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Ariella's Defense by P.S. Cassidy is a completed story. It is five chapters in length and is currently available in its entirety in the Members' Area of Bethany's Woodshed. It is available both as an "HTML" file for online reading, as well as in a downloadable PDF format. It is also available as a file that can be transferred to your Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, or Apple I Pad, as well as other brand eBook readers. Each completed book that you obtain as a member of Bethany's Woodshed is yours to keep, even if you are no longer a member.

Chapter One

Two men walked swiftly down the hall, polished marble, the heels of their black boots clicking in rhythm. They walked fast, past men in suits, past reporters with their notepads out, looking for a quote. At the end of the long hall, they took the elevator down into the dark catacombs of the building, a dreary world of rough concrete in contrast to the elegantly finished floors above.

When the elevator lurched to a stop, the metal doors opening with the old-style accordion grate pushed back, three men were waiting for them. Jimmy Bernzahar, the man of the hour, was in the middle. He was flanked by two men in polished black boots. They were young men, each wearing matching pants and a sport jacket, a uniform of sorts. They wore the silver star of the US Marshal’s service. Bernzahar was in an orange jump suit, shackles on his ankles. His hands secured to his waist by a belly chain. The men at his sides gave his elbows a shove and Bernzahar shuffled into the elevator to be handed off to the Marshals inside.

One of the men from the cellar let go of his grip on the prisoner and said, “Have fun in court Jimmy. See ya tonight.”

Jimmy nodded, chuckled to himself like he had just thought of something, an old joke. He waved goodbye from his shackles, a goodbye gesture, and smiled again. But this time it was a broad grin. “Yeah, guess I’ll be seeing you gentlemen ‘til them guys get their fill.”

The men from upstairs took possession of Jimmy, each grasping an elbow, each with a serious expression, a furrowed brow. Just when the door of the elevator started to close, there was a commotion on the other side. Heels were skittering across the concrete floor. Above the noise there was a women’s voice. “Hold the elevator. Wait!”

The two Marshals looked at each other, frowning, but neither one moved. Just as the door was about to squeeze shut, releasing the grate, Jimmy leaned forward, dipping his head. The closing doors bumped his head and obediently reversed direction, opening for the nimble woman to slip inside. She was panting.

“Thank you, thank you,” the woman said, “I have his papers. Court can’t start without them and I…I hope you don’t mind.” She smiled, looking up through her hair, her eyes fluttering.

“Lady, we can’t take any passengers on this car. You gotta wait.”

It was too late. The grate snapped shut. She had already pushed the button for the fifth floor. The car started to move. “Ariella,” she said.

One of the men shook his head. He said, “What? What did you say?”

The other man grimaced, rolled his eyes. “You can’t go up. We got a prisoner, lady.” He gestured helplessly as the car lurched upward.

She said, “Just this once. I’m late and the judge is already mad at me. I promise not to tell. I won’t talk to him, won’t even look at him.”

The man in the jumpsuit said, “Good to meet you Ariella. I’m Jimmy.” He reached out his cuffed hand and Ariella Underhill shook it. She immediately looked down at her hand in his big paw and closed her eyes. She wanted to wiggle her fingers away, wanted to start over and do what she had told the Marshal she was going to do. But it was too late.

On the fifth floor, the men moved quickly. Ariella, with her armful of papers, ran past them. Jimmy stopped in his tracks watching her with his mouth open. The Marshals pushed on his elbows but he wouldn’t budge, so they gave up and did what Jimmy was doing, gawking at the woman in the little skirt—too short—running down the hall on her tip toes. As she rounded the marble pillars to go through the double doors of the courtroom, one of her papers slipped from her hand and fluttered to the floor. She reached for it but missed, and then she was flailing her arms for balance before a cloudburst of papers flew into the air. The three men stood like statues, watching her.

Jimmy finally spoke, “Shouldn’t we help the girl. Poor thing. Look at her there—“

One of the Marshal’s said, “Don’t worry ‘bout it Jimmy. That girl’ll probably be mucking things up around here when you’re a free man…in what…twenty? Thirty years?”

“Right,” the other man said, “come on, let’s get him in there so we can sit down.”

The courtroom was staid and quiet, like a church waiting for the preacher to ascend the dais. Spectators on both sides of the aisle swiveled in their chairs to witness Bernzahar’s entrance. He was grinning like he was strolling a red carpet, making an appearance for his adoring public. Behind the prosecutors, the gallery was filled with grim people who wanted to see Jimmy hang. On the other side sat Bernzahar’s family, his inner-circle supporters, people from his church and half a pew was taken up by his ex-wives. Their eyes were downcast, glassy, but Jimmy nodded at his people and smiled anyway.

In the well of the court, the prosecution team, attired in gray suits, hovered over computer monitors. One man was standing, pacing back and forth. Young clerks—law students—sat at the corners of the table, like puppies, fetching folders and bottles of water at a glance or the slightest gesture from one of the attorneys.

On the other side, the sad side, three attorneys were seated at an oak table. One of them, Earl Morris—recently famous for getting a rapper off in Utah, something about the girls in his entourage—was talking to Victor Albert, the senior partner in McDonald Albert. Victor was an old man with a gray beard. He was the guy who was good for a quote.  He would stand tall in front of the microphones, saying in his gravelly voice, “It was a good day for the defense,” no matter what kind of day it was. The third man, M. Marshal “Mac” McDonald, was leaning back in his leather chair, his eyes closed. He was sipping on a bottle of water like he was savoring vintage Chardonnay, relaxing in the middle of a packed courtroom buzzing on the opening day of The United States of America vs. Jimmy Bernzahar.

Out of the corner of his half-open eye, McDonald saw a shiny white paper lying on the polished floor. It was hand written with official stamps. He glanced up without lifting his head and saw Ariella on the raised platform. She was delivering stacks of documents to the three clerks seated at the narrow table next to the bench, and they, in turn, would scurry off to chambers, conveying documents to His Honor Quincy C. Harriston. The clock on the wall, an old wall-mounted piece with a crystal face and real hands, said it was 7:34. The clerks were moving efficiently, sorting documents conveyor-belt style, while the girl, Ariella, was moving in all directions at once.

The court was Ariella’s world, at least that’s the way she thought of it, like she was a visiting alien from a distant planet who didn’t fit in, couldn’t quite get the rhythm of the place. She knew that most people—that is most people who didn’t have to work in the dusty old building or show up for jury duty or get dragged in for trial—thought that courtrooms were drab places: all browns and grays and polished marble, with some little guy sitting on a bench in a black robe listening to boring lawyers drone on and on. But what she didn’t know until she got the job as Court Deputy, was how easily she could get lost in something as simple and plain as brown panels and marble columns. But this time, when she lost her way, people would yell at her—important people—people wearing suits, even the judge himself.

Ariella thought her youth should be worth something, that they’d cut her some slack. Just barely out of high school, she had already been through so much, lost her mother in a fiery crash, her father to a bottle. And when it turned out that it was a drunk that ended her mother’s life, the floodgates came open. She flitted from bed to bed, bar to bar, job to job, looking for a place where she could thrive, maybe a man to care for her. But all Ariella found were men who took her in long enough to use her charms, feast on her beauty. But when she opened her arms, needed to grab onto them—wanted to be held—they turned into sodden pillars of sand, collapsing when she needed them most. Ariella thought she was out of options when Edgar Frazer, the lawyer from her mother’s case, told her about an opening at the courthouse. “You’re a smart girl,” he had sad, “Sad to see you waste yourself like this. The work’s not that fun down here, you know lots of people like me,” he grinned. “But you might want to give it a try.”

She couldn’t imagine putting on makeup, a blouse and skirt everyday—what if they have a dress code, she shuddered—but when Frazer told her about the job, said to give it a try, she thought perhaps the structure of the place, all those important people, would be good for her, might give her a way to survive. Beats drinking anyway.

On the day Jimmy Bernzahar got his day in court, the trial started late. Again. The hands on the dial of the old clock said 7:35. The job was supposed to be easy. But Ariella knew by then that structure and important people were overrated, even an institution as old as Justice couldn’t do anything for her. She couldn’t seem to learn the rules. Maybe she was too young. Maybe she couldn’t give up her fun—the birthright of a young girl—or maybe she just wanted back the childhood she had missed. She was always in trouble, always giving the wrong papers to the wrong people, always in someone’s way. If it wasn’t for the fatherly nature of Judge Harriston, she would have been fired long ago. Whenever people complained about his disorganized Court Deputy, he would say, “Let’s give the girl a few more days. Bless her heart, she’s trying.” But secretly, privately, Harriston liked Ariella because of the way she lit up the court, brought life into the cavernous room in a way that he couldn’t remember in the thirty-five years since he joined the Bar.

McDonald handed her the piece of paper he had found on the floor—the cover page of the judge’s hand-written notes—and Ariella blushed. “There it is,” she said. McDonald could hear the judge grumbling from the open door of his chambers. The lawyer knew it was not a good day for Ariella. “Thank you, sir,” she said, and scurried off to bring the last document to His Honor.

Ariella came flying out of chambers. Mac watched her cross the platform. Her pink A-line skirt was bouncy, just above the knee. Her legs were stuffed in sheer carmine stockings and she wore polished white heels. Her blouse, a low-cut popin, with short lacy sleeves, was loose fitting where it should have been taut, giving an exposed look to the gentle curve of her breasts. Her demi bra was discretely hidden but under the roomy shirt, it accented her cleavage nicely, at least most of the jurors thought so. The lawyers too. Ariella’s hair was a summery blonde with a few strands of red to give the girl a slightly mysterious look.

Ariella signaled the Marshals and they shut the great doors to the courtroom with a resounding thud. She found her perch, standing behind the desk between the bench and the witness box. She was panting when she yelled, “All rise. The Courtroom of His Honor Quincy Harriston, serving the 5th District Court of the United States of America, is now in session.”

The room was already hot. Jimmy Bernzahar stood listlessly during Ariella’s shouted declarations. He stared at her, dropping his head so she’d feel the piercing glare of his gray eyes between her breasts. Ariella smiled, blushed, felt Jimmy’s stare, and glared back with her sweetest, most innocent, come-and-get-it-look. Ariella had a game she would play as an antidote to the tedium of long trials. She would pick out her favorite male juror and flirt with him until he was uncomfortable and blushing. In one trial, her game caused a flustered juror to send a note to the judge, almost causing a mistrial. Judge Harriston, was so mad she thought the old man was going to have a heart attack. She promised him that she would keep her eyes off of the jury, but it wasn’t easy. A girl’s eyes wander.

In this trial, the USA vs. Bernzahar, Ariella decided that the man in chains, the guy with the intense darting eyes, the guy who’s eyes were staring at her, burning a hole in her bosom, would be her new favorite. Besides, Jimmy was nice to her on the elevator, not like those grumpy Marshals. And what would be the harm in flirting with a guy who’s going to jail anyway?

Mr. Baumgartner, a tottering, stooped old man, was up first to put on an opening argument. He was the prosecutor who had been pacing around his desk. a man who proudly told the jury he had been working for the government since—Ariella calculated, since well before she was born—and he told them that although courthouses are full of ugly stories, it gives him pleasure to represent the good people of his country. With his soft spoken patriotism, Ariella’s patience had already run its course. She looked at Bernzahar, wondered if he was married, wondered what he looked like when he wasn’t in court, what he was like in bed.

The prosecutor put up some nice charts, colorful, full of pictures and arrows. And he talked about the company Jimmy Bernzahar kept, said the defendant knew people who had killed people, that he became a wealthy man off the money he had stolen from old people’s retirement funds. He talked about Bernzahar’s houses in the Bahamas and Switzerland, his apartment in New York, and his island complex in the middle of Lake Martin. The prosecutors said his lavish homes were a monument to the people he had hurt. Ariella looked at him, thinking about those people—did he really do all those things?—and then she thought about him in his Bahamian retreat. She closed her eyes. He was wearing a robe. Ariella was in a bikini, her skinned bronzed. A servant was bringing them drinks. Shed of his orange jumpsuit, Jimmy was muscular, powerful. She drifted away on the island breeze until she heard people rustling papers, milling around, the judge banging recess. Baumgartner’s opening statement was over.

It was the defense’s turn. Ariella sat beatifically ogling her new friend while McDonald, in a black suit with a wide crimson tie, said quietly, “May it please the court.” The judge nodded. The jury leaned back. Ariella shifted in her chair, stretching each leg out slowly with the toes of her shoes pointed skyward. She glanced up to make sure Jimmy was watching. The room was quiet, an uncomfortable drawn-out stillness. Suddenly, there was a loud smack on the floor. Everyone jumped: the jury, Ariella, the judge, the gallery. Everyone but Bernzahar, who sat still, his eyes never leaving Ariella. McDonald had thrown a thick law volume in the air and let it hit the hardwood floor with a crack. Before the jarring sound had a chance to echo off the oak panels, McDonald wheeled around to face the jury. “That’s what it feels like,” he said, “when the weight of the law, of the country, of our fine US Attorney over there, his friends in Washington, all come crashing down on top of you. If you listened to Mr. Baumgartner, and I hope you did, it doesn’t look like we got much of a case. I’d say it’s as open and shut as that book on the floor.” McDonald paused, took a step toward the jury, his voice dropping to a whisper. “But before we close the book, send a man to jail, let’s take a look inside. Don’t you think it’s a good idea to read a book before you close it? So let’s do that together” McDonald turned his back, walked over to Bernzahar, rapped his knuckles on the table. The jury was riveted. So was Ariella. Her computer monitor was unattended while she watched the spectacle unfold.
Mac McDonald went chapter by chapter. He told a story about a man who worked hard, built a company from the ground up. “Is that a crime?” he said.  He told about a generous man whose charitable giving was legendary. Buildings were named in his honor, even streets. He told about a man who loved powerfully, loved well, but lost his wife to a freak accident. “You see a criminal, yet?” The jury was watching the man, swiveling their heads from the lawyer to the defendant, but Ariella was only watching Jimmy, his reactions to his lawyer’s story, especially the part about his powers of love. That poor man, she thought.
“And he was a trusting man, let’s look at that chapter,” Mac went on. “Jimmy Bernzahar wanted his friends, his family, his employees and his customers to share in the good life. Don’t believe me? This chapter has a footnote. You know in the last five years, Mr. Bernzahar didn’t even draw a salary. Nope. His executives, men who were his friends, men who’ll be testifying against him in this trial, made more than he did.” Mac’s voice was rising, nearly cracking. “Now I’m not going to ask you, good people of the jury, to shed a tear for this man. He wouldn’t have it. No. Jimmy Bernzahar is more likely to cry for you if he knows you’re down, if he knows you need a hand, need anything. If you’re alone in this world, lost, the man you’d want to see—I’d want to see—is Jimmy Bernzahar.” McDonald stooped and picked up the book, exaggerating its weight. He put it back on the podium. His voice was a whisper, “They can use their fancy charts over there, but I just told you the real story of Jimmy Bernzahar.”

The court was quiet. Nobody in the gallery moved. The jury was still bent forward in listening postures. There was only one steady noise that wafted through the courtroom. It came from up near the bench, by the empty witness box. It was Ariella. She was crying, tears flowing down her cheeks, dripping onto her desk. Her hair was shaking in rhythm with the sobs. She looked up, blinking, and focused on Jimmy Bernzahar. If he wasn’t her favorite in the court before the trial began, by the time McDonald was done, she was sure that she would love the man forevermore.

McDonald heard the sobs. He didn’t want to turn around, wasn’t sure how to react. He knew who it was, the Court Deputy, who for some reason was hell bent on ruining his case before he even had a chance to call a single witness. He wheeled around, looking first at the girl and then the judge. He took a deep breath, tried to stay calm, professional. “Approach?” he asked the judge. Harriston nodded and the prosecutor joined McDonald for a sidebar. The jury was hustled out of the room.

An extended recess was declared to allow the crying Court Deputy to compose herself. McDonald went from the bench to her desk. Ariella didn’t look up. She was holding her head, still sniffling. McDonald shifted his weight until she felt his brooding presence and lifted her head a little, just enough to look over Mac’s shoulder to peer at Jimmy who was looking back with a big grin. She managed a half-smile to see that poor soul so composed in the middle of his trial, and then she ventured to face McDonald.

Mac said, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Do you realize this is a court of law, that what’s going on here is real, it’s not a game?”

“Yes sir,” she said sullenly.

“Then why, if you realize the seriousness of what is going on, are you doing this?”

“I’m sorry sir,” she said again and continued haltingly, “It’s just that…those things you were saying…about what a beautiful man he is. This isn’t fair. None of it. People like that shouldn’t be here any more than you or I.”

McDonald said, “Well I shouldn’t but I’m not so sure about you. I’ve heard of your antics—“

The girl started crying again, heaving sobs.

“No, listen, that’s not helping. I didn’t mean it that way—I know we all have our problems—but you need to understand, you have to understand—Listen…it’s Ariella, right? Would you come by my office at lunch—I’m using 3b, an empty courtroom two doors down—and I’ll help you understand this place better.”

“OK. Thank you, sir. I’ll come.”

After a quick question and answer with the first witness, an old lady who was supposed to have lost money by investing in Jimmy’s company, Judge Harriston banged his gavel and court was on recess for lunch. Ariella didn’t want to talk to the Judge because she knew he was mad from the morning’s late start, the mix-up with the papers, so she told one of Harriston’s clerks to tell the judge she was leaving for lunch. She left the empty courtroom, a pink and white waif against the brown walls.

On the knob of 3b, there was a placard that said ‘Meeting in Progress,’ but as the big door thudded shut, Ariella saw only a large empty room with a long table strewn with papers, pitchers of water, old pots of coffee, cups, pens, computers, and legal pads full of notes. She was walking gingerly—her bouncy skirt barely moving—like she wasn’t sure she was in the right place, wasn’t sure she wanted to attend this meeting.

“Sit,” came a loud voice from nowhere, “take a chair.”

“Sir?” Ariella said, “Mr. McDonald?”

“Yes, I’m here and now that you are, we have a quorum. Would you turn that lock on the door back there so we’ll have some privacy?”

Ariella twisted around, surveying the empty seats in the gallery, scanning the jury box. Nobody. “Where are you?” she said.

“Up here,” Mac said. Ariella straightened up, looking for the source of the voice. She could just make out some movement behind the judge’s bench. She rocked forward, pushing up on her tiptoes. She could just make out his the fringe of his dark hair, his hands. He was sitting in the big leather captain’s chair, behind the bench.

Ariella sat down and Mac continued, “I have, I think, a pretty good case—a fighting chance—even though my friend, the prosecutor, has a mountain of evidence.” He stopped, waiting for a reaction but there was none. “That is unless we are blind-sided by the Court Deputy.” Ariella squirmed in her seat.

“But,” she said, “I heard what you said about him. Didn’t you say he’s a great man, that the government—“

“Be quiet, Ariella. Listen to me.”

Her mouth snapped shut. She muttered meekly, “Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir.”

“I don’t need your sorrow. You just need to understand something. I’m sure while we’re chit-chatting, the prosecution is drafting a motion to declare a mistrial. They’re going to say a certain Court Deputy’s indiscretions tainted the jury. And do you know what that means?”

“I’m sorry,” she said again in a breathy whisper.

“Just wait, Ariella, you’ll get your chance. It means we’ll need a new jury—more time, more money—some paid by the taxpayers—you and me—and some paid by your new friend Jimmy. He’ll pay. But it’s more than that. The prosecution knows exactly what I’m going to do because I just told them. That’s what opening statements do. But I can’t use that one, can I? No, a certain Court Deputy might’ve wiped out all the work we’ve done so far. We’ll have to do it all again with a weaker hand. So what it means, my dear girl, is we might lose. And I hate to lose.”

McDonald stopped talking. He leaned forward in the chair, looking down at the girl. She had stopped swinging her legs, sat very still. She was looking sullenly at the floorboards, wishing she had never listened to that lawyer, had never taken this job.

When McDonald started again, his voice was softer, more conversational. “Let me tell you something, My partners and I have tried hundreds of cases, with my partners. We have a pretty good track record. That’s why people like Bernzahar want us to represent them. But you know something, in all those cases—all of them—I had maybe one guy who really didn’t do it. I defended their rights, yes, but protecting their rights is not the same as defending their innocence.”

“But you said—“

McDonald cut her off, “I know what I said and some of it was true. But I’ll tell you something right here, behind locked doors: That man did it. Sure he tells me he didn’t, just like he tells anyone who’ll listen to him. But I know he did.” McDonald looked directly at Ariella, waited until she lifted her head enough so he could look into her eyes. “You may have fallen in love with my words, but don’t fall for Jimmy Bernzahar. They’re not the same thing.”

She started to cry. “I’m sorry. It’s so confusing.”

“I know and that’s my problem. So what’re we going to do with you?” he waited for her sobs to subside, until she was calm and listening. “Do you know this courthouse is over one hundred and sixty years old? They call this room the Ceremonial Courtroom. It’s where they have big name trials—gangsters, crime-of-the-century stuff—and big events like swearing in hundreds of new citizens. It’s seen a lot, this room.”

She looked around the room, listening to him, still sniffling.

“You know in the old days, the judge would sit up here listening to cases all day and sometimes there’d be a girl like yourself that would come before the judge over an offense that might be serious enough to warrant punishment, if only to get the girl back on the right track. But the judges—wise men they were—would be sympathetic. He didn’t want to see the girl get a record and certainly didn’t want to send her to jail. So you know what he’d do?”

Ariella was listening intently. She smoothed her skirt and leaned forward. “No Sir,” she said.

“He would have the courtroom cleared, the doors locked, and then he’d offer her an off-the-books solution to their problem. He’d teach her a lesson that’d be better than jail.”

“A,” Ariella repeated, “what would that be?”

“A good sound spanking. That’s was the offer. If the girl would bend over and take her punishment, then the matter would be settled right then and there,” he paused, “unless the offender needed a tune-up, of course.”

Ariella stood up. She had stopped crying but her face was flushed. She took a step toward the bench.

McDonald said, “Now we sure don’t want you to lose your job and I sure don’t want to lose my case and I know that Judge Harriston likes you—doesn’t want to lose his Deputy, he’s told me so—but the old guy doesn’t know how to handle a girl like you. So in the spirit of the men who once sat here, and with the authority bestowed on me by tradition, I’m giving you that option, Ariella, the same choice that once helped other confused girls find a way back.”

Ariella didn’t answer yes or no, gave no indication if she heard McDonald’s offer.  But she moved to the side of the platform where her heels clicked up the three steps. She crossed in front of the bench and came around behind it to where McDonald was sitting. In the cubby-hole beneath the bench, her eyes were immediately drawn to two long smooth rods, canes with black handles. One was wooden—chestnut brown and worn smooth—and the other had a shiny lacquered white surface.

She avoided McDonald’s eyes, keeping her head down, but the attorney put his thumb under her chin and lifted her face so they could look at each other. “I am not slaughtering a lamb today,” he said slowly, “punishment, yes, but we’ll all be better for it.”

She nodded, “Where should I—“

“I’ll take care of you,” he said firmly, grasping her hand and pulling her into him, between his legs. He gently pushed on the small of her back until she was bent over his leg, and then he slipped his other leg in which helped topple her forward across his lap. “Breathe,” he said. “You’ll be fine. I want you to learn something today. Promise me you’ll do that.”

“I’ll try,” she said.

She felt his hand come down on her behind, cushioned by her skirt, her panties. It wasn’t so bad. Another swat came at her, a little harder. She squirmed a little, but it still wasn’t that bad. Her mind was racing, unfocused. The third one came harder still. She felt it more than the others, but her thoughts were going in all directions and it crowded out the situation. She tried to relax, to let her body go limp but the more she tried to relax the more it felt like her head was vibrating. Too many things were coming back to her.

She felt the attorney patting her behind, rubbing it a little. She thought: this is punishment? What was it I did wrong? But then the hands stopped the rubbing, the patting, they were doing something. She felt her skirt being lifted. He looped his thumbs in her panties and gently peeled them down, pulling them all the way to her knees. Her mind was still going strong, thoughts crashing into each other. Does it start now? Will this be worse? I’m over this man’s lap? I’m naked? And then the spanking began and all of her thoughts went away. His hand felt as rigid and hard as a board, and the blows sharp, crisp. The tears came. She was sorry. That’s all she could remember. Something about her mother, about disappointing the judge. Her ass was on fire. McDonald’s hand went back and forth, cheek to cheek and down the middle. The sobs came again, but they weren’t the pitful woe-is-me crying like before, these were deep throated sobs, a jumbled stream filled with pain and shame and regret. And somewhere, a desire to not only learn this lesson, but to really be a good Court Deputy for the judge.

When she felt that she couldn’t take much more, the flames on her ass having spread to her thighs and on up between her legs, and she was gasping for breath, McDonald stopped. He was rubbing her again, letting the whole experience sink in.

He said, “I hope you’re learning, girl, I really do.” It sounded to her like he was speaking in slow motion, but it felt good to hear his words, to feel that this man really did care that she learned something.

“Yes,” she said.

“Let me just finish our lesson than with four strokes from one of these canes I have here. In the old days, that was the traditional punishment, the canes. But in the old days, the judges felt they had only one shot at correction. It’s a little different now. You’re are the Court Deputy. We might be working together for a long time. I’ll give you four strokes and we’ll be done, for now.

He had Ariella stand and lean over the bench. At first, Mac had her hold her skirt up, but it was awkward so he helped her out of it and had her put her palms flat on the bench. The first stroke came down with a whistle and it was the most painful thing Ariella could remember, at least since the passing of her mother. Then there was another stroke, making a fresh stripe just below the last one. And her thoughts were gone. With both the third and fourth blows, she let out a long moan that came from a dark primal place. Her only conscious thought was that she didn’t want to be bent over that bench, that she wanted to be the best Court Deputy who has served the district in one hundred and sixty years.

And he was done. She was done.

McDonald reached for Ariella’s skirt, but before he handed it to her, he gently pulled the girl into him, sat her in his lap, her warm bottom on his legs, his arms encircling her waist. “Now let’s go try Jimmy Bernzahar and remember what I said today, what you have learned.”

“Yes sir. I will sir.”