I don’t go to church very often. But here I am, in this big Cathedral, praying for my safety. My life. My soul. Oh please, God, forgive me, for I have sinned…
What brought me here? I wonder. I’m so fucking scared. Swearing is a secular practice. Not appropriate for a holy place. I watch the candles burn on the altar; I smell the smoke and the dust. It’s so hollow here. I feel like I’m trapped in an antique jewelry box, one of those delicate gold-trimmed ones from a century ago. But I’m not the diamond. I don’t belong in here.
I pull out a cigarette from my shirt pocket, light it with shaking fingers.
I’m just so fucking scared.
“Halbur, we need you to cover the kid in the Davis case,” Harry says, taking a puff of his Marlboro, adjusting his blue pinstriped tie. The same one he wears every day. God, you gotta love Harry. Good guy, but in a constant state of nervousness. Always sweating, drumming his fingers on desks, twirling his blonde beard. He’s my editor here at The City Sentinel in the grand ol’ Oklahoma City.
I cover crime. All kinds of crime; you name it. Arson. Assault. Robberies. Grand theft auto. Oklahoma City isn’t the safest. In fact, it’s only safer than four percent of U.S. cities.
Property crime is the biggest kind here. But occasionally, I get something really exciting. This is one of those times.
“The kid that killed the entire family,” I say. “The 10-year-old who broke in that house last night over on 19th.”
“That’s the one,” Harry says, dabbing the sweat on his forehead with a Kleenex. “Sick little bastard. Used a knife on all of ’em. Father, mother, teenage son. Had no relation. I just don’t get it. Why? How? That’s what I’m gonna need you to find out. Now.”
I live for this shit. It’s not every day I get to cover triple homicide by a 10-year-old. This has already gone national, but as a local, I have a leg up. I can get to places; I know who to talk to, and when.
I can feel my pulse speeding up. This is awesome. Maybe my big break. I’m 26-six years old and I’ve been at this paper for three years. People know my name, sure. People around here.
But if I cover a story of this scale, and if I do it well, I could be getting offers from The Washington Post. The Times. Fox. CNN. Everyone will know Jake Halbur as the guy who cracked the creepy kid in the Davis case. The possibilities are endless.
Al lets me in the juvey detention center before I finish pulling my press pass out of my pocket. I’ve been here before, talked to a bunch of these little monsters. Al and I are cool; we’ve gone out for beers on a few Fridays. Beefy guy, Latino. Typical guard. You can never network too much in this industry.
He walks me to the kid’s cell. Solomon’s his name. A bit antiquated, bizarre for this century. Must come from a fucked up family, I think. Religious fanatics. Religion can turn a kid crazy. Maybe that’s what’s behind this. I’ve got a list of questions in a notebook in my hand, and religion isn’t one of ’em. But it should be. I think about how I’m going to broach the subject. It can be touchy.
We stop in front of a cell at the end of the long, gray corridor. Only one window in this whole unit, at the very end of the hall. Al turns to me, the black scorpion tattoo on his neck visible in the white light filtering through the lone window. “I should warn you,” he says. “The kid’s…not right. I mean, really not right. I can’t let you in there alone.”
I’m a little surprised by his words. This is the first time Al’s ever made a display of concern for my safety in one of the cells. Maybe they’ve upped the policies here. “But Al, buddy, I can’t get decent answers out of him if a guard’s hanging over his head,” I say. “He won’t loosen up. I gotta work my magic on him.”
Al looks at me for a long minute. “Jake, do you realize what he did to that poor family?”
I guess Al’s right. Maybe I’m being a little reckless. But there’s no way this kid will tell me what I want to hear with him hovering over us. Besides, what’s he going to do to me in such a small room?
“What can he try to pull in a cell with nothing in it to use as a weapon?” I counter. “How about you stand right outside, and I’ll holler if he comes at me with his fists.”
Al looks reluctant, but he agrees. “Okay. I’ll be here, just outside the door. But look, Jake…” he trails off. I can see the apprehension in his eyes. “Any funny business, and I’m in trouble. And so are you.”
I clap Al’s shoulder. “No need to worry.”
Al shakes his head but unlocks the door, lets me inside. As he closes it quietly behind me, I nod at him reassuringly. The silent, I’ll be alright.
The kid is standing in a corner of the cell. Just staring in the distance. Pale skin. No hair — completely bald. I remember that part striking me as weird. No hair? Maybe he was sick.
“Hi, Solomon,” I say. “My name’s Jake.”
No response. Unblinking eyes. He’s not looking at me, more downward. I get the feeling he’s seeing something. I feel a shiver creeping down my spine, but I tense my muscles, warding it off. I won’t let this kid get the best of me. He’s just not all with it. Lots of people aren’t.
“I was wondering if we could have a little chat,” I say. The cell’s small, but I take two steps forward. He’s still a couple yards away. Not responding.
I bend to his level. “Solomon, I’m not the police. I just want to ask you a couple of questions about what happened last night. I want your side of the story.”
That gets him. The kid looks at me.
His irises are what captivate me. They’re brilliantly light. The lightest blue eyes I’d ever seen, like the palest, clearest sky, engulfing me, suffocating me. Like I’m lying on the grass looking up and it’s swallowing my entire being. A memory, a bad one, tugs at the corners of my mind, but I struggle to recall. I can’t focus on it; a buzzing noise rings in my ears. So loud. What is that? I want to look away, but he holds my gaze. Not blinking. The sound, growing louder. And louder. I feel a sweat break out on my forehead, a bead rolling down the side of my face. The moment feels like a century. My ears, they must be bleeding, that noise, I…
“Yes, I’d like to give my side of the story,” he says. And the buzzing stops.
I’m still reeling from the impact. I feel dizzy, off balance. Like I’m going to pass out. I put my hand on the cement wall to steady myself.
“Are you ready for what I have to say?” he says.
I pause. Something tells me to get the hell out of here. This isn’t safe. This isn’t right…
I swallow hard. “Yes,” I say. “I’m ready.”