"It couldn't be... and yet for a brief moment I thought it was. The girl I had dreamed about...the girl that had figured in my every erotic fantasy.
At school she had been head girl; three years above me and probably a million light years away from ever looking my way. Head girls don't talk to lowly 5th. Graders, I wonder if in fact if they ever see them?
Not that I am not worthy of a look. Even though I would never say it through modesty, I am good looking although only five feet eight inches tall. I have a slim athletic body, good bone structure with brown eyes and straight thick dark brown hair. I think I was popular with the girl's because somehow they felt I was non-threatening and could be handled easily.
At school I always seemed to be the first choice when circumstance dictated that the girl did the asking... always first on the party list... first to be asked by the pretty and flirtatious faces of the girls in my year... "Come and sit with us"... "There's room here", "You going to the dance, Steve?" etc. I rarely refused an invitation and enjoyed my popularity, but the Holy Grail in the personage of Debbie Pearson... was always out of my reach.
It's been a year since I left school and started my accountancy training and she was still on my mind. Instantly recognizable! The same beautiful natural ash blonde hair, tied neatly back with a subtle tiny black bow. Her face, still as neatly featured as I had remembered, with those wonderful green eyes, the colour and the depth of the world's most exquisite emeralds. Her teeth the same perfect white, framed by the most exquisite lips. Her figure, slender and lithe, with wonderfully firm breasts, narrow waist and perfectly proportioned tanned legs that seem to go on forever. I remembered all this and yet I had seen her, or thought I had seen her, for a mere instance... just a glimpse as she was reflected many times before becoming a pale image in the heavy toughened glass of the security counter.
I felt the blood rush to my face. I wanted to flee, to run away... nearly an adult of nineteen years old... and I really wanted to run.
Surely it could not be!
That she worked here?
I shivered, feeling my cheeks burn and my throat constrict. I could not, simply could not, endure the shame if it were true. I collected my senses. Of course it was an illusion... a mere culmination of my trauma of the morning. Of course that was exactly what it was!
The court had been as bad as I had feared. I was spared nothing, nor I admit had I deserved to have been.
Driving with in excess of 20mg. of alcohol in breath.
Statute 20/92 of The Driving Code.
Made law on October 23 2015. 'Any person found in charge of a vehicle with...'
I had read the charge through many times as I sat in the waiting room. Basically since October, one bottle of beer would put an average weight man near the limit that he could legally drive a car. The new limit had been in operation for four days when I had been caught by the two female police officers in the police car.
I could think of no mitigation to offer the court. Eventually I was called. The attractive female court official, her expression, neither condemning nor sympathetic, had ushered me into the courtroom. The three female district judges bade me stand up while the prosecuting lawyer read the charge. I watched her walk towards the middle of the court so that she could point to me and still face the panelled dais where the judges sat, their ornate wooden benches, hiding all but their heads and shoulders.
"Stephen Woodrow Ryder. You have been charged with driving with in excess of 20mg. of alcohol in breath. How do you plead?"
I had looked at the judges. The middle of the three, probably thirty five years old; her suit immaculately tailored, her hair swept back into a neat bun, looked at me questioningly as I stood before the court, shamefaced and trembling.
The lady to her right, her black hair shining under the strong lights, had pursed her red lips into a thoughtful expression before speaking. "You have no legal representation; do you wish the court to appoint someone?"
I managed to stammer a reply.
I am guilty er Ma'am.. er I have no er... defence."
She looked me in the eye.
"What do you have to say for yourself?"
"I have nothing to say Ma'am."
"You are not even sorry?" Her sardonic expression was accented by one beautiful eyebrow raised quizzically as she questioned me.
I stammered, like the fool I felt. "Oh no, Ma'am... I er... mean I am most dreadfully sorry. I deserve to be guilty...er I mean I am guilty and most dreadfully sorry." I could not stop myself. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I er only had a mile to go... er and the road is always deserted at that time of night... and I drove so slowly er that the police car stopped me..." I could not stop my tears flowing as I rambled on.
"I mean to say... I was a fool... er an inconsiderate stupid, stupid fool. I had no thought for the consequences or who I might have harmed...and no one to blame but myself. I am so, so, so sorry Ma'am."
I stood silent, I had been a fool and I knew it. I could not help my tears I looked down at my feet and waited for the worst, hearing only the clackety clack from the machine of the court stenographer.
The Lady who was sat at the other side of the senior judge had looked at me long and hard while I had been questioned. She was probably in her late forties and although attractive, looked as if she did not suffer fools gladly.
I did not raise my head again to see them leave; I looked to my side, my attention drawn by a gentle tug on my sleeve. It was the court officer who had first led me in. She had a kindly and concerned expression on her face. I was too upset to appreciate the nuance of her look as she whispered to me. "You may sit while the judges consider their verdict."
I can't remember how long I waited. I could not stop crying, I considered what would have happed... had I run someone over... or hit another car... all the possible outcomes of driving when one's reactions are slowed.
I was not privy to the deliberations behind the large wooden door that led off from the back of the judge's benches.
She had known, as soon as she saw him, what his fate would be. For Constance, his young good looks and slim well-proportioned body were all too few and far between in her courtroom. Constance had been a senior judge in the newly termed, 'Young Offenders Court', for five years. She had served the bench well, enjoying the stature of her worthwhile profession and taking pride in her quality decisions regarding the future of her young offenders.
It had been the introduction of the 'Punishment Centers' that had made her see a side to herself that she had never in her wildest dreams thought that she had possessed.
She had felt guilty at the thrill that had run through her body the first time that they had all been invited to a model and experimental Punishment Center in another state.
She had not dared look at her fellow justices as she had watched a naked teenager being soundly strapped by a woman police officer. The image had played constantly on her mind... and even in her sexually oriented dreams. It had been a source of excitement to her. The model center had quickly found that the effectiveness of the center was increased by the use of all female personnel. The shame and humiliation of the youth was increased to such an extent that many of the more persistent law breakers rarely visited twice.
For the state the financial benefits had been extraordinarily good. Instead of the cost of hundreds of staff to administer probation or run boot camps, thirty or so young women could process up to five offenders a day. If too many turned up at one time they were left in the basement cells until they could be dealt with. The whole process of court to punishment was done in private and therefore, a one time offender, could be sentenced, take his punishment and have none of his friends or employers know that he had committed any crime. This was one of the reasons that offenders were given twenty-eight days to attend.
When the centers had opened within her own jurisdiction, she had been one of the first to sentence a young offender to its corporal methods of punishment.
She had quickly discovered that her delight was heightened only by the good-looking young boys as they were being punished.
Unfortunately the sentenced youth could attend at anytime within a twenty-eight day period and as such her visits were often filled with disappointment. It was only as she became on personal terms with some of the staff at certain centers that they would quietly and with discretion let her know who had arrived; or rather what the young boy... or sometimes girl looked like.
She stifled her imagination as she looked at her fellow judges. She was quite sure that as senior judge her recommendations would be well heeded. Better than that, she knew that she was quite adept at sowing the seeds for someone else to make the right decision. Constance also had certain knowledge, although the subject was never broached... that her fellow justices also took a keen delight in the strapping of a good looking young boy.
"Well he is pleading guilty; without representation he is at the mercy of the court, which is a foolhardy action, brought about I believe, because he is full of remorse and intends to not make the same mistake again." She paused. "I really do believe that he is full of remorse."
"Well there is not a lot we can do. I suppose that it is no excuse that the limit has only been dropped for four days. I suppose he will be about the first to be prosecuted under the new limits."
"But only one milligram over it, if he had waited and had the sample taken in blood, he would have been clear."
"I know, the arresting officer has stated that he waived his right to wait for a doctor and a blood sample, it says he was full of self-guilt and just kept saying he was sorry... but now we have to decide... the options aren't many."
Constance looked at her companions.
"Well there aren't any really. I obviously won't send him to jail of course, and the probation services are stretched to capacity and are taking on no more new cases, so there is only the punishment center. If we defer it to the next sessions, they will want to know why... and what can we tell them... that he was utterly contrite?"
"I know... it just seems unfair... that we get belligerent, obvious diehard drinkers that get caught on their thousandth journey, having got away with it time and time again... and of course they will use every ruse... including of course delaying things for as long as possible by waiting for a doctor, whom they hope will be on another call...oh well."
Constance read the pre-court report as she pretended to consider what to do. "He is a very unfortunate young man. He lost both parents in a car accident last year and has been living in an apartment by himself since then. He has no record of any kind and seems to be quite a responsible young man, apart from this."
The dark haired judge spoke, her voice low and thoughtful. "Yes it must have been a traumatic year for him, since he lost his parents... and yet he has kept to his work and has not gone off the rails."
She looked pensive for a moment and then spoke again.
"There is one thing... if we were to send him to the one center we all know... if you get my meaning, We could make sure that... well at least afterwards, he would get... well, erm... more looked after... urm less traumatic... do you both think."
The senior judge looked at her companion, a smile spreading across her face. "Sometimes Kate, I think you are heaven sent for this court. Yes of course...all agreed? I will just change the form from any center to Center No. 19"
I felt a gentle hand on my arm, bidding me to stand up. I did not see the kindly look upon officer's face as I stood with shaking legs, as the judges re-entered the court.
I stood as straight as I could, I tried looking at the three female judges and then my cowardice took over and I hung my head in shame.
"Stephen Woodrow Ryder." I looked up as the clear voice of the senior judge addressed me. "You are sentenced to attend a punishment center, during the next twenty eight days. You must attend within this period or you will be arrested and appear before me on a far more serious charge, which will result in your loss of freedom for a considerable period of time. You will also not be allowed to drive a motor vehicle for a period of nine months from this date and you will be bound over for two years. Do you understand?"
I managed to look at her as I answered. I could not help the trembling of my voice as I almost sobbed my reply.
"Yes Ma'am, thank you Ma'am... I am er.. most sorry for my stupidity Ma'am."
I hung my head as I heard the prosecuting lawyer speak in a loud voice. "Court is adjourned"
I heard the court officer whisper to me as the judges filed out. "Come with me and I will give you your forms. Her voice was kindly and for the life of me I couldn't understand why.
The punishment centers had been existence for over a year now and had been designed for a variety of crimes, vandalism, joyriding, petty theft and drink driving. They were specifically designed for the juvenile male although on odd occasions, for severe or repeat offences girls had been sentenced to attend. I knew very little about them and anecdotal hearsay of what punishment, punishment centers actually doled out, was a closely guarded secret. Offenders who had actually visited the centers were not allowed to say what the punishments consisted of for fear of being immediately arrested for contempt of court; and the government had banned newspapers from speculating on what the punishments might be... or reporting hearsay from offenders. All that was known was that they were an effective method of curbing adolescent crime and that there were very few repeat offences.
I sat at the desk in front of the young court officer, my eyes were still full of tears and I still could not repress the odd sob of deep regret as I waited. I noticed that she had taken off her uniformed jacket and was wearing a white shirt. Her breasts seemed firm as they pressed against the crisp white material as she leaned towards me.
After she had finished sifting the forms and putting them in order she spoke. "If you will sign these. Please"
She handed me a sheaf of forms, which I signed without reading. She took them from me, her slender fingers shuffling the papers into a neat pile before handing me the top copy.
"Take this with you... you are to attend Center 19 any time within the next twenty eight days." I felt sure that she gave me a look of kindness and sympathy as I got up and turned to leave. On impulse I turned back to her. I looked at the soft expression of sympathy upon her face and although I was near to tears again I managed to stammer. "Thank you for your help er.. Miss, I am so sorry to have caused so much trouble."
Constance picked up the telephone as she smiled conspiratorially at her fellow judges. "I think a telephone call would be more judicious than a note... don't your think." She laughed at her own pun as she dialled the number.
"Martha... oh good... and you? Yes the same! Yes we have had a young man in this morning. I don't want to influence you in any way... and I know the punishment is statutory; but I would ask you to let everyone read the court report."
Constance listened for a short while and then spoke again. "Oh yes... if it had been for more severity I would have put a recommendation on the form."
She listened again for a few moments and then spoke softly. "Yes... I had not immediately thought of that. Yes I know it could be short notice... but if we are free we will certainly attend. I think that he is so contrite that it might even be today, its still early enough... before twelve isn't it?"
She listened once more and then thanked the woman on the other end of the phone.
I was determined that I should get this whole sorry mess over and done with. I returned to my apartment and showered thoroughly. Changing into clean clothes, I looked for the address on the form. Offenders must attend BEFORE twelve noon. You may be detained overnight. You may bring any medicines that have been properly subscribed. You may NOT bring luggage. Forty minutes later I was on my way. The cab dropped me off one street away, somehow I think the driver suspected where I was heading, but I walked quickly into a florist shop and waited until he had departed before making my way to Number 26/28 Arlett Street.
The building looked like every other government office on the street. It did not have a sign other than its number, etched discreetly into a brushed chromium plaque set into the wall beside the glass door. The door was framed in stainless steel with a broad bar across the front of the glass. The glass of the door matched the windows, with its opaque smoked glass, guarding the view of the interior from the street.
So here I was waiting at the business-like counter of Punishment Center 19. The glass that had portrayed my apparition of Debbie Pearson, separated me from the young girl who spoke into the microphone on her side of the glass.. "Can I help you?" Her voice sounded strangely neutral through the small speaker that must have been concealed somewhere in the counter surface.
"Er my name is Steve.. er Stephen Ryder, I have to report here within erm.. er twenty eight days.. er, so I have come today."
I felt foolish and embarrassed talking to the young girl behind the counter, whom, no doubt, would know the details of my crime.
She looked no older than seventeen; the cuffs of her crisp white shirt were folded back at the sleeve, revealing her slender wrists. She wore a neat stainless steel watch on her left wrist and a tiny silver chain adorned the other. Her face looked neat and attractive with a minimum of make-up; her appearance was slightly studious, no doubt aided by the wire framed spectacles that she was wearing.
"Can I have your form please... you did bring it with you?" Her voice was questioning as she looked at me, her eyes were quite obvious in her interest of looking me up and down.
I fumbled in my jacket pocket and produced the form which I put in the tray which was set into the counter and allowed objects to be passed to the other side. I slid the form towards her, underneath the glass partition.
She did not thank me, but read the form for several moments before she extended her slender manicured fingers forwards and pressed a button on her counter position. "Please wait there and I will send someone out to fetch you. She motioned behind me and I looked around to see that there were three chairs opposite the counter, the backs of them against the smoked glass of the window. For the first time I noticed that because of the light, one could see out of the windows, although passers by could not see in. There was a low glass table in the centre of the room on which were placed a variety of Government information leaflets.
I took the middle seat and waited;. I mused at my fright on seeing someone I thought was Debbie Pearson... and then I remembered that it could not possible have been her. I had often enquired in a quite causal way of old school friends what ever happened to so and so, eventually slipping Debbie's name into the list of people I enquired about. I had found out by this reasonably subtle method, that she had gone on to do nursing. The last time that I had enquired I was told that she had qualified and that she was now a theatre nurse, having moved to another city, although they couldn't remember where.