Tracy’s bitter reminiscence was interrupted by a beep from her computer telling her that the clandestine link-up was completed. She tested the security of her connection and found that her tap hadn’t been detected. Then she began clicking through the file structure of the Social Services computer mainframe, looking first for administrative files that might provide clues to whatever was going on in Dutchess County.
She found requisitions for vehicle usage to transport children to doctor’s appointments and to the social services building for family visits as well as return trips to the foster homes they had been placed in. Nothing unusual there. There were vacation requests on file, transfers, and other basic personnel files common to most government agencies. There were several folders, each with a different medical practitioner’s name, containing results of tests performed on children in the department’s custody. She scanned the last lines of each, knowing that was where she would find diagnoses of any conditions, especially if they were related to abuse or neglect.
The last folder, with the title “Dr. Yarrow, Romilda, Ped. Psych.”, caught her attention. ‘Pediatric psychiatrist, huh?’ she thought. It made sense to her, considering that abused and neglected kids would be more likely to have such problems. She scanned the diagnoses as she had the others, then slowed down to read more carefully.
The more she read, the more alert she became, as if her brain had just had a massive shot of caffeine. Almost every diagnosis in this file listed sexual abuse as a cause of unspecified trauma. And most of the children were listed as 8 years old or younger. ‘Unspecified trauma?’ she thought. ’How could such trauma be unspecified?′
She went back to the first file, the one that named the doctor and listed the patient files within the folder. She read the headers carefully. Something was wrong here; there was something missing.
She minimized the window and brought up another, hoping she could find a connection to the local phone company that was accessible through this tap. But there was only a list of numbers for service providers and clients. And the data for service providers didn’t include any more information that she’d already found. She had to find a phone book with the Yellow Pages included. That wouldn’t be difficult, she thought, in a small town like this. Any phone booth should have what she needed. And there was most likely one right up the road, in that Greek restaurant just past the intersection.
She broke the connection and shut down the computer. Grabbing her Motorola mobile phone off it’s charger and putting it in her back pocket, she then checked the .25 caliber Baby Browning resting in the custom holster behind her back. When she saw that the clip was loaded, there was a round in the chamber, and the safety was on, she wrote a note for the others to find in case she was gone too long from the house. Then she slipped on her loose denim jacket to hide the bulges and went through the door.
She turned left, crossed Parker and Hamilton caddy-corner, and walked toward the Parthenon Restaurant a few hundred feet west. Walking past the empty field, she decided that as long as she was at the diner anyway, she might as well grab a bite; it seemed like forever since she’d had a gyro or souvlaki.
She walked past the parked cars and up the steps. There was a pay phone right next to a pinball machine. She saw a phone book below the phone, attached to the booth by a steel cable. She opened it to the yellow pages; Poughkeepsie was a small enough place that the white and yellow pages were in the same book. Under “Physicians”, she looked for “Yarrow”; there was only one, which didn’t surprise her. She had a small block listing as well as an alphabetical line entry. The block ad was the one Tracy wanted.
Dr. Romilda Yarrow
37 Fox Street
*Practice limited to
‘That’s odd,’ she thought. ‘Practice limited to adolescent medicine? Then what’s she doing examining little kids? And the Social Services agency had her listed as a pediatric psychiatrist. Something’s really fishy here.’
She looked around, didn’t see anyone, and tore the page from the book. Then she closed the book, put it back in its’ slot beneath the phone, and went through the inner door into the restaurant. She waited to be seated by the hostess, who gave her a menu and asked if she’d like something to drink. She asked for pink grapefruit juice, then opened the menu. A cursory glance told her that they served both gyros and souvlaki, so when a waitress brought her juice, she ordered the souvlaki.
She’d noticed a newspaper rack near the front counter, by the cash register. She bought a copy of the local paper, the Poughkeepsie Journal, and returned to her seat. She opened the paper, pretended to read while watching her surroundings. She’d purposely asked for a corner table for just that reason.
Her food came; she set the paper aside and ate, careful to keep her eyes checking her surroundings while seeming to be enjoying the meal. When she’d finished, the waitress came over and asked if she would like desert. Tracy asked for a dish of baklava, a rich honey-based pastry that she’d had in Florida with her husband, before he’d been murdered so many years ago.
She wondered momentarily why she’d ordered the souvlaki and now the baklava. After brief consideration, she realized that the memory jolt from Marissa’s account of the man outside the welfare office had unleashed a longing in her; after so many years, she suddenly missed her old life. But it was a distant, almost nostalgic thing that she knew was forever beyond her reach.
The waitress brought her pastry, warmed and topped with vanilla ice cream. She ate it slowly, savoring the taste and texture, remembering the good times before Tommy Jones had gunned Lee down.
She finished, looked at her watch, and decided she’d been out long enough; she didn’t want the others to start worrying about her.
She caught the waitress’ attention, took the check, handed the girl a tip, and then went to pay the check. On the way out, she passed by a short, clean-cut man playing pinball; she gave him a cursory glance, absently noted the cheap cologne he was wearing, then continued on her way.
After Tracy was out the door, Special Agent Gustavo Rivera turned his head to watch her, letting the ball drain down the side chute of the pinball machine. He then went back to his car and drove to the Binder’s Motel where he was staying, off the intersection Route 44/55 East and Main Street. He hooked the computer he’d brought from the regional office in New York City to the phone line, brought up the modified Telnet dialing program, and connected to the Agency’s database.
He took the photo he’d surreptitiously taken of the thin black woman, fed it into the on-board scanner, and tapped the key that sent it to the mainframe computer outside Washington, D.C. Then he lit a cigarette, took a sip of the coffee he’d bought at the diner, and sat back to wait. He had no idea how long it would take; much depended on whether the technician was on duty to input the data into the facial recognition program. Then the machine would sift through its database for similar characteristics. Then the tech would sort through those primary matches to find a close match. After that, there would be a search of government records matching the name and social security number of the subject in the photo.
He wondered how soon it would be before the process could be automated. With the advances being made in computer technology, he didn’t think it would be long at all. Sometimes it seemed to Gus that there was a new development every week.
He considered shutting down the computer and getting some sleep, but decided to at least finish his coffee first. He lit another smoke and pondered anew the Hispanic woman in the small group he was watching. He couldn’t get around the familiarity he felt, like he should know her somehow. Yet nothing he could think of brought him any hint of recognition, and no data came back from the Agency’s computer files. It was as if she didn’t exist.
He gave up for the moment trying to jog his memory. Without something more to go on, he couldn’t even begin to nail down who she was or where he might have known her from. He decided to get a few hours of sleep instead.
He stubbed out his cigarette half-finished and stood up, turning toward the small, cooler-sized refrigerator on top of the dresser. He was reaching toward it when the computer beeped at him. He turned back, looking at the screen, but it was only a notice that the machine was about to disconnect from the Agency computer due to lack of activity. But that was all right; when and if something came through, the technician would re-establish the connection and send the data he’d requested.
He got a can of root beer from the fridge, popped the top, and guzzled it down. Then he took off his shoes and stretched out on the bed, too tired to even undress first.
He awoke five hours later to his portable phone ringing. He grabbed it groggily, then woke up completely in a flash; nobody outside the Agency had the number for this phone, and few within.
“Who’s this?” he asked.
“Gus, it’s Jimmy Tomlinson. Sorry to wake you like this.” It was the head computer tech at the Agency, a man he’d become friends with several years ago.
Rivera replied, “No, that’s okay, Jimmy. What’s up?”
“I’m on the outside right now, on a pay phone. They told me not to call you, but the hell with that. You won’t get anything from that photo you sent out last night. They shut the program down before I could connect. But I was able to ID your perp.”
“Wait a minute. Did you say ‘perp’?”
“Yeah, Gus. Perp. Tracy Williams. You remember I did some computer work for that task force on the KKK a while back?”
“Yeah, I remember something about it. I was just starting out, fresh out of the Academy and they put me behind a desk and told me to analyze groups of cases. I remember having to take my analysis to you for data input. That’s how we met. What’s that got to do with this perp?”
“Well, Mrs. Tracy Williams did some State time in Florida for taking out a punk that was the son of one of those Klan guys. The kid shot and killed her husband and tried to kill her and her kid back in ’77, in what we call drive-by now. He got off in court, so she waited for him outside. When he came out, she put three rounds in him, then turned herself in.
“She was sentenced to twenty to life in the state pen at Lowell in 78. Her trial went fast; it was over in two months, compared to two years for the punk she shot. She went in, and then disappeared. But the upshot of it is that her record from Lowell is empty. She went through intake, then poof! Nothing more, just a blank page.”
Rivera was silent for a long moment, thinking. He lit another cigarette. Then he asked, “Is there anyone still around from that time who might have some insight into this? Not someone from the Agency, but someone local to the incident.”
“I thought you might ask something like that, so I did some checking before I called you. Got a pen handy? Of course you do. There’s a retired cop down there who saw the whole thing. Guy name of Jeffrey Mitchell. He was one of several assigned to security in the courthouse the day of the punk’s trial. As I understand it, he lives in a complex on Russell Street on the south side. Area code is 8-1-3; the number is 471-6159.”
Rivera finished scribbling the information, then said, “Thanks, Jimmy. I owe ya one.”
Tomlinson laughed. “Hell, Gus, you owe me a hell of a lot more than one and you know it. One of these days I might even collect.”
He got serious again. “You know something big is going on when the Agency blocks things like this. When this is over, assuming I’m still alive, I wouldn’t mind if you told me about it. I’d wondered off and on what became happened with that girl after she went to prison. From what I remember, she was one cool customer. I for one don’t blame her for icing that punk.”
Rivera’s breath caught in his throat for a second. “Jimmy, you say that as if you were there yourself. Do you know anything I should know?”
“You know the rules as well as I do; I can’t say any more than I have. In fact, I can’t say anything, and you didn’t hear me say anything. Go talk to Harrison, Gus. He’ll tell you what you need to know.”
“Okay, Jimmy. Thanks for everything.”
“Don’t mention it, Gus. I mean that. Something’s not right here, so you be careful.”
“Will do, old friend. See ya when this is over; we’ll go have a few beers and shoot the breeze.” He broke the connection, wondering what he was getting into.
When Tracy got back to the safe house, she fired up her computer and re-established the connection to the Social Services mainframe. She went to the file folders of Dr. Yarrow, scanned each case looking for a pattern. She found it after the first three reports, but kept looking at others to verify her rather troubling suspicions.
She came upon a case that looked more interesting. A six year old boy was in county custody, placed in foster care for alleged neglect, then upgraded to excessive corporal punishment, and later upgraded again to sexual abuse. But the interesting thing about this was the reasoning behind the diagnosis confirming the allegation.
Dr. Yarrow had written in her report that the boy had told her of a nightmare where he was being chased by monsters, and his father had chased the monsters away. The child had also related an account of an overflowing toilet with feces falling on the bathroom floor. Yet the good doctor had diagnosed this as unspecified trauma caused by sexual abuse.
This made no sense to her, so she decided to research it further. She knew she was onto something here; it wasn’t a big break in the team’s investigation, but it had signs of becoming one if she could nail something down. She felt intuitively that there was a tie-in to the big picture here in this upstate New York backwater.
Tracy read over the report more closely, looking for something to tie in to the overall situation. There was nothing there to do that with; but she did find a notation that Child Protective Services had informed her that the father was involved with another male parent whose children were also in county custody, and that they together were attempting to organize a family rights group to fight CPS. The report even named the other family, stating that the children could also be her examination subjects through CPS.
She then skimmed through the folders until she found the one with that other family’s name. There were three children, she saw; two by one mother, and the third by a different woman, but all with the same father. And they were all diagnosed as having been sexually abused, but with the same words: ‘Unspecified trauma.’ She quickly went back through the other files, looking at the diagnoses, and found that, of twenty-six children, all but two had the same generalized diagnosis. Only two had specific traumatic responses that the doctor specifically wrote were clinical examples of sexual abuse. And all were CPS referrals.
She opened another window and went back to the caseworker files, looking for the two names that Dr. Yarrow’s reports had linked together. She scanned them enough to see that CPS was not happy about these people being friends. There were a couple references to orders from supervisors to try to connect them in some way that could be used in Family Court. There was reference as well to an organization that sought to fight against CPS; these two men were trying to start a chapter of that organization here in this little town. But the most interesting, and the most disturbing, thing was that two of the other three children were diagnosed as sexually abused by this doctor, when she hadn’t even seen the boys and, in fact, they had just been taken. And the date on the report hadn’t happened yet; it was almost six months post-dated. That smelled to high heaven in her opinion, and she knew the team would agree.
She opened a third window and navigated it to the Social Services legal department, looking up the two names yet again. She found the documents for the Family Court cases against the two men. She skipped the headings and the preliminary paragraphs listing the names of the parties, but read thoroughly the allegations and summaries of both cases.
What she found stunned her. The agency was claiming that each of the men were involved in the sexual abuse of the others’ children, and that they had been prostituting them for money. But there was a memo attached to one of these cases suggesting that there was a need to prevent a private agency caseworker from testifying; that person worked for a residential home for children whose parents were thought to be unable to take care of them.
She wondered why the agency wanted to prevent that testimony. She tried running a Boolean search for the name of the residential caseworker, and only came up with one match. She double-clicked on it, and found a letter to the caseworker stating that there was reason to believe that the two men had not known each other until several months after the first child was taken into custody.
At the bottom of the letter was a notation from a senior supervisor, Donna Scarpo, stating that this testimony could damage the case against the parent. Tracy wondered that such a statement would be put on record, even on a secure computer. But then, perhaps they weren’t aware of how even a secure computer could be tapped into, as she was doing at that moment.
She went through all the files she could find concerning the case and saved them to her computer’s hard drive. By the time she finished, it was near dawn. She went to the kitchen to fix a pot of coffee; the others would be up soon, and she figured they would need to be wide awake when she gave her report.
Tracy woke up to the smell of scrambled eggs and Canadian bacon. She was at the kitchen table, her coffee cup still in her hand, the black liquid cold. She turned her bleary eyes toward the stove and saw Marissa dishing out the food. She realized that she’d fallen asleep herself; she hadn’t realized she’d been that tired.
“What time is it?” Tracy asked in a slightly slurred voice.
Marissa turned around to answer. “It’s about 8:30 or so, Trace. Why don’t you go to bed for a bit? After you eat something, of course.”
Tracy looked at he cup, then took a sip and scrunched up her face. “I hate cold coffee,” she said. Then she answered Marissa’s question. “Can’t go to bed yet; I need to tell y’all what I found last night. Or maybe I should say this morning,” she added with a quiet chuckle.
She looked around. “Where are the guys?”
Marissa brought two plates over to the table, placed one in front of Tracy, and set the other down opposite and took that seat. “The twins are checking the cars, making sure they’re good to go; you know they’re kind of anal like that about anything with a motor. Charlie’s on the phone seeing if we can get that agent off our backs. You know, the one that followed me yesterday.”
Tracy thought about that for a moment, then asked, “Does he have any idea what that guy is doing tailing us? He’s an agent, and he’s gotta be aware that we’re all working together, right? So he followed you because you were separated from the rest of us. At least, that’s how I figure it.”
“Yeah, that’s what Charlie figures, too. I think he’s right, but I also think there’s something more to it. But I can’t put my finger on it, you know?” She took a bite of her eggs, then continued. “Anyway, he’ll find out what the deal is. You know Charlie, he’s got his resources.”
Tracy took a sip of her juice. “Yes, he does. You don’t have to tell me twice about that; he got me out of where I was, and brought me into this team. I just wish he’d gotten to me sooner than he did; six years in that hellhole was six years too many. It should have been that jackass I shot going in there.”
Marissa had heard this before; but no matter how often the darker woman brought it up, she never knew how to respond. She was saved from another uncomfortable silence by the team leader coming down the stairs. She got up from the table, got a mug from the cupboard and filled it with coffee for him. She put in the single teaspoon of honey that Charlie preferred, then brought it over to the table and set it down in front of him. Then she went back to the stove, dished out some more food, and brought that to Charlie too.
Tracy watched this with interest. She knew that Charlie and Marissa had been married before, and lost their child to the so-called protectors, and that the emotional aftermath had caused their divorce. Yet even though he had brought Marissa onto the team, they had always fended for themselves, never once offering anything more than the camaraderie that would normally occur with co-workers. Yet here was Marissa, fixing Charlies’ coffee and breakfast.
Tracy decided that if she was reading this situation right, she would find a way to help them out a bit. In the meantime, her attention was drawn to the back door; the twins were coming back inside.
Robert and Raphael both came into the kitchen. Raphael said, “I smell coffee. Which way is the kitchen?”
Marissa rejoined with a smile, “You’re in the kitchen, you knucklehead. Get your own; this is self-serve here.”
Tracy sat quietly, sipped her coffee, and waited for the men to finish their breakfast. Then she outlined what she’d discovered with her research. When she was finished, she suggested giving a helping hand to the two men in the files.
Charlie vetoed that idea. Their job didn’t include getting involved in private personal situations, even if those situations impacted their mission, unless it became necessary to the completion of their task. Their next step, he said, was to find out who all the people involved in this scheme were, and to document any connections they had to each other or anyone else.
Tracy caught Marissa watching her more closely than usual. Could she be thinking the same thing? Then Marissa gave Tracy a barely noticeable nod of her head. ‘Okay,’ Tracy thought, ‘I’m good to go.’
After the others went their way, Tracy turned back to her computer. She had to re-connect with the Social Services computer once more and start going through everything. And she hooked up the printer and began printing out all the information she thought would be of use to the men who were fighting for their children.