She stood in the long florescent hallway feeling the tingle of anticipation run over her skin like a thousand tiny ants. The chaos and activity were unmistakable, it was the first day of school and her first day of Senior year.
She walked slowly to her locker, letting herself take it all in. Letting her brain make these memories that she would carry with her into adulthood. The way she saw it there were turning points in a person’s life. Periods of time that pointed you in the direction you would travel down for years afterwards. Senior year of High School was one of those times.
She had worked hard to put in place the pieces she would need for an amazing year. She had gotten herself elected treasurer of the student body, a position that in her mind was MORE prestigious than Student Body President. It had all the hallmarks of the executive branch of student government, but it also had the inherent responsibility of raising and managing the cash flow of a large organization, a plus on her application to the Department of Economics at University of Chicago.
She was also about to take the test to earn her black belt in Taekwondo, an achievement she’s been working on for eight years. She was especially proud of this because she’d studied at one of the most difficult dojos in the city. It was common these days for dojos to pass students up the levels as long as they showed even the most rudimentary ability to mimic the forms and had the ability to pay the testing fee, but her master wouldn’t pass his students up until they demonstrated an absolute mastery of not only the forms, but the discipline and mindset associated with the rank. Meditation was key as was knowledge of the history of the art and a respect for your peers. As a result, she often bested even those ranked well above her in cross dojo competitions.
The final piece to her trifecta of the perfect senior year was the perfect boyfriend. Mark Farley asked her out halfway through the summer after she had spent a month and a half flirting and dropping not very subtle hints. He was handsome. Not an athlete, but in good shape, and very smart. He headed the debate team, was editor of the school newspaper and yearbook, and was ranked third on the school’s chess team. On top of all that, he was English. Right off the boat English too, having just moved to the states two and a half years ago in the middle of their freshman year. She loved to listen to him talk, his accent was divine.
She spun the dial on her locker, grinning ear to ear with eager anticipation of the year to come. A pair of hands slipped over her eyes and a voice in an awful fake American accent said,
“Guess who Mica!”
“Well, this must be my strong American boyfriend Joey!”
The hands fell to her waist and spun her around.
“That’s not funny young lady,” Mark said shaking a finger at her.
“You’re literally 1 month older than me old man,” Mica said rolling her eyes.
“Hey, a lot can happen in a month.”
“I kind of doubt that a single month could be that life altering.”
“Well, give me a dark room and a soft bed and I can make 5 minutes change your life.”
Mica leaned back against her locker and crossed her arms.
“It’s funny that you think that makes you sound good,” she said.
“What?” Mark said not following.
“Oh, did I say funny, sorry, I meant sad.”
“Oh come on Mica, you know what I meant.”
Mica pouted her lower lip.
“Yes, sadly I do,” she said and leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.
“Mica!” another voice shouted from down the hall.
A petite blonde girl in a cheer uniform top and black sweatpants was running down the hall waving a pink slip of paper at them.
“Hey Whitney,” Mica said with a giggle. “Take a breath girl, it’s like seven a.m. Nobody’s ready for your energy this early.”
“Sorry,” Whitney said holding out the piece of paper. “But the fundraiser flyers are done and need to be picked up from the printer today after school. Can you drive?”
Whitney Hemsath was the Secretary of the student body and captain of the cheer squad all of which despite the fact that she didn’t have a car.
“Damn, I can’t,” Mica spat. “My parents have my car today. They’re uh, getting the grease replaced or some shit.”
“I can drive,” Mark offered.
Mica and Whitney both turned and stared at Mark with their mouths hanging open.
“You know the steering wheel is on the left side of the car, right?” Mica said dryly.
“This coming from a girl that doesn’t know that cars need OIL!” Mark jabbed.
“The printer is on the South Side of the city,” Whitney added. “You okay with that?”
“Jesus girls,” Mark said. “We’re getting paper from the press, what’s gonna happen?”
School let out at 2:40 and by five minutes to three Mica, Whitney and Mark were squished into Mark’s twenty year old red Ford Escort and headed down the fifteen mile long county highway that connected the North and South sides of the city. The car was small and smelled of potent teenage boy and cheap pink mall perfume. The radio was on loudly, spilling pop punk ballads out the open windows that served as the only air conditioning in the vehicle.
Mark drove the car wearing a shit eating grin, silently basking in the company of two beautiful women. Mica and Whitney shouted day one gossip at each other over the squeal of guitars and the roar of the wind pouring in the open windows. The weather was still warm and the afternoon sun made their skin and hair glow and sparkle. The mood was light and jovial, full of summertime lust and new school year hopefulness. Then they pulled off the smooth winding ribbon of asphalt that wrapped around the great lake and found themselves in a place of rot and decay.
The South Side of the city was a gray place. No effort was made by the municipal government to maintain greenery. Places that should be all trees, grass and cedar chips were, instead, poured concrete and wrought iron fences. The sky seemed to go steely and the atmosphere transformed to one of frigidity, even in the late summer swelter.
The trio of teenagers went abruptly quiet, turning the radio off and rolling up the windows despite the sticky wet air. They leaned forward in their seats, eyeing every street sign, anxious to find a place of purpose and remove themselves from the category of people who didn’t belong.
After ten minutes and two wrong turns they found their way to the print shop and pulled up to the wide black gate and the stainless steel intercom box.
“What’s it to ya?” came the twangy voice on the other end of the wire.
Whitney leaned over Mark’s shoulder from the back seat and shouted.
“Hi there. Yeah, we’re here from Henry Higgins High to pi-”
A loud buzzer sounded and the gate shook and slowly slid open.
“Rude!” Whitney said.
“Just keep it simple, okay?” Mark said.
“I thought you said you weren’t scared,” Mica teased.
“I just want to be professional,” Mark said.
“You’re seventeen,” Whitney jabbed. “The only plastic in your wallet is your library card. I think your a couple yards short of professional.”
“Huh?” Mark grunted.
“It’s a football metaphor sweetheart,” Mica said.
The gate clanged at the end of its rail and Mark pulled in and found a parking spot. The kids hopped out and went into the stout brick building single file and silent.
At the front desk was a round woman with rust colored hair and enough freckles to make the prospect of melanoma cross one’s mind. She looked up at the teens with annoyance and then leaned under her desk.
“Hi, we’re here to pick up-”
The woman dropped a box the size of a sheet of copier paper and about five inches thick on the desk in front of her then went back to typing on her computer.
Mica picked up the box, said thank you, and turned to walk out the door. Mark turned to follow, but Whitney didn’t move.
“You’re very rude,” she said to the receptionist.
The woman behind the counter paused and looked at Whitney then raised her eyebrows in a manner that said ‘what’s your point’.
“We could take our business elsewhere.”
The round woman crossed her arms and sat back in her chair.
“Listen Barbie, our minimum order is ten thousand prints. That’s twenty of those boxes your friend is holding. We only do this shitty order for your school because the owner’s daughter went there like a hundred years ago or something, and even at that he gives you a stupid big discount. So sweetie, if you want to go to Kinkos be my guest.”
Whitney stared at the woman with horror painted across her face.
“Ta ta,” the lady said and went back to her computer.
Whitney took a deep breath, pulled back her shoulders, and walked out the front door. Mark chuckled and Mica punched him in the shoulder.
“Ow,” Mark said.
“Don’t be a girl,” Mica mocked, and they walked out.
Back at the car Whitney slumped in the back seat.
“We are never going back there.”
“Well, it doesn’t sound like that’s any skin off their back.”
Mark started the car and the big black gate slid open. The trio sat silently as the small car rolled out of the lot and onto the broken, uneven pavement of the street. The gate closed slowly behind them. The car made it a block before the engine cut out and the car stopped.
“Whitney, please don’t start. Please just don’t-”
“Mark, why is the car stopped?”
“We’re out of gas,” Mica said in her calm angry voice.
“Mark are we out of gas? Mica? Are you serious? Mark?”
“For fuck’s sake Whitney! Yes! We’re out of gas! I thought I could make it back to the highway, but I guess I was off a bit.”
“Jesus fuck Mark!” Whitney screamed. “What were you going to do then?”
“There’s a station there. I was going to fill up then.”
“Jesus Christ Mark! What the fuck? Didn’t your parents teach you not to run down your tank so low?”
“Says the girl without a car!” Mark shouted back.
“Yeah, and even I fucking know that ass hole. Shit, Mica, why are you so calm?”
“It’s happened before.”
The car went silent.
“It’s what?” Whitney said softly.
“Thanks for that hun,” Mark said.
Mica looked at him with dagger eyes.
“Really? I wouldn’t start shifting aggravations right now darling.”
“Mark, I’m not in a happy place right now. Mica, why do you date this looser anyway?”
“That’s a question worth visiting once we’re back on the road,” Mica said. “Right now it’s more important to find some gas.”
“Maybe we should go back to the print-shop,” Mark offered.
Whitney swung a wide arc and slapped Mark hard behind his ear.
“I think that’s a no babe,” Mica said.
“I guess I’ll walk up the road to the station then,” Mark said.
“Have fun with that,” Whitney joked.
“No way,” Mica injected. “You’re not walking around this neighborhood alone.”
“Don’t you have AAA?”
“I don’t have a CD player Princess Moneybags.”
“Then y’all better start walkin’”
Mica smiled at Whitney.
“You’re not staying here alone either.”
“What?!” Whitney shouted.
“We’re all walking,” Mica said.
“The fuck I am.”
“Curse all you want, you’re not staying here alone. We stick together, and that means we’re all going to get gas.”
“But what about my car?” Mark protested.
“It’s out of gas darling,” Mica said sardonically.
“But my rims…” Mark argued.
“Jesus Mark, you drive a twenty year old Escort. No one wants your fucking hubcaps.”
There was a long moment of silence, then the three of them moving as one climbed out of the car and began walking quietly up the street towards the highway.
The station ended up being a full mile and a half away and they were sticky and exhausted when they got there. Mark had eight bucks on him which, after buying the gas can, only left a dollar fifty for actual gasoline. Mica paid another five fifty which filled up the can and got them each a bottle of water.
“You’re a class act Mark!” Whitney whispered under her breath as Mica slid the cash under the three inch thick bulletproof glass that the attendant stood behind.
The three of them walked silently back towards the car, sipping their water and staring at the ground. About five minutes later they could no longer see the gas station behind them and the sun was starting to hug the tops of the buildings to their right.
They came to a five way intersection and a group of five boys acting like they wanted the world to think less of them. Four were young black teenagers and the fifty was a white boy in his early twenties trying desperately to impress them. He was making pistols with his fingers and holding them sideways like he’d seen in the movies.
The black kids seemed unimpressed and were waving him off and mocking him. Mica and her group saw the scene and began making a wide arc around the intersection. The Caucasian boy saw them and shouted.
“Awe, hey girlies, lookin’ fine. Why don’t you come over here and party?”
One of the black kids smacked him on the back of the head.
“You stupid pedo mother fucker, them are just kids.”
“Hey, old enough for me!” the white boy said and made grotesque gestures at the girls with his hips.
The four black kids all made various faces of disgust and left the intersection down a residential street. The white boy flipped them all the bird and started walking towards Mica and Whitney.
“Hey sugar, looks like more for me.”
The three of them avoided looking up at the thug and kept walking, but the white boy jogged up and stood in their path.
“How ‘bout it ladies? You wanna party?”
“Mark, you gonna do something?” Whitney asked.
Mark stepped forward and put up a hand.
“Why don’t you just leave us alone?”
“Us?” the thug said. “I ain’t talkin’ to your ass in any case white boy.”
Mark squinted confused.
“You’re white too.”
“Uh, you’re white too,” the gang banger said in a mockingly nasal voice.
“Just leave us-”
“Shut the fuck up!” the delinquent shouted in Mark’s face.
Mark reached a hand out and laid it on the boy’s shoulder. The kid went wide eyed crazy, blew a lungful of air out of pursed lips and cold cocked Mark square in the nose.
Blood sprayed across Mark’s face and the boy’s fist. Mark let out a deep guttural moan and collapsed to the ground. He screamed and sobbed holding his broken face. Whitney shrieked and turned to run, but the boy caught her by her uniform collar and threw her hard to the ground. Her head bounced hard off the rough concrete and a deep scarlet pool of blood began to form under her golden blonde hair.
Mica took a step backwards, fighting the urge to dart away and trying to keep her breath even like she’d been taught in her martial arts classes. The boy stepped forward twice as fast and reached and eager hand out for her hair. Mica grabbed his wrist with two hands, turned it, ducked under the arm and yanked it up behind his back. She heard a loud crack in his shoulder and a pop in his elbow and he screamed. She kept pulling until he dropped to his knees, then stepped back and kicked her heel hard into the back of his head. His body fell forward and she heard his nose crack against the pavement. She dropped down letting gravity take her full weight and landed her elbow straight on his limp spine and heard the sound of a thick tree branch breaking and the boy emptied his lungs all at once.
Mica laid there hyperventilating against the boy’s unmoving body. Soon there were police, then ambulances, then darkness and sleep. In the morning there was HER.
The sunlight snuck in in skinny slices through sterile white vertical blinds. It made jaunty white lines across the equally blank white wall at the foot of Mica’s bed.
She found it odd to be waking up on her back. It was an unnatural position for her, and uncomfortable. She always slept on her side and woke up with her left hand numb from being tucked under the pillow in just the wrong way. Now she was on her back, left hand stretched out and away from her, but still with that familiar numbness.
She gave her arm a shake to try and get the blood moving, but found that she couldn’t move it more than an inch or two in any direction. It was stuck in place and there was something wrapped around it cutting off the circulation to her hand.
Groggely she tugged at her arm again with the same results, then opened her eyes to see what exactly she was stuck on. She had a headache and her body was sore and for a moment she wondered what had happened to make her ache all over so. Had she been in a car accident?
Then it happened. The rush of memory like waves crashing on the jagged rocks of reality. She bolted upright in bed, her hand stubbornly staying where it was and pulling painfully at the muscles and tendons in her elbow and shoulder.
She was in a tiny, sparse hospital room. There was a whiteboard at the foot of her bed with two names scribbled hastily in fading red marker. The bed was narrow and long with sturdy plastic rails on either side and a small remote near her right hand that had a single red button on it that said “Call”. Her left hand, still stuck where it had been since she woke up was attached to the left hand rail by heavy steel handcuffs.
Mica continued screaming as she looked around frantically trying to figure out where she was and how she had arrived there. She began pressing the call button over and over again while she screamed.
A moment later two nurses burst into the room putting hands on her, shouting numbers and meaningless words at each other. They were reading screens on machines and scratching messy letters on lined paper stuck to metal clipboards. A policeman stepped into the room, his right hand resting uneasy on his pistol, still holstered on his right hip, but unsettlingly unstrapped. He asked in an urgent tone if everything was alright. When no answer came back he seemed to evaluate the situation for himself and stepped back outside the room.
One of the nurses, the older one, put down her clipboard and took a seat on the edge of Mica’s bed. She grabbed her hands and pushed them gently into her lap and held them firmly. She began speaking very softly in a firm but caring voice while she stroked the backs of Mica’s hands.
Mica’s eyes were wide and wild. She swung her head around in frantic stabby motions.
“Where am I? What happened? There was a man. He tried to- where’s Whitney? Where am I?”
The nurse put a soft hand on the side of Mica’s face and brought her eyes in line with her own.”
“Mica, you’re in City Hospital. You were in an altercation. You’re going to be alright, but I need you to calm down now.”
Mica took a couple heaping gulps of air and stopped screaming. She stared at the woman next to her and waited, waited for someone to tell her what was going on.
The officer who had been in the room earlier stepped back in now that the screaming had stopped.
“We all good in here?”
The nurse nodded without breaking her eye contact with Mica. The officer nodded silently and stepped back out into the hall. Mica heard the crackle of his radio and his voice saying 3-7-1 at City Hospital reporting. The girl is awake. Repeat the girl Mica Kole is awake.”
“It’s okay sweetheart. You’re alright. Just a minor concussion. You’re going to be okay.”
Mica breathed deeply. She wasn’t a doctor, but she had friends who had had concussions before from playing sports and never had she heard that it wasn’t a big deal.
“Where are my friends?” she asked. “Where are Whitney and Mark? Why am I handcuffed to the bed? Where are my parents? What’s going on?”
“Right now just rest,” the nurse said sweetly but forcefully. I’ll get someone who knows the answers to your questions soon, but please try and rest.”
“Where are my parents? Why aren’t they here?”
The nurse patted Mica’s hands.
“Your parents have been contacted. You’ll be able to see them soon, I promise. Just get some rest. You really need to rest.”
The nurse put a hand on Mica’s shoulder and stood up.
“I’ll get you some food.”
The woman walked out of the room and closed the door behind her.
The food came about 20 minutes later, but still with no answers. No one could, or would, say what had happened to her or her friends, why she was handcuffed, and why she couldn’t talk to her parents. That was the strangest part. Her parents were what is commonly called helicopter parents. If she was 15 minutes late getting home they would be calling everyone in the school directory trying to find her. There is just no way that she could be so seriously hurt in an altercation like she had been in without her parents beating her to the hospital and standing watch over her until she was 100% better. Also, she was under 18 so Mica was pretty sure it was illegal for the hospital to refuse her requests to speak with her parents, yet that is exactly what they had done over and over again since she had woken up here.
After she had finished eating she pressed the call button to have the nurse come and retrieve the tray. This time when she came in Mica would not let her leave without letting her talk with her parents, but instead of the nurse, the police officer opened the door and stepped into the room. He gave a quick look around and nodded to himself. He walked up to the bed and took Mica’s left hand in his hands and inspected the handcuffs. He gave a tug at the bracelet around her wrist and another at the one around the bed rail. Once he was satisfied that they were secure he grabbed her food tray and headed towards the door.
“Hey, thanks for the help there. I was worried they were getting loose,” Mica shouted at him.
The cop didn’t react, he just carried the tray and disappeared out the door.
“Everyone here is so helpful,” she said under her breath.
As the door to her room swung shut it was stopped at the halfway mark and swung back open in a long slow arc. As it opened a new woman walked into the room. Mica had never seen this woman before, but she knew for sure that she wasn’t a doctor or a nurse. In fact, she was certain that this woman didn’t work for the hospital at all. This woman didn’t look like a woman who helped people, she looked like a woman who owned them.
She was tall, but not overly so. Just above average she’d have said, but that was the only thing close to average about her. She was beautiful, devastatingly so, but with an icy quality that was intimidating and bordering on frightening. She had long shapely legs that jutted out of a form fitting skirt that ended just above her knees. Her blouse was black silk and sleeveless with a neckline that was professional, but only just. Her skin was tan and smooth and taut against her collarbone and her slender neck was interrupted by a black choker band that somehow defied the odds and made her look sophisticated instead of slutty. She had high cheekbones dusted conservatively with rouge and black horn rimmed glasses that enhanced her deep brown eyes.
Mica shuddered. In her life she had never seen a woman, a person, who walked so casually but carried such authority. She had no idea who this woman was, but she knew one thing; she was scared of her.
“Mica, I’m State’s Attorney Autumn Faraday,” the lady said in a voice as sweet as Mica had ever heard, but a tone that was cold at December steel.
Mica tried to speak, but she found herself choking on her words unable to articulate anything useful.
“Don’t worry young lady, you’ll have plenty of time to talk, for now, why don’t you just listen.”
Mica stared back unmoving, unresponsive.
“Good, as I said, I’m S.A. Faraday. I know you’ve been asking a lot of questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them as soon as I get some answers of my own. Does that make sense?”
Mica’s mouth was dry and she was feeling light headed. She felt her heart starting to race and she was beginning to sweat.
“My-” she coughed. “My, parents. Can I see my parents first.”
The woman smiled.
“I can’t legally stop you from seeing your parents seeing as how you’re under eighteen, and God knows they are eager to see you, but why don’t you listen to what I have to say and then decide if you want to see them first or not.”
Mica frowned. She couldn’t think of anything that would make her want to wait to see her parents. She took a deep breath, but the woman cut her off.
“Trust me Mica, there’s two ways this moment can go and you’re going to prefer to hear what they are before you go making choices you can’t take back.”
“What’s going on?” Mica choked out.
The woman pulled up a chair and sat down. She crossed her legs and her arms and leaned back in the seat.
“Mica, you’re in the hospital because you suffered a head injury during an altercation yesterday afternoon on the South Side of the city. You’re handcuffed because during that altercation you assaulted and killed an undercover police officer.”
Mica’s heart stopped. She felt her face drain of it’s blood and her whole body went cold. The woman sitting across from her seemed to disappear down a long tunnel. Her face was blurry and undistinguishable and her voice was thin and hollow as if it were very far away.
“My friends,” Mica started, but couldn’t put the rest of it together.
“Your friends,” the woman stated coldly. “Whitney Hemsath died this morning due to complications surrounding the head injury she sustained. Mark Farley is stable, but in a medically induced coma while he is recovering from his injuries.”
Mica felt like she was going to throw up. She didn’t remember Mark getting hurt that bad. A bump on the head, probably a concussion like she had, but she couldn’t see how that would wind him up in a coma.
“Mica, here is your choice. This is the moment that will decide the rest of your life. I need you to listen very carefully, and think very clearly. Do you think you can do that?”
Mica couldn’t move, she couldn’t think at all let alone clearly. What was happening? How was this the moment that would decide her whole life?
“Mica, I need you to nod your head if you understand me.”
“Good. Listen closely. I can go out into the waiting room right now and get your parents. I can bring them in here and with them as witnesses I can call in the officer from earlier. I’ll give you a moment with them, and then, in front of your mother and your father I will place you under arrest for the attempted purchase of heroin, and the murder of an undercover police officer.”
Mica’s eyes went wild. She opened her mouth to scream at this woman, to tell her that she never tried to buy any heroin. That she was trying to avoid the whole situation. That she was protecting herself and her friends, but the woman uncrossed her arms and held up her hand.
“That’s what I’ll do. You can say what you like, but you have nothing to contradict me and I have a lot of evidence, including statements from the other young men who were there at the time of the altercation.”
Mica’s mouth shut and she felt the room start to spin.
“So that’s option A,” the woman said. “Now, option B is I call that nice officer in here now, before I get your parents, and he uncuffs you. We get you set up nice and straight, clean you up a bit, call your parents in here and send you home to enjoy your senior year of High School.”
Mica frowned and looked bewildered.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
Autumn crossed her arms again.
“It’s simple Mica, either you choose now to spend the rest of your life in prison for murder, or you choose to go home with mommy and daddy. Is that too much to wrap your brain around?”
“But-” Mica’s voice was soft and horse.
“Oh, right, the but” the woman said. “The ‘but’ is that if you choose to go home, choose to leave this dreadful mistake you made in the past, if you choose that path the luggage that comes with it is that you will work for me. I lost a good officer at your hands Mica, so it’s up to you to replace him.”
Mica bit her lower lip.
“You want me to become a police officer?”
The woman laughed.
“No, Mica. Not a police officer. I need you for something special, but here’s the thing Mica, you need to do everything I ask, no questions. Also, you can never tell anyone, ANYONE, that you work for me or what you do, and if you do, if you tell anyone, even a single sole, I’ll put you in prison for life, I’ll seek the death penalty, I will leave your parents childless and alone wondering where they went wrong.”
Mica couldn’t breathe.
“So what is it kid? Shall I call in your parents and read you your rights, or shall we get that officer in here to uncuff you?”
Mica stared at Autumn with fear and disbelief.
“Good choice girl. Good choice.”
Mica stepped out of the enormous Gothic arch that surrounded the front doors of her high school. The sun was high in the clear blue sky and the magnolia tree that stood in the middle of the small grass oval at the center of the circle driveway in front of the school was starting to show tiny pink buds on its dense thicket of branches. It was the last day of school before the start of spring break and Mica was looking forward to a week of decompression and rejuvenation. Senior year had been daunting thus far, more so than she had expected and a respite from term papers, college applications, and the relentless efforts of her parents, teachers, and peers to pin her down to a life plan was just what she needed.
The beginning of the year had been so devastating, with the assault on the south side, the loss of her friend Whitney and her boyfriend’s lapse into a coma from which he still hadn’t recovered; added to that was the looming threat of The Woman. That’s how Mica thought of her, Autumn Faraday was simply The Woman.
For weeks Mica had waited, living on pins and needles, ready for the moment that The Woman would show up wanting her for whatever it was she had planned. Mica laid awake at night trying to imagine what kind of work it was The Woman wanted her for. Clearly it wasn’t anything good, and Mica assumed it was something decidedly bad. Why else would she have insisted on such secrecy with such severe penalties for revealing their association. The question that haunted Mica was a matter of degree. Bad to what extent would the request be?
Mica doubted that it would be anything illegal, The Woman was, after all, a lawyer and a law enforcement officer of the court. Legality aside though, there were things that were bad; immoral or perhaps dangerous that would still fall inside the letter of the law. The not knowing of it all was brutal and bordered on torture.
As the weeks went on though she began to worry less. She hadn’t heard from The Woman since she had walked out of the hospital and as weeks turned into months the anxiety subsided until, finally, she had days that passed without even thinking of The Woman. Soon days of peace turned into weeks of it and now as she walked out of school for a week of teenage frivolity she realized it had been more than a month since The Woman and her ominous demands had even crossed her mind.
She still thought of her absent friends daily and she visited Mark in the hospital every Saturday night, but the connection of that day and its events to The Woman had faded in her consciousness and she was beginning to let herself believe that the day that The Woman came to collect would never come.
Mica smiled and lifted her face to the warm spring sun. She reveled in the greenery of the returning grass and the leaves budding on the trees and thought deliciously of a week without worry. She was so intoxicated by the imagined days ahead that she walked right into the hood of the long black Jaguar parked at the end of the circle drive.
Her hands came down hard on the soft glossy steel of the car and for a split second she thought she had dented the gorgeous shell of a machine that cost more than her dad made in a year. She backed up frantically, her palms up and waving in front of her.
“Oh my God, I’m so so sorry,” she said over and over.
The car was running and it’s windows were up and tinted almost to mirrors. The man in the driver’s seat wore a plain black suit with a flat topped cap that suggested to Mica that he was most likely the valet and not the owner of the vehicle. He looked up at Mica, squinted slightly and nodded. He opened his door and stepped out of the car, but rather than inspect the spot that still had the foggy outlines of Mica’s hand prints on the otherwise flawless hood, he stepped back and opened the rear driver’s side door.
“Oh, no,” Mica said. “I’m sorry for running into you, but I don’t need a-”
She was cut off by a sugary sweet voice that poured out of the open door like honey out of a bear shaped bottle.
“It’s okay Mica. You can get in. We’ll give you a ride home.”
Mica felt like someone had suddenly pumped ice water into her arteries. A long and agonizing shiver ran down her neck and through her spine. She threw up a little in her mouth. The voice felt sticky in her mind, like tree sap you can’t wash off your hands with soap and water. She took another step backwards, away from the car and swallowed hard, feeling a jagged rock like lump in her throat.
“That’s the wrong direction Mica. Come on, it’s a beautiful day. We’ll take a ride in the country and talk.”
It crossed her mind to turn and run, but there was no way she could outrun the car, and Mica doubted that The Woman would have been careless enough to bring a driver that couldn’t hold his own against any moves that Mica might try and use in her own self defense. Instead she just stood there, blankly staring at the open door and trying to will herself to do something.
After a moment an exasperated sigh rolled out of the dark hole in the car and a pair of long legs in sheer black stockings and slender heels poured out. The Woman was dressed considerably different this time in a tight fitting black dress that left little to the imagination in terms of her form. She had on a long necklace with large gleaming white pearls and a black summer hat with a wide flat brim. Her lips were painted a light glossy pink and her long manicured fingernails matched them exactly.
“Mica darling,” she said in the tone of a mother who has asked a chore of a child one time more than she has patience for. “As you can see, I have somewhere to be, so if you would please hop in the car so we can have our chat and I can move on with my day, I would greatly appreciate it. Otherwise I’ll have to have Pete here put you in the car and then you’ll have to figure out a convincing excuse as to why a man was shoving you in the back of a black Jaguar when you get home tonight.”
Pete took a step towards Mica and interlaced his fingers before cracking each of his knuckles one at a time. Mica felt her face go cold and clammy. Her skin felt like a thick rubber mask pulled loosely over her skull and still sagging at the corners, and weighing down her whole head. She was shaking now, and the whole world seemed small and very far away.
The Woman sighed again and shrugged. She nodded towards Mica and Pete gave a crooked smile and took another step towards her. Mica panicked. She took another step backwards and waved her hands in surrender. Pete stopped walking and Mica crept slowly past him and slid into the back seat of the car.
When she was inside the car the door slammed shut and Pete climbed back behind the steering wheel. He shut his door and put the car in gear and they pulled smoothly away from the school. Mica felt trapped. The inside of the car was spacious enough, and was exceedingly luxurious with black leather and deep walnut appointments, but it was dark and she felt as though the ceiling was closing in on her.
“How have you been?” The Woman asked.
Mica looked back at her bewildered.
“It’s been a while,” she went on. “It’s your senior year right? That’s a big deal. Have you had any fun? Have you made any memories?”
“Mostly ones I’d like to forget,” Mica managed to get out.
“I see,” The Woman said sweetly. “Mica, I’ll cut to the chase. I’ve tried to stay away, to give you space. I know what you went through was difficult and I wanted to give you the time you needed to recover; both physically and emotionally, but I’m in a spot now and I need to call in my condition. I need your help Mica.”
Mica stared back in utter astonishment. The Woman spoke so sweetly. So sincerely. She spoke with the tone of a person who felt terrible about an inconvenience she was imposing. Mica thought it sounded like The Woman really was sorry. She found herself almost feeling bad for The Woman, almost wanting to help her.
“So here’s my pickle dear,” The Woman said. “I’ve been in the process of prosecuting this very bad man. He is thirty-six years old and he raped his son’s sixteen year old babysitter. Pretty brutally too. He put her in the hospital for four weeks.
“Thankfully she was able to identify him and he should be going to prison for the rest of his life, but his wife, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, has given him an alibi. That, with the fact that the M.E. found ecstasy in her blood at the time of the rape kit gave the jury reasonable doubt. They let him off. Scott free. No punishment at all.”
Mica stared blankly.
“Right,” The Woman continued. “So, yeah, this guy is going to walk away after doing this, this, unspeakable thing to this young woman. An act that she is going to cary with her for the rest of her life, and there is nothing I can do about it.”
Mica’s face contorted into an expression of panic and confusion.
“So, what do you want me to do?” she asked.
The Woman smiled. She reached down and stuck her hand into her purse that was sitting between her feet on the floor. When her hand came back out it was holding a sleek looking black handgun. It was almost aerodynamic looking and smelled of steel and oil. The Woman placed it on the seat of the car between herself and Mica.
“Well Mica,” she said. “I’d like you to kill him.”
The car rolled to a stop in front of Mica’s building. Neither Mica nor The Woman had said anything for some time, now they sat next to each other silent, sitting in the weight of the last words, each of them waiting for the other to say something first. The sun was getting lower in the sky and it shone through the windshield giving the car’s interior a strange otherworldly glow that made the silence seem somehow louder than it had been before. Finally Mica spoke.
“Ms. Faraday, I don’t think I-”
The Woman held up her hand silencing Mica.
“Mica, I wasn’t kidding about what I said back in the hospital that day. I will send you to death row. I know that sounds harsh. I know that you can’t believe I’d really do it, but I will and I promise you you don’t want to test me.”
Mica convulsed and her eyes began spilling huge tears down her cheeks. She felt all the world rolling over her, pushing her guts up through her chest and out her throat.
“Mica, you were able to to it to my officer, you killed him with your bare hands. This is a bad man and you don’t even have to get close. Ten feet away and you pull a little trigger. You’ll barely feel the gun go pop.”
Mica shook her head and wiped her face with her open palms.
“That was different,” she shouted. “He attacked us. He was going to hurt me, I was just defending myself.”
The Woman nodded.
“So you say, but it seems unlikely to me that an undercover police officer would attack a couple of innocent high school kids unprovoked. Either way, it doesn’t matter anymore. We’re past the time of choices, now we are in the time of action. There’s going to be an action now Mica, either you’re action or mine. Either you pick up this gun and kill the man like I’ve asked you to, or I call my office and we get an arrest warrant issued for you and you get a needle in your arm.”
Mica was shaking and her vision was blurry through the onslaught of tears that kept overflowing out of her eyes like a sink left on too long.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “You’re a lawyer, one of the good guys. Why are you asking for this. Why. Why would you want me to-”
The Woman put a hand on Mica’s shoulder.
“There are reasons. Maybe they’re even good reasons. Maybe they’re not. I really couldn’t say anymore, but Mica, they’re my reasons. For you, reasons don’t matter. What matters to you is that I tell you what to do and you do it.”
The Woman’s voice was calm, smooth and without any sense of agitation, but it carried a finality as well. There wasn’t going to be any arguing. Mica had stopped crying now, but her face was red and swollen and she still felt that crushing pressure in her chest. Her mouth tasted sour and her teeth were covered in a sickening film like you get after you’ve been throwing up. She looked at The Woman, stared at her with fear and hate and felt a final sob wrestle it’s way up her throat.
Mica gave a single nod.
The Woman tapped the headrest on the front passenger seat and the driver opened his door and stepped out. A moment later Mica’s door opened. The woman again reached into her bag, this time producing a small flip style cell phone. She held it out to Mica.
“From now on this is the only way you will hear from me. If we ever see each other again it will because I’m standing across from you asking a jury to put you to death.”
Mica grabbed the phone.
“Keep it charged and keep it on,” The Woman said in the most threatening voice she had used with Mica thus far in their entire relationship.
Mica climbed out of the car and turned to walk away.
She paused. She turned around and saw The Woman sitting cross legged in the back of her Jag holding out the small sleek pistol in Mica’s direction. Mica took a step towards the car, reached her arm out and slammed the car door. The driver stared at her a moment then climbed back into the car and shut his door. After another moment the car rolled away down her street. Mica stuffed the small cell phone in her jeans pocket and walked in the front door of her apartment building.
It was his third slice of pizza and Lt. Don Lorah didn’t feel good about it at all. It wasn’t that he felt bad about eating three pieces. The man was six foot five inches tall and built like an Abrams Tank. His fellow officers on the force joked that Angel Armor used Don to protect their bullet proof vests. No, he could eat a pizza and a half and he wouldn’t gain or lose a pound; what he was upset about was that this was gluten free vegan pizza and the principal of the thing turned his stomach.
He hated it. It tasted like cardboard smeared with bad ketchup, the kind that come in the small single serve packets at your third tier fast food joints, and topped with sawdust. He hated it, but he loved his daughter, and ever since her uncle, his brother, had died of a serious heart attack last year, she’d been insistent on them cleaning up their diet.
“It doesn’t matter how big your pecs are dad, cholesterol can kill you as fast as a bullet,” was her new favorite mantra.
So now he ate this, and meat free hot dogs, eggless scrambled eggs and drank water instead of Coke. If he could have only one of them back it would be the Coke. A cold Coca Cola on a hot day was like the goddess venus tongue kissing you. Water tasted like drinking someone else’s sweat, but he did it and he didn’t complain.
Tonight he was eating it in his car. Not his squad car, his personal car. It was becoming a routine for him of late, and he wasn’t really sure how much longer it would go on. It couldn’t go on forever, his daughter was already asking why he was home late every night. She assumed he had a girlfriend, and no matter how much he denied it she still kept at it?
“Will you be home on time tonight, or are you having dinner with Claudia again?”
Claudia was today’s name. Yesterday it was Phyllis and the day before it had been Amy. Don wasn’t sure if she was just having fun, or if the detective’s gene had gotten into her blood and she was honestly trying to deduce who he was spending time with. He just smiled and said he might have to work a little late. The truth is, there was someone, just not a girl.
Scott was the name of the man. Six months ago he had come home drunk from a night out with friends. His wife had been working late at the hospital where she was a nurse, and the babysitter, a sweet girl of sixteen, had fallen asleep on the sofa. Scott came in, and seeing her sleeping, had forced himself on her. When she woke up and tried to resist he punched her in the face breaking her nose and right eye socket as well as his own hand.. Then he finished himself before climbing off of her. Then he dragged her bloody unconscious body out of his house and dumped her in the park behind his back yard.
When a man walking his dog found her lying in the grass, jeans on the ground and panties torn he called 911. Twenty minutes later she was in intensive care at the ER and Don was pulling up to go in and take her statement.
He looked at the young girl lying there in that hospital bed, her face purple and brown and yellow, tubes running in and out of her in all kinds of places and thought about his own daughter. He thought about her babysitting for the neighbors, and then friends of the neighbors, and then friends of theirs. He realized at that moment that he let her go into homes of people he didn’t know. Strangers’ homes, late at night, that this could be his daughter.
He pulled up a chair and sat down next to her. He took her hand in his and held it, silently. He sat there with her until her parents arrived and then he sat with them. He sat with them and held their hands and told them that he was going to get the man who did this to her. He promised them that the man would pay. That he would never ever get to do this to anyone else ever again. He promised.
Then he broke that promise. The man’s wife somehow alibied her husband. She said that he had come to have dinner with her at the hospital and wasn’t home until after the girl was found. She said, with a straight face, that the girl was unreliable and probably had a boy over who did it. It didn’t help that the Medical Examiner had found traces of what may have been ecstasy in her blood. Inconclusive evidence, but that and the wife’s lies and a good lawyer and the man, that filthy vomit bag of a human being, got to walk out of court a free man and that poor girl got to live the rest of her life knowing that no one cared what he did to her.
So now Don spent his nights in his car, sitting outside the man’s house, following him to the grocery store, parent teacher conferences, and far too regularly the strip club. He spent his nights making sure that he wasn’t hurting other women, other girls. He spent his nights eating vegan pizza in the driver’s seat of his car watching the scum of the earth living a life he didn’t deserve. He spent his nights keeping his promise.
Tonight had been quiet. The man was at home, his wife was out and had the kid with her. He could see the glow of the television in the family room from the windows in the front of the house. He could see Scott every time he walked across the room to get another beer from the fridge. He was bored, but his anger still overwhelmed the boredom and kept him focused.
How long could he keep doing this? How long could he keep his promise to that babysitter who would never be able to trust a man again? He didn’t know, but for now the answer was for tonight.
The sun was creeping down behind the houses leaving an ironically beautiful scene around the neighborhood when he saw her. She was walking, coming up the sidewalk in a manner of manufactured casualness. This was something he was used to seeing. People, sometimes even completely innocent people, seemed to feel the need to act overly casual around police officers. They see a cop car and drive one mile under the speed limit. They walk with their hands hanging awkwardly at their sides or look straight ahead rather than allowing the natural movement that comes to us all when we walk. People are always acting that way around him, but this was odd. Odd because he was in his personal car. He didn’t think she could see him inside the car and the car itself was nothing that would draw anyone’s attention.
He watched the girl walk up the sidewalk and stop in front of Scott’s house. She stared at it for a long time. She was young, high school for sure. She was thin and very pretty with long red hair tied back in a plain ponytail. She was dressed casually too, not to impress for sure. Simple bell bottom jeans, tennis shoes and a t-shirt for a brother/sister rock band that was popular a few years ago. She didn’t have a purse on her, or a backpack, which Don thought odd for a girl of that age.
After a few moments of staring at the house she walked up to the front door and rang the bell. There was a moment’s pause, then the porch light came on and Don could see Scott walking with a slight sway to the door. The door opened and the girl started saying something. Scott stared at her with slight confusion at first, then a smile spread across his face. He shook his head. She said something else and he shook his head again, still smiling with a slimy expression.
Then the girl, fast as lightning, spun sideways and raised her leg and kicked the door open with a force that shattered Don’s mind. Quickly he turned the car off and opened the door and jumped out, but before he could even cross the street the girl had walked into the house and shut the door behind her.
Mica stood at the end of the sidewalk that led up to the man’s house. She stood and stared at the house with an empty mind. She wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen next, wasn’t sure because she didn’t really know why she was here. The whole mess that led her to this spot, to this small three foot by three foot square of cement poured into the ground in front of this nondescript home in a middle class neighborhood, the whole mess was too much for her brain to process.
She took a breath. Then another. Then another. She had to remind herself not to hyperventilate.
He was bad. She told herself that over and over again. He was bad and it was okay for him to pay for what he had done to that girl. The woman had sent her pictures. Blurry snapshots of court documents that showed the girl’s face, her skull, her elbows where she’d been dragged across the pavement.
Mica closed her eyes and saw them. She saw them but not as they really were. When she saw them she saw Whitney’s face. Whitney, her friend who’s only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whitney would never get to go to her senior prom, graduation, college, her wedding. Her whole life cut short because they had run out of gas.
She opened her eyes and looked at the house. Perhaps this man did deserve to die. Maybe the system had failed that girl and maybe Mica was the only way that those poor parents would have justice. That girl that also had her life destroyed by a man. She may not have died, but he still took her life. Mica felt her face harden.
She strode up to the front door of the small home and, once again, paused. This was it. This was the moment that would decide. Either she turned around now, walked back down the path and back out of the neighborhood, back onto the L train and back to her own home, or she rang the bell and come what may.
She rang the bell.
For a moment nothing happened. She thought perhaps he wasn’t home, or maybe he was asleep. What then? She wasn’t leaving and coming back. If she left now it was over. If she walked away she would throw the small flip phone in a public trash can, go home, lock the doors to her house and-
The porch light came on.
Mica looked up just in time to see the door open about half way and a man lean his head out. He was, well, handsome almost. He was in good shape and wore a fitted t-shirt that let you know he had a flat stomach without being nauseating, clinging to each and every ab muscle. His hair was short and well groomed. He had five o’clock shadow, but legitimately, not on purpose. If Mica had seen him on the street she might have given him a second look.
“Can I help you?” he said with a slightly confused look on his face.
Mica felt a chill run down her spine and it made her shiver. She tried to cover it up with a casual smile.
“Maybe,” she said. “Are you Scott?”
His eyes narrowed and he gave a subtle glance from side to side.
“Yeah,” he said hesitantly.
“Oh, hi there,” Mica said trying to hard to sound casual. “Uh, is your wife home Scott?”
The man hesitated, then a grin cracked across his face like it was the plaster of a settling house. He leaned against the door frame in a confident manner and shook his head.
“No, no she’s not.”
Mica felt her blood go icy and suddenly the man ceased to be anything close to handsome. Suddenly his whole being became repugnant and disgusting.
“Is your son here?” she asked trying to choke back her own vomit.
His smile grew wider and he shook his head again.
“Nope. Just me here. Well, just us I guess.”
The world seemed to collapse around Mica and Scott, the hideous monster in front of her seemed to vanish down a long dark tunnel. She felt flame rising up her cheeks and setting her scalp on fire. She felt needles hanging out of every pore in her skin and acid filling up her mouth. Her breath was hot and acrid and her eyes felt as though they were bulging out of her sockets. Suddenly the tunnel vision collapsed and Scott seemed to be hurtling towards her with that sickening sadistic grin smeared across his face, and her body snapped like a spring coiled too tight.
She didn’t think about it. It was complete reflex. Her body pulled into itself and she pivoted, then exploded. Her left leg sprang out and she felt the heel of her foot crash into the heavy oak door in front of her. There was the sound of air leaving the man’s lungs and the crash of his body hitting the floor behind him while the door crashed into the inside wall.
Mica centered herself. She looked down at the man lying on the floor. He was disoriented but conscious and regaining his composure quickly. She sensed some other movement around her but pushed it away. She focused on the man like a laser on a sniper’s rifle and stepped over the threshold into the house. The man was on his knees now, leaning against the wall trying to get his eyes to focus. Mica took a quick step forward and threw her fist into his nose.
The cartilage inside his face broke easily under the pressure of her closed hand, but the bone in his face was sturdy and hard and she felt the thin bone in her middle finger crack. She winced and turned momentarily to close the front door.
When she turned back the man was on his feet, blood pouring down his face and covering his mouth and chin. He was wobbly on his feet, but his eyes were on fire and his lips were smeared in a ghoulish smile. He laughed and as he did the blood ran from his open mouth and dripped on his shirt and shoes.
“You’re a spunky one,” he said.
Mica’s face was contorted into a war like jack o’lantern that made the man’s smarmy smile diminish ever so slightly. She took a step forward and he countered stepping back. She threw a punch, but he flinched and she missed her target. She threw another and he caught it with his left hand.
The man laughed deeply.
“Ya know, I teach girls like you. I teach them this. Self defense, down at the gym. You’re not bad, not bad at all, but defense is very different from assault.”
Mica growled and rushed at him bringing her knee up to meet his groin. He stopped it easily and slipped his arm under her knee bringing it up to his chest. Mica felt herself leave the floor and wriggled violently to break the man’s grip, but it was no use.
“I bet you’re a black belt,” he said with what sounded like genuine admiration. “First degree right? I’m a third degree myself. Been doing it since I was six. You are really very very pretty.”
Mica shrieked and screamed. She shook and fought and swung her head at him in spastic jabs.
“You’re going to be really really fun to-”
The front door frame shattered into splinters and the door flew right off it’s hinges. In the square box of darkness stood a towering creature roaring in anger. The man dropped Mica and she fell flat on the floor slamming her head on the tile of the entryway. The beast stormed into the room and breathed fire from his eyes. The man screamed, took one step and fell to the floor in a heap. Mica screamed and stared up at the gargantuan monster, and then mercifully, the world went black.
Lt. Lorah moved like a gorilla. Gorillas are large and solid and heavy, but move surprisingly quickly when it’s required of them. Don sprinted across the street, not even taking the time to close the door to his car on the way out.
That girl, what was she thinking? What the hell would motivate a girl of that age to try and attack a grown man in fantastic shape? Clearly she was a friend of the girl he attacked. Clearly she was trying to avenge her friend, but what would make her think that she could accomplish that, and if she did how did she plan to get away with it?
Don jumped over the curb of the street catching his toe on the raised concrete barrier. He stumbled a moment but caught his footing and dashed up the walk leading to the stoop.
He thought of the girl, the last girl. He thought about her lying in that hospital bed. About holding her hand and looking into her swollen eyes. He thought about her parents and making them promises. He thought about the way they looked at him and pleaded for some kind of understanding. He thought about his daughter, sweet and kind and always looking to do her part. He thought again about her walking into strangers’ homes to watch strangers’ kids and he saw her face on the girl’s body lying in that hospital bed.
He bounded up the two stairs to the low porch in front of the house. He leaned briefly to the side and peered into the front window. He saw the man holding this new girl’s closed fist in his hand. He saw her expertly pivot and bring her knee up to pound his balls into his throat, but then Scott blocked her with a downward swipe of an open palm. His hand moved up and slipped effortlessly under her knee and he lifted her off the floor like a basket of dirty laundry.
The girl squirmed and fought and tried like mad to free herself, but Scott had her and he wasn’t going to be letting go. Don saw a sickening grin spread across his face like ink soaking into expensive stationary and he was saying something to her.
Don felt the blood in his body swell and he felt like it was going to burst out his ears. His right hand drew the weapon from his holster on his hip and a scream escaped his throat like water crashing through a broken damm. He stepped back and raised his right foot in the air and letting gravity do it’s job he dropped it hard onto the door right next to the door knob.
The door blasted open spraying timber pieces all over the room. The door itself tumbled like a gaming die off it’s hinges and onto the stairs to the left of the doorway. Don roared as he stepped through the hole in the wall and both the girl and the man stopped and stared at him.
The man was in bad shape. Blood was pouring out of his nose and down his face. His shirt was soaked in blood and his face was already starting to swell into shapes that reminded Don of the creature Sloth from the movie The Goonies. He was breathing hard and smiling a terrible horrific smile while his eyes glowed with hellish intensity.
The girl actually looked okay so far. Clearly she had been a greater threat than Don had given her credit for, but she was still helpless and snared in the man’s pythonic arms.
After a moment of hesitation the man dropped the girl like a bag of flour on the floor and stepped backwards to run. The sweet redhead hit the floor with a thud and Don heard her head crack on the ceramic tile beneath them. He raised his service weapon and unloaded the full clip into the man, still facing him.
Scott fell like a rock and sprawled out on the floor spilling blood the color of strawberry jam across the white tile. The girl groaned and looked up at him as he took a slow and hesitant step towards her. As he got a little closer he saw her eyes roll back into her skull and her head dropped back onto the ground.
Don approached gently. He put two fingers on her neck to check for a pulse, and on finding one, he scooped her up and carried her out of the house and put her in his car. He thought long and hard about just leaving. Driving away and letting that monster rot on his own entryway floor, but he had shot him with his official police issue gun. Those rounds would be instantly identifiable. He couldn’t just walk away.
He looked at the sleeping girl in his passenger seat and wondered so many things. Who was she? Why had she come here? He couldn’t put her though what was about to happen. She had been like his angel. A sacrificial child who put herself in harm’s way so that he could do what he needed to to keep his promises forever. He needed to help her now. He needed to protect her, not just from the physical danger, but from the trauma of what would come next.
He stared at her for a long time deciding what to do, then he picked up his phone and called his station desk.