My mind wasn't focusing but I couldn't pin down the feelings I was having or why until AJ, looking up from a comic he'd been reading while I made dinner, asked me
"Dad, what's gonna happen to Jeffy, Jarod's friend?"
Bingo! Ever since my mind had flashed on Jeffy, after speaking with Ralph that day, I had these thoughts in the back of my head. As AJ asked me, it became very clear that I wanted to follow up on the youngster myself.
"I'm glad you asked, son. I've wanted to know that too. I'll call Dan and see if he knows anything."
"Thanks, Dad. Ya know, he really isn't a bad kid, just kinda like Brad and Devon, the two guys at school that tried to act like thugs. Jeffy just needed someone to follow and chose the wrong guy."
"Man, I'll say. He sure got attached to him. It was weird to see him so wired up when he came at us with a gun."
"Yeah, that's the funny thing, cuz that's not like he was at all before he met Jarod. He lived kinda near our building and he was really quiet and nice. But I think it was cuz his dad was mean to him a lot."
"You mean he hurt him, was abusive to him, like Jarod's dad was to him and you?"
"Naw, nothing that bad, 'cept he'd always be yellin' and stuff and puttin' him down like he wasn't as good as anyone else. It was scary. I could see why Jeffy was like he was and why he followed Jarod, at least for a while. I think he wanted a friend so bad and Jarod was there. But then Jarod like got into Jeffy's head and that's when Jarod went after me a lot. But it was strange. Jeffy always held back when Jarod was picking on me. And Jarod didn't seem to care or something, cuz he'd do all the talkin' anyway."
"So, you think Jeffy's an okay guy, just in the wrong place at the wrong time?"
"Yeah, I guess so. Like I said, he was real nice to me before he started hangin' around that jerk, Jarod."
"Hmmm, interesting," I said, sitting down to ponder my son's insights. "I think I'll call Dan and see if we can't do something. If he is like you say, maybe some counseling and even a new environment, uh, place to live, would be a good thing, especially if his dad is abusive."
"Is talkin' and yellin' abusive?"
"Oh yes. Have you forgotten what Stewart went through all those years? Those guys never touched him and look what it caused him, that little incident that almost got you suspended."
"Yeah. That was bad," AJ said.
Then he walked over and made his way into my lap, pretty much the first time I didn't wrangle him onto me by way of a good ole tickle time.
"To what do I owe this honor, my good man?"
"Huh? You know you're kinda weird sometimes. Now you're talkin' all funny."
"I just meant I was very pleased that you wanted to sit in my lap and asked why."
His grin was surely one of my favorite things in the world.
"O-o-oh. Why didn't ya just say so? I was just thinking that Stewart really had it bad with those guys sayin' those things about him and all. But he's so lucky to have such neat parents that love him and his brother and sister a whole bunch. Then I thought about how . . . lucky I am."
That last sentence came out with a little bit of shakiness in his voice and I saw one tear make its way down his cheek. I leaned in and kissed it away. I think another thing that endeared me to the one who filled my lap just then was how easily he came to show his vulnerable, loving side.
"M-m-m, thanks, Dad. Anyway, I just thought how much badder, I mean worse, it would be if someone's dad was like that, sayin' stuff that made ya feel real bad 'bout yourself, like with Jeffy."
I held his arms and pushed him out just far enough to really see right into his face. His eyes got a bit big and he looked over his shoulder and down for a soft place to land, probably, but there was no way I was giving up my hold on him. That meant too much to me, to us.
"You sure are a little carebear, AJ. You not only care about people in general, but you really care about the people that others might not see their value the way you do, like Brad and Devon and now Jeffy."
I pulled him back and hugged him to me, feeling his soft hair next to my chin. I also flashed on the thought that this wasn't going to last too long before he'd be big enough to cut off the circulation in my legs. I'd just have to force myself to do the lap thing more often until that dreaded day came.
"But see, it's them that need all the stuff that the other kids, mostly, already have. Like someone to tell them they're special and loved and stuff."
Wow! What a kid I had.
"I thought all that stuff was yucky to kids your age. How come . . .?"
"Nuh-huh, Dad. It's only that kids say it's yucky, but they're the ones that get it too, mostly. Maybe those guys would say it because they think then everyone will think they're too tough to need it, or even realize that they need it, but it isn't that way at all. Everyone needs it, and everyone needs lots o' lovin'."
"I'm all for that, tiger. You could sit in my lap like this all day until my legs fall off when you get older and bigger."
"Yeah," he said amongst a mouthful of giggles, which continued for a bit after.
He was so wonderful, just to listen to him, right down to his every breath. I guess you could say I was hooked.
"So that's what you and Stewart said back at that school board meeting, isn't it? All those kids need is to be loved and hugged once in a while. But it sure helps when their parents don't infect their minds with hatred and bigotry."
"Bigo . . . huh?"
I gave him a tickle and told him a little about bigotry.
"It's when someone believes in something so much that they want to fight others that don't believe or act the way they think it should be. They may believe that a person is less of a person because of some part of them, like the way they dress or how they act that the bigot may not like. It doesn't even have to be real, just in the mind of the person that doesn't like them. Do you understand?"
"Okay, like with Stewart. They picked on him cuz he was small and looked weak. Wow, were they wrong."
"What do you mean?"
"Stewart's had almost three years of Tae Kwon Do, but he said it isn't for fighting, so . . ."
"Hmmm. Amazing. He could have taken them out as easily as I took care of the jerks that attacked you the first time I saw you."
"Ha! Yup. Just like that prob'ly, huh?"
"See, AJ, that just tells us how different we all are about a whole lot of things and a lot of it has to do with the example set by our parents or guardians, even our friends."
"Yeah, I kinda like parents more than the word guardian," he said, snuggling into what little room there was between us.
"I kinda like that too."
"Well, let me find out and get back to you, Tim," said Dan when I called him the next day and put the question of Jeffy's welfare to him. "What do you care for? He was trying to shoot you, you know."
"Dan, you're the last person I'd expect to not care for a young person in trouble."
"Oh, don't get me wrong. He did leave an impression on me. Ouch. It still hurts. But I haven't had him on my mind because I was the quote, victim, unquote, this time, so they won't let me get close to him."
"Hmmm, well, then I should talk to the sheriff? Please say no," I pleaded. I didn't want to have anything to do with him again, especially if he found out the commissioner wasn't really my godfather.
"Hah, hah! I can't blame you for that one, for sure, and he's been especially peculiar lately. I have no idea what's got into him. No, I'd call the county district attorney and see where they're going with his case, if I were you."
"Thanks, pal. We can't wait for us to all get together again," I said, ending our conversation.
My next call was to the district attorney.
"I can schedule an appointment for you," said the administrative assistant that answered the phone.
"No, really, could I just talk to him about something very simple. I just need to ask him one question." I sounded like I was pleading.
"I'm very sorry but he's very, very busy these days. I have an hour next Wednesday," she said.
A week? In this small county? I couldn't imagine.
"Or you might be able to talk to one of his assistants, I suppose."
Hm-m-m-m. "Okay. Let's do that. Do I need an appointment or can I just talk to one of them? Hello?"
She was gone and within a minute another voice came on the line. It sounded like a young lady.
"Hello, this is Destiny. How may I help you?"
"Um, Destiny?" Was she kidding me? "I have a couple of questions I'd like to ask about one of your boss's cases. Is it okay to just ask them? I mean, do I need an appointment?"
"Well, it depends on the case, sir. Could we start with your name?"
"Oh, okay. My name is Retired Gunnery Sergeant Timothy McGill." I tried to make it as confusing as I could because I was afraid that . . .
"Oh, Sergeant McGill, I'm going to need permission to talk about the case I think you're interested in. You were the intended victim of the accused, isn't that right?"
"Yes, but Destiny, I just want to know what's going to happen to the boy. We're very concerned about his wellbeing. You know . . ."
"Sir, I'm sorry to interrupt you but I just don't know if I can talk to you about this. There's a process we need to go through with our witnesses and I'm sure you'll be subpoenaed to testify."
"Okay, okay, but can you just tell me what he's up against? See, I think he's a really good kid. He just got sucked into a situation he didn't know how to handle. His emotions took over and, well, we almost had a disaster. But we didn't, right?"
"Sergeant, if you're concerned about him, you need to let us do our job so nothing more happens to him then has been served. I think I need to refer your request to Mr. Thomas, our district attorney."
"But I was told that could be a long time, ma'am. I'm afraid if I wait, his fate will be written in stone and the boy'll be buried. Please help me save him."
"It won't be that long, Sergeant McGill. I'm pretty sure that when Mr. Thomas hears you called he'll make you a priority."
"Well, that's great news. We need to know that he'll be okay. It's very important to us."
"Um, may I ask, sir, who 'us' is?"
"Oh, my son, well, foster son so far, was brought up in the same neighborhood as the boy, Jeffy. He knew him before Jeffy became involved with Jarod Brown."
"Sir, are we talking about the same person here? We have in custody a Daniel Jeffrey Connors. Oh, I see - Jeffy. Um, we may have another problem with your foster son involved. Like I said, you need to talk to the district attorney."
"Okay, so I can give you my number and . . ."
"Sir, believe me, we have your information."
It was a week before I heard from him! I was really getting upset and nervous. I didn't really know how these things worked.
"Hello, Mister, I mean Sergeant McGill, this is District Attorney Thomas. You called earlier. I appreciate your patience in waiting for me to return your call but these last few weeks have been ridiculous."
"Well, I do thank you for your time, sir. I hope we're not too late," I said.
"Too late? What am I missing? Too late about what?"
"Not what, who. I'm worried about what will happen with young Jeffy Connors."
"Jeff . . . oh, the Connors boy. Well, I'm not too sure where you're coming from but maybe I can answer some of your questions."
"Okay, my first question is what's he going to be charged with?"
"He'll be charged with three counts of attempted murder, reckless endangerment, assault of an officer, two counts of attempted assault, carrying a concealed weapon, and a few lesser ones, like driving without a license."
"And if he's convicted?"
"No, that would be when he's convicted, Sergeant. He'll be charged as an adult so he could get no less than twenty years, with parole."
"Wait! An adult? He's only fifteen, isn't he?" Now I was getting concerned.
"He'll be sixteen in a couple of weeks, and with the severity of the charges, and the responsibility of this county to stop such grievous acts against humanity, well, I hate to use a cliché but we'll have to throw the book at him, I'm afraid."
"That's not fair. Does he have a record? Is this like three strikes or something?" I was heating up and my voice was showing it.
"Now, now, let's calm down. He has no record on file but first, surely you know the type and where they've been brought up. They amount to nothing more than filling for our over-populated penal system. And look at what he's done. That deputy would have died if he hadn't been wearing protection. Why, each of you could have been killed. He could have run over you with the car he stole or shot you all."
"But he didn't even try to shoot us all. Wait! You said stole? He stole the car? I thought it was his father's car."
"Yes, that's true but it was the boy's father that is pressing charges on the theft; grand theft I forgot to add to the list."
"His father is pressing charges against his son? I don't understand. How did you . . .?" This was not going well.
"Me? I didn't do anything but present the possibilities to Mr. Travis. He made the decision on his own. Seems the boy was pretty rebellious and his dad, well, stepdad, couldn't take anymore. He wanted him out of the house, I suppose. Wouldn't you?"
"So you charge him with grand theft because his, hmmm, not even his dad, obviously not his adopted dad, doesn't want him anymore and you gave him a way to throw out the trash?"
"Sergeant, don't get nasty on me. You still have some questions, I assume and I don't have to listen to your accusations. I did nothing illegal."
"It may not be illegal on your part but it will take away the boy's life. That's not right."
"And even if we, uhm, he didn't press charges there's the problem of the attempted murder."
"Okay, who is his attorney? Maybe I should be talking to whoever that is. Oh, one more question before you go please."
"Yes? One more if it's quick. I have appointments waiting."
"Of course you do. I want to know what happens if Deputy Perkins doesn't press charges against the boy? That boy was under so much stress. His friend was just killed and now you're telling me his family was kicking him out? If that's not stress I don't know what is. He must have been going crazy under that kind of pressure; that kind of pressure on a young fifteen-year-old child."
"Almost sixteen. That makes him as close to an adult as he can be. And the charges are not the deputy's to drop. It's a criminal act and he will be treated as an adult when he goes on trial and then to jail."
"So he's already convicted, District Attorney Thomas? It sounds like you and his stepdad have already decided that he's trash."
"Don't get testy with me, Sergeant. And should you have more questions please don't bother my staff. I'll be gone for the next week or so. You can wait until then to call back."
"You're taking a vacation while this kid's life hangs in the balance? What kind of . . . ?"
"I'm warning you, Sergeant. As if you needed to know it's not all pleasure. I have a business meeting in Las Vegas that I can't miss, and if I decide to pull a few slot machine handles it's no skin off your back."
"I wasn't thinking of my back, sir," I retorted with some indignation.
"Goodbye, Sergeant. See you in court."
"Well, that went well," I said to myself.
"He what!?" yelled Dan. It occurred to me that I'd never heard him raise his voice before. But he was livid. I got a paper towel to clean up the coffee he spilled.
"That was our conversation. I was the one with the comment about throwing out the trash but what was the deal with talking about Jeffy's stepdad like they were college roommates or something? Yeah, it sounded awfully convenient for them both. I can't imagine someone like a county prosecutor having another agenda, especially when it'll ruin the life of a child."
"Then you'd better take your rose colored glasses off and look again. A district attorney is just a person like the rest of us," said Dan. "We can all either be the best we can for the good of others, or the best we can for ourselves."
"Don't be so naive, Tim. There are crooks everywhere. I admit that I hadn't ever seen that side of Thomas but Henry Travis, I have always had my suspicions about him. He's a pretty ruthless businessman. I didn't even know he was married again."
"Great! So Jeffy doesn't stand a chance."
"No. I didn't say that. We just need to get to his lawyer. I wonder who it is."
"I'm sure he must be court appointed," I said. "Where would Jeffy get any money, especially if his stepdad is after his hide too? I wonder if I can go talk to Jeffy."
"You can ask. They can only say no," said my friend.
And they did!
"Dad, what's goin' on with Jeffy? Did you get all his charges taken away?"
Oh man. How was I going to explain the merry-go-round we were on? I decided to use Jacob's idea of honesty. It was the best policy, after all.
"Honey, we have some problems with Jeffy's situation. It looks like his stepfather is disowning him and pressing charges of his own."
"How come? His old man doesn't even like him except for all that money Jeffy was supposed to get. That's why he let him stay around after he married Jeffy's mom a coupla years ago. Something about waiting for him to be trusted with it. I don't know but I heard him and Jarod talking once. What's that all mean?"
"I think you heard them talking about a trust fund set up for Jeffy? Is it money from his real dad or from his mom? Did you hear them mentioned?"
"I don't know. I heard that he gets some money, some big money when he turns twenty. It looks like he won't get to twenty if he goes to jail. They'll eat him alive, huh?"
"I hope it doesn't come to that, but it sure explains a lot of things. I wonder if his lawyer knows all this." And I was going to find out. "I promise, AJ, I'll do everything I can for Jeffy. He doesn't deserve to be treated like this. It isn't right. It isn't honest. It also explains why Jarod was nice to him, doesn't it?"
"Yeah!" said AJ, his eyes lighting up when he realized the connection. "And maybe he was always around Jarod cuz he was the only one that would be his friend. His dad sure wasn't."
"See, AJ, I just don't understand that. I can't get enough of you and I'd never let you down like that, I don't care how much money's involved."
"He he, I get some money?" he asked laughing like a little monkey.
"Nope. Sorry. I spent it all."
"You big liar," he said, laughing and lunging at me. He was wailing away on me, not very effectively, I might add. Seems he doesn't fight too well when he's getting tickled.
I realized later how glad I was that we had that release. The tension was getting to me and I didn't want AJ to feel it too much. The more I heard about Jeffy, the more I wanted us to help in any way we could. I am so glad that Dan had that vest on, but I know Jeffy just boiled over from all that was happening in his life, and then his only friend was taken out. 'It sure seems like he needs some real friends right about now,' I thought.
I spent all morning calling lawyers in the area to find Jeffy's lawyer. There really weren't that many listed in the phone book, and most of them kept me waiting until I could talk to a clerk or someone to find out they weren't involved. Rarely did I talk to the lawyer who told me the same thing. Of course, a couple of offices didn't even answer the phone. Just before noon I decided to call the courthouse and see if they could help me.
"Well, Sergeant McGill, we usually require you to come in for this kind of information but as I found it at the top of the stack, it's so new, I have that information for you. Not much happens here anymore," said the clerk for the judge that assigned cases. "We show a Mr. Donald Patterson as his counsel. A Ms. Hawthorne is his paralegal and has been picking up copies of the discovery in the case when it comes in."
"Thank you very much. That helps to no end and saves me a lot of time, believe me," I said.
"Oh, I believe you. The justice system wasn't built on the idea of speed. And, if I may add, I hope you're able to help the boy. It sounds like he's been through an awful lot and there's a mountain of problems in his future without help."
I didn't get a chance to ask how she knew that, but it seemed to be getting around what a good kid Jeffy seemed to be. That pleased me, knowing we were doing a good thing for someone that I felt deserved it.
I would like to hear/read your criticisms, good and bad. I'd love to talk about where this gets to you. Matthew Templar