No Controlling Legal Authority Ch. 08byTheScribe©
All hell broke loose the next day, of course, but little of it was at Anne's instigation, despite her rage at the events of the previous evening. She arrived at school early, intending to confront Rufus about Archie's attempted rape, because she felt that he was somehow behind it, and she was determined to have it out with him that morning before the faculty and students arrived for the day. She marched into his office even before the first light of day had hit the windows and discovered him hunched over the glowing screen of his computer monitor.
"Rufus, you son of a bitch, turn around and talk to me." She managed to control the volume of her voice enough to be intelligible, but she was too heated to heed the lesson she learned the night before about not commencing a statement with a pejorative.
"Not now, Anne," he panted in response without turning from the screen. "I know you're upset, but I had no options, and you'll just have to accept that for now, because I'm up to my ass in alligators at the moment, and I don't have time to discuss Archie Farber with you."
His office lights were off, and the terminal screen lit the room with a sickly glow. She flipped the switch to the overhead florescent lights and bright light filled the room.
"Turn around, I don't give a damn what you're doing, you're going to talk to me, you bastard. You sent me down there last night to be raped by that jerk kid, and you knew it, didn't you?"
"Yes, I knew it, and I can explain, but not now. I'll talk to you later."
He didn't turn around when speaking, and she looked over his shoulder at the screen. He was scrolling through lists of files, marking some for deletion. He was unfamiliar with the task and was struggling.
"What the hell is so important with that damn computer, that you can't turn around and explain that business with Archie last night to me? You owe me that much, you bastard."
"I know, I know, you're right, but they're coming, they'll be here any minute, I'm sure of it. I have to finish deleting these files before they come."
"What the hell are you talking about, Rufus?" She was suspicious of a rouse and sounded like it.
"Postal inspectors, Anne."
"Oh yeah, right, Rufus. What? Have you been cheating them out of postage on the school mail? You really are too cheap for words."
"I wish," he groaned. "It's not that simple." His fingers scuttled ineptly across the keys as he spoke, and he cursed and retraced his steps.
"Well, what then?" she demanded. Her eyes swept his desk for an object heavy enough to club him with. Finding nothing handy, she punched his shoulder aggressively with her fist and yelled, "Turn around you son of a bitch and talk to me."
The blow knocked him against the table, and he turned. "They're coming here, any minute, I know it. They came to the house last night with a search warrant and took Imogene's computer."
"Why'd they do that, Rufus?" She sounded skeptical.
"Search warrant said they could search for evidence I had been, er, ah, they said, `trafficking in child pornography.'"
That news surprised her some, and she tried to take her mind off of Archie to respond. "You are a piece of work, Rufus. I had no idea, well, except of course, that business with Cletus the other day, but I figured you were just buying that stuff to blackmail me with it. Guess I figured wrong, huh? Is that it, Rufus? You got a thing for little boys and girls? Is that it?"
"Yes, I mean, no, oh, dammit it Anne, get out of here and let me finish this before they get here, please." He sounded desperate.
"What put them on to you, Rufus?"
"I don't know, Anne, honestly, I don't."
He sounded sincere enough, she thought, but then again, he sounded pretty sincere last night setting her up to be raped like he did. She wasn't buying ignorance today, and leaned down bringing her face within inches of his.
"You are lying, you son of a bitch, you know exactly how they caught up with you, don't you."
"Oh alright, yeah, I got a pretty good guess," he confessed, recoiling in shock at her vehemence.
"Well," she demanded impatiently.
"The Internet," he sighed wearily. "The search warrant said something about using the mail or wire, including the Internet, so I figure that has to be it."
"Oh great, the Internet, and here I though you were computer illiterate. What? I guess you've got some huge network of pedophiles that you trade that shit with, you know, back and forth with the pictures. Or, maybe you're one of the really sicko ones who gets names and addresses, and you go off somewhere and meet little kids and do stuff to them. Is that what you are, some sick son of a bitch, Rufus?" Anne, of course, knew whereof she spoke, and she came by her indignation from experience.
"It's not like that, Anne," he protested weakly. "I don't do that."
"Oh yeah, right, Rufus, so what were you doin’ with that computer of yours on the Internet that's got the federal government breathing down your neck, then."
"Talking to Caruthers about his pictures, I expect."
"Oh, bull shit, Rufus, Cletus doesn't know a computer from a cow's teat or the Internet from an intestine. Peddling that crap out of his pickup to truckers at rest areas on the interstate is more his speed."
"You're behind the times, Anne. Been gone too long; things change."
"Cletus Caruthers does not change, Rufus. I don't think he's even literate, and besides, you just bought $1300 worth of pictures off him a couple of weeks ago. You expect me to believe you're going back for more? Already? What more could you hope to get out of that?"
"Before he came here, Anne, that's when I contacted their web site."
"Oh for Pete's sake, Rufus, don't insult me like that. What do you take me for, a complete idiot? Finding Cletus with his own website on the Internet is about as likely as finding a pig in the parlor under a parasol."
"It's the truth, Anne, I swear it. That's how I found him, on the web, a couple of months ago."
"Ok, you say he has a website, so what was Cletus calling himself on the web, huh?"
"I believe he called it, `HotTots.com,' Anne."
"You've got to be kidding,” she replied, shaking her head in disbelief and nearly laughing out loud, but it was do dumb and so direct, it had Cletus written all over it, and he convinced her. Can you believe the stupidity, she thought. He probably tried to register it as dot `org,' too, thinking that `org' stood for orgasm, and he'd get more hits.
"What's stupid about it?" Rufus asked, puzzled and considerably concerned.
"God, Rufus, for a smart man you can be dense sometimes. It's too obvious. It's so obvious, I'm wondering why didn't he just call the feds and tell them to come pick him up, and you too, for that matter."
"Me?" He protested. "Why me? All I ever did was go there a few times, you know, and talk to him over the computer, email and stuff."
"Yeah, go on."
"Well, and look at his pictures."
"And, down load them to your computer."
"A few, I guess, but Caruthers didn't put that many on the web, just enough to generate interest. He said it was better for him to sell the real thing, in person and for cash, than to give them away to any asshole with a computer and a hard-on."
"That sounds like the good old Cletus I remember, alright, face to face, all cash, and no strings, but I guess neither of you ever heard of `cookies?'"
"No, well sure, of course, but not in connection with computers. What's that?"
"Trackers. You leave them where ever you go on the web, like a trail of cookies in the woods, and they can be followed right back to you."
"Shit! I didn't know that. I got to get to work. Right now."
"Hold on a minute, Rufus, I'm not finished with you," she snapped. “There's a lot left for you to explain."
"What? I told you everything I know. Hell, you know more about it than I do."
"Yeah, you got that right. So I am supposed to believe that with billions of web sites out there to choose from, you just happened upon `HotTots.com' and discovered Cletus Caruthers was sellin pictures of me in my birthday suit? Pullllleeeaase."
"It wasn't that random."
"No, I bet it wasn't; you had lots of help from your kiddie porn pals, didn't you. One of them probably gave you the name and recommended him. Still a remarkable coincidence, if you ask me."
"It was recommended to me, alright."
"That's obvious, Rufus. I want to know who gave you the web site."
"I can't tell you, Anne."
"I can't, that's all there is to it."
"You're making me suspicious, Rufus. Who are you protecting? Is it somebody I know?"
"Anne, look, it doesn't matter. It was just somebody, that's all."
"It matters to me, sport, and I'm not leaving till you tell me who it was, so you can forget about deleting all those files you're so worried about, not that it'll do you any good."
"Wha, what do you mean," he stammered, "do me any good?"
"`Deleting' doesn't get rid of a file, Rufus, it just lets the computer write over it. The file's still there, till it's written over, and anybody with half a brain can retrieve it, even after it's been `deleted.'"
"Oh, shit!" he gasped, "what can I do, then? Do you know how to get them off here?"
"Help me, please?"
"Tell me who."
"No, I can't."
"Ok," she said evenly and turned to leave. "I think a conviction for trafficking in that stuff on your computer, with the cookies and all, probably will get you twenty years. Bye now, Rufus, y’all have a nice day."
"Wait, wait," he begged, lunging to catch her hand as she turned.
"I'm waiting, Rufus." She had paused by the doorway. The sun had come up, and students were beginning to trickle in. "Getting’ late, buddy, you better make up your mind fast, or it'll be too late."
"Alright, alright," he panted, "get in here and close that door."
She pushed the door to behind her and leaned her back against it. "Well?" she said with an expectant arch in her tone.
"Nancy Farber." He whispered and hung his head sheepishly.
My God, she thought, as the utterance slammed her against the resisting panels of the door, and her mind scrambled to fit the knowledge into a semblance of order. Oh, sweet Jesus, thoughts bounced in her brain like pinballs off of pylons, complete with flashing lights and ringing bells. Of course, my God, of course, the connection was beginning to form. Archie wants something, and mommy sets out to get it for him, so she puts Rufus in touch with Cletus, but, but, no, that can't be it, too many loose ends.
"How'd she find out about Cletus and connect me to his pictures?"
"Oh, Anne, I was afraid you'd ask me that."
"Why? What have you got to be afraid of?"
"Think about it."
She studied his face closely while her brain tumbled the information. What was she missing? What was there that she couldn't see? What was he still hiding from her, afraid to tell? What? What? No, no, not that, impossible, but still.
"You knew!" she screamed at him. "You knew and you lied and denied it, when I suggested it last night, didn't you?"
"Knew what?" he replied evasively.
"You knew she was screwing Archie, didn't you?"
"Yes, I knew it; how'd you find out?"
"That jerk kid you sent me down to fuck yesterday told me, that's how, you bastard. His eyes were rolling back in his head, and he started babbling about it and forgot all about me being there."
"Anne, look, I'm sor..." he began, attempting to apologize, but she cut him off.
"How'd you find out about them?"
"Caruthers told me about it first; sold me some pictures of them, later."
"Cletus? Pictures?" she gasped. "How the hell did he get pictures of her and Archie, for Pete's sake."
"According to Caruthers, she was really proud of Archie, you know, his, uh, uh...."
"Yeah, right, his `equipment.'"
"You know what Cletus was talking about, Rufus? You ever seen that `equipment' yourself?"
"Well, no, of course not. I saw pictures, is all, and I've heard talk, some."
"I saw it last night, Rufus, thanks to you. I got a real good look at it, you son of a bitch, and he could have killed me with that thing, that YOU told him to use on me."
"I know, I know, Anne, and I am so sorry." He sounded so miserable she almost believed him, but she knew he was only worried about his own skin, and that what happened or didn't happen to her skin mattered very little to him.
"Shut up, you bastard, and let me think." He slumped in his chair, dejected and anxious, watching her pace in front of his desk, back and forth, on his Persian rug.
Finally, she spoke again. "It makes no sense, Rufus, her trusting Cletus like that, giving him pictures of her and Archie?"
"I thought so too, but that's what she did. I guess vanity is no friend of judgment, darling, just look at me if you want another proof."
"I'll amen to that," she retorted with a snort.
"She thought she was safe and trusted him, I guess. She began by buying pictures from him to show to Archie, you know to educate him, so to speak, and then she told Cletus about Archie and, er, ah, his proportions, and he became interested and asked her to take pictures and send them to him, which she did. Somewhere along the line, she must have recognized you in one of Cletus' pictures and figured out the connection. I guess that's how it happened; Cletus told me a little when we were negotiating the price for those photos he brought the other day, and I guessed the rest. Beyond that, all I can tell you is that Nancy's the one who gave me the name of his web site and his phone number; told me I might learn something `interesting' about one of my teachers, if I looked. So, I checked it out, and she was right, and the rest you know."
"I wonder if she ever let Archie participate in one of Cletus and Nadeen's photo sessions with the kids."
"I don't know, why do you ask?"
"Just wondering how tight Nancy and Nadeen might have been, is all. What you said reminded me of the way Cletus and Nadeen liked to operate. They were always looking for fresh faces, bringing new people in, kids mostly. I think they tried to find people who had nobody to look after them or care about what happened to them, you know, orphans like me, or people who had as much to hide as they did, and they would use mutual blackmail for self-protection. They always liked to get something on somebody before they gave them much information about themselves. If Nancy let on that she was doing it with her son, Cletus and Nadeen would welcome her and Archie with open arms. I guess with Archie being so, ah, photogenic, they wouldn't mind much that he was a little older than their customers probably liked."
"He might not have been all that old in the beginning."
"Nancy and the Caruthers go back a while, Anne. He showed me pictures of them together when Archie was thirteen."
"Thirteen!! My God, what was that, six, seven years ago? That must have been about the time I ran off from there. Did you know that?"
"I guessed it."
"Lord, thirteen," she said softly. "Was he...? Back then."
"About the same, except not nearly as tall."
"Standing up or lying down?"
"Whew, I pity those poor kids if she did put them together."
"Honestly, Anne, I don't know if she did or not. If he had them, Caruthers never offered me any pictures of Archie with anybody but Nancy, but I sure wouldn't put it past her. She is utterly ruthless and cunning, and would cut your throat in a minute to help herself. She knows how to get what she wants, that's for sure, and won't let anything or anybody, including Archie, stand in her way."
"Is that what happened to you last night, Rufus? Did she put you over a barrel?"
"I had no choice, Anne, none. She got me this job. She was chair of the Headmaster selection committee, and let me know in no uncertain terms that her word was law, and that she got her way by whatever means were necessary."
"That's it, Rufus? She chaired a goddamn committee, and you're going to spend the rest of your life licking her feet and kissing her ass?"
"She's the Mayor's wife, for God's sake, Anne. The school's named after her grandfather, Archibald Hardwick, in case you didn't know. They know people, important people. They have friends with clout and connections that protect them. They can get things done, Anne, and they can do just about whatever they want."
"So she put you up to sending me down to `watch' Archie, last night?"
"You could have refused; you could have protected me, you bastard. Why didn't you?"
"She had the photos that Archie took of you and me. What could I do?"
"How'd you like that, Rufus; being blackmailed with pictures like that?"
"Not much, Anne," he admitted, squirming uncomfortably at the comparison.
"Yeah, right, you poor thing, and you weren't having to kneel in the floor, while some disgusting asshole spewed cum all over your face, because of some pictures you were forced to pose for years ago, were you?"
"No, no I wasn't, you're right. Oh, Anne, I'm so sorry."
"Quit blubbering, I don't feel sorry for you, Rufus. Why didn't you stand up to her? Fight her. You had pictures of her with Archie, you said so yourself."
"You couldn't see her face in the photos I saw. Couldn't really tell who it was, except for Archie, of course. Never seen anything like it, really."
"You coulda called Cletus, hooked up with him on `HotTots' and bought some from him with faces, couldn't you?"
"I figured not. Like I said, she's pretty smart. I don't think she'd allow herself to be photographed like that. Now, letting Archie's face get out, that's another matter, but she probably figured that as long as she wasn't identified, it would be ok. But all that's beside the point. I can't get in touch with Caruthers anymore, his site's been down since he was here, and his phone's disconnected. I tried him yesterday, right after Nancy called me."
"Gee, thanks for trying," she chided him. "That probably means the feds are after him too. Stands to reason; he's the big fish that all trails lead to, I suppose."
"They are." He sounded sure of himself.
"How do you know?" she asked.
"They were asking me questions about him. Had I seen him? Had I done business with him on the computer, things like that."
"There are a couple of other things I ought to tell you, Anne."
"What would that be, Rufus?" A feeling of dreadful premonition filled her.
"I knew they were coming last night, to search my house."
"How?" she exclaimed.
"Nancy called me. It was about the time you were, ah, watching Archie swim. She called and said the feds were coming with a warrant in about an hour, and that the sheriff would be by in a few minutes to help me get ready."
"What? She told you they were coming before they got there? This is too much, Rufus."
"I told you, they have connections into places you wouldn't believe. Somebody tipped them off in advance about the raid, obviously, and she called to warn me."
"Got worried about her cookies, I imagine."
"It gets worse. Wasn't ten minutes later that Sheriff Briggs himself showed up on my doorstep with a computer under his arm. He made me show him where mine was, and he went in and swapped them out. Told me the one he was leaving was his kids’, and there wasn't anything on it but children's games and word puzzles. That's the one the feds took when they left."
"My God, Rufus, the sheriff himself?"
"Fraid so, Annie. And, he got hers too."
"Nancy's. Said he was leaving to go over to the Mayor's house and pick up their computer for `safe keeping,' along with mine. He said, and I think these are his exact words `You keep your fucking mouth shut, dipshit, and maybe you'll come out of this ok.' He made it pretty plain that he was holding on to mine to protect her."