Facts Exhibiting Wantonness
by Trina Corey
EQMM November 2011
She’d wondered a few times, in the middle of long nights, or on bright afternoons when fear and worry poured down out of nowhere, what she’d do if the knock came at her door. If two faceless uniformed voices asked to come in. Would she say, “Of course,” apologize for the clutter, fuss and flutter about, ask them if they would like tea or coffee, then sit down and fold her hands and politely wait to hear that her world had ended?
Instead she told them no. “No, you can’t come in.” “No, I don’t believe you.” “No, I won’t tell you the last time I saw them.” There couldn’t be a last time.
Three daughters. On a late summer road trip together before going north, east, and south. Job and grad school for the two oldest. Freshman year at State for the youngest. One trip together. Down the coast, the high, beautiful road curving above the sea, into the path of another car that crossed into their lane and sent them over, gave her daughters to the waves, and the rocks.
She might as well have been at the graves’ edge alone. The person her friends thought they were comforting, the person her ex-husband, in his own kind of grief, thought he was being magnanimously supportive of, she wasn’t real, wasn’t any more than a black-clad shell they hugged, and guided with a gentle touch on the elbow, and insisted ate and drank, like a real person. She wasn’t. Not anymore. She was a thought.
A very simple one, really.
There had been witnesses. Drivers who saw the blue car veer across the useless yellow striping on the road, recover and never slow, let alone stop to look back and see the arcing flight. What kind of blue car, there the stories diverged. Four-door, two-door, Saturn, maybe a Toyota. No one was sure, not about that, not about the license plate either. What their eyes had followed was the fall.
So the police weren’t hopeful. They said that since Melanie had swung the wheel so quickly, had done everything she could to avoid a collision, succeeded, and died for it, there wouldn’t be a mark on the other car or paint traces on Melanie’s car. It wasn’t that the salt water scoured away evidence, but that there never was any. And without better information from the eyewitnesses all they could hope for was an attack of conscience on the part of the driver. Or for enough greed on the part of someone, anyone the driver might have said something to. Because there was a reward. What little she owned, she pledged all of it, to reward whoever provided information that, as the notification went, “led to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the deaths of Melanie, Jenette, and Katie Larson.”
All she needed was a name. One name to replace the three she’d lost.
The laughter, the conversations, the joy and surprise of the ideas her daughters came up with, the simple animal comfort of their presence. All lost.
What came in right away to the police tip line, instead of a name, were reports, sightings, shreds. A blue car five miles past the scene, speeding away. And a few minutes earlier, three lifetimes earlier, a blue car speeding toward the curve above Anders’ Cove, passing on blind corners, swerving around other cars. Driven toward the accident with “a conscious disregard for life,” with “an implied malice” that the police detective said, if they were really lucky, might just support a charge of murder under Section 188, and help them prove “facts exhibiting wantonness.”
Her daughters asked her to go with them. Jenette said it was a last chance for a family vacation together for who knew how long. She’d said of course not, they would have lots more chances, that they’d make the time, and then, in just a few years, hopefully, there’d be husbands and grandchildren, and they’d need a minivan, and wouldn’t that be wonderful.
She said there was a project at work she had to finish, wouldn’t take more than a couple of days, she’d fly down to San Diego and meet them there. They’d have a week and then they could all drive back together.
Instead she was sitting in a courtroom for the arraignment. The reward had worked.
The woman standing in front of the judge had dark brown hair, down to her shoulders, so thick it covered the side of her face as she stood there, her head bent forward.
“How do you plead?”
There was only an indecipherable mumble from behind the curtain of hair.
“Counsel, instruct your client to speak up.”
“She pleads not guilty, Your Honor.”
“I like to hear it from the defendants themselves, Counsel.”
The lawyer, a short woman in a green suit, turned and said something; she didn’t have to reach up as she put her hand on Laura Dennever’s shoulder—that was her name, the name of the person who’d killed her daughters. “Sir, I didn’t do it, sir, I didn’t do anything.” The voice was young, nasal, grating.
“Counsel,” the judge snapped.
Annie could see the lawyer’s fingers tighten just slightly on Laura’s shoulder.
“Not guilty, Your Honor.”
That was the verdict, nearly a year later. After technicalities and delays, after suppressed evidence, after Laura Dennever’s parents got the best publicist their money could buy to work alongside the fashionable lawyer. They painted a picture of Laura as a young woman who, of course, had turned her life around. Never drank, not anymore, and certainly not on the day of the “tragic incident.” The texts she’d sent to a friend, the one who would try to collect the reward for the tip that led to the arrest, those texts? Just “poor judgment that Laura now deeply regrets,” and “as we all know, an unfortunate sense of humor is not illegal.” They said that Laura Dennever was a victim as much as the three other young women, maybe more. She was a traumatized witness, and the texted jokes about how she’d slalomed up the highway practicing moves she’d learned at that one-day racing course at Fontana, about how she made the oncoming cars scatter like stupid pigeons, were simply high spirits and not at all reflective of who she was now, a poor young woman broken under the horrible, horrible stress she’d suffered over being blamed for an accident that wasn’t at all her fault.
So Annie wasn’t surprised. She heard Jack Franklin, the detective who’d testified and was back, today, for the verdict, swear quietly and steadily at her shoulder. He turned to her and said, “We’ll get her. She’ll do it again. We’ll get her, Mrs. Reed.” Annie let herself clutch at his hand once, allowed herself to feel the texture and warmth of human skin for a fleeting moment, and then again withdrew, to where everything was cold and empty.
The people with the microphones and loud voices, so modulated when they spoke into the cameras but so like the caw of crows when they shoved in around her, commented on how calm she was, on her lack of reaction, now, at the end.
Her ex-husband was speaking, his trained and practiced voice set at just the right pitch to play well on the news feeds. He’d been doing it for years. Why would it be any different now? “I have been an attorney for thirty years. I have the utmost respect for the law and, despite today’s verdict, will continue to believe in our justice system, even though I disagree with today’s . . .” She passed him on the courthouse steps and kept walking.
She went home. To the house she’d held on to through the divorce. That she’d given up any claims of alimony or shares in other marital assets for. What she’d wanted was this: A house almost seventy years old now, never updated. One of dozens built for workers who’d come to Sunnyvale to thread wires, weld seams, and hammer rivets in factories that had served their purpose for the war and now were gone. Only one family had owned it, and when the old man died, she and her husband had bought it from the son, who’d moved back to Nebraska years before. The garage, more workshop than garage, had been a sore point between David and herself. She’d had the door replaced with one with an automatic opener, had the outside painted to match the house’s new color, but never got around to cleaning it out. She’d never wanted to. She liked it the way it was. The workbench that ran the length of the west wall still held the old man’s tools, set out the way they’d been left on the last day he could lift them. When she drove in, the dust that covered the vises and saws stirred a little, sending dull sparks dancing in the light that filtered through the grimy windows.
Annie pulled the old side door shut and walked through the garden, not caring about the neglect, the figs dropped to split open on the path, the wasps crowding in to feast, or the roses run riot, the thorny stems grown taller than her head, lifting the pink and red blooms out of reach, their fragrance falling through the air around her. She’d wanted to keep the house for long summer days just like this. Wanted it to be there for the girls to come back to, on their own and then with their families. She’d wanted to spend days together watching the light change in the sky, wanted to listen to grandchildren playing under the low arching canes of the berry bushes, reaching up to pick raspberries or boysenberries, emerging with hands and faces sticky with sweetness.
She turned the key and walked into her quiet house. More packages had come, dropped through the slot in the front door. Barnes & Noble, Amazon, they kept piling up. She hoped with the end of the trial, it would eventually stop. She’d pulled open each cardboard box at first, but when the titles started repeating, she just added the day’s burden to the stack on the floor. Choosing Forgiveness, Total Forgiveness, The Art of Forgiveness, The Gift of Forgiveness, The Power of Forgiveness, The Magic of Forgiveness, Radical Forgiveness, Seven Steps to Forgiveness, The Beginner’s Guide to Forgiveness. The only one missing was The Idiot’s Guide to Forgiveness. Maybe it was in one of the unopened packages from people who thought they were doing something generous and kind for her, people who didn’t understand it was anger that kept her breathing.
She started following Laura. Waited by her parents’ house, by Laura’s condo, by her boyfriend’s place. Sometimes Annie found her, sometimes not. When she did, she kept a car or two between Laura and her own rental car, a different one each day. It worked. Laura never noticed her. Which was how Annie wanted it. She didn’t want Laura to see her. Not yet.
There was time. Laura was still driving carefully, cautious at each intersection, the brake lights flashing on and off, using her turn signals early, and on the freeway always, always staying in the slow lane and keeping exactly to the speed limit. Annie knew it wouldn’t last, but it did give her some time.
The ledger lay open on her dining table, as it had since she came home from the funeral. She set down the gun, and ran her fingers over the lists. What had been taken. What more she could give up. What she was willing to take from someone else. Who she might yet save.
Melanie, Jenette, Katie.
The scuff of oak leaves underfoot and the light filtering green and gold on a new trail.
One daughter for three.
For how many other daughters, and sons?
Second-guessing what she’d known from the moment she saw the earth standing open for the bodies of her daughters.
What had surprised her was how simple it was, how few moving parts, for something that could kill a person. The gun lay there in front of her, on the long table. It reminded her of the one in the lunchroom at her office. The presentation played across the screen for the class, naming the parts—slide, grip, muzzle, sight. Reiterating the safety measures—assume all guns have a round in the chamber, don’t ever use reloaded ammo because the powder might compact enough to develop less than normal velocity. When she first picked the gun up, it felt heavy, and she had trouble ejecting the empty magazine. She practiced over and over, frustrated at her clumsiness. She was just as inept loading and ejecting the orange plastic dummy rounds. But out on the range, the targets lined up in front of a hillside covered with eucalyptus trees, lost in the darkness beyond the range lights, everything was easy. The gun nestled in her hands, the bullets flew to the black circle, and she felt nothing, just slowed her breathing, then stopped it completely when she began the trigger squeeze, all suspended but the movement of one finger. When she walked out to change the target, shed leaves crunched under her feet, and the sharp medicinal smell of the eucalyptus filled her nostrils.
She dreamed about her daughters—Melanie, always worrying about doing the right thing; Jenette, methodical, organized, successful; and Katie, always happy, always sure that everything would just work out fine. Every night she waved goodbye to them as they pulled out of the driveway, and watched their car turn the corner, vanish, and she began running after them, running for impossible miles through the night that blazed like day in her dreams, feet pounding on asphalt and cement, air burning in her lungs. Running through the hills to the coast, then along the ocean spread out before her. Glimpsing her daughters’ car before each bend in the road, watching it disappear, then laboring forward and seeing it again, seeing Jenette turned to Melanie, talking to her, Melanie keeping her eyes right on the road ahead, Katie stretching her arm out the window, her hand riding the waves of wind.
Jack Franklin called her on the anniversary, left a message. She screened all her calls now, answered hardly any of them. There was no one left she wanted to talk to.
“I want you to know we’re watching her the best we can, making sure she doesn’t hurt anyone else.”
Annie blew out a breath, harsh, wordless, disbelieving, and missed whatever he said next. She almost disconnected in the ensuing silence, but there was more.
“Actually, I know you’re aware that we’re doing what we can, because you’ve been . . .”
She waited to hear how much he’d say. That a couple of times one of those cars between hers and Laura’s had been a black-and-white, and once Jack Franklin’s own unmarked car? Annie had seen his partner sitting beside him, coffee in one hand, burger in the other. Jack taking their lunchtime to follow Laura for a few minutes. It wasn’t enough. It wouldn’t make any difference. The message ended. He hadn’t said anything about the gun. Only chance would have alerted him that she’d bought one, legally, after filling out the papers, passing the test, waiting the three days. Only chance would have had one of the sheriffs at the county range, open to the public, mention to his city colleague that the woman who’d lost her daughters was turning into a pretty damn good shot. Hadn’t that been his case? Any cause for concern there?
She didn’t know herself if there was.
The books were still there, stacked in the pile by the front door. The gun, cleaned and oiled, was in its case on the dining table.
She completed all the probate work for her girls, closed their apartments and accounts, paid off whatever was owed. Except their phones. She continued service for the three numbers, wrote the monthly checks, and called every night, listened to their voices, left messages that fell into nothing.
Annie had taken time off work to attend the trial. She changed her schedule when she went back. Got in early, worked through most lunches, left early. She fended off the new awkward expressions of sympathy and outrage over the trial, same as she had over the deaths. Same as she did with the renewed suggestions of how to cope. Not, her female colleagues always hastened to add, that she wasn’t doing amazingly well. Of course, she said thank you, as if this was all comforting, and inevitable. As if she didn’t wake up every morning and wonder how gravity still held her feet to the floor, how anything in this world could be relied upon when her daughters could be taken from it in a moment. At lunch, she sat by the IT guys. They didn’t ask her how she was feeling. One of them, Steve, whom she’d facilitated some paperwork for, was quiet and shy. She thought, if things had been different, she might have introduced him to Katie. The two of them would have been good for each other.
A reporter and cameraman tracked Laura down. Shoved the microphone at her. Asked her, now that it had been a year, how do you feel, what would you like to say to Melanie, Jenette, and Katie’s family. Laura stared at the reporter and shrugged before getting into the new BMW and driving off, the radio blaring. The reporter didn’t see Annie watching from her car two stalls over in the parking garage.
She went back to the cliff. It had been months since she’d gone, though for a while she’d made the drive every day. Work and the trial had finally stopped her. It was sunny now, the fog bank pulled back five, ten miles? She had no idea, no sense of distances out across the roiling jade-green water. Closer to her, she knew that distance exactly. Two hundred and seven feet. Straight down. Though the road through the air her daughters had traveled had been longer and arching, soaring at first, for a moment, a second? Then falling, for too long. Annie knelt on the rocks of the crumbling cliff, unable to stand under the weight of knowing that her daughters had just enough time to grasp what was happening. Katie telling her sisters it’ll be all right, it will, it will. Jenette calculating the odds, getting ready for any chance that physics and luck might give, saying put your arms over your head, get ready to get out fast. And Melanie. She would have turned to them, to her two sisters she always tried to take care of, always looked out for. Melanie blaming herself, turning, against the pull of gravity, to look at her sisters and tell them I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.
The noise of the water, swirling, liquid, but as unforgiving as the rocks when something, someone, fell from this height, surrounded her. She tried to hear voices within it, but there was nothing human left in it at all.
Laura quit being careful. Annie had waited for her since 10 a.m. Usually, on Saturdays, Laura left her condo by lunchtime, headed off to shop and get her nails done. Today she came out of the salon, hair pulled back in a sleek fall, pink phone tucked between her ear and shoulder. She got in her car, must have put the phone on speaker, kept talking. Apparently it was about her manicure. She waved her left hand in front of her face and drove with just her right palm on the wheel. Annie clenched her hands tight enough that she would have seen bone through the skin if she’d looked, if she’d glanced away from staring at Laura, at the stoplight flicking to yellow, and the cars in front and to the side and oncoming, all in Laura’s path. A blaring horn from one of them got Laura’s attention. She looked annoyed, but the gestures and the talking stopped.
That night, in San Francisco, there were stops at four nightclubs, and an argument with her boyfriend, and an erratic meandering drive through downtown. Annie called 911, and miracle of miracles, a cop did eventually show up. He leaned over, talked to Laura, Annie could see her tear streaks glistening in the car’s overhead light. The cop let her go. Jack Franklin wouldn’t have, but this wasn’t his jurisdiction. Annie followed Laura along the Embarcadero, the gray stone of the old piers on their left, the brick of businesses and condos on the right. The boulevard added lanes, rose on pillars, became one of the freeways sweeping across the city, and Annie followed. The slanted taillights of the BMW, as familiar to Annie now as her children’s eyes, wandered from one side of the lane to the other. Then, they disappeared into the fog pouring over the city from the west, cold, soft, and blinding. Annie’s headlights blurred into the wet haze, glare reflecting back and picking out the drops caught on her windshield, like sun catching dew on a spiderweb in the morning. It wasn’t night or day, not in front of her anyway, the fog glowing pink and white as the traffic moved along, too fast, too fast, with visibility shrunk to the size of a small room, but she couldn’t slow down, not when cars kept coming up behind her at full speed, not when Laura was ahead of her somewhere.
By the time Annie had driven the thirty miles south to Sand Hill Road and turned east out of the reach of the fog, her hands slipped along the wheel, sweat burning into the cut on her palm. A shard from the aging wood of the target frame had dug deep when she reached up to unclip the bull’s-eye the day before. She had pulled the splinter out with the thumb and forefinger of her other hand, fingertips and short nails doing the work of tweezers. She’d pressed the cut against the sleeve of her jacket, blood disappearing into the fleece, and gone back to practicing. Now she drove to Laura’s building, slowed down to peer past the security lights into the first-level garage, and saw the car, right where it belonged.
Next morning, Annie’s hands trembled as she turned the radio’s dial, checked each station’s news and traffic reports. There had been accidents, but none along Laura’s path. Not this time.
She reached up, slid the small, heavy box from the shelf where she’d tucked it between vases she never used anymore. Sunday morning quiet filled the house, and the sheer white curtains moved like ghosts on the breeze drifting through the windows. The gun case was open, ready, the gun’s grip and barrel cool from the touch of the wind. She sat down in one of the empty chairs, took out one round and the empty magazine, put the cartridge in the notched slot, reset the magazine and chambered the round, ejected it, released the magazine, reloaded. Annie repeated each step, again, again, her hands steadying, her breath easing to match the ebb and flow of the white curtains, slowing, as she’d been taught to do, up until the time came to stop breathing and squeeze the trigger.
The next day she parked her rental car next to the BMW and waited. When Laura came back, arms full of shopping bags, piling them into the trunk, then sitting down and turning the rearview mirror to check her face, Annie slipped into the passenger seat and pointed the gun at Laura’s heart. She jammed it into her ribs when Laura opened her mouth. To speak, or scream, Annie didn’t care. She felt the muzzle slip over fabric, flesh, bone, and lifted one finger to her own lips, and shushed her. Asked if Laura knew who she was. The young woman nodded silently. “You will drive.” Laura nodded again. “You’ll drive safely and carefully, and I will let you live.” Laura stared at her, wide-eyed, then followed every direction precisely. After they got on the freeway and headed south, traffic heavy on a Monday, as always, even mid-afternoon, Annie saw saliva slide from the corner of Laura’s mouth. When she started to wipe it, and the tears, away, she looked at Annie as if for permission to take her hand from the wheel. Annie said, “Go ahead,” but pressed the gun against Laura’s side, to remind her. With her free hand, she went through Laura’s purse, found her phone, turned it off, and slipped it into her jacket pocket.
The garage door closed behind them. Annie left the remote on the dash of Laura’s car, took out the duct tape from her purse, and handed it to Laura.
“Wrap this around your wrists.”
Laura made a mess of it, but Annie figured it would do. She cut the end of the tape, Laura starting to panic when she saw the knife, but Annie said, “Stop it,” slapped the loose end tight against Laura’s wrists, hating the fact of touching her, and motioned for her to get out.
“Sit over there,” she told her, motioning toward the back of the garage. The old chair creaked as Laura half-fell, half-sat.
She started babbling, “What do you want? Why did you bring me here? I can pay you. I have money, my parents have money. Please don’t hurt me please don’t hurt me I didn’t do anything I didn’t do anything.”
The noise washed over Annie like static. She watched the dust float in the pale light, she tried to think of the names of the tools lined up on the splintering workbench. Awl, chisel, saw. Rusting away, left behind. She ran a finger along the curving back of a planer. Oil and rust and black paint flecks came loose. She rubbed the dirty slick into the skin of her palm.
“What do you want what do you want let me go let me go!” Laura was working up to screaming.
Annie walked over to her and set the gun against her head. “Keep your voice down or I will shoot you.”
Laura pressed her lips together.
Annie stood by the workbench, wiped a space clean with her sleeve, pulled the catch and released the gun’s magazine, put it down, ejected the chambered round. It tumbled across the wood, but she caught it before it fell to the floor. She reloaded, then ran through the sequence again, and again, until Laura started whimpering.
Annie looked over at her. Expensive red shoes, her feet twitching in them, scuffing up the dirt and bits of dry leaves that had blown in over the old floor. Too-tight jeans. Fingernail polish as red as her shoes. Her lipstick was wearing off.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
Laura blinked, startled. “Me?”
“Yes,” and Annie waited.
“Nothing nothing I’m not doing anything how can I be doing anything?”
Annie moved the gun through the dusty air, just an inch or two, enough to silence Laura’s rising hysteria. “You are, you know. Every second, just sitting there, you are doing something. Breathing. Your heart’s beating. Your hair, your nails, they’re growing, all the time. You can remember what you did yesterday, think about what you’d like to do tomorrow. My daughters can’t do anything. They won’t ever do anything.” Annie bit her lip until she tasted blood.
“But it wasn’t my fau . . .”
Annie raised the gun. Her voice was flat, and soft. “Do not say that.”
Laura shuddered. “All right, I’m sorry, is that what you want me to say? I’m sorry, really sorry, please let me go, I won’t say anything, I’ll forget all about this.” She leaned forward, showing how truly earnest she was.
“But that’s just it, I don’t want you to forget.” Annie set the gun down on the bench, rubbed her fingers as if they had just starting aching, as if every part of her body hadn’t been broken and in pain for the last fourteen months. “I want you to remember. Every time you think you want to get behind the wheel of a car, I want you to remember.”
“Sure, sure, I’ll remember, whatever you want.” Laura was nodding over and over, teeth bared in a smile.
“I want you to promise you will never drive again.”
“Of course, yes, I swear, just let me . . .” Laura started to stand up.
“No, not yet.” Annie reached in her pocket, her hand coming out with the knife.
Laura collapsed back against the chair, gulping and crying again. “But I said I was sorry, I promised. What more do you want me to say?”
Annie looked at her, then at the knife. “This? No, don’t worry. Everything’s fine now. You agreed, right?” Laura nodded, her mascara had run, mixed with the too-heavy makeup.
Annie leaned over, smelled sandalwood perfume and acrid sweat, slit the duct tape, pulled it off Laura’s wrist, the marks on her skin red and angry-looking. Laura yelped. Annie crumpled the pieces of tape into a wad and dropped it on the floor. She reached into her pocket again, took out the phone. “Here,” she said, and gave it to the sniffling woman, so young, but older than Katie would ever get to be.
Laura stared at the phone in her hand. “What am I supposed to do? Does this mean I can go?”
“Of course, whenever you want.”
Annie stood at the end of the workbench, by the side door that opened to the yard. She saw Laura look from her to the knife and gun set on the bench, to the car, to the phone. She hurriedly pressed some keys, said, “I’m calling my friends. They’ll come get me, they’ll drive. Everything’ll be just fine, okay?”
It didn’t take long. A puzzled look, more keys pressed, frustration, discordant tones from the phone, Laura swearing as she held it to her ear. A pattern of three notes now, repeated, Annie figured she was trying 911. That didn’t work either. “What the hell did you do to my phone?”
“What’s wrong?” Annie tried to sound patient, concerned.
“I keep getting these voicemails. No matter what I dial, even . . .” Her voice stopped. Laura wasn’t going to say what number she was really dialing.
“Put it on speaker so I can hear.”
“555-1685. Let me know.” Concise, to the point, no time wasted. The way Jenette had been about everything.
“You don’t know her?” Annie asked.
“No . . . I don’t know . . .” Laura snapped.
“You should try again.”
Laura’s nails clicked on the phone.
“I’m so sorry I missed you. Please leave a detailed message and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.” Every day Annie had left a message. Sometimes innocuous, mundane details of the day, like she and Melanie would have talked about . . . . But on the days when she couldn’t pretend, what Annie said was I miss you you should be here none of it was your fault.
Laura interrupted Annie’s fall into that part of all she had lost. “I don’t know her either. What did you do? Why doesn’t my phone work?”
“I think it does. Try once more.”
Laura rolled her eyes, slowly keyed in one number at a time, clutching the phone as tight as Annie did the one in her pocket.
“You’ve reached the voicemail of Katherine Reed.” Katie’s voice, trying to sound serious and utterly failing. “Leave a message and my people will get back to your people.” The words dissolved into giggles. Annie closed her eyes, let Katie’s voice pour into her, for just those few seconds. Steve had said all her daughters had pretty voices, but Katie’s was something special, like music. He said he understood why she wanted a phone programmed so all she would hear were her three girls. He refused the money she’d offered him. Said he owed her for the time she’d helped him, but he would have done it anyway.
Laura caught on. “They’re your daughters. It’s not my phone.”
“How? You’re . . .” She stopped herself. Tried again. “I promised. I promised I wouldn’t drive. You said I could go. What now? What else do you want?”
Annie just stared at her.
“What? Do you want me to listen to them again? Say something to them?”
“Would that do any good?”
Laura started yelling, “I don’t know. How could it? I said I’d do what you want. Just let me go. Give me my own phone. I’ll leave. I’ll take my car, just this one time, I promise. I just want to go, I didn’t mean it, it wasn’t my fault, I . . .”
Annie turned her back on Laura, pushed open the side door and took a few steps onto the brick path that ran straight and true through the wild, neglected garden. The old man had set the bricks, planted the trees. Birds were high up in the branches, singing ahead of the rain she could smell coming on the wind, the air clean and sharp. She waited, not knowing. It was out of her hands now.
Annie heard the click and stood suspended, hanging quiet. She turned to look at Laura, standing in the old doorway, her arms out, the gun held steady in her hands. She saw Laura pull the trigger again, then the explosion came.
Annie used Laura’s phone to report the accident. Said a gun had misfired and gravely injured a young woman. While she was waiting for the paramedics, she tied two scarves tight around Laura’s upper arms to slow the bleeding. Laura never stirred. She’d hit her head when she fell and wouldn’t regain consciousness for two days.
After finally getting Laura’s statement, it took a week for the DA to make a plea offer. Admit to kidnapping, and they’d drop the charge of attempted murder. Annie’s lawyer, and Jack Franklin, too, said no one wanted to go to trial on this one. Ballistics couldn’t prove Annie had done anything intentionally to make the first bullet lodge in the barrel so when Laura tried to fire again, the gun blew apart in her hands. Guns jam and misfire. Rare, but it happens. The conflicting plays on emotions, the bereaved mother pushed over the edge by grief, the reckless young woman disabled for life, it was a surefire recipe for a hung jury.