Double Jeopardy



This time he knew it was going to be different, just three months shy of his eighteenth birthday and in trouble again. The Juvenile Justice System had thrown in the towel with his latest arrest. The Prosecutor filed felony charges against him; if they stuck he would be tried as an adult.  The possibility of incarceration in the State Prison System loomed over him like a dark cloud.  All those horror stories of gang rape and physical abuse by stronger inmates now dominated Paco's thoughts.  Beads of sweat tracked down the side of his face.  Paco took a deep breath, pushed his long black hair behind his ears.  Paco exercised a kind of power of his own when he was running the streets. But, on this day and in this Courtroom the Judge was calling all the shots.

Above the Judge's head was a sign that read; "We who labor here, seek only truth."   The Judge robed in black, focused his cold blue eyes on him. He could feel the old man look right through him. This Judge had a reputation for coming down hard on punks like Paco. He took a particular delight in making their worst nightmare come true.

"Paco Pavon," The Judge's voice rang out from the bench.

"Yes Judge," Paco replied in a barely audible voice.

"Speak up!" The Judge demanded. "I cannot hear you."

Paco's knees buckled; the room spun around him and his heart pounded.  He shook visibly as he stood before the bench. He looked down toward the floor of the packed courtroom.  He cleared his throat and said, "Yes, I am Paco Pavon."  

The Prosecutor interrupted, "Your Honor,  I respectfully request that the defendant be taken into custody. His prior record indicates that he will pose a continuing threat to the community," The Prosecutor's statement startled him. Paco returned his gaze briefly then quickly looked away. He noted his air of indifference and the dark blue pin striped suit. The shoes troubled him, shiny black Bostonian wing tips. They reminded him of the ones his father beat him with when he was a child.  "Mr. Pavon," the Judge continued, "Do you have an attorney to represent you?"

"No Judge, I have no money and no job."  In desperation, he prayed, "God there must be some way out of this, just show me the way. I'll do better next time, I promise." Paco made this plea many times before and wondered if God would hear him this time. 

The Judge paused for a moment then stated, "I'll review the defendant's prior record and recall this case." The Judge instructed him to take a seat in the Courtroom. He ordered the court clerk to hand him the file before moving on to the next name on the docket.

Paco retreated from the bench taking a seat in the front row. Directly in front of him was a box-like enclosure lined with chairs. Here the men already in custody sat in handcuffs waiting their turn to see the Judge. Paco watched the men in the box, thinking that maybe he too would end up in chains before the end of the day. Some of the men looked as frightened as he felt. Others just took catnaps as they waited. Standing in front of that Judge felt like an eternity to Paco, when he looked up at the clock on the wall, only seven minutes had passed.

The Crucifix around his neck felt warm against his skin. Briefly, he thought about the man he snatched it from, remembering how his head cracked open upon hitting the sidewalk. He saw blood drip from the curbstone onto the street. He ran without looking back.  He felt bad about the old guy falling like that. Why didn't he just let go, instead of trying to hold on to it? The gold chain in his hand brought him no comfort as he ran.  Now, the weight of that chain and the crucifix hanging from it gave him pause for reflection.   What if the old man dies?  He wondered.

One of the men in the box stared at him and laughed. Paco flipped him the finger and glared at him with his meanest barrio look. Instinctively, he knew weakness was not an option in his present circumstance. He noticed a burly Bailiff looking in his direction. Their eyes met and Paco with a pleading look motioned for him to come over. "Please Sir, I have to go real bad or I'm gonna piss my pants. I'll be right back, I promise."  He said. 

The Bailiff convinced after watching him squirming around in his seat said, "Go on and make it fast, there's a bathroom down the hall."

Paco left the courtroom quickly. Without hesitating, he headed directly for the stairwell. He raced down five flights of stairs to the first floor. When he exited the front doors of the Courthouse, he leaned against the marble wall panting. He lifted his face to a cool refreshing morning breeze. He was free for now and at that moment that was all that mattered to him.

He knew a warrant would follow and he would become a fugitive. Running away from things was nothing new for him; he had been running all his life but never understood why. He turned his head slowly toward the parking lot about fifty feet away. The sun was filtering through the large black olive trees against a backdrop of deep blue sky. Paco took a quick look behind him and headed toward that direction.

When he stepped off the curb, he never saw the delivery truck turning the corner. Paco felt lighter now, flushed with the sensation of rising. He looked down to the street below and saw what appeared to be his body.  Can this be my body crushed, broken and mangled beneath the wheels of that truck?  He wondered.

 Paco could feel himself rising faster and higher. The Justice Building now appeared like a small dot, the clouds were moving swiftly in an easterly direction. The blue green waters of the beach were now clearly visible to him. He never felt freer than this. Suddenly without warning, a thunderous voice came from the Heavens.

"Paco Pavon."

The sound of this voice scared him. He looked around and saw nothing. He could feel and hear the distant echoes of a heart no longer beating pounding in his chest. He did the only thing left for him to do. He answered.

"I am Paco Pavon." 

The voice responded, "I know who you are. Come your Judgment awaits you."

Paco said, "Yes, I'm coming but may I  go pee first?  I'll be right back, I promise."

God and all the angels in Heaven laughed aloud.  Paco looked back at the world he left behind, stepped forward and slowly disappeared into the light. This time he knew it was going to be different.really different.

The End


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