Thursday, December 31, 2009

BEND OVER 2

Part one

“We’ve got a man down here!” A fireman wearing a white captain’s shirt shouted above me. “You okay buddy?”


“Yeah,” I puffed from all fours. “Just carried . . . this shit . . . three . . . blocks.”

“What are you doing here? This is a hot zone – emergency personnel only.”

My oxygen-starved brain strained for a plausible explanation that wouldn’t get me thrown out. “Shooting evacuation . . . Wrong turn . . . too much gear, too tired . . .”


“You can stay here till you catch your breath. Stay out of the way, and don’t let anyone see you. Then go back to your vehicle.”

Bingo!

I kept my face down not to show the captain my ear-to-ear grin and waited until he had rejoined the swarm of other police and firemen before pulling myself to my feet. I scanned the street beyond the parking lot for the inner perimeter of police cars; that’s where I always saw reporters on the news.

The tanker rested on the far shoulder of the northbound lanes, in the middle of the only section of McArthur that bent east to west. Apparently, it had managed the first half of the double-S curve leading into the first of Alexandria’s two traffic circles and flipped on its side while preparing for the second.

Two Louisiana State Police SUV’s parked akimbo blocked the south bound lanes of McArthur Boulevard. If I could get between them, it was a clean shot to the tanker, and an unobstructed view of the command post, the empty streets, and the ambulances. I had my spot. But I’d never make it there with all that gear. I decided to ditch the battery belt and tripod. The photogs in the movies never used tripods anyway.

I casually walked past firemen and E.M.T.’s scurrying at the edges of all the chaos. No one seemed to notice the gear-toting robot with the hitch in his stride. I kept to the shadows until I reached the service road, then crossed the small ditch separating it from the south-bound lanes, and slipped between the two trooper vehicles.

With the flip of a switch, TK’s eye cup blinked to life. Wisps of chemical fog evaporated from the blacktop around the crippled tanker less than 100 yards away. Strobe lights reflected off its red, black and white hazard placard.

I crouched down, balanced Icky atop the tape deck, and rolled tape: first a wide shot of the empty street and the semi. I toggled the zoom servo all the way across the median and the north bound lanes, for a tight shot of the truck. A trickle of clear liquid ran past the truck’s leaky valve and splashed onto the blacktop. “This is good shit.” I caught myself talking to no one.

Next, I trained my lens on the command post. Half a dozen moon suits erected a decontamination area complete with kiddie wading pools and showers. Brown-suited police and blue uniformed troopers hovered around the mobile command camper, and E.M.T.’s dressed in green and white loaded lawsuit-seeking drivers into a procession of waiting ambulances. At the back of the crowd, an overly logoed van with a telescoping mast and dual golden rod antennae parted a sea of emergency personnel.

KALX.

“Dammit!” I cussed under my breath. The competition had arrived. Didn’t matter. I’d beat them. They’d never get a good shot from there.

Then my curiosity got the best of me. Why hadn’t trooper inside come out to shoo me away?

I stretched my neck to look inside. Nobody home. I crept to the truck blocking the other south-bound lane. No one there either.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

“Hey you! What the hell are you doing? Get your ass outta there!”

Dammit.

“Hey! Get outta there!” The incident commander who was so helpful earlier hollered from the parking lot like a drill sergeant. “You’re contaminated. Get the hell away from there!”

I grabbed my gear and gave a nonchalant wave. Before flunking out of college, I had been a chemistry major. I had played with sulfuric acid. My eyes didn’t burn. I could breathe normally. My skin was the same ecru color it was earlier that morning. I was quite fine, and I had the shot.

“What the hell were you thinking? Move your ass!” The incident commander screamed the whole while I made the trek back, across the north-bound lanes, through the ditch, across the service road, and into the command post.

“STRIP!” The incident commander yelled, purple with rage.

“What?” I huffed, setting my recorder on the ground.

“You heard me!” He leaned in nose-to-nose with me, just like Sergeant Carter in those Gomer Pyle re-runs we aired after midnight. “You are contaminated! Now strip!” He turned to call a hoseman, then back to me. “Shirt, NOW!”

It was obvious I wasn’t getting out of this without at least a little embarrassment, so I laid my recorder flat on the ground and placed TK on top of it. I slipped my wallet under the front of the camera to tilt it up just a little and punched her record button before backing away. Hell, this could be the best video of the night.

I peeled off my sweat shirt and tossed it to Sarge.

He threw his hands up and jumped back like I was throwing the plague at him. “On the ground. You’re contaminated.”

The hoseman moved in.

“Holy shit!” Mist-like ice rained down, each droplet so cold it burned my skin and crushed my lungs. I sucked hard for a breath. Rivers of ice water ran down my chest and into my pants. Big Jim and the twins sought refuge somewhere in my abdomen.

“Turn around!”

I slowly complied with Sarge’s orders. Cold water sapped my strength. Goosebumps packed themselves tightly on my arms and chest, like legions of storm troopers in a Spielberg film. I completed my pirouette in time to see the lens of the blonde still shooter from the newspaper, and the sun-gun camera light of Jim Weaver, KALX chief photographer. He shined me a gotcha smile, then blinded me with his light.

“Pants!” Sarge barked.

“No way.”

“I said PANTS Goddammit! You’re contaminated!” A little blue vein bulged at the tip of his nose. I swore I saw steam rising off his buzz cut.

Maybe it was the fire shooting from his eye sockets, maybe I was caught-up in the moment, or maybe I wanted to prove to the other media that Nicholas Brock was no pussy, but whatever the reason, I loosened my belt and dropped trou in the middle of the parking lot. The hoseman moved in and we tangoed once again, he in his asbestos coat, me in my skivvies.

The water didn’t burn as much this time, probably because I was already a snowman.

“Underwear!”

“You gotta be kidding me.”

“Those briefs are contaminated. Now, STRIP!” He yelled it with gusto, like he enjoyed it.

Two E.M.T.’s rushed over with a gurney sheet, to shield me from the gaggle of motorists waiting for an ambulance. They stretched it taut – all two-and-a-half feet of it – between me and the cameras. At least it hid the essentials.

Until Weaver turned off his light.

Between the strobes and the work lights behind me, I was nicely back lit, and the tight white sheet made a perfect screen for an obscene shadow puppet.

After the hoseman did his thing again, the E.M.T.’s swaddled me in the sheet and crammed me into an ambulance with six other victims, none of whom were naked.

“Don’t worry about your gear.” Weaver shouted over the roar of the engines. “I’ll hold it for you.”

What a prince.

---

When I left the emergency room, I headed straight for the station.

Bend Over. Another day in broadcasting has begun. The blue and white sign over the sports guy’s desk that had welcomed me on my first day in the newsroom and the big tub of Vaseline beneath it mocked me. They were the first things I noticed when I set foot in KELC-TV one week earlier. I was instantly hooked on the aura of the shabby little station and its crew of small-town rejects. It was going to be the start of an exciting life – my ticket out of the corner shop-and-rob and into a career chasing history. Now, I fidgeted on bent folding chair inside Mr. Cranch’s tiny, glass-walled cubicle. A small ivy withered on the corner of his desk. Mr. Cranch sat staring holes through a faded Leroy Neiman Olympic print behind his desk. He rocked ever so slightly as was his habit, even when he was on camera.
I watched two flaps of Naugahyde separated by a diagonal rip across the back of his formerly expensive-looking executive chair.

“You’re fired.”

I waited for more. But that was all he said.

“I’m an intern. I work for free. You can’t fire a slave.”

“You violated protocol. Why didn’t you call someone?”

“I screamed on the radio for what felt like hours. Nobody answered. I buzzed Roosevelt’s pager. He never called back.”

“You took station equipment without permission. You lost your camera.” Mr. Cranch’s words clicked like a grandfather clock.

“Weaver’s got it. I just have to pick it up in the morning.”

“You crossed police lines. You exposed this station to criminal charges. And speaking of exposed . . .” he spun in his chair to face me. “You exposed yourself to the entire viewing area.”

“Yeah, about that –”

“You’re fired. Get out.”

Couldn’t he see that I was saving the day? Going the extra mile? Taking the bull by the horns and a hundred other business clich├ęs? I wanted to explain, but it all felt empty. I sighed as I stood from the squeaky folding chair and marched through the silent newsroom.

At least I still had my job at the shop-and-rob.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

BEND OVER

I talked myself down.

If there was one thing the big tub of goo that called himself my supervisor had taught me in my first week on the job, it was to stop and think. Rushing led to mistakes. A mistake was something I couldn’t afford tonight. This was going to be my big break – the break that would send me from mild-mannered intern to actual employee.

I patted my TK's barrel in the passenger’s seat and ran through my gear in my head. I should have done it back at the station before I left, but there was no time. The way dispatch was shouting on the scanner, this had to be the end of the world.

I could see it all in my head: the flashing lights, the hoses, bodies strewn across McArthur Boulevard, acid eating a twelve-foot hole in the city’s main drag, and the lone camera of the competition capturing it all and broadcasting live while my station played MASH reruns. I could get the story for KELC-TV and save the day.

I fingered TK's blue umbilical and hoped I’d remembered everything.

I’d spent the last week watching Roosevelt and the others, studying their actions, mimicking their stance, marveling at their war stories, practicing their hundred-yard stare. Tonight, I’d earn my own.

Red, white and blue emergency lights ricocheted off reflective logos of the police and fire department vehicles ahead. A rookie cop with a flashlight and a whistle stopped me two blocks from the scene. He puffed up his chest and waved his flashlight, “Road’s closed.”

“Nicholas Brock, KELC-TV.” Dammit, I wish I had a press ID. “Lemme through.” I turned on the dome light inside my Ford Bronco and raised Icky so he could see I was a television photog.

“Emergency personnel only.” His voice squeaked as he tried to sound tough.

“I’m the press. Lemme through.”

“The area is hot. Nobody gets in.”

It never happened like this on TV. The biggest story of my week-long career was blowing up around me. Barney Fife wasn’t going to stop me. I threw my Bronco into reverse. I had to find another way in.

Barney faded from my rearview mirror, and I made a hard left into the neighborhood that backed up to the Albertson’s Shopping center. The streets were empty except for a few police officers knocking on doors, and one bed-headed resident stumbling across his lawn. I slipped into an empty driveway and turned off my lights.

The night sky glowed orange up ahead. An eerie peace had settled on the neighborhood. None of confusion from the spill site or Barney’s barricade wafted this way. I popped the hatch and loaded up: First I cinched a battery belt around my waist. Next, I loaded the tape deck’s pouches with extra batteries, locked my camera's umbilical cord into its multi-pin connector on the bottom of the tape deck, and slung the deck over my right shoulder. I dropped my tripod on top of that, threw my TK-76 on my left shoulder, and turned toward the street.

I took one leaden step.

The tape deck bounced back and forth against my left leg. My shadow looked like a bulky sci-fi robot spasming in the streetlights. My steps were just as mechanical. How the hell did the other photogs carry all this crap?

I steadied myself and took a short cut through the yard to the next block. I was missing all the good stuff: the haz/mat team in their white moon suits, thin streams of poisonous fog drifting from the crippled tanker, E.M.T.’s herding motorists chocking on toxic vapors into ambulances. My knees snapped, crackled, and popped like breakfast cereal, but I ran as best as I could with an extra sixty pounds strapped to my torso, ducking a branch here and dodging a tricycle there.

My heart pounded in my ears. Adrenaline flooded my veins. My breath erupted in short thick clouds of fog in the chilly October air. No more fetching Mr. Cranch’s coffee for me. No more strolling a darkened newsroom at night imagining myself the overnight photog -- the maestro of mayhem, rushing to fires, robberies, and the occasional drive-by “shoutings” in sleepy little Alexandria, Louisiana. This was my foot in the door, and I was about to kick it in. Good-bye shop-and-rob clerk. Hello television.

I paused trying to catch my breath before rounding the corner of the grocery store.
Generators coughed and sputtered to life. Trees of emergency work lights flooded the parking lot and the street beyond. Emergency vehicles from every agency in the city spilled into the streets almost exactly as I’d imagined it.

I took one step and promptly collapsed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

BLAME AND FORGIVENESS -- the end

Gerald’s head jerked as the guard swung the injection table upright. Leather wrist and arm straps dug into his flesh. Chest restraints tightened around his bare chest keeping him from sliding to the floor in a heap. He had no strength to fight it.

The white floor and walls magnified the bright fluorescent lights till everything in the tiny room glowed. The air was cold and sterile. A rubber tube hung from a needle in the vein inside his left elbow, another from his right foot. In the corner, next to the EKG machine, Reverend Rob recited Psalm 23.

“Won’t be long now Rev.”

Reverned Rob stopped praying just long enough to answer. “There’s still time to reconcile yourself with God, Gerry.”

Warden Johnson leaned over to whisper in Gerald’s ear. “I’m going to open that curtain. You’ll be able to see the witnesses on the other side. This is your chance to get right.”

Warden Johnson drew back the curtain. Gerald searched the small room beyond the glass for familiar faces. The district attorney sat on the front row. Gerald recognized two attractive, blonde television reporters and the frumpy newspaper man who covered his trial and appeals. He squinted to see into the last row. She was still hot after all these years.

A black fishnet veil hid Jennifer’s big blue eyes. Gerald smiled at the cleavage she flashed from her low-cut black dress. Daddy's little whore.

Warden Johnson moved a microphone in front of Gerald’s face. Gerald cleared his throat. “I guess,” the words hung hollow in the small room. “I guess I should say how sorry I am for what I done to Chastity. She was a special little girl. I loved that girl like she was my own. I ain’t never meant to hurt her.” Gerald stopped to glance at the back row.

“The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want…” He heard Reverend Rob begin Psalm 23 again.

“I ain’t never meant to hurt her.” Gerald’s voice was almost a whisper. He breathed deep, so deep it tugged at his chest straps. All those years of torture and pain ripped at his heart. “But it wasn’t my fault! She wanted it! She begged for it!”

Father Rob clenched his fists. His face flushed bright red. He prayed louder. “Yeah, as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” His voice quivered, but he continued. “For Thou are with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”

“That little whore. Best I ever had!” Gerald felt ice in his veins. He checked the clock above the window, twelve seconds past midnight. His thoughts sloshed in a flood of anesthetic. It had begun. His eyes were already feeling heavy.

“Rev!”

“Yes, Gerry.” Reverend Rob rushed to his side.

“Is it too late?”

“It’s never too late, Gerry.”

“I shouldn’t have done that to you and Jennifer.” His speech was slurred. “I hope ya’ll can fin’ peace in my death. After what I done to your daughter.”

“Are you asking for forgiveness? There is no peace without forgiveness. Please Gerry, ask the Lord for forgiveness.”

“Rev,” his voice was barely a whisper. “She liked it.”

****

More than a trench, there’s a chasm between blame and forgiveness. Gerald Blount skirted the rim of that pit for 25 years. He could never forgive himself for the way he tricked Jennifer into marrying him just to get close to Chastity. Or for convincing himself that Chastity wanted and deserved what he had done to her. He could only blame the person who took his son Gerry Junior’s future and caused his wife Lisa to commit suicide, the same person who forced Gerald to rape and kill a 13-year-old girl.

Gerald leapt into that chasm with a smile on his face, his unrepentant soul left to weigh heavy on the heart of the priest who molested 11-year-old Gerry Junior, Reverend James Robichaux of The Resurrection Episcopal Church.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

BLAME AND FORGIVENESS 4

The clock in the visitation room blinked 10:32. The fresh pine scent replaced by the choking smell of burnt tobacco. A thick cloud of cigarette smoke hung from the ceiling to the top of the cell door. Gerald sucked hard on another Marlboro, and held the smoke in his lungs. "58 minutes till they take me." He said to no one in particular. "I guess Gerry Junior ain’t coming.” He flicked ashes on the floor, and dragged the life out of the cigarette.

“I tried to talk to him yesterday.” Reverend Rob apologized. “But he wouldn’t take my call.”

“Can’t say as I blame him, after all that’s happened. I ain’t seen him since they stuffed me in the squad car. He must be ’bout 36 by now. I guess it’s best he don’t see me like this.”

"I talked to Jennifer yesterday.” Reverend Rob walked over to Gerald and rested his hand on Gerald's shoulder. “She won’t be coming either."

“Good! I wouldn’t piss on her guts if she was on fire. That cunt.”

“That’s no way to talk about your wife.”

“Wife? What kinda wife wears a wire for the cops an’ tricks her husban’ into confessin’ to somethin’ he didn’t do?” Gerald scratched a match under the table and lit another cigarette. “Lisa was my wife. If she hadn’t kilt herself, I wouldn’t be here. Jennifer was my whore.”

Reverend Rob winced at the tone of Gerald’s voice.

"So," Gerald took another long drag, "why you doin' this?"

"Doing what?"

"Sittin' with me. What do you care what happens to me?"

"That's easy, Gerry. You are a child of God. He loves you. You need His grace more than most right now." Reverend Rob rubbed his bloodshot eyes.

"That's a Sundee school answer if I ever heard one." Gerald chuckled and propped his feet on the table. He tossed his smokes to the preacher. "Really, why you doin' this?"

Reverned Rob dropped into the seat across the table from Gerald and sighed in resignation. “Gerry, nobody wanted to bother with you. It’s your attitude. You’re mean, nasty, and ungrateful. Worst of all, you want to die, and you want to die in sin.” He tapped a cigarette from the pack. “Whether you like it or not, everybody deserves a chance at redemption. Even somebody as ornery as you. God told me I was the one who had to reach you because of what I had done.” Reverend Rob smiled.

“The paperwork to get this assignment nearly buried me.”

“What makes you think I wanna be redeemed?”

“Because I know what it’s like. I’ve been where you are.”

“You don’t know shit! You ain’t never felt what I felt. You ain’t never been on death row.”

“Death row, no. But what do you think it’s like for a respected man of the cloth to disgrace not only himself, not just his parish, but his entire world-wide church?”
The flame danced on the match head as he lit up. “When those accusations about me came out, I was just like you. Deny, deny, deny. And my lawyers didn't help. They told me to keep quiet. Don't admit anything. For three years, all the way through my trial, I kept my mouth shut. I buried my sin deep inside.”

Tears pooled in the corners of his eyes. “I lost everything, Gerry. Lawyers took all my money. My wife, Jen, took our kid and left me. I lost my parish. My parishioners wanted nothing to do with me." He paused to clear a sob from his throat. "They packed me away in D-Block with all these other men who had nothing left. I lost my faith.

“I was like Jonah inside the belly of the whale, I thought I could hide from God and live the rest of my life alone and miserable. But He found me." Reverend Rob’s red eyes brightened, and a grin broke across his large face. “Actually, he bugged the crap out of me”

Gerald chuckled. He slid his feet off the table and leaned in attentively.

"I found forgiveness in the parable of the Prodigal Son. That son was me. I had squandered the gifts God had given me on pleasures of the flesh. Me, a preacher of His word. It took a lot of soul-searching but when I finally asked God to forgive me, he did. And I could forgive myself. God opened my heart to this ministry. God's grace saw me through my rough spot. Now, I'm trying to do the same for my fellow prisoners."

"That's a nice story Rev., but you ain't nothing like me." Gerald leaned in across the table. His nostrils flared as he spoke. "What you did – touching little boy’s dicks – was sick. Sick, perverted lust. They didn’t want you. She wanted me!"

“Wanted you? Wanted you! Then why did you rip her shorts?”

“We was excited!”

“And why did she scratch your face? Why did you have to hold her down while you pushed her underpants out of the way?”

Gerald smirked. The picture of his hand tearing at her bikini briefs with lacy frills around the waist band and “Daddy’s Girl” written in fancy black script across her tight, little cunt was sweet. He could feel her legs flailing over his back as he pushed his way inside her.

“You raped her, Gerry!” Reverend Rob leaned in nose to nose with him, his voice hoarse with rage. “She kicked and screamed and cried.”

“It was her fault!”

“It was you, Gerald! You forced yourself on her! You wrapped your hands around her neck! You squeezed her neck till she stopped breathing! You killed her, Gerald! You!” Reverend Rob stared, seething, into Gerald’s eyes.

“She wanted me.”

“She was 13 for Christ sake!” Reverend Rob pounded the table with both hands and stared deeper into Gerald’s blank glare. He paused to catch his breath. “I’m sorry, Gerald. The pressure is getting to me. You need to ask for forgiveness. I don’t want you to spend eternity in Hell.”

Gerald turned and headed for his cell.



Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Monday, December 7, 2009

BLAME AND FOGIVENESS 3

Gerald bolted upright in his bed.

Reverend Rob was reading again. "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!”

“What time is it?”

“You’re awake. Just in time for the best part.” Reverend Rob had not moved from his spot outside the cell door.

“It’s dark. What time is it?” Beads of sweat ran from Gerald’s forehead into his eyes making it look like he’d been crying.

“Quarter after eight.”

Gerald squinted to see the clock across the visitation room. “Clock over there says 8:13. Don’t cheat a condemn’ man outta two minutes.”

“You look like hell.”

“What the fuck you expec’? They gonna hook me up to the needle and juice me.”

“What were you dreaming about?”

“Nothin’.”

“It was her again.”

“She was scared. I told her I wasn’t gonna hurt her. But she was scared.”

“If you ask me, you’re the one who’s looking scared. You don’t have to be.” Reverend Rob rolled out his reconciliation sermon. “God’s mercy is a wonderful thing. If he can forgive me for molesting boys and help me find peace, he can do the same for you. That’s what the parable I was reading you is all about.”

“Save your breath.”

Reverend Rob went on undeterred. “This son had squandered his inheritance on loose women and was living in squalor. When he came to his senses and asked for forgiveness, his father killed the fatted calf and threw a huge party. It can be the same for you.”

“Only calf they gonna kill is me.” Gerald smirked.

“God wants to forgive you, all you have to do is ask.” Nineteen years of subtlety hadn’t worked; Reverend Rob tried a more direct approach. He turned to the Gospel of Luke and read a passage highlighted in yellow, “See, it says here, ‘I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.’ I can’t do it for you, Gerry.”

Gerald clasped his lips tight around another Marlboro. His lips trembled as he fought the urge to speak. He could see the tall grass dancing on the banks of the Amite River. He was on top of her staring down into those bright blue eyes, her ponytail fanned out in the grass beneath her head. The muscles in her throat quivered. She was so damn sexy. He leaned in and kissed her. She clenched her lips tight. She wanted to fight.

He pinned her wrists to the ground above her head with one hand and wrestled her shorts down with the other. Her eyes were wild, her breaths shallow and hot on his neck. She wiggled and kicked to get away.

He clawed and ripped at her shorts with his free hand. The button gave way. He pushed her shorts to her ankles and off one foot; he released her hands and went for his zipper to release his fury.

She screamed.

“My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.” Father Rob read from Job. “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.” He stopped to look at Gerald. “Your eyes look troubled, Gerald.”

“No. No trouble,” his voice faded. “I didn’t do anythin’ she didn’t want.”

Father Rob shook his head. He was obviously angry, but he never raised his voice. “Is that what you’re going to tell the Almighty when you meet him in four hours? You can’t rationalize sin away, Gerry. I tried it on D-Block, but it chased me down, just like yours is haunting you tonight.”

“Nothin’ hauntin’ me but you an’ your Bible verses.” Gerald threw himself to his feet and stormed out the open cell door. “Let’s do it! Let’s do it! NOW!” His eyes darted around the visitation room. “Guard! Guard! Damn it, let’s get this over with!” He tore off his shirt and ran for the solid steel door hiding the injection table. “Guard! Guard!” Gerald ricocheted off the door.

Reverend Rob dropped his Bible and ran after him. He wrapped his arms around Gerald in a bear hug. Gerald’s chest and back were slick with sweat. Reverend Rob wrestled him to the ground and wrapped his own legs around Gerald’s flailing limbs.

“There’s a deep trench between blame and forgiveness, Gerald,” Reverend Rob panted. “It’s time for you to step across to the other side.”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

BLAME AND FORGIVENESS 2

Part one

The electric motors droned again. Why wouldn’t they leave him alone?

The dark outline of a man in black turned sideways and slid through the doors as soon as they cracked open. He carried a large Bible in one hand and a small, polished brass case of communion wafers and a glass vial of holy water in the other – everything he needed to assist a dying man.

Reverend James Robichaux, formerly of The Resurrection Episcopal Church, hurried across the waxed linoleum. Reverend Rob, as the lifers called him, was part of the state’s catch and release program. He earned his calling in prison ministries the hard way, touching altar boys under their cassocks.

Three years into a 10-year sentence at Angola, the reverend found renewed faith through the good book. When he finished his sentence, he left the confines of D-Block for death row. He’d been visiting the condemned and saving souls for the last 20 years.

He peered through the bars at Gerald’s hand resting on the bulge between his legs. “Don’t be ashamed.”

“Who said anythin’ ’bout shame? I’m rememberin’ good times, Rev.”

“Well, it’s just that I would think that a man at your stage in life would turn his attention away from the physical and toward the spiritual.”

Gerald reluctantly moved his hand.

“Have you thought about our last conversation?”

“Confession? Confession’s what got me in here. That cunt, Jennifer, was wearin’ a wire. Ain’t got nothin’ to confess to you.”

“I’ve met lots of innocent men in this prison, Gerry, but none as mule-headed as you.” Reverned Rob sighed and scratched his balding head. “I’m not asking you to confess to me. I don’t need it. You’ve got to make peace with yourself and with God.” He took a folding chair time-worn Bible to Ezekiel and read. “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”

“Save it, Rev.” Gerald fished in his pocket for another cigarette. His mind was 19 years away. He could see the sweat glistening on Chastity’s neck, and he followed the beads inside her shirt between her small, perky tits. He stared at her swollen nipples. She turned to climb the steps of the trailer and flashed him a sly smile over her shoulder. She knew exactly what he wanted. Gerald followed her.

The scent of wildflowers in her deodorant mingled with the stale air in the unair-conditioned living room. Her bicep tensed in his grasp. She gasped, surprised he had followed her. Gerald knew the game. He lingered just a moment to savor the fear in her eyes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

BLAME AND FORGIVENESS

This was her fault – that bitch. Rage burned in his gut. She did this to him. And he let her.

Gerald Blount sat on a cold steel bench kicking himself. He gritted his teeth behind the butt of the cigarette in his lips. Tendrils of cigarette smoke, like the wilted ivy guarding the walls outside, tangled around his graying head.

This was all her fault – those fried-egg tits, that innocent smile – that fucking tease. Gerald grinned an evil smirk at the thought of her name. What parent names their kid Chastity? She had no choice but to grow up swinging half-naked around a chrome pole.


Gerald filled his lungs with smoke and paced through his new home. Four steps from one end to the other, but it was still bigger than his last room. The sting of pine disinfectant in the cool air made his eyes water. A stainless steel bowl and basin sparkled in the far corner. He turned and unrolled a fresh mattress across the shining slab of steel that was his bed. Inmates had scrubbed the concrete bricks inside and splashed a fresh coat of paint on the bars.

Angola’s death house was nothing at all like death row.

He stooped to look at his fuzzy reflection in the polished steel above the basin. Big purple bags puffed under his dark eyes. An atlas of wrinkles drooped across his sallow cheeks and forehead. Gerald set his Marlboro on the edge of the toilet bowl and cupped his hands under the faucet. There was a time when his hands were strong enough to choke the life out of a man. Eighteen years on death row, where the most strenuous activity was turning a page in his prison-issue Bible, had withered his hands and the rest of his once-rugged physique. His prison-issue blue jeans and denim shirt hung loosely on his scarecrow frame. She did this to him.

Gerald sneered at the tired face in the cold steel. He loathed the man he had become. And it wasn’t his fault.

Gerald’s reflection scowled back at him. Chastity wasn’t the only one to blame. Jennifer and Lisa were just as guilty. The thought of Lisa’s name tugged the corners of his mouth toward a half-hearted grin. Even though she had a part in this, he couldn’t hate her. Not like he hated the others. She was already dead; hating her served no purpose.

Brass keys clanged at the entrance to the death house rattling Gerald from his day dream. Electric motors rumbled their familiar, quiet call as they slid the heavy steel doors open. Through his cell bars and across the visitation room, Gerald watched Warden Johnson limp in and thank the guard. The guard twisted his big brass keys again; the electric motors hummed the doors closed.

“You got a sick sense of humor, Warden.” Gerald rasped as he hung one skeletal arm through the bars.

“What do you mean?” Warden Walton Johnson answered in his trademark drawl, equal parts good ole boy and televangelist.

“The way you leave the cell door open, like a convic’ got freedom to come and go as he please. Where I’m gonna go? Ain’t got but three rooms, my cell, the death chamber, and the visitation room. Ain’t nobody comin’ see me. Then, if I do sit in there, the Cajun Injector starin’ me in the face.”

“I’m sorry you see it that way Gerald,” the squat warden stepped through the open cell door. “We try to make an inmate’s last hours as comfortable as we can.” The warden checked his watch. 12:09. “We’ve got a little housekeeping to take care of, Gerald.” Gerald nodded and the warden continued with his standard death day litany. “The guards will come for you at 11:30. You know the drill: wrist and leg restraints.”

Gerald nodded again, “Last time I’ll be wearin’ those.”

“There will be three guards in case we have to carry you. It’ll be easier if you walk yourself.” He waited for Gerald to nod, but Gerald just stood there, his blank eyes fixed on the warden. “When you enter the death chamber, you’ll lie on the table, and the guards will remove your chains. They’ll put the straps around your arms, legs, and chest. Again, it’ll be easier if you don’t fight it.”

“Ain’t gonna fight. Only a guilty man scared of dyin’. I ain't done nothin’ she didn’t want me to.”

The warden just shook his head. “One of the guards will start an i.v. in your arm and another in your foot. You’ll have a chance to make a last statement. I suggest you apologize and ask forgiveness. Then, at midnight, we’ll start the procedure.”

Warden Johnson didn’t mince words. He described the process of killing a man like he was reading a procedure manual. “The first drug will put you to sleep. The next one will paralyze your entire muscular system. The last will stop your heart.” He waited for a reaction but got none. “Your spiritual advisor will be here later. He’ll sit with you till the end.”

“Don’t need no advisor, ’less he got a stay in his back pocket.” Gerald forced a grin.

“There’s comfort in the Lord, Gerald. Maybe the chaplain can help you find the strength to admit your sins and seek forgiveness.”

Gerald shook his head. “This ain’t my fault. That bitch did it. Ain’t nothin’ in that Bible you give me ’bout admittin’ somethin’ you ain’t done. I oughta know. I read it enough times.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Gerald. I’ll be praying for you.”

Gerald watched the Warden waddle out of sight, then lay back on his mattress. He thought of the last time he saw Chastity, and smiled a half-smile. She was a fine young thing: hair pulled in a big, blonde ponytail, short-shorts showing off the bottom of her tight, tanned ass, and a pink crop-top with “Tease” written across it in bubble letters – like anyone who saw her would have doubted it. She was standing in the dirt yard outside her trailer, her sandaled foot propped on the tire of a dead Cutlass 88. He could see her like it was yesterday.

Gerald traced the curve of her calf in his mind. Her skin was soft and smooth. He reached to hide the swelling in his crotch, just like he did on that day. She had a way of doing that to him. . .That bitch.