By Nan Smith
Summary: Following the author's "The Sting," Marta Kent and Susie Jones face each other in court.
This story is part of Nan Smith's "Dagger" series. See a list of all the stories in this series and get links.
Ready for the next story in this series? Read Middle School. Need the previous story? Read The Sting.
"I'm a little nervous," Marta Kent said. "I've never been in a courtroom before."
Her mother smiled understandingly. "I've been in court so many times I can't remember them all," she said. "This is civil court. Just do what Ms. Hunter told you to do and you'll be fine. Remember; Susie's attorney is going to try to make it look like you're at fault. Stick to the truth and leave the rest to Ms. Hunter."
"I will," Marta said. "It's still scary, though. I can't decide if I want the week to go fast or slow."
The thought of next week's court date remained with her most of the day. Her best friend, Maria, came over in the afternoon, but the shadow of the coming court appearance overhung the visit. Maria finally brought it up. "I guess you're sort of worried about going into court, huh?"
"Yeah," Marta said.
"It's going to be all right," Maria said. "I'm going to be there too, you know, since I saw her take your sandwich. Susie's hurt an awful lot of people. Nobody much likes her except Darlene and Lynn."
"Yeah, but Mr. Grandon thinks she's got low self-esteem. He feels sorry for her."
Maria expressed her opinion of their principal in no uncertain terms. "It doesn't matter whether her 'self-esteem' is low or not. That's no excuse to go around beating up on people!"
"Yeah, but he doesn't think so," Marta said glumly. "Ms. Parton tried to blame me for getting my lunch stolen that day. The only reason they didn't get away with it is that Mom and Dad are reporters and they didn't want the bad publicity. They'd rather let kids get beat up by bullies than *do* anything about it! My mom says if they don't watch out, some day somebody might decide that they've had enough of Susie and do something really bad. *Then* what will they say?" She sighed. "We've only got a month and a half left of summer vacation, and then we'll have to go back. I wish Mom and Dad would transfer *me* to another school."
"Why?" Maria asked.
"'Cause Mr. Grandon thinks I'm a troublemaker. He *expects* me to get in trouble next year. I heard him tell Ms. Parton so the day school let out."
Maria made a growling noise. "Jerk. He just doesn't like it that your mom made people start paying attention. Did you know there was a big argument about it at the PTA meeting the month after all that stuff happened? My mom and dad were there."
"So were mine," Marta said.
"I got all the information you wanted, and Constance Hunter has it," Jim Olsen said. "Four of them are willing to testify and will be at the hearing."
"That's great," Lois said. "Clark and I really appreciate your help."
"I was glad to do it," Jim said. "Did I ever tell you about the bully that made my life miserable in elementary school?"
"No," Lois said.
"I still remember what he looked like," Jim said thoughtfully. "His name was Leslie. Leslie Scarlotti. Everybody called him Chip. Big mean dude, with one blue eye and one brown one, and a chipped front tooth. He dropped out of school in tenth grade and got killed in a gang fight a year later."
Lois made a face. "Bullies in school have been around for a long time, but the policy schools have of ignoring them has got to change," she said. "I'm trying to make sure that every parent in Metropolis is aware of it. If we *all* demand something be done, even the school district can't ignore us."
"I hope it works," Jim said. "The problem is that the schools tend to go after the kid that resists rather than the bully. It's easier than to actually have to deal with the real troublemaker."
"I know," Lois said. "Blaming the victim has been around a long time, too, and not just in schools."
Constance Hunter called her final witness to the stand, one which, she hoped, would clinch the case against Susie Jones. The girl hunched sullenly on the court bench with her two friends. Her parents, and the parents of the other girls sat in the row behind them. Since the witnesses were children, the judge had been less formal than in the regular hearings for adults, but she was well aware that the protocol was just as strict.
"Your Honor, I object!" John Broke, the lawyer representing Marta Kent's three assailants, jumped to his feet "This witness can't possibly be involved with this case!"
"Ms. Hunter?" The judge turned to Constance Hunter. "Can you explain why I should allow this witness to testify?"
"I'm just trying to establish that Susan Jones's behavior is part of a pattern, Your Honor," Constance Hunter explained. "Susan has a history reaching back several years at Metropolis Elementary School. Marta Kent is only the latest victim."
Judge Myra Tinker surveyed the boy who stood beside the witness stand, waiting for the argument to end. "Very well, I'll determine the relevancy of the testimony after I've heard what he has to say," she said finally. "I'm giving you considerable latitude, Ms. Hunter. It had better be worth it."
"It is, Your Honor." Constance Hunter uncrossed the fingers she held behind her back. Myra Tinker was known to be a tough but fair judge, and she had gambled on the woman's essential sense of fair play for this move. She waited, while the bailiff administered the oath to Jeremy Grant, surveying the child thoughtfully.
Jeremy was obviously younger than Marta Kent and Susie Jones. The fact that he was male might be either a plus or a minus in this situation, but it seemed worth the risk. She moved forward and smiled at the boy.
"Hello, Jeremy," she said. "I guess you understood the oath you just took. Don't be afraid to answer the questions. All we want to hear is the truth, no matter whether we like it or not."
Jeremy nodded, but his eyes flicked to Susie Jones, where she sat with her two friends.
"Now, according to your records, you were a student at Metropolis Elementary two years ago. Is that right?"
"Yes," Jeremy said.
"Where do you go to school now?"
"Susan Bitterwerth Elementary," Jeremy said.
"And what grade are you in?"
"I'm gonna be in fourth," Jeremy said.
"Your Honor," Mr. Broke objected, "I don't see what this has to do with the case."
"I'm just establishing Jeremy's circumstances," Constance explained.
The judge nodded. "I think we can let Ms. Hunter put the witness at ease," she said. "But get on with it, Counselor."
"Yes, Your Honor. Jeremy, when did you transfer to Susan Bitterwerth?"
"When I was in second grade," Jeremy said.
"Was there a particular reason you transferred?" she asked.
"Yeah." The boy looked down.
"And what was that reason?"
"'Cause Susie Jones beat me up," he said.
"And that's why you transferred?" Constance asked.
"What do you mean, kind of?"
"Susie stole my lunch, every day," Jeremy said. "She was in fourth grade, and she was lots bigger."
"And what did you do?"
"I told my teacher."
"What happened after that?"
"Susie and her friends beat me up after school and told me if I ever told on them again, they'd hurt me worse," Jeremy said. "My mom and dad told Mr. Grandon."
"Mr. Grandon was the Principal at Metropolis Elementary?"
"Yeah." Jeremy nodded.
"And what happened?" Constance Hunter asked.
"The next day, they beat me up again," Jeremy said. His hand went to his face. "They broke my nose."
"Then what happened?"
"My dad took me out of the school and put me in the other one."
"I see," Constance said. "All right, Jeremy, that's all the questions." She cast a look at Mr. Broke. "Your witness."
The attorney got to his feet. "Jeremy," he said, "do you know what a lie is?"
"Yeah. It's saying something that's not true."
"And do you know what happens in a courtroom if you lie?"
"I'm *not* lying!" Jeremy said. He glared at the attorney. "I'm tellin' the truth!"
"Are you saying this *girl* beat you up?"
"Yeah. She was lots bigger than me, and her friends helped."
"I want you to think, Jeremy. Did you do anything to make her so angry that she had a reason for attacking you?"
"Your Honor," Constance said, "I can't think of anything a second grader could do to a fourth grader that could warrant what Jeremy has described."
The judge smiled dryly. "Answer the question, please, Jeremy. Was there any other reason Susan Jones and her friends --" she fixed the attorney with a sardonic look, "beat you up?"
Jeremy shook his head vigorously. "I told on her," he said. "That was why."
Mr. Broke opened his mouth and closed it again. "No further questions," he said.
Marta watched while the boy got down from the stand and walked back to where two people, probably his parents, waited for him. She wasn't surprised Mr. Broke hadn't asked any more questions. Jeremy's story hadn't made Susie and her friends look very good. She figured he'd decided to quit while he was ahead. Constance got to her feet. "Your Honor," she said, "Marta Kent and the witnesses to the incident have testified, the video made by Valerie Henderson has already been submitted. It documents the assault on Marta Kent by the defendants. We have submitted depositions from other victims that document Susan Jones' pattern of behavior, and you have heard the testimony of Jeremy Grant. We have other victims willing to testify if you wish. Other than that, we rest our case."
The judge smiled wryly. "I don't think further testimony will be necessary," she said. "Mr. Broke, do you have any more witnesses of your own to bring?"
It was funny, Marta thought, that Susie's lawyer hadn't managed to produce anyone else to testify for Susie, Lynn and Darlene. Only the policeman who had broken up the fight had testified for the defense, and he hadn't really seen anything but the end of the thing. Or not so funny, really. They didn't really have any friends at the school. Mostly everybody was scared of them. She supposed they might have brought in Andrea Hock. She sort of hung around their group, like she was hoping they'd throw her a bone or something, but she wasn't really part of it. There was no sign of Andrea, however.
Susie's lawyer was speaking, calling for a dismissal of the case. The judge simply looked at him over the tops of her glasses.
"I think," she said, "that what we have here is a case of parents completely abandoning their responsibility to discipline their child."
Marta glanced out of the corners of her eyes toward Susie's parents, where they sat behind their daughter. Mr. Jones looked embarrassed and Mrs. Jones was scowling. Marta didn't like red angry faces, and she looked quickly away. She wasn't sure if Susie's mother was mad at the judge or her -- or maybe both. Odds were that she was going to find some way to excuse Susie, though. She'd heard her talking to her daughter before the hearing, reassuring her that she knew that her darling was the victim of malicious prosecution or something.
Judge Tinker looked down from her bench at all of them, apparently considering the little group. Marta couldn't tell what she was thinking, but she kept herself from squirming. Squirming would make her look guilty, and Ms. Hunter had warned her to behave. Their evidence was pretty clear, but Ms. Hunter said you never knew what a judge would do until it was over.
"It seems pretty obvious to me," Judge Tinker said suddenly, "from what I've seen, that Susan Jones has a good deal too much time on her hands." She contemplated Susie Jones' two friends. "As do Miss Montgomery and Miss Fry. "
Mr. Broke opened his mouth but closed it again at Judge Tinker's sardonic glance.
Susie Jones glared at Marta. "I'm gonna get you," she mouthed, but Marta could hear the nearly subvocal threat. Apparently Marta's dad did as well, for he glanced briefly at Susie before turning his attention back to Judge Tinker.
The judge hadn't missed the by-play. A faint smile rested on her lips. "Susan," she said suddenly, "do you think I've dealt with children in this court for all these years without learning to read lips? If you attempt to 'get' Marta Kent, you'll think this penalty is a day at Disney World in comparison. Since Mr. and Mrs. Kent have expressed no desire for monetary damages, the penalty for your behavior will come in restitution to the community. I hereby fine you, Darlene and Lynn with community service. You will spend every afternoon until the end of your summer vacation at the Golden Meadows Rest Home, entertaining the residents. If, for some reason, the staff of the facility finds your assistance unsatisfactory, I will remand this case to criminal court, forthwith. Is that clear?" She looked at Susie's parents and then at the parents of the other two girls. "It's up to you to see that your daughters are at the Home from one until four every afternoon. No exceptions, except for illness -- and any such claims of illness must be reported to the court and accompanied by a doctor's note. You, Susan, Darlene and Lynn, will also, at all times, maintain a distance of one hundred feet from Marta Kent, and you will not attempt to make any contact with her. This restraining order takes effect immediately and will be valid for one year's time." She struck the gavel once with a resounding smack.
Susie jumped to her feet, avoiding her father's grab for her arm. "I'm *not* going to any old folks home! I'm *not*! Momma, don't let them do this to me!" She glared at the judge. "My dad's important, and he'll make you pay! I'm not doing any of that stuff!"
"Susan!" her father said. He grabbed her arm. "Sit down!"
Judge Tinker removed her glasses and polished them with an incongruously frilly handkerchief. "I suggest you control your daughter," she advised Susie's father. "And you should probably explain what will happen to her if she ignores this order."
"Your Honor, this isn't fair," Susie's mother began. "Susan is very high strung, and easily upset. This could damage her self-image for the rest of her life."
"That, Mrs. Jones," the judge said, "seems unlikely to me. And it's something she should have thought of before she started attacking other children. I suggest you learn to control your daughter, or she'll have more problems than her self-esteem as she grows older. This court is adjourned." She got to her feet and abruptly left the courtroom before the bailiff could speak.
"It's not going to work," Marta said, as she climbed into the Kent van with her parents and brother, in the lot half a block from the courthouse. "I heard Susie talking to her mom and dad."
Her father smiled. "So did I."
"Well, what did you hear?" her mother demanded.
"Susie is saying they can't make her go," Clark said. "Her mother wants to ignore the order and file a counter suit for frivolous prosecution. Her father said that if Melissa -- that's Susie's mom -- wants to file a suit, she'll do it on her own. He said Susie is going to obey the judge's order, or else. He doesn't want any trouble with the court."
"He sounds like the only smart one in the bunch," CJ said. "I'm betting there's going to be a big fight when they get home."
"It's already going on," Marta said. CJ glanced at her and bent his head in the same direction as Marta. He laughed.
"So, what do we do now?" Lois asked.
"You go ahead with your series on school bullies," Marta's dad said. "And if they try anything, we'll be ready. Remember what the judge says she'll do if Susie doesn't do what she ordered. Let's see how Susie's family likes the idea of defending her in criminal court."
"They might have to," Lois said. "I've met Melissa Jones a couple of times recently. Susie is her little angel who can do no wrong."
"If she doesn't start acting like Susie's mother instead of her enabler soon, she's in for a rude shock a few years from now," Clark said grimly. "Helicopter parents like Susie's mom often find that when they eventually do take away the free ride, the kid becomes a danger to them."
"I know," Lois said. She sighed faintly. "Some people shouldn't be parents. That was one of the reasons I was scared to have kids."
"And you did a terrific job with them," Clark said.
"You're a great mom," Marta said. "When I'm grown up, I'm going to be just like you!"
Her dad looked back at her over his shoulder and winked at her. "You probably will," he said. "In fact, I'd bet on it."
Ready for the next story in this series? Read Middle School. Need the previous story? Read The Sting.
Stories in Nan Smith's "Dagger" series, in order: Dagger of the Mind, Dagger's Edge, Assassin's Dagger, Doppleganger, Blind Man's Bluff, Countdown, Priorities, Vanishing Act, Charade, Heritage, Unforeseen Consequences, Christmas in Metropolis, Daddy's Little Girl, Suspicions, Mother's Day, A Tasteful Lesson, Too Hot to Handle, The Sting, Consequences, Middle School, and Degrees of Separation