Chapter Twenty Three:

ÖÖWhen did this happen? When did I end up back to the place where I was when Caitlyn was murdered? When? Why?.......

It was the Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving and Evangeline had shown up to court early. Tuesday had seemed to be the hardest and longest day of her life. She had met Antonio at her office at 9 am and they went over his testimony thoroughly. Antonio was the best prepared client she ever had. She also told Antonio about her new strategy and when he heard it, he told her how brilliant it was. If everything went according to plan, he wouldnít have to testify at all.

Antonio came walking into court not too soon after her and then Attorney Emerson and RJ came sauntering in. To her surprise, Jessica Buchanan came walking into the courtroom with Tico Santi. Evangeline noticed that Tico shot a strange look in her direction. "What is that all about?" she thought. Sonia Toledo and Carlotta Vega came walking in right after that. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife. Antonio was glaring at RJ while RJ was doing the same in return. Evangeline reminded Antonio to just keep his cool.

As Tico sat down on RJís side of the court, he couldnít completely hide his disgust in seeing Evangeline there. He had a furious thought, "What is she doing here?" He mentally noted that he had some unfinished business to take care of and that Ms. Williamson better be at a weakened state and lose this case.

As Evangeline was sitting, mentally preparing for what was about to take place, she tried to keep thoughts of the last expression sheíd seen on Johnís face out of her mind. He hadnít called her, which she was grateful for. She knew that staying away from John was going to be very hard. Just as she had that thought, John came walking into the courtroom and sat on Antonioís side of the court. Evangeline was a little apprehensive, but she turned and concentrated on the situation at hand.

John wasnít sure if he should have come to court today, but he needed some reason to see her, even if he didnít talk to her. Tuesday had seemed to be the hardest and longest day of his life. He had reached to call her at least a dozen times. He even drove past her house a couple of times. "Why did he agree to this separation?" he thought. He really didnít think that heíd be able to do it.

Just then, Emersonís assistant came running into the courtroom and he looked all flustered. Antonio just gave Evangeline a knowing look. After Emersonís assistant talked to him for a minute, Emerson looked flustered. Emerson whispered something in RJís ear and RJ looked furious. At that time, the court clerk came out and called the court to order. Instead of Judge Hernandez walking out, Judge Fitzwater came out instead.

Tico had a confused look on his face and wondered who Judge Fitzwater was. "Where is Judge Hernandez?" he thought.

The reaction of the courtroom was a collective gasp. Antonio, RJ, Jessica and Carlotta knew exactly who Judge Fitzwater was.

Immediately, Attorney Emerson asked for a side bar at the bench. Judge Fitzwater granted his request. As soon as he and Evangeline reached the bench, Emerson accused Evangeline of playing dirty and not informing him that sheíd put in for a change of judge. Judge Fitzwater asked if he had been notified of the change and he finally stated that yes, he had, but just 5 minutes before. Judge Fitzwater said that if he had been informed, then it shouldnít matter who he presents his case to because it was the beginning of the trial. She told both of them to return to their seats so that she could address the courtroom. When they were back at their respective seats, Judge Fitzwater informed the court that Ms. Williamson had requested a change of judge in the interest of saving the court time and the citizens of the state tax money. She informed the courtroom that she had resided over the last custody hearing of Jamie Gannon Vega and therefore all the background information would not have to be gone over again.

Tico Santi could hardly contain his seething anger. He decided at that moment that heíd have to deal with Evangeline Williamson personally when the time was right.

John just sat in the court room smiling. He thought to himself, "Sheís brilliant. This is a very intelligent move. This was the new strategy she came up with. Itís brilliant."

Attorney Emerson stood up and gave his opening argument. Thinking that he would be presenting to Judge Hernandez, he hadnít prepared as completely as he should have. Emersonís main point was that Antonio was a Santi and that there was danger around him and he should lose his child. His comments made Antonio clinch his jaws shut, but he contained his anger as best he could.

When Evangeline gave her opening argument, it was stunning. She pointed out that by the fact that Antonio had asked RJ to watch Jamie, he was doing the most selfless act that any parent could do. She stated that his protecting his daughter shouldnít be the cause of him losing majority custody and then, to put the nail in the coffin, she pointed out that RJ didnít have the squeakiest clean background himself. Those comments made RJís jaws clinch. At the end of her opening argument, she requested that the custody agreement that was already in place stay the way it is and that this custody case be thrown out.

Emerson objected, but to no avail. Judge Fitzwater said that after hearing the opening arguments and knowing the background of the earlier custody case intimately, that she was going to uphold the earlier custody agreement. She also chastised RJ for wasting the courtís time and commented that it was time he should be spending with his granddaughter. After that comment, she banged her gavel and said, "Case dismissed."

Antonio let out a big sigh of relief and gave Evangeline a big hug. He said, "Thank you again Evangeline. You always pull me out of the fire. Gracias."

Evangeline winced a little as she said, "Youíre welcome Antonio. Youíve helped me too, so I think weíre even."

When Antonio saw her wince, he realized that her ribs were still sore, so he gingerly ended their embrace. John was taking all this in and had a pang of jealousy. "Why does he get to touch her that way?" he thought. He also noticed that Tico Santi looked a little miffed at the outcome of the case. "What kind of brother is he?" John also thought.

Needless to say, RJ was seething, but there was little he could do right now. Antonio told RJ that heíd still like for RJ to watch Jamie for a few more days, but if that was going to be a problem, heíd come get her right now. RJ agreed to keep watching her, but made up his mind that he would get custody of his grandchild one day. "Vega will mess up one day and Iíll be waiting," he thought.

Carlotta came up and thanked Evangeline for helping Antonio. Antonio acknowledged her this time, but he still wasnít over what he perceived as her betrayal. Antonio and Sonia left together to Jessica and Ticoís dismay. "What is Sonia up to?" Tico wondered.

As RJ was leaving the courtroom, he made a snide remark to Evangeline as he passed her. "Look whoís coming, your non-protector," he said. Evangeline just stared at RJ silently.

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John was waiting for a good time to approach Evangeline. He wasnít sure if he should, but he couldnít stop his self. As he was walking toward her, he noticed RJ saying something to her. John gave RJ the "leave her alone" stare as they passed each other.

"Hey," John timidly said to Evangeline. "How are you feeling?"

"Iím, um, okay, um," she stuttered. In her mind, she was thinking, "I donít think I can talk to him so soon. I need more time to build up my resistance to him."

"Great job up there," John went on to say. "Iím assuming that strategy you came up with was to replace Judge Hernandez with Judge Fitzwater. That was great."

"Thank You," she replied. She decided for her to get through this conversation, sheíd just answer what he asked and not elaborate.

John could tell that she was only going to answer exactly what he was asking her. She was building up a wall around her and he wasnítí sure if heíd be able to make it in. He was hesitant to ask her, but finally he said, "Look, are you still going with Mike, Marcie and me to my Momís for Thanksgiving tomorrow?"

Evangeline was caught off guard because she had totally forgotten about it. She felt bad about standing up Johnís Mom, but she said, "Iím sorry John. I told my Mom Iíd drive to Pittsburgh after the trial today and spend Thanksgiving with her. Sheís worried about me because of the attack and she wonít believe Iím okay unless I come see her in person."

Johnís hopes were deflated as he said, "I understand. Iíll tell my Mom hello from you."

"Thanks," Evangeline said. "Please tell her I said Happy Thanksgiving."

"I will," John replied. "Drive safely, okay? Iíll see ya around." With those last words, he left the courtroom.

As he walked away from her, it took everything in Evangeline for her not to go after him. She still felt like she was doing what was best for both of them, so she didnít.

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Tico Santi was fit to be tied as he approached the front door of Lionís Heart. "What had happened to Operation Manuel Confusion?" he thought as he was dialing his cell phone. When the voice on the other end of the line answered, Tico said, "Meet me at the warehouse in 15 minutes and donít be late." He clicked his cell phone closed and headed to his car.

What Tico didnít realize was that Kevin Buchanan was standing close by, waiting to confront Tico about the speech he had given him and overheard Ticoís cryptic conversation. Kevin, on the spur of the moment, decided to follow Tico. He figured that if he was ever going to get from under Ticoís thumb, he was going to have to get something on Tico. He just hoped he wasnít putting himself in more danger by following him.

As Tico walked into the warehouse, he approached the white male that had roughed up Evangeline Williamson. In a hushed, but intense tone, Tico said, "What happened? I thought you said she was in the hospital?"

The attacker said nervously, "She was taken to the hospital. I guess she wasnít as hurt as I thought."

Tico yelled, "I didnít pay you to think! I paid you to put her out of commission to keep my brother and her boyfriend out of my hair." With that last comment, Tico pulled out a gun and shot him. The attacker fell in a heap on the floor. Blood was oozing from his head as his body involuntarily flinched. Tico made another call and informed the person on the other end of the line that there was a clean up situation at the warehouse that needed to be taken care of. He then left.

Kevin saw the whole scene from a window on the other side of the warehouse. He was now in shock that he had seen Tico kill some guy in cold blood. He couldnít hear the whole conversation, but he did hear Tico say that he paid the guy to put her out of commission and to keep his brother out of his hair. He thought that maybe he was talking about Sonia, but he wasnít sure. He knew that he had never seen the dead guys face before, but now he would never forget it. "When did this happen?" Kevin thought to himself. "When did I get myself involved with a cold blooded killer?"

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