One Last Thing

Bullet with mushroomed casing.001

She said she wouldn’t leave me and I believed her.  She stared at me with those big, colorless eyes, half-smile, waiting. She was never the patient sort.

“Do it,” she said.

Every time she asked, the thought of the guard and the seven other inmates listening and responding made me hesitate, but only momentarily.

“Would you like to swing on a star,” I sang in my best Bing Crosby croon, “And carry moonbeams home in a jar, and be better off than you are? Or would you rather be a fissshhh?”

I let the “shh” go on as long as possible and didn’t continue. I didn’t need to when she laughed like that, like everything was normal again. We were just in my car, escaping our family after a long Christmas dinner, riding to nowhere and everywhere. But then the hollers of the others in the cell block brought the bars and stench of urine back into focus, and I remembered.

I looked at her and said, “You won’t leave me?”

“Never.”

*              *              *

When she came to me that first time, I was alone.  Alone in the abstract sense because I was at Wal-Mart in the automotive aisle comparing motor oils. She handed me a bottle of Castrol GTX3 5W-40. She never failed to amaze me with the simplicity and randomness of what she actually got right in life. I took the bottle without glancing in her direction.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” I said.

“I know,” she said.

After hearing her voice for the first time in months, I looked at her. She was smirking in the way that used to drive me insane.

“Can anyone else see you?” I asked.

She looked around and shrugged. “Does it matter?”

“If I’m standing here talking to myself, I think it matters a little.” She pouted, so I hugged her as a reflex. “I didn’t want you to leave in the first place,” I said. I let go of her and threw the Castrol oil into the cart.

“I didn’t exactly plan to die.”

“What do you want from me, Cassie? I’m all out of helpful advice, which you never listened to, anyway.”

I pushed the cart past her and headed toward the windshield wipers.

“You really want to know why I’m here, or do you just want to be mean?”

I looked intently at the PIAA blades while she fumed beside me. “I’m listening,” I said, “as usual.”

“I need you to find the cop who killed me.”

The image of the bullet going through her had been repeating itself in my head since I got the full details of the incident. I laughed a little. . . . “the incident.” A genuine accident, the D.A. said, and the cop received barely a wrist slap. I tossed the wipers in with the motor oil and kept moving.

“Why can’t you do it?” I asked.

“Because you have access to things I don’t, and I knew you, of all people, would react this way to seeing me.”

“How’s that?”

“Like I’m not dead.”

I stopped walking and looked at her. She stared back, her eyes unfaltering. I couldn’t push her away. I never could. “What do you need?”

“I need you to kill that cop.”

“You want me to what?” I asked.

“I didn’t say want,” she replied. “I said need.”

I had considered the idea numerous times. I wanted to know what kind of person would shoot an unarmed girl, and also what someone like that deserved. “I can’t,” I said.

Cassie opened up her shirt, just barely, and I saw it. It wasn’t what I thought it’d be. Just a hole a bit larger than a pea. “The exit wound was much bigger,” she said. I thought of her spine snapping in two, of her falling back onto the pavement. The manufactured memory hit me so hard I couldn’t breathe.

“You have to do this for me, big brother,” she said.

It wasn’t like the times when she showed up at my door, asking for handouts or a place for one of her cracked-out co-workers to crash while an abusive boyfriend slept off his drunk. It was more like when she asked me to go get that ball from our neighbor’s yard so their pit bull wouldn’t attack her. I knew that, right or wrong, I would do this one last thing for her.

*              *              *

My family ate a lot of finger foods back then. As we gnawed at little sausages and cheese cubes, I told them I had seen Cassie, and that I needed the police report. The news went over as expected. They accused me of being exhausted and delusional. Would I rethink going to see a professional? Then my dad said he didn’t think it would be wise for me to see the police report. He didn’t know what I had planned, but “digging into her death would be too traumatic for someone who’s seeing ghosts.” I calmly got up from the table, slammed my fist into the wall, and left the house.

It was cold outside, being November, so the blood wasn’t pumping all that hard.

“Your hand!” Her voice made me jump.

“Jesus!” I yelled, shoving my fist under my armpit. “Make a noise or something.” I started to shiver.

She pulled out my hand and touched it. “This might be broken.”

I yanked it back. “I’m fine.” I nodded toward the house. “I guess you know what happened.”

“They might have given you the file if you hadn’t told them about seeing me. Do you always have to be so goddamned honest?”

“I’m going back inside. I’m freezing my balls off.”

“Just grab your coat. We’re going somewhere.”

“Fine,” I said, “Wait out here.” Mom and Dad were in the family room watching the show Parenthood. When I told them I was going out, they exchanged worried glances. “Why don’t you stay here and watch a show with us?” Mom asked. A show would make it all better. Mom was never much for milk and cookies. Or talking out issues. Only simple solutions.

“I’ll be back later.”

“When?” she asked.

I shrugged and left.

*              *              *

“Turn right here,” Cassie said. She sat embryo-style, staring out the car window.

I reached over and squeezed her shoulder. “It’s going to be all right, Cass.”

“I know. Take another right at the light.” Then it occurred to me where we were going.

A year before her death, Cassie started working at a strip club as a waitress. I went in a few times with some buddies because Cassie would give us free drinks. It was the kind of low-end place where they used off-lighting to hide the strippers’ cellulite and stretch marks.

Cassie didn’t belong there, and she got more out of the club than a little extra cash. She picked up a meth habit and a bartender named Brad. Brad was the mastermind behind the credit card ring that landed my sister in a pool of her own blood. He was smart enough to send someone else in with Cassie when they tried to pass off one of the stolen cards at an electronics store. He was flying free while my sister was dead, and her accomplice rotted in a jail cell. I needed his help, but I knew I’d be doing the world a favor if I dropped his jaw on the pavement.

When we arrived, I told Cassie to stay in the car. I didn’t want her to destroy my credibility. Brad was scared of me, and I planned to use that.

I flashed my ID at the new bouncer, headed straight for the bar, and sat down. Brad, unaware of my presence, was whispering to one of the waitresses. She giggled as he placed the shots on her tray. Brad’s smile disappeared when he saw me, but he came over. He leaned on the bar, his face inches from mine. “I told you not to come back here, man.”

“I need your help with something,” I said.

“Not going to happen. I said all I had to say last time.”

“I have different questions,” I said.

“I don’t care,” Brad said. “You either get out or I’m going to get Troy to bounce your ass out.”

“Tell me what you know about that cop who shot Cassie, and I’ll leave.”

“I don’t have to tell you shit.”

I stood up, and my chin reached the top of Brad’s head. “I know where you live, Brad. I know all about you, and one of you is going to die. Either help me now, or it’s going to be you.”

Brad’s face went white. “Not in here.” He walked over to the back door and I followed. I hadn’t realized how hot the club was until I stepped out. Brad took a cigarette from his pack and offered me one. I shook my head and waited. “Last time,” he said, “you told me I’d better watch my back.”

“Now I’m giving you an out.”

“You’re blind when it comes to Cassie,” Brad said. “You always have been. You want to throw your life away for the fantasy of what she was. Just let it go, man. Killing me, killing the cop, it won’t change anything.”

“Everything changes.”

“You understand this could make me an accomplice,” he said.

“Only if we get caught. I thought you might know some way around that.”

“I have thought about this, you know, but it’s stupid. You think I’m not mad? I loved her, too, but this isn’t what she’d want, and you know that.”

“You’re wrong. This is exactly what she wants.”

Brad shook his head. “You’re crazier than I thought.” He took a last puff of his cigarette and put it out on the wall.

“So, what’s it going to be then?” I asked.

“I won’t tell you where the cop lives, but I’ll show you.”

“Why?”

“Because I’ve been driving past his house for months. I know his schedule, his habits. I thought maybe I’d fuck with him a little. If you want him dead, though, I’m going to do it. I have more experience with this kind of thing than you do.”

I didn’t have to ask whether or not he did. Cassie told me how Brad dealt with people who tried to work something over on him. I realized I probably now fell into that category.

“Meet me at my house at three o’clock” he said. “Remember how to get there?”

“I do,” I said. How could I forget? After two weeks of hearing nothing from my sister, I finally tracked her down. She was tweaked out on meth and told me to leave her the fuck alone. The next time I saw her was at Wal-Mart.

“See you later, then,” he said, slamming the door behind him.

*              *              *

When I returned to the car, Cassie was still looking out her window.

“So, he’s going to help you?”

“With everything,” I said.

Even in the dark, I could see her smile. I started the car and headed back home. I thought I’d have more time to process what Cassie wanted, maybe even to talk her out of it, but this was it.

When I got back to the house, my parents were playing cards. My mom gave me a wet Pepsi and popcorn kiss and a hug.

“You want to play with us?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I’m going to bed.”

I headed up the stairs, toward my parents’ room instead of mine. My dad kept his revolver at the top of his closet, always loaded. I used to go out to the range with him and shoot cantaloupes. I hadn’t been since Cassie died. Once I got the gun, I left through the front door.

*              *              *

Brad told me that the cop, Doug Virga, lived in a newly constructed house with his wife and little girl. His neighborhood looked a lot like mine. Brad lit cigarette after cigarette behind the tree in the front lawn, putting the filters back into the pack when he was finished. He said we could leave no evidence. We would wait until Doug came out for his paper, before the sun was up, and that’s when we’d nail him.

Brad remained silent for a full two hours. Any time I made the slightest noise, he gave me a barely audible, “Shhh.” My feet and hands grew cold from standing still, and the gun weighed down my coat pocket, but I didn’t waver.

I stared at the cop’s door and thought about Cassie running to the parking lot on that terrible day. She ran toward the safety of Brad’s car, which was already gone. Two cop cars were waiting for her instead. Doug Virga would get the same surprise.

The paper said one of the cop’s guns misfired, killing the criminal, Cassie Lewis, after she threatened to fire on them. Later, my father told me that Cassie had no weapon. I wrote to the editor of the newspaper, but he would not correct the misinformation. My parents did nothing to challenge the lies.

This is what I needed to do.

*              *              *

Doug came out at 5:07. Bewildered by the guy holding his newspaper, he dropped his cigarette and lighter. Brad came from behind, pinning Doug’s arms and sliding the knife under his neck. He pulled Doug backward to the darker side of the house. I watched and waited. Doug started to mutter obscenities under his breath: what punks we were and how fucked we were going to be.

“Shut up,” Brad whispered.

Doug sucked in his breath, but stopped talking.

“How do you think she felt when you put her down?” Brad asked. “She had a family, too. You see that guy there? She had people who cared about her, and you shot her like she was nothing.”

“It was an accident,” Doug said. “I’m s-sorry. I didn’t mean—” Brad pushed harder on the knife, cutting off Doug’s words, but Brad must have loosened his grip on Doug’s arms at the same time.

I couldn’t see much, but Doug somehow grabbed Brad’s knife hand and twisted it away from his throat. He extended Brad’s hand until his shoulder popped, forcing Brad to drop the knife.

“Do something, Logan!” Brad yelled.

I took the gun out of my pocket, aimed and fired. Doug released Brad’s arm and crumpled to the ground.

Brad’s arm hung limply as he reached down for the knife with his left hand, and put it into his coat’s inside pocket. “What the fuck’d you do that for?”

“You said do something. I ended it.”

“He was unarmed, you idiot. I meant tackle him or something. A knife makes no sound. Why do you think I use it? The cops are going to be here any second.”

I looked down at the vague shape of Doug’s body and nodded. “You’re probably right.”

Brad kicked Doug. “Shit!” He walked around to Doug’s head and bent down, grabbing Doug’s shirt collar with his good hand. “Grab his legs,” he said. I didn’t move. “I said grab his fucking legs.”

I don’t remember thinking much at that time. I did realize I hadn’t wanted to kill the cop. Not really. I’m not sure if my sister was ever the angel I wanted her to be, but Brad sent her off to die, abandoning her to save himself.

And with a cock, point, and squeeze, Brad was gone. Cassie walked up behind me. I expected her to cry over Brad and hit me, but she just stared at him.

“They’re going to trace it back to you,” she said.

“I know.”

“You don’t care?” I didn’t. I felt relieved.

She stayed with me until the police came.

I never told my lawyer or anyone else about her, though my parents tried to push for the insanity plea. I declined. I didn’t want to go off to some place where I’d do the nine to five shuffle of Ed Gein the rest of my life. I just wanted peace. Freedom. Suicide was a crime, but the state would do it for me and call it justice.

It hurts too much to be alive, to see her face every day. I don’t want to need her or be needed by her anymore.

It won’t be long now.

“Do it,” she says.

The hoots and whistles follow as I begin to sing again. “Would you like to swing on a star. . . .”

Explorer V: Inside Death Row NGC-US: Ep. Code 4082