I lean forward, place my arms on the table, and stare into those black holes.
“Let me give you a hypothetical,” I say to Fields.
An intrigued smile crosses his lips.
“Flash forward to the day of your death.”
“That’s a hypothetical?”
I shrug. “Okay, it’s more of a timing issue. As you know, the state allows every death-row inmate one final statement.”
The smile broadens. “And you want to know what I’m going to say?”
“I want you to imagine yourself standing before the families, looking into the eyes of those who have lost so much because of you.”
“But it’s like I said, Rusty.” He leans forward, and we’re close enough now that I can see two white hairs poking through the flesh between his eyebrows. A small scar on his cheek lies almost hidden within the folds of his aging skin. “It wasn’t just me.”
I give him a dismissive nod. “But you’ll be the only one standing there.”
He doesn’t say anything to that.
“So place yourself in front of those families. In fact, I would like you to imagine that this represents every mother and father.” I slide the recorder a little closer. “What are you going to say to them?”
It’s a moment that every inmate on death row has to face. Unfortunately, it comes with a risk. Do they stand in silent acceptance, knowing that in a few moments they’ll see and breathe no more, or do they try to say something that will last forever? Preferably, they will offer the victims a slice of humanity, apologizing for what they’ve done, but that’s not always the case. Some stand by their innocence. And who knows? Maybe they are. Others want one last act of terror. Men like Clyde Boudreaux, who stood before his panel of witnesses and said, “Seein’ as how I got here a real nice audience, who’s got nothin’ better to do tonight than to listen to little ol’ me, I guess I might as well give you somethin’ good for your money—not that you paid anything for them seats.” And before the state stuck the needle in his arm, he went into graphic detail on every one of his crimes, and then gave the families a big grin as his final act of defiance.
Fields looks at the recorder for a long moment.
“I guess I’ll say that their daughters’ sacrifice, while small here on earth”—he looks back at me, and I can see it coming—“was big in the kingdom of God.”
I play with my ring, twist it around my finger, and give him a nod. He still thinks he's a saint, but in the end he’s only another crazy the world can do better without.
I turn off the recorder.
“I would like to thank you for your time.”
He frowns. “You don’t sound thankful.”
I stand and give him a smile of my own. “The spectrum of gratitude has many colors.”
I offer my hand, and he looks at it for a moment. I wonder what he’s thinking. Is it a hand he would have liked to torture? Is the skin something he can imagine knifing his fingers under, lifting it up and peeling it off the meat, like the women of old used to do with chickens because they didn’t want to mess with plucking the feathers? I blink away the thought.
Finally he stands. He looks to the guards first, his way of showing them he has no intentions of doing anything stupid, and then reaches for my hand. As he holds it, I lean forward and slap his hand with my left, a common two-handed shake of camaraderie. I can see the wince of pain in his eyebrows.
“The families will be grateful for this moment,” I say.
Confusion replaces the pain in his face as I let go. I reach to my ring and give it another twist. The small needle retracts, once again hidden within the stone. Picking up the recorder and the rest of my things, I turn and walk toward the door. Before I can reach it, I hear his voice.
“Who did you say you worked for again?”
I stop and look at him. He is rubbing at the back of his hand.
“I told you. I’m with the Houston Chronicle.”
I point to the press card I made for today. It looks authentic enough. To tell him the truth—that I once worked for the government doing things that would cause most people to shudder, but now work for anyone willing to pay—would only mean my visit might turn into something longer, with bars of my own, and I have no intention of staying. He nods, but the look of confusion presses deeper into his brow like a first-grader trying to remember what two plus two equals—Is it four or five?—or on which side of the O does the bar stand for the lower case B. All those years of studying and learning vectors and coefficients slither away, a scared snake faced with the prospect of things even more frightening: exposure and vulnerability.
Past the guards and through the door, I make my way out of the prison. Walking through a long hallway, my shoes pock-pock-pocking! on the concrete floor, my thoughts turn to my report and the people who will read it, especially the one with cancer. She can now die knowing for certain that John Winston Fields faced her own version of justice. The poison in his system will attack his heart, forcing it to race faster and faster until it finally explodes from exhaustion.
I also think about my stomach roiling at his first admission. It wasn’t because of the mutilation. I’ve seen worse. I do hope, however, those girls were truly dead first. Through the outside gate at last, I shake my head. Some things are just not worth exploring.
S.B.: There it is. I hope you've enjoyed four weeks of this one. One additional note. I will be absent from the #FridayFlash for a good month. As you may have seen already, I have a side project running with some friends on the Writer's Digest Forums, and it will consume some of my time. On top of that, I've also decided to engage in NaNoWriMo for the second time in my life. Suffice it to say, I'm going to be fairly busy over the next month and won't have time to dedicate myself to writing anything else. But I will take time to read your stories each week. I look forward to that. Until next time...