They called her The Hanging Judge. That might have been fine in her native Texas, which had a history of hanging judges dating all the way back to the infamous Judge Roy Bean. But Delia Carson was an oddity in Brooklyn.
Delia thought the New York press, which had given her the label, was overreacting. She had pronounced the death sentence only three times since it had been restored in New York. It wasn’t her fault that happened to be twice more than any other judge. She made certain justice was served in every sentence she handed down. If she tended to be tough on criminals, it was only because they deserved it.
She was getting tired of justifying her decisions, especially to people like District Attorney Sam Dietrich. Sam should have known better than to submit a plea bargain that would virtually let a murderer go free. She had thrown it out faster than chain lightning with a link snapped
Delia had only a year’s experience as a judge in the Brooklyn Supreme Court—a trial court despite its high-sounding name—but she had made her position clear in her campaign. Tougher dealing with criminals. The maximum sentence where possible. No leniency.
One of Sam’s assistant DAs had requested an interview with her in chambers to discuss her decision. Delia had no intention of changing her mind, but she wanted Sam to know exactly where she stood, so she had agreed to see his envoy.
When her phone buzzed, she figured the ADA had finally arrived. “Is that Frank Weaver?” she asked her secretary through the intercom.
“You have a long-distance call from your sister on line two. Shesays—”
“I’m expecting Mr. Weaver any minute, Janet. Tell my sister I’ll call her back.”
“But she says—”
Delia cut off her secretary. “Let me know when Mr- Weaver gets here.”
“Not now, Janet. Tell my sister I’ll call her back.” Delia punched the button turning off the intercom. She loved her sister, but dealing with Rachel always reminded her of things she would rather forget. Delia knew she was only postponing the inevitable, but she needed her mind clear to deal with the ADA.
The intercom buzzed again. “Mr. Weaver is here,” Janet said.
Delia squared the shoulders of her black robe, brushed at her bangs, and smoothed her straight, shoulder-length black hair away from her face. “Send him in.”
She watched as Frank Weaver opened the door and entered the room without meeting her eye. Never a good sign.
“Good morning, Mr. Weaver.”
“Morning, Judge Carson.” He cleared his throat and focused his gaze on the oil painting of Texas bluebonnets that filled the wall across from him. Delia could see the attraction. The painting featured a dirt road winding through a field of bluebonnets graced with a single, majestic live oak. There was nothing visible in the distance. It was a road leading nowhere, or taking you exactly where you wanted to go-depending on how you felt at the moment. She had experienced both reactions.
She gestured to the two maroon brass-studded leather armchairs in front of her desk. “Have a seat.”
Frank perched on the edge of the chair closest to the door, set his briefcase on his lap, and opened it to remove a sheaf of papers, all without looking at her. “Judge Carson, the district attorney asked me—”
“I won’t waste your time, Mr. Weaver. The Lincoln deal won’t fly with me. You might as well open the jail door and wave Leroy Lincoln out to kill another kid. I won’t have it.
Tell the district attorney to go back and try again.”
The ADA rubbed a hand across his chin. “With all due respect, Judge Carson, if the district attorney and the public defender agree on the deal, I don’t understand your problem.”
“My problem, Mr. Weaver,” Delia Carson said in clipped tones that compressed her Texas drawl, “is putting a dangerous criminal back on the streets where he can hurt innocent people.”
Delia tossed her copy of the agreement across her desk. “We’ve been through this too many times over the past year. I don’t care if the docket gets backed up the rest of my term trying criminal cases the DA thinks ought to be settled. If Sam Dietrich wants things concluded out of court, tell him to negotiate a sentence that will let me sleep nights.”
“Don’t start, Frank,” Delia warned, rising irritably from her wooden swivel chair. She thrust an agitated hand through her hair. “And it’s judge Carson in chambers when I’m wearing this robe, even if we are alone.”
Frank stuck his papers back in his briefcase, closed it, and stood, waiting to be dismissed. He was looking at her now. She was afraid he saw too much.
She turned away from him and took a few steps to the seventh-story window that overlooked Court Street in the center of downtown Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn Supreme Court Building where Delia worked, a monument in marble and mahogany, had been built in 1958 with as much artistry and as little public acclaim as Studebaker’s Golden Hawk Coupe. Below her a statue of Christopher Columbus stood amid ice-laden, newly laid cobblestones in front of the courthouse. Come spring, the brown patches would be grass, but it looked stark and barren now.
Delia missed the mild south Texas winters. She missed—Delia caught herself before she could remember too much. It was never safe to remember.
A few hardy souls bundled up against the January cold in trench coats and wool scarves scurried like industrious ants across the plaza to the Municipal Building around the corner. ADAs heading back to the Muni Building from the Criminal Courts Building could be seen detouring through the Brooklyn Law School. It had the cleaner toilets.
Right now in south Texas, Delia thought, the earth would be warm. The live oaks that never lost their leaves would be rustling in the ever-present wind. The picture of one tree, one great old live oak with two people standing beneath it, appeared before her. Her heart began to race, and she forced away the troubling image.