My daughter in law

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Ch. 67: Facing the devil

"Who's he?" I heard Martina whisper, but I was too shocked to answer at first. Why on earth was he here? And after looking around in the courtroom I started wondering why my mother wasn't here as well.

"That... Is my father."

Martina's eyes widened with questions I didn't know the answer to, so I just raised my eyebrows and shook my head. I studied the broad shouldered, tall man that once had been my biggest idol, and my emotions slowly started to boil. Knowing what a horrible man Mr. Rumplefinch was, I didn't really want to know what part my own father played in this, but I had to. For the sake of my own sanity, I needed to know what linked these two men together, that would most likely have them locked up in jail for an unknown amount of time.

Martina squeezed my hand and made me look at her, and a frown of concern was wedged deep between her brows.

"Are you okay?" she mouthed, but I honestly didn't know if I was. Then I thought about her role in this and decided that my situation probably was nothing compared to hers. I wasn't the one who had been assaulted. She was. Nonetheless, I struggled to focus on that when dad suddenly turned and stared straight at me, and held my gaze for a few seconds before he looked at Martina and realized that she was pregnant. And I was surprised when he sat down, and seemed totally unaffected. He knew me well enough to know that it was quite a big deal.

I didn't recognize him anymore. It looked like him of course, but this wasn't the same man who had raised me and taught me how to ride a bike and fix a broken toy. This was someone else shaped in my own flesh and blood, and it made me feel nauseous. Whatever the next few hours would reveal, I knew it wouldn't be pleasant. I also knew that nothing would be the same again after this. Ever.

I stared at his back until Martina managed to catch my gaze. She searched my soul again, and she kept doing so until I gave her a tiny smile. That made us both feel a bit better.

"Nice of you to join us, Mr. Cooper," the judge commented dryly to my father, before he proceeded with the standard procedures.

"We're sorry, Your Honor. We..." the blonde attorney apologized, but the judge ignored him.

"Now, since I don't have all day..." he started, and I could see a few shaking shoulders and humorous nods from people around us.

"...I'd like to ask Mr. Rumplefinch to enter the witness stand."

The attorney who was defending the devil himself, signed for his client to do as told. And without showing any emotions at all, Bree's father walked up to the podium, sat down and raised his hand to make his affirmation.

"Repeat after me," judge Walton demanded, and it was strange to see my ex father in law oblige. He'd never been the type to take orders like that.

"I solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

The words were reiterated with an eerie calmness, and his eyes didn't even flinch when the judge stared at him.

"Tell us your full name and your relation to the main victim, Rocco Cooper."

There was a pause that added to the tension in the room, before he cleared his throat and spoke up again.

"My name is Paul Edward Rumplefinch and Rocco is... Was my grandson."

I couldn't see Rocco's face, but I knew that one word provoked him.

"And you are fully aware of what you're accused of?"

"That I am," Paul confirmed with a short nod. Then the judge turned to the jury.

"Are the jurors familiar with the eighteen different witness statements?"

Most of them nodded, and a few were quite easy to read. They were disgusted. But why? And eighteen?!

"Good. Then I want Mr. Rumplefinch to tell us about his role in the church community."

The judge was holding a pen and crossed something off from of one of the papers in front of him. But when Mr. Rumplefinch seemed reluctant to answer, his eyes shot up like sharp arrows.

"Yes, sir."

Paul's attorney started with a couple of questions, clearly rehearsed on beforehand, and it was like a ball. A small insignificant one that started moving with a tiny push. Then, after a couple of aimless turns and more leading questions, it went off-hill and sped off faster than anyone saw coming. That's how it was to watch Mr. Rumplefinch go from barely speaking, to holding a full speech about his church and his extraordinary role as an unselfish and self-sacrificing minister.

He spoke boldly about the ways he had united their society and saved even the most hopeless cases. And he described in detail about the way he'd 'allowed' people in despite their many flaws, and helped them to find their way back to Jesus, Harold and his grand cousin's toy poodle. Too bad those details had nothing in common with reality.

His manipulative abilities were shining so bright they hurt my eyes, and it made me wonder how anyone could buy anything of what he said. But just like he'd done to thousands of people before them, this man spoke the word of God in a way that scared me shitless in broad daylight.

It didn't matter that he lectured about doomsday and the devil, and vividly illustrated the cruelty threatening to possess these lost souls forever. Souls only he was generous enough to offer an outstretched arm. It didn't matter that he put himself in the lead of defining who's right or who's wrong, even though the only judge should be God himself. It didn't matter, because the truth he sold seemed so alluring you would gladly buy sunscreen for ten times the price, in the middle of a thunderstorm. It was insane.

"Alright, Mr. Rumplefinch. I think we get the idea now," the judge cut in, probably feeling the same resentment as I did. This kind of gasconade didn't belong in a courtroom. It didn't even belong in a church.

"Can you please elaborate on why your grandson needed help, and tell us what you did to help him?"

Paul's demeanor changed from being lecturing to a bit more defensive.

"He... had personal issues," he said eventually, but fumbled a bit with the words. Using the correct terminology about homosexuality obviously was an unopened chapter in his bible.

"And what kind of personal issues are we talking about here?" the judge asked, and Paul's reply came as a sharp bark. The annoyance was clear.

"He was confused and needed to be guided down the right path, that's all. No big deal."

"So being locked up in a dark room in the basement and being threatened to be tied up down there with no food or water for the entire spring break is no big deal?"

The voice was trembling with emotions, yet admirably loud and clear, and everyone's attention was drawn to Rocco. There was a stare down between the two of them, before Rocco was the one to shy away.

"We'll get your statement later, Mr. Cooper," judge Walton commented. Then he gave him a second look, before he turned his attention toward me and my father as well.

"I believe we have three generations of Mr. Coopers with us today, so I ask if it's okay if we call you by first names? Starting with Rocco, who is the youngest one, to Aaron and lastly Mr. Cooper senior, Nolan."

All three of us nodded.

"Good. Then let's proceed. How did you help Rocco dealing with these so-called issues?"

"Advices and prayers," Paul stated promptly, and I heard Rocco scoff quietly. But his attorney whispered something to him that made him calm down, and the trial went on with Paul's attorney making him look like a goddamn saint. And it continued with him denying every accusation presented by Rocco's attorney later. The case was clearly going nowhere. Naturally, everyone was curious when Rocco entered the witness stand. He presented himself and gave his affirmation, and after a couple of questions he was given room to speak freely.

So he did.

"My childhood was quite confusing, actually. I had a mother who came from a strictly religious family, which my grandfather so clearly demonstrated. Everything was perfect on the outside, while in reality the situation at home was the complete opposite. My parents argued constantly, and mom manipulated me into believing my dad was the only one to blame for everything bad in our family. It didn't help that grandpa kept giving examples of why my dad was the devil's seed, although he wouldn't accept the idea of divorce since that was a sin and morally unacceptable. But eventually he made it look like he was protecting our family from evil by shutting dad out. He even used him as an example while holding his usual preach in church."

What the hell?

"It was first recently I started to understand why dad acted the way he did, and that he was only defending himself. Now I'm the one where he was then, standing alone against the harassment and lies disguised as God's demands. Their actions are justified by religion, so to speak. They do the most despicable things and ask for forgiveness later. Then they continue their wrongdoings like nothing."

Rocco sighed and his attorney was about to ask another question. But Rocco continued while looking at Martina.

"Marty saved my life by marrying me."

"Who's Marty?" the judge asked.

"Martina Sánchez. My ex-wife."

Rocco sent her a tiny smile, which she returned.

"And what do you mean by 'saved your life'? Were you suicidal?"

Judge Walton scribbled something in his notepad, as did Paul's attorney. And somehow I knew that he was going to use that against him later, to raise doubts about Rocco's mental state. Too bad for them it didn't seem to be especially helpful. The case against them was growing bigger by the minute.

"Not really. He threatened to kill me."

"Mr. Rumplefinch?"

Rocco nodded and stared at his hands.

"Yes. He even strangled me a few times until I passed out, and told me I should be grateful that he was generous enough to let me live. And one of the reasons he locked me up during that spring break was because of all the bruises I had after he beat me up."

"He beat you? How many times?"

"Only once, because he lost his temper. He wanted to do like he usually does to people like me."

He paused and swallowed.

"He claims homosexuals are possessed by demons, and performs horrible exorcisms that sometimes can last for hours."

"Objection! There's no proof of this," Paul's attorney exclaimed a stood up, but he was quickly told to sit back down.

"Overruled. We'll get to the evidences later."

Judge Walton turned back to Rocco and asked him to continue.

"I can give you a couple of names if necessary," Rocco said, but unfortunately he didn't sound very convincing. Maybe he knew they'd be too scared to come forward?

"The reason why he didn't do an exorcism on me, was that he didn't want anyone to know that his own family was contaminated by such an embarrassing thing. He was the minister. He and his family were supposed to be flawless, and having an exorcism done on his grandchild was to openly admit weakness. So when I married Martina, it was the perfect disguise. I could pretend to be like he wanted me to be, and he stopped bothering me."

Rocco turned to his grandfather and looked him in the eyes for the first time, and I could only imagine how difficult this was for him.

"Everything you've done in the name of the lord has been a lie. You've threatened us with the devil and hell, while the only thing we should be scared of is you. Being a Christian should be about love, acceptance and forgiveness. Not threats and manipulation. You've told everyone that if they didn't do as you said, claiming it was in the name of God, they'd be forever doomed. But the only person going to hell here..."

Rocco had tears in his eyes, and even from a distance I could see his hands were shaking. But he finished with a determination that made me so proud that my chest ached.

"...is you."


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