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The Accomplice

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The Innocent Man

Theodore Boone:

The Accomplice

John Grisham

First published in Great Britain in 2019 by Hodder & Stoughton

An Hachette UK company

Copyright © Boone & Boone, Inc. 2019

The right of John Grisham to be identified as the Author of the

Work has been asserted by him in accordance with

the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,

stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any

means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be

otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that

in which it is published and without a similar condition being

imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance

to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A CIP catalogue record for this title

is available from the British Library

eBook ISBN 978 1 529 37394 3

Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

Carmelite House

50 Victoria Embankment

London EC4Y 0DZ

To Margot Renée Linden.



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

; Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Boy Scout Troop 1440 was dismissed by Major Ludwig promptly at five p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, and the boys hustled outside to their bikes. As always, Theodore Boone lingered for a moment to say good-bye to the Major, then he stepped into the cool evening with plans to head downtown to his parents’ law firm.

At the bike rack he saw Woody Lambert, one of his good friends, and noticed once again that he wasn’t smiling. Woody never smiled these days, and that in itself would not have been noticeable except that in place of a smile or a grin or any sign that life was normal or even okay, Woody was going about his business with a sad, sour expression, as if life was beating him up. As if he carried burdens and problems too heavy for a thirteen-year-old boy.

Theo had known him since the fourth grade when the Lamberts moved to Strattenburg. Their home was unstable. His mother was on her second or third husband, and the current one was often away on the job. His real father had disappeared years ago. His older brother Tony had been arrested once and was gaining a bad reputation. Theo suspected that the Lamberts were having serious problems and that was why Woody seemed so unhappy.

Theo said, “Let’s go to Guff’s and get a frozen yogurt. My treat.”

Woody immediately shook his head no, even frowned. “No thanks.”

He never had spare change, and he was too proud to allow Theo or anyone else to treat. Theo had known this for a long time and felt like a jerk for offering to pay.

“You okay?” Theo asked.

“I’m fine,” Woody said as he climbed on his bike. “See ya later.”

“Call me if you need me,” Theo said, and watched him ride away. Woody did not respond.

Home was the last place Woody wanted to go, though he suspected the house would be empty. His mother was working two part-time jobs and on Tuesdays she waited tables at a diner near the college. Her husband, Woody’s stepfather, worked in construction and made good money at times, but the jobs were sporadic. Currently he was out of town, two hours away, and Woody hadn’t seen him in a month. Tony was a sophomore at Strattenburg High but was in the process of dropping out, or flunking out, or getting kicked out for bad grades and low attendance. Tony’s attitude was so lousy he didn’t care how he left the school.

Woody parked his bike under the carport, walked through the unlocked door to the kitchen, yelled for Tony, heard nothing, and was pleased no one was there. He was spending a lot of time alone, and it wasn’t all that bad. He had choices, options. He could play video games, watch television, do his homework, or plug in his electric guitar and practice for an hour or so. Of the four, homework, of course, ranked last. His grades were slipping and his teachers were asking questions, but no one at home seemed to care.

There was rarely anyone at home.

Theo parked his bike outside the rear door of Boone & Boone, the converted old house his parents had owned since long before he was born. He entered through the door, stepped into his own little office, and was immediately met by Judge, his faithful dog who’d been waiting for hours. Judge spent his days at the office doing nothing of any importance except sleeping and begging for food. He moved quietly around the place, napping on one small dog pallet for an hour or so before easing along to another. He had at least four beds, three downstairs and one up, but his favorite was the soft one located under Theo’s desk. Each afternoon, in anticipation of his best friend returning from school, Judge went to Theo’s office and waited.

Theo rubbed his head, chatted with him for a moment, then the two of them went to say hello. Vince, the paralegal, had left for the day and his door was closed. Dorothy, the real estate secretary, was hard at work but stopped for a second to inquire as to how Theo’s day had gone. The door to his mother’s large office was closed, a clear indication that she was meeting with a client. She was a divorce lawyer, most of her clients were women, and when they met behind closed doors things were usually tense. Theo did not even think about knocking.

He had no plans to be a divorce lawyer. At the age of thirteen, he had already decided that he would become either a great courtroom lawyer, the best in the state with big, important trials, or a great judge who presided over those trials and was known for his wisdom and fairness. Most of his friends were dreaming of careers as professional athletes, or computer geniuses, or brain surgeons, or perhaps even a rock star or two, but not Theo. He loved the law and longed for the day when he was a fully grown man with dark suits and a fine leather briefcase. However, according to his parents, he must first finish the eighth grade, then suffer through high school, college, and law school. At least twelve more years of education awaited him, and he was not looking forward to the ordeal. At times he was already tired.

The front room of Boone & Boone was ruled by Elsa Miller, the firm’s long-time receptionist/secretary/paralegal/adviser/referee, and, occasionally in the past, Theo’s babysitter. Elsa did it all, and she did it with an enthusiasm that Theo often found tiresome.

At the sight of him, she bounced up from her desk, grabbed him, hugged him, pinched both cheeks, all the while asking how his day had gone. It was the daily routine and it rarely changed.

“Just another boring day in school,” Theo said as he tried to wiggle out of her embrace.

“You always say that. How was Scouts?”

Elsa knew his schedule better than he did. If he had an appointment with the doctor or dentist, Elsa had it marked on her calendar. A science project due? Elsa reminded him. A scouting trip to the lake? Elsa was on it.

She looked him up and down to make sure his shirt matched his pants, another irksome habit, and said, “Your mother is with a client but your father is free right now.”

His father was always free, and alone. Woods Boone was a real estate lawyer who smoked a pipe, and because of the smoke no one else in the firm ventured upstairs near his office.

“Better hop on your homework,” Elsa said as she retreated to her desk.

Every school day of his life at least three people—his parents and Elsa—reminded him to do his homework. And the irritating part of it was that Theo always did his homework. No one had to remind him. Not once in his student life had he failed to do his homework, yet he was constantly being reminded to get it done.

At times he wanted to snap at them, all three of them, but that would cause more trouble than it was worth. And it wouldn’t help matters. Part of being a good kid was learning to overlook the shortcomings of adults. They liked to repeat things, especially his father, and especially those little commands that were supposed to make Theo a better person. Brush your teeth. Comb your hair. Eat your vegetables. Ride carefully and watch for traffic. Do your homework. The list seemed endless.

So instead of arguing, he said “Yes, ma’am,” and walked to the stairs. Judge was at his heels and they headed up, making as much noise as possible. His father was known to nap in the late afternoon and Theo, being a good kid, did not want to embarrass him by barging in mid-snore.

But Mr. Boone was wide awake and lost in the usual pile of papers on his desk. A thick, rich aroma of pipe smoke hung in the air, which Theo had never found to be unpleasant.

“Well, hello, Theo,” his father said, looking up as if surprised, the same greeting virtually every afternoon.

“Hey, Pop,” Theo said as he fell into a soft leather chair across the desk. “Are you busy?”

“Busy?” Mr. Boone repeated as he waved his arms at the mountain of paperwork, as if he had far too many clients. “Never too busy for you. How was school?”

“Boring as always, but Scouts was fun. We’re headed to the lake in two weeks.”

“I know. The Major invited me to tag along, but not this time.”

They’d had this conversation at least three times already. “Dad, I’m worried about something.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“It’s Woody. He’s acting strange, like he’s worried all the time. His grades are not good, and the teachers are watching him pretty close.”

“Trouble at home, you think?”

“Probably. His big brother Tony is hanging out with some bad kids, skipping school, staying out late, stuff like that, and he has a lot of influence over Woody. Their mom works a couple of part-time jobs and is not home much. His stepfather works out of town and Woody doesn’t like the guy anyway. We’re going camping in two weeks and Woody says he’s not going, says he needs to do some yard work around the house. The truth is that he probably doesn’t have the money to make the trip. He’s always broke these days. I’m really worried about him.”

“Does he have many friends?”

“You know Woody, Dad. He’s a popular guy who gets a lot of respect because he’s the toughest kid in class. If there’s a fight, Woody either starts it or finishes it or breaks it up. Nobody messes with him, and he sort of likes his tough-guy role. It looks like Woody is headed down the wrong road, at least in my opinion. I wish there was some way we could help him.”

“You can be his friend and talk to him, Theo. He’s always liked you. Be a positive influence. Encourage him to study and do his homework. Talk about what it will be like when you guys go off to high school next year. The sports, the girls, the football games, the field trips, all the fun stuff you’ll be involved in.”

“I guess. I don’t suppose there’s anything you and Mom could do.”

“I’ll talk to her and we’ll think about it, but it’s usually a bad idea to get involved with somebody else’s kid. We’ve got our hands full raising you.” He laughed, but Theo wasn’t in the mood for humor.

“Thanks, Dad. I’d better get busy with the homework.”

“Sure, Theo. And I’ll discuss it with your mother.”

Theo and Judge went downstairs to his little office. Judge curled up on his bed and immediately went to sleep, completely unworried about anything. Theo envied him. The life of a dog. Sleeping, eating, occasionally chasing squirrels and rabbits, no troubles at all.

It was after dark when Woody heard the kitchen door slam. He was in the den watching television, bored. Tony bounced in with a big smile and said, “Hey, kid, what’re you doing?”

“Nothing. Where you been?”

“Hanging out. Any word from Mom?”

“No. She works until ten on Tuesdays.”

Tony fell onto the sofa and kicked off his sneakers. “What are you watching?”

“Clint Eastwood. An old western.”

“You watch the weirdest stuff. Have you had dinner?”

“There’s nothing to eat. I’ve already checked.”

“Look, I gotta deliver some pizzas tonight. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll grab one on the run?”

A pizza sounded like a good idea, though they ate a lot of them. Tony worked a few hours a week delivering for a popular pizza joint called Santo’s, and he usually managed to grab a few leftover slices for himself and Woody. Often, he managed to steal an entire supreme.

“All right,” Woody said without moving. Tony bounced off the sofa, went to his room, and returned seconds later wearing his red Santo’s polo and matching red cap. Woody turned off the television and the lights and they left the house.

Tony drove a small Toyota pickup with a million miles on it, a hand-me-down from their stepfather. It wasn’t much of a ride and the girls weren’t too impressed with it, but for the time being it was all they had. Ten minutes later they pulled into the parking lot of a strip mall, and Tony parked as far away from Santo’s as possible.

“Keep down,” he said as he got out.

“I know, I know,” Woody said as he slid low in the seat. Santo’s had a No-Riders policy and the boss was strict about it. While making deliveries, any driver caught with a passenger would be fired on the spot. Tony disappeared into the restaurant and Woody began the waiting. Peeking out the window, he watched college students spill out of their cars and enter Santo’s. Cute girls, cool guys, nice cars. Woody wondered if he would ever make it to college. He was having doubts, though at the age of thirteen he really wasn’t too concerned about it. In his gang, only Theo and perhaps one or two others had their futures planned. Woody was leaning toward a career as a fireman, and he wasn’t sure if college was necessary.

His phone pinged with a text from his mother. Have you seen Tony? What are you having for dinner?

Woody responded: We R fine. Pizza. You good?

Okay but may work until 11. Okay with that?


Homework done?

Of course.

She asked about his homework only because she was expected to. The truth was Daisy was too tired to monitor her sons’ progress in school. She knew Tony was skipping a lot because the school called her, and they were fighting about it. But Tony was winning because his mother simply didn’t have the energy to keep up with him. Things were not going well with her current husband. She was worrying a lot and losing sleep. Daisy was always tired and frazzled, and Woody was concerned. With her earnings from two part-time jobs, plus what little her husband kicked in, the family was barely staying afloat.

How was Woody supposed to dream of college? It was easy for someone like Theo, with two parents who were lawyers and seemed to be happily married. Plus, Theo was an only child. He had been Woody’s loyal friend for many years, and would always be, but at times Woody secretly admitted to himself that he was envious of Theo.

Tony walked out with the bright red magnetic Santo’s sign and affixed it to the top of the Toyota. “Should be only a few minutes,” he said, and went back inside. Woody said nothing. Ten minutes later, Tony was back with four large pizza boxes, which he placed on the bench seat between them. They smelled delicious and Woody was suddenly starving. When they were on the street, Tony said, “Open the top one and let’s have dinner. Sausage and mushrooms.”

Woody opened the box, handed a slice to Tony, and took one for himself.

They ate in silence as Tony zipped through narrow streets around the college, driving, as always, much too fast. The first stop was a run-down duplex with cars scattered in the front yard. Tony checked the address, parked in the street, and hustled to the front door with a large pizza. He was back in seconds, and grumbling, “Kid gave me a buck. A twelve-dollar pizza and Mr. Big Spender tipped me only a buck. College kids.” They sped away and stopped two blocks over at another student dump. Another one-dollar tip.

But they were having fun, cutting through the maze of streets around Stratten College, listening to loud music on the radio, eating dinner, and griping about how cheap the students were. When the last pizza was delivered, Tony raced back to Santo’s for another load. The restaurant was packed and the delivery phone rang nonstop. It was dinnertime and the students were hungry.

They squealed tires and took off again, with a rack of warm pizzas between them. Tuesdays were normally slow, but Santo’s was shrewdly offering a two-for-one special and business was brisk. For two hours, Tony and Woody wheeled around the western section of Strattenburg, delivering mostly to students but to some nicer homes as well. When things slowed around nine, Tony had collected twenty-seven dollars in tips and was proud of himself. He gave Woody a five-dollar bill and said he would give his mother a ten. But Woody doubted that.

They stopped for gas at a convenience store on the edge of town. Someone called Tony’s name, and a friend named Garth walked over as he left the store. Tony was pumping gas and Theo couldn’t hear all of their conversation, but he did hear Garth say, “Let’s go cruising. Got some beer and a tank full of gas.”

Garth drove a muscled-up green Mustang with wide wheels and loud mufflers, and he was known to speed around town. He wasn’t a bad kid, in fact he was quite popular and dated one of the cutest girls Woody had ever seen. But there was something about Garth that Woody didn’t like. He had the look of a guy who might break bad at any minute and do something stupid. He was eighteen, a year older than Tony but still too young to buy beer, and the fact that he had some was a bad sign. Tony finished pumping and parked the truck beside the store.

“You going with us?” he asked Woody.

“What am I supposed to do? Walk home?”

“Let’s go. We’ll just cruise around for a while and get home before Mom.”

The smart voice in Woody’s head said no. Do not get in the car with Garth and Tony and cruise around the college while drinking beer. Nothing good could happen. And the not-so-smart voice said, Oh, go ahead. It’s harmless fun. How many thirteen-year-olds get to hang out with the older guys?

“Are you coming with us?” Tony snapped at him, but it was more than a question. It was a challenge. What Tony was really asking was: Are you gonna chicken out and go home and wait for Mommy?

Woody didn’t flinch, didn’t hesitate. “I’m coming,” he said, and shrugged as if he could run with the big dudes any night of the week. He crawled into the back seat of the Mustang as Garth gunned the engine. The car roared and fishtailed out of the parking lot.

“Gimme a beer,” Garth said over his shoulder as he darted through traffic. Woody saw a six-pack of cans on the seat next to him. He pulled off two and handed them to Tony, who said, “You can have one.”

It was another challenge. Garth was watching in the rearview mirror and asked, “How old are you, Woody?”


“Ever had a beer?”


“We’ve had a few together,” Tony said. “Sneak them from the fridge when no one’s home.”

There was one massive, gigantic problem in the car with them. Woody could feel it, almost touch it as if it were seated next to him, and he came very close to simply blurting it out just to clear his conscience. Tony was on probation. Four months earlier he had been arrested for possession of pot, which was bad enough, but he had also been charged with intent to sell. He got an incredibly lucky break when the two narcotics officers who nailed him collapsed. One was fired for stealing drugs. The other fled town and had not been seen. The evidence disappeared along with the policemen, and for a few weeks Tony was the luckiest kid in Strattenburg. He agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of underage possession and got off light with six months’ probation. He spent only one night in jail and considered the entire episode a joke. It did not faze him, and he continued slipping through the cracks at school.

If he got caught with beer, it would be a violation of his probation and he would likely spend a few nights in the slammer. But Tony wasn’t worried about anything these days. He was seventeen, going to school when he pleased and enjoying the life of a future high school dropout.

“I had my first beer when I was ten years old,” Garth said proudly. “My crazy uncle gave it to me. He’s in prison, you know? Go ahead, Woody, help yourself.”

The truth was, Woody had tasted beer a few times, always in an effort to be cool in front of Tony, but he couldn’t stand the taste of it. After years of watching beer commercials in which young and beautiful and athletic people lived the good life with a cold beer in hand, he was shocked at how awful it tasted. He had mentioned this to Tony who promised him that with enough practice he would grow to enjoy it.

Garth, still glancing back, said, “Come on, kid, pop a top.”

Woody pulled off a beer, popped it, took a sip, and tried to look as if he really enjoyed it, but wanted to spit it out. He managed to choke it down without a frown, then gritted his teeth and took another swallow. Then another. The taste did not improve.

“I think he likes it,” Garth said between gulps.

If you only knew, Woody said to himself. Tony and Garth enjoyed their drinks far more than Woody and within minutes were tossing back their empties and demanding more. Woody handed them their seconds and took another sip. He began to get light-headed and this helped with the bad taste. He finally finished his first can and popped the top to his second.

“Attaboy,” Garth said without turning around. They turned into a parking lot around a large mall and circled it until they approached a Cineplex.

“There’s his car,” Tony said, as if he really didn’t want to meet whoever owned the car. It was parked with several others, all jacked-up muscle cars, all with tough guys leaning on the fenders and smoking cigarettes. Garth parked close by and turned off his ignition. “Let’s get it over with.”

“Stay here,” Tony said to Woody as he got out.

No problem, Woody thought. He watched Garth and Tony approach the other guys, say hello, shake hands in a variety of ways, and light up their own cigarettes. Nobody was holding a beer or a drink. A police car eased by not far away. The boys waved. The cops waved back. Everybody was behaving.

Woody kept low in the back seat, barely peeking through the window. The boys laughed and bantered back and forth, then the conversation grew serious. Both Garth and Tony reached into their pockets, took out money, and handed it over to a bearded guy who looked a few years older. He gave them nothing in return. Woody doubted that neither his brother nor Garth would be stupid enough to buy pot in such an open area that was patrolled by the police. There were probably cameras everywhere. Still, the transaction, whatever it was, had the look of something shady.

When they returned to the car, Woody asked, “Who was that guy with the beard?”

Garth started the car and began to ease away. Tony said nothing. Woody asked again, “Who was that guy with the beard?”

Tony said, “An old friend.” But it was obvious the guy was not an old friend, and Tony just wanted his little brother to shut up. No one spoke for a few minutes as Garth drove along Main Street, going nowhere in particular. Finally, he said, “I need some more beer.”

The six-pack was gone. Each had consumed two cans.

“I’m broke. You got any cash left?” Garth asked Tony.

“No. Gave it all to him.”

“What?” Woody asked. “How can you be broke? You had over twenty bucks a while ago.”

Tony turned around and glared at his little brother. “That guy back there is a friend of ours. He’s a bookie at the college, handles bets on football games. We owed him some money. No big deal. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. How about loaning me that five bucks I just gave you?”

“I don’t think so.” Woody wanted to say something about the gambling, which, of course, was also against the law and would be another violation of Tony’s probation.

“Forget it,” Garth said. “We’re not taking money from a kid.”

He braked hard and pulled into a shopping center. All the stores were closed but a well-lit ATM machine was waiting. Garth parked, left the engine running, walked to the machine, looked around nervously as if robbing a bank, and began punching numbers. He punched and punched without success. He stomped away, returned to the car, said, “I guess my mom’s frozen my account again. I really want a beer.”

They sped away with the Mustang burning rubber.

The convenience store was on the edge of town, on a two-lane road with little traffic. The parking lot was gravel and the front windows were covered with thick bars. Two pumps offered gasoline but there were no other customers at that moment.

Garth parked and said, “I know this guy. Be right back.”

“What’s he doing?” Woody asked, almost in a whisper.

“Don’t worry about Garth. He knows everybody.”

They waited but not long. Garth soon appeared, making a quick exit and holding an entire case of canned beer. He yanked open his door, tossed the beer into Woody’s lap, jumped in, and shifted gears. The Mustang roared away from the store, spraying gravel all over the place.

“Beers please!” Garth said, obviously proud of himself. Woody pulled off two cans and handed them to the front. He was finished for the night.

“How’d you get the beer?” he asked when the store was out of sight.

“Just told the guy I was thirsty, needed to borrow some beer.” Garth popped a top and slugged his beer.

“Come on,” Tony said. “The guy gives you credit?”

Garth smacked his lips and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He reached into his left jeans pocket and pulled out something. It was a black pistol, shiny in the darkness. “This is instant credit all over town,” Garth said with a laugh. He turned around quickly, aimed it at Woody’s face, and pulled the trigger.

A blast of warm water hit Woody in the eyes. His heart had stopped in a split second and his mouth opened in horror. Garth roared with laughter as he turned his attention back to the highway.

Tony was not amused and yelled, “What are you doing? You robbed that guy?”

“No, of course not,” Garth said, still laughing. “You can’t rob someone with a water pistol. I just borrowed some beer, and some of his cash, and I’ll go back tomorrow and pay the guy.”

“You took cash?!” Tony yelled again in disbelief.

Woody was too stunned to think. Water was still dripping into his mouth, and he was in shock from being shot. But he quickly began to realize that the situation was a lot more serious than Garth was letting on.

“You’re crazy,” Tony said. “You can’t stick a gun in a guy’s face. I don’t care what kind of gun it is.”

“It’s not a gun. It’s a water pistol, and a very nice one at that. Just having a little fun.”

“How much cash did you take?”

“Not much. All he had. He emptied the drawer. I’d say a couple of hundred.”

“Look, Garth, we’re going home,” Tony said angrily. “Take us back to my truck. You got that? I’m on probation, remember? A stupid trick like that will bring in the cops and I’m headed to jail. I don’t care what kind of gun you used. Take us back to my truck.”

“What? We got some beer to drink, Tony. Don’t freak out on me.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Come on, Tony, don’t go chicken on me.”

“It’s not being chicken. It’s being stupid. I don’t want the beer and I’m telling you right now we’re getting out of here.”

“All right, all right.”

“You okay back there, Woody?” Tony asked.

“Sure,” Woody barely managed to say. He wanted to inform his older brother that he thought he was an idiot for getting in Garth’s car to begin with, but he bit his tongue and avoided more trouble.

They were back in the city, near the college, and the highway had widened into a boulevard. They stopped at a red light and a police car eased alongside them, to Garth’s left. His window was down.

From the back seat, Woody heard the words he would never forget. A cop said loudly, “Stop right there, kid.”

Suddenly, there were blue lights everywhere.

A thick cop kept growling, “Shut up, kid. Shut up, kid.” But Garth kept talking over his shoulder. He was on the hood of his car, facedown, hands cuffed behind him, feet off the ground. Tony was standing behind the Mustang, also handcuffed, quietly answering questions from two policemen. There seemed to be a dozen of them milling about, poking through Garth’s car, huddling with one another, listening to their phones. Radios squawked and a hundred blue lights lit up the intersection. Traffic was blocked in several lanes and a uniformed officer pointed this way and that. A crowd was gathering on a sidewalk, everyone curious to know what terrible crime had been committed by the three young hoodlums.

In the back seat of a patrol car, Woody sat alone and felt very small. His hands were cuffed behind his back. They were snug on his wrists and quite uncomfortable. But, at the moment, he figured that a little pain from the handcuffs was not his biggest problem.

The cops had yanked him out of the car and at first shoved him around, the usual routine, but when they realized he was just a kid, they relaxed and searched him. They took his cell phone, slapped the cuffs on him, and put him in the back seat where he had a decent view of the action. Garth wanted to resist and explain and make it all go away, but the more he talked the rougher the cops became. Tony seemed too frightened to argue with the police.

The crowd continued to gather and Woody tried to slide lower. He watched as Tony was led to another patrol car and placed in the rear seat. Then Garth was removed from the hood of his car and sort of dragged to yet another patrol car and shoved in, talking away the whole time. With the three suspects secured, the police waved over a tow truck with its yellow and orange lights blinking wildly.

To Woody, it seemed like a little too much muscle and manpower just for three stupid kids drinking beer. Still, he knew he was in trouble.

Two policemen got in the front seat and slammed the doors. “You okay, kid?” one asked.

“Yes, sir,” Woody answered quickly. Everything had been “yes, sir” and “no, sir” since the moment he’d seen the blue lights.

“We gotta take you to the police station, son,” the driver said as he drove away from the scene. The Mustang’s front tires were off the ground and the tow truck driver was pulling levers.

“Yes, sir,” Woody said. “I guess we should call my mom.”

“We’ll call her from the station. We got her number from your brother.”

“I don’t suppose you guys could just take me home could you?”

Both laughed. Short little humorous grunts that quickly passed.

“A comedian,” the driver said.

Woody said, “I mean, you know, it’s just a little beer.”

“A little beer?” the cop in the passenger seat repeated. He turned around, glared at Woody, and growled, “Son, we’re talking armed robbery.”

A sharp pain hit Woody deep in the gut. He tried to say something—he wasn’t sure what—but his throat suddenly clamped shut and his mouth was dry. He managed to breathe and felt sweat under his arms.

Was this a joke, he wanted to ask, but it was obvious that it was not. Were they really charging him with armed robbery? Surely not. He and Tony had never left the car at the convenience store. How can you pull an armed robbery with a water pistol? It was only a water pistol, right? Woody’s shirt was still wet! He had the proof!

He breathed deep and said, “It was only a water pistol.”

“That’s not what he told the guy at the store,” the driver said.

“My shirt is still wet,” Woody said, and he realized how stupid he sounded.

“Just shut up, kid,” the other cop said.

And he did. And he bit his lip to keep from crying.

At the police station, Woody was led through a side door and into a large reception area where other cops and clerks stopped and gawked at him as if he’d committed a murder. There was no sign of either Tony or Garth. Woody was taken to a room where his handcuffs were removed. A gruff, angry sergeant in a tight uniform growled, “Stand over there, kid. This is your mug shot.” Woody backed against a wall, stared at a camera, and for a split second thought of all the bad mug shots of famous people he’d seen online. “Don’t smile, kid,” the cop said.

“I’m not smiling,” Woody said. He had not smiled in days.

“On three. One, two, three.” The camera clicked. The sergeant looked at a screen and said, “Beautiful. Make your mom proud. Sit over there.”

Woody went to a chair and did as he was told. The sergeant took a step over, looked down with a frown, and said, “So they say you’ve been drinking beer, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How much?”

“Two cans.”

“Gee, I’ve never heard that before. Every drunk who comes in here says he had just two drinks. How old are you?”


“I need to check your blood alcohol level. We use a machine called a Breathalyzer. Ever heard of it?”

“No, sir.”

“First I need you to agree to it, understand?”

“Not really.”

“You need to sign this consent form which allows us to use a Breathalyzer to measure how much alcohol is in your system. Follow me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Sign right here.” The sergeant handed down a clipboard with a pen. Woody signed his name by a large X. His hand was shaking so wildly he couldn’t read his own name. “Should I ask my mom about this?” he asked as he handed the clipboard back.

“Your mum’s not here, is she?”

“No, and I’d like to call her but those other policemen took my phone.”

“Standard procedure,” the sergeant said as he rolled over a cart with the Breathalyzer. He flipped a switch, glanced at a small monitor, then shoved a small tube in Woody’s face. “Now, stick this in your mouth and blow as hard as you can.”

Woody did as instructed. He blew a second time, then a third, and when the sergeant was finally satisfied he grabbed the tube and hit another switch.

“How’d I do?” Woody asked, breathing heavily as his heart pounded away.

“Great, kid. Point zero six. Not legally drunk but enough to nail you for underage drinking. Now stand up and turn around.”

Woody got to his feet and the sergeant slapped the handcuffs onto his wrists. He was led from the room and down a hallway where the two detectives were waiting. The sergeant said, “He’s all yours. Point zero six.”

The detectives took him down some stairs to a small windowless room where he was told to sit in a chair and say nothing. They just left him there. He had not seen Tony or Garth since they had driven away from the street. He waited and waited and had no idea of the time. He wanted to call his mother because she would be worried, and he really needed her at that awful moment.

There was no one to help him. A thirteen-year-old kid locked away in the basement of the police station and no one to help.

Tony was in a similar room two doors down, though neither knew where his brother was at the moment. Garth was also in the basement, just down the hall.

Two detectives in plainclothes walked into Garth’s room, closed the door, and pulled chairs up to the narrow table. The first one said, “You’re eighteen years old so we’re treating you like an adult. You ever been arrested before?”

Garth knew it was all a misunderstanding and his father would have it cleared up by sunrise. So, he had nothing to worry about. “Couple of times,” he said without concern. “But nothing serious. Youth Court stuff.”

“This ain’t Youth Court, son. This is the real thing. We need to ask you some questions.”

“Okay, but don’t you have to read me my rights, like they always do on television?”

“Sure. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. And you have the right to an attorney. Understand?”

“Don’t I get a phone call? I really want to call my dad.”

“Later. Where did you get the pistol?”

“What pistol?”

The second detective pulled out a clear plastic bag and laid it on the table. He said, “Looks just like a nine millimeter Ruger. Could’ve fooled me. Certainly fooled the guy at the convenience store.”

“Where’d you get it?” the first detective asked again.

“The kid gave it to me. It’s his. What—you think I go around shooting water pistols? It’s the kid’s.”


“Sure. Not mine.”

Garth believed that if he and Tony stuck together and blamed it all on Woody, a thirteen-year-old kid, then they could walk away free as birds and nothing much would happen to Woody. Anyway, it was just a little fun and games and his father would handle it soon enough.

“Who planned the robbery?” the second detective asked.

“I really want to talk to my dad. He’ll get a lawyer. If that’s okay?”

“Whose idea was it to rob the convenience store?”

“No one’s. You see, it really wasn’t a robbery because it was just a water pistol. It was sort of a joke, you know? This is all one big misunderstanding and my dad and his lawyer will clear up everything. You guys need to relax a little.”

“So it was your idea?”

“Look, you said I could remain silent, right? And that I can have a lawyer. Okay, I want to call my dad and he’ll bring in a lawyer.”

“How much money did you take?”

“I’m not talking anymore.”

The detectives finally left the room. They chatted briefly in the hallway, then entered the room where young Woody was waiting, terrified by now.

They sat down, both scowling as if they were about to interrogate a serial killer, and the first one said, “We’ve talked to your brother Tony and your pal Garth. Both of them swear that the pistol belongs to you.”

Woody felt like he’d been hit in the head with a brick. “What?” he managed to say, in shock. His jaw dropped and his eyes watered, and he looked at the first detective in total disbelief. Why would Tony say something like that? Why would both of them lie to the police and try to pin the blame on him?

“You heard me, kid,” the first detective said. “Your buddies are saying it’s your gun.”

“It’s just a water pistol.”

“The guy at the store didn’t think so. Under our law it’s armed robbery. Twenty plus years for your two buddies, off to the juvenile joint for you. But if you tell us the truth, we’ll lean on the judge to cut you some slack. Know what I mean?”

“Not really.”

“We know the judge, he knows us. If you tell us everything, we can put in a good word with him and you’ll get off light.”

“What do you want to know?” Woody asked slowly. Something told him not to say too much to the police, but then he was terrified at the moment and wanted to help.

“Whose gun is it?”

“Garth’s. Tony and I never saw it until he came back to the car. We didn’t go into the store. Look at the security cameras. We had no idea what Garth was doing. He just wanted some more beer, and so he drove to the store, told us to wait for a minute, went inside, came back with a case of beer, and after we were driving away he pulled out the pistol and laughed about robbing the guy. That’s what happened. I swear. Tony and I knew nothing.”

“How long had you guys been drinking beer?”

“I don’t know. Tony and I delivered pizza, then bumped into Garth. I knew it was a mistake to go cruising with him. He had some beer and really wanted me to drink some. I can’t stand the stuff, but I was trying to, you know, be cool, like the big guys.”

Woody’s voice cracked and his lip quivered.

The detectives exchanged looks. The first one said, “Cool like the big guys. We see it all the time. That’ll get you some jail time.”

Daisy Lambert turned into her driveway at 11:15, and she immediately noticed that Tony’s little blue truck was not parked where it was supposed to be. It wasn’t there. The house was completely dark, not a single light in any window. The boys always waited for her to get home from work before they went to bed.

For a moment, she sat in her car and prayed that nothing was wrong, then got out. Inside the house, she found nothing—not a note, not a sign of either son. She had called and texted both of them driving home. Neither responded, but that was not that unusual. Often, late at night, the boys ignored their phones.

She turned on lights, called them again, and fixed a pot of coffee. It was probably going to be a long night.

She called her husband, who was two hours away with his work crew, woke him up, and told him the boys were not home. They were not his boys, but rather his stepsons, and there was nothing he could do at that moment. He suggested she call the police.

The minutes passed slowly, and Daisy sat in the den with a cup of coffee and watched the front yard. She prayed that any minute the little blue truck would arrive and her boys would be safe. She wanted to see headlights. It was midnight now and there was no traffic on their narrow street at the edge of Strattenburg. The next lights would be her boys, she just knew it.

At midnight, she called the police station but no one there had ever heard of the Lambert boys. She tried to sit in the den again but was too anxious. She poured another cup and went for a drive around town, looking for Tony’s truck, looking for red and blue lights at the scene of some terrible car wreck, looking for any sign of them, and waiting for her phone to ring. She stopped by Santo’s but it was closed.

After roaming through the empty streets for an hour, she saw two police cars in the parking lot of a motel. Their lights were on, their engines running, the policemen sharing some late night gossip. She parked nearby and nervously approached the two cars. She asked for their help. She explained her situation, and, in tears, asked if they could do anything. The policemen said sure and called the dispatcher on his radio. Within minutes word came back that the Lambert boys were in custody.

And charged with armed robbery.

When Daisy arrived at the city jail she found her way to the night desk where the dispatcher was drinking coffee while waiting on 911 calls and radio reports from the patrol cars. A night clerk sat at a nearby table and asked what she wanted. She identified herself and said that her two sons were in jail, and she was there to take them home. The night clerk frowned and asked her to have a seat across the room in a row of old plastic chairs. There was no one else around at that hour. She sat down and began chewing her nails, a nervous habit that kept her from crying, though she had cried all the way to the station.

Armed robbery? There must be some mistake. Random thoughts raced through her mind and she couldn’t control them. None were good. Smoking pot, drinking beer, driving while drunk, fighting, maybe shoplifting or petty theft—these were the small crimes that she might have expected. Sure, they were bad enough, but a lot of kids got in trouble for them and most survived.

But armed robbery? To her knowledge, Tony did not own a gun. He was only seventeen! Her husband—the boys’ stepfather—was not a hunter and did not keep rifles in the house. He owned two pistols that she knew of. One he kept hidden in their closet for self-defense and the other he kept in the glove box in his truck. The boys had never touched either weapon. How would Tony get a gun? Then, why would he use it to rob someone? And why would he involve his little brother?

The thought of Woody sitting in a jail cell broke her heart again and she began to cry, as softly as possible.

A jolly old deputy sat down beside her. He had a mass of gray hair that scattered in all directions, and plump rosy cheeks, and if he switched uniforms he could have easily passed for Santa Claus. “Now, now, it’s not that bad,” he said. “The boys are safe.”

Daisy wiped her nose and asked, “How do you know?”

“I’m the jailer and I’m in charge of all inmates, including the juveniles. Randolph’s my name. And you’re Mrs. Lambert?”

Randolph glanced at his clipboard.

“I am. Where are they now?”

“We keep the kids in a separate wing. They’re in a cell together, with no one else.”

“When can I get them out?”

“Well, not tonight. They’ll go before a judge in the morning, and he’ll set their bail. Do you understand bail?”

“Yes, I’ve been through this before, not long ago. Tony was arrested and I had to put up some money for his bail. Fortunately, it wasn’t very much and we got him out. But I’m broke now. How much is his bail?”

“Armed robbery is pretty serious, so I’d expect it to be high.”

“What kind of armed robbery? Can you tell me what they did? This is insane.”

“I don’t know the facts, ma’am. Just what’s in the report here. There were three of them, your boys and a kid named Garth Tucker. Looks like he was the driver. All I know is that they supposedly robbed a convenience store on the western edge of town.”

“A convenience store?”

“Yes, you know, one of those little grocery stores with gas pumps out front, stays open late at night.”

“I know what a convenience store is. Why would they rob a convenience store?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it was convenient.” Randolph chuckled at his cleverness. Daisy glared at him as if he were an idiot. “Sorry,” he said. “Look, Mrs. Lambert, you can’t do anything right now, so it’s best to go home and get some rest.”

“Rest? I won’t sleep a wink. Can I at least see them? Woody is only thirteen.”

“Sorry, ma’am, but we have rules regarding visitation. Trust me, though, both boys are safe. And by the way, they’re good boys. I’ve talked to them.”

“I guess I should say thanks but that doesn’t quite feel right. After all, they’re charged with armed robbery.”

“And underage drinking.”

“Of course. Anything else?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Why didn’t they call me? They both had phones.”

“Well, I’m not sure about that. The phones were confiscated when they were arrested, standard procedure.” Randolph flipped through his paperwork. “Don’t know why they were not allowed to call home. Somebody else must’ve screwed up.”

“Screwed up? These are my kids we’re talking about. Where are their phones now?”

“In custody. They can’t have phones in their cells. Another rule.”

“A lot of rules around here and none of them seem to be working. It’s pretty rotten that you don’t allow a thirteen-year-old boy to call his mother when he’s being thrown in jail.”

“You’re right. I agree. I’ll speak to my supervisor. Sorry about that.”

“You’re sorry that somebody else screwed up. This is insane. Why can’t I talk to them now?”

“Because it’s almost two in the morning. Lights out at midnight back there. I’m sorry, ma’am, but at least your boys are safe.”

“Safe? Forgive me but things don’t seem too safe right now.”

“I understand, ma’am. Why don’t you leave and come back in a few hours? You can see them then.”

“I’ll just sit here, okay? If I go home I’ll just walk the floors. Is it okay to stay here and read magazines until sunrise.”

“Sure. Would you like some coffee?”

She managed to smile and said, “Yes, that would be nice. Thank you.”

The cell had three walls of concrete and one of metal bars. Bunk beds were attached to the rear wall. Tony arrived first and claimed the bottom bunk. Woody climbed onto the top one. All lights went out at midnight when everyone was supposed to go to sleep. However, in the darkness, it seemed like everyone wanted to talk. There was laughter in the distance, some yelling. As Woody was walked down the hall, he glanced into the other cells. All appeared to be juveniles, though a couple looked as mean as any veteran criminal. In one cell, a boy of no more than ten sat by himself.

Tony denied pinning the ownership of the pistol on Woody. Indeed, Tony had not even been interviewed by the police. Nor had he seen any sign of Garth. Whispering in the darkness, the brothers agreed to stick together, and stick to the truth. Why would they not tell the truth? Garth was a moron who’d pulled a stupid stunt. He honestly thought he could stick a gun in someone’s face, demand cash and beer, make his getaway, and laugh everything off as a joke.

As the minutes became hours, the laughter and yelling died down. Slowly, the conversations did, too. At some point during the awful night, Woody realized Tony was asleep.

Mr. Mount called his homeroom to order when the bell rang at 8:45. Of his sixteen students, fifteen were present. Woody was not, which Theo had noticed immediately. It wasn’t that unusual. No one was missing more school these days than Woody.

The class went through the usual morning routine of discussing the day’s activities. Science projects were due. The Debate Team had a match in one week. Band practice, soccer practice, rehearsals for the eighth-grade play. As always, the mood was light as Mr. Mount believed in starting each day on an encouraging note. He would see them again during third period for his Government class.

When the bell rang for first period, the boys grabbed their backpacks and hustled into the hallway. Mr. Mount asked Theo to hang back for a moment. When they were alone, he said, gravely, “Look, Theo, Woody’s mother stopped by the school earlier and informed Mrs. Gladwell that Woody got arrested last night.”

Theo’s mouth fell open. “Arrested?”

“Yes. He’s in jail and due in court this morning. Mrs. Gladwell wants you to hurry down to Youth Court and see what’s going on. You’re excused for the morning.” He handed Theo a slip of paper.

Theo took off. He was at once thrilled to be free from classes but also terrified by the news. He left his backpack at the office, raced out the front door, hopped on his bike, and ten minutes later wheeled to a stop in front of the courthouse. As he was entering the main door, Officer Stu Peckinpaw, a truant cop and the terror of all skipping students, stopped him and said, “Well, hello, Theo. Why aren’t you in school?”

Theo handed him the slip of paper and said, “Official business.”

Officer Peckinpaw examined the pass as if reading an important document. He handed it back and said, “Okay, but I’d better not see you on the streets after lunch.”

“Yes, sir.” Theo ducked inside and bounded up the stairs. He knew every inch of the courthouse and knew exactly where to find Woody. Juvenile matters were handled in a small, cramped courtroom on the second floor where Judge Frank Pendergrast had presided for many years. At the door, Theo took a deep breath and stepped inside.

Because Youth Court was private and all hearings were conducted without juries, the courtroom was small, with only two rows for spectators. Even Animal Court down in the basement had more room.

Theo saw Daisy Lambert sitting in the front row and went straight to her. Judge Pendergrast was not on the bench. Bailiff Trench, the ancient courtroom deputy, nodded at Theo.

“What’s going on?” Theo whispered to Mrs. Lambert.

She smiled but her eyes were red and she looked exhausted. She was obviously glad to see Theo. “I don’t know, Theo,” she said in a soft voice. “Woody and Tony got arrested last night for armed robbery. They wouldn’t let me see them. It’s just so awful.”

“Armed robbery?” Theo repeated. “You gotta be kidding. But what happened?”

“I don’t know. They wouldn’t tell me much.”

They whispered for a long time as other worried parents drifted in. Bailiff Trench eased over to inform them that Judge Pendergrast was running a bit late, which was not unusual.

At ten o’clock, a door opened behind the bench and Judge Pendergrast appeared in his black robe. He assumed his position, glanced around the room, and said, “I apologize for being late. I got almost no sleep last night because every dog on the street was barking and howling.” He noticed Theo sitting in the front row and said, “Well, hello, Theo. Good to see you as always. What brings you here?”

Without standing—things were quite relaxed in Youth Court—Theo said, “My friend Woody Lambert is on the docket.”

“Oh, I see. Well, let’s bring him in.” Bailiff Trench opened a side door. Woody and Tony were escorted in by a policeman who removed their handcuffs. Both boys looked at their mother and shook their heads. Daisy fought back tears. Bailiff Trench herded the boys to a spot directly in front of the bench. They looked up at His Honor, who looked down at them with a frown and said, “Okay, this is a first appearance for Mr. Tony Lambert, age seventeen, and Mr. Woodrow Lambert, age thirteen, both charged with armed robbery, along with Mr. Garth Tucker, who is eighteen and thus will be dealt with over in Circuit Court.”

He looked at Daisy and asked, “Can I assume you’re their mother?”

“Yes, sir,” Daisy said, wiping her eyes.

“These are very serious charges and I don’t see an attorney present, other than, of course, Mr. Theodore Boone, who is a pretty good lawyer but a bit too young to be admitted to the bar. Do you plan to hire a lawyer, Mrs., uh, Mrs.—”

“Lambert, Daisy Lambert,” she said. “I can’t afford a lawyer.”

“Okay. Without a lawyer, I’m not going to ask these boys any questions right now. The public defender’s office will provide lawyers for them and that will be done today, if possible. Given the seriousness of these charges, I’m not going to proceed until they have lawyers.”

Without thinking and without hesitating, Theo stood and said, “Your Honor, if I may, do you mind if I say something?”

Judge Pendergrast glared down over the top of the reading glasses perched halfway down his nose. “Why aren’t you in school, Theo?” he asked.

“I have a pass signed by Mrs. Gladwell, Judge. Can I say that I know this family very well? Woody is one of my best friends. We’re in the same grade, same class, same Boy Scout troop. We’ve been close friends for years. Just like you, I don’t know what happened last night but I can promise you that Woody and Tony Lambert had nothing to do with an armed robbery. Right now they are innocent until proven guilty. That’s the way our system works, right, Your Honor?”

“Where are you going with this, Theo?”

“They have the right to bail, to get out of jail while everything is sorted out. Frankly, at least in my opinion, they don’t need to post bail because bail just makes sure they will show up in court when they are supposed to. I can promise you that Tony and Woody will always show up in court.”

“You want me to just release them?”

“Yes, sir. Why not? They’re not criminals. They’re not guilty, I can assure you of that.”

“Do you know the facts, Theo?”

“Not really, but I know these two guys, especially Woody.”

“I’m sorry, Theo, but it’s too early for that. Let’s wait until they have lawyers and then we can discuss the issue of bail. You may sit down.”

Theo sat down slowly and mumbled, “Thanks.”

Judge Pendergrast continued. “Let’s get all the paperwork straight and let me talk to the prosecutor and police. In the meantime, the public defender’s office will get involved and we’ll meet back here as soon as possible. Bailiff, please take these two back to the jail until further orders.”

Theo and Daisy watched the officer slap the cuffs back onto the wrists of Woody and Tony. As they left, Woody turned and said over his shoulder, “Thanks, Theo.” When they were gone, Daisy began sobbing quietly.

“Nice job, Theo,” Judge Pendergrast said. “But from now on let’s wait until you pass the bar exam and get a license to practice law, okay?”

“Yes, sir. And thanks, Judge.”

“You’re excused and I suggest you find your way back to school real soon.”

“Yes, sir.”

Theo and Daisy quickly left the courtroom and found a seat on a bench in the hallway. Theo glanced around to make sure no one was listening and asked, “Do you know where the jail is?”

“Are you kidding? I just spent the night there. I wish I’d never seen the place.”

“Okay. Let’s get over there and try to meet with them.”

“Thanks, Theo.”

Along with the judges and lawyers, Theo knew most of the policemen in Strattenburg. He arrived at the station first and went straight to the desk of a captain named Rick Pruitt. Theo’s mother had handled an adoption for Captain Pruitt and Theo knew him well.

The captain was plowing through a stack of paperwork and was surprised to see his young friend. “Well, hello, Theo. Shouldn’t you be in school?”

“I’m excused until noon. Important business. My friend got arrested last night and he’s back there in the jail. His mother has not been allowed to see him or his brother, and I need your help.”

“What’s his name?” Pruitt asked as he picked up the daily arrest sheet.

“Lambert. Woody and Tony Lambert.”

“Armed robbery?”

“Yes, sir, but it’s a big misunderstanding, at least I think so. We just need to see him, me and his mother.”

“And underage drinking?”

“Not so sure about that, but Judge Pendergrast wouldn’t set a bail this morning, so they’re still locked up. We just want to visit them and see what’s going on.”

Pruitt frowned at Theo for a few seconds, then stood and said, “Follow me.”

They went down a hallway, then down the stairs to the jail. The waiting room was filling up with relatives checking on other inmates. Pruitt pointed to some chairs and said, “Have a seat.”

Theo sat down and within minutes Daisy arrived. In a whisper, Theo explained what was going on. A few minutes later, Pruitt returned and said, “Wait here. It’ll take a few minutes.”

“Thanks, Captain,” Theo said, and Pruitt disappeared.

They waited half an hour before a jailer called Daisy’s name. She and Theo followed him to a holding room where he unlocked the door and waved them in. Woody and Tony were seated at a table, without handcuffs, and when they saw their mother both jumped to their feet. The jailer closed the door and waited outside.

After a round of hugs and tears, all four pulled chairs around a table.

Woody and Tony told their story.

When Theo had heard enough, he decided to leave the family alone and run a quick mission. On his bike, he raced back to the courthouse and went to the Office of the Public Defender on the third floor.

The head PD was a lawyer named Don Montgomery, but everybody called him Monk. To the other lawyers, judges, policemen, and courthouse clerks he was simply Monk. Theo had seen him in the courtroom on several occasions and no one used his real name. It was “Yes, Monk” and “No, Monk” and “Your turn, Monk.” Of course when juries were present and things were more formal, he became Mr. Montgomery, but that was rare. On one occasion the Boone family had bumped into him and his wife in a restaurant, and both of Theo’s parents addressed him as Monk.

He had a difficult job, one that few lawyers envied. His office represented men and women charged with serious crimes but not enough money to hire lawyers. And since the Supreme Court had ruled that every defendant is entitled to a lawyer, Stratten County had created, long before Theo was born, the Office of the Public Defender.

Monk’s operation was always swamped with too many clients and not enough staff to serve them. Every year Monk asked the county for more money, and it seemed, at least to Theo, that he was never satisfied with the support he received. According to Woods Boone, Theo’s father, most PD offices in the country were run on thin budgets. Politicians gave them a low priority because they didn’t like to spend money on criminal defendants.

Theo hesitated before going inside. He paused and sent a text to Mr. Mount. Found Woody. He’s still in jail. Charges seem silly but still serious. Be back soon.

A secretary sat behind an old desk that was covered with stacks of files. Metal cabinets lined the walls. She was typing and paused long enough to frown at him, and without a smile she said, “Yes?”

“Hello, I’m Theodore Boone and I’m looking for Mr. Montgomery.”

“Why aren’t you in school?”

“I’m excused for a few hours. You see, my friend got arrested last night and his case will be assigned to this office. It’s a Youth Court matter and I would like to see Mr. Montgomery.”

“He’s in a big trial in the main courtroom, Judge Gantry. Youth Court matters are handled by Rodney Wall.”

Theo did not know that lawyer. “Okay, could I please see Mr. Wall?”

“He hasn’t come in yet.”

“When might he come in?”

“I don’t know. I’m not in charge of his schedule. Look, son, I’m very busy. You can check back later.” She returned to her keyboard and resumed typing. Theo backed away and left the office. He walked down to the second floor and went to the office of Judge Henry Gantry, the senior Circuit Court judge and a pal of Theo’s.

When he was dreaming, which seemed like several hours each day, Theo wanted to be a respected courtroom judge like Henry Gantry, a man of great fairness and wisdom.

Judge Gantry’s secretary was Mrs. Hardy, a sweet lady who was always happy to see him, unlike that woman upstairs in Monk’s office.

“Well, hello, Theo,” Mrs. Hardy said as he interrupted her work. “To what do we owe this honor?”

“I need to see the judge.”

“Of course. And shouldn’t you be in school?”

“Everyone seems to think so. I’m excused by the principal. You see, one of my friends got arrested last night and I’m trying to help him.”

“How old is he?”

“Only thirteen. I know, it’s a Youth Court matter, but I still need to see the judge.”

“Well, he’s tied up right now. We’re in the middle of a big trial and he’s meeting with the lawyers.”

“What kind of trial?”

Mrs. Hardy glanced around as if someone else might be listening, as if the trial were a big secret. “It’s a drug case. Some men from out in the county were caught manufacturing drugs.”

“Is Mr. Monk defending the guys?”

“How’d you know?”

“I just left his office. I don’t suppose I could watch the trial, could I? I’m excused from school until noon.”

“That’s up to you, Theo. The courtroom is open to the public, but if Judge Gantry sees you he might not like it.”

“Good point. Thanks, Mrs. Hardy.” Theo walked to the door but stopped when he thought of something else. “Say, Mrs. Hardy, when does Judge Gantry set bail for new defendants, for guys who’ve just been arrested?”

“Usually, it’s the first thing he does in the morning. Doesn’t take long.”

“A guy got arrested last night for armed robbery, name’s Garth Tucker, eighteen years old. Have you seen his paperwork?”

Without looking for a file, she said, “Sure. Judge Gantry set his bail at fifty thousand dollars.”

“Fifty thousand dollars?”

“Yes. It’s a serious crime.”

“Of course it is, but bail wouldn’t be that high for a juvenile, would it?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Theo. Bail is usually lower for juveniles, but that’s another court.”

“Yes, ma’am. Thanks. See you later.”

“Get to school.”

Mr. Tucker had arrived at the jail at eight a.m., after a sleepless night, and his lawyer was not far behind. When the jailer received the confirmation that bail had been set, a bail bondsman was quickly called and hustled over from his shabby office across the street. The arrangement was typical. For a 10 percent fee, the bondsman produced a written guarantee that Garth would remain in the county and show up for court when required. Mr. Tucker wrote a check for $5,000 and left the jail with his son. They went to the city pound, paid another fee of $250, and Garth drove his Mustang home. An hour later, after a shower and change of clothes, he was at school bragging about his big adventure.

By then, Woody and Tony were back in their cell playing checkers, the only game available, and killing time. Daisy was at work, cutting hair in a salon. Theo was watching the clock and trying to keep out of sight. If one more adult mentioned school he might explode.

At 11:30, he swallowed hard and reentered the PD’s office, certain that the grouchy secretary would yell at him. She did not. She quietly informed him that attorney Rodney Wall had called and was investigating a case over in Masseyville, a small town half an hour away. He wasn’t sure when he would make it to the courthouse, if at all.

The office had only three lawyers. Monk, Rodney Wall, and a guy named Udall, who was assisting Monk in the drug trial. So there were no lawyers left behind in the office, and no one for Theo to plead with. Defeated, he said thanks to the secretary and rode back to school.

During lunch, he met with Mr. Mount and Mrs. Gladwell and explained the situation. The charges against Woody and Tony would probably be reduced or dismissed, at least the armed robbery, but they would stay in jail until their lawyer could convince Judge Pendergrast to set a reasonable bail.

“It’s pretty outrageous,” Theo said.

“But it’s not that unusual,” Mr. Mount said. “Our juvenile system is overloaded and there are never enough lawyers and counselors. It’s not unusual for kids to get chewed up by the system. Woody will be lucky if he doesn’t spend time in a detention center, which are not good places.”

“But he didn’t do anything,” Theo said.

“He’s an accomplice to a crime,” Mr. Mount said. He had once been a lawyer and gave up that profession to teach.

“Can you explain that?” Mrs. Gladwell asked.

“It’s the law everywhere,” Mr. Mount said. “Pretty basic stuff, really. Three guys are together. One has a gun. He goes in, pulls the gun, grabs the loot or whatever, and all three make their getaway. The two who waited in the car will always be charged with being accomplices to the robbery and will face the same punishment.”

“That’s not right,” Theo said.

“Well, not in this case. But Woody is in serious trouble. I doubt if he’ll get off free on this one. It’s pretty heavy stuff, Theo.”

“With a water pistol?”

“I’m assuming the guy who got robbed didn’t know it was just a water pistol. I’ll bet his story is that he thought it was a real gun. That’s all that matters. What a stupid move.”

“Do you know this guy, Garth Tucker?” Mrs. Gladwell asked Theo.

“I don’t know him but I’ve heard of him. He’s one of Tony’s friends, though Tony claims they didn’t hang out that much. Woody told me and his mother that he has never liked Garth, said he always thought the guy was trouble. Woody thinks Garth was probably drunker than they realized.”

“He must not be very smart,” Mr. Mount said.

“And Woody was drinking, too?” Mrs. Gladwell asked.

“He had a couple of beers.”

“Does he do this a lot?”

Theo didn’t know how much beer Woody was drinking, and that didn’t matter at the moment. He wasn’t about to squeal on his buddy. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I’ve never seen him do it. But he and Tony are alone a good bit. Their stepfather works out of town and their mother has two or three jobs. Things are not going too well around their house.”

“That poor kid,” she said. “Sitting in jail with no one to help him.”

Theo suffered through the afternoon, watching the clocks in his classrooms and thinking of nothing but Woody in jail. When the final bell rang, he sprinted to the small auditorium where the Debate Team was gathering for a practice session. Mr. Mount coached them. Theo was the captain, but he was in no mood to practice. He whispered to Mr. Mount that he had an idea to help Woody and needed to skip the session.

“I’m going straight to my mom and insist that she go to court to see the judge,” he said.

“But she doesn’t work in Youth Court,” Mr. Mount said quietly.

“I know, but I can beg her for a favor. And it’s getting late in the day. If we don’t do something fast, Woody will spend another night in jail.”

“Take off,” Mr. Mount said, and Theo disappeared. Ten minutes later he slid to a stop in the gravel lot behind Boone & Boone. He burst through the rear door and into the small room he called his office. Judge was nowhere in sight. Vince, the paralegal, and Dorothy, the real estate secretary, were not in their offices. The door to his mother’s office was closed, which of course meant she was meeting with a client. Theo walked to Elsa’s desk and braced himself for the daily ritual of hugs and questions. But she was on the phone and couldn’t grab him. She smiled, indicated that the call might take some time, and sort of waved him off. Judge aroused from his slumbers and stumbled forth for a good head-scratching. But Theo was too busy. He bounded up the stairs to confront his father, but Woods Boone was gone, too.

At times the place was packed, with meetings everywhere and clients waiting in chairs. At other times, it was deserted. Theo, with Judge close behind, went downstairs where Elsa was hanging up. “I need to see my mother right now,” he demanded.

Elsa could tell he was in no mood for small talk. “She’s with a client. What’s going on?”

Theo gave her the quick version of Woody’s troubles and ended with, “I want my mom to go to Youth Court right now and help Woody.”

“Well, your mother is with a client who’s having a bad day.”

All of her clients had bad days. Almost all were women struggling through divorces. Most of them arrived stressed and left in tears. Theo had learned to avoid the front section of the firm when his mother was with a client. He had actually heard them in her office crying.

“I’m not going to interrupt them,” Elsa said, somewhat sternly. She was the sweetest person Theo knew, but he also knew that when she dug in, she was not going to budge.

“Then I’m going in there.”

“No you’re not. I suggest you wait until four o’clock when the meeting is over.”

Theo retreated to his office, with his dog, and unpacked his backpack. Homework was out of the question. He opened his laptop, found Garth’s Facebook page, and quickly learned that the kid was out of jail and laughing about his arrest.

Theo fumed some more as the minutes dragged by. Four o’clock came and went without a word. He eased to the front and hid in the large conference room, waiting for his mother’s door to open. When it finally did, a well-dressed woman stepped out, wiping her eyes, and left without a word. Theo rushed in and said, “Mom, Woody got arrested last night and he’s still in jail. You gotta go help him.”

Mrs. Boone calmly closed the door and pointed to a leather sofa. Theo sat down and took a deep breath. Of all the many things he admired about his mother, her coolness under pressure was the most impressive. Marcella Boone was never rattled. She spent long hours every day dealing with extremely anxious clients, and demanding judges, and tough lawyers on the other side, and she rarely lost her cool. And, when her only child was troubled, she found the time to listen.

Theo told her everything he knew about Woody’s big adventure. She, too, was stunned and worried about him and Tony. “You’ve been concerned about Woody,” she said.

“Sure, and things are worse now. Why can’t you go over to Youth Court and ask Judge Pendergrast to set bail. You know him, don’t you?”

“Of course I do, Theo, but I don’t represent Woody. As you know, I don’t handle criminal matters.”

“He’s not a criminal, Mom.”

“No, he is not, but he’s in the middle of a criminal mess, and for the time being he will be processed through Youth Court.”

“Look, Mom, it’s not unusual for one lawyer to handle one hearing and then another take over the case for the later stuff, right?”

“I suppose,” she said, but she knew he was right.

“Then let’s go see Judge Pendergrast, ask him to set bail, as low as possible, and get Woody out. Then tomorrow or the next day the public defender will take over and defend Woody.”

Mrs. Boone glanced away, and Theo knew he was onto something. She stood, walked to her desk, picked up the phone, punched some numbers. Looking at Theo, she said, “Yes, this is Marcella Boone, attorney, and I’m looking for Judge Pendergrast. I need to speak to him.”

She listened, glanced at her watch, and asked, “What time will he be in tomorrow?”

She listened, nodded, said, “Please ask him to call me in the morning.”

She hung up and said, “He’s gone for the day.”

Theo said, “It’s barely four thirty. How can the guy leave so early? That means Woody and Tony have to spend another night in jail. This is ridiculous.”

“Judges have heavy dockets, and then some days are lighter. If there’s nothing to do, they often leave a bit early. Judge Pendergrast is a hard worker.”

Theo dropped his head and shoulders and gave up. Elsa tapped on the door as she opened it and said, “Your four thirty appointment is here.”

“Thank you,” Mrs. Boone said. “We’ll discuss this later, Theo. Now go do your homework.”

Dinner was a soggy sandwich on stale white bread, a banana, a thin marshmallow pie, and a carton of warm apple juice. Woody and Tony devoured it while complaining to each other about it, but they were hungry. Lunch had been a cold pasta concoction they’d had trouble choking down. Breakfast was hours away.

A television hung from the ceiling at the end of the hallway, but they could not see it. Not that they really wanted to. Game shows were at full volume and the noise was oddly comforting. The noise reminded them that life somewhere was normal.

The hours passed slowly. The television was turned off. A guard walked through and announced that lights would go out in thirty minutes. Two more guards appeared with a new prisoner, an older boy who looked well beyond eighteen years. They stopped at the door, unlocked it, and shoved him inside with Tony and Woody. The cell had two bunk beds, no more.

When the guards left, the new guy said, “I’m Jock, and you’re?”

“I’m Tony. This is my kid brother, Woody.” There was no effort to shake hands. Jock had the look of a kid with an attitude, a tough dude who’d seen several jails from the inside. He looked at the bunks and said, “I’ll take the top one, if that’s okay?”

“That’s mine,” Woody said. “First come, first served.”

“Oh really? And who’s making the rules around here?”

“The guards,” Tony said.

“Don’t see any guards right now. Look, I’ll make this real simple for you two brothers. If you want to start some crap, let’s get it over with. I’ll take on the two of you right now, and I promise you that within thirty seconds you’ll both be on the floor, spitting blood and missing teeth. Is that what you want?” He suddenly shoved Tony hard and he banged into a concrete wall.

There was little doubt that Jock had been in many more street fights than the Lambert boys. He was lean and hard, with thick arms, one of which had a tattoo on it. He also reeked of alcohol, and his eyes were red and sort of crazed looking.

Tony showed him both palms and said, “Fighting won’t solve any problems around here.”

“Smart boy,” Jock said. He stepped onto the bottom bunk and vaulted onto the top one where he stretched out and closed his eyes.

Tony and Woody looked at each other and shrugged in defeat. Losing a bunk was better than losing some teeth, and Jock seemed eager to throw punches. They settled down into the bottom bunk, Tony on one end, Woody on the other, and tried to make themselves comfortable.

It would be a long night.

Theo didn’t sleep much either. He dozed off from time to time but could not stop thinking about Woody behind bars. At midnight, he suddenly thought of something else that bothered him. He went online, checked the local newspaper, and saw a one paragraph story about the armed robbery. An eighteen-year-old named Garth Tucker had been arrested for robbing Kall’s Grocery, a convenience store on the western edge of town. Two minors were also involved, but their names were withheld, as was the custom. Tucker was “free on bond.”

So, the stupid kid who’d pulled the gun was resting comfortably at home with his family while Woody and Tony were still locked up. What was fair about that? As he stewed and mumbled to himself, Theo found Garth’s Facebook page and saw a staged photo of him holding his wrists together with what appeared to be handcuffs. Beside the photo Garth wrote: “Jail ain’t so bad but the food’s lousy. It’s all a big misunderstanding and will soon be cleared up, according to my lawyer.”

Theo turned off his laptop and tried to close his eyes. He eventually drifted off, woke up again, went to the bathroom, spoke to Judge under his bed, and tried to go back to sleep. At sunrise, he showered and dressed quickly and hustled downstairs.

He was at the kitchen table pretending to review his homework when his father appeared. Every morning, Mr. Boone rose early, made the coffee, and left to have breakfast with his friends at a downtown diner. When he saw Theo he said, “Well, good morning.”

Theo did not respond. He was angry with his parents and they had argued over last night’s dinner. As always, they had busy plans for the morning and neither wanted to get involved with Woody’s case. Theo did not understand why they, or at least one of them, could not go to Youth Court and insist that Woody and Tony be released immediately. They had tried to explain that they were not criminal lawyers and did not work in Youth Court, but Theo didn’t buy it.

If Theo wasn’t speaking, then neither was Mr. Boone. He made the coffee, fetched the newspaper out of the driveway, found his briefcase, which he brought home every night but rarely touched, poured a cup, and left without a word.

Theo fumed and watched the clock. There were clocks in every room of their home, clear proof that they were busy people with organized lives. Normally, Mrs. Boone skipped breakfast and instead sipped coffee in the den while flipping through the newspaper. But she was running late. Theo could hear her moving about upstairs. He waited. Judge began whimpering because he wanted breakfast, so Theo fixed him a bowl of cereal with milk, the same meal Theo had every morning.

At eight, Mrs. Boone appeared dressed for work. She wore a pretty maroon dress, black heels, and jewelry. One look and Theo knew she was ready for court. She always dressed fashionably, but there were times when she looked a bit sharper. She poured a cup of coffee and sat across the table from Theo. She said, “I’ll meet you in Youth Court at nine. You call Daisy Lambert and I’ll call Mrs. Gladwell and tell her what’s going on.”

Theo exhaled, smiled, and said, “Thanks, Mom.” He hurriedly grabbed the bowls and put them in the sink. He rubbed Judge’s head, said good-bye, and sprinted from the kitchen with his backpack.

The small courtroom was filled with people when Judge Pendergrast assumed the bench and said good morning. For the second straight morning, he looked exhausted with dark circles under his eyes and fatigue all over his face. He even yawned as he glanced around the courtroom.

An important hearing was scheduled for nine o’clock and Theo was worried that the Lambert boys would be ignored until later. However, his mother had made a phone call and chatted with the judge.

He peered over his reading glasses and said, “Mrs. Boone, I believe you have a matter before the Court.”

Marcella Boone stood and everybody looked at her. Theo had seen her in court on several occasions, though she would not allow him to sit through her divorce trials. The testimony was often too rough for a thirteen-year-old. He admired her greatly and knew she could handle herself in front of any judge.

“Yes, Your Honor, thank you, and I would like to enter an appearance as the attorney of record for the sole purpose of getting bail set for Tony and Woody Lambert.”

“So you’re their lawyer?”

“Sort of. I know the family and I’m just pinch-hitting until the public defender’s office can take over.”

“Where is the public defender?”

“Good question. I am told that his office has yet to talk to the Lambert boys. I assume the PD is very busy, as always.”

“Well, I was informed by Mrs. Lambert yesterday that she could not afford a lawyer.”

“I’m here pro bono, Judge, as a friend of the family, and just for the purposes of getting bail set. We’re trying to get the boys out of jail. The PD will take over from there.”

Judge Pendergrast yawned again and shrugged, as if he didn’t really approve of her involvement, but no judge in the state would tell Marcella Boone that she didn’t belong in a courtroom. He said, “Very well. I’ll note your appearance. Are the boys here?”

“No, sir. They’re still in jail. Their presence is not necessary. It’s just a bail hearing, Your Honor.”

Judge Pendergrast shuffled some papers and read something. “Each is charged with armed robbery. What type of bail are you requesting?”

“Personal ID, Your Honor. The Lamberts have lived here for many years, and there is no reason to believe that Woody and Tony will not appear in court when they are supposed to. They pose no risk of flight or disappearance. They’re both students and good boys. This is all a misunderstanding anyway. Nothing can be gained by forcing Mrs. Lambert to spend money she doesn’t have.”

His Honor frowned and said, “I see here that Tony Lambert is on probation from an earlier violation this year. This could complicate matters.”

“Let’s deal with it later, Your Honor. The goal right now is to get them out so they can meet with their attorney and find a solution.”

Judge Pendergrast was shaking his head. “Their codefendant, Mr. Garth Tucker, posted bail of fifty thousand dollars. This is a serious crime, Mrs. Boone.”

“He’s an adult and apparently his family has the money. I’m not concerned with Mr. Tucker. My clients are minors and deserve to be released from jail. There’s no good reason for keeping them locked up.”

Theo was sitting next to Daisy Lambert in the front row. He managed to keep a frown on his face but wanted to say, “Go get ’em, Mom!”

Judge Pendergrast said, “But for a serious charge like this, Mrs. Boone, I cannot simply release them on their personal IDs. I’ve never done that. And until we know the facts of this case, I cannot assume that these boys are as innocent as you think they are.”

Without yielding an inch, Mrs. Boone said, “I assure you they’ll show up in court when they are supposed to.”

“That sounds good but I’ve heard it before. And, since you will not be their lawyer after today, I’m not sure how you can guarantee anything.”

“The family has little resources, Your Honor. Any type of bail will be a hardship. Indeed, any bail at all will simply keep the boys in jail. They are innocent until proven guilty.”

“I realize that. Does the family own a home or any other real estate?”

Mrs. Boone exhaled in frustration and said, rather sternly, “No, Your Honor. The family rents their home. Mrs. Lambert works two jobs, one as a part-time hairstylist, the other as a waitress in a restaurant. Her husband, the boys’ stepfather, works in construction and right now he’s on a job two hours away. His involvement with the boys is limited. The family is barely getting by and any amount of bail is nothing but a hardship.”

“For armed robbery I cannot set a bail below ten thousand dollars. For each.”

“That’s twenty thousand dollars, Your Honor.”

“I can do the math.”

“Bail bondsmen typically charge ten percent for the bond. That’s two thousand dollars just to get them out. That’s unfair, Your Honor.”

Judge Pendergrast glared at her, obviously irritated. “Nothing I do is unfair, Mrs. Boone. I realize you do not work in criminal law, and I assure you that a ten-thousand-dollar bail for armed robbery is not unfair and is definitely on the low side. These boys got themselves in trouble. Don’t blame me for it.”

For a tense moment, the lawyer and the judge stared at each other, but it was obvious who was in charge. Mrs. Boone finally smiled and said, “So be it, Your Honor. Thank you for your time.”

“You are welcome. Now, I have a scheduled hearing and need to move on. You are excused.” In other words: Would you kindly leave my courtroom at this time?

Theo followed his mother and Daisy Lambert into the hallway where they huddled in a corner. Daisy was wiping tears and Mrs. Boone was trying to control her frustration.

Theo had almost four hundred dollars in his savings account and was already thinking of ways to get more.

“What about your husband?” Mrs. Boone asked.

“Which one?”

“The current one.”

Daisy shook her head. “He won’t help. We talked last night, had a big fight. He says he’s not coming home for a while and will not help the boys. They’ve never been close.”

“What about their father?”

“He’s around but we don’t see much of him. I’ll ask him. He might pitch in something but I doubt it. He’s not working much these days.”

“You do that and we’ll talk later. I need to get to the office and you, Theo, need to get to school.”

Daisy wiped her face and said, “Thanks, Marcella. You’ll never know how much I appreciate this.”

“I’m not sure I helped the situation, Daisy.”

“Thanks for being here. And thank you, Theo.”

Theo said, “I can’t believe Woody is sitting in jail.”

Halfway to school, and pedaling as slowly as possible, Theo remembered that he was officially excused from class. Neither Mr. Mount nor Mrs. Gladwell nor anyone else at school would know how long things took in court, so he had a bright idea. He turned around and sprinted to the jail where he found his pal, Captain Rick Pruitt. Carrying his backpack, he explained that he needed to meet with Woody and discuss their homework. He implied that he had been sent by their teacher to help his friend keep current with their lessons.

Pruitt was skeptical and suggested that he should call the school and check out the story. Theo said that would be fine but he doubted Mrs. Gladwell would answer the phone because she was tied up in assembly.

To Theo’s horror, Pruitt picked up the phone and called the school. He asked to speak to Mrs. Gladwell, then said, “Good morning. This is Captain Pruitt at the police department. Your student, Theodore Boone, is in my office and says he needs to visit with Woody Lambert to do some homework. Was this authorized by anyone at the school?”

Theo thought about bolting, but tried to remain calm. Pruitt listened and listened, then smiled. He said, “Thanks,” and hung up. He pointed at Theo and said, “If you’re not in school in ten minutes, I’m calling your mother.”

Theo saluted, said “Yes, sir,” and ran from the office.

Theo thought it highly unlikely that Captain Pruitt would follow up on his threat to call Mrs. Boone. It was a good bluff, and it worked because Theo was headed to school, but the closer he got the slower he pedaled. Second period was Geometry with Mrs. Garman, and it was his least-favorite subject. After a few loops and swings through the leafy neighborhoods around Stratten College, he eventually arrived at school, at precisely 10:40 when the bell rang for morning break. He checked in at the front office, went to his locker, said hello to April Finnemore, his favorite friend-girl, which was something altogether different from a real girlfriend, and drifted through the crowded hallway to Mr. Mount’s classroom where Government, his favorite subject, would start at eleven o’clock.

Mr. Mount was waiting. He said softly, “Look, Theo, some of the guys are asking about Woody. What if you explained what’s going on?”

Theo glanced around, obviously uncertain. He glanced at his feet, then said, “Well, sure, but I don’t know how much I can say. It’s a Youth Court matter and those cases are not public.”

“I know. Did the judge set bail?”

“Yes, ten thousand for each. Woody’s mother doesn’t have the money, so they’ll just stay in jail.”

“That’s ridiculous. Let’s talk about this in class without going into the details of the armed robbery, okay?”


When the class was seated, Mr. Mount began with, “It’s clear that Woody is absent today and missed yesterday. Some of you have asked about him, and, well, to be honest about the situation, Woody is in jail. Along with his brother Tony. Theo has been to court twice trying to help, and he knows more about what’s going on. Theo.”

As captain of the Debate Team, Theo had overcome his fear of speaking in public. Most of his classmates had not. Mr. Mount always said that most people, especially kids but even adults, fear public speaking. Theo enjoyed the attention, and he was secretly proud that he could do something most kids could not.

He took a deep breath and walked to the front of the class. “I just got back from Youth Court,” he said gravely, as if he were the lawyer in charge of Woody’s defense. “Woody is doing okay but needs to get out of jail. The facts go something like this, and I cannot reveal everything because Youth Court cases are private matters. But sometime late Tuesday night, Woody and his older brother Tony were riding around with a friend. They stopped at a convenience store, something happened, and they were arrested later for armed robbery. They appeared in court Wednesday morning and again a few hours ago. My mother is trying to help them get out. The judge set their bail at ten thousand dollars each, and the family is trying to raise the money.”

“They have to raise twenty thousand dollars?” Brandon asked.

“No, not quite that much.”

“What does bail mean?” Aaron asked. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s kind of complicated,” Theo replied.

Mr. Mount said, “Theo, why don’t you use Woody as an example and walk us through the bail system? And keep it as simple as possible.”

Theo loved moments like this when the class was stumped by a legal issue or problem. He was suddenly the smooth and gifted trial lawyer pacing in front of the jury. “Okay, so Woody got arrested, charged with a crime, and put in jail. Since he is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, he has the right to get out of jail, regardless of the crime. But, the police need to make sure he’ll show up in court when he’s expected. In theory, the police need some promise that he will not run away. I think in the old days criminals just disappeared after they got out. That doesn’t happen much today. Anyway, the police and judges developed the system of bail. You’ve heard the old saying: ‘Bail him out of jail.’ That’s what happens. The accused is required to put up some money or some land that the court can hold to make sure he doesn’t disappear. Since most people charged with crimes have little money and no property, they are forced to buy a bail bond. There are these guys who hang around the jail and the courtrooms trying to sell bail bonds to defendants. In Woody’s case, his bail is ten thousand dollars. His family doesn’t have that kind of money, so his mother will be forced to do business with a bail bondsman. For ten percent of the bail, in cash, this guy will give the court a bond, a written document that guarantees Woody’s appearance whenever he’s supposed to be in court. If Woody fails to show up, the bondsman has the right to go hunt him down and arrest him. As a rule, bail bondsmen are pretty tough guys.”

“So Woody needs a thousand dollars?” Jarvis asked.

“Right. And a thousand for his brother. Their mother simply doesn’t have the money, so they’re still in jail. They’ve been there for the past two nights.”

“If he’s innocent, why is he stuck in jail?” asked Darren.

“Good question, and I have no good answer. Let’s just say that the bail system is out of date and a lot of people are trying to change it. Last night I found online at least two national organizations working to reform bail laws. A lot of people are locked away when they should be working and taking care of their families.”

“Which brings us back to Woody,” Mr. Mount said. “How can we help? I guess he needs a thousand dollars.”

“Not really. He needs two thousand. Mrs. Lambert has to get two boys out of jail, not just one. And Woody told her he won’t leave without Tony. So it’s both or nothing.”

During his slow ride back to school, Theo had pondered the idea of asking his friends to chip in all the money they could find. He was ready and willing to offer his savings of four hundred dollars, but he worried that most of the others had little to offer. They were, after all, only thirteen years old. On his tenth birthday, Theo’s parents had given him fifty dollars to deposit in his brand-new savings account, and each year they added fifty dollars to it. He was encouraged to stash away any spare cash he earned with the various odd jobs he was lucky enough to find. He was proud of his savings but willing to give it all away to help Woody.

Theo was luckier than most of his friends and he knew it. He was an only child of two lawyers who were watching him closely and planning his future. He was often frustrated by the high levels of supervision, but his parents always seemed to know when to back off, a little. He was taught not to compare himself to his friends, but to simply accept them for who they were.

Throwing four hundred dollars on the table like some big shot would not go over well with his friends. Chase Whipple wouldn’t mind because his family had money and Theo was close to him. Brandon would be impressed by such a gesture because his goal was to be the first millionaire in the class. He had his own paper route and was trading stocks online. However, he had been complaining recently about a downturn in the market.

But the rest of the class would resent the challenge. And, it simply wouldn’t work. Theo suspected that only he and two or three others had savings accounts, and he wasn’t about to ask. At the moment, no one seemed eager to offer money.

Mr. Mount said, “Okay, that’s our challenge. How can we raise two thousand dollars to bail out Woody and Tony?”

A nervous silence followed, with no volunteers. Finally, Jarvis asked, “Is it true that the family has no money at all?”

Theo replied, “I don’t know. I’m sure Mrs. Lambert is trying to scrape together something, but I haven’t asked. That’s really none of my business. Woody’s stepfather is working out of town and doesn’t want to help.”

Chase asked, “Does Woody just stay in jail forever if he can’t make bail?”

“Not forever,” Theo replied. “Eventually, he’ll go to court to face the charges, maybe have a trial. If he’s found not guilty, he’ll be released. If he’s found guilty, I suppose they send him away.”

“Do you think he’s guilty, Theo?” asked Ricardo.

“No, he’s not guilty of armed robbery. We know Woody. He’d never do something as terrible as that. I’ve talked to him and he says it’s just one big misunderstanding. He may be guilty of underage drinking, but nothing else.”

Justin said, “I have a question, Theo. Suppose Woody can’t bail out and has to sit in jail until his trial. How long will that take?”

“You never know. It varies, even in Youth Court. I guess several months.”

“So, Woody sits in jail for months, flunks out of school, then goes to trial and let’s say he’s found not guilty. He goes home right, as if nothing happened? A clean record.”


“What about the time he just served? Does he get paid for that?”

“No, of course not. It’s just wasted time.”

“So what’s fair about this system?”

“Who said it was fair?”

“Well, you’re always talking about how great the court system is, how great the law is, how much you want to be a lawyer. That’s the last place I’d want to work.”

Mr. Mount said, “Okay, let’s get back to the issue at hand. While we’re having this discussion, your friend Woody is sitting in jail, and I’m sure he is not doing his homework.”

Theo suffered through the rest of the day. During study hall, which was supervised by Mr. Mount, he was called to the principal’s office. Mrs. Gladwell had prepared written instructions allowing Theo to leave an hour early and go to the jail. She had discussed Woody’s situation with Judge Pendergrast and they had agreed that Theo could haul in the necessary textbooks and help his friend with his homework.

Theo knew that the last thing Woody would want to see in jail was a stack of textbooks, but he said nothing. He left the school at two p.m., an hour before final bell. With some time to spare, he detoured to the courthouse and went to the public defenders’ office on the third floor where he was greeted by the same grouchy secretary he’d encountered on Tuesday.

“I’d like to see Mr. Rodney Wall,” he asked without saying hello.

She stopped typing, frowned at him, and said, “It’s you again. Why aren’t you in school?”

“I’m excused and I have the paperwork to prove it.”

She lost interest immediately, nodded toward a closed door, and said, “He’s in there.”

Theo knocked on the door and a squeaky voice said, “Come in.”

Rodney Wall looked young enough to be a senior at Strattenburg High School. He was a small guy seated in an oversized chair that dwarfed him. He wore round glasses and a scruffy beard that was probably an effort to make up for his lack of hair. He made no effort to stand or greet his visitor.

“Can I help you?” he asked, but it was obvious that helping was not on his mind.

Theo walked to the edge of his cluttered desk and said, “Yes, I’m Theodore Boone, a friend of Woody Lambert, your client. I’d like to talk about his case.”

“Oh you would?”


Wall arranged his hands so that his fingertips were touching. “Your mother is Marcella Boone.”


“So is she planning to represent the Lambert boys?”

“No, she is not. She appeared this morning just to get bail set and try to get them out of jail.”

“Why is she sticking her nose into my business?”

“Because you weren’t there. I stopped by this place three times yesterday looking for you so we could talk about the case, and you were out of the office.”

“Sometimes that happens. Sometimes lawyers need to leave their office to go out and investigate. Why aren’t you in school?”

“I have an official pass from my principal, Mrs. Gladwell. Feel free to call her.”

“She sent you over here to my office to quiz me about my clients?” Behind his round glasses were two small eyes that glared at Theo without blinking. He did not stop tapping his fingertips together.

“No, she sent me to the jail to help Woody with his homework. I’m on my way there now.”

“I’ve heard about you, kid. You’re always hanging around the courthouse and bugging lawyers and judges and acting like you’re some kind of real lawyer. You show up in Animal Court all the time and take real cases, which anyone can do down there. Now you’re here poking around in my business.”

“Look, can we talk about Woody’s case? He’s one of my best friends and he is not guilty of armed robbery.”

“No. Both of your parents are lawyers, so you should know that a lawyer cannot discuss his client’s business with anyone else. It would be unethical for me to say anything about the case.”

Theo knew the guy was right, and he knew he shouldn’t be there sticking his nose in another lawyer’s business. But he wanted Mr. Wall to know that someone was watching, and so far that someone was not too impressed with the defense. Theo asked, “Have you met with your clients yet?”

Mr. Wall gave an exaggerated sigh as if greatly frustrated. “The answer is yes, and that’s the last answer I’m giving you. I met with Woody and Tony about three hours ago, and now I’m in the initial stages of writing a case report, which I will review with my supervisor and not with anyone else.”

“Do you believe they’re innocent?”

“Look, Mr. Theo, it’s time for you to leave. I have work to do. And I suppose you need to get down to the jail and help Woody with his homework.”

Theo backed away from the desk, mumbled a halfhearted “Thanks,” and left the office.

Instead of going to the jail, he headed north toward the edge of town, riding ten blocks or so until he came to a strip mall. Daisy Lambert worked thirty hours a week as a hairstylist and another thirty as a waitress. Theo had never been to her salon, never had a reason to visit, and he wasn’t sure he should barge right in. But the clock was ticking, in more ways than one, and now was not the time to be timid.

In the reception area, several women of all ages lounged around reading magazines with all manner of foils and rollers and clamps affixed to their hair. Beyond them two rows of chairs were filled with women getting worked on. In the rear, in the last chair, Theo saw Daisy lost in a pile of thick orange curls and clipping away. With blinders on, he walked straight toward her, ignoring everyone else along the way and said, “Hi, Mrs. Lambert, got a minute?”

Daisy was jolted at the sight of Theo in a place she would never expect him to be. “Well, sure, Theo,” she said, lowering her shears. “Excuse me one moment,” she whispered to her client. They stepped a few feet away and found privacy near the washing stations.

“Sorry to bother you,” Theo said in a voice as low as possible.

“Something wrong?” she asked, as if she expected everything to go wrong.

“No. I’ll just get right to the point. I know it’s rude to talk about money but right now that’s all we can talk about. I have four hundred dollars. Some of my buddies are willing to pitch in some more. I’m going to ask my parents for a loan, and maybe my uncle, Ike, too. So, how much do we need to raise?”

Her eyes watered instantly, and Theo’s first thought was that he hated to see Daisy cry. She said, “Oh, Theo, you can’t do this. Please.”

“I’m doing it, Mrs. Lambert, okay? And I’m not going to argue. Woody is my close friend and he needs our help. Now, how much?”

She wiped her eyes, thought for a second. “I talked to his father, my ex, and he said he would try and borrow some money, but I’m not counting on it. He never comes through. I’ve got three hundred dollars in the bank, and I’m trying to get more out of my husband. It’s tough, Theo. Times are tough for some people.”

Especially Woody and Tony, he thought. “Okay, great, so we have seven hundred bucks that we can count on. That’s a start. I’ll get to work.”

“I’ll pay you back, Theo, I promise.”

“I’m not worried about that right now. Have you talked to a bail bondsman?”

“No, I was going to call later this afternoon.”

“I have one in mind.”

“Thanks. I have to get back to work.”

Theo had noticed the offices before. There were several of them on the side streets near the jail, all shady little places with cheap rents