Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Rilbur and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.
All Rights Reserved
Later that afternoon, Joe lead the Moms out into the woods. "The twins really won't be happy I showed you the way," Joe complained.
"Too bad," Mrs. B snorted. "They'll get over it."
"Are you sure they said the fort?" Joe asked. "I mean, I told them not to go back there."
"What is this fort that you're so concerned about it?" Mom asked, holding tightly to Joe's arm. While he lead them, she'd made it perfectly clear that he was to let her help him. He couldn't exactly use a cane in the woods, but he'd use her instead. He was under no circumstances to do anything that might lead to a fall, for fear of hitting his head on the way down.
"A cave," Joe said lightly. "From the looks of it, a pretty solid one, but a cave. With an entrance small enough that we can't get in. To be honest, they shouldn't be trying the entrance anymore. They're getting a little too big for it. Probably wind up stuck."
"Stuck?" Mrs. B asked, alarmed. "The entrance is that small?"
"Smaller," Joe said dryly. "Reason number two I told them to stop going in there. Reason number one being the possibility of an earthquake. And here we are."
"Here?" Mrs. B asked, looking around. "No wonder no one found them. Even knowing there's a cave around here, I sure as hell can't see it."
"That's because they cover the entrance with these rocks," Joe squatted beside the rocks in question. The rocks were large enough that they didn't move easily, but Joe still got them going without too much trouble. "Tim, Tom, you in there?" Joe put his head down to the entrance and called. "Hello?"
"They aren't here," Joe shook his head, rolling the stones back into place.
"Maybe they didn't hear you?" Mrs. B asked.
"Or could they be sleeping?" Mom asked.
"The tunnel twists and turns a little, but they've always heard me before," Joe shook his head. "As for sleeping, it's possible, but I doubt it. No, they're out hunting."
"Hunting?" Mrs. B laughed. "You mean they do more than target practice with those rifles? Oh woe is me, I'm undone."
Joe shrugged. "I've never caught them at it. To the best of my knowledge, no one ever has. But there isn't a doubt in my mind they hunt year round, and damn the rules."
Mom shook her head. "They promised me-"
"That they'd never come home in trouble for having getting caught hunting," Joe laughed. "Those two don't plan to get caught. And they're good enough that no one finds them if they don't want to be found."
"Nice to know we're appreciated, big brother," one of the twins commented idly. Joe and the Moms turned to look where the voice had come from. As if by magic, the twins just appeared, fading in out of the underbrush.
"Yes, it's always nice to know how much you think of us," one of them added.
"Tim! Tom!" Mrs. B rushed forward to hug them.
Joe, meanwhile, frowned. He wasn't as good in the woods as those two, but how the hell had they gotten that close? "Actually, I think maybe I was understating the case," he said softly. "Didn't hear or see a thing as you guys walked up."
"Up is the right word," one of the twins commented. "We spent the night in the trees, to stay away from the searchers. Perching in birds nests." The other twin snickered, and Joe just shook his head.
"I'll have to remember to look up more often," he commented dryly, ignoring his doubts as far as the veracity of their claims. If the twins wanted to let them know the truth, they would. "Then again, you'd probably start tunneling under my feet if I did that."
"Probably," one of the twins agreed, smiling.
"So, what happened?" they asked. "Why did you order us to hide?"
As they walked back to the house, the Moms took turns explaining. The story kept the twin's irritation in check, even though Joe's condition kept them moving at a relative crawl. "So we've got Abi back, but we still haven't found Ami yet," Mom finished.
The twins stopped dead and shared a long look. "We may know where to look," one of them said.
"We kinda got forced to the edge of the woods at one point," the other added hesitantly. "The cops were being pretty thorough, and the lightest part of the search pattern was at the edges of the wood. So we hid in a hunting blind we'd set up a while ago."
"We saw Ami, in a car," they continued. "We know who was driving her. It was that fat guy from the new church on the edge of town, you remember the one who caused trouble about a month ago?"
"I actually seem to recall the two of you causing trouble," Mrs. B commented wryly, "but I remember the one. And I remember where his house is."
"You do?" Mom asked eagerly. "Think we should take a drive?"
"First we stop by the house, pick up some paperwork," Mrs. B took command. "And the twins are going to take a shower. A long one. With lots of soap and hot water."
The twins stopped and looked back at her over their shoulders. "Whats wrong?" one of them asked, amused.
"Do you think we stink or something?" the other added, grinning.
"We couldn't sneak if we stank," the first pointed out.
"Yeah, that's why we're always careful to wash up as best we can," they continued.
"I think both of you are covered in dirt from head to toe," Mrs. B cut them off, "and need to comb twigs out of your hair. Which, by the way, is overdue for a haircut."
"Moooom!" the twins protested. "Hey," one of them added thoughtfully, "why don't we run ahead. We could get to the house and get ourselves showered-"
"No," Mrs. B cut them off angrily. "I'm not letting a one of you out of my sight. If Abi were out of the hospital, she'd be here with us too."
"Abi's still in the hospital?" one of the twins asked. "I thought she was fine!"
"She is," Laura told them. "The doctors just want to observe her for a little while and make sure they didn't miss anything. Apparently she may have been given the wrong treatment at one point."
Joe felt Laura tense up as she explained that, and realized that someone was hiding secrets. "Maybe Mrs. B should run the twins to the house, while Mom and I make our slower way home," he suggested. "Best of both plans."
"Sounds good to me," Mrs. B agreed instantly. "And I bet you could use some time alone with your mother."
"Yes, I suppose I could," Joe agreed. In moments, the twins had charged off out of earshot, Mrs. B just a few steps behind them. "So, what is it you didn't want the twins to hear?"
Mom sighed. "There's no 'maybe' about her being given the wrong treatment. Someone messed up her charts, and they had a drip in her arm before the doctor caught it. She didn't get much of the drug in her system, but they want to keep an eye on her."
"So there was an accident," Joe shrugged. "What aren't you saying?" Mom hesitated, clearly searching for a way to evade the question. "The truth, Mom," Joe hardened his voice. "I can't help you if you don't trust me."
Mom sighed again. "We don't think it was an accident," she told him. "Someone, no one really knows who, deliberately messed up her charts. The psychotropic they were going to treat her with would have caused her to act erratically and irrationally, and combined with the meds she was supposed to get would have caused incontinence issues. Given that she was about to take a nap, she'd probably have had night terrors. All the classic symptoms of an abused child."
Joe was more than capable of putting two and two together, but this time he was being given one and two. "And you left her there?!" he shouted. "Why aren't you there, watching over her?!"
Mom clutched his arm painfully. "I want nothing more than to stand over her, watching, but Laura is right. I can't help there. I can help here. I have to trust that the doctors can do their job. They know someone tried something. They don't know who, they only have suspicions as to why, but now they're on their guard. Everything is being checked and double checked. There's nothing left that I can do there. And we needed both of us here just in case. If you had trouble with the walk, one of us would have to get help while the other stayed with you."
"But I'm not having trouble, so now you feel safe to split up," Joe nodded.
"Not really," Mom shrugged. "But you were going to start asking questions, and the twins are already on hair trigger. I think Laura wants to try to keep them as calm as possible, and admitting that the 'bad guys' are still trying to get us…" Mom trailed off, letting possible consequences suggest themselves. Unfortunately, Joe couldn't disagree with the concern. The twins were many things, but the concept of moderate response was alien to them. If they knew someone was still after the family, that someone would likely wake up in hell before they knew what had happened. Joe loved the two of them, but in the end they scared him shitless. He was bigger than they were, stronger, faster, and could probably take them in a straight-up fight. Which is why they'd never even tried to take him in a direct fight. When he'd first moved in, he'd pissed them off, and they'd retaliated in extremely direct ways. He'd woken up on two separate occasions to discover that his bed had been coated in itching powder without his realizing it, and in a particularly low move they'd even — somehow — managed to coat a pair of briefs that he'd gotten fresh from the wash. And then there was the time that they'd managed to lay a trail of diluted honey to the lounge chair he was napping in. The Moms had come down on all of them after that one, and Joe had slowly managed to earn the twin's respect, but in the end he knew that they accepted what authority he took because they chose to accept it. They wanted a big brother, and once he'd started acting like one, they'd loved it. They loved their family, their moms, their big brother, and even their little sisters.
And if someone threatened that family, that someone would die. They wouldn't leave any fingerprints behind, there wouldn't be any evidence, but that someone would die. Joe didn't doubt it for a second, and apparently the Moms knew it too. The only question would be if the police could find any evidence of a murder. The police were good, no doubt, but the twins spent more time reading than they liked to let on, and they'd been bathtub chemists for years — right down to making their own itching powder. Combine that with their increasing interest in mechanics, and they had a really nasty toolbox to express their extreme displeasure with someone. They might just get away with it. Then again, they might not. No point in taking risks.
"For the twins sake, I hope this 'fat guy' gives Ami up quickly," Joe said softly.
"I do too," Mom agreed.
It was a short drive to Gregory Freeman's house. Joe was happy for that much, because he discovered that for once in his life he was suddenly vulnerable to car sickness. It was probably a side effect of the concussion, which meant that he could be suffering for months before he got over it. Still, however raw a mood he was in, he was glad to have the twins back.
"All right," Mrs. B pulled up across the street, "we don't want to leave the three of you out of our sight, but the fact is that there's already enough trouble going on. The judge was able to cover for Joe, but there's only so much he can do."
"What she's trying to say is that we want you guys to stay out of it," Mom said. "We'll do the talking, and if there's trouble, well, we're trying to track down our child. It will be much more difficult for people to cause trouble over that than if any of you get involved."
"So the three of you are going to stay in the car," Mrs. B ordered.
"Can I at least walk around a little?" Joe groaned. "Get some fresh air?"
The Moms shared a long look, then nodded. "Just stay out of things," Mrs. B ordered. "Unless we ask otherwise."
"Can we-" the twins began to ask.
"No!" the Moms cut them off together. "The two of you will stay in the car, and out of trouble," Mrs. B added firmly.
"Yes Mom," the twins nodded unhappily.
"I'll leave the engine running so you get air conditioning and stereo," Mrs. B added more pleasantly. "Feel free to change the channel, but keep the volume reasonable. Now, Sarah, Joe, let's step out."
Joe rolled his window shut before opening the door. The fresh air had helped, a little, but Joe still felt better as he stepped out of the car and onto his own two legs.
"I want to be clear, Joe, that we don't want you getting involved," Mrs. B told him one last time.
"I hear you," Joe nodded. "I'll stay right here."
"Good," she nodded sharply. "You've already got a record, as far as the system is concerned. It wouldn't take much to trigger another arrest, even if you got let off on the first one."
"I understand," Joe nodded. "Go on. Go make waves. I'll just enjoy the theater."
Mom laughed, then linked her arm with Mrs. B's as they walked across the street. Joe smiled as he watched his parents walk off, each one all the battle armor the other needed. 'Fatso' was going to regret tangling with the Bryant family, one way or the other. Joe reached up and knocked on the window, which promptly rolled down.
"Yeah?" one of the twins asked.
"Now that the Moms aren't around," Joe said quietly, "I have a small request. I'll get you more information when I can, but a woman by the name of Ms. Dixon needs on your shit list. She's a social worker, and she's the one who caused me trouble yesterday. I don't think she was 'only following orders', I think she was the one behind the orders."
"We're already talking about that," the twin nodded. "We don't have any plans yet, but thanks for the info. We'll try and find more about her."
"And make certain Mr. Rice, the district attorney, is on your nice list," Joe added. "I have information that shows him to be a good guy, even if it doesn't look that way."
"Mr. Rice," the twin said agreeably. "We'll remember. No trouble for Mr. Rice, district attorney."
"I'll remind you of either name if you need it," Joe said, watching the Moms knock on the door. "Well now," Joe said thoughtfully as the window rolled up. "There she is," Joe told the twins.
"That's her?" the twin asked, rolling the window back down.
"Yup," Joe nodded. "Make her life miserable if you can. Oh, and have you made any progress on the Joel front?"
"No," the twin said sadly. "We kinda can't do anything to him right now."
"That's fine," Joe nodded. "If you see a chance, take it, but don't get yourselves in trouble. I still don't know exactly what he did, but from what my date said, I suspect he deserves a lot more than just pranks. Still, if you don't mind suggestion, leave him on the back burner. Use him as a target when you need a break."
"Works for us," the twins agreed affably. "And we'll see what we can do to that bitch."
"Language," Joe chided. "Even if I happen to agree with you, if the Moms hear you…" Joe trailed off meaningfully.
"I wouldn't say it where they could hear me," the twin sniffed. "Or where the girls could. But you're cool."
"Roll up the window already," Joe chuckled, watching as the Moms talked to the bitch. Oh damn, now the twins had him doing it. Oh well. They at least picked the right word.
Clearly dissatisfied with the conversation, Ms. Dixon stalked past the Moms, digging in her purse as she walked towards the street. She looked carefully up and down before stepping into the street, getting more than halfway across it before she noticed Joe leaning beside the car. "You," she sneered. "I might have known. What are you doing here, brat?"
"Brat?" Joe asked, keeping his voice amused. "I'm just here to provide moral support for my mothers."
"'Moral' support?" Dixon asked, stretching the word out, her tone turning it into something dirty. "I'm surprised you dare use that word to reference them. More like 'immoral' support. Their deviancy will be their downfall."
"Love is never a deviancy," Joe disagreed.
"Bah, your kind sickens me almost as badly as theirs does," Ms. Dixon spat. "A new day is coming, mark my words. And you'll sing a new tune, or regret it."
"The only tune I'll be singing is about family values," Joe told her. "Real values. Love of family. Supporting them through thick and thin, even when you disagree with them. Not hatred because others are different."
Ms. Dixon snorted. "Those bitches really have warped your mind," she complained. "Oh well, one day the Lord will open your mind to the horror they are, and you'll come crawling back."
"The only 'crawling' that will occur, now or ever, is when you go crawling to Jesus Christ, begging forgiveness," Joe told her coldly. "If I were you, I'd be glad that he's infinitely capable of forgiveness, because you'd over stress his good-will, otherwise."
"My daughter's told me the rumors about you," Ms. Dixon sneered, "but I really hadn't believed. Your father will be so crushed to hear that his son really is a faggot."
Joe laughed, good and long. And he made absolutely certain to look the bitch in the eyes while he did it. "I have many sore spots," he told her, "but invoking my father's name won't do you any good. I've made peace with my decision to disown that piece of trash. And you should know better than to trust rumors. I'd offer to display my masculinity to you, but there isn't anything female in the area I'd be willing to kiss. Actually, other than my mothers there aren't any ladies in sight at all." Joe hadn't meant to add that last bit, but his anger had slipped his leash. He'd learned to hide his anger over his father, but that didn't mean he'd learned not to hate the bastard.
For a moment, he thought the insult would go over Ms. Dixon's head, but just as she turned to leave she froze, eyes widening in understanding. "You'll rot in hell," she sneered at Joe, "just like those dykes. And I hope I'll be the one to send you there, shortly after I send them."
"What did you just say?" Joe growled, stepping away from the car. Every last one of his muscles rippled as he tensed them up, standing as tall as he could. He'd practiced looking intimidating in front of the mirror, and he looked at least twice as large when he did this. Not that it ever actually intimidated the twins.
"You heard me," Dixon told him, mimicking the tone used by teenage girls with more fashion than horse sense. Then, compounding stupidity with outright lunacy, she reached out with one long, manicured finger and shoved it into his chest. Out of respect for the heat, Joe had chosen a spaghetti strap tank top, and her nail raked along the edge of it's collar before driving into his flesh, drawing blood.
Joe looked down at the bloody nail and smiled. "Thank you," he told Ms. Dixon, putting every ounce of pleasantness into the words that he possibly could. Ms. Dixon took a half step back, frowning suspiciously. No doubt she was thinking of the last time he'd thanked her for anything.
"Thank me for what?" she asked.
"Well, firstly my mothers told me not to cause any trouble," Joe told her, "but in this case I think the trouble has already started." He wet a finger in the scratch on his chest, then hold it up to show her. Carefully using his left hand, drawing attention to it and away from the fist he formed with his right. He even used the opportunity to twist his torso, as if to put the finger closer to her, make the blood more visible. And the idiot bitch leaned forward in response, investigating whatever secret he was offering. Reflex, really. Reflex that was about to bite her in the ass. "And secondly, thank you very much because my Moms always taught me not to hit a lady. In fact, Mrs. B made the point quite clearly last time I screwed up on that front. But you don't qualify as a lady by any standard."
Ms. Dixon's eyes widened, but before she could turn to run Joe lashed out with a single, vicious right hook. He wasn't a boxer, but Mrs. B had spent time with both him and the twins, making sure that they knew how to throw a punch. She didn't hand out a lot of martial arts training, but both Joe and the twins knew enough to give a good accounting of themselves in a fight. And more important yet, they'd learned that however big and strong they thought they were, they were no match for anyone with real training.
Training Ms. Dixon was sorely lacking. Joe's football player build left him with massive amounts of upper body strength, and he threw every ounce of it into the blow. The slight twist of his torso reversed explosively, adding the strength of his torso's muscles to the blow, which flew forward almost lazily to slam into her jaw with bone-bruising force. The bitch almost seemed to fly for a moment, then gravity took over and she fell onto the hood of her car.
"You idiot!" Mrs. B shouted from across the street as Joe rubbed his knuckles. Damn, it felt like he'd broken his hand. Who would have guessed the bitch would have a steel jaw. "What are doing?" Joe turned to face Mrs. B as she rushed up. Re-wetting his finger on the long scratch in his chest, he held it up for her inspection.
"She struck first," Joe told her flatly. "Right after threatening to kill both me and you."
"I don't care what she said!" Mrs. B was in his face. "We told you to let us handle this. We told you to stay quiet! And now look at what you've done!"
"Exactly what I've wanted to do since yesterday," Joe agreed. "Bitch was an idiot to give me the excuse."
"Excuse?" Mrs. B shouted, raising a hand. She was halfway into a slap when she suddenly diverted it. "I can't even slap you," she growled. "But when we get home, you're getting introduced to my belt, young man. Count on it."
"She struck first," Joe insisted. Why couldn't Mrs. B see that? The bitch struck first. He was just defending himself.
"Laura," Mom intervened, "how long did you say it would take the concussion to clear up?"
"Doctors said he was mostly fine," Mrs. B began hotly, then began to slow down as she said the next few words, "but they also said that his ability to function would be compromised for at least the next few days. They actually wanted to hold him, just in case, but they didn't really push it. And I wanted him at home."
"You mean I wanted my babies home, and you humored me as much as you could," Mom said softly.
"Where's Ami?" Joe asked, redirecting the conversation.
"Mr. Freeman doesn't believe that our court order is real," Mrs. B snorted, "and was threatening to call the cops. After seeing you slug this bitch, he slammed the door in our faces and presumably made good on the threat. So friends are on the way."
"Good," Joe nodded. "We need to press charges. She cut me. Threatened to kill me."
The Moms sighed in unison. "I thought he was in better shape than this," Mrs. B groaned, just as the first sirens began to wail.
"Ignoring recesses, because in truth those just split one hearing into multiple parts, it's unusual that I see the same people for two different hearings in the same day," Judge Haran said from the bench, voice dangerously patient. "Three times in two days is even more unusual. Depending on how you count it, this is four times in two days, and half of those are, arguably, cases of contempt of court."
The judge held up a single finger. "Yesterday, we dealt with an attempt to strip children from their parents en masse. I ruled, decisively, against the effort. I ordered social services to return the children immediately."
"Instead, I awaken the next morning to discover that less than half the children had been restored to their families." Judge Haran raised a second finger, voice rising. "In our second hearing, I heard an explanation that the others were 'temporarily misplaced' as the result of a paperwork error. They were all with loving families, I was assured, it's just that the department couldn't figure out which ones were with which families. I was promised it would all be sorted out tonight. I ordered that I be kept informed."
A third finger rose, and the heat in the Judge's voice rose. "Our second meeting this morning was focused on a single family, as Social Services tried to argue that Joseph Bryant's demonstrably violent behavior warranted further examination before I ordered the family reunited. Upon examination of the case, I tossed that argument out of court and repeated my order to expedite reuniting their family."
A fourth finger rose, and this time the judge didn't even bother to hide his annoyance. "A fourth hearing, on the same family. And again," Judge Haran slammed his hand onto his desk angrily, "Social Services hasn't bothered to think before acting. A caseworker was interrupted in the middle of violating my order to reunite the family, and then assaulted a minor child, and Social Services is trying, again, to break up their family."
"I won't deny that the boy's response was excessive," Judge Haran growled. "No one in their right mind can deny that. But ten seconds — just ten seconds — of conversation is enough to make it clear he was not, and is not, in his right mind. With less than five minutes of effort I was able to contact that hospital and talk to his doctor, who told me that the concussion the boy received makes it not simply plausible but probable that he reacted in a manner he believed was reasonable. The woman he is charged with attacking said something that he interpreted as a death threat against himself and his family, and he acted in fear of his life and the life of his parents by simply decking the woman."
Judge Haran rose to his feet, hands on the stand in front of him, and roared. "And for this you want me to break their family up? Are you out of your God-damned minds? Are you trying to waste the court's time?"
Judge Haran sank slowly back into his chair. "I note for the record that I do not state that the woman made a death threat. That is outside the scope of this court's authority to decide one way or the other. I also make no effort to cast Mr. Peters' actions as justified or otherwise in a legal sense, as that is also not the prerogative of this court. I remand those issues to the District Attorney's office and those of my colleagues who handle criminal law, in all confidence that the situation will be properly investigated and handled. My job is to decide what is best for the family. And on that, I am more than capable of acting, and have more than enough authority to decide. The motion before this court is denied." Judge Haran raised up a single warning finger pointed directly at one of the lawyers before him. "Don't open your mouth to object, counselor, or I will have you up for contempt. And if I see you again today, with another motion against this family, I'll have you up for contempt. In fact, I'd probably have you up for contempt tomorrow, too."
"If I have not been clear enough, let me be clear here, now, today," Judge Haran's voice threw down his gauntlet, as he reinforced various words by slamming his first into the wood before him in anger. "This court will not split up families because they do not conform to traditional formulations. I don't care if there's one daddy, two mommies, or a dozen of each. Until and unless the health and welfare of the children is threatened, this court will protect any and all families that come before it."
Joe was glad that Mr. Chase had managed to spring him from the station for this hearing. They almost hadn't wanted to let him go, but Mr. Chase had proven more persuasive than Joe had anticipated. It had helped that Mr. Chase had Judge Haran's written order requiring Joe's presence, of course. "While it does not directly effect the motion before us, let me also add this. If I have to put all of Social Services into jail on contempt charges, I'll do it. I want every. Last. Child. Returned. Make it happen, and make it happen fast. That is an order from a sitting judge. For those of you who do not understand this fact, let me tell you that such an order has the force of law. If you continue to ignore it, I am completely within my rights to throw you in jail until you comply."
"Please," Judge Haran bared his teeth. It wasn't a smile. "Oh please, try me. You'll find my patience quite short at this point. Ask Ms. Dixon, once she's out of the hospital wing at the local jail. Court dismissed." Judge Haran's gavel slammed, and he didn't wait before rising to his feet and stalking out.