The Trade, Chapter 10

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All this time Ruth had been unknowingly working at an agency that her own father was helping manage. He had been appointed shortly after she started there but was far enough removed from the day-to-day operations to never have seen her nor her name in connection with it. But when he told the FBI who came to his home to question him that he hadn’t spoken with his daughter in over a year, they found it hard to believe. They were also skeptical about his insistence that he was instrumental in convincing the bureau head to hire an external auditor.

Both Ruth and her father were charged with defrauding the Bureau of Workers’ Comp of tens of thousands of dollars, but only one was arrested and tried. Ruth had fled immediately after arriving home from her last day at work, drove all that night, and cut and colored her hair as soon as she felt she was safely out of reach in a little Podunk town hundreds of miles away. Despite the concerted efforts of the FBI, Ruth had somehow avoided detection and capture.

Though her father maintained his innocence throughout what became a high-profile trial in the state capital, he refused to defend himself. Insisting on acting as his own attorney, he called no witnesses for his defense and did not question those for the prosecution. When the guilty verdict was read he stood silently and stoically, making no remark as they handcuffed him and led him out of the courtroom to begin serving his five-year sentence.

“He’s not guilty! What is he doing?!” Ruth screamed at the TV in distress and disbelief at the sight of her father being led away to serve time for her crime. Pacing back and forth in her tiny, one-star hotel room, shaking her head as if she could change the reality by denying it, she tried to figure out what to do. This injustice was too much, and too unlikely for her to have ever foreseen. And it pretty much changes everything.

When Ruth fled, the first thing she did after packing as much as she could into two pieces of luggage was withdraw everything from her bank account. It was enough cash to keep her alive and on the run for at least a few months, as long as she found places that were too cheap to care about asking any questions. She hoped that eventually she’d find a way to make some more money with a new identity and start a whole new life. As a wanted criminal. Well…others have done it, she told herself.

But now, seeing her father tried, convicted, and sent to jail for what only she was guilty of, had her struggling to come up with a Plan B. Ruth had been following the news reports of the trial, certain that her father would be acquitted and that, if she could keep herself hidden, eventually the case would go cold and be forgotten about. His refusal to defend himself greatly puzzled her, but he had nothing to do with her theft so of course, she reasoned, they’re not going to punish an innocent man.

Ruth sank into the corner of the sagging bed and began to sob. “What have I done? What have I done?” she repeated, afraid to stop asking the question because then she’d have to face the answer. She lay back in the bed, her ears getting cold and wet from her tears, and thought about how much her father loved her. He always showed it, but ever since her mother’s affair and tragic death, which Ruth blamed on him, she couldn’t receive it. Now…in what she could only describe as a suddenly obvious revelation…she saw that this was also an expression of his love.

And as her tears dried and her eyes grew heavy, she knew what she needed to do and then drifted off to sleep.