“Foot-gate D, open!” The guard who had a firm grasp on Karl
’s shoulder shouted up to his fellow guard in the tower.
“Foot-gate D, opening!” The shouted response came back.
There came a long, loud buzz as a red light above the chain-link and razor wire gate rolled along its track to pull open. The buzzing continued until Karl walked through the gate and out onto the gravel parking lot, after a subtle shove from the guard. Karl glared back, only to find the guard smirking as he stepped back inside the gate.
“Prisoner release is completed. Lock down!”
The buzzing continued until the rolling gate rolled back closed, slamming with a metallic crash into its housing, where metal locks fell into place with automated efficiency. At last, the red light cut out and the buzzing stopped. The guard took one last look at Karl before returning to his duties.
“Good luck readjusting to civilian life, convict. I’ll be seeing you again real soon, I’m sure of it.” The guard, Officer Stein mocked, making sure to get one last jab in before Karl left the prison yard, once and for all. “Scum like you always comes back.”
Karl chose not to respond. It wasn’t that he took comments like those lightly, but out of sheer necessity he’d learned not to allow words to penetrate him. Words were irrelevant, only actions mattered. Shrugging his duffel bag higher onto his shoulder, Karl made his way across the gravel lot toward the bus stop feeling uncomfortable in his own clothes, his own boots and his own skin. It had been so long since he’d worn boots with laces that they felt odd on his feet, heavier than the slippers that inmates wore.
The world felt so foreign. It was nothing like the world he’d left.
Rhonda, the love of his life wasn’t on her way to pick him up. She was two states away with her new
husband, already knocked up with the daughter he’d intended to have with her, starting his family with another man. She had more important things to attend to than giving a lift to the man she’d once loved, probably busy reading What To Expect When You’re Expecting
while soaking her feet. She’d earned that.
Karl knew better than to try and reach Rhonda—hell, he didn’t even know where the fuck he was going, except for the fact that it was NOT back to her. He couldn’t, it wouldn’t be fair, she’d told him so. Karl thought about fairness a lot lately, what was and wasn’t fair—who had earned what and how. Rhonda stayed beside him for a long time—through the trial, through the media, through two of the six appeals. She’d tried, she really had, Karl knew that was true. He tried too, tried to let her go… but for what?
Sitting back on the nearly frozen, metal bench, Karl tried to focus on the future, not the past—but he failed. What did he have left to live for? His life, his future, even his name were all blown to pieces by that one incident—an incident he only knew by the details of his conviction, that he’d had nothing at all to do with.
That he’d been on a call, rewiring Mrs. Cooper’s faulty circuit breaker for the third time that week at the time of the incident was deemed unimportant in the face of the evidence against him. Even sweet, old Mrs. Cooper’s testimony on Karl’s behalf had been shredded by the District Attorney—who grilled her for specific times in cross and asserted that Karl had time between leaving her home and returning to his own to drive downtown and participate in a gangland shootout. Once he started slamming his palm on the edge of the witness box, Mrs. Cooper would have agreed that anything he said was possible.
DA James Cooper… the bought-out son-of-a-bitch. He’d needed someone to take the fall, he couldn’t go into Compton and round up all the bangers who’d really done the shooting—he depended on them to keep things consistent. He took payoffs from both sides, and as long as they kept on killing each other, Cooper would keep collecting. The reason this shooting was so special was that Elizabeth Montgomery happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The people needed someone to answer for the shooting of Ms. Montgomery and Cooper needed a scape goat.
To that end Karl was just too perfect.
A black man in a blue van—all accounts agreed on that much, and there wasn’t much Karl could say to refute this color of his van or his skin. Sure, Karl’s van had the name of his company printed on the side and Ms. Montgomery had testified that the van involved in the incident was struck by several bullets before the shooter fired the shot that wounded her—but none of that overshadowed the facts. He was a black man in a blue van.
The gun was planted, GSR tests falsified, everything set perfectly in motion by the real culprits and the D.A. himself. By the time it was finished, the evidence against Karl was so great that even he might have started suspecting himself if he hadn’t known better—but he did, know better.
None of it mattered now. The bus was arriving, so Karl gathered his things.
The D.A.’s office was in a constant state of chaos, this day was no different. A.D.A.s flying off to litigations left-and-right, haphazard piles of case files and evidence lists stacked in piles, phones ringing in every corner of the room and every person shouting over each other in their wrinkled, over-worn suits.
At least in his office, James
could mostly shut the noise of the main office out, at least then he could relax enough to take care of the important business.
“No, no, no, no—you’re the one who wants a plea bargain here, not me. I’d smoke your fucking ass in front of a jury and you know it. The kid pleads guilty to manslaughter and evasion, does ten years and I’ll drop the murder one… I don’t give a fuck! He does ten or we go in front of a judge and he does life—I don’t care if he says he did it or not, I’d rather see him off the streets for good!” James was barking into the phone. “No, ten’s the deal. Take it or leave it. Call me back if and when you get your head out of your ass. If it’s still up there by Friday, the deal becomes fifteen.”
James slapped the phone back into the receiver and smiled, pulling an exquisite, oily, Cuban Cohiba from his desktop humidor. He snipped the end and began dabbing it with his tongue, twisting it between his lips to appropriately wet the smoking end.
“Mr. Cooper, there’s a call on one from Mr. Blue.” Sarah, the twenty-something receptionist who sometimes sucked his cock alerted him through the speaker-phone.
“Shit, alright. Put him through.” James replied, striking a match on the edge of his desk and puffing the flame into the dry end of his cigar, blooms of smoke issuing behind him. “Darryl, my man! How’s it hangin’ down there on the South side.”
“Don’t use no real names on the phone, bitch! How many times I gotta tell you that?” Darryl seemed irritated already. “We got a bigger problem, though.”
“Problem? What problem? Life is sweet, my man! Things couldn’t be better. Take it easy, enjoy the good life—“
“Shut the fuck up, stupid! Life ain’t sweet. That square you set up, back when I was still bangin’ corners, remember him? Karl somebody. He got out today. Ya hear me? He’s fucking free!”
“So what? He’s a convict? He’s no threat to us, we’re rock solid.”
“What, you don’t think he’s gonna want to know why he just did a dime on some gang shit that he don’t know nothin’ about? Don’t you think he’s gonna want some answers?”
“Fuck it! If he comes after me, I’ll lock his ass back up—if he comes after you, fucking kill him. It’s not rocket science.”
“Yeah, I’m glad you’re so fuckin’ chill about all this. I ain’t so easily reassured, but I can handle my own. You just remember that I came to you with this, and you said you didn’t want any help. I’ll be in touch.” The signal cut out after that.
James flicked the cone of ash from the glowing, red cherry at the end of his cigar, leaning back in his leather armchair and resting his feet up on his desk. It was then that his campaign manager Gary Hornish barged into his office, brandishing the local section of the weekly paper—clearly quite upset.
“Goddamnit James! Have you seen this? This is the last fucking thing that we need—it’s an election year!”
James pulled his feet back down and sighed, pressing the intercom out to his secretary.
“Sarah, get my goddamn daughter on the phone, would ya?”
The paper on the desk had a picture of a young, lovely brunette hanging in the arms of two unamused looking bouncers as they carried her toward the street. The headline read: DA’S DAUGHTER DRUNK AND DELINQUENT AGAIN