Chapter 39

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Art sat on the bench outside courtroom B waiting for his case to be called and stared at his polished Oxford shoes. Steven had reminded him a half-dozen times about being squared away when appearing before the judge. It irritated him how his son treated him as if he were senile. He appeared in court often enough as a detective to know how important appearances were. If you looked smart and professional, people perceived you that way. If you looked like a junkie, people would perceive you in a different light that would work against you.

The navy-colored suit he wore was one of his favorites, made of silk that hung well on him and felt comfortable in either hot or cold weather.

It had been five weeks since he'd seen Natalya and Joey.

Everything had gone according to plan. The two of them visited with Captain Veronica Hall and had laid out the evidence against Werner Gunther. It was enough to convince her to pick him up along with his associate, the man named Roscoe Meade. From that point, the dominoes fell. The case into the bus crash was reopened. FBI Agent Gil Paterson arranged a deal with ICE for Rosa Fuentes to receive special treatment in return for her cooperation.

Carlos Santos turned himself in and arranged for a plea deal in return for testifying against Gunther. Art and Natalya had given Chester Amundsen of the Williston Star the scoop they had promised to him. His coverage of the incident was picked up nationwide, and the last time Art had talked to the young man, he had been considering job offers from several major media outlets.

Art had been interviewed by the police so many times about his encounter with Vince Henson, he now considered the cops a damn nuisance. They didn't seem to care how at one time he had been one of them and was a trained, keen observer. He told them over and over everything he and Natalya had experienced with the man during their visit to Cat Island. He always told the same story and could add nothing more despite their repeated hounding. He understood they were desperate to find Vince, but neither he nor Natalya could offer anything more than they already knew.

Vince was still at-large and on an Interpol wanted list.

Steven approached and stood in front of his father. "I just received the word you're up next." He took a seat on the bench. "Dad, it's not too late for you to change your mind. If we raise the issue about how you acted to prevent further abuse to a child—"

"—No," Art interrupted in a sharp tone of voice. "It's too much of a slippery slope. Some do-gooder social worker would be assigned to investigate and might misunderstand the situation. They could take Joey away from Natalya. It would devastate them both, and I wouldn't be able to live with myself."

"The social services representatives aren't incompetent. They're professional, hardworking, and know what they're doing. If it even gets that far. It's such a remote possibility she would lose Joey."

"But it's still a possibility, and I won't take that risk."

Steven sighed. "Okay. I know this judge. He's reasonable. Since you have a clean record, I might be able to get you off with mandatory counseling for the assault charge."

Art clapped him on the shoulder. "I know you'll do your best, son."

"I'll go see how much longer," Steven said. He stood and disappeared down the hall.

The day after Werner Gunther had been placed into custody, Natalya and Joey moved home, the danger to them having passed. That same day, Jen had moved back with her husband. After they all left, his house felt like a tomb, as if all life had been drained from the air.

His behavior toward Natalya during those last days had pushed her away. He had been stiff and protective of his feelings. It had been for the best.

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