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Web of Darkness
April 19, 2010: My name’s Rad Marnel. My favorite things are Brussels sprouts and yogurt, my dog Charlie, and lying. Don’t judge; you know you’d like to be free from truth’s burden too.
May 31, 2010: Got arrested. I killed a guy (he was asking for it, trust me) and they traced it to me somehow.
The alley behind the Wal-Mart is dark and cold. The surprisingly harsh May wind whips down it, funneling the amplified chill mercilessly into the pair of men next to the dumpster. The streetlight at the end of the alley is dim and covered with dust. The multitude of moths blotting out the little remaining light doesn’t help with the imposing blackness, either. But the two people huddled near the meager windbreak like it that way.
They thrive in darkness, both feeding on the ignorance and blatantly stupid, unconditional trust of the general public. One is a slender, blue-eyed man who loves nothing more than deception. It is his art form; like a painter, he uses his looks and colorful language to create elaborate shams. If lying makes a tangled web, Rad Marnel is a spider.
The other, a stockier man with several false teeth, is a doctor- or so he claims. He has a degree in medicine, but he uses it in… less than moral ways. The man is secretly a drug dealer, but no one would ever suspect that. He’s too good at hiding the illegal methamphetamines in God-knows-where. He sells them to his “patients,” people who are in reality just meth addicts looking for another fix. The “doctor” gives them drugs, and they don’t turn him in. It’s the ideal dealer-addict relationship. And even if someone ratted him out, Dr. Michael Ponahue’s authority is too respected for the person to be believed. Rad Marnel knows this all too well.
“You,” hisses Rad, walking threateningly forward. His voice is like nightshade, deadly, dark, and filled with malice. “You ruined my life.”
In the authoritative voice he’s used as his mask for twenty years, Michael replies “I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.”
“The hell you don’t!” Rad snarls. “You, Dr. Ponahue,” He says mockingly. “You sold my mother lethal drugs!”
“I-I really don’t-” Michael is cut off as Rad strikes him across the face.
“Don’t you DARE lie to me!” The man roars, his voice echoing down the alley.”You didn’t give a damn about my mother. You only wanted to make sure she couldn’t reveal your precious drug dealership!”
“I can’t deny it.” Michael said quietly. “I was just trying to protect my livelihood. I need money to live, you know.” He paused, reaching into his coat subtly and carefully so Rad wouldn’t see. “Unfortunately, Mr. Marnel, you will not be revealing my secret to anyone else.”
“Oh? And why is that?” Rad sees Michael’s hand reach for something at his waist. He prepares himself for danger.
“Because you’ll be dead!” Michael whips out a 9 mm handgun and fires at Rad’s head- but his head’s not there.
Rad, having ducked to evade the shot, now crouches on the ground. Before the gun smoke clears and Michael can see him, he lunges forward into the doctor’s legs. Michael falls backwards, dropping the gun. Rad kicks it away before pulling a knife from his jacket. He holds the blade up to the doctor’s trembling throat as the man’s eyes widen in fear.
In obvious desperation, Michael uses his last resort, the last strategy he can come up with to save himself. And Rad, despite knowing that he should feel pity for the doctor and should hesitate and waver in his determination, cannot bring himself to be swayed by Michael. Instead, Rad feels a rush of self-confidence and power as the man he’s hated for so long starts to weep, on the cold ground, covered with mud, sweat, and trickles of blood.
Rad smiles in victory as Michael begs for his life.
“Please, please don’t kill me!” He sobs. “I’ll do anything! Turn me in! Just don’t kill me!”
Rad snorts. “Turn you in? And give you yet another golden opportunity to escape?” He knows of Michael’s ability to worm his way out of any sort of justice. “Ha! I won’t sit there helplessly while you lie and bribe the entire jury to get what you want! I’m smarter than that. No, Dr. Ponahue, it will be much easier and better for everyone if you simply die now.”
And with that, Rad, knowing that he’s in the right and feeling empowered by it, draws the knife across Michael’s throat. The doctor’s life ebbs away with each spurt of blood from the wound, until finally, finally, he’s gotten what he deserves—a slow, painful, undignified death.
Vengeance is sweet, a blood-stained Rad thinks before walking out of the alley and vanishing into the night.
I’m on trial now. I miss Charlie. He was always so nice and obedient.
June 7, 2010: They sold him. Charlie. He’s… gone. HOW COULD THEY DO THIS TO ME? But, I know where he is. As soon as I’m out, I’ll go steal- no, retrieve him. I need that dog. He needs me, too.
Dear Mr. Marnel,
We regret to inform you that while your case is awaiting a verdict, your Border collie, “Charlie,” has been impounded. He was put up for sale and has been requested for adoption by an anonymous family. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you should you be acquitted.
The Indianapolis Police Department
Rad had read the letter three times and still could not accept this. They had sold Charlie. His Charlie. And what was that about an inconvenience? So, they were sorry for inconveniencing him by giving away his best friend? It was obvious they’d never cared about a dog at all.
Rad paced back and forth in the small, cold cell, trying unsuccessfully to control the rage growing in him like a bonfire. He’d had the dog for agesokay, eight years, but it seemed like forever.
Rad sat down on the hard cot with a sigh. Tears started to well up in his eyes. He could remember the day he’d gotten Charlie, and the funny thing about it was that it had been one of the happiest days of his life, but was followed immediately by the saddest.
When Rad was eighteen, his mother (who had raised him by herself after his father left) was diagnosed with the Ebola virus. She’d somehow gotten it from some fancy imported water. The virus was lethal, and so far, there was no known treatment.
Still, Rad’s mother hadn’t given up. She’d gone to every doctor in the state, but they all said the same thing: “I’m sorry, but we don’t know how to help you.” She had been discouraged, but Rad thought he could help.
He had read online recently about a famous doctor called Michael Ponahue. Every person he treated gave him golden recommendations and said he was a genius. Rad’s mother decided to visit his office, which was in the San Fernando Valley in California.
When she returned from the four-day trip, she had a cureand a secret. The famous doctor was a part-time drug dealer. She refused to tell him how she’d gotten this knowledge, and forbade him to tell anyone else, saying it was part of a deal.
“The doctor said that if I kept quiet, I could be a part of this new study for Ebola.” Rad’s mother had said, holding up a small container of white pills. “Dr. Ponahue thinks he just might be able to cure it forever!”
“That’s wonderful, mom!” Rad had told her, immensely relieved. “But are you sure it’s the best idea to take pills from a drug dealer?”
“Oh, sweetie, don’t worry! Dr. Ponahue’s a very nice and honest man. He would never do anything to harm a patient! If you’re concerned, though, we can try to get a second opinion or”
“No, no, you might be right. I mean, I’ve never met him or anything, so I can’t really judge him.”
“Okay.” Rad’s mother had paused. “So, honey, I was thinking that since I found this cure”
“Mom,” Rad had interrupted. “You didn’t find it. I found the doctor and he found the cure.”
“All right, that’s true. But either way, I could get better very soon. So in honor of everyone involved, I’d like to celebrate. Since you did tell me about Dr. Ponahue in the first place, I’ll let you decide what we do.”
“Can we get a dog?” Rad had asked eagerly. He’d always wanted a dog.
“Of course, dear.” His mother had agreed, and they’d gone to the local pet store and bought a dog.
Rad had chosen that particular puppy because he’d looked alone and sad, sitting by himself in a corner of the pen. Rad could relate to thathe’d always felt alone, too. He had also liked the dog because he was a Border collie, supposedly a very bright, obedient, and loyal breed.
Rad was looking forward to his great new life with a healthy mother and a loving dog. His mother began her treatment the next day, and the collie (whom Rad had named Charlie) was getting used to his surroundings by sniffing everything in an adorable fashion.
That night, his mother was dead.
The police reported poisoning, but had no suspects. Rad, however, knew that he had been right after allDr. Ponahue wasn’t the kind, honest person he said he was. So, taking his new dog with him, Rad set out on a cross-country search for the doctor, and for revenge.
His faithful collie had been by his side for the eight-year manhunt, but the doctor was not an easy man to find. He was skilled in deception and trickery, and knew how to hide anything and anyone, himself included. Over the course of those years, Rad mastered these skills as well, his search finally culminating in Ponahue’s murderand, unfortunately, Rad’s imprisonment. And now the authorities had sold Charlie!
Charlie was the closest thing he had had to a relationship since his mother’s murderthe fact that he would soon be gone from Rad’s life forever was inconceivable and unacceptable. Rad wiped the tears from his eyes with a familiar feeling of determination rising in him.
He had to get that dog.
June 28, 2010: They don’t have enough evidence to convict me, so they agreed to let me go if I could pass a lie-detector test. The stupid cops don’t know that I could fool one of those in my sleep!
A polygraph, or lie-detector, is a fairly simple machine. Wires and tubes go into the subject, data comes out for analysis. It takes constant readings on pulse and breath rates and how much sweat is on someone’s hands. Of course, it can’t really detect lies– no technology invented so far can– but it can detect fluctuations in physiological reactions that can be linked to dishonesty. The polygraph is also notoriously inaccurate. Fortunately for its current victim, the authorities who have chosen to administer this test seem to know all but that last fact.
The man sits in a cold, metal chair in an otherwise warm, well-lit room. There is a soft, white carpet on the floor, a comfort the man has lacked during his three weeks in jail. The pale, pink walls of the room are bare except for the mirror facing the subject and the plain, rather loud clock just above it. The man isn’t one to be fooled by appearances–the mirror is really a one-way window for administrators to observe him. He stares at his nervous-looking reflection, with its carefully-combed, dirty blond hair; entrancing blue eyes; and barely visible scar just below the cheekbone.
The man drops his gaze to the highly polished table in front of him, drumming the fingers of his right hand impatiently on its spotless surface. With a glance at the chair opposite his, he goes over the questions he expects to be asked and potential answers in his head, for the third time that day, the thirty-fourth time that week. Preparation is key. As the man well knows, this examination means the difference between freedom (sweet, glorious freedom) and years, if not life, in a cold, smelly prison with constant surveillance. The man is not very worried, in spite of the high stakes. Lie detectors, he knows, are easier to fool than many people, and the high stakes make this the most exciting thing he’s done in, well, three weeks. His main concern is for his dog, who is up for adoption in his absence. If he fails the test, his dog will be sold, and they may never see each other again (He could break out of prison, perhaps, but that would be inconvenient and land him on a “Wanted” list.)
The man’s thoughts are interrupted as his head reflexively snaps toward the door. It opens (about time) and in walks a man of about twenty-seven with short, red hair and brown eyes, wearing jeans, sneakers and a dark green, long-sleeved shirt. Pinned to the left side of his shirt is a white, laminated badge reading LAURENCE GREY, FORENSIC PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGIST. The subject stands and shakes Laurence’s hand, saying “Hello.”
“Hello, Rodney.” Laurence replies. Rad, the man mentally corrects, but figures Laurence wouldn’t use his nickname even if he knew it.
They sit as a man and woman enter, carrying the polygraph device. The pair quickly sets it up, then leaves and shuts the door behind them with a sharp click.
The polygraph certainly looks complicated. It is composed of a blood pressure cuff (to monitor pulse rate and blood pressure); a pair of long, black tubes (which are wrapped around a subject’s chest to take breath rates); a wire that ends in two small cups(to measure the levels of sweat on the fingertips); a laptop (to store the data for further analysis); and a series of ink-filled needles and scrolling paper (to graph data as it’s taken, but also to frighten the subject into honesty. Rad does not plan to be frightened.)
Laurence hooks Rad up to the machine, and then sits across from him with a kind smile. Laurence presses his fingertips together into a steeple shape, body language that indicates superiority. Rad suppresses his annoyance at this (he thinks he’s better than me, does he?), instead shifting his features into the worried, timid expression the administrators expect him to have.
“Ready, Rodney?” Laurence asks, his slender hand poised over the button to start collecting data. Rad takes a deep breath (get ready) and nods.
Click! Sritch, scratch.
The needles draw smooth, undulating lines over the paper, each recording a different component of Rad’s reactions. He can control the readings, and thus the eventual test outcome, to some extent by controlling his emotions.
“First off,” Laurence checks his notes. “What is your full name?”
This is an irrelevant question, one of three types Rad will be asked. These are simplest, just basic information to get a normal reading of reactions.
“Rodney Perkin Marnel,” Rad replies, with a slight cringe at the middle name he’s always disliked. The polygraph needles continue their flowing motion, unchanged.
“Okay, Rodney, next question,” Laurence leans forward conspiratorially and drops his voice to a reassuring murmur as he asks what may be the most important question the authorities have.
“Did you kill Michael Ponahue?”
This is the relevant question, the one where the important information is needed. Rad’s reactions to these could make or break this test.
“No,” Rad replies with practiced serenity, allowing a touch of puzzlement to color his voice. (He did kill Ponahue, of course, but Laurence doesn’t need to know that.) The needles measure a tiny reaction.
“Third question,” Laurence leans back casually, with a smile so warm it’s condescending. “How was your life at home? Have a family? Any pets?”
Rad freezes for a half second, clenching his jaw. This is a control question. All Rad must do is think about something that triggers strong emotion, as that will make him react more strongly to these than the relevant questions and he’ll pass the test. But Rad doesn’t need to consciously excite himself for this question.
“I live alone except for my dog, Charlie,” He says slowly, through gritted teeth. “But when I was taken to jail, they… took him away.” His voice cracks. He supposes that he ought to be thankful for this question, one that’s so easy to be angered over, but it just makes him loathe the administrators all the more. They’re just rubbing salt into his wounds now, almost taunting him.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Rodney,” Laurence says comfortingly.
The hell you are, Rad thinks, this flush of anger adding to the needles’ work, making them twitch up and down like a squirrel on caffeine. You don’t give a f*ck about the best damn dog, and friend, I’ve ever had! He takes several deep breaths to calm himself.
The questions continue. Rad, having had a good deal of experience in acting and lying (and aren’t they much the same anyway?), finds the remaining forty-seven queries to be as easy to answer as it is to count to ten. The whole test takes exactly seventy-two minutes and fifty-three seconds, after which Rad is unhooked and banished to the most boring waiting room on the face of the Earth. He tries to occupy his mind by reading the Good Housekeeping magazine, but it’s so dull it couldn’t cut through soft butter if its life was at stake, and Rad throws it down in disgust.
After twenty-seven minutes of staring blankly at the beige walls, Rad’s mental agony is alleviated when Laurence comes in with the results. “You got NDI. Do you know what that means?”
No deception indicated, Rad thinks with a touch of pride. He briefly considers telling his examiner, just to show the arrogant fool that Rad isn’t a total idiot, but discards the idea as he’s supposed to seem that way. “N-no, I don’t.” He replies with well-faked nervousness.
“It means ‘no deception indicated.’” Laurence educates him, beaming. “You pass. You can go.”
Rad stands, shakes Laurence’s hand, and thanks him.
“Hey, I hope you get your dog back.” Laurence says, and Rad comes close to feeling bad about having to trap a well-meaning man like him in this grand web of deception. Had things been different, Rad might not’ve minded having Laurence as a friend.
Then he shakes off the thought, filling himself instead with determination to do just what Laurence said—get Charlie. He unquestionably will. Rad thanks the man and walks out into the warm sunshine, a free man at last.
June 29, 2010: Found Charlie.
The metal bars on the cage door slam shut with a clang, nearly hitting you in the face. You sigh and turn in a circle to mark out a bed, and then lie down and face the door. Staring through the cold bars that have trapped you for the past three weeks, you watch the others prisoners as they are led into their cages. The lights flicker out; all except for a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling on a thin string. There’s not much to look at anyway, you think.
You close your eyes and try to drift into the warm ocean of sleep, where you can be free and run anywhere, not just in the tiny backyard. Before you fully lose consciousness, however, you’re jerked out of your daze by the muffled thud of a car door and the barking of a few dogs. You think about barking, too, but keep quiet to try to figure out who’s come. It’s not a worker at this kennel, that’s for sure.
Suddenly, the heavy metal door a few cages down bursts open. You blink in confusion as the one scent with the power to make you truly happy floats into your nostrils. But, it can’t be! You must have fallen asleep after all and are dreaming a wonderful, comfortable dream.
The person you love more than kibble and chew toys walks over to your cage and kneels in front of it, and you know, with a surge of joy, that you’re wrong. There can be no mistaking his face; his lingering, sharp smell of coffee and sweat; and the flowing voice with which he whispers your name, for a dream. Your dreams of him never feel this real. It’s Master!
Your favorite person takes a long, thin object from his pocket and fiddles with the lock on your cage. Within a minute, it’s open and you rush forward in a flurry of black and white fur to lick Master’s face.
“Thank you, Master! You set me free!” That’s the meaning behind your joyful, soft barks.
He embraces you and strokes your head gently. The Pomeranian-from-Hell in the next cage starts yapping (her usual state of being), and Master stands. “Come on, Charlie; it’s time to go.”
The two of you walk out of the pound into the cool summer evening, listening to the chirping cicadas. Master stops to pick up a small, scissor-like tool (you think it’s called a wire cutter) from the back patio, and then walks toward a blue pickup truck in the parking lot- your truck.
He opens the passenger-side door, allowing you to leap in. Master climbs in the other side and starts the motor, filling the air with its familiar hum. He rolls down your window so you can stick your head out, one of your favorite pastimes when riding places. You don’t know where Master’s taking the two of you, but location doesn’t matter as you’re together.
Decided to start a new life. We went to Wisconsin. I work as an actor now. This summer I’ll be in the National Poker Tournament. Life is good & that’s the truth.