“You’re full of shit.”
Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy
April night, 2016
GM: Zoe would say she’s not sure what she expected to find back in Chuck’s apartment, except she was sure.
She was sure it would be something other than this.
Chuck is naked in the bedroom, eyes barely open, ballgag strapped around his mouth. His wrists are secured to the bed with steel cuffs, while a spreader bar is secured between his ankles. His thighs are wrapped and connected to the headboard, so he’s at an approximately 90 degree angle. The head of his penis is covered in a steel sheath that looks as if it prevents erection or stimulation. It’s secured to a padlocked steel ring around his scrotum. There are two keys on the nightstand, on top of a napkin with a lipstick kiss print. On the floor is a strap-on with a double-ended dildo and bottle of lube.
Four photos lie on the bed:
From behind, Chuck bent over on hands and knees. He’s looking back at the camera, ball gag in.
From behind, there’s a closer shot of his ass, head of the dildo pressing against his ass.
Closeup of a long-nailed feminine hand locking his penis in the cage.
Photo from behind showing a woman’s back as she rides him. Her body is bare and perfect, with long brown hair that falls down to her back.
Up close, the napkin reads in stylish cursive,
He’s all yours ;)
It’s signed underneath with a simple,
Zoe: Zoe doesn’t remember the walk home. It feels faster than it was, her memories a blur. Maybe it’s fatigue. Maybe it’s hunger. Maybe it’s her smarter subconscious blocking out what memories would otherwise prove to damage her future self.
She slips her key into the lock, nearly falling into the apartment with fatigue. She closes her eyes. She breathes. She needs a shower.
A long, hot shower, and a night of sleep. Chuck can wait. Chuck will wait, no matter what sort of deal they made.
Or maybe not? Fuck, what is in this cocaine, Cash? Maybe she won’t mind it if he wants his payment.
After a shower.
She walks into the bedroom, and opens her eyes.
“What the FUCK, Chuck?!”
Zoe is caught between trying not to laugh, trying not to be angry, and wishing the entirety of his antics can vanish long enough that she can recover from her endless nightmare.
She stomps into the room, hands flailing. She isn’t sure what to do.
GM: Chuck is still there after the shower.
He tugs against the cuffs as she re-emerges.
A moaned noise slurs past his gag.
It sounds angry at her.
Zoe: She presses hands to a too-tired face.
She doesn’t need any of this nonsense. Why can’t she have a normal day? A normal night? A normal anything?
Did she actually die and go to hell? It feels like it.
Zoe unlatches the ball gag.
“Who the fuck is A?”
GM: “Fucking… un… tie me…” Chuck grogs.
Zoe: She pinches the bridge of her nose. Okay. This is fine. This is fine. Everything. Is. Fine.
She grabs the keys, then moves to unlock him.
GM: Chuck immediately grabs the first of the pictures and starts tearing it to pieces.
Or at least as ‘immediately’ as he can. He’s pretty slow and groggy about it.
Zoe: For the first time since her phase of questionable faith the first time she’d been made to distance herself from the substance, Zoe wishes she wasn’t as high as she is. Fuck. Her fatigue feels as if it’s been replaced with an injection of coffee, bypassing the stomach and taking a direct line to her heart. She wants to dance, and to fuck, and to scream, and to play, and to shower—mostly shower—and to be fun
She shakes her head, pressing a palm to her forehead and smacking herself a few times.
“Can’t fucking— I’m too high for this shit.”
She sits beside him, picking up one of the errant photos.
“I didn’t know your ass could wink.”
She shrugs, cackling, and tosses it down.
“Is it really winking with one hole? Hmn.”
Maybe that’s a topic for a thesis, when she returns to school. When.
“I’m too in need of you to consider blackmail, too tired of my day to have the energy to think any other way on it, and too high to connect one thought to the next.”
A little embellishment, but just a little.
“So, what in the fuck happened, Chuck?”
GM: Chuck does not immediately answer. He just grabs the next photo and rips it up. His eyes are drooping as he slurs,
“Bad. Decision. All right?”
Zoe: She picks up another errant photo, glances down at it, and begins to tear it.
GM: Chuck stares at her for a second.
His face looks out of focus.
But she sees the hate in his eyes.
Chuck grabs the last of the photos and rips it up.
“Those. Those whores.”
“I’ll fucking ruin them.”
Zoe: “Girlfriend, or…?”
She tears the picture to pieces, bit by bit. The edges come first; the periphery of the room, then the bedposts, then the nightstand, then the headboard. Little by little she tears it apart, until all she holds is the center—a snippet of his asshole so focused that one can’t even tell the hole is attached to a human unless they know the context.
She holds it up to her eye, as if an entire dimension of possibility lay inside.
The grin that spreads across her face could light up a city.
GM: Chuck isn’t grinning. At all.
“No,” he growls, though it still comes out half a slur.
He rips the photo’s pieces into even smaller pieces.
“Literal, fuckin’, whores.”
Zoe: She shakes her head as if she’s a dog throwing off water.
“Fuckin’.. what the fuck is in this?!”
It’s some good shit.
“You hired a bunch of whores and they did this? Are you high?”
GM: “They… drugged me.”
He blinks slowly.
“Those whores… they fuckin’ drugged me.”
“They drugged me,” he repeats, as if to himself.
He grabs the key on the nightstand and fumbles to unlock the padlock on the device around his dick.
Zoe: “Sounds like you’ve got some enemiiiiieeessss…” she sings, waggling a finger back and forth like a bony metronome.
She comes up behind him, throwing her arms around his neck from behind, as she would her boyfriend. If she had one.
“We should help each other get revengeeeeee! It’ll be fun! I’ll kill your whores, and you kill a cop! Easy peasy.”
GM: There’s a padlocked leather collar around his neck.
Chuck, though, is still fumbling to get off the chastity cage. He swears several times before he finally undoes the padlock and pulls off the steel head. His penis is tinged an unhealthy shade of blue.
“I’ll fuckin’ destroy them,” he slurs.
Zoe: “Ooooooh… That looks sick! We should get the blood flowing.”
She does not, however, move to touch it.
“How will ya destroy them?”
She moves to flop back onto the bed.
GM: Chuck tugs at the ring around his scrotum and swears some more when it doesn’t come off.
Zoe: “How many fucking locks do they have on you?”
GM: “Isn’t a lock, it’s…”
Chuck finally crams in the head of his penis and drags it underneath a protruding, keyhole-shaped portion of the ring. Then he pulls his balls through and throws it aside with an angry look. Normal color starts to return to his manhood.
“Z’where’s the other key,” he slurs.
Zoe: “You need another key?”
She sounds both surprised and annoyed.
“Haaaaa…. guess you’re lucky they didn’t chain your asshole shut!” she says, poking the shred of a picture she’s determined to keep.
GM: Chuck grabs at it.
Zoe: She closes her fist. It’s no more than a square inch after all her ripping.
“I waaaant it!”
GM: Chuck tries to un-pull her fingers. But the man looks ready to pass out at any moment, and there’s barely any strength behind his hands.
Zoe: She rolls back further onto the bed, having the time of her damn life. Why did she ever feel tired?
“Cmonnnnn! It’s cute! I waaaant it! What made them do this, anyway?”
GM: Chuck glowers at her.
“‘Cuz they’re fucked up, is why!”
“Give it to me and I’ll tell you, all right?”
Zoe: “Nuh! They’re whores! Whores fuck! This is a conspiracy.”
She mourns the pretty little photo; at this point, barely a crumpled black dot and vaguely Chuck-colored background.
Then hands it over.
GM: Chuck rips it up.
“Did a whore a favor. Said she’d pay me back with sex.”
“Brought a friend.”
Zoe: “You should invest in a safe word. Or a gun.”
GM: “Gun,” he mutters.
“Yeah. Drugged me and did…”
He fumbles around for the other key.
Zoe: “Well, technically, they didn’t break their word. Whatcha do for them?”
GM: “Some loser didn’t pay them for sex. Called my uncle ’bout where he lived. Rented from us.”
Chuck finds the key and tries to unlock the collar’s padlock. He swears when it doesn’t come off.
Zoe: “Ooooh. Not very bright going back on their word…”
“Whatcha want to do to ’em?”
GM: “Fuck ’em,” he mutters.
“Ruin their lives.”
He tries the other key on the collar’s badlock. It finally comes off. He angrily throws it aside.
“Get them arrested. For whorin’.”
Zoe: “That’s boring,” she sings, waggling a finger at him.
“Oooh, let’s call the cops! That’ll show them what’s what. We’ll just show the cops the pictures—which don’t exist anymore—and they’ll chase them down. That’ll show them.”
Is she mocking him? Absolutely.
“You can do better than thaaaat!”
GM: Chuck glowers at her.
“No, dumbass, get them arrested for being whores.”
“Prostitution is illegal.”
Zoe: She palms her face.
“Dude, you’re literally paying me with a place to sleep and eat with sex. How will reporting them to the police—”
She shakes her head. Hypocrite.
“You don’t want to take revenge yourself? Something more personal? Come onnnnn!”
She reaches out, tugging on his forearm.
GM: He gives her a bleary look.
“Are you… high?”
He shakes his head.
“Whatever. Personal revenge. Yeah… wouldn’t say no.”
“Fuck those cunts.”
Zoe: “Top of the fucking clouds. MAN that was some good shit he gave me!”
She tugs him over and kisses him, hard, exactly as unromantic and unsexy as a cartoon rabbit in a dress kissing a hunter.
“Good! Don’t say no. Personal revenge is much more satisfying.”
GM: Chuck’s response is equally unromantic. He doesn’t even kiss her back. Just pulls away and mutters, “Not in the mood,” with a dark look.
He ambles up and rifles through his dresser for some sweats and a t-shirt. He tugs them on.
Zoe: “Come onnnnn! There has to be something more going on! Paid whores don’t just torture their client in repayment of a favor. Are you suuuuure you don’t have enemies?”
GM: “Yeah, sure!” he exclaims, sinking heavily down back down onto the bed. “Yeah, my family’s got enemies, but I dunno who the fuck’d… who the fuck’d do this to me.”
“She was just some whore I fucked a bunch. Paid her.”
“Then brought over this… this literally insane…”
“I dunno where the fuck she came from…”
Zoe: “Did they at least get you off once?”
GM: “I d-ddunno, wh…”
Chuck clutches his stomach, then barrels out of the room. Zoe hears the sound of him retching.
Zoe: She clicks her tongue. Now that she finally wants to fuck, not a soul available is ‘in the mood’. Maybe her mother gave her a good enough fucking that karma continues to decide she’s meant for chastity. Hmn.
“Do you need me to hold your hair back?”
She doesn’t sound entirely serious.
GM: There’s no answer, but after a little while, the toilet flushes.
There’s the sound of gargling and spitting, then Chuck ambles back in to the bedroom with a barely comprehending look and plops back down on the bed.
“Why the fuck are you even here, anyway?”
“Don’t you have… friends?”
Zoe: She shakes her head.
“They won’t talk to me. Mom wins this round! You want to be my friend? Like, the kind I don’t have to fuck? I’ll still fuck you. Apparently I’m good at it! Good enough for three-hun—”
She looks puzzled all of a sudden.
“Two-hun… Dred and…”
She can’t remember how much cash she has. Oh well.
“I got paid for it! I went out and got locked in a closet!”
GM: She doesn’t have any cash. The other Cash took it all.
“Yeah,” Chuck grogs.
“You’re high as a kite, ‘n I’m drugged. Night.”
He sags onto a pillow and rolls over.
Zoe: "Pffffff! Kites got NOTHING on me!”
She lays back beside him.
“Develop a pegging kink?”
GM: Her answer to that is total silence.
April morning, 2016
GM: Zoe’s dreams that night are troubled and fitful. She feels like shit when she wakes up. She supposes that a night of cocaine, stripping, and nothing to eat in 24 hours but cheese sticks and O’Tolley’s cheeseburgers may do that.
Chuck is still soundly asleep and lies face-first against the pillow. He doesn’t even snore. The pale-faced man looks really out of it.
Zoe: Fuck. You can’t live with drugs. You can’t live without them. Take them, and you earn a hangover to make any bottle of rum blush with envy. Don’t take them, and you earn a hangover to make any bottle of rum blush with envy, and you’ll punch your own mother to get some.
Zoe doesn’t need a lack of cocaine to want to punch her mother. She’s wanted to do far worse for days now.
She stirs, pressing a palm to a sweat-slick forehead.
Her heart thumps with urgency upon seeing Chuck. She places an ear to his chest. Did she kill him now?!
GM: * Don’t
The sheets are sweaty too. Hers and Chuck’s. Neither of them seems as if they had a good sleep.
Zoe finds it impossible to place her ear against Chuck’s chest when he is lying on the bed chest-down, but his neck has a pulse.
Zoe: He’s alive. That’s good. That’s a relief. For a moment, she wondered if Cash killed him while they slept with intent of pinning a murder on her. It seems he either has a merciful side, or he’s not as vindictive as paranoid-Zoe thinks he is.
She hasn’t showered in days. That’s her first order of business. Also, a time check.
GM: She has a marked sense of deja vu as she steps into the shower. It can’t have been days, can it?
It’s around noon. Sunday.
Zoe: It can’t have been days.
But it has been.
She’s a has been.
She has to.
Has to what?
Has to shower.
Has to get to work.
Has to eat.
So much food.
All the food.
She tries to recall what Chuck has in his freezer.
She stored frozen tadpoles in her shared office at Tulane. Some stupid exhibit-to-be to wrestle the interest of doe-eyed undergraduates-to-be. She had better things to do, but as Master commands, Apprentice does.
Maybe she’ll strike him down, one day.
Tadpoles aren’t food.
Not unless you cook them.
And season them.
In that order.
The sweat won’t come off.
Her skin will come off before the sweat.
Is Cash under her skin?
Are metaphors reality?
Does he really call himself Cash because he likes money?
She has money.
He’d have liked Zoe.
Except her tadpoles.
Though, both are green.
She has no clean clothes.
GM: It has been days.
One night with Chuck already.
Locked up all day in a closet for another.
Stripping all night and parting with her dignity for $280 and coke.
The sweat eventually comes off under the shower. Zoe may or may not feel clean.
There’s food in the fridge and freezer. Frozen meals and leftover, half-eaten restaurant takeout.
Her laundered clothes are a mess. At least half are ruined.
Chuck had wanted to see her naked.
Zoe: She would fuck Chuck three times right now for enough spare cash to buy some clothes and pay back those who fronted her dancing gear, but Chuck is passed out in his own drool.
Should she call a doctor for him? Probably. His heart continues to beat, so she continues to eat.
Zoe rummages through his freezer, finding a breakfast of eggs, sausage and a biscuit—somehow mashed into a paste—and nukes it in the microwave.
It’s better than some alternatives in there.
GM: The microwave dish slowly rotates around with the two ‘biscuit-style scrambles.’ The packaging looks appetizing enough, but it always does.
Do strippers work during the day?
Maybe she has that to herself. Cash Money didn’t say when or at what time she needed to be back.
Zoe: He didn’t, and while she is sure he expects common sense to be applied, she doesn’t want to make assumptions on his expectations lest she get locked in a closet. Again.
The microwave beeps, and she descends upon that poor plate of depressed eggs and other accompanying niceties with all the reserved restraint of a starved dog.
There are no survivors.
Once her plate is clean—quite literally, licked so—she finds the remnants of her clothing. What’s even left?
GM: The finished product, for ‘product’ seems the most fitting term to call it, is two open-face biscuits with egg, sausage, and cheese topping. The food tastes very salty and simultaneously filling but empty. Zoe can already feel her blood sugar spiking.
Technically, all of her clothes are left in the returned hamper. The delicates are ruined. The main articles to survive are the sturdier ones, like jeans.
She feels another striking sense of deja vu. Has she done this before?
Zoe: She has. She knew she had before subjecting herself to facing the same reality again: she doesn’t have enough clothing lift over to make an appropriate outfit to get coffee from down the street.
She groans, tugging her hair.
Okay. This is salvageable. No underwear is fine, for now. Jeans are safe.
She’ll borrow a shirt from Chuck.
GM: The shirts in Chuck’s dresser are a little big for Zoe, but he has plenty of them. They range in style from formal button-ups to wear with suits to more casual t-shirts like the one he’s still sleeping in. Polo shirts and long-sleeved tees round out the middle.
He’s still collapsed on the bed and looks completely out of it. The handcuffs, spreader bar, strap-on, ballgag, and chastity cage lie haphazardly strewn over the floor.
Zoe: They’re a little big, but it’s better than going out topless.
Concern laces her face when she regards him again. She slides onto the bed beside him.
GM: The sleeping man does not answer her.
Zoe: He doesn’t answer her, but he’ll probably be fine; and, if he isn’t fine, it’s because she’s already died days ago, gone to hell, and is living an eternity of punishment for her selfish existence.
So, you’re on your own, Chuck.
For the first time since her ‘Worst Day Ever’, she pulls her laptop out. She’d shut it off with intention to preserve it from any water damage before she left the coffee shop. It should be fine, right?
GM: For once, fortune smiles upon her, as the Sunbook laptop boots up without issue. She must’ve packed it fairly high up in the soaked and ruined bag.
Zoe: Blessed be!
She plugs the laptop in, gives it a few minutes to charge, and boots up her browser. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.
How bad is her inbox?
GM: It could be worse.
But her advisor asked her to come work on Saturday and seem distinctly irritated by the lack of response. Someone else will do that, she’s told, and will get all the credit.
Her advisor also tells her to come wash his car by Monday.
Grad students are, unfortunately, their advisors’ bitches, more or less.
Zoe: She writes her advisor most of the truth: that she ran into some trouble with her family, and that she needs to find a source of income to continue giving her focus to the remainder of her degree. It shouldn’t take her too long! At least, that’s what she tells him.
Unfortunately, she can’t make it to work and she can’t wash his car; but, she says she’ll wash it twice!
Probably in a bikini, if he has his way.
GM: It’s perhaps Zoe’s “luck” that her advisor seems to be checking his mail right now. Her inbox pings with a new email.
Granted, it’s not as if the response took him very long to compose.
It’s only one sentence long.
Wash the car by 5 PM today or you’re terminated.
The threat, she knows, is completely genuine. Advisors have total power over the doctoral students who work for them. There is no appeal. There is no transfer to another advisor. There are no second chances—leave your doctoral program, which you can do at any time, and you are done forever in academia.
Zoe’s heard horror stories about doctoral students who quit and went back to flipping burgers at O’Tolley’s because they found the abuse from their advisors so intolerable.
Zoe: She grits her teeth hard enough that she worries about cracking one.
Given her luck, she consciously relaxes her jaw, rubbing the connection at the rear.
Okay. Leave the supplies out and I’ll come over right now. But seriously, I need to find income aside; my projects will have to keep on hold.
GM: Another just as swift and curt reply pops up:
Keep up with the work or you’re terminated.
Zoe: She smacks the desk.
GM: There are other doctoral students eager to replace her.
She knows that bitterly well, too.
If only she could turn to Mom or Grandpa or even Dad to get him to see reason.
Zoe: How the holy fuck is she supposed to manage her degree, pleasing Cash—literally, probably,—keeping Chuck appeased, and somehow managing to keep enough income to eat once Chuck gets tired of feeding her?
Where does Chuck keep his stash?
She goes to rummage for that. Fuck sobriety.
GM: Zoe’s parents would be the first to tell her she’s a disappointment. She’d be the first to agree that her life is now a disappointment.
Chuck’s stash doesn’t disappoint, though. He keeps a fair bit of booze in his place. Enough that she might be able to kill herself via alcohol poisoning, if she wants to go out that way.
Zoe: No, no, no. She doesn’t want to die. She just wants to feel something more than cold, harsh reality. Cocaine is ideal! She’ll wash her advisor’s car in minutes!
GM: Alas, Chuck has no cocaine in his apartment that Zoe can find. Just alcohol.
Zoe: She whines. What kind of wealthy spawn is he? Terrorists are no fun.
She’ll go wash his stupid car.
Maybe blow up his stupid head.
GM: Her advisor’s address is in Metairie. She’ll need transportation.
Or she can just walk the seven or so miles.
Zoe: Why can’t the world pass free transportation?
Well, Chuck did agree to lend her a car. She’ll just take that.
GM: It takes some searching, but eventually she locates his keys.
Zoe: Perfect! Lucky for her, she managed to pass her driver’s test. On the second try.
GM: It’s a too-familiar route to the parking garage with her keys in hand. It almost feels like she’s going out for a drive, in her old car, in her old life—apart from the fact she’s borrowing someone’s else car.
Is she borrowing someone else’s life, in so many words, staying here?
Zoe: The thought strikes her like a pallet of bricks.
All those thoughts of death and Hell and this false reality, when she really is a ghost, possessing others and living their lives, punished every time she tries to live her old life.
She was rewarded when she lived a new life the night before. Somewhat.
But how can she just move on? She can’t just forget who she was, drop decades of work and become a whore.
Her hand settles to her belly at a red light. The thought of a parasite inside her from Trip, or worse, Cash…
But how can she move on?
GM: The only answer she receives is a rude honk from the car behind hers.
Traffic is a poor source of advice.
Zoe: You know how Zoe moves on from who she was?
She rolls the window down and flips the driver the bird, then—checking VERY carefully to ensure she’s not about to hit someone—zooms off.
April morning, 2016
GM: It’s a much briefer trek by car than it is by foot. The house of her advisor, Craig Estes, is a well-to-do property located in a nice suburban neighborhood. There’s a big and neatly maintained lawn. It’s a fairly nice house, the kind that belongs to someone with a six-figure income.
If on the lower side on that income level, for him to be relying on his doctoral students to do household chores for him.
There’s a Suburban parked in the driveway, ready to clean. Zoe sees no supplies laid out.
Zoe: Stupid advisor. Stupid Suburban. Stupid supplies. Stupid missing supplies. Stupid PhD. Stupid Zoe.
She huffs, locks the car behind her, and knocks on the door.
GM: She’s answered by Dr. Estes, a middle-aged man with rectangular glasses and receding hair who’s dressed in a button-up. He looks her over with a bored air.
“Supplies are in the garage. When you’re done, I have a list of groceries for you to pick up.”
Zoe: “Yes, Dr. Estes,” she answers, as if it’s Christmas. What’s gotten into Zoe? She’s never been so happy to serve his needs.
“I miss Tulane. I know it’s only been a few days…”
GM: Dr. Estes gives her an odd look.
Zoe: She smiles at him. What a lovely smile. Something’s different.
“Well… I’ll let you know when it’s done!”
And so she sets to it.
GM: Dr. Estes gives a grunt of acknowledgment and closes the door.
Zoe finds some cleaning products, rags, and a bucket in the garage. There’s a garden hose nearby to work on the car with.
It may be April, but the Dixie sun is fat and swollen overhead. It feels around 80 degrees, and it’s extremely humid. Like it always is in south Louisiana.
Dr. Estes’ house is almost certainly air-conditioned.
Zoe: Stuffy corpse. Act like that and I’ll grant your wish.
Still, she cares about finishing her degree. If that means washing his car, and buying his groceries—with his own money—it’s a small price to pay. He’ll pay the bigger price in the long run.
GM: In short order, Zoe finds herself drenched in sweat and extremely thirsty. It’s tiring and physically intensive work, especially in this weather, to scrub the car completely clean.
Zoe: She pushes herself, for now. Suffering is part of the game, isn’t it? He doesn’t care to see his mentees succeed or fail. He cares to see them suffer; so, suffer she will. It will all be worth it in the end. Every. Last. Bit.
GM: Zoe is a sweat-soaked and red-faced mess by the time she’s done scrubbing. Maybe she’s gotten sunburn. She smells awful. Her clothes are going to stink after they dry out, if they do at all in the muggy weather. Dr. Estes looks the car over after she’s done, then says,
“My cat got diarrhea. You can clean the litter box before you pick up my groceries.”
Zoe: “Can I…”
She swallows a sandpaper tongue.
“Can I have a glass of water before I go?”
She’s worked herself to exhaustion; at least, it feels that way, and it shows that way.
GM: “Wash the glass when you’re done,” Dr. Estes says impatiently.
He snaps his fingers.
“Oh. I’m glad you reminded me.”
“My dishwasher’s broken. The repairman comes by tomorrow. Wash and put away everything that’s in there.”
Zoe: “Certainly, Dr!”
She always does. Cleanliness is one of the core tenets of her chosen educational path. Once you know what really lays unseen on used surfaces, you never forget to wash them again.
She just might bash it over his head first.
“Before or after I shop for you?’
GM: “Either,” he shrugs. He produces a wallet and hands her $200, along with a paper shopping list. “That’ll be enough for the groceries.”
Water. Then another glass.
She takes care in washing the dishes, ensuring that nothing is scratched or broken. No. Zoe is the perfect student. She’s the perfect candidate. She’s perfect. Perfect perfect perfect.
She drinks a third glass, then washes, dries and adds her own glass to the collection.
Next: cat poop. At least it’s in the litter box, right?
GM: There are a lot of dishes. It’s over half an hour before Zoe finishes drying and putting away all of them. Her legs are sore from stretching on the hard tile floor. Her fingers are wrinkled like raisins and smell of dish soap.
At least it’s cool inside.
Zoe’s hope, however, proves misplaced. The litter box is in the pantry room. The cat looks like it missed the box. There’s wet, stinky poop all over the floor.
Zoe: She could leave the cat in the oven…
She hasn’t had Chinese in a few weeks.
Deep breath, Zoe. Outside the pantry.
It’s not the first time she’s been made to clean up after that geriatric feline. It will probably be the last.
She collects the supplies, regretting contacting the doctor, and sets to her next task.
GM: If she wasn’t doing his household chores she’d be terminated from the program.
It’s gross and unpleasant work, even if it is shorter than doing the dishes. Zoe’s wrinkled hands smell like cat shit through the layers of paper towels she uses to clean it up.
Zoe: Where is the monster, anyway? Maybe it can read her mind.
Back to the sink. More washing. Always washing. Her hands still smell like precum to her.
Money in her back pocket, she calls out to him, “Going for your groceries! Back soon.”
GM: Dr. Estes gives no answer. It’s a short drive to the local Herrick’s. Dr. Estes looks like he’s planning a nice dinner, or maybe dinner party, given some of the items on his grocery list. There’s a lot of wine and prime cuts of beef.
Zoe also realizes, as she tabulates up the prices of individual items, that he’s not given her enough money to buy everything. She’s around $50 short.
Zoe: She pinches the bridge of her nose, and looks up at the sky.
I know I’ve never been one for visiting your house on Sundays, God, but if you’re trying to make a point, I’m listening. I give up. Truce. You win. White flag. What do you want me to do?
She calls him.
GM: God doesn’t answer.
Neither does her advisor.
The phone rings until voicemail. She’s invited to leave her name and number and the nature of her call,
“And I’ll get back to you as soon as convenient.”
Zoe: She hangs up.
Back to his house, buying what she can as close to $200 as possible—including tax.
GM: Dr. Estes looks over everything when she’s back, as if to be sure she did it right. Then he says,
“This isn’t everything on the list.”
The man with absolute power over her future in academia stares at her with a very displeased frown.
Zoe: She whimpers. The moment he opens the door, she tells him, before he even takes the bag.
“There wasn’t enough cash. I’d have paid it forward myself, but— I don’t have any money. I’ve only been eating because a friend has been kind enough to feed me.”
Demeanor: calm apparent.
GM: Dr. Estes stares at her, as if making up his mind.
Zoe can see the future of her PhD hanging in the balance.
Over this man’s groceries.
Then he reaches into his wallet, gives her another $50, and says,
“Go pick up the rest.”
Zoe: “Thank you for understanding, Dr. Estes!”
It must be near time for work. She won’t race—she doesn’t want to kill anyone—but she will skitter along quickly when she can to ensure she can get back and shower in time. The last thing she wants is Cash upset with her.
GM: The trip back to the grocery store feels as if it takes forever to pick up the remaining one bag of items. When she’s back, Dr. Estes tells her,
“Go clean my bathrooms.”
Zoe: She checks the time.
GM: A few hours past noon.
Zoe: She groans internally. Still a few hours before she has to be back at Barely Legal.
He’s punishing her for disappearing for a few days.
On to the bathrooms…
GM: Zoe gets sore from kneeling over tile floor and stains her hands with bleach as she scrubs.
“Did you do the toilets?”
Zoe: “Not done yet!”
GM: There’s no reply.
Zoe: Toilets. Cleaner than when they were bought. At least it’s a feasible request, unlike buying groceries with more money than she’s given.
GM: Then when that’s done and they’re freshly scrubbed, her advisor tells her,
“You can vacuum the floors next.”
Zoe: “O-okay! Anything else?”
I can’t pay for my own funeral when Cash kills me. If you keep this shit up, one of us isn’t surviving the night.
GM: “Not for now.”
Zoe: Zoe is the best at vacuuming. There’s never been a person who’s vacuumed quite as good as her. Just ask anyone who matters, and they’ll tell you, Zoe J Kelly is the best vacuumer. Believe you her. Her vacuuming brain is yuge.
GM: Dr. Estes doesn’t look particularly impressed when she’s done. He doesn’t tell her she did a bad job, but he doesn’t praise her either. Instead he says,
“Laundry hamper’s in the bedroom. Do a load and fold everything when it’s dry. Iron my shirts.”
Zoe: Eat my shorts. Don’t you have other grad students to fuck with? Does everyone with an iota of power wield it over others as if they’re the ruler of their own, minuscule empire?
The answer is yes, Zoe, and you know it.
If there are streaks, she’s lighting the washing machine on fire.
GM: There are bunch of dirty men’s and women’s clothes for Zoe to haul to the laundry room and load into the machine. It spins and spins in its cycle.
30 minutes until it’s done.
Does Dr. Estes expect her to just stand around until it’s done?
The drying cycle will take more time, too.
Does her time mean that little to him?
Zoe: Apparently, it does. He’d have been kind to ask her to do this in the midst of everything else.
But he didn’t, did he?
No, he elects to inconvenience her—and other candidates—every chance he can. He’s a bully through and through, even if he is one of the brightest people in the state.
How many of his achievements—how much of his success as an academic—stems from abuse and theft of his protégés?
He doesn’t encourage growth. He doesn’t encourage the field to move onward. He doesn’t want to breed a healthy community that will shepherd humanity into another era.
In a moment of clarity, she decides: If he doesn’t care for any of it in the way she does, he doesn’t deserve his position any longer. Since this Hell began, every time she’s felt that all-consuming fire of inside her—toward Chris, and toward the rapist-that-wasn’t in the club—their life was snuffed out as if a candle in the wind.
She walks back out while the laundry is in.
“Thank you for all you do.”
And she wills that same passionate hate to tide onto him.
GM: Dr. Estes is in his office, working on something over his computer.
“You’re welcome,” he agrees without looking at her.
They are the last words he ever says.
At first, all that happens is he stops typing. The clitter of fingers against keyboard goes silent.
Then he sags forward, breathing hard. He clutches a hand to his chest.
He jerks around in his chair, swiveling to face Zoe. His forehead is beaded with sweat. His mouth hangs open and his eyes are wide. With pain. With terror.
He tries to say something to Zoe, as his eyes lock with hers. All that comes out of his mouth is a paper-dry rasp, but there is no mistaking the look of pleading in his eyes. As he finally sees her as a fellow human being, who right now, he needs.
He staggers out of his chair, towards her, clutching his heart. He makes it two steps forward before he collapses forward onto his shoulder, then rolls to a stop on his back. His mouth hangs dumbly open as his eyes vacantly stare towards the ceiling.
The smell of piss wafts up Zoe’s nostrils. There’s a wet stain around his crotch.
Zoe: Zoe shrieks as if she witnessed her own father stabbed in the heart in front of her. There’s some guilt there, in her heart. What gives her the right to be judge, jury and executioner? Who is she to decide who is and isn’t fit for anything at all?
Guilt is made to take a back seat. This has to look right.
Her eyes widen with surprise; faux surprise, but surprise nonetheless.
She crosses the room in a pair of long strides, meeting him just as he stumbles and collapses in front of her.
“I-is it medicine?!”
Her fingers fumble across his chest, lowering herself to listen to a heartbeat she already knows is fading.
“Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my GOD!”
She draws her own phone out, shaking, and dials emergency.
GM: Zoe might be faking it if she screamed over her father’s death too.
“911, what is your emergency?” greets a female dispatcher’s calm voice.
Zoe: “I-i-it’s my profewdor! I w-was ’elwing him anee COLLAPSED!”
She’s bawling so hard that she’s hardly understandable.
She does, however, manage to convey the address.
GM: The dispatcher stays on the line with Zoe for the seven or so minutes until the EMTs arrive, accompanied by a police escort. It’s a fast response, all things considered. Zoe is asked to open the house’s door for them so they don’t need to break it open.
Zoe: Her voice quivers like a sapling in a storm while the dispatcher tries and fails to restore some calm to her, her tears taking the role of the rain. The leading lady stumbles over her words while they speak, finding a nearby seat on the floor.
When the EMTs arrive, the door is open, Zoe standing moon-eyed behind the frame. The tears stop. She doesn’t have any more tears. How can she? Tears are replace by shock, and Zoe is shock incarnate.
GM: The EMTs try the defibrillator paddles on the motionless man, anyway, despite his minutes-stopped heart: there is always a chance they may be able to resuscitate the clinically dead. They try several times.
Their patient just lies there.
It’s not long before the EMTs “call it” and document his time of death. There’s talk of notifying next of kin.
Dr. Estes’ eyes stare blankly up at the ceiling.
April afternoon, 2016
GM: The EMTs leave the resuscitation adjuncts in place. No one moves Dr. Estes’ body or otherwise disturbs the scene.
Two black-uniformed Jefferson Parish police officers ask Zoe to tell them everything that happened.
Zoe: Zoe tells them the truth: that she was helping her advisor when she came back to mention a thought—momentarily spiraling off into some too-deep, boundary-pushing thought on cellular biology, before getting back to the point once their eyes gloss over sufficiently—and he collapsed. She describes the symptoms in the vague detail that she remembers, and she immediately called emergency.
GM: The biology talk seems to largely go over the heads of the two police officers, if the glazed looks on their faces are indication.
They trade glances between each other when Zoe is finished.
“How well did you know him?” asks one of them, a middle-aged man with a graying mustache.
Zoe: They seem to have bought it. That’s good.
She sniffles. It’s wet and globby.
“A… a few years. He was my advisor. I’m one of the d-doctoral candidates at Tulane.”
GM: “Did he have any health conditions you know of?” asks his partner, a slightly younger and clean-shaven man.
Zoe: She shakes her head.
“We didn’t talk about his health. I just… I didn’t expect anyone… I’ve never—”
GM: “What was your relationship like?” asks the other cop.
Zoe: She explains what is again the truth: that she’s been his candidate for the last couple of years, and is nearing the end of her degree.
“About as healthy as any professor-candidate pairing is,” she adds with a shrug.
“I… I didn’t expect…”
GM: “Who would,” nods the mustached cop. “How long you been over at his house today?”
Zoe: She pulls out her phone to check the time.
“A few hours?”
GM: “And you spent these past few hours talking about biology with him?”
Zoe: “Among other things. I helped him out with this and that around the house,” she shrugs noncommittally.
“I’m…” She shakes her head. “I just can’t—”
GM: “Pretty easy stuff, I’m guessing?” nods the second cop. “Dishes, that kinda stuff?”
Zoe: She nods. “Nothing stressful. Not that I’d think would cause enough stress to—”
GM: “How’d you get so sweaty?” asks the first cop.
“Your clothes smell, no offense.”
Zoe: “Have you been outside?” she answers, raising a brow. She’s more teasing than accusatory, as much as one can tease when so distraught.
“I helped him out by washing his car earlier.”
GM: “Miserable work in this weather,” says the second cop. “Really miserable.”
“He couldn’t just go to a car wash?”
“Looks like he makes all right money.”
“Made,” says the first cop.
Zoe: “Probably. You ever been through the military? The masters in our world trial their students, just as the masters in that world do. One has to be strong, even in academia,” she answers sagely.
Her eyes widen.
“You don’t think there’s something in the house, do you? Gas or something? I haven’t used bleach or anything, but..”
GM: “Mm, maybe. We’re definitely gonna have a detective look this place over,” says the second cop.
“Ask his wife about his health history, that kinda stuff.”
Zoe: She nods solemnly.
“We’re worse off…”
GM: “So, why’d you wash his car, again?” asks the first cop.
Zoe: “When you went through the academy, did your, erm… sergeant? I’m not sure who runs things in the police academy. Did they make you do push-ups? Anything like that?”
GM: “Sure did,” says the second cop. “You gotta pass the fitness test. Same as in the military.”
Zoe: She nods.
“Similar idea, I guess. Need to be able to ensure discomfort and monotony, even in my field. Washing a car sounds silly, but it matters. Things like that aren’t uncommon in doctoral candidates.”
GM: “Less about discomfort than needing to be fit,” says the second cop. “Police work can involve pursuing fleeing suspects. Gotta be able to run. Can involve fights, too. Gotta be strong enough to do push-ups.”
Zoe: “Gotta be able to sit in a lab with a broken air conditioner for more hours in a day than not, or lean over a sink, or—”
GM: “Was washing a car the only thing he made you do?” asks the first cop.
Zoe: Zoe stops in mid-answer.
“What’s this all have to do with him?”
GM: “Just helping us paint a picture of what he was up to, on his last day alive,” says the first cop. “His wife and kids are gonna want to know why.”
“Might be he had a health condition or something and this doesn’t matter, but we like to be thorough.”
“So what’d you do besides wash his car and talk about biology?” asks the second cop.
Zoe: She frowns, sniffling. “Maybe. I’ve been his protege for years, and he’s never talked about his health. Nothing major like this. A cold here and there. I came over to talk about finishing my degree. He mentioned hosting a dinner, and that he needed some help before we’d discuss some problems I’ve been having that took me away for a little. I figured we’d talk after the preparation was done. Just a few other things: the car, shopping, which he paid for, and throwing some laundry in. He was doing some things for the university anyway, so better my time is used than his.”
GM: “So you washed his car, bought his groceries, did his laundry, and talked about biology,” says the first cop. “That was everything you did today?”
Zoe: She shook her head.
“I was just coming back from setting his laundry to go when he—”
She gestures toward where his body is.
GM: “What else did you do?” asks the second cop.
Zoe: She has to think about it. “Cat… poop? Nothing that would make the news or be considered out of the ordinary, officer.”
GM: “So you did his cat litter, bought his groceries, did his laundry, washed his car, and talked about biology,” says the first cop.
The second cop guffaws. “No way I’d wanna do all that shit. Hire a maid.”
“You shoulda seen him at the university. Office hours or whatever.”
Zoe: She smiles politely, pained.
“We’re more than just students. Doctoral candidates are—a brotherhood, of sorts.”
She breathes a quiet sigh.
“I don’t know what we’ll do.”
GM: “So, you wanted to help with all this stuff?” says the first cop. “It was your idea to come over?”
Zoe: “My idea to come over. His idea that he needed help. It’s really no trouble,” she shrugs.
GM: The second cop grins. “Yeah, figures that was his idea.”
“Seems like a real cheapskate.”
Zoe: She shakes her head.
“Sometimes time with the masters is valuable, even in such mundane ways.”
GM: The first cop laughs.
“You’re full of shit.”
Zoe: She shrugs.
“Aspirational, probably. Too dreamy? Definitely. Full of shit? Maybe the first two make it so.”
GM: The second cop removes some handcuffs off his belt.
“Hands please. You’re under arrest.”
Zoe: She squints. “Arrest? For what, officer?”
GM: “Hands. Now.”
Zoe: She offers them her hands gingerly.
GM: The second cop snaps the steel around her wrists while the first dryly recites,
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be provided to you. Do you understand these rights?”
Zoe: She nods silently, eyes welling up.
“Wh—what am I being arrested for?”
GM: “For hating his guts, being alone with him when he died, and feeding us shit.”
Both police take Zoe by the arm and start leading her out of the house. She sees that more responders have already arrived and are filing into Dr. Estes’ office. They start snapping pictures of the body.
Zoe: “Wh—but I didn’t—”
She doesn’t resist. What is she going to do?
They’re irritating her, but she’s already so thoroughly worn through bone into marrow on how thoroughly this purgatory is punishing her that she doesn’t feel much else.
Mostly impatience. What comes next? Will she be charged for wishing someone’s death?
GM: The officers help Zoe into the back of the cop car. The seats are hard, plastic, and uncomfortable. Steel bars separate any passengers in the back from the front seats. The second cop stays behind. The first cop starts driving.
Zoe: She begins to wonder if these are even real cops. What’s next on the menu? Rape? A beating? Maybe they’ll force her to snort cocaine, too.
“What’s your name, officer?” she asks, heart thumping just a little too quickly for her own comfort.
Calm down, Zoe. Thoughts aren’t crimes. Not yet.
GM: “We prefer not to disclose those to crime suspects, ma’am,” answers the officer.
Zoe: “Wh—b—but… how can I have committed a crime? He… he just collapsed!” she whimpers.
Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump thump.
This doesn’t feel right. She is liable to have a heart attack if she doesn’t calm herself down.
“Where are you taking me?”
GM: “The station,” says the police officer. Suburban houses roll past the car’s windows.
Zoe: She doesn’t answer him, nor does she ask anything further. She leans her head against the glass, focusing on her breathing. Why does everything feel so complicated? Every little thing, every moment of every day since she returned home just a few days prior.
In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. Don’t have a heart attack.
GM: The police officer drives Zoe to an ugly beige building with Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department written over the entrance. The surroundings are nothing but concrete, cars, and viaducts for as far as Zoe can see. There’s no plants or trees. There’s a small and dilapidated building near the police station, almost a shack, with a sign that reads, Troy’s Bail Bonds—The Key To Set You Free!
Zoe: Every step she’s taken for the last few days feels like the long-delayed result of a children’s playful game of warning. ‘Step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back!’
Zoe doesn’t much care if her mother’s back is broken for every step she takes, but the relentless, spine-shattering pain she seems to be dealt at every choice she makes—and even some she doesn’t—she does mind.
What if she holds her breath? What if she holds it and doesn’t draw another here in the back of this cruiser? What would her false accusers do?
GM: There’s only one way to find out for sure.
The police officer parks his car and opens Zoe’s door for her.
He leads her inside a side entrance to the building and past several empty rows of cells to a room where some other people tell her to stand on a yellow line facing forward and sideways while a flash goes off. They ask her several questions:
“What is your full name?”
“What is your home address?”
“What is your phone number?”
“Who is your current employer?”
Zoe: She gives the officer her name, sparing her mother none of the shame she’d have prefers, sure she’ll pay for it later. She gives her phone number just as easily.
Her address, however, she clarifies as ‘staying with a friend’, followed by his address.
“I don’t really work,” she answers. “My degree is my work. Well… I don’t know where that is, given…”
GM: Then comes fingerwiping. A deputy rubs Zoe’s fingers with a sequence of baby wipes and then splays them onto the glass plate of a scanner: images of her fingertips floating in the computer monitor. A series of electronic chirps seems to indicate the pictures are keepers.
Zoe: The fingerprinting she doesn’t mind and complies.
GM: After that, Zoe’s taken aside by a black, portly, and middle-aged female deputy who boredly says to her,
“Strip search. Take off your clothes.”
Zoe: The strip search prompt earns a raised brow and a questioning pause, but she does begin to undress with all the urgency of a would-be president being informed he’ll be chained down in an all-you-can-rape Middle Eastern dungeon.
“I didn’t do anything…” she whimpers.
GM: No one blinks upon hearing her name is Kelly. She supposes it’s a common enough name.
The cops accept the address she gives without remark.
They ask what university she’s attending for her degree.
The deputy clinically searches Zoe’s clothes and person before handing the former back for her to re-dress. Any personal effects she had with her are confiscated.
Zoe: She answers the questions as simply as they’re asked, redressing with more haste than when the Tulane football team rushed through the women’s locker room whooping and hollering. Shock humor. Ha ha. Very funny. Go Green Waves. She’d have turned the waves a little more red if she had the power.
GM: Another officer then tells Zoe she will be allowed to make a single phone call at this point.
Zoe: She mentions her friend—Chuck —who she’s staying with. He’ll be the one she calls.
“I’m not, like—am I being held? With bail? Because I really didn’t do anything.”
GM: “You’re being held ’til your arraignment,” answers a cop. “Judge’ll set your bail then, if any.”
No one seems to care who Zoe says she’ll call. She’s given access to a landline phone and space alone to make her call from.
Zoe: “How long off is that?”
Can they legally hold her that long? She could have gone into law. She’d know what to do if she did.
Pending their answer, she dials Chuck.
GM: The cop helpfully shrugs.
The phone rings for a long time before it’s answered with a tired-sounding,
Zoe: “H-hey, Chuck? It’s Zoe. Look—I—I’m at the police station, or jail, or… something. They think I killed my professor, but I—I didn’t!”
Of course she didn’t. How could she have? She hasn’t been anything but an obedient, complacent protege.
“Can you help me out? Please? I’ll owe you.. and we can call it even on what I helped you with the other night.”
GM: “Wai… wugh?” he says groggily. “What your professor?”
Zoe: “C-come on, Chuck!”
Think, think, think. What was the sign?
“Jefferson Parish Police Department. Please.”
GM: “Righ’, start from the begin… th’ fuck you mean, killed him?”
Zoe: “I said I didn’t kill him! He just—he collapsed! I was at his house, and he collapsed. I called the cops, and they arrested me. Come on, I need help, Chuck!”
GM: “Righ’,” Chuck grogs. “I feel like shit an’ I’m a property lawyer anyway.”
“Bu’, okay. I’ll sen’ you a crim’nal lawyer, and we’re even. For las’ night.”
“Don’ talk to cops without your lawyer,” he adds, seeming to find a bit more wind. “Can only hurt you. Won’ ever help.”
“Literally don’t say nothin’ but ‘lawyer.’”
Zoe: “Thanks, Chuck. I owe you. I mean it.”
Little late for the last bit, but she’ll heed it from here on out.
GM: “Eh. Fuck it. We’re even. Balances out.”
Zoe: “What’s the lawyer’s name? Are… you covering the fee, or…? If not… you know I’ll pay you back. One way or another.”
GM: “Amber Cox. An’ yeah, I know you’ll be good for it.”
Chuck still sounds too out of it to be giving a proper leer.
Zoe: She verifies that Chuck is indeed sending the lawyer, and that he has the correct police station, then hangs up. Okay. At least there’s that.
GM: Yes, he’s sending her. Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department.
“All done?” says a deputy after she’s done. “This way.”
The police take Zoe to a small, bare, and claustrophobic room containing a single table, several hard chairs, and a single dim light. Two handcuffs bolted to the table are securely fastened around Zoe’s wrists. Two middle-aged men dressed in plainclothes suits rather than police uniforms come in and sit down on opposite sides of the table from Zoe.
“How long have you worked under Dr. Estes?” asks one of the men.
Zoe: She nods to the deputy, and follows. Her hands are cuffed, she sits, the men ask their question, and she answers.
“I’ll answer all you’d like to ask once my lawyer is in the room.”
Let it not be said that she doesn’t listen to Chuck.
GM: “This is just double-checking whether the info we have is right,” says the man. “Sooner it’s in order, sooner you can get out.”
Zoe: She simply raises a brow. Nope. Lawyer.
GM: The second man smiles.
“‘Say nothing without a lawyer,’ right?”
Zoe: She nods.
GM: “They give that advice to their clients a lot.”
Zoe: She nods.
GM: “Yours tell you how soon you can expect to get out?”
Zoe: She shrugs. Are non-verbal answers considered ‘talking without a lawyer’? Probably, but these seem harmless.
Zoe folds her hands, waiting. Any minute now.
GM: “Well, it’s up to us and up to the judge,” says the first man.
“We have some leeway in how long we get to hold you before seeing a judge.”
Zoe: “Officer, I won’t be answering anything else until my lawyer —Amber Cox —is sitting next to me.”
GM: “Then when we see the judge, up to him whether you get bail or not,” says the second man. “If he doesn’t set bail, you could be sitting in jail for months.”
Zoe: She falls silent again. Threats won’t sway her. Chuck said not to talk, so she won’t talk. She was polite, yet firm —as she’s been told to be.
GM: “Our jail isn’t as bad as OPP, but I’m sure you have other places you’d rather be.”
Zoe: “All respect, we’ll continue once my lawyer is here.”
GM: “You’re working on a PhD, right?” says the first man. “How many months can you miss before you get dropped from the program?”
“Being sent to jail for any length of time might be an automatic disqualifier,” says the second man. “Lucky for you, police holding cell isn’t real jail.”
“We can talk to the judge,” says the first man. “Get him to set bail instead of sending you to jail.”
Zoe: Silence. Not a smile. Not a frown. Lawyer.
GM: “Are we on the same page?” asks the second man. “Do you expect to complete your program if the judge locks you up for months?”
Zoe: Maybe the cops are less educated here. Oh well. Silence.
GM: “Suit yourself,” shrugs the first man.
He and his partner get up and leave. They close the door behind them.
Zoe is left by herself on the uncomfortable chair, hands chained to the table.
Zoe: She whistles one of her songs. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
GM: She waits.
There’s no clock to mark the passage of time.
No windows to look outside from.
Nothing to do but stare around the featureless room and wait.
Zoe: She counts cracks in the wall.
GM: She counts six.
Zoe: Six! Six whole cracks!
GM: Maybe there are more. The lighting is dim.
Zoe: Wait… No, seven!
What a shit hole.
She bets the officer is so grumpy because he has a tiny penis.
GM: Zoe’s not sure how much time she spends staring at the walls. She feels very sore. She’s hungry and needs to use the bathroom.
Eventually, the door opens and a woman walks into the room. She looks in her early to mid 30s. She’s blonde, somewhat pudgy, and dressed in a gray pantsuit and pearl necklace.
“Hi, I’m Amber,” she says as she sits down across the table from Zoe.
Zoe: She looks up from her daydream.
“Ms. Co—Hi! Zoe. Zoe Kelly. Thank you so much for coming.”
GM: “It’s my job,” says Amber. “So, let’s not waste any waste time. Why don’t you tell me what happened?”
Zoe: “My PhD advisor collapsed. I called emergency, and was arrested,” she states plainly. Succinct, and to the point.
“In no way did I harm or want to harm the man, Amber.”
GM: Amber nods. “So you know, it’s my job to defend you whether you harmed him or not. Are you familiar with attorney-client privilege?”
Zoe: She shakes her head. She’s been around lawyers all her life, yet never interacted with one in a legal manner.
GM: “Basically, anything you tell me as your lawyer, I’m not allowed to repeat without your permission. Even if you’ve killed a dozen people, and I tell the police, I lose my license and don’t get to practice law anymore.”
Zoe: She nods. Simple enough.
“I haven’t hurt anyone. Honest.”
“They threatened me. Saying if I talked I would be let out sooner, or kept longer and given bail if I didn’t. I didn’t say anything more than that I wouldn’t talk until you’re here.”
GM: “Smart,” says Amber. “They do that a lot. But talking to cops on your own never helps you. If there’s something that would help you to tell them, waiting a few hours to vet it past me isn’t going to kill them.”
Zoe: She chews her lower lip, thinking.
“I let them know some things at the house before I was arrested. That I was his student, I was helping him around the house; that sort of thing.”
“Why would they arrest me? How could I have hurt him?”
GM: “Lots of reasons to arrest you, unfortunately,” says Amber. “Doesn’t cost them anything to lock someone up, and pretty often that’ll get people to spill.”
“And if they’re wrong, oh well. No skin off their noses.”
Zoe: “They are wrong,” she huffs, trying and failing to rub her temples. Stupid chains.
GM: “Well, hopefully we’ll have you out soon. Can you tell me the full story of what happened?”
“Starting when you went to your advisor’s house.”
Zoe: “That… really is the full story. I was helping him at his house with various bits and bobs, he collapsed, I called emergency services, they came, they examined him, then they arrested me.”
GM: “Can you tell me the extra full version, then? Even things that seem irrelevant, like why you were over at his house, what bits and bobs you were helping with, etcetera. You never know what will turn out to be meaningful, whether to the case itself or just to what the police or DA may seize on.”
Zoe: “He’d asked me to help with a few chores. It’s common for PhD students. I washed his car, picked up his groceries, and cleaned a bit around his house.”
“The police mentioned my being sweaty as suspicious.”
GM: “To be clear, I meant those things as examples. Can you give me a full account of your time at his house?”
Zoe: And so she does, recounting her time at his house in honest detail. She’s cognizant of what is and isn’t appropriate for a student to say, but tells the full truth in the confidence of client and attorney.
At the end, she clarifies, “…to be clear, we had no form of sexual or romantic relationship, nor had the thought ever been raised by either of us.”
GM: Amber takes that all in and asks for the details of Zoe’s conversation with the police after Dr. Estes collapsed. As much as she can remember there.
Zoe: And so she relays, as much as her memory recalls.
“I just want to go home, Ms. Cox.”
GM: “Getting you out is what I’m here for,” nods Amber.
“I also don’t think you’ve been completely honest with me,” she says frankly.
“Now, it’s up to you how much you tell me and how much you don’t. I’m your lawyer, not your interrogator. But the more I know about the facts of your case, the better I can defend you and represent your interests.”
Zoe: Her brow softens with a touch of defeated hurt.
“I am honest. I didn’t lay a finger on the man. Not one.”
GM: Amber looks less than convinced by the denial.
Zoe: She lofts a brow. “Be honest. What do you think happened?”
“Why would I throw my degree —a goal I’ve worked on most of my life —and my life itself into jeopardy by murdering a man while alone in his house with him and no reasonable alibi for being elsewhere, then call emergency and sit there? I’m suspicious, I understand —but I’m not stupid.”
GM: “I don’t think you liked him. Doctoral students have to put up with a lot of abuse from their advisors. No one enjoys being made to do a lot of unpaid chores.”
“Could be you saw him collapse and you waited before calling 911, instead of doing it immediately. But that’s just speculation. You’re the one who was there, not me.”
Zoe: “I called immediately,” she affirms with reserved tension. “I don’t know if he has cameras or not, but you’re welcome to check them if he does.”
“Is delayed call of emergency actually a chargeable offense?”
She sounds as surprised as she is.
GM: Amber holds up a hand. “Look, I’m not your prosecutor. It ultimately doesn’t help you to convince me of anything.”
“I’ve represented clients who haven’t told me the full story on their end before. Their thinking usually went, ’She’ll represent me better if she thinks I’m innocent’ or ‘she doesn’t need to know I did X illegal thing to do her job.’”
“But it doesn’t work that way. It’s my job to represent clients whether they’re innocent or guilty. Very often, seemingly unimportant details a client leaves out can be relevant to their cases, as they lack the legal expertise to know for themselves. That usually results in me defending them less effectively, and their getting a worse sentence or plea deal.”
“And no, a delayed call of emergency isn’t a chargeable offense. You’re under no duty to aid someone in peril.”
Zoe: “It doesn’t matter how I feel. Frustration isn’t a crime,” she answers.
What is she going to say? That she liquefied his brain with her thoughts? That isn’t how sane society works.
“Every PhD candidate on the planet becomes ireful toward their advisor at one point or another, whether for mistreatment or high expectations. I’m no different. I didn’t want to be there all day serving him, but I did. Because that’s what my life demands. Under no circumstance did I harm him in any way. He is —was —my path to a career.”
Lesson one in murder, Zoe. Plausible deniability. Noted.
GM: “Frustration isn’t a crime, but it is a motive,” says Amber. “Most murders are committed by people who knew the victim and had something against them.”
Zoe: “What did I kill him with? My thoughts? I didn’t touch him. I was barely within touching distance all day.”
GM: “There are ways to kill someone without touching them. The coroners are probably doing a toxicology test on his body.”
“Telling the police you were honored to do his housework was a bad look. They obviously didn’t believe that, because no one likes doing unpaid labor, and it made you look as if you were trying to hide how much you disliked him.”
Zoe: “Okay—fair. I shouldn’t have said that. I still didn’t harm him.”
And she sure hopes toxicology doesn’t come back with anyone else feeling murderous…
GM: “Okay, you didn’t harm him. Is there anything else you haven’t told me that you’d like to?”
Zoe: “What else would be smart to tell you?”
GM: “Everything. As I’ve said, the more information I have to work with, the better I can do my job of getting you out.”
Zoe: She tentatively shakes her head.
“Can you get me out today?”
GM: “Nope. Police can hold you for up to three days before an arraignment.”
Zoe: She groans. “And they’re probably pissy because I didn’t cave.”
GM: “Or better said, I might be able to. What the police think isn’t everything. You only get arraigned if the DA’s office decides to charge you with anything.”
Zoe: “How long will toxicology take?”
GM: “So, first, the police are going to examine the scene of Estes’ death. The coroner’s office is going to examine his body. The police are also probably going to search his house and talk to his family and/or doctor about any health conditions, to see if him dying the way he did is an unusual event.”
“If it turns out he had a heart condition, or if there’s some other ready explanation for his death, then the police won’t talk with the DA’s office and will just let you out.”
“If they can’t find a satisfactory explanation for how he died, they could then decide to tender their findings to the DA’s office, who’ll decide whether to file charges against you or not.”
“The police can’t hold you for longer than three days, so if the DA doesn’t decide to charge you with anything by then, you’ll be out by then.”
“However, a prosecutor is not bound by your initial charging decision; they may later change the charged crimes once more evidence is obtained.”
“So, for instance, the police could let you out within three days, but then arrest you again a month later if the DA decides to charge you with anything.”
“As for autopsy and toxicology, around three days is pretty typical turnout time for both. They might release you before finishing the exam.”
“It’s also possible that Estes’ family will pay for a private exam of his body, if they’re not satisfied with the results of the coroner’s.”
Zoe: “I see.”
Words hardly true. The fact is that Zoe can’t see the path her future carries her toward any further than she can kick a pebble of gravel. Despite understanding their logic—thanks to Amber—she’s lost respect in the police force.
Is that loss in respect reasonable? Fair? Absolutely not, and even she sees that. It makes the feeling no less true.
“Whatever you can do,” she continues, wilting her head to run shackled fingers through her hair.
She hasn’t forgotten about Barely Legal for so long the entire day. Bigger problems. Fuck Money in more ways than one.
“What do I do now?”
GM: “At this point? Mostly sit tight and see if the DA chooses to prosecute within three days.”
“If this were the full story, I’d advise talking to the police again in my presence, answering their questions, and being helpful enough they decide to release you early. But if it’s not, talking to the police only has the potential to get you in more trouble.”
Zoe: “That’s up to you,” she answers. “What do you feel I’m being untruthful about?”
GM: Amber shakes her head. “Doesn’t matter. If that’s everything, I’m going to look in to some more things on my end and see if there’s anything else I can do.”
Zoe: “That’s everything. Thank you for helping me, Amber.”
GM: “It’s my job.” Amber hands Zoe a business card with her contact info.
Zoe: “They’re probably going to take this…”
GM: “Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Memorize the number just in case.”
Zoe: She looks down at the card, committing it to memory one digit at a time. Over. And over. And over.
“I’ll see you again within three days?”
GM: “Yes. I’ll review the evidence against you, if any, find out whether the DA intends to pursue charges, and talk about your legal strategies from there.”
Zoe: “I’d give you a hug, but…”
She pulls the chains.
GM: Amber gives a wry smile. “We usually prefer to shake anyways.”
Zoe: She offers a hand, however limited.
GM: Amber shakes it and says she’ll be in touch, then takes her leave.
No one comes for Zoe.
Zoe: And so the wait begins.
April afternoon, 2016
GM: Jail is mind-numbingly boring. Jefferson Parish doesn’t seem as if it has too many arrests, because while Zoe hears the occasional person marched into a nearby cell, she never has to share hers.
She’s left to sit on a bench and stare at the wall for hours. And hours. And hours.
She’s able to piss in a stainless steel toilet bolted to the floor.
She’s really hungry.
Eventually, once it feels like night, a deputy comes by with food. Zoe’s told to turn around and stick her hands through a grill in the door to her cell. The deputy handcuffs her to the door, opens it, then drops something onto the ground. Then he re-closes the door and undoes Zoe’s cuffs.
Lying on the floor, swaddled in saran wrap, is the saddest-looking sandwich Zoe thinks she’s ever seen. The bread is white and soggy-looking. She can’t tell what’s inside it. A sticker over the wrapping reads:
Not For Human Consumption
Zoe: One crack. Two crack. Three cra—No, that’s a crackhead. That counts as ten cracks.
She whines. How long has it been since she’s had a serving of her vice? A day? Just about a day. She wonders if Cash is looking for her yet. Maybe he’s forgotten about her entirely.
She huffs, then picks up the sandwich, unwrapping it from its wrap. Does it smell at all appetizing? She images the label must be a scare-tactic.
GM: It smells like something that’s been left in a compost heap. The odor is actively unpleasant.
Zoe: Hunger it is. She sets it down.
Even she’s not hungry enough to consume that. Is that really what they give to even the innocent?
GM: There are no innocents in Zoe’s cell.
Zoe: The only dessert Zoe serves is just desserts.
GM: Sleep comes fitfully and with difficulty. There are no blankets, pillows, or other bedding items in the cell. Zoe is left to make herself comfortable along the steel bench. She’s sore everywhere when she wakes up.
Eventually, a deputy strolls by her cell with something else in plastic wrap. He looks over her old sandwich.
“Didn’t want dinner, huh? Guess you won’t need breakfast.”
Zoe: Did she sleep at all? It doesn’t feel like it.
“Please…” she whimpers. “I haven’t done anything. Can I have some real food? A glass of water?”
GM: The deputy grins.
“Suck my cock and I’ll get you better food.”
Zoe: She narrows her eyes, and silently commits to reforming the police department when she rules the city.
GM: The man just grins and waits.
Zoe: “I’ll take breakfast, please.”
Zoe Kelly is no criminal.
GM: “Stick your hands through the grill,” says the deputy, pulling his cuffs off his belt.
Zoe: She places her hands through the grill, contemplating making a sandwich grenade.
GM: The deputy handcuffs her through the grill and secures her to the door. Then he opens it, undoes his belt and unzips his fly, and sticks his erect cock towards her.
Zoe: She shrugs as far away as humanly possible while chained to an iron door.
“What the fuck?! Aren’t the police supposed to be good?!”
GM: The man chortles, puts his hands on Zoe’s shoulders, and attempts to lower her to her knees.
“C’mon, just suck it off and you can have breakfast.”
“A nice breakfast.”
Zoe: “I didn’t do anything! What the fuck!? You can’t just—you can’t just shove that in my face! Do you know who I am!?”
She lurches away from the bars, tugging on the bindings.
GM: She finds her bindings quite secure, and with the door opening inwards into her cell, there is only so far to get away.
The deputy shoves her to the ground, laughs, and smacks his cock across Zoe’s cheek.
Zoe: “You’re really going to force an innocent woman to suck your cock?”
Yes, he is, and she knows it.
“I am innocent. Do you really want a rape allegation?”
She glances to his chest. Badge? Name?
GM: She sees a number on the gold badge attached to his shirt.
“What, you don’t want breakfast after all?” he smirks.
Zoe: “The sandwich will do.”
Fucking pig. Is this normal for jail? How bad could prison be?
GM: The deputy shrugs.
He walks over to her toilet, then drops the sandwich inside with a wet plop.
“Oops,” he grins.
Zoe: She glares daggers, committing the number to memory.
GM: The deputy laughs and walks out of the cell, pulling the door closed behind him. Zoe is still chained to the bars.
“Do you want me to let you off from there?”
Zoe: At what cost?
“Yes, please,” she answers, polite as she can manage.
GM: “Say sorry for being a bitch.”
Zoe: You have no idea.
“Sorry for being a cunt, officer.”
She raises a hand in the smallest salute ever to be made, thanks to the cuffs.
GM: The deputy opens the door and walks back in.
“Good girl,” he smiles, then pats her head.
Then he leaves again, closes the door, and unfastens Zoe’s hands. His receding bootfalls echo down the hallway.
Zoe: She recants his badge number in her head.
Over, and over, and over, and over.