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They'd been driving around sightseeing, in what they probably thought of as the “Outback,” in that kind of bored, say-nothing silence that married couples often fall into. In their case it wasn't because of middle-aged blahs or any of the usual suspects that often sabotage the wedded bliss and in the process leave a marriage in its wake. Not at all. Jhon and Melinda Rivera were energetic and outgoing 20-somethings with two adopted children aged 5 and 7, both girls and both sharp as tacks—all keeping mom and dad super engaged in family life and helicopter parenting.
Yet it could be said that their little “breather” Down Under hadn't delivered as they'd planned. Melinda had been counting on the shopping for revival but ended up with only one outfit, stellar though it was. Jhon could think of only one thing—a mini-safari just to catch a glimpse of what seemed to him the most compelling biota in the world.
“I miss the girls so much,” Melinda said with a sigh as the landscape streaked past her window. “Let's cut the itinerary short and just get back to the city.”
“This too?” Jhon queried with disappointment clearly in his voice. “We said the better part of a day and we're just getting to the good part.”
“I know, but I'm just so drained, and all this is so … so draining, really …“
“Well not to me, hon,” Jhon countered. “Here I rented the Land Rover and all, just to add to the flavor.”
A mile or so further, as Melinda's nodding became more and more frequent, she reached into the back seat for a pillow.
“Well, if that's how it has to be,” Jhon said with clear resignation. “There's a rest stop up ahead and what is probably some type of tourist trap. Looks a bit like a petting zoo or something.”
Melinda closed her eyes and settled in between the headrest and the passenger door.
“You get some rest. I'm sure I'll find something to do.”
Several hours later, however, there was a swerve, a screech of tires and a large jolt—a pothole type of jolt, nothing too serious.
“Jhon, what hap... Jhon?”
“Sorry. Rough ride, huh?”
“Uh-hh-h … oh … my … God! … a-ha,HA! You've got to be kidding.” came the response from someone who was absolutely in shock, as her laughter continued … for the moment anyway. “What do you call … this—this 'get-up' of yours?” Melinda asked as she reached out to touch the soft, brown fur covering Jhon's driving arm and hand. “Oh, my God, it feels so real! Where on earth did it come from?”
“D'ya like it? It is real, just like I'm a real wallaby. I got one for you, too. Y'wanna try it?”
After a short silence, Melinda finally said, “Okay, look,” then adding with her famous droopy eyelids and the little head bobble which always indicated that the fun and games were over, “you became an adult 5 years ago about the time Missy was born, remember that? Have you now lost your mind?”
“Na-ow-w, c'mon, babe,” Jhon said,” gripping the wheel and pulling back and forth, not unlike a kid about to have a tantrum. “Don't flake out on me now. This is Wallaby Country! Everyone who visits does this! The locals are used to it, and besides, we now have the greatest Halloween costumes ever!”
“Halloween. So the thought of Halloween suddenly overtook you just as we're about to finish a secluded 5-day Aussie getaway and just 72-hours away from a court appearance back in the Bay area …”
“It's not that simple, sweetheart. This is actually going to help us win the case … trust me.”
“Who told you that? No, wait, let me guess. The person who sold you these ridiculous outfits told you that, right?”
“Well, yes … sort of. See ,,,”
“No. No, no, there's no 'sort of,' Jhon. You're taking these flea traps back to wherever you got them, and straightaway! Let's go. Turn the car around, right now!”
“I can't do that, babe,” Jhon said while gently rocking his head from side to side … this being his own gesture of determination.
In less than a second, out came Melinda's cell.
“Who're you calling?”
He might just as well have been talking to the steering wheel.
“I asked you a question. The least you could do is …”
WITHIN SECONDS ~
“Giles & Nance, LLP, this is Debbie. How may I help you?”
There was marble everywhere. The appointments were kingly. Green seemed to be the theme around everything, and not by accident, surely. A carved white alabaster Buddha, life sized and roped off in one corner, extended almost to the middle of the outer office.
“I'm sorry, Mrs. Rivera, Mr. Nance is in a downtown meeting. Both his private lines have been turned off. Can I leave a message?”
The office assistant was doing her best to keep up with the frantic woman's voice on the other end, having to hold the receiver several inches from her ear.
“You tell him that his brother-in-law is about to ruin everything! Have him call me within the hour, even if it means sending this message by carrier pigeon!”
THREE DAYS LATER
There was no mistaking the flavor of a big city courthouse, beginning with at least 50 steps climbing toward a multicolored granite facade and portico supported by brilliant white columns. Some folks stood outside. Others sat on the shaded lawns under a dozen or more magnificent flowering Dogwoods dotting the campus. A few even braved the hot sun and dared to recline on the busy stairway, somehow trusting that children, pets and baggage carts wouldn't come tumbling down over them. As luck would have it, Rob and Melinda were approaching simultaneously, but from roughly opposite directions.
“Rob!” Melinda called out, as her brother turned on the lower tier to spot Melinda at the curb just as a cab was pulling away.
And Melinda was truly something to see. For one thing, she wore petite white really well—this time with a red sash, red spiked heels and a red shoulder bag.
Rob waited, showing nothing but admiration for his “Sis,” which was all he ever called her.
“Well, well,” Rob said as they drew close. “Looking as stunning as ever, I see. Got your message, by the way. Sorry it took so long. Great looking pigeon, too.”
“You're pandering again, Rob, and it won't work,” Melinda said as she kept moving past and quickly began leading the way as Rob had to show some hustle in order to catch up.
“Believe me, Sis, I'm as concerned as you are. Have you heard anything more from the police?”
“Well, look. They'll find him. It's their job.”
“Listen,” said Melinda, spinning to a stop three stair steps ahead of her brother. “We spent 11 hours on the flight from Sydney sitting side-by-side without so much as a word, with him still wearing cleverly concealed portions of that ridiculous animal skin someone sold him on our trip through the Outback.”
“You made good time, actually …“
“Then … are you listening to me? Then … after we landed … I spent five hours at LAX looking for my husband! Does this register with you in any way? He's missing! He's a missing person! And yet the police say not enough time has passed to declare.”
“Sis, I've handled dozens of missing person cases. They invariably show up, so try … please try … to remain composed especially now. You're under enough stress and this is simply not helpful. Here, let's go in and get out of this hot sun.”
The courtroom seemed better attended than would normally be warranted for a series of minor cases. Courtroom watchers were undoubtedly drawn to this case by the presence of Robert Nance, the wunderkind of the hour after a stunning defense in the latest series of child molestation cases.
“All rise! The Eleventh District Court is now in session—Judge Minton Hardaway presiding. Are Mr. & Mrs. Jhon Rivera or their attorneys present in the courtroom?”
“Mrs. Jhon Rivera is present, Your Honor” said Robert Nance, Esq.
“Your Honor, counsel for the plaintiff and the defendant are present,” the bailiff said. “Case Number 44 is now ready to be adjudicated.”
“Good afternoon to both litigants,” said the judge. According to the deposition before me, the plaintiffs, Mr. & Mrs Rivera, contend that a church in good standing has become the nuisance of their neighborhood. Would the plaintiffs please characterize for the court the creed of this church—it's membership and so forth—and explain to the court just how this particular church became the object of a lawsuit?”
“Good afternoon, Your Honor. Randall Nance, plaintiff's Counsel. Well Your Honor, it should be worth mentioning that our complaint also seeks judgment against the city in which the Riveras live. And in continuation I believe you have available some photographs which show a rather large complex containing an elementary school, a park and a church. Also in continuation I think you'll find that one of the photos is an aerial shot showing the complex in question as it lies in relation to the home of Mr. & Mrs. Jhon Rivera, and from the photograph …”
“Fast forward, Mr. Nance,” the judge urged. “Fast forward. Get to the point.”
“Very good, Your Honor. It's the church, you see. This church has become a beacon for the homeless. And among them are a plethora of perverts and homeless degenerates. It is a fact, as we now know, that 90% of all homeless people are either alcoholics, drug addicts, sexual predators and/or transgender freaks. The Riveras have two young daughters and it is clear that not enough attention has been paid to Megan's Law in this upper middle-class neighborhood in order to ensure their safety. There certainly must be dozens of Megan's Law offenders who are simply roaming loose in this highly vulnerable neighborhood, also home to an elementary school, and as you can see …”
“Well what I can see, Counselor,” with the judge interrupting again, “is that which is right in front of me. The District court dismissed an almost identical case, saying that the solution to the problem confronting the neighbors in this tract lay in the construction of nothing more complicated than a sturdy fence around the perimeter of the owners' property. Good fences make good neighbors, I think is the phrase most commonly used to describe the remedy we're talking about.”
“If you please, Your Honor …”
“Hold on, just a moment and let me finish. One particular claim in your litany of fears stands out more than the others—this being your claim that sexual perverseness appears to be more prevalent in your neighborhood than would otherwise be expected. I find this an interesting use of language inasmuch as you are basing your case on the location of a particular church—a Christian church, mind you. Now perhaps in more recent times and in some other contexts, this might actually appear to make some sense, which is a very sad commentary I think all would agree. But, Counselor, if your clients are of the opinion that neighborhoods anywhere are safe for children to roam at will, as some of us, including myself, did as a child, then they are sadly mistaken. Not in this day and age. Not anymore.
“This may be true, Your Honor, but as for the fences, the Riveras find fences unsightly.”
“Then what your clients really needed to do, Mr. Nance, was seek out a different piece of property—one located within a gated community, perhaps. This too would have solved not only your clients' problem but the problems of everyone in the neighborhood. But instead you have taken up considerable civic time and expense to air your grievances as though they had become ours to deal with.”
“The real issue, however, if I may elucidate further, Your Honor, is that as citizens, the Riveras are at the very least guaranteed the right of equal protection.”
“They are indeed,” said the judge, “and I'll deal with that shortly. First, however, there is a critical issue …”
Before the judge was able to finish, the rear courtroom door opened as two figures stood in the doorway. One was at least a head taller than the other and seemed to be covered in some sort of poncho affair that extended clear to the floor. It was the face, however, that caused gasps and mothers to draw their children near. It appeared to be the face of a human—gender uncertain—completely covered in brown fur. The second person could only be described as an old and grossly unkempt woman having the most grotesque physical characteristics—crooked torso, hooked nose along with steel gray hair that seemed possessed of electrostatic charges somehow capable of propelling individual strands away from her scalp.
Instantly the sergeant-at-arms rushed up the aisle. Officers rushed to help as the judge was spirited away as well. How the pair had managed defeat security and reach the courtroom entrance remained an open question, as security was not considered particularly lax in this government complex.
The first officer on approach found the old woman to be much more dexterous than her appearance would have indicated. She carried a Taser and in the unfolding of events proved to be adept at using it as the sergeant went down quickly.
“Get down, everyone!” came the cry from the next officer within close range and possible take-down distance of the perpetrators. There were people in the hallway behind, and in fact a crowd was beginning to gather, causing the second officer to begin squawking furiously into his walkie-talkie.
“Secure that hallway! Lockdown on second floor! Proceed with lockdown on floors 1 and 3 now!”
Another officer approached screaming, “No fire! No fire! No fire! Civilians in the area! Clear that hallway! Clear the hallway!” Efforts by then were beginning to focus on the tazed officer, who was still down and not moving.
“Move in! Officer down!” was the call as two more responders crept closer to the perpetrators, watching for any sudden movement from the old woman, who still carried the weapon in her right hand.
Sirens could be heard from below, becoming louder and more numerous as SWAT was already close enough to start becoming a factor. Talkies were booming. “How many entrances secure?” was heard. “None,” came the reply.
Back at ground zero a coordinated attempt at taking down the old woman was unfolding as officers pretty nearly had the perpetrator surrounded. Sidearm fire was out of the question, however, as the officers were faced with the basics of a circular firing squad.
The woman's eyes had turned to the unholiest shade of red, and she seemed able to spin in the direction of any officer that moved forward. Other weapons had become visible as well … blades of shimmering steel seemed to have sprung from her wrists and ankles. Her constant movement had become one of a shimmering dance, of sorts, with steel flashing in all directions. It was the unlikeliest of situations—one old woman holding seven armed officers at bay.
Then suddenly the dancing stopped. The officers took a step forward, but seemed to have been thwarted again as the old woman grabbed her perp partner and raised a hideous curved blade to its throat. It seemed for the moment at least that almost as quickly as events had begun they might also have ended.
“Channel your fate, not real, but that which is made at the carving gate, head on a plate, and given to remain ever the changeling,” were the first words to have been heard from the old woman—crackled words as though coming from and old gramophone recording.
“Jhon!” Melinda yelled out. Then trying to move closer she screamed, “Oh, my God, no! What has she done to you?”
“O Hermaphroditus! O Tiresias, thou who didst engender as both a man and a woman, see Jhonattan here, from woman to man and back again.” came the response with increased volume.
“No! Please, dear God!”
Melinda pulled loose from one restraining officer, but was finally pulled down by another as the old woman continued her “tower of babble” tirade.
“What ye will not seek ye shall not find, the truth in kind, so that every human may beseech the other, as though of a brother …“
The position was just right and a SWAT team sharpshooter got her through the left temple. The standoff was over.
Once the courtroom had been cleared and the hallways secured, the garden variety of police work began to take over. The P.D., however, had decided well beforehand that the events in a courthouse somewhere in the Bay area, on one particular day in June, would forever remain a “non-issue.” The press became incensed, of course, and dug all the harder through leaks and secondary sources to arrive at the truth of the matter. Not surprisingly, what they found became the basis for a wave of Emmy nominations. A sampling:
“Well, David, they removed a spherical object—a hard rubber ball—found in the grip of the old woman's hand. There was an inscription on the ball, which turned out to have transferred to her palm. It read, hypocrisy in flowing script. At first they didn't know the composition of the transfer medium, but being red they thought it might be blood. It was blood, all right, but not human. So are you ready for this? It was marsupial.”
“As for the hostage, it went down with the old woman. There didn't seem to be any cuts or any other kind of physical damage to the body. Medics took the body away still breathing, but from what we understand the cause of the collapse was due to a sudden loss of high-level brain functioning.”
“But there's one thing for sure, David. If you believe in conspiracy theories or demonic possession, you're going to have a field day with this one. Back to you in the studio.”
A couple of items were never leaked to the press, thus trumping the public's right to know.
(1) The body of the mysterious old woman was processed through the coroner's office in the usual manner, but as “anonymous.” The body was not claimed within the normal time frame. When it came time to dispose of the remains, staff members arrived at the locker location of the body, last known, but found nothing but an empty locker.
(2) The changeling, if that's what it was, had to be removed from life support due to persistent lack of brain activity even under the best medical technology available.
The foregoing is a work of fiction. Any similarity between events past or present, or between persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.
There exists many a school, church and park in direct proximity to each other. The use of images and descriptions of such venues is not to suggest the existence of any particular venue or physical setting.