“Beth, we have some breaking news. Senator Jonah Bronson of Chicago has been accused of molesting three girls, ages 10, 11, and 12 in his youth group, starting from when they were each eight years old. Let’s go to his church for some reactions.”
Leslie stares at her television, her spoon halfway to her mouth. She is killing time before her flight, and she had thought it good to keep up on what’s happening in the world. She is watching the evening world news while eating a bowl of Kashi GOLEAN Crisp! Toasted Berry Crumble with Josephine watching her every bite. Jonah Bronson. Chicago. She knows the name—how does she know the name? Then it hits her as she recalls John’s commentary which she had read just that afternoon. In fact, John had mentioned this very thing, and Leslie had tried to forget it because it had bothered her so much. She chastised herself for being so weak.
“Shit!” Leslie gets up from her bowl of cereal in order to go to her computer, grabbing a protesting Josephine in one hand along the way. Leslie shuts the door, plunks Josephine in her bed, and then hops online. She Googles Jonah Bronson, and it’s just as she thinks—Senator Robertson’s crony and old friend—the one who loved kids and who babysat Amy when Amy was a little girl. Leslie mentally runs through what she’s learned about the case, and she can’t help but wonder if Jonah Bronson’s predilection for little girls is not a recent thing—it usually isn’t with pedophiles. Leslie does a Google search and discovers that there have been accusations against Senator Bronson throughout the years, but none of the cases had been substantiated—mostly because the girls refused to talk about it. That makes Leslie wonder if the senator had employed intimidation to keep the girls quiet. That is often the case when a powerful man abuses his position. He intimates that no one will believe the girl and that she deserves it. Sadly, it’s often true that a girl isn’t believed—especially against the word of a man like Senator Bronson. Most people do not want to believe that a grown man would force sex upon a young girl. Leslie knows, firsthand, however, that it does happen.
Mr. Liu molested Leslie for two long years, and she never said a word to anyone—especially not her mother. Leslie instinctively knew that no one would believe her or that they would blame her if they did. Mr. Liu told her it was her fault because she was so pretty. She didn’t think of herself as pretty, but she still accepted it was her fault. Everything else that happened was her fault, so this must be, too.
Leslie didn’t think it was ever going to stop. She had to be alone with Mr. Liu at least twice a month, and every time, he molested her. Raped her. Took everything from her. She hated every minute she spent with him, and she would often pray to a God in whom she didn’t believe that He would strike Mr. Liu dead. Since that never happened, Leslie concluded that if there was a God, then He was a bastard who didn’t care about her, either. Mr. Liu would give Leslie presents after each time. Books, usually, as he knew how much she loved to read. Then, he would tell her not to tell anyone, and Leslie hated the secrecy most of all. It came to an abrupt halt when Leslie got her period at age nine. Suddenly, Mr. Liu didn’t want anything to do with her any more. In fact, he quickly moved out of state after that, breaking Mrs. Chang’s heart as he disappeared without saying anything. She drank constantly after that.
Mrs. Chang held Leslie responsible for Mr. Liu’s disappearance, and it made Mrs. Chang dislike Leslie even more. She refused to do more than the minimum to take care of Leslie. Lisa hated her twin by this point and joined in with her classmates in picking on Leslie. Mr. Chang was the only family member who didn’t treat Leslie as if she were a pariah, and he pretty much just ignored her. It was no wonder that Leslie declared herself an emancipated minor at age sixteen and moved into her own apartment. She turned tricks once in a while to make rent, but that was infinitely preferable to being treated like shit in her own home. She didn’t talk to anyone in her family after that, cutting off all ties. Lisa had a change of heart as she grew older and tried to contact Leslie from time to time, but Leslie never responded. She never forgave Lisa for not being on her side during the whole experience with Mr. Liu. Leslie didn’t hear anything more about her family until she got the phone call saying they’d died in a car crash and the she was the sole heir for all of them. Cold comfort, indeed.
“Jonah Bronson is a good, decent man.” A quote from one of the old church ladies at Senator Bronson’s church. “He cares about the children. Anything those girls said is a lie.”
Leslie scours the internet for every scrap of information that she can about the accusations. She learns that one of the girls is pregnant—which is why she came forward with her story. She is twelve years old. Twelve. The abuse started when she was eight. The other two girls are sisters—sisters—aged 11 and 10. Leslie stops reading in order to digest this. How could a man abuse sisters and get away with it? Why didn’t their parents do anything? They had to know something was wrong—or had they just turned a blind eye, thinking how wonderful that Senator Bronson would take time out of his busy schedule to mentor their daughters? Leslie steels herself and returns to the article. Senator had allegedly started abusing the older daughter when she was eight, and then he added the younger daughter when she was eight as well.
Leslie jumps up, flings open the bedroom door, and races to the bathroom. She throws up all the cereal she had just eaten—only it doesn’t taste nearly as good going up as it had going down. When she is done, she drinks a glass of water to clean out the brackish taste in her mouth. Then, she goes to the living room to see if the news has anything else on Jonah Bronson. They don’t, but they are touching on the embezzlement charges against Senator Robertson as well as Amy’s murder. Josephine is lapping furiously at the milk as fast as her little pink tongue can move, and she howls in protest when Leslie takes away the bowl.
“You’ve had more than enough,” Leslie says sternly, turning off the television and bringing the bowl to the kitchen. Josephine is right behind her, of course, mewling her head off. Leslie dumps the rest of the cereal and pours out most of the milk before relenting and placing the bowl on the floor so Josephine can finish the last bit of milk. Josephine harrumphs to voice her lingering displeasure before she deigns to drink the milk. “You are such a drama queen.” Leslie kneels so she can pet Josephine’s silky fur. For a minute, everything is right in Leslie’s world. Then she remembers that John is still dead, and her moment of peace is over.
She returns to the computer room and continues researching Jonah Bronson’s past. He met his wife, Sharon, in high school when he was a senior and she was a freshman—the only freshman on the cheerleading squad for the varsity football team. Jonah had been the star running back for the team, and he had made a point of introducing himself to the cute, leggy, well-endowed dark-haired beauty who would become his future wife. They both attended Wheaton College (three years apart), steadily dating the whole time. Leslie frowns as she reads that Jonah’s younger sister had went the opposite way of her brother—she had gotten involved with a bad crowd by the time she was twelve, was hooked on speed by age fifteen, got knocked up by age seventeen, and ended up on the streets by eighteen.
“My sister has always been troubled,” Jonah was quoted as saying when asked about Judith, his sister. “I tried to mentor her when she was younger, but she was too headstrong to listen to me.”
Leslie’s inner alarm is pinging. This is a man who has been accused of pedophilia on and off throughout the years. It’s highly plausible that he started with his younger sister under the guise of ‘mentoring’ her. His sister was seven years younger, so if his M.O. held true, he had been fifteen when she was eight—old enough to do pretty much anything he wanted to his helpless sister. Leslie knows she is conjecturing, but the story of Judith’s sad life fits the pattern very neatly. Leslie wonders where Judith is now and does a bit more research. Funny, but there is very little mention of Judith past the age of eighteen. Did she have the child? Did she abort? Was she dead? Leslie couldn’t find out either way. She doesn’t know why she is pursuing it except she would like to talk to Judith if she’s still alive. Jonah Bronson has been portrayed in the media as an upstanding Christian conservative who, unfortunately, has been plagued with accusations of molestation his entire career. Leslie shakes her head at how child molestation still isn’t taken as seriously as it should be.
Leslie hops onto CNN.com to see if they have anything about the senator and the allegations. They do. It’s breaking news for them, and they have a reporter dogging the senator in Chicago. It’s not an important enough item for any of the A-list reporters to be on hand, though. Still, about twenty reporters in all from various news organizations are hurrying behind Senator Bronson as he leaves the State Capitol, shouting questions at him as he tries to escape, his lawyer by his side. He is doing his best to ignore them while his lawyer shouts, “no comment!’”, but they aren’t making it easy on him. Leslie would feel an iota of sympathy if he wasn’t a child-fucker, but since he is, she hopes the reporters slice his dick off and feed it to him manually.
“Senator Bronson! Is it true you molested your own sister?”
“Senator Bronson! A reliable source says you’ve molested over fifty girls in the last ten years.”
“Senator Bronson! Don’t you think you should step aside while these allegations are being investigated?”
“Senator Bronson! Did you molest Senator Robertson’s daughter when you babysat her?”
“Senator Bronson! Did you murder Amy Robertson?”
At the last question, the senator stops in his tracks and turns to face the reporters. There is something in his eyes that makes them all take a step back. Senator Bronson’s lawyer is clucking at him to keep moving, but Senator Bronson brushes him aside. Senator Bronson doesn’t say a word as he waits for the cacophony to quiet. One by one, the reporters go silent. One anorexic blond opens her mouth to speak, but when the senator shoots a hard glare at her, she abruptly shuts her mouth without saying a word. Senator Bronson waits. Then, he waits some more. Leslie has to give him credit for knowing his audience. She would bet even money that all the reporters are keeping silent because they are hoping he’ll give them a juicy sound bite that they can replay over and over until it loses any meaning it once had. When the reporters are completely silent, Senator Bronson speaks.
“I did not kill Amy Robertson. Anyone making such accusations will find himself or herself on the business end of a libel and/or slander suit.” Senator Bronson stares hard at his captive audience before turning on his heel and walking away. It takes the jackals several seconds before they realize that their prey is escaping. Once they do, they move as a mob to follow him to his car.
“Hm.” Leslie taps a pen on her chin. “He denied killing Amy, but not the rest. Interesting.” She supposes it could be because murder is the most heinous of crimes, but still. He didn’t attempt to defend himself on the molestation charges, which are viscerally more repulsive.
She indulges in a little speculation. If Senator Bronson had molested Amy when she was a child, and Leslie is firmly convinced that he did, then maybe she confronted him with it, so he had to kill her. But, why would she confront him now? Why so many years later? Leslie knows the answer to that. Amy could have repressed the memories, or she might not have felt strong enough to confront her molester until right before her murder. Or, perhaps Amy had found out about Senator Bronson’s current activities and confronted him with that. Something else strikes Leslie. Senator Bronson has children as well. Five of them—aged twenty-one to thirteen. The oldest three are boys, and the youngest two (fifteen and thirteen) are girls. What if Senator Bronson had been molesting his girls and Amy found out?
Too many ‘what ifs’ for Leslie’s taste. She Googles Senator Bronson’s wife, but cannot find much about her other than she does various charity work and is mostly a stay-at-home mom. She lunches with other society ladies once a week, but that’s pretty much it. Of course, she is active in the church as well. Leslie can’t find anything about the children except that they all attended private school, and only the younger two were still at home. The girls. For a minute, Leslie briefly considers placing an anonymous call to the child protection agency in Chicago, whatever they might be called, but then she decides against it. If Senator Bronson is abusing his daughters, it will come to light with these current accusations swirling around. Besides, selfishly, Leslie doesn’t have the heart to deal with it right now. She makes a mental note that if she doesn’t read anything about it in the next few weeks, she’ll place that anonymous call.
Leslie is on information overload. She wants to find out who killed John, but she is having trouble tying all the threads together. Senator Robertson’s alleged embezzlement. Senator Bronson’s alleged child molestation. Judge Anthony’s questionable decision to try Mrs. Robertson’s DUI case when he should have recused himself based on his friendship with the family. Chief Matthews, the man who could have most easily orchestrated the frame of John—or Freddy. Prosecutor Erickson—Leslie pauses over the last name. He is the cipher of the group. There is nothing on him except John’s hunch that he’s more involved than he appears at first glance. It’s enough for Leslie—she’ll look into it after she talks to Rose in Chicago.