God Bless the Child
A Jackson Donne Story
by David White
......I sat in my
car trying to learn how to blow smoke rings, while I waited for
Joan Beckett or her son Alan to come out of their house. I only
managed one really good smoke ring, but I was patient. You had
to be on a stakeout. My new cigarette habit helped pass the time.
They say they lead to a greater risk for lung cancer. That's
just fine with me. The sooner the better.
......Inside my used
Honda Prelude the smoke from the cigarettes began to get annoying,
so I opened a window. The smoke drifted onto a residential side
street in Oradell, NJ. The street was quiet, without much traffic.
I had parked the car on the corner, about a football field's
distance from the front door of the house. I didn't want to look
suspicious so I circled the block and parked in a different spot
every hour. Probably still looked suspicious.
......The sun shone
down on the house from the clear skies above, the glare making
the blue look like it was a light gray. It was a nice
suburban house: two stories, a garage, and one car in the driveway,
ex-husband had hired me that morning. He shuffled into my office
while I was washing down some aspirin with black coffee. I needed
to relieve my morning hangover headache, and the man had the
grace to be quiet while I swallowed. When I finished, I offered
him a seat in the swivel chair in front of my desk, and asked
how I could help him.
......He was a thin
man and looked like he hadn't eaten in weeks. Skin was tight
and pale against his face. He had thinning black hair which was
losing its pigment at the sides. His grey eyes drooped, appearing
to tear up as he stared at the blotter on my desk. I wondered
how long it had been since he smiled. He spoke first.
Donne, correct?" he asked.
That's me." I pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes from the second
drawer in my desk and lit one. The smoke wafted toward my guest.
He waved at it with his left hand. A line wrapped tightly
around his ring finger where a ring would normally rest, showed
even whiter than the rest of his skin.
"I'm Burt Lessing." He paused, thoughtfully. "Donne.
'Cruel and sudden, hast thou since purpled thy nail, in blood
......I smiled. "'The
Flea,'" I said. Had to show him I was intelligent too.
......If he was impressed,
he didn't show it. He just smiled and nodded. "I knew your
. . . fiancée, was it? Jeanne Baker?"
that was her. How did you know her?" The cigarette suddenly
tasted bad in my mouth. I snuffed it out in the ashtray on my
English professor at Rutgers. We were on the faculty together.
Terrible tragedy. You have my condolences."
a year and a half ago." I tried not to react. Jeanne died
in a car accident two weeks before we were supposed to be married.
I didn't like to talk about it.
are difficult to deal with. I doubt that you have fully recovered
from it. As I said, you have my sympathy. It must have been horribly
difficult. Hadn't you just been let out of rehab when it happened?"
He knew too much about me. "Why are you here, Mr. Lessing?"
Have you dealt with child abuse before, Mr. Donne?"
I was on the force."
......He let that
comment sit. The way this conversation was going, I figured he
knew how that ended too.
......He reached down
to the briefcase he had brought with him, opened it and passed
me a manila folder. I opened it. My stomach twisted and I felt
bile rise in my throat. Inside the folder were dozens of Polaroids
of a small child, probably about seven or eight. He was bruised
with two black eyes and a swollen lip. There were close ups of
his arms which had large purple welts on them. The child was
crying, and had averted his eyes from the camera.
my son, Alan. My ex-wife, Joan, did that to him. She likes to
drink a lot. It's the reason I got out of our marriage. I took
the pictures and showed them in court. When the divorce was complete,
I got custody. I was wise to get out with Alan when I did."
......I looked at
the pictures one last time and placed them back in the folder.
I took a few seconds to compose myself. I could feel his grey
eyes glaring at me. I returned the stare. "These pictures
were enough to get you custody? You had to have a witness or
someone, didn't you?"
believed the photos. Don't you?" He smiled, but it didn't
work somehow, as if the neurons didn't connect his mouth and
I don't trust anyone any more."
......He sighed, upset
that he didn't have even more information on my past. Like most
college professors, information was power to him. "Alan's
school principal came to the trial. She saw Alan attend school
several times with bruises. I told her what happened when I was
about to get the divorce. She promised to testify. It was her
testimony that won me the case."
do I come in?" I didn't like the sound of this. Family cases
were always trouble. They were hard to solve and rarely worked
out neatly. But I was short on cash, so I indulged him.
in Oradell. I commute to New Brunswick each day. Yesterday, on
my way back home I was caught in traffic, while Alan was at school
waiting for me to pick him up. Alan's mother arrived before me
and took him. She abducted him."
you know she took him?" I reached for another cigarette.
This one tasted better. Sun shone in through the window behind
me, and I felt the warmth of it on my back.
Amis, the school principal, saw her take him." He replaced
the manila folder in his briefcase.
principal who testified at your divorce?"
......I inhaled some
smoke and let it rest in my lungs for a few seconds. Exhaling,
I looked Lessing dead in the eye. I didn't want to trust this
guy, his eyes didn't agree with the rest of his face, but his
voice was compelling, and I began to take his story at face value.
"Why didn't she call the cops? She knows your wife is a
threat to the child."
her the same question. She decided it would be best to wait for
me. She believed I could handle the situation without traumatizing
Alan any further." He stopped smiling.
that hard to believe, Dr. Lessing. She knows your wife hit your
kid. Then she sees her take your son away, and she just sits
there? Not a very smart principal."
you go to the cops or your lawyer?" I asked.
this is quicker. And with lawyers, cheaper. How much will you
a day plus expenses. But I don't know if I'm gonna do this. I'm
not gonna bust in, grab the kid and leave. This is a family situation
which would probably be better dealt with if I stayed out of
it." I wanted to help this child, though. The pictures spoke
to me, and I felt for the boy deep in my chest.
......He frowned deeply,
the lines around his mouth creasing into his cheeks.
about this?" I continued, "When I see she has the kid,
I go and talk to her. Maybe I can talk her into setting up a
meeting with you, and you guys can work it out."
......He frowned some
more, perhaps visualizing the conversation. I don't think he
liked the idea of me doing my job peacefully, but he relented
and agreed. He gave me two pictures, one of Alan, unbruised,
and one of Joan, directions to her house, and to his, in case
I decided to just take the kid. I told him I wanted to talk to
the school principal as well. He didn't want me to bother the
poor woman, but he grudgingly gave me the address of Alan's school.
after he left, I did too. I walked along George Street toward
my car, which was parked two blocks away. It was an early fall
day, and the college students were out in full force. The air
was cool, the sky was blue, and most of the kids were wearing
jackets and jeans, strutting toward class on the College Ave
campus, situated five blocks away. The students who lived off
campus had apartments near my office, and all of them walked
to class. The halls of academia are infused with a different
type of energy in the fall, an energy that most people don't
get to feel. I only lasted a year at Villanova, but the feeling
of the fall air and the sight of the campus brought it all back.
Most students were happy in the fall, their faces healthy. They
didn't look like Alan Lessing did, bruised and battered. He didn't
see the fall like these students did. There was no promise for
him, no future, only pain. And unlike previous years, I no longer
had the energy either.
......Jeanne and I
used to wander through the Rutgers Quad, noticing the leaves
changing color, talking about her classes and new students. She
would smile brightly, and that made the fall days even nicer.
She was gone now and the fall days seemed to be missing a little
extra energy. She didn't have the uppity nature that most professors
did, rarely complained, and she knew that she could be wrong
sometimes. I didn't get that feeling from Lessing, and I wondered
why she had told him as much about me as she had. He was probably
having marital troubles a year and a half ago too. Maybe she
was trying to talk him into seeing me. At the time I was only
27, and my office had just opened. There weren't clients knocking
down my door. There still aren't.
......The ride to
Oradell lasted about an hour. It wasn't an enjoyable ride, the
traffic on the Turnpike and Parkway backed up and moving slowly.
Driving on New Jersey roads was a two-sided coin. Either it was
the Indy 500 or a parking lot.
school was a one story building that took up a whole block. The
windows were decorated with construction paper cutouts and signs
that read: WELCOME BACK. Well-manicured grass surrounded the
building. There were a few tall trees which were beginning to
change color. At ten-thirty in the morning, no one lingered outside
......I had to ring
a bell and wait for someone to answer the door because it was
locked. Not everyone is allowed access to knowledge. You have
to be invited in. A woman, who appeared to be in her forties
answered. She wore a grey pants suit and black high heels. She
smiled at me, the whiteness of her teeth a noticeable contrast
to her bright red lipstick. She wasn't exactly overweight, but
she filled out her suit well with some noticeable flab pressing
against her white button down blouse, under her breasts. She
had a cold sore lump covered by her lipstick, and she wore a
lot of blue eyeshadow.
"Yes?" she asked. Her voice was mellow from years of
talking to children in a sweet understanding voice. It sounded
like honey, sweet and smooth.
name is Jackson Donne. I'm a private detective." I showed
her my license. "I'm here to meet with a Ms. Amis, the principal.
I would like to talk to her about Alan Lessing."
Amis." She smiled some more. "Usually my secretary
answers the door, but she called in sick today. Come inside.
Let's sit in my office."
......Inside her office,
she sat behind a large desk, covered with a blotter on which
rested, a cup full of pencils, stray papers and folders, and
an empty coffee mug. I sat in the chair opposite her desk, and
for a brief moment, I flashed back to my days in elementary school,
in trouble again for throwing paper airplanes.
I help you?" She looked at me, not sternly, but not lovingly.
She was neutral, willing to make a judgement on me after I spoke.
says you testified at his divorce hearing."
is correct. His wife was beating his child, and I felt it was
the right thing to do. There were a few days when Alan would
come into class with a bruised arm or cheek, but it didn't seem
like anything a normal boy doesn't get playing football. Then
one day he came in with his father. He was bruised more than
ever, black eyes, bandaged. I called DYFS right away. I have
to by law, when there is a case of abuse. After they came and
took the boy to his aunt's, Dr. Lessing came to ask for my help."
DYFS was The New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services.
They investigated cases of child abuse.
known the Lessings a long time?"
passing. I didn't know Burt until he came to me asking for help.
He said he had the pictures of his son hurt, but he didn't have
a witness. I've seen what Joan Lessing did to her child. It was
the least I could do. For the child's safety, of course."
You testified at the trial, why didn't the boy?" I was dying
for a cigarette. Or a drink. Or both.
sure. No one saw Alan during the trial. DYFS took him to his
aunt's, like I said. Maybe he stayed there. He didn't come back
to school until about a month after the trial. They had originally
planned on bringing him to testify, but the child wouldn't answer
questions and finally they gave up. I testified for him."
worked with the child and I am the closest person to a psychologist
who has spoken with him."
you tell me what happened yesterday afternoon?"
She stopped and looked at me, crossing her eyebrows and thinking.
Absently, she shuffled a few papers. "Well. I escorted the
line of students outside to their waiting parents like I usually
do. Most of them found their parents quickly or ran home or caught
their buses. It was like any normal day. One parent pulled me
aside to ask about the PTA meeting earlier in the week. I was
in conversation when I noticed Alan getting into a car with his
mother. It was too late for me to stop her."
you call the police or DYFS again, especially if you are required
by law?" That question was nagging at me. No one called
the police. No one tried to do anything until the next day.
"I thought it would be best to wait for BurtDr. Lessing.
He said he would take care of it. That's all I really know."
She began to shuffle her papers more intensely. "Now, if
you'll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to in the school.
Lunch starts in a few minutes."
returned to school yet?"
......She looked at
me sternly. I was an annoyance, and she needed to get rid of
you for your time." I smiled congenially and left.
......I didn't like
the answers she had given me. Something still felt off about
the case. Deep inside my mind's eye, the pictures of an injured
Alan Lessing danced, almost taunting me.
......Four hours later
I was still trying to blow smoke rings. It was nearing four in
At four fifteen, the sun still high in the sky, Joan and
Alan came outside. She had him, and she wasn't trying to conceal
him. Alan walked close to his mother. He wasn't walking right,
he seemed to be favoring his left leg. Rage passed through
my body. She kidnaped him and beat him up. She probably blamed
him for the divorce or for not winning custody. Maybe she just
lost control. The kid didn't need another episode of violence,
so I composed myself, got out of my car, and walked up to talk
......I wasn't halfway
up the block when she noticed me. She was putting two overnight
bags in the back of the mini-van, when she looked up. She stared
at me the whole way up the block, but she didn't say a word,
she didn't turn and run inside, she just stared. The neighborhood
felt even quieter as I walked. There wasn't a breeze, there were
no shuffling leaves, no crying kids. I wished for the bustle
of the city, some sort of distracting sound.
......I stopped in
front of her, and the breeze returned. She looked at me hard
with her dark eyes, her short brown hair ruffling in the breeze.
She was a thick woman, not heavy, but larger than her ex. She
wore a red plain blouse, and jeans that were too tight, and I
worried they might split.
giving him back," she said quietly, but with a strong bite
in her voice. I could smell alcohol on her breath.
I'm Jackson Donne, and I'm a private investigator. I want to
giving him back," she said again. "And I'm not Ms.
Lessing. I'm Joan Beckett." She balled her hands at her
sides into fists. Alan looked at me and looked at his mother,
and started to whimper. He sat down in the driveway. He probably
thought he was going to be in for another beating. I wasn't going
to let that happen.
hired by your ex-husband, Burt." I flashed my license, but
she didn't look. There was hate in her eyes, glaring like fire
deep behind her irises. I took another deep breath trying to
remain calm. "He says you kidnaped his child. He says you
don't have the rights to see him." Alan cried harder, trying
to wipe his eyes with his free hand. Drool and phlegm ran from
his nose and mouth. He couldn't be much more than seven years
son of a bitch. I'm not giving him back. He's a monster."
Tears welled in Joan's eyes, but she wasn't crying. She still
stared at me like she was going to kill me and anyone else who
tried to get near the kid.
monster?" I yelled. I couldn't control myself anymore. The
volcano was erupting. "Lady, you beat the shit out of your
the hard stare broke. The tears started to flow. The shock of
what I said hit her. I thought the cruelness of what she had
done finally dawned on her. I was wrong. "I didn't do anything.
I didn't touch him."
Joan. I talked to Ms. Amis. She told me." I said, cynically.
a lying slut!" Joan yelled. She turned to Alan. He wasn't
crying as hard now, but the tears still ran. Joan was crying
hard enough for the both of them. "Tell the man what happened,
Alan," she managed to get out.
......He froze. He
stared at his mother, without moving. The tears stopped and he
stopped wiping them. He didn't say a word. Joan looked at him,
her eyes widening. She knew she was not proving anything. She
turned to me.
you work for him? My husbandis an evil man." She moved closer.
The smell on her breath got stronger. She wasn't drunk enough
to slur her speech or walk funny--she probably just did a shot
before leaving the house. Take the edge off.
to take the kid from you, Joan. You hit him. I can't let you
do that." I tried to remain calm, but inside I trembled
with anger. It had been years since I'd seen such cruelty to
snapped out of his daze. He still hadn't looked at me. The tears
started to run again, but this time he stood up off the pavement.
The boy tugged at his mother's pant leg.
are you taking him?" I asked. It was hard to talk through
gritted teeth, but it was all I could do to keep from
here. Away from Burt and assholes like you who want to take my
son." She gently patted Alan's head, seemingly comforting
him. The boy wasn't frightened of her. He clung to her leg, as
if hugging a thick tree trunk.
......I looked away
from her bloodshot eyes, and at Alan's green emeralds, contrasting
brilliantly with the black and blue bags, just
starting to be tinged with that sickly yellow color, under
them. There was something about those eyes. He tried to
look away, but somehow he couldn't.
kid. Don't you want to go where it's safe?" I crouched to
his height, and smiled.
away from me. I heard his mother mumble something about a "sonuva
have to stay with your mom."
harder at her pants leg. I felt something in my brain click.
Alan." I said.
wants to see you." The words sounded hollow to me as they
left my throat. I knew I wasn't going to bring him back. Alan
flinched when I said "father."
......Joan just kept
repeating "sonuva bitch" softly, and air whistled between
her teeth. They were clenched, just like mine.
......I smiled, reassuringly.
......Alan had backed
almost completely behind his mother's thick leg. He peeked his
head out from behind it. He didn't speak, he just stared at me,
clinging to his mother, flinching when I said "father."
loving father with a stable job.
away. Joan patted his head again.
ever simple. Nothing is the way you think it is.
......The kid cried
some more. I knew what he was sacred of. I knew deep down inside.
The boy didn't need to say anything. He just cowered behind his
mother's leg, the thought of his father filling him with fear.
That scrawny man who was in my office this morning beat his son.
......I looked at
Joan, met her eyes that were filled with tears. She knew what
I was thinking and nodded.
"With a baseball bat," Joan said.
......My eyes widened.
I heard my voice, but I wasn't sure what I said. Joan said something
too, but my ears weren't working right. I turned and walked back
to my car, without Alan, without Joan. I looked at the address
Burt had given me. He was in his office at Rutgers, and would
be for the next few hours. I would see him soon enough, but I
had another stop to make. There were still some questions that
needed to be answered.
......I sat in the
driver's seat of my Prelude taking more deep breaths. Anger wasn't
going to help me now. I had to save it for when I saw Burt. My
ears started to work right again. I turned the engine. I pounded
the gas pedal to the floor and the tires squealed as I pulled
......I caught Ms.
Amis just as she was unlocking the door to her Subaru in the
parking lot. I pulled behind her car blocking it into the spot.
I got out of the car before she even realized what happened.
It took her a second to recognize me, and when she did she dropped
her car keys.
you want?" she asked, averting her eyes from me. She stared
at her keys on the ground, but didn't bend over to pick them
to me." I walked up to her, getting so close she had to
lean against her car door. Her eyes were wide with shock or fear.
know what you're talking about." She tried to pull off a
puzzled expression, but it didn't work. Her wide eyes gave her
away. She wasn't confused or puzzled, she was scared of me.
didn't beat her son. Those black eyes of his are a more than
a day old. That means he was hurt before yesterday,
the last time he was in school. That also means you saw him and
didn't say anything. I want to know why."
insane." She tried to bend down to get her cars keys, but
I was too close to her. She was stuck, and I wasn't going to
let her go until I found out what was going on.
are." She sounded childish, like one of her students in
a playground argument. "Now let me pick up my keys, and
leave. I have an appointment to keep."
......I bent over,
picking up the keys. She smiled thinking I finally believed her.
I admired the keyring for a moment, and then threw the keys about
fifteen yards. They rattled as they flew, then gravity took hold,
and they crashed to the grass near the front of the school.
of a bitch," she said, anger taking over her voice.
......She tried to
slap me with her left hand, but I caught it. "That's the
second time I've been called that today. The first time was true.
Not this time," I said. "Now tell me what is going
......Her face flashed
with anger again, and I thought she was going to try and slap
me with her free hand. She didn't. Instead the anger dissolved
from her face, and she leaned back against the door of her car.
Ms. Amis? What do you know?"
"I don't know where to begin."
yesterday when you saw Alan?"
called me. She saw the bruises, and asked me what to do. I told
her I'd take care of him. Alan came down to my office, and we
spent most of the day talking."
Nothing important. I just couldn't let him go back to class.
I took him for a drive, and for lunch. I couldn't leave him in
class. I called his mother." She didn't look at me when
she spoke. She looked at the sky, which was beginning to cloud,
or at the leaves, lazily floating to the ground anytime the wind
called his mother?"
had to do something."
going to call the police. Or child welfare?" The clouds
had drown out the sun now, and the parking lot was beginning
to darken. A storm was looming.
couldn't. I can't turn Burt in." Her eyes saddened.
He beat his kid. He hit the kid with a baseball bat. Can you
understand that? The kid isn't even ten yet. He can't defend
himself." Anger welled inside me again. I tried to subside
it with deep breaths. Scotch would probably work better.
...... She started
to cry. "Burt frightens me. He's threatened to kill me.
He said if I ever called welfare or the police that I would die.
I called welfare so it would be easier to lie to Burt. He could
just think she took him." She kept talking, but I stopped
listening. I walked to my car and drove off, toward the Parkway,
toward Rutgers, toward Burt Lessing. I wanted to kill him.
......The rain began
to fall during my drive. The drops were intermittent at first,
huge round drops that exploded off my windshield like water balloons
exploding off a child on a summer day. The rain fell harder and
harder, until it eventually rained so hard the drive was slowed
to a crawl. My lights cut through the water, but my wipers couldn't
keep up with the downpour. It was hard to see out my window.
resembled another day in my life. The day I didn't want to tell
Lessing about, but he probably already knew. I was on the force,
had just been promoted to the Narcotics division. I was young,
inexperienced, and was developing a drug problem. Narcotics division
wasn't helping me kick the habit. It made it worse.
......There were four
of us assigned to take out the apartment where the dealer and
his family stayed. We had seen cocaine being bought and sold
in the area. We had staked the apartment out for weeks. As we
stood outside the building, the pouring rain soaking through
our uniforms, all we worried about was whether there was enough
cocaine for us to get some evidence and split the rest up between
The bust went off without a hitch. We ran in, breaking down the
door, putting on a show, guns out, screaming to freeze, scaring
the shit out of the dealer and his wife. And their small son,
not more than four years old. My partner and I went to get the
drugs, and the other two cops arrested the dealer. The dealer
was taken outside and Mirandized. My partner looked in one bedroom
for the drugs, and I looked in the bathroom. I could hear the
kid crying the whole time. As I looked, under the toilet, under
the sink, in the medicine cabinet, I heard my partner say he
had the shit and to get the hell out of there. He was already
gone by the time I reached the living room. The wife must have
forgotten I was still in the apartment because she stood over
the kid, and I realized the kid wasn't crying because we arrested
his father. It was because she was beating him, with a closed
fist. She hit him with her right hand and her left hand, the
small child's head whipping from side to side, blood pouring
from his nose and lip. Two teeth lay on the floor. I froze, not
sure what I should do. I was about to grab her when my partner
came back inside the room. He took a second to assess the situation
and grabbed my arm.
"Come on. We got what we came for. It's not our problem.
......We left the
apartment. I came down the stairs a step or two slower than my
partner. Behind me I could hear the sound of flesh pounding flesh.
And the child wailing, screaming, piercing my ears. That night
I snorted enough cocaine to make my head explode. It didn't,
and when I finally slept the sounds of the child screaming echoed
in my dreams.
......It was my problem
now. I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. It was so
easy to believe that Joan had beaten her son. I had seen another
woman do it, and that image was etched in my brain. Now I knew
the truth, and Burt wasn't going to touch his son again.
......The rain pounded
hard on the roof of my car, showing no signs of letting up. I
pulled off Route 18 and onto the Rutgers Campus. It was nearly
6:30 and there weren't many cars, so I found a parking spot quickly.
A Rutgers University Police Cruiser passed as I got out of the
car, splashing a puddle of water on to my pants. I hardly noticed.
......I didn't take
time to notice the buildings in the Quad as I normally do. I
rushed toward Murray Hall and Burt Lessing's office, pulling
the door open and leaving the rain behind me. I barely noticed
two more Rutgers cops standing drinking coffee in the hall. I
stormed up the steps. I reached an office door which had a label
on it: BURT LESSING. I pushed it open.
with a student. A tiny girl with short blonde hair, tanned skin
and a sorority windbreaker. Both of them looked at me. A soaking
to talk," I said. "Now."
......There was something
in my voice I guess, because Burt didn't even have to tell the
girl to leave. She just packed up her things and got the hell
out of there. It was him and me now. It was quiet for a moment,
the only sound the hard rain beating off the window behind him.
......The office was
cluttered, a poster of Monet on the wall, a coffee machine on
a small table that reminded me of a nightstand. Papers covered
his desk and books covered the rest of the office. All the greats:
Shakespeare, Keats, Milton, Fitzgerald, Wilde. And there were
Lessing and Donne. Staring at each other.
have my son, Mr. Donne?"
wrong? You seem very flustered. Why don't you sit down and tell
me what's going on?" He smiled at me and offered the chair
the sorority girl had sat in just moments before. I ignored it.
He stood and leaned over his desk. I reached over the desk and
grabbed Burt by his collar, shoving him backward into the chair.
"Sit down," I said. The chair almost flipped, but he
caught his balance in time and grabbed the corner of the desk.
your son, you son of a bitch."
He leaned forward, close to his desk, resting his hands on his
legs. He didn't try to act puzzled or confused. He seemed to
have complete control of the situation.
you explain to me what you're talking about." He didn't
move, he didn't look away. He just stared at me. I balled my
......I wanted him
to know what I had figured out. I wanted him to know I knew.
"You beat your son. You always did it. For years. Your wife
wanted a divorce, didn't she? It was her idea, she thought she
would get custody and get to keep the kid the hell away from
you. But you set her up. You beat your kid once again, and this
time you took pictures. I guess the principal knew, but you took
care of that, didn't you? You threatened her life."
He sat back in his chair, his hands on his lap. I needed him
to fill in a few holes.
"I'm impressed, Mr. Donne. I did want to keep the child.
He's my son, and no one can tell me how to raise my son. I can
punish him as he should be punished. I'm doing what is right.
the end of our marriage Joan was drunk all the time, DYFS, the
courts, they didn't believe anything she said. She was even drunk
on the stand. It was easy. Welfare said Alan was too traumatized
to sit through the hearing, he wouldn't be able to testify on
the stand. The boy didn't speak at all. They sent him to stay
with his aunt, my sister. He was out of the way. And who
wouldn't believe the child's principal? Poor woman. She'd never
testify against me. I will get the boy back, you know."
......He shifted slightly
in his chair and the wood legs creaked. "And why is that,
I won't let you."
......He finally took
his hands off his lap, and too late I realized what he had been
doing under the desk. He aimed a small revolver at me. A Saturday
night special, with a taped hand and trigger. I didn't have my
Browning with me, I never thought I'd need it.
shook, the gun wavering in his hands, but he did his best to
aim the weapon. He pulled the trigger. A flash of light exploded
around his right hand. I think I tried to roll out of the way,
but the office was too small and he was at point blank range.
Something jarred my left shoulder and sent me reeling back into
a bookcase. I slumped to the floor, books falling all around
me, in my lap, off my head. I couldn't feel my shoulder, but
I felt a wet stream flowing down my arm.
......I wasn't sure
what happened next. I remembered Lessing getting out of his chair
and walking toward me, aiming his weapon more carefully. Then
the door to his office flew open and two men in grey uniforms
stormed in. From deep in the recesses of my brain a black puddle
formed, seeping its way through my skull, clouding my vision,
my sense of hearing, everything. It enveloped my body, pulling
me toward a different world. Somewhere in the distance I saw
Jeanne and she beckoned to me. I went with her, willingly.
......I stayed in
the hospital a few days for observation. The bullet passed through
me with minimal damage, missing the bone and any arteries. They
told me I was lucky, I could have lost all movement in my arm.
Instead, I was expected to make a full recovery. Lucky me.
I found out later it was the two Rutgers cops who stormed into
Lessing's room. The ones I saw drinking coffee in the hallway
of Murray. They heard the gunshot, and were upstairs in no time.
They arrested Lessing. He pled self-defense, but they couldn't
find any weapons on me. Apparently, he plea-bargained his way
down to possession of an illegal weapon, and was out with probation.
He still wanted Alan back, and he set up another hearing. I testified
at it, along with Marie Amis, whom I promised to protect. Joan
Beckett testified as well. She must have understood how important
it was because she appeared to be sober on the stand. Lessing
didn't win. Another trial was set, and this time for criminal
charges for child abuse.
December I sat at my desk sorting through my mail. The weather
had turned cold and damp, and the forecasters warned of snow.
It was going to be a rough winter, they said. They were right,
I could feel the winter storms in my shoulder. In my mail I received
a Christmas card from Joan and Alan. They had moved to Pennsylvania,
near the Poconos. She thanked me for my help. She said she owed
me the life of her son, and there was a check for two hundred
dollars. I tore it up.
......I got up from
my desk, and reached for a shot glass. When I picked up the glass,
I wondered if Joan was trying to contain her drinking. I didn't
have the answer, and the thought passed. I reached in the cabinet
beneath my CD player and pulled the bottle of Scotch. I poured
myself a shot and pressed play on the player. I had been listening
to the same song at least once a day since I got out of the hospital.
Billie Holiday's voice emerged sadly from the speakers. "God
bless the child who's got his own, who's got his own . . ."
Copyright (c) 2000 David White
is a Rutgers University graduate. After spending four years reading
detecitve fiction instead of the assigned stuff, he figured he'd
better put it to use. His senior thesis was both a novel and
a exploration of the detective novel featuring Jackson
Donne. Donne has also appeared in the stories "God
Bless the Child" and "More Sinned Against." David
would love to hear from you at MWhite8482@aol.com.
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