1 Black Sedan
Across the intersection, a white-haired woman in a pink dress leaned against a pole on the corner as she waited for the crosswalk. My foot rested on the brake as I gazed at the cloudless Odessa sky, begging the Texas heat for mercy. A black sedan appeared in my rearview mirror, inching closer with haste. The traffic light beamed red, but the car accelerated as the lady’s orthopedic shoes connected with the road. With her eyes forward, she hobbled onto the street, making her way to the other side. The driver swerved into the adjacent lane with a shrill screech. Nearly choking on air, I gasped as it sprang into the crossing without as much of a brake flicker.
I rolled down my window to scream at the lady in pink, as my other hand compelled the horn. She swiveled her head toward me just as the car struck her, catapulting her body into the air before it smacked against the hot pavement, bouncing twice before tumbling into a final position. The car’s engine roared as it accelerated, disappearing into the distance.
“GLC889. GLC889. GLC889,” I repeated aloud, grabbing my phone to make a voice note, so I didn’t forget. “GLC889. Black Lincoln Town Car. Texas plates.”
I threw my shifter in park, not bothering to kill the engine, and hurried across the road to render aid. The only breeze was that from the run, and the relentless sun seared my scalp. Burned rubber hung thickly in the air with hints of powdery perfume and copper of freshly spilled blood. There were no cars around. There was no one on the sidewalks. My throat constricted, and my body’s core turned to ice. Nothing of this magnitude had ever crossed my path before. As I marched over to her discarded marionette doll figure, I surveyed the broken limbs and lacerations dispersed across her creped skin. With her chest massacred upon impact, crimson stains had soaked into the front of her dress like a Rorschach image. Blood seeped from her skull, thickening as it cooked on the boiling concrete. Her head faced me with widened eyes, projected at a ninety-degree angle to her body. No need to search for vitals. She was gone.
With my chest heaving, I dialed 9-1-1. The operator answered within seconds, but it seemed like an eternity. I cleared my throat.
“There’s been a hit and run, license plate GLC889, a black Lincoln Town Car. A woman’s dead. I’m at East University Boulevard and Golder Avenue. My name’s Alex Cardin. I’m only seventeen. I don’t know what to do. Please help.”
The voice on the other end of the line instructed me to move out of the street, out of harm’s way. Something deep inside wouldn’t allow me to leave her body there, so I kneeled by the crumpled corpse. Approaching motorists became confused by my parked car at the stoplight and the woman on the ground. Cars pulled over to the side of the road, and a crowd soon gathered. With gaped jaws, onlookers raised their mobile devices to record the scene, but nobody offered assistance. After hanging up with 9-1-1, my adrenaline directed traffic until the police arrived.
Minutes had passed before the sirens rang in the distance and red-and-blue swirling lights arrived on scene. I moved to the side of the street as an ambulance pulled next to the body and parked.
“What’d you do, son?” a bald man in a tracksuit asked as he raised his phone to film me.
A lady in a business suit stepped closer with a smirk on her face.
“Ha! You know exactly what he did. He was probably texting a girl or checking himself in the mirror. Guys like that care about one thing, you know.”
“It wasn’t me. A black sedan hit her and drove away.”
Disturbed by the bystanders, I jogged over to tell my story to the paramedics. They ignored me as if I was invisible as they yanked equipment from the back of their truck. Like robots, they had a job to do, a strict, programmed protocol, but their efforts were futile. Pulling out gadgets from their bags, they rushed to the victim, checking for vital signs. Not one of us needed a day of medical training to see her demise was more than obvious.
A middle-aged peace officer, with messy hair and wide-set eyes, hopped out of his cruiser and sauntered toward the victim with a scowl on his face. I sighed, realizing the driver of the sedan had had far too much time to evade the scene. The policeman was in no hurry as he glanced at the woman before heading toward me.
“You hit her?” he asked as he pulled out a pen from his front pocket.
“No, sir. I reported the plate number to the 9-1-1 operator. The guy that hit her left the scene.”
“Please give me your driver’s license.”
I fumbled to retrieve my identification from my wallet.
“Alright, I’ll need you to sit right over there, be back in a minute,” the officer said, as he turned toward his black-and-white.
“My car’s over there. I’ll move it,” I said as I pointed to my Honda Civic at the stoplight.
“You can’t just leave your car parked at an intersection. You’re blocking a lane, young man,” he said, pausing to scribble my license plate on his form. “I can issue a ticket for vehicle abandonment and reckless driving.”
“What? Are you serious? I was trying to help that woman.”
“Really? Trying to help her? Nobody can save that sack of skin. She’s not in need of aid. She needs a coroner. Move your vehicle to that lot, and wait on the curb,” he said, pointing across the street at an office parking garage.
Without another word, I pulled my car into the garage. “What the hell?” I mumbled, trying not to stare at the cop as he wrote on his clipboard. He grabbed the radio from his shoulder as I pulled into a parking space. Dammit! Upon seeing the groceries in the backseat I had bought for my mother, I cringed and checked the time. I sent her a text message to tell her I would be a few minutes late.
After taking a seat on the pavement across from the victim’s body, I waited in silence, watching the medics peel the woman from the street and place her carcass inside of a body bag. The bystanders glared at me as if I was a pariah. The policeman sat in his car with the engine running as he spoke to someone on his radio. What was I waiting for? Wasn’t I a Good Samaritan? Is this what doing the right thing feels like?
An hour had passed, and my clothes were drenched from the burning sun. I had just texted my mother with a white lie about an after school study group so she wouldn’t worry. As the cop approached, I raised my head, squinting at him.
“You have the right to remain silent. If you do say—”
“What? Are you arresting me? This—”
“If you do say anything, what you say can be used against you in a court of law. Stand up, young man,” he said, as he flashed a pair of handcuffs in front of me.
Nausea flushed through my core, as I complied with jellied legs. The crowd of spectators jeered and shouted obscenities. With a hard blink of my eyes to remain conscious, I wiped the sweat from my face onto my shoulder. I jabbed my thumb into the side of my thigh, hoping to wake up, as I tried to convince myself it was just a nightmare.
“You have the right to consult with a lawyer. One will be appointed for you if you so desire.”
A lady wearing scrubs poked me in the shoulder and grinned.
“Oh, the prison boys are gonna love your muscles. It’s a shame what they’ll do to your gorgeous face. Those beautiful brown eyes will be black and blue, and those pearly whites are good as gone.”
“There are no more prisons, lady. He’s going to the island. He’s got no chance,” a man standing beside her said.
The officer yanked my arm behind my back, and the merciless metal of the restraints slammed against my flesh. He tightened the cuff around each wrist until it could no longer produce another click. As he escorted me to his car, the growing mob of pedestrians followed with phones raised.
“I didn’t do it, sir. You have to believe me. I saw who did it.”
“Get in,” he said, shoving me into the backseat.
The car door slammed shut.
2 Swift Justice
The iron gate crashed into place with a deafening boom. The air was thin and saturated with a vile mold. I didn’t belong there. Three concrete slabs with a barrier of reinforced bars - no place for a recent high school graduate. I hadn’t had enough time on Earth to develop a career, a craft, or even to find my purpose. The cell harbored shrouds of shadow, the only light in the room streamed in fragmented rays from a grungy corridor. My new roommates rested in bunk beds against the walls – some mumbling from drunken stupors and others so still they might have been dead. My hands wrapped around the railing of a cold, steel ladder, and an angry face glared at me from below, sizing me up as if I were his next meal. Climbing to the top bed, I mused about how the justice system had failed me, the victim, and her family. It didn’t make sense that everyone at the scene assumed I was guilty. I had always seen in movies that you could call someone if you were arrested, but they never gave me the opportunity and even took my phone. As they processed me into the jail, nobody had spoken a word, and not one person would listen to my story. It was maddening. I’ll never leave the house again if I get out of this mess.
My feet hung off the edge of the thin mattress, so I folded my knees until I fit. I shook out a flimsy blanket and flung a massive spider onto my chest. The darkened room morphed the creature into a shadowy figure of eight gangly legs that took turns elongating as if I had awoken him and he needed to stretch. The creepy beast flew into the air as I swiped at it while suppressing an irrational freak out. In attempts at blending in with my environment, I slid the cover on top of my neon-orange jumpsuit. However, I couldn’t help but run my fingers across the fleece to check for members of his family. An icy stream of air howled through the overhead vents above my head, killing any chance of sleep. Graffiti created by villains past covered the concrete blocks lining the back wall of my bunk. At least I had something to keep my brain occupied.
“Whaddya in fer?” a deep voice echoed from the dark corner.
Slow, muted footsteps approached, and a shagged beard emerged from the shadows. With a gulp, I mustered a response as his face leveled with mine.
“I-I don’t know.”
“Now that’s the funniest thing I heard all week! Me name’s Joe,” he said in a pirate-like manner with a grim smile.
Unaware of jail cell rules, I hesitated in an awkward silence before I whispered in response.
“Nice to meet you, Joe.”
He cocked his head to the side, and I could barely discern a grin through his thick beard.
“Ye prob’ly thinks me’s a criminal, but me’s not.”
I stared at the ceiling vent until my eyes stung from the cold air.
“Well, I didn’t think you—“
“Ye prob’ly thinks me done killed someone.”
“Um, no, no I don’t.”
Please go away. I recoiled under the pilled blanket. My eyes darted around the cell, anticipating others to join in and take the attention off me.
“Call me fren. That’s all me wants.”
“Okay, I’ll call your friend. What’s his name? How would I reach him?”
I pressed against my chest to slow my heart, taking in a calming breath of the fusty air.
“No. No. No. Ye call me fren.” He dwelled on the moment with a crooked smile before unleashing a raucous laugh. “Look, me’s not tryna hurt a good fella like yerself. Me just wants t’ be yer fren.”
My primal brain ordered the production of copious tears and a cry out for my mother. I was thankful my survival drive kept the sobbing at bay and suspended all movement. I held my breath and tightened my shoulders as Joe stepped closer, narrowing the space between us. He had a roaming eye that gave him a permanently distracted look. A new scenario in my repertoire, I turned into a deer caught in the headlights.
“Call me fren.”
My eyes burned a hole into my blanket until a chipper whistle rang from the hallway. Within seconds, a muscled guard waltzed by the jail cell twirling a stick.
The moment the words left my lips, I regretted my outburst as the footsteps halted. The correctional officer wore the standard khaki uniform with a thick utility belt holding various weapons. His blond hair was short and spiked, and he had dark eyebrows in an arch like a pop star. Through the bars, he searched for the owner of the voice. In the grim darkness, he widened a smile.
“Well, you’ve already helped yourself by getting in there, Alexander Cardin. You’re in good hands now.” He chuckled. “I see you’ve made a friend.”
A moment of silence had beset the room before he swished off through the corridor. Why the hell did I do that? With my heart edging up my throat, I scrambled to establish an action plan for when the giant murderous freak launched an attack.
“Got cig’rettes on ye?” the pirate asked, his foul breath coating my nostrils.
In a state of confusion, I propped up on an elbow and explored the room with my eyes for movement. Why wasn’t Joe angry I called for help? Why did nobody react? As I locked into a gaze with Joe, I realized he reminded me of a serial killer – one who had worn a clown mask and hacked people with a machete in their beds. I suddenly didn’t mind the chilly air, as my core was heating up like a barbecue grill.
“No. Um, I don’t smoke.”
I swallowed a hard lump as I flattened against the mattress.
“Ima have t’check.”
I paralyzed every fiber of my being as Joe patted me down like a TSA agent, my eyes fixed on the ceiling vent and doing everything I could to avoid eye contact.
“So, what are you in here for, Joe?”
I said the first thing that came to mind, as I needed a distraction.
“Murder.” He paused and waited for my reaction. I stayed frozen with a blank expression. “Don’ worry, me don’ kill ev’yone, jus’ t’bad ones.”
As I expected. I would have done anything to get the creep to leave me alone, but he stood still, staring at me as if I was his favorite television show.
“So, do you kill them with a knife? A gun? How does that work?”
The unprocessed words spewed from my rogue tongue, leading me down a terrible pathway.
“No need, gots me fists,” he said as he smiled, flashing his enormous hands with battered knuckles.
I exhaled in slow increments. Joe turned abruptly and ambled back into the depths of the shadows.
The blond guard made his rounds once again, nightstick spinning in the air as he smacked gum like a junior high girl. Without moving a muscle, I waited for him to announce my release and tell me it was all a mistake. Instead, he approached the cell and clanked on the bars with his baton. I cringed, not wanting him to wake up more of my cellmates.
“How are you doing, Joe? Why’d you leave your new friend?”
“Not the talkative type, huh? Or, do you just prefer to speak to young boys?” the officer said with a warped grin. “Mr. Cardin?”
My heart paused at the sound of my name.
“Come with me. You have a visitor.”
Skipping the bunk’s ladder, I hurdled out of my bed and scurried out of the cell. The guard slammed the gate behind me and signaled to follow him. With eyes forward, I avoided what I imagined were pairs of hungry eyes glued to me from within the line of cells of the grim passageway. After navigating through a shabby maze, we walked up to a green door with a tiny window. The officer flung it open and shoved me into a room with a thick glass partition reinforced with bars, a red vintage telephone at each station. I spotted my brother.
“Tony,” I yelled as I rushed toward an orange plastic chair at one of the stations.
I picked up the bulky receiver, staring at an expression of horror on the face that doubled as my reflection. We favored each other as twins but were eleven months apart in age. At five-foot-eleven, I was slightly taller, but he often boasted about being more athletic.
“What happened, Alex? Mom’s so upset, she’s doing what she can to find a lawyer, but she’s having trouble finding anybody who will take the case without being paid.”
“I witnessed a hit and run. I called in the license plate, but nobody did anything. Nobody cared, and the cop arrested me. Nothing makes sense.”
“What’s the license plate? That would be great to tell the attorney if we can ever get one.”
Tony grabbed a pen and paper from the desk in front of him.
“GLC889. Black Lincoln Town Car. Texas plates.” He scribbled on the pad. “Tony, it’s very strange, but nobody cared I knew the car that hit the woman. It’s like they pretended not to hear me.”
The door behind me squealed as it opened. The guard glared at me and shot a coy smile at Tony.
“Let’s go. Your trial’s in the morning, at 6 AM, you better get some rest. You’re lucky I allowed you a visitor outside of hours.”
Tony ripped the paper from the pad and slid it into his pocket. A guard with short dreadlocks closed in on him.
“Trial? What do you mean there’s a trial?” I said as Tony rose from his chair, his fists clenched white as he held onto the table and stared into my eyes.
“President Gray’s Prison Reform Act of 2026 sped up the archaic judicial process. Nobody has to wait months or even years to know their fate anymore. Where’ve you been, man? I will admit a twenty-four-hour turnaround is the fastest I’ve seen. There must be a ton of evidence in your case,” the blond guard said.
“No. No trial. I need to get out of here!”
“Yeah, you and everybody else,” the guard said with a sour frown. “Let’s go, Alexander Cardin. Now.”
Tony banged his fist against the tabletop as he shirked away from the dreadlocked guard’s grip.
“Alex, I won’t give up, we will fix this if it’s the last thing I do.”