Authors: Michael Lister
Tags: #crime, #USA
Later in the afternoon, I supervised an inmate AA group––something I always found difficult to do.
The meeting was held in one corner of the chow hall. Open and airy and full of hard concrete and metal surfaces, the coffee- and cigarette-laced breath of the words spoken by the inmates ricocheted around the room and were gone, lost like everything else they had ever had.
I felt awkward when placed in the position of being present in a meeting I was facilitating but not participating in.
It felt dishonest not to tell the inmates attending that I too was a friend of Bill W’s, and that the program that works if you work it had worked for me,
working for me. But there were inmates who exploited any personal information they could obtain about officers and staff, and I couldn’t run the risk of being compromised in a way that prevented me from effectively serving my parish. Still, it made me feel like a liar.
Fortunately, it wasn’t something that happened all that often. I only supervised the group when Lee Friedman, the volunteer sponsor, was unable to do it.
Today’s meeting was designated as a step meeting, so over bad coffee in light blue plastic cups, the incarcerated men in various stages of recovery discussed how to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of themselves.
As they did, I thought about how brilliant and elegant the twelve steps were.
Of the few things I would even consider to possibly be truly inspired, these simple, proven, life-changing steps were certainly among them.
This thought led inevitably to others, and before long I was constructing a list of the writings I considered to be canonical––poetry and narrative I considered to contain the breath of God.
But before I ever completed my list of sacred texts, the meeting came to a close, ending with all of us standing in a circle saying aloud, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. One day at a time. Keep coming back. It works if you work it.”
When I reached Anna’s car at the end of the day, Jake was waiting for me.
It was nearly an hour after the admin shift had ended, the parking lot largely empty, my coworkers long gone. We were alone.
“I owe you,” Jake said. “So I ain’t gonna ask what you’re using this for, but I can’t think of anything good you could be doin’ with it.”
“You sure about this?”
I nodded again.
“Is it something I can help you with?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Thank you, though. That means a lot.”
“Okay,” he said, frowning and shaking his head.
He withdrew a small clear vile from the pocket of his green deputy’s uniform pants and handed it to me.
“You’re doing it here?” I asked in surprise, quickly tucking the vile in the pocket of my suit coat. “Like this?”
“John, no one thinks a sheriff’s deputy and a chaplain are doin’ a drug deal in the prison parkin’ lot.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“What you asked for. An incapacitation and memory loss agent. Date rape drug. Either rohypnol or ketamine. It’ll put whoever you give it to in a trance state or actually sedate them and they won’t remember it.”
I wondered if he got it out of the evidence room or off the street, but didn’t ask. “And you’re sure it works, it’s––”
“It works like a motherfucker. It’s powerful and potent and I wish there wasn’t stuff like it in the world.”
“What the fuck are you up to, John?”
“I’ll tell you when I can. I promise.”
“Okay. You and Dad are the only two people on the planet I’d do something like this for.”
“I know. I really appreciate it.”
“Be careful,” he said. “I’m just getting to where I kinda like your odd ass.”
It was the nicest thing he had said to me since we were children, and I stepped forward and hugged him.
“The fuck you doin’?” he said, but he hugged me back a bit, then pushed me away.
My entire plan hinged on this.
I was in the warden’s office first thing the next morning following another mostly sleepless night, with a special request for Emmitt Emerson to enter the institution as a one-time volunteer to speak at the Christian worship service in the chapel later in the day.
“I’ve heard about this young man,” Matson said. “Very impressive. Powerful testimony. Now see, this is the kind of thing I like to take place in my prison. This is the kind of program I’ve been askin’ you to do. Gives me hope. Maybe this most recent scare about your job did you some good.”
I just listened and nodded, didn’t say anything.
I should’ve known he would have heard of Emmitt Emerson, a former high school football star who had spent all his time since graduating drinking, doing drugs, and having sex with girls who were still in school, who had recently undergone a dramatic conversion experience for which he was receiving lots of attention.
In addition to speaking at virtually every church in the Panhandle, Emerson had been on nearly all the local radio and TV shows telling how he should be dead but God had a greater plan for his life, and hawking the small, poorly written self-published paperback with the bad cover that told his story, or as he and Matson would call it, his testimony.
When it had occurred to me just how much Emmitt Emerson looked like Ronnie Cardigan, I too became a believer. God did have a greater plan for Emmitt’s life––helping me get Anna back.
“This will do the inmates some real good,” Matson was saying. “To see a young man not unlike themselves saved by the grace of God, to hear how he was going down the same path as many of them . . .”
He signed his approval on the memo granting Emerson permission to enter the prison with a large looping signature, as if he were as proud to do so as John Hancock was the Declaration of Independence.
This was far easier than I had ever dreamed. Emerson was not only available but grateful for the opportunity to come in and speak to the men, and Matson was only too happy to let him.
Now if only every other aspect of the plan could come off as smoothly.
“What time will he speak?” Matson asked. “I’d like to come hear him.”
For a moment I lost the capacity for speech.
Shit. Think fast.
“Seven-thirty,” I said. “But . . .”
“It’s just . . . I really want the men to get all they can out of the service.”
“I think having the warden there might make them distracted, self-conscious. In the past, any time a dignitary has attended a service, the men are so interested in watching him or impressing him that they miss the real meaning of the . . .”
He liked being referred to as a dignitary.
“How would we know if those who respond to the altar call aren’t just doing it to impress you?” I said.
“I never want to hinder the work of God,” he said.
“I’ve got an idea,” I said.
“What if I invite Evangelist Emerson to speak to the staff?” I said. “He could be a special guest speaker at the luncheon devotional I do on Thursdays.”
“That’s a God-inspired idea, Chaplain,” he said.
He had never attended the inspirational luncheon I conducted every Thursday in the fellowship hall, and I had heard he had discouraged the staff from doing so, but my guess is he would not only not miss this one, but he’d make it an unspoken but very much implied mandatory event for all staff on Admin shift––the only ones to get an hour lunch break.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Chaplain, but I like it. Keep it up. Keep it up. See when Reverend Emerson can attend and set it up. Let me know the moment you do so I can let the staff know I expect them to attend.”
He’s not even going to be subtle about it.
“And keep up the good work. More of this. Less doing my inspector’s work. You just might have a future here.”
I smiled at the irony.
By doing this––whether it succeeded or failed––I was guaranteeing I would have absolutely no future here at all.
“Speaking of the future,” he said. “Do you know what tonight is? A blood moon. ‘And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.’”
“Tonight’s not just any blood moon, though,” he said. “It’s the end of a tetrad––four consecutive blood moons that coincide with Jewish holidays with six full moons in between. We’re witnessing the unfolding of biblical prophecy. A sign of End Times.”
I wasn’t able to nod at that. I had a low tolerance for ignorance and superstition and the vanity and egocentricity that made every generation believe it was the final and most significant. It’s a vain generation that seeks a sign.
“That’s what Emmitt Emerson is speaking on tonight.”
Everything was ready.
Now all that was left was for me to wait and question what I was about to do, obsessing over every detail.
Which is what I was doing in the chapel when Rachel Peterson came in.
“I said you prayed a lot, but what I meant was you’re the most praying person I know.”
I shrugged and laughed. “I doubt that. Guess it depends on how you define it. For me, prayer is everything.”
“Obviously,” she said, her green-gray eyes widening. “You certainly do a lot of it.”
“No, I meant everything is prayer.”
“Wasn’t saying prayer is everything. Was saying everything is prayer.”
“Oh,” she said. “So if you were in here thinking about . . . I don’t know . . . sports or . . . your laundry . . . or lusting after a coworker . . . that would be prayer?”
She nodded. “Well, anyway, I was just about to leave and I thought . . . I don’t know, that maybe I owe you some sort of an apology.”
“Well, most any sort is prayer,” I said with a smile.
“Even the begrudging sort?” she said with a big, beautiful, widemouthed smile of her own.
“I’m not sure about you,” she said. “But you’re interesting as hell, I’ll give you that. And I think, given the chance, I’d enjoy working a case with you one day.”
“Maybe we will.”
“Is your investigation into Hahn’s death complete?”
She shook her head. “Getting there, though.”
“Do you know who took the shot?”
“Did he do it on his own or was he ordered to?”
“Pray about it,” she said. “I’m sure it’ll come to you.”
“Are you going to make sure Hahn gets justice?”
“Too late for that,” she said. “But I’m gonna get the bastard who shot the man who was holding her life in his hands.”
After Rachel left, I went over everything again. Step by step. Move by move. Trying to examine all the moving parts and evaluate all the eventualities.
What was I forgetting? What hadn’t I thought of?
Is there another way?
Even at this late date, this far in, I wondered if there were any other options.
I was taking actions that would free a Florida state inmate, cost me my career, send me to jail, and possibly get people hurt or killed.
Anna was worth it. Anna was worth everything. But was there another way? One that would still save her and not risk her life? I couldn’t think of one.
What would happen if I showed up without Cardigan? Would they kill her on the spot? Give me the chance to explain?
What if I had the meeting place surrounded? Would they be spotted? Would they not show? Drive away? Kill her?
I couldn’t risk it. I couldn’t do anything that would risk her life. I had to do everything I could to get her back––no matter the risks involved, no matter the costs.
I cared about my career, my calling. Cared deeply. I cared about doing my job, about keeping the public safe, keeping inmates in custody. I cared about all of it. But compared to Anna, I didn’t care at all. By comparison I couldn’t care less.
No, there were no other options. Nothing to do but what I was doing. It was immoral and illegal and insane.
The phone in my office rang.
I had left the door connecting my office with the chapel open so I could hear it.
I quickly climbed to my feet and rushed over to answer it.
“That’s more like it,” the kidnapper said. “Welcome back.”
Was he just saying that because I wasn’t here yesterday when he called, or did he know I had been suspended?
“Whatta you mean?”
“Are you ready?” he said, ignoring my question.
“I am. Everything is set. Just tell me where to meet you.”
“We’ll get to that. First, let me remind you of something. It’s very important. I honestly and truly only want to make the trade. I will not double-cross you. I will not hurt you or the girl. Unless you force me to. Understand? Do just as I tell you and you will get her back tonight and we’ll all walk away with what we want. I mean it. Her fate as well as your own is in your hands. It’s very simple. Don’t try to be a hero. Don’t do anything but what I tell you to do. Please.”
“That’s all I’ve been doing. That’s all I’ll do. She means too much to me to . . . risk something happening to her.”
“Best to remember that,” I said. “If I do what you tell me to and something happens to her, I will come after you. Me and every cop and criminal and sadistic motherfucker I know.”
“Wow. I’m really surprised to hear a chaplain talk that way.”
“Just want you to know how serious I am,” I said. “Wanted it to stick in your head. Wanted you to understand.”
“I do. I think we understand each other. So let’s do this.”
“When and where?”
“You say the when, I’ll say the where.”
I thought about it. “As long as the drive is not too far, seven-thirty.”
“Perfect. In the woods on the east side of the institution––between the prison and Potter Farm, where the girl was killed a little while back. Know where I mean?”
“There’s a path that leads by a pond that runs all the way through––from the backside of Potter Farm to the end of the woods where the clearing of the prison property starts. Walk that path with the inmate. I’ll meet you somewhere along it. I’ll have the girl. You won’t know where. Got it?”