|Aldrich, Janet M.
|Allan, T. N.
|Allen, M. G.
|Ammonds, Phillip J.
|Augustyn, P. K.
|Aymar, E. A.
|Baumgartner, Jessica Marie
|Bennett, D. V.
|Bernardara, Will Jr.
|Bohem, Charlie Keys and Les
|Boyd, A. V.
|Brown, R. Thomas
|Burke, Wayne F.
|Butler, Simon Hardy
|Cameron, W. B.
|Campbell, J. J.
|Campbell, Jack Jr.
|Cardoza, Dan A.
|Cooper, Malcolm Graham
|Corrigan, Mickey J.
|Cosby, S. A.
|Cross, Thomas X.
|Danoski, Joseph V.
|Davies, J. C.
|Davis, Michael D.
|de Bruler, Connor
|De France, Steve
|De La Garza, Lela Marie
|Deming, Ruth Z.
|De Neve, M. A.
|Dennehy, John W.
|Di Chellis, Peter
|Dioguardi, Michael Anthony
|Drake, Lena Judith
|Dromey, John H.
|Dubal, Paul Michael
|Dunham, T. Fox
|Dunn, Robin Wyatt
|Fisher, Miles Ryan
|Flanagan, Daniel N.
|Flanagan, Ryan Quinn
|Funk, Matthew C.
|Gardner, Cheryl Ann
|Garvey, Kevin Z.
|Gay, Sharon Frame
|Goddard, L. B.
|Golds, Stephen J.
|Greenberg, K.J. Hannah
|Gurney, Kenneth P.
|Hanson, Christopher Kenneth
|Hayes, A. J.
|Hayes, Peter W. J.
|Hockey, Matthew J.
|Hogan, Andrew J.
|Hoy, J. L.
|Huffman, A. J.
|Huguenin, Timothy G.
|Huskey, Jason L.
|Irascible, Dr. I. M.
|Jaggers, J. David
|Jones, D. S.
|Jones, Erin J.
|Kaplan, Barry Jay
|Keaton, David James
|Kevlock, Mark Joseph
|King, Michelle Ann
|Kolarik, Andrew J.
|Krafft, E. K.
|Lacks, Lee Todd
|La Rosa, F. Michael
|Lerner, Steven M
|Levine, Phyllis Peterson
|Lewis, Cynthia Ruth
|Liskey, Tom Darin
|Lopez, Aurelio Rico III
|Lucas, Gregory E.
|McFarlane, Adam Beau
|Mooney, Christopher P.
|Moran, Jacqueline M.
|Morgan, Bill W.
|Moss, David Harry
|Muslim, Kristine Ong
|Neuda, M. C.
|Ogurek, Douglas J.
|Perez, Juan M.
|Perez, Robert Aguon
|Powers, M. P.
|Purfield, M. E.
|Quinlan, Joseph R.
|reutter, g emil
|Rhiel, Ann Marie
|Richey, John Lunar
|Robinson, John D.
|Rodgers, K. M.
|Sayles, Betty J.
|Schraeder, E. F.
|Seymour, J. E.
|Shaikh, Aftab Yusuf
|Sheagren, Gerald E.
|Shirey, D. L.
|Shore, Donald D.
|Simmler, T. Maxim
|Sinisi, J. J.
|Small, Alan Edward
|Smith, Brian J.
|Smith, Ian C.
|Snethen, Daniel G.
|Solender, Michael J.
|Stanton, Henry G.
|Stewart, Michael S.
|Stryker, Joseph H.
|Swartz, Justin A.
|Taylor, J. M.
|Thompson, John L.
|Valent, Raymond A.
|Waldman, Dr. Mel
|Weil, Lester L.
|White, Judy Friedman
|Williams, K. A.
|Art by Lonni Lees
My Gypsy Girl from Bluefield
She was poor white-trash from Appalachia and that’s
where the story should have begun and ended. But it didn’t.
Her high school kicked her out for performing fellatio on
a number of boys in a stall of the rest room. What the letter to her house said—which,
incidentally, was never read in its entirety by anybody at that address—was that she was expelled for reasons of “moral
turpitude.” The week after that, she walked out of Bluefield, West Virginia,
and never looked back. It turned out that her boyfriend, a senior to her sophomore,
wanted to have sex before his seventeenth birthday. Although he was co-captain of the varsity football team, he was ashamed
of his virginity and he thought a girl from the hollows would be easier to seduce than his current girlfriend, who was National
Honor Society, vice president of the class, and an applicant to four Ivy League universities.
He was right, of course.
Bobbie was smitten, to use an old-fashioned word. She fell in love, but
she’d never admit it afterward. The two of them discovered sex together
and for four weeks it was bliss. She walked around feeling as if she could hear
rushing water in her head every time he winked at her in the hallways. His jock
buddies teased him relentlessly but the truth was they envied the hell out of him.
She was sexually liberated, all shyness gone in the first few weeks of her love for him.
He sent her a note first period and told her to be in the
second stall; there would be an “Out of Order” sign in the janitor’s semiliterate scrawl on the door knob.
She was there waiting for him when he walked in. He was
barely inside the stall when she went down to her knees and unzipped him. She
took him in and gave him as noiseless a blow job as she could. To her, it was
an utterly selfless act of love, ever more proof that he owned her body and soul. She was pretty and genetically blessed,
freakishly so, in the development of her young bosom and the pelvic swell of her hips.
When he exploded into her mouth, she swallowed the jissom easily and, gripping his throbbing meat still trying to peck
at her, she smiled up at him. What happened next wasn’t what she feared might happen when she found his note in her
locker: some busybody hall monitor opening the door on them—or, worst
case, old Mrs. Waddell, the senile math teacher finding them there because she could never remember this bathroom was for
males. It was four of his football teammates standing there with wide grins
on their faces.
“I brought you a little present, Bobbie,” he
said and walked out tightening his belt buckle.
The first one in was Nick DeRosa, the middle linebacker.
He held her down by the shoulders and took himself out and shoved his rubbery meat against her lips until she opened. His eyes were crazy. His girth was
wider than what she was used to and he thrust his hips so that she gagged several times, which made him so angry he raised
his fist to her and told her if she didn’t suck it off he’d beat the shit out of her.
He was followed by the team’s running back, center,
and cornerback, the school’s only black male. By the time he had finished
with her, she was dizzy, scared out of her mind; she was covered with pasty gobs of semen that stuck to her sweater, hung
from one ear lobe, and dribbled from her chin when she coughed up the sticky mess that stuck to the back of her throat.
Before she could get out of the stall, two more boys from
the junior class, not athletes or friends of the four, burst in and held her by the arms.
They shoved her back inside the stall and forced her to sit on the toilet while they too demanded sex.
She lost count; one followed the other; she heard buckles,
zippers, laughs, moans, threats, and commands but it all seemed to be part of a nightmare she was having and not reality. She didn’t know when but a deeper male voice replaced the whispered commands
roiling around in her head. A woman jerked her to her feet and she felt her
breasts squeezed in a vise-like grip that made her cry out. It was the school’s
religious fanatic, Mrs. Hochschartner, the Home Ec teacher; she thrust her face into Bobbie’s so hard and close that
spittle joined the semen stains of her cheek: “God didn’t give you
these so you could become a filthy whore!”
The letter came a week later, but school was impossible. The stares and snickers everywhere—she was so isolated at lunch that twenty
seats were empty in all directions from wherever she sat. Some of school’s
toughest males approached her at her locker and demanded she meet them after school.
Her locker was filled with notes full of obscenities and curses shoved between the slats. Every time she went to her locker there were dozens of stick-it notes slathered across the front of it
in block-lettered abuse, a rotation of “Bitch,” “Whore,” “Slut,” and “Pig.”
Being the school tramp she saw as a consequence of the other. But it was clear that her fantasy was a burning, foul-smelling rubble at her feet.
She berated herself for even thinking that her family, which had spawned nothing
but lowlife troublemakers, welfare scum and criminals, could have been overlooked by the school’s most popular boy. She wept at night in her bed and pulled her hair until she had a scabby line of red
dots at her hairline and swollen cheeks from self-inflicted punches.
When she left, no one said goodbye. Her mother was sleeping after her third-shift job at a taco plant in the next town. Her father was a drunk and long gone from the family. Her
three older sisters were married in different counties and had babies and troubles of their own. Her younger brother was in a juvenile-detention center for stabbing a boy and was destined for a big prison
someday. She stole ten dollars from her mother’s purse, tossed a few clean
clothes and undergarments into a paper bag from the Sav-a-Lot and walked off the front porch.
She ate at MacDonald’s in Beckley and made it as far
as a truck stop in Charleston by nightfall. It was colder in this part of the
state and all she had was a flimsy wool sweater. She ordered coffee in the café
and thought about going back home. She had never been more than fifteen miles
from her house since she was born there. The waitress, a hatchet-faced woman
in rouge, kept giving her the fisheye every time she asked for a refill. She
was so desperate that, when a bandy-legged trucker walked in and sat down, she immediately went over to join him at his booth. He was ancient, about forty-five years old, she guessed, and had a huge pot belly
stretching out the fabric of his work shirt. He gave off a male odor she had
never smelled before; all the high-school boys she knew who shaved doused themselves with excessive cologne.
He bought her a Captain’s Feast seafood dinner and
offered her a ride north to Ohio. He was delivering a load of steel wire to
Youngstown. He turned out to be a kind man, who didn’t want sex from her
and didn’t ask for anything except that she consider “turning to Jesus.”
She promised she would. His cabin was overheated and the country tunes
he favored on the radio were the kind she had heard all her life. She fell into
a long, deep sleep that was full of bizarre creatures, half-demon and half-mechanical, who chased her. She awoke with her hands slapping at the air in front of her. He
was almost invisible except for the magma glow emanating from the luminous dials of his rig.
“Havin’ you a bad dream, hon?”
She gulped and swallowed several times and remembered where
she was. The empty landscape at one in the morning could have been in the Alaskan
tundra for all she knew.
“I’m fine,” she said.
He nodded slowly and said, “Jesus is the answer, darlin’. You-all remember that and you will be just fine.
Just fine,” he crooned.
He dropped her off at a gas station near the 680 loop. She had no idea she was standing near one of the most traveled interstates in the
United States with something like half the country’s population living within 500 miles.
The Escalade that stopped for her at a quarter past two
in the morning screeched its brakes so hard just past her outstretched thumb that it juddered into the shoulder and nearly
slewed into a mileage sign.
He was black and he was grinning from ear to ear when he
popped the door open for her. She stood there looking at him a long time, uncertain.
“Well, c’mon, bitch, make up your mind,”
he said and showed her his gold incisors in a beaming smile; he refused to let the dentist exchange them for the porcelain
once he made his money. They were his street “badges,” he called
them. “Keepin’ it real,” he said.
Bobbie’s fate changed drastically from that day. His name was Reggie Duval, or so he claimed, and he was a very big drug dealer in
Cleveland. He said he was coming back from visiting the Muhammad Ali Peace Center
in Louisville—the champ being a boyhood hero of his—and, “You know,” he said, “one thing led
to another, blasé-blasé,” which was Reggie’s riff for a drug deal wherever he happened to be at the time. He pointed to a spot on the sidewalk of Cedar Avenue where a young thug named Donald
King had kicked a much smaller man to death for failing to pay up when King’s number hit. That was almost fifty years ago, he said to her, and she nodded her blonde head as if this was a package
tour and he was the guide. He babbled some of King’s loony patriotic gibberish in a fair imitation acquired from television
and showed her his gold-tipped smile. The sodium arc lights of downtown bathed the empty dawn streets in a hazy orange glow.
Reggie took her to a motel and started teaching her about
sex. Reggie read books on tantric sex and believed his masculine stamina was
legendary. When he went off to prison a year later, she had become his prize
moneymaker. She danced at his club and did lap dances in the back room that
were sometimes sexual simulations and sometimes the real thing—if the client paid up. When middle-class whites from
the suburbs started to show up at his club because of this tall, gorgeous blonde dancer with large breasts, the cops started
to pay attention. When some of these white gentlemen were mugged on the way to their cars, the city took action and closed
him down. Reggie headed off to the prison in Massillon a week later following
in Don King’s footsteps this way, too.
Bobbie became her own manager and went from the better class
of club to the best in the city, where her tips and money were tripled. She
read fashion magazines and dressed well. She hid her urban slang whenever she
found herself in politer company at Playhouse Square or at dinner in the Blue Pointe Grill in the Warehouse District. Once in a while she’d slip up, say, when a passing taxi spattered her outfit
and she might blurt out a “jackass motherfucker,” showing the awkward merger of the two big strains in her life. She was twenty-four years old, disease-free, and her answering machine carried a
dozen calls daily from men who wanted to know her better. She wrote Reggie one
letter in a childish scrawl and refused to accept his collect calls from prison.
This is the part where I come in. I married her a month after I saw her dance.
It began at a bachelor’s party for a friend at the
Crazy Horse Saloon and around midnight somebody said we were moving on to Ed’s, which is what my crowd called the Executive
Den east of town. It was safe from “the black element,” as my friend
Rory said, who worked for Price Waterhouse downtown; he said that we could party hard, feel up the girls there—“maybe
get our bones smoked in the parking lot.” A friend of his yapped about a beauty who resembled a young Christy Canyon.
“Be careful,” Rory bellowed to the three of
us squeezed into the back seat of his Lexus on the way. “Some of those
bitches are nothin’ but crack whores who let niggers cream into their pussies!”
I was a little drunk when we walked in. Bobbie’s set was the last one before midnight. By
the time she came on stage, I was half in the bag and more than a little tired from a long day. I had seen enough of the dancers, and the music, all techno or eighties retro, was beginning to give me
tinnitus; the girls were young and pretty enough but I was sated by whatever that amount of gynecological voyeurism is that
males require in the limbic brain before they can say, “That’s fine, thanks. I’d like to go to sleep now.”
I just happened to turn around, somebody had given me another
watered down Seven-and-Seven, and I caught sight of her up there. I thought
my heart would stop. I had never seen such bone-aching loveliness in a woman. She made you think in capital letters. I
was rooted to the floor as if somebody had driven railroad spikes through my shoes.
Every undulation of her magnificent body was a caress. Just when you
thought your eyes had feasted on her legs and butt to be satisfied, those gorgeous, symmetrically perfect breasts hove into
At work I was useless.
I ignored my voicemails and didn’t call anybody back who didn’t have the power to fire me. This went on for three days before I got up the courage to go back to Ed’s alone. I waited for her set like a young communicant waiting for the host at his First Communion. She came on and it was magical—just like the first night.
About one-thirty, just as she was preparing to walk off, she looked over at me and gave me an appraising glance. The men clapped and cheered and called her by her stage name: “Dasana!” “Dasana!” The back of
her yellow thong rode high up her crease as she walked. I remembered somebody’s
comment about Marilyn Monroe in Niagara.
Bobbie could make an entrance walking away.
That was the start of it—that one look. The testosterone in the air was thick as fog. I asked one
of the serving girls to give Miss Dasana the note for me and watched her eyes roll up in her head until I showed her the fifty-dollar
Two days later she called me at the office. You would think we had met at a dating service. It was the
easiest conversation I ever had with a woman I had never met in my life. When
I asked her how she acquired the stage name, she said she wanted “Dusty,” but one of the other girls dancing in
a club on Prospect had already snapped it up.
“I was carrying a bottle of water when I got hired,”
she said. “They thought ‘Bobbie’ was too hillbilly for me
so the owner changed my name on the spot to the name on the label, sort of,” she laughed. The exotic motif was added on by the bartender doing the intro for the girls. He couldn’t pronounce “Herzegovina,” which was the first choice, so he and the owner
proclaimed her to be a “Gypsy from Bosnia.” They gave her a bright
scarf to hold across her bosom. It made no difference that she was awkward on
the pole. Her body was so eloquent that no one would even remember the scarf
“It’s a pretty name,” I said stupidly,
“very feminine, like you.” I could see her serious, appraising glance
forming again. “Call me for dinner tomorrow night,” she said.
We dated for three weeks and at the end of the fourth week,
I asked her to marry me. We drove to Monroe, Michigan and found a Justice of
I was unprepared for my own response when she first suggested
we steal millions from my company and abscond to Rio. I said yes without hesitation. She went back to reading her magazine. All
I remember about that conversation is what came afterward. She took her right
breast out of the cup of her negligee and held it out in front of her, examining it carefully.
She was as amoral about sex as a feral cat, which was how I thought of her and her tea-colored eyes.
When she brought the subject up the next morning while I
was dressing for work, she asked me if I meant it. I said yes, I did, as long
as I didn’t have to hurt anyone.
I work for a hedge fund and do most of my trading in the
forex markets where a tenth of a cent on the margin can mean millions. It’s
work for young men with rapid-fire brains for mental calculations under enormous stress and a degenerate gambler’s appetite
for risk-taking; by the way, it helps to have a cast-iron stomach. I was almost
forty and I was burning out. One of my fellow traders gave me a condescending
pat on the back. “You lasted longer than most,” he said. My hands were shaking.
The trouble was, at my age, I should have had a comfortable
nest egg from my past bonuses. But I had a ferocious online gambling addiction
that stripped me to the bone faster than I could make the money. Unfortunately
for me, predicting a change in the yuan in the Asian markets doesn’t have a thing to do with how the Browns will do
that Sunday. Losers don’t last at my level. Bobbie came along at just the right time to push me over the edge before I was dumped on the firm’s
garbage heap where I had seen other men and a couple alpha-women go. I had made
about sixty million for this group as a senior trader on the floor. Now I wanted
some of it back and I knew how to get it.
I told Bobbie how easy it would be to set up a dummy corporation
with ghost assets and wire transfer money into a “deep pool” in the Caymans or a “blank check” in
the British Virgins. I was bragging to impress her but I was really telling
her what was lying at the bottom of my mind like a tiny pearl being formed out of an irritating grain of sand. She didn’t say anything more and we talked about boating in the Caribbean.
My chance came two days later when I had a flash of my old
brilliance. I saw an arbitrage coming before the rest of the pack. I cleaned up on dollars-euro and made a mint for the hedge fund. My
hands were still shaking from the adrenalin rush when I left at one o’clock to meet Bobbie downtown at Piero’s.
I told her what I was going to do and I asked her to come
“Baby, I’ll be your gypsy girl in Rio,”
she said with a smile.
If she had a single, tiny flaw in her lovely face it was
in her lips. For a woman with such bounty—from the luxurious sweep of
her hair all the way down to her shapely feet—it was in the lack of fullness she had on display everywhere else. I noticed a carmine smudge of lipstick on one of her incisors.
“When?” she asked me, leaning forward.
A serving girl came by and dipped her tray of drizzled treats
in front of us and asked us whether we wanted dessert. Bobbie smiled at her
and said, “No, thanks. I’m having his cock in any hole he wants
to put it.”
When I got back to my cubicle at four, my knees were weak. Bobbie had devoured me and I felt as drunk as a Siberian pickle, although I had not
drunk anything since lunch at the restaurant. The firm’s manager spotted
me and made a big deal of checking his watch.
“Long lunch, Guy,” he said.
“What do you want?” I snapped. I didn’t like Frank. He had ferret eyes and made a
big point of professing his faith on public occasions. There’s something
nauseating about a man who thrived in the kill-or-be-killed environment of hedge-fund trading and thumped the bible. It was his idea to fine any traders whose eleven-digit password was discovered taped
to the undersides of their desks. Since these passwords were changed quarterly,
most guys risked the thousand-dollar fine imposed and did it anyway.
“Alicia Fox is taking over foreign exchange Monday,”
“Who fucking says she’s taking over forex, Frank?”
“Mister Kray wants to try her out. It’s her special area of research,” Frank said. His little eyes glittered at me for my impertinence. Sebastian Kray was the fund director, a mysterious man with a lot of rumors and black
clouds hanging over him. Word was he was blackballed in New York and had wound
up in our backwater.
The blood thudding in my temples subsided; it was all clear
now: I’d have to make my move tomorrow by the end of the work day. Monday
I’d lose my chair to Alicia and I wouldn’t have the clearance to do it.
It had to be done on a Friday before the Asian markets closed.
By three in the morning, I had it all worked out. I didn’t sleep. When I walked into the building on the Memorial Shoreway overlooking Lake Erie for
what would surely be the most remarkable day in my life, I was twitching with nerves.
I kept Bobbie in my mind all day long to give me courage. I followed
the contours of that lush body like a desert saint fasting on the single idea of God’s awesome power.
Alicia was right there at my cubicle, eager to begin the
tutoring, scenting the warm blood of my demise. The woman had claws. She had once tried to seduce me. Now she treated me as—well,
what I was about to become—a junior trader.
I was giddy with fear and at times I must have been incoherent
because she scowled at me beneath her piercing blue eyes and said, “What’s the smirk all about, Guy?”
I didn’t get much sleep last night,” I said.
“Lay off the booze, Guy,” she said. “You’re getting too old.”
Fortunately the woman had the habit of making calls on her
cell or punching up files on her BlackBerry every fifteen minutes to follow me too closely.
By three o’clock I had put the pieces in motion; now I just had to ditch her to make the last part of the plan
work, and I didn’t need her watching over my shoulder. I fobbed her off
with some excuse about “personal stuff” I needed to do.
When I walked out of that building at five-forty, the hairs
on the back of my neck were tingling. I was five million dollars richer. The security guard who eyeballed me was the last chance the Kray bloodhounds had
of stopping me. When he grunted a surly good night, I knew I had done it.
Bobbie was waiting for me at my condo with a bottle of wine
in one hand and the front of her bathrobe in the other. She opened the robe
and let me feast on her.
As the plane banked over the dirty gray lake below before
turning south, I looked over at Bobbie already asleep next to me, magically curling that long, feline body into the plush
lining of her winter coat.
We stayed in a deluxe hotel that gave us a view of the world-famous
statue of Cristo Redentor atop his mountain in Corcovado overlooking the beautiful aquamarine waters below. Even the elevators played samba music. Carnival was next
week. I was going to enjoy my new life as a rich, decadent hedonist—oh
yes, very much.
Bobbie pleaded jet lag and stayed behind to catch up on
her sleep while I cruised Avenida Atlântica in an air-conditioned taxi—it was the onset of the Brazilian summer—and
scoped out the exclusive Zona Norte for a place to dine. I had an appointment
at the bank at four o’clock. I had several ideas about investing the money, which I was calling “mine” whenever
I thought about it. I felt no guilt at my theft, only the slight discomfort
of the sun’s excessive warmth. By the end of November in Ohio, you’re
already locked into winter and your blood has thickened.
I had overlooked so many things that didn’t add up
for a hill girl descended from trailer-trash in West Virginia.
The semiliterate note said:
“Forgett looking for me Guy. I realy think you have other concerns on your mind now. Signed, B.”
I’m not sure whether it was the “Signed”
part or the chocolate mint she left me on my pillow that stuck more in my craw. I
made a desperate call to the bank and went through three vice presidents before I got to the president, whose English was
flawless. He confirmed it. While
I was soaking up rays and ogling glistening rumps, she was showing her cleavage at the bank with forged papers. It was gone without a trace. Like Bobbie—vanished.
I remembered how she had taken me to bed as soon as we were
in our room. I wasn’t in the mood for love-making because I was exhausted from the strain and lack of sleep. My eyeballs felt as if they’d been rolled on sandpaper before being put back in my head. She wasn’t taking no for an answer; she rode me hard on the bed, calling herself vile names like
“slut,” “bitch,” “pig,” and “whore”—names I never used on her because
I was never angry with her. Her tawny, gold-flecked eyes stared into mine. I thought she was transformed by lust or greed in some strange way I couldn’t
fathom. She pounded and squeezed me with her muscles and wrung every drop from
my sac. It wasn’t the same woman I had gotten on the plane with. When I realized she was the one who had proposed Rio, of all the places in the world,
I should have been suspicious. I’m Canadian so I don’t need a six-month
wait to apply for a visa like any American. Like Bobbie.
She had it all set up, and I walked into her gaping twat
like a lovesick schoolboy. If I weren’t so wired, I’d have fallen
asleep for days. That’s probably what she intended, too: fuck me into oblivion and then leave me there to wake up broke.
I had enough cash to last three more days in my very expensive
hotel. Then I was faced with sleeping on the beach or turning myself in to Interpol
or the American consulate for voluntary extradition. I could walk down to the
beach and start swimming toward the horizon, but I’m a coward, and the thought of becoming shark food before I slipped
into the black waters to drown was too frightening.
I looked up the address of the American embassy and saw
it was located in El Centro, the downtown area.
Three days . . .
I tried to make the most of them, all the freedom I would
get for a very long time, but the sour taste in my mouth and the feeling in the pit of my stomach made that impossible. I got drunk on the beach from the national cocktail, something called a caipirinha made from lime and a liquor distilled from sugarcane, and tried to chat with the girls but their soft,
mushy-voweled Portuguese made that just as impossible. I went back to the bank,
but they said the same thing. The senhora’s
papers were in order.
Some old man in front of the bank selling fried meat on
skewers said to me as I passed in a daze: “Só o que é bom faz o que é
bom.” I stared at him. Then
he said in English, “Only good things make good things.”
I have that written out in black letters on the wall of
my cell. I’ve done four years and with good time I’ll do four more. All that I told you at the beginning of my story I learned from relentless correspondence
and computer searches. I bartered with a hacker in the next cell block for everything
I know about trading on the margin for his computer know-how.
Someday I’ll find Bobbie, the girl of my dreams. The blonde, beautiful succubus of my nightmares from Bluefield, West Virginia. I wake up every day in the Mansfield Correctional Institution forty miles south of
Cleveland. In the daytime I go to my job in the Tender Loving Dog Care program,
and at night I lie in my bunk listening to men farting and groaning in their sleep.
Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me in the hours before sunrise and I’ll have a sharp, sudden hallucination
that turns the reek of stale piss wafting down the cell block into a fragrance of cinnamon and musk like the smell of Bobbie’s
skin after we made love.
What will I do when I find her? Well,
that’s another story now, isn’t it?
“My Gypsy Girl from Bluefield” originally appeared
in Hard Luck Stories in 2007.
|Art by Bryan Cicalese © 2017
“This used to be the go-to place back in the day.”
Jimmy Stoner looked
at me as if I cared to reply to that. We were standing near Elaine’s on 2nd
Avenue where I used to drink when I was a greenhorn junior trader like Stoner. He was
on the rise. I was a senior forex trader on the down elevator. I used to see an arbitrage
coming a mile away. Now it had to hit me in the face before I could spot it. I’d
lost the firm a sizable amount on the margins with Deutschmarks. Our hedge fund manager
had as much mercy for staff who couldn’t cut it as a racer snake for a newly hatched
I stood watching the traffic while the wind howled among the canyons of the Upper
East Side skyscrapers. I used to love this town. My divorce was finalized on Thanksgiving.
No great loss, but she got the apartment and the dog.
When I turned around, Jimmy had finished his smoke and had gone back inside to celebrate
with the others. When you’re part of the king’s retinue, it’s a good
idea to stay close. In my case, it was irrelevant. Even if I was demoted back to junior
trader, which was doubtful, I’d be wearing a sign around my neck that proclaimed
“What did you say?”
“Nothing,” I said to the voice behind me. “Just talking to myself,”
No passerby on a New York sidewalk in Manhattan or Hunt’s Point would ever
ask a mumbling stranger on the street anything. I didn’t recognize her voice at first.
Kori Andolsek. She was
one of the few women on our floor and she was damned good. I know, I mentored her during
her probationary period. She had a killer instinct to go with her degrees, one in
math, and she advanced in record time.
“Why aren’t you inside where it’s warm with all that hot air being
blown around our head trader?”
“You mean the ass-kissing? I’m not feeling it now. Besides,
Harper’s going on about his spoiled brats in some Connecticut prep school and Randolph
is boring everyone, including our boss, with some artsy-fartsy gibberish about a Tang dynasty
exhibition of Chinese tomb figurines at the Guggenheim.”
“So, what are you doing out here in the cold with me? I see no plumes
of vaping smoke around your head like a cotton halo, I hear no intense cell phone conversation
with clients about rupees—”
“Shut up, Dave. You used to be clever. No one thinks so now.”
Kori could wield a scalpel
as easily as a hedged grid on market volatility.
“Tell me how you really feel about me.”
“Dry wit isn’t
your forte, either.”
“Where’s your plus-one, the little blonde you brought to the Christmas
“Are you being stupid now? She was just a date I arranged.”
“I never took
you for a one-night-stand kind of girl.”
“She was there to keep you boys from hitting on me. A single girl at a party
where you guys get a couple dirty martinis in you, and it’s ‘Hey, gorgeous,
wanna see my dick’?”
“That’s us, all right. Depraved, sex-crazed maniacs, one and all. The
toughest motherfuckers in our ivy-league finance classes.”
“Speaking of finance,
how bad was your margin call the other day? Everybody’s talking about it around the
“I burned the company for a couple hundred thou.”
losing it, Dave. You’re supposed to take profits from a dead cat bounce, not give
away the company’s money.”
“Yeah, I fucked up.”
I was shivering from the bitter wind and just about to make a farewell gesture when
she stunned me to silence.
“I want you to be quiet while I say something and then you can say something.”
“Does ‘be quiet’ register in your vocabulary?”
I stretched out my arms
to passing traffic. “Floor’s all yours, m’lady.”
“I want you to come over to my place and have sex with me.”
“Shut up, I said!
No talking yet . . . Here’s how I want it to happen . . .”
Some kinky thing she’d
picked up off the classifieds in Backpage.com for hookups between total strangers.
Anonymous internet sex, the latest moral degeneration of her age group. One party goes
to a person’s apartment at a designated time; the other party is waiting in a specific
place. No talk, just sex. Stoner once started a wicked rumor around that same water cooler
years ago; he said she got her career started thanks to a sugar daddy on Seeking Arrangement.
Kori had conditions; the main was silence, not easy when the rockets go off, but
she was adamant about it. “I don’t want you to speak a single word, got it,
from the moment you walk in, to the moment you stick it in me, and you will leave.
No hanging around for pillow talk and that bullshit. I mean it: Get dressed and get out.”
You won’t find subtlety next to Kori Andolsek’s name in the dictionary.
I’m no prude but it struck me as too weird, even for Ms. Charm.
What the hell, I thought, I’m divorced, unattached, celibate as
a monk in a nunnery. The better dating sites required a courtship period, the sleazy
ones shouted STD’s, mental cases, con jobs, and trouble. Paid escorts and gentlemen’s
clubs not being my thing, Kori’s out-of-the-blue offer sounded weird, like an Amish
“Am I speaking Tagalog, Dave?”
When I agreed to every condition, committed the directions to memory, she left me
standing there without a word and returned inside. Cabs wove in and out of traffic, pedestrians
played their usual dangerous game of skipping across the street like gazelles at a
crocodile-infested crossing. Bits of windblown confetti from the Thanksgiving Macy’s
parade decomposed in the gutter.
I flagged down a cab. One of the nearby restaurants had rigged a loudspeaker to
a pole playing schmaltzy Christmas music. Judy Garland told me to Have Myself a Very Merry
Christmas. I’m sure I had a smile on my face.
* * *
I dropped my clothes
behind me in the semi-darkened bedroom. The white skin of a naked thigh glowed on the bed
a few feet from me. In contrast to the rest of the condo I’d just passed through,
this was a descent into the macabre, a discordant note. Black-and-white erotic photos of
women entangled with men and other women lined the walls, a Mapplethorpe-esque exhibition
of sexual frenzy, phalluses ejaculating onto women’s faces, buttocks, hair. Black
satin sheets, black pillowcases. Kori, unmoving, lay stretched out, her wrists dangling
from the bed posts where they were tied in black silk scarves. The Fifty Shades of Gray
ambience, however, disappointed. I’d expected a more aggressive tableau from a woman
like Kori, more sado, less maso.
Twelve years of marital copulation isn’t the best preparation for kinky sex.
Even so, I crawled toward her on the bed on my knees, member stiffening, and felt among
the sheets for the contours of her body. My orders were simple. That’s exactly what
After the orgasm, I lay down beside her, panting. Her hair had tumbled over her
face during coitus, although she too observed her own rules about no talking. She hadn’t
made a sound despite the bucking.
“Kori, enough games,” I said. “Let’s be adults about this.”
The same silence.
“Kori, hey, Kori—”
A pungent odor filled the room. I realized what it was immediately—her bowels
had evacuated all over the bed sheets.
Fuck this, I thought.
I jumped off the bed and hit the light switch beside the doorway.
It wasn’t Kori
lying on the bed.
The woman with the wig to match Kori’s hair was younger by many years. Her
face was suffused with blood and the tip of her tongue protruded. I stepped closer to the
body and brushed the hair from her face.
My brain finally caught up. I knew her! Kori’s date from the office party,
the little blonde. The girl was ten years younger, tattooed, dirty-blonde hair in one of
those chi-chi, ragged-looking shorn cuts New York fashion was so enamored of. Jimmy
had mocked her at the party as a cheap-looking club girl. Among our klatch of
financial sharks, all speaking shoptalk, she seemed out of her element, but we dismissed
her as easily as a real shark dismisses the remora fish cruising under its belly.
It got worse in the next ten seconds: I detected the thin steel wire looped around
her neck so tight it embedded itself into the flesh and was tied off to a dowel obscured
by a pillow. The word necrophilia leaped into my neocortex as if branded there with
a white-hot iron. Then total panic.
What the fuck . . . what the fuck . . .
prints, my semen—I had to get dressed, get out of there fast . . .
I should have anticipated
it, but a nightmare has only associational logic to offer. Two detectives were at the
receptionist’s desk in the lobby. They’d been called, obviously, and were asking
for me. Approaching, grim-faced, I overheard their commands to the concierge; they were
not very polite about it.
* * *
My lawyer assured me
the jury would never go for a full murder count because there was no motive provided by
the prosecution. Maybe he should have stayed in law school a bit longer because
juries nowadays want forensics, not motives, and when they hear words like “the suspect’s
DNA was found inside the victim,” they don’t much care about the why of it.
My lawyer struggled
with that: “You screwed her, she didn’t move, her bowels evacuated—yet
you’re still doing the whango-tango with a corpse? Christ Almighty, Dave, you’re
one prize perv.”
“Kori told me to do it that way,” I said. “She insisted!”
“And you always
do what your domme says like a good little boy?”
like that, I told you.”
“Jesus Christ, you’re a wonder, Dave.”
“She said she’d
grease her vag with a little extra-fine olive oil in case I needed a lubricant. She was
concerned about my age. Her exact words were ‘You’ll be hanging on by your
fingernails before you know it, cowboy.’”
“My appetite for salads just left town for good.”
“Fuck you, just
get me out of this nightmare!”
He tried, I’ll give him that. Three weeks of trial ended in twenty-five-to-life.
Kori on the witness stand denied everything, the talk in the street, our secret “arrangement,”
which she said “nauseated” her when she heard it from the detectives. She
openly wept for her murdered “friend” on the bed and even added a lagniappe,
as they say in New Orleans, a little something extra for the jury: “She saved my life by being in the apartment instead of me.”
I watched the jurors’
faces when she sniffled through her testimony. Some of them had their mouths so wide open
they could have hit high C at the Met. The judge added three years concurrent for the
“abuse of a corpse.” I can still see his mouth wrinkled in disgust when he
tacked that on.
“Be grateful it wasn’t LWOP, Dave,” my lawyer said as the bailiff
put the cuffs on me from behind.
Why did she do it? Why me?
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. I’ll have decades more to
ponder if I don’t find the correct answer. My lawyer said he’d file the appeal
that afternoon and assured me I won’t do the full sentence. Easy for him to say,
the prick. He was all about billable hours, not my freedom or a new trial.
Kori beat out Jimmy
Stoner for my position after the trial. The most my lawyer’s investigator could discover
about the dead girl was that she was a runaway from Iowa, lived in several places in a
couple boroughs, met Kori at a club in Soho. CCTV cameras showed the girl coming and going
from Kori’s apartment. A girl with no history, no family, zilch.
lame theory was that I broke into rape Kori, in some kind of frenzy of goatish lust, found
the girl there instead and forced her into the bedroom, tied her up, and killed her with
a ligature while engaging in deviant sex. The autopsy could not establish a time of death.
No rigor, little blood pooling, just the telltale petechiae of the eyeballs from strangulation.
My attorney went at Kori hard on the stand, but she came across as sincere, vulnerable
to “an older man’s manipulation from his position of power” at the company.
Kori hinted strongly at my “pattern of unwanted advances” over his numerous
objections, although no one at the firm supported her allegations. The jury gave a big
yawn to the witnesses testifying about my character. Even Jimmy Stoner left a bad taste
in their mouths with his nonchalant testimony about how often he’d seen me with
Kori on the trading floor.
“What physical positions were the defendant and Miss Andolsek in as you observed
“Objection, your honor. Irrelevant,” my lawyer chirped.
“Dave was usually
leaning over Ms. Andolsek’s shoulder to point out something on the screen.”
The prosecutor objected to any attempt to portray Kori as anything but a woman struggling
against the male bastion of her workplace and then having her very home invaded, desecrated—here,
a lip-curled glower in my direction at the table—that the judge’s sustaining
them had a couple jurors openly grimacing. They all got the same message: any attack on
a dead girl’s character or on my co-worker was going to backfire and fast.
The fact that Kori was
seen on security cameras leaving 15 minutes before I arrived never got in. The judge
ruled in the prosecutor’s favor at the pretrial hearing.
“She killed her
just before I walked into her place,” I told my lawyer during deliberations. “That’s
why the body was still warm. That’s your proof, damn it!”
“No, Dave, it’s
proof of nothing. No lividity. It’s in the autopsy that way. Did you think she evacuated
her bowels out of some sexual turn-on?”
“At first, I didn’t know what else to think.”
He chuckled and then
coughed to cover the stupid-sounding comment. Yet he was only echoing what the Post
had been saying about “The Backpage Killer” all week.
The whole invitation “excuse” was deemed so off the wall that, when
I testified why I was at Kori’s apartment in the first place and about our conversation
in the street, even my ex-wife refused to believe it. She got up and left the courtroom.
* * *
Metropolitan Correctional Center is a rathole. I’ve done six weeks and am
scheduled to be transferred upstate to Dannemora. It can’t come too soon. Every other
guy in the chow line is a gang member. Every tenth inmate you pass here has a zipper for
a neck scar from being shanked or shivved, whatever the right term is. It’s pandemonium
from morning wake-up to lights out. I live with fear every day. I’ve fallen so far,
“It could have been worse,” my lawyer said, a useless Job’s comforter
if ever there was one. “MCC is a charm school compared to Riker’s.”
I glared at him through
the scarred plexiglass. “That makes me feel much better, you asshole. Scuttlebutt
says they’ve already got the word on me up there. I’m the ‘Corpse Man’
and they tell me I’d better pay off the first time I’m asked or I’m going
to take a suicide dive off the top tier.”
“Just con talk, Dave,” the lawyer said. “That’s how they
scare the new arrivals.”
“It worked. I’m fucking scared to death.”
* * *
Prep school, Dartmouth, and a corner desk at an elite Wall Street brokerage firm
were not an adequate preparation for a maximum-security prison. My cellmate back in MCC
was a normal street hood. My cellmate in Dannemora was a bona fide homicidal, paranoid
schizophrenic. Every day was a new challenge to stay on his good side—if that’s
the right word for a maniac. Cons who have beefs with their cellies settle differences
in private inside their cells. Guards don’t interfere.
Every night at bed check,
Michael would count every personal item in his space to make sure nothing was missing
or had been replaced by something inferior by me while he was in the yard or in the shop.
I sweated bullets until he was satisfied with the count. At night, I slept with the proverbial
eye open. A filed-down toothbrush with a razor soldered into the plastic from a contraband
Bic was considered de rigueur at Dannemora, essential accoutrement for all
After my cell assignment, three burly cons slathered with helter-skelter tattoos
paid me a visit. Clowns collided with spiderwebs and shamrocks on arms bunched with muscle.
The two bigger ones stayed silent, allowing the smallest—a clean-shaven hillbilly
with a pronounced brow ridge, to do the talking. He quietly informed me in his bollixed-up,
inflated diction precisely how much I was to pay “henceforth” and how the deposits
were to be made into the four accounts “so as not to incur undue curiosity among
the penal staff.”
Penal staff . . . Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
I said nothing, they
said nothing further, turned around and walked out, the bigger ones like two pulling guards
shielding a running back. The whole shakedown occurred in less time than it took me to
urinate in the morning.
I summoned my lawyer,
relayed the shitkicker’s instructions, and told him if he said one word about not
paying these scum off, I’d use every dollar left in my savings to have him “visited”
by one of those muscle-heads’ friends on the outside. He thought I was kidding, then
he nodded, sighed, and put the instructions of numbered accounts I had him write down inside
his expensive Armani jacket in deconstructed weave. My transition
from shark to minnow was formally and totally complete.
Three months in, I’d had enough. The whole mind-numbing routine of stupid
male chatter, the ragged sleep because of my crazy cellmate, the starchy food, fluorescent
lights everywhere, the clang of cell doors sliding into locks, the fart-smells wafting
up and down tiers, the body odor of mentally deranged and unhygienic men was taking too
big a toll. The boredom of prison is exacerbated only by abrupt moments of terror, punctuated
by the shrieks and cries of the unlucky, vulnerable men singled out for “demonstrations”
by one gang or another for rules infractions, real or suspected. It was like living inside
a combat zone—only one planted inside a rotten jungle atmosphere. I wasn’t
inclined to wait 15 years for a first parole hearing.
I got word to the clean-shaven con who’d entered my cell that first week of
No pleasant greeting this time. He walked in and stared at me sitting on my bunk,
shoeless feet dangling.
He cut his eyes to my hands in case I had some foolish notion of leaping down and
“This visit ain’t free,” he said. “You know that.”
Jailbird lingo for a
“I understand,” I replied.
“Have fifty in my commissary account by the week’s end. Two twenties
and a ten. Don’t be stupid and put the whole amount in at one time.”
You motherfucker . . .
I told him what I wanted him—or wanted his outside associates to do for me—and
we negotiated a price. The haggling over his fee took half as much time as my little speech.
I agreed to his terms—specific amounts to be paid to addresses he’d provide
me later. Like that first time, he turned around and walked out sans another spoken
When my cellmate returned from shop, he demanded to know what I’d discussed
with “the lifer” from another cell block. I gave him an abridged version, leaving
out pertinent details and names by substituting a scenario I hoped his deranged, paranoid
brain would find acceptable.
I admit I was relieved when he grunted.
“You know, man, that guy, he’s an enforcer for the Brand,” he
told me after supper, briefly interrupting his count to glare at me.
“You just bought
yourself a pig in a poke, fuckhead.”
Subtle as a rain-wrapped tornado, as ever.
I hadn’t heard that colloquialism pig in a poke spoken in my entire
life, but it rang inside my head with the authority of a papal bull from the Vatican balcony.
I was down to the slimmest of hopes. I knew in my brain, heart, and guts, I could never
last three more months in this place, let alone face the likelihood of parole denial my
first time up, which was the norm. Doing the full life sentence—hell, that
was something you’d ascribe to a glacier’s speed, not to an innocent man trapped
in a steel cage.
If this failed, they wouldn’t have to throw me headfirst off the tier. I’d
do the dive myself.
* * *
When I summoned him
again two months later, he showed up just before bed check.
a freebie, neither. Fifty in the account, same way.”
I’ve paid up. I want results. My lawyer is aware of our deal.”
That wasn’t true.
The cash payments were handled through an intermediary and a different private investigator.
My lawyer told me he wouldn’t get involved in any blackmail. “It’s an
ethics thing, Dave . . .I just can’t.”
“Good for your pig-fucking lawyer.”
“When do I get the results?”
“You’ll know when I do. Why? You goin’ somewhere soon, Corpse
Man? Got a Caribbean trip comin’ up?”
“I’m tired of waiting for what I’ve paid a considerable fortune
His beetle-brow furrowed, making the bump of his ridge look more Neanderthal than
ever. He turned around and walked out without speaking a word.
My cellmate, of course,
with his specialized antennae, already knew about the visit by the time he arranged his
items for the nightly count.
“They say men gossip more than women,” I said, risking his wrath.
in a prison, shithead,” he replied; “what else is there to do but beat off,
fight, play chess, cornhole trannies, lift weights, and send kites up and down the rows
about punks who screw corpses.”
Touché, you crazy prick—
My imagined plummet from the top tier moved closer to the front of my mind each
day from then on. Time didn’t drag, it slipped like tectonic plates colliding. I
was aware of seconds passing, then hours passed while I barely functioned in my fugue state.
The thought of suicide slithered like a banded viper and curled a forked tongue into the
crevices between my thoughts. In no time, the thought of ending this hell became a siren
song, beckoning me when I was at my lowest.
The Neanderthal showed up in my cell one gray afternoon in spring after rec period.
summon you,” I said. I glanced at him over my copy of The Wealth of Nations.
He threw a fat manila
envelope stuffed with papers at me and walked out—once again, cat-like, in silence.
I scooped up the papers that had drifted to the floor and quickly perused what I’d
paid a king’s ransom for. It was gold—everything I needed to end this nightmare.
I paid the ten-dollar fee to get to a phone from one of the gang members on “phone
duty.” I told my new lawyer what I had.
“How’d you get that kind of information?”
with better sources and more connections than your shitty investigator.”
up there tomorrow.”
* * *
The nightmare, however,
wouldn’t end as soon as I wanted. The wheels of justice turn slowly but grind exceedingly
fine, as Sun Tzu said. He’d have revised that statement if he’d ever gone through
an American justice system, which grinds up the petitioner along with any
semblance of justice. But on rare occasions, it does work.
When my lawyer presented the evidence to a three-judge panel in the court of appeals,
I was granted a new trial; my sentence was vacated—for the time being.
The explosive discovery revealed some new facts pertinent to my case. For one thing,
Kori was born Korinne May Andolsek in Gobblers Crossing, Alabama in 1987. She was state-raised
in Tallapoosa County because both of her parents had died in a trailer fire. Each
parent, however, had a neat bullet hole in the skull in the temporal lobe region. Both
were executed in their beds from a Ruger 10/22 deer rifle. The charred remains were found
near the bed after the fire. Kori alone escaped. Or rather, the papers said, “was
spared by the killer,” a man no one could identify from her vague description and
the police composite. Being of tender age, however, she was spared a grilling by detectives
who never did find the mystery man she claimed broke into her trailer apparently for the
sole purpose of executing the two adults inside.
Kori proved to be a brilliant student, if a loner, an autodidact who taught herself
algebra and calculus while her classmates were still drawing stick figures for the family
refrigerators. A copy of her eighth-grade report card was notable for two reasons: the
straight A’s and the teacher’s acerbic comments about the girl’s “antisocial,
hostile, and downright belligerent behavior” in her classes.
She attended the University
of Alabama in what should have been her junior year of high school. Her SAT score missed
perfection by two points. She took an advanced degree in math and computer technology from
Brown on a full-ride scholarship.
The motive came like a blinding flash of light in a darkened room—in this
case, my brain, which could not fathom so elaborate a betrayal for no reason except that
it must have been owing to some deviance in her personality, some hatred that laser-focused
on me specifically and irrationally.
It never once occurred to me her motive for destroying me could be personal.
The bombshell evidence
was this: six years ago, my firm interviewed a Robert Klagg for a position. He was 25,
newly engaged, and had all the right credentials. As a senior trader, I sat on the
interview committee with several partners and the head trader. Possessed of golden reference
letters from both business and academe, Klagg was highly recruited. He was as good as hired—that
is, until I noticed a familiar name in one of his glowing reference letters. Frankly, no
one gives a goddamn what your grades were in college, it’s all about the degree.
But that particular professor happened to be someone I had once consulted for a project
concerning the development of application strategies with robots in the forex market. A
robot studies peaks and suggests reversals or opportunities; in other words, it’s
a marriage of necessity between intuition and IT nowadays.
I asked him several
questions about his relationship to that professor and received curt, dismissive answers.
That irked my pride. He was the interviewee, not me. Right after the interview, I
found that professor’s cell number in my office and called him. He had never heard
of anyone named Robert Klagg. I informed the head trader, and I went as far as to suggest
we call Klagg and tell him to clean up his résumé—a friendly warning, nothing more.
I never gave that interview or Robert Klagg a second thought. I assumed some other firm
had snapped him up.
In fact, he was never hired by anyone. That became clear when I found a xerox of
an obituary from a Charleston newspaper six weeks after his interview. It was perfunctory
as obituaries go; none of the lavish praises heaped upon the dead. Klagg had died “after
a short illness” and the clipping stated few personal details. That translated to
death by suicide or by drug overdose. I surmised the former cause.
My hunch was confirmed
by a printout of the engagement between Robert Klagg of Charleston, SC and Korinne May
Andolsek—dated a year prior to Kori’s hiring.
Kori blamed me for her fiancé’s death.
The only person who could have blackened Klagg’s name in Manhattan was our
head trader. His memberships in the most exclusive clubs in Manhattan and his contacts
ensured every big name in finance would know of Klagg’s dishonesty. It was mere sport
for him, a boy pulling the wings off a fly. I’m sure he never gave what he did to
Klagg a second thought.
Kori’s iron will put herself on a path of intensive study—just to get
to me. And she got to me, all right. The girl on the bed was a sacrificial lamb to her
vengeance, another step along the way. A nobody that no one would miss, another New York
girl whose life was interrupted by death. I remember sorting the papers in my cell that
afternoon and shivering despite the warmth. The coldness shocked me.
I’m looking forward
to the second trial. It looks promising but nothing is guaranteed. I’ll be the main
witness, and I’d better be up to it. Kori is no slouch at acting for a jury.
I haven’t seen her since the day she testified. Untouchable on the stand,
a woman with a genius IQ who manipulated authorities, detectives, and caseworkers as an
adolescent would have no fear of dissembling again. A New York jury of her peers would
be another cakewalk, so I had better be prepared. I even wrote a personal letter to the
Manhattan Southern District DA’s Office begging them to assign one of their best
trial lawyers to the case.
That “research firm” I employed back in prison cost me most of my savings.
Everything is different now. I’ve sold all my assets, my stocks and cashed out my
I’m living in a bedsit near the Bowery, a far cry from my former plush digs
on the East Side. I’m working at an all-night diner waiting tables and learning how
to become a short-order cook. It’s a handy skill. I’ll need it because I’m
almost flat broke, my last bond certificate went to pay for a down payment and a new suit
for trial. Good lawyers cost money. I don’t want a pro bono attorney or a
fresh graduate out of Cardozo from the public defender’s office going up against
After the trial, I’m leaving to go out West for the Big Sky country. I’ll
never touch a spreadsheet again. I plan to drop my cell service and go off the grid. Being
falsely accused has changed me. Prison has changed me. But most of all, a brilliant, amoral
woman with a block of ice for a heart has changed me for good. As they say, no one hates
you like your friends.
Summons a Higher Power
Before the virus, Miami-Dade’s Antonio Maceo High was featured
on NBC as one of the most violent schools in the U.S., never mind just Florida. Every day
before schools across the state were closed, her stomach burned with acid this would be
the day one of her violent classmates would give her a beatdown.
This school was so
bad that, before final bell every day, girls ducked into lavatories to smear their
faces with Vaseline to prevent nail scratches from the fights they were about
to get into. Being one of the Caucasian minority, a poor girl at that, she
lived in constant fear that the verbal abuse the bullies dished out would be
aggravated by something she did or said that day. Jedda knew a harmless look could
do it and then she’d be the school’s next fight statistic.
Two years ago, a gang of boys lit
another boy on fire because he reported they’d stolen his
bike. A girl was kicked to death in front of the bus stop by a boy wearing steel-toed boots
because she’d helped to break him up with her girlfriend and mocked him in
a text. Last year, the only other white girl who dared to socialize with her was a 15-year-old
who had been sex-trafficked and made a viral sensation on the web when she gave oral sex
to a boy she liked and a couple dozen others who crammed into the stall waiting in line.
She wound up jumping to her death from a water tower in Christmas, Florida after a Miami
TV station picked up the story.
Jedda hated her name. Her actual
name was Jedadiah Marya Sizemore. She lied and told people her parents were Star Wars’ freaks rather than that
they’d given her a Hebrew boy’s name, meaning “beloved of God.” Former
meth addicts and functional illiterates, they’d cleaned up their act long enough
to saddle her with that goofy name before relapsing. By that time, they’d so screwed
up their lives the family was forced to move from a seedy bungalow in Fort Lauderdale to
their current rental dump full of cockroaches and ants. She was forced to transfer to “Massacre
High” because of them.
The Seventh Day Adventist lifestyle
was strict—and they, in turn, were harsh in the rules they
imposed on her. All in all, it proved a crushing blow to any chance she had of a social
life. You could write the things they allowed her to do after school inside the
circumference of a shot glass with a fat crayon. They were constantly pressuring her to
dress “godly,” read her bible, stop using those awful teenaged expressions,
quit listening to that satanic music (Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers), and—most
of all—to pray, pray, pray. She felt as if she’d stepped into a live audition
for another Carrie sequel.
For a while,
she tried. She wore print dresses from Goodwill, hideous potato sacks with gigantic
flower heads on most. The humiliation at school was
brutal. The tough girls who never bothered with her
before took notice, and she endured worse than the usual round of curses. Once, her face
was slapped so hard her glasses went flying into the blackboard; another girl bumrushed
her in the cafeteria, knocking her paper sack with its bologna sandwich and carrot sticks
to the floor, where the girl promptly ground her heel into it. At Maceo, that wasn’t
enough to summon the security guard over.
binge-eating, followed by purges and anorectic starvation. She was frail, anemic, close
to a breakdown. Now this: extortion. The three girls who slammed her into the stalls yesterday
gave her an ultimatum: pay ten dollars every Monday after third-period English or “pay
the price.” She didn’t want to ask what “the price” meant; she
knew they could get away with it. Britney Mohler, Simone Shibley, and Shakina Mayweather
formed the toughest clique in the toughest school in Miami-Dade.
Ten dollars might
as well be ten thousand. Her parents scraped by on welfare and were required to
put in a few hours at Goodwill Industries downtown. When she blurted out how difficult
their demand was, Britney hit her so hard in the stomach she doubled to the
floor and retched up the contents of her stomach.
The trio exited laughing, telling her how she could get the money,
Britney miming fellatio with tongue poking into cheek on her way out the door. She lay
there sobbing, curled in a fetal position. Students passed on both sides around her as
if she were a rock in the middle of a stream. No one helped or asked what she was doing
on the floor.
the first time, she did what her parents had been begging
her to do: she prayed to God to help her out of this horror show.
She moped in her room until
her parents forced her out to eat dinner with them. Still holding her mother’s
and father’s hands for the prayer meal, they accused her of being pregnant. The injustice
of it was too much: she burst out laughing and then big tears rolled down her cheeks. It
was insane, her life.
Friday night she
couldn’t fall asleep until nearly dawn. Then she fell into a profound, black sleep
and dreamed she stood inside a windowless white room, empty of everything, except for a
kindly voice that spoke in a foreign tongue, saying words impossible to understand. She
wanted to hear more of the melodic voice and its soothing verbal caress.
When she woke, she
showered and entered the kitchen, but her parents were gone. A newspaper lay open
on the table. She scanned an article about a farm foreclosure on Highway 62. A
sheriff’s auction scheduled in a couple weeks. “All livestock and property
to be sold.” It was a message to her from that lovely voice.
Jedda had ten dollars
in babysitting money in the drawer of a side table, but she kept her real treasure—fifteen
silver dollars, a gift from her deceased grandmother—inside a sock monkey hidden
under her mattress. The coins were won in a drawing contest when her grandmother
was a young girl. At the height of her parents tweaking, their crazed
ransacking for anything to take or pawn left her terrified they’d kill her if
she didn’t turn over the money. When her mother came into her bedroom demanding she
turn over the money, she lied and said it was stolen from her locker at school. Her
mother grabbed her by the hair and sent her flying into the wall.
Jedda dressed and headed to the library
to use the computers. She googled the bus station stops and
figured she could make it out there and back before her parents returned.
Sunday, all day, whenever she could get free form
her parents, she devoted her time to planning; she marked each
item on her list. She ate a dull supper and went to bed at once, falling into an anxious,
fretful sleep and woke with her mother hollering at her to get up for school.
The principal came
over the loudspeaker to inform the entire school this was the last week before
school would be indefinitely dismissed owing to the Coronavirus. Just before
third-period English, she saw Shanika kissing her boyfriend Demetrius Noble against the
lockers. Jedda tried to hurry past when Shanika snaked out an arm like a mamba
catching a rodent, stopping her in her tracks.
the money at, bitch?”
pulled out the pair of crumpled $5 bills without protest.
to smell the money in her fist. “You wiped your nasty, white-trash ass on these,
flinched, expecting a blow. “N-no.”
Demetrius laughed. “I gotta go, babe,” he said.
She leaped into
his arms, kissing him full on the lips, both using tongues. Jedda’s stomach
churned, a reluctant witness, too afraid to flee.
“What you lookin’ at, skank?
Get the fuck out of here before I slap the white off your ugly
sang out: “Ten, next week, you hear? That virus bool-shit
don’t change nothin’—and don’t make me come
to your house lookin’ for you.”
Jedda’s legs almost buckled before
she passed the row of lockers.
of her plan had to count now; another step accomplished.
Despite her parents’ strict eyes on her, it would be hard, but it was life or death
now. She knew the mystery voice in her dream was sent
to save her—only if she could help herself.
Three of her
silver dollars fetched a mere $25 at the pawn shop on the corner. The glittery
eyes of the owner’s face told her he was cheating her badly, although she had no
choice here, either. She patrolled yard sales every free hour looking for items
on her list, her eyes zeroed on tools, the chintzy bric-à-brac.
First, she found the heavy wire snips. On the day before
Shanika Friday, tacked to the telephone pole in front of her house,
was a scrawled notice of an estate sale where she used two more of her
dwindling stock of dollars to buy a blue and gold China
tea server emblazoned with roses. By that afternoon, she had everything. Now
there was just one thing remaining to do. The trouble was, however,
she was almost broke.
Close to tears, she wandered up and
down the block in front of her shabby house in despair, praying for courage to bring her
plan to completion.
She packed up her
book bag and caught the eleven o’clock bus out to the sheriff’s auction on
the highway. She was the only teenager there and the only
female. She waited until the auctioneer announced the
last sale of the day, the farm’s entire livestock. Her heart hammered
in her chest. She heard a pair of bidders upping each other and
then, finally, one ceased to call out.
As the crowd dispersed, she approached the man
who won the livestock, a sunburned old-timer.
“Sir, what do you
plan to do with them?”
“None of your
business, young Miss,” he replied. “Why you askin’?”
She swallowed. “I
was hoping I might could see them before you shipped them off.”
kin take you a peek right now,”
he said, relaxing some of his sternness. “You best hurry,
though. They’s penned up for now. I’ll be packing them off in a
She thanked him in
a whisper and walked away. That gave her the rest of the day to work on the fence.
She had little time before the last bus back to town.
That night, she
lay back exhausted in her bed. Her hands were bruised and throbbing with blood
blisters and new callous. She had worked on that cyclone fence with the bolt cutters
under a blazing sun constantly fretted by mosquitoes and deer flies trying
their best to devour her alive or drain her blood. Tomorrow she’d
write out her lines and practice in front of a mirror.
Shanika and Britney, the toughest white girl in Maceo High, were veterans
of vicious girl fights. They frightened her but neither scared her
as much as the Shibley girl with her melodious Caribbean
about Simone Shibley said she’d been involved
in something awful back in Haiti, a knife fight that
left a girl dead in a sewage ditch. Deep in her mocha eyes was something disturbing
Jedda had detected not present in the other two girls despite their
street-talk’s mindless chatter about “fucking people up.” Simone
had a narcissistic disregard for her clique, a panther’s sensuous grace,
when she walked. Jedda believed she was exactly what
her psych book meant when it defined “the true
sociopathic personality.” Britney, white trash from her own gang-riddled neighborhood,
and Shanika were just a pair of remora fish drafting
beneath the Great White shark belly.
Her mother called her for school.
She woke with a gasp, somehow unsettled by a dreamless sleep. She had far less
fear of catching the virus than facing her tormentors this close
to her plan’s fruition. School or no school, she was their victim and there
was nowhere to hide. She told herself she was ready—she
could do it.
She went straight to the girls’
rest room after her second period and waited. She had seen Britney
chatting with some boys earlier. Shanika’s tall profile stood out in
the hallway. Simone was just coming down the stairs, unhurried as ever, but clearly
more important than the other students who gave her a wide berth. One smitten, naïve
social sciences teacher doted on Simone, stupidly mistaking
her quiet disposition for gentleness. He believed her
two steady companions were the bad influences. Not a surprise as Jedda
was convinced all adults lived in a parallel universe.
“Give it up.”
She jumped. She turned around
to see Shanika and Britney glowering at her, uneven bookends, one thickset,
the other angular but both ready to slam her into the wall if she hesitated.
Simone, as ever, stood in the back, comfortably watching.
“Here,” Jedda said. Her
hands shook; she wasn’t acting. She slipped her backpack off and removed
the tea service, protected in bubble wrap.
“What the fuck is this shit?” Shanika demanded.
“Let me see,” Simone said,
her voice soft, lilting.
Shanika handed it
to Simone, her calm eyes boring into her.
“L-look inside,” Jedda whispered.
Simone peeled away
the wrapping, looked inside the kettle, and removed the sock monkey. The girls surrounding
her heard the clinking noise.
not be your piggybank, Sizemore,” Britney said. She cocked a fist that showed
raw knuckles from her last fight.
around first before taking a razor folded inside a cafeteria napkin tucked in her
waistband. She split the monkey’s back without taking her eyes off Jedda. Five
silver dollars spilled into the palm of her hand.
“They’re worth money,”
Jedda said. “A lot of money. I can get dozens just like them, easy.”
“Where did you get
this?” Britney asked. Jedda stared into her wide, pale face with
the smeary blue eyes and tried not to think of a pig.
She’d practiced this moment for hours until she
knew the words backwards and forwards.
at a sheriff’s auction last Saturday,” Jedda began, fear knocking
in her throat.
inched closer, her face scrunched in disbelief.
Jedda plowed on. “Some
farm was being foreclosed. I saw all this stuff auctioned off, but, like,
almost nobody was there to bid. There was a whole bunch of rare China
you—” Britney began but Simone held
her off with a touch.
Brit,” she crooned.
Simone’s eyes bored
into her, assessing. Jedda hoped her tone was right and that she didn’t
lay it on too thick. She saw what they saw in her—a shy,
frightened girl in a drab haircut and a sack dress hoping
to stave off a beating. Someone too afraid to lie to them.
“Stupid girl, we ain’t
throwin’ no tea party,” Shanika chimed in.
a hard slap, or worse, a punch from the end of that long arm that would leave her
bloodied on the floor.
raised her voice a notch. “I said hold up.”
“I know where it is,”
she pleaded to Simone. “A man there, he told me they’re hauling everything
away soon. I walked around the place and found a hole in the fence.”
took in Britney and Shanika edging closer, a pair of Rottweilers on a short
I can show you!”
Jedda held her breath, her eyes never
leaving Simone’s face, which betrayed no expression one way
or the other. Seconds ticked by like the drips from the water faucets.
said, “Show us.”
a car,” Jedda said as they reached the door.
“It’s out on Highway Sixty-Two . . .”
Shanika gave her
that stinging slap to the head, after all. “Don’t worry about
a car. You just be out front when they close this mother down.”
to drive them. Britney told her to “ride bitch” up front.
Simone got in back and began texting. Britney put in ear buds and
listened to her favorite country-western channel. Demetrius fondled Shanika’s
breasts, brushing Jedda’s chest as he groped his
girl. Shanika slapped Demetrius’ hand playfully and then mocked
Jedda. She lifted her shirt to expose a full bosom, saying, “Check
as a board,” Demetrius said, laughing.
Jedda’s face burned, she sank back against the seat, steeling herself mentally for
what came next, oblivious to Shanika’s running
patter that mocked Jedda’s mousy hair, her “God-loving” parents, her crappy
house, her dress made from a tent. She kept silent, secretly pleased the
bashing kept them distracted.
“There’s a padlocked gate there,”
she said. “We’ll have to go around behind it.”
She told Demetrius not to take the road
to the front of the property.
“There’s a gravel road. Right there, turn there,
turn . . .”
with too much aggression. It brought Simone’s eyes away
from her cell phone. Jedda caught her look in the rearview
and felt her heart skip. She needed to take them away from the road to
the fence. Her fingers unconsciously traced the calluses on her palms
where she’d labored to cut through.
Demetrius growled, unhappy with the command.
He swore as pebbles churned up under the chassis of his canary-yellow
Challenger, his pride and joy, earned through more drug sales “than
fuckin’ el Chapo Guzmán.” Before the virus, he was destined for a free
ride to a major football power in the state coming off
NCAA sanctioning, and it had given his family an untraceable
“down payment” to ensure his commitment.
stretched her neck to see through the windshield. The Challenger drove past rows of
wind-stunted trees, cattails, marsh grass, and steep culverts
on both sides of the road.
After a hundred yards paralleling the fence,
Jedda blurted: “Here! Stop!”
“Hey, what I fuckin’ say about giving me orders?”
“Easy, baby,” Shanika said.
“We gonna be rich soon.”
unplugged her buds and looked around. “Hell, there
ain’t nothing around here but a barbed-wire fence
and a lobo wolf.”
wolves in Florida, Brit,” Demetrius said, stopping the
vehicle at an angle in front of the fence. “Aw, God, look at this dust.”
Simone had not said
a word the whole time, yet Jedda felt her eyes boring through her neck.
out first, Jedda took the lead without permission, her brain reeled from
the mind-numbing heat and the fear surging in her. Her line of sight in both directions
didn’t show a break in the fence. The sudden thought
someone might have repaired it was too awful to contemplate.
It had to be this way or it wouldn’t work. Then, at last, she spotted
it. She’d used nylon twist ties to hold the loose flap in
watched, slapping at mosquitoes, while she pulled at the nylon.
pushed her aside. “Get out of the way, stupid.”
A knife appeared in her hand and she slashed through
the ties with quick strokes.
Jedda led them through sawgrass that whipped at their legs.
She hoped the thought of silver dollars whetting their
appetites would last despite the trudge through the
green jungle. Simone replaced Britney as the one walking behind her. It occurred
to Jedda with piercing clarity that this could end with her throat cut, left out
here to rot, no matter what she did.
“You playin’ games,
little girl. I smell your fear.” Simone’s words behind her felt like ice
in her stomach.
just ahead,” Jedda replied in a hoarse voice,
without turning around, unable to risk staring into
Simone’s dark, knowing eyes.
Jedda led them down a grassy slope past a lone sabal palm to
the edge of a dried-up lagoon. The air was thicker with
insects and the rank smell of mud. A pair of whistling
ducks pecking for mud daubers were startled by their arrival and took off with
a flap of wings in a yellow-black blur over a stand of holly trees. Demetrius,
startled, swore. She pointed to a man-made earthen mound with a shack built on the
Reeds poked through the cracked and dried
mud like the bottom of a dried reservoir. The small, unpainted
shack looked like an old-time outhouse except that it had no door. A pair of
wharf posts anchored a rope bridge made of braided sisal rope
and planks for risers. It was tied off to a banyan tree just opposite the
“The main house,”
Jedda said, pointing, “is just beyond that sandbar. We have to cross to the other
side of that mound.”
“Whoa, I ain’t wading through
muck, ya’ll.” Demetrius said.
“How do we get there?” Simone asked, nudging
her back with a sharp knuckle.
is the only way to get to the main house,” Jedda
said, forcing herself to look at Simone. “Over
there, there’s a rope bridge.”
A film of perspiration glistened from their foreheads. Britney’s
thick makeup was beginning to run and a moustache of
sweat beads made her slender upper lip look pouty.
Simone said to Jedda.
They followed her across the
rope bridge, single file; the bridge was sturdier than it looked. Despite
the number of bodies crossing at the same time, it barely swayed above the mud
flats a few feet below.
When they gathered
around Jedda on the island, Demetrius looked at his spattered
high tops. “Look at this baby-shit all over my
Britney said. The tan skirting of mud covered her sequined sneakers.
Jedda walked past
them up the mound and went into the shack. In seconds, she stepped out
with two handfuls of silver dollars.
“Look!” she called.
She tossed them up in the air—big
fat coins that rolled down to their feet. Britney and Shanika bumped heads
diving for the same one. Simone calmly stooped down, ladylike, and plucked
one from the soft-packed mud. Demetrius shielded his eyes from the burning sun,
then chugged up the mound, blowing past her like the
running back he was and sent her sprawling.
Jedda heard Shanika and Britney
squealing, arguing over whose coin it was.
Seconds mattered now. Jedda picked
herself up, while the girls hollered at one another and lunged for the coins. When
all the coins were gathered, they raced each other up the
mound to the shack where Demetrius had disappeared.
Jedda bolted for the rope bridge and
flew across it, leaping over the planks, reaching the other side in
seconds. She dived into the patch of liriope where she’d hidden the
hacksaw last week. Using a banyan tree for cover, out of sight of the mound,
she sawed furiously at the rope. Sweat poured into her eyes,
she heard shouts, sounds of breaking coming from inside
the shack and then silence, followed by loud cursing.
She had just sawed through
the rope when she looked up to see Simone already halfway across, a shiny
flat filleting knife held in one hand.
The bridge collapsed under Simone and she
landed in the muddy slurry sinking to her knees.
Jedda saw the
knife flip out of her hand and land in the mud. Realizing Simone could still pull herself
with the fallen rope, Jedda flew down to the edge and grabbed up the strands of
rope and the attached planking and began hauling it in like
a sailor coiling a hawser. When she had enough of it
scooped into her arms, she hurled the ropes as far as she could out of
Simone’s reach where it landed a half-dozen feet from where Jedda
stood watching from the bank.
agility did her no good in the thick mud. Jedda watched, frozen,
unable to move. The knife was gone, but Simone could
kill her with her bare hands if she reached the bank—and Jedda
knew, once that happened, she’d never beat her in a foot race.
weight pushed the last remaining planks of the rope bridge into the silty mud no
matter how she tried to avoid placing all her weight in the shifting muck
trapping her legs. She stopped just short of the last plank that
lay in a tangled heap of rope. Jedda wanted to run;
her limbic brain screamed for her to flee.
She didn’t. This was the moment
of truth. Simone’s face twisted in feral rage as she understood she
wasn’t going to make that short distance. The mud gripped her
in a slimy vise. Her deep-set eyes glittered with hatred for Jedda.
Jedda saw Shanika emerge from the shack and a few feet behind her came
Britney and then Demetrius, last to realize the treachery.
weight of the girls sunk the planks faster into the
watery mud, which now covered Simone’s thighs. She grunted with effort straining
to free herself but sinking deeper, like being immobilized
in wet cement. Shanika and Britney, closer to the shoreline,
were able to tug themselves free and waddle backward to safety before
they too were sucked into the liquid vortex.
Curses echoed at her from all. Unlike the
everyday cussing in the hallways from foul-mouthed classmates,
these were vile, bitter, serious. Britney and Shanika hurled gobs
of mud at Jedda that barely made it halfway to her.
Jedda tossed the hacksaw into the
mud where it sank with a plopping sound, its outline painted
in the mud and then it disappeared leaving behind a few bubbles in the muck.
and Demetrius hugged each other for comfort at the waterline, neither fully
understanding yet what was to come. Britney, a frenzied
harpy a short distance away, still flung mud and spat curses at her. Jedda savored
the scene, not wanting to linger a moment more than
“Why are you doing
question was as calmly put to her as if they were standing
by the lockers instead of in a mangrove swamp. Jedda, against her own will, admired the
girl’s poise. Trapped up to her crotch, she could
only move her hands, the fingers scooping out channels beside
her spattered torso and face.
something for you,” Jedda replied, ignoring
the baying of the others on the mound.
Jedda spied a tall sumac nearby. She
reached up and snapped off a branch and shucked the leaves. From under
her clothing, she found the note she’d put there that morning. She speared
it to the branch and , as close as she dared to get, extended it to Simone
like a peace offering.
Simone stretched out a hand and
plucked the paper free from the tip. With hands caked in beige mud, she unfolded it
and read it. She looked up at Jedda without changing her
of any reaction sent a cold shiver up her spine. Jedda
knew in that instant what would have happened to her as clearly as if it, too, had been
written down on paper and handed to her.
didn’t waste anther second. Scurrying up the slope, she
ran right to the fence, slipping easily through the sliced portion. She made
it back to the front gate where the auction had taken
place that Saturday. The padlocked gate was meant to stop cars, not
She followed the winding gravel road
to the pavilion and the livestock exhibition pens exactly as she
had after the auction when the kind older gentleman had allowed her to see the
livestock he’d just purchased. He mentioned he was a wrangler in his youth,
always loved these big animals and without intending to, he revealed to Jedda
everything she needed to know to make her plan succeed. He told
her what the feeding times were, what they preferred
to eat, how they behaved, and everything he had learned as a boy about the massive creatures
as a species.
importantly, he showed her the release latches confining them
to their pens. When opened, he said, they’d go
right to the man-made lagoon beyond the viewing areas where he said they liked to bask
in the sun and mate among the lagoon’s wildlife.
reached for the first pen’s release handle, hesitating. She closed her
eyes, hoping to hear her mystery voice, praying for
strength. She pulled the first lever; it eased back with little resistance—and then
she went down the line pulling each handle faster and
faster until all the pens were opened.
Nothing happened but that
was all right, she knew. Time was on her side. The old wrangler had
called them “big ‘ole lazy-ass critters.” He said that
mound of packed earth where they sunned themselves was where the former owner’s
farm hands went every day to toss the rotted packages
of unsold meat purchased from the stores in town. Creatures
of habit with acute senses of smell, they’d make for the mound in a frenzy
once the scent of meat lifted on the air. When the mound was surrounded
by water and became a moat in the rainy season, an airboat would bring
them their daily food by cruising around the moat and
tossing out the piles of dead chickens and spoiled meat.
Most of the bigger
ones, he said, preferred to stick close to their pens, accustomed to dead poultry
dumped into the waters. The bulls, however, roamed beyond the confines,
establishing territories, and seeking out females. The owner drained
the lagoon to make it easier to round them up for the
sale. Hunting in the tall grass was too dangerous because they moved with deceptive
speed on dry land, possessed armored tails that could break
a leg with a single swipe.
can scale fences, too,” the grizzled old-timer
said, “I seen ‘em do that plenty of times.”
big are the biggest ones?” Jedda had asked.
he said, like a proud father.
He’d raised them
from hatchlings to adult sizes, which meant anywhere from ten to thirteen feet and
four hundred pounds to eight hundred. She remembered hearing the deep bellowing
rising from the pens—remembered the thrashing of the
water as they beat it with their massive olive-brown
or black tails. She shivered recalling their cream-colored bellies encased
in that dinosaur trapping.
“Eat a damn horse whole,” The wrangler
said. “It don’t matter none to them.”
* * *
The mental exhaustion was harder
than the physical. Her feet had matching blisters to the
ones on her palms. She rode back to town with a psalm-singing tent preacher who
reeked of booze and invited her to his service that weekend. She walked
the last three miles. The thought of being picked up by a psycho or rapist
never daunted her, not then. Not after what she had accomplished. She felt light as air,
protected by a higher power, like sleeping inside a
fuzzy blanket during that awful time when her parents
The search turned
into an Amber Alert because Britney, though built like a brick outhouse, was
still seventeen. Three boys hunting muck rabbits with baseball
bats came across a femur; it had flesh still clinging
to it. A sheriff’s deputy asked where they found it.
“Over to that cyclone fencing,”
me,” the deputy replied.
Up close, the pungent odor of decomposition
signaled what they all feared about the missing teens. It
was later identified as Simone’s. The boys told the deputy they had no idea
they were roaming around the property of an old alligator farm.
State wildlife agents
went in with troopers and volunteers. Airboats batted the thick humid air in
a grid search for miles around while helicopters chirred
overhead like giant winged insects above them.
They recovered pieces of Demetrius,
Shanika, and Britney. No intact bodies, however. They brought
the pieces to a tent. They searched all around the lagoon and inside the remains
of the shack. That had not proved a safe place to hide from the
boys were accused of throwing the levers to release
the gators. Reporters couldn’t state how the teens had become trapped on the mound
on what they referred to as a manmade “mud island
where the previous owner had built a skinning shack for alligator hide.” The
meat was sold to specialty shops and certain restaurants around
Calle Ocho in Miami.
What must it have been like, one sheriff’s deputy mused,
to be stuck on that makeshift island at night, starving
and insect-bitten, unable to cross the mud to safety and then
seeing a horde of luminous red eyes, dozens of alligators coming to rip you to
pieces like so much rotten chicken.
Even the shack proved worthless as
a refuge once the gators mobbed it, smashing it to pieces
with their tails. Whoever had climbed up to the top might have lasted longer
than the others but—Lord, can you
imagine what that must have been like?
Sweet Jesus, one said, it didn’t
bear thinking about . . .
But the strangest item collected was a muddied slip
of paper one of the searchers had found. It seemed incriminating
but no one knew what it meant or whether it was just windblown debris, the
kind gathered up randomly in a crime-scene search.
The state investigators kept it out of the papers
for the families’ sake—Simone’s mother being the exception
because she did not want to fly in from Port-au-Prince, even though the state’s
emergency relief fund director said they’d pay for her
flight. Nothing much, after all: just a biblical verse in block lettering:
you act like this, I will surely take revenge on you,
but after that I will quit.
Robb White writes noir, crime, and hardboiled
stories and novels featuring series character Thomas Haftmann. A recent collection
of crime stories is Dangerous Women: Stories of Crime, Mystery, and Mayhem.
He published Perfect Killer and Northtown Eclipse in
2018. “Inside Man” was selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery
Stories 2019. His website is https://tomhaftmann.wixsite.com/robbtwhite.
In Association with Fossil Publications