Their math teacher was crossing the parking lot, too, with a worn black leather briefcase and a thermos of coffee. "Hey, Mr. McCabe," Matt called out. "How'd I do on last Friday's test?"
"Luckily, you've got other talents to fall back on, Mr. Royston," the teacher said as he reached into his pocket. He winked at Josie as he pitched the coins, pennies that fell from the sky onto her shoulders like confetti, like stars coming loose.
It figures, Alex thought as she stuffed the contents of her purse back inside. She had switched handbags and left her pass key at home, which allowed her into the employee entrance at the rear of the superior court. Although she'd pushed the buzzer a million times, no one seemed to be around to let her in.
"Goddamn," she muttered under her breath, hiking around the slush puddles so that her alligator heels wouldn't get ruined -- one of the perks of parking in the back was not having to do this. She could cut through the clerk's office to her chambers, and if the planets were aligned, maybe even onto the bench without causing a delay in the docket.
Although the public entrance of the court had a line twenty people long, the court officers recognized Alex because, unlike the district court circuit, where you bounced from courthouse to courthouse, she would be ensconced here for six months. The officers waved her to the front of the line, but since she was carrying keys and a stainless steel travel thermos and God only knew what else in her purse, she set off the metal detectors.
The alarm was a spotlight; every eye in the lobby turned to see who'd gotten caught. Ducking her head, Alex hurried across the polished tile floor and nearly lost her footing. As she pitched forward, a squat man reached forward to steady her. "Hey, baby," he said, leering. "I like your shoes."
Without responding, Alex yanked herself out of his grasp and headed toward the clerk's office. None of the other superior court judges had to deal with this. Judge Wagner was a nice guy, but with a face that looked like a pumpkin left to rot after Halloween. Judge Gerhardt -- a fellow female -- had blouses that were older than Alex. When Alex had first come to the bench, she'd thought that being a relatively young, moderately attractive woman was a good thing -- a vote against typecasting -- but on mornings like this, she wasn't so sure.
She dumped her purse in chambers, shrugged into her robe, and took five minutes to drink her coffee and review the docket. Each case got its own file, but cases for repeat offenders were rubber-banded together, and sometimes judges wrote Post-it notes to each other inside about the case. Alex opened one and saw a picture of a stick-figure man with bars in front of his face -- a signal from Judge Gerhardt that this was the offender's last chance, and that next time, he should go to jail.
She rang the buzzer to signify to the court officer that she was ready to start, and waited to hear her cue: "All rise, the Honorable Alexandra Cormier presiding." Walking into a courtroom, to Alex, always felt as if she were stepping onto a stage for the first time at a Broadway opening. You knew there would be people there, you knew their gazes would all be focused on you, but that didn't prevent you from having a moment when you could not breathe, could not believe you were the one they had come to see.
Alex moved briskly behind the bench and sat down. There were seventy arraignments scheduled for that morning, and the courtroom was packed. The first defendant was called, and he shuffled past the bar with his eyes averted.
"Mr. O'Reilly," Alex said, and as the man met her gaze she recognized him as the guy from the lobby. He was clearly uncomfortable, now that he realized whom he'd been flirting with. "You're the gentleman who assisted me earlier, aren't you?"
Copyright © Jodi Picoult, 2007. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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