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Somewhere in the world, at any given moment, Roy Orbison is singing.
Mae Malveaux blinked at her reflection in the washroom mirror as she slapped a bit of water on her face.
And I really need a vacation.
She sighed and returned to her desk, trying to tune out the tinny music coming from the office to her left. She had left her door open in a vain attempt to get some fresh air in the windless space her desk and file cabinet were wedged into. Instead, her neighbor's radio was filling the airspace. For the sixth time today, she had heard Roy Orbison singing. It was starting to get under her skin. She did not understand why the fates seemed determined to haunt her with the voice of a dead man in large sunglasses.
An opened folder sat waiting for her return, right where she had left it. This particular case was another thing Mae did not understand. Despite persistent abuse and neglect, on four occasions, judges had returned Chrysandra Arneson to the custody of her mother, Marie Arneson.
Child Protective Services, after contact from school officials and doctors, had removed the girl from the home within six months after each judicial order. Now Marie, having completed a drug rehabilitation program and found gainful employment, was again seeking custody of her twelve-year-old daughter.
In each of the previous rulings, the judges had cited the need to "keep the family unit intact" as one of the driving reasons for returning the little girl to her mother's care.
Mae suspected it had more to do with the woman's family being white, wealthy and suburban. The Arneson family, already established among the elites of the Twin Cities after decades of doing business in the brewing and milling industries, had made a fortune in the 1950s when the public transportation system in the Twin Cities switched from streetcars to buses.
Mae had spoken to the child's grandparents, but while they were happy to be her temporary guardians, they did not want to be responsible for Chrysandra long term. Instead, the elder Arnesons were single-minded in their belief that Marie was a good mother and that for some reason the State of Minnesota had singled out their precious daughter for harassment. Mae felt the Arnesons were willfully ignoring evidence that Marie was abusing their granddaughter, pretending the constant parade of bruises, burns and broken bones over the last three years were all accidental. The identity of the child's father was unknown, and Marie Arneson and her family refused to share any information about him, closing off that avenue of aid from Mae.
Mae groaned with relief when the song ended and she heard the solid click of the radio being switched off. She had the beginning of a migraine. Walking into the meeting with Juvenile Court Judge Slotky on a matter unrelated to this case, she had found herself in an impromptu negotiation conference with the attorney representing Marie Arneson. Judge Slotky seemed sure they could work out a deal without the need for a court session.
This morning's ambush was bad enough, but William Jefferson Hodgins's refusal to take her seriously had infuriated Mae. At one point Hodgins and Judge Slotky began talking to each other as if Mae were not even in the room. The "old boys" in local law circles saw her childlike frame, pale complexion and thin, slightly stringy blond hair, and brushed her off. Mae had refused to agree to anything and stormed out of the judge's chambers.
"Hey, I thought you left hours ago."
Mae looked up, startled by the voice.