The steering wheel’s cracked leather was cold against his forehead. John sighed. The heading of the newspaper sprawled out on the passenger’s seat ran “November 5.” The same date he saw most every night.
It had been five years now. Five years since the first November 5. Five years since his father had died.
A riot. A shiv to the throat. As random as it may have been, it was the only verdict that mattered. He was gone.
John had never been able to know him, which only made the wound worse. It had been 19 years since they had taken his father away, when he was just a child. They had all seemed so sure, he reflected. It did not matter how many times his father declared innocence.
John had known for certain that it couldn’t have been true, as only a child could. But they paid him no mind as they put his father on death row, leaving John with no one. Nobody but a parade of foster parents, each twisted in their own way. John was left to fend for himself as his father rotted away, appealing his conviction, lingering on “the row.”
But he was dead now, and that wasn’t going to change. Dead just a year before the DNA – the evidence that cleared his name – was discovered.
John choked on the tears, as he had done for nearly two decades. He had hoped that a numbness would eventually set in. Knew that it must. But it never did. No detachment from the pain, no cold veneer to block out reality. Only sorrow. Sorrow and rage.
He wiped his face with stiff hands, and sat back in the driver’s seat. Wriggling some heat back into his fingers, John felt the metal at his hip. It calmed him some. He cleared his throat and got out of the car, closing the door without bothering to lock it. John squinted in the light. The pale midday sun was bright, but it offered little respite from the bitter chill in the air.
John walked across the street, advancing towards the house with measured strides. He opened the front door as if it were his own, and passed over the threshold without a second thought. His left hand clutched the tattered photo of his father, the only remaining piece of his family, as he explored the bottom floor of the house. Empty.
With his foot on the first step leading upstairs, John heard a sudden burst of laughter, coming from the back of the house. Making his way through the kitchen, out the sliding glass doors and into the backyard, John found the old man.
Judge Chamberlain had his back to John, comfortable in soft corduroy pants and a faded tweed coat. John drew the nine millimeter from his hip in one fluid motion, as he had done for his bedroom mirror so many times. Hearing John prime the weapon, the judge turned to face the young man. His wrinkled face aged a decade as realization hit him.
“I’m so sorry,” the old man sighed. And it was clear that he meant it. That didn’t matter. John didn’t know the jury, couldn’t find the jury. That didn’t matter, either. He could not hold court for everyone, as they had done for his father. But one. There had to be one.
John leveled the gun at Judge Chamberlain’s face just as a twig snapped around the side of the house. A boy came sprinting around the corner, toting the football that must have momentarily drawn him away from the backyard. The boy couldn’t have been older than 15, with light brown hair and an average frame. He stopped next to his grandfather, intending to toss him the ball. Then he saw John.
The boy dropped the ball and froze, rooted to the spot. John considered him for a moment, gun pointed at his forehead, then turned back to the old man.
“Please,” the old man pleaded, tears pooling in the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. John tasted the word for a moment, and spat it out, angry. He turned and raised the gun. Squeezing once, twice, red gouts of blood erupted from the boy’s chest. The old man fell to the ground, wailing in pain as he tried to shield the fallen boy from further harm. But he was already dead.
John advanced on the old man, bloodlust fueling his shaking limbs. He placed the barrel on the back of the judge’s head and pulled without hesitation. Brain, skull, and blood sprayed from the point of impact, latching onto John’s jacket as the old man’s head exploded. He fell to his knees and retched, bile congealing with the hot, bubbling blood on the ground.
Not bothering to wipe his mouth, John looked up at the sun. Unblinking, he sighed, thinking of his father.
Before he could vomit again, John put the gun in his mouth and bit down hard. His finger twitched the trigger.