Polly Callahan finished the last of her drink, then stared at the bottom of her glass and frowned. She never liked the texture a Bloody Mary left behind; it always seemed so... messy. Stained and mottled, like a particularly-disturbing Rorschach pattern. The colors seemed particularly harsh from the Sunday morning light that streamed down from the kitchen's large overhead skylight.
My son is a homosexual, she thought to herself, letting the phrase echo several times in her head. One of those... people. It hardly seemed possible. She knew for a fact that Dylan had gone out with three -- no, make that four -- girls over the last couple of years. She'd even met two of them, and a half-dozen females had phoned all the time. Was it all a sham?
She shook her head and began methodically mixing another drink.
"I'm surprised you're up this early, honey," said her husband, tying his tie as he walked into the kitchen. "We don't have to meet the attorney for almost another hour." He glanced disdainfully at the bottle of Smirnoff Blue Vodka his wife was idly pouring into the glass, then shook his head sadly. "Polly -- we agreed you were done with all that."
The woman glared at him. "I never agreed to anything," she said thickly. "I'll drink whatever I want, whenever I want. You can't stop me."
Mike smiled wanly. Is it any wonder our son is so screwed-up? he thought. "Dr. Rosenfield won't be very pleased to find out you're drinking again, dear." There goes another $20,000 on detox -- this'll be the second time just since they moved to California.
Before she could answer, Yolanda came through the double doors, her face lined with concern. "I thought I heard voices in here," she said. "Good morning! Did Mr. McBrian say when Dylan could come home?"
Callahan shook his head. "No, Yolanda. We probably won't be able to post bail for him until tomorrow. Listen, I just want to thank you again for everything you did for us yesterday. And for staying here on your day off."
She nodded, then glanced back towards the living room. "I'm gonna rip up that carpet myself this afternoon. That way, it'll be all ready for the installers tomorrow."
The man gently put his hand on her shoulder. "Please don't worry about it. Let the carpet guys take care of it. They'll be here first thing in the morning."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Callahan," Yolanda said firmly. "I just can't stand the smell of that... that blood out there any more," she muttered, shaking her head.
Still at the counter, Mrs. Callahan took a sip of her drink and made a face -- needs more tomato juice, she thought to herself as she reached for the can. And a dash of pepper.
The man glanced towards her, then leaned towards the maid. "Put the coffee on, Yolanda," he said quietly, nodding towards his wife. "We've got to get her sober in the next half hour, so we can go back to the police station to meet with our attorney and the DA."
The maid nodded. She'd been through this routine many times before. She slid an empty glass pot into the open maw of the high-tech machine, and hit a button. The machine whirred and clunked, and liquid began to fill the container.
"Jes' give me a few minutes, Mrs. Callahan," she said soothingly. "Two cups of my special extra-strong Sunday mornin' coffee will fix you right up."
Polly walked unsteadily over to the maid and fixed her with a steely gaze. "My son is a fa... a homosexual," she said, slightly slurring the last word. "And probably a murderer, too."
"That's where you're wrong, Mrs. Callahan," the maid retorted, a little too loudly. "You listen to me. Dylan's a good boy -- he's got a good heart, and I know he's not guilty of anything."
The woman eyed her warily. "Did you know about this... this Angel? And my son?"
Yolanda hesitated. She glanced over at Mr. Callahan, who was over at the kitchen table, doing his best to ignore both of them while he munched a piece of toast and went through the morning's LA Times.
"Well?" the woman demanded.
The maid shook her head. "All I know is that that Angel boy was no good. I knew he was trouble the first time I saw him." She handed the woman a cup of fresh coffee. "Mrs. Callahan," she said quietly, "you're very lucky to have a boy as fine as Dylan. Who he loves ain't no business of ours -- that's what I say."
The woman took a sip of coffee and made a face. "Thank you for your opinion, Yolanda," she said dryly, as she walked slowly across the kitchen to join her husband at the table.
Yolanda hesitated, then turned to them. "I'm almost late for church," she said, glancing at her watch. "I'll be back by 2PM. Please let me know what's happening with Dylan. And call me if he's going to be home tonight."
Mr. Callahan looked up and smiled. "We'll do that, Yolanda. Thanks again."
As she left, the man turned to his wife. "Polly, listen to me. This meeting is very important, so I would appreciate it if you don't say or do anything. Let McBrian do all the talking. That's what I pay him for."
She shot him a glance but kept her mouth shut.
Callahan reached out and took her hand. "And don't say anything that will upset Dylan," he added. "Our son's going to need all the help we can give him in the next few days."
Our faggot son, she thought to herself, as she idly stirred the coffee
§ § §
Dylan yawned again. He'd slept uncomfortably until almost 7AM, then just lay on his back and idly counted the holes in the ceiling tiles of his cell. Ten feet to his right, Kansas snored so loudly, he practically rattled the bars of the cage. A few minutes later, the guard had brought him a hot breakfast -- no ham, bacon or sausage, since apparently those offended some of the Muslim prisoners elsewhere in the building -- and allowed Dylan to take a solitary shower down the hall, under his watchful eye. His parents had thoughtfully provided a change of clothing, and he felt a lot better, just having a few hours sleep and a new shirt to wear.
At 9:30AM, the attorney was allowed into the cell, where he pulled out some notes and grilled Dylan again about all the events of the previous 48 hours. This time, Dylan noted the diminutive man was now wearing a proper "lawyer suit" instead of yesterday's white tennis attire. The clothes somehow made McBrian seem a little taller, as if a $3000 custom-fitted Armani ensemble could give him a couple of extra inches in height. But his forceful demeanor was more than enough to compensate for his small stature.
"Now, Dylan, here's what you need to do when the detective takes your statement," the man said, pacing back and forth. "Tell nothing but the truth. Don't say anything that's speculation or rumor -- only what you know to be totally true and factual. Keep your answers as short as possible. Don't volunteer any information that isn't asked for, and whatever you do, keep calm! Don't lose your temper, regardless of what's said. Let me handle that. I'll be with you at all times, but I won't interrupt unless there's a problem."
He flipped through a file in a manila folder, then nodded his head. "We've had less than 24 hours to work on this," he explained, "but so far, everything you've told us about Angel has checked out. The police back in Santa Fe had quite a bit to tell my investigator last night." He looked at Dylan curiously and cocked his head thoughtfully. "Did Angel ever tell you why his parents divorced?" he asked.
Dylan thought for a moment, then shook his head. "No," he replied. "He never even talked about his father."
"Or his Uncle?" McBrian asked.
His Uncle? "No."
The attorney flipped through a page and shook his head. "This gets pretty messy. Here's the short version: Angel's Uncle, Robert Tortellini, was a science teacher at the Santa Fe junior high school the boy attended last year. About six months ago, the Uncle was found performing..." McBrian hesitated, then continued. "ah, ...performing an 'unnatural act' on Angel in the school restroom."
Dylan's eyes widened. "No," he whispered.
"Oh, yes," the lawyer said grimly. "The custodian walked in on the two of them, dropped his mop, and called the cops. They put the guy away for five years, ruined his career." He shook his head. "Apparently, the Uncle had been gay for quite awhile, but kept it quiet. He insisted at the trial that the boy had seduced him, that it was all Angel's idea."
"His own uncle?" Dylan repeated.
"Yeah. Anyway, the wife went nuts when Angel's father believed his brother's side of the story at the trial this past summer, and it tore the family apart. She got a quick divorce, then took the kid here to LA, and has been living here under her maiden name since about August."
"It gets worse," McBrian said, as he pulled out a newspaper clipping and handed it to Dylan. It was fuzzy and indistinct, like a bad fax copy or lo-res scan, but still readable. "Look what happened three days ago."
Dylan stared at the headline. Convicted Felon Murdered in State Prison, it said. Robert Romano Tortellini was found dead, his throat slashed, lying in a shower stall late Wednesday evening. The Santa Fe inmate...
"Suicide?" Dylan asked, as he glanced at the blurry photograph of the man.
The attorney shook his head. "Slitting his own throat? Not likely. You ever hear what happens to child molesters in prison?"
Dylan winced. "Yeah. 'Short-eyes,' right?"
"You catch on fast. Some other prisoner took him out." He sat down next to Dylan and showed him some other faxes. "This kid Angel -- it's clear he was anything but. If even half the stuff in this file is true, your Michelangelo was a little monster. Maybe even a serial killer in the making."
A bad seed, Dylan thought to himself. Like a piece was missing from his brain.
Suddenly, there was a buzz, and the door down the hallway clicked. Both Dylan and McBrian looked up.
"The Deputy District Attorney is ready for you gentlemen now," the officer said. "Come with me, to room 2A."
They stood and waited for the cell door to open. Just as Dylan began to walk out, a voice from the left called out.
"Hey -- kid!"
Dylan turned and glanced at Kansas in the next cell. The man grinned at him.
"Good luck, fish."
The boy nodded and continued out in the hallway.
The large man watched until their shadows moved out of sight down the corridor and the door shut with a clang, then he leaned back. You're definitely gonna need it, he thought.
§ § §
The deputy DA's questions took nearly ninety minutes. On the advice of his attorney, Dylan decided to forego the polygraph. "We can always do it again later, if we decide to go that route," the attorney explained. "And besides, you're too tired and upset now. That could cause false 'reads,' which is the last thing we want."
The interrogation went fairly smoothly until the DA delved into unexpected territory.
"You ever use any drugs, Dylan?" the man asked evenly.
Dylan shrugged. "A lot of my friends do pot and beer and shi-... uh, stuff like that," he said hastily. "I've done 'em a few times, but I'm honestly not into any of that."
"Pills?" the man asked.
Dylan shook his head.
McBrian leaned over. "Answer yes or no," he said quietly. "Otherwise, the court stenographer can't write down your reaction."
Dylan glanced over to the small woman in the corner, who watched him expectantly, her hands poised over a compact keyboard.
"No," he said, a little louder than he intended. "I told you -- I'm not into that."
The DA smiled, then reached into a brown envelope in front of him and brought out a pill container and four ampoules of brown liquid. "Then how do you explain this?"
Dylan stiffened. Shit, he thought glumly. The police probably searched the whole house and found all the steroids.
McBrian raised an eyebrow. "I wasn't informed of this," he said. "What are they?"
"Anabolic steroids," the DA shot back. "Both oral and injectibles. It seems your client's 'on the juice', as they say in football. Isn't that right, Dylan?"
The boy looked helplessly at the attorney.
"I advise my client to say nothing until we establish the nature of these alleged drugs, and have them properly analyzed." McBrian glared angrily at the DA. "What are you trying to prove, Mr. Simmons? Where exactly are you headed with this line of questioning?"
The DA opened one of the glass vials, sniffed, made a wry face, then closed it back up again. "Strong stuff," he said. "We found at least a thousand dollars' worth in the boy's bathroom. I'd say that'll guarantee young Callahan here multiple charges of possession of a controlled substance, second-degree. In addition to murder one, of course."
McBrian rolled his eyes. "That's inadmissible," he retorted. "The murder didn't even occur at the Callahan residence! Whether or not Dylan ever owned the drugs in question has no bearing on this matter."
"Oh, but it does," the DA said dryly. "We're going to prove that Dylan Callahan beat, then strangled Michelangelo Thompkins to death while in a drug-induced frenzy -- a 'roid rage,' I believe it's called. Very common with athletes these days."
Before Dylan could answer, his mother began sobbing quietly across the table. Mike Callahan put his arm around his wife's shoulders, then turned to the other men.
"Can we have a little break, gentlemen?" he asked. "Just ten minutes or so?"
The DA nodded, then slid his chair back and stood up. "Ten-minute break. We'll be right back."
Dylan rubbed his eyes, then stared at the brown envelope on the table in front of him. Fuck, he thought glumly. I had two or three hours that I could've dumped all that shit down the toilet. Or at least given them to Kyle for safe-keeping.
He closed his eyes and shook his head. Kyle. What was Kyle gonna think of his best friend now, once all this got out?
"I think Polly needs to freshen up," said Dylan's father, who ushered the sobbing woman out the door. The boy stared as his parents and the DA disappeared down the hall together.
The attorney sighed and took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "You should've told me about the drugs, Dylan," he said quietly.
Dylan sighed. "I didn't think they were important. They had nothing to do with... with me and Angel." He looked at the attorney. "I swear, everybody on the team is using 'em! It's not like it's just me!"
McBrian shook his head. "I'm sure you're right, kid," he said evenly, "but to the police, it's just one more point against you. A jury just might believe a high-school athlete like you could be capable of violence, especially under the influence of steroids."
"Let 'em try," Dylan said, gritting his teeth. "There's no fucking way they can convict me. It can't happen."
"Listen to me, Dylan!" the attorney barked, startling the boy. "I don't think you understand just how serious this is! The charge is first-degree murder under special circumstances -- and since they want to try you as an adult, that means you're up for the death penalty." He thought for a moment, then leaned forward and cast a steely-eyed glare towards the teenager's face. "Do you have any idea what it's like to die by lethal injection?"
The boy shrugged his shoulders. "Kinda peaceful... I guess. Sorta like getting drunk, or smoking too much pot."
McBrian smiled grimly. "Not exactly. In a lethal-injection execution, first, the prisoner is sedated, usually with a medium-dose of Valium. They do that just to calm you down, so you won't cry out or try to get up off the stretcher. Next, they give you about 15cc's of sodium pentothal, over a period of about ten to twenty seconds."
Dylan tried to visualize what an execution would look like. "That's the stuff they knock you out with for an operation, right?"
The attorney nodded. "Same stuff. The sodium pentothal slows down your respiration. A minute later, they give you 15cc's of pancuronium, which numbs and paralyzes the system. And a minute after that, they give you 15cc's of potassium chloride, which should stop your heart in about thirty seconds. Two minutes later..." He paused, then dramatically snapped his fingers. "You're dead."
"Does it hurt?"
He shrugged. "The state likes to claim this is a 'humane' way to execute prisoners, but the doctors I know tell me that they have evidence that some victims feel every drop, minute-by-minute. You're basically being slowly poisoned and asphyxiated, as your breathing system shuts down." He gave the boy a cold stare. "And the only reason you can't scream is that you're paralyzed. But some doctors say yes -- the prisoners are alive and awake all the way until the very end. And they feel every bit of it, up to the moment their heart stops."
The room suddenly felt very warm. Dylan wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. "So... what are my chances?" he asked meekly. "For... for actually getting convicted?"
McBrian shook his head, then leaned back in his chair thoughtfully. "Dylan, I want you to start thinking about the idea of a plea bargain," he said finally.
Dylan was stunned. "What?"
"I'm going to suggest to the DA's office tomorrow morning before the arraignment that they consider reducing the offense to second-degree homicide and drop the drug charges, in exchange for a guilty plea. You'll do five-to-seven, and with luck, you'll be out by the time you're 23 -- 24, tops." He looked up at the teenager, whose eyes were wide with fear. "It won't necessarily be that bad, Dylan," he said reassuringly. "You'll spend about half of that up north in the California Youth Authority. Then once you turn 21, you'll do another couple of years in Lancaster or Chino. There's a good chance I can get them to put you in a minimum-security facility like Chuckawalla. It won't be a bed of roses, but you'll still at least have most of your life ahead of you... maybe go back to school, change your name."
The boy was on the verge of tears now. "But... but I swear to God! I never hurt Angel. Never. I'm totally innocent."
The attorney sighed. "I believe you, Dylan -- I really do. But convincing a judge and jury to believe your story..." He shook his head and left the thought hanging in the air, unfinished.
Thirteen, thought Dylan. The twelve assholes on the jury and the fuckin' judge that lock you up, just like Kansas said. The boy cleared his throat, then nervously reached for a glass of water and took a sip. "But... my father. He's got money, friends, connections..."
McBrian nodded. "Normally, all of those might be an advantage. But when a privileged kid like you gets put on trial, keep in mind most of the jury members probably make less than $40,000 a year. I'm afraid they might resent a young man who's had a silver spoon in his mouth all his life."
The attorney held up his hand. "Speaking of money," he said, pulling out a manila folder, "I guess this is a good time to mention this. I've been informed by the law firm of Roberts, Sifter and Young that you and your family are being sued in the amount of $100,000,000 for wrongful death."
Dylan's eyes were beginning to fill with tears now.
The attorney casually tossed the folder on the desk. "A messenger was waiting for me just as I was leaving my office this morning. Angel's mother wasted no time in getting this together. It's a wrongful-death suit against you and your family."
The boy pulled the papers towards him, then turned away from the attorney out of embarrassment and wiped his face. The amount seemed bewildering. He'd never seen that many zeros on a paper before -- especially one with his name on it.
"Is there any chance they can win?" he half-whispered.
The attorney slid the papers back into the file folder. "Doubtful," he said, " but you can never tell. After all, look at O.J. Simpson -- he won the criminal trial, then lost the civil case. Wound up losing his house and most of his possessions. But that's a worst-case scenario."
No, thought Dylan, as he stared at the table through a veil of tears. The worst-case scenario is I'm executed, and my dad loses his job, his house, and all his money. Mom and Dad are ruined.
McBrian stood up. "Oh, and one more thing, Dylan," he said. "Did they tell you what Angel said on the way to the hospital?"
The boy looked up in confusion. "But I thought they found Angel... already dead."
"That was the initial report. But apparently, he was conscious long enough to give the EMT workers a few words as they were loading him in the ambulance. He said..." The attorney stopped, then flipped through a small pad from his inside coat pocket. "Ah, here it is. He said, 'tell Dylan I'm sorry about everything. It's not his fault.'" He stared at the teenager. "Do you know what he might have meant by that? Was he trying to tell us something?"
Dylan shook his head. "No. Maybe. I... I don't know."
The attorney looked coldly at him. "Was Angel forgiving you for killing him? Because that's what it sounds like. And that's what the police think."
All the color drained from Dylan's face. Jesus, he thought. Angel's still trying to torment me, even from beyond the grave.
§ § §
At 3:50 that afternoon, Dylan sat in his cell. Kansas was uncommunicative; he lay on his side in the bunk, idly reading a paperback novel. Dylan craned his neck to try to read the cover, but gave up after a few minutes.
He lay back on his bunk, put his hands under his head, and closed his eyes. I know this nightmare's gonna end, he thought. It's got to! Maybe Angel's still alive... and this is just another one of his stupid tricks! Then the image of the battered, bloody face in the photographs came back to him, like a series of staccato flash images, each worse than the last. Suddenly, he began to sob quietly.
"Hey, kid!" snarled the other prisoner. "Hold it down, willya? I'm tryin' to read somethin' over here."
"Sorry," he sniffled, then rolled away towards the wall. No, he thought finally. Angel really is dead. And in another few months, I'll be dead, too.
§ § §
An hour later, the guard stuck his head through the hallway door. "Two visitors for you, Callahan. Don't forget -- everybody's gotta be out by 5."
Dylan looked over, then nodded and sat up in bed. A few moments later, his parents walked through the doorway. His mother was grim and refused to even look at him; his father looked pale and haggard, as if he hadn't slept for several days. The man sat next to his son on the narrow cot and shook his head.
"How's it looking?" Dylan asked hopefully.
"McBrian isn't too hopeful," replied the elder Callahan. "I don't agree with his plea bargain idea. Unfortunately," he said with a sigh, "in the case of a jury trial, we run the risk of the 'jury tax.' That's where if we lose, the judge typically imposes a harsher sentence than if we had wrapped the case up quickly." He gripped the teenager's shoulder affectionately. "What do you think?"
Dylan sighed. "I don't know," he said wearily. "When do we have to make the decision?"
"Probably a week -- two weeks, tops," Callahan replied. "Either way, it's bound to hit the papers in another day or two."
The boy glanced up at his father. The man looked older somehow; there was more gray in his hair than he'd noticed before, and his shoulders slumped, without his usual air of confidence.
"Otherwise, we can expect a trial sometime in the next six-to-eight months," the man continued. "And McBrian's fairly certain it'll take at least two or three weeks, minimum, to present all the evidence and witnesses."
"Will I..." Dylan's words caught in his throat. "Will I have to stay here in jail that whole time?"
Callahan sighed. "We're set to have a hearing tomorrow afternoon to decide whether we can post bail for you."
"So I can get out of here?"
"Until the trial, anyway," the father said, nodding. "McBrian told me to expect a million-dollar bond."
A million dollars? Dylan thought, stunned at the amount. Was freedom worth that much -- even temporarily?
"Of that, we have to come up with $100,000 in cash now. Then we forfeit the rest if..." The man hesitated. "...if you don't actually show up for the trial."
"Switzerland," announced Dylan's mother, in a loud voice. The father and son turned towards her, and she walked over to the cot and stared at her son. "We could send you to Europe -- have you stay with some friends of ours under another name. You might be able to live there... well, forever."
"No," whispered Dylan. "I'm not guilty. I swear, my hand to God, I never killed Angel."
His father leaned close to him. "Dylan, this isn't about guilt or innocence," Callahan said quietly. "It's about keeping you alive, son. Just the thought of you being in prison, even for a few years..." He shook his head and closed his eyes.
"Just think about it for awhile, dear," said his mother. Dylan looked over at her, and could see her eyes were red and bloodshot. She made a meager attempt to smile. "Your father says we have to keep all the options open."
"But that's breaking the law," he said quietly, still rolling the idea around in his head.
"Let us worry about that," said his father, standing up. "You just get some rest for now and think it over. Once you're home, by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest, we can talk about it some more."
Dylan nodded. "Alright. Thanks for coming by again."
The guard appeared in the doorway. "Five more minutes, folks."
"We were just leaving," said his mother curtly, who walked past him down the hall.
His father paused at the cell door. "And son -- not a word to McBrian about what you and I discussed. The less he knows about this, the better."
"And keep your chin up, Dylan. This isn't over yet. Our luck is bound to change soon."
The guard closed the cell door, which clanged shut.
Dylan nodded, then watched as the guard and his father disappeared down the hall, then heard the buzz of the outer door open, then clang shut. A few moments later he heard a rough chuckle from his right, and turned to see Kansas' face, grinning up against the bars.
"I heard all about ya, man," the man said. "You offed that kid up in Porter Ranch, right? Shit, that's been the biggest fuckin' headline in the paper all weekend."
Dylan winced. "Was... was my name mentioned in the story?"
"Naaaa. They just said it was some juvenile who was gonna be charged on Monday morning, or some shit like that." The man sat back on his bunk and laughed. "They said whoever did it fucked the kid, then strangled him."
The teen's face reddened. "That's not what happened," he said hoarsely. "I told you before -- I didn't kill him."
"Maybe," the man said, matter-of-factly. "Maybe not. Either way, they're gonna be all over your ass, once you get shipped downtown. And they can't keep you in protective custody forever. You're gonna need all the luck you can, just to stay alive in the next few days. That's until you get that big needle that's waitin' for ya up north." He chuckled, then leaned back on his cot and continued reading his book.
Dylan started to respond, then thought better of it. The less I talk to this guy, he thought, the better off I'll be. He lay back down on his cot and stretched out, then rolled over and clenched his eyes shut, praying desperately for the soothing blackness of sleep.
§ § §
Angel was lying nude on a hospital gurney, partially covered by a body bag. The door to the morgue opened, and a shaft of bluish-grey light flooded in, momentarily illuminating the ice-cold, darkened room. Dylan pushed his way through the doors and slowly crept up to the cart, then grew close enough to see the face was contorted, all bloody and purple.
Dylan felt exhausted. It took every amount of effort he had to overcome his revulsion. He knew if he tried, he could smell the body. What was it they had told him in Biology 201 -- that less than 24 hours after a person died, the larvae had already begun to eat the body from the inside out, feeding the maggots? Worm food, Kyle had joked at the time. Once we're dead, we're nothin' but worm food.
He inched closer. Angel's eyelids were closed, obscuring the emerald pupils beneath them, but he seemed almost peaceful. Dylan leaned forward to get a better look. They'd done a pretty good job of cleaning him up. The flesh was very pale, but then, the young teenager never had much of a tan. The neck was badly bruised, probably marks left from whoever strangled him. Dylan reached out to brush the long flowing black hair off the boy's shoulders, then he jumped back when the body's eyes slowly opened. Still as green and piercing as ever.
Dylan's heart was racing. He glanced towards the door; he was certain he could make the distance in three seconds, flat -- but something compelled him to look back at the body of his friend... his lover... his tormenter. The mouth was moving now. Dylan could see the remnants of a little blood on the lower teeth -- or was it something else, like a last-minute snack? he thought, in a moment of giddiness -- and he thought he heard something.
The voice was more like a hiss than any sound a human could make. "I forgiiiiive yoooou, Dylaaaaaan," it said in a dark whisper. "It's nottttt your faaaaault..."
"Not my fault," he repeated softly.
"Notttttt your faaaaault..."
Suddenly, the head slowly turned towards him, and Dylan took a step back. But the face on the gurney was as Angel had always been: beautiful, with kind eyes and a beatific smile.
"Sssssssssory..." it hissed. "Neeeeever should've donnnnne itttttttt..."
"Sorry," repeated Dylan. "I'll miss you, Angel."
The creature cocked his head and eyes opened wider. "Misssss meeeeee?"
Dylan nodded, and what was left of Angel began to laugh. It
began like the sound of a teakettle, then screeched higher and higher, forcing
Dylan to cover his ears. The sound grew even louder, morphing into a great roar,
like a monstrous tidal wave smashing into a beach. Dylan dropped to his knees
and began to scream. He closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around his legs
and began to rock back and forth, tears trickling down his face, wanting more
than everything for the laughter to just stop -- please
STOP, just make it fucking STOP, God almighty I CAN'T TAKE ANY MORE!
"KID!" yelled a familiar voice. "Hold it the fuck DOWN, willya? Some of us are tryin' to sleep in here!"
Dylan awoke with a start, bumping his head on the wall, momentarily stunned at his surroundings. He was back in his cell, lying on his cot, and his sheets were soaked with sweat. Dylan let out a long sigh, then glanced through the bars. According to the government-issue clock on the farthest green wall, it was only 5:10am.
"Sorry," he whispered loudly. "Just a nightmare."
"Typical fish bullshit," muttered Kansas, who rolled on his other side. "Go back to fuckin' sleep."
Dylan nodded and lay back, leaning his forearm against his forehead, and stared up at the ceiling. He's right, he thought. This is bullshit. He mulled over the events of the last few days, even relived the eight no, it was nine weeks he'd been with Angel. All of this happened because I couldn't live with the truth, he decided. If I can just get through this, I'm gonna do things a lot differently.
An image of his mother flickered momentarily. She had a disapproving expression on her face. Switzerland. Dylan shook his head. He'd be damned if he ran from the trial. That'd wind up hurting his family even more than they were now. No, he decided. I'm gonna stay here and ride this thing out. Good or bad, even if they convict me, I'm gonna make it through this.
That thought seemed to give him a little added strength. For the first time since entering the police station 36 hours ago, Dylan smiled. He lay back on the bunk, and listened to the soft, rhythmic snoring coming from the other side of the room. In minutes, he faded back to sleep, this time blissfully free from any demons or nightmares.
§ § §
Thirty-two miles away, at the Coral Reef Motel in Marina Del Ray, a man stirred in his bed, then sat up and rubbed his eyes wearily. A pale gray light filtered through the room's shabby curtains, casting harsh shadows across the ceiling. One glance at the illuminated clock told him it was only 6:22AM. It'd been exactly 48 hours since... since he had rid the world of the nightmare.
"My nightmare," he said out loud. "I ended the nightmare."
Nearby, a copy of the Sunday LA Times lay open to the front page. "Porter Ranch Teen Slain," accompanied by a recent snapshot of a black-haired boy on a bicycle. The man stared at the paper, then tenderly touched the photograph. "I brought you into this world, baby, and I had no choice but to take you out of it."
He glanced over at a brown paper bag, which had an unopened bottle of Cutty Sark Scotch. The trashcan still had three empties in it. He'd polished them off over the weekend, and hadn't left the bed ever since. Nearby were several half-eaten containers of Domino's Pizza and a tin plate with some remnants of take-out spaghetti. A $20 tip had kept the motel maid away for a couple of days, but he'd probably have to let her clean up in a few hours. He sighed. Despite sleeping on and off for nearly 30 hours, he never felt so exhausted in his life.
The man leaned over and clicked a button on the nearby TV, which buzzed and flickered to life. A commercial for a local car dealer blared, and the man stumbled to his feet, turned down the sound, and walked unsteadily to the bathroom, where he urinated, then washed his hands and stared at his reflection in the mirror. He hadn't shaved in several days, and the beard was coming in greyer than he'd remembered. He looked tired, but somehow relieved. Not the face of a murderer, he assured himself. I did the world a huge favor. The monster is dead.
He splashed some water on his face, dried it, then walked back to his bed and lay back. The plan worked perfectly, he thought. May never suspected a thing. He'd let his ex-wife drink heavily during their dinner Friday night, waited until the drugs kicked in, then left her unconscious at the room he'd rented at the Chatsworth Best Western. She didn't wake up until 9AM, when she discovered what had happened.
"Now what?" he asked out loud, reaching for the Scotch. Just as he screwed off the cap and took a long swig, he noticed there was a familiar face staring at him from the TV screen.
He half-dropped the bottle, then reached for the remote control and turned up the volume.
"...that the investigation is ongoing. The accused suspect is being moved to County Jail this morning, but because the suspect is a juvenile, his name is being withheld pending the arraignment. The district attorney's office has advised that, due to the violent nature of the crime and the victim's rape prior to his death, the suspect will be charged with murder under special circumstances. That means that he could get the death penalty, joining the seven teenagers convicted under the 1996 'California Victim's Rights' act. We'll have more on this story as it develops. From Porter Ranch, I'm Kim Boldonado, for Channel 4 News."
The rest of the screen blurred, and the sound throbbed in the man's head. No... he thought to himself. This wasn't how it was supposed to turn out. This was a simple home invasion robbery... nobody would ever get caught. It would be just another unsolved crime, like the ones that old actor, Robert Stack, used to talk about on TV. Another unsolved mystery. In this case, not so much a murder as a killing... a mercy killing. Justice, for all the people Angel had hurt over the years. An eye for an eye.
The man walked over to the drawer by the bed, then reached in and pulled out a small handgun. He knew it was inevitable that he'd have to kill himself; days ago, he realized he wouldn't be able to live for long with what he'd done. But it was worth it, he thought. I owed it to Bobby. His younger brother had always been the baby of the family. He'd known for years that Roberto was gay; it made no difference to him. But that all changed six months ago, after...
No, he thought, mentally forcing the image out of his brain. I've dwelled on that too much already.
He stared down at the pistol in his hand, which gleamed in the early morning sunlight that flooded the room. He'd prepared for this for days, and it was now or never. "Gotta do this," he said, and put the gun to his lower chin and aimed upwards. The gun barrel was cold against his skin, and his hands were sweating, despite the gentle ocean breeze that fluttered through the half-closed window.
The man forced his fingers to move, desperately willed them to squeeze the trigger. His hand shook from the effort, and he closed his eyes and waited.
No, he finally decided. There's something I have to do first.
He put the gun down, then reached for the telephone and dialed 9 for an outside line, then keyed in 9-1-1. There was a click, and he cleared his throat.
"Listen to me," he said to the emergency operator. "My name is Richard Tortellini. I'm from Santa Fe, New Mexico. I killed my son, Michelangelo, Saturday morning in Chatsworth. In a few minutes, you'll find my body in Room 302 of the Coral Reef Motel at the Marina. I'm near the beach, on Promenade Way. You've already got the phone number."
"Hold on, sir!" chirped a female voice. "What are you saying?"
"Tell the police they have the wrong guy," he said calmly. "I killed the boy in Chatsworth Saturday morning. I had no choice. He was a monster. Do you understand? Because of him and his lies, too many people have suffered. My own brother... Roberto. And now it's time for me to die, too."
"Please, sir! Stay on the line with me."
The man shook his head. "There's no point now. Tell my ex-wife all of this is for the best. I blame only myself. Goodbye."
He lay the phone down on the table, then reached over for the gun. In the distance, he heard what might be the anguished cries of a seagull, but could also be a siren. He waited a moment, just long enough to be sure it was the latter.
"God help me," he said out loud, then held the gun underneath his chin and pulled the trigger.
§ § §
Dylan awoke at 7:30AM to the clang of a hallway door, followed by the footsteps of two uniformed officers.
"C'mon, kid," said the guard on the left. "You're catchin' the train -- they're shipping you downtown to County in fifteen minutes." He tossed an orange package through the cell bars.
Dylan picked it up. It was an nylon jumpsuit, stenciled "Property of the LA County Jail" on the back. He suppressed the urge to laugh. Like somebody would be stupid enough to want to steal this thing, he thought. He took off his shirt and pants, laid them in a small pile on the bunk, and slipped on the loose-fitting outfit.
"Shoes?" he asked the guard.
"Slip-ons. No laces. You wear -- what, a 10?"
"11," he replied. "11D."
The guard nodded, then went through a cart just outside the door. "We got 11-1/2's, and that's close enough."
As Dylan was putting on his shoes, the guard unlocked the door to his cell and gestured him to exit. Just as he stood up, he heard a voice on his right.
"Hey, kid," said the other prisoner. "Remember what I told ya. You got some tough days ahead. You watch yourself."
Dylan cocked an eyebrow. "I thought I was 'short-eyes' to you."
The man shrugged. "I'm a pretty good judge of people. You don't look like a guilty type to me."
The boy nodded. "Thanks, Kansas. Good luck to you, too."
"This way," snapped the guard, who gestured towards the hallway. "C'mon, we don't have all fuckin' day."
They led Dylan out into the corridor, where they snapped on two chains to his legs, then an ID badge and plastic cuffs on his wrists. "This is just for the bus ride downtown," one officer explained. "You'll spend an hour or two getting put into the system, then you'll be assigned to PC." With that, they led him through an open door and escorted him down the hall.
Dylan trudged wearily along, the chains clanking and dragging noisily on the tile floor. The tune from an old 1980's song, "Back on the Chain Gang," started playing in his head, and Dylan had to momentarily suppress a laugh. Now I know what a chain gang really is, he thought ruefully.
It took them two minutes to reach the back of the building, past several locked-off areas that ended in a small waiting room. Two walls were flanked by hard wood benches, while the third had a large glass window with a protective mesh and steel bars on the outside, providing a view of the police station parking lot. The place had an odd smell to it, a combination of sweat and fresh paint, he thought. Kinda like the dog kennel, back at the vet's.
He joined a crowd of about 20 other inmates, each of them already seated and wearing orange jumpsuits and chains identical to his own. Dylan glanced around while an officer filled out some paperwork. Most of the other prisoners were black; a few were Hispanic, and one was Asian. Dylan was surprised to note he wasn't the youngest prisoner there: there was a black kid, maybe 13 or 14, sitting by himself on an isolated bench on the far left side. The guards led him over to this area, and gestured towards the seat.
"Bus is about half an hour late," said the guard, who used a padlock to chain him and the black kid together to a metal pipe behind them. "Should be here by 8:30, 8:45AM tops."
"What kinda service you boys givin' 'round here, man?" yelled one prisoner over his shoulder. Dylan looked up to see a scraggly-bearded middle-aged man with a twitch. "This ain't no way to run an airline."
"Pipe down, asshole," snarled the guard. "You got nothin' comin! Shut your fuckin' mouth, convict, or else I'll shut it for ya."
The room settled back to a dull roar. Dylan glanced to the black kid, who was trembling violently. "Hey," he said quietly. "This is pretty fucked-up, isn't it?"
The boy nodded, but didn't reply.
"My name's Dylan," he continued. "Guess we're goin' downtown to the County Jail."
The boy started to respond, then choked and swallowed and began again. "My real name's Alvertis," he said. "But my friends call me Al."
They knocked fists together lightly, dragging the chains across their laps.
Al glanced nervously towards him. "They're keepin' me in PC, 'cause I'm a kid."
Dylan nodded. "Yeah. Me, too."
The black boy stared at him. "What'd you do?"
The older teen grinned, then shook his head. "You're not supposed to ask that stuff. If somebody offers it, that's one thing, but you don't ask any stranger why they're inside. That's the kinda thing that'll get you cut up."
"I... I didn't know," Al stammered. "I'm sorry. I've never been arrested before."
Dylan leaned back. "We got a few minutes. Let me explain a few laws of the jungle for ya." And for the next forty minutes, he lectured the boy on all the main points Kansas had told him the night before, making sure to emphasize how to stay alive, how to avoid trouble, and how to fight if you had to.
By the end of the lecture, the boy's eyes were as wide as saucers. "Sheee-it," he whispered. "I guess you've been in here awhile."
Dylan chuckled. "No way. Never got anything more than a speeding ticket until Saturday. Now, I'm in for murder, and..." He caught himself, then continued. "Murder and a buncha other stuff. But it's all circumstantial, and I'm totally not guilty."
The black teen nodded. "Me, too. My brother and me... he was sellin' some dope from his car, and we both got caught last night."
Dylan looked around, but there were no other teens in the room. "Where's your brother?" he asked.
"He dead," the boy said softly. "They shot him dead, two feet away from me. Thought he had a gun or somethin' in the glove box, but he was just tryin' to hide some money."
"Shit," Dylan said. "I'm really sorry, man."
The boy wiped a few stray tears from his face, then stared at him, expectantly. After a few moments, Dylan shrugged and pointed to himself. "Oh, as for me... well, a friend of mine got beat up and strangled by somebody Saturday morning, and I was the likeliest suspect."
Al turned and eyed him warily. "You do it?"
Dylan shook his head. "I might've killed him if I could have, but somebody beat me to it. He tried to kill my dog, and did a buncha other stuff... this guy was a total asshole, believe me. Like Hannibal Lector, if he was a kid."
The black boy nodded. "Ain't nobody got the right to try to kill somebody's dog," he said, as if that were grounds for a capital offense.
Dylan started to answer, but was interrupted by a squeal of feedback and a loud blare from the P.A. system.
"Attention, please! All prisoners, please stand and get ready to exit. Line up in single file at the red doorway to the right."
The two teenagers got unsteadily to their feet, then clanked over to join the other prisoners at the red door. A guard walked up to fasten all their chains together. A diesel horn honked outside, and Dylan turned just as a large black-and-white diesel bus pulled through the parking lot and up to the door. It looked like any nondescript aging city transport, except for the new paint job and the addition of bars and wire mesh over the side and back windows -- a virtual jail on wheels. Two guards armed with shotguns stood near the doorway, and motioned the prisoners towards the bus. Ten feet away, three more uniformed guards stood by the vehicle.
No way to make a run for it, thought Dylan as he took in the view, even if I didn't have these chains on.
"Single file!" barked an officer from behind them.
They glumly filed through the doorway and stopped at the front of the bus, where one guard inspected their leg-chains, while another checked off their names as they passed by.
"Ramirez, Martin A.," noted the officer to the man at the head of the line. "Up you go."
Dylan and the other prisoners took a step forward.
"You scared?" whispered Al, just behind him.
The older teen nodded as they shuffled along. "I'd have to be dead not to be," he whispered back.
"No talkin' in line!" growled an officer. "Shut the fuck up unless we tell you to talk, prisoner!"
Dylan clamped his mouth shut and kept his eyes forward. Getting off to a good start, he thought. A minute later, he made it up to the front of the line. "Callahan," he said quietly. "Dylan Callahan."
The guard nodded and made a check on his clipboard, then raised an eyebrow. "Say... you play for Chatsworth High, right?"
The boy blanched and nodded.
"Me, too, back in '86," the man said with a grin. "I was the big high school jock at Chatsworth while you were still makin' warm pudding in your diapers, son." He gestured towards the bus steps. "Hop aboard, and leave the driving to us," the officer said, then laughed at his joke.
Dylan took one step forward, then froze when the outdoor PA system blared behind him.
"HALT! Officer Swanson, bring prisoner Callahan to Room 6, immediately."
Dylan whirled around. In the distance, he could make out a familiar bald-headed man looking through one of the windows. McBrian!
He started to run, then remembered where he was. Two guards briskly walked up beside him and escorted him to the doorway. Just as he reached the doorway, another officer came up and whispered to one of the guards, who leaned down and unlocked the leg-irons.
"What's going on?" Dylan said, momentarily stunned.
"You just won the lotto, kid," he replied. "A 'get-out-of-jail-free' card."
The boy was stunned. "You mean..."
"All the charges have been dropped," the officer continued, letting the last of the chains hit the floor with a loud clank. "Go back to your mommy and daddy, and stay outta trouble."
Dylan stood there for a moment, letting it sink in. Outside, the bus gunned its engine, and Dylan turned just in time to see the vehicle lumber its way through an electric gate. I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye to Al, he mused. Suddenly, a hand clapped him on the back.
"You're going home, Dylan," said McBrian. The attorney stood and beamed. "The real murderer just confessed. He's alive, just barely -- tried to kill himself in a motel across town about ninety minutes ago."
Dylan stared at him. "Who?"
"Angel's father. C'mon. Let's get out of here."