“It sounds as if Ripper really wanted to get rid of Fen as soon as he possibly could,” Joy surmised from her hospital bed. “So what can we say except, ‘Bravo!’ I’m so glad you went ahead so proactively in bringing closure to your cases as quickly as reasonably possible… I’m glad you got Case off his ass to do his work, pronto!” Joy chuckled and smiled. “I’m really, really impressed with you, Effete! My heavens, you really cut him down a couple of notches!”
“I didn’t intend to be so brash and rude,” Effete smiled, nevertheless, and even blushed a little at Joy’s compliment. She was growing stronger, and she liked it. “I still think Justin’s a good man and a good lawyer.”
“Oh, I think he’s an all-round, o.k. fella and, yes, a competent attorney, but his continuing success mixed with his youthful good looks has made him prideful, and we know what the Good Book says about pride, do we not?”
“Yes, yes, dear Joy,” Effete laughed and shook her head. “But I’m not praying for his downfall. I think Justin just needs more time for growth and maturity. Besides, you’ve got to admit, you’re probably too emotionally involved to see him in a clear and objective light right now… Uh-uh. No, don’t protest. You love me and you deeply love my children – thank almighty God for you – so how could you be objective? You’ve been our protector and provider … so you automatically went in like a mother hen.”
“Mother hen!” Joy squealed. “Effete! How could you?” She and Effete both laughed a good, long belly laugh. In fact, it made Joy’s side hurt. “Ah! Oh no! I’ve gotta stop … or I’ll be pressing that damn pump button!”
“Ha! You probably haven’t pressed it one time yet, have you?”
“No, of course not, and I don’t intend to,” Joy answered emphatically. She was stubborn, for sure, but a good kind of stubborn; one might even say righteously tenacious. “At any rate, back to Fen. If Ripper was so obviously anxious to be rid of his case, then you can bet Ripper knows more than he’d likely ever divulge. Unless, of course, it was worth his while…”
“Hmmm, now you’re sounding a little underhanded and devious here,” Effete smiled while she spoke the words, but she was serious, too. What was going on in the mind of Joy Brighterday?
Effete stretched and yawned. She’d been up since 5:30 a.m. and going ever since. Thankfully, the hospital kindly provided her lunch along with Joy, but now she really felt like taking a nap. Unfortunately, there was certainly no room in the tiny hospital bed. Effete thought there was barely enough room for Joy! Did they mistakenly give her a kid’s bed? Damn if they did! She’s not that fit and trim… Or, o.k., maybe she is, Effete thought to herself as she admired her friend’s almost flawlessly shaped, athletic body. She envied her. Maybe, just maybe, I can get back in shape despite myself, she told herself. I’ll give it one helluva try, that’s for sure!
“I have nothing illegal or even unethical in mind … or, at least, not completely unethical, but certainly not illegal,” Joy responded in a rather monotone voice.
“Joy! You are serious, aren’t you?” Effete was not surprised by Joy’s tenacity and determination, but bordering on the unethical concerned her deeply. “Do you really think Ripper’s worth that much … I mean, enough to quite possibly tarnish your reputation, or worse?”
“Effete, give me more credit than that, please.” Joy rolled her eyes in teasing disgust, smiling impishly. “Just something along the lines of hanging him up by his balls and beating him with a stick until he talks, that’s all.” They both laughed again.
“You’re something else, Joy Brighterday, and you know it, too!” Effete thought she probably loved and admired this woman now more than ever. This lovely lady had come through the trauma of being shot with courage, integrity, grit and determination … and her wonderful sense of humor still completely intact. On top of it all, Joy had forgiven the very one who’d pulled the trigger; in fact, had brought him securely into her fold, so to speak. Morris Gunner was now ally, not adversary, and he and his mother were receiving the help they both so desperately needed. Effete shook her head, looking kindly at Joy. “I love you. I just love you.”
Joy smiled broadly. “I love you, too, Effete Mann. I love you, too.” In the stillness that followed Joy thought she felt something of the presence of the guardian … his warmth, gentleness, kindness, pure goodness. “But you know, the road ahead is still a long one. Even after your cases are closed, there will be many more steps to take … with others, too.”
“Yeah, I know, and of course I’ll do everything I can to help,” Effete responded quite seriously. “In fact, before I left Case’s office I signed all the necessary paperwork to have copies of my file – both current and forthcoming – sent directly and immediately to Phoenix Rising.” She paused. Joy looked pleased. “Justin didn’t seem too thrilled.”
“Well, too bad for Justin.”
“No, I mean something else. It was like he … not only knew about Phoenix Rising, which isn’t at all surprising, but like he … I don’t know, like the mention of Phoenix Rising left a bad taste in his mouth … like there was some very specific reason he didn’t like them, and really didn’t want to send them anything.” Effete looked at the floor. “To tell the truth, it kind of gave me chills, but I went through with it anyway.”
“Good!” Joy responded emphatically. “I don’t know what Justin Case could have against those good people, but I personally know they’re good people. In fact, if they handled divorce cases I would probably have taken you there. No … I don’t know if Justin had an unfortunate run-in with them, or just an unpleasant introduction for some reason … I don’t know, but I don’t question the upstanding character and integrity of Phoenix Rising. They’re one of very few legal groups who actually want to make a difference for the good, to really and truly help people … people just like you and Morris and his mother.”
“Speaking of Morris and his mom, what’s next for them?”
“Well, no one can say for sure, especially where Morris is concerned, but really I think the better question is, what’s next for Fen Sloughheart?” Joy adjusted her position in bed to sit up more. “We’ve got a good team assembled so far: Drs. Sage Wiseman and Pert Kibitz, Phoenix Rising, Captain Bernard Ruff, Lucent Keener, and Blue Poorman. Of course, naturally, Able and Moxie will continue helping all they can, too, and that’s no small matter. Oh, and we shouldn’t forget the neighborhood watch in our neck of the woods,” Joy added with some excitement. “They’re important, and importantly led by one I. Gunner Sharpe, retired law enforcement officer, captain in the Air National Guard, active member of the Verdure County Citizen Corps,” she said with obvious pride.
“He’s as gentle as you could expect any gentleman to be, yet as vigilant and brave as you’d want any officer to be … or any neighborhood watch chief.” She smiled. “Best of all in our case, he and his precious wife live right across the road from Morris and his mom – that is, across from the front of their house on the other road… Well, you know where I mean. And all of these folks have their scopes pointing directly at Fen Sloughheart, and he probably doesn’t have an inkling … even with his army of spies.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, Joy,” Effete responded apprehensively.
“No, I know what you’re thinking, but so far this operation has been pretty damn tight; we’ve just gotta keep it that way. No, I really don’t think your husband knows what’s coming.”
“What exactly is coming?” Effete asked innocently enough … but suddenly Joy heard again the voice of the guardian: Acheni! Shetani kuchukua wewe! Mungu atakuwa na siku! God will have his day. Joy stared vacantly at the ceiling. The devil take you! God will have his day! And she pictured the grotesque form of Fen Sloughheart with his oozing sores, long claw-like fingers, splotches of hair on his flithy head, his stinking body… She felt like she was about to regurgitate her lunch. “Joy? Joy! Are you alright?” Effete started to reach for the call button.
“Uh … yeah. Yes … no, don’t call … I’m o.k., Effete, really.” But she was white as a ghost. Effete knew something was wrong, and Joy knew Effete knew. “It’s just a dream I had, that’s all. It just came back to me all of a sudden … but, really, I’m o.k.” She looked over at her friend and managed what she hoped would be a reassuring smile. By the look on Effete’s face, though, she apparently failed to reassure her. “Anyway, there’s no doubt in my mind.” Joy reached over and took Effete’s hand. “‘How often is the lamp of the wicked put out? How often does their destruction come upon them, the sorrows God distributes in His anger?’ There is a God in heaven … and on earth, and this God apparently has Fen Sloughheart in his scope as well.”
Effete shivered despite the warm temperature of the room. Unusual for Joy Brighterday to talk quite this way, but there really was nothing she could think to say, no questions to ask.
Just a whisper, but clear, from Joy… “Mungu atakuwa na siku.”