Oren Hammerquist recently completed his MA in English and creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University. "A Year and a Day" started as his master's thesis before coming to completion as a full-length novel. His novel "Hindsights" (an upmarket sci-fi piece) is currently awaiting publication for early 2018. His first novel, "Murphy's Second Death," is still in print, but his second novel has been taken out of print for revision and republishing.
He has published several short stories including "Mining Chernobyl" from "Triangulation: Steel Cities"; "Soldier's Tears" in "A Soldier's Story"; and his finalist story "The Weapons of World War Four" published in "Small Wars Journal." Oren also did intern work for the Future Warfare Writing Project as a receiving and copy editor.
He is an award-winning non-fiction author, winning the second quarter 2017 Kenneth O Preston Writing Excellence Award, later syndicated in Military Times. He is also a three-time finalist in this competition. Additionally, his poetry has appeared in several copies of "Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors."
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Remember when books used to come with book ads in the back? There would be a short blurb and a picture of the cover from upcoming books the reader may like. You can get one of these in my book. You will also receive 4 signed copies of my book. You also have the option of receiving a book review, blog post, or even backmatter written for free.
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This is an unorthodox promotion. You will receive a signed copy of "A Year and a Day," but you will also receive signed copies of my previous two novels, "Murphy's Second Death" and "Hindsights." But wait, there's more! You will receive signed copies of my next seven novels for a total of ten books. Even better, I will cover the shipping of future novels out of pocket. Naturally, earlier promotions apply including by-name thanks in this book and the option of a piece of free-lance writing. I'll even let you put a book promo in this novel if you like.
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When a drug-fueled robbery goes wrong, a teenager is in a coma, but things get worse when the gunman is released pending trial to the custody of his victim's mother.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed pszr.co/YJvyK 228 views
|Literary Fiction mainstream|
|9 publishers interested|
Meth addict Gabriel Hudson tries to rob a teenager and his girlfriend at gunpoint, but his pistol goes off accidentally leaving the boy in a coma. After fleeing in fear, Gabriel turns himself in, but his drug-induced paranoia makes the episode jumbled. At his arraignment, Gabriel agrees to be released into the custody of Eloise Warren, the comatose boy's mother, before he understands the details of his situation. After a difficult battle to overcome his addiction, Gabriel has no choice but to move into Eloise's house, where he meets his victim's two younger siblings. Conflict abounds in the home, but Eloise--the wife of a fallen police officer--meets this with stoicism. The conflict continues as they all work toward healing. Finally, when things seem to be as good as they will get, the boy in a coma dies. The state quickly pursues the first-degree murder charge, and Gabriel is left to a life sentence in prison. However, Eloise's plea to the court for a chance at redemption for her ward, grants him a distant parole opportunity. The final resolution comes after his parole--thirty-years later--when he finally comes to peace with the second victim of the robbery.
Chapter 1: Gabriel mortally wounds Grayson Warren, frightens Gray's girlfriend Jackie, and flees in terror. Though guilt prompts him to turn himself in, paranoia, fear, and drugs force him into compulsive and irrational behavior. This chapter uses non-linear storytelling.
Chapter 2: Police arrest Gabriel, but compulsive behavior cause him to injure himself. His behavior and hygiene make him a difficult suspect. He endures the indignity of intake at the jail before being left to sleep the drugs off. The book turns to linear storytelling.
Chapter 3: Gabriel battles the obsessive compulsive behavior common to meth addicts coming down from a high. He meets his lawyer and receives bad news. Because of his confession to the police and 911 operator, the best he can hope for is less than life in prison.
Chapter 4: The court-appointed lawyer tells him about an unusual solution for pre-trial release. Gabriel's mind is still drug addled, so he agrees without understanding. Due to a series of personal favors to the judge, Gabriel is released into the custody of Eloise Warren, his comatose victim's mother.
Chapter 5: Eloise meets her duty with unreal stoicism. Gabriel waits for anger or even violence, but none comes. Eloise seems only interested in helping him (and maintaining her composure at all costs). Finally, she takes him to a treatment facility.
Chapter 6: Gabriel goes through admittance at the facility and has a hallucination. He first meets with his psychiatrist here and finds he has a great deal to face.
Chapter 7: This chapter changes point of view both to the comatose victim and to the first person. Gray tries to come to grips with his position and worries about his girlfriend, who sits crying at his side. The story turns nonlinear as Gray remembers or experiences multiple visitaitons.
Chapter 8: Gabriel battles drug withdrawals in the treatment center. These are vivid and disturbing. The side-effects are humiliating for the protagonist/antagonist.
Chapter 9: Though Gabriel is recovering, he still battles with paranoia. Self loathing and suicidal thoughts plague him here. He also meets the man who will become his sponsor later by shouting him down in a restroom.
Chapter 10: Gabriel meets with his psychiatrist for a longer session. After facing some difficult facts, he receives his first copy of the 12-step program. Key here is that neither Gabriel or his therapist really understands Eloise's actions.
Chapter 11: Released from the inpatient program, Eloise Warren comes to pick him up. He expects to be taken to a halfway house, but Eloise instead takes him to her house. He tries unsuccessfully to find out what her true intentions are, but he is too self-centered to understand yet. Eloise's two younger children offer innocent observations that cause discomfort by naming the elephant in the room.
Chapter 12: On day one in Eloise's house, her middle son causes many problems by being a typical angry teenager. Eloise continues what seems forced politeness. Gabriel finally flees to his room where he finds a dog-eared copy of the "Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book."
Chapter 13: Gabriel has his first contact with his parole officer, this time over the phone. After making a fool of himself, he sets up an agreement to be allowed to go to support groups provided he comes into the precinct. It ends with Gabriel, beyond poor, borrowing bus fare from Eloise, bringing flashbacks to the crime.
Chapter 14: The narrative shifts back to first-person view addressing Gray's fear of death. Gray is also told about his mother's insane plan and weighs in.
Chapter 15: Gabriel heads to the police station to meet his case worker. It does not go smoothly. He finds himself lost and still struggling with a brain addled by drugs. He meets a female officer who will play in later and his case worker--a surly, overworked man. After filing a paper to account for his whereabouts for the next week, he returns to Eloise's house.
Chapter 16: At the door, Gabriel considers running away. He'll end up in jail, but he thinks it can't be worse than this. Eloise sees him standing in the front lawn and talks to him a little about why she is doing this. In all, she leaves more unanswered than answered.
Chapter 17: Gabriel sits through is first NA meeting. Gabriel is forced to confront the fact that though he can say he never meant to shoot Gray, he went out with a loaded gun. In the end, the janitor Gabriel had an earlier altercation with becomes his sponsor.
Chapter 18: Gabriel returns home and confronts Eloise about new clothing. He assumes she has given him Gray's old clothes to wear. Instead, she made a special purchase at the thrift store for him, and his self-centered attitude makes an already tense dinner much worse.
Chapter 19: Gabriel retreats to his small room and begins a moral inventory--a key step in the 12-step program. He takes time to think back to how he started using meth. This introduces exposition. The chapter ends with a call from his lawyer.
Chapter 20: After turning in his weekly schedule to his case worker, Gabriel must go to the DA's office to meet his lawyer and take another drug test. They assume he will relapse to his annoyance. He finally leaves his lawyer--annoyed--to run into the woman from chapter 15. He follows her out of surprise--the wondered before if he had imagined her--only to find himself feeling and looking stupid.
Chapter 21: Returning to Gray's point of view, he has begun to bargain with God to live. It has been months at this point, and Jackie is still at his bedside. She is beginning to lose her mind. A nurse comes in and threatens to hospitalize her if she does not eat something.
Chapter 22: Gabriel leaves his small room to join the family. He offers to help with housework to be less selfish. The children are doing homework and Gabriel tries to help Colton. Colton does not appreciate this as his brother used to help him.
Chapter 23: Gabriel speaks with his psychiatrist (who is a strange individual) about his treatment. Interspersed is backstory on Eloise. Regardless, he makes some progress.
Chapter 24: On the way home from the psychiatrist, he has time on the bus to begin listing those he has hurt through his drug use (step 8). His paranoia and self-loathing drive him off the bus at an inopportune time. Running blindly down the street, he runs into prostitutes and a man who propositions him. These scenes amplify the wretchedness of his position in life, but he ends up back at the house barely making his curfew only to be confronted by a smug Colton Warren.
Chapter 25: He returns a call from his lawyer (who he has avoided for a long time) and finds out charges have now been officially filed. This tense exchange with his lawyer, who he still doesn't like, Colton takes the list and gives Gabriel a hassle. Finally, Colton redeems himself slightly by helping Gabriel fill names in on this list.
Chapter 26: Gabriel attends a support group and we learn about several of the workers including the door guard and his group leader. Gabriel begins apologizing to people per step 9.
Chapter 27: He decides to apologize to his parents next, which he does by telephone. Between dialogue, we learn backstory. His mother is her typical self (acting as if Gabriel can do no wrong), but his father calls him out. His final statement leaves Gabriel worse off, that the one person he cannot foirgive for drug use is himself.
Chapter 28: Despondent, Gabriel runs. He doesn't care what happens now. He ends up in the bad part of town again. This time he ends up talking to a pimp who gives Gabriel his philosophy of prostitution.
Chapter 29: Leaving the pimp, he runs into his old drug dealer. This man took Gabriel's last dollar in chapter one as a charge to light his pipe. We also know from backstory that he is the one who introduced Gabriel to meth. The dealer expects an altercation, but Gabriel shocks him by apologizing. In response, the dealer stabs Gabriel. Police appear and arrest the dealer. Gabriel wakes in the hospital and is informed that the police will let him stay on supervised release as long as he testifies against his dealer.
Chapter 30: Final chapter from Gray's viewpoint. Jackie threatens him, but Gray finds that the Gabriel's pathetic nature invites forgiveness.
Chapter 31: Back in his hospital room, Jackie finds him again and continues screaming at him. His roommate tries to make conversation, but Gabriel shuts him up. Released earlier than expected, he is under house arrest. His release officer--already surly--is angry on the phone explaining his new terms of release.
Chapter 32: Gabriel begins doing more chores in the house and is firmly into step 10--getting help removing his character flaws. Meanwhile, he notes that Colton (now refusing to see his comatose brother) seems to be using drugs. He confronts the boy and talks him out of using because he could turn out like Gabriel.
Chapter 33: Things are nearing livable when Adalyn, still a preteen, makes the mistake of calling Gabriel dad. This completely destroys Eloise's calm. Gabriel finally finds out how she knows about addiction, she became a alcoholic after her husband's death at the hands of a drunk driver. Gabriel finally understands her better and begins to see why she did what she did for him.
Chapter 34: A year has passed since the shooting, and Eloise pulls the family aside to discuss whether they should pull the plug on Gray, who has not improved. As they discuss, the phone rings and someone knocks on the door. The phone call tells Eloise Gray is dead. The police at the door arrest Gabriel.
Chapter 35: He is denied bail on the new charge of first-degree murder. In jail, he refuses to eat for several days until forced. His guilt and depression contribute to his decision to plead guilty despite his lawyer's objections.
Chapter 36: After the plea is complete, the judge moves to sentencing and victim impact statement. Eloise steps forward and says that though Gabriel did a horrible thing, he deserves a chance at redemption. Jackie steps forward and begs the court to put him to death. She then tries to attack him physically. Gabriel is allowed to speak, but he first asks that Jackie be allowed back into the courtroom.
Chapter 37: Gabriel gives an honest account of his crimes. Rather than say he's sorry, he says he wishes he could go back even further and stop himself from getting hooked on the drugs. He calls not for mercy but for appropriate punishment. The judge sentences him to life, but decides that he will be eligible for parole after 30 years of mandatory minimum sentence.
Chapter 38: Fifteen years into a 30 year sentence, a law student comes asking to try his case again. It turns out that someone pulled the plug and, since the prosecution suppressed the fact, Gabriel could be released. Simulataneously, he receives a letter from Colton thanking Gabriel for keeping him off drugs as a kid. He turns the chance at a new trial down since it would cause pain on the family, and he feels he deserves more than he got.
Chapter 39: At thirty years, he has a parole hearing. He is a better man who wishes to help at-risk teens now. After discussing his decision not to file for a new trial, he is released.
Chapter 40: Released, Gabriel waits for a bus when to his surprise, Jacqueline Ruby arrives to take him to the halfway house. He relents (though he is afraid she might be waiting to kill him) to find out that she is on step 9--making amends. Most important, she is the one who pulled the plug. Gabriel forgives her and says she is not responsible for Gray's death; he is.
This book appeals to mainstream readers rather than genre readers. The author believes that those who enjoy the voice and style of Joyce Carol Oates will enjoy this novel. Those who enjoy the less supernatural/horror related works of Stephen King (i.e. "The Stand" or "11.22.63") would likely enjoy this book. This book would not sell to those who like legal dramas with accurate depictions of court life. It is probably not well targeted at John Grisham readers.
I maintain an active Facebook and Instagram presence. Non-promoted posts often top 300 views, and promoted posts regularly top 1,000 with small investments. I plan to do a review exchange to gain interest in this book. As the release date nears, I wish to do a Rafflecopter giveaway. I can incorporate my upcoming and recently released books into these giveaways to build a fan base.
We Were the Mulvaneys, Joyce Carol Oates, 1996, Dutton & G. P. Putnam's. This book also deals with a family torn apart by a horrible crime. My book is similar because it follows the destruction of the lives by this event and has an element of redemption. Most notably, by book is about drugs, not sexual assault. My book follows characters across one year instead of a family across decades.
The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold, 2002, Little, Brown and Company. My professor recommended this book to read as I wrote my thesis. My book focuses on the criminal, not the victim. My book also has not mystery element, while Sebold's book is a cross-genre mystery. Nonetheless, I feel those enjoying this book would like my book.
Hocus Pocus, Kurt Vonnegut, 1990, G. P. Putnam's Sons. Vonnegut's style is a great inspiration to me, though I doubt I equal his style of dry revelation. I copy his style of following facts across the book and keeping many bit characters. My book focuses on a man bound for prison by right; Hocus Pocus explains how an innocent man ended up in prison by association.
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1985, Alfred A. Knopf. My book is not magical realism but does fictionalize real events (legal proceedings in mine) in a similar manner. I have similar methods of exposition, that of circling back throughout to paint a larger picture. Like Marquez, I start with a traumatic event and walk the reader through all that happened to lead up to it.
Norweigan Wood, Haruki Murikai, 1987, Vintage Books. My book delves into the world of drug addiction and recovery instead of the world of suicide and depression. My book is similar because it shows an unorthodox method of dealing with this problem. Treatment and life bring realism through suspension of disbelief.
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Chapter 1: Second-Hand Firearm
“No one has hung up on you, sir,” the woman on the phone assured him. “When did you kill someone?”
His last hit—all he could buy with the blood-stained $29—was wearing off fast. They could be looking for him right now. “I killed some kid. They were all after me, but they missed me. I hid in an alley. I thought... I thought they...Fuck.”
“When did you kill someone?” she asked again.
“Just now.” Gabriel squinted at the bright morning sky. “Well, it might have been yesterday. What day is it?”
“Are they still after me?”
“Is who after you?”
“They! They are. The police and the kid's family and everyone,” Gabriel answered.
“Sir, if you shot someone yesterday, why didn't you call yesterday?”
* * *
He needed meth, and the second-hand pistol he held offered the best solution. His mind dulled as the meth stopped slamming the accelerator on his heart. Just scare someone: That's all the gun meant. He never meant to shoot anyone. He needed meth, but you didn't rob a dealer. Not if you valued your life.
No, he needed cash and he needed cash now. His knuckles whitened as he squeezed the hand grip. Meth. Trigger finger. Remember. Don't drop the gun but don't squeeze the trigger either. Money, but not from a dealer. Someone else.
The over-painted, half-dressed women waving at cars from the corner had money. They made in an hour what he smoked in a day. But it wasn't a good idea to rob a hooker either. Their pimp might not be watching, but he would find you. Take the money back with extra interest. Besides, those little purses were big enough to hold a small pistol.
The hookers were probably all armed. They knew; they watched him. Gabriel tried to shake the thought out of his head. All they had was condoms and cash. Maybe drugs, but he didn't want to deal with a pimp.
A man in blue jeans and a golf shirt watched Gabriel closely. Too closely. When he didn't watch Gabriel, he looked at the hookers. Gabriel shoved the pistol deeper into his jacket pocket—firm hold, but don't pull the trigger by mistake. The man's clothes were first-hand, clean, and pressed. The guy probably had money. Lots of money to buy the nice knit golf shirts with lots of crazy shapes.
Why was he staring at Gabriel? Did he smell the gun? His heart pounded louder as Gabriel felt certain the man was a cop. Undercover assholes selling drugs; it was illegal. That's why he watched the hookers. He wanted to catch Johns. The hookers could be cops too, and he was glad he didn't pull his gun on them.
Never rob a cop either. Not if you wanted drugs.
* * *
“Should have hit a convenience store,” Gabriel told the 911 operator. “The door says less than $100... But the kid had less than $30.”
“Did you say you robbed a convenience store, sir?”
Gabriel shook his head, forgetting she could not see. Last time he pulled his pistol at the trashy 7-11—where fresh paint didn't quite cover the graffiti—the clerk pulled a shotgun.
“This is all his fault,” Gabriel said. Who the hell was he? The man who smiled at his gun.
* * *
The suit was a sure sign of money. Narcs didn't wear suits; they'd try to blend into this Hell. Gabriel stepped forward and held his jacket pocket out. “Hand it over. Your money. Give me your money. Now!” He fought the urge to say please.
The man smiled back and shook his head slowly. He opened his jacket to reveal a shoulder holster with a shiny, first-hand pistol. Gabriel only knew enough about guns to know it looked bigger than his. Hell, Gabriel hadn't even fired this one. It didn't matter; he didn't need it to work. Gabriel just wanted to scare the money out of this guy.
The suit smiled, “You got the wrong guy, Tweaker.”
Gabriel stared, unsure what to do. Almost at whisper, Gabriel repeated, “Give me your money.”
“Go fuck yourself,” the man said in a conversational tone. He shoulder-checked Gabriel as he walked by.
It was a signal. Who did he signal? They were watching him now, waiting for him to turn his back to jump him. Gabriel turned his head but they jumped behind him: Hiding, mocking.
Gabriel ran, but he tired too quickly without his pick-me-up and collapsed in a pile of trash.
Laughter came close. Cops and pimps didn't laugh. They could be the suit's cronies, and Gabriel pushed into the corner between the dumpster and the wall.
* * *
“Where are you right now?” the operator asked, waking Gabriel from a memory.
“Why?” Suspicion flared. “I just want to help that kid.”
“And I want to help you,” the operator said.
“No. No you don't,” Gabriel insisted. Could she see him after all? “You want to tell them where I am.”
“You need help, sir,” said the woman softly.
“You're one of them, aren't you?”
“No, I'm trying to help you,” she answered. “But I need to know where you are first.”
“I won't let you get me,” he said. “Stop asking where I am.”
“I said stop asking me!”
There was chewing gum stuck to the bottom of the payphone. Gabriel tried to pick it off, but the sun had turned it to pure plastic. It was part of the phone now.
His hand had lowered, and the voice came quiet, from several inches away. “How did you kill someone?”
“I shot him,” Gabriel said. “How did you know about it?”
“Sir, you called me.”
“Who is this?”
“I'm… My name is Laura,” she said. “I'm a 911 operator.”
“Oh. I killed a kid. It was an accident,” Gabriel assured himself.
“Are you still armed?”
“I lost my gun,” he said. “Oh shit, I left it there. They can find my prints on it or something.”
“Can you tell me where this happened?”
“Why didn't he let me take his purse?” Gabriel asked. “She gave me her wallet then the boy screamed and I shot him taking the purse.”
* * *
They were teenagers. At least he knew they couldn't be cops. They didn't seem to be in league with the suit either. They weren't dressed like him, but Gabriel was too shocked to move at first.
The girl was platinum blonde with a streak of pink on the right side. Her dress fit snugly, showing curves on the threshold of adulthood. The dress ended three inches above the knee; she needed no nylons to give her legs perfectly even color. The heels seemed uncomfortably tall and necessitated a swing of the hips to maneuver.
The boy on her arm had a hint of facial hair on his upper lip and sideburns. He wore dress slacks and a button-up shirt, but the letterman's jacket held Gabriel's attention. Not even out of High School. Same color and letter Gabriel wore seven years earlier.
Gabriel closed his eyes and shook his head, sure this was some hallucination. What were two teenagers doing in this part of town after dark? The movie theater was close. They had to be headed to the pier and been too cheap to spring for a cab. Even a cab in this town had certain dangers, but being on foot was much worse. Despite the loaded gun in his pocket, Gabriel was less dangerous than some standing in the shadows—the dealers, pimps, and the man in the suit.
After tonight, they'd learn. They'd never walk here again. Gabriel checked again for the cop from earlier, wondered vaguely if he had been there at all. Had he imagined that? Were the hookers real?
At any rate, these two would scare easily. A teenager wouldn't know what to do at the end of a gun. Gabriel held the pistol out at arm's length. “Don't move! Turn around slowly.”
The two faced him with calm looks. What did they know? Was this a sting? Gabriel looked frantically in every direction, but he couldn't see the other cops. Why weren't they saying anything?
“Give me your wallet.”
The boy nodded. “I only have $20.” He reached into the wallet to pull out the money.
“Just fucking give it to me!” Gabriel's hand shook.
The boy tossed the wallet and Gabriel missed. He waved the gun between them before he leaned down. The boy was right, there was only $23 and some spare change.
“Where's the rest of it?”
“I only brought $40 with me and we just came from a movie,” the boy said. He held his hands higher. Was it a signal? Was he trying to distract Gabriel? “We don't want any trouble. Just take the money. Please.”
But that wasn't enough. He needed more to get straight. This wouldn't even buy a full pipe.
“Give me your money,” Gabriel ordered the girl.
When his pistol waved toward her she gasped. She struggled with the purse's zipper; her hands trembled. Finally, she opened her purse and reached inside.
“What are you doing?” Gabriel demanded.
“I'm getting my wallet.”
“Get your hand out of there!” Gabriel demanded. “You got a gun in there? Is that it?”
“No, I was just grabbing my wallet.”
“You going to pepper spray me?” Gabriel demanded. “You spray me I'll fucking kill you.”
She gasped. A tear looked ready to fall from her eye, but she managed a nod.
He watched nervously as she pulled her wallet out and tossed it to him. Again, Gabriel had to retrieve it from the ground. He found $6 and $3 in change. The gun shook in his hand as he pointed at the teenagers again. “Where's the rest of it?”
“That's all I have.”
Gabriel threw the wallet and grabbed her purse; she tricked him and kept her money elsewhere. She pulled back; her strength matched the emaciated addict. The teenage boy stepped in the middle, defending his girlfriend. They shouted at each other, shoved, and pulled.
The explosion halted them all. Gabriel's hand stung. Red droplets covered the front of the girl's clothing. Gabriel looked to the boy, searching for more droplets. Instead, blood poured from a circle on the boy's forehead. The eyes looked far past the buildings; they turned glassy as he collapsed onto the street. The small droplets of blood covered Gabriel's hands and the second-hand pistol.
The smell of gunpowder burned Gabriel's nostrils. The girl locked eyes with him. He waited for her to scream. But she stared at the gun. Gabriel shook his head to reassure her, but no sound came out. She must think he meant to shoot her too.
Still, she did not scream.
“Oh, God!” he said. “I didn't mean to. I'm sorry.”
He stepped backwards and the pistol crashed to the concrete. Another step and the girl's purse fell to the ground, spilling its contents.
Finally, the girl screamed. He spun on a heel and ran. His sobering feet barely kept him standing, but they pushed him forward, onward, away from the echoing scream.
* * *
“Yes, I believe you,” the woman answered without a second's hesitation. “But we still need to get someone to help you and maybe the boy immediately. Where are you?”
“I don't know.”
The half phone booth—left for hookers and pimps to use—had layers of graffiti. On the glass to the left, someone had drawn an oblong figure probably meant as a penis, but Gabriel saw a pipe. He began to scratch at his arm; his lungs and slowly dying brain ached for another hit. Maybe the pipe in his pocket still had some residue. He tried to pull it out to find a telephone receiver in his hand. Had someone called him?
“Look for some street signs,” a woman said.
“Why?” Gabriel asked, sincerely confused for a moment.
“I want to send someone to help the boy you shot.”
“How did you know about that?”
After what seemed like minutes of silence, she answered, “You called and told me.”
“Oh. I'm not with him. Him and his girlfriend. Christ! She thought I was going to kill her too.”
“Did you shoot her?”
“No!” he said nearly in a panic. “I just ran away. I didn't mean to hurt them.”
“Why didn't you call immediately?” she asked.
Gabriel wondered at this, but all he could say was the truth. “I couldn't remember the number.” The receiver crashed against the telephone booth.
* * *
Crowds flowed from every building trying to sweep Gabriel back towards the dead teenager. For a moment, adrenaline took the place of meth. The girl yelled after him and every eye followed his blood-spattered clothing. He imagined crowds following his every turn with torches. They sought a monster, but they couldn't be real. The moon sat high and full in the sky and only his shadow chased him.
He raced down street after street; get away. Police sirens sounded, and Gabriel dove into an alley. He burrowed into discarded and ripped bags of garbage until the sky began to shine with dawn.
Gabriel crawled from the trash, hungry for a hit. How did this happen? He wanted a fix and he had become a murderer. He had to tell someone or the boy would haunt him. There was a payphone—incredible any still existed. Three times he failed to dial 911. The line sat silent as he swore. “Stop hanging up on me!”
A passing man raised an eyebrow. Gabriel started to run until he recognized the face.
“You got to give me some shit, man,” Gabriel said, inches away.
“What the fuck happened to you, man?” the dealer asked.
“Just fucking give it to me!”
The dealer crossed his arms. “It's not fucking free, asshole. You got cash this time?”
Coins jingled as Gabriel pulled wadded money from his pocket. The dealer backed away and grimaced. “The fuck, man?” he said. “ 'Launder money' is just an expression. I ain't takin' your bloody money.”
“I need it, Clark,” Gabriel said. “I need it bad. Please.”
The dealer sighed and rolled his eyes. “How much is it?”
Gabriel struggled to open the bills. “Twenty... twenty-nine.”
The dealer laughed. “Are you shittin' me? Twenty-nine dollars? You not even holdin' a full $30 an' you wanna hit?”
“I have some change.” Gabriel shoved a hand into his pocket.
“Do I look like a fucking arcade, bitch?” the dealer said. “Apparently you think I'm your fuckin' washing machine though.”
“Goddammit! Just give me $20 worth,” Gabriel said. “What can I get for $20?”
“I can let you suck my dick,” the dealer said. “Go find another $21 and maybe I can help you.”
He turned and started to walk away. Gabriel grabbed his shirt; he didn't even see the dealer pull the pistol before it was under his chin.
“You touch me again I'll make sure the blood on your clothes is yours.”
“Please,” Gabriel begged. He fell to a knee; tears fell from his eyes. “You got to give me something.”
The dealer put his gun away. He looked around and swore. “Get on your feet, asshole.” He pulled Gabriel against the building. “You're drawing too much attention.” He pulled a nearly empty bag with two large granules from his pocket.
“That's not $20 worth!”
“They don't fucking come in $20 bags,” the dealer said. “Fine. Get it somewhere else, junkie.”
Gabriel snatched for the bag. “Okay, here. $20.”
The dealer shied from the money. Almost daintily, he pulled a piece of plastic from a nearby dumpster to wrap the money in before the exchange. He stood back and watched Gabriel struggle to load the drugs into a pipe. His hands shook too badly and Gabriel wept like child.
The dealer crouched beside the struggling addict and waited. “You need some help, Gabriel?” the dealer asked.
Gabriel nodded and suppressed a sob.
“Give me that other $9 and I'll load and light it for you.”
Gabriel sucked greedily, and the dealer was long gone when he finished the pipe. Clearer, he returned to the payphone and dialed.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“I killed someone,” Gabriel said. “Don't you fucking hang up on me again!”
* * *
When he heard the sirens, Gabriel knew the girl's scream had finally caught up with him. It must have followed him all night. Maybe it had been hiding in the alley, waiting until he didn't see it coming.
Gabriel tried to run, but the boy's blood weighed him down. He tore at his shirt, struggling to work it off. The blood still clung to his hands. Gabriel dropped to the street, wetting the rags of his torn shirt in street gutters. He scrubbed, but the blood stayed. He scraped his hands across the cement, trying to take off the droplets. His own blood mixed with his victim's.
And that is where the police found him, mixing street water, blood, and tears into a hopelessly tattered shirt.
Chapter 2: Unarmed and Dangerous
“Let me see your hands!”
“I can't. I can't. I can't.”
“Put your hands in the air!”
Gabriel looked up from his hands, noticing the officers for the first time. He held his hands out to them. Filthy water thickened by his own blood dripped onto the concrete. As he showed the blood from his victim to the officers, he continued scrubbing to no effect.
He plead with the officers, “I didn't mean to hurt him. You have to believe me.”
The officer pulled his Taser. “Drop it and put your hands in the air.”
“I can't,” Gabriel repeated. “I have to get clean. The cops are coming.”
If he could just get it off, he could forget about that poor boy he killed. Gabriel took a step toward the officer. There were two small stings in his back, and Gabriel's body suddenly refused to respond. His limbs jerked uncontrollably as he tried to run from the pain. The electricity stopped, and Gabriel saw he had dropped his rag. He reached for it, but the pain started again. This time, when the pain stopped, an officer forced Gabriel onto his face.
God! How had he forgotten his face? It must be covered in blood too. The rag was gone, and Gabriel scraped his face across the cement, trying to remove the blood.
“... the right to an attorney. If you... Hey, what the hell are you doing?”
“I have to get the blood off,” Gabriel said. “Then they can't arrest me.”
“Jesus! Get him in the car,” a different officer said.
Gabriel was lifted to his feet, but they refused to hold his full weight. The officers half carried, half dragged, Gabriel to the car. He tried to help, but his steps slowed them.
“...You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you at no cost. Do you understand these rights as I have explained them to you?”
Gabriel looked between the officers. How long had the police been here? Did he get the blood off in time? They wanted some sort of answer, but Gabriel had forgotten the question.
“I'm under arrest?”
The officer sighed and swore. “Yes, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. If you chose to waive that right—”
“But it was an accident!” Gabriel said. “I was just trying to take the boy's purse, but his girlfriend wouldn't let me have her money. I pushed the trigger and the gun started bleeding. I tried to make it better, but I can't get the bullet off my hands.”
“He's still fucking high,” the officer said. “I think he fucking pissed his pants too. Just get him in your car.”
“I don't want him in my car.”
“Well you aren't putting him in my car smelling like a septic tank.”
“Hey, rook! Throw him in your car.”
The younger officer jumped to take Gabriel. He tossed him in the back of his car, closed the door, and paused to smell the air. “What is that smell?”
The other officers laughed. “It's your car, rook. For another week at least.”
“You might want to ride with your head out the window.”
“Fuck you guys.”
Gabriel realized they still didn't understand. He screamed and kicked at the door, still trying to explain the accident. It wasn't his fault. That boy got killed for a purse. As quickly as it started, Gabriel went silent and slumped against the door of the car. The hit had already started to wear off, and utter weariness took over. His face stung as salty tears washed dirt from the new scrapes in his face.
“Does that count as waiving his right to be silent?” the first officer asked with a smirk.
Why were they laughing at him? They planned this all along. That lady on the phone; she turned him in.
The second officer shook his head. “He's been babbling. Stupid junkie doesn't even know what he's saying. What do you think? Meth?”
“Be my guess. Heroin users don't act like that. Junkie or not.”
“Hell, they get high enough you can stack them in the back seat.”
“It could be worse.”
“Yep. He'd bust the door off the hinges if he didn't break his leg first. This one time I...”
The older officers walked away, leaving the younger man beside the car. Gabriel looked into his eyes, but saw only disgust.
“Hey, rook! Make sure you bag that piece of shit rag he had!”
The young man swore, shook his head, and said, “Fucking junkie.”
Something made a constant beeping noise, and for one moment, Gabriel hoped it was an alarm clock about to wake him up. That boy wouldn't be dead because he was only in his head. The officer followed the sound to the hanging telephone, put it back on the hook, and the noise stopped.
So this was real.
The young officer returned with the rag and more profanity. When he got into the car, Gabriel tried again to explain the accident. The officer held his hand mic, waiting for quiet.
“Look!” the rookie interrupted. “You have a right to remain silent or to talk. But I'd appreciate it if you would shut the fuck up while you are in my car.... You already stink. At least you'll only be offending one of my senses that way.”
Gabriel sulked, but kept quiet.
“Thank God. Dispatch, this is Charlie-1-4-1.”
“Go ahead, Charlie-1-4-1.”
“With Charlie-1-4-9 and Charlie-4-8. We have that 211/217 in custody. Seems to be a 10-50 and 11-47. I am 10-19. How copy?”
* * *
The young officer dragged Gabriel into the police station. The formica on the chest-high intake table had faded to nearly pink from its original color. The officer behind the desk also noted the smell and shook his head when he pinpointed the source. They gave him only slightly more attention and respect than the worn chairs along the wall. Gabriel asked to sit, but the officers said in no uncertain terms that they weren't cleaning up after him if he did.
“Have you ever been arrested before?”
Gabriel nodded, but why even ask? They knew. They had to know. It was why they came in the first place.
“Are you throwing him in the drunk tank?”
“No,” the officer said. “He's a 217 and 211. For now anyway. Depending on how things go at the hospital, might be a 187 pretty soon. He's going into lineup and lockup.”
The jargon made Gabriel feel unimportant, disconnected, and he tried to slump to the floor to disappear. The officer dragged him to his feet. He threw a plastic bag containing the muddy and blood-soaked remnants of his shirt on the counter. They discussed the item with more jargon and affixed a yellow, numbered tag to it.
“All right,” the man behind the desk said. “Let's empty his pockets and get him to the damned showers ASAP.”
The officer put on blue latex gloves. “Do you have anything in your pocket that might injure me such as needles, knives or razor blades?”
Gabriel shook his head. The officer removed a lighter, a used meth pipe, and $4.17 in bloody coins. Gabriel stared at the money. There were pennies. He had taken even the seven pennies from the girl's wallet.
The officer pulled Gabriel along the corridor to the first door. The hallway had water damage and painted dust in the lower corners. The officer pounded three times at the first door and waited for the buzzing sound.
The door slammed behind them and Gabriel found himself in a small room with a shower in one corner, bars on a small window into the hallway, and more heavy doors leading to more secure areas. Another officer waited behind an ancient desk showing swollen particle board along the edges.
“Where's his shirt?”
“He was holding a rag when we found him. I think it was what was left of his shirt. You'll need a medic too.”
“No shit.” The officer calmly put a folded post-it note in the book he had been reading before accepting the intake form. He glanced at the form, placed it among scattered papers on the desk, and smiled as he looked at Gabriel's injuries. “Went down hard when you tased him?”
“He did that to himself.”
“He did!” the young officer said. “The hands he did before we even got there.”
“I don't think the dried blood on his face is his,” a previously unseen officer said. “Let's get a sample before we wash him.”
After this collection, the rookie asked, “Am I good to go?” The others nodded, and Gabriel was alone with more strangers.
The two officers drew night sticks and one said in an unnecessarily loud voice. “Mr. Hudson, we are going to remove your handcuffs at this time. When I do, you will calmly remove your clothing and place it in the blue bin to your left. We have no desire to use force, but we will do so if you act at any time in a threatening manner. Do you understand?”
Gabriel nodded. Uncuffed, he removed his shoes and pants. The officer ordered him to remove his underwear as well. Gabriel hesitated, but the officers tightened their grip on the batons. Now totally naked, Gabriel shivered. The officers ordered him to the shower and threw a cup of powdered soap on each side of him before turning on the water. They stared at his naked body as he cleaned himself.
A small bell on the desk dinged, and the officer checked the monitor before buzzing a man in a lab coat in. The man smiled and explained he would see to the injuries. The officers still held their batons as the man pulled the Taser darts from Gabriel's back. A stinging liquid poured onto the puncture wounds. The man next examined the scratches along his arms and face. More of the liquid, but Gabriel clenched his jaw, afraid to cry out while the others held their batons ready. Finally bandaged, Gabriel thought the embarrassment was over and he could finally get dressed.
The medic put a clean glove on his right hand, squeezed a clear liquid from a tube and said, “I need to perform a cavity search....”
When his prints were taken, Gabriel moved to lineup. He stared at his bandaged hands until an officer shouted for him to keep his head up “or else.”
The mirrored glass showed him thin and sickly with scars and scabs on his face from scratching himself. He could see the bones in his arms. The other four men were thin, but not emaciated. Even his unshaven beard and hair looked unhealthy in the reflection.
He had not seen himself in a mirror since he had become homeless. How long had it been? Months? A year? Longer? What year was it? When they finally moved to a cell and closed the door, Gabriel found himself alone with his own worst enemy.
Chapter 3: Behind Bars
They brought him what seemed to be a half-cooked TV dinner. The vegetables had turned to mush, but the potatoes were still frozen in the middle. Gabriel devoured every bite and licked the almost scalding gravy from the plastic.
Gabriel knew night must have passed because they turned the light off for several hours. He had not moved in that time except to pick at his jumpsuit. A hole developed in the leg where he pulled for hours at the threads. Depression set in. He hadn't always been high. Sometimes, he had to wait days for a hit, and he knew this was nothing more than a side effect of coming down. So was the dead boy somewhere on the streets with a weeping girlfriend robbed of the pennies in her wallet.
“Hudson,” the guard yelled through the bars.
Gabriel continued to pick at his pants, but did sit up.
“Mr. Hudson! Hey, Mr. Hudson!”
Gabriel finally faced the guard, still pulling threads.
“You have a visitor. Stand up and place your hands on the wall.”
Gabriel had to brace himself against a knee and the concrete slab to rise. He wanted to lay down and sleep. The guard yelled again, but Gabriel could not make his right hand move from where it still picked at his clothing. The guard finally sighed and opened the door. He cuffed Gabriel—hand still picking at air—and led him to an empty room with two chairs.
The table here still had its original finish. The walls had wood paneling instead of cinder blocks. Gabriel had been here before—possession first, then drunk-and disorderly the second time. This was the nice-looking room for lawyers and clients to eliminate “cruel and unusual punishment” concerns. It seemed almost welcoming except for the thick mesh on the small window in the door. A uniformed officer entered followed by a man in a suit with a briefcase.
“That will be all for now,” the man said. The officer hesitantly closed the door. “Good morning, Mr. Hudson. I'm your court appointed attorney. You can decline legal representation, but I strongly advise you not to. Do you have a lawyer?”
The lawyer nodded and pulled a notepad from his briefcase. “We assumed that from your possessions.” The lawyer scribbled a circle to get his pen working. “Do you wish legal representation at the expense of the court? I advise you to say yes.”
“Sure. Aren't they supposed to question me or something?”
The lawyer gave Gabriel a pitying look. “They don't need to. Unfortunately, you essentially confessed on the 911 tape—which they have in evidence—and made things worse by shouting it again at the arresting officers.”
“I don't even remember that.”
With a quick note and a pigeon-nod, the man said, “Yes, and we can probably keep that out of the testimony since what you said didn't make much sense. But the 911 tape will be a problem. You were... almost lucid then.”
Gabriel realized the lawyer sat with an eyebrow raised and wondered how long he had been looking at the far corner of the room picking at his clothing. Had he asked a question? Was that why the man stared at him?
Gabriel asked, “What is going to happen?”
The lawyer stared, dumbfounded, and scribbled on his notebook. “As I said, we will be heading into your arraignment this afternoon. They will handle the bail hearing at the same time. Do you have any family here, money to post for bail, any property to put up against a bail bond, etc.?”
“No,” said Gabriel.
“Okay, why don't you tell me what happened.”
Gabriel related the story of trying to rob the teenagers, the accident with the pistol, and his wild flight with no set destination. The entire scene seemed like a nightmare. Gabriel had trouble keeping the facts in order, but the lawyer made copious notes regardless.
“I don't want you to testify,” the lawyer said. “And if the police question you, don't say you killed the boy.”
“But I did.”
The lawyer shook his head. “So far they are only charging you with resisting arrest, armed robbery, and attempted murder.”
Gabriel's heart leaped. “He's alive?”
“He is in a coma,” said the lawyer. He tapped his pen on the table and leaned back to consider his answer. “The doctors don't think he'll wake up. However, as of right now, they—”
Gabriel tried to spring to his feet, forgetting he had been handcuffed to the table. “He's alive then! I thought he was dead.”
“That's exactly the kind of thing we don't need you yelling in the courtroom,” the lawyer said. “As for your plea—”
“I need to see him.”
The room fell silent as the lawyer's eyes widened. “What?”
“I need to see him,” Gabriel repeated. “I need to tell him I'm sorry.”
“Are you out of your mind?” the lawyer asked. He leaned across the table. “The court would never allow that, and even if they did it would be admitting your guilt.”
“You said I already confessed on the 911 tape,” Gabriel said. “So what would it matter?”
“It matters... a lot. You can't...” The lawyer shook his head to clear it. “He's in a damn coma!”
“He can still hear,” Gabriel said. “Maybe not, but I have to at least tell him it was an accident and I didn't mean to shoot him.”
“No!” said the lawyer. “If you say something like that in front of one of the officers, you can expect to spend life behind bars. Hell, this is strike three. I can fight it—your second strike was only a misdemeanor—but not if you go around confessing to everyone that you shot this kid.”
Gabriel shook his head.
“Your best defense here is that you were high,” the lawyer said. “As defenses go, that's not great. You plead not guilty, and we pray for—”
“But I did shoot that kid.”
The lawyer shook his head. “No! Listen to me. You plead not guilty because it means we can plea bargain. The prosecutor doesn't want this to go to trial. It takes years. If the kid dies, we plead guilty to manslaughter and try to get them to drop your second strike. If he pulls through, we plead guilty to first degree robbery, and again see if we can get them to drop the misdemeanor second strike. I might be able to get you only 20 years.
“I'd be in my 40's when I got out.”
“And if you enter a drug treatment program, you might even be eligible for parole.”
“So no matter what I do, I'm going to jail?”
“Yes,” the lawyer said. He sat back and put his pen and notes away. “I'm sorry, but I don't see any way around that. Our best option is to just try to keep you from getting life.”
“That's my only option?”
“No. If you plead guilty, you'll never get out of prison. Trust me on this one. It's my job.”
The lawyer stood to pound on the door. “They'll bring you into the courtroom in two hours. Just let me do the talking.”
The lawyer left, and they took Gabriel back to his cell. They brought more partially-cooked food from a microwave and he devoured it. He had something to live for. There was a chance—laying in a hospital bed somewhere on life support—that he might not be a murderer.
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