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Chaos reigned at the Dallas County courthouse. Loud whispers echoed from one end of each hallowed hall to the other. Matthew Stallion avoided the crowds and entered the building through the employee entrance, a privilege afforded him by his Harvard law degree. Although he hadn't practiced criminal law since the year after he passed the state's bar exam, he had spent much time in the courthouse navigating civil suits for his family's business. Stallion Enterprises, which had been his older brother John's brainchild, was a successful corporate empire built on commercial real estate and development, as well as a shipping company with numerous entertainment interests.
As the door locked securely behind him, he pulled at the lapels of his business suit, adjusting the silk jacket neatly against his solid frame. The charcoal-gray against the bright white dress shirt and his raspberry-colored tie flattered his mahogany complexion nicely.
Sticking his head into the county clerk's office, he greeted the two women bustling around inside, the duo getting ready for what was already proving to be a very busy day in the Dallas judicial system.
"Good morning, ladies," Matthew said with a wide grin.
Mrs. Nettie Banks grinned back. "Good morning, Counselor. How are you faring this beautiful morning?"
"No complaints," Matthew answered.
The other woman, Mrs. Maxine Bright, nodded. "No one listens when you do complain, baby." She chuckled softly, shifting a folder of paperwork from one desk to another.
"What brings you here this morning, Mr. Stallion?" Mrs. Banks asked, a look of confusion crossing her face. "I don't remember seeing that you had filed for anything recently."
"I didn't. I was subpoenaed to family court and thought I'd take a minute to come say hello to you two lovely ladies."
Both women eyed him suspiciously.
Matthew laughed warmly, lifting both his hands up as if in surrender. "I swear," he said with a deep chuckle. "I didn't do anything. Some kid stole my car. I don't even know why it's in family court and not over in the criminal building."
Mrs. Bright shook her head, laughing with him. "You had us worried for a hot minute there, Attorney Stallion."
Mrs. Banks nodded. "A hot minute," she echoed as she flipped through a clipped stack of papers. "There you are. You're seeing Judge Tyler this morning." She continued to browse through her notes, her expression stern. "This is that case with Judge Broomes's son. That's probably why they moved it to family. He's one of ours."
Matthew nodded, his curiosity suddenly raised. "Who's Judge Broomes?"
"Judge Katrina Broomes. The governor appointed her to replace the late Judge Harris. She hasn't been with us long," Mrs. Bright responded.
"Katrina? So, Judge Broomes is a woman?"
"We do have female judges, Counselor," Mrs. Bright said, her hands dropping to her full hips.
"Yes, ma'am, I know. I was just asking," he said with a soft chuckle.
The woman tossed him a warm smile, gesturing toward the large clock on the wall behind her. "Well, you better head on up. Judge Tyler doesn't take kindly to court starting late."
"Thank you, ladies. You two have a good day now," Matthew replied, tossing them both a wink of his eye.
As he walked out the door, the two women stared after him, both admiring the sway of his fit physique. When the door was closed securely behind him, Mrs. Banks shook her gray head from side to side. "Mmm, mmm, mmm. If I was twenty years younger," she said with a soft giggle.
"Honey, hush yo' mouth!" Mrs. Bright giggled with her. "Just hush yo' mouth!"
Matthew shook hands with the state prosecutor, a short, balding man with a bad comb-over of bright red hair. "Ed, good morning! How are you doing?"
"I'm doing well, sir. It's good to see you again. You were subpoenaed today, weren't you?"
"Yes, the State versus Collin Broomes. Kid stole my car."
"We're actually going to try to mediate that one. The boy is a judge's son. First offense, good family, ready to admit guilt. We're hoping to keep him out of the system and put him back on the right track. That is, of course, if you're amenable."
Matthew nodded. "Everything's negotiable, Ed."
"Good. Once the judge calls the court to order, I'll ask that you all be referred to the family mediator and I'll get you out as quickly as I can."
"Thank you," Matthew said, moving to take the seat directly behind the prosecutor.
He looked around the room. The crowd gathering was a hodgepodge of personalities, people from all social and economic walks of life. He couldn't begin to identify which of the sons sitting beside his mother was the son who had taken his Mercedes and had crashed it into the center median on Interstate 35. He couldn't, because there were far too many young boys sitting in that courtroom, waiting for their cases to be heard. The absurdity of that fact weighed heavily on his spirit. Matthew heaved a deep sigh.
Minutes later, with court officially in session, the court officer called the young man's name. "The State of Texas versus Collin Broomes!"
Matthew looked up just as young Collin walked to the front of the courtroom, his attorney leading the way. The lanky teenager stood in the vicinity of six feet tall. His oversize stature belied his baby face, and it was obvious that he wasn't quite comfortable with his height, that his maturation had not yet caught up with his size. He was neatly groomed, with a fresh haircut, khaki slacks, a navy blue polo shirt and leather loafers. With the exception of his hunched shoulders and the hands pushed deep into the pockets of his slacks, he didn't seem to fit in with the other young boys, with their baggy pants, T-shirts and overpriced sports shoes.
Matthew looked around for a parent but saw no one that resembled the child, nor anyone that looked ready to claim him. His thoughts were interrupted as Judge Tyler called his name.
"Attorney Stallion, are you in agreement with the State that this case would be better served with mediation?"
Matthew came to his feet, buttoning his suit jacket as he approached the bench. "I am, Your Honor. But under the circumstances, if the court permits, I would appreciate the opportunity to participate in those negotiations."
The judge nodded. "Not a problem, Counselor. The court will hold this case pending the outcome of mediation."
The young man met Matthew's eyes and stared. For most of the proceedings he'd looked disinterested. The judge calling Matthew's name had caught Collin's attention and he eyed Matthew curiously. When his attorney finally gestured with his head for Collin to follow, the boy did so, but not before looking back over his shoulder for one last look at the imposing black man.