Chapter 25.    More Grief

The police and ambulance arrived at Nanna's cottage within five minutes of Dave's phone call. The sirens and flashing lights soon filled the footpath in front of the house with rubber necked spectators, all wanting to know what had happened.

It gave those who had watched the Channel 9 report a perfect opportunity to share their theories on what had been going on in the house. Though many locals knew of Nanna's love for children, the gossip worked quickly to undermine all the good she had done. It left little sympathy for her by the time her body was rolled out to the waiting ambulance.

Then someone recognised Dave, from a short film clip on the TV report,. When they saw blood on his clothes, the crowd immediately assumed the worst, which was that Dave had caused Nanna's death. It didn't matter that a few minutes earlier they had seen Nanna as the monster. Dave gave them someone else to hate. Abusive shouts and taunts made it dangerous for either Dave or Cherry to leave the house.

The pair were taken away by the police, for their own protection as much as anything, so that they could be questioned at the police station and then allowed to leave.

Dave gave Nanna's address as their own, and the officer interviewing them seemed ignorant of the controversy surrounding Sean's whereabouts. Presumably it had been someone on another shift who had visited with the DOCS representatives earlier in the day, and the incident had not yet been talked around at the station. For whatever reason, no link with Sean had entered the mind of the interviewing officer.

"Could be dangerous going back there tonight," said the police officer who had been conducting the interview. "Got anywhere else you could go?"

"I do; but my car's there. How will I get it?" asked Dave.

"Dunno. Want us to drop you somewhere tonight?"

"No thanks." Dave could hardly ask to be driven to the canal in Leichhardt! Instead, the couple set out walking four or five kilometres back to the campsite.

They trudged along the city streets, sharing their thoughts about Nanna's death as they walked. Cherry was in a great deal of pain long before the end of the walk, because of her arthritis; so they stopped to rest frequently along the way. It was after eleven before they reached the campsite. Greg, Juan, Anna, and Roger were still awake. The campfire had been relit, and the four had been sharing quietly together, out of earshot of young Sean.

Earlier discussion about the TV report, which they hadn't even seen yet, had kept them awake and talking while Dave and Cherry had been away. When they heard the tragic news about Nanna, their distress was increased beyond measure.

"Why Nanna?" asked Anna in disbelief. "Why pick on her? She had nothing to do with us."

"I never met a sweeter person in my life," said Greg. "This is gonna be one more shock for Sean. He loved her so much."

"Don't anyone tell him," said Dave. "He'll have enough problems to face in a couple of days."

Juan just stared at the fire as his eyes filled with tears. He had no words to describe the heartache that he was going through. His wife was in jail. His son was about to be taken from him. And now one of his best friends had been killed.

"Ganley will have to answer for this!" Roger exclaimed. "Ohhhh!" he groaned. "How I hate him. He's going to cop it one day, and see who feels sorry for him then!"

"C'mon, Roger. You know better than that," Dave remonstrated. "The wrath of man doesn't accomplish the will of God. Remember?"

"I know it with my head," said Roger, who had received more than enough teaching on the subject over the past week. "But that's not enough. I can't make it work in my heart."

At that same moment, a police car pulled into the roadway beside the canal. It wasn't unusual, as the police patrolled that area several times each night. But this time the car pulled up opposite the campfire and stopped. Two police officers stepped out, one carrying a big torch, which they shone in the direction of the campfire.

"Could be more trouble," said Dave, as they all sat quietly and let the police come up to them. "One of you Jew-an Ventura?" said a tall, middle-aged policeman, mispronouncing Juan's name. "Yeah, that's me."

"We have a warrant here to take your son, Sean, into custody. Is he here?"

"He's sleeping," Juan replied. "Can you tell me what it's about?"

"I don't know much myself. We just got a notice that the Department of Community Services has been looking for you. They got the registration number for your van from someone, and sent it through the computers. Our records showed that you had been camping here the past two nights, so we came out to collect the lad. Simple as that."

"Can I go with him?"

"You're welcome to come with us to the station if you like, but after that, it's between you and DOCS," said the officer. "They're not in the habit of catering for parents when taking a child. Guess they see you as the enemy."

"Any chance of him sleeping through the night and coming with you in the morning?"

" 'Fraid not. The Sergeant has already sent for someone from DOCS to meet us at the station when we get back. They'll be waiting. Our instructions were to call them any time, day or night, if we found you."

"Will I be able to visit him?"

"That's between you and DOCS."

"Can we say goodbye to him first?" asked Dave.

"Long as you keep it short."

Cherry interjected. "I don't think we should wake him. It looks too final. He may go without a fuss if we don't wake him up with a lot of cuddles just now."

The others could see good sense in what Cherry was saying, so they readily agreed. Juan went to the tent and returned with Sean over his shoulder, still sleeping. A moment later, he was in the car and driving away.

The entire community was in shock by this stage, as one trauma had compounded on another.

But they needed to get the van if they were to have something to live in the next day. If they left it in front of Nanna's house for long, it too would be targetted by hate-mongers. So Roger and Greg headed off in Roger's car to pick it up. Neither of them would be recognised, and it was so late by this time that there would probably be no one left on the streets to bother them anyway.

That left Dave, Cherry, and Anna at the campsite.

Meanwhile, at the Leichhardt police station, Juan was met by a stern-faced woman in a business suit, who walked quickly up to him, with a police officer in tow, and reached out to take Sean. Juan had been hoping to break the news gradually to Sean, and to do what he could to make the DOCS snatch sound like something he personally had agreed with, but the Department was doing nothing to help him in that regard.

He made a quick decision to go along with their agenda for Sean's sake, and handed the boy over.

Sean, who had been sleeping all the way there, woke up when the woman took him and turned to reach out for his father.

"No, you go with her for now, Sean. We'll be coming to see you soon," said Juan. "I love you."

Sean immediately started to cry. "No, I don't wanna go with her. I wanna go with you. Where's Mummy?" That was about all he could get out before the abduction was complete. His new warden had turned and walked briskly into an adjoining room, where Sean was out of sight of his father. But Juan could hear him screaming, and it was tearing his heart out. "No!" Sean screamed at the top of his lungs. "I don't want to go. No! No! No!" And Juan could picture him kicking his feet in anger. He breathed a silent prayer for God to help Sean, before enquring yet again about his visiting rights.

The sergeant led him to a back room where another DOCS worker, a young man in his late twenties, was waiting to interview him.

"You're really causing more trauma for that boy than you could ever hope to be saving him from, you know?" Juan said. It was a waste of breath, because he already knew what the reply would be. "I'm afraid it has to be done. A decision has been made, and it's our job to carry it out."

"Well, someone ought to teach you guys how to go about it a bit more tactfully. I should think that you, of all people, would see the good sense in breaking it to the kid gradually."

"Most of the people we deal with are not in control of themselves as much as you are, Mr. Ventura," the young man replied. "It saves a big scene if we move quickly."

"Please don't call me Mr. My name is Juan." The bin raiders refused to use or accept titles for themselves or for anyone else; but Juan was using a doctrinal issue in an angry way, to hit back at the worker.

He caught himself, and said, "I'm sorry. I realise that you're just doing your job. But don't forget that you guys can be wrong at times too. Spare a thought for parents who genuinely love their children, okay?"

"We need to verify some facts," said the young man, who had also been trained not to acknowledge any sympathy toward parents when taking custody of their children. "What's your residential address at the moment?"

They went through the particulars, and then Roger was told that it would be a week before he could visit Sean, because the Department wanted to get the child adjusted to living with them first. After that, Juan would be able to see him once a week. He could begin steps to regain custody whenever he liked, but it could be a costly and dragged-out affair, especially if the Department felt strongly about opposing it.

It was almost three in the morning before Juan walked back into Blackmore Park in Leichhardt. Dave and Cherry were sleeping in the van, Greg and Anna in one tent, and Roger was in the other one. Juan slipped quietly into the tent with Roger and was soon asleep.

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