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CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and EIGHTY-SIX
Tuesday morning—8:25 a.m.
Charlie swallowed hard, and looked around. He saw Aden, who smiled at him. Charlie licked his lips, and wiped his hands on his pants.
He was supposedly helping the prosecutor figure out what happened and who to charge and a whole bunch of other things that Sandy had told him.
He hadn’t been listening. He’d been thinking about Tink and her brain and basketball and school and his first Christmas in the Castle and Keenan and … He scratched his head and wished he had been listening.
Anyway, he thought he was there to help them, but so far the attorneys hadn’t been very nice.
There wasn’t a judge. He was sitting in front of twenty-three adults. The prosecutor ran the show, mostly. Right now, the lady attorney from the Denver Police seemed to be the boss. The thought made Charlie uncomfortable and he squirmed in his chair.
“What confuses me Mr. Delgado …” It made Charlie nervous that the lady attorney from the Denver Police always emphasized the Mr. It was almost like she wanted everyone to know that she thought of him as an adult, and not in a very good way.
Was he on trial?
Was she going to charge him as an adult?
Charlie swallowed hard again.
“Can you repeat the question?” Charlie asked.
The prosecutor turned to look at Charlie. Feeling her eyes, he looked up at her. The prosecutor had smart eyes. She looked like she’d seen everything and then some. Although her face had no expression, her eyes encouraged him.
“Ms. Francisco wants to know why you didn’t contact the authorities about these crimes,” the prosecutor said.
“Oh,” Charlie said. “I did. I mean, we did.”
“And?” the prosecutor asked.
“Well …” Charlie shrugged. “They didn’t listen. To us, for sure. But even Tim’s parents. They went to police a bunch of times. I mean, it was a big mystery where his sister was … uh … hurt, you know, but their car was sitting a few blocks away at the Pepsi Center.”
“Which means?” the lady attorney asked.
“Means, the police weren’t trying very hard. I mean, no one listened to me or Tink or Ivy or any of the other girls until Raz and Sensei … uh Agents Rasmussen and Hargreaves got involved.” Charlie nodded. “They got involved because my sister knows them and they helped her with … I don’t know if I should talk about that, but …”
The prosecutor held up her hand to Charlie and he stopped talking.
“That’s what I thought,” the prosecutor said.
“I mean, I probably wouldn’t have listened to us,” Charlie said. “We were mostly high and …”
He licked his lips.
“Sorry, did I cut you off?” Charlie asked. “I do that when I’m nervous. I mean Sandy tells me to slow it down but I get so freaked out and …”
“No, you didn’t cut me off,” the prosecutor said. “Why don’t you take a few moments while I talk to this attorney?”
“Okay,” Charlie nodded.
“Ms. Francisco,” the prosecutor emphasized the Ms. in the same aggressive way as the attorney had with Charlie. He smiled. “I want to remind you of what we’re doing today.”
“Ma’am,” the attorney for the Denver Police said.
“Just a minute, let me finish,” the prosecutor said. “Today, we are not putting together a case to prosecute Charlie. We’re not building cases against the victims. We’re working through the evidence to see which of the perpetrators needs to be charged and with what.”
“Ma’am,” the lady attorney started.
“I get that you desperately want the police not to be at fault here,” the prosecutor said. “I want that too.”
“Me too,” Charlie piped up and then felt stupid.
“You see,” the prosecutor said. “It’s what we all want. The problem is, the police are at fault here. You had a detective assigned to this case who, for reasons yet unknown, was unwilling to do his job, and another who was protecting his little brother.”
The prosecutor gave the lady attorney a hard look.
“For reasons unknown, there was no oversight,” the prosecutor said. “No supervisor asked about the ever increasing number of gang rape cases, if only to find out why there was no movement. Young Charlie here is correct. No one paid any attention to this case until DHS got involved.”
“Ma’am …” the lady attorney started.
“You trying to put the blame on everyone else,” the prosecutor said. “No. The Denver Police bear a burden of guilt here.”
“Ma’am, if Mr. Delgado has a grudge against the department because his sister …”
“Enough,” the prosecutor said. “There’s enough evidence to get through without you making up more bullshit. Are you done with this witness?”
“Ma’am …” the lady attorney started.
“I’m going to take that as a yes,” the prosecutor said. “You may sit down Ms. Francisco.”
The lady attorney gave the prosecutor a hard look before sitting down.
“Does anyone have questions for Mr. Delgado?”
“Charlie,” he said. “Mr. Delgado was my dad.”
“Charlie,” the prosecutor said. “And your father was Detective Mitch Delgado. He was a great man, and my friend.”
Charlie blushed and looked down at his hands.
“Yes?” the prosecutor asked.
Charlie looked up to see a mousey woman with enormous glasses which covered her whole face had her hand up.
“Go ahead,” the prosecutor said.
“I guess …” The woman’s voice was so small and meek that the prosecutor gestured for the bailiff to bring her a microphone. The woman cleared her throat into the microphone. “Oh, sorry. Um, Charlie.”
“Yes?” Charlie asked.
“I guess I was wondering why you didn’t recognize more of the boys who raped these girls,” the mousey woman said. “I mean, you played basketball with some of them and …”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” said Ms. Francisco as she popped to her feet. The prosecutor pointed the bailiff to the woman and she was escorted out of the grand jury.
“I’m sorry for the delay,” the prosecutor said. “Charlie? Do you understand the question?”
“Yes,” Charlie said. “She asked why I didn’t recognize the guys on my basketball team. Um … It’s a good question. I’ve actually thought about it.”
“And?” the prosecutor asked.
“I guess it sounds weird, but the guys who did this … I mean, when you’re out of the street, there’s no difference between those guys and the pedophiles or the drunk frat boys or even the horny police. When you’re my age and you’re on the streets, you’re on the very bottom of the pile. If anybody thinks about you, they think you’re out because you’re a bad kid or you did something bad. They don’t think your parent is crazy or drugged up or dead or abusive or tried to kill you because you’re gay or because Satan told them too or … No. When people see a kid like me or Tink or any of us, they think we deserve to be there.”
“Those guys?” Charlie shook his head. “They aren’t any different than everybody else. They’re just using us because they had a need and, as the bottom of the pile, they figured it was our job to fill it. You think anybody cares if we die? Think again. Go to Denver Health any night of the week and see how many kids like me have the shit beat out of them on a regular basis.”
“I didn’t care about the abusers,” Charlie said. “They’re all the same—sick fucks who think the world revolves around their dicks.”
“What did you care about, Charlie?” the prosecutor asked.
“I cared about the kids,” Charlie said. “They mean something to me. They might be sick or stupid or ugly or gay, but they mattered to me because they mattered to no one, like I mattered to no one. And you’re right. If I saw some of that shit now? I’d remember.”
“Why is that?” the mousey woman asked.
“Because I live with Sandy now,” Charlie said. “I have a warm place to live, as much food as I wanted to eat, and forever family that loves me. They’re my family that’s never gonna give up on me, no matter what.”
Charlie gestured to Aden and the jury looked at him.
“But then?” Charlie asked. “My priorities went like this – safety first, warmth next, a place to sleep where I won’t get beaten up in the middle of the night or raped or captured by Saint Jude, friends to spend my time with, and then, maybe some food. Those guys were really far down my list of worries.”
“And I did recognize some of them,” Charlie nodded. “I saw them in the line ups. I pointed out the guy who egged everyone on, gave them the drugs, and stuff. I picked him out of the lineup. Me. And only then did Raz find him on the videos. If I hadn’t seen him first, they wouldn’t know to get him. How many states did he do this in? A lot.”
“How did you know him, Charlie?” An African-American man asked from the juror’s box.
“I saw him a bunch,” Charlie said. “I’d get the girl and try to get out of there. That guy was always hanging around. I mean, Raz found him on some surveillance video from some bank. Just standing there watching. I guess when the girl was out of it, he’d have his fill.”
Charlie looked disgusted.
“Sorry,” Charlie said. “He always makes me want to throw up.”
“And the boys on your basketball team?” another juror asked.
“What about them?” Charlie asked.
“Why didn’t you recognize them?” the juror asked.
“I don’t know,” Charlie scratched his head. “I guess I was too busy trying to fit in and play basketball and … well …”
Sadness welled inside Charlie. He sniffed back a tear.
“I just … I mean that other life …” Charlie cleared his throat. “My Dad was alive until I was seven or eight or something. I lived with him and my mom in our house with a white picket fence and a big yard and I had my own room and lots of toys. And we saw Uncle Seth almost every day and … Our life was really good. And for a while after he … uh … left … um, things were pretty good. And then things fell apart and I lived another kind of life out on the streets where …”
Charlie’s voice cracked. Aden stood up in the gallery.
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” Charlie said. “Can I go?”
“You’re saying that the life you had on the streets was different, separate from the life you live now,” the prosecutor said.
“I’m different.” A tear ran down Charlie’s face. “I’m not on drugs and I can read really good now and I’m doing good in school and … I feel hope like I can do anything I want to do. I feel hope. I … I’m not that guy.”
Charlie dropped his head into his arm and cried. He wasn’t sure what happened. There was some yelling and the next thing he knew Aden was at his side. Aden helped him up and practically carried him out of the room. Aden made a beeline into the men’s bathroom.
“Can’t we go home?” Charlie said through his tears.
“Tink’s coming down the hallway,” Aden said. “I figured you’d want to clean up and …”
Charlie threw his arms around Aden’s neck and cried. Aden held him tight.
Tuesday morning—8:25 a.m.
“So you’re not going to put pants on,” Yvonne said.
“No!” Jabari said.
The child crossed his arms and stuck out his chin. He wore a thin T-shirt and his underwear. Yvonne had been trying to get him to put on his new clothing, but he only wanted to wear the ratty old clothing he’d brought to Denver. His pants had been so soiled that Dionne had thrown them away. The only pants he had were his new pants and he’d made it perfectly clear that he was not going to wear them.
“Suit yourself,” Yvonne said. “It’s cold outside and we have to walk this dog.”
Yvonne gestured to the large black dog with the improbable name of Mr. Chesterfield.
“This dog has been waiting to take a walk with you,” Yvonne said.
Jabari put his arms around Mr. Chesterfield’s neck and hugged him.
“Come on then,” Yvonne said.
Because Jabari’s mother had been incapacitated during the custody hearing, the judge had been unable to finish the proceedings. He’d ordered Jabari to stay with Yvonne and Rodney because they were not directly involved in the custody fight.
And Jabari liked Yvonne.
He’d spent the night in their guest bedroom. He was supposed to sleep in the big queen sized bed, but Yvonne found him curled up in a ball in the closet. He wouldn’t wear the clothing they’d bought. He wouldn’t sleep in the bed. Yvonne helped the little boy out of the closet and he hugged her legs. They came out of the guest bedroom and followed Mr. Chesterfield down the stairs.
In the kitchen, Yvonne tried once again to get Jabari to eat. The boy stuck his chin out and crossed his arms. An expert in the stubborn male, Yvonne just smiled and said, “Suit yourself.”
“Shoes?” Yvonne asked. “I’m going to wear my cozy snow boots.”
“No!” Jabari yelled at the top of his lungs. “I won’t do it!”
Mr. Chesterfield gave the boy a rather bored look. Akeem, the young man who lived in their garage, ran into the house wearing his pajamas bottoms and no shirt.
“Everything okay?” the young man looked panicked.
“Everything is just fine,” Yvonne said. “Mr. Wilson here was expressing his opinion about wearing his snow boots.”
Akeem put his hands on his hips and looked at the boy.
“And his pants?” Akeen asked.
“Those too,” Yvonne said. “We’re going to take Mr. Chesterfield for a walk.”
“You’re going to freeze your nuts off,” Akeem said to Jabari.
The boy stuck his chin out and Akeem laughed.
“Stubborn?” Akeem asked.
“That’s all right,” Yvonne said. “We all have our ways.”
Yvonne gave Akeem a nod and the young man laughed. Yvonne held her hand out to Jabari and he took it. She went to the basket to get Mr. Chesterfield’s leash and some bags. Jabari may not like pants or snow boots or his new warm jacket, but he loved this dog. She gave Akeem a nod and they went out the back door.
Mr. Chesterfield didn’t really need a walk because he’d already been on a run with Rodney. The dog humored Yvonne and Jabari, but stayed close. They made it to the corner before Jabari was shivering.
“What do you think about pants now?” Yvonne asked. “How about that jacket?”
“No!” Jabari said.
“What is your problem with pants?” Yvonne asked.
Jabari scowled at her. She shrugged and they kept walking. They made it to the end of the block before Yvonne picked the boy up. Jabari screamed his lungs out. She tucked the kicking and screaming boy under her arm and carried him back to the house. Inside, Mr. Chesterfield went to his dog bed in the kitchen and Yvonne put Jabari on the counter. She hugged him close.
“You can’t make me,” Jabari screamed. “You can’t make me! You can’t make me!”
Yvonne saw Akeem’s head peer in the back door again. She waved him away, and held onto Jabari. As the boy’s anger eased his tears started. Pretty soon, the little boy was crying his eyes out.
“You know what I think?” Yvonne asked. She leaned down so her face was right in front of the boy’s. “I think you don’t want these new things because you might use them up.”
Jabari scowled at her.
“I think you’re used to people who don’t have a lot to give,” Yvonne said. “So you’re afraid of using up the clothes, the bed, the love … food …”
“They’ll send me back,” Jabari said.
“Right,” Yvonne said. “If you use too much, they’ll send you back. Boy, I know how that feels.”
“You think that because someone told you it was true,” Yvonne said. She knew her words were too old for Jabari to understand, but she said them anyway. “But I’ll tell you this – if you lose that pair of shoes, I’ll buy you a dozen more. If you wet the bed, I’ll clean it up and not say another word. If you eat every bit of our food, I will go to the store and buy more.”
“But you’ll run out of money!” Jabari said.
“If I run out of money, I’ll call my friend Dionne and she’ll give me some,” Yvonne said. “Or I’ll call my daughter Tanni and she’ll bring me some. Or I’ll go next door or the house down the street. I can do that because I’m not alone in this world. They know that they can come here if they run out.”
“But it’s your money!” Jabari said.
“How much money do you think I need?” Yvonne laughed.
“A lot,” Jabari nodded.
“No,” Yvonne smiled. “I need a lot of love. I need a lot of kindness. I need some money because I don’t do well when I’m uncomfortable. But I don’t need a lot.”
“Oh,” Jabari said. “Won’t you get broke because a me?”
“Then I get broke,” Yvonne said. “It won’t be the first time.”
“You’ve been broke before?” Jabari looked astounded.
“Of course,” Yvonne said.
“Was it horrible?” Jabari said.
“It wasn’t fun,” Yvonne said. “But I’ll tell you … I always had what I really needed—a lot of love. That’s what you need too.”
“I need some pancakes too,” Jabari said.
“And pants?” Yvonne asked.
“You’re not wearing pants.” Jabari said. The child he shook his head at the idea of pants.
Yvonne looked down at jean skirt over her thick winter tights.
“You have a point,” Yvonne said. “How ’bout that cute hoodie my Tannie got you?”
She went over to the wooden pegs and took down a grey hooded sweatshirt with “Med student” on the back and the CU Anschutz logo on the front. Jabari nodded, and Yvonne pulled it over his head. He flipped up the hood.
“How ’bout boots?” Yvonne asked.
“If you wear yours,” Jabari said.
“You’re so right,” Yvonne slipped off her walking shoes. “I do need my snow boots. Thank you for thinking of me.”
Jabari was so excited that he bounced in place. Yvonne took him off the counter and he jumped around. Mr. Chesterfield looked up to see what was going on. Yvonne put her boots on. She helped Jabari put on his boots.
A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. Yvonne held out her hand to Jabari and he took her hand. They went to the door to let in Jeraine.
“We were just about to have some pancakes, Mr. Wilson,” Yvonne said.
“Hey! That’s my name!” Jabari said.
“Mine too!” Jeraine said.
“Do you have snow boots?” Jabari asked.
“In the car,” Jeraine looked at Jabari’s boots. Yvonne held out her feet so he’d see hers.
“Why don’t you get them while I make some pancakes?” Yvonne asked.
“You don’t have to wear pants either,” Jabari said.
Jeraine looked at Yvonne and she shrugged. Laughing, Jeraine went to his car. When he returned, he was wearing his snow boots and no pants. Jabari squealed with delight, and Yvonne laughed.
“Can I have underwears like those?” Jabari pointed to Jeraine’s boxer briefs.
“I don’t know why not,” Yvonne said.
Jabari was so happy he danced around.
“Now you boys play out here,” Yvonne said. “I’m going to make some pancakes.”
Yvonne gave Jeraine a nod and went into the kitchen. When she peaked in, Jabari was cuddled up to his father. The child was sucking his thumb while his father read him a story from one of those fairy picture books. Yvonne smiled and went back into the kitchen.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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