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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-SEVEN
Sunday night —8:20 p.m. MT
Over the United States
Feeding her new baby boy, Heather looked up when Jill walked toward her. They were flying back to Denver after a long weekend of fun and adventure. The mood on the plane was markedly different than when they went to New York City. Just a few days ago, they’d hoped to get to Sissy before she died. Tonight, everyone was happy and relaxed from an afternoon and evening of music and food on the roof.
Heather glanced to where the teenagers were hanging out. Tink was fast asleep. Heather looked up when Jill neared. Jill pointed to the spot next to Heather, who nudged Sandy to move over. Sandy looked up from her magazine and nodded to Jill before moving over. Jill sat down next to Heather on the bench couch. Her head in a textbook, Tanesha sat in a chair across from them. Her long legs stretched across the space so that her feet could press the bench.
“How is he?” Jill whispered.
“Perfect,” Heather said with a smile.
Jill leaned over to look in his face.
“I feel like I never see him,” Jill said.
“You were really nice to breastfeed him after I was shot,” Heather said. “And now.”
Heather gestured to the bottle she was feeding her baby.
“I certainly have enough milk!” Jill said with a laugh.
“Thanks,” Heather nodded.
Jill put her arm around Heather in an open hug.
“Mack was ready to go the moment he was born,” Heather said. She gestured to the chair next to Tanesha where her eldest son was sleeping. “I didn’t get this kind of snuggling with him.”
“Like Katy,” Sandy said. “You have to catch her for a snuggle.”
The friends nodded.
“This boy is a love,” Heather said. She leaned over to kiss his cheek.
“He is,” Jill said. She stroked his tiny head. “
Jill leaned forward to touch Sandy’s knee. Sandy looked up at Jill.
“How are you?” Jill asked Sandy.
Sandy shrugged and looked back at her magazine. The girlfriends waited for Sandy to respond. When she didn’t say anything, Heather knocked her shoulder into Sandy.
“Oh, how am I?” Sandy asked with a sigh. “At this moment, I feel pretty good. The concert went well. Everyone had a great time. Jeraine won and I got to see my gorgeous friend Tanesha celebrated on live television.”
Tanesha looked up and Sandy smiled.
“But give me a minute,” Sandy continued. “I’ll go right back to feeling bad for leaving Sissy in New York City all by herself.”
“Like she asked for,” Tanesha said.
“More like begged,” Heather said.
“It feels crummy,” Sandy said.
“You’ve just been there — night and day — since she got shot,” Jill said. “It makes sense that you feel weird for not staying.”
“What is she going to do?” Tanesha asked the question that she knew was soothing to Sandy.
“She should get out of the hospital tomorrow morning. Bestat is going to help her move in to her home where Sissy will stay for a week or so, maybe a month.” As she had a few times already, Sandy repeated Sissy’s plans. “When she’s able to move around on her own, she’ll move in with Ivan and Nadia. That gives them time to make a space for her in their loft.”
“What’s the loft like?” Heather asked the other question that made Sandy feel more confident.
“Kind of barren, really,” Sandy said. “Concrete floor, lots of open space and open windows. But also really nice. They are going to make a couple of rooms and a bathroom for Sissy. She’ll move in when she’s ready.”
“Will she move in by herself?” Jill asked the last question that made Sandy feel better.
“No, Charlie’s moving in with her,” Sandy said with a smile and a nod. “He has to testify this week but then he’s going to move in with them. Ivan’s going to help them rehabilitate from their injuries. Charlie’ll just stay there until he’s strong again. He’ll be home by the fall at the latest.”
“Tink’s going to visit him this summer,” Heather added.
Sandy smiled and nodded.
“Thanks,” Sandy said. “I was feeling a little guilty.”
“What’s happening with Nash?” Jill asked the question that would calm Sandy’s next worry.
Sandy grinned at Jill.
“Well?” Tanesha asked.
“He talked to your mom, Jill,” Sandy said. “She’s going to take him under her wing to help him get cultured.”
Sandy leaned forward so her ample chest pressed against her knee.
“Me too,” Sandy said. “I get to go to museums and stuff. Anjelika bought us a family pass.”
“Me too,” Jill said.
“And me!” Heather said with a smile.
“I catch up when I can,” Tanesha said. “It sounds really fun.”
Sandy smiled and nodded.
“And tomorrow?” Jill asked.
“That horrible trial,” Sandy’s mood darkened. “The whole thing is so awful. I mean…”
“No, I meant in the evening,” Jill said.
“Marriage classes with our priest,” Sandy said with a smile. “We’re getting married at the Cathedral in June.”
Heather and Tanesha shared a looked.
“What was that?” Jill asked.
“Better you than me,” Tanesha said. “I cannot imagine what Jeraine would have to say about it.”
She shot a look to where he and Jabari were fast asleep.
“Did you ever talk Jacob into going?” Heather asked.
“Oh, he’s going,” Jill said with a firm nod.”Why wouldn’t he?”
Heather and Tanesha laughed. Jill smiled and Sandy chuckled.
“They’re scared shitless,” Sandy said.
“Jacob and Aden,” Jill said with a nod.
“Did I tell you?” Heather asked.
“That Blane’s coming home tomorrow?” Tanesha asked.
“Only about fifteen times,” Sandy said.
The girlfriends laughed.
“What?” Heather asked. “I’m excited!”
They laughed again and then fell silent.
“Tomorrow,” Sandy said with a sigh.
Heather, Jill, and Tanesha looked at her. Sandy nodded. Caught in their own thoughts, they fell silent.
Sunday night — 11:50 p.m.
The buzzing sound woke Sandy with a start. She sat up in bed. The glowing red numbers of the clock told her that they had climbed into bed only ten minutes ago. She groaned and got up to get her cellphone.
“Hello?” Sandy answered without looking at the number.
“Sandy?” Samantha Hargreaves’s voice was on the phone.
Sandy pulled the phone away from her ear to look at the number.
“Sami?” Sandy asked. “What number are you calling from?”
“I’m calling from Art’s,” Samantha said. “I didn’t know if you’d pick up.”
“111-222-3333 is Art’s number?” Sandy asked.
“Sure,” Samantha said in a dry tone.
“Oh,” Sandy said. When Samantha didn’t say anything else, Sandy said, “Well, we’re home. See you in the morning.”
She hung up the phone and set it down. Hoping it wouldn’t ring again, she backed away from the phone with her hands up.
“What was that?” Aden asked.
“Samantha,” Sandy said. Her eyes never left the phone.
“Ah shit,” Aden said. “What does that mean?”
“Nothing,” Sandy said. “I hope.”
They stared at the phone. When it didn’t ring, Sandy went to use the bathroom. When she came out, Aden was holding her cellphone.
“It’s Samantha,” he said.
Sandy scrunched up her face and shook her head.
“Can I tell her what this is regarding?” Aden asked.
“Very funny.” Samantha’s voice was loud enough for Sandy to hear.
Sandy held out her hand and Aden gave her the phone.
“I’m here,” Sandy said.
“You know how I warned you…” Samantha said.
“The defendant’s last chance to fuck with the kids is tonight,” Sandy said.
“Did I say that?” Samantha said with a laugh.
“Not in those exact words,” Sandy said.
“They want Charlie, Tink, and Nash, and a few of the families,” Samantha said. “I was able to keep the younger kids out of it.”
“Thanks,” Sandy said.
“They have to come downtown,” Samantha said.
“Tonight?” Sandy asked.
“Right now,” Samantha said. “This is his last chance to accept the plea bargain. The victims need to approve the plea bargain so they need to be here.”
“Tink has to testify tomorrow!” Sandy said.
“She’s scheduled,” Samantha said. “But the schedule is shifting. If the plea goes through, they won’t have to testify, and that’s really what we want. If the plea doesn’t go through, the DA wants to spend the first day on procedures like picking a jury. Did I tell you he’s decided to try this himself?”
“So everything is up in the air,” Sandy said.
“All we have to do right now is go,” Samantha said. “We sit in a room with each other while the lawyers work. The DA will bring us a deal. If we accept it, no one has to testify. If we don’t , they start jury selection in a few hours.”
Sandy grunted with disgust.
“You don’t sound confident that we’ll reach a plea tonight,” Samantha said.
“I am confident that this is another game to convince these children not to testify,” Sandy said.
“You know I can’t respond to that,” Samantha said with a yawn. “Will you meet me? Please?”
Sandy looked across the room at Aden. He nodded.
“We’ll be there,” Sandy said.
“The Marshalls offered to send security,” Samantha said. “But I’ve recruited my own security. Do not leave the Castle until someone comes for you.”
“Someone?” Sandy asked.
“Someone you recognize,” Samantha said.
“You won’t tell me who?” Sandy asked.
“I’m not sure,” Samantha said. “That’s part of the security. See you downtown in a half hour.”
“I don’t know when we’ll get there,” Sandy said. “The kids just got in bed. Charlie’s taking meds and Tink is…”
“Just do what you can,” Samantha said. “I’ll be in touch.”
Sandy clicked off the phone.
“What can I do?” Aden asked.
“We have to get them up,” Sandy said. “Just Tink, Charlie, and Nash.”
Aden pulled on pajama bottoms and went out into their living room where the kids were sleeping together for one last time. They were wide awake.
“There’s no freakin’ way we’re not going,” Noelle said to Aden when he came in the room.
“No way,” Wanda said.
“If they have to go, I have to go,” Ivy said.
“They only need the older kids,” Aden said. “Charlie, Tink, and Nash.”
“Too bad,” Ivy said. “He did the crime to us. He’s going to have to deal with all of us.”
Aden looked at Sandy as she came into the room.
“It’s not going to be any fun,” Sandy said. “Most likely, it’s just some stupid thing meant to intimidate you.”
“I’m not intimidated,” Noelle said with a stubborn tilt of her chin.
“I’m not either,” Ivy said.
“I don’t know, guys,” Aden said.
“I do,” Noelle said. “We’re going if we have to walk there.”
“Sounds like they’re clear,” Sandy said.
Aden looked at her. She gave him a grim smile.
“Looks like we’re going to the court house,” Sandy said.
The children’s heads went up and down in a nod.
“Okay, we have two bathrooms,” Sandy said. “Use them as fast as you can. We’ll leave as soon as our ride gets here.”
“Our ride?” Ivy asked.
As if on cue, there was a knock at their apartment door. Aden went to answer it. He paused for a minute before opening it. Bruno, Otis’s long time bodyguard, was standing on the other side of the door.
“Aden!” Bruno said. “I heard you needed a ride downtown.”
“We have to go to the courthouse,” Aden said.
“Lucky for you, the wife and I are visiting Colorado this week,” Bruno nodded. “We’re staying at Ivan’s apartment just around the corner. Nice place.”
“Thank you so much.” Sandy came to the door to take his hands. “We need help.”
“I hope you don’t mind but I called a few good guys,” Bruno said. “In exchange, they want to speak with the Oracle.”
“Delphie?” Aden asked.
“She had agreed, so the deal is set,” Bruno said with a nod. “Now, they will do anything we ask.”
“What guys?” Sandy asked.
“Bratva,” Bruno said. “I’ll wait right here. We go in eight minutes.”
The kids jumped up and started running around. Soon, Sandy, Aden, and Bruno were alone in the living room.
“Works every time,” Bruno said.
“What does?” Aden asked.
“Get the children moving,” Bruno said. “Bosses too.”
“I wait for you outside door,” Bruno said.
Sandy nodded to the man.
“Shall we?” Aden asked.
Sandy nodded. They went into their bedroom to get ready.
Sunday night — 7:47 p.m.
Sandy sat in a chair in front of a paper bag that had been filled with her mail. A small stack of bills sat on a folding chair next to her. An overflowing paper bag stuffed with envelopes, flyers, catalogs, and other things for the recycling bin sat on her right. While they waited to hear the next plea deal, she’d been going through the mail she’d missed while visiting New York.
She gave an angry snort at the idea that they’d heard any plea deals. They’d rushed down to the courthouse only to sit in this room. Once an hour, a representative from the DA’s office came to tell them that they were still negotiating. About an hour ago, they’d brought the deal the defendant wanted — the single count of rape for the assault caught on the ATM tape. He’d be sentenced to ten years in jail at the most. The defendant was likely to be out with the time he’d already served. Tink had jumped to her feet and started screaming at the associate DA. The other girls joined her. Intimidated by them, the associate DA scurried out of the room.
Shaking her head, Sandy reached into the bottom of the bag to grab the last letter. It was stuck under a flap under the paper bag. She had to tug on it to get it free. Without looking at it, she turned the envelope over and pulled the letter out. Just then, the door opened and the DA appeared. Samantha Hargreaves got up to speak with him. Sandy’s eyes followed the interaction while her hands opened the letter. Seeing Samantha shake her head, Sandy looked down at the letter.
She gasped, and swallowed hard.
“Sandy?” Aden asked. He got up from where he was playing cards with Charlie, Nash, Teddy, and a couple of the other fathers. “Are you okay?”
Her eyes flicked up to look at him and then back of the letter.
“You’re pale as a sheet,” Aden said. “What is it?”
He grabbed the letter from her hands and read it. Sandy stared at the check.
“Oh,” Aden said. “Wow.”
“Okay, this is where we are…” Samantha said.
The room became instantly silent. The children and parents turned their full attention toward the door. Aden turned around to look at Samantha.
“His representation is confident they can beat this case,” Samantha said. “They’ve been through the evidence. They are sure their client will be exonerated. In fact, they’re filing a defamation case when the courts open in an hour.”
“What?” Sandy asked into the chorus of questions and swear words.
Samantha held up her hands for them to be quiet. The room became silent again.
“The problem is that they could be right,” Samantha said. “We can connect the financier and this man. We know that Aden and Jake saw him when Noelle was attacked. But the financier is dead and otherwise…”
“What about the guys?” Sandy asked. “Surely the other boys are testifying against him.”
“No,” Samantha said. “The boys are shockingly quiet. Most of them have refused to participate in this case or can’t be because of their plea deals. He could easily walk”
No one said anything.
“Why would the boys do that?” Charlie asked.
“If this jerk is found non-guilty, they can appeal their cases,” Samantha said.
“How?” The father of one of the girls who had killed herself.
“They can say that he was the leader. If he’s not guilty, then they aren’t.” Samantha gave a small nod of her head. “It doesn’t feel fair, I know, but it is legal.”
“What do you recommend we do?” Sandy asked.
“We have to go to trial,” Samantha said.
“To trial?” One of the father’s asked. “You said that my daughter wouldn’t have to testify.”
“I was hoping she wouldn’t have to,” Samantha said. “I’m sorry. They are betting that you won’t would rather have him go free than have the kids testify.”
“You’ve got that right,” another father said.
“We have a few minutes if you’d like to think about it,” Samantha said.
The children looked at each other. The parents whispered among themselves.
“I say we go to trial,” Tink said with a nod.
Sandy glanced at Heather, who was giving Tink a worried look.
“I think so, too,” one of the other girls said.
“I don’t know,” Ivy’s Aunt Grace said. “Testifying can be really awful.”
“What we went through was really awful,” Wanda said. “And this guy did this in other cities. Imagine what those girls feel like if we just let him walk.”
“Or the girls who killed themselves,” Charlie said with a nod. “We owe it to them to go through with it.”
“We have to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves,” Noelle said with a nod.
Sandy’s eyes flicked down the row of her children and their friends. The other girls were also clear. The children were ready to fight. Glancing at the other parents, she saw that their faces held the dread she felt in her own heart.
“I don’t know,” Aden said.
“You know he’ll do it again,” Tink said.
Trying to find some wisdom, Sandy looked up at the ceiling.
“I have to bring them something,” Samantha said.
“Tell them we’re going to trial,” one of the other mother said. “My daughter died at their hands as surely as if they murdered her themselves. If these kids are willing to testify in her place, I’m certainly not going to say ‘no’.”
The other parents gave grudging nods.
“Sandy?” Samantha asked.
Sandy glanced at the check for a second and then looked up at Samantha.
“I think we go to trial,” Sandy said with a nod.
“Then you agree?” Samantha asked. She looked around the room at the nodding heads. “I’ll go tell them.”
Samantha left the room.
“Let’s go home,” Aden said.
“Can we get breakfast?” Charlie asked. “Sam’s is right here.”
“Yes, in fact, it’s my treat,” Sandy said. “I still have Schmidty’s credit card.”
She glanced at Aden, who nodded. Standing up, she folded the check and tucked it in her back pocket.
“Please, do join us,” Aden said to the other parents. “It’s going to be a long haul. We may as well get to know each other.”
A few of the parents nodded while the others begged off. They waited until their bodyguards came to get them. Sandy followed Ivy and Wanda out of the building. They were almost to the glass doors when Ivy tugged on her arm. Sandy looked at the young girl.
“Is that the guy?” Ivy pointed to a young man making his way across the lobby. His arms were handcuffed together and his legs in shackles. He sported a Denver Sherriff’s officer on either arm. The young man whistled at Tink and made kissing lips at her. Aden stepped between Tink and the young man.
“That’s him,” Sandy said.
“Oh,” Ivy said.
“Why do you ask, Ivy?” Samantha asked.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
In the upcoming weeks, we’re going to work our way through the rape trial. This may include some difficult and graphic details. We are going into these details as a way to shine a light on the brave women and men who testify in these trials every day of the year. To skip over the actual telling of these characters stories feels like a betrayal to me. I have to be brave because they were so brave.
My promise to you is that I will do my best to tell the story, include only what’s necessary to tell the story, and cut out any unnecessary or gratuitous gore or violence.
I would completely understand if you wished to skip those parts of the story.
I will make every effort to post a note at the beginning of the more graphic posts so that you know when it’s coming.
Why has it taken so long? Because it takes a long time to bring these cases to trial. There is often witness tampering. When I worked as a therapist with victims of violent crimes, I saw witnesses threatened, shot, beaten, and most certainly harassed during plea bargaining. This is how these cases work — in every state and especially in the US military.
Together, we’re going to get through this.
This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.