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For the Children
By Tara Taylor Quinn
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2005 Tara Taylor Quinn
All right reserved.
Chapter One"TOUGH MORNING, Valerie?"
The black silk robe flowing around her, Superior Court juvenile judge Valerie Simms smiled and nodded at Judge Hal Collins Wednesday morning. She stopped briefly in the hall on the short trek from the courtroom to her quiet high-ceilinged sanctuary. "How about you, Hal? A piece of cake as usual?"
"It wasn't bad," he said, still smiling. With a little wave, he disappeared into his office.
It wasn't that Hal didn't care about the kids they tried to help after parents and schools had failed to make a difference. But he didn't let any of it get to him.
Someday, when she grew up, she was going to be just like him.
Trying to pretend she already was, Valerie shook off the Billings case and thought, instead, about the lunch date she had ahead of her - with her in-line skates and the new concrete jogging trail not far from the Mesa, Arizona, Juvenile Court Division. She'd have just enough time to get in ten miles and a quick shower before she was due back in court. She'd already reviewed her afternoon calendar, which left the entire hour-and-a-half lunch break free.
"How'd it go?" Valerie's supportive and energetic judicial assistant met her at the door of her office.
Valerie grimaced. Unsnapped her robe.
"That bad, huh?"Leah Carmichael followed her inside the large, peaceful room.
"Not really." Hanging up her robe, sinking into the plush maroon leather of her desk chair, Valerie continued, "I released Sam Marsden. I think he's ready."
"He spent a lot of time on the report you asked him to write about his community service."
He had. She'd been pleased with his work. And, for this boy, she was honestly hopeful.
Leah sat in one of the two maple chairs across from Valerie's desk, crossing her legs as though settling in for a long chat. In her taupe slacks and jacket with perfectly matched shoes, she looked every bit the professional Valerie knew her to be.
Attention to detail was among the many strong points Valerie appreciated about Leah. She'd chosen well when she'd hired her first J.A.
"The Marcos kid was as unbending as ever. I told him that if I see him again, I'm going to detain him."
Signing a request to issue a warrant for truancy, Valerie gave Leah a brief rundown on the rest of the morning's calendar.
"What about Abraham Billings?" Her assistant fingered a few strands of her light brown hair. The top of her head bore several intricate and perfectly ordered braids that day, with the rest of her hair hanging straight to midback. Val wondered how early Leah had to get up to achieve such an elaborate style.
And whether or not she felt the result was worth the time and effort.
"I let him stay with his mom."
Leah stood. "Well if you think that's where he should be then that's good. I'll bet he was happy."
"Yeah. He was." She met Leah's clear blue and damnably trusting eyes. "I wanted to remove him."
"Then why didn't you?" Sinking back to the chair, Leah's glistening lips hung open.
"Diane Smith recommended removal. She's a darn good probation officer. She's been to the boy's home. I haven't."
And the boy's mother ...
"You knew that before you went in."
Carla Billings, in spite of her many shortcomings, had been so in tune with her son she'd seemed to have felt every breath he took. A person had to be pretty insensitive to rent apart a bond that close.
Valerie didn't think she'd survive if Blake and Brian were ever taken away from her ...
"I did know it, you're right," Valerie answered belatedly when Leah continued to silently appraise her.
"C.P.S. moved for removal."
And Diane had spent more time with the boy.
"Abraham put up a good fight for himself. He was willing to do whatever he had to do to stay home."
"So what does he have to do?"
"He's on probation with community service." It was the strongest penalty she could give for truancy.
"I want to keep as close an eye on that boy as possible," she said. "And I want him busy, out of his home participating in a good cause, for as many of his waking hours as we can manage."
She wanted him away from the mother she'd just allowed to retain custody. Though nothing had been proven yet, no official filing, Abraham's mother was most likely prostituting out of her home - although there'd been a vague claim that she was some sort of bookkeeper.
That was all speculation at this point, however. Right now, her biggest concern was Carla's incorrigible twelve-year-old son. A young man who'd attended only nineteen of the first forty days of his seventh-grade year. The middle of October, and already the kid was in jeopardy of having to repeat the grade.
A grade he'd barely reached due to absenteeism in his last year of elementary school.
His probation required thirty-two hours of commitment weekly. And just as important, constant communication with a probation officer. It was a harsh disposition. And Abraham had signed the requisite contract without hesitation. Most of his thirty-two hours had to be fulfilled by attending his classes at Menlo Ranch Junior High.
"They tried CUTS, right?" Leah asked, frowning, referring to the Court Unified Truancy Suppression program.
Judicial assistants reviewed all files. Valerie's J.A. remembered everything she read. "A requisite component of the program is parental participation." The implication was clear.
Valerie also remembered everything in the files she read. Including the name of Abraham's school. Menlo Ranch. Which her own sons attended.
"You want me to send your robe out for dry cleaning?" Leah got to her feet.
Valerie shook her head. As her assistant left, closing the door behind her, she slouched back in her chair, hands linked across her stomach, and stared at the ceiling. Her job was to make decisions. She'd made one.
So why was she doubting that she'd done her job?
In her mind's eye, she suddenly pictured a man. The new crossing guard at the boy's school. He'd only been around since the start of the semester, replacing old Mr. Grimble who'd been working the corner in front of the elementary/junior-high complex since Blake and Brian had started kindergarten. The new guy wasn't old - mid-thirties, Valerie guessed. Younger than her own thirty-seven years.
Excerpted from For the Children by Tara Taylor Quinn Copyright © 2005 by Tara Taylor Quinn. Excerpted by permission.
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