At 35 Greg Garson was satisfied with his life. His office was an expression of who he was and had he got there. On his desk was his wedding picture and a couple of dozen picture of Debbie and the two kids, Cody and Katrina. One of his walls had two pictures of him and Cody’s little league team. He not only sponsored a team but coached as well. Katty had been dancing since she was four, and he had several pictures from her dance recitals.
At eight, Cody was the mirror image of Greg. His sister, Ann Marie called him Greg’s clone. His niece Gina called Cody “mini-me,” from the Mike Myers’s movie.
Katty was five and the perfect blend of Greg and Debbie. His little princess was, to his mind, the symbol of their union and happiness.
The adjacent wall had a number of pictures of beautiful homes. Examples of the fine work that Garson Construction performed.
The two walls defined the boundaries of his universe: family and work.
Physically, Greg took after his father, a man of French descent. He was of six foot two inches, and two hundred thirty pounds. He had the body of a man who used his muscles for a living and lacking the fine definition of a gymrat. Also favoring his father he had thick curly brown hair and bright blue eyes. Despite his strong Gallic looks, Greg unlike his sister, couldn’t speak but a few words of French and didn’t know the difference between a croissant and a Kaiser roll. Since his mother strongly identified with her Italian heritage, so did Greg.
In the sixteen years since he had dropped out of Nassau Community College, Greg had done alright. His business just added it’s eleventh permanent employee, and he was up to ten part timers. Three years ago he had enough money to join the Hempstead Lake Golf club. His kids were attending Saint Thomas instead of public school. And last year he took the family to Aruba.
Sitting in his office on his birthday, he was very happy.
Looking at his watch, Greg saw it was only 1:30 pm. He’d skipped lunch because he’d made reservations to take the family out to a really nice restaurant in the City.
“Hey, Greg, I need to talk to you about the Holman job,” said Tony. Tony Mack was Greg’s first employee and right hand man. Tony was an artist. He could tear down a room and rebuild it in record time and the result was absolutely gorgeous. They got top dollar for a Mack rec room.
Tony was a slightly built African-American man whose frame hid his ropey muscles. His long delicate fingers seemed more suited to playing a piano than handling power tools. Much to the surprise of his father, who played violin with the New York Philharmonic. He joked that he preferred to make music with a circular saw.
The Holman job was a pain. Mr. Holman was quiet guy who let his wife do all the talking, always a bad sign. She was never happy about anything and was always changing her mind before the job was half done.
Sighing, Greg said,”What does she want now?”
Tony smiled, making the scar on his right cheek more prominent, “Cheer up, boss, at least she’s paying for all the changes.”
Grinning back, Greg said, “That’s something. So, what’s the problem? She doesn’t want the Italian marble anymore?”
For the next twenty minutes Greg and Tony reworked the cost estimate for Mrs. Holman. They were flipping through some catalogs when a beefy guy walked into the office.
“Which of you guys is Greg Garson,” he asked abruptly.
Surprised, Greg looked up at him. He looked like a cop, or a retired cop and didn’t seem particularly interested in anything, in fact he looked bored. Greg didn’t figure him for a customer.
“That’d be me,” Greg answered, standing up behind the desk.
“I got something for you,” said the man. He dropped some papers on Greg’s desk and walked out.
Tony shook his head, “What the hell was that?” Tony picked up the papers to read them
“Shit,” he said softly, “Boss, this is bad.” He handed the papers to Greg.
At first Greg didn’t understand what he was reading. He looked up at Tony with incomprehension. “What is it?”
Tony had been through this himself, said,”It’s an order of protection. Debbie got a court order kicking you out of the house.”
Greg was stunned, this didn’t make sense.”No, this is a mistake,” he said.
He picked up the phone on his desk and started punching in the number to Debbie’s cell. Tony quickly disconnected the call. “Don’t do that. That’s how I got arrested, remember? You can’t call her. You can’t go home.”
“But,” Greg began and then sank to his chair. He felt sick. He wanted to throw up and cry at the same moment. He lay his head on his desk and felt utterly bewildered and lost.
Tony stood by the desk looking uncomfortable. Part of it was a recognition of how he felt when his ex-wife hit him with an order of protection. The other was embarrassment for his friend. Greg was always the strong one. He always knew what to do, and never hesitated. He was always full of good cheer, and nothing ever seemed to get him down. Greg was the most optimistic guy he knew. And one of the best friends a guy could ever want.
Awkwardly, Tony said, “Don’t worry. We’ll sort this out. But, first you need a lawyer. Let me give my lawyer’s number. Fitz is a smart guy and he’ll know what to do.”
# # #
At about 11 am, Fitz came back. “Well, finished with that sonofabitch downstairs. All I have left is your case. I’m going to peek inside the court and see if her attorney is here. By the way, is your wife here?”
Greg could barely force himself to look in Debbie’s direction. “She about ten feet that way,” he gestured in the direction of the swinging doors.
“The brunette wearing the sundress and spike heels?” asked Fitz.
With heels on, Debbie transformed her height to almost five feet six inches. Fitz idly registered that she looked like an aging cheerleader striving, and not too successfully, to hold on to her youth. She was probably one of those incredibly cute girls at twenty who didn’t know how to mature into an attractive middle aged woman. Chasing youth she was doomed to look ever more ridiculous as she grew older.
“Yeah, that’s her.”
“Alright, just stay away from her.”
“I got nothing to say to her,” Greg said.
“Good, keep it that way.” Fitz clapped him on the shoulder and went into the courtroom. Greg remained at his vigil against the wall, seething and looking at nothing.
It was 11:45 am when the courtroom door opened, and a gray haired man wearing a uniform came out and yelled over the din in the hallway, “Garson against Garson. Gregory Garson and Debra Garson, step into the courtroom.”
Being closest to the door, Greg entered first. The rest of the building should have prepared him but strangely it hadn’t. The courtroom was nothing like what he had seen on television. It was small and narrow. To the right, less than six feet away was the judge’s bench. It was made of crappy, badly stained wood and slightly elevated. The wood was old and in poor repair. Directly in front of Greg was a long, badly worn and nondescript table. Behind it and against the wall was a single row of chairs, all occupied by what Greg assumed were other lawyers. Two drunken colleges kids could have built a better looking courtroom.
The man in the uniform, said, “Stand to the right of your lawyer.”
Greg noticed that Fitz was standing behind the table. At the corner of the table with her back to door, was a small elderly woman. Standing near Fitz and further from the door was a heavy middle aged woman who used so much hairspray that a hammer couldn’t knock a strand out of place. She turned to looked at Greg and he felt an immediate visceral dislike for her. She wore a smug expression on her face which Greg felt the urge to wipe off with his fist. No doubt, she was Debbie’s lawyer.
Greg took his position next to Fitz. He now took a moment to examine the judge. Judge Callahan was a middle aged asian woman with a hard face who didn’t look particularly friendly.
When the parties were in place, the judge peered over her glasses and said, “Appearances.”
Debbie’s attorney said, “Dorothy Anderson, 666 Old Country Road, Westbury, for the Petitioner, Debra Garson.” She even sounded smug.
“John Fitzgerald, Two Garden City Plaza, Garden City for Respondent Greg Garson.”
The small older woman said, in a high pitched nasal whine, “Barbara Williams, P.O. Box 1041 Franklin Square, New York, attorney for the children.”
That startled Greg. “Attorney for the children?” He thought, what the hell did that mean?
“Mr and Mrs. Garson, I am Judge Callahan, and I will be hearing this matter. Before you entered, I appointed Ms. Williams as the attorney for the children. Since there are allegations of violence and abuse not only directed towards Mrs. Garson, but the children as well, it is procedure to appoint an attorney for the children. Mrs. Williams will represent their interests in this matter.”
Adjusting her glasses, Judge Callahan went on, “Since there are serious allegations here, I am ordering that there be a forensic psychological evaluation of the parties and the children. The cost will be initially borne by respondent, subject to reallocation.”
“Your honor, my client has been living in the same clothes since the original order was signed,” Fitz began.
“He can arrange to go the house with the police to pick up his clothing,” the judge interrupted. “Tomorrow between 9 and 11, Ms. Anderson?”
Anderson had a brief whispered conversation with Debbie. “Judge, tomorrow’s not convenient. Can we do this next Monday?”
“Ms. Anderson, you certainly know better, even if your client doesn’t,” the judge began in a tone that dropped the temperature in the room by twenty degrees. “Today is Tuesday. The order was signed last Monday. I am not going to have Mr. Garson walking around in the same clothes for two weeks. It will be convenient for Mrs. Garson to be home tomorrow from 9 to 11 in order that Mr. Garson can retrieve his clothing. If she is not home or interferes in any way, she will be in contempt of court. Do I make myself clear?”
Anderson gave the judge a toading smile, “Of course, certainly, your honor.”
“Anything else?” asked the judge.
“One more thing,” Fitz said, “my client has not had any contact with his children. Since I anticipate that this matter may take some time, I would like to set up a visitation schedule.”
“Under Standards and Goals, this case must be completed by…” The judge flipped the pages of a desk calendar, “September 15th. You’re right counselor, that’s several months away. Ms. Williams what’s your position?”
“As you know judge, I have just been appointed and haven’t had a chance to speak to my clients. However, based upon this very serious allegation of abuse, I would request supervised visitation.”
“Absolutely, it must be supervised,” Anderson chimed in. “He’s a very violent man and shouldn’t be allowed alone with the children.”
Greg wasn’t too sure of what was going on and that frustrated him. But, he damned well wasn’t going to sit back and let Debbie’s lawyer lie about him.
“That’s a God damned lie. I’ve never hit my kids,” he yelled. He was completely oblivious to the fact the gray haired guy in the uniform had started moving towards him.
“That’s enough, Mr. Garson. I will not tolerate yelling or speaking out of turn in my courtroom.” the judge said coldly. “If you cannot restrain yourself, I will remove you. If you have anything to say, say it to your lawyer, and he will communicate it to the court.”
Fritz laid a restraining hand on Greg’s arm. “Forgive my client, your honor. This last week has been a strain. He was served this order of protection on his birthday. He’s been locked out of his house and hasn’t seen his kids. And he was told, yesterday by the petitioner’s sister, that this is all a plot because Mrs. Garson has boyfriend and is positioning herself for the divorce.”
“That’s simply not true…” Anderson began.
“Enough. I’m not trying this case today,” the judge said sharply. “It will take about 8 weeks, hopefully to do forensics. If the forensics comes back positive I will entertain further applications for visitation. Until then, there will be supervised visitation at FVS, at least once a week, subject to FVS’s availability. Both parties are directed to contact FVS.”
“Thank you, your honor,” Fitz said.
“I want everyone back here in 30 days,” the judge said as she flipped through her desk calender.
“I’m free the week of the 20th,” Fitz said.
“June 23 in the morning is good for me,” said Williams.
“I have a support hearing on that morning,” Anderson said.
“Which county?” asked the judge.
“Nassau, judge. I expect to it to last all morning.”
“Ms. Anderson, you have brought petitions for an order of protection and visitation. I will see you at 9:30 on June 23rd. Have a good day,” the judge said testily.
The grey haired court officer opened the door and said, “Parties and counsel please leave the courtroom.”
Before Greg could get his bearing, Fitz led him back out into the hallway. “Come, follow me back to my office,” he said, threading his way back to the stairwell.
This time the stairwell was empty, but the temperature seemed to have gone up another 20 degrees. Fitz seemed unaffected and he bounced from one foot to the other with nervous energy.
“Ok, I know things went really fast in there, so I’ll translate,” Fitz said to the still dazed Greg.
“First, the judge has order a psych evaluation for both you and your wife. Also, the evaluation will include interviews with your kids, and the psychologist will observe your interactions with the kids, and her interactions with the kids.”
Greg took a moment to try to understand, “Debbie’s dragging my kids into this? Forcing them to see a shrink? She’s the crazy one.”
Fitz nodded in understanding, “Sorry, it’s the system. And it helps you. She’s made all these wild-ass allegation against you. I see this all the time. Maybe she hears this from her friends and or reads it on the internet. She thinks that all she’d got to do is claim you’ve beat her and then whamm, she gets the house, kids and all the money.”
“I never touched her or the kids,” Greg said.
“I know and that’s the beauty of the forensic. The doctor appointed is an old hand, Bob Cunningham. And if she coaches the kids to lie about you, he should catch it.”
Greg shook his head. “Get my kids to lie?”
“Yeah, it’s called coaching. Mom tells the kids that if they don’t say daddy beat them with a bat, all sorts of bad things will happen to them. Also, some of the women like get the kids on their side. I call it ‘Team Mommy’. Team Mommy against Evil Daddy.”
Greg felt like he’d been kicked in the stomach. He leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, wishing that his nightmare would end. He felt Fitz’s hand on his shoulder.
“Look, you’re a good guy and your kids are crazy about you. Cunningham’s going to see that. Debbie’s going to overplay her hand when she meets with Cunningham. This will work out.”
“And what do I do in the meantime? When do I get to see my kids?”
“Ok, this is the bad part, but it’s temporary. You can only get to see your kids for about an hour a week at FVS, don’t ask me what it stands for. A social worker will be in the room with you watching.”
“Watching like I’m a some criminal? Like I’d hurt my own kids?” The anger was surging out again.
“Take it easy, we can turn this around.”
“How?” Greg asked belligerently.
“Right now, it’s Debbie’s word against yours. Now, we have not one but two independent observers, Cunningham and a social worker at FVS. When we come back there will be reports. The visitation is going to show that the kids love you and most importantly are not afraid of you. I know this judge, once she sees that Debbie is full of shit, it will turn.”