Saturday, October 23, 2010


Marcus Jamal Conley comes from a long line of street urchins, a reminder that even among the classless there is room for advancement. He studied under his father, and his father before him, becoming a master at discovering vulnerability and exploiting it for his own gain. Had he stuck to burglary perhaps things would be different, but Marcus crossed the line that night and dragged the rest of us into a revolving nightmare. Every morning I deal with consequences extending from a situation in which I had no control, and honestly I’ve grown weary of trying to reverse the past by simply willing it away. Marcus did his time in the eyes of the law, but I am convinced certain levels of justice are not attainable within the boundaries of our judicial system.

After twenty years in the penitentiary and less than two hours into his freedom I almost felt badly for what I had done. The sight of an empty bar was more than he could resist and I had hoped it would be. A tiny cluster of bells clanking above the door probably sounded more like cymbals crashing on either side of his head. I’m certain he expected to find an alert bartender, but instead he discovered an elderly man behind the counter, seemingly too preoccupied washing glasses to look up. A few lonely wisps of white hair and a hearing aide perched in his left ear provided the vulnerability Marcus preyed upon. Just hours before his arrival we peeled away the height chart pasted to the door frame, ensured every barstool in the place was empty, and relocated the cash register to within sprinting distance of the door.

I allowed Marcus to close half the distance between he and my father before winking at him from my hiding spot. Due to poor hearing he often speaks much louder than he realizes; which I’m certain rattled Marcus all the more.

“Kinda creepy out tonight, ain’t it—being Halloween and all? Why don’t you pull up a stool; you look like a man with a story to tell.”

Without a word from the patron dad poured a drink and slapped it onto the counter.

“Two shots of Beam in a tall glass, right, Marcus?”

Crouching in the back room I could see the look on his face and observed a slight shudder as the flesh on the back of his neck was certain to be crawling. My father knowing his drink and calling him by name caught him off guard.

“Nice guess on the drink, buddy, but I’m afraid you’ve mistaken me for someone else.”

The lack of an immediate response brought a nervous smile to his face. No doubt Marcus was pleased with his bluffing abilities, but like a storm comes creeping across the plain my father’s fist against the bar was the thunder, and his radically changed tone a heat-seeking bolt from the sky.

“Look, jackass—by now both of us know it was more than a guess. Go ahead and drink up—it’s likely to be long night for a bastard like you!”

Emerging from the back room I approached with the confidence of a double-barreled shotgun and the cold steel of a trigger beneath my finder. I advanced toward him until the barrels rested comfortably between his ribs.

“You heard the man, drink up!”

After placing the empty glass on the counter I removed a handgun from his jacket, sliding it a safe distance down the bar. My father took the shotgun from me and rested the business end on the bridge of Marcus’ nose, nodding toward the entrance.

“Take care of the shades and lock door. Now that our guest has arrived, it’s time to party.”

“Look fellas, I certainly appreciate the drink, but you got the wrong dude. Why you wanna close the shades and lock the door? I’ve been in the pen for the last twenty years; what do you want from me?”

I settled in and rested my chin on the back of a barstool.

“You’re in luck Marcus, the memory game we’re about to play took place exactly twenty year ago today. Around 7:30pm you entered a bar on the other side of town looking to rob the place. When the bartender resisted, you pistol whipped him with the butt of your gun. Does the scar my father wears on his forehead look familiar? While you’re accomplice was clearing out the register, since it was Halloween, three trick-or-treaters wandered in; a chubby little red-headed guy in a clown outfit, a beautiful, curly blonde-headed princess, and the youngest of three, an adorable four-year old fairy.”

“Look man, I didn’t hurt them kids. I gagged ‘em and left ‘em tied up in the back room, I swear!”

“Marcus, those were my children and his grandchildren, and most of me wants to believe you meant them no harm.”

I reached into his shirt pocket and retrieved a pack of cigarettes.

“These are very bad news; not good for you at all.”

“What do you care—you a doctor or some shit?”

“I am indeed a surgeon—but honestly it would have been better if the smokes had gotten to you before I did. You being in possession of the cigarettes doesn’t bode well for the outcome of your evening.”

While father held Marcus at bay I began stacking tables and chairs until I was satisfied with the barricade at the front entrance. I moved to the back room and finished my work there.

“Marcus, I’ve always believed in crystal-clear communication, so let me explain the details leading up to the finale of this fascinating game.”

I offered him a cigarette, taking one for myself.

“Their names were Frankie, Melissa, and Alexandria. They never returned home that night from trick-or-treating. Although my father believes otherwise he bears no responsibility for that. He was unconscious, how could he know they were there? Once he came to there was barely enough time to save himself. The authorities were unconvinced that the fire was related to the burglary, but a friend of mine who works on the forensics side of investigation determined a discarded cigarette lying near a trashcan ignited the blaze. Whether you actually tossed the cigarette is irrelevant, because my mind is made up that you did, and tonight is all about freeing my mind from worry and regret.”

I flicked my cigarette over his head into the grain alcohol I had poured on the floor. When Marcus turned his attention to the small fire I plunged the butcher knife through his right thigh and into the chair beneath.

“I’m a fair man, Marcus. I’m leaving you with a couple of choices you denied my children. It was no mistake we named this bar Crossroads and right now you’re at a very important one. I’d prefer you suffered the same lingering death that my children did, but you may also choose the front door. As I stated earlier I am doctor and there’s about a ninety-nine percent chance the knife has severed your femoral artery. By the time you remove the barricade I estimate you’ll have no more than two minutes to make the fifteen-block run to the hospital. Marcus, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our game. On the outside chance you do survive, rest assured I’ll find you and we can pick up where we left off.”