Dr. C Vance Cast        Theft of Innocence        []

Theft of Innocence



Starsys Publishing Company


Theft of Innocence

Copyright © 2007 by C. Vance Cast

Cover Design - Michael Nolan

Art Direction - Michael Nolan - www.michaelnolanart.com

Back Cover Author Photo - Teresa Ann Michael

Editor - Jean Nolan Krygelski

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either

are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any

resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead

is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the


All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions

thereof, in any form.

Published by Starsys Publishing Company


526 N Alvernon Way

Tucson, Arizona 85711

ISBN 10 - 0982662270

ISBN 13 - 9780982662274

First printing - January, 2011

Previously published as Relevant Conduct - ISBN - 9780615260792

Printed in the United States of America


Table of Contents

Dedication        6

PROLOGUE        7

PART I        9

CHAPTER 1        9

Chapter 2        13

Chapter 3        18

Chapter 4        25

Chapter 5        31

Chapter 6        35

Chapter 7        41

Chapter 8        44

Chapter 9        56

Chapter 10        61

Chapter 11        65

Chapter 12        68

Chapter 13        72

Chapter 14        74

Chapter 15        77

Chapter 16        83

Chapter 17        86

Chapter 18        90

Chapter 19        94

Chapter 20        102

Chapter 21        104

Chapter 22        110

Chapter 23        118

Chapter 24        122

Chapter 25        123

Chapter 26        128

Chapter 27        131

Chapter 28        138

Chapter 29        143

Chapter 30        145

Chapter 31        147

Chapter 32        150

Chapter 33        155

Chapter 34        157

PART II        161

Chapter 35        161

Chapter 36        163

Chapter 37        171

Chapter 38        173

Chapter 39        181

Chapter 40        186

Chapter 41        189

Chapter 42        191

Chapter 43        196

Chapter 44        202

Chapter 45        204

Chapter 46        206

Chapter 47        211

Chapter 48        215

Chapter 49        220

Chapter 50        224

Chapter 51        228

Chapter 52        231

Chapter 53        235

PART III        241

Chapter 54        241

Chapter 55        248

Chapter 56        252

Chapter 57        258

Chapter 58        261

Chapter 59        264

Chapter 60        269

Chapter 61        273

Chapter 63        282

Chapter 64        286

Chapter 65        290

Chapter 66        292

Chapter 67        301

Chapter 68        306

Chapter 69        308

Chapter 70        315

Chapter 71        318

PART IV        324

Chapter 72        324

Chapter 73        327

Chapter 74        333

Chapter 75        337

Chapter 76        341

Chapter 77        346

Chapter 78        351

Chapter 79        354

Chapter 80        361

Chapter 81        362

Chapter 82        366

Chapter 83        368

Chapter 84        374

Chapter 85        378

Chapter 86        380

Chapter 87        384

Chapter 88        387

Chapter 89        388

Chapter 90        390

Chapter 91        393


For the lifelong love and encouragement of my parents, Henry

and Carl Ann.


It takes thousands of hours of work to bring a novel like Theft of

Innocence together. Of course, I didn’t do it alone. My

publisher, editor, art director, and fact researchers all had an

important hand in bringing my story to life in your imagination.

Then, there are my friends and family who have had a positive

influence, who enabled me to complete this project.

As a matter of course, I can’t forget to mention the dozens of

proof readers and advisors who have actually experienced the

types of situations that you will read about in the novel. Their

input over the past couple of years has helped this work to be as

realistic and empowering as it can be. I thank everyone who took

the time to believe and invest effort in this important project.

Best Regards,



The tall man pointed at the tiny blood spatter on the sleeve of his perfectly pressed,

Army dress jacket. Rage built in his eyes until he finally screamed at his wife as she slid

her back down the kitchen wall, trying to catch her breath through the shock, “Look

what you’ve done now!”

She knew the blood was hers, but didn’t dare check to see where it came from.

Her nose? Her lip? It didn’t matter anyway; they were both as numb as her heart was

at the moment.

Mrs. Brikker wanted to check on her twelve-year-old son who was also beaten

down on the kitchen floor, but doing so was certain to show more concern for her son

than for her husband. Experience told her that she must guard against antagonizing her

husband any further. Still, her crying eyes called to her son, Cody, are you okay?

However, her mouth remained silent.

“I’m going to change my jacket and go to work. We’ll discuss this after dinner.”

He slid his jacket off his shoulders, down his arms, and held it by the collar.

Cody jumped up from the floor. “No, we won’t!” he yelled, barely looking at his

mother. His voice wasn’t any deeper than those of his female classmates at school.

We won’t what, young man?” his father taunted.

Without hesitation, Cody snapped back at him, “We won’t talk!”

“At-ease, boy!”

Cody didn’t know what he resented more: the disgrace his father brought to his

shiny, colorfully decorated Army uniform; or his mother’s complacency and cowardice

toward HIM.

“I said, AT-EASE BOY!”

Cody snatched a six-inch knife from the wooden block of knives neatly displayed

on the kitchen counter. His eyes seemed to soften and calm, as did his voice. “We won’t

talk. You are going to have to do better than this if you want to keep us down. You’ve

hurt us for the last time, you....” He cut his own words short when he lunged at his

father’s gut with the thick, sharp blade.

Inches before the tip of the knife could reach his father’s stomach, Cody saw

something from the corner of his eye. His father’s huge fist. A fist as big as Cody’s whole

head. It was also the last thing he felt before collapsing on the floor at his mother’s

side. His world instantly went black and quiet.

Mrs. Brikker cradled her son’s limp head in her lap.

Both parents looked at the knife that had fallen, unstained, to the floor. Mrs.

Brikker turned her head away as Mr. Brikker reached down and picked up the knife.

Somehow, she didn’t care to wonder what he was about to do.

She hardly noticed that he politely picked it up, wiped it off with a dishtowel

hanging from the refrigerator door, and placed it back in its wooden holder with the

other knives.

As usual, her fight ended in a mental fog as her husband casually walked out of

the room.



“This American government – what is it but a tradition, though a recent one,

endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some

of its integrity? It has not the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man

can bend it to his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves.”

– Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience – 1849



Friday afternoon, Cody Brikker sat across the table from a thin Jamaican boy. Middle

school library books littered the shelves behind the two eighth-graders. Cody’s pale face

and blond, crew-cut style haircut contrasted sharply with his classmate’s shoulder

length dreadlocks, which sported tiny rainbow-colored rubber bands gathering the

ends of each thick, tangled cord of hair.

Sweeping the locks from his eyes, the classmate looked up, giving a stare of

disbelief. “You are going to kill her, aren’t you, man?” It was more of a statement than

a question.

“I have no choice; she’s dead,” mumbled Cody, looking out from under the bill

of his Chicago Bulls ball cap. He kept the cap low on his eyebrow to hide his cut and

blackened right eye. His signature cap also hid the blond crew cut his father insisted

he wear. He used his ball cap as a shield to hide most of his degrading and shameful


Cody moved his bishop in line with his opponent’s queen, then slightly raised his

voice in triumph and said, “That’s what she gets for parking in front of her king! Now

she’s pinned!”

Both boys looked up as Emily Chee pranced up to their table. She was a beauty,

tall and thin with soft, olive skin setting off her bright green eyes. People often tried

unsuccessfully to guess her heritage. She would always have to explain that her mother

was black and her father was a Korean national. Emily’s mother often made fun of the

fact that she imported her husband as a trophy of her two-year Army tour in Seoul,

fifteen years earlier. The spoils of duty.

Emily was excited, almost giddy. “There is a fight outside. You wanna get in?” She

looked directly at Cody.

The boys quickly abandoned the game to follow her out of the room. All three

rushed as if they had sighted their favorite carnival ride.

In the schoolyard, a group of kids gathered in a human circle containing two

eighth-grade boys in the middle. The crowd cheered and booed accordingly, as the two

faced off in a rap battle. The taller of the two battlers “spit” some lines about the short

stature and thinness of the other and how his mother raised a family of dummies.

“Spitting” was the term the rappers used when aggressively singing, though

“spraying” was also an aficionado’s favored term. This playground battle was suited for

the raw flavor of either term. The insults were original, but the story lines were a bit old

and damp, just enough to get a moderate praise from the audience.

The smaller boy responded with a much sharper retort, indicating that even

though his mother was raising a family of dummies, at least he had a mother at home.


The crowd screamed with approval and the tall rapper hung his head, while the little

guy continued with a few ending lines.

Emily was laughing and smiling as she pushed and encouraged Cody to “tap out”

the loser. Cody stumbled into the circle and slapped the shoulder of the inferior rapper,

indicating he was being “replaced from disgrace.”

He spun the cap around so that the bill was shading the back of his neck from the

pounding sun. The battle circle was one place in Cody’s life where he had confidence

and nothing to hide.

Not even the out-of-date clothes that he was forced to wear hindered Cody’s ability

to express himself and release the years of anguish and rage through his rap. These

battles took on a life of their own when Cody was in the circle.

The little guy was just an inch or so shorter than Cody. He immediately noticed the

bloodshot eye, surrounded by the hand-patterned bruises on Cody’s face. He began his

rap by telling the crowd about Cody’s father, “who comes home, after long days of

Army recruiting, to wage battle against his son, then sends him to school to show off

his skills of combat while he drinks and throws his wife against walls.”

The rap was heartbreaking but told the realities of Cody’s home life. It explained

the monthly, sometimes weekly scratches, gashes, and bruises he constantly tried to

hide and explain away with stories of bicycle wrecks and sporting accidents.

Everyone watching the battle quieted, not wanting to show acknowledgment of the

little rapper’s story about Cody. Emily clenched her jaw in hurtful contempt, perhaps

not for the little guy telling the truth about his observations, but for the truth as she

herself had witnessed.

Twice in the past four years, Cody’s nose was broken by his father’s quick

backhands. Each time it was during the summer months, away from the critical eyes

of his school friends. The slightly crooked and humped bridge of Cody’s nose often

subtly reminded her of those summers. Even as a girl, she fantasized and plotted ways

of getting rid of Cody’s father.

Cody was obviously shaken, but, in rap, anything was fair game. The whole point

to rap was how the artist would spin his perceptions of the world, and Cody understood

this. He responded with a version of his own truth – how the battle at home would

eventually be won, but not as easily as defeating such an easy rap opponent.

The crowd was in awe as Cody finished his rap not with an insult, but with kind

words about his mother, his rapping friends at school, and his future. Everyone was

touched by his simple honesty and down-note tone, accompanied by a small, but

telling, tear in his left eye.

He wished there was some way he could protect his mother from pain and abuse,

but he was helpless himself. The swelling around his eye, and the cut, in the shape of

a class ring, reminded him of that.

Emily seemed to be the one most vulnerable to his words of spirit. She had known

him since first grade and, living just two houses away, had witnessed the abuse and

negative environment that would break most kids, but just seemed to strengthen Cody.

Last summer, she had watched while Cody’s father backed over the boy’s bicycle

with a truck. She had seen Mr. Brikker look at the bicycle before getting into his

vehicle; but, instead of moving it, he just backed over it, knowing it would be ruined.

The gathering of kids could only guess about Cody’s bruises and scars, mostly hidden,

but Emily knew how deeply the words of this rap battle swam in Cody’s mind.

The bell rang for the last class of the day, and the kids were almost relieved to

escape the tension and loss of words resulting from the battle. Most agreed that Cody

would someday be a great rapper with top-selling CDs; at least, this was the children’s

dream. Cody’s battles always ended with him on top and everyone wondering how it

could ever get better.


On their brisk walk back to class, Emily invited Cody to go with her family to Liberty

Land for the season’s closing weekend. Cody wanted to, but declined the offer. He knew

his father wouldn’t allow him to impose on the Chees, though he would rather be

anywhere other than his own house, where he could never fully relax. He envied other

kids who lived in peace and safety, as twelve-year-olds should.

Emily was disappointed. She hated any turndown by Cody. For the past couple of

years, she developed a defense mechanism on his behalf. She knew as long as he wasn’t

near his father, he couldn’t be harmed physically. A trip to Liberty Land could be one

less weekend that Cody would have to face his father.

“You know, Cody, when Elvis was alive, he used to rent Liberty Land for an entire

night and invite all his friends.”

“Well, Elvis didn’t have my dad,” Cody muttered.

“No, but he had a terrific mother, like yours. Why don’t you ask your mother if

you can go with us this weekend?”

Cody knew better than to play his mom off of his dad like that. Not only was Cody

in jeopardy of his father’s temper, but his mother also had to walk a thin line and not

give the slightest hint of undermining his authority.

An interesting thought struck Emily. “Your father has spent years defending

democracy; why is he such a dictator?”

“In my house he has absolute authority,” Cody said, “and you know what they say

about absolute authority.” Emily thought for a moment, wondering if the more power

and control someone got, the more he would want, and why power and control didn’t

breed security instead. She surmised that it was the lack of personal security that

created the need for control. Nevertheless, the entire topic was frightening to her.

“Let’s just hope you never become your father.”

“I hate the Army, so you are safe; but maybe I’ll sing for the USO some day.”

“What’s the USO?” she asked.

“United Service Organizations,” he declared. “They have bands and other

entertainers who travel to battlefields to entertain troops. While singing on stage, I

could make my own statements. That would be cool.” He nodded his head in


“How about at your father’s funeral? Will you sing there?” She couldn’t believe she

had said that. She wondered what would make her think of Cody’s father’s funeral.

Cody didn’t take the questions as badly as Emily feared. He just answered with a

simple, “That’s one way of spitting on his grave and getting away with it.”

It took her a moment to understand the pun, then she laughed. “Cody Brikker,

your mind never stops!” Emily knew she was beautiful. She knew that from the

responses she got everywhere she went. She just wondered if she could ever be as

clever as Cody.

Intelligence, she thought, is admired, and humor is desired. Cody had both in

a combination that would either make him a hero or a madman. Emily speculated that

Cody’s future might contain a mixture of the two, and she hoped that she’d be around

to see it.

She also hoped some of whatever Cody had inside that sparked his creativity

would rub off on her so she could be admired, not only for her looks, but also for her

intelligence and skills.


Chapter 2

The den was small. The dark wood paneling made it look even smaller, only large

enough for basic furniture and a few shelves containing various knickknacks, mostly

souvenirs from Staff Sergeant Brikker’s travels to Europe and Japan.

Cody didn’t admire any object belonging to his father, except for the clock that

hung on the wall next to the room’s entrance. It was elegant, the most elegant cuckoo

clock Cody had ever seen. His father had brought it home from the Black Forest in

Bavaria, West Germany, Schwarzwald. Every couple of days, Cody made it his job to

wind the clock by tugging on one of its two long, brass chains that each had a brass

pinecone attached at the end.

The clock chimed on the half-hour; but every hour, on the hour, its doors opened

up to let out a ballet of animals, dancing in a forest of tiny pines, as the bird that

watched the action cuckooed once for each hour.

To Cody, a cuckoo clock shouldn’t have been so impressive. He didn’t know what

attracted him to the clock. Perhaps it was the tight grain of the wood or the intricate

carvings engulfing the clock. It seemed each time he studied the clock, it revealed a

new work of art. Just recently, he noticed that the clock’s many artistic themes were

tied together with a Star of David motif. He didn’t know a lot about Germany during

World War II, but he was surprised that although their clock was stamped 1942, such

Semitic symbolism was present in a commercial product.

Cody sat in the center of the room on a tan leather ottoman, which matched the

couch behind him in both color and fresh rawhide smell. The antique hope chest the

family used as a coffee table was pushed out of the way to make room for the Xbox, and

its associated paraphernalia sat next to him on the floor.

He held the joystick game controller in his hand and concentrated on the

forty-eight-inch big screen in front of him. As more airplanes flew, more tanks rolled,

and more bombs dropped, Cody inched closer and closer to the action before him.

Attack Plan VII had been his favorite game for over a year. It was war, but fun war,

filled with exciting background music and taunting dialogue from the combatants. The

game lacked the vulgarity that many new games contained but lacked nothing in action,

raw action. Even the bombs’ power resonated out of Cody’s bass speaker, so much so

that he could feel the explosions in his chest.

This time he played the role of Joe “Sparky” Sanders, an ace fighter pilot in

command of a stealth bomber. His target was the Cathedral of St. Barbara in Kutna

Hora, Czech Republic.

His mission was to destroy the morale of the Kutna Hora rebel fighters trying to

overthrow the Czech government with a coup d’etat, by hitting them in their own city.

Their cathedral was built in their town’s most flourishing era in the thirteenth century,

A.D. Its huge stone structures mimicked an imperial crown, standing above the

Vrchlice River, just seventy-one kilometers east of Prague. If Cody could destroy the

cathedral, the opponents would be forced to negotiate.

He gripped his controller so hard that his knuckles turned white. His palms

started sweating as his heartbeat increased in speed and strength. He was just one

hundred kilometers from his target. He switched his radio off to maintain radio silence.

Just fifty kilometers away, he switched on his computerized approach sequence.

In this type of one-pilot bomber, the attack sequence was pre-loaded in a computer

control box and physically inserted in the plane before departure. The pilot could then

concentrate on the weapon systems, delivering ordinance with increased accuracy. The

plane was now flying itself. Trying to outsmart the defender’s barrage of anti-aircraft

artillery, the plane made sharp turns and confusing flight path changes. However, the

computer on board allowed Cody to select the target, keep it in sight, and deliver the

missile when ready.

The bomber lined up for its final target approach. Cody checked the weapon

systems, armed his missile, and fired. His cockpit display showed the flight path of the

missile, even after his plane passed over the target. Cody decided to hand-guide the

target to its final prey, instead of releasing the missile and letting the computer guide


Using his stick to guide the missile, he felt that everything looked on target. Then,

one thousand meters out, his concentration was broken by a loud slap, then a scream,

in another part of the house. He knew that sound, and it made him sick to his stomach.

His missile missed its target, landing one hundred meters short. He didn’t care about

the cathedral anymore as the noise of his mother and father seemed to be moving from

the master bedroom to the hallway, and getting closer. He turned down the sound on

the game to cause as few problems as possible. One could never tell exactly what would

set Sergeant Brikker off in situations like this.

The plane, on autopilot, was returning to base, but Cody just stared at the screen,

trying not to look into the hallway. He pretended to fly the plane, though he had no

interest in anything happening in the battle theater.

Cody’s mother went into the kitchen in a conscious attempt to lead her husband

away from Cody, but he didn’t follow. He just continued to yell obscenities from the

hallway, obscenities more threatening in tone than in absolute definition.

Staff Sergeant Brikker emerged from the hallway into the den; Mrs. Brikker

quickly followed. Cody maintained his stare at the TV. In full Army uniform, Brikker

was tall and athletic. His jacket sleeve had three chevron bars with a rocker

underneath, indicating his rank.

His starched dress shirt had a polished brass version of the same bars pinned to

his collar tabs. Hanging from his shirt pocket button was a badge that recruiters wore.

Brikker was proud, but Cody thought it looked cheap. It was very plastic looking, not

shiny and official as an Army badge should be.

Mr. Brikker’s only signs of weakness were his rosy cheeks, spider-veined nose,

and watery eyes, which together reflected the telltale indications of alcoholism. He

rarely made references to drinking, and outside of a bar, no one saw his addiction. But

then, no one had to. It was obvious to those who knew what they were looking for.

Memphis, Tennessee was founded in 1819 along the banks of the Mississippi

River on an area called Chickasaw Bluffs. Former president Andrew Jackson was one

of the original founders. Part of the appeal of Memphis was its great location as an

inland harbor for the movement of goods up and down the mighty Mississippi. The city

was named after the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis because of its proximity to the


As history had it, Memphis was devastated by yellow fever in the 1870s. Sergeant

Brikker didn’t hide the fact that he considered the epidemic to be the cause of the

current high population of stupid people in Memphis. He didn’t like Southerners much.

He maintained that the smart people left because that would be the smart thing to do.

The dumb people stayed. Genetics did the rest. He considered the whole argument to

be self-evident.

It didn’t matter to him that a Memphis man once told him, “We talk so slow,

cause if we talked as fast as we think, ya’ll couldn’t keep up.” He still thought

Southerners were slower than the sorghum molasses they mixed with butter and spread

on their biscuits. His own hard Boston accent, and the resulting ridicule, never helped

him develop empathy for anyone of Southern tongue.

The Memphis metropolitan area contained a bit over a million people, with a high

degree of poverty, mostly located within the city proper. The Brikkers’ neighborhood

was among the lowest of lower-middle-class neighborhoods and was located by the

notorious Orange Mound area, which contained seven-year-old housing projects that

looked fifty or more. Their house was a tract home in a cul-de-sac. It had never been

broken into like the other houses on the block, perhaps because of its location deep

in the sac or perhaps because of its wrought iron gates, window dressings, and door

covers. The corner house had been burglarized five times the last year alone. That

could have been why there were so many local dogs, which Mrs. Brikker complained

about every night.

Mrs. Brikker hated where they lived. The only thing she was grateful for was

Emily’s family because her son and Emily were such good friends.

Following on his heels, Mrs. Brikker made the mistake of attacking her husband.

Normally, she would have been more passive and placating. Like many long-term

abused women, she would have never stood her ground so solidly and forcefully. “What

makes you so damn perfect? Is it because you have a job, or is it because you can find

one hundred thousand things, other than your family, to spend money and time on?”

she demanded.

Hate dripped from his eyes. “You bitch! You try working fourteen-hour days, just

to come home to more responsibility.”

Mrs. Brikker blamed their current living situation on her husband’s drinking and

gambling. They clearly had enough income to live several levels up. “When are we

going to move? This place isn’t safe.”

He just shook his head, lifted his finger and pointed at her face, as if to tease her

with a touch on her swollen, black eye. “We will move when I think we have a reason

to move; that’s when!” he yelled.

Something snapped in him. He suddenly grabbed her by the neck and held her

against the wall next to the TV where Cody was desperately trying to keep his eyes


Then he spouted, “I should have killed you when I had the chance, damn it. Then

I wouldn’t have any bees in my hive stinging my ass, now would I?” He referred to his

wife and Cody as the “twin B’s,” bitch and brat. His verbal backlash only increased, as

he squeezed her neck tighter. The more he squeezed her neck, the tighter she squinted

her eyes; she was determined to stand her ground despite being physically outweighed,

but she couldn’t. She couldn’t even hold herself up as his grip intensified.

When Brikker’s rage finally calmed enough for him to drop his grip, Mrs. Brikker

sank to her feet; then she tugged at her collar, moving her head in a circle as if to

loosen her neck and shoulders.

Somewhat dizzy from his choking, and not thinking as clearly as she’d have liked,

she continued to press him, “Why don’t you just not go to work and go to church with

us today? It’s Sunday, for God’s sake. Why?” She started to cry, “Why, why?”

Instead of answering her, he just sighed and walked out of the room. She heard

the door slam behind him. She turned to her son for several seconds, but he never

looked up. Her thoughts left her confused and centered on her guilt of not knowing

how to shelter her son from his own father. Her guilt was deep. Her cry for her

husband to attend church with them, just moments earlier, was an attempt at finding

a cornerstone so she could try to rebuild a future for her family – her family that was

being torn apart by the uncontrollable behavior of her husband, whom she once loved

more than anything.

Now, she was only in love with the thought of loving again. Her son was the only

person left in her life she trusted unconditionally. She couldn’t understand how bad

things could become in a decade, however much she wanted to. Her heart was so

broken that she didn’t even have the motivation to fetch ice for her aching eye. She

headed toward the master bedroom, not the kitchen.

Cody had sneaked a small peek out of the corner of his eye before his mother left.

He could only guess at what was going through her mind. He knew it wasn’t her fault,

and he didn’t blame her for not being able to protect him from what he considered to

be a wild beast.

As she left the room, he fondled his game controller before dropping it to the

floor, letting the cord run through his hands to dampen the drop.

Once he was sure she was gone, he jumped face down on the couch behind him

and covered the back of his head with both hands as if to hide from the world. He

wished he could just leave, take his mother and find a place where no one could bring

harm or trouble. He had seen too much of that in his short life.

The only good thing he could think of was that his father, privately he refused to

call him his dad, was going to see a potential recruit, which could take hours. Then,

since it was Sunday, he’d probably go to the bar and shoot pool for his team. Maybe

they had a bush league that night. If they did, he’d be at the bar until closing. Cody

probably wouldn’t have to face his father the rest of the day, if he was lucky.


Chapter 3

Cody approached Emily at her locker before class. He was disappointed he had missed

their usual walk to school together. His face lifted when he absorbed her bright smile.

She looked as fresh as the new week they were about to start.

“Hi, Cody. Where were you this morning?”

“I had to fold some clothes and put them away before I could come to school. You

know how that goes.”

She struggled to pull her biology book from the bottom of her locker, which was

stuffed to the top with books, old graded papers, gym clothes, and even a new

cheerleading outfit. Cody set his books on the floor and held up a heap of stuff so Emily

could free her book. A loose wire, from a spiral notebook she used for her biology lab,

pulled out a pair of clean panties that fell on the floor. Her face flushed; she was easily

embarrassed. Cody quickly picked up the lacy article and tossed it back into her locker

before anyone noticed. However, everyone else in the hallway was too consumed with

his or her own agenda to notice anything dropped on the floor, unless it made a sound.

“Thanks,” she said, lifting her brows and puckering her lips.

“It’s nothing, nothing at all.” He couldn’t resist a slight jab. “I’ve never seen

panties in our school colors before,” he chuckled.

In fact, they did match her cheerleading uniform, which framed her locker in the

school’s royal blue and gold colors. The gold lace had a metallic sheen that fell just

short of optical reflection, or so it seemed.

Even though he poked fun at her, he was glad he saved her from embarrassment

by the others in the hall. Emily was his best friend. He would do anything for her, help

her in any way he could. There were only two other women in his life whom he held

in such high regard, his mother and his mother’s sister, Aunt Mae.

Cody had never consciously noticed the tingle in his adolescent stomach where

Emily was concerned, but he did notice how much he missed her when she wasn’t

around. He noticed that when she was away with her family, he often wondered what

she was doing, and he couldn’t wait to get the full scoop when they got back together.

His thoughts of her were that of any best friend. His feelings, however, were loving

and caring. It was most likely his young age and inexperience in matters such as sex

and dating that had kept his thoughts pure to this point.

“How was Liberty Land?”

“Oh, we had a great time. I just wish you had been there. Mom and Dad are fun,

but I’d have liked someone my age to be with me.” As a young woman, she seemed to

be maturing socially faster than Cody. Her eyes were flirty, set off by her lowered chin

and the angle of her neck. Cody was her first love; he just didn’t know it. She continued,

“I’ll tell you all about the events later when we have time. How was your weekend?”

Cody was uneasy about the sudden shift of focus off her onto him. His home

situation was a source of embarrassment, even with Emily. He knew she understood it

wasn’t his fault.

Still, he had guilt that was hard to overcome. It was not unlike the victim of a

purse-snatching blaming herself for not using the shoulder strap, or for not walking on

the other side of the road, or for keeping such a hoard of personal things in her purse

to be stolen. Though the victims are not the aggressors, they often overvalue their role

in the prevention of such crimes.

Cody’s voice lowered to a tone familiar to Emily, “Don’t ask. My weekend sucked


“Dad on another rampage?”

“More than a simple rampage. Hitler went on a rampage. My father is just a rebel

without a cause.”

“Your dad.... ”

He stopped her abruptly. “How many times do I have to tell you, he is NOT my

dad. Dads take their kids to Disneyland and Liberty Land to have fun. They don’t beat

their wives just because it’s Sunday, and they want to go drink instead of go to church.”

“You are right,” realizing her mistake. “Your FATHER has problems. He hit your

mom?” She wanted to punctuate the question with “that jerk,” but refrained.

“More than once this weekend. She looks like a raccoon. I hate him. I really hate

him. I wish I could take my mother away from this town and never look back.”

“I wish you could too, Cody.” She racked her brain to come up with a solution

that would keep Cody and his mother safe from Sergeant Brikker. She thought about

the school nurse, or even the counselor.

“One of these days I’ll be bigger than he is. No!” He thought out loud, “I can’t wait

for that day to come. I have to do something now. I have to.”

He looked at Emily with a determination she had never seen before. It scared her.

It scared her to think of Cody confronting his father.

“No! There are people who can help us.” She included herself as part of his

problem, but Cody didn’t pick up on the intimacy. “Please, promise me you are not

going to do anything stupid.” She paused slightly, “Please?”

He knew what Emily was thinking. His mother needed him as much as he needed

her. He couldn’t risk anything with his father.

The Army used the “buddy system,” a way to train soldiers to look out for one

another and to take responsibility for one another. His father talked about it a lot. It

was one of his favorite concepts; he seemed almost proud of the concept, as if he had

invented it himself.

Under the buddy system, if your buddy did something wrong, you would be

punished as much as, or sometimes more than, he was. This concept could be widely

applied to an entire group, such as a platoon or company. Sergeant Brikker applied

this concept to their family. If Cody broke a rule, his mother was punished for not

properly monitoring him. If Mrs. Brikker did something to offend Cody’s father,

somehow Cody would get blamed.

Cody couldn’t risk a direct confrontation with his father. Not only was he at risk,

but his mother was as well. Cody agreed with Emily and promised not to do anything

stupid. They’d work on a plan together later. He wasn’t sure what they could do, or

where they could get help. Could anyone help his family without repercussions? His

father’s retribution clouded all sense of judgment and direction.

On their way to class, Emily secretly fantasized about cooking Cody a nice dinner,

then sitting down to eat together at a neatly set table. The tablecloth would be silky

black with a white flower bouquet as a centerpiece surrounded by fallen petals. She

didn’t know where the thoughts came from. Most likely, they were symbolic of deeper

thoughts. She was smart. She knew tranquility was missing from his life; she could even

put a name to it.

Cody’s mind was void of such fantasy. It was a rough, tumbled twist of frustration

and circular thought. He almost wanted to shake his head to reset his thinking. He

looked at Emily and wondered why her cheeks were dimpled, not quite to a full smile.


Lab day in biology class brought Emily and Cody their first frog. Mr. Graff handed out

an instruction sheet that outlined the dissection procedure.

Neither had heard the term pith before. Pithing involved using a needle to destroy

the frog’s central nervous system. The needle was to be placed through the back of the

frog’s neck, into the vertebral canal. Disabling the frog this way allowed the frog to be

virtually paralyzed, while allowing its circulatory system to function long enough for one

to study it from the inside out. Pithed frogs could live a while. Sometimes students

competed to see whose frog lived the longest.

Other interesting experiments could be done with pithed frogs. One could apply

electricity to various muscle and nerve groups to record responses. In some labs, the

students would use drugs like adrenaline to see its effects on heart rate, etc.

Emily was pretty squeamish about performing any surgical techniques, so she

relinquished those tasks to Cody. Not only did he not mind, he took pleasure in saving

Emily from facing such embarrassment. What if she passed out or vomited in class?

Cody held the frog around its fat belly. The frog tried to hop out of his hand, but

his legs couldn’t find a place to push off. It just jumped through the air underneath

Cody’s hand.

With his right hand, Cody stuck the needle in the back of the frog’s neck, just

below its cranium. Emily flinched more than the frog.

“Doesn’t that hurt him?” she grimaced.

“Not for long,” he joked, rolling his eyes.

“He’ll not be a threat to flies anymore.” Cody didn’t say a word when that thought

triggered the idea that his father would be better off pithed. He imagined how big the

needle would have to be. A knitting needle perhaps. He wasn’t comparing himself or

his mother to a fly, but he was comparing his father to a predator, a wild predator.

Emily didn’t make the same connection. She remembered Cody’s thirteenth

birthday was just a couple of days away.

“What are you going to do for your birthday?”

“I really don’t know. Maybe a small family get-together, but I’m sure I’m not going

to have a party or anything like that.” He wished he could, though. It had been five

years since his last “real” birthday party, and it wasn’t a good one. It started out well,

but his father sent everyone home early after Cody spilled a glass of punch on the

carpet. The carpet was old, so the stain would not have even been noticed over the

others; however, Cody believed that his father would use any excuse to spoil anything

that took the attention off himself.

“Well, I have already bought you a present, but you’ll have to wait for your

birthday. It’s a nice surprise.” She was proud of her thoughtfulness and anxious about

Cody’s response to her gift. It would be a very special gift, indeed.

After making the long incision on the hapless frog, they pulled back the flesh,

exposing a network of organs and frog stuff. Emily’s apprehension was outpaced by her

curiosity. She instantly forgot about the blood and guts when she saw the frog’s heart

rise and fall with each beat. She could see arteries pulse with small surges of blood.

She was amazed that there was no more blood than there was.

While the rest of the class was preparing its frogs, Mr. Graff brought the two some

caffeine. Cody put a few drops on the heart and counted its heart rate. Mr. Graff posed

the question, “If you see caffeine affect the frog’s heart like that, what do you think it

does to yours?”

It was an interesting question, but the two were not prepared to explain the

nuances of the effect of caffeine on their own hearts. They just looked at each other

with a simultaneous, “Hmmm.”


The clock cuckooed five times, with its usual parade and dance of animals. Mrs.

Brikker and her son wanted their conversation to continue. Both realized that her

husband would be home soon. Cody had been explaining the subtleties of frog cutting.

It brought back memories of biology class for Mrs. Brikker twenty years earlier.

She explained that she also had a partner for dissection, but that he was the

scaredy-cat. She had to do all the cutting. Just for fun she had placed a thumbprint of

frog blood on his glasses. Cody laughed out loud. He was surprised that his mother had

such a sense of humor. It sounded like something Emily would do. He couldn’t wait to

tell her the story. He couldn’t wait to see the smile on her face.


Cody wondered what happened to his mother that she didn’t show the same

playfulness which she now talked about. The frog story wasn’t the first she had told

about her exploits as a joker. Was it the influence of his own father that had quelled her

smiles? Had something else happened in her life? He loved his mother, but wished he

could share more lighthearted moments with her.

Cody had never considered that her childhood might have not been so different

than his and that, like Cody, she used humor as a way to mask her deepest pain. He

never considered that her current nature might be the result of many years of conflict.

His thoughts were interrupted by the slight slam of the front door, not an

extremely hard slam, just a slam hard enough to make them wonder about his father’s

mood. They’d walk on ice until he revealed his hand. This was a daily ballet, akin to the

dancing animals of the cuckoo clock, his cuckoo clock.

After a quick change into his jogging suit, Brikker asked Mrs. Brikker what she

had made for dinner.

“I thought we might order pizza,” she said.

“Pizza? Do you think money grows on trees?” he scolded.

Dropping her eyelids, “No, but I thought it’d be nice to....”

He cut her short, “To what? To spend Cody’s birthday money on pizza?” He

directed his comments toward Cody, “Boy, would you rather have pizza or a birthday


Cody was put in a spot he hated – in fact, he loathed. “I want whatever Mom

wants. I think pizza night might be fun.”

His mother was proud of his response, but her husband wasn’t. “What is this, a

fucking conspiracy?”

Cody knew once the profanities started, it would be downhill from there. There

was no turning back no matter what was said or done. It was a trap with bait that

neither Cody nor his mother wanted to take.

Mr. Brikker grabbed his wife’s face and squeezed it into a pucker, “Those lips

deceive me.” He sounded somewhat paranoid. “Don’t they?” he questioned.

“What do you mean?” she asked, forcing sound through her strained jaw.

“I mean you are a bitch, a prima donna. No! A prima donna bitch.”

He shoved her face back with a quick flick and slapped her face as his hand

dragged back. He wasn’t satisfied. Her immediate submission just stirred him more,

like a shark stirred by the blood of its first strike. He slapped her again, hard enough

to leave a pink print of his hand.

Cody looked down, picturing the pithed frog clearly in his mind. He was helpless

to save his mother from the attack. He wondered if he was next.

Without further words, his father turned and walked out of the house. The door

slammed a bit harder than upon his entrance moments earlier. On his way out, he

mumbled something, but neither heard the nature of his words.

Mrs. Brikker dropped tears as she looked at her son. She was forced to hopelessly

retreat to her bedroom, saving Cody from her struggle for emotional control. Cody sat

on the ottoman and stared at the blank screen in front of him.

Both learned to fear the unknown. A man on death row at least knows his fate.

The future in the Brikker house was uncertain. Cody and his mother shared the same

guilt. That made it hard to even comfort each other, though they both tried. From love,

they tried.

After a half an hour passed, Cody gathered the nerve to knock on his mother’s


“Come in,” she said.

Cody saw his mother lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling above her. One ankle

rested on the other, and her arms were folded on her chest.

Cody sat on her bed next to her, then scooted close to her side.

“Why did you marry him?”

“He wasn’t always this way.”

“What do you mean?”

“Cody,” she admitted, “I have gone through this my whole life. Your grandfather

was a lot like your father. When I met your father, he was strong and handsome. He

was very protective. I thought he’d take care of me forever like he did when we were

dating. I wanted to feel safe and free to live a happy life I never had as a kid.”

“Then what happened, Mom?”

“Things changed, but I should have seen it. His attentiveness turned to jealously

and control as soon as we got married. I wish I’d been stronger…kind of like your

Aunt Mae.”

“Aunt Mae saw how Grandpa was? No one ever talks about it,” he stated


“We don’t talk about it because it hurts too much. He’s dead, so we just buried

our pasts with him.”

“I wish things weren’t like this. I mean….”

She cut her son short, trying to save his words. “I know what you mean, son. I

know exactly what you mean.”


Chapter 4

Cody woke up early Wednesday morning with an unusual amount of energy. Normally,

he would tease the snooze button on his alarm clock a few times before thinking about

rushing through his morning routine. But this morning was different from the others.

His alarm clock was switched off before it had a chance to blast his morning ration of

“Rap-o-lucious,” his favorite female rap deejay. He didn’t bother making his bed before

jumping in the shower. His entire behavioral patterns were replaced by his intention

to change his life that day.

Cody didn’t bother dressing for school, either. Even though hump-day was not a

popular day to ditch school, he had his reasons. School was quite low on his priority

list. His Free-Ball brand, low-riding jeans and camouflage muscle shirt with its cut-off

sleeves would be fine as his morning attire. He was showered and dressed before his

parents were out of bed. The morning rush-hour traffic on the larger street behind his

house hadn’t started yet, and wouldn’t for another hour or so.

His father was quite security conscious when it came to firearms. All twelve of his

guns were locked in a metal gun cabinet in the corner of the garage. For safety reasons,

each gun had its own trigger lock and was never stored loaded. Mr. Brikker wanted to

get new safety devices for each of his weapons, the type that would recognize the

owner’s hand before the weapon could be fired. He just hadn’t done it yet. He was

somewhat of a procrastinator, no other reason.

Cody retrieved the gun cabinet key from the left drawer of the china cabinet in the

dining room. The location of the key was no secret. Cody had his own 12-gauge

shotgun in the cabinet. He used it to hunt quail with his uncle. Cody kept a close eye on

the condition of all of the guns and cleaned them as necessary. He was well qualified.

As an NRA safety graduate, he knew how to safely handle, disassemble, clean, and

reassemble every weapon in the household. He enjoyed taking care of the weapons. If

he were allowed to have animals, he would enjoy taking care of them as well, perhaps

even more. His father would not have the responsibility of animals though, and used

the Army as a convenient excuse. Actually, he just didn’t want to be bothered with

anything that didn’t bring him direct pleasure. So his son learned to be the caregiver

to guns, clocks, and other objects.

Without alerting his parents, Cody removed his shotgun from its safety cabinet,

along with five shells. The shells were loaded with Number 2 size pellets, the exact size

of a BB. This “shot” was for hunting larger animals like rabbits. Smaller shot would be

used for quail or dove.

The large size of the shot made it easy to remove from the carcasses of slain

animals – at least, much easier than butchering the kill and trying to pick out

hundreds of tinier pellets. However, shot that size could be very powerful if the prey

was too close. At ten feet that load could blow a ten-inch diameter hole in a house


In an NRA safety class, Cody had once seen a big watermelon totally blown up with

the same type shotgun as his. The instructor compared the destruction of the fruit to

what the rabbit shot could do to someone’s head or other body parts in a shooting


To avoid noise, Cody loaded the gun in the garage before moving into the den.

He sat deep in the leather couch, his feet well off the floor. He wondered if his

mother was right about their life of poverty. Were they living in a crappy neighborhood

because his dad really squandered so much money? Or were the better things in life so

much more expensive? If that was the case, why even bother with life anymore?

His daydreams about recording rap CDs and the resulting popularity weren’t really

for the popularity itself but for the escape from hopeless mediocrity.

Yes, fame would be nice, but security would be much nicer. Everyone said he had

talent and could be anything he wanted to be. He also knew that people were probably

just supposed to say that to kids and loved ones, for encouragement. He wasn’t

confident anymore that his talent would get him what he wanted.

Even if he were talented enough to make it, would the immeasurable element of

luck follow him through, he wondered. He enjoyed the rap battles at school and in the

neighborhood, and he rarely lost when it came to rhyming. He didn’t have to think

through his wits; it was natural. Most of the time, he didn’t even know where the ideas

came from. They just popped into his head and flew out his mouth before he even had

time to absorb the moment himself. At least, that’s the way it was when he was in the


This morning his mind raced. His body raced. He didn’t want any distractions, not

even the sound of a TV, so he left it off. All he wanted to do was to listen to his own

thoughts. He had thought about killing himself before, many times, but he just couldn’t

do it. That was one of the reasons he thought himself a pussy. If he weren’t so weak and

scared, he could end his problems. He could also end the guilt he felt for his mother’s

sake. He thought if he weren’t around, his mother wouldn’t be treated so badly. At least

she wouldn’t have a reason to stay in such a bad situation. He was the only child. If he

were gone, he analyzed, his mother wouldn’t have to stay there.

He jumped at the loud sound!

It was the chime of the cuckoo clock telling him it was 7:30, but it woke him from

his thoughts. He wasn’t even sure if he hadn’t just fallen asleep. Suddenly, he was sleepy

despite his wired mood.

His parents would be coming out for breakfast and coffee soon; he had decisions

to make. He wondered about death. He knew that when he cut himself, the pain didn’t

come immediately. Sometimes the blood would evoke fear long before the pain was

felt. Trauma like that shocked the nerves. He had heard that this was a protection

mechanism. He questioned whether death would come before pain. It would really

suck if the pain of a gun blast came before the tranquility of life after. In any case, the

pain couldn’t last long, could it?

He heard the master bedroom door creak open. That was another thing his father

hadn’t done. In three years, he could just go to the garage and fetch a drop of oil. The

creaking sound of that door would tell if the door was being opened or shut. A low

pitch increasing to a higher pitch said, “I’m opening now.” A high pitch decreasing to

a lower pitch said, “I’m closing.” He preferred the latter; it usually indicated his father

was locking himself away for the night.

This creak, however, was low to high. His father was on his way out to the kitchen.

Cody had to act fast. He must gather his courage. He must follow through. He was so

afraid he was going to back out.

Cody picked up the shotgun and clicked off the safety. He raised it and leveled it,

with his finger on the trigger. His brain almost turned off with fear. He forced himself

to accept his decision.

He heard the flop of his father’s slippers. He was getting closer. Cody was almost

paralyzed with fear of the unknown. He couldn’t tell if his body was trembling or not;

his eyes shook.

“Breathe,” he told himself. “Breathe.”

His uncertainty made him want his father to pass by the den without looking in,

but he didn’t really want to stop his plan. Things that were so certain moments before

were sketchy now as the sound of his father’s shoes hesitated at the light switch in the

hall. A long, tall shadow was cast past the entrance of the den. Cody saw it. A shadow

had never meant so much. In a quick moment, the shadow of his father represented

life. The movement wasn’t just a dance against light; it was a monster, a threat. It was

alive and moving nearer. Finally, the shadow knees turned into shadow feet, then real


His father turned to stand in the doorway. Their eyes studied each other’s faces.

Cody knew what he was doing, but his father didn’t have time to sort out the situation.

Cody would never know his thoughts. In fact, his thoughts would never matter to him

from this point forward. It was done. Cody had his plan and the guts to follow it


The pellets arrived at Mr. Brikker before the loud boom. He never heard the shot,

as far as Cody could tell. Cody continued to aim the gun where his father’s head once

was, as the body fell below his line of sight. He glanced at the clock. The beautiful wood

was splattered with blood and chunks of matter Cody didn’t recognize. The moment

was permanently marked in his mind as 7:40. Why were there so many colors of flesh

on the clock? He noted red, white, beige, and greenish-blue, even. Then he

remembered the palette of color in the frog, and it all made sense.

His mother heard the shot and rushed to see what had happened. In her mind,

she thought a car had backfired, but she kept going to seek out the origin. She didn’t

notice the blood on the hallway wall, but once she got to the den door, she noticed feet

and legs on the floor.

Her entrance startled Cody. His gun was still pointed toward the doorway. He only

saw her for a second, not long enough to control himself. Instinctively, his finger jerked

the trigger.

The sound of this shot was louder to him than the first, the shot that dropped his

father. He thought he caught the spray of blood from her disintegrating head in slow

motion. Maybe it was his mind filling in the blanks.

He didn’t even realize, at first, that he shot his mother. He just looked at the clock

again. The time hadn’t changed at all. It was still 7:40.

Then it clicked. He had just shot his mother.

“No!” he yelled.

“No...no!” he cried.

The gun involuntarily fell from his grip. His knees hit the floor; his vomit would

follow. He couldn’t stop convulsing until he was in full dry-heave. Each spasm of his

stomach robbed his strength, like a prizefighter’s punch to the ribs. He mouthed

begging words to God for this pain to stop, in between gushes of slobber and drool.

The clock. He had to look at the clock. As his body took a rest from its revulsion,

it was 7:45. He was exhausted and could barely see through his watery eyes.

He wiped his eyes and focused on his mother’s body pumping blood on his

father’s body underneath. Her neck was a mesh of skin and unidentifiable columns of

flesh, with pieces of white jigsaw-like bone shuffled in, probably vertebrae; he didn’t

know for sure.

His confusion only increased. Not once did he think about his father, but he

couldn’t believe he shot his mother. This thing in front of him, this body, wasn’t his

mother. It just couldn’t be. He had to cover it up. He couldn’t face thinking that his

mother, whom he wanted to protect, was just killed by his own hand.

He retrieved his blanket from his room. It was a blanket his mother gave him for

his tenth birthday. He gently covered her body and stared at the blanket. He looked

over the blanket as a mourner would stand on a grassy grave site and stare at the

tombstone, perhaps reading it several times, but forgetting to comprehend.

He watched blood seep through. Not much. Just enough to make a statement of

death in Cody’s mind. He stuffed his father’s arm and hand underneath his makeshift

coverings. He considered removing the bulky, gold Army ring that matched the cut on

his upper cheek from his father’s right hand, but the creepiness of the dead body

suddenly brought a shiver through Cody’s own body. His stomach turned and beads of

sweat outlined his face, gathering to drops.

Cody wondered how he would clean up the mess. He knew it would take all

morning to bleach the walls, and soak up as much blood as possible from the floor. He

started by picking up his gun and taking it to the bathroom.

His mother never noticed the wallet that fell from her husband’s hand and rolled

into the hallway against the opposite wall, under the blood splatter. Cody picked it up

and carefully placed it in his pocket while fumbling with the gun.

He hadn’t yet started to hate himself for killing his mother. It was all a dream to

him. Sometimes when traveling across town with his mother, he’d end up on the other

side without remembering the trip. That same “lost” feeling was what he felt. He had

never been introduced to the term surreal. But if he had, he would have used it to

describe his detachment from the dreamlike irrationality of his state of mind.

Immortality was no longer attainable. Cody had just experienced human death,

yet there was nothing sensational about it. No screams, no terror, no dramatized acting

like the movies. One minute they were alive, and the next minute they were dead. Two

simple pulls of the trigger, and their lives were gone.

He couldn’t put it into words but, somehow, Cody thought that there should have

been something punctuating the end of life, like an exclamation point ending a

dramatic sentence. But there wasn’t. He never even heard their bodies thud to the floor.

Just because he hadn’t heard it, however, didn’t mean it hadn’t happened.

There had to be something to denote his mother’s death, anything, or maybe he

just couldn’t accept her life’s ending.

Chapter 5

Cody must have been deeply dissociated; otherwise, sleeping in the same house in

which his parents had been killed wouldn’t be possible, particularly with his phobias

concerning darkness. Even while hunting, Cody never liked to be alone in the woods.

He never could put a finger on what he was afraid of, but he was afraid to be alone,

especially in the dark.

He slept the entire night, peacefully. Only after he awoke, from one of his deepest

sleeps in years, did he not want to face walking past the den. He was still unsure what

he was going to do with the bodies.

He had cleaned the walls the best he could. He used bleach and hot water. He

never anticipated how messy blood could be. Like printer’s ink, one small drop could

be smeared and re-smeared. It never seemed to be completely absorbed into the cloth.

It could only be diluted, time and again, until mostly invisible.

He had repositioned the bodies onto a tarp. Actually, it was a standard Army-

issued “shelter half,” with an Army-issued wet weather poncho placed on top. His

father hadn’t actually used the shelter half in years, but it was standard issue, a half of

a two-man tent. Each person carried his own in the field. Sergeant Brikker was a

recruiter, so the only field he had seen was inner-city Memphis. He didn’t need a

shelter half there.

Cody thought he’d inspect the bodies on his way out to make sure nothing was

leaking onto the carpet any more than it should. His mind raced with silly thoughts.

“What if the bodies aren’t there?” he uttered.

“Absurd. Where would they go?” he answered himself.

His self-talk continued into the shower, and then into his closet, as he rummaged

for his favorite pair of jeans. After dressing, he found his father’s car keys and went to

the garage, pressing the white button that opened the door as he walked in.

He got into his father’s truck and fumbled to adjust the seat. He didn’t know how

to drive, but managed to start the engine.

He carefully tried to put the car into reverse, not having his foot on the brake. The

car lurched backward, so he slammed on the brake, snapping his neck back.

He took his foot off the brake, and looked behind as he backed out. He didn’t pay

attention to the front of the truck as it eased closer and then finally scraped against the

side of the garage entrance, making a sickening scratching sound. It took him a few

seconds to realize what he had done.

Trying to gather his scattered mind, he decided to pull the truck back into the

garage and walk wherever he needed to go.


Standing in front of an ATM outside the large grocery store, Cody noticed a group of

kids walking to school. He didn’t know them, so he wasn’t worried about their stopping

to talk to him. They didn’t know he was ditching school. He continued to remove the

debit card from his father’s wallet.

He could barely read the smudged ink marks on the back of the card, which he

knew to be his father’s PIN number. Despite warnings that come with bank cards, his

father always wrote the PIN numbers on the back. He didn’t even try to do it in code,

or write it backward like some people did. He just wrote the number; be damned with

anyone who would try to use it. Sergeant Brikker was daring like that, a pressing


A clean, smooth stack of twenty-dollar bills popped out of the ATM, twenty-five of

them, along with a receipt. Five hundred one dollars and fifty cents was debited from

the account. Cody jabbed out loud, “Thaaat’s how they getcha! Your own bank charges

you for your own money. What a racket.”

He pocketed the money and happily tossed the crumpled receipt into a trash can.


The grocery store had a huge video rental section placed there by a national chain.

Cody roamed and studied each aisle, as if selecting the perfect items for a best friend.

Previously, he had never spent much time reading the jackets of movies. He had always

just selected movies based on the cover art. If it looked exciting, it probably was. Today

was not the same; he read the covers, every word.

He spotted East of Eden, the movie. He had seen his mother read the book just

a week before, and was curious about it. She had said it was one of her favorite stories.

It must have been, because his mother usually only read plays. She liked the way plays

read – minimal description, direct dialogue, and immediate action that was not

superfluous, but supported the plot. Plays were an efficient read and often were filled

with romance and passion.

He placed the movie in his hand-held shopping basket, on top of Jurassic Park,

Terminator II, and Kane and Abel, a made-for-television miniseries on DVD, based on

a book of the same name by Jeffrey Archer.

Looking through the bin of used video games, he didn’t find anything he wanted.

Since the games were just tossed into the “blowout” bin haphazardly, he quickly

became impatient and searched only half the bin.

“Can I have your rental card?” the girl at the counter asked without so much as

a smile.

“I’m not renting. I’m buying.” He thought her to be rude. Girls at the video

counter were supposed to smile. He didn’t want to be crotchety, like his father, but he

had the money, so he should expect kinder service. “Oh, and I’d like them gift

wrapped.” He purposefully left off the please.

“Birthday paper?” she asked.

“Yes. Make the tag out to Cody. It’s his thirteenth birthday tomorrow. I want it to

be special.” He didn’t bother to tell her that he was Cody and that it was his birthday.

“Well, sir, these certainly are special selections; I’ll be right back.”

He browsed through the candy selection as she scampered off. Her energy level

seemed to increase, but she still wasn’t what he’d call friendly.

“Here you go, sir; enjoy. If you are still shopping, you can pay for these at the

grocery counter.”

“I will, I am, and I will. Thank you!”

She thought his answer was clever coming from such a small, young chap. It

brought out a laugh and a smile. It was a smile with a missing tooth. Instantly, Cody

knew why she didn’t like to smile. He just learned a lesson in judgment. Things were

not always as they seemed. Of course, he had lived that motto for many years – so had

his mother.

The older, gray-haired lady at the bakery was more than happy to smile. Cody

thought she had the bridgework the younger, black-haired video girl needed. Silver, or

white gold, shone through the crack between her smoke- and coffee-stained gums.

He just watched as she spelled out “Happy l3th, Cody” in blue icing. The tip on

her icing bag simulated a calligrapher’s pen. Her hand was steady and the writing

beautiful on top of the German chocolate, Dead Sea Scroll-shaped cake. The words

were a true testament to his birthday.

“Where are the party plates? I’d like some plates and napkins to match the cake.”

“Aisle nineteen, two aisles over. Lots of colors to choose from,” she said, smiling

even bigger. She realized, without being told, that Cody was purchasing the cake for

himself. She had seen that look before, in her sixty-three years. She thought his mother

was probably shopping in another part of the store and let him pick out his own cake.

He was probably going to have a big party with lots of friends and games.

She watched him set the cake in his basket, the one also containing the wrapped

movies stacked in the handbasket. Cody drove the cart off like a Ferrari, straight to aisle

nineteen. She watched him make a sharp left and disappear. She didn’t notice the $60

he mindlessly dropped in front of her counter when he stuffed the receipt and

remaining money in his pocket.

The two struggling mothers behind Cody didn’t bother to say anything as they

covertly picked up the stranded cash. They could have cared less about Cody’s state of

mind, even if they had known how shocked his mind and body were.


Putting away the groceries from his trip, Cody recalled the look on the checkout

counterwoman’s face when she bagged his cake and matching candles, napkins, and

paper plates. He didn’t realize that it wasn’t the goodies or the two gallons of ice cream

but, instead, was the wad of cash that caught her attention. He didn’t understand that

the lady had suspected him of being a punk drug dealer. He noticed her pick up the

phone when he left the store, not knowing that she was calling her manager to alert

him to the young man with a pocket full of uneasy cash. Those thoughts never crossed

his mind.

He did think to cover his tracks at school before a truancy officer visited him. He

composed the note in his head. It needed to be perfect. Later he would transcribe it to

computer, do a grammar and spell check, and deliver it to Emily after she got home

from school.

He had told Emily that he had a stomach virus and that the doctor recommended

he stay home for a while to get more fluids in his system. He had also told her that his

mother and father went out of town for a few days on official Army business, a seminar

or something.

When he finally delivered the note to Emily, she commented that he looked fine.

He hoped that she wouldn’t try to pop in on him later for anything. How would he be

able to stop her from finding his parents? She’d have to pass the den to get to the

bathroom. He couldn’t let her come over.

“I’m pretty drained, though. The doctor said I was very dehydrated from vomiting.

I think I’m going to get some rest.”

“Do you want me to come over later and make you some soup?”

“Oh, no, I’ll be fine. I just want to sleep.” If he was sleeping, that would be a good

reason for not hearing the door, he thought.

“Okay, I’ll deliver this note to the counselor in the morning. I’ll also copy our

homework for you.” She smiled, and thought he looked pretty well groomed for being

so sick. He looked as if he’d been to the mall.

Cody knew she’d deliver the note. The school might call with its regular automated

message that informed parents when the kid wasn’t at school. The message was more

to cover the school than it was to inform the parents, most people said. At least, Cody

wouldn’t have to worry about an untimely visit from school authorities. The city had

cracked down lately. It had even hired three new, full-time truancy investigators. Local

news had questioned why the city was so interested in keeping kids in school when it

couldn’t afford the proper books and support for the kids who voluntarily went. It was

a tongue-in-cheek posture, but shared by most of the families living in the Memphis City

School District, one of the most neglected systems in the country.

 Chapter 6

Emily wiggled into her seat, noticing a new piece of graffiti on her biology desk. It was

a heart with her name in it. Whoever drew it knew that it was her desk. The writing

wasn’t round and feminine enough to be from a girl. There was only one person she

could think of who could have drawn it there, but she prayed it wasn’t so. She hated

having to constantly dodge Dale Brown’s advances. Yes, this was something he’d do.

He was a good friend, but that’s all. She was running out of polite excuses and niceties

where he was concerned, and things had gotten to a point where she couldn’t just

ignore him. One could ignore subtleties, but Dale had gone way beyond subtle. Her

future responses to him would have to be more direct than his own discourse.

“Emily,” whispered a fellow cheerleader. “Where’s Cody?”

“He has the stomach flu,” she grimaced.

“Sure it’s not another black eye?” The girl didn’t mean to be rude, but it was her

way of making a point.

Another boy from behind Emily chimed in with his unwanted and unappreciated

opinion, “How can you get another black eye when you already have two?”

Emily didn’t have to say anything; her friend backed her up. “Butt out, butthead.”

Her eyes rolled the opposite of her head.

Moments before, Emily had delivered the note to the school counselor. The

counselor told Emily that she knew the two students were best of friends, and that she

was aware there was abuse at his home. She had asked Emily if she was aware, too.

Emily confided in the counselor and confirmed that Cody’s father was a terror.

She added that she was afraid of what Sergeant Brikker might do to Cody or his mother,

and how Cody was obsessed with the same thoughts on a daily basis. She had felt she

couldn’t express just how awful things were in the Brikker household.

The image of the counselor’s face kept showing itself in Emily’s mind. It was a

face of true concern and impeccable judgment. She urged Emily to convince Cody to

come into the office and talk about his situation. Together, they could create an action

plan for his family. The counselor had persuaded Emily that the family would be

protected. Her eyes had told Emily that she wouldn’t do anything to endanger Cody or

his mother.

“I feel sorry for Cody,” the cheerleader said.

“I have for years. You know today is his birthday?” Emily tried to be quiet, but her

teacher heard her.

“Excuse me, whose birthday is it?” He turned and looked right at his favorite


“Sorry, sir.”

“I didn’t ask you how sorry you are, Ms. Chee. I asked you whose birthday it is.”

She couldn’t tell what his intention was. Was he trying to embarrass her for talking

in class, or was he really interested in whose birthday it was?

“It’s Cody’s birthday,” she answered in her most sheepish voice.

He stood upright, chalk in hand. He looked down his long nose, under his glasses,

and almost through his mustache.

“Ah,” he said. “The infamous Cody Brikker. Where is Cody today?”

She explained again. “He is at home with the stomach flu. The doctor says he is

dehydrated from...well, you know.”

“Indeed I do, Ms. Chee. Indeed I do.” He shook his head affirmatively.

The class waited for one of his long-winded stories. They all thought the stories

were boring, but they liked to snicker under their breath about the way his eyebrows

skipped rope with each point made. A kid once said, “I’m surprised his brows don’t

knock his glasses right off his face when he tells his stories.” Considering the thickness

of his lenses, that would be some feat.

No story. He just turned to the board without further comment and started

drawing a heart with four chambers. He used the blue-colored chalk for the left and

right ventricles, and red chalk for the left and right atria.

“Who can guess why I used blue chalk for the ventricles?” He tilted his head and

waited for a response.


The front window rattled with the pounding on the door. Cody had just returned home

from another quick trip to the grocery store and ATM; he figured that he should get

some more cash to live on. The trip had not been unlike the first one. He withdrew

another $500, while kids were scrambling past him to get to school. Cody had decided

to play hooky and shopped for some odds and ends, including a box of caramel-

covered popcorn. He had wandered around as if feeling his way through fog, not really

smiling and not really frowning – just looking dazed.

Cody answered the manly-knuckled knock at the door, without thinking too hard.

It was his Aunt Mae, his mother’s sister. He wasn’t expecting her pre-noon hours. He

wouldn’t have answered the door, but the only people he would have expected at this

time were the mailman and maybe FedEx, coming to deliver one of his mother’s

packages. She sold goods on eBay part-time, and mailed and received several packages

a week. He wished that Aunt Mae’s hand hadn’t been so heavy on the door.

She invited herself in as usual and walked straight for the kitchen. He quickly

followed the path of her waist-length golden hair. His mind surged with stress when she

reached the sink counter and turned to look at him.

Her ocean-colored eyes seemed to dilate when she looked him over. Her low-cut

cleavage cradled the hair that outlined her oval head. He liked her with her hair down,

and always complained when she wore it up because it made her look tomboyish. She

never really understood that, but if he liked her hair down and flowing more than up

in a ponytail, so be it.

As usual, when he saw her in the daytime, she was wearing her hospital scrubs.

She worked as a respiratory therapist at Baptist East Hospital in Germantown, a snobby

suburb of Memphis.

Her ten years at the same hospital afforded her a nice, comfortable life. She had

a paid-for, three-year-old Audi touring sedan. She also managed to pay off her home,

an upscale, gated condominium nestled in a neighborhood a couple of blocks away

from her sister.

Unlike her sister, Mae found her security in total independence from men. She

managed to acquire an education, work, and thrive without a man’s help or the

vulnerability that she perceived came with being taken care of. In her mind, her sister

simply married their father. Mae’s desire for her sister to break away from the pattern

of domestic violence and bondage caused many arguments between them, perhaps

because her sister felt guilty for not taking a path similar to Mae’s.

“So why are you home?”

“Sick.” His voice went up at the end of the sentence like a valley girl lying about

her virginity.

“Sick. Yeah, sick in the head,” she joked.

“No, my tummy, and I’m dehydrated.”

“Dehydrated, eh?” She reached over and pinched the skin on the top of his

forearm, checking its turgor. If the skin didn’t reflex quickly back to its normal state,

that would indicate dehydration.

His skin snapped back.

“With rubber-band skin like that, you can’t be all that dehydrated.” She paused

to think, looking at the array of birthday settings on the counter. “I know; you’re

ditching for your birthday, aren’t you?”

He admired her shiny smile and large expressive mouth; it was always ready to


“Do you want some cake?”

“Shouldn’t you save that for later?”

“Nope. I was hoping you’d come over and have some later, just you and me. Since

you are here now, let’s have some.” He opened the refrigerator to display it proudly.

He then included a Vanna White hand sweep to show it off. “It’s your favorite; we’ll cut

some from the corners.”

Her favorite, she knew right away. “German chocolate?” she confirmed.

“Yep.” He set it on the counter and reached for the paper plates, but she grabbed

them out of his hand and laughed.

She ripped open the plates while he cut the cake. He sliced off the two bottom

corners into triangles that just barely fit on the plates.

They used real flatware. This was special, plastic forks wouldn’t do. He tried to

keep her in the kitchen area. It was hard for him to concentrate on conversation when

all he could think of was how to get rid of her without her finding his parents.

“One second, Cody. I have to use the bathroom.”

She headed for the hallway; there was nothing he could do. His heart sank. She

would hate him for life.

As she paralleled the closed den door, the clock started its ten o’clock routine.

She stopped to admire the sounds penetrating the house, and reached for the doorknob

so she could see the show. She loved that clock as much as Cody did. She thought it a

true work of art.

The chimes stopped just as quickly. She missed the parade of animals. Cody’s

heart began to beat again as she let go of the handle and turned to the bathroom.

Her stay wasn’t long, he thought, when he heard her washing her hands. She did

that a lot. She wasn’t a nurse anymore, but she still had the habit of washing her hands.

Cody had even noticed that she sometimes washed her hands before and after she used

the restroom, but he never asked her why.

When she exited the bathroom, Cody saw her poke her nose in the air slightly, but

he didn’t hear her sniff the air. “Is there something wrong with the plumbing lately?”

“Why?” he asked.

“There is an odd smell in the bathroom.” She glanced curiously down both ends

of the hallway.

Cody hoped she was dismissing the thought, but she hadn’t let it go yet. She again

reached for the den door. This time she opened it. The door just missed the bodies.

Her reaction was slow and streaming, her mind taking in the sight of two bodies

lying in a pile covered with Cody’s favorite blanket. She dropped to her knees but not

in a panic. She looked like an elderly lady reaching for her armchair, weak.

“Cody, come here,” she commanded, but softly.

Cody ran to her, hugging her neck from behind in a desperate attempt to calm

himself and her. He didn’t want to lose the only other family member he loved as much

as his mother. He couldn’t stand not knowing what she was thinking. He felt himself

shaking, and his eyes getting tunnel vision. His head didn’t hurt, but it felt like it was

going to blow off the top of his shoulders.

Aunt Mae reached back, pulling Cody to her front. She held him tightly, never

taking her eyes off of her sister. “Sis!” she yelled. “God, no!” Cody’s heart pounded and

he got the same sick feeling as when he first killed his mom. His aunt’s arms didn’t

bring him comfort, as she pushed him back.

“Cody, what the hell have you done?” Her eyes begged for an answer.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.”

Her voice barked in frustration, “You didn’t mean to what?”

“That.” He pointed to the body stack. “I only meant to shoot him.”

“I can’t....” She abruptly stopped mid-sentence. She fought the dizziness entering

her head.

The room seemed to metamorphose into a landscape of surrealism. Aunt Mae

found it difficult to take in the reality of the scene.

Cody pressed, “I didn’t mean to shoot her.”

“But you did.”

Mae inhaled a long, thick stream of air, and then blew it out, trying to clear her

emotions, trying to find the right words, the right actions.

“We need to…NO! YOU need to call 911.”

She stood up and guided Cody by the hand to the phone on the lamp table just a

few feet away. She picked up the phone and handed it to him.

He hesitated, watching her study the bodies as if they were going to leave the


“911, Cody, the number is 911. Call it, now.” She made a set of fists and pounded

the air. “God damn it, Cody.” It would be hard to tell whose heart was heavier at that

moment, Cody’s or his aunt’s.

Inside, she easily and accurately put the events together, but she wondered if she

could ever forgive Cody. Her sister was her best friend, the only one she could ever

depend on.


Chapter 7

Emily saw the police cars and ambulances but couldn’t tell that they were in front of

Cody’s house until she got closer. It was a long day at school and she was tired, but she

managed to forget about that and break out into a full sprint. She wanted to get to his

house as soon as possible. She didn’t realize he was that sick, or she would have

refused to go to school, she thought.

Just as she stepped onto his yard, technicians, in paramedic uniforms, rolled out

two gurneys with bodies on them. The bodies were too big to be Cody. She could tell

that, even though they were covered with sheets.

A plain-clothed investigator grabbed her as she tried to run past him.

“You can’t be here, young lady. Where do you live?”

“I live right there,” she said, pointing to her house, two doors down, with a

crooked arm across her body. “What happened?”

“I can’t say. You’ll have to go home.” He loosened his grip a bit, testing her


They both looked up to see Cody being escorted from his house in handcuffs.

Behind Cody was his Aunt Mae. Aunt Mae motioned for Emily to come over. “It’s okay,

she’s with me,” she yelled to the officer.

Aunt Mae didn’t really know what the appropriate thing to do was, so she figured

she’d ease Emily’s mind as much as she could. It was no use keeping the child

wondering. She knew that she herself would want to know, if the tables were turned.

As Emily walked forward, Cody was placed in the back of the patrol car. Their

heads were locked in a stare, turning as they passed, never breaking eye contact. Emily

stopped and then backed into the hands of Aunt Mae. Mae squeezed her shoulders as

if to say, “thanks for being here.”

Emily’s tears flowed. Streams of unimaginable grief mapped her cheeks. All she

wanted to do was chase the departing patrol car. It was all she could manage not to run

after it. She struggled with her emotions.

Emily overheard one officer talking: “The boy killed them both. Apparently the

father was an asshole, according to the aunt.”

The man he was talking to was an Army officer in dress uniform. She heard him

called George, but she didn’t know if that was his first name or his last name.

George’s last words were, “We’ll call your office when we decide if this is under

the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army or not.” He turned and walked to his black sedan,

which was driven by another Army soldier.

Aunt Mae patted Emily on the shoulders and headed inside the house. That was

Emily’s cue that it was time to walk home.

She took her time, taking in the sights, occasionally looking back at the scene.

She didn’t know how she was going to tell her parents. How could she explain the

deaths without calling Cody a killer? Her mother was home. Why hadn’t she heard the

commotion and come to investigate?

Did she not care? Emily didn’t know what she was going to face when she got

home. She had a feeling that her parents would understand, but she couldn’t be certain.

When she opened the front door to her house, she saw a present on the hall table.

It was the present she was going to give Cody for his birthday.

She realized that her gift was probably the last thing on his mind right now. She

thought that it might make a difference to him though, when she was able to give it to

him. Luckily, she had Aunt Mae’s phone number. She’d call her. Not today. She’d give

her some time to find out what was going on.

“Emily?” her mother called from her home office upstairs.

“It’s me, Mom.”

“Just checking.”

Emily could have predicted the words, as they were the same every day she came

in from school. She figured it was her mother’s way of letting her know she was waiting

for her.

Emily headed upstairs to talk with her mother. Each step seemed to add weight

to her legs. By the time she reached the top, she felt drained. She looked back down

the stairs at the birthday present. It sat there alone. Only she knew what was inside. She

wondered if Cody really would ever get to open it, or if she was just dreaming.

It was time to discuss such matters with her mother.


The ambulance had not left the Brikker house. The driver was awaiting orders from

Memphis homicide, whose investigators were still collecting evidence.

Officers streamed out of the house like worker ants, carrying brown paper sacks,

dozens of them. Some contained samples of carpet. Others contained shell casings that

Cody had thrown in the kitchen trash.

One sack, a larger one, held the cuckoo clock. The clock only half fit in the sack.

Another sack had to be placed as a top cover, and even then the middle of the clock

was exposed.

The scene had been processed as if they didn’t know who the killer was. There

was fingerprint powder covering the entire house. It was on the doorknobs, door

jambs, window ledges, windows, all over. There was even wood from the den

baseboards that had been ripped out.

Aunt Mae commented about the mess to one of the homicide investigators as he

handed her his card.

“That reminds me,” he said. “Here is a list of certified bio-cleanup crews to help

clean the blood and other organic matter.”

She sharply interrupted, “Like my sister’s brains!”

She didn’t appreciate his callousness. She couldn’t resist adding a little humanity

to the mix. It was better than slapping him, she thought.


Chapter 8

Cody was taken to the Shelby County Jail, located in downtown Memphis, just a block

or so away from the mighty Mississippi River. Instead of driving him to the

underground receiving station of the jail, the officer parked on the street in front and

walked him in. Had they gone underground, Cody would not have been able to see the

sun setting deep in the west nor smell the musk blowing off the river.

Buildings cast hard shadows on the sidewalks and on the sides of other buildings;

but the streets, running east and west, had long strips of light that looked much warmer

than the dark shadows where the two were walking.

The jail flurried with activity, several uniformed men and women, as well as some

very criminal-looking types. One man, who caught Cody’s eye, looked like a bum but

was very combative. Most bums Cody had seen before were bothersome but low key.

They might ask for money on the streets, but they weren’t in your face like this man

was. He was most likely all coked-up, or maybe on PCP.

“Wait here,” ordered Cody’s escorting officer. Lt. Justice questioned if he could

trust Cody not to run. Then he removed the handcuffs by first turning the key one way

to unlock the double-lock feature, then the other way to unlatch the swing bar. No

matter how many times a cop unfastens cuffs, it’s never a smooth process.

Cody thanked the cop as he rubbed his marked wrists with his fists, one side after

the other. Cuffs could leave marks, sometimes quite deep. The cop shows on TV never

showed that part. Cody thought it might be nice to invent a pair of handcuffs that had

a more pleasant feel to them, especially for long-term cuffing. His quick analysis told

him that the purchasers of the cuffs were not the users, so the marketing idea might

have a vital flaw.

The clock above the reception desk read 17:30. Cody couldn’t remember when

he hadn’t been able to read military time. His father had drilled it into his head before

every family outing. “It’s zero-seven-forty-five, time for school,” he’d say, or, “It’s

eighteen hundred hours; let’s have chow!” Cody didn’t mind, really. He never knew any


He jumped, then gasped for breath. The clock had blood splatter on it, just like

the clock in the den. Then the blood faded away; he had just imagined it. The blood had

looked so real that he questioned his own consciousness. Am I dreaming? he silently

asked himself. He thought about pinching himself, but he figured that was silly and only

for the movies.

The bum continued to get louder. He got up and started walking in small circles.

His walk slowly morphed into a military-style march until, finally, he was

goose-stepping like an old SS officer. He ignored the objections of the duty officer, and

wouldn’t have a seat. Perhaps he liked the attention of the crowded room.

Then his steps adopted an extra flare. With each step, his arm, opposite the

in-flight leg, slapped his forehead. The slap was followed by a stomp, then by another

slap in the head from the opposite arm.

“That’s one crazy dude,” said a young black man in braids. He was sitting on his

cuffed hands. “What the heeeeell is he doing?”

That comment drew a laugh from the entire room.

“It look like he be kickin’ his own ass,” another man replied, as the laughter


Just then several big sheriff’s deputies ran into the room. At least three of them

tackled the man, while another grabbed Cody by the arm and rushed him from the

room. It happened so suddenly that Cody couldn’t take in the entire scene.

As they entered a room lined with holding cells, a well-dressed black woman with

long, straight hair motioned to the sheriff and said, “He’s a juvenile separatee. Put him

in 18A.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

A letter marked each quadrant of the holding area, A through D. Within each area

the cells were numbered. Eighteen A, the cell in which Cody would wait by himself, was

in clear view of all the other cells except for the ones that were blocked by center-room

cubbies, occupied by staff who were processing inmates.

The cell was small, no bigger than his bathroom at home. There was a toilet in the

middle of the cell on the far wall, but it faced the center of the room and was in clear

view of the entire holding area. No matter how badly he had to use the restroom, he

wouldn’t do it there.

The metal bench was at least ten degrees colder than the room, which itself was

cold enough to store ice cream. Why did the cell have to be so cold? Just to satisfy his

own curiosity, Cody made a mouth shaped like a large-mouth bass and breathed on the

window to see if it would fog up. With one exhale, he could no longer see through the

glass. He wiped the dew clean, and tried again. This time he left the patch of fog on the

window. If he really had to go to the bathroom, he could fog the entire wall of glass that

housed him, he thought.

Not only was the bench cold, it was hard. He sat on it anyway. Every few seconds

he’d shift his weight, trying to not rest on any bony parts of his butt. The fact that he

hadn’t eaten in several hours made the wait all that more uncomfortable. Every now

and then a small burp would fill his taste buds with the taste of chocolate icing from his


Scooting around the bench, he thought about the clock in the lobby. It was weird

how the blood just appeared, then disappeared. Where were they going to take his

mother’s body? Was this the start of a life alone, everyone hating and not trusting him?

His mind drifted from thought to thought, not ever resting on an answer.

Before he was taken away, his Aunt Mae said she would be downtown just as soon

as she could. Of course, she made that statement not knowing the process herself. She

was uncertain how long she would be busy at the house. She was upset about the

disaster left in the wake of the crime scene technicians. It wasn’t that she didn’t have

her sister and brother-in-law first in her mind; it was that she felt a certain amount of

cold uncaring from the mob of police, each one trying to upstage the next, a circus of

egos performing for each other, only impressive to themselves.

Cody had no way of knowing that she was on her way, weaving through traffic, on

Poplar Avenue. Rush hour left a thick film of traffic on one of Memphis’s busiest and

longest streets. She’d make it, just not as quickly as she’d like.

Cody’s deepest thoughts sucked the energy from his lungs. He found it hard to

steady his legs long enough to stagger to the fingerprinting station.

He was expecting to roll his fingers in ink. What he discovered was a highly

technical computerized finger-processing station. It was something you’d see on the

Discovery channel.

The sheriff sprayed Cody’s hand with water, then held his left thumb. He rolled it,

starting from the outside edge, over a glass plate that had a thin red wire square,

marking where the fingerprint should go. The image of the print instantly appeared on

a screen in front of them. When the print was just right, the technician pressed a

button, the print flashed, and a message came up on the screen:

PRINT ACCEPTED: Left Thumb ) Scan Left Index

The technician grabbed Cody’s left index finger and repeated the process. The rest

of the fingers were scanned separately before his palm print and all four fingers at once

were scanned. He knew about these prints and why they had to be taken. What he

hadn’t ever seen was next.

The sheriff’s deputy took a print image of the bottom edge of Cody’s hand.

“This is in case you write a ransom note, we can find you,” the man joked, with

a smile.

He wasn’t trying to be sarcastic; he just figured Cody was lonely and scared by now

and needed a little boost of compassion.

“Do you know Jesus?” he inquired of Cody.

“Yeah, but he is being deported back to Mexico after his INS hearing. They found

him by his handprint when he signed his welfare check.”

Cody was proud of his comeback.

“You’re pretty quick, aren’t you? I wish you well. There has been a lot of talk

about you this past two hours. Believe it or not, kid, you have a lot of people on your

side already.”

The technician tried not to talk too loudly. He wasn’t very high up in seniority and

didn’t want to cause waves. Nonetheless, he couldn’t resist encouraging Cody.

“There is someone who wants to talk to you.” On their way down a long hallway,

marked with different-colored tape, the technician brought up the topic again. “We’ll

be praying for you. Please, I can’t tell you enough how much your Father in heaven

loves you. He gave His only begotten Son so that you could find everlasting life. He

wants you to be with Him, in His kingdom, forever.”

“I doubt I’ll ever get that chance. I just broke two of his commandments, twice!”

“What do you mean, two commandments, twice?” He cocked his head, perplexed

by Cody’s matter-of-fact resignation.

“First, I only honored my mother, not both of my parents. Then I killed them.

Thou shalt not commit murder, right?”

“Let me give you some advice, son. Don’t go into that interview room telling

people you murdered your parents. Be very careful; that’s all I can say. Next, find God.

Once you do, you will understand that Jesus has prepared a path for you, no matter

what you’ve done. Many people have killed in many wars. Do you think they are going

to hell?” Cody didn’t answer.

“In fact, my father was a soldier in a war. He killed for his country. I’m not saying

it is right, necessarily, but God will be the final judge. It’s not up to you to condemn

yourself, understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

Cody wasn’t ready for that lecture. His mother was Catholic and his father

Southern Baptist. They rarely went to church, and then it was only for sunrise services

on Easter Sunday or for a christening or baptism of a friend. Cody wasn’t sure of all the

innuendo about God and salvation but, somehow, just someone giving him direction

at a time like this was comforting. Maybe he could have received a lecture on the value

of drinking milk and felt the same comfort; he didn’t know. He’d have to think about

it later.


The conference room looked more like a boardroom than an interview room in

the center of the county jail. The white marker board silhouetted the lean, bald JAG

officer as he stood to greet Cody.

“I’m Captain Raymond George with the United States Army, Office of the Judge

Advocate General. Please have a seat.”

The chair had been pulled out for Cody before his arrival into the room. He sat,

then scooted the chair so his chest touched the edge of the table. Then Captain George

sat. The table only came up to his waist, though.

The man shuffled some papers. “It looks like you are in some trouble here, son.

Let’s see if I can help you out. All you have to do is be honest with me. If you are not

honest, I can’t help you. I don’t need any surprises embarrassing me later.


“Yes, sir.” Cody stared back, not really focusing on the dark, chiseled features of

the captain’s face. He squirmed in his chair to get comfortable, but couldn’t. The

decorated uniform kept reminding him of his father.

There were two things right off that bothered Cody. Today everyone seemed to

want to call him “son.” He was not their son, and it just served to remind him that as

of a few dozen hours earlier, he was suddenly no one’s son.

The other thing that bothered him was that Captain George’s introduction was

right out of the “good cop/bad cop” manual of interrogation, except there was no bad

cop around. Maybe the bad cop would come by later.

Cody didn’t, for one minute, believe that the JAG officer was sent to help him out.

And he certainly didn’t come on his own; they would not be that clever to do anything

on their own. At least, that was his opinion of most Army professionals.

“Why did you shoot your parents?” he said softly enough to imitate a caring

sociologist. The elbow on the table and the palm supporting his chin added to the


“Who says I shot my parents?” Cody was testing the waters.

“Who says those were your parents?”

Captain George would have to try harder if he wanted Cody to take that kind of

bait. He knew George was trying to get him on the defensive.

“You asked me why I shot my parents, but you didn’t say ‘those’ were my parents.

Besides, I don’t know what you mean by ‘those.’ Those what?”

“Let’s quit playing games,” George suggested, pushing against the table as if to

force a crick out of his upper back. He rocked back forward. He squinted his eyes until

they were little more than slits of black pupils. “There are two dead bodies identified

as your parents. They were shot with a shotgun. In your kitchen trash, there were spent

shotgun shells which held the same size pellets they were shot with, and there was a

shotgun in the garage gun cabinet that had been recently fired. In fact, it still had a shell

in the magazine that matched the shells found in the trash.

“As a JAG officer, I am responsible for investigating any death of an Army official,

especially those deaths considered to be suspicious. I’d say murder is pretty suspicious,

wouldn’t you?”

He awaited Cody’s reply.

“Yes, sir, quite suspicious. About as suspicious as the bruises I carried to school

with me almost every day.” Captain George was getting somewhere, but he wasn’t sure

where. As long as the suspect was talking, information was being passed. Even

incorrect information could prove valuable, and be used in a court of law.

“Or how about the suspicious rings around my mother’s eyes when she was alive,”

he whimpered. He could barely hold back his tears. “I never told anyone how

embarrassed I was to go shopping with my mother because I saw that everyone was

looking at us and knew she was being beaten. How could I face people anymore when

everyone knew? Kids at school made fun of me. I got into more fights just because my

father fought with me. How suspicious was that? I guess no one thought so, or someone

would have helped.”

Cody’s face was flushed. The rosiness in his cheeks was splotched, not smooth

like a happy child, but reddened like a runner’s face after a marathon.

The JAG officer didn’t have an answer. He pondered his next move. He could go

for the confession, or he could go for the trust.

If he went for the confession right away, his rapport might be ruined in the long

run. But the time was right for the confession. People often confess when they are able

to justify their actions. Cody had just laid the groundwork for his own justification.

Captain George decided that he’d try to build more trust in Cody first, then later

go for the confession. He could always revisit the justification phase of his

interrogation, especially since Cody had the propensity to guide him there on his own.

The fact that George didn’t have a tape recorder present yet was the determining

factor that he was not ready for the full-fledged confession. He’d be patient and wait.

Besides, he liked to know the whole truth about the crime, not just enough pieces to

hang someone.

“When your father hit your mother, did she tell you about it?” He already knew the

answer, but asked the question anyway. He knew battered women most often hid what

they could from their children. Even when the children might see the abuse, the women

ignored it and tried not to make a big deal in front of the kids.

Cody’s silent head swing told George his assertion was correct.

“So why didn’t you try to protect your mother?”

“I did.”

“You did?” he asked, open-endedly.

“I did try. At least I thought about trying, but I couldn’t come up with anything that

wouldn’t cause more problems for her or me.”

He held his tongue. Instead of saying what first came to his mind, he subtly stated,

“So you tried to think of ways to help that didn’t cause more harm. Hmmm.”

Cody didn’t really wonder what the Hmmm meant. He correctly assumed it was

more bait, a prompt for more explanation. He obliged.

“I thought about it all the time.”

“Would you say you were obsessed with it?”


“What do you mean, maybe?”

“I don’t know what you mean by obsessed, exactly. I mean I....”

The door flew open against the inside wall as if the door handle had slipped out

of someone’s hand. A female hand was presenting itself, then quickly disappeared. A

shapely body walked in the hand’s old path.

Cody had read that green was not a color meant for success. He read it in RapStar

magazine. Green was what she had on, from head to toe. Her green wool suit started

with thin, sleek lapels and ended with the skirt hemmed just above the knee. He didn’t

notice pantyhose, but she must have been wearing them. He’d never seen legs with such

perfectly tanned skin and no blemishes. On the other hand, he’d never seen pantyhose

so neatly worn that he couldn’t identify wrinkles in the bendy parts of the legs, like the

ankles. Neither had Captain George.

Her feet were covered in matching green pumps, not too high, about two-and-ahalf-

inch heels. Just enough to make her calves show off their knotting muscle, but not

so much that her stance looked strained. She moved easily, and solidly. The heels

tapped the floor with authority.

“Captain,” she said. “We need a word with you.”

He looked up from the table as if he had been interrupted; before he could speak,

she finished her request. “Out here, please.” She jutted her head in the direction of his

intended trajectory.


Cody waited while they were in an adjacent room, sharing information. He nervously

peeled skin from his cuticles, first his thumb, then his pinky, and then back to his

thumb. Not serious damage, but the area surrounding his nails was starting to redden.

This was a habit he picked up from his mother, who constantly picked. She picked until

she bled.

Oddly enough, she picked because of her abusive husband. It was of no

consequence to her that her picking was one of the things that pissed him off and

caused her more problems.

FBI Special Agent Julie Flowers and Don Stewart, her field supervisor, chatted with

Captain George about some interesting details of the case. Don was convinced that Cody

killed his parents for money. He had obtained bank records that showed two $500

withdrawals after the calculated time of death.

He had also interviewed the grocery store manager who had received a report

from one of his cashiers that a little boy had an exorbitant amount of cash on him. The

same cashier noticed the boy the following morning. Agent Stewart was able to match

a receipt for birthday cake and supplies, as well as video purchases, to the time the

cashier was working, and to corresponding supplies in the house.

After interviewing the cashier, Don was convinced that Cody had withdrawn money

from the ATM, then purchased goods for his own birthday. He was waiting on video

archives from the bank’s ATM to confirm his conjecture regarding that withdrawal and

the one on the subsequent day. The bank advised that it should take about two days.

They were very cooperative, he explained to the others.

“Come on, do you really believe this boy killed his parents for video games and

cake?” Captain George threw his hands up in protest.

“Greedy kids do crazy things,” Agent Stewart proclaimed.

To this point, Julie Flowers hadn’t said a word. She was a bit overshadowed by her

boss, a man some in their field office called “Don the Omnipotent” or “DO” for short.

Of course, they did that behind his back. She was appalled at his simplistic explanation

of Cody’s motives.

“It seems, according to Cody, that his father was quite abusive to his mother and

him,” Captain George offered.

“Yeah, like the Menendez brothers,” Don scoffed.

“I don’t think there is any comparison here, sir,” Julie Flowers finally spoke up.

“We’ll see.” Don walked out of the room, knowing he was meeting resistance

from those he considered to be underlings.


Facing all three officers, Cody felt like he was at an inquisition – not the American type,

but the Roman type of tribunal where heretics were discovered and punished with little

regard for their rights.

He was questioned about his activities at school, his activities at home, and his

activities elsewhere. He could understand the questions that surrounded fact, but the

more esoteric questions confused him. He didn’t see their purpose. He was asked,

“What makes a good chess player?”

His response was, “You need to be able to see trouble coming. You need to be

able to predict the consequences of your actions, and you need to make plans that you

can follow through with.”

“So, you consider yourself to be a good chess player, do you? You are on the

school chess team?” questioned Agent Stewart.

Not realizing this was a trap, Cody affirmed, “I’m pretty good for my age. I am the

top player at school, and I’ve won trophies at mixed-age events that have kids much

older than me. I’m a pretty good thinker.”

“How could you think so clearly when you had so many home problems?”

Again, Cody interpreted this as an opportunity to clear up misconceptions about

victim parallelization. Being beaten and abused didn’t mean he couldn’t do anything.

That was the big problem with people. They thought that you had to be in the hospital

before there was enough proof to rescue you from torture. Cody didn’t realize this was

an even more sophisticated interrogation trap, perhaps to be used against him months


“Sir, actually, when I played chess, it was the only time I didn’t think about home.

I could forget about all my problems and just get lost in the game.”

“At what point did you decide to kill your father?” Agent Stewart asked.

“I’ve always wanted to kill him.”

“Even when he wasn’t mean to you?”

“No. Just when he was mean to me or Mom.”

“So you didn’t want to ‘always’ kill him then,” said Stewart with a hint of


“I guess not. But if I didn’t kill him, who else would?” Cody’s glazed eyes beamed

directly at Stewart, questioning his judgment.

“We don’t just kill people when we feel like it. You killed an active-duty United

States soldier. That is a crime punishable by death.” Stewart continued his lecture: “It

is now our job to determine what happens to you. Most likely the State of Tennessee

will pick up this case; we don’t know yet.

“We still have a lot to uncover. You’ll be lucky if you are walking the streets by

your twenty-first birthday. Think about that,” he said, loosely pointing his finger Cody’s


Agent Flowers and Captain George were starting to soften with each detail

exposed. The captain had himself joined the Army to escape a rotten home life. He

considered himself lucky when his father died in a drunken car accident shortly

afterward. His father’s drinking had natural consequences that landed his car into a

giant oak tree. He once visited the tree, not to pay tribute to his father’s death, but to

silently thank the tree for saving his mother from further harm.

Captain George was secretly starting to identify with Cody. In his own mind, he had

settled on recommending that the Army not proceed against Cody and then let the state

handle the charges, which, at Cody’s age, would be the usual thing to happen. He had

no reason to believe Cody wouldn’t just spend the next couple of years in the state’s

loose custody, finish school, and then return to society as a “reformed” being.

With this in mind, the Captain dismissed most of what Agent Stewart had to say

without challenging his authority or rant. He assumed Cody would soon figure it out

too, with the help of an attorney.

Agents Stewart and Flowers knew Aunt Mae was waiting in the jail lobby for Cody’s

disposition, but didn’t divulge that information to Cody, or even Captain George. The

interview process would take a while, even if it was just the first of more than a few

information-gathering powwows.

Aunt Mae would have to wait without regard to time. It was Friday night, and she

had plenty of time anyway. She had no party plans and no special tasks. All she needed

to do was wait. She did wonder how late things would keep hopping as they were. She

had no idea there was so much activity in the sheriff’s house.

The questions in Cody’s mind switched from events to details about events leading

to events. It got a bit confusing sometimes, to the point where Cody wasn’t really sure

of the actual question being asked. He was tired, very tired.

“It’s almost twenty-one hundred hours. I think we have enough to get started

with,” proclaimed Agent Don Stewart.

The other two officials followed his lead with a nod.

Stewart reached over and turned off the cassette player, with a click. During the

interview he had changed the tapes several times, each time making a statement that

identified the date, time, and location of the interview, as well as who was present.

Stewart was a little curious why Captain George didn’t have a tape recorder

running before he and Flowers joined him, but he didn’t say anything. He knew he had

all the information he needed, and Captain George’s revelations were probably

inconsequential anyway. Amateurs, he thought of his two counterparts.

They summoned the officer in the hall to indicate that Cody was ready to be taken

back to the holding cell, and then left together.

Julie Flowers pressed the elevator button. The down light came on; seconds later

the door opened.

Agent Stewart’s brows were folded down in thought.

“You did read him his rights, didn’t you?” he asked, looking at Captain George.

“Actually, I hadn’t gotten that far in the interview.”

“Shit!” he said.

Shit you, Captain George thought to himself. It was Agent Stewart’s overpowering,

“take control of the situation” attitude that helped Captain George to deviate from

normal protocol and forget such details, no matter how important.

“Here’s the deal. You forget to read him his rights. We have everything I need on

tape to take to the Assistant U.S. Attorney for her review. We don’t need the Miranda

warning on tape. I suggest we just keep our mouths shut. I know I don’t want my head

to roll over this screw up.” He looked at Julie Flowers, then back at Captain George

with a threatening, CIA-type look.

“Perhaps it’s best we never mention this again,” Julie chimed in with an attempt

to take the focus off herself. She knew how vindictive her boss could be.

“Don’t worry,” Stewart said, trying to sound consoling. “Nothing ever comes of

this type of thing as long as we don’t bring it up.”

“Understood,” said Captain George. He just said he understood; he didn’t say he

agreed. This wasn’t the first time he had been in a situation like this.

Still, George couldn’t stop thinking about the courage it took to pull that trigger.

The only thing that bothered him was Mrs. Brikker. What the hell happened there?


Chapter 9

By six o’clock, Cody’s arrest had made the news. The Chees interrupted their dinner

to watch the coverage of their neighborhood. They had seen the satellite vans in front

of the Brikker’s house for the past two hours. All three major television stations were


The news had spun the story, as reported by a “reliable source,” that a boy had

killed his parents, apparently, for birthday money.

“Bullshit,” Mr. Chee muttered in his heavy Korean accent. It almost sounded like

“bool sheet” to anyone who didn’t know his form of speech.

He summed it up, “They always get it wrong!”

Emily and her mother remained quiet as the reporter declared that the father was

active-duty military. And because he was legally considered on duty at the projected

time of his death, the boy could be charged with a federal murder.

They reported his age as thirteen, not knowing the crime was committed at only

twelve. Under the U.S. Criminal Code, a thirteen-year-old could be charged as an adult,

and face adult penalties. The reporter raised her chin and commented, “If that

happens, this boy would be the youngest in American history to face the federal death

penalty as a possible punishment.”

Cody’s name was not released. The news had said that his name would not be

released while he was still considered a juvenile.

“Can they do that? Can they charge Cody as an adult?” Emily was concerned.

“Probably not,” answered her mother.

“Then why does the news say stuff like that?”

“They have to attract viewers, honey. It’s all about money and sensationalism,” her

mother assured her.

“His father deserved everything he got, and then some,” Emily boasted.

Her father was a bit disturbed by her comment. Though he understood how

horrible things must have been in the Brikker household, he had come from a country

that tried often to settle things with violence.

“You should never use permanent solutions for temporary problems,” he said.

“Dad, you are Korean. Leave the wise chatter to the Chinese. You sound like

Grasshopper’s confidant.”

“Glasshopper?” he asked.

“Yes, you know, from the show Kung-Fu,” her mother supported her.

Mr. Chee explained that he loved Cody, but that if Emily got too involved, she

could only have pain. He refused to tell her what she could and couldn’t do in this case,

but he had his own ideas, and wanted to shield her from the details that might not be

very nice to imagine. He had seen, first hand, villages destroyed and children orphaned.

He knew this was different, but loss was loss, and killing was never nice to face.

Everyone in the Chee house had seen the black eyes on Cody. Each time he had

a new story as to how it happened, never admitting to Emily’s parents the true cause.

They also knew that Cody knew Emily would fill them in later on the truth. Cody equally

accepted the game they played since it was the Chees. Cody never really thought he lied

to them, because he knew they knew. It was a nice way to have light conversation about

a wound deeper than the purple flesh on the surface.

Emily’s mother said that if things were that bad for her, she’d have no trouble

shooting the ’tard. Emily tried to guess if ’tard was a contraction for retard or bastard.

Either way, she couldn’t argue with her mother who had shot at people in Nicaragua,

near the Honduras border.

Emily had asked her mother many times if she had actually killed anyone, but she

refused to answer. She would only say, “I can’t tell you how things ultimately turned out

for those I engaged in combat.”

Her mother did mention places such as Somoto and the Amerrique Mountains.

She had said the places were too beautiful to be taken by conflict. She often spoke

respectfully of the people there, regretting that in some cases she was teaching people

– who could be related – to fight against each other. “Too much family blood was

shed, not unlike our Civil War,” she’d share with Emily.

This wasn’t the time to ask her mother about how many people she killed, if any.

She just wanted to understand that Cody was not a beast, that he was a victim himself

who was just defending himself and his mother.

“Why do you think he shot his mother?” she asked, hoping her mother would have

an answer to satisfy her.

“He went nuts and didn’t know what he was doing. Not nuts like crazy, but just

temporarily out of his mind. I saw it in combat a lot. Someone would shoot an

aggressor, then turn the gun on an innocent civilian. Afterwards, they couldn’t explain

why...it just happens that way in war. Cody’s war was even worse in ways we can’t even


“Well, he is still my friend,” Emily exclaimed.

“As he should be,” her father said.


The ten o’clock news ran the same stories. The Chees watched a different channel to

see if there was any new information. There wasn’t.

On reflection, they were encouraged by the fact that Cody was bright and well

respected in school and that he was only twelve years old when this tragedy happened.

Surely, the sympathy and response from the community would be more than


The Chee family remained angst-filled that the public might not actually get the

real story, based on what they had seen in the first newscasts.


The artificial light of the courtroom struggled hopelessly to make itself useful to the

eyes. The magistrate at his bench strained to read the scattered papers under his hands.

His bifocals were not much use; he wished he had a desk lamp.

“Mr. Brikker, please step forward,” the judge ordered.

“Is this your aunt?” The robed, Santa Claus man looked over his glasses.

“Yes, sir, she is.”

The judge held up a piece of paper so he could see it and Cody at the same time.

“Let me inform you both that as of this moment there are no charges filed against Mr.

Brikker, but there most likely will be, according to the authorities who have packed my

office all day.

“If you don’t have an attorney, I will arrange one for you, due to the special nature

of this case. In fact, I will assign a public defense attorney to your case immediately. If

you decide not to use him or her, you don’t have to. You may hire your own attorney

at any time, but I would be derelict if I didn’t assign one now.

“On Monday, you both need to visit the pre-trial office downstairs. By that time,

formal charges will most likely be filed. An officer of the court will read you the charges

and cover whatever procedures they need to cover with you. They will also give you the

name and contact information for the public defender at that time.

“It is my guess that the state will pick up the case. For now, you are being brought

in front of me not for the purpose of pleading to charges, but for the reason that you

are a minor (juvenile) without parents, who is involved in a serious crime. Instead of

locking you up, we have the option to place you in the custody of a guardian.

“Your aunt, the sister of your mother, is understanding enough and responsible

enough that she has asked for you to be released into her custody. I trust that you will

not betray her hospitality.

“Until such time as the jurisdiction of your case is decided, you will be under my

authority in this federal court. Any questions so far?”

“No, sir.” Cody didn’t have to be lectured on his aunt or even be asked to obey

her. He had never disobeyed her that he could remember. He was just happy she’d take

him home after all that had happened.

Aunt Mae had talked with the judge before Cody entered the courtroom, so she

knew all the information beforehand. She pretended to listen for Cody’s sake. In fact,

the only thing that was going through her mind was getting Cody home so she could

start on funeral arrangements and settling her sister’s estate.

Sergeant Brikker had no known relatives. He had been an only child, and his

parents had died years earlier. Mrs. Brikker only had her sister Mae. They too had lost

both parents a couple of years prior. Aunt Mae was Cody’s only relative. Together they’d

have to get by.

Aunt Mae couldn’t help but notice how small her world just became. Her number

of relatives was cut in half, and Cody’s future was uncertain. She hoped she wouldn’t

be in for lonely times.


The doorbell dinged, announcing a visitor. The ten o’clock news was still airing. Emily’s

mother answered the door to see a cameraman standing at least twenty feet in back of

a well-dressed, immediately recognizable reporter, Cindy Banks.

Cindy brushed back her sweat-soaked, black hair with her hand. Startled at the

opening of the door, she inhaled and then inquired, “Mrs. Chee?”

“That’d be me. Can I help you?”

“Yes. We understand your daughter is the best friend of the Brikker kid. Can


“Probably not,” she interrupted.

“Just a moment of your time, please.”

“I saw how you ran the news story. You all have it wrong....”

“But ma’am, we can only report what we know. If you will just spend a few

moments, we can....”

Mr. Chee, pulling open his door fully, cut her short.

“If my wife says no, she means no. Now get the hell out of here, before I....”

She interrupted him. “Call the cops?” she asked. “It’s not like we haven’t heard

that one before.”

Cindy Banks was not popular for taking no for an answer. She was like a leech in

a baby factory. She’d clamp on and not let go until every last drop of blood was


Mr. Chee pushed the door shut, hoping Cindy wouldn’t be back. He planned for

a weekend of dodging reporters and comforting his daughter. The casual observer

didn’t always see his unselfish sensitivity, but it ran like a current under every inch of

his skin.


Chapter 10

The drive home from the magistrate’s court was mostly quiet at first. Neither Mae nor

Cody knew what to say. She didn’t want to press him for details until he was ready. He

was uncomfortable with silence. At least when his father yelled, he knew where he

stood. With Aunt Mae, he wasn’t quite sure yet.

“So, were they rough on you at the jail?”

“Not really. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen on TV. I think I handled myself pretty

well.” Cody was confident that the interrogators he had just met should watch more TV

so that they could learn a few things.

“We won’t drive by your house. You still have plenty of clothes at my house to

wear. We’ll figure more out tomorrow. Okay?” She always liked to make him think he

was in on the decisions.

“Sounds good to me. Besides, I don’t think I can go home now. It reminds me of

Mom.” He recovered from a crack in his voice. “I hate what happened. I only wanted

to protect her. I don’t know what happened, really I don’t.”

“I’m trying to understand, Cody, but she was my sister, the only one I had.” Trying

to drive straight, she glanced out of the corner of her eye as a tear escaped it.

“I know. I know.” He started to break apart. “I shot him, and then I just blanked

out. I don’t even remember her coming in the room. I promise. Please believe me.”

She could tell it had bothered him, but she still didn’t fully understand how you

could shoot someone, then not remember. However, she thought she had heard about

it in a documentary on post traumatic stress disorder, some time ago.

“My father was a horrible person, not me. I loved my mom. I would never hurt

her. I....” Cody realized that not only did he hurt his mother but also that she died at his

hand. How could he view himself the same again, after killing his mother?

In psychology, the term dissonance would be used to describe a difference

between one’s beliefs and one’s actions. It could cause great concern. In Cody’s case,

his belief system told him he loved his mother and he was kind to her, but now his

actions created an inconsistency with his beliefs that would be hard for him to resolve.

Logically, according to his actions, he was either a bad kid who would hurt his mother,

or his actions showed him to be crazy.

“How did you feel in the den, Cody?” She couldn’t bring herself to say “when you

shot them.” He knew what she meant.

“I was scared at first. I didn’t know if I could actually shoot him. I thought about

what would happen if he lived. Then I pulled the trigger and looked. I knew I did it, but

I didn’t feel anything that I remember. The next thing I knew, I wanted to cover my

mother so she wouldn’t be cold. It was weird. It wasn’t even like they were dead at


“Cody, we are all we have now; remember that.” Her words left her, but somehow

she knew Cody appreciated her and felt the same.


The garage door rode up, and they pulled into Aunt Mae’s place. It was grand

compared to Cody’s house. He wanted to ask his aunt to call Emily, but he didn’t know

how she would take it. She might curl at the inappropriateness. She’d use the excuse

that it was too late, not revealing her true anger. Or maybe he was just paranoid.

On the kitchen counter was a gift, wrapped in blue metallic paper, tied in a silver


“Is that for me?” Cody asked.

“Yes, but it’s not from me,” she replied.

“Who’s it from?”

“Who is your best friend in the whole world?” She tried to prompt him.

“You?” he chirped.

“No, not me. Let me give you a hint. After you went to the police station, I walked

two doors down to talk to the Chees. Some little girl asked me to give you a present

from her....”

“Emily,” he stated.

“Yep, she wants you to call her ASAP.”

“This late?”

“Yes. The Chees said to call them no matter what time I found something out.”

She pointed to the phone.


Emily saw the caller ID and recognized the number. “Chee residence,” she answered.

“Hi, Em. I just got to Aunt Mae’s house. I have your present.”

“What did you think?” She was anxious for him to get it.

“I didn’t open it. I wanted to have you on the phone first. I’ll open it now.”

He tore open the package. It was a hand-painted, oil portrait of Emily, in a

mahogany frame. It looked like a million bucks. The frame had an inscription: “Always

yours, Cody. Love, Emily.”

Cody was stunned. He didn’t quite know how to take it. He had never reacted to

a gift like that before. It was one of the nicest things he’d ever gotten.

He was speechless; she wondered if he liked it.

“Well, what do you think?”

“I love it, Emily. I wish you would have been here when I opened it.” She knew

what he meant, but she just couldn’t wait for him to have it. She’d see him soon.

“Your house was on the news all night long.”

“What did they say about me?” He was curious.

“It wasn’t good. They said you robbed your parents, and that’s why they were shot.

But they didn’t use your name, just pictures of the house.”

“That’s great. Now everyone at school will know.” He shrugged his shoulders, and

rocked his head back and forth.

“Know what?” she asked. “Know that you took care of business?”

“I doubt they will think of it that way.”

“Why not? My parents do. They support you. They know what you went through,

Cody. Everyone does.” She sincerely wanted to help him see that people would


He placed the picture of Emily on the counter and watched his aunt admire it. He

could tell she liked it almost as much as he did.

“Emily, I feel really awful about my aunt. I just killed her sister. It was bad.” He

wanted to probe her for her take on things.

“My mother explained to me that in combat things just happen. She knew you

didn’t mean to do it. Everyone will know, Cody, everyone.”

“Yes, but....”

“No ‘buts,’ Cody. It’ll work out. I promise.”

Cody told her that Monday he had to go to a place called pre-trial to find out what

kind of charges were being filed and by whom.

“It’ll be okay, Cody, really.”

Emily and Cody hung up the phone. She wasn’t so sure of her promise about his

future, but that’s all she could do – comfort her friend with words of encouragement,

even if she had to augment them a bit later. She wouldn’t want to have to do that,



Chapter 11

The lady at pre-trial seemed nice enough. Her loose fitting, nightgown-style dress was

a bit dated, but hid her stowaway weight well. Only a close stare at her movements

revealed the undercurrent jiggles and jostles of her forty-year-old flesh.

Her tone was pleasant and direct, not too pushy or overbearing as one might

expect from a federal employee. The extreme nature of her power was as hidden as her

fat. It was a pleasure to encounter such a humble “Fed.”

Her office was located directly in back of the receptionist area. There was no wait.

Cody and his aunt were sent back to Mrs. Spencer’s office right on time.

The “over-worked and under-paid” cliché was strewn about her desk in the form

of case folders, stacks of them. Some files lay on the floor ready for filing. She must

have loved life, as indicated by the numerous plants, mostly vines, proudly displayed in

every available nook of the room. Many of the creeping plants looked as if they started

from cuttings of a single ancestor.

She looked up from her computer terminal. “Can I help you? Ah, you must be

Cody.”Her glasses were big and round. You’d expect a kindergarten teacher to have

glasses like hers.

“Yes, we are...well, he is,” answered Aunt Mae clumsily.

“Please,” she said, openly waving her hand toward the two Queen Anne burgundy

chairs in front of her desk. “My name is Thea Spencer.”

Mrs. Spencer handed Cody’s aunt a small piece of paper, explaining, “Here is the

number for Clyde Charpe. He is your court-appointed attorney. I have already faxed

him your paperwork. It outlines the charges that were filed against Cody.”

Aunt Mae’s curiosity reigned. “Is Cody being taken care of, or whatever, in the

juvenile system as the judge said he might?”

“You mean the magistrate?”

“I guess so. We saw him Friday night.”

Mrs. Spencer was used to explaining such processes to newcomers to the justice


“Yes,” she said. “You saw a federal magistrate. Normally, he is the one who reads

you the charges brought against you. At the time you saw him, there were no charges,

so you didn’t have to make bail or anything like that. But as an emergency situation, you

saw the magistrate so that he could provide formal custody for Cody, since his parents

passed and he was a suspect in a federal investigation. The process is not that common.

He was flying by the seat of his pants, between you and me.”

“So, he has charges now?” asked Aunt Mae.

“Ah, sorry. Yes, he has charges now. I can’t make any legal comment or give any

advice, but the charges are federal. Mr. Charpe, the court-appointed attorney, will be

able to explain them to you. You may use this phone to call him now if you like; I

believe he is in his office. I just talked to him five minutes before you came in.”

Aunt Mae affirmed, and Mrs. Spencer handed her a cordless handset. Mae dialed

the big, extraterrestrial-looking numbers.

Surprisingly, Mr. Charpe answered the phone himself on the second ring. After a

brief introduction, he invited her over as soon as possible. The phrase “time is of the

essence” rang in her mind.

Cody’s aunt didn’t want to do anything to hinder every chance Cody had at a good

defense, so she agreed to head straight to the attorney’s office when finished with

pre-trial. Luckily, his office was located on Jefferson Street, just three streets over.

Mrs. Spencer’s only task at this point was to meet Cody, dispense the attorney

information, and get contact information from his aunt. Later, she explained, she’d

have to process Cody’s bond and cover his pre-trial instructions, which included

everything from drinking to curfew.

Eventually, it would be her job to monitor his status while navigating the courts.


In another room of the federal courthouse, Don Stewart was talking with Captain

Raymond George on the phone. He paced, entangling his phone cord more with each

turn. He didn’t bother to walk in the opposite direction.

“Hell no! I’m not concerned with the political backlash at all in the case. In fact,

I think the public wants to see someone stand up for parental control. As a key FBI

player, it’s my duty to do what I think right.”

Anyone standing in the room might guess at what Captain George was saying at the

other end of the line, based on Stewart’s horse-mouthed responses.

“No. For one thing, vigilantism should not be tolerated at all in this society,

especially not against parents.” His voice rose. “If a parent can’t have a little control

over his kids without fear of getting whacked, what the hell will this society devolve

into? It’s the kid’s word against the body’s word. We have to speak for the body, don’t

we? Don’t we have to speak for every parent everywhere?”

Stewart’s pace increased with each reply at the other end of the line. He seemed

to be taking this case personally for some reason. It seemed to be more that just a legal

protection of parents everywhere.

“Yes, I realize that, Captain, but even if the father was abusive, what about the

mother? He was completely capable of shooting his dad. He planned the murder like

a well-thought-out chess game. Why couldn’t he plan to get help from someone? He has

an aunt. Then there are school counselors he knew about and could have talked to. If

this were a retarded kid who killed his abuser, and only his abuser, you might have a

point. But he slaughtered both parents, and then robbed the dead body to buy cake, for

God’s sake!”

Don Stewart had something to hide. There seemed to be something he wasn’t

sharing with the captain, or his associate, Julie Flowers. He acted as if he needed to

keep them in check.

“Captain George, why do I get the feeling you and Agent Flowers are not on the

same sheet of music? Is there something I should know?”

His question was a bit open-ended and vague, all at the same time. Did he mean

not on the same sheet as each other, or not on the same sheet as Stewart?

“Okay then, Captain, I was just checking.”

He replaced the headset and tangled cord to the cradle, now damp from the sweat

of his ear.

 Chapter 12

If Mrs. Spencer’s office cried “overworked, underpaid,” then Mr. Charpe’s office

screamed “Armageddon.” His cubits of paperwork made Aunt Mae question if she

wanted to do business with such an unorganized being. She quickly snapped her own

rein. Maybe he is just so good that he has lots of business, she hypothesized silently.

She had seen very good accountants with offices just as cluttered.

“Good morning Mrs. ...,” he was looking for her to tell him her name.

“Aunt Mae. Call me Aunt Mae.”

“I have been assigned to you by the federal court to act in your behalf, Cody, as

your criminal attorney. It’s my job to protect your rights in answer to the charges

brought before the court.”

His new clients couldn’t escape thinking he was as dumpy as his office. Aunt Mae

detected something in his voice and randomly asked if he had ever worked such a case.

“I have over twenty-five years experience in the courts,” he stated.

“That’s not what I asked, really. Is your experience in similar cases?”

Mr. Charpe found Aunt Mae’s mind as sharp as her look. He had no choice but

to be forthcoming with her. “Actually, I mostly defend landowners in real-estate related

cases, seventy percent of them civil. However, I am appointed to criminal cases a dozen

or so times a year by the federal court system. Some of them are pretty sticky, but I

have never handled a capital murder case before.”

“What exactly is Cody’s disposition right now?” asked Mae, with an almost

pleading tone to her voice.

“Cody is being charged under Section 1111 of the U.S. Criminal Code, murder. As

a juvenile he is looking at some institutional time, probably.”

Aunt Mae was still a bit confused about the entire situation. “The magistrate said

something about the state picking up the case and Cody’s case being handled by the

state’s juvenile system. How does that work?”

Charpe explained, “Well, that is not the judge’s decision, really, but the decision

of the prosecutors of the various possible jurisdictions involved.”

He tried to downplay the situation a little because he himself was curious as to

why the Feds decided to roll with it...the real reason.

“Mrs., ah, Aunt Mae, the U.S. Attorney’s office decided to prosecute Cody because

his father was active-duty military, and considered on duty at the time of the shooting.

Under Section 1114 of the U.S. Criminal Code, officers and employees of the United

States are under the protection of federal law, if the courts decide it’s in the best

interest of justice.

“But, to be honest with you, a case like this usually is given to the state, especially

because of Cody’s age. It strikes me as strange that the FBI is so hung up on taking this

case. I’m not certain, but I get the impression that it is the FBI pushing this thing

through the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“In fact, there was a note from the prosecutor that, even though Cody was still a

couple of days shy of his thirteenth birthday, they are still considering transferring him

to adult status.”

“Adult status?” she asked. “What exactly is that?” She had a fear. She hoped it

wasn’t right.

“Adult transference means Cody can be tried and sentenced as an adult. The

pressure the U.S. Attorney is getting sways me to think that perhaps we should consider

a plea bargain to try to avoid the motion to transfer to adult status. We want Cody to be

considered under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act. Then the worst-case scenario

would be his spending just his juvenile years incarcerated. He’d be out before his

twenty-first birthday...worst case, that is. He’d probably just spend less than five years

locked up and be out by the time he is nineteen years old.”

Aunt Mae was appalled. Her impish stare didn’t wish favor on his attitude of

condemnation. “He shouldn’t do any time. He should be found innocent. He was the

victim here,” she claimed.

“Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you are guilty or not....” He changed

mid-sentence. “Look, the Feds have a ninety-five percent conviction rate overall, and

there are factors here that could ensure Cody a life in prison if we don’t look at trying

to avoid adult transfer.”

Charpe said that the federal government had never transferred a pre-teen boy to

adulthood before but that might make this situation all that much worse because of the

publicity possibilities.

“We just don’t want to take that kind of chance if we can avoid the situation with

a plea. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, it’s best if Cody takes immediate

responsibility. That would knock points off of his sentencing.” He opened a thick green

book, entitled Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual of the United States

Sentencing Commission.

“There are federal guidelines based on a point system,” he said as he pointed to

a chart on the page. “The more points you accumulate, the longer your prison

sentence. For example, here under Part A, Section 2A1.1, we have base points for first

degree murder. It says here the base offense level is 43, but here…,” he flipped a few

pages, “the base offense level for second degree murder is only 33 points.

Manslaughter, on the other hand, is here under Section 2A1.4. It has a base offense

level of 10 or 14, depending on if the conduct was just criminally negligent or if it was


So far, it was too much for Cody and Aunt Mae to absorb, but Mr. Charpe just

picked up the pace. His efforts seemed sincere but didn’t penetrate his client’s

unadvised fear.

He scanned the book and detailed how the base offense level points could be

adjusted upward for some things:

If the victim was a government official, the accused could get three more

points. (Section 3A1.2)

If the victim was restrained, three more points.

If the crime was terrorist-related in any way, twelve extra points.

But the base levels could have points deducted, as well:

If the participant was a minor participant, two or four points might be

deducted. (Section 3B1.2, mitigating role)

If there was acceptance of responsibility, a decrease of two points. (Section


If the authorities were timely notified, possibly an additional one point


A huge concern of Mr. Charpe was what he called “the wild card.” In Cody’s case,

the points could be counted for multiple crimes, or closely related crimes under

Section 3D1.1. Cody could receive from zero to five point enhancements.

These points would be tallied, and then the total would be compared to a

sentencing table. To his best guess, Cody’s points would fall in the 40 to 43 range. That

many points would earn Cody 292 months to life in prison. At just 44 points, the

sentence would be mandatory life for the first-time offender.

Neither Aunt Mae nor Cody wanted to face what was being explained. The options

were just unacceptable. They couldn’t understand why the attorney hadn’t even asked

anything about the details of the case – what happened or why. He just went right to

explaining why Cody should roll over and plea for several years in prison. Mae thought

the case was winnable.

Her seething anger grew when Mr. Charpe said, “I’m just telling you the

realities...like the reality you had to face when your sister was killed.”

She felt that he was now playing on her emotions to take the easy way out. As a

court-appointed attorney, a plea would certainly be more profitable for him than taking

it to trial...to fight for what was right.

“All this bullshit is fine...your sentencing guidelines...life in prison for a fine young

boy, but it’s all contingent on his being guilty in the first place, isn’t it?”

Mr. Charpe just absorbed the bashing. He was conditioned for it.

“It will be a cold day in hell before you represent us. This nephew is all I have left

of my sister. How dare you play my emotion against him by bringing up my sister’s

death. How dare you!” She shook from restrained emotional surges.

He understood. He didn’t mean it that way. He watched Aunt Mae grab Cody’s

hand and almost jerk him from the seat, protecting him, perhaps protecting herself,


“Please, ma’am. I apologize. It’s just that I don’t want to see you make the wrong

decision. You have an easy way out...I know it looks bad. But the alternatives are a toss

of the dice and far worse.”

“Good day, Mr. Charpe. We’ll be in touch.”

He remembered a client of a colleague who went to trial after rejecting an

eighteen-month plea bargain, only to get a twelve-year sentence at trial. That case also

involved an innocent defendant. Juries were fickle flips of the coin.

He thought that their emotions might calm in a couple of days, but he was running

out of time for Cody to accept responsibility in the court’s eye and show good faith to

the prosecutor. Perhaps he could stall, at his own expense.

He still churned over in his mind the reasons why the FBI might want Cody so

badly. He didn’t know much about Mrs. Spencer, but what he had heard wasn’t always

in a good light. What was Spencer hiding? What did she know that Mr. Charpe was not

told? He wondered if she wasn’t showboating for the U.S. Attorney. Perhaps he was

sweet on her. Who knew?

Whatever the reason, Cody’s case was laying new foundations in the way the courts

approached juvenile crime, and he couldn’t find any reason in his mind to justify such

strong-arm tactics against a kid. Certainly, he was missing a part of the puzzle


 Chapter 13

“Mrs. Spencer. May I help you?” she said, still shuffling papers with the phone on her


“Yes, you can.” Aunt Mae trusted that Mrs. Spencer meant what she said earlier

about being there for her. “I hate to disturb you so soon, but we just met with Mr.

Charpe. We really aren’t pleased with him at all. He didn’t seem interested in fighting

for Cody; we want to hire our own attorney. How do we find a good one?”

“I wish I could give you direct advice, but I just can’t. However, when you do find

an attorney, have him call my office so that we can release Mr. Charpe from your case.

I have to keep the courts notified about your counsel.”

Aunt Mae noted how matter-of-fact Mrs. Spencer was about the situation. She was

starting to realize that procedure was more important than normal social protocol.

Mrs. Spencer continued, “Ma’am, the court called earlier, and you are expected

to take Cody in front of the magistrate on Thursday to enter a plea.”

“Things happen a bit fast, don’t they?” Aunt Mae inquired sheepishly.

“In the federal system they tend to, yes.”

Aunt Mae wrote the court date and time in her day planner, and stuffed it back

into its own pocket on the side of her purse, while balancing the small flip phone on

the shoulder of her steering arm. She didn’t like driving and juggling tasks all at the

same time. It was a source of complaint when she’d see other drivers doing it, but, in

her mind, this phone call couldn’t wait.

Mrs. Spencer terminated the call with encouraging words of advice about Mr.

Charpe. She noted that he was a fine attorney with hardwired connections in the justice

system. Whatever he told her and Cody should be taken to heart.

Aunt Mae would consider it.


Inside her house, Aunt Mae left the front door open while Cody caught up to her. She

was in the kitchen with the yellow pages open before Cody even entered the house.

In the attorney section, she started placing calls, looking for a lawyer to handle

the case. She wished she knew someone who had been through this jumbled nightmare

before, but she didn’t. She was starting to feel that it was not what you know but who

you know that counts. She could think of a hundred more sayings and anecdotes to

describe the situation if she tried.

Finally, after more than an hour of interrogating unknown faces, she thought she

had a hit on a possible candidate. After talking to his office, she entered his name in a

simple Google search. There were 12,442 hits on his name. She clicked the first on the

list, which took her browser to an article about his addressing the House of

Representatives on federal crime scene procedures. He seemed to have vast experience

in the federal system. He might be just what she was looking for.

She tried to get his office to estimate what his fees would be in such a case, but

his people were reluctant to give her any clues at all. The only thing his office stressed

was that if he took their case, he’d discuss terms of payment at that time.

Aunt Mae wondered why an attorney wouldn’t take a case. Aren’t they all money

hungry? She had heard the masses of attorney jokes all her life. What did they mean,

if he would take the case?

She tried to gather more information in that regard, because she didn’t want to

say anything wrong that would preclude him from taking Cody’s case, but again she got

no answers. She couldn’t guess when the mystery would end concerning every aspect

of the “system” or the “process” they were going through.

There were so many people involved, all with a part of Cody’s future resting in

their hands, and no one seemed to have solid answers...only “maybes.” At some point

she and Cody would just have to start taking chances and let their hearts guide them,

she thought.


Chapter 14

After shaking hands, the three had a seat at Mr. Cantinelli’s conference table. Later they

would be joined by one of his associates.

Aunt Mae remembered the unkempt appearance and the attitude of Mr. Charpe.

She tried to explain, to their potential new attorney, her feelings about the previous

meeting and how he was only interested in skirting issues, instead of getting Cody a fair


She wasn’t expecting a potentially paid attorney to tell her that Mr. Charpe was

“absolutely correct,” as far as he could tell. She was only relieved when the lawyer

finally said, “But we do have options.”

After her short spurt of hope, her heart sank again when Mr. Cantinelli said that

if their options failed, it could be disastrous. They needed to carefully examine each

course of action with all the possible consequences, then make a decision. He felt that

he could buy a little time, considering the magistrate’s date was only a couple of days


“Cody will have time to work with the U.S. Attorney. Let’s not sweat that yet, until

I find out more.” He nodded his head in affirmation, but he still hadn’t said he’d take

the case.

“So, does that mean we can hire you?” Cody asked.

“My schedule is pretty demanding, so I have to pick my cases on an individual

basis. What strikes me here, son, is that you have an aunt who is willing to go all the

way for you. If you didn’t have that kind of support, I’d question it. Bottom line, yes, I’ll

take your case if we can agree on the terms.”

Aunt Mae thought to herself, He means if I agree to the terms. Her pessimism

was going from simmer to boil. “What are your terms?” she inquired.

“Twenty-five thousand dollars, plus expenses, expert witnesses, etc. The final bill

could be as high as $50,000, but I’ll scrape pennies and rub dimes where I can.

Shouldn’t run any more than that. Of course, this price is if we go to trial. If Cody enters

a plea, my price is $10,000.

“Cody, to tell you the truth, there are some things about this case that I question.

For one thing, you shouldn’t be here. Normally, the U.S. Attorney’s office wouldn’t

handle this case, Army officer or not. I’m going to try to get to the bottom of what is

going on. I’ll try to gauge the intentions and motivations of the prosecutor and whoever

is behind her. I’ll also talk to the investigators and see what I can sniff out. If all goes

well, we can meet at the federal building before we see the magistrate on Thursday.”

Aunt Mae pulled out her leather checkbook, patterned with the name W. Mae

Beastings, among standard southwestern floral designs. The wallet was obviously hand

carved, very detailed.

“I can take $5,000 as a retainer, if you have it.” He didn’t want to press her for

money, and that came through to her.

She wrote a check for that amount, and neatly logged it in her check register. Mr.

Cantinelli admired her attention to detail and commitment to organization. Many

people would have written the check and would have been too rushed to take the time

to register the transaction, but not Aunt Mae. Nothing swayed her from what she had

to do.

“Cody, as your attorney now, I don’t think it is a good idea for you to return to

school at this point. I don’t know if that was your intention, or not. Some people try

very hard to resume a normal life. As much as I hate to point it out, your life isn’t going

to be normal for a while. We’ll work hard to get it back, but things might get worse

before they get better.”

“So, do you think we should just pick his work up from school, or what?”

He thought for a moment, brushing down his beard with a squeeze of his chin.

“Perhaps. You want to stay busy, but don’t take school too seriously right now; we have

to fight to keep you out of prison.”

Mae was more than satisfied with his attitude. His sincerity beckoned. However,

in retrospect, he hadn’t said anything much different at the end of the meeting than that

slob Mr. Clyde Charpe had said. She thought she might have been too harsh on him.

Maybe it was her shell-shocked, nonacceptance of the truths facing them that guided

her resistance to Mr. Charpe.

“Oh, here are some business cards. If the press approaches you, DO NOT say a

word. Just hand them my card. The media is my job...remember that, please.”

Their heads were held higher coming out of his office than when they first

entered. At least someone was starting to make sense, not total sense, but some. The

elevator ride down to the parking garage made them sleepy. For Mae, it was an adrenal

crash. A trip to Dairy Queen might pick them up.


Don Stewart was in the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s (AUSA) office. Christine McDale was

malleable to the touch of most of her federal lawmen. She struck most people as a

woman who was a nerd through high school and college. Now she had something to

prove and the power to prove it. Though she could fight and scratch the eyes out of any

felon in her way, she aimed to please the people who brought her cases, the FBI, DEA,

ATF, and even the Secret Service and IRS. She always tried to do what they wanted.

Her blonde hair was a dirty blonde. Her legs were average and stocky. Her chest

sported an A cup. She wasn’t ugly but definitely was not a head turner. Mediocrity could

have been her brand. Several times she had tried dressing to look more noticeable, but

the results were usually only a noticeable overstatement of her assets. Better clothes

just seemed to highlight her bland tone, while under-dressing made her look


“Yes, of course, Chris. I will have their full cooperation. But I’m not certain they

are prepared for the watershed of publicity.” He was unsure if he should oversell or

undersell his position in the case.

“Perhaps it’s best if you handle things yourself. We can put the litmus test to Agent

Flowers and Captain....”

“George,” he helped.

“George...a man with a first last name. Hmmm. Anyway, let’s see how they act

Thursday in front of the magistrate.” She pursed her lips, and ran her tongue along the

front of her teeth, keeping her mouth shut, as if sucking a lunchtime sesame seed from

her teeth.

“Should I tell them we decided on the motion?” His left eye started to twitch, and

she noticed it.

“No. Definitely not! Let’s wait. They really don’t need to know at this point. Let’s

go for their reaction.” Christine didn’t want too many cooks in the kitchen. Her usual

methodology was to keep things as simple as possible, not to get things mixed up. This

time she was even more aware of the potential public response. She and Agent Stewart

had painstakingly covered several contingencies, too many to discuss with a bunch of

others if not necessary.

She’d support Stewart in his plan, and not jeopardize it by putting it in anyone

else’s hand. She’d spend the next twenty-four hours preparing the paperwork, the court

motions, background justifications, and legal briefs. She had a lot of work ahead of her.

Luckily, she wasn’t really a socialite. Nothing much happened in her life outside of the

federal building. She didn’t even have any hobbies besides fumbling around on the

Internet while doing work-related research.

She once tried various chat lines, and quickly found them as boring as the

one-dimensional jerks at the other end. She didn’t like games; competition for

competition’s sake wasn’t her passion. She only basked in her accomplishments as a

woman professional. If she could make the judge happy while pleasing the lawmen, she

considered herself a success. Nothing else much mattered to her. In fact, the

defendants weren’t even real to her. She couldn’t know them as people, just federal

case numbers with a few facts, impersonal facts, attached.


Chapter 15

Thursday morning, Mr. and Mrs. Chee were still discussing if it was a good idea for

Emily to go to court with Cody or not. Mr. Chee thought the process was a bit much for

a young girl to see. Like most people, he couldn’t put forth a more exacting argument,

though. He simply lacked the detailed knowledge. All he knew was that he didn’t want

Emily to be subject to situations that might harm her in some unknown way later in life.

Her mother, on the other hand, thought Emily had a once-in-a-lifetime

opportunity to see the court system from the inside out, instead of relying on what she

heard on the news.

Neither parent wanted to block Emily’s support of Cody; they had witnessed her

despondent nature since his incident and caught her crying alone more than once.

Emily didn’t talk much about her feelings concerning the murders, mostly because she

was having a hard time verbalizing events and inner responses that were so new to her.

By nature, the quantity of new emotions and thoughts about justice, crime, murder, and

abuse were enough to immobilize the thoughts of most mature adults, something Emily

was not close to becoming for a few more years.

“They’re here, Dad.” Emily saw Cody and his aunt pull into their driveway. “So,

can I go?” Emily looked at her mother and father with a desire that they finish their

conversation after she left for court. Mr. Chee gave a small, affirmative nod.


Judge Smith presided at the bench. He looked as though he had lost some sleep,

though no one had any way of telling if it was over Cody’s case.

The judge was careful to mention the unique nature of this case. “These are no

routine charges for this court,” he barked. “In the eyes of society this is a boy; however,

he is being charged with first degree murder, under Section 1111 of the United States

Criminal Code.”

He paused for a few seconds to sip his water, then finished his statement. “In

addition, this offense meets the tests of compliance with Section 1114: Protection of

Officers and Employees of the United States.”

A tingle, extending from her lower back up to her scalp, made Mae shiver. Things

were unraveling, just as the original court-appointed attorney had suggested, and Mr.

Cantinelli confirmed.

Mr. Cantinelli sat with Cody at the defendant’s table, blocking Cody’s view of the

prosecutor. Mrs. Christine McDale had an unknown associate with her at the

prosecution’s table, and several government agents were seated behind her but on a

bench in front of the bar.

Cody often looked back at his aunt, wishing she were with him. Though they were

only a few feet apart, she seemed almost unseen, miles away.

Cody would have given anything if his aunt were holding his hand instead of

Emily’s, but he was happy his friend was there too, although he was embarrassed. He

valued Emily’s opinion as much as she did his, so he didn’t want her to think ill of

him...not for allowing the abuse or for stopping it the way he did.

The gallery was at least half filled with viewers, but no one that Cody knew except

his aunt and Emily. His seat at the table made him feel like he was on display, but there

was nothing he could do.

His attorney decided to meet with Cody after the hearing, instead of before,

because he’d have more to talk about. They’d probably have to meet afterward, anyway.

The attorney did have a moment to prepare Cody to enter a plea when the judge

read the charges. Even that made Cody sick at his stomach. Then, while waiting on the

judge’s next words, he saw Captain George looking at him. He didn’t like that man, and

he didn’t like the fact that George was sitting next to Agents Stewart and Flowers. He just

wanted to barf.

The judge looked over his reading glasses. “Before I read the charges brought

against Mr. Brikker, are there any questions or outstanding motions?” He leaned on the

bench and pushed his glasses higher on his nose, the frames touching his icicle brows.

McDale stood up. “Yes, Your Honor. The People are filing a motion for transfer

to adult status, and wish to proceed outside the confines of the Juvenile Delinquency

Act. The People feel that it is in the best interest of society that this defendant be treated

as an adult.”

The fingers on both hands were extended and tapping the table with each syllable

she spoke. The judge just nodded, sagely.

Mr. Cantinelli was quite familiar with legal terms; he knew who “the People” were

in her speech. He just wondered if McDale knew who it was that she was representing,

and if they would agree with her.

The same thoughts struck Captain George as if he were data-mining Cantinelli’s

brain waves. They both wondered who in the hell she thought she was representing.

“Yes, Mrs. McDale, I have read and considered the People’s motion,” the judge

responded, not quite dismissing her grandstanding. “In the case of United States v.

Cody Brikker, is the defendant duly represented in the court here today?”

Cody’s attorney stood up, riffling the slight crease marks in the sleeves of his gray

wool suit. Cody stood next to him. “Yes, Your Honor, he is.”

“The first charge brought against this defendant is Section 1111 of the United

States Criminal Code: Murder, and in the first degree. The second charge is under

Section 1114: Protection of Officers and Employees of the United States, as I outlined

earlier. Is the defendant ready to enter a plea to these charges?”

 “He is, Your Honor.” Cantinelli looked at Cody to cue him to speak on the judge’s


Cody’s knees were buckling, and all he wanted to do was look back to his loved

ones for support, but dared not.

“How does the defendant wish to plea, guilty or not guilty?” the judge inquired.

Cody’s mouth went dry. “G...ah, not guilty,” Cody squeaked. He knew he sounded

like a newborn chick.

The judge asked for the defendant to please speak up. This just served to

embarrass Cody more. His lawyer chimed in, “He pleads not guilty, Your Honor.”

The judge looked at Cody, catching his apprehensive gesture to affirm the

statement by Cantinelli.

“The court will note a plea of not guilty to Section 1111 and Section 1114 of the

United States Criminal Code by the defendant in the case of United States v. Cody

Brikker.” He made some marks with his honorable pen.

“I remand Mr. Brikker to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service to be processed

and returned to the custody of his aunt. That process should take about thirty minutes.”

“Furthermore, a hearing on the motion to transfer the defendant, Cody Brikker,

to adult status, to be prosecuted and heard as an adult, is scheduled for a date between

two and four weeks from now. Both parties will be properly notified.”

The judge slammed his gavel on the block with a sharp clack, and a uniformed

officer escorted Cody out of the courtroom through a door behind the bench, next to

the door of the judge’s chambers.

Mae gasped as if Cody were not going to be returned. Her heart broke looking

into the planet-like, sad eyes of Emily. There were too many questions to know which

to ask first. Mae’s mind caged the thoughts the best it could. She’d manage.


Mr. Cantinelli walked Mae and Emily to a conference room close to the U.S. Attorney’s

office to wait for Cody. On their way he purchased sodas from the vending machine.

Emily was partial to root beer.

Before Cody’s return, Cantinelli talked with them about what took place. They

could, he felt, bypass this motion to transfer to adulthood if they were to take a plea.

“Did you know about this?” Mae asked.

“No, ma’am. It was a surprise. And unless I can’t read people anymore, it was a

surprise to at least two of the lawmen sitting behind McDale. The Army captain looked

as if he was hit with a pipe. The woman FBI agent mimicked his shock. But the head

guy, Mr. Stewart, didn’t flinch one iota.”

It was Cantinelli’s job to notice such nuances, and he was good at it. No matter

how good, however, he couldn’t know the exact nature of what transpired among the

opposing crew.

“So, you smell dissension in the ranks of the prosecutor,” Mae cleverly stated.

“I guess you could call it that. I just know a couple of them were as surprised as

I was. Some questions bother me: 1) Why were they not informed of the motion? 2)

Who is calling the shots? 3) What the hell are they hiding? They are breaking every rule

in the book in terms of handling a minor.”

“I think you are right, sir,” Emily added. “Cody is great, and these people are

railroading him!” Her voice gave way to emotion.

Mr. Cantinelli laughed out loud. He thought it was cute that such a young girl was

aware of the common conspiracy traits of “railroading,” and she voiced it with such

conviction. He apologized for his chuckle.


Cody was taken to a small processing room in the basement, not a room really, more

like the corner of a hallway.

The marshals asked him to strip to his underwear so they could take pictures of

his body, any tattoos or identifying marks. Then they fingerprinted him, this time with

the old-fashioned ink.

Cody had always heard in rumor how the Feds were more sophisticated than local

authorities. If that was the case, he thought, why didn’t they have one of those

fancy-shmancy, electronic fingerprint machines like the county jail?

The marshals acted more like cyborgs than humans. They didn’t offer any hint of

compassion or humor. Cody felt set-back by their standoffish handling of him.

The U.S. Marshals’ arrest card only needed simple information, like Cody’s place

and date of birth, his mother’s maiden name, his last address – “things like that,” Cody

would later tell others.


Aunt Mae immediately stood and hugged Cody when he came in the room. Emily

smiled. Her teeth matched the linen lace collar on her aquamarine dress.

Cantinelli gave the trio a moment to settle in and overcome their, what he dubbed,

“court-induced stress.” They saved an orange soda for him.

“Ultimately, it’s Cody’s decision if he wants to plea bargain or not,” Aunt Mae


“I can’t just lie down and be shot in the head. My mother deserves more than


The statement was unexpected by everyone in the room. They could take the

statement in one of several ways or even a combination of ways. No one asked for

clarification. Cody knew what he meant; that was enough.

Mr. Cantinelli hedged, “I hate to make predictions because it’s not fair to my

clients. But, if I had to go out on a limb, I’d say we have an eighty-five percent chance

of winning a trial and Cody going free, or being convicted on a lesser charge. That

would give him his sounding board on domestic violence.”

His summary was delightful, but it was hinged on several factors, such as the jury

(or judge, depending on what type of trial he’d have) being well informed.

He had waited for Cody before revealing that he had talked earlier to the AUSA and

she stated that if Cody pled guilty to murder in the first degree, she would sentence him

under the Juvenile Delinquency Act. But he’d have to plea to a sentence length of

incarceration until his twenty-first birthday. He had guessed that Cody wouldn’t do

nearly that long, but he couldn’t know that beyond a doubt.

“Her words to me were, ‘Mr. Cantinelli, I am in no mood to play with this case.

If Cody takes this to trial, I will win and he will get life.’ Now, how much of that was

smoke, I couldn’t tell.”

Cody asked when he had to make that decision, and Mr. Cantinelli couldn’t

answer directly. It was his guess that the date of the transfer hearing would be the

unspoken deadline. He knew better than to ask for a deadline because he might get


“Once we enter that courtroom for the hearing, Cody, it’s all over. That is our

point of no return, so to speak.”

“That’s it?” He resigned himself to the seeming finality.

“That’s it, Cody, unless she loses the hearing, in which case we will know the

judge is on our side, and then we can ask for a better deal. I wouldn’t bet on that,

though. In fact, I’d bet against our winning the first round.”

Aunt Mae looked more tired with each passing second. She faced uncertainty that

she could have never imagined. She anticipated Cody seeking advice from her. No

choices were good. She might not have the strength to give her advice, even if she could

come to a conclusive direction in his cause.

There were just too many unanswered questions and variables. Who was behind

this push, and why? She struggled to make sense of the conflicting information

streaming in and clashing behind her optic nerves.

She didn’t mean to reduce everything down to dollars and cents, but she

wondered if the price of the attorney was worth it or if they should have just stuck with

Mr. Charpe, the court-appointed slob. She reasoned that even if Cody spent one less

year in jail, the cost to her would be worth it. Anything she could do to help Cody would

justify the costs. The feeling just sank in her gut that this all could be a giant game.

In the past she’d pooh-poohed conspiracy theorists as crazy. But now she

wondered if those running the country, at least the dogs of the judicial system in search

of their next meal, weren’t the crazy ones.

Their world was myopic to Aunt Mae, and they seemed to control so much. They

had a spider-like web above society. She thought to herself, They sit and wait for a

mistake, or what is considered a mistake in their eyes. Then they joy and revel

while taunting the prey, which is forever ensnared in THEIR WORLD.

Her dissection and conclusions might have seemed a bit premature to someone

who hadn’t experienced the whirlwind of new micro-environmental phenomena that

had been heaped on her.


Chapter 16

There were multiple sets of reporters waiting to confront the four of them as they exited

the courthouse. There were only a few concrete steps, but they flourished into the

courtyard that held cameras and clamoring news crews. The satellite antennas on their

vans could be seen just a few yards away.

“Mr. Cantinelli,” one reporter shouted as she chased after him. “Mr. Cantinelli.

Is it true your client is going to be tried as an adult?”

She pressed the microphone his way, while she brushed the windblown hair out

of her face. The wind seemed to pick up as she scampered backward, following Mr.

Cantinelli from the front. Flicks of hair whipped her face from behind.

Blocking her mic with his left hand, he turned to his right.

“Stay calm; the crap has hit the fan already.”

The reporter parried his hand, sticking the microphone closer. “Mr. Cantinelli....”

“We have no comment,” he pled. “Please respect the privacy of my juvenile client,

according to the civil and criminal laws that govern your reporting.”

He was putting the media on notice of his intention to protect his client from the

threat of media abuse. The film crews remained careful not to film Cody or Emily,

keeping their cameras on Cantinelli and Aunt Mae.

“Does a parent killer deserve to live, no matter what his age, Mr. Cantinelli?”

Emily recognized the black hair. She half whispered to the lawyer, “That lady was

at our house the other night. Dad kicked her out.”

He gave the reporter another harsh look. “Sorry, we have no comment. When the

time is right, we will discuss the issues at hand. But now is not the time.”

“Double murders, Mr. Cantinelli...double murders!” She was prodding.

They pushed past the chasing reporters and continued down the street. The

reporters dropped back and left them alone, like a hunting party of lions teasing their

prey for a later kill on their own schedule.

Someone had tipped the media. It would be impossible to tell if it was the FBI, the

U.S. Attorney’s office, or the U.S. Army, but someone had. What possible reason would

anyone involved have to stir the pot of public opinion so soon?

Mr. Cantinelli realized that the U.S. Attorney would be jeopardizing the case that

she seemed so passionate about. So, if not her, who?

Emily was somewhat spooked by the sudden appearance of Cindy Banks, and she

wasn’t certain whether she really had recognized the reporter or not. For sure, Cindy

knew her. Any good reporter, that close to the case, would. Emily wondered where

Cindy might show her face again.

The prosecution’s team had waited in the courtroom in case the U.S. Attorney

wanted them for anything; at least, that was the excuse they used. Actually, in the case

of Captain Raymond George and Special Agent Julie Flowers, they were almost

exhausted from their curiosity about what had just happened.

Their wait was wasted, since McDale left unannounced from the courtroom area

to go to her office. Her escape through the judge’s chambers was only obvious when

Captain George asked the bailiff if he could notify her that they were waiting for her.

Captain George’s heart pounded. He hadn’t fully recovered from the rush he got

when the judge ruled that the motion for transfer would be heard. Before that ruling,

he had been sitting next to Julie Flowers, smelling her perfume.

He thought back to their first major encounter in the conference room and

remembered everything about her – her dress, her shoes, and her legs. She was just

as poised for court as she was the first time he saw her. It was too bad the judge’s

ruling had distracted him from her exciting aroma.

He did notice that she always wore green, if not her whole dress, parts of it. Green

matched her eyes. He figured she knew that and exploited the fact to increase her

already near-perfect attractiveness.

It took him a few moments to think of who else had such strikingly green eyes. He

flipped through his mental Rolodex. Ah. Of course, Aunt Mae. Her eyes were almost a

perfect match to Julie’s. They could be sisters. He knew they weren’t, but their eyes

were strikingly similar in color, shape, and beauty.

“She gave us the slip,” Julie crabbed at the captain.

“I guess she did.”

He caught another whiff of her musky scent. He wished they were leaving together.

After all, they were both single and available, as far as he knew.

She was wearing a ring, but it didn’t look anything like an engagement band.

Besides, he thought he remembered a small pearl ring on that finger the last time he

saw her. He’d pay more attention the next time.

He didn’t want to offend her, but he couldn’t resist testing the waters. He needed

a way he could disclaim his move if that became necessary.

“I’m confused about this case, Flowers.” He was looking for a reply.

“Me, too,” she said, but not in a very convincing way.

“Why don’t we have dinner and discuss this more?”

She detected a bit of quiver in his voice that made her think his interests were

more than just professional. He must be testing the waters, she noted.

“I’m sorry, not tonight. Perhaps soon.”

Her reply was very professional. He had no way of knowing if she was blowing

him off, or if she had some previous commitment. He just couldn’t tell. She gave no

further indication from her voice or even from her body language.

He had made himself uncomfortable, and hoped he hadn’t jeopardized his

credibility in her eyes, or portrayed himself to be a fool. He didn’t follow up on her

comment directly.

“I have to get back to a recruit. Got to get him to his ASVAB test in forty-five

minutes.” They both made a quick exit to get on with their day.


Chapter 17

The soft, suede couch was soothing to the touch; its blue pastel stripes offset the tan

floral pattern etched into the fabric. Cody sank deeply into it, with his feet dangling. He

studied the doctor intensely. He watched the way she wrote, the way her mouth moved

when she talked, and the way she swallowed.

He wondered what it took to be a psychiatrist, and if he had the observation skills

for it. He practiced on her as she questioned him.

“Do you know why you are here?” she prodded.

“Yes.” He offered no further information, testing her in his own way.

“Can you explain to me why you are here, then?”

She made the mistake of asking another yes or no question.

“Yes,” he simply answered. He knew what he was doing.

“Okay, please explain to me why you are here.” Ah, she had him now, she


“I’m here because the pre-trial lady called our house yesterday morning and told

me I had a court-ordered appointment with a psychiatrist.”

She thought his answer was very concise for a lad his age. A child could interpret

questions a number of ways. A particular response would often tell the psychiatrist what

path his mind was on. Cody was very literal with his interpretation.

“Do you have any questions for me, Cody?”

“Yes. What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?”

“That’s an easy one. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in

psychology. She can prescribe medications and narcotics, and perform medical


“A psychologist, on the other hand, is a Doctor of Philosophy, a Ph.D., and doesn’t

use standard medical interventions such as medicine. They often use therapy as their


“Cool. How many years does it take to get a Ph.D. in psychology?”

“About as many years as it takes to get an M.D. Usually, a person will get his

Master’s degree, which takes two to three years. Then he will get his Ph.D., which takes

another three to five years, typically. It depends on the student and the program he

chooses. Are you interested?”

Cody thought a moment. “Yes, I like to figure people out. I’d rather be a

psychologist than an M.D., I think. Who makes more money?”

“Is money important to you, Cody?” She was alerted to Cody’s question like a

narcotics dog to a bag of weed.

“Money is important, yes....”

 She was quick to cut his answer short.

“Is it important enough to kill for?”

Cody felt that he had been suckered into an unanswerable situation. He felt her

mind had already been made up about him. She was not looking for the truth but for

a way to confirm what was presupposed long before he entered her office. Whose side

was she on? She was court-ordered. Did that mean she worked for the prosecution?

Cody really wasn’t so sure why he was there, after all. That question made him nervous.

“I’d never kill for money,” he chuckled.

“Then what would you kill for, Cody?”

Now he had dug himself a deeper hole. His mind squirmed to find an exit.

“I would kill for my country if I were a soldier. Or I would kill to protect someone

I love. And I would kill to protect my life.”

That’s all he could think of. He was careful not to say he wouldn’t kill because

then he’d be a liar in her eyes.

“I see, Cody. Those might be good reasons to kill some people. Do you think

everyone would agree with you about that?”

Cody easily answered, “Nope. A lot of people would say it’s better to run.”

“What if running didn’t work for them?” Her hypothetical questions were getting

annoying. No one was running anywhere at the moment. Cody didn’t quite see the

purpose of her question and told her so.

“I think it’s a good question, in order for me to understand how you process


“So why don’t you just ask me why I killed my mom and dad?” Cody was ready to

defend his position.

“Okay, why?” she asked.

“I killed my dad because he beat me and my mom. I didn’t run because I had no

place to run to. I didn’t talk to anyone about it because it would just have made things


Cody teared up thinking of the mess, and thinking about how every now and then

blood and guts just appeared from thin air in front of him, then disappeared just as

quickly. He might have to live with that the rest of his life.

“And your mother?”

“I don’t remember shooting my mother. When I shot my father, I just freaked out.

That’s all I remember until I saw the bodies piled on the floor. Then I ran to get my

mom a quilt to cover up with...I don’t remember shooting her, honest.”

Cody acted every word out with his hands as he told the story. She watched which

way his eyes rolled to see if he was recalling facts or making up lies. She watched his

expressions to see if he was remorseful or proud and indignant.

Her job was to report Cody’s mental processing abilities to the court. The question

would be whether Cody Brikker was sane enough to stand trial, and to understand the

charges against him. If not, the courts would have a hard time transferring him to adult

status. Cody interrupted her thoughts.

“Hey, who is trying to destroy my life?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, when I was first arrested, or detained, whatever you call it, I was told that

usually the state picks up the charges, that the Feds never bother with kids in domestic-

type killings. I want to know who is after me.”

“Cody, sometimes we have to take responsibility for ourselves. You committed an

act which some find prosecutable. It doesn’t matter what my opinion of the crime is.

I have a different job. You may be suffering the natural consequences of your actions.

It’s hard, but we all go through it. I’m not certain that anyone is ‘after you,’ as you say.

Did someone put that in your mind?”

Cody didn’t want to reveal any more than he had to, so he didn’t mention the

comments of his attorney, or anyone else. He didn’t trust Dr. Schwartz, not even a little.

She was too wishy-washy with her answers.

“Not really. No one told me anyone was after me, but it does look that way.

Everything seems to be going wrong for no reason.”

“Why did you take money from your father after the shooting?”

“To buy stuff for my birthday.” Cody realized how self-centered that sounded, but

it was the truth – no sinister plot. His father had money, so Cody used it. It wouldn’t do

his father any good anymore.

“See, Cody, it makes me wonder about you.” She was toying with him now. Her

interview skills were well honed to find out just what she needed for her reports.

“I don’t wonder about me. I didn’t do anything to purposefully disrespect my

mother or my father. I just took some money that he didn’t need. That’s the truth.”

Her biased mind didn’t allow her to think any other way than that Cody possessed

a cold detachment which was inappropriate for his age. He seemed more narcissistic

than egocentric like most boys his age. She failed to see that Cody’s need to cover up

his abuse and not seem defensive made him look much colder and more calculating

than he really was. It was a common mistake for lay people, but not one to be expected

from a psychiatrist.

 Chapter 18

It was late in the day. The sun was already dancing off the west side of the Interstate 40

bridge linking Memphis, Tennessee, to West Memphis, Arkansas. Mud Island was

almost cleared of its tourists. Some were taking the cable cars from the tiny, tourist-

trap island back to the east bank of the Mississippi River. Captain George walked by on

his way to Julie Flowers’ office. He thought about how much it cost to develop that little

pile of dirt into Mud Island with its scale model of the Mississippi. Visitors could walk

from Chicago to New Orleans in less than ten minutes.

He hoped Julie would still be there. She said she’d be working late and not

answering her phone. He picked up his pace to a full force-march pace. Only one of

his shoes clicked as his heel hit the concrete beneath, because he had lost the

protective tap off the other shoe. He softly said, “Left,” with each click of his left heel.

When walking, he often counted cadence like that. He made it to the lobby at the same

time she did. Her trip was shorter. She had only been to the restroom and back. The

lack of sweat on her forehead told the story.

“I’m glad I caught you,” he said.

“Well, I was working late on some warrants that we need signed for tomorrow.”

She invited him into her office and closed the door.

It was about 6:30 p.m., and he had seen the five o’clock news about the boy who

was federally charged with murder. It was leaked that he was being charged as an


“Julie, did you know about the motion before the court?” His voice was direct.

“Honestly, Captain, I had no idea.” Her empty look said she was telling the truth.

He wouldn’t doubt her, anyway.

“Then what the hell is going on? Your boss knew, and he didn’t tell you anything

ahead of time?”

“No, he didn’t. Not then. After the hearing, he called me into his office to tell me

that, under Section 5032, the U.S. Attorney General can investigate and certify that the

crime is a crime of violence, since that is a felony, and that it is in the best interest of

the public to prosecute as an adult. He also said that under the same section, the

offender must be thirteen years of age in order to be transferred to adult status, and the

use of a firearm in the crime is a contributing factor in a transference hearing.”

Captain George started eliminating possible culprits in his mind. Either U.S.

Attorney McDale or Julie Flowers’ boss, Agent Stewart, was pushing this, or maybe both.

“So when is the hearing?”

“The date isn’t set yet. The AUSA, McDale, will be collecting the statutory evidence

before the hearing. Since the magistrate found it in the interest of justice – considering

age, social background, nature of offense, and the use of a firearm – to accept the

government’s motion, his job is done. It is up to the U.S. District Court to schedule the

hearing and hear the motion.”

Captain George exhaled hard; he was pissed.

“You know that kid is being done wrong. Hell, we never even read him his

Miranda rights. We violated a fundamental right. Then we questioned him without an

attorney or guardian. Now we are trying to hang him. What the hell?” he almost yelled.

“Between you and me, I’m going to try to distance myself. I simply can’t afford

supporting what seems to be going on. For some reason, my boss is hell-bent on nailing

Cody. He must call Chris McDale at least two dozen times a day.”

“What do you think this is about?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t think I want any part of it. He’s my boss, though. I’m

kinda stuck.”

“Look, if we are asked to testify, and I am asked about the Miranda issue, I can’t

lie. I’ve never lied under oath, and I’m not about to start now. But if I’m not asked, I’m

not going to tell.”

“The issue probably won’t ever come up in court. I hope not. No matter which

way it goes, we could both be put on the chopping block. So whatever is going on, best

we just stay as clear as possible, Captain.”

“Please call me Ray,” he insisted.

“Okay, Captain Ray,”she joked with a wide smile.

He noted the dimple that was missing from her left cheek. Cute, he thought.

They both had put in a long day. His tie was loosened under his Adam’s apple, she

observed. He was still flush from the walk to her office. She felt guilty for even working

with her boss, but that’s not why she wanted to relax with Captain George.

“I think it’s time for dinner. Are you still free?” she asked.

He was surprised. Perhaps she had not blown him off, after all. She had been

going to attend a party with her sister but it was cancelled, as he would later find out.

“Sushi?” he chimed.

“I’m there like a seal,” she barked, clapping her hands in front of her, imitating

her favorite zoo animal.

Her attitude impressed him.

“Great. After dinner, we can balance balls!” he laughed.

She gave him a sinister look as if he had made a sick pun. He hadn’t meant to, so

it took him a second to catch up to her quick wit.

He blushed. “Sorry, maybe that didn’t come out right.”


When Cody opened the door, Emily walked into his aunt’s house like family. She had

seen the same newscast as Captain George. “Did you see the woman on the news?”

“Which woman?” he said sarcastically.

“The black-haired witch at the courthouse...Cindy Banks. She had your story on

the news again. She was telling it like it has happened already.” Emily wasn’t making

straight sense to him.

“Like what happened?”

“Like you were already being tried as an adult. She said that the parent killer was

going to be tried as an adult.”

“Hey, you were there,” he said.

“I know I was. I’m glad I was because I know the truth.” She was talking about

the fact that Cody was not yet being tried as an adult but that he was going to answer a

motion against him to be tried as an adult.

“Cody, I spent two hours explaining what happened in court to my mom and dad,

then that woman comes on the TV and mixes everything up. I don’t get it.”

“Me either. What did your parents say?”

“Well, Mom is really supportive, and Dad is, too. But...but I can’t really tell what

he is thinking. He might just be going along with Mom but not feeling the same. I don’t

know. Everyone is changing since this happened.”

“Everyone?” he asked, looking for details.

“Yes. Even the kids at school seem to treat me strangely. Maybe I’m just imagining

it, but it’s too weird.” She scrunched her face and squinted as she did when Cody

pithed the frog in biology class.

“Everything is weird. Wanna get some pizza? We can order the $5.99 special

delivery.” Cody tilted his head and pointed like the pizza guy on the commercial.

“Where’s Aunt Mae?” she asked, looking around.

“She’s sleeping. Come on, we’ll watch Kane and Abel. I still have the video.”

They jumped on the couch together, like puppies in a basket. He hit the remote

to start the movie. She picked up the phone to order the pizza while the commercials

ran – one medium pepperoni on thin crust. They had soft drinks in the kitchen.

The two kept the volume low while the commercials rolled. There must have been

ten minutes of them, previews of coming releases, and a small ad for a home surround-


“I have lots of appointments for pre-trial this week.”

“Yeah?” She rolled her head sideways to rest on his shoulder. She could see him

if she looked up really hard.

“Yeah. I went to the psychiatrist today. She was nuts. Then I have a juve’ hall social

worker and juve’ court lawyers to see, and a medical physical to do. Everyone wants

to see me.”

“Why so much? How come you have to see the lawyers from juvenile court?”

“I’m not sure. Everything is a big secret. I do know that they need to know if I’ve

ever been in trouble before, though.”

He was glad she went to his magistrate court date, and he wanted her to go with

him to the transfer hearing if she could.

“The last court date was touch and go with Dad. I’ll talk with him this weekend.”

She snuggled deeper into the cushions, sliding her head down to his lap.

Chapter 19

Court morning came too quickly. Outside the courtroom, in the neatly tiled hallway,

Cody, Aunt Mae and Emily met with Mr. Cantinelli. He had rushed in, and wasn’t as

inviting as he usually was. He even seemed somewhat distracted.

“I just finished meeting with Christine McDale. This is your last chance to work

a plea agreement. Are you certain you still want to fight this? My recommendation is

that we work with her as much as possible, only because I can’t guarantee the outcome

of this hearing.”

Their attorney paused and watched as they looked each other over, obviously not

liking any option facing them.

“That is just my recommendation. I’ll work hard for you no matter what course

we take,” he backpedaled. “I do think we have a great chance at beating this, but I’m

not a mind reader; so if we lose, things could get really nasty for you, Cody....”

Cody’ s eyes pleaded with Aunt Mae to get some clarification for him. She asked,

“What are the points in our favor?”

Mr. Cantinelli was honest. “I think we have a couple of things going for us. First,

Cody’s age. He isn’t even old enough to meet the statute requirements for transference.

Second, there is an obvious history of domestic abuse, not only against Cody, but his

mother as well.”

The lawyer had to look away from Aunt Mae’s stare; it was much stronger than his

was. Her eyes penetrated everything they targeted.

“And what’s against us?” she prompted.

“Well, this thing is someone’s political toy. I just haven’t figured it out yet. Based

on that alone, Cody could be the fattened calf.”

He was talking about a sacrificial offering in the name of some public or political

agenda, as opposed to a religious cleansing of sorts.

Cody gathered his nerve. “I know I want to fight this. What I did to my father was

okay, I think. But I just can’t explain my mom. That is what I did wrong, but my dad

caused it to happen. I want to fight it all.” Cody held his fists like a boxer protecting his


Aunt Mae backed up Cody’s point of view. “I agree. The boy didn’t have much of

a choice that was better than what happened. Or, let’s say, he didn’t know of one. He

was terrified and in a very bad situation. Who wouldn’t understand that?”

She refused to believe that Cody would ever get convicted, much less as an adult.

She indicated that this hearing would become nothing but a routine, legal meeting. Her

thoughts were strong, though she’d never even known of such procedures before this


Mr. Cantinelli agreed to go inside and inform the U.S. Attorney of their decision.

 As he left the group, they sat on a wooden bench of dark, antique-stained oak. Cody sat

in between the other two, underneath each of their arms; they cuddled him with

protective wings. The three of them waited. Their hearts moved the fabric of their

clothing almost twice a second as the veins in their necks extended. It was only

seventy-two degrees, but hot to them. The hotter it got, the tighter were the squeezes

they shared.

Cody didn’t want to go in. There would be a new judge, a new procedure. He was

tired of these new experiences, most of which he had no influence over. The legal

controls reminded him too much of his father; he was all about control. Cody imagined

a life where he could escape all of that. He couldn’t actually picture a life of happy,

peaceful freedom. Only when he was with his aunt or Emily did he ever catch a taste of

freedom’s sweet, smooth flavor.

Cody’s head was down, staring at the floor. Emily looked over his head, directly

into Aunt Mae’s empty eyes, bays of unseen depths. They both considered what Cody

might be thinking.


The officer called the court to order, all rose, and the judge glided in until she reached

her bench. She slightly stumbled over something on the floor. It was most likely a mat

of some sort. No one could see behind her extravagantly constructed podium.

Judge Brianne B. Bucher was newly appointed to take the place of the past judge.

His immediate retirement was forced by way of a medical emergency that seemed a

mystery to all his colleagues, the entire U.S. Attorney’s office included.

She draped her robe like a fine evening gown and sat. Her yawning stretch made

her seem almost despondent. Then she spoke.

“United States v. Cody Brikker. Announcements, please.”

“Christine McDale, on behalf of the United States.”

“Thank you, Mrs. McDale,” said the judge.

“Anthony Cantinelli, on behalf of Mr. Brikker. Mr. Brikker is present, Your


“Thank you. I’d like to introduce myself. I’m judge Bucher. It is pronounced

‘boo-share,’ not ‘butcher.’ I don’t slice meat for a living!”

Her warning was stern. She must have been called many different names in the

past, none of them sounding like “boo-share.”

She took an inventory of the courtroom, taking a few extra seconds to visually

scorn reporters in the audience. Her silence introduced her as very serious. Her

middle-aged look said the same. Her red hair would have blended well with her

environment if it had been longer and not so layered. It was hard to tell budding age

spots from mature freckles on her face. Her lips were even spotted, breaking up the

normally clean female lines, almost camouflaging her lips from her face.

“The matter before this court today is most disturbing to me,” she said,

emphasizing the word most above the others. “As the presiding judge in this Western

Tennessee District case, I acknowledge the charges of murder in the first degree

brought against the defendant, Cody Brikker. I must now decide if the defendant will

be transferred to adult status.” She scanned the courtroom to see if her words were

being heard.

At the back of the courtroom, the doors opened. Captain George had wondered

why Julie Flowers wasn’t present moments before. It was she. She tried not to saunter

or bring any more attention to herself than necessary as she tiptoed to the prosecution’s

table. This wasn’t a party where it was fashionable to be late.

The judge remained mid-thought until Julie was seated with her legs crossed

toward Captain George, her plaid skirt inching up mid-thigh. The soft, pastel tartan

pattern was accented by the forest green trim of her beige blouse, running the ridge-

line of her cleavage. The matching jacket of the same twilled, woolen fabric was an

athletic cut, such that her tight waistline pushed up her chest even more as she sat.

The captain’s senses were again captivated. In his mind, he jokingly looked for the

bulge of her sidearm, not finding it. She couldn’t have looked less like an FBI agent if

she wanted to.

United States Attorney Christine McDale, on the other hand, looked much like an

FBI field agent. Her blue blazer, royal blue almost, was as unimaginative as her sense

of humor. She gave Julie a half-hearted smile, more of a smirk, as Julie settled in next

to Captain George. Julie interpreted it as a jealous look. Of what, she couldn’t be

certain, but it was bound to be either her charm or the seating arrangement.

“Are we settled?” leered the judge, in all her Frenchness.

Everyone nodded.

“There are many considerations before me – legal, procedural, and ethical. This

case is a culmination of years of legal experience and practice. My decisions are not

going to be easy.

“Would the prosecution like to start with opening arguments in this hearing?”

McDale pushed herself up from the finely-grained oak table. “Yes, Your Honor.

The People will demonstrate with a preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Cody

Brikker should be transferred to adult status in the interest of justice, as prescribed by

Section 5032 of the United States Criminal Code.”

She picked up an outline made up of several dog-eared, yellow legal pad papers

clipped together with a purple paper clip.

“We will prove three key issues to meet the tests of Section 5032: 1) Mr. Brikker

is the defendant of a violent crime that is a felony, specifically murder of a government

employee; 2) Mr. Brikker’s maturity level and intellectual development is beyond that

of an average juvenile his age; 3) His alleged crime involved a firearm and

premeditated methodologies, such as lying in wait of his victim.

“Furthermore, we will show that because of Mr. Brikker’s current intellectual

level and social background, normal interventions may not be rehabilitative; therefore,

turning this case over to any other jurisdiction would not serve justice as well as it


She gave the defense a challenging glance, but it didn’t intimidate Mr. Cantinelli

one bit. He knew her shallow tactics as well as he knew her shallow mind. He wasn’t

at all impressed with McDale.

“Very well, Mrs. McDale. Defense?”

Cantinelli stood up and looked around the room while running his hands down

the front of his jacket. When his fingers got to the bottom seam, they flicked. He didn’t

pick up any notes; he wanted all attention on him and what he was about to say.

“Your Honor, the facts in this case are simple.” He hoped that line didn’t directly

insult the judge because she had just finished complexifying the case. “The laws are

clear and specific. It is equally clear that my client, young Cody Brikker, doesn’t meet

the tests to be transferred to adulthood. First, the law outlined in Section 5032

SPECIFICALLY states that an offender must be thirteen years of age in the case of a

murder, with the use of a firearm, for a transfer to be filed. And secondly, this case has

mitigating circumstances to be considered, namely that Cody was a victim of child

abuse at his father’s hand.

“These two elements, whether taken alone or combined, clearly demonstrate that

not only is Cody’s transference to adulthood not in the interest of justice, but illegal

under the current criminal code.”

Mr. Cantinelli sat down, unbuttoning his jacket and pressing his tie to full


Aunt Mae was expecting a barrage of defense. She was wondering why he didn’t

say more. She figured he knew what he was doing. It just seemed too simple to her. The

prosecution blasted away a list of demonstrations that would be complex to prove,

having to prove other things first. And their attorney just had one simple main retort.

The AUSA’s first witness was FBI Agent, Don Stewart.

Standing to be sworn in, he looked pale and clammy. His pockmarked face

evidenced his tormented teenage years. In his forties, he still had breakouts. It looked

as though grease had dripped from his dark hair to his face and then smeared about.

The hefty bailiff intoned, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and

nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

Not really listening to the entire spiel, Stewart breathed out, “I do,” before taking

his seat on the witness stand.

He adjusted the microphone sticking up in front of him. It snaked up, ready to be

spoken into. McDale pretended to be calm. “Please state your name and where you


“My name is Special Agent Don Stewart. I work in the Central Memphis field office

of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I’m a field supervisor, and I’ve worked for the

FBI for fifteen years.” He rotated his head in his collar several times as if to loosen the


“Prior to the FBI, where did you work?”

“After graduating from the University of Arizona in political science, I got a job

with the Pima County Juvenile Probation Department, as a violent crimes investigator.

The FBI recruited me out of there just five years into my stint.”

McDale’s face brightened. “Was this in Arizona?”

“Yes, Tucson, the largest metro area of Pima County. It holds the county seat.”

“Mr. Stewart, were you the arresting officer of Mr. Brikker?”

“No, ma’am. I was on scene when the bodies were recovered from the Brikker

residence, but Captain Raymond George was the official who brought Cody Brikker in

for questioning.”

“Please tell the court why he, instead of you, was the one who detained Cody

Brikker for questioning.”

“Captain George,” he explained, “is a criminal investigation officer with the Office

of the Judge Advocate General of the United States Army. A victim in this case was an

active-duty Army recruiter. We thought it would be best to let the Army have first shot

at the evidence, including the man responsible for the slaughters.”

Mr. Cantinelli took offense to calling Cody a “man” and the use of influential

language, such as “slaughter.” For the moment, he would just note the abuses, waiting

for an opportune time to object.

“Did you have an occasion to talk with Mr. Brikker about his crimes?”

“Yes, ma’am. I went to the Shelby County Jail to interview Mr. Brikker myself.”

“What did you find there?”

“I found Captain George in the initial stages of a criminal interview.”

“And you joined him?” she asked.

“Yes. Special Agent Julie Flowers and I joined the interview. I took lead and tape-

recorded the entire conversation.”

She held up cassette tapes, four of them. “I’d like to enter these cassette tapes into

evidence to support the testimony of Agent Stewart. They are marked collectively as

Exhibit USA-01. These tapes have the signature and recorded date stamps of Agent

Stewart, as the tapes of his initial interview with Mr. Brikker.”

The judge affirmed entering them into evidence.

“What was your major finding during that interview, Agent Stewart?”

“I found that Cody Brikker is a bright man. He is an accomplished chess player,

with advanced critical thinking skills. He testified on the tape, during our interview, that

he was able to out-think students much older than he, in chess tournaments. I was

quite impressed with his thinking skills, his reasoning skills, and his ability to

objectively analyze situations to establish the best course of action. He seems to be a

real planner, as well as one who is able to carry out those plans.”

Stewart said nothing but good things about Cody. Mr. Cantinelli could see through

the sticky sweetness of his intent, however. Through compliment, he’d make Cody out

to be astute and responsible as an adult.

“Mr. Stewart, in your interview that day, did Cody talk about his problems at


“Yes, he did,” he responded, not offering more details.

“What did he say concerning his parents?”

“He said that when he played chess, he could forget about his problems at home,

but that he still wanted to kill his father.”

“Did you say that he was able to forget about his problems at home?” inquired


“Yes, he said that when he played chess, he could forget about his problems at


“So, his problems at home weren’t as big as his chess was fun?”

“Objection!” screamed Cantinelli. He stood up. “Your Honor, assumes facts not

in evidence. Mr. Stewart can’t possibly know how to quantify the defendant’s level of

fun, much less compare it to his anguish at home.”

Before the judge could sustain his objection, McDale chimed in.

“I’ll restate my question. Did Mr. Brikker ever tell you when he first thought about

killing his father?”

“Yes. He said he’d always wanted to kill him.”

“I see. Did he say he was just waiting for a good enough reason?”

She knew his answer was going to be no. She just wanted to lay groundwork for

later evidence. Her line of questioning was becoming more subversive.

“What did you find in your investigation concerning Mr. Brikker’s birthday and

the events on that day, if anything?” She also knew the answers to those questions; they

were well rehearsed.

“Mr. Brikker had his thirteenth birthday two days after the killings. He left the

bodies in the house. I talked with his father’s bank and retrieved receipts for two

withdrawals of $500 each, one on the day before Cody’s birthday and one on the day

of his birthday. Subsequently, I obtained ATM video surveillance tapes, showing Cody

making those withdrawals.

“I approached the manager of the grocery store where the ATM was located. He

said that a cashier had approached him on that first day and alerted him to a young

man who had large amounts of cash wadded in his pockets. She became doubly

suspicious when she spotted him the next day. That cashier identified Cody Brikker

from a photo lineup of twelve similar-looking individuals. She had suspected him of

being a drug dealer or something equally nasty.”

Julie Flowers looked at Captain George and mouthed, “Nasty?” Her eyes were

questioning his choice of slanted words. She equally admired the captain’s stature. He

returned the look, but tried not to be obvious to Stewart.

“Are you certain the second withdrawal happened on his thirteenth birthday?”

“Yes, I am. I have the bank receipts, ATM video tapes, and testimony of several

people demonstrating such events took place on the dates I said.” His confidence

exuded from him.

“I have no further questions,” she said, waiting to be dismissed to her seat by the


The defense now had its chance to cross-examine the witness. Mr. Cantinelli rose.

“I just have one question of the witness, Your Honor. How old was Cody Brikker

at his parents’ time of death, according to your records?” he asked, staring at him



“No further questions. Thank you, Your Honor.”


Chapter 20

Her office was a standard cubical with padded-cloth walls on which she could pin up

pictures of her family, as well as any notes she wanted to keep handy. The walls were

covered, every inch. Some places had papers pinned up in layers.

Every other reporter, at her level, had an office door. She had been offered one

two years earlier, but she didn’t want to seem pretentious to those she worked with,

and that had made her an evening news success. Everyone liked Cindy Banks; she

wasn’t going to undermine that.

She was sassy, creative, and never took no for an answer. She had wanted to join

the transfer hearing since she had been tipped off to its time and location, but she

didn’t want to chase her prey away. After the last time she had met them on the

courthouse steps, she thought it was best to lie low for a while and try another tactic

to get close.

She was writing copy for the six o’clock news. She wrote it in a way that no matter

what the results of the hearing were, she’d change a few words, and, voilá, a story.

She hoped that her lack of presence would be noted and that it might make her

look good to Cody’s family. Cindy did, however, have an unknown, unobtrusive office

associate who would attend the hearing and secretly take notes, not that taking notes

at a trial was illegal or anything. Cindy just wanted her associate to be discreet, in case

she needed her services again later. Why burn any bridges? she planned.

“Any word on the Brikker case yet?” asked her producer, Gary Fletchings.

“Suzanne is still inside, I guess. She hasn’t called yet.”

“Well, let me know as soon as you scoop it. I want to see which direction this

thing is going before we schedule our human-interest lineup tonight.”

“ASAP, Gary,” she complied.


Since the beginning, public opinion was split about 60/40. The majority of people loved

Cody, even without ever seeing him or hearing his voice. They knew nothing of his

story. They just knew that a kid was being tried as an adult, possibly, and that he was

a victim of child abuse who had taken drastic action.

News had gotten out that he was an honor-roll student, so the initial thought was

that the shootings must have been justified.

The right-wingers, on the other hand, mostly despised the violence Cody had taken

against his father and the community as a whole. They didn’t understand the desperate

situations that led to desperate actions and, sometimes, extreme violence.

Because of the juvenile factor, information was limited to the spin of the

newscasters, newspaper reporters, and their associated self-interests.


Chapter 21

One after the other, the store manager, the store cashier, the bank’s head teller, and

branch manager confirmed Mr. Stewart’s evidence in testimony. Each agreed to the

timeline of events. Cody withdrew money twice from an ATM, using his father’s bank

card. Then he shopped, purchasing cake, associated birthday items, and videos, among

other things.

With each witness, Mr. Cantinelli asked the same question: “When you saw Cody

Brikker in person or on surveillance tape, did you notice anything special about his


Each witness had the same answer: “Yes, he had black eyes.”

They didn’t point out his straight, handsome features or his smiling lips, just his

eyes. Everyone had noticed that Cody looked as if he had been in a prizefight and had

been defeated.

The school counselor was the only person to testify whom Mr. Cantinelli

questioned in depth. She had a long-term knowledge of Cody’s battered body.

While the defense concentrated on Cody’s bruises, the prosecution honed in on

his straight A’s and his incredible academic record, including volunteering on the

yearbook staff, and belonging to the debate team and chess club.

The counselor testified that the school had several of Cody’s trophies on display

from his chess competitions, as well as from his formal debate competitions.

The prosecution concluded that Cody was intelligent and able to perform well in

an academic setting that required critical thinking and reasoning abilities.


“As our final witness, the People call Dr. Gerda Schwartz.” Christine McDale would

have sashayed in front of the jury had there been one. The psychiatrist was the final

feather in her motion’s cap.

“Dr. Schwartz. Did you examine Cody Brikker in your office?”

“Yes, I did,” she responded, high-browing her position.

“Did you make a finding as to his ability to understand the charges brought

against him; if so, what were your findings?”

“I did. I found that Mr. Brikker possesses above-average reasoning skills, based

on my analysis and twenty-five years experience as a child psychiatrist. He not only

understands the charges brought against him, but he has, in his own mind, justified his


“What actions, Doctor?”

“The murdering of his parents,” she sneered, almost condemningly.

Mrs. McDale continued. “Did your analysis of this young man sh....”

“I object to the use of the term young man, Your Honor!” Mr. Cantinelli stood up

to protect his ground. “Cody Brikker is NOT a young man; he is a boy!”

The judge doubled the wrinkles on her forehead. “Overruled,” she simply and

quietly said.

“No,” he blurted his thought out loud by accident, but quickly followed it up. “The

People, and HER witnesses have been using such incriminating terminology all day. I

just can’t stand for it, Your Honor.”

“Mr. Cantinelli, I’ll determine what you will and won’t stand for in my courtroom.

Do you think I am so easily swayed with tricky, prejudiced words and phrases?”

“No, ma’am, but it’s not fair.”

“It’s only not fair if I am subject to the biases of the presenters. Do you not think

I’m qualified to make such judgments fairly?” She was insulted at his thinking

otherwise, and it was her intention to point that out as directly as possible but still let

him do the thinking.

Captain George and Agent Flowers snickered at each other at Mr. Cantinelli’s

expense, careful to keep the joke between them.

“No, ma’am, but....”

“But? Please don’t dig yourself a hole you can’t get out of, Mr. Cantinelli. Shall we


“Yes, ma’am.”

“Counsel,” she said, looking at McDale, “please.”

“Dr. Schwartz, did Mr. Brikker mention his parents?”

“Yes. He said that he loved his mother but that his father got what he deserved. He

was able to articulate his statement well beyond what most young men can, but he was

not willing to take responsibility for his own actions, in my opinion.”

“Do you have any other professional opinions about Mr. Brikker?”

The doctor thought for a moment. “He is a dangerous man, very dangerous. I

don’t see this type of antisocial behavior addressed and changed easily.”

There was venom in the doctor’s strike. Everyone in the room felt it, but her

words were convincing enough to scare and frighten. She was so professional and aged

that most would believe the moon was made of cheese, if she were to say so.

“The People rest their case, Your Honor,” McDale announced with a sense of

pride. She knew she better stop while she was ahead. Dr. Schwartz was her story’s

climax, which she couldn’t top.

Mr. Cantinelli knew questioning this woman would just be an act of tomfoolery.

He couldn’t take the chance of asking a question when he didn’t know the answer, or

her answer. That was a lesson taught in law school, and it had always held true.

He’d call his one expert witness, Dr. Blist. He’d keep the questioning short and

to the point. He only had two points to prove to the judge.

The witness took the stand, and the defense started questioning.

“Dr. Blist, what is your specialty?”

“I am an M.D., the same as Dr. Schwartz. However, I specialize in adolescent

trauma, and post traumatic stress disorder.”

“Your Honor, this is a copy of Cody Brikker’s birth certificate. I ask that it be

taken into evidence to establish Cody Brikker’s age.”

“Mr. Cantinelli, I know how old Cody Brikker is. I don’t think his age is of

question here,” she corrected.

“I’d still like it in evidence, Your Honor.”

“Denied, Mr. Cantinelli. It’s not needed. Again, the young man’s age is not in

question. We all agree on his age.”

He didn’t respond to her directly. Instead, he turned his attention to his witness.

“Doctor, how old was Cody when the events took place where his mother and father

lost their lives?”

“According to my records, he was twelve, a couple of days shy of his thirteenth

birthday,” he declared with as much confidence as Dr. Schwartz had earlier, but

without the pretentious scoff.

“Doctor, in your opinion, is Cody capable of thinking and reasoning at an adult


“Heavens, no. Our brains, especially the brains of adolescent males, are still

making connections until they are in their twenties. Not only do they not have the

reasoning skills of an adult, but they don’t have the experience from which to draw

their conclusions and ultimately make decisions. You can use only the tools you have

to work with, sir.”

“I have one last question: In your expert opinion, with the tools Cody had to work

with, was his decision to shoot his father valid?”

“Sir, I’m not certain what you mean by valid, but in my opinion his known options

were limited and he took the option that best solved his problem, which was to protect

himself and his mother. In addition, shooting his mother was most likely a product of

induced psychological trauma.

“In my Vietnam days, I saw soldiers who would kill an enemy, then, in a rage, turn

their guns on innocent villagers, killing them and not even remembering they had done

it, or being able to reason why. This seems to be a common reaction to stress of that

magnitude. Cody most likely experienced the same phenomenon as these trained adult

soldiers. But he is just a kid, and his ability to respond to killing his father may have

been several times weaker than those coping skills of the soldiers.”

“Thank you, Doctor, for your explanation,” said Cantinelli, satified with the

testimony. The judge dismissed the witness when the AUSA chose not to cross.

Both sides gave closing arguments to support their evidenced cases before the

judge retired to her chambers to examine the law.

Before making her ruling on the motion, she reviewed private documents from

the juvenile courts showing that Cody didn’t have a criminal record preceding his

arrest, and records maintaining that the state had no interest in reviewing the case.


While the judge was out, the entire courtroom was instructed to remain close for the

judge’s return. A few went to the hallway to get a drink or to use the restroom, but most

people stayed in the court and just gawked at others around the room.

Cody talked with his aunt and Emily, but no one heard their conversation. Emily

looked concerned. Aunt Mae kept looking the way of the prosecution, thinking they

were horribly cunning but blatantly arrogant.

Captain George chatted with Julie Flowers but noticed Aunt Mae’s glances. He

wasn’t feeling very good about the progress of the hearing. He knew he had not been

called to the stand by the People due to his personal views. He couldn’t help but feel

sorry for Aunt Mae because he was feeling like a heel. He also felt stuck. He wanted to

help Cody, but he was an official.

His thoughts left Julie’s attractiveness and skipped over to Cody, Emily, and Aunt

Mae. Although he heard what Julie was saying, he didn’t really process it fully. He

wanted to tell Aunt Mae that Cody’s rights had been violated in the very early stages of

the case. He was afraid to leak it, though. If things got back to Agent Stewart or McDale,

they could hose him, ruin his career, and maybe even get him a court-martial for

obstruction of justice, or a civil rights violation for conspiring to hide such facts from

the courts.


Captain George was still pondering his guilt when Judge Bucher joined the courtroom,

ready to make her ruling.

As she started to talk, Cody’s stress moved to such a high level that he could barely

hear her.

“As I decided this motion, I held certain facts determinate of the law. I have

discovered that the State of Tennessee is not interested in taking a case which I find in

the interest of justice to prosecute. I also find that this case meets the other tests of

Section 5032 of the U.S. Criminal Code: 1) Cody Brikker’s social background and

behavior is not easily correctable in the current juvenile system, as demonstrated by

expert testimony here today; 2) The nature of the offense falls under Section 1111,

murder. This is a violent act as described in Section 5032; 3) Cody planned the act and

lay in wait for his victims, then utilized a firearm during the commission of a violent

felony, as outlined in favor of the motion in Section 5032.

“These things combined bring me to the inescapable judgment in favor of the

motion. I rule that Cody Brikker is hereby transferred to adult status, to be charged and

prosecuted as an adult in the Western Tennessee District Court.”

Aunt Mae felt her heart hit dirt. She cried out loud, as Cody just looked off into

space, displaced from time. They knew they had just lost their first huge battle.

Captain George looked at McDale to see her reaction. She simply bowed her head,

trying not to gloat in victory, though she was.

The judge struck her gavel, but the courtroom burst out in a small flurry. Mr.

Cantinelli didn’t know what to say to the family. He just grabbed Cody and escorted him

from the room, with Aunt Mae and Emily following. The lawyer was truly brokenhearted

about the result.

To him, the law was clear. Cody was twelve when the event took place. To judge

Bucher, the ruling was largely based on the fact that Cody’s relevant conduct extended

to his thirteenth birthday. Mr. Cantinelli explained relevant conduct, with which Aunt

Mae and Cody were not familiar.

“Take a drug case, for example. A person can be caught with only one ounce of

cocaine, but if the People prove that the drug seller was selling for twenty-four months,

say, then the judge might multiply the one ounce times twenty-four and impose a

sentence based on that weight, instead of what the person was found with. Relevant

conduct in Cody’s case was the fact that, even though he shot his parents at age twelve,

he continued to do illegal things that were related to the crime, like use his father’s

ATM card. This continuing conduct, related to his shooting, happened through his

thirteenth birthday, thus opening the window for the judge to interpret the age test in

favor of the People’s motion.”

Mr. Cantinelli was guilt-ridden because he hadn’t considered that possibility. Only

until the judge read her verdict did he understand her approach to the case.

“Relevant conduct, eh?” sneered Aunt Mae. “It doesn’t make sense to me. Things

are what they are, nothing more. This is all bullshit!”


Leaving the courthouse, they encountered a few reporters, but not as many as at the

previous magistrate event. Aunt Mae wondered why, but dismissed it as she heard her

name called from behind.

Captain George was trotting up in his patent leather Army shoes.

“Mae, please.” He approached her, but it was she that pulled him aside.

“I just wanted to say that I am sorry for what I just witnessed with your nephew,”

he whispered.

“I’m glad.” She had been waiting for him to talk to her on a more real level.

“Captain, I’m really not in the mood to face spending this evening or this weekend

alone. Would you be interested in...?” She was losing her nerve, which had come from

nowhere in the first place.

He stepped in to save her. “Yes, I would. I can’t tonight. I have something to do.

But if it is okay with you, I’d like to call you.”

“I look forward to it. Thanks.”

He needed to do the right thing and help Cody. His original impression of Julie

was fading, as people who were so eager to pursue their own self-interest surrounded

him; they stood by to watch others fall. Julie was beginning to fit into that despised

category in his mind.

His compassion for Mae and Cody when he saw them at the end of the trial was

more than he expected. He’d call her and consider his next step.


Chapter 22

Dale’s face appeared as Emily swung her locker door shut. Since Cody quit attending

school, Dale was there at her locker between every class. He couldn’t get enough of her

attention, at any price.

He insisted on carrying her books to their class lunch. As a friend, she let him. As

anything more than a friend, she wasn’t interested.

“Hey, isn’t that Cody’s aunt?” he asked, pointing into the school office.

Aunt Mae looked up just in time to see Emily. They exchanged quick waves as the

two young people passed through the double doorway.

“Yes, that’s the marvelous Aunt Mae!” She punctuated her compliment with a silly


The cafeteria held three hundred student “feasters,” and the line was long, giving

them plenty of time to chat.

“I never would have expected Cody to kill his parents like that. Was his dad really

that mean?”

“Not his dad, his faaather,” she maintained defensively, elongating the word for


“What’s the diff’?” Dale asked, flouting her distinction.

“The diff’ is that daddies are loving. Fathers are sperm donors.” She wondered

why he was so stupid.

“Still, I’d never thunk it.”

“It didn’t surprise me, really.”

“So why isn’t he at school?” Dale wanted to know.

“His attorney advised him not to come, for security reasons. Someone might want

to hurt him or sabotage his case.”

“How can you mess up his case? He’s guilty, isn’t he?”

“It’s not that simple, dork.”

“To me it is. What happened at court last Friday? What was that about?”

She didn’t want to discuss the details that made her sick every time they passed

through her mind, but he was pressing her. She wasn’t one to make waves, so she tried

to be as simplistic as he would allow.

“He had a hearing to see if he was going to be tried as an adult or not.”

“And?” he kept on, leaning over his food.

“And...the judge was a witch and said he would have to face charges as an adult.

There were lots of witnesses, and that bitch of a prosecutor made Cody sound really


“I thought you had to be thirteen to be tried as an adult.”

“Yes, but Cody’s attorney explained a thing called relevant conduct. Since Cody

continued to do things related to his crime after he turned thirteen, they could count

him as thirteen back to the date he killed his father. But still it’s a judgment call.”

“Well, that’s why you have judges...to make judgment calls,” he spouted.

“God, you are stupid,” she pronounced, shaking her head violently from the left

to the right and back again.

He took a swig of milk. It left grade-schoolish, white corners on his mouth. He

knew but didn’t care.

“So even if he was twelve, because he did something past his thirteenth birthday,

it’s considered part of the crime. That’s wild. What did he do?”

“He took some money from his father’s bank account with an ATM card.”

“Kill, then pillage. His ol’ man must’ve taught him that. It’s an old Army thing.”

Now he was just getting offensive to Emily. She dismissed it as silly boy-stuff, not

even responding to his joke.

His tone turned compassionate as he asked, “Do you think Cody will get the


“We don’t have the chair anymore, I don’t think.” She knew what he meant, but

she simply couldn’t face what was happening to her best friend in the whole world. She

had known him since she was very young. The years he moved away to be with his

father at his duty stations were bad enough. At least she knew he’d always return, or she

was too naive to think differently. Now that she was older, she had a better grasp on

reality, and the reality was that Dale could be right. Cody could get a death sentence,

or life in prison. So far, things hadn’t gone too well in court.

Surprisingly, he said, “I’m not being cruel, just realistic. I’ve been waiting patiently

for you for a long time.”

Still, she didn’t like it, not at all. She couldn’t be sure what he meant by “waiting



Captain George had picked up Aunt Mae in his black BMW325i convertible. He had

washed it and wiped the inside with ShineAll Interior Protectant. He kept the top up.

He had learned a long time ago that women liked to preserve their hairstyles through

dinner. If the top was to come down, it would be after dinner.

She had suggested seafood, and he knew just the place. Reservations were

required; he had made all the arrangements, despite the fact that, in essence, she had

asked him out. Her bold assertiveness made him wonder if she wasn’t making a power

play for information concerning Cody’s case. His mind tried to determine his strategy.

He was still struggling with the unfair aspects of Cody’s trial.

At the same time, Mae knew she couldn’t get too close to Captain George,

second-guessing whether this dinner was a good idea.

She wasn’t afraid of being alone with a man; in fact, her independence usually

scared regular men away. The ones who stayed were either clingy mother’s boys or

overly aggressive conquerors… both of which she’d run off after a few of months of

tolerance and hope.

There were only two booths in the entire restaurant; the rest of the seating areas

were perfectly prepared tables. Mae insisted on waiting for a booth. Although they were

right on time, according to their reservation, their seating was delayed for fifteen

minutes. Neither thought that too bad, considering the quaint privacy of the secluded


Their table was draped with a linen tablecloth, not too white, but newly pressed

and perfectly clean. Candles, real candles, not the ones in cheap glasses, were placed

as a centerpiece . The purple tone of the arrangements reminded her of the smell of

lilacs. She missed that smell. For some reason, that smell was distinctly absent.

Crab was her favorite food, his too. She didn’t know that until she suggested it for


“Ah, look. They have an all-you-can-eat, snow crab special. Shall we get two?” the

captain asked.

“You bet!” Her eyes lit up. “Anything you say, Captain.”

“My name is Ray...call me Ray.” It was his first attempt to personalize the way she

addressed him. It was right on time.

“Okay, Ray. We get a choice of two sides, what shall they be?”

“You get shrimp scampi and broccoli with lemon sauce, and I’ll get the scampi

and the rice pilaf. We’ll share.” Normally, neither one of them was the sharing type

when it came to their plates. They were both well-organized and picky eaters but,

somehow, it didn’t seem to matter tonight. Each of them, secretly, was looking forward

to sharing the dish.

To the crab eater, the real crab eater, Alaskan snow crab was a favorite. King crab

was big and easy to eat, lots of meat in each bite, but snow crab was sweeter and more

delicate. Dungeness crab, found on the Pacific Coast of North America from Alaska

down to California, was large but shaped a bit funny and hard to crack and handle,

though it often went on sale for as low as $2.99 a pound in places like Seattle.

Snow crab was the favorite crab of both; they were real crab eaters.

This was the first time Mae had seen Ray out of uniform. He was partial to 501’s;

that was all he owned in the way of denims. She thought he fit well into his, especially

with his long-sleeved, western-style shirt rolled midway up his forearms.

She commented on his sleeves. “Ready for business, huh?”

“I plan on not being shy when it comes to crab.” In response, she gave a small tug

on his sleeve.

They didn’t sit across the table from one another but rather just a foot or so away.

He sat on her right side so he wouldn’t be embarrassingly sticking his arm in her side

as he ate. He was only five-foot-five, so tall tables, especially booths, made him a bit

wild with his elbows.

Only sitting so close did she notice that he wasn’t taller. Somehow his fitness and

Army uniform made him bigger. “This is weird, don’t you think?” she asked.

“I was thinking the same thing. You know, I’m supposed to be the bad guy.”

“Excuse me, I thought we were,” she said, meaning herself and Cody.

“No. You have it all wrong. You are great, and so is your nephew. I don’t like what

is going on. You know, I hated sitting behind Christine today. I felt...well, I just felt....”

He had no words.

“Cheap. You felt cheap.” she said.

“Yes, cheap. How did you know?” He wondered if it was a lucky guess, or if she

was that intuitive.

“I know because I saw you looking.”

“At you?”

“NO. At her. At that little bombshell of an FBI agent. She must have smelled pretty

good, too. I saw you sucking up all the air between you two. You looked like a goose

in a rainstorm.”

She thought that was pretty funny. She liked to tease, and he didn’t seem to mind

as she did her favorite goose impression by lifting her nose to the sky and jutting her

head about.

“Very cute!”

“You deny it?”

He couldn’t resist her eyes, but he also couldn’t resist comparing her to Julie. He

had eaten sushi with her only a few nights earlier, but the chemistry was not the same.

It was more formal. She was gorgeous but not in the same class as Mae.

“I can’t deny the truth. We....” He stopped himself short, but again she filled in the

blank for him.

“You’ve dated. Don’t look shocked...I can tell. It’s okay, I don’t mind.”

He didn’t want to be pretentious, so he didn’t know how to address the issue.

Maybe she wasn’t interested in him; he didn’t know for sure. But as far as he was

concerned, he’d like more of this.

“We have to be very discreet, Mae. I don’t want to put Cody in any more

jeopardy.” He wondered when and how he could tell her about the Miranda issue. Still,

he was afraid.

“I know. I did tell Cody I was going to go eat with you. He was okay with that,

totally okay.”

“I thought he hated me,” Ray said, with a deeply concerned look.

“He did at first; but between you and me, Cody and I have talked a lot about what

is going on, the players and possible motives. We have come to the conclusion that you

are not on their side totally.”

“Is that why you asked me out, to see whose side I’m on?”

She didn’t expect such a man to show that vulnerability and insecurity. It was kind

of cute.

“Absolutely not. I asked you out because I could tell there was something special

about you from the first time we met. Look, if you have to testify or something, do it and

don’t feel bad. It’s your job. But I have noticed that the others don’t trust you on the

stand, or they would have put you there long ago. They have kept you in the dark and

out of sight.”

He started to explain, but she pressed her manicured fingers to his lips. “Shhhh,”

she whispered. “Don’t say anything. You don’t have to defend yourself with me. I can

see it. I’m not stupid.” She moved her face closer to his as if to seal the silence.

“Excuse me, ma’am.” The waiter paused to place her plate where her arm was.

“Sir...enjoy your meal. May I get you anything else?” he asked, looking between the two.

“Another glass of blush, please,” she requested.

“Me, too.” His first glass made him a smooth happy. He liked the feeling;

however, he wondered if this next one would be the intoxicating glass of alcohol that

would free his tongue to Mae’s impending interrogation.

He picked up his crab crackers, and she quickly grabbed them from him.

“Allow me to prepare your first bite.”

She grabbed the biggest section of leg from her own plate, cracked it with her

hands only, pulled out a complete piece of meat and dipped it in squeezed lime juice,

then butter. She held the crab to his mouth until he opened it.

She gently, sexually, placed the meat on his ready tongue and brushed her fingers

on his lips, the butter making them shine brashly enough for her to want to taste them.

“You like?” she moaned.

“Both. I think I like you better than the crab.” He studied her face. This time her

eyes didn’t remind him of Julie. Nothing about her reminded him of Julie anymore.

Her lips were full and shaped like a little heart. He would have liked to feed her

too, but would feel stupid copying her move. He just slid over a dish of shrimp scampi.

“Some garlic stuffs?” he asked, trying to be cute.

“You mean before our first kiss? Why not?”

Damn, she did it again. She beat him to the punch. She had stayed one step ahead

of him the whole night. He would have to make a move before she did, or send back

his card of official manhood.

“No. After that kiss.” He closed the small gap between them with his lips. She put

down her fork and touched the back of his neck, pulling him closer, as she extended

their kiss past his intentions.

The butter on their lips made them slide deeply into one another, both wanting

more of each other.

They pulled apart but only less than a millimeter, as they breathed each other’s

breath and again sank into one another’s mouths.

Ray had forgotten about telling her of the Miranda issue for the time being. When

he suddenly remembered, he didn’t want to waste the moment. He was even unsure if

she’d continue to see him if he gave her such valuable information.

He scolded himself inside for thinking like that. How could he put his own selfish

desires above the life and future of a bright young kid who had been through so much

already? How? He was still considering the consequences. Perhaps he should wait. After

all, she was not using him for anything.

The kiss wasn’t about Cody or murders. It was about him and Mae as they enjoyed

mutual admiration, the kind neither had felt so purely in years.

“I’ll be discreet. I promise, Ray.”

“Thanks.” He wondered how she knew exactly what to say every time. It was

starting to make him a bit paranoid. Could she read his mind?

“Whew! Mae, you are just perfect, as perfect as the dinner this evening.” His

paranoia quickly faded to soft, utter content. He’d surrender himself to her now for

whatever she wanted, however she wanted it, and wherever she wanted it. He would

surrender to her touch, her flavor, and her heart.

She felt the same about him. For now, they would just feel. She couldn’t imagine

letting him get too close too fast, if she had allowed herself to think.

Chapter 23

The middle of November brought showers to Memphis, not the exciting cloudburst kind

you find in the West, but boring showers that lasted for days at a time. The entire city

had dreary, gray cloud cover, with relentless drizzle. Everything was wet. Halloween

was usually the night that marked the turning point in temperature year after year. It

seemed twenty degrees colder than it was a month before.

McDale called a meeting with Don Stewart, Julie Flowers and Captain George. The

hour was early, so she had ordered two dozen doughnuts and kept them warm by

setting them on top of a radiant heater until everyone’s arrival.

They were all on time. Julie Flowers had known George was going to be there, so

she dressed to kill. Her skirt was an inch shorter than the one she wore the last time

he had seen her, and her makeup was perfectly applied.

McDale began the discussion. “Thanks for coming. I have news. Don, would you

like to share it with the others?” She acted as if she was getting a raise or if someone

had won the lottery, but it was just legal status on the Brikker case.

“Certainly, Chris.”

No one had heard anyone call her Chris in the presence of a crowd. Julie looked

at Captain George, thinking, Are they getting married? She laughed internally, just

barely cracking a smile.

“We have just been informed that Cody Brikker has elected a trial by judge. He

probably thinks that the judge is more intelligent and compassionate than an unknown

jury. Either that, or they know something we don’t know.” He and McDale looked

around the room accusingly.

Captain George felt a guilty lump in his stomach. For the past few days he had

enjoyed his time with Mae more than anything he had ever remembered in his life, but

he knew it was on the unprofessional side. He wondered if anyone knew of their time


Agent Stewart continued, “The trial is set for mid-December.”

“Before Christmas?” George countered with cynicism.

“It’s not like you have a family to spend time with, Captain,” Julie joked.

He didn’t take it as a joke. Cody and Aunt Mae were starting to feel like family, and

he was fighting it because of the situation.

“No, actually, I was thinking about Cody’s family.” The room went silent.

“The bench scheduled the trial; we didn’t. We only have less than a month to

prepare. I need to see who we have on board and who we don’t.” She spoke with the

authority of her position as the U.S. Attorney.

Still, everyone remained quiet, just nodding in affirmation.

George was thinking about the Miranda issue. Everyone in that room knew about

it, but no one brought it up. He glanced at Julie Flowers. She was the only one, the only

hope for support with that issue. She didn’t return his look.

“Is there anything that hasn’t been discussed?” McDale asked.

She didn’t give them very much time to answer. She just continued to talk. “We

have to make a public statement about vigilantism. Young men just can’t go around

shooting their parents.”

George couldn’t remain quiet. “Does that mean a twelve-year-old kid has to be the

sacrificial lamb in the name of a political statement?”

“Captain George, you seem to have quite the compassion for the boy.” It was more

of an interrogation than a statement.

“I’d be dead if I didn’t,” he declared.

“Are you trying to get at something?” she asked, redirecting her inquiry.

“No. Not at all, but I do think you need to be very careful about the water you

tread upon, if you want the public to gobble your ideologies.”

“Gobble? That’s such a strong word, Captain. Maybe you should consider your

career. People tend to remember those who choose to do the right thing.”

The tension heated, and George was drop-jawed at her misguided sparring. He

just stared off into a void during the rest of the meeting as she outlined her plans of


The doughnuts lost their taste.


Julie caught up to Captain George in the parking lot. She didn’t mind her wet hair; she

wanted to thank him for not mentioning the Miranda violation in the case. “I just hope

like hell it doesn’t come out on the stand. We would really get screwed.”

Her self-absorption made him sick. “On the other hand, a boy might not spend

the rest of his life in prison,” he challenged.

“I’d hate to be the judge on this case,” she admitted in an attempt to win his

attention back.

“I wouldn’t mind; then I could get to the bottom of this crap. Julie...really, I

wouldn’t mind.”

As the rain continued to drip, he pulled an umbrella from his car and escorted

Julie to hers. Still, he questioned his own sanity.

“Most men wouldn’t think of being such a gentleman for me, maybe because they

are intimidated by the FBI badge.”

He thought that it was one of her redeeming qualities, a beauty and a beast all

wrapped up into one, but he didn’t say it.

Her eyes tried to capture his. She had felt the sexual tension of sorts before and

couldn’t understand why she couldn’t ignite it now.

He helped her into her Audi sedan. Weeks before they may have kissed there for

the first time, but not now. To the captain her beauty was being outweighed by her

calculating mind. Indeed, she could not compare to the passion of life he had found

in Mae.

His confusion grew deeper as he thought about how he had spent all that time

with Mae and never told her about the Miranda deal. He struggled with the

complications. What would be professional? What wouldn’t? How much should he tell

her? He felt he shouldn’t give inside information, but could hardly live with himself

since he hadn’t. He realized why he shouldn’t have gotten so emotionally involved.

Julie tried her freshest innocent look, like a daughter, asking Dad for gas money,

but he was far too distracted to notice. He winked at her and shut her door.


Still in McDale’s office, Don Stewart gathered some paperwork she prepared for him.

He neatly placed the papers, in order of his intended reading, in his briefcase. He

thought about Julie Flowers.

He had started gathering signatures for Agent Flowers’ campaign for a Tennessee

State Senate seat. She could provide him with much needed political contacts for his

future in the FBI.

Agent Stewart’s field supervisory slots had awarded him valuable experience in the

management levels within the FBI, but his options were exhausted for promotion. He

would have to make a lateral move. However, he wanted to make the right one, the

move that would get him near the White House in minimal time. He wasn’t yet certain

which appointment he wanted; there were plenty to choose from.

Agent Stewart viewed the Brikker case as an opportunity to make a political

statement. If he got it right with the public, he could focus the spotlight of success on

Julie; on the other hand, if he met with disaster, he could distance her from the


To him, it was a win-win situation. He knew public reaction would be big. If it was

big in support, he’d hit a home run for the Flowers campaign. If not, nothing would be


Nevertheless, he had no interest in explaining this to Julie or anyone else. He

couldn’t afford to expose such a hidden agenda.

Stewart knew Captain George wasn’t privy to the Flowers campaign, so he’d never

guess the motive; but he was highly concerned that George wasn’t much of a team

player. He didn’t want George to expose any of the case’s flaws along the way.

For now, he’d ensure that he and McDale kept information on a need-to-know

basis, with George for one reason and with Flowers for another.


Chapter 24

Ray was “beeming” down the road with Mae. She coined that term because Ray drove

a “Beemer.” Even if he weren’t sporting a BMW, he’d still be beaming just to be with

her, he said to her once. Of course, it sounded like a childish pun, and it was, but he

got silly around her. He did things he never thought he’d do. He said things without

regard to his male ego.

He played her a CD he had made of his favorite Sarah Brightman hits. He loved

Brightman; she was his favorite singer by far.

Mae had never heard of Sarah, so Ray explained her credits, and the fact that she

used to be married to Andrew Lloyd Webber. His favorite song of all time was playing,

“Deliver Me.” Its score had been used in commercials, though he often had to play it

for someone for them to recognize the title.

She didn’t know where he was taking her for the evening; all she knew was that

it was supposed to be very special. Maybe more crab. What could be more special than

replaying what brought them their first taste of each other?

He went on and on about Brightman, she thought, in an attempt to keep her from

asking too many questions about the coming evening. He told her how Sarah sang his

favorite song, his favorite bridge in a song, and his favorite movement in a song, on and


“Damn, do you love anything as much as you love Sarah? You have told me

everything about her, including what she wears on stage.”

“Well, I’ve loved her for a long time, but I’m beginning to replace my fantasies of

her. Do you sing?” That kind of talk was just what she wanted to hear, unconditional

love. She noticed that the words to Sarah’s song, “Deliver Me,” were words that related

so well to her meeting Ray. He was delivering her out of her darkness, unhappiness,

and loneliness. She couldn’t help feeling a little guilty that meeting Ray was at Cody’s

expense, because she still loved him more than anything. She even had thoughts of Ray

late at night.

Ray was also getting into the words for the same reason. Of course, he wasn’t

surprised by the words. It seemed he had sung the song several thousand times. He had

worn out dozens of Sarah Brightman CDs. He called her his American Express – he

never left home without her. As far as he was concerned, there was no singer,

anywhere, like Brightman. Her little-girl voice, followed by such rich, pure, trained

tones put her a step above any singer he could think of, and he wasn’t afraid to share

his feelings, either.

Downtown Memphis was a bit busy as they approached the Memphis Pyramid,

located right off the riverbank, just north of the federal building. He tried to come in

the back way as to consciously avoid federal-building memories.

As they rounded the corner, Mae knew what was going on when she saw the giant

Pyramid marquee with Sarah Brightman’s name in lights.

Ray’s night had just begun. He hoped she’d like it as much as he would.

Chapter 25

Cody waded through his thoughts as Mr. Cantinelli, Aunt Mae, Emily and he entered the

square in front of the federal courthouse. The mob of people, awaiting their arrival, was

overwhelming. National reporters from CNN, FOX, and MSNBC all had trucks and vans

lining the streets. It was a scene none of them could have expected on that warm

December day.

The sun was peering sideways from the east through the tall sky. The fog on the

Mississippi River had all but lifted, leaving only wisps of tiny clouds scattered under the

bridge. Most days, at that time of year, the heat wasn’t enough to dissipate the fog until

later in the morning.

Cindy Banks knew the courthouse steps well. She had already claimed her prime

territory where she knew they’d have to funnel down to enter the building. Mr.

Cantinelli, Aunt Mae, Cody, and Emily hadn’t seen her since Cody entered his plea to the


Cindy was the first to shove her microphone into their faces.

“Mr. Cantinelli, this is the trial of the youngest person ever to be charged with

murder in the federal court. Do you think he’ll win?” she asked, almost jogging to keep

up with Cantinelli’s lead.

“Mr. Cantinelli....”

“Mr. Cantinelli....”

Several reporters hit them with questions all at the same time, drowning out each

other in a sea of mumble.

“Will he win?” Cindy insisted.

Punching through the crowd, Mr. Cantinelli said, “I’ll be happy to talk after the

trial. The fate of my client is in the hands of the court, and an experienced, competent


“Is your client facing the death penalty?” someone shouted.

“The issues are too complex to be tried in the court of public opinion,” Cantinelli

hollered. “We’ll talk later.” The courthouse doors blocked the sound of the reporters

sending feed back to their shops. A line through the metal detectors was eased by

everyone’s cooperation. Emily’s parents drove separately and met Emily there. After

much discussion, they decided to support Emily at the trial on its first day, at least.

Cody excused himself to the restroom, leaving his crew in the hallway outside the

courtroom. Many times before he had felt like throwing up, and this time he couldn’t

hold it. His stomach heaved and heaved as he cleared it of its contents into the toilet

bowl. He wished he had his toothbrush with him. It would be nice to clean himself

when the retching stopped, he thought.

After several minutes, Mr. Cantinelli decided to check on Cody when he hadn’t


He walked into the restroom to find Cody rinsing his mouth at the sink.

“How you doing, kid?”

“Not so well, sir.” He looked up with drool on his chin.

Cantinelli knew what was going on; he’d seen it more than a few times in his

career. “Hey, I used to get that nervous just trying cases as a lawyer,” he shared.

“I could get death.” Cody’s eyes dimmed.

“That’s not going to happen, Cody.” The lawyer tried to assure him, but wondered

how long Cody had pondered that realization.

“What’s the alternative, LIFE?”

That was a juxtaposition Cantinelli had no good answer for, but he thought it was

shockingly creative on Cody’s part.

Cody grabbed some paper towels that were stacked on the counter and dried his

face and hands. He tossed the used paper in the trash.

Cantinelli reached down and put his hand on Cody’s shoulder, and they left the

room together.

“You know, Cody, you have guts, more guts than any teenager I’ve ever seen. I am

proud to represent you.”

“How far will my guts get me with the butcher?” Cody asked, referring to Judge


“I don’t know, Cody, but we’ll just do our best. That’s all we can do. We have a

real good shot with her. I’ve known her to be surprisingly understanding.”

“I hope so, Mr. Cantinelli. I don’t want to go to prison. Aunt Mae is my only family

left. She is like my mom, and I don’t want to leave her. Please don’t let that happen.”

Cody fought back tears in order to live up to his lawyer’s “gutsy” label, but all he really

wanted to do was cry, especially when he saw his aunt in the hallway.


Judge Bucher never cracked a smile as she opened the trial. Her opening comments

were brief, much like a boxing referee. She could have just said, “Keep the fight clean;

no hitting below the belt.”

Christine McDale had an entourage of persons sitting with her, including Julie

Flowers, but Captain Raymond George was conspicuously missing. After searching the

room, Cody found him sitting two rows in back of his aunt and the Chees.

“Your Honor,” McDale opened. “During every phase of this case, Cody Brikker

has not denied killing his parents. He has only contested that he did so in the first

degree, and not a lesser degree. The People will prove to the court that Cody

Brikker...that this young man carefully planned to kill his parents, that he carried out

the plan...and that he continued criminal activity after the murders, which contributes

to motives not in congruence with his own statements. Mr. Brikker slaughtered his

parents in cold blood, then robbed them for money. His actions classified him as an

animal that needs to be locked up, in the interest of justice and public safety.”

 Aunt Mae asked herself how such things could be said about her nephew five

minutes into the trial – all lies, all fabrication and exaggeration.

McDale peered at the audience as if it were a jury to impress, and then sat down

next to her assistant.

“Mr. Cantinelli, if you will,” the judge said, motioning for him to begin his opening

statements, and then sharply looked back down. She listened with her ears, often not

her eyes. Her lack of eye contact left her looking disinterested. Mr. Cantinelli had to

pretend he was talking to an attentive and interactive audience.

“If it please the court, my client, Cody Brikker, is accused of murder in the first

degree, the worst kind. In order to find someone guilty of the worst kind of crime, it

must be committed in the worst kind of way. We will demonstrate that Cody did not

murder his father, but only defended himself from further torture and abuse at his

father’s hand. We will also show that his mother’s death was accidental, not planned,

and therefore not murder.

“In essence, we have a self-defense action and an accident, nothing more, nothing


He was proud of the concise nature of his statement, marked with brevity of

expression and void of elaboration and superfluous detail, just as he had learned in law

school decades earlier. It was a textbook opening that bowed the heads of the


McDale’s first marked evidence was Section 1111 of the United States Criminal

Code. It read:

SECTION 1111: Murder

(a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice

aforethought. Every murder perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or any

other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing or

committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, any arson,

escape, murder, kidnapping, treason [...] burglary, or robbery [...] the

murder is first degree.

(b) Whoever is guilty of murder in the first degree shall be punished by

death or by life imprisonment.

With FBI Supervisor Don Stewart on the stand, McDale started her questioning.

“Agent Stewart, according to your interview with Cody Brikker shortly after his original

detainment, did you establish how Mr. Brikker and Mrs. Brikker met their death?”

“Yes, Cody said that he shot them both – his father first, then his mother.” He

flexed his finger, firing an imaginary gun, twice.

“At any time did Cody Brikker say if the shootings were spontaneous or spur of

the moment?” She guarded her words carefully.

“He said that early in the morning he sneaked into the garage and retrieved his

hunting shotgun from a gun cabinet, then loaded it. He said he was careful not to be

heard by his father.”

“Why did he not want to be heard?”

“He said...I’m not totally certain, but he did say he was quiet so that his plans

wouldn’t be interrupted.”

“I see, what plans?”

“He had planned to sneak into the den and kill his father when he came in.”

“Is that what happened?” she asked.

“According to Cody’s statement, yes. We also have a stack of forensic evidence to

support those facts.”

“So, this young man ‘lay in wait’ to kill his father with a firearm?”

“Yes, ma’am. That’s what our evidence shows.”

Mr. Cantinelli quickly stood up. “Objection. The prosecution is trying to unduly

influence the court with her prejudicial descriptions of Cody Brikker. He is not a ‘young

man’; he is a boy!” His voiced was raised in anger. He shot a thin line of saliva when

he finally rested his jaw at the end of his statement.

The judge responded, “Mr. Cantinelli. I thought we covered this last time we met.

If you continue to distract from the evidence with such matters, this is going to be a

long day. Might I warn you, long days make me cranky.”

Her warning was stern, and he was forced to back down. But McDale thought

about saving the phrase for later and sprinkling it into her act from time to time. Not

only to jab at Mr. Cantinelli but also to emphasize her opinion that Cody Brikker was

old enough to take man-sized punishment for his crime.

“After Cody Brikker lay in wait to murder his parents, did he perpetrate any other

crimes against them?”

“Yes, he did. He robbed his father’s body of his wallet. He used an ATM card to

illegally obtain funds from his father’s bank. He used those funds for personal gain.”

“Mr. Stewart, what evidence did you obtain to lead to that conclusion?” Asking this

question would allow her to put the evidence in front of the judge more than once,

driving her point home.

“I obtained bank statements, documenting the amount of money taken from his

father’s bank account after his death. I have a statement from a store cashier,

identifying Cody as a young man with wads of cash. And I have video surveillance tapes

that show Cody making a withdrawal from his father’s account shortly before

purchasing goods from said cashier, and again on the next day. Plus, I have Cody’s

tape-recorded statement confessing to said robbery.”

“I should think that would be enough to convince me,” McDale said as she

stepped toward her seat, waving to Cantinelli to take over her witness.

Cantinelli slowly looked over the witness, wanting to change his original line of

cross-examination plans, but he didn’t.

“Agent Stewart, when you first saw Cody, did you notice any bruises on his face or



Chapter 26

The entire city of Memphis was aware of the trial. The judge had received hundreds of

cards and letters, both supporting Cody and condemning him. The population of the

mid-South area, to include parts of Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, were all

awaiting the results of the trial.

That morning a conservative talk show in Little Rock, Arkansas aired a special on

teens convicted as adults. The moderator had two guests, including a conservative,

right-wing congressman, and a left-wing ACLU secretary.

“Why is the American Civil Liberties Union so concerned with the outcome of this

case?” the congressman prodded.

“We have received thousands of comments regarding the Brikker case. There has

never been a child as young as Brikker to be tried as an adult in a federal murder. Just

this trial alone sends red flags that shine brighter than the red, white, and blue I


“Oh, horse poo. Cody Brikker is a murderous young man. Letting him go...,” he


“I was talking, Congressman; please let me finish. I defended this country with

twenty-two years of my life. Through one major war and two other smaller conflicts, I

fought. I fought to defend the rights of each American, adults and children alike. This

child was beaten. He watched his mother be beaten. It’s sick to think about what he

went through.”

“So, he should just shoot everyone he is sick of?” the congressman added.

“I didn’t say that. I said it was sick to think what he went through.”

“So, when someone is sick of something, he should kill it.”

“Obviously, Congressman, you are not listening....”

“Oh, I’m listening. And I don’t like what I’m hearing.”

“Perhaps, sir, it is because you hear what you want to hear and then fill in the rest,

like a lot of your constituents do.”

“Gentlemen,” countered the moderator. “This is turning into a personal attack.

Can we please stick to the topic?” Actually, he was obligated to redirect. He actually

preferred the personal fights, and so did the viewers.

“Sorry,” said the secretary. “The Cody Brikker case is setting a bad standard. We

have laws that legally set the age for what an adult is and what a child is. Should we

keep changing that just because we think someone needs more punishment?”

“As a congressman, I realize that a nation is a living, breathing organism. It needs

to grow and mature according to its needs. If we never changed laws, we’d still be

arrested for spitting on the sidewalk, or we would still chop off hands of thieves, or we

would still have public lynching of ‘Negroes,’ like me. I’d never have overcome my

blackness to serve my country as a congressman if laws didn’t change, just because I’m


“So, now this is a race issue?” his opposition gibed.

“No, but I guarantee you that if Cody were black, we wouldn’t be sitting here

discussing this today,” he maintained.

“Sir, the ACLU has protected the rights of all citizens. You forget, we are one of the

largest supporters of racial rights in the country...what are you suggesting?”

“I’m suggesting that it’s usually okay for a young white boy to commit violent acts,

and it’s swept underneath the public’s eyeshot. But, on the other hand, black crime

needs to be punished. If Mr. Brikker were black, society would be scared and would

want him put where he couldn’t ever use a gun again.”

The secretary was appalled at the congressman’s attitude and inability to stick to

an argument of logic.

“Your words betray you, Congressman, and they betray your public. You simply

can’t argue that Cody needs to be punished as an adult because you think the public

favors white criminals over black.”

“A statement has to be made, Mr. Secretary!” he yelled into the camera.

“Yes, but the RIGHT statement needs to be made so that rights of all people are

protected. You need to stop segregative thought by not promoting it through more

segregative thought.”

The secretary wasn’t sure if his words came out right or even meaningfully, past

a simple-sounding phrase, which could be interpreted many ways. He didn’t care to

elaborate. He was frustrated that anyone could want to hang a child for protecting


“Thank you both for being here as my guests,” the moderator intoned and turned

to the camera. “We’ll have more on the progress of the Brikker case as it unfolds.”


Public commentary about the case came in many forms, including blogs, podcasts, and

even entire web sites. Most outlets were devoted to Cody’s treatment within the justice


The list of special interest groups arguing about the case seemed endless as it

went nationwide. Even late-night talk shows had monologue jokes concerning the

incompetence of the government and how it applied law.

One talk-show host asked, “How many U.S. Attorneys does it take to screw in a

light bulb?” After a moment of silence, he answered for the audience, “It really doesn’t

matter. The government needs to conserve its energy for the electric chair.”

 Chapter 27

Like the talk show, the gallery in the courtroom was divided. Friends and supporters

showed their contempt for the prosecution through their facial expressions, and wished

they could be more vocal. The reporters just took notes.

In the corner, an artist had a canvas and a stack of pastels. She drew the

proceedings and the witnesses as they appeared. She was a graphic artist for several

small companies, but courtroom art was her paid passion. She tried to capture all the

emotion in “snapshots of time,” as she called them.

Agent Stewart took a deep breath. “Yes, I saw bruising on Mr. Brikker’s face, Cody

Brikker, that is.”

“Did you know what that bruising was from?” asked Cantinelli.

“Can’t say as I did.”

He knew the witness was lying, and there wasn’t a thing he could do except

redirect that question.

“In your investigation, did you come across any evidence that Cody’s father had

physically abused him at any time?”

“The only direct evidence I have of Cody’s abuse is his own personal statement,”

he responded, carefully auditing his own words.

“At the time you saw bruises on Cody’s face, Cody made a statement that his father

abused him. Is it reasonable to assume that Cody could have been telling the truth

about his father hitting him?”

“It could be true, but you’d have to ask a witness, an expert witness qualified to

speculate if it is reasonable to assume he was telling the truth.”

“Thank you, I have no further questions.”

Cantinelli stormed to his chair and squinted the judge’s way.


Again, witnesses were called to support the evidence suggested by Agent Stewart, and

as in the transfer hearing, Mr. Cantinelli asked them all about the bruising on Cody’s

face. They all agreed that he had bruising, though no one had witnessed his father’s


When McDale called Dr. Schwartz to the stand, Mr. Cantinelli asked to approach

the bench. Both sides were asked to approach.

“Your Honor, I ask that the evidence from the psychiatrist be suppressed.”

“On what grounds?” Bucher inquired.

“The evidence details information protected by doctor/client privilege. In the

transfer hearing, the doctor’s entire testimony was based on conversations she had with

Cody that were not regulated or even audited by defense counsel. The evidence is highly


“Chrissy?” the judge prompted.

McDale wasn’t going to budge on this one. She was prepared to keep her witness

list intact. She had planned her whole trial around the constant, uninterrupted flow of

witnesses. Any disruption could undermine the logic of her case. She’d have to skip

around in an attempt to bring continuity back to her strategy.

“Your Honor, the court assigned Dr. Schwartz to examine Cody.”

“Yes, but only in evidence of determining his transfer hearing verdict, Your

Honor,” Cantinelli added.

Judge Bucher addressed McDale. “He is right. This witness was assigned by my

court to examine Cody’s maturity level, intelligence, and ability to understand the

charges brought against him. It would be outside the scope of my original intention to

allow her to testify on his criminal intent.”

“I understand that, Your Honor,” McDale responded, desperately arguing her

cause. “But I’m only going to ask her about his ability to plan and carry out his actions

and whether he knows right from wrong.”

“Mrs. McDale, you did all that in your transfer hearing. There is no need to repeat

it here today. I’m not allowing Dr. Schwartz to testify; no further discussion is needed.

Got it?”

Mr. Cantinelli triumphantly returned to his seat, as the doctor was dismissed from

the witness stand. He watched McDale squirm in her chair, looking for her next


“What happened, Aunt Mae?” asked Emily.

“I think Mr. Cantinelli just got that psychiatrist woman disqualified somehow.”



The prosecution finally rested, and Mr. Cantinelli took control of the courtroom lineup,

leaving McDale not as happy as she would have liked to be. His victory concerning Dr.

Schwartz certainly upset her confidence as much as her flow.

His first witness was a personal friend of Cody’s father, First Sergeant Mike


The large, almost obese man sat in authoritative Army dress. His “fruit salad,” the

mess of ribbons above his pocket, represented decades of service. His medals on the

other side of his pressed jacket showed him off as an expert rifleman and grenade

tosser. The diamond between the chevrons and rockers indicated his status rank.

“First Sergeant, how long did you know Cody’s father, Mr. Brikker.”

“I knew Staff Sergeant Brikker for ten years.”

“In those ten years, did you ever have occasion to witness him showing abusive

tendencies toward his family or anyone else?”

“Brikker had a big temper,” he responded, bowing his head, then looking back

up. “He once got frustrated with a trainee, a young buck sergeant, new to his recruiting

detail. He slapped the trainee with the back of his hand in a restaurant right in front of

a new ‘fish.’” He gestured what a backhand was.

“Fish?” Mr. Cantinelli was legitimately surprised at the term.

“Yes, fish, that’s what we call a potential recruit on the hook.”

“So, what happened?”

“Sergeant Brikker was written up and had to attend anger-management training,

as well as sensitivity training, because the trainee he slapped was a young, black


“What was the outcome of his training?”

“He went six months without another incident. Then he grabbed a junior non-com

and threw him to the ground. Brikker said the non-com disrespected his authority, but

I never really got a straight answer from either of them. I had to put Brikker on formal

administrative probation.”

“Did Brikker ever tell you anything about his personal life, anything that stood


“Yes. During all of this, he confided in me that he hits...well, did hit his wife and

boy. He said he wasn’t proud, but just couldn’t help it. He said he was surprised that

the Department of Human Services hadn’t investigated him yet. He knew that Cody’s

school must have seen what was going on. He asked for help before anything drastic


“When did this conversation take place, Sergeant?”

“One week before he was...before he lost his life.”

The courtroom full of people stared forward. All sound abated, as Cantinelli

prepared to turn his witness to the prosecution. McDale approached and asked,

“Sergeant Donaldson, did you ever see Sergeant Brikker hit anyone?”

“No ma’am,” he confessed, almost ashamed of accusing a dead man of misdeeds.

“No further questions.” She didn’t have any important questions for the sergeant

to refute his testimony, but it was good to always have the last say with a witness, even

if the admissions in her favor were minuscule.

Cantinelli’s approach, providing witness after witness concerning father Brikker’s

temper and confidential confessions about mistreating his wife and kids, was flawless.

He questioned all of his witnesses, including those brought in for expert testimony, with

the ease and precision of a fighter pilot dropping bombs down tiny air vents, thousands

of feet below his flight path.

The day was ending. All that was left were the closing arguments of both sides and

the judge’s verdict.

The artist’s last picture captured the entire audience on the edges of their seats,

wondering how Mr. Cantinelli was able to turn the process around. The artist used

bright colors for vivid emotion and clarity in the defense’s corner at the end of the day.

In her mind, her art symbolized the day’s struggles and the questions to be answered



That evening Aunt Mae and Cody spent special time together. Her sister, Cody’s mother,

was Mae’s idol growing up. She always had a kind word and helping hand, and her

sense of humor was the best. Mae felt appropriate in her guilt. Since her sister’s

murder, she had criticized herself daily, wishing she had done something to save her

sister and Cody.

“Cody, I want you to know I love you and am here for you. I told you that in the

beginning, but I mean it. I’m always here. I’m sorry I didn’t intervene before this all

happened. I just didn’t know what to do, just like you.”

“I know,” he simply said.

“I hurt for you. There is so much I probably don’t know about what was going on.

But what I did know was enough.”

He obliged her with information.

“Did Mom ever tell you that when I was ten, my father locked me in the closet for

three days?”

“No. Why on earth did he do that?”

“I was sick one day, and I vomited on the new carpet. He tied me to a chair in the

closet and left me. I had to use the restroom right there in my pants. I cried to him to

let me out because I was so hungry and it was dark. I was scared. I was there the whole

weekend. When I finally got out, I had a rash from where I peed on myself. I was wet

and stinky, and he made fun of me for pissing my pants. I itched for days. I’ll never

forget it.”

The story brought tears to Mae’s eyes. That was the first time she heard the story.

She had to change the topic before she lost it.

“I hope we made the right decision to go to trial and to have the judge do it alone.

But if anything goes wrong, we have appeals and things, I think.” Her confidence was

faded now that the excitement of Mr. Cantinelli’s last couple of hours had worn off.

“It’ll work out. Mr. C is good. Did you see how cool he was? He didn’t take any

crap, did he?” he blabbed.

“Nope,” she agreed. “He even kept that wench off the stand.”

“Yeah. Doctor ‘know-it-all’ had to go home early, benched from the game,” he


“Bet she had splinters in her butt, huh?” Aunt Mae joked. “She’s still picking ’em

out, I bet!” They shared a laugh and a few hugs. He fell asleep with her in her bed,

watching the news.

They saw coverage of the case, but it didn’t say much, and they had no idea just

how widespread the talk about their case was all day. They had no idea about the fact

that Cody Brikker was a household name within a few hundred miles, or about the

controversy that surrounded the case. They had only caught pieces of it, so far.

While sleeping, they were unaware that Mr. Cantinelli was reading and rereading

his notes from the day’s trial, looking for holes to attack, looking for his next bombing

target. He wouldn’t sleep; he couldn’t. Cody was too important to him. He didn’t even

try to go to bed; he forecast his own tossing discomfort. Cups of coffee would sustain

him to the next day.

In the conference room next to the courtroom, Mr. Cantinelli, Cody, and Aunt Mae

escaped the wind of the Memphis morning. The lawyer brought his own thermos of

coffee and offered some to Mae. She gracefully declined the offer.

“Today is the day. Judge Bucher will probably make her decision after closing

arguments. Because she is only deciding the mitigating nature of the case, essentially,

if you are found guilty, she could sentence you today, but not necessarily. Usually in the

federal system, the trial is one day and then the sentencing day is scheduled for another

time, and held separately. Your case is a bit different, as we are all learning.

“No matter what, you will, in all likelihood, be free to go home. Even if you are

sentenced, we’ll ask for your continued release while we prepare appeal.”

“Great,” Aunt Mae muttered.

Cody just looked through the walls, not wanting to hear anything less than going

home totally free.


The defense would close first in front of a very tired-looking Judge Bucher.

“We have presented evidence to this court to demonstrate the extreme mitigating

circumstances under which Cody Brikker had to live. His father continually beat his

wife while his son watched. He beat his son. He even struck fellow Army officers, for

which he was severely dealt with. It’s too bad his help came too little, too late. But this

is not about the failure of his rehabilitation; it is about a small boy defending himself

against the threat of terror. In an attempt to defend himself, he shot and killed his

father. He has never denied that. He has only justified it, but just in part.

“He is remorseful of the facts of that sad day, much of which he can’t remember

because of the trauma of the first pull of the trigger.

“In addition, we have demonstrated through the testimony of an expert witness

that Cody’s trauma-induced shock allowed him to black out and accidentally shoot his

mother, totally blocking all recollection of that event from his head.

“This case is sad, but it is not premeditated murder. It is simply an accident and

an admitted self-defense. This court cannot find any crime took place, more than that.”

Mr. Cantinelli slowly walked to his table in a dramatic effort to act out his regret.

He quietly sat, and patted Cody’s knee under the table, reassuring him.

McDale countered with her closing argument, which the judge would have to

consider in her verdict.

She spun a story of a wayward son, who, out of greed and self-indulgence,

murdered his mother and father, using his father’s abuse as his “get out of jail” card.

Not many in the courtroom were impressed with her cliché-filled close. In fact,

her arrogant posture during her argument turned most of the audience in favor of the

defense. She shot her own credibility in the foot.

As a summary, she argued, “Your Honor, if Cody is not dealt with appropriately

in this court, every kid in the country will have a license to kill. That’s simply not right.”

Judge Bucher had heard enough and instructed the court participants not to go

far for lunch. She was prepared to render a verdict in a couple of hours unless she had

further questions of either party in the case.

“Have a nice lunch. My office will call you when I’m ready to reconvene.” She

struck her gavel and exited the room, never turning her back fully to the court.


Chapter 28

Chopped barbecue wouldn’t have normally been their first choice for lunch, but it was

close and convenient, and it was said to be some of the best in Memphis.

The pork, which was marinated for three days, then slow-cooked in a mesquite

oven specially designed by old man Harvester himself, was shredded and chopped into

slivers and morsels of tastiness.

The meat was served on a fresh hamburger bun and topped with fresh coleslaw.

It was up to the eater to choose from five different BBQ and hot sauces. Cody liked his

with Louisiana Hot Sauce drenching the slaw. He inhaled the vinegary aroma as he bit

into his meal.

“I thought things went rather well,” Mr. Cantinelli told his clients. “But it is so

hard to tell with Judge Bucher.”

Mae complained, “I know, huh? She doesn’t even look at you when you talk. But

she did rule in our favor a couple of times.” Her eyes lit with hopefulness regarding the

grand ruling.

“Yes, she did. She is fair.... Well, let me put it to you this way: She does what she

‘thinks’ is fair.”

Aunt Mae’s cell phone danced to its distinctive ring, Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” She

and Cody had been experimenting with ring-tones together. They must have tried a

hundred of them. They’d put a different one on Aunt Mae’s phone each day. They’d

been doing that for three weeks. It was a lot of fun for them.

Emily was calling, wishing Cody luck, as she had already done a half dozen times

that day.

“Yes, dear, I’ll call you when the judge orders us back. Thanks for being there for


Just then, Mr. Cantinelli’s phone rang. It was the court clerk summoning them

back to the federal building. The judge would be ready in half an hour.

“Oh, wait.” Mae rushed her words into the phone. “It’s time to go back.” She had

read the mimed message Mr. Cantinelli acted out while talking to the clerk.

Just as well, since they had finished the last bites of their sandwiches. All they had

left to do was put their trash into the big plastic bins, without touching the little

swinging door with their hands. It was always fun for Cody to watch how many different

techniques people used when they shoved their trash into those containers at food



Their anxiety radiated as Cody looked back at his aunt and Emily. They all exchanged

looks with nothing left to say that hadn’t been said. Captain George resumed his seat

in back of Aunt Mae.

He tapped her on the shoulder, leaning over the not-yet-filled row between them.

“Good luck, Mae.”

She twisted her head back to look into his eyes, almost measuring his sincerity.

“Thanks Ray. I’m glad you are here.” She wished he could sit closer to her; she

needed him. They couldn’t demonstrate the intimacy they had shared these past few

weeks. There was no need to alert the U.S. Attorney to anything else she could use

against them. He was supposed to be the enemy.

Captain George, too, wished he could be beside her. He had fallen into a smitten

state of need with her. The more he got to know her, the more he loved what he

learned. He had never met anyone so simplistically pure who had so much going for

her. She was a woman who, through her nature, under-promised and over-delivered.

He liked that.

On their way into the building, hordes of people were carrying signs

demonstrating their views on the case. Two distinctive Catholic nuns had carried a

banner between them that read:

Unbind our children from double jeopardy – Domestic Abuse & Legal Abuse!

Those two nuns were now in the courtroom gallery, shooting looks of

encouragement and hope. The reporters filed in. The artist took her place again.

As notepads came out, seats filled to standing-room-only capacity.

The last one to enter the court was AUSA Christine McDale. She entered from the

back with minimal paperwork, as if she were planning a high-speed getaway back

through the entrance behind the bench.

She took her seat with confidence, more than she had when she left for lunch. She

looked as if she was trying to hide a secret, like a child who just wrapped his mother’s

birthday present.

The slovenly, chubby officer called the court to order. Bucher followed her

normal entrance routine, pulling herself close to her bench. Without looking, she

located the reading glasses that were dangling on her chest by a thin black cord around

her neck. She raised them to her face and wrapped them over her ears. They were two

clear half-moons, tied together with gilded wire. She peered over their rims, saying, “I

see we are all here.”

Then she looked toward the reporters. “At least those of us who count,” she

remarked, shooting a devilish smirk which broke the silence of the courtroom.

“Like I said in the beginning, this is a very important case to me. I’m not ruling

on whether a crime took place, as that was not contested. I’m not ruling on the age of

accountability, as that was previously ruled on in this court. I only have to apply the law

considering the circumstances of the case, and determine the culpability of the

accused. I’m ready to do that.”

She reshuffled some papers, refreshing her thoughts. “As much as I’d like all

young men to live happy, productive lives, that is simply not reasonable. This homicide

was, and remains, horrible.

“It has been shown to this court that Cody Brikker acted with premeditation and

carried out his plot utilizing deplorable tactics, such as stalking, lying in wait, and using

a firearm. Fortunately, the U.S. Criminal Code addresses such issues in Section 1111:

Murder. As evidenced, that section specifically names aforethought, malice, lying in

wait, premeditation, and willful, deliberate perpetration as tests of determining

culpability in murder in the first degree. Cody Brikker’s actions undeniably meet these

tests. I have no choice but to find Cody Brikker guilty of murder in the first degree.”

She paused as the courtroom gasped the remaining air. Scuffling was heard but

not readily seen. Everyone tried to remain under control.

She added, “Under the sentencing guidelines I have no choice but to sentence the

defendant to the mandatory minimum of life imprisonment. I do not, however, feel that

the death penalty is applicable in this case.

“Cody Brikker, the court sentences you to a term of life in prison for the first

degree murder of your father and a second term of life in prison for the murder of your

mother. In addition, the court sentences you to a term of 360 months imprisonment

for the ammunition used in the commission of the crimes. These sentences imposed

shall be served consecutively.”

Cody wondered exactly how that was supposed to work. How would he begin his

second life term once completing the first? Won’t I be dead? he thought. In his own

mind, the 360 additional months were just icing on a very sick cake.

His adjustment to jail life hadn’t been very much fun; he was shocked and

sickened at the thought of actual prison. He was a boy facing a situation that even

scared the hell out of full-grown men.

His eyes beamed out on the gallery of onlookers, but they never focused. He got

lost in confusion.

The judge continued, “You are now remanded into the custody of the United States

Marshals Service to begin the service of your sentence.”

Not feeling his legs underneath him, Mr. Cantinelli shot to his feet. “Your Honor,

the defense asks the court to let the defendant remain in the custody of his aunt while

we file our appeal. At such time the court deems his community custody inappropriate,

Cody will self-surrender to the marshals.”

“Mr. Cantinelli,” she explained without apology, “I find that inappropriate time

to be now. In the interest of public safety and social interest, this young man has just

been sentenced to life in prison. I can’t take any chances.”

He noticed that Bucher wasn’t looking at the defense table where he was standing,

but at the gallery, playing to the reporters.

The marshal was already by Cody’s side, handcuffs in hand. Emily screamed out

in pain when she witnessed the handcuffs move from the marshal’s hands to Cody’s


Mae stood, but her knees buckled. She staggered to sit back down, looking back

for Ray’s support, but he wasn’t there. Instead, she grabbed Emily in a desperate hug.

They watched as Cody was pulled from view.

Mae searched the courtroom for Ray George, but still didn’t see him. She

wondered if her legs would carry her without him. She saw Mr. Cantinelli with his

hands over his face, pressing his elbows onto the table.

She saw him peel his face from under his hands and mouth something to McDale,

but couldn’t read his lips. McDale understood. “It’s a damn travesty!” he had mouthed,

not affecting the empathy of the prosecutor. McDale just tilted her head to the right and

gave an “oh, well” rise of her taunting brows.

Mr. Cantinelli didn’t want to face Mae, not at all, but he knew he had to. He was

prepared to take whatever lethal venting she had for him. She probably couldn’t

chastise him more than he was already doing to himself. He focused his thoughts, to

figure out what he could have done for a better result. He had no answers.

The rumbling silence was broken when Judge Bucher slammed her chamber


Mae tried to wait for the trembling in her bones to leave with the hovering

reporters, but neither would. Both preyed on her devastating vulnerability of the


Mr. Cantinelli summoned the courage to gather his folders and walk back to Mae.

He sat next to her and slid close, trapping her between himself and Emily. “Let’s make

a break for it. Just try to ignore the reporters; I’ll handle them.” He wanted to sound

as light as possible to ease her aching soul but didn’t want to appear trite and uncaring.

Reporters did follow them down each hall and out into the weather in grand

fashion. They asked question after question, probing an empty wound without


“An appeal is being filed. A great injustice has been done here today!” Mr.

Cantinelli stood at the top of the courthouse steps as if proclaiming new law to his

peasants. “I will continue to fight for Cody’s justice until all legal means are exhausted.

Then I’ll fight with heart and soul to prevent this from happening to any other victim of

domestic violence.”

His statement was simple and clear, addressed for all to hear, even the masses of

supporters gathered in a picketing effort, each waving a sign symbolizing his own,

individual concerns. Not one opposing Cody could be seen in the streets. There were

no signs condemning him, no shouts supporting the court, only gatherers for Cody and

his family.

The tide of political favor ebbed against the courts, taking Cody adrift in its lonely

sea of legal subculture and undercurrents of revenge over rehabilitation.

 Chapter 29

Aunt Mae was invited to Emily’s house for dinner. Emily’s parents felt Mae’s anguish.

She accepted their invitation and agreed to eat later in the evening. When she

arrived, her face was shadowed with grief and regret. She had spent the afternoon lying

on her sofa, with her telephone ringer turned off. The one time her phone did ring, the

tone reminded her of Cody and their time together. She had burst into tears. Her only

remaining immediate family member had now left her alone.

As the Chees and Mae ate turkey soup made from frozen leftover Thanksgiving

turkey, they watched the ten o’clock news. Mr. Chee was an expert on turkey soup; he

was known for his tasty potion every holiday season.

The news ran a special report on Cody. The reporters had aired Mr. Cantinelli’s

statement atop the courthouse steps, as well as several interviews of citizens on the


“This @#$ damn country has become a @~it hole with all these #!@#ing

politicians cramming their @f$%ing 1/@!@ down everyone’s throats!” proclaimed a

man whose words were littered with editorial bleeps. His meaning came through,


Another citizen commented, “It’s a sad day when a boy is treated like an animal

by his father and society. What have we come to? As for his mother, I don’t feel sorry

for her; she didn’t help him any. She was a grown woman...his mother. I hope Cody

isn’t listening!”

Person after person cried out against the government, but the pundits were split

liberal versus conservative, right-wing versus left. The crossovers tended to support

Cody by a huge majority.

A little old lady demanded, “The bastards should be dug back up and shot

again...well, maybe not the mother.” Pointing her arthritic finger sideways at the

camera, she said, “I have a gun!”

Cody’s picture scattered the people watching the news like fallen leaves of autumn.

People argued and split, with a line not as identifiable as the Mason-Dixon.


Cody missed the newscasts while he was being processed into the Shelby County Jail.

Armbands were used to identify for the jailers what sort of inmate they were

dealing with – orange bands for regular inmates, blue bands for federal inmates, and

white bands for juveniles so that they could be separated from adults.

Ironically, Cody’s armband was white to mark him as a juvenile. He was taken

upstairs to be housed with mostly older teenagers. Most juvenile offenders his age were

not in the county jail but at a juvenile facility.

Most of the teenagers had watched the evening news.

The ugliest inmate said, “So you are a man now, eh? We’ll see what kind of a man

you are in here, mama killer.” His threatening look didn’t really intimidate the much

smaller, civil Cody. What could the boy do to him, beat him? That was nothing he hadn’t

been through a thousand times worse.

Cody was unaware of his public support. By judging the kids around him, he

guessed that he’d not be as much a celebrity as a point of contention. Prisoners were

just that way, usually. If anything could be spun to create anguish instead of peace, that

was what they were all about...no mercy. Cody knew this from all the cop shows he

used to watch.

Cody tried to distract himself by lying in his hard bunk and thinking about the last

time he and Emily spent together. They had surfed the Internet to find information on

execution methods. It was their playful way of dealing with his trial.

They had found lots of interesting things about beheadings, crucifixions,

electrocutions, garottes, gas chambers, hangings, lethal injections, and firing squads.

But their favorite, most intriguing topic was drawing and quartering. They learned

that in 1283 this form of capital punishment was carried out on Welsh Prince David.

Then it was used mostly in England to castigate for treason.

The condemned person was dragged to the execution site, then hanged by the

neck, but not until death. His life was spared so that he could be disemboweled, or

drawn alive. He was then forced to watch his own guts burned before him. After that,

his head was chopped off, and his body quartered, divided into four parts. Fortunately,

the last time this type of sentence was passed on two Irish Fenians in 1867, it was not

actually carried out. Still, Cody and Emily speculated as to what might have happened

to the Fenians instead.

While pondering the possibilities alone in his jail bunk, Cody fell asleep, against

his best judgment. He didn’t want an unexpected attack against him his first night in

jail. He wanted to bring some credibility to himself with the others before subjecting

his sleeping body to their will.


The Chee family talked with Aunt Mae about their personal outrage over the case, and

offered their assistance in whatever way possible. They had not realized the U.S.

Attorneys had such absolute influencing power over the courts. They didn’t realize that

judges were puppets, subjected to things such as mandatory minimums that didn’t

allow for common sense and judicial discretion. They were sickened.

“If we can do anything,” Mrs. Chee stressed, “let us know.” The whites of her eyes

separated her cocoa brown skin from her cocoa brown irises.

“I know what I’m going to do,” exclaimed Emily.

“And just what is that?” joked Aunt Mae, challenging her to spill her guts.

“I’m never going to stop loving Cody. I’m going to get him out, even if I have to go

to law school myself. I’ll see him free if it’s the last thing I do. I promise, on my mom’s


Quickly realizing what she had said, she backtracked. “Sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean

it that way.” Despite her mom’s reaction, they all got a chuckle out of her sincerity and

devotion to her friend.

Mae still secretly wondered why Captain Raymond George hadn’t returned her

phone calls. She wondered where he disappeared to so suddenly when court was

finished. She even, ridiculously, questioned if he was a spy for the prosecution, just

using her for critical information. She quickly dismissed those thoughts, but they kept

coming back.


Chapter 30

Cody’s father beat his mother to death, while Cody stood helplessly by. He couldn’t

move. His feet were stuck to the ground. He couldn’t help his mother. As with dreams

of frustration, Cody’s nightmare continued in an uphill battle, struggling to control his

body. Instead of finally helping his mother, he woke up, sweating from fear and


The jailer had called breakfast. The clock read 4:30.

“Why so early?” Cody questioned another inmate.

“Dude, they have twenty-five hundred cats to slop, then get ready for lunch. They

gots to start early.” The kid’s gold-capped grin didn’t do anything for his bad English

in Cody’s mind.

Plastic trays, each divided into four sections, held a piece of bread, one fried egg,

a small pile of fried potatoes, and a pack of grape jelly.

Cody only drank his little carton of milk. The rest was cold to the touch, so he

wiped his grease-stained finger on his orange jump suit and offered his tray to the

skinny, gold-toothed kid who was eager to take it.


Emily walked to school alone, until Dale Brown ran up to her from behind.

“I guess you’re mine now, girl.” He was only half joking.

“You are a jerk,” she accused.

She accidentally dropped one of her books when she switched arms. She had left

her backpack at school. Dale bent over to pick it up as she struggled a bit.

“I’ll get it myself,” she said. She didn’t want to accept anything from him.

He scampered behind her all the way to school, trying to apologize, but he was

met with deafness.


Mr. Cantinelli was trying to put the pieces of his mind back together again as he waited

in the early morning hours for Cody to answer his visit. He planned to console Cody and

let him know he was already working on an appeal based on the constitutionality of

trying him as an adult. He rightfully felt that the law was blatantly disregarded since

Cody was only twelve when the incident happened, not thirteen like the statute required.

The judge’s application of the theories of continuing criminal conduct and relevant

conduct was just too much of a stretch. He also felt that perhaps the appellate court

might be swayed by public opinion in their favor by the time the case was heard.


Captain George, on the other hand, was at his house. He planned to sleep all day. He

blamed himself for Cody’s conviction and sentence. After the trial and the judge’s

verdict, he couldn’t look Mae in the eyes, knowing what he had withheld from her, even

if it was professional etiquette to do so.

Ray was hiding from himself as much as he was from everyone else. He

considered himself no better than Julie Flowers and the other self-serving asses in the

FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office. He wondered if he could ever forgive himself. There were

so many things he had not been able to forgive himself for in the past.

He lived and suffered the feelings of inadequacy and culpability, though he might

have been blameless for those things out of his control. He identified with Cody’s

victimization. In fact, he questioned if he would be more mentally healthy had he taken

care of business like Cody did. His cowardliness forced the giant oak to do his dirty

work. He should have been more of a man, like Cody.

He struggled to get his mind around what was right and what was wrong, but every

thought clouded his brain like a filmy, dark splotch.

Even if he could forgive himself, could Mae?


Chapter 31

One month later, Emily had a sleepover at her house with her best girl friend, Jeanie

Scott, and two other girls. They were all decked out in their favorite cotton gowns with

funny cartoon-like pictures on them.

“So, how is Cody doing?” the redhead asked.

Emily explained, “He is being transferred to a juvenile holding facility in

Texarkana.” She grimaced.

“That’s pretty far away, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, too far.”

“What’s it like to have a killer for a boyfriend?” She made the question spooky

with her freckled, impish grin and white eye trimmings.

Jeanie looked at the girl as if she had just struck Emily in the face with a pair of


Emily made a quick excuse and ran out of the room. She found her mother in the


“What’s wrong, dear?” her mother asked.

She explained what the girl had said. Mrs. Chee tried to comfort her, but she

realized that Emily’s pain was more from the traumatic struggle and Cody’s memory

than the girl’s comments.

“I’m sure she didn’t mean any harm. Look, let me get the girls. You go plug in the

record player.”

Mrs. Chee had an old Sony turntable and a huge collection of old albums she was

often willing to share with guests.

The girls filed in, spreading themselves over the furniture, awaiting Mrs. Chee’s

DJ skills.

“I want you all to hear something.” Mrs. Chee put on a record, not music, but an

old Cheech and Chong comedy album. It was a bit bohemian for the girls, but she

thought the risqué humor could help them break the icy topic of Cody.

The girls laughed.

“Who did you say these guys are again, Mrs. Chee?” asked Jeanie.

“Cheech and Chong. They were a hit when I was a kid.”

The girls laughed at all the tracks, even ones they didn’t fully understand. One

track was about marijuana, something called Acapulco Gold.

Another track was their famous skit, about “Dave” at the door. The girls asked if

their stuff was out in CD yet. Mrs. Chee had no idea if it was or not.

“Hey, I have an idea,” prompted Mrs. Chee, sitting cross-legged on the floor like

a teenager, looking just about as fresh. “Why don’t we make some ‘bologna folds’?”

“What’s that, Mom?”

“A bologna fold is made by frying a piece of bologna, then folding it up and

throwing it between two slices of bread!”

The girls insanely giggled at the absurdity and simplistic nature of the bologna

fold. They could have guessed what it was.

The girls were finally having a great time, and so was Mrs. Chee. They ate bologna

folds. Heck, they had to after such a great introduction of the savory feast. Mustard was

the way to go with bologna folds, the girls agreed.

Those were two classic trends of the seventies they learned at the party, Cheech

and Chong, and bologna folds. They planned a repeat event sometime soon.

Intermittent with her fun, Emily escaped to thoughts of Cody. She had been able

to visit him only once, due to the restrictive visiting schedule at the jail, but Mr.

Cantinelli was good about keeping her up to date. She had the lawyer’s cell number just

in case, but she seldom used it because she knew he was a busy man. She respected

his time.

On her visit with Cody, she had to take her dad. She wasn’t allowed to visit on her

own because she was a minor. She enjoyed the visit but didn’t feel she could talk as

freely in the presence of her dad as she could have if her mother would have been with

her. She was just annoyed because there was no privacy, not that she had anything

earth-shattering to share. It was just that she didn’t like the monitoring.

Mr. Cantinelli didn’t like it either, according to what he shared with Emily. Twice

he was denied his attorney visit, even though he carried his Tennessee bar card with

him. Both times it was for a different, flaky reason, in his opinion. She thought it was

awful how a prisoner couldn’t even see his attorney any time he wanted, and also awful

that it was so restrictive.

The entire system turned out not to be what she had believed it was in her thirteen

years of life, not like the movies at all. What she was unaware of was that the majority

of adults were just as shocked.

The girls decided to sleep in the living room in one big pile. “Lying in a pile” was

what they called it, sort of like a litter of kittens curled up around each other, but

hoping they wouldn’t wake up with a foot in their face...or worse.

 Chapter 32

The ride with the U.S. Marshals Service – down Interstate 40 from Memphis,

Tennessee, to Little Rock, Arkansas, then Interstate 30 to Texarkana, Arkansas – wasn’t

very eventful. Cody didn’t know what to expect when he got to his new home.

It had taken him several days to overcome the outward hostility of the inmates in

the jail. He might have to start the process all over again. He longed for stability; too

much change was sawing on his nerve endings.

In U.S. Marshals fashion, Cody was shackled with an eighteen-inch chain between

his ankles. He also wore a waist chain, through which handcuffs were run. The waist

chain was loose enough that he could rub his nose, but too tight to scratch the top of

his head. That didn’t stop him from trying a few times, though.

A man drove while a female officer sat in the back of the caged van with her lone


“What’s your name?” asked Cody, gathering his nerve to speak after the last hour

and a half.

“Marshal Patricia,” she responded with a soft, clear voice. She hadn’t smoked her

whole life like the many other raspy-sounding female officers Cody had met.

“I’m Cody Brikker.”

“I know who you are. I have your file, remember? I also saw you on TV for several


“Really? You saw me?”

“Well, once, when you were walking into your trial. The other times I just saw

your picture during news broadcasts.”

His self-awareness was eased when she told him she felt awful about what

happened. She really did sympathize with him. A lot of people did.

“So what are you going to do in prison?”

“I’m going to keep singing. I’m a rapper, you know.”

“I didn’t know that. Are you good?”

“People say I’m the best.”

“I’ll tell you what. When you come out with your first CD, I’ll buy two.” She had

no real expectation of him ever getting out of prison, much less making a recording,

but she wanted to bring a smile to his face, which she did.

Patricia often related well to her transferees. She always said, “All the prisoners

have a story to tell. If you take the time to get to know them, you’ll find your brothers,

your sisters, your moms, and your dads walking in my iron.” She was wise.

She also witnessed the corrupt nature of people, especially in an environment

where audits were perfunctory and change was enacted only to line pockets of

contractors or federal officials. Her pessimistic view of her world had merit; she just

didn’t have the credibility to expose truths she saw, heard, smelled, and tasted on a

daily basis.

Patricia would just continue to do her personal best, treating people like people,

and not like crated animals.

“Look at those, what are they?” Cody was pointing with his face to a group of huge

buildings. They looked about the size of a football field. Their construction was simple,

with pitched roofs and lots of galvanized metal, very barn-ish.

“Ah, those. Those are chicken houses.”

“They are big.”

“Yes, they hold about a quarter of a million chickens each, I heard. They are very

sophisticated, even controlled by computers.”

“What’s to control with computers in a chicken house?” he asked, looking


“Lots of things.”

“Like what?”

“Like the food and water, the climate, and the ventilation systems. I think they

even have automatic de-crappers.”

Cody laughed, “De-crappers, now you’re pulling my leg.”

“Yes, I am. I think most of the chickens are potty trained,” she kidded.

Cody just smiled, thinking how automated things really were getting. And what if

he should spend the next fifty years in prison? He might not recognize anything when

he got out.

The possibilities were mind boggling as to what could take place in fifty years.

Hopefully, his appeal would come through.


The welcome in the new facility was similar to the welcome he received at the Shelby

County Jail – cold. Just like at the jail, everyone knew of him, or thought they did. They

had seen the Little Rock broadcast of the news and talk shows.

The inmates with the most hostility seemed to be the ones most insecure with

themselves. Jealousy reigned often in a place where no one had much of anything.

The intake-process was quite informal at the facility, other than the shower and

delouse-spraying. His uniform was simply jeans with a shirt that resembled a surgical

scrub top, sort of an off-blue color with a pocket.

The mostly older teenage crowd jeered loudly, as if putting his moxie to the test

as he carried his bedroll to his room. It was more like a dorm room than a cell. It had

a wooden door with a window, but no lock other than a latch that could secure the

door in case of trouble.

His “cellie” was cleaning the floor with a small rag.

“I’m assigned here,” Cody said, with his arms wrapped around his stuff.

“You have the top bunk.”

“Great.” Cody tossed his things on his bunk, deciding to wait for dinner, then

make his bed and put his things away.

His cellie looked up.

“Hey, man! Aren’t you that...that Brikker dude?” he asked, instantly recognizing


“Yes, I am.”

“Man, I can’t believe this.” The boy was about eighteen years old, and already

filled with tattoos spouting a message of hatred and racial bigotry. “I’m locked up with

a superstar.”

Cody was a bit taken back by his enthusiasm, and smiled, thinking of himself more

as infamous rather than famous. The boy continued, “Man, I’m gonna call you ‘Brick.’”

“Why is that?” Cody inquired meekly.

“Cause you got to be one brick short of a full load to handle shit the way you

handled it, man. You one crazy dude.”

He ended his statement by pointing his finger right in Cody’s face at a downward

angle, like a rapper on stage making his point. Cody mentally backed up a bit to extend

his personal space.

“I’m here for murder too, but I didn’t kill my parents. I shot two store owners

when they wouldn’t give me their money. I’m short, though.”

“You are?” Cody looked surprised.

“Yeah, I’ve been here for two years. I only have another six months to go; then I

hit the streets hard, man.”

“Only two and a half years for murder?” Cody was comparing his case to his


“Yeah, that’s how the state is, man. Didn’t they offer you a plea?”

“Yes, but I went to trial.”

“Man, you screwed up. When you did it, you should have taken a plea. You got

‘fed time’ too, huh?” he tried to clarify with Cody.

“Yeah, fed time.”

“Man, with the Feds you do the whole time. When they give you life, you do life.

Ain’t no such thing as parole with the Feds. They did away with that a decade or so ago.

What’d they give you, anyway?”

“I got two lifes, plus a bit.”

“Shit, man. You should have never taken that crap to trial. You’d be out before

your boxers wear out.”

“That’s what my court-appointed attorney wanted to do. We thought he was selling

me down the river though, so we fired him.”

“Bad move, man. He was right. Sometimes those public ‘pretenders,’ we call

them, get you the best deal. Now they made an example out of you. Sorry, man.”

“Thanks.” Cody felt a twinge of true emotion from the guy, but the words surely

didn’t comfort him at all. Cody could only think how this boy shot someone in a

robbery and got only a little time in the state system, while he shot for a valid reason

and got a couple of lifetimes from the Feds.

Cody thought it was stupid, anyway. He considered if he did his life sentence first,

then worked off his next life sentence, or if he did his 360-month ‘beef’ before working

on his lifes – either way, it was just plain silly. He never could understand why someone

would get anything other than one life sentence.

“Well, my attorney is working on my appeal.” Cody tried to defend the situation.

“I gotta play it true with ya, dude. I’m a straight shooter. Most likely, the only thing

your attorney is working on is how to spend all the money you gave him, what fancy

restaurant he is going to eat at tonight, and what lady he is going to have his next affair


“My guy ain’t like that.”

“Sorry, man. That’s what they all say in the beginning. Let me ask you something.

Did your money man get you less time or more time than your pretender would have

gotten you had you ‘sold out,’ in your words?”

Cody didn’t want to answer, because this billboard for the White Pride Tattoo Shop

had a point, at least Cody thought so. “I see what you are saying. What’s my next step?”

he asked, sounding a bit defeated, to the other’s inspiration.

“Your next step is to hope for the best, but expect the worse.” His head affirmed

his own words.

Cody was getting a clear picture that reality might not follow desire, or even

common sense. He felt stuck. The words kept ringing between his ears: Hope for the

best, but expect the worst.


Chapter 33

Within two weeks Brick had cleared his required medical, psychological, and

educational screenings. He had only a team meeting to complete before he was

assigned a job.

His team consisted of his unit counselor, his case manager, his education

coordinator, and his supervising guard. Together the team would discuss issues such

as program progress and any disciplinary actions. The team also was in place to help

make decisions about prison employment and education.

Brick had not met a couple of the members of his team before the meeting. The

education coordinator seemed particularly cold and unapproachable. He was the kind

of person who would turn and wander away without answering a simple question or

acknowledging one’s presence.

After a brief introduction, the team shoved paperwork over to Brick to sign. It was

the outcome of his team meeting, which the team seemed to rush through, not really

addressing anything in detail or with any particular amount of concern. It was almost

more procedural than helpful.

The main outcome was that Brick would be attending GED classes full-time until

his certificate was earned. The prison was proud of its current record of converting

more than ninety-five percent of its population to high school graduates within a year

of their arrival.

While attending the GED course, Brick wouldn’t have to work or labor in a job he

didn’t want. Education would be his job, and he should be very good at it, considering

his competition, he duly noted.

His team did tell him that they would be closely monitoring his personal

development. Out of jest, Brick asked why personal development was so important to

someone who was going to serve two life sentences.

Either they stumbled for the answer, or they just ignored his inquiry. Either way,

his jab went uncontested.


Awaiting him in his room after his first GED class, which introduced him to simple

addition, was a letter from his attorney. He considered waiting till after dinner to open

it, but his curiosity got the best of him. Brick’s attitude had always been to let his

inquiry lead him wherever it might take him.

“Curiosity killed the cat,” his mother always used to say.

His answer was always, “Maybe, but curiosity also led him to tuna fish.” It was a

cute response and appropriate for such a kid.

“Hey Brick, that a love letter?” his cellie asked.

“No. It’s from my attorney.”

“Good news?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t read it yet.”

Halfway into the letter, Brick noticed it wasn’t something he wanted to share with

his cellie, but would eventually have to face. It only supported his cellie’s pessimistic


Mr. Cantinelli sent his letter to accompany the form from the Sixth Circuit Court

of Appeals denying his motion for appeal. The court refused to hear the case because

Judge Bucher had already ruled on the issues in the transference hearing. The court

found that she did not violate Mr. Brikker’s constitutional rights in applying the law in

the manner outlined by court transcripts.

“This letter sucks!”

“They always do, Brick.”

“They denied my appeal. They should have just drawn and quartered me, instead

of wasting everyone’s time with this crap.”

“Do what to you?” He was unfamiliar with Brick’s favorite execution style. “You

come up with some smart shit for just a little cat.”

Brick explained the term draw and quarter, along with its brief history of

punishment for traitors of the Crown of England.

“Man, that’s some sick shit. Watchin’ your own guts fry. Who thought of that?”

“Probably the same guy who thought of putting a rope around your neck and

hanging you without a trial.”

“I guess,” he replied, showing his loss for words.

Brick looked down off of his bunk, upside down at his cellie, flashing another

letter. “Now this, my friend, is a love letter.”

It was a letter from Emily. She told him how every now and then his name is still

mentioned in the newspaper or on TV. However, her biggest push was to work out a

way to come visit him.

She missed him terribly and couldn’t wait to see him. She said if she had to finish

law school to free him, it might take a long time, but they could make it.

She assured him that she could stand the test of time, that he was her best friend.

No matter what, she was not going anywhere away from him.

Cody wondered how such a young girl was willing to make that commitment. He

was barely a teenager himself. He certainly didn’t understand the ins and outs of love,

and he certainly never had a good example of family life, notwithstanding his Aunt Mae

who still kept things upbeat when she wrote or visited him...which she still did on a

regular basis.

“At least people haven’t forgotten my name,” Cody said.

“I told you, man, you are a superstar. Don’t you listen to anything, man?”

Despite his past crimes, his bent for German crosses, and the Rebel flag covering

his back, the cellie was proving to be a “real” person. Cody considered whether

outcasts were just real people, not realizing that he himself wore an antisocial jacket

in the eyes of mainstream justice.


Chapter 34

Brick had an appointment, a score to settle. In his previous rap battle on the

recreational yard, simply called “the yard,” his opponent “stuck it to him bad.” He was

out for revenge, and issued a challenge to the younger Mexican.

This time Brick focused on twisting his rhymes. If a rhyme was twisted just right,

the listener didn’t see the ending coming. It was like a surprise twist in a short story

that turned your brain upside down.

He was also working on his smooth transitions, like his transition over the last

four years in the juvenile facility in Texarkana. He was older now, more mature.

He had finished his GED almost three years ago. Most of his friends would just be

graduating from high school this summer. Emily included. Brick would be turning

eighteen and moving on, out of there into a real prison.

This would be his last battle on the yard, so he made it a good one. The last time

this kid won was a fluke. He just got lucky. This time Brick showed him some new

game and took him down.

The crowd that formed the battle circle was impressed, as always. Most were

aspiring rappers, too. They realized Brick was the “set bar.” If they could get as good

as Brick, they might have a chance. Often they discussed out of his earshot what a waste

of talent he was.

The general comments included “unused talent” and “life sentence” in the same

paragraph, whenever they were referring to Brick.

Brick was settled in, but not what he would consider institutionalized yet. He

didn’t want to have to start over again in another prison. The same fears he had when

he first came to Texarkana were the same as he was having now about leaving.

At least here he was established and someone to look up to. At a new place, he’d

be dog meat again.


On the day Brick received his notification that he’d be transferring to a low-security

federal prison near El Paso, Texas, he called Emily. On the other end of the phone, she

almost jumped up and down, excited to hear his voice.

“La Tuna, where’s that?” she asked.

“It’s near El Paso, Texas, in a small town called Anthony, Texas. Actually, I heard

the town is half in Texas and half in New Mexico.”

“That’s too weird, maybe like Kansas City.”


“The problem is that after I was called into the counselor’s office with the news,

I asked around about this place.” Brick paused to gather his thoughts.

“And...?” she prompted.

“And, this place is a bad place. I hear it is filled with rival gangs. There are a lot

of stabbings and stuff.”

“What kind of gangs?”

“Mostly Hispanic gangs.”

“I guess you’ll learn to speak Spanish,” she joked happily. Emily figured Brick

could get along just about anywhere he went. She couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to

hurt him.

“We’ll see how it goes.”

As usual, their fifteen-minute time limit on the phone ended their conversation

abruptly. That was not very long to talk. They had enough time to exchange

pleasantries, but to accomplish anything of value, forget it. The fifteen-minute limit was

just enough to frustrate the average conversation.

After hanging up, Emily told her dad of the conversation.

“La Tuna doesn’t sound so hot, honey.”

“I know, Dad, I’m worried about him, but I couldn’t tell him that.”

“Well, to tell you the truth, I’m worried about you, dear. He has been in jail for

four years, and you seem like your life is on hold. I’m....”

She cut him short. “Dad, don’t worry about me. My life isn’t on hold. I have a

great relationship with Cody. It’s just a bit...well...different, that’s all. I’m not on hold;

I’m living life. I have plans.”

“All your plans revolve around Cody. And that’s another thing – he’s taking on

gang names and Lord knows what. Even if he does get out, aren’t you afraid of what

he’ll be like? He isn’t going to be the same innocent little Cody you went to junior high


Emily was becoming furious with her dad. She realized his concerns were valid,

but she didn’t expect him to condone abandoning Cody.

“And what about school activities, like the prom?”

“Dad, Mom and I already discussed this. I’m going to prom with Dale Brown. He

asked me, so I’m going.”

“Didn’t you consider him to be somewhat of a loser?”

“Maybe.” She was teasing her father now. She felt her motives were none of his

business. It was enough that her mother was in on her personal secrets, things she

couldn’t share with her dad.

“And Cody? How will he feel about your going to the prom with Dale while he is

at the...‘fish factory’...or wherever?”

“La Tuna, Dad; it has nothing to do with fish. And, yes, I’m going to tell him

everything. He’ll be okay with it.”

“You hope!” he suggested as he grabbed for his car keys.



“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Chapter 35

“You think you might be what?”

“You heard me,” Jeanie affirmed.

“Haven’t you heard of birth control or, better yet, abstinence? My God, what are

you going to do?”

“Come on, Emily. We are not sure yet. I’m only seven days late.”

“Well, that’s late enough.”

“If I am, at least I’ll be out of school before I show.” Jeanie patted her belly with

both hands, bowing her back. “That is, if I keep it.”

“Keep IT? What do you mean it? It is not an it, but a who. You don’t not keep a

who.” Emily was indignant about her views.

Jeanie closed her locker door and looked down the hall both ways secretively,

hiding something. She inched closer to Emily. “I went out with Steven a little over a

month ago, and Joey doesn’t know about it. Now you are the only one, besides me and

Steven, who knows.”

Emily opened her mouth, but her thoughts didn’t come out. She just

condemningly studied Jeanie’s full lips, which covered her braces after she dropped

this secret.

“Look, whenever Joey and I do it, he wears his thing. That night with Steven was

just an accident. We didn’t expect to do anything.”

“So you didn’t use protection, great. The plot thickens.” She didn’t even try to hide

her disgust. “Steven is such a nerd; the whole school probably knows by now, anyway.”

“I haven’t told him yet. I wanted to make sure first.”

“I don’t just mean about your period, I mean about everything. How could you do

that? I thought you and Joey were getting along great.”

“I was curious, and it just happened.”

“Bologna. I hate it when people say things like ‘it was an accident,’ ‘it just

happened,’ or ‘I didn’t mean to.’ You need to take responsibility for yourself. Just say,

‘I wanted to so I did, without any regard to my future or anyone’s feelings.’”

“I knew you would say that.”

“Then you know me well.”

“Sometimes I wish I were you. How can you just stay like you are?”

“You mean, a virgin?”

“Yeah. Aren’t you curious? Don’t you have desires?”

“Yes, and yes,” Emily said. “But I know better than to act on them right now,

because I’m waiting for what I really want, and I’m not going to mess it up.”

“What about prom? You know Dale wants you,” Jeanie was testing Emily, “...and

you are pretty lonely these days.”

“He might want me, but we are just friends. I’m not going to do anything with him,

even if it is prom.”

“Oh, you’ll change your mind. I didn’t even know I liked Joey until we went to the

movies with a bunch of friends, group date. That night something happened, and, voilá,

later we both tried sex for the first time, together.” She smiled silver.

“Well, I don’t see changing my mind.”

“What better time than prom?”

“When I marry Cody, and become Mrs. Emily Brikker, that’s when.” She jutted

her left ring finger out and flipped her wrist over, showing the back of her hand to

Jeanie’s nose.

Dale and Emily had been casually dating, mostly with groups of friends. He had

never tried to kiss her before, but everyone knew he was after her. Some suspected that

they were really more than friends, that Emily just played innocent, but no one could

prove it.

Emily wished Cody could take her to the prom, but she didn’t dare let Dale know

her thoughts. He was insecure enough as it was, so she kept them to herself.

“Come on, we’re late,” Jeanie said when she noticed everyone was gone from the

hallway. Then the tardy bell rang, so they began to jog.

“Why even go to the prom if you are going to disappoint him?”

“Because I don’t want to miss prom.”

“Like you missed everything else?” she asked, still running for class.

“No. I don’t think I’ve missed anything.”

Emily had heard this type of argument before. Sometimes it made her second-

guess herself and her feelings, but she always found her way back to loyal devotion to

herself and future goals. She often prayed to remain strong and keep from straying.

Friday night would be prom night, and she knew what all her other girl friends

were looking forward to. She wanted something different.

 Chapter 36

“Hurry up, honey, you’ll be late,” Mrs. Chee hollered up the stairs.

Emily couldn’t get her hair to stay straight in its ribbon. “I need help.”

Her mother jogged up the stairs, sliding her hand along the wooden railing. The

carpet made each step a muffled pounce.

Mrs. Chee unpinned her daughter’s hair, which fell its full length. Half a dozen

styles ran through her mind while she combed out the tangles. Finally, she settled on

an idea.

“Here, why don’t we do something like this?” She pulled and twisted the hair into

a long lock, then let the natural twist of hair coil itself into a giant loop. She held it to

the back of Emily’s head.

Emily had to squirm a little in her chair to see herself fully in the mirror, but she

liked what she saw. She moved the opposite way to view it from her right side. “I like

it, Mom.”

Mrs. Chee stuck a few black bobby pins, matching Emily’s hair, to the base of her

work, and then attached the royal blue and gold ribbon to the center of the hair coil.

The silky texture of the ribbon complimented the natural shiny color of Emily’s hair.

“Ah, perfect, baby,” she complimented her daughter, with a small attentive tilt of

her head. Her heart swelled up when she realized how far Emily had come since she

was a baby in her mom’s arms – from diapers to prom dress.

Not wanting to spoil the moment within herself, she tried to kick the crazy thought

out of her mind that, all in all, the diapers were equally as expensive as the prom dress,

or more so.

Emily still sat in her bra and panties so hair spray, makeup, and the like wouldn’t

run the risk of mating with her dress. She had planned to gussy up, put a towel on her

head, and then get dressed. Her mother was more than happy to help her with her


Her mom fanned open the bottom of the gown just as she had the sheer slip, then

covered Emily’s head. She tugged on the sides, pulling the dress down, inch by inch,

over Emily’s slender figure. She pinched the material at the shoulders and gave a snap,

fitting it to Emily. She worked her way down her daughter’s body, cinching the material

every place she thought an adjustment was needed.

Though her dress was formfitting, the unique blend of material gave it a more than

modest look. Royal blue silk accented a tightly woven, charcoal black and ivory linen

body. The dress would have worked as well accompanying an actor to an awards

banquet as it did as a prom prop.

Mrs. Chee reached to Emily’s bed and picked up a new package of panty hose.

They were tightly sealed in an egg that was dyed the same shade as the hose inside. She

held the egg to Emily’s dress, “Perfect match. You are going to be the queen of the


“Mom, I aaam the queen of the prom,” she giggled.

Indeed, she and her date had been voted prom king and queen, so she and her

mother had a good laugh over her mom’s obvious slip.

Before taking the hose out of the package, Mrs. Chee ran her thumb over each of

her fingernails, checking them for rough edges that could snag and tear a run in the

hose as she helped her daughter into them.

“Honey, you should have put these on before getting into your dress.”

“Yeah, I didn’t even think about it. My dresses usually aren’t so tight.” Emily held

her dress hiked up.

“Honey, I wonder....” She stopped mid-sentence.

“You wonder what, Mom?”

She didn’t want to say that she could obviously see how Emily had been voted

prom queen, but that she wondered how Dale, whom she considered to be somewhat

of a dork, had been voted prom king. She figured it might have been due to his

association with Emily.

The doorbell rang downstairs; both of their hearts thumped. Emily felt a bit flush.

Her mom shook as if she had drunk more than her share of coffee. She stopped herself

just short of running downstairs for the door. “Your dad will get that.” Then she went

back to cracking the egg.

“Do you think that’s Dale, Mom?”

“We’ll find out in a second.”

Mr. Chee opened the door and let Dale in. The women upstairs heard him offer

Dale a seat in the living room. They figured if they could hear them downstairs, then

they could be heard themselves; so they lowered their voices while Emily stepped into

her tan nylons. Like the dress, her mother carefully fitted the hose to Emily’s body,

working her way up as she had down.

As she stepped back to admire her work, Mrs. Chee quietly shut the bedroom

door, giving an impression of increased privacy.

“He’s early,” Emily whined, not liking to be late, but not wanting to walk out

unprepared either.

“Just five minutes, hon. I’m sure he is just as nervous as you are.”

“But not as nervous as you,” she joked.

“Very funny, dear.” She secretly agreed – she was nervous.

Emily stepped into her pumps and shuffled to the mirror for one last look before

going downstairs to meet her date.


Dale only had to turn his head slightly to study Emily as she descended the staircase.

It might well have been a New York fashion show runway. Dale’s eyes were glued to her

every swagger and sway. She was a blur of sensation as she followed her mother closer

and closer to him.

Finally reaching the living room, she glided off the last step as if it wasn’t even

there, with grace. Dale broke himself out of his entranced silence with a quick, “Hi.”

He realized he was still sitting. He popped to his feet with a small box wrapped in

gold foil and a royal blue ribbon with a tiny gold stripe running its length.

His tuxedo was coal black with a tail that came to the back of his knees. The

lapels were royal blue and showed off his chesty girth. His cummerbund and tie

perfectly matched the lapels.

The boutonniere Emily bought for him was a chrysanthemum. They had decided

on mums a week before, coordinating their outfit colors. The mum perfectly matched

his suit and blended well with the ruffles on his shirt. She couldn’t wait to show it to


He only had to step forward two steps before meeting Emily face to face. He

scanned her from her shoes to her head, not commenting directly on what he was

thinking. He extended the box in front of him and removed the lid.

Her mother was as interested as Emily was, and they looked inside the box

simultaneously. They both loved it. Emily reached into the proudly displayed box and

grabbed the corsage. The mum was arranged with a simple bluish fern of some sort

and baby’s breath that had thin lanceolate leaves.

“It’s almost a bouquet,” she commented as she stuck her arm through the wrist

halter that held it on.

“Almost,” Mrs. Chee said. “But, honey, I think that’s upside down.” She pointed

her index finger and spun her wrist, indicating to turn the corsage around.

Emily just looked awkwardly around the room, as if waiting for further

instruction. No one seemed to know with any certainty which way it was to be worn, but

they all took her mother’s word for it.

She slid the flower off her hand, turned it around, and re-donned it. This time the

stems were pointing the other direction. She really wasn’t sure that was the correct way

to wear it, but her mother gave her an assuring smile.

Dale was as fumbling as any other young man was. He didn’t care which way it

went; he was just glad he was going to the prom with Emily.

“Oh, honey, let me get your picture by the fireplace.” Emily’s mom pulled the

digital camera from its case and removed the cap. She waved her hand to where they

were supposed to stand. “You need to stand closer, like you’re going to the prom

together,” she wisecracked.

They scooted closer.

“Now, put you arm around her back. And honey, put your arm up so I can see the


“Anything else, Mom?”

“Yes...smile!” Click. “Another....” Click.

“How about one in the backyard?” her father suggested.

They moved to the backyard so the two could stand in front of the trellis. The

pea-sized red berries of the pyracantha vines made a perfect backdrop.

Emily pointed to the berries. “You know, Dale, birds eat these and get drunk.”

“Really?” he queried, not quite believing her.

“Really,” she assured him.

He was intrigued by the idea of a drunken bird, but it didn’t give him any ideas for

stealing a crop of berries and making hooch.

In between pictures, Mr. Chee made a speech about getting his girl home early.

“You know, in my day, a father would be cleaning his shotgun right about now, instead

of taking pictures.” He looked down the lens of his camera like it was the sight on a

hunting rifle. “Smile.”

They smiled at his humor.

“Yes, sir. I’ll have her home by....”

Mr. Chee cut him off. “You’ll have her home by...use your God-given horse sense.”

Mr. Chee sounded more like a fifty-year-old Southern farmer than a Korean


Though she was going to enjoy her prom, Emily was really hoping for a more

stern warning and curfew. She wasn’t interested in staying out all night. It could only

mean trouble. In fact, she hadn’t made any plans with her girl friends for the after-hour

activities that were currently so popular.

Mrs. Chee had sneaked back into the house to prepare four wineglasses with

sparkling grape juice. When the other three entered, she was waiting. “Here, let’s have

a toast.”

“To what?” inquired Mr. Chee.

“To the beginning of a new era for the kids. They are almost out of school now.

This prom kind of marks the beginning of their new lives.”

It was all happening too quickly for Mr. Chee. He really didn’t want to think of his

daughter starting a new anything. He preferred her to remain just as she always had,

his little girl, sweet and innocent.

They all raised their glasses and ting-ed the rims off of one another, then drank.

Emily leaned forward so she wouldn’t accidentally drip on her dress, making her take

a few extra sips to finish her glass.

Her parents watched as Dale opened the car door for her and then politely closed

it, once she was safely seated and all her dangling attire was tucked past the door jamb.

Dale walked to his side of the car, slid in, and drove off. They were driving to

Jeanie Scott’s house. There they were going to meet Jeanie and her date. Together the

four would share a limo to the prom. They wanted to keep their night as dynamic and

flexible as possible, so they agreed that instead of taking a limo home, they would stash

two cars at the school, which they could drive home independently when they desired.


The live band could be heard outside the banquet room at the Adams Mark Hotel

where the prom was being held. The room had a doorman who greeted each guest,

signed them in, and escorted them through the double french doors, directing them to

the buffet line.

“Welcome. I know you are hungry; teenagers always are. Enjoy,” said the man as

he pointed to the growing line. “After you get your salads and sides, have a seat, and

at 7:30 sharp the entrée will be served. Drinks are brought by the waitress.”

They thanked the man and skirted him as quickly as possible; they were hungry,

and headed directly for the buffet line. Dale graciously waved Emily in line before him.

He looked around the half-filled room to see who was noticing his date.

School-color balloons and streamers of blue and gold decorated the banquet

room. Banners, touting the prom theme, were tactfully hung – “Amigos Para Siempre.”

In English, the theme meant “Friends Forever.” Emily had nominated that theme after

Aunt Mae had told her about seeing Sarah Brightman in concert perform a song by that

name as a duet with a popular Hispanic opera singer. She had told Emily the song

almost made her cry with joy.

Every time Emily saw the banners, which she helped design, she thought of Cody.

She wished he were with her to enjoy all her efforts in setting up the prom, and actually

implementing them. She couldn’t possibly tell Cody how nice everything was, though

she’d try.

She looked back at Dale and thought about the conversation she’d had with Jeanie

a few days earlier. She still couldn’t imagine herself with anyone but Cody, but she

wondered how obligated she should be. After all, Dale did spend money on corsages,

a limo, and tuxedo. He even bought the prom tickets.

The salad selection included standard tossed salad with every vegetable one could

name, a Caesar salad, spinach salad, along with several macaroni-based and

bean-based dishes. She couldn’t help but take a small sample of everything she saw

until the pile was too big for her plate. She ran her plate to her table, then returned to

fill up another plate with scalloped potatoes, cheese broccoli, and stuffed mushrooms.

Dale wasn’t as daring. He conservatively covered his plate with one scoop of

Caesar salad, boiled Irish potatoes, and candied carrots, but he did patiently wait and

help Emily with her tasty load.

They were barely finished with their salads when their main course of prime-rib

was served at their table. It came with a cup of au jus. Emily was careful to lean

completely over her plate, guarding her dress from disaster.

“Just eat, dear, and don’t worry about getting any on you,” Dale insisted. “If you’re

too careful, that’s when you get stuff on you.”

Emily didn’t hear anything past the word dear. She was a bit stunned. Was she

supposed to be his dear, or was he just mocking her mother?

The band lowered its volume to talking level, and the master of ceremonies, Mr.

Grandale, the football coach, waddled onto the stage and removed the microphone

from its stand. Most of the kids considered him a funny guy, except when he was

coaching. Then he was a tyrant, some said. He didn’t really look like he’d ever played

any sports – short, fat, out of shape.

“Welcome to your high school prom, ‘Amigos Para Siempre,’” he said in a voice

as gringo as a Texan tourist in Madrid. The kids snickered at his Spanish pronunciation

and his clownish manner. “Friends forever. This year is a special year, and each of you

is special. I sincerely hope all of us do remain friends forever.

“This year we have named a new prom king and queen, as we have done every

year. This year’s king is Dale Brown, and his queen is Emily Chee. Please come to the

stage, both of you.” He started to clap until everyone else joined in.

The crowning ceremony was quick, and the couple looked like they belonged

together. Dale’s pride was riding high. He had always wanted Emily for his own. Now,

at least, they were publicly bound as prom king and queen. Standing in front of their

class, Dale was finally recognized as worthy of Emily.

Dale and Emily were not expecting a speech, so Dale told the crowd that Emily

was going to speak for them both, and stepped from the microphone.

Emily gathered her thoughts and looked over the crowd. “I want to thank

everyone for this opportunity to represent my school at prom; Dale feels the same. This

year’s prom theme was taken from a song a good friend of mine heard...a beautiful

song, expressing how we can be friends forever. We can, you know – in times of trial,

as well as in times of happiness. We have built relationships here over the past four

years that should be cornerstones of our lives, relationships that we can turn to in times

of need.

“I’d like to mention a very special friend of mine. Some of you may know him.

Some of you may remember his happy face. Or some of you may remember his

shattered and battered face that was always held up with a smile. Cody Brikker is his

name. All of you who know him know what happened to him. For those of you who

didn’t know him, maybe you saw his story on the news.

“After living a life of domestic abuse, he killed his father on purpose and his

mother by accident. He was given two life sentences, plus some more time because it

was so violent. I knew him for a long time. What happened to him was unfair, but he

was a friend, a friend of mine, and I will never leave his side.

“To give you an update on Cody...his nickname is Brick. He completed his high

school certificate over two years ago and now teaches GED in prison. He still has the

same smile, even though his heart is broken and lonely.

“It’s my job, as his friend, to help him not feel so lonely, to be there for him.

“Cody Brikker is just one example to me of what it means to be a friend forever.”

Her tears interrupted Emily’s streams of thought. As much as she would have liked

to continue, she couldn’t. She just ended her speech with a simple, powerful, “Thank


Dale followed her off stage. In his mind he felt like a fifth wheel. He was expecting

her to at least look at him, or mention how proud she was to be at the prom with him,

but instead she only talked about her friendship with Brick.

Dale was highly sensitive about being upstaged by another boy who wasn’t even

in the same state. Cody’s ghost haunted Dale every time he thought he was getting close

to Emily. He was insistent on changing her mind, on winning her over, on having her

for himself.

Dale’s thoughts flip-flopped between If I can’t have her, no one

should...especially a killer like Cody, and Perhaps I’ll get lucky tonight like other

young lovers. He tried to hide his true feelings from her about Cody; he’d kill him if

he could. He really hoped later that he could seal the deal with Emily and she would

be his.


Chapter 37

Brick was late for mail call, but a friend said that the correctional officer (CO) had

yelled his name out before he got there. As a matter of personal policy, some COs

wouldn’t hand inmates their mail if they were late. They made them wait and suffer. It

wasn’t that they didn’t have the time or that it was any extra hassle for them. Most

inmates thought it was simply an unjustified harassment.

This time Brick only waited two hours until the CO called him to the control room.

“Next time, don’t be late,” he warned through his Mr. Magoo glasses.

“I was working late, sir.”

“I don’t want to hear it. That’s the problem – you convicts always have a

justification for everything, don’t you?” Now Brick was stuck. If he agreed, he would be

admitting to something not entirely correct in this situation. If he didn’t agree, he would

put the CO on tilt. This was a common trap, but Brick found a way out this time.

He just had to ignore the direct question and tell his own piece of truth, “I’ll be

more diligent, sir.” The CO wasn’t sure exactly what Brick meant and didn’t want to

question him, so he just dropped the topic and gave Brick his mail.

Brick rushed back to his room. Some inmates read the mail on the way. He liked

to savor it, look at it from the outside and anticipate the inside. Sometimes he’d even

set the mail down and wait until later to read it, building the anticipation, making the

delayed satisfaction much more intense than the immediate gratification of rushing to

open his mail.

His letters from Emily always brought a certain comfort to him. He could feel her

words in his body. She was always upbeat and positive. She told the truth, but also

encouraged him no matter how she was feeling. He liked that. But more, he respected

it because he had seen many other inmates lose their sources of support one by one

when things got hard on the outside.

What he found when he finally opened his letter, just before lights out, wasn’t what

he had expected. The more he read, the more he was sickened by the images spotting

his mind. Emily had never faltered. Now this, he thought.

Emily had explained that Dale was taking her to the prom or, worse yet, that she

was going with Dale to the prom. Brick had felt all the things normal, hormonal boys

would feel. Dale would be no different. If Brick felt them so strongly while he was away

from the action, how strongly must Dale have felt them? Dale had been after Emily for

a long time.

Brick was nauseated to the point of throwing up. The last time that had happened

was in the courthouse. It was the same frightening feeling. It wasn’t that Emily had lied

to him or purposefully betrayed him. It was that he had seen so many other promises

broken by time and frustration, mixed with proximate temptations. It had not happened

to him during his stay in prison, but had to a surprising number of people around him.

He had friends whose girlfriends came to visit them, six months pregnant, when

the friends had been in prison for a year. He had seen parents move to other cities

across the country, so they couldn’t visit their incarcerated boy. He had seen a lot,

something new each week, some tragedy, some disappointment.

He couldn’t stand the thought of Emily going to the prom with Dale, but there was

nothing he could do. As he was reading the letter, they could be dancing. Brick never

had danced at a social, but his images were as clear as if he had.

Would Dale kiss her or even worse? He wished he could call, but he couldn’t. He

wouldn’t be able to use the phone until the next week. Then again, as much as he’d

want to approach her about it, he didn’t feel like he should. It was her life, her

business. They didn’t promise to be more than friends. She never committed herself to

him in that way.

It didn’t matter. His imagination would taunt him by conjuring images of Emily

and Dale, then playing them out to worst-case scenarios. He’d envision her time and

again doing things with Dale that he, himself, had never done with any girl.

Emily also explained that Aunt Mae, as well as her own thoughts of Cody, had

inspired the prom’s theme. But even her forever promises of friendship couldn’t defeat

his self-torture. He’d worry about her night at the prom until he had a chance to hear

about it from her.


Chapter 38

A total of three bussers were stripping the banquet tables of dishes. Each was dressed

in formal attire, some looking as elegant as the guests. Only about a fourth of the three

hundred guests were on the dance floor. The rest were scattered around the room. The

staff worked through and around the mingling guests like athletes in an obstacle

course, but more poised.

“I’m ready to go, are you?”

Emily pulled her head off of his shoulder and looked up at Dale, her eyes still half

shut from the trance of the slow, soft music. “Now?”

“Yeah, a few people have left and we’ve seen just about all there is to see here,”

he tried to convince her.

“Okay, after this song.” Emily wasn’t interested in staying too long. Dale was right,

there really wasn’t anything there left to do. They had eaten, chatted with friends,

danced, and relaxed to the music.

It seemed that everyone else was winding down. Some were leaving to be with

their longtime lovers. Some were going home after little tiffs. And still others had

post-prom blowouts to attend, boasting of kegs and multiple quarts of alcohol. Dale

had different plans.

Dale had Emily wait at the entrance of the hotel while he fetched the car. He drove

up and parked, ran around the front of the running car and opened her door like a

gentleman. She got in and they sped away.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“A surprise is something unexpected,” he joked.

“No, you dingbat. What surprise do you have for me?” She gave a hefty shrug of

her exposed shoulders.

“That’s just it, I can’t tell you. It’s a surprise.”

Dale hoped she wouldn’t spoil his plans with her usual practicality.

“Okay, I’m game,” she responded, comfortably stretching her legs out and

yawning with her whole her body.

The drive was thirty minutes more, but they finally made it to the banks of the

Mississippi River. Front Avenue had several pull-offs that allowed driving on the

riverbank’s east side.

Emily studied the entire area as they drove onto the cobblestone. “This always

reminds me of the old roads in Europe.”

“What do you mean?”

“A lot of the old towns in Germany and France are all stone like this. I like the way

it sounds and feels in a car.” Dale was unimpressed; his mind was on the business of

claiming Emily as his.

“Really? I never noticed.” Dale found a spot about halfway between the new bridge

to the north, and the old bridge to the south. The barge that was normally docked close

by wasn’t there, so the area was deserted. He parked the car and turned off the engine,

leaving the key in the accessory position so that the radio continued to play easy-

listening music.

He had brought a towel to place over the green-glowing dashboard lights. The city

lights were enough; he didn’t want more than necessary.

“You think of everything, don’t you?” she said.

“Yep.” He reached in back of her for a plastic cooler. “I brought your favorite


“How do you know what my favorite cheese is?” She thrust her hand to her hip

as boldly as if she were standing.

“Can’t say. Edam.”

“How did you know?” she insisted.

“I can’t say how I knew.”

“Then do you know where Edam cheese comes from?”

“Nope. Can’t say as I do.”

“Edam is Dutch. It’s a Dutch cheese.”

Dale really wasn’t interested in the origins of cheese. He had already removed the

red wax coating and sliced the cheese into cracker-sized morsels before the night

started. He pulled out a prepared tray with a few crackers on it and showed his efforts

to Emily.

“Great, more food,” she moaned. “Now gimme one!” she snapped with a

fun-loving laugh.

He gave her the whole plate so he could retrieve a can of soda, open it and place

it in the cup holder in front of her. Chomping the remains of her first cracker, she took

a sip of the root beer.

“This is good stuff,” she smiled. “Who told you I like Edam?” She thought for a

second as he zippered his lips with his fingers. “I know, my mom. She had to be the


Dale just grinned as he held in his little secret.

“You know, Cody and I used to....”

“Can we not talk about Cody any more tonight? I know he is your friend. So did

everyone at the prom.” She realized maybe she was overdoing it a little and quickly

nodded in agreement.

“I’m sorry, Emily, it’s just that....” He felt at a loss of words as he caught the

reflection of the bridge lights in her eyes. He thought it was time to take a chance.

He turned sharply in his seat, leaned over to her, and whispered, “It’s just you and

me here tonight, and that’s how I want it to remain, please.”

 He closed his eyes and placed his lips on hers. He softly stayed in contact for a

couple of breaths, and then he parted his lips enough to use his tongue. He had waited

for this moment for as long as he could remember. He wanted Emily for even longer.

So far, she had taken all of his prom-related advances and had made him very happy,

except for her outburst concerning Cody. His effort was soft and gentle as he started to

taste her more deeply.

His tongue, though, met the barrier of her closed lips, so he thrust just a bit

harder to entice her into play, as he put his supporting hand behind her head to draw

her in.

He felt her lips tighten and her head tense up. She didn’t have room to pull back

because of his hand and the headrest. But if she could have, she would have broken his


Dale pressed even harder, treating her like a wild mustang that just needed to be

broken into compliance, rather than a girl who wasn’t ready for such an advance. He

pressed harder, again trying to open her mouth with the pressure of his.

Each press met with more resistance from Emily. Each failure sparked his fear of

rejection into anger, until he finally pushed her back into the seat and ripped her dress

with both hands, exposing her slip. He ripped that too, and thrust his hand under her


“Oww. Stop it!” she squirmed.

He slapped her, “Shut up and love me! Haven’t I always been patient with you?”

She recalled the last time he had used those words like that about patience. For

some reason, they made her bones shake. He reached down and pulled the release,

dropping the seat back all the way down. He sat on top of her and awkwardly removed

his shoes and pants.

Her eyes dilated, then constricted in terror. She couldn’t believe this was

happening. She tried to push him back, but he backhanded her across her cheek, then

jabbed her left eye with his closed left fist, stunning her.

She had read many stories about date rape, but she never had any idea it would

be like this. “Okay, what do you want, Dale?” she asked, trying to buy some time to


“You know what I want.” He tugged at her dress, trying to lift it from underneath

her butt. Once succeeding, he grabbed her panty hose and ripped them open, exposing

her panties underneath.

She kicked her leg and accidentally shot the root beer into the air, much of it

landing on his bare legs. He slapped her several times. “You want it hard? I’ll give it to

you hard!”

Emily couldn’t believe her ears. She had never seen such rage. This must be what

Cody went through most of his life, she thought.

A car was pulling in behind them, so Dale covered her mouth and held her down,

making it look like two lovebirds out for a riverside rendezvous. As the car started to

pass on the passenger’s side, Emily opened the door, turning on the dome light. It

illuminated the inside of the car like war flares.

As Dale reached to shut the door, Emily screamed. Dale tried to cover her mouth

before anyone heard her. He was in a panic as his hands slid down to her neck. He

clamped on hard enough to gag her and cut off her air. Her throat felt the pain as his

fingers dug in.

Just as Dale thought about his next move, a spotlight hit the car, followed by blue

and white flashes on top of the car that pulled up next to them.

Dale tried to wave as if to tell the sheriff’s deputies that everything was all right,

but the officers could see Emily’s struggle. The driver grabbed for his radio as his

partner jumped out of the patrol car, removing his 9mm revolver from its holster.

“Put your hands in the air!” he commanded as Dale froze.

“I said put your hands in the air,” he repeated, as he snatched open the passenger

door of Dale’s father’s New Yorker.

Dale looked up at the linebacker as the driver’s door opened to an even bigger

officer. Both men’s dark, oily skin reflected the emergency lights of their patroller.

The officer on the driver’s side held his gun on Dale while the other officer jerked

him from the car. Dale hit the ground.

“Let me see your hands! Let me see your damn hands. Spread eagle, you bastard.

Now!” The officer stepped on Dale’s back as he pulled one of Dale’s arms behind him.

In one motion, he cuffed Dale’s hand and grabbed the other, pulling it even tighter

before cuffing it securely.

Dale felt the uneven stones beneath him pressing into every bony part of his body.

The officer placed his knee on the back of Dale’s neck, forcing his head to the ground.

“Are you all right?” the other officer asked Emily.

“Yes, sir. I think so.” She collected her thoughts a bit. “He tried to...he didn’t, but

he tried to. I can’t believe it.” She was too confused to cry. Maybe later she’d break


“We need to call an ambulance for you, ma’am.” The officer was serious about

his work. “Prom night?” he inquired as he tried to lighten up the conversation.

“It was,” she reacted.

“Look, it’s not your fault,” the officer simply stated.


After placing Dale in the back of the patrol car, both officers waited with Emily for an

ambulance. They let her call her parents before questioning her further.

She told her mother that after the prom, she and Dale drove to the river and he

assaulted her, but nothing really happened. She also explained that she’d go to the

Baptist East Hospital in Germantown.

“Baptist East?” her mother asked.


“Isn’t that a bit far from downtown? I’d have thought they would take you

somewhere downtown.”

“I told the police we live out east, so since they are Shelby County sheriffs, they

said we could go there.”

“That’s nice of them.”

“I guess. I just....”

“It’s okay, baby. I’ll see you as soon as you get there.”

The officers gave Mrs. Chee their cell phone numbers so that she could find them

when she arrived at the hospital. Emily did her best to assure her mother she was fine,

but Mrs. Chee was still shaking harder than earlier when her little girl was going to the


“It looks like there is some bodily fluid on your dress, right here.” The officer was

scanning her with his flashlight. “Let me take a swab of it, just in case it’s from him.”

“Oh, great. Call me Monica,” she joked.

The officers were delighted with her humor. They had both thought the same

thing, but were too professional to say it.

The officer broke open a package that contained a big cotton swab in a plastic

vial. He rubbed it on the area in question and then placed it in its container. He wrote

on the outside of the container and sealed it with a piece of tape. Emily couldn’t see

what he wrote, even though she was trying to kibitz.

Their questioning lasted until the ambulance arrived. They wrote down every

detail but needed to continue the interview, so one officer rode with Emily in the back

of the ambulance, while the other took the cruiser to the hospital. They figured it would

save Emily time and aggravation.

The ambulance drove the speed limit, and all of the officer’s questions were

answered by the time they arrived at Baptist East Hospital.

Emily hoped she wouldn’t accidentally run into Aunt Mae. She wasn’t ready to

explain what just happened. She had a certain level of guilt. Besides she wanted to

remain perfect in Aunt Mae’s eyes.

Emily asked, “Where’s Dale?”

“He is with my partner, waiting outside the hospital. As soon as I give your mother

these victim’s rights forms, I’ll join my partner. And then, we will drive all the way back

downtown and book this creep. I’ll give you my card, too. If you ever have any

problems with this case, or him, you call me. You will also have to decide how you

want to pursue this case. The state will pick this up no matter what, but it makes things

easier if the victim is actively participating.”

“I’ll have to go to court against him?” She recalled her days with Cody in court,

and the injustice of it all. “I don’t know if could go through that scene again.”

“What do you mean?”

“My best friend was sent to prison for killing his parents. He got two life


“The Brikker case?” he asked.

Emily was surprised he knew the case off the top of his head like that. “Yes, how

did you know?”

“Who didn’t follow that case? Oh, you were his little friend who was in court every

day. Wow. We still talk about what a rotten deal he got.”

“Yeah. It was bad.”

“You still hear from him?” the officer asked.

“As much as I can.”

“Cody was a good kid. Bad break. Tell him we are all sorry at the sheriff’s office.

I wish him well.”

Emily gawked at his formal way of talking. Even when the officer was being

personable, it sounded like he was talking on a police radio.

His phone rang. He stuck it to his ear and walked around the corner. When he

returned he stood tall and informed Emily, “That was your mother. Let’s go sort this

out; then you can go get a good night’s sleep.” He motioned her in front of him.

“You’re lucky. You know that, right?”

He was trying to assure her that most cases don’t end so easily, but she just kept

wondering why he went around the corner to talk to her mother, and how long she’d

be at the hospital before she could get that good night’s sleep he promised.

Her face was swelling. She stopped to look at her reflection in a door window.

Then she quickly caught up to the officer, hoping her eyes wouldn’t get too black. She

also hoped that the feelings of disbelief, anger, and distrust she was instantly starting

to feel would not continue.

Not only was the shock of total powerlessness somewhat disorienting to her, but

the future embarrassment of even getting into that situation would be shameful. She had

a million thoughts racing through her mind.

At least, she thought, nothing really happened. Thank God, the sheriffs showed

up when they did. She didn’t have to worry about accidental pregnancy or STDs. When

she thought of what could have happened, it made her sick to her stomach.

She knew that when it was all over, she’d eventually have to face Cody. She

couldn’t help but feel guilty. What would he say?

Chapter 39

Emily slept most of the way to Texarkana while her mother drove. It had been only two

days since Dale assaulted her, and she felt in control one minute, but uneasy and upset

the next. She was still too young to know that out of control moods were a normal

pattern for people dealing with shock.

And even though her eyes still hurt from the trauma, she and her mother played

their favorite road-trip game. They spotted and counted cars with burned-out

headlights. It was a fun little challenge to be the first one to spot the one-eyed cars.

Surprisingly, from Arkadelphia to Hope there were twenty-four “squinters” as they

called them. They speculated that most of them were old pickup trucks, though they

could identify only a few of them for sure.

It had been several months since Mrs. Chee had seen Cody, so she was excited to

make the trip with her daughter. She wasn’t real happy about driving at night. Her eyes

weren’t what they used to be, but she’d manage.

After a good night’s sleep in a local motel, they’d be ready for a nice visit. Emily

hadn’t planned on the trip that weekend, but she couldn’t tell Cody what happened over

the phone, and she wasn’t going to lie about it either.

After traveling the width of the state, they were glad Arkansas was the smallest

state west of the Mississippi River. They were drowsy and could barely keep their eyes

open, but they made it safely. That’s what counted, they agreed.


“I hate this,” Emily commented to her mother as she stepped through the metal

detector. “We come to visit, and we are treated like the criminals.”

“Imagine how the prisoners feel on a daily basis.” Her mother couldn’t imagine

it herself. She was getting a picture that the policy in the prison system was punishment

over rehabilitation.

A six-inch thick, gray steel door slid open with a sagging moan, then a clunk. The

two walked through into a large room with several desks and chairs. There were

already a several families inside awaiting the arrival of the prisoners. They selected a

seat toward the back of the room, away from the guard’s earshot; they had always felt

uncomfortable talking where the guards could hear them.

They waited only a few minutes before Cody came in to greet them with huge hugs.

He was halfway into his hug with Emily when he noticed something was wrong. He

moved a half step back for a double take. He noticed her blackened eyes and bruised


“What happened to you?” he asked, almost squinting.

“It’s a long story. Let’s sit.” Emily pulled out his chair.

Cody’s imagination took off again on a flight of possibilities. He tried to rapid-fire

guess in his mind what had happened to Emily, and why she was here unscheduled. A

car accident? A mugging? What? He wondered to himself, but was afraid to hear the


The vending machines in the prison were not as reliable as they should have been

for six-hour visits, so many of the visitors would purchase their day’s goods before the

machine either ran out or quit working.

Mrs. Chee decided to be one of the first at the machines. “Let’s get some food

before it’s all gone, then chat.”

“Good idea, Mrs. Chee.” He smiled because he liked the opportunity to eat the

vending machine food. It was a change from his regular, low-budget prison chow.

They bought a package of chicken wings, boneless riblets, a pastrami and cheese

hoagie, and a chicken filet sandwich. Later they would heat them in the microwave and

munch out. Their stack of food looked like a welfare offering piled on their table.

Then they purchased three Cokes and sat back down to talk.

“So?” Cody inquired.

“So what?” Emily said, knowing exactly what he meant. He just pointed to her face

and shook his head.

“Well, you know I went to the prom with Dale?” She paused, and Cody started to

shift his weight in anticipation. He wasn’t feeling too well. Just the sound of Dale’s name

made him queasy.

She continued, “After the dinner, we had a couple of dances....”

“You danced with him?” Brick’s anxiety was tossed out through his eyes. He really

didn’t like what he was hearing.

“Yes, but I kind of had to. Anyway, then he drove me to the river and tried to kiss

me, after he yelled at me about you. When I didn’t kiss him back, he got real mad and

went crazy. He hit me and tried to take off my clothes.”

“Did he do anything else?” He couldn’t bring himself to ask if she was raped, but

that’s what he meant.

“He ripped my dress almost all the way off, and then he....” Emily looked at her

mother for support, making Cody’s heart almost stop. “He...he took off his pants and

held me down. A sheriff’s car pulled up by us and I screamed, so the deputies grabbed

Dale and arrested him.”

He was pale with fear. He felt attacked personally. “Did they get him before...you


“Yes. Nothing happened, other than his hitting me pretty badly. There was no

penetration if that’s what you mean. He didn’t even get past my underwear. You don’t

have to worry about that.” She tried to brush it off as lightly as she could.

“What if the cops hadn’t come?”

“Well, they did, thank God. That’s all that counts.” Emily assured.

“I knew it,” he said, hitting his fist to the table. “I knew he was a creep.”

Mrs. Chee felt Cody’s concern. “We wish we had, Cody.”

Emily said, “I never dreamed Dale would do that to me. We had known each other

since grade school.”

“And everyone thought my father was a good Samaritan, too. People are hard to

judge. Heck, people think I’m a cold-blooded killer,” he added, pulling his trigger

finger at them both.

“Oh, the cop who arrested Dale said that he followed your case and that the whole

station was behind you.”

“What? Stabbing me in the back?” he laughed.

“Nooooo. They felt real bad about your raw deal,” she corrected.

Cody just looked to the corner of the ceiling, trying not to think about the results

of his trial, despite his obvious supporters.

“So what are they going to do to him?”

“He is out of juvenile hall, but they could decide to bring charges on him as an


“Lucky him,” Cody laughed. “Imagine that, charge him as an adult.” He was

scoffing at the thought.

Emily’s mother couldn’t avoid speaking up, “We are all really sorry about what

happened to Emily, but things will work out.”

“There was one other thing. He left a semen stain on my dress. The cops have it

as evidence. It is already being tested at the DNA lab to make sure it was his. We should

have the results by early next week. I know it was his because it couldn’t be anyone


“On your dress, and you didn’t do anything?” Cody was doubting.

“You think I’m lying about what happened?”

Mrs. Chee jumped in, “Hey, you two. Enough of that, Cody. He took off his pants

and tried to get into hers. He just dripped. Emily didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.

She didn’t even kiss his dumb ass. She’d never lie to you.”

Cody’s face sank in shame and hurt.

“Yeah, you’re right. It’s just that I get so much negative stuff in here; it’s hard to

think the best of anything going on.” He stopped short of an apology, but felt it.

Emily’s mother reached across the table and squeezed his shoulder for comfort.

“It must be rough. We are your biggest fans.”

“I know, Mrs. Chee. Thanks.”

All three teared up and reflected independently. They felt like family. Emily was

actually proud of herself for not giving into Dale. She wanted Cody to respect her

judgment, and he did.

He didn’t have a full understanding of her struggles because he had such struggles

of his own, but he couldn’t compare the support he felt from Emily to what his friends

got. To him, there really was no comparison.

Mrs. Chee was also proud of her daughter for the way she had handled herself

over the past couple of years and wasn’t afraid to share her feelings with anyone,

especially Cody.

Mrs. Chee couldn’t predict what their futures would bring. Emily was in a fight

against cold statistics as far as relationships go, and Cody was in a fight for his entire

life. She did understand the importance of Emily’s understanding to Cody. She decided

to give the two of them time alone in their visit to talk and enjoy their friendship.

When the visit was finally over, Cody returned to his lonely cell to spend some time

meditating about what was said. He liked to think while doodling. He could easily tear

up a few sheets of paper with ink, while thinking. The doodles didn’t usually mean

anything but were just an outlet for nervous tension.

His recurring thought was that while Emily was graduating from high school, he’d

be graduating to an adult penitentiary.

Chapter 40

Friday evenings the six phones had lines of prisoners waiting to make calls. If each

prisoner used all his phone time, that would be fifteen minutes for each caller ahead

of Brick; there were four. He quickly calculated the wait to be one hour, plus the time

remaining for the current caller.

He watched a college, beginning-season football game through the giant glass

window to the day room, though he couldn’t tell who was playing. He really didn’t care,

anyway. It was just something to do while waiting for the phone. It also helped to

distract him from having to use the restroom, as he shifted his weight from foot to foot.

In the real world, Brick could have asked a person to save his place while he went

to the bathroom, but not here. Any such simple task could cause a problem. Someone

could think he was taking cuts if they saw him return to line. The accepted prison-line

theory was that if you leave, you lose.

Dialing the phone was another issue. He’d have to first dial *118 to access the

prisoners’ automated telephone service. Then he’d have to follow the computerized

woman’s voice to transfer money from his commissary account to the phone account.

Then he could make his call by dialing the number, and when prompted, by dialing his

nine-digit personal access code.

Although the calls were prepaid, Brick had to state his name so the phone system

recording could inform whoever answered that it was a call from a federal prison and

give his name. Brick felt the Feds would do anything to humiliate prisoners, but

understood that the phone policies were to prevent prisoners from conning outsiders.

Still, it was a hassle.

Brick had enough money on his books to make a full fifteen-minute phone call,

and his Aunt Mae answered on the second ring, so things were going well. He grew up

always knowing his aunt; however, he was jittery every time he called her.

“Hi, baby,” she welcomed him over the phone.

“I’m going to be leaving for Texas this week.” He had a slight quiver in his voice,

his aunt detected.

“So soon, huh?”

It seemed to Aunt Mae that Cody was being moved farther and farther away, just

the opposite of her desires.

“Yeah, I’ll be all right,” he answered, hiding the uneasiness he felt. “Did you hear

what happened to Emily?”

“That was terrible, just terrible. I talked to her yesterday. She looked pretty black

and blue to me. I think her ego was hurt most, though. She feels as though she betrayed

you, Cody. If you can, let her know it’s okay.”

“I will. Did you talk to Cantinelli yet?” he asked.

“Yes, I did. He is going to file a Rule 33 motion for you next week.”

The post-conviction procedures’ section of the Federal Rules of Criminal

Procedure outlines the possible remedies under federal guidelines for dealing with

problematic trial issues, among other things. Under Rule 33, the court may vacate any

judgment and grant a new trial in the interest of justice.

In Cody’s case, it was possible that the court might take additional testimony and

evidence to enter a new judgment because he had been tried without a jury.

“Cody, since Mr. Cantinelli couldn’t find newly discovered evidence, he will have

to file the motion under a section called ‘Other Grounds.’ But the problem is that it is

clearly stated that the motion must be timely filed within fourteen days after your guilty


“Then I’m screwed.” He sounded dejected, and hung his head in defeat, almost

dropping the phone off of his shoulder. He pressed it back to his ear.

“Not yet, big guy. I may have the details a little mixed up because it’s complicated.

After your appeal was upheld, Mr. Cantinelli filed an appeal to the appellate court that

is still open, giving you enough time. It has something to do with the fact that you are

not eighteen years old yet. So, he thinks that if he files within fourteen days of your

turning eighteen, the court may accept the motion. The appellate court’s remanding of

the case will act as the triggering event that starts your clock on filing the Rule 33.”

“That sounds good.”

“It sounds great. Mr. Cantinelli may even file with newly discovered evidence if he

can justify it. That would even give him a three-year window, but he has some work to

do.” She tried to sound as upbeat as possible. Talking about his case was tough, even

the good news.

“In any event, the court has final say and interpretation. You know how that goes,”

she stressed.

“I’m here, right?”


Emily had received a phone call from the District Attorney telling her that the fluid

sample on her dress matched Dale Brown’s DNA. There was only a 1:1,876,999 chance

that it could be someone else’s DNA, according to the test results. But those were just

statistical numbers. The facts were that Dale was pantless on top of her dress,

assaulting her when the sample was deposited. There were officials who witnessed the

event directly. It was his semen, no doubt about it.

Emily wasn’t hopeful of receiving too many guarantees when she sheepishly asked

the DA about Dale’s fate.

“Well, we are still discussing the evidence against him. We just don’t know what

to do yet. I’m also talking to the juvenile court system to see what they want to do with


“Juvenile court? He is going to be eighteen in a couple of months,” she hastened

to say.

The DA stood, tapping a pencil on his desk. “That’s right. By the time we can do

anything with him, he’ll be eighteen. But if the juvenile courts can convince him to

plead guilty to sexual assault, we can get a conviction before that time. His sentence can

extend to the adult courts when he turns of age. That’s the easiest, safest way to go,

maybe. We are still thinking about it.”

Emily sat down on a kitchen chair and folded herself until her forehead was

touching her knees. Her hair slid down, almost touching the floor but still tangled a bit

on the back of her head.

She was the victim here, and everyone, but Emily, was making all the decisions

about her assailant. Something was wrong in her mind about the flurry of activity going

on behind the scenes without her. It was much like not being invited to your own

birthday party.

“And don’t I have a say?” Emily finally found the courage to ask.

“Emily, of course we will take your comments into consideration.”

The words smacked of political blabber, but she didn’t bother asking for

clarification on such a vague statement of wish-wash.

Bottom line was that Emily didn’t get raped or permanently scarred. She learned

a big lesson without paying a bigger price. She was happy about that. It could have been

worse. It reminded her of the time her uncle let his two-year-old daughter touch the

inside of a hot oven. It was only on preheat, but hot enough to show the child that the

oven could hurt. Had he not let the insistent cousin touch the hot metal, she could have

burned herself much worse when the oven was at cooking temperatures. Emily’s uncle

was able to teach a lesson without even a blister. Emily considered her incident with

Dale to be much the same. She’d learned a lot and would police herself in the future

to not get in such situations.

“Thanks for calling,” she said, and they both hung up the phone. Emily tossed

hers on the table beside her. She thought about calling Jeanie to vent but decided she

really didn’t feel like talking to anyone. She’d take a nap instead.

Chapter 41

Brick sat alone in his cell. His back was against the wall, and his feet hung over the

edge. His hands were interlocked behind his head with his elbows pointing east and

west. He was wearing a pair of gray cotton shorts and a T-shirt that was untucked on

one side, exposing half his belly.

His thoughts took him to Memphis where he would hurt...no, destroy Dale. He felt

about Dale no differently than he had felt about his father years earlier. Dale was slime.

Lower than slime. He was the parasite that lived in the dirt under the slime.

He couldn’t find any redeeming qualities about Dale, nothing that said he was

worth the air he breathed and the space he took up on Earth. If there ever had been

anything good about Dale, it was outweighed by his exposing his true nature on prom


Brick knew that killing his father wasn’t the best course of action according to the

law, but he still wondered if his father would have killed him or his mother first. In that

case, killing his father wasn’t a bad option. He was beginning to realize that bad

decisions stemmed from a limited number of options. If a person doesn’t have any

good options, he thought, how can he make a good decision?

He wished he had known of better options, especially when thinking of his

mother. No matter how much he justified what happened to his father, he couldn’t

reconcile shooting her. That was something that he promised himself he’d never

overcome, that he refused to plan to overcome. He felt that if he ever overcame the guilt

he felt over her death, he’d be less of a son. The only thing that comforted him was

knowing that now she was in heaven and knew he never wanted to harm her, only

protect her.

Although he figured he never would do anything to Dale, even if he could, he

could distract himself by fantasizing about confronting Dale or maybe not confronting

him at all. Perhaps he could just poison him.

Brick had been reading a book by a famous crime author. She told the story about

a woman who killed her husband with castor beans, a highly poisonous seed from the

castor oil plant. Just shooting Dale would be too easy. He had to come up with

something more elegant. Something that would keep him at arm’s length from the

crime. Yes, poisoning might work just fine. Anthrax would be too technically

problematic in both procurement and delivery. It had to be something simple. Maybe

even something really common, like ammonia or chlorine. A cleaning accident? he


Brick didn’t want to stop planning Dale’s demise because then he might think

about his trip the next day. He was going to be transferred to La Tuna Federal

Correctional Institute.

He wondered why people like him were in prison for life, and other people like

Dale, who tried to harm innocent people, weren’t. It didn’t make a lot of sense. He

imagined a place where decent people could hunt and kill predators like Dale. Maybe

there would be a bounty.

He had seen a special on TV where the state of New Mexico had bounties on

coyotes. The hunters would trap or shoot the wild dogs, then turn the ears into the state

for cash reward, something like fifty bucks a pair. In the case of the coyote, the hunters

could also sell the pelts for additional money. Brick couldn’t think of anyone who

would want to buy any of Dale’s carcass, so the bounty would have to do.

Brick stretched into a big yawn, extending his arms wide enough to catch a

thought from thin air. While castor beans caused burning stomach, diarrhea,

abdominal cramps, convulsions, respiratory distress, paralysis, and death, there was

another plant that could serve a poetic justice of sorts, Brassica napus. Its common

name was the “rape plant.” Brick didn’t know anything more about it other than its

name and that it was poisonous. He had no idea how much of the plant one would have

to consume or what the symptoms were, but he did like the name and found it an

appropriate dish for Dale.

He didn’t even know what the plant looked like, but it might make an appealing

salad. Or if the plant was weed-ish in appearance, it could be used as a spice in a more

alluring entree.

Why not make “rape tea”? he thought. He could offer a flattering toast just before

serving his deserving target.

Brick could come up with hundreds, if not thousands, of clever ideas for dealing

with Dale – some of them quite clever, but none he could ever share with Emily.

He just sat, relaxing and slumping more and more in his bunk, until just his back

shoulders were touching the wall behind him. He conjured and schemed; every now

and then a smile would cross his lips when an interesting thought danced by.

Chapter 42

The early morning sun shot through his window, but that wasn’t what woke Brick up.

“Brick...Brick,” a small voice summoned from the outside his cell.

“What?” he muttered, still half in his dream.

“It’s time to go to work. Get up, man.”

Several boys were waiting outside for Brick to come. It would be his last rap battle

in Texarkana, and no one wanted to miss it.

They gathered on the basketball court. It was a dingy concrete slab with pealing

paint. Not even the free-throw line was clear. There was always controversy in the

games over boundaries and lines, which once were clearly marked when the budgets

were higher and the prisons not so full.

The crowd watched Brick come out of the breezeway doors on his way to the

court. Brick’s step picked up pace the closer he got to them, like a horse going back

to his barn.

“Who’s up?” Brick asked.

“We just started,” said a tiny black kid with his Nigerian accent. “Why don’t you

take on Martin-Dale?” he asked, pointing to a chubby fat kid with a six-inch Afro.

“Okay, why not?” Brick gave Martin-Dale a prison handshake by making a fist and

bumping the other boy’s extended fist, like two boxers greeting one another.

“Shall we toss for it?” the boy asked.


Brick and Martin-Dale each picked up a small rock and tossed it to the opposite

edge of the court. Martin-Dale’s rock landed closest to the edge without going over, so

he picked who went first. “Take it, Brick.”

Brick jumped into the middle of the circle while a few of the guys mouthed a beat

for him to rap to. He moved to the beat and took in a big breath, ready to start.

“I was lookin’ for love, before this pl....”

His rhyme was interrupted by the squawk of the PA speaker, “Cody Brikker to the

counselor’s office. Cody Brikker, report to the counselor’s office.”

“Damn, Brick,” Martin-Dale complained, starting a mumbling bitch-session

among the crowd. “Shit like this always happens. Cats can’t get shit done without the

man singin’ they name – constant shit.”

Brick jogged up the slight incline to get to the building, and disappeared through

the doors.


“Here he comes,” the counselor informed the two U.S. Marshals standing in his office.

“Brikker, get your stuff, time to go.”


“Yes, now, we ain’t gonna warn you; it’s a security risk. Hurry up and come right

here. Don’t try using the phones. Just get your property and hurry back.”

Brick’s life was already packed into one laundry bag, ready for inspection. He

would have to take his property to R&D. They’d inspect and box it up for the trip. He’d

probably arrive at La Tuna in one day, with his property arriving the next week, if he

was lucky. The Bureau of Prisons wasn’t too concerned about keeping an inmate and

his property together, just as long as they would eventually end up at the same place.

After clearing R&D, Brick was familiar with the ironing procedures: first, his

shackles; then, his waist chain through which his cuffs went. The marshals were gentle

with him. “It’s a long trip, Brikker. We’ll keep these as loose and comfortable as we

can, okay?”

Addressing the six-foot-plus old man, Brick said, “Thanks, I’d appreciate it. Any

food on the plane?”


“How long is the flight?” Brick was hungry and wanted to know how long it was

going to be before he could eat.

“There’s no food on the flight, cause there ain’t no flight, son,” the big marshal


Brick had expected a flight to Oklahoma City, to the Federal Transfer Center there.

Everyone he knew who transferred to another facility farther west flew there.

“Sir, are we still going to La Tuna, then?”

“Yes, but we’ll be taking a van.” The U.S. Marshals Service was instructed by

higher-ups not to transfer Cody through Oklahoma City. “It’s a two-day trip. We have

a stop along the way for the night.” For security reasons, he couldn’t tell Cody where.

“When do we get to La Tuna?”

“Well, if all goes well, we will get there tomorrow about noon-ish.”

Brick wasn’t sure he liked the idea of driving all the way through Texas. It was

much wider than Arkansas. He kind of wanted to see the airplanes the government used

to transport prisoners. Inmates called them “ConAir.” He had also heard that the food

in Oklahoma City was good. He wondered why he was going by ground instead of air.

The van wasn’t a van after all. It was a Chevy Suburban, painted black with limo

tint. There were no bars on the windows or cages to ride in, just soft leather seats. The

rear area had club seating. That was where he would sit with an unarmed marshal.

He’d be cuffed, but at least he’d be comfortable, more so than in a bus or van.

The big marshal rode in the back, and the skinnier one drove first. Eventually,

they would switch positions to always keep a fresh, rested driver at the wheel. They’d

stop at restaurants to use their public restrooms and order food. They even brought an

ice chest with fresh, cold drinks of all kinds, which they shared with Brick.

The drive was not at all what he expected, based on his last trip to Texarkana. The

food was real and the ride was cushy. The only thing he missed about his first trip was

Marshal Patricia Reeves. He would have liked to make this trip with her. She was as

pretty as a ladybug in March and just as nice.

He had all but forgotten about his plans for Dale Brown. His mind was now

focused on what to expect in Texas – not only did the other prisoners paint a grim

picture of La Tuna, but also he’d be so far away from Aunt Mae and the Chee family.

With each passing mile, his loneliness grew. The rubber band that kept his heart

attached to Memphis was stretching beyond what Brick felt like he could take.

The last words from his Aunt Mae were, “Be good.” Brick knew it would take

more than just being good. It would take being careful, being strong but not provoking,

and being lucky. He was on his way to a real prison. He envisioned every prison joke

as a true-to-life experience-to-be.

“Heard anything about La Tuna, sir?”

“A bit. I’m not going to lie to you, son; it can be a rough place. Just keep your

nose out of other people’s business, and pray every night for your family.”

“What do you mean, pray for my family?”

“The way I see it, God takes pity on those who go to Him in an unselfish way, with

a broken heart and contrite spirit. If you pray for yourself, you might not get what you

want. If you pray for others, you just might get the blessings you deserve.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Well, in one way you are lucky. Most people with so much time go to a

medium-security prison, or even a high-security prison. I guess that since you have so

many years under your belt, they are sending you to a low-security prison. But don’t kid

yourself, a lot of these guys in a low are coming from a harder institution. They’ll chop

your block off if you let ’em.”

The man spoke far more than most marshals would, but he was alone with the

prisoner and felt he could only help by telling it like he saw it. Brick was intrigued and

apprehensive, all at the same time.

“Do you think I’ll have trouble with the inmates there?”

“Probably at first – they’ll test you. There are mostly gangs at La Tuna. They’ll want

to know what you are all about. Don’t tell them about your case if you can help it. The

more info they have, the more they can screw it around to screw you.”

“What if they try to make me join a gang?” Brick didn’t fully trust the information

he was given by his inmate friends. He thought the officer’s insight might be helpful.

And since the man was willing to talk, Brick could use all the info he could get.

“Just tell them that you are there to do your life sentence in peace. You don’t want

any trouble and aren’t going to give any. If they insist, just tell them that you don’t want

to make enemies with anyone, that you are there to do your time, not anyone else’s,


“That sounds like a good answer to me.” Brick hoped there wouldn’t be that

much pressure within the prison, but expected to have an adjustment. He did well in

the federal juvenile facility. He could apply what he had learned there, he planned.

Brick was also concerned about Emily. Maybe the assault by Dale would change

her. She might not be as willing to travel all the way to Texas to see him, and certainly

not as often.

The marshals decided to pull into McDonald’s for dinner. Brick ordered a

Number 1 Combo because it was Emily’s favorite. He would have preferred a Number

7, but he wanted to at least share a little experience with Emily by proxy. A Big Mac with

fries was a perfect idea to him.

The marshals used a padlock to attach Brick’s shackle chain to the floor on the

vehicle. There was an eye bolt there just for that purpose. They uncuffed his hands so

that he could comfortably eat. They didn’t have to, but did. The men had the discretion

to handle the prisoner as they thought best on such trips. They were experienced

marshals and still had hearts.

This was the first “real” fast food Brick had eaten in years. His first bite was a

symphony of flavors he had forgotten that he missed. If he could have put it into words,

he’d have called it “Mac-o-licious.” Each fry he carefully dipped in ketchup. They were

perfectly salted.

He took a french fry and bit off the tip, then squeezed it until the fry’s guts came

out the end. Then he bit it off. He squeezed the insides out of the fry until all that was

left was the salty, fried outside. He dipped that in the red paste and finished it off,

licking his fingers afterward.

He used to eat his fries like that as a kid. It kind of reminded him of his treatment

of Oreo cookies. He had a few different ways of eating them. Sometimes he unscrewed

them and scraped the cream out with his teeth, then examined the tooth marks he left

behind. There were all kinds of patterns you could make with your teeth in Oreo filling.

Sometimes he’d use one side of the Oreo as a chocolate spoon, scooping the

filling from the other side and then licking it off. After that, he’d put the two chocolate

sides together and stick them both in his mouth at the same time.

His mind ran through all the ways that he used to enjoy his fries and his cookies.

Too bad he didn’t have an Oreo now, he griped to himself.

They were a little behind schedule, so the marshals started the drive while Brick

was still eating. He had expected them to rush him or just throw out his food, but they

didn’t. They let him enjoy his meal while they set course to finish the trip.

Their next stop would be Abilene, Texas, late that night. They would then get up

early, after just a few hours sleep, and finish the trip to Anthony, Texas, just northwest

of El Paso.


Chapter 43

Sure enough, at 12:31 p.m., they pulled to the front gates of La Tuna Federal

Correctional Institute. The SUV stopped, and a marshal got out and walked into the

front door of the prison. Brick and the other waited in the rear seats.

The building looked like an old, Spanish mission, except it had enough barbed

wire around it to keep out the Nazis. The brick structure was whitewashed and old. It

looked like it had been built around 1910. It had a bell tower just like the old missions.

It could have been the Alamo, but it was much too big. Brick had been to the Alamo,

so he knew it was far smaller than its reputation. This prison could hold twenty Alamos,

at least, Brick calculated to himself.

The driver returned to unload Brick. A marshal stood on each side of him as he

stepped out of the truck. They escorted him to a chain-link gate. The gate swung open

and they stepped through, then the gate shut. They were now faced with another gate

just like it. After a few seconds, that gate opened for them to walk in. Then that gate


Once Brick heard the clang of the gate behind him, a steel door opened and a

BOP officer dressed in gray stood before him. He had a giant key ring on a clip, a radio

in his hand, and dark sunglasses, so Brick couldn’t see his eyes.

“Come with me,” the officer said in a slight Hispanic-American accent.

The marshals followed behind Brick and the CO, but disappeared suddenly when

Brick looked back. He was wishing he could have stayed with them, instead of

processing into La Tuna.

The holding cell had a small brick wall that partially blocked the view of the toilet

from the hallway, and a long concrete bench that would hold twenty or so people.

Brick was the only one in the cell. His voice echoed when he talked.

The officer left him for a few moments, then returned with a Styrofoam box

containing his lunch. One section had a fried fish patty that looked grainy and

undercooked. It had a scoop of melted cheese that had already begun to harden. The

slice of white bread was thrown on top of the wet green beans. Somehow Brick’s

appetite left him, but he kept the box near him just in case his hunger pains returned.

He had to fill out a medical form that asked about his history, drug allergies, and

communicable diseases. He wasn’t certain when he last had a tetanus shot, so he just

guessed. The rest of the boxes were easy to check. He had never had any chronic


The psychological form asked about drug abuse history. It asked if he was feeling

excessively tired, unmotivated, nervous, etc. It also asked if he had ever tried to commit

suicide, or if he had any feelings of suicide now, or if he wanted to see a psychiatrist.

There were also forms asking if he had a history of violence against staff or

authority, if he ever testified against anyone, or if he felt his life was in danger.

He filled out the forms with an ink pen that was just the ink cartridge inside a

three-inch-long, flexible, clear tube. Regular ink pens that could be used as stabbing

weapons were not allowed.

The changing room had three small stalls with six-inch-high wooden platforms.

He stood on the platform and stripped naked.

“Raise your right arm,” the CO instructed.

“Now your left. Turn around, lift your right foot. Now your left. Bend over and

spread ’em.” Brick complied with the search instructions as best he could, but they

seemed rushed.

“Turn back around and open your mouth. Shake your hair out. Let me see behind

your ears.”

He handed Brick a roll of boxers and socks, then a pair of tan pants with an

elastic waistband, and a matching smock.

“Hurry up, I don’t have all day,” the CO barked.

Brick was hurrying, hopping on one foot trying to don the trousers.

The lady at the counter where Brick had his picture taken for his ID card seemed

to be more patient and reasonable. He stood with his feet on the floor while she

centered the digital camera. There was an audible click, then his picture froze on the


“That’s it. Go back to the cell, and the counselor will be with you shortly.” She

pointed down the hall toward where he started forty-five minutes earlier.

Robert Espinosa was tall and fit. His rectangular, black-rimmed glasses outlined

his round, brown eyes. He had been a BOP counselor for over a decade, so he had

heard most of the stories that inmates could tell, and most of the excuses that they

could give for their poor behavior. His walk told that he meant business, not much time

for chitchat.

He called Brick from the cell into a small interview room that only contained a

table and a small refrigerator. They both sat and Mr. Espinosa pulled the classification

form from Brikker’s stack.

“Have you testified against anyone?” he questioned, looking into Brick’s eyes with

a forced grin.

“No, sir.”

“Have you ever been the victim of sexual abuse?”

“No, sir.”

“Have you ever been accused of assaulting any member of law enforcement or the

courts or BOP staff?”

“No, sir.”

“Can you think of any reason why you shouldn’t be in general population?”

“No, sir.”

“What group are you affiliated with?”

“Do you mean gangs?” Brick tried to clarify the question.

“Why, are you in a gang?” Mr. Espinosa suggestively asked.

“No, sir, I’m not a part of any group.”

“Okay, then. Wait back in the holding cell.” He made a few pen strokes to the

interview sheet and signed his name.

No sooner did Brick get back to the cell than the lady guard called him to give him

his ID card.

“Sir,” she said. “Your ID card is finished. Keep it with you at all times. The

psychiatrist is not here today, so we will be sending you to your unit, and she’ll get to

you tomorrow. You don’t need to see her for anything, do you?”

“No, ma’am, I’m fine.” He wondered if he would be fine once he hit the yard.

“Grab one of these bedrolls, and wait in the holding cell.” She lightly patted the

top bedroll on a small stack of rolled-up blankets.

Brick sat in the cell, and set the bedroll beside him. He was curious, so he looked

inside the roll. It contained two U.S. Government, green wool blankets, the kind the

U.S. Army used for its soldiers. It also had two white sheets and a zip-lock sandwich

bag that contained a flimsy comb, a one-ounce tube of generic toothpaste, an orange

plastic disposable razor, and a four-inch-long toothbrush. That would be enough to get

him started for the evening.

Brick stuck his head out of the cell. “Ma’am, excuse me.”

“Yes. Can I help you?”

“Do you know when my property will get here?”

“Probably next week. We’ll call you to come get it. Sometimes it takes up to a

month. Don’t be surprised.”

He wondered why they hadn’t just brought his property in the SUV with him. There

had been plenty of room.

He waited and wondered. With each passing minute, his leg bounced more to

relieve some of the stress of the unknown. His mouth was getting dry, and his heartbeat

felt irregular. It was getting a little harder to focus his eyes. Being in the vehicle for

most of two days and then sitting in the cell for hours seemed akin to snow blindness.

He wanted to get outside. He wanted to lie down and take a nap. He just wanted the trip

to be finished so he could face his new environment.


Their windshield wipers were slapping the water off, and just as quickly, the rain filled

their view. The overcast sky diffused the sun’s evening rays, obscuring their vision.

Every now and then, a car would pass and splash muddy water, blanketing their

view even more.

“There’s that son of a bitch!” one of the boys shouted.

 “Where?” the other two said in unison.

“Right there. We just passed him, under the cover for the bus stop.”

The other boys had missed him, so the driver quickly turned right, into a parking

lot, and backtracked. He pulled up behind the bus stop.

“Oh, I see him now. Watch this,” said the boy in the back seat.

“Hey, Dale,” he hollered over the spats of the raindrops streaming down on the

pavement. “Need a ride?”

Dale looked back over his shoulder, recognizing the boy who was yelling. “Yeah,

man.” He got up and started running through the downpour toward the car.

“Hurry up,” the boy shouted, as his hair was driven to the sides of his face by the

rain. He had a happy laugh about him.

“Thanks, guys,” Dale said, jumping in the back seat of the car.

The big boy played center on the high school football team, so it was a squeeze

to sit back down in the seat next to the new passenger.

“Looks like you got a little wet, Dale.”

“Yeah, glad you guys came by.”

“Cool. We got news for you,” the center said, pausing to take in Dale’s inquisitive

look. The other two boys turned around to view the back seat with as much anticipation

as Dale. “Not only are you wet, you are all washed up.”

Dale folded his arms in his lap. “What do you mean?”

“I mean we have a message for you, you muthafucker!” he said, pointing his

finger, then poking Dale in the throat.

Dale reached for the door handle. The boy grabbed him by the collar and jerked

him down in the seat with a snap.

Dale used his hands to cover his face, but the blow separated them, and his left

eye went blind. The hit was so hard that he had no defenses. The boy hit him at will –

punching his face, time after time, and then punching his body until Dale had almost

no breath left and was panting like a dog. His face was beginning to swell.

Finally, the big boy grabbed him by the throat, sat on his lap, and put his face to

Dale’s. “We have a message for you, like I said. You don’t ever lay hands on our

friends. We know what happened, everything. And if you decide you are going to run

to the cops, there are more people right behind us who will kill your punk ass. You got

it?” He squeezed to punctuate his statement.

“Yes. I didn’t mean to....”

“Fuck you, asshole. You may not have meant to...bullshit...we do, and we will. We

will fuck you up. You think this ass-kicking is bad. You just wait. Not one word to

anyone. Tell them you fell off your tricycle or something.” The driver got out and

opened Dale’s door, while the other two came around to the side of the car.

The driver hit Dale in the solar plexus, and folded him like a cheap taco. The

other two took a few turns hitting him in the ribs, while trying to watch for traffic. Dale

fell to the wet ground. They ended their message with a few kicks to his body and head.

Climbing back in the car, they noticed Dale wasn’t moving. Blood was leaving a

small spider vein trail from the front of his head, making a pattern the size of a car rim.

The driver considered backing up over him on his way out of the parking lot, but

didn’t. He overcame his adrenal rush of the moment and decided to leave well enough

alone. Why kick a dead horse? he thought.

Chapter 44

Emily was looking forward to her graduation that night, but she was more excited about

talking with a University of Texas at El Paso recruiter about a scholarship offering.

Her parents would be at her graduation, even Aunt Mae, but she’d be handling the

recruiter alone, any minute. The fast-food taco shop was only half full for lunch that

day, and her tummy was growling like old plumbing. She’d wait for her company,

hoping to recognize him from his description. She was looking for a five-foot-five,

165-pound, thin man, with salt-and-pepper hair.

Five minutes after their scheduled time, he walked in, briefcase in hand. He was

just as he had described, except for the scar running from the outside corner of his

right eye to the corner of his mouth, straight down. It made the side of his mouth droop

slightly when his smile greeted her.

“You must be Emily.” He extended his hand.

She sprang up with her usual glee, shaking his hand. “That’s me, Mr. Davis.”

“Shall we talk, then eat...eat, then talk...or talk and eat at the same time?” His

lighthearted humor went a long way with her.

“What would you like to do?” she replied, passing the buck.

“I’m ready to pig out.” He called her to follow his lead while he scooted to the


“Order whatever you like, Emily.”

“Great. Thanks.”

They ordered the same thing by coincidence: two tacos, a burrito, a tostada, and

a large fountain drink. They both liked the extra hot salsa, as well.

“I guess we’ll get along great, huh?” Emily stated as she organized her food on the

table, almost a mirror image of his.

“Looks so.” He pulled his burrito close and unwrapped it, as she did hers. “Why

do you want to go to UTEP? It seems too far away for you to even know about. A girl

with your grades and résumé could punch your own ticket anywhere. I’d expect you

to go to Yale or Brown, any of the Ivys.”

“It’s a long story....”

“We have lots of food,” he interrupted jokingly.

“Do you want the cold, hard truth, or some politically correct answer about how

I want to graduate from a local Western university and then spend my life helping the

Indians on the ‘res’?” She took a sip though her straw.

“Oh, you’re too funny. Let’s start with the cold facts, then get on to the hard one.

How about it?” He wasn’t going to let her get the upper hand.

“I did some research and found that UTEP is the only university in El Paso that I

can go to which meets my goals.”

“What are you major goals?”

“I want to be a lawyer, but I want to go to school in El Paso,” she explained,

taking a bite of her burrito.

“Why El Paso?”

“My boyfriend lives there.”

“Does he attend UTEP?”

“No. He attends La Tuna,” she countered.

“The only La Tuna I...wait...is he in prison?” He didn’t know how to phrase the

question with sensitivity.

“Yes, sir. He just turned eighteen, and they moved him to La Tuna. I am going to

law school so that I can help him get out or at least make sure to help others so they

don’t end up like him.”

“May I ask...?”

She anticipated his question. “Yes. His father was horribly abusive to him and his

mother. Things got really bad and he killed his parents. He planned to kill his father,

but he accidentally shot his mom, too. He got life. A lot of people were on his side, but

the judge threw the book at him.”

“I’m so sorry. You seem very dedicated to him.”

“I am. He is my life. Always has been, always will be. I could never turn my back

on him. He would do anything for his friends.”

Mr. Davis was impressed with her focus. He didn’t run across too many students

on this level who sought out UTEP as their college of preference. He was glad he

stopped in Memphis to talk personally to her on his way to Atlanta.

“Ms. Chee, my only concern is that we live up to your standards. We do have a

great program, and I believe that your scholarship will be more than adequate to

override the out-of-state tuition, though I’m not prepared to give you an exact amount


“Any idea, ballpark?”

“Well, if you won’t hold me to it...I have seen students, with fewer credentials than

you, get full tuition, room and board, and a living stipend for miscellaneous expenses.

Now, I’d expect that we would be able to do as much as anyone for you. I’m certainly

going to make a top-notch recommendation, but you never can tell with these things.”

She didn’t want to wait for his answer. “When will I know something? UTEP is the

only school I’m looking at right now.”

“I’d say if you don’t hear from me in two weeks, give me a call personally. We’ll

get you down to the school and look at the programs you requested with a counselor.

Any idea where you want to attend law school?”

“If Cody is still there in La Tuna, UTEP. I’ll go to the law school at UTEP.”

“I think I can help,” he assured her, wadding up his burrito wrapper and sliding

his tostada in front of him, preparing it with saucy decoration.


Chapter 45

On Brick’s way back from his first breakfast at La Tuna, a correctional officer stopped


“Brikker, you need to come with me to the office. You have A&O shit to do.”

Brick followed the CO’s hurried step, to a meeting room that doubled as a chapel

of worship. There were several rows of chairs for the new inmates to sit in. Admission

and Orientation was a several-week process, just as it had been at the juvenile facility.

Brick’s timing was just right since he came a day before the intake lecture. That was the

lecture where they were given a quick rundown of what was expected from the inmates,

their rights and responsibilities. They were also given a handbook at that time if they

didn’t receive one with their initial bedroll.

The CO’s movements were spirited as he walked into the room and directly to the

podium, almost a prance. Brick had seen Tennessee Walking Horses with less bounce.

The CO’s tall but pudgy stature moved within itself, kind of like a happy, fat cat.

“Welcome to La Tuna, inmates,” he softly grinned.

The inmates looked around for agreement.

“I’m Officer Sweet.”

The subtle smiles confirmed that almost everyone in the room was thinking the

same thing: Officer Sweet lives up to his name.

“I won’t take up much of your time; we have other speakers here today. You’ll

hear from the educational coordinator, the unit manager, and, hopefully, Warden


His manner was whining, somewhat like a drag queen forced to wear mismatched

accessories. He was almost flirtatious with the inmates but not quite that friendly.

He stressed that the inmates should stay out of gang activity, read the rule book,

and mind their own business. Surprisingly, he said, “There are three things that get

most people in trouble here at La Tuna: gambling, gang activity, and punks. Stay away

from them all. Even innocent things can get you stuck out.”

Brick didn’t gamble, and he certainly wasn’t interested in what prisoners called

“adapting,” a euphemism for turning homosexual for their prison stay. The only thing

he was concerned with was gang association. If you didn’t “ride” with a particular

gang, they did not protect you. On the other hand, if you were gang-affiliated, you were

under the control of their social order. It was a hard position to be in, especially for a

young, white boy in a predominately Hispanic prison that was mainly controlled by

gang socialism.

Most of the inmates were just half listening to the lecture. Brick heard a guy

behind him, who was slinking in his seat, ask, “Hey, what do you call a corrections

officer with an IQ of 50?”

There was a moment of silence, no one answering the impromptu quiz. The guy

decided to reveal the answer – “Warden.”

A snicker broke out among those who could hear. The others leaned in as subtly

as possible to find out what was so funny.

Officer Sweet gave them time to subdue their giggles, and then continued.

“Gentlemen, if anyone has any special machine shop skills, let us know. Unicor has

some emergency positions available in the fabrication shops. They need a few people,

like yesterday.”

Someone raised his hand. Officer Sweet pointed to him. “Yes.”

“Ah, does Unicor pay good?”

“You mean pay ‘well.’ Yes, it’s the highest paying position in the system.”

“The BOP just wants to pay you to collect their fines, man. Don’t feed the gray!”

demanded a longtime-convict–looking guy, with broken glasses and pants rolled up

over his ankles.

Officer Sweet stared at him, up and down. “That’s part of it. Where’d you get your

degree, Mr. Smart Ass?”

Chapter 46

“Honey, it’s for you,” Mrs. Chee yelled to her daughter from the kitchen.

Emily stuck her head in, holding onto the side of the wall. “Who is it?”

“I’m not sure. It sounds like a cop,” she teased.

Emily slid into the kitchen in her socks, skidding to a stop.


Her mother was close, but it wasn’t a cop; it was a local district attorney.

“No, sir. I don’t know anything about that. What happened?”

Emily sat in the chair, pressing the phone harder to her ear as if it would help her

understand better.

“Oh,” she said.

“Oh,” she said again.

Her mother looked over at her, wondering what was going on.

“Okay, sir. If I hear anything, I’ll let you know.”

She hung up the phone, and her mother immediately sensed something was

wrong. “What was that about?”

Emily ran her fingers over her ears, pushing the hair back.

“That was the DA. He said someone picked up Dale on the street and beat him so

badly that a motorist, who found him lying in the rain, had to call an ambulance.”

“Good news,” Mrs. Chee said. “Who gets the reward money...the bounty?” she

asked, pressing her joke a little further, wishing she had kicked his ass.

“Dale wouldn’t say what happened, but the cops think someone we know might

have jumped him because of what he did.”

Mrs. Chee peered at Emily, checking her responses. “Do you know anything about


“No. Honest, I don’t. It’s kind of weird, even though he deserved it. Why wouldn’t

he tell who beat him up?”


After the intake lecture, Brick met his cellie for the first time. He had been sleeping

when Brick went to breakfast, and the night before, Brick was sleeping.

His cellie was playing Spades on a makeshift table. The guys had put an old piece

of plywood, which was kept hidden under a mattress, on top of a trash can.

“They call me ‘Rabbit,’” his cellie said, as he threw a king of spades on the trick

to take it. He threw it with a snap of his wrist so hard that the card hit the table and

bounced a couple of inches straight up. SMACK.

“I’m Brikker, Brick for short.” He didn’t want to start off by telling big stories

about such trivial things as his nickname.

“Who you ride wit, Brick?” asked his new cellie.

“I just came from Texarkana; I don’t have any affiliations, really. I pretty much

stay to myself.” Brick tried to downplay the question.

Rabbit was a trucker who had been sentenced twenty-two years for transporting

marijuana in his Kenworth. He had worked his way down in custody level from a

penitentiary. He was the kind of guy no one messed with, simply because of his size and

the “don’t screw with me” gleam in his eyes.

For a black man, his features were Anglican. He had a thin nose, but chiseled. His

cheekbones were high and tight. And his hair was straight. It still had the coarseness

one might expect, but it was naturally straight, nonetheless.

“You not AB or nutin’?” Rabbit asked with a deep Southern, projects-type accent.

Brick squirmed inside because the two Mexicans and the white guy at the table

with Rabbit were just staring at him without giving any hint of emotion.

“You mean Aryan Brotherhood? No. I write and stay to myself.”

“I see. You ain’t no snitch, are you?” he blatantly asked, leaning forward toward


“No, not hardly.”

“Just checking, man. We gotta ask.”

The other card players excused themselves so that Rabbit could settle-in the new

guy. They shook hands prison style, and left the room.

“Was that guy AB?” Brick asked.

“Why do you ask?”

“Well, he looked AB. He had a sort of air about him. I didn’t see any tattoos, but

I wondered because when you asked me, he seemed interested.”

“Yeah, he’s AB. In fact, he is the ‘shot-caller’ for the Aryans here,” Rabbit replied,

pointing his finger in Brick’s direction.

“Shot-caller?” Brick hadn’t heard that term before.

“Yeah. When you get jammed up with some other group, instead of them taking

it straight to you – believe me, you don’t want that – they usually go to the shot-caller

of your group to settle the problem. The shot-caller can determine your tax. He can tax

you hard or soft. It depends on what you did.”

“What if I’m not with a group and don’t have a shot-caller?” Brick tried to clarify

the situation.

“Then you have a big problem. The shot-caller from the people you offended calls

his own shot. They might talk to you, or they might take you out.”

“What’s normal?”

“There ain’t no normal in this place, dude. You know that. But sometimes they

just tell you that you got thirty minutes to roll yourself up and go get the fuck off the

yard.” He smiled like he was toying with Brick, but he wasn’t. He was just telling it like

it was.

“So what if I don’t roll myself up?”

“If you don’t pack your shit and tell the CO you need to go to the hole for

protective custody, then they’ll bring it to you. Here they do it in packs. You might have

four cats bust up in your room with locks and socks, beatin’ the shit outa ya. Nothin’

to play with, man.”

“How about that AB guy?”

“What about him, man? He ain’t gonna come at you with no socks. He’ll have his

guys hit you with a bone crusher. He’s from the hard parks. Them bone-crusher shanks

will go right through a little muthafucker like you, taking all your guts with it out the

other side.”

“Like I said, I pretty much keep to myself most of the time.” Brick sounded as if

his expectations of La Tuna lost every ounce of hope. His voice dragged across the


“That guy’s name is Jim Buck, by the way. He is a big-time meth cook. One of the

best from what I hear. He sold to popular motorcycle gangs, mostly up in Seattle,

Washington. You’ll be all right. Just do your thing, and I’ll keep you ‘laced up.’”

“Thanks,” Brick said while studying Rabbit’s teeth. They were platinum caps with

tiny diamonds scattered about.

“Did you say you write?”

“Yeah, I write poems and letters for people sometimes, to hustle a buck or two.”

He took pride in his work and in talking about it.

“Jim Buck writes, too. I think he majored in English or something a few years

back. He’s good, too. I’ll get you some of his stuff to read.”

“That’s cool. I’d like to read some of his stuff.”

“Yeah,” he said, wondering what Brick was studying about him. “Those other two

cats were shot-callers, too. They were from the two most popular Mexican gangs here.

We play cards every week, once or twice. We talk about politics and try to keep things

straight between our clans.” He looked down at Brick, as he stood to replace the trash

can in the corner of the cell. “You know what I mean?”

“I think I get the picture. You a leader, too?”

“Yeah, there aren’t many blacks here. We don’t represent our home gangs, so we

just band together as the Brothers. You might have Bloods or C’s, but while we are at

La Tuna, we’re just the Brothers. Same thing with the Chiefs. They don’t represent their

individual tribes. You might see Tohono O’odham or Yaqui or Navaho, but while they

are here, they are just the Chiefs. It’s simple that way, especially when most of the

prison is Hispanic.”

“I see.” Brick thought of himself as lucky, having a shot-caller as a cellie,

especially when first arriving. He didn’t expose his thoughts, but he felt a bit comforted

and wondered if he was analyzing the situation correctly.

Brick had resisted what little pressure he had faced in the past about joining a

gang or group. He hoped he could maintain that attitude and posture at La Tuna, but

the prison was old and dungeon-ish. The walls were chipped and peeling. Years of

stains had gone unscrubbed.

Brick decided to make his bunk. Since he had the top bunk, he’d have to pull it

out from the wall to make it. He wished he had a folding chair to stand on, the type he

had seen people carrying around. He didn’t even have a locker yet. The overcrowding

of prisoners made finding the standard issue items problematic. He’d have to make

contacts and scrounge for what he could.

Looking back, Brick didn’t find the card players overly hardened, especially Jim

Buck, the AB writer. He looked more like a yuppie meth-head than a biker type. He was

above average height with a full head of dirty blonde hair. The cut was modest, but

something about his hair make Brick take note.

He finally figured it out. Buck’s hair reminded him of the guinea pig that Emily

used to have. Wiry cowlicks covered his scalp, but made him look distinguished with

touches of gray patched about.

Brick likened the card games to United Nation meetings. The four guys seemed

to get along fine. They were slapping their cards down, trying to intimidate one another

in their play. Of course, to play Spades they had to team up. Jim Buck was Rabbit’s

teammate, and the two Mexicans played together. Maybe they traded partners every

week; Brick couldn’t guess. There would be many details he’d wait to observe. He just

wanted to survive.

 Chapter 47

Emily met Jeanie Scott in the food court of the Raleigh Springs Mall for lunch. They

both had a bowl of chicken chow mein and a Dr. Pepper. They liked to eat with

chopsticks, even though a fork would have consumed less energy.

Emily’s two shopping bags were stuffed full and worked great for reserving their

seats while they ordered their food, if nobody ran off with them.

“Looks like shoes,” Jeanie said, peering down into the bag. She had a cabbage

shred hanging from her lip.

“Yeah, check these out.” Emily put down her chopsticks and reached into the bag,

pulling out a shoe box. She pulled off the top and grabbed a black leather shoe with a

black and white bow on the ankle. The shoes were just above ankle high and carried

a three-inch, thinly spiked heel. “They match my new dress perfectly.”

“What’s the occasion?” Jeanie wanted to know.

“The recruiter from UTEP called me yesterday, and the enrollment counselors

want to interview me week after next. They want to discuss my representing the school

in national debate tournaments for a special scholarship and grant.”

Emily closed her fists and shook them in front of her face like a game show

winner. The excitement radiated through the room.

“Wow! That’s great!” Jeanie responded, trying to be just as enthusiastic.

“Okay, what’s wrong?” Emily asked, not convinced.

“No, really, I’m happy for you...really.” She sounded fine, but the tears in her eyes

gave her away. One drop squirted down her face, pushing a trail of mascara across her


“Then why are you crying?”

“I hate to see you go. I mean...I want you to be close to Cody, but I don’t want to

lose you.”

“I don’t want to lose you, either. That’s why we can still talk and write, and visit.

I’m just a few hundred miles away.”

Jeanie clenched her jaw. “You mean over a thousand miles away,” she jeered.

“It’s far, but we’ll still be friends.”

“And what about Cody? What happens when he has to spend the rest of his life in

prison? Are you going to be an old maid?”

Emily put down her drink. “Why are you doing this to me? Whenever something

happens the way someone doesn’t want it to, the first thing they do is blame Cody. It’s

not fair. Why do you do that?”

Jeanie grabbed her face. “Oh, God. It’s not like that. We love you, Emily. Your

friends, your family...we just don’t want to see you hurt. You could spend all your time

and energy on him, only to look back and find that you wasted your life away. Your

biological clock could break.”

“I’m not wasting my time. You don’t think I’ll be true to him in the end, do you?”

Emily hated people’s doubts.

Jeanie searched for a response. “Are you? Are you going to be true to him? Three

years of college are in front of you, then more years of law school. Are you going to

turn down all the dates you’re asked on, or will you go and use the guys for the

opportunity to eat a nice meal when you’re hungry, or watch a movie when you’re

bored? That’s what you will be doing – using them.”

“How do you figure that?” Emily objected.

“Because you’ll know they’re asking you out because they’re interested in you. If

you go, you’ll be misleading them, for your own gain. Are you going to tell them that

you’ll be happy for them to spend fifty bucks on you, but they need to sign a waiver of

heart, because you have a boyfriend in prison you’re waiting on?” She wanted to

continue her ramble, but Emily’s eyes were shooting darts.

“Good points. I’ll manage. But I’ve made it this far, and I can make it a bit more.”

She picked up her chopsticks and winked at Jeanie as if they were talking about a new

Italian recipe.


Brick’s lunch in the La Tuna chow hall was as unimpressive as his first seven were. The

best part about the lunch hour was returning to the day room and seeing Jerry

Springer’s guests brawl. Granted, a lot of the inmates watched, but few admitted they

actually liked the show. Most would say, “This is such crap. I can’t believe everyone

watches this shit.” The same people sat glued to the screen and made the same

comments day after day.

Brick thought it was funny that despite the show’s popularity, no one claimed to

be a regular viewer. He had heard his father once say that he didn’t understand why

prostitution was the oldest, most profitable profession in the world if no one ever

visited a hooker.


The prison psychiatrist, Dr. Bristal, dressed more for a social dance than for a male

prison. As she sat to interview Brick, she continually crossed and recrossed her legs –

left over right, then right over left. Every few minutes her mid-thigh skirt interrupted

Brick’s thought process as she lifted her leg to reposition it on the opposing knee.

She wasn’t any taller than five foot six, or so, but she obviously worked out

regularly. Her muscles were well defined and toned. Her calves were rocky, and just

seemed to be hanging on someone else’s skinny legs. Her hair was cropped short in

a pixie-looking style, so Brick could see the muscles in her jaw and neck move when

she talked. He was intrigued with her stature. She was as buff as some of the guys on

the weight pile out in the yard.

Her questions weren’t demanding. She just wanted to know if he was in any

mental crisis. As much as she would have liked to offer in-depth therapy at the prison,

she just put out fires and tried to keep the inmates as calm as possible by prescribing

psychotropics, and intervening if someone needed immediate help.

She cleared Brick for work. He seemed to be well adjusted, she wrote in her


“There is something I want you to think about, Mr. Brikker,” she offered.

He just nodded.

“You are facing life. I’ve seen people give up. Don’t ever give up. I’ve seen

miracles and I’ve seen disasters in the ten years I’ve worked here. Your choices can

help determine which side the coin lands on. If you have any problems, put in for a visit

with me.”

She didn’t say it, but her tone told Brick that if it were up to anyone else there, his

crises would be handled by sticking him in the hole. He sensed that she was one of the

few staff members who cared about the inmates.

During the interview, Brick was anxious to get back to his cell. His mind did

wander a little, and he had to ask her to repeat herself. He was glad the interview was

over, though he wouldn’t forget her.

Rabbit had asked Brick to write a poem for his girl. He’d pay Brick $2.50 in

stamps or a six-pack of soda from the commissary.

Writing love letters and poems was a good hustle for Brick. The raw materials

were cheap, a pen and paper. Plus, it kept his creative mind sharp for rapping. Writing

love letters was really no different from writing a rap.

Even a love letter, if it was too obvious, could sound goofy and lose its effect on

the girl. It had to have a clever hook, and preferably an ending that the reader didn’t

see coming.

When someone finished reading one of the letters, he should walk away

wondering how the writer ever thought of that – impressed. Brick had many guys thank

him and have him write more letters for them.

His most effective letter was to a wife who had left the state and vowed never to

return to her incarcerated husband. After reading one of Brick’s letters, she wrote a

twenty-page letter to her man, returned to the state, moved to Texarkana to be close to

her husband of seventeen years, and visited him every weekend. Brick took pride in


 Chapter 48

Rabbit changed his mind more than a couple of times. First, he wanted Brick to write

a letter for him to give his fiancée; then, he thought it might be better to warm her up

with a short story that had relevance to their private lives.

His girl was mad at him because she felt he didn’t appreciate her loyalty and

conviction. She didn’t think he realized how much she went through on the outside and

felt that he was self-absorbed.

Finally, Rabbit decided on a poem about devotion. Brick would write it in


“It shouldn’t take more than three days. You can mail it by Monday,” Brick

assured him.

“No problem. Do you think you’ll get a job teaching here in the education


Rearranging the clothes in his locker as he looked for his blue pen, Brick shoved

his hand under all the junk, feeling his way as much as looking. “I hope so. I like

teaching. I’m surprised there aren’t any college credit classes here.”

Rabbit had been at La Tuna for a few years and knew the place well. He had seen

program after program start, and then get canned. The reasons were never really clear

to the inmates as to why programs were terminated. Some speculated that it had to do

with the budget, while others, who were more conspiracy-theorist types, claimed that

it was pure harassment by staff.

“Man, we used to have several college classes here. A cat could get a four-year


“What’s up?” Jim Buck interrupted, standing just outside the threshold of their cell

until invited in. His gray ball cap hid his hair. His eyes peered underneath the bill. They

were seas of Mediterranean green with splashes of sunshine gold.

“Hey, Jim,” Rabbit greeted him, “have a seat.” He pointed to his metal folding

chair. He preferred that Jim sit because it kept him more still than if he stood. Jim’s

movements were quick as if he were still on speed. “I was just telling Brick about how

we used to have college classes here.”

“Yeah, we had it made then.” Jim sat and crossed his legs, his right ankle on his

left leg. His foot started shaking relentlessly, while his floored foot tapped.

Brick noted how wired up Jim seemed to always be. He would try to remember

to ask Rabbit if Jim was on any meds because he seemed a lot calmer just before lights


Rabbit continued, “There was this one dude who finished pre-law and then got

accepted to University of Arizona Law School in Tucson three months before he got out.

He took the LSAT and everything while still in here. He showed me the letter from the


“See how this place is?” Jim said.

“What do you mean?” asked Rabbit.

“I mean. That’s just how bad La Tuna is. It took a decent human being and turned

him into a fucking lawyer!” Jim’s foot never missed a beat.

They were both amused at the cleverness of the statement and chuckled.

“Hey, Brick. Did you tell Rabbit about what happened at the weight pile today?”

He gave Rabbit a wink outside of Brick’s view.

“Not yet.” Brick hadn’t planned on saying anything, but since Jim brought it up,

he figured he’d act as if he were going to anyway. He wasn’t aware that Jim knew

anything about the incident.

“Why not? I thought you’d have told him already.” Brick sensed gaming in Jim’s

voice, but wasn’t sure what was going on.

“I thought I’d wait until there were no interruptions, but since you brought it up,

maybe you can explain what it was all about.” Brick was just throwing bait right back

in an attempt to find out what Jim knew, or had heard.

“Go ahead. We’ll see if we can lace you up,” Rabbit said, looking at Brick.

“Well,” Brick swallowed hard and began, “I was at the weight pile for the first

time. And when I sat on the bench, a Mexican came up to me and handed me a

shopping list. He told me that they expected me to get everything on the list and to give

it to the white guy who was with him.”

“Who were the dudes?” Rabbit asked.

“Never saw them before. The Mexican guy was riding his pants low in the back

and they both had their arms all tatted up. The tats on the white guy were mostly

colored – a Rebel flag, some Nazi stuff, too.”

Jim’s leg shook a little faster. “Tell him what you did.” He seemed anxious for him

to finish the story.

“I handed him back the list and told him he must have me mixed up with

somebody else.” His voice was calm.

“Classic answer, man. You been around a bit, huh?” Jim said, complimenting him.

 “What’d they say to that?” Rabbit asked.

“The Mexican said he didn’t think so. He pressed me more and tried to hand me

the list again; so I told him I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t owe anybody. He had

the wrong man.”

“Good answer. Did he leave?” Rabbit wondered.

“No, man. Check out what happened next!” Jim exclaimed, taking the cap from

his head by the brim, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand, and then replacing

the cap.

“Yeah...the Mexican guy slapped my chest with the note in his hand. I took the

note and ate it. Then I started lifting weights....”

Jim jumped in. “He ate the note, man. Didn’t say a word, just ate the note. Then

‘Junior,’” he continued while looking at Brick, “that’s the kid’s name, said that was a

mistake and walked away.”

Rabbit figured out what was going on when he saw the way Jim was laughing

about the incident, but Brick still had no clue as to what was happening. He just

thought the guys had been extorting him for some commissary goods.

“I thought they might try to jump me, but I haven’t heard back from them yet.”

Brick seemed a bit concerned.

“And you won’t either,” said Jim. “Junior is part of the biggest Mexican gang here,

the Paisas, and the other dude is one of mine. They were just bringing it to you to see

what you’d do. You did right.” He nodded in approval.


“Yeah, if you were a rat, you would have run to the COs. If you were a pussy, you

would have already gotten with Rabbit for protection. And if you were just weak, you

would have taken the list and not said anything like a coward. But you’re down, man.

You passed the test.”

“Test for what? I’m not being recruited or anything, am I?”

Rabbit laughed, showing his shiny dental ornaments.

“No, you’re with us. You got too much time to do for the bullshit. Anyone gives you

shit, they know to come to us.”

Brick failed to reconcile in his mind how the leaders of the groups – the

shot-callers – were calling the politics of their own groups “bullshit.” He would have

expected them to defend their group’s actions and to be more competitive at the higher


He pondered the attitudes a bit more and realized that for thousands of years,

leaders of countries had dinner and talks together while their soldiers fought to the

death and their citizens starved while supporting the war efforts. Gang activity might not

be all that different, he guessed.

Still, it all didn’t make much sense to him. Gangs fought over graffiti and numbers.

He once heard a gang member say, “I represent the number 505.” Brick had asked

what 505 meant and the “soldier,” as he called himself, didn’t know. Brick later

learned that 505 was the area code in New Mexico, where the 505 gang came from.

Later, Brick thought that perhaps the soldier knew but couldn’t say because of some

secret, gang code of ethics that would expose the gang’s purpose.


After Jim waltzed out of their cell, Rabbit mentioned that some people weren’t all that

smart in prison. Brick didn’t tell him what an understatement that was, but secretly

found it humorous that the leader of a gang would comment on the lack of intelligence

his members had.

Brick asked Rabbit if he wanted to know how he tested the intelligence of people

he met.

“Yeah, whatcha got?” Rabbit inquired.

“I call it the coin test. You can figure out the answer without doing any math – no

addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. You can figure the answer just using



“Let’s say I have three coins. Then, let’s say that if I throw them all up in the air

at the same time and the chances of EXACTLY two of the three landing on heads is

37.5%, what are the chances of EXACTLY one of the three landing on heads, instead of


Brick held up his fingers in a peace sign to illustrate his words.

Rabbit thought about the riddle for a few minutes and broke out a pencil and

paper and started writing a few numbers.

“I told you, no math. The answer is really simple if you use only logic.” Brick

waved his index finger back and forth as if telling a kid, “No cookies before dinner.”

“It’s a damn math problem, isn’t it?” Rabbit questioned.

“Nope. It’s a logic problem. No math required.”

Rabbit didn’t want to just ask for the answer, but he was disturbed at the

implications if he couldn’t figure it out. He didn’t want to show any weakness. That

wouldn’t be too cool.

“I’ll think on it, and get back witcha, man.” He tossed the piece of paper in the

trash. “Good ‘lookin’ out’ today at the pile. I can’t have no punk for a cellie. No

worries, man.”


Emily didn’t have to take long to convince Aunt Mae to go with her to the DA’s office to

have a meeting about Dale Brown. She would have liked her mother’s support, but the

topic of rape, or even attempted rape, made her shake like a hypoglycemic without a

candy bar.

Emily felt, as victims so often did, that somehow it was her fault, so she was

embarrassed to discuss the details around her parents. She knew they didn’t judge her.

Not one time did they tell her to be more careful or to watch out next time. They were

very understanding and only offered support; but, still, she had a hard time facing them

about it. She’d feel a lot more comfortable with Aunt Mae.

Whatever the outcome, she could tell Cody about it when she went to El Paso to

interview and hopefully register for school. It would take a lot of courage to show her

vulnerability to him, but she had to.

She was determined to keep him posted on everything in her life so that he’d trust

her, trust her judgment, and know how devoted she was. She didn’t even want anything

to look suspicious to him. He had told her plenty of horror stories about inmates losing

family and friends. She wanted to be the exception to the rule and outwit the statistics

of social mortality that prison so often induced.

Chapter 49

Mail call was early, with six dozen inmates crowded in a two-lane hallway outside the

door to the CO’s office. Mr. Sweet’s door was split so that the window part above could

be opened while the bottom part stayed shut. He liked to do mail call from the window.

It helped that he could pile the mail on the bottom part of the door, which made a nice

little counter.

The inmates liked Sweet’s handing out mail because, unlike some officers, he

would give mail to other inmates to pass to their cellies. It helped reduce the traffic at

mail call but wasn’t totally in compliance with BOP regulations and policies of inmates

not handling another inmate’s mail. If the mail was legal or official looking, he’d make

the inmate pick it up personally.

The inmates also liked making fun of Sweet’s feminine side and the way he

struggled with the Hispanic last names, the same ones every day. As far as COs were

concerned, Sweet was one of the better ones, though none of them could be fully

trusted by the inmates. They considered COs to be like Dobermans – they could turn

on you at any minute.

Sweet handed out the newspapers and magazines first, then the letters. When he

was finished, he announced, “If you didn’t get any mail, write someone!”

Half of the guys mouthed the slogan along with Sweet since he liked to close with

the same smart remark every mail call.

Brick returned to his cell with a single envelope from his attorney. Since mail call

was early, he decided to jump up on his bunk and read his letter before four o’clock

count. He was alone, and his cellie wouldn’t be returning to the cell until after seven

because he was working a relief shift at his job.

Brick never expected the news from his attorney to be good. Since he pulled the

trigger on his father several years earlier, nothing had seemed to go his way in the legal

system, despite his prayers, dreams, and expectations. This letter would probably not

be any different. Brick almost put the letter down to wait until after dinner to read it.

The mail was opened and examined for contraband by the mailroom staff in the

prison. It was also sent through a negative air vacuum to check for contaminates like

anthrax. So all Brick had to do to open the letter was to remove the shiny metal staple

that the mailroom used to reseal the opening.

The letter included a notice of a motion for a new trial, filed under Rule 33. His

attorney decided to include new evidence, after all. Though he hadn’t found any

earth-shattering evidence, Mr. Cantinelli had learned that the U.S. withheld a report it

received from the State of Tennessee, concerning an investigation conducted when

Brick was ten years old.

Brick never knew that a neighbor called Child Protective Services anonymously

after she heard constant fighting from the Brikker residence. He did remember the

neighbor talking to him at his mailbox one day after he had been beaten with a switch.

It was not a normal twig from a tree that time. His father made him go out to the

rose bush in the backyard and cut off a branch. When he brought the rose branch

back, his father whipped the back of his legs. The thorns, which were still jutting out

from the branch like giant ice picks, stabbed into the back of his legs. Each one left a

hole of oozing blood. After a few lashes, his thighs looked like tenderized meat.

The lady noticed the bruises and patterns of sieve-like holes in the back of his

legs. She remembered the crying and loud, painful screams the day before. When Cody

couldn’t explain the marks on the back of his legs to her, she became suspicious and

called the authorities to investigate. Cody’s explanation of falling off his bike just wasn’t

consistent with the wounds.

Child Protective Services interviewed Mrs. Brikker and Mr. Brikker, leaving Cody

out of the loop. Mr. Cantinelli found out that the parents were ordered to take a

forty-hour parenting class, which focused on nonviolent, behavior modification skills.

They successfully completed the class, but a more in-depth follow-up by the state never

took place.

Mr. Cantinelli also had evidence that the report had been read by the U.S.

Attorney, but was not mentioned in the discovery process, nor entered into evidence by

the prosecution. Because this was exculpatory evidence in favor of Cody, Mr.

Cantinelli’s motion suggested that the court needed to reconsider the transference-toadult

ruling, as well as the rest of the court proceedings. Mr. Cantinelli would ask for

a new trial, this time by jury, though he didn’t expect that to be granted. Clearly, such

earth-shattering evidence would be considered mandatory to be included in the Brady


His policy was to ask for the stars and settle for the moon in situations like this,

but, at the same time, not be frivolous in his motions and evidence. His letter explained

that he fully expected the judge to revisit the sentence instead of granting a new trial or

overturning the motion for adult transfer; however, anything was possible. “The judge

will just do what he has in his heart to do. It’s as simple as that,” he wrote.

The two-page letter sucked the energy from Brick. He needed to take a small,

power nap and clear his head of the jumbled emotions that hamster-wheeled around

in his mind. Of course, anything was possible, but he fought to not get his hopes up. He

was learning to decide his emotions, instead of just living them. This was a trait he had

noticed in a lot of prisoners.

He put the letter back in the envelope and stuck it under his pillow. He folded his

pillow in half and lay down, waiting for count time. The letter had left him with more

questions than it answered.


“Get up, Brikker,” a voice growled. “Brikker...on your feet, count time!” the

gray-shirted guard said again, this time in a nastier tone.

Almost shaking himself awake, Brick slid down his bunk’s ladder and hit the

floor. He was still half asleep, trying to reorient himself.

“Give me your ID card.”

Brick fumbled through his pockets, missing the card a couple of times before he

finally pulled it from his left breast pocket. “Here, sir.”

He had committed the one cardinal sin, the one major cardinal sin, in federal

prison. He had just missed count. It wasn’t enough to be in your cell at four o’clock.

Since it was a stand-up count, the most important count of the day, you were expected

to be standing, not sitting, not leaning, not bending over, and definitely not sleeping or

lying down.

The guards took it as a personal insult and considered it to be disrespectful if you

did anything to mess with their count, including whispering to your cellie. If you were

heard making any kind of noise or disruption during stand-up count, you could go to

the hole or receive formal disciplinary action that took away good time and raised your

security classification.

Brick had just been caught sleeping and had no idea what would be done to him.

He didn’t want to go to the hole the first couple of weeks of being at La Tuna.

The guard snatched the ID card from Brick’s hand. “Come see me in the office

after count.” Brick wanted to ask him his fate but didn’t dare. Other prisoners were

straining to hear what was going on in Brick’s cell.

Without a further word, the guard continued his count down the hallway. Brick

was left to wonder what was going to happen to him.

After count cleared over the intercom, Brick went directly to the CO’s control

office. The short, Hispanic officer was sitting at his computer terminal, typing with one

hand and keeping his place on a piece of paper with one finger of the other hand.

“Excuse me, sir. You told me to come see you after count.”

“Come in and shut the door,” he commanded, and Brick complied.

Brick placed his hands behind his back and stood with his feet shoulder width

apart, just as he had seen Army soldiers do many times before when standing at ease.

The officer took a few seconds to dramatically shake his head in chastisement.

“What makes you think you can screw up my count like that, Brikker?”

“Sorry, sir, I accidentally fell asleep. It won’t happen again.”

“You’re damn right it won’t happen again. Tell me why I shouldn’t put you in the

hole. You can live there and go days without a shower. You like sleeping so much you

can get all the fucking sleep you want there. Hell, you almost don’t need to leave your

bunk to take a shit. Is that what you want?”

“No, sir, it doesn’t sound all that great to me. I’d appreciate not going.”

“You better appreciate not going.” He leaned back in his chair, and put his hands

behind his head. “I’ll tell you what, Brikker. You are new here, and I don’t feel like

doing paperwork today. I’m just going to have you clean the hallway. Sweep it and mop

it. And if I even catch you sneezing where you aren’t supposed to, I’m going to do

double paperwork on your ass. Got it?”

Brikker was relieved but didn’t want to show it. “Do you want me to mop this

hallway here or the ones in my cell block?”

“Yes.” He winked at Brikker. “All of them. All four hallways. Get on out of here.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll get right on it.”

Brick walked around the corner to the mop room. There were several yellow mop

buckets on the floor, and mechanical mop wringers hanging on the wall. He filled the

bucket with hot water and added the standard-issue, green disinfectant.

He left the prepared water in the mop closet and grabbed a janitorial dust mop

to sweep the floors. On his way to the end of the first hallway, he figured it would take

him about an hour to finish the job. He considered himself lucky not to go to the hole,

but he also realized that his get-out-of-jail-free card may have just been played with that

guard, and he had an awfully long time to keep his nose clean.

 Chapter 50

Brick’s eyes moved back and forth underneath his eyelids. He was deep in REM. The

Army green, wool blanket covered him, not quite keeping him totally warm. His body

twitched when the U.S. Marshal served him with an arrest warrant for unknown


He tossed his head to the side, falling more deeply into his dream. He magically

ended up behind bars in a jail he did not recognize. His concert was going to take

place without him if he couldn’t get word to anyone to tell them that he was locked up.

He could lose his recording contract, just as he had lost his freedom.

He had no idea why he was arrested. When he called his wife, Brick still couldn’t

get answers. It was frustrating. All he knew was that everyone who depended on him

was going to be disappointed. He didn’t know how long he would be locked up. He

didn’t know why.

After trying to make a few more phone calls, he felt that his future looked grim.

Nothing worked. The phone fell from the wall into his hands. He tried to put it back on

the wall, but the drywall caved in. Then the water fountain next to the phones started

overflowing and ruining the shag carpet. The guards were coming and would blame

everything on him. He might even get a new case, for destruction of government


This wasn’t the first time Brick had this dream. He had it dozens of times in

Texarkana. It was frightening, and seemed never to end while he was in it. Each time

he woke up from the dream, he remembered a little more of it, or perhaps the dream

evolved; he didn’t know for sure. He just knew that if he kept up with the dream

evolving as it had, he could write a novel.

Just when his dream wife answered the telephone, he woke up. This time he woke

up to a meeting with his counselor, Robert Espinosa. He was running a bit behind but

not late. He had time to brush his teeth, make his bunk, and get to Espinosa’s office.

There was a line of inmates outside the counselor’s office, waiting to talk with

him. Brick was fifth in line, but since he was expected, Mr. Espinosa came to the door

and called him in. The rest of the crowd gave lip service as he walked past them into

the office.

Mr. Espinosa was the kind of guy who set his trash can on his desk and put a label

on it, “In-Basket,” just to make a point. The fact of the matter was that anyone could

look on his desk, into his real in-basket, and see a stack of mess – a pile of papers he

should have gotten to but hadn’t, including blue telephone lists, visitation lists, and

inmate request forms of all types, even BP9’s, the requests for administrative remedies

from inmates to higher staff.

One of the waiting inmates was in line for a bunk change. He had problems with

his cellie, and things were getting kind of bad. He had approached Mr. Espinosa several

times the past week. Each time, Mr. Espinosa told him to come back the next day at a

specific time and he’d take care of it. The inmate had stood in line five times, for a total

of four and a half hours; still, no action was taken.

It was obvious to most people that the counselor spent more time trying to avoid

work than getting anything done. Every now and then, he’d come through, but only after

numerous inmate contacts and a gaggle of wasted hours.

Brick’s visit was about his job. He had filled out a request to work in education.

He had previous experience teaching GED classes and liked that kind of work. It would

also afford him the opportunity to be around study material to further his own


“I have your job assignment, Mr. Brikker,” the counselor said, handing Brick a

small piece of paper. “Your work assignment will show up on the change sheet posted

tonight on the bulletin board.”

Brick took the paper and read it. His face fell in disbelief. Perhaps there was a

mistake. He carefully formed his question. “Sir, I thought I was going to the education


“I checked and there aren’t any openings right now, so I put you in the kitchen.

You’ll be in the dish room. You don’t need experience to work there, before you ask.”

Mr. Espinosa’s indifferent tone and demeanor confounded Brick, leaving him

speechless for a moment and unsure of what to say. He felt like a small child who had

just lost his mother in a grocery store. He didn’t know what to do next.

“How long before there are any openings?” he finally asked.

“There will be an opening in exactly two weeks.”

Brick felt relieved. “So I can transfer to education in two weeks?”

“No. You have to stay at any job assignment you get for at least ninety days. That’s

the policy. Call the next guy in line for me,” he said, as he pointed toward the door.

Brick couldn’t believe his ears. It simply didn’t make any sense that he was given

a job he would hate. He was stuck. Or as Rabbit would say, he was “hit.”


Judge Brianne B. Bucher’s office was dimly lit. When studying case law, or even her

own cases, she liked soft classical music playing in the background, soft light, and a

glass of blush. Her favorite was Zinfandel, though she’d drink a brandy every now and

then. She preferred Kirsch, a cherry brandy.

It wasn’t late, about eight o’clock, when Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine McDale

walked in. “You rang,” she said in a familiar, playful voice.

“Yes, I did. Did you get the notice of Brikker’s motion today?” She pulled her

half-moon reading glasses from her face and let them hang at her breast by the black

cord around her neck.

“How did I know this meeting was about Brikker?”

“I take it you saw it then,” she supposed, pursing her lips and squinting her eyes

in a painful memory of the case.

“Yes. Any plans?”

“Christine, this case has haunted my mind. I prefer not to deal with it at all.” She

wasn’t smiling or looking the least bit happy. She always knew she’d see this case come

across her bench again.

“Well, I’m being transferred to North Carolina. They have some drug cases up

there they want me to dig into, so we need to think about a timeline.” She looked at the

judge’s glass of wine, wishing she had one, too.

“Who is taking your place?” Bucher asked.

“I don’t know yet. The transfer isn’t for another six months.”

“I can push this thing and keep you involved, or I can put it under the years of

legal replies I have under review. Are you sure you want to keep playing with this fire?

It hasn’t burned you yet, but I think it’s a huge gamble for you.”

“Yeah, look what happened to Julie,” she said, somewhat mollified.

Judge Bucher was still “split-decided” about Julie Flowers’ landslide defeat in her

political campaign. Her incumbent opponent had made it an issue that she was an

arresting agent of the FBI when Cody Brikker was prosecuted. His favorite slogan was,

“She’ll drop you like a hot Brikker!”

Even though her supervisor, Don Stewart, had tried to keep Julie out of the

spotlight on the Brikker case, the public eye found her. Stewart had fallen short of

taking the blame for himself when he, non-convincingly, told the public that Julie

wasn’t responsible for Brikker’s conviction.

“Maybe the Brikker case had something to do with it, maybe not,” Bucher

surmised. “It’s hard to gauge the citizens and what they think. You know that.”

McDale’s rattled thoughts were now churned into butter. If she followed up on the

case by supporting the judge, she could receive some pretty sticky backlashings. Her

job with the case was really finished as a U.S. Attorney, technically. But when cases

were revisited in appeal, then names were always dragged back up, and those involved

would either be forced to support their actions, despite the court of public opinion, or

be put in the position of admitting a horrible mistake. Either way, they would lose in the

hearts and minds of the public.

“Perhaps putting this thing off until I’m out of the community might be a better

way to go. No, if I leave, then they will think that we planned my convenient escape on

this one. I don’t know. Let me think on it a bit, Judge.”

“Okay, Christine. I see you are still working it through in your head. Let’s try not

to put the cart in front of the horse.” She sounded like a wise medicine man settling a

community tiff. She herself couldn’t predict the right course of action. Eventually, she’d

need to make a ruling, but she wanted to mitigate the political damage while

maintaining the integrity of her previous decisions concerning the case.

 Chapter 51

The hallway was full of inmates scurrying about. The phones were within ten feet of

three microwave ovens where the men could cook their food.

The cooking was quite impressive and the model of ingenuity. The makeshift

recipes rivaled home cooking at times.

A Mexican inmate was making tamales. He made his cornmeal dough, not from

masa, but from crunched-up corn chips and tortilla chips mixed together with water

and a dash of olive oil, stolen from the kitchen. He mashed the mixture with his hands

like a baker making bread, and then rolled out some of the dough, filling it with canned

roast beef he bought at the commissary, a jalapeño pepper, and onion. He held the

tamales together with squares of plastic, rather than the corn husks normally used.

His pico de gallo compared to any restaurant salsa, except he used a garlic chile

sauce as a side spice, instead of cilantro.

The microwaved tamales were tasty, as evidenced by the inmate making three

dozen of them on a weekend. People bought them at 75 cents apiece. He only profited

35 cents a tamale, but if he sold thirty of them, keeping six to eat for himself, he could

make $10.50 in a day. That wasn’t bad for a prison hustle.

Any way of making money like that was against BOP policies and punishable with

a “shot,” or formal disciplinary action, so it had to be kept discreet. Most guys had

some kind of hustle on the side and didn’t get bothered unless an inmate snitched them

out with a complaint, or things got too big and out of hand. They’d stay under the radar

and survive the best they could, especially those inmates without rich families keeping

their commissary account funded.

Brick watched the cooking as he waited to call Aunt Mae. He had lots of new and

nasty prison tidbits to share with her. There was always something new going on –

something strange and previously unthought of.

“Hello,” she answered, not checking her caller ID.

“Hi, Aunt Mae,” he said after the usual, legally required recording.

“Hi, babe, how are you doing in Texas?” Her concerned voice lulled him.

“Pretty good, I guess. I just got lucky with my living arrangements. I don’t think

the guards planned it this way.” He tried to keep his voice down, but the mouthpieces

sometimes were so low that he couldn’t even hear himself through the earpiece as he


Brick pulled the phone from his ear and rapped it with his palm. “Sorry, I had to

fix the phone.”

“I can hear you a lot better now,” she said.

“Good. Things are getting better. I finally found a locker a couple of days ago. I’m

not living out of a cardboard box now.”

“Moving up, eh?” she joked with her usual giggle.

In his mind, Brick could just see her smile. He missed it and wanted to see her

in person.

“Aunt Mae, you wouldn’t believe how nasty it is here. Dudes actually blow their

noses in the sink. I think they try to wash the snot down, but sometimes when I go to

brush my teeth, there are chunks of luggies and green snot stuck to the basin....”

She interrupted, “That’s gross, you’re gonna make me puke right here.”

“Sorry, but that’s how it is here. The white guys call it ‘biker-blow.’ Sick, huh?”

He felt the need to clarify his feelings on the issue. “These people here are disgusting.

Some people don’t flush. What I really hate though is that they suck snot and then

cough it up. They spit it out just anywhere. They spit on the sidewalks and where you

walk. Even in the chow line, people are spitting and crap.”

“Doesn’t anyone say anything?” she inquired, not understanding how the prison

society didn’t self-police those things.

“You don’t get it. There are more pigs than people – majority rules. You just keep

your mouth shut and go on.”


“Have you talked to Emily?” He sounded anxious, and had a grin she couldn’t see

over the phone.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. She said she is leaving next week for an interview

with the University of Texas at El Paso. They might offer her a scholarship big enough

for her to attend there. She doesn’t know yet. She also wants to visit you.”

“Cool. I can’t wait to see her.” Brick’s eyes smiled from the inside out. He felt a

bit shaky and nervous just thinking of Emily coming to see him.

“You are lucky, Cody. Emily is probably the best friend anyone could ever have.

She has done so much for you.”

“I know. Do you think she’ll be accepted and get money for school?”

“I think she will. They’d be stupid not to recruit her there. She is a great student

and could probably go anywhere she wants.” Aunt Mae was more than confident about

Emily’s abilities. She wasn’t just blowing smoke at Brick.

“Cody, did you hear about Dale yet?”

“Oh, yes, a Minuteman ran by and told me,” he quipped, his facetiousness spilling


“Let me fill you in....”

“Please do,” he encouraged her, though he didn’t know if he’d like what he was

about to hear.

“Somebody apparently found him and beat his ass, but he wouldn’t tell the

authorities who did it. We think it must have scared him pretty badly. Anyway, the DA

decided not to charge him as an adult, although he was just two weeks from turning

eighteen.” She waited for his initial response, but it didn’t come; there was only silence,

so she continued. “The reason is that the juvenile system will sentence him to probation

and a list of requirements, and he will have to do them despite the fact that he is now

over eighteen years old.”

“Funny how things work, isn’t it?” Brick quietly noted to his aunt.

She knew what he was thinking, without any further explanation. “Yes, baby, it

is...really funny.”

Somewhere in Brick’s mind there was a pleasant thought peering around a

corner, but everything he processed about the situation was magically monstrous. He

couldn’t even find the words to convey his thoughts, if they were even clear enough to


At La Tuna, as with most prisons, according to legend, the worst types of people

were sexual predators and rats. At La Tuna, if inmates came in for rape or even

attempted rape as part of their record, they wouldn’t have much time to put themselves

into protective custody – roll themselves up and go PC. Preying on innocent women and

children was taboo with most federal prisoners.

Emily wasn’t permanently hurt, so Brick decided that some punishment was better

than none, plus Dale got the crap beaten out of him for good measure. That was

somewhat satisfying to Brick. As with everyone else who heard the beating story, he

wished that he had been the fisted one.

His attitude calmed as he quietly hung up the phone and walked back to his cell,

preparing his mind for bed.


Chapter 52

“Wazzzzup?” Rabbit startled Brick when he entered the cell. “I saw you talking on the

phone, young man. Wazzzzup?” he asked, spreading his eyes wide open and flailing his

lips like a fish.

“You’re crazy, man.” Brick smiled. “I was just talking with my Aunt Mae.”

“Cool. I just figured out the answer to your coin riddle.”

“You did?” Brick was happy and hoping that he had the right answer. He’d hate

to have to tell his cellie that he wasn’t too bright.

“Yeah, man. It was kind of easy once I got it.”

“Shoot,” Brick commanded.

“Well, if the odds of exactly two heads landing out of three coins is 37.5%, then

the odds of exactly one head landing is the same: 37.5%.”

“Okay, how did you figure that out?”

“Simple, man. Dig this...if you have exactly two heads, that means the other coin

must be tails. So the odds of getting exactly one tail are, of course, 37.5%. The chances

of getting exactly one head must be the same as getting just one tail. Voilá, man.”

Rabbit pointed his fingers like pistolas in victory.

“You got it,” Brick confirmed.

“You were right, no math, just logic.” He was pleased with himself.

“Now can you get me the short story from Jim Buck?” He remembered Rabbit’s


Rabbit pulled a couple of stapled pages of paper from under his broken-down

pillow and held them out to Brick. “Here you go. Hot off the press. This is good shit,

man, read it.”

“Thanks.” Brick tossed it up on his bunk, then climbed in after it.

He got on his knees and turned his covers back so he could slide between them.

He snuggled them up to below his chin and started reading Jim Buck’s short story. It

was only two pages, and looked like a perfect nightcap.

Dawn’s Liberty

She lay still. She could not hear her own heartbeat above the whine of the

institutional air conditioning system. Her skin was as cold as the flat, gray bricks

and steel bars that surrounded her in her tiny prison cell. The length of her

sentence never did bring comfort to her aching back, and her four-inch-thick

bunk roll never brought relief from the metal underneath the cotton roll.

On this day her long sentence was complete, and she had anticipated freedom

from her long legal and social burden. She had finally served her time and

contemplated freedom as much as one could contemplate any highly anticipated

event or concept.

She always viewed freedom as something you partake of, or do, not something

you possess. To Dawn this concept had two forms. First, one can think freely.

Second, one can act freely. The lines only blur between the two concepts when

someone defines thinking as an overt act. She often said that freedom could not

be given, only allowed. It cannot be taken away, only disallowed.

Furthermore, she argued that if a freedom is disallowed and then again

allowed, liberty has been granted or gained, as liberty is the state of being freed.

The strength of her captors, in this case, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), was

such that she was confined, and much of her free will to act was restrained, but

not so confined that her free mind was depressed.

She was free to think, just not always act. She had always maintained that

freedom of thought throughout her prison stay.

Her nightly dreams let her escape to places she loved, as well as places she had

never actually been. Some destinations, in fact, may not have even existed. She

was liberated nightly from the prison chains. She longed to be touched, so when

she couldn’t act on that desire, her mind took her to find love, where her skin was

caressed and her breasts suckled. Often she fought the waking sun in a dance of

lucid dreams and reality. She thought of “awakeness”as the tool of her captors that

brought an unnatural balance in the restraint of her activities: more thought, less


Soon, both forms of freedom – mind and action – would be restored,


She wondered what was taking so long. Even her last moments of that

torturous existence were an exercise of bureaucratic “hurry up and wait.” She was

familiar with this maze of insanity, as her two tours with the U.S. Army and

twenty-one years of prison life had fully indoctrinated her in the skills of patience;

however, she was never accepting of the associated complacency of those at cause.

Behind bars, Dawn was married to several perfect men in her mind. In an

instant she recalled each of them. She almost felt guilty that her release was a

disappointment to her imaginary lovers. She would be leaving them forever. She

didn’t really want to take them with her; because of that, she questioned whether

she was a “user” like so many fellow prisoners she loathed. She reasoned that she

could not use, or abuse, her own free thought, or the products of her emotionality

– comforting “imaginauts” who journeyed into her mind.

Dawn’s only child was grown and bore her two granddaughters, but she had

not seen them in over six months. She thought they would be both surprised and

comforted by her liberation. Would they love her more or less? Would they all forget

Dawn’s struggle? Would they forget about the emotional visits that had consisted

of card games and raids on the coke and chip machines? Would they forget about

the watchful eyes of the visiting room supervisors with their starched, white shirts

and gold badges?

Not just her time in prison, but her entire life raced past her mind’s eye with

a clarity and focus never before felt by her. Dawn had a smile frozen to her face

as she recounted the tokens of her last fifty-seven years: Not one of these tokens

had the face of regret; not one was in question; not one was identified for


She would accept, keep, and hold dear every free thought and action she had

ever evoked. She had finally gained a new freedom away from fear, threat,

personal guilt, and emotional pain.

Her thoughts faded as the uniformed officers entered her cell.

Her smile frozen to her face, she remained still as the officers approached her

bunk. She looked as chilled as the frigid cell air.

Two-part freedom at last, for she had served her time fully and without

remorse. Her sentence was life without parole.

Her liberation came in the form of handcuffs and a body bag.

Brick enjoyed stories with such endings. He flipped back to the beginning of the

story to see if it should have been more obvious to him. He found the story to be

impressive, just perfect as a bedtime intellectual snack.

The part about the handcuffs wasn’t clear to Brick until Rabbit explained that the

BOP never allowed prisoners to die on BOP property.

The BOP always handcuffed the lifeless inmates and then transferred them to a

local hospital where they were then pronounced dead.


Chapter 53

Her flight was comfortable and paid for by the university. She missed the peanuts that

the airline used to serve and couldn’t get over the fact that the peanut allergies of a few

passengers had preempted her culinary delight. Flights without peanuts were like

baseball games without hot dogs, or picnics without food.

Waiting outside the terminal gates was Mr. Davis, holding a sign, just in case she

forgot what he looked like in the crowd of deplaners. It read, “Welcome Emily UTEP.”

The sun beat down, and the air was like an oven compared to Memphis’s

sauna-like air. Her eyes darted about, taking in the sights and sounds of a new city,

while her skin seemed suddenly to dry out.

The black asphalt under her feet slightly stuck to the bottoms of her shoes. With

each step her soles clicked, breaking the grasp of the tarry lot. But she didn’t sweat.

Perhaps she was sweating, she thought. Maybe it just evaporated so quickly that

she didn’t notice it.

Mr. Davis rolled her tweed luggage, as she carried her computer case. With her

free hand she felt her forehead, checking her theory about sweat. Nothing.

“Here, let me get that for you,” he said, grabbing for her computer case and

setting it in the back seat for her, along with her rolling bag. He placed it on the

floorboard so that it wouldn’t get tossed about.

“Thanks, Mr. Davis.”

He opened the passenger door to his fifteen-year-old Volvo station wagon, and

waited for her to climb in before he politely closed her door. She watched as he walked

around the front of his car.

“We’ll have our meeting as soon as we get there. Are you hungry?” He looked over

his right shoulder to ascertain that it was clear behind him before he backed out.

“No, sir. I brought some snacks with me and ate them on the plane. I’m good for

a couple of hours, at least.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yep. I’m good. Thanks.” Really, she was just too excited to eat. She had just

traveled a thousand miles to find out what they had to offer her. She couldn’t eat if she

were hungry.

They were on the highway within five minutes, talking about her flight and his day.

He had spent the day arguing with Army recruiters over booth space at a local high

school’s career day. He explained that the Army guys didn’t want to be right next to the

Navy guys, so they tried to take over his UTEP booth an hour before he arrived to set it


Mr. Davis couldn’t believe the nerve of those guys.

“Yes, I know. Army recruiters can be a pain the butt.” She thought about Cody’s

father, as well as some of the comments her mother had made about her own recruiter

promising her things that he didn’t deliver.

As it turned out, her mother ended up with a better job than the one the recruiter

promised, a job that led to a high-paying career in cardio-sonography. If she had gotten

the job he promised, she’d be qualified to order tank parts. Not much demand for that

in civilian life.

“How do you know about recruiters?” he innocently asked.

“Remember my friend in prison?”

“Yes, ma’am. He’s why you want to go to school at UTEP. How could I forget?” he

responded, glancing at her, but still obediently focusing on his driving.

“Well, his dad was an Army recruiter. That’s why the Feds convicted him.”

“Oh.” He didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry to hear that.” He turned and smiled

at her, “Let’s not talk about recruiters anymore.” Then he gave her a wink.

“Look out!” she blurted out, almost terrified.

A truck had swerved into their lane, almost sideswiping them, but Mr. Davis

turned to the left just in time.

The car to his left honked at him as if to warn him from coming into his lane. The

car didn’t see the truck Mr. Davis was trying to avoid.

His heart jumped a beat as he got a little adrenaline rush. Slightly embarrassed

about the situation, he said, “I guess we were almost caught between a rock and a hard

spot, huh?”

“Yeah,” Emily sighed. “That was close.”

“They don’t always drive like that around here,” he said, trying to assure her.

“Oh, you should see Memphis! Heck, we have state senators pulling guns on

truckers on the highway.” She was talking about a real incident when a state senator

brandished a pistol at a trucker, while driving on Interstate Loop 240. It had been

enough to make the news locally.

“I read about that in the newspaper a while ago,” he said, amused. “I guess that

senator is quite the character, from what the news said.”

“Oh, yeah. He is always getting into some kind of beef with someone. I heard he

has several paternity suits from secretaries. Oh, once he was caught speeding to

Nashville for a meeting, and the cop who pulled him over got an earful from him. The

whole thing was caught on tape.”

“Wow. We have some real winners in power, don’t we?”

Again, her mind went to Cody and his struggle. She couldn’t help but associate

most wrongdoings with her best friend in prison, his parents, and his trial. She spread

the blame evenly, but it didn’t make it any easier to face.


The Dean of the Psychology Department, Dr. Flores, joined Elaina Bustamante and Mr.

Davis. They sat on the other side of the conference table from Emily.

Elaina said, “We were informed by Mr. Davis why you want to come to UTEP, and

we read your application.” Her soft, Hispanic, brown eyes matched her voice. “Do you

have any questions before we get started?”

“No, ma’am,” Emily responded as she pulled herself closer to the table, scanning

the others in the room for any clues.

Elaina opened a folder with Emily’s name on the tab. “Great, then,” she said as

she patted the folder open with both of her manicured hands. Her nails were perfectly

oval and subtly painted to match her silk dress. Her fingers were long and thin, with

just a smidgen of aging showing through her skin’s color and texture. “We have

discussed you in depth. Your school performance records are such that you shouldn’t

have a problem going to any university you desire, so the issue comes to what we have

to offer you.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“We know that you want to come here to be closer to an incarcerated friend and

that you desire to pursue law school in a few years so that you can help such people.

So we feel we have the upper hand, but we don’t play those games here. We want to

present you a fair offer that will make you successful and comfortable.”

Emily found their straightforward attitude refreshing, though she didn’t quite

understand the motivation for universities giving money away just to be fair. Later she

would see the importance of alumni grants and support in enrollment, reputation, and

money, but not now.

“I’ll let Dr. Flores tell you about our plans for you.” She looked his way. Dr. Flores

was a distinguished man with a sleek beard and mustache accenting his appropriately

Freudian face.

“Ms. Chee. We have a National Debate Team here at UTEP. The past few years we

haven’t done so well. Even though most of our participants are psychology and business

majors, we are underdeveloped as a whole program. We reviewed your performance

at the high school debate level and we were very impressed. In fact, we called your

team coach. Would you be interested in joining our team’s efforts?”

Emily wasn’t sure where they were going with their offer. “If I can afford it,” she

slyly prompted them.

“Ah, affordability.” Dr. Flores knew she was fishing for info. “We are prepared to

offer you a full ride, plus a stipend package worth about $250 a month.”

“Does that include room and board? And what are the conditions?” she astutely


“Yes. Our offer includes tuition, books, lab fees, dormitory rent, and a meal card.

You will be required to take a minimum of eighteen credit hours a semester, with a

passing average of at least 3.4. You will also participate in the National Debate Team

each year the scholarship is offered.” He leaned over the table, resting his hands under

his chin, like a cat looking at an empty sardine can, and asked, “How does that sound?”

“Sounds great to me. I don’t think I can beat that offer. But I want to finish the

program in three years and get onto law school. Can I do that?”

“We understand you want to major in psychology and minor in political science.

Are you still leaning that way?”

“Not leaning. That is what I’m going to do,” she quickly corrected him.

Mrs. Bustamante jumped in. “We have had many students graduate in three years.

It’s quite ambitious. We don’t want you to burn out, but if you take two summer

sessions, and an extra class here and there, it’s totally possible.”

“Great. I’ll give your offer consideration. I think I like it.”

Dr. Flores knew campus life was important to potential recruits, so he suggested

they show Emily around the campus.

“We’ll start at the dorms and show you where you’ll be living if you come on


Emily walked with the three of them through the dorms, the library, a science lab,

the cafeteria, and the sports complex. They even peeked into a few classrooms along

the way.

She was very impressed with the relatively unknown university. It was big enough

to offer her everything she wanted but small enough for her to feel at home. She’d enjoy

the debate team.

Her mind stared drifting to the visit she planned with Cody, and she was satisfied

that she got the interview out of the way. She’d at least have some interesting news for

him. She hoped he’d be as happy as she was. Her smile grew with each site, and she

felt more and more at home.

With a full schedule, her three years would go quickly. She wasn’t looking forward

to the social scene. She just saw the university as a formality to qualify her for law

school. That’s where her work would lie.

The campus had a lot of grass for being in the middle of the desert, she thought.

It was also interesting to her how the cactus garden, laced with rock beds, was

integrated into the grassy landscaping.

“It’s like a park,” she commented.

Mr. Davis always had a funny line. “Do you see that girl studying over there?” he

asked Emily.

“Yes,” she answered, wondering what about her.

“Well, her tuition pays for one-tenth of our water bill to keep it looking like a


Emily laughed out loud while Mrs. Bustamante and Dr. Flores just gave him a

goofy look.

The late afternoon air-cooled her skin. It was noticeably more pleasant to her. She

hadn’t spent a cool desert night in El Paso before. This would be her first. She was

looking forward to the Mexican dinner Mr. Davis promised her, though she wanted to

get a good night’s sleep before her visit to La Tuna in the morning.


Brick wouldn’t be able to sleep that night. He didn’t know what was bothering him; he

just felt uneasy. He had visions of Emily attending the university in El Paso. Those

visions were followed, in his mind, by visions of her attending classes with a new

boyfriend. It seemed that an exterminating horror followed up each thought of


If Brick had to describe his own mind, he’d describe it as reckless. One of his

worst thoughts started with him being joyful to see Emily come to visit him, but when

he looked down, he noticed a diamond ring on her finger. Her visit was to inform him

that she was now engaged.

He didn’t understand where the jealousy was coming from. He couldn’t even label

it as that. It was just a feeling that he couldn’t control. His mind raced to put the pieces

together, with no luck.

He wanted her close to him but didn’t want anything bad to happen. Every cloud

has a silver lining right next to the black one, he thought. He tried to keep his mind

pure and his thoughts positive, but the harder he tried, the more insecure he felt. He

couldn’t wait to see Emily and find out how her meeting went.



“Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right

and wrong, but conscience? – in which majorities decide only those questions to which

the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least

degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then?”

– Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience -1849


Chapter 54

Brick spent a little more than three years increasing his letter and poetry writing skills,

and getting paid for it. After finally transferring out of the dish room into the Education

Department where he taught GED classes, he expanded his art talents to calligraphy on

parchment-type paper, and he even dabbled in handkerchief drawings of cartoon

characters, which he sold for $10 apiece.

“Over here, Brikker, you know the drill,” whined a short, sawed-off female guard,

her Spanish accent distracting from her message.

Brick walked through the metal detector that reminded him of airport standard

operating procedure. He didn’t have any contraband on him, but the machine

screamed out a beep anyway.

The officer looked at the arching machine and saw a red LED lit up about waist


“It’s your belt buckle, Brikker. Move on.” She wasn’t in a smiling mood. She just

pointed toward the visiting room where Emily was waiting.

Brick suddenly felt as though he had to use the restroom, but he knew the feeling

would pass as it always had. No matter how many visits he got from Emily, he’d always

be jittery.

When she saw him, she gracefully rose from her seat and stepped toward him,

embracing him with her entire body. This time she didn’t feel his normal strength; he

felt weak. She patted his back as they sat at the tiny table.

“How’s it going?” he inquired, trying to look at her but not making much eye


“I’m fine. This was a good week, but what’s up with you?” She could always tell

if he was feeling down.

“Oh, nothing,” he tried to avoid her question.

“Come on. I can tell you’re not yourself.”

“I just got a letter from the U. S. District Court in Western Tennessee. The judge

is refusing to hear my Rule 33 motion.” He grimaced and exhaled loudly.

“Why...why not?”

“She is not authorized to hear the issues brought forth in the case because it was

not timely filed within fourteen days of sentencing. The argument of filing within

fourteen days of becoming eighteen, the normally accepted age of accountability, was

not warranted according to the law. I read it a hundred times last night.”

“You mean, her interpretation of the law!” Emily was biting her bottom lip,

stripping it of thin pieces of skin.

“This sucks. She put this thing off for three years, and now she won’t hear the case

issues?” he questioned rhetorically.

“What does Cantinelli say?” she asked.

“That’s just it, I haven’t heard from him yet. I got the letter last night, so I couldn’t

call him. Now I have a visit with you, so it’ll have to wait, I guess.”

“Do you want me to go so you can make a call? I know it must be eating you up


“No, it won’t make a difference, anyway.” He knew she was sincere in her


“Yeah, you’re right.”

Emily had so many positive things to tell him, but now the effect was gone. She

knew he must feel pretty bad; they had waited a long time for the court to answer the

motion – three years. Her heart was racing, and as stormy as the monsoons that were

just end-capping the hot El Paso summer. She hurt when he hurt, she felt good when

he felt good. She would feel guilty if things were any different with her.

“Cody,” she softly said, “I’m not going to my graduation ceremony.”

“Why? You earned it. You just finished a double major in three years. Why aren’t

you struttin’ your stuff ’cross that stage?”

“I’m not going without you.” Her voice snuggled him like a little, furry kitten.

“Come on, Emily. This letter is just a thing, man, just a little bump in the road.

Don’t screw stuff up because of me. I’m here whether you go to your graduation or


“I’m not screwing anything up,” she said firmly but still calmly. “I just don’t have

any celebration in me when you can’t be there. Please don’t argue with me. I have to

make a statement to myself...and to you.”

“You don’t need to make any statement.” He appreciated her gesture, but didn’t

understand her passion.

“Yes, I do, and I am. Period.”

Cody quit the verbal jousting with her and agreed. “If you feel it’s the right thing

to do, I trust you.”

“You know, Cody, for three years at UTEP I have just done what I needed to do to

get through school and get into law school. The only other thing I did was send you a

little money and come see you every time I could. I’d see you more if visiting days were

more often, but they aren’t.”

“I know. I appreciate your friendship. It’s more than I could ever ask of you.”

“I know you do. Look, I got through college without my heart being stolen away.

I told you I would. I’m not going anywhere, you know.”

Emily always tried to comfort Cody, even though the past couple of years were

tough on her. Often she longed to be held, to be loved like a woman should be. She was

focused on school, but had seen a few friends get pregnant, and she wondered what it

was like. She questioned her biological clock, especially when she got pressure to date.

Emily also realized that moving to El Paso was a good thing because her spare

time was filled with visiting Cody whenever she could. Her loneliness was quelled by

knowing he was close. It didn’t seem so hopeless that way.

Cody had felt much the same way, but often wondered if the last time she visited

would be the last time she visited. He went through that worry week after week. His

normal pattern was to call Emily about two days after their visit to gain some

reassurance that she was still going to come the next week.

Emily went to the soda machine to buy them some Dr. Peppers, their favorite visit

soft drink. He would have fetched them, but inmates were not allowed to handle the

money. The consequences for putting quarters in the machine would be severe.

Inmates had been put in the hole for months for touching visitation money.

He followed her to the machine and stood close to her, much like the husbands

and wives there, except they weren’t married. They weren’t even formally going

together. When Cody thought about it, he wasn’t sure what they were. He just described

her as his best friend. They grew up together, except when he was traveling to Army

posts with his family, but he had always returned to Memphis. When his father became

a full-time recruiter there, things were more stable.

Cody was embarrassed to call her his girlfriend because he had never had one

before. His attitude was somewhat stuck at thirteen years old in the arena of sexual

relationships. Sometimes he pretended to be more in tune on the topic of girls with

fellow inmates, but if they were to listen closely, they’d notice that he never had

anything substantial to contribute to the conversations. He’d just agree and not add to

the conversation much past that.

He carried the soft drinks back to the table, opened hers for her, and instead of

putting it on the table, he handed it to her. Then he opened his drink, raising it in a

toast. They butted cans before taking a satisfying sip and enjoying a tasty smile.

“To getting another diploma,” he toasted.

“Thanks. I thought I’d never get done. But looking back, it went pretty quickly,

didn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess it did,” he agreed, wishing it had gone just a little faster.

“I hate to bring it up again, but don’t worry about this denial of your motion. I

start law school the first of next month; that’s just two and a half weeks away. I have a

lot to learn but I have some ideas. I just need....”

“You have some ideas?” he chimed in.

“Yeah, but like I was saying, I just need to check a few things out. I heard about

some things that might help us out...help get you out.”

“Really?” he said, without much hope in his voice.

“Yeah, really, but I don’t want to jinx it.”

“How does that law school work? I mean, as far as time and stuff?”

“As it is now, UTEP will let me go to school for two years here in El Paso, then I

have to transfer for my last year. I think I’ll go to Austin; I’m not sure.”

“You’re not sure?”

“No. They are trying to change some things. They are trying to make it so that I

can go to law school the entire three years in El Paso, but they don’t have the

infrastructure to do it, and it is very expensive. They may go to a three-year summer

program where I do two summers in Austin. They are working on it. Who knows?

Everything can change in two years. At least I’ll be here.”

“Who knows?” Cody couldn’t really concentrate on the details of what was being

said. All he could think about was the judge putting off his motion for three years, and

then not even looking at it, due to a technicality.

“Bucher the Bitchy Butcher,” he let slip from his thoughts out loud.

“You can say that again....”

“Okay, BUCHER THE BITCHY BUTCHER,” he growled, then laughed at his serious


She laughed out loud, too. Both of them looked around to see if anyone was

looking. They weren’t. They were all consumed with their own visits in their own ways.

There were fathers who had their little kids on their laps. There were lovers who

were face to face, wishing they could be closer. The visiting room had the same cross-

section as an emergency waiting room downtown. It was a micro-conglomerate of


“We’ll win. We have to, Cody; we just have to.”

“Tell everyone in Memphis ‘hi’ for me.”

“I will. I’m only going to be there for a week, just long enough to load up a few

things and get back. I still have to buy my books and stuff. I’ll see you when I get back,

if I can. If not…no more than a week or two after that. It depends on how school


“Hey, it’s not like we won’t be talking on the phone.”

“Yeah, I know...it just feels....”

She wanted to express how lonely it was every time she left. She wanted to tell him

how lost she was without him around, although it had been several years since their

childhood together. However, she couldn’t find the words that sounded right. After all,

he was the one in prison, not she. Who was she to tell him how bad things were?

No matter what she said or didn’t say, every visit would be the same. Some

prisoners described it like a hit of crack cocaine: “The visits are great – fantastic – the

short time they last; but when you hug your loved ones goodbye, and they walk out that

door, it is the worst, hardest low you could ever imagine.”

Brick slithered out of the visiting room, lower than a snake’s belly, dazed and

empty. He was only comforted by the fact that he looked around and saw other visitees

in the same state of depression.

No matter what Emily said, she felt that the pain couldn’t be expressed. She only

hoped for his return someday. They had no choice but to endure the post-visit

withdrawals as they had dozens of times the last three years she lived in El Paso. He’d

wait a few hours to call her. He’d wait until his confidence hit rock bottom, until the

visitation high spun so low that he wasn’t sure of anything. The call to Emily wouldn’t

restore him back to feeling good; it never did. It would just make things manageable

until it was time to sleep off the hangover and start the countdown until their next visit



Christine McDale’s office window overlooked the western North Carolina mountain

town of Asheville. She loved looking out of her giant windows while unpacking her

family pictures and office knick-knacks.

She lifted from the floor a box that once contained reams of paper, and set it on

her cherry-wood desk. She ripped the packing tape from its top and flipped open the

lid. On top was a mouse pad with the Presidential seal that a Secret Service Presidential

Detail worker had presented to her when President Bush had visited Memphis,

Tennessee. She had planned on meeting the President that day, but his itinerary

changed at the last minute, and his stop at the federal building was cancelled, leaving

dozens of starry-eyed federal employees waiting to see their boss.

She placed the pad under her optical mouse. Her computers and equipment were

all new, and much nicer than what she had in Memphis. She put the standard, thin,

blue mouse pad in the bottom drawer of her desk.

Standing back up, she looked out the window again, breathing in the views of the

treetops on the mountainside. Though she had been in Asheville for three years, she

was still intrigued with the Great Smoky Mountains, and this new office offered her a

much better view than her previous office had. She couldn’t wait until fall, when

Asheville would become a national attraction as the trees shed their foliage. The locals

called it “the falling of the leaves.” The town would fill with visitors taking pictures of

the wild, as it transitioned through a rainbow of autumn scenes.

“Mrs. McDale, you have a phone call on line two. It’s Judge Bucher from

Tennessee,” the skinny, blonde assistant notified her in a subtle, but clear, Carolinian

accent. It was more of a redneck growl than a Southern woman’s twang.

McDale picked up the phone and put it to her ear, waited for the young assistant

to leave and close the door, and then punched the flashing red light indicating line two.

“McDale,” she answered.

“Hi, Christine,” the judge said. “Did you get my letter?”

“No, I didn’t. I’ve been moving this week.”

“New house?” the judge inquired.

McDale just giggled, showing her soft side. “No. I have a new office. We are still

going through 9/11 security changes. They moved me to the top floor. Great view.”

Remembering her visits to North Carolina, Judge Bucher concurred, “I’ll bet.”

“What was the letter about?” she asked.

“Just the Brikker case. I wanted you to know that I dismissed their motion for


“Great. I wasn’t looking forward to answering any more questions on Brikker. I

have my hands full here as it is.”

“What do they have you on now, if I may ask?”

“I’ve got a strange one here. Last week they found a body buried in concrete in

Arizona. It was under the foundation of a new home.”

“Oh, my. That’s strange.”

“It gets stranger. The body was decapitated, dismembered, and drained of blood.

The DEA in Tucson has identified the John Doe with the help of Tucson homicide.”

“The DEA? Is it a drug case?” asked Bucher.

“We think so. According to the victim’s brother, he was on his way to see his pilot

when he disappeared. Anyway, the victim was doing business here in Asheville with an

El Salvadorian cartel.”

“Sounds fun. I anticipate another motion from Brikker, but I’m not certain what

it is yet. His attorney asked me about the certificate of appealability. I think I’m going

to go ahead and grant one.”

“That might be a good idea. It could take some of the weight off of your shoulders

if you appear more, ah....”

Bucher jumped in, “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.”

McDale asked, “Do you think we took the Brikker case a bit too far, now that we

can talk?”

“All I have to say about that is sometimes the law is unforgiving. We just have to

apply it the best we can. We can’t always please everyone.”

 Chapter 55

Brick had just finished teaching a lesson block on ratios, proportions, and percentages.

The blackboard was at the front of the makeshift classroom, which was actually the

north half of the library. During GED classes, the unit manager declared the library


Brick had a gift for bringing the mundane, sometimes boring, topics of GED to

life. This time he used business profits to demonstrate percentages. Everyone

understood marijuana and cocaine dealing but just not how to figure percentage of

profit. They joked in class that if the COs caught him using such examples, they’d make

a conspiracy case.

He left the class to do twenty example problems that they would share on the

board later. He sat in the rear of the library and randomly pulled an encyclopedia from

the shelf: Volume E. He flipped open the book and started reading the first thing that

caught his eye, an article about the Entamoeba, a protozoan genus of the rhizopodian

order Amoebida.

He read about how most species were parasites, living in the intestines of

vertebrates. One of the species could cause amebic dysentery in humans, while some

other species could be asymptomatic or cause problems such as diarrhea, abscesses,

or even abdominal pain.

His reading was interrupted when he overheard two class inmates discussing


“Yeah, it’s crazy,” said a thin, balding white man, covered with patriotic tattoos.

“I ordered that guitar book. It cost only $9.00, but the company charged me $4.95 for

shipping and handling.”

The guy he was talking to had long, dirty-blonde hair, pulled into a surfer-boy

ponytail. He could have been mistaken for a surfer kid had it not been for his

fifty-year-old, softening body.

“Yeah, that’s where they get you. That shipping and handling is pure profit.

They’re greedy, man,” the ponytailed guy said.

“They profited about fifty percent on the shipping alone,” the balding guy joked.

Brick’s mother had run a small business, selling software to antique doll

collectors. She had used a fulfillment company to process her orders, so Brick had

heard her many times tell how expensive it was to take, process, and ship the orders.

Not only did it take manpower to answer the phones, but the orders had to be

entered into the computer. The payments were processed through the merchant

accounts or banks. Then the orders were fulfilled, packaged, and mailed. Everything

in the process cost the merchant money. The box the product was shipped in, the

package stuffing, the postage, and the shipping labels all cost money. Brick learned at

an early age that usually the merchant would spend more on shipping and handling

than he charged. In his mother’s case, the shipping of a single order cost her over

$7.00, but she charged only $5.00 for shipping and handling.

The balding guy continued, “They probably get bulk deals on postage from the

post office, so they make even more money.”

Brick wanted to set the record straight, if not for the pure education of it, for the

benefit of merchants’ reputations everywhere. “No, the merchants actually lose money

on shipping and handling a lot of the time,” he said.

Both guys turned around and saw Brick sitting at the librarian’s desk.

“No way. They make a killing on shipping,” the ponytailed guy argued.

“No, they don’t,” Brick said.

“Bullshit. I don’t care what you say; they make money on it. It’s a scam.”

Brick could tell by the guy’s voice that he was going to be more combative than

receptive regarding Brick’s experience watching his mother try to make a few extra

bucks, so he didn’t pursue the conversation any further. Perhaps some other time

might be more appropriate to discuss the issue. He’d wait until one of them asked him

about it, if they ever did.

Brick excused himself to the restroom, not so much because he had to go, but

because he wanted to defuse the conversation.

While he was out, the two inmates, who had been discussing the shipping costs,

grabbed a dictionary to look up the meaning of caul. The one with the ponytail said that

it had something to do with intestines. What they found was that it had two definitions:

a fatty omentum covering the intestines; a fetal membrane of higher vertebrates,

especially when it covered the head at birth.

The definition jogged the memory of the balding guy. He said his grandmother

told him that cowlicks were really caul-licks, and that somewhere along the line the

word had changed. He didn’t remember the details anymore.

Neither one of them knew what the word omentum was, so they didn’t fully

understand the first definition. They looked it up.

“Here it is. Omentum is the fold of a supporting abdominal structure,” said


Just then Brick walked in. He only heard the definition, but didn’t know why they

were looking up such an obscure word. He didn’t bother to ask. He just walked passed

the two, not making eye contact, and then sat back down at his desk.

“I wonder if they have the word doodlebug,” pondered the balding guy.

Ponytail started turning pages in the dictionary. He thumbed too fast and went

right past the D’s, but he re-grabbed the pages and flipped through them again.

“Ah, here it is.” He didn’t give the definition out loud; he just read it.

“I know,” said the balding guy. “It’s someone who minds other people’s


They both burst out in a giggle, trying to hold it in. The reference to Brick’s

interruption of their conversation earlier was clear, even to him.

Though he didn’t say anything, Brick found the remark quite clever.

“No,” Ponytail said, still laughing

“What is the definition, really?”

Ponytail just continued giggling. He closed the red, dog-eared dictionary. “Aw,

come on. I can’t top that. Who cares what the real definition is, anyway?”

The whole doodlebug comment was cute, but it didn’t make up for the fact that

the ponytailed guy was an asshole to Brick, who wondered if all of society was this

backward or if this was just typical prison mentality.

He had been in prison the past several years of his life, so he was losing

perspective. He couldn’t tell what prison etiquette was and what would be normal in

the free world. The lines weren’t always clear, and the guards were so institutionalized

themselves that they didn’t give any real clues, either.

This was something Brick pondered a lot. When he talked with Aunt Mae or Emily,

he didn’t have these problems. He didn’t even remember any such issues with anyone

he dealt with as a kid. Was that because he was so young and didn’t notice it, or was

it because such abstruse problems didn’t exist?

The only thing he could learn from observation was on the television. He knew it

didn’t tell total truths, but he figured TV gave a glimpse into some realistic adult


 Chapter 56

Her first month at law school wasn’t as she had expected. Emily aced her first test with

a 100. She had to study less than an hour a night to fully grasp the subject.

She had never really found the Constitution of the United States to be an exciting

topic in high school or in her undergraduate studies, but now the concepts were more

fully applied in the class. The organic laws of the land, the Declaration of

Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Ordinance of 1787, establishing

the government of the Northwest Territory, all underpinned and laid the foundation to

the Constitution itself. Each part of these documents provided so much room for

interpretation and controversy that every class seemed to erupt into argument, logical

and otherwise.

In the Declaration of Independence, the King of Great Britain was accused of a

history of “repeated injuries and usurpation, all having in direct object the

establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States.”

One of those accusations caught Emily’s heart:

“He is, at this time, transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete

the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty

and perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the

head of a civilized nation.”

When the class read and discussed this passage of the Declaration of

Independence together, Emily politely raised her hand and was called on by the bowtie-

sporting, aged professor.

“Isn’t this much like what our government is doing today?” Emily asked.

The professor looked at her, giving himself time to unbutton and rebutton his

herringbone, black and white sport jacket. “What do you mean by that blanket


“I am talking about Iraq. Isn’t our President transporting large armies to fight in

a war where we don’t belong? What did the Iraqi people do to us? He says it is in the

name of freeing their people, but is it, really?”

“Ah. That passage of the DI specifically talks about ‘foreign mercenaries,’ does it

not?” the professor posed. A young man, sitting next to Emily, who had been admiring

her since her first day, couldn’t help but jump into the conversation on her behalf.

“What’s the difference between foreign mercenaries and our young men just out

of high school? Killing in a foreign land is still the same. We just have more people of

our own to do the dirty work now.” He looked over at Emily and smiled, awaiting her

returned approval.

“I suppose so. Killing is killing. But at least our government sends its own....”

The student interrupted him. “Ah, so pressuring the rest of the United Nations to

send their troops is called taking a stand for ourselves?” He looked again at Emily,

hoping she was as proud as he was of his forethought and his creative argument.

“I suppose you have a point there that can be validly argued.” The professor

grinned, satisfied that he had prompted such a heated discussion, as the class erupted

into small pockets of argument among themselves.

Emily’s formal legal studies were just beginning, but she was excited about the

new perspectives she was developing. Things she had held to be self-evident for most

of her life were starting to unravel, just as her faith in the fairness of the courts had

several years earlier.

In fact, when discussing the part of the Declaration where the King was accused

of, in many cases, depriving people of the benefit of trial by jury, she reapplied that

allegation in her mind. Instead of a denial of trial by jury, she thought more in terms

of an unfair trial. She thought that even though Cody had received a trial, it was unfair.

And not only was it unfair, it was often misreported to the public by the media.

In her Constitutional Law class, after reviewing the Declaration of Independence,

she pondered whether anything had really changed in over two hundred years. The

problems and misfortunes the Declaration set out to resolve didn’t seem to be resolved.

Perhaps they were at one time, but if that was the case, Emily thought society might

have just digressed back into corruptible matrices of social degeneration. Emily was

not one who planned to worship at the altar of mediocrity. She wanted to make a

difference, especially in Cody’s cause, but she questioned if she could overcome the old

adage that history repeats itself. If that was the case, then society and its laws would get

worse, not better, at least until the masses could no longer stand the authority that they

themselves created.

The professor handed the class of twenty-two a single sheet of paper which

outlined their homework for the rest of the week. He wanted them to write a ten-page

expository essay on Article II of the Articles of Confederation. The citation read:

“1777. According to Article II: Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and

independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this

confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.”

Given the language of Article II, the professor then asked the class to answer the

following question:

“Under what authority does the United States have the power to create agencies

that investigate and prosecute crimes involving personal use and individual (not public)

sale of recreational drugs, like cocaine?”

The professor was especially interested in the students’ ability to find out how the

federal government could investigate and prosecute personal activities that were not

treasonous or against the United States when those activities happened in “sovereign”

states. He was also looking forward to seeing the opinions that would slant the students’


Emily was starting to see how much of the Articles had been supplanted by the

Constitution. She then realized that the Civil War proved that the states were not

sovereign after all, or the U.S. would be two countries instead of one. It was something

to contemplate.


As much as she enjoyed her Con Law class, Emily couldn’t wait to see the man she had

wanted to meet all week.

His door was solid wood, with no window like the rest of the offices in the

political science wing of the university. She had no indication whether anyone was

inside, so she pressed her ear to the door and listened. She could hear a copy machine

kicking out pages, but she didn’t hear anything else – no talking, no laughing, no

coughing, and no footsteps. Her heart rate increased; in fact, her heart pounded. She

withdrew her ear from the door and raised her hand to knock, but something made

her stop and press her ear back to the door. It may have been her fear of failure. She

didn’t want to just be turned down. She wanted to be heard out. She wanted her chance

to explain the situation fully and to be taken seriously.

Her mother once told her that when confronting a fear, “the only way out is

through.” She had to summon the guts to knock on that door.

Her knuckles met softly with the wood. She waited. The door opened. He was

dressed in black – black suit, black shirt, black tie, black shoes, black jacket with a

sleek European lapel cut and four breast buttons. His hair was black, but probably

dyed, as hinted at by his salt-and-pepper beard and mustache. She had heard he was

a Tom Selleck look-alike and considered to be the most GQ professor in the house, but

she had no idea he’d be such a swashbuckler, almost vampirish.

His opening smile didn’t reveal sanguinary fangs but a pleasant, inviting

countenance, reminiscent of a black widow outside the threshold of her web. It had to

be him.

“I’m here to speak with Dr. Septors, please,” Emily proclaimed, with a slight

smile, but not enough of one to show vulnerability.

“I am he. Would you like to come in?” he inquired, as he opened the door just

wide enough for her to squeeze through.

“Yes, please.”

She walked in and looked around the room, noting a collection of sand dollars

that encircled his entire pentagon-shaped office.

“From the order Exocycloida. They are a form of sea urchin,” he said, as he

pulled a chair against the wall next to the opening to the foyer.

He jumped up on the chair, pulled down a dinner-plate-sized, pinkish-rustcolored

specimen, and handed it down to her. She reached up and took it, examining

its finely detailed markings.

“That is a Clypeaster japonicus. Isn’t she a beaut’?”

Dr. Septors grabbed the next one and leapt from the chair down to the floor with

the speciman firmly in his hands. “This, my lass, is a Echinodiscus auritus, commonly

known on the East African seacoast as the ‘purple sea pancake.’” He proudly displayed

it balanced in his hand. “It is the largest and thinnest cake urchin alive.”

He then flipped it over, exposing its grainy underside. “See this,” he said, pointing

to a little lobe. “This, I believe, is a dorsal gonad...dorsal because we are looking at it

from the bottom.”

He flipped the purple sea cake over to view its top. “Just gorgeous, don’t you

think?” he asked.

“I’ve never seen one like this before,” she said, looking around the room. “I

didn’t know there were so many types.”

He stroked the back of his display, as if petting a kitten. “Did you know that these

babies spawn by the females releasing up to several million eggs into the water and the

males spewing out spermatozoa to fertilize the eggs? The spawning is a very intricate

balance of nature. The water temperature, light, and salinity must be just right. The

biologists even connect certain phases of the moon to spawning in some species.”

“Wow, I never knew all that, never even really thought about it.” She wanted to

appear interested but wondered how deeply he would immerse himself into the

mysteries of sand dollars.

“On the other hand,” he added, “some other urchins, like starfish, can also

asexually reproduce by fission. That’s when they divide off a part of their body and the

new urchin grows and develops from that. These particular species have incredible

abilities in body-part regeneration, something for us humans to study. Think about the

implications for things like liver disease and diabetes. Isn’t reproduction a wonderful


She shyly smiled, “For my mom and dad it was.”

“Very good.” He pointed to her with his free hand. “Here, have a seat.” He pulled

a chair out for her.

He went around and sat at his desk, placing his sand dollar carefully in front of

him. “What can I do for you, Ms. Chee?”

“How did you know my name? We’ve never met.”

He laughed inside but only showed a little humor to her. “My lady, I know who

you are. We all do in this office. My son is in your class. Since your first day in

Constitutional Law, you are all he talks about.”

“Of course,” she replied, trying not to show her blush,“Mark Septors is your son.

I never linked the two names.” Looking closer, Dr. Septors must have cloned his son;

their facial features were one and the same.

“Though I wish he’d pay a little more attention in class to Con Law than to his

hormones.” He leaned on his desk with both elbows and his interlocking hands. “What

brings you to me?”

“Well, I am here for the Social Defense League, and you are the president. I

needed to talk to you about a case.”

“Is this a class project?”

“No, sir, this is a real, live case of injustice.”

He was intrigued in his very German way. “Do tell.”

Emily went on to explain the Brikker case from the beginning to the point where

she came to El Paso to be closer to him as she pursued a law degree.

“You are a very noble young woman, indeed,” he responded, his true impressions

gleaming though.

“Thanks, sir. Do you think you are interested?”

He took longer looking at his desktop than she would have liked. He was a careful

thinker. He wanted to be sure of each step he took.

“Yes, Ms. Chee. I am interested. Here’s what I’ll do. I’m going to take this to the

board of the SDL and see what they have to say about it. We have a meeting next Friday.

Can I get back with you the following Monday?” He expressively tossed his pen on his

tabletop calendar. It skidded to a stop, its chrome coating casting a rainbow of light.

“Dr. Septors....”

“Call me John, please.”

“Okay, John. We have been fighting this case for eight years; I think I can wait till

Monday,” she said in approval.

“Thank you for presenting us with this case. I truly am impressed with you, my

lady. You are going to be one hell of a lawyer.”

“Thank you for everything, sir.”

“You are quite welcome.” He paused and thought to himself that Brikker must be

a hell of a kid for Emily to be such a loyal friend. “Oh, and I’ll try to break the news to

Mark that you are taken,” he joked, but thought that he wouldn’t mind if his son had

such a girl himself.

When she left his office, he picked up the phone. His hand was shaking with

anticipation of the case. He called the secretary of the Social Defense League to have

the Brikker topic formally put on Friday’s agenda, and then grabbed his chair to

replace his sea friends back in their homes overlooking his work domain.

Chapter 57

Rabbit and Brick had neighbors across the hallway who liked to talk loudly. The

Mexican kid, José, would just sing or yell at random. He’d come in from the bathroom

after lights-out and sing Spanish songs. As with most people who like to sing with

earphones on, he was usually so off-key that dogs would run from the squeals. José’s

cellie was a short Filipino who lifted weights, six out of seven days. He’d always say,

“Hey, even God took a day off!” as he’d show off his cantaloupe-sized calves.

Softly, privately, and lower than his neighbor’s bellows, Brick asked Rabbit about

his experience with the fidelity of the prisoners’ wives and girlfriends.

“Man, I’ve seen it all. But if I had to guess and make some shit up, I’d say that

there is the basic slut, the one-year woman, the five-year woman, the ten-year woman,

and the true-blue woman.”

“I think I know what you mean. What are most women, do you think, Rabbit?”

“I think most are five-year women. They can stay true for five years, but once they

start itchin’, hell, they got to scratch it. And once they scratch it, they feel real guilty and

can’t face their man, or they decide they found what they want. Either way, they split.”

“That’s not too comforting.” He thought about Emily. They had never slept

together, but he didn’t want to lose her.

“Don’t get me wrong, man. I’ve seen women stick to their man even when he had

life. I’ve even seen women meet lifers and get with ’em, promising their devotion…and

they stay, too.”

“What kind of women do that?” Brick wondered.

“Oh, lonely, fat bitches, mostly!”

Brick looked up to see Rabbit laughing.

“Just fuckin’ with ya, man. But you gotta admit, that was pretty funny, huh?”

“A barrel of laughs.”

The Filipino was talking about how he got twelve years for trafficking marijuana

and told his wife to leave him. It’d be way too hard for both of them. He was telling

José, loud enough for the entire block to hear him, that he shoved his wife off with

good blessings.

“Hey, ‘Migra,’” Rabbit yelled across the hallway. “Why did you let your wife go?

I thought Filipino women were the most loyal in the world. She could last twelve years,

couldn’t she?”

Migra turned around as if he was asked to play a game of Spades. “That’s the

problem, fool, I married a Puerto Rican, not a Filipino.”

They all erupted in laughter, even guys not included in the conversation.

“You’re a nut, Migra!” one guy yelled from a non-visible room.

Rabbit eyeballed Brick. “I guess that tells the whole story, huh?”

“I guess.”

“Hey, I got my walking papers today,” Rabbit informed him.

“Really, where are you going?”

“They have me going to a halfway house in Tucson. I’m supposed to leave in ten

days.” He held up all ten fingers to give Brick a high-ten.

“Cool,” he said, as he crawled to his bunk.

Brick preferred the top bunk; older inmates, or those who wanted the

convenience of having a personal porch for putting on shoes and such, often sought the

bottom bunk. To Brick, the top bunk added a certain amount of privacy. Other inmates

had to work more to eye someone in the top bunk. For him, it was just an extra barrier

of personal space. And since his health was such that he didn’t mind the climb on the

hard steel ladder, he considered it a privilege to remain an upper bunker.

Rabbit preferred his lower bunk. He was comfortable with the easy access to the

floor. For the past three years he held an official bottom-bunk pass, issued by the

prison medical staff. He claimed back problems, though he didn’t have any. In fact, his

daily regimen of five hundred pushups kept his back quite strong. He did wonder why

Brick liked the top bunk so well.

“So what’s up with pitching your tent way up there? Don’t you get sick of the


“No. Every man needs a place to get away from it all, and this is my proverbial

cave. Plus, it is less contact with the COs. If I were eye level with the ‘Boss,’ he might

want to chit-chat, and that’s never a good thing!”

“Oh, I get it.” Rabbit hadn’t looked at it that way before. “Don’t care to have

intelligent conversation with non-intelligent beings?”

Brick laughed. “I’d hardly call them ‘beings,’ would you?”

“Guess not.”

“I have a great one to test their logic abilities. You can take this one with ya.”

“The coin thing?”

“No. The hat quiz,” Brick said. “I always know they can’t answer the question, but

I like to watch their brains smoke.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“There were three prisoners in a cell block. The warden walked in with five hats.

There were three red hats and two white ones. He told the prisoners to face the wall,

and he placed a hat on each of their heads, hiding the remaining hats so they couldn’t

see the colors of the hats not placed. Then he told them that he was going to ask each

of them what color hat they were wearing. They could see the hats of the other inmates,

but not their own. If the inmate guessed correctly, he would go free immediately; if he

guessed wrong, he would be executed later that day. Of course, the inmate could

choose not to guess, and that would be fine.

“The warden asked the first inmate what color hat he was wearing. The inmate

said that he could not deduce what color hat he had on by looking at the other inmates,

so the warden asked the second inmate the same question. That inmate was also

unwilling to guess.

“The third inmate, who incidentally was blind, said immediately that he was

wearing a red hat. He was, of course, correct. How did he derive from the other two

answers that he was indeed wearing a red hat?”

Rabbit thought for a while and even used a pencil and paper to try to figure out

the solution but struggled to find the answer. Finally, he said, “I guess I’m as stupid as

the grays. I have no idea how the blind man knew. Tell me.”

“No, you’re not dumb. But what I judge is the way you took your time to try to

solve it, instead of just blowing it off. To me that shows signs of higher intelligence.

These guards don’t usually give a shit about giving a gnat’s ass of thought to anything,

much less our well-being.”

Brick let Rabbit ponder the question for a few days until he forgot about asking

for the answer any longer. Perhaps Rabbit would have the satisfaction of deducing the

answer on his own someday when thinking about his old cellie; otherwise, he’d have

to come up with the answer soon. His release was just a few days away.

Chapter 58

Brick ambled boyishly into the visiting room. Emily’s striking beauty rolled his mind

into a ball of insecurity. For some reason, this time he carried with him a healthy

portion of cynicism, critical of why a woman like Emily would be wasting her time and

energy on a lost cause like he was. What could she possibly ever get out of a

relationship with him, if this were a real relationship?

Her dress accented her slim lines but didn’t cheapen her dignity. The fabric

stretched as she wrapped her arms around him, feeling him welcome her into his


“I have some good news,” she said as she delicately sat in her chair. She brushed

some invisible lint from her lap with two quick strokes, and caught Brick’s glance.

“Yeah? Did I win the lottery?”

“Maybe,” she smirked.

“How much?”

“Check this out, Cody. At my law school we have this group of people called the

Social Defense League. They work mostly on appeals for prisoners who were wrongly

convicted. For example, they have won a few DNA cases where people were convicted

of things, like murder and rape, before DNA testing was reliable. If samples were

available, they’d have them retested and then submit that new evidence to the courts for

reconsideration of trials, etc. They are very good.”

“Did you talk to them about me?” He felt his stomach starting to flip-flop.

“Yes. I talked with the president, Dr. John Septors. He was very interested, I could

tell. He is taking your issue to the board to see if they will pursue your appeal.”

“What does this cost, or do I just have to make a deal with the devil?” His lost

hope was popping in and out of his “optimistic opportunity” sights.

“It won’t cost you anything. We should hear something by this next week.” She

didn’t want to tell him it would be Monday. She liked to undersell expectations as much

as possible.

Cody halted the conversation and abruptly changed subjects. “Why do you do


“Why do I do what, Cody?”

“This...all of this.”

“You mean, everything for you?”


“That’s simple.” She paused, trying to lessen the blow, but couldn’t find an easy

way to say it. “Because I love you, that’s why.”

She tilted her head and gave a half smile. The sex appeal lured Cody into the

moment. His body even lustfully reacted.

“I love you, too. I love everything about you,” he said.

Emily lifted her head and moved it closer to him, intrigued by what she was

hearing. He had never talked that way before. She wanted him to sneak a kiss.

He backed up just a bit. “Emily, I think you are the greatest woman who ever

walked the face of the earth. My life is hard, but at least you are in it. I’d rather have a

hard life with you in it than an easy life without you.”

She couldn’t have been more pleased. “Really?”

“Yeah. Really. They say that no good deed goes unpunished. You do so much for

me without any promises, so I’m going to make you a promise.” He found his words

easily, despite the fact that he never could have imagined himself saying these things

just an hour ago.

“What kind of promise?” Her curiosity was flaring.

“If I get out of this hell hole, I’ll massage your feet every day the rest of your life.

They work hard carrying you around so you can do stuff for me, and they deserve some

loving treatment.”

“You are going to massage my feet every day for the rest of my life if you get out

of here, because they work so hard for you?” she questioned.

“Yes. But not just ’cause they work hard, but because I love you and want to make

you as happy as you do me.” She was struck stupid with his sudden boldness.

All she could say was, “I can’t wait!” She sat there with a stupid grin on her face

as if she had just won the lottery.

“Every day of your life,” he promised.

Just then a woman yelling at her husband interrupted their trance.

“You bastard! After all I do for you, you want me to do more. It’s hard out there.”

“And it’s hard in here,” he said, trying to calm her down.

“I have to work, after not working for ten years. Then I come home to kids who

are clingy and want their father, so I have to be both. Then I have to spend time doing

your crap.” She started to cry, “It’s hard...it’s really fucking hard. I picture you sitting

around with the guys, watching football and playing dominoes, while I’m busting my

ass.” Tears flooded her face, dripping off her chin.

The man grabbed her hand. “It’ll be all right. We’ve made it for five years. We can

go one more. We are almost done with this nightmare.”

Emily and Cody pretended not to listen, but it was just too real...too juicy.

“Sometimes I think this last year might be the one that broke the camel’s back,

Steve. I think I’m going crazy.”

“I know,” he said as he squeezed her hands tighter in his and pecked the back of

her knuckles