"Mr. Curtis. You have seen the evidence presented before this court. Do you wish to change you plea?"

I glanced up at the judge and I wanted to gape at him, but I didn't let the carefully placed mask of indifference slip. Of course I wasn't going to change my plea; that was the stupidest question I had ever been asked. What they really meant was:'Do you want to admit you've been lying for the last few hours? Because if you do, we'll not only make you wish you had never been born for wasting our time, but we'll also make sure that everyone knows it, too...' I may have been dumb enough to get myself into this situation, but I was dumb enough to fall into their trap. I'd told the truth so far and I was going to stick with it. I figured I was better off at this point if I stood my ground, anyways. The judge was fair from what I had heard in the holding cells, but he liked to make deals. So whatever happened would happen fairly until the sentence was handed down.

"No, Sir," I answered "I'd like to uphold my original plea of not guilty on the grounds of self defense."

"Curtis!" My lawyer hissed "Take the guilty plea while you can! The Prosecutor - yeah that guy over there - he wants to put you away for murder one. You need to take this!"

I paid him no mind. The bastard had been trying to force me into pleading guilty for days now. I knew for a fact I had been in more courtrooms than he had and I had told him flat out that I knew more about the law than he did, too. So he had pretty well given up trying to talk to me and my case was going better than it would have with him involved, anyways. I knew if I stuck to what I knew was the truth, everything would come out fine.

I touched the back of my head, feeling where the goose egg had been. The truth as I knew it was pretty damn foggy. I didn't feel like I had killed anyone, but it served that bastard right if I had. They had jumped me, after all. Five on one and I hadn't been looking for a fight. From what the doctor had told me, I got beat pretty badly before I was eventually knocked unconscious. Then they dragged me to the Fuzz and told them I was a killer. I wasn't about to let that go.

"Then this court finds the defendant, Mr. Pepsi-cola Shawn Curtis, guilty on the lesser charge of manslaughter."

I let out a low breath of air. It was the best that I could hope for.

"This court also believes that there was more than meets the eye about this case." The judge looked thoughtful "I normally wouldn't offer this to a charge like this, but I think this unique situation deserves special considerations."

The judge looked me over and I knew fairness was about to be thrown out the window.

"The US government has given me the power to offer you a bargain. You're looking at five years before a chance for parole and the way that boy's Daddy has been acting, well, I wouldn't hold my breath," the judge said and I nodded

"Your Honor, that comment was completely out of line-" The prosecutor started

"I'll allow it." He smiled to himself as the pencil necked prosecutor sat back down "As I was saying, The US government has authorized me to inform you that you are eligible to avoid jail time. All that is required of you is 13 months of service."

"Vietnam," I summed up for him "I know all about it, Sir."

I did know all about it. Tim Shepard was caught with a shit load of Marijuana and cocaine two months ago. He was offered the same bargain the Judge was taking his time with: Jail or Nam. Anyone who knows Tim knows that he took the bargain as soon as the words were out of the Judge's mouth. He hates being locked up as much as Dallas did. I didn't hate it like they did, but five years scared the hell out of me, too. If all I had to do was live rough and get shot at for just over a year, well, it would be like living with the River Kings or the Tibber Street Tigers. I could stand that, at least.

"Good. Then you'll already know that you can serve 13 months with the Marines or upwards of five years in Jail. The choice is yours, Son."

I wanted to twist my head and see what Darry, Soda and Ponyboy thought, but they hadn't come. I'd written to them a couple days ago from my cell, but they hadn't even sent word back. If I had to bet, I would have guessed that they never got it because I knew I hadn't messed up bad enough to have them abandon me. Well, not lately, anyway. That meant I was on my own. I never did well on my own.

"Don't be shy now, boy," the judge taunted and I really wanted to cuss him out.

I looked him right in the eye, not liking the little smirk on his face. I knew I was going to regret it at some point, but I opened my mouth anyways.

"I'll make you another bargain, Judge."

"Curtis!" my lawyer hissed again "Just go to jail!"

"I'm listening, Son." The Judge nodded at me to go on

"I'll serve 16 months, but only if you let me join the regular Army."

The judge leaned back in his chair looking interested. He was fingering his gabble by this time and I wondered if he thought it made him look sinister or something. It made him look like a faggot, but I wasn't about to say that to him. So I waited for his answer, looking right at him and ignoring the way my neck was burning.

"Why the Army, Son?" he sounded interested.

"Because the Marines can't fight worth shit."


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