The funeral was heartbreaking. ‘A child should never outlive his parents,’ he thought. What made it worse was when his younger sister confronted him about not using his position to intervene in her situation. She refused to comprehend that it was against the rules, if not the law, to exercise authority pursuing personal matters. And family problems were definitely considered personal matters.
When the problem first arose, she’d called him to ask for his help. She’d said that her son, his nephew, had been taken by the child protection system, that they had accused her of neglect.
He’d asked, “What’s the basis for the charge?”
“My husband was laid off from his job five months ago, and the rainy-day money we’d saved ran out, so we sometimes run short of money to pay the bills,” she’d replied.
“That happens to a lot of people, Cindy.”
“I know that, Marty. But we were short on the rent last month and had to put off paying the electric bill to cover it. Then this month, we got a cutoff notice from the power company. I swallowed my pride and applied for public assistance. I figured if we could get food stamps and some cash assistance, because Thomas’ unemployment checks aren’t enough to cover everything, we could make it until he got another job, or until I found a good one. Or both, but that wouldn’t work too well because the cost of day care keeps going up. Instead, I got a visit from CPS, and the social worker saw the cupboards were almost bare, and Richie was dirty because he’d just come in from playing out in the back yard.”
“That shouldn’t be a reason to take Richie from you. You should get a lawyer, Cindy.”
“We can’t afford one. Every one we talked to wanted a retainer. We just don’t have the money. Can you look into it for us? For me? I swear I’ll pay you back once we get on our feet again, Marty.”
“I can’t do that, sis. It’s against the rules.”
“Damn the rules! It’s your nephew they took away!”
“I’m sorry, Cindy. I can’t help you. I’m tapped myself since my ex-wife took me to the cleaners. On alimony and child support. And I won’t break the rules or the law by using my position as an FBI agent to intervene in a legal process.”
“Damn you! You’re my brother! You’re the only family I have left! If I can’t count on you, what the hell am I supposed to do?”
“You should be able to get a lawyer appointed by whatever court is hearing your case. That’s the only suggestion I can make. You and Tim are responsible for this. I’m not in a position to help. I’m sorry, Cindy.”
“Well, fuck your sorry, Marty!”
The next sound was the slamming of the phone.
Martin Rothman arrived at work on Monday and called his boss, the assistant director, to see if he could spare a few minutes.
“Sure, Marty, come on in. Bring your cup if you want some fresh coffee. It’s from Peru; pretty damn good.”
“After the funeral, my sister shoved a folder into my hands. She said it was the coroners’ report on my nephew and a few other things. I studied it and the other papers over the weekend, and come to the conclusion that we have a problem. It might be a Constitutional issue, too. But it boils down to fraud on a level I’ve never seen. It’s nationwide, and possibly international as well.”
“What is its’ nature?”
“It’s the child protection system. It’s become self-perpetuating, and it’s eating up economic resources left and right. Laws designed to protect children are being corrupted in their application to give the system more and more power and control. Families are being destroyed when they might only need a little help to get past the rough spots. From what I’ve read in this folder, there’s a color of law issue where the caseworkers are making decisions based on their own beliefs and prejudices rather than established protocols. And there’s a heavy reliance on anonymous reportage, and no effort to ascertain that the reporter is on the up-and-up or has an ax to grind.”
“Interesting. What do you think we can do about it?”
“Sir, I propose that we investigate this. I’d like to put together a special team, someone I know personally, a retired Marine Corps major, Charlie Richardson, as the lead agent. Richardson’s team would be under the radar, known only to you, me and the Director. They would have the resources of our field offices at need, but nobody would be privy to their assignment.”
“Richardson, you say? Is that the one you were telling me about a while back, whose son was taken and then died in state custody?”
“Yes, sir, that’s the one.”
I checked him out. His record suggests he’s a straight shooter with something of a Napoleonic complex. A stickler for the rules and intolerant of infractions. Are you sure you want to work with him?”
“Absolutely. He’s not a straight-up black and white thinker; he sees the shades of gray, and for this assignment, that would be a required trait. And his rank shows that he has the leadership skills necessary.”
“But he’d still need to go through our training.”
“Not if we waive that requirement, under the radar again. We can put together a training regimen for the people who would be on his team. It would be based more on covert ops protocols than our regular training. And he’s already good for that; his MOS before he transferred to the air wing was in Force Recon. I know that’s where you were in your time, sir.”
“Tell you what, Marty. Leave that folder with me and go write up your proposal. Stamp it ‘Eyes Only’ and give it to me. I’ll look at this material, then at your proposal, and think about it. But you know it’ll be a bitch getting it approved by the Director.”
“I know that, sir. But if anyone can get him to sign off on it, you can.”