A/N (and shameless self-promotion/spoiler alert): These scenes were originally written as flashbacks for a not-yet published, multi-chapter “Deeks, M”-inspired story that takes place during his days as a public defender. It’s called “What’s Past is Prologue” and will begin posting this Friday on fanfiction.net under anonkp.
The Camaro’s tires squealed in protest as Ray barely slowed exiting the 101 Freeway and turning onto Coldwater Canyon. Fourteen-year-old Marty couldn’t help but laugh as his older friend downshifted and began climbing up into the hills. The term ‘joyride’ was apt, as both boys savored their newfound independence in a “borrowed” vehicle with 275 horsepower.
“Now this is what I’m talkin’ about,” Marty said. “The freedom of the open road.”
“I don’t know how open it is,” laughed Ray as he slowed behind some other vehicles, “But it’s gonna take us to the promised land – the Hollywood Hills – where we can see how all the stars live.”
The Santa Monica Mountains had been a constant in their lives, always visible in the distance unless the smog got really heavy, yet they’d represented something seemingly untouchable from their rough Valley streets. In the hills, the wealthy lived lives free from the kinds of struggles Marty and Ray experienced every day.
Marty asked, “Are we gonna look up your would-be girlfriends Michelle Pfeiffer and Sharon Stone? Or can we find Helena Christensen so I can tell her how beautiful I think she is?”
“Hah! You and your brunettes, Marty,” Ray responded. “I don’t see why we can’t find ‘em all.”
He peeled out into the oncoming traffic lane to pass the slower cars and then picked up speed as he pulled back into their lane and began aggressively tackling the road’s relentless curves. As they crested the hill and passed across Mulholland Drive, the unmistakable chirp of a police vehicle sounded and Marty turned to see a cruiser pulling up behind them, its lights flashing.
“I think Helena is gonna have to wait,” he told his friend with a long exhale as reality hit home. Ray slowed but didn’t pull over and Marty told his friend, “Dude, you gotta stop. We can’t outrun the cops, as much as I wanna keep on going.”
Ray sighed, slowing the vehicle and telling Marty, “You’re right. Sorry, buddy.”
. . .
As they sat handcuffed in the backseat of the police car on their way back down to the real world in the Valley, Marty played along with Ray’s bravado, trying to make his older friend proud. He laughed at Ray’s jokes and even made a few of his own, all while the awful feeling of dread that had worked its way into the pit of his stomach continued to grow as they neared the bottom of the hill.
Soon after the cops delivered them to the busy little North Hollywood police station, they’d separated the two boys. Marty was alone now, and though he tried to play the tough guy, his rapid breathing and rigid body language gave away his growing anxiety. The cops who handled his booking didn’t say much, their apparent boredom a huge contrast to his teeming emotions. They took his mugshot and fingerprints and deposited him in a small office whose interior windows looked out into the larger precinct space.
As he sat waiting to find out what would happen next, he watched some genuinely scary looking men with hard faces and hard bodies being processed through the system. Would he be locked up with them once the cops were done with him here? What would happen to his scrawny self if he were imprisoned with those scary men? Could he, god forbid, eventually cross paths with his father? His heart pounded and he worked at taking deep breaths to keep himself calm.
At one point he noticed a resigned looking older man with grey hair sitting handcuffed to a bench. Marty supposed he’d been through this process many times before. When the man was pulled to his feet and marched past the office, they briefly made eye contact. In a few seconds, the man silently communicated not judgment, or anger. Just a sense of fate. Marty realized he’d always imagined he’d end up here, exactly like the man passing by. Exactly like his father. It was inevitable, really. His father had always told him he’d never amount to anything. He was finally fulfilling his destiny.
Yet he could also hear his mother’s voice echoing in his head, telling him about his potential, just as some of his teachers had done. Such words had never managed to embed themselves in his mind for long, always rooted out by his father’s biting assessments that blamed him for everything that went wrong. Marty had always made life harder for his family. He’d shot his own father for god’s sake, and had sent that same father to prison. How could he ever be expected to excel at anything except getting into more trouble? It was apparently one of the few things he was good at. He couldn’t envision an alternate future for himself, no matter how hard his mom tried to convince him it existed.
. . .
A few weeks later, Marty and his mother sat in a small, windowless conference room at the Van Nuys Public Defender’s Office, ironically only a few miles away from where the cops had pulled him and Ray over. They’d released him into his mother’s custody pending a hearing before a juvenile court magistrate and had assigned him a public defender, with whom they’d come to meet.
As they waited, his mother chided him, saying, “Martin, why do you have to be such a magnet for trouble? They want to send you to juvenile hall, or maybe even to actual prison for grand theft auto!”
Marty couldn’t help but roll his eyes at his mother’s melodramatic tirade, telling her, “Grand theft auto? Really, Mom?”
She sighed, shaking her head before continuing, saying, “What am I going to do with you? And really, I don’t know what I’ll do without you, sweetie… My god, I can’t bear to think of you locked up with hardened criminals. I’ve told you over and over that that Ray Martindale is a terrible influence. When are you going to understand that? You have so much potential, if only you’d apply yourself and stay away from troublemakers like Ray.”
He reacted instantly to his mom’s disparaging words about Ray, telling her, “Mom, you don’t know anything about Ray. He looks out for me. He’s a great friend, my best friend.”
As his mother continued to carry on about his poor judgment, he began debating whether to get up and run out the door to escape her anxiety and frustration, and to avoid facing the consequences of his actions. Before he could decide to flee, a tall, thin man wearing a disheveled suit entered carrying a few files. His wavy grey-flecked brown hair was nearly as long as Marty’s had become. He used a cane, his left leg looking weaker than his right. But the thing that stood out most was his tie. He wore the most hideous tie Marty had ever seen: a full-on tie-dye of bright turquoise and purple spirals.
“Good morning,” he said with a warm smile and curious eyes that sat behind rounded tortoiseshell glasses. “I’m Joseph Bradley, your attorney. But you can call me Joe.”
Marty eyed the man suspiciously as his mother sprang up to shake his hand. He sure didn’t look too professional, what with the scraggly hair and crazy tie. Marty sighed, convinced more than ever he was going to prison. His mother looked back at him with her eyes wide, gesturing for him to stand and greet the man who had come to help them, so he did.
They took their seats at the table and his mother rambled on about how grateful she was for Bradley’s – Joe’s – help. She explained how misunderstood Marty was, how much potential he had, and how the whole Camaro debacle was merely one huge mistake. Joe listened patiently but spent most of the time observing Marty. At first Marty stared back with his arms crossed and jaw set, but he soon found it easier to look away, willing his body to transport him somewhere – anywhere – else.
During a pause in his mom’s ramblings, Joe interjected, “Thank you Roberta, for sharing this information with me. Do you mind if I ask Marty some questions about what happened?”
“Not at all,” she replied.
Marty glared up at Bradley and sullenly waited for him to begin cross-examining him, waited for his true identity as a criminal to become obvious. Once this do-gooder understood his real character, the man’s friendly demeanor would no doubt change.
“Marty, do you have any questions for me before we get into some of the details about your case?”
Marty’s eyebrows rose at the unexpected question. A smart remark about the man’s attire perched on the tip of his tongue, but he managed to refrain from sharing it, if only to avoid an even more agitated mother. Instead he gave a one-word “Nope,” popping the “p”.
Joe nodded calmly, then opened his file and asked him to recount the circumstances surrounding the car theft. It was slow going since Marty refused to elaborate on anything, preferring to keep his answers as short as possible. Surprisingly, Joe never lost patience or spoke in a remotely judgmental way. His apparent ease with helping someone like him threw Marty off-balance. He’d expected the resigned apathy he’d seen with the cops, not this openness, this kindness.
After they’d worked their way through most of the events in question, Marty couldn’t stop himself from blurting out, “Why do you do this?” Joe tilted his head and raised his eyebrows in question, and Marty elaborated, saying, “Why do you defend criminals for a living?”
“Is that how you see yourself? As a criminal?” he replied.
Marty shrugged his shoulders. “It’s the truth, isn’t it?”
Joe smiled sadly and set down his pen. He leaned back in his chair and told him, “I wouldn’t say that exactly. As to why I do what I do, I’ll have you know that public defenders are the rebels of the legal profession. You see, everyone deserves an attorney, Marty. Lots of people get arrested because the cops make a mistake, or worse, because the cops just don’t care about getting things right. I bet you even know some of those people. We public defenders fight to make sure those people’s rights are respected, even when the whole system seems out to do them in.”
Joe wasn’t wrong about bad cops doing bad things. Marty had seen Ray and their friends harassed – and worse – even when they didn’t deserve it. But he wasn’t about to open up about those experiences.
He remained silent as Joe continued, telling him, “And you know what? Even those people who do break the law still deserve to have their rights respected… Plus, people make mistakes. They usually deserve second chances. Take you for example.” Marty took in a sharp breath, bracing himself for how Joe would judge him. “You did a bone-headed thing, for sure. Really stupid. But that doesn’t mean you are bone-headed or stupid. You just made a mistake. Don’t you think you deserve a second chance?”
Marty’s thoughts spun. What could he possibly say in reply? The idea of going to jail made him sick to his stomach, but eventually it would happen one way or another, no matter what this particular hippy attorney did for him. He shrugged.
Joe nodded like he understood everything Marty was thinking. He asked, “Do you want to go to Juvenile Hall?”
“What do you imagine will happen if you get off this time, if you don’t have to go there?”
“What do you mean?” asked Marty, brows knitted together, unable to follow where Joe was trying to lead the conversation.
“I mean, what does your future entail? Where do you see yourself in three or four years, when you’re done with school?”
“I don’t know,” Marty hedged.
“Well then I’m going to give you an assignment. Before we meet again, I want you to have a better answer to that question. It can be a positive answer or a negative one. It just has to be honest. Will you do that for me?”
This annoying man had gotten under his skin by accepting Marty as a person worth fighting for, and even more by the way his questions hit so close to his own doubts and insecurities. Still, he didn’t have a good reason to decline the request so he simply nodded in reply, with no real idea about the answer he might eventually provide.
. . .
The second time Marty and his mother met with Joe, it was to review his planned testimony a few days before his hearing. At one point Roberta excused herself to use the bathroom and get some coffee at the small shop in the building’s lobby, and Joe used her absence as an opportunity to follow up on their previous conversation. He moved his file aside and asked, “So do you have an answer for me? About the question I asked you last time?”
Since their first meeting, Marty had given the question of his future, of where he saw himself in a few years’ time, considerable thought. It had unnerved him because it forced him to confront the contrast between his dreams and his expectations. They were two very different things, and the chasm between them made him feel like a failure. As much as he wanted to blow Joe off and offer a trite and safe response, looking into the man’s earnest face pulled the truth right out of him.
Marty blew out a breath and said, “Honestly? I’d like to tell you I’m gonna be a big success, but I think we both know the odds are against that, and I’m way more likely to end up back here again.”
Joe’s open expression didn’t change, and he asked, “Why do you think that is?”
Because I shot my dad and being a violent criminal is in my DNA, Marty thought. He struggled to word a less-revealing response. He shrugged, looking down before finally saying, “I’ve done other bad things before. Maybe it’s just in my nature.”
He peered out from behind his long blond hair, holding his breath to see if Joe would confirm his own worst fears. The man shook his head and replied, “No, Marty, you’re wrong. I think that’s your father talking… Yeah, I looked at your file, which includes everything that happened with him, and I don’t see a single bad thing that you did. He was the bad guy, Marty, not you. You saved your mom’s life. You were incredibly brave… And you might think you’re your dad’s son, that you inherited his terrible qualities, but genes don’t make a man. You might have inherited his eyes or his hair, but his meanness? That was something he learned, probably from having shitty parents himself. You aren’t destined to become a bad guy, you know? I sure don’t see any indication that you are one now, even after everything he put you through.”
Joe paused and Marty looked away, blinking back tears. The man was nothing if not sincere as he’d confidently stated that Marty wasn’t like his father. God, could he be right? Was there any chance? The very idea filled him with a profound sense of yearning, even as it went against the fundamental truths his father had drilled into him, and which the shooting had only reinforced.
“Let me ask you something else,” Joe continued. “When you were thinking about where you’d be in a few years, did you have another answer, one that you wished would be your future even though you didn’t see it as a real possibility?”
Marty took a deep breath. He couldn’t look Joe in the eye and focused instead on that day’s hideous psychedelic tie before replying.
“Yeah. I pictured myself going to college, and getting a good job doing something to help people, people like my mom… Unless I became a professional surfer,” he couldn’t help but add with a smirk.
Joe laughed heartily, encouraging Marty to make eye contact. “OK, that’s a much better plan. I don’t know how realistic the professional surfer idea is, but college? That’s very doable.”
“It doesn’t feel doable.”
“What’s standing in your way? You have good grades, even without putting a lot of apparent effort into your schoolwork.”
“Yeah but how would I pay for it? I should be getting jobs now just to help support my mom.”
“You gotta look at college as an investment in the future, right? Your mom is getting by now without your help. Getting a degree and a good job would allow you to support her even more… You know I actually did my first two years at a community college while I worked part-time. Then I transferred to UCLA to get my degree… You know the most important part of getting yourself to college?”
Marty shook his head and waited for the answer. Joe told him, “You just have to decide to make it happen. You just have to assume you can do it and figure out the little steps to getting there. It’s not rocket science, it’s elbow grease plus believing it’s possible. If you decide you can, then you can. You just have to take your fate into your own two hands and be the man of action who makes it happen. You can determine the kind of person you want to be, Marty, and you can decide the type of life you want to have.”
He only had a few moments to ponder Joe’s advice before his mother came bustling back in and they continued their preparations, but those words bounced around in his head for a long time afterward. Was his destiny already determined? Or did he have the ability to rewrite it? Maybe he could make a better life for himself after all.
A/N: Many thanks to Lindy AKA Sweet Lu for her edits and suggestions.