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Chapter 40: Information

Craig forced the bite of egg down, but it hit his stomach like a lead ball. He wanted go back up the stairs and hide away in the guest room, where he'd been not too long ago. He tried to remember why he came down in the first place. It had sounded like a good idea at the time; he had felt a need to be around someone. He'd thought the girls would be there and that he could play with them, to get his mind on something other than what had happened over the past couple of days, or more to the point, over the past few hours. The image of Bobby's head snapping to the side kept flashing through his head and he couldn't stand it.

His mind was definitely on something else now. Camille was chatting about a baby. Craig tried to listen, but his brain was numb and a little overloaded as it was. He found he was only catching bits and pieces of what Camille was saying. She wanted a boy. She would have to change the guest room into a nursery, and that was going to take a lot of work. If she did have a boy, none of the girls' baby clothes or toys that she had packed away would do much good, she would need all new everything. She wasn't sure the crib that had been stored in the attic was salvageable. She loved the idea of keeping the colors neutral rather than gearing it all towards a boy or a girl, that way she could have everything ready early, before she got too big to do it the way she wanted to. She wasn't sure how far along she was exactly; with everything that had been going on she had somehow lost track of certain things, like that important 'monthly visitor', as she put it. She had an appointment with her gynecologist the coming week.

He was trying to be polite and listen, and part of him tried to feel happy for Camille and Jerry. He could remember the other times Camille had been pregnant, it had been exciting, but a baby always changed everything. He had been happy when both of the girls were born, but at the same time, he missed the way things were before. He wasn't sure he was ready for more change, not right now, not so soon after Evelyn's murder and everything that had happened since. Camille needed to talk about it though, obviously she'd been keeping the news to herself for a little while and now that she was able to tell someone about it, it was pouring out of her non-stop. On some level he could relate to that kind of need. It was obvious Camille was torn between being happy and feeling scared that something terrible would happen to her family.

But at that moment he didn't really think he could handle the discussion that was taking place, there had never been discussions like this when Camille was pregnant before, at least none that the boy had ever been a part of. Maybe it was a conversation Camille would have had with Evelyn if she'd been there, or maybe even with Jerry, but Craig didn't want to hear some of what Camille was saying, he simply couldn't handle it. He was fourteen years old and he didn't know how to talk about babies.

Evelyn Mercer had been quite open with all of her sons concerning sex. It wasn't as if they hadn't already been introduced to it in one way or another by the time they got to her, and she told Craig once that it made more sense to talk openly about it rather than to hide from it. She preferred her boys to feel comfortable coming to her and asking questions rather than to find out they had heard stories on the street about how Tabasco sauce could prevent pregnancies. Apparently Angel had heard that one, believed it, and came home with some discomfort. Sofi's brother hadn't been too happy to hear Angel had been testing this theory on his sister either, so that led to more discomfort. When he came home with a swollen lip and eye he had to explain everything to Evelyn, who promptly corrected his misguided thinking.

Sex was still a touchy subject for Craig, although Evelyn Mercer told him many, many times that what was done to him when he was little was not the same. It was not love. What had happened to him had nothing to do with what sex was supposed to be, and one day, when he was older, he would understand it all better. He hated talking about it, or thinking about it, especially after everything that had happened since the night Evelyn was killed. His feelings on the subject were pretty raw to say the least, there were still open wounds that hadn't had a chance to heal; he hadn't dealt with it all. It seemed every time he came close to facing those fears and thinking it was over, something else happened to suck him right back into his own shell where he was safe.

So, when Camille, caught up in her news of being a mother again, and obviously riding a hormonal driven emotional roller coaster, started talking to him about hormones and monthly cycles and being late, and having an appointment with her gynecologist, the boy thought his brain was going to burst right out of his skull. He was overloaded with information he didn't need to hear.

He didn't mean to sound as if he weren't happy, he was sure he was happy about a new baby, but he really couldn't feel it at that moment. "Camille, I'm really tired, do you mind if I go back up and lie down?" He dropped the remains of his egg back on the plate and watched it fall next to the untouched toast as he stood without giving Camille a chance to voice her permission. He looked at her though, as he stepped backwards towards the doorway.

Camille's smile faded and she looked as if she'd been kicked in the stomach, hard. "Fine, go lie down. Here I've been going on and on about a baby, and I know you have to be exhausted." The woman looked as if she were about to pout. "Just remember, you don't mention this to Jeremiah. I don't know for certain. I mean, I know, but I need to have confirmation from the doctor before I tell him, and well, I want to be the one who gives him the news."

Craig nodded his head, turned, and moved quickly towards the stairs. If he could reach the safety of the guest room he would hole up in it until his brothers returned from the courthouse.

The egg-turned-lead ball rolled sharply in his stomach as soon as the thought of the courthouse hit his brain. He glanced at the clock hanging close to the stairs, ten thirty. The hearing should have started, shouldn't it? He couldn't remember anyone telling him what time the hearing was, but it had been over an hour since Jerry left, he was sure. Was Angel going to be there too or was he staying at the hospital with Bobby? He tried not to let his thoughts dwell on Bobby too much. That feeling of dread that had hovered over him earlier was starting to return. His brain shifted into automatic and the 'what if' game took over.

What if Jack went back to jail and he never got to see him again? What if they arrested Angel next for shooting Harris? What if Bobby was really shot and was dead and he had only dreamed the bullet missed him? What if all of his brothers were arrested as soon as they got to the courthouse and now someone worse than Harris was going to come and take him away, again, and his brothers wouldn't be able to find him this time?

"Craig?" Camille's voice brought him out of his thoughts. He realized he'd stopped on the second step of the stairway. He looked at Camille, and tried to hold in the tears that were stinging to get out.

Camille was standing next to the banister, almost next to him, "Are you okay?" She smiled but there was a frown around her eyes. Apparently finding the teen on the steps, just standing there, lost in his thoughts was a cause for worry.

Craig nodded his head slightly at first, but then he shook it slowly. "I don't know." He muttered and looked away from Camille. "What if they are all arrested at the courthouse? What if they don't come back?"

Camille still smiled, but it didn't quite reach far enough to convince the boy she meant it. "I'm sure everything will be fine. They've got enough people on their side; the right people. What could go wrong? I mean, Bobby sure as hell can't screw anything up, he's at the hospital, right?"

Craig held his breath for a long moment. Maybe he was dreaming right now. Maybe he would wake up and he'd be locked up somewhere, with those men, James and William, guarding him; or he might wake up standing in front of a grave with Bobby's name on it; or staring at his brothers behind bars. He couldn't stand it if the next time he seen his brothers it was in a jail. It seemed wrong that they were fighting, together, for their family and he wasn't there with them. "I want to go to the courthouse." He focused his gaze on Camille. After so many years of distrust and building up walls, it was difficult to understand the pressure building in his chest at the thought of losing his brothers. He'd put so much effort into expecting the worst from them and it hadn't happened. They had been hard on him when they needed to be, but they had been good to him, better than he probably deserved most of the time. The fear of never belonging had been so bright and strong that it had blinded him to the fact that he belonged with his brothers more than he could ever belong anywhere else. The Mercers were tied together by something stronger than blood that he couldn't quite grasp, he only knew it was a force he couldn't keep fighting against.

"No, Jeremiah said there was no reason for you there, you need to get some sleep, and a shower. Just try to not think about it. Jeremiah will call as soon as he knows anything." Camille shook her head.

"But what if…" Craig started to argue.

"No, Craig, I am not taking you down there." Camille shook her head, almost with too much fierceness.

Craig felt his heart tighten. He wanted to be with his brothers. He had tried to keep walls up around his emotions, and now he might not need to worry about those invisible walls because of very real bars; he might never see them again, none of them, and he wasn't sure he could handle that. "But what if I can say something that might keep Jack out of jail? The more people there who can back up Jack's story, the better it would be, right?"

"But you can't say anything that they don't already know." Camille shook her head.

"Angle shot a man this morning. What if they send Jack to jail, and then go after Angel? Jerry was there too, they would go after Jerry next, right?" Craig argued, "Because he's a Mercer." He nodded his head as if to agree with his own logic. "Camille, I need to be there."

"No, you do not need to be there. You are fourteen years old, and you don't need to see what's going on at that courthouse." Camille shook her head. Tears rimmed her eyes and Craig suddenly felt terrible. He'd made her cry because he'd said something about Jerry being arrested. He hadn't meant to make her cry; he'd thought she'd give in and take him to the courthouse.

"Jeremiah can't be arrested, he hasn't done anything, and if they go after Angel, we'll fight to get him out, just like we'll fight to keep Jack out of jail." Camille's lower lip quivered. "And if Angel shot someone this morning, I'm sure Lieutenant Green will testify that he had no choice." She hesitated for a moment and a confused expression shadowed her features. "He didn't have a choice, right?"

Craig shook his head quickly. "No, he didn't have a choice. He did it to save Jack, and me." He tried not to dwell on the details of had happened that morning, it would only end with that awful picture of Bobby being shot in the head and falling out of sight down the hill.

Camille stared at the boy for a long moment before she turned away, walked over to the closet and pulled out her coat. "Well go get your shoes on." She spoke quickly. "You can't walk into the courthouse looking like that, we'll have to stop at the house and get you some decent clothes."

Craig looked down at the clothing he'd changed into at the hotel. It had only been a few short hours before that he'd been admiring the fancy fixtures and the way the water in the shower had felt, but it felt like a lifetime ago. Yeah, Jerry's oversized clothes wouldn't look quite right in public. The time that it took the boy to think about the clothes and the hotel was the same time it took him to comprehend what Camille was saying. "We're going?"

"Of course we're going." Camille turned back to look at the boy. The tears were till there, but the shine in her gaze came from something else. "I'm pregnant, I already have two baby girls; and if you think I'm gonna let my children's father be arrested for doin' nothing but try to give a decent life for his babies you are crazy. So if you are going, be in the kitchen in two minutes. You need to take your pills and then we can go." She turned and walked back towards the kitchen.

It took a second for the meaning of Camille's words to hit the teen's brain. He moved up the steps quickly to search for his shoes.

Bobby sat in between Jeremiah and Angel, though he would have preferred to be sitting at the end of the neat row of metal chairs that lined the wall, he felt boxed in. He hated the room. He'd been in court rooms and hearing rooms too many times to count; and nothing good ever came out of anything that happened there. Well, maybe one good thing did happen that he could remember and appreciate; his adoption became official in a room pretty fucking similar to this one.

Unfortunately, what was taking place at the large table in front of him was nothing pleasant. Jack sat next to Robert; Mr. Porter was positioned on the opposite side with Green and Johnson seated with him, and a man in a suit and tie, supposedly the judge, was seated at the head of the table. Bobby listened to Robert and Mr. Porter both talk about the charges. Words like 'ongoing investigation', and 'undetermined cause of death' crept across the table.

Bobby could barely hear what was going on, and part of that probably had to do with the fucking ringing in his right ear. He'd had to listen to it constantly since he'd been shot. Okay, technically he hadn't been shot; the bullet had barely brushed against him. Well, maybe more than brushed, it had caused a concussion. Okay, so maybe the fall down the hill may have had something to do with the concussion part. It didn't matter how he got hurt, either way he really wouldn't have felt too damn bad if it weren't for that fucking ringing tone that was buzzing the right side of his head, making the room tilt slightly from time to time and causing him to stumble around like he'd had a few too many shots of something alcoholic. He wouldn't mind a couple of shots of something alcoholic about then, it might actually calm his nerves.

The judge did not smile, he did not nod, nor did he seem to take notice of Bobby's little brother seated rigidly next to Robert. Bobby noticed what was happening with Jack though, and it pissed him off that his brother had to go through this. The kid was chewing on his left thumb and his right leg was bouncing under the table, probably to the beat of some fucked up song that had no fucking melody or rhythm. The kid was scared shitless. The judge simply skimmed through papers and asked questions; Mr. Porter or Robert seemed to take turns answering the questions. From time to time some of the words made it past the ringing in Bobby's ear and he could make out 'involuntary manslaughter', 'self defense' and 'justifiable homicide'; though he wasn't exactly certain who said what, or in what context the words were being used.

Jack fidgeted while more words passed across the table. Legal jargon bullshit was all it was; designed to make a lawyer's job look hard so the poor son of a bitch who hired him would feel a little less pissed about having to pay him. In this case Robert had not been paid shit though, so it made sense to Bobby that the conversation taking place around the table be brought down to a more understandable level. Of course, if that fucking ringing would stop stabbing into his head, maybe he could get more out of the words that were being spoken.

"Gentlemen, I understand what you are saying." The Judge looked at Mr. Porter, "However, we are have an obligation to investigate the incident completely."

"Your Honor, we are doing just that, and if any evidence comes up that points to Mr. Mercer firing that weapon for any reason other than self defense and in defense of his family, then you can be assured we will pursue all avenues of prosecution available to us. However, given the circumstances surrounding the whole incident, we do have to consider this a part of the Jordan/Macks kidnapping case. Mr. Jordan confessed to assisting Adam Macks in the kidnapping of Craig Mercer. He also stated that Adam Macks was obsessed with the Mercers and determined to kill them all by any means possible." Porter nodded his head slowly in rhythm with the syllables of his words.

"Also, Your Honor, if there were any discrepancies in the witness' statements, I could understand how this case came this far. Police evidence and officers' statements back up everything that my client's statement describes. Jack Mercer had no choice but to fire that weapon." Robert spoke calmly and slowly, but only half of the words made it past the wooden table and across the room to where Bobby was sitting.

Only being able to comprehend parts of the proceedings was starting to wear thin on the eldest Mercer's nerves. He fidgeted in his seat and nearly shot to his feet. Angel's hand grabbing hold of his arm is all that stopped him. He tried to sit back and listen, but damn that ringing was driving him nuts.

"I am well aware of the history of this case. I also know the claims Federal Agent Harris filed. An FBI agent has raised alarms concerning this case, those concerns cannot be ignored, even if the man is dead. The files you sent over were very revealing concerning your client, Mr. Bradford, but it's my understanding that Agent Harris had some evidence of his own." The judge sighed and sat back in his seat. "I simply cannot ignore the concerns of a government agency, especially the FBI."

"There are new facts that have come to light in recent hours. You are aware that Agent Harris is dead. We have evidence that he had turned, sir." Porter lifted a folder and slid it across the table to within reach of the judge.

"Turned?" The judge didn't reach for the folder.

"He was working with one the nation's most notorious crime organizations. It's not the biggest threat by far, but one that has grown steadily over recent years, and has quite a few fingers in our own local government." Porter slid another folder in the direction of the judge. "I have several cases all linked together, all involving Agent Harris, Adam Macks, Victor Sweet's organization, Jessup Winston, and the Mercers." More folders moved to the center of the table.

"The Mercers," the judge flicked a quick glance towards the Mercer brothers seated against the wall before sliding a pile of his own files to the center of the table. "You are aware of the history and the records of the Mercers." He looked pointedly at Porter.

Bobby suddenly felt as if he were watching a very tense, very high stake poker game. Fuck, this wasn't good.

"Sir, correct me if I'm wrong, but this isn't a case against the Mercer family." Robert spoke quickly. "These are accusations against one man."

"No, Mr. Bradford, it is not a case against the Mercer family." The judge looked at Jack. "However, the accused does have a record, and a history of drug use and distribution, and happens to be a Mercer. I find it unlikely that's a coincident."

Jack noticeably held his breath while he rubbed the palms of his hands on his jeans. Bobby wanted to yell at the stupid fuckers seated around the table to read the fucking statements, again, and leave his brother alone.

"And again, your honor, that is not what we are here about. His juvenile record has no bearing on the proceedings before us today." Robert spoke quickly. "The Mercer brothers have a reputation in this city, that is very true, but this is not about them, or their history. It's about the here and now."

"It does help to clarify the type of person we are dealing with…" The judge started to speak.

"The type of person we are dealing with?" Robert's voice was loud enough to break through the ringing. It surprised Bobby to hear the angry tone coming from a man who was usually so calm. "First of all, Your Honor, my client's juvenile records were sealed; they cannot be brought forward for these proceedings or future dealings with this court. Jack Mercer was a troubled teen. Why was he a troubled teen?" Sarcasm dripped from the attorney's words. "Oh, yes, because our system failed him, more than once. He was tossed around from one foster home to another as if he were no more than a name on a piece of paper that could be shuffled from one in-box to another, handing the responsibility of his care off to people who didn't want anything to do with him, with no regards to what scars it might leave on him."

"His experience in our foster care system is not why we are here." The judge countered, and then let out a huff and sat back in his seat. His entire demeanor seemed to transform. His shoulders slumped slightly and his voice seemed to pick up the street accent Bobby had grown used to hearing daily when he dealt with thugs as a habit. "Gentlemen, this is a closed-door hearing, less formal. I already know the facts of this case. Neither of you have placed evidence on this table that I have not already reviewed. I want to hear or see something that will convince me to throw this case out. I know its bullshit." He looked at Porter. "You still haven't given me anything that I can use as evidence that this case should not go any further, or that Mr. Mercer should not be awaiting a trial from behind bars. No matter the circumstances, Mr. Mercer has admitted quite openly that he aimed and fired that gun. His written statement describes how he shot a man. In order to dismiss this case I need something that can convince me that he felt his life was in danger. Where is that?"

That was all Bobby could handle. He could see where this was going; he understood exactly what the judge was saying. The fucking truth on its own just wasn't good enough. If Bobby had thought about it at the time he probably would have had a fucking camera strapped to his forehead to video the damn proof for the world to see. He stood quickly, avoiding Angel's attempt to pull him back into the chair. "Your evidence, your fucking proof, is sitting right here." He spoke a little too loud, he was sure, and his anger was showing; but he really didn't give a shit. "Me and my brothers would be dead right now if Jack hadn't fired that gun."

The judge turned and looked at Bobby. Shit. Looking at the man straight on gave Bobby a better view of his face. He knew him. This man had sentenced Bobby Mercer to jail the last time he'd had a run in with the cops and he was one hell of a hard ass who liked to lecture about the law and right and wrong. He'd actually had an effect on the younger version of Bobby Mercer by giving him a chance and letting him slide with probation. But when Bobby fucked up that chance, the man had smiled wide when he'd sentenced him to six months behind bars. He'd shown some compassion, but when Bobby fucked up, he had stayed true to his word, something Bobby wasn't used to from anyone other than Evelyn. Looking at him now, Bobby remembered how that had been a turning point in his life. He'd had to re-think the direction he was headed. He could have gone down the same road as Victor Sweet and gotten really cozy with gangsters instead of choosing to beat the shit out of people on the ice in a fucking awesome game called hockey. Now, this same man was about to decide Jack's future. He would decide if there would be a trial, or if the whole mess could be dropped.

Bobby stared at the man for a long moment, swallowed hard, and as an afterthought added one last word to his statement, "Sir." Damn, that made his head hurt. With any luck the judge wouldn't remember him. How could he? He'd probably seen thousands of kids in his courtroom over the years, how could he possibly remember Bobby Mercer?

The judge stared for what felt like forever before he nodded his head slowly. "Bobby Mercer. You got any lighters in your pocket this morning?"

Bobby let out a huff. Well fuck. "No sir." His hands drifted to feel his pants pockets as he spoke the words. No harm in double checking.

A smile creased the judge's features. "You haven't changed a bit, have you Bobby?"

Bobby felt his eyes narrow. "The hell I ain't." He fought to hold his temper in. Who the hell did this guy think he was? Oh, right, he just happened to be the fucking judge with Jack's future laid out on the table in front of him.

The judge laughed. Hell, what was the man's name? Bobby's brain couldn't seem to grab hold of that type of information at the moment. He felt a little dizzy, and maybe kind of nauseous.

The judge stood and stepped towards Bobby. "You've still got the attitude Bobby."

Bobby felt the corners of his mouth twitch as he remembered what this very same man had said to him while he sentenced him. "Hell, ain't the attitude good, as long as you apply it in the right areas?"

"Only if you don't get arrested," The man stopped in front of Bobby. "Listen to me. I know this is all bullshit. I'm not stupid. But the law is the law. I know Harris was dirty, I've seen the evidence that points to that. He's dead, so unfortunately we cannot charge him with anything and his allegations are quite damaging. I simply need more information."

"What allegations?" Bobby demanded. "What the fuck did he say that got my little brother here?" He motioned around him to the walls of the room.

"The judge looked at Bobby hard. "I wish I could say, but I can't. Because whether I believe it or not, it is not exclusive to Jack's case only."