Fiction: Seasons of Doubt

by Wayne Harrison

Prologue—September 17, 1994

(31 days after the killing)

These seconds are the last he has and he counts them silently on the hard bunk. When the rubber sheet crackles he restrains his breath, staring through the cell door window at a panel light that smells of bleach and socks and soap and shit and shame. For thirteen seconds he studies the dilution of shadow under its moonwhite glare, a black plank stabbing through a sepia cone on the concrete floor.

At ten minute intervals Officer Kelly—Aileen—performs suicide checks, which means that at five-hundred twenty seconds (to be safe) Ravi closes his eyes and feigns sleep. Cinderblock walls amplify the tacky snap of her shoes on the painted floor. With his eyes closed he can discern when her head in the window eclipses the dayroom light. The cell is as dark as it ever gets then, but never quite bedroom dark, never again Tori’s sleep-twitching hand on his waist, the heat of her knees behind his.

The dark lifts. He needs to find his breath.

The window empty when he opens his eyes, he sits forward and with a steady pull frees the top sheet from its forty-five degree corners, counting 18, 19, 20. Years of meditation practice have fine-tuned his timed breathing, one second in, one second out. Tori once asked if he said Mississippi or one-thousands to himself, enamored then with his mindful focus. How do you just unplug? Her voice is inescapable now, all the thought-bumping practice failing him in the end.

To fashion the chlorine-smelling twin sheet into a rope, he needs to be standing on the concrete. He rolls warily onto his stomach as the mattress crackles like paper, rotates his legs around and stops when his bare toes lower to Tim Rutherford’s mattress. In the four weeks they have shared this cell Ravi has not spoken, yet he’s reasoned that Rutherford will permit him this final act. It will end the incriminating secrets Ravi knows, and for a time Rutherford will have the cell to himself.

Moments pass, Rutherford is still, and a warmth spreads through Ravi’s chest, a tiny welling of trust. He lowers one foot at a time to the cold ground.

He doesn’t expect to see Tori in the afterlife. In his heart he can’t believe in a holy or unholy realm where souls take the form of people they once inhabited. If there is not a place, there will be no pain. If there is a place, perhaps there will be no pain. What he knows for certain—all the knowing he has left—is that unendurable pain exists here and now.

137, 138, 139.

The top bunk level with his chest, he rolls the sheet from the center out150 ward. The mattress sounds like a frozen puddle as his rolling compresses against the steel pan underneath, but this cannot be helped. A flash of memory invades his present moment, and before he can bump it away he is nine years old with his parents in the Chopta Valley, rolling a tent as the shama birds sing, the forests of pink rhododendron with their apple-smelling leaves, his father saying . . . his father. When he learns of this, what will his father . . .

152, 153.

He rolls the sheet imperfectly, the center flabby, the ends spiraled, but there isn’t time to start over. At the head of the bunk bed he ties the sheet around the steel tube frame and leaves a foot-long tail. He adds an identical half-hitch and pulls down so that the knot climbs the loose end; just as he tells it to stop in his mind it does, the knots locking with the small creak of a floor board. He puts his weight on the knot until he is satisfied. Then he does the same with the other end.

289, 290, 291.

Fastened on both sides to the upper frame, the cotton sheet hammocks loosely, and he twists a loop that he pulls up and through to keep his head from spinning out.

“Babar,” Rutherford says, and the sickening whisper jolts Ravi from his work. He checks that the window is still empty. Underneath him Rutherford cranes his head back, chin stabbing up, Brillo hair mashed down, and whispers, “Put in a good word for me. Wherever the fuck.”

For a long moment Ravi stares at the boyish upturned nose, regretting that this is the last face he will see. In the pores on Rutherford’s forehead he can almost visualize what cannot be condemned, the cells dividing and aging, innocent of knowing the kind of person they are keeping alive. The sound that leaves Ravi’s throat is scraping rust, a voice not his own that forms a single word.

“Bye.”

Rutherford lifts his back from the mattress. “You can talk, you son of a bitch?” And the only question is whether he can contain himself. A moment, throbbing, before he sighs and settles back. “Just fucking do it.”

Ravi has lost count, lost time. He checks the window again and pulls the scratchy cotton loop around his head. He wants his neck to break, but there isn’t much slack. Reaching behind him for the top head rail of the bunk, he allows Tori into his thoughts, not the voice that haunts him, those unbearable final words of her life—Why couldn’t you leave me alone?—but the low churchy satin voice that Atlantic Records expected to go platinum.

Feel my soul brushing yours, killing me

Imagination is killing me

He pulls back against the top rail, his shoulders pressing the rim of angle iron that keeps his mattress in place. Holding his weight with his hands he makes a loose lotus fold of his legs, his abdomen muscles shaking, his forearms starting to burn. He pushes off the top rail and lets go, the sheet constricting with a jerk before he pendulums back against the bunk. A flashbulb as his skull bashes the angle iron. He snaps open his fists, flexes his toes on the concrete, his neck unbroken. But the sheet has clenched his windpipe closed, and he lifts his feet again so that the exertion makes his heart race. A tickle down the back of his neck, warm, cooling. Blood. The light dims, the shadow of a head, massive, shuddering on the wall before him. The door latch clatters.

“No, Ravi.” Aileen. “No, God.”

He tightens his fists, his thighs, his jaw, to amplify the demand for air. More agonizing than suicide is the thought of Aileen catching him in his attempt, living through her disappointment. Dizziness. He can feel himself getting smaller.

Then distantly the hard sides of her arms around him, the bones as she clamps her wrist behind his back and jerks him up. Her stiff officer collar grazes his chin. His shoulder blades press on the cross of angle iron, pinning him there. Her voice is near and far: “Help me!”

But he’s almost there, almost free, the light behind his eyelids graying to ash. A scrape at his throat, distant. Her voice imploring help again is further now, softer. Spinning. Dull bashing. A soundless thump of concrete floor on his hip and shoulder. The breath in his throat bursts out and a new, very cold breath fills his chest and head with the fruit of Aileen’s shampoo. Her soft cheek against his. “Breathe, yes, there, good. Breathe.”

His mind fills with Tori, regret for all that he’s done and needs to answer for. The torrents of guilt held back for so long finally pour through him, and again he feels his voice in his throat, but all that will come is a dry horn of sound.

“Oh, Ravi,” she says, and there is light pressure on the wet of his hair, her hand falling through his sight, shimmering. His breath is running, he’s forgotten it, but this will be the way, his blood coursing out. The darkness is upon him again, the irresistible sleep.

“Rutherford!” Her voice exploding now. “You son of a bitch. Why didn’t you help me?” Light pressure against his bleeding scalp—her sleeve?—and Ravi opens his eye, blinking into focus the sight of Rutherford lurching from his bunk and pulling the cell door closed. And then the softness gone, yanked from him as she is swept away. Glass explodes in his ears as his head crashes to the floor.

When he opens his eyes Aileen is on the ground on her back, Rutherford on top of her, his big hand mashed over her mouth. He opens her arms away as if she weren’t trying and pins them with his knees. “What do you got down here, Fort Knox?” he says. “I’ll let you know.” He contorts around and thrusts his free hand down the front of her pants.

From Chapter 3—August 21, 1994
(4 days after the killing)

On quiet days in C-Pod, Aileen imagines the men being somewhere else, a sports bar or barber shop, a hotel lobby. They share sections of USA Today and play checkers or card games, and the newest offenders have begun to manage the rude absence from their lives of alcohol, coffee, sex, freedom. There is conversation and tentative laughter, near the ceiling daylight so pale you forget it passes through security-glazed glass that her training officer said can withstand “three men of well-developed physique taking fifteen swings each with a sledge hammer.”

From her officer station, a metal stool behind a chipped laminate podium, Aileen finds herself drifting back to the slummy northeast city of her childhood. Until he died in the bed of a woman who wasn’t his wife, her father, Manny Rudy, ran a flophouse motel whose lobby—brick red shag carpet, avocado counters—she can still smell. Orange creamsicle air freshener and coffee. A rabbit-eared black-and-white TV received three channels, and she is sitting on the corduroy sofa with pony-tailed men smoking raptly as Marcia Brady steps on stage the night of the big play. They tell Aileen how good the coffee is, even though it’s just water out of the bathtub, because it’s faster than the sink, a paper filter like a huge cupcake wrapper and three scoops from the big blue can.

Aileen never had their attention long before they went off to chase their psycho women down at The Mermaid, or to commit easily solvable crimes that Manny would tell her about as Aileen helped him bag up their clothes and toiletries. If they were in Oregon they would have seen the inside of C-Pod at some point, middle-security inmates doing unlawful possession, assault, robbery, theft, manslaughter, occasional promotion of prostitution or extortion, and a few maximum security offenders, like Ravi and Rutherford, awaiting trial.

To high schoolers on a field trip they look terrifying, leaned over tattooed forearms on backwards folding chairs for a 12 Step meeting, but Aileen has seen many of them terrified themselves, letting go all the way, howling, pissing, biting, their eyes wild or dim. The worst qualify for methadone maintenance, but most white-knuckle a few nights of nauseous, goose-bumped, nose-running withdrawal. Behind cell doors they pace, sweat, evacuate themselves, write letters to their families, occasionally to their victims, and at some point cry. During cell inspections, Aileen will find snippets of their crumpled pleas in the rubberized wastebasket. Eventually they manage a soft step out, mutter a few words in the dayroom as they beeline to a patio chair facing the TV. A few weeks of counted days, and they imagine reentering a world rinsed clean of trouble by their shining new sobriety. But the real test, Aileen knows from experience, will come as euphoric recall: on a certain afternoon, often not a bad one but a good, exciting one, they will need to steer past a particular tavern, or keep their finger from summoning the old arrangement of numbers on a telephone. These moments above all others will define their recovery.

At this morning’s 12 Step meeting, Pastor Bob says, “Fear tells me I’m not good enough. But pride says I’m better than you are. So when I was scared you wouldn’t like me, I stuck my tongue out first.”

He employs sermon theatrics, drawing out baritone syllables, pausing to scan faces, breaking out in sudden all-is-well grins. It doesn’t matter if what he says is personal reflection or memorized from The Big Book. Around him thirteen pairs of eyes fall indiscriminately to scuff marks on the concrete as his words cut into their life stories. Cigarettes might contain the only breathable air, they’re sucking on them so hard. Len Pomeroy snubs his butt on the concrete. “Your mother start working here, Pomeroy?” she says. A hand up in surrender, he drops the butt in the big ketchup can.

The meetings are constructive, even if the occasional participant, seeking community, will narrate a fiction not apparent in the details—a bar, package store, it’s all feasible—but in the psychology of addiction, that unvarying, inextinguishable want. Aileen can’t point to an exact omission or incongruity, but when the drinking stories are true she feels ice in her spine. She thinks of that third gin and tonic and fresh cigarette holding the secret, ushering her true quick-witted, poised, benevolent self into the world.

“Sober, I feel like this hollowed-out egg shell,” says Dave Babcock, whose  blood alcohol was .25 when they unwedged him from an upside-down Nova in which his fiancé and brother were killed. “I mean, what’s the point if you’re not getting loaded,” he says. “Drink water if you’re thirsty. It’s free.”

Aileen stands abruptly and walks. Often she needs to go for walks during meetings. One of the new inmates is leaning with his arms folded against the west wall of the dayroom waiting on the phone. He catches her eye, juts his chin at the clock. Shane Bardell is slumped in a chair talking on a steel wall phone that makes collect calls only. “Jeanie and me had some rowdy times, Ma, but Christ. I belted her. If I’m turning into Dad, I’ll put a bullet in my ear right now.”

Aileen touches his shoulder. “Finish up, Shane.”

Through the open door of cell 17, the second from the end on the south wall, Ravi is sitting with his legs folded on the top bunk. She stands in the doorway, concerned about the weight he has already lost in his days of confinement. Hollows on his face are pooled with shadow, and his Adam’s apple protrudes like a golf ball stuck in his throat. He is unshaven and has developed flaky skin on his forehead. But what alarms her is that Ravi shows none of the intrinsic jail tension, the rigidness in the shoulders, the alertness that, even half asleep, healthy prisoners have. What she sees is a defenseless man she may not have much time to help. Already some of the inmates have been testing him. They think he’s faking and are insulted to be outside his confidence. C-pod is a very dangerous place when inmates feel insulted.

From Chapter 4—August 22, 1994
(5 days after the killing)

Many of his earliest memories are of sitting in linen drawstring pants before an altar of Hindu gods that his father, a Buddhist, didn’t believe in. His mother, a Hindi, refused to join her husband and son. She said that Hindu meditation, unlike simple Buddhist meditation, was very complicated and for the monks. For a time, Ravi wanted to become a Hindu monk when he saw books that showed them able to fly and break things with their minds.

First a breathing exercise, focused on a grain or knot on the hardwood floor of the small spare bedroom. Then the compassion meditation, his father starting, May I be happy. May I be well. May I be loved. May you be happy. May you be well. . . . on through relatives, friends, acquaintances, those unfriendly, and a final blessing to all sentient beings everywhere. When it was Ravi’s turn, names came easily, especially those unfriendly in the later elementary grades, where kids asked if he could walk on hot coals. If he slept on a bed of nails. When a teacher made an example of him for his reading, one of the popular kids said, “It’s only because Indians can sit still forever.” He never explained the difference between Indian and Sri Lankan, or that he was born in Iowa.

Now he retrieves his father’s woodsy aftershave and soft voice as he sits in the jail. When Rutherford is on his bunk, Ravi sits in the dayroom, away from Aileen behind the wooden podium, heeding her advice to keep their friendship secret. After the 0745 chow hall run he will return and sit through yard time, which is voluntary, until 1330 chow, which is not. The concrete floor and cinderblock walls are the same platinum gray latex, the monochrome garishly broken by plastic chairs whose glossy green is the color of M&M candy.

Occasionally they speak to him. “Personal friend of mine did four years in the Salem nuthouse. You think it’s a sleepwalk, man are you mistaken. They strap you to your bed, dope you up. And soon as they catch you acting normal they bounce you right back in a courtroom.”

The gray floor is marred by sneakers they’re allowed to wear in the yard. Sitting, he can focus on a smear whatever his position in the room. He knows it is afternoon when his eyes burn from the cool forced air.

He looks up blinking and is met by the stares of two men whose voices have been entering his thoughts. The first man has a neck tattoo and a shaved head, and the second is a thin Hispanic with small, inexpressive eyes. The first says to the second, “My brother Eddie was in Cali changing oil for Mercedes. In his pocket he’s got this little case, looks like a pack of Juicy Fruit. But inside are two pieces of clay. Most of those rich fucks just hand over the whole key ring. So Eddie presses the house key, makes a copy out of zinc. Then he scopes the place from the address off the work order. Finds one with no alarm, nobody home in the daytime. So he jacks the place, right? Wrong. Only thing he does is go in and take inventory. What kind of stereo, VCR, jewelry, silver, antiques, scrip meds, power tools, guns. He writes up the time of day to go, the items inside, and he sells it with the key to affiliates of the fucking Milano family. They’re paying him two grand a key, and probably taking the house for fifteen or twenty. You know how long he’s doing this? Two years. Not even a close call. Then one time the guy he’s selling to brings a buddy. A fucking mute. Milano’s guy vouches, but sure enough the quiet guy is lard bacon. Five to ten in San Quentin. Eddie loses his house and my nephews. Couple weeks ago, he loses his eye out in the yard.” The man turns suddenly to Ravi. “You hear me, Gandhi? You got something you need to say?”

“Somebody shiv his ass, then you watch him holler,” the Hispanic man says. “Then he cannah speak.”

In the mess hall Ravi can smell the rinsed-off food carried by steam, and chlorine bleach, which is everywhere always, but more concentrated where they eat. When the man in front of him walks, Ravi follows, pushing a red tray, pale where it’s been bent and bent back. Anchored away from the edges of the room are three rows of brushed steel tables, and he sits on an attached bench. Men sit on either side of him as he is scooping corn from a round tray well.

“I tell you who I miss,” says the slack-jawed man across from Ravi. “It ain’t her. It sure as hell ain’t her kids. I miss my dog. Beautiful Belgian Malinois. My wife, she got this little asshole Pomeranian. You look at him and he shits his pants.”

“I hate dogs,” says the curly-haired man next to him. “We had a drooly-ass Newfoundland when I was a kid.” He looks at the skull-faced man across the table. “Hey, Little Arson Annie. Did you ask for it well done?”

“Am I going to have to stomp your ass?” the skull-faced man says. “I can do some D-seg for it. That’s fine.”

“Man, can’t you take a joke?” The curly-haired man looks around. “Anybody seen that little fucksickle Morgan? Owes me half a pack of Camels.”

A heavy middle-aged man says, “In a couple days they get our smokes, gentlemen. I was in New York when they took ’em away there. They get your lighters too, so you need shanks, better make ’em now. Oh, you’ll get the patches. All they ever done was give me hiccups and the shits. There’s not much. Not much.”

As he finishes a spoonful of canned pineapple, Ravi feels a pressure behind his right knee. He puts down his spoon and reaches for the pain, but his hand is caught and held at the same time the man on his left catches his other hand. The pressure magnifies to fire.

“Tell me when to stop, Slurpee.”

He can hear men stand and walk away as the thick fingers grip his thigh through loose canvas pants, skin and muscle twisting out a bulge that seems to have grown out of him like a new appendage, and he expects there to be blood. In his ears a crowd of trumpets bark one soprano note. In his vision, a dimming before dark ropes twist. Throbbing on the sides of his jaw, and a trembling at the hinges. His breath short and shallow, spasms of his pulse thumping in his neck. Only his blinking hasn’t changed.

The urge to resist comes in a lightning flash and passes, and the contraction softens. His attention becomes correcting his breath, deepening it. He hears the heavily accented voice of an old man from his youth—a humid room full of people in robes, he and his father the winter after his mother was killed during Black July in Sri Lanka. “Allow,” the old man is saying. “Allow.” The pain opens and there is everything to observe. There are sunset colors, beats on a snare drum, the taste of rhubarb. And there is equanimity.

When Ravi stops resisting with his arms, the man on his left loosens hold of Ravi’s hand, though he keeps the hand. The other man doesn’t change his strong grip as he continues pinching Ravi’s thigh. “You just say the word, I’ll quit,” the man says.

The pain has reached a plateau before sensations cancel each other out, fire and ice, contraction and release. And there is equanimity.

“Quit, man,” the one on his right says. “Before I chunk.”

When the fingers let go his thigh swells without limitation, expanding like the just-born universe. He caps his breathing, reels it steadily back. Now the throbbing, the burning itch. Allow. Allow. And there is equanimity.

“Motherfucker’s a zombie.”

The hand that was crushing pats him lightly on the back. “Eat, man. Eat. We had to know.”

From Chapter 6—August 25, 1994
(8 days after the killing)

Aileen shouldn’t be here. From a round-backed club chair that smells like new leather, she reads the law certificates to distract herself from thoughts of Warden Talbot telling her, grim as a father, to clear out her locker. In 1975 Maggie Pierce received a Juris Doctor Degree from Yale. For a few years she lived a town over from Aileen, in West Haven. Perhaps they had even seen each other when Aileen’s sixth grade class took a field trip to the Yale Art Gallery and ate sack lunches between medieval brownstone buildings in one of the quads.

The idea of a convergence almost twenty years ago draws Aileen to consider that she and Maggie are alike now only in cursory ways—women in Oregon who work with inmates—but what if that trip to Yale had been the spark of having faith in herself? This olive leather love seat, buttoned and antiqued,  this wide mahogany desk facing a gizmoed mesh and chrome chair, like a UFO on wheels, these stained glass tulip floor lamps, what are they but the trappings of confidence, the unshakable certainty that winning court cases will earn it all back a hundred-fold? If Maggie Pierce ever doubted herself she certainly overcame reluctance with faith. Aileen thinks of her mismatched yard sale and thrift shop furniture at home. The pride she’s taken in reusing feels a lot like consolation now.

Maggie comes back with white mugs and sets one in front of Aileen, an orange spice tea seeping rust from a large sash bag. Maggie sits in the fancy desk chair, closes a brick-red legal book so worn that threads drape from the cover. Her hair is styled in a trendy flip, the sandy mix concealing gray, but her eyes look tired, sunken, overworked. She wears light makeup, pendant earrings, somewhere between fighting her age and embracing it.

“I like your paintings,” Aileen says.

“They’re forgeries. I mean, of course.” She waves her finger between the mermaid and the woman smelling a pink rose. “I saw the real Waterhouses in London once. I couldn’t tell the difference, but that’s not saying much. It’s good to see you out of uniform.”

Aileen feels a blush rise as she wonders, too late, if this visit is presumptuous. “I know Ravi Patel. He’s the drummer in my husband’s band. I didn’t know if you knew that.”

Considering the stacks on her desk, Maggie nods. “His father told me.” She jots on a yellow sticky note and sticks it to one of the papers in an open file. She glances at her watch. “I’m surprised Talbot didn’t assign you a different pod.”

“He doesn’t know.”

Maggie’s lifts her brows, and Aileen glances at an abstract painting between glass front bookshelves, spheres and cones in pastel repetitions. Their familiar camaraderie is slipping away; she feels as if she’s imposing. “Do you know how you’re going to defend him?”

Maggie watches her cautiously, her mouth drawn into a straight line. “Still looking for the right bowl of porridge. We’re going to shrink him again Tuesday and see how practical a mental defense might be.”

“Will you argue he’s innocent? Because he is. I think he is.”

Maggie puts down the pen, and her ergonomic chair tilts silently.

“You think, or you can prove, Aileen? I’m a little short for time.”

“I just know he’s not capable of killing Tori,” Aileen says, and she hears how pathetic that sounds. But where has her connection with Maggie gone? Mornings when Aileen worked the Hub, Maggie would often bring her coffee from Sally’s on High Street. In a low, confidential voice Maggie would ask how she was holding up. There was the solidarity of being women in their professions, but something deeper they shared had to do with Aileen’s empathy for the convicts. Two years ago a lumber surveyor named Richmond Caine had been falsely accused of killing his ex-wife and step-daughter. Maggie had taken the case pro bono because she believed in his innocence. Richmond later confided in Maggie that he was suicidal and that Aileen’s compassion alone gave him strength to fight the charges. After his acquittal, Maggie had treated Aileen and Richmond to steak dinners at The Peppermill.

“The problem is, Ravi told the police just the opposite,” Maggie says. “Under no apparent duress. It’s going to be a neat trick getting that confession tossed. If a jury’s going to find reasonable doubt, they need a reasonable alternative. If your intuitions don’t prove anything, they don’t mean anything. Sorry to be blunt.”

Aileen can feel an echo of heartbeat through her veins.

“The DA overcharged this,” Maggie says. “I’m not sure why, if he’s looking to plea down or if he thinks it’ll go all the way.” She takes off her glasses, a pale stripe barely wider than dental floss across the bridge of her nose. From the desk’s shallow front drawer she removes a cleaning cloth and rubs the lenses. “For now we focus on what a prosecutor can prove. Legal guilt, not factual guilt. For murder one the state needs to show that he killed willfully,  deliberately, and with premeditation.”

“Even if he didn’t do it?”

“This isn’t a Matlock episode, Aileen.” Her glasses on the desktop, Maggie rubs her temples. One fingertip is missing from a car door when she was a child, Aileen remembers.

“To defend him as innocent, I’ll need nothing less than undying certainty of his innocence. I’ll need to affirmatively believe in it, to feel it in the core of my being, so that it radiates. Then the jurors know that I believe. But I’m certainly not there now. And I’m not going to wager the rest of his life on the chance I’ll get there. My strategy is to react to the prosecution’s strategy. I focus on shooting all the holes I can in the state’s case.”

“So if he gets off, it’s on a technicality,” Aileen says. She feels the emotion well up again, surging hot, recalling her bartending days.

“Look. If I can walk him I give him back his life. Does the way you’re acquitted change how sleeping in your own bed feels? You more than anyone should know that justice is relative. Is dodging a life sentence less real because the state failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt? I’m not defending his conduct. I’m defending his constitutional rights.”

“Believe he’s innocent,” Aileen says. “Feel it. As a friend I’m asking you to.”

“You’re going to get yourself fired. You know that, right?” Maggie sits forward and replaces her glasses. “Aileen, when I meet with Ravi I see someone normal in every respect other than  communication. Someone who can process enough to obey commands, but who won’t

respond to direct questions. If we’re very lucky, the jury’s seen enough B movies to blame it on post-traumatic stress. He’s got no criminal record, no legal history of violence, and he just watched himself in the heat of passion kill his girlfriend. Maybe if they go guilty, they go murder two instead of one, or even manslaughter. Or else I put all our eggs in the innocent basket and they see a guy who’s trying to get off on a mental defense. Which looks deceitful, and which can be less forgivable than murder.”

“He’s not faking,” Aileen says. “I know Ravi. I promise he’s not faking.”

Maggie stares at her a moment, then sits forward and sips her tea. “What I have is a confession that right now is Everest in a storm. The police talked to him in a conference room with the door open. There’s no sign of coercion. There might be something I can do with Miranda, but it doesn’t look like he ever thought he wasn’t free to go.”

“Prove it by calling me up,” Aileen says.

“Oh, Talbot would love that.”

“I don’t care. I’ll tell the jury how inmates fuck with him every way you can twenty four hours a day. You could prove he’s not faking if you make them imagine that.”

Maggie blinks twice, sighs, reaches for a legal pad. “Call you to testify,” she says and jots a quick sentence. “I just might do that.”

~

This story appeared in NDQ 83.2/3 (Spring/Summer 2016), 149-159.

Wayne Harrison’s short stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, The Atlantic, Ploughshares, McSweeney’s, Narrative Magazine and on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” His short story collection “Wrench” won the 2015 New American Fiction Prize and will be published in 2017. His novel The Spark and the Drive was published in 2014 by St. Martin’s Press. The excerpt in NDQ is from a new novel, “Seasons of Doubt,” co-written with writer and professor of English Jeffrey Voccola.