John slapped the steering wheel again at the memory of the Warden’s face as his lawyer had handed him the court writ. Condemned thirty six years ago to one of the hardest prisons in the country for the murder of his whole family, and now the State of Arkansas were admitting that they’d made a mistake. He just hoped this wasn’t a dream.
Like a messenger from the Gods, his spoilt “Daddy’s Porsche” lawyer, a mid thirties poster boy for the legal profession who was marking time with Pro Bono until he was made partner, had hit the jackpot with something called DNA evidence. McCarran didn’t know how, but he had verification to say that someone else had been there when his family were murdered, some one else had also used the murder weapon, therefore the case was inconclusive. Bingo, freedom!
“You’re a free man McCarran.” The Warder had lectured petulantly.
“Mister McCarran if you don’t mind Warden Willoughby.” John’s lawyer corrected him. Willoughby’s eyes rose from the paperwork like the wrath of Zeus but McCarran’s hired suit knew there was nothing he could do so he smiled back in a friendly manner.
“I think Mister McCarran has spent enough time here, don’t you Warden Willoughby?” The lawyer smarmed and Willoughby’s daggers took on a new edge as he growled, “Mister McCarran confessed, on paper, that he committed this crime. So Mister McCarran is, in my eyes, still guilty and I’ll decide when I sign this document to say your client can walk…”
“No Warden Willoughby, the Governor of the State of Arkansas says when he can go,” John’s lawyer interrupted impatiently. “And that means now!” The Air Con was out and John suspected his Ivy League lawyer was sweating too much in his Armani, hence the show of irritated boldness. Then, as if flicking a switch, the Harvard Hero twinkled a courtroom-charmer of a smile and said, “So if you’d be so kind as to sign it we’ll be on our way Warden.”
Oh the Warden’s face had been a picture alright. How John had nearly burst out laughing there and then he’d never know. Mumbling into the paperwork about justice and travesties, Warden Willoughby signed John Sullivan McCarran’s life back over to him and John was a free man.
He thought back to the telephone conversation with his wife, Mary Beth, after his lawyer had given him the news of the breakthrough.
“Honey, you’re not going to believe this, that rich lawyer? He’s only just gone and found something called DNA that says I wasn’t the only one there when my family were murdered. It looks like I’ll be a free man in a couple of days.”
He paused as she gasped out loud and then smiled when he heard her tears. A woman of little words and almost inhuman stoicism, she had stuck with him throughout the whole ordeal and his gratitude and love for her swelled into a lump in his throat. Through the murder trial and the whole thirty six years of weekly visits and twice weekly telephone conversations, not once had she questioned his innocence; hell, she’d even married him while he was inside. That to him was love and he would always love her for it.
“Babe, I’m coming home.” he simply stated, a tremor catching his words, and then smiled fondly as he listened to the dial tone after the click.
Scratch Creek the sign said. Scratch Creek,Tennessee. Population 430, Mayor, Ronald Davis. Someone had crossed out the Davis and scrawled McDonald under it and John smiled at the prank. He’d been on the road for two days now. He’d left for home far too late the day before but he just wanted, needed to get away. The morning and afternoon had been eaten up by buying a car and filling out the insurance and registration forms and before he knew what time it was, it was dusk; but he’d driven anyway.
He’d been given an initial pay out of fifteen thousand dollars with a promise from Mr. Smarty-pants lawyer of more to come, lots more to come actually. However, old habits die hard and he didn’t feel good just blowing it all, so he bought an old banger to drive home with, (where ever home actually was after thirty six years), and stayed in a cheap, rundown hotel with an ancient TV and even older bed springs.
He’d phoned her when he’d set out on the road but, as enduring as she had shown herself to be throughout the last thirty six years, the emotion had been too much and the conversation had broken down in a flood of her tears.
Sitting in the hotel bar nursing a coffee, a spoken introduction for a song on the juke box nudged a memory from around the time he’d been arrested.
“No matter who you are
No matter where you go in your life
At some point you’re gonna need somebody
To stand by you.”
Such prophetic lyrics, he laughed to himself, and they had been. The tune, by an old guy called Roger Ridley had somehow struck a chord with the pair of them. The thing was, for all John’s bravado and bluff, he knew he needed Mary Beth as much as he knew she needed him.
After a string of abusive or philandering partners, Mary Beth had finally found someone who loved her without the beatings and telephone numbers left in pockets. He wasn’t perfect, he had his problems, but he was true, never violent and had promised to kick the drink and drugs to be a better man for his woman. She had called him her perfect guy and with her history of violent idiots, he guessed he probably was. They really had needed each other.
John smiled at the incongruity of their situation as he remembered how, not three months into their blooming courtship, the police had called and taken John away. The charge that he’d killed his family in a rage of drink and drugs had shocked the county, and lurid stories about how he had blasted each and every one of them with his pump action had painted the headlines for months after. John’s guilt, in the eyes of the press, was beyond doubt and it seemed that the only person willing to stand by him was Mary Beth; as she had for the last thirty six long, forlorn years.
However, for John the real cosmic joke was that he didn’t even know he’d done it until the police told him the next day. He’d woken up groggy to find the sheriff and ten other deputies standing around his bed. Handcuffed and bundled off to the station, his mind still in bruised turmoil after the drink and drugs from the night before, it was only when they gave him a medical that the accusation sank in, but by then it was too late.
His over-worked, under-paid public defender lawyer had plea bargained it down from frying in the chair to life without parole; and that had been the end of his planned future together with Mary Beth.
“Nobody’ll believe you, not with your history of booze and drugs, put your scrawl on the paper and let’s put this behind us.” He’d said. Admit that you killed them, sign the confession and you’ll live.
“Let’s put this behind us.” John let the words roll around his head. Thirty six years of his life lost to those words; it was a tragedy that defied comprehension. In his heart of hearts John had known he was innocent, but with the weight of evidence against him, the people baying for his blood, the hole in his memory and Mary Beth’s tearful plea for him to live at the back of his mind, he’d reluctantly, and conveniently for the Arkansas legal system, signed. However, that was all history now.
Thirty six years later, thanks to his rich lawyer’s contacts, (why did he resent him so much? The man had saved him!) He had a suitcase of money with a guarantee of more to come. He could finally be the man that Mary Beth deserved and they’d at long last be a family. It was too late for kids, but they’d have each other and that was fine by John, yessiree!
He set off for home early, it was a Labor Day Weekend and the traffic would be heavy so he thought it prudent to make a good start. The clouds promised rain and the overcast sky fell in direct contrast to the exhilaration John carried in his heart and he whistled as he pulled away from the hotel car park.
He’d tried Mary Beth’s phone again earlier on but nobody had answered. That wasn’t a real problem as he knew where she lived, it just irked him that they’d hardly spoken since the telephone call after his lawyer had broken the good news. The next few days would be hard for the pair of them and he knew he’d have to take it easy. He hadn’t touched a woman in nearly four decades and had resisted the urge to go with the more effeminate inmates, so he knew it wasn’t going to be plain sailing at first. He’d simply have to find his way again and he laughed and gave a, “Hot Damn!” as he banged the steering wheel at the thought of it.
The heavens opened and the downpour hit like a wave, taking the wind screen wipers to the limit of their durability. He pulled into his home town and slowed to a crawl as he took in the changed landscape. The only thing still in place was the main road, otherwise it had altered beyond recognition.
With vision tunnelled by the need to see his woman, he pulled up to Mary Beth’s house; his heart hammering and tears threatening to break behind his eyes. The door flew open and she ran out, arms wide, a wail of happiness on her face. John jumped out of the car and, dropping his case with his clothes and money in, he caught her as she fell into his arms. She buried her head into his neck and shoulder and he stroked her hair as they both wept. Time stood still for the pair, no words were needed, everything was being said in the power of their clench.
A soft cough from behind Mary Beth stirred John from the cocoon they had formed against the rest of the world. Beth looked up, her mascara running freely in the rain and tears and whispered, “I’m sorry John, I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry for what baby?” He whispered, a cloud of uncertainty passing over his heart.
“I just wanted you for me, that’s all. I didn’t want to share you with anyone I just wanted you to need me, to see me as your whole world.”
“But I do babe,” he whispered.
The cough sounded again, this time more insistent. “Can we go now, McCarran?”
John noticed the man for the first time. It was the sheriff, his two deputies stood behind in the doorway of the house.
“What, what’s happening, I’m a free man?” John stammered, checking his pockets hurriedly for the piece of paper the lawyer had given him with his telephone number on. “Here, ring this number, he’ll tell you.”
The sheriff looked at the paper and shook his head sadly. “Sorry sir, I meant Misses McCarran; she’ll have to come with us to the station to be questioned.”
John looked back down to the woman in his arms, a question forming in his frown. She answered him, eyes to the floor, her voice low and catching.
“That DNA your lawyer found, it was mine.”
As the squad car drove off with his woman, John stood motionless in the rain, watching them go.
Richard Rhys Jones hails originally from Colwyn Bay, North Wales. The wrong side of forty five, he now lives in Lower Saxony, Germany with his wife, two kids and two cats. He plays the drums, writes lyrics for the Thrash band, “Gods Will Be Done” and supports Liverpool football club. His first book, “The Division of the Damned”, about vampires working for the Third Reich is out on Taylor Street Publishing
http://www.amazon.com/The-Division-Damned-ebook/dp/B007RS1YUI%3FSubscriptionId%3DAKIAJBDF5XQBATGDX4VQ%26tag%3Dspea06-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3DB007RS1YUI http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Division-Damned-ebook/dp/B007RS1YUI%3FSubscriptionId%3D0V4JT1H35KWYMF0SKQR2%26tag%3Dnovelrank-21%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3DB007RS1YUI http://www.amazon.de/The-Division-Damned-ebook/dp/B007RS1YUI%3FSubscriptionId%3D0V4JT1H35KWYMF0SKQR2%26tag%3Dnove01-21%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3DB007RS1YUI http://divisionofthedamned.blogspot.de/