Lois stood proudly in front of the judge. She only stood 5'2", a good 3" shorter than she was in her youth, but she held her head high and waited to be spoken to.
"Do you know why you are here, Mrs. Frame?" asked the judge.
"Yes sir, I am here because I want my son-in-law to leave me alone. And since everyone but me, thinks there isn't anything wrong with my son-in-law, I am in front of you to justify my actions and prove that I haven't lost my marbles. I am here because someone in this room thinks I can't take care of myself and I am supposed to prove that someone wrong. Does that come close to hitting the mark?" declared Lois. She had worked out what she was going to say but hadn't counted on how shaky her voice would sound.
"That about sums it up," said the judge while looking over his notes. He looked up from his desk to see who was with Lois. Then he asked, "Do you have counsel?"
"I am going to represent myself." Lois had regained her courage and her voice.
"Do you really think that is wise? This is a very serious matter. You took a Protection From Abuse order out on your son-in-law and you haven't seen him it four months."
"Oh, but I have seen him, your honor!"
There was a chuckle in the back of the chamber. Lois turned around to see her son-in-law standing in the far corner. She gave him a wickedly rye smile and turned back to the judge.
"May I speak?" she asked.
"I will have a few questions to ask you, but I think you can have a few words," replied the judge. He wanted to give this elderly lady the respect she deserved but still needed to keep these proceedings within the context of the law.
"Thank you," stated Lois while fumbling with a file to pull out some notes that she had jotted down.
"Over the past year, I have had some difficulties. I seemed to misplace my belongings. Left the stove on when I went to bed. Lost my teeth for two whole weeks. I started keeping notes of these things so I could determine for myself if I needed to ask for help.
What I noticed was a pattern on my calendar of these incidences. They happened every other Thursday night. About six months ago I was talking to my daughter; it was on the Friday following a particularly bad Thursday night when she mentioned to me that her husband, Charlie, was in Cleveland for the day and would be back later on that evening. I asked how often Charlie went to Cleveland and Sally said he went every other week to have a meeting with the other department heads."
Lois was talking more comfortably now. She started using sign language as she spoke. A habit of living for 50 years with her deaf husband.
"When I got off the phone I started to put two and two together. Charlie and Sally live in Pittsburgh and if Charlie chose to not take the interstates the whole way he could drive right by my house. I didn't know what to do. Along with losing stuff now, I was becoming paranoid." Lois looked up at the judge to see if he was listening. Then she looked back at Charlie.
"Well," Lois began again, "I needed to find out if I was going crazy or if Charlie was breaking into my house while I was asleep.
"I went to Radio Shack and bought a security system. It took me almost a whole week to find just the right spot in my house and set it up. But when I was done the camera had a clear shot of all my entry ways.
"I went to bed on Thursday night just as I usually did. I could hardly sleep my ears were so alert. At around 4:00 in the morning, when I would normally be in my heaviest sleep, I just barely heard my basement door creak open." Again, Lois looked up at the judge. The judge wasn't looking at Lois, he was motioning in the direction of Charlie. Lois looked around to see an officer moving towards Charlie who was looking at Lois with total contempt.
Then she continued, "I pretended to sleep until I was sure he had left my house. By now it was 6:30 in the morning and I was wide awake. The security system is motion activated so I went to see if it had recorded anything. It had! I stood there watching Charlie move through my house. He took some money out of my desk drawer, cookies out of my cupboard, switched my fresh milk with curdled milk, and moved a bunch of my stuff around.
I made a copy of my recordings. He has been in my house 12 times since I installed the system. I brought some copies along with me. Would you like to have them?" Lois asked the judge.
The judge did not respond right away. He was trying to digest everything that Lois had just stated. "Copies. Yes."
"Why do you think he was doing this?" This seemed more like the judge was thinking out loud as opposed to actually asking Lois a question. But Lois quickly decided to answer the judge's pondering.
"He took out a very large insurance policy on me. He has his own insurance company. I read about it once. Large department stores take out life insurance policies on their employees and if they die, they are supplied a copy of the death certificate to settle up the affairs and they cash in. They call it a Dead Peasant Policy. He is my son-in-law and would have easy access to my death certificate. I found it out when I went to one of his rivals within his company and told him my suspicions. He found the policy on the computer. It's for $2,000,000.00. I have a copy of the policy. Would you like to have that too?"
"Yes!" said the judge in a very angry voice.
He decided at this time to get back to the subject of the hearing.
"You are here because you have filed a PFA against your son-in-law. Family Services was contacted about this matter and felt that your PFA and your living conditions needed to be reviewed. In light of the evidence you have presented, Family Services and this court will review the evidence and determine what should be the next course of action."
"Please, your honor. I don't want to leave my home," pleaded Lois.
"Mrs. Frame. These are 'very serious' allegations you have presented to this court. I would like you to allow Family Services to escort you into conference room three where we can review these tapes." The judge gestured to Mr. Ed Maxwell to assist Lois down the hall to the conference room.
Lois was shaking with every emotion under the sun. Anger, fear, frustration, and panic. Did she do something wrong in making those tapes? Is it illegal to record someone in your own home? Surveillance tapes are used all the time, aren't they?
Lois hadn't noticed Sally following her down the hall. She hadn't talked to Sally since she filed the PFA against her husband. Mr. Maxwell escorted both of them into the conference room and went to make arrangement to watch the recordings. This left Sally and Lois alone.
"I don't know what to say," Sally said with tears starting to well up in her eyes.
"Did you know what he was doing?" Lois asked her point blank.
"No! I thought he was having an affair. I still think he's having an affair. Why else would he take aim at my mother," Sally said this with such venom in her voice. It took Lois by surprise.
Lois leaned over and held her daughter. Sally cried and cried.
"I'm so sorry, Mom."
"I'm sorry too. I didn't know how to tell you what he was doing to me. I didn't want to hurt you."
They were interrupted by a police officer, Judge Clark, and Mr. Maxwell. The tape started out with Lois testing the system. Mr. Maxwell was paying close attention to the condition of the house and how it was kept.
"You have a lovely home, Mrs. Frame," he said. "Very well taken care of."
"Thank you, Mr. Maxwell. I have a trash can and I know how to use it."
"It's one of the things that I have seen in my line of work. People not knowing how to throw things away."
"It's best not to buy junk in the first place."
After a few more false starts on the recording, it showed Charlie creeping in through the basement door. He did all the things Lois stated he had done and more. On his other 11 visits that were on the recording, Judge Clark and Mr. Maxwell saw Charlie try to sabotage Lois by curling up a rug. Spilling water on the kitchen floor. Leaving the stove on three times. Exchanging different foods in the refrigerator. Spraying something in the bag of salad. The list seemed to be endless. Sally watched in horror.
"I wish we had some of that food he tampered with," the police officer said.
"Oh, I kept it. It's in my freezer. I bagged and dated each item."
"What made you think of that?" asked Mr. Maxwell.
"I watch NCIS! They bag and date everything," Lois said in all seriousness.
Judge Clark just burst out laughing.
"I think we need to arrest Charles Kightlinger," said the police officer.
"I think you're right," said Judge Clark. "Is he still here?"
"No. We had no reason to keep him. He left straight away," said the officer.
Later that evening, Lois got a call from Sally.
"Mom. Charlie is dead! There was a police chase and his car went out of control. He crossed the median and hit a bridge abutment head-on. Died instantly."
Sally had a numb vacant sound in her voice. As if she couldn't believe the events of the whole day.
"Oh, honey. I'm so sorry. I'll be down there right away," Lois said.
"No, Mom! I want to come there. I'll be there in the morning. I need to get away from here."
"Yes. That sounds good. I'll have everything ready for you."
Sally and Lois were having tea and muffins. They hadn't said much to each other. Lois had dismantled the surveillance system and it was sitting in pieces on the sideboard next to the table. Without saying a word to one another they both got up and went to get something. They returned to the table with matching folders. They pulled them out and opened them to the second page. They were identical life insurance policies taken out on Charles Kightlinger. They were both for $5,000,000.00.
Sally and Lois looked at each other, cracked big smiles and clinked their teacups. It would be the only smile the two of them would share until the checks were deposited and cleared their accounts. It would be the only show of triumph until the money was moved offshore. They had planned it all without uttering a spoken word.
They put their folders away, finished their tea, and started to make the arrangements to bury Charles Kightlinger.