The pair of thin latex gloves offered Bill little protection from the impressions of feelings in the room. Even with the gloves, he remained careful not to touch anything unless he absolutely had no other choice. There were too many stories wrapped up in the confines of his holding cell, and none of them were very happy.
At lunchtime, the same grizzled officer came by and dropped off a tray which held a turkey sandwich, an apple, and a Styrofoam cup of iced tea. “Eat up, pal, and make it quick. You got an appointment with the judge in less than an hour.” He laughed. “I see you got your gloves.”
Bill nodded his head. “Yeah, I did.”
“You’re one crazy shit, you know that?” An aura of condescension, malice, and revulsion surrounded the young man.
Bill tried not to react to the negative energy. “Maybe I am, man.”
The young guy scoffed. He stared into Bill’s eyes a moment before turning away. “I hope they give you Old Sparky.”
Bill thought about that a moment. He thought about having his hair shaved and his body wrapped in that leather and metal. He imagined the stories that the electric chair would tell him and shuddered at the thought. He thought that if his skin just happened to graze that chair, after feeling the stories it would tell, death might become the least of his worries. In fact, death might come as some relief.
Bill heard the young man’s footsteps recede into the distance. He felt alone.
Despite his normal avoidance of meat, Bill found that he was starving. He ate the sandwich and tasted the turkey on his tongue. As expected, the story was ugly, but not too bad overall. It was a life of confinement, but also of false confidence and safety. The turkey never knew what was coming. It ate its feed – unaware of what the future would bring – and gobbled happily during its short life, but in the end, it was still a sad story, kind of lonely.
Bill looked around at the cage he found himself in now and identified with the turkey. He put the sandwich down and left it unfinished after eating about three-fourths of it. He could not take another bite. The confined life is secure in its way, but Bill did not want that life. He wanted to remain free to run away from the butcher at the end of his own story. He knew that a butcher came for them all in the end, but Bill did not want to wait around in a cage. He wanted to make the butcher chase after him a little first.
Bill picked up the apple. He knew that its story would be more pleasant – a story of fragrant blossoms and soaked sunlight and cool summer rains. He was not disappointed. Bite after delicious bite, he felt the seasons as lived by the tree and found some comfort in the cycle of life it revealed.
The tea was also nice – an apparently endless green field billowed by a warm breeze.
After eating, he decided to clean himself up a little for the judge. He walked over to the mirror and studied his reflection. He could benefit from a nice shave and haircut, but understood this would not be possible at the moment. He worked the faucet on using his clothed elbow. He did not want to risk touching any surface; he worried his latex gloves were too thin.
He placed his head under the faucet and allowed the lukewarm water to flow through his tangled locks. He ran his fingers through his wet hair and, aided by a fresh bar of hand soap, worked out kinks and tangles. Once he was done he grabbed his longish hair in bunches and squeezed out as much excess water as possible. Using his fingers as a comb, he styled the hair by giving it a part on the top and pushing it back and over his ears. It was not a good look for him. He knew that once it dried it would curl and wave into a messy thick mop’s head once again, but for now it would have to do.
He nodded at his reflection and tried to smile. It was not easy. He did not feel like he had anything to smile about, but he had been a salesmen once upon a time in his former life and knew the power of a smile. He knew, with such damning circumstantial evidence against him, he would have to give one hell of a sales pitch to get out of this mess.
He turned his mind to the photographs that had lined the table in the interview room. He recognized the foot, but the rest of the photographs were completely new to him. There were hands, arms, legs, fingers, and toes. There was a head and a torso. The head had been the worst photograph in the room. The dead eyes stared outward, the mouth slack and open, and he knew that the picture revealed a child who would never laugh again, and he grieved for that child and empathized with the pain her parents must feel.
All the body parts had been small. Had all the victims been children? He thought so. He did not really keep up with current events, but thought he remembered seeing a recent headline in a discarded newspaper talking about a child killer. At the time he didn’t really think anything of it, of course. There were plenty of child killers out there, after all. There was always at least one awful headline about a child killer or serial killer at any given point in time somewhere in the cold, cruel world.
Bill understood why the police and F.B.I. held him suspect. He would have done the same had he been in their shoes. It only made sense. He was an aimless drifter found in a field with a severed foot from a child. What else could they make out of that scene?
Bill sat on the cot, stared at the wall, and tried not to think too much about things. He tried to just focus on his breathing – it felt too fast – and keep calm. The world no longer made sense, and he cursed his hands and his touch.
Eventually, he heard footsteps. It was a light clipping noise, lighter than the clomp of the prison guard’s spit-shined loafers.
Gloria walked up to the door. A pair of handcuffs dangled from her finger. “You ready?”
Bill nodded. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
Her lips moved into a different expression. It was not a smile. It was not a frown. It was something else, something that Bill could not read. “Hey magic man, you think you should put these on yourself?”
“Yeah. I guess I better. Unless you don’t believe me?”
She sighed. “How can I believe you?”
“After what happened in the interview room, how can you not? You saw it with your own eyes. Seeing is believing you know.”
“Sometimes. But I’ve also seen people get sawed in half at shows in Vegas. The eyes can’t always be trusted.”
“I know. But you can trust touch.”
“I don’t know. I remember my feelings lying to me in the past.”
Bill knew exactly what she was talking about, or thought he did anyway. “I don’t know anything about that. I can tell you that everything I feel has been real, as far as I know.”
“As far as you know,” she repeated. “Well, as far as I know you’re a psychopath and a serial killer.”
“But don’t you feel something else? I think I can feel that surrounding you. You have doubts and fears just like the rest of us. You aren’t as different today as you think you are. Remember, I know you.”
She smiled then. It was a weak smile, but it was real. “Let’s just keep that between us for now, okay? If you know what’s good for you.” She looked around and lowered her voice. “I have a plan. It’s unconventional and most likely won’t pan out, but if what you said is true you might be able to help me out. You’re not off the hook. Not entirely. But let’s just say I have certain reasons to doubt your involvement. Just do what your lawyer tells you to do, okay?”
“My lawyer? I haven’t even asked for one yet.”
She opened the door, walked inside, and tossed Bill the handcuffs. She lowered her voice even further and whispered. “Oh yes you did ask for a lawyer.” She looked at Bill and arched her eyebrows. “Okay?”
Bill nodded his head. He had no clue what she was talking about, but knew it would be best to go along with her in his current situation.
“You have a lawyer. A good one. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were released in just a little while.”
“So I’d be free to go?”
Her smile grew wider and more mischievous. “I don’t know about that. After all this time I think we have some catching up to do, don’t you?”