courtroom gavel
3RD PLACE || 2020


by Ellie Hodges


Donald stared with dull eyes at the inscription on the wall. He looked down from the inscription and through an open door at a man was sitting in a plastic chair. His sunken eyes glared fiercely at the back of the squat judge, and his hands rubbed at the chains attaching to the back of his chair. His dark hair was unkempt, his clothes rumpled.

“He looks awful, doesn’t he, Donald?”

Donald started slightly, looking up.

“What did you say, Laura?”

“Just that Ralph looks awful, doesn’t he? I still don’t feel as if this could really be happening.” Her voice trembled. “Everyone’s saying Ralph killed his boss, Trapper.”

She let her words trail off as she looked back down into her lap. Donald glanced at Ralph, then at what Laura held in her hands—an old, faded photograph of two boys leaning on a fence making silly faces, laughing at the camera. Ralph and Donald.

Laura sighed.

“He was such an adorable kid.”

Donald raised his head.

“You should go get lunch, Laura.” There was a catch in his voice. “There is paperwork I need to sign for ownership of the bank.”

“Oh,” she said, her eyes widening. “I never thought that you would oversee the bank.”

“Yes.” Donald’s voice was bitter. “Pretty nice for me, getting promoted right after getting back from Africa. The only thing is, I came back to find the head manager and the junior manager killed.”

Laura looked at him sympathetically. “I know. I wish you luck with the bank. Half the people there don’t even know you, do they?”

“Thanks, Laura,” Donald said. “Yes, you’re right. It’ll be a nasty shock for the unfortunates who thought they were in line. The people there barely know me, despite my abundant knowledge of who they are. I’d better be going. See you after lunch.”

He picked up his briefcase and went out, following a narrow, cracked sidewalk to his office a block over. Laura nodded and walked out of the deserted courtroom.

A battle was raging in Donald’s head. Should he tell about the threats on Ralph’s life? Should he tell about the blackmail, the framing of Ralph, and the plot to gain control of the bank? Donald collapsed in his swivel chair and leaned his elbows on his desk, staring intently at the chip in the smooth mahogany.

No, he couldn’t. If he told anyone, they would kill him.

Half an hour later, walking out of the back door into the blazing sunlight, he heard a commotion. A crowd of people were streaming into the courthouse. What was going on? He burst into the room. Laura came running up to him, tears streaming down her face. “Donald, oh Donald, what will become of us? Ralph’s been killed!”

Donald reeled away from her, shock bursting over him. Laura spoke, her face crumpled and folded into lines of sorrow.

“There were two men, they think. They snuck in when everyone was out for lunch and..”

Laura couldn’t finish.

“Why.” Donald’s voice sounded strange in his ears. “Why didn’t the judge hear?”

“He thought he heard something on the roof, so he went up to check it out, but when he came back, Ralph was dead.”

Donald’s breath was coming in short, uneven bursts. This was his fault, his fault that Ralph had been mixed up this whole business in the first place, his fault that Ralph was dead. How could he ever live? Why had he left the courtroom? What sort of man was he? Why hadn’t he told the judge that there were men who wanted to kill him, men who would stop at nothing.

And Ralph, his best friend since school, the one he had always turned to for help, was now gone because of him!

Donald turned and rushed out. He ran away from the pain, sorrow, and overwhelming regret, his heart pounding so fast he thought it would burst out of chest, tears streaming down his face and flying into the wind. He raced towards the bank and made a decision.

He plunged into the front door of the bank and skidded to the door of the vault. He had been right! It was open. He eased in, snatched two guns on a table. The men in front of him spun around.

“Hands up,” Donald said. His voice was dangerously low. He slowly took a walkie talkie out of his pocket. “I have the murderers. Yes, I know. At the bank. Come immediately.”

Three weeks later, everything was sorted out. The men had been found to have framed Ralph after killing Tanner, to get the money, and then they killed Ralph under the impression that the bank would be theirs after his death. Going through the papers in the judges’ office told them that Donald was the one in line for the managership, so they had hurried to the bank to steal as much as they could. The two men were put in jail, and Donald was hailed a hero. The law in the small town of Harrisville was upheld.

Ellie is thirteen years old and has four younger siblings. She loves to read and write and wants to be an author someday.