Scott was nervous Tuesday evening. He got up before sunset and aimlessly puttered around the corner of the basement which constituted his apartment, only half-heartedly listening to the evening news on the television. As soon as his smartphone—which had a sunrise and sunset alarm app—went off, he headed up the stairs.
Josie was already at her desk, still clearly in the process of organizing the office. Tonight she seemed to be working on the filing cabinet.
“Court this evening?” she asked.
“Yes, City.” Scott had never practiced in court before, and had only spent a minimal amount of time observing court in Nashville. He was about to turn his theoretical knowledge of the law into practical application. All by himself.
“I have an appointment for you at 1:00. Do you think you’ll be back by then?”
“Surely. What sort of appointment?”
She leaned over to look at the appointment calendar on her desk. “Um… a post-divorce… thing.”
“A post-divorce thing?” Scott repeated, perking a brow.
“I don’t know what you’d call it,” Josie admitted. “The lady said her ex-husband was harassing her. She wanted to see if there was anything you do about it.”
“Sounds like a matter for the police, if he’s stalking or harassing her. She could get an Order of Protection.”
“She said she’d already been to the police and they wouldn’t help her. …I think she’s a vampire,” Josie added.
“Hm,” Scott said, feeling curious. “Well, there’s probably nothing I can do for her, but we’ll see.” It’s not like he had anything else to do with his time.
“Okay,” Josie said, then she went back to her task.
With nothing else to do to calm his nerves (was it really possible for a vampire to have butterflies in his stomach?), he decided to just go ahead and walk down to the city courthouse.
He went in through the side entrance. Already there were several cops milling around in their black uniforms and heavy, Batman-style utility belts. Scott wondered how they kept them on without the aid of suspenders.
A tough-looking black woman in uniform looked him up and down critically. “Are you our new vampire lawyer?” she asked, sounding rather unfriendly.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said. He almost offered her his hand, but stopped himself at the last minute. More than a few humans were still freaked out by the idea of vampires, and he had been warned in law school not to make any sudden moves or do anything which might be construed as aggressive or grabbing.
“I’m Scott Cunningham,” he offered.
“Hmpf,” she said, with a little nod. He wasn’t sure if that was positive or negative.
She jerked her head to the little room behind her. “There’s your clients.” Inside sat three men wearing red- or green-and-white striped inmate uniforms. They looked like a cross between hospital orderlies and candy canes separated from their Christmas pageant. Scott noticed they were shackled with shiny silver cuffs.
(In the fastest decision ever taken to and made by the United States Supreme Court, silver shackles were ruled legal to use for law enforcement purposes against vampires; they were not to be considered cruel and unusual punishment—even though they caused an immediate first degree burn to the skin. But silver was, for the moment, the only substance capable of restraining a vampire, so there really wasn’t any alternative.
All vampires paid a high tax on store-bought blood to cover local and state costs for silver shackles and silver-plated bars in jail cells. The State of Tennessee tried to pass a law making it illegal for a vampire to drink blood straight from a person—because that circumvented the tax—but strong opposition from the vampire rights lobby had stalled the bill in the legislature. Vampire rights advocates said such legislation was tantamount to making gardening illegal for humans, and the state had no right to limit any citizen’s ability to feed him or herself.)
Standing in the room with the inmates was a tall, beefy white man who definitely had the look of an enforcer. Scott wondered how the man had made it into the police force, though; although he certainly had plenty of brawn, he also had a black, spiky tribal tattoo around his bald head like some sort ghetto laurel wreath.
Then Scott noticed the man was wearing gloves; he had to be a vampire. Only a vampire was strong enough to handle another vampire, and there had been a mad scramble to hire vampires for police forces throughout Middle Tennessee. They obviously took whoever they could get.
The black woman pulled a clipboard off the wall and checked it. “You’ve got one shoplifting, one driving under the influence, and one assault with intent to bite. Shoplifting’s up first.” She hung the clipboard back on the wall, looking and sounding rather bored.
Scott shifted his feet uncomfortably. He really had no idea what to do. He had been warned that every court’s procedure was different—it was a combination of local custom and the judge’s preference—but having never been to court in the city of Clarksboro, he didn’t know the procedure.
He was saved, however, when another man in a suit came breezing through the glass door.
“Hey, Shirley!” he said cheerfully.
“Hey, baby,” she said, her face instantly lighting up. “How’s that boy of yours?”
“He’s a little hellion.”
“It don’t go far from the tree,” she said, cackling.
He laughed. “Ain’t it the truth!”
The man glanced at Scott—standing there awkwardly, like the dweeby new kid—and thrust his hand forward. “Mark Pritchett, Assistant D.A.”
Scott carefully shook his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Attorney Pritchett. I’m Scott Cunningham.”
“Ah, I thought you were probably our new vampire lawyer. And, please, call me Mark.”
Suddenly Mark laughed and pulled Scott closer, throwing an arm around his shoulders. “We could be brothers!”
Although they did not resemble in the face, they were close to the same size, and both men had their heads shaved so close they barely had more than a five o’clock shadow. It looked like Mark cut his hair close for the same reason Scott did—it helped hide the receding hairline and bald spot. Scott, however, no longer had to worry about his hair; it had not grown or fallen out since he had become a vampire.
Shirley looked between the two men skeptically. “I guess ya’ll favor a little….”
Mark tapped her playfully on the arm with the file in his hand. “Oh, go on and say it: all white people look alike anyways.”
Shirley burst out laughing again and Mark joined her. Scott just smiled a little; he didn’t feel comfortable participating in what were clearly inside jokes.
“So, what we got on the docket, sweetheart?” Mark asked, coming back to the task at hand.
“Shoplifting, driving under the influence, and assault with the intent to bite.” She repeated the list for Mark with more enthusiasm.
Mark reached for the clipboard and thumbed through it. “Hmm, the shoplifter has two priors. I’ll give you 11/29, thirty days to serve, rest suspended. The DUI is a first timer, so we’ll go time served and 6 months A.A. Assault with the intent to bite…. Oh, Mr. Bennett; I have seen you before.” He looked up at Scott. “No deal on him; I’m asking the max. And, fair warning, I’ll get it. Judges prefer to be strict with the vampires.”
Scott blinked. He hadn’t understood a word Mark had just said. In fact, he wasn’t really sure what he was talking about. “I… um… I didn’t quite catch that first part.”
Mark smiled knowingly, and spoke more slowly. “I’ll offer you a plea bargain on the shoplifter: 11 months, 29 day sentence. He serves 30 and can do the rest on probation. The DUI will be time served, plus he does 6 months of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. If he completes those satisfactorily, he can get his license reinstated. But I’m not going to offer you a deal on your assault case, because Mr. Bennett was a regular in here before he became a vampire. I didn’t like the idea of him roaming the streets as a human; it’s worse now.”
Scott nodded a little, understanding.
His shoplifter was first on the docket, and Shirley escorted him to the defense table; Scott followed behind, hoping he didn’t look as lost as he felt.
The defendant didn’t bother to sit in the chair. “I’ll take the plea,” he told Scott.
“What?” Scott asked, surprised.
“I heard the D.A. I’ll plea. For every week of good behavior, they knock two days off your sentence, so I’ll only do, like, 3 weeks, and I’ve already done 6 days. I ain’t going to get better than that.”
“Oh, okay,” Scott said. He was both relieved that his first case was going to be easy, and ashamed that his client knew more about the workings of the criminal system than he did.
The judge came in a moment later and called the court to session. Scott noticed that there were only four people sitting in the audience.
Mark asked the judge for 11-29 with 30 to serve and the rest suspended. The judge looked expectantly at Scott. Scott looked at his client, who nodded.
“My client pleads guilty, your Honor,” Scott said.
The judge nodded, scribbled something, and handed the paper to his deputy. “You can pick up the indigency form at the front office when you leave,” the judge told Scott.
“O-okay,” Scott said. He knew what an indigency form was, but he had no idea why he needed a copy.
While Shirley was exchanging his defendants, Mark stepped over, whispering to him. “The indigency form shows where the judge appointed you to the client as public defense. You need a copy to submit to the AOC in order to get paid for your time.”
“Ah, thanks,” Scott said.
Mark smiled at him and clapped him on the shoulder, before going back to his own table.
Scott’s DUI client was not as easy as his first.
“I haven’t ever been in trouble before,” the man whispered, looking up at Scott with wide eyes. “I didn’t know I could get drunk drinking blood.”
Scott sat down beside him, speaking in a hushed voice. “Did you drink it bottled?”
“No, it was from my girlfriend. She was buzzed, but, like I said, I didn’t know that would make me drunk.”
“Alcohol gets into a human’s bloodstream—as do drugs. If you drink from them, you’ll get buzzed too.”
“I didn’t know that,” the man repeated, his eyes growing wider.
“If you plead guilty, the D.A. will let you go with time served, and you have to go to some A.A. meetings for six months. Then you can reapply to get your license back.”
“But… I didn’t know. I can’t be guilty if I didn’t know, right?”
“The judge is probably going to tell you that ignorance is no excuse of the law.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means they can find you guilty of committing a crime, even if you didn’t know it was a crime.”
“I’m not an alcoholic.”
“I understand that.”
“Do… what do you think will happen if I said I wasn’t guilty?”
Scott considered the option for a moment. A first-time DUI offender typically only served a weekend, which the defendant had already done. So it was unlikely he would get any additional time if he lost. However, the judge might revoke his license for a year.
“I think you’ll get your license back sooner if you plead,” Scott answered honestly.
“But I’ll have to go to them A.A. meetings, even though I’m not a drunk?”
“Yes. That’s what it will take to earn back your license.”
The man bit his lip, thinking.
“Mr. Cunningham, are you ready?” the judge asked.
Scott hurried to stand up. “I’m conferring with my client, your Honor.”
“Alright,” the judge replied, then he resumed his conversation with Mark—who was leaned casually against the bench. They looked like they were just idly shooting the shit, but Scott felt a twinge of paranoia. He sure hoped they weren’t talking about how inept he appeared.
“Do you want the deal or not?” Scott asked his client hurriedly.
“Yeah, I guess I’ll take it.”
Scott turned back to the bench. “Your Honor?”
“Yes, Mr. Cunningham?”
“We’re ready to proceed whenever the Court is ready.” There, that at least sounded professional.
“Call me about next weekend,” the judge told Mark. “We’ll go shooting.”
“You bet,” Mark said. He smiled at Scott as he walked back to his table. A moment later, the matter was settled.
Scott was starting to feel hopeful. Two cases down, one to go.
Shirley lead the last man—Mr. Bennett—into the room. Scott suppressed a shudder. Bennett’s eyes were hard and hateful. Scott didn’t blame Mark for not wanting to offer him a plea deal; he looked like a seriously mean son-of-a-bitch. Scott steeled himself to try and offer some sort of defense.
“I didn’t do it,” Bennett said, as soon as he sat down in the chair next to Scott. “The whore’s lying.”
“Shh,” Scott said, glancing around the room. He could tell the judge heard; his eyes were looking at Bennett, sharp and disapproving. “We… we have to be careful about what we say, Mr. Bennett,” Scott said in a hushed voice. “It doesn’t help your case any to make the judge mad.”
“Whatever. I just didn’t do it.”
“I’ll plead you not-guilty, then.”
“Do you have any defense? Other than saying the woman lied?”
“It’s her word against mine, ain’t it?”
“Whenever you’re ready, Mr. Cunningham,” the judge interrupted.
Scott stood up. “I’m ready, you Honor.”
Mark began reciting the facts of the case. “Mr. Michael Bennett did willfully and intentionally attack one Ms. Kirsten Sledge Saturday night at approximately 2:00 A.M. as she was leaving a local bar—one Clarksboro Depot. He asked if she would like to be bitten, she responded in the negative, and he proceeded to throw her against the wall of the building and pin her to it. He was about to bite her when the bar’s bouncer—also a vampire—pulled him off. The bouncer used garlic mace to subdue Mr. Bennett until the police could arrive.”
Mark tossed his file on the table. “We have statements from half a dozen witnesses, you Honor, plus the vic. Given Mr. Bennett’s criminal history, I have to ask for the maximum penalty for this crime.” Mark sat down.
The judge looked at Scott. “Mr. Cunningham, how does your client plead?”
Scott hurried to stand. “Not guilty, your honor.”
The judge continued to look at him, as if he expected something more. Scott started to feel immensely nervous again.
“Does your client wish to present a defense?” the judge at last prompted.
“He says that the victim lied to police.”
“And the six witnesses?”
Scott felt like an idiot, but what else was he supposed to do? He glanced at his client, who shrugged, as if he didn’t care.
Scott turned back to the judge. “Your honor, I believe this is a case of prejudice against my client’s… species. His romantic advances were misinterpreted by all the parties. People saw what they wanted to see. If we make it a crime for men to try and pick up women, well, life will be pretty hard for all of us.”
Scott sat down.
Dear God, please don’t let this man go free because of my lies.
“An interesting theory, Mr. Cunningham,” the judge said, sounding almost complimentary, “but, in light of Mr. Bennett’s record—which includes multiple assaults—I am inclined to believe the victim and six witnesses as opposed to Mr. Bennett.”
He bent down, writing something. “Three years to serve.”
“What!?” Bennett screamed aloud. Then, before anyone knew what was happening, he launched himself over the table and ran across the room. In the blink of an eye, he was climbing the front of the bench, reaching for the judge’s face. The judge was just sitting there, in shock—it was possible he had never seen Bennett move across the floor.
Scott didn’t think, just react. He ran for Bennett, grabbed him around the waist, and pulled back, with all his might. Unbalanced, Bennett fell back into Scott and knocked them both to the floor. Something hard struck Scott in the head, causing his vision to darken and pop with stars. The next thing Scott knew, Bennett was straddling him and trying to choke him with the silver chain between his shackles. Luckily, Scott didn’t need to breathe, but it was rather painful all the same—especially where the silver touched his throat above his collar and tie.
Scott struck out, using the heel of his palm to hit Bennett in the nose. Bennett reeled, blood pouring from his broken nose. A moment later the vampire police officer hit him across the head with a silver-clad nightstick and knocked him off Scott.
The next thing Scott knew, the court deputy was helping him sit up. “Are you okay, Mr. Cunningham?”
“I… think so.”
He noticed the judge and the D.A. were clustered around him too. To one side, Shirley was talking to her partner while he wailed on Bennett with his nightstick. Scott wasn’t sure if she was trying to get him to stop, or was encouraging him to beat harder.
“Oh, God, I just hit my own client,” Scott said, realization dawning on him. “Will I get disbarred?” he asked, looking at Mark–then at the judge–in a panic.
“No, no,” the judge said soothingly. “He assaulted you; you’re allowed to defend yourself. Besides, he’s no longer your client.”
“He’s not?” Scott asked, feeling rather slow.
Mark laughed at him. “You can’t represent him when you’re his victim, Scott.”
“Oh,” he replied. That did make sense.
Shirley came over a moment later, as her partner and several other cops dragged a subdued Bennett out the door. She leaned down, looking at Scott critically. “Ooo, baby, he got you good.”
Scott touched his head where he had been hit. It was sticky with blood.
Mark handed him a couple of tissues. “I think he caught you with the shackle. It looks like you’ve already healed, though.”
Scott wiped at his forehead with the tissues, then looked at them. He had bled quite a bit.
The deputy helped Scott to his feet. “Are you going to be okay to walk back to your office?” he asked, looking at Scott closely.
“Yeah, I’m… I’m okay.”
“I’ll walk with you,” Shirley offered.
Mark clapped him on the back. “What a way to start your career, huh?”
Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee