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Not Even In Soap-Operas
I sat in my small, tight living room, watching a cheesy, old soap-opera that was putting me to sleep. Just like any other person with a job, I have a life of my own too. I mean, why wouldn’t I?
I’m Adam Wenton, and I’ve got a bit of a story. A turning point in my life, really. And I hope you’ll find it more entertaining than the soap-opera that I find myself watching once again.
I’ve got a few things to mention before I start the story. First, I’m a male nurse at the local hospital in Camden, New Jersey, where I live. I live in a small, cramped condo in the middle of the city, I’m not in the slums of the place, but I’m not in the best, nor worst. My brother, Mark, lives nearby, he’s been a police officer here for fourteen years. He’s thirty-four. My older brother, I’m thirty-one.
I was beginning to doze off when the phone rang. I jolted awake and unwillingly got up off the couch. I realized there was a hole in my sock as the bare skin of my toe came into contact with the cold wood floor.
I walked into the kitchen and picked up the phone.
“Hello?” I asked, implying the “who is this?” question you wonder when you pick up the phone.
“Hey, Adam. It’s Mark,” said my brother.
“Oh, hi, how are you?” I asked. It was rare for Mark to call me at night. He always uses the phone in the morning. I’m not sure if he’s even aware of it, it’s just his habit. He hasn’t called me at that time of night since his wife, Carrie, ran away from him.
“I’m fine. Can I ask you a favor?” Mark asked.
“Sure, what do you need?” I asked.
“Remember my pen-pal, Louisa?” Mark asked.
“Yeah, are you guys still talking?” I asked. Mark had had that pen-pal since the ninth grade.
“Yeah. She sent me a birthday present,” he said.
“Wasn’t your birthday a month ago?”
“She lives in Italy, remember, Adam?” Mark said.
“Right. You were saying?...”
“I’ll be in work ‘til late again tomorrow, and I don’t get off work until after the post office closes,” he said. “Could you pick it up for me?” he asked.
“Sure, I can pick it up. I’m out of work at the hospital early tomorrow anyway,” I replied.
“Sure. Is it downtown?” I asked. Mark and I used to live downtown, in one of the worse parts of town. It wasn’t the absolute worst, but it wasn’t the nicest place ever. Mark and I moved out of there after we got out of school and got good jobs.
“Yeah. Is that a problem for you? Because I can go get it another time if it’s a problem,” Mark said.
“No, no, it’s not a problem. I can pick it up,” I said.
“All right. Thanks, Adam,” Mark said.
After a pause, Mark said, “All right, well, I’ve got to go now.”
“Yeah, me too,” I said.
“You’re missing another soap-opera?” Mark said, not really asking.
I hesitated, and then sighed. “Yeah.”
Mark laughed a little bit, then said, “All right, good night, then.”
I hung up my old phone, untangled my elbow from the cord, and walked back into the living room. I groped for the TV remote, found it, turned off the TV, and walked over to my cluttered desk. It’s really just a table with a laptop and stacks of papers. I scraped some to the papers together and shoved them into a drawer. I shut down the computer, locked the door, turned off all the lights and went to bed.
I woke up the next morning and went about my daily routine. Today I had to work at the hospital until two o’clock p.m. My shifts alternate because they need certain people at different times. Things were slower there that day because it was a Monday and most of the kids that usually got sent to the emergency room were in school. Not all of them, of course. Especially not our regular, Louis Hawkins. The most daring twelve-year-old child I know. I swear the kid is a dare-devil. I call him our regular because he’s constantly doing everything in his power to get an “adventure.” He’s always jumping, or falling, or getting run over some kid that’s bigger than him. Or fighting someone. He’s a bit of a wayward kid. But I’ve grown to like him. We all have. He came in this morning with an arm fractured in six places, some cracked ribs, and a twisted ankle. But he’s never cried. I’ve never seen him cry, and never ever have I heard that child complain. He came in today, and all he said was, “Hey, guys. I believe I was due to break something,” as he was being wheeled in on the stretcher. And of course he’d said it as if he were purchasing something at a meat market whose owner was a friend of his. That was the most exciting part of my day (again.) But I haven’t mentioned the afternoon…
When it was about six-thirty, I got in my little car and prepared to go downtown. I don’t like it there. It’s not a very nice area. And I’ve never really liked places that were crowded and, well, slummy, I guess would be the adjective. I used to be a police officer with Mark, before I went to medical school. And I once had to deal with a case somewhere like that. And it was maybe my least favorite case. I’d tell you that this one was, but that might be invalid. I’m not completely sure; you can take a guess at the end of this story.
I made it to the post office that Mark’s pen-pal sends her letters and packages to. I walked into the fluorescent light of the post office. I picked up the package, which seemed to be something small, and fragile, like something glass, like a little vase, or doll. I brought it out to the car and put it in the front seat and started driving. It was already getting dark. The sun was just setting and the streetlights hadn’t even turned on yet. Twilight. The eeriest time of the day or night, in my opinion.
After about twenty minutes of driving, I was back on a road that had almost no people on it. It was late, and just the perfect time for nobody to be out. Then, a scene came upon my eyes that made me double-take before my brain registered what was even there.
A boy lay on the road, near the sidewalk. He was bleeding, and hardly breathing. Someone was yelling in the distance. I saw another boy running at the one on the ground. The running boy had short, black hair, and he was tall. His trodden jeans were dirty and torn. It looked like he’d worn them more than once in the week. And his short-sleeved shirt was half-tucked in. His eyebrows were thick, and I noticed that they were creased in a determined, concerned fashion. He seemed to be out of breath.
I pulled my car up to the curb, near to the dying boy. At the moment that I got out of the car, and fully saw the boy, the streetlight flickered on. He was almost directly under it. I saw blood coming from his chest. His shirt was a pale gray, and the blood had begun to turn brown at the edges, but it was still bright red in the middle. He was still bleeding. That was good. That meant his heart was still beating. He was still alive. But just barely. I ran for him and knelt down next to him. The boy had curly blond hair, and blue eyes. His jeans also looked like the other boy’s.
I knelt down next to the boy and picked up his wrist. I checked for a pulse. “Can you hear me?” I shouted at the boy. His eyes were rolling back in his head. “Don’t die on my, boy,” I whispered.
“What are you doing? Get away from him!” the boy that had been running said, standing over me, hands on his knees, out of breath. A bead of sweat bulged and dripped off his forehead onto the sidewalk. I hadn’t noticed it before, but one of his eyes was a dark green, and the other was a pale blue color.
“Who did this?” I asked quietly.
“Who do you think did it?” the black–haired boy asked, suddenly with a gun in his hands. But he was on his knees now. I couldn’t tell whether he’d just picked it up, or if he’d had it the whole time.
But then I decided that the black-haired boy had killed the dying one, because he took something out of the now dead child’s pocket and stuffed it in his own. Then he got up and started to run.
Having already called 9-1-1, I instinctively sprang for the murderer. He almost got away, but I wrestled him to the ground. He shoved his elbow into my stomach.
“Get off me! Get off!” he shouted at me.
“I can’t!” I said.
“Yes you can! Just get up and get off of me!” the boy argued.
I said nothing.
“Let me go!” he shouted at me. He tried to push me off him, and I honestly have to say was almost successful several times.
“I can’t let you go!” I said.
“Why not?” He asked.
After a few more moments of struggling, I heard sirens. Then police cars.
Then I worried for the boy I’d tackled. If he had a gun, and I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t loaded, what if the police shot at him?
Mark stepped out of the police car.
“What is going on here?” he exclaimed. He looked from the dead boy, to me and the other boy, struggling on the ground.
“Was there a murder here?” Mark inquired.
Strangely, both the boy and I nodded.
“You murdered him?” Mark asked, pointing at the black-haired boy, then to the dead boy. I nodded, and that was the answer he was looking for.
“Alright, you two can get up now,” he said.
Then, when we were both standing, and the boy, for some reason, did not try to run, I heard the barks of Conrad, Mark’s trusty police dog. I don’t know who names the dogs, but Conrad and Mark are always together when they’re on the job. I know that Mark puts a lot of faith in that dog.
The black-haired boy looked like he remembered something and held out the gun.
Conrad came running, and sank his teeth into the boy’s lower leg, less than a second after he’d dropped the gun to the ground. He hadn’t been planning to shoot.
“Conrad!” Mark shouted.
Conrad instantly stepped off and stood at alert in between Mark and the boy.
Mark took the black-haired boy by the arm and handcuffed him. “Son, you’re under arrest,” he said, beginning to take him to the police car. He was already reciting the Miranda Rights, which I remember studying myself.
Other police cars started to show up, but they were too late, they’d already missed the show.
“I’ve got your package from the post-office,” I said, dazed to Mark.
“Oh, okay. But you’ll need to come with us. You’re a direct witness,” Mark informed me.
I got into the police car, and Mark drove me and the black-haired boy to the police station, followed by the other police.
Once we got to the police station, we were both interrogated. The black-haired boy did not speak at all. I told the story as best as I could. I found out that the black-haired boy’s name was Landon Hunter. The name sort of fit his face. After we finished, he actually looked on the verge of tears. Maybe he was worried about what his mother would think when she found out.
When we were walking back into the lobby of the police station, I saw the boy; Landon’s jeans were becoming stained with blood. And he was limping a little.
“Come on, we’re going to wrap that wound up,” someone said, taking Landon by the arm. He didn’t protest, nor did he speak.
By the time we were done, Mark’s shift was over and we both went to his house. I couldn’t stop thinking about the boy – I mean Landon.
Mark glanced at me in the car. “Oh, don’t worry about it. I’ve dealt with cases like this before. They were probably grappling about some drugs. You’ll get over it in a few weeks. There is no innocence here,” he said.
“I know, but that kid was only a teenager. And he’s dead. And that other kid, he only seems like he’s in high school. And now he’s going to be in jail for the rest of his life, or he’s going to end up dead too,” I said.
“Not before a trial. And you’re going to be there,” said Mark.
“You were a direct witness. You saw the whole thing. You tackled the kid. You were there,” Mark told me.
“Oh, right… Will you be there too?” I asked after a hesitation. I kind of didn’t want to be there alone.
“Yeah. I’m a witness too.”
We spent most of the rest of the car ride in silence.
We picked up my car and I gave Mark’s package to him. I got into my car and drove to his house. We spent some time there, but then I just had to get home and take a shower and go to bed. Today had been exhausting.
I woke up the next morning and felt kind of a pang of worry wash thinly over me. I couldn’t stop thinking about that kid. But I knew I’d have to, because his trial, which I had to go to, might not be for months. But I couldn’t help but feel a little different. I know I’m in a way a “detective.” Well, yes, I am, but that doesn’t mean I deal with this sort of thing all the time. Sure, I’ve seen death in the hospital, but not by blood and bullets. No, I don’t usually handle those situations. I’m just a man. And this kind of thing doesn’t exactly attract my attention in a good way.
I got up and trekked into the kitchen. I picked out a box of cereal, and then decided I didn’t want any. I made waffles. But I really didn’t eat any. I wasn’t hungry. So I tried to fool myself and took a few bites of every waffle I’d made and told myself I’d eaten well. I never believe myself when I lie. So I went into my room and got dressed. The rest of the day was boring, dull, and eerie. I’d spent the whole time in my own little bubble of thought. The rest of the week seemed to be in a sort of gray could-like film, that didn’t move, only became fuzzy and clear, on and off. And I couldn’t get the picture of the scared and even young teenager’s face as he first approached. “What are you doing? Get away from him!” he’d shouted at me. It didn’t really sound like he was very interested in being caught. It didn’t even seem like he cared why I was there. It only seemed that he’d wanted me to stay away from the boy. But that could mean anything. So this was most of what I thought through that week. And I’d decided that I needed to get over it, but I knew it would only get better and dissipate with time. Nothing else could help it. Nothing except for time could release me from the trance I was in.
About three months later, I had almost forgotten about the incident… Almost. And I still hadn’t forgotten about that boy- Well, Landon.
I got a phone call from Mark.
“Hey, did you hear that kid’s trial is next week?” he asked.
“How’d you know that? – And I think his name is Landon,” I said.
“Sorry. And, Adam, I’m a police officer. How could I not know that? I was even there at the scene of the crime,” Mark said.
After a hesitation, I asked, “So… what exactly did your pen pal get you? You never told me.”
“Um… Well, I’ll show you when I come over tonight, okay?” Mark asked.
“Yeah.” Mark and some of our friends always take turns visiting each other to either watch old musicals, or play poker on Friday nights.
After a few more moments, Mark hung up.
At about nine o’clock that night, Mark and some of my friends, Rick, Steve, and Joe came over to play poker.
Mark brought his package from his pen pal.
After we all greeted each other and all, Mark set his box down on the coffee table, and opened the flaps gently. He pulled out a small object that was wrapped up in some tissue paper. He unwrapped it and handed it to me.
The thing that arrived in my hands was a little porcelain doll. Her skin was pale, and her lips and eyes were painted. She had long, dark brown hair that looked like it was from a beautiful horse. Her little red dress just reached below her knees, and the lace went to her tiny ankles. I looked the little doll over one more time and handed it back to Mark, who put it gently back in the box.
“Beautiful,” I commented.
“Thanks. She sent a letter with it too. But I left it at home,” Mark said.
We played poker, and I lost. But when everyone left, Mark stayed and looked at me.
“Adam, I want to ask you something,” he said.
“Yeah?” I asked.
“Well, I think we should go into this thing ourselves, you know? Look into it and investigate things on our own… Like the old days?” he said.
“What do you mean?” I asked, getting a little worried. Mark was always the adventurous one.
“Well, you know… like, the old days,” Mark said.
“The old days. The old days! Is that all you ever think about? The stupid old days? You can’t just keep living in the past! Just because that’s where you were before your wife left you!” I shouted at him.
He drew himself back, looking shaken. I realized that I’d hurt his feelings. That’s something I’ve never been good with, because you can never tell where Mark’s limits are, since he’s got such a sense of humor.
“I… I’m sorry, Mark,” I said. “I- I was just mad. You know how I get.” I’d always been sensitive about our past, because we grew up in the slums, and I wasn’t exactly the toughest kid back then. At least, not as tough as Mark could be. It made it hard on me.
“It- It’s alright, Adam. I should be over it by now anyway… So will you do it?” he said, jumping right back to our prior discussion.
“Well… I don’t know,” I considered.
“Come on, please?” He begged.
“Well, I… guess,” I said reluctantly.
“Okay, then I’ll come over tomorrow morning to pick you up,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“We’ve got to see that Landon kid,” he said to me.
“But he’s in jail,” I pointed out.
“Then it looks like we’re heading over to the jail. That is what detectives do, right?” he said.
I nodded. “All right. – Alright, fine.”
The next morning, Mark was knocking on my door, and I opened it sleepily.
“Mark, when you said you’d pick me up tomorrow morning, I didn’t think you meant at three a.m.,” I groaned.
“Detectives are tolerant and flexible. They’ll do anything for the case,” Mark said with a grin.
“Oh, so now we’re detectives?” I said.
He nodded innocently. “Sort of.”
“Fine, but you’d better not do this to me again,” I said, already putting my left shoe on.
The drive to the jail was silent, but when we parked near the jail, Mark turned to me. “All right, since you’re not the cop here, you do the question asking. Be friendly, but not fake. Got it?” he said.
“I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that,” I said in a quiet, husky voice. I swallowed and opened the car door.
We finally stood before the jail cell, containing only one young man. His hands were cuffed again – just in case. In case he should try something funny. He sat there, with his head down, elbows resting on his knees, studying his hands. I cleared my throat and his head snapped up. It was then that I noticed that he had a black eye and a deep cut on his lip that was starting to scab over.
“What do you want?” he asked almost cruelly.
“What happened to your face?” I asked informally, feeling bad about it after the words escaped.
“Oh, wouldn’t you like to know?” he sneered.
“Look, I’m sorry about what happened. But if you’re innocent, then they’ll have to let you out. It’s only fair if you did do something. And they’ll let you go if you didn’t do anything wrong,” I said, repeating myself on purpose.
“What are you saying?” he asked.
“Nothing… Absolutely nothing,” I said coolly.
He motioned for me to get closer to his broken face. I looked to Mark, just to make sure. He nodded to me. I went down on one knee and got closer to Landon’s face.
“Listen, I’m not talking. You can’t do anything to make me talk. I know you people. You’re just the kind of people that got me thrown in some office with a bunch of social workers. You’re the people who told everyone I’m alone. You’re the people that got Elliot dumped in some foster home. You’re the guy that got me thrown in here. You’re the guy that got me this black eye,” he seethed. But he said it calmly. Like he’d said it before. And I’d bet everything that he had.
I stared at him and couldn’t seem to take my eyes off him. Something seemed extremely familiar about this boy’s face. His voice, just the general tone of him. I’d thought that he had some sort of hold on me, as if he were gripping me by the shirt-collar. Then I realized that his hands were still bound, and I was on my knees completely at my own will.
“Who’s Elliot?” I asked.
Landon’s eyes winded. “No. No, I won’t say another word to you!”
“Why not?” I whispered, so only he could hear.
“What do you want from me anyway? Why do you have to rub this in my face?” he asked.
“I’m not rubbing anything in your face, Landon. I’m here to try and get your face out of this, if anything.”
He looked at me like I was insane. Then he looked up at Mark. “Who’s he?” he asked.
“That’s my brother.”
“How do you know my name?” Landon asked. That was when I realized that I didn’t even remember where I’d heard his name. So I shrugged my shoulders.
“Well, what’s your name?” he asked.
“I’m Adam Wenton.”
“Oh, well, I’m Landon Hunter. I’d shake your hand, sir, but…” he held up his bound wrists with a solemn half-smile.
I stuck my hand out and put it through the bars. I don’t know why I put that trust in the kid, but I did. I put my arm through the bars and extended it for him to shake. Landon Hunter grabbed my hand with a firm grip and took it in both hands. Mostly because they were chained together. He shook my hand and let it go. I pulled my hand back between the bars and to myself.
“I guess you’re okay, Wenton,” Landon said.
“Just call me Adam.”
But I was pretty sure that Landon would still have a little grudge against me at the least. I was the one that got him in there and apparently I was the one that got him the black eye. So I guess you couldn’t say we were friends.
“So how are you going to get me out of here?” he asked me, leaning back against the wall as if it were the wall of his own bedroom.
“Oh… well, that all depends on how much you tell me.” I told him.
“How much do you think I know?” Landon asked me angrily.
“More than you’ve been saying.”
He sighed. “All right, all right… You want to know the whole story?” he asked.
“As much as you can tell me.”
“All right, fine.” He sat back against the wall. “So I guess I was abandoned. There was nobody there when I was dumped off in some library, I guess. My friend’s parents said they found me there. But then they died when I was eight. My friend was crushed. Someone squealed on us that we were all alone with no adults. We got dumped with a bunch of social workers, and my friend ended up with a foster family. For some reason, they let me stay by myself. And we’ve been friends all our lives.” He didn’t notice that he’d gone too far until after he’d said, “And then he committed suicide… Things were just too hard on him.”
“He… He committed suicide?” I asked.
Landon’s eyes widened and his face turned red. “Yeah… I –uh- haven’t seen him in years.” He said uneasily. I had the feeling that there was a lie in there somewhere.
I looked at him warily. His face was drawn and tired. The cut on his lip was beginning to open up again. He wiped the blood off on his wrist. I gave him a tissue. “Your lip’s bleeding,” I said.
“Yeah, I know,” he said in a frustrated tone of voice. As he blotted his lip, something fell out of his pocket. It was a little, crumpled up, stained, smudged piece of paper. He looked down at it for a moment, carefully scraped it up, and made a move to put it back in his pocket.
“What’s that?” I just had to ask the question. Sometimes my curiosity gets the better of me.
He sighed again and looked at the little, battered piece of paper. He flattened it on his knee and jerked his hands forward, in an attempt to show me. “It’s a picture.”
“May I see it?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure, why not? But you’d better not rip it. If you rip it I swear to God, I’ll… Here, just be careful, okay?” he said.
“Don’t worry, I will,” I assured him.
I took the little, beaten photograph and held it carefully in my hands. It was a picture of a young woman, with dark, strawberry-blond hair, and green eyes.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” Landon said “Don’t know who she is, but she sure as heck is beautiful,” he said wistfully.
I looked closely from the picture of the woman, to Landon. It didn’t look a lot like him, but he had the same long face, and green eyes… That was when I remembered, one of his eyes was green, and the other was actually blue. His eyes were two different colors. I’d forgotten about that. It was something that kind of stood out about him. I stayed cool and passed the picture gently over to Mark. “This look like Carrie to you?” I asked, even to my own surprise. I just needed something to say that Landon didn’t know about. For some reason, I felt like it might make me seem more like I knew what I was doing.
“Kind of, but Carrie’s eyes were darker, and her hair was darker too,” Mark said, handing the picture back to me.
I knelt down and handed the picture back to Landon. He took it and held it gingerly in his hand. “Who’s Carrie?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Nobody.”
“Sure sounds like somebody,” he said to me.
“Well, it really doesn’t concern you, so to you, it is nobody.” I said.
He nodded. “I guess I’ll have to respect that.” Landon put the picture back into his pocket. Then something else fell out. It looked like a little gold chain. With… with some kind of pendant on it. It looked like some kind of cross.
“Darn it! Not again. These pockets are too shallow. All they can hold is that picture!” Landon groaned, scooping it back up. I remembered when he’d taken something out of the dead boy’s pocket.
“What’s that?” I asked. I realized that I sounded a little bit too forceful.
“Nothing that would concern you,” Landon said.
“Well, it may help you out here,” I said.
Landon hesitated, and then said, “It’s from my friend. The one who committed suicide,” he said it in a soft voice, as if the friend might hear him.
“I thought that’s what it might be,” I said. Landon looked at me funny, but accepted it.
“So… about the murder-” I began.
“Shut up. Just shut up. I knew I couldn’t trust you!”He said to me, pressing the tissue harder to his lip after speaking, trying to stop the bleeding. He gave up and the blood dripped down to his chin.
“Look, I’m just trying to help you here,” I said.
“Well, if you want to help me, get me out of here. Don’t just ask questions. Questions get you nowhere.”
“Not if you’re already nowhere,” I said grimly.
“Just get out of here.”
I turned and walked out of there with Mark.
When I got home I collapsed onto the couch, exhausted. Then I was thinking about this “detective” stuff. I am not Sherlock Holmes, or Batman, or any sort of superhero or detective. I’m Adam Wenton, and I live alone, can’t get a date, and watch old movies and play poker for fun. I’m just a man and I can’t do much about a real situation. Then I realized something… I couldn’t do anything about a real situation, except for real things. I got up and got on the computer. I had to do a little more research on this kid, Landon.
I searched his name, and of course, the first thing that I saw there, were all the news reports on the murder. Then I looked up the name of the kid who died. – Elliot Walker.
I saw some pictures of his funeral, only things about the murder. But there wasn’t much.
Then I found it: Landon Hunter was interviewed in jail. He had hesitated to speak; I already knew that that for sure. But since he couldn’t speak for Elliot at his funeral, someone used his words from there. This confused me and I had to look away for a moment. I had to wonder what Landon could have been doing at the funeral. And wasn’t he in jail. There was nobody to bail him out. So how could he have spoken for the boy he’d killed? And why?
I began to seriously question whether or not Landon had killed Elliot. Because it sounded like they weren’t far from friends. But friends can turn on friends.
I clicked on the little caption under the picture, and it was simply my luck that the quote of exactly what Landon had said popped up. So I read as slowly as I could, trying to keep calm. I tried to picture the boy I’d first seen running at the dead one saying those words. I tried to hear Landon’s voice.
“It was sad what happened to Elliot Walker. I wish I could be there at the funeral, honestly. We were friends. We still are. Even though he’s not with me. We still are. His life hasn’t exactly been easy. If you were close to him, you could tell. And I know that it’s popular belief that I was the one that caused this great tragedy. And maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. That’s not something I’m going to waste my time talking about. So I’ll just say that he didn’t die for no reason. And now that he’s gone… Well, he is more here than ever. Does that make sense? Well, I guess it doesn’t have to…”
When I started printing the page, I almost started crying. They’d been best friends. I hoped he wasn’t lying. Because that would hurt me more than the fact that Landon had lost his closest friend. When I finished printing what I needed. I closed the site, shut down the computer and went to bed. I looked out the window up at the stars and big buildings. I could just barely see the moon behind a cloud. It seemed like the moon was staring at me. Waiting for me to do something. But what could I do? I laid back, closed my eyes and wondered what Landon was doing right at that moment…
Then the day of the trial came. I gathered as much information as I could and put it into a folder. Just in case. I was almost shaking with anxiety as I was about to leave the house. Those were the only two things on my mind that morning on my way out of the apartment. Well, until I realized that I needed pants before I left my house. Sometimes I can be like that. If one thing is troubling me, it hangs on me for a long time, and if it’s bad enough, it discombobulates me. But I eventually get over it. Like I’ve said before, I’m just a man.
Finally, the day of the trial came. I’d thought it might never happen. Now I was starting to feel like I wished it never would. I was nervous. I knew I’d see Landon again. And even the name sounded familiar to me now… Hunter. Landon Hunter. Where could I have possibly heard that before?
I pulled up to the great building, to see that the parking lot was full. I had to park up the street. And when I got back, I guessed most of the people that had to attend were already seated, because only two people stood outside the door, near the steps. They seemed to be arguing.
“Remember that he’s just a boy,” a woman was saying to a man.
“A boy who has had quite a bumpy past with the law. Just a boy who killed your foster son,” the man said.
“That boy is as close to me as a son as my own foster son was. And you’d better watch the way you present this case. Landon Hunter is innocent until proven guilty. You can’t let yourself forget that.”
“That boy hasn’t got a chance. He was abandoned. And never adopted. He was simply forgotten once the shelter closed down. He’s been arrested four times before, and has hardly gone to school. He has nobody to back him up except for you. And you’re here for the victim. There’s nothing anyone can do. Landon Hunter is without a doubt going to be sentenced to death,” the man said to the woman.
“You can’t be sure of that,” the woman retorted.
“The boy turned eighteen last month. They can do that, and believe me, if they must, they will not hesitate to kill that boy,” the man seethed coldly.
Then I decided that Landon Hunter would not die. Not if I could help it. I’d seen enough kids die here. We didn’t need another.
I walked forward, and as soon as the arguing people saw me, they closed their mouths immediately. The man that had been arguing with the woman nodded to me and said, “Morning.”
I nodded back, “Morning,” I repeated. “… Um, has the trial started yet?” I asked, embarrassed.
“Geoffrey Hunter. No, you’re on time,” the man replied.
Before thinking, I blurted out, “Hunter?”
“A coincidence,” said the man, fixing his tie casually.
“Ah, I see. Well, I’ll be heading inside, then,” I said.
“All right, nice meeting you.”
I found a seat, and Landon Hunter was in plain sight. He was so close, I felt like I could reach out and touch him. But when I imagined myself doing it, I couldn’t reach. His dark hair was longer, and he looked like he could use a shave too. His eye and lip were healed, and it looked as if nothing had happened to him. His forehead was beaded with sweat and it dripped down in to his thick eyebrows. His hands were cuffed and he was very shaky. I could still see him running the dead boy. “What are you doing? Get away from him!” I could still hear him yelling. I still felt him pushing against me, trying to get away, as I tackled him and held him down until the police came.
I was scared for him too. He’d either killed a boy, or everyone thought he did. He didn’t speak to anyone, only stared ahead. When someone tapped him on the shoulder, or tried to get his attention, he only looked at them, saw who it was, and then looked away.
He caught sight of me, swallowed hard, and looked down.
I looked at him sympathetically. He continued with his skittish shaking and refused to make eye contact with me. It’s kind of different when things start to get personal somehow.
The trial wasn’t much to start. I could hardly keep myself awake through the beginning. Except at first, when Landon had to swear to tell the truth. He was afraid and sweating, and his eyes darted around like a small animal about to be attacked. He spoke as little as possible then, and didn’t open his mouth once afterward. Even when he was asked to. The child refused to speak. And my heart sank a little when I noticed the lawyer, probably hired by the government, sitting next to Landon. Every time Landon was asked a question, and he remained completely silent, the lawyer looked at him with intense disdain and answered for him. That’s probably how it got so confusing. The lawyer knew absolutely nothing of what had happened except for what he’d been told already. It was pretty depressing to watch Landon struggle with the vague details that a piece of his life had been put into. The fact that nobody really knew what had happened except for him. Then I realized that there was something irritatingly familiar about Landon.
Suddenly, Mark threw open the doors of the building and walked in. I looked between Mark and Landon, just to see if there was some connection, but looked away, disappointed. The only resemblance I could see from there was the hair and eyes. And anyone could have dark hair and green eyes. So I really didn’t see any connection between them. My eyes swept around the whole entire room, to see if there was some reason I could point out of why he seemed so familiar to me.
“Please excuse me, Your Honor,” Mark said. “I had an urgent call – a robbery. It’s all settled now.”
The judge nodded and pointed in my general direction. “You may take your seat over there,” he said.
Mark nodded and sat down next to me.
“What happened so far?” he whispered to me.
“I don’t know… I think it was just a bunch of arguing,” I admitted.
After a hesitation I whispered, “H-hey, Mark? Does that kid seem at all a little familiar to you?”
Mark looked over at Landon Hunter and squinted. “I don’t know… I guess. Must be something in the face. Some people are like that,” he said, scratching his chin.
Then Mark was called up as a witness. I have a tendency to not pay attention. But when it has something to do with me, I get to business. Mark swore to tell the truth too, of course, and then the attorney questioned him. I’m pretty sure that the woman standing there, accusing Landon, wasn’t in much favor of punishing him. I think the woman was the one that was arguing with the man, and the dead boy’s foster mom. The man she was arguing with was the lawyer. I found out that the dead boy’s name was Elliot Walker. The lawyer that questioned Mark was with the woman, who I guess was Mrs. Walker.
“Were you at the scene of the crime when the victim was shot?” the attorney was asking when I tuned back in. I can’t help but have the attention span of a fourteen-year-old boy. So I can’t stay still in a dreary situation for too long. I tend to space out.
“No,” Mark answered.
“When did you arrive?”
“I had arrived after the victim had died.”
“Could you explain in your own words what happened?” the attorney asked Mark.
Mark nodded and said, “We’d had a call that someone had been shot, and I was alone in a car, with my –um- police dog.”
“I had been the first to arrive at the scene of the crime. Where the accused and the caller of the police forces, my brother, were wrangling on the ground.”
“And do you know what the reason was for the fighting?” he asked.
“I don’t like to make conclusions without enough information, but from what I know, I believe that the defendant was trying to escape and the other was trying to keep him from leaving until the police -er- until we arrived,” Mark explained. Sometimes Mark can’t find his speech under pressure. I think being bad under pressure runs in the family. That would be a handicap for the both of us.
Landon was staring at Mark with a look that was mixed between a steely glare, a pleading stare, and a confused recollection. He swallowed hard, but didn’t dare to look away. I took note of this.
I lost interest again and focused on the expressions on Landon’s young face.
When I tuned in again, there was someone else up as a witness. Mrs. Walker. I tried to listen in, but she was already taking her seat. Then, I realized that I was being called up as a witness. But I suddenly realized that I wasn’t sure about who did what. So I decided that I would just tell the story from what I’d seen, and then maybe things would work out for everyone. But I knew that that wouldn’t help.
I can’t go through everything that I said while I was up there, because sometimes I forget a lot of things. Especially if I was under pressure at the time. Remember, pressure is my weakness.
But I remember clearly how I described the scene. “Um, I was driving home from the post office, and I saw a boy, lying on the sidewalk. There was another boy running toward him, the defendant, I’m pretty sure. And I’m a nurse, so when I found that the boy was dying; I immediately tried to help him. But there was nothing that I could do at that point. I remember clearly that the accused did not have a gun visible when I first saw him. I didn’t notice it until he’d already reached the dead body. It could have even been lying on the ground at the time,” I said.
Landon shot me a surprised look.
“Are you suggesting that the accused is innocent of all charges?” someone asked from the jury.
“Well, pardon me if this sounds a little incompetent, but innocent until proven guilty, right? So all I’m saying is that the defendant may or may not have been the one to kill the victim,” I said.
“Then who could have killed him?”
“I think that’s part of why we’re here. Isn’t it?” I said.
The majority agreed to that.
Landon’s eyes were darting around, and his face was becoming redder and redder.
I’m sorry, honestly, I am, but after I was done, I lost interest again. Then, we were sequestered, and we had to leave, because it was getting really late, and the trial would continue the next day. That’s a pain in the neck.
When I got to the hotel room which was near to the courtroom, I collapsed on the bed.
I looked out the window up at the stars and big buildings. I could just barely see the moon behind a cloud. It seemed like the moon was staring at me. Waiting for me to do something. But what could I do? I laid back, closed my eyes and wondered what Landon was doing right at that moment…
Landon sat in his jail cell. He was the only one awake. There were two other men in the cell next to his. One was a grisly-looking biker, who’d held up a bank, and one normal-looking man, who’d stolen someone’s identity and social security number. Landon didn’t trust him. Both were snoring away, and it was the same all around Landon. Except for one cell diagonal to Landon’s where someone was talking in their sleep. Saying awful things and making hitting motions that Landon had figured out were supposed to be toward the man’s wife. Landon looked through the bars, up into the moon. He’d always felt like the moon was looking directly at him. Elliot had felt the same way. Whether it was watching over them, or staring mockingly at them, to see what kind of mess they’d get into next, it was always there. And now Landon was remembering the first day he’d been put into the jail…
Landon was put into a jail cell with four other men at first. One was tall, wide and gruff-looking, with a lot of tattoos, and a scar from a burn on his bald head. The rest of them looked somewhat the same: just careless, angry bum-like people that were, and also liked to, hurt. Landon gulped. He had a bad feeling about this.
“Hey, look, boys,” the big one said, grabbing Landon by the neck, under a sweaty, grimy armpit. “What were you dumped in here for?” he asked smugly.
“I… -ah- I killed a guy.”
“Oh really?” a skinny, hunched over man asked.
“Worthless trash,” the large man with the dirty armpits said, throwing Landon up against the bars of the cell.
“Hey, take it easy in there, you!” shouted a policeman.
Landon slid down onto the ground, against the barred gate. A man with a lazy eye, scruffy beard and silver tooth grabbed Landon by the shirt. “Don’t lie to us boy,” he breathed.
“Look! He’s a freak! Look at his eyes. They’re different! He’s a freak boy! A freak murderer!” a crazed man gabbed.
“He’s just a little kid!”
“No, no, look, he’s got a little beard starting here! He’s a big kid! See Jawbone?” the man with the lazy eye mocked, slapping Landon’s cheek. Landon guessed the big man who’d had him around the neck must be named Jawbone. That didn’t help out his confidence much.
“How old are you, kid?” someone asked, Landon.
“Oh, tough break. They’re gonna give you the death treatment.”
Landon looked at the crazy-looking man who’d said that. He’d already known he’d probably get the death sentence, but that man made it sound much worse.
The man called Jawbone pulled the lazy-eyed man off of Landon so that he slid down the barred gate again and fell to the ground. He picked Landon up so that he was on his feet again. He grabbed the back of Landon’s neck as if he were a little puppy and held him, immobile. Someone forced Landon to look up at the man by pulling his head back by the hair. Someone else twisted one of Landon’s arms behind his back so that he couldn’t move. The rest grinned and moved in on the capture, ready to pounce on him like wild animals.
The man named Jawbone slapped Landon’s face a few times.
“Come on, little boy. Fight back! Aren’t you gonna fight back? Come on, fight!” Landon heard the taunting from all around him, as the man continuously slapped his face. Landon tried not to let it get to him. He’d seen worse. The man’s breath reeked of ham and onions and something dead. And decay, his breath smelled strongly of decay.
Landon tried to turn his face away, but the person who had him by the hair tightened his grip.
“Come on! Fight!”
Landon shut his eyes.
“Come on! Fight!” every time those words were shouted at him, another wave f pain came over Landon. Every time the men yelled at Landon, the man hit him again.
“Come on! Fight! Fight him!” more pain flashed through Landon’s body.
Landon opened his eyes and saw a fist coming at him. His right eye was hit with a fist of iron and Landon saw red splotches and purple spots. He felt light-headed, and then he grew conscious of his surroundings again. He finally fought back.
He shook his head and tried to free himself.
“Come on! I want to see that kid struggle!”
Landon threw his foot back and kicked someone sharply in the knee as hard as he could. He realized he’d kicked the man who was holding his hair, because the man pulled hard back on Landon’s long, ebony locks, but then let go, grasping his knee. The man who had him around the back of the neck; Jawbone, grabbed his face and tried to push him back against the wall. Landon bit the hand as hard as he could, tasting salty blood running through his teeth. He choked on it a little before letting go of the hand and spitting the blood out. Jawbone yelled and drew back his hand. Landon looked at the guy who had his arm. Before Landon could respond, the scrawny man pressed hard on a vein in Landon’s arm. Landon threw back his head and yelped as the man pressed on Landon’s pressure point. The man grabbed Landon by the neck again, and Landon felt the man pressing his jugular vein. Landon only feared that the man would be able to cut it. But then someone kicked Landon in the back and he fell to his knees. The men all gathered around him and hovered over. “Kid, don’t even try,” someone said.
Landon tried to get up, but someone pushed him back down onto the floor. Landon lay on his face, smelling the putrescent floor of the jail-cell. Someone had their knee in his back and was hitting him again. Things went black and fuzzy and Landon passed out, cold.
When he came to, he was propped up against a wall, alone in an empty jail-cell. There was a half-melted bag of dirty ice on his right eye, which was swelling, but healing. He put a hand on the bag of ice and tried to sit up. A wave of pain shot up his spine. He groaned and slouched back down.
“Shut up in there!” someone shouted angrily. Landon didn’t bother telling the guy to shut up himself. He was in too much pain already. He didn’t want any trouble. He just wanted some sleep. He put the bag aside and leaned his head back onto the wall and closed his good eye. The one what had been hit wasn’t far from closed already, so he brought it all the way closed and went to sleep. He knew he’d be healed by the time his trial was held. He was hurting all over, and he wished it would just stop. But he felt like he deserved it anyway...
That was just another thing to keep a secret. Landon thought. He closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep.
I woke up that morning and forgot where I was for a moment. When I remembered what had happened, something clicked.
“Listen. I’m not talking. You can’t do anything to make me talk. I know you people. You’re just the kind of people that got me thrown in some office with a bunch of social-workers. You’re the people who told everyone I’m alone. You’re the people that got Elliot dumped in some foster home. You’re the guy that got me thrown in here…”
I went up to the courthouse, and saw Landon being walked inside by the police. Someone for the press was there, and took a picture of Landon. He looked down, his long hair falling over his face. There was a news person there too, filming. I guess I’d missed the press crowd yesterday. Landon looked uneasy. He walked past the attorney who had his last name. I didn’t like that guy. The attorney watched Landon pass, with some kind of smug smile. Something was going on there, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t anything good.
I took my seat, got bored, and waited. But I was watching Landon the whole time. The attorney came and hovered over Landon’s shoulder like a giant, menacing bee. Landon stared up at him indignantly. The attorney whispered something airily in Landon’s ear. Landon’s face became red and angry. The attorney walked away smugly.
Landon slammed his fists down on the table. He stared down at them helplessly. His hair dangled from his head in long, ebony locks. I felt bad for him. Everyone knew he was going to die.
The trial picked up again. I kind of wasn’t paying attention because I got bored. It’s not paying attention because I got bored. It’s not really something I’m proud of, my short attention span. But since I don’t pay attention to the obvious and significant all the time, I pick up on important details. – Sometimes.
Then I noticed something. Way in the back was a woman, with long, dark strawberry-blond hair and dark green eyes. She wore a trench coat and light eye-shadow, and eye-liner. Carrie.
I touched Mark’s sleeve and he turned his head toward me. “Hey, did –ah- did you see who’s here?” I whispered awkwardly.
Mark looked over toward Carrie and his eyes flashed. “Oh… What’s she doing here?” For a moment, the Mark I knew for right then was gone. He was his teenage self, awkward and angry, - reckless. But it was only for a second.
“I don’t know. But she sure looks nervous,” I said quietly. I was feeling quite like my own adolescence myself. But it was gone in a flash.
Mark swallowed and said, “I’m gonna go talk to her.” He was going to talk to her. That was a big deal because the truth is; Mark hasn’t even seen Carrie since she left. Because she ran away and he’d had no idea where she even. So this would be a rather big confrontation if he even chose to talk to her. Which he had.
He walked over to Carrie and stood in front of her. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could tell that they were both a little uneasy. Then my attention caught on that Hunter attorney person. I call him that because he’s very suspicious and nobody I’d asked really knew much about him. Very suspicious. Carrie looked my way for a moment. Then she caught sight of the attorney.
Carrie looked from Mark, to him, back to Mark. I could just barely hear her, but I read her lips. It was easy because what she said was simple. “I have to go.”
She gathered herself in her trench coat and she briskly left. Something was really up with that attorney and I was going to find out. At least, that’s what I hoped.
The trial carried on. Something was pulling at the back of my mind. Landon wiped sweat off his forehead and swallowed hard.
Then it all came together at once, and I felt like I was in the middle of the collision.
“That’s it!” I said to myself without realizing. All heads turned toward me. I looked around and blushed. I swallowed and, not knowing what else to say, I said awkwardly, “I- I know what happened now.”
Landon turned his head to me quickly, with worried eyes.
“Well, let’s have it,” someone said.
“Go on,” the judge said with an indifferent sigh.
Landon swallowed hard.
I stood up. “Landon Hunter is innocent.”
Landon’s head snapped up and his two different eyes had a static shock in them. The attorney looked at Landon in an aggravated, nervous glare. “How could that possibly be?” the attorney sneered.
“I will get to that right now… First of all, Landon did not have a gun in his hands when he was running toward the body. And he was wearing what he still is now. Only a T-shirt and torn jeans. If you observe closely, the pockets are very shallow,” I began.
Immediately, Landon was thrown out of his chair, forced to stand, and held by the arms so that he wouldn’t “escape.” They inspected his jeans pockets like they were on a mannequin. He frowned indignantly.
“So they are.”
“Yes, as I was saying. They are only deep enough to hold something small or thin, such as a piece of paper, not a gun. His hands were empty. There was nowhere to keep the gun while he ran,” I said.
“How can you prove that he wasn’t holding a gun?”
“When Landon fell to his knees, he held the victim’s head in both hands. Had Landon been holding the gun, and dropped it, it would be on the left side of the body, where Landon had dropped to his knees. But the gun was on the right side of the body, as I recall.”
“That isn’t enough information to clear the defendant’s name,” someone said.
“I also have a quote directly from Landon Hunter that his friend committed suicide,” I said, pulling out the pages of my small notebook where I’d recorded everything that had happened so far.
“That doesn’t prove anything. It could have been anyone.”
“But I have here, printed and dated, Landon Hunter being interviewed in jail, and represented with the quote at Elliot Walker’s funeral. Referring to him as his friend,” I said, taking that out too.
“Landon Hunter, is this statement true?”
Landon closed his eyes and swallowed hard. “Yes. It’s true. Elliot was my friend.”
“And you killed him,” the attorney seethed with venom.
Landon stood up, the chair hit into the table behind him. “I did not kill him!”
“Elliot Walker committed suicide,” I said loudly, just barely cutting him off.
The jury was astonished. The room buzzed wildly with whispers and talking.
“Order! Order!” said the judge loudly.
The room settled and the only sounds were the short rasps that Landon took as he sat in his seat and forced himself brutally not to cry.
“Prove it!” shouted the attorney.
“With all due respect, sir… I just did!”
“You have no material proof!”
I showed him the folder where I’d kept the printed quote and dated records of our visit to the jail.
“Landon Hunter is guilty! He should be killed!” shouted the attorney, paying no attention to me.
“Why are you so determined to have this boy killed?” someone shouted. I recognized it as Elliot Walker’s foster mother.
“I think I can answer that,” someone with a thick accent said from the back. I turned and saw Mark’s pen pal, Louisa.
Mark looked astonished. She flew all the way from Italy to come here?!
“I am connected to this case – in a way,” she said, standing up. “You see, I knew Landon Hunter’s mother.” Mark’s eyes widened.
“Her ex-husband has been my pen pal and close friend for years.”
“Mark Wenton and Carrie Thomas are Landon Hunter’s parents.”
Landon and Mark nearly collapsed. Then I noticed. That facial expression especially, they had the same expression. They reacted the same exact way.
“Carrie had told me almost the whole story, but made me swear not to breath a word.” She paused a moment. “… But I believe that this is for their own good.”
Mark was standing now.
Louisa continued. “Carrie Thomas Wenton was married to Mark Wenton for four years,” she took a breath. “Carrie told me that after she left Mark, she married Mr. Geoffrey Hunter. She said that she’d already been pregnant with Mark’s child, and when Mr. Hunter found out, not wanting a child, left her. Instigating that, a fight broke out between them, and Geoffrey had threatened her. She had told him that she would call the police if he didn’t leave and kicked him out of her house. Before leaving, he’d told her that he’d get her back. Carrie Thomas, being unable to support a child on her own, abandoned Landon Hunter.”
“But wouldn’t someone recognize him as their child?” someone asked.
“Indeed, someone would. Which is exactly why Geoffrey Hunter, knowing the baby’s social security number, stole and replaced it with an already dead baby’s number. Nothing but the child’s name remained, and Mark and Carrie’s child was considered dead.”
“But why would Geoffrey Hunter do that to his own son?” Someone asked.
Louisa continued. “Geoffrey Hunter wanted revenge on Carrie and the child. Which is exactly why when he found out about the case, leapt on it and made sure that Landon Hunter was found guilty.”
The crowd gasped.
And I think Mr. Hunter would have had a chance; if he hadn’t made a grab for Landon. The police grabbed him and pulled him away.
The case was closed, and Landon was found innocent. It was also decided that Landon was legally Mark’s son.
When Landon’s handcuffs were removed, he looked at Mark, and suddenly embraced him in a hard squeeze of a hug. I saw Landon’s tears stain Mark’s shirt. They pulled themselves together and awkwardly stepped away from each other. Mark cleared his throat. They were a little weird with each other, but then they turned to each other and smiled. They couldn’t help but know.
“I never had a dad before,” Landon said quietly.
“Of course you did. You just didn’t realize ‘til now. You’ve got one, kid. You’ve definitely got one.”
Landon found his real birth records and everything, to his relief. Mark and Landon even got a blood test; to see if they were really father and son. But they already knew. They knew they were.
A trial was held for Geoffrey Hunter too, but I think that that soap-opera was more entertaining. It barely took them twenty minutes to confirm that he was guilty.
Carrie didn’t get back with Mark… But sometimes that’s the way things have to be. Landon doesn’t seem to mind too much.
Today, Landon was baptized.
There weren’t a whole lot of people there. Sure it was a little late too. But that doesn’t matter. It was a bit odd, and it was short. It didn’t seem like it was a matter in the world. But afterward, he came up to us and said, “Now I’m alive.”
And right now, the three of us are sitting on the couch in my small, tight living room, watching the same cheesy, old soap-opera that I was watching when this started. It didn’t seem like it was only a week or so since Landon moved into Mark’s apartment, but the memory of this was always going to be with us. Nothing like that just passes out of a person’s memory…
Not even in soap-operas.
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
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