Better Judgement


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Better Judgement


“All rise! The court of the 99th circuit, Contractual Violations Division is now in session, the Honorable Judge Archibald Olig presiding,” came the bailiff’s booming voice. “The first case on the docket is the State of IN versus Bradley.”

The gaunt figure of Judge Olig seemed to glide its way behind the gleaming black stone bench, settling into its seat of authority as it spoke.

“You may be seated. Except for you, Bradley. Mister Bradley, step forward, please.”

A dark-haired young man made a half-dismissive gesture with his hand and took a pace toward the onyx bench from his place near the front of the gallery. He spoke.

“Bradley, that’s me. Not sure what this mandatory summons is all about, since there’s quite a bit of time left on my loan. Care to explain why you’re wasting both our time, when I could be out there making good on the deal?”

“Mister Bradley, as you well know, there are certain conditionals that are part and parcel of the contracts that we offer to those in your position,” came the voice from behind the bench, “not the least of which is the non-competition arrangement, itself contingent on the non-disclosure agreement, both of which, according to our records, you were more than happy to sign in blood.”

“I signed them, sure, I knew what I was taking on with this. Look at the payment records! I’m exact every quarter, the numbers add up, the paperwork is a hundred percent by the book. I don’t tattle or tell, and I pay on time. If you’re mad that I got the scoop on the collectibility wave over on P-03181, I don’t know what to say besides the fact that the court might do well to move a little faster.”

“Rest assured, Mister Bradley,” said the emotionless voice, “that neither your timeliness nor your capacity are in question. And, as for 03181, let’s just say that this court knew what was going on there because a little birdie told us. One with feathers and wings– does that sound familiar to you?”

“Umm.. what? No, why would that be…?”

“Silence! Mister Bradley, you attempted to negotiate an arrangement with one of our agents in an angel’s disguise, who you falsely believed could somehow nullify your contract with one vague profession of faith. This behavior is an obvious breach of both your NCA and your NDA, and in spite of your timely adherence to the payment schedule, amounts to nothing short of an egregious violation of your contract. You know the consequences.”

“Wait! No, look, I have money, I have money on me right now! A lot of it; and you know as well as I do that I was just playing that so-called angel for a sucker. I can pay, I can pay six months in cash right now!”

“Mister Bradley, please. Don’t make this any more dramatic than it needs to be. You are in violation, and the terms are quite clear.”

“No, no, please, no, you know how much I’m worth!!! This is entrapment!”

“And trapped you were. Bailiff, remand Mr. Bradley to the appropriate custody and set no bail as he is an obvious flight risk, if you please.”

A few minutes later, the hulking bailiff informed the courtroom, “The next case is the State of IN versus Cross.”

“Cross. Mister Cross; step forward, please.”

The tall, ashen-dark man in the trenchcoat took a pace toward the onyx bench, holding his battered black fedora with no visible emotion.

“Cross, your Honor,” he said.

“It says here that you were seen on P-03181 during Mister Bradley’s attempt at negotiations. Would you care to enlighten the court as to what you were doing there, if not also trying to find a way out from under your sworn commitments?”

“Well, your Honor, you see, I’m a private detective, and I was pursuing a case regarding a purported angel. A young man came to my mausoleum in great distress about a haunting, by what he called white wings, or a swan, and promised to pay me my normal rate to investigate it. Long story short, your Honor, the facts led me to 03181, just in time to see Mister Bradley get picked up by your agents.”

“Well and good, Mister Cross. It’s a testament to your talent that you were only a few paces behind our own investigation. However, those few paces behind might mean that we beat you to not only the proverbial punch, but also the proverbial paycheck. So, what of your scheduled remuneration to this institution, which appears to be past due?”

“About that, Judge…. I’m pretty tight after following the leads of the Bradley case, and I can’t say that I have much to contribute right now besides a pocketful of coins. My client refused to pay because he claimed I didn’t solve the case myself. I was hoping for an extension given the overlap.”

“We don’t give extensions, Mister Cross. Surely you won’t make me go so far as to make you turn out your pockets.”

“Uh, no, your Honor. Even if I turned out my pockets, it would just be the leftovers from when I was tailing Bradley across the Proximans. Except, there’s one particular coin. I picked it up off the table in the diner where Bradley had his last meal before you nabbed him. The cheapskate didn’t even leave any bills as a tip, just some loose change. But somehow, this one felt resonant, felt special. Now, I know better than to go messing with waitresses’ tips, and I felt bad that Bradley had stiffed her, so, against my better judgment, I left my last fiver in its place. I guess I’m a fool for trading good money for a hunk of old junk because it felt lucky.”

Cross produced the coin in question from his pocket and proffered it for examination in an outstretched palm. He thought for a moment that he registered a glimpse of surprise flash across the normally impassive magistrate’s eyes, but it was gone as quickly as it had come, and the Judge was back to business.

“Place the coin in the envelope provided by the bailiff, if you please, Mister Cross. The court will see you again in six months.”

“Six months? But, I’m supposed to check in bi-weekly according to my P.O. …”

“In six months, Mister Cross. Unless there’s a problem..?”

 “Six months, sure. See you then, Judge Olig.”

“Oh, and, Mister Cross?”

“Yes, your Honor?”

“In the future, you might consider taking payment for your services in advance. Also, keep your eyes peeled for anything else you might believe to be… lucky.”

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