The Question – Chapter Four

April returned to her cell.  Roberta was waiting.  She looked at her, but said nothing.  April had never spoken about her crime, and although Roberta had told her all the gory details of her own, she knew that April would tell her in her own good time…or maybe she wouldn’t.

April had stopped going to the visitation room years ago.  Roberta never went.  She knew, like April, that no one would ever come to see her.  She was a disgrace.  All of her fair-weather friends as well as the ones she considered to be loyal, had abandoned her.

She mused that it was always about what she had done to her husband.  It was never about what he had done to her.  He had lied to her for years.  He had cheated on her.  He had a child with another woman.

She had devoted her life to him, had been a dutiful wife, and had taken care of him when he was seriously ill.  “That’s the way it is,” she once said.  “The ones who destroy everything, suddenly become the victims in everyone’s eyes.”

True, Roberto was indeed a victim, but no one tried to understand what it must have been like for her.  What was it like, finding out that her entire life had been a lie?  Why did no one see her as the victim of a lowlife, deceptive Lothario?  She didn’t know and she had long since stopped caring.

Two more years went by and once again, April was being considered for parole.  The board consisted of the same tired quorum of special commissioners, with the exception of a new, young man named Roger Carson, who all but announced, “I’m going to flex my muscles.”

He looked at April and took the lead.  “I see that you have been somewhat uncooperative through the years.  Let me ask you something.  You do understand that there’s still time for you to have a life, or do you want to die in prison?”

April reacted with the same blank expression the others had been seeing for years as she asked, “you say there’s still time for me to have a life?  What kind of life?  A solitary life?  That’s what I have here, and I don’t know if your records reflect anything other than my refusal to answer the question, but I have never had one visitor since I entered this steel and concrete purgatory.  Tell me, Mr. Carson.  What would be different?”

Mr. Taylor said, “very well Ms. Drummond.  As I have stated numerous times, we have a certain amount of sympathy, but the fact is, you committed murder.  You took revenge and…”  Before he could finish, Roger inserted with a smirk, “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.  I think Niche said that.”

April looked at him and said, “that was said by Confusious, you moron.  Dig two graves?  He’s the one in the ground, isn’t he?”

Mr. Taylor smiled slightly and said, “Okay, Ms. Drummond.”  April waited for the question.

“If you had it to do over, would you do anything differently?”

April calmly said, “that monster raped and murdered my child.  I hunted him down and broke into his house.  I went into his bedroom and blew his brains out.”

“Again,” said Mr. Taylor.  “If you had it to do over, would you do anything differently?”

Through gritted teeth, April said, “YES.  I WOULD HAVE MADE HIM SUFFER.  I would have made him beg for mercy.  I would have made him beg for his life.  Then, I would have made him beg for death.”

Mr. Taylor once again stamped “DENIED” on her form.

 

Het Einde.

 

The Question – Chapter Three

April’s parole hearing was scheduled for 10 o’clock that morning.  She sat in her cell, stared at the wall and waited until the guards came for her. Roberta asked if she wanted to be alone.  April said she didn’t care.

Roberta tried to lighten the mood by saying, “you know it’s not called a parole hearing around here.  It’s called a ‘hopeful denial’ hearing.”

April knew her consideration for release hinged on “the question.”  It always did.  Sitting motionless in a chair in front of a panel of people who thought they knew what reform and readiness to rejoin society really meant, she resented being judged by their rules.

Rules that were written years ago onto a now obsolete pile of papers, and adopted as absolute law, constructed to make the “exert specialists” feel good about giving a lowly convict a second chance.

Say the right thing…beg…cry…plead.  Boast about starting a class for the inmates who could barely read…say you were growing your hair to be donated to children with cancer…and the one that got the most attention…tell them that you had found your God.  Anything convincing enough to make the “powers that be” believe that you had been reformed…worked.

April knew the spiel.  She knew what she had to say, and she knew what they wanted to hear.

The first to speak was Mr. Taylor, a stout, sweaty, bespectacled man, who began the usual inquisition with his pseudo, soft-spoken benevolence, as if talking to a child.  He had been on the panel before and hadn’t changed, other than being a few years older, as was April.

At some point during the hearing, he said, “Ms. Drummond.  We understand the immense grief you have suffered…”

Before he could finish, April looked at him and said, “do you?  Do you really?  How many of you have suffered immense grief?”

The panel looked back and forth at each other as if somewhat embarrassed.  Mr. Taylor said, “despite the horrific events you endured, you cannot take the law into your own hands.  That is why we have a judicial system.  If everyone took the law into their own hands, there would be utter chaos. Don’t you agree?”

April looked at him and said, “no.  There would be justice.”

Mr. Taylor sighed…and asked “the question.”  April sat in the chair, still motionless and silent.

“Ms. Drummond,” he said.  “The only reason you have been considered for parole is due to certain extenuating circumstances.  There is and always has been a certain amount of sympathy for you but…you must answer the question.”

Two full minutes of silence was interrupted only by the sound of “DENIED” being stamped on the application.

 

To be continued___________

 

 

The Question – Chapter Two

Six years and two parole hearings later, April Drummond, Inmate #11124721, now 44 years old, was notified of a third upcoming hearing. That’s when she would be asked…the question.

During that time, she acquired a cellmate, an unlikely sidekick named Roberta Nix.  Roberta was 60 years old, and was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for accidentally shooting her husband…five times.

The day she arrived in her worn-out orange scrubs and matching flip-flops, carrying equally worn-out sheets and the paltry amount of toiletries provided, Roberta immediately recognized the hierarchy, as she listened to the cat-calls and heard the intimidation tactics used by BB and her family.

April didn’t participate in the usual initiation and barely glanced up as Roberta strolled into her new “home.”  Like April, Roberta wasn’t interested in joining BB’s family, nor was she interested in having to service the other inmates.  At her age, she felt as though she had already paid enough dues.

April seemed to be protected by some kind of invisible shield.  Roberta wasn’t sure how or why, but noticed that the other inmates stayed clear of her.  Being smart, she knew that April could by association, provide insurance for her own safety…if she played her cards right.

Their collaboration started slowly; each testing the other’s loyalty, each divulging only the minimum amount of information about their lives before, and neither ever discussing the details of their crimes.

It was a year before Roberta began talking.  She married a man named Roberto when she was 16 years old.  His real name was Robert, but he thought Roberto sounded a little more exotic.  Everyone used to call them “the Robbies.”

Roberto, 10 years her senior, was a successful businessman who loved to make money, and loved to spend it even more.  He found Roberta at the local cafe, serving “a meat and three” to the local blue collar workers; workers with names like Bubba, Cooter, Josephus, Homer and Rufus.

The delicious homemade cooking wooed Roberto into the cafe week after week, and week after week he arrived, accompanied by a different young woman who was easy on the eyes, and appeared overly eager to please their older companion with public displays of affection.

Roberta knew women like that, and she knew men like him.  He had definitely caught her eye, but she played it cool.  “The ones who don’t pay them no mind, will lure them in every time,” her daddy once said…and she paid attention.  The more she ignored him, the hotter his pursuit became.

She let him chase her until she “caught” him, and entered into a lifestyle she never dreamed possible.

He shaped and molded her into a perfect lady.  He showered her with luxury and she slowly emerged as the queen of the castle; the lady of the lounge; the consummate hostess and the personification of the ideal wife.

Their union produced no offspring, of which she was disappointed, but also almost equally grateful.  Roberto was a selfish man, and through the years she had learned to be just as selfish.

When Roberto was 70, he was stricken with an undiagnosable illness that left him almost bed-bound.  Having been the epitome of healthy living, his affliction was a mystery and left his doctor scratching his head.

Roberta was his angel of mercy, devoting all of her time to his care.  She fed him, cleaned him, read to him, and tried everything to keep up his spirits.  She didn’t want him to give up and made it clear to him that she hadn’t married a quitter.

He slowly began to recover, thanks in no small part to her dedicated steadfastness.  His doctor was again, scratching his head.  “I don’t know what you did for him, but whatever it was, it certainly worked.  I expect him to make a full recovery.”  Roberta smiled and said, “all I did was love him.”  The doctor patted her on the back, smiled and said, “well, that was enough.”

A week later, Roberto was out on the veranda, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.  Roberta smiled, excused herself and went inside with the promise of a quick return.  She had an idea.

She was going to look for old cards that she had given him through the years; birthday cards, anniversary cards, silly cards and of course, romantic, suggestive cards.  She thought they might elicit smiles and laughter and bring back good memories.

What she found was not what she was looking for.  There, among all the cards from her, were cards and letters from a woman named Lisa.  Lisa? One of her dearest friends was named Lisa.  As she was gathering them, she was shaking.

She picked up the telephone and called Lisa.  When she answered, Roberta dispensed with the niceties and said, “how long have you been fucking my husband?”  Lisa was silent for a few seconds and said, “I want you to know that we never meant to hurt you.”  Roberta raised her voice and repeated, “HOW LONG?”  Lisa quietly said, “for about ten years.”

Roberta hung up and went outside.  Roberto looked at her and smiled, but the smile disappeared when Roberta threw the cards and letters on the table next to him.  “What are these?” she demanded.  Roberto looked down and said, “I want you to know that we never meant to hurt you.”

Roberta said, “you sound like a fucking parrot.  That’s exactly what Lisa said.  How could you?  She said it had been going on for about ten years. Is that true?  When did it end?”

Roberto looked at her and said, “it hasn’t ended, but not because we’re still involved or because I love her.  It just a tryst that got out of hand.  You know I love you.  I always have and I always will.”

“What does that mean?  It was just a tryst that got out of hand?” Roberta asked.

Roberto looked down and said, “we have a daughter together.  That’s why I couldn’t completely end it with her.”

Roberta got up and walked back into the house, while Roberto was begging her to forgive him.  She got her purse and pulled out the pink handled revolver he had given her for protection.  She calmly walked back outside, pointed it at him and emptied the chamber.

 

To be continued_________

 

The Question – Chapter One

As April Drummond looks at her etiolated image reflected in the dirty, almost opaque windows of Craggy Prison, she counts the steel bars that separate her from the outside world…and waits.  She waits for the monthly visit that she desperately wants, but knows will never come.

She is inconsequential.  She is unimportant.  She is insignificant.  She is irrelevant.  She is nonessential.  She is meaningless.  She is picayune.

She is also a murderer.

There are no words of comfort from the guard, who watches her every move, as she sits and waits.  There is only a slight look of fear when her visitation time is up, and no one has come.

April has a look in her eyes…the kind of look that unnerves you.  The kind of look that makes you shudder.  The kind of look that makes you question whether she is predator or prey.  The kind of look that foments the common reaction of fight or flight, when confronted by fear.  For those reasons, other inmates don’t bother her, but those aren’t the only reasons.

A one time interaction with another prisoner named BB, aka Big Bertha, aka Big Bitch, who invited April to join her “family,” became folklore legend.

BB, an unsympathetic bully, was born in this very prison, and as if written in a playbook, she found her way back “home” when she was just 23.

Her mother, (street name Jasmine) was a drug addict, who got pinched for prostitution after she solicited an undercover police officer.

Jasmine told BB that she didn’t know who her father was, but whoever he was, for a minute or a month, he was surely a happy man after having “been with her.”

The day before Jasmine was to be released, she was stabbed to death by another inmate.

It was well known that BB ruled the prison, had a few guards in her pockets, had her defenders, her enforcers and her family, which included several “daughters,” and three “wives,” and was not the kind of prisoner you ignored, challenged, or turned down.

Although BB wasn’t a large woman, she was powerful and intimidating. April, being diminutive, was mistakenly considered an easy mark by BB and her family.  When she refused BB for the last time, the family gathered around her like a pack of angry wolves.

April grabbed BB’s left breast and twisted it like a corkscrew.  BB screamed in agonizing pain, and dropped to her knees.  After she surrendered, she attempted to smile as she said, “I forgot that you were a murderer.”

April leaned over and whispered, “don’t forget it again.”

At 38, she is three years into her forty year sentence, which carries the possibility of parole after ten years, or possibly sooner if she is a model prisoner, or overcrowding becomes an issue.

Everyone who is incarcerated declares their innocence, but not April.  She is the only guilty inmate in the prison.

 

To be continued_______________

 

Happy Birthday…To Sir

When I was just a little girl,
I had a Panda bear.
I kept him in a plastic bag,
To keep him clean in there.

I got him for my birthday,
I was four or five.
I said a prayer and asked the Lord,
To make him come alive.

My granny gave him to me,
He always stayed with her.
She asked me what his name was,
I said, “I call him Sir.”

She’d sometimes let me take him out,
But only if I’d swear,
To not fall down and dirty him,
My little Panda bear.

I hardly got to play with him,
She feared he would get smudged.
I tried to understand the why,
And never hold a grudge.

I grew up and moved away,
And I left Sir behind,
But I knew he would never be,
Far out of sight or mind.

The years went by, and my life changed.
My world had been derailed.
I never thought that what I’d built,
Would ultimately fail.

I went back to that old house,
To walk down memory lane.
Echoes of the past reminded me,
Of my loneliness and pain.

I thought of Sir and wondered if,
Like me, he’d lost his way.
Or if he’d been discarded,
And cast into the Frey.

I found him in the attic,
Amongst my mama’s stash.
He was in a plastic bag,
With other bits of trash.

The memories came flooding back,
We were quite the pair.
A bruised and broken little girl,
And her ragged Panda bear.

My only friend when I was young,
Who listened to me cry.
Who never slapped me in the face,
And never told a lie.

His shiny coat was grey and black,
His eyes were not so clear,
But he was coming home with me,
My little Panda bear.

They say when you’re alone and old,
You talk to things not there.
I just nod and say okay,
As I wink at Panda bear.

Deleting Martina – Chapter Twenty-Four

Two weeks after Randall returned from New York, he received a call from Dick.  “I don’t know how to tell you this, son, but Martina has taken her final curtain call.”

Almost unable to breathe, Randall asked what he meant.  Dick said, “she was found in her dressing room after she failed to appear onstage.  It looks like she overdosed, but not before someone damn near beat her to death.  They haven’t yet released the official cause.”

“Are you sure it’s her?  How did you find out?” Randall asked.  Dick said, “I always make friends with local law enforcement, and as you know, information is for sale.”

“Are you still there?” asked Randall.  “No,” Dick said.  “I left last week, but I got the call a few minutes ago.  Apparently, Martina was well known to ‘New York’s Finest’.  They closed their eyes to the drugs, if she…well, if she…opened her mouth…or her legs.  I know that’s an indelicate way to put it, but it is what it is…or it was what it was, rather.”

Randall was audibly crying as they continued to talk.  “Do they know who did it?  Do they have any leads?”  Dick said, “no leads.  The kind of work she did, and the lifestyle she was leading, doesn’t really lend itself to a list of ‘usual suspects’.  It could have been anyone.  A spurned cast member, a jealous cast member, or a complete stranger.  They just don’t know.”

“What’s going to happen to her?” he asked.  Then, panicked he asked, “has anyone gotten in touch with her mother and father?”

Dick said, “I don’t think they know who to get in touch with.  That’s why I called you.  Do you want me to tell them who she was, and how to get in touch with them…or will you?”

Randall dropped the phone and yelled, “JESUS!”  When he picked it back up, he asked Dick if he was still there.  Dick said, “I’m still here.  He hesitated and said, “I haven’t been made privy to it, but the officers found a note.”

Randall was suddenly catapulted back to the day they found Callie.  “What did the note say?” he asked.

Dick said, “I don’t know, but I can probably get my hands on a copy, for the right price, of course.”  Randall said, “pay whatever they want.  Just get a copy.”

Dick said, “consider it done, but what about her next of kin?  Don’t you think they should know?”

Randall said, “yes.  I think they should know, but I don’t want them to know everything…and I want to bring her home.”  After a long pause, he said, “let me ask you a question.”

Dick said, “go on.”

“Do you think you could buy off the coroner?  Maybe have him certify her death due to unknown or maybe even natural causes?”  Dick sighed and said, “wow.  That’s a pretty big ask.  I don’t know how corrupt the coroners here are, and even if I found one who would be willing, I’d bet it wouldn’t come cheap.  You’re talking about official, legal documents…and if I could get it done, it would mean that the person who brutalized her would get away with it.  No evidence…no conviction.  Do you understand?”

“I understand,” Randall said.

Two days and ten thousand dollars later, Dick called Randall.  He had a copy of the death certificate, listing cause of death as “natural.”  He also had a copy of the note Martina left.  It was déjà vu for Randall.  Dick said that Martina was clutching the note in her hand when she died.

Dick said, “she’s listed as Jane Doe, and they’re going to cremate her in a few days.  Do you still want to bring her home, and don’t you think you should tell her parents?”

Randall said, “no.  Leave her there and find out what they’re going to do with her remains.  Can you send me the note?”

“Check your email,” Dick said.

As soon as Randall got the alert, he opened the email and openly sobbed as he began to read.

 I went looking for love,
And all I found was shame.
I went looking for justice,
And all I found was blame.

I went looking for truth,
And all I found was lies.
I went looking for someone,
Who could hear my desperate cries.

I was playing a part,
And I let people stare.
I took off my clothes,
And colored my hair.

I went looking for reasons,
I had questions to ask.
All I found was deception,
From the ones in the mask.

I went looking for answers,
And all I found was silence.
I went looking for warmth,
And all I found was violence.

I went looking for trust,
And all I found was deceit.
I went looking for honor,
And all I found was a cheat.

I went looking for peace,
And all I found was regret.
I was looking for a pardon,
But they couldn’t forget.

I went looking for dreams,
And all I found was pain.
I went looking for comfort,
So I needled a vein.

I went looking for rescue,
But it came too late.
All I learned from living,
Was how how it feels to hate.

 

Randall called Dick but said nothing.  Finally, Dick asked, “what are you thinking?”  Randall said, “I think she hated what she was doing.  I think she was looking for redemption, but couldn’t get past her defiance of everything she had ever known.  I think someone betrayed her, and I think someone killed her.”

“Well,” Dick said.  “When it comes to her, you wanted the slate wiped clean, and that’s what you got.  As far as anyone knows, she just disappeared, and you have to let it go.  I don’t want you to go all cowboy on me and start stirring up a can of worms.  In other words, don’t start opening doors that you can’t close.  She made her own choices.  You tried to save her, but she didn’t want salvation.  Tell me that you are going to let this go.”

After several seconds of silence, Dick asked, “are you there?  Are you going to let this go?”

Randall said, “I appreciate everything you’ve done.  Send me the bill.”  Dick again asked, “are you going to let this go?”

Randall said, “no,” and hung up.

 

დასასრული.

 

Deleting Martina – Chapter Twenty-Three

Randall caught the next available flight to New York.  He was accustomed, as was Martina, to chauffeurs and wasn’t even sure how to hail a taxi, other than what he had seen on movies.

His anxiety was eased when he walked from the terminal and saw taxis lined up, waiting to deliver arriving passengers to their destinations.  A first time visitor could easily be taken advantage of, with unnecessary side roads and out of the way routes, but Randall was smart.  He told the driver where he wished to go and sternly warned, “I know how far it is and I know how long it will take.”  Of course, in reality, he didn’t have a clue.

Forty-five minutes later, the driver stopped at the New York Theater. Randall got out and stared at the bright marquee.  “Do you want that I should wait?” asked the driver.  Randall told him to go on.  He said he didn’t know how long he would be.  The driver winked and said, “well, enjoy, my friend.  I hear she really puts on a show.”

Randall walked in, paid the admission to a brute of a man named “Big Dog, and was told that he just missed the first show.  Big Dog said another show would be in about an hour, pointed to a bar area and he could get a drink while he waited.  He leaned over and quietly asked, “are you a cop?”  Randall stuttered as he said, “excuse me?”  Big Dog said, “if you’re a cop, you have to say it.  Randall said, “no.  I’m not a police officer.”  Big Dog said “well, while your waiting, if you want a little “extra” recreation, that can be arranged.”

Although a little afraid, Randall thanked him and politely declined.  Big Dog didn’t seemed concerned once a spectator was inside, so Randall walked toward the dressing rooms.  The doors were all closed, and the outsides were decorated with names, ribbons, pictures and some phallic symbols.

The last one on the right, left no doubt that he had found Martina’s room.  The door was covered with silver and gold stars.  In the center, a large red star bore the name, “Callie.”

He knocked lightly and heard a voice say, “you may enter.”  When he opened the door, he saw Martina was sitting in front of a mirror, wearing nothing but a shocking hot pink colored feather boa around her neck.

As had Callie when Martina first appeared at The Middle Of Nowhere coffee shop, she said, “well, look who it is.”

Randall was shocked.  Martina had dyed her hair platinum blonde and the pancake make-up was so thick, he wondered how she got it off after the show.  But he thought to himself, “she really does look like Marilyn Monroe.”

He was trying to look everywhere…anywhere except straight at her.  Her nudity made him uncomfortable.  She rolled her eyes and said, “you’re such a child.  If you’re uncomfortable, throw me my robe.”  He obliged and noticed a tattoo of a Phoenix on her inner arm.  Her tattoo wasn’t covering tracks.  Hers was covering now healed but still red slice marks.

“When did you become a cutter?” he asked.

“I’m not a cutter,” she said.  “It was a one time thing.”

Randall said, “you’re not a cutter, like you’re not an addict?  “Oh please”, she said.  “I was just having a hard time, so I cut myself.  I thought if I cut myself, the pain would go there instead of here,” as she put her hand over her heart.

“Why don’t you come home?” Randall bravely asked.

Martina angrily said, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I AM A STAR!  My name is in lights.  I am adored.  Women want to be me and men want to be with me.  People come from all over to see me.  Look at you.  Look how far you came to see me.  By the way, why did you come to see me?”

Randall said, “I thought I could talk you into going back with me.  Your parents miss you.”

“My parents.”  Martina said.  “My parents miss the puppet I used to be.  They miss the little girl they could dress up like a doll.  They miss being able to dictate who and what I was going to be.  And my parents can keep missing me, because I am never going back.  Not for them…not for you…not for anyone.”

Martina said, “you must excuse me.  I have to get ready for my next show.”  She looked at him with a callous smile and said, “if this is going to offend your sensitivities, I suggest you leave.”  Randall was horrified as he watched her take out a syringe and stick it between her toes.

“Don’t!” Randall pleaded.

Martina smiled as she injected the liquid courage.

Randall again pleaded.  “Is this really the life you want?  Do you want to be an addict?  Do you want to make a living taking your clothes off?  Do you think this is the life Callie wanted for you?”

Martina, enraged said, “Callie is dead.  It doesn’t matter what she wanted or didn’t want, and this isn’t about her.  I have a beautiful body.”  She slowly and seductively walked toward him, ran her hands up his chest and said, “don’t you want to touch me?”

Randall took her hands and held them.  “No.  I don’t want to touch you.  I want you to stop what you’re doing and come home.”

Martina, almost screaming, said, “I want you to leave.  Now!  I didn’t ask you to save me.  Get out!  Go on!  Get out and never come back!”

Randall left and started walking down the street.  What a different world this was.  Everything was for sale.  Drugs, sex, pirated music and movies, knock-off designer handbags and “genuine” Rolex watches.

He hailed a taxi.  He was going home.

 

To be continued___________