Julie Ann Candoli
Layer upon layer of stench: this was my first, and lasting, impression. The building’s foyer smelled like sweat and stale cigarettes. Once I passed through the gauntlet of bulletproof glass and metal detectors into the actual jail, the stink of disinfectant over mold and piss hit me like a two-by-four to the face.
I surrendered my briefcase to a deputy who waved the metal-detector wand a little too near certain parts of my body. When I asked him if they didn’t have a female deputy available because that was darn close to a cavity search, he gave the standard response: “No, ma’am.”
This is about Royal, not about me, I told myself, deciding not to make trouble. For the moment. Left with only my legal pad and ballpoint pen, I waited for yet another deputy to unlock yet another metal door. No bars. Where those only in the movies? My lack of criminal law experience, plus whatever Hollywood decided to feed us, had not prepared me for the jail’s visceral reality. Nor the appearance of my client.
The air was muggy, but I was chilled to the marrow. Maybe it was the décor. Every surface was uniformly beige, whether cinder-block, painted, or linoleum. I perched on a folding chair— cold metal, beige seat, standard issue—to wait in what appeared to be a booking area. The setup was similar to the drivers license bureau at the Department of Public Safety, but with more courteous employees. A few guys waited to have their photos taken. Did their mug shots come out any better than drivers license pictures?
Another group milled about nearby in what could have passed for a Greyhound bus depot waiting room, except for the clothing. The guards wore snag-proof brown uniforms piped with gold trim, name plates and badges displayed upon their robust chests. The prisoners, on the other hand, were all dressed in striped pajamas, straight out of a chain gang movie. Loitering in front of a TV tuned to a courtroom reality show at maximum volume, they didn’t seem too riled up, despite their confinement and their apparel.
Horizontal stripes. I shuddered. If I wore those jammies, I’d look like a cabana.
The next deputy crooked his finger and led me to a small room. The door locked behind me with an industrial jolt. A tiny window sat high in the beige wall. Not even the bravest sunbeam could make it through.
A clanging door startled me. “Your client, ma’am.” This deputy, also clad in brown, seemed younger and thinner than the last one, but I was otherwise distracted.
Despite his handcuffs and swollen eyes, Royal still looked like a Bernini sculpture carved from marble, somehow untarnished by the requisite striped pj’s. I could only just barely recognize the familial resemblance to his father, Chef Angus, who was also big, but teddy-bear soft. Royal’s almost-shaved head showed two days’ stubble, as did his face. His eyes held the depths of a hell I could not imagine. It was as though several years had passed in the mere hours since I’d seen him.
Royal spoke only a single word: “Linley?
“Royal. Royal. It’s me, Gianna.” I tried to catch his gaze.
He seemed to be trying to focus. “Gianna? What happened to your face?”
“That’s not important. I’m here as your lawyer, at least for now.” I reached for Royal, but he was handcuffed. I turned to the deputy. “Is that really necessary?”
“Procedure for moving the prisoner, ma’am.”
This deputy looked to be about the same age as Royal. A big zit stared like Cyclops from the middle of his forehead, under the overhang of the uniform’s brown cowboy hat.
I made a valiant attempt at a dazzling smile, although charm was difficult in this joint. “Well, Deputy…” I read his name off his uniform tag. “Deputy Miller. It appears that transport is complete. Would you be so kind as to remove the handcuffs? And then leave us alone?”
Deputy Miller complied. “I’ll be right outside the door, ma’am.”
One more “ma’am” and I would scream.
The door jolted again, locking us in.
From The Best Offense
Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.
Julie Ann Candoli had a brief career as a lawyer, where she recognized she likely couldn’t murder someone without going to jail. She then began killing off bad guys in fiction and returned to her first love, the arts. She now writes thrillers, poetry, songs, and anything else that needs to be written, while telling compelling stories for her day job with a nonprofit working on affordable housing and relief from homelessness. Julie has been awarded several fellowships for artist residencies, and has won or been a finalist in a number of national literary contests. One of Julie’s poems will be included in an upcoming collection in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, entitled We Believe You, Christine. She has completed a legal thriller, The Best Offense, and is currently working on its sequel, Burn Baby Burn, a mystery set in Detroit where 15 fires are set each day.