CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and FIFTEEN
Friday mid-day — 12:05 p.m.
Yvonne looked up from her crocheting. She glanced at her lawyer and the agent standing near the door before turning her eyes on the young people in front of her. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been in this room, but she could tell by the young people that it had been a while. They were starting to get nervous. Something had slowed down the progress of their plan.
If she was going to get them out of here, she had to start now. It was time to work on her young captors.
She shifted to look at her lawyer. Samantha Hargreaves was beautiful and knew it. Yvonne remembered meeting her father and mother at a fundraiser when she was a secretary for the DA. This woman had clearly received the best from both of her parents – looks, smarts, strength. Yvonne could feel Samantha’s strength of will and her intelligence. And, while she looked very pregnant, Yvonne bet she was the kind of woman who looked father along than she was. Like all newly pregnant women, Samantha kept touching her belly as if to say ‘My goodness, I’m big!’
“How far along are you, Ms. Hargreaves?” Yvonne kept her voice sweet and non-threatening. “You look like you’re due any day.”
Samantha looked up from the papers she was reading. She gave Yvonne a quick assessing look.
“Next week,” Samantha lied.
Yvonne could hear the lie but knew the young people would miss it.
“It’s very possible I might have the baby in this room,” Samantha looked at the young people.
“And the father?” Yvonne provoked the agent to see what he’d do. “I bet he’d be pretty mad if you had your baby without him.”
“Sperm donor,” Samantha said.
“It’s hard to find a good man,” Yvonne said.
She glanced at the handsome agent. He nodded to her as if he agreed with her. Something about the nod encouraged Yvonne to continue.
“Do you think you’ll have more children, Mrs. Smith?” Samantha asked.
“Can’t,” Yvonne said. “Mr. Alvin got so angry the first time he showed up and I was having my monthly. He beat me and had me anyway, hurt me so bad my keeper had to take me to some white doctor. He paid that doctor to take out my uterus right then and there so Mr. Alvin wouldn’t be troubled by my monthly.”
“I thought he wanted you to have his child.”
“Oh no,” Yvonne chuckled. “That man would never let me have another child. No way. No how. A child would take away from time I should spend with him. Such a needy man. Always wanted this or that, something special for this day or that day. After twenty years, you’d think he’d run out. But he always found another humiliating way to get his needs met.”
Still watching the young people, Yvonne turned her attention back to her crocheting. Her best chance was to turn the women to her side. She saw one of the women shift her head as if she was listening to them.
“I was only eighteen when I had Tanni,” Yvonne said.
“Eighteen?” Samantha asked.
“We got married young,” Yvonne said. “I guess I wasn’t yet twenty when Rodney was taken and Alvin forced himself on me the first time.”
Yvonne calculated what story would wake up these girls. She couldn’t lie. They’d spot a lie. No, Yvonne had to tell the absolute truth, and not be a whiney victim, for these children to see that they were on the wrong side of this.
“The first time, second time, hundredth time - always horrible,” Yvonne said. “He had to break me down so I would do what he wanted. Tanni was there. I feel the worst about that - the things he did to Tanni…”
To Yvonne’s surprise, the young man looked up at her. Keeping her eyes on her crocheting, from the top of her eyes, she saw his face shift from passive to curious. One more step.
“He would trick me into thinking I’d gotten away,” Yvonne said. “I’d move to another motel or stay with a friend. I thought I was safe, but if I left her for even a moment to use the toilet or get some ice or… He was there to hurt her. Every job I took, he’d find her while I worked. Got to the point that I had to choose – keep her safe or work. The worst thing was he told everyone, even my momma, that I wanted to be a prostitute, chose it.”
She gave an indignant snort and turned her full attention back to her crocheting. Time to back off a bit or they’d catch on to her game.
“He sure knew he had to break me down,” Yvonne said. “Growing up in Alabama, we saw it a lot. People break down cows or horses or…”
“People,” the agent said. “I saw it done growing up in Queens. Break their will.”
“That’s exactly right,” Yvonne said. “Break them down; take away their will, so as you can control them. A broken cow doesn’t give great milk, but she is passive. That’s what he wanted. Well, what he really wanted was for me to love him, but that wasn’t ever going to happen.”
Not wanting to push, she fell silent and focused on her crocheting.
Friday mid-day — 12:45 p.m.
“Hi,” Jill said when Jacob came in the loft. She’d been reading by the gas fireplace in their living area. “What are you doing home?”
“Making sure you didn’t run off with some prince,” he smiled and she laughed.
“Would you like lunch?” She got up to hug him. He kissed her and they held each other. “Lunch?”
“Why are you here?” she asked.
“Oh right,” Jacob smiled. “You wipe every thought from my head.”
She smiled and walked to the kitchen.
“The stained glass guy left a message saying the windows were done,” Jacob said.
“Jim?” Jill asked. “I didn’t know we had any orders out with him.”
“That’s what I said when I called him back,” Jacob said. “It’s for the chapel.”
“The chapel?” Jill asked. “Wow, I forgot all about it.”
“Me too,” he said. “I mean, it’s gone back together one tiny piece at a time.
“Floors, walls, light fixtures…” Jill counted on her hands. “Wow, I guess you’re right. I guess I thought you had more to do there.”
“I thought you had more to do there,” Jacob said. “And it was one thing after another, one more thing to wait for.”
“Crazy,” Jill shook her head. “Sandwich? Soup? Salad? What sounds good?”
“You?” Jacob smiled. She hugged him.
“I thought Jim was coming,” Jill said.
“Jim came and went,” Jacob said. “I’ve never seen a team put in windows so fast. They put them in, added the extra pane to support and protect the new windows, and were gone in less than a half hour.”
“I’ll call Rosa and ask her to clean,” Jill said.
“Rosa was waiting for me in the kitchen,” Jacob said. “Delphie called. Told her that I needed her help. She’s cleaning the chapel right now and…”
“MJ and Honey’s home,” Jill said. “We’re done with that too?”
“By tonight,” Jacob said. “I just have to put the showerheads on.”
“Wow,” Jill said. “They’ll be thrilled.”
“Rosa’s cleaning there too,” Jacob said. “I asked her to put sheets on the beds and towels. They should be able to sleep there tonight.”
“Just in time for their baby,” Jill said. “That was really nice of you.”
“I figured it was my mom who made it work out.”
“Well, you did the work.”
“I’m merely a slave to the women in my life,” Jacob bowed and Jill laughed. “You seem less miserable.”
“One week down, seven to go,” she said. “Plus, there’ll be a wedding tonight.”
“God I hope so,” Jacob said.
“How about lunch?” Jill asked.
“Sure,” Jacob said.
Jill easily made sandwiches and fruit. He carried them out to the small patio off their bathroom which overlooked the garden. For the next hour or so, they had lunch and enjoyed the day.
Friday mid-day — 12:45 p.m.
“And Tanesha, Mrs. Smith?” Samantha broke the silence. “What does she think?”
“She doesn’t blame me for what happened,” Yvonne’s lovely face flushed with emotion and her eyes welled with tears. “She’s… my Tanni, she’s…”
Yvonne fell silent while she sniffled. While she was upset about Tanesha, and did think she was an amazing child, Tanesha would kill her for fussing like this in front of strangers.
“Wait,” one of the young women said. “You’re Yvonne Smith. Is your daughter Tanesha Smith?”
“That’s right,” Yvonne said. “I call her Tanni, but I’m the only one who does. Do you know my daughter?”
Smiling, Yvonne dared to look in the woman’s face for the first time. The young woman glanced at the woman seated next to her.
“Is she married to Jeraine Wilson?” the other woman asked.
“That’s right,” Yvonne said.
The women glance at each other.
“So she’s Misty?” the first woman asked.
“Her Daddy called her ‘Miss T’ when she was a baby,” Yvonne said. “Jeraine, why he’s my friend Dionne’s baby. He used to touch my belly and say, ‘I can’t wait until your baby is born.’ Her Daddy would say, ‘Why is that?’ Jeraine would say, ‘Cuz she’s gonna be my best friend.’ Gosh, Jeraine must have been three years old.”
“He was the cutest child,” Yvonne said.
“But now,” the woman said. “Is she Miss T now?”
“Oh,” Yvonne said. “I don’t know. I don’t remember things very well now. I hurt myself to get Mr. Alvin to stop raping Tanni and…”
The young man made an unconscious click of his tongue. He fell back in his chair and looked away. Yvonne could almost feel the intensity of the look the agent gave the young man. She didn’t want the young man to suspect her game so she clammed up.
“How do you remember now?” The second woman’s voice was snide.
“My husband wrote it on the inside of my hand in marker,” Yvonne opened her left hand so the woman could see. “It says, ‘I love you. Tanni’s married to Jer. You’re finally home.’ And on my ring finger it says, ‘We’re getting married tomorrow.’ So many words he had to write on the sides too. See.”
Yvonne held up her hand.
“I’d recognize Rodney’s handwriting anywhere,” Yvonne said. “He learned from my Aunt NeNe. We were so poor… Oh Lord, we didn’t have school or running water. Dirt floors and an outhouse, if you were lucky. Aunt NeNe was from the city. She taught us to read, write, type, and to think.”
Yvonne chuckled. She was pretty sure she’d won the young man and had the girls on the hook. She had to set it. Yvonne sighed.
“Rodney, that’s my husband, he’s a lot older than me. Five or six years. I guess now that I’m in my forties, it’s not so much older, but he always seemed o-l-d to me.” Yvonne smiled. “His Momma was the only thing close to medical in our area. She helped give birth to me and Rodney was there. That’s how we met, in case you were wondering.
“We lived out on the fields. His Daddy share cropped the farm where we lived and the one next to it. My Aunt had an arrangement with the man who owned the fields. She did his bookkeeping in exchange for letting us live there. We also processed some of the food and took care of the livestock. Gosh, from the time I was one or two years old, I was collecting eggs, washing cucumbers, packing potatoes into boxes, milking goats… That was our life.”
“Of course, the best part about it was Rodney,” Yvonne said. “He and his sisters worked at our house while his older brothers and his daddy worked the farm. He was the youngest and his mother’s favorite. She convinced his daddy that Rodney was a weak, sickly child, who wouldn’t amount to much.”
Samantha and the agent laughed.
“I know,” Yvonne beamed at the young people. “You should see my husband. He’s tall, taller than the agent there, big…”
Yvonne used her hands to indicate his muscles.
“His hands are as big as basketballs,” the agent said.
“That too,” Yvonne said. “And he’s smart. Really smart. Aunt NeNe taught him to read behind his daddy’s back. He read every book in our house. Aunt NeNe would barter for books for him. I’d sneak them to him. He…”
Yvonne’s face radiated with joy.
“He’s amazing,” Samantha said. “My Dad had him over for dinner when he was first out of prison. He and my Dad talked until the morning about life, justice, the prison system… He left a big impression on my father and he’s hard to impress.”
“We met the General and your Mom a few times when I worked for the DA,” Yvonne said. “Nice people.”
“What I can’t get over is how Rodney isn’t mad about Aaron Alvin sending him to prison,” Samantha tried her hand at Yvonne’s game. Yvonne smiled to encourage her. “I’d be furious.”
“Rodney’s not like that. He’s…” Yvonne’s entire face broke into a smile that seemed to light up the room. “The best person in the whole wide world. He could always make the very worst thing seem beautiful. When I was four or five, the owner of our house gave me seven chicks to raise. I loved those chicks, played with them, named them, fussed over them, fed them, and then one day…”
Yvonne glanced up to see if she had the young people’s attention. Seeing their interest, she sighed.
“They were fryers,” she said. “Aunt NeNe told me they were fryers but I didn’t know what that meant. My chickens were rounded up and killed. I was so upset I ran and hid. I cried for hours until Rodney found me. He didn’t belittle my feelings or tell me to grow up. He told me I had given the chickens the sacred gift of my love and they could in turn pass my gift along. So by loving even one chicken as much as I did, I was passing love to all the people who benefited from her. He told me that I loved because I was a loving person and that I was the best kind of person, a rare precious jewel.”
“Those words,” Yvonne said. “They’ve meant a lot to me in the last years. They helped me turn horrible days and nights into bearable survival. I loved because that’s who I am and I had to believe that my actions would help others even if I didn’t know it.”
When she looked up, she saw that she had the young people’s full attention. Samantha’s mouth had dropped open a little. Yvonne gave her a little nod.
“From that moment forward, all I ever wanted was to be married to him,” Yvonne smiled. “Him too. He told me he wanted me to be in his life forever. Kind of silly, I guess, but that’s when we decided to get married. Because I was living with Aunt NeNe and my momma was raped, I didn’t have anyone to sign to let us get married early. We had to wait until it was legal for me. We got married at the courthouse and took to the road. Rodney got into Metro college and my momma was here.”
Yvonne’s flushed with emotion and she smiled to herself.
“It was a pretty exciting time,” she said.
“You waited two years to have Tanesha?” Samantha asked.
“We didn’t want to be too poor. I mean, we knew poverty. We didn’t want Tanni to know it like we did,” Yvonne said. “Rodney had finished two years in school and I’d been working for the DA about as long. We bought this cute little house caddy-corner to my momma’s house. We were so, so, so happy.”
Her words hung over the room. She glanced at the young people. They looked like they were working out what happened. Yvonne was afraid to move or she’d break the spell.
“I saw that interview,” the young woman nearest to her said. “You know the one with Tanesha and Jeraine?”
Yvonne shook her head.
“Tanesha and Jeraine were interviewed by Diana Sawyer,” Samantha said.
“I wasn’t allowed a television or a phone or a computer,” Yvonne said. “I didn’t see it.”
“I bet we can find you a copy.”
The young man pulled Samantha’s laptop from under the table and opened it up. He typed for a while and then turned the computer so everyone could see.
“Look! That’s Tanni!” Yvonne said. “That’s Jeraine!”
“Shh…” Samantha shushed her.
Yvonne leaned forward. For the next forty-five minutes, they watched Tanesha and Jeraine. Yvonne sniffled at some places. Near the end, the blonde lady asked if Tanesha had one wish. Without hesitation, Tanesha said, “That my mother could come home.” Tanesha’s eyes welled with tears and Jeraine hugged her close.
Yvonne began to cry. The hopelessness and desperation of her situation overwhelmed her. She was just a small woman in a world of powerful men. She was caught by the spider.
She felt a strong hand on her shoulder.
“It’s time to let us go.” The agent’s Queens accent added a measure of threat to his words. “You don’t want to do this.”
“We already have,” the young man’s voice cracked with desperation.
“You haven’t done a thing,” the agent said. “You were supposed to do something, but they’ve clearly been detained. You haven’t done it. Yet. You can decide not to do it.”
“You broke our phones. That’s all. Mine was government issue. I’ll get another the moment I walk out of this room. Sami?”
“I hate that phone,” Samantha said.
“All this woman wants to do is live the rest of her life with her family,” the agent said. “Don’t you think more than twenty years of rape and torture is enough? Hasn’t she suffered enough?”
The young people stared at the agent. Yvonne knew that this was the moment. These young people would either let them go or kill them. The thought of never seeing Rodney or Tanesha again overwhelmed Yvonne. She bent over and sobbed into her hands.
The young man stood from his seat. The two young women looked at him. He nodded his head and walked to the door. Using a key, he opened the door.
“Go,” he said.
Faster than she could blink, the agent lifted her from her chair and they were trotting down the police hallway with Samantha at their side. They reached a door and the agent set her down.
The agent kicked the door open and he was carrying her again. They reached an elevator and Samantha pushed the button. When the elevator didn’t come, Samantha ran to the stairwell. The door was locked.
They could hear people moving in the building around them.
They could hear people coming for them.
Samantha pointed to the restroom sign. They ran down the hallway to the women’s restroom and slipped inside.
There was no way to lock the door. The agent leaned his weight against it.
Terrified, Yvonne felt like her heart was going to beat out of her chest.
This was it.
She would either die today or go home to live forever.
Bang! Someone hit the bathroom door.
The Denver Cereal will continue next week
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