Chapter Eleven

February 24, 1984

Pull Quote: "Lisa, you'd find a way to feel sorry for Adolf Hitler." From cozy spy novel Fugue in a Minor Key

I was perfectly happy to be out of the investigation. It was a little frustrating that I was not going to know how things eventually fell out. Then again, there had been plenty of times when I did not “need to know,” and then did, and I would have been happier not knowing.

In any case, I was in a much better mood that morning. I sent Mae off, reassuring her that we would get to the bottom of what was bothering Darby. Then I went to my office and caught up on work, rode herd on Sid to get his work done, then got Darby focused on school work. In all, it turned out to be a particularly productive morning. So productive that Sid and Darby decided to work on music that afternoon.

I still had one project going when three o’clock arrived and it was time for music.

“You guys go on,” I said. “I’ve just got some edits to do.”

“Come on, Aunt Lisa,” Darby said.

“You may as well join us,” Sid said with a chuckle. “You might learn something.”

“Please?” Darby asked.

I sighed and followed them into the library. They got busy at the piano and I got out my knitting. But those last few edits kept niggling at my brain, and after a bit, I realized Sid and Darby were so focused, they’d never know I was gone. So, I snuck out and went back to work.

Sometime later, Darby began screaming. I hurried to the office door in time to see Darby bolting for his room. I started after him, but Sid pulled me back. Sid’s face was ashen and he was trembling slightly.

“What’s going on?” I demanded.

“I think I know what’s going on with Darby.” Sid swallowed and faded back into the library.

“What?” I followed him.

Sid sank onto the piano bench. “He’s being abused.”

“How?”

“Sexually abused.” Sid put his hand to his mouth. “And probably by a man he once trusted.”

I sank onto a chair, trying to make sense of what Sid was saying.

“Neil?”

Sid shook his head. “He’s not afraid of Neil. But he has been afraid to be alone with me. That night I was alone with the boys, Darby spent the entire time in his room.”

“But he knows you would never hurt him,” I said.

“Maybe he doesn’t.” Sid shuddered. “We were working on his scales, and I put my hand on his back. He snapped at me not to touch him, then he noticed that you weren’t there and that’s when he came unglued. If he originally trusted the person abusing him, I can see where what I did would scare the snot out of him.”

“Yeah. It would.” I got up, my legs shaking as I did. “I’d better go talk to him.”

“Yeah.” Sid swallowed again, then looked at me. “Would you make sure he knows I’m not mad at him?”

I smiled weakly at Sid. “Yeah. I will. Thanks.”

At the door to Darby’s room, I took a deep breath, then knocked and went in. Darby was sitting on his bed, tears streaming down his face.

“I’m sorry,” he cried.

“For what?” I sat down next to him and held him. “For being afraid because somebody’s been hurting you?”

“I can’t talk about it, Aunt Lisa.” His shoulders shook. “I really can’t. He’ll hurt the girls.”

“Nobody can hurt your sisters,” I told him. “We’ll take care of them.”

“He hit Mandy Watkins with a car last year. He told me. He needed to warn somebody. And nobody’s going to believe me, anyway.”

“I believe you. And so does Sid.” I squeezed him even tighter. “And we will make sure that whoever is doing this to you can’t hurt your sisters or anyone else. Okay?” I sniffed and tried to hold back my own tears. “I will not let anybody hurt you. I promise.”

Darby nodded and cried even harder. By the time the two of us were choking on our sobs, I had half a plan formed.

“First off, Sid wants you to know that he is not mad at you. Got that?”

Shaking Darby nodded. I gave him a tissue from the bedside table and took one myself.

I took a deep breath. “The next thing we have to do is tell your parents. That’s only fair. They’ve been worried sick about you. And nobody is going to do more to help you and keep your sisters safe than they will. You know how your mom gets when somebody says something mean to you or your sisters.”

Darby was forced to laugh. Mae does have a pretty strong mama bear streak.

“All right. Let’s get you packed. We’re going to take you home and talk to your mom and dad and get everything settled so that you and your sisters are safe. Of course, it will help if you can tell us who’s doing this to you. You don’t have to do it right now. But if we know where the fire is coming from, it will be a lot easier to keep you guys safe.”

Shaking, Darby nodded.

“Now, do you want me to stay with you, or do you mind if I go tell Sid what’s up?”

“You can go,” Darby said, swallowing. “Can he come with us? I mean, I still like him. I don’t want him to think I’m mad at him. I was just scared.”

“He understands. And, yes, I’ll see if he can come.”

By the time I got back to the library, Sid had gotten over his shock and was well into his rage phase. He didn’t say anything, but his face had taken on a really grim cast.

He agreed to my plan. I called Mae while he packed an overnight bag for me. Darby came out from his room with his bag and we were on the freeway within minutes, Sid driving his car. We got to Orange County in record time.

Mae had called Neil home. The other kids surrounded us happily, then Mae insisted they all go upstairs. I nodded at Darby and he ran upstairs with his siblings.

Then we broke the news to Mae and Neil, sitting in the living room.

“Sexual abuse?” Mae gasped. “Of course. It’s obvious. Why didn’t we see it?”

“Because nobody wants to think about it happening to them,” Sid said. “Besides, from what I’ve read, these predators make it pretty hard to suspect them.”

“Do you know who it is?” Neil asked.

I shook my head. “Darby hasn’t said. He’s been pretty invested in protecting his sisters. That’s how the monster got his cooperation and probably his silence. He threatened Janey and Ellen and was darned convincing. I think Darby’s still processing that we’ve figured out what’s going on.”

“Well, he’s going to tell me right now,” Mae snapped and started to get up.

“Wait!” hissed Neil, holding her back.

Mae sank back on the couch and burst into tears. “My brave little man. Carrying all this around so that his sisters wouldn’t get hurt.” Then all of a sudden, her rage exploded. “I’m going to kill whoever did this to him. I swear to God, I will!”

Both Sid and Neil had to hold her down.

“Mae, you don’t want to mess up the court case,” Sid told her.

Mae sank back again, shaking.

“Look, Mae,” I said. “We’re all upset and really angry. But let’s try and get a grip on it so that we can take care of Darby. Okay?”

Still crying, Mae nodded. “I should have known.”

“You had no way of knowing,” I growled. “So feeling guilty is not going to help either.”

“Mom?” Darby called from the top of the stairs. “Can we talk?”

“Yes, darling!”

Darby flew down the stairs and into his mother’s arms. Neil wrapped his arms around them as they all cried. I saw Sid blinking back tears and I found the last tissues in my purse and held them ready, even as I mopped up my own tears.

A few minutes later, Darby pulled back and looked at all of us.

“It’s Mr. Jefferson,” he said quietly. “He told me he’d hurt Ellen and Janey if I didn’t do what he wanted. He touched me and made me touch him. On his, you know.”

It was as if a heavy pall of suppressed rage fell on all of us, except Darby. He, finally, looked so relieved to have let down his burden.

Mae swallowed. “Darby, you were right to tell us. If we are mad right now, we are not mad at you. You did the best you could and I’m proud of you. But I am really, really mad at Mr. Jefferson, and I can’t help feeling that way. He hurt you and I will be damned before I let him anywhere near you or anyone in this family again.”

Darby hugged his mother. We eventually got enough control to call Sister Jerilyn. She showed up within minutes and helped Mae and Neil call the police. Then she helped us tell the younger ones what had happened and what was going on.

The police arrived and had to question Darby alone. They almost had to hold both Mae and me back again. At least, they’d found a social worker to bring with them. But Darby did pretty well, apparently. Two of the detectives left. The social worker stayed behind to talk to the other kids. Sister Jerilyn told us it was probably a relief for Darby to finally be able to talk about what had happened.

Then the phone started ringing with neighbors calling to let us know that there were all these police cars at the Jefferson place and asking if we knew what was going on. Sid took over the phone and told everyone he didn’t know. A while later, things really got buzzing as people began hearing about Mr. Jefferson’s stash of child pornography. The neighbors started suspecting that it wasn’t just a coincidence that Mae’s sister and their friend were visiting at that moment. Sid didn’t tell them anything.

We found out later that evening that at least a couple more kids had come forward, one a college junior. There was plenty of shock and dismay going around, too.

“You know,” I sighed as Sid and I finally drove home that night. “The person I really feel sorry for is Mrs. Jefferson. And her kids. There’s no way they can continue to live here. And I’ll be they didn’t even know what was going on.”

Sid chuckled. “Lisa, you’d find a way to feel sorry for Adolf Hitler.”

“Well, who wouldn’t? I mean, anyone carrying that much hate around is seriously hurting.” I sat back and thought. “Kind of like Tony.”

“You’re buying his story all of a sudden?”

I frowned. “Not entirely. I mean, I think he’s playing more stupid than he is. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he really did have a son who needs an operation.”

“Well, we’re out of that one. So, it doesn’t matter, does it?”

“No, I guess it doesn’t.”

And, no, duh, we weren’t out of it. But we wouldn’t find that out for another couple days. In the meantime, Sid had one more hurdle to get over.

Anne Louise Bannon

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