Walking Into Clouds

by Rick Beck

Chapter 22

Saving Cody

It was pitch black when I woke up on Thursday morning. I reached for Cody before I realized he wasn't there and after that I was wide awake.

I watched the morning grab hold of another day. The blackness turned gray and the gray turned to blue.

My mind was alive with worry and my heart felt hollow.

Before my worry was about Cody being hurt or worse. I was frantic not knowing where Cody had gone to. The worry had transitioned into not knowing if I'd ever see Cody again. I'd heard the stories of what happened to kids once they were in the hands of the authorities. He could end up anywhere. He might stay locked up for years. How would Cody react to years of being in the hands of people who didn't give a damn about him?

I cared about him. My family cared about Cody.

He'd been moved to a place where we couldn't reach him to reassure him. We couldn't help him get back home.

The phone rang as the first rays of sunlight shone on my wall. I'd heard my father downstairs for about a half hour. I knew he picked up on the second ring, hoping not to wake up mom. It was seven fifteen. I contemplated going to work. I could sit by the phone all day. Who was going to call? Luther told us the story. What else did I need to know. We couldn't gain access to Cody until we knew his status, and who was to say they hadn't moved him again by now?

My bedroom door swung open.

"Get up. Put on something presentable. Cody is in court at nine this morning. I called Grant and we pick him up at eight thirty. Don't waste any time. He lives a half hour from here and we don't dare be late," Dad said.

My feet were on the floor and I was looking in my closet for something to wear before dad got finished talking. I pulled on my slacks, tied my Nike sneakers, and I buttoned up a shirt that felt a bit tight on me. I wasn't going back to look for another one.

Dad heard me on the steps and he handed me a cup of coffee when I burst into the kitchen. Dad still needed to dress and he had to call work to leave a message about where he'd be.

"I told Luther we had a lawyer who will represent Cody. He said he'd call Mr. Bing with that information. Luther will meet us in court once he takes care of some business," Dad said.

He left the kitchen as I dialed Hitchcock's Market. It was too early for anyone to be there, but Mr. Hitchcock picked up on the second ring. I told him the news. He wished me luck and I hung up.

The drive to Morgan Grant's house took forever. The sun was high in the sky by the time we got there. Morgan was standing in his driveway holding his briefcase.

He sat down in the front seat.

"Morgan, this is my son, Clete," dad said.

"Another Clete," Morgan Grant said, offering me his hand between the seats.

"They call me Cletus around the house. I didn't want my son called junior," dad said.

I read up on juvenile law. They can't deny him an attorney, although he will appear before Judge John Henry Robinson in a closed hearing for the judge to decide his fate. He can, but I doubt he would, deny us access to the hearing, because it is technically closed. Any judge worth his salt will want to hear from people associated with the child before him."

"He's not a child," I said.

"He is a minor child to the court. That's why it is important for his defenders to speak. Don't be surprised if you aren't allowed to speak. The fact your father has brought a lawyer for Cody will make an impression on the court. Someone is putting their money where their mouth is to help Cody. The judge, if he isn't a complete jerk, will want to hear what people who know him have to say about Cody, but he doesn't have to allow it. Judge John Henry Robinson is a no-nonsense but not unreasonable judge in juvenile court cases. We need to hope he doesn't get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and that we aren't a minute late to his court. He is meticulous about promptness."

"Where'd you get all this information, Grant," dad asked.

"I called the courthouse information desk at eight. The woman was quite chatty. It took a few minutes to get her talking, but once she started, there was no end to the information she came up with."

"You lawyers," dad said. "You're a slick bunch."

Grant laughed.

My hands were sweating. Listening to an attorney describe what was about to happen was scary. Cody's future, his life, might depend on the disposition of a judge. I wouldn't want my future to depend on a judge. The system was alive with old whit Christian straight guys. They tended to judge the people least like themselves more harshly.

I didn't even know why Cody had been taken into custody.

At ten minutes to nine we were locked in standing traffic four blocks from the courthouse.

"Let me out," I said. "I'll go to the courtroom and tell them Cody has a lawyer coming," I said.

"Good idea," Grant said. "Let me out too. Clete can go ahead of me to make sure the judge knows Cody has an attorney coming. It might save him from denying us entry into the hearing." I was out of the car and running toward the courthouse. I heard Morgan Grant behind me, but that was for no more than a minute. I ran across the first street against a red light. None of the cars were moving but a cop glared at me as I dashed past.

I ran straight to the information desk.

"Where is John Henry Robinson's courtroom?" I asked frantically.

"Second floor. Courtroom 8. You've got three minutes or he'll lock you out," the woman said.

I dashed up the escalator passing five people waiting to be delivered to the second floor. I ran as fast as I could down the hall. When I got to courtroom 7, I realized the numbers were going down. I'd passed courtroom 8. I turned and went back to burst through the doors. I immediately noticed the bailiff walking toward me.

"Don't lock it. There's an attorney coming," I said too loudly for the small courtroom.

Judge John Henry Robinson sat thirty feet away and I had his full attention.

"Young man, this is a closed hearing. What do you want?"

"I'm here for Cody," I gasped, bending to place my hands on my knees to catch my breath.

"You are whom, may I ask?"

"Clete Thomas," I said panting. "Cody's attorney is coming. He's right behind me. Please don't lock him out," I pleaded.

I glanced toward where I calculated Cody would be. I saw one eyeball look around the wide lady beside him. Then it was gone and I was left facing the judge.

"Don't lock the door Anthony. I suppose we can't deny access to the boy's attorney," Judge John Henry Robinson said without any humor in his voice.

The clock on the wall swept past one minute past nine.

"Sit on your left. Do not talk to or attempt to communicate with the defendant."

"Yes, sir," I said.

I sat within ten feet of Cody but there was a fullback sized woman between us.

"Your honor, I've got an appointment at 10:30. Is this delay really necessary?"

"Mr. Pelham, as the state's attorney, you're only here because you insisted on sitting in. I gave you permission in order that the state might be satisfied that I rule properly in this important case," the judge said. "Now you want to deny the boy a right to an attorney? I don't think the law works that way, Mr. Pelham. You'll wait with the rest of us. The hearing won't last long."

"Anthony, look in the hall will you. See if our attorney isn't out there wandering around."

"He's Morgan Grant," I said too loud.

"I'm sure he is," the judge said, more glaring than looking at me.

It was another minute, and it seemed like an hour, before Morgan Grant came through the double doors into the courtroom. He stopped just inside the door as every eye was on him.

"I'm very sorry, your honor. I didn't find out until after eight this morning that my client would be in court today. We came right here but there's a serious accident over on Forth Street and I had to walk from there. I hope you understand my delay," Grant said. "I had to run halfway here. I did my best to get here on time."

"And you are?" the judge asked.

"Oh, I beg your pardon, your honor. I'm Morgan Grant. I'm here to represent Cody Cozy. I hope you'll see your way clear to give me a minute to get up to speed on his case."

"Of course, of course," the judge said. "Should I send out for coffee? Anthony, we need another chair for the gentleman. He will sit beside Mrs. Marcum."

The bailiff rushed to the front of the courtroom, going out the door at the right side of the judge's bench. He returned with a sturdy wooden chair and placed it down for Mr. Grant, who was busily conferring with Mrs. Marcum.

"Mr. Grant, you have five minutes. Let me know if you need more. Mr. Pelham, I assume we can depend on your cooperation in this endeavor?"

"Yes, your honor," Mr. Pelham said, making the mistake of standing in the presence of the Honorable John Henry Robinson.

"Mr. Pelham, since you are new to me and my courtroom, let's go over the ground rules, since we seem to have plenty of time. This is an informal hearing where I'll consider the state's interest in this matter. You, Mr. Pelham, don't need to pop out of your chair each time you wish to be heard. My hearing works quite well and I can hear you as well when you are seated as I can while you're standing. I notice you have a tendency to raise your voice, after you pop up. That also isn't necessary as I've explained, I hear quite well. We'll do better if you think of this as a pleasant chat we are having. There is no jury. There's no one to impress with your dramatics. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," Mr. Pelham said.

He started to stand. Then he thought better of it.

"Mr. Grant, I trust you heard what I had to say about this being a hearing and not a trial," the judge said.

"Yes, your honor. I heard every word," Mr. Grant said, still reading over Cody's file.

"You'll catch on, Mr. Pelham. Give it time," John Henry said, taking his impatience out on the states' attorney.

"I don't like tardy attorneys," the judge said.

"And you shouldn't, your honor," Mr. Pelham agreed fervently.

The judge looked at Mr. Pelham and shook his head.

Morgan Grant glanced unconcerned at the judge.

"I could ask for a continuance, your honor. When was this case put on the schedule? There was no listing during business hours yesterday."

"Suit yourself," the judge said. "I'll be here whether you're on time or not, Mr. Grant. We haven't got all day."

"I'm here, your honor. Give me five minutes and I'll be ready."

"I'll just put my entire calendar on hold while we watch you do whatever it is you're doing. It's only a simple juvenile court hearing. It should have lasted no more than fifteen minutes. Mrs. Marcum, I don't imagine CPS objects to the boy having his own attorney in this matter?" The judge asked.

"No, sir. I can use all the help I can get. It's quite all right. I don't usually meet with a child's attorney in a simple minor child disposition case," Mrs. Marcum said.

"Neither do I," the judge said impatiently. "This could be the reason why. Anthony, the door is locked at fifteen after."

There were about ten people in the courtroom. That was counting the judge, bailiff, and court reporter.

My father, car parker extraordinaire, picked this moment to make his entrance. I cringed as he charged through the double doors out of breath. He stopped dead in his tracks, after realizing the judge's eyes were on him.

The Honorable John Henry Robertson noticed everyone who was present in his courtroom. Especially when they dashed in from the hallway like they were in a hurry. It was my father's turn to be scrutinized by the impatient judge. If I wasn't mistaken, I detected a slight bit of amusement in the judge's eyes as he officiated over the comedy of errors.

My father and John Henry looked at each other for a minute. Dad stayed put, unwilling to come forward until he was given permission.

"Excuse me, I know I sound like I'm repeating myself to everyone here, but this is a closed juvenile court hearing. Who, might I inquire, are you?"

"Mr. Cletus Thomas," my father said, panting out his name. "I'm sorry, your honor. I had to run to get here in time."

"Yes, an accident on Fourth Street. Traffic tie up," the judge said. "I sense a theme here. This seems to be a family affair, or am I mistaken? Which of you is the real Cletus Thomas?"

"I am, your honor," my father and I managed to say in perfect harmony.

"Now it's all perfectly clear," the judge said. "Take a seat beside your son. To bring you up to date, we are having a short recess, Mr. Thomas, and we'll proceed as quickly as Mr. Morgan Grant is ready. Which I trust will not be much longer."

The judge picked up papers in front of him and sorted through them. Mr. Pelham managed to sit perfectly still and yet he looked both impatient and annoyed. The court-reporter's fingers slowed to a stop after recording the exchange between my father and the judge.

The bailiff yawned as he walked back toward the double doors to lean against the wall there.

That's when the complexion of the case changed and I came very close to contempt of court.

Cody, hidden completely by the way the wide bodied Mrs. Marcum sat, and now Mr. Grant was also sitting between Cody and me, which meant he needed to lean back in his chair to make eye contact with me.

It was when Cody finally did lean back to look at me, that he saw the alarm on my face. He quickly sat forward and out of sight.

Now it was my turn to lean to try to get a better look at Cody. I could see his back and his head leaned forward as he looked at the table in front of him. I waited for him to look up, but he didn't.

The judge, being aware of everyone in his courtroom, watched me trying to see Cody's face again. He didn't remind me where I was. I didn't care where I was. I wanted to be certain I'd seen what I saw.

I stood up, always a mistake in John Henry's courtroom, and I said with no thought of my volume,

"What the hell happened to your face? Who did that to you, Cody? I want to know."

Instead of correcting me, the judge's attention was on Cody. He was more interested in what I reacted to than he was to me standing and raising my voice in his courtroom.

"Son, look at me please," the judge said softly.

It was a voice too soft for it to belong to the same judge who had reprimanded everyone within his reach. At the same time there was caution in his words.

"Son, did you hear me. Please look up. I want to see your eyes."

Cody's face was directed at the middle of the table. He slowly raised his head to look directly at the judge who was ten feet away. The judge reached for his glasses. putting them on to take a closer look.

"Thank you," the judge said with a strangled sound in his voice. Cody looked back down. He didn't try to make eye contact. My heart sank. I told Cody I'd protect him. I hadn't kept my word.

To make matters worse, when my father saw Cody's face, he went off. I don't recall ever seeing him angrier and this wasn't the place for him to lose control.

"I want to know what happened to his face. Who do you people thing you are?" My father demanded to know. "Who did that to his face? Who is responsible? He's been in your custody, your honor."

Mr. Grant leaned forward to see what he could see with Cody looking down at the middle of the table. Morgan Grant stood up, trying to get the judges attention off my father's outburst.

"Your honor, this boy needs to see a doctor. I want to know what happened to him, when and where it happened. I'd respectfully request this hearing be put on hold until we are reassured that Cody is not suffering from some after effects from what appears to have been a serious beating," Mr. Grant said. "I can't believe you brought him to court looking like this. I'm his lawyer and I'm not impressed."

"Give me a break, your honor. This is a closed hearing. These people don't have standing. The state objects to these dramatics," Mr. Pelham yelled at John Henry.

My father was on his feet yet again. I shrank in my seat.

"He's been in your custody. I want to know what kind of place you're running. How could you allow this boy to be beaten. It's on you, counselor. You are the state in this matter."

"Your honor, I object to being questioned by someone who shouldn't even be here. You should have locked the door while you had a chance," Mr. Pelham barked. "I won't be talked about that way."

The judge looked from my father to Mr. Pelham and back to my father. He'd raised his gavel in his right hand but it stayed suspended above his dais. He let his right hand relax and come out of the air.

"Mr. Pelham, are you finished? Are you standing? Did you yell at me? I wonder if you understand what constitutes contempt. Since we are in recess, I'm not going to penalize you... this time. I suggest you be seated and mind your manners."

The judge's eyes went to my father. They softened somewhat from when he addressed the state's attorney.

"Mr. Thomas, as the proceedings have not yet begun, I'll overlook your outburst and that of your son, but this is a court of law. No matter how informally I'm conducting this hearing, I expect you to maintain decorum if you intend to stay. There will be no more speaking out. I intend to give each of you time to express yourselves. The state will have an equal opportunity to express itself, and then he'll get to explain how this young man got in the condition he's in. Are there any questions?"

My father stood through his admonishment and he didn't sit down until the judge finished. That's when I pulled on his arm, not wanting him to be locked up too.

"I want to move this hearing be postponed until my client has been seen by a doctor and checked for concussion or damage to his eyes or face," Mr. Grant said. "He's been seriously battered, your honor."

"Your honor, when I first saw the boy, I asked him if he needed a doctor. He indicated to me that he wanted to get this over with. He said he'd fallen and hit his face. I questioned him about the reliability of that much damage being done in a single fall. He said he falls down a lot. I don't have the authority to cancel a court appearance," Mrs. Marcum said. "He told me he doesn't want a doctor."

"Son, do you need a doctor?" the judge asked. "We can postpone this hearing if you tell me you want to see a doctor. It's that easy."

Cody continued looking down.

"Son, I need you to look at me. Do I need to postpone your hearing? Do you need to see a doctor?"

Cody raised his head a few inches.

"No. No postponement. I want to get this over with."

"How did your face get in that condition?" John Henry asked.

"I fell," Cody said.

"You don't expect me to believe that, do you?"

"If you're sending me back to where they did this to me, then I fell. If I'm not being sent back, then maybe something else happened. That's all I have to say."

"Your honor," Mr. Pelham objected. "He doesn't want a doctor."

"I'm not speaking to you, Mr. Pelham," the judge said angrily.

"Mr. Pelhan, Mrs. Marcum, approach please. Mr. Grant is free to listen, but there is a question that needs to be answered."

The two attorneys and the CPS case worker stood in front of the judge. I couldn't hear what was being said. Each spoke, Mr. Grant spoke, and the back doors opened and shut, and everyone turned to look at Luther Small, who stood blocking the two doors.

"Anthony, will you lock that damn door. I want no more interruptions. This is a closed hearing, and who are you, sir?" the judge asked, putting on his glasses to get a better look at the newest arrival in his courtroom.

"I be Luther Small," Luther said in a deep calm voice.

"I wouldn't want to argue that point with you," the judge said. "Do you have business in my courtroom, Mr. Small?"

"I be responsible for these folks being here," Luther said, using one wave of his big left hand to indicate my father and me and Mr. Grant.

"I see. You may take a seat on the defense side. Take two if you like," the judge said.

"I ask this next question hesitantly, but are we expecting anyone else to barge in?" the judge asked anyone who felt like responding. "No, your honor, we's all here now," Luther said. "You are the Honorable John Henry Robinson?"

"I am," the judge said.

"Judge Greer sends his best regards," Luther said.

"He did? If you speak with him again, tell him I asked about him. How is the judge?" The judge asked, losing his sense of decorum for the moment.

"I'll do that. I'll speak to him later today about what went on during this hearing," Luther said, moving to sit in the row behind us. "But he was fine two hours ago."

As Morgan Grant returned to the defense table with Mrs. Marcum, my father called him over. Mr. Grant went to his briefcase, taking out a legal pad. He handed it to dad.

My father began to write. As Luther settled in behind us, the judge watched the interaction between my father and Mr. Grant. His eyes stayed on my father as he filled a page of the yellow legal pad. He stood up, leaned forward, handing the pad back to Mr. Grant, who sat down and began to study it.

Morgan Grant looked at my father and nodded.

My father nodded back.

"Defense is ready, your honor," Mr. Grant said.

Judge John Henry Robinson face showed some concern. He seemed to have some sense of what was going on between Mr. Grant and my father, and he needed a minute to decide how to handle it.

"Since the recess is over, we are here to have an informal hearing on what will be done with Cody Cozy. I am interested in hearing all sides of this story. I have the police report and statements from the state's attorney's office and from Mrs. Marcum's office. Because there has been the last minute entry of a defense attorney for the young man, I'll need to hear from the defense. Normally I'd simply call on the young man to hear his story, but I can't do that if his attorney doesn't want him to speak. So, we'll move on with...," the judge stopped and looked toward the defense table.

"Mr. Grant, you have a communication from Mr. Thomas that was given to you during the recess. I have no right to see it or to ask you what that communication is all about, but my curiosity has overtaken me. Could I see what Mr. Thomas wrote on the legal pad in front of you?"

"I have no objection. You'll hear about it by day's end anyway," my father said in a voice that couldn't hide his anger.

The judge looked unsettled by my father's demeanor.

Mr. Grant looked at dad. Dad nodded. Mr. Grant stood up to walk the legal pad to the judge, handing it over when he reached the dais. He waited for the judge to read it and return it to him.

"What does it say?" I asked in a whisper.

"I told Morgan if Cody doesn't leave the courtroom in my custody, we'll file suit and take his story to the media as soon as the hearing ends and we leave the courthouse."

"Oh," I said.

I'd never seen this side of my father before.

Judge Robinson read the message on the legal pad. He first looked at my father. He looked at Mr. Grant.

"Can I share this with the state's attorney?" the judge asked.

"After we present our arguments," Morgan Grant said. "It's not for his eyes until we have some indication of what we're looking at. Then, let him see it. His name is going to be on top of the lawsuit."

"Your honor, I demand to see what's on that legal pad," Mr. Pelham said, after popping up off his chair.

"Counselor, you might want to rephrase, and are you standing and yelling at me again? Surely, you aren't. Surely you understand contempt of court. One more outburst from you and you'll be in contempt."

Mr. Pelham dropped straight down into his chair.

He had nothing else to say.

"We'll proceed," the judge said. "Did you follow that Mrs. Abernathy?" John Henry asked.

"Yes, your honor, every word," the court recorder said.

"Good. We're going to need to furnish a transcript of these proceedings for Mr. Grant. I have a feeling we'll be hearing about this case long after I've ruled on it here today," Judge John Henry Robinson said. "Not a word, Mr. Pelham. Not a word."

The judge had become hostile to the state.

I still couldn't see Cody without stretching far to my left and somehow, bring attention to myself in what had become open warfare over Cody's welfare, inserting myself into the proceedings in any way wasn't on my mind.

I never felt more helpless than while I was sitting in that courtroom. I wanted to hug Cody and reassure him that everything was going to be all right, but I didn't know if it was going to be all right. I didn't know if I was going to need to drive my father's car home if he continued going head on at the judge.

I didn't know if I'd be available to drive my father's car home, once he was cited for contempt of court, because there was a strong possibility I'd be locked up with him.

I was pretty sure Mr. Grant drove and he might be available to drive dad's car home.

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