“Can you tell me why you did that, Latisha?”
Ron Fielding was sitting in the Elementary School Principal’s office in a chair opposite the six-year-old girl. She had wanted the Principal to sit with them during the interview which was fine, but he hated the idea that his partner Lauri Marin and two uniformed police officers were also crammed into the room with them. He knew the case was likely to go to criminal court so the cops had to be there, but he didn’t think it wouldn’t make it easy for a little girl to tell a roomful of strangers why she lifted up her dress, pulled down her underwear, bent over, and told her classmate Timothy to put his penis in her butt.
“I do it all the time at home when Daddy turns on the camera.”
“What do you mean?”
Ron already knew about the videos. When the janitor caught Latisha and Timothy undressed in the girl’s bathroom during recess, he took them to Principal Kate Barrows and Latisha calmly told her all about how Daddy made movies of her with other grown ups and children. When Barrows called the local P.D., they’d notified State Police, the FBI and of course Child Protective Services, which was how Ron and Lauri became involved. The State and the Feds were actively searching the web for child pornography sites using an algorithm to match the little girl’s school photo with any of those videos. They had also put together a task force ready to raid Latisha’s parents’ home right after this interview.
Latisha wouldn’t be going home after school.
“I mean that Daddy turns on the camera and then Mommy brings in her friends and their children and we make movies. Daddy gives me toys and money and says I’m going to be a famous movie star someday.”
“What do you do in these movies?”
Ron had never interviewed a child who was so nonchalant about her abuse. She acted like it was an everyday occurence, like watching cartoons or eating Macaroni and Cheese. It was just something kids did all the time. She’d told Ms. Barrows she didn’t understand why Timothy didn’t want to put his pee-pee into her poo-poo or let her lick his pee-pee so he could feel nice.
“The same thing me and Timmy did. I told him it was fun and that maybe Daddy would put him in the movies, too.”
“What happened next?”
“Timmy said he didn’t want to. I bent over more and said please, but he still wouldn’t do it. That’s when Mr. Williams knocked on the bathroom door and came in and saw us. Why did he get so mad?”
Ron looked up expectantly at his right toward the senior police officer.
“Yeah.” His name tag said ‘K. Manning.’ “We’re moving forward.” Manning turned to his partner who nodded and then reaching for his body mike walked out of the room.
Westminster Police Officer Gary Padilla transported Latisha to the County Children’s Receiving Home, her first stop on the way into the Foster Care system. Lauri would handle the court’s Dependency paperwork. Her four-year-old brother Dominick was at home with Benny Long and Tammy Davis, Daddy (Step-Dad) and Mommy respectively, and Ron was going with P.D. to take him and any other kids in the premises into custody while the adults were arrested.
The place looked like it should have been condemned and the smell inside was incredible.
It was January in Orange County so by the time everyone was in position, the light sweater Ron had put on when he left home that morning was too hot. He was glad he wore it though because once inside, he could bury his nose in it.
“My Mommy n’ Daddy didn’t do nothin’ wrong. You leave them alone, you cocksuckers!”
The pre-schooler was screaming in Ron’s face. Manning was standing behind the boy looking like he wanted to cuff him.
“You keep away from my kid you fucking bastards.”
Ron could see where little Dom got his vocabulary if he learned to talk from his Mom.
The Feds, State, and City P.D. had already served their warrants and were inside before Ron and Manning showed up. They were there just to take the kid in. There were two men and three women all “on the nod” in various parts of the house, which he found out really had been condemned, but no other children. City cops had called the EMTs to evaluate the stoned adults and make sure they could be transported to the ER safely.
The computers, camera equipment, sex toys, drugs, paraphernalia, and everything else that could be used as evidence was being labeled and removed, but that wasn’t Ron’s problem.
“Do you want to go see your sister, Dominick?”
“Did you take her away from Mommy and Daddy, too?” The kid was furious. Children almost always loved their parents, no matter what they did to them, even if what they did was horrifying and humiliating. The little boy was still screaming at him reminding Ron that it was times like these when he really hated his job.
There was no way to convince Dom to leave with them and Mom wasn’t going to help. Dad was already in handcuffs in back of a police cruiser and Mom was on her way out.
“You don’t tell ’em nuthin’, Dominick. They all liars who want to steal you from us.”
That was the last thing Mom said to her little boy.
“Let’s wait a minute.” Ron wanted Mom and Dad gone before they took Dom out of the house. It would be easier if he couldn’t see or hear her. Once she wasn’t telling him how bad they were, maybe he’d understand he’d have to depend on them.
Dom had his fists clenched at his side and his face screwed up in his best “tough guy” grimace. Manning looked out the front window then said, “It’s okay now.”
Ron was still crouched down in front of the child. “It’s time to go. You can’t stay here now. There’s no one to watch you.”
“I’ve been alone plenty of times. I ain’t no pussy.” He sounded defiant but his eyes were glistening. He was scared to death and fighting back hot tears.
“I know, but we have to go anyway.”
Normally, he’d have gathered up at least some of the child’s belongings, clothes, favorite blanket, and stuffed animals, but everything reeked so bad of urine and feces that it would be better to replace them later.
“You gonna let me see Latisha?”
“If we can arrange it, you and your sister could stay in the same place.”
They’d only be at the receiving facility so long, and then have to be placed in a Foster Home. Dependency placements were like a roll of the dice sometimes, but he hoped they’d find one with two available beds so Dominick and Latisha could be together. Right now, all they had were each other. The State made such a lousy parent.
Something was wrong. What was he doing standing in a parking lot outside some fast food place?
“I think you should have a look inside the trunk, that’s all. It’s pretty awful, but don’t tell her I told you.”
Ron and Lauri were talking to a disheveled man, late thirties to early forties, strong body odor, maybe homeless, torn white t-shirt, sagging grey pants. What was he saying about a car trunk?
“What are you talking about?” Lauri seemed angry, but Ron couldn’t figure out why.
“Just look but hurry before she comes out.”
Ron watched himself as if he were a stranger. He was holding a heavy pry bar and wedging it under the lip of the red Nissan’s trunk.
“This is wrong. I shouldn’t do this.”
He wasn’t sure if he was talking out loud or only thinking, but Lauri and the man, the witness, weren’t paying any attention to him.
“I’ve gotta get outta here.”
Ron didn’t notice that it was only the two of them now when the trunk popped open.
He couldn’t see or hear Lauri but she should have been standing right beside him. It was a baby’s head. The poor little baby didn’t have a body, only a head. No neck even. Part of the chin missing. Not much blood. Oh God what happened to the baby?
“You can’t prove nothin’.”
How did the police get here so fast? The woman. He didn’t recognize her. White, fat, dark red hair that was probably dyed. It was hard to see what she was wearing but it was something baggy. The trunk lid was ajar. Ron motioned toward it but if he was talking, he couldn’t hear himself. He knew Lauri was there but he couldn’t hear her either.
One of the uniforms opened the trunk. No gloves, leaving fingerprints and DNA everywhere. This was all wrong.
“Where’s the baby?”
Inside was a porcelain doll, it was hard for Ron to see what kind. It might have been in the shape of a nun.
“See? Nuthin.’ I didn’t do nuthin’.”
“Where’s the baby, lady? What did you do with the baby’s head?”
She didn’t react, just shoved her smug and vicious sneer into his face.
“Sorry, but there’s nothing here, Sir.”
The officer was holding the doll but now he was wearing latex gloves. What the hell?
Ron wasn’t sure he’d actually heard him, but the same guy, the witness, was motioning them over to a doorway of a brick building that was on the far end of the parking lot. He, Lauri and the two cops walked over but by the time they were inside, the witness had disappeared again.
What had happened to the woman? The cops didn’t just let her go did they?
“The baby’s somewhere in here.” How did Ron know that?
It sounded like some sort of factory. There was mist in the air. They were in a big room, concrete walls and floor. The cops went to search an empty space off to the left and disappeared. Ron and Lauri walked straight ahead and then they noticed a smaller room on the left. Where were the cops? They should never let a couple of civilians go into an unsecured area alone.
Ron remembered the time he used to work for County Mental Health. He’d been sent out on a 5150 call. He’d gone in after the two uniforms. It was a mobile home or small house, he couldn’t remember which. The EMTs had just arrived and were getting the stretcher out. They didn’t know where the suicidal person was.
He was just about to go into a room they hadn’t looked in before when one of the officers rushed ahead, motioned him back, and then went in first.
That’s what they should have done now, but they didn’t. Something was terribly wrong.
Ron was in the lead. There was some sort of machine on the wall made of pipes and boxes. One of the boxes was red. It was big enough. He knew where the baby’s head had gone.
He started to open the lid. Mist or steam was all around them.
Then it was as if they were in a movie that jumped to a completely different scene. Different room all the way in the back. It was bigger and wider. Lauri’s back was to the wall. She was staring at Ron, terrified of something.
“I found it, didn’t I? Lauri, answer me. I found the baby’s head, didn’t I?”
She was nodding her head up and down but she was looking over Ron’s shoulder. He turned.
Benny Long was pointing a handgun at them. Where the hell were the cops?
“You ain’t gonna take her away for this. You’re not going to put her in prison.”
Long was looking right past Ron at Lauri. The cops. Ron had to go get the cops. But how could he leave Lauri alone with Long? How did Benny Long get out of jail? He’d just been arrested…how long ago? Was it today, last week? What happened to time?
Ron was behind Long looking back at the both of them. Long didn’t seem to be able to see or hear him but it was obvious Lauri could. How could he leave her? He had to go get the cops. They must be right outside the door.
He couldn’t even hear his own breathing or footsteps, just the sound of steam hissing out of old, steel pipes. He got to the red door. It had a window in it but it was fogged over.
Ron opened the door terrified that he’d hear a gunshot behind him.
Where were the cops? The room was empty.
The door they came through from the parking lot now had stairs that went up. Ron walked over to it fast but then he saw the two officers coming down. One was older and wasn’t wearing a hat. Ron couldn’t tell any details about the other one except he was young.
“He’s got a gun on her. This way.” Ron turned and went back toward where Long was holding Lauri. Why were the cops behind him?
“Oh no you don’t.”
Long came out of a side closet on Ron’s right. How had he gotten in there?
Oh God! A shotgun and it was pointed right at Ron’s face.
“You ain’t gonna put her in prison. I’ll kill ya first.”
“I’m going to die, I’m going to die. No. Trust in God. He won’t pull the trigger. He won’t.”
Ron could see the two officers slowly approaching Long from behind. Long kept talking and lowered the barrel a little. Then he heard the officers. The barrel was starting to come back up and swinging toward Ron again.
He grabbed it and shoved it down. Long was hideously strong. The older cop had grabbed the barrel from the other side while the younger one was getting out his taser. Maybe Long had been bluffing and it wasn’t loaded. No, he couldn’t take the chance. The younger cop shot his taser into Long’s neck. He jerked and fired. There was a tremendous explosion and Ron shoved the butt of the shotgun into Long’s gut, adding more force to the recoil.
Long passed out and let go.
“I’ll take it.” The older officer had a hold of the shotgun now.
“You can have it.” Ron let go of the barrel and turned. At the far end of the room, Lauri had opened the door and was walking out. She was crying, scared, angry. She looked like a ghost. No blood. Long hadn’t shot her. He’d followed him out instead of hurting her.
“Why did you leave me, Ron? He could have killed me. Why, Ron?”
He didn’t know why. It was a cowardly thing to do. He knew he had to get the cops. Ron could never have stood up to Long alone.
Then he woke up.
“Why did you leave her alone, Jonathan? You could have done anything.”
Jonathan Cypher sat up in bed. He was wearing a t-shirt and sweat pants. His back muscles were tight and painful. All he could see was the barrel of the shotgun pointing right at his face. He thought he was going to die.
“It wasn’t real. It was just a dream.” He looked up at the woman called Raven. The light was dim. The only thing in the room was the bed and the two of them.
“It wasn’t real. Maybe this isn’t real either.”
“This is real Jonathan and the man with the gun was real as well.”
He stood keenly aware that he had to urinate.
“What are you saying? It was a dream. Impossible things happened just like in a dream.”
“How do you know? If Benny Long had pulled the trigger how do you know you wouldn’t have died?”
“Would I have died, Raven?”
“You have to decide that, Jonathan. You are as impotent or as powerful as you decide to be.”
“The pry bar. I didn’t have it and then I did. When I opened the trunk, it didn’t take any effort. But that’s because it was a dream.”
“Or was it because you can do anything you want to do? You have to decide that. If you’re wrong, other people might die, you or someone else. Lauri might have died.”
“She’s a real person and I left her alone with a man ready to shoot her?”
“This time you were right. He considered you the greater threat.”
“He couldn’t even see me.”
“He couldn’t until you let him.”
“I was invisible?”
The dark-haired woman with the shimmering gown sighed. He hadn’t noticed that she was breathing before. “This is only the beginning. There are a great many things you will need to learn.”
“Such as why you left four people trapped in a collapsed building with a bomb about to detonate?”
“I forgot about them. How could I…?”
Then he woke up. There was about to be an explosion. He could only save one of them.
With some modifications, this is the dream I had early this morning. When I woke up after dreaming of fighting with the man with the shotgun, I was scared. I wasn’t terrified because it was obvious it was a dream, but my back was painful and stiff. I was holding all of my anxiety in my back and neck.
I lay in bed for a long time processing the dream. I think I projected the story forward in my imagination, picturing myself crying while being held by my wife, saying I had to quit child protection, that I couldn’t face such terror again.
I thought of the trial and testifying against Long (in my dream, none of these people had names so I created them for the purpose of this story). The defense attorney tried to brand me a coward for quitting my job but the prosecutor asked me about the experience of having a shotgun pointed at me. Even the cops said that they didn’t blame me for quitting. I didn’t choose a career expecting to be shot.
Lauri forgave me and said I did the right thing, but I think that was my imagination trying to soften the blow.
It was horrific finding a baby’s severed head in a car trunk. It was horrific envisioning a little girl enticing an age mate to have sex with her. I have no idea why I had that dream. I felt so out of control almost the entire time.
Writing this story and incorporating it into the Jonathan Cypher and Raven “universe” is my way of taking back control and making sense of my dream experience.
Usually I find my dreams interesting and even entertaining. This one was different.
Last note. Most people dream in black-and-white. I used to think I dreamt in full color but a long time ago, by writing down my dreams, I found out I dream in color themes. Red was the obvious color here. I don’t remember if there were any others.
The previous Jonathan and Raven “dreamtime” story is I is an Illusion.
The next chapter is Saving One.