Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Three Hundred and Eighty-four: Ghosts

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Monday morning — 8:10 A.M.

“Will you come in with me, Mommy?” Katy asked. Sitting in the parking lot, Katy looked out at the enormous, and new-old building that was the recently opened Celia Marlowe School. “I can do it, but…”

Katy waved to the female ghost who was standing in a second story window. The ghost smiled and waved to Katy.

“I thought you didn’t like it when I went in,” Jill said in a mild tone.

“It’s so big,” Katy said in a loud whisper.

“You remember when we went to orientation, right?” Jill asked.

“Uh huh,” Katy said.

“I guess it’s different on your first real day at the new building,” Jill said.

“Everybody’s first day,” Katy corrected.

“Why aren’t you getting out?” Jill asked.

“Look, there’s Noelle and Nash,” Jill said.

Jill pointed to where Noelle and Nash were getting out of Aden’s new “safest possible” luxury sedan, a present from Sandy.

“Nash looks so handsome in his uniform,” Jill said.

“Noelle is beautiful,” Katy said.

Noelle turned around and leaned into the backseat of the sedan. She grabbed a dark green, paint stained beret. In the silence of their car, they watched Noelle’s mouth never stop moving. The girl jammed the beret on her long brown hair. Nash turned to yell at her and she trotted to keep up.

“It’s nice that he gets to come back to school here,” Jill said.

“Hey!” They heard someone yell from the steps of the school. Jill and Katy’s heads turned in unison to see Teddy standing on the top step. He greeted Nash and grabbed Noelle’s hand. They went into the building.

“Teddy’s here, too,” Katy said.

“He’s moving back in soon,” Jill said.

“I like it when everybody’s home,” Katy said. Her voice was wistful.

“Are you missing Sissy?” Jill asked.

“Uh huh,” Katy said. “She would be here, too.”

Jill turned around to look at Katy. Even though her daughter was five now, she still needed a booster seat. Jill touched Katy’s hand.

“Are you okay?” Jill asked.

“Why, Mommy?” Katy asked.

“Because usually, you jump out of the car and run into school,” Jill said.

“Oh,” Katy said.

When Katy didn’t move or say anything, Jill unbuckled her own safety belt and got out of the car. Katy still hadn’t moved. Her daughter’s eyes were fixed on the crowd of children moving into the building.

Katy looked up at her mom when Jill opened the door.

“Are you all right?” Jill asked.

She’d just put her hand on Katy’s forehead, when Katy brightened. Jill turned around to look. Julie was driving into the parking lot with Paddie in the back seat. Paddie had clearly seen them because his face was pressed against the glass. Katy waved at Paddie, and then looked up at Jill.

“Paddie’s afraid of ghosts,” Katy said. “After being stuck in the dead place.”

Jill held out her arms and Katy climbed onto her mother. They set off across the parking lot to where Julie had parked.

“Oh thank God,” Julie said. “Paddie’s been in a state all morning.”

Paddie jumped out of the car. He held his arms up and jumped up and down.

“Really, honey, I don’t think Jill…” Julie started.

Jill bent her knees and picked up Paddie.

“Wow,” Julie said.

“Waitressing has it’s privileges,” Jill said with a smile.

“Actually, I’m glad you’re here,” Julie said. “I know you and Heather worked on the building. I wondered if you could give me a tour. We missed the official tour.”

Jill opened her mouth to speak, but Julie gasped.

“How rude of me,” Julie said. “Do you have time? I’m so sorry. I didn’t even ask!”

Jill started to shake her head that she wasn’t busy and opened her mouth to speak again.

“Oh gosh,” Julie said. “Really, we can set up something…”

“She has time,” Heather said as she came up behind them.

“Where’s Mack?” Jill asked.

“Inside,” Heather said. “I saw you out here and thought I’d come say ‘Hi.’”

“I was going to say that I’m meeting Heather,” Jill said. “We’re going to check to see if there’s anything else to fix before going over our next project.”

Jill smiled at Julie.

“Julie would like a tour,” Jill said. “Are you okay with that?”

“Sure,” Heather said.

“First, we should get these monkeys inside,” Jill said.

“Do I have to?” Paddie asked.

“Paddie!” Julie said.

“It’s okay,” Jill said. “I was afraid of ghosts before I met Jacob.”

“You were?” Paddie asked. His voice held such awe that the women smiled.

“I was,” Jill said.

“What changed your mind?” Paddie asked.

“Daddy told her he’d get rid of any ghost that was mean,” Katy said with a nod. “This ghost isn’t mean.”

Paddie gave the building a worried look.

“Anyway, the white eyed guy gave you the shiny sword!” Katy said. “That was when we were in the dead place.”

Paddie nodded as if he’d heard this information before.

“Let’s try it,” Jill said. “If it doesn’t work, then you can both come home with me.”

Paddie gave another worried nod and Katy nodded.

“You both love school,” Julie said.

The children looked at her like they had no idea what she was talking about.

“Just last Friday, you didn’t want to go home from school!” Julie said. “Two days ago.”

“That was at the other building!” Paddie said in such a way that it was clear they’d been over this more than a few times.

“Misneach,” Katy said.

“What’s that?” Jill asked.

“Courage,” Julie said. “Paddie’s Uncle Cian says that to him.”

“All right, then,” Jill said. “Misneach, it is.”

She turned toward the school.

“Schools about to start,” Jill said. “Shall we try it?”

She looked down at Katy, who nodded. She looked at Paddie, who was looking at Katy.

“Paddie?” Jill asked.

He glanced at Jill and nodded. Jill walked across the parking lot and up to the building. She went up the short flight of stairs to the open main entrance.

“Wow,” Paddie said under his breath.

“It’s pretty ‘wow’,” Jill said.

Katy squirmed and Jill set her down. Once Katy’s feet hit the floor, Paddie wanted down as well. Together, they walked Paddie to his classroom. Katy hugged the boy. Without even a word to his mother, Paddie went into the room. Katy reached up to Jill with puckered lips. Jill lowered her cheek. Katy kissed her mother’s cheek.

“Have a good day,” Jill said. “Daddy will pick you up.”

Katy waved and ran into her classroom. The women stood in the hallway for a moment to see if either child came out. When all seemed to be well, Jill turned to Julie.

“Shall we start the tour?” Jill asked.

Julie nodded.

“This hallway is mostly classrooms,” Jill said with a smile.

She led Heather and Julie down the hall and into the building.


Monday morning — 9:35 A.M.
Denver, Colorado

“Yes, ma’am, that’s correct, ” Frankie said. The District Attorney had changed the testimony schedule. Frankie was testifying before his brother this morning. “He’s sitting right there.”

“The defendant asked you to take videos of…” the Deputy District Attorney said.

“Uh, ‘sexual adventure,’ that’s what he called it,” Frankie said. “He asked if I minded if things were aggressive. I thought he meant like physical I didn’t know what he meant.”

Frankie swallowed hard. He took a drink of water from the plastic cup in front of him and looked up at the prosecutor.

“He said ‘aggressive’?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.

“Uh, something like that,” Frankie said. He lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “I wasn’t feeling really great. He asked me to come and bring my video equipment. I was thinking about something else.”

“What do you mean?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.

Frankie looked at the woman for a brief moment. His eyes flicked to Samantha Hargreaves, who nodded to him. He looked out into the audience where his mother, Wanda, and her father were sitting.

“I…” Frankie let out a breath. “Listen, I don’t have any excuses for what I did. This is the worst thing I could ever do and…”

Unable to continue, Frankie nodded. The judge covered the microphone with his hand and turned to Frankie.

“I think she’s asking why you got involved,” the judge said. “Just tell her the story, son.”

Frankie’s eyes flicked to the judge. He nodded.

“My life was kind of messed up,” Frankie said. “My step-dad had a thing for me. Told me he’d kill my mom if I… Well, my mom worked all the time and came home to take care of my step-dad. She was exhausted, sick all the time. She didn’t know he was abusing me, and I didn’t know how to tell her. The only person who really got me was my friend, Ward. He was like my… soulmate and his dad was like my dad. When Ward’s dad found out about everything, you know?”

Frankie nodded.

“He beat the crap out of my step-dad and told my mom,” Frankie said. “My mom grabbed me and ran away. My brother hid us from my step-dad, but… he tried to kill us a couple times. Then Ward got this sickness and went away to a hospital and almost died and his mom and dad split up and… I was alone, all the time. I’m not making excuses but you asked and…”

Frankie looked at the Deputy District Attorney.

“I tried to kill myself,” Frankie said. “I took all the pills in the house. My brother found me and took me to the hospital. He had my stomach pumped, and I was home before Mom got off work. I met this guy when I was walking home from school. I don’t know really what he said. I don’t know that I cared.”

Feeling movement, Frankie looked up to see the District Attorney give something to the Bailiff.

“Let the record show that the defendant was informed of the witness’s mental state,” the Deputy District Attorney said.

“From the hacking of the school nurse’s office?” the Judge asked. “The way he selected the other boys?”

He looked through the papers from the Deputy District Attorney.

“The Defense has already admitted to the hacking of the nurse’s records,” the lead Defense Attorney said.

Frankie caught Wanda’s eye. Frankie raised his eyebrows, and Wanda nodded. They had suspected that this guy had preyed on boys who were struggling.

“Please continue,” the Judge said. He set aside the document.

“The guy who had been doing it threw himself in front of a train,” Frankie said. “So I shoulda figured it was bad, but like I said, I wasn’t really thinking straight.”

Frankie shrugged.

“Then after I went once, he told me he’d get me and my brother in trouble,” Frankie said. “My mom was working at Walmart in the day and stocking the grocery at night because-a me. If my brother got into trouble…”

Frankie shook his head.

“And Ward? His father?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.

“Objection!” the lead Defense Attorney said. “Relevance.”

“We’re looking at the witnesses state of mind,” the Deputy District Attorney said. “He said that his friend and his friend’s father were a big part of his life until suddenly they weren’t.”

“Overruled,” the judge said.

“My friend, Ward, well…” Frankie said. “Ward wanted to be a girl. No, that’s not right. Ward used to say that he was a girl in a boy’s body. And his dad thought it was just a phase. He tried to toughen Ward up. Ward starved himself and… was in this prison-like hospital. I was… stuck.”

Frankie’s eyes welled up. He glanced at the judge and then at the jury.

“Ward is Wanda now,” Frankie said. “He’s… No. She’s my girlfriend. Her father got over it and her parents are back together. But then? It was just me.”

“How were you involved with the defendant?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.

“I videotaped the assault of the girls and a couple of boys,” Frankie said. “They didn’t want the video of the boys — not as valuable on the Internet.”

“Did you join in?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.

“No,” Frankie said.

“Not even with the boys?”

Frankie shook his head.

“Let the record show that there is no forensic evidence that this witness was an active participant in the sexual or physical nature of the assaults,” the Deputy District Attorney said.

Frankie pointed to the defendant.

“He used to call me ‘The Faggot,’” Frankie said with a shrug.

“So how did it work?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.

“He would tell me where to go,” Frankie said.

“By ‘he’, you mean…” the Deputy District Attorney said.

Frankie pointed to the defendant.

“Please state his name for the record,” the judge said.

“I don’t know it,” Frankie said.

As if he was thinking, the judge blinked at Frankie. He nodded to Frankie.

“Let the record show that the witness pointed at the defendant,” the Judge said to the court reporter.

“What did you call the defendant?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.

“To his face?” Frankie asked.

The Deputy District Attorney shrugged.

“I called him ‘The Boss’,” Frankie said. “That’s what he told us to call him. Behind his back, I called him ‘Herr Fuhrer’, you know like Hitler.”

“And if you didn’t call him ‘The Boss’?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.

“He would get everyone to beat on you for a while,” Frankie said. “They wouldn’t kill you. That would-a been great for me, but they’d just maim you a bit. Make an example outa you. We didn’t have insurance so it would be really bad for my mom if I got beaten up.”

“You were talking about how it worked,” the Deputy District Attorney said.

“The Boss would tell me where to go,” Frankie said. “I had to be there at a specific time. I would set up my cameras and then everything went down.”

“You didn’t intervene,” the Deputy District Attorney said in a mild tone.

The courtroom was silent. Frankie shook his head.

“No,” Frankie’s face flushed red and his eyes welled with tears. “I… I don’t have no excuse. I took videos. When they left, I’d call 9-1-1.”

Frankie sneered at the defendant.

“Didn’t know that, did you?” Frankie asked the defendant.

“We submit into evidence recordings of this witness’s 9-1-1 calls,” the Deputy District Attorney said. “His voice has been identified by forensic voice recognition.”

“We acknowledge that those are recording from the witness,” the lead Defense Attorney said.

The judge nodded.

“Why didn’t you call them beforehand?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.

“My brother asked me the same thing when he found out I was there,” Frankie said. He shrugged. “It sounds stupid but I didn’t think about calling the cops beforehand. I usually tried to make sure this kid — I mean, I know now that his name then. Now I know he’s Charlie. I tried to make sure he knew where we were going to be.”

“Why?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.

“Because he helped the… um… victims,” Frankie said.

“So you took these video recordings,” the Deputy District Attorney said. “What happened next?”

“I would compress them and give a them to the Boss,” Frankie said. “I don’t know what happened to them after that.”

“Did the defendant ever pay you for the recordings?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.

“No,” Frankie said.

“Did the defendant ever give you things?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.

“Things?” Frankie asked.

“Computers, games, drugs…”

“No,” Frankie said. “He only gave me shit. All the time. And, me? I was either trying to kill myself, in school, or getting crap from the Boss. I would cry for days after it happened. I tried to stop, you know, videotaping that… stuff, but the Boss was clear. The only way out was death. I tried to kill myself but I was too much of a failure to even be able to kill myself right.”

Frankie shrugged. The courtroom went silent.

“How did you get out of it?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.

“They tried to beat up Wanda,” Frankie said. “She called me and… I hadn’t talked to her… I mean the last time I’d talked to her, she was Ward! Then she screamed my name and… I went to help. Of course. Her dad showed up and took care of the guys trying to hurt Wanda. Then we followed them and got into the big rumble later.”

“Thank you, Frankie,” the Deputy District Attorney said. She looked at the judge. “No further questions at this time. We reserve the right to recall the witness.”

The judge banged the gavel. Frankie braced himself for the defense. Without being asked, the lead Defense Attorney hopped to his feet.

“Just to be clear,” the lead Defense Attorney said. “You got a deal from the DA. Would you care to share what they gave you?”

“You mean sentence?” Frankie asked.

“Yes,” the lead Defense Attorney said.

“I spent some time in Juvie and then now I’m at Denver Children’s Home,” Frankie said. “I get evaluated every month. If I’m not participating, I go back to Juvie. Depending on how I am when I get done, then I either go to Juvie or I get out. If I screw up, anything in the next five years, I go to prison. Period.”

“So you got some therapy,” the lead Defense Attorney said with a sneer. “After what you’ve done? That’s pretty easy.”

“If you think it’s easy, you haven’t been there,” Frankie said. “And anyway, it wasn’t the DA. It was Doc Bumpy helped me. He had records about everything that happened and all my suicides and even the stuff with my step-dad.”

“Why are you testifying then?” the lead Defense Attorney asked.

“It’s the least I can do,” Frankie said. “That guy’s a monster, a true monster. Not just for what he does to girls and guys — victims — but what he does to get the guys to do all this violence.”

The lead Defense Attorney opened his mouth to say something, but Frankie interrupted.

“I’ve been to every family to apologize and ask if there’s something I can do,” Frankie said. “Wanda’s dad takes me and stays with me. They all say they feel better when I leave.”

“But you ruined your brother’s career,” the lead Defense Attorney said.

“Is there a point here?” the Judge asked.

“Your honor,” the lead Defense Attorney said. “Some large portion of this crime revolves around the videotapes and income made from these tapes. This young man set up these violent situations so that he could take videos. He states that he gave the videos to my client, but the truth is that he sold the videos for profit.”

Frankie was so floored that his mouth fell open.

“He is the only person who stood to profit from these acts,” the lead Defense Attorney said. “You are looking at the ring leader, the only person who stood to profit from these horrific crimes.”

Frankie shook his head.

“Where the money?” Frankie asked.

“How should we know?” the lead Defense Attorney asked in a mock bewildered tone.

“Objection,” the District Attorney said. “The defense is making wild innuendo. Are we making up stories here or interviewing a witness?”

“Do you have any evidence to back your claims, Counselor?” the Judge said.

“His brother is a police detective,” the lead Defense Attorney said. “Any evidence was destroyed by his brother.”

“Do you have evidence that backs up your assertion?” the Judge asked.

“It’s not my place to do the prosecutions work for them,” the lead Defense Attorney said.

The Judge looked at the lead Defense Attorney for a moment and banged his gavel.

“Next witness,” the Judge said.

Samantha Hargreaves jumped to her feet. She helped Frankie down from the witness stand. They followed Frankie’s mother, Wanda, and her father out of the courtroom. Frankie waited for the door to close before turning to Samantha.

“What was that?” Frankie asked.

“All he has to do is create a reasonable doubt that his client didn’t do what he’s charged with,” Samantha said. “Saying you did it can create doubt in the jury’s mind.”

“Did it?” Frankie asked.

Samantha shook her head. Imitating her movement, Frankie shook his head too.

“If your all right, I should go back,” Samantha said.

Frankie nodded. He watched two uniformed police officers walked toward the courtroom with his brother. Frankie’s older brother raised a hand in hello. Frankie ran to his brother and the brothers’ hugged each other until the police officers dragged Frankie away.

“Don’t talk about the trial,” Samantha said to Frankie and his brother.

His brother nodded to Samantha.

“We won’t,” Wanda said. She gave Frankie a confident smile and he nodded. They watched Frankie’s brother head into the courtroom.

“How ’bout brunch?” Erik, Wanda’s father, asked. “My treat.”

Frankie nodded. He put his arm around Wanda and they walked out of the courthouse. Standing in front of the courthouse, Frankie looked up at the deep blue sky. For better or worse, the thing he’d dreaded most was over. He smiled at his mother.

“Can we get burgers?” Frankie asked with a smile.

“Cheeseburgers,” Wanda said.

“Oh that sounds good,” Frankie’s mother said.

“And fries,” Frankie said.

“A man after my own heart,” Erik said. “Come on, I parked over here.”

Frankie took Wanda’s hand and followed her father to lunch.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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