Judge Robert Mengen didn’t usually like to go to bars. Public places made him nervous, not just because he was a public figure now, but because he just didn’t really like people. But he was coming up on an election year, so he figured he needed the practice. He started off low key, though. He was just here as a man, not wanting to draw attention to himself. And he would take a cab home.
Which kind of led naturally to the other reason why he was here. He kinda didn’t want to go home. Home was no longer where his heart was, but again, it was an election year and after two extremely controversial court decisions in a row, he couldn’t very well divorce her when he was about to be all over the news again. Folks had enough distractions.
When she walked in, he had already had two drinks, whcih was one more than he’d allowed himself in the last decade. Whether or not that made a difference is anyone’s guess.
She was easily the most beautiful woman in the bar, but hardly the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. There was just something about her, a lot of lady prosecutors he knew, but this girl was no lawyer.
He wasn’t going to cheat on his wife, he promised himself. Besides, it would be illegal. But it wasn’t illegal to look.
Or to offer to buy her a drink.
“Sure,” she said, much to his surprise. (He was surprised to be surprised, too.)
He ordered for her, then she turned to him to scrutinize. “Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?”
“I don’t see why,” he gambled.
“Yes I do!” It didn’t seem to be a sudden revelation. “You’re that judge, aren’t you? Mengen. Robert Mengen.”
Was he going to say it? Yes. “Guilty.”
“You’re up for the Supreme Court this year, aren’t you? The state one, North Carolina.”
“You seem refreshingly well-informed.”
“A democratic population should be.”
“So you’re a Democrat?”
She smiled. “Guilty?” she ventured. “But that’s not what I meant.”
“No, I know.”
Now that she had made her basic skill set known, she took him when he didn’t want to go.
“Weren’t you the guy who tried the Alchemyne case? The one out in Trinity’s Field? What was it? Those parklands?”
“Lot 872,” Mengen confirmed. It was how he preferred to think of that entire part of his career.
“Wasn’t that like an important ecosystem? The plantlife, the—“
“I thought so, too,” he interrupted her. “But once I looked into it, once all the facts were laid out, it was very clear there was nothing legally preventing Alchemyne from building their facility there.”
“Didn’t you try that other case, too?”
That other case. She hardly needed to specify.
“Douglass Cobb. Black guy. Serial killer. Allegedly.”
“Well, he was convicted.”
“I didn’t deliver the verdict. I just passed the sentence.”
“The death sentence.”
“He was a convicted killer.” To be perfectly frank, Mengen had always been somewhat surprised he had made it to trial and not been killed at the scene, or in custody.
“Except he was innocent,” the young woman said.
This was, of course, a popular narrative on the theme. The idea of the black boy wrongly convicted of murders committed by a white boy who had faked his own death months earlier had a certain appeal to identity politics as well as to adventure, but the alternative story provided by the defense had been ludicrous.
“There are holes in that theory,” was what Mengen told her.
“And there weren’t holes in the idea that he was guilty?”
“Not by the end of the trial.”
“Because every facet of the argument provided by the defense fell apart under scrutiny.”
“Like the missing body?”
This made Mengen chuckle. “Which one? The body of Charles Navaro that was never recovered, or the body that supposedly belonged to the real Alexander Navaro?” That really was the most ridiculous part.
“But what about Cobb’s alibi?”
“You mean the fact that even his closest friends confirmed he’d shot whichever Navaro it was?”
“Which Navaro boy it was was the heart of the matter, but I’m talking almost all of which he had an alibi for.”
“Yeah, his girlfriend.”
“So she lied? Under oath?”
“The things we do for love.”
“Then why wasn’t she charged with perjury?”
This caught him off-guard. “That’s… not how it works.”
“No? You’re so sure that you sentenced Douglass Cobb to death, but you didn’t even charge her with perjury? I’m sorry, shouldn’t that make her, like, an accomplice? An accessory after the fact?”
“The laws for that are more complicated.”
“But what about justice?”
“That’s what I said.”
“No. You said the Law.”
Robert Mengen did not like where this was going.
“Do you seriously not think that there’s a difference between Justice and the Law?”
“There isn’t,” he said, although what he really meant was, There shouldn’t be.
“Wow,” said the young woman. “That explains something.”
“Look,” said Mengen, “you were the one who brought up democracy. In a democracy, we agree upon what is right and we make that Law.”
“Even if we were a Democracy, though, that still wouldn’t be justice.”
“Well, then.” He felt confident and drunk enough to chide now. “What would justice be?”
“Well, it would start with examining any law that privileges companies above people.”
Oh, I see, thought Mengen. It was a brilliant switcheroo—if she wasn’t a lawyer yet, she should be. “So this is about Alchemyne.”
“No, Your Honor, this is about you.”
“Are you a reporter?”
“Like I said, I’m a concerned citizen.”
“And my decisions concern you?”
“I’m starting to think your entire value system should concern every member of the human race.
This was the moment when, if the roles had been reversed, Mengen would have hurled his drink in his accuser’s face, ice cubes and all. But men simply don’t do that. So instead, he politely paid for his drink and excused himself.
“Cobb’s execution is tomorrow,” the young woman informed him. “Do you have any kind of celebration planned?”
To be perfectly honest, he hadn’t even been following that judicial aftermath, too concerned with her own political trajectory.
He left without another word.
Her various accusations haunted him, though, all the way from the bar back up to his hotel room. Of course justice and the law were… well, they were related, of course. But had he been wrong about Cobb? Had he been racist? Oh, no, no, not that, surely. Not that. He was certain of Douglass Cobb’s guilt.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt?
They had had a hand in the legislation, of course, but that was democracy, wasn’t it? It wasn’t the part that got talked about in the media, at least not in that context, it wasn’t popular, but it made sense for the companies that produce, that manufacture the things that we need, to have a hand in policy. Think how much they had given to society! How much they knew about their own business, for that matter. These were the people who knew best. By the time he arrived back at his hotel room, he felt a bit better.
He turned on the light, let out a deep sigh, walked into the room and saw a different young woman pointing a gun at his chest. It took him a moment to place her. The girlfriend?
“I guess you probably thought you’d outlive him, didn’t you?” she said.
Judge Mengen swallowed, not sure what to respond, but confident that in the long run, given the long arm of the law, justice would be served.