By R. J. Garcia
Memories would strike his face like slapping hands, if only he had been a better bad guy. Whitelaw was always thinking of ways crime could be perfected. He had to shake his head when he thought about Vito. How could he not? Vito was an eighteen year old kid who robbed a gas station on his bicycle. Now a fast car would have been good, maybe a muscle car, but nothing too flashy. Remember one needs to remain inconspicuous. The getaway remained the key to any hold up. A guy has ample moments to think when they’re doing time.
A thing like crime, any crime had to be schemed and plotted with the minutest detail constructed and planned. He still hadn’t figured it out as he dragged the body across the sand two long years ago. Then he kept his mind on doing it by numbers. That’s all you can do when you didn’t mean to kill somebody and still have a body. The screeching of brakes on wet pavement haunted him.
Yet, in his mind he was the most notorious criminal of all time. He’d dream-up the most fantastic crimes. Mainly, he thought of how to get away with murder because it seemed the most curious one to write. He would select a victim: blonde, dark, female, male. It didn’t matter. One should avoid killing a spouse because the motive shouldn’t appear too obvious. Whitelaw gathered this because a fair amount of guys were inside for killing their old ladies. They were all beyond redemption, except Vito. He was different. Sure, Vito was as dumb as a box of rocks, but he had those sad, despairing eyes, which thirsted for Whitelaw’s knowledge.
“Remember,” He told Vito, “As criminals all we need to do is throw in a shadow of doubt, and even the imperfect crime can leave us free men.” Whitelaw took long strides to keep up with Vito as he mopped the West corridor.
“Sure Whitelaw, I’ll remember.”
Whitelaw leaned against the oatmeal colored cement block. “I finished, so I thought I’d hang with you.” Then he made a clicking sound from the corner of his mouth, the kind of sound that might accompany a wink. Vito finished-up the first part of the hall.
For some reason, Whitelaw always had a strange feeling of being watched, pursued, especially in the halls. Small barred windows let in lackluster shards of light into the soulless structure. He shrugged it off, saying, “And I got the stairs for you, kid.”
“Thanks man, I got your smokes and something extra for you.” Vito wore his always vacant expression.
“Alright.” Whitelaw didn’t ask, appreciating a surprise. Instead he went straight for the lesson. “Today’s reasonable shadow of doubt is the alibi,” Whitelaw talked as if he was addressing a class.
“The alibi,” Vito repeated, to let his teacher know he heard.
Whitelaw took the mop from Vito, letting it drop in the large steel bucket. “You can do one of a few things to acquire an alibi. You can hire someone, or get a friend. You know an accomplice.” Whitelaw’s tone became serious, almost hard. “Now which of these two, can you trust?”
Vito paused a moment and blurted out, “The friend.” He noticed Whitelaw gave him a discouraging glance, and quickly changed his answer. “I mean the paid guy.”
Whitelaw shook his head no. A smug smile spread across his lips.
“So the answer is none of the above,” Vito reasoned, still unsure and waiting for Whitelaw’s wisdom.
“Yes, Vito. Exactly.” Whitelaw seemed pleased with himself. He walked closer to Vito. “Now back to the alibi. You don’t want the hit man or accomplice. You can’t trust those guys.” Whitelaw raised his index finger. “But you can get someone who doesn’t know they’re lying for you. Maybe find a friend who doesn’t wear a watch and set your watch back or ahead to the time of the murder. Manipulation is a wondrous tool for the creative thinker.” Whitelaw finished, feeling brilliant.
Whitelaw wasn’t brilliant that night when time became solid as something hit his car. That night, he abandoned his car to find the girl sprawled out on the road. Her hair weathered around her head like a dark, wet veil. It occurred to him, he wasn’t far from the lake. If he could get the girl to the water all his problems would be over. So he dragged her, feet first, down to the beach with no knowledge of the footprints or blood trails, which played witness. Then the impossible happened. He heard a moan that made his brain tremble. Whitelaw raced back to his car. The keys dangled from the ignition. He started the engine. The car shrieked onto the road, and he didn’t look back.
Nothing went right. A jumble of thoughts filled his mind. Fog installed itself on the highway like a permanent fixture. He hit the gas, straining for his footing. He didn’t see the other car, until it was too late, and he couldn’t stop.
He jolted back, hearing the swift crumpling sound of rolling metal. He squeezed his eyes shut against pain. Liquid trickled down his head. Why were all these idiots out tonight? His brain groaned. He turned the key again and again, but nothing happened. Before long, flashing blue lights from police cars illuminated the highway. His mouth dropped open and shoulders wilted. This time, he wasn’t going anywhere.
Now he planned murders all day long, regretting the murder he didn’t plan. In truth, he was still doing it by numbers. He didn’t have a clue how to act on the inside and had gotten some beatings and done some things he wasn’t proud of to survive. Now his anger solidified into a large rock that sat in his stomach. Because of this, he wanted to hit somebody hard and walk away clean. He just couldn’t believe an idiot like Vito was getting out before him.
Whitelaw clenched the mop. He would give Vito one final lesson. “Remember,” he repeated, “As criminals all we need to do is throw in a shadow of doubt, and even the imperfect crime will leave us free men.” He swallowed back a belch, with the taste of the hot dog he had for lunch resonating on his tongue.
“Sure, Whitelaw, I’ll remember.” Both men walked down the corridor; Vito busy mopping, Whitelaw busy feeling brilliant.
“If it’s as easy to believe it’s an accident as it is to believe it’s murder, the jury will not be convinced beyond a reasonable-“
“Shadow of doubt,” both men said in unison.
Vito hesitated before stepping back. “You’re a genius, Whitelaw,” he declared.
“What can I say?” Whitelaw wore his sheepish grin, liking Vito more than he should. No one got him like Vito had and because of this he had become his young, soft spot. Even though he disliked work, Whitelaw began mopping the steps for him. He had done this since he found out about Vito’s fear of heights.
Whitelaw turned back around. He had to ask, “You’re getting out tomorrow; think you’ll ever do a murder?”
“Oh yes, Whitelaw,” Vito’s eyes flashed somber and resolute before he shoved him.
Whitelaw fell down the steps with several thuds and a deep grunt. He lay at the bottom of the stairwell, completely still, his neck twisted in a peculiar fashion. The mop lay next to him. Everything looked different, shabbier: water stains marked the walls and paint chipped in spots. Vito felt that for a brief moment the world held its breath. The sudden quiet seemed exaggerated. A sense of nervous resolution moved him.
Vito spotted Georgie, an old convict, filling the vending machine. He spoke loudly knowing the man was nearly deaf. “Hey Georgie, how’s it going?”
Georgie turned around and tossed Vito a bag of chips from a large box, saying, “Pretty good, Kid. Remember me kindly.”
“You know it. Thanks… Hey, wait did you hear that?”
“Yeah. I think I did hear something?” The old man said, always trying to hide the fact that he was hard of hearing.
Vito dropped the chips, and waited for Georgie. Vito’s feet followed his racing heart beats, and the old man dawdled just behind him. They caught sight of Whitelaw’s body at the bottom of the stairwell. Georgie gripped Vito’s shoulder. Both were silent for a moment.
Georgie said, “I’ll get a guard.”
That night in his tiny, windowless cell, Vito remembered a girl who once nursed a baby squirrel back to health. A girl whose long, raven hair sashayed between his fingers; a girl who was run down and left on that beach to die. “It was all for you, Gabby,” he whispered, pushing away feelings that stirred at the sound of her name. Then his eyes shrewdly narrowed and a small smile played on his lips. Tomorrow he would be paroled.
Authors Note: When I saw artist Malou Orozco Suaverdez’s painting, The Two Heads, I became inspired to write this story. See more of Malou’s thought provoking art at her blog: https://t.co/2TVTbTkntD