Short, but searing - Editor
What Philip Did in Tulsa
By Steve Lowe
The blindfold bit into Philip’s face, cinched tight enough behind his head to pull hair out by the root.
“What is this?” He slurred his words, still groggy from whatever had been slipped into his drink.
The voice said nothing. Philip heard only grunts. The person attached to the voice was straining against something. Then the straining stopped and Philip heard exhalation. “There,” the voice said. It was a man. “Ready. But you shouldn’t be awake yet.”
Something bit into Philip’s bare shoulder and an electric jolt once again removed him from the world.
A little candle set inside a bottle glowed from a table in front of him. The flame waved inside the glass, pulling and stretching at the edges where the bottle curved. The way everything grows at the edges, larger than reality allows.
Philip smelled pizza and his stomach grumbled and kicked. His ass throbbed and he felt an intense urge from deep down in his guts to move his bowels. He realized he was bent over and strapped down to some kind of low bench, his numb arms pinned behind his back.
“Hi.” The man stood in front of Philip and shook a pill bottle in his face. “These will keep you awake,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to do today.” The man plucked a syringe off the table and jabbed it into Philip’s arm. “And this,” the man said, “is some antibiotic so you don’t get septic shock.” He patted Philip on the back when he was done.
“What… why?” Philip choked on the cottony dryness in his mouth and gagged on the flavor of his own tongue. “Why are you doing this?”
“You can’t be serious.” The man bent down and looked at Philip, really studied his face. “Wow, you are. I can’t believe you don’t recognize me.”
Philip jerked his head side to side to confirm that he indeed did not recognize the man standing over him with the sizzling poker in his hand. It was more of a metal bar, really, with a pointed end that glowed orange. The pressure in Philip’s guts and backside pushed his stomach forward into his chest. Waves of nausea swept over him.
“Why, Philip, I’m Harvey. Jemison. From Tulsa.” Harvey cocked his head and raised an eyebrow. “You have to remember Tulsa.” It was a statement, not a question.
Philip did remember Tulsa. Every day, he remembered Tulsa. Every day, he ran from that town, and El Paso and Albuquerque and Mesa, too, but never seemed to get far enough away. He nodded his head to show that he did remember Tulsa.
“But you don’t recognize me?”
Philip shook his head again.
“So, you must have skipped town by the time the trial started. You must have been long gone, huh?”
Up and down, the sweat flipped off of Philip’s soaked hair. And in that moment, he suddenly figured it out.
“Well, formal introductions then.” Harvey reached behind Philip’s back and grasped his bound right hand. “Harvey Jemison. Ex-Marine, ex-tig welder, and now, ex-con. Can you guess why I’m an ex-con?” Harvey waited, clearly expecting an answer from Philip.
“Um… because you were in jail?”
“Give the man a prize! Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, to be exact.” Harvey squatted in front of Philip and leaned in close. “Wanna take a stab at why I was in the Okie state pen?”
Philip thought of Miranda, her ghost floating through his head, with her tight red curls and her tight little ass and her horrible, high-pitched shrieking.
“Oh, wait… I think I see a light coming on.” Harvey tapped Philip’s forehead. “It’s coming to you now, huh? You thinking about a nice girl? With curly red hair? Name of Miranda Hartley? Yeah, you know who I’m talking about.”
It was a mistake. She wasn’t supposed to die. None of them were. Philip had spent the past 19 years running from his mistakes. From Miranda. He tried to tell that to Harvey, that it was all a huge mistake, that he would fix it if he could, but the words caught in his parched throat.
“Well, since you missed the whole police investigation and trial and all that jazz, I’ll fill you in.” Harvey set the metal poker back into the fire pit with a steaming hiss and sat cross-legged on the bare floor in front of Philip, wincing as he bent down.
“Back’s not been too good for some time,” Harvey said. “Lot of things haven’t been too good. That’s what happens when you’re in prison. You feel like you age a decade for every year you serve. Once you come out, you feel rejuvenated at first, but it don’t last. Like when you was a kid and got the bubble gum from the little dispenser outside the store with the quarter you been saving. You pop it in your mouth and it’s sweet and wonderful, but five minutes later your jaw hurts from chewing and the flavor’s gone. All you’re left with is a gray, tasteless hunk in your mouth. That’s what it’s like being an ex-con.”
Harvey hushed him. “Nope, don’t say nothing. I’m getting there. OK, we were talking about Miranda Hartley. See, I didn’t know the girl, but you obviously did. Long story short, nobody seemed to believe me that I never once met her while she was alive and kicking. They were so convinced that it was me what done them awful, horrible things to her, that it didn’t matter what I told ‘em. And since you were long gone by then, and the prosecutor fella didn’t have nothing but a re-election staring him in the face, well…”
Harvey stared off at the tools hanging on the far wall to his right. Big, iron tools designed for shearing and sawing and pulverizing. “Nineteen years. I was in there for nineteen years. On account of you. In the beginning, I couldn’t believe the things they accused me of. They shoved all them crime scene pictures in my face and said I did this. Said it was me sliced her up like that. Me that bashed her head into the floor so many times that they couldn’t identify her from pictures. That I ravaged her so terribly that…”
Harvey put his hand to his mouth and bit a knuckle. Philip felt the air leave the room, like they were suddenly in a vacuum. Harvey cleared his throat and went on. “I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how anyone could do them things you done to that girl. That a man could be possessed of such wickedness and violence as that.” He looked at Philip again, his eyes stony and cold, distant. “But I got over all that pretty quick. Prison does that. Changes you real fast. And it’s amazing, given the right combination of idle time and burning hate, what a man can begin to imagine doing to another man.”
“I-I’m sorry. I…”
“Nah. Too late for that now.” Harvey stood and looked down with an inquisitor’s gaze. “My lawyer had them re-test the DNA and got them to admit that they botched their investigation in a couple places. But he never did get them to say they were sorry. The day I was set free, not one person in that courtroom believed it was because I was innocent. I wasn’t a criminal when I went into prison, but I did the time of a criminal. Now that I’m out, I still feel like I’m doing time. Your time. I think it’s only right I pay you back some of that.”
Philip cried and shook his head. Speech failed him. Harvey walked back to the fire pit and pulled out the poker, the end now a fiery, crackling red. He pointed it at Philip to show him the end, but Philip’s vision wavered. Abject fear assaulted his conscious mind.
“The first year in the stir, I was raped five times.” Harvey held up his left hand with all four fingers and thumb splayed out and whispered, “Five.”
He strolled around the table behind Philip. There was a clang of chains and a cinching around his waist that caused him to heave. The pressure in his intestines felt near to bursting.
“Nineteen years is a long time. I don’t have that kind of time anymore to just waste it, so we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
Philip cried out, “Please, no!”
A door crashed open somewhere behind him. Men shouted and Harvey shouted back. Philip felt a cool breeze rush over his bare skin. He couldn’t make out a word amid the frenzied din and fainted when the shooting started.
The detective with the pencil-thin moustache patted Philip’s shoulder. A uniformed officer stood behind the detective. The officer was staring past Philip, toward his rear end, watching and wincing. He looked ill.
“Right here, Philip, look at me.” The detective squatted and snapped his fingers in Philip’s face. “Concentrate on me, don’t worry about that.”
The searing, ripping pain made Philip sick. The detective jumped out of the way. “It’s OK, we’ll make you right. Don’t worry. There’s doctors waiting for you once we get you free. You don’t know how lucky you are that we got here in time.”
The detective looked Philip in the eye with an earnest intensity. “The man that kidnapped you was a convicted killer. I’ve kept my eye on him since he was released because I knew he wasn’t done yet.” The inspector looked down at his feet and shook his head and smoothed out the narrow, sculpted facial hair around his lips. “I knew we never should have let that monster out. Not after what he did to that poor girl.” He looked up at Philip again. “But we got him this time. Everything’s going to be fine. You just hang on.”
Philip tried to smile.