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Fine Points of Law
Lester Junk was not in a very good mood. The rolls were stale and the coffee was
weak - or if not weak, at least not as strong as he thought it ought to be. On
top of everything else, the morning sun was in his eyes as he sat alone at a
table for four with his back to the outside wall of Max’s Outdoor Coffee Bar.
He chose this particular table because the previous diner had left a newspaper
behind, and Lester could never pass up a free newspaper. The news in the paper
was all bad. But Lester would have been in a bad mood in any case. The
Republican party was back in charge and things had not improved a bit. Gasoline
was $2.75 a gallon and illegal aliens were coming across the Mexican border in
waves. If anything, things were worse now than they were when the damn Democrats
had control of both houses of Congress.
Lester Junk was in a mood to give someone a good piece of his mind, and he
wished somebody, anybody, would sit down across the table from him so he could
tell them just how bad things really were. But that was unlikely. Lester was
well known in Max’s Outdoor Coffee Bar, especially in the morning. He would
invariably walk in talking to himself and sit down under the red and white
striped awning looking for someone to mouth off to. He’d order two rolls and a
pot of coffee and stay there far longer than it took to eat. In fact he would
stay until he finished his newspaper; seething as he fought his way through the
minefield of the editorial page.
“No one watching the damn border!” he exploded. “Any Tom, Dick or Harry can walk
in here and live like a king!” He looked around to see if anyone wanted to argue
the point, but everyone turned away. No one was willing to agree or disagree.
Still grumbling, he changed his position so the morning sun would warm his back.
But now the newspaper was blinding white and difficult to read. “School prayer!
He shouted. “Unconstitutional? One nation under God! That’s the way it’s
supposed to go! Under God, Goddamn it! What’s wrong with that? It’ll teach these
fresh kids what Uncle Sam stands for!” He shouted this to a woman walking her
dog past the coffee bar. The dog turned and barked shrilly at Lester and the
woman jerked him away and shouted back at Lester.
The morning wasn’t starting out well for Lester Junk. Except for the dog, he
hadn’t gotten anyone’s ear, and his views on the condition of the world seethed
inside him like a bubbling pot of stew with a tight fitting lid.
He had jury duty this afternoon and it was 11:30 by the bank clock across the
street. He was irritated beyond words at the prospect of a long hot session in
and out of the jury room.
As a juror, his mind was made up anyway. The Latino boy was guilty. Speeding,
resisting arrest and driving with a suspended license. On top of that they found
an ounce of marijuana and papers in a business envelope on the dash board of his
car. Prosecution rests! No way the defense could explain that away, even though
the prosecution was inept. Lester knew the kid was guilty even before the trial
began. “Latin-American boy - hair in a pony-tail - imagine, showing up in court
like that. What do you expect?” Might just as well forget the defense side of
the trial; no way to defend a kid like that.
Lester Junk was in not in favor of appointing a woman to be forelady for the
jury either. “Damned shortsighted!” He said to himself. “A woman! Single mother
of four, hmmpf. Spanish sounding name too, wouldn’t you know?” He was sure the
boy would be convicted in spite of her. “Ten years in the pen will make a better
man of him ... turn him into a citizen. But you can never relax where women are
concerned,” he reminded himself. “They may look soft on the outside, but they
often have a rock hard center - like the pit in a prune.”
At any rate it was time to move on. He glanced at the clock across the street
again, it was almost noon. The judge wanted the jury back at twelve thirty. The
judge was a sour faced old bastard and wouldn’t hesitate substituting an
alternate in his place if he was late.
Lester stood up, brushed himself off and walked up to the counter -- “I suppose
you expect me to pay for this poor excuse for a cup of coffee and those stale
“Of course,” Max smiled. Mr. Junk, you eat here because it’s the cheapest coffee
shop in town. Why don’t you go to Starbuck’s, they have designer coffee there,
and I understand their rest rooms are fit for a king.”
“I may just do that, Max.” He folded the newspaper and stuffed it under his arm
as though it were an umbrella, tilted his hat a little to the right and headed
off in the direction of the courthouse. Eating elsewhere was a boast Lester Junk
would never follow through with. Eating, getting a haircut. or doing anything in
the cheapest place in town was a matter of great satisfaction to him. He looked
in the store windows on his way, not to see what was inside, but to see what he
looked like in them. He caught sight of the cigar in his breast pocket and
thought how good it would taste right now - but on second thought, he knew he
couldn’t finish it before the trial began, and the thought of throwing away a
half finished cigar was out of the question.
Almost all the jurors were there, even the alternates, and the place was
beginning to smell like a locker room. Lester Junk wondered how bad it would be
later in the afternoon -- the courtroom itself was air-conditioned. Maybe that
was to keep jury deliberations short, it sounded like a good idea to Lester.
This kid was guilty - one, two, three and he’ll be on his way up the river where
The jury officer opened the door and poked his head in. “Good news folks, the
judge is coming in to have a word with you.”
One of the jurors remarked, “I think we’re through. Usually when the judge walks
into the jury room it means the trial is over.”
“Impossible,” Lester answered. “We haven’t heard the defense yet.”
“That’s right ... and we’re not gonna,” the juror replied.
Sure enough, the judge swept into the room in his long black robes like a diva.
“The court and I want to thank all of you for being good citizens. You’ve all
done your duty, and I’m happy to announce that your term of duty is over. All
charges in this trial have been dismissed, there is no need to continue.”
The jurors were overjoyed and the prospect of going home at one o’clock in the
afternoon was gratifying to them. Lester Junk however, was bitter - he was sure
the defendant was guilty. A good stretch in state prison was just what he needed
and to the surprise of everyone in the room, he spoke up indignantly, “What kind
of justice is this! The man is accused of resisting an officer! Driving without
a license - marijuana on the dashboard! How can you dismiss charges?”
The judge stared at Lester Junk, and a hush came over the room ...
“You mean your mind was made up -- even before you heard the defense?” the judge
“Oh, I’ve seen his type. I know what the defense would be ... crying police
brutality ... planting evidence, racial this and that.”
The forelady had been listening while getting into her coat and turned from the
judge to Lester. In a burst of indignation she looked at him and said, “What
racial? The man was white.”
“Well, Latino then -- what’s the difference? Six of one, half a dozen of the
The judge turned to the rest of the jury and sat down wearily at the head of the
table. “The police admitted to council that on second thought the defendant was
not driving the car,” he smiled and shook his head sadly ... “The defendant
exited the vehicle from the driver’s side because the police car had forced it
snug against the guard rail and he couldn’t get out on the passenger side.”
“But it was his car,” Lester Junk insisted.
“No, his father’s car. His father had the same name ... and the ounce of hash?
That was in a business envelop with his father’s name on it.” The judge gathered
his robes around him and stood up. “It really wasn't much of a case ... er ...
you’re Mr. Junk, am I right?”
“Yes. Junk, that’s right. Why can’t those charges be leveled on the father,
“The father wasn’t arrested, Mr. Junk. The son was. You can’t charge the boy’s
father for a crime the boy was arrested for.” The judge stood up slowly and
smiled sadly at Lester. “It’s the law, Mr. Junk -- don’t confuse it with justice
-- don’t try to make sense out of it.”
Lester Junk filed out of the courthouse with the others. He patted his breast
pocket to make sure his cigar was still there. “The law and justice, hmmpf --
now there’s something to think about.” He glanced quickly at the clock on the
bank across the street - it was 1:15 ... maybe he’d go back to Max’s Coffee
Shop, maybe find someone to talk to.
©Harry Buschman 2000
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