Jim stood trial for murder. A worm, his past, and time of death weighed in.
|The worm wiggled and crawled along the railing. Even to Jim, the creature seemed out of place. He watched as it progressed along the fine wood grain of the worn, but highly polished, court room barrier. The expert testimony of Dr. Shalick droned on as the prosecutor asked question after question about the deterioration of the body found in Seminole Park.
“Please, if you would Dr. Shalick, go into detail as to why you believe the defendant’s expert was in error as to the timing of the death of Samantha.” The prosecutor leaned on the judge’s bench ever so slightly while glancing between Dr. Shalick and the jury.
“First, the 26th of April was particularly cold and therefore retarded the deterioration of the remains. While the body was not found until nearly two weeks later, the significance of where the body was found and the sub-freezing temperatures of that day substantially backs up the time of death to when Mr. McCray was in town.”
“Objection!” Paul, Jim’s attorney shouted, “the expert is making unfounded accusations. He is only on the stand to testify to the facts as an expert. He is not to falsely accuse my client.”
“Sustained,” Judge Gonzalez said. He eyed the witness. “Please stick to the forensics, doctor. You are not here to accuse anyone. That’s the prosecutor’s job.”
“Yes, sir,” Dr. Shalick replied.
“So, in your estimation, doctor, the time of death was not as the previous witness testified, but rather a full day or two earlier.”
“That’s correct. I believe Samantha died on the evening of the 25th.”
“Thank you, doctor. I’d like the record shown that the last communications from Samantha was on the 25th and that in conjunction with Samantha’s mother’s deposition Samantha did not have a day in the prior sixty five days that had no texts or calls. The pattern is clear that Samantha likely died on the 25th and not the 26th.”
“Objection!” Jim stood up with Paul this time, “for all we know she could have lost her phone as it was not found with the body. Clearly this is hearsay.”
“Sustained. Counselor you will have the opportunity to stitch this all together at your closing arguments. The jury will disregard the last statement.”
At last the worm reached the newel post. After attempting to continue through the solid wood, the worm became confused and prodded the knob. It wriggled and writhed as each endeavor failed. He’s trapped, Jim thought. His thoughts continued to focus on the tiny organism. His eyes widened as the worm continued its futile efforts. Jim grinned in amusement.
The prosecutor nodded in acknowledgment. “Thank you doctor.”
“Does the defense have any questions for the doctor?”
“Yes, your honor.”
The prosecutor strutted back to his table and slipped into his chair. He smiled at his two female assistants, one blond and the other a dark redhead, as both nodded in approval. The redhead who sat next to the prosecutor additionally placed her hand on his shoulder and patted it a few times. All of their attentions were interrupted as Paul stood up and sauntered toward the stand.
“Dr. Shalick, you say that you believe that Samantha died on the 25th and not the 26th?”
“Isn’t it just as plausible, from a forensic standpoint that she died on the 26th in the afternoon as Dr. Moon testified earlier? Given the rate of decomposition. Remember you are under oath.”
Dr. Shalick’s eyes darted toward the prosecutor. “Not as likely.”
“But still plausible and well within the range of possibility.”
“Not as likely.”
“I want a yes or no answer doctor.” Paul took a step toward the doctor and stared intently at him. Paul seemed to recoil a bit as the doctor expelled. Jim chuckled to himself as he recalled overhearing the doctor talking about Italian for lunch. Must’ve had garlic.
“Yes, it is plausible.”
“As plausible as your own explanation then?”
“I don’t believe so, but it is plausible.”
“So, we have two experts with two differing opinions as to time of death. Both it seems are plausible. Dare I say a reasonable doubt?”
“Objection,” the prosecutor stated as he looked up from some notes he was scribbling.
Without further explanation, the judge said, “Sustained. Limit your questions to the forensics, Paul. I’ll advise you the same as the other counselor. You will have your chance at closing.”
Jim again turned his attention to the worm and found him scaling the newel post. He probed the rounded top as he did before, looking for a way to keep progressing. Jim grinned again because even if the worm somehow managed to get to the top, there was nowhere to go from there except down. The little white worm inched up, straining with all its might until it found that its legs could no longer hold on to the slippery surface and it fell back onto the railing.
Jim chuckled a bit too loud as several jurors and his lawyer looked his way. He quickly reverted to his prior demeanor. One plump juror woman leaned over and whispered something to the tall, skinny gentleman juror next to her. He smiled and nodded. After a few seconds, he glanced at Jim. Trying to be discrete. What a putz. He doesn’t even know about the worm.
The clock ticked to the bottom of the hour – 5:30 pm. The judge glanced down at the small clock on his bench. “All right. Let’s wrap this up. Do you have further questions counselor?”
Paul glanced at the judge and back to Dr. Shalick. “I suppose that will be all, but I reserve the right to recall this witness.”
“So be it. That will be part of the court record. We will reconvene at 8 am tomorrow.” The judge lifted his gavel and smacked it upon the circular striker. He arose, took a few notebooks from under his bench, and disappeared into the back room.
Jim watched the worm writhe in confusion. His lawyer began collecting his papers and shoving them into his briefcase beside him. Jim reached up and grabbed the worm and dropped it into his cupped handed. Then he dropped it into his shirt pocket. He could feel it wiggle against his chest. Poor little fella. I’ll take care of you.
All the jurors but a Hispanic woman were standing. She stared at Jim – examining him. Jim glanced her way again. Did she see me? It’s just a worm. Cute little fellow. None of her damn business. He decided to return the stare in earnest. The lady shifted uneasily and her eyes drifted toward the floor. She retrieved her purse and ignored him.
Two guards approached.
“I think we had a good day, Jim. I saw many of the jurors nodding at that last witness,” Paul stated.
“Yeah. I hope your right,” he replied.
“Tomorrow morning we’ll have closing arguments. I think we have a good shot. I think we made the right decision in not taking the manslaughter offer.”
“Damn right. I ain’t going to jail for something I didn’t do.”
“Yeah.” Paul’s voice trailed off to a half-whisper. Jim could tell he only half meant it. Probably thinks I’m guilty. The bastard. And they call me slime. Defense attorneys are every bit as slimy.
“Are you ready, sir?” Joshua, the bigger of the two guards, asked, looking at Jim.
“Yeah. Back to the can I go. It’ll be sweet when I get out of that hell hole.” Jim turned around and placed his hands behind him. Skip, the other guard unclipped a pair of handcuffs from his utility belt and placed them on Jim’s wrists with a ‘click’. “Won’t have to wear these bracelets either.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Skip intoned. “Guilty son of bitch.”
“We’ll see, Skippy ole boy. I ain’t done nothing. You on the other hand are probably screwing that red-headed guard, Macy. She’s not even a looker. S’pose I call up your wife and let her in on that little secret?”
Skip shoved Jim in the back. “Don’t be spreading rumors, or you’ll regret that.”
Jim turned around and glared at Skip, three inches shorter than himself. “It isn’t a rumor if it’s true. I can see by the look in your eyes, it is. What you don’t know is Carmichael heard you two doing the wild thing in the janitor’s closet.” Jim’s smile broadened. Almost on cue, the worm wiggled in his pocket.
Skip went nose to nose with Jim and scowled. “I told you, you snake. Don’t be throwing any rumors around that you’ll regret it.” Skip leaned in to Jim’s ear, and whispered. “You’ll be eating pig slop every day for a month for that little flare up.”
Jim just grinned.
“Come on,” Joshua interrupted, “he isn’t worth the effort. You know he’s just trying to get under your skin, Skip.” Joshua grabbed Jim by the arm and led him toward the side gray door. Skip didn’t move for a few seconds, keeping up the scowl until Jim turned away. He turned instead toward Paul.
“You get him off and that’ll be the biggest injustice this side of OJ.”
“Everyone has rights. Even him. Besides, I’m not sure he did it.”
“Oh, he’s guilty alright. That SOB is about as guilty as they come. I’ll be surprised if they don’t uncover more bodies. Do your job, Paul, but don’t do it well this time.”
“I’m sworn to do my best. He’s innocent until proven guilty.”
“Tell that to Samantha’s family. Did you see them today? Her mother is in tears all the time. Her father is depressed, and I had to restrain him from tearing your client’s head off. Then there’s their little boy.” Skip shook his head. “That son of a bitch is guilty. Mark my words. You let him walk, you let a killer go free.”
“I don’t see it that way. He’s innocent unless the prosecutor shows different. You should be talking to them, not me.”
Skip turned in disgust. He kicked open the half swinging gate and stormed through the gray door. Only three people lingered along with Paul. He could now hear bits and pieces of their conversation.
“… but what if she did die on the 26th? The guy couldn’t have possibly done it. They have him on camera several times throughout the day two hundred miles away and…”
Paul picked up the last sheet of paper entitled “Closing arguments points”. He perused the list.
“… the guy is guilty as sin….”
He pondered on the second to last point – Time of death. The whole case pivoted on that one point. If Jim was to be found innocent, that was the key.
“… how about the fingerprint on the buckle? I know it’s only a five-point match, but still…”
“True. But he did say he’d met Samantha a few days before. What does that prove?”
“Shows he touched her. I think he’s guilty…”
Paul kept the paper in one hand and grabbed the briefcase. He marched past the three men, who suddenly fell silent.
“Gentlemen,” he said. They all nodded in response.
Joshua opened cell 26’s door and guided Jim in.
“Hey, Jim,” Willie, Jim’s cell mate, said. “How did it go?”
“I think pretty well. I just can’t figure the jury. I think that one spic woman has it in for me. She stares at me all the time.”
Joshua rolled the door closed and the loud clang of metal on metal echoed through the prison halls. Joshua sauntered down the corridor. Jim could hear the jingle of him playing with his keys as he went.
“So, you got a chance to get out of this?”
“I hope so. I didn’t do it. I feel like I’m being framed.”
“They don’t have a lot on you, man. A partial print and time of death is out of whack. That isn’t much.”
“Still. It might be enough. Samantha’s parents hate me. I guess I can’t blame them. I would too. While Samantha wasn’t exactly an angel, she was their daughter.” Jim looked at Willie who lay in his bunk. “Don’t tell nobody, but I was supplying her with coke. Not sure how I touched her buckle, but somehow it happened. Now, I’m screwed. God, this is torture.”
“It’ll be ok, man. Hopefully they’ll see it. You were miles away when she died.”
Jim felt the worm again. “Oh, I brought us a pet.” He reached in his pocket and dropped it into his cupped hand.
Willie leaned up to see it. “Yuck, man. That thing is nasty. Keep it to yourself.”
“I think it’s cute. You ought to have seen it crawling along the court railing.”
“That’s where you got it?”
“Yeah. Damnedest thing. He was just crawling by. Right there on the railing. Better than listening to all that testimony and seeing all those pictures over and over again.”
“Just keep it away from me. I hate worms.”
“Just a little guy. Seemed out of place so I rescued it.”
“Just keep him to yourself. If I see him he’ll be smashed under my shoe.”
“Fine.” Jim climbed on the top bunk and let the worm crawl across his belly. Strange he couldn’t feel him. He watched until he felt groggy. He picked up the worm and examined him. The little worm squirmed between his fingers. He reached over and dumped his marbles out of their small bag, then lowered the worm in and tied it. That should hold you.
Jim awoke to the dinner bell and his cell opening with the automatic release. Willie already waited at the cell door in anticipation. Jim got up and shook off the sleepiness. He stumbled out into the corridor where scores of prisoners lined up for chow. He took his place behind them. The guards circled the line like sharks. No one spoke in line. No one, unless you wanted a baton to crack your shin.
Jim spotted Skip and Joshua among the dozen guards. Skip stared at him. What is with that guy? He’s got it in for me. I guess the new guy wants to make a name, but he could take it easy on me. I still think he looks familiar somehow. I just can’t place where…
The line moved and Jim, still thinking, did not move up. “Hey, buddy. Get a move on will ya. I’m hungry.” A gruff voice behind him stated. Skip stepped up and whacked the guy in the shin. A whimpering groan followed, but Jim didn’t dare turn around.
“No talking in line!” Skip shouted. “Especially to that dirt bag!” A baton jabbed him in the ribs and pain ripped through his side. Jim sucked in a breath and grimaced. That one hurt. He turned to Skip and smiled in spite.
Skip sneered, grunted and went back to his previous spot.
Jim meandered through line. He just didn’t feel like talking to any one. A huge black man scooped mashed potatoes onto his plate, a bald, hairy white man plopped on some green beans, and another much shorter and younger black man wrapped a hamburger and tossed it onto his tray.
Jim saw Willie talking to Dodger. They called him that because he loved the baseball team. Jim sat next to Dodger. Willie shoved beans in his mouth while Dodger took a long drink from his milk carton. Willie took a few sideways looks at Jim and resumed shoveling.
“How you doing, Dodger?”
“A real shame the Dodgers didn’t take the San Fran series.”
“Yeah. I still think Ramirez was safe. That changed the whole game. They take that second game and I think they sweep and tie for first. Damn umps.”
“Who’s pitching tonight?”
“Padilla. Hasn’t been worth a crap lately.”
Jim took a big bite of his hamburger. The familiar taste of fatty gristle milled around his mouth. The pickles had some bite though, for a change.
“What’s with the Spic woman? You think she’s got it in for you?” Willie asked.
“Sure seems that way. Reminds of the last time that I stood tri…” Jim stopped.
“Last time what?”
“The pickles have a little bite to them tonight.” Jim changed the subject.
“Don’t like pickles. Dodger got a few though.” Willie replied.
“Not bad. Best pickles I ate were at my grandad’s farm. Grandma used to pick fresh cucumbers and make them from scratch.”
Jim smiled. “Those would be good.”
Jim ate the rest of his burger and ate about half his potatoes and beans. The bell rang and they all lined up to return to their cells in silence.
Jim lay awake for most of the night in the dim light of the two florescent lights they left on in the corridor. His last thoughts were of the worm being confused and curled into a ball in the strange pouch.
Paul left the courtroom and ducked and weaved through the dispersing crowd. A middle-aged, blond reporter approached him, but stopped short when Paul raised his hand. “No comments.” He kept walking.
When he spun through the revolving door, he saw the prosecutor, Ethan Gillmore, behind a podium. His assistants flanked him and he droned into the microphones. A dozen reporters hung on his every word as they all had cameramen in tow.
“We have great confidence that James McCray will be found guilty. The print is a match. The time of death fits. Samantha’s killer will not go free.”
Several hands shot into the air. Ethan nodded and pointed at a tall handsome man whom Paul recognized as a talking head on the local news. Odd. Usually they have some lackey covering these events. Paul pondered. Oh, well. It’s all politics with that guy anyways.
“Do you think you have enough evidence?”
“Yes. Most definitely. The key is the fingerprint. The defense has no answer for that one. He touched her. In none of his depositions did the defendant mention touching her. We have him.”
“What about the time of death discrepancy?” A younger reporter blurted.
“Our expert clearly explained that. Anyone looking at this case will go back to the print. James McCray is guilty. Tomorrow Samantha’s family will have justice.”
Paul wandered down the steps, trying to go unnoticed. A few reporters approached him anyway. His hand held firm in the air. The reporters quickly took the hint and hustled back to Ethan’s press conference. Paul rambled down the sidewalk, pressed his car's remote unlock, and heard the final words Ethan stated. “I personally guarantee a victory…”
“What a blow hard,” Paul murmured, “and he thinks he’ll be a Senator. Probably will make it.” He shook his head. He glanced at the now crumpled paper in the same hand that he grasped the handle to his briefcase. “Time of death.”
The early morning sunlight beamed through the skylights of the dual floored-prison. The fluorescents automatically kicked off and Jim knew there was five and a half minutes before the guards would filter in, line them up, and release them into the courtyard. Five and a half minutes of sunlight brightening this dismal place. No artificial light-bulbs. No flashlights. Just pure light from the sun – the life giver. He suspected several of the inmates enjoyed that five and a half minutes just as much as he did. No one spoke though lest they somehow spoil the moment.
Jim sat on the edge of his top bunk peering at the brown, over-waxed floor. He enjoyed the quiet and watched the light creep down the wall opposite his cell.
Right on cue the guards opened the large steel door and filtered in. Skip took the liberty of taking his club out and knocking it against all the bars. Another guard on the second level did the same.
“Get up!” they yelled over and over.
After a couple minutes, the buzzer sounded and all doors swung open. The prisoners dutifully lined up, and kept any chatter to a minimum under the scrutinizing eyes of Skip and a few other head-banging guards. He dropped the bag in his pocket and could feel the worm wiggle. A sense of dread swept through him as Skip paused beside him and mouthed “You’re mine, scumbag. Today is the day.”
Jim diverted his eyes forward staring at the collar of Dodger in front of him.
They shuffled through the halls and finally through a set of double doors which led to the large barbed-wire-lined courtyard. Two guard towers stood at each corner while a guard also roamed the porch directly above the double doors. Each held a rifle with a scope.
Most drifted toward the basketball court where they either teamed up or filled the benches as spectators. Bets were placed as to which team would prevail. Jim enjoyed the sun so he leaned against the wall to bath himself in it. Dodger sat next to him. Willie decided to watch the game.
“Today is the day, Jimmy.”
“Yep. Been a long four months.”
“I heard what you started to say at dinner.”
“About being on trial before.”
“Oh. Didn’t mean to let that slip.”
“You been in prison before then, or did you get off.”
“Got off.” Jim stared at the pale blue sky. Only a single puffy white cloud drifted overhead.
“What was the charge?”
Jim glanced at Dodger. The old codger could glean information like the best of them. He twirled an unlit cigarette in his fingers.
“I thought you were quitting.”
“Ah. What’s it matter? I’m done for life in here anyways.”
“Lifer. Yeah. Hope I’m not gonna join you. No offense.”
“None taken. What was the charge before?”
“Same. Murder. But that was 22 years ago. Wrong place at the wrong time. They tried me but it didn’t stick though.”
“Obviously. Damn. That’s something. A second murder trial 22 years apart for the same guy.”
“That’s my life, Dodger. Seems like I’m always in the wrong place. That was when I lived in Missouri. Moved down to Florida to get away from all that. There are still people there that thought I was guilty.”
Jim just smiled. “I’m just focusing on this trial. That’s ancient history.”
“Nah. I think the guards bet on the game as much as the prisoners.”
Dodger slid a match from his cuff, struck it on a nearby chunk of concrete, and lit his cigarette. The smoke drifted silently up and eased through the fence to freedom.
“You want to tell me what happened in Missouri then?”
“Pretty similar to this trial really. Little evidence. A young mother was the victim. Darla Cavanaugh was her name. Pretty thing. Auburn hair, ruby lips, and a great figure. We dated a couple times. She had a son too which I met during the verdict.” Jim’s brow furrowed in remembrance.
“I didn’t kill Samantha, Dodger. You have to believe me on that. I just can't figure how my fingerprint got on Samantha’s buckle. When they arrested me, I just couldn’t believe it when they told me. I recognized that buckle though, but I just can’t place where.”
“You still didn’t answer me. Did you kill that other woman?”
“In a manner of speaking. Yes. We both were high. We argued and I shoved her and she went through a screened window. God. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see her face right when she crashes through that screen. Everyone thinks it’s this loud smash and everything. All I remember is the screen popping out from behind her and her silent fall from that second story window onto the concrete driveway. I don’t recall hearing anything.” Jim’s eyes watered at the memory, and he stared up at the lone cloud. “I lied, Dodger. I said she just slipped and fell. I never admitted I pushed her.” A tear slipped from his eye and he wiped it away. Jim shifted and dabbed each eye and blinked hard a few times.
They both sat watching the basketball game. A big guy by the name of Stilts was having a great game. Jim’s mind wandered to that buckle again. I don’t remember that buckle. How could I remember and not remember that damn thing?
The horn sounded to clear the courtyard and after breakfast, he’d be loaded into a van and taken down to the courthouse.
The jurors had already settled into their seats when Paul arrived. Jim sat in the defense seat. He’d grabbed the worm pouch just before he came and put a leaf and a few drops of water in it. He opened the pouch and watch the worm wriggle. Jim smiled at the critter.
Paul nodded to Jim as the audience arose for the judge who took his seat on the bench.
“This court will come to session in the murder trial of Jim McCray. The defense has reserved the right to recall the last witness. Do you so recall the witness?”
Paul stood. “No your honor. We decline to recall. We are ready for closing arguments.”
“So be it. Judge Gonzalez turned to Ethan and nodded. You’re up, Ethan.”
“Thank you. I’d like to first thank each juror for their patients over these long few months. The pictures, pain-staking testimony, the objections, and the grueling details.” A few jurors smiled and nodded their appreciation. “Now, we have a task to do. We have a killer to put away. How do I know Jim McCray is a killer? We have proved it. The forensics are clear. The rope which strangled Samantha was the very same one in her car, which Jim McCray had access to. We have verified that those two had met. Jim has a history of violence and drug use. Plus, the undeniable evidence of one fingerprint on Samantha’s belt buckle. In none of the testimony is this explained. In the only two cases where Jim was in contact with Samantha, there were others present. In both of those instances, he did not contact her. So, I ask you, the jury – How did that print get there? Even in the depositions, Jim admitted he did not know after his arrest. He admits there was no contact. No contact until that is, he raped her, and killed her. Oh, he was careful. He used a condom. He left but one clue. He made one mistake. Additionally, Samantha’s cell stopped at that moment. Never to function again. The timing is unmistakable. Jim McCray killed her. Jim McCray…” Ethan paused for effect. He turned and steely eyed, stared at Jim. “… is a murderer. Please I beg each of you. Give her family justice.”
Ethan shuffled back to his chair and eased into it. He took out his pad of paper and scribbled a few notes and then nodded to the judge.
“Thank you counselor. Paul, you’re up.”
Paul arose. He buttoned his suit vest and nodded to the judge. His footfalls on the hard wood floor echoed in the chamber.
“Jim McCray is not a murderer. He was two hundred fifty miles away. We have him on camera, several times. What the prosecutor did not expound on is time of death. Yes, Samantha’s cell stopped working on the 25th. However, she didn’t die until the 26th. While we agree the fingerprint is odd. Jim must have come into contact with her during those two visits. It is not reasonable to believe that the witnesses could have constantly kept watch on Samantha and Jim at all times. It did happen. He touched her buckle. Remembering something so inane as a simple touch is perfectly understandable. The shadow of doubt is not just a shadow in this case. It’s a full, in daylight, impossibility for Jim to kill her. We have a murderer out there. That’s true. But he is still out there. Don’t put an innocent man in prison.”
Paul retreated to the defense table and glanced at Jim who followed the worm crawling on the railing. Paul ignored the behavior. The judge began his speech to the jury about the law, considering all evidence, and the burden of proof. Paul leaned over to Jim.
“What the hell are you doing? Playing with a damn worm? You’re life is on the line.”
Jim seemed to snap back to reality. “Sorry. I don’t know what got into me. I just needed a distraction. I just can’t listen any more.” Jim straightened and paid attention the judge until he finished. He dismissed the jury to the deliberation room.
“This court is adjourned. The prisoner will be held here at the courthouse for twelve hours. If no decision is reached, he will be taken back to Big Pine Prison.”
Jim sat in his cell all that afternoon when Skip banged his club against one of the bars.
“It’s time, Jimmy. They’ve reached the verdict.”
“Well… what is it?”
“Don’t know. You’ll have to come back to the court.”
Jim eyed Skip curiously. He’s being unusually nice.
Skip unlocked the cell and swung open the door. Josh stood at the elevator and followed Skip and Jim into the lift. Josh picked the courtroom floor and Jim felt the normal rising sensation in his stomach. It felt stronger this time somehow.
The whole courtroom buzzed with anticipation. The chatter among the crowd sounded like twice as many people. There seemed to be no one who wasn’t talking.
“Guilty…” “Fingerprint…” “Buckle… “ “McCray….” “Poor girl…” “… killer.” Jim’s head spun with the bits of conversations. No one seemed to want to look at him.
The jury scuffled into the jury box and sat in their assigned seats. None of them looked at Jim, but rather stared at the Judge who had already settled onto his bench. The courtroom calmed.
The judge clapped the gavel a few times.
“Jury foreman.” The tall thin gentleman seated next to the plump woman stood up.
“Yes, your honor.”
“Have you reached a verdict?”
“In the matter of first degree murder against James McCray, how do you find?”
“We the jury find the defendant guilty.”
Jim’s heart sunk. The crowd burst into applause. Samantha’s mother and father embraced. Jim placed his hand over his heart and his breathing became shallow.
“Guards, take this prisoner away. Sentencing will be Thursday.”
Paul stood up and “We’d like to poll the ….”
Jim tugged on Paul’s shirt. “Don’t bother. Just accept it.”
Paul’s eyes widened. “But we might…”
“Please. Just let it be.” A well of guilt arose in Jim. He pictured Darla falling through that window. Perhaps it's just as well.
Josh and Skip stood beside them. Skip smiled and nodded at Jim. “Get up, Jimmie.”
Once again the pair led Jim through the gray doors to the elevator. Josh pressed the button for the floor back to the jail.
Skip and Jim entered the elevator when Skip turned to Josh and shot a flattened hand into his chest.
“Take the next one Josh. Jimmy and I need to have a conversation.”
Josh appeared astonished at the sudden gesture, but stepped back off the elevator. “That’s not regulations, Skip.”
“Regulations or not. Take the next car. I promise, he'll make it to his cell.”
A shiver went through Jim. “Josh, don’t leave me alone with him.”
The doors closed on Josh’s confused expression.
Skip turned around. His eyes squinted in the light and he pressed the all stop button. His voice became gravely and his eyes bulged and showed bright red capillaries. Bloodshot. Jim could smell a faint whiff of whiskey on his breath.
“What’s this about Skip?”
“My God I’ve waited a long time for this.”
“For what? Why do you hate me so? I’ve done nothing to you?”
Skip shoved Jim hard into the wall. Jim lost his breath for a moment but still stared into Skip’s eyes. Skip reached up and put his right hand around Jim’s throat.
“Nothing? You call killing my mother nothing?”
“No. You idiot. Does the name Darla Cavanaugh mean something to you?”
A cold chill shot through Jim’s soul. Skip. Darla’s son? “You’re…” Jim swallowed hard against Skip’s tight grip. “… Darla’s son?”
“That’s right. You killed her. But they let you off. I bounced around foster homes. Got abused by two of them, and it was all your fault. You sentenced me to that life.” Skip spit on Jim’s shirt. “You will pay for the rest of your life now. I’d have killed you myself if they would have let you go again.”
“But… I didn’t kill Samantha. I was two hundred…”
“Save it! You piece of shit worm! You cost me. For years I tried to escape the hell you put me in. Then I got an idea. A perfect idea for revenge.”
Jim’s eyes fixed upon Skip’s. The crazed look in his eyes terrified him. The grip around his neck tightened even more. He began to breathe erratically.
“I’d become a police officer.”
“You set me up,” Jim scratched out, “the buckle wasn’t Samantha’s. It was Darla’s.”
“That’s right. You're a damned genius.” Skip grinned. He loosened his grip a little in full depraved pleasure at watching Jim’s face.
“Oh, and don’t bother to request the case file. I’ve taken the liberty of burning all the photos in the file that had the buckle in it and erasing all evidence of it. Oh, and if you think outing me is going to get you anywhere, the warden and I have already discussed it. Seems he had a buddy up in Missouri on that case. He’s on my side. Thinks you’re already guilty of that one. Now, it’s just desserts.”
Jim slipped down the wall to the floor. His eyes crestfallen. He shook his head. “So, you killed Samantha?”
“Yeah. With as many drugs as you were selling her she’d have OD’ed anyway. When I spied you and her together and you selling that coke to her. I couldn’t let you throw her life away like you did mine. I know I’d have rather died. So, I killed her… to save her from you.”
“I had to make it look good. Like the monster we both know you are, Jimmie.”
Skip started the elevator again. “You’re mine now, and there’s nothing you can do. Welcome to the rest of your hell life.”
In the darkened and quiet courtroom a small white worm strained but finally reached the top of the newel post. He prodded and reached into the air, but the rounded knob he found himself on, left him nowhere to go.
1st Place in February 2011 Twisted Tales Contest