SISTERHOOD OF THE BROKEN
Walking through the conclave of glass cubicles stacked with bulging case files and office paraphernalia, Cassie could only focus on the putrid color of the walls. The officious gray-green of the office walls seemed to punctuate their failure.
She didn’t notice the stares of disbelief; the gathering clutches of gossipers around the copy machines, or even the clinking of the officer’s utility gun belts as they walked beside her. She only saw the color of the walls. She had hated the color for these past eleven years. It never changed. It was only freshened with a new coat of the same obnoxious color every four years. But never changed, just like the agency. That god damned bureaucrat green. She hated it all.
At that point everything was just a blurred tapestry of a dated government office to her. She raised her eyes from the floor and noticed her unit supervisor standing ramrod straight at the end of the corridor, arms crossed, waiting. That’s when Cassie began to see the world again.
At first she noticed the co-workers staring unabashed at her walk of shame. She looked over at the right corner cubicle, remarkable for what it was not. It was not occupied. She noticed the starkness of the cubicle panels stripped of all personal effects. She was impressed with how fast they disposed of the offending parties and she wondered if she was next. She almost hoped she was.
Cassie introduced the officers to her supervisor. Leaving them all standing at the door, Cassie entered the office to collapse in the nearest chair. The chair screeched along the linoleumed floor with the weight of her, almost upending. She righted herself as the trio stared in her direction never stopping their discourse. They stood, the three of them looking like blobs of color with no definition. The two Seattle cops were black blobs; her supervisor, Minerva Ortega was one flaming red blob.
Cassie began to tremble, she tried to blur their voices in her mind as she had blurred their persons. Her mouth felt thick and dry, like the cotton mouth druggies talked about. But this was no drug induced state, she thought, this was real and now and inescapable. He died because of them. In the most horrific way and there was nothing she could do now.
The officers turned to leave, thanking her for her assistance. Miz Ortega, as she referred to herself, quietly shut the door.
“Jesus Fuck, Cassie, what the hell were they doing? I thought you had them assigned to the case. They weren’t in the office, they weren’t there picking him up, where the hell we’re they?“
“They were screwing” she offered blankly.
“What are you talking about?”
Minerva Ortega was not an unsophisticated woman. In fact, she was known for understanding the subtleties of any situation that could somehow be used for her personal gain at a later date. Her missing the point this time irritated Cassie, she had no patience for any of it.
“They were having sex Minerva. They were having a tryst when they should have been getting that poor kid out of his psychotic father’s house. Now do you get it.”
Cassie knew Minerva’s stunned silence would be short lived as she saw the wheels begin to turn in Ortega’s opportunistic brain. Cassie at once reviled her, and admired her ability to survive. She wasn’t sure she would survive this ordeal, but she’d bet the farm on Ortega.
Ortega turned away from Cassie to take her own chair behind her desk. Ortega placed both her hands calmly on the desk palms down and sat down. She looked like a canon being installed in its sentry. She began to fire her questions at Cassie.
“I thought Crandle was married, she’s a lesbian? Is that why you didn’t report them? Is this some kind of honor code for lesbians?”
Cassie was appalled by how close to the truth that statement was, she exploded.
“Jesus, Minerva, I fucked up, plain and simple. I should have pulled them out of the field when I found out, but I gave them a chance to clean up their act. I..I fucked up. ”
“Who else knows Cassie?”
“Those two…office gossips…maybe Frank Crandle. I can’t be sure of anything. I can’t do this now Minerva. I can’t debrief and do damage control. A six year old has died because we dropped the fucking ball. DCS’s reputation is not on my priority list right now.”
Ortega rose quietly from her desk feigning support. She recognized she had to go slower if she was going to get anything from Cassie at this point.
“Okay, okay-you’re right-this is awful. Did, uh Community Mental Health send the referral to us?”
Tears flowing now, Cassie righted herself again in the chair to gain her composure. Dazed, it took her a moment to reply.
“Uh, I think we got an outside call…from the mother-in-law on the 15th” and then she realized Ortega had played her. Support the victim but continue to push for information. Act, as if, their needs are being considered, all the while advancing your agenda. This was how you got referrals to confess their misdeeds, how you developed your ‘case’. Cassie silenced herself, got up, and headed for the door.
Ortega jumped, “Cassie wait, we need to understand what happened here and you’re the only one…“
“You need to back off Ortega,“ tears done, she menaced, “I’m done here.”
Cassie started down the corridor again wondering how she could’ve let this happen. Why didn’t she call them on there insane behavior, why did she let them screw up like this? The boy was dead, his psychotic father too and Child Protective Services protected no one.
She headed for her cubicle on the other side of the building to gather her few personal possessions. There was a framed picture of her and Les wind surfing in Hood River three years ago, her dad’s purple heart in another frame, issues of professional periodicals that had published her papers. She left the bulletin board layered with thank you cards and preschool art from her cadre of clients, unable to even look at it. She left the board and everything else as it lay. All her files were already put away, that’s all that really mattered to her. Clients were protected from prying eyes and opportunists.
All she wanted now was to see Leslie, her dear Les.