wife Laura hands me the telephone receiver and steps back, worry
and shock aching in her tired, brown eyes.
This is Bobby.”
the sagging exhale and almost instantly I imagine a brightly lit,
institutionalized room fogged with tobacco smoke. My eyes itch on
reflex and cold memories surge— the greased-tipped fingernails,
the oily hair, the moldy knuckle tattoos I learned to dodge as a
do you want? Christ, how’d you get this number?”
at Death Project do have their ways.”
a kitchen chair over in front of me. Laura gasps and leaps back
yeah? Well, do those folks at Death Project have a way of connecting
you when I smash the phone into the goddamn wall?”
voice stays calm. “Don’t. Don’t do that, Bobby. Come on. You’re
my last call. I’ve got maybe, what? An hour or so left? Warden said
all calls out stop at five.”
at the tiny, digital stove clock behind me and compute the hour
difference between Florida to Livingston, Texas in my head.
do know this is for real, don’t you, boy?”
I know, but guess what? You were dead to me a long time ago. ‘Bout
time if you ask me.”
long then. Like a cartoon bomb being dropped from a passing B-52.
“That’s mighty Christian of you, boy, considering present circumstances.”
at Laura and she starts to vibrate. She turns and runs to the bathroom
down the hall from our kitchen. I hear her retching into the toilet.
hates what my father did to me and my stories of him always have
always made her scared. I let my eyes drift.
the backyard, Myles, my six-year-old son, twists on a tire swing
I’ve rigged under our big Magnolia tree. It was pure luck having
that kind of lush shade on our small piece of property. The clear
sky above the slick green leaves is cloudless and fading. It’s one
of those rare, high-pressure Spring days near the Gulf of Mexico
that make people think living in Florida is a dream come true.
do you want?” I ask, finally.
a favor…” Pop begins.
to be curt when people pry about a childhood like mine. Either you
cut them off with indifference or you try to make a joke.
there are the people you want to tell it all to. The people you
love or the people you have to or the people you want to scare out
of your way.
thought about making up a business card for the last group of people,
something I could slip out of my wallet and quietly smash their
day. Never did, but if I had it might read: My father is Casper
D. Reyes and an evil piece of trash drunkard that beat me and my
mother. He is on death row for a botched Fort Worth jewelry store
robbery where his soft-brained accomplice cut the owner in half
with Remington shotgun. Any questions?
truth was Mom kicked Pop out long before his failed score. Social
services finally got her strong enough and when I was eight they
divorced. Me and Mom moved down to St. Petersburg and got on all
right without Pop’s depraved presence looming in our lives.
on trade work as an electrician after high school and Mom, well,
she worked her way up through a manic zig-zag of shit jobs to manage
a seafood restaurant out near the south end of the city.
we were living together Mom swore and threw things at me whenever
I mentioned Pop, so after a time I wised up and kept my mouth shut.
Eventually I met Laura, got married, and moved on up to Clearwater.
Had a kid.
time I recall saying anything at all to my Mom about Pop was a few
years ago when she was dying of liver cancer. This was well after
Pop was stewing on death row in Livingston. I recall the hospital
room a being blast lit with August glare and knowing she had little
time left I asked her if she wanted me to get word to him somehow.
His appeals were running thin then or so we’d heard.
stared at me for a long time. I almost rang for the duty nurse until
she spit in my face and pressed the button on her morphine drip
over and over like she was trying to disappear.
I just need you to go and get me my suit. Then I need you to take
it to some people at the funeral home. After that they’ll take it
from there. They’re paying for my send off themselves.”
The Death Project people? You got to be shitting me.”
me!? Why don’t you get them to get it for you? And what do you care
the hell you’re buried in? I mean, God, of all the—”
now just calm down…”
You just thought of this now? Fucking now? I swear to God,
I warned those Death Project do-gooders. I warned them and warned
them and warned them to leave me out their business, to leave me
and my family the fuck alone, but no. I’m so calling a lawyer when
this ends, I swear to God, you tell them that! God damn it! I’m
going to sue the spines out of them.”
asking you as a favor, Bobby. Please. I don’t have much time now.”
ain’t fair! God damn you!”
angry. But listen now. They got this clock in hall outside here.
I’ve got, hell, I don’t know, maybe twenty minutes before the chaplain
comes back in again. That son of bitch thought he doing me a favor
bringing me these cut-rate cigs. Pole smoker. You’d think with all
the rigmarole about what I wanted for my last meal, the fresh sheets
and clothes and all they’d at least get a dead man a brand he actually
want to hear about this, Pop….”
the chaplain does his thing, I’ve got an hour or so, maybe less.
And then they’re slapping the hog chains on me again and marching
me through that door right over there and tying me down.”
No.…you can see the—?”
Just the door. Right under the clock. Plain rhino gray. Got an “A”
you should see the big fuss they’re making too, boy. Like I’m a
rock star or somethin’. Got all the high ranking officers handling
me, prison is on lockdown, like anybody was going to start a riot
over my cracker ass. Whatever. I’ve made my peace and I’m tired
of it. No amount of words can begin to tell you how sorry I am,
I mean, you’ve every right to hate me. For everything. I mean I
tried to tell you that in those letters I sent but you sent them
right back, not that I blame you for that none. Maybe this is what
I was destined for. Maybe I deserve to die this way. Not for that
man that got shot back in Fort Worth, but for everything else I’ve
done. To you, your mother—”
up. Don’t you talk about her. Don’t you fuckin’ dare.”
all I’m asking is this one little thing. I ain’t asking you to be
there with those Death Project folks when they send me off.”
I wince at a flood of memories as they bend toward me. The strap
of his belt swinging down, my mother passed out and bleeding against
a pink soap-scummed tub, a whole composite of puffy sheriff deputies
faces, me asking if it’s all right if I can bring my plastic dinosaurs.
I see my mother screaming and bloody when she bolts awake in the
paramedics care. I see her on her death bed pumping her IV drip.
for a bunch of beers in high school, I haven’t had a drop of alcohol
in more than a decade, but if I had a bottle of Jack Daniels handy
I swear to God almighty on the cross I’d drink my way blind right
on some more. Talks about his last meal (a plate of hot wings, a
large Coke, and some Rocky Road ice cream), but I can’t hear him.
All I can imagine is what I’ve read about and seen on TV about execution
chambers. My face feels wet with sweat so I backhand the stubble
on my cheek and realize it’s not sweat but tears.
later I learn that Pop’s last words were:
woman an inch or two shy of the century mark fidgets and looks at
me behind a bug-stained screen door. It’s a shabby house at the
lazy end of a potholed street, east of Fort Worth, off Route 80.
The stoop sizzles in the June sun.
I’m Bobby Reyes.”
Oh! Oh, yes. Yes. Casper’s boy.”
morning sunlight glints off of the old woman’s glasses. A sour,
papery smell fills my nose—a mixture of roses, cat urine and sweat.
sometime before my Pop embarked on his failed armed robbery he had
rented a room from this frail woman. There are a few mailboxes racked
with black flip-topped mailboxes attached to the siding near the
door—Units A, B, and C. The old woman pushes open the screen door.
It’s rusty and creaks with a long, threatening twang.
she says, “Come in. Would you like some coffee? Sweet tea? I think
I have some coffee but it’s just the instant kind. But it’s good
just the same if you load it up with milk and sugar. Don’t like
wasting a whole pot these days.”
on the brick stoop. “Thanks, but I’m all right. My Pop said you’d
have his things. I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
woman keeps the door open for a moment longer until she realizes
I’m not making my way inside. The screen door bangs closed with
a sharp pop.
need them,” I add, bunching my shoulders and letting them fall,
“The funeral home and all.” I throw a look over my shoulder at my
idling pick-up truck on the street. Her eyes follow and she frowns
inside and a full minute later she returns with two white paper
shopping bags, the kind with glued in arched string handles and
pushes open the screen door again with her frail shoulder.
so you know,” she says handling over the bags with some effort,
“even with all of the trouble he was in, your father was always
polite to me when he rented that room. Never caused me any problems.
I told that to the police when they questioned me. You should know
the bags. “All right.”
my car a few times, back when I could drive.”
was back when your father was renting the smaller room out back.
He said he had a regular job, and I saw him in his uniform. One
of those oil change places out on the highway. Never seemed to be
hanging around any sketchy types, at least not around here. He said
he was going away for a while and paid me one hundred and fifty
dollars to keep these things in the attic.”
why I’m here.”
to have a Fleetwood Cadillac. My late husband left it to me, but
they revoked my license. Now I have to wait on the minister’s people
for getting around, shopping and medical appointments and such.
Not so bad but they never let me stop for beer. I like a little
beer on Fridays. Do you like beer?”
She regards me again for a bit. “You look like him, but I guess
you know that already, don’t you?”
say I take after my mother actually.”
see him in your pretty eyes.”
her for her time and tramp back to the truck. Ten minutes later
I’m in a convenience store parking lot. I go inside and buy a sixteen
ounce fountain Dr. Pepper and some salted peanuts. Once outside,
I unfold the gate of my pick-up and dump the contents of the bags
on the dusty bed. The sudden commotion rousts a couple of heavy
set Mexican laborers dozing in a nearby littered patch of oak shade.
When the Mexicans see I’m not looking to cherry pick them for a
day’s work, they settle back down with their muddy jugs of water
and cheap cigarettes.
bag I dump contains some t-shirts, black mostly and a few pairs
of greasy stained Levi’s. Athletic socks, a belt, and some dingy
underwear with the elastics gone loose. The other contains a suit
and a pair of strap buckled engineer boots. The suit and boots are
black, just like Dad told me they would be, along with a white snap
button Western-style shirt, and a couple of fancy bolo ties. One
of the bolos has a scorpion fixed in imitation amber; the other
has a smiling silver skull with red eyes like cinnamon candy.
the pad of my thumb over the smiling skull. Suddenly I feel cold
and actually start to shiver in the Texas mid-day heat. I feel heavy.
All around me there’s this strange wavy pressure not unlike when
your ears pop on an airplane, and it feels like someone is standing
right off my left shoulder.
my head around and there’s nobody there, but the feeling doesn’t
change any. My skin brails and I toss the skull bolo down on the
suit like it’s on fire. God as my witness, I swear I feel his ghost
right behind me.
around again. Left then right, then the creepy feeling vanishes,
sucked right out of the air—gone.
away from my truck, knocking my Dr. Pepper onto the hot pavement.
The ice scatters like mice. The Mexicans in the shade look up at
the clothes back into the paper sacks, but palm the scorpion bolo,
telling myself—no. No, no, no—I’m just exhausted from all the driving
is all, I’m just imagining things. Fuck him.
feel like they are swelling and I think of my mom again. The bandages
and the smashed furniture, the crappy long sleeved Dallas Cowboys
sweatshirt I had to wear to school because of the bruises.
chucking everything, the whole lot of it or giving it to the Mexicans,
but suddenly think of my boy. Maybe Myles really would like the
scorpion suspended in fake amber.
it. I slam the truck bed closed and grunt into the cab. I toss the
scorpion bolo on the dash and a half hour later I find the funeral
home with the MapQuest directions I printed out at home.
of Dad’s so-called friends from Death Project meet me and try to
introduce themselves. I tell them to get bent and toss the paper
bags at their feet. Some skinny hippie chick in a tie-dye skirt
starts bawling. There are desperate shouts for me to wait—wait,
but I mash the gas pedal and stomp back out onto the highway. The
scorpion bolo flies off the dash like a bullet.
crossing costal Alabama, a front of pitch-colored thunderheads blasts
down so hard I have to pull over and punch my hazards. As the windows
become molten glass in the rain, I scream over and over until my
throat feels like I swallowed a knot of hot coal.
until a few months after Pop’s execution, when I find the scorpion
at a do-it-yourself car wash north of Clearwater and blasting out
my truck bed with the pressure washer. Using the last of loose change
from the ashtray, I decide to vacuum out the cab floors and there
it is—right next to an empty green puck of Kodiak snuff. Forgot
all about it.
got a tool box with me so I select a Craftsman flat head screwdriver
and pry the fasteners off the back. I always thought bolos looked
stupid and Myles would just want the scorpion anyway. As I toss
the braided leather string into a nearby trash bin a swatch of white
paper flutters to my feet.
up and unfold the paper. On it there’s a crude map scratched in
blue ink and in the center there’s a shaded smudge with the initials
“WRL” in the middle of it. Beneath the smudge are five words— UNDER
THE WINFREY POINT SIGN. Later that night I log onto the Internet
and put it all together. The shaded smudge is water and WRL is White
Rock Lake. White Rock Lake is a park in Dallas about a mile from
where they arrested Pop and his accomplice after the robbery. I
check it, like fifty times but the map is a match.
his sentence six times because he wasn’t the triggerman, but since
both men swore up and down that the other had stashed merchandise,
both got the needle.
close to midnight when I shut down my computer. I tell Laura to
call my boss tomorrow and tell him I have food poisoning, a bad
piece of amberjack or something and that I’m too sick to come to
the telephone. She asks me why and I tell there’s some unfinished
business with my Pop back in Texas.
carport my spade shovel clangs when I chuck it in the bed of my
pick-up. Backing out of the driveway Laura squints and shields her
eyes from the headlights as they sweep across her and Myles and
all the swerving night bugs.
close to twenty hours, three coffees and a sour tuna sandwich to
reach Dallas. It takes another forty-five minutes to find White
Rock Lake Park. A kiosk near the entrance tells me where to find
mid-week and hotter than shit so the park is sparse on patrons.
Wearing a florescent green work vest and a white hardhat to make
me look official, I find the sign and start digging. It goes a lot
quicker than I expect. Fifth or sixth turn of the soil reveals a
doubled bagged, fireproof lock box, the kind of inexpensive safe
people shove into their closets in a cut-rate attempt to protect
their wills and valuables.
into a Motel 6 a short time later and take a long shower to cool
off the sweat. With a damp towel tucked around my waist I shiver
in the air-conditioning and use an assortment of tools from my truck
to jack open the lock on the safe. I’m surprised. A hundred and
forty-seven thousand dollars in diamonds and jewelry don’t look
like all that much at all.
I lie on the bedspread and think. Judge me how you want, but all
I can think about are my wife and son and how they deserve a brighter