Title: Nick's Alternate Reality (1/1)
Date Written: 8/19/02
Author: JanetD
Rating: PG-13 (strong language)
Summary: This is a what if story. What if Nick had not been able to reach a plea bargain with the D.A.'s office back when he was busted for drugs, and instead of kindly, family-friend Judge Stanton, he had drawn Judge Handley to hear his case? What would have happened then? Hmmmm?
Author's Notes: 1) I had been unable to add new stories to fanfiction.net since the big upgrade in Feb (pages would never load, and I chalked it up to my old version of Netscape not being compatible with the changes). I happened to try it again this morning, and was pleasantly surprised to see that everything was working for me again. 2) Thanks to Goldie for her assistance on this one.
2) CAUTION: When tested, this story sent the Nick Angst Meter into the red zone. You have been appropriately warned. ;-)
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. The characters in this story are borrowed from the TV show "The Guardian". No money is being made from this story. Any resemblance of a character in this story to any real person living or dead is purely coincidental. Likewise, any resemblance between an organization depicted in this story and any such actual organization is purely coincidental.


Tuesday, August 21st, 2001

Inside courtroom 9 of the Allegheny County Courthouse, the soft murmur of voices could be heard. Although the attorneys and the defendant could be seen at their places, the judge had not yet made his appearance to call the court to order. Several spectators were seated in small clusters in the gallery. A few were concerned with the case at hand, but others were just idle curiosity-seekers. It didn't take long for the uninitiated to learn that people like that could be found in every courthouse.

At the front of the room, Nicholas Fallin was seated at the defense table, his attorney at his side. He was dressed in a black Armani suit, white shirt, and blue tie. His dark-blonde hair was cut short on the sides, but left long enough on top that the natural curl was clearly visible. The fingers of Nick's left hand drummed nervously on the table, while his right index finger rested on his upper lip. Nick's eyes kept darting to the door where he knew the judge would enter. That should be any time now. Robert Colden, Nick's attorney, was dressed in a conservative gray suit. He leaned over, and whispered something in his client's ear. Nick glanced back at his father who was seated almost directly behind him in the first row of the gallery. Burton Fallin, founder and managing partner of Fallin and Associates, attempted to smile encouragingly at his son. But after Nick turned back around, Burton's face fell once more. He knew that Judge Handley was not known for his leniency. It was really a crap shoot as to what he would mete out as a sentence for Nick's conviction on misdemeanor possession of ten grams of cocaine.

The D.A.'s office had first intended to charge Nick with felony possession with intent to sell. Unbeknownst to his son, Burton had made a deal with State Senator Nathan Caldwell to have him use his influence with the D.A. to get the charges reduced to a misdemeanor. In exchange for his assistance, Burton had promised Caldwell an eventual partnership with Fallin and Associates. Unfortunately, despite the charge being reduced, the D.A.'s office had refused to offer a plea bargain that did not include jail time. So Nick had finally decided to take his chances with a trial and the judge. The trial had been two weeks before. It had taken less than a day, and the jury had quickly returned a verdict of . Nick's attorney had requested that his client continue to remain free on bail until the sentencing hearing, and the judge had agreed. Now they were just waiting to hear what sentence the judge would hand down.

The door to the judge's chambers opened, and Judge Francis Handley came through the door. He was a man of middle years, with gray just beginning to show in his closely-trimmed hair. He strode to the bench in a no-nonsense fashion, and the bailiff called out, All rise for the honorable Judge Francis Handley. Nick, Colden, and the prosecutor, Herb Connelly, quickly rose to their feet, followed more slowly by those in the gallery. The judge took his chair, and said, Be seated. As the rustling subsided, he turned to the the court officer, and asked, Why are we here?

Your honor, this is the sentencing hearing for Nicholas David Fallin. Mr. Fallin was convicted on August 13th of this year on a misdemeanor charge of possession of ten grams of cocaine.

The judge nodded his head, and looked solemn. Mr. Fallin, please rise. Nick and his attorney stood up. Mr. Fallin, do you have anything to say to this court before I pronounce sentence?

Nick looked directly at the judge, and slowly shook his head. No, your honor.

Very well. Nicholas Fallin, you are an attorney granted the privilege of practicing law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As such, you are an officer of the court. I'm greatly disturbed that you would violate that trust by breaking the law in this manner. Coming from the background you do, I would have expected better of you.... Nicholas Fallin, I sentence you to two years in the state correctional institution at Waynesburg.

As the judge pronounced the sentence, the color swiftly left Nick's face. He looked shocked, unable to believe that the judge had actually sentenced him to prison time. This couldn't really be happening. It couldn't. All he'd done was get caught with some coke at a party in his apartment. Prison? Oh my God!

Nick's breathing became rapid and his heart rate accelerated appreciably. Robert Colden laid a hand on his arm in a reassuring manner, as the bailiff approached. Reaching Nick, the bailiff produced a pair of handcuffs, and instructed Nick to hold out his hands. He quickly snapped the handcuffs on his wrists, and said, Come with me. Nick stood, then hesitated for a second, turning to shoot a desperate glance at his father. Burton had risen when the judge had announced the sentence. It had taken all his self-control to remain silent. He had longed to call out: No, no, you can't do this, judge. This is my son! Now he met Nick's look of despair with a devastated look of his own. Father and son stared at each other wordlessly, each struck dumb by the enormity of what had just happened. All too quickly the bailiff began to pull gently on Nick's arm, indicating it was time to go. Nick began to walk with the officer, head down, shoulders bent. Burton watched silently, as tears started to fill his eyes.

----+----

Nick Fallin walked down the corridor of cell block G of the Allegheny County Jail. He was dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit, with handcuffs at his wrists. A guard walked on his right. Nick kept his eyes forward, and tried to ignore the catcalls coming from the occupants of the cells around him.

Whoo-hoo, what have we got here?!

Look at the pretty boy! Hey, pretty boy, look this way!... Hey, I'm talking to you!

The guard stopped next to an empty cell, and unlocked the door. Then he turned to Nick, and indicated that he should hold up his hands. Nick compiled, and the guard removed the handcuffs in a quick and efficient manner. Here you go, sport, he said, gesturing Nick into the cell. Nick walked inside a couple steps, and stopped, trying to take in his surroundings. He still felt numb. Less than two hours ago he had heard the judge pronounce his sentence--two years in state prison. It was difficult to wrap his mind around that, even now. He kept hoping that this was just some bad dream, just all a horrible nightmare. That any minute now he'd wake up, and realize that none of it had happened. But in his gut, Nick knew it was no dream. It was all too, too real. He was going to prison. That was the inescapable fact.

As he heard the door clang shut behind him, Nick glanced around, but didn't move from his original spot. There were two bunks hung from the wall on his left, one atop the other. A thin mattress lay on each. There was a stainless steel toilet with the seat molded directly into the metal on the far wall, and next to that, a small sink. Above the sink, a long narrow, slit of a window let in some daylight. Nick wasn't sure - they had taken his watch - but he figured it must be about 11:00 in the morning. His cell (oh, God!) must be on the east side of the jail because sunshine was streaming in the window. On the wall opposite the bunks, Nick saw two metal wire cages set on the floor. They appeared to be bolted to the wall, and had lids that opened. Nick wasn't sure at first what these were for, but glancing around to the cell behind him, he quickly realized these must be for the storage of personal possessions.

His look had caught the attention of the occupant of the opposite cell. He was a black man, about forty, with hair done in dread locks. Hey, man, he said in a friendly enough manner, What's your name? What you in here for?

Nick looked at the prisoner, but didn't speak, then turned back around. The other man made a disgusted sound, but said nothing more. Nick felt like pacing the narrow confines of the cell, but was afraid that if he started, he wouldn't be able to stop. He thought desperately that he might just go out of his mind in this place.

Walking over to the lower bunk, Nick forced himself to sit down. After a minute, he swung his legs up on the bed, and laid down, his hands coming up to cradle his head (they didn't seem to have pillows in this place). He stared down at the orange jumpsuit and the slipper-like shoes they had given him to replace his boots, and he felt sick to his stomach. God, what a mess he'd made of his life. What a fuck-up he was. God! He sank even deeper into gloom as he contemplated what his life would be like for the next two years. As Nick lay there, he felt tears welling up in his eyes. For the first time, he let himself give in to the utter despair that he had been holding at bay ever since the judge had announced his sentence. He stared up at the bunk above his head as silent tears began to trickle down the side of his face to be absorbed by the bedding below.

----+----

It was 2:00, and Burton Fallin have been waiting for fifteen minutes for them to bring his son Nicholas into the small room that served as one of the visitor areas for the county jail. He was seated at one of the two chairs that flanked the small table. He checked his watch impatiently, and then looked up as the door opened. Nick stood there, and Burton's heart fell. His son was dressed in one of those horrid orange jumpsuits, and there were handcuffs binding his wrists.

You've got fifteen minutes, the officer who had escorted Nick said. Nick stepped into the room, and walked up to the table. Not meeting his father's gaze, he awkwardly took the seat opposite him.



Dad, I don't think I can do this, Nick said in a shaken voice, still not looking at his father.

You can. You can, Nicholas. You have to.

But two years.

Burton said quickly, Bob says with good behavior you can probably be out in thirteen months.

Nick leaned forward, and put his head in his hands. God, thirteen months!

It required every ounce of will-power Burton could muster to sound positive as he replied. You'll get through it, son. Waynesburg is a minimum security prison. That means you won't be mixed in with murderers and, uh, violent felons. It'll be white collar criminals and...well...drug offenders. Burton looked chagrined at having had to make this last pronouncement. You've just got to, to take it one day at a time, Nicholas, that's all. One day at a time.... I, uhm, I don't know how often they'll let you have visitors yet. But I'm going to be there as often as it's allowed. You understand that, son?

Nick's head was still buried in his hands, but Burton saw him nod.

Burton sighed, and ran a hand across the sparse hair atop his head. Now, we need to, to talk about a few things. I hate to have to bring this up now, Nick, but Bob says they'll be transporting you to Waynesburg tomorrow afternoon, so we don't have much time.

Nick sat back up, drew in a deep breath, and looked at his dad. he said quietly.

Burton nodded. I figure the best thing, son, is for you to give me Power of Attorney. That way I can take care of things for you while you're, while you're away. Pay the bills, deal with any financial matters, that sort of thing. How does that sound?

Nick didn't answer right away. When he did, he said reluctantly, I don't know, Dad. Can't we get an accountant, or someone, to do that? I-I-I don't want you to have to be taking care of stuff like that for me.

Burton brought a hand up to his mustache, then lowered it. He spoke slowly. I suppose we could, but I'd like to do this for you, Nicholas. Let me do this for you.... Please, son.

Nick heard the emotion in his father's voice, and looked up to see Burton's eyes glistening. he said quickly, pain showing in his own eyes.

Good, good. Burton sought to regain his composure. Uhm...I'll, I'll get the Power of Attorney drawn up, and be back here tomorrow morning with a notary.

Nick nodded.

Burton continued. Okay. Now, I'll need to make your mortgage payments, and pay the utilities, things like that. Where do you keep your coupon book and your bills, Nick?

Uh, the unpaid bills are in the...the mail holder on my desk in my office. The paid bills are in the top drawer of the filing cabinet. But, Dad, my mortgage and a lot of my bills are taken out of my-my checking account automatically every month. I don't send in a check.

Burton considered this for a moment. Okay. Are there any bills that you write checks for regularly?

Uhm...my credit cards. Guess you won't have to worry about those now, Nick said with a grim smile. Despite the tone of the joke, Burton was glad to see that Nick was seeming more like himself. And the trash bill, and...I think there are one or two more.

Burton nodded. Okay.... Come to think of it, I should go ahead and cancel your trash service. And the phone...do you want me to cancel the phone service too, Nick?

Nick shrugged. I guess so.

All right. Well, I'll, uh, I'll go through your filing cabinet, and contact all the utilities and whatnot about changing the billing address to the house. Oh, that reminds me. Burton pulled a form out of his jacket pocket, and laid it on the table. Next he retrieved a pen from his jacket. They said in order for your clothes and personal effects to be released to me, you need to sign this form. He handed the document across the table to Nick, who took it, scanned down it quickly, and then took the pen from his father's hand, and signed it. Burton folded the piece of paper, and returned it to his breast pocket.

Now, son, where do you keep your financial information? Your bank statements, and that kind of thing?

In the second drawer of the filing cabinet.

And Herb Willet's still your broker, right?



Okay.... I don't know about your mail, Nicholas, whether you'll want to have that forwarded to you, or not.

Nick just nodded. There were a lot of things he hadn't really considered yet. He supposed he was glad that his dad seemed to be on top of things.

Burton briefly considered, and then dismissed, bringing up the possibility of Nick renting out his house. He doubted Nicholas would really want to do that, and it certainly wasn't something he had to think about right now, in any case.

Let's see, Burton said. What else? I'll take care of the car lease and the cell phone. Umm, I don't know yet what kind of personal items you can have with you at Waynesburg, but when I find out, I'll send you what I can. I don't know how often you can receive or make phone calls yet either, Nicholas, but I want you to promise that you'll call me as soon as they allow you to, all right? When Nick didn't answer, Burton persisted. All right, son?

At last with a slight grimace, Nick nodded. Yeah, okay.

Okay. Good.... And I'll write you, Nick. I'll write, and I...I hope you'll write me. Will you do that, Nicholas?

Nick sighed. After another long pause, he said, I'll, I'll try, Dad. But you know I was never much of a letter-writer.

Burton smiled half wryly, half sadly. No. No, neither one of us was that, were we, son?

Before they knew it, their fifteen minutes was gone, and the guard was opening the door. I'm sorry, but your time is up, he said. He waited until he saw that his announcement had been acknowledged, and then stepped back out of the room.

Nick and Burton exchanged a glance. Burton said.

Nick replied, and stood up, averting his gaze. Burton followed suit.

I'll be back tomorrow morning, Nicholas, with the Power of Attorney and the notary. Okay?

Nick refused to meet his father's eyes, but said, in a disconsolate voice.

Okay. I'll, I'll see you tomorrow, son.

Nick nodded, and turned toward the door, his cuffed hands held awkwardly in front of him. Before he could take a step, however, Burton reached out, and squeezed his left arm. It's going to be all right, Nick. You're going to get through this. You are.

Nick gave a quick nod, but didn't speak. After a few seconds, Burton released his arm, and Nick walked to the door. The guard opened it as he approached, and with a final look back at his father, Nick walked through the doorway, and out of Burton's sight.

Burton sank back into his chair. He leaned forward, placed one elbow on the table, and brought his forehead down to rest on his palm. Jesus Christ! His son was actually going to prison. It was unbelievable. Please, God, he thought after a moment. Please, God, let Nicholas be strong enough to bear this. Please.

----+----

Nick awoke to the sounds of men's voices. He glanced around disoriented, and then the reality of where he was came crashing down. He was in jail, and this afternoon, he'd be going to prison. He felt his fear reawakening, and he glanced around himself in despair. But there was nothing here to offer comfort, just a spare 8 x 6 foot cell. He laid his forearm across his eyes, and sought to shut it all out -- the cell, the noises made by other men stirring nearby, the angry sounds of voices raised in argument. Christ! If he was only anywhere else but here.

Nick had spent a restless night. It would seem he had only just gotten to sleep when he'd be brought abruptly awake by one horrible nightmare, or another. They each started out differently, but all ended the same--with him being led inexorably into this monstrous dark prison, and staring back helplessly as the giant-sized door slammed shut behind him.

Nick had refused lunch yesterday, but when dinnertime rolled around, the guard had insisted that he join the other men, and go down to cafeteria. Nick had kept to himself. And though one or two of the prisoners had tried to talk to him, when he ignored them, they had chosen to leave him alone. He had even managed to choke down a little of the meal--a hamburger patty, creamed corn, and green beans. The food wasn't as bad as he had expected it to be, though that was small comfort.

Now Nick realized that he'd have to endure two more meals like that today. And that was only the beginning of what promised to be an endless succession of such meals. Dad had said that Bob thought he could be out in thirteen months with good behavior. But even thirteen months of being locked away, of having ever facet of his life regulated, seemed like a lifetime to Nick. He didn't know if he would be able to get through it. He truly didn't. He figured that he might just lose it, might end up in one of those cells with the padded walls. The possibility terrified him.

Nick drew in a deep breath, and adjusted his position on the thin mattress. God, he could really use a good hit right now. It would banish all his fears to a distant corner of his mind. Yes, he could really use a hit.

----+----

Burton was waiting for Nick in the same visitor's room as the day before. This time, however, Tina Malfrey, a Notary Public was waiting with him. Burton had requisitioned her services from his bank the prior afternoon. There were, of course, several paralegals at Fallin and Associates that were licensed notaries, but Burton hadn't wanted to subject Nick to the embarrassment of being seen by someone he knew, not while he was in handcuffs and that jail uniform. It would be too demeaning.

In a few moments, Nick and a guard appeared at the door. Burton stood up. He waited for Nick to come fully into the room before he made the introductions.

Miss Malfrey, this is my son, Nick. Nick, this is Miss Malfrey. She's a notary from Allegheny Valley.

Nick nodded without expression.

said Burton. We might as well get the Power of Attorney taken care of first, then Miss Malfrey can be on her way.... Sit down, Nicholas.

Nick sat down in the chair that his father had just vacated. Looking at his son more closely, Burton saw that Nick had circles under his eyes. It didn't look like he'd gotten much sleep. And his hair was in disarray. All in all, he looked pretty miserable. Burton longed to ask Nick how his night had gone, and whether he was okay, but decided to wait until Miss Malfrey had left to ask those questions. Instead he picked up the Power of Attorney document that he had earlier laid on the table. Here you go, son, he said. Nick took it, and began to read through it. Burton turned to the notary. Miss Malfrey, I know you need to see some identification. He paused as he dug his wallet out of his back pocket, and removed two plastic cards. Here's my driver's license, and here's Nick's. Tina Malfrey glanced briefly at the documents, and nodded her approval.

In just a moment, Nick had finished reading the legal document, and signed his full name in the appropriate space. He passed the paper to his father, who also signed it. Then Burton handed off the document to Miss Malfrey. She signed as witness, and then imprinted the paper with the Notary Public seal. Then she recorded the particulars in her notary's book. Handing the POA back to Burton, she said, There you go, Mr. Fallin. Burton accepted the document, and quickly pulled the notary fee, plus a generous tip for the woman's trouble, out of his wallet. Thank you, Miss Malfrey, he said, pressing the money into her hand. Thank you very much.

Tina Malfrey examined the currency she had just been given, and said pleasantly, Thank you very much, Mr. Fallin. I'm glad I could be of service. Burton nodded, and escorted her the short distance to the door. The guard had remained outside, and now he let her out of the room. He closed the door again, and father and son were left alone.

Burton walked back to the table, and took the seat across from Nick. How are ya, son? he asked with concern.

Nick shrugged. I'm okay, he said, but the words lacked conviction.

How, how'd it go last night? Did you get any sleep?

Nick replied, not looking at his father.

Burton paused, and his expression grew grave. -- he swallowed hard -- Nobody messed with you did they, son?

Nick brought his head up, and looked his father in the eye. he said, without elaboration.

Well, good. Uh, they tell me the van should be taking you down to Waynesburg around 2:00.... Ohh, I found out about the visiting hours. You're allowed six weekday visits a month and, uhm, two weekend visits. So that's not too bad, is it? Nick didn't respond. You know that Waynesburg is only about forty miles from here, Nicholas, so I should...should be able to get down there a lot.

Nick nodded dispiritedly. Burton searched for some other good news to buck Nick up. And we can talk on the phone too, son. They tell me you can make a phone call once a week.



Burton was silent for a moment. Then he said, And, oh, Bob is going to be in to see you a little later today.

Nick nodded again. He had talked to his attorney briefly yesterday after his father's visit, and Bob Colden had assured him that he'd see Nick once more before he left for Waynesburg.

Burton studied Nick again. It hurt him to see his son looking so defeated. Not knowing what else to do, he spent the next several minutes trying to draw some conversation out of Nicholas. He had some brief success when he brought up the subject of Nick's open cases at F&A, but after they had exhausted that topic, the silence descended again. Eventually there came a knock on the door, and the officer who had been standing guard poked his head in the room to say that their time was up.

Nick rose, and his father did too. Burton could feel the tears welling up in his eyes, but he tried to smile as he said, Well, son...I guess this is it. He walked around to Nick's side of the table. You, uhm, you hang in there, Nicholas, all right? You're going to get through this. I promise you that, son. You're going to get through this.... And when you get out, you can pick up from where you left off. Your job will be waiting for you, and, you, uhm...you can go on with your life just as if none of this ever happened. You'll see.

Nick didn't believe it, but nodded anyway. He kept his gaze focused on the table before him. He knew if he looked at his father he'd cry, and he didn't want to cry.

Now, they won't let you have visitors for the first week, something about wanting to get you acclimated, or some such nonsense. But you call me if they'll let you. Okay, son? And I'll be up to see you next week. All right?

Nick nodded again.

Burton stared at Nick for a moment, his eyes wet, then moved forward hesitantly, and pulled his son into his arms. With his hands bound, Nick couldn't reciprocate, but he leaned into his father, and accepted the hug. Despite his best efforts, Nick felt his own eyes filling with tears. This was it. This was really it. The next time he'd see his father he'd be an inmate in a state corrections facility. Oh, God.

Burton hugged Nick tightly, and then whispered into his ear, I love you, Nicholas. Take care of yourself, you hear? I love you.

Burton felt a shudder pass through Nick's frame.

Dad, I...I..., but Nick couldn't get the words out. Me too, he said at last in a broken voice, and Burton hugged him tightly again. Nick was beginning to feel like his father was going to squeeze the breath out of him.

At last, Burton released Nick, and stepped back. He wiped carelessly at a tear running down his cheek. He could see that Nick's eye were tear-dampened too. Burton drew a deep breath. Okay, then. I'll, I'll see you soon, Nicholas.

Nick couldn't find his voice, so could only nod. With a final look at his father, he headed for the door. Burton watched silently, as the guard opened the door, and escorted Nick away.

----+----

Nick was lying on his bunk later that day when he heard the sounds of approaching footsteps. They stopped in front of his cell. Okay, Fallin, time to go, the officer said, as he unlocked the door. Nick felt his heart jump up into his mouth. He got slowly off the bed, looked at the officer, and then looked around the cell. He knew this inspection was unnecessary. There was nothing here he needed to take with him. He'd entered the cell with only the clothes on his back. But it was a natural impulse, in situations like this, to check around for something you might be forgetting.

You need to take a piss first, this is the time to do it, the guard said matter-of-factly. Nick shook his head, and walked out the door of the cell. He knew the drill now, so he held his hands out for the handcuffs. The guard clapped them on, and then indicated that Nick should start walking. As he did, the occupant of the cell opposite his (Nick knew now his name was Tyrell) called out, Good luck, man. Nick looked back at him, and nodded his thanks. Earlier in the day, he had broken his vow not to talk to any of the prisoners unless absolutely necessary. When Tyrell had attempted to engage him in conversation for the second time, Nick had given in. He felt like he was going stir-crazy in the tiny cell, and welcomed any distraction. Tyrell had told him he was here awaiting trial for armed robbery of a liquor store. It turned out that he had a long string of similar convictions. Nick told Tyrell only the most meager of facts about himself--that he was convicted for possession, that he was a lawyer, that he was headed to the minimum security prison at Waynesburg. Tyrell had nodded knowingly at this last revelation. He said he'd never been in the pen there himself, but had heard from other people that it wasn't too bad. Nick had found himself thinking cynically that not too bad was a relative term. As they talked, Nick had discovered that Tyrell seemed to be a nice guy, despite his criminal record. He supposed that maybe that gave him a little hope for his future at Waynesburg.

Now walking between the rows of cells with the guard, Nick sought to hold on to that small bit of reassurance, but he found his stomach turning flip-flops, nonetheless. After about a two minute walk, the guard led Nick into a room he'd never been in before. Another officer was present, and this man instructed Nick to hold up his arms. The officer quickly patted him down, and when he was satisfied, instructed Nick to sit down on a nearby bench. Nick listened as the two officers talked about a prisoner over in D block who'd been beaten up pretty badly by his cellmate. He'd had to be hospitalized. Apparently the two men had gotten into an argument over the ownership of a pack of cigarettes. Nick's heart sank even further as he listened to this conversation.

Upon entering the room, Nick had noticed a steel door on one end, and he thought chances were good that it led to the outside. Now there was a knock on the door. One of the guards went over, looked through the peephole, then unlocked the door, and swung it open. Another uniformed officer stood there, and Nick heard him say, The wagon's here. The first guard nodded. The man who had escorted Nick from the cellblock went over to the opposite side of the room, and took a pair of shackles down from the wall. He approached Nick, and said. Okay, Fallin, I have to put these leg shackles on you now. Just sit back, and stay still. Got it? Nick nodded, white-eyed, and the man knelt down beside him. Nick noticed that one of the other guards had moved forward during this operation, and was keeping a very close eye on him as the first guard attached the manacles. In seconds, the steel rings were around his ankles, and the guard stood back up. Okay, let's go, he said to Nick. Nick stood up slowly, realizing as he did so that his legs felt rubbery. His stomach was also tied up in knots, and he found himself hoping fervently that he would get through this without embarrassing himself. The first officer took his arm, as the other man fell in on Nick's left. Together they walked him out the door, and into the parking lot. The sun was shining brightly, and Nick found himself blinking against the harsh light. He also found walking with the shackles awkward, and was glad they were going slowly.

A paneled police van stood in the parking lot about fifteen feet away. Its back door stood open, and another officer was leaning against the door idly. As he got closer, Nick could see that there were benches lining either side of the interior of the van, and that there was a wall with a small mesh screen separating the area from the driver's compartment. The guard walked him up to the door. Then the officer who had been leaning against the van hopped up inside the rear compartment. He reached down and grabbed Nick's upper arm. With his assistance, and that of the guard who had held on to Nick on the walk from the building, Nick managed to climb into the van--not an easy operation with both his hands and feet in manacles. The officer inside guided him down to a seat on the bench. He looked carefully at Nick to see how he was holding up, and then said, Okay. We've got about a fifty minute drive to Waynesburg. I want your ass glued to this spot the whole time, you understand that?

Nick, head down, nodded, and muttered,

The guard looked at him again. he said. Then he climbed back out of the van, and shut and locked the doors. Nick felt his respiration increase and his heart beating double-time. Get hold of yourself, Nick, he said under his breath. Just get hold of yourself. He drew in a lungful of air, and let it out slowly. He did this twice, then leaned his head back against the wall, and closed his eyes. In another couple minutes, he felt the movement of the van as the driver and a second guard climbed up into the front seat. He heard the engine start, and then they were moving forward. This was it. Oh, God.

A black Cadillac sat parked on the street that ran alongside the jail's rear parking lot. Its sole occupant had gone through several cigarettes while he waited for the moment that was now at hand. Burton Fallin sat up straighter, and watched silently as the jail gates opened, and the dark blue police van pulled out. He bit his lip as he saw the vehicle carrying his son turn left out of the parking lot, and start down the road. He waited until the van was out of sight, then started the car, and headed back to the office, blinking away unshed tears.

The End