Comdex - 8 - Reflections

Kate Searches for a way and discovers more about herself than she wants to know!

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

It was a simple little greeting card; on one side a picture of the nativity, on the other a blank note page containing Hal’s emancipation proclamation. I looked up from the Christmas card to Hal. He sat in the middle of the floor, continuing to hand out packages. He looked at me and smiled. “I love you,” he mouthed to me across the room.

It was perhaps the most selfless gift I have ever received. I leaned over to Linda and showed her the card. Linda just smiled, “I know, Love. Hal and I talked last night. We both love you and want only what’s best for you. So, now the choice is yours. Hal and I will do anything to support you in it.”

I stood, and walked across the room, wading through the carnage of wrapping paper and gift boxes. I stopped in the middle of the room and pulled Hal to his feet. “I love you too,” I said, wrapping my arms around his neck, beginning to weep softly. “Thank you sweetheart,” I whispered as I pulled him into a hug. The hug turned into a kiss, me blubbering all over his Christmas Morning jammies. Hal, being no dummy, took the hint and returned my kiss. For the first time since the rape, I felt myself responding to a kiss. It was long, deep, and terribly gentle, utterly romantic. Afterwards, I smiled at him, “Thank you for your lovely gift. Merry Christmas.” I pulled away, smiled at the dazed look on Hal’s face and walked back across the room.

I sat back down on the couch next to Linda; I wrapped my arms around her neck, and kissed her. Time seemed to stop, my heart raced, and I felt my toes curl. Linda pulled back first, and this time I was the one with the dazed look. Smiling, she said, “Merry Christmas to you, too!”

Lisa and Annie were pleased with their jewelry. The identical necklaces reinforced their bond as sisters. Both were very excited, and I was glad for their joy.

Things seemed to be winding down, and I sat surrounded by family and friends. ‘So,’ I thought to myself, ‘what in the Hell am I going to do with my newfound freedom?
The kids “cleaned” up by tossing all the wrapping paper into the fire. Hey, ya’ know, they’re from Southern California, and so, by definition, pyromaniacs whenever they get the chance to do so safely. The reason’s simple. In Southern California, you just don’t get the opportunity to burn things up. So, when the chance arises, you take advantage of it. In the case of Tim, he designated himself the “Burnmiester” and chortled at the sight of the gaily-colored wrapping paper burning in different colors as the chemistry of the various inks colored the flames. Lisa, and the Mooney children would feed him the paper, he’d crunch it and toss it into the fire. Soon, the room was “clean” of wrapping paper, and Annie ran the vacuum across the floor despite Vikki’s protests.

I needed to find a place to be alone. I needed to think. The impact of Hal’s and Simon’s gifts overwhelmed me, and I had to find a place where I could mull over what had happened.

The lounge area was out — too many people and too many packages being opened with an enthusiasm that threatened to overwhelm my suddenly precarious emotional condition. I wasn’t yet able to face getting ready for the day, so the bedroom was out. I began to wander the house and found myself inexorably drawn to the gallery.

Like an old friend, the portrait of my twin and her babies called to me irresistibly. As I sat on the bench opposite the portrait, I felt a palpable presence. Looking into Kate’s eyes was like looking into my own soul. For the first time I caught a glimpse of what made Kate — and me — special. It was the absolute and certain knowledge that Kate, regardless of position in life, would always care for others.

Simon, with his Quixotic gesture, saw past my façade. The very “nobility” Cervantes saw in Dulcinea — the kitchen girl who could be had for the price of a cheap meal — Simon saw in Kate, and by extension, in me.

Kate was the beating heart of Cendar for that very reason. No one was beneath her helping hand. With Kate, chivalry lived. She defended and befriended all who came in contact with her. This was very much the way I had had always lived. Even my parents had joked about it, teasing, and calling me “Dudley Doright.” While the world was painted in gray, there were still absolutes. Some things were right, and some were wrong. Period!

I discovered a profound truth that morning. There was something special in me. The only question was; ‘How do I use who I am?

I looked back at the portrait, and this time Kate seemed to be smiling just for me, and just at me. With no one to see, I stood and curtsied deeply to the portrait, and, though I know it was the imagination of an overstressed mind, it seemed to me that Kate smiled and bowed her head in return. “Rise, my Lady,” I heard with an inner voice. That shook me; I'm not used to hearing voices, yet Kate was very near and real to me.

I would be the Lady, Dulcinea, and with Simon, the personification of justice. In Feudal times matters of justice, high and low, were the duty of the nobility. Today there was no “nobility” and justice was something the courts often failed to provide. Simon didn't know it, but he and I, with the resources of Cendar would speak for those who could not speak for themselves; especially the women, the children, and yes, even the men who had been and still were being victimized. Our success may be measured quietly in single victories, but it was a start. Words could only be a beginning; action always spoke louder than words.

John Maxwell would be the first. He would not be the last.

With a decidedly lighter heart, I went to my bedroom and got dressed for the day. The beginnings of an idea germinated in my mind. I had read an article or two about feudal loyalties. Satisfied, I went looking for Tim. I wanted to walk and explore the estate a little bit — and think through what I was about to do.

I finally found him in the family room. “Hey kiddo, how about a tour? I hear you’ve been all over the place.”

Tim looked up from his portable DVD player, “Sure, Mom,” he said, taking me totally by surprise. “Just let me get changed.”

Downstairs, I found a long blue stadium coat, and pulled that on, along with gloves and a scarf just as Tim came bounding down the stairs. “You ready?” I asked.

“Sure, what would you like to see?”

We walked out the front door, “Everything! All I’ve seen so far is the house, the inside of the garage and the stables.”

“You’re kidding, aren’t you?” Tim asked incredulously.

“Nope,” I chuckled. “I haven’t had the time.” Tim led me along the paved road that wound through the estate. Though it was winter, I could see a lovely formal garden next to the house.

“Well,” he said, “That’s where Mr. Jeeves lives,” he said, pointing through the trees. “They said it used to be a carriage house, whatever that is. Now, it’s Mr. Jeeves home and the offices for the security guys. Behind his house are a bunch of satellite dishes. Jerry said that Hal can talk to anyone who works for Cendar using the satellites. He said it was almost like talking face to face. They use it for teleconferencing, but Jerry said they can get any television program in the world on the dishes.”

“A couple of days ago there was a family of deer over there. Jerry helped me sneak up on them. Did you know that if you move slow, and approach with the wind in your face they won’t notice you if you’re quiet? Jerry said that’s because deer rely on their sense of smell, and their vision is really crappy. They really only see motion. It was really cool to see, we got within about 10 yards. I asked if anyone ever hunted them, and Jerry told me Uncle Hal won’t allow it.”

“What do they do during the winter?” I asked.

“Jose, the horse guy, leaves hay and grain out for them. That’s one of the reasons I was able to get so close. The deer are used to people and really aren’t scared of anyone.

Tim led me through the gardens, and showed me the pool area. It was grey, and mostly covered with snow. The pool was huge, and had obviously been drained for the winter. Next to it was an attached spa that looked like it could hold a dozen people. On the other side of the pool were tennis and basketball courts. And, on the other side of that was a pond that looked to be big enough to water ski on.

“There’s a sauna in the pool house,” he went on. “Jerry said that sometimes when they use the sauna, first they chip a hole in the ice of the pond, then get really, really hot in the sauna and then jump in the pond. He said it was a custom like from Finland or something. Personally, I think he’s nuts.”

I laughed and agreed with him. “So, you like Jerry?”

“Yeah, all the people here have been super nice to Lisa and me. With you and mom,” Tim did a little double take and shook his head then continued, “being gone, and then you being hurt, Lisa and I have had the place pretty much to ourselves. Uncle Hal told the security guys to keep an eye on me and Lisa. She’s been going crazy with the horses, and I’ve learned a bunch about self-defense and shooting from Jerry and the other guys.”

“Someone told me you were getting to be a pretty good shot.”

“Well, I’m trying. Though Uncle Hal pretty well waxes me when he and I shoot, I am getting better.”

“Really, Hal shoots better than you?” I smiled at the thought. “Maybe you can show me the range later. We might even have a little contest,” I suggested sweetly.

He laughed. “Oh no you don’t!” he said. “You can’t pretend you don’t know how to shoot. I know you used to be a cop, and Uncle Hal has been practicing, because he says you beat the bejeebers out of him.”

“Curses, foiled again!” I laughed along with Tim.

By this time, we were down to the edge of the pond. Tim told me that Jerry was saying after another really hard freeze they’d be able to skate on the pond, but it wasn’t safe yet. I was glad to see he was paying attention.

Tim led me away from the house, and away from the stables. Forty yards or so along the edge of the pond we came across a small bridge that crossed to a tiny little island. On the island was a covered gazebo. Tim seemed excited about the island so we walked across the bridge. Tim brushed off a seat for me. “Watch this,” he said, and opened a little control panel. After pushing a couple of buttons, the gazebo began to warm up.

“This is one of my favorite places. You can sit out here, stay warm, and watch the animals.” Tim pointed to the bank of the pond just past the bridge. “There’s a fox that has a den in the woods close to the bridge, and if you look into the trees you can usually see deer. Over there, by the road, I’ve seen raccoons. Don't laugh, but I never knew so many animals were around in the winter. I guess I thought they all hibernated or something.”

This was a side of my son I’d not seen before. Tim was your typical teenage geek. Computers and video games were about all he had time for. To see Tim so excited about nature and animals was amazing to me. We sat there for maybe half an hour; Tim was my tour guide, excitedly pointing out an astonishing number of animals. I sat back and smiled at the transformation of my nerdy son. Finally, he kind of ran out of steam, and after shutting down the heater, led me off towards the stables.

As we passed a small dock, Tim said Jerry told him that during the spring and summer they had a small boat tied up which they used for fishing. “Jerry said trout and small mouth bass are stocked every year. I guess Uncle Hal likes to fish.”

Tim opened a gate in the fence of the stable area for me, and I was startled by what I saw. I didn’t remember seeing any of this when Hal showed me around so long ago. On the far side of the garage the quaint New England Estate gave way to an ultra-modern utility area. I could see three large satellite dishes; a garage and a vehicle support area. The parking lot had been striped for a heliport. A large wind sock was attached to a radio tower. The area was well screened by trees. Like so much of Cendar and Hal, there was far more to the estate than met the eye.

I told Tim I was getting tired, and asked if he minded if we wrapped things up.

Tim was agreeable, and began to turn back towards the house. Instead, I led him into the barn, and watched his eyes bug out as I opened the hidden door leading down to the tunnel system. I loosened my coat, and removed my scarf as we walked in the pleasantly warm and comfortable tunnel. At the end of the first segment of the tunnel we turned left. I pointed out to Tim that the tunnel running to the right most likely came up in the carriage house. In retrospect, that made good sense. The security officers could travel conveniently even in the worst weather — all thanks to Hal’s paranoia.

Tim and I were back in the main house a little before noon. Tim went off to play with his gadgets and I went off to find Linda. Instead, I ran into my mom. “Honey, I want to talk to you,” she said.

She took me by the arm and led me to my bedroom. “Are you pushing yourself too hard?” she asked, leaning forward to press her lips against my forehead — obviously checking for fever.

“No, why?”

“Well, it seems that you’ve missed an IMPORTANT holiday tradition, and I wanted to know if you were okay.” Mom let out a great sigh.

Now I know that I was not running on all cylinders, but could not for the life of me figure out what in the world she was talking about.

“Does Linda know about this?” I asked, stalling for time.

“She most certainly does, and I must confess she’s rather miffed over it all.”

“What about the kids?” I asked.

“Lisa’s been waiting all morning, Tim's just a boy.”

“Mom, I confess, what is it I’ve forgotten?”

“Oh my very dear; your mind is slipping. Or, perhaps I’ve failed you. Well, if I put an apron on you would that give you a hint? What if I reminded you that YOU are the hostess and mistress of the house?”

“Oh My Gosh, I forgot. The cookies!”

“Momma’s GOOOOOD baby! Shall we go see if Vikki will let us in the kitchen?

“What about recipes?” I asked, suddenly worried.

“Well, I’m sure we can come up with something. Anyway, get your butt in gear, girl. You want some done before Jane comes over, don’t you?”

“Argh, yeah I suppose so. It’s just that you or Linda have always been in charge.”

“Get girl! It’s your house, you are in charge.”

a piece of the solution fell into place.

Mom gathered Lisa, Lisa called Annie, Annie called the Mooneys and soon there was a gaggle of women in the kitchen.

“Vikki, can we make some cookies? It’s a family tradition for Christmas Day.”

Vikki, with a smile on her face asked, “Can I help and lick a bowl?” Soon, Vikki was laying out the ingredients. I held out for peanut butter blossom cookies. Linda and Lisa organized cut-out sugar cookies. Mom grabbed Tim and began to make chocolate marshmallow fudge.

Rachel Mooney and her two daughters began with Chewy Caramel Bars, and graduated to thick molasses cookies.

Vikki was in her glory. Yes, “I” was in charge - at her suffrage. She bounced from one group to another. When the cookies were ready to go in the ovens, she made sure the ovens were correctly preheated. She was like a conductor, directing a laughing, talkative group of women in the creation of holiday treats.

Tim snuck out of the room when no one was looking, taking a plate of fudge with him. All the while the rest of the kitchen staff was preparing the Christmas Holiday Dinner. I thoroughly enjoyed the time of fellowship with those around me. The love and warmth surrounding me was simple, fun and real. I know women who hate being in the kitchen, claim it's somehow demeaning. I don't understand it, I love making a dish and having it enjoyed.

Hal stuck his head in and I rewarded him with a large plate of cookies, firmly instructing him to share with the other guys in the house.

That’s how Jane found me. Flour in my hair and on my face, sticking Hershey’s kisses in the cookies hot and fresh from the oven. “Hey, get over here and help me before they get too cold,” I called to her.

With a grin, Jane lay down her packages washed her hands and accepted an apron from Vikki. “Chuck and the babies are upstairs, so what do I do?” she asked.

“Oh my Gosh, haven’t you ever made peanut blossom cookies before?” I asked.

“Kate, I’m absolutely NOT domestic,” Jane replied. “I became Governor so I would have a competent cook. I have trouble just boiling water.”

I looked at her aghast. “Really?” Gads! My mom made sure I could cook about the same time I learned to read.

“It was pure selfishness on my part,” Mom replied. “If she could cook, then I didn’t have to! Both Kate and her brother learned to cook very early on. By junior high, they were expected to cook at least one night a week.”

“Hey, that’s against the child labor laws!” I complained. “Jane, can you have this mean person arrested?” I pouted.

“Uh, I hate to get involved in family squabbles,” she replied. “Did the offense take place in the Commonwealth?”

“No!” Mom crowed. “It was in California and simply YEARS ago, so the statute of limitations has run out, too”

Jane turned to me, gave a deep theatrical sigh and said, “Sorry, there seems to be nothing I can do.” Then she giggled, spoiling the effect.

I tried to look suitably offended, but the laughter was infectious.

An hour or so later, the cookies were done, and Jane and I went to my office.

“Okay, what’s on your mind?” I asked, dropping gratefully into my chair.

“Well, I just wanted to drop off your Christmas present and see if you are still willing to help with the Girl Scouts.”

“Of course I am.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” and Jane handed me a package. “Go on, open it.”

I removed the wrapping and inside found a Girl Scout adult uniform, walking shorts, slacks, a blouse, and a jacket. Jane had even attached the appropriate tabs and insignia.

“Okay, I guess you’ve roped me in on this one.” I laughed easily, “Now, can you tell me why you really wanted to talk to me on Christmas Day?”

Jane sat up straight in the chair. There was a definite change in the climate of the room. She looked directly in my eyes and asked, “What are you going to do?”

“Jane, what are you talking about?”

“Kate, I know Hal very well. I knew Kate as well, and from that, I think I know you. There is no way Hal is going to sit back and allow your attacker to go unpunished. The only question in my mind is, ‘will he, or you, stop there?’”

“Jane, where are you going with this?”

“I want to help. I realized that yesterday at the hospital. What happened to you happens to way too many women; and what angers me to the depths of my soul is that the criminal all too often goes unpunished. It's even worse among transgendered women. Rita Hester's case makes it clear that murder isn't murder when the victim is transsexual — even here in Massachusetts.”

“Someone has to do something, and Cendar has the resources to make something happen.”

“Jane, what you’re suggesting may be against the law, and I’m not sure, but if I reply to your statements it might be construed as criminal conspiracy.”

“Kate, what I’m talking about is a higher law. The courts are broken. They know very little about, and care even less about right and wrong. Justice can seldom be counted on. All they care about is “law” and “procedure,” not justice. All too often whoever has the most money wins. And what’s worse, in sexual assault cases the defendant’s attorney treats the victim in ways that compound the hurt and damage from the assault. And in the end, the slime that committed the crime often walks away, or if convicted, frequently gets little more than a slap on the wrist.”

Jane was breathing heavily. It was clear she was angry, and getting angrier as she continued.

“What are you suggesting Hal and I do?”

“I don’t know. I only know that if anyone can do something, it’s you two. And, you have the motivation. When you decide what you’re going to do, let me know how I can help. I promise you; anything in my power is yours. But you have GOT to do SOMETHING!” She practically screeched, then the tears began leaking from her eyes and down her blouse as she stared me in the eye.

Another piece dropped into place. Jane was effectively the Lord Temporal of Massachusetts. She must be told.

Jane continued sobbing her frustration. What else could I do? I wrapped her in my arms and held on to her as she wept. It was a time of introspection for me. As Jane cried, I thought of my early morning commitment to my twin.

My resolve hardened. I would do something. I just hoped Linda and Hal would agree. I knew Simon would love the idea. As I began thinking of how to avenge the unmourned, I began making little comforting sounds to Jane. She pulled away and from the look she gave me, it was clear she knew her words had not gone unheard. I’d made a decision.

“Let’s start with this,” I said. “I think Hal and I can get a couple of special shelters built and staffed for victims of domestic violence. Before I got involved in this, I heard of a marvelous place in San Diego called Becky’s House. The exact location was kept secret, but it provided a place for women to start over. It was an apartment complex, each unit fully furnished. When they were ready to leave, all the furniture went with them. It truly was a new start.”

“And what about the other?” she asked.

“Jane, I don’t know; I’m thinking. If I need your help, I'll ask.”

Jane looked at me, nodded her head in understanding and we put the issue aside.

Jane and I left the office, and I noticed it was almost 2:00, time for Christmas dinner. I insisted Jane and Chuck stay; then went to the kitchen to see how things were coming. Vikki was like a General, marshaling her troops. I butted in and scandalized her by insisting that all the kitchen staff was part of the family. They would join us at dinner. While she was sputtering, I turned to her assistant Teresa, and asked if she would let me help her set the table.

I told them I was tired of being the impotent lady of the manor, and decided that for once, THEY would be treated the same as everyone else in this mad house I now called home.

So, I hustled Teresa out of the kitchen, and we began to set the table. I was grateful the dining hall table was so big. It accommodated the 34 guests, and Teresa and I had barely finished when the rest of the staff began laying out the feast. I called Tim upstairs, and had him round everyone up. I went to Hal, and told him of my conversation with the governor. He approved the idea of the shelters immediately; and cautiously agreed to a program of covert action.

We walked arm in arm to the dining room and took our places. Hal was at the head, and I was at the foot of the table. As the remaining guests took their places, Hal stood to make an announcement. “There is a God. Tonight I know that. I have only to look at Kate to have a certainty no one can shake. Tonight we celebrate the birth of the Christ child.

It seems appropriate to me to make a little announcement. Tomorrow, I will be instructing the legal staff to begin work on a shelter facility for victims of domestic violence. We will look for partners, but we will build a safe haven. Because of her suggestions to Kate today, we’ve decided to name it Jane’s Place.”

Jane’s head snapped around and she looked at me. I just nodded. “Initially, we will fund a facility here on the North Shore, and one near our California operation. Now, if you would join me, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before.” With a twinkle in his eye, Hal reached into his coat pocket and took out some papers, “I had to look this up on the Internet,” Hal sheepishly explained. “Please pray with me,

In the peace of this season our spirits are joyful:
With the beasts and angels,
the shepherds and stars,
with Mary and Joseph we sing God's praise.
By your coming may the hungry be filled with good things,
and may our table and home be blessed.
Bless us O Lord, and these Thy gifts,
which we are about to receive from Thy bounty
through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

“And now, let’s eat!”

I sat stunned, was this really Hal? I thought over his actions of the past few days and realized that everything that had happened had been life changing for him also. I wasn’t the only one who was changed by the actions of the last weeks. I walked down to the head of the table, and with tears in my eyes, kissed the man who was my husband. “Thank you for a beautiful prayer,” I said before I quietly resumed my place.

What can I say; the dinner was, as anticipated, wonderful. The menu was extensive and Vikki blushed at the compliments she received. I knew my decision to insist the staff was family and should eat with us was the right one. After dinner, it was almost telepathic. The women shared in cleaning up, shortening the time Vikki and Teresa would have spent, and truthfully, none of the ladies objected.

It was kind of an extension of the cookie making process. I know it's terribly sexist, but everyone from governor Swift down to the youngest teenager (one of the Mooney girls, I think) pitched in and helped. I suppose it was our way to express our thanks to the kitchen staff.

With the last dish put away, the leftovers refrigerated, and the dessert ready to be served, we went upstairs to join the men.

It had been decided in our absence to have a game night. I had other plans …

I asked Jane and Linda to get Hal and Andy to join me in the upstairs office. We settled in, and I began. “You,” pointing to Jane, “expect me to do something about abuse. This morning you said justice can't be found in the courts. You,” I said to Hal and Linda, “say you love me, and you expect and trust me to make the right decision. And you, nodding to Andy, have my life and safety in your hands.”

“None of you `seems to remember how totally screwed up I am. I am certifiable. Even so, you expect me to instinctively do what's right. Who then is crazy? You … or me?

“I've been thinking all day. Actually, it started this morning with Simon's gift of a sword, and continued as I spent time with my twin. She's the one who truly inspired me. Don't you dare laugh, but she showed me things about myself this morning I never knew before.

“We live in a time when international borders are meaningless lines on a map. Justice can be bought or avoided. Especially, the poor can be caught up and crushed by the courts because their opponent can afford better attorneys. It seems clear to me that no state can truly provide justice. The last time these conditions prevailed was during the Middle Ages. States could not provide for the commonweal. Justice was something that existed only within the confines of a particular county — if then.

“Hal, there has to be a better answer. Because of your hard work, you've become rich and powerful. Because of your obsession Hal, I am your wife, and more powerful than I ever dreamed. At the same time, Cendar is in many countries, and when the diagnostic medical package is approved we will truly be global. Jane, you provided a piece to the puzzle. It's time to give back. I've come to believe justice comes with a price. Like liberty, it's never free.

“Here's what I propose to do. Though I know it will sound crazy, I want to form a new order of chivalry. A fellowship which puts justice ahead of law, and doesn't care about borders.”

I asked them to think about it, excused myself and left the others discussing the idea. I found Simon and asked him to join us. Simon entered the office, saw those gathered and a gleam appeared in his eyes With no further explanation, I asked Hal, Linda, Andy and Jane to bear witness to what was about to happen.

“This morning you gave me a sword. I desire to honor your request and enlist your help, to accept your offer of fealty. The sword has always stood for truth and justice. There is a truth you must know before you swear loyalty to me before the sword. I was born John, and through circumstance beyond my control I stand before you, known by all, now and forever as Katherine Elayne Stevens. I love, and am loved by my husband and my wife. Though born outwardly male, my doctors assure me I am indeed, inwardly a woman. This is my heart's deepest secret.”

Linda and Hal began to tear up. Simon, startled by this proclamation looked up. Our eyes met, the bond silently renewed.

“Few know that truth.”

I turned to my loved ones, “In ancient times justice was the obligation of the powerful as well as the state. In England, this became embodied in Common Law. Massachusetts proclaims itself to be a Commonwealth, the body politic of its residents. Each of you know the Commonweal is often disregarded.

“I intend that justice will again mean more than words upon a page. I am, by your love and devotion, powerful. Today I declare Justice shall not be ignored. By her leave I take up the name, the titles, and the duties of my twin, now and forever. Today the rich are the powerful. Hal, we have a power and a duty. I ask you, My Lord husband, my love, My Lady wife, will either of you deny me my right to justice?

I think Hal was more than a little bit stunned by my actions. Nevertheless, he shook his head, I turned to Linda and with tears making rivulets down her face, she too agreed to support my decision.

I reached to the desk, and took up the sword. “Simon, it's your choice,” I whispered. Simon knelt before me and clasped his hands as if in prayer. I had guessed right.

As though expecting it Simon began the ancient ritual, "Before these witnesses, I, Simon, Baron Somerset, promise on my faith that I will now and in the future be faithful to you my Lady, to never cause you harm and will observe my homage to You completely against all persons in good faith and without deceit."

“Think Simon, this is an age that has forsworn chivalry and justice. Nevertheless, if you will, I shall accept you as my liege man. By my might, I swear to endeavor always to be true and faithful. With this sword I will execute justice, both High and Low.”” I bared the blade. “Never will it be used for personal gain.”

Simon answered, “My lady, my liege Lord, let your enemies be my enemies, my victories your victories, and my Honor your honor. I bear true faith and witness. What you command, I shall do. Where you send me, I shall go. This I promise, and thus I swear to be your faithful liege until the world ends.”

I took his hands in mine: “I promise on my honor that I will now and in the future be faithful to you. This Oath of Fealty I accept, and will not release you until Justice is the norm and does not cry out to you from beyond the grave. That quest and charge I give you and promise support, help, and succor as is your due. Knowing your faithful loyalty to justice where none existed; On my honor, in memory of Gillian and all those destroyed by the strong, the lawless or the ones they cherished, I Dame Katherine Elayne Stevens, accept thee and name thee ‘Paladin,’ as is my right and duty.”

“Rise My Lord”

With a quirky smile Simon spoke, “You know my Lady, what we've just done may at some point be construed as conspiracy.?”

“Does that bother you? Do you think it bothers these witnesses? What do you think I would have you do?”

“Actually, it does strike me as just slightly outside the law to form a group whose aim is the elimination of rapists.”

“Do you think I care?” I asked, a snarl twisting my face.

“Hmm, no, I don't suppose you do; nor, in point of fact do I. So then, my Lady, what's our next step?”

“I don't know. I'm making this up as I go. We will see how the courts work. If John Maxwell is convicted, fine. We move on. If he's acquitted, I want him permanently unable to rape again. In this I will have Justice!”

“For now, we’ll carry on as before. I still have to convince Hal and Linda I've gone crazy in a good way.” That resulted in a laugh or two.

“Certainly the public side of helping victims with shelter houses is a start. I do think each “graduate” of the shelter program should be taught self-defense. Let them know the power hiding within. I want them to become lethal weapons. If attacked, to defend themselves and their children to the death. Andy, Simon, can you do this? I don't want the perp to get up, ever. That, at least is sort of within the law.

“In any case, we'll gather in a few days to discuss it.” I ended the conversation and we all rejoined the others.

I made my way to my bedroom, I'd thought too hard today and I desperately needed a nap.

Linda found me that way, still clothed, snuggled under a blanket. “Hey your Ladyship,” she teased. “Time to wake up … it's about 4 o'clock, and dessert's ready!”

“Can't you just let me sleep?” I whimpered.

“Oh no Your Highness. Your loyal subjects await your every whim.”

“Was I that ridiculous?”

“Oh Honey, no. Jane, Hal, Andy and I came to the conclusion that it was slightly daft, but actually reasonable, considering the way the world is. Jane offered any help she could. Hal thinks, and I agree, that only those who have a legitimate need to know be told about this in its entirety. How many to you think you're going to need?”

“I'm not sure. When Charlemagne ruled Europe he appointed 12 Paladins to see justice was observed; certainly less than that. Erik Moore, Pat and Sheila will need to know. We'll see how it goes from there. And I want an Island.”

“I'm not going to believe this, am I?”

“No, I'm serious. With so much trouble in the world, I think Cendar security should be expanding to provide protection, medical and security services. Able to provide maybe something like a reinforced company in size, with a Battalion sized medical attachment. I'm sure with the terrorist attacks, demand for consultants will go through the roof! I'd like an island to make that happen, and keep it quiet. We can also use that as a cover for some of what we'll be doing.”

“I was right, I don't believe it.”

“Oh forget it, I'm just daydreaming.”

“Well come along then Miss Day Dreamer, your kingdom awaits.”

Linda and I went to the family room, where Vikki served dessert. I could honestly get fat (uh … correction, fatter) living here. It goes without saying it was scrumptious.

Jane and her entourage waddled out into the late afternoon sun after exchanging goodbyes. Her eyes held the promise of hope. Everyone else seemed to drift off into their own activities and I went looking for Lisa. I wasn't surprised to find her with Annie huddled over Lisa's desk, planning for the SCA party.

“Hey you two, can I ask a question?”

“Sure Mom,” they chorused in unison before breaking out in giggles.

“I would like you to include crowns for the family. I've decided that Cendar has to be the equivalent of a Barony, you know, like “Railroad Baron,” And the family should be suitably crowned. Well, not really a crown. Annie, you know what I mean?

“You mean coronets,” Annie informed me.

“Mom that would be so cool,” Lisa said.

“I don't want to intrude on your planning, but I thought we could get some of the staff involved, like the security guards in livery, and appropriate clothing for our kitchen staff. What do you think?”

Annie chuckled, “I think I'm gonna be busy this week!”

“Lisa, do you have your guest list ready honey?”

“Mom, I put it on your desk yesterday.”

“Ooops! Okay, have you talked to them? Do you have a chaperon to accompany them?”

“It's all on the list,” Annie replied. “12 teenage girls, and Charlotte's dad as chaperon will be picked up on Saturday. I've talked to some friends, and we'll have about 25 local SCA members to help out, mostly guys,”

“Whoo hoo!” Lisa interrupted, and the two of them laughed.

“Anyway, I think things are coming together. Hermione’s planned the Hall's decorations. I'm working frantically to get all the garb created.”

“Excuse me, garb?”

“Mom, you're such a 'dane!” Lisa complained, and the two laughed at their inside joke.

“'Dane?”

With an exaggerated expression of exacerbation Annie answered “'Dane, as in mundane. Garb is the general term for period clothing. Besides Lisa's friends, I promised to make up garb for some of the local SCA members. This is a feast that will go down in Society history!”

“Okay, I'm leaving, taking my poor old 'dane bones, and leaving you two to your scheming.”

“Mom, about the coronets,” Lisa asked. “Should they be silver or gold colored?”

“I would prefer they be gold.”

“Wow! That will look so cool,”

“I'll talk to you girls later,” I said, retreating from my daughter’s castle.

I drifted into the TV room, and found Tim watching a TV. I sat down next to him. “Where'd everyone go?”

“I dunno,” Tim replied. So the two of us sat there watching TV.

-----------------------------
A home, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Christmas Day
Carol Maxwell was somewhat worried. John had not returned from his business trip. This wasn’t unusual, and Carol frankly hoped he’d never return. She would have left him long ago except for the children. John provided VERY well, but, he liked to hit. Her bruises from his farewell were finally fading away. And THAT was the reason she did not divorce him. She couldn’t take the chance that he would get custody of their three small children.
Pasting a smile on her face Carol woke her children. “Lucy, Sally, John, come on, get up, it’s Christmas Morning, you sillies! Lucy, Sally, and John were the love of her life. Triplets! Sally and Lucy were identical. Labor had been horrid, and Carol wound up not being able to bear any more children. Her husband blamed her for that, of course! Shepherding her 10 year olds downstairs, the kids went nuts when they saw the tree!
Carol passed out the presents, and watched her angels open them.
‘Who could be calling at this time of the morning?’

A mechanical voice told her “This is the Correctional Facility Billing Service. I have a John Maxwell from the Federal Detention Center in Miami, Florida on the line trying to reach Carol Maxwell. Will you accept the charges?
Carol looked down at the phone in her hand and carefully placed it back in its receiver. A genuine smile crept to her lips and kept going, forming a grin that threatened to split her face in half. Maybe this WOULD be a Merry Christmas. While the kids were occupied with the gifts, Carol slipped into John’s office. She found his rolodex, and called their attorney.
“Carol, Merry Christmas! What can I do for you?”
“Leo, I want a divorce. John has gone and gotten himself arrested, and is in Federal Jail in Miami. If he’s convicted, I want a divorce before he gets out!”
“What has he been arrested for?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m sick and tired of being beaten at his whim. Leo, one of these days he’s gonna kill me! Can you come over with a camera? I still have bruises from his last beating, and the doctor says I’ve a broken rib.”
“Relax, Carol. Nothing’s going to be done this week. I’ll get word to him that I’m looking into his case and will visit him on Monday.”
“Thanks Leo, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Well, once we know what he’s been arrested for, we’ll have a better idea of how to proceed. I will have to get a Florida based attorney to actually represent him, but this way he’ll see you tried.”
“Yeah, sure I did!” Carol laughed before hanging up the phone.
-----------------------------
United States Federal Detention Facility, Miami, Florida Christmas Day

John Maxwell was in the common room of the third floor pod in the East Wing. So far, he’d avoided confrontations with any of the other prisoners. That, he knew, was just a matter of time. There was no way he could physically take on many of the prisoners. For the third time today he tried to place a collect call to his home in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. On the third ring the phone was answered. The lady who picked up the phone listened to the operator, and then refused the call in a cheerful and pleasant Midwestern accent.
John Maxwell couldn’t believe his wife of twenty plus years would do that to him. He promised himself when he got out of this mess she would get the beating she so richly deserved — just like the slut on the cruise. Maxwell returned to his cell, ignoring his cellmate, climbed in his bunk relishing the memory of the rape. He shut his eyes, wishing he could shut the world out just as easily.
-----------------------------
Steven’s Hall, Massachusetts, Tuesday, Christmas Day, 2001
The guests had all gone home. The house began to quiet down, and after checking in on the kids, I went to my bedroom and changed. A long flannel nightgown, and thick woolen socks completed my attire as I struggled to remove my makeup and go to bed.
It had been a long day. At the end I’d found the bonds of love stronger than my yearning for freedom. For now, I had no choice, I would, as promised before witnesses, be Kate. I don’t know how, but I will love and honor both my husband and my wife. The old feeling of unease, of waiting for just the right moment to throw up was still there. But the time with my twin comforted and strengthened me.
I climbed in bed, and read until Hal and Linda joined me. Then I fell into a deep and peaceful sleep.
--------------------------
United States Federal Detention Facility, Miami, Wednesday December 26, 2001.

Nominally the week Before Christmas until the day after New Years Day, were given all Cendar employees as “Winter Leave.” That was the more politically correct term for getting the time off for the holidays. Generally, Cendar employees found envelopes with their name containing a full month’s salary as a Christmas bonus on top of their December Paychecks. Hal and Beth believed in keeping the best workers, and keeping them happy.
There were, however, those whose job required them to work around the clock seven days a week. These poor unfortunates could be divided into groups - those on medical duty and those with security duties. Ed Millhouse fell into the second category. He used all his contacts to keep tabs on John Maxwell. Ed even found himself sitting before the duty magistrate. If anything were to happen to John Maxwell, it was his job to know what it was and take steps to follow.
An unhappy player in our drama was winging his way down to Miami. Leo Sweeney had decided to visit John Maxwell as soon as possible. It wasn’t that he liked his client, he didn’t. In the upcoming divorce he would certainly represent Carol, pro bono if necessary. If anything he was acting for her; he had the necessary documents to make bail, if it should be allowed. Because he was certified to practice before the Supreme Court, he would be accepted even in the Miami Federal Courts. Leo arrived at 10:30, and took a taxi to the Federal Judicial Center, Miami. Working his way past the clerks, police, marshals, and secretaries he finally arranged a hearing before the duty magistrate.
“Mr. Sweeney, let me begin by letting you know I’m operating under pretty relaxed rules today, have you had a chance to talk with your client yet?”
“No, your Honor. I am Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell’s Family Attorney. I have yet to be informed of the charges against my client. I would like to talk to him, and hold a bail hearing today. Mr. Maxwell is a pillar of his community, sits on the town council, and has a portfolio valued at $2,500,000. Mrs. Maxwell has offered part or the entire portfolio as surety that he will appear and comply with court orders.
“Bailiff, would you fetch John Maxwell so that he can talk to his attorney, and be present for these proceedings. While we are waiting Mr. Sweeney, have a seat, I’ve plenty of other fish to fry this day.
Leo sat in the jury box, as was his lawyers’ privilege. 20 minutes later, an unshaven, unkempt John Maxwell appeared in the docket.
Finishing his previous business the magistrate Indicated that Maxwell and Leo should stand before him at the dock.
“Mister Maxwell, I have to admit, there’s a couple of serious charges here. Do you want to hear the charges and plead to them today?”
Leo leaned over and spoke in a low tone with John. After a moment, they came to an agreement and Leo answered, “Yes, your honor;”
“Madam clerk, would please read the charges, just the highlights if you please?
“Yes your honor. In US vs. Maxwell the complaint specifies: Assault with a deadly weapon on a Peace officer, Simple Assault on a Peace Officer, Aggravated assault and Battery, 1 count of Piracy with special circumstances; the scene of the crime being the cruise ship Golden Princess then underway in International waters; Burglary in commission of Piracy, Robbery in the commission of Piracy, Rape in the commission of Piracy, Intimidation of Witness, Subornation of a Public Official.”
”Madame clerk, you will please provide a complete copy and specifications to the defendant’s attorney.”
“Well, Mr. Maxwell that is one butt ugly list of charges. How do you plead?”
Leo answered for the defendant, “Not guilty.”
“Very well. Madame clerk, please schedule this case in 60 days; that should give you plenty of time to prepare your defense.”
“Your honor, in the matter of bail?
“Well,, I suppose we’ve gone this far. Mr. Prosecutor, what does the government suggest on bail”
“Your honor, the government opposes bail in this case. We believe the defendant to be a flight risk. Should Bail be granted, it should be set prohibitively high.”
“Okay then, bail will be set at $1.5 million cash or securities, $5 million if a bondsman is used. Monies or securities to be placed with the clerk of the court.
“Now, a good day to you ‘all,” the judge said, banging his gavel and leaving the courtroom.
Leo provided the required securities, and waited for the bail process to work its way to John.
Ed Milhouse left the courtroom and began making calls.
----------------------------------
Steven’s Hall, Massachusetts, Wednesday, December 26, 2001
“This is Andrew Jeeves,” Andy took the phone call in the second floor security office.
“Hi boss, it’s Ed Milhouse. John Maxwell just made bail.”



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