"So you filed a petition for permanent custody?" says Harry.
"Right. We went to court. By that time there were a number of letters from Jessica in Corona. She hadn't been too smart. In the letters she threatened to take the child back unless we paid. This didn't put her in a very good light with the court. Though she had the legal right to take Amanda back, the court saw what was happening. Mandy had become like a piece of property in a pawnshop. Her mother would take money in return for leaving her with us, and when that was gone she'd come back for more."
"I take it Jessica's out of prison?" Harry asks.
"She got out six months ago," says Jonah. "Twenty-third of October. I remember the day exactly, because she came to the house. She was different. She looked different."
"Prison has a way of doing that," I tell him.
"No. It wasn't that. In fact, she was cleaned up. She looked better than I'd seen her in years."
"Prison life must have agreed with her," says Harry.
"I think it gave her some discipline. Focus in her life. Only she directed it in all the wrong ways," says Jonah. "She was well dressed. Nothing fancy, mind you. Pair of slacks and a sweater. Wore these new glasses, wire-rims that made her look almost intellectual. She wanted to see Mandy. What could we do?"
"You let them visit?"
"In the living room of our home," he says. "Mandy's seen so little of her mother I didn't know how she'd react. When Jessica walked into the room, Mandy sort of collapsed, like someone had let all the air out of her." Jonah sighs.
"In the living room that day, I felt like someone was ripping the heart out of my chest. Mandy's stomach hurt for days afterward, just from the stress of her mother's visit, the fact that she was back in her life. Mary and I thought it might be good for them both if they could spend a little time together, get to know each other, ease in.
"But Jessica fell into old habits. She started to manipulate the child. Wanted to take her home. Wherever the hell that was."
"Probably some halfway house," says Harry. "That's where they usually go out of the joint."
"We said no. There was no way we could allow it. Jessica looked me dead in the eye. Told me she was gonna get her child back come hell or high water. That I had no right to take her. This, after she'd abandoned the kid for the better part of eight years. She said she was going to fight me. In court if necessary. Outside the court if she had to."
"Did she?" I ask.
"She went to court. Got an order of visitation. That's when the trouble started."
"What kind of trouble?" says Harry.
"Jessica was allowed to take Mandy on weekends. Two weekends a month. She would pick her up on Friday night and return her Sunday afternoon. It went fine for the first month. Then in early December, they didn't come back until late Sunday night. Close to midnight. Each weekend she'd come back a little later than the weekend before. Like she was testing me."
"Why didn't you go back to court?"
"Because the lawyer I had told me that unless we had something substantial, a serious violation of the terms of visitation, the court wasn't likely to do anything except warn her. He said it would only make matters worse."
Jonah's lawyer had a point.
"Then, finally, three weeks ago, she didn't bring Mandy back at all. We were frantic. I called the number where Jessica was supposed to be living. We were told she'd moved. They didn't know where. We called the police. They told us they couldn't do a thing-not unless we had evidence that some crime had been committed. We told them we had a court order of custody. They told us we'd have to go to court, ask the judge to hold Jessica in contempt for violating the order."
From The Attorney by Steve Martini. (c) Novemeber 1999 , Steve Martini used by permission of the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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