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[Coupla weeks ago I'm in a thread here and somebody says they have some short fiction but don't know if this is the place to publish, some other guy says sure, he's seen some short fiction here, go ahead.

I've done it a few times, it's different and decidedly off-key in all the seriousness and fighting, but still valuable, I think, and a freedom of expression this place is all about. I told Hunter eons ago I should publish a romance novella, what the hell, so here's part 3, part 1 was ages ago, and I'll write part 2 tomorrow, it's still in my head.

Daily Kos is a free place, meant to be for yourself in your own expression of service. ]

County admin Sarah Covington heard brisk footsteps as she stared at her monitor, pleased to look up and find the pretty figure and person of Stacy Wright.

“Hello, darlin’,” she said with a smile.  “How are you? What brings you here this fine day?”

“I’m good, Sarah,” Stacy said.  “I need to talk to the Judge a little,” Stacy said with a slight smile.  “Is he in?”

“Oh yes, go right on back, dear, he’ll be happy to see you,” Sarah said briskly, reaching for a sheaf of papers in a tray. “I could use a break from this myself.”

“All right,” Stacy said, still smiling, lifting a hand from her purse strap in small wave and walking down the polished bright corridor.  “Take care.”

“You too,” Sarah said, eyes on her monitor and fingers flying over the keyboard, glad the Judge had one of his tea people show up, it always perked up his day.

Stacy smelled floorwax and wood polish as she walked down the corridor, the old school county building giving off a heavy government feel in fancy wood frames to the office doors and fine chandeliers hanging from the high ceilings.  The door to Judge Gerald Briller, stamped in a steady large real gold font, was open, a large imposing man with short black hair, white shirt and black tie, and heavy black frame glasses bent over a huge desk completely strewn with various papers and files.  She knocked lightly on the door.

“Hi Judge,” Stacy said easily.  “Got a minute?”

“Stacy! What a nice surprise!” Gerald Briller instantly rose and walked around the corner of his desk. “Please, please come in,” he said, holding an arm out with gentle expectation.

Stacy kissed both his cheeks quickly in a distinctly French greeting, Briller putting a light hand on her arm. This brusque, cranky fifty-something had a scathing reputation for temper and intensity but she had found him to be nothing but the most gentle of persons under the gruff exterior, always trying to help her and mission, something she had found distinctly lacking in most other county public officials.

Judge Briller quickly moved to a side table in the huge office, fussing with an electric kettle, two big white porcelain teacups and sugar cubes on a silver tray.  “Sit down, Stacy, tea will be ready in four minutes. Everything all right with you?”

Stacy smiled happily, setting into an oak chair opposite the desk and sliding her purse off her shoulder.  “I’m fine, Judge, I just need to check in with some stuff.”

“Oh?” Judge Briller looked at her at little inquiringly and sat down. “Check away, then.”

“Thank you again, Judge, for the community service help you’ve sent our way, we’ve got a lot more done this year than I expected,” Stacy said. “We’re working a lot in the fields now, and, well, when the men show up for five hours I give them credit for ten,” she said a little hurriedly. “They’re useless after five hours in the field, Judge, and they work better when they’re grateful.”

Judge Briller looked at her steadily, a small smile curving his mouth. “How you use the community service labor is up to your discretion, Stacy, of course,” he said.

She nodded with quick gratitude.  “And, well, Judge, they’re unsupervised too.” Stacy twisted her hands a little nervously.  “I don’t see myself as the leader of a chain gang, Judge, it wouldn’t work.  I check them in at seven and off at noon, they can do whatever work they want, ‘n I tell them if they’re not there at noon and want to experience a bench warrant from Judge Briller, well, it’s their funeral.”

Gerald Briller gave a wry smile.  “Well, I haven’t issued one for you yet, anyway,” he said.  “Do any of them perform no work at all?”

“Surprisingly few,” Stacy replied.  “Most of them work okay, some of them extremely  well.”  Stacy cleared her throat and looked at her hands.  “Speaking of which, what can you tell me about Glenn Duey?”

The electric kettle had been bubbling to a soft crescendo, and as Judge Briller looked at her it gave a click, sounding loud in the suddenly still room. Judge Briller looked at her impassively, various thoughts eventually leading to a soft, gentle smile.

“Look, Judge, I want to know,” she said, unabashed at her honesty.  He briefly opened his hands and titled his head in a gesture of acceptance, got up to the kettle and poured bubbling water into the cups and waiting Earl Grey teabags.  Placing one before her and his chair, he sat down again and folded his hands together, looking at her steadily.

“Boy’s got something on his mind,” he finally said.  His fingers began tapping together.  “I’ve seen women choose worse,” he said.  “A lot worse,” he said softly, looking at a file.

Stacy’s eyes wandered to the file too.  “Was it a DUI?” she asked quietly.

Judge Briller briefly shook his head. “No, not at all.  Mr. Duey thought being on his bicycle granted him immunity from the civil code and authority of this city and county,” he said sternly.  He briefly shook his head and took a sip of tea.  “He shouldn’t make that mistake again,” he said grimly.

Stacy tilted her head slightly.  “Shouldn’t?” she said intently.

The kid’s always been a sharpie, Judge Briller said to himself.  He looked at his hands, the fingers tapping quickly away, while Stacy was enormously surprised to see something like embarrassment flicker over his face.

“What is it, Gerald?” she asked quietly.

Judge Briller sighed, looked briefly at the walls and then at his hands again.  He finally flipped them open and then looked at her with a look of wry admission.

“I talked to a few people, they talked to a few people, they got back to me,” he said openly. After a pause he looked at her evenly.  “He lives alone on J street, old part of town, in a Sears kit house his uncle gave him the down for. An okay job at the mill, keeps to himself, stays fit on that bike.”  Judge Briller slightly bit his lip. “And never, ever misses the PTSD clinic every Friday evening in Peyton.”

Stacy’s face mirrored brief concern, but she said nothing.

“Two tours in Afghanistan, Marine Corps,” Judge Briller said flatly. “The second one a stop loss,” he said.

“Stop loss?” Stacy asked.

Briller shook his head. “The Marine Corps forcefully extended his contract, he should have got out but was forced into another tour,” he said.

“Oh,” Stacy replied quietly.

“It’s not a good sign that Mr. Duey would start to significantly risk his physical safety and defy authority on that stupid bike, especially when he was precisely warned not to.” Judge Briller sighed and nodded slightly . “Mr. Duey is now being watched,” he said with a calculated grimness.

Stacy looked at him in surprise.  “Nothing like looking through his windows or tapping his phone, nothing like that,” Judge Briller said sharply.  “It’s just that there are a number of people around here with a good public view of what’s going on. If they see or hear anything  about any aberrant behavior from Mr. Duey, well, I’ll know about it in a few hours.”

Stacy took a drink of her tea, looking at the heavy glasses frames around an apparently stern face, saying nothing.  “It’s in our professional interest to do so,” he said.

Stacy smiled. “It couldn’t be because you’re a good man, now could it, Judge Briller?”

He gave a short snort of derision, looking at a corner of his desk. “Please,” he said with some plaintiveness.

Stacy smiled in a satisfied female way, nodding her head.  “Anything else I should know about this prince?” she asked brightly.

Judge Briller gave her a small smile and started looking at his tapping fingers again.  We’ve been at war a long time, he said to himself.  Our army is small but, just like always, our women will still have to deal with the men when they come home.

He took a drink of tea.  “If you do see him, he won’t be a wine and dine type of guy,” he said quietly.  “The last thing his brain stem needs is a wallop from a toxic, potent depressant,” he continued evenly.  His hands opened slightly.  “Understand?”

Stacy swallowed and looked at her teacup.  She eventually looked up and placed the tea on his desk, sliding her purse over her shoulder.

“Don’t get up, I know how busy you are,” she said briskly, moving the chair aside and rising to move to his side of the desk.  Looking down at him, she kissed his forehead with a soft determination.  “You don’t fool me for a second, Judge Gerald Briller,” she declared, turning away to walk out the door.

He shook his head and looked at her striding confidently through the door, a brief look of admiration of his face.  Did I scare her off? He asked himself.  No, not that one.

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