Putting the situation in perspective
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“What can I do, Ms. Cole?” the slender young woman, huddled deep in the shabby chair, wailed through her tears, “You don’t know him: he’ll never leave me alone!”
“Call me ‘Linda,’” the older woman maintained her calm easily; she’d played this scene so many times before. “There are a lot of things you can do to protect yourself, and we’ll help. You’re not the first woman who’s ex keeps harassing her, you know. Unfortunately, it happens far too often; that’s one reason the center’s here. We’ve had lots of experience with cases just like yours.
“Not like Chuck,” the young woman retorted, shaking her head emphatically, “He’s crazy! He beat up some poor guy in a restaurant just for talking to me, and last night he forced a man I work with, a friend who gave me a ride home after my tires were slashed – again – off the road and nearly killed him.” She resumed sobbing, “He follows me everywhere, breaks into my house whenever he feels like it, slashes my tires, throws rock at my house in the middle of the night. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in months. So I had security cameras installed: they disappeared. Then I had cameras put up high so no one could reach them: they were sprayed with black paint. He thinks he can do anything he wants – and he can!”
“Oh, no, he can’t! We can definitely help out there,…” Linda glanced at the form lying on the battered table beside her chair, “…Marsha. We’ll show you how to apply for a restraining order first thing tomorrow morning. Then the police will make sure he stays away.”
“No, no, you don’t understand – that won’t do any good. I’ve called them a hundred times but they won’t help. He is the police. Those bastards stick together: they won’t do anything.”
“Oh! When you said he was a dispatcher, I assumed he worked for a trucking company or something…”
“No, for the police. He’s not a real cop – I mean, he doesn’t have a badge or anything. But he works with them and they all know him; they go drinking and hunting and everything together.”
“Well,…” Linda sounded uncertain for the first time, “That shouldn’t make too much difference, especially since he isn’t a real policeman.”
“But they treat him like one,” Marsha insisted, “They even let him carry around a gun, gave him a concealed carry permit. After we got divorced he bought a great big silver pistol, always wears it under his jacket,” she indicated her left hip, “When ever he sees me, he makes sure his jacket swings open so I can see the handle. He doesn’t say anything, just lets me see it and nods. He’s telling me, ‘I’m gonna get you!’ but he doesn’t say it out loud so I can’t claim he’s threatening me, but he is!”
“I’m sure you’ve got enough to justify a restraining order. An Assistant District Attorney cooperates with us, and Judge Johnson is very understanding,” Linda replied confidently, “That completely solves the problem more often than you’d imagine. When the judge tells them about going to jail the very first time they violate her order – no second chances – it gets their attention. And she makes sure the police enforce it: they still have to obey the law.”
Marsha just stared at her, then slowly, helplessly shook her head.
* * *
“Remain seated and come to order,” the bailiff announced, “This Court is now in session, the Honorable Charles T. Ryan presiding.”
“Ryan? Charlie Ryan!” Marsha exclaimed in a loud whisper, “You said Judge Johnson would…”
“Shhh,” Linda hushed her, “Judge Johnson usually hears these cases. I don’t know what happened – maybe she’s sick.”
“Yeah, well I’ll tell you what happened,” Marsha whispered so loudly the bailiff turned and gave her a stern look. She lowered her voice, “His buddies fixed it, that’s what happened. Same reason Pete showed up,” she nodded toward the District Attorney himself, resplendent in his signature light grey suit and shocking pink tie, “instead of the assistant you usually work with. Damn: Chuck plays poker with the both of them! There’s no way I’m gonna win this.”
“So,” Judge Ryan recapitulated, “this really amounted to an ordinary bar fight, with no arrests and no charges filed?”
“That’s what the responding officer’s report shows, Your Honor,” Chuck’s lawyer confirmed, “A little misunderstanding, the liquor talking, you know…” he shrugged. The DA said nothing.
“That’s not true!” Marsha exclaimed indignantly, “It wasn’t a bar, it was Elsie’s cafe – at noontime! And the guy wasn’t even drinking: he just asked to borrow my ketchup, for Christ’s sake, and Chuck came from nowhere and hit him about a dozen times. I waited in the Lady’s room until the cops and the paramedics got there, intending to be a witness. Only reason the guy didn’t press charges is he was from out of state and the cop kept telling him how many times he’d have to come back for all the hearings and the trial. That cop is a friend of Chuck’s, too, and I heard what he told the guy.”
The bailiff glared at Marsha again and this time the Judge did as well; Linda was very careful to keep her voice down, “But Elsie does serve beer, and the man didn’t pursue charges.”
“Yeah,” Marsha retorted – quietly, “And Billy Harris couldn’t say for sure it was Chuck’s red and silver Ford pickup forced him off the road, either.”
“Well,” the Judge addressed the ceiling, “I’ve got to agree with respondent that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of real harassment in this case, just the usual disagreements that follow a divorce – a divorce, I might add, which was initiated by the petitioner. Considering that this is a small city, the restrictions requested around petitioner’s home and place of employment would impose an unreasonable burden on respondent. In fact, two of his close friends and a relative all live or work withing the sought proscribed areas.” The Judge lowered his eyes, looked sternly at the stocky man seated at the respondent’s table, and lost his judicial voice, “Now, Chuck, you stay away from Marsha’s house, hear? Don’t go on her property without she invites you. And don’t go in Milton’s Hardware neither – not ‘lessen you gonna buy somethin’.”
“Yes, sir, Cha… Judge,” Chuck replied in an appropriately solemn tone.”
“Shit!” Marsha hissed.
Linda half dragged Marsha out of the courtroom, saying, “Don’t make it worse! It won’t do any good for you to get locked up for contempt. Now, if Chuck continues to harass you, we’ll just have to collect evidence. We can lend you a better cell phone that records video and audio really well, so you can get him following you, displaying that gun, anything like that. You should also forward your phones to that cell phone and record any calls – fortunately this is a one-party state so we don’t need to have his consent. Also, you start keeping a log: every time he follows you or calls, or whatever, you make a note.”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll leave the last page of the log blank so you can fill in when the bastard kills me! Wha…” Marsha jumped as a hand fell on her shoulder.
“Marsha, sorry it didn’t go your way,” the DA said, “But I think Chuck got the message: you won’t have any more trouble.”
“Yeah, you think he got the message, and you’re willing to bet my life on it, right?” Marsha slapped his hand away, “Take your hand off me, you miserable son of a bitch! I thought you were my friend, too. You ought to wear yellow ties instead of pink, so your front and back would match!”
* * *
“Hey, Pete, Pete! Wait up a minute,” Marsha ran down the courthouse steps to catch up with the District Attorney the next Monday noon.
The DA turned, apprehension flashing across his face.
“Don’t worry, Pete, I’m not going to yell at you again,” Marsha said, reaching out her hand. “In fact, that’s why I’m here: to apologize for the way I acted the other day, and for the horrible things I said.”
“All is forgotten,” Pete’s relief showed as he took her hand.
“I guess I overreacted – fear does that to me,” she grinned ruefully, “I bought you an ‘I’m sorry’ present, found another hot pink tie just like this,” she flicked his gaudy trademark playfully, “but it disappeared. Strangest thing: I know I left it somewhere on my bed this morning but when I went home half an hour ago it was gone. Thought it might have gotten buried in the bedclothes – the bed was really rumpled – but it’s just not there. Almost like somebody broke in and stole it – but who’d do a crazy thing like that?”
“Now, don’t go getting wild ideas,” the DA cautioned, “You probably just temporarily misplaced it – it’ll turn up. And you really don’t have anything to worry about. We both know Chuck talks tough, specially when he’s been drinking, but he wouldn’t actually hurt anybody,” his words retained the confidence his voice seemed to have temporarily misplaced.
Marsha stepped closer, put her arms around him and hugged him tightly, then grasped his pink tie and pulled his head down and kissed him firmly on the mouth before he could react. She stepped back and squeezed his hand, glancing past him and smiling sweetly, “Hope you’re right, ‘cause he’s parked across the street, bug-eyed, watching us right now. But you don’t have anything to worry about: we both know he wouldn’t actually hurt anyone, right?” She blew the DA a kiss and waved gaily as she flounced off.