My Daddy had been murdered on January 4, 1996. When that date rolled round each year I dressed in black and fasted for the day. While the adults had tried to tell us children as little of the hard facts as possible, we four eldest understood the big picture. Detective William Price Senior was murdered by the Crime Lord Malcolm O'Brien; New Orleans Police Department knew this, but could not prove it. I learned when I was seventeen that back in 98 O'Brien escaped the FBI and was at large. There were more details to the case I knew, but as the family member of a victim they were going to tell me nothing.
All the same, two weeks before my senior year my brothers and I went down to New Orleans to talk to the officers heading the investigation. The brother officers who knew my daddy welcomed us as if we were their own children, but told us little. My Daddy had been a Narcotics Detective, he had been working on a case that would have proven that Malcolm O'Brien was trafficking cocaine into the city and distributing through out the south-east coast. This case had gotten him killed, but no one kills a cop and gets away with it. The shooter was found eight months later and some time after that gave up Malcolm O'Brien as the one who ordered the hit. For a number of legal reasons the case had gone to the Federal Court System and the FBI had taken over the case.
In May of 1998 and with the help of two corrupt agents Malcolm O'Brien and his wife escaped. The agents were sent to jail and would be released soon. As for the gunman who killed my Daddy, he was serving life without the possibility of parole. Before leaving I asked for a photo of O'Brien and his wife, so I would know what they looked like and would know them if I saw them again. The Captain did me one better and gave me an age progression photo of how they might look now. O'Brien appeared to look like any other white man in his late seventies and his wife who was about ten years younger than him was perfectly ordinary. They were so harmless looking that they could be living in some retirement community and no one would suspect who they were.
Being in the Big Easy was strange to me as I had a child's memory of the place. Everything appeared smaller than I remembered. The names of people were slightly jumbled, people were older, places were different, but the food was the same! I did not care for south-west food, although I ate it, I wanted Cajun food. The Crawfish were not in season while we were there, but there was plenty of crab, lobster, clams and fish. I found a recipe for a proper gumbo and King Cake. Although my love for Mardi Gras had ended long ago.
The fallowing week we were in Savannah. My grandparents, particularly my grandpa insisted that I come. I was never close to my grandpa, he preferred the boys and I was usually trapped with grandma. We arrived in time for dinner and without being told to we washed and changed our clothing. Our younger siblings had spent the first half of summer vacation down here and were spending the second half in New Kent. After eating our Italian stile peaches and cream grandpa started. He first told me what I already knew, as if I was too young to remember.
The day after Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, my mamma's car was struck by a drunk driver. She was not killed immediately, she lived long enough for Ariel to be delivered and died five hours later. This I remembered just as clearly as the day of my daddy's death. What I learned from William that in the Wrongful Death suit that fallowed the jury awarded two settlements; the first amount was enough to pay my parents outstanding debts, the second sum was one million to each orphan child. This sum was placed into Trust Funds with our Ward grandparents named Co-Trustees. When each of us reached the age of eighteen, we had to be told about the Trusts and it's provisions. William had been the first to learn of the accounts and told the twins and me and I told Athena.
"The terms stand thus," grandpa said. "You must earn a Bachelors degree in the subject of your choice by the age of 21; that is the only way you will gain control of the Trust account."
"If I don't earn my degree by 21 does that mean I can never gain control of the account?" I chose to ask a question, because I did not want my grandpa to know what William had done.
"No, 21 is the youngest you can gain control. If you earn your degree at the age of 23 then you are still able to be given control. The only way you could never gain the account is to have a child without earning your college education."
"Why?" I knew the reason. My Mamma dropped out of Georgetown when she got pregnant with William.
"Because you will have to support the child and the child's father," he replied hotly.
I knew that my Mamma had brought seven million to her marriage and lost no time in spending it. The money lasted for the first ten years of their marriage and the last six and a half was spent in deep debt. We talked some more about the trust accounts and I was shown the portfolio details. It was the next morning after breakfast that the second shoe dropped.
"Now that you four are old enough it is time to tell you the name of the driver of the other car," Grandma started gravely. "before you learn of it else where."
My mouth dropped opened, "I had assumed that the other driver had died in the car, you mean he is alive!"
"Why didn't you tell us sooner," William demanded.
"Because," she said holding up her hands. "I did not think you were old enough to handle the information. You can not tell your younger siblings especially Ariel, she is too young."
"Yes," I breathed. She was too high strung, I didn't want to think how she would react.
"How much jail time did the driver get," Richard wanted to know.
Our grandparents looked at each other before answering. "None."
"None," we four shouted as one. "What do you mean none!"
In the criminal suit that fallowed the driver of the car was found guilty of a lesser crime than he deserved, sighting mistakes the Emergency Room doctor made. Grandpa explained the details of the case and the irritating technicality that had given this man five years of probation and no jail time. For the last two years I had been wavering between becoming a teacher or a lawyer, now I made up my mind to be a lawyer and not just any lawyer, a public prosecutor. And I would never forget the name of the man who caused the death of my mother; Henry Crawford Senior of Everingham Agricultural.
"He is growing in fame and we were worried that you might learn of what happened in the newspapers," Grandma continued.
"What do you mean by fame," I wanted to know.
"He has just been appointed to the Department of Agriculture," Grandpa explained. "I know you have little reason to read about that part of the government, but reporters have the habit of learning all a person's business."
"I don't understand," John said. "All court transcripts are a matter of public record, wouldn't the press have already found out."
"Not in this case," Grandpa sighed. "Yes, the filing of the suit is a matter of public record; but as we settled out of court one of the clauses in the settlement is a non-discloser agreement. We can not talk publicly about or forfeit the money. I have invested the money and now your Trusts are valued at about four million, so it has been worth it."
"We would only have to forfeit the original one million," I started. "What of the money you earned from the investments."
"It would be up to a judge and he could decide that all the money should be returned, given the wording of the settlement," Grandpa replied. "I should have paid more attention to that part of the negotiation, but I did not and we are stuck. Again I say, reporters have the habit of finding out all your business."
"Who cares what goes on in the Department of Agriculture," William said rudely.
"You would be surprised," I replied. "Given what Athena tells me." Admiral and Mrs. Maxwell had moved back to Washington DC just before Athena's ninth grade year. "The way she talks every department is connected, the DHS and the DEA want to know what is happening to the nation's food supply, just to name a couple."
"So Crawford is a VIP now," Richard said. "And our Mother is dead," he finished angrily.
"Yes," Grandpa said quietly. We asked more questions that our grandparents did not know the answer too or did not want to answer. I did my own research, Henry Crawford Senior had been married three times and had one child with each wife. I was surprised to learn that Mrs. Grant the wife of Dr. Grant, was his eldest daughter with his first wife. He had a son Henry Crawford Junior with the second wife and another daughter Mary with his third wife. I wondered if they knew what their Father had done to my Mother.
Senior year was one tiring blur of events. Monday through Friday Aurora had a ten hour school day and on the weekends she had homework, end of term projects and public service. The work was hard, expectations were high and the stress was almost unbearable. The Magnet Students had to compete in middle school in order to get into the best high school. While in high school they had to compete to earn the highest grades in order to get into college, never mind the limited number of scholarships. Ever since sixth grade children had been told by their teachers, that with a college diploma they would be guaranteed a career. The teachers drilled this admonition into the minds of teenagers, just as their kindergarten teachers educated them in ABC and 123.
The only relief from the never ending stress were the Magnet Parties. Magnet Parties were house parties where only Magnet Students were invited. Aurora went to these parties with her friends and enjoyed herself. There was music and dancing or marathons of their favorite cartoon TV shows or table games and video games. There was always food and soda pop and for the most part these parties were driven by sugar. There was very little parental supervision, but the kids were too worried about getting into college to try risky behavior. At one party the Father in command decided to introduce the kids to the fine art of wine tasting; he had been raised by his French Step-Father to view wine as food, not as a forbidden drink. He let them try a wide range of wines, red and white, dry and sweet, domestic and imported. When the Mother arrived home she found about two dozen toasted teenagers in her house. She did not waist time yelling at her husband, she just put on the coffee. Aurora had been present at that party and felt at liberty to drink, because the adult had given it to her and the setting was relatively controlled. After a large mug of hot strong black coffee she decided that she liked sweet white wines the best .
However, at another party the older brother of one of the students brought in a case of beer. Aurora felt that the party was quickly becoming uncontrolled and she made the choice to leave. She had a hard time rounding up her friends and they were not happy to leave the party. As the girls were complaining about Aurora acting like a baby two police cars passed them on the road. Aurora slowed and watched as they stopped at the house they just departed. While no one said anything Aurora knew that Yolanda Garcia was the most relieved of them all. Her Father was a police Captain and her getting arrested for underage drinking would have been embarrassing.
Aurora understood about the unreasonable demands of parents or in her case parent figures. The Bertrams undervalued her intelligence, neglected her feelings and mocked her for her disability; all save Edmund, he provided for her material needs. She had an ally in Terry Lee, who cared for her health and filled the emotional roll of mother. And her teachers challenged her mind and ideas. Her grandparents were no help. Her Father's parents were stuck in the Eisenhower administration and they believed that a woman's place was at home. The only goals they wanted their granddaughters to stride for was to find a husband and raise a family. Her Mother's parents wanted her to redeem her Mother's name and become a professional woman. They demanded perfection from Aurora and all their other grandchildren. After being criticized by one relative after another Aurora could not help crying.
It seemed to her that none of the adults were interested in her becoming her own person, with her own hopes and dreams. Thank God for her brothers, they loved her just as she was and told her so, very often because they knew her situation. None of them had earned the required diploma to gain access to their respective Trust Funds. While the boys had the strength to work and attend school, they knew that their little sister could not.
Her doctor had at last announced that Aurora's Juvenile rheumatoid Arthritis was completely gone, but the damage was done. She would have trouble keeping up her iron levels in her blood for the rest of her life. Her joints would be weaker than other women her same age and the risk of brittle bones would have to be monitored. Her immune system was compromised making her an easy target for germs of all description. Also the high toxic medicine used to treat her JRA resulted in overburdening her liver and kidneys as well as causing weight gain. She would have to be mindful of her health for the rest of her life, unlike most people her age Aurora knew that she was not invincible.
Terry Lee did what she could to help promote good health, both of body and mind. She took Aurora to a calisthenics class at the Recreational Center three times a week. She found a brand of iron pills that did not give Aurora stomach aches. She switched her from sugar to locally produced honey. She changed her diet to include organically produced foods and excluded junk foods. She also had Aurora do a ten day cleanse four times a year. Terry Lee wanted Aurora to study the Bible, but the teen did not want another book to study, not even the holy book. Never the less Terry Lee made sure that Aurora learned sound moral values and developed a strong mind.