A Gathering of Clowns By LongDarkRoad
We Cry That We Are Come To This Great Stage Of Fools
Riverside, California, Spring 1986
Shy, attractive, fourteen-year-old Sarah Donnelly is at home on a rare occasion; she is alone, her mother having gone out to a meeting of some sort.
Sarah is enjoying this, drinking coke and eating chips and watching The Love Boat and any other stuff she gets to choose (rare occurrence). She is relaxed and dozes off on the couch.
When she awakens, after a disturbing dream, it takes her a moment to realize her hands are bound. With a rising sense of panic, she realizes someone is in the room with her, but she is unable to make much noise as her assailant has just finished wrapping a scarf around her mouth as she stirs.
The man suddenly looms over her, wearing a ski mask and smelling of sweat and cigarettes. His pants are down and his erection is standing out in a threatening way to a girl who has never seen a penis of any sort, except in diagrams.
Grabbing Sarah roughly by her blond hair, the man flips her over so she is face down on the couch and with her knees on the ground. He then literally tears her clothes off.
The attacker rapes Sarah, a virgin, repeatedly over the next two hours, including anally, before viciously punching her unconscious and leaving her bleeding in a heap on the floor, where her mother finds her an hour later.
It will take months for Sarah to recover physically, but much longer emotionally and mentally. At age sixteen she is placed in a psychiatric facility, where she will spend several months undergoing treatment. It will be years before the dark dreams finally dissipate.
At age nineteen Sarah Donnelly, amazingly, emerges into the world, completes a diploma program in marketing at U. of California, Riverside and takes her first job with a growing and aggressive young company in Glendale, California, a company that would one day become Documart.
And within a couple of months, Sarah Donnelly would meet Stafford Hawkins (the shy, eccentric owner and creative head of the company) one afternoon in the main floor restaurant, and feel a strange kinship. Perhaps it was simply loneliness.
Riverside, California Spring 1993
“So you have considered my, proposal,” Stafford Hawkins asked of Natasha Donnelly as they sat in the modest but pleasant sitting room of her home. Sarah, Natasha’s daughter, had gone to work just three months earlier at Hawkins’s new company, as part of the marketing team. She had done very well, all things (especially her past and health issues) considered. More than well, really, as she had caught the eye of the young, millionaire entrepreneur owner of the firm, who was arrived here today, and now sat talking. Even though Sarah was an adult, she left many decisions up to her mother.
Hawkins continued, “I know Sarah is greatly influenced by your counsel, and would follow your advice. I will provide and care for her, and of course…love her. She will want for nothing and will be safe. And of course, I will provide the medical care you, personally, need, clearing away your debts in the process. The doctors say with treatment you have an excellent chance of full recovery and I do not see how you will receive that care without the…funds.”
Hawkins sat quietly now. Natasha Donnelly’s mind was awhirl. She wished she knew more about this odd, young man. Sarah seemed to feel positive about him and considering what she had been through, the fact she was even considering being near a man was incredible.
And what would Natasha do without this support he was offering? She had exhausted all her other options; her bank account was in arrears; her home mortgaged to the maximum, debt collectors had begun showing up right at her house to harass her, and she still needed at least six to eight months more of treatments; and that was if they were successful.
She would talk with Sarah; she would counsel her to accept this man’s offer of marriage; despite a nagging doubt lying at the back of her awareness.
Glendale, California Summer 1993
It had been a week since the marriage, and Hawkins had made no move to consummate the nuptials. Sarah for her part had mixed feelings; on the one hand, she wanted her and her husband to be together; while they had separate rooms in the/his large house, they certainly could at least lie together.
But that of course was the other side of her coin; she had been with no one, man or woman, since her brutal assault. She wanted to experience consensual sex; she wanted to experience sex with a man differently than the only way she had known it; violently, and Stafford was so shy about this that Sarah actually felt at ease.
Finally tonight they were together in a room with only the light from the moon allowed in, leaving them to seek each other in shadow. Hawkins was clumsy and hesitant, but in time both were naked and then in a rush, Hawkins was inside her; taking her by surprise and causing her momentary panic.
It passed quickly; however, as Hawkins lasted barely thirty seconds before shuddering and crying out, then withdrawing in haste, apologizing and actually weeping with some unnamed shame. The two lay together for perhaps five minutes, then Hawkins withdrew. It would be the only time in their marriage that they would lie together, at all, or have physical contact of any kind. If Sarah had been worried about meeting a man’s sexual desires, she needn’t have worried with Hawkins; he had none, apparently.
But that one time had been enough, in one way. A month after the brief event, Sarah noted her period was late; a month after that it was evident that she was pregnant. Seven months after that, in a labor that was very difficult and exhausting, a baby, Emily Natasha Hawkins, emerged.
The birth trauma would prove costly, though, as the doctors informed Sarah she would not be able to conceive again. But this amazing baby made it worthwhile. From the moment Sarah laid eyes on her, she fell in love with the beautiful and precious child.
For the rest of her short life, Emily would be the reason for Sarah to get up each day and deal with an increasingly erratic and hostile husband; and it seemed the more she came to love and cherish her daughter, the more distant and unpleasant became her relationship with Stafford Hawkins.
Glendale, California 1997
Sarah stood looking in amazement at the first rose, her rose, a red Intuition that had opened on her first bush. Earlier in the year she had gone to Stafford with the idea that she would like to turn the back area of their yard into something more; something for her. The front area was landscaped neatly and maintained by a local company, but the back was mainly patchy grass and a few trees. Since no room in the house looked out on it, it had become a forgotten space.
Sarah had become interested in roses and asked her husband for some money, a few thousand, to get a garden started. She was startled and pleasantly surprised to find seventy thousand dollars show up in her personal account; well, she could certainly do something with that!
She had a landscaper come in and remove a u-shaped section of grass approximately eight feet across around the edge of the property against the fence. She had then filled this area in with quality top soil, planting four rose bushes to start.
Now, seeing her first flower actually appear, filled her with wonder; she now had something, besides young Emily who was currently playing on the grass by her feet, to interest her. Something living.
Glendale, California (Fall) 1998
By the summer of this year, Sarah’s rose bush ‘hobby’ had grown, no pun intended, to where she needed to hire some help. Stafford was happy to throw money her way if it kept her out of his blond hair, and she had enough in her account to hire someone to put in one day a week just to keep things under control. Her house staff, the Bennetts, had heard from a friend about a young man, excellent with roses, who worked part time at a home only a couple of blocks away, and he was dropping by today to check things out.
Glendale, California December 1998
Alex Vargas came up the front walk but before he could ring the doorbell, Sarah had answered the door and let him in. Mrs. Bennett was bathing Emily and would put her to bed, then alert Sarah. Mr. Bennett was watching television in their room, and by watching that usually meant sleeping. Stafford Hawkins was in New York for a meeting of some kind, so the coast was clear and Sarah was determined.
The two young people moved quietly up the stairs, down the carpeted hallway and into Sarah’s room. Sarah put some music on as background and poured some wine; they sat and drank the wine and talked in whispers. As it turned out, they had many common interests: old-time westerns, Vivaldi, American history. The quiet conversation continued until a gentle rap on the door followed by Mrs. Bennett’s announcement, sent Sarah off to kiss Emily goodnight.
Upon her return, Sarah dimmed the lights and led Alex to her bed. They took their time, undressing each other slowly, enjoying the moment as each article of clothing came off until they lay naked and entwined.
The doctor’s had assured Sarah there was no chance of her conceiving, and she accepted Alex’s hard brown erection into her with surprising desire, the two bodies moving carefully and slowly, and making no sounds. The horror of her assault all those years ago finally faded away in that wonderful and amazing moment.
Two hours later, Sarah led Alex as they tiptoed down to the front hall, soundlessly opened the door, kissed warmly and said goodnight.
It would become a relationship that would be rekindled at least twice a week as the year slipped into 1999 and then into the spring; the happiest time in Sarah’s life.
Glendale, California late April, 1999
Stafford Hawkins had planned this out. He would leave, drive down the block a little way, then come back quietly. The housekeeper would have Emily off to the park, and the lazy husband of hers would be dozing up on the third floor, pretending to clean.
Then Hawkins would be able to watch what his wife was up to, although the bile he tasted would undoubtedly hold true; still, he needed to know, for sure.
He now slipped quietly in through the side door and made his way to what were called the back stairs; then he waited. As he watched through the small window, the young gardener came into view, fussing with his roses. Those fucking rose bushes! If Hawkins had his way they would be gone; bull-dozed to nothing. The gardener seemed to simply be poking around, almost as if he were just biding his time.
He’s waiting, Hawkins told himself, a sliver of ice stabbing his insides; it was doubtful if he was capable of true love, but Hawkins was still an intensely jealous person.
But if Hawkins had felt a sliver a moment ago, he now felt a ripping gash, as his wife Sarah came into view from the left, going to the gardener and gently touching the man’s brown arm. Hawkins could not see his young wife’s face, but he could see the gardener’s; it broke into a wide and warm smile. Both individuals looked around quickly and then headed off to the right of Hawkins’s view and out of his sight.
Hawkins sat frozen on the stairs. His anger was coursing through him, bitter lava through a volcano, but he maintained control; rushing out like a maniac was not the answer. He quietly exited the side door and made his way around the front of his large house, coming up along the side that was fenced off, but would still allow him to get close to where the two had likely disappeared. The heavy fence boards nailed close together provided privacy, but sound would still travel over them.
Crouching behind the fence and slumped against the wall, Hawkins could hear voices, but they were low, a man and a woman, and he could not really make out any words. But in a few minutes he heard the sounds that he remembered all too well from his youth; the unmistakeable sounds of love-making, the slap/slap of skin on skin and the moans and grunts of exertion.
The muffled cries of passion were definitely his wife’s. Hawkins made fists of his hands and brought them to his face to stop him from screaming out. Finally, unable to stand any more, he quietly retreated, and walked back to his vehicle, then drove in a rage to his office, where he spent the afternoon in planning. This would not go unpunished.
Glendale, California, May 1999
Hawkins knocked on Sarah’s door and waited a few seconds, then entered to find her seated before her dresser mirror, a brush in one hand and a startled look on her face.
“Yes?” she asked, looking wary.
“Good evening, my dear. Please pardon the interruption.” Hawkins stood, working hard to control his emotions, wanting retribution but on his terms. He knew his intentions; this part, this face-to-face, in many ways was unnecessary; but he could not deny himself. Hawkins needed to confront this woman; his wife.
“Well, what would you like Stafford?” Unsure why, Sarah felt a growing sense of alarm. As time had passed, Hawkins’s eccentricities had evolved from slightly endearing to concerning, to disturbing, to threatening; the man standing before her now was frightening.
“So, my dear, just wondering, how your roses are doing?” Hawkins stood, asking a simple question; but his face and his manner said something else. It was as if he were an actor and this was a role.
“My roses? What interest have you in my roses?” Sarah replied, quietly.
“Well, I have given you the money to, um, start your hobby and now maintain it.“ He said, his high voice rising slightly in volume. “I believe I can ask of its status, if that’s not too much trouble,” he added.
Sarah put her brush down and regarded him as calmly as she could. “My roses bring me pleasure; thank you for helping with that. I have five varieties now and some delightful, well, specimens.” All this was true; she now sat, waiting, having given him an answer and not wishing to talk with him more than necessary.
“And you have enough, help, to deal with your project,” he asked, advancing a step? Sarah, being seated, had no retreat, yet inwardly she withdrew a pace, Hawkins’s manner becoming more alarming.
“I, uh, I have a part-time gardener, which I guess is what you are referring to. He now works two days a week.” Her breathing was increasing, despite her efforts at control. The mention of Vargas alarmed her greatly.
“Your gardener, he has been helpful, his two days sufficient for your…needs?” Hawkins asked.
“Y-yes, Mr. Vargas is very knowledgeable about roses; he has won awards, or helped his patrons with contests. He is skillful…” she said.
Hawkins stood for a minute, staring, his face white, one fist now clenched. “I am certain he is skillful, my dear.” Hawkins stated, and Sarah looked away, his face was hurting her. “I’m also sure that he can be of comfort to you during those hours you spend together,” he added, his voice now louder. In her room Ivy Bennett heard the rising voice and nodded. She had wondered when Hawkins would tumble to the reality.
“What are you saying, Stafford?” Sarah replied, her voice rising now as well.
“I’m saying, my dear, that your gardener gives you more comfort than just with roses, yes?”
“What are you implying?” Her voice stopped, choked off with emotion and fear.
“I must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,” Hawkins shouted quoting, oddly, Shakespeare.
Sarah did not reply, simply sat staring in fear; Hawkins stood glaring, then turned and stormed out, afraid he would strike out and ruin his plans. When he left, Sarah buried her face in her hands and wept. What would she do now?
Two hours later, Hawkins lingered in the second floor hallway, waiting for the housekeeper, what the devil was her name? Benson? No. Barnett? No. Bennett? Yes, damn it, Mrs. Bennett, he declared to himself as he saw the woman come to the top of the stairs and begin to make her way to her mistress’s room, carrying the tray and her evening warm milk.
“Oh I say, Mrs., er, Bennett,” Hawkins declared, stepping out, “let me assist you.”
Bennett looked up with alarm; she found Hawkins alarming generally and here he was, appearing suddenly out of nowhere.
“Oh, um, good evenin’ Sir, You startled me, you did, Sir.”
“Yes, yes, quite so, my good lady, But, let me relieve you of this; I will take it to my wife. We have had a, em, disagreement, and I wish to say good night more, um, pleasantly.” He smiled down at her, but even his smile was alarming.
“As you will Sir, thank you I’m sure,” Mrs. Bennett murmured uncertainly as Hawkins took the tray and headed off. She watched for a minute in wonder, and then turned and left. Pausing before his wife’s door, Hawkins balanced the tray and removed a packet from his jacket pocket, emptying its contents into the warm milk and stirring. He then knocked gently and entered.
Sarah was startled but Hawkins was apologetic, saying good night graciously and leaving the tray. Sarah watched his retreating form, wondering, then drank her milk, deep in thought. She needed to get away and Alex had come forward with a plan. She took out his letter again and read it. Then feeling drowsy, she lay her head down. She was quite drowsy, really. The letter slipped from her hand and fell by the bed.
Half an hour later Hawkins returned quietly and looked down at his sleeping wife. He managed with some difficulty to get her under her blankets, then he noted the letter lying on the carpet and picked it up, reading it with growing anger. When he had finished he tore the letter into pieces and let them fall, covering his face with his hands.
Acting quickly so as not to lose his nerve, Hawkins took the syringe out from his jacket and injected its contents into his wife’s neck. Breathing heavily, he then bent down and frantically picked up the pieces of the letter. Then he left, without looking back at the woman who was now dying in her bed.
Half an hour later, as he drove to his plane, he called Ryland Ross, catching him as he was just preparing for bed. The two talked for fifteen minutes. When the call ended, Ross sat down on his bed, deep in thought. He spent a restless night, getting up at five as he could not sleep.
At eight o’clock his ringing of the front bell brought an alarmed-looking Ivy Bennett out. The discussion led to the fact that Mr. Hawkins was gone but yes, Ross could speak with Mrs. Hawkins if, as he said, that would do, since it was urgent.
Ross then followed Bennett upstairs and waited, heart pounding as the woman knocked, entered, then reacted with panic when she could not wake her mistress, allowing Ross to take over.
The egg-headed man, in his most efficient manner, placed a call to the doctor Hawkins controlled (just how Ross didn’t know and didn’t care to know). The doctor arrived, declaring Mrs. Hawkins dead of a heart attack and signing the death certificate. The body was removed and taken immediately to the funeral home, where it was cremated the next morning.
One day later, a keen-eyed reporter spotted Stafford Hawkins leaving the parlor and walking to his waiting limo, and took a photo.
It would be days before Ross would be able to sleep much; weeks really before the memory and the guilt ebbed. He had liked Sarah Hawkins; liked her and felt sorry for her, but the two hundred and fifty thousand dollar bonus deposited into his account eased his conscience slightly. His loyalty did not fail.
In his efficient manner, Ross had the Bennetts relocated to San Francisco with a sizable sum of cash to help their transition; then he brought in a new housekeeper.
Hawkins himself contacted his younger sister, Melanie, who was desperate to get out of the family home, and offered her the job of looking after Emily, which she
readily accepted. He would pay her an allowance and leave the girl’s care completely up to her.
The only fly in the ointment was that the gardener had slipped through their grasp.
Oh well, Ross told himself, we will find him.
Glendale, California, May 1999
Stafford Hawkins watched as the cleaners left with two boxes of things; all the stuff his wife had given to his daughter, was being removed. All the toys and books; he would eventually get rid of all her clothes too, but one thing at a time.
He wanted nothing left to remind him.
Glendale California June 1999
“Here,” Melanie said, handing Emily a book. She had been disturbed when she arrived to find Emily had so little; it was strange.
Emily looked at it. It was ‘Love You Forever’ by Robert Munsch. She opened it up, “Will you read it to me, Auntie Mel?” she asked, and Melanie agreed. She enjoyed reading, but she had a hard time saying no to Emily about anything anyway.
Twenty minutes later, Melanie tucked Emily in and tried to take the book, but the little girl held fast. “I wanna’ keep it, please.” She protested and Melanie could not say no; she tucked her in and left.
A few minutes later, Emily got up quietly and went to her dresser, opening the top drawer and reaching under some clothes. She pulled out the tiny slip of paper that she had found in her mother’s room. She could not read the words yet, but that didn’t matter, the paper mattered. She would keep it. She put it in the back of her new book, unaware of the irony.
Glendale California June 1999
Ryland Ross stood, looking down at the plaque embedded in the well-manicured lawns of the cemetery. It was a tranquil setting, and although he hadn’t known Sarah Hawkins well, he imagined she would approve.
Looking around, as he battled conflicting emotions, he noted the numerous trees gave the area a park-like feel; and he had always liked Mimosa.
But the sense of guilt did not seem to dissipate with the peaceful view. He had not been directly involved in Sarah’s death; he still did not know all the details; he didn’t want to know. But he had to believe it was not above-board; and he had assisted Stafford Hawkins with this whole, distasteful affair, and that was something he would have to live with for all his life. He would do the best he could.
Ross bent down and placed some flowers in the urn.
They were, of course, roses.
(End of Chapter 19)