“Brigid.” Marty was upset. “I want to get to the fucking bottom of this.” That meant she had to think of something.
Stew looked at his father. The guy was a dope and a huge asshole. He was jealous of his own kids. Every time Brigid paid attention to Stewie, Marty would squirm.
“All right, Marty.” Brigid tried to lull him. “What should we do, Officer? Is Stew going to leave?”
“He can’t tell us what to do,” Marty said. “We have to figure that out. We’ve got to weigh the pros and cons.” He looked at her hungrily. Waiting for Brigid to do the work.
Despite his wish to appear logical, Marty never made decisions carefully. Actually, he did almost everything on a whim. Every six months or so, he’d knock on Stew’s door and demand that they do something fatherly together. But if Stew was the one who brought up the possibility, Marty was too busy. He couldn’t take the pressure.
The fact was that Marty’s favorite activity was answering the
phone. It could be a sale. Someone might need a swimming pool cleaning system. No matter what was going on in the family, Marty always answered the phone.
“How could you do this to your father?” Brigid yelled, brilliantly shifting the focus off herself. “Didn’t you ever think about him?”
“Yeah, I thought about him,” Stew stumbled, totally confused. Why did words just come out? What did this have to do with anything? Thinking about his father was a false subject. The real point was that he was being punished but hadn’t done anything wrong. His parents should be defending him, like Heidi Fleiss’s father and O.J. Simpson’s mother. Like every parent on TV whose child had been accused of murder or worse. They all stood behind their children and stuck by them even if they were guilty. Here, Stew had done nothing wrong and his parents were blaming him.
Okay, so there is something wrong with him. Big deal. He’s wrong. But even if Stew was totally wrong and never should have been born, he still was born. That’s how he looked at it. Doesn’t being born count for something? Everyone else around him was doing what their parents wanted: getting blow jobs from girls and getting drunk. He had a secret life. They had a public life. Why was his a secret? Why was he always sneaking around hiding? And why didn’t he mind?
Because he was slime, that’s why. Only the scum of the earth likes acting like scum. His parents were right—he didn’t deserve to live, but he does live. Now his life would be unbearable. It would be disgusting. Every second of his life would be repulsive. Others would say so.
“But Marty? The officer can make a suggestion, can’t he?” Brigid
turned back to Officer Bart. “Can’t you?”
“Mrs. Mulcahey,” the cop jawed. “Stew is only fifteen. He’s a minor. In fact, he’s a boy. According to the law, he’s not responsible for his actions here.”
The cop’s full name was Kevin Malachi Bart. Stew could tell the guy was an asshole, just like his father. This was another one of those guys who was in charge for no reason other than that they said so, and everyone was expected to go along with it.
“The blame, Mrs. Mulcahey, rests entirely on those two pedophiles. John Doe One and John Doe Two.” He glared at Stew.
“Our daughter got pregnant,” Marty said, remembering. “But she’s a girl and that was bad enough. He married her anyway. You never think some guy is going to get into your son’s pants.”
Marty picked up the remote and turned on the football game. He couldn’t help it. It was automatic. The cop stared.
Was this guy kidding?
Then the phone rang.
“I’ll get it,” Marty said, happy for the diversion. “Hello?… Yeah, we’re shipping tomorrow. You should receive the filter at about three p.m. on Wednesday. Always at your service.” He hung up.
“Turn off the TV,” the cop ordered.
Marty woke up.
And then there was silence again.
Marty looked around, panicked. He had no idea of what to do. He saw Stew.
“Uhhh. How did you get to Westchester?”
It was the first real question his father had asked him in years. Stew felt like crying. He’d waited so long.
“Good boy.” Officer Bart perked up.
The phone rang again.
“I’ll get it!” Marty said, delighted. “Hello?… Yeah, we’re shipping tomorrow. You should receive your pool filter by three p.m. on Wednesday. Always at your service.”
Bart took one step closer.
Marty hung up the phone and reached for the remote.
“Marty, don’t turn on the TV,” Brigid gasped for the cop’s benefit.
“I know it’s important,” he said, waving the white flag. “I just can’t believe it.”
That was the signal, the change in tone. So Bart moved in for the kill.
“Mr. and Mrs. Mulcahey.” Bart tried to look sincere. “Your son is a victim. He was molested. Repeatedly.”
“In fact,” Bart said, checking his notebook, “he has confessed to having been molested on at least three occasions. All of these involved transport of a minor for illegal sexual purposes. He was molested. This is a clear-cut case of child abuse here by two twisted predators, who, I assure you, will be put away for a long time, but only with your son’s co-operation.”
“Oh, we’re co-operating all right.” Marty looked around to be sure everyone was listening. It wasn’t Stew’s fault, the cop had said as much. “Stew, I’m sorry this happened to you. I’d like to hurt those guys. Officer, whatever it takes to get those guys. How did you meet them?”
“Good boy,” said Officer Bart.
Stew looked up at the moron cop. He wanted to shoot a hole through his head. The guy was so ugly. He had that fake calm that stupid guys with all the power always have. He was a piece of shit. Stew was a prisoner of war. This was war. He knew he must never, ever confess, no matter how much they tortured him. That was a given. Stew had no future–everyone knew it. So what did he have to gain by squealing? Nothing. At least this way he’d have honor even if he were dead. If Stew died, everyone would be happier.
“Why would someone do such a thing?” asked Brigid. Innocent. This won over Bart. It gave him the opportunity to have the answer and explain. He loved that. It’s what he lived for.
“I know it’s hard to understand. These pedophiles are sick. They live in their own world, where they try to figure out how to get into our world and ruin our lives. Otherwise we’re strangers. You spend your life taking care of your son. Then one day the pedophiles ruin it. They ruin everything you’ve done. Encourage your boy to co-operate. Then you will be helping him.”
“Okay,” Brigid said, showing how profoundly she had been convinced.
“Now, Stew,” the cop slurped. “You tell me exactly how these men entrapped you. How they coerced you into meeting them. Tell me everything that they said and did. I’ve got a piece of paper. I’ll take your deposition. You tell me about the first time they molested you. You tell me every detail. I’ll write it down. Then you sign it.”
“Well,” Marty said, on a whim. “That computer is going in the garbage right now.”
Marty stood up and walked toward the computer, like John
Wayne at the OK Corral. Like he was facing his responsibilities. He stared down at the machine, seized it, and carried it to the trash.
“Don’t touch that, you fucker.” Stew ran to his computer, sitting stupidly on top of a wire mesh trash basket. “I need that.”
“What did you say, you fucking asshole?”
“No, no, don’t take it, Daddy.”
Marty was livid. In front of a cop! “Sit down or get out! No one is going to fuck around with me. I’m taking this to work tomorrow. Jesus, you’re out of control.” Job done, he went back to his chair. Now the cop knew that Marty had at least tried something.
Stew gently lifted the computer out of the trash and held it, cradled it. Then he set it back down on top of the desk.
“Well,” Brigid laughed, strangely. “That’s settled then.”
“We’ll get over this, Stew.” Marty picked up the remote. “Life goes on.”
“Actually,” Officer Bart said, reminding the Mulcaheys that he was still in the room. “I’m attaching this tracking device to your computer, Stew.” He walked over and started twisting wires and adjusting a small box. “The next time those perverts contact you, we’ll have their location. You know how regularly they are in touch. So just by looking at the clock, you’ll know when we’re going to have them. Stew, listen to me. It’s inevitable.”
Everyone sat quietly while Bart made the attachment. Marty toyed with the remote but didn’t press
Stew walked over, slowly, to where Bart was working on his computer. He stood next to the sitting cop and was still half the guy’s size.
“Is this the tracking device?” Stew asked, reaching for the box.
Stew picked up the box.
“Better not touch that, Stew.”
Stew grabbed the box and smashed it down on the table. Then he threw it on the floor and stomped on it until the plastic casing shattered and dug deep into the wood. The whole time he was doing this he was thinking,
Why? Why is this happening?
But what he said was “You’ll never get me.”
Bart stood still, letting him tear the box to shreds. Marty and Brigid didn’t dare move.
When Stew was finished, he was crying. He was spitting. It was very, very scary for him. What had just happened. “You’ll never get me,” he screamed again.
“Technically, we already have you,” Bart said quietly.
Stew was worried. Why were they all so calm?
“Do what the officer says, Stewie.” That was Brigid. She was unusually quiet, like she was telling him something in code. Something so smart it was practically a secret language. He was crying. “You have no choice, Stewie,” she said. “He’ll arrest you.”
“No, he won’t.” Marty woke up again. Now he was disgusted. This shit had to stop. “What are you, Brigid? Insane? What is this, Stew? This is not the time to be a wiseass. Look, we’re on your side, so be on our side. Do what the cop says. Tell the guy what happened. What happened? The guy touched you? Just tell him and no one will ever bring it up again.”
“I can’t explain it.”
“What do you mean, you can’t explain it.”
It had been years since Stewie had looked into his father’s eyes and seen anything but avoidance. He was overwhelmed by love for his father. He wanted his father to be a father, to do the right thing.
“I’m wrong, Dad.”
“Wrong? Do you know how to take care of yourself? Do you want to be out on the street? I’ll show you wrong.”
“Marty, we can’t send him out on his own.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Mulcahey.” Bart was tired now. He had other things to do. “I have the arrest report. I know what was going on in that washroom. Stew, you want me to tell your parents exactly what you’ve been doing? Do you want me to tell your principal and guidance counselor? Do you want this on your transcript? Do you want everyone at school to know? Or do you want to co-operate?”
Marty was pasty. He felt faint. This was too much pressure, too much stress. He wanted to flee, but he just sat there, like he was supposed to. He acted responsibly like everyone wanted him to.
“Okay,” Stew said, trying not to start crying again.
“Good boy.” Kevin Bart rustled Stew’s hair. It was comforting. “It’s the only way out. Now everyone sit down. I’ve got my pen. You talk and I’ll write. Okay, Stew, start from the beginning.”
Eva spent the next purgatorial hour on a pay phone in the clinic’s waiting room. Her insurance company’s voice mail system was engineered to trigger psychotic episodes. There was no way to speak to a real person. Every avenue led to an endless
. It gave Eva plenty of time to worry, and plenty of time to look at the other women crying into phones or waiting for their various stages of prognosis. Most of these sister worriers were older. Rarely these days was Eva the youngest person in any room. But today was an exception. Was this to be her future: anxiety dressed as inevitability? After a certain age, of course, no disaster is a complete surprise.
She thought about calling Mary at work, but why make her worry? What good would it do? Mary was afraid of doctors, hospitals, medicine, and the deterioration of the body. Calling would make Mary so worried and upset that she wouldn’t be able to word-process efficiently, so she would be trapped inadequately and helplessly at work. Why do that to her? It would help nothing.
Like most of the others in the waiting room, Eva was starting to feel that her situation was hopeless. There was clearly no person at the other end of the phone line. If a real person should ever answer, they would be impatient, mumbling, uninformed, surly, and paid five dollars an hour. The insurance company made clear their contempt by the cold barrage of abusive pop music and repetitious lying, automated, cheery statements falsely promising that an operator would be with her
. Who invented voicemail, automatic holds, and mandatory telephonic Muzak? All three were bad ideas.
Eva hung up, defeated, and sat down on the waiting room bench. The men who controlled this insurance company had created a system that was unworkable. She wondered if they did it on purpose.
She looked, and there, nursing one infant and with another in her arms, was Adrianna Hopstein, an old friend from college twenty years before.
“Oh my God,” Eva exclaimed falsely, as she robotically kvelled over the kids. “Congratulations.”
“This is my father,” Adrianna said, introducing Eva to an overwhelmed but glowing old man. “Daddy, here. Take Felicity.”
Adrianna took out her ponderous breast and fed the other infant as her father held his granddaughter tenderly, bouncing her up and down, creating a false nostalgia for a youthful fatherhood that he had avoided the first time around with job obligations. It was the same breast that Eva had seen at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival in 1979, when she and Adrianna and five others shared one tent and ran around naked, smoking pot and blowing their minds. It had been weighty even then.