A sixteen year old boy faces major life changes, ones he hates,
and there isn’t anything he can do about them but make the best of it.
We’re all at the Mussos. It’s over. Martinez has been found guilty on a number of counts. We never have to be worried about seeing him in our lifetimes. He’ll be an old man by the time he gets out, if he ever does. There’s a good chance that he won’t survive for long. Arrogant, bullying ex-cops don’t always have long, happy lives in prison.
He’s been given an indeterminate sentence. But more than 25 years. The DA thinks he’ll serve at least 30. He’s also looking at other charges that can be brought against him. He might be tried for further crimes at a later date.
It’s summer again, and I am spending a month with Lindsey and Trevor and their parents. I’m 16 now! That’s a real landmark for a kid, especially in a state where you can get a driver’s license at that age. I have a restricted license, issued by the State of Missouri. So I’m a man now. Sort of.
Well, I don’t really feel any older, wiser or more mature than I did at 15. I’m still waiting for that to happen.
I’m not here alone. Chase came with me. I’m not worried at all about losing him to Trevor. Trevor’s a year older, too, and at 12, he’s turning into an awfully cute kid. Chase has noticed. Still, there have been other developments. When Trevor was with us back when we videoed Martinez at the mail drop, he met Charles when we all had dinner at the Gooding’s house. They’ve been texting and emailing and Skyping and all that ever since. Charles has opened up some, but he’s still quite reserved and not very talkative. He seems uncomfortable in who he is, but maybe it’s just his age. Watching him with Trevor—they’re not alike at all—I see something there between them. Even Mr. Musso can see it. He just shakes his head with a bemused ‘why me’ expression on his face, but I see him making time to hug Trevor practically every day. I really like that guy.
Dad is here, too, but just for today. He drove up when the verdict came down so we can all celebrate together. He brought Carly along, too, of course. She’s amazing at four. She even pronounces my name correctly now.
The talk is happy and boisterous over dinner, and everything that happened last summer gets discussed. At one point, Dad says, “I think I missed a lot. I was so focused on finding Carly that I tuned out a lot of stuff. But coming to White Oak back then made all the difference. I had time and space to do what I had to do, and Troy, well, Troy....”
He stops, and I’m shocked to see his eyes water up. He gets up and comes over to me; I stand up, thinking I should. He hugs me. Hard. I hug him back, feeling a hitch in his breathing, and feeling some of the same emotions he’s feeling.
It hasn’t been easy for him. He called my grandmother, my mom’s mother, after we had Carly back, and she told him Mom had gone into a facility, that she was really screwed up—and not just by the alcohol. Dad rang the facility and talked to the doctor, who said it would probably be a long-term stay for her.
Dad talked to me about it privately. He told me that well before Carly disappeared, she’d been having problems. He said the fact she needed to be in a facility now probably was exacerbated by what happened, but that wasn’t the root cause of it. He said some women have problems with depression after having a child, and hers seemed to evolve in the aftermath of Carly’s birth.
Dad’s taken Carly to see her a couple of times, hoping that would make a difference, but Mom didn’t recognize either one of them. That upset Carly, of course, but Dad held her and talked to her, and she handled it pretty well. Dad explained to her that Mom was sick and had to stay there, and Carly seemed to accept it. She’d been away from her for most of a year and had heard from Mary that her mommy was sick. Seeing it as fact wasn’t that difficult for her to accept. Maybe that had made a difference.
I didn’t go with them. I still have some residual anger towards her, even though I now realize what I’d been upset with her about wasn’t entirely her fault. In any case, I thought it would be better to stay home.
Dad is doing well, but I think he misses Mom. I hope he starts dating again. Carly needs a fulltime mom. And Dad’s plenty young enough to need a partner.
Dad has returned to work full time. He’s found a woman to come in during the day. That took some time because, well, I guess the ‘because’ is obvious. She does housework and cooks and looks after Carly. She has an interesting personality, abrasive and tough, but you’ve got to get to know her. I like her, oddly enough. She is very bossy, and when she began with us, somehow she had this crazy idea that I was one of the ones she should be bossing. We got that straightened out pretty quickly.
She knows our history. I think she’ll kill anyone who looks cross-eyed at Carly.
When Dad sits down again, Mr. Musso asks him about the way Martinez was harassing him; he hasn’t ever heard the full story.
Dad tells him some of it, the less painful stuff.
Mr. Musso says, “It seems a little over the top, to me. That he played the anger card too much. Even coming all the way out here. Why would he do that? I’d think he’d have been glad you guys had left. Out of sight, out of mind and all that. Letting the case die would have been to his advantage. Coming out here just stirred it up again.”
Dad just shakes his head. “I never did understand the man.”
I clear my throat. Everyone looks at me.
“It was more than that,” I say.
I can see questions in their eyes. So I tell them.
“He made some mistakes, but he wasn’t completely dumb. He probably had too much on his plate. He figured there was some risk in doing what he was doing, what with Carly being only one of the kids whose disappearance was providing him blackmail money. It was why he accepted such small payments: they all added up. But there was a downside for him to worry about, too. If any one of the people paying off ever spoke up for any reason, he’d be very vulnerable. So, he took steps to protect himself. I caught him doing it but wasn’t smart enough at the time to know what was going on. I only figured it out later.”
“What are you talking about?” Dad asks.
“Remember when he used to come to the house and I had to go get you to come talk to him?”
Dad nods. Everyone else is watching.
“Well, I’d come back into the room and find him poking through our things. I never thought much of it, other than being pissed off about it. I knew he wasn’t supposed to do that. We’d read about the Fourth Amendment in our social-studies class.
“Anyway, when he came out here that time, he really wanted to come inside and went ballistic when he couldn’t.”
“I thought that was because he didn’t get to take my computer,” Dad says.
“I think taking your computer and all that business with Sergeant Fredericks checking it out was simply a ruse, a reason for him to come here. Why I think that is because Sergeant Fredericks was already doing his bit with the computer. And if Martinez saw that happening, why get so mad? The only thing I could figure out was that the computer was not why he’d come here.
“So, why had he? It took me a long time to figure that out. It was difficult figuring out why he did a lot of the things he did, but I did come up with a reason for every one. Coming out to our house here, that was the most difficult one to figure out.”
I stopped, but everyone was looking at me, waiting, so I went on with it. It embarrassed me a little because I thought it sounded a bit like I was bragging, and I hate that. But, I’d started, and I could see they wanted me to finish.
“What he really got angry over was not being able to get inside the house. He was incensed when he couldn’t. I thought about that, and that led me to thinking about all the times he’d been inside our house in Kinnessa. And, finally, something occurred to me. And so I went and checked our calendar. I’d caught him paging through it when he was poking around, way back at the beginning.”
“Our calendar?” Dad looks almost as confused as he was before we found Carly.
“Yeah. Why he might have wanted to be inside suddenly struck me. I went and found that calendar and looked at it. I first looked at the date when Carly was taken, and then dates after that, and couldn’t find anything. I thought I was mistaken. Then I paged back a month and found it. Three weeks before the kidnapping, I found a telephone number. Just that, a phone number. It wouldn’t have meant anything to me if I wasn’t looking for something in that calendar that didn’t belong. It was just numbers and so hard to tell if the handwriting was either yours or Mom’s. What made me suspicious was the area code: 402. I checked the directory, and I found that 402 is the code for Eastern Nebraska.
“That gave me all sorts of thoughts. The number seemed familiar, and it was in Nebraska. I checked and found it was the phone number Dad had found when he’d used his computer to locate Mary and Donna.
“There was no reason at all that number should have been in our calendar three weeks before Carly was taken. Mom had known Mary, but Mary lived in Kinnessa then, not in Nebraska. Furthermore, Mary had told us that she’d taken Carly just on an impulse that day, and then they found a place after that to take her where the three of them would live. That phone number hadn’t even existed on the date it showed up on the calendar. The only conclusion I could draw from that was that Martinez himself had known where the women lived after the kidnapping and had written their phone number in our calendar. When he came here that day, it was to see that the calendar had survived our move.”
“But why?” Mr. Musso was asking this time. “Why would he have done that?”
“He was setting us up. He wanted a fall guy if he ever came under suspicion. With that number in our calendar, he had planted evidence that someone in our house had known the people and probably the location of that house in Bedford before the kidnapping, and it would be easy to draw the conclusion that that person had been involved, had probably even helped set it up.
“But he was worried that when we moved, we might very well have thrown away that calendar, especially as a year had passed and who keeps an outdated calendar? If we’d tossed the calendar, his planted evidence wouldn’t be there if he needed it. He wanted to verify it still was there. I’ll bet he was prepared with that phone number on a piece of paper, something printed with a date previous to the kidnapping. He was going to plant it in the house if the calendar was missing.”
Dad just looks at me, not knowing what to say. “He didn’t get away with it, Dad,” I say. “It was a miracle we still had the calendar; we’d only kept it because he had the date Carly disappeared marked in red, and neither of us had wanted to throw it away. It wouldn’t have helped him in any case. We could have easily proved that the number didn’t even exist on the date it was written on the calendar, so we couldn’t have put it there. It would have hurt his defense rather than helped it. I was sure he’d only written it there to prove our guilt to his superiors if he ever got in trouble, not to defend himself in court.”
I was on a roll, and everyone was still listening, but I was about done and so quickly finished up. “We weren’t the only ones he was planting evidence about. Remember the picture of the black man? Chase and I both realized who he was when we went back to school the first day. The Police Department assigns officers to monitor the school every day it’s in session. That guy in the picture is one of the cops who gets that duty. I think Martinez wanted that picture to be found at Donna and Mary’s house to throw suspicion on another cop if the investigation went that far.
“Anyway, he didn’t get to use either the phone number on our calendar or the picture in his defense. There was too much other stuff they had on him by the time he went to trial.”
I don’t go into it, but one of the reasons Martinez was found guilty was that the DA offered Mary and Donna a plea bargain to gain their testimony. The case against the two of them was strong enough, but Mary wasn’t. Putting her in jail wouldn’t have accomplished anything other than the state having to pay for her hospitalization and care. She was now confined to a care facility, and Donna was staying there with her. Instead of being paid to Martinez, most of Donna’s monthly settlement check was going toward treating Mary.
We have a big cake after dinner. Carly asks where the candles are. So Mrs. M goes and gets four, sticks them in and lights them. Carly blows them all out to a happy round of applause. She doesn’t blush or anything, just waits for the cake to be cut with her plate in her hand. That kid might grow up to be another Lindsey.
We’ve been swimming quite a bit since we’ve been here. Trevor is just as immodest as last year, but it took some time for Charles to lose his bathing suit. He’s coming around but still blushes a lot. Neither Chase nor I tease him about it. Some kids can take teasing in their stride, and some it bothers. I know Charles wouldn't like being teased. He’s still figuring out who he is. Trevor, on the other hand, is pretty sure.
Chase? Well, his cuteness is turning into handsomeness, he’s put on some muscle, and he doesn’t let Trevor intimidate him on the basketball court this time around. I think Chase and I are closer than ever. He’s more of a smartass than he’d ever been before, and that twinkle in his eyes is a permanent fixture now. I did tell Dad about us when he was back to his old self, and he grinned and said he’d been waiting for me to fess up. He simply patted me on the back and said I had good taste, and wished me luck trying to tame Chase.
I played football in school again this past year but on the varsity this time. I grew some, added some pounds, and by the middle of the season was starting at middle linebacker. Chase says I look cute with larger muscles.
I’m not angry at anything any longer. Chase is a big reason for that.
Chase and I love each other. Kids at school know we’re together. We haven’t heard one negative thing about that. Maybe if you play middle linebacker they either get tongue-tied or change their attitude. Either way is OK by me.
So things are pretty good. I’m happy. The Mussos want us to spend some time with them every summer, and Dad says that’s fine with him. Chase and Charles are included in the invite, so we’ll all be together at least part of the time for the next few years.
Leaving the Mussos was hard, but I have a life with Chase back in Kinnessa, and that’s where Dad and Carly are. They need me there. I know they do. Carly told me so.
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