“Well now,” Len said pleasantly, not moving. “I see we have quite a quandary.”
“Yeah?” Harding sneered. “I don’t see a quandary. You don’t get moving, there’ll be a bullet in your head before you can think about saying goodbye.”
“How are you going to do that without having to explain a lot of things to them?” Len nodded at the door leading to the hallway which opened to the parking lot. Decent group tonight, judging by the amount of door-slamming and the volume of residual chatter as the AA members who smoked lit up around the ashtray. “I don’t see a silencer on that gun of yours. Your arm must be getting tired, by the way.”
Harding’s face was frozen in the sneer but his eyes had filled with an uncertainty Len recognized. His arm, whether genuinely tired, or inspired to be so by the power of suggestion, began to tremble.
Len began to move forward, hands held out to his sides, a placid smile on his face. Harding raised the gun anew. “Get moving out that back door motherfucker, I swear to Christ I’ll blow your fucking head off. Don’t push me.”
“Oh I’m sure you would,” Len replied, still coming forward, still with hands out. “I’m not as heavily armed as that man but my pockets are full of shadows. Who knows, one of them could be an automatic.”
“Shut up!” Harding’s gun pointed at Len’s head, then his stomach, then his chest. “Just shut the fuck up and get out the door!” His voice had risen noticeably.
The smile dropped off Len’s face. Only some had seen the look which replaced it, most of whom were dead. “Last chance, EX-detective. Put your gun away and leave. You can continue being whatever you are now instead of what you will become.”
“Fuck you!” Harding raised the gun again and aimed it between Len’s eyes. “This is your last fucking chance!”
Len sighed, and plunged his hand into his pocket. Harding, his nerves strung tighter than a guitar string, fired.
“The jury finds the defendant guilty of the charge of murder in the first degree.”
The words hung in the courtroom, leaden. Guilty. Murder. Harding could scarcely believe it. Hearing the jury recommend the death penalty was even more surreal. Death penalty? For him? What the fuck had happened? How had he gotten here?
His mind whirred through the past like a flipbook. Yesterday’s meeting with his lawyer. Good record, recovery, acquittal is a sure thing, blah blah blah. The weeks leading up to that meeting, the trial, the hell of being torn apart in front of crowd, a judge, a newspaper, with the press, always the press out for his blood, and some days those four smirking faces from the church in the crowd, right there but unattainable. The months of incarceration prior to that whole media frenzy, pacing his cell, desperate for time with his lawyer, because then, only then, did he feel like he was making progress, moving forward. The weeks immediately afterward, when he had been in the purgatory of jail, not knowing what was coming, only knowing it was taking its sweet time and that it was going to be bad, then being proved correct in his worst assumptions. That horrible night he had been taken into the police station in the humiliating perp-walk, handcuffed past his peers, some of them gawking, some shaking their heads, some smirking like the pieces of shit they were. His mug shot, the most painful moment of all, somehow, was when they had fingerprinted him. Finally the ghastly night in the basement of the church when he had somehow, like a fucking idiot…
A small round dot appeared between Len’s eyes, visible for a split second before his head jerked back and threw him to the floor, arms flying out, hands open, nothing but emptiness inside. Unarmed.
“No,” Ed groaned, dropping to his feet beside Len and dropping his gun. “No, oh God oh God NO!” he screamed, pawing desperately at Len’s hand, as though by magic he could make a weapon appear in it. He slapped Len’s legs, hoping to manifest a gun in a holster, a knife in a pocket, something, anything, oh holy fuck not again…
“Oh my God!”
This new hellishly unwelcome voice cut in. Ed jerked his head around, eyes bulging, staring at the first alcoholic to enter the room, a matronly woman in a pink pants suit, whose face was hidden behind her ringed hands, horror in her eyes.
Ed held out his hands to her, numbly glad he had dropped the gun, his mouth working on excuses, somehow blurting out, “I can explain…”
His last meal was a big decision, and Ed thought about it long and hard. Finally, he settled on Shepherd’s Pie, sauerkraut, and pistachio ice cream, washing it down with two cans of Mountain Dew. He immediately regretted it upon finishing, wishing instead he had ordered beef stew, or ravioli, but that was just who Ed Harding was. Had he ordered all three, he would have wished for something different. As he sat there, tasting the sauerkraut and fishing errant strings of it from his back teeth, a guard appeared at his door. It was time.
As he was being strapped in to the chair, trying to keep from hyperventilating, the door in the back of the death chamber opened. Dr Pudge entered. Missy followed. She looked straight at him, with not a hint of recognition. His jaw dropped.
The guard, moving so swiftly he seemed not to move at all, fixed a gag across Ed’s mouth. The room returned to its normal silence as the necessary plumbing was hooked up to Ed’s body. His eyes grew huger as he saw Jerry, Jessica and Paul sitting in the gallery. No one else was there. Paul smiled and waved. Jessica glared. Jerry’s face was a mask.
The guard, seeing the prisoner was ready for execution, made his speech. “Edward Harding, you have been sentenced to die by a jury of your peers. Do you have anything to say before sentence is carried out?” The guard removed the gag, and Ed filled his lungs.
“Listen to me. This is the truth. That crazy bitch there,” he nodded in Missy’s direction. Her face didn’t move. “and those three assholes–” nodding toward the gallery, “are psychopaths! Murderers! I killed one of their little group after they sat around telling stories about how they’d done it as kids! Ask them! Go on!”
The guard nodded as though he believed every word. This was not the first time someone in the chair had screamed accusations with their last breath. It would not be the last. He looked at Missy. She nodded in return, and began opening valves in her deadly dance. Ed was still ranting as he noticed his eyes growing heavy. He began to yell, but by then, it was over.
Until his eyes opened.
“Oh, there he is, I told you he’d wake up, didn’t I?” A woman’s voice, nearly crowing with delight. Horrible to hear. Horribly familiar.
“Well done, Missy,” a male voice said.
Ed was shivering, but could not move. Was he still in that god damn death room? Was his execution still going on? Then why did the ceiling look so much darker?
A stinging smack on the side of his face brought the ceiling in to focus. He shook his head and looked around him just in time for the rolled up towel someone was snapping to take him in the eye and nearly gouge it out by the feeling, holy shit he had never felt that much pain in an eyeball and what the FUCK was going on..?
“Did that rouse you a bit honey?” Another female voice was crooning next to his ear. “Wouldn’t want you to sleep through Len’s memorial now would we?” She had just finished the last word when a fist smashed into Ed’s nose, bending it to the left with a crack. Ed howled.
“Cool it,” the first woman said. “There’s no rush, and we want him to stay conscious at least for a little while.” Harsh laughter. The abuse ceased and Ed shook his head, trying to clear his vision. His right eye was a stinging slit of agony misted with red, but the left was taking things in all too well. His mind began to process them.
He was in a chair, arms behind him, stripped to the shorts and soaked. Apparently he’d been doused with water to wake him up. He tried to bring his hands around front and found, to no real surprise, that they had been restricted behind him. He pulled, expecting to hear the clank of chains and heard… nothing. No movement either. They had glued his hands together behind his back, as though he were rubbing them together. He could not move so much as a finger.
They stood around him, over him, surveying him. Missy still wore her business suit but her hair had come out of its bun.
“Curious? I bet you are.” A hand dropped into her pocket and procured a little glass vial. “I just switched out the deadly stuff for some sugar water and switched you for some other corpse on the way out of the morgue, once I declared you legally dead.” She grinned, and Ed felt his blood run cold.
“Brilliant, doctor,” Jerry said, and applauded her. Paul and Jessica joined in, giving Missy a well deserved ovation.
“Thank you,” she said, giving them a curtsy and turning to give one to Ed as well. “Len has been cremated long since, but we waited to have the memorial until you could join us for the fun. It wouldn’t be the same without you.”
Ed could only look on in dumbstruck horror as she picked up the briefcase sitting beside her and turned to place it on a counter nearby. She opened it.
Fluorescent light ricocheted off the angles of the cutting tools filling the briefcase. Razor blades, scalpels, assorted knives and something which looked horribly like a cheese grater grinned at Ed with shining teeth.
Ed began to blubber.
Jerry reached forward and took a scalpel. Jessica grabbed a razor blade. Paul took a large butcher knife. Missy took her favorite, the cheese grater, and the small salt shaker that came with it.
Ed began to plead, to threaten, to bargain, forgetting that for all intents and purposes, to the world, Ed Harding was already dead.
The four of them lined up, Missy at their lead. They would continue taking turns, until the sport had worn off. But it would take a while. They were in no rush.
Ed began to scream.
Missy walked forward, her eyes searching for the perfect patch of skin to begin her ministrations. Behind her, she heard them praying.
Grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Jesse Orr was born and raised in Alaska and has no idea, nor do his parents, when or how he began reading and writing; as is the case with so many things, they just are. Moving to Seattle in 2007, he settled down to a life of recording and performing music as well as writing whatever caught his fancy. He has a dog named Mr Dog and lives in West Seattle.