Dark thriller about law and justice gone astray.
I came to in an infinite black. Hope fought fear as I heard faint breathing. I whispered, “Who are you? Where am I?”
The voice of an older woman, weak and hoarse, answered, “Help me. Please,... let me go.”
It was then when I tried to rise that I discovered my wrists and legs were shackled to a chair. Despite this, I tried to proceed toward the voice by rocking the chair when a blinding flash fused my eyes shut in pain.
Creaks and thuds of boots on wooden steps told me that soon some of this mystery would vanish. I counted three sets of boots. By the time they reached the floor, I was able to squint.
We were in a basement. In front of me, across a large wooden table with some kind of contraption on it, was a man in a silvery suit with signs of sickness on his face: red and white patches, open sores on his lips, and bloodshot eyes. His white silk shirt was open to reveal half a dozen gold chains. Young and pale with black hair slicked back, he must be working at night in the sleazy part of town.
Our eyes met for a moment, as if searching for anything to help explain what we were in for.
As my eyes gradually adapted to the light they swiveled left. A stunning blonde with ruby lips in a black business jacket with thin gold lines had her eyes squeezed shut. I guess she was too afraid to even peek.
On her right was a broad shouldered middle aged black with a huge bald head. Light for an African American, tattoos of demons and devils graced his massive arms. His chin was on his chest. Still knocked out, or was he putting on an act?
Nearest to me, on my right, was the woman I had heard asking for help. Her gray hair was in a bun behind her head. She wore wire frame glasses. Pools behind them glistened. Looked like a lovable grandma. But, she wouldn’t be here if she was.
I heard a loud slap. A big man with a bulging belly stood behind the tattoo man. “Open your eyes, Possum Boy. We’re on to your tricks.”
Two other men were standing one on either side of him. One was short and muscular the other was taller and thinner. All three were clad in black with black ski masks.
Tattoo Man turned his head and spit in their direction. Not wise, for Fat Cop punched him in the ear.
Sleaze Boy spoke up. “You’re cops, aren’t you? I smelled your pig shit as soon as you walked down those stairs.”
Blondie cried out, “I shouldn’t be here. You’ve made a mistake!”
Grandma added her two cents, “I haven’t hurt a soul in my entire life. Let me go! I won’t say a word about this.”
Me? I knew what I was here for. Them? Guess, I’ll soon find out.
Fat Cop shouted, “All of you, shut up or I’ll make you!” A restraining hand fell on his shoulder.
I heard Shortie say, “Calm down. Let’s get the game set up.”
They walked to a corner. Fattie opened a large locker and pulled out a frame with something like a helmet inside and a peculiar bowl on top.
Walking over to Tattoo with a grin on his face, he said, “This won’t hurt unless you make a fuss.”
Tattoo stared at the far wall with dull eyes as the frame was attached to his chair. It looked like he was getting his hair dried in a salon, though he didn’t have any hair. Straps were tightened to prevent his head from moving to any great degree. Weird was the bowl just above his head, but what looked sinister were the two cones pointed at his ears.
They did this to all of us. Protests laced with profanity were ignored as well as earnest pleading and desperate offers of hefty sums of money.
I was getting very concerned.
Tall Cop, who hadn’t done anything up to now, finally spoke, “Listen up! Each of you have repeatedly committed crimes despite getting the aid of correctional institutions and counseling. Our laws are soft on crime. We have decided to take action. That is why you are here. I want each of you, starting with the pimp to state your first name, your age, and why you are here. Then, you may make a brief statement in your defense.”
I could see Sleaze Boy clenching his teeth. A cop hater, he was struggling to hold in profanity.
“I’m Dan. Age, 29. As he said, I’m a pimp. But, hey, I’m just the middle man, hooking up the provider to the customer. I take good care of my girls. They’re way better off than before.”
Tall interrupted. I guess he was the emcee. “That’s enough. You’re next, trader.”
Blondie had a hard time getting started.
“My..my name is...is Jenny. I’m 30...36 years old. I’ve been a...arrested for fraud. Ponzi schemes, you know. I made some people rich, gave dreams to many. I didn’t plan things to get so bad.”
“Stop! You’re next, Big Boy.”
Tattoo made eye contact with each of us. What for?
“Kevin. Forty five. Arrested for assault, drunken driving, hit and run, domestic violence. I have no defense. I...I...”
“Nice try for playing dumb. Your turn, Grandma.”
I think she made the best performance. With a squeaky voice, you could see her quail, yet there was a spark in her eyes.
“My name is Florence. I’m 68 years old. I’m a thief. I steal wallets. These days it’s hard for me to make enough for a meal. Hardly anyone carries much cash.”
“Bravo. You almost broke my heart. Next.”
“I’m Ben. 32 is where I’m at. I’ve never paid the alimony I’m legally required to pay. She got the house, the Mercedes, the rights to my book, everything except the Toyota. She’s found another sucker, but I still have to pay.”
“Thanks, Ben. But, you forgot to mention you nearly killed your wife and were a suspect for the death of your son.”
I yelled, “She murdered my son. I saw her with the pillow over his face. She said I did it. It was my word against hers.”
“Alright, you’ve said enough. Now, I’ll explain how the game is played.”
Tall started pacing around the table. “Notice the colored buttons in front of you. They correspond to the chair you’re sitting in. Look at the machine in front of you. Maybe, some of you have seen something similar. Inside are colored ping pong balls. When I flick this switch, the balls will be blown upward and one of them will be sucked out.”
He stopped pacing and pointed a finger at each of us in turn. “If the color matches your chair, bingo! You, lucky you, get to choose one of those buttons.”
“What’s so good about getting to push a button? Why you get to choose who will die. But, be careful. Don’t push your own color, for you will die. The game continues until only one of you is alive or one of you cares enough for the others that you commit suicide thus ending the game and saving them.”
He leaned over and flipped the switch.
In dread, I watched. Time slowed, colors enhanced, as the balls leapt up, banging against each other and the clear plastic wall.
Blue for Jenny the Fraudster.
Green for Dan the Pimp.
Red for Kevin the Violent Drunk.
Yellow for Florence the Thief.
Black for me.
A blue ball got sucked in and rolled out. Long, narrow fingers flipped off the switch and picked up the ball.
Smiling, Tall held it up for all to see. “Jenny! You have one minute to chose.” Then, he unshackled her right hand.
Fat Cop took out a stopwatch and started the count.
All of us stared at Jenny’s hand as it crept over the tabletop. I wanted to put my hands over my face as she raised one finger and held it over the buttons.
It came down on green.
I heard a high pitched whizzing and then saw a drone rise from the floor. It held a small metal ball in its talons.
The whizzing was soon drowned out, as Dan screamed, “You bitch! You filthy pigs!”
The ball dropped into the bowl over his head.
“I’m gonna die! I’ll see you in hell.”
The ball rolled into the hole and completed the electrical connection. The cones snapped together and crushed his skull.
For a second there was silence before a hoarse scream from Florence shattered it. Then, sobs from Jenny sent the horror deep inside.
One round was over. I was already exhausted and taking deep breaths. My asthma was kicking in.
Kevin’s head was covered in sweat. They rolled down his face and into his eyes, yet he couldn’t wipe them away. He was blinking as hard as he could.
Jenny, her face streaked in black, couldn’t stop sobbing.
Florence was shaking so hard her chair was chatting with the floor.
Tall Cop put the blue ball back into the bingo machine, took out the green and announced, “Round two begins. Up and down, around and around, whose ball comes to town?”
I couldn’t watch.
“Black! Ben, lucky Ben. You have one minute to choose.”
I felt the shackles come off my right wrist. I opened my eyes and saw my hand twitching. I looked up. Kevin’s eyes were waiting for me. They held me in a hypnotic grip as his mouth formed the word me.
I stared as he repeated that gesture again. It took all my will to push that red button.
Kevin didn’t utter a sound. In times of intense concentration we don’t hear a thing. I like to think Kevin was able to do that. But for me, the whirring of the drone’s blades, the clunk of the ball as it landed on the bowl, and the crush of bone was as loud as could be.
I didn’t have the strength to even curse.
Tall Cop took a look at each of us. “Maybe, you have suffered enough. Let me confer with my friends.”
They went into a huddle.
Tall Cop came back with his head down and sadly said, “Alas, the vote was to continue the game.”
Smiling, he turned on the machine.
There were only three balls banging around in that machine: blue, yellow, and black. So, it took longer. Longer for me to think. Yet, thoughts were buried in an avalanche of emotions. But, still, it didn’t really take long for one to be sucked out.
Yellow! Florence the Thief. Are you ready? Are you going to chose blue or black? Jenny or me? The fraudster or the wife beater/alimony denier/maybe baby killer? It didn’t seem a difficult choice.
Go ahead push the black button. I won’t curse you. It’s not you, anyway. Those pigs are the ones killing us. Those were my thoughts. I didn’t have the guts to say them.
A scream pushed me into clear actuality. Florence had just picked blue. The scream was Jenny’s. I didn’t look. I didn’t want another face to haunt me, even if I was going to live for just a few minutes more.
A crunch and that was the end of Jenny.
Shorty started clapping which got the other two to join in. He explained, “We didn’t think Grandma would pick the Fraud. The bets were on the Baby Killer. That just goes to show it’s hard to fathom what goes on in the criminal mind.”
Fat Cop said, “Let’s get to the final round.”
The ball that came out was yellow.
Since I’m telling the story, you know she didn’t pick black. Refusing to chose, she told them if they wanted to kill her to go ahead, but they wouldn’t be able to rationalize away that they were killers as much as she.
They drugged us and dropped us off at a park. We came to on a bench and got to talking. I asked her why she had chosen Jenny instead of me. She told me Jenny’s full name was Jennifer Kimberly and that her husband had lost everything they had in the Kimberly Ponzi scheme. He eventually committed suicide.
I didn’t ask her why she would rather die than kill again. I understood.
We live together, now. We make sure the other stays good.