Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Two Hundred and Fifty-Three : Freaks

Chapter Two Hundred and Fifty-three


Thursday afternoon — 1:27 p.m.

“Come on.” Tink pointed Wanda toward the East High girls’ bathroom. “You have to go there at some point.”

“I can always . . .” Wanda leaned on one crutch and pointed toward the nurse’s office where she usually used the bathroom.

“You have to go,” Sissy said. “Tink’s not supposed to be unaccompanied.”

“You’re not going?” Wanda asked.

“I don’t count,” Sissy beamed.

Tink laughed. Today was the first day they were all back in school together since Tink was expelled, and Wanda and Noelle were attacked. Tink was on probation. Sissy and Wanda had promised to keep her from tasering grabby rapists so she could come to school.

“I don’t want to be some test case,” Wanda said. “All over the Denver Post and whatever.”

“You’re already all over the Denver Post.” Sissy nudged Wanda into the bathroom. “Go. We’ll be right here.”

Sissy went in first and held the door for Wanda. She crutched into the hallowed space of the girl’s bathroom and Tink followed. No one was in the room. Relieved, Wanda hightailed it to the end stall. Someday she hoped she would feel comfortable in these places. Right now, everything felt dangerous. She was about to leave the stall when she heard a group of sophomore girls come into the bathroom. The girls were laughing and talking all at once. Wanda hoped to stay in the stall until they left. She knew Tink was terrified of these girls too.

Sissy was in the stall next to her and came out.

“Look who it is,” one of the girls said.

“The ballerina,” another girl said.

“Get out of my way,” Sissy said.

“Oooh, we’re scared,” another girl said.

Wanda heard Tink get up to help Sissy.

“Freak number two,” a girl said. “Where’s the third?”

A girl’s face appeared under the stall.

“In here,” the face said. “Boys aren’t allowed in the girls’ bathroom, freak.”

Wanda’s entire body shook with terror.

“Yeah, like you’re the bathroom police,” Tink said. “Come on, Wanda.”

Tink knocked on the door and helped Wanda out of the stall.

“Can’t you see she’s a girl?” Sissy sniffed and stood to her full ballerina height.

“Freak,” a girl said. “Look at the freaks.”

The girls began chanting “Freak! Freak! Freak!”

Tink pushed through them to the sinks and Wanda followed in her wake. The girls continued chanting. Sissy was almost to the door when it opened. The girls fell silent as a senior came into the bathroom. Her eyes flicked from the group of girls to Sissy, Tink, and Wanda.

“What are you doing?” the older girl at the door asked.

“They’s freaks,” the girl who started the chant said.

“Do you know who these girls are?” the older girl asked. “This is Tink. She’s the person who stood up to the rapists, right here at school. You know where they are now?”

The sophomore girls looked at each other.

“In jail,” the older girl said. “They are not going to rape anyone anytime soon. You know how Wanda broke her leg?”

The sophomore girls looked like they wanted to hide.

“I’ll tell you,” the older girl said. “After running down the rapists to keep them from hurting her friend, she, her boyfriend, and her dad fought with the rapists until the police came. Did you do that?”

The older girl pointed at the ringleader.

“Or you?” she asked another girl. “I’ll tell you that I didn’t. They grabbed me too, Tink. I was so scared I didn’t do anything or tell anyone. I was embarrassed. I thought if people knew, they would think I was a slut or a whore or . . . and I wouldn’t get asked to prom. You know what happened?”

The silence in the bathroom became sticky hot because everyone knew what had happened.

“They raped my little sister, same guys,” the older girl said. “Brutalized her and left her beside the river like she was garbage. She was in the hospital for a month. She still can’t be in crowds or go to school.”

“How you know these freaks did anything?” one of the girls shouted from the back of the group.

“I was at the police station,” the older girl said. “This is Sissy. Her brother, Charlie, worked with the police to find all the guys. He tried to help my little sister after everything happened. He’s going to testify against the guys who . . .”

The older girl swallowed a quick breath to keep from crying.

“It could have been any of you,” the older girl said. “My sister was walking home from school. Any of you walk home from school?”

“They like virgins,” Tink threw out the words.

“My sister told everybody that she didn’t remember anything,” the older girl said. “We were at the police station and she saw Charlie. He stopped and talked to her and my mom. Tink was there. I don’t know what they said, but my sister finally spoke up. She told that Homeland Security guy, the blonde, everything that happened. She even pointed out the guys involved. My mom was . . .”

The older girl nodded and looked at Tink.

“We told her to be brave,” Tink said. “Charlie . . . he thinks girls are stronger than boys. He says that these boys are weak and pathetic, and not telling what we know only lets the weak dominate the strong.”

“After talking and pointing out the guys, my sister’s better than she’s been,” the older girl said. The older girl looked from Wanda to Tink and Sissy before adding, “If you ever need help, you let me know. Me or any of my friends.”

“Frankie,” a girl near the corner piped up and said to Wanda. “That your boyfriend?”

Wanda nodded.

“He’s fine,” another girl said. “So’s that Charlie.”

The girls nodded to Sissy.

“Charlie’s dating Tink.” Sissy couldn’t help but sound like a snot.

The girls turned to look at Tink and she blushed.

“What’s going on in here, Jen?” asked another older girl as she came in the bathroom.

“They were hassling Tink, Sissy, and Wanda,” the older girl said.

“Assholes,” her friend called out the door. “Hey you guys, Sissy, Tink and Wanda are in here.”

The older girl made a path through the sophomore girls. Tink followed by Wanda with Sissy at the back, went through the tunnel of sophomores. They got out into the hall and the older girls clapped for them. Tink blushed and moved closer to Sissy and Wanda. They did their best to keep moving. They got to their next class and sat down in the front. Beaming, Sissy looked at Tink and then at Wanda.

“What?” Wanda asked.

“Nothing,” Sissy said. “Seems like we’re not freaks anymore.”

“Speak for yourself,” Wanda said.

Tink laughed, Sissy giggled in response, and Wanda smiled. They giggled until the teacher started class.


Thursday afternoon — 3:27 p.m.

Sandy smiled at her own brilliance. She’d made good use of her light schedule and called Alex Hargreaves. The room was full of soldiers. The new hairstylists were working on some wives of young servicemen while Sandy had Alex’s team lined up for haircuts and shaves.

Agent Rasmussen was sitting in her stylist chair. Sandy put her hands on his shoulders.

“What would you like today?” Sandy asked.

Raz’s intelligent eyes smiled at her and she knew she’d been caught.

“We’re never going to complain, Sandy,” Alex’s friend Troy said from under warm moist towels. “But you just can’t expect to fool us.”

“Good deal all around, I’d say,” Alex laughed from where she was sitting under the hair dryers.

“No complaints here,” Alex’s assistant Dusty said.

Colin Hargreaves chuckled from the chair next to Raz’s.

“Then tell me what’s going on,” Sandy said. “I have little kids at home who are waiting . . . Noelle wakes up screaming every night . . . and . . .”

Sandy’s emotions rushed forward and she stopped talking. Raz put his hand over her right hand. Their eyes met in the mirror.

“It’s our fault that no one has anything to tell you,” Raz said. “We’re holding out for a specific outcome.”

“What?” Sandy asked.

“That the kids don’t have to testify,” Colin said. “The DPD are trying to get the boys to confess. They’ve gotten to a few . . . but . . .”

“The boys are terrified of the ring leader,” Raz said. “He’s got ties to a couple of prison gangs. He’s told them they will suffer if they say anything about him.”

“Which means the kids will have to testify,” Alex said.

Raz nodded.

“Wanda’s case is cut and dried,” Raz said. “Hate crime. Five or six targets. She, Frankie, and her father gave good evidence to that fact. That case will move forward without a hitch.”

“Charlie? Noelle?” Sandy looked at the back of Raz’s head. She glanced at Colin. “Tink?”

“Any of the thirty or forty girls and women,” Colin said. “We have to line up the dots.”

“Dots?” Sandy asked.

“Specific testimony must match specific forensics from the crime,” Raz said. “The forensics have to be consistent with video evidence. We need to place the defendants at the place of the crime at the time and day the assault happened.”

“Takes time,” Colin said.

“The Denver Police have a little team that’s wading through a year of grainy video tape from ATMs and intersections, not to mention mounds of rape kits, forensic fibers,” Raz said. “Money’s tight. Most of them work on their own time — nights and weekends.”

“In the meantime, there’s pressure to release the boys,” Colin said. “Many of them aren’t sixteen yet. Their parents pressure politicians and . . .”

“Charlie, Noelle, and Tink get lost in the mix,” Sandy said in a low tone.

“Don’t despair, Sandy,” Alex said. “We’ve been able to recruit agents and forensic teams from all over the country.”

“We’ve connected this case to other cases in other places,” Raz nodded. “That makes it easier to recruit help and money. We’re going to get these guys.”

“What about the boys who bought the videos?” Sandy asked.

“Agent Angie should be here in a bit to talk to you about them,” Alex said.

“The child pornography laws are really clear,” Colin said. “The rest of this . . .”

“You mean the boys who bought the videos could get longer sentences than the boys who did the raping?” Sandy asked.

“We’re holding out for specific outcomes,” Raz repeated.

“A lot of those boys didn’t even watch the videos,” Sandy said. “They bought them because they felt pressured and . . .”

“Exactly,” Colin said.

“Agent Angie’s coming to town to see if, as victims, you guys can help us get the outcomes we think would work,” Alex said. “For the boys who bought the videos only.”

“Outcomes?” Sandy asked.

“Rehab for boys willing to tell us everything they know,” Colin said.

“Help us build a case,” Raz said.

“Rehab?” Sandy asked.

“Drugs are a key component of this case,” Raz said.

“And the sex?” Sandy asked. “They watched this brutal . . .”

“Rehab,” Colin said. “If we come to some decision about the purchasers, we can tighten up the other case. But with so many perpetrators and so many victims . . .”

“The sheer number makes people look at unacceptable solutions,” Raz said.

“Such as?”

“Probation for first offenders,” Colin said. “No record for rapists willing to testify against the leader.”

“Unacceptable solutions,” Raz said.

Sandy nodded. Overwhelmed by the prospect that the rapists would get away with it, Sandy turned her attention to her work. Sandy focused on clipping Raz’s hair and the team returned to talking and laughing. Margaret and Leena came from the back with their long hair wrapped in plastic wrap. Sandy’s assistant set them under the dryers and took Alex to the back. Sandy finished Raz’s hair and wrapped his face in a warm towel. She touched his shoulder before starting to work on Troy. His curly mop of hair took her full attention. Remembering what Jill had asked her to ask them, Sandy looked up.

“Has anyone heard of Experiri Genetics?” Sandy asked.

Alex’s team stopped talking and looked at Sandy. The room had become so quiet that Sandy could hear the new stylists laughing with their customers.

“I’m sorry, Sandy,” Raz pulled the towels off his face and sat up. “What did you say?”

“Experiri Genetics,” Sandy said. “Have you heard of it?”

“Why?” Alex Hargreaves was standing in the doorway from the back.

“Where did you hear that name?” Raz asked.

“Jill.” Sandy looked from Colin to Alex, and then back at Raz. “Why?”

“How did Jill hear about Experiri?” Alex asked.

“There was a form in her medical file,” Sandy said. “We’re not lawyers, but someone said this Experiri Genetics could take one of her boys.”

Sandy watched Alex and Raz communicate without a sound. Alex’s eyes flicked to Dusty. He gave a slight nod.

“Do you think I could take a look at the form?” Dusty asked.

“Sure,” Sandy said. “I’ll call Jill. She was going to come but with everything . . .”

Sandy looked flustered. She took her iPhone from the drawer by her station. Holding the iPhone, she looked up.

“You mean they can take Jill’s baby?” Sandy asked.

“As a matter of national security,” Raz said.

Sandy’s head jerked to look at Alex. Her face was unreadable. She was about to say something when Dusty stepped in front of her.

“Why don’t I get the form from her?” Dusty smiled at Sandy.

“She’s just around the corner,” Sandy smiled.

“At the Castle?” Dusty asked, and Sandy nodded. “I’ll go.”

“If you want,” Sandy shrugged, “I’ll let her know you’re coming.”

When she got off the phone everyone was talking again. She finished up with Troy and started trimming Colin’s hair. Before Sandy knew it, Alex and Raz were gone.

“What was that?” Sandy asked Leena when she sat down in her chair.

“Spy crap,” Leena said. “They get all Spy vs. Spy a couple times a day. You can’t pay any attention to it.”

“But . . .” Sandy started.

“It could be something that happened this year,” Colin said. “Or forty years ago.”

“Or something that might have happened forty years ago.” Troy shrugged.

“Seriously,” Margaret said. “You have to just ignore them.”

Sandy nodded. By the time she finished the rest of the team’s hair, her day was over. She was cleaning up when she remembered what happened when she mentioned Experiri Genetics. She thought about calling Jill but decided to go home instead. By the time she got home, she’d forgotten it completely.


Thursday night — 9:52 p.m.

Jacob yawned and opened the door to the loft. He knew that Jill was tired. He knew Katy should be sound asleep. He just hoped he might see them. He stood at the door pouting for a moment before going into the kitchen. He used his hands to take off his Lipson shirt while he used his psychokinetic skill to get a beer from the refrigerator. He popped the top of the beer while it was sliding across the counter toward him. The beer hit a seam in the granite just as the cap came off. Beer and foam spewed onto the counter and floor. Jacob hopped around the counter to clean up the mess. When he looked up Jill was standing there. Her smirk indicated that she had seen the whole thing. He laughed.

She got out the mop while he worked on the counter. Before she could wipe the floor, he took the mop from her and made quick work of the small space.

“Sorry,” he said

She laughed. His head jerked to look at her. He laughed. She went to the refrigerator to get another beer. She reached into the refrigerator and then looked to her left.

“What?” he asked.

“I think we have some feral cats,” Jill said.

“Cats?” Jacob asked.

She turned around and gave him the beer.

“I keep seeing them,” Jill said. “You know, out of the corner of my eye.”

“What kind of cats?” Jacob used his hands to twist of the cap.

“Black cats.” Jill shrugged.

“Like panthers?”

“Like cats,” Jill said. “They look like Cleo but all black. I was talking to Delphie one morning in her apartment. Cleo hissed and arched her back at something. I saw this black cat scamper off.”

“It’s always possible,” Jacob shrugged. “We could have an entire wing of cat housing and never know it.”

Jill smiled.

“How are you?” Jacob asked.

“Good,” Jill smiled. “Dr. Anna liked the space. She hinted that she wouldn’t mind working there all the time. It’s better than the clinic she has.”

“I’ll talk to Delphie,” Jacob nodded.

“I doubt she wants it full time,” Jill said. “But a day downtown… That’s what she said anyway.”

“Why don’t I talk to her and see what makes sense?” Jacob took a drink of his beer.

“How was today?” Jill asked. “Aden said it was a little wild.”

“Wild,” Jacob nodded. “Yes. I just left Tres. We put more money on the books today than we did any of the days at the big project.”

“How?” Jill asked.

“The employees,” Jacob nodded. “Excuse me, the owners. They came up with little ways to make money. Wanda’s dad, Erik, and the plumbers sold most of the toilets we bought for the large project. By mid-day I was talking to our supplier about getting more. A team out in the Highlands stumbled on a guy who’s rehabbing almost an entire block. He needs his basements dug out. We’re taking down a couple garages near here. I…”

Jacob nodded and drained his beer.

“Employee-owners come up with solutions,” Jacob’s head moved in a small nod. “It never occurred to me that they would have great ideas and, because they’re owners, be ready to make the sale.”

“Top-down management means top down sales?” Jill asked.

“That’s exactly right,” Jacob said. “I figured I’d be bidding on jobs and finding work for the albatross for the rest of my life, but today, the employee-owners found their own work. They’re really excited too, like getting jobs was a kind of game. Our estimation team went from certain extinction last night, to working a fourteen hour day today.”

He set the bottle down.

“Would you like another one?” Jill asked.

“No,” Jacob said. “Can you make me one of your special peanut butter sandwiches?”

“Sure.” Jill went to get the supplies from the refrigerator.

“Any word on Experiri Genetics?” Jacob asked.

“None,” Jill said. She set out two slices of soft wheat bread. “I’m going to see the old doctor tomorrow morning.”

“Would you like me to go with you?”

“No.” Jill shook her head.

“They’re my boys too.”

“Because you’re likely to kill him,” Jill said. “I won’t bring our children to visit you in Canon City.”

Jacob scowled. Jill grinned and put peanut butter on one side of the bread. She went to the refrigerator to get the strawberry jelly.

“I feel awful,” Jacob said.

“Me too,” Jill looked up at the ceiling. “There. Did you hear that?”

“What?” Jacob asked.

“Cat crying,” Jill said.

“No,” Jacob said.

“Well, at least we’re not forlorn cats.” Jill finished making the sandwich and cut it in half. “No one sees us; no one notices us.”

“I wish you were a little less visible,” Jacob said.

Jill nodded and put the sandwich on a plate. She filled a glass of water for him.

“What’s going to keep Dr. Anna from…?” Jacob asked.

“Nothing,” Jill said. “Not one thing. Because of my capacity to heal, I’m valuable.”

“Your cuddles.” Jacob picked up a side of the sandwich. “And your peanut butter sandwiches.”

Jill smiled. He devoured the sandwich and drank the water.

“Bed?” Jill asked. “We both have big days tomorrow.”

“And cuddles?” Jacob smiled.

“Of course,” she said.

“Sounds perfect.” He followed her to the bedroom.

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