“Why do you think I took you away from New Orleans? So this wouldn’t happen!”
Day? September 2007?
GM: Emil’s vision goes from black to white. White everywhere. Pain everywhere. He hurts all over.
“Good morning. Can you hear me?”
Emil: Emil once asked his rabbi why God gives humans pain. He told him that back in the day if you were the kind to gossip about people behind their backs, God would strike you with leprosy. If you had gotten leprosy, you couldn’t feel a single thing cause all of your nerves would’ve been deadened. You’d get people walking around with their limbs half falling off and feeling fine as flour. Being an awful person was the old world’s anesthetic.
Emil takes little comfort in the knowledge that if he’s in this much pain, God must really love him.
He also remembers that heaven means being surrounded by God’s love.
He looks towards the sound, half expecting an angel to be staring at him?
“Yes I can. Am I dead?” He responds, immensely uncomfortable at the prospect.
GM: The figure by Emil’s bedside is a short, firmly built woman with equally short, bushy hair and a wide set of eyes. She’s dressed in a doctor’s white coat.
“No, you are not dead,” the woman answers perfunctorily. “My name is Dr. Crawford. You are in a hospital. Do you remember what your name is?”
It’s then that Emil notices the thickly padded leather restraints around his wrists.
Emil: “Oh,” Emil says, not quite sure as to why he’s restrained given how broken he feels.
“It’s Emil Kane.”
GM: “Do you remember why you are here, Emil?”
Emil: Emil is slow to speak, and when he does it’s in short simple phrases. “I got attacked. I think I was drugged. It was awful. I don’t know how. I woke up in my house. I was really hurt. I’m in a lot of pain right now.”
GM: “We’ve given you as much morphine as we’re allowed, Emil. Please tell me more about what happened to you.”
Emil: This is the most morphine they could give? Emil remembers the squelching sound of his innards being torn and struggles not to turn green. “I was researching when it happened. It went dark and then they chased me. They tackled me and I passed out.” Emil’s voice starts to shake as the gruesome scene of the barn passes into his mind.
“They hurt someone. They stripped me and covered me in the blood. Oh God.” Emil wants to press his fist to his mouth, to hold in the words, but the restraints keep him strapped down. His chest moves slowly, heavily. His breath rattles.
GM: “Tell me more, Emil,” Dr. Crawford patiently requests. “Who was chasing you? Who did they hurt?”
She lays a hand on his wrist, but makes no move to undo the restraints.
Emil: He just shakes his head; not knowing makes everything so much worse. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I didn’t see them. It was so dark. Why am I restrained?”
GM: “I can answer that once you’ve answered my questions, Emil. Tell me about the blood they covered you in.”
Emil: It’s at this point that Emil remembers that he doesn’t actually know if the blood was from a human. Maybe they just left a nose there.
“I don’t know where the blood came from. I hoped it was just an animal. But I’m not very hopeful any more. I know I was bleeding too, but that was later.”
GM: Dr. Crawford continues to question him.
Emil: Emil is mostly willing to answer, and gives similarly short answers, but after a point he stops her and asks,
“Look, I know you need to do your job. You need to know what I remember.” He coughs, looking miserable. “But it’s really hard to think about all this. My head isn’t clear. I’ve been vomiting all my food out. They broke me just about everywhere and I don’t know the who or the why or the when. I need to know what happened to me. If you know, you can’t hold that from me. Please.” He stares at her in earnest.
GM: “We need to know what you know first, Emil. Once we have that, I will answer what questions you have,” the doctor answers him.
Emil: “Who is we?”
GM: “Tulane Medical Center.”
Emil: “Thank you for telling me. I don’t know how much more I can talk about this though. I just feel confused about it all. I can try; though, if I have more context, I can probably be more helpful to you. I want to make your life easier. Least I can do after y’all helping me heal.”
GM: “Right now you will be of the most help answering what you personally recall, Emil.”
Emil: Emil notes that his recollections are hazy, but nevertheless tells what he remembers about the attack. He tells her about the kidnapping, the assault, and blood and the darkness. That the attacker spoke to him in Hebrew, but he might have just been imagining because he was praying for his life and he might have confused his thoughts for sounds. He didn’t want to end up like the last victim, he saw what was left of him; they left it like a warning. He tells her about waking up suddenly in his room, screaming under his bed, about the kind man who helped him out and about passing out before waking up again in this bed.
GM: “All right, Emil. That is everything we need,” Dr. Crawford replies when he’s finished.
Emil: Emil nods at her response, eyeing his restraints, wondering whether he just made a mistake. “All right, can you tell me what you know happened now?”
GM: “You’ve suffered quite a few injuries. Your condition is currently stable.”
Emil: Stable. Normally a nice word, we like stable waters, stables keep order in farms. But stable means unchanging, and with severe injuries, stable sounds like an awful couple of weeks in Emil’s future.
“Oh. How long have I been out? How much longer am I going to be here?”
GM: “You’ve received surgery and been unconscious for the better part of yesterday. You’re looking at at least a week with us.”
Emil: “What did they do to me? How did they hurt me so bad?”
GM: “You suffered numerous lacerations. Jagged cuts like the ones you received mean a harder recovery, as they leave your skin with no clear vision of how to heal itself.”
Emil: “I see.” Whatever it was that attacked him, they wanted to leave their mark.
“Can you hazard a guess as to what the weapon was?” he asks, the cogs in his head turning.
GM: “Anything with a serrated edge. Saws, rusted cleavers, many knives.”
Emil: Since when did shadows carry knives?
Emil nods. “Did it look like they were trying to kill me? I don’t remember escaping them.”
GM: Dr. Crawford raises an eyebrow at the question.
“They were certainly doing a poor job of not killing you if they weren’t trying to. You’re lucky to be alive.”
Emil: Emil wonders why he woke up if they wanted him dead. Why would they bring him back home? Did they? Perhaps it wasn’t the shadow that was whispering to him. Perhaps someone out there wants to protect him. Emil feels a wave of warmth spreading down his spine and out through the great delta of nerves which spread out through his body.
“Luck is such a small force in the world when there are people who want and need things. Someone needs me alive, so I’m alive.”
GM: Dr. Crawford pats his wrist. “I have other patients to see to, Emil. A nurse will come by later to check on you. Get some rest.” She rises from her seat.
Emil: He looks to her with happiness in his eyes. “If you would, one last thing Dr.: why am I restrained?”
GM: “Because I’m not sure how much of your story is true or whether you’ve killed someone,” the short woman answers frankly.
“The police will also be by later with questions.”
Emil: “All right. Thank you.”
Emil isn’t so sure himself. Or at least, he isn’t sure he wasn’t forced to. He’s no killer. God knows that.
His savior apparently knows that too.
Friday morning, 28 September 2007
GM: Time crawls in the hospital. Emil stares at the blank room’s ceiling and waits. And waits.
Eventually he konks out. Then he wakes back up. The lighting looks different. He still hurts everywhere, but he feels hungry and thirsty too.
It’s then that he gets his first visitors.
Both are dark-skinned and bearded. The first wears a suit, the second a button-up shirt. The first is thin of hair, and the second is thick. The first wears his crescent NOPD badge on his hip, the second wears it over his necktie on a cord around neck.
“Morning, Emil. I’m Detective Moore, NOPD,” says the first man as he sits down.
“Detective Hill,” says the second man as he does the same.
“We’d like to ask you some questions about how you wound up here,” says Detective Moore.
Emil: “Good morning Detective Moore; Detective Hill,” Emil says, nodding at each. “I appreciate you coming down, but I’m not so sure it would be a good idea for me to be answering questions right now, I’m still recuperating from the assault.”
GM: “Yeah, I’m sure it wasn’t much fun getting grilled by your doctor,” says Hill. “You look like you’ve been hurt all over the place.”
Emil: “Well if it’s that bad to look at you can guess just how painful it feels. The doctor says they cut me fairly rough. It’s gonna be a while before the wounds heal up, but hey—it’ll leave a nice scar or ten.” Emil laughs, and then groans at the stretching of the stitches holding his skin together.
GM: “Scars build character. Or at least look badass,” smiles Moore.
Emil: The warmth from the men makes Emil smile. “That’s what my dad always used to say to me ever since I got this:” Emil cranes his head away from the men and points to the rough, discolored patch of skin on his neck about the size of a quarter.
GM: “Oh huh, where’d you get that one?” asks Hill.
Emil: Thinking on it, Emil doesn’t quite remember much about the hows or the whys, it’s been there as long as he could remember. Nevertheless, just like the rest of the gaps in his memory, Emil has come to fill it in with a canned response. “I always like to tell people that it is genetic. My dad had one to match right in the same spot. Funny how those things turn out.”
GM: “Lots of stuff runs in the family,” says Hill. “My wife and I had our second kid not too long ago. He looks just like me. Maybe he’ll pick up the scar I’ve got on my knee.”
“You hungry, Emil? The hospital food here is pure slop,” says Moore.
Emil: “I could go for some food. Not sure they’d let me out of here for lunch though, not until my skin stops insisting on simulating the splitting of Pangaea.”
GM: Hill holds up a large O’Tolley’s bag. “No need to go out yourself.”
Emil: “Oh y’all came in prepared.” Emil chuckles. “You must not be kidding about the food they serve here. Or maybe you two are just trying to bring some of that southern hospitality to the hospital. Either way, I appreciate it.”
GM: “Never met a patient who hasn’t,” chuckles Moore as he starts pulling out packages with the distinctive yellow ‘O’ logo.
“Just a day of the slop here and you’ll have all-organic vegans looking at O’Tolley’s like it’s mana from heaven,” remarks Hill. Emil’s stomach ravenously grumbles as the detective flips open the box for a Big O and sets it by Emil’s leather-cuffed right hand.
Emil: “Well it certainly looks good from here. Smells good too.” Emil doesn’t necessarily want to ask for anything explicitly from the detectives. You ask for too much from strangers, you can expect to pay them back sooner or later. Gifts too make Emil wary, but it offers at least some plausible deniability, and besides that- Emil is hungry. He eyes the leather cuffs.
“The doctor said I had to be kept down for safe keeping, though I think they just like to have me around.”
GM: “Huh, doesn’t look like there’s much reach on those,” says Moore.
“Not my idea of a fun way to eat anyway,” says Hill. He bends over Emil’s wrists to fiddle with the cuffs, and in short order the restraints come off. Moore sets down a side of fries and a chocolate shake on his bedside table.
Emil: Emil peels his wrists off of the leather rests and the sound of their separation makes him thankful for how numb his arms feel. His hands start to feel the barrage of needles that his body uses to chastise him for waking it up, but the uncomfortable feeling is balanced out when he wraps his fingers around the perspiring cup of overly sweetened slush and sucks on the plastic barbershop tower-looking straw.
It seems even the milkshakes in this city feel the especially oppressive humidity, the constant heat. Now, it was hot in L.A. too, no doubt, but it would still take a good couple minutes of effort to convince milkshake to climb up a straw. Here, the fluid flows freely, desperate to jump into the cave of his mouth. Anything to get out of the sun.
“What unit are y’all working for?” Emil asks, swallowing down a thick dollop of the chocolate treat.
It tastes like concentrated sugar and fat. In his present state, it’s like drinking liquid happiness.
GM: “Homicide,” answers Moore. “Not always easy, but you’re doing good work.”
Hill pops some french fries. “Dessert first, huh?”
Emil: As Emil had suspected. He wonders why they’re being so nice to him; whether they’re just trying to butter him up to get him to admit to something he didn’t do. And he didn’t kill anyone. It’s hard to dispute that if that is what they’re doing, it is working at least a little bit, because Emil has some hope that they’re sympathizing with his case.
“I’m very systematic in my eating. You see, I drink down this shake first to lubricate the throat, start the journey off nice and sweet. I don’t like to hold off until the end like some folks. I like to finish my meal with something heartier, it keeps the taste buds excited for a while after.” He pops a few fries himself after giving them a good dip into the milkshake.
“Anyways, you’re in good company. My dad used to work homicide cases here when I was little. I bet he’d agree with you. Hard but worthwhile.”
GM: “Oh really, who was your dad?” asks Moore between a bite of burger.
Emil: “Lieutenant Earl Kane,” Emil responds, putting down his drink. “Have you heard of him?”
GM: “Don’t think so,” Hill says after a moment of thought, taking a bite from his chicken sandwich. “We’ve not been working at NOPD for too long, though. Tell us about him?”
Emil: Emil rubs the scar on the back of his neck, and admits “To be honest, I don’t personally know much about him. He died when I was young, so most of his reputation I’ve learned by asking questions. The remainder of my knowledge comes from fuzzy childhood memories of him taking me on the job.” Though there’s been a severe decrease in fuzz over the past week. “It’s why I’m here really, in the city. To learn about my dad.”
Emil pauses for a moment to take a sip of milkshake. It sputters up the straw in a way that says his cups almost drained dry. “Where’d y’all work before getting into the NOPD?”
GM: “Sheriff’s department,” says Moore. “NOPD has better perks.”
“Air Force,” says Hill. “I was ready to settle down and start a family.”
Moore slurps his shake. “That’s neat your dad would take you with him. Like bring your kid to work day. You do many ride-alongs?”
Emil: Emil responds fairly casually, “All the time up until like first grade. He liked having me there to help out on investigations, though I’m not sure how much good I actually was. My mother hated it, she’s always had a tendency to worry about me too much, but I guess that’s all mothers. Divorced my dad over it.” He tries to take one last sip from the shake but only gets air from the straw.
GM: “Yeah, moms want what’s best for their kids,” says Hill. “My wife never divorced me, but she kinda hinted at it, if we didn’t settle down.”
Emil: “Well it sounds like you made the right choice, we’ve got to hold onto our loved ones. What made you choose New Orleans? Did you grow up here?” Emil asks Hill.
GM: “Wife did,” the detective answers. “I grew up in Columbus. We ‘shopped around’ a bit, I guess you could say, and thought Orleans was the better city.”
Emil: “And having been out here for some time, what do you think? Are you still satisfied starting a family out here?” Emil queries the man.
GM: Moore raises an eyebrow from behind his shake, but Hill just takes another sandwich bite and answers, “Yeah, it’s got a lot of culture and community.”
Emil: Emil smiles, partially to calm any misconstruction of his intentions and otherwise in relief at the reaffirmation of the good he knows lives in the city.
“I’m glad. Someday I want to settle down here, start a real family. Naturally, you were the right person to ask about it, given how much of the worst there is out here you have to deal with to do your job well.”
GM: “Glad we could be of help,” Moore smiles back, munching down some fries.
“What’s it you want to do for your job, Emil, when you settle down?” Hill asks, reaching for some fries too.
Emil: “I’ve got good memories of working alongside my dad, so I’ve always had a predilection towards investigative work. But I dunno if I could really do what he did exactly.” Emil looks down at his arms. They’re like a pair of tapered pipes, thin and stiff. He wonders if his wrists were just a bit thinner he might’ve been able to slip out of the restraints if he gave it a go.
“Dad left me behind a pair of boxing gloves when he died. They never really fit right. I take well to computers though, and I’m getting a degree in computer science. So I was thinking I could do a career in stopping cyber-crime.” He clasps his hands together and lets them rest on the blanket covering his similarly stiff, though noticeably more well-oiled legs.
GM: “Well, I’ll be. You thinking of joining NOPD, the FBI, some other agency?” asks Moore.
Emil: Emil nods. “If I got to choose, I’d say the NOPD would feel the most like home. But well, with these kinds of things it’s pretty much at the mercy of who is willing to offer the first internship. Though that depends a lot on how I can make myself stand out. I’ve got a bit of an advantage, having studied a couple years in L.A., cause Tulane’s program is pretty new, not even a full major’s course-load of CS classes. So I’ll have had a little broader education than my peers. Of course, the biggest in you can get in any job is if you have connections to vouch for you from the inside.” Emil shrugs jovially before scanning the reactions of the detectives. The internship search never dies, even when you’re suspected of murder.
GM: “Oh, it works a little differently in NOPD,” says Moore.
“Better, actually,” says Hill. “There’s no internship BS. You apply to academy, and when you’re a trainee, you actually get paid.”
“You don’t actually need a college degree,” Moore adds, “though you get a higher salary if you have one. And the guys at the upper ranks pretty much all have one.”
Emil: Emil is a little shocked. “Damn! That’s a lot better than what the CIA recruiter at the job fair was telling me about their process. They said I’d be fighting over an internship with thousands of other applicants, and even if I got in it would be months of a rat race to get an actual job there. To be honest I’m not sure they very much liked recruiting but the dead look in their eyes made me believe them.”
GM: Moore laughs at the description. “Guess NOPD has lower standards. That sounds like a shit deal just for a shot at getting your foot in the door though.”
“Yeah, I thought NOPD was a good deal,” says Hill. “You pretty much just fill out an application, do some interviews that are really just to show you aren’t a total shithead. There’s also a drug and fitness test, but whatever. Once you clear that you’re in the academy and getting paid.”
Emil: “That is a pretty sweet deal,” Emil agrees. “I’ve got a couple more semesters to pull through but if I can hit the gym a little more seriously, I suppose I’ll be applying soon enough.”
Emil continues, asking, “What’s it like to do your job? How’s the work culture?”
GM: “The culture’s great. Everyone looks out for their own,” Moore answers, finishing the last of his burger. “Do things the proper way and brass makes things go your way.”
“It should be pretty easy for you to get in if you hit the gym,” says Hill. “The testing isn’t too hard. Push-ups, sit-ups, timed run.”
He sets down his milkshake. “One of the big disqualifying things though can be criminal history. They look pretty closely at that.”
“Right now you haven’t been charged with or even arrested over anything, Emil,” Moore says. “Your record’s squeaky-clean. Just an arrest though can get your face in mugshot databases and show up on a background check, even if no charges are filed.”
“To be clear, Emil, we don’t want to put you through that,” says Hill. “You’re young and smart. Brass loves ‘legacy’ cops. Loves ones with degrees too.”
“But right now you’re our only witness to what happened,” explains Moore. “We just want to do our jobs and keep your nose clean. Think you can help us out?”
Emil: Emil nods at the pair of detectives. He knows on an intellectual level that they’re not really his friends. They barely even met him and might suspect him of ripping someone’s face off. It’s admittedly hard to be friends with someone like that. Nevertheless, Emil feels comfortable talking to them. Significantly moreso than to the doctor. It’s like talking to uncles he never knew he had. And apparently brothers his father never knew he had either. Maybe family is the wrong metric here? Nevertheless, Emil responds to them,
“I think so. I guess I should start from the beginning. Is that alright?”
GM: Hill nods.
“We’re not in a hurry,” says Moore.
Emil: “All right,” Emil sighs, letting out a good long breath. “I was attacked twice this week. I don’t know whether the events were connected or not but I know it was pretty much the same day—the same couple days. I hope everything is straight in my head, but I know it isn’t all.”
There’s gaps, gaps in the story Emil needs to tell. And yet, those gaps of unconsciousness are easier to explain than the moments of being all too awake, all too cognizant of things that shouldn’t have happened. Of his reality bending, shearing into a nightmarish parody of itself.
“I wasn’t doing anything special, both times I was attacked. It started in the cemetery. I was going there at the request of my girlfriend—or well, I don’t know if she’s my girlfriend anymore. Her name’s Hillary Cherry, and we were leaving from an audition—though maybe that isn’t relevant—”
Emil gives another melancholy sigh, peppered with staccato breaths from the pain in his ribs.
“I realized I hadn’t gone to see my father, to visit his grave since I started my semester here. We went to the graveyard without a tour group. I thought it would be best, you know, to just be there with my dad… and Hillary. Hillary said it was dangerous, and uh, I don’t know why, but I ignored her. Maybe I thought that the St. Louis Cemetery would be a little more secure than the others. They had a schedule for when you could come in, when you couldn’t—though I guess I didn’t count on people breaking in.”
Emil trails off for a moment, before looking at Detective Hill.
“When I got to my dad’s vault. Well, I, uh, there was a guy there. He was looking through it. I don’t know what he was looking for, but, uh—the vault was open—and I guess he was looking inside it, digging around where my father’s body used to be.” Emil caps off the run-on sentence with an involuntary raised inflection. Like somewhere between a question and a held back choke.
“He was digging ‘til he saw me, cause I was yelling at him. I was like ’What the hell are you doing?!’ I was like, ‘Excuse me? What are you doing snooping in my dad’s vault?!’ And he looked at me, and well, he was just hurling slurs at me and my father, like a maniac. He called me a ‘nigger-faggot’ again and again, like an obsession. And I apologize for saying that, but that’s the kind of bile he was spitting. Then he literally spat on my father’s nameplate as I started to film him with my phone for evidence. But then he ran up and pushed me to the ground, he took my phone, and kicked my girlfriend. Took her bag too. And I also think he took something from the vault, maybe a letter. I don’t know what his problem was, whether he had a chip on his shoulder about the police or he was just bigoted against blacks or Jews, or interracial dating, but he seemed to hate me.”
Emil pauses for a moment, thinking, then interjects between his own thoughts, “I cleaned the saliva off my dad’s name, and the police took it when I gave them my report. But I don’t know about the video, they weren’t hopeful about me getting my phone back.”
“The next thing that happened, well, I reported it to the police like I was saying, and they said they’d handle it. And I think they will, I hope so. I was speaking with some of my father’s old coworkers, and one of them was warning me, he was telling me how dangerous it was for me to be in the city. How I should never have come back here. I didn’t really believe him, until today, I guess.” Emil looks at the wounds stitched together on his body, and shivers. “Or well, maybe it’s been more than a day. I’ve been out. I’ve been out. How many days has it been?”
GM: “It’s Friday the 28th,” answers Hill. “9:09 in the morning.”
The two detectives have listened to Emil’s story patiently and without interruption so far.
“Okay, Emil, this is starting to clear up a fair amount of stuff,” says Moore. “One thing first. Who was this coworker of your dad’s?”
Emil: Emil responds promptly, “I think his name was Aaron, but my dad called him Lucky. Lucky Johnson.”
GM: “Oh, we know him,” observes Hill. “Good guy. He was saying it was dangerous for you, though? Why’s that?”
Emil: “To be honest, I don’t really know. He said himself that my dad made a lot of good relationships when he was alive. Dad was a good man. I guess he meant that with all the people my father brought to justice, he might have made some enemies. You know, gangs and the like. I don’t actually know though, he didn’t give a straight answer. The man was fixated on this being a ghost town, which it clearly isn’t. There’s so much life in this city.” He pauses for a moment, sighing in that pained way. “I know he knew my father, and like you said, he’s probably a good guy, but I don’t know, he gave me a small case of the heebie jeebies.”
As Emil peters off the response, he feels gross. Out of all the events of this week, it is with Lucky alone that Emil was given undeserved care for, it is also the one event that he isn’t wishy washy on, at least not in his heart despite the apprehensions of his mind. And yet, to save his own skin he would lie, even so slightly, even if to spare them the unfathomability of the truth, to the institution of his father, the institution of justice. He would distance himself from a man whom his father respected enough to work with in risk-beset work. It leaves him with an unsettled stomach and a pain under his neck’s scar.
GM: The two detectives seem to consider Emil.
“Yeah,” says Moore. “Nice guy, but there’s stories about him.”
“He tell you how he got his nickname?”
Emil: Emil shakes his head in response. “No, sir.”
GM: “He’s got the devil’s luck,” says Hill. “Or unluck, maybe. Been shot more times than any other guy on the force. People just can’t seem to resist emptying a gun into him.”
“Yeah, cops or bad guys,” says Moore.
“Yeah. That IA investigation.”
“Huh. Before my time,” remarks Hill.
“Devil’s luck,” repeats Moore. “Or unluck.”
Emil: Emil wonders what the hell Lucky did to deserve being riddled, and the shame of lying whispers in his ears the words your fault. He has to apologize to Lucky, but maybe he can’t. The thought nags at him.
“That’s awful. And yet, he’s still alive. I’d say that’s the real luck.” Though of course, Emil doesn’t believe in chance, there’s always a reason.
GM: “Yeah, the unluck’s needing that luck,” Hill chuckles.
Emil: Emil laughs and coughs. Laughs and hacks.
GM: “But we got sidetracked, Emil. Can you finish your story?” asks Moore.
Emil: Emil explains the remainder of his story. He tells the detectives about wanting to learn more about his father’s accomplishments and getting attacked suddenly in the library. He tells them about being terrified, about the crushing weight of being tackled and the terror of waking up in a barn, covered in blood, alone except for a fellow victim’s nose. Cracks in his composure show through as he speaks, and at certain points it looks like Emil might be on the verge of vomiting. He tells the detectives about praying to God, about being stuck at night in the middle of no where, about running, about trying to fight off the attacker and failing, about hearing the words “Daddy’s proud” in the Jewish language as he passed out from the mutilation to his body, about waking up under his own bed and getting fed soup. He says the last thing he remembers from the event is seeing the split sinew in his torn muscle, vomiting on his visitor and passing out. Emil looks unwell, and clutches his stomach, fearing he might have a repeat performance.
“I don’t want it to be real, but that’s not an option anymore. I just want to feel safe here.”
GM: The two detectives listen attentively to Emil’s story, interjecting occasionally with questions. They offer all the expected comforts and assurances from a glass of water to a little more time to time to compose himself between questions and particularly harrowing described memories.
“Well, Emil, this is one hell of a story,” says Hill.
“There’s obviously a lot of pieces missing. But you’ve given us some promising directions to go. Do you remember the name of the visitor who fed you soup?” asks Moore.
Emil: Emil nods. “Yeah, his name was Elliot Faustin, he was actually the director of the movie Hillary and I were auditioning for. Or well, maybe that was just a nickname, I think he told me his name was… Em? So maybe Em Faustin. He was dating a girl… Cécilia, I believe.”
GM: “Ok, he’s definitely someone we’ll want to interview. Can you describe what he looks like?” asks Hill.
Emil: Emil describes the amateur filmmaker as he remembered him, the image of his unsure face hovering in his mind.
He continues, “I’m not sure how he got into my apartment. Or well, I can hazard a guess. But without him, I don’t know if I would be alive today. Especially since my phone was stolen so I couldn’t call for help. When you interview him, can you tell him I said thank you?”
GM: “Oh yes, we’ll have a lot to tell him,” says Moore.
“There isn’t a landline in your apartment, is there?” asks Hill. “If you lost your phone, that means whoever called 911 on you, likely this Em character, used theirs.”
Emil: He thinks for a moment. “There isn’t one. In that case, you must have his number then?”
GM: “Yeah, guess we must,” says Moore. He looks at his partner.
“All right, Emil, you’ve been through a lot,” says Hill. “From the looks of things, you aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so we’ll leave you to get some rest. We’ll be back if we have further questions.”
Emil: “I’ll try my best to rest up, detective,” he smiles warmly. Thank you for being kind guests. Would you mind convincing a nurse that I’m ready for visitors? Or at least to let me use the phone? I need to tell my family that I’m alive."
GM: “Hospitals usually notify next of kin when someone winds up in a bed,” says Moore. “But sure. We’ll put in a word with a nurse.”
Emil: “I appreciate that. Thank you,” says Emil.
He feels unsure, though, as the door shuts behind the two detectives. He trusts the police to seek justice, but with so many gaps in his story, they may have to settle for less certain justice. If he gets off because of who his dad was, he may have just condemned an innocent man. The thought makes his throat dry.
And to top it off, he’s all out of milkshake.
Friday morning, 28 September 2007
GM: Emil doesn’t get another milkshake.
He gets a phone call.
He doesn’t get his mom. Just the answering machine.
He does get a visitor though. Two, in fact.
“Emil, baby… oh my, oh my god…”
Lucille Jonas, formerly Kane, is a middle-aged woman with dark skin and naturally kinky hair (rarely seen by Emil) that she keeps pressed meticulously straight through chemicals, hot combs, whatever it takes so as not to impede the etiquette coach’s professional image. Her parted bangs are long and thick in contrast to her thin eyebrows, and she wears a pair of dangling bead earrings along with a blouse in her always-favored leopard print.
Her expression couldn’t contrast more with her presentable attire. It’s aghast. There’s more worry than shock around her eyes, which are just starting to show tired bags, although there’s some of the former too.
“Oh my god… Emil, baby…”
She doesn’t take off her purse (and isn’t wearing any coat in the still-hot autumnal weather), just spreads her arms as she approaches Emil’s beds. She’s preempted from embracing her son, though, with a man’s,
“Careful, Luce… we don’t know what condition he’s in. You could hurt him.”
Emil’s stepfather Paul is a slim, narrow-shouldered Caucasian man also in his middle years with slightly curly black hair, brown eyes framed by a rectangular pair of glasses, and the faintest trace of stubble around his jaw. He’s dressed in a blue button-up shirt and dark slacks without his usual jacket.
“Oh, that’s right… of course we don’t.” Emil’s mother lets her spread arms lapse semi-awkwardly as she stands in front of him.
“How are you feeling, Emil? Your mother and I just about had a collective heart attack when we got the news,” says Paul.
Emil: Emil closes his eyes when his mother approaches to embrace him. His expectations bleed into his memories and his memories into his expectations, and in the darkness hiding under his eyelids, he tries to imagine the warmth coming to him. The comfort of knowing everything is going to be all right that can only come from a mother to her child. It is hard to imagine such snugness now. He was so much smaller when he was young, more than usual even. The doctors said that the delayed growth was just a temporary issue, that he’d get there eventually, to being a strong young man, just later than normal. And he surely grew up, his bones stretched out in all the right directions and a few wrong ones as well, but that didn’t make him strong, it just didn’t make for much legroom on the childhood bed his mom and Paul hadn’t felt the need to replace since they moved to California. He can’t imagine fitting under his mother’s chin anymore, with her arms around the back, he’s too big. And yet he knows that he’s about to, because mothers work miracles for their kids, especially after they’ve been hurt.
But no. He’s wrong. She’s wrong. Of course. Paul knows better.
He opens his eyes and they feel heavier now. He feels colder, yet he smiles at his mother.
“It’s okay, Mom, I’m going to be all right.”
He looks to Paul, and repeats softly, “I’ll be all right,” before turning back to his mother.
“How did they let you know? I hope they didn’t give you too bad a scare.”
GM: “They called us.” Lucille’s face starts to downturn into a scowl at her son’s question, but stops just shy. “I suppose finding our phone number was the one thing they did right, because the woman who broke the news was terrible. Beyond terrible. Completely insensitive. I’d have given her a few pointers, too, about how she got your name wrong, and could barely answer any questions, if I hadn’t-”
“You can’t bring teach everyone,” Paul preempts with a faint smile as he moves over some chairs.
Emil’s mother looks as if she could add more, but then simply asks as she takes his hand in seeming substitute for hugging him, “You said you’d be all right, Emil. Now, I’ve told you to be specific in the language you use. Are feeling all right?”
Emil: In other circumstances, Emil might groan at yet another correction, but seeing her so stressed stymies his response. “Well right now I’m feeling sorry you had to hear about this so coldly, Mom.”
He covers her hand with his other, “My body will heal, baruch Ha’Shem. Nevertheless, I’m glad you’re both here with me. I thought for sure I’d be spending Sukkot this year alone.”
GM: His mother clasps his hand tightly. “Yes, Emil, you won’t. I’ve confessed it every year during the Al Chet. How I didn’t do enough to keep you away from this city.”
She just looks at him for a moment. She looks almost ready to cry.
“It’s not your fault, Luce,” Paul interjects quietly. “Emil made his own decision.”
Emil’s mom just shakes her head without taking her eyes off him. “It is my fault. But it don’t worry, Emil. We’ll get you transferred out of Tulane to another school. Someplace in L.A. I don’t care if it makes you graduate late.”
Emil: Emil eyes his stepfather for a moment, appreciating his attempt at comfort but questioning his execution. “Mom, he’s right. Don’t let yourself catch any grief on my behalf.” He looks into his mother’s eyes, and remembers his talk with Lucky.
He sees his sad self in the warped reflection of the tears welling in his mother’s eyes and his face scrunches up as if it would help squeeze close his tear ducts. “You knew what was best for me, but I thought coming here was what Dad would have wanted. I wanted to make him proud. But then I spoke to Lucky, and the assaults. I’m so sorry.” His head swoops from side to side like a pendulum on its last swings.
Overcome by inertia, his cranial pendulum stops, and Emil’s looking down at the polka dot gown covering his form. “But I won’t disrespect you by lying to you, Mom. I can’t leave, not right now.”
GM: Lucille’s eyes flash at Lucky’s name.
“You did what, Emil?”
Emil: All right, so Mom has a grudge against Lucky as well. Poor guy.
“I was reporting the first assault to the police and I remembered his name, so I asked about him and he came to chat with me. He made sure I understood what an awful idea coming back was and that I should listen more to you.”
Emil only hopes that’s enough to convince her he’s harmless.
GM: “Did he give you an NOPD business card, Emil, or otherwise give you a phone number?” his mother asks.
Emil: “Why?” Emil replies. “Do you know him well enough that it would be normal to call him? I mean I know he worked under Dad, but I’d bet he wasn’t the only detective to do so.”
GM: Emil’s mother just looks down at her son. At the pulse oximeter on his finger. The IV stabbing into one of his veins. At the bandages Emil can feel swathed over so much of his aching, battered, hurting body that his doctor said would be “with us for quite some time,” or whatever she called it.
“Nothing about this is normal, Emil,” his stepfather says slowly.
Emil: “Of course not,” Emil corrects himself. “Lucky told me specifically that the only way I’d be speaking to him would be in person,” he responds to his mother. Awful hard to hold off on a loved one for more than a good second, and yet Emil thinks he’s learned at least a scrap more, which must count for something.
GM: The self-correction causes his mother’s eyes to sharpen again.
“Emil, I’ve taught you that it’s rude to ignore questions. Do you have that man’s phone number, or will we need to look it up ourselves?”
Emil: Emil remembers the other reason he left for New Orleans.
“I don’t have it, no. I’m sorry for being rude, people have been asking me a lot of questions recently, it has me off-kilter.” The worst part is how effective it is at making him feel like he spat in her porridge.
GM: “We can file suit against him, can’t we?” asks Lucille.
“Well, I’ll need to hear the full story first,” Paul answers. “But yes, I think we could have the basis for a case.”
“Good. That’ll teach him to stay away from our baby.”
Emil: “Mom, if we are going to bring a suit, let’s put it against the man who assaulted me, not the police. I’m afraid of what might happen.” The fear seeps out of his eyes, crawling out of pink veins which contort and stretch as Emil flicks his gaze between his visitors.
GM: “We’re getting you out of New Orleans,” his mother repeats, but more softly as she takes his hand again.
“That’s right, Emil. You don’t need to be afraid of what happens here anymore,” says Paul, touching the bed by his leg in seeming substitute.
After several moments of silence, he looks at Lucille. “We can also file a complaint with Internal Affairs. That could be faster and more effective.”
“Yes,” Emil’s mother agrees. “We’ll do both.”
Emil: The fear does not subside from Emil’s expression. If anything, it swells at every word from his mother’s mouth. He shakes his head.
“What I’m afraid of isn’t going to be fixed by running away from my home. I cannot afford to poke the bear, do you understand that, Mom?”
GM: “God, the things he filled your head with,” Emil’s mother replies with something oddly in between fury, sorrow, and disgust.
Emil: Emil looks severely frustrated, but he doesn’t lash out. He closes his eyes, purses his lips and just breathes slowly through tight nostrils. His scrunched face shows hints of the deep wrinkles that will mark his reflection in the far far future.
He speaks in a slow monotone, “I don’t think you completely understand why I’m resisting this, Mom. I need you to listen to me so that we can work as a family on this.”
He takes a glimpse at his mother’s expression, but doesn’t give her a chance to respond before continuing.
“I wasn’t the only victim of that monster. Another guy wasn’t so lucky to come out alive. One of the first things the doctor told me when I woke up all bloody and broken was that she didn’t know whether or not I was actually just a victim, and not…” He lets the unsaid word hang in the air for a second.
“Right now, the cops are our friends because they respect my father’s memory. I don’t want to give them a reason to be anything but that to us.”
GM: “What?” Emil’s mother begins.
Paul’s own look of surprise settles into a frown. “Emil, why don’t you tell us… more. The woman we spoke to told us barely anything.”
Emil: Emil goes over the recent events, noting his assault in the cemetery, the attack in the library, and waking up in his apartment with Em. He is delicate with respect to describing the more gruesome details, but he goes through what they need to hear so that they will listen. He speaks with some regret gritting his sentences as he talks about spilling his story to both the doctor and the cops without the presence of a lawyer, and he spends time providing extra context to explain that decision. He notes his appreciation of Em’s heroism, and makes clear his opposition to taking any legal action against him for probably breaking in.
“God put him there to save me.”
GM: It’s the one matter they agree with him on.
His mother and stepfather, in so many words, are horrified by Emil’s even-censored account happened to him. Beyond horrified. His mother looks almost ready to cry. She finally ignores Paul’s advice to hug Emil and exclaims, “Oh, Emil, baby,” as she rocks him back and forth. Getting hugged hurts. A lot.
Lucille’s face goes deathly still at Emil’s mentions about “digging into the past.” Even with her ‘baby’ swaddled in bandages, aching everywhere, and looking like Emil can only guess what, she can’t stop herself from exclaiming, “Look what that! Just look at what that did to you! Why do you think I took you away from New Orleans? So this wouldn’t happen! So worse wouldn’t happen! Oh, my god, I can’t believe I let y-”
Paul lays a hand on her shoulder.
“He’s alive. Let’s just be thankful for that, and get him out of the hot water he’s in now.”
That seems to draw Lucille’s attention.
Paul lectures Emil for talking to police without a lawyer, saying among other things, “Emil, the police are not your friends in a case like this. Departments and units have something they call a ‘clearance rate,’ which is the percentage of crimes to cross their desks that results in charges being filed. It doesn’t matter who they’re filed against, and when a unit’s clearance rate is high, officers get promoted. If the rate is low, they get in trouble. Cops live and die by the numbers like anyone else. These detectives are going to arrest you if they can’t find this Em person, or some other suspect, because it’s their careers on the line.”
He shakes his head. “Probably the only reason they didn’t arrest you is because you’re stuck in the hospital anyway. And maybe because they’d rather bring in another guy first. We’d better hope they arrest ‘Em’, because they’ll be coming back here if they can’t.”
“So what should we do at this point? Get him a lawyer?” asks Emil’s mother, her brow furrowed.
“Yes, absolutely,” nods Paul. “And maybe see if we can parlay the civil suit and IA complaint…”
“There’s condition for this, Emil,” his mother says slowly, looking back towards him. “No more Tulane. You transfer to another college in another city to finish your degree.”
Emil: He groans at the pain, tears welling in his eyes as his mother’s embrace squeezes at his lungs and presses on wounds, both old and new.
As he speaks, he looks more and more crestfallen.
“A condition? On my freedom? Because if what Paul is saying is true, that’s the non-choice you’re giving me right now. I don’t want to see anyone else hurt for my nosiness. Not Em, not Lucky, and definitely not you, but being here feels like home like no where else, Mom. I’m making something of myself here. Me. Alone. I have an apartment that I pay for. I have a job and students I am responsible to teach. I scored a role acting in a local film alongside a girlfriend I’m proud to stand beside. And I’m making my own way through college and I already spent the money on this semester. I don’t want to abandon all of that because one day some lunatic attacked me.”
He looks at his mother, pain brimming his eyes, and then something passes beneath the murky black waters in the center of his irises, and they sharpen like his mother’s.
“But I you probably know more about the danger I’m in than I do, and only you could know the anguish of not being able to save your baby. And because I respect that, and because I love you like only a son can love his mother, I’m willing to let go of all of those precious things. Every last one of them. But you have to agree to three caveats.”
He waits for a moment to see how much his words weigh to her, whether they’re as precious to her as his breath and his beating heart.
GM: “That ‘condition’ is to keep you alive, Emil. Those people can all go to hell. They’re not my son,” his mother starts at first.
Paul gives her a look. His and Lucille’s expressions both soften at Emil’s next words. Paul hands his mother a tissue that she sniffs into.
“If it’s money you’re worried about, Emil, you don’t need to worry,” Paul fills in. “Your mom and I will keep you afloat.”
“Yes, we’ll pay for your remaining courses. You’ll have a more competitive degree anyway from a place with a real computer science program,” his mother adds.
Emil: Emil shakes his head and tries to correct their assumption.
“Right now I’m worried about you hearing me. Because I do care about these people, because leaving here is not something I can do easily. Because you’re good parents in a terrible situation and I’m under a danger I’m apparently blind to. I need you to listen. Because the things I ask for are things that I need from you. Will you hear me out?”
GM: “Of course, Emil. What do you need?” Paul asks.
His mother simply nods her own agreement.
Emil: Emil begins with his first need. “Em is a man chosen by God to be a hero, you agreed with me just a moment ago. I couldn’t live with myself if my obsessive curiosity caused him to get hurt. Our God does not want to turn good, young men into martyrs. Men do not get punished for other men’s sin. That is not the way of the God of Abraham. But you’re right, Paul, the police need to do their jobs and they will arrest him, I practically gave him up myself because I wasn’t thinking.”
Emil masks his face with his hand, a gore-stained raised stitch holding the skin together on its dorsal aspect, making a jagged line across his eyes like some awful censor bar. He rests it in his lap and then requests, “We need to get him a good lawyer, and pay for it ourselves. We can push the blame on someone who truly deserves punishment, like the thief from the cemetery.”
GM: “Emil, we have no evidence the thief from the cemetery actually did this to you,” his mother preempts. “Not beyond hit you and steal your phone.”
Emil: “The thief isn’t my greatest concern right now. If it helps I took a video of him. I’m not a legal expert, I’m not even a legal amateur. I just need to make sure Em has good—no, better than good— representation. Can we do that?” Emil looks to Paul serious yet hopeful.
GM: Paul purses his lips. “Em getting arrested should satisfy the detectives so far as clearance rates. So long as helping his defense doesn’t jeopardize your future, your mother and I will get him a good lawyer.”
“Or at least, offer him one. It’s obviously up to him if he accepts. This may also be moot if he isn’t arrested.”
Emil: Emil first smiles, then nods more solemnly. “I understand. Thank you.”
He then continues with the second request, saying, “I need time here to close up all of my responsibilities, to say my goodbyes. To find a replacement teacher for myself. To do my scene in the movie. To explain to Hillary why I have to leave. To get letters of recommendation from teachers I respect. And I need your help to ensure the transfer won’t stain my transcript forever.”
GM: Lucille’s lips purse at the mention of ‘time’, but after Paul looks at her she gives a curt nod. “I suppose that’s reasonable. And of course we’ll do everything to help the transfer set you up for success. You should apply to someplace good, this time, like Caltech or UCLA.”
“College transfers aren’t the end of the world, either,” Paul adds. “Especially if it’s to a better school. Obama transferred from Occidental College to Columbia, and he has a shot at winding up the Dem nominee.”
Emil: “He just might, but I’m not so keen on tying my future to the chances of a black man getting elected into the highest office. I mean, just historically it seems like a bit of a long shot. Anyway, politics aren’t really on my mind now,” Emil responds.
“Mom,” he continues, turning to face her. “This last request is my most important one. I probably wouldn’t have come back here if this… need I have, hadn’t been met before. I want it to be. I don’t want to have any reason to come back here and worry you ever again.”
He takes her hand in his and breathes. Their eyes line up and they can see into those pits that seem to go down into nothingness, the ones that hide beneath colored rims. It’s funny how when you look through these windows to the soul, you can never see a thing but darkness. He matches her breath, feels her pulse.
“I need to speak to you about Dad. Candidly. Nothing held back. I’ve realized that everyone around me seems to have grieved and moved on, but for me, his vault never closed.”
Tears well up in his eyes, caught on the levees; they obscure the sight of his mother.
“I want to know why you were so right to be afraid, I need to know so my gut understands this wasn’t just a fluke. So my gut remembers when you picked me up from that farm covered in gristle and gore so many years ago.”
The levees in his eyes burst open, and tears flood the wrinkled avenues of his skin.
“So that it knows this wasn’t the first time.”
Choked cries erupt from his mouth and shake the earthen flesh; the tears pool into that crater in the barren farmland of his neck whose source Emil’s psyche fervently denies; the bullet that he never took.
“So my soul can breathe and grieve. I just need one evening of honesty. That’s it, Mom.”
Emil had hoped this would be something good. A key into that truth he was seeking, into the mystery surrounding his dad’s past. This was the year he was going to take a stand for himself, to do what Dad did, to be his own man. He found Hillary, he found the movie, he found a job and a place and friends and respect and he’s willing to throw that all away for the sake of information he could and should probably find for himself instead of digging up his mother’s past trauma.
But no. He has to know. He has to know as much as he can as fast as he can. He’s an addict of the worst sort, and he’s selling everything he’s got for one fucking hit of an outdated, unfulfilled product from a dealer who pities him so bad she wants to support him through rehab.
He feels it, the slick slime of degeneracy, as the sweat under his unmoved thighs. The glue holding his back to the pillow. It’s gross, vile even, and yet he does it anyway.
GM: Emil’s mother looks at him for a while. Just looks at him.
There’s pain in her eyes, naked and plain. Some for her son. Some because of him. Some of that still for him anyway.
Paul lays a hand back on her shoulder without saying anything.
What can any parent do against an addict like him? He’s his own man now, for good or ill. Perhaps mostly ill. If he stays, he feeds the addiction. If he leaves, he still just wants to feed it.
Shit, kid, Lucky had said, what you doin’ here? There’s nothin’ here for you. Just ghosts. You look like you’ve had a good life for yourself in L.A. That’s all your mama and daddy ever wanted for you.
If ghosts they are, they don’t rest easily. Emil’s screaming in their dead ears for them to rise and haunt the living.
His mother closes her eyes for a moment.
“Once you’ve left this place behind, Emil,” she says quietly.
She meets his gaze again. She looks like a doctor just came out from Emil’s hospital room and said, ‘we have some bad news.’
“Once you are transferred out of Tulane. Once we are back in Los Angeles. Once the last of your things is packed into a cardboard box in the car’s trunk. Once you are gone from New Orleans and have no reason to ever come back here. Once you are home.”
“Then, I swear unto the Lord, I will talk to you about your father,” his mother finishes as she swears the shevu’ah.
Emil: Emil nods with childlike acceptance at his mother’s willingness, her faith. Looking at her so troubled, so hurt, is not something he can bear, at least not alone. Emil sits further up, peeling himself quickly off of the sweaty sheets. His arachnoid forearms wrap around his mother and pull her into a painful embrace. He doesn’t complain though, as he feels his wounds pressed against fibery clothing, as the line to his IV is pulled taut. He just sobs quietly into his mother’s ear.
“I love you.”
GM: Emil feels his mother’s and stepfather’s arms wrapping around him, returning his embrace with equal pain and tenderness.
“I love you too, baby.”
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