded.  Penny’s eyes met his.  “Good, it’s important that you hear this.

The juror stood straight, composed himself and continued, “It’s not because you don’t deserve prison. You do, but it won't help you.  Your problem is that you’re clueless about life.  You need to concentrate on the important things in life.  You need to realize your dependence on thousands of people you’ve never met.  You need to live up to your responsibilities, not try to avoid them.  When driving, you need to focus on the road, on traffic on all of the things that could possibly go wrong and only proceed, only proceed when it’s safe. And for God’s sake, never celebrate a big day until the big thing in that day is over.”

The juror sat in the chair opposite Penny.  Penny noticed grey in his mustache and a little balding at the temples, and she figured the juror was old enough to be her father.  She noticed that she noticed these details.  Her head cleared.  The juror placed his elbows on the table resting his chin on his thumbs.  Penny felt trapped by his gaze, yet a gentle hold.  She stayed focused on him by her own volition.  The juror crossed his arms and leaned forward.

“Forget the lawyers,” he restarted, “their job is almost done.  It’s all about you now.  I’ve got three restrictions I think will help you.  They’re a little unusual, perhaps a little severe.  If you accept them, the plea can go forward.  Reject them and we all take our chances in court, but I guarantee you, no judge will come up with these restrictions.  Are you ready to hear them?”

“Yes,” Penny said without looking over to Scott.

“First,” the juror went on, “the driving restriction means do not get behind the wheel of any sort for any reason.  No parking your father’s car at Thanksgiving, no dropping your friend off at the airport.  If your best friend drives you home from a bar and has a heart attack, call 911.  Do NOT attempt to drive to the hospital.  Your friend is better off waiting for an ambulance.  Don’t even play driving video games at the arcade or on an X-Box.  Don’t go on Autopia at Disneyland.  Don’t get in the seat behind any type steering wheel.  If you and your boyfriend start making out in his car and, in some perverse maneuver your a*s slips into the drivers … “

“Hey,” the City Attorney objected, “that’s uncalled for.”

“All I’m saying,” the juror explained, “is get a room first.  Don’t even risk getting behind the wheel.”  

He allowed a pause to re-establish eye contact with Penny.  

“Second, your primary mode of transportation will be bicycle.  Every trip less than fifteen miles will be bike only.  Longer trips, you can integrate your bike with public transportation.  There are some exceptions, of course.  It only rains twenty or so days in LA.  On those days, you can use public transportation exclusively.  The same for July the 5th.  It’s too hard to breathe.”

“You know,” Scott said, “You can’t enforce any of this.”

“I trust her,” the juror said maintaining eye contact with Penny. “There’ll have to be a monitor from the DMV or the court or something to follow up on these restrictions, however.  Third, your travel will be restricted to LA County.  You’ll have to turn in your passport if you have one.  Any travel outside LA County will have to be approved, in advance, by your monitor.”

The juror paused.  In that pause, Penny remembered when the officer tapped her on her shoulder.  She stood, staring, while the paramedics tried to revive the cyclist.  After they applied smelling salts, they untangled him from the bicycle.  He was breathing but unconscious.  They wrapped his head in bandages.  Penny’s state of shock persisted.  She saw the officer’s mouth but she only heard her own thoughts.  She thought her life will be changed forever.  The officer gently engaged her until she was able to answer some simple questions.  She still doesn’t remember what she said.  Her next memory was of her arguing with the concierge at the Bonaventure.  She arrived late and, in her absence, the hotel staff set up the lounge and guest rooms all wrong.  She must have changed out of her bloody cotton dress and put on the gold cocktail dress she brought for the fundraiser.  She can’t recall the details.  She recalled Carol Mardirosian, Jon’s father, admonishing her for a job poorly done.  The foundation suffered in this economic downturn and fundraisers were very important.  He inquired about her non-responsiveness, and she told him about the morning’s incident.  His cell phone was out.  Before noon, James Cooper appeared and counseled her not to relive incident.  She was given the afternoon off.  James introduced her to the drama coach who was also a licensed psychiatric counselor.

Penny saw things clearly.  All of the clouds, veils and clever metaphors lifted.  She relived the awful events of that March morning and survived again.  She wondered how they would change her life.  This was it.  She would have to live under the precepts of a mad cyclist. 

“It’s up to you, now, cutie,” the juror asked, “will you accept this?”

“Yes,” Penny affirmed, “I will.”  

Penny lowered her head.  The City Attorney rubbed her shoulder in sympathy.  Scott looked around the room smiling.

“Good,” the juror slapped the table, “Blondie?”  The City Attorney nodded her agreement.  “I take your triumphant smile as a sign you agree,”

“Not completely,” Scott said, “but enough.”

“You lawyers can draft the documents,” the juror said, “I need some fresh air.”  He grabbed the roast beef sandwich and departed.

Penny looked up to the City Attorney who withdrew her arm.  “I need some air too.”  Penny pushed her chair back, slid away from the City Attorney, grabbed a napkin from the table to wipe away tears and left.

“Can you have your office draft the plea agreement?” The City Attorney asked, “I have to go to my desk.”  She gathered up the evidence strewn about the table and placed them into the box.

“What will you do there?” Scott asked.

“Plea, pack, beg.  I’m not sure,” she said.  “I’ll be back in about an hour.”  She picked up the box and exited.

Scott pulled out his cell phone dialing his office.  “Maria …”

Caveat Emptor, BABY!

Janice Dewitt recognized the phone number, Maria from the Law Offices of Yannick Gregorian.  Maria told her to expect an email containing a plea agreement for the Miller case.  Her instructions included printing three copies: one each for Scott Norris and the City Attorney.  “Deliver the official copy to the juror.”

Janice did not believe the agreement.  Scott Norris won a near complete victory.  She IM’d Judge Roberts informing her they reached a plea. 

“Inform all parties,” Judge Roberts instructed, “I’ll hear the plea 3:00.”

Janice retrieved a pre-paid cell phone from the third drawer of her desk.  She kept it hidden there for these occasions.  She started a text message.  “To:”  She selected a mailing list called “RumorMill.”  “Message:” Janice punched, “Po10L fireworx dpt 118@3.”  Without hesitation, Janice arrowed to the send button and pressed it.

Janice entered room 11-244.  Juror 8197 sat with his chair resting against the wall his feet crossed at the ankles on the table and a bright yellow headband over his eyes.  Scott Norris busied himself with his Blackberry.  Deputy CA Gibson stood in the corner.  

Janice handed Scott Norris his copy.  Juror 8197 rose and reached for his.  Deputy CA Gibson motioned her copy to the table.  Janice noticed Juror 8197 reading the third page.

“There’ll probably be a revision,” Juror 8197 said.  Juror 8197 acquired voir dire card 91 and placed it over his juror ID badge.

Scott Norris grunted.  “Maria will call you before she sends it,” he said.

Deputy CA Gibson took her seat at the table.

“Ok,” Janice said.  “I’ll get it here as soon as I can.  Judge Roberts wants to hear it at three.” 

Janice returned to her desk.  At 2:28 pm, Maria called again.  The final draft of the plea agreement popped into her e-mail inbox.  She rushed it to room 11-244.  Penelope Miller, the defendant, sat at the table reviewing Scott Norris’s draft.  They thanked her.

At 2:50 pm, Janice entered the court from the internal hallway door.  She stood next to the court clerk.  Judge Roberts was in the midst of voir dire in the matter of “The People vs. Ervin Johnson.”  Janice noticed several members of the rumor mill lined up against the back wall.  Judge Powers was the only judge on the Rumor Mill list present.

Scott Norris opened the door and let Penelope Miller, Deputy CA Gibson and Juror 8197 into the courtroom.  Several more rumor mill members filed in after them.

“At this time,” Judge Roberts announced, “we are in recess.  Please return promptly at 3:30.”  She tapped her gavel and prospective jurors filed into the hallway.  Deputy DA Simpson and Alex Hardin looked at each other before turning their attention to Judge Roberts.

“Counsel,” Judge Roberts said, “I need to hear motions on another matter.”  Looking into the gallery, she added.  “You may stay if you like.”  

Janice smiled at Rumor Mill members.  She anticipated a good show.  She knew Judge Roberts wasn’t completely oblivious to her impact in the courthouse.  She saw Judge Roberts scan the audience noting those who may not be her fans.

“We are on the record of the People versus Penelope A. Miller docket number 2009-1607304.  The defendant is present and represented by counsel.  The people are represented by Deputy City Attorney Gibson.  Juror 9…”  

Judge Roberts paused seemingly confused.  Janice craned her neck to see.  Juror 8197 added a dash one to the voir dire card over his juror ID.

“… Juror 8197 has a signed plea agreement.  Please hand it to the bailiff.”

Bailiff John Brown fetched the envelope and handed it to Judge Roberts.  The gallery contained over forty observers.  Janice noticed a look of surprised recognition on Judge Powers face.  Most of the others had no idea what happened earlier in the day.  Deputy CA Gibson looked down towards the ground while Scott Norris monitored Judge Roberts’ facial expression.  Within moments, Judge Roberts mouthed “What the …”  After reading the seven page document, Judge Roberts folded it up and replaced in it the envelope.

“Traffic court is in Downey,” Judge Roberts declared, “what’s this doing in my courtroom?”

Juror 8197 cutoff Scott Norris before he could speak.  “It’s within your parameters,” he said.

“Parameters?” Judge Roberts repeated.

“Yes,” Juror 8197 said, “the defendant is guilty and we all agree on the charges and sentence.”

“Really?”  Judge Roberts started, “Mr. Norris, will your client report to a court appointed monitor who will strictly enforce these special requirements on penalty of a mandatory prison sentence of seven years?  Do you agree to this?”

“We do, your honor,” Scott Norris said.

“I agreed to the terms as well, your honor,” Juror 8197 said.

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t ask you,” Judge Roberts admonished.  “Do not speak out of turn!”

“Miss Gibson,” Judge Roberts said, “do the people accept these traffic charges in lieu of criminal charges?”

“Uh huh,” Deputy CA Gibson, uttered.

“The court can not understand mumbles,” Judge Roberts insisted.

Deputy CA Gibson raised her head.  Her mascara outlined small streams down her face.  She cleared her throat.  

“The People believe the charges and sentence are appropriate for the facts in this matter.”

“Some people may not see it that way,” Judge Roberts scanned the gallery.  Janice saw her calculate her next move.  “All of you, my chambers now.” Judge Roberts banged her gavel, stood up and headed towards an internal hallway.

So the fireworks will be a private show, Janice thought.  Juror 8197 followed Judge Roberts into the hallway.  Janice slid behind Scott Norris and followed him all the way to Judge Roberts’ chambers.  Since there were only two chairs in front of her desk, only Judge Roberts sat.  To Janice’s left, Deputy CA Gibson stood, Juror 8197 on her right side, the defendant and Scott Norris furthest left.  Janice used his large form to screen herself from Judge Robert’s sight.  Janice thought the Rumor Mill might want a first hand account.

“What the hell happened?” Judge Roberts demanded.

“CA Gibson …” Scott Norris started.

“Shut up,” Judge Roberts commanded.  “I’m sure you held sway earlier.  Let Gibson tell me.”

“It wasn’t him,” Deputy CA Gibson said.

“Raise your head and speak up,” Judge Roberts directed.  “Judge’s chambers’ rules are the same as judge’s court.”

“It was the jerk standing next to me,” Deputy CA Gibson said.

“It's juror,” Juror 8197 corrected, “pronounce it correctly.”

“Your juror threw out the case I prepared and demanded all of the evidence.” Deputy CA Gibson explained.  “He brought out details that were not clear.  Apparently, the victim wasn’t wearing a helmet, did not have any lights on his bike which is against state law, wore dark clothing and was listening to an iPod.”

“Which is probably also against the law,” Juror 8197 interjected, “if he had ear buds in both ears.”

“Quiet!” Judge Roberts snapped.  “CA Gibson has the most to lose in this, I want to hear her speak.”

“I thought …” Miss Miller began.

“Norris!” Judge Roberts exclaimed.  “Keep your client quiet if you want to keep her out of jail.”

Miss Miller looked back to Scott Norris.  He raised his right index finger to his lips making the “Ssshh” signal.

“Thanks to him,” Deputy CA Gibson continued. “We even know what song Miss Miller was playing on her stereo when the incident happened.  He’s even able to place the defendant on the stand to substantiate a theory that the victim was already down.  She’ll testify that she didn’t’ see him and I believe her.”

“The incident, Gibson?” Judge Roberts’s voice tightened rising in pitch.  “If you ever want to see the inside of a courtroom again, refer to it as manslaughter.  Get it.  As far as Miller’s testimony, MOTORISTS NEVER SEE THE CYCLISTS THEY HIT.  The jerk was just playing the odds.”

“Hey!” Juror 8197 objected.  “Look, I’ve done my part.  Sign it forcing cutie to ride a bicycle for five years, don’t sign it and watch Sharpie or Gregorian get her off Scot-free.  I don’t care.  You wanted a plea deal and I provided you one.  Sharpie realizes time’s not on his side, and the LAPD screwed-up Blondie’s case long before it reached her desk.  It may not be legal, perhaps not just, but this deal is fair.”

“Gibson?” Judge Roberts resumed.  “Do you think the deal is fair?”

“There’s a high risk of getting slaughtered in court.” Deputy CA Gibson stated.

“Actually,” Scott Norris added, “Miss Mayweather, your witness number two, will testify that she saw the cyclist ride by without lights, hands off the handle bars, sorta dancing to music in his seat on cross examination.  I got that one on my own, Sparky.”

“Sparky?” Juror 8197 mused.

“If I’m Sharpie, you’re Sparky, kid.” Scott Norris said.

“Been called worse,” Juror 8197 admitted.

Judge Roberts scanned their faces.  “Blondie, Sparky, Cutie and Sharpie.  Where did these names come from?”

Deputy CA Gibson, Miss Miller and Scott Norris turned to Juror 8197.  Janice shuffled to stay out of view.

“So what’s my name?” Judge Roberts asked.

“You don’t want to know,” Juror 8197 asserted.

“I’m pretty sure I do,” Judge Roberts said.

“Spanky,” Juror 8197 replied.

Janice nearly choked suppressing her laughter.  The other's giggles and gaffaws reverberated through Judge Roberts’ chambers.  This one will be used by the Rumor Mill for quite some time. She thought it, alone, justified any risk of being caught.  She covered Scott Norris’s move when he turned to face Judge Roberts.  Judge Roberts donned a sly smile.

“So you think you can score with Cutie if you keep her out of prison,” Judge Roberts surmised.

“Duh,” Juror 8197 said.  “I’d also like to bang Blondie if that counts.”

“Apparently, it’s a guy thing,” Deputy CA Gibson commented.  “He was scoping out all the female DA’s in the cafeteria.”

“Hell,” Juror 8197 exclaimed, “add Your Honor to the mix and it could be a promising night.”

Judge Roberts raised her gavel and mouthed “contempt.”  

“You brought it up, Your Honor,” Scott Norris intercepted.  “And if you do, he’ll have first class representation in an hour.  Pro Bono.”

“Well,” Judge Roberts said, “it looks like you two made all sorts of agreements.”

“Not at all,” Scott Norris countered, “But I’ve grown to like Sparky here.  Did you know he is also a commuter cyclist?”

“This isn’t about me.”  Juror 8197 said.  Janice noticed tension in his voice and thought he was about to lose it. “This shouldn’t be about me.  I’ve done my part.  I even bought lunch.”  He reached into his pannier and produced a sandwich.  “Here you can have it,” he offered turning the label and reading.  “It’s a hero.  I don’t need it anymore.  I just need to go home.”

“Put that away,” Judge Roberts sneered.  “You can report to the jury room.”

“No, no, no, no,” Juror 8197 objected, “No.  My jury duty is over.  It’s only 3:15.  I don’t want to get re-impaneled.”  He took a deep breath.  “Please, live up to your end of the bargain.”

“What makes you think I’m a happy customer?” The Judge Roberts chided.

“Caveat emptor, BABY!” Juror 8197 declared.  “You made the deal.”

“Caveat emptor, baby?” Scott Norris laughed.  “Who says things like that?  You see why I take a shine to little Sparky here.”

This time, Janice couldn’t suppress her giggle.  More grist for the Rumor Mill.  It didn’t matter.  The whole room resounded with laughter masking any noise she made.  Eventually, Judge Roberts steadied herself, and the chamber returned to order.

“Get out of here!” Judge Roberts ordered.  “The court would like to thank and EXCUSE Juror 8197.  See Janice on your way out.  She’ll figure out something.”

Without ceremony, Juror 8197 adjusted the weight of his pannier and turned to the door.  Janice noticed his surprised look when he saw her hiding in Scott Norris’s lee.  While opening the door, he repositioned his pannier creating an effective shield for Janice’s withdrawal.  

“Wait a minute,” Janice said.  She sat in front of her computer, clicked on Juror Information, chose the Unsuitable Juror form and sent the output to the printer.  This action flagged Juror 8197 in the system.  One more unsuitable incident and it is unlikely he will ever have jury duty again.  Janice thought he did a good job and deserved the favor.  She grabbed the paper and stuffed it into an envelope.

“Take this to the jury room and they’ll release you,” Janice said.

“Thanx,” Juror 8197 returned.  “Hey, would you like a sandwich.  It’s a hero.”

“Ok,” Janice accepted.  “Every now and then a girl can use a hero.”

“Can you do me one more favor,” Juror 8197 unzipped the top compartment of his pannier and withdrew a security pass.  “Can you obliterate this?  You know, like it was a confidential legal document or something.”  He handed it to Janice.

“It’s a security card,” Janice mused.  “Why would you want to destroy it?”

“It’s a fake,” Juror 8197 confessed.  “I also maintain an automobile, but, if I get caught running a stop sign or a red light, they put points against my driver’s license.”

“But you don’t need a driver’s license to ride a bike,” she said.

“Exactly,” he agreed.  “That’s why I carry a fake ID.  I may have overplayed it today.  It’s OK.  I have several more at home.”

“Consider it done,” she said.

“Thanx,” Juror 8197 started down the hall.

“Hey!” Janice called.  He turned.  “Safe ride home.”

Juror 8197 smiled and exited.

Rocky Road.

Penelope Miller sat at the dining room table admiring her new passport.  Her court appointed monitor relaxed her travel restrictions three months early and allowed her to apply for her passport in January.  

Five years past since the incident changed her life.  As she looks back on it, the changes seem minor, incremental and almost inconsequential.  At first, they felt like earthquakes.  First, she sold her car, cancelled her car insurance and shopped for a bicycle.  She decided on an Electra Townie with twenty-one speeds.  Over the next month, she spent another five hundred dollars on accessories.  The garment bag pannier alone cost two hundred on-line with shipping and handling.  Helmet, lights, rack and comfortable riding clothes all add up.

Penny found it impossible to go to clubs or bars by bicycle.  Most of her friends deserted her. They found excuses not to spend time with her.  She remembered her conversation with Sherry.

“Look,” Sherry said on the phone.  “One night, you’re going to need something or to be taken somewhere.  It’ll be a perfectly reasonable emergency.  No doubt.  But I’ll be with my boyfriend, perhaps my soul mate, and I’ll be forced to choose between tending to him and helping you.  And I don’t want to be that girl.  So you see why we can’t be friends anymore.”

Penny would have been grateful for the honesty if she didn’t feel particularly isolated and vulnerable at the time.  Her parents seemed more distant.  They never liked driving to LA because they never seemed to find a parking space close enough to her apartment.  Dad already needed a cane to get around.  The hills above Hollywood Boulevard proved too much for him.  The economic recession must have hit them pretty hard, Penny reasoned.  They took out another mortgage on their house.  The payments were higher than before.  Penny felt that they blamed her for this.  It wasn’t reasonable, but her brother, Norman, confirmed her suspicions.

Work, at first, was supportive.  They liked having Penny’s bicycle in the lobby.  It looked right.  They bought her a membership to a gym a half block away.  She showered and changed her clothes there.  As the recession continued, however, they were forced to cut staff down to a skeleton crew.  Penny survived the first rounds of cuts.  The offices felt sad and pathetic.  The next year, the foundation lost its last big donor and shut its doors.  Penny received a full year’s salary as severance.  

Penny thought about moving back home.  Her parent’s silent disapproval dissuaded her.  With severance pay, sale of her car, money she put away, savings from not operating a car, side money bloging for Aidan and unemployment, she had the means to stay independent.  Her major problem was the hill on which she lived.  At first, she had to walk her bike up it.  Even though she can pedal her way up in a low gear, she never looked forward to it.

While at the foundation, she shopped at weekly farmer’s markets or at Ralphs.  Before facing the hill, she stopped at a Starbucks for an hour or two.  Her garment pannier carried her office clothes, a lap top computer and groceries.  This made her assault on the hill even more arduous.

Aidan came home with two polished, metal skinned suitcases and vanished into his den.  A minute later, he scurried down to the garage and back up again.  Penny suspected something was afoot, but knowing Aidan, it’s best to give him a few minutes.

The hill was the primary reason Penny met Aidan.  He stopped at the same Starbucks around 6:00 pm as the crew reset the stage for re-shoots.  Penny usually grabbed a window seat near the electrical outlets.  Aidan came in, flashed a warm smile and greeted anyone who made eye contact.  He was handsome.  Penny looked forward to each greeting exchange.  When fewer Starbuck’s people distracted him, Aidan looked at her screen and made insightful comments.  After a month of two of this, a forty-ish woman asked Penny who he was.  Penny confessed ingnorance.  “That’s Aidan Tolley, one of the stars of Sin Fronteras.”

Aidan played the hunky British doctor on “Sin Fronteras,” a hit drama on ABC.  King, Smith and Feldberg, the producers, chose the Spanish version of Médecins Sans Frontières because it didn’t have special characters and it might draw more of the Hispanic demographic.  The show mixed social causes, international intrigue, corrupt bureaucrats, heroic doctors and NGO rivalries. The producers pushed the writers beyond the villain of the week, to give each of the world’s problems its due measure.  The writers, however, took the English meaning of the title to heart and exposed, as much as possible, the borders of sin.  Ongoing themes included the effects of world poverty and strife in terms of prostitution, forced labor camps, forced children warriors,  drug trafficking, human trafficking, fake prescription drugs, gun smuggling and, in two unsuccessful episodes, puppy smuggling.  The images of heroic international doctors operating on genetically stressed dogs garnered neither critical acclaim nor market share.

Penny looked up Aidan Tolley on IMDB.com, Googled him, followed his tweets and read his blogs.  As Aidan’s stardom increased, and with a few movie deals in the works, he strayed away from the Hollywood life style and seemed determined to avoid being mocked on TMZ.  While still employed, Penny monitored Aidan’s websites in her afternoon Starbucks sessions.  One Friday, Aidan noticed his blog site up and accused her cyber stalking.  She proceeded to critique the content.  They talked until the coffee shop closed at 11:30.  Aidan drove off and Penny faced the dreaded hill in the dark.

The next Monday, Aidan wanted Penny to meet with his internet consultants in Culver City, a distance too far for Penny.  She countered with simply reviewing the content.  They settled on one thousand dollars a month for prescreening content and spending an hour or so in the evening to generate more interesting entries.  

Penny’s first appearance on TMZ happened when she and Aidan discussed his character's recent adventure in Bosnia to help trafficked women from Moldova.  TMZ showed them pointing at her laptop.  Her face was mostly obscured, but her ex-friend, Serena, phoned to confirm the citing and inquire if they talked about TMZ’s speculation that they were discussing TMZ’s  piece on his co-stars recent DUI.  Penny hung up.

Hours together led to dinner dates at nearby eateries.  Dinner dates led to formal dates.  Their formal dates consisted, mostly, of Aidan picking up a formally dressed Penny at her place, taking her to a ritzy charity dinner and bringing Penny back to her apartment.  After they attended a real MSF fundraiser, TMZ accused Aidan of trying to play his character in real life.  Max and a couple of the other dudes on the show remarked she was the same hot redhead from the coffee shop.  Some of the girls on the show snarked back calling her another of Aidan’s charity causes.

Penny invited Aidan to her apartment.  They listened to Sherry’s attempt to confirm Penny’s new found celebrity and reestablish her old friendship.  They laughed.  Sherry be damned, Penny thought.  It was the night her’s and Aidan’s collaboration turned romantic.

Penny decided to check up on Aidan.  He worked enthusiastically on two new bicycles formerly concealed in suitcases.  One rested chain-side against the daybed.  That’ll require re-upholstery.  Aidan attempted to install a front wheel on the second, inverted, bicycle.

Penny wondered at his enthusiasm.  She thought it was his most endearing quality.  After she lost her job at the foundation, Aidan increased her workload and pay.  She managed his internet presence, wrote most of his tweets and blog entries, updated his face book and mySpace pages and answered fan e-mail.  They discussed his charity profile.  Penny favored an involvement based profile over his donation/dinner role.  She scheduled pet adoptions, 10k runs, literacy read-ins and the like.  They arrived early and Aidan played with the dogs, talked with disabled children and inspired inner city youth.  Many charities wrote expressing their appreciation of his work with their clients as opposed to simply showing up and lending his celebrity.  “The thing is,”  Aidan said after reading the letter from the Amanda Foundation, “is that I liked playing with the dogs.  You know, getting to know them, being able to recommend them to families blundering in to adopt.”

Penny saw the same enthusiasm as he assembled the second bike and set it on its wheels.  “What do we have here?” She asked rhetorically.

“These are for Europe,” he declared.  “Look they can fold and fit in the suitcases.”  He demonstrated the bicycles' capabilities with mild difficulty.  “They’re called Montague’s.  They’re like the bicycles paratroopers use after they jump.”

“Then why do they say ‘Swiss Bike.’” Penny asked.

“Same thing,” he said.  “The guy at the shop said they cost a little more but they combine high end features like disc brakes with commuter features like a suspension seat post and solid forks.”

“The guy at the bike shop?” She challenged.

“Yeah,” he said.  “He sold Derrick, Bill, Eric and half of Hollywood their bikes.  When I told him I wanted bikes for riding around Europe, he suggested that we just buy them there.  But I wanted to practice, you know.  And you’ve done so much to your bike.  I told him I wanted them ready to ride the first day all geared up.  So he suggested these Montagues.  They didn’t even sell them there.  He just showed them to me on his laptop.”

“How much did they cost?” She inquired.

“Oh, only eight hundred a piece,” he said loosening the lock bolt.  “Look they fold up, take the front wheel off and they fit in the suit cases.  We just check them on as baggage.  Now that’s priceless.”

“Too large for carry on, I suppose,” she said.

“Let’s take them for a spin!” He proposed.

“Right now?” She hesitated.

“Yeah,” he said.  “Actually, thirty minutes ago.  I made an appointment with the guy.  He usually doesn’t talk to customers until after his group ride.  Come on.  Let’s go!”

“To a bike shop?” She said.

“To THE bike shop,” he said, “it’s the one in Santa Monica.  The one that’s always on TMZ.”

Penny knew it was impossible to stop him.  Slowing Aidan down would only dampen his spirits.  She loved his high spirits.

“Which one is mine?” She asked approaching the smaller red bicycle.

They rode a bike path from Malibu to Santa Monica.  Although Aidan was in excellent athletic shape, Penny slowed herself to prevent leaving him far behind.  Experience matters in cycling.  She pointed out obstacles as she led him down a route with which she was familiar.  

Despite the danger, Penny allowed her thoughts to drift.  She remembered the night she told Aidan about the incident that changed her life.  They were still romantically entwined when he asked her to meet him at his condo for their next date.  He felt weird ending all of their dates at her apartment.  He wanted to host a dinner party and introduce her to her friends.

Aidan’s Hollywood Hills condo was atop a steep hill near Runyon Canyon.  She knew she could not climb it on her bicycle.  She did not want to arrive all sweaty and she was determined to follow her plea deal as completely as possible.  Having hid her banishment from driving and its cause for so long, she decided that honesty was the best policy.  It had been fairy tale romance, but any romance built on lies and secrecy must end ere long.

“So you killed that guy?” he asked.

“It was an accident,” she cried, “I would never, I could never, not intentionally …”

Penny felt Aidan romantically, emotionally and physically slip away from her.  She rolled her shoulder back hoping their good-bye would be swift and painless.  Aidan, reached out and pulled her closer.  Even though their relationship isn’t perfect (Aidan refuses to marry and she realizes she is, essentially, speelping with her boss), Penny still cherishes what he said:

“Penny, it’s silly how much I need you.  You compliment me in so many ways.  You’ve made a phenomenal life even better.  I love you for the person you are.  So whatever made you into this person, I’ll embrace. It’s a part of you.  It’s horrible of course.  Not just for you but for that bloke.  Oh god, let’s not go there.”  Aidan paused for just a minute before smiling.  “I’ve got a solution.”

“A solution?” She said.

“You know,” he said, “You have an awful habit of repeating a lot things as a question.  I’ll show you in the morning.”

The next morning, Aidan drove her to a Malibu Beach house in escrow.  He bought it a week before.  The solution, he proposed, consisted of them moving in together and throwing a house warming party.  

Aidan caught a smiling Penny and yelled, “Follow me.”  He led her off the bike path, up a small street, past the TMZ cameraman and across the street.  They dismounted and walked their bicycles to Saint M’s Cyclery.

“Hey Aidan,” the rushing cameraman yelled, “what do you think about the troop build up in Afghanistan?”

“Let’s not have a press conference, lads,” Aidan turned to face the camera, “I’m just here to gear up for a tour of Europe.”

“Whatchya doing in Europe?” The cameraman pursued.

“Promoting my new movie, Conflicts of Interest.” Aidan tried to say as flatly as possible but failed to suppress a grin.  Aidan turned back around and headed for the door.

“Hey beautiful!” The cameraman said.  “What’s your name?”

Penny smiled and pushed her bicycle through the door.  They parked them in the back near the mechanics counter.

“That was shameless,” Penny chided through her smile.  

“Have to pay for these bikes somehow,” Aidan jested.

They kissed.  

“Now this guy,” Aidan started.  “He asks a lot of questions.  It’s OK.  It helps him zero in on exactly what you want even if it’s not what you came in for.”

“You’re really impressed with this guy,” Penny surmised.

“He’s champs love, really, the best,” Aidan said.

“Hey Pat,” Penny heard from the opposite side of the store.  “You’re late, way late …”  Two things about this address bothered Penny.  First: Although the fact that Aidan’s birth name was Patrick Aidan O’Toole Crowley is common knowledge, just look it up on IMDB.com, Aidan made everyone, including Penny, call him “Aidan.” Second: The voice sounded familiar.  “  … I filled Chuck in on your situation … “ The voice closed in.  Penny turned to face it.  “Cutie!” The ex-juror said in surprised joy.

“Sparky!” Penny responded.

“Sparky?” Aidan repeated.  “Damn, now you’ve got me doing it.  You know each other?”

“Five years ago,” the ex-juror cut off Penny’s answer.  “A rather intense day.”  To Penny, “Never thought I’d see you again.”  Back to Aidan, “Chuck here will help you and Patty, is it?”

“Penny,” Penny corrected.  “And you are?”

“A little pressed for time,” the ex-juror stated.  “Pat, you go first with Chuck here.  Then you both can help Penny.”

Chuck tapped Aidan on the shoulder.  Aidan flashed Penny a quizzical look as he walked backwards following Chuck.  Penny gave him the “Go ahead and have fun” hand signal usually reserved for pre-charity event soccer games with orphans or a dramatic readings for cancer patients.  Aidan felt comforted managing a dim smile.

“You actually looked sexier with the extra weight,” the ex-juror commented.

“It’s hard to imagine you are in sales,” she said.

“It’s a part time gig,” the ex-juror informed.  “Work put everyone on a four day work week.  Twenty percent pay cut but we get to keep health bennies.  So I found a weekend job in a bike shop in Arcadia.  It was ok.  Then this place offered me a cut of weekend sales.  Much more lucrative.”  He looked over to Aidan and Chuck reviewing saddles.  

“Other than work,” Penny changed subjects, “how’s your life going?  Are you actually seeing anyone?”

“Believe it or not,” he smiled, “I’ve been seeing a DA for three or so years now.”

“Blondie?!” Penny burst.

“No,” the ex-juror shook his head.  “I don’t think we got along all that well.”

“Scott said you ended her prosecutorial career before it even started,” Penny said.

“Scott?” The ex-juror started.  “Was there some attorney client privilege?  A little more than pro bono?”

“You really need to work on your people skills,” Penny admonished.  Then she remembered, “Did you really think your smarter than him?”

“It was just a trick,” he confessed.  “Sharpie figured that one out quick.  So are you going to get a driver’s license?”  

“I don’t know,” Penny said.

“You should, they’re very useful,” he said.  “You should be a good driver by now.  You should read the road really well.”

“If you make a mistake,” she reminded, “you pay with your body.”

“I know,” the ex-juror said.  “I guess your family was relieved after Zippie’s parents lost their faith just after our last meeting,” 

“Why would they be relieved?”  Penny asked earnestly.

The ex-juror paused for a moment as if he was at a loss of words.  “Because your plea deal kept you out of jeopardy?” 

“Hey!” He cut her off before she could reply.  “I got to lead a canyon ride today.  Chuck is good.  He’ll make sure you have everything you need for riding around Europe.”

“How much is it going to cost Aidan?”  Penny brought the conversation back to the present.

“About a thousand or so by the time you’re through,” the ex-juror said.

“And, how are we going to get it all home?”  Penny asked.

“Expedition panniers,” the ex-juror said already turning towards the back of the shop, “Axiom Champlains.  They’re great.  Like my old bag.”  He turned a corner and disappeared from sight.

Greg Matthews, the shop owner, approached Penny.  Penny watched Aidan try out several saddles.  Harmless enough.

“How do you know Karl?” Greg asked.

“I thought his name was ‘Dave,”’ Penny said.

“You fell for one of his fake ID’s,” he said.

“What makes you think you didn’t?” She challenged.

“The IRS hasn’t complained yet,” he informed.

“Clever,” Penny said.  Aidan approached with a new saddle mounted on an aluminum seat post.

“He’s a funny one,” Greg continued.  “Saw him at the big bike convention in Las Vegas.  He was chewing out the guy from Profile Designs about the design of their food bag.” Penny flashed a quizzical look.  “Tri-athletes like to put their energy snacks in them.  It mounts behind the stem on the top bar.  And that’s what Karl complained about.  The Velcro straps attached where the rear derailleur cable runs along the top bar.”  Penny looked distracted.  “Anyways, he was right and very passionate.”

“Is this guy boring you?” Aidan asked.  “Where did Carl go?”

“No,” Penny stated flatly, “not at all.”

“Well,” Aidan said, “I’m going to test out this new saddle.  I’ll be right back.”  Holding the new saddle by the seat post, Aidan walked his bike to Chuck.  

“Use the back door,” Greg advised.  “The paparazzi aren’t allowed out there.”  He turned to Penny.  “He’s really knowledgeable about cycling and good at reading people.”

“He’s just an actor,” Penny said.

“No,” Greg corrected, “I mean Karl.  You know I thought he was crazy when he proposed paying him to ride his bike on Sundays.  Well look out back.”

Penny yawned as she looked through the back door.  

“There must be eight celebrities out there,” Greg bragged. “See there’s Jay Mohr and Cobie Smulders and Tyler, the guy in the US Postal jersey, he rode in seven or eight Tours de France.  He volunteered to ride sweep because Kathy Ireland lags behind.  He likes to chat her up.”

“Is that why TMZ is camped outside,” Penny inquired.

“Yeah!” Greg explained.  “They like to comment about who comes back in the lead pack and who dogs it.  We limit the ride to forty for safety’s sake.  Today is the Canyon run. Karl’s going to lead them up and down two steep canyons.  Most of them will come back a sweaty mess.  They’ll complain about their bikes and we’ll ring up around ten thousand in sales.”

“Is that so?” Penny was trying to be polite.

“We make a mint off these rides,” Greg plowed on.  “Karl says the big money ain’t in selling high end bikes, which we do sell.  It’s in customization.  People develop an intimate relationship with their bikes.  The more we facilitate it, the more money we make.  I ran the shop for ten years and never heard anyone say that before.”

“Well, I guess he’d know,” Penny said.  “He seems to know a lot.”

“I’d say so,” Greg bragged, “I had to hire two more mechanics since he joined us.”  

Penny turned towards the front window.  

“So do you know him well?” Greg attempted to draw her attention.

“We met for a day a few years ago,” Penny said.

“Did he get you into cycling?” Greg pursued.

“You could say that,” Penny said.

“Well,” Greg drove to his point, “I’ve seen you on TMZ.  If Karl got you into cycling and cycling changed your life, you know, for the better, well, it be nice to have a testimonial.”

Penny looked past Greg and noticed the ex-juror leading his star studded peloton down PCH.  Despite the shop owner’s annoyance, she was happy.  It had been just over five years from the worst day in her life and almost five years from her second worst day.  That day, however, a cycling maniac pronounced her a person worth saving.  She paid a steep price, but it could have been much steeper.  Now her life seemed like a fantasy, a dream.  Cycling was a part of it.  Hell, it was a big part of the cause.  Penny smiled.

“Dave changed my life,” Penny confessed, “and I’m glad he did.  But I don’t think you want my testimonial.”  Before Greg could pursue her, she added, “I think I’m going talk to Chuck about a new rack.”


If you enjoyed this story, or even if you didn't, you should check out my new novel on Kindle at:
Justin Theret's Guide to a Better LIfe  

© 2017 Chopstix



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I was completely enthralled! I couldn't stop reading. How wonderful!

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Added on February 5, 2017
Last Updated on February 5, 2017
Tags: Bicycle, Cyclist, Juror, Judge, Legal, lawyers, distracted, driver, plea deal.vehicular asault, manslaughter

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Chopstix
Chopstix

Los Angeles, CA



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In high school, I wrote lyrics. I started college writing poems and switched to short stories. After college, I discovered I could write computer programs, but I could not finish a novel (kept editi.. more..

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