Updated: Apr 14, 2021
What if Wendell Winkle's girlfriend set him up as the fall guy? He must decide if her love for him is real and if he should risk all for her.
On the day of his trial, Wendell Winkle did not dress up in his nicest clothes, or shave, or comb his hair. He used taxi money from his mother to buy a six-pack of beer and drank two cans on the bus before arriving at municipal court. Three months had passed since the sensational robbery at the National Museum of Cats, and for simply not being in the right place at the right time, the District Attorney had charged Wendell as an accomplice.
Located outside Lucky Lee’s Noodle House, the courthouse resembled an old-timey telephone booth. Wendell hoped his girlfriend, Helen, would be there waiting for him. She’d said to be patient, to trust her, that she’d come back for him. Then, she’d driven off into the sunset with her macho half-brother Al, a hairy-chested guy who wore tight leather pants and smoked Gitanes.
Wendell inserted the stub the court clerk had mailed him into the door latch. Inside the tiny room was a plastic bench attached to a beige painted wall and a recessed computer screen on the other side. A florescent light in the ceiling flickered down on a concrete floor long forsaken of a mop. His gym locker had smelled better.
When he sat down, the door locked. The computer screen turned on, displaying the emblem of the court: a top banner, Empire Judicial System, and below it, a set of antique scales, a plate of apples on one side and oranges balanced on the other, and under this another banner, Let The Statistics Decide.
A computer voice asked Wendell to verify his name and date of birth and the case number on the stub. Next, he was introduced to his judge, Ann Oakley, a kind looking, elderly woman who looked a little like his grandmother.
Judge Granny walked him through the standard disclosures, how the proceedings would go, his rights and such. Next, he was shown his case summary complied by a computer program called Greater Legal Analytics—or commonly referred to as Good Luck Assholes. GLA was loaded the facets of 500 years of criminal cases, and perpetually updated to refine its statistical accuracy. GLA’s rating of his case was posted in the upper side of the screen, a three-digit counter labeled, Probability of Guilt (POG): Currently at 075.
Wendell pushed a button labeled Attorney Consult. The screen filled with ads for legal advice. He muttered an expletive and chugged a can of beer. He needed a POG of 50% or below to be declared innocent. How could he have been so stupid to trust her? He wasn’t supposed to contact Helen—but he sent a text anyway: Hey. Where are you. It’s not looking good here.
A message from the carrier came right back: Undelivered.
He wasn’t a crook—he was a fool.
Wendell pushed the Return to Trial button.
“Mr. Winkle,” the judge said, when you made your rounds at work, you used a key to clock in at checkpoints—and according to your employer’s logs, prior to the night of the robbery, only once before had you missed making a checkpoint on time—and that was on your very first shift. A common rookie mistake. However, the next time you missed a checkpoint happened to be at just the opportune time in which you would have caught the robbers. This is far beyond coincidental.
You did it purposely to assist in this crime.”
“I had my wisdom teeth pulled the day of the robbery and the pain medicine I took made me sluggish and put me behind schedule.” Wendell held the prescription up to the camera.
The screen froze again. He thought about drinking another beer—but he already needed to go to the bathroom. He tried texting Helen again. On a dark lonely night she’d strolled into his regular hangout at Kilowatt. Like an exotic black panther, dressed in tight leather pants and loose cashmere sweater, she wore a band of burgundy eye shadow applied like a mask, pink lemonade hair cropped at the shoulders, a white lipstick smirk. She’d sat down on his lap and said she was claiming him. He’d replied that she could have him for a kiss.
“I’ll allow this evidence,” the judge said when she came back on.
The counter dipped to 65.
“Anything else to say, Mr. Winkle?”
Wendell questioned the accuracy of GLA’s simulations and its overall reliability—and immediately shown a current health certificate from the Institute of Artificial Intelligence Standards. He had nothing else for his defense except maybe pleading insanity and that love made him do it.
The screen then filled with an image of a gaming wheel: ten pie-slice segments, five with pictures of apples and five with oranges.
“Mr. Winkle,” the judge said offscreen, “to override your POG score, the law states you must win at least six spins out of ten.” The wheel turned to where the flapper pointed at a slice with apples. “Apples you’re innocent, oranges you’re guilty. You win the game, the door opens, you go free. You lose, you go immediately to jail and begin serving the maximum penalty—25 years. You have five minutes to play. After that the computer will spin for you.”
A timer appeared at the bottom of the screen.
“Please. There’s got to be something else.”
A button flashed on the screen: Make a Deal.
He pushed it.
“I’ll give you an extra spin for every accomplice you identify,” the judge replied.
Wendell slumped with his back against the wall. After dating Helen for only a month, out the blue, she’d said she loved him. Even if he wasn’t 100% sure he believed her, there wasn’t any doubt about his feelings for her.
He pushed the, Spin Wheel, button.
“Twenty-five-years,” the judge teased. “That’s a long time.”
It was 50 times the six months he’d been with Helen. He’d had girlfriends before, but he wasn’t exactly a ladies man. It wasn’t that he was bad looking, he just didn’t have much to offer besides himself. Helen told him she liked men with potential.
He spun again.
“Your POG may be high because someone else already fingered you. Have you thought of that, Mr. Winkle?”
The judge was bluffing. Helen would never do that.
He spun oranges again.
“One name and I’ll reduce your sentence to five years.”
Wendell had read in one of his men’s magazines that statistics showed most relationships didn’t last more than a year—but couples had a better chance when they shared common interests and were financially secure. He and Helen liked the same things, dogs and horror movies, having money to burn. . .
He spun again and after nine spins, he was up 5 to 4. He needed Apples one more time.
“I like you, Mr. Winkle,” Judge Granny said, “you’re a good guy who I think just got played. Last offer. One name and you walk out of here free.”
If he lost, he’d be forty-nine by the time he got out of prison, not old, but the good years of his life spent. Helen would always be young in his memories. When he closed his eyes, he could see them together, the dream they shared, a white sand beach, sparkling blue ocean, making love under a warm sun, not a worry in the world.
When he opened his eyes the timer was down to fifteen seconds. What did he really know about Helen? He didn’t even have a picture of her, had never been to her apartment for that matter—on the Westside, she’d said—lived with her mother. Her last name, Troy. To him, she was a goddess. Had she played him like a foolish mortal? He clenched his fists and rested them against his forehead. Love posed such a great risk—but what was more worthwhile to chance?
He pushed the button and the dial began to spin.
The screen went dark. The door opened.
Outside, a motorcycle cop was waiting for him.
“But. I won,” he complained.
“You did. But if you’d lost, I’d still be here.”
She flipped up her helmet visor. That devilish smile. Those angel eyes. The wonderfully strange girl behind them.
Wendell didn’t think he’d ever see her again. He kissed her and said, “I love you.”
“Yeah, but with love, you’re either all in or you’re out.” She nodded toward the booth. Al kneeled next to the side removing a box of plastic explosives, and with a cigarette hanging from his lips, managed a smile.
“You were going to blow me up? Where’s the trust?”
Helen shrugged. “You had to earn it.”
He straddled the seat and put his arms around her waist. “Damn glad I didn’t make that deal.”
She patted his leg. “Me too.”
Wendell held on tight as Helen turned the motorcycle onto the street and sped off.
By Danny Joe Robb
After a career as a professional engineer and Air Force Reserve colonel, Danny graduated from retirement to become a student of the literary arts. He earned a Certificate in Fiction Writing from UCLA in 2020, and his first fiction publication, On the Matter of Luck, was recently published by decomp magazine. Danny’s best achievement is winning the heart of a wonderful woman. Mary and he reside in Whidbey Island, Washington with their spoiled dog, Ichiro.