Having completed their lunch, Gwen and Peter head back to the conference room at the courthouse to meet Stan, June, and Casey.
Gwen and Peter made it back to the conference room before Casey and her grandparents. Peter stepped out to the clerk’s office and used the phone to tell Sally that he would be about twenty minutes late. He asked that she apologize profusely to the clients and suggest that they begin reading their wills.
Okay, so, two things to note here. First, Peter is putting off clients who had already booked time to meet with him, because he met a damsel in distress in the parking lot. Perhaps this isn’t a huge deal, but after Bill Walinski faux “cleared his schedule” to meet with Gwen and Stan, I’m a bit bothered by lawyers being willing to drop everything, including clients with appointments, for sweet, sweet Gwen.
But second, this confirms that Peter’s phone earlier was a car phone, and not a cell phone. I hypothesized earlier that Farris was trying to make Peter seem “with it” and up to date on the latest technology, but while I still think that I also think Farris blundered a bit here. From what readers noted in the comments on that earlier post, by 1996 car phones were old hat and full-on cell phones were the latest and greatest in technology.
Peter steps back into the conference room and Stan, June, and Casey arrive.
“Gwen, what happened to Bill Walinski?” her dad began. “And, I don’t mean to be rude, but who’s this?” he said, gesturing toward Peter.
Peter explains that he’s a lawyer and that Gwen ran into him in the parking lot “after an unfortunate incident with Mr. Walinski.” Mercifully, Peter says Gwen should probably tell Stan and June about what happened with Bill “at a more private moment.” Gwen chimes in to explain that Peter is taking over the case.
And now, once again, Farris takes pains to distinguish between Bill on the one hand and Peter on the other. Here is how Peter meets and interacts with Casey:
“Gwen, will you introduce me to your daughter?” Peter asked.
“Of course. Where are my manners? Casey, this is Mr. Barron. He’s a lawyer, a new lawyer who is going to help Mommy against those ladies who scared you so much.”
Without approaching the little girl, Peter crouched down to her eye level and smiled warmly at Casey. He raised his right hand and waved at her as he gently said, “Hi, Casey. I just wanted to meet you so I can know such a special little girl. Your mommy and I are going to work together to protect you from those ladies. We’re going to work really hard.
Casey barely understood a word he said but felt no impulse to shrink back away from him. She did understand that he didn’t like those ladies either. She smiled, and not knowing what else to do, just looked at her mother.
Casey is like the least-vocal four-year-old I’ve ever seen. If this had been Sally when she was four, she would have launched immediately into “Do you like my shoes? They have sparkles on them! I told my mommy that I wanted the sparkly ones, and she got them for me!” But then, maybe Casey’s just naturally a quieter, shier child.
Note: Several readers pointed out that Farris said “Casey barely understood a word he said” when Casey is to all appearances a perfectly normal four-year-old, and as such should be perfectly capable of understanding what Peter said to her. This is absolutely true, but is par for the course for how Farris has treated Casey’s character.
But now let’s look back at how Bill met and interacted with Casey, because Farris is clearly setting up a comparison here:
He smiled broadly and went right up to Casey.
“So this must be our little girl,” he said in a loud voice.
Casey cringed and clung more tightly to Gwen.
“How ya doin’, Sweetheart?” Walinski asked, winking in a friendly way at Casey.
Casey emitted a slight whimper.
Wow. Those two meetings are like polar opposites, aren’t they?
The moral of the story here, it seems, is that the good characters interact positively with children, and the bad characters don’t. Donna forcibly strip-searched Casey rather than talking her calmly through the process. Gwen, in contrast, pushes Casey on the swing and lovingly praises her for cleaning her room. Bill is loud and in your face and scares Casey. Peter, in contrast, gets down on her level and talks to her calmly and gently.
At this point Peter says he should leave and get back to work. Good on Peter! Don’t keep those poor clients waiting on their will just so you can stay and chit chat with Gwen’s family! I mean technically he didn’t need to come meet Stan, Gwen, and Casey, he could have gone straight from lunch back to his office.
When it comes to Bill and Peter, Farris is painting with blacks and whites. Bill is completely and totally bad. He’s a predator, he’s bad with kids, and he’s a terrible lawyer. Peter is uncomplicatedly good. He’s honorable with women, he’s good with kids, and he’s a first-rate lawyer. We see the same strong tones when comparing Donna with Gwen. Donna may talk about protecting children, but she calls Casey a “little rat” and makes it pretty clear that she actually despises kids. Gwen is a good, sweet mom who adores her daughter and seems to charm everyone she meets.
The thing is, real life is not this simple. I suppose we might think of this book as more a morality tale than a novel. In morality tales, people are simplistic cutouts designed to make a point, rather than living, breathing, complicated human beings.
Note: Several readers have noted that neither Peter nor anyone else are doing anything to allay Casey’s fears. This is true. It it worth noting, though, that, before he propositioned Gwen, Bill Walinski arranged for the handoff to the foster family to occur in the conference room at the courthouse, without any social workers present, so it’s not as though they’re saying this right before Casey has to see “those ladies.”