A Hard Rain; chapter six

“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.

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A Hard Rain; chapter five, part three

Leslie presses the letter to her lips as the tears fall down her cheeks.  The last bit of mistrust she had for John melted away.  It still stings that John had kept so much of his life a secret from her, but she no longer doubted that he did it out of love.  She struggles to her feet, Josephine butting her in the shins, and takes the letter into her bedroom so she can place it in her keepsake box.  The last letter she’ll ever receive from John.  And, it’s in his own hand.  She will never throw it away.  She opens her keepsake box and reverently places the letter inside, right on top of John’s smiling face.  She touches the letter, briefly, before closing the box.  Only when she is done does she remember that she has the packet John sent her.  She pulls out a sheaf of papers, most of them computer print-outs, sits down on the bed, and begins reading.

She already knows the basics, of course, though John goes into greater detail.  There are several pieces of paper that has his written commentary on the case.  He reveals that Amy did, indeed, have evidence that her father embezzle money from his campaign.  In addition, he was getting paid to play—meaning he accepted large sums of money to vote a certain way.  Now, this wasn’t very surprising as many politicians take bribes.  However, the shocking part was that Senator Robertson had conspired with other senators to vote en bloc.  He refused to name the other senators, but sources said that Senator Bronson was one of them.  John listed several deals that Senator Bronson had made that were questionable, but every time a case went to trial, and important witness would either clam up or suddenly disappear.  Now, Senator Bronson had higher aspirations.  He had tossed his name into next year’s gubernatorial race just to test the waters, but he was widely expected to be the front-runner in the 2016 election.  All bets were off, of course, if he were found guilty of taking bribes.  The voters might not mind, but the FBI surely would.  The only other comment about Senator Bronson was that he’d been accused of molesting girls over the years.  Leslie scowls.  She pushes that thought to the back of her mind because she doesn’t want to deal with it at the moment.

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A Hard Rain; chapter five, part two

“Leslie, meditation is done now.”  Sasha’s voice is unusually gentle.  Leslie snaps to the present and is astonished to find that her face is wet with tears.  Two of the other students, longtime classmates of Leslie’s, make a point of not looking at her.  The third, a relative newcomer is staring at her with an open mouth.  Leslie flushes in embarrassment as she tries to stem her tears; they continue to fall.

“Excuse me.”  Leslie walks over to the table in the corner of the room and picks up a tissue.  She uses it to dab her eyes, but she continues to cry silently.  She grabs a handful of tissues and walks outside.  Sasha lets her be because she knows that Leslie needs a minute to collect herself.  If she doesn’t return in a few minutes, Sasha will go outside to make sure she’s OK.

“I miss you, John,” Leslie whispers as she huddles by the door.  It’s not exceedingly cold out—twenty degrees—but Leslie feels a coldness that cuts straight through her heart.  Leslie aches to hold John one last time, to feel him inside her one last time, to kiss him one last time.  She couldn’t tolerate the idea that she would never see him again.  She had known him a relatively short amount of time, and yet, he had become indispensable in her life.  She counted on him to be there for her, and now—he isn’t.  He will never be there for her again.  Leslie hugs herself in a futile attempt to stave off the despair.  How can she bear it that she will never ever get to hear him call her lover again?

After several minutes, Leslie returns to class.  Sasha is leading the class in chi gong, but she glances quizzically at Leslie as Leslie gently shuts the door behind her.  Leslie nods once, not trusting herself to speak.  She sits on her chair, drinks her bottled water, and skips the chi gong.  When it’s over, she rejoins the class for the first section of the solo form.  She is able to stumble through it with minimal mistakes.  She endures the rest of the class, counting the minutes until it’s over.

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A Hard Rain; chapter five, part one

“All right, class.  Let’s do some standing meditation.”  Sasha gathers the four students into a small circle.  Leslie takes her usual place to Sasha’s immediate left and assumes the standing meditation posture, but not without trepidation.  Meditation taps into the deep wells of sorrow in her.  Many of the memories she has repressed for decades became released as she practiced standing meditation.  This had started soon after John had moved in with her, and she realized it was because she was having the first spectacularly joyous and positive sexual experience in her life.  In her past, none of her partners had matched her libido or her creativity in bed.  What’s worse, most of her partners made her feel like there was something wrong with her because she wanted sex so often and in so many different ways.  They were intimidated by her appetite, and they thought she was weird because of it.  In addition, the abuse she had suffered twisted her view of what she had to offer in a relationship—mostly being the perfect sex doll.  So, she sometimes wondered how much of sex she enjoyed for the act itself and how much she enjoyed because she was trained to enjoy it.  John had thrown her paradigm out the window, and meditation was tapping into the pain Leslie held around the subject of sex.  Her first recovered memory had been seemingly benign.

 

It had started as a normal Saturday.  The girls did their chores in the morning, and then things turned strange.  Mrs. Chang made the girls put on their best winter dresses, changed into her favorite bright pink woolen dress, and she dragged them to the part where they ran into a tall, smiling, handsome Taiwanese man she introduced as Mr. Liu.  Leslie remembered that the day was chilly, but the sun was shining brightly.  Even though Mr. Liu was affable to the girls, Leslie hadn’t liked him from the start.  She liked him even less when Mrs. Chang insisted the twins call him Uncle Liu in the old-school way.

Mr. Liu bought the girls hot chocolate, taking special care to have it doctored exactly as each girl liked it.  Lisa had told him she wanted marshmallows in hers, and he had turned around and asked Leslie if she wanted marshmallows as well.  Leslie shook her head without saying anything; she did not want hot chocolate at all from this man.  However, Mrs. Chang was insistent, and Mr. Liu finally wormed it out of Leslie that she liked whipped cream in her hot chocolate.  Lisa asked if she could have some as well, and Mr. Lie said no.  This created the first crack between the girls—one that would never be mended.

Mrs. Chang scolded Leslie as Mr. Liu went to fetch the hot chocolate.  When he returned, Lisa immediately started sipping hers whereas Leslie simply held her cup in her mittened hand.  It was only when Mrs. Chang ordered her to drink did Leslie lift the Styrofoam cup to her lips, and then she methodically chugged down the hot chocolate over Mr. Liu’s protests.  She finished her hot chocolate quickly, ignoring the blister that was forming on her tongue.  She thanked Mr. Liu for the drink, threw the cup away, and spent the rest of the afternoon trying with little success to avoid talking to Mr. Liu.

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A Hard Rain; chapter four

“Siobhan!  What are you doing here?”  Leslie is surprised to see her best friend at Funk ‘N Junk because she isn’t scheduled.

“I switched with Muriel,” Siobhan says briskly.  “I wanted to work with you your first shift back.”  Leslie snorts because Siobhan makes it sound as if Leslie has been wounded in battle or something equally ridiculous.  Siobhan stares at Leslie and then plucks a silver lame scarf from a shelf and hands it to Leslie.  “Put this on.”  Leslie accepts the scarf and drapes it around her waist.  She is still wearing the red sweater she had put on this morning, but she had changed from her jeans into black velour pants.  She has on ankle-high boots with two-inch heels.  She is not a clotheshorse, but she accepts that she has to be an advertisement for the store.  To that end, she plucks a silver bangle from a counter display and slides it up her left arm.

“Nice touch,” Siobhan says approvingly.  “Have you called your therapist yet?”

“No.”  Leslie doesn’t think it’s necessary now that she has a mission—finding John’s killer.  She knows Siobhan will not like that, however, so she keeps it to herself.

“Do it.  You need him.”  Siobhan pauses before adding, “You put on lipstick.  Good girl.”  Leslie stifles the impulse to give Siobhan the finger because three customers choose that precise moment to walk through the door. Besides, she and Siobhan have had this argument countless times, and she is unwilling to rehash it yet again.  She casts an envious glance at Siobhan.  Siobhan is wearing a tight navy blue sweater that dips enough to display her impressive bosom.  She has on a white flare skirt that has an uneven hem.  Her five-inch blue platforms make Leslie’s feet ache just by looking at them.  Siobhan has her mane of red curls arranged in a messy bun at the nape of her neck, and she is wearing a white cloche hat that is both whimsical and fun.  All the clothing is from the store, as is the butterfly barrette festooning her bun, and Leslie would bet it took Siobhan less than ten minutes to achieve her look.

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A Hard Rain; chapter three, part three

Leslie’s stomach growls, but she does not want to eat anything until after the cops leave, so she ignores her stomach and concentrates on her computer.  She reads about how Amy had been rushed to the hospital with a broken leg when she was ten.  It was said to be an accident, but the article hints that Senator Robertson may have had something to do with it.  Another article methodically lists all the emergency trips the Robertson children had taken to the hospital in their childhood, and it was pretty long.  Then again, with five children in the family, it was only natural that accidents would occur.  The most interesting part of the article was the statement that Mrs. Robertson had been rushed to the hospital herself once when Jack Jr. was thirteen-months old.  She had been rumored to have been pregnant with baby Robertson number six, but no one could verify that tidbit.  At any rate, there was no sixth Robertson baby, so people freely speculated as to whether Mrs. Robertson had miscarried, and if so, whether Senator Robertson had caused the miscarriage.

Leslie’s mind is swirling with all the information.  The more she reads, the more she’s convinced that there’s something in Amy’s childhood that isn’t being reported.  What’s more, when she unearths this thing, it will clear up a lot of the questions surrounding Amy’s murder—of that, Leslie is dead certain.  And, of course, if she can solve Amy’s murder, she will solve John’s murder as well.  With that in mind, Leslie turns back to Google to see if she has missed anything.  Unfortunately, the problem is that Amy’s childhood was pre-internet, so nothing was recorded for posterity.  Of course, the fact that her father is a politician means there’s some dirt available, but not enough.  At some point, she may have to talk to Amy’s family, but Leslie pushes that thought to the back of her mind for now.  Leslie doesn’t have much use for family—which is not surprising given hers.

 

Mrs. Chang left her old job when the girls were six-and-a-half.  By then, she and Mr. Chang were sleeping in separate bedrooms, but there was no question of divorce.  Taiwanese people did not do that, and it would have brought great shame to both their families.  She was still a secretary, but she no longer had to put up with Mr. Pederson’s advances.  Mr. Chang finally got a job as an adjunct philosophy prof at the U, so their financial worries were eased somewhat.  However, Mrs. Chang was now an alcoholic, albeit a functioning one, and she had no intention of giving up the bottle.  Mr. Chang had long since given up arguing with Mrs. Chang about her alcohol consumption.  In fact, he pretty much emotionally checked out from the marriage when Mrs. Chang made it clear that she had chosen the bottle over him.

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A Hard Rain; chapter three, part two

Leslie brushes away the tears as she kisses the ring on her finger.  She has worn it since John placed it on her finger, and now she knows she will wear it for the rest of her life.  She holds it up to the light and admires how the onyx shimmers and glows.  She presses another kiss on it as she caresses the box one last time and sets it on her nightstand table.  Then, she turns off the light and leaves the room.

Leslie waits for the cops to come.  She tidies up the house by dumping advertisements and magazines into the paper bag she uses to hold the products to be recycled.  She takes out the hand-held vacuum and sucks up free-floating cat hair.  For such a tiny, short-haired cat, Josephine sure sheds a lot.  Josephine trots from room to room with her human, tilting her head to watch Leslie clean.  Josephine is not afraid of the vacuum cleaner—little or big—but she does hate the washing machine with a passion.  Every once in a while as Leslie cleans, the light catches the ring just right, and she smiles, albeit wanly.  She waters the few scraggly plants in the living room.  She has a black thumb, but she periodically feels as if she should have plants in the house.  She buys the hardiest specimens, puts them in her living room and promptly forgets all about them.  When she does remember that she has living green things in her house, it’s too late.  The plants are beyond saving, but she can’t just toss them, so she sprinkles water on them from time to time and hope they’ll quietly expire.  The doorbell rings, causing her to pour water onto the carpet.  Sighing, she sets down the watering can and goes to answer the door.  As usual, Josephine is right on her heels.

“Good morning, Ms. Chang,” Detective Ricks says, nodding her head at Leslie.  Both she and Detective Stevenson look as if they haven’t slept in days, and it’s quite possible that they haven’t.

“Hello, Detectives,” Leslie says, nodding at them in return.  She notices that she has a death grip on the door, and she fights to relax her fingers.  She ushers the police inside.  “Would you like some coffee?  It’s Fair Trade; it’s dark; it’s good.”  Both cops shake their heads.

“We need to see Mr. Smith’s computer,” Detective Stevenson says.

“You haven’t figured out his real identity yet?”  Leslie asks curiously.

“No.”  Detective Stevenson’s voice is terse as if he loathes to admit that the cops had failed in some respect.  “We are hoping there is something on Mr. Smith’s computer that will help up.”

“Have you looked at Mr. Smith’s computer yourself since we talked last night, Ms. Chang?”  Dr. Ricks smoothly slips the question in, but she cannot hide the tenseness of her voice.

“No.  I couldn’t bear it.”  Leslie lies with no hesitation.  She is confident that she has covered her electronic footprints, and she sees no reason to tell the cops that she has been doing some detecting of her own.  That’s nobody’s business but her own.  “John’s office is this way.”  Leslie leads the detectives to John’s office with Josephine trailing the trio.  Leslie allows the cops to enter the room and is about to follow them in when Detective Ricks stops her.  “You will wait elsewhere.”  It is not even couched in a request, and Leslie bristles at the tone.  “How do I know you won’t mess anything up?”  Leslie asks, her tone hostile.

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A Hard Rain; chapter three, part one

Leslie wakes up the next morning at 5:23:32, and not solely because the cops are coming ‘sometime between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.  She had had a nightmare in which John had returned to her, but as a zombie.  Now, while the real John would have appreciated that as he was an absolute fiend for zombies, Leslie had freaked the fuck out in her dream as John tried to eat her brains.  She had had to dead him again, and it broke her heart to have to empty a bunch of bullets in his brain and then decapitate his head, even though she knew it was a dream.  The head remained alive, and she was careful not to put her fingers in its mouth.  John’s eyes were trying to tell her something, but she couldn’t decipher the message.

She shuffles off to the bathroom to go about her daily ablutions.  She notices that Josephine is not behind her, and one quick glance backwards shows her a sleeping cat who is parked in the exact spot where John’s chest would be—if he were still alive.  Tears filled Leslie’s eyes as she realizes she’s not the only one who fiercely misses John—so does Josephine.  Leslie wants to comfort the cat and tell her that John will be home before she knows it.  However, Leslie tries not to out-and-out lie whenever she can help it, so she remains silent and goes about her morning ritual.  She is somber as she thinks about John and all she’s learned about him since he was murdered.  She has to admit to herself that’s she’s pissed—at him.  She’s not mad because he’s dead—no, she’s mad because he hadn’t trusted her enough to share his past with her.  She could hear him protesting in her ear that it had nothing to do with how trustworthy she was, but it’s cold comfort, indeed.

She cringes as she remembers all the things she confessed to John—the molestation, the abusive relationship she endured right after she moved into her own apartment, and her two hospitalizations.  In turn, he had told her about the difficulties he encountered growing up in the south.  While he was from the south, he was not born of the south, or so he’d been told.  He was labeled different by the time he was four years old.  He wore it as a badge of honor once he hit his thirties.  He was into the Clash before they got popular, and everything about him screamed dork!  Leslie has not been able to find any evidence to the contrary, so she accepts provisionally that what he had told her about his childhood was mostly true.

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A Hard Rain; chapter three, part two

Next, she reads a summary of the events leading up to Amy’s murder.  Of course, the newspapers hash out her relationship with John ad nauseam.  They go into great details about how she would disappear for days on end and the rumors that she was sleeping around on John—Freddy.  It was common knowledge, apparently, that Amy was bipolar and when she was off her meds, there was no predicting what she would do.  She may have thought she was being discreet during her dalliances, but she was often spotted around town with this young man or that—and the young man was always young—some even as young as her brother.  She would always stop and chat if she ran into someone she knew, but she never introduced her paramour.

“Wait a minute.”  Leslie frowns as she recounts what Rose had told her John had said.  Amy had talked about powerful men.  How powerful could a boy in his twenties be?  She files away this tidbit for further study and continues reading about Amy’s tumultuous relationship with Freddy.

“She loved him,” Candace Brighton, Amy’s sister, the next sibling down, informed the papers.  “My sister had her difficulties, but she didn’t deserve to be murdered like that.  I hope he goes to hell.”  When she was asked if she thought Freddy was the one who had killed Amy, Candace had responded, “I know he is.  She called me the night she was killed.”

 

“Amy, calm down.  I can’t understand what you’re saying.”  Candace cradled her newborn to her chest as she struggled to hold her cell phone to her ear with her shoulder.  She was tired from not getting enough sleep, and she had little patience for her older sister’s ramblings.  It was late, and the baby was fussy.  Candace wasn’t feeling so sanguine herself.  She wanted to get off the phone with her sister, but she couldn’t just hang up on her.  “You say Freddy’s stalking you?”

“I see him out there.  He’s following me everywhere I go.  He’s afraid I will tell what I know.  That’s why he won’t leave me alone.”  Amy was spitting out the words as if they were on fire.  “He thinks he’s so clever with his fancy degrees, but I have more street smarts than he does.  How stupid does he think I am?”

“If he’s stalking you, then call the police!  That’s their job.”

“Damn.  He’s outside my house right now.  I have to go.”  Amy hung up the phone with a bang.

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A Hard Rain; chapter three, part one

“So, John likes broken women,” Leslie says, exhaling loudly at the end of Rose’s recitation.  “That’s why he chose me.”

“Not true.  Freddy talked about you all the time.  He said you’d been damaged, but you were far from broken.  He admired your courage in facing your demons.”

“Courage.”  Leslie snorts as she says the word.  “He’s the one who made me strong enough to face them.  He’s the one who made them back down.  He’s the one—“  Leslie chokes as she begins to cry again.  She steadies her voice before adding, “He brought out the best in me.  He did it for me.”  With that, she’s bawling as if she’ll never stop.  She is taken by surprise, but she doesn’t try to stop herself.  She is dimly aware that Rose is talking again, so she tries to focus.

“Nonsense.  He couldn’t have brought it out if it wasn’t there in the first place.  He was humbled by how you trusted him, despite all you’d been through.  He told me to never let him take your trust or your love for granted.”  Rose’s voice is calm, and it helps quiet Leslie’s tears.  “I have to go now.  Let’s talk again tomorrow.”

“John wanted you tell me everything if he died,” Leslie blurts out.  “Are you willing to do that?”

“Yes, I am.  Maybe you could come to Chicago and visit me,” Rose suggests.  “It’ll be easier if we can talk face to face.  And, to be honest, I’m curious about the woman who has so captured Freddy’s heart.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”  Leslie and Rose decide on a time to talk the following day before they hang up the phone.  Leslie returns to John’s laptop to see if she’s missed anything.  One’s she’s done with that, she goes back to her computer room so she can research Amy’s murder.  Josephine trots in step behind her.  As Leslie sits down, Josephine settles into her bed so she can watch the computer monitor.

Leslie types in Amy Robertson and murder into Google and is overwhelmed by the number of hits that she receives.  She tries to think of a way to winnow the choices, but she doesn’t know anything but the basics of the crime.  Leslie opens the first ten links in new tabs and starts slogging through them.  Much of what she reads are things that Rose has already told her.  The murder happened nearly a year ago, so there is nothing new on the case.  Many of the articles emphasize the fact that Amy was the daughter of a prominent local pol.  Several of his powerful friends spoke out forcefully against her murder.

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