In the silence that fills the room like a bear squeezing into a fox den, Fields starts to smile, and I can tell he’s waiting. He wants me to acknowledge him as a slayer of dragons, a rescuer of damsels in distress, a lover of angels. This is an interview, after all, given at his discretion; if I want it to continue, then I have to give something in return. In another time and another place, maybe, he might have asked for something a little more personal—a lot more private. And given the odds that not even a Las Vegas bookie would take, it would most certainly be fatal. But this is prison. Thick walls, steel bars, and a fence line of razor wire surround us; the guards are only a few feet away. The best he can do, then, is test the mental waters. Just how bad do I want to reel in the big fish?
In the fifth grade, I had a run-in with Trey Johnson. Fresh into town, his father a transient minister relocated every few years by the Methodist church, thank you very much, Trey had already developed a bad attitude toward new schools and new faces, and during the first week of class he managed to put the fear of God into several of the homeroom kids just by gritting his teeth, clenching his fist. The threat of force against those untrained to deal with it turned out to be a powerful tool, it seemed. For me, an older brother turned out to be an even more powerful tool. When I talked to him about it, he just smiled and said, “Rusty, you can’t let people push you around, be it even a boy. Here’s what you have to do…” The next day, I kicked Trey in the balls and then put my fist in his eye. I spent a couple of days at home after that, but Trey Johnson never bothered me again. Or anyone else for that matter.
“It’s the fifth of June,” I repeat, my voice slightly louder for the recorder, “and I’m sitting with convicted murderer, John Winston Fields.” His smile widens. He’s enjoying the moment. “First, I would like to say thank you, Mr. Fields, for taking the time to give this interview. I appreciate it.”
He looks at me for a beat, biting the side of his lips, and then nods. “Anything for my favorite journalist.”
I ignore this.
“I would like to start by asking what life is like now.” He frowns, so I add, “What do you do to occupy the time? What are your routines?”
“You kidding me, right?” He snorts. “Girl, it’s like going to a carnival in here. The food is the best you can find anywhere, the sights and sounds like nothing you’ve ever seen before. And the guards? Well, they’re a thrill a minute.”
Standing by the door, the guards give each other a silent chuckle.
“Tell me about the food.”
His lips purse slightly. “Let’s just say there’s maybe one or two ways you can dress up oatmeal. After that it’s still the same ol’ sludge. But really, Rusty, is this what you came to ask? Or should I call you, Mrs. Kelton?”
I raise my eyebrows, and he leans forward.
“Your ring,” he says, nodding toward my left hand. “How many years you been married?”
I shake my head. “This is not about me.”
“Well, for the moment let’s make it about you. It’s a beautiful ring, by the way. Don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.”
I cup one hand over the other.
“Oh, come now, Rusty. I give a little. You give a little. I give a little more. We do the hokey-pokey and we spin ourselves around. That’s what… it’s all… about.” He actually croons the last few words, his voice crackling like a barroom singer with a three-pack-a-day habit. Then, he sits and waits.
I look at my watch and wonder if this is the way the interview will go. Time is limited, and I won’t have what I came for—my readers won’t have what I came for—if I have to play Mexican standoff every few minutes. I glance at the recorder, thinking about the questions that can fill up the dead air, and so I give a little.
“Only a few months,” I tell him. It’s a lie, but he won’t know the difference. Before today, he never knew I existed.
He smiles. “Ah, young love.” Leaning back, he says, “Being in here, you know what I miss, Rusty?”
“I miss what you have right now. The wonder. The excitement. The passion.”
I don’t have to ask what he means.
“So, the killings excited you?”
He looks away. “In here, the passions are animalistic. Men need something, they do whatever it takes to get it. For some, that’s by force. Others, they surrender a piece of themselves, forget who they are, in order to have what they desire the most.”
A moment passes before he answers.
“I never forget what I am.”
It’s a subtle change—not who, but what—and I have to ask.
“And what exactly are you?”
“I already told you, Rusty.” He gives me a half-smile. “I’m a convicted lover.”
I nod. I should have guessed as much.
“So, you think you loved those girls?”
“I don’t think, Rusty. I know.” He leans forward again. “Maybe not in the way you love your husband. But there’re different kinds of love.”
“Well… I think the Greeks got it right. First, there’s storge, just an affection. There’s philia. That’s the brotherly love kind. You know, Philadelphia and all that. Then of course, there’s éros, the passionate, lustful type of love—sometimes good, sometimes dirty. But finally, there’s the best kind, ágape love. It’s unconditional. It’s god-like. It looks beyond the faults, gets beneath the surface.”
I see where he’s going, and a sick feeling roils in my gut. “And I suppose you loved those girls with ágape love?”
He smiles. “It’s why I skinned them.”