CHAPTER: 12345, 6789101112131415161718192021222324252627, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32EPILOGUE

Judd walks in to the courthouse and feels instantly on edge. There are police everywhere, some in uniform and some in plain clothes. Even though they’re wearing the clothes of ordinary people, as though they’re just viewers in the courtroom Judd can tell that they aren’t. It’s something about the way that they’re walking, talking and standing still, there’s something in the way that they look around the court room’s entrance lobby, it all marks them as police officers. There are lawyers wandering around too, talking in small groups of two or three, some walking intently towards courtrooms as they clutch piles of folders and briefcases in their arms. And then there are the people involved in the cases themselves. They have a tightness to their expression, a worn down look that suggests that they’re under a great deal of stress regardless of which side of the case that they’re on.

Judd has chosen his most fashionable suit, the suit that shows his figure without being too ostentatious. It’s the suit Asif always encourages him to wear to weddings and the few funerals that they’ve had to attend together. It’s the same suit that he wore when he went to his college interview, the one that he had to go to in order to be allowed to study his conversion law course. As he looks around and watches the lawyers hurrying to and fro he remembers why he is taking the course, what it is that he’s taking the course. It’s for this, the ability to attend course and carry out justice on behalf of those who can’t do it for themselves. Judd pauses in the middle of the lobby and looks around. He knows why he’s here, what he’s come to do.

Within seconds of looking around he spots Sally. She’s stood there, her arms wrapped around herself. She looks exhausted, on the very edge of her sanity. Her hair is styled, just as it always is, but he can see the neglect that she’s been putting herself through. The roots have grown out, the grey that she works so hard to cover with blonde dye have begun to appear at last, creating a rough ring of grey and brown around her head. She’s looking down, barely looking around at all. Her eyes have great bags under them, barely covered by her make up. Then she looks up and catches sight of him. A smile passes over her face and Judd realises for a moment why Asif married her. The smile makes her look a little less tired, a little younger. But it doesn’t reach her eyes.

He walks towards her and is almost immediately grabbed in a hug. She squeezes him to her tightly, almost a little too tightly. He wraps his arms around her and hugs her back. She holds him for a long time, he can feel her shaking against him and he tightens his grip. She buries her face in his chest and he can feel a slowly growing patch of dampness on the front of his shirt. She’s crying.

“Hey,” he says softly, pulling her away from him, “Hey now, what’s wrong Sally?”

“I’m sorry Judd,” she says, wiping away the tears and swallowing heavily. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“I think you’re allowed to have a moment,” Judd says kindly, “I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re going through and it’s totally fine to have a little cry now and then,”

“Thank you,” Sally says with a smile, although it is shaky and still doesn’t meet her eyes, “I just… I guess it’s just all been quite a lot for me to handle. You’re here now though, I’m not alone.”

“No, you’re not,” Judd says firmly, “You’re never alone, you know that don’t you? If you need my help all that you need to do is ask,”

“I don’t want to bother you,” Sally says, “I’m coping alright, not too much stress. It’s just the worry about your dad, not the shop, that’s getting to me a little. I just want you to focus on your studies, we both do,”

“Ok,” Judd says. He pulls her back in to another hug, “Ok. Just ring me if you need to talk though, any time.”

Sally opens her mouth, about to reply when Asif’s name is called out. She freezes for a moment and then looks sharply towards the court room doors.

“We can talk later,” Judd says.

He steps away from her and puts his hand on her shoulder. He steers her around, towards the courtroom.

“Let’s go and check on Dad,” he says.

They walk together, side by side, into the court room, down the aisle of seats. They take a seat and watch everyone else walk in. The doors close with a heavy thud and the case begins.

The beginning of the trial seems to be a recap of everything that has been talked about already, the arguments that had been made and where each side stood. It seems that Judd has missed most of the trial and he wishes that he hadn’t. If he had been there he may have been able to stop Asif from ranting about teaching the shoplifter a lesson. But he has been busy, with his studies and with everything that is going on with Charlie and Obo and he thought that his dad would be ok. He is here now though, now that he’s discovered how bad things could be for Asif and he hopes that his presence will be enough to keep his dad a little calmer than he has been.

“We’re on closing speeches today,” Sally whispers to him, “The jury will be leaving today to deliberate on their decision. So right now the lawyers are making a final attempt to sway them their way.”

“Will Dad get a chance to talk?” Judd whispers back, “Will the judge let him after last time?”

“I think so,” She whispers back. “The lawyers said-”

She’s brought to a stop by a sharp glare from the judge. He looks at them with distaste. The lawyers don’t seem to notice though, the prosecution just keeps talking and talking. Judd notices that the jury seem to be nodding and agreeing with what the lawyers are saying. A thread of fear works its way up his spine. It may be that Asif won’t win like they’ve all been thinking and expecting.

“Defence may address the court,” the judge says solemnly.

Judd looks up sharply, he hasn’t even realised that the prosecution was done with their discussion. Now it was the turn of the defence and maybe his father will get a chance to talk.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” their lawyer says, bowing to the jury, “Your honour. I would like to call the defendant to the stand, one more time and allow him to explain what it was that motivated him to take the actions that he took,”

There’s a small smattering of applause from the gallery as Asif walks to the stand. He coughs and clears his throat for a few moments. He looks at Judd, catching sight of him at last and he smiles gently. Finally he turns to look at the jury.

“I… um, I,” he stammers for a few moments, “I’m not proud of what I did, of how badly I hurt that boy. I am ashamed of how badly I hurt him. But I just want to make you understand why I did what I did. I was trying to teach him a lesson, teach him that stealing is wrong. Because it is wrong and everyone knows it and still that boy chose to steal from me. He and his friends, they all know that they should not steal from people and yet they do. I wanted to make sure that he and his friends, the other boys and men and girls and women who might try to steal from me in the future would know that they shouldn’t. They have to know that it is a bad idea to try and cross me and steal from my shop.”

“And why was that so important?” the lawyer says, “Why do you want to send them a message to leave you alone? Was the value of the item really so much that it would have caused you serious financial difficulty?”

“No,” Asif admits, proudly almost, “But I have seen this happen to other shop keepers, like myself, who run their own small business with no help from anyone else. If there is one person stealing from you then another will follow. They may not steal very expensive items but if lots of people are stealing from you over time it can add up and you can lose a lot of money. For a shopkeeper, for small business owners like myself, that can be very damaging for business and for my livelihood.”

“And you are a small business owner aren’t you?” the lawyer says, “You speak to other shop keepers don’t you? Share information? Share news? Can you tell the court how hard you may or may not work to keep your shop running? What it is that your shop means to you besides a way of making money?”

“I work very hard,” Asif says, “I have worked very hard since I was old enough to work. My father ran the shop before me, he bought it for us when he just arrived in England from Pakistan. He used it to make friends with the people nearby, to get to know the people that we were living amongst. He would push me to go to school, to study hard and to see if I could do more with my life. But I was not really made for school and for studying. So when I left school I worked for my father and eventually took over from him. He gave me the shop when he reached his sixtieth birthday and I have run it ever since,”

“So your shop is a family business?” the lawyer asks, “It has strong emotional ties for you? It isn’t just a way to make money?”

“Oh no!” Asif cries, “It is almost like a family member. I have seen more of that shop than I have of anyone else. I work hard to make my shop a place where everyone can come to buy things and to talk to each other. Many of the people who shop there have done so since I was just a small boy.”

“So it’s a hub of the community?” the lawyer asks. Asif nods. “How did you feel when someone, the boy in question, tried to steal from you?”

“I was angry,” Asif says slowly, “I was very angry. But I was also hurt. I felt betrayed. I have known that boy since he was just a baby. I used to give him a lolly when he came in with his grandmother. And then he has turned around to do that to me. He has stolen from me, stolen from my family and from the place that has been good to him all these years. I could not believe that he had done it and I was so very angry.”

“There we have it,” the lawyer says, holding an arm out towards Asif. “We have a man who wanted to protect not just his livelihood but a centre of the community. The shop is not just a business, it is a way of life for this family and for the people all around. And it was hurt, betrayed by someone who was a part of it. Would any of you not act the same if it were your home that were threatened? Your family that was betrayed? I ask you to think about that ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as you make your decision.”

Judd sits back and watches, only half listening as the prosecution ask a few more questions. He has never realised how much the shop means to his father. He thought it was just a quirk of Asif’s personality, an oddity that was a remnant of his time in Pakistan. Judd had never known that it was the way that Asif and his grandparents had become a part of English life, that it was what had helped them to make themselves a new home in England. Suddenly, with this news, Judd understands why his father was so firm with him, so determined to make sure that he could run the shop if he needed to and why Asif always insisted that they protect the shop and make sure that no one steals from it. The shop is as much a part of their family as Sally or himself is. Now his father’s lessons about justice and vengeance are beginning to make much more sense to him.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” the judge begins.

Judd looks up sharply. He had not even realised that the prosecution had finished their final questions. He leans forward, listening intensely to what the judge has to say.

“I know that many of you will understand now the motivations for the defendant’s actions,” the judge continues to say, “But I ask you to also bear in mind these facts. This was the young man’s first offence against him. The manner of the offence was minor, at best. I feel that Asif’s actions in this crime were grossly out of proportion to the offence that was perpetrated against him. He beat this boy, in cold blood, for stealing a bottle of alcohol. Now do not think that I condone underage drinking, far from it, but I also feel that this was a very minor offence and did not warrant the viciousness of the attack that was then carried out. Asif,” the judge looks right at Judd’s father, “Here in England we trust in our justice system, we trust that the police will come when called to protect us. But you did not even call them. They did not fail you because you did not even go to them for help. Instead you took justice in to your own hands and mercilessly assaulted a minor for stealing a fairly minute item. And then you attempted to defend yourself by claiming that you were trying to send a message. But you went too far, this young man was hospitalised by your actions, by your temper and you have never truly apologised for what you have done. You did not even allow the justice system to get involved and now you are paying the price. I now dismiss the jury to make their decision on the charges being held against the defendant and your suggestions on sentencing.”

The jury nod and file out. The door shuts behind them with an ominous and final sounding thud. The judge turns back to Asif and the gallery of people.

“Sir,” the judge says, “I will warn you now that if you are found guilty you should expect a very long jail sentence. You carried out a vicious and malicious attack, far out of proportion to the wrong that was done to you. You carried out this attack on a seventeen year old boy. Teenagers do not have the full brain capacity yet developed to understand the consequences of their actions and yet you assaulted this young man, this minor, so fiercely that he spent several weeks in hospital. I take a very dim view on violence against children, and yes, that is what the young man is, and I will not be lenient on you. Court is dismissed until the jury reach a verdict,”

“All rise for the Honourable Judge,” the speaker calls out.

Everyone rises to their feet as the judge walks away, out of the courtroom. Then, talking in hushed voices, everyone else walks away. Judd and Sally stand there, waiting and watching as a police officer goes up to Asif and reattaches a pair of handcuffs. Asif looks at them, tears in his eyes as he is led out of the courtroom through a different door. Judd puts his arm around Sally’s shoulders as she sobs quietly. He leads her out of the courtroom and deposits her on a nearby bench. He crouches down in front of her and hands her a tissue that was hiding in his pocket.

“I’ve got to go and make a few phone calls,” he says quietly, “Will you be ok until I get back,”

Sally nods and sniffs, dabbing at her wet eyes with the already damp tissue. Judd nods, smiles tightly before he stands up and walks away. He’s out on the courthouse steps before he even realises it. There are a few journalists scattered around, some photographers are fiddling with their cameras. It’s clear that they have no idea who he is or that the jury had gone out to make their decision. If the journalists and paparazzi knew who Judd was he would be surrounded in an instant. Judd glances at them as he pulls out his phone. Then, while he scrolls through, looking for the right number, he edges away until they’re almost out of sight. He holds the ringing phone up to his ear.

“Hello?” the voice on the other end says.

“Reece,” Jud says after a second or two, “I’m at the courthouse, the jury are deliberating at the minute,”

“Jeeze Judd!” Reece cries, “You should have said something, I would have come with you,”

“No mate,” Judd says, his tone a little harsh, “There’s no point. I’ve not had to say anything and I’m still way too pissed off with you to see you,”

“But you rang me?” Reece asks, confused.

“For my dad’s sake,” Judd says, “I know you love him, almost as much as I do. It’s only right that you know what’s going on. I figured I may as well tell you now while we’re waiting to hear.”

“Take your mind off it,” Reece says, “I get it.”

They say nothing to each other for a few moments, the silence between them stretching out. It’s strange and unusual and awkward for Judd. Normally he and Reece can’t stop talking to each other. But he wants to scream and shout at Reece for leaving him, even though now really isn’t the time. So instead of saying what he feels he’s saying nothing at all. He knows that the moment he opens his mouth he’ll start yelling and screaming all the words that he wants to say to his once friend. And now isn’t the time at all. He needs to be calm, he needs to be collected, for Sally. And he can’t do that if he’s just screamed at his friend.

“Are you still going ahead with your plan then?” Reece asks suddenly, “Are you still going to try and take Obo on, head to head,”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Judd snaps harshly, “You’re out and it’s none of your business now. I just wanted to fill you in about my dad,”

“Ok, ok,” Reece says softly. Judd can practically see the other man holding up his hands in defence, “Give my love to Sally when you see her.”

“I will do,” Judd says

“Oh and Judd?” Reece says,

“Yeah?” Judd replies,

“Take care of yourself,” Reece says.

The line goes dead and Judd stares at the phone in his hand. He can see the journalists moving around out of the corner of his eye. Something must be happening, he realises.

He puts the phone back in his pocket and hurries inside. Sally is still where he left her but she’s standing now, looking towards the doors to the courtroom and back towards the entrance. A look of relief flashes across her face when she sees Judd jogging over.

“What’s going on?” he asks her quietly, “Have you heard anything?”

“The jury have made their decision,” she says quietly, “They’re ready for us to come back in,”

Judd steps up beside her and holds out his arm. She gently loops her arm through his and they slowly make their way in to the courtroom. People stand aside as they pass, watching them, their eyes full of judgement. Judd fights down the sudden surge of anger that fills him when he sees the expression in their eyes. Instead of saying or doing anything like he wants to he just keeps staring straight ahead.

“All rise for the Judge presiding,” the court clerk calls out.

The room rustles as everyone climbs to their feet. The judge walks through a door at the back of the court, his sombre robes dark against the lighter wood panelling on the walls. The jury have already filed in, Judd watched them as they walked in, searching for some sign of what they had decided. He hadn’t been able to spot anything though. The people in the gallery sit down again as the judge takes his seat and bangs on the gavel a few times. Silence falls as Asif is led in. He’s wearing a crumpled suit and the handcuffs shine brightly as they catch the light of the courtroom. Beside him Judd hears Sally sob slightly and puts an arm around her shoulder without looking away from his father. Asif glances over his shoulder at them and nods to Judd slowly. He takes his seat beside his lawyers.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the judge says firmly, “We are here today discover the Jury’s opinion on the charges laid out before this man. Chairwoman of the Jury, please stand,”

A middle aged woman in a bright pink dress suit stands up. She looks terrified and is clutching tightly onto the cards in her hands. She nods to the judge.

“On the charge of grievous bodily harm against a minor,” the judge says, “How do you find the defendant?”

“We find the defendant guilty,” the chairwoman says quietly.

“On the charge of vigilantism,” the judge says, “How do you find the defendant?”

“We find the defendant guilty,” she says again.

“And on the charge of assault with the intent to cause serious harm,” the judge asks one last time, “How do you find the defendant?”

“We find the defendant,” the chairwoman says. She pauses for a moment, “Guilty.”

Sally cries out, her voice sounding like her heart is breaking. Asif looks towards them, his face full of worry. Judd grabs Sally and drags her close to him, holding her against his chest as she sobs. The entire courtroom is filled with whispers and talking at the revelation of the verdict. Some of the people in the gallery, the ones who know Asif, who have known him for years have leapt to their feet and are shouting at the people of the Jury, and at the judge. The judge bangs his gavel on the stand.

“Order!” he shouts, “Order! Order in court,”

The room quickly falls silent and some of the more outspoken viewers sit down once more. Eventually everything is calm once more although Sally is still sobbing in Judd’s arms. Judd looks up at the judge, clutching tightly to his stepmother.

“Would the defendant rise” the judge says firmly.

Asif does as he is told. He stands upright, tall and proud, looking the judge straight in the eyes. Judd feels a flicker of pride run through him as he watches his father’s honourable approach to the judge’s decision.

“Asif,” the judge says again, “You have been found guilty of all charges. You will now be sentenced. I will take my time deciding on your sentence. I advise that you take this time to say your final goodbyes to your loved ones. Your sentence will not be short. I intend to make it a very long sentence. You have committed a violent and life threatening assault, you have done so against an individual who is, in the eyes of the law, still a child, you carried out this assault without a second thought and you have taken the law in to your own hands. Any one of these would see you spending many years in prison but all together they are an even greater charge. I intend to sentence you for a long time. Court is dismissed to await sentencing,”

The silence rings in Judd’s ears as he mechanically stands while the judge leaves the room. Sally is crying harder against his chest and he sees Asif look at him again. There are tears in his eyes now, his father looks terrified and heartbroken as his eyes drop to look at his sobbing wife. Judd fights back the hot prickling of tears that are gathering in his eyes. He sniffs. All around him and Sally the people are slowly filing out of the courtroom, talking amongst themselves. He needs to talk to his father, he decides.

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