Chapter 6....it only hurts when I breath.
“What can be more soothing, at once to a man's Pride, and to his Conscience, than the conviction that, in taking vengeance on his enemies for injustice done him, he has simply to do them justice in return?” - Edgar Allen Poe
The next morning during my ride to work, I sat stoic as the train thrust its way through Boston's subterranean cavernous maze. Just feet above, along the streets of Boston, a bounty of asphalt and rugged cobblestones endured a brigade of footfalls as pedestrians braved the likes of kamikaze cab drivers and dared to step from their respective curbs.
That day I was oblivious to the coarse friction of disharmonious chatter which ordinarily clanged chaotically against the train's dense steel walls. Most days, a muffled mass of discord would pervade and awake my every sense, but that day it was merely a hushed whisper in the foreground.
If you were to ask me how I appeared to most that day, I'm not entirely certain. I would imagine transparent with the vapidness of a child's puppet with a dangling cascade of strings. Clearly my mind had traveled into the unknown. Outwardly, surely it appeared I was absent. Somehow I had managed my own of astral travel of sorts; at least that's how I felt.
As my frame jostled in time with the heaving underground terrain, I sat entranced by the deceitful plans that consumed me. An overwhelming tingle of numbness embraced me; seemingly a legion of pinpricks could have grazed my skin with the slightest of ease.
I would have quickly volunteered the excuse that I was simply overtired. The truth would surely disturb most, and that was the elaborate web of alibis and deceit which entangled my every waking thought. The tactics I would execute consumed my mind, that is...my careful plan of murder. Planning the days that would lead up to my husband's final gasps for air. These fateful days he had unwittingly mapped out for himself.
After having seen several women suffer from the distasteful service of lukewarm justice, I could not bear to unleash the cancerous lesion that is Alex unto amass of unwitting singles. The only chance for a scintilla of hope, was to stomp out what scarce light remained in his dimly lit spirit.
Sitting across from me on the train that morning was an elderly couple. The woman, a slight framed feeble looking woman, who wore a threadbare knee length plaid woolen skirt. Her hair a deep gray, loosely held back from her face with intricate looking turquoise barrettes. Cheap plastic jewelry was draped over her aged parched skin.
She peered at the cement walls that were covered with thick patches of black mold occasionally interrupted by flashing signs and numbered lights that swished past her view; her eyes briefly shifted back to meet her husbands. After a few moments she shifted her gaze back to the dim scenery, and sat completely unaware that her husband sat gazing at her face.
With his cracked aged forefinger, he slowly circled a thin gold band she wore, circling it slowly around her nearly transparent skin. So slowly, as though he were afraid she would break with the slightest of touch. His movements were deliberate as though he held the most precious of flowers cradled in his hands. Worried that the slightest movement could cause its petals to fall and its beauty to forever dissipate from the world.
His feeble long aged fingers grazed the top of her hand that he held in his own, as he looked down at their clasped hands he simply smiled to himself. He looked up and studied his surroundings with a deep sigh of contentment exuding from his lips. As though you could hear the joy rushing slowly from his lips. The old man finally glanced over at me, feeling my eyes on him, and once our eyes had finally met he slowly nodded his head and smiled so wide one could swear his face may split in two. His face beamed with joy and it showed in the corners of his smile and the brightness of his eyes.
That day, amidst the ugliness of a dirty train, directly across from me sat the epitome of enduring love. Witnessing their exchange was something akin to watching caramel drip through the curves of a twisted decanter. A rare yet unique event indeed. I believe God had purposely placed me there, right at that moment, right in that precise seat, so I could to see what was to come, or what could be. For that moment, I would always be truly grateful.
It was then I knew that I could have peace....someday. Perhaps a lifelong love? But for now, I coddled the hope of a new day; hope, such an elusive concept for some. Luckily, I had not lost sight of my hope, it felt only a few short breaths away.
That morning's train ride rekindled my fading spirits, until the stinging bite of reality interrupted once I arrived at work. That is, once I listened to a voice mail from late Friday afternoon.
A sweet twangy voice jangled through my earpiece, it was Victoria our station's victim witness advocate, she resonated an unexpected chipper tone when she had what most would consider the most detestable job at the station, “Hey Officer Chiatti, It's Victoria Smalls, just thought I'd report back to you about my recent chats with Gina Steenley and how that's been coming along. Basically, I haven't been able to reach her for the past three weeks and Ron's hearing is coming up next week. I have a feeling she is going to clam up on this one. Perhaps the prosecutor should try and reach her on this one before the trial? Call me later when you get a chance. K? Bye-bye!”
Holy Shit, Tori, skip a cup of coffee or two. Damn girl. Then again, I guess it was a nice way to get my daily dose of bad news. That morning I called the prosecutor, Michael Armstrong, to fill him in on Steenley case. What was happening or I should say what wasn't happening with the case. As expected his voice mail kicked in...such is the life of an overworked prosecutor. The most overburdened, underpaid public servant known to mankind.
With a morose tone I left Mike the unfortunate details, and that he should expect the spousal immunity card to be thrown his way any day now. That is, spouses cannot be forced to testify against one another. Every day until the hearing I would follow up on the Steenley case. My messages became more and more insistent, as the date inched closer. I never did receive a return call from Michael, but I would have my chance to speak with him at the hearing.
As the days passed, my anger grew. I felt oddly invested and spiteful for yet another victim falling prey to the clutches of yet another deceitful predator...and on my watch. That's all these people were to me, predators who simply did not deserve the deals they were dealt.
The morning of the hearing, my palms moist with what seemed like an endless cascade of sweat, I walked beneath the court's ornate vestibule embellished with phony gold plated ornaments clinging to images of justice with the likes of gavels and balanced scales. The metal detector's nerve-wracking pings reverberated through its lofty corridors assassinating the nerves of each passerby. Court room assignments were posted on a tattered cork-board, uniquely out of place for a building with such delusory grandeur. The respective schedules were pinned amongst a graveyard of stapled remnants with shards of hastily ripped paper;
'Commonwealth v. Steenley: Courtoom 4: 8:00 AM : Justice M. Scalia.'
As you walked through the thick wooden doors of any one courtroom, you would leave the behind the world of cool marble sheen and enter one spacious blank unremarkable space. Where hopeless panic stricken faces lined a tier of benches. Loved ones clung to the knee or hand of their “wrongfully accused” as the briefcase toting lawyers sat crouched behind the bar to exchange insignificant details; callously indifferent to the dreary mood that filled the room like a deep fog.
With a temporary restraining order still in place, Gina and Ron obediently put on a show for onlookers, as they sat as far apart as possible in such a close space. The truth is, they had resumed living together weeks ago. I glanced over at Gina, dressed in her Sunday best, and as my eyes met hers she shamefully averted eye contact and looked down into herself. She exuded a desire to dissipate, much like a wisp of steam.
Despite Gina's obvious discomfort, I continued to glare in her direction as I made my way across the courtroom toward the prosecutor's desk. I knew what she had done, and I knew she was letting him back in, before I even had the chance to find out for myself. A few short steps before I approached their desk, the coarse smell of freshly print paper and cheap cologne assaulted my face; as a team of prosecutors swarmed like a chaotically papered flash mob. A line of lawyers and police officers patiently awaited the attention of one of these newly swarming bees.
When I came to the front of the line, Mr. Armstrong looked up at me while alternating eye contact between his file and my face, and dismissively said, “Oh, Hi there Officer Chiatti. How are you? You know, I meant to call you. Yeah, real sorry about that. I was kinda working on a deal for the Steenley case. So you know? I wasn't quite sure what to tell you. But we just finalized the deal this morning with Ron. We won't be needing your testimony today. You have a great day though.”
And that was that. There was nothing I could do. The deal was done. Instantly, a hot rush of anger welled up inside of me as it bubbled up from the deepest pit of my gut and ascended toward the ranks of my forehead and temples. My complexion assuredly beamed a scarlet red as I became enraptured with an overwhelming sense of unmitigated rage.
As I turned and began to make my way down an ugly depleted grey rug, I shot my glance toward Ron Steenley, who sat in the far rear left hand corner of the courtroom proudly displaying his cocky grin. He stared directly at me as he brought his right hand to his forehead and gestured a half assed salute while subtly nodding his head. He was letting me know he had in fact, won this round.
Without Gina's testimony to back up her former statement, there was little to no chance that a jury would convict a man without any corroboration from the accuser. Ron cut a deal and was on probation for a year with a ninety day suspended sentence and was ordered to attend anger management classes at his cost. Unfortunately, as we later discovered, a cost borne by Gina as well. His criminal charge didn't just disappear, this certainly wasn't an acquittal and for that Gina had to pay the price. This whole ordeal would always be her fault and that could never change. Ever.
Within two weeks of the hearing, Victoria would follow up at the Steenley home, since we were certain they resumed living together; and the restraining order was in fact dismissed. But when Tori arrived at the Steenley home, Gina only partially opened the door and sheepishly peeked around its frame. Despite Tori's persistent efforts she was not allowed in the home but as a silent cry for help, Gina slowly revealed her entire face. Her face so engorged with blood it appeared as though she had strapped a blood sausage along the left side of her face, with a fluttering eye just beneath its casing.
Gina's employer later reported, she had been calling out of work that entire week, and now we knew why. Victoria claimed that as she stood in the hallway quietly talking to Gina, when Ron discovered who was at his door, he quickly became hostile and rushed to slam the door in her face. After she had seen her in this condition, Tori later called Gina and urged her to file a complaint with the PD, and she flatly refused.
Unfortunately, for Ron he would be attending a funeral only two short months from that very date. Once I had my chance to kill him. For now, he would play his cynical game of torture. For now... for this very short time.
Over the next few weeks I focused on my tasks at hand rather than allowing anger and rage to consume my every waking moment. Before I completely lost my mind, I knew my first order of business was Alex. I knew I could not truly help anyone else until I helped myself. I was in desperate need of peaceful solitude, and if it could not be my home then where could it be?
The day after Gina's hearing I started making calls to plan my last night with my husband. My children would need a place to stay that night; a place with more humble on goings than the likes of police lights and congealing pools of thick blood.
I could always count on my mother, and after a few short rings to her phone that morning, she answered with her usual chipper tone, “Hello! Hey, I was going to call you last night. I'm glad you called. I was going to ask if your father and I could come by for a visit this weekend.”
I replied, “Of course, actually mom I have a favor to ask.”
“Sure, what's up?” she replied.
I said,“Alex got a new job.”
She replied, “Really, well that's good.”
I continued, “Yeah, it is good, mom. So I was thinking about taking him out to celebrate this weekend. Could you watch the kids at your place Saturday night? That would be a great.”
We quickly discussed plans to bring the children to the park for the day, catch some lunch and then of course she would quickly ran through a list of special activities she planned for later that evening. This would include smores making fan fare, living room forts, and who could pass up a rousing mess making spell of finger paint? Most assuredly more wholesome activities than what I had planned.
After I hung up with my mother, I scrolled up to “Ann” and pressed send. Ann was a good friend of mine who lived up in New Hampshire with her boyfriend, Dan. I had been meaning to pay her a visit and since I was overdue, I was praying she didn't have plans for Friday night. The reason for my spontaneous visit was two-fold. First I had to visit my friend to uncover some refreshed inspiration. There was perhaps no one on the planet who loathed Alex more than I had. While I could not divulge my plan, she would surely provide me with a fresh dose of gumption.
My second reason, aside from the fresh New England air and a free home cooked meal, I knew there was a rather impressive collection of hunting gear in a special room just beneath her kitchen. A hunting room where her boyfriend, Dan, assigned well appointed pegs for his collection of avid huntsmen gear. An array of muskets, crossbows and buck knives littered that wall. A wall I planned to visit that evening. Certainly I couldn't buy myself a weapon. My service revolver was out of the question. Unbeknownst to him, Dan was my librarian of mass destruction. I would simply borrow something...with the intent to return.
As Ann's ringtone resonated through my ear,I realized in all likelihood, she was rounding up her brood of children for school. Briefly it made me think of my own kids and that soon enough I would have to ensure they were safely off to school. Since my unemployed husband would very shortly, no longer be around. As expected I had to leave a voice mail, and asked if the boys and I could come up for a visit that Friday night. Later that afternoon she returned my call and responded with an enthusiastic yes. I welcomed the solace of Friday night. The calm before the storm.
That morning when I arrived at work Jay was sitting at our desk. He was unusually early for our shift. I approached him to ask what brought him in so early.
Jay nervously replied, “I don't have time to chat right now, Mira. I have twenty minutes to get this done. I should've been here a goddamned hour ago. My stupid alarm clock didn't go off like it was supposed to. I set the damn thing, but can you believe it? Some asshole blew the service to our whole building.”
He continued, “ I talked to his girlfriend and she told me he was trying to get an amp to work with his new guitar. I guess he got the bright idea to cut the ground adapter on his amp to lessen the 'feedback'. Course needless to say, he forgot about his soaking wet rug from their all nighter keg party. The damn fool, the shock sent him sailing clear across the room.”
Jay continued with a slight chuckle, “His girlfriend called the ambulance. I guess he had some pretty bad burns and passed out too. What an ass, huh? Turns out he'll be fine, but what a goofball? Anyway, Mira I got to finish this report or it's my ass.”
Briefly I watched him looming over the keyboard, hunting and pecking at it with his thick stodgy fingers.
I took pity on him and said, “Scoot over, get up.“
He looked up at me with a surprised look of confusion.
I said, “Scoot over dummy, we don't have all day! You are never going to finish this in twenty minutes typing like that. Tell me what you need to write here. Just kneel down next to me.”
I nudged him out of the seat with my hand, in an attempt to be inconspicuous, yet with a certain sense of urgency.
As I took his seat, I hastily handed him a piece of paper from our outbox and said, “Take this report from last week and pretend like you are talking to me about it. You know, use your hands and stuff, play it up a bit, but talk softly; not too softly, hell you know what I mean. Just point a little at the paper and tell me what you need me to type here. We don't need anyone knowing I am typing your report for you. You don't need anyone giving you shit.”
As he slowly knelt down beside me with his goofy dumbfounded face, he looked up at me and with a sincere humble tone he said, “Thanks a lot, Mira. Thanks a lot. You really are saving my ass today.”
I replied, “No worries my friend. Someday I may need a favor from you. Anyway, you'd do the same for me, right?”
Jay nodded and business resumed as usual. No need to dwell on his embarrassing typing skills and last minute planning. Our workday went rather smooth without much incident, no arrests, just a few traffic stops and lunch. It was a nice segue for me, since I had a rather busy weekend ahead.
The following night, the children and I would visit Ann in New Hampshire. That evening when I arrived home, Alex was already off to his brother's house, since his bike was missing when I arrived. As expected, when I discovered his absence, the resident invisible two hundred pound weight evaporated from my shoulders. Thankfully, this meant less opportunity for an argument or uncomfortable forced friendly conversation.
Prior to leaving that night, I found a note bearing Alex's nearly illegible chicken scratch. It read, 'Off to my bro's house. See you later tonight, sweet cheeks. Love You!' At the bottom of his gut wrenching note, I scribbled, 'love you too.' The whole sickening exercise made me want to vomit but I would leave it there...for later. Conveniently. So family may see, but more importantly the police.
Later once I arrived at Ann's house, she came out to help me carry in some groceries I had bought on the way. As we walked into her house, she called me an asshole for being late, and it was as though we had picked up right where we left off. We had been friends for several years, and for us it always felt as though not a moment had passed. Ann is an attractive woman not mainly due to her outward appearance, but for the carefree demeanor she embraced. A woman who assumed a resolute and courageous spirit, a woman who laughed loud and often.
Truth is some could not tolerate her boisterous nature and shunned her before truly giving her a chance. With the slippery sheen of snake-like politician, she had a bold opinion for all things she believed true and just; all things from which sheepish souls would scramble as she sat squarely in your face. Together we were not for the faint of heart, as we both clutched life with the tenacity and heart of a lion.
After our enjoyable dinner consumed with sporadic outbursts of laughter and the clanging of our Merlot filled glasses, we made our way to her back porch as the children settled in with full tummies in front of the TV. We sat under the pink sunset that looked like fluffs of cotton candy melting from the sky, as the cool sting of the fall air settled on our shoulders and face. We sat under a canopy of bare trees; hearing nothing but the melodious hum of crickets and bugs looming in the thick of the green grass.
After she had inhaled her nightly dose of weed, she sat in her dulled state of lucidity as she shared with me what had been going on the past few months. For a spell we shared what we had missed. She continued on about report cards, teenaged angst, the ex, baseball...the usual suspects. I carried on about my two until our respective scorecards were relatively even. Once the mosquitoes and bugs had begun their descent, and our trusty citronella candles were extinguished to their very nubs, Ann headed indoors.
As she collected her things, and wrapped her tattered shawl around her thin awkward shoulders she said, “See you inside bitch face. This shit is too cold and buggy for me.”
I said, “Be there in a minute. Just a few more minutes to myself, it's so quiet out here. Don't get this in the city.”
When she left me, I sat still in the brisk fall night, patiently waiting to ensure my trek to Dan's hunting room would go virtually unnoticed. As it was vitally important not to be noticed or heard. I left my seat and descended the badly rotting staircase which led to the back door of her basement. Close by were overfilled garbage cans stationed squarely amongst a graveyard of rain drenched beer boxes. As a waft of garbage smell and the pungent odor of mildew struck my face, I gently placed my ear against the frame of the door and listened for a few brief moments. Once I was certain I heard nothing I entered the house.
Once I made my way to Dan's hunting room, I quickly surveyed my surroundings only to discover a haphazard cave of manliness. In front of me, there was a workbench littered with taxidermy tools, empty plates bearing remnants of rotting food and half empty bottles of cheap booze. A true man cave of sorts. As a collection of vapid expressionless stuffed creatures stared back at me with their deep ebony plastic sheen eyes, a spine-tingling chill fluttered down my left arm. Despite the overwhelming desire to leave, I hastily surveyed the weapons that clung to the pegboard.
The blueish glow of the dangling harsh fluorescent light, filled the room with an unnatural hue making all the weapons seem that much more surreal. A grand serrated buck knife gleamed at the far right corner of the board, it's dark shimmer illuminated almost a violet tone. Its long handle bore plastic strips, to make it better for gripping. I drew closer to the weapon that gleamed in the light, as I studied it I could see my reflection staring back at me. I drew it closer to my eye to study the fine succession of serrations as I ran my forefinger along its side. I was certain this was the one. Oh yes, this was the knife.
The very knife I would lunge into my husband's neck like a finely cooked pork roast only to rip out spaghetti like shards of tendons from the base of his spine. I grabbed the knife from its peg, and later that night I left Ann's home with two sleepy children and one very sharp fucking knife neatly tucked inside my Nike.