Chapter 1: Wallace about Wilhelmina
Wallace found out because she was thrashing in her sleep.
He had never seen her squirm this much, not ever. He frowned at just how distressed she looked; no matter the nightmares she’d had in the past, she’d never been crying.
“Wilhelmina?” he whispered, nudging her slightly. “Wilhelmina?”
She jerked awake with a start. “Melisha!”
She looked around at her surroundings. “Oh… I’m not… oh…”
“Are you… okay?”
She was silent for a moment. Pondering, debating. Then she looked up at him with wide, watery eyes. “No. No, I’m not.”
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
Wilhelmina looked down then. Down in shame. “I… I…” She was crying harder now. “I couldn’t… stop ‘er… I tried, Wallace, I tried, but I couldn’t…”
“Shhh. Easy, luv, one thing at a time.” He wiped away her tears. “Stop what?”
“M-Melisha… she… she raped me.”
Out of all the things he’d been prepared to hear… that was not one of them.
“It… it was just after Jack died…” she sniffed. “I-I only wanted to feel better for a few minutes… it was only supposed to be a few minutes… She… she wasn’t supposed to see me in the dress… she didn’t know…”
“So she… she…” His voice came out broken and choked-sounding. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”
She looked down. “You’ve ‘ad enough to worry about.”
Something occurred to him. “Is that why you didn’t tell me you were trans?”
“… I know you’d never ‘urt me… but…”
“Oh… Wilhelmina, I’m so sorry.”
She sniffed again and then hugged him, burying her face in his shoulder. “It’s… it’s been years… I… why now? Why now, when I’m finally becoming the person she said I’d never be?”
“I… I don’t know…” He patted her back. “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
You’re winning, he thought but did not say. You’ve already beaten ‘er.
But… had she?
She said nothing else. He said nothing else. She simply cried and cried until she was asleep once more. When she was, Wallace laid her down gently, and looked at her sleeping face.
Life would never be the same for them…
Chapter 2: Mystery Inc. about Shaggy
Shaggy’s friends found out because of a flashback.
They had seen him afraid before - he was afraid of everything. They’d seen him scream and tremble and shake… but he’d never collapsed before. Never, until now.
“Shaggy!” Velma had been the first to react, kneeling in front of him. “Are… are you okay?”
“GET AWAY FROM ME!” he screeched. Velma did so, but he didn’t stop. “Get away! Get away! Don’t touch me! I-I-I’ll scream!”
“Shaggy,” Daphne tried, “Shaggy, she’s not gonna hurt you!”
“DON’T TOUCH ME!”
“Back away from him,” Fred said quietly. “He’s not thinking right.”
“What’s going on?” Velma whispered. “What do we do?!”
“I-I’m not sure.” He paused. “Shaggy? Shaggy? What’s wrong? Nobody’s gonna touch you, but you have to tell us what’s wrong…”
“STOP IT! STOP IT! GO AWAY!” He was rocking back and forth, still screaming furiously.
Then he went quiet.
Then… he just started crying.
They all had seen Shaggy’s dog before. Scooby was, after all, a Great Dane; those were hard to miss. But they hadn’t thought much of the “Emotional Support” vest the dog always wore. Not until that moment. Not until the dog walked forward and gently sniffed Shaggy, nudging him softly. That was what snapped him out of it.
“… Scoob?” His voice was high and broken, but no longer touched by hysteria. A moment of frantic breathing. “… Guys?”
“Shaggy?! Ohymygosh! Are you okay?!” Velma bounded up to him. “What happened?”
Shaggy pet his dog for a moment. “I-I-I don’t…”
Then his eyes fell on the television.
“Was… was there a…” He gulped. “On the TV… was there one of those, like, creepy old haunted house things?”
“Uh, yeah, I think so,” Fred told him. “Is… is that what set you off?”
“That’s the only thing that does.”
“Are you… okay?”
“I’m not sure.”
“What happened?” Daphne asked gently. “Why would seeing an old house-”
“You remember when we were in, like, seventh grade… and… and you bet me thirty-six dollars and forty-five cents that I wouldn’t spend the night in that creepy old place on the hill? The one where the Jenkinses used to live?”
“Something happened the night I was there.”
“What was it?” Velma asked gently.
Scooby laid down, his head on Shaggy’s lap. Shaggy petted it as he spoke, his eyes focused on the movements of his hand. “Well, I told you I wasn’t afraid of anything, and then, like, I had to prove it. So I went up to the place, with my phone and everything. Sent you pictures, remember? So I was in there… Only problem was, I… I wasn’t the only one. There was someone else there. A-a squatter. And he saw me and he thought… that I was gonna tell the cops. I don’t know why. I didn’t even know squatting was illegal, and I was all set to stat the night there, so I’d have gotten in trouble too. But… but he didn’t care.” Scooby gently nuzzled him.
“Go on…” Daphne said softly.
“Okay… so… I think he was, like, on drugs or something… so I dunno if this guy was thinking right or if he was thinking at all, or what was going through his head… but he flipped out on me and he… he kinda, like, jumped me, I guess? Beat me up and stuff… but… then when he’d had enough of that he decided to… to make it so I wouldn’t want to tell anybody what I’d seen or where he was because I’d have to tell them what he did…”
“What did he do…?”
“… He raped me.” His voice was quiet but, from the way it silenced the room, it might have been a shout rather than a whisper.
“W-what?” Fred whispered.
“He… he…” Shaggy looked down, as though ashamed. Why should he be the one who was ashamed? “I… I said… I said I wasn’t… scared… not even when he beat me up. So then… he said he’d show me fear, and he took off my clothes, and…” He trembled and shook. “And I couldn’t fight him.”
He’d have been twelve, Fred remembered. A skinny twelve-year-old boy that hadn’t even hit puberty.
“I tried, but I couldn’t… and… and he didn’t… didn’t stop… he… he touched me… and made me do stuff with my mouth… and-and then he whispered that you’re not supposed to do that kind of stuff, that I’d get in trouble… and… and then he… he left.”
Silence fell over his friends for a moment.
“… You won that bet,” Fred said slowly. “Why… why did you stay there? Why didn’t you run home, or call the police?”
“I couldn’t get up.” Shaggy sniffled loudly. “I-I couldn’t get up, and my phone got smashed when he… and I couldn’t do anything, I just lay there for hours… It was morning before I… I…” His voice broke and he said nothing more.
“Shaggy…” Velma reached out for him, but he flinched away.
Just like he had been doing since seventh grade… how had they missed that?
Fred was lost in thought.
“Huh, I didn’t think you’d actually do it. What happened to your face?”
“Th-there was a hole in the floor. I fell.”
“Darn. Sorry. Well, here’s the money-”
“Shaggy… I-” A shaky inhale. “-I’m so sorry.”
“… ‘s okay… it happened a long time ago.”
But he wasn’t okay…
“I’m still sorry.” Fred didn’t know what else to say.
It didn’t seem like Daphne or Velma did either.
Chapter 3: Fan Li about Shang
Fan Li found out from a phone call.
His son had been late coming home before - he was young and a student athlete, it was to be expected after all. He usually called during those times… but he’d never waited this long before.
Then the call did come. And the nightmare started…
“… Dad?” The voice on the other end was small and broken and scared, but there was no denying it was Shang’s. “Dad, can you hear me? Are you there?”
“I… I’m here.” He furrowed his brow, worry replacing irritation. “Shang? You were supposed to be home hours ago… what… what’s going on?” A pause. “Are you okay?”
The sound of labored breathing.
“Where are you?! Was there an accident?!”
“Dad… I… I think I need your help.”
“What is it?!” The man knew he was becoming frantic, he knew he was beginning to shout… but he couldn’t stop himself. “What’s wrong?! Are you safe?!”
“I… I don’t know. I don’t know. They might come back…”
A gulp on the other end. “You know the… the cult? The one on TV?”
Gonzales… Prenderghast… forty-five captured… murder… rape… eight still at large…
“Mitch’s car broke down on the highway… and he tried to wave down a ride… and Mulan and I told him not to, we knew it was a bad idea… but… but…” Shang‘s voice caught and he took a breath. “A car stopped anyway and we told him not to get into it, but he did… and… and they wanted us to go too… and when we said we wouldn’t they grabbed Mulan and they put a knife to her throat and they had a gun to Mitch’s head… and they said if I didn’t get in they’d kill them… so I did what they wanted and I got in their car and they dragged us out to the woods and… and they…” He cut himself off and began to sob into his phone’s receiver. “They raped me… they raped all of us!”
For a moment, Fan Li could feel the earth falling out from under him-
-he was lost.
“Dad?! Dad?! Are you still there?!”
Oh God… he sounded terrified…
“Y-yes, yes, I’m still here… Can you… can you tell me where you are? So I can take you to the hospital? And… Shang, why did the cult attack you? Are you gay? I don’t care if you are. I’m still here for you.” The man paused. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked, you don’t need to answer-”
“No Dad, I’m not gay, I’m… I’m bisexual.” A deep breath. “This… this isn’t how I wanted to tell you.”
“Bisexual… That’s… where you like both, right?”
“Good.” A pause. “That’s good… I still love you.”
There was a moment where Shang said nothing.
“… I don’t know where we are.”
“Okay… I’ll use that find-my-phone app you showed me. Don’t worry.”
“Will that work? I… we aren’t in the city anymore.”
“I don’t know! They brought us out to the woods and I don’t know where we are and Mulan isn’t waking up… and I don’t know what to do, Dad! I don’t know what to do!”
“Shang! Shang, calm down! Are you near a road?”
“Walk out to the road, look for a mile marker.”
“I… I can’t get up… they… they used duct tape… and… and-”
“Okay… Okay… did you see one when they brought you there? Did you see anything at all?”
Shang thought a minute. “We’re… we’re near a freeway… the last mile marker I saw was… t-twenty seven.”
“Okay.” He could work with that. “Alright. I’ll come get you… just… just hang on, okay?”
“It’s going to be okay, Shang…”
Fan Li realized there was no way to downplay the situation when he saw that the forest clearing was covered in blood.
Chapter 4: Smartass and Wheezy about Psycho
Two of the Weasels found out immediately.
“That doctor, he’s the one who did it, he fucking raped me!”
Psycho was always extremely blunt. He didn’t even have to state it; the blood staining his pyjama bottoms and the padding on the floor told the story all on its own. Seeing Psycho bleeding his own blood… Well, they all knew he cut, he didn’t bother to even try to hide it, but those were mostly little nicks which closed up quickly; and even if they hadn’t been, this was different. No one else had made Psycho bleed in years.
As they helped him to his feet, Smartass recalled how he had made Psycho bleed on their very first meeting in the backstreets of LA. He’d punched out the street teen who’d slit his pocket to get to his wallet, then considered the kid’s skills and stuck around till he regained consciousness to offer him a proper job.
He was the boss, he was supposed to keep his followers out of the hands of the law, and he’d failed one of them in the worst possible way.
Psycho had also always recovered quickly. He scrabbled right for the door, saying, “Greasy fixed the cameras, right? Gimme my razor, I can go deal with him now!”
“Okay, how ‘bout no,” Smartass said, moving to block Psycho’s exit. “We do not have time in the middle of an escape for you to do your thing. We can come back later but we have to get out now before they find out the cameras are customised.”
“Aww! But Smarty-”
“No buts! We’re getting you out of here now!”
He took hold of one arm, draping it over his shoulder and nodding for Wheezy to take the other.
“I want to kill him!”
“You will. Just not tonight. We have to get out of here now.”
He could do that for him at least…
Chapter 5: Dinky and Boomer about Todd
Dinky and Boomer Tweed found out because their mother told them.
Todd had gone out the night before, but he hadn’t come back home again. Their grandmother had called them once to ask if they’d seen him. Their mother had called her back to see if he’d turned up. It was early the next morning when the call came in, and they had watched their mother’s face go ashy and gray.
“Yes. Yes I’ll… I’ll be there… Tell him I’m comin’,” she murmured into the phone. “Goodbye.” With that the screen went dark and she looked up at her sons with haunted eyes.
“Mama…?” Dinky ventured. “What’s wrong?”
“Todd needs to go to the hospital. He’s hurt, bad.”
“What… what happened? Is he okay?”
“I heard the Slades were in an accident last night…” Dinky trailed off. “Was… was he involved in that?”
She shook her head. “Look… um… what… it was… um… He had the car when he left… and he needs a doctor. I need to go pick him up.”
“What the hell happened?”
“He couldn’t say much, but last night he was really drunk. He wandered off into the woods and someone decided to follow him, and…”
“And… and what?” Boomer asked.
Dinky knew something had to be seriously wrong, if even his dopey brother could tell that things were amiss.
“Todd was raped.”
“What?!” Boomer gasped, hands to his mouth. “Oh my God, how bad is he hurt? Does he know who it was? Is there anything we can do?”
“Right now, what I can do is go take him to the hospital.”
“And we’re coming with!” Dinky stood up.
“I don’t think he’d want a crowd following him to the hospital, Dinky. The stuff they’re gonna need to do is pretty invasive and I think he’s gonna feel bad enough with just me there, without you hangin’ around waiting. But he’s definitely gonna need you when he comes home-”
“He need us now! We’re coming! Besides I… I can get us there faster than you, if we use my car!”
“I don’t know if that’s-”
But both boys were already halfway to the door.
Well, maybe Todd would want all the support he could get.
Chapter 6: Scrooge about Glomgold
Scrooge McDuck found out from a song.
“Sorry again about your tablet,” Huey said to Lena as the assortment of children were driven back to the mansion.
“Not your fault, it was that weirdo who broke it.”
“That weirdo was the second-richest man in the world!” Louie said. “What’s with him? We knew he was a jerk but now he’s literally breaking kids’ toys?”
“I don’t think that was regular jerkitude,” Webby interrupted. “He looked… scared.”
“Hey, yeah, he did.” Dewey frowned. “I don’t get it, why would he freak out over a Dutch rap band?”
“South African, actually,” said Lena.
Scrooge chuckled. “Huh, maybe some bandit tried to kill him there too.”
Huey was already typing on his phone. “Gimme a minute to look up the lyrics…” He read them, and then looked up at Uncle Scrooge. “… Whoa, you are not gonna be happy we know those words.”
“What does it say?” Webby asked, scrambling to look over her friend’s shoulder. “Oh my God!”
“I know, right?”
Scrooge frowned. “Let me see that… No, Huey, you’re not in trouble. I just want to know.”
The phone was handed over. The cursing and drug references were expected, but Scrooge focused in on the chorus, the part which had been playing during Glomgold’s outburst.
That boy Anies, he’s a fucking ghetto boy / Hey! That Anies, he’s stuck in jail, yeah / Does she know my number? No! Boy, what’s your number? / Two six? Two seven? Or are you an eight, bro?
Explanation of the references appeared with a click in the sidebar: “This line refers to the infamous ‘numbers gangs’ that dominate South African prisons.” A line further into the paragraph caused him to cringe. “The 28s are notorious for their culture of rape.”
South Africa… Glomgold had screamed in Afrikaans… South Afri-
-that man… the man that had tried to rob him…
He’d been sent to prison, hadn’t he?
He must have been…
Chapter 7: Mr. Sullivan about Jack
Daniel Sullivan found out from inside the walls of a prison.
“Sullivan!” a guard hollered at him. “You’ve got a phone call!”
He didn’t get phone calls.
“Who the hell from?” he asked. “Ain’t nobody to call me!”
Well, there was Frankie… but he hadn’t heard from him in years.
“Says his name is Wallace Herbertson,” the guard told him. “Wants to talk to you about your son.”
“That’s what I said. You takin’ the call or not?”
“I’ll take it,” he said quickly. “Put him on.”
The voice on the other end of the line was that of a total stranger, with an accent from about as far from New York as one could get.
“Hello-” the man began, but Daniel cut him off.
“Who the hell are you? And what are you doin’ with my boy? You a foster parent or somethin’?”
“… I suppose you could say that. You’re Jack’s father, right?”
“Jack? Who the hell is Jack?”
“… Your son?”
“My boy’s name is Francis.”
“Ah. One moment.”
A muffled conversation on the other end of the line.
“Yeah, that’s who I meant, Jack’s a nickname ‘e picked up,” the man on the phone said.
“You don’ know what his name is?” Daniel asked. “That don’t sound like no foster parent to me. What the hell is goin’ on?”
An awkward pause.
“There’s… there’s a bit of a story there, and it’s not all good.”
His blood ran cold.
“… Is Frank okay?”
“Hoo boy… are you sitting down for this?”
“I’m in prison.”
“Fair point. Well, I’m afraid there’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just tell you… your son was raped.”
That word… that word was wrong…
It was the word of bloody shower drains, and screaming on street corners.
A word that went with murder…
… a word that went with his wife’s name.
“I’d better start from the beginning… I don’t know how much you’ve been told about your son’s time in the foster system?”
“… Alright, well, um, ‘e ran away from homes… quite a bit… and once ‘e managed to go into the next state over. The court thought ‘e’d be better off in a reform school, and the headmaster… ‘e was, to be blunt, sick in the head.”
“So… he’s the one-”
“The one who abused ‘im, yes. And… I’m sorry to say it wasn’t an isolated incident.”
“He hurt him more than once?!”
“Ah, yes. Quite… quite a lot of times, apparently. And your son was not the only one.”
“Who the hell was it?” Daniel Sullivan’s tone was low and dark and angry. “Who the fuck hurt my boy?!”
“All Ja- Francis has told me was that ‘is last name is Snyder. I don’t know if that rings a bell…?”
“No. It doesn’t. I want a full fucking name!”
“I… Mr. Sullivan, I’m so sorr-”
“Oh shut up, will ya?” the man growled. “It ain’t your fault so don’t go an’ give me all that weepy apology shit.”
A sigh. “If you dunno who the fuck he is then I’m guessin’ he wasn’t brought up on any charges or nothin’.”
“No. ‘E’s still… there, as far as I can tell.”
“Then what the fuck’s my boy doin’ with you? He get released? What happened? Where is he?”
“To answer your last question… Calisota. Your son’s in Calisota City. I’d give you me address, but the situation makes it… complicated. As for what happened, from what I understand, your son broke out one night. ‘E ended up on the streets and befriended a few other boys along the way. Their options for getting by after that were somewhat… limited… Long story short, your son became a gang leader. A fairly clean gang, no drugs or anything of that sort, but… yeah.”
“What? He’s fifteen! How the hell’s a fifteen-year-old become a gang leader?!”
“… Mr. Sullivan, ‘e’s seventeen now.”
Daniel went quiet. “Can… can I talk to him? Make sure he’s… alright?”
“Let me ask ‘im.”
Voices, and then the sound of a phone changing hands.
“Pop…?” Francis’ voice rang through the receiver. “Um… hi?”
Daniel Sullivan sucked in a deep breath of air.
This was a conversation long overdue.
Chapter 8: Cornelius about Wilbur
Cornelius Robinson found out on the stage of an old theater.
“Son?” Cornelius Robinson hurried across the auditorium and put a hand on his son’s shoulder to lead him out. “I think you’ve got the wrong room, this is the therapy group your mother-”
“Uh… yeah, Dad, I know,” Wilbur said, and Cornelius caught sight of his nametag.
“Baron of… Wilbur…? What… what’s going on?”
The Baron of Blessings - Wilbur Robinson - hunched over and could not meet his father’s eyes. “Uh… there’s no study group,” he said quietly, “there never was.”
“Y-you’ve been coming here? But… why?” The Pioneer - Cornelius Robinson - knew his mind was racing faster than it ever had, considering every possibility no matter how farfetched, doing everything it could to protect his soul from the realisation of the only possibility that made sense.
“Remember Uncle Art’s birthday dinner?” Wilbur bit down on his lip; bit down hard. “How… I wasn’t there… and I said I wasn’t feeling well when you got back? Um… something happened… then… while you guys were at the restaurant.”
“My God… what exactly happened? I need information.” Gather all the facts. It’s what a scientist should do.
“I dunno how exactly everything happened. I was in my room, but after a few hours I heard something downstairs. I-I thought it was just you guys at first, but the car in the driveway was wrong… and, um… I heard your professor’s voice.”
The Detective looked up, as did the Wix… as did the Painter… as did the Angel.
“I know you said to call the police if anything ever happened, but the landline’s downstairs and I didn’t have my phone and I didn’t know what to do. I tried to get away from him! I tried!”
The Queen flinched. The Wiseman winced.
“But he was there with this other guy - I dunno who exactly… think he’s the one who took the car… They had a gun… and they caught me before I could get outside.” Wilbur was speaking quickly, taking great gasps for air and stumbling over himself in his haste to get out all that must be said. “It… it was like with him and you… but he didn’t… No one stopped him this time… no one stopped either of them.”
Tears rose in Robinson’s eyes, and he wrapped his arms tightly around Wilbur; in that moment, he was not the famous scientist or any title the Palace could have given him, but simply a father.
“… Dad?” His son’s voice was quiet, and his good arm did not return the embrace. “Don’t… don’t be mad… okay?”
“I’m not mad, Wilbur. I couldn’t be. You’ve been keeping all this secret? I can’t imagine how hard on you that must have been! … I guess Ratigan played some of the smartest people in the world for fools again.”
“He wanted me to tell you… at least I think he did, but… I didn’t want to make you guys upset. That’s what he wanted… so… so I… I told Carl not to say anything. He’s the one who found the group… Please don’t get mad at him! I told him not to tell you!”
Something in his father’s - the inventor’s, the Pioneer’s, the scientist’s, Cornelius Robinson’s - face darkened, but he said nothing.
Nothing, that is, until he saw the fiancé of his business partner standing in the crowd.
“You…” he growled, pointing at the Bride. “You knew about this?”
She took a cautious step forward. “I know this looks bad, but-”
“You knew!” he roared. “The entire time, and you never said a word?!”
“All that lecturing about being too hard on him, all those comments about paying more attention, but you could have told me something was wrong! Right then and there!”
“I signed the same non-disclosure documents you did!” She was getting defensive now.
“He’s my son! I’m pretty damn sure that gave me a right to know what was going on! I could have helped him, and you didn’t tell me anything!”
“Dad…” Wilbur took one step forward and another back, unsure of how to proceed with his raging father.
“In a moment, Wilbur. How could you not say a word?! What if Gromit had a problem and I never told you?!”
Hey, no need to use me for ammunition!
Cornelius Robinson continued on, heedless of anyone but the Bride and his own rage.
Rage at the woman who told him nothing. Rage at the man who hurt his son. Rage at himself for allowing it to happen… for leaving Wilbur alone.
“Well, you know now, and look, you're upsetting ‘im!” She motioned to Wilbur. “I don’t blame you for taking issue with me, but I think ‘e’s a bigger priority! ‘E never got tested for anything, did you know that? And God knows where ‘is attacker’s been!”
His face went as white as a sheet. “You… you said Carl knew?”
“Why the hell didn’t he take you to a doctor?!”
Wilbur shrunk back, his eyes wide and watery. “They… they call your parents about… stuff like that. I didn’t want you to find out.”
He was silent for a moment. Then: “Well. That changes now.” He grabbed his son by the wrist. “Come on.”
“Wh-where are we going?”
“To get you tested! That woman is right, we have no idea where that man has been. If you have something serious, it’s better for us to know right away than when it’s too late!”
“What… what about Carl? He’s in the parking lot! He always waits around and he’ll freak out if I don’t come out when everyone else does. He’ll think I got kidnapped or something! Can I at least let him know I’m going with you?”
“Trust me, Wilbur, I’ll let him know myself.”
The parking lot of the Palace had no spotlights, nor movie fragments. There were no stories to be told there. There were only those who waited.
Carl Nye had not been waiting very long.
Chapter 9: Fowler about Ginger
Timothy Fowler found out from a phone call.
“Hello? St. Francis’ Home for Children, who’s calling?”
He nearly dropped the phone.
“Ginger! Are… are you okay? Where are you?”
“America,” she said quietly. “I’m in America with Scrooge McDuck.”
Well… that was a sentence he had never expected to hear.
“Okay… may I ask why you’re in America with the richest man on the planet?” A pause. “He’s not doing anything… unsavory, is he?”
“Hm? Oh, no, nonononono, he’s not. Actually, it’s… kind of the opposite?”
“What do you mean?”
“Um… you aren’t going to like this…”
“Fowler, I was kidnapped by sex traffickers.” Blunt as always.
“S-s-sex traffickers?!” Fowler finally managed to blurt out. “Are you okay? Do you have any diseases? Are you pregnant?! What are you doing with Scrooge McDuck?!”
“Kind of to the first, no to the second, yes to the third… and, um… he bought me… It’s not as bad as it sounds!”
“The Feds needed a witness who could testify so he pretended to be a buyer and asked for someone who was really pissed off about being there… and so they sent him me.” Silence then. “I broke his nose.”
Fowler sat down heavily. “Let’s go back a little bit. Did you say yes when I asked if you had a disease?”
“No, I said no to that one. I said yes to pregnancy.”
“Oh… oh, Ginger…”
“It’s…” Not okay. “It is what it is.”
“How far along are you?”
So abortion wasn’t an option. “Are you… going to keep it?”
“I don’t know… I don’t think so. I don’t… I’m only fifteen.”
“So you’re giving it up, then?”
“Probably. I don’t know who to, though.”
“Well if it comes to it,” he sighed, “I’d be happy to take care of it while you figure things out.”
“Thanks… but I think I’ll be in America for a little while. There are a few things I need to sort out myself.”
Quite. Fowler thought for a moment. “You said you were with Scrooge McDuck? Can I speak to him?”
“Sure,” she said. “I’ll put him on… Um, Fowler?”
“What is it?”
A strange sound through the line.
“Ginger, are you crying?”
“I missed you,” she said quietly.
“Her mother didn’t even look at her… given the circumstances, I can’t say I blame her, but still… Are you certain you can handle her?”
“I handle all the children in the area,” Fowler said, signing the papers without a second thought. A short while afterwards, a little baby was brought out, which he held close to him. “Shhh, shhh, it’s okay, little one, you’re alright…”
The baby stopped crying and looked at him.
“I missed you, too.”
“I’ll put Mr. McDuck on the phone,” she said, sounding smaller than she had as a child.
He couldn’t fault her for that.
“Hello?” A man with a Scottish accent. “Ginger said you wanted to speak with-”
“What are your intentions toward young Ginger?!”
“… Nothing bad,” Scrooge assured him. “I just want her to tell us what she can about the organization so the law can put an end to it. Since she was there, she’d have information others might not. Would you think otherwise?”
“You purchased her from a sex ring, so forgive me if I can’t help but be suspicious.”
“I suppose I can’t blame you,” Scrooge said. “But really, she’s safe with me. I have no wish to hurt the poor girl.”
“I should hope not. I’m an army veteran, you know, I’d do terrible things if you did.” A deep breath. “How… how is she?”
And so it happened…
Chapter 10: Stan about Mabel
(Note, we've rearranged some of the family trees, as mentioned in the main Parts.)
Stanley Pines found out from his family.
Sherman called him from time to time, but not often. It was a surprise to see the caller ID light up with his name, especially so late in the evening.
“Shermie?” he answered.
“Stan!” His older brother’s voice was shaking. “I need you to come down to the h-hospital!”
“What?! Why?!” Stanley stood, scrambling around, looking for his car keys. “Are you okay?! What happened?!”
“Stan… it-it’s Mabel.”
“What about her?!” Stan’s grip tightened on his cell phone. “Is she okay?!”
“Stan… she… she was kidnapped! By these… these men she was talking to online.”
“They told her that they were a boy her age… she thought they were her boyfriend… and she went to meet them… and… and they…”
“What did they do?! Sherman, tell me!”
“They raped her, Stan. There were five of them. They were going to take her with them… but she got away.”
Stanley’s world stopped.
“Wha… r-r-raped her? Like… all five of them?!”
“Yes, all five of them! And she barely got out by the skin of her teeth. She says she… chewed through her bonds and pulled the car trunk release…”
Gnawing, desperate gnawing, reaching for his lifeline…
“How hurt is she?!” he asked. “Anything permanent?!”
Pill bottles: on his shelf, in his throat, behind the bathroom mirror.
“They’re still testing for diseases…”
“And the rest?!”
“They say her body will recover in a little while, but…” A pause, the sound of heavy breathing. “We’re at General, in 138. Will you come? She’s asking for you.”
“Yeah… yeah I’ll be there in a second. Have you called Stanford?”
“I’ll… I’ll do it for you. You just focus on calming Mabel down. Her Uncle Stan is on the way.”
He hung up the phone-
-before his own memories could take over.
Chapter 11: Mr. Sanchez about Manolo
Carlos Sanchez found out while sitting in the hard plastic chair beside his son’s hospital bed.
He’d been called to the hospital before - many, many times before… but never for Manolo. One night, one fall off the bridge and a few minutes in the river below, had changed all that.
It was morning by the time his son stirred.
“Manolo! Manolo, my son!” Carlos Sanchez took his son’s hands in his own and wept. “I thought you were lost to us forever!” Manolo’s eyelids fluttered and he seemed for a moment to be passing out again. “No, son, stay with me… that’s it… Mijo?”
Manolo’s eyes opened fully, bleary and tearful but alive.
“Mijo, what happened?”
“I… I jumped off the bridge!” Manolo’s voice sounded off, as if someone else were speaking through him. “He… told me to jump off the bridge and he said he didn’t want to die alone but he didn’t want to die at all and I… I…” He was nearing hysteria.
Carlos pulled him close, the way he had when his son was a child and had woken from nightmares. “It’s alright, mijo,” he said, though his voice was nearly as terrified as that of his son. “Who told you to jump?”
“P-Padraic… a friend of mine, except he’s not a friend at all… he called me after Maria d-… after everything.”
“One… one of your band mates?” Carlos asked cautiously.
Manolo shook his head. “I’d never met him before last night… he started calling after what happened… he said he understood how I-I was feeling. He said that it wouldn’t go away…”
“What? That’s a horrible thing to say to a grieving person! What kind of friend would say that?”
“At the time, I thought an honest one!”
“If you’d never met him, why was he calling you? How?”
“F-from the number on the band’s ad. He said he’d heard about Maria and h-he’d had a close friend die too.”
“Alright…” Carlos said, though obviously it wasn’t. “And… how did this happen then?” A gesture to the bed; to the white room; to his son.
“Well… we kept talking for a while. He said a lot of things about his friend and I told him about Maria… and he said he wanted to help but every time we talked he just made me feel worse!”
“I’m not surprised, if that’s the kind of thing he said.” Carlos squeezed his son’s hand again. “He was wrong - well, not entirely, but… Loss never fully goes away, but it does hurt much less as time goes by. He was wrong to-”
“He wasn’t wrong, Papá, he was lying!”
“What…?” Carlos felt something stir in the pit of his stomach. “You mean he was trying to make you hurt yourself?!”
“He… he said that no one should have to die alone, that he felt the same way I did and we… we should…” Manolo swallowed. “He asked me to meet him at the park last night so we could go together… I thought it would be better that way.”
Carlos held him tightly. “Mijo…”
“B-but… he wasn’t there!” Manolo shuddered. “I waited there for hours f-for him to show up… and… and it got dark… and then… then he did and he… he…”
“What happened, Manolo?”
“He wanted to get me alone.” His son was crying now. “He wanted to get me alone so that no one would be around to stop him.”
“From doing what?”
“Papá… he raped me…”
Though it was nearly summer, the room suddenly felt very cold.
Chapter 12: Dawson about Basil
David Q. Dawson found out about the first time because he was there for the second.
“He’s waiting, doctor,” sneered the man with the gun. “Perhaps you’ll be able to breathe some life into him, since obviously I wasn’t good enough.”
Dawson said nothing. He said nothing and obeyed the man, but he knew what those words meant.
Basil had always been… odd. Had always been a little standoffish, a little too suspicious of people. Guarded.
Because this man wasn’t good enough, it seemed.
His friend lay silently on the bed.
“Go on, doctor, I haven’t got all day.”
There was a gun. There was a gun pointed at Basil’s head.
Dawson touched him, and watched as the detective’s eyes glazed over with familiarity.
“Start breathing,” the man said, “or neither one of you will live to see the morning.”
“Dawson,” a whisper from his friend. “Please… please, don’t do this…”
There was panic in his voice…
… the panic of a previous victim.
He didn’t want to… but did he have any other option?
He was careful…
“I don’t think he can feel it, doctor, you’ll have to be more thorough than that.” The man’s gun clicked in his hand. “It isn’t hard enough until I see him bleed.”
Dawson squeezed his eyes shut.
A harder thrust.
Basil began to scream.
He had screamed this way before. In his sleep, during withdrawal…
Had he screamed when he met this man the first time around?
“I’m sorry,” Dawson whispered.
It wasn’t enough and it never would be. Not for either time.
Chapter 13: Ford about Mabel
Stanford Pines found out because his brother did.
“Poindexter! You need to come to the hospital, like, yesterday. It’s bad. Really bad.”
“Stanley?” His brother hadn’t spoken to him properly in ten years. He hadn’t spoken to his brother in ten years… why was he calling?
“What’s going on? Why did you call me? How did you even get my number?”
“Answers to question one and two are the same. Shermie’s daughter got raped by five guys who just put themselves at the top of my list. And question three, Shermie gave me your number awhile ago. Wanted me to call you to put our feud behind us.”
“Wait…” His voice was soft. “What happened to Mabel?”
“She. Was. Raped. Stanford. Do I have to spell it out for you or do you want it in writing?! She's at Calisota General, room 138. You got that? One-three-eight. Sherman wants you at the hospital and I swear to God if you don’t show up…” He didn’t finish; he didn’t have to.
“I-I-I… I’ll be there. I’ll just have to text Bill-”
“Oh, who’s Bill? Is he your boyfriend or something?”
“Oh.” Miracle of miracles, his twin was silent for a moment. “So… you’re gay?”
“Stanley, this is not the time, and it’s none of your business.”
“Well, it’s not like you tell me anything. I’ve gotta ask. Does… does he treat you okay?”
“Stanley, my relationship is not any of your concern!”
“So, what, I can’t make sure my brother’s boyfriend isn’t beating him every other week? Sheesh, poindexter, I know we haven’t talked, but I’m just trying to look out for you!” He paused. “… Is he treating you okay?”
Guilt and nausea and fEAR-
“He’s treating me fine!”
“Okay!” Stanford could almost see his brother shrug. “See you at the hospital, then. Or else.” He hung up without a goodbye.
Stanford stared at his phone for a minute. Then opened his messages.
Hey, Bill, I’m going to have to be at the hospital for a bit. Family emergency.
The reply was almost instantaneous.
Yeah. You remember Mabel? She’s one of Sherman’s twins. She got seriously hurt.
I thought it was that other one you were worried about.
I’m actually a little more worried about Mabel right now.
Whatever for? She’s what, 12, isn’t she? How much trouble could she have gotten herself into?
She’s been raped, Bill.
A pause in his boyfriend’s response.
That was it?
That was all he had to say?
I need to go to the hospital
So you’ve said. And then: Did they find out who took her?
I don’t know.
I see. Do you want me to come with you?
No, no, that’s ok.
Mabel thinks you’re creepy, he did not say.
It was later - after he had gotten the facts and the details, after his brother had hauled an officer of the law up by his collar and off the ground - that Stanford Pines would begin to wonder how his partner had known someone had taken his niece away before he had.
Chapter 14: Miguel and Chel about Tulio
Miguel and Chel found out when Tulio screamed in his sleep for his father to stop.
They’d all had nightmares before, but the demons in their dreams seldom had names.
“Dad!” he whimpered. “Please!”
“Tulio…?” Miguel muttered blearily. “Tulio?”
“Stop it! Stop it, Dad, please! It hurts! It hurts! I don’t wanna do this!” He’d reverted to his native Spanish, and was thrashing around worse than he ever had before. Chel awoke and reacted quicker than Miguel.
“Tulio!” She shook him. “Tulio, wake up! Wake up!”
“DAD!” His eyes flew open wide. “What? … What’s going on?”
“Are you okay?” she asked him. “You were screaming.”
Tulio looked away. “Not like it’s the first time that’s happened,” he muttered.
“Tulio… you were asking your father to stop something.” It was Miguel who spoke this time.
Chel looked her boyfriend in the eye. “Did he hurt you?” She paused. “Um… did he…”
“Rape me?” Tulio sighed. “Yeah. He did.”
Miguel’s eyes widened in horror. “Tulio…”
“It… it was a long time ago. It’s okay. I’m over it.” The way he pulled his knees to his chest suggested otherwise.
“Was… was that why you were on the streets?”
A pause. “Yeah. I ran away from him.”
“But… but we were only thirteen…”
“Eight.” Chel and Miguel gaped at the dark-haired man. “I was eight when I ran away.”
“… How long?” Chel asked softly.
“I… I can’t remember when it started.”
“Tulio, I’m so sorry.”
“I-I’m okay now, really!”
“You know you can’t lie to me.”
“Yeah Tulio, even I can smell your BS, and I don’t have super Sherlock powers,” Miguel told him. “You know it’s okay if it messed you up, right?”
“… And what about you?” Tulio asked. “We met on the streets. Why were you there?”
Miguel thought for a moment, attempted a smile, and failed miserably. “Catholic orphanage. I was never touched like that, but you know what they say about nuns.”
Tulio winced. “That sucks.”
“A lot of things do, don’t they?”
“Maybe we’re just unlucky,” Chel said. “Maybe we’re unlucky and we keep amplifying each other’s bad luck and that’s why we’re all such fucking trainwrecks.”
“Well… if I have to be a trainwreck, I’m glad that it’s with you guys,” Miguel said.
Chel smiled. “Agreed.”
Tulio said nothing, but he lay back down between them.
He let them hold him in the dark.
Chapter 15: Aster about Jack
Aster Bunnymund was told in broken English by a man on the other side of the world.
The call came late at night.
“Aster!” A voice that he knew. The father of his late sister’s husband, the guardian of his niece… and his nephew. “Aster, I get call from police! They say… they say they found Jack!”
Bunnymund’s first thought was to ask “Is he okay?”, but his brain moved faster than his mouth. The voice on the other end of the phone was not a happy one at all. “Is… is it bad?”
A painful, choking sort of sound. “He… he… they say he is…” Nicholas sobbed. “They ask me to come identify body!”
The world froze.
“They call me after months to ask me to come to station and identify body!”
Aster stood very still.
“Have you… is… is it…” A deep breath. “… is it him?”
Nicholas’ voice rose into a wail. “Yes! Yes, it is! He… his face was… He was in cold water. He was preserved. I cannot lie to myself, it was him.”
Aster couldn’t think, couldn’t move, couldn’t feel around the horror. His nephew was dead.
“The police… they do not know! They say he drowned! They say someone drowned him!”
“What?! Who? Do they have any idea?” Bunnymund clenched his fist so hard his hand hurt.
“No! Not yet. And… there is worse.”
“Worse?! Jack’s dead! How the hell does it get any worse than that?!”
Nicholas took a shaky inhale. “When they pulled him out… they tested body… looking for cause of death… T-they… they say someone beat him before he died! They told me he was beat, and he was raped!”
“Motherfuck!” Bunnymund could think of no other words to express his thoughts. His first lashed out, finding a wall and cracking plaster. It should have hurt; he felt nothing.
“And they say it was more than one person! Too many injuries, too much for only only one, but they have no leads! Evidence was washed away.”
Bunnymund took a deep breath and growled through gritted teeth. “They’d better hope they find those guys before I do. And I’m sure you’ll want to join me.”
“… Jack is dead.” Nicholas’ voice was tired… No, hopeless. “Nothing is going to change that.”
“So you wanna just let it go?!” Aster’s anger flared. “They murdered Jack, Nicholas! They raped him and beat him and killed him-”
“Will killing them help him?”
“It’ll certainly help me!”
“It would not.” Nicholas sighed heavily. “Not really… Hatred is empty.”
“The hell would you know?!”
“I need to go.” The other man’s voice was cold. “Katya needs me.”
"Don't you dare hang up!" Aster snapped. “You're sayin' you don’t want those bastards to pay for what they did to him?! Don’t you care-”
“Yes!” Nicholas hissed, finally roused to anger. “I care! Say what you want, but at least he knew I did!”
“The hell is that supposed to mean?!”
A sigh. “Nothing. Is nothing. I… I need to go.”
“No! You tell me what the fuck you’re on about!”
“Are you actually implyin’ I didn’t care about-”
“That is not what I said!”
A sigh, and Nicholas no longer sounded angry. Now all that remained was exhaustion… exhaustion and misery. “Did… did you have to be so hard on him?”
“You always were yelling at him, always criticizing him… I know that sometimes Jack was difficult child, but…” A sniffle. “He is gone now… he is gone and… and…”
He broke off into hysterical sobbing.
Aster longed to do the same.
Chapter 16: Professor Oak about Gary
Samuel Oak found out because his grandson told him.
He was preparing breakfast for two; his elder grandson was on a camping trip with that friend of his. Gary sat at the table, talking endlessly about one or another of his pets. He had already spent four nights with Samuel, and it would be another two days before the man’s daughter and son-in-law returned for the child. Gary seemed to be enjoying his mini-vacation.
It took a little while for Samuel to realize why.
“You know,” his grandson spoke up, “there haven’t been any monsters since I came to stay with you. I don’t think they know where to find me at your house.”
“That’s nice, Gary,” he replied, distracted by a spit of fat from the pan. He reached for paper towels to clean up the little spot.
“No, really, it’s weird. They can get in even if my door’s locked at home.”
Samuel laughed. “They don’t come from your closet, then?”
“No,” mused Gary. “They don’t come from closets or under the bed. They always just use the door. I think they can pick locks.”
Samuel paused. This was weird. Gary seemed completely serious. Wasn’t ten a bit old for this kind of thing?
“They never left me alone this long, not even when Daisy was still there, and she saw them too!” Gary continued. “Sometimes they’d leave me alone for a night or two if she did something really bad, or if Mom and Dad were mad at her, and they stay away if there are other people in the room with me, like when Ash sleeps over, but that only works for a night and then they come back. They don’t do that here, they haven’t come by at all.”
That… was strange. It seemed too detailed for any child's fantasy.
“Are you worried they’ll eat you?”
Gary shook his head. “Oh no, they slobber over me a bit and sometimes they bite, but-”
“Wait,” Samuel interrupted, “what do these monsters look like?”
“Well, how am I supposed to know that? They only show up when it’s dark.”
“Okay, then,” Samuel said slowly, “have you been able to tell anything about them? Is there anything you can tell me?”
“Um, I think there are two of them, but there might be different ones of two types, I can’t tell,” Gary said, furrowing his brow in thought. “But one’s got claws, and the other’s got bristles, and they’re bigger than me.”
Slowly, Samuel switched off the stove.
“What did you do that for?” Gary blinked. “It’s not done yet.”
His grandfather said nothing for a moment, only moved to sit beside the boy at the kitchen table. “Gary?” He took a deep breath. “What exactly do these ‘monsters’ do to you?”
“Oh, I think they’re sniffing around to see if I’m dead yet, most of the time,” Gary said with far too much perkiness. “They poke their claws and tongues around in my mouth and, um, you know, and I read that that’s pretty normal for animals. Didja know vultures’ll stick their whole heads up a dead buffalo’s-”
“Yes, yes, I get the picture. Is that everything?”
“They get pretty skittish if I move or make noise. Sometimes they hurt me if I do, but if I stop and stay really still they don’t. Maybe I scare them.”
“What do you mean they hurt you?”
“Well, usually they like to poke around… down there, you know? Usually it just feels kinda weird, but when they get mad they can really hurt me. One of them’s got talons or something. If I pretend to be asleep then it’s usually fine but if I’m lucky I actually will sleep through it.”
For a moment there was only the sound of grease sizzling. Samuel Oak swallowed hard.
Gary cocked his head. “Um… Gramps? Are you okay?”
“Gary, I think after breakfast we’re going to need to take you to the hospital,” Samuel said slowly.
“Um… well, like you said, they can hurt you badly, and we need to make sure that you don’t have any lasting injuries. Or illnesses. I don’t know what you might have caught from them.”
“Oh, I guess that makes sense.” Gary nodded. “Never thought of that, but yeah, you can catch nasty stuff off animals. Like you told me I need to keep the pets really clean and wash my hands after I hold them?”
“Yes, like that,” Samuel said. A small mercy; the boy accepted the explanation. He’d have time to work out what to say.
He had time.
Chapter 17: Stan and Ford about each other
Stanley and Stanford Pines found out from each other, within the same conversation.
“What do you mean, your boyfriend caused this?!” Stanley pushed his brother back.
“Ex-boyfriend,” Stanford muttered softly. “I… I broke up with him… I should have done that sooner…”
“I’ll say, Poindexter! What excuse do you have for yourself?! She’s your niece! And he was your fucking boyfriend! You should have done something! Anything! Or better yet, not given him the idea in the first place!”
“Stanley, I-I’m sorry-”
“Fuck that! I can’t believe I insisted I have my bar mitzvah with you! You obviously have no idea what it means to be a man!”
“I didn’t know!” He could feel his face heating up. “I didn’t know he would do that to her!”
“You think that fucking matters?!” Stanley’s fist hit his chin. “He still did! Because. Of. You.”
“You should have realized he was fucked! There should have been signs he’d pull off something like this! What, did you just ignore them because he was cute or something?!”
“He… he… I-”
“What?!” His brother glared daggers at him. “What is it?!”
“I didn’t think he’d hurt anyone else!”
Stanley’s eyes narrowed into slits. “What the hell do you mean by else?!”
Stanford went silent. Years of words ran through his head, and he found his throat was blocked.
“… You were lying when you said he was treating you well, weren’t you?”
Stanford found himself frozen, yet he nodded.
“Okay.” Stanley was glaring, but no longer shouting. His voice had become very low. “How bad was it?”
“It wasn’t… bad,” he tried to say. “He… he never hit me or anything like that… but there were times when… he…” Stanford was stammering now. “He was my professor when it started. He’d helped me with a lot and I felt like I owed him… he took advantage of that.”
“What do you mean, advantage?”
“He wanted to have sex and I didn’t.”
“… So he raped you.”
“He didn’t… rape me,” Stanford tried to protest. “He always waited until I said yes. He… he just… I… I didn’t always say yes right away, so he had to… to convince me to say yes, but he always waited until I did…”
“Did you want it?”
“Not… strictly speaking, but-”
“Then that was rape.”
“N-no, he never went ahead and did it when I said no!”
“Oh, he never did it when you said no! That’s nice! Next you’ll be saying those Colombian fuckers don’t count because they couldn’t understand English!”
“Stan… what Colombian… what?!”
Stan stopped, as if just realizing what he had said. “Fucking damnit!” He hit the wall.
Stanford reached out for his brother’s shoulder. “Stan, what are y-”
“Don’t touch me!” Stanley snapped.
Stanford pulled his hand back. “Was… was it while you were in prison? I know you did time in Colombia…”
“I ever tell you why?”
Stanford paused. “What?”
“Did I ever tell you why I did time in Colombia?”
“I robbed a pharmacy while I was naked. You wanna know why?”
What the absolute hell?
“You robbed a pharmacy?!” Stanford burst out. “How drunk were you?!”
“Not as drunk as I wanted. You know what happened when Mom and Dad kicked me out? I was kidnapped by a buncha motherfucking sex traffickers!”
Stanford went still. “What?”
“They shipped me out to Colombia! I was seventeen and I didn’t speak a fucking word of the language, but they didn’t care! I was there for a year and nobody even looked for me!”
Stanford stood there frozen. He’d been in university then…
… he’d been in lecture halls while his brother was being raped and he never even knew he’d been missing.
“Oh, and you know what? I also caught syphilis while I was there! Think they cared? Nope! Now I was just an unneeded mouth to feed! You know what they do with unneeded mouths?!”
“They were gonna kill me!” Stan’s voice was breaking with every other word. “They tied me up with duct tape and tossed me in the trunk of their car! They were gonna take me out to the ocean and throw me in!”
“And I almost let them! Because, hey, my family hates my guts, you’re probably never gonna want to see me again, and I have syphilis! I’ve got nothing left to live for, so why not just let them off me?! But nope! I had to escape! Took me gnawing through duct tape and pulling the trunk release, but I did escape! And then I'm running around bareass naked in a country where I don't know shit, hoping somebody spoke goddamn English so I could explain the situation to them! Guess how well that turned out?!”
“I got fucking arrested! Nobody spoke the fucking language and for some reason I didn’t wanna die, so I walked into a pharmacy and thought why not just grab what I need and run? But they caught me and I was in jail for two years and… and…” His chest was heaving now. “And nobody fucking knew I was gone!”
“… Why didn’t you call someone when you were at the prison?”
“I did. I called Dad. I told him everything. He didn’t fucking care.”
“What about Sherman?” Stanford’s eyes were desperate. “He would have helped you, right?”
“… I don’t know. I didn’t have Sherman’s number. I couldn’t get back in touch with him until I was in the States again, and by then… by then it was over, and there was no point in talking about it.”
“Are… are you okay?”
“What the fuck do you think?” Stanley sighed. “You know, I was always so paranoid someone would do something to the kids… I always told ‘em all that crazy shit when they were little, remember? You bawled me out for it, said I was scaring them… I just wanted to keep ‘em safe.” A round of bitter laughter. “Look how well that turned out.”
“You let Mabel know how to escape. That’s more than I did for her.”
“So we both have had fucked up lives and acted like fucking idiots.”
“… I’m sorry,” Stanford told his brother. “About everything.”
Stanley’s hands curled into fists. “I ain’t the one you should be-”
“You’re the one that needs to hear it!”
Stanley was quiet then. “I’m gonna kill that guy.”
He did not say for who.
Chapter 18: Basil about Kitty
Basil found out about Kitty’s merely by looking.
He looked into her eyes and found a piece of himself staring back at him-
-and he knew.
“Miss White,” he began, “how are you… faring?”
“What? I… I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, turning away. Any idiot could have seen she was lying, and she knew Basil was no idiot.
“You’re wearing more concealing clothing than you usually do, and your sleeve isn’t quite hiding a bruise. You’re wearing multiple layers of concealer to hide the fact that you haven’t slept and have broken out in spots from stress, but only enough makeup to avoid people noticing you not wearing any. With that said the concealer is smudge above your eyebrow, and your nails are chipped - you’d never leave the house like that normally. Not to mention the fact that your YouTube channel hasn’t been updated since before I last saw you, and though I don’t have an account on your other sites, I’d be willing to bet Kitty Blue hasn’t been posting either. Something terrible has happened, and I have a pretty good idea what, because you look exactly like…” His voice cracked.
“Like what, Basil?” she snapped. “Like a mess? Like a beat-up streetwalker?”
“… like I did.”
Katherine White - Kitty Blue - went pale. “W-what?”
Basil chewed his lip. “It… happened a long time ago. I was nineteen, he’d been watching me. After it happened I became paranoid. Guard dogs and deadbolts and all that, you know? You’ve been acting much the same as of late, which is why…” He paused, as if unsure how to finish his sentence. “Did someone watch you too?”
“They… yeah. They found me through my vlog and caught me at Mickey’s place. Jim Crow helped me fight them off. But… that went about as well as you’d expect when a black guy fights a bunch of white guys for a sex worker’s sake. We got out of it when Mickey told the police captain he’d sue if we didn’t.”
“I see…” His jaw tightened. “I’m… I’m terribly sorry… about the police, I mean… as well as… the rest of it.”
She sighed. “It’s not your fault. I should’ve known better than to-”
“Stop that,” Basil interrupted. “It won’t do any good to blame yourself. I won’t have it! You can never be too careful, Miss White… it isn’t… it’s not enough.” He looked at her earnestly. “Sometimes things like this… just happen.” A pause. “Again, I’m so sorry.”
Kitty knew he wasn’t fond of physical contact, so she didn’t try to hug him, but she let her fingertips touch his hand for a moment. “I’m sorry about yours, too.”
“If I may offer some advice…” Basil took a card from his wallet. “Call this number for a support group. You’ll have to go through a safety screening with the founder, but I can tell her I know you and she’s never turned anyone down yet.” He smiled as if remembering some private joke Kitty didn’t know. “She appreciates a small donation each week to pay for use of the room, but it’s much cheaper than a therapist, and the people there have been very kind to me. It helps.”
“I…” She took the card in her own hand. “I might check it out, actually… Thank you.”
“I pray that you do, Miss White,” he said. “I wish you all the best.”
She could tell that he meant it. She didn’t need a detective’s eyes for that.
Chapter 19: Jim about Mrs. Hawkins
James Hawkins found out by overhearing it.
Back when he was little, he would quite often hear sounds drifting out from the rooms of the old hostelry: sounds of creaking bedsprings and headboards thumping against the walls. Occasionally, the noises came from his parents’ room too. He had complained to his mother when she had a moment between chores to talk to him, asking why she and his father and the customers were allowed to jump on the beds when he wasn’t. She’d patted his head and told him he’d understand when he was older.
Now he was, and he wished he didn’t.
The thumps were coming from his mother’s room. His father had been gone for years, and he’d never seen his mother with a man in daylight. She didn’t have time.
The noises she was making sounded like she was desperately trying to disguise sobs.
The next day, she paid for a repair to the roof which had been needed for a long time, and said nothing when he asked where she got the money.
Jim wasn’t stupid. When it happened again, he wanted to go in and stop it, beat the hell out of the man who dared defile his mother so and beg her to reconsider… but he couldn’t.
They needed the money; and so he continued to pretend he didn’t know.
Chapter 20: Ginger about her mother
Ginger found out by asking a question.
“Hey, Fowler,” she said cheerfully into the phone.
“Ginger! Well, this is a surprise. What are you calling about?”
“I need to ask you for a favor,” Ginger said slowly. “I… don’t suppose you still have my actual birth certificate, do you? The ones with my gene donors’ names?”
“Ginger, what do you want that for?”
“Tulio - you know, the guy that’s adopting the baby? He wants to know if there’s a history of any diseases on my side of the family… we still don’t know about the ‘dad' or his status. I told him I’d look into it.”
He should have seen this coming.
“So… can you?”
“Well, yes, I could certainly look that up for you… but…” Fowler sighed. “But before I do, there’s something I need to warn you about.”
“Your biological father is not going to be on the birth certificate.”
“Why not?” Ginger pauses. “Didn’t she know who he was? Was she a hooker or something?”
“Not… not to my knowledge, no. But she didn’t know her assailant, so-”
“Wait. Did you just say assailant?”
“I didn’t want to tell you,” he said. “But… yes.”
“So… so I’m a child of rape?!” she asked. “What the fuck?!”
“That’s what I said…” Fowler sighed tiredly. “I wasn’t going to tell you at all, to be honest. You didn’t need that hanging over your head.”
“So you don’t have any idea who my dad is?” Ginger asked. Sounding angry.
“I’m afraid not. She didn’t tell anyone about the incident until…” He trailed off.
“Do you still want the birth certificate?”
“Yeah,” Ginger told him. “Even a little information could probably count for something. I want… I want to do right by this kid, even if I don’t want to be her mum.”
“Nothing, it’s just… that’s exactly what she said to me.” Fowler paused. “Say, Ginger, you’ve grown into a fine young woman.”
“Thanks…?” she said.
“You’re… you’re more than the circumstances that brought you into this world. Better than that… man could ever hope to be. I hope you know that.”
“Thank you, Fowler.”
Chapter 21: Wallace about the Robinsons
Wallace found out more detail in the aftermath of a heated discussion.
“Okay… okay… okayokayokay…” Wallace said, waving his hands. “Here’s what you’re going to tell me. I know that: one, a thirteen-year-old was raped. Two, you didn’t tell Cornelius. And three… ‘e thought I knew all this for some reason. So. You are going to tell me everything else. Understand?”
Carl Nye - his co-worker’s assistant - looked paler than Wallace had ever seen him, but he nodded. “… Okay.”
“It… it happened a while ago. When we all went out for Mr. Framagucci’s birthday - I think he told you about that, right? We went to Gusteau’s?”
“Yes, I remember that. And?”
“W-well, Wilbur was still grounded, so he didn’t go. He was home alone. The…” Carl winced. “The only problem is he didn’t… stay that way. S-some men broke into their home… one of them… one of them was the man who stole your car…”
“And the other?”
“… was the one who tried to rape Mr. Robinson.”
“He told you about that, didn’t he?”
“Yes… but…” Wallace shook his head. “What happened?”
“Wilbur was grounded, so he didn’t have his phone on him. There is a landline, but it’s downstairs and they were already inside. He tried to run out the door, but his arm… well, he couldn’t get it open and they found him…”
The arm that got busted in the car crash… Wallace winced. Suddenly, the severity of what had happened to the car was getting smaller and smaller in his mind. “And then?”
“W-well then… then the man who… who tried to rape Mr. Robinson decided that… since Mr. Robinson wasn’t there, his… his son would make an excellent substitute… so they both… they were only going to make him do mouth stuff, but he bit one of them, so… they decided to go even farther… and then they left.” Carl looked down. “He… he was all bloodied and bruised when I got back… he asked me not to tell…”
Wallace slapped him.
“Why the hell would you agree to that?!”
Carl swallowed. “I knew it was a bad idea, but… but you weren’t there. He was crying and there was blood on the carpet… and he’d been through enough as it was. I couldn’t make it any worse by making him tell his parents or go through an exam… he’d been through enough as it was…”
Wallace hit him again.
“Oh, yes, the boy got raped and ‘e’s thoroughly traumatized. May's well not tell ‘is parents who look after ‘is best interests! Or the police!”
“Y-you weren’t there! He… he begged me not to! He didn’t… he didn’t want to upset them anymore than they already were…”
“You bloody idiot! That is when you have to tell them what happened! Unless you think ‘is parents caused it - or you’re twelve - you should know that telling them is the first thing you do! Oh! And as long as you're making stupid choices, you may as well also destroy precious evidence that could've been used to bring his rapists to justice and make sure they don’t get away with it again!”
Carl stared at the floor. “… I know, okay? I know I fucked up… but I-I don’t think you understand… it was awful… there was blood all over the bedroom carpet and-”
“You know, your son might have a better and easier time sleeping in ‘is bed instead of on the couch…”
“I’m not leaving him alone.”
“It happened in ‘is own room?!”
Carl shook his head. “I found him in Mr. and Mrs. Robinson’s.”
Wallace swallowed. “Alright… but that… that still doesn’t explain why Cornelius thought I knew and didn’t tell ‘im…”
“Uh, well after what happened… Wilbur wasn’t doing so well.”
“Yeah… but, um… part of that kinda made it hard for him to focus in school… and he’s never been super bookish or anything like that… so his grades got really bad… Mr. Robinson probably told you about that, didn’t he?”
“His grades are just getting lower and lower, I don’t even know what to do with him anymore…”
“ ‘E did.”
“So he was looking at study groups, and I knew that wasn’t really gonna help, so I started taking him to the Calisota City Sexual Trauma Support Group, and I told his dad it was a study group. Your… your fiancée goes to that… did you know?”
“A support group? I don’t know, Wally…”
“Wilhelmina, please, I think it would help. Can you try it? Please? For me?”
“Okay… so Wilbur went there for a couple weeks, and then Mrs. Robinson found out about it - er, the group, not that Wilbur was going - and she thought it might help Mr. Robinson with what happened to him… and he was there when Wilbur walked in.”
Oh my God…
“Y-your fiancée was at that meeting, too. I guess he assumed that she told you what went on there.”
“I don’t suppose she talks to you about what goes on in those meetings, does she?”
“She doesn’t.” Wallace swallowed. “Especially not with the stories. She’s… she’s worried about breaking the confidentiality agreements. The most I ever know is if there was a story talked about, maybe she’ll mention another member in passing.”
“Making it up! She- sorry, they heard that from trans people! Honestly, the more things change, the more things stay the same.”
“So… what happened to them? Why were they there?”
“Wally, you know I can’t tell you that…”
“Well… Mr. Robinson doesn’t know that,” Carl said. “He’s… he’s not being exactly rational. I’ve never seen him this angry before.”
“And with good reason!” Wallace started smacking Carl’s forehead. “What. Were. You. Thinking?!”
An explanation that only left more questions in its wake…
Chapter 22: Dib about Zim
Dib Membrane found out when he saw it happen.
Something was definitely up with the new kid. Dib was old enough and smart enough to be pretty sure it was some kind of abuse. Panicking when he was touched? Definite signs of neglect in his sickly skin and rotten teeth and skinny body? That kind of rage constantly boiling over? What he needed to know now were specifics. Details! Evidence! And so, when Zimri Norman got off the bus one afternoon, Dib noted the address, waited long enough that he wouldn’t be noticed, and headed back there.
The names on the mailbox were Reed Russell and Percy Corcoran, which meant nothing to Dib. Zim had never mentioned who else might be living in his home. Sounded like two men, but they could have been his dads or his uncles or his brothers or his evil clones for all Dib knew. Still, he wrote down the names next to the address in his binder and went to peek in at the side window.
Inside were two men - Reed and Percy, probably - one reading and the other focused on the TV. Their heads turned in unison, presumably because they heard a noise, and their eyes were fixed on the doorway and the child peeking around it.
Zim looked smaller than he ever had as he crept into the room. Dib wished he could hear what they were saying. Then again, from the bitterness in Zim’s face and the growing annoyance on the faces of the adults, he could guess easily enough that it wasn’t good. Verbal abuse at least, but if he couldn’t hear what they were saying that wasn’t really enough to take to the authorities. He squinted, hoping to read their lips.
He didn’t need to, as it turned out. The men moved closer. Zim moved back. One said something Dib couldn’t hear. Zim replied.
A blow hard enough to knock the boy against the floor. Then another… and another… and another.
Paydirt, Dib thought guiltily. He wasn’t happy Zim was being beaten, far from it, but he could point to the bruises and explain what had caused each one. Much better evidence. Speaking of which… He whipped out his phone and took a quick shot. He looked at it and cursed; light reflecting off the window had rendered it indecipherable. He held the phone at a better angle, and was about to take another shot, when one man’s hands went for Zim’s belt. What…?
He got his answer soon enough.
So much white.
Dib sat there transfixed, unable to look away. He was going to be sick… but he kept staring.
He just kept staring.
He fumbled for his phone again, then thought better of it. He couldn’t have a picture of this! Dib was no stranger to the grapevine gossip; hadn’t Mabel been arrested for taking naked pictures of herself and that was why Dipper hadn’t been around? God only knew what would happen to him if he had pictures of this!
So he watched, and he emblazoned every detail on his memory, just in case any one turned out to be the thing which could make the case and save Zim.
The red-haired man has a birthmark on his hip which I couldn’t have seen if he was dressed.
The other guy has purplish eyes and a tattoo on his arm. Looks like a flying saucer?
Zim has so many scars. So many… Does this happen every day?
He didn’t doubt it.
He kept watching. He couldn’t look away.
Chapter 23: Cipher about Ratigan
Bill Cipher found out when McGucket stumbled into his office, still bleeding.
“Ratigan!” McGucket gasped, wiping at his eyes.
Cipher looked right at him and he knew.
“Ah, nooo, I’m Cipher!” he said innocently. “Ratigan’s way down the hall.”
“No, that’s not… I meant…”
Cipher’s brow furrowed, his lips pursed in very skilfully faked concern. “You okay there? Come on, sit down.” He urged McGucket to a chair. “Tell me aaaalllll about it.”
“The… the professor…” he began breathlessly. “I…” His face tensed up, contorting with something that made Cipher bite his lip and swirled libido below the belt. McGucket buried his face in his hands. “I… he r-…” He swallowed and tried again. “I think I’m bleeding.”
“Bleeding?” Eyebrows shot up in mock surprise, though the only pupil he had did not constrict nor expand. “Whatever for?”
“H-he called me into the office,” McGucket sobbed. “I thought he was worried about me… I’ve been kinda sick… but he locked the door. An’ I asked why, an’… and he shoved me over the desk…”
“Oh dear.” Cipher was hard pressed to keep his voice level. He crossed his legs and steepled his fingers. “What did he do? It’s okay, Fiddleford. You can tell me anything.”
“He… he raped me,” McGucket winced like the words burned him. “I still don’t… I know that must sound hard to believe, but I-”
“Professor Ratigan?” He tried to feign shock, he really did, but this was just so exciting. So exciting. “The-”
“Yes! I… It’s just that he’s so much bigger ‘n me. He… I couldn’t stop him! I couldn’t… I…”
“I believe you,” Cipher told him truthfully enough, though he was unable to keep the mirth from quirking at his lips. He took a step towards McGucket, setting a stick-thin hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright.”
“You… you do…?”
“Of course. Of course you couldn’t stop him, he’s huge, he could throw both of us around like dolls if he wanted.” Cipher tried not to lick his lips. “You say you’re bleeding, so… not your mouth, I assume?” McGucket shook his head. “Ahh… how badly are you hurt? The, ah, hospital might need to know.”
“I don’t know! Pretty bad,” McGucket said through his sobs. “It hurts… it hurt to walk here.” He rolled up his sleeve. “I think he bruised me pretty bad too.”
“Oh, let me see.” McGucket’s wrists were rubbed raw from being grabbed over his clothes, already bruising blue beneath that. Glorious.
“Shh,” he crooned like he did with Ford. “Let me help you.” He pressed his thumb into one of the burns, breathing in sharply as McGucket did. It felt so good. He let go of him then. “I’ll get something for that. I should have… ah, damn it, no first aid kit after all.” While his new friend wasn’t looking he reached to lock the door. “Alright, we’ll just have to let the doctors sort you out. Now… take off your clothes.”
“… I’m sorry?” The shock was so great that for a moment it was enough to completely snap McGucket from his mist of stress and self-pity. He sounded almost normal. “What?”
“I need to see what he did to you,” Cipher said. “I need to see so I can help you. Take off your clothes.” This was going to be exciting.
McGucket leaned forward in his chair and unbuttoned his shirt. Slowly. Tease. Bite marks on his neck. More bruises.
“I need to see the wounds, Fiddleford,” Cipher urged.
“Wait. No. Shouldn’t I get to a doctor? I mean, a medical doctor?”
“Oh, yes.” Cipher grinned. “Eventually.”
Even in his current state, McGucket looked suspicious. “No. No, I don’t want to.”
“Oh, but you must, Fiddleford!” Cipher advanced on him, and McGucket got up and backed towards the door. “Tell me absolutely every detail! At exactly what point did you start crying? Did you scream?”
McGucket reached the door, scrabbled with the handle, and did start screaming as he realised he was locked in here as well.
There was one thing Cipher would do differently from Ratigan: he made sure Fiddleford was facing him. How much fun was it if you couldn’t see them cry?
Chapter 24: Simba and Sarabi about Timon
Simba and Sarabi found out when Timon slipped up in conversation.
“Are you and Pumbaa okay?”
“What? Yeah! Why do you ask?”
Sarabi frowned. “I don’t know, you just seem to be a little… distant, on and off.”
“Yeah, it’s weird,” said Simba. “It’s been happening ever since…” His eyes widened. “Ever since you helped us get my dad’s will. You aren’t fighting about money, are you? Or are things weird now that I’ve got my old family back? Is it my fault? I don’t mean to make you feel left out or-”
“No! No, absolutely not!” Timon waved his hands in protest. “I know you love us and all that junk, and it’s not about money. It’s just, I dunno, I’ve been having one of my bad days, sometimes it’s weird to be around him after I-” He shut up, as abruptly as if he’d been shot.
“After you what?”
“I… I don’t wanna say, it’s bad.”
Sarabi smiled gently. “Timon, you’re my son’s foster father and you and Pumbaa have been nothing but wonderful since I’ve known you. I don’t think there’s very much you could do which would be that bad. We’re family, we can work through it.”
Timon tucked his legs up into the armchair and buried his face in his knees. “I…” He mumbled and trailed off. Simba and Sarabi caught the word “woman” somewhere in it.
“What are you-”
“I had sex with that Shenzi chick!” he blurted out.
“Wait, what?!” Simba gaped. “Aren’t you, like, super gay? Come to think of it, I was pretty sure she was!”
“Ha, she didn’t seem that way to me. So yeah, you can see why things are kinda off. I feel like garbage and he feels weird and I’m pretty sure he’s still mad.”
“Well, I’m not surprised,” the younger man said. “Why would you cheat on him? You guys have always seemed so happy together.”
“I didn’t want to, geez, no! I didn’t wanna do that to him-”
“I didn’t wanna… do that.” He ran a hand through his hair. “She didn’t really give me a lot of options… was kinda a ‘do or die’ type situation.”
“She raped you?!”
“Well… I kinda told her to? Uh, see, this was back when we broke into the office, and we needed a distraction. So… yeah?”
“Not much else I could do! They got me cornered, I wasn’t armed! If I hadn’t they’d have killed you, Simba!”
“So… so you… you…” He was stammering now. “Are… are you okay? Does he know?”
Timon laughed drily. “He saw it. He and Zazu and Rafiki walked in on it, pulled her off me. He tells me he’s not mad, but…” A shrug, a sad smile. “And, I guess I’m okay? I’m not having as many bad days as I did before, so…”
For a moment Simba wasn’t sure what to say.
“I’m so sorry…” It was all he could think of.
“Don’t be. 'S not your fault.”
“It isn’t yours either.”
“The group keeps sayin’ that. I guess eventually I’ll believe it. Maybe.”
“Oh, Pumbaa found a card for this support group and gave it to me.”
“There, see?” Sarabi said gently. “He’s obviously not mad at you, he knows it’s not your fault.”
Maybe one day he’d believe that too.
Chapter 25: John about Marian
John Little found out when she turned up on his doorstep.
“Marian? Why are you-”
“JOHN!” she wailed, throwing herself into his arms. “John, it was awful! You’ve got to take me to the hospital!”
“What?” Now he looked, he could see how dishevelled she was; her hair was a mess, her makeup was smeared and tear-streaked, and what was that smell? Cologne he didn’t recognise and something horribly metallic yet organic…
“What… what happened? Are you alright?”
She sobbed and shook her head. “John… my uncle… his friend… he… he-”
“He raped me!”
“What?! Who?! Y-your uncle?!”
“N-no, but he… he was the one who… It was his friend, some man I didn’t know, and he… John, he married me!”
“What? But you… you’re-”
“They had a gun… I couldn’t run away, and… and h-he found a judge who’d do it… and… and he brought me to his hotel room… and he raped me and I had to wait until he was asleep and I climbed out the window… and I’ve been travelling all night… I need you to take me to a d-d-doctor.”
“Okay, okay, I get the gist - would you be okay explaining it from the beginning or do you want to save that for the doctor? Hold on, lemme get you a drink-”
“I can’t drink anything,” she said, between sobs. “They’ll have to do a mouth swab.”
“Oh… um.” He swallowed. “Okay. Do you want to tell me what happened? Or do you want to go straight to the hospital?”
“I… I need a doctor!” She sniffled and wiped her eyes.
“Okay.” Very gently, he helped her towards his car. “Hospital it is then. The sooner it’s done the sooner you can get cleaned up and have a drink, and I know that won’t solve anything much but you’ll feel a bit better. C’mon, it’s not too far from here…”
Fortunately, the wait at the hospital was not too long, and soon a large, pale man with buzzed-short hair entered the room with the kit. “Hello. I am Dr. Maxwell,” he said, in a soothing near-monotone. He looked at John. “Are you the patient’s family member or romantic partner?”
“Uh, neither, I’m her fiancé’s friend, but I’m the only person in the state who she’s ever met before and I don’t really wanna leave her alone.” John’s face crumpled in distress. “Oh boy, that reminds me, one of us is gonna have to tell Robin.”
She sniffed. “Would… would you do it, please? I don’t want to explain it more times than I have to.”
“Alright,” he said. “Alright, I’ll tell him.”
It was the least he could do.
Chapter 26: Wendy and Jumba about Lilo
Wendy Pleakley and Jumba Jookiba found out from a bedtime story.
“Can I tell you a story?” Lilo said, in an uncharacteristically small and frightened voice. She had been withdrawn for days, and Wendy took this as a sign she was feeling better.
“Of course, dear!”
“Well, um… once, there was a little bunny. And she lived with her auntie and uncle and big sister. And she went to hula school and it was really fun. But there was another little bunny there who was really mean.”
“Did this other little bunny happen to have red hair?” Wendy said, smiling.
“Maybe,” Lilo admitted, and continued. “And the other little bunny just got meaner for no reason, and said horrible things about the first little bunny, till one day they got in a fight in the bathroom…”
Wendy relaxed. Another altercation with Mertle Edmonds. Lilo had stayed upset for a lot longer than usual, perhaps she’d have to ask what the “horrible things” Mertle had said were…
Lilo clenched her fists and scrunched up her face and let the rest of the story out in a burst. “… and the other little bunny shoved her fingers in her no-no place and it really hurt!”
“SHE DID WHAT?!”
Jumba heard the shriek and hurried into the living room. “What was that? What is problem?”
“Lilo, please,” said Wendy, holding her niece’s shoulders. “Is this story true? Did someone really touch… someone like that? It’s important.”
Lilo looked away from her then.
“The… the little bunny felt really gross after it happened… and she didn’t know what to do… because it wasn’t a big bunny that did that, it was another little one… and… and…”
Jumbaa paled. “P-Pleakley, what’s going on?”
His wife ignored him. “Lilo, did… did Mertle do that to you? Did she hurt you like that?”
Wendy wailed and hugged Lilo tightly, while Jumba looked on worriedly. “What is it? Are you saying Mertle Edmonds touched Lilo…?”
“Yes!” Tears welled up in Wendy’s one eye. “Tomorrow I’m marching right down to that school and giving that girl’s mother a piece of my mind-”
“NO!” Lilo looked up in surprise on realising Jumba had joined her in her cry. “Huh?”
“I don’t think little kids would come up with this on their own,” Jumba said, as delicately as he could. “Odds are, she’d have to pick it up from somewhere, and I think we ought to wait to talk to her family until we have a better idea from where exactly.”
“I don’t know. Someone probably did. I can’t guess who till we find out more, and I don’t want to make things worse by mentioning it to wrong person.” Jumba sat down and pulled both his family members into a hug, and the little dog Stitch jumped up into Lilo’s lap. “But we should probably talk to Lilo’s school and see if we can make sure they’re kept apart. No need to go into too much detail, I’ll just say there was a fight. Okay, Lilo?”
A sniffle from Lilo. “Okay.”
“Did she hurt you badly enough to make you bleed?” Wendy asked. Lilo shook her head. “Good, that’s good. Well, it’s still bad, but it could be worse. Does it still hurt?”
“No, it’s fine now.”
It wasn’t fine, but it was closer than it could be. Jumba sighed and said, “Lilo, we’ll have to tell your sister about this.”
“I’m sorry, Lilo, but yes. She’s responsible for you, she needs to know.”
Lilo played with her fingers and said, “But… does it have to be tonight? She’s on a date, she’s gonna come home happy and then we’ll ruin it.”
“We…” Wendy swallowed. “She has to know.”
“Don’t tell her tonight!”
“I… Lilo, she’s your guardian. I can’t just hold off on telling her about something like this.”
“But… but… but I… please! Please don’t!”
“I’m sorry…” Wendy said to her. “I’m sorry.”
And she was, for more than she could ever say.
Chapter 27: Dewey about the Candy kids
Dewey found out because they showed it on the news.
He was with his great-uncle when he saw it. The TV had been turned on, but mostly ignored for the majority of the afternoon. At least until the broadcast changed and a familiar name drew his attention toward the screen.
“Beaumont Turner, also known as Rex Candy, is to stand trial today for fourteen counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a minor-”
With a click the newscaster’s voice was muted, but the screen continued to glow and to change. Dewey stared into it, eyes wide as he caught sight of a familiar pink house, which no longer looked welcoming as it was now wrapped in yellow tape and bathed in flashing lights.
He looked up at Uncle Scrooge, who was holding the remote. Scrooge looked back at him and said, “You don’t need to hear the details, it’ll only upset you.”
Dewey was already upset. He stared at the screen, pale in the face, and swallowed. Uncle Scrooge looked quizzical, and Dewey said, “I know those kids.”
“I know them! They’re athletes, we, um… a lot of them are on the same teams as me. Track and swimming and stuff. One of them…” His eyes widened. “Minty was… her grandpa… he… he hurt her…”
That explains a lot, he thought.
Scrooge, unaware of Dewey’s inner turmoil, pulled him into a hug and murmured, “Thank God it wasn’t you boys. Of course it’s not good that it’s anyone, but I don’t know what I’d have done…”
It was then that Dewey knew he couldn’t tell anyone what the girls had done. They didn’t deserve to get into trouble.
Chapter 28: Elizabeth about Ragetti
Elizabeth found out when a familiar face walked through the door.
Blond hair. Scarred face. Missing eye.
“You!” She recoiled-
-and so did Ragetti.
“What are you doing here?!” she spat. “What the absolute hell do you think you’re doing here?!”
His eye flicked around the room, settled on her at about neck level, darted briefly to her face and away again, and he said, “Same thing as you, I reckon, poppet.”
“Don’t you fucking call me that!” Her hand spasmed, as if she’d just barely restrained herself from slapping him. Ragetti cowered, but she continued on, stepping further towards him as he backed away.
“You what?! What could have possibly…” She stopped with an angry sigh. “What the hell happened to you?”
He made no sound but a quiet whine. He pointed to his eye. There hadn’t been that much scarring when he’d been watching her. There had been new marks, hardly healed, at the trial.
“Did… did something happen while you were in custody?”
A weak nod.
“Oh my goodness…” Elizabeth had never expected to feel any sympathy for him - and she still didn’t precisely feel bad - but the knowledge definitely stung. “Is that when your face got… Did they do that?”
More nodding and a shudder.
“What did they do to you?”
Ragetti's teeth ground together. He did not speak, though his throat worked up and down as if spasming. No words escaped.
He couldn’t speak a single word.
Chapter 29: Miguel and Tulio about Chel
Miguel and Tulio found out because she cried at the sight of a picture.
They’d seen remnants of their… housemates’ work before - pictures, files, documents - and they’d all seen Chel sob, but it wasn’t often that the two would intersect. And yet, here they were.
“What did you do?” Tulio demanded of the wide-eyed Private, while Miguel rushed to their girlfriend’s side.
“N-nothing!” the man stammered. “I dropped my file, and she saw him and just lost it.”
“What the hell is going on here?” Skipper asked, poking his head through the door.
“Private made Chel cry!” Miguel told him, still trying to soothe the woman.
“It… it wasn’t… I didn't mean to…”
“It’s not his fault.” Chel was the one who spoke up in his defense, her voice shaky. “It’s not Private’s fault…”
“What is it, Chel? What’s wrong?”
She sniffed. “That man… he…” She burst into tears again. Skipper picked up the file in question.
Tzekel Kan. Known drug maker, distributer, pedophile, murderer.
Skipper’s eyes widened. “Chel, you knew him?”
She nodded. “He… was my mother’s… boyfriend…” She wiped her eyes, though the tears were still flowing. “I-I was twelve!”
“It wasn’t your mother he wanted, was it?” Skipper asked.
“W-what do you think?!”
“Whoa,” Tulio interjected. “What’s going on? Who is this guy?”
“This man,” Skipper said through gritted teeth, “is a drug dealer and a pedophile, and apparently Chel’s mother was dating him.”
“What?!” Miguel exclaimed. “Chel… are you…”
He couldn’t finish the question, because he already knew the answe. She wasn’t okay. None of them were.
“Did… did I ever tell you-” she gasped, “-why I became a drug supplier? How I… learned?”
“I always assumed it was just because you’re fucking brilliant,” Miguel admitted.
Chel laughed bitterly. “No, it wasn’t just that. He… he smelled like the drugs. I was able to figure out all the chemicals he used. When my mother kicked me out-”
“Why'd she do that?!” Tulio demanded.
“… Because she found me with him. She thought I stole him from her, and she threw me out.”
“What?!” Private gasped. “That… that’s awful! How could she do that?!”
“That’s my mother for you,” Chel said. And then: “I was seventeen… there weren’t a whole lot of options for me… so I used what I’d been taught. I had to.”
“Oh, Chel…” Miguel said slowly. “That’s… that’s awful. I’m sorry. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like… I’m sorry…”
Tulio said nothing, but rubbed her back gently.
“Your mother’s probably dead,” Skipper said bluntly. Chel looked up for an explanation. “Kan was living with a woman, her sister and her niece. Unfortunately, you can guess where his interests were. Near as we can figure, the girl's mother and his girlfriend caught him in the act… and he's the only one who left the room alive. Not a stretch to think your mother got the same treatment.”
“You say that like I’d care,” she said. “I don’t give a fuck if she’s dead or not. I hate her.”
“Don’t really blame you. Just thought you'd want to know.”
Private glared at the photograph. “Skipper, we have a digital copy of that, right?”
“Good. Can I see that photo for a moment?”
Skipper handed it to him. Private went to the kitchen, got a lighter, and held it to a corner of the photo.
Fire danced up the edge and across the man’s face-
-and just like that Tzekel Kan was gone.
Chapter 30: Vlad about Dimitri and Anya
Vladimir Vasilovich found out because they came into his house at night.
There was a time when he was used to hearing the door open and shut at odd hours… but that was when his nephew had still lived with him, and it was a time long passed.
So naturally, when he heard footsteps on the floor below, he assumed that someone had broken in.
At least until he heard that voice.
The young man in front of him was grown, not the little boy that went missing so long ago. Still… he looked just like Vladimir’s brother. Dimitri’s father.
Vladimir did not know what to say or do for quite some time.
“Hey, not to ruin the moment, but we could use some help.”
It was only now that he noticed the young woman standing at his nephew’s side. Redheaded and with clear green eyes. She was… familiar as well, though he did not know from where.
“Right,” Dimitri spoke up. “We need you to take us to the hospital… also you should probably call the police.”
“We’re sorta, well, in bad shape,” the woman said.
“Bad shape?” Vladamir swallowed. “Bad shape how?”
“Well, we kinda sorta escaped… from a, uh… from a sex warehouse.” Dimitri admitted. “So, yeah, we should probably go to a hospital. To check for diseases… and also a pregnancy test for her?” He looked at the girl questioningly.
“I… doubt it. I’m on my period.”
“Oh. Well, that’s good. We should still check for diseases, though.”
Vladimir gaped at them, frozen in place. “You… you what?! How long were you… what did they… how did you… who-”
“Great,” the woman grumbled. “We broke him.”
“Dimitri… are you… are you alright?”
His nephew shrugged. “Not really.”
“I-I’ll call the police.” Vladimir turned to face the woman. “Who are you? Who do I tell them you are?”
She shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Anya has amnesia. She did even when the ring took her.”
“Amnesia?” Vladimir asked. “Did that… did that occur when you were kidnapped?”
“I don’t know," the woman said with a shrug. "There's this song I know, and I'm… I'm sure it's from before. Other than that, the first thing I can actually remember is arriving at the warehouse."
Vladimir frowned. “I’m so sorry, kiska, I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you,” she told him. “We think that maybe the police will be able to figure out who I am since they have all that DNA and stuff on file - that’s what Dimitri says anyway.”
“How… how long were you there?” he asked.
She shrugged again. “Since I was a kid, I don’t know anything more specific than that.”
“Oh…” He didn’t know what to say.
There wasn’t anything to say.
Chapter 31: Pacha about Kuzco
Pacha Martin found out when he nearly killed a boy.
He slammed on the brakes when he saw the boy jumping and waving his arms in the middle of the road, suddenly grateful he was more alert than he usually was after a long day at work. He got out of the car, realizing three things immediately.
One: this boy was young. Twenty at most.
Two: he was bruised and bloodied all over.
Three: he was completely naked.
It was hard to understand him, his English broken and stilted and sounding pained-
-and then Pacha caught his accent.
“I speak Spanish,” he called out. “I can speak Spanish.” He began to approach, slowly.
The young man perked up. “You speak Spanish? Thank God, I’m pretty sure my English wasn’t making much sense.” He closed the gap between them himself, grabbing onto Pacha’s shirt. “I need a hospital. You understand? I need you to take me to a hospital.”
Pacha looked down at the boy again, at his bloody, battered body. “What happened?!”
A horrible strangled choke of a noise then. “Yzma!” he cried out. “She sold me! They took me… and… and…” He clung to Pacha and began to shudder with great heaving sobs. “You have to help me, you have to!”
“What… what did they do to you? Who were you sold to?”
The boy sniffed. “I-I don’t know… I don’t know who I was sold to. But… but they… they rented me out to other people… shoved me into dirty rooms, and they… the other people… the clients, they just wanted to rape me! They did rape me!” He began to sob again. “I couldn’t stop them! I tried, but I couldn’t!”
Pacha sucked in a breath, then squinted into the distance, looking for any sign of pursuit. He found nothing.
“You have to help me!” the boy cried out again. “Get me out of here!”
“I WANT MY DADDY!” the young man wailed, his skinny legs buckling under him. “I wanna go home! But I have to get out of here first, or they’re gonna do the same thing over and over until I stop making money for them and then… then… Please, you’ve gotta help me! You’re the only one I’ve got!”
Pacha lifted him up into his arms; he wasn’t heavy at all. “Alright. I… I’m taking you to a hospital.”
He was still crying. Not that Pacha could blame him. “T-thank you… thank you…”
Pacha realized something then as he put the boy in the passenger seat. “What’s your name?”
“Kuzco,” he was told. “I’m from Peru. My father’s name is Huascar Capac, he’s a diplomat in Germany! I need him! Do you think you could call him for me?”
“… Maybe the police could do that for you? I wouldn’t know the number for the Peruvian embassy in Germany.”
“… Oh. Yeah. Right.”
Pacha got into his car and looked at the boy as he started it up. “What about your mother? Could we contact her?”
“She died when I was born.”
“Oh… I’m sorry.”
Kuzco wrapped his arms around himself. “It’s fine. I just want my dad… I haven’t seen him in…” He looked up at Pacha in horror. “What… what’s the date? What month is it? What year is it?”
Pacha told him.
“Two years,” Kuzco said slowly. “I haven’t seen my dad in two years…” Another pause. “It was my birthday yesterday. I guess I’m eighteen now. That’s… that’s… weird. That’s really weird…”
Pacha nodded as they started driving off, swallowing thickly. “… Do you want a cupcake or something?”
Kuzco let out a hysterical chuckle that quickly became another bout of sobs. “I just wanna go home.” A sniffle. “I want my dad, and I wanna go home.”
It was all he could say for the rest of the drive.
Chapter 32: Django and Emile about Remy
The Algernons found out when Remy brought home two friends.
“Hey! Nice to meet you. I guess you're friends of Remy’s,” said Django to the two young ladies in his living room. “You work together?”
“Oh, no, we haven’t graduated yet,” said the redheaded one. “We’re at the same school he was, though. We met at a… social group. I’m Anastasia.”
“And I’m Tiana.”
Remy emerged from the kitchen with a tray of drinks. “Dad! How was work?”
“Great!” Django headed for the stairs and yelled up them. “Emile! Come and be sociable!”
Emile waddled downstairs and took a mug of cocoa. Remy and the ladies took herbal tea, while Django drank strong coffee.
“Good to see you’ve got some more friends you can talk to about all this food stuff you do,” Django said. “You kind of shut up about it all after you got dumped by that guy - what was his name?”
There was an awkward silence. Tiana cleared her throat and put down her drink. “That… is related to why we’re here tonight. It’s nice to meet you, but this isn’t exactly a social call.”
Remy was trembling. Anastasia put a hand on his shoulder. “Now, Remy, remember what we said.”
“Y-yeah… Dad, I have, um… something to tell you.”
Django watched as his son bit his lip and played with his hands, a few steps beyond nervous. “What’s going on…?”
“Uh, Dad, that guy? Padraic? He… didn’t exactly dump me. Well, I guess you could kinda say he dumped me at an old store in the middle of nowhere, after he…” Remy trailed off, mumbling, then cleared his throat and said, “After he… raped me.”
The cup slipped from Django’s hand and coffee splashed across the floor, dark and hot and thick. Emile went still, his own hands tight around his mug. It was the latter of them who spoke first.
“W-what?!” Emile breathed, his eyes wide. “He raped you?!”
“Yeah. Well, uh, I mean, it was…” Remy touched his lip. “In my mouth. But that’s still rape. That’s… that’s why I’ve been eating so much recently. I wanted to block out the memory. I can still hear it.”
“Remy…” Django was trying, but he couldn’t quite keep the anger out of his voice. Anger at the man who’d hurt his son. Anger that his son misinterpreted.
“I’m… I’m sorry,” Remy said. “I should have done something… but he’d drugged me and I… he’s bigger than me anyways… there wasn’t anything I could think of. I couldn’t stop him. I know you’re probably disappointed… but I… I just…” He trailed off. “I’m sorry.”
“Disappointed?!” Django’s jaw dropped. “Is that how you think I see you? Remy, my God, I’m not disappointed! I’m angry! At him!”
“See, we told you,” said Tiana. “We said he wasn’t gonna be mad at you.”
Remy’s eyes watered, and so did Emile’s. “Remy, that’s awful, I’m sorry!” Emile twisted his fingers together, not sure what to do. “Would… would it make you feel better or worse if we hugged you?”
Remy said nothing but held out his arms and allowed his brother to pull him into his own embrace. He caught Django’s eyes over Emile’s shoulder. “Promise you’re not mad?” he asked quietly.
Django walked over and took hold of his son’s hand. “Remy, I’m not mad at you, and I swear I am not disappointed in you. I mean, I'm a little upset you didn’t tell me sooner, but I can understand why. It’s a scary thing, and I’m proud that you did tell me.” A thought struck him. “Do you want to go to the cops about this?”
“No!” Remy yelled, and Emile flinched at the noise too close to his ear. “Sorry. But I can’t, at least not yet. He’s a respected criminologist, who’s gonna believe me over him? But…” He looked back at the two girls. “The group we met at? It’s a support group for people in my, uh, situation, and we’re pretty sure the same guy’s sent more than one other person there. We’re kinda building a case right now…”
“How… how many people did he…?”
“We know of a few, but the group thinks there must have been a lot, Dad… Guys like that have usually done it a bunch of times, and I wasn’t… I was one of the first to talk about it but we think a lot happened before me.”
Django’s mind was reeling. Multiple people… his son had been dating a serial rapist…
“I know, I know, it’s dumb, I should have known-”
“Remy, no. If he’s done this a lot, he’s gotta be good at getting away with it, and you wouldn’t have had any reason to be looking for that. Especially if he’s a criminologist! He’d know exactly how to seem normal! I promise you didn’t do anything wrong or stupid.” When Emile released Remy, Django pulled him straight into another hug. “You’ve been dealing with this all alone for how long?”
“Not exactly alone,” said Remy, looking at Anastasia and Tiana. “Not for the past few weeks, anyway. The group’s been really great.”
“Still, you hid it from us, and I know you aren’t the kind of person to want to hide away. That must have been so hard. I… I’m proud that you wanted to be strong, but I’m happier that you’ve told us. It’s okay. We can help you now.”
“Thank you…” Remy murmured.
Django held him a little bit tighter.
Chapter 33: Wheezy about Psycho's other incident
Wheezy found out about the first event from the news.
“-proprietor of child trafficking ring Pleasure Island faces trial today-”
“Oh, hey, that’s the guy!” Psycho pointed to the fat white-haired man on the screen.
Psycho rocked back and forth in his seat, eyes raised to the ceiling in thought. “You ‘member I told you when I first got my razor? Guy was following me and I hid in a pawn shop, and I found ol’ slicey there?” He flicked his razor open and shut, and kissed the handle. “Never steered me wrong since.”
Wheezy gaped. “How old did you say you were when that happened again?”
“Eight!” Psycho said proudly. “I remember ‘cause that was the year Mom moved out of the apartment without telling me. No big loss, she’d been locking me out since I started talking. Didn’t like what I said, I guess.”
“Wait, so that guy tried to snatch you?!”
“Yeah! I stopped him,” Psycho giggled. “It was a real… what’s that word again? Ephinay?”
“Right, it was one of those. Big watershed moment. If the guy weren’t a creep I’d probably thank him.”
“And you’re… not freaked out by this?”
“What? Why would I be?”
“Uh, ‘cause he was gonna put you on Rape Island?”
“But he didn’t!” Psycho looked back at the TV. “Mostly I’m just mad I wasn’t good with the razor yet. Looks like I coulda saved a lotta people a lotta trouble.”
“Did you know what he was gonna do when he went after ya?”
Psycho shook his head. “Didn’t care really. If some fucker goes and puts his hands on you then the specifics don’t matter all that much, do they? All I knew was that I didn’t wanna go with him, so I didn’t.”
Lost for any other words, Wheezy patted his hair and said, “Smart move.”
“Y’know, it’s weird. I broke into that pawn shop and I was looking around for something to hide behind, but I saw this.” Psycho raised the razor and looked at the reflection of his own blue-fire eyes. “It was dark in there but I swear it glittered, just at the right moment. Like just a little bit of lightning struck just then.”
“Yeah… I kinda did wonder if it was one of my ghosts, but I don’t know if they’re really ghosts. Everyone says it’s just the voices again, and it might be, but some of ‘em feel different.”
“A lot of the time they just say things, but sometimes I can feel stuff too. Some of ‘em just seem sad or pissed off… and when I found the razor I got madder than I ever had before, like really mad - it was kinda like someone else was using me to throw a temper tantrum.” He giggled. “It was awesome!”
If he were not used to Psycho, and all of his… peculiarities, Wheezy might have been disturbed. Even so, he couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy when he thought about the man from the TV.
Chapter 34: Ratigan about Cipher
Ratigan found out when Bill stepped on his toes.
They were younger then. Younger and with their mutual sights set on a man with an extra finger on each hand.
Ratigan wanted him for his brilliance. He found out later that Bill wanted him for more.
Enthusiasm could never be allowed to surpass caution; Ratigan would take no steps without planning his route. He knew his first act must be to remove his quarry's inconvenient roommate, another extremely intelligent young man who might see disaster coming. When the professor was prepared to intervene, however, he found he didn’t need to; the roommate had taken a tutoring job. Neither suspicious nor sufficient on its own, but the tutoree was a notorious cocaine user and fond of sharing. The young man also seemed rather more stressed than usual. An ideal combination, perfect beyond coincidence. Ratigan casually asked, and was pointed to Cipher as the source of both the job and a sudden increase in course workload. Strange.
Later, in the dark behind a locked door, something happened. Stanford Pines entered his lecture hall, and Ratigan knew of the event if not the specifics. The young man's eyes were dead, and he trailed the sickly-sweet smell of a cologne he’d never worn before.
It was a few weeks later that he found William Cipher in the hall outside Pines’ dorm room, his forehead slick with sweat and his face flushed red with exertion. Ratigan allowed him to make his excuses, but he knew. He knew both what Bill was, and what he’d done.
And how he’d beaten him.
This could not stand. He had to do something.
He turned his eye back at the McGucket boy. Exhausted, but still mostly resisting the siren call of his tutoree’s merchandise. Good. The fun wasn’t taken entirely out of it, then. Ratigan vowed to get to him before Cipher did. We'll see how Cipher likes it.
Trouble was, Cipher didn’t care.
McGucket folded beneath Ratigan. Folded like a badly dealt hand. He saw him stumbling from the office where he’d pinned him down, watched with a smile as the boy went crawling to Cipher… heard the sobbing as…
… as Cipher proved to be far from picky.
This was the straw that broke him. Ratigan couldn’t restrain himself any longer. He barged right into Cipher’s office, his words delivered coldly through tightly-gritted teeth. “May I speak with you privately, William?”
Cipher was half his size, narrow and sharp where Ratigan was big and bulky; it was like a skewer being confronted by a cleaver. His one eye widened for the briefest of seconds, then he plastered his face with the same pleasant smile Ratigan put on in the mirror every morning. “Yes?”
“I know what you’ve been doing.” There was no pretense in his words. “I know about McGucket. I know about Pines.”
“Funny.” Cipher's grin stretched wider. “I also know abou McGucket… and I know about Baker. How old is he, Padraic? Seventeen? Eighteen? I’ve read those little letters of yours, you know.”
“What kind of person are you?”
“Same kind as you, I think.”
Ratigan tutted. “Well, William, it seems we’re at an impasse. Should one of us turn the other in, that one will respond in kind. I trust you were aware of this?”
“So we can safely assume neither of us will do so. The question remains, what do we do? I have to say I’m not pleased with you stepping in on my business like this. You've ruined the chase.”
“Ah, you’re too picky. But if it’ll make you happy, fine, I can wait till you’re done.” Bill leaned back in his chair and gazed up, a daydreamy look in his eye. “Don’t see why you’d throw them away after the first bite, though. Haven’t you ever wanted to keep going? To truly ruin them on every level? You hurt them, sure, but there’s a risk they’ll walk away.”
Ratigan stepped to the other side of the desk and leaned over him. “Risk is part of the fun, my dear.”
“True, true, but… If you keep them on a leash, you get to go back, again and again, and know they’ll never tell. I guess you’re seeing a little of that with the Baker boy, hm? Reeling him in? But will you just throw him back when you’re done? You’ll get to see pain in his eyes. My way, you’d get to see madness.” Bill breathed the last word close enough for the heat of his words to brush Ratigan’s lips.
“Hmm. Your ideas are certainly intriguing.”
“Oh, I have more ideas you’ll like.” Bill grabbed Ratigan’s collar and harshly whispered, “Like making Pines kiss me with your cum still on my breath.”
Later that night, that was exactly what he did.
Chapter 35: Kowalski about Skipper
Kowalski found out after weeks of not knowing.
When Skipper had offered to go undercover for this mission, they thought he’d be fine. When his calls stopped coming through, they all thought he was dead.
They hadn’t expected this.
“Kowalski!” a voice barked through his earpiece. “We have a situation!”
He blinked. The… building was already in its last stages of being cleared out. Those monsters were well on their way to being locked up. There wasn’t much left to cause a situation.
“We found Snow.”
Except for that.
“Copy that. Can you give me a definitive location?”
“On my way.”
The group that was there when he arrived wasn’t his usual team, though they had worked with them before. He nodded to the four of them, who nodded back, and then backed away so he could see Skipper.
He was a fucking mess.
Bruises, blood, something else, and he was rubbing his wrists, clearly having just been unchained from the wall.
“He’s not talking to us,” Agent North said. “We figured you might have better luck.”
Kowalski nodded, and turned to Skipper. “What happened to you?”
“Don’t tell Percy,” were the first words out of his mouth.
Real names. First names. His brother. This was not going to be good. “What happened?”
“Someone got wise.” He swallowed hard. “Someone… they realized I wasn’t…”
“They found out I was an agent. Maybe a tip-off… maybe I just got sloppy… but they knew. They knew that I…” He went silent. A hand pressed to his face. “They caught me…”
“What did they-”
“Did you know there’s a market for cops in places like this?” he asked. “Cops, detectives, police consultants… FBI agents… there’s a whole lot of people with grudges. Ones that can pay for… for somebody to take their frustrations out on.”
“And… that’s what they did to you…?”
Skipper’s jaw clenched.
“I don’t even know how many of them there were.”
“You can’t tell Percy about this!” Skipper snapped out quite suddenly. “If he knew, it would kill him! I’ll work with everyone else, I’ll even work with that prick North-”
“-but I can’t let him find out.” He looked up. “Please, you have to promise that Percy will never find out about this.”
“… That’s implausible and you know it,” Kowalski said outright. But then he sighed. “But I won’t tell him about this. I promise. Can you stand?”
“Last guy broke my leg…”
“Someone go get a paramedic.”
The small, pale woman was very quick to oblige.
“You’re probably gonna be on medical leave for a while,” Kowalski told him.
“And you’ll probably need to get some therapy.”
Skipper rolled his eyes. “I’ve faced down worse. It’s fine.”
Kowalski really doubted that.
Chapter 36: Doc about Lightning's second time
Nobody told Doc Hudson what happened. They didn’t have to. Not for the second time.
It was nearing the end of his shift when the door flew open and a familiar face turned up at his office, shouting at the top of his lungs.
“Mater…?” His poor ears. “What is it? What’s going-”
“It’s Lightning! He’s hurt real bad! There was blood an’ I picked ‘im up an’ brought ‘im out here, but he won’t come inside! You gotta do somethin’ ‘bout him! M’ scared he’ll-”
“Whoa. Whoa. Slow down.” He held up a hand. “What’s going on? What’s this about Lighting?”
What had the kid gotten himself into now?
“He’s bleeding! He’s bleedin' real bad! You gotta do somethin’, Doc, he’s lookin’ real pale already!”
“Alright. Where is he?”
“Still in the truck. He’s not gettin’ out for some reason. Seems embarrassed ‘bout somethin’.”
“Mater, can you take me out to him? Maybe I can talk some sense into him.”
The other man brightened at that. “Yeah! Yer smart! You can talk to ‘im!”
“Can you show me where he is?”
Mater nodded. “Uh-huh! No problem! He’s right out in my car!”
He continued to chatter as Doc followed him out the door. He hadn’t parked far from the entrance. Doc would be glad of that later.
“Lightning?” Mater knocked on the window and pulled the door wide. “I brought Doc. He says ‘e’s gonna talk some sense inta ya.”
“Come on, Lightning.” Doc himself now. “Look at you. You’re bleeding all over. You have to admit, you need medical attention.”
Still no response.
“Come on, kid, don’t make this any harder than it needs to be.” He reached out.
It was then that Doc saw his blood had been mixed with another, lighter substance. He took a step back. He knew damn well what that meant.
“Doc? Everything alright?”
“… It’s worse than I thought,” Doc said. “Mater, help me drag him inside, will you?”
“Sure! I can do that!”
Lightning flinched again when they reached out. Flinched hard. Doc sighed. “Kid…”
Lightning said something then. Something that might have been a whimper or half a word.
“What’s the matter with 'im?”
It was Doc’s turn not to respond. Not to Mater anyway.
“C’mon,” he said evenly. “You know you need someone to sort this out. You’re hurt. At least let me treat you.”
Silence for what seemed like an eternity.
Then a voice, soft and quiet and not at all like Lightning.
Lightning didn’t fight back as they dragged him out of the car and into the hospital; with the blood trail he was leaving, Doc didn’t think he could have fought anyone.
God have mercy on the one who hurt him, because Doc certainly wouldn’t have any.
Chapter 37: Private about Skipper
Private found out because he saw Kowalski offer himself.
A mission gone south. All four of them were tied up together in some basement or other. None of them were looking well. Least of all Skipper.
There were other men down there as well. Men with guns. A few with knives. Bigg’s men. They wanted something from them.
“If it isn’t Snow and friends,” one man laughed. “Nice of you to drop by.”
“You ever get tired of one-liners?” Skipper spat. “This isn’t the movies, you know.”
“You’ve got a big mouth for someone in your position,” the man scoffed. “Let’s see if we can’t shut you up.”
“What are you-”
A gun was taken out and pointed at his head.
“Now, here’s what's gonna happen. Boss wants to see you. Don’t think he’ll care what we do while you’re waiting for him. Your guys have been causing a lot of trouble for us, these last few months… a lot of trouble.”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to inconvenience the mob.”
“Shut. Up.” The gun again. “Now, as I was saying, I think we’re entitled to a little payback, don’t you?”
“What are you…” Skipper trailed off and his eyes went wide. “… no.”
Another thug laughed. “Any takers?”
Private whispered to Kowalski. “What are they-”
“Me.” Skipper’s voice again. “You can-”
“No!” Kowalski cut him off. “Me. Leave him out of this.”
“Kowalski! What are you doing?!”
“You’ve gone through enough, Skipper. Let me carry the load for once.” He looked up. “I’ll do anything you want, just leave him the fuck alone.”
The men, laughing still. “Alright then, if you’re so eager…”
Kowalski was let out of his bonds; the back of his head had a pistol pointed at it.
“… then why don’t you strip down and show us just how willing you really are?”
Kowalski hesitated and looked back at his team. “In… in front of them?”
“Do it, or we take Snow up on his offer.”
Kowalski’s jaw clenched. “Fine,” he growled.
Even Private could figure out where this was going.
“S-stop! You can’t do this to him!”
“Oh, really? Do we have another volunteer?”
“Private, shut up!” Skipper hissed. “Kowalski! You don’t have to-”
“Yes. I. Do.” He spoke through gritted teeth. “Better me than you.”
“You’ve been through enough. I can… I can do this.”
His jacket hit the floor. He began to work at the waistband of his pants.
“See,” a voice cackled. “He wants to do this.”
“It’s okay, Skipper. I can handle it-”
“No you can’t! Let me! I can come back from this!”
“I won’t let you go through this again!”
Private looked at Skipper. “Again…?”
Skipper said nothing.
And soon enough, none of them could.
Chapter 38: Doc about Lightning's first time
Doc found out about the first time as he was treating injuries for the second.
“Are you sure you don’t want to take this to the police?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Just get this over with, alright?”
“… Who did this to you, Lightning?” Doc asked.
Lightning said nothing. His eyes were blank and dull and lifeless.
“I… I met him online…” He shuddered, the motion smearing blood across the paper-covered table. “He said… he said he could… help me.”
Doc blinked. “Help you? With what?”
Lightning didn’t answer, only sat there blinking and breathing hard.
His resolve finally broke and the younger man began to sob. His shoulders shook and he buried his face in his hands.
“I don’t know who did it!” Lightning cried out. “T-the first time, I… I don’t know! They drugged me! They drugged me and dragged me away and… and the only reason I knew it happened was because I was sore the next day… and… and I… I just… I needed help, I looked online and I found him and he-he… he used me! He took my trust and he used it and the whole time… the whole damn time, He just wanted to rape me! And I-I just… I don’t…” He started sobbing further.
He was going to kill them. Both of them. Slowly. Painfully. He knew how to make it look like an accident.
“So… this has happened before?”
“That’s what I just told you!”
“Okay. Okay. You’re right. You did.” He took a deep breath. “How long ago was the… first time?”
“A-a couple months.”
And he hadn’t noticed?
“Oh… kid, why didn’t you say anything?”
“I didn’t want it to be a big deal!”
Silence. And then: “Did you get yourself tested for… anything?”
A shake of the head.
“I’d gotten away with less from worse.”
“You just said you didn’t know who they were!”
Lightning was silent. He looked as though he might cry again.
Doc sighed. “Alright. Hold out your arm, okay? I’m going to need a blood sample to check for STDs now.” Lightning did. His eyes were dull again. Doc couldn’t say he blamed him. “Hey, kid, listen… I’m really sorry.”
Lightning sniffed and rubbed at his eyes. “It’s not your fault… so don’t be.”
“It’s not your fault either. You know that right?”
“I…” His young friend trailed off. “Hey, Doc? Do you…?”
“Do I what?”
“… do you believe in karma?”
“Why would that matter?”
“I’ve ruined so many lives… maybe this is… retribution… for what I’ve done…”
“Have you ever raped anyone?”
“Um… well, no… but…”
“But what? What could you have possibly done to deserve this?!”
“… Did I ever tell you Basil Baker was one of my roommates in college?”
Lightning nodded. “He has a drug problem, you know. One that I started.”
“Remember who I was when you met me?”
“I was stupid and selfish and I… I did a lot of stuff I’m not proud of. The drunk driving was just one thing… I… they…”
“What does this have to do with Baker?”
“He was fifteen when they stuck me in with him. This child prodigy. I was… an idiot and on like eleven kinds of drugs. He found my stash and…”
“That’s not your fault.”
“Yes it is! He got into it and I found out and I threatened to beat the shit out of him if he touched my things again, but he said he’d report me to the university if I tried… and then he… he asked me if I… if I could get him some more. Said that he could make sure I passed if I did… and I said yes.”
“Well… that was… that was pretty dumb. But it doesn’t mean that you deserved this. Not by a long shot.”
It was probably going to be a long time before Lightning believed that.
Chapter 39: Bitzi about Buster
Bitzi Baxter found out by seeing it first-hand.
She had left the house for only a few minutes. That was all the time it took. And when she returned…
He sounded rather… calm. Rather normal.
And that… that tutor was on top of him.
She yanked Ricky off Buster herself and punched him in the eye. “How long has this been going on?! How long have you been doing this to my son?!”
“I… Ms. Baxter, I-”
Buster looked around. “Mom…? What’s-”
“How long have you been doing this to him?!” She pushed the teenager back, up against the wall. He flinched at the close contact. Good. See how he liked it. She raised a hand to hit him again.
“Mom!” Buster’s voice. Her son…
“Buster…” She looked between him and the monster.
What to do…
What to do…
“Are you okay?”
“Mom? Why are you hurting Ricky?”
That was what he was asking? “Because he hurt you.”
“… Did he really do all that stuff? I thought it was all in my head.”
Her hands tightened around Ricky’s shirt and then released. “Sweetheart…” She pulled her son against her chest, glaring daggers at the young man who had hurt him.
“Shh. Shh. It’s okay…” It wasn’t. She let go. “I’m calling the police.”
It would be. She’d call her ex-husband after that…
Chapter 40: Dillamond about Frost
Isaac Dillamond found out because he recognized the signs.
He’d never been all that keen on Lionel Frost. The younger man was a showman and show-off. Braggy and irresponsible, arrogant and rude.
And, after his sudden disappearance last semester, he was strange.
Isaac had been dreading their encounter all day, but some aid had mixed up their syllabi (how they’d confused Cryptozoology with Jewish History he’d never know) and he couldn’t very well carry on this way. And so he entered the lion’s den. Pushed the door open and wheeled himself inside.
Frost looked up with a start. “Dr. Dillamond?” Was that… relief? “Can I… help you?”
Have you looked at the syllabi Miss Thorston sent you?
Frost looked down. “Good Lord! How on earth did she mix those up?!”
She pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma. I suspect a hazing task.
“Why do they keep hiring new pledges as student aides?”
Work Study can be a bitch. Here’s your syllabus, by the way.
So I couldn’t help but notice you had aliens on the curriculum.
“I believe in aliens.”
I wasn’t criticizing you. I was only making conversation.
He couldn’t blame Frost, he supposed. If it had been another staff member… Well, he did have a bit of a reputation.
“Right.” The younger man nodded. “Thank you for dropping this off.” A shake of the syllabus. “Was there anything else you needed or…?”
I’d like to get a hold of mine if it’s not too much trouble. He gestured to where the packet lay upon the desk.
“Oh! Oh, of course!”
Isaac reached out to take it, only for Frost to grab it up. “Let me help you with that.”
Don’t. He wrestled down his annoyance and forced a smile. I’d rather get it on my own. He glanced down at the chair. A matter of pride, you know.
He hadn’t expected Frost’s breath to hitch or for the professor to fall with a heavy thud, back into his chair.
There was something wrong there, obviously… and something familiar…
Frost? he ventured. Frost?
The man’s mouth opened, but he couldn't speak. Isaac knew that feeling. The visible scar was proof enough of that.
You need to breathe, alright? Steady breathing. In for three, out for five.
Lionel Frost wasn’t able to follow his directions at first, but soon enough, he was breathing steadily again. He looked up at Isaac in gratitude. “T-thank you.”
You’re welcome. A pause. Sorry, I didn’t mean to trigger your PTSD.
That is what that was, right?
Was he in denial?
“I… I’m not sure.” Frost looked away. “I haven’t received a diagnosis. I haven’t been to anyone that could give me one.”
Maybe you should. I’m not sure what your problem is, but that sure looked like a flashback. Or something.
“Given… recent events, it really wouldn’t surprise me.”
You mean your leave of absence?
You were gone for… All of winter break and two weeks before and after that. … a long time. Do you want to talk about it?
Lionel looked at him for a moment. At his scar. “Ordinarily, I might say no… but you might just know what I need to hear.”
The entire faculty knew how Isaac had received that scar. Why he had.
A sigh. “It… I didn’t exactly take my leave of absence voluntarily. You know Professor Dunceby and our… wager?”
I knew of it. The late Piggot had been his brother’s college roommate… and a bit of an asshole, if he allowed himself to think ill of the dead.
“It turns out he wasn’t quite so confident as he let us and our colleagues believe. He… he sent someone after me.” A pause. “A hitman.”
He what? And he’d thought Frost was crazy.
“Yes. A poacher of some kind. Someone else that was interested in my, erm, pursuits. Willard Stenk, though I don’t suppose that’s a name that will ring any bells.”
It did not. Sorry.
“Right. Well, he hired him, as well as a few others, to take care of the problem.”
Well, that more than explained the shift in Frost’s demeanor as of late. Oh. I’m so sorry. That must have been terrible.
“Quite the opposite actually. I don’t think I’ve ever had quite that much fun in my life.”
Maybe both of them were insane. Okay. Then what’s the problem?
“Well, the men never actually came close to killing me. They only ever managed to try. That’s the reason Dunceby decided to drop everything and come after me himself.”
Is that what happened to him?
“I didn’t kill him, if that’s what you’re thinking. He tried to get at me, but we were on a rather high footpath when it happened and he stumbled…”
“I thought his death meant that whole business was over and done with. I thought that, without the money, his thugs would lose interest in me. I was wrong.”
What do you mean? What happened?
“I… I was… they kidnapped me, you see.”
“As good as, anyway. They never actually took me anywhere, but they… they came into my house and tied me up and…” A sigh. “After his death… Fool that I was, I truly thought it was over. They broke in while I was asleep… they were going to kill me. But first, he and his goons… they wanted to humiliate me.”
Humiliate you? Isaac’s hand ghosted over the scar he had borne since his late twenties. Surely you don’t mean…
“… There were four of them. One of me. They could do whatever they wanted.”
Four was few, compared to him. Yet one would have been too many.
I’m so sorry, Lionel. I can’t imagine-
The younger man spoke before he could finish typing his words. “I rather think you can.”
He had a point. I’m still sorry. It must have been awful.
“I don’t disagree.” A mirthless chuckle. “It was… they all… Dunceby had hired them for a reason. They knew what they were doing.”
Isaac really didn’t want to know what Frost meant by that.
What they were doing?
He asked anyhow.
A brief nod. “They made it hurt. I… I didn’t take all that time off because of emotional distress… they went out of their way to…” Frost choked. “I was in the hospital until mid-January.”
The semester had begun on the thirteenth of December, with no sign of Frost on campus. At least a month in the hospital… Yes. They had known what they were doing. That was sure enough.
That sounds awful. Must have done quite the damage.
Lionel said nothing.
“What I’m… about to tell you. I need your word that this will not leave this room. I… I don’t want any of it getting out, but this especially… You understand?”
Of course. I’m not some kind of gossip. I don’t just go around spilling secrets behind other people’s backs.
“I know. I know… I’m just…”
Used to that sort of thing.
“… accustomed to negative attention.”
A shaky inhale. “… Yes, well… they wanted to prove a point. Wanted to degrade me as much as they possibly could and…”
“One of them had a knife. They’d already proven I wasn’t a great man. He wanted to show me that I wasn’t any kind of man at all. At least… that was the phrasing he used… or something along those lines.”
What do you… Oh no. You don’t mean…
A glance at his trousers. They were… uncomfortably flat in a certain area, now that he looked.
“The doctors were unable to… repair the damage. I wasn’t meant to live long after that anyway… if it weren’t for Susan, I might not be here…”
I thought you said your assistant quit on you.
“My last assistant, and… Susan is my friend. It’s a bit of a complicated story.”
“Well, he’s enormous. Some form of gigantism, I think, like that fellow that does the maintenance here. Eight feet easily. And he’s built. He came home to find me and… them and… all five of us ended up in the ICU.”
His male roommate was named Susan?… Odd, but the polite thing to do was not mention it.
I’m really sorry.
“It’s… it is what it is.”
A pause. Then Isaac whipped out a card. Here. I think you could benefit from a place like this.
“Calisota City Sexual Trauma Support Group?”
I attend myself. The woman running it is fantastic. She’s yet to turn down anyone. A pause. And believe me, she has had some very unusual applicants.
“… Thank you.”
It’s no problem, Frost. I’ll be going now.
He wheeled to the door and paused.
You know, if you ever need somewhere to break down in peace, my office is always open to you.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Isaac could only hope he really meant that.
Chapter 41: Pepe about Penelope
Pepe Le Pew found out when the police arrived at his door.
“Madame! To what do I owe ze pleasure of such a-”
“Can it,” snapped the woman at the door, holding out a badge. “Detective Cabrera. Your name’s Joseph Le Pew, also known as Pepe?”
Taken aback, he tugged the front of his dressing gown shut and said, “Yes? Is somezing wrong?”
“You’re under arrest,” she said flatly.
He froze. “For what?!”
“Rape,” Cabrera told him, looking unimpressed. “Someone’s filed a complaint against you.”
“What?! Non! No! Zere… must be some… some mistake! Like wiz zat…” His mind ran in circles. “Zat Bachchan from ze news, ze one zat-”
“Quiet!” The detective pursed her lips as if she was sucking on a lemon. As if he’d traipsed across a nerve. “And no. That’s definitely not what we’re looking at here. Vic mentioned you directly.”
Memories blurred by alcohol… A horrible sinking feeling…
“Was it Penelope Webster?”
Cabrera looked at him oddly when she heard horror in his voice, not anger. “I’m not at liberty to say yet.”
That was almost certainly a yes.
“It was a mistake, I swear,” he babbled, “we ‘ad been drinking, and-”
“Tell it to your lawyer.” She held out the handcuffs. “Maybe it was a mistake, but you still have to come to the station.”
“I… zis ‘as to be some kind of…” Misunderstanding. “I didn’t… I never…”
He held out his hands. He whispered something as they hauled him away. Cabrera didn’t speak French. She would never understand what it was she’d heard him say.
“I’m sorry, Penelope… I’m so sorry…”
Chapter 42: Lin about Mako
Lin Beifong found out because he up and told her.
Though… not in so many words, at first.
It had been a long shift when she found Mako Zhu in her office, looking as tired as she felt. His face was green and brown with half-healed bruising. A visitor’s pass had been clipped to his shirt.
“Zhu? The hell are you doing here?” She’d put him on leave…
“Uh… I have a question…”
“Out with it then. I don’t have all day.”
“It’s about our… insurance policy… and what kind of treatment it’s supposed to cover.”
“Please tell me you’re not asking about Viagra.”
“Hell no. I’m not having any trouble getting it up, thank you.”
“Okay. Then what are you asking about?”
“Um…” Mako kicked at the ground and coughed. “I… don’t suppose it covers… antiretrovirals, would it?”
Lin sat there stunned for a minute. Then, “… What?”
“Yeah. I, uh, just got the test results back. I’m HIV positive, I guess I picked it up while I was… you know. So is it covered or not?”
“You… you’re what?!”
“I have HIV.” He didn’t meet her eyes. “I… I had the blood work done and the doctor said…” He swallowed. “Uh, I just need to know if this is part of the policy. I know it’s not listed, but…”
“Who?!” It was all she could think to say. “Who were you-”
“Not really sure.”
“You don’t know?!”
“There were a lot of… Look, there are a lot of people it could be. Doesn’t really matter now, does it?”
“Like hell it doesn’t! What the fuck were you thinking?!” She’d heard of people getting desperate inside, but really… She’d have thought that Zhu had more sense than that.
He muttered something then.
“Speak up, I can’t hear you.”
“I said I didn’t have much of a choice.”
Quiet, but audible.
“Didn’t have much-” She paled. “You… you don’t mean-”
“Look, I was a cop, okay?! That didn’t exactly make me very popular in the goddamn prison. My first cellmate fucking raped me the moment the guards weren’t looking. Not that they cared when they were.”
“I don’t even remember his name. Knew the guy for like a few hours tops and he just…” A sigh. “Him and half the fucking prison.”
First Korra… now him.
“Does anyone know?” she asked.
He almost laughed at that. “Who would I tell?”
“I… Korra? Asami? Your brother…? Nobody? Really?”
“Nobody yet. I might tell Asami if… well, I don’t want to fucking die from this, do I? But Korra? You expect me to tell her?”
No. Not if she knew Mako. “It’s your decision… I’m afraid the policy doesn’t cover antiretrovirals. I can update it, but that would take a year at least.” Not enough time.
Mako sagged. “… Oh.”
“But,” Lin said, “the policy does cover therapy.” She looked him in the eyes. “It might do you good to look into that.”
She really didn’t think he meant it.
“I think you should,” she said. “There’s no shame in-”
“I never said there was!” Silence, then, “Oh… um… sorry. Didn’t mean to-”
“You’re not. It’s fine. You’ve got a right to be angry, I’d say.”
“Maybe.” He turned to go. “Uh, sorry for bothering you with… all this. Won’t happen again.”
She hoped not.
Chapter 43: Della about the triplets and Panchito
Della Duck found out at the theater.
“Boys, it’s great that you want to show support, but isn’t coming with every week a bit… much?” Della glanced around the room. “I mean, everyone here is nice, but if you don’t need to be here I can’t help but feel it would get depressing fast.”
The sound of mild distress.
“What is it?”
The sound of moderate concern.
“Well… actually,” Huey said quietly, “we were already members… before you showed up.”
The sensation of her heart shattering.
“All… all three of you? My God, what happened?”
“No, no, it’s not as bad as that!” Huey said, voice trembling, waving his hands dismissively. “Mine didn’t even get to meet me, it was an online thing. I’m mostly here to pick up tips on how to not let that happen again.”
“Mine did meet me, but I kicked him in the nuts,” said Louie. “No real danger, he was my age and unfit. I was kinda freaked out, though.”
Dewey was very, very quiet.
“And… and… you?” his mother asked. “Dewey, what happened?”
“I…” Dewey’s face crinkled up as he tried to hold back tears, and when he looked into his mother’s eyes, he gave up and let them flow. “I thought it was okay, Mom, I really did, please don’t be mad at them!”
Huey wrapped his arms around his brother. “You want me to say it?” Dewey nodded, and Huey looked up at Della. “Two older girls got pushy. I mean, they’re only like two years older than us, they’re not teens or anything, and it’s really not their fault ‘cause they had someone mess with them too. They didn’t know they shouldn’t.”
“What?!” Her eyes nearly bugged out. “Dewey! Oh my God! Are you alright?!”
“I’m okay, I guess,” he mumbled, playing with his hands, “but I’m in the group for a reason.” He looked up, teary-eyed. “Everyone always said I didn’t have to do anything like that if I didn’t wanna do it but I liked them and I thought I was weird for not wanting to so I did it anyway. Please don’t be mad at me or think I’m dumb?”
“Of course not! Baby, I’d never think that!” She hugged him tightly, and glanced over his shoulder at Webby. “Um, you too…?”
“Uh.” Webby shuffled her feet. “Nothing happened to me, but… it’s been helpful to be here because I’ve kinda been scared on and off something might, after some… stuff happened to someone else?”
“One of your classmates?” Della asked softly.
The girl shook her head. “Umm… I dunno if I should tell you, not if he didn’t. But I guess, uh…” She took a deep breath and thought. “A… person I know… had something really awful happen to him… because he’s in love with another guy.”
“Oh… oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. That… that’s awful.” A moment of realization. “You said ‘if he didn’t tell me’… is it someone I know?” The awkward silence was all the answer she needed. “Who is it?” she asked.
“I-I dunno if I can tell you,” Webby said again. “Sorry.”
Della caught the way her eyes flickered to the front of the room. Without turning her head, she glanced the same way.
Panchito never had explained exactly what happened to his hand. Perhaps he was also attending for personal reasons, rather than simply being supportive.
“Okay, you don’t have to tell me,” she said. “But it sounds like it really upset you.”
“Um, yeah, ‘cause…” Webby blushed.
“Webby loves Lena, Webby loves Lena!” Dewey giggled.
“Dewey!” Huey scowled.
“Our babysitter,” Louie explained. “It’s okay, Webby, they caught those guys, right?”
“Not all of them,” she said. “They’re still looking for… for eight of them, remember? They never caught those guys.”
Eight still at large and that was a small enough percentage for Huey to say they “caught them”… Della stood up. “Excuse me a minute, there’s someone I have to talk to. No, don’t worry, boys, I’m not going anywhere far! I won’t be long.”
José and Panchito noticed her approach. “Della, bonita! How are you liking the group?”
“It’s great, guys, but can I borrow you for a minute, Panchito?”
He frowned, but obliged. She led him into the hall.
“What is it?” he asked. “Is everything okay?”
“I’m fine,” Della said, toying with her hair. “Are you? The kids said some things which… I don’t want to pry, but there’s a reason you’re here too, right?”
“Oh, um…” His left hand covered his right. “I guess Donald figured you had enough to worry about.”
“So something did happen.”
He sighed. “What did the kids tell you?”
“Webby said she’s worried because there was a homophobically-motivated incident and she’s scared something might happen to her or to - what was her name? - Lena, and she implied there was a large number of people involved.”
Panchito’s eyes flickered around, avoiding her gaze, and he mumbled, “Fifty-three.”
He flashed her a sad almost-smile. “No kidding.”
“Are you… are you okay?”
“I’ve been better, but it isn’t as bad as it was. It happened a few months ago.”
“Are you okay with telling me the details, or would you rather not?”
“It’s okay,” he said. “The others know already, I don’t mind telling you too.”
“The other people we know, or the others in the group?”
“Both.” Panchito took a deep breath. “There was this cult in the news last year - sometimes they still bring up the case, so maybe you’ve heard a little about them. Called themselves ‘God’s Will First’, that name ring any bells?”
“Oh my God, those guys? Yeah, I’ve heard a little… not much, but I think it’s enough. The murder cult?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
She was unsure of what to say for a moment. “What happened?”
“I had a neighbor who was… less than accepting of José and me. He knew a few of the members and, well, one thing led to another and they got a hold of me, and…” He swallowed. “They all… assaulted me, and I think that they would have gone farther, but one of them dropped his phone when they left me alone for a moment. I called your brother and he… handled the rest.”
“Oh my God,” Della murmured. Though it felt callous to consider, she was momentarily grateful she hadn’t yet contacted Selene. “I’m so… Panchito, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s… it’s okay, I’m dealing. I’m just glad most of them can’t hurt anyone else anymore. We and the cops are still working on the rest, though.” He nibbled at his fingernails, and Della noticed they were already bitten to the quick. “I think it was still better than… no, one of the rules here is we don’t say anyone’s experience was worse or better than anyone else’s. If we have to be here, it sucked, and that’s all we need to know.”
Della chuckled. “Remember that Would You Rather game we all played when we drank? Hell of a question that would be - fifty guys in one day or one guy over ten years… You’re right, all options suck.”
He let out a laugh of his own. “That they do.”
But then, they’d come here because there hadn’t been any options at the time. Not for any one of them.
Chapter 44: Daffy about himself
Daffy found out when he heard his parents fighting again.
Fifteen years old, and only remembering about twelve-and-a-half year’s worth of a life. The baby years were missing, but hey, that was normal, right? But then there were the gaps; big chunks of missing moments he sometimes worried at, like the empty spaces left by missing teeth. But each gap was followed up with the memory of gifts and fun, so it couldn’t be anything that important, right?
He had homework, but his mind was racing once more, and there was yelling downstairs again. He groaned, sat on the floor cross-legged, and pressed his forehead into the corner. The pressure helped.
His mother’s voice. Shrieking something about money. Dad’s voice. Something about time. This was hopeless. Focusing was hopeless. But there was no chance in hell he was going downstairs.
“No! I swear all you do is sit around and… spending my hard-earned money!”
“… else am I supposed to do?!” Something. Something. “… never home!”
“… haven’t… years… sex… none… don’t even fuck me…”
“If you’re that desperate, take it to the boy again!”
The noise continued, but Daffy heard none of it. His racing mind screeched to a halt, and he heard only one word.
Again. Again. Again.
Gaps in his memory filled in with fuzzy images.
He locked his bedroom door, and did not come downstairs at dinner time. His father came to ask him why.
“Dafydd?” said the voice behind the door. “Hey, Daff, buddy…?”
“You feeling ok-”
“LEAVE ME ALONE!”
As the footsteps sounded off down the hall, Daffy knew he was the one that needed out. He packed a bag. He waited until his parents went to their room, and the king-size bed where they had slept miles apart for years, and he ran.
Porky Pig hadn’t spoken to Daffy in months, and he was thoroughly surprised when he and his parents answered the midnight knocking on their door to find the dark-haired teen standing there. Daffy was shaking, looking ill, and cried, “Porky, you gotta help me, my parents are insane!”
“Wh-wh-what’s going on? Why?”
“I… I don’t wanna talk about it but I can’t stay there. It’s not safe.”
“Are they fighting again? Worse than before?”
“Something like that.”
“Well…” Porky looked pleadingly at his mom. “If you need to stay here for a while, the couch is free?”
Daffy barged in before the sentence was even complete.
He would remain there for a long, long time. Much longer than it took him to forget all about why he came there at all.
Chapter 45: Dillamond about August and Agatha
Isaac Dillamond realized it because the same thing happened to him.
August had told him - had tried to tell him - once before… but he hadn’t listened. He had been like the rest of the town, and he hadn’t listened. But now he lay in a hospital bed, with a broken back and stitches in his throat and his mind moving a mile a minute.
First to his cousin’s wedding, then to the men in the parking lot, then to the back of their van, then the warehouse, then their “charges”, then the violation of both himself and his brother, then his brother laying dead on the floor, then cursing the cult… and then his thoughts turned to the man who once tried to tell him of an eerily similar experience. To the sweet, if slightly odd, little girl he had not seen since the man had made his claim. The claim that did not seem as outlandish as it once had.
He thought now of August Prenderghast, a man that had been a boy and who had once been his friend. He thought of Agatha Prenderghast, who had kissed Winnifred Portley-Rind and disappeared not a month afterwards.
Number Seven, they had called him. Five others before himself and Abraham, and there was no way Abraham was the first one they killed.
He couldn’t cry now. He had shed all his tears at the warehouse. But he did close his eyes and lean further into his hospital bed.
“Professor Dillamond?” A doctor - a medical one, a Native American man going grey at the temples - walked into the room. “I’m here to give a report about… the extent of your physical damage.”
He could not speak back, but he nodded as if to say “tell me”. Tell me and have it over with already.
“Well, first, there is the matter of your throat. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, whatever caused the damage slid through your larynx, which is where the vocal cords are located. And I’m afraid the damage is… irreparable.”
His eyes burned, but he did not cry. He nodded.
The doctor continued on. “Your spine is also beyond help, I’m afraid.”
Not a tear was shed.
“Which means you’re now, effectively, paralyzed from the waist down. I’m afraid you’ll have to use a wheelchair for the remainder of your life. I’d also recommend you learn sign language.”
“That’s the worst of your injuries,” the doctor said. “The rest should heal, if given the time, and I’m pleased to report that you don’t seem to have caught any diseases from your attackers.”
Little miracles. Be thankful for little miracles… A saying his mother would tell them… Mother. She had to know. He tried motioning for a paper and pen. Something to write with. After all, he couldn’t ask for it now. The doctor handed it over without a word. A request was made, and followed through, and then there came a knock at the hospital room’s door.
For a moment nothing happened, and Isaac worried that whoever was outside might have gone on their way… and then the door creaked open, and a familiar face peeked in.
“Isaac?” a voice called out, softly. “Um… I know I’m not really supposed to be here, but I heard about what happened… Are you alright?”
Isaac didn’t want to ask how he knew. It appeared the grapevine was at it again… how long had he been here?
Wordlessly, his tears finally fell down once more. Soundless sobbing that threatened to tear the doctor’s careful stitches apart. Silently, his childhood friend-
-the one that he ignored-
-came over to his bed, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. As if he understood his pain. Because he did.
“I… I didn’t hear about Abraham… did he…?”
Isaac shook his head, nearly tearing his stitches apart in the process. But it was too much. It was all too much for a lifetime, let alone for one day.
I’m sorry. Out of habit, his mouth formed words that never passed his lips. I’m sorry, August, I’m so, so sorry.
“I don’t…” The man trailed off. “I’m not good at reading lips.” A sigh. “Look… I know you probably don’t want to see me right now - or ever - and I’m not too crazy about you either… but I thought you might need somebody to talk to… or, well…” He shook his head. “I wanted to tell you I’m sorry. I’m really sorry about what happened… and… I’m so sorry about Abraham. I know what it’s like to… lose a sibling.” August sat down carefully on the edge of the mattress.
I’m so sorry.
“Um… I dunno if you still think I’m crazy, so you might not listen to this… but I think you should probably try to forget about what happened… or at least pretend to. The police… they aren’t gonna look for them, and if you fixate on this stuff too much they’ll think you’ve cracked completely, so… you might wanna let things go back to normal… well, as normal as they can get now. Don’t let this destroy your life the way I let it wreck mine, okay?”
Isaac reached for his pencil and paper, needing to write a message before he considered any further course of action. He handed the paper to August.
You’re not crazy. I know that now. The cult that got you and Aggie, they’re the ones that did this to me. To my brother. I’m so, so, so sorry I didn’t believe you sooner. I should have known you wouldn’t have lied about something like that.
August stared at the paper for a moment after he was clearly done reading it. Isaac held his breath. His friend stared back at him with eyes like shattered porcelain.
“I…” He looked down at his feet. Away from Isaac’s eyes. “No one ever came to visit me.” A pause. “I-I’m sorry, but… I think I’d have believed you, if it was the other way around.”
It was, now. Years’ worth of bitterness hit Isaac across the face.
Isaac couldn’t meet his friend’s eyes, but he nodded in understanding. Of course August wasn't going to simply forgive him. How could he, when years ago, he’d brushed him off?
“I… I need to go,” August said, standing up and walking to the door. He paused just before exiting. “I really am sorry about Abraham.”
Apologies were not going to bring him back. They wouldn’t bring her back, either.
August had lived with this truth since he was fourteen, and now, years later, Isaac would have to learn to do the same.
Chapter 46: Mayu about Ratigan's victims
Mayu Sugimori found out the day she first walked into the Palace.
Her brother paused in the doorway, and she ducked under his arm to see what had puzzled him so. Pinned up on one wall was a chart of photographs, surrounded by notebook pages covered in small writing and linked by string; like they’d seen in police procedural shows (the investigation of their mother’s murder hadn’t needed one). A scrawny brown-haired man was examining them, talking to a blonde child and a young man with flour in his hair and a mouthful of chewing gum. In the centre was…
“Isn’t that one of your professors?”
Mew nodded and glided forward, head tilted curiously. She caught a little of the discussion.
“-pregnant, then there’d be more evidence.”
“Please, my dear, don’t wish such a thing on yourself,” said the brown-haired man gently. “We will get him. With enough witnesses and corroborated reports, no one will be able to deny it.”
“O-okay.” The blonde kid shifted in their seat. “Um, is it okay if I ask you not to call me ‘dear’? That feels kinda like a girl thing.”
“Of course. I apologise and I shall endeavour to avoid it in future, my young friend,” said the man pointedly as he resumed scrawling notes. “Do forgive me if I slip up, changing one’s language use is a process.”
The three of them looked up, eyes passing over Mew without much familiarity.
“Uh… hi?” the child said cautiously. “Um, are you new?”
She nodded, but then took a step forward, staring at the picture and all the red twine. “Mew.” She tapped the center, once, twice, and looked at them questioningly - hoping they’d understand.
“Yeah, this probably looks pretty weird,” the man covered in flour started to say, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. He didn’t seem to get that that wasn’t what Mew meant.
The brown-haired man - the Detective, his name badge said - squinted, then raised his eyebrows in recognition. He said nothing, though. Mew vaguely remembered seeing his picture in the news, and briefly waving hello to him when visiting Jenny-okaasan at the station. “Miss… Mew, is it?” he said, checking her own tag. “May I ask if you can sign? Or would you rather I fetch another pen?”
Mew glanced around at the small group, guessed the others couldn’t sign, and mimed writing. The Detective handed her a pen and paper, and she wrote, What’s this about?
“Erm… we’re trying to solve a mutual problem, I guess you could say. I won’t ask why it is that you’re here - none of my business - but is it safe to assume… at least a few things here and there? The common denominator between all of us as it were.”
“The guy who… you know, was the same for all of us,” said the child - the Wix. “But he’s sorta famous and we didn’t go to the police right afterwards so… it’s gonna be a lot harder to prove. That’s what we’re trying to do here. Prove it.”
Mew stared at Ratigan’s photo and she understood; but she desperately wanted to be wrong. That was why she wrote: What does this have to do with him?
“Um…” The Wix bit their lip.
“He’s one of your professors, isn’t he?” the Detective said gently. “I’m sorry to have to break this to you, but… he is the reason all three of us are here, and we have reason to suspect there are others.”
Mew dropped the pen, and picked it back up with shaking hands. “Mewww!”
“I am sorry about this, Miss Mew, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about - you’re not really his usual target-”
Mew began scrawling frantically. My thesis is a study on child development. I brought kids into the psychology building with him!
The Detective’s eyebrows shot so far up that it looked like they’d disappeared completely. The other man - the Painter - swallowed his gum.
“Let’s… let’s not be too hasty. We don’t know yet, if anything unseemly happened. Er, Miss Mew, I don’t suppose-”
I didn’t know! I had him around them. He would go into the room sometimes. I didn’t know!
“I… Oh. That is… an unfortunate development.” Mew had the feeling the Detective didn’t get out much. “Perhaps you ought to consider… cancelling the study until further notice. But then he might get suspicious… Oh, this does complicate things.” He turned away from her and back to his yarn board, digging through his pockets for a jawbreaker that he stuffed into his mouth unceremoniously.
“Cancel that study!” cried the Wix, jumping up and grabbing Mew’s hand. “Please. I mean… even if he hasn’t done anything yet, he might.”
Mew nodded. I can tell my professors it’s for mental health reasons. They know about my history, and I’m pretty much a favorite student. I can get away with postponing it for a while, at least.
The Painter nodded too. “Okay, good. Just… make whatever excuses you can. Hopefully we’ll get him caught before too long and you can resume.”
Why can’t we go to the police now?
“It’s not that easy, I’m afraid,” said the Detective. “He works with them, they know him, and all we have is our word at the moment. We need evidence that can’t be ignored, and even that… He goes in and out of the station all the time, he could get to the evidence and tamper with it. I’m quite sure that’s happened multiple times already, but of course no one leaves evidence on the evidence…”
“It sucks, but… he’s probably a lot smarter than most people are.” The Painter sighed. “If you’ve met him, then you’d know better than anyone.”
What can I do?
“First, cancel the study. Don’t let on that you know what he is. We’ll see what we can do to expedite the process of… well,” he gestured to the board. “Just… allow me to worry about the finer points of that.”
Should I call their parents?
“I wouldn’t, just for the moment. I don’t want to put them or you in further danger by involving them or risking him finding out you know. We suspect he has friends in high places and could… well, he could get away with a lot.”
The Painter put a supportive hand on Mew's shoulder. “Sorry you had to find out like this… Don’t worry. The Detective’s smart. It’ll all be fixed soon.”
Chapter 47: Lori about the cops
Lori Loud started to find out when Officer Ping came for her.
He was nice enough, in questioning and in the car on the way. Even if he believed Lola. Seemed that just about everyone did.
The holding cell was hers alone. Small favors. The only other detainees at the moment were men in the next cell over. A guy that smelled of weed. Another that stank of that and of booze.
This was truly the worst case scenario.
“Hey, kid,” said the stoner in the other cell. He had an accent and a bandana pulling back his hair. “You look pretty young for a felon.”
“I’m not,” she snapped. “This is all…” Huff. “I didn’t… I…”
A murmur from the half-drunken man. “Tha’s wha’ they allllll say…”
“Wait, is that…?” Lori leaned over, trying to peer through the bars. “DJ Ringtail?!”
“Oh, he comes in here all the time,” the bandana guy said. “Never been sober enough to give autographs, though. Pity - he doesn’t remember enough to recognise me, I could make a killing on eBay. If I had anything to write on.” He nudged the drunk. “Yeah, he’s gonna be out till morning.”
“Great.” Lori blew her fringe off her forehead.
“And I’m Jack Sparrow,” the man said, his manner suggesting Lori should have heard of him too. She hadn’t. But now that she had, she’d make sure to remember that name.
“Lori,” she said. “Lori Loud.”
“How old are you?”
“Hm… well, I’ve seen younger.” He heaved a sigh. “Have you been arrested before?”
“Ah.” For some reason he looked… guilty. “Well, then there’s something you should-”
“Yoohoo,” a voice down the corridor. “Blue Eyes…”
“Shit,” the man muttered. “That’s… that must be you, then.”
“What?! What the hell are you-”
“Just hold still,” he said as the footsteps approached them. “If you don’t it’ll be a lot worse.”
“What will?! What are you-”
“There you are…”
A few faces outside the cell. One that Lori recognised.
“Um, hi. Wasn’t it you who found-”
“Your kidnapped sister, yeah,” said the guy with the moustache. He was smiling, but it was the kind of smile which masks anger. “Hasn’t your family been through enough of that?”
“That’s what I said!” Lori protested. “Lola’s a liar!”
Sparrow watched, eyes darting between Lori and the cops like a spectator’s gaze at a tennis match. The big cop with rhino-thick skin jerked a thumb at the other cell. “Any of you wanna keep either of them occupied?”
“Not much point,” said the broken-nosed woman with a shrug. “They’ll be in again next week. Same as with Duckling, remember?”
“That’s what you said about Songbird, and look what happened there.”
Lori drew back as one of the officers reached to unlock the door. “What are you-”
“Givin’ you a taste of your own medicine.”
“I mean it,” the man with the bandana said. “Hold still. They’ll hurt you if you don’t.”
“Don’t worry about that,” the one with the mustache smirked. “This here’s personal. We’ll hurt her anyways.”
“I’ll tell!” Lori was so close to panic now. “My… my parents will-”
“You think they’ll care? After what you did? Really?”
From there, things proceeded as expected, and Sparrow did the most he could for Lori: he looked away.
When they left, she stood up on shaking legs and leaned on the bars, hair hanging in her face.
“Sorry about that,” Sparrow called over.
“Fuck you!” Lori yelled, voice choked up with tears. “Fuck you! Why didn’t you do something?”
Sparrow looked around and pointed to the cell bars. “Like what?”
“Like… I don’t know! You knew it was gonna happen! How come-”
“I tried to warn you…”
"You should've done something sooner! You knew, you-"
"Should've reported it? Should've made a scene?"
“Kid… it’s complicated.”
“Oh, is it now?!”
“What? You can’t really think that no one’s tried by now. They have their ways of getting away with it - like that Grey fellow, he’s the sheriff. What’s my sort meant to do about a man like him?”
“I… I… don’t…” She slid to the floor, face pressing into her knees. She sobbed. “You could have done… I…”
“I am sorry, for all it’s worth to you.”
Sparrow let her cry for a while, then asked, “Who’s Lola?”
Lori clenched her fists and grit her teeth. “My sister. She’s six…”
“What was that he said about a kidnapping? Was that, ah, her?”
“No, that was my other sister, Leni. Couple years back. I know that cop. He was the one who found her! He was nice! He helped her… he met us at the hospital room, he loved all the kids.” She sniffled. “I guess that’s why… you heard what they said, right?”
“I really didn’t do it. Nobody believes me, but… I swear. She… I don’t know where she heard shit like what she said I did, but she told everyone I touched her… and I didn’t. I couldn’t have…” She hugged her knees. “But nobody believes me, not even our parents.”
“You don’t either, do you?”
“Does it matter either way?”
Sparrow lay back down on the bunk. “Sorry, kid.”
Chapter 48: The Darlings about Peter
The Darlings found out because their daughter told them.
“Mother? Father?” Wendy suddenly spoke up, as Mary tucked her into bed. “Can I talk to you about something?”
“Yes, dear?” George stepped into her room from the hallway. “What is it?”
Wendy took in a deep breath. “I had to go to Peter’s house last month to give him his homework - did I tell you? He was sick… Anyway, while I was there… I saw something I think you should know about.”
“Wendy, dear, don’t you think this Peter business has gone on for a little too long?” Mary asked gently.
“You’re an imaginative child, I know, and that’s wonderful! But you’re eleven now. Don’t you think it’s a bit late to still have an imaginary friend?”
“What? No! He’s not imaginary!” Wendy was completely baffled. “Is… is this because I said he could fly, when I was little? Obviously I was making that part up, but I assure you Peter’s a real boy!”
George was surprised. “Really? Well, if that’s the case, why has he never come to the house? We would have welcomed your friends, you know that!”
“Um… that’s the thing, Father,” Wendy said, nibbling her lip. “I think his father wouldn’t let him, because…”
“… because he sells Peter and he didn’t want to lose money. I overheard him saying that when… he…” Wendy bit her lip again, not meeting her parents’ confused eyes.
“When he what?”
“You remember when you said… that no one had the right to touch us without permission?”
“What?!” George’s face went pale.
Mary furrowed her brow in concern. “Wendy, what’s this about?”
“I went over to Peter’s house… and I brought him his school work… and I was going to leave, I was,” Wendy explained, all in a rush. “But then I heard crying, and I went to go and see what it was. His father was in there and he was shouting at him, and I didn’t want him to see me so I hid underneath a bed. I thought I’d see what was wrong after his father finished lecturing… but then he stopped talking and I saw him… I saw him hurt Peter! He… he touched him.”
“And then he… he did… I know you haven’t told me exactly what sex is, but I’m pretty sure he did that! And Peter was crying… screaming… but his father told him to stop and… and then he did.”
“… Dear God…”
George Darling knew she wasn’t making this up, for one reason and one alone. Never in any of her stories did a parent hurt their child.
“Wait… you said this was a month ago? Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” Mary asked.
Wendy sniffled and huddled up to her mother. “Peter said he’d do something worse if anyone else found out.”
“Oh… his father probably told him that, but it was a lie, sweetheart. He lied so he wouldn’t get in trouble.”
Wendy lay limp in Mary’s embrace, exhausted by the relief. “I did think of that, but I wasn’t certain, and Peter seemed very sure he was right. I didn’t want to make things worse.”
“No, no, you haven’t!” Mary assured her.
George paced the room. “I’ll kill that man! Tell me where he lives and I’ll kill him right now!”
“No, George, we have to call the police. Wendy, can you tell us where they live and what Peter and his father look like? We’ll need to give an address and a description.”
“Yes, they live down the street, right across from Mr. Smee. Peter’s my age and a little taller, his hair… it’s either brown or red, it depends on the light, and his eyes are brown. His father has long black hair pulled into a ponytail, and he’s about as tall as Father, but he’s thinner.”
“I’ll go call the police,” Mary said, grabbing her cell phone.
But George recognized the description…
“What’s Peter’s last name?”
“Pan. His last name is Pan, but he said that’s his mother’s name. His parents never got married, and the name on the post box was Hook.”
George had heard that name before.
“I know him…” he said as he realized. “I know him. I… we work together!”
“I know him!” His face was like thunder. “That son of a bitch!”
“What did he tell you about his son?”
“Nothing! I didn’t even know he had a boy! That… that monster!”
“Oh, yes… I’m sorry, Wendy.” George sat down in the bedside chair, intentionally making himself less imposing. Wendy squeezed his hand. Mary went to the window and looked down the street as she dialled.
“911? My name is Mary Darling, I have a case of child abuse to report…”
Later in the night, George stared at the flashing lights, at his coworker, but mostly at the far-too-little boy who had things running down his leg that no child should ever have on their body. Things that no child should have to even see.
“Father?” John and Michael stood at the top of the stairs, rubbing their eyes. “Is everything alright? We heard sirens.”
“Go-” George cut his words off when he realised his tone was angry, cleared his throat, and said more calmly, “Go back to bed. There’s an… an incident down the street. I’ll explain in the morning.”
He did, and at the police station the family finally met Wendy’s dearest friend.
Chapter 49: Naveen about Julien
Naveen found out when Julien called his home.
“Julien! You’re alive! Oh my God, I thought you were gone forever! I saw the news, they said you came back but didn’t give much detail…”
“Yeah, no, they wouldn’t,” Julien said through a voice clogged up with hours of crying. “We made sure of that. I… just wanted to say it’s gonna be a while before I can be going out again. Sorry.”
“No problem at all! Do you want me to call Huan?”
“No, no, I can.” Julien sniffled. “And I’m probably gonna drop out of school. Uncle says he’ll find a tutor. I need to take at least a while out.”
“Not surprising, it sounds like you’ve had a hell of a time.”
“You have no idea…” Julien muttered.
“What the hell happened?” Naveen asked. “Like… are you going to be okay?”
“I don’t know…”
“Don’t… don’t make me say it again.”
“I… is that…” Naveen’s mind was reeling. “You… you’re a girl?!”
“NON!” his friend spit out, too angry (afraid?) to bother with English. “Ne m'appelle pas comme ça! Tu ne m'appelles jamais putain comme ça!”
“Then what? What’s going on?”
“I… I’m not a girl, but I… used to be? I have the parts? I guess? I don’t know how to put it.”
“Wait, like… I know about women who used to be men, that goes the other way too?”
“Yeah. Please don’t tell anyone. The school doesn’t know. I didn’t tell anyone.”
“You didn’t tell them your real name-”
“Julien is my real name, you ass! Just because I chose it doesn’t mean it’s not real!”
“Sorry, sorry, this is kinda new to me.”
“Yeah, okay, I get that. But no, I didn’t tell them my birth name. But someone found it out.” Julien’s breath became unsteady and Naveen could tell he was on the verge of tears.
“So, you… you got kidnapped?”
“Yes!” Now Naveen was listening for it he could tell when Julien’s voice went higher… He put that out of his mind. It didn’t matter. Julien was still Julien and he was in pain.
“They… they… I’m pregnant, what do you think happened?!”
“You… you mean they-”
“They raped me!” his friend cried miserably. “Th-there were thirty-seven of them and they all… they wanted to prove I was a girl… thought a baby would…” A great sniff. “… and then they kept me for three months, just to make sure I’d have to keep it!”
“Oh… oh my God! That’s awful! I’m so sorry!”
“I…” A thick swallow and a heavy breath. “Naveen, I’m worried about you.”
“One of the things they said… they acted like I was on trial, like I’d done something wrong… They told me that… that I had the ‘mark of Cain’ or something…”
“Um, Julien, what are you-”
“It’s because I’m black! It wasn’t just that I was… her, it’s because I’m black also, and they… they might… Please be careful!”
Naveen swallowed hard. “Okay! Okay, I will… How did they get to you?”
“A cab driver. I think he was watching us at the clubs, he said he got me ‘sooner’ than he thought. Don’t go into any cabs alone, okay? I don’t think it’s safe.”
“Okay. I can do that. I guess we’ll all be staying in for a while…” Naveen trailed off, and spoke again. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Stay safe. And please don’t come over. I feel so gross, I don’t want anyone to be seeing me like this.”
Naveen could understand why. “This… this is a lot to take in. I should talk to my parents about this - no, I promise I won’t tell them about, uh, you. But they should know if things are gonna be dangerous. They might move us out of the city, at least for a while.”
“Okay. You can tell them everything except about the being pregnant thing, okay?”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Um… I’m really sorry. If it helps, you don’t have to, like, keep it keep it. I don’t know who you’d have to call but you can have adoptive parents lined up to take it right away.”
“… Yeah. Thanks. That helps.”
“I’m gonna go now - call me, okay? Whenever you’re ready…”
“Okay. Be careful.”
The click of the phone sounded like a scaffold door falling open.
Chapter 50: Drake and Josh about Megan
Drake and Josh found out when Megan stole from their trash.
To be fair, as they’d discussed, it technically wasn’t stealing if they didn’t want it anymore; but still, she shouldn’t have been rummaging through it. Especially not for what she was taking from it: things that plenty of ten-year-old girls didn’t know existed, and certainly shouldn’t have been handling. Besides, what could she possibly want it for?
They followed her, and saw exactly what.
The girl in the woods was someone they didn’t recognize. Not one of her friends (and maybe that was better?); not one of her enemies either, and there were plenty of girls she didn’t like from school. Josh had almost thrown up when he saw her. Drake hadn’t eaten much of anything for days.
She looked up. There was blood on her hands, and she licked it. “Oh,” she said, quite calm. “I thought you were awake.”
“What have… what the… did you do this?” Josh ran over and knelt beside the body. It was obviously too late for any help he could give. “Oh my God, oh my God… have you done this before?”
“Yuh-huh,” said Megan, shrugging.
“What?” Drake stood there dumbfounded. “I… Why?”
“Well, what did you think was happening?” she asked.
“You mean to… to those other kids? The ones that-”
“Yeah,” she said, still completely nonchalant. “I mean, I thought you knew, at least.” She nodded at Josh.
“I… I didn’t want to… I…”
“Megan…” Drake started, cleared his throat, and started again. “Megan, you know we’re gonna have to call the police now, right?”
“No you won’t.”
He already had his phone out, and fumbled to press the 9. “Megan, you can’t stop us, we’re both like twice your size-”
“I’m not gonna stop you,” said Megan. “Not like that.” She held up her hands. Scraps of tissue and dried-up white and red (no longer pearl and ruby, now more like chalk and rust) stuck to her fingers. There were smears around the dead girl’s mouth and legs. “If you call them, I’ll tell them it was you, and what do you suppose’ll happen when they test the body for DNA?”
“I…” Drake started, but Josh put a hand on his step-brother’s arm. “How did you even…?”
“Mom lets me watch TV with her sometimes,” Megan said. “Crime shows. And you guys aren’t really as quiet as you think you are. I can hear you through the wall sometimes,” she grimaced. “It’s actually pretty gross.”
“Y-yeah,” Josh laughed incredulously. “We’re the gross ones.”
Drake stared down at the body. “Who… who was she?”
“Just someone I knew,” Megan said. “Her family moved here from the country.”
“Why did you-”
“Because,” she said. “Just ‘cause.”
“That’s not a real-”
“Isn’t it, though? I wanted to, so I did it, and if you tell anyone I’ll tell them it was you.”
There was nothing they could say to that. The boys looked at each other, and Josh said, “We… we should at least take it- take her back home. Let the parents have something.”
Megan frowned. “Wouldn’t you just be turning yourselves in anyway?”
“We… neither of us have DNA in the cops’ database. They wouldn’t know whose DNA it was. They’d have to ask to test us, and if… if nobody says anything… they’d have no reason to.”
“Oh.” She shrugged, her face smoothing out into a smile. “No problem, then. The fun part’s over.”
The boys shivered.
“Where… Do you know where she lives? We can leave the body and… run, I guess. No one will ever have to know.”
“That’s pretty messed up.”
“Just give us the address, Megan!”
So she did.
Chapter 51: Clyde about Leni
Clyde McBride found out when Lincoln asked a strange question.
“I heard your mom’s pregnant again,” Clyde said, as the two settled down in Lincoln’s tiny bedroom with their latest comics. “Going well? I thought Lisa was gonna be the last one, my dads said your mom told them she couldn’t have any more.”
“Uh, hehe… yeah.” Lincoln scratched his neck. “Say, Clyde… what’s it like being adopted?”
Clyde blinked. “Uh… kinda the same as not being, as far as I know? Why?”
“Just thinking,” Lincoln said uncomfortably. “Do you know why you were adopted? Why your birth mom didn’t keep you?”
“Oh.” Clyde grimaced. “I don’t actually remember anything, I was really little, but… can you keep this quiet? I don’t think I’m supposed to know.”
“One time I heard my dads talking about it. My birth mom apparently… wasn’t… good at it. I don’t know if they know exactly what happened, I don’t think the agency was allowed to tell them, but I had a lotta health problems when they got me ‘cause I hadn’t been fed or changed enough and where I’d been living was dirty. That’s kinda why they’re so clingy. They worry I might still be messed up from that.”
“Aw, geez, Clyde, I’m sorry.”
He shrugged. “No need. Like I said, I don’t remember it.”
“Um, do you know if your birth parents… did anything else bad? Did they say anything about that? To you, or… to each other?”
“No.” Clyde’s brow furrowed. “What’re you gettin’ at, Lincoln?”
“Um…” his friend bit his lip in a grimace. “Uh, you… you know…”
“Are you okay?”
Lincoln looked left and right, then leaned in close. Close enough that they could whisper. “Okay, I’m gonna tell you something you can never tell anyone else, okay?”
“I mean it, Clyde,” he bit out fiercely. “Not a word! Nobody! Got that?”
“Okay! Okay… Are you… is everything-”
“Mom’s not having the baby,” he whispered, eyes glued to the door. “Leni is.”
Clyde froze. “… What?”
“You… you know when Leni went missing, a couple months ago? Um, I know you know about stranger danger but did your dads ever properly explain what bad strangers would do?”
“Well… Leni’s got her pregnant. Like, she didn’t want to, he hurt her, and now… Mom and Dad want us to tell people the baby’s theirs, so no one picks on her or anything.”
“Why would they pick on her?”
“I don’t know!” Lincoln said like he’d been wanting to for a while. “Mom says people get weird about it when a girl gets pregnant and I asked if they were weird about her since, you know, she had ten of us… but she says that’s different.”
He shook his head. “Something about her not really being young enough to be a girl and how she and Dad were married before Lori came along. Something like that. I dunno, I think it’s one of those funny grownup things… it’s weird.”
“Oh. U-um, is Leni… okay?” Clyde asked. “I mean, you said… you said it hurt…”
“She… seems fine. It’s hard to tell if she even remembers, you know what she’s like.”
The way Lincoln said it made Clyde follow up with, “Are you okay?”
“Well, yeah, nothing happened to me.”
“That’s not really what I meant.”
“Oh, um…” He chewed his lip. “I don’t know…? I mean, I’m fine, but…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Eh, I thought having kids was supposed to be a good thing. That’s what our parents always said, but I… It’s scary,” he decided. “I don’t know what to do about it.”
Clyde didn’t either, so he just shrugged and patted Lincoln’s arm.
Chapter 52: Kasher about Bex
Kasher Kettle found out while they were cleaning up the restaurant.
Of course, he’d noticed something was wrong before then. Bex had been acting strange as anything, ever since he’d picked them up from the bus station between the nothing towns of Dirt and Nowhere. Jumpy as they loaded their bags into his truck. Evasive on the nearly two-hour drive back to Kasher’s place. He hadn’t worried much at first. Bex was hiding something, but they were always hiding something. Besides, the kid was just fourteen and Kasher knew, sure as he knew anything, that teenagers were all a bunch of sick, fucked-up little weirdos.
That was weeks ago. And he was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
So it wasn’t really a surprise when he reached for his kid’s shoulder and Bex took a swing at him. Unexpected then and there, but not shocking.
“Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!” they snapped. “Get away!”
“Whoa! Don’t go biting my head off!” Kasher took a step back, wincing. “What the hell?”
“Don’t fucking touch me!”
“I’m not! I’m not,” he said, backing away. “Shit, are you okay? You’ve been acting weird since you got here, kiddo.”
“Yeah, well…” Bex scowled, crossing their arms over their chest. “Blame puberty.”
“Mind telling me what’s wrong?”
“You’d never believe it. Mom didn’t.”
Kasher’s lips quirked up, half-amused. “Try me.”
“I already said you won’t…” They let out a long, irritated sigh, eyes rolling. “Okay, fine, but you’re not going to… You ever met ‘the new guy’?”
“Your mom’s new guy?”
Bex shrugged again, long hair ruffling as they did.
“What about him?”
“Hey, if I told you a lie would you believe me?” They bit the inside of their lip. “Or… what about something that sounds like a lie?”
“Bud,” Kasher sighed. “You’re doin’ that thing where you talk in circles.”
“Right. Right, sorry. Force of habit. Um… you know how adults tell kids that if someone… does something bad… they should tell an adult?”
Horrible suspicion arose. “What do you…?” He knew. “Do you mean he hurt you?”
Bex blinked back tears, and nodded.
“In what way?”
“The, um… the way that isn’t hitting.”
“I…” His hand came down on the kid’s shoulder faster than it took for the words to sink in. “What’re-”
“I mean…” They dipped their head and huffed a little, rustling hair again. “So, obviously… um, that pink menace-” Abby. “-isn’t mine… but if I had… chick-bits, well… I guess she could be?” They shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. “Well, probably not - I mean nobody gets pregnant at nine, do they? Even I couldn’t make people believe in something like that.” Their brow wrinkled, eyes squinting. “Then again, I guess they’d have to believe it if it was true.”
“What?” He couldn’t think of anything else to say. Just, “What?!”
Bex flinched. “Um… I… He screwed me.” It came out strangled. “It’s not a lie. I promise that’s not a lie!”
“I believe you! I believe you!” He sank back and into one of the worked-over chairs. “Is that… is that why you asked to come crash with me?”
“Will you get pissed if I say ‘yes’?”
“Not at you.”
Bex usually looked unflappable. It'd been something Kasher had always found so… well, Bex-like about them, like his kid was oblivious to the tribulations of adolescence and all the insecurities. Now, though, they looked unsure. “You promise?”
“I… I promise. Shit. Kid, do you want me to call the cops?”
“Don’t they hate you?”
“They’d hate this guy more.”
“I dunno,” they scowled, folding their arms, “Mom doesn’t even believe me. Why would the police listen to us? She’ll just tell them that I’m lying and then they’ll say you’re lying and… Shit, what if she thinks that you put me up to this?”
“What if she says you did or… or… They could make me move back in and then…” Bex shook their head. “Can’t I just stay here? He’s not gonna drive six hours out of the way just to fuck me.”
“That’s true, but…” Kasher grimaced. “… you’re not the only kid he has access to, right? Guys like that, it’s never just one kid.”
Bex scoffed. “I doubt he’d do anything to precious princess Abby-”
“Maybe not, but she’s got friends, right? Do they come to the house? Do the neighbours have kids?”
“… That’s a point.” Bex tapped their lip.
“Okay, how about I talk to your mom? I’m sure I can get her to see reason.” Kasher put up his hand when Bex laughed. “Well, I can try. I mean, you got her to understand the gender thing, right? I’m sure she must know you had reasons for running off. I don’t think she really believes you love it out here.”
Bex grinned awkwardly. “You know?”
“I suspected you weren’t keen. Not a lotta teens would be.” Kasher clapped his offspring on the back. “I hoped I could make it worth it.”
“Hey, I’ll take it,” Bex said, setting down their rag. “Gotta be better than, um… Whatever. Thanks.”
“Any time, any time. And listen… if this guy ever does come by here-” Bex flinched as he continued. “-you point him out to me. I don’t mind going back to prison.”
And that’s the truth.
Chapter 53: Lin about Huan
Lin Beifong found out from a woman she hadn’t spoken to in ten years.
She was at the station when the call came in and her phone buzzed to life in her pocket. On the screen was a contact she had not dialled in a very long time, and one that had not reached out to her in so much longer. She ignored it-
-but then the call came again… and again… and again.
Finally she had to answer. “Mom? You never call me. What’s this about?”
“Lin?” spoke the voice on the other end of the phone. “We need to talk.”
“Well, can it wait? I’m really-”
“No. No it can’t.”
An exhausted sigh. “Fine. What do you want, Mom?”
“I… I have some extremely bad news about Huan.”
Huan… Su’s son… nephew number two… the artist… “What about Huan?”
“It seems there was an incident at a protest he was involved in. Things went badly and he was arrested…”
Lin wasn’t stupid, nor was she blindly devoted to the law. She knew what her mother’s words meant. At least she thought she did…
“How badly did they hurt him?” she asked. “Do you know which officers it was? I can have them invest-”
“This is worse than a few broken bones, Lin!”
Toph Beifong sounded angrier than her daughter had heard since an incident in her youth, the time when her sister had been arrested for gang activity. Her mother was often irritable, but this was not a voice she was used to hearing.
“Is… is he dead?!”
“No, and he’s conscious, but…”
Conscious… she could work with that.
“What happened then? A concussion? Did they damage his spine?”
“No, he’s… physically more or less okay. But he says they decided to ‘really teach him a lesson’, and they-” She swallowed, and rephrased in a more detached manner. “Sexual assault took place.”
“Tenzin? What are you doing here?”
“Lin! I need your help!”
“You’re telling me that my officers raped him?”
A sigh. “Yes. Several were involved, and we’re pretty sure the rest of the station knew they were doing something to him, if not the specifics.”
“… Oh.” Lin’s hands curled up into fists. “Did anyone tell Su?”
“I… explained things.”
“How’d she take it?”
“How do you think?”
Lin glared down at her desk, her hands tight around her phone. “Does she know you called me?”
“I thought that you should know.”
“Because someone has to control those rabid dogs that you call police officers!” There was ice in her mother’s voice. “I know that you and I have had our differences, and I know you and Su aren’t exactly on good terms, but-”
“I’ll see what I can do,” she said. “I won’t let them get away with this.”
“See that you don’t.”
Click. The call ended without a goodbye.
Chapter 54: Geppetto about Pinocchio
Geppetto found out from the kidnapper’s statement.
“Yes, that’s him, that’s Foulfellow,” he confirmed to Sergeant Calhoun, pointing through the one-way glass at the scraggly man in the interrogation room. “He kidnapped my boy?” He clutched Pinocchio’s hand tighter.
“Papa, you’re hurting my hand!”
“Sorry, tesoro, I’m sorry. I’m just scared you’ll go away again!” Geppetto scooped him up in a hug. “Are you sure you weren’t hurt?”
“Yes, Papa, I’m sure!”
“Your son’s been extraordinarily lucky,” said Calhoun. “We’ve found no evidence he’s been harmed in any physical way.”
The way she said “physical” made Geppetto pause. “But otherwise…?”
“I hate to separate you again so soon, but would you mind letting him stay in the children’s waiting room and coming with me? What I have to say is, ah, not for little ears.”
“I…” He looked down at his son. “I… um…”
“I’ll be fine, Papa.” Pinochio tried for a smile.
“He won’t be alone, will he? He won’t be alone?”
The officer shook her head. “There are a few other children inside with their parents, and some officers as well, I believe. He’ll be perfectly safe.”
“I-I’ll be right back, okay?” He squeezed his son’s hand. “Right back.”
Calhoun was right, there were plenty of adults and other kids around, but Geppetto kept his eyes on Pinocchio until the door was completely set shut in its frame, and then reluctantly followed the officer. She shook her head and tutted. “Poor kids. I don’t think Pinocchio really grasps the seriousness of the situation. That’s probably for the best at the moment…”
They sat in an interview room, and Geppetto got right to the point. “What exactly happened? Tell me the worst.”
“Well.” Calhoun rested her hands on the table. “I want to stress that your son has apparently not been physically touched or harmed. We’re not positive about why, though we have a theory. But the other kids weren’t so lucky, and there are additional problems. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but we retrieved him from a child pornography ring.”
“You… you what?” His voice was as small as he felt. “He was where?”
“They manufactured films,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
“And they… But they didn’t touch him, right? You said that he wasn’t…?”
“It appears they were… put off by his health condition,” she explained. “Thankfully. But the bad news is, they did have film of him.”
“Everyday things, really. They didn’t make him do anything overtly sexual, but… there were cameras in the bedrooms, bathrooms, you name it, so there are nude pictures of him out there. We’re taking down their site, but the dark web works just like the regular internet in that sense. Once a picture’s out there it’ll be circulating forever. On the plus side, his name and face won’t appear in the news since he’s a minor. No one will have to know unless you tell them.”
That was little consolation, but it was something at least. “Is that all you have to tell me?” he asked quietly. “Can I go back to him now? Is that all?”
“What do you mean?”
“Has your son said anything to you about… his friend?”
“An older boy on the island by the name of Romeo - went by Lampwick, according to the files. One of the long-term residents. I think he’d just turned thirteen.”
“Did he do something to-”
“No! No, the other boys say he was a very good friend to Pinocchio. But…” Calhoun sighed. “He got too old and jaded for the owner’s purposes. According to Pinocchio, he disappeared shortly before the rescue. And…”
“We haven’t been able to find him yet,” she said. “But, according to what we have found, and given Mr. Foulfellow’s statement, we have reason to believe that he’s been killed. They made a lot of videos, and some of them…” She sighed. “We’re still combing the bay for others… like him.”
Geppetto’s stomach dropped even further than it already had. “You say they did this to the boys who got too old? Would they have done it to Pinocchio if no one wanted him either? My God…”
“Let’s not speculate on that. Your son’s alive, and he needs you right now.”
“How much does he know? Does he know how much danger he was in?!”
“I’m not sure, to be honest. I think he knows his friend is probably dead, and he knows the others were being hurt and that the pictures taken of him were a very bad thing. I don’t know how much he grasps beyond that. I can arrange a meeting with a psychologist to see how he’s coping.”
“That… that might be useful,” Geppetto said, nodding. “Foulfellow did this? We trusted him and he… Did he hurt my boy?”
Calhoun shook her head. “He isn’t a pedophile. In fact, he turned himself in. It seems he and a close friend of his had ended up in a lot of debt to some shady characters, including the mastermind behind the ring. He panicked and brought in Pinocchio to cover his debts, then changed his mind and rescued him.”
Geppetto’s fists tightened. “Forgive me if I’m less than understanding.”
“I can’t say I blame you…”
“How could this happen? How could I let this happen…?”
“It isn’t your fault.”
“I’m his father! I should have protected him… kept him safe.” A long sigh. “I should have done something… but this happened.”
And he could never take it back.
Chapter 55: Vela about Rango
Abel Rango found out about her because she found out about him first.
“I’ll do anything,” he told her, the moment as close a thing to a cliché as the real world ever got. “Anything! Just don’t… don’t tell anyone about this. Please!”
He would find out, years later, that he didn’t mean that so much as he thought.
What else could he have done at the time? When a rookie officer is found removing files from storage, questions generally come up. Vela had been smarter than that, though. She’d followed him, kept watching. Collected evidence. Taken photos of him. Bided her time… Until the day she caught him shredding them in secret, and burst in on him with a snarl of, “What the HELL do you think you’re doing?”
He’d frozen up then. Frozen like Beans did. And Vela had kept on yelling.
“Rango, what the fuck?!”
And, well… he had to say something.
“I’ll have your badge for this!”
“Wait! I… please don’t tell anyone!”
She scowled. “And why the hell shouldn’t I?”
Right. They weren’t even friends.
“Because… because… if you do… then a lot of good people are gonna get hurt…”
“Is that a threat?”
“No! I… there’s a guy… in Dirt… that cult!”
She paused. “Okay. Start from the beginning.”
Rango swallowed several times and breathed in. “Okay, uh, those weird cases… Pamuy. Remember her? Or Andriana? They said that weird cult got ‘em? Well, there’s a guy who says he’s with it, and he’s… stalking… me.”
“And you didn’t think to, I don’t know, report this?!”
“He’s got friends in high places! Higher than either of us, and even if the case did go anywhere - and it wouldn’t - he’d have the time to hurt all of them. And… I can’t…” He grasped her shoulders. “Please! You can’t tell anyone or he’ll… he’ll… please!”
She pushed him away, remarkably calm. “Sounds like you’re in a lot of trouble, Rango…”
“A lot of trouble.” She studied her nails. “Before… you said you’d do anything?”
“Yes! I will! Anything…”
Heavy silence as the weight of that fell over him.
“… What do you want?”
“You’re good at tampering with records, right? Well, I need you to make some, let’s say, creative edits to one. An inmate. Tai Lung Liu.”
“Okaaay… what do you need me to change?”
“See if he’s had a forensic kit done at any point, and if he has, destroy it. Remove any evidence of him suffering any suspicious injuries.”
“Wait, what are you…?”
She grinned, exposing those teeth. “Call it a favour to a friend on my behalf.”
A smirk. “I didn’t.”
She patted his shoulder, smile still in place. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll find out soon enough. Now hop to it. I’ll call you when you’re… needed again.”
He should’ve asked something else. Should’ve said something. But…
“And if I do this for you… you won’t tell?”
“Not a soul.”
And for that, he’d pay with his.
Chapter 56: Bugs about Daffy
Bugs found out about one when he asked about another.
“Daff, why are you hiding in your room?”
“Lola’s parked outside again!” Daffy said from under the blanket.
“You’re hiding from Lola?”
“Why? She isn’t even following you around any more.”
“I don’t wanna see her!”
“What is with you?” Bugs leaned on the doorframe and shook his head. “Most people would be mad that a hot girl moved on to their roommate! Damn, you must really like Tina.”
“You can have Lola. Just keep her away from me, she creeps me out.”
“Um… why?” Bugs blinked. “Lola’s a whole lot of things, but I wouldn’t call creepy one of ‘em.”
“Yeah, well…” Something mumbled.
“What was that?”
“She’s just creepy, okay?! She’s all up in our business all the time and… she’s too nice… it’s freaking me out.”
“Too nice? Okay, I can get the space invasion part, but ain’t you normally all over nice? ‘S why you go to Porky when I say no to something.”
“Not that kind of nice.” Daffy peered out from under the blanket. “She reminds me of someone.”
“Been watchin’ horror movies again?”
“No, someone real!”
“Who then?” Bugs raised an eyebrow. “Someone I’d know?”
“Well… then who?”
“My… um, do you…?”
“Do I what?”
“Did Porky ever tell you about… why I was staying with him?”
“Said something about your… parents… Daffy, what’s goin’ on?”
Daffy’s eyes started to water. “She reminds me of my dad.”
Bugs sat down on the bed next to him and put a hand on the lump that was his shoulder under the blanket. “I take it that’s not a good thing? Jeez, I’m sorry… But what d’ya mean? You said she’s too nice. D’you mean he’d be nice and then do somethin’ bad?”
“He was nice after he did something. I think he wanted to… to shut me up.”
“Shut you up about what? Daffy, what’d he do?”
His roommate answered him with another question. “Remember how… Remember what they said in the news about the Candy kids? How that guy kept them quiet… and why…?”
“What?! Oh my God, Daff…” Bugs was glad he was already sitting down. “What about your mom? Didn’t she try to stop him?”
Daffy started sobbing in earnest. “She told him to do it! That’s why I left.”
“I-I heard her… and him, they were fighting… they were always fighting… he said something about how she never had sex with him anymore and she… she told him that if… if he was so desperate he should just go and…” Daffy swallowed. “She said he should go to me instead! She knew about everything he was doing to me! She knew the entire goddamn time!”
“Holy shit! Porky said you told him your parents were insane, not evil!” Bugs paused. “When did this start? You moved in with Porky when you were what, fifteen?”
“I don’t remember! My life was so screwed up I blocked it out for years! I think I was ten…?”
Bugs’ phone beeped, and he checked it. A text from Lola: where are you? He quickly typed back ill be there in a few, emergency.
“Daffy, if you didn’t remember,” he swallowed, “what brought it back?”
“She did! She’s so much… she’s just like him, Bugs! She makes me remember!”
“Okay, I guess it’s not because she looks like him, so is it something she does? Or did?”
“She… she sent me a bunch of presents while she was still following me. Like he used to. And she smiles all the time even when I’m freaking out!”
“Oh… oh, Daffy I…”
“Don’t let her near me!”
“I won’t! I promise, I’ll talk to her and make sure she doesn’t come ‘round here. We can meet up in other places… Are you worried about me dating her at all?”
Daffy thought. “Not… really? As long as she keeps some distance from me, I guess it’s okay. You can handle yourself and she’s not trying to be creepy. I don’t think she’s gonna, like, do anything. Just… Can you meet up at her place, at least till I’m sure she’s not interested in me anymore?”
“… Thanks for believing me. I mean, I’ve come out with some whoppers before, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t.” Daffy’s voice was croaky with tears.
“Yeah, but you’ve never been this upset while telling them. I can tell when you’re faking crying, and you’re not now, and I can’t see anything you’d get out of by lying about this.” Bugs thought for a moment. “Do you need a hug, or would that make it worse?”
Daffy wriggled out from under the blanket and let Bugs hug him. “D’you think I should go to the cops?”
“I would if it was me, but… well, I’m kinda surprised you haven’t already, and I guess there’s a reason for that.”
Somewhat back to his normal self, Daffy waved a hand and scoffed. “Oh, you know I don’t like to make a scene.”
“Yes you do.”
“Okay, yes, I do. But about things that’ll make me look cooler, or things I could get some compensation for. This is… different.” He looked away and shrugged. “Besides, I don’t think he’s done it to anyone else, and what’d locking them away do? They’re making each other miserable enough.”
Chapter 57: Jenny about the cops
Jenny Seto had known something was up for a long time, but found out the truth from the Chief.
To be fair, everyone did.
It started with the slamming open of her office door.
“What the hell,” she hissed, and for the first time Seto understood what the others meant when they warned her about Beifong’s awful temper. “What the hell has been going on here?!”
“Chief…?” Hopps called out, cautiously approaching. “Is something… wrong?”
“How many of you knew?!” Beifong’s yell echoed across the station. Dead silence. “Answer me!”
“Uh… knew what?” Hopps again.
“That was my mother on the phone!” She gestured wildly, and Jenny half expected lighting to shoot from that pale green gaze. “What the fuck happened to my sister’s son?”
“Chief, I don’t-”
“He’s saying some of my officers raped him! And for some reason my family think the rest of you knew!”
“About… your neph-”
“That something was going on!”
“Wait…” Someone (was that her voice?) began to say. “They… they… what?”
None of this made sense. None of it.
Beifong’s rage cooled to a simmer long enough for her to think. “That’s unconfirmed. But this kind of thing doesn’t happen out of nowhere. I’m certain this has been going on for a long time, and some of you are not telling me what you know. There’s no way it could have stayed completely hidden, and I am going to dig out every detail if it kills me.”
“But…” Jenny’s voice sounded very far away. “But… but… rape…? Are y-”
“Am. I. What.”
“How can you be sure? How…” She looked around and saw… guilt?… written across familiar faces. “No… no… there has to be some kind of…”
He would have.
He was with the suspect yesterday.
He wasn’t here.
She knew he’d been doing something to certain suspects. She just hadn’t known what. She’d tried to confront him after yet another teenager left with a bloody nose. He’d laughed.
“You think the chief’s gonna listen to you, riben?”
“What did you just call me?!”
“Her mother’s from Guilin, you know. Lived through the war… Makes you wonder why she hired you at all.”
“I’m not the only-”
“Xiao Long ain’t Japanese if I’ve ever seen him… and what? Zhu? He’s half and half. Dushe? Ping? Biao? Tanglang? Hou? Face it, it’s just you. Now why do you suppose that is?”
“W-what about Abe?”
“What, the retard? She doesn’t even do field work. Everyone knows the chief just keeps you two around for show. The token set.”
“That’s not true…”
“Well, you can test that if you like… Wouldn’t risk it, though. Beifong’s got influence further’n Calisota county. You know a black mark on your record could keep you out of law enforcement?”
“How’re the new foster kids, by the way? Would be a shame if the family life changed so suddenly…”
“You think she’ll take your side?!”
“Why wouldn’t she? I’m not a-” And he had said something then with air quotes and expletives that Jenny Seto was never going to repeat.
“The chief doesn’t really think that…”
But even if she did…
Jenny’s job suddenly didn’t feel so important anymore.
Chapter 58: Bugs about Billy
Bugs found out, but didn’t believe it.
“Hey, Bugs, it’s Daffy. I’m at the police station again and I need a ride home.”
“What did you do this time?”
“Found Billy Joe Cobra in a basement and they don’t believe me.”
“Okay, I’ll be ‘round in half an hour.”
The drive to the police station was sort of a long one, but it was also one Bugs had driven enough times that he barely paid attention to the way. Maybe he could have driven it blindfolded… if he was crazy. Actually, that sounded like something Daffy might try.
“Okay,” he said later, when they were both back inside the midlife crisis on wheels. “What happened this time?”
“Uh, I told you, didn’t I?” Daffy spoke slowly, like one would to a very young child. “I found-”
“Daffy, Billy Joe Cobra’s been dead for the last… I don’t know how many years. Six? Seven?” Something like that, maybe a little more.
“I don’t think he has. They never found the body, right? I think someone pulled a Misery on him, you know?” Daffy shuddered. “His legs were messed up, like in that part with the hammer. I’d’ve brought him out but he couldn’t walk, so I called for help, and now Sergeant Calhoun thinks I’m on crack.” He pouted.
Bugs reflected on the fact that Daffy had memorised several of the officers’ names by now. Not the ones who… but he seemed fine today. Small mercies.
“Daffy,” he said slowly, “you’re seeing dead-”
“He’s not dead! Dead guys don’t-”
“I’m aware. But-”
“Okay, what kind of drugs are there that make you talk to dead people? S’ that even a thing?”
“Yes,” Bugs told him, bluntly. “It is. And LSD, possibly mescaline, mushrooms-”
“Okay, whoa. Whoa. Are we sure you’re not the one with a crippling addiction to psychedelics?”
“No, really! It’s very suspicious.”
Bugs debated the merits of having him drug tested.
Bugs really found out a few days after picking up Daffy from the police station…
… when Daffy was giggling like a little kid on Christmas outside his bedroom door.
“Bugs! Bugsy! Wake up!”
“I told you I wasn’t crazy!”
“You say a lot of things…” He turned over again and pulled the pillow over his face.
“I’m being serious!”
“So am I.”
“Look, just pull it up on your phone or something… wait, I have your phone, um… C’moooon,” he whined. “I was right this time, come grovel before me.”
“Right about what?”
Daffy darted off to his own room and came back with Bugs’ phone. He fumbled at the buttons until Bugs took it off him and opened up the news page on his own.
BILLY JOE COBRA FOUND ALIVE.
“What the absolute fuck?!”
“I told you,” Daffy crowed.
“Says here that they went to check out the place I ‘bought the drugs from’. Now I guess I’m in the clear.”
Bugs kept reading. “Do you know what happened? Seven years is a long t-”
“What do you think?” Now Daffy looked uncomfortable. “I mean, it seems… it does seem pretty obvious.”
“What do people usually get chained up in the basement for?”
“Daffy, nobody usually gets chained up in-” He stopped, eyes trailing down the news article. “Oh… Oh my God…”
“I told you-”
“This is serious. Jeez…”
Daffy must have noticed how shaken Bugs looked and put two and two together. “You knew him personally, right?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I did. I do? This is so weird.”
“Like did you know him or know him or-”
“Daffy!” Bugs took a deep breath and let it go. “I… we weren’t close, but I knew him. We were both kids at the…” He looked back over the now-dark phone screen. “He’s dead.”
“Looks really good for a zombie then - well, maybe not…” Daffy grimaced.
“You said you saw him, right?” And he had to believe him, now that pigs were flying everywhere. “How did he…? How bad was it?”
“I didn’t see a lot, but… I’m pretty sure she broke his legs. I guess so she wouldn’t have to literally chain him up.”
“Makes sense.” Bugs shuddered. “I know he got really into drugs. I don’t think painkillers work too well for him. Eurgh.”
“Um… yeah.” Daffy looked almost guilty while he shifted his feet. “And obviously he didn’t seem too happy about it. But, uh…”
“That was a couple months ago. I’m not sure how much has changed since then. Probably not too much if the reporters are being straight here, I guess Wannabe Wilkes was trying to keep him in mint condition…-ish.”
“Do you hafta phrase it like that?”
“Some things you kinda gotta laugh at, or you scream.”
Bugs saw his point.
Chapter 59: Basil Senior about Basil Junior - the second time
Basil Senior found out because of a phone call.
Landline, of course. He might have ignored the call if it came from his cellphone, but seeing as he did not see caller ID, he foolishly picked it up. “Baker residence, Basil speaking.”
“Oh, thank God, the landline still works.”
Basil blinked. The voice on the other end continued on.
“Listen, I know it’s been some time since we last spoke and that this may be a bit of a long shot, but ‘ave you seen your son at all? He ‘asn’t come back from work and I’m startin’ to worry.”
“… I’m sorry, who is this?”
A sigh. “It’s Will. Sorry for not mentionin’ that. Anyway-”
“Willard? What in the world made you call?”
“Um, it’s actually Wilhelmina now, and that’s not the point! It’s about Junior. ‘Ave you seen ‘im, ‘eard from ‘im?”
“Not since Father’s Day,” he said. “Why? It’s not…” And that wasn’t a pinch of fear. “He isn’t in any… trouble now, is he?”
“Father’s Day? That was months ago. You ‘aven’t spoken to your son in months?”
Was everyone a critic? “Will… Wilhelmina, I’m a very busy man. And if you’re in contact with Junior I’m sure you know he is as well. I can hardly be expected to keep tabs on him at all times, you know. That’s just not plausible.”
“I only wanted to know if you’d ‘eard from ‘im lately. Obviously, I guess this was a waste of time.”
He… she sounded angry for some reason, though Basil couldn’t fathom why. “There’s no need to be so-”
“No,” she cut him off. “Of course not. Well, thank you, but I should go.”
“Have I… have I said something to offend?”
“Said something?” Senior had heard that tone from his former… brother? Sister?… former in-law once before. Only once. It hadn’t ended well for the racist to whom that tone had been directed. “Said something?! Oh, boy, Basil, where do I even begin with the amount you’ve said to your son?! Your own flesh and blood?!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Do you want the full list?” The voice was sharp and clipped. “Fine. Then let me start with what you ‘aven’t said. When was the last time you told Junior that you loved ‘im? Or were proud of ‘im?”
He scoffed. “Really? Is that it? My son hardly needs to be coddled like a child.”
“You call that coddlin’?!” She scoffed. “Oh, well, if saying I love you is coddlin’ your children, I must ‘ave been spoiling your son lately! And by the way, did you even say it to ‘im when ‘e was a child? Did you give ‘im any sort of positive attention? Praise? Feedback? Ice cream? Anythin’ that wasn’t you picking apart every little damn thing ‘e ‘as done or will ever do?!”
“Listen, I don’t know what Junior’s been saying to you-”
“More than enough!”
He took a deep breath to calm himself, resisting the urge to slam down the receiver of the phone. That was exactly the sort of thing his father would have done, but he knew better. “Listen, Junior is… he’s always had a flair for the dramatic. Children - even adult children, I suppose - have a tendency to exaggerate the flaws of their parents. You can’t really trust-”
“Oh don’t worry,” she chuckled bitterly, “I don’t.”
“So why are you bringing it up?”
“Because ‘e doesn’t see them as flaws!” He could practically hear her grip tightening on the phone. “The thing about children - even adult children - is that even when you know your parents are flawed, sometimes you still look up to them. It’s ‘ard not to! You raised ‘im, and like it or not ‘e wants to believe you were a good parent.”
“And you don’t think I was?”
“No. I don’t.”
The answer was said quickly and honestly and it somewhat stung. Actually, it stung quite a bit. “And what exactly would you know about children? Last I checked, you don’t have any.”
Laughter. Long and loud from the other end of the phone.
“I don’t see what’s so funny.”
“You know, you don’t always need to ‘ave an ‘and in creatin’ the kid to be a parent. And frankly, it takes a lot more than that to make you a good one.”
“Oh, and you would know, would you?”
“I might. Better’n you at any rate.”
“Right, well let me know when your son enters college at age thirteen or becomes a proper detective four years after that!”
“Oh, I will,” she snapped, “because clearly Junior’s accomplishments prove you ‘ave a wonderful relationship. ‘Aven’t spoken to him since Father’s Day, and by whose choice, I wonder? Is your genius trying to avoid you, or can you just not be bothered with ‘im now that ‘e’s not a child and not as easy to control?”
“That’s out of line!”
“Oh, sure, I’m the one who’s acting out of line. Remind me who ‘ad the reaction of ‘you should know not to talk to strangers’ to his son’s sexual assault?!”
“ ‘E told me about that! ‘E tells me a lot of things! I know about ‘is past drug problems, I know about your nonchalant attitude towards ‘is addiction and ‘is assault, I know about ‘is feelings towards ‘is former roommate-”
A laugh. “Wow. No, ‘e’s not gay. ‘E’s asexual. You couldn’t even get that right. Well, doesn’t that just speak volumes? By the way, your son was also assaulted again. Did you know about that, or did ‘e want to avoid being told off for ignoring stranger danger again?”
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then,” she sighed irritably. “Well, I suppose that’s a relief.”
“What? How could that be-”
“Because at least that means you didn’t set something off and make ‘im… I don’t know…”
It rather sounded like she did.
“You aren’t implying…” He swallowed. “You don’t think that Junior-”
“I don’t know! I don’t know where ‘e is or what ‘e’s doing or… or…” She groaned. “I thought ‘e might ‘ave reached out to you, but… Well, I guess you aren’t even good for that much.”
“You ought to be more respectful. I’m his father-”
“And if I’d known ‘alf the shit you pulled, I’d ‘ave offered to adopt ‘im when ‘e was a child!”
“Do you honestly think you could have done a better job? Could you have gotten him into college-”
“Oh yes, because it wasn’t your son’s intelligence that got ‘im into college. Noooo, that was all you. And by the way, yes, I do think ‘e still would ‘ave gotten into college at a young age. Without those scars on ‘is back, mind you!”
“How did you… He told you about-”
“ ‘E didn’t ‘ave to,” she snapped into the receiver. “I saw ‘im once and, contrary to your assumptions, it doesn’t take a bloody genius to piece everything out. I figured it ‘ad to be one of ‘is parents - at least one - and ‘e’s only distant with ‘is mother! ‘E’s outright terrified of you!”
“Junior is not afraid of me.”
“You must be joking. You’ve got ‘im absolutely petrified!”
“There was the time your phone call left ‘im cryin’ in the corner for two hours straight, the oddly consistent nightmares that ‘appen every other week, the time where I scrolled past your picture and ‘e threw his arms up-”
“Wait, how do you know any of this?”
“Because your son ‘as been livin’ with me for months! And evidently you didn’t even know ‘e moved!”
“He’s an adult, isn’t he? Junior can make his own…” Basil trailed off then. “Wait… Why is he living with you?”
“I don’t know, maybe it’s sommat to do with not feelin’ comfortable stayin’ somewhere ‘e’d been raped twice, and seein’ as you clearly weren’t jumpin’ at the opportunity to-”
“I already told you-”
“I know, but… Really?”
“ ‘Really’ what?” she ground out through clenched tight teeth. “I’d be careful if-”
“How in the blazes…” He took a deep breath in and sighed. “Please explain to me how something like that happens twice in the same place? Didn’t he at least change the locks or… or… something?”
“First off, ‘e did. Second, would it be ‘is fault that it ‘appened again if ‘e didn’t?”
“It… Not if he were ordinary, but… but he’s… He’s brilliant, you must know he’s brilliant and… and… he should be capable of… I taught him to protect himself!”
“What is wrong with you?!”
“I…” he stammered. “I… My son-”
“Well, let me know if you ‘ear from ‘im,” she said tightly. “ ‘E’s better off without you as far as I’m concerned-”
“Wait! Wait, you said he was… Again… What happened? Is he-”
“Do you even care?”
“Of course I-”
She slammed down the receiver. And Basil was left with just the ringing in his ears.
Chapter 60: Dez's family about him
The Johnstones found out when Malachy O’Fagan turned up at their door, waving around a pregnancy test like the jack of hearts.
Akiko groaned. “Who’s banging? Puffin, get the door.”
“Why do I gotta do it?”
“Because I’m dying. Isoge!”
He went over and peeped through the keyhole. “Uh, Dez, buddy? You might wanna get your parents. It’s that leprechaun guy again.”
“I told you already, there’s no such thing as… wait, what?”
“BOYO, OPEN THIS DOOR RIGHT THIS SECON’ ‘FORE I COME IN THERE AND SKIN YE!”
Dez scrambled to hide behind the couch. “Don’t let him in!”
“Who’s that- wait, is that the guy downstairs? The crazy girl’s dad?” Akiko peered behind the couch and raised an eyebrow. “What’d you do to upset him this time?”
“I don’t wanna talk about it, just pretend I’m not here!”
“Uh, sorry, Dez isn’t here right now! He’s, uh…”
“Now what is goin’ on in here?” Emer Johnstone stuck her head in, followed by her husband. “Is that Malachy O’Fagan at the door?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “PHIL! Did ye go pickin’ fights wit’ the neighbors again?”
“NO!” Just like that Dez’s uncle came tearing from the bathroom, towel wrapped around his waist, water dripping. “ ‘S he complainin’ ‘bout me singin’ in the shower again? Ye can tell him to-”
“OPEN THE DOOR!”
“DON’T OPEN THE DOOR!” Dez clapped a hand over his mouth as he realised he’d yelled.
“I know ye’re in there, Desmond, come out an’ face me like a man!”
Emer rolled her eyes, said, “Have ye been fightin’ with his daughter again?” and went to open the door before Dez could stop her. Whatever she’d been expecting, it probably wasn’t what she found: a plastic stick shoved in her face, and when her eyes adjusted to the sudden close-up, two ominous lines on it.
“Ye defiled me Finnuala!”
Everyone turned and stared and saw. Dez made an aborted move to jump back behind the couch, but Clooney’s arm shot out and caught him by the hand.
“Dad, please, he-”
“Oh no ye don’t, young man,” Emer said. “Explain yourself.”
“What’s to explain?!” Malachy thundered. “Yer son took me daughter’s purity! Well, boyo, isn’t that right?”
“No! He… Don’t listen to him! He’s craz-”
“Crazy as a coot,” Phil spat. “Now the boy’s no proper Irishman, but he sure as hell knows better ‘n to go runnin’ ‘round with the first pretty tai-”
Malachy punched him in the nose, and Phil counted with a fist to his eye. Emer and Clooney attempted to pull the two fighters apart, while Dez huddled in the corner. Akiko and Puffin, realising their friend was in no state to provide an explanation right now, sat back to watch the show. The boy pulled out his camera phone.
“Break it up! Break it up!” Emer yelled. “Mr O’Fagan, are you absolutely sure it couldn’t be anyone else? Doesn’t sound like Dez.”
“Ye callin’ me daughter a liar?”
It took Emer and Clooney both to hold Malachy back from lunging at Phil. Again.
“No, I just… What exactly did she say happened? I… No offense intended here, but I wasn’t under the impression that they liked each other.”
“They don’t! He… he musta tricked her or somethin’. Taken advantage o’ her vulnerability.”
“What?!” Dez stood up from the corner. “No I didn’t!”
“So what did happen?”
Surrounded by adults waiting for an answer, Dez did what most teenage boys in his situation would do, and bolted for his room.
“You can’t stay in there forever!”
“I can try!”
“Dez, just tell us what happened. We can’t fix anything if we don’t know what it is.”
“Mr. O’Fagan,” Emer began. “I’m goin’ to hafta ask ye to leave.”
“We’ll get back to ye, alright?” she said, ushering him out. “Ye best go worry ‘bout your own kid.”
“I can attend to mine.” She shut the door and sighed. “Dez, he’s gone. Ye can come out now.”
“Leave me alone! I don’t want to talk about it!”
Akiko groaned. “Dez, come on. You already knew the guy was crazy, right? It can’t be that bad.”
Puffin nodded. “Yeah! Finnuala’s probably just trying to get you into trouble again. It’s not like that’s anything new for her.”
Dez was silent for a long time, and when he spoke again it was so quietly that they almost couldn’t hear him through the door. “That’s… not… exactly what happened.”
“Wait, you mean…?” Puffin pulled a face. “Oh, gross, you really did!”
“Desmond William Johnstone, what were you thinking?!”
“I-I wasn’t! I mean, I didn’t… I mean… um…” Dez opened the door and avoided looking his mother in the eye. “Um, do you guys believe that, uh… You know how it’s bad if a guy, you know, makes a girl do stuff, everyone knows that, but if a girl does it to a guy…?”
“Dez…” Clooney set a hand down on his son’s forearm. “What are you-”
“There! Ye see? The mick girl forced him!”
“Pilib! This is serious!”
Emer stared at Dez for a moment. “Are you serious? Did… Mr. O’Fagan’s daughter-”
“Shit!” Akiko gaped. “Is that what happened to your hand?!”
“Mm.” Dez nodded.
“Geez… what - why? Did - I don’t mean it’s your fault or anything, just… did something happen to set her off? I didn’t think she’d…” Puffin rubbed his head, lost for words.
“I don’t know! I just kinda mentioned her being Catholic and she went nuts!”
“That’s just… that… that’s terrible.” Emer gripped his arm and looked him over. “Oh, Dez honey, I’m so sorry!”
“Not your fault, I just-”
Clooney shook his head almost hard enough to clear it. “We should probably call the police.”
“No! You can’t! She’ll… That’ll just make her angry. B-besides it’s not like they’re gonna believe me anyway. Her dad-”
“I don’t think she woulda given him all o’ the information. I’m sure-”
“Ye don’t know what they’re like,” Phil said darkly. “I’ve met Malachy O’Fagan, I’ll bet he knows.”
“Oh, this is a problem.” Clooney paced the floor. “If it actually is yours… the law’s not so good with things like this. They do have a case and it’ll be hard to get around it. I’ll do me best to get it sorted, but it’s only fair to warn ye it’ll be hard.”
Dez sniffled. “I-I kinda guessed. I don’t think I ever even thought about this happening, why would anyone else think about it more?”
“It does happen, you just don’t tend to hear about it,” Akiko said. “I dunno if it helps to know, but you’re not the only one.”
Puffin gasped. “You have a kid?!”
“No, you idiot!” She gestured to her wheelchair. “How the fuck… No.” Then her face softened and she looked at Dez. “No.”
“I… Is that why you don’t really talk to your parents?”
“Not exactly. Also not the point. Look, I just… I get it. I’m sorry.”
“You know… we could always, like, just frame them for murder. Or robbery or something. They go to jail. Baby goes into foster care. Bada-bing bada-boom, bada-not-our-problem.”
“Puffin, shut the fuck up.”
Chapter 61: Lucius VI about Lucius VIII
Lucius VI found out from his grandson’s attempt at comforting him.
It really wasn’t too surprising that living with his son wasn’t going well. Lucius had never gotten on with him. He’d never understood. Not even now, as an adult with a child of his own.
It was almost expected when he stormed off at dinner. What was not expected was the way Viator looked at him. “What’s that about?”
Lucius sighed. “Your father hates me.”
“What? No he doesn’t.”
“Trust me, kid, he does.” There were some days when even he understood. “Kids these days…”
“Aw, c’mon, Granddad, if he hated you he wouldn’t let you live here, right?” Viator said, with the kind of encouraging smile usually seen on kindergarten teachers. “And he lets you go in the basement. I got in a ton of trouble when I went down there!”
Blink. “Lucius hasn’t… He’s never brought you down there?”
“Uh… No? He says I’m not allowed t-”
“Are you… sure?”
Viator blinked again, cocking his head to one side, slowly. “Uh, pretty sure, yeah. Why?”
He stared, couldn’t help it, it was all just so… He stared. “I used to take your father down there,” he said instead. “And my father brought me… and his father brought him… I used to go down there with Lucius when…” When he was young.
“Uh, well, he’s never liked me playing around down there or touching anything. Maybe he’s worried about… about… ruining, like, the… sense-a-mentality of it all down there or… or somethin’?”
“You… Really? Never?”
“Noooo. How come? ‘S it important?”
Chapter 62: Billy about Bugs
Billy found out because he had a visitor.
After much deliberation, he’d turned down the hospital’s offer of morphine. It seemed like the right thing to do.
Of course that was with Jane and the kids here and the whole lucidity thing was actually a lot less appealing when there was nobody around to be lucid for. Go figure. So, naturally, he didn’t care who it was on the other side of his hospital room door.
“Uh… hi.” Big teeth; ashy hair; New York accent. “I’m not sure if ya’d remember, but-”
“Yeah. Hey, Bill. ‘S been a while, ain’t it?”
“Y-yeah, it has… c’mon, sit down.” Billy pointed to the bedside chair. “Geez, this whole thing’s weird.”
“Eh, Calisota’s weird, what can ya do.” Bugs was clearly trying to sound nonchalant. “So… you’re alive.”
“So… you’re not in jail?”
“Huh? Aw, crap, you saw the news? Ugh.”
“Oh yeah.” Billy nodded. “Actually I’ve seen a lotta stuff. She kept a TV down there and there wasn’t much else to do, so… Who’d you pay off?”
“Y’know, to keep it all hush-hush and that. It’s cool, man, I won’t tell anybody… but, um, you should probably leave before the kids get here. Well, I guess just Jessica, Spence is a little old for-”
“Whoa, what? I… I…” Bugs spluttered. “I’m not a pedophile!”
“Eh, whatever you call it.” Billy shrugged. “Actually, I can hook you up with someone that can help with that if you want - unless he’s dead - I hear MPA works like a charm.”
“That’s not… I… gah, I was framed, okay?” Bugs groaned, and rubbed his temples. “That stuff wasn’t mine. Look, lemme bring up a better news site and I’ll show you.” He played with his phone for a moment. “Here. The guy came into my house to interview me, drugged me, stuck all that stuff on my hard drive, and was gonna go to the cops and tell them he found it.”
“That sounds pretty far-fetched.”
“So does you comin’ back from the dead.”
“Fair point, fair point.” Billy sat back. “So… you’re sure you don’t want-”
“Yes! I’m quite sure I don’t need to be chemically castrated.”
“Hey, don’t knock it till you try it, right? Ugh… I wonder what that feels like.”
“Probably nothing good.”
“Probably, but I’d do anything for a fix right now. My legs… well, you know. So, uh, why’d this guy want to-”
“I don’t know! It had something to do with… I don’t- Ugh, this just makes me so mad. He thought it’d make a good story…”
“But… you, though? You haven’t been in movies in… Are you s-”
“YES!” Bugs sighed. “Wait, you thought I was a pedophile? Why’d you let me in then?”
“Well, I’m not a kid.” He shrugged. “And who’s not these days? At least in show business. You know how it is.”
“What? No! What kind of sicko d’you think I am?”
Bugs shook his head. “Hey, I can’t judge either, I’ve been hangin’ out with weirdos the last few months too… Uh, speakin’ of, once you’re up and about again, I know a place you might wanna come.”
Billy shook his head at that. “No need. Kinda soured on that rehab stuff, for a while anyway. And I’m clean now.”
“Seriously! She quit drugging me when it stopped working. That’s why,” he waved at the casts, “eh, you get me. Don’t worry.” Not the most convincing argument in the world.
“Uh, that’s good… I think, but I didn’t mean a rehab facility. It’s actually, uh, I know about what happened to you-”
“Well, I think it might help.”
Chapter 63: Violet about Misty
Violet found out in the worst way possible.
So it was at this point that John Smith was more or less adopted by the Powhatan - hey, are you listening to me?
Violet Yawa was not what most people would call a good student. Hence why she was here now, with a boy who couldn’t speak, trying to learn something in a class she was already taking.
I’m trying to teach you about the atrocities committed by my forefathers. The least you could do is pay attention so I don’t have to repeat the sins of my country.
“Remind me why I should care?”
Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it? A frown from her tutor. Like, for example, the next time you come up to me offering fifty bucks in exchange for helping you study for your exam, I’ll know that there’s no saving your grade and I’ll just look to babysitting like a normal fifteen-year-old.
“You know, sarcasm doesn’t really work on text-to-speech.”
Who said I was being sarcastic?
“Ugh,” Violet groaned, leaning all the way back in her chair. “It’s not fair, why can’t you just let me cheat off you like a normal person?”
My parents would actually kill me.
She snorted. “Only if we got caught.”
Gromit would have groaned too if he could manage it. This was definitely not worth fifty bucks.
“Y’know, most guys would do it ‘cause I’m pretty.”
Well, next time you should ask one of them. Now where were we?
Oh, ha ha ha ha. Gromit rolled his eyes. Have we gotten to the part where British settlers fuck people over? That seems to be a running theme in this part of U.S. history.
“Yeah, white people ruin everything.”
Amen to that. Seriously though. Do you remember where we were?
“Something something John Smith?”
Ah. Right. Him. Anyway-
A text. Violet picked up her phone. “… Ugh.”
“It’s my stupid little sister.”
I thought your sisters were all older than you.
“No,” she shook her head, “Lilly and Daisy are, but Misty is the runt.” She took her phone and began scrolling through it. “I think I have a picture of us all in here somewhere…”
Runt, huh? How old is she?
“Eleven, and a pain. She’s still throwing temper tantrums. It’s literally ridiculous- oh, here!” She turned the screen on Gromit. “This is her.”
The picture was of Violet and three other women - and one little girl. Two of them were girls Gromit had seen in older yearbooks from the school; Lilly with her bright pink dye-job and Daisy with her beauty mark and bleach-blonde hair. One of them was a dark-haired woman who looked a little like each of them. And the third… natural red hair and green eyes, an odd combination for an Asian kid.
She wasn’t smiling. He thought he knew the reason why.
That’s your sister?
“Misty, yeah. She’s a little psycho.”
No she’s not.
Violet blinked. “I’m… sorry?”
I know psychos. Look at who I live with. Your sister’s nowhere near as bad.
“Oh yeah, Goth One and Goth Two are your foster siblings. I forgot about that.” She shrugged. “Well, whatever. ‘Least they’re not like Misty.”
I wish they were.
Violet blinked. “What?”
She’s awesome. I like her. A little messed-up sometimes, but she’s still one tough little kid. And she’s really good with animals. I like that about her. Not to mention that she’s always going on and on about marine biology. She’s going to be really famous in that field, I think. And she’s pretty good with the little kids. A quiet chuckle. Plus she has a crush on that Satoshi kid and that’s honestly really adorable. She says she doesn’t but she does and-
“Okay. Question.” Violet leaned in close and glared at him. “How. The. Fuck. Did you know about any of that?”
Her tutor suddenly went very, very pale. Forget I said that. Any of that.
Look, there’s a lot of paperwork you need to fill out for the CCSTSG. Lot of privacy stuff. I thought you already knew. I’m not supposed to say any-
“Wait, what the hell is the CCSTSG?”
I’m really not supposed to tell you.
“Okay,” Violet held up one perfectly manicured hand, scowling. “Here’s, like, the deal. You’d better not be doing anything weird with her.”
Whoa. Okay, what?
“You’re part of… I don’t know, some weird thing that you won’t tell me about and you know weird stuff about my weird little sister and… wait… No, you can’t be on the swim team. I would have, like, seen you.”
You don’t know that.
“Uh, yeah, I do. So how the fuck do you know Misty? And don’t try to lie to me. She’s still my kid sister so I’ll seriously kill you if I don’t like what I hear.”
A bitten lip. A soundless sigh. Okay. Okay. But what I am about to tell you does not leave this room. You got that?
“Okay…” Violet said slowly.
So, some not so good stuff happened to me. I don’t want to get into it right now. You might have heard something already. But Mum and Dad decided it might be best if I went to a support group. For sexual trauma. That’s how I know your sister. She goes there too.
He held up one hand, typing with the other. Listen, you can’t tell anyone I told you this, okay? I could get in huge trouble for violating the confidentiality stuff. I signed a contract and everything.
“Fuck that!” Violet snapped, eyes wide and flashing. “What the hell are you saying? That something… something happened to Misty?”
“What?” Her hands tightened into fists. “Who was it? When? She never… she didn’t say anything… Do you know?”
“Then tell me,” she demanded, seizing Gromit by the shoulders and shaking him hard. Violet was stronger than she looked, he had to give her that. She was a lot stronger. Swimmer’s strength, probably.
“Tell me! What… what perverted, twisted, pathetic excuse of a man do I need to kill?!”
Well, she’s already dead so-
Violet’s breath caught in her throat. “Wait. She?”
He looked down. How was your relationship with your mom?
“U-um…” She was stammering, obviously in shock. “Not… not great. She loved us, but she was kinda… I always thought she liked Misty… best.” Violet swallowed. “You aren’t saying…?”
The Selkie- He hit backspace and then retyped. Sorry, Misty, said that she was kinda… He paused, fingers hovering over the keys. … weird. Towards her specifically. Things like how she’d throw her clothes out and walk in on her in the bathroom.
“But… but those were… those were jokes…”
She said she made her sleep in the same bed. And that sometimes “things” happened. I don’t want to get into it, but I don’t think she ever went all the way with her. But it still went pretty far.
Violet stumbled back. She held her head, still reeling. “Is she okay?”
I mean… A shrug. Given the circumstances, I think she’s as okay as she can be.
Violet sighed. “So no.”
Yeah, pretty much.
“H-how long did this go on for?”
A while. Gromit bit his lip. Listen, are you sure you’re okay? Not to be rude, but if you really thought it was a joke, walking in on a ten-year-old in the shower isn’t really all that funny to me.
“I… Mom always said…” She shook her head, pale as paper-bleach. “Um, I… guess it just… It seemed normal at the time, but looking back now… I guess some things add up.”
“Hey! D-don’t look at me like that! I just…” She crossed her arms, sighing deeply and worrying at her lip. “I guess it was sorta weird that Mom was always going on about Misty. How pretty she was.”
And you didn’t think that was kinda creepy?
“… No? I just thought it was… What, do your parents not talk to you like that?”
No. That’s weird.
“Well, maybe it’s just because you aren’t a girl?”
Hate to break it to you, but Mum doesn’t talk to Eska or Punzie like that.
“W-well, maybe it’s… your mom is… it’s different for you!”
Look, you seemed shocked that your mom went there, but… Pause. Did she used to do similar things to you? With the clothes and bathroom and stuff?
“I… I mean sure,” she said, “but that’s not… it wasn’t a big deal or anything. She liked most of the stuff I was wearing and… and it was just a joke. She didn’t… it’s not like she touched me. She didn’t…”
I don’t think she needed to for it to still be pretty fucking weird, he typed. I’m sorry.
“What? But I just told you… I…” She bit her lip again, harder. “I thought that was normal…”
What about your sisters?
“What about them?”
Did she do anything to them? Did they do anything to you?
“I mean… they never said anything.” Misty hadn’t either. Then something popped into her head. “Although, now that you mention it…”
“Um…” Her lip was bleeding now. When had that started? “I-I do remember that… when I was little, like, back when Misty was still a baby, I did used to wake up next to my mom a lot. But… that doesn’t… it doesn’t…”
Look, do you maybe want the number for the group I go to? Even if your mom didn’t do anything to you, finding out that it happened to your sister probably isn’t fun. And there are some people who weren’t hurt themselves.
“Do you think my sisters know? About Misty?”
A shrug. I don’t know. She hasn’t said anything.
“Then who’s taking her? How the hell does she get there?”
I think the bus?
“All by herself? She’s just a kid.”
She’s pretty smart. And she grew up here.
“What does that have to do with-”
There are plenty of younger kids in the group that know how to get around. I think the city does something to you.
Violet brushed a hand against her mouth. Red blood on pale skin. “I… I guess.”
Actually, she might get a ride with that Oak kid, some of the time. Are they friends? I think they’re friends.
His granddad’s a vet? Yeah.
“They hang out sometimes…” She inhaled sharply. “Is he okay?”
Sorry, I really shouldn’t have told you that. Or any of this.
“I’m glad you did. I… I think it’s something I needed to know about.” She looked down at her phone. “Listen, I should probably… go. I think I need to, like, have a family meeting. See if Misty’s… I should go.”
She glared back at him. “Not funny.”
Not sarcasm this time. I mean that, really.
Violet passed that test.
Chapter 64: The parents about the Fan Club
Spot the reference!
The families started to suspect when, after half an hour, the adult’s bus still hadn’t arrived.
Everything had looked legitimate. The babies were hardly alone; the show’s crew members had shown their childcare licenses, and some of the parents and big siblings had gone too. No one had noticed at the time that it was the younger, prettier adults who had been brought along; nor did they wonder why no crew members had stayed behind to ride with the rest of the group.
“Georgie?” Lily Loud stuck two fingers in her mouth and suckled them, bouncing up and down in Lori’s arms.
“Not yet!” Leni said brightly. “I’m sure it’ll be just a minute though!”
The crowd around them stirred uneasily, not looking quite so sure of that.
“How long has it been, anyway?” Robbie Sinclair nudged his sister in the arm.
“Thirty minutes…? I think?”
“Isn’t that a little long?”
Marge Simpson held up her phone. “I can’t reach the organisers. It keeps saying the number’s not available, but it was fine this morning…”
Parents and siblings looked at each other, and started to reach into pockets and bags for their own phones. Some tried to call the station. Others called 911.
To Lori’s right, Lincoln shifted nervously. “We should… probably call Mom and Dad, right? So they don’t think…”
“Uh… Y-yeah, probably. Here, you take Lily for a minute.”
Artemis also reached for her phone, hands shaking. Will… Will wouldn’t like it if this was a false alarm. But if it wasn’t… he’d like that even less.
Police arrived. Questions were asked. Roadblocks were set up - too late; no one knew exactly where the bus had headed, and it had been long enough that the options were many.
“What did this guy look like?”
“Uh, I don’t know, he was wearing the costume…”
“Paperwork looks pretty legit. Good fake…”
“Studio says they don’t know anything…”
Only in Calisota could a bus packed with babies entirely disappear.
Chapter 65: Sulley about Boo's mother
James P. Sullivan found out from Jyn Erso.
“You know what you said about Boo’s mother overdosing?” Stardust stood in the Palace with Kitty, watching as Boo colored with the Heiress. “There’s… more to it than that.”
“I thought so.”
Stardust sighed. “Boo’s mom was attacked by God’s Will First when Boo was still a baby.”
Kitty almost dropped his lemonade. “What?”
“She was out shopping,” Stardust said. “And the cult chloroformed her, brought her out to a field, and had their leader rape her. All because Boo was ‘born into sin’.” Her voice was gritty with anger. “That’s what started her drug use - she blamed herself for the attack, especially considering that… reflex she had during it, and I wish she had known it was just a reflex. Like, your stomach can’t help digesting things…”
Suddenly, Kitty wanted to go and kill every God’s Will First member who either allowed or commuted the rape - and he was not a violent person at all. “Did her stepfather know?”
“Yeah. Apparently he brought her to the Palace.” Stardust sighed as she spoke. “He had issues himself. Apparently the Boggs family has a problem with incest…”
“God.” Then, “When did he start hurting Boo?”
“I don’t know. It must have started sometime after… Something happened at the police station. He was brought in because he attacked a doctor, and… I just had a feeling something happened. He looked kind of disheveled and beat up and when I asked him what happened, he just snapped at me.” Stardust sighed again. “I still hate him for what he did, but I also wonder if I should have pushed to find out what was going on.”
“Well, it still doesn’t make it right. He just continued the cycle.” Kitty was grateful that Boo and the Heiress were still distracted with drawing. “I mean… it’s awful what happened to him. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. But he didn’t have to do that. I hope I didn’t say anything wrong.”
“No, you’re right,” Stardust said. “I wish we’d been able to save Boo’s mom. She was… strong. Not like the Maiden is, but she was willing to stand her ground and keep going until her demons caught up to her. She was sweet. And she looked a lot like Boo - black hair, pale skin… Here, let me show you.”
Kitty blinked as he looked at photos on Stardust’s phone. There was Boo’s mom, looking tired (no doubt the effects of drug use) but happy, grinning radiantly at her daughter as the girl put together a puzzle. Boo’s mom with Randall, no doubt before he did the unthinkable. Boo’s mom, hard at work, drawing something - and now Kitty knew where Boo got her artistic talent from. Boo’s mom, hugging her daughter, wearing a sort of serene smile that Kitty wouldn’t have expected.
It was such a vivid picture of a girl who’d died; more than just a junkie, a statistic.
“She was eighteen,” Stardust said, her voice cracking. “Eighteen years old.”
“That’s… young.” Not the youngest, but still young.
“I know.” Stardust sighed. “Thank God the Caballeros got most of those psychopaths in jail. I just… I wish I could find their leader and just… I dunno, ask him why he did this, why he thought it was okay to do this to a teenage girl.”
Hesitantly, Kitty said, “I’m… sorry for what happened to you. To her.” To everyone here.
“Not your fault. Just… she wasn’t just a cult victim or a junkie. She had a name. Mackenzie Boggs, the Living Dead Girl. And she was strong - infinitely stronger than the thug who raped her.”
Kitty nodded. He couldn’t disagree.
Chapter 66: Basil Senior about Basil Junior - the first time
Basil Baker Senior also found about the first time from a phone call.
To say that Basil Sr. was not happy about waking up was an understatement. It was three a.m. The devil’s hour. Who the hell would be calling him at this time of night?
His son, apparently.
“Junior?” he grumbled blearily. “What in the… Do you know what time it is?”
There was no reply, just the tense sound of heavy breathing, a slight whistle to the noise, pained and wordless, like the sound of a wounded animal.
“Words, please. If you’re going to wake me up at three in the morning you might as well tell me what it is you’ve woken me up for!”
It was silent on the other end for a moment more.
“Alright, call me back at a more reason-”
“Wait, Papa, please don’t hang up!”
Papa. That word again. He thought Junior broke out of that habit when he was five. “Well, then, get on with it. Why the hell did you call me at this ungodly hour?”
“I… I… I…”
Basil Sr. rolled his eyes. It wasn’t often his son was completely irrational, but it sure was annoying when it happened. “Spit it out! What, did someone rob your house? Call the police.”
“Papa, he raped me!”
Well, that at least was new; it had been some time since Junior was able to surprise him.
“What on earth are you talking about? Who are you talking about?”
“I…” That irritating whine again. “There was… I… there was this man who was writing to me, do you remember? He said he’d read the paper… I-I… told you he-”
“I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about.”
Again, that whine. And worse, it appeared to be giving way to disgusting sobs. The kind that made you clog your nose and noisily inhale. Great. Just perfect. “He… he said wanted to go out for drinks, so we met at a pub, and then he said he wanted to come see my house, so I brought him home, and then he… he… he kissed me and he ripped off my clothes and he threw me on the couch and I didn’t want it, I didn’t want any of it, but he didn’t care, and it hurts, Papa, everything hurts and I… I… I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what…”
Basil Sr. let out an irritated sigh as Junior continued to babble in between his sobs. Jesus, what a night. First he got woken up at three in the morning, and now he had to deal with this horseshit? “Junior, aren’t you a little old to be needing a talk on stranger danger?”
“If you got drunk with a stranger and brought him to your house, then it’s your own damn fault, and it’s not worth waking me up and ruining my night!”
“B-but I… please… I need-”
“Goodnight, Junior,” the man said icily, his hand already removing the phone from his ear.
“Good riddance.” Basil Sr. promptly rolled over and went back to sleep.
Chapter 67: The St. Jameses about Roddy
The St. Jameses found out when he walked through the front door.
Tabitha was the one who opened the door. Nicholas St. James was reading and Katherine St. James was staring out the window when they heard the excited voice of their nine-year-old.
“Mum! Dad! It’s Roddy! Roddy’s home! Roddy’s come home!”
They had never been more relieved to hear anything in their lives.
The couple were on their feet before they could even fully comprehend moving, and at the door before their daughter had finished speaking. Standing before them, with Tabitha’s arms around him, was their son. He was older now, paler and thinner and looking weary and haunted, but it was him without a doubt. He was alive. Alive and not looking as though he’d drop dead at any moment, and that was enough.
It wasn’t long until the couple threw their own arms around their son, and he, with some hesitation, returned the embrace. The family found themselves on their knees, simply clinging to each other, with more than a few tears being shed.
“I knew you weren’t dead!” Tabitha exclaimed. “Mum and Dad thought you were for a little bit, but I knew you weren’t!” She squeezed tighter, if it were possible.
It was then the question was asked.
“Roddy, where on earth have you been?!”
He was quiet for a moment, and if they had been able to see his face they’d have sworn it went paler than it was already.
“Um…” he said. “It… it’s kind of a l-long story…”
“You’ve been gone for two years!”
“I… I-I know… I’m sorry, it’s just that… there’s a lot to explain.”
“You might want to get him inside first.”
It was at this point that the remaining three St. Jameses became aware of a new, unfamiliar, and distinctly female presence in their midst. Roddy pulled away and walked over to her without hesitation.
“Mum, Dad, Tabitha, this is Rita.” He put his hands on her shoulders. “My girlfriend.”
Tabitha was the first to react, running up and hugging her. “Does this make us sisters?”
Nicholas was second. “… Didn’t I see you in the news?”
She flushed red at that. “Probably.”
“Why were you in the news?” Tabitha asked. “Daddy, is she famous?”
“Uh… kind of?” Rita shrugged sheepishly. “I… um… I’m really good at… borrowing stuff.”
So she was a thief then… Wonderful. “Roddy, care to explain what you’re doing with her?” Katherine asked. “You… you aren’t in any trouble, are you?” A moment’s hesitation. “With the law?”
“Oh, no, no no no no no…” Roddy said quickly. “Nothing like that. It’s… related to… to what happened, I suppose… it’s a long story.”
“Which we should move to inside,” Rita… Rita Malone, the thief… said once more.
They did so. The younger couple sat on a loveseat, the elder couple on chairs, and the youngest on a footstool, swinging her legs.
“So, Roddy… what exactly happened?”
Roddy took in a deep breath, looking at Tabitha for a moment. “I… I was, um… I was kidnapped.”
“What?!” His mother’s voice was quiet. “How?! By who?!” She felt shocked by the knowledge, though they had come to such a conclusion long ago. Logical assumptions were no match for the horror of confirmation, it seemed.
“I… I’m not sure what his real name was,” Roddy said quietly. “The only thing I have to go on is a nickname and that’s not… enough.”
“Can you tell us anyway? It’s better than nothing.”
Roddy nodded. “He… he’s known as… as the Toad. He’s a drug dealer of some sort, I don’t know the specifics.”
“Do you know why he took you?” Nicholas asked gently. “Was it a matter of money, or…?”
Roddy coughed, nudging his head towards Tabitha. His meaning was clear. Whatever he was about to say was not meant for little ears to hear.
“Oh…” His mother swallowed. “Tabitha, would you go to your room for a little while, please? We need to speak with your brother in private.”
“It’s okay,” Roddy told her. “We’ll just be going over some boring grown-up stuff, okay?”
“I’ll make it quick, I promise.”
“Fiiiine.” A pout, and then a pause. “Promise you won’t leave?”
Roddy leaned over and squeezed her hand. “Promise.”
And then she was gone.
“… So…” his father said slowly. “Whatever it was, just tell us. There’s no need to mince words.”
The Malone girl put a hand on Roddy’s shoulder. He smiled at her, and very obviously steeled himself. “The… the reason he took me was… was because…” A deep breath. “… was because he… wanted to rape me.”
Never before had absolute silence seemed as loud as thunder.
For a moment, nobody moved-
-and then everyone did.
“My… my God, Roddy!” Nicholas burst out. “Are you alright?!”
“Um…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Physically, I think so. I’m not sure if he… if he had anything, so I can’t say for sure. Everything else is… kind of a mess right now.”
“We… we should call the police.” His mother sounded as if she were somewhere else entirely. “Do you want us to call the police?”
“Do you want us to take you to a doctor?” Nicholas spoke up. “If you don’t know what he may have been carrying…”
“Y-yes. To both. Though I’ll be honest… I’m not sure how much help the police are going to be. This is a man who… knows how avoid consequences for his actions.”
The Malone girl looked down, saying nothing, but clearly she agreed; and the St. Jameses suspected she’d know from experience.
“Well, we have to at least try,” Nicholas said. “I’ll phone them myself… but what do you want me to say about her?”
“Preferably nothing.” Roddy held her hand. “She… she was the one who saved me. Last thing she needs is to be turned in.”
“Alright.” Nicholas said. “I won’t tell them about her, then.” A pause; another moment where no one moved. “What… what exactly happened?”
“You want the long version or the short version?”
“I want all of it.” I need to know where you’ve been, what he did to you when he took you away.
Roddy sighed. “It’s not… It’s pretty bad. I don’t want to… to upset you or anything…”
“No offense, son, but I can’t be any more upset than I already am. I’d rather have all the shock out of my system now as opposed to later.”
Roddy nodded. “Well, you already know about the kidnapping. He… he kept me inside a room. He gave me clean water, and good food, and I had a bathroom, but I wasn’t allowed to leave that area.” Another breath in. “He’d… visit me once a week, as far as I could tell. Sometimes he would just talk to me, and others…” He trailed off.
“Oh… Roddy…” Katherine breathed. “I’m so sorry.”
He grimaced and shrugged as if to say ‘it is what it is’. “Sometimes he’d bring me things. Little gifts… Once it was a picture of all of you. I don’t know how, but he could get inside the house. He took me from here, so I guess he had some way around the security system and since he got in again it’s probably a reliable one.”
Both of his parents paled at that, not that Roddy could blame them. Rita’s hand started rubbing his back in a vain attempt to comfort him. “I’ll admit, after that, I pretended I was glad to see him whenever he came. I wasn’t, not really, but if one of you got hurt because I wasn’t playing my part… I don’t think I’d ever forgive myself.”
“And what exactly was your part? What were you supposed to be to him?”
“I… he treated me like…” Roddy looked down at his lap, shame radiating off of him. “I was his pet. That’s what I was to him. That’s how he treated me… that’s what he called me.” A moment where nothing was said, and all that was heard was the sound of tight breathing. “It was like he owned me.”
His mother rushed up to him then, gently rubbing his head; like she would when he was young and he’d hurt himself. “He doesn’t. He never did and he never will. My poor baby…”
“… What about her?” Nicholas finally said. “Where exactly does she fit into all this?”
“You want to tell them, Rita, or should I?”
“I broke into the guy’s house,” she said. “I was looking to rob him. I thought that a door with that many locks on it had to have something valuable behind it, but instead I found him. I sorta panicked.”
“What do you mean p-”
“She knocked me out and took me with her.”
A pause. “And… that was a good thing?”
“Heh, yeah. Rather fucked-up, isn’t it?” She rubbed the back of her neck. “When he came to, he told me everything that happened to him. I suppose I could have led him into town, but that didn’t really feel right. And I had some idea where you were, so I offered to bring him here and…” She clutched his hand. “And the relationship just sort of… happened.”
“I see…” Nicholas said slowly. He didn’t trust her, not exactly… but she had helped his son.
“I’ll phone the police.” He stood. “Roddy?”
“I’m very happy to have you home.”
The smile that followed was bittersweet.
Chapter 68: Jack about Ragetti
Jack Sparrow found out from a phone call, from a man with which he wasn’t in particularly good standing.
“Oh God, it’s you. How the hell did you get this number?”
Jack could practically hear Ragetti shrug, despite the fact that he couldn’t possibly have seen him do it. “I got me ways…”
“And those ways would be…?”
“Never ye mind. Look, now I got somethin’ to say to you…” Anger was slowly creeping into his tone.
Joy of joys. “And that would be…?”
“Why the fuckin’ ‘ell did ye run out on us? Ye could’ve ‘elped us get away! Ye c-could have…”
“Are you crying?”
“Yes! Why’d you drop us like that? We needed you!”
“Barbossa made it very clear he was taking over and I was no longer required,” Jack said. “I felt if he didn’t want me around, he could bloody well do without me. See how that went.”
“Well, without you we got caught!”
“Wasn’t it your fa-”
“Don’t! Don’t even say it.” A deep breath. “We got arrested and… and…”
“Run-in with the coppers?” Jack said, almost kindly. “Oh, they do that to everyone.”
He held the phone further away as Ragetti screeched, “WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T YE WARN US?!”
“Testy. Testy.” He sighed. “I didn’t know you were arrested…”
“You… ye didn’t…” More cursing. “WHAT THE ‘ELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”
“I don’t know what you want me to say…”
“That bad, huh? How many were there?”
“They threatened to fuck me eye socket in!”
“… Did they?”
“ ‘Im and the other blokes! The coppers held Pintel back and five of ‘em did me and they chucked me back in an’ then Barbossa got Bo’sun to ‘old me down and all four of them went for me eye!”
“Okay, eurgh. Just… eurgh.” Jack winced, quite possibly a first in his life. “Are you… physically in one piece?”
“No thanks to you!”
“What exactly do you expect me to have done?”
“I don’t know! Yer the smart one, right? Ye’d think of somethin’!”
“I couldn’t even…” He stopped himself. “I think you’re putting too much faith in me here…”
“You… ye shoulda been there! They mighta listened to you!”
“I sincerely doubt that.”
“Yeah well… fuck you.”
Silence fell between the lines.
“I… am sorry, for what it’s worth.”
“No, I don’t suppose it would be…” Jack thought. “Are you getting, you know, help with that?”
“Uh, I found a card for this group. I was gonna call. Don’t know if they’ve ever seen anything like this before.”
“Well, worth a try.”
Chapter 69: Minty and Juby about Dewey
Minty and Jubilee found out when their parents took them aside.
“Minty, Juby, could you come into our room for a minute? We need to talk in private.”
Both the girls tensed up at those words, just for a moment. But not for long. Their new-ish mom and dad had been nothing but good to them, and had been so horrified when they found out what Grandpa did. And their bedroom was really the only place they could talk in private in an apartment with twelve other kids in it. There was nothing to fear, and so they went into the bedroom and shut the door.
“Okay, girls,” said Dad, pacing and running his hands through his hair, “okay, we just need a quick talk. Okay…”
“Are we in trouble?” Juby asked, already moving to hide behind her sister.
“No! Uh, yes? Um, not exactly,” Dad babbled, looking helplessly to Mom.
“That depends, but probably not,” said Mom. “See, girls, we had a call from one of your classmate’s guardians.”
Minty frowned, and cautiously asked, “Which one?”
Mom sighed. “Dewey Duck’s.”
Jubilee paled. “M-Minty’s boyfriend?”
Mom bit her lip. “Yes. Did you girls ever…” She shook her head. “He said that you did… certain things with him. Is that true?”
The sisters glanced at each other. “I…” Jubilee broke off. “… Why are you asking us that? Is… is it important?”
Mom nodded. “Yes. It is.”
Jubilee’s lip trembled. Minty shuffled her feet and looked at the ceiling.
“We’re waiting, girls,” said Mom, a bit more firmly.
“But it’s not like it hurt him!” Juby burst out. “And he said it was okay! He said!”
Dad let out a quiet little sob.
“Okay,” Mom said, raising her hands. “That’s what his uncle said Dewey told him. You’re not in trouble, then, but we still need to talk about this.”
“Why?” Minty cocked her head. “He said it was okay! We asked him first, we always asked him!”
“Yeah!” Jubilee agreed. “We woulda stopped if he told us too! It’s not like we made him do it…” She trailed off. “Is… is he okay?”
Another sigh. “Girls, do you remember what we told you after your grandpa went to jail? About… the things he did?”
Minty’s brow furrowed. “But… but we didn’t do that stuff to him. We never filmed it or anything and we didn’t stick stuff in him.”
“And you said Grandpa was bad ‘cause we’re kids and he wasn’t, but Dewey’s only a year younger than me, and he’s only two years younger than her. How is that like what Grandpa did?”
“Well… it’s less bad, but when both people are kids, it’s still not great. See, how much do you know about sex apart from what your grandpa did?”
“Oh, I know that,” Minty said. “But Dewey’s not old enough to… to give us babies and I don’t think he has any infections.”
“Yeah, that’s… that’s part of the problem,” sighed Dad, fidgeting nervously with his hands. “See, adults’ brains and bodies are set up to have sex, but kids haven’t developed that far yet. And you can know what sex is, but still not be ready to do it.”
“But Dewey said he was!”
“Did he say he was ready, or that it was okay for you to do it?” Mom said delicately.
“Uh…” Minty fidgeted. “He… he said…”
“He just said it was okay…” Juby flushed as red as her hair. “Did… did we… He said it was okay!” Her breath came quickly and Dad moved over to gently touch her hand. “Did we hurt him?! Is that what this is about?! Did we hurt him?!”
Their parents looked at each other for a long time.
“That’s not fair!” Minty glared at the floor. “That isn’t… How were we supposed to know?! We asked and he said it was fine…”
“That’s just it, you wouldn’t have known,” said Mom. “That’s why you’re not in trouble. It seems like Dewey said yes when he didn’t really mean it, and you accidentally assumed he did.”
“But… but if he didn’t mean it, why would he say it?” Minty asked, screwing up her face as her eyes started to gleam. “Did we scare him? Did he think we’d hurt him if he didn’t say yes?”
“From what his uncle told us, no,” said Dad. “It sounds like he did it because he thought you were cool and grown-up, and he wanted you to think he was too.”
“… Did we hurt him?”
“Physically, no, but…” Dad spoke gently. “Did your grandpa ever leave you feeling gross even though he’d done something that didn’t hurt? Maybe even felt good? And it was confusing? That sounds like it’s how Dewey’s feeling, and he didn’t understand why he felt bad, so he kept saying yes.”
The girls’ faces reddened, and tears finally fell.
“We did that to him?!” Jubilee blubbered. “I… I didn’t wanna hurt him!”
“This… this is all my fault!” Minty breathed. “It was my idea! This is all my fault!”
“Hey… hey.” Dad rubbed her back. “It’s not your fault, okay? You girls didn’t know…”
“I-I liked him! I thought… I thought that’s what we were supposed to do! I thought it would make Juby feel better!” She wiped her eyes. “I didn’t wanna make him feel bad! Does he… does he hate me now?! Is he mad?!”
“No! No, he… He’d been trying to talk to us through the whole call, and his uncle gave him the phone right at the end. He was very insistent that you two shouldn’t get in trouble. He… he thought it was his fault.” Dad wiped away tears of his own. “It wasn’t. If it was anyone’s fault, it was your grandpa’s for making you think that was how you were supposed to show love, and our fault for not explaining better why it’s not. None of you kids are in any trouble.”
“Is he gonna be okay?”
“Yeah, his uncle said he’s going to Penelope’s group now. He seems to be doing well there,” said Mom. “Now, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you not to do this again, right?” Two frantically shaking heads. “Good. And I think you should talk about it with Dr. Abbagale, okay?”
“… Okay,” Minty nodded. “We can do that, right, Juby?”
“That’s what I like to hear.” Mom smiled tightly.
When their parents had gone the sisters turned to each other.
“I wish we could tell him we’re sorry…” Jubilee said quietly.
It would be some time before either could work up the nerve.
Chapter 70: D.W. about Nadine
D.W. found out without ever wanting to.
The man from the lot had gone and left her. Left her in the dark. Left her alone…
Perhaps not so alone after all.
“Who’s there?! What’s going on?!”
“My name’s… my name’s N-Nadine. What’s yours?”
A small figure in the darkness. Another little girl.
“Uh, I’m D.W.” Not much of the other girl was visible, but D.W. could see the edge of a high ponytail bobbing as she moved. When she came closer, D.W. wrinkled her nose. “How come you smell so bad?”
“H-he doesn’t put us in the bath much.” The girl scratched at her hair.
“Then why’d he take our clothes?”
A long silence.
“Look, D.W. … there are rules that you should know about, okay? Ones you gotta follow.”
“First is that you can’t yell. Don’t ever yell, no matter how much you want to. Even if you’re scared. Even if he hurts you. He’ll just make it worse if you make him mad.”
“Worse? Worse than what?”
“The second rule is that you can’t ask him for anything more than what he gives you. Not food. Not water. Don’t even ask him for your clothes or a bath or anything. He’ll make you earn it, or else he’ll get mad.”
“Earn it? What do you-”
“And the third rule… the third rule is that you gotta do what he says. Even if it’s gross and scary. You have to do what he wants or else he’ll get mad and… and then he’ll hurt you. Hurt you really, really bad. You understand?”
But she would, soon.
A month later, she knew all she thought there was to know. She knew she was sick, and was sure she would be in the basement forever. She wondered if she’d be there even when she was a grown-up; all her friends would go to college and have kids of their own and she’d still be down in the dark.
Nadine was peeking out through the keyhole. Now D.W. thought she could hear creaking floorboards, and she tensed. It wasn’t as loud as when he came, though.
Nadine said it first. “Someone else is in the house.”
A man’s voice. That man’s voice. And a… girl. Footsteps. D.W. knew his footsteps by now. She knew what he sounded like…
“Someone else is outside the door,” Nadine whispered.
D.W.’s breath caught in her throat.
“We need to yell.”
“What?! Are you crazy, Nadine?!”
“No! We gotta yell!”
“But the rules-”
“The rules worked because there wasn’t anyone around to hear us. Now there is! There’s someone right outside the door, and we gotta yell.”
“But what if he hears us?”
“What if this person doesn’t?!” Nadine protested. “We’ll be stuck here until-” She cut off abruptly.
“Until?” So they wouldn’t be here forever, but the “until” sounded bad.
Nadine twisted her fingers together and said, “You know how I didn’t want to talk about what he did when he took me away? Well, it was worse than anything he’d done before and I think he did it to the kids before us too and he’s gonna do it to you and lots of other kids if we don’t do something!”
“What did he do?”
“You know the stuff he makes you do with his… thing, and your mouth?”
“He did that with me. Only… only he stuck it in my…” A gesture.
D.W.’s eyes went wide. “Your privates?!”
“Yes! He did! It really hurt and there was a lot of blood and then he gave me those cookies and made me sleep for a real long time! It was really, really bad! He’s gonna do that to you if you don’t get out of here! You gotta scream, D.W.! Scream.”
“O-okay,” D.W. said, and swallowed hard. “But you gotta scream too.”
Chapter 71: Remus about Bryan
Remus Leverett found out when he drove his nephew home.
“You ain’t seemin’ too happy to be outta jail,” he commented, with the best of intentions.
“Oh? Oh, trust me, Uncle Remus, I’s happy.” Bryan’s haunted look did not fade. He shivered, just a little.
“Sure don’t look it.”
His nephew’s brow furrowed into a glare. That famous temper. Then it smoothed over, the rough going out of it like the grain from buffing paper. “Sorry,” he sighed, not without some irritation.
“S’okay. Jus’ wantin’ to make sure you’s feelin’ alright.” As alright as a man could feel fresh out of prison, anyway.”
“Uh. Better now I’s out, anyroad.” Bryan curled in on himself and looked away.
Remus Leverett was an intelligent man. He knew what prison was like. His nephew was small, and mouthy, and black. “Somethin’ happened, di’nt it?” he asked cautiously.
“… A lotta somethin’s, Uncle Remus. A lotta somethin’s.” Tears now. “Smarts only get ya so far when there ain’t nowhere to run. It ain’t fair.”
“Aw, little rabbit. I’m so sorry. I know that don’t help much.”
“ ‘S more’n nothin’ would.” He sighed. “I weren’t the only one, neither, an’ none of us could take it to court, even the white guys, the cops was in on it! Not all of ‘em but we cain’t tell who knows and don’t care.”
Remus wished to God he could say that was a surprise.
Chapter 72: Masaru about Jessie, James, and Woodson, and them about him
Masaru Sugimori found out when his friends left the station with bruises, and his friends found out when he showed them.
James with a black eye. Jessie with a bloody nose. Woodson walking with a limp. Purple and red around their wrists, the place where hands had squeezed. He’d seen those kind of marks before. In the mirror.
“Are you in need of medical attention?” was the first thing out of his mouth, in his usual monotone.
“No, we’re…” Jessie glanced at the boys, who nodded uncertainly. “We’re fine.”
“As you wish.” There was silence for a while, and then he said, “I presume you don’t want to talk about it, but perhaps I should say I am aware of what happened. You have enough to be concerned about without the stress of trying to hide it from me.”
“Nothin’ happened,” Woodson mumbled. “Ya got that? Nobody did nothin’.”
“We both know that isn’t true.”
“Masaru…” James’ usual whine had something thinner behind it. “Please.”
“If you’re sure. But, if it helps…” He pulled up his own sleeve, revealing identical bruises on his wrist.
The group was silent for another moment. Then Jessie said, simply, “Your dad?”
“Both parents, actually.”
“Do… do you wanna talk about it?”
“That’s… okay. That’s fine.”
For a while they didn’t speak.
“… Hey, guys?” Woodson asked after walking a few blocks on his bum leg. “Think it’ll always be like this? Us going to the police station and going back to the boss and… and… all ‘f it?”
“I don’t know…” Jessie didn’t sound optimistic.
Masaru shook his head. “It won’t,” he told them. “Someday we’ll die.”
They burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry… that’s just… that was jus’ so sudden…” Woodson cackled. “Someday we’ll die? What th’ hell is this? Some fourteen year old’s diary?”
“An edgy fourteen year old!”
“Well, that’s not too far off from what we are,” Masaru said, coming as close to a smile as he ever did.
“True,” Jessie said through laughs.
When their laughter trailed off, they searched for words again, until Masaru suddenly asked, “Do you resent me for not being caught?”
“Whoa! Heavy stuff.”
“No! Of course we don’t!”
“Why would you even ask that?”
“… I have a sister.”
“Oh. Is she-”
“My parents… they’ve never hurt her. Not like…” He shook his head. “She’s a genius. A real genius, not just with an above-average IQ. So they don’t touch her.”
“And you blame her for that?” There was no accusation in the words.
“Yes,” he said coldly. “I do.”
“Well… we don’t,” James told him. “If that means anything to you…”
It did, but Masaru didn't reply right away. He wasn’t quite sure of what to say back.
So he said nothing at all.
Chapter 73: Cosmo and Wanda about Timmy
Cosmo and Wanda found out because of a question.
“Uh, Cosmo? I have to ask you something, and I think I need to use a bad word. I need to know what it means.”
Wanda would have picked up on how uncomfortable Timmy looked, but she was in the kitchen, and Cosmo was not so perceptive. “Well, okay. And if it’s a fun swear you can say it around me! Just don’t tell your mom.” He winked and tapped the boy’s nose. Bad language which insulted people was off-limits, but letting Timmy say “shit” in secret had been cause for hours of entertainment for both of them.
“I don’t think this is a fun swear.” Timmy bit his lip, and asked, “What’s it mean when someone calls you a fairy, but they seem to mean it in a mean way?”
“Huh? Oh! It means a gay guy! It’s supposed to be insulting… sorta like using the other f-word.”
“The other f-word?”
“Yeah! Fa- Hey, wait… who called you a fairy, anyway?”
Timmy looked down at his lap. “Um… it was Vicky…”
Not too surprising there. “Aw, c’mere,” Cosmo said, pulling Timmy into a hug and ruffling his hair. Timmy remained oddly still. “She’s just being dumb.”
“Who’s being dumb?” Wanda said, emerging from the kitchen with coffee and juice.
“Oh, her.” Wanda rolled her eyes. “We’ve got to talk to your parents about her, Timmy-”
“No!” Both adults stopped and stared at Timmy, who muffled his words with his hands. “No, it’s… I mean it’s no big deal.”
“No. It’s… it’s fine… everything’s… fine.”
Clearly, it was not.
“Timmy, she really shouldn’t-”
“You can’t tell them! If you do-” Immediately, he clammed up.
“If we do… what?”
He shook his head.
“Timmy.” Wanda knelt down by the couch and put a hand on Timmy’s face. “Did she do something worse than usual? Did she threaten to?”
The tiniest of nods.
Timmy didn’t have any visible injuries. And he didn’t want to talk about it. Wanda’s mind found the obvious track. “Oh my God…”
Cosmo picked up on her horror. “What? What’s going on?”
“Timmy.” Wanda gripped his shoulders and looked him dead in the eye. “Did Vicky do anything… inappropriate with you? Did she touch you, in any way?”
“… Don’t tell Mom and Dad…”
Cosmo paled. “She… oh my God… this is… this is really bad… this…”
Wanda cut her eyes in his direction. “Not helping.”
“Please!” Timmy begged. “Don’t tell them! It’s not… it’s not that bad!”
Wanda’s mind raced, and landed on a course of action. “Okay. Okay, we don’t have to tell your parents right away. But you really ought to think about it, because if we don’t tell them, they’re going to keep hiring her.”
“I know, but it’s okay! I can wait a few years…”
“Timmy, she might really hurt you, or she might have some illness you could catch. I don’t want to risk it. But it’s up to you, and I won’t make you tell them, at least not yet. I know it took a lot out of you to tell us. I think you might need a break before telling them.”
“She’ll hurt me if I do tell,” Timmy said. “She… she told me that if I tried… she’d do to me what she did to her little brother… and I-I don’t think she has a brother! What if she decides she wants me dead?!”
“Okay, Timmy, that isn’t going to-”
“No! I can deal with it! I don’t want her to-”
“Timmy, please! Just listen to me, okay? I’m not going to let that happen to you, alright? Neither will Cosmo… but we do need to tell your mom and dad.”
“They won’t believe me. They never do…”
She wished to God he wasn’t right.
Chapter 74: Oliver about his friends
Oliver found out when he asked.
“Why do I have to hide in the cupboard and listen to music when people come over?”
“Er.” Fagin couldn’t meet Oliver’s eyes. “Because those people are here for… work, and they don’t want a kid getting in the way.”
Oliver could tell he was not being entirely truthful, but decided not to press it. Instead, he went to ask the others.
“ ‘Cause he don’ want you to see us fuckin’,” said Tito bluntly.
“To see you what?”
“Fuckin’. It’s when-”
“Tito!” Rita cut him off.
“What? Kid asked…”
“Yeah!” Oliver nodded. “What’s he talking about?”
Rita sighed. “Um… how much do you know about sex?”
“Doesn’t that just mean whether you’re a boy or a girl? That’s what Francis said when I heard it in his weird movies.” Oliver remembered the line. Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex / We cannot fight for love as men may do / We should be wooed and were not made to woo. Francis’ movies were hard to understand, but the rhythm of the words was soothing, and it made Francis happy when he got to explain them while they watched.
“Um, partly, but it’s also a thing people do. Which is… um.”
“What we do,” Tito added, but he sounded serious now.
“Yeah, but what is it?”
“Uh…” Dodger twisted the bandana at his throat. “You know how we had Rita give you that talk a while ago? About…” He blushed red and shuffled his feet.
The woman sighed. “Oliver, you know about your private parts, right?”
A slow, confused nod. “Yeah…”
“Okay, so basically sex is what grown-ups do with those things…”
“I thought they were just for going to the bathroom.”
“They are, but there’s also some other stuff they start to do when you get older.”
“What kind of stuff?”
“Um, well, when you touch them in certain ways, it feels good. You may have noticed that already but it gets stronger when you get older. And when you’re a grown-up, it feels even better if someone else touches them. So people give us money, and that’s what we do. But if someone tries to do it to you, you scream and run and tell us, right? You’re not old enough and you could get hurt.”
Oliver’s eyes widened. “Wait, is that why I have to hide? So no one tries to make me…?”
“… Yeah,” Tito said. “Some people would, even though they shouldn’t, and we wanna make sure they don’t.”
“Oh. But… but why does… being a kid make it different?”
“Because kids don’t know anything ‘bout sex,” Dodger told him. “Not really.”
“But you just told me.”
“Yeah, but you still didn’t get it, did you?”
“Is this one of those grown-up things?”
“Yeah, kid. Yeah…”
Why does he look so serious?
“Just let us worry about that stuff, okay?”
Chapter 75: Bailey about Tadashi
Bailey Maxwell found out when his friend’s brother arrived at his house, in tears and with a police escort.
“Hello, Hiro,” he said, his usual mild smile turning into a mild frown. “Hello, officer. How may I help you?”
“Uh, hi, doctor. I’m Officer Hopps, and I have some bad news, I’m afraid. Hiro wanted to be present when we told you.” She put a hand on the weeping boy’s shoulder. “It isn’t really standard protocol since you’re not direct family, but we thought it would help him.”
“Oh dear. Of course, come in.”
Maxwell’s living room was so tidy as to seem almost sterile, but the pristine white armchairs and couch were soft and plush and almost swallowed up Hiro and the small police officer entirely. “May I offer you a drink?”
Officer Hopps looked at Hiro. “No, I’m fine, thanks, but I think Hiro might need one.”
He picked up on the expression. “I believe that Hiro is below the drinking age…”
Hiro sobbed harder.
“What has him so upset?” Maxwell asked the officer. “He appears to be uninjured, so I take it you’ve delivered some rather-”
“Tadashi!” Hiro cried out. It was all he could say.
Tadashi Hamada had been missing for years…
“I understand you worked with Tadashi Hamada?” the officer asked.
“I did. I provided information for his medical robot design. He named it after me, in fact. Are you familiar with the Baymax prototype? It was mentioned by certain news outlets.”
“Yes, I’ve heard about it. It sounded amazing, if only he’d…” She trailed off, but the end of her sent acne was clear; been able to finish it. “I’m sorry to say that we’ve found new information, and it’s not a happy ending. Tadashi Hamada is… deceased.”
Maxwell leaned forward and folded his hands. “That is a great tragedy. I apologise that I am not reacting outwardly. I am autistic and in my case it manifests in a detached manner. I assure you I am truly distressed.”
Judy swallowed, but nodded in understanding. “Of course. I’m very sorry for your loss, but…”
“There is more, isn’t there?”
“I’m afraid that his death seems to have been connected to ‘God’s Will First’ - the, um… the hate crime group. He… he was murdered.” A pause. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
Maxwell remained silent for a long moment. “Am I to presume it was because he was not a Christian?”
“That, and his being of mixed race. We found a whole binder in the cult’s headquarters, detailing the ‘crimes’ for which their victims were punished.” Judy cleared her throat. “Which leads into the other thing we have to tell you. They had another binder of… potential future victims-”
“And both of us are in it!” Hiro broke in. “You and me!”
“Hiro, for the same reasons as his brother, I imagine? And me for… half of those reasons.”
“You were listed as a nonbeliever, and an enabler… and ‘prideful’.”
“Prideful? Is that because of my career? I know certain fundementalist groups object to the medical sciences.”
“We actually believe that what they’re referring to is asexuality. According to them, it’s a sign of pride to not reproduce, or to claim you’re immune to sinful thoughts. Or something, it was weird.”
A longer silence. “How did they find out? I do not exactly hide it but that is not something they could tell by looking. They would have to have found out from… I can think of two ways. Either from a Pride march which took place last year - I managed a safer sex awareness booth and wore a set of badges indicating my asexuality and aromaticity - or from a colleague of mine. Is there any chance of the latter?”
“It’s… possible. We know they have some highly placed members. Their files had a great deal of information that implies they have access to legal records, and it would explain why we’ve only been able to connect one or two members at a time to certain previous crimes. They covered up for each other.”
Maxwell sat quietly for a long time, studying his hands, and Hopps was about to break the silence when he spoke. “How bad was it? For Tadashi, I mean. I do not want to be left wondering about it.”
“There was nothing left!” wailed Hiro. “They burned him alive, they told the cops like they’d done nothing wrong! They had to identify his DNA from the old blood on the warehouse floor!”
“That is most upsetting to hear.”
“That isn’t… that’s not even the worst thing they did!” the boy continued. “They… they… they…!”
Maxwell looked to the officer expectantly. “I do not believe that Hiro is in any sort of condition to finish his sentence. Would you please tell me what it is he is trying to say?”
The policewoman nodded. “Um… we don’t have a whole lot of… physical evidence, but judging from the cult’s ledger and the statements many of the members have made it appears that… Tadashi Hamada was raped before he died.”
“By all of them!” Hiro sobbed.
Only Hiro, who knew the man well, noticed the almost imperceptibly slight widening of Maxwell’s eyes, the tiny intake of breath. “That is terrible. Hiro, I am so sorry to hear this. It must be extremely distressing for you. It is for me, even if I do not show it in a common manner. Tadashi was a good friend.” He turned his placid gaze on Hopps. “Officer, will you require us to testify in court? I would like to help.”
“That's entirely up to you. A number of individuals have already come forward to testify, and, as Hiro stated, several members of the group have admitted to their actions. Every extra voice will be helpful, but if you choose not to testify, I doubt it will harm the case.”
When Hiro and the officer had gone, Maxwell sat still in his chair and took several deep breaths, then stood up. He walked out to the garage, which he had converted into a home gym. He hung up his heaviest punching bag and hit it until the chain holding it seemed ready to snap, over and over and over again.
For the first time in ages, Bailey Maxwell wanted to hurt someone.
Chapter 76: The Caballeros about Panchito
The man in question immediately stood and rushed over. “How is he? Is he okay?!”
The doctor, a portly man with a bushy mustache, gave him a gentle smile. “Your husband is in stable condition, and we have no reason to believe he won’t make a full physical recovery.”
José sighed in relief. “Oh, thank God…”
“Would you like to see him? I should warn you, he’s still unconscious.”
“I don’t care. Take me to him, Doc.”
In such a harsh situation, the eye often focuses on small details. José ignored the machinery and IV drip surrounding the man in the bed and saw only the man himself, and his first statement, trivial as it felt later, was: “Oh, his hair… He was always so proud of his hair!” He sat down beside the bed and looked closer, taking in Panchito’s pallor, his bruises, his split lip. “Panchito? Panchinho, amor, it’s me!”
The man on the bed said nothing, only continued to breath in that slow but steady pattern. José gently cupped his cheek. “Oh, Panchinho, what did they do to you?”
The doctor cleared his throat. “I assume you’ll be spending the night?” He motioned to a nearby couch. “That does fold out into a bed, if you would feel more comfortable-”
“Thank you for the offer, but I think I’ll stay here.” José’s eyes never left his husband.
“Of course. We’ll be checking in periodically. Let us know if you or him need anything.”
José nodded, took hold of his husband’s hand, and settled in for a long wait. It was then he noticed something.
“Doctor? I don’t suppose you know where his wedding ring is, do you?”
“It… seems he was robbed as well,” said the doctor diplomatically. José noticed immediately he wasn’t telling the whole story, but decided not to push it. If the doctor was hiding something, that was up to Panchito to tell. “It’s probably still in the warehouse. Hopefully the police will find it, though they might have to take it as evidence.”
“Oh…” José trailed off. A pause. “That was a family heirloom of his. It was his abuelo’s…”
“I’m sure they’ll find it,” the doctor assured him. “Will there be anything else before I go?”
José shook his head, and as the doctor left, he placed his ear against his husband's chest.
Thump thump thump…
It was… reassuring, hearing that.
José must have fallen asleep, as the next thing he knew he was lying across the bed and Panchito was stirring beneath him. “Huh? José? ¿Estás ahí?”
“Panchinho!” The man sprang awake immediately, kissing his husband tenderly and repeatedly. “¡Te amo! ¡Eu te amo muito, muito!” He continued to kiss his husband repeatedly, connecting his lips with his own as the oxygen mask had been taken off at some point in the night.
Panchito remained stiff and still, and José stopped. “Panchito? What’s wrong? You’re not kissing back… Oh, your lip, does it hurt?”
Panchito’s eyes filled with tears that immediately overflowed, and his eyes lowered until José’s couldn’t meet them. He started to give out pitiful small sobs.
“I… I… I’m so sorry, José… I didn’t… they…”
“Shhh, shhh, it’s okay, Panchito, just… just tell me what’s wrong.”
“I… How much did Donald tell you?”
“He told me some crazy cult kidnapped you and you had to go to the hospital. That was as much as he knew.”
“Y-yeah. A homophobic cult. They… they thought we should be punished. They were gonna kill you too, once they found you. And…” Panchito held up his heavily bandaged right hand, the one José had not been holding. It took a moment for José to notice, but the index finger was gone.
“Oh… oh, Panchito, amor…” he murmured softly, gently holding his husband’s right hand in both his own. “I… I’m so sorry…”
“That wasn’t the worst of it. They took me into this warehouse, they read out a charge list… There was blood all over the floor! I wasn’t the first! And they made me take my clothes off, and…” He raised his shaking left hand to his lips.
Panchito couldn’t look him in the eyes. “They… they…” A deep breath. “They forced me on my knees… made me open my mouth… and then… then they…” A stifled sob. “They… they forced me to pleasure them!”
“Oh meu Deus… Panchito, I’m so sorry!” Tears welled up in José’s eyes. “How many? I must know how many people we have to kill!”
“Fifty-three. I counted. And it got worse!”
“How could it possibly get any worse?!”
José would regret asking that question.
“They used a gun!” Panchito cried out. “They used a gun and they shoved it up my ass. I think it might have been loaded! Thank God it didn’t go off! And… and…” His sobs threatened to choke his voice out entirely, and he stopped to get his breath back under control. José placed a hand on his back and drew him closer. “One of them… ‘scuse me, I can’t breathe…” Wordlessly, José produced a handkerchief, and Panchito blew his nose. “They held me down, and one of them got on top of me and… he touched me.”
“You… you don’t mean…”
“On my manhood. He… he made me look at him… you don’t want to know what he threatened otherwise… and…” He sniffed, and looked down in pure shame. “And… I came from that.”
The tone of his voice broke José’s heart. “Panchito, you can’t seriously think that meant anything! You know that just happens when…” He couldn’t bear to say it.
“When I get excited,” Panchito said bitterly.
Panchito glanced up, looking just about ready to break down in tears. “Te amo. Te amo mucho.” He looked away. “But… I… I think I… need a moment. Alone.”
José said nothing. Then… “Okay. Okay, I’m gonna go… grab a coffee. I’ll be back, okay?”
“Wait. What do you want me to tell Donald, if he asks? I mean, he saw you afterwards but I don’t think he knows all of it.”
“Please just tell him everything.” Panchito hugged himself. “He’ll find out eventually, and I… I don’t want to tell people any more than I’ll have to. Just don’t tell the kids, okay? I don’t want los patitos to be scared.”
“Okay. I’ll be back.”
He walked down the corridor to the small hospital coffee shop, his head buzzing. When he was next aware of himself, it was when he heard a voice.
He didn’t even remember ordering the mocha in his hands.
“Donald! Didn’t see you there.”
“Uh, yeah, I understand you’re a bit preoccupied. It’s okay.”
Awkwardly, to avoid spilling or squashing the mocha cup, José hugged his friend. “Panchito owes you his life - me too, in fact. He said they had plans for me.”
“Aw, well,” Donald said, blushing and shuffling his feet. “It’s Gyro you should thank, he hacked the phone signal. And we couldn’t have done anything without police backup. I mean, Uncle Scrooge could probably have dealt with about twenty of them but that still left a lot for me…” He chuckled, but José didn’t join in. Donald cleared his throat. “So, what exactly…?”
José couldn’t bear to say it all. But he said enough.
Chapter 77: Professor Oak about Blue
Samuel Oak found out when his other grandson made him listen.
“This is good…-ish.”
It was breakfast and as per usual Blue had eaten everything but his scrambled eggs. Gary was at Ash’s house, having slept over the night before. Red was eating the neglected eggs off Blue’s plate and smothering them in maple syrup runoff. He swallowed and then coughed. Twice.
“You alright, son?”
“Oh, yeah, fine… but I think Blue might be feeling a little bl- ow! Uh, under the weather…” He turned to look at Oak’s grandson. “You’re mean.”
“I pinched you, don’t be such a wuss.”
“Ah,” Oak coughed, “I am still here, you know.”
“Um… has Ms. Tweedy said anything to you lately?”
“Well, I see her every day-”
“Uh, I meant about me.”
“Noooo,” he said slowly. “Should she have? Hold on… What did you do?”
“Nothing!” His grandson held up his hands. “Well… hypothetically speaking, what would you do if Gary had a thing for Ash?”
“Blue, I’m… pretty sure he doesn’t.”
“Well, what if? Or… what if I did?”
“… You ‘have a thing’ for Ash?”
Blue turned pink. Red snickered. “Yeah, that sounds all kinds of weird.”
“S-Shut up! I… Shut up!” He turned to his grandfather. “And no. I don’t have, like, a thing for annoying ten-year-olds…”
“What about their annoying half-brothers?”
Oak blinked, and his fork flicked between the two of them. “You two are together?”
“Um… yes…?” Blue bit his lip.
Oak grinned. “Knew it.”
“Wha… wait, you knew I was gay?!”
“Yes! Well,” Oak corrected himself, “I didn’t know you were gay, precisely. But I thought you two might be together.”
“What made you think that?!”
He shrugged. “How you two interacted was all. Did you think I minded? There are other things to be worried about than who you want to, er, spend your time with.”
“Um, well…” Blue began to stammer. “I…”
“I did hire Wilhelmina, didn’t I? No problems there. And I let that little Misty girl come over. She has more than one mo-”
“She’s being raised by her sisters, actually. It’s different. Besides… some people will be okay with other people’s kids being, uh… you know… but it’s different when it’s one of your own. Not that I’m your kid, I just… you know what I mean.” He looked away. “Some people care.”
“Well, about this, I don’t. Besides, you could do a lot worse than Red.” He took another bite of his eggs. “Like one of your troublemaking friends. Wouldn’t do you any good to get involved with one of them.”
Blue and Red looked at each other then.
“Wait, why exactly were you worried about Wilhelmina telling me you were gay? You know she isn’t the sort to do that.”
“That’s… not what she wanted me to tell you. It’s part of it, but not… the main part.”
Blue looked at Red again. “I… don’t think I can do this.”
“Sure you… Alright, do you want me…?” His boyfriend nodded. “Uh, Blue’s ‘friends’ kind of found out about us. They- I don’t know if they’re Catholic, but they’re in with that Viridiana guy… it was pretty bad.”
Samuel’s face initially grew pale, then he seemed to take a breath. His lips pressed into a thin line, and he looked at Blue. “How bad?”
Blue went pale and looked down.
“Does this have to do with what put you in the hospital?”
“Did they… do something worse?”
Slowly but surely, Blue nodded to that as well.
“How long has Wilhelmina known?”
“Um… about a week? It happened a little while ago but she said that she was gonna tell you if I didn’t. And soon.”
“I…” Oak put a hand on his arm. “You told her before-”
“I didn’t know how to tell you! You’re, like… You told me not to hang out with them. You’re always telling me-”
“Did you think I would be upset?”
No answer. Neither boy said anything for a long time.
“Well, um… yeah, I guess…”
“Because I told you not to get involved?” Oak sighed. “Look… I’ll admit I was worried you’d get hurt, but… not like this. Even if I did, that doesn’t mean you’d deserve it. You know that, right?”
Blue said nothing.
A sigh. “Have you been tested?”
“For diseases. You really don’t know if you might have caught something. If you need treatment it’s better to catch that sooner.”
“They didn’t… um, isn’t it harder to get stuff like that from girls? Cassidy Yamato was the only one who-” He swallowed. “The guys used my mouth.”
“Blue, that's not-” Oak sighed. “Listen, I think you’d better let me take you to get looked at. Just in case. I did that with Gary… it wasn’t so bad.”
“Let me rephrase that. I’m your legal guardian. You’re sixteen. And I’m going to help you whether you like it or not.”
“Are you going to make me do a kit?”
Oak thought, and sighed. “A forensic kit, no. Considering the situation, especially with the department… well, I’ll leave reporting the incident up to you. But after breakfast we are getting you tested.”
“Well… the hospital is an option. If you’d prefer something smaller, though, I know the Planned Parenthood can take care of that too.”
“Planned Parenthood then. I… Sugimori’s mom works at the hospital. At least if we go to PP I won’t know anybody there.”
“Alright, that’s fine.” He squeezed Blue’s shoulder, forcing his face into a smile. He hoped it looked reassuring. “Listen… I hope you know you can talk to me… and I’m proud of you for telling me, I know that must have been hard.”
Blue’s face creased up and tears started to fall, but before he pulled Oak into a hug, the professor noticed he was smiling. Oak realised, in that moment, he couldn’t remember ever telling Blue he was proud of him before.
Well, that was going to change.
Chapter 78: Pacifica about her parents
Spot the inspiration again!
Pacifica found out when her street was blocked by police cars.
The bus had to drop her off at the end of the street instead of at her door. She stepped off with a huff, making a note to get the driver fired, and started walking. Daddy should have paid extra to get her into Werth, their drivers wouldn’t be this incompetent; so what if she hadn’t made the grades?
She dodged past a policeman on the sidewalk, clearly not looking where he was going, head down without a care in the world. Or none about her anyway. He did look up when she brushed him.
“Hey, you can’t-”
But Pacifica kept going. More police cars. More officers. Weird. Was that a news van?
Why was the chaos all centred on her house?
When she approached the porch, she found police tape, and the cameras just beginning to roll.
“-senior correspondent Howard Handupme, at the scene of a grisly-”
“Hey! Old man! What’s the big idea?!”
The newscaster cleared his throat. “Excuse me, miss, you can’t go inside.”
“What?” She glared. Who did he think he was, telling her what to do? Pacifica pushed the tape up to go anyway, but the man reached out. “Let me go!” she snapped.
“This is my house!”
For some reason that seemed to surprise him. Shock him. Enough that he fell silent and she shoved through with no further resistance. Now… where was Daddy?
There were more policemen than she had ever seen inside the house, and an unspeakable smell. She couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from, but it stank like rotting meat, like freshly-filed metal. Pacifica had rarely smelled those things, so she simply registered it as gross and made a note to complain to Daddy about that too. Some officers were making comments about the crawlspaces, and the basement.
“Daddy!” she called, above the hubbub. “Daaaaddyyyy, get rid of these people! I wanna watch TV!”
A man in blue passed by her then and stopped his tracks. His badge would have said "Davis" if she read it, but she didn’t bother. Pacifica scowled as he kneeled down, gross, soppy expression on his face. Pity. But she didn’t have much experience with that.
“Hey, kiddo,” he said gently, “you’re not supposed to be in here.”
“Uh, yes I am,” she rolled her eyes. “It’s my house. What are you… Huh?” He looked like he actually might cry then. Gross. “What’s wrong with you?”
“You’re the Northwests’ daughter?”
“Uh, yah? Like, my picture’s up there? Duh,” she said, pointing to the wall. “Where are my parents? Why are you here?” She sniffed. “Did you guys bring that stink in here?” He didn’t reply for a long moment, and now she was starting to get worried.
“Uh… look, what’s your first name, miss?”
“Pacifica, but it’s Miss Northwest to you,” she said, flipping her hair.
“Miss Northwest… your parents aren’t here.”
The smell wormed its way into Pacifica’s memory. As a twelve-year-old girl, she was just getting used to regularly smelling blood. But this scent was so much stronger, so much more, she hadn’t considered… “W-wait… did something happen to them?” Without waiting for an answer, her mind and her mouth ran away with her. “It did, didn’t it? My mom and dad are hurt or dead and you’re messing about and ruining everything, why didn’t you call me at school?!”
Basement, she remembered they’d said. The officer put a hand out towards her; she slipped under his arm and ran for the open basement door.
True to the policeman’s word, the room did not contain her parents. It didn’t contain anybody. Not even the officers.
What there was: a metal table, and metal chains attached to a metal grate on the floor, and a metal drain, and metal tools. And metal on the walls where the paint had been skinned from it.
Carvings. All over the walls. Words.
A lot of them just said things like "sorry" or… or…
Some of them were only dates. Only names. A few were longer.
Shelves of syringes, scalpels, things she didn’t recognise. Things she was too young to be supposed to recognise, but did. A glass-topped box the size of a coffin, the clear lid marred by scratches on the inside. Tanks of leeches. Cages of rats. Red, red, red, faded to brown and black.
Maybe she said it aloud and maybe she didn’t, but in a moment the man from before was behind her, tugging on her arm.
“Miss, please, you really can’t be-”
“What is this?!” she breathed, almost hysterical. “What is this place?”
“Miss Northwest, please, come away…” He pulled her back and she struggled half-heartedly, eyes still on the room. On the half-fresh red footprints on the floor; bare feet, small enough to be from someone not much older than her. Another cop walked between her and the room, from the direction of her father’s office, carrying a large bundle of plastic evidence baggies which each contained a separate jump drive.
“What are you…” It was all she could say as he pulled her through the house, around back of it, and kneeled with her on the rear porch.
“Miss Northwest, I need to ask you… is there anyone I can call? Any other relatives? Friends? Anyone?”
“That’s… I don’t think you can talk to them right now.”
“Are they okay? Are they…” She bit her lip and smeared her lipgloss and didn’t care. “They’re in trouble, aren’t they?”
“Ah… yes. I’m sorry. We’re not allowed to let you see them at the moment.”
“What’s been happening? What was that room?”
“It’s… probably a bit too much for you at the moment. If there’s anyone I can call-”
“I want to know! They’re my parents! This is my house! What’s going on in here?”
“Miss Nor… Pacifica.” She didn’t correct him and he went on. “Have your parents ever… had any unusual guests over? People you haven’t seen leave?”
“What? No! I… Oh my gosh…” She shivered. “They’ve been… they’ve been hurting people here. That’s what’s been happening… right?”
He was quiet. That was all she needed.
Chapter 79: The Robinsons about Wilbur
The Robinsons found out because someone came home early.
“Someone” being Carl, without Wilbur, almost two hours before either should have been back. And he certainly didn’t look happy about it. Franny saw and almost immediately feared the worst… but wouldn’t he look worse if that had happened?
“Are you okay?” she called from the porch, trying to keep her voice light. “You look like hell warmed over.”
For a long time, as he walked the driveway and climbed the porch and entered the house, he didn’t answer. Then: “I think we need to talk, Mrs. Robinson.”
Not good. Not good not good notgoodnot- “Did something happen? Is… is Wilbur okay?”
“Answer me! Did something happen to my son?!”
Carl deflated then. “Yeah. Yeah, it did.”
“What is it?”
“He got raped.”
“WHAT?!” She would have fallen had she not caught onto a nearby couch. “When?!”
“Not today!” He held his hands up. “Not today! It… uh, I…”
“What’s going on in here?”
Franny scowled at her big brother in the doorway. “Not. Now. Gaston.”
“N-no.” Carl swallowed. “Did you need something?”
“What I need you to do is to start talking!”
“Um…” Carl looked down and mumbled something.
A bit louder. She at least heard “birthday”. Her eyes widened. “He got raped on Art’s birthday?!”
“I…” He bit his lip. “Yes. Yes! I am so-”
“Whoa!” Gaston’s jaw dropped. “Someone was what?”
“I… Wilbur said he was… um. The night we all went out…”
“He… no, that’s not… You knew about this?!”
“W-well, yes, but-”
Franny’s eyes narrowed. “For how long?”
“… Since Art’s birthday.”
Gaston was there in a flash, holding back his now-furious little sister as she lunged towards Carl. “Whoa! I’m sure there’s some sort of explanation!”
“What explanation?! My boy was raped and he didn’t tell me!”
Carl swallowed. “Look, you don’t know-”
“And whose fault is that?! Huh?! Is there anyone else who could’ve told me?!”
“W-well, technically, yes, but she had to sign paperwork and I-”
Her vision turned blood red. “Who?” she asked in a low voice.
“Look, I-I’ve been taking him to this group, okay? The one that… with Mr. Robinson and… You saw all the forms, right?! You aren’t supposed to-”
“Mr. Herbertson’s fianceé goes there too!”
“I… It’s true. I didn’t even know about that until we met at the dinner party. She tried to get me to say something, but-”
“Didn’t have the guts to do it herself?” Franny scowled. “Gaston, let me go!”
“Uh… Hey there, little sister… What’s-”
“Art, go away!”
He turned to Gaston. “What’s wrong with her?” Then he glanced at Carl. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to-”
“He’s with Cornelius.”
“Oh. Wait… what?”
“Let me go! Let me kill him!”
Gaston looked at his brother. “Uh… look, maybe you should… go… it’s complicated…”
“Nothing’s complicated! My son got raped and Carl didn’t say anything! Let me at him!”
Art stepped back in shock. “Wait… wait wait wait. You… when did this happen?!”
“A few… months ago?” Carl said quietly. “When…”
“We all went out for dinner and… when I came back…” He waited for Art to put the pieces together. It took a while, but…
“Son of a bitch!”
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Carl babbled. “I just… Believe me, I wanted to tell you, but Wilbur… I didn’t want to make things any worse.”
“What the hell were you-”
“You didn’t see him! You don’t know-”
“And! Whose! Fault! Is! That?!” Franny spat again, still thrashing. She turned blazing red eyes on her brother. “You’re with me on this, right?!”
“… Well, he should have told you,” Art agreed. Franny gave her brother a flat look.
“Walking in on something like that… it has to be shocking. I’m not saying he’s right, but I do see where he’s coming from.”
“For once, I’m with her here.”
Tallulah. And Lazlo. In the foyer. With the… metaphor. Seriously, how small was this house? How big was their family? How loud had they been yelling?
“How long have you two been there?! Jesus!”
“Long enough.” Tallulah scowled. “I can’t believe you’re takin’ his side.”
“Yeah,” Lazlo nodded. “Wait’ll I tell Ma!”
“Or Uncle Frankie!”
Carl shuddered. “God, please don’t tell Mr. Framagucci about this…”
“I’m not taking his side!” Art held up his hands. “What he did was profoundly stupid! I’m just saying, I can understand why he did it!”
Franny’s eyes narrowed. “You’re on thin ice. Keep. Talking.”
Art looked at Carl. “No sugar coating. What’s done is done for good. Give us the truth now. All of it.”
“Um…” He glanced around nervously, as if expecting someone else to hop from the woodwork. “There isn’t that much to say, honestly. I didn’t see much. I wasn’t there… but I’d gotten him a doggy bag from the restaurant. That’s why I was looking for him in the first place. I thought he was sulking, only… he wasn’t in his room. It was Mr. and Mrs. Robinson’s. At first I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, but…” Carl swallowed. “He was trying to clean blood off the floor. You don’t know what that was like. I just… I panicked. I’m sorry, that’s not a good excuse.”
“No,” said Franny. “It’s not.”
Carl was right; there was very little else to say.
Chapter 80: Kipo about the Ark
Kipo Oak found out the first pieces when she was little.
“Hi! I’m Kipo. What’s your name?”
She asked it over and over again, and very few people answered.
“I don’t have a name,” one girl had told her.
“Huh? How’s that? Everyone has to have a name! Right Dad?”
“Lots of us don’t.”
“Well, that’s not fair. Daddy’s got two names and you don’t have any. Do you want one?” she asked, and the girl shook her head.
“Nobody would use it.”
Kipo would have, but the girl was gone the next day.
“Hi! I’m Kipo. What’s your name?”
Next piece, a few years later. There was a different girl on the bed. This one was older. Her stomach looked weird.
“Diane,” she muttered, turning over, arm slung around her gut. “It’s Diane.”
“Wow!” Kipo beamed, as bright as the way Dad described Christmas. “That’s a pretty name!”
“Er, well… thank you,” she said.
“Kipo, sweetie, back up.” Dad had returned with clean rubber gloves. “I gotta take a look at the nice lady, okay?”
“Sure, Dad. What’s up with her?” Kipo stepped away, but peered over his shoulder. “Anything I can help with?”
“No!” He winced. “Uh, no. How about you just give us some space.”
“Okay!” She took a few more steps back, moving to sit cross-legged on her own bed. “Let me know, alright?”
“Actually, hon…” He swallowed. “How about you don’t look when I do this?”
“It’s… um, it’s not for little eyes to see, alright? So I need you to look away. Put your head under the covers or something. Think you can do that for me?”
“Yes, Daddy.” Kipo was curious, but she trusted her dad, and put her hands firmly over her eyes, not even taking them away when the woman screamed, nor when she heard the crying of one, two, and then three babies; not until Daddy said it was okay.
“Oh, wow!” she said when it was. The babies lay in a row on the bed, freshly wiped off; a white-blonde girl, a ginger-haired boy, and another boy with darker skin and coal-black hair. “Surprise!”
“Yeah,” said Dad, covering up the messy cloths and instruments, and smiling in that weird sad way. “Sorry you couldn’t watch, but babies have to come out from inside the mommy and it’s really messy and gross. It can be scary.”
“That’s okay.” She looked up at the lady. “They’re really cute!”
It took her years to work out why the woman started crying.
Kipo found out the last piece from Benson and Dave.
“So, kid,” Dave leaned back, arms folded behind his head. “What’s your deal?”
“Dave! You can’t just ask that! She’s, like, traumatized!”
Kipo blinked. “Huh? Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention… I’ve just…” She trailed off again, looking around the house they were squatting in. The house! “I’ve never been anywhere like this before.”
Benson looked around the house. It was nothing special; dilapidated, in fact, one of many foreclosed and neglected buildings in the hard parts of the city. “Like what? Like, a house?” Kipo nodded, and he asked “Where’d you live before?”
“Oh, uh, kinda one big room in a giant building?”
Kipo shook her head. “Not like the ones I’ve seen in books and TV. It was sort of… closed off from the rest of the building, and that part was was mostly open, and everything was all one floor.” She doodled in the dirt. “Like this. The floor was concrete, and the walls were wobbly and they didn’t go all the way up. There was a sink here, and a toilet here, and my bed was here.”
“Uh… So like jail?” Dave glanced at Benson. “Where did you pick her up again?”
“It wasn’t jail,” Kipo said. “It was… A warehouse! That’s what Dad called it. We had this one space together and everybody else…”
“Everybody else… what?”
“They, um, they slept on the floor.”
“Kipo…” Benson hesitated. “Are you… a refugee? It’s cool if you are! I’m just wondering! Did your family-”
“What’s a refugee? Oh… wait, no, I got this! You mean like from a war, right? Nah. Dad’s American and I… Well, I kinda lived there my whole life.”
“What, you were born in a warehouse?” Dave frowned. “And you… Have you ever left it before?”
“Nope! This is my first time! Isn’t this great?!” Kipo noticed their expressions. “It’s not as bad as all that, okay? We had a TV and books, I know sorta what the outside is like. It’s a little much, but I’m not totally clueless.” She smiled weakly. “Glad you guys are around, though. You got me out of a scrape there.”
Horrible suspicions started to form in Dave’s mind. Benson was too young to get it at the moment, but he certainly knew something was terribly wrong. “Kipo… kiddo… what did you and your dad and those other people do in there?”
“Uh… Well, Dad’s a doctor. I… Technically, I don’t think I am, but we were pretty much doing the same stuff by the time they decided to move me.”
“And… what stuff was that?”
“We took care of the other people there.”
Benson swallowed. “They would be the ones sleeping on the floor?”
“Mm,” she hummed. “They… The people running the place made special movies and Dad says it’s like actors who don’t use stunt doubles. Sometimes they get hurt… just not by accident.” She shrugged. “That’s the way things are there. It kinda sucked.”
“What… what about your mom?”
“She died when I was a baby. Burrow pox.”
“I don’t think there’s any such thing as Burrow pox.”
“Well, you can only get it around the Burrow. That’s what Dad called our home. He said it was because we’d marked out a little safe area in a dangerous place, like a burrow.”
“Did a lot of people die of that?”
“Oh, yeah, of everything.” Kipo shuddered. “They got sick a lot, or hurt. Usually they’d get, um, torn up on the, you know, insides. The movie people liked that.”
Dave was gaping by that point. “You grew up in a fuckin’ sex traffickers’ HQ?”
“Oh, no! That wasn’t sex!” Kipo said, almost cheerfully. “They just liked to hurt people and they went for those parts. I guess ‘cause it hurts a lot there.”
“With their, um, own body parts?”
“I don’t know, I wasn’t allowed to see it. I just cleaned them up.” Kipo flapped a hand. “But that’s not sex, right? Sex is for making people feel good.” Benson and Dave looked at each other with that same, strange expression. Kipo didn’t like it. “What?”
“That’s… not wrong, exactly,” Benson swallowed, “but, um, Kipo… do you… do you know what rape is?”
“Um, should I?”
“Rape is sex when you don’t want it. Your dad never-”
“There’s a word for that? Huh.” She seemed unfazed. “Then, um, maybe? Does rape hurt people?”
“Uh, yeah. A lot of the time it’s worse than, um, just hurting people other ways.”
Kipo cocked her head. “Why?”
Her new friends looked at each other, and Dave said, “I don’t know exactly how to say it, but I guess because… they’re taking something which ought to be good and making it bad? I dunno, I’m not a brain doctor.”
“Oh.” Now she looked a little discomfited. “Huh. Then yeah, I guess that was happening.”
“Your dad didn’t tell you?”
“No. He told me a lot of other stuff about sex - I mean, like, doctor stuff about how it works, and I know it’s supposed to feel good for adults, and I know he - ugh - had to have it with my mom, ‘cause I’m here. No one ever did it to me or anything. Wonder why he didn’t say.”
Benson spoke gently. “Maybe he didn’t wanna worry you. If you knew it was something he’d done, and all you actually saw was the bad kind… I guess he wouldn’t want you to think that was what he and your mom did?”
Kipo gazed off, wistfully. “Yeah. Yeah, sounds like it… I miss my dad.”
Chapter 81: Lisa about Lisa
Lisa found out when her parents received the call.
The study had been over for months, and she hadn’t given a second thought to the other Lisa (the better Lisa, as she had bitterly titled her), until she heard her mother shriek “KIDS!” from downstairs. “Kids” and not “Bart”. That was unusual.
Mom was in the living room, pale-faced and white-knuckled, gripping the arm of the couch so that her nails dug in. Hard.
“What happened?” Lisa asked before she’d reached the bottom of the stairs. “What did Bart do now?”
“Hey! What makes you think I did something?” her brother huffed indignantly from the other side of the sofa.
“Well, who else…” She trailed off. Because nobody was looking at Bart. It was her that her mother was staring at. “… What?”
Dad took hold of her arm and spun her around, examining her arms and neck. “She looks fine…”
“Homer, it’s been months, of course she would,” Mom said. “Uh, Lisa, you know when you were in that study with Miss Sugimori up in the city…?”
“Yeah…?” Lisa tensed. “Am I in trouble? I mean, I guess I wasn’t very nice to that little kid…”
“What?” Mom blinked. “What are you…? That’s not…”
“When you went there… There was a man sometimes, right? A professor at the school?” Lisa nodded. There were a lot of professors. “And one of them-”
“Ratigan,” her father interrupted. “You know him?”
“Professor Ratigan?” She nodded again, more slowly this time. “Um, yeah? What about him?”
Mom was never good with awkward conversations. Lisa could hear her breathing rapidly. “Um… well, this professor… Chief Wiggum just called and told us Chief Beifong in Calisota City told him she’d found out that Professor Ratigan was… doing some… not so nice things, to a lot of people, and they have to ask everyone who knew him if they knew anything about it, or if… if he did anything weird to them.”
“Can’t help you there, Mom,” said Bart, shrugging. “Never really met him.”
Lisa was getting worried now. “Weird how?”
“Uh…” Mom clenched her fists. It looked like it was taking a lot out of her even to think of the concept, but she persevered gamely. “Did he ever give you any… unsafe touches, Lisa?”
Lisa relaxed. “What? No! No, he didn’t…” She trailed off. “… to me. Mom, did he do something to the other kids?”
“They didn’t say in so many words, but if they even asked, they must at least think he did.”
“Well, I don’t know why they’re asking me,” Lisa said, laughing humourlessly. “I mean, come on, he’s so gay Dad noticed. I don’t know why he’d go near a girl.”
“Could have been an act,” Dad said, tapping his chin. “Trying to throw us off. I mean, he fooled us into thinking he was a decent guy, right?”
Why did Dad’s introspective moments have to come when she didn’t want them? “Well, he never gave off that feeling to me, but now you mention it, he was kind of… weird about some of the other kids. I… I guess it could have been like that, but it didn’t seem like… I thought it was favouritism.” Lisa winced. “Well, I guess it was.”
“Which other kids?” Mom had relaxed a bit now. “The police might be able to use anything you can tell them.”
“Um, he’d hang around Bonnie Limone a lot, but she let me join in drawing with them one time and all they talked about the whole time was her big brother,” Lisa recounted. “I think he was too old to be in the study, I saw him sometimes. Blond guy with glasses? And he really seemed to like Jimmy and Dexter, but they always sorta went quiet when he talked to them. I thought they were just shy or busy or something… geez, I wish I’d thought about it more now.”
“What did you mean earlier, when you mentioned a little kid?”
Now she thought about it, Professor Ratigan really hadn’t liked the other Lisa…
Chapter 82: Baloo about Bagheera
Baloo found out because there were bruises.
“So…” He spoke carefully into the prison issue telephone. “How you doin’ in there?”
Not well. That was obvious. Bagheera’s face was a mass of black and purple, dark welts standing out on already dark skin.
“It…” Bagheera sighed. “It could be worse.”
Baloo was normally pretty strongly optimistic, but he still asked: “How?”
“Well, my cellmate is relatively harmless. At least I can sleep in peace. And…” Bagheera managed a slight smile. “At least one person still believes in my innocence.”
“Raksha and Rama believe you too. Akela’s on the fence. So’s Rebecca and Kit.”
“What does Mowgli think?”
“Oh, he believed you from the start. Still does. But Raksha doesn’t want him to come here,” Baloo said. “She doesn’t think it would be good for him.”
Bagheera nodded. “It wouldn’t. He doesn’t need to see me like this. I just… is he doing alright?”
“He’s… he’s okay. Worried about you, but he’ll be okay.”
“Good. That’s… that’s good.”
Behind the glass a guard dropped something. Up went a clatter that Baloo could barely hear through the receiver, but sent Bagheera jumping in his chair. He remained stiff for a moment, sitting there with wide eyes.
“Baggy?” Baloo asked. “You okay? Bagheera?”
“Hm?” The man blinked a few times. “I… erm, yes. I’m… fine.”
“You’re not fine. What was that? What’s wrong?”
“Really, I’m fine. Just a little jumpy. It’s… quite anxiety-inducing in here.”
Baloo narrowed his eyes. “Okay, did something happen? Like, specifically? Well, silly question.” He touched his own face at the point mirroring a bruise on Bagheera’s. “I guess what I mean is… was it just a regular fight or do those guys have something against you?”
“They… I…” Bagheera’s voice went low. “You know what they say about prison.”
Baloo blinked. “Sorry?”
“The people here are… they’re insane. They… The first time it was these neo-Nazis. They heard about her and…” He let out a raspy breath. “They decided to even the odds between us.”
Oh… “Oh my God! I… Bagheera, I’m so s- wait.” Baloo’s face hardened. “The first time?”
“There are… multiple groups with similar ideas.” Bagheera breathed deeply, in, then out. He glanced around to make sure the guards weren’t paying close attention, then subtly jerked his hand in the direction of one of them. Baloo’s face went grey.
“You… you don’t mean…?”
“I do mean.”
“Is there anything I can do? Your… your lawyer-”
“I don’t think that would help…”
“I’ve already tried for an appeal! They won’t… they don’t believe me. They think I hurt that girl.”
Baloo clenched a fist and said, “Well, there’s gotta be something! I’ll… I don’t know, but I’ll try anything. I’ll talk to your lawyer, I’ll talk to her lawyer if I can. Even if it doesn’t work, I’m not gonna just do nothing!”
“I appreciate that. I doubt it’ll get you anywhere, but thank you anyway. It means a lot that you’ll try.”
“Don’t see why. Wouldn’t any decent person do the same?”
Bagheera managed a second smile, a little wider this time. “I’m sorry I ever called you irresponsible.”
Baloo tried to smile back and swallowed when that failed. “I… I’ll do everything I can to get you out of there. That’s a promise.”
It was one he’d do his best to keep.
Chapter 83: Shifu about the police
Shifu found out because it was on the news. And that meant he couldn’t deny it anymore.
“Calisota City police chief Lin Beifong has finally released a list of officers who are suspects in the ongoing investigation of police misconduct within the department. These officers allegedly committed physical and sexual abuse against numerous inmates and detainees in police custody.”
Shifu quirked his brow. He hadn’t caught that story… Then again, Jia had been acting dodgy for the past week or so… And he hadn’t seen much of her friends either… And…
Shifu Liu stopped. He stared.
Tomor Vachir’s looked back at him, a photograph on the other side of the television screen.
He processed the weight of the anchorwoman’s words.
“The guards did… Vachir, he…”
He had never believed it. Not for a moment. He was friendly with Vachir. Tai Lung was still angry, lashing out at everyone and everything in sight, trying to hurt them as he had when he’d killed Oogway. Tai Lung had always been by far the stronger…
… but of course he had been restrained, and Vachir hadn’t been alone.
Shifu ran for the phone. “CCPD? Yes, this is Shifu Liu, I may be able to aid you as a witness in the current investigation. The one with…” He gulped. “The… corrupt officers.”
“Oh…” The voice on the other end of the line trailed off. He heard rustling. Something like… was that paper? “Did you… see something… or…” The voice stopped. “… Liu, did you say?”
“I’m Tai Lung Liu’s… I’m his father. He… I… He told me something a few years ago that might be relevant now… about your officers…”
“Okay, do you want to come in and make a statement? We’re getting a lot of these but we can probably slot you in today.”
“Yes, but… can I come in when Officer Jia Biao isn’t there?”
“She’s my daughter.” A pause. “Adopted. She went back to using her birth parents’ last name after the… after Tai… well. Wanted to avoid the comments. Not the best association for a law enforcement official. I don’t… I never told her he told me. I don’t want to have to explain.”
“I understand. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Have you…” He swallowed nervously. “I don’t suppose you’ve… talked to him?”
“Sir, I really can’t discuss this with a civilian.”
That was a yes, then… “Do you know if I could… talk to him? About this…? I…”
“You’ll have to take that up with the prison, sir.”
“Do you need the number? I’d be happy to-”
“I know what it is.”
“Okay. We have some time around four o’ clock, Biao will be on patrol then. Is that good?”
“Good.” Pause. “May I just say, I am very, very sorry this happened, sir.”
“Don’t apologise to me,” Shifu snapped, and shook himself. “Sorry, it’s not your fault. Just… apologise to him. Like I should.”
“Alright.” He couldn’t tell what sort of an answer that was. “I’m still… I…” The sound of someone gulping. “Take care, sir.”
“You… you too.”
Chapter 84: The band about Noodle
Murdoc, 2D, and Russell found out when a crate was dropped off on their doorstep.
“Oi, Dents! Get the door!”
Obediently, 2D trekked through the studio to answer the knock. By the time he arrived at the door, whoever had dropped off the crate had gone. He shrugged, and set about the arduous task of carrying in a box bigger than he was. “Anyone order equipment?” he yelled.
Russell came downstairs to investigate. “Y’know, you coulda called me to carry that in.”
“Eh, well, it’s in now.” 2D dropped it with a loud thump. It rattled loudly, and something heavy thumped around inside, accompanied by a faint thrum of guitar strings and… what might have been a yelp.
Murdoc looked closer at the box. “Are those airholes?”
The men looked at each other, blinking in confusion, and Russell headed to his workshop for a crowbar.
“You sure that’s the best idea? What if that’s a wild animal in there or somefing?” 2D asked, cowering behind Murdoc.
“Well, then you’d better stand back.” The sound the top made when it popped open was less like the cork coming off a bottle and more like cracking open a soda can. It clattered hard against the floor. “Uh- HOLY SHIT!”
“What are you-”
“There’s a girl in there!”
Before they could react further, the child in the box scrambled up the side of her prison, causing it to tip. Russell caught it, and the girl made a more controlled tumble out, landing on her feet. A guitar was slung across the child’s back, and she quickly swung it around into her hands. It was already plugged into a set of portable speakers, which the girl must have been sitting or standing on in the box, there being no more floor space inside. The girl herself was Asian, short and thin with her hair hidden by a cap and headphones, and looking about ten. Her eyes were narrowed and watering in the sudden light, squinting hard to make out the features of the strangers.
Russell was about to say something, and Murdoc was picking up the lid of the box, when the girl started to play.
Beautiful might not be the right word exactly, but it was. Of course, that really was the least of the issues in the moment, but still… They listened, they stared - and they kept staring long after the music had stopped.
Russel spoke first. “Uh, hey, kiddo…? What’s your name?”
“NOODLE!” She had an accent, a really thick accent. Japanese, probably.
“Sorry, your name is… what?”
“Idiot, she doesn’t understand you.”
“How can you tell?”
Murdoc half-knelt, bringing himself closer to the kid’s eye level, and peered curiously at her. She returned his confused expression. “Uh… hell-lo!” he said, very loudly and slowly, gesturing wildly. “I… am… Murdoc! Who… are… you?”
The girl took off her guitar and bowed neatly. “Konnichiwa, masuta. Kyoushuku desu ga, go fuben o okake shite moshiwakegozaimasen ga go konyu wa oyurushi kudasai. Senjunamako-sensei wa watashi o Nudoru to yobu no ga benrida to omotta.”
“You get any of that?”
“Not a word.”
“Um…” Russel peered a little closer. “Oh gross! She smells like-”
“You would too, if we locked you in a crate!”
The girl pulled at the ends of her hair, sniffing and shrugging at the grease.
“Look, you made her self-conscious!” Murdoc looked at the girl again. “You… speak… any… English?”
“Noodle,” the girl said, then she coughed, raising her hand to her mouth. There were no bruises on her wrist… there was a little scar tissue.
Russell frowned. “Are you okay, kid?” She nodded, but his frown didn’t disappear. “We should probably take her to the hospital. I’d bet she’s dehydrated, and the kind of people who’d stick a kid in a crate… well, she might be hurt.”
At the hospital, it turned out she was, more than they’d expected.
“Yes, I’m afraid she has been mistreated very badly,” PC Tibbs explained after he took their statements. “I believe that it wasn’t by you, though. Our translator says she was very insistent you never harmed her.”
“How bad is she?”
“Malnutrition, dehydration, it looks like she’s been injected with something many times over years, and… yes, there are signs of long-term sexual abuse.”
“Oh my gosh!” 2D clapped his hands over his mouth and his blackened eyes watered.
“Oh, that’s horrible.” Murdoc frowned. “Not a surprise, but… horrible.”
Russell clenched his fists. “Do you know who did it?”
“No idea, unfortunately. She couldn’t give us any names, except for a ‘Doctor Sea Cucumber’, which can’t possibly be a real name. The forensic kit didn’t turn up anything visible, though we’ll send it in for DNA testing anyway. She presumably came from Japan, but that’s about all we know.”
“What happens to her now?” Russel asked.
“Well, we’ll see about contacting family… if we can find them and if they’re in a state to care for her. Most likely, she’ll be staying here. Once she’s discharged, children’s services will-”
“No,” Murdoc shook his head. “You can’t do that to her.”
“You can’t take ‘er away!” 2D teared up again. “She already likes us! An’ she told you we didn’t do anyfing to ‘er!”
“That she did,” Tibbs said, unnerved. “She seemed rather offended you didn’t, in fact. But if you’re asking if you can keep her…” He eyed Murdoc. “I’m aware of your criminal record, and I don’t think a man who’s been arrested for reckless driving, drug use, and public indecency over twenty times is a good caretaker for-”
“Hey, hey, I kept my underwear on most of those times! Not gonna give away the goods for free, am I?”
“Regardless…” Tibbs glanced at 2D. “And, meaning this as non-offensively as possible, I know about your past injuries and I think you have enough to be dealing with.”
“I don’t have a criminal record,” Russell interrupted. “And I promise I can control these two.”
“Are you a legal UK citizen?”
“Not yet, but nor is she, right? I’ll apply, if that’s what it takes.”
“I’ll put a word in,” Tibbs sighed, “but you’ll have to take it up with the right agencies. Otherwise it’s out of my hands.”
“Don’t, that’s not a promise.”
If a forensic kit and examination for injuries had been performed on 2D as well, things might have gone very differently, and the band would never have got off the ground. In years to come, they’d wonder if it was worth it. 2D thought it was, and if anyone had the right to think so, he would say he did. Murdoc thought so too, but of course he would.
Chapter 85: Ben about Leia
Ben Solo found out about his mother’s college rape long after it happened.
“I wasn’t the only one?”
Leia nodded. Then, “There are just some things you can’t speak about.”
Blood, blood and unwanted release… “Did Grandfather…?” Ben said.
Leia shook her head. “No. He was - when he was inappropriate, it was always verbal. Your uncle was the target, most often. Your grandfather… he was operating under the delusion he loved us. But he didn’t rape me.” A strained laugh. “Not that it matters.”
“Professor Tarkin did.” Leia sighed as she spoke. “My father didn’t take it well. I think that this explains it, more than anything.”
She held out a journal. Ben took it and flipped through - it was his grandfather’s journal, a mixture of gruesome trophies (a ledger of sorts) and twistedly tender expressions towards his wife, towards his children. Then, the last entry…
That son of a bitch raped my princess.
We were arguing about her changing colleges when she told me. I trusted that disgusting grub. That swine. And he raped Leia. I can’t go to the cops; what will they do? How can I do that to Leia? Having her be cross-examined about what she did or didn’t do; my mother was raped and beaten by my father and the cops did nothing.
She, Padme and Luke are everything to me - even if they have no idea. I haven’t been good at showing it.
Leia, if you ever come across this, everything I did was for you, all of you. And it wasn’t your fault. Your grandmother went through the same thing you did, and she was one of the bravest women I knew. You are not damaged. You are a brilliant, rare jewel that I would kill the universe for if it was so needed. So is your mother, and your brother.
You’ll be stronger than the man who violated you. You’ll be extraordinary, and he’ll just be an ugly footnote in your history. He won’t define you. And I won’t let him get away with this.
I love you, Leia. Always.
“He loved you,” Ben said. “After all these years, he loved you.”
“I don’t know how.” Leia blinked away tears. “How he could love his family so much, and not consider his victims. If it had only been Tarkin… But the rest were innocents. It was obvious they were family to someone else. Someone’s child, someone’s father…”
Ben sighed. “I wish I knew.”
Chapter 86: Imelda about Hector
Imelda found out when the police arrived at her door.
Pepita hissed at the curly-haired woman with the detective’s badge, and Imelda frowned and said, “Can… can I help you, officer?”
“Hello, Imelda Rivera? I’m Detective Cabrera. I’m afraid I have some bad news.” Miguel, having heard the conversation, peered around the living room doorway as the cop continued. “We’ve uncovered a body, and we’d appreciate it if you could help us identify it.”
Imelda paled. “A… a body?! W-who do you think it is?” Her mind began to race. Her grandchildren: Rosa, Abel, Miguel; upstairs, downstairs, other room. Her children: Luisa, Berto, Coco; at work. Her siblings: Oscar, Philipe; home. Her mother-
“I’m afraid we have reason to believe it may be your husband.”
Hector? Imelda’s heart closed. “Do not mention that man!” she snapped. “He left us! What does it matter if he’s dead or not?!”
“Ah.” Detective Cabrera took a deep inhale through her teeth. “This body we’ve found is that of a murder victim. We can’t release further details prior to the identification.”
Imelda paused. “Murder?”
“I’m afraid so. Would you be willing to come down to the station?”
A long exhale. “Very well. If it will help the investigation, I will come.”
And so she did.
The detective met her again at the station door. “Right this way please.”
Unlike in the movies, she wasn’t led to the morgue. The detective sat with her in a small side room, with a handful of photographs. “Okay, I’m going to show you these pictures. They’re closeups of the face and some possible identifying marks, and some items that were found in the same location which might be his. If you need to stop at any time, tell me and we will.”
“Alright.” Imelda’s mouth was tight. “Show me.” She could do this. She had pulled herself up from nothing. She could pull through anything.
“Okay, first, we found a broken guitar,” said the detective, turning over the first picture. “It’s in pretty bad condition from being buried, but the markings are still visible. Do they look familiar?” The picture showed about half of a guitar, mouldy and rotting around the split edges, and a few pieces of wood that had belonged to the other half. The forensics team had been able to clean the front of it well enough to show the detailing.
Imelda’s eyes narrowed, then widened. “This… this is Hector’s guitar…” she said. “Why… why does it look like that? He always took such good…” Her face went as white as a sheet then. “H-how old is this case?”
“I haven’t seen the exact details yet, but several years at least. I’ll check with the forensics report. Would you like me to do that now?”
Hector hadn’t come home in over two decades.
“Si!” Imelda said, slipping into Spanish without realizing it. “Haz eso ahora!” She paused for a moment, and spoke again, this time in English. “Er, yes. I need to know… how long it’s been.”
Detective Cabrera left briefly, and came back with a file. “The coroner isn’t able to pinpoint an exact time, but it’s been about twenty years, maybe twenty-five. The remains were discovered in a fairly dry location, so they were preserved better than they could have been.”
“That man… my husband disappeared twenty-five years ago…” Imelda breathed. “I thought he… I thought he left us… I…”
“Ma’am, are you alright?”
“Show me the rest of your pictures!” Imelda said. “Show me. I need to know if it’s… if it’s him.”
Detective Cabrera sat back down and took the next photo. “These are what’s left of the clothing we think belonged to the deceased.” The picture depicted shreds of cloth, but the colours were distinguishable.
“Those do look familiar. What do you mean you think they belonged to him?”
“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to discuss that just yet.” Detective Cabrera paused for just a moment before speaking. “Now, here’s the picture of his face. I warn you, this might be badly upsetting. The body is quite decayed, and he was in great distress when he died.”
“What do you mean distress? What’s going-” Imelda’s eyes lit on the photograph and her hand flew to cover her mouth.
It was Hector…
“What happened to him?!” she gasped, reaching out to take the picture from the officer’s hands. “Where did you… what did they…” She couldn’t finish through the fire in her stomach and the lump in her throat.
“First, can you confirm-”
“Yes! That’s him! That’s Hector! Now can you please tell me what they did to him?!”
The officer took a deep breath. “Ma’am… are you aware of God’s Will First? The hate crime organization that was recently uncovered?”
“T-the cult? From the news?” she asked, the truth too horrible to be accepted. “What do they have to do with Hector?”
“He appears to have been their third victim. That’s why we said we thought the clothes were his - they weren’t actually on the body so we couldn’t be certain. They listed him down as a sodomite.”
“What?” Imelda gaped. “But Hector… he wasn’t… he was straight. Why would they…?”
“It… They do have a written account of what happened. Do you want to read it?”
“Why would that help?!”
“It might explain a few things.”
Imelda nodded, her eyes steely. “Alright. Then I will read it.”
“Here.” The police officer handed her a typed-up document.
Imelda took it without a word and began to read. A few sentences in, she felt her blood run cold and her face turned gray with horror.
He was found with proof of his sodomy… screaming… obviously guilty… all… punished… Imelda…
He had cried for her. In his final moments, he had cried for her. And for twenty-five years, she hadn’t allowed their children to speak his name.
“Hector…” she breathed. “What did they do to you…?”
“Tell me you caught them!” Her eyes blazed. “Tell me you caught the ones who did this to him!”
“We caught… most of them.”
“And you will catch the rest of them! Or I will.”
“Trust me, Mrs. Rivera, we want them caught as much as you do,” said Detective Cabrera, sincere anger in her voice. “They’ve already done enough damage and were planning more, and people we care about are on their lists too. My own son and I are listed because my ex-husband was white.”
Forty-five men on the news… eight at large… twelve in the ledger. “Do you know… out of the ones you caught, which are the ones that hurt him?” … another man… the cult’s ‘proof’… “What about the one who sent them after him?!” Imelda demanded. “Do you know who he is?!”
“We… we were hoping you could tell us.” The detective hesitated. “Mrs. Rivera, did your husband have any enemies?”
“Enemies?! No, of course… not…” She trailed off.
“Another hit by Ernesto De La Cruz…”
“… My husband was a songwriter, and a guitar player. But he… wasn’t the best singer. Good, but not great. He had a friend who would sing for him.” Her eyes lit on fire. “His name was Ernesto De La Cruz.”
“Wait, Ernesto De La Cruz?! The Ernesto De La Cruz?”
“Yes. He… he’s quite famous now from what I hear, but I haven’t listened to any of his songs. I haven’t listened to any music, not since Hector…” Left formed and then vanished from her lips. “Since Hector was taken. He was my husband’s best friend, but there was something about him that always seemed a little off. I think he was jealous.” She looked back at the report, pointing at a line of text “What do they mean by proof?”
“Mrs. Rivera, how much have you heard about the way that the cult operated? Do you remember their MO?”
“They killed people, that’s enough, isn’t it?!”
“Mrs. Rivera… we have reason to believe your husband was sexually assaulted.” A pause. “On two occasions.”
Detective Cabrera tried to speak gently. “Are you familiar with the term ‘corrective rape’?”
Imelda shook her head. “No… what… I haven’t… Is that what happened to Hector?”
“It looks like it, yes.”
“What does that mean?!”
“Well, sometimes fundamentalists believe that… rape can be used as a way to cure someone of their sexuality. This particular group seems to have thought something similar, but they were using it less as a tool and more as a punishment.”
Imelda thought of her husband’s face; the face she had torn from the family photo; the face in the police woman’s picture. “Why…” Her voice was barely above a whisper. “Why would they do that to him? How could they?”
“They’re going to be locked away for a very long time, Mrs. Rivera.”
“But… but why?!” she asked again, turning fiery eyes on the officer. “What proof was there?! My husband wasn’t… he wasn’t gay. Why would they call him a sodomite?!”
“We have reason to believe he was sexually assaulted before the cult was sent to him.” There was hatred in Detective Cabrera’s voice. “When they realised there was no use denying it, some of them were… unsettlingly forthcoming with information, since from their point of view there was nothing to be ashamed of in what they had done. According to their own testimonies, he was found with signs of recent intercourse with another man - visible traces of semen, to be exact. They took his crying as a sign of guilt, but based on their descriptions, our forensic psychologist believes he was in pain.”
“You… you’re telling me they killed him because he was raped?!”
“It looks like that. I’m so sorry.”
For the first time in twenty-five years Imelda Rivera had no idea what to do.
Chapter 87: *CSA* Stoick about Hiccup
Stoick Haddock found out from strangers at his door.
Philip was fourteen, he had gone out before… but he had always come back again. This time he had not. Instead Stoick was met at the door by three faces he did not know. A woman and two men. One of them had dark skin and black hair that matched hers, another was blue-eyed and blond.
“Are you Stoick Haddock?” the woman asked him.
“Yes. What is it? What’s wrong?”
“You… you’re Hiccup Haddock’s father?” This time it was the man with dark hair who spoke.
Hiccup… that childish nickname. Stoick nearly groaned. “I’m Philip Haddock’s father, yes.” Silence. “What’s this about? Is he in any trouble?”
“No… kind of the opposite,” the blond man said, rubbing the back of his neck. “He’s… he’s in the hospital.”
Stoick’s eyes widened. “Wha- Why?”
“… You wanna take this one?”
The girl with the long black hair looked up at Stoick. “We… we were hiking in the woods… and we heard screaming. It was your son. He… he told us…” A deep breath. “He told us he was raped.”
Stoick’s blood ran cold. “He was what?!”
She grimaced. “He… he was hurt really badly by someone. We aren’t sure of all the details, but it didn’t look good.”
He should say so…
“Y-your son wants to get a kit done, but he… he’ll need parental permission. He didn’t want to call… so he sent us instead.”
“Where… where do I… where is he?!”
“We can show you,” the blond man said quickly. “You can follow us in your car.”
“A-alright then.” Stoick’s eyes hardened. “Take me to my son.”
The hospital room the three led him to smelled of blood.
“Philip!” He rushed to his son’s side, holding his hand tightly. “Are… are you okay?”
“Okay’s kind of a stretch, but I’m not gonna die. That’s good, right?”
“That’s… of course, that’s…” Stoick’s eyes trailed down, and his voice faltered when his eyes lit upon his son’s leg. “Your foot!”
“Yeah… the guys who…” Philip swallowed, and cut himself off. “The d-doctors say that it’s bad… They want to amputate.”
“What happened to it?”
“They didn’t want me to… to run.” Philip looked away. “Where’s my dog?”
“Oh, he’s in the back of my truck,” the blond man assured him. “Sorry, they wouldn’t let him in the hospital.”
“Is he okay? I think they might have hurt him.”
“He is a little hurt, but he’ll be fine,” the other man told him.
“Worry about yourself,” the woman said.
“Thank you.” Philip smiled. “Sorry, I didn’t catch your names.”
“Pocahontas Powhatan.” She glanced to Stoick. “I can give you our contact details, if you want? We’d be happy to serve as witnesses.”
“Thank you so much, but could… would you give us some privacy for a moment?” Stoick asked, his eyes still anchored to Philip. “I need to speak with my son.”
They left without objection.
“How are you feeling?” Stoick asked. “What happened?”
“How much did they tell you?”
“They told me you wanted a kit done and I had to come to the hospital.” Phillip said nothing. He looked away. “Son…?”
“They… they’re nuts. Not those people, the guys who did this. Some kinda cult. They… they thought I was gay.”
Hiccup shook his head. “I don’t think so. They just… It’s like what you said… about how I don’t act enough like…” Like a man.
“Phillip… Phillip, I-”
“Can I get the kit done? They won’t let me change out of my clothes or clean up until after I get it done, or you say no.”
“Is that what you want? Do you want them to do it?”
“Y-yeah. I don’t want those guys to… to get away with what they did to me.”
That was the manliest thing Stoick Haddock had ever heard his son say.
“Of- of course. Do you have the forms?” He did. Stoick signed them without a second thought.
“I’m sorry…” Philip’s voice broke.
“What are yo-”
“You’re always saying how… how I need to… how I was giving people the wrong idea. I should’ve listened.”
“Phillip, stop. What happened was not your fault. It’s theirs.” Stoick looked down. “And mine as well.”
Perhaps it was time for him to reevaluate what he told his son.
Chapter 88: Granny about Sylvester
Granny Webster found out when Dr. Cricket called her into his office.
Sylvester was sitting on the edge of the couch, gripping the cushion so hard his knuckles were white. His eyes were swollen and red. It looked like the session had been tough.
“Ah, Mrs. Webster.” Dr. Cricket, a small bald man, shook her hand. “Nice to see you.”
“Did it go well?” she asked, blinking behind her glasses. “I do hope so, it’s been very hard on all of us since, well…”
“About that, Mrs. Webster…” the doctor said, glancing over in Sylvester’s direction. “Sylvester’s told me some… concerning things. Including something I think you ought to know about.”
No. Something was wrong here. Not him too… “Sylvester…?” Her voice was cautious. She looked back at Dr. Cricket. “What exactly happened? What did he say…?” Sylvester whimpered, and her eyes widened. “Did someone hurt you too, dear?”
“No!” Sylvester burst out. “I’m okay… well, no, I’m not okay, but I wasn’t… yeah.” He squirmed. “Uh, Doc, can you tell her?”
“Of course.” Dr. Cricket shuffled some papers. “Mrs. Webster, your grandson has a mental illness and has been dealing with it for quite some time, since before his sister’s assault. I’m quite impressed by how well he’s held up. I’m afraid it’s a hard one to deal with - I’d like you to promise me you won’t be shocked.”
“What? Oh dear! I never noticed…”
“I was trying really hard to make sure you didn’t,” Sylvester said guiltily.
“So what exactly is it?”
“Well, it’s a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder known in the business as ‘pure O’. A person gets an upsetting idea in their head and worries over it to a detrimental degree. He tells me he self-harmed to distract himself.” Dr. Cricket looked over Granny’s shoulder at Sylvester, who nodded.
“I… you what?” Stricken, she looked at her grandson. “Sweetheart…”
“Sorry,” he mumbled without meeting her eyes.
“No. No. Don’t apologize.” She turned back to the doctor. “What has he been thinking about?”
“It appears that, for whatever reason, Sylvester’s disorder centers around his cousin.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your grandson told me that he’s afraid of hurting him. It’s highly unlikely that he will!” he added quickly. “The only person I think Sylvester’s a danger to is himself, but his brain seems to disagree.”
“Y-yeah. I… I realised how easily I could seriously mess him up, and I started worrying about that, and I felt like garbage over it,” Sylvester said softly. “Doc says that’s pretty normal with this kind of thing?”
“It is,” Dr. Cricket agreed. “What tends to happen with pure O is that the mind will latch onto the worst thing it can possibly think of, the thing the person wants least to do, and make them terrified they will. I’ll assure you now that I’ve never, ever heard of a case where an individual did what they were worried about doing, but I know of cases where people think they’ll commit murder, or adultery, or very religious people fear they will commit blasphemy. Some people are convinced they already have done those things, even though they haven’t.”
“My goodness, that sounds awful! How long…?”
“Uh, since Tweety was a baby,” Sylvester mumbled. “It was sorta just once in a while most of the time but it got worse after Penelope’s thing.”
“I’m not at all surprised about that part, but that long? Really?”
“Y-yeah - like I said, it wasn’t nearly this bad till recently. I’d just sorta get a flash in my head… I didn’t hurt myself until this month when they started to happen a lot more.” He showed off a healing wound on his arm. “I talked to Bugs about it ‘cause I figured he wasn’t in a place to judge after his thing and he said I should see a doc. Heh, guess I have good news to give him.” He half-smiled. “I wasn’t trying to, y’know… it just sorta cleared my head.”
“Oh, honey!” Granny hugged him and petted his hair.
“The prognosis is quite good,” Dr. Cricket said. “The main problem I’ve observed in similar cases is that the sufferer doesn’t know what’s happening, so they don’t know the thoughts aren’t, for lack of a better word, ‘real’. Once they do know, it becomes much easier to control. I’ve recommended some simple grounding techniques, and if those don’t make an appreciable difference quickly I might have to prescribe a low dose of Prozac or something similar, but often they do.”
“Good. That’s good…”
It wasn’t good, but it was much better than either Granny or Sylvester had feared.
Chapter 89: Eda about Luz
Eda Clawthorne found out when she saw a light in the forest.
It had been the first really cold night in a while, the nip of early winter setting in like mercury in the far-north air. It was too late in the season for lightning bugs. Still, her immediate thought had gone to them as the source of the blinking glimmer, bobbing through the trees. If it wasn’t bugs then it was somebody. And there were few things Eda hated more than somebodies (with the exception of King, of course).
So when she went out to the woods, with a gun in her hand and Owlbert digging his claws into her shoulder, she was expecting to find either one of the stupid teenagers from the town proper or else - and worse - an uppity member of the Sûreté du Québec here to dig around in her trash again looking for who knew what. But when she finally found the bare footprints in the earth… Well, the mounties were out, with their big, thick boots. Teenagers then. Or just one.
“Alright,” she called out sharply, “which of you dumb kids is it this time? I know you’re out there. Come on.”
It wasn’t so much that she had been expecting the teenagers from the next town to come out with their hands raised up in surrender. They never had before; they always ran away.
What she was expecting: a chorus of drunken, high pitched voices, cursing as they took off through the underbrush. Maybe she’d catch a glimpse of one of them - a flash of dyed hair, the smell of that awful, too-sweet body spray girls wore now (the kind that smelled like pears or cupcakes).
What really happened: for a moment the light stood still. Then the sound of footsteps, footsteps moving towards her, and then a girl stepped from the blood-clot cloister of choke-tight trees. She was barefoot, with her toenails stripped bare and ragged, and not wearing much else either - only a long, men’s-style shirt that clearly wasn’t her own; it was much cleaner than the rest of her and coming down all the way to her knees. In her hands she was holding a flashlight, ghost-story-style, and the beam fled upwards, illuminating a small, gaunt face.
“H-… help me…”
“Oh my God!” Eda reached out, and the kid fell into her arms. “Are you o- no, obviously not… are you bleeding?”
“Mmf.” The girl shrugged.
Eda held her up, turning her so they faced each other. She didn’t recognise the girl, but that didn’t mean much; not like she had memorised the faces of all the local teens. The kid looked half-starved as well as battered, and her bruises varied in shade; whatever had been done to her, it couldn’t have happened over just one evening. “Okay, my name is Eda Clawthorne. You got that? Call me Eda. What’s your name?”
“L-Luz Noceda…” the girl mumbled. “Been a while since anyone asked me.”
“Okay, do you know where you are?” she asked. “You don’t… Are you from the area?”
“I… I don’t think so,” Luz shivered. “I was in Calisota City - that’s in California - but… this isn’t California… is it?”
“No,” Eda shook her head. “Too far north and too far east to be California. You’re in Canada.”
“O-oh…” The kid swallowed, digesting the information and looking like she’d like to throw it back up again. “Um… W-wow, that’s… different.”
“Alright, I’m gonna take you back to my place, okay?” Eda pointed over her shoulder to the glow of her cabin in the distance. “It’ll be warm in there and… and I can call for an ambulance… and the police. Sound-”
“NO!” Luz’s grip tightened around the flashlight again, eyes almost glowing in the dark. “No! You can’t call the cops! Nobody can know I’m… no one can find me here!”
“It’s okay, Luz, you’re not going to be in trouble for-”
“Not for this!” she wailed. “I’m in trouble for something else…”
“Okay, I won’t call the cops now, but we’ve got to get you inside and warmed up, alright? We can talk about it then, from the beginning. Come on… Can you walk?”
“Probably not far, but I’ll try.”
“Alright. Lean on my arm.”
They made it to the cabin, and Eda fetched as many blankets as she could carry. “Are you absolutely sure you don’t want to go to the police? Because if you do want to turn in a report and… and something happened to your mouth, I can’t let you drink anything till that’s done.”
“I’m sure,” Luz nodded, pulling her knees against her chest, teeth chattering up a storm. “I can’t… They’ll… If they find out who I am then they’ll… they’ll…” Without much preamble more than that she burst into tears, burrowing her face into the blanket cocoon.
“O-okay…” Eda set an unsteady hand on her shoulder. “U-Um… I… Hey, kiddo, it’s…”
Ugh, how did this work again?
Luz bawled harder, covering her head with her arms. “I don’t wanna go to jail!”
“I… I’m not gonna send you to jail,” Eda told her, half-stammering. “Geez, kid… what did you…” She couldn’t finish, but Luz seemed to get the meaning anyway.
“I… I didn’t,” she sniffed. “My… This girl just said I… she told everyone I hurt her, so if I go back… if I go back…” She looked up at Eda with huge, watery eyes. “Please! You gotta believe me!”
“I do! I believe you,” Eda said, taking Luz’s hand. “If you’re that determined not to go to the cops after all this-” She gestured vaguely at Luz’s injuries. “-it’s gotta be serious, right? I won’t tell anyone if you really don’t want me to, but… in case you change your mind or other things change, what if we clean you up and keep the stuff we use, so we have some evidence to show? Just in case? I can stick a washcloth in a baggie easily enough and we don’t have to show it to anyone.”
“Th-thank you… okay.”
“Alright,” she sighed. “We’ll get some rags and… and we’ll take care of your mouth first, okay? Then you can eat something. Sound fair?”
Luz pulled her arm out from under the blankets and flashed her a halfhearted thumbs up. “Super,” she smiled faintly. “U-um… do you have any peanut butter?”
“Sure, kid, I’ll get you some peanut butter.”
“Okay…” she nodded. “Go and get the… stuff.”
“Actually, it might just be easier to take you to the bathroom and… let you take care of it,” Eda said. “Might be more comfortable for… everyone, and you look like you could use a bath.”
“Heh… no kidding. Can, um, you help me there? I don’t think I can make it on my own.”
Eda did so, then she grabbed some clothes, a spare toothbrush, and some paper towels. She put everything in an old grocery bag, which she pushed through the cracked-open door with her eyes averted. “Wipe out your mouth with the paper before you brush, and I’ll keep it with the other… evidence,” she called. “And stick that shirt in the bag. There should be a first aid kit in the cupboard, but if you have any big problems or can’t reach something, just lemme know and I’ll give you a hand. I don’t think it’ll be as good as a doctor could do, but it’s better than nothing.”
Luz made a noncommittal noise, and turned on the shower. It ran for a long, long time.
Eventually, Luz came out, dressed in Eda’s old clothes. Eda was tall but not wide; her dress still hung on the poor kid like a tent. She settled back into the blanket nest with peanut butter sandwich and hot sweetened tea in hand, and Eda let her take a few bites before saying, “So, do you… want to talk about it?”
“I…” she sniffled. “I’m not… supposed to be here, am I? In… in Canada, I’m an American, but…” She bit her lower lip as it trembled. “Some guy took me from the woods…”
“Y-yeah. I’d been kinda… camping out for a little while ever since, well…” Luz swallowed and hugged the blanket to her chest. “There was this girl at my school and we were… friends, and then we were together, but I think…” She flinched as if expecting Eda to fly into a manic rage and didn’t relax even when the older woman didn’t react. “We… kinda… did stuff together, and she said she wanted to do it! She told me she wanted me to! But then… she told her parents that I made her and… and I had to go hide and… and…”
“Whoa, uh, it’s…” Eda cursed herself for being so bad at this kind of thing. “Geez kid… that sounds really… rough.” Maybe some good came out of that, because Luz giggled through her tears.
“So yeah… I went and hung out in the woods and my friends brought me food and stuff, b-but there was this guy… huge guy, looked kinda like a bear… I think I heard one of the other guys call him Vincent? He found me and I tried to get away but he stuck me in his van and… and then he handed me over to some other guy who put me in another van, and the second guy drove for days an-and when he stopped…”
Eda looked around for a box of tissues or a roll of paper towels or… something… Luz blew her nose on her sleeve.
“Uh, it’s… There there…”
“H-he brought me here! To this… this place that was full of people… kids even younger than me and a lot of people way older… and everyone was just kinda lying on the floor… like… like they were dead… He… they tied me up and stuck something into me and I went to sleep for a while… and when I woke up…” She wailed harder and wrapped both her arms around Eda’s waist. “P-people would go there and p-pay to have sex with us! And they drugged everyone so we couldn’t even fight back… not unless…” She winced and rubbed the purple rings around her wrists. “Some of the guys there… liked it when we did that.”
“Oh… kiddo…” Eda had guessed something like that might have happened, but it didn’t make it easier to hear. “How’d you escape?”
“Um, they gave us some other stuff… s’posed to keep us awake instead ‘cause… ‘cause some of those guys liked to hurt us a lot, but it didn’t work on me, don’t know why…” Luz was babbling through her sobs. “I’m pretty fast and they thought I’d be too hopped-up to focus on anything, so I managed to get the keys off a guard and break out… I couldn’t bring anyone else w-with me! They’re all still there! And I can’t go to the cops to help them because they’ll find me then!”
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Eda soothed. “You did what you had to. Sometimes you can only worry about yourself.”
“Please don’t make me go home!”
“I’m not gonna make you do anything, alright?” Eda could promise her that, at least. “You can… you can crash here tonight… or for a while, until we get everything straightened out. Is that okay with you?”
“Y-yes!” Luz sobbed, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. “I… I… Thank you! Gracias! Muchas gracias! You’re a good person!”
“Correction, kid,” Eda said, “I’m a decent one. And it looks like the universe owes you a break, huh?”
“M-maybe,” Luz made little fists in the cloth of the blanket. “I just wish I knew why this had to happen to me…”
“Why does anything happen to anyone?” Eda shrugged. “This isn’t your fault, though, kiddo. Sounds like other people made your life hell.”
“Y-yeah,” Luz nodded. “I guess so, but… I wouldn’t say hell…”
She giggled in that giddy, grief-stricken way. “Because I’m C-Catholic.”
Well, this was going to be… interesting.