The Beginning

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I used to be like any ordinary teenager. I went to college to study for my A-Levels by day, then spent my nights either playing videogames or talking to my friends online. It wasn't an exciting life by any means, but it was the one I had. It was simple, it was honest, and it was good. Until the day my mother was taken from me. Her death took my simple, honest and good life and turned it upside-down. On the day Julie Roberts' life ended, Ronnie Valentine's began.

Let me just give you some background here. My mother was my best friend, my everything. My dad had abandoned us when I was just a baby, so for as far back as I could remember it had always been me and her against the world. She worked as a police officer within the town's Special Victims Unit. Detective Julie Roberts had dedicated her life to seeking justice for those who'd been wronged, and she was my hero.

Naturally due to confidentiality rules she couldn't tell me about the nature of the cases themselves, but she'd happily describe in detail the types of scum and lowlives she'd put behind bars over the years. The horrific descriptions of the people themselves, coupled with the look of hatred and loathing on her face when she mentioned them, were enough to keep me on the straight and narrow.

As a rule my mum would leave for work the same time I left for college, then be back before I came home. This night was an exception. I got through the door to be met with a note on the side-table. It turned out she'd been asked to stay late to follow up a lead. She couldn't give too much away about an ongoing investigation, but she assured me that if all went well, this would be the biggest arrest of her career to date. I beamed with pride. She deserved this; nobody did more to help the victims than she did.

I busied myself with the housework so that she could relax when she got back. I'd done the laundry, and the washing-up, and was just about to start vacuuming the living room when the house phone rang. I ran to it hurriedly, eager to hear every detail.

"How did it go? What was it? Did you get him? How many were there? Where-" I stopped mid-flow. There was no answer from the other end. Eventually a quiet voice replied.

"Jay?" I froze. That was the voice of my uncle Pete. Not my actual uncle; he was my mum's partner in the department and her best friend. And, in the absence of a dad, the closest thing I had to a father figure.

"Hey Pete, what's up? Is mum okay?" I could hear the hesitation before his response.

"Jay... It's... It's not really something I can say over the phone. Stay where you are, I'm sending an officer to pick you up." The phone disconnected and I froze. A part of me already knew what was coming; I just refused to achknowledge it. The next thirty minutes seemed to happen in a flash. A knock on the door. A silent ride in a police car to Pete's house. A conversation between Pete and the officer that I was too numb to hear. Eventually Pete's daughter Lisa was able to snap me back into reality.

"Jay? Are you alright?" I shook my head to clear it, but she must have misinterpreted it and gently put her arms around me reassuringly. She led me into the living room and sat with me on the sofa until Pete came in with two steaming mugs of strong, sweet tea. He set them down on the table before he began.

He explained that the whole thing had been a setup, that the "anonymous lead" they'd received had been sent by the person they were tracking as bait to lure Detective Roberts in. That's when Pete dropped the final bombshell: That my mum had fallen victim to the very people she sought to destroy. He left the room with nothing more than a light squeeze of my shoulder. I didn't take it personally; this was Detective Smith I was dealing with in this moment, not Uncle Pete. Lisa hopped up onto the sofa beside me.

"Don't worry, Jay. I overheard my dad talking to that police officer. Apparently they've got CCTV footage, DNA evidence, and they've got a voice recording your mum took of him gloating. I'm no lawyer, but it sounds to me like he'll be going away for a very long time." She squeezed my hand lightly and I managed to force the faintest of smiles.

Because I was under the age of 18 I still needed a legal guardian, so Pete decided take me in rather than leave me to the government's foster care system. We both agreed that it's what my mum would have wanted, and Uncle Pete had always been an unofficial father to me anyway; this just added a legal layer to it.

"Jay?" Pete knocked on my bedroom door. "You ready?" I took a deep breath and nodded. Today was my mum's funeral and, by some strange coincidence, also the last day of her killer's trial. I felt strangely satisfied by that. If what Lisa had said was true and he was headed for a one-way trip to the slammer, then I'd get all the closure I needed in one sitting.

The service itself was exactly the way my mum would have wanted it to be. The sun was out without a cloud in the sky, hundreds of her friends and colleagues came out to send her off. Then came the moment I'd been dreading. I'd never been much of a public speaker, so when Pete had asked me to say a eulogy I'd almost outright refused. But I knew I'd never forgive myself if I never said goodbye properly. I stepped up to the podium and swallowed anxiously several times before I spoke.

"My mother was the most fearless person I'd ever met. No matter what, she always faced every challenge life could throw at her with grace and grit. I still remember the day I found out the secret to her strength. I was five years old, and we'd gone to see the new shark tunnel at the local aquarium. I remember staying in the centre of the walkway, terrified that the sharks would somehow break through the tunnel and eat me alive. My mum however stood right next to the glass as the sharks swam just inches from her face."

"I remember asking her, 'How are you so brave?' She'd laughed and kneeled down to my height before she answered. 'A lot of things scare me, Jay. I just know that some things are scarier than others. Sharks aren't that scary, not if you get one on its own.'" I glanced over at her headstone, reading the epitaph aloud.

"'The two most important days of your life are the day you're born, and the day you find out why. - Mark Twain'. That was mum's favourite quote; she'd say it to me all the time." I explained. "I'd often ask her which was her second day, and her answer was always the same: 'The day I became a police officer.' She'd always smile then before adding 'Obviously I had the honour of being there on your first day. I can only hope I'm there for your second.'" I paused as I realised how much optimism she'd had for both our futures.

"The trouble with the 'second day' is that it's uncertain. I don't know when it'll be, or what it'll hold. But I do know this: Whatever it is, I'll do you proud, mum." The crowd applauded gently, and as I stepped down I knew I'd already given her the best send-off I could. Now it was all I could do to hope the jury's verdict would do the same.

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