Follows JD Nightingale
Ive actually had this one finished for a couple of weeks but it was trapped in my other computer.
Starbuck's was crowded that morning as Ezra stood in line waiting for his latte. Folding the newspaper under his arm, he concentrated on the people standing around him. Not one of them would guess that the well-dressed, handsome young man was a master of disguise. He could become another person seemingly with ease.
On the sidewalk out front, a young girl stood watching the people too. Unlike the man in line, the girl was dirty and unkempt. Hollow eyes stared at the people who were too busy to notice, too busy to care. Pulling her dirty sweater more tightly around her ribs, she looked into the coffee shop again. It would be warm in there, she knew, but she had been asked to leave before because she didnt buy anything.
Coming out of the shop with his latte and a Danish, Ezra pulled his London Fog coat tighter around his body. The coat was not suited for the Denver climate after October when it started to turn really cold. As he was waiting to cross the street to his car, he noticed the girl. Something in the way she avoided eye contact made him continue to watch, even after the light had turned and the people behind him began to move past him. Her sweater was almost too small, the ends of the sleeves barely reaching her wrists. Under the sweater, she wore what looked like a tee shirt. It was much too cold for her to be dressed so lightly. A quick glance at her shoes made his heart ache. The tennis shoes had definitely seen better days. Through the holes in the filthy canvas he could see that she had on no socks. Her jeans were dirty and threadbare. Taking a deep breath, he prayed she wouldnt make a scene or run screaming into traffic at his approach.
Excuse me, I noticed that you look like you could use something warm to drink, he said in a casually conversational tone of voice. The eyes that lifted to meet his were somewhere between green and gray, and wary. If youd like, I can get you a cup of hot chocolate. Its really good here, he offered. Looking back at the coffee shop, she took a moment to consider before nodding. A slight smile lifted the corners of her mouth and Ezra returned the smile. He walked back and opened the door and waited for her to join him. Hesitantly, she stepped closer and then through the door.
Standing in the line behind the girl, Ezra debated whether or not he should try to get more information from her. He could hear his mothers voice in his mind warning him not to get involved. It isnt your problem, dear, her voice said. Shut up Mother, he said to the voice.
My names Ezra, by the way.
Maddie, she returned.
Since the girl volunteered no more information, he let it go for the moment. The line had moved and he nudged her to get her attention. What would you like?
Whatever you want to get is fine, she answered quickly.
Well certainly you must have a preference. A donut or a Danish to go with your hot chocolate?
Oh, can I have a jelly filled donut? Maddie asked hopefully.
The girl behind the counter watched the dark haired man closely as he spoke to the girl. When he held up two fingers, she nodded and reached into the case to get the donuts. Placing them on separate plates on the tray, she turned to take the hot cocoa from the counter behind her. He paid for the order and picked up the tray as he headed for one of the booths away from the doors where the cold breezes wouldnt buffet them. After they were both settled, he reached into his pocket for his cell phone.
Excuse me, I need to make a call, he said. Seeing the girl nod as she blew on the hot cocoa, he opened the phone and pressed the speed dial for the office. Josiah, would you be so kind as to inform Mr. Larabee that I have been unavoidably delayed and will arrive at the office as soon as possible? Thank you, he said as he closed the phone and tucked it away. Putting the bag with his Danish on the table, he sipped at his latte.
You got a donut and a Danish? she asked.
Oh, I completely forgot about this. Would you like it? That jelly donut looks quite good, he said.
Hope flared in her eyes before she caught herself and she pulled back her hand as if burned. No, thank you, she said softly. Shrugging his shoulders, Ezra started on the Danish and left the donut on the plate. He tried not to stare at the girl, as she was clearly nervous enough. An awkward silence followed as they consumed the food and sipped at the hot drinks.
Its awfully cold for you to be out in just a sweater. Is there some place I can drop you off? he asked, hoping to get her to talk.
No, Im fine. Thanks. I should be going, Maddie said as she started to slip from the booth.
Ezra reached across the table and caught her arm. Cold fear lit her face and she glanced around at the other patrons. The square end of his gun was visible in the gap between his coat and his side. Maddie shuddered.
Please, sit down and finish your cocoa. I didnt mean to frighten you. I only wanted to help you, he assured her. When she continued to try to pull free of his hand, his eyes followed her line of sight. Realizing that she had seen his weapon, he reached with his free hand into his pocket and pulled his badge and ID case and dropped it on the table. Im not a cop. Im not going to take you to jail or any place like that. I just wanted to make sure that youre all right, he said.
Maddie looked at the ID and then at the man holding her arm. Reluctantly, she sank back into the booth. He quickly pocketed the case and reached in to button his suit coat. Letting a smile cross his face, he tried to put the girl at ease. She picked up her cup and took another sip.
I dont have any place to go, she said softly.
Did you run away from somewhere?
The girl paused. She didnt know if she could trust this man any farther than she could see him but she really needed to tell someone. Taking a deep breath, she began to explain.
My mom. I ran away a couple of weeks ago. Shes been bringing this guy around and hes just he scares me. She got mad because she says she cant afford to be picky about the guys who are nice to her. We live in a trailer and they keep threatening to kick us out because she cant pay the rent. One night, she brought the guy home and she passed out on the couch. I woke up and he was standing over my bed looking at me, she confided. When she could work up her nerve, she looked up to see what kind of reaction the man had on his face.
He didnt touch you, did he? Ezra asked as he leaned forward.
No, I told him to get out and he did but I was so scared that I told my mom not to bring him home with her anymore. She started screaming at me and crying and I just ran out and didnt look back, Maddie said.
Dont you think she reported you missing?
I doubt it. Family Services came sniffing around one time and they threatened to take me away from her. If she reported me missing, theyd find out and take me away.
Would that be a bad thing? he pried.
I dont know anymore. I was just so scared and then after a few hours I was more scared of what shed do when I came back so I didnt and now I dont know what to do, Maddie whispered as she dissolved into tears.
Ezra pulled his handkerchief and moved to the other side of the booth to try to comfort the girl. She recoiled from him and he backed off. Do you have any other family? Your father, grandparents, any one you could stay with?
N-no. Mom doesnt have any family and she said she didnt know who my dad is. Its always been just me and my mom, the girl said as she wiped her eyes.
Listen, I have a friend who works with Family Services. I can call her and try to get you some help, Ezra offered.
No! Please dont! Maddie pleaded.
Will you at least let me take you to a teen shelter? he asked. When her questioning face lifted, he nodded in assurance. Theres one just a few blocks from here. They could at least help you get some more appropriate clothing for the cold weather, Ezra suggested. Finally, the girl nodded.
They slipped from the booth together. Ezra picked up the donut and put it in the bag, handing it to Maddie as he picked up his latte and paper. Putting his hand lightly on her shoulder, he steered her out of the shop. Crossing the street, he walked her to the passenger side of the Jag and unlocked the door. A look of awe stared up at him before the girl got into the car. As soon as he started the engine, he turned on the heater. They drove to the shelter in relative silence. When he pulled onto the small parking lot, Maddie opened the door and started to get out. Ezra reached out and caught her by the arm.
Wait, Ill go in with you, he said.
Thats okay. Youre already late for work. Ill be okay, she said quickly.
Then at least take my card. You can call me anytime you need help. Call collect if you have to, Ezra told her as he stared hard into her eyes. Thin, cold fingers lifted the card from his hand and he watched her tuck it into her pocket.
I will. And thanks for breakfast, Maddie said as she leaned across the seat and gave him a brief hug.
Ezra waited until she had gone into the building and then waited a while to see if she was coming right back out. When she didnt, he finally put the car in reverse and left the parking lot. His mind was so full of thoughts of the girl that he didnt even realize where he was going until he had reached the parking garage. He pulled into his parking space and grabbed his briefcase from the back floorboard. As he rode up in the elevator, he hoped that Chris wouldnt tear into him too badly.
The office was quiet when he arrived. Everyone looked up as he made his way to his desk but no yell burst from the blond team leaders office. After turning on his computer and going through the things in his mail basket, he headed for Chriss office to offer an explanation. To his surprise, Chris actually seemed unfazed by what he had done and he returned to his desk.
Although the girl crossed his mind repeatedly, Ezra didnt see her at the coffee shop any of the next few mornings when he stopped. He had checked with missing persons to see if a young girl fitting Maddies description had been reported missing or runaway, she hadnt been. He resisted the urge to go to the teen shelter to check on her. She said she would call if she needed anything.
The phone rang around four in the morning on Saturday. Ezra rolled over and glared at the clock before reaching for the receiver. A deep bass voice asked if he had reached Agent Standish. When his sleep-fogged brain informed him that he was just himself for the moment, he responded in the affirmative. The voice then proceeded to tell him that his card had been found among the belongings of a young girl who had been arrested for shoplifting from an all night grocery store. Bolting up in his bed, he found out what precinct station the girl was being held at and told the officer that he would be there in twenty minutes.
Arriving at the police station, Ezra set the alarm on the Jag and climbed the steps to the doors. Flashing his badge at the cop behind the metal detector, he was waved through. At the desk, the officer directed him to the waiting area and paged Officer Fisher. A couple of minutes later, a tall, African American female officer called his name.
Agent Standish, could you come with me? she turned and wove her way through the maze of desks in the mostly quiet bullpen. A sign pointed the way to the holding cells. Ezra stopped abruptly and indignantly questioned the officer.
You put a minor in a holding cell? he asked as he fixed his best pseudo-Larabee glare on her.
No, an interrogation room. Follow me, she replied as she turned away from the holding cells.
As soon as the door opened, Ezra heard his name and caught a blur as Maddie ran into his chest. He held her by reflex, feeling how violently she was shaking and hearing her heart wrenching sobs. A moment later, he realized that she was still in handcuffs.
You handcuffed a minor and left her alone in an interrogation room?! He shouted. Get these damned things off of her this instant! His hands passed without stopping repeatedly over her head as she sobbed against his chest. Officer Fisher removed the cuffs and quickly retreated to the other corner of the small room. Ezra tipped Maddies face up and studied the assortment of bruises amidst the dirt and tear streaked features. Rage tightened his stomach and he barely restrained himself from shouting as he spoke again.
Did one of the cops do this to you? he asked softly as his thumbs smudged her tears away.
No, mom and her boyfriend did, she whispered.
Has she been examined by a medical professional? he asked haughtily.
She wouldnt let us touch her after we got her in here. It took two of us to get her this far. She wouldnt let us take off the cuffs, Fisher replied angrily.
Is she being charged?
The store manager said he didnt ever want to see her again. As long as she stays away from the market, I guess not.
Then Im taking her with me, Ezra said. He peeled off his coat and wrapped it around the girl as he steered her out of the small room. Half an hour later, he pulled into the emergency parking lot at the hospital. Maddie was sound asleep in the passenger seat. He opened the door and gently lifted her into his arms and carried her in. A nurse recognized him and rushed out to steer him to an exam room. She gasped in surprise at the bruised and swollen face of the girl before rushing out to find a doctor.
Two hours later, Ezra looked up at a familiar voice.
Hello there, fancy man, Nettie said with a warm smile.
Coming to his feet, Ezra hugged the older woman. Ms. Wells, thank you for coming at such an indecent hour of the day.
You wouldnt have called me at home on a Saturday morning if it wasnt important. Whats going on? she asked. Nettie had almost fallen out of bed when she heard the southerner asking her to come to the hospital. He would only say that he needed her assistance before he hung up.
Theres someone Id like you to meet, see anyway, shes still asleep, Ezra said as he led the woman to the exam room. The hospital had not officially admitted the girl at his request. They would have had to contact her mother to do that. This is Maddie Reynolds. Shes a few months shy of 14. She was picked up for shoplifting.
But that isnt why you called me, is it? Nettie asked knowingly.
No, it isnt. Maddie ran away from home a few weeks ago. I took her to the teen shelter downtown. They contacted your agency. A caseworker picked the girl up and returned her to her mother. Her mother and her mothers paramour did the damage you see as well as a couple of fractures you cant see. She ran away again and got caught trying to steal something to eat.
Nettie placed a gentle hand on the southerners arm and pulled him back into the hallway. She could almost see the rage pouring off of him in sheets. Guiding him to a chair, she sat next to him and pulled out a note pad. Did she tell you the name of the worker?
Stivers or something like that, Ezra spat.
Okay. Let me call him and get him down here, she said as she stood. A hand gripped her wrist firmly but gently.
Keep him away from me, the southerner warned.
While Nettie was asking for the use of a phone, Ezra slipped back into Maddies room. She looked so small and fragile in the big hospital bed. The nurse had taken her for a shower after the X-rays were checked. She had a hairline fracture of her jaw and two on her ribs. The nurse reported that it looked as if someone had beaten the girl with something with a waffled surface. Dressed in a pale, kid friendly hospital gown, she looked so innocent. He reached out and ran a finger along her cheek, moving a loose strand of her hair. She jerked away from the gentle touch and woke up.
Im sorry, I didnt mean to wake you, he said softly.
What time is it? she asked before yawning widely.
Almost seven thirty. You should try to go back to sleep. My friend is here and Ill bring her in to see you later, okay? he asked as he patted her hand.
Not another caseworker! Shell just take me back there! I thought you were going to help me! Maddie shouted in a dismayed voice.
He is helping you, young lady. And thats no way to speak to someone who has gone out of his way to help you, Nettie scolded as she entered the room. My name is Mrs. Wells. Ezra called me because he thinks that your worker was negligent in his handling of your situation.
Thats an understatement, the girl replied sarcastically. Ezra couldnt help but smile at her choice of words.
Well, hes on his way down here with your file and we will have to sit down and discuss things. Its obvious that your home environment isnt meeting your needs, Nettie said. Now, as Ezra said, try to get some rest and Ill be back to check on you later.
An hour later, Mr. Stivers arrived, looking decidedly uneasy. He carried a laptop computer and followed the diminutive woman like a man headed for the gallows. Nettie had commandeered an office where they could discuss the situation. It seemed that the worker had taken the mother at her word in regard to Maddies disappearance. He didnt want to try to find a placement for the girl if the mother would take her back. He argued that the state was now emphasizing keeping the families together rather than removing the child unless there was a threat of imminent danger. There didnt appear to be any danger to the girl, so he had returned her to her mother and made an appointment to see them in two weeks.
Did Maddie tell you that her mothers paramour was in her bedroom? Ezra demanded.
And the mother denied it. She said that Maddie was dreaming it, the man defended.
Who speaks for Maddie? I thought you were supposed to protect these kids, not throw them back into the hell holes they fled, Ezra yelled.
Agent Standish, please lower your voice. I know that no excuse will ever be enough, but the system is overloaded sometimes. In light of the lack of qualified homes, we do try to keep children in their home whenever possible. Although, I dont think I would have so casually dismissed the girls claim that the man had been in her bedroom. I want a placement for her, today, she told the male worker.
But Ms. Wells, its Saturday! I have plans! Stivers protested.
Either find her a placement or you will have lots of free time, on the unemployment line! Nettie hissed as she leaned menacingly close to the worker.
After the disgruntled worker left, Nettie turned to Ezra. Let me ask you something, Fancy Man. Did you mean what you said when you asked about who speaks for Maddie?
Feeling that he was about to step in something big, the southerner hesitated before answering. I have the feeling that I may live to regret this but, yes, I meant it.
Pulling a card from her purse, she passed it across the table. Call that number and tell them that you want to apply to be an advocate. Ill call and make sure your paperwork goes through immediately.
What am I applying for exactly? he countered.
Childrens Advocacy Service Agency, its a group of volunteers who work with children in the family court system. They meet with the child and then make sure that the child has a voice in the courtroom. Someone who isnt for the parent or the worker or the state, an advocate for what the child thinks and feels. You can pick the cases you want to be involved with. From time to time, you may get a call asking you to represent a specific child or group of children but you are always free to turn it down. After seeing you at the adoption fair, I think youd be great at this, she said.
Would I be able to represent Maddie? Ezra asked.
Yes, Ill make sure of it. Since she already trusts you, it shouldnt be difficult for you to get her to open up about what she wants to do, Nettie said as she gathered her notes and came to her feet. Are you planning to stay here until shes discharged?
I told her that I would stay. What will happen to her now?
Hopefully we can find a placement for her in a regular foster home. If not, there are several good group homes she could be sent to. Seeing the face he made, she patted his arm. They arent all bad, you know? I keep a slot here and there for special needs kids. Let me see what I can do.
When Maddie awoke an hour later, Ezra brought her breakfast from the hospital cafeteria where the food was better he assured her with a wink. From the gift shop, he picked up a deck of playing cards and they played rummy on the foot of her hospital bed until Mr. Stivers returned with another couple. They had agreed to take the girl until a permanent placement could be found. Maddie burst into tears when she was told that she would have to transfer to another school. Ezra comforted her as well as he could. He assured the girl that he would talk to her each afternoon and told her to call him any time she needed to talk.
The couple, the Marks, were an older couple. They had been foster parents for a long time before deciding to give it up and only do temporary, emergency placements. They were a little nervous when they read the card that Ezra handed them with his name and work numbers on it. He reassured them that he was only concerned for Maddie and it had nothing to do with his work.
On Sunday, Ezra called to check on Maddie. She was quiet and withdrawn. Reluctantly, she admitted that she had only the clothes she was wearing and the sweat suit they discharged her from the hospital with. The worker wouldnt be able to do a clothing voucher until after her intake hearing. The years fell away as Ezra remembered being the new kid at school. That was hard enough, but to have to do it in worn, ratty clothes would only make it worse. The solution was simple and the southerner told Maddie that he would see her in an hour or so.
Harriet Marks was surprised to see the young man on her porch. When he explained that he was going to get the girl some new clothes, she was stunned. Maddie pounded down the steps, delighted to be going out. The Marks home was on a fairly large parcel of ground and there were no near neighbors. It was misery for the teen that was used to the noisy, crowded blocks around the trailer park.
Two hours later, Ezra returned Maddie to the foster home with her arms laden with clothes. The girl had looked at him with open horror when he suggested shopping at the mall. She insisted that she knew the perfect place to get her clothes. Following her directions, the southerner found himself at an outlet shop. The clothes were imperfects and couldnt be sold at the malls. Most of the flaws were so tiny as to be almost invisible. Maddie seemed to be keeping a tally in her head as she picked out the clothes. Ezra encouraged her to get whatever she felt she needed for a week. Finally, with five pairs of jeans and seven shirts, the teenager seemed set. When Ezra pointed out that she would need underthings, Maddie blushed. A kindly older woman recognized the problem and offered to help. An hour later, the underthings were tucked into a separate bag with staples across the top. Ezra picked her out a coat; one like the teens wore in Vins neighborhood. To his delight, Maddie loved it.
While his young friend was putting away her new things, Mrs. Marks offered Ezra a cup of coffee. The southerner could feel the curiosity in the carefully veiled looks the woman was giving him.
It is usually best just to come out and ask if you have a question, Ezra prompted.
Forgive me, I didnt mean to appear nosy, Harriet said. I just couldnt help wondering what an ATF agent would be doing as an advocate for a 14 year old girl.
I wondered that myself. I ran into Maddie outside of Starbucks one morning on my way to work. She just seemed so lost and alone that I bought her breakfast and we talked, he explained.
Yes, but to take her out and buy her clothes? None of the other children ever had anyone so involved, the older woman pried.
I moved around a lot growing up. I know how hard it is to be the new kid. If a few articles of clothing can ease her discomfort, its a small price to pay, Ezra said.
After talking to Maddie again, Ezra headed home. He assured the girl that he would call her the next evening to find out how her first day of school went. It was quiet at the condo and the southerner had a lot of time to think, and to remember.
One of Maudes scams failed miserably and they were forced to skip town in the middle of the night with only what they could carry in a suitcase apiece. When they reached the next town, someone set the truant officer on the handsome young boy who sat on the porch reading or coloring while the other children were in school. Lacking the money to buy any more suitable clothes, he had been forced to make due with what he had, most of which was hopelessly inappropriate for the neighborhood and the children. It was brutal! The kids picked on him and called him names. It didnt help that he was terribly bright and did very well on the tests and quickly became the teachers favorite.
A shudder ran down his spine as he forced the images away with another swallow of brandy before heading for the shower.
On Monday morning, Ezra arrived early to the office. He wanted to get started on whatever paperwork was necessary to make him Maddies advocate. Nettie had the packet delivered by courier. She had filled in as much as she could, leaving only the personal information for him to complete. He made copies of the necessary documents and returned the packet to the address on the envelope. As he returned from the elevators after dropping the packet at the front desk, he noticed Josiah watching him.
Something you wish to discuss, Mr. Sanchez?
No, just wondering what was so important that youd get here early, the profiler answered.
Endless government bureaucracy, Ezra replied.
That afternoon, as soon as he arrived home, Ezra called Maddie. He listened as she explained about the new school and the new classes and the lunchroom and the gym class and so on and so on. She sounded almost pleased with the situation. He assured her that he was happy for her and they hung up the phones. That evening, he spent some time on line researching the girl and her mother. What he found did not make him very happy.
Madison Elizabeth Reynolds was born at the county hospital. Her mother, Janet Marie Reynolds, was unmarried and unemployed. The father of record was listed as James Patterson of Sheridan, Wyoming. The attachment to the official record indicated that Mr. Patterson had not been available to confirm or deny paternity of the child. There were numerous arrests on Ms. Reynolds rap sheet starting before the child was born and escalating afterwards. Somehow, she always managed to talk her way out of any serious charges and jail time.
Ezra printed the records and began a search for Mr. Patterson. He found several Pattersons in and around Sheridan, but none named James. He broadened his search and found two men who fit the general profile of age and race. One lived in a tiny town in Kansas, and the other lived near Omaha, Nebraska. He would have to check with Nettie to see if either man had been contacted about the possibility of being the girls father. Turning his attention back to the mother, he discovered that Maddie was wrong about having no other relatives. Her maternal grandparents lived south of Colorado Springs. He wondered why the girl would think that they were dead. It was something he would discuss with Nettie.
On Tuesday, Ezra was called to go to ADA Traviss office after lunch. JD hummed the Dragnet theme as he walked across the bullpen to let Chris know where he was going. It wasnt unusual for him to be called up to the ATF supervisors office, but usually he had at least an inkling of the reason. He stopped in the elevator lobby to check his appearance before going into the office.
Agent Standish! Go right in, hes expecting you, the secretary said with a smile.
Judge Travis, you wanted to see me? Ezra asked hesitantly as he stepped into the office.
Ezra, come in and sit down. I have some papers I need to discuss with you, the older man said as he waved toward one of the leather chairs facing the large desk. A feeling of trepidation scrolled through Ezras mind as he sank into the chair and tugged nervously at his coat sleeves. A folder lay open in the middle of the desk blotter. I received notice that youve applied to be an advocate in the Family court, Orin said with a smile. I just wanted to make sure that it wouldnt interfere with your undercover work.
I certainly dont intend for it to interfere with my work, Sir. I really only got involved because of one child, Ezra explained. Mrs. Wells said that as a volunteer, I only have to take the cases Im interested in.
Of course, well I just wanted to let you know that I think its wonderful. It shows a tremendous commitment on your part. If I may be so bold as to say, youve always seemed as if you had one hand on the doorknob ever since you joined us here in Denver. I was concerned when Chris brought me your file at first. Not that I believed all the crap the FBI was shoveling, but Im really glad to see you finally putting down roots, Travis said. If you need any time off to make the hearings, just let me know. If something comes up while youre undercover, I can see about getting times and dates changed. I still have a few friends in the clerks offices over there, the graying man said with a smile.
Thank you, Judge, I appreciate that, Ezra said with a depreciating smile.
The intake hearing for Maddie was Wednesday afternoon. The caseworker picked the girl up from school. Ezra carefully reviewed all the information he had pulled up on the mother before placing it in a folder and heading for the Family and Juvenile court building. He ran into a little problem getting into the building. The security guards were incredulous at the firepower the man was carrying when he stepped through the metal detector. He surrendered his guns to be placed in the locker under the security desk before he was allowed to go to the waiting area. Maddie breezed through the security check and dropped into a chair at his side. She filled him in on her morning. They talked amicably with the caseworker until suddenly, Maddie went quiet and seemed to draw in on herself. Ezra looked up to see a woman scowling at the girl from the line at the security desk.
I take it that your mother has arrived? Ezra asked softly. Maddie only nodded and began to study her fingernails. Perhaps there is another place we could wait? the southerner asked of the worker. Before the man could reply, Janet Reynolds was standing in front of her daughter. The cold, hard glare she threw made Ezra want to pull his coat more tightly around his body and made him reconsider the wisdom of being sans weapons as he was about to do battle with the woman.
I hope youre happy, Madison. You really screwed up this time, the woman hissed.
Coming to his feet, Ezra moved to stand between Maddie and her mother. Mustering a smile and a calm tone of voice, he spoke to the woman. Perhaps you would like to have a seat on the other side of the room, Ms. Reynolds?
Who in the hell do you think you are? Another busy body caseworker? I told the other guy there, shes a lying little bitch. Shes just not happy because I dont let her get her way in everything, the woman spat as she turned her glare up a notch.
The security guard shouldered in between the two adults. Perhaps you and the young lady would like to go up to the witness waiting area on the third floor? Take a left when you get out of the elevator and follow the signs, the guard advised as he reached for Maddie and steered her away from her mother. When both of the men and the girl were safely in the elevator and the doors closed, Maddie carefully stifled a sob.
Maddie, its going to be all right. Calm yourself, Ezra said as he handed her a handkerchief.
The hearing was late getting started. While they waited, Ezra discussed the options with Maddie. The place she was at could only keep her for 30 days. The caseworker was trying to find her another placement where she could return to her old school. Maddie said she didnt care where she went as long as it wasnt back to her mother.
Have you given any thought to your maternal grandparents? Ezra asked.
I dont have any grandparents, Maddie answered.
Your mothers parents? Theyre alive and living south of Colorado Springs, the southerner supplied.
No, mom told me they died before I was born, the startled teen defended.
We will have to clarify it with your mother but I found a couple whose names match the ones on your mothers birth certificate. I dont know why she would have told you that they were dead, Ezra said calmly. If they are your grandparents, would you be willing to consider living with them?
I dont even know them! Maddie cried.
We could arrange visits with them. Let you get to know them. If youre interested, the worker put in.
I dont know, she said as she frowned. I just dont want to go back to my mother.
In the courtroom, Ezra was seated at the far end of a table next to Maddie and the caseworker. Several other attorneys filed into the room and took seats at the two tables facing the bench. Maddies eyes were as big as saucers as she looked around the room. Her mother continued to glare at her every chance she got.
When the case was presented, the judge questioned returning the girl to the custody of her mother. Ezra raised his hand and objected.
Your Honor, the minor is most definitely opposed to being returned to what has been an unsafe and non-nurturing environment, he said.
The home has not been found to be unsafe or non-nurturing, one of the attorneys returned acidly. Ezra reasoned that he must be representing the mother.
Well, what do you call it when the mothers paramour invades the childs bedroom in the middle of the night? What do you call it when the child is beaten so severely that she has a fractured jawbone and ribs? Ezra challenged.
Toby was never in her room! She made that up! Shes just jealous, shes always been jealous! Janet yelled as she glared at Maddie. She got beat up on her way home from school! Toby and I never hit her!
The judge banged his gavel and glared at Mrs. Reynolds. Do you have medical records to back up the injuries? he asked.
Ezras chin dropped slightly. He hadnt been able to get the medical records because he didnt get the documentation he needed in time. No, Sir. I dont have the medical records. I was in the emergency room with Madison when she was advised of her injuries.
Mrs. Reynolds attorney tried a few more times to convince the judge to return the child to her mother. Each argument was reasonable. There had never been an abuse allegation proven against the mother. She would refrain from bringing her boyfriend to the trailer. The home had been checked and found to be clean and having plenty of food in the cabinets.
The judge reviewed the paperwork again. Finally, he asked Maddie what she thought should happen to her. With tears in her eyes, she whispered that she didnt know. Ezra slipped an arm around her and encouraged her to speak up and tell the judge what she wanted and she dissolved into sobs. The judge caught Ezras eye and nodded toward the door for him to take her into the hall. A half hour later, the caseworker came into the witness room where Maddie was still weeping softly on the southerners shoulder.
Hes ordered her held in custody for the time being. Mother has visitation on Saturday from noon to four. She has to complete parenting classes and anger management classes. Well meet again next month to review the situation, he explained as he handed a copy of the order to Ezra. Come on, Maddie. Ill get you back to school.
Ill take her back to school, Ezra said firmly. The worker sighed and left the room. Turning his attention to the teary eyed teen, he asked, Why didnt you tell the judge what you told me?
Shell get me back! She always gets me back! Shell make me pay! If I say I dont want to go back, shell really punish me when she gets me back! Maddie yelled as she came to her feet. I dont even want to see her and I have to see her on Saturday! Why did he make that rule?
Because they always try to repair the family whenever possible. They dont want to sever your bond with your mother in case you can work it out, he explained. Along with the documentation he had gotten was a book explaining how the family court worked. If you dont express your opinion, how is the judge supposed to know what you want?
You said youd speak for me! Maddie shouted.
In that moment, Ezra realized that she was right. He had agreed to be her voice in the court. His first time up at bat and he had failed miserably. He hadnt told the judge what Maddie wanted; he was too busy trying to comfort her. Hanging his head, he could only apologize.
The ride to the Marks home was a quiet one. Maddie stared out the window, giving only monosyllable answers to his questions and comments. When he stopped the car, she immediately sprang the seatbelt and tried to get out of the car.
Would it help if I accompanied you on your visit? Ezra asked.
Would you do that? Maddie returned hopefully.
Im allowed to supervise your visits so I can observe your interaction and its appropriateness, he replied.
Id like that, Maddie said with a weak smile.
Upon returning to the office, Ezra contacted the family court judge and made an appointment to meet with him. He couldnt bear Maddie suffering because of his ignorance of courtroom etiquette. The first opening the judge had wasnt until the middle of the next week. Ezra took the appointment and informed Chris that he needed that time away from the office. As usual, Chriss response was as long as we dont need you here.
The visit between Maddie and her mother was a complete, unmitigated failure. Mrs. Reynolds was furious that the irritating man from the court was going to be with them during their visit. She tried to pressure Maddie into saying she wanted to come home. Maddie kept her arms folded tightly across her chest and refused to speak to her mother, even to answer what she wanted for lunch. On the drive back to the Marks house, Ezra tried to draw the girl into conversation, she refused.
Judge Frawley was frank with Ezra. He did soothe the southerners mind in that he would still have ordered everything just the way it was even if Maddie had spoken her mind. There were federal guidelines about these things that couldnt be ignored. He was, however, surprised to learn that Maddie might have grandparents and that her father might be unaware of her plight. He vowed to look into it when he got back to the court. The two men spent the rest of their lunch hour discussing the vagaries of the law.
The next two weekends, Ezra supervised the visits between Maddie and her mother. Each visit was worse than the last. When Maddie did decide to speak to her mother, it was at the top of her lungs. A free for all broke out between mother and daughter with Ezra right in the middle trying to keep them apart. After each visit, the girl sank farther and farther into depression. Finally, Mrs. Marks called to tell him that Maddie was skipping school. Ezra dropped everything and drove to the high school to see if he could find her. It was nearly midnight when he got the call that she had hitch hiked back to the foster home. Because he had to be at work the next day, he couldnt go out there and see her as much as he wanted to.
Things at the office got crazy the next day. An informant called Ezra to tell him that the guy who had jumped bail six months ago was planning a major gun shipment that night. Since the informant would only reveal the location to the southerner, he had to stay and meet with the man. The bust was set up quickly. Team 7 had only a minimum of back up from Team 2. In the gun battle that ensued, Josiah took a bullet in the leg and JD got in a fistfight with one of the suspects. While on the operating table, Josiahs heart stopped. The team spent the next two days in intensive care watching over the profiler.
It was late Sunday evening before the doctor could say with any certainty that Josiah was turning the corner toward recovery. The blockage in his heart would be opened up in a separate procedure after his body had gotten over the shock of being shot. There was no muscle damage in his heart or permanent damage in his leg. After speaking with Josiah, the team began to divide up shifts to sit with him. Chris pulled rank and sent the others home for the night.
When he reached the condo, there were several messages on his machine. The first one, from Maude, detailed her plan to come and visit over the coming Thanksgiving holiday. The next two were from Maddie, to confirm that he would be there for her visit with her mother. The next one was from Judge Frawleys clerk, saying that they had made contact with a man who said he could be Maddies father and that they were ordering a paternity test. The final message was from Mrs. Marks, Maddie had run away.
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Ezra dialed the Marks home. Mr. Marks confirmed that Maddie had not come home after going to the movies with some friends from school. The caseworker had been notified and they were looking for the girl. He also informed Ezra that they wouldnt be able to keep Maddie when she was found, his wife was simply too distraught to put her through any more stress with the girl. Picking up the keys he had dropped on the table in the foyer, Ezra headed out to look for Maddie.
In the wee hours of the morning, Ezra found himself dozing off at a red light and decided that he needed to head home for his own well being. Exhausted and profoundly saddened at the way the situation was turning out, he stumbled into his condo and fell into bed.
It was early afternoon by the time Ezra awoke. After showering and shaving, he checked his messages again. There was one from Nettie, informing him of Maddies disappearance. He called to let her know that he had already been advised and asked what would happen to the girl when she was found. The news was not good. Nettie had a place for her at a group home but it would mean changing schools again. On the up side of things, Janets parents had been contacted and they didnt even know that their daughter had a child. They were curious to meet their granddaughter. They werent sure that they could take custody of her but they definitely wanted to get to know her.
Nine days later, Maddie was picked up hitch hiking near the Colorado/Wyoming border. The state patrol found Ezras card folded into her shoe and called him. Nettie told him that he couldnt be the one to pick her up because she had run away; she would be returned to Denver by the state patrol. Ezra was there when she arrived at the group home. Bedraggled and exhausted, Maddie was pulled from the car in handcuffs. She had tried to escape from the state patrol officers at a rest area and they resorted to the handcuffs to make sure they didnt lose her. She jerked away from them as soon as her feet touched the ground. Her eyes were hard and cold as they raked over Ezra before she turned and walked away from him.
Maddie? he called as he strode toward her.
Leave me the hell alone! This is all your fault! she hissed angrily.
Hanging his head, Ezra stayed back as Maddie was dragged into the forbidding, dark stone building. She was assigned a ward with three other girls her age. The southerner waited, hoping she would be willing to talk to him after she finished processing. As he sat in the waiting area thumbing through magazines from the late 80s, he heard a series of blood curdling screams. The guard stopped him with a firm hand on his upper arm.
Shes getting a shower or being searched for contraband, he said. Seeing the confused expression on the mans face, the guard explained. All new residents have to take a shower and get checked for lice and other contagious conditions before undergoing a physical and a body search.
The color drained from Ezras face as he realized what the man was referring to. His stomach rolled a couple of times before he stumbled back to the chair where he had been sitting. An hour passed before he was allowed to see Maddie. The cinderblock walls were devoid of any decoration that might have made the halls bright or cheerful. The wooden doors had large windows reinforced with wire. Halfway down the hall, the guard opened a door and he saw her.
Maddie was curled up in a fetal ball on the bed. Her hair was still damp from the shower. He sat on the foot of the bed and reached out to touch her. She yelled into the pillow she was burrowed into and drew up tighter. He folded his hands in his lap and sighed.
Im sorry, Maddie. I dont know what to say, he told her softly. Im sorry I wasnt there for you. One of my friends was hurt and I was at the hospital with him and I completely forgot about your visit.
Go away! I dont need you anymore! she yelled into the pillow.
Maddie, please, he began.
Rolling over and sitting up on the bed, Maddie pinned the southerner with a glare that would have made Larabees look like a come hither glance. I said go away! I never want to see you again!
Dejected and depressed, Ezra left the group home. He went to the hospital and sat with Josiah. The profiler sensed that something was deeply troubling the southerner and didnt pry. When Nettie showed up late that evening, he found out what had happened.
Nettie assured him that it wasnt his fault. She assured him that Maddie would eventually forgive him. She assured him that he hadnt done anything wrong. It didnt help. Ezra pulled the new laminated ID card from his wallet and handed it to the older woman. He just couldnt fathom the idea of messing in another childs life ever again. She accepted the card and patted him on the shoulder before leaving the room. Josiah waited for several minutes until the silence became unbearable.
You know that shes right, dont you?
If I had been there, she wouldnt have run away and she wouldnt be in that place, Ezra challenged.
You made that little girl run away? Josiah questioned.
By not being there when she needed me, Ezra answered.
And you are never allowed any activities that conflict with your time with her? he asked gently.
I wasnt there when she needed me, he repeated petulantly.
I guess that makes it my fault then, Josiah reasoned.
No! Josiah, you arent to blame!
If I hadnt gotten shot, you would have been there for her, he said.
They argued back and forth for a while until Ezra finally realized that things were bound to crop up from time to time. He had forgotten all about Maddie in his concern for Josiah and that was wrong but he wasnt entirely to blame. By the time Buck arrived for his shift, Ezra was ready to go home and try to get some rest.
It took a while for Maddie to get over her anger at Ezra. She told the judge that her mother threatened her repeatedly during her visits, even when Ezra was there and when he hadnt been there, it was worse. The judge ordered that the visits be scaled back to every other week for two hours supervised by the caseworker. He also ordered visits with her maternal grandparents.
Maddies case was typical of the family court system. Every couple or three months, they had a hearing. Her mother was still maintaining that she wanted the child back but she wasnt doing the things that she needed to do. Her parenting classes remained unfinished and she had yet to show up for the anger management classes. The visits with her grandparents went well. Maddie was surprised to learn that she had an aunt who worked as a missionary in South America as well as two small cousins. She spent part of her Christmas vacation with her grandparents. Due to their failing health, the grandparents were not considered suitable guardians for the girl. James Patterson came forward for the paternity test only to be ruled out. Janet had been sleeping with several men around the time she conceived Maddie and she wasnt sure who the father was. James had come from a good family and she thought they would be willing to give her money for the child. When Janet found out that James was on the outs with his parents, she forgot all about him.
The group home was actually good for Maddie. She thrived under the structured environment. After extensive testing, they discovered that she was artistically talented. A small group of the kids in the facility were given special classes and supplies to explore their ability. It became a rare instance when Maddie would be found without a sketchpad and a pencil or a stick of charcoal. Ezra continued to follow her case even though he was no longer her advocate in court, although more and more, Maddie spoke up for herself. In a rare moment of unexpected openness during one of his visits, she encouraged him to continue to be an advocate. Her reasoning was that she had been the test case and that he would not screw up again. Ezra assured her that he would be very careful if he should ever act in that capacity again. She had become aware of a federal law that said after she was in the care of the state for a certain amount of time that her mothers rights would be terminated and she would be made available for adoption. Knowing the chances of finding an adoptive home at 15 were slim, she was still eager to be free of her mother. The next day, his CASA card arrived by courier, courtesy of Mrs. Wells.
One day several weeks later, Ezras phone rang. Judge Frawleys clerk was on the line asking if he would consider being the advocate for a sibling group that had come into care. The children were being placed in separate homes because they couldnt find a home for them to be together. After listening to the rest of the particulars, Ezra picked up his pen and wrote down the addresses of the three homes where the children had been placed. Maddie had, after all, told him that she thought he should speak up for another child.
The Fair #6: Making the Call
In many cities, there is an almost desperate need for advocates for children in the family courts. The program goes by many different names depending upon where you live. An advocate speaks for the child and, unlike the guardian ad litem, is usually not a lawyer. Ive had both good and not so good experiences with my foster childrens advocates but I whole-heartedly support the program. It takes a willing heart and broad shoulders to be an advocate but if you have the time, it can be a fulfilling experience.