FIVE i’ll bet my lawyer can whip your lawyer
Kathy sat in silence at the kitchen table with her mom and dad. She was hoping the cup of coffee her mother made would help calm her nerves.
“Damn him!” she shouted as she slammed her cup down on the table and began pacing the room.
Today was Saturday, the first Saturday of Dan’s scheduled visitation. He picked Jess up at nine in the morning and was to return her by seven.
Kathy did not think she would ever get the sound of Jess’ screams out of her head. She had cried and screamed the whole way out the door. She did not want to go but Dan was relentless. He did not care about her feelings. He was satisfied just by seeing Kathy standing there helpless.
As Kathy continued pacing the floor, her father, John, got up from the table and walked out the back door. He had hardly said a single word since this whole ordeal started. She knew he was angry beyond words.
“I can’t just sit around here and wait all day. I’m going for a drive to try and calm down,” Kathy told her mother as she grabbed her car keys and headed for the garage.
Two months passed and Jess continued to scream and cry every time Dan came to pick her up. Kathy had hoped Dan would give up on these visits but so far he had not.
She was beginning to worry about changes she had seen in her daughter since this all started. Jess had become extremely moody and somewhat withdrawn. Kathy had expected this much.
Jess did not really hold Kathy responsible but Kathy could sense that her daughter wondered why she had not done anything to stop this terrible thing from happening.
Besides the moodiness, Kathy worried because Jess was always sick for a few days when she got home from her visits and she constantly had the sniffles. Often when Dan returned her, she would be covered with dirt, as if she had spent most of the day outside. It was late November and no time for a toddler to be outside for too long.
When Kathy questioned Jess about these visits, she said Dan took her to Gramma Patty’s and dropped her off for the day. She said it was cold in Patty’s house and she usually just sat in front of the TV with her coat on. Jess also said Patty set her outside for long periods of time.
Tomorrow Kathy decided she would go talk to Mr. Benton to see if she could go in front of the judge to get these visits stopped. Obviously, Jess was not being taken care of satisfactorily.
The following morning Kathy marched into Benton’s office without an appointment.
“Well, hello Kathy. I wasn’t expecting to see you today,” he said as he stood up behind his desk to shake her hand.
Kathy ignored his outreached hand and sat in her usual chair. “I want to talk to the judge. Jess is in danger on these visits with Dan,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Exactly what do you mean by danger?” Benton questioned. “Well,” Kathy started, “every time she comes home from being with Dan, she is sick. She constantly has the sniffles. And she told me Dan’s mother’s house is so cold she has to wear a coat inside. The worst is that she is placed outdoors for hours at a time and it’s almost winter time.”
Kathy was almost shouting at this point. Benton just stared at her as if she had not said anything.
“Is there anything I can do?” she asked sharply.
“To be honest Kathy, we need proof of any kind of neglect going on before we can go back in front of the judge,” he explained.
“What kind of proof?” she yelled as she stood up from her chair. “She is coming home sick, she remains sick, what else is needed?”
“I know this has to be frustrating, Kathy. But believe me, I’ve had hundreds of these cases and you need more proof than a child with a cold. Now please sit back down,” Benton said, pointing to the chair.
Reluctantly she slid back into the chair. “What are my options?” she said softly, trying to sound under control.
“Like I said, we need proof of the neglect. What I’ll do is give you a list of some private investigators you can call. The investigator can follow Jess throughout her visits and get the proof we need.”
After getting all the details about the investigators, Kathy left Mr. Benton’s office and headed home. She could not believe she was in this predicament. This kind of thing only happened in the movies.
While driving, Kathy also thought about the expense of hiring an investigator. She had no idea how much this kind of thing would cost. That was one question she forgot to ask Benton.
She knew she could not go to her parents for more money. They were already paying for her secretarial school that started almost two months ago. They also were feeding and housing her and Jess.
Kathy did not have a job since she was attending school so she also did not have the money to hire an investigator if the fee was too high. She would call the names on the list as soon as she got home, before she got her hopes too high.
That afternoon after classes, Kathy got out the list of eight investigators Benton had given her. She slumped down into the kitchen chair after calling each one and finding out her predictions were right. Their fees were outrageous and she knew there was no way to come up with that kind of money.
She talked with her mom and dad about the investigators and their fees and they too told her they could not afford to spend that kind of money.@
She just felt like crying until there were no tears left. She knew she was going to have to continue to let Dan take Jess on his visits. This had to be a dream. If only she would just wake up.
But she knew this was no dream. It was a nightmare.
Another month had passed and Christmas was now only a week away. Kathy was relieved because Dan told her the last time he picked Jess up that he would not be seeing her on their next scheduled visit. That was the day after Christmas.
She hoped this would be the beginning of a new habit. Maybe Dan was finally getting tired of driving all the way down here and back.
Jess was continuing to be sick after every visit and the colds lasted longer because now there was snow on the ground when she was being put outside for hours. Her clothes were always soaked through when she got home.
Kathy sat in the living room that evening after dinner reading Jess one of her books. She loved having books read to her and insisted on it every day. Kathy was so proud of her because still a month from her third birthday Jess already knew the alphabet. She was sure her daughter would be reading before she entered kindergarten in only two years.
After a couple hours of reading and playing, both John and Miriam entered the living room. Kathy knew at once they had something serious to discuss with her.
“How ’bout letting Grampy put you to bed?” John said to Jess as he swooped her up into his arms.
She started squealing as he began tickling her while carrying her back to the bedroom. Miriam sat down on the couch next to Kathy and told her she had something they needed to discuss.
“What’s up, Mom?” Kathy said trying to sound nonchalant. She was not at all sure what was going to be said.
“Your father and I have been talking and we have come up with an idea for dealing with this problem of Jess being sick and filthy when she returns from her visits with Dan,” Miriam said.
“What kind of idea?” Kathy asked curiously.
“Well, we know that in order to go in front of the judge there needs to be some kind of proof of neglect. And even if we can’t stop these last two months of the six month trial period, we want to assure joint custody will not be granted.”
“Okay so what is the plan?” Kathy asked again.
“Your father and I decided since we cannot afford to hire a private investigator, maybe we should do our own detective work,” Miriam said as she noticed the surprised look on her daughter’s face.
“I know this may sound a little crazy but it may be the only way to get our evidence.” Miriam continued, “After the holidays, when Dan resumes his visits, you and I are going to rent a car, wear a disguise, bring a camera, and get what we’re after.”
Kathy sat staring at her mother in amazement. “Are you for real?” she asked.
“Yes, and we’re very serious about this. What do you think, Kathy?”
“To be honest Mom, I need some time to absorb this before I can give you an answer,” she said.
“That’s fine. Let me know when you decide.” With that, Miriam got up from the couch and walked into the kitchen.
Kathy sat on the couch stunned by the conversation. She could not believe her parents came up with such an idea when they were so conservative and level-headed. This just seemed so outrageous and crazy. She definitely had a lot to think over.
Christmas came and went without a hitch. Kathy had been worried Dan might try something stupid but he did not. There was one week left before his next visit with Jess and Kathy had made up her mind about doing their own investigative work.
Although the plan still seemed bizarre, she decided to go along with it. Other than going to jail for not abiding by the judge’s orders, this seemed like the only way to get the visits stopped.
That week, Kathy told her parents she would go along with the plan and they proceeded to work out all the details. Her mother made the arrangements for the rental car and got the necessary film for the pictures they would need. The only thing left was deciding on a disguise.
Two days before the visit, Miriam came walking into the kitchen with a bag while Kathy sat at the table going over some of her notes for school. She looked up as her mother entered the room.
“What’s in the bag, Mom?” Kathy wondered.
“Our disguises,” Miriam answered as she emptied the bag onto the table.
Kathy could not help but laugh when she saw the two wigs falling out of the bag. One was shoulder length with blond hair and the other had jet black hair and was long and wavy.
While Jess was down for her nap, they went into Miriam’s bedroom to try on their wigs. Kathy wore the black one and almost cried laughing when she had it on. She could not believe they were actually going to be doing this.
Miriam also bought some dark sunglasses and makeup so they could appear quite different than their actual appearances. She did not want to take any chances Dan or his mother would recognize them.
Saturday morning finally arrived and Kathy was much more anxious than she had anticipated. She tried to sound as calm as possible when Dan took Jess crying on her visit. Even though they were now in their fourth month of visitation, Jess still was adamant about not wanting to go with her father. Hopefully, that would all change soon.
As Dan and Jess pulled out of the driveway and down the street, Kathy went into the garage and got into the car where her mother had been waiting.
Miriam was already in disguise. She pulled out of the garage once Kathy got her wig on and they started on their mission. They decided Kathy could put her makeup on while they were driving.
The whole drive there, Kathy and Miriam found themselves giggling quite often. They knew the situation was serious but they looked so ridiculous they could not keep a straight face. This is one thing Kathy never thought she would be doing with her mother.
They had decided ahead of time to first follow Dan and see where he spent his days while Jess was stuck at Patty’s house.
The anxiousness that had worn down somewhat on the two hour trip was now back in full force. Kathy was sitting on the edge of her seat and the butterfly feeling got worse and worse in her stomach.
She looked over at her mother driving and could see the seriousness in her face. There was no more laughing now. They were there on a mission and would not stop until they got what they needed.
Fifteen minutes after Dan dropped Jess off at his mother’s, they followed him as he pulled into the parking lot of a small, grungy-looking bar. Miriam parked across the street as Kathy took pictures of Dan entering the place.
They sat there in total silence as an hour and a half went by. After agreeing he would most likely be there a while, they drove back to Patty’s house to see what they would find.
They parked on the street diagonally across from her house and waited to see what would happen. There was not once Jess came home without being wet and filthy so Kathy was sure something would occur sooner or later.
Two hours dragged on while Miriam and Kathy sat in disguise out in the car. Kathy was just about to give up hope of getting any evidence when suddenly she noticed something moving by the bushes around the side of the house.
Within seconds, she noticed the movement was her daughter Jess coming into view. “Had she been out back all this time wandering around or was she just now put outside?” Kathy wondered silently.
She grabbed the camera off the seat and began taking pictures of Jess outside. She was all alone and her winter coat was not even zipped up. She had mittens on but no toboggan.
As Kathy zoomed in a little closer, she noticed Jess’ clothes had dirt on them. From this, she deduced that Jess had been outside for quite awhile.
Almost another two hours went by and Jess was still wandering in Patty’s yard, sometimes in the front and sometimes in the back. It took all Kathy’s willpower not to run over there and tell Patty off for leaving this little girl outside.
Finally, she saw Patty open the front door and yell for Jess. Kathy noticed Jess flinch as she walked by Patty and went into the house. “I wonder if Patty hits her?” Kathy said to herself.
After another ten minutes dragged by, Kathy and Miriam decided to head out. They knew Dan would be home soon to drive Jess back home. They drove by the bar on their way out of town and saw that Dan’s car was still in the parking lot.
“I guess Jess was right when she said he just drops her off and leaves and doesn’t come back until it’s time to go,” Miriam said.
Kathy just nodded. That was only one of few comments her mom had made all afternoon. She guessed it was just as hard on her mom to see what was going on as it was on her.
Ever since the visits started, Kathy had her suspicions about what was going on since Jess always came home sick, wet, and dirty. But to actually sit there and see it with her own eyes made it much more difficult to handle. There were no longer suspicions and unanswered questions. Kathy now knew exactly what was going on. Today, everything became a reality.
The two hour trip home seemed more like five hours. Kathy and Miriam did not say a word to each other. They were both absorbing their finished mission.
Monday morning Kathy called to make an appointment to see Mr. Benton. His secretary scheduled her for Wednesday after her classes. “Good,” Kathy thought, “that will give me time to get the pictures developed.”
That evening, after she went over some notes from her secretarial classes, Kathy went into the den and laid down on the couch.
“The judge is going to have to end these visitations now,” she said softly to herself. The best evidence of Dan’s child endangerment and neglect was the pictures she had of Jess in Dan’s mother’s yard, filthy and wandering around outside for hours.
While Kathy was in charge of pictures during their stakeout, Miriam had kept a detailed log of the entire day, starting when Jess was picked up in the morning and ending when she was dropped off.
Kathy could not wait to show everything to Mr. Benton. She wondered if he would be proud of her or if he would think she was crazy for doing her own detective work. “At any rate, this will soon be over,” she said with a smile.
Wednesday after class, Kathy pulled up to her lawyer’s office building. She gathered up her file of pictures and the activity log and headed inside.
She was so excited to see Mr. Benton she could hardly contain herself when she had to wait fifteen minutes for him to see her. But finally his secretary got up from her chair and escorted Kathy inside.
“Hello, Mr. Benton,” Kathy said, trying to keep her grin to a minimum.
“Hello, Kathy. What do you have there?” he asked as he took the file from her hand.
Kathy told him to take a look inside. She sat down in her usual chair and waited for his response. After about five minutes, he asked, “Is this what your investigator gathered?”
Kathy was flattered he thought this evidence was gathered by a professional but she tried to remain calm. “Actually, this was gathered by my mother and me,” she said slowly. “We couldn’t afford to hire anyone so we decided to get the information ourselves.”
Kathy began to get a little worried by the silence Benton was giving her. “Why isn’t he saying anything?” she wondered.
“Well,” she finally said when he still had not spoken. “When can we take this to the judge to get the visitations stopped?”
Benton slowly closed the file she had given him and reluctantly looked up at her. “I wish you would have told me about this before you actually did it,” he said.
“Why, what’s wrong?” Kathy asked, knowing her voice sounded a little frantic.
“The fact is, this won’t do us much good.”
“What!” she screamed as she got up from the chair. “How can this be? Why not? I don’t understand!” Kathy felt herself losing control. She thought she finally had Dan; and now this.
“Kathy,” Mr. Benton said as he came around his desk and stood beside her, “please calm down. Now, the judge will not give much weight to this. This kind of information needs to be gathered by a third party who’s motives are more objective. There are some other problems with these pictures but my point is that they will not do us much good. Do you understand that?”
Kathy felt herself begin to faint. “This is never going to be over! He is always going to win!” she began saying. But before long, she could no longer stand and Benton helped her back to her chair.
As she sat in the chair again, she instantly began crying. She felt foolish losing it in front of her lawyer but she could not help it. She should have known better than to get her hopes up about this. Dan always seemed to get things his way.
After a few minutes, Kathy finally began to get herself back under control. Mr. Benton came over and placed his hand on her shoulder. “I’m really sorry, Kathy. I know you did what you thought was necessary.”
As she left his office, Benton told her to just try and sit it out until the divorce hearing less than two months away. “I guess that’s all I can do,” Kathy muttered to herself as she walked out to the car.
“I’m never going to get any sleep tonight,” Kathy told her mom and dad who were staying up and watching TV with her.
“I know you’re anxious about the divorce tomorrow but you need to try and get a little sleep,” Miriam said.
Kathy ignored her mother’s comment and stretched out on the couch. Since the day she walked out of Mr. Benton’s office with the bad news about the pictures, Kathy had been almost zombie-like. Every day was like the same day over and over. She would just wake up, make breakfast for her and Jess, go to her classes, come home, make dinner, and go to bed.
When Dan picked up Jess for her visits the last several weeks, Kathy could not even go to the door anymore. Miriam was the one who saw that Jess left alright. Kathy felt bad about it but she just could not deal with things anymore.
But tomorrow at least the divorce would be final. Benton had told her the judge may grant visitation but it was extremely doubtful joint custody would be given. Kathy was almost sure Dan would give up on these visits once the divorce was final. He would no longer have to get back at her. Their life together would be completely over.
After sitting in front of the television for a couple more hours, Kathy finally decided to try and get some sleep. Her parents had retired to their room over an hour ago and there were not any good shows on to keep her occupied.
As she expected, she was too wired to get any sleep but laying down felt good. She could not wait until the hearing was over tomorrow. Another chapter in her life would be closed but that only meant another would be opened.
She was excited and scared at what her future might hold for her and for Jess. In two weeks, she would be graduating with her secretarial degree and she already had an office job lined up with the community’s machinery company.
Also, her father had found a small house a mile or so down the road from them that Kathy and Jess would be moving into the next month. Kathy had applied for a subsidized housing loan and was accepted.
She and Jess would once again have their own house. Even though the mortgage payments were fairly low, Kathy knew it was going to be difficult getting on their feet. She did not have any idea how she could ever thank her parents enough for all they had done for her.
After a few hours of restless sleep, Kathy saw the sun beginning to light the new day. She decided to get up and get showered even though everyone would still be in bed for a while. She had not gotten much sleep and her eyelids were feeling heavy. But she knew as the day got going, sleep would be the last thing on her mind.
After a never ending morning, Kathy arrived in front of the courthouse. She walked inside the building toward the room where the hearing was to be held. She was a few minutes early and decided to wait outside for her lawyer.
As she was drinking a cup of coffee, she noticed her hands were shaking almost uncontrollably. She was so nervous she felt like she had to vomit. Before she left the house earlier that day, her mother told her to take deep breaths in order to remain calm. This helped a little bit.
Before long, Kathy saw Mr. Benton heading down the hallway toward her. She got up from her chair to greet him and instantly felt dizzy. “Hello, Mr. Benton,” she said.
“Hello, Kathy. Are you all ready for today?” he asked.
“Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess,” she replied.
Together Kathy and Mr. Benton walked into the courtroom. She noticed Dan and his attorney were already inside. They must have gotten there before her because she didn’t remember seeing them while she was waiting outside.
They took their usual seat at the table and waited for the judge to enter the room. Finally he came in and the proceeding was under way.
Dan had no objections to the conditions of the divorce except he wanted joint custody of Jess. After hearing both sides, the judge took a half hour recess in order to make his ruling. Kathy was going to go have another cup of coffee until she saw Dan headed in that same direction. Instead, she just waited in the courtroom.
Benton looked over at Kathy and noticed the anxious look on her face. “I really don’t think joint custody will be granted. Even though we had no proof of neglect, the mention of Jess being constantly sick and dirty on her returns from the visits was enough to put some doubt in the judge’s mind.”
“I hope you’re right,” was all Kathy could think to say.
When the judge finally came back, Kathy felt her entire body go numb. She hoped she didn’t look as scared as she felt. But relief filled her body as the judge denied Dan’s petition for joint custody. She felt like going over and laughing in Dan’s face. For once he did not win. She did. She had Jess, and they would always be together.
The next statement, however, hit her like a mack truck. “Although joint custody is denied,” the judge said, ” visitation will continue. You are the child’s father and I do not foresee any grave danger. The visitation schedule will be attached to the divorce decree.”
In a flash of anger, Kathy was on her feet. “How can you do this?” she screamed at the judge.
“Mr. Benton, please get your client under control,” the judge said as he hit the desk with his gavel.
But it was too late, Kathy couldn’t quit screaming. Finally, her lawyer had to take her out of the courtroom. But before she left she noticed the smirk on Dan’s face. He knew he had won again. He always got his way.
A month had passed since the divorce and Kathy felt herself slipping into a depression. Somehow she had managed to graduate from secretarial school and start her new job.
Miriam still watched Jess while Kathy worked; and in the evenings, Kathy would pick her daughter up and they would go home to their own house they had moved into just a week ago. Having a place of their own made Kathy feel a little better but not much.
Dan was still picking up Jess for their visits. Even though it was now April and Jess would not be out in the cold snow anymore, Kathy could not help but still worry about her. As always, Jess continued to scream and cry when Dan came for her and Kathy continued to tell her she had to go.
Kathy had Dan pick up Jess at her parent’s house because she did not want him to know where they were now living. Although it was only a mile down the road, it just made her feel safer not to tell him. As far as she knew, he still thought they lived with her mom and dad.
May rolled around and Kathy and Jess were over at her parent’s house. It was another Saturday morning when Dan was to come for Jess. For the first time since the visitations began, Kathy noticed her Dad was in the house. Every other time Dan came, her dad would be outside in the garage pretending to be working on something.
When the doorbell rang, Miriam went to open the door. On cue, Jess began to scream and cry. Despite Kathy’s talking, Jess would not relent. She would not let go of Kathy’s arm.
“You better make her come or I’ll call my lawyer first thing Monday morning,” Dan said coldly to her.
“Can’t you see she doesn’t want to go?” Kathy yelled at him. Something finally snapped in her. For almost nine months, she made her daughter go with this man she was scared of. She could not take it anymore. She did not care anymore about judges, lawyers, and visitation rights. She had to think of Jess. If this did not stop now, the damages might be irreparable.
Just as Dan was about to snatch Jess away from Kathy, her father entered the room. He took Dan strongly by the arm and led him outside to the porch.
For five minutes, Kathy and Miriam watched as John spoke to Dan. The next thing they saw was Dan heading toward his car. Kathy could not believe her eyes. He was leaving!
John came into the house and looked at her and Jess. “He won’t be bothering you anymore.” And with that, he turned and walked out of the room.
No one ever found out what was said on the porch that day but whatever it was had kept Dan away. He no longer came to pick up Jess and he did nothing by way of contacting his lawyer. Kathy would never forget her father for what he did.