Chapter 18

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The entire BlackJacks club had shown up to the courthouse, in home team uniform. Travis was sitting up with Neptune's billet family, and Harv was on the other side, both with squared, tense shoulders and locked jaws. Beside Harv was another man, looking infinitely more expensive, and much more relaxed.

"That must be Gordon." Gretchen whispered, reading his mind.

Josh and Gretchen stood near the back, taking the scene in, once they had made it through security and briefed on the rules. It had been a full fifteen minutes to get through the detectors and wands. Apparently Gretchen had metal in her bra, and the wand had shrieked loudly. She had to let the female guard frisk her. Her face had made Josh laugh. Then he got frisked by a very large, very sweaty male guard and he stopped laughing.

This was a frigging circus.

Part of it was the activity around them. The craziness of a court in Las Vegas was not lost on him as women in not-much clothing, people who were obviously coming down from a high, and the sheer amount of young black or hispanic men awaiting their turn in front of the judge was shocking. The smell of cigarettes and sweat permeated the room, and he could not see Neptune in the plaintiff's holding area. A few harried lawyers and officials were sorting papers at the front of the room, the judge looking as if he'd just swallowed a lemon.

"Lot's of support for Neptune." she whispered. "Where do you want to sit?"

He ran a thumb over their joined hands, wishing he were anywhere else but there. Ric waved at him, gesturing to an empty spot. They made their way through the crowded room to the polished wood benches. Josh felt like he was on some sort of crime drama tv show set, the way the dark wood and white plastered walls echoed the noise from the activity around them.

"Ric! How is your new baby?" Gretchen asked. She remembered that? Wow. He'd, much to his embarrassment, forgotten.

"She is wonderful. We named her Evangeline. She's almost a month old now!" he said, beaming. He pulled out his phone, and as Josh waved to Harv and Travis, Gretchen oohed over pictures of Ric's newborn.

"Congrats, man." he said, and punched Ric's shoulder.

"You next, bro." Ric teased, and wiggled his eyebrows at Gretchen.

Josh pretended to look shocked, but in reality the statement had not made him silently freak out like it would have before. Babies. Marriage. No longer an impossible thought for him as he looked at the woman beside him, making his entire world make sense. She was a touchstone to a life he wanted. One with her. He cleared his throat as Gretchen giggled.

He pinched her playfully, and several of the players waved and said hello to her and Josh as they settled to await Neptune's turn. Everyone was on edge. Josh was hopeful that things would go well for Neptune and they could take him out of here today.

They sat through a few arraignments, some of them quick and to the point, some more drawn out. Most were guilty pleas, repeat offenders, some were fines and releases. Groups of plaintiffs were led out, and the next group was shuffled in. It was a conveyor belt of desperation and hardship. People brought low, people who hadn't been able to figure life out.

Not what anyone here would have envisioned for Neptune.

He felt the intake of breath around him, and knew Neptune was in the room. Everyone on the BlackJacks bench was rigid as he sat with a bunch of young black men, chained together. His hair was springing in every direction. He was wearing a grey jumpsuit and he looked exhausted. He had a black eye, and looked utterly exhausted.

"Shit." Josh swore under his breath. Harv and the lawyer were deep in conversation, and he watched Neptune's billet mother stand up, then get pulled down by her husband, her hands on her mouth. Felicia, who had been hiding with the team, let out a "Lord Jesus help" in her unmistakable midwestern accent and stood as well. She spied Gretchen and she scooted over to sit beside her, shooing Ric out of the way. Ric chuckled and moved over beside Josh.

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