DAVID, KENDRA, AND I spent the next two months compiling everything we thought we needed to put together a case against Serendipity Industries and their parent company, SafeFoods, Inc. To my surprise we were able to begin gathering several other plaintiffs to quietly join the suit, and presumed we were moving towards a Class Action status for the case.
David and Kendra focused on the clients, the witnesses, and most of the paperwork. I researched the science on what had been inside the products. Unfortunately, many of the cases lacked victims to examine, because similar vans that had come for Beth and Ashley, had come for them too – no one knew what happened to those victims at all! If it hadn’t been for home security footage we wouldn’t have even been able to fully link those cases with the Fehlers.
In other cases, they had left the victims with loved ones at home, but claimed they had to take all of the products back per the legal agreement... Fortunately, Beth’s dad had kept all of the products in a sealed Ziploc bag as one of the few things he took out of their house. I was able to get some help from the university that housed the Harlan School to analyze them. My chemistry background came into full use as I studied what had been given to them, what each unique chemical caused, and agonized over just how much damage had been inflicted with the horrific plot.
Four years to the day that I had asked Beth to marry me, we filed the case in court. A summons was sent to both companies, and almost immediately the media picked up on the case.
Things became a bit of a circus around the firm then as we dealt with national news networks requesting interviews, a countersuit from the company, and the initial late summer court date soon approached.
I had asked Beth’s dad a few times again if I could see her… but he kept refusing, “She wouldn’t want you to see her like this Cameron…”
“I was ready to say until death do us part,” I told him. “Please? So, I can remind myself who and what I’m fighting for!”
He finally agreed a week before the first court date, and I found myself driving carefully out to the safe house. I was let in by the security team and Mr. Fehler met me in the living room. “Cameron, are you sure you want to see her? I’d rather you remember her like she was…”
“I have to… I… I love her!” I told him resolutely.
His shoulders fell, “Very well then, come on upstairs to their nursery…”
‘Nursery’ felt like a stab to the gut, but I couldn’t help but note the ‘their’ in the sentence. His wife was just as wronged in this case as Beth was. He opened a door up to a happy looking nursery with two large cribs, a changing table, a playpen, and a… and a pair of adults wearing baby clothes laying on their backs with toy gym things hanging over the top of them. I watched for a moment as Beth made a very uncoordinated effort to hit a suspended unicorn toy hanging on a string above her. She was distracted a second later by staring at herself in a mirror toy next to it, and then began attempting to kick her feet out. Both she and her mother looked to have put on forty or more pounds since I saw them last, ‘Probably from the lack of exercise,’ I knew.
My blood froze as drool ran out the corner of Beth’s mouth, forming some little bubbles with her spit, and we made eye contact.
I stared into her eyes, and hoped something remained of the woman I loved.
Even a glimmer of recognition…
After she was regressed leaving Emerson, I could always see her as strong as ever inside her eyes. Now instead, all I saw was a blank stare. I started to hope when I saw her mouth began to change into a smile. I thought for just a second maybe it was the sign I needed that something was left! Right then her body tensed and, a second later, I realized she was pooping her diaper, and giggling about the sensation.
I walked over to her and said, “Hi Beth…”
She smiled, but it was the look of a baby looking at someone who looked friendly and was paying them attention. Not the look she gave me the last time we spoke via video chat… or the last time we passionately kissed.
I sighed, “Beth, I don’t know if there’s anything left of you in there, but I want you to know I have always loved you, and will always love you no matter what. I will get you justice, my love, and somehow I’ll find a way to cure you and your mom.” I leaned over and gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead, and stood to walk back out.
“Cameron, I have something for you before you leave…” her father told me. “Let me go get it, and then I’ll change her after I show you out.”
I nodded. It was then that I looked at Beth’s older gray-haired mom in nearly the same state on the other side of the room. She had managed to grab one of the toys hanging above her, and had it in her mouth where she began slobbering and sucking on it, leaving a glistening mess of slobber when she pulled it out a second later. With a sigh I turned from the room and closed the door. Mr. Fehler handed me a white envelope.
It felt oddly heavy in one corner of it. I looked curiously at it, “What’s this?”
“Her engagement ring…”
“But…” I tried to hand it to him.
“No Cameron… The way she is, there’s no way she can get married to you, obviously… I highly doubt we ever cure her and her mom, but… Cameron, if we do somehow manage to cure her… I don’t know if she’ll ever be able to legally stand on her own again.”
“She’s still emancipated, right?” I asked.
He shook his head, “I had to adopt both of them in case someone tried saying they weren’t adopted to take them from me.”
I groaned, “That means even if…”
“They’ll both have to go through that emancipation process. I don’t honestly know that Beth could do it again Cameron. My wife…”
I found myself hugging him, “I’m sorry,” I told him.
“I am too,” he sighed, “Take the ring. If we ever manage to get them out of it, you can ask her to marry you again.”
I nodded. “I’m going to hold you to that, sir,” I told him.
I soon found myself back in my car heading to the city. For the second time in my life, I had an engagement ring returned to me.
I would have normally called Dad to talk about something like this… but he was gone. I pulled up Aunth Ruth’s number… but couldn’t quite bring myself to dial her. I feared bringing her in because I didn’t want her to have to recuse herself if this case made it up to the Supreme Court at some point.
Driving home I had never felt more alone in all of my life…
WHEN WE WENT to the first court date, right away we hit our first road block. We’d filed in the District Court that the injury had taken place in – a standard practice. Their lawyers somehow convinced the judge, I presumed by bribery or blackmail, that it needed to be moved to the District Court in Ames instead. We decided it wasn’t worth fighting the jurisdiction battle for a couple more years’ time, and instead were at least fortunate that I had joined the bar association back there too when I graduated. We fast tracked applications for David and Kendra, but it seemed likely that we were going to be held up on David’s because of him being a Mid. I remembered my application had taken a full six-months, so I wasn’t holding my breath on his making it anytime soon. Kendra’s was fortunately approved the week we began the trial there, otherwise it would have only been me presenting our case.
The three of us found ourselves setting up at a table with all of our resources for the first hearing in Ames. Across from us their attorneys were doing the same. Just about five minutes before the hearing was to begin, Addison’s mother, Aubry Harris, entered the courtroom and sat next to the attorneys for her company. She looked at us and glared. ‘I wonder if she recognizes me?’ I couldn’t help but think. ‘I’m sure she does.’ I watched her lean across the railing and make a comment in her lawyer’s ear.
My hand brushed across the collar of my shirt, and I reassured myself that the necklace Addy had given me hung suspended with Beth’s engagement ring on it. As far as I was concerned Addy’s mom had taken both of the loves of my life away from me, and I was wearing them as a symbol of what I was fighting for! Before long the bailiff cried, “All Rise, District Court Fifty-Two is now in session, the Honorable Justice Lynn Taney presiding!”
I watched as a tall woman with short, and obviously dyed blonde, hair approached the bench in her robe. From my research I knew she was fifty-seven, healthy, and had three Littles sitting at home with their nanny right then.
“You may be seated,” she said.
The bailiff introduced our case, “The first case on today’s docket is Case number 384459322 Fehler and Others vs. Serendipity Industries and SafeFoods, Inc.”
“Mrs. Stein, I believe you are the lead counsel for the plaintiffs?”
“Yes, Your Honor, along with my co-counsel Cameron Sylvester. Also joining us is my law partner David Benson who is waiting for recognition from the Ames Bar Association.”
I heard a hiss from Addy’s mom, and I guessed if she hadn’t recognized me before, she certainly did now.
“Mr. Johnson, you are the lead counsel for the defense?”
“I am, Your Honor,” he told her. I already knew that Henry Johnson was a piece of work. We’d actually faced each other in a couple of cases back in Hartford that I had come out the better on. “On behalf of my client we wish to request a summary dismissal for this farce of a lawsuit, there is no basis in fact for this slander.”
“Objection, Your Honor,” I found myself saying. “We have evidence, witnesses, and hundreds of victims of a so-called ‘Product Testing’ scheme. There is clear criminal intent, or at the very least gross negligence, on the part of Serendipity Industries and SafeFoods.”
The judge gave me a glare that made me remember Aunt Ruth staring people down. I looked straight at her as well, and she said, “The motion is denied, it would be a serious miscarriage of justice to at least not hear the facts of this case Mr. Johnson.”
“Then Your Honor, we would like to request a continuance until we have further prepared?”
I worried the judge would be fully in their pocket, but she shook her head, “No, I don’t think that will be necessary. Let’s begin these pre-trial motions…”
We had debated long and hard about a jury trial or a non-jury trial. We couldn’t help but worry that the judge might be more crooked, but ten jurors might be a stretch out of the twelve. In the end we flipped a coin and went for the jury trial.
The not quite hour-long hearing dealt with a number of details and set the date for choosing our jurors in five days on the following Monday. The class action motion was presented, and she said she would rule on it at the next hearing.
“We’re going to go ahead and fly back home for the weekend Cameron; sure, you don’t want to come back with us?” David asked me.
I shook my head, “No, I never have done anything with selling our house here… I need to spend some time cleaning it out and getting it ready to go on the market. I’m also going to see some friends I haven’t seen since I lost my dad.”
He grasped my shoulder, “Let me know if you need anything else!”
“Will do, and why don’t you both just plan to stay at my house here when you come back? There are two extra bedrooms not being used,” I added.
“We’ll take you up on that,” Kendra said.
Right then all of our attention was dragged over to the defense attorneys who were being accosted by Aubry Harris. “What the Hell are you doing letting that Little get away with objecting to your motion? Why didn’t you fight that objection?!?” I could hear her hiss.
“Mrs. Harris, Mr. Sylvester is a fully credentialed attorney who is recognized by the Ames Bar Association…”
“Watch your back,” Kendra said as we walked out to the front of the courthouse together.
“Same to you guys,” I told her.
I was just about to get inside the car I had rented when I heard, “Cameron!”
I turned to see Addy’s mom walking towards me. “What can I do for you Mrs. Harris?”
“What can you do for me?” She snorted, “Drop this ridiculous lawsuit before I have you put into diapers like your client… Or should I say your fiancé?”
I gritted my teeth, but said, “So you’re threatening me? Just to make sure you know that would be something I would have to bring up in court.”
I stared up at her imposing form, knowing if this got physical there wasn’t much I could do.
“Of course, I’m not threatening you Little Man. Just stating a fact that you are probably in danger of wetting your pants in court. I believe a case of Maturosis on the part of the plaintiff’s counsel would probably not bode well for the suit?”
“It probably wouldn’t help, but that would be part of why I have partners who can take over if something were to happen to me, huh?”
“This isn’t going to end well for you if you keep pursuing this.”
“Kind of like how the three cases I’ve already won against SafeFoods in the last two years went?”
She gritted her teeth then and I knew I really was getting under her skin. “You watch yourself!”
“I would also remind you that the security cameras here are watching too,” I said pointing directly to two that happened to be pointing at us.”
She huffed, “Well, at least my daughter had better sense than to marry a baby like you.”
With that she turned around and left.
I was shaking as I got into my rental car and started the engine. I managed to put the coordinates into the GPS for my home and let the self-drive system navigate the garage and the streets. I took a moment to start uploading the video from the camera I was wearing as I dialed David.
“You okay?” David asked on the video screen on my dash.
I shook my head, “That may have been a close one. I’m uploading the confrontation to you, but you might also subpoena the courthouse parking cameras too if anything happens to me.”
“You think something will?”
“I’ve never had someone look at me like that before… I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t try something.”
“Are you really sure that you don’t want to fly home? We can still get you a seat on our flight?”
I nodded, “I need to be here for a bit to take care of things. I should be safe enough…”
“Watch your back Cameron,” Kendra said over the video from beside him.
In the time it took to drive out of the city and to my nearby hometown I thought about needing supplies in the empty house, and ended up detouring for some essentials I knew I would need at a grocery store. Soon after that the car was pulling up to the garage of my childhood home. I activated the garage door and pulled it manually inside, looking at all of the tools and miscellaneous items in the dusty garage with a sigh.
When Dad died two years ago, I hadn’t had the heart to clean out things then… We had just done that with both of my grandparents' houses in the previous year… That had sucked, but doing that with my own childhood home was going to be so much worse! I took the steps to my bedroom and was startled to see a screen lying on the bed. ‘That wasn’t there before?’ I thought back to when I left after Dad’s funeral.
Just as I approached it to check it out the screen turned on and a vivid swirl of colors began swirling on the screen…