This is a piece of fiction I have always wanted to write. I have written bits
of it as plots in other stories and bits of interactive fiction. I want the whole
story from beginning to end (???) in one place. That is why
I am setting up this blog. This blog now has an archives. It is
here, but please use the navigation table. Blogs
aren't all that well suited for fiction. Live and learn.
Then get ready to for a wild ride. The place is Columbus, Georgia on the border
of Alabama and along the banks of the Chattahoochee. The time is approximately
a hundred years in the future, but it is possible to lose your way through history,
and history after all is just stories told in a way to help the teller of the tale make
whole the circle of what is happeing to them. So it is with this tale. Scroll
down and read on....
Eileen H. Kramer
To return to
Unfettered Soul's main page pleease click on the link. To return
to the main page at Tacheiru.us please click
on the link.
Chapter 29 -- A Spy in the House of Love
"I love you!" exclaims Frederick.
"If you love me, then why don't you at least appreciate the life I've lived and what I believe?"
Frederick has no answer. "Ed branch fucks are dumb even if they're book smart," he confesses. "There I said it. There comes a point where I can't lie."
No, Frederick you're honest. You're just plain wrong. "What about Gayla Maris?" I ask. Gayla is tech branch not ed branch, but she kept her slot cars. I bet hers have all their wheels and their trunks and fine original paint jobs.
Frederick makes a noise somewhere between a laugh and a cry. "Gayla is an ugly...." his words trail off. He curls his right hand into a tight fist and punches the wrinkles in the bed clothes. "You don't fucking understand....."
"And it's so goddamned simple. People want to be happy and comfortable. That's all. That's most people. That's me."
"My mother....She set this up."
"Set what up...."
"She set it up with one of the CEO's. I got my afternoons off and a bye into the Value Added program. I'm going to be planning parties and corporate entertainments, the fun stuff, for the rest of my life."
"Congratulations," I say.
"You don't understand!"
"My mother set this up."
"You told me that already."
"She said that if I went to you when you were all broken up over Peter, I could...well you would take me and we'd get engaged and married or we'd at least live together. I'd be close to you, closer than you'd let any one else be. This way the parents would know what was going on here."
I understand now, but something does not make sense. "You shouldn't have told me all that," I tell Frederick.
Frederick stares at the sheets, spent.
"What do you expect me to do now that I know?"
"I got sick of putting on a fucking show," answers Frederick.
"Will your mother take you back?" I realize I am thinking about Frederick as if he is a post initiate who needs to be placed. I put my arms around him and he pushes me away.
"You need to look after yourself, Frederick," I begin. "You sold yourself for a very cheap price." That is all the words I have. I'm not sure how I feel about Frederick. He sort of appeared, was there, and I became dependent on him. I remember the two of us standing on the River Walk, him asking what I did for fun, trying to get to know me, trying to get the job he'd been given a bit easier. It must be a very tough job.
Now I know I'll miss Frederick if he leaves me. I think about old time arranged marriages and how couples grew into each other. It could be that way between Frederick and I. I wait for Frederick to start gathering his things, to at least go down to the study to sulk if not to sleep, to go find Jimmy's bottle of rot gut and drink himself senseless or maybe he'd prefer the brandy, wine, or cordials that are in the pantry.
Frederick, however, stays where he is. Eventually we turn off the light and go to sleep. The next morning I hear Jimmy crowing in the kitchen. "Woo hoo! No school today!" I want to slap him.
"Read the fucking note," growls an angry Frederick who risks being late to work. In all things, we must keep up appearances. This is the way to be happy and comfortable.
The note says. "Went to Inner Mall 2 Supermarket on an errand. Be back before 10am. Please start your studies withot me. -- Francoise."
Technically Francoise is in violation of her bail agreement. In reality, she went to get some beef which is what Michael asked for for his party supper tonight. "And Jimmy," Frederick lays down the law. "I want you sober for tonight's party."
"Go fuck off, Freddy," Jimmy snaps back. He goes looking for breakfast food. He asks why there are no doughnuts. I explain they are gone and that bread or toast with spread of some sort is what we have. Jimmy sips black coffee and stares out the window. Jonathan reads while he eats. Michael takes his breakfast in the yard. I hear Frederick start up the big rig and wonder if he will ever be back.
I clean up from breakfast. Jimmy makes a pretense of studying. Michael goes for a walk. Francoise returns shortly after 9am and pours herself a mug of tea which she sets to steep. She unwraps a large custom butcher's bundle of beef tips. "Beef and mushrooms over rice for Michael tonight," she almost sings.
"I'm going to lose my lunch," groans Jimmy.
"You need to spend more time in a kitchen," Francoise answers. "It would do you good."
Just then Michael is at the screen door. No, it's not Michael, it is Ezra Larkin. He has white hairs cropping up in his red crew cut and the skin behind his beard and on his high cheek bones is pallid and wan. He walks slowly and stooped over like an old man. There is a cane in his left hand that is not an affectation. I let him in and give him a chair. Francoise hands him a mug of tea. He adds sugar and milk.
"It's good to see you back," I say by way of greeting.
"It's good to be back," he answers in a firm and steady voice.
"Do you think you'll be up to a dinner party this evening?" I ask.
"Shakti and I would love to come," answers Ezra.
"And what of Gayla Maris?"
"She's staying with us."
"She's also invited."
"Thankyou. I think she'll be glad to get out. We're supposed to have light exercise every day to help rebuild the nerves and muscles."
I nod. "Thankyou for not telling Germaine," Ezra continues. Ezra looks at the sponge cakes on the counter. "Those are for tonight," I say.
"Did you make them?" Ezra asks Francoise. "Kohana made them," Francoise answers. "I'm more a tutor here than a cook. Kohana is her own steward, not that a house this small has a steward."
"I understand. I was wondering," asks Ezra "whether you could make a chocolate cake for my daghter's party. We are having a small celebration for her Sunday night. She had her first trip to Nationals and that is a very big thing."
"Indeed," answers Francoise.
"Are you sure other people would eat my cooking?" she asks Ezra.
"If they have any brains they will. I know I will. Your cheese bread was excellent."
Francoise sighs. "I'm glad somebody liked it," she finally says.
"In this neighborhood and maybe the whole world," Ezra answers. "The innocent are punished while the guilty walk free."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" asks Francoise who is fast losing patience with a dumb cliche.
"It means that Laure is never going to see the inside of a court room. At some point the county attorney is going to decide there is not enough evidence to prosecute."
"What! Those welts and the doctor's report," I am gasping.
"You need eye witnesses and all the adults who worked for Laure walked. The police did not catch them. Orders from higher up."
I open the study door. "You saw the older young man," I say to Ezra. "Jimmy agreed to cooperate with the police."
"Yes, but Cara is in North Carolina and Vida went to Texas and Mara...."
"Mara is in a foster care home, " I answer. "I placed her."
Ezra licks her lips. "You need to stay around as barn boss," he says with a smile, but I don't share his satisfaction. I am thinking of last night and even before that, of attempts to place young Mara. I wonder who it was who gave those orders to the police. Then I think of Peter. Who could complain loud and long to Atlanta. Who could circulate the rumors that brought down Oona, years ago? I feel my palms grow sweaty.
"You're a powerful man," I say to Ezra.
"Sometimes," he answers.
"Who else do you have on your side?" I ask.
"It doesn't work that way. I sometimes have CEO's ears because they need Mentoring Tech, and sometimes I have their ear because I can program and wield a stick and have competent staff. If they need female employees, I'm an expert on them because I train them and keep them content.
"You know this neighborhood is a balance. The Parents Association and local mentors are one set of powers. Technical services is another. The Christians are a small and vocal faction, same for Sweeters and Goths. Then there is Mentoring Services and all its branches. Then there are the company centers and departments. No one group controls the neighborhood."
"Who would go to Atlanta and complain about a barn boss taking bribes?" I ask.
"Right now no one because the barn boss doesn't do that," answers Ezra.
"Yes, but Peter...." I say. "Someone went to State in Atlanta with evidence. They took his books before they knew he killed himself. Someone wanted to investigate."
"I have no idea who went to State," answers Ezra. "I have often wondered about that myself. Of course I wonder who tried to kill me a week ago too."
"Someone who knew your habits," I say repeating what Ezra told me in the hospital.
"That's obvious, but what of a motive? I'm not involved in placement and yes, I set up takings but....if I weren't there, someone else would be and I try to do it professionally and attractively and humanely," Ezra pulls on his beard.
We stare into space. I think of last night. I think of Frederick who in the end can not lie yet who can not realize that there is more to life than being happy and comfortable....
Wait, there is more, getting away...no company....no takings....freedom. No deal no really good placement. No working the system to have a small and workable dream, just a bit of land in Harris County and a job that pays cash under the table. Maybe people are still doing that somewhere. People are definitely doing that somewhere, but most people can't afford to leave. The company really does pay well, but the price is giving up one's children through takings.
"Do you remember the engineer named Michael who was married to Lisa?" I ask.
"What?" asks Ezra.
"It was eighteen years ago last week, at a taking in the park. We kids were watching on a rock. Michael went under the wires toward the control house...."
"Which was absolutely unsecure," answers Ezra. "That is why we like to get the store and were glad when we got it. No one wants any one to die at a taking. Jeanne killed Michael in self defense. He had a gun you know."
"I saw it in his pocket," I answer. "He was pulling it out when she killed him," I answer.
"You saw it," says Ezra.
I nod. "You can kill one Michael but there are always more," I say.
"Confused, uneducated, frightened. I think the killer may have been a parent like Michael," I say.
"You may be right," Ezra answer. "I know the next taking we do, we are going to have much tighter security."
written by ZOIDRubashov
Saturday, November 29, 2003.
Chapter 28 -- "We are precious, special, and alone!"
I can't place young Mara. The parents on the foster list refuse her. It's that simple. She insists she never laid on swats or stripes, and maybe she is telling the truth but she is sixteen and even if her hands are innocent, her eyes are guilty of having watched and done nothing. How many swat and stripe wounds did those hands expertly cover? Mara does not apologize. Maybe in the words of Benjamin Crowe, she knows that "groveling does not become her."
Mutely she suffers and tries to be helpful as the house slips into the routine that follows a take down. In the morning, Francoise tutors Frederick's two brothers, Jimmy and Jonathan. The first day, Francoise manages to get hold of some multiplication flash cards. Neither young man knows his times tables and without these fractions and decimals are impossible and without fractions, decimals, and negative integers there can be no algebra. Without algebra Jimmy can not pass his college entrance exam and without algebra, Jonathan has no hope of success at T-Acc. Yes, the standards at T-Acc are high. They should be.
I never thought of math as particularly important but if you can't think about fractions everything is always all or nothing. Fractions are shades of grey. Calculus is multiple possibilities, a world that moves, process. Math is not stories it is another tool. Do we need all the tools? I take my tools for granted. I offer tutoring to young Mara but she's not interested. I wonder if I should bother to profile her. I don't.
Instead I make plans for Michael's departure party. It's not just for him but also for the other kids going to Montana and for their parents. I let Francoise and the boys have the study in the morning and take young Mara in the kitchen to help me make a sponge cake. She is kitchen ignorant and watches me separate a dozen eggs. She winces as the white drip through my slightly splayed fingers and the yolks go into a bowl of their own. I am separating egg number nine when someone hits the buzzer of the screen door.
My office hours are not until the afternoon. I poke my face into the screen and see Bree. She steps inside gingerly. She glances at my table littered with egg shells and asks if there is anything she can do to help. She says she thinks highly of me for taking down Laure's house on Monday night. I wonder why she has waited this long to come forward. I tell her to let me think about things. Young Mara goes to put on water for tea and to rewarm the morning's coffee. We have some store bought cookies and one or two leftover doughnuts. Young Mara scrambles for a plate on which to serve the food and plates to serve the obligatory snack. Someone has trained Young Mara very well.
I separate the tenth egg and two more before clearing away the shells which make a weird table decoration. Working with my hands composes my brain. "I have something you can do," I tell Bree. "How would you like to foster a postinitiate? She's likely to have very little involvement with the court except as a witness a few months from now."
"I can do that," Bree says it without flinching. Bree smiles. It's a gentle sweet smile. She hasn't asked her husband's permission but maybe she doesn't need it. I sponge the table and explain that I'll need to run a routine background check. Bree stares at the floor.
Just then from the study comes singing....
"We are precious, special, and alone
Tumbling from our beds before the break fo dawn.
Mama don't ask us where we have gone.
It will be many hours before we come back home.
The yoke upon my back feels like a caress.
My mind belongs to school now. I will do my best.
My eye is wild. My mind is strange, don't ask me to confess.
Make me what you will today. I ask nothing less.
We are precious, special, and alone
Tumbling from our beds before the break of dawn.
Mama don't ask us where we have gone.
It will be many hours before we come back home.
Words and numbers are the colors of our dreams.
We need no cheerleaders or football teams.
Counterintuitive, life's not what it seems.
We grow pale away from the sun's beams...."
There are more verses and Francoise sings all of them. I remember her teaching me the song on the long walk to T-Acc. They did NOT sing this song at River Academy. Sebastien considered the "Scholars' Hymn" a vile anathma. "It's a song of slaves," he told me. The River Academy folks felt that way. They had us sing a very long song about the day the music died instead. It is a sad song too, and it is also very old. It makes no sense and you can give it any meaning you want, but Francoise and some of the kids at T-Acc believed you could give the Scholars' Hymn a good meaning too.
"That's a very strange song," comments Bree.
"It's an interesting one," I answer. I wait until the singing ends to open the door to the study and shoe out Francoise and the boys. "We have to go confidential," I tell them. Mara waits with the three of them in the kitchen. I run the police and employment checks. That is how I learn Bree Crowe is an initiation name rather than a birth name. That is not all that unusual, but what is unusual about Bree, the only thing unusual about her is that she was initated at age sixteen. She has no police record, not even parking tickets. She also has never been fired from any job for reason of committing a crime. "You're good to go," I chirp to Bree who breathes a loud sigh of relief.
The two lost years in Bree's life were long ago and really not my business. I am not incurious. I am grateful to Bree for agreeing to foster Young Mara. "It's a good house," I say of Bree, Allan, and little Miracle. I really owe Bree for this.
Young Mara's things are in disarray in a corner of the study. While the studying continues, she and Bree get them together. I beat the whites for the sponge cake and then the yolks. I begin folding in the flour and then the whites. By now it is time to bake the cake and Bree and Young Mara bid their goodbyes. The house is quite after that. I put away the uneaten snacks. This afternoon, I profile more former members of Laure's house.
The younger ones will have to be placed in the regular way. Those children are too young to carry any taint. Atlanta has given me extra funds to cover the expenses that go with a take down. I'm siphoning some of these off for a community center.
I have time to check finances before the first profiling and then the hard afternoon's work begins. Jonathan and Francoise sit reading. Jimmy usually naps after he gets his assignments done. Sometimes he has a cocktail or a shot or two in the middle of the afternoon if he can't sleep. I cover the computer with a blanket while he passes from the bedroom through the confidential study to the kitchen where he can drink amid the quiet of a cloistered life. Sooner or later dinner preparations start. I don't really notice.
I am profiling my third child when Frederick arrives home from work. "Can't a person make noise around here!" he bellows. "This house is like a fucking library!" I want to laugh. The mother makes uncomfortable noises. I just smile.
Only in the evening as the sky turns jewel blue are Frederick and I free to be alone to walk among the houses delivering invitations to Michael's going away party. "You have your own ideology," Frederick says. "You just claim it is the right thing. That's all," he says.
"Michael did the right thing," I answer.
"You can say that after all the suffering."
"This suffering prevents more suffering. How many wounded adults are there out there?"
"Koie, people put their childhoods behind them."
"It hurts as much to give the stripes as to get them. It hurts to tie hands."
"At least kids in Laure's house don't sing about the yoke like a caress..."
The blue sky and fading landscape reels, but only for a second. "How did you find out about the song?"
"Common knowledge. You ed branch types don't have that many secrets. So much for running away to freedom. I wonder what kind of songs they sing in Nevada?"
"It's Montana," I insist.
"The song is propaganda," I add. I know who wrote it.
"You studied it," Frederick sing-songs.
"Yes, I looked it up. Do you want to know about it?"
"I don't have a choice."
"Good cause I'll tell you. It was written by one of the first CEO's under the Company. He wrote it to sound like a slave's hymn because he did not want a lot of kids wanting to go off to college. He knew the Company would always need some educated people to teach school..."
Frederick gives a snort and I can't blame him.
"In places like T-Acc," I correct him. "and be engineers and do fancy stick work with original programming. There would have to be writers, doctors, and nurses, but only so many, so how do you offer education which has been a way to upward mobility when you don't have all that many spots at the other end....
"You make it a tainted good. You poison it. You make the kids who want to be scholars go to school in the summe time. You take away the prom and the football games and you give them a horrible song to sing, a song that becomes their song and gives outsiders poise.
"Of course people who grew up before the Company ran everything felt funny about the song. Teachers and parents complained when they heard young people sing or had to teach it to young people or else lose their jobs. There were letters about the song in the newspapers and even articles about it in magazines, also about the unfair way scholars were segregated and made to feel they were outsiders and second best. I read those. That's how I know about the song."
"Did you get an A for it?" asks Frederick.
"I think I did but fuck the grade. The problem is the song became our song. Francoise learned it as a little kid and it's a pride thing for her. She taught it to me and I know kids at T-Acc who came from schools other than River Academy who used to want to sing it in chorus. When you own something, even if it is crumby, it's yours."
Frederick shakes his head and makes a sad clucking sound. We pass his parents' house on the way back and Roxanne beckons us from the porch. She wants to talk to Frederick, to find out how he is doing in his first week on the job, to ask if things are under control as far as the young children from Harmony House [now defunct!!!] are doing. She says she is not sure if a going away party for Michael is a good idea.
"If local houses had to compete with top flight national houses, maybe there would be less abuse," I say.
"You didn't go to a national house," answers Roxanne.
"No, I joined an internal house," I remind her, "but the same goes for them."
"You've never been a parent," Roxanne sighs. "You don't know how important it is to keep a family together. It's a basic desire."
"We're not talking about placing eight year olds!" I all but scream; for it has been a long day.
"It's basic," Roxanne repeats. "Family is all a lot of people have."
Roxanne may be right. That night, lying nestled next to Frederick, I can not sleep. I think of Francoise with the multiplication flash cards teaching Jonathan and Jimmy something I learned at age eight. I bury my face in the pillow as mental pictures of beginning math instruction happen. Roxanne, your two youngest sons were not educated.... Roxanne how could you let this happen...Is keeping control so important.... I wish I had answers.
I sit up. I turn on the bed lamp and get up. "What the fuck are you doing?" asks Frederick.
I find the flash cards in the study and bring them upstairs. "I want to try something," I say.
Frederick laughs and then blinks as I set the cards on the sheets and show him the first one. He laughs and makes faces but can't multiply or remember his times tables. Did he ever know them. "It doesn't fucking matter," he answers. "I can use a calculator."
"How did you survive algebra?" I ask.
"I barely did....You're not going to like this Koie...I bought exam answers. The professor may have known half the class did it, but it was better than failing half the class. Professors have children too....They have families." I put away the flash cards and stare out the window into the blackened night.
I was a sociology major for a reason. I remember reading that the uppermost classes hire tutors for their children or send them to special private schools. A few kids like Francoise, Sebastien, and me end up with ed-branch and suffer stigma but survive with cultivated and lively minds. Then there is everyone else. They have the status but.... Without an education the world is a much more frightening place.
"Haven't you wanted to know how the world works?" I ask Frederick.
"You're going to tell me it begins with those fucking flash cards."
"That and many other things," I answer.
"Koie, I know more of how the world works than you'll ever know in a whole life time and a whole library of books."
"No," I stop him. "You just know this narrow neighborhood and how to protect yourself or think you know how to protect yourself and keep a little piece of status. Everything else...out there...Montana...Nevada....New York...the interior...scholars....you name it....is like the forest was to Medieval peasants....full of monsters...or the seas for sailors in the days they thought the world was flat. There be dragons..."
"And only dumb educated fucks know what is going on...." laughs Frederick.
"I at least knew I had choices. I had real choices. Michael had a choice."
"Michael was killed."
"That's a different Michael. I'm talking about Michael who is going to Montana."
"He's running away."
"Is it really worth it to stay. You came back, you know..."
"Maybe if we can make a generation that believes they have choices and dreams..."
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"What I want to do as barn boss."
"Most people want to be comfortable and happy."
"I thought people wanted to be left alone."
"That too...but most of the time they're just stuck so they want to be comfortable and happy. That's all....That's all there is...."
"No there's lots more."
"Only in fucking books and that's a fantasy. When you are you going to grow up, Koie?"
"Never...." I answer.
written by ZOIDRubashov
Sunday, November 16, 2003.
"Frederick," I ask. "If that's really how you feel, why are we together?"
Chapter 27 -- How Much Can You Give?
I do not want to go back to sleep. I am too afraid of where I will go when let loose behind closed eyes. I stumble downstairs. The living room light is on. Jimmy mercifully is still passed out. Jonathan is in the kitchen with the book that he clings to like a security blanket. I gravitate toward the light. Michael stands by the stove pouring tea. The sugar has been spilled making a constellation of crystals on the table. There are two girls at the table. I estimate the younger one as twelve. The older one is somewhere in her teens.
"I let them in," says Michael. "They're parents wouldn't take them."
"It's OK," I answer. I get a mug for my own tea. The water is still hot. The cookies and bread are gone.
There is four ounces of cheese. I remind myself to buy groceries. The girls names are Tobi for the little one and Mara for the big one. I am too tired to consult the foster list and it is too late at night. I set my tea out to cool and go upstairs to find blankets and pillows and some of Peter's old shirts.
I try not to look at Jimmy as I come downstairs again. I can hear one of the girls talking in the kitchen: "The question," she says "is whether we want to go to Montana."
Wise girl, I think. I explain about my own experiences with the foster care system. The VanEllans are nice enough as are most parents who will foster a teen until Mara and Tobi find new homes. "I never laid it on," says Mara as if she is defending herself. "I only tied hands."
"I tied hands too," answers Michael. "Tying hands doesn't count. Jimmy used to do it good though."
"Do what good?" I ask and then wish I didn't.
"Lay on stripes," answers Tobi.
"With a belt," explains Mara.
"Jimmy goes to the DA in the morning," I say. Jimmy turns himself in. Jimmy had other choices, I tell myself which is a comforting story. One of those choices is Francoise who is somehow sleeping through all of this in the guest bedroom. Another could have been gone when we found Jimmy. There are places further than the drunken bottom of a bottle of rotgut. There is the end of the rope in the pantry.
What Jimmy will have to do with the DA. I think of Sebastien and the times he gave me succor in recent years. Could I betray my mentor? Jimmy is going to lose one more piece of himself. I sip tea until the sky turns grey with what I consider real dawn. I find Frederick taking a shower. Through the steam he greets me. I tell him it will be less chaotic by tomorrow. Tonight is the meeting with parents so that definitely means more chaos. "See," I tell him. "You have fair warning. I'm sorry. Living with a barn boss is like this."
I root through the medicine cabinet. Frederick asks me what I want. I tell him, I'm looking for Peter's old hangover remedy. It's for Jimmy. "My brother is a dumb fuck," groans Frederick from the shower's steam. "He was always a dumb fuck. He needed to stay with that college prep."
"He is both victim and perpetrator," I counter.
"He did some of the beatings. He needs to talk to the DA. He can give evidence in exchange for immunity, if he'll do it."
"What the fuck choice does he have," Frederick groans again. He turns off the shower and steps out steamy and naked. "Are you taking him to the DA?"
"As soon as I take Francoise to the doctor. She's a wreack."
"She's as crazy as you are, but at least she's not a dumb fuck like Jimmy."
"What makes you think you wouldn't have done the same in Harmony House...."
"I was in White Star House," answers Frederick who hides his face in a drying towel. Frederick throws the towel to the floor. "Just take Jimmy to the fucking DA and don't tell him he can run away or any shit like that. It would break our mother's heart and Jonathan.....He needs to go home Koie. He doesn't belong here with a loser like Michael."
"Michael is a hero," I say.
"Some fucking hero. Rat on your mentor and go to Montana. That's where he wants to go insn't it."
"Some place where he won't be beaten," I say. Frederick says nothing.
By the time I emerge from the bathroom I nearly bump into Francoise who has staggered into the other bathroom to throw water on her face. She stands holding the door jam. One small breeze could blow her over. "You're going to the doctor," I tell her. Then I head downstairs and tell everyone to wash up. I don't have any hangover remedy for Jimmy. I must have thrown it out thinking it would never be needed. I do have a light blue dress shirt and oddly enough a tie that Frederick has lent me. I awaken Jimmy and make him go upstairs and dress. He obeys. He does not ask why. That makes me feel sad inside and just a little angry. I wipe down the kitchen table and while Frederick calls up for doughnuts (I hope he has the ssense to order extras), I run upstairs and wash and dress as quickly as I can.
I leave Michael and the orphan girls to watch the house. Frederick is already off to work. Jonathan can stay and read. Francoise and Jimmy ride with me. I take Francoise to the urgent care clinic and a nurse touches her where I was afraid to hug. For the first time I hear her groan and scream in pain and then she gets to the head of the line. Jimmy and I wait while she is in there with the doctors.
"The cops gave it to her good," says Jimmy matter of factly.
"I think it was prison guards," I answer.
"County is a fucking hell hole," groans Jimmy.
"If you say the shit at Laure's was bad, think of what they do at County...." Jimmy begins.
"No comparison but children don't usually end up in County."
"You have to do something to kids to keep them in line. You can't have that many kids living together...."
"Mara did not beat her kids," I interrupt.
"Yeah but Harmony House is not Mara's..." Jimmy laughs.
"Sebastien, Cordelia, and Jyoti never beat their kids either," I remind Jimmy.
"Yeah but those are shit internal houses. Look we all have to learn to do what we're told. That's the way it is. It's the way it is in college prep, class A programs, college, and you learn when you are a kid."
"Yes, but if you get caught," I answer.
Jimmy blinks. "Laure got caught," I say. "I caught her. Michael blew the whistle. It just took one kid. People may agree with you and turn a blind eye but when someone gets caught, you know what has to happen."
"So you understand...."
"No, I don't.... I don't think what Laure did was right. I don't think what you did was right, but I don't think that people care until it gets shoved in their face. Now it's out so no one will defend her, even if they agree with her and let it happen. It's over. You won't get anywhere defending her unless it's a matter of conscience. If it is, I'll support you, but you have to make the first move. I won't tell you how to do it."
"You're talking bullshit," laughs Jimmy just as Francoise emerges. She is standing straighter. She opens a pajama button to show how the doctor taped her ribs. She also has a prescription for pain killer. I'll fill the prescription while Jimmy does his thing at the DA's. I guide the car downtown. Jimmy asks me to play the radio. I see him adjusting his tie as if for a business interview. I let him off. I let him walk in under his own power. If he doesn't make it to the DA. If he has the good sense to run. If he tries to defend what little is his, I'll face Frederick's wrath but so be it. Jimmy disappears inside the government building by the courthouse and Francoise and I ride over to the pharmacy.
"Once a rat. Always a rat," says Francoise.
"That's pretty uncharitable," I reply.
"He sold his soul," she says of Jimmy.
"A long time ago...." I wonder if it comes from having nothing better to do, nothing to want fiercely yet Frederick seems not to have ever had to beat any one else and Francoise and I escaped. The pharmacist takes a good long time going over the paper work of the prescription for Francoise which contains opiates.
"So what do we do for someone like Jimmy?" I ask Francoise.
"He has to go into his triple A program," she sneers. "It's expected. He go to college. No blemish on his record. He'll cooperate with the DA and then the damage control begins."
"He walked out of college prep," I answer.
"Well if he doesn't want mommy and daddy and the barnboss to abandon him, he'll have to walk right back in. You'll find yourself on the phone negotiating. Didn't Peter teach you anything."
"Francoise," I say. "Your trial if it happens at all won't be until fall. You are going to go crazy with boredom once the pain heals. There isn't enough cooking for you to do."
"What of it? I can always sleep."
"That's not you."
We drive back to the DA's in silence. Jimmy waits for us on the sidewalk. He hops in breathing a sigh of relief and smiling faintly. Apparently the process is painless or else he simply feels relief. I finally ask what happen and learn that Jimmy has been promised immunity in exchange for his testimony against Laure. He has to stay in Muscogee County for the duration but that is fine with him. A man can smile when he escapes jail.
"And what do you plan to do with yourself while you are here....I mean...."
"I can't do college prep," says Jimmy.
"So what will you do instead?"
"Drive mom and dad nuts most likely, if they'll take me back. I don't know about that. I kind of like living with you and Frederick. I'd never imagine he'd get stuck with someone like you but now...maybe it's not so bad. You're not so bad."
"How would you like to start college in January?" It's Francoise who makes the offer.
"Fucking shit. How am I going to do that. I can't do college prep."
"You can be tutored and take the exam right here in Columbus," says Francoise "If youwant to...."
"Fuck, I knew it would end up like that. You ed branch people are crazy," Jimmy sighs but in the end he agress. He agrees even as we leave him in the house and pile Michale and Jonathan in the car for the ride to the supermarket. We bump through the car entrance into the interior realms and find our way to supermarket number two.
"This place has fond memories for me," quips Francoise.
The cameras in this place saved your ass, I think but I don't say aloud. We have a lot of shopping to do. Jonathan reads while pushing the cart. I'm scaird he'll have an accident. I am still trying to figure out what it is with the books and Jonathan when Francoise asks him if he is trying to get into an academic house or something.
"Yes," Jonathan says. "You people are gentle. You don't hurt anybody. I want to try something different," the words gush out and tumble over each other. "I think I can do the reading and the history but I'm not sure about the math."
"I can get you ready to take algebra," Francoise offers. She is smiling. "Would you like that?"
Jonathan is beaming. I know I'll have to do my part, but right now I have to do my part for a lot of other people. Francoise with pain killer in her and taped ribs can fix lunch. We all eat, even the orphaned girls whom I'll place this evening.
After lunch I escort parents and children into the abandoned crime scene that Laure's house has become. Jonathan goes with us. He tells me to get the keepsakes out of the attic and lay them on the kitchen table. There are arm loads of secret boxes, books, note pads, and other containers. It feels like a Christmas grab bag. The children sidle up to the table, inspect the keepsakes to make sure they are not damage then slip them under arms. Parents sometimes ask what they are. "Gifts," I answer. John's keepsake is a sketch pad and a journal. He shows it to no one.
The kitchen is fragrant with ragout. We have an hour until I have to meet with parents and discuss placements. I am too keyed up to eat. Frederick samples his stew warily. "It's spicey," he warns me and his eyes long for his mother or for Gloria's home cooking back at White Star House. Jimmy is in the living room with a fresh bottle. I don't ask who bought it for him because he really prefers the white lightening to brandy or wine. I warn him I have no hangover pills. Later Frederick and I coax him up the stairs so he can stretch out on our bed. We get his shoes off and his shirt and tie hanging from the doorknob like a noose on a white field.
The parents look more tired than frightened. I explain about Patrick's offerin Montana, Ribys' standing interior offer and the possibility of academic houses. None of this is what parents want to hear. I can see the children look restless. Several sign up to follow Michael who is leaving the end of the week. Jonathan already has plans. I can see him with his mother who shakes her head. Roxanne who is also Frederick and Jimmy's mother glares at me. I am not sure if she believes me when I tell her that Jonathan's idea is his own. He has spent the past day tied to a book to see if he can stand being an academic. That is finally the way I say it. Roxanne nearly laughs. The laugh makes me want to cry. "It had to happen some time," she chuckles. "Is it really what you want?" she graciously asks her youngest son.
They go off in a corner and then Roxanne comes back saying she's taking Jonathan home. Jimmy we do not speak about. Jonathan will be coming for his regular tutoring and I'll handle the introductions. It's better than Montana and given what couldn't be helped...had to happen one day etc... it's a plan of some kind.
Frederick lies in bed half awake as I crawl in beside him. "My mother is something special," he says.
"Your mother put Jimmy and Jonathan in that hell hole of a house!"
"No one knew..."
"No one bothered to find out." I hurt all over. It is good to sleep on a second floor. Below us lights are still on because it is not that late. It just feels that way. There are parents. There are kids. There are scaird parents. There are kids who know what they want and kids who forget what they want. I think of those kids clutching their keep sakes. I wonder if Jonathan ever wanted to be an artist. I ask Frederick
"He was much younger than me," Frederick groans sleepily. "I never knew what he wanted."
"It wasn't slot cars."
"Stop babbling about slot cars. The slot cars were gone by the time Johnny was six. I guess he liked to draw. He wasn't a sissy kid. This must be new stuff. It's hard when you're brother is ten years younger."
I try to think of my younger siblings and decide most families are just too big. "We'll have most of those kids placed by the end of the week," I change the subject.
"Spoken like a true barn boss," grunts Frederick.
written by ZOIDRubashov
Monday, November 10, 2003.
Chapter 26 -- Jimmy
We are descending back through history. I am descending back two weeks as I sit shivering next to Frederick in the big rig. Frederick has the CD player going with a pop tune that I don't understand. I stare into the dark night and think of Peter hanging bloated and disfigured in the pantry. How long has he been dead? Three weeks. I've been a barn boss for two weeks. I let my head rest in the cool of my hands. I am past the point of tears. I am not even sick to my stomach. I am not at all hungry.
"I can hear your teeth clattering," Frederick reminds me. When we stop I look up. We are somewhere on Victory Drive. This part of Columbus still exists. There is an army base here called Fort Benning. It is still here too. There are cheap motels here and stuff happens at them, not stuff the nice folks in Weryacoba would understand. Boys must escape here rather than sleep with nice girls who no longer have access to contraception. I think of the clinic at Dartmouth. Someone kicked the basement door in and we all went down through the hole. The nice house disappeared though it was nice in the basement too, a statte of the art whipping post and swatting bench and all the right tools, even makeup to cover the wounds. And when they get old enough the children all help each other. They tie hands. They observe. They do nothing. If they get the courage to go to the authorities, Laure tells them a story that there is no one who will want them.
"When this is over, I want to go to Montana," I say to no one.
"This ain't ever going to be over baby," answers Frederick. "Life out there is hell. Ever wanted to know why I want to be in a Class A program without giving a fuck about human resources? You saw tonight. "
"That was a class A local house!" I shout back. "A fucking class triple A house!"
"Yes, but I'm a grownup now. No more of that shit. I made it through. Do you know how many grownups make it through."
"Unless their parents are smart enough to want their kid at nationals....Like Ezra Larkin."
"Ezra Larkin almost ended up dead."
"Not for what he wanted with his kid."
"How do you know...."
"Shit, Kohana, the real world is not Ed Branch."
Frederick stops the car. "If this doesn't work, we'll try another," he instructs me as I follow him up the walk way and into the lobby. I realize I need to use my barn boss credential because the clerk knows nothing about a Jimmy Smythe registered here and won't answer questions about who paid with cash because they all do. We start knocking at doors. We find Jimmy with a bottle of something that smells like cheap liquor. "I've got brandy at home if you want to drink," I find the words. "That smells good."
"That gives a fucking hangover," Jimmy answers.
"Wine then....I've got good red wine."
"Do you fucking believe this?" asks Frederick. "She's got fucking cookies too. No doughnuts though," Frederick explains. "She let the children eat all the doughnuts."
"If I see mom and dad like this..." Jimmy changes the subject.
"We're not going to call your parents," I say.
"What about Johnny," says Jimmy. "I may be drunk but I'm not fucking stupid. You just fucked baby brother but good tonight. Straight up the ass."
"Jonathan is reading and seems fine," I say. "He didn't call home. We'll keep him under wraps too. Come on, you can take the rot gut with you. Get yourself drunk at my house."
"You're the fucking bitch who called the cops."
"I got a warrant. The judge and the DA pressed charges. I just wanted to do a take down and knew Laure wouldn't let us do it without a warrant."
"Fucking shit," groans Jimmy. "You don't give a fuck about any of those kids."
"I was never beaten," I answer. "I don't want anybody else beaten."
"That's just the way it is," answers Jimmy. "If you do good....."
"And how often did you do good?" I ask.
"Koie," Frederick interrupts. "Let's just get out of here." Don't ask me how Frederick persaudes Jimmy to come with him. Maybe they both have welts on their backs. Maybe they get plastic surgery or genetic manipulation to regrow fresh skin when they are in college or college prep or when they get ready to enter the work force as class A's and this will make it all better. I am glad I am not driving.
I want some red wine or maybe some brandy. I want Peter's leather chair, the barn boss chair, but Peter's chair is gone. Francoise has boiled eggs and made two or three bags of fancy mix. She has found pretzels and two loaves of bread toasted to take the freezer chill out of them. There is mayonaise and ketchup. I ask her for wine and brandy and we get the small shot glasses. I offer Jimmy food with his drink. Jonathan comes in from the living room with Michael. Jonathan still has the book in hand. Jimmy does not greet him. "You've had nothing to eat," Francoise says. I see her perched in a chair in pain. You don't escape the whipping post and swatting bench as an adult, but then Francoise was not class A.
I'm not sure I can eat though I'm grateful for the kitchen's golden light. Jimmy sips his rot gut and later has brandy with cookies for dessert. He sleeps on the couch snoring safely. Frederick thanks me and helps Francoise with the dishes. Jonathan can't be parted from his book. Michael is silent and after a time I find him asleep on the chair. I set an alarm for both Frederick and I as we undress.
"What becomes of Jimmy?" he asks.
"After his hangover. He'll probably testify against Laure. Meanwhile, he's going to have to tell your parents he flunked out of college prep."
"He walked out. It's hard. Living in a house...is good."
"Not like that," I try to read Frederick's face.
"It's better than what's out there. I mean....it makes sense. You do what you are told and in the end it works out. I mean what other choice is there. Think about it Koie. And don't tell me about ed branch and Greek certificates and all that crapola."
I don't. Instead I put a hand on Frederick's shoulder. I switch on the night table light. "I want to see your back, honey" I say. There are no scars, no welts. "How did they clean up your back?" I ask.
"I wasn't badly beaten as those kids you saw tonight," he says matter of factly.
"But they beat you," I say.
"Only a couple of times."
"What did they do about the scars?"
"Let them fade," he says and laughs. "Kara used a rubber hose. It didn't leave welts. Also fists don't leave them either and niether does the hand. When we got too big for that kind of thing....there are other ways to bring people in line. We all knew what went on elsewhere and that we were lucky. That's the way it is. This is the real world."
That is a story you were told Frederick, I want to say and don't. That night I dream I am running under a late afternoon sunny sky. I am running to go to Atlanta so I don't have to spend the rest of my life in Mara's. I am running toward a Greek initiation and Sebastien though he has no name yet. I am running toward my memories of nationals and dreams of the future. No belt or rope or paddle has ever touched my back. I am running and because I ran, Michael came to me.
"Koie, Koie!" Frederick's voice rasps through the predawn darkness. "Stop crying, Koie."
written by ZOIDRubashov
Saturday, November 08, 2003.
Chapter 25 -- Pretty Little Welt Hunt
Ugly, pretty, grand, or not so glorious, the welt hunt at Laure's can not begin until I have the old doctor with me. We are going to look at wounded children. I suppose I feel lucky I was never beaten through all my adventures. I did most of my running in my own head and my fighting over ideas and dreams. I fight back those thoughts as I get out plates and cups. We may as well eat as we wait for the doctor to arrive.
Then the police car appears in the driveway nearly running over what is left of the garden. Two cops emerge. They wear mirrored glasses so I can't see their eyes and padded riot vests and dull silver helmets. Is this the new uniform? If it is designed to intimidate I tell myself I am a barn boss and that counts for something. They flank a broken figure. No one has tried to remove her paper pajamas. Her clothes are lost, possibly torn and bloodied. There is a bandage around her head now, and the face that was growing a ripe purple and brown bruise is now swollen enough to nearly shut her left eye which is dull like the right one. She is not handcuffed, which I now realize was a good thing. She uses her hands to hold herself up by spreading her fingers against her ribs as she walks, or rather stumbles toward the house.
I feel sick with hurt that I wish would be nausea so I could vomit it up and be free. Instead, I move automatically, I open the screen door and only reflexively cast a look toward the pantry. "What would you think Peter? What would you do?" I have no answer. The cops escore Francoise in the house and then I have my voice back. The larger of the two cops tells me that Judge Guillespe on advice of Benjamin Crowe has released Francoise Guitirez on her own recognizance as long as she stays in Muscogee County. Being Francoise' close friend, of course I will keep her. I long to put my arm around Francoise but a hug would hurt her or knock her from her fragile and painful stance. I watch the way Francoise finds a chair and lets herself gently down into hit. How do I know any of you police didn't beat her and now you get rid of her nad leave me to weep. I will not weep.
Instead I say I am happy to have Francoise as my honored guest. Now the cops' work is over, but they do not leave. I wonder if I should boot them out or offer them something to eat. I do neither. The smaller cop explains that he and his partner are under orders from Judge Guillespe who issued the warrant for the welt hunt to assist in the "raid" as they put it. I explain that the "raid" is not a law enforcement matter. It is strictly a matter between State in Atlanta and me. The aim is the closing down of a house that is abusing its children and youth and not the arrest of any one. The large cop answers that since I have involved a judge, Judge Guillespe and the district attorney have decided to become involved. So there will be a trial after all, I think. I am kind of glad of this.
I then get to explain how welt hunts work. They are welt hunts now. I explain that we are waiting for the doctor. I instruct Michael to help me get out the fruit, doughnuts, some store bought cookies, set up the coffee machine and put on water for tea. We may as well eat while we wait. We are set to go and when the doctor gets here.....
The doctor arrives twenty minutes later the grim procedure begins. Only Francoise stays behind. She has nibbled part of a doughnut, an apple and half a cup of tea. I bid her to lie down and rest her broken hips. She has trouble climbing the stairs to the guest room. She uses her arms to get down on all fours and crawl into bed. Undressing or even removing her soiled paper slippers is beyond her.
I wish we did not have the cops on the raid, but I have no choice. I ride with Michael and Doctor Jack in my car while the police follow. We use our warrant to gain entrance and begin the examinations in the kitchen. Michael knows who was beaten but in the sweetly smiling presence of Laure, the youth grows uncertain. I notice the black waffle cloth undershirts are missing. The children wear ordinary blouses and shirts, many shortsleeved and even an occasional tank top. Did I hallucinate the costume I saw at the taking. I try to remember the judges chambers earlier this morning.
"We need cold cream," says Michael half aloud and I feel something click. One child stands already beneath the doctor's hot light. I have my camera at the ready, but the child's back and shoulders are smoothe. Of course they are smoothe. I reach out with my hand and lay it on the girl's back. "What are you doing?" she asks haughtily. My hand stings as it encounters an oily, rubbery, surface that scarcely feels like skin. I want to scream but instead I announce: "this child is wearing makeup."
"Makeup!" gasps Laure "How ludicrous."
"Do you have something to take it off?" asks one of the police who also feels the child's back. The child is starting to cry. Several other children are weeping. They do it silently but I can still hear it. The policeman orders Laure to produce the makeup remover and when she doesn't, he bounds upstairs. He confesses he is a married man so women's bedrooms are not strange terrain to him. He returns with several jars. The second jar is the ticket. I am gentle using a sponge and a wet dishtowel to peel away the fake skin. The skin beneath it is red and scabbed and bloody where my ministrations tear off a fresh scab. Some of the bloody wounds have interesting shapes, squares, triangles, trapezoids. The bruises are blue and purple and veiny as marble. I try not to think that this is a child's back beneath my eyes and fingers.
Michael coaxes the next volunteer forward. I hear him say "no more beatings." "You'll be somewhere safe by the time the night is over," I say and I hope and pray I can make good on the promise as I wash the girl's back so we can photograph the evidence. Our next two victims are boys and one screams as I remove the latex. I wonder why it took so long for one child to come forward and save his fellows. I wonder what these poor children have learned about being alone.
I dare to look at their faces, both those who have seen the examinations and those whose backs I have had to touch and photograph. Their eyes are wide and tearless. I could fall into the holes of those eyes if I let myself. Instead I struggle to fly. "The next thing we are going to do is find the weapon that made the wounds. We are also going to photograph the place where you were beaten. We need all this evidence to punish Laure. We need your help. Don't be afraid. I am here tonight because one of you came forward. I listen."
"The stuff is in the basement," says a boy who stands a head shorter than Michael and who has soft ash brown hair and grey brown eyes with bushy brows. His face reminds me of another face but I try not to think of this. "The door is over here," Michael assists me, but there is no door. "Secret passage," I think.
"Is this door locked Ma'am?" one of the cops addresses Laure. "What door?" she asks. The cop throws himself against the wall. Laure laughs harshly. When that doesn't work, he feels his way along and inserts a tool from his belt into a place where the kitchen paneling boards form a seam. He pries and I hear wood splingering. He can pull the door part way open when there is a hole.
Entering through that hole is a descent into the abyss, even after someone throws on a light switch. Wooden stairs lead to an ordinary basement and the room is clean. No one has ever bothered to paint the walls. In the center of the room, someone has constructed a brick pillar with several metal rings to accomodate children of varying heights, including a pillar on top of the pole. Hanging from nails are ropes nad leather straps. There is also a low wooden table, that looks like a bench for lifting weights minus the protective padding. Several wooden paddles sit next to this bench.
I escaped all of this by asking for a nautilus shell, a trip to the Galapagos, an initiation certificate in Greek. I think of Atlanta lit up at Christmas time, of Hamida's wiry black hair and aimiable olive skinned face. "There but for the grace of God," I say aloud. Michael takes me by the hands and shows me the purpose of the rings. "I sometimes had to tie a kid's hands on. This is so they don't wriggle away."
"A whipping post," says the doctor aloud. I begin snapping pictures. "You didn't have to tie the kids to the table, though they'd make us come down and watch. Whip marks look bad, but swats hurt worse," says Michael. "Swatting table," I think.
I photograph each belt and strap and rope. There is even an old fashioned cat o' nine tails. Some belts have interesting buckles. I think of the squares, triangles, and trapezoids and then I make myself think of Atlanta in Christmas and Cornell and of Germaine being sent to nationals on the coast of Maine. I think of Montana and Patrick and an outdoor house and initiations at the Parthenon and on the courthouse steps. And I think of Jimmy's parents and the parents of that other boy who looks like a relative of Jimmy and Frederick, my Frederick who missed at least some of this by chance. And I think of Mara smiling and Silla and Taffie. My throat hurts, but no tears can wash clean the feelings that make my hands sweat. I need to keep snapping and recording. I go through three memory squares by the time I have enough pictures nad then it is time to go.
By now there are four cop cars obstructing traffic and cops stringing yellow crime scene tape and others standing guard. Female officers come inside. They are going to wait. No one is going to get hurt. I tell the children that but the cops frighten them. I wonder what sort of tales they have been fed. When I think of Francoise I know those tales are based in truth.
I am shaking and can barely start the car to head back to the house. Once home, the doctor heads to the first floor bathroom. I can hear him throwing up. Francoise is still upstairs and I am glad as I start printing off the electronic pictures on the computer. One cop has followed me home and he wants copies of the images for evidence. He also has to make sure I am not altering them. We don't bother closing the study door, so Frederick returning home from work, finds the circus in full swing. I ask the officer to close the study door. Frederick asks what the fuck is going on. I tell him, it's a raid.
"This was my first day at work."
"This was a work day for me too. Order pizza, four pies, one with peppers, onions, and fresh tomatoes and the other three any way you want them."
"Is this a party?"
"Frederick please. I'll reimburse you for the food." I close the study door. I send copies of all the images to Atlanta over the FAX/zap. Then there is nothing to say. Michael has not come back with me. He is waiting with his people, but I wish he were here now. Francoise comes downstairs and sits on the couch. We are confidential and I tell her to go in the kitchen and help with the pizza when it comes. "Yes Ma'am she snaps" and staggers through the door which she slams behind her.
The doctor, the cop, and I say nothing as the comm phone rings and I answer. "I'm sending you papers," says a robe from Atlanta "Promise me you'll expedite this and bring in law enforcement. You have an emergency situation. Do you think you can handle it?" I have no choice handling it. I am the barn boss. That is what my job is. I say "yes."
I hold the dissolution papers in my trembling hands as the cop phones Judge Guilesspe and then the DA. The arrest warrent for Laure Pierson comes over the Zap/Fax and we are back in the cars again. It is all over in less than half an hour. The children emerge into the hot blue lights of media reporters and the sirens and wails of cop cars. Parents stand in a circle at the edge of the alien cordon of law enforcement. A few parents greet their offspring with hugs, but the rest are bereft. The news may not have traveled fast enough or the crowd and the cops are just plain too intimidating. I leave my car and lead home the orphans cast out into the night. I do not wait to see Laure escorted out in handcuffs.
We do not have enough pizza. Frederick nearly drops his. I give him a knife and he and Francoise cut what we do have into small slices, tidbits, for stomachs that do not care about food. The children sit on the floor and in chairs and stand against the counter. I do my best to explain that most of them will be going home to parents for tonight. Tomorrow they will be able to re-enter Laure's house to get their things. By tomorrow evening, placement for the older ones, the pre and postinitiates will begin. There is at least one offer of placement on the board. You do not have to worry, but of course this last is meaningless.
Sitting in the study, I phone parents. They come in and stare with fear blanched faces as they reunite and leave. They want out of here quick. They'll want explanations later tonight. If Michael hadn't come to me and bared his back, Laure could have kept her secret until she grew too old and mellow to order beatings.
When the children are gone the house is still filled with their smell. Empty pizza boxes sit on the table. I take them to the trash. The doctor has gone home. The cops have left. Frederick sits with Michael and with another boy at the kitchen table. They have found a fresh box of cookies and are eating it. Francoise stands balancing by the sink. Her face is blank. I want to hug her but know it will hurt too much. The boy who looks so much like Frederick is reading and wants no one to disturb him. He heads toward the living room. "I don't know where my brother is," says Frederick.
"That's Jonathan. He's the baby. I'm glad he's out of there....but Jimmy."
I think of the whipping post and the swatting table. "Can you look for him tonight?"
"I can do all sorts of stuff. This is a hell of a way to begin a job."
"It has to be done."
"Will you come with me?" I nod. I owe Frederick. That is what I tell myself as we head out into
written by ZOIDRubashov