Comdex - 7 - Rebound

Comdex

Chapter Seven - Rebound

 
 
Thanks to my editors, Wendy, Holly, and Stan. Thanks Maggie for your encouragement.

     
     
“Yeah, and like so many great inventions it was accidental. Well, shall we open it up and see what we have?” Mark asked as he removed the bucket lid. Pulling his gloves back on, he reached in and removed the hemostat holding the plastic bag. “Will you look at that? You just don’t get prints any better! Looks like a thumb and forefinger on the top, and thumb and two or three fingers on the side.” Mark carefully photographed the fingerprints, and then sealed the unopened Ziploc ® bag in an evidence bag. “If the apparent stains prove to be from the victim, I would say Mr. Maxwell is going to prison for a very, very long time.”

Comdex - Christmas Morn — Chapter 7
Copyright Beth Williams 2004/8

Cruise Ship Golden Princess,
At Sea,
Saturday, December 22, 2001

Mark Chapman spent the day collecting evidence in the suite shared by John Maxwell and Rob Lewis. Pat and Sheila watched, touching nothing, but documenting every detail of the FBI agent’s investigation. Mark photographed each step of the process, cataloging and describing each item seized. In addition to Pat and Sheila Sarah Matthews observed the process for Princess, keeping her own running photographic and written log. When asked she opened the room safe. No one was surprised to find jewelry matching the description of Kate’s missing items.

One item in the safe called for immediate attention; a Ziploc ® bag, which seemingly contained a pair of woman’s underwear. The underwear appeared to be stained. Mark made the decision to recover any latent fingerprints from the bag before packing it away for further analysis.

Mark asked for and received a five-gallon plastic bucket with lid, a sixty-watt lamp, and an aluminum soft drink can. He bent a coat hanger so that the wire formed a hook and jammed it tightly to suspend the hook inside the bucket. Wearing Nitrile gloves, he took a pair of hemostats and picked the bag up by one of the bottom corners. He attached the hemostats and Ziploc ® bag to the hook on the clothes hanger. He poured a small quantity of water into the bottom of the bucket and put the empty soft drink can upside down in the bottom. From his briefcase, he took a bottle of superglue and poured about half an ounce into the depression on the bottom of the soft drink can. Attaching the lid firmly, he turned the high intensity lamp on the bucket.

“That should do quite nicely and should be ready in 10 or 15 minutes,” he muttered to himself.

“May I ask, just what that is?” Sarah enquired.

Mark laughed, “I’m sorry, I got so involved in setting this up. What you see is an improvised cyanoacrylate-fuming chamber . Back in the early eighties a scientist in Japan discovered that the fumes from super glue react to the salts in fingerprints. In England, Scotland Yard stumbled onto the same fact. What happens is a white residue forms on the ridges of the fingerprint making them visible. It works great. As long as you don’t fume the item for too long you can get extraordinarily clear prints. And the reason I did it here was to preserve the prints. The hardened super glue will stand up to mild handling. If they are there I don’t want to lose the prints.”

“That’s amazing.”

“Yeah, and like so many great inventions it was accidental. Well, shall we open it up and see what we have?” Mark asked as he removed the bucket lid. Pulling his gloves back on, he reached in and removed the hemostat holding the plastic bag. “Will you look at that? You just don’t get prints any better! Looks like a thumb and forefinger on the top, and thumb and two or three fingers on the side.” Mark carefully photographed the fingerprints, and then sealed the unopened Ziploc ® bag in an evidence bag. “If the apparent stains prove to be from the victim, I would say Mr. Maxwell is going to prison for a very, very long time.”

In the closet amongst the dirty clothes, they recovered a pair of men’s underwear. The boxers were similarly stained. Mark packed them away in an evidence bag. Finally, the agent supervised the storage of the men’s personal effects.

They gathered everything together, locked and sealed it in the agent’s stateroom.

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Steven’s Hall, Massachusetts, Saturday, December 22, 2001

I awoke and groaned at the pain in my posterior. Struggling, I climbed over Linda and managed to make it to the toilet without wetting myself. ‘Another flipping day in paradise’ I thought. I squirmed my way back into bed, worming my way back into bed between Hal and Linda. I settled back into my cocoon between my husband and my wife, and prepared to drift back into sleep.

Thinking back on my dreams, hoping to notice the thread of a pleasant one, I encountered a fleeting memory. That memory was exceedingly pleasant. John Maxwell was in jail. I tried to drift back into sleep. “John Maxwell is in jail?” In my dream state, I thought I had said it mentally. Instead, it came out as a scream.

Hal came instantly awake, looking around for any danger. Linda rolled over, assessed the situation and began laughing; Hal was not amused.

“Hal, I believe you were right. Sleeping Beauty did hear you last night!”

“What are you talking about,” I asked indignantly, startled from my own groggy sleep.

“Love, you just realized what we told you last night. After you went to sleep Andy told us that John Maxwell and Rob Lewis had been taken into custody by the FBI. Your exact words were “that’s nice” then you fell back to sleep. They are in jail, and will probably serve very, VERY long prison sentences.” Linda told me.

I looked at the clock. It was 6:30 in the morning. Yawning, I asked, “Can we please go back to sleep?” I immediately turned over; asleep before I finished the turn.

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Linda looked at Hal. The two exchanged a glance and a smile. Chuckling, Hal whispered, “Damn, I wish she would get a bit more regular in her sleeping patterns.”

“You jerk,” Linda replied with a smile. “I’m willing for her to wake me by surprise every day of my life if it will help her sort out what has happened to her.”

Hal sighed, “Yeah, I agree. But this time she nearly caused me to pee all over myself.” Linda laughed as Hal climbed out of bed with as much dignity as possible, and made his way to the toilet.

Finished with his business; Hal looked at the two women laying in his bed. Both were soundly asleep. One was the love of his life; the other the love of her life.

Once again, Hal promised himself to do whatever was necessary for Kate. Yes, he loved her. Yes, he wanted her in his life. Examining his feelings, he was surprised to realize he loved Linda in much the same way. Startled at the thought, Hal pulled on a thick terry cloth robe and slipped out of the room. He walked downstairs to the first floor, lamenting Kate’s injuries and inability to use the stairs.

In his office, Hal pulled out a Bible. In his own mind, he had determined that if God was important to Kate, then He would have to be important to him. Kate was so fragile, and her relationship with God seemed to be the only thing holding her together. The original Kate had given the Bible to him the day they wed. It was Kate’s wedding gift to Hal. It was their family Bible. Till now, he had seldom opened it past the cover page. It was a leather bound New American Standard version of the Bible. Hal opened it to the beginning.

“In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth…”

Hal was an accomplished speed-reader. As he read, the majestic cadence of the prose spoke to Hal in a way he had never experienced before.

Hal jumped from one book to the other, skipping some Old Testament books, reading others. He then turned to the New Testament where he read the Gospels, marveling at the simple message of love and redemption. Hal closed the Bible, surprised that he had spent nearly two hours reading a book he would have ignored only weeks before. He went to the kitchen, and requested breakfast for three, and then he went back to the bedroom carrying a tray of coffee and tea.

Kate and Linda lay cuddled in the middle of the bed. Hal could see that much of the initial swelling in Kate’s face had subsided. Her bruises were now a vivid yellowish purple. He prepared a pot of Earl Grey tea for Kate, and poured coffee for Linda and himself. Walking to the windows Hal threw back the drapes exposing the room to the light of a crisp winter morning. Linda sat up, stretched, and smelling the coffee, reached for her cup. Reaching out, Hal gently woke Kate.

“Did I dream it or did you guys really tell me John Maxwell was arrested?” were the first words from Kate.

“Jeez…. I think I’ll try some of that Ambien,” Hal remarked. “You were really zonked. The FBI took him and his roommate Rob into custody as soon as Golden Princess entered US waters. They will be arraigned before a Federal Judge on Monday.”

“Thank God,” she breathed.

“Thank God it is,” Hal whispered, surprising both Linda and Kate with his obvious sincerity.

There was a knock on the door, and Anna, one of the morning cooks pushed in a cart loaded with breakfast. Kate sat at the table as Linda and Hal served her. Anna placed bowls of scrambled eggs, home fries, a platter of sausage patties, fruit and various breads on the table. The trio helped themselves to the food and discussed the upcoming day.

“The open house begins at 2:00 this afternoon, and will last until 7:00 tonight,” Hal said.

“Hon, your mom, Jean, Lisa and I are going shopping; do you feel up to coming?” Linda asked.

“No! I mean, well, I still hurt, and, uh, oh hell, I’m afraid,” Kate replied.

“You are going to have to go back out in the real world, you know,” Hal gently reminded her. “You can’t live like a hermit and stay in the house forever.”

“I know, but I’m just not ready yet.”

“Kate, you will be going out tomorrow. I promised the kids we would all attend church together, and you don’t want to make me go back on my word do you?” Hal stated.

“Why? You don’t even like going. It was all I could do to drag you along,” Kate whined.

“Babe, there’s been many things changed in the last couple of weeks. One of them is me. I don’t know where this road is leading, but church, and God, will be a part of it. Please don’t let me down. Say you’ll go with us tomorrow?” Hal managed to appear pleading, defiant, and sincere all in one simple statement.

Kate blushed in embarrassment. For her, a commitment to Jesus had been a part of her life since early college; as unquestioned as the sun or the moon. For the first time in her life, she was the one on the outside being invited to church. Kate had long known the church was a hospital, not a hospice. It was a place to go to get well, not to die. Hal's words were a major reversal; her “heathen” husband was the one inviting the “believing” Kate to church. Now that she was the one who needed healing, she knew that she would still rather die. The pain was real; maybe not as intense as the past few days, but she still hurt. Everything came crashing down and the tears welled up flowing freely down her face. “Oh God, what have I done?” she cried. Sobs coursed through her body.

Linda pulled her into her arms, and turned to Hal, “Maybe you had better get Dorothy up here.”

Hal ran for the door, Linda made soothing sounds, and held on.

Moments passed. Hal found Dorothy downstairs at breakfast, and practically carried her back to Kate. Dorothy entered the room, looked at her daughter, and asked Hal to get the doctor and then leave them for a while.

Hal called Dr. Tom and explained what had happened. Hal then went back to his study and began to pray, “God, I don’t even know how to pray, please do something for her. I know she loves you, and I love her. Please help her. Help me to know how to help her. Amen.”

He had seldom felt so helpless.

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I couldn’t believe it. Hal had asked, no, had begged me to go to church. No way did I want to go. Though I knew it to be a place of healing, in my mind I felt my hurts were too great for even God to deal with. Then I realized that I had not yet explored all the depths of my depression. In my time of greatest need I found that I had turned my back on my greatest help. “Oh God, what have I done?” I cried. I would rather have died than turn my back on my Savior. Somehow I found myself in Linda’s sweet embrace, yet again sobbing my eyes out.

Some minutes later I felt my mom join us as she began stroking my back. I heard her whispering in my ear. There really were no words, just sounds of comfort, humming a bit of a childhood lullaby. Mom and Linda gently rocked me back and forth, trying to love the hurt away. I don’t know how long it was, but I finally ran out of tears. Still I held on. As long as they were there, I knew I still had hope.

There was a gentle knock at the door. Dr. Tom came in and asked if he could give me something to help manage my anxiety. He didn’t understand, but rather than try to explain, I accepted his offer. He injected 4 mg of Lorazepam and within minutes, I began to feel myself relax. Dr. Tom listened to my heart, checked my blood pressure, reminded me not to wig out or to do something to harm myself. He half jokingly reminded me he still had the restraints, then he left us alone.

As the lethargy induced by the drug increased, the urgency of my predicament began to subside. “Linda, what am I going to do?” I cried.

“How about you tell us what happened, what set you off?” Mom asked.

“Hal asked me to church, and I realized that was the last place I wanted to be. I feel like a hypocrite, and I feel like I’ve turned my back on God. I guess I feel like I’ve rejected Jesus.”

“Uh oh, not my area of expertise,” my mom complained. “Do you mind if I ask TJ to come in?”

“I guess, it couldn’t get any worse,” I said, as I found myself tearing up again.

Mom went downstairs to find TJ. Linda went into the bathroom and returned with a glass of water and a cool washcloth. She gently wiped my face, giving me little, “butterfly” kisses. The kind that you just barely feel, but you can feel the beauty and love left behind.

Mom returned, followed shortly by my brother. TJ was carrying a covered tray. He sat it down on the table in front of me and said, “I guess this time I really pay off,” and with a little flourish he removed the tray lid. There on the plate was a sandwich of white Wonder Bread, and I could see all it contained was pickle relish.

I began again to sob in earnest.

“If I who love you more than I can ever tell, refuse to turn my back on you, how can you believe that Jesus, who loves you infinitely more than I could ever imagine, could possibly turn his back on you?” he inquired.

I just continued to sob.

“Kate, remember the Bible, Jesus said: ‘I will give them eternal life and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to me is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand.’”

“Now I don’t mean to be cruel, but answer some questions. Did you choose to be transgendered?”

“No, it’s something I’ve fought all my life,” I answered.

“Do you believe the Bible?”

“Of course I do,” I replied indignantly.

“Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins and rose again?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then what’s the problem? You know Scripture. You know of the love of God. You’ve confessed Him as Lord and Savior. Do you now doubt that He is working in your life?”

“No,” I managed to whisper.

“Kate, since you first told me, I’ve been reading about being transgendered. It’s not been easy, and I don’t like everything I’ve found. To the best I can determine, the doctors and scientists are convinced that gender, like sexual preference, is hard wired in the brain. You were born this way. And that's what God says through the Old Testament prophets ‘Before you were formed in the womb I knew you, before you were born I sanctified you.’ You were born this way; you didn’t choose this for yourself. Right now your head is twisted a bit, maybe it’s the hormones, maybe it’s the trauma, or maybe it’s the drugs, but get this straight. You are a child of God. He loves you, and despite your current situation He has a wonderful plan for your life. He ordained you would be this way. Do you want to argue with Him?”

Wanly, I smiled at my brother.

“Now eat your sandwich!” he said, smiling at me. I pulled him close and sobbed. Healing and understanding would take time, but TJ had given me back hope. He smiled as I pulled away.

For the first time in my life, I ate a pickle relish sandwich. In itself, it was an act of faith. I could get through this; all I had to do was live.

“TJ could you ask Hal to come back now?” I asked.

“Sure Sis.” TJ gave me a parting hug, and then startled me by kissing me on the cheek — the first kiss I could ever remember getting from him. “What’s the matter?” he asked, “I always kiss the prettiest girl in the room.” Laughing he hurried out the door before I could throw something at him.

“Hon, I think he accepts you, what do you think?” my mom asked.

“It’s strange, I mused, “One of the reasons I always kept Beth hidden was the fear of alienating my family. That’s what usually happens.”

“Baby, when has our family ever been normal?” Mom jokingly asked in reply. A point I had to concede.

“After all,” Linda chimed in, “you married me, now THAT’S not normal!”

In spite of myself, or perhaps in reaction to the drugs, I began to giggle.

Hal came in. As he heard me giggle, the expression on his face was precious. First he smiled, then a look of wonder quickly passed, followed closely by tears. His head bowed down, and I heard him whisper, “Thank you, I’ll try to justify it. Thank you so much God. Amen.”

Hal look up, wiping at this face. “So, are you going tomorrow?” he asked smilingly.

“Come here you,” I said. He sat on the bed next to me and I pulled him close. “Yes, I’ll go tomorrow. I’m sorry I upset you; it’s all just so hard for me right now. Don’t give up, and I’ll keep on trying.”

“Hon, don’t worry about upsetting me. You are all I care about right now. Whatever I can do, I will do.”

Linda looked at the clock. It was after 10:00 and both Linda and I were still in our nightgowns, Hal in pajamas and robe. She pulled me from the bed, and shooed everyone else out. “Time to get bathed and dressed,” she said with a disgustingly cheerful voice. I knew it was her way of trying to make light of the morning's happenings. I climbed in the shower, and Linda began setting out the clothes for the day.

As I looked at my body, I could see the bruises were beginning to fade. My collarbone still hurt like hell, and my anus was still tender, but I could see my body was beginning to heal. Linda climbed in with me, and washed my back and hair. I turned towards her, and tried to kiss her. Without the support of the bandage the pain from my broken collarbone made it too hard. I gave up. We dried, dressed and went downstairs.

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The morning’s shopping trip was pretty well destroyed by my tantrums. I went looking for Tim. I needed to spend time with him. Lisa had pretty well been there through everything. Tim, as I had learned yesterday, was having a rougher time than his sister. I had not had a chance to spend much time with him lately. I finally found him down in his room. Knocking, I called, “Anyone home? Can I come in?”

Tim opened the door, and I saw he was playing a game on the Xbox console. “Hey, how are you feeling?” he asked.

“I still hurt,” I said. “Can I sit down?”

Tim pulled a chair over by his desk for me and I sat down.

“I thought I’d see if you wanted to do something with me. How do you like the Xbox?” I asked.

“You know, I think it’s the best gaming system ever. Would you like to see it?”

“Sure,” I replied. Tim started showing me the game he was playing, Halo. The graphics were intense. The action fast paced. After a few minutes, he asked if I wanted to play with him, and we settled into a “save the universe” session. Linda finally had to track me down. Guests were beginning to arrive for the open house, and Hal was hoping I could at least make an appearance.

Personally, I would rather have stayed with Tim. Instead, I went to my room and changed into “Super Yuletide Hostess” — yeah right. A green plaid jumper over a white sweater with comfortable shoes and I was dressed. I still was not prepared to do makeup. Though most of the swelling had gone down there was no way I could look like anything other than a battered woman. After a little lipstick, and a spritz of perfume Linda and I went downstairs.

Vikki and the staff had a wonderful snack buffet set up. The carolers were performing at one end of the front hall, and people were wandering through the downstairs rooms. I joined Hal at the door where he had thoughtfully placed a chair for me. “I was hoping you could join us,” he said, reaching down to gently kiss me.

“I just hope I don’t scare anyone away,” I replied.

“Don’t be silly.”

I just smiled at him.

I enjoyed sitting there, greeting and chatting with people. The Mooney’s and their children were there, as were Janey and Hiram. Other people from Cendar drifted in and out through the course of the afternoon and evening. At 5:00 Vikki and her staff changed the buffet from snacks to dinner foods.

I suppose some mention must be made about Simon. Apparently, at least according to Annie, Simon had been on good behavior. About 5:30 he showed up, I was actually impressed, he was wearing a nice pair of slacks and a sweater. After mingling for 10 or 15 minutes, he asked if he could talk to me privately. Intrigued, I lead him to my office and sat down while he closed the door.

“I know this is bloody improper of me,” he said, “but are the reports I hear true?”

With Simon, I had learned never assume you know what he is talking about. “What reports?” I asked.

“Never mind,” he said, “looking at you is answer enough,” he turned to go, “please forgive my intrusion,” he said, and damn, I noticed there was a tear in his eye.

“Simon, please sit down,” I said, pointing to a chair beside my desk. He sat down hard, his face a study in contrasts. Now Simon was as British as you can get. He had a strange sense of humor, a delightful accent, and an attitude that was either totally stoic, or totally wise-ass. “Simon, you simply must finish the question.”

“Mrs. Stevens, they say you were raped and brutally beaten, I just needed to know if it was true,” the last came out almost as a whisper.

“Yes Simon, it’s true.” As I answered, it was as though the armor he built around himself evaporated like an icicle on a warm winter’s day. “It will be common knowledge soon,” I added.

“Damn all bloody rapists,” he swore vilely under his breath. “Ah well, this does change things for me. I suspect you will notice a change in my behavior towards you. Not what I would have liked, I assure you, but, there you are.”

“Simon, you are speaking in riddles. Can you please just say what you are trying to say?”

“Sorry, bloody difficult to talk about. I lost a sister, 5 years ago it was. She was beaten and raped. Two weeks later, she slammed her Fiesta into an abutment just before the St. Albans exit on the M1 outside London. Coroner’s inquest ruled it an accident, but I knew better. Jillian had left me a note; I think I am the only one she told about the rape. A day after her “accident” I received a goodbye note. It had all the bloody details — except the name of her attacker. She asked my forgiveness, she said she couldn’t bear to live any longer.”

Simon was openly shedding tears, and I felt as though my heart were being torn in two. I passed a box of tissues to him. “God, I know that feeling,” I said through my own tears.

“Yes, I suspect you do. I could do nothing to help Jill, but it became my quixotic quest to do what I can for other victims. You may think me quite daft, but I choose to strike back when the law fails. Quietly, and without fanfare or notice, I have caused three of the wankers to depart from this world. The first was Jill’s. It took me six months to track him down and be certain. I hate the image, but someone must be the avatar of justice. Someone must seek vengeance for the victims. Had I a sword, I would lay it before you and profess undying fealty. Since I have not a sword, all I can offer is any help I can provide. I am fabulous tilting at windmills you know — at least the computer kind. In addition, I do know the odd martial art or two, as three villains have discovered. I do promise to be good to the staff, can’t have you upset over something I’ve done, at least not now.” Simon stared out the window at the moon lit snow.

“Simon, I’m so sorry. I wish there was something I could do. I know it was hard for you to tell me about your sister. What you don’t know is the doctor’s barely saved me from myself. I thought I had killed myself, and sometimes still wish I were dead. Fortunately, in the opinion of Hal and the others, they got to me in time. I only wish someone had been able to get to your sister. I’ll keep your secrets as you will keep mine. And please, I know it’s forward on my part, but call me Kate.”

“Thank you Kate. I shall be on my good behavior. I should let you get back to your guests. Thank you for your time.”

“Well, I for one am about partied out. I’d much rather be upstairs playing Xbox with my son,” I said, wiping my eyes. “And you are welcome, but also, thank you, I will treasure your offer.”

“Actually Tim is smashingly good with that game console of his. He regularly beats me when we play.”

“Really? Why don’t we go see if he’s still playing?” With that, I opened the hidden door that led to the elevator straight to my room, bypassing the partygoers. “Now you haven’t seen this, I trust?” I asked.

“Seen what?” Simon replied smiling.

Upstairs, we went to Tim’s room, and soon we were playing Halo three player. The three-way split on the screen confused me, and I dropped out to watch the two masters at work. After half an hour or so, I slipped out of the room more or less unnoticed. I returned to my bedroom, fixed my face, went back downstairs, and helped Hal with the last of the partygoers.

By 7:30 the last guest had left. I went upstairs and changed into a nightgown and robe, and wandered down to the family room. My mom, TJ and Jean were watching TV. “Did you guys enjoy the open house?” I asked.

“I’ve got to get out of here before I get too fat!” Jean said laughing, “Vikki’s food would be easy to get used to.”

“I know what you mean,” I replied. “Fortunately, she tries to feed me healthy meals most of the time. And you, brother mine, how are you enjoying your stay?”

“It sure beats Motel 6,” he said. “Tim and I have explored the grounds, and they are fantastic. If it weren’t for the circumstances I’d have to say it’s been a wonderful trip. Did you know there’s a small lake out past the barns?”

“Really?” I replied, “To be truthful, I have not had a chance to really explore, I’ve either been working, confined to the house, unconscious, or away.”

“You know Sis, I’m kind of envious.”

“Oh sure, envious of what?” I snapped. “The rape? The bottomless depression? Wanting to kill myself? The beating? The bruises? Sure, Hal’s got more money then he knows what to do with, but what on earth in my life could you possibly be envious about?”

TJ smiled at me, got up from the table and came over to embrace me. “What I’m envious of, my dear, is the clear and bottomless depths of love of those around you. You never made friends easily, but here you are; loved by Linda, Hal, Annie, your kids, mom, Jean and I, and from what I saw at the open house about a bazillion people who work for your company. You are truly blessed.”

“I would have to agree, Kate.” I turned to see Andy enter the lounge.

“Hi Andy, where have you been?”

“Hermione and I took a couple of days off, it’s been a stressful month,” he said indulging in understatement. “We just got back, but your brother is correct. There are many people, beginning with me, who would do anything for you. Unbelievably, you put life back into Cendar. For some reason, and I’m not a smart enough to know what it is, you, Kate, inspire the people around you.”

I was shocked. I had focused on myself, and failed to notice what was happening around me. I excused myself, honestly stating that I needed to think about what TJ and Andy had said. I went to my room, brushed my teeth, washed, and picked up the Heinlein book I had been reading for the past 2 months. I lay in bed and tried to read but my mind kept returning to what TJ and Andy had said. Linda came in with Dr. Tom; I took my Ambien, and crawled into bed. The last thing I remember was Linda and Dr. Tom talking. I think they thought I had already fallen asleep.

“Damn, I hope she makes it,” Tom said. “Meri and I were talking last night. If anyone deserves happiness it’s Kate.”

“Shush, you’ll wake her,” Linda whispered.

“I know, but still, I wish she could just accept how much the people around her love her, and need her. She’s so hurt and broken right now she can’t see past herself. Linda, in the morning would you tell her Meri was asking about her? Tell her that we also love her. Without her it might have taken me another year to propose to Meri.”

“I will Tom, now go; I need to get ready for bed. If she wakes without Hal and me it triggers a panic attack. Good night.”

“Good night Linda.”

Soon I felt the warmth of Linda as she snuggled against my side, and I fell truly asleep.

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Cruise Ship Golden Princess, at sea, 0500 hours, Sunday, December 23, 2001

Sarah Matthews woke John Maxwell early. He would be the first off the ship. Sarah could not resist a chance to taunt him. “You know, you have got to be the stupidest wanker I’ve ever seen. First, you choose my ship to do your deeds, and then you pick the beloved wife of one of the 100 richest men in America. That was stupid. I’ll tell you, there were body guards on board for her protection. You are fortunate to be alive. The three women were in favor of slicing your member in half, lengthwise, then tossing you overboard for the fish to eat. Actually, I would have enjoyed that. The men thought perhaps you should be processed as garbage and thrown overboard. Oh well, men always want to get their tools into things.”

A disheveled, suddenly scared and bleary-eyed John listened.

“Instead, and I don’t know who came up with this, it was decided to allow you to stand trial and be convicted. Lord, have they buggered you there. You are being charged with two Capital crimes under US Federal Law, and one Capital crime under Florida State Law. With the evidence I have seen, there is no question in my mind you are either going to dance Danny Deever or spend the rest of your life being the personal slut to everyone bigger than you. Boy, I cannot wait to see you in skirts with your shaved legs in the air while your boyfriend boffs you. I will bet you’ll start out as a screamer, until he beats you a few times for making too much noise. Then, I will bet you turn into quite the moaner, the men just love that you know. Oh honey, you are going to just LOVE getting to know a real man.”

“That is if you are lucky! Should you somehow escape the charges, why then you only have to worry about the security forces of Cendar Corporation. I can assure you, if that happens, you will disappear without a trace; probably quite nastily. God, I wonder what they would do to you? That entire company is quite peeved at you, you know.”

“Well, I just wanted to brighten your morning before the Federal Marshall comes to take you away. Oh, and by the way, I have chatted with your roommate Rob; I’m sure he will testify in exchange for immunity against the Capital charges. I guess that leaves you quite, quite alone.”

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Stevens Hall, Massachusetts, Sunday, December 23, 2001

I woke up feeling better. Hal was snoring gently on one side; Linda snuggled close on the other. Could it really be true? For the past couple of weeks my self-esteem had been pretty low. I couldn’t understand how I could be so loved. I suppose there was still a part of me that believed what John had said, that I was a freak.

I slipped out of bed, and went into the bathroom. It was early, so I thought I might pamper myself with a bath. I filled the tub with warm water, and added a generous amount of bubble bath. I slipped into the tub and slid down into the water. As I closed my eyes, I experienced an incredible sense of déjá  vu. The next thing I realized, I was screaming, standing upright, shaking like a leaf in the tub. Hal and Linda came racing into the bathroom.

“Kate, what’s wrong?” Hal asked.

Linda gently wrapped a large towel around me, and pulled me to her. “Honey, what happened,” she whispered.

“It was awful, I ran a bath and had just settled in, when suddenly I was back on the ship, killing myself.” I cried. “When is this going to end?”

“Oh Hon, I don’t know; but Hal and I are here for you.”

Hal left the bathroom, and Linda helped me in the shower. Her presence calmed me. I felt like such a wimp. We dressed and went downstairs to breakfast.

I was quite surprised when Sheila and Pat showed up this morning. When they heard I was going to church, they insisted on accompanying me. I was surprised, and asked why.

“Mrs. Stevens, we failed to protect you once. Neither Sheila nor I are willing to see you injured again. We will not fail again. We’ve talked it over, and would like to be permanently assigned to you, if you will have us,” Pat said.

“Mrs. Stevens, Pat speaks for both of us. We feel personally responsible for what happened to you. Please give us a chance,” Sheila asked.

I had discovered being rich wasn’t all beer and skittles. There were ties that bound me to Pat and Sheila as firmly as their honor bound them to me. I didn’t want this. I was, I thought, an adult capable of taking care of myself. Yet reality, reflected in my bruises, proved that I could not protect myself. These two were willing to take a bullet for me, and were begging for the opportunity. How did I get here? How could two such fine people care that much? And yet, clearly they did. All this and more flashed through my mind.

“Okay you two, on my conditions; and this is not negotiable. You will call me Kate, and you will treat me, not as an employer, but as a friend, or at least an acquaintance. I don’t want you intimidating people around me unless I specifically ask for it. In other words, I don’t need the Secret Service routine. Understood?”

Both nodded assent with huge smiles on their faces. Sheila even had tears. I just didn’t understand, and truthfully, I still don’t.

What a circus! Linda, Tim, Lisa, Annie, Hal, TJ, mom, myself, Sheila, Pat, and to my great surprise, Simon piled into two cars and a Hummer and headed off for church.

For those of you unfamiliar with large congregations there are two constants. The first is if you are a Christian or religious, you will probably be richly blessed and entertained. The second is the congregation is large enough that it is easy to disappear in it. Even my circus barely made a ripple.

The music was rich and warming. I have always enjoyed Christmas music, and Grace Chapel was in fine form this Sunday before Christmas. The pastor spoke well, talking of the incredible miracle of God taking the form of the baby being born on Christmas morning. I felt blessed sitting there. Hal was on one side, Linda on the other. Everything was going well until they passed the collection plate. Hal pulled out his checkbook, and wrote out a check for $10,000.00. I looked at him like he was crazy. “Hal, what do you think you are doing?” I whispered.

With his oh so easy, oh so infuriating grin he said, “Just making a payment on the interest I owe.” With that, he smiled, folded the check, placed it in the plate and passed it on.

I resolved to have a long talk with him. I wasn’t sure of his motivation, and I definitely was concerned he wasn’t trying to “buy” something from God.

After church, we drove back to the Estate. Vikki had prepared a wonderful roast for the noon meal.

After lunch, and changing into something a little more casual, I asked my mom and Jean if they wanted to do any Christmas shopping. I was woefully aware that I had purchased nothing for anyone, and was hoping to correct that situation. They agreed, and along with Sheila, we set off for the mall in Burlington.

Jean screwed things up immediately. It was probably bound to happen and no one’s fault in particular when she said, “Kate, how long have you been a woman?”

My heart stopped, my eyes went wide, but not nearly as wide as Sheila’s. “What did she say?” Sheila blurted out.

Jean knew she had blown it. My mom just burst out laughing. “Jean,” she said, “how long have YOU been a woman?”

I couldn’t help it; I began to giggle at the absurdity of the situation. “Sheila, just ignore her, like most of my family she was dropped on her head at birth.” Turning to Jean, I said, “Well since I was born, what about you?”

“God, that came out so wrong,” Jean said, trying to cover her tracks, “What I meant was, how long have you been a “married” woman?”

“Weren’t you at the wedding?” Sheila asked, turning to me she said, “I thought your family was really close Kate.”

“Oh it is, Sheila, it is,” I said dissolving in another fit of giggles. “It’s a long story, and I’ll tell you all about it some time. Just pretend you didn’t hear Jean, I sometimes think she’s barely house trained, TJ had to marry her to keep her from being sent to the funny farm.”

Jean figured out that she should just go with the flow, as it were. “They’re coming to take me away ha ha, they’re coming to take me away ho ho, to the funny farm where life is gay,” at which point she started laughing uncontrollably. Sheila just looked at her weird, and pulled into the parking lot at the mall.

Once in the mall Mom and Jean went in one direction, Sheila and I in the other, agreeing to meet in an hour at the food court. First, there was the issue of Jean’s outing of me that I had to clear up. I stopped at a convenient bench and sat, motioning Sheila to sit beside me. “Sheila, I have some confidential things to tell you, can you keep a secret?”

“Kate, you know I can, it’s part of Cendar’s hiring policy and training.”

“How long have you worked for Cendar?” I asked.

“Six and a half years,” she answered.

“Okay then, did you notice I wasn’t around in September and October?”

“Actually yes, you have always been the public face of Cendar, I was wondering where you had been.”

“Sheila, you may not believe me, but if you are going to be my “best friend” you have a need to know. Kate died on September 11th in New York City. Hal stumbled across me in Las Vegas during the Comdex computer show. He thought I was Kate raised from the dead. I was born John Williams, I am a medically diagnosed transsexual. Hal and my wife Linda convinced me to join Cendar as Kate. Since then my life has spiraled out of control. Very few people know the actual truth. Jean assumed you must be one of them.”

“You know, I think you are pulling my leg. I have known you for years, and I don’t believe you. Why are you saying this?”

“Sheila, according to everyone who knows the truth, I look, sound, act, and think exactly like Kate. I promise you, what I’ve said is true, and you can check with Andy if you don’t believe me.”

“Kate, this is just too bizarre. I will ask Andy. But I still don’t believe it.”

I sighed, “Okay, have it your way. We still have some shopping to do.”

What do you buy the man who has, or can afford, everything? That was my biggest concern. I asked Sheila, and she suggested stationary. After thinking about it, I agreed and we went looking for a mall directory. Burlington mall had two stores I thought might have what I wanted. The first was the Paradise Pen Company, and the second was Papyrus. I wound up purchasing a black Mont Blanc fountain pen at the Pen Company, and a creamy white vellum notepad set at Papyrus.

Sheila and I checked in with Jean and Mom, and the four of us stopped for sundaes at Brigham’s. Mom and Jean both thought the pen and stationary were a perfect gift for Hal. I turned to my mom and told her I had tried to explain things to Sheila and asked her to tell Sheila what my birth name was. Without batting an eye, my mom torpedoed me. “Katherine Elayne Williams, her dad wanted Elizabeth Christine, but I got my way,” she said with a smile. Jean snorted ice cream down her windpipe, and Sheila just gave me an “I told you so” look.

After our break, Sheila and I set off through the packed mall. Lisa was easy to shop for, and I stopped at Kay Jewelers for a sweetheart necklace. Nothing too flashy, but certainly more than I could have afforded last Christmas. 1/4-carat total weight diamonds set in a heart shaped pattern on a 16” gold rope chain. I added a pair of 1/4-carat diamond stud earrings. Then, impulsively, I decided to get a matching set for my other “daughter” — Annie. Since I was looking at jewelry, I asked what was available in Aquamarine; my mom’s birthstone. I admit I was shaving corners and trying to get gifts for everyone on my list, and if jewelry served the purpose, Oh Well!

Mom got 5 x 8 mm aquamarine studs and a nice ring that matched. For Jean, whose birthday was in January, I found a cute necklace and earring set in Garnet.

Linda was always losing her watch, so I found a gorgeous watch by Raymond Weil for her. It was extremely durable, and I was sure she would have a hard time losing it. It was stainless steel and 18K gold with little diamonds around the face.

We were walking back in search of mom and Jean when I saw the perfect gift for my brother. We came across a kiosk in the center of the mall for a company called Vintage Vending out of Salem, New Hampshire. There was a perfectly restored 1950’s Coca-Cola machine. Now TJ is kind of a 1950’s kitsch nut. I knew he would fall in love with it immediately. Bright red, it dispensed bottles, and could handle the original 10 ounce Coke, and new 12 ounce bottles or cans; all sold for 10 cents. Sheila and I tracked down mom and Jean, and I dragged them back to the kiosk. Jean agreed TJ would love it, and so I ordered it shipped to his house in California, and put a picture of it in a Christmas card for Christmas day.

That left one family member to buy for; Tim. I asked the assembled brain trust for help, but nobody knew quite what to get him. It was getting late, and we headed out to the car to head home. Outside the mall proper was a Circuit City, and I suggested a quick look.

As we entered the store, I examined the sale flyer posted in the entrance. A smile crossed my lips as I saw the perfect gift for my techy son; a portable Sony DVD player. 10 minutes later, I had completed my family Christmas shopping. This had to be an all time record; all my Christmas shopping completed in just four hours.

On the drive home, I was the constant butt of my mother’s jokes. Mom kept a steady stream of prattle going, ostensibly conversing with Sheila about my childhood. “When she was a little girl this…; she was so precious that…; her dad and I used to wait up for her… On and on Mom went about my fictitious childhood while Jean and I sat in the backseat just shaking our heads, trying not to giggle aloud.

Back home we unloaded the loot, and placed it under the tree. Vikki had laid out a buffet of leftovers from lunch, and it appeared everyone had already eaten. I saw TJ still seated at the table, and I dragged Sheila over to see him. “TJ, would you PLEASE tell Sheila my real birth name?”

“Sure sis,” he said then turned to Sheila, “Dad wanted to name her after his mother but mom won out and they named her Katherine Elayne. I usually just called her Trouble.”

I was stunned. My mouth hung open slackly. TJ just smiled at me. Sheila glared at me. Just then, Hal and Linda walked in. “Hal, Linda, come on guys help me here please please please tell Sheila who I really am, the truth, not the cover story.”

“Are you feeling okay?” he asked. I nodded my head. “Sheila, she was born Katherine Elayne Williams; Honey, why did you want me to tell her that?”

“Babe,” Linda asked, “What’s going on? Everyone knows you were born Katherine Elayne Williams. Are you feeling okay?”

Dumbfounded, I looked from face to face. Each returned a curiously blank expression. Finally, Sheila began to laugh, followed by everyone else in the room. “Kate, Andy told me the truth yesterday,” she said, “we’ve all been playing a joke on you.”

Mom came over and hugged me, “You should have seen your face! It was all I could do to not spoil the joke.”

I began to chuckle. They really had put one over on me and I found I could still laugh at myself — but I did not want to. “Okay, you’ve all had your fun, I’m going upstairs,” I said with as much dignity as I could muster and flounced out of the room and upstairs.

I picked up the phone and called the kitchen. Anna was more than happy to fix me a plate, and 15 minutes later, I sat in the sitting room, eating my dinner, half laughing and half fuming at my family.

There was a knocking at the door. “Mom, can I come in?” Annie called from the doorway.

“Are you coming up to laugh at me too?” I grumbled.

Annie came into the room, came over and hugged me, giggling all the while. “Well, if you think about it, it was really funny.”

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep who I am straight in my own head?” I asked, smiling. “Since the rape, I’ve completely lost touch with being John, and Beth is a fading memory. For everyone to gang up on me like that was just plain mean.”

“Yeah, and mean people suck!” Annie said laughing, her humor deflating my annoyance.

“Am I really being that much of a wet blanket?” I asked.

“No, not really, but Dr. Saul thought you ought to get prodded a bit. This was all his idea. Oops! I don’t think I was supposed to mention that.”

“Oh ho! Well the good doctor and I will have something to talk over, that is for sure.”

“I came up to invite you to watch A Christmas Carol with us. It’s the George C. Scott version. Please come on out, everyone would enjoy you being there.”

I allowed myself to be talked into it, and soon, we were all seated in the theatre/TV room. This is actually my favorite version of the classic tale, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Afterward, I went up to bed, dutifully took the Ambien, and went to sleep.

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Stevens Hall, Massachusetts, Monday, Christmas Eve, 2001

Have you ever felt like you were the central character in “It’s a Wonderful Life”? I woke up between my wife and my husband, and thought about the last two months. On the positive side, I knew that Linda and the kids were set for life. Regardless of anything else that happened, financially I knew they would be taken care of. It was hard, but I was deluged with the evidence that my life made a difference in the lives of others. Like the Jimmy Stewart character, the lives of those around me would be poorer if I took my life. The richness that I, (and I must say I still do not REALLY believe it), brought to the people around me was something unfathomable. I did not understand it. I do not understand it.

It just is.

Still, I wondered, how was I going to resolve this life? Originally, I had agreed to be Kate for 6 months. I could not remember the last time I thought of anything as John. He was a fading memory, one of the two ghosts haunting my life. John was like the memories shown by the Ghost of Christmas Past, unreachable, untouchable, and able only to affect the emotions of my life. Kate was like the Ghost of Christmas Present, showing me the effect I had on others, and the reality of the Love others had for me.

Moreover, how was I going to work out my increasingly conflicted sexual orientation? Since the cruise, I'd had no sexual feelings whatsoever. Neither Linda, nor Hal excited me in the least. I could not decide which, if either, I would have as a lover. I did know this: if it were to be Hal, it would only be after I had completed transition from John to Kate. I could not imagine allowing anyone to touch me anally ever again.

Who was I, Kate or John? Was this to be only six months after all? Could I go back to being John?

My heart said no. I loved being a woman. I loved being a rich woman. I adored making those around me feel special — though I still could not comprehend how I was capable of doing that.

Then what was left?

Kate? Or the Ghost of Christmas Future — death. And, oh by the way, what about my faith?

Death seemed so much simpler. I’d tried it and I was not sure how I felt about it this morning. I had failed in the attempt. I did know that the pain to others was more than I could bear. No, death was not an option.

Therefore, it comes down to a sacrifice. It would either be John and Christmas Past, or Kate and Christmas Present who would die that others might be whole. In reality John was already gone, unreachable, and untouchable.

I began to cry. I mourned my loss. Linda heard me and woke, pulling me into her embrace. “What’s wrong?” she whispered.

“I think I’m dead,” I replied.

“Silly, nope, you’re in my arms and safe.”

“No, I mean me, John; I don’t think he’s ever coming back. He is like the Ghost of Christmas Past. Gone except in memory; Kate is Christmas Present,” I blubbered louder, rousing Hal from his sleep.

Hal rolled over, and pulled the two of us to him. Again, I was in the middle; surrounded by love.

“What’s the problem?” he mumbled.

“I think Kate’s made a decision,” Linda said a little wistfully. “I think John’s gone for good, and all that’s left is Kate.

I nodded in agreement.

Hal looked on, sensing a change, but not totally certain as to what it was, or what to do about it; he had the good sense to keep his mouth shut.

“Well anyway little Miss Christmas Ghosts, how about we get up and dressed?” she asked, pulling the covers back.

“Oh Babe, it’s way too cold for that,” I complained.

Linda looked at the clock, “It’s 8:30, Sleepy Bones, time for you to be up and about Oh Mistress of the Manor! You have responsibilities, people to greet, peasants to flog, jocularity to plan!”

“Linda, please Honey, ease up. I am fragile enough right now. I still do not know what the future holds, but I need you. Please, back off a bit. I love you. You are my first and only real love. Don’t doubt that. I just don’t know how to deal with these things. The Dickens’ metaphor barely stretches to cover my life. If the choice were you or Hal, you would win, no contest. But, if the choice were to be John or Kate, Kate would win. I’m so confused. How can I be Kate and still be with you?” I began to cry again. Damn, I don’t know how much is my emotions, how much the rape, or how much the hormones.

“Come on Honey. Let’s go get a shower.”

Linda literally dragged me out of bed. In the shower, she did everything possible to excite or arouse me. “Babe, please, there is nothing that excites me. I may never have sex again,” and then I began sobbing.

“What, is there something wrong with me?” she asked.

“No, never you;” I slumped down against the floor. “It’s me. I’ve lost all sexual desire. I don’t want Hal, but I don’t want anything else, either. That bastard took away any sex life I might have had.”

“Oh my God, I’ve done it again, haven’t I?” Linda asked.

“No Hon, it’s not you. If anyone, I’m the one to blame. You are just trying to keep our life alive. It’s just, I don’t think I have a sex life.” I said, my head bowed in shame.

“What can I do?” Linda asked.

“Honey, can you take me home?” I asked.

“Where is home?” she replied.

And with that, she cut through 90 percent of my baggage. I didn’t know where home was. I just simply crouched in the shower, crying on Christmas Eve. I had nowhere to go, I had no home. I didn’t know who I was.

Linda looked down upon me. After a few minutes, she knelt down beside me. Linda shampooed my hair, and scrubbed me down with a loofa. Lifting me to my feet, she rinsed me off, wrapped me in a towel, and pulled a robe on me.

She dried and brushed out my hair, and moved me into the lounge of my bedroom. After dressing herself, she came and like a mother with a recalcitrant child dressed me. “This is one hell of a Christmas eve, isn’t it,” I said dejectedly to Linda.

”Yes, it is. And it’s going to be a great Christmas day!”

Her response was totally unexpected. I looked at her and asked, “Haven’t you heard me?”

Linda sighed, and pointed to the couch next to her. “Yes, I heard you. I don’t have an answer. You asked where home is? Well home is the place where you are with the ones who love you. Once upon a time, that was in Corona, California. Today? It is here at Stevens Hall. All I know is that wherever you and I are, THAT’s home. Hal complicates it. I hate the thought of sharing you, but it seems that I’ve created a monster. When this all started all I could see was the money, and what we could do for the kids. Whether I wanted it or not, the consequences are that Hal is now part of our lives. Where he is, and we are, that’s also home.”

“Err…, I don’t understand,” I said.

“Hon, neither do I. You’ve gone too far, and that’s mostly my fault. I doubt you can ever go back to being just John again. I also doubt you’re ready to be exclusively Kate. That leaves you in the same position you have been in most of your life. You are in between. You are mostly woman. You are not a man. You do not want your husband sexually. However, neither do you want a lesbian relationship with me. You’re a “tween” as in between a rock and a hard place. About the only thing I’m certain of is that I love you; and well, Hal loves you. And that doesn’t even include your three kids, your brother, your mother, or your staff who also love you. For having a head so screwed up you are incredibly well liked and loved.”

“I suppose,” I sighed.

“Come on, let’s go downstairs. Your mom asked Vikki to fix Mimosa and a ham buffet for brunch.”

Downstairs it was kind of rowdy. The Mooney’s children along with Tim and Lisa were playing hide and go seek, with TJ refereeing. Christmas music was playing in the background, and Jean was playing a cutthroat game of hearts with Mom, Simon, and Janie. Hal was grinning like a demented troll. It was clear he loved the bustle around the house.

Linda and I loaded plates and sat in the Atrium looking out on the crisp, white, snow covered countryside. Hal joined us, and asked what our plans were for the day. He had that damned twinkle in his eye, and I said, “Hal, why don’t you just tell us what you have up your sleeve.”

“Why whatever do you mean?” he replied.

“Because, you sneaky bastard, the twinkle in your eye has given you away. I can always tell when you are up to something.”

Hal laughed. “Okay, I’ll confess. If it meets with your approval, I thought we could attend The Nutcracker this afternoon. I also want to go by Children’s Hospital. I’ve ordered a bunch of teddy bears and stuffed animals. I want to deliver some of them to the children myself. I also have a surprise that I hope will meet with your approval. So, do you feel like being one of Santa’s helpers this afternoon?”

I looked at Linda, and she looked at me. “Well,” I asked of her, “Do we humor the madman or do we run away as fast as we can?”

“Well, since he confessed without torture I suppose something could be worked out. Hey Lisa! Come here, Honey.”

“Yes mom?” Lisa said looking from Linda to me.

“Do you want to see The Nutcracker this afternoon?” I asked.

“We can’t, the tickets have been sold out for weeks; I called and asked.”

Hal grinned, “Well, I always reserved a large block of tickets. Usually I give them out to employees, this year; I’ve kept 24 tickets for today’s performance. Want to go?”

Lisa shrieked, then ran to tell the Mooney’s while Hal beamed at the additional chaos he had created. Turning to Linda and I he said, “We need to leave by 11:00. The performance is noon at The Colonial.”

The rest of the morning passed in a swirl of activity. Linda and I went back upstairs and dressed a bit more formally. I even consented to makeup, and by the time Linda and I were done I looked almost presentable. We were back downstairs at 10:45. Rather than hassling with traffic, Hal had reserved a bus, and my extended family, along with the Mooney’s, Janie and Hiram (they had definitely become a couple) and with Sheila and Pat all boarded the bus for the trip into downtown Boston.

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United States District Court, Southern District of Florida, Miami, Florida

John Maxwell faced the Federal Judge Magistrate as the clerk read the charges. The Judge Magistrate turned to John Maxwell.

“Mr. Maxwell, I see you are not represented by counsel. I am reluctant to proceed at this time. Do you have an attorney?”

“No, your Honor. Nor does this court have any jurisdiction over me. Any alleged crimes occurred outside of the United States.”

“Mr. Maxwell, whether you chose to accept it or not. This court has jurisdiction over piracy committed in International waters under International agreements that stretch back to the founding of the Republic. You have been charged with piracy. You have further been charged with the special condition of rape during the act of piracy. Your life may be forfeit if you are convicted for this crime. Therefore, you need an attorney. I will ask you again. Do you need this court to appoint an attorney for you?”

John Maxwell looked stunned. His entire prepared defense was based on the jurisdiction of the court. “Yes, your honor, I suppose I do need an attorney.”

“Very well, the clerk of the court will contact you with the name of an attorney before the end of the week. In as much as you have been charged with a Capital crime, this court has no option but to hold you without bail until a hearing can be scheduled with your new attorney. Madam Clerk, please schedule said hearing within thirty days.”

The words of Sarah Matthews ran through his head. He was going to prison, or he was going to die. At his age, he could not prevent Sarah’s prophecy from coming true; he would be raped. It was unthinkable. It was intolerable. It was inevitable.

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Christmas Eve, Boston Massachusetts, 1145 Hours

For those of you who have never experienced it, the traffic in Boston is horrendous. It makes Tijuana drivers seem sedate. I for one was glad we weren’t driving. The Boston Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker was magnificent. Lisa and the other kids were enthralled.

Afterwards, Hal, Linda, Annie and I (with Pat and Sheila of course) piled into one of the Hummers and drove 3 miles south to Boston’s Children’s Hospital while the Bus took all the rest back to the estate. Dr. Tom and Meri met us there and helped coordinate delivering teddy bears to all the children stuck in the hospital over the holiday. Dr. Tom introduced us to the director, Dr. Samuel Wise; a smiling genial gnome of a man.

Somewhere they had come up with silly red Santa hats. Hal was having the time of his life. He loves children and making them smile. We would walk into a room with one or two children, Hal would holler Ho, Ho, Ho! and give them their toys. The kids would invariably smile, and Hal would grin all the way to the next room. Annie told me this was an annual event for Hal, and that each of the nine Boston Children’s Hospital campuses would receive a visit from Hal or someone else from Cendar.

At 4:30 Governor Jane Wells showed up. The press naturally followed her. Coincidentally (not!) we arrived at the front of the hospital at the same time she did. “Hal, what’s going on,” I asked? Knowing Hal, it could be anything. Hal gave me his irritating grin, and Hal escorted Annie and me to where Jane and Dr. Wise were standing. There in the blinding lights of the TV cameras, Governor Wells made an announcement.

“It is my very great privilege to announce today a cooperative agreement between the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Children’s Hospital, and Cendar Corporation. With major funding from Cendar, Children’s Hospital will be building a new burn treatment unit. The name of the facility will be the Anderson Stevens Burn Institute in memory of Tracy and Becky Stevens and Gwen Anderson. On hand this evening is Dr. Samuel Wise, director of Children’s Hospital, and Hal and Kate Stevens, and Annie Anderson. Mr. Stevens will be donating $5 million to begin building.”

With that, an assistant unveiled a portrait. It was nearly identical to the one of my twin and her babies hanging in Stevens Hall. It had one addition. A younger Annie was standing beside her mother. The title on the frame took my breath away. “Love Never Ends.”

Annie looked at me, I looked at her, and we both turned to Hal and Jane. It was sweet, it was tender, and it hurt like hell. Annie and I both began leaking tears. Jane came over and hugged Annie, then pulled me into her embrace.

“It’s okay Kate, don’t blame Hal, this has been in the works for months,” she whispered in my ear, “Would it be okay if I stopped by sometime tomorrow to talk?”

I nodded, and accepted a tissue from Meri. A few more words were exchanged, then Linda, Hal, Sheila, Annie and I headed back to Stevens Hall.

The sun had set. The moon was about two thirds full casting a white pall on the snow covered ground. I sat in the back of the Hummer with Annie snuggled between Linda and me. Annie had gone through the best part of a box of tissue talking about the twins and her mom. Linda and I just listened and held her close.

We pulled into the estate just before 7:00 pm. The yellow glow of the house lights warmed the front porch. We went upstairs to find a fire raging in the fireplace of the family room. Vikki was there, roasting chestnuts and popping corn, (I did not know anyone really roasted chestnuts). The air was filled with the fragrances of mulled cider, the burning logs, the popcorn, even the unfamiliar chestnuts and everyone was enjoying themselves.

Linda and I went and changed out of our gowns, and contrary to expectations, I pulled on dark blues sweats. Okay, they did have the cutest snowflakes on them, but they were oh so comfy. We rejoined the mingled families; Hal joined us a few minutes later.

Turning to the room, Hal said, “Kate, I just got off the phone with Erik Moore. John Maxwell has been formally charged and will be held without bail. Merry Christmas!”

Christmas Eve or not, I was cheered by the knowledge.

Hiram and Janie were seated on a love seat in the corner, and at a commercial break he rose and asked for everyone’s attention. “Janie and I would also like to make an announcement,” he said. “I’ve asked her to marry me, and she has accepted. We would really like to thank Kate for bringing us together.” Everyone clapped for the happy couple as I blushed furiously. Now I even seemed to have inherited Kate’s reputation as a successful matchmaker.

Janie came over and sat with me. “Kate, thank you. I just want to say; if there is anything I can do please ask. I owe so much to you.”

“You don’t owe me Janie, you are, by all accounts living up to everything I’d hoped. I’m just glad things are working out so well for you,” I said with a smile. “Is that a new ring I see?” I asked.

Janie smiled, and showed me her solitaire engagement ring. It was beautiful and I told her so. She hugged me and walked back to Hiram.

It was getting late. I said goodnight to everyone, took my Ambien, and went to bed.

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Steven’s Hall, Massachusetts, Tuesday, Christmas Day, 2001

It could not have been much after six in the morning. I had just opened my eyes to the remarkable realization that I had not suffered from nightmares. I marveled at the thought, and mentally searched my body to see how I was feeling. A second marvel, no pain, well, not much anyway. I was still lying there when the kids arrived.

As was tradition, on Christmas morning the kids had permission to wake us as soon as they were up. They had shared that tradition with Annie. With a loud knocking on the bedroom door, Tim, Lisa, and Annie burst into the room.

“Merry Christmas!” they shouted, jumping on the bed. Hal was priceless. The kids had never seen him in bed, but took it in stride; Hal on the other hand blushed crimson red at having been caught in bed with their mothers.

Lisa poured coffee and tea, Tim opened the curtains to the bright morning light. Annie pulled out robes from the closet.

From the sounds down the hall, it appeared that Tim and Lisa had spread the word to the Mooney children, and sounds of children and parents stirring resounded throughout the residence floor.

Linda and I pulled on robes, and slippers. Hal, trying to regain his dignity, fled to the bathroom in his PJ’s; only to emerge a few minutes later wearing a sweat suit. We walked down to the family room where someone had already lit a fire. The Tree was in its glory, the lights twinkling, Christmas stockings had been hung across the mantel, and it appeared no one had been left out. Vikki was just finishing setting a breakfast buffet up on one side of the room, and everyone was straggling into the room. We were there, the Mooney’s, Janie and Hiram, Andy and his wife Hermione, and even Simon.

When everyone had arrived, Hal distributed the gifts. Soon everyone had a pile, which they began to open. To go into the details would be boring. Everyone was pleased with that which they received. For myself, I will mention only two presents.

The first was a long thin package. When I opened it, there was a sword, a simple cross-handled sword from the Chesapeake Knife Company. There was no name of the giver. I looked around the room and found Simon staring intently. When our eyes met, he bowed. I felt strangely warmed and honored. However, I had arrived at this place, I knew, beyond doubt that I had a true knight sworn to my service. I walked over to Simon, curtseyed deeply and said to him, “Thank you fair knight, I shall treasure it, and you, always.”

Those around us were unaware of what had happened; the sword was an oath of fealty. Simon, speaking only to me, through the sword, on the honor of his dead sister, promised to obey and defend me to the death. Simon knew, my formal acceptance bound the two of us in a Quixotic relationship. I was Dulcinea to his Don Quixote. He was the True Knight, and I would be his True Liege Lady in a world where such things seemingly no longer existed. I reached out, he took my hand and kissed it and I pulled him to his feet. As I pulled him into a hug I whispered, “Thank you Simon; Jillian would be proud.”

Simon pulled away, wiping at his eyes. With a smile, he bowed, “Merry Christmas, my Lady.”

The second was a simple Christmas card with a nativity scene on the cover. Inside was a simple note. “Katherine, I love you more than you or the world will ever know. Through whatever agency of heaven or earth, you are with me once again. I know how difficult it is for you. Everything I have, including my heart, is yours. It’s trite, it is sappy, but they say if you really love someone, you must be willing to let go. If it’s real it’ll come back to you. You have brought life back into my world, and the world of Cendar. Nevertheless, I give you your freedom. I want you in my life, but, I love you and will let you go, if that is your choice. If you must go back to being John, know that I will honor that choice. Love, Hal.

To be continued.

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