|Primary Characters:||Amy, Vincent, Peter|
|Description:||Amy is involved in a distressing case. She receives threats. Despite police protection, Vincent gets hurt. The incident brings back memories of an earlier traumatic incident.|
Judge Amy Gray sat down heavily behind her desk. She’d just had a very somber conversation with her superior. He had questioned her at length before finally agreeing to let her preside over the case. It had been suggested that it might be seen as proper that a female judge handle a case such as this one. On the other hand, there was no denying that a young woman with a child might not feel up to such a harrowing case. Amy had assured her superior that while she naturally felt upset concerning the nature of the case, she accepted the responsibility and would deal with the circumstances to the best of her ability.
Even so, once she’d taken on the case, she almost wished she hadn’t. There was the entire background too, not just the case itself. The thought of what the people responsible for the crime had done made her feel queasy. Her thoughts turned to little Lauren and she had to fight down an impulse to call her mother and have her take Lauren home and keep her there. She couldn’t let her emotions run away with her.
The sound of the door opening provided a welcome distraction. Her clerk, Bruce van Exel, walked in. He hung up his coat and began sorting out a pile of papers, which were already, to Amy’s eye, in perfect order.
She was trying to think of a way of bringing up the topic of the new case, when Bruce looked up and faced her.
“You agreed to take on the case?”
“So you’ve already heard of it?”
She was surprised. This type of case was usually surrounded by the most strict confidentiality, even within the walls of the courthouse.
Bruce studied her face for a while, as if thinking something over. His own face didn’t give anything away.
“It’s a distressing case.”
It looked as if Bruce was struggling with something, not quite knowing how to proceed. Amy waited. She knew from experience that it was no use hurrying Bruce. He looked away again and began to study the pile of papers again. It was unusual for Bruce to show his emotions this way. Normally, he presented a strictly professional front towards the world, including her. Again, he looked up and this time, it seemed he wasn’t going to keep quiet.
“Do you think you’ll be able to deal with it?”
Amy thought about it. That was the question. Naturally, she’d be upset. She’d been upset in the past, while presiding over a case. It came with the territory, since she didn’t handle taxes or other corporate cases, but cases dealing with families. On the other hand, if she didn’t get upset, she might as well resign. The victims deserved being treated with respect. They deserved consideration. Judges who no longer felt pity or sympathy towards the victims, ought no longer to serve as judges, in Amy’s opinion. She was a professional, and despite being upset, she knew she could act accordingly.
“I hope so. Yes. This is what I’ve been trained for, though fortunately, this type of case doesn’t come along all that often.”
“Have you – dealt with similar cases?”
“Not with this kind of background. A group of criminals acting jointly. What I’ve seen so far, have been isolated cases. Single individuals. Fortunately, not that many of those either. What about you?”
“Once. A rather straightforward case. There was no difficulty getting the desired verdict.”
“What about you? Do you think you’ll be able to deal with the case?”
He hesitated. Bruce, just like Amy, had a young daughter. This type of case was an example of the worst aspects of his work. On the other hand, he was a professional. Judge Amy Gray could count on him. He would not let her down.
“Excellent. I suppose we’d better study the case file. You’ll find it here. On my desk. I’ve already taken a look, so you go ahead. It’s – rather dreadful. You’d better be prepared.”
Bruce nodded. His face was a rigid mask.
The case that had landed on Judge Amy Gray’s bench was an unusual one, considering the background. The police officers investigating that case had been working on it for over three years. The first indication that something was wrong was the discovery of a body – the body of a child. After the autopsy had been carried out, it was revealed that the child in question – a boy – had been sexually assaulted. The cause of death was neglect and ultimately exposure. Even so, the officers assigned to the case had been appalled and wasted no time getting to work on the case.
Their investigation revealed several ominous facts, such as there being more abused children. Incidentally, all were boys, ranging in age from about nine to about fourteen. Next, a live child was found, but he was in no condition to be questioned.
It took the investigating officers the better part of the first year to find the connection between the boys and – more importantly – links to the men responsible. The terrifying truth was that a number of people had collected boys from foster care and used them to cater to the perverted needs of men willing to pay generously.
Amy had scanned the pages already and knew that even one of her own colleagues was implicated. Fortunately, from the point of view of the legal profession, the man had taken the easy way out. Before the police officers were able to place him in custody, he’d shot himself, sitting in his car on a remote stretch of road.
Others involved included doctors, teachers, social workers, a psychologist and – possibly – a politician. To Amy’s disgust that man was beyond the reach of the law, but even the suspicion had made it necessary for him to retire. His party had quite unceremoniously suggested early retirement, rather than facing a potential scandal. The man had also been asked to step down from several boards where he was chairman. Financially, he was still comfortable, but nowhere near as wealthy as before. Amy knew she’d have to settle for that.
Her job would merely be to determine that a certain man, who had in his care four boys, was unfit to have custody of them. To do that, she would need to prove that he was unsuitable, due to his crimes against the boys in question and others like them. The rest would be up to others. Unfortunately, that case was still pending, and his legal representative was up to many delaying tactics. However, Amy felt confident that even with what little was known and established, she would be able to have the boys removed from his custody.
After Bruce had read the file, he looked even more tense. There was no trace of his normal reticence and he couldn’t stop himself from commenting, rather emotionally on what he’d just read.
“That was – I can’t believe there are people capable of – I mean, I should know, but somehow, this is beyond anything I’ve been able to imagine. Those boys -”
“I know, Bruce. That’s why it’s our job to keep those children safe. We can’t allow ourselves to make one single mistake. There must be no question about the validity of the verdict.”
Bruce nodded, his eyes expressing a grim resolve.
“You can count on me to do my part.”
“I knew that. Look, it’s getting late. Why don’t you go home? I’m going to finish up here and go home myself.”
“Thanks. I will.”
Amy had hardly ever seen Bruce this shaken. Not that she could blame him. Her own feelings matched his. Time to go home to her family. She needed to see Lauren and make sure she was ok.
As she left the courthouse and walked to her car, Amy had the unpleasant feeling of being watched. She looked around but couldn’t see anyone in particular. Certainly not anyone with no business being around the courthouse at that hour of the evening. Unconsciously, she began walking a little faster.
Lauren was having dinner when Amy walked in. Her mother nodded to her to sit down. Amy knew her mother didn’t spoil her daughter, but she did think that what was on the menu seemed to have been chosen by Lauren rather than her grandmother, bearing in mind the latest scientific principles for a nutritious meal. Still, it would be rather nice after a long day at work.
Once Lauren was in bed, Amy decided to mention the case to her mother. Strictly speaking she wasn’t supposed to, but as long as she didn’t confide any details, it should be ok. Her mother was well aware of what rules applied.
“Mom. I – have taken on a case which is rather – more distressing than usual. It’s a pedophile ring.”
“A pedophile ring? Oh, I see. I heard about that. Unbelievable. I’ve been a social worker for more than thirty years and I’ve never come across anything like it. It just goes to show that there are some people who will stop at nothing.”
“You’d heard about it too? This is supposed to be -”
“I know, dear. It’s just that since some of the men involved are social workers – word gets around.”
“I guess I have to take that into account. Anyway, it will be hard. Very hard, I can imagine, but that’s not why I mentioned it to you. It’s just that the media might pay close attention to everyone involved in the trial.”
“Ok. Are you sure you can handle the pressure?2
“Yes, mom. I think so. This is my job. It’s what I’ve been trained to do.”
“Of course, dear. It’s just that you did say it’s going to be unusually hard – and distressing.”
“Yes. I’ll just have to put my feelings aside for the time being. Those boys deserve justice.”
Maxine’s merciless eyes bored into her daughter. After a while, she nodded. Yes, Amy would be able to handle the pressure. Her daughter was tough enough and – more importantly – eminently qualified to handle the trial.
“I’m proud of you, darling. Give it your best.”
Amy went to bed and she was more or less able to put all thoughts of the trial aside until the morning. The proceedings would begin at the normal hour, but this time, everyone involved arrived earlier than usual. Extra bailiffs and guards had been detailed to handle security, for all eventualities.
Amy thought she noticed a little extra tension in Bruce’s stance, but he said nothing and in any case, she had other things on her mind. Every little detail had to be perfect. This time, there was no room for even the slightest errors.
The trial turned out to be every bit as distressing as she’d imagined. Seeing the perpetrators up close made Amy feel sick, but she had to force herself to continue. At some point in the trial, she would be meeting the victims. A few of the older boys would testify, but she would also get a chance to meet and speak to the younger boys.
The courtroom was packed full of visitors, even though the trial had been closed to the general public. There were enough reporters and other people, deemed justified in their interest, to fill up the visitors’ seats completely. In fact, though Amy would have advised against it, a few people were standing in the back, not far from the security guards, who were keeping an eye on the door.
Even the preliminaries were disturbing enough to warrant an early lunch. Amy was relieved to retire to her office so she could have a moment to herself. Bruce followed her. Both had brought lunch, but neither had much appetite that day.
As Amy was toying with her food, in a way her mother would have strongly censured, had she been present, the phone rang. Amy picked up the receiver, and dropped the fork into the plastic container. Her face clearly betrayed emotion and Bruce was on his feet before he’d even made a conscious decision. He leaned a little closer to his superior than usual, and strained his ears. The call was terminated and Amy hung up, still stunned enough not to say a word.
It was a sign of Bruce’s discomposure that he neglected to address the judge with her customary title. Normally, Bruce was a stickler for formality, as Amy knew well after working with him as long as she had.
“That was a threat.”
“Yes, a threatening phone call.”
“What did they say?”
“It was a man’s voice – distorted somehow, I think – and he said something about if I knew what was good for me – and my family – I’d drop the case.”
“That wouldn’t help them. Another judge would simply be appointed.”
“Hm. Exactly. Unless – they want another judge for some reason. In any case, I’ll have to report this to the police. I didn’t like that reference to my family. We’ll have to send Lauren away. My mother too. I think this afternoon’s proceedings will have to be postponed until I’ve dealt with this.”
“Of course. You don’t think that was what they wanted?”
“It’s possible. We’ll reconvene as soon as possible. Oh, Bruce – I – perhaps you’d better send your daughter away too. Just to be on the safe side.”
“Yes. I will. Her aunt will be glad to see her and she’ll be quite safe there. My brother-in-law is a police officer and he won’t let anything happen to her.”
“That’s excellent. I suppose we’ll have to send mom and Lauren up to the lake. That’s the only place I can think of.”
“Oh, we have a summer house there. It’s up in the mountains.”
“Right. Must be nice.”
“I never have time to go there anymore. In fact, it’s been empty for a long time. You know how it is. If you’d like to go up there some time with your daughter, just let me know.”
Bruce stared at his superior. Was she serious? Did she really want him and his daughter to borrow their house? Of course, he knew Judge Grey. In his experience, she never lied. Her offer must have been serious. However, he wouldn’t place himself in a position of debt. Still, there was no denying he appreciated the offer. His daughter would have loved going up there. Fortunately, she would never find out that she’d had a chance to.
“I appreciate the offer.”
Bruce’s tone startled Amy slightly, but she didn’t have time to worry about it, so she merely began making the arrangements.
She was forced to return home, accompanied by two uniformed police officers. Bruce too, found himself being escorted by two uniformed officers, rather to his surprise. The judge had insisted. Again, that surprised him, but he did his best to keep his reaction to himself.
Maxine Grey took one look at the police officers and realized something was wrong.
“Amy? What’s going on?”
Amy hated to hear her mother’s voice so filled with alarm.
“It’s just a precaution. Try not to worry too much.”
“A precaution? Why?”
“I just received a threatening phone call. The caller suggested I drop the case if I knew what was best for me – and my family.”
“Amy, that’s – we have to get Lauren home from school.”
“I know. She’s on her way now. I wanted to pick her up myself, but I was overruled.”
“I see. Now what? The house, up at the lake?”
“That’s what I was thinking.”
“I’ll start packing right away.”
“Good. You’d better bring Socrates.”
“I was going to.”
Ten minutes later, Lauren was home, looking excited and not all dismayed at having to leave school just after lunch.
“Mom. What are you doing home?”
“I’ve come to tell you that you and your grandmother can go up to the house by the lake. You remember that, don’t you?”
“Yes. Oh, I want to bring my -”
“Yes, ok. Pack what you want, but hurry. Come on, give me a hug.”
Lauren shook herself impatiently, but obediently hugged her mother briefly, before running up the stairs.
It occurred to Amy that she ought to call Peter and let him know what was going on. She lifted the receiver and dialled Peter’s number. He picked up on the second ring.
“Peter? I’m afraid something’s come up. Mom is taking Lauren and going up to the lake.”
“It’s to do with a case I’m working on.”
“I – I received a threatening phone call and – I thought it best to send Lauren away.”
“Did they threaten your family too?”
“Then Gillian will have to go as well.”
Of course. She ought to have thought of that on her own.
“Ok. I’ll call her at the house and -”
“No, I’ll go home and pick her up. We’ll be right over.”
“Ok. You do that, but hurry. Mom and Lauren will be leaving soon.”
“We’ll be there.”
Now that she’d called Peter, she might as well call Vincent too. She knew how much he cared about Lauren and herself.
Vincent’s phone went on ringing for so long, Amy knew it was hopeless. She hung up and glanced at her watch. She knew she’d acted quickly, but she was already getting restless – torn between her duty as a judge and her responsibility for her family. From upstairs, she could hear Lauren laughing and chattering away with her grandmother.
Nervously, Amy called Vincent’s number again, but there was still no reply. She hung up and called impatiently for her mother and Lauren. To her relief, they came down the stairs, only a few minutes later. She rushed to help her mother with the bags. Lauren was skipping about, apparently thrilled to be going away. At least she had no idea what the reason was for her abrupt departure.
Again, Amy hugged Lauren, then her mom. It felt terrifying, watching her mother and daughter disappear into the police car. Socrates’ head showed up between them, from time to time, when he’d managed to jump onto the seat.
Now Peter’s car squealed to a halt and he and Gillian erupted from it. One of the police officers helped Gillan put away her luggage. She sat down in the backseat on Lauren’s other side. Socrates was permanently banned to the floor.
Amy and Peter stood watching the car vanishing in the distance.
Peter glanced inquiringly at his sister.
“What sort of case is this?”
“A very serious one. I’m not supposed to tell anyone about it -”
“Fine. Are you sure they’ll be safe up there?”
“They’ll be guarded by at least two police officers. Yes, they’ll be safe.”
Peter breathed out his relief.
“Ok. Good. What about you? Will you be ok?”
“I’m going to be guarded too, from now on, so yes, I’ll be fine.”
“I could come over and stay with you.”
Amy hesitated. She knew how much it must have cost Peter to make that offer and frankly, she’d be relieved to have someone in the house. That reminded her. She ought to call Vincent. If she couldn’t get him on the phone before she had to resume the trial, she’d have to ask Peter to keep trying.
“Yes, Peter, I’d appreciate that. If you’re sure it’s no trouble.”
“You’re my sister. Of course it’s no trouble.”
She was touched, but now she didn’t have time to stand around outside her house. It was time she got back to work. Just in case, she tried Vincent’s number again and to her surprise, this time he picked up.
“Vincent? I’m in a hurry but I’ve been threatened. In fact, our whole family has been threatened. It’s to do with my work.”
“Are you ok?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“What about Lauren and mom? And Gillian?”
“We had to send them away. Up to the lake. Vincent – I was hoping you could come home and stay with me and Peter while the others are away. It would make me feel a lot better, knowing you -”
“I’m sorry, Amy, I have to work.”
“Can’t you do that at home?”
“I’ll try to get my research into some kind of order and then I’ll come over. It’s just that if I break off now – I might never make any sense of it all.”
“Ok. Please be careful though.”
“It’s ok, Amy, they’re not going to do anything to me. I’m glad you got Lauren and mom out though. And Gillian.”
“I have to go now. See you soon.”
She got through the rest of the day somehow, her mind on her work, but during every recess, she kept thinking of Lauren and the others and wondering if they were ok. Actually, she knew they were ok, since she’d called them and talked to her mother for a few minutes and Lauren too. Even so, it felt – both unreal and frightening to be forced to send her family away. Nothing even remotely like it had ever happened during the course of her career.
After the proceedings were over, she retired to her office and pondered the trial so far. She didn’t foresee any difficulties securing a conviction. The evidence seemed to be clear-cut. What would be the real difficulty was facing those poor boys – the victims.
On the first day of the trial, only the defendant and a number of witnesses, primarily police officers, would be appearing in court. Amy didn’t think the trial would need to be dragged out for longer than four days, five at the most. That was vital. She wanted the victims to be able to present their testimonies quickly, then leave, to get on with their lives, if it was possible. There would be no drawn-out late, unannounced presentation of new evidence or witnesses. She wouldn’t allow it. This trial in particular had to be over as soon as humanly possible, naturally without making any mistakes.
She called home and found that Peter was there as he’d promised. He hadn’t seen or heard from Vincent and Amy decided to try calling his place before leaving. There was no reply. She could only hope that he’d put his notes in order, packed them up and left for the house.
Bruce was putting away some files, then got up and faced her. His face was somber and the look in his eyes stern.
“How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine, Bruce. It’s just the first day. Unfortunately, we can most likely expect worse tomorrow, or if not then, the day after. When the boys will be called to the stand.”
“I know. Did you manage to get your family away as planned?”
“Yes. My mother, my daughter and my sister-in-law went up to the lake. They were escorted by two police officers. What about your daughter?”
“A police officer accompanied her too. She’s fine. I just heard from my sister.”
“That’s good. How did she react?”
Bruce’s face relaxed into a smile.
“She was excited. An unexpected visit to her aunt turned out to be quite a treat. I didn’t know what to hope for. There’s never any telling in advance. She might as well have told me she couldn’t go because her best friend was having a party.”
“Oh. I never thought of that. It could easily have happened with Lauren. She can be quite willful at times.”
Bruce smiled politely. His little girl could hardly be described that way, but on the other hand, children had different personalities. It was quite possible that Judge Gray’s daughter was more temperamental.
Amy kept looking over her shoulder as she walked to her car. It was just a short distance and one of the bailiffs escorted her all the way. He stood waiting while she closed the door behind her and even while she fastened her seatbelt. It was good to know he took his duties so seriously, but somehow, it made Amy feel even more nervous.
On her way back, she considered looking in on VIncent and offering him a ride, but decided against it. She’d call him again from home, and if he still didn’t reply, she and Peter could go and take a look. The police officers in charge of her protection had assured her that there would be two officers keeping a lookout for anything suspicious close to her house.
Amy walked in to find Peter sitting at the kitchen table, going over some paperwork. He looked up and nodded a greeting.
“Have you heard from Vincent?”
“No. I thought he wasn’t coming.”
“He said he’d go over his notes and if he could get them into order, he’d come over.”
“Oh. He hasn’t been here. Not that I know of.”
Peter didn’t even sound that concerned. What was more, Amy had a feeling he would be expecting her to cook dinner for him, after her work day. Tough. If he expected a three course dinner, he’d be disappointed. She even considered ordering takeout, but decided that opening the door to a stranger might be a little reckless, under the circumstances.
After going through the cupboards, the fridge and the freezer Amy decided to give Peter some casserole their mother had put in the freezer after she’d cooked a bit too much one weekend. There was enough for all three of them, in case Vincent decided to show up. Amy was beginning to feel a little concerned. Vincent had heard about the threats against their family and still he chose to go off somewhere. That was a little unexpected.
She put the casserole in the oven to thaw it out, then went to phone Vincent again. Still no reply. This was just too much. She’d go over to his place and check. If he wasn’t there – but she refused to consider that option. He’d turn up. Unharmed. He had to. And when he did, she’d have a few things to say to him.
“Peter. I’m going out again. Vincent should have been in touch by now. I’m getting worried.”
“Surely you don’t think -”
“I hope not. That casserole will be thawed out soon -”
“Wait. I’m coming with you.”
Peter got up and grabbed his coat. Amy turned the oven off. By the time they were back, the casserole would have thawed out a bit, hopefully.
Too late Amy remembered that she didn’t have a key to the apartment. She was hoping Vincent’s roommate would be there. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to get in. They stood outside Vincent’s door, ringing the doorbell. Nothing. Now Amy recalled that his roommate was away, visiting her husband in jail. She’d heard that a few days ago, at work, but it had slipped her mind until now.
By now, even Peter was beginning to feel a little concerned.
“You know what he’s like. Totally irresponsible. I’m betting he’s sitting in some bar, having a drink with one of his friends or -”
“No. Not now. He heard about the threats. I know he was going to come over to the house some time during the afternoon. Either something urgent came up or -”
“I’m sure he’ll be back at the house now. He’s just been delayed.”
“I hope so.”
Back at the house, there was no sign of Vincent, just as Amy had feared. She was beginning to consider calling the police and reporting Vincent’s absence. He was an adult, but even so – under the circumstances, she felt she wasn’t overreacting. To delay making a decision a few moments longer, she turned the oven on again.
“Would you keep an eye on that? Make sure it doesn’t burn.”
Amy called Vincent’s apartment again, just to make sure, but by now she wasn’t expecting any reply. It was time she called the police.
Vincent recognized Amy’s tone. His sister was genuinely concerned. He’d go over his notes and see if he could get them into some semblance of order, then go over to the house. There was plenty of room there, especially now that there would be no one there. He could easily work there for a few days. For Amy’s sake, he’d be glad to.
It took him about half an hour to get everything into order. While he was tidying up the piles of paper, he read through the notes again. Hm. That was an interesting idea. He grabbed a pencil and scribbled down a few lines, so he wouldn’t forget. After carefully placing the notes into his briefcase, he put on his jacket and went outside. He locked the door behind him and considered his next move. The weather was nice and since it was broad daylight, he might as well walk part of the way. There were plenty of people about at that time of the day.
He walked unhurriedly along the sidewalk. Suddenly, he stumbled. Someone had put his foot out and tripped him. Surely it couldn’t be intentional? Vincent was only just able to avoid falling down and was about to turn and face whoever was behind him, and confront him. As he did so, he dropped his briefcase. Someone grabbed him from behind and pushed him towards the road. A van with dark windows appeared right beside him and before Vincent had time to make any move to defend himself, he was dragged into the van and the door closed behind him.
He never had the opportunity to protest. A hand clamped down over his mouth, holding a rag with something that smelled sharply. The hand was strong and though Vincent struggled, the stuff he inhaled made him dizzy. Within seconds, he blacked out.
When he came to, his arms were tied above his head. He was lying on his back, on a dirty mattress which wasn’t covered by any sheet. His feet were tied as well. The room he was in was quite dark, so he couldn’t see very well. Somewhere nearby was a strong source of light, but it was turned the other way. Outside that light, it was murky, but he could tell he was in some kind of warehouse, which was more or less empty.
He knew he wasn’t alone, because he could hear voices talking in a low murmur. There was no telling how many they were. His head was aching and he found it hard to focus. The dizziness came and went and his vision was a little blurred. He also felt a little sick.
Now four masked men moved close to the mattress. Someone aimed the light towards him and it got into his eyes, blinding him. Dazed as he was, he still felt frightened. Now he recalled Amy’s words about the threatening phone call. Was it possible that the people who had threatened her, had somehow got to him?
One of the men kneeled beside him.
“Why have you taken me here? What do you want?”
At first, he didn’t think he’d get a reply. The man remained on his knees and let his eyes roam across Vincent’s face and further down. For some reason, this made him feel intensely uncomfortable.
“You’ll see. If you’re thinking about screaming, think again. First of all, no one’s going to hear you and second – well, let’s just say you’d better not.”
Two of the other men were now removing their clothes. Vincent’s eyes widened in terror. What was going on?
The first man got up, then moved out of the light. By now, Vincent’s eyes had grown used to the sharp light and was able to make out some details of what was just beyond the circle of light. There were two men standing there watching. The other two were finished undressing and got down on the mattress beside Vincent. He cowered away from them, but the ropes securing him to the wall wouldn’t let him move very far. Though he tried to suppress it, a whimper escaped him and he bit down hard to stop the sound.
One of the undressed men had a knife, a big, sharp one and he began to cut off Vincent’s clothes. A wordless wail issued from his mouth. The man with the knife pressed it to Vincent’s neck, knicking the skin with the tip of the blade. Somehow, he managed to press his mouth shut again, though he was shaking all over.
One of the men who were still standing gave him another instruction.
“Just do as you’re told and this will be as painless – as possible. Is that clear? Cooperate and we won’t cut you.”
Sobbing, Vincent nodded. How could he try to resist, when he was tied up and outnumbered? They were armed. He had no doubt they’d cut him, as the man had implied just now. Tears filled his eyes and dimmed his sight.
“Get on with it.”
When he realized what their intention was, Vincent’s mind recoiled from what was happening to him and retreated somewhere inside himself. For the duration of his ordeal, he was only partially aware.
After Amy had called the police, the rest of the night turned into a nightmare. She didn’t call her mother, hoping that by the time Vincent had been found, there would be better news than she feared. Unfortunately, those fears increased as the night wore on.
Towards morning, the phone finally rang and Amy snatched up the receiver.
“Have you found him?”
“Uh – yes.”
“Well? Is he ok? Where was he?”
“I – think you’d better come to the hospital, Judge Gray. The doctor will be better able to answer your questions.”
“Is he dead?”
Peter’s face lost all trace of color and he had to make an effort to get up and stand beside his sister.
“Well? How badly injured is he? Is he going to make it?”
“Judge Gray, I’m not completely up to speed with what injuries your brother has suffered. My guess is that he’ll make it, but – I’m no expert. If you come to the hospital, the doctor will be able to tell you more.”
Amy hung up and ran for the door. Peter followed.
“What did they say? How bad is it?”
“He wouldn’t say.”
Amy’s voice was dull and toneless. In her mind, there could only be one explanation why the police officer had refused to tell her what he must have known. Vincent was dying. The men she was prosecuting had found him and beaten him so badly he was going to die. Her baby brother. Because of her. It was her fault. She was hardly aware of Peter’s arms around her shoulders as they ran down the front steps and into her car. Not even when Peter sat down in the driver’s seat, did she say anything. She merely handed over her keys.
While he was driving towards the hospital, Peter glanced sideways at his sister.
“We should have called mom. She has a right to know. I’ll have to call her from the hospital.”
“Yes. Of course.”
They were met by a doctor whose face was serious and he too, seemed to find it hard to tell them just how badly injured Vincent was. It wasn’t until Peter quite sharply demanded to know the truth that the man finally managed to tell them.
At first the words just wouldn’t register. It was as if there was something wrong with her hearing. Amy saw the man’s lips moving, but the words didn’t make any sense. She had to ask again, to finally understand what she was being told. Again, she had difficulty processing the information. It was impossible. Things like that didn’t happen. Peter just dropped down onto a chair and stayed there, his face so white he almost looked as if he was dead. If he’d been lying down, Amy knew she wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.
The doctor offered them both a tranquilizer, but Amy refused and though Peter didn’t reply, the doctor didn’t offer again. In the end, Amy was the one who had to call their mother. Peter stiil hadn’t made a move or said anything. It was clear that Amy wouldn’t get any help from him.
When she’d hung up, feeling even more devastated, as the truth finally sank in, her only thoughts were of Vincent.
“When can I see him?”
The doctor looked sympathetic, but Amy had no time for his sympathy. She needed answers.
“At the moment, the police are with him. We’ll let you know when you can see him. His physical injuries are – negligible. Some bruising around the face, torso and upper arms. No fractures or internal hemorrhaging. There’s no sign of concussion either. Your brother will make a full recovery.”
“Are you sure? I mean, how can you be sure that – sure of what they did?”
“Mrs – ms – Gray – there can be no doubt about it. We have – run a series of tests to make sure there’s been no infection, but – again, I can assure you, your brother will make a full recovery.”
Amy sat down to wait. There didn’t seem to be anything else she could do. She didn’t even glance at her watch. There was a clock on the wall above her, but at the moment, she didn’t pay any attention to it, or to the fact that she’d need to be at the courthouse within a few hours. Right now, all she could think about was her little brother, lying in there –
Eventually, the door opened and her mother walked in.
It was an immense relief to see her mother. Amy lost control over herself and began to cry. Maxine put her arms around her and held her. Burying her face against her mother’s midriff, Amy sobbed helplessly. To begin with, her mother’s comforting touch didn’t filter through to her.
In all that time, Peter hadn’t said anything and Amy hadn’t expected him to. It was as if he wasn’t even there.
Amy froze. How was she going to be able to tell her mother what had happened to Vincent? On the other hand, she was a professional. Her mother was a professional. From somewhere, Amy found the strength she needed to go on. Just one little step at a time. She began by telling her mother about the physical injuries. It was obvious that her mother was beginning to relax. Amy could almost hear her thinking. There. That wasn’t so bad, now was it, Amy? Naturally, you were upset, but you have to get a sense of proportion.
Wiping her face with the back of her hand, Amy braced herself to tell her mother the rest of it. Her hand came away streaked with black, but Amy heedlessly rubbed it against her coat. She cleared her throat and began again.
When she was finished, her mother kept staring at her, eyes wide and mouth partially open. It was as if someone had frozen the picture. Slowly, her mother regained control over herself. Her hands began to pat her own hair, in a nervous gesture Amy had never seen before.
“That’s impossible. You must have got it wrong, Amy. Surely -”
“No, mom. I didn’t get it wrong. It’s true. Vincent -”
“Don’t tell me that. I won’t accept it. It’s – there’s been some mistake. Someone made a mistake and -”
“No. The doctor said there was no doubt about it.”
This time, Maxine’s tone wasn’t as adamant. There was a note of pleading in it, which tore at Amy’s heart. She wished she could escape reality that easily by going into denial, but she knew what had happened and it was all her fault. How could Vincent ever forgive her? Suddenly, she hated her profession. If she’d been – a teacher or a doctor – or a social worker, like mom – none of this would have happened. No one would have had any reason to –
Her confused train of thought was interrupted by the door opening again. This time a nurse was standing in the doorway.
“Judge Gray? You may see your brother now.”
Amy took a deep breath and straightened her back.
“Thank you, nurse. Mom?”
To Amy’s distress, her mother merely shook her head, too deeply distraught to even reply. Amy felt confused. Why wouldn’t her mother come with her? Was she in shock, like Peter? In any case, there was no time to lose. Amy wanted to be with Vincent, to hold his hand, to tell him – how sorry she was, to beg his forgiveness –
When she walked in, Vincent was lying on the bed, looking almost as he had when she last saw him. The bruises on his face could almost have been shadows cast by the harsh overhead lights. Almost, if it hadn’t been for the – look in his eyes. The expression was – more like a lack of expression. Though the face was familiar, something about that look wasn’t. It was as if Vincent had suddenly turned into this stranger, with the pallid face and the dead eyes.
Amy felt her eyes fill up with tears she couldn’t stop from falling freely. She bit her lower lip to stop herself from sobbing, but she couldn’t. Angrily, she clenched her fists until her fingernails began to cut into the sensitive skin in her palms. The pain helped clear her head.
“I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
It was as if Vincent couldn’t hear her. He didn’t show any kind of reaction. After a while, Amy sat down on the edge of a chair which was standing beside the bed. She took Vincent’s hand, but got no response whatsoever. Since he didn’t try to snatch it back, she held on to it anyway. She lifted it to her face and pressed it to her cheek, not quite knowing if she was trying to comfort him or herself. He didn’t make any sound at all.
She remained sitting beside his bed for so long her back cramped up and she had to stand up. As she did, her eyes happened to fall on the wall clock. It was almost eight. She had to be in court. If she didn’t show up, maybe another judge would be found to take her place, but she couldn’t be sure of that. At the worst, the case might be dropped. If she let that happen, it would all have been for nothing. She had to make sure those poor boys were taken away from the man who must have had something to do with the attack on Vincent.
Leaving her mother and brother to make their own way back home, Amy ran to her car. She had only one thought in her head. To get through the trial and to get the verdict needed to keep those boys safe. Those men wouldn’t win. Whatever they’d done to her brother, to her whole family, they wouldn’t win.
“Are you ok?”
Bruce’s words finally broke into Amy’s brooding. She looked up, as if stunned that someone else was in the room.
He appeared to hesitate and Amy was wondering if someone had informed him of what had happened. In the end, he couldn’t stop himself from continuing.
“Are you sure? You look -”
“Oh. Don’t worry about me. Just give me – five minutes and I’ll be ready to proceed.”
Bruce still didn’t look convinced, but he nodded acquiescently.
Amy had no idea how she got through the rest of the week, but eventually, she heard herself pronounce the verdict. She could tell that the defendant hadn’t expected that. He began to whisper with his attorney.
At a sign from Bruce the bailiffs came to lead the man away.
It was over. She almost felt dizzy with relief. Looking back, she knew she’d managed to get through it all without making any mistakes. Her verdict would hold. No one could find fault with it.
Now she’d take as much time off as necessary. In fact – this conviction had been growing inside her ever since she’d heard what had happened to Vincent – she wasn’t sure she ever wanted to go back to work. Her job had cost her brother – it had taken away his peace of mind and hers too. Their whole family had been crushed by what had happened. All because of what she did.
She was sure her ex-husband would try to use this as an excuse to take Lauren away from her, but at the moment, not even that made much impression on her.
She hung up her gown and was about to sit down, when she suddenly felt dizzy and almost fell. Bruce crossed the distance between them in a matter of seconds and put his arm around her. He led her to her chair and helped her sit down, then let go, as if e’d burned himself.
“Can I get you anything? A glass of water?”
For a moment, she couldn’t hear his voice at all, then her mind cleared and she breathed easier.
Maybe sipping a glass of water would help. In any case, it helped dispel the awkward feeling created by Bruce’s touch. For a second, all Amy had wanted was to throw herself into his arms and hold on to him, hoping that his loyalty and kindness would blot out the knowledge of what she’d brought down on her brother.
Bruce returned with the promised glass and placed on the desk on front of her. She thanked him and sipped some of the water slowly.
“Thanks. I’m – feeling better now.”
“Judge Gray – let me tell you how sorry I am – about -”
He couldn’t finish the sentence and Amy thought she could understand why.
“Thank you. I appreciate your kindness.”
Again, he was at a loss for words, and in the end, he merely nodded.
As soon as Amy felt sure she could walk the short distance to her car, she got up and left. She wanted to go to the hospital right away. In her absence, she knew no one visited Vincent, if Gillian didn’t somehow find the strength somewhere. Amy doubted that though. She’d be more concerned with Peter.
After what had happened, Peter had been acting as if he had been the victim of some kind of attack, and not Vincent. Amy hadn’t expected him to be that – self-centered. Didn’t he have any empathy at all?
In the days that had passed since the incident, Vincent hadn’t spoken more than a few words and nothing had been said about the nature of the attack. Amy hadn’t wanted to force him to say anything and in any case, she hadn’t known what to say. Now that it was over, she’d try to make herself clear. She knew there was nothing she could do to make it up to Vincent, but at least she’d tell him how sorry she was.
This time, Vincent actually looked up when she walked in. He still looked beaten – figuratively and literally – but he recognized her. It was Vincent again. That hardly made Amy feel better. If it hadn’t been for her, he wouldn’t have been in this situation.
“Vincent – it’s over. The trial ended today.”
“How did it go?”
His voice sounded dull and lifeless, but at least he looked as if he was expecting a reply.
“I was able to – get those boys away from him.”
“I’m sorry. I wish – if I could go back, I’d choose any other profession.”
She had the impression Vincent was now listening more intently. At least the look in his eyes was – conscious – aware.
“Because it’s all my fault.”
Though she was disgusted with herself, Amy burst into tears. She hated herself for losing control in front of Vincent. This wasn’t about her, it was about him. How could she feel so sorry for herself, when he was the one –
“Amy, it isn’t your fault. I’m – glad you got those boys away from him. I’m proud of you. Ok? Don’t blame yourself.”
“If it hadn’t been for me -”
“No. That’s not fair. Listen to me, Amy. I’m not important. Those boys are. All that matters is they’ll be safe now. Even if it’s too late to -”
“I know. We failed them. The system failed them. There should be more we could do.”
“You did what you could. If you hadn’t been successful, they would have still been – in his hands.”
“You’re right, but it’s too late. They’ll never -”
Something about Vincent’s tone made Amy look up. It was as if – but of course Vincent was thinking about what had just happened to him. In a way, that was the same, but in a way – The doctor had explained to her that Vincent had been lucky. If the men who had abducted him had wanted to, they could have harmed him more. What they’d done was bad enough, but at least his physical injuries were superficial, no doubt added for the visual effect, nothing more.
Having studied the relevant documents, she knew that the victims of the pedophile ring had suffered in various ways. Some as relatively little as Vincent – while others – What made the difference was simply the ages of the victims. A few had been as young as nine, others as old as fourteen. Vincent was a grown man. There was something about all this which made Amy feel an ever deeper dread. Her head ached, as she fought to stay calm. To her surprise, Vincent went on.
“You never forget. It’s always there, at the back of your mind. Whatever you do. No matter how much time passes.”
Amy felt confused. Was Vincent talking about what had happened four days ago or – what did he know about the boys connected to her case?
“What are you talking about?”
She spoke softly, doing her best not to rush Vincent, though she was eager to find out what he’d been hinting at.
For a while, it was as if Vincent hadn’t heard her. He seemed too wrapped up in his own thoughts to pay attention to her voice. Then he looked up and Amy was startled to see that the expression in his eyes was almost back to normal.
“Remember mr Thorn? Our neighbour.”
“Yes. You and Peter and the other boys were always at his place. He kept an open house.”
“He had stuff he gave you or let you use. Magazines. Games. Toy cars. A toy railway. Some of it was cheap, like the comic books. Then there was expensive stuff. The kind to die for. There was an electric guitar. Really state-of-the-art for those days. Peter wanted it, but he knew it wasn’t for just anyone. You had to go into the basement with him. Mr Thorn. We didn’t know exactly what went on, but it was very hush-hush.”
Amy was stupefied. Was Vincent telling her what she thought he was? A chill spread through her, as she listened to the rest of Vincent’s account.
“One day, Peter couldn’t resist anymore. He had to touch the guitar. Take it down from the wall and really look at it, up close. Mr Thorn encouraged him. He said he knew Peter was the one who’d be most interested. Peter got to play a little. He wasn’t any good, but he had a lot of fun. Then he told me to try it too. I wasn’t interested, but he was a little scared of – standing there – holding mr Thorn’s most expensive toy. So I picked at the strings a little. Mr Thorn encouraged me too. He asked me if I liked music too, and I said a little. Just to listen really. He told me not to be afraid and try some more. Maybe I would find that I was musical too. I – didn’t like the way he was looking at me, and I wanted to go.”
Amy found it hard to breathe. Her throat constricted and her mouth felt dry. She could almost see the scene in their neighbor’s basement.
Vincent went on, as if he’d willed himself to finish his story, no matter how hard it was.
“Peter kept looking at me, so I knew he didn’t want me to run off. Mr Thorn let Peter hold the guitar like – he was going to play it for real. He showed him how to tune it and adjust the controls. Peter really got into it and I think maybe he was learning how to play for real. While he was doing that, mr Thorn returned to me and – began to touch me. At first it was like he was just putting his hands on my shoulders. Then he kept stroking my arms. It wouldn’t have made me uncomfortable if it wasn’t for the way he – looked and – sounded.”
Ignoring her, he went on.
“He had chairs down there and after a while, he sat down and he – pulled me with him. I was – too old to sit on someone’s lap but he just put me there anyway. Something about him was – odd. Wrong somehow. The way he was breathing, the way he kept shoving me about on his lap. And I felt -”
She finally found her voice again. This was something she really didn’t want to hear, though she knew she ought to find out how far it went and – what Peter was doing while his little brother was being –
Her voice got through to Vincent and he broke off, feeling a bit disoriented as he jumped ahead fifteen years – or however long ago it was.
“Vincent – how far -”
“He just touched me. Nothing more. It was just that I knew something was wrong. Afterwards, it was like he didn’t care. He just let me go.”
“What did Peter do?”
Vincent hesitated. He hadn’t wanted to sell his brother out, though deep down, he’d always felt betrayed. His big brother, who was so tall and strong, had just turned his back on him and pretended nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
“He – when he noticed something was going on – he stopped playing and for a while he stood there staring at us. Then – he put the guitar down and ran upstairs.”
“He left you there?”
“He was scared.”
“What about you? Weren’t you scared? His own brother and he just – abandoned you.”
That was something Vincent had thought about too, when he’d let himself dwell on the incident. Most of the time, he’d been successful in subduing the memory completely.
Amy was shocked and angry and at the same time deeply distressed. Inside her a rage was stirring, against her brother Peter. How could he have let Vincent down this badly? She knew that if someone had been about to hurt Vincent and she’d been present, she would have run to get her mom or dad and she wouldn’t have stopped until she’d found someone who could help. Peter had just ignored Vincent – or – Amy had a sick feeling at the pit of her stomach. Maybe Peter had known someone would have to pay a price for the guitar. What if he’d deliberately given Vincent to mr Thorn? She had to fight hard not to throw up.
“Amy – I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have burdened you with this. It was just that – I know. I know how those boys must feel. You did the right thing. Don’t – blame yourself.”
She sat down on the side of the bed and gingerly put her arms around her brother. Only briefly did he tense up. After that, he held on to her just as hard, while she was sobbing wretchedly.
The crying left her feeling a bit more in control of herself. On her way home, Amy felt the cleansing rage build up inside her. Nothing was going to stop her from confronting Peter. He’d turned his back on Vincent. Not even visited him once. He was no better than mom. After what he’d done to Vincent, Peter still had the nerve of abandoning his younger brother, for something he couldn’t help. Peter was going to pay for this. In Amy’s mind, mr Thorn, Peter and the men who had abused those poor boys and the ones who had attacked Vincent, all merged into one. She was surprised to find that she felt almost capable of murdering someone.
Gillian had returned from the lake, and Lauren had been sent to her father. Amy knew she’d find her mother at home, but the question was where Peter would be. At work, or at home? Knowing him, she suspected he’d be at work, or – considering how late it was – on his way home. That helped her decide. She turned the car around and made for Peter’s and Gillian’s house.
Since she would never be able to get to the man who was now most likely being processed for the criminal charges he’d be forced to answer to, or the men who had attacked Vincent, or mr Thorn, who had died almost seven years ago, from a heart attack, Peter would be the only one she’d be able to confront. At least he would pay.
Her car squealed to a stop outside Peter’s house and ignoring the fact that she’d parked in a no parking zone, Amy ran up the front steps and rang the doorbell. She leaned into it and kept ringing it, in a way far from polite. The door opened to reveal a worried Gillian. Her face cleared when she recognized her visitor.
“Amy? It’s you. Come on in.”
“Is Peter here?”
“He’ll be here any minute now.”
Amy brushed past her sister-in-law in a way that alarmed poor Gillian again. For the next five minutes, Amy was pacing back and forth, waiting impatiently for her brother, ignoring Gillian’s offers of coffee, tea or even a glass of water. She also pointedly ignored Gillian’s polite indirect questions about her errand.
The second Peter walked in, Amy collared him.
“Amy? What -”
“I want to talk to you. Now.”
Her voice didn’t encourage any evasions. Peter knew that mood and he didn’t try to avoid the confrontation. He had no idea what his sister wanted, but it was just as well he let her get it off her chest.
“Gillian – Amy and I are going into my study. I’ll be right out.”
“It’s ok. Nothing for you to worry about. Ok. Let’s go, Amy.”
Peter closed the door behind them and turned to face his sister. She was furious about something. He just couldn’t figure out what it was. Her anger also seemed to be directed at him. That was even more inexplicable.
“Vincent told me.”
Peter kept staring inquiringly at Amy until suddenly, the realization of what she was referring to hit him. His face lost all trace of color and he reached blindly behind him for a chair. Finding it, he sat down, heavily.
“How could you?”
Her words were spoken with such hatred, Peter flinched. The chill in her eyes pained him. He’d been hoping that day had been forgotten. By both of them. Vincent and himself. Most of the time, he was able to keept his thoughts away from the memory. When something reminded him of it, he could usually focus hard on something else, like work. Suddenly, he was a boy again. He felt himself shaking all over, as if in fever.
“Well? Peter? He’s your brother. Your baby brother. You – betrayed him.”
“I didn’t know. Ok? I had no idea that was the secret. The guys who were talking about it – never said what it really was. I was hoping – he was always so nice to us I didn’t think he would hurt us.”
“Ok. You didn’t know before it happened, but after you knew – what did you do? You ran. You left Vincent with that pervert and let him – you abandoned him. Your own brother.”
Every word hit Peter like a blow. What Amy was saying was the truth. He’d been too terrified to even think of getting his brother out of there. When he’d realized what the price was, he’d just been too scared to do anything. He had abandoned Vincent, just like he had only a couple of days ago. There was nothing he could say, nothing he could tell Amy, that would make any difference.
When she realized she wouldn’t get any reply, Amy exploded.
“I hate you Peter. I’ll never be able to forgive you for this. Never. You’re such a coward.”
Helpless to stop the tears that were now flowing freely down her face, Amy turned on her heel and left. It was sheer luck she didn’t trip and fall on her way out again, and even more lucky that she didn’t cause an accident on her way home.
She wanted to confront her mother too. Didn’t she love Vincent at all? Amy wanted to scream at her mother to explain what it was that suddenly made it impossible to be at Vincent’s side, to comfort him and – support him. None of this was his fault. Even if everyone else shared some of the blame, Vincent was innocent.
Maxine saw at a glance that something had happened. She knew her daughter and Amy rarely got into one of these moods. Whatever it was had left Amy both distraught and furious. In a way, it was good that Lauren was away visiting her father. Maxine didn’t approve of parents who allowed their children to witness scenes of violent quarrels.
“Amy. What’s wrong? Did you lose the case?”
The way she was feeling, Amy had almost forgotten the trial. It felt very distant. Reluctantly, she forced her mind back to the courtroom.
“No. I won. That bastard lost custody of the boys.”
“At least that’s something.”
“What? Oh, I guess so. Too little, too late.”
“Don’t say that. Little as it is, it’s going to make a difference. Try to imagine them still at the mercy of that man.”
“Yes. I have, thank you. Why do you think this case has been bothering me so much? And speaking of that – where have you been?”
“What are you talking about? I’ve been right here.”
“Exactly. Not at the hospital visiting Vincent. Why not? Don’t you care anymore?”
“How can you say something like that, Amy? He’s my son. I love him, just as much as I love you – or Peter.”
“Peter? I’ll tell you something about Peter, in a minute. Now tell me why you haven’t been to see Vincent.”
Maxine hesitated. Amy was asking a valid question. Why had she been unable to find the strength to face her son after what he’d been through? She knew, from the doctor’s account, that it could have been far worse. Even so, what had happened was bad enough to make her recoil violently from the thought of it. Vincent must have formed the impression that – She sighed.
“I couldn’t. It was just too -”
“For you, you mean? Too upsetting for you?”
“Yes. I can’t deny that. It was wrong of me. Vincent has every right to be disappointed in me. Did he – say anything about -”
“You? No. He hasn’t said much about anything. Except – ”
Maxine didn’t know what to make of Amy’s tone. Judging by the way she sounded, Vincent must have said something. About what?
“You’re right. I should have been more – if it isn’t too late, I’ll -”
“Yes, yes. Go and see him. I know he’ll appreciate it. Mom -”
“Vincent told me something that happened – years ago. Peter – betrayed him. Mom, it’s – something really – horrible.”
Amy felt herself breaking down again, for – how many times was it again – and that was only today. All this was taking its toll on her. She hardly knew herself anymore. Usually, she wasn’t given to emotional outbursts.
Maxine made Amy sit down and would have brought her a glass of water, if Amy hadn’t vehemently protested she didn’t need any more water. Despite her anger a few minutes ago, she was now more miserable than furious.
“Take your time, darling. I’m listening. Whatever it is, I promise I won’t – let you down.”
“Remember Mr Thorn?”
Maxine suddenly sat down heavily herself, pressing a hand to her mouth. Amy’s words had set her thoughts racing in a direction she didn’t want them to, no doubt because of the trial and what had happened to Vincent. Looking back, something about that man’s too generous behavior had struck her as not quite – normal. At the time, no one would have found anything suspicious about a friendly, childless widower who donated of his time to the neighborhood children, but now –
Amy hardly noticed her mother’s reaction. She’d steeled herself to tell Vincent’s story and she couldn’t let herself be distracted before she was done.
“He gave them presents. One day -”
“Did he – hurt Vincent?”
“He – touched him. And, mom, Peter didn’t do anything to stop him. He just ran away. Walked out on Vincent. Mom, he betrayed him.”
“Amy, Peter was a kid, just like Vincent.”
“So was I, and I would never have left Vincent there. I would have run to get you or dad or someone.”
“You’re like me. You’re never afraid of anything. Peter – is more like your father. Besides, Amy, you know boys mature later. You can’t expect a boy of that age to act like a grownup. Or like a girl of the same age.”
“I don’t care. He could have helped Vincent and he didn’t. I’ll never forgive him.”
“What does Vincent say about it?”
“He – said Peter was scared.”
“That’s no excuse.”
“No, but it’s an explanation. What does Peter say?”
“He told me he didn’t know what was behind those rumors. That mr Thorn was always so nice, he didn’t think he’d hurt them. At least he didn’t deliberately set Vincent up to pay the price for him.”
“Amy, how can you even think such a thing? Peter’s your brother too.”
“I don’t care. After what he did -”
“Hush. Don’t say that. You’ll regret it later. Even if Peter made a mistake that day, he must have regretted it a thousand times. People make mistakes, Amy. Like I did, when I – shied away from what had happened to Vincent.”
“Oh, yeah? If Peter regretted it so much, then why did he just abandon Vincent again? Now. He hasn’t been to see him even once. The way he’s going on, you’d think he was the victim, not Vincent.”
“Maybe it’s because he’s reminded of that day.”
“You can make up excuses all you like, mom, but after what Peter did, I don’t think I could ever forgive him.”
Maxine sighed again. She could understand Amy’s reaction and even sympathize with it, to some extent.
“You know, we should talk to Vincent about it. If he feels the same way you do, it’s up to him. He’s the one who had to suffer for Peter’s mistake.”
Amy forced herself not to answer back. Her mother was right. She might regret it one day, but she didn’t think so. What Peter had done was just beyond forgiveness.
“Come on. Let’s go.”
After staring at her mother in silence, Amy nodded.
She relaxed a little, when she saw Vincent’s reaction to his mother’s visit. He was relieved she hadn’t turned her back on him.
Maxine bent over and hugged her son for a long time, then straightened up, pressing a hand to her lower back. Amy let her mother take the chair and remained standing slightly behind her.
“Vincent – Amy told me what you’d told her. About mr Thorn and – Peter.”
“I know I should have told you, mom. It was just too – I was ashamed. Something like that, just didn’t happen. It couldn’t happen. I didn’t know grownups could do that.”
“Of course. It’s not your fault, darling. Still, I wish you could have told me – and your father. We would have put a stop to it.”
“I never dared to go there again.”
“Ok. Vincent – about Peter -”
“That day, I – I guess I hated him. He just ran out on me. For years, I felt that way. Except I tried really hard to forget so – in a way, I couldn’t feel angry with Peter. It would be like hating someone for something that never happened. And now – I know he was just a kid too. I know that if it had been the other way around, I would never have dared to do anything to help him.”
Amy couldn’t keep quiet anymore.
“That’s different. You were younger.”
“I know, but even if I’d been older, I don’t think I would have dared to say anything. Not against a grownup.”
Amy wanted to argue that it still didn’t make what Peter had done ok, but she forced herself to keep quiet. She knew her mother had been right. It was up to Vincent, not her. She hadn’t been involved. Maybe it would have been too much to ask from Peter.
Hoping that the matter had been resolved, Maxine, hesitantly went on to refer to her own betrayal.
“Vincent – I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner. What happened – it was such a shock to me and I just couldn’t face it. It took a while for me to – accept it and – find the strength to come here and see you. I hope you realize that – I -”
Her voice broke and she couldn’t go on. Vincent and Amy exchanged worried glances. They really didn’t want to see their mom crying. It was as if everything else they believed in would founder too, if their strong mother broke down.
Vincent reached out and took his mother’s hand. Amy placed her hand on her mother’s shoulder, squeezing it pleadingly.
“Mom, it’s ok. I understand. You got here now. It’s fine. Amy was here every night. I don’t understand where she gets the strength. With her work and everything. Mom, tell her what she’s doing is important. She can’t quit now, over what happened to me.”
Maxine hastily pulled herself together. Her children might be grownup by now, but they still depended on her.
“I hope you’re not considering resigning, Amy? I never figured you for a quitter.”
“It was my fault. What happened to Vincent -”
“Amy, I would like to ask you not to talk about it, ok? It would help if we – never referred to it again. So, please, don’t say anything about that and – don’t say anything about it being your fault. It wasn’t. I thought we’d discussed that already.”
“Ok, but if I hadn’t been presiding at this trial -”
“Amy, Vincent is right. This wasn’t your fault. Stop blaming yourself.”
Faced with this sudden unity, Amy subsided. It struck her that maybe she’d been so hard on Peter because she really, deep down, blamed herself for what had happened to Vincent. As if somehow Peter’s guilt diminished hers.
“Ok. I promise. At least I’ll try. Mom, do you think we could bring Lauren home now?”
“If the police say it’s safe, then I don’t see why not. Vincent – do you think you’re ready to come home too?”
“Yes. I feel – pretty much ok now.”
Amy sensed how much it cost Vincent to lie like that, but on the other hand, lying in a hospital bed might have been making him feel worse, by reminding him of everything he’d much rather forget.
It turned out the doctors agreed. Half an hour later, Vincent had been discharged from the hospital. He got dressed and followed his mother and sister outside to Amy’s car. Once back home, Amy called her ex-husband and asked him to send Lauren home. To her relief, he agreed. When he mentioned something about a business trip, she understood why, but it didn’t diminish the content she felt when she knew her daughter would soon be on her way back to her.
Despite the late hour, Peter and Gillian suddenly showed up. Maxine took one look at her son and daughter-in-law and retreated into the kitchen to fix some supper for all of them. If her son wanted to talk to her, she’d listen to him – after supper. She had a feeling her children needed to talk things through without her present. To her surprise, Gillian didn’t join her right away. She’d have expected her daughter-in-law to avoid the conflict which she wasn’t directly involved in.
Gillian looked upset and Amy guessed Peter had felt obliged to confide in her, after the noisy outburst in the study.
To Amy’s and Vincent’s surprise, Gillian pulled Vincent into a hard embrace and when she let him go, she was crying.
“Vincent, I want you to know that I’m – disgusted with Peter for what he did. I can’t believe he’d -”
“Gillian, I appreciate your concern -”
“I know. This must be really upsetting for you. I won’t say another word. You will want to discuss this in private. I’ll just go and help Maxine in the kitchen.”
After casting her husband a poisonous look, Gillian left the room.
To her surprise, Amy found herself sympathizing just a little with Peter. He looked so – crushed – she realized Gillian must have followed her example and given Peter a piece of her mind. It was amazing. Gillian never gave the impression of having much of a temper.
Peter seemed to be bracing himself to say something. He nervously cleared his throat and began.
“Amy – you were right. I – betrayed Vincent. There’s no excuse for what I did. I know you’ll never be able to forgive me, but – at least – I never meant to – turn my back on you now, Vincent. It was just – it reminded me of – I’m sorry.”
To Amy’s and Vincent’s surprise, Peter more or less threw himself into Vincent’s arms. Vincent wasn’t prepared for that and he tensed up and cowered away. When he noticed Vincent’s reaction, Peter looked even more distressed.
“Hold on a second, Peter. I’ve had time to think about what I said to you and – I’m sorry too. You were a kid. I felt so guilty for – sorry Vincent – what happened – this week – and – by blaming you, I tried to feel a little less guilty about – that.”
Peter cast Amy a sad glance, then shook his head.
“Even if you can forgive me, I’ll never be able to forgive myself.”
By now, Vincent had had a little time to compose himself.
“Peter, Amy’s right. I – don’t blame you either. Could we just – try to forget all about that – what happened this week and what happened all those years ago?”
Peter looked as if he could hardly believe what he’d just heard.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. I know I would have been too scared to – do anything – if it had been you.”
“But I ran out on you.”
“I know. You were a kid. It wasn’t your fault, anymore than this was Amy’s fault. Please stop talking about it all the time. It’s making it worse, ok? Just let me try to forget about it all.”
“Ok. I promised already.”
“Yes, of course. I don’t want to think about it either or talk about it.”
“Vincent – I love you.”
“I love you too, Amy.”
“I – love you too, Vincent.”
“I love you too, Peter. Of course.”
At this, Peter’s eyes looked suspiciously moist and Amy decided to forestall any more emotional outbursts.
“You know what – I think we’ll go upstairs and fix up your room, Vincent.”
“Oh, right. Yes, of course.”
“You go on ahead. I’ll be right there.”
Vincent gratefully seized on that excuse to get away for a while.
Amy regarded Peter thoughtfully. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that the incident all those years ago had blighted Peter’s life too. In a way, he’d suffered as much as Vincent. In some ways, even more. The guilt he’d been carrying around must have been tremendous.
“Peter – I really am sorry for what I said.”
“You had reason to be angry. If I could go back and change -”
“But you can’t. It doesn’t work that way. At least Vincent seems to be handling it ok.”
“I can’t believe he was that – generous.”
“You know Vincent. He is a very sweet guy. So can you be, at the best of times.”
Peter still looked dejected, so Amy put her arms around him and held him. After the first awkwardness, Peter relaxed a little and appeared to derive some comfort from the embrace.
It occurred to Amy that it might be better if she talked to Gillian about going easy on Peter.
“Peter – would you go upstairs and see if you can give Vincent a hand?”
“If you think he’ll want me there.”
“Of course. You heard him.”
Reluctantly, Peter began walking up the stairs.
Amy walked into the kitchen to find that her mother had already given Gillian a little talk about Peter and it seemed she had already calmed down considerably. It finally filtered through to Amy how tired she was. She’d had a really long and hard day and maybe it would be best if she just sat down and let her mother and sister-in-law take care of the domestic arrangements.
Upstairs, Peter doubtfully looked into Vincent’s room, still not convinced his brother had forgiven him.
“Amy thought you might need some help.”
“No. I’m fine.”
Reading Peter’s look, Vincent decided to make an effort.
“But come on in anyway.”
“Are you sure you forgive me?”
“Yes. Now could we talk about something else?”
“Yes, but -”
“Peter, it’s ok. I understand. Let’s forget about it.”
“You know, all I wanted was to hear you say that you were sorry. That – you didn’t think I was – it was my fault.”
“Your fault? You can’t seriously think so.”
“Not anymore. I just thought – you ran out and I didn’t. I just sat there and let him -”
“And you thought I’d give you a hard time about it?”
“I was afraid you would.”
“When it was my fault.”
“No. It was his fault, ok? End of story. You said you were sorry, and I accept that. Now you try to forget it too, ok?”
“There. All done. Let’s see if we can’t get Gillian to forgive you too.”
“Don’t worry about that. I can handle Gillian.”
On the way down the stairs, Peter almost felt as if some of their light-hearted connection was back. He felt easier of mind than he had for years.
Vincent couldn’t help glancing at Peter as they walked into the kitchen. It felt as if he’d finally gotten his brother back. He still felt numb inside, but he was hoping it would get better as time went by. As he knew from experience. He wouldn’t let this get to him. Their family wouldn’t be torn apart. They’d survived. They’d be ok. It was over – finished.