“The restaurant seems miles away,” Clisty said as they hustled down the marble steps and across the street. They paused and waited for a minute at the door for Clint to stow the camera in the news van and lock up before going in to order. “This is nerve-wracking for me,” Clisty added.
“You’ve been through a lot,” Becca reminded her.
“Becca, we all have,” she protested. “I’m no different than the rest of you. We all went to Illinois.”
“Clisty, he attacked you, too,” Becca reminded her. “It seems like you don’t believe you have a right to be upset over all of this. You and Faith were inseparable as children. He stalked you both. He broke in on you both. He grabbed you both and dragged you both across the floor. You now have survivor’s guilt that you had gotten away. No, Clisty, you have a right to acknowledge your own feelings,” Becca said as Clint came over from the van. “Remember, Stratton also showed up at Roma and Ralph’s house and threatened you all with a Glock 27!”
“Becca’s right this time, Hon,” Jake joined in. “The difference between you and Faith is where and how you’ve lived these last eighteen years, but there’s no difference in the events of the kidnapping. You were both attacked by a very dangerous man.” He placed his hand on Clisty’s shoulder and massaged in a generous measure of his love.
Clint hurried across the street, pulled on the door handle and stepped back. “You guys haven’t gotten a table for us yet?”
“Just waitin’ for you,” Becca said as she zipped past him.
They stepped inside where others appeared to have the same idea. The packed grill was full of many of the same faces Clisty had seen in the courtroom. The four of them managed to find the last table in the place and settled in to order. Luckily, it was at the far back corner of the dining room. There would be a small measure of privacy, away from the hubbub.
“Do you know what you want, or do you need a menu?” a waitress asked as they all settled and removed their jackets.
“I’ll have soup and coffee,” Clisty said. “The soup is already prepared,” she reminded the others. “I won’t have to wait for it to be cooked. I want food. I don’t care about fine dining right now. It’ll be scooped and served.”
“What kind?” the waitress asked.
“Potato rivel,” Clisty said and placed her napkin in her lap like she had just made a major decision. “Be sure to stir it up from the bottom real good. Don’t just ladle it from the top of the pot. I like plenty of potatoes and a ton of rivels.” Then she noticed the others watching her. “What?” she laughed. “I know what I want and I know how I want it served. Deal with it,” she laughed again. “I’m too tired to eat, but potatoes with rivels just may hit the spot.”
“Make mine the same,” Jake echoed. “I even like the description of how I want it put in the bowl, but I would have no way of repeating the instructions.”
Becca and Clint each raised their index finger, a silent affirmation to order the soup and coffee. Becca made a stirring gesture and then a dipping motion into an imaginary bowl. “I’m sure you get the idea,” she mouthed as she yawned.
Clint just pointed at Becca, Jake and Clisty, nodded and pointed to himself.
“Got ya,” the waitress said as she wrote on her order pad. “Soup, soup, soup and soup.” Then she walked away.
The coffee came first and they each sipped in silence. Clisty looked at all her tired friends as their shoulders slumped and they stared into their cups. She chose not to use the window as a mirror. Whatever she looked like, she knew she was still awake and that alone was an accomplishment.
“Will I ever feel rested again,” Clisty sighed deeply.
“Four bowls of soup,” the waitressed announced as she placed them in front of each one. Then added, “Please notice all the potatoes and rivels. I’ll be happy to receive a generous tip, equal to the number of potatoes you can count.” She winked and walked away.
“This looks good,” Jake inhaled the steam as it rose from the bowl. “It smells great too.”
“Grandma makes rivel soup,” Clisty thought out loud. “I like to mix the rivels with my hands and drop them, little by little, into the potato soup.”
“What exactly is a rivel?” Clint asked as he didn’t hesitate for a moment. He stuck his spoon in the soup over and over, while wearing a grin on his face.
“Rivels are like dumpling dough,” Clisty answered. “Only you don’t roll it out. You mix it by hand and drop it into the soup a little at a time, crumbling the dough with your fingers as you release it.” Then, Clisty’s mind drifted to the dear ones. “My grandparents came home from Florida last week, in time to get regular updates on the case. Grandma kept saying, ‘It could have been you too, Clisty.’ She told me she has prayed for me every day of my life and twice a day since the trial started. She even bought a new prayer angel to replace the one she lost.” Clisty ate a few bites of rivels and potatoes and added, “She said the angel’s face looked like me. I could sure feel those prayers.”
“I know; me too,” Becca agreed in a sleepy tone.
“I think this soup was made by angels,” Jake added.
Clint didn’t look up from his bowl. “I don’t care who made it.”
They finished their meal and were just discussing the merits of sugar cream pie as opposed to fruit pie when Clisty’s phone vibrated on the table, setting off a clatter of spoons.
“All ready?” Clisty stared at her cell.
“I’ll throw down thirty, that’ll cover us all and a good tip. Let’s get back over there,” Jake offered.
They gathered up all their belongings. Clisty, Jake and Becca hurried ahead, while Clint got the camera form the van. While he couldn’t film inside the courtroom, it had to be ready to aim and focus at the point of Becca’s finger.
The three hurried inside and slipped into seats, just as the bailiff announced, “All rise.” Faith and her parents darted in as the courtroom doors started to close and took seats behind Clisty and all.
Jury members entered quietly with bowed heads. None of them looked at Stratton. Clisty thought that might be a sign of victory for Faith and whispered a little prayer that justice would be served. The jury took their seats in heavy silence. The only sound was the squeak of chairs and Roma’s whispered prayer as she clutched Faith’s hand.
Clisty flipped open her sketch pad and pulled a pencil from her bag. The lead flew over the thick paper as she blocked in every juror, their body posture and a suggestion of the tortured emotion that registered on each one’s face. She wondered what it would be like to stand in judgment over someone else. Then, she realized she had pronounced Ezra Stratton guilty every day her whole life, she just didn’t know his name.
“The jury has indicated they have reached a verdict.” Judge Sheldon said. “Will the Foreperson hand the verdict to the bailiff?”
The bailiff walked over to the foreperson, collected the verdict slip and delivered the piece of paper to the judge. Sheldon opened it, read it and handed it back to the bailiff.
The bailiff read, “To the count of Criminal Confinement, the verdict is guilty.” Mumbled voices of relieve and expelled tension were heard all over the court. The judge just looked at the people and waited for silence again. Then he nodded to the bailiff. “To the charge of Accessory to Robbery, the verdict is guilty.”
Judge Sheldon gaveled the court and then added, “Sentencing will be four weeks from today. I’d like to thank the jury for your time.” He gaveled again.
“Court is adjourned,” the bailiff announced.
Ezra Stratton turned and glared at Clisty. “I should have taken you, too,” he growled. “I would’ve taught you to keep your mouth shut.” Lubansky said something to Stratton in obvious anger. Armed guards pulled Stratton away, and as he was led from the courtroom, he yelled, “I would have broken you!”
Clisty stared at the man of evil, her head held high and her eyes fixed on his in righteous defiance, until he was completely out of the courtroom. Then, she turned her back for a moment, and smiled. To Jake, she whispered, “After eighteen years, he couldn’t break Faith Sterling. Why did he think he could break me?”
“I would place my bet on you any day, tough lady,” he said as he laughed.
Faith hurried over to Clisty, smiling a real smile for the first time in, maybe, eighteen years, Clisty guessed. “Thank you, thank you so much,” Faith repeated as she clung to Clisty. “You saw me when no one has seen me for eighteen years, and you remembered.”
Clisty wiped tears from her face as she spoke softly in Faith’s ear. “You have been in my thoughts every day since you were taken. I could never forget those beautiful, friendly eyes.” Stepping back, she studied her friend’s face. “Would you like to be on camera, out in the hall, and give the world your immediate reaction to the verdict?”
Faith looked over at her parents but didn’t hesitate, “Yes, I would.”