She was biting her nails again, an offense against her person that would have been—like chopping her hair or eating fettuccine—unthinkable a few months ago. But Payton S. was a wreck.
She was relieved to hear the door open at precisely 8:00. Taking a big breath, she pressed her palms to her rickety desk and looked up. Relax, Pay-Pay. It can’t be as bad as you think.
It was. Standing at the front of the room was a surly block of a woman, clad in Army-green canvas. Her hair was a sallow light brown, stringy and unloved. Payton S. had never seen such a spiteful chin.
The woman turned and wrote OFFICER MORELLI on the blackboard, underlining her name three times. Then she turned back to the nervous room and spoke.
“Court. Mandated.” Morelli punctuated each word with a slap on the table in front of her. “That’s why you’re here. No one’s here to improve himself. No one’s here for the love of knowledge.” She let out a bitter laugh. “If you cared about self-improvement or knowledge, you would have taken care of this loooong ago. So we’re not going to play games here. I know and you know that you’re here for one reason.” She paused, a stubby index finger held rigid, veiny eyes panning each face. “You’re here because you got caught.”
Payton S. felt her stomach drop.