“This is a fulfillment of the will of God.”
Saturday afternoon, 6 October 2007
GM: Visitors to Orleans Parish Prison have to follow an exacting dress code, though more so for women than men. Emil simply can’t wear ripped or torn clothing, or headwear of any kind. He has to pass through a metal detector. No cameras, cellphones, recording equipment, or food or drink are allowed past. Visitors must also present a valid and unexpired photo ID. All inmate phone calls, they are warned, are recorded and may be monitored.
Emmett Delacroix has not made it easy for anyone to find him. Or help him.
Paul, Emil remembers, had no idea how he was going to get Emmett Delacroix an attorney. Emil didn’t find it much easier. ‘Elliot Faustin’ wasn’t a name in any phone directories, or any of the other places they searched. ‘Em’ wasn’t enough to go on either. In the end, it took going to both the police and Cécilia Devillers to finally puzzle out what ’Elliot’s’ real name was and where he was being held.
Emil: Emil’s prison-provided wheelchair rolls next to the steel stool at Emmett’s booth. The opiates the doctors gave him make for a calm if slow head space. They numb the pain, but don’t remove the damage, thus the necessity of cramming the wooden stilts Emil calls his legs on the footrests of the metal frame. He very precariously leverages himself out of the seat with its peeling faux leather armrests and onto the cold steel, unforgiving on the tail of his spine.
He struggles to take the phone off the hook, and once he does he notices a spot of old yet uncomfortably moist gum that was the culprit for adhering it. He tries not to gag as he puts it to his ear and looks across the glass.
“Hello, Em,” he says, with a voice that passes through the receiver like low grade sandpaper.
Emmett: What the fuck?
“Hi. Emil, right?”
He seems more bemused than anything.
“Did something happen? Why are you here?”
Emil: “Because you saved me, Em,” he says without hesitation. “That’s why I’m here.”
“Something happened to you. Do you know why you’re here?”
His voice is like static on a television set.
Emmett: “I don’t,” he answers just as quickly.
He doesn’t mention it could be one of a dozen actual crimes.
“You’re here because I saved you? Really?”
His tone is hard to parse through the line. His mood seems to be that of a broken intercom.
Emil: His chapped lips peel apart to reveal a too-wide smile, with one or two pearly whites chipped on their tips. He points an accusatory finger to the ceiling.
“Yes. And thank God.”
It’s a command, not a platitude.
“We can thank God for giving you that opportunity.” He pauses. “Emmett Delacroix.”
Emmett: Oh, fuck me, he’s trying to convert. I’ll take being Jewish over prison. Wait, do I need to get circumcised? Definitely need to get that resolved before I sign anything.
“Thank God,” Em agrees emphatically.
“Well, I have to say, Emil, it’s a right nice sight, a friendly face like yours.”
Emil: His own face looks sunken and pale, bruised and cut, but that’s still a winning smile on the other side of the partition.
“They won’t tell me anything, and frankly, my faith in the justice system has never been lower.”
Technically the truth.
“But when a man of the Lord like yourself comes through at a dark moment like this, it waters my faith in Him.”
Blatantly untruthful, but it only seems polite.
Emil’s smile wilts.
“I’m not a man of the Lord, Emmett. God chose you. The justice system will find truth, even beyond this hiccough. You should know that, that’s what your real name means. Truth.”
Emmett: “Does it, really?”
That would have been funny a little while ago, but now it just seems pathetic.
“I appreciate it, Emil, I do. Appreciate God for sending you, and you for answering His call,” Em continues calmly, as warmly as he’s able to in the coldest place in New Orleans.
“My family’s Catholic, you know, not Jewish. My dad’s sister Clarice, bless her, has a favorite piece of scripture. John something-or-other. ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.’ it went. Rhymes. That helps me remember. Know y’all ain’t much for the Gospels, but I think there’s something to it.”
Not in the fucking least. Clarice did like to say that, though. She said it all the time. Right when she was bringing out the wine—
But he hasn’t thought about that in a long time.
He pauses. “May I ask, Emil, about the last time we met?”
Emil: Emil nods, though the dry slit of a faded smile remains on his face like a fallen branch that’s long lost its leaves.
Emmett: “Then… I’m asking. If it wasn’t clear,” Em says patiently.
“Specifically, if you can pardon my French, what the fuck?”
Emil: Emil’s expression looks severe, and he shakes his head.
“It was confusing, but I know as much as you do. This isn’t the place to discuss it. Not until this whole deal is finished and justice is done. Agreed?”
Emmett: Ugh, just say never.
“Of course. Just concerned for my new friend’s health, is all.”
Emil: He smiles rotely at the nicety of friendship, but then his eyes, sunken from dehydration, dart around the corners of the room before landing back on Em’s.
“Look, don’t say anything you think you’ll regret, but what happened, really? How did you find me?”
Emmett: “I found Hillary’s ID, and your phone,” he says, “and when I returned it to her she said you were ghosting her. I went to your place. Door was open, so I let myself in, and the place seemed empty. I heard, like, this groan, and I looked under the bed, and there you were. I’m sorry I ran. I was scared of what might have happened and I wasn’t thinking straight. My parents didn’t know about the movie, and I thought if it came out because they were picking me up from a police station—” He shrugs, clearly forlorn. “But if they talk to Hillary, they’ll hear how I was only ever looking for you.”
Emil: “I keep my door locked. I care about my privacy,” Emil says, squinting his eyes. “Right before I passed out, Emmett, you wanted to ask me a question and pointed under my bed, where I was. What was it you were asking me?”
Emmett: “Yeah, so I guess that means whoever left you there must not have locked up. I mean, you had to get there somehow, right?”
“I wanted to ask about the nose, actually.”
Emil: At that the color in Emil’s face drains, leaving him a sickly shade of brownish gray. His pupils sharpen to an accusatory point as he asks, “How do you know about the nose?”
Emmett: “I saw it?”
“In the apartment?”
“Where I found you?”
Emil: “I’m sorry. No one told me it was there when I was picked up,” he quickly apologizes.
Emmett: "That’s okay. Do you know… whose… "
He leaves the rest of the question unsaid.
Emil: He shakes his head, his wood stained skin far from rejuvenating. His eyes rest pointed towards the upper recesses of the socket as he thinks.
“Was there any blood on the ground when you came in? You said you heard me from my groans, but you didn’t mention seeing blood at first.”
Emmett: “Um, I don’t remember any. Honestly, I almost missed you being there at all until you made a noise. The place looked normal.”
Emil: Emil’s brow scrunches. “That doesn’t make any sense. No blood on the ground outside either? Footprints? I know you’re a detail-oriented person, or at least I assume, most artists are.”
Emmett: Em holds up a hand. “I can be, but I was rather shaken by the circumstances, as I’m sure a reasonable man like yourself can appreciate. I don’t recall seeing any blood, but I hardly think that’s the oddest thing about the situation. But, ah…”
Em looks around.
“Look, I would love to discuss more about what I saw that night. I really would. But a man has to think about his freedom first. Doesn’t he?”
Emil: A bit presumptuous to think I have anything to offer him, though I do. Maybe it’s an intuition given to people who don’t consistently feel the need to probe into people’s private matters. Or maybe God just has a real good feeling about him.
“Freedom is first. Always. Slavery of the body leads to slavery of the soul, that’s why the Israelites apostatized in Egypt. Under the crack of the whip they forgot the name of God.”
Emmett: Asshole. I bet he’s judging me even though I SAVED him. I should save people less often. But I won’t because I’m actually too softhearted.
Em doesn’t know what to say to the parable, so he just nods and looks interested.
Emil: Emil nods sagely, assuming Em gets the gist of the story. “I suppose the question is how you would like to be saved, then? Would you be interested in my assistance?”
Emmett: “Very much so,” Em beams, “and I’m glad you’re willing to help a man in need, even one who helped you. But the thing about how I’d want to be saved, is, well.” He looks around. “I’d kind of like to focus our energy on getting me out of here.”
So I don’t have to talk to you. Ever. Again.
Emil: Does he think I want to convert him? He’s barely religious, and a Catholic. Guess he missed the intention of the Exodus reference.
“Well since that’s the case, I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear that I took the liberty of getting one of the best attorneys in the business to defend your case. Free of charge to you, of course.”
He bares his wide smile again, and something fresh seems to burn beneath his eyes as he makes the offer. A mix of admiration and expectancy.
It’s the face of a priest in the temple, his sacrifice laying on the altar, bloodied in wait. It’s a look of hungry faith.
Emmett: “That’s so generous, thank you!”
Finally. I guess a Jew giving you free representation is basically as close to love as they understand.
“I haven’t been able to speak to any lawyer, so that’ll be mighty helpful. What’s his name?”
Emil: “Her name, actually. Amber Cox.”
Mildy sexist sentiments, I suppose that counts as conviction. He’ll fit in just right.
Emmett: Ugh, I get it. It’s 2007. Women can do anything. Get off your high horse, foreskin-thief.
“Well, I’m mighty grateful.”
Em goes on to ask about her details, contact information, when she’ll be around to see him, et al.
He also asks if Emil brought a pen and paper with him.
Emil: Emil shares all he knows about the attorney, which isn’t necessarily a lot. Emil fishes a notepad and a ball point out of the pack on the side of the wheelchair.
“You saved my life, least I can do is help save yours. What do you want written down?”
GM: There’s a phone in the parish prison’s common area. There’s a gang of rotating inmates who charge people money, sexual favors, and other trade-worthy commodities if they want to use it.
Em’s not sure how the whole process works. The police have just thrown him into jail without any talk about lawyers.
Emmett: A fact he makes Emil well aware of.
He has several requests, all phrased politely and gratefully so as not to offend the Jew’s fragile sensibilities.
They include public press, a petition to be emailed to St. Martin’s students and staff, a flower to Miranda, and perhaps a note to Cécilia Devillers and her mother Abèlia.
The first is that Emil make contact with the Times-Picayune.
“Justice is about truth, and I think that by sharing the truth with the city we serve the cause of justice. Don’t you agree, Emil? That’s what my name means, after all. Truth.”
The next is a petition, dictated from Em’s own lips if Emil will write for him, to be spread across social media and particularly aimed at Brother Martin’s students and staff (among whom his reputation is impeccable) to invigorate them into speaking up as to his character and demonstrating his value as a pillar of his communities even at 17.
His requests after that are more personal. He would like to send a letter to Cécilia Devillers if he can, and he would like to send a note and maybe a flower to a friend of his, Miranda, who he heard recently took very ill. “She should be at the hospital, actually, if you want to talk to her. She’s another good character witness, so to speak, and she loves computers—you’re into that, right?”
GM: Emil actually knows a girl named Miranda in one of the computer science courses he helps teach. She’s a high schooler in the running start (or whatever it’s called) program.
Emil: Emil agrees to dictate his letters and spread the good word so to speak, though he notes that “with my stepdad working hard on the legal aspects of this situation, he might not be able to secure a contact in the Times.”
And because he might never leave Texas Medical Center. At least he already set up the groundwork with Amber Cox.
Emil also notes that, “Small world. I have a student I teach whose name is Miranda. Smart girl, doing college classes in high school. Shame she’s in the hospital.”
Emmett: “Oh, I don’t think your stepdad should be working on that at all,” Em clarifies. “I think we need to be handling that. You and me, Emil. I’m innocent, and I want to make sure that’s known. So I’d recommend contacting a bunch of outlets. Start with the Times, then some local blogs, then the tabloids if it comes down to it. We link the petition, and numbers they can call to make themselves heard. We throw a net wide and heavy. We make sure it’s known I’m being tried because I did a good deed, that I’m a good kid from a good family and a good school accused of something heinous when I’ve no history of violence. That’s the story here. You lead with that, focus on those points, and on the bloodiness of the whole thing—” Em smiles a crooked smile. “—we’ll get the press we need. And then God’s truth will be known, Emil, will be heard, you mark my words.”
Emil: Emil nods his agreement. “By the by, does your father teach at Tulane? If so, I’m in his class and I’m likely to meet with him quite soon to discuss missed classwork. Do you have anything you’d like me to tell him?”
Emmett: Em actually comes up short.
“Tell him I remember the carp,” he says finally, breathing slowly. “And that I know he’ll see the truth eventually. And that I love him.”
Emil: “You have a good mind for sending important messages, Emmett. It’ll serve you well. I’ll do as much as I can, allowing for my recovery of course.”
This guy really fits the bill. As God wills.
“Shall we get back to the subject of the last time we spoke?” he asks.
Emmett: “Of course,” Em hurriedly agrees to the former. “I don’t want you hurting yourself over me, now.”
“If you want to. I admit I’m a little curious.”
He pauses for the acceptable three-minute gap before asking, “What happened?”
Emil: Three minutes to come up with that? I mean it had some potential for dramatic effect, but it’s sorta retread ground. Fuck am I thinking, he’s the guy. If that’s what he asks, that’s what he asks.
“We were talking about the blood stains, or more correctly the lack of them, when you came in. I remember waking up, Emmett. I was screaming to high heaven and ripped to shreds. I saw my muscles and sinews stretched out in gory display. If someone had carried me in, the floor would have been spattered with blood.”
He waits for a moment before looking down on Emmett, the heavy bags under his eyes making him look like some dark owl.
“If you simply walked in the door and everything seemed normal, how does that jive with my terrified screams?” He leaves the door open to Emmett to answer for the camera. It’s simple. He was asleep, but in the formless void beneath Emil’s eyes, he can see a scrutinizing spirit that doesn’t accuse him, but remembers every moment of terror and mutilation, and knows it never fell asleep.
Emmett: Is he interrogating me? Really?
“I feel like you’re forgetting some of what I said, Emil,” Em explains, still sounding polite but a little offended. “Like I said, it seemed normal enough when I walked in, but then I heard you groan and start screaming. You woke up and I was there, remember? You were unconscious when I walked in, or must have been. As for how whoever brought you there avoided making a mess, I have no clue. I might as well ask you to explain how I got into the apartment or why I was there.”
He lets that sink in for a moment before continuing, " I was really asking, by the way, what happened that you ended up in that situation. If that wasn’t clear."
Emil: He took the out, but he doesn’t get it, or maybe he’s not thinking about it enough. He’ll stew on it, I’m sure, but there is no way that floor was clean unless… unless I don’t know. Did someone do a spring cleaning? I think the doc would’ve told me about some long-lasting anesthetic in my blood if I was simply knocked out until Em came in. How the hell did that happen?
“I was kidnapped, Em, kidnapped and mutilated by someone who had it out for my life. Someone who took another victim and cut their nose off. Excuse me if I say seemingly silly things, I’m just trying to put together the pieces.”
Emmett: “That’s terrible,” Em says.
I have it worse.
“Yeah, I really can’t imagine. I hope they find whoever did it soon, so you don’t need to keep dwelling on such a horrible night.”
Emil: Emil nods with calm contemplation. “Emmett, I like to look at problems like these from a utilitarian standpoint. What can I do to help the most people, to get them what they want or perhaps need. It’s no sin not to follow that philosophy. After all, at its core, Jewish mysticism is more pleasure focused, fulfilling higher and higher order needs. At first physical, fucking, eating, and sleeping. Then wealth, heaping larger and larger collections of physical needs. Then power, becoming a master over someone else’s physical and wealth-related needs. Then knowledge, the use of collected power to understand the physical world. Once you’ve filled up on knowledge of this world, humans feel the pull of knowledge from the world beyond. People who achieve this level of fulfillment, of sustenance, live at the peak of their societies. They are the ones the history books remember, the ones people go to to achieve their needs, their desires, even long after their physical forms have passed on.”
He pauses for a moment, then smiles. “Like I said, I’m more of a utilitarian, just less interested in achieving that myself. But I’ve studied long enough to know a man destined to matter when I see one, and since it seems God has taken a shining to you, I’d like to help you in that regard. To help you surround yourself with people who trust in you, who do as you ask, because you have something unique to offer them. Something intrinsic to you. Do you know what I think that is?”
Emmett: “I really couldn’t say, Emil,” he says truthfully but far more mildly than he wishes he could.
Emil: “When someone takes something from you, you are guided by the spirit of retaliation. You are put in prison without a clear means of getting out and you have an entire marketing plan ready to take the world back to your side as soon as someone comes in to help. You have, in a phrase, a true vision for… justice.”
When he says the word justice, Emmett can’t help but hear the subtext of vengeance in its place.
Emmett: Em says nothing for a time. He just looks back.
“You might be right,” he says after a while.
Emil: Emil nods, pleased by Emmett’s approval. With men like these, hesitation is humility, or perhaps its defense, or somewhere in between.
“But Emmett, your good vision alone isn’t enough to get what you want. You’re a director, born to instruct, a people person. You need people to work with, actors. Just like in this case, your plan wasn’t worth much without having someone like me to execute it. It’s like having a program without a computer.”
Emmett: He nods again. “And I’m very grateful,” he says. “You truly are a blessing, Emil.”
Get to the point. What do you want?
Emil: “Of course.”
Let a man get through his pitch, damn!
“You want to get people on your side, to show them your truth. I want more for you. I want to find those people whose hearts are open to something new, a fresh message, who desperately want something to rely on for guidance. In short, I want people to believe you as much as I do. You would be their hero, the symbol that carries them. I would be their shepherd, a barrier between you and your… congregants. Imagine how much… justice you could get done without even lifting a finger. You give people someone to believe in, you get their loyalty.”
Emmett: Holy shit.
I think he wants to start a cult.
“I think we’re speaking the same language,” Em says slowly.
He is so much cooler than I thought.
Emil: Emil is beaming in Emmett’s approval. He thinks for a moment and then lets out a slow bone-dry laugh.
“We are now, but not for long, Emmett. English isn’t the holiest of languages, and a shepherd must be a holy individual. We need a new way of speaking, a new way of living— at least for the congregates.”
He scribbles down on his notepad a message and lifts it up to the glass. It reads:
Deut 16:20. Read it. Follow the verses when you receive your copy. Blink twice now.
Emmett: Em blinks twice, more to appease the nut than anything else.
“All this comes after I’m free, of course,” he says. “Nobody likes an imprisoned prophet.”
I would look good on a cross, though. Me and Christ always did have a lot in common. I hate moneylenders and like telling people what to value.
I also helped bring a girl back to life. That’s pretty Christian, right?
Emil: “On the contrary, Emmett,” Emil says. “This is a city filled with Catholics. If their guide is suffering for their vision, that’s a sign of spiritual elevation. Of course, meetings can’t be held until you get out, but recruiting, developing literature, and responding to advice letters is completely doable. Does that make sense?”
Emmett: “Sure, but Emil, you have to consider that these things take time, particularly when we’re asking people to invest faith. I don’t think ‘I’m a prophet’ looks good before a jury or a judge. I’m on board with lending my voice to your movement, but I can’t do that effectively behind bars. Trust me; if I thought it would help, I would be all for it. I’ll tell you what, though. If you stand by me through this trial, and you invest your faith in me, in God’s choice, I’ll help you build a congregation, nah, a flock, whether I’m on the inside or the outside, you follow?”
This guy’s a fucking kook, but he might be what I need. If he can just keep it in his pants.
Emil: “Of course Emmett, you’ll be out soon enough. And just so we’re on the same page, you will never utter a word of this to any official, public or private. This isn’t a tool to Houdini you out of conviction, I’ve given you a lawyer for that. This is a fulfillment of the will of God. Privacy is paramount. But of course you’re right. For now, focus on your trial, but when you’re out,” he says, smiling as he clasps his hands together, “we have an obligation to fulfill.”
Emmett: Fucking religion. This is how they got Manson.
“Of course, Emil,” he says, smiling with dark eyes. “Of course.”