Authors: Michael Lister
Tags: #crime, #USA
Which of my volunteers looked the most like Ronnie Cardigan?
What if none of them resembled him at all?
To be a chapel volunteer at PCI, you had to undergo an extensive background check, a training program, and be issued a photo ID, which had to be presented to the control room officer upon entering and exiting the institution.
Did I have anyone who was already approved who looked anything like Cardigan?
There was a religious professor from FSU who came occasionally who reminded me of Cardigan, but there was very little physical resemblance between them.
Most of the volunteers we had were senior citizens. The others were either female, ethnic or the wrong race, or just weren’t even close in appearance.
What if I didn’t use one of our existing volunteers?
Under certain circumstances for one-time special programs, we could run a background check on a potential volunteer and the warden could approve him or her to enter the institution under the supervision of the chaplain.
Who did I know who looked like Cardigan?
If I could find someone . . .
How would I . . . ?
If I could find someone who resembled Cardigan, get him approved, bring him into the chapel, drug him, call Cardigan into my office, switch their clothes . . . I’d still have to get past the control room with him, but . . . it might work. But who?
“You pray a lot,” Rachel Peterson said.
I turned around to see her standing about halfway down the center aisle.
“No more than reason,” I said.
“What does that––”
“Shakespeare,” I said.
“Ready to continue?” I asked.
“We feel it’s best if you’re placed on nonadministrative leave while we conduct the investigation,” she said.
Heart raising. Heat emanating. Breath catching.
A hole opened inside me and everything slid down into it.
I had just come up with a plan to save Anna that could possibly work, and was now being told I wouldn’t be here to even attempt it.
“We?” I asked, trying to get my bearings.
“The warden. Me. The regional chaplain.”
“I’m the only chaplain on duty,” I said. “I have several services to supervise. I’m in the middle of some very intense crisis counseling situations. I really need to be here.”
“The warden said he’d call the staff chaplain back in. The regional chaplain said he’d get everything covered or come do it himself if he needed to.”
“Just to get rid of me,” I said. “Wow. I’ve never been so unwanted anywhere.”
“Maybe it means you should think about doing something else.”
“Maybe so,” I said. “As far as the investigation you’re conducting . . . I did nothing wrong.”
“I’m . . . I mean . . . whoever gave the order to fire on the inmate in the quad is responsible for Hahn’s death.”
“That’s what my investigation will determine,” she said.
“Appears to be
determined,” I said.
“Then answer this for me,” I said. “Who else is being put on administrative leave? The shooter? The response team leader? The inspector?”
She didn’t say anything but her expression said it all.
“That’s what I thought,” I said.
There are three, but are they all men? They are.
Why do you think that?
It’s just the sense I get. Like everything else. It’s movement and smell and . . . what . . . intuition.
Three men taking very good care of me.
One young. The talker. The early twenties one with the resonate voice.
One older. The rarely speaks one. The one that smells like . . . what? Some kind of common cologne and . . . gum. Chewing gum. Not bubble gum. Minty old-school chewing gum in the small, inexpensive packs. With foil.
Something about him reminds her of someone from the prison, but who?
She thinks about it, but can’t come up with anyone in particular.
But what about the third one. The one she wasn’t sure existed until now. The silent, distant, shadow one.
A random refrain of oppressive organ music from the old Shadow radio show echoed through her mind.
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
The Shadow knows.
I’m gonna know . . . eventually. And so is John.
Is the Shadow in charge? Calling the shots? Why doesn’t he speak? Is he unable to? Or is he just a man of few words? Are the three equals? In this together?
Or is the talker in charge? Why do I think he’s not? Because he’s so young? No, there’s something else. What is it?
Before she could come up with it, he stepped over to her and said, “Here. Take this.”
He untied one of her wrists and handed her a pill.
“What is it?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he said.
“A prenatal vitamin.”
“You’re right. I don’t believe you.”
“And you don’t have to. But you do have to take it. So . . .”
She popped the pill into her mouth and he handed her a glass. Tilting her head back, she took a swallow of the liquid––orange juice, actually––and swallowed the pill.
“It really is a prenatal vitamin,” he said. “We want you and your baby healthy and in perfect condition when we return you to John.”
“When will that be?”
“Won’t be long now,” he said. “Unless he fucks it up, won’t be long at all.”
I had no idea what to do.
I couldn’t very well get Ronnie Cardigan out of the prison if I couldn’t even get into it.
I was truly lost.
Anna’s life was on the line. Time was running out. And the nearly impossible task before me had just become completely impossible.
When Randy Wayne Davis, the youngish control room sergeant with the bright blue eyes and bright white teeth, buzzed me into the sally port between the first of the two front gates, he motioned me over to the inside control room document tray.
“How’s it going, Chaplain?”
Not even the thick glass or the dark tint on it could diminish his bright, wide eyes and infectious smile.
I nodded without answering, leaned over so that my mouth was closer to the open document tray, and said, “How are you?”
“I’m good. Hey, I just transferred a call down to the chapel for you. You headed up front? Want me to transfer it to the warden’s office if they call back?”
I thought about it. I started to tell him what was going on and how to actually handle my calls, but decided it’d be best if he didn’t know––especially if I tried to sneak back into the institution the next night.
“Sure,” I said. “Thanks.”
“You got it.”
I started to walk away, but he said, “And hey, just wanted to say . . . All the good you do around here––for the staff as well as the inmates––doesn’t go unnoticed.”
That put a knot in my throat and a sting in my eyes.
“Thank you, Sergeant Davis. That really––”
“Randy Wayne, please.”
I nodded and started to say his name, but the phone in the control room rang and he said, “Hold on a second. Let me see if this is them callin’ back for you.”
I waited as he answered the phone.
When it took more than a few seconds I knew it wasn’t for me, but after talking to the caller for nearly two minutes, Randy Wayne fed the phone through the document tray for me.
“Sorry,” he said with a frown.
“Don’t know what’s taking so long up there,” Rachel Peterson’s voice said across the line, “but I’ve informed the sergeant of your status and told him you need to exit the institution immediately.”
When I handed Randy Wayne the phone, he shook his head. “That’s not right,” he said. “Everybody knows what happened down there and who’s responsible.”
“Wait,” he said, his big blue eyes getting even bigger, “I may know someone who might be able to help.”
I was desperate. I’d take anything.
“Give me your cell number and I’ll call you after I do a little . . . after I make a few calls.”
“How are the plans and arrangements coming along?”
I was out driving around thinking, because I didn’t know what else to do and I loved driving Anna’s Mustang, when the call came.
“I’m working on them,” I said. “Everything will––”
“Why aren’t you in your office?”
How does he know I’m not?
“Sounds like you’re driving,” he said.
“I’m working on the plan. Driving around thinking.”
“Not headed somewhere private to tell the authorities about all this?”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“Swear?” he said. “On her life? ’Cause that’s what it is. Her life.”
“I know that.”
“I told you to keep everything as normal as possible.”
“I am. I’m on my lunch break. I often drive around and think.”
“Not today. I want you back at the institution.”
“Okay, I’ve got to do something first, but then I’ll head back.”
“What? What do you have to do first? I wouldn’t think you’d be so reckless with your wife’s life.”
Wife again. Does he really think she is?
“My mom died last week. I was supposed to have already picked out the image and quote for her headstone. I promised I’d do it no later than today. It won’t take too long but I’ve already promised to meet the guy doing it.”
“Hurry then. And if you’re lying, it’s her life.”
“Can I speak to her?”
“I’ll call in an hour. If you’re back at the prison, you can talk to her.”
I dropped the phone in the passenger seat, not knowing what to do. All I had done was buy a little time. Very little. What could I do with it?
I gunned the engine and sped down the rural route of the flat, pine tree–lined highway, racing nowhere fast.
How can I get back into the institution?
I thought about it.
There was nothing I could do. Nothing to––
I could make up an excuse, something left behind in my office that I needed.
They’d never go for that––and even if they did, it wouldn’t get me back inside long enough to really help. And it didn’t address the most important problem––being there tomorrow night to get Cardigan out.
I could ask for mercy from the warden.
But he had none, not for me.
I could make a deal with the warden. Agree to resign at the end of the week if he’d just let me come back and finish out the week.
That might work. It would certainly appeal to him. But . . . would he go for it?
Probably not. Especially when he thinks the investigation into Hahn’s death will get me out anyway.
What if an inmate’s wife with an emergency demanded to speak to me? Or a volunteer?
I doubted even that would work.
What I had told the kidnapper was partially true. I had yet to select an image and quote for Mom’s headstone. Today was not the deadline, though. That had been the lie.
But when I became aware of where I was, I realized I was coming up on Whispering Pines Lane, the road that led to the cemetery. I slowed, tapped the blinker on, and turned down the road we all travel alone.
Had my subconscious brought me here? Before or after what I had said to the caller?
I parked as close to her graveside as I could, got out, and walked over the fall-browning grass toward her empty headstone, wondering if winter’s first green is gold, what is fall’s first brown.
Most of the flower arrangements left from the funeral were dead or nearly dead, many of the white plastic baskets tipped over.
I bent down and straightened them.
Close to the earth, touching the dead and dying flowers, my mom’s decaying body just six feet beyond.
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been by to see you sooner,” I said.
The shade from a nearby tree fell just short of her new grave, the midday sun causing the granite of the gravestone and the sandy soil of the fill dirt to gleam brightly.
The bareness of her headstone looked bad, unfinished, as if she were uncared for, which was not the case.
“I’m sorry about your headstone too. I’ll get to it soon. I swear. ”
is not something I normally say, and I wondered if it was me reverting back to a more juvenile state while talking to my dead mother or my conversation with the kidnapper.
“I miss you far more than I ever thought I would,” I said. “Didn’t realize how much good the visits I thought I was doing for you were actually doing for me.”
In the far corner of the cemetery, a large, old car rattled up to a stop, and a short, stocky elderly man with a felt hat and overcoat stumbled out and lumbered over to a cement bench next to a double headstone.
“I’ve got to go, Mom,” I said, “but I’ll be back soon. And I’ll get your marker done. I promise. I love you. Miss you.”
I lingered for a moment more then made my way back to Anna’s car, walking not unlike the elderly man on the backside of the cemetery had.
I drove home with an overwhelming sense of dread.
Whether from my visit to my Mom’s grave or being locked out of the prison, I felt a futility like I hadn’t in a very long time, and I wondered if I’d ever see Anna alive again.
Can’t think like that. Push it down. Put it away. Focus on figuring out how to do what you need to do. Nothing else.
At home the first thing I did was go to the small bedroom Anna and I had been sharing for such a short time.
Sitting on her side of the bed, I picked up the book she had been reading for the few minutes she could stay wake each night after coming to bed. She had always had difficulty staying up late––something her pregnancy had kicked into overdrive.
Lifting the top book,
Ultimate Crime Ultimate Punishment
, a law text on the death penalty, it revealed a smaller book beneath it––
A Good Divorce, A Good Marriage.