The Magistrate

Picture credit: Jakob Owens

There were close calls, to be sure. The dogs were first. The police set them loose in the halls during first period. Not surprisingly, when they got to my locker they started barking like mad. It just so happened that I was in the bathroom when I heard the commotion and, instinctively, I flushed an entire week’s worth of my best weed down the toilet. It was a painful but necessary precaution and when I came out into the hall and saw the German Shepherds barking at my locker I knew I’d made the right call.

Mine was one of eleven lockers flagged and so the police had their hands full. They searched all the lockers and found plenty of other stoners to punish, mostly for small offenses like paraphernalia and forgotten bits of shwag left in coat pockets. Though, one of the stoners I knew, Joel Black, did lose several ounces in the raid and wound up suspended and charged for possession with intent to distribute. He was the first of us to go to juvie that year. Luckily for me, the only thing the police found in my locker was a crumpled ball of foil they rightly suspected of being used as an improvised pipe. But since they didn’t have the resources to send it to the lab, I was given a warning.

The assistant principal oversaw discipline at our school. She was an older woman with frizzy, gray hair that puffed like a clown’s wig. She kept her reading glasses on a beaded cord around her neck that she rolled between her finger and thumb. And she took the matter of drugs in her school personally, like we sold them to offend her. That day, she searched all eleven of us. She was thorough and she even went as far as to run her gnarled old lady fingers along the rim of my boxer shorts. By the time she was finished, my already potent distrust of authority had reached pure ethanol concentrations and my humiliation had the disturbing aftertaste of pedophilia. Still, I managed to survive the raid unscathed. Not wanting to take any more chances, I stopped dealing at school after that.


But outside of school was another matter. This first-gen kid, Zen Lu, threw the best parties and he always invited me because I brought the best weed. My weed was my secret. Everybody wanted to know where I got it, but I never told anyone, in part, because I had the market cornered, but mainly because the weed made me popular. Everybody wanted it and so everybody wanted to hang out with me.

On the night of one of Zen’s parties, I parked my mom’s car, a beige Lexus, two blocks down from Zen’s house because she’d warned me not to scratch it or I’d lose my driving privileges. As I approached the house, I noticed more cars than usual scattered about the street. Someone had parked in front of Fred’s place. Fred was Zen’s neighbor, and he was committed to guarding his street parking. He’d hammered on the door in the past, demanding I move my car. Zen and I weren’t really friends, but we had a mutual understanding. We were both outsiders and would therefore never be conventionally popular. So we’d made ourselves indispensable. Zen threw the best parties, and I sold the best weed. That was how we clung to relevance in a town where almost everyone else was Catholic. So, seeing the stray car, I made a mental note to warn Zen about it.

But as I passed through an open front door into a living room overwhelmed with teenagers, Zen was nowhere to be seen. There were at least thirty people inside his house. Some were smoking cigarettes and holding beers and others were taking shots in the kitchen. An open bottle of Vodka had been left in plain sight on the table. Seeing all this, I felt a queasy sense of unease. My pockets were loaded with drugs, and I doubted there was enough time to unload them before someone, probably Fred, called the cops.

Pushing my way past a game of flip cup, I asked a fellow stoner where Zen was, but he just shrugged. So I got to work. I started by hitting up the kids I knew well, exchanging pre-weighted bags of nugget for cash while checking the windows between deals. There was still no sign of Zen when I exhausted the first floor and made my way upstairs.

The only bathroom was on the second floor. I jiggled the handle. A female voice said it would be a minute. If I had to, I could come back and flush the rest of what I’d brought, but that would cost me. Zen’s bedroom door was shut. I was about to knock when I heard unmistakable noises broadcasting from within—moans and grunts, a muffled giggle and a heavy sigh. So I went downstairs and out to the backyard.

Here I found a quieter crowd. Four people were seated around a rusting patio table – two girls and two boys. The boys were Mark Riddell and Todd Benson. They were varsity basketball players and were wearing their letter jackets to prove it. Mark and Todd were seated with both of their chairs angled towards the prettier of the two girls, Elisa Ferraro, perched on the edge of their seats and leaning towards her. Elisa sat with her hands in her lap, looking bored, while Mark and Todd took simultaneous swigs of beer.

The other girl was Claudia Murphy. Elisa and Claudia were in the grade below me. We’d never been introduced, but I saw them together in the halls often enough to know they were tight. If I stayed it would be awkward – five makes a crowd – and I was relatively certain that none of them would buy what I was selling so I was about to leave when Claudia caught my eye and said, “You look like a person with secrets.”

I smiled and turned to face her. Claudia wasn’t as pretty as Elisa but she was pretty enough that I was surprised she’d even noticed me.  

“Where’d you hear that?” I asked

 “Join us and I’ll tell you. We’re playing truth or dare and these two,” she rolled her eyes at Mark and Todd, “are all out of secrets and too chicken shit for dares.”

“That’s not fair,” Mark said. “You dared us to make out.”

“We’re not gay,” Todd added.

“You didn’t complain when I kissed Elisa.” The two girls exchanged a look and I knew right then that I would join them.

“That’s different,” Mark said, “and it was barely a peck.”

“I don’t see how it’s any different. Why are boys always begging us to kiss and then getting grossed out by the idea of kissing each other?” She looked to me for an answer and, seeing an opportunity, I said, “I’d never dare you to do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Smiling, she gestured to an empty chair.

Mark and Todd leaned back, looking annoyed when I sat down but they didn’t comment. Possibly because I wasn’t talking to Elisa, or maybe because they knew about my weed and were hoping I’d share a joint.

Ignoring Elisa, because I knew this would provoke her, I turned to Claudia and asked, “How do you know these two studs?”

“St. Ursula’s.”

I nodded. Most of the kids from our school went to church there. They all took CCD together and had a separate life outside of school that I was only vaguely aware of. My parents weren’t all that religious, and even if they were, we wouldn’t be Catholic. We’d have gone to synagogue.

“Ok,” Claudia said. “My turn. Truth or dare?”

“Truth.” I said, not wanting to be asked to make out with Mark or Todd.

Claudia glanced at Elisa and flashed her a quick smile. Then, directing her gaze back at me, her face turned serious and she asked, “Where do you get your weed?”

The question was so direct and targeted I almost fell out of my chair. Was she playing me? And how did she know about my weed?

“Are the stakes always this high with you?” I asked, stalling.

“What would be the point in playing if they weren’t?” She offered me a sly smile.

I could have lied, but I didn’t think I could pull it off and be believed. I could have refused to answer, but that would look gutless and I very much wanted to outperform Mark and Todd. I hated them for what they were – athletic, attractive, and popular in a way that I would never be. Popular by default. So I wanted to shove this moment in their faces. I wanted to win. But if I told them the truth, if I told them where I got my weed then it would be game over for me. I would lose the one thing that made me remarkable. If it wasn’t for my weed, I reminded myself, no one would even know my name.

I looked around the table. The others were listening intently. Even Mark, who never so much as looked at me when we were in class, seemed interested in what I had to say.

To this day, I have no clue what I would’ve done next. I might have told the truth, or I might have told them all to fuck off. I really can’t say because before I could formulate an answer, I noticed a commotion in the house. A rush of bodies was headed for us, scrambling for the back door. Behind the crowd, striding through Zen’s living room, was a young man clad in blue. This freshly minted cop was no doubt looking to earn some street cred. His mouth was working, shouting something while he reached for the nearest person, a stoner kid I’d sold some weed to earlier who was holding a glass pipe.

I still had a pocket full of weed, not to mention all the cash, so I was up and over the chain-link fence before the back door opened. Glancing back, I saw Mark and Todd clambering over the fence in the opposite direction, struggling in their inebriated state. Claudia and Elisa never moved. They waited calmly in their chairs as the chaos spilling from the house engulfed them. I wondered at their apparent lack of concern, but I didn’t have time to dwell on it. Turning, I was about to make a run for it when I nearly bumped into a tall, lean-framed man in jeans and a white T-shirt.

Fred Herbstritt was middle-aged. Early forties, I guessed. He lived alone in a yellow brick bungalow, which was the nicest looking house on the block. He tended to the house, his yard, and his black BMW fastidiously.

“Going somewhere?” Fred asked.

The man had sun-worn skin and misaligned eyes that gave his face a crooked appearance. He stood close enough for me to make out the gray in his stubble, and he was imposing enough to stop me in my tracks. I didn’t think Fred would go as far as to grab me but, then again, he looked really pissed off.

I stepped to one side. Fred mirrored me.

“You’re not a cop,” I said. “You can’t arrest me.”

“No, but I can alert the police to the fact that you’re trespassing.” Fred gazed past me, searching the crowd of teenagers swarming Zen’s backyard. Then he started shouting, “Officer, Officer.”

I glanced over my shoulder just as someone else tumbled over the fence and fell onto Fred’s boxwood hedge. Fred pushed past me then, shouting, “You little shit. This is private fucking property!”

I bolted into the next yard, hopped a second fence, and sprinted through a whole block of lawns before stopping at a corner house to catch my breath. The house beside me was dark and the street before me was empty. There didn’t seem to be any cops patrolling this end of the neighborhood. I have never been happier about listening to my mother. If it weren’t for her threat about the car I would’ve been screwed.

“Thanks mom,” I said as I stepped out onto the sidewalk and headed for her car.


I was leaving school the following week when Claudia fell into stride beside me. She smelled of Tommy Girl perfume. I wonder now if this choice was intentional. But she couldn’t have known the power that perfume held over me. She couldn’t have known that it was the same perfume my only girlfriend up to that point had worn. Could she?

“You still owe me a secret,” Claudia said.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Depends,” she said.

“Why didn’t you run?”

“My dad knows the magistrate.” She smiled conspiratorially and added, “I can get away with murder.”

I laughed, thinking that she was only joking.

“Must be nice,” I said.

We came to the main entrance, and she stopped before we reached the doors. “So are you going to ask me out?”

“Ask you out?” I repeated.

“I thought we could smoke some of this famous weed I keep hearing about.” She twirled a lock of red hair around the crook of her finger. “Everyone I’ve smoked with says yours is the best.”

I was not immune to flattery. And then there was the fact that I’d never met a girl who seemed genuinely interested in me. My last girlfriend, Anna, had taken a lot of persuading. And she’d never let me get past second.

“I can sell you some,” I offered, still not sure what to make of Claudia’s forwardness.

“Levi, really?” She touched my arm and that was enough to send the blood rushing to my groin. “Do I look like the kind of girl who pays for pot?”

“I don’t bring it to school anymore,” I stammered.

“Invite me over then.” She batted her eyelashes. They were thick with mascara. “I’ll make it worth your while.”

My parents never got home before 5 p.m. I glanced at my watch, pretended to think it over, then grinned and said, “Sure.”


She asked. A dozen times she asked. But I never told her where I got my weed. I know why, of course. I was afraid. Afraid that if I told her she’d stop coming over to my house after school. Because why would she? She wouldn’t need to if she could skip over me and go directly to the source. And the things we did together, alone in my room – I was addicted. I’d never tried anything stronger than pot, still haven’t, but the way I felt must have been the way junkies feel. For the first time in my life, I understood why David sent Uriah to die. I would have carved his heart out with a spoon if it meant another afternoon alone with her.

And that was why I said nothing when I realized Claudia was skimming dope from my stash. At first, I assumed she wanted a little extra to hold her over while I wasn’t around, and even though this was disappointing, because I would have gladly given Claudia all the weed she wanted if she’d just asked, in the end I decided not to mention it because the truth was, I was afraid of upsetting her.

But then, a few weeks after our first afternoon together, the assistant principal called me into her office and said, “I know you’re dealing drugs in my school.” Before I could respond she held up a baggy of what I recognized as my secret weed and added, “We found this in your locker.”

Of course, I hadn’t left it there. I hadn’t brought a speck of weed to school since the dogs. And though I’d sold it to other stoner kids outside of school I couldn’t imagine why any of them would want to frame me. And maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m being paranoid – I still don’t want to believe, even now, with all the evidence to the contrary – but as soon as I saw that baggy of weed, I knew it was Claudia.

“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” The assistant principal asked.

After the dogs, after that invasive search of my body, I’d told my parents what had happened. I left out the fact that I was dealing weed, but I told them how the people at school had mistreated me and my father was furious. “If it happens again,” he said, “you say nothing. Don’t let them touch you and don’t answer a single question until I get there.”

I glared at the assistant principle now and, fighting back tears, I said, “I want to speak to my parents.” It was the adolescent equivalent of “I want my lawyer.”

The assistant principal frowned. Then she reached for the beaded cord around her neck. It was long and the beads were oddly partitioned. For the first time, I noticed a plain wooden cross at its end.

“Go wait in the main office,” she said, rolling her rosary.  


Both of my parents took off work on the day of my hearing and came to the County Courthouse to support me. I also had a lawyer, a friend of my fathers, who said the whole case was outrageous.

The magistrate was the sort of man I am all too familiar with now. As a lawyer myself, I’ve seen these men abuse their power again and again. Like bullies at the pulpit, they run over the ill-informed and underrepresented. I once heard a magistrate list a litany of offenses to this poor black kid without a lawyer, then having scared the kid shitless he said, “I’ll forgive all of them if you plead guilty to the defacement charge.” Of course, that was the charge that came with the highest fine. Then, before the kid could say a word, the magistrate added, “But if you have anything to say then I might just change my mind.” What could the poor kid do? He nodded his head in silent assent and accepted the charge. It still makes my blood boil, just thinking about it.

When my case was called that day, the magistrate reviewed the notes on his desk and got this smug look on his face. He was probably seeing dollar signs, another shoe in for thirty days in juvie. But then he saw my lawyer and his expression, no, his whole demeanor changed. Suddenly, he looked tired. The features of his face seemed to droop right down past his unidentifiable jaw into the thick pouch of his neck, which merged with the long black robe of his authority, so that all of him seemed to sag into the wooden bench in one worn contour. In retrospect, I realize that it was this moment of deflation that inspired me to go to law school.

“Levi Kress.” The magistrate’s voice was a nasal monotone. “You are charged with possession of an illegal substance with intent to distribute. How do you plead?”

“Not guilty,” my lawyer said.

They haggled for a few minutes and settled on community service and a drug awareness class with no admission of guilt. And then it was over. Or so I thought. But then, just the other day, I was reading the news and the top story caught my eye. It was a big corruption scandal involving two prominent members of the local community, both members of St. Ursula’s Catholic Church. The name of the church was what grabbed my attention. But then I read on and saw that one of the men arrested was a magistrate facing bribery charges. It was the same magistrate I’d faced in high school when I was the defendant. Apparently, he’d been accepting bribes for sending kids to juvie for inordinate sentences. If that wasn’t shocking enough, I then saw the name of the man implicated in the scandal with him. The man who ran that Juvenile Corrections Facility was none other than Richard Murphy. A quick online search confirmed it – he was Claudia’s father.

About the Author

Evan Lawrence Ringle’s fiction has appeared in Shenandoah, Watershed Review, Soliloquies, The Manhattanville Review, Goldwake Live, and elsewhere. Presently, he lives in Erie, Pennsylvania with his wife and daughter where he teaches English at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. This story is part of a larger collection of connected stories he is working on.

Litro Magazine

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