“Talk to me.”
“I didn’t kill her, but I’m glad the bitch is dead.”
“Seriously, Sammy, I’m tired of this bullshit.”
“Oh, it’s not bullshit—it’s the truth.”
His hand floats up to his head, and he presses against his eye with the heel of it. It does that so much these days that he barely realizes it anymore. He barely even recognizes the pain behind his eye these days—just another habit that he has fallen into. It isn’t a constant ache, but it’s close. Stress makes it worse.
“It’s just you and I out here, Sam. Okay?”
“They send you out to get a confession?” She glares at the building. “Because I’m not confessing.”
The two of them are sitting out in the “yard.” Concrete basketball court, a couple of weight benches, and a few stainless steel picnic tables. Everything surrounded by brick and separated by fences. Even though he has only been out here for a few minutes, Jackson’s already beginning to feel uncomfortable. The air—the same air that he would be breathing if he was a hundred yards away, outside of the jail exercise yard—feels heavy in his lungs, giving him a feeling of claustrophobia.
“Would you chill with that paranoid bullshit? We’ve been best friends for over twenty years—when, in all that time, have I ever given you the impression that I would sell you out?”
“That time when we were four, and we drew all over the trash can with crayons—you turned over in like three seconds.”
“That was twenty-two years ago. And I hardly think that ratting you out for coloring on a trashcan rates with trying to get you to confess to a murder.”
She smiles at him. “It’s practically the exact same thing.” She glances at the pack of cigarettes on the table and then back at the building. “You sure they aren’t watching?”
“Yeah. I had to tell Billy that you smoked, but he’s sworn to secrecy. He also said he would keep our mothers busy in his office for a while.”
“He doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into,” she says, picking up the pack of cigarettes.
“Of course he doesn’t.” He waits until she removes a cigarette, lights it for her, and then asks, “So what the hell?”
“What the hell, indeed. I don’t know what’s going on here, man, and it’s freaking my shit out.”
“You’re just a suspect right now, Sam.”
“That’s messed up.”
“Sure it is, but they had to question you. I mean, everyone in town knows how much you hate her.”
“I’m glad that bitch is dead.”
“For fuck’s sake, Sammy, knock that shit off! Seriously!”
“What? It’s the truth.”
He leans over and takes the cigarette out of her hand. He waits until she looks into his eyes before speaking again. “Samantha, you need to listen to me. I don’t give a shit about that, okay? Here’s the problem right now, and I need you to keep your mouth shut until I’ve fully explained it, okay?
“Everybody knows you hate her. The State guys are coming in for this one. State guys who don’t know you and don’t give a shit to know you. They start asking questions around town, everybody tells them how much you hated her. You’re obviously going to be a suspect. So Billy comes out to ask you some questions, so that when the Staties show up, he can say, ‘Yeah, sure, we know how she hated the victim, but we interviewed her, and she was clean.’ Except, instead of just answering their questions, you start all this shit about how you’re glad the bitch is dead. They had no choice but to bring you in. Do you understand that? Billy was just trying to help you.”
“I’m not an idiot, Jackson, you can quit talking to me like I’m a baby. And don’t call me Samantha.”
“I’m not talking to you like you’re a baby. I’m talking to you in a soothing voice so that you’ll calm the fuck down before the State guys come in here and decide you’re guilty before they even look around for the real killer. Don’t let that bitch make you the butt of her final joke, Sammy. Getting locked up for her murder, you know she’d be laughing all the way from Hell.”
She nods at him as she takes another drag of her cigarette. Jackson sighs a breath of relief; she has calmed down, she has seen reason, she’s going to cooperate. Everything’s going to be fine.
And then she bursts into tears.
“I’m so scared, Jackson. I mean, they woke me up, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. They told me she was dead, and I laughed. I laughed man! And since that moment, I realized that I was going to get locked up for this. I’m just so scared!”
He moves to her side of the table, takes the cigarette from her hand, and drops it into the ashtray. He wraps his arms around her, patting her, rocking her, whispering to her that it will all be okay.
When it’s out of her system, Jackson brushes the hair out of her face, wipes the tears away from her eyes, and smiles at her. “It’s gonna be okay, Sammy. I promise.”
“I don’t think you should promise something like that.”
“I promise,” he says. “Now what we’re going to do, is we’re going to smoke a cigarette. Then we’re going to go in, you’re going to answer a few questions, and we’re going to get the hell out of here. Maybe grab some pizza or something, I don’t know. Maybe we’ll get your mom some Valium.”
“I’ll be surprised if Billy hasn’t already had to shoot her with a tranquilizer dart.”
“We couldn’t get that lucky,” Jackson says. He pulls out two cigarettes, lights one, hands it to her, and then lights the other one.
“You were supposed to quit.”
“Yeah,” he says, climbing up from the bench to sit on the table. He leans over to rest his elbows on his knees and takes a deep drag, holds it, smiles.
“How long’s it been?”
He expels his breath slowly, almost hesitantly. “Five months, eighteen days, and probably something like ten hours.”
“You were doing so good.”
“I’m still doing good, I think. One cigarette is perfectly normal, even for a non-smoker, if you wake up to find that your best friend has been arrested for murder.”
“Technically, I wasn’t arrested.”
“Well, it’s too late for me to not smoke this, now.”
“You could always put it out.”
“Yeah, right—and miss my opportunity?”
“If you want, maybe I could be a murder suspect every weekend or so—you’d always have an excuse.”
“I’m touched that you would do that for me, but I don’t think it would be worth it, having to deal with our mothers. Speaking of, if Billy has to stall them for much longer, there will probably be more than one murder around town by the time the State guys get here.”
Sam takes a drag of her cigarette, then examines the burning tip. Jackson has seen her do this countless times before. It’s generally when she has something important to tell him, or when she’s thinking hard about something.
“I really am glad she’s dead.”
“Does that make me a bad person?”
He draws in the last drag of his cigarette and drops the butt into the ashtray. “I don’t think you’re a bad person.”