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Queen of Swords: a novel

Chapter XIII – The Devil

And some think the universe is random! You looked so different in a suit. It couldn’t actually belong to you; you would never choose anything so greenish and old-fashioned. Your colors are power; black and red, sunset and midnight. Had I worn purple, you might have recognized me. Purple is the Queen’s color.

The suit’s padded shoulders made you look huge, hulking. Was your lawyer trying to conceal that mercenary’s roll I saw in your walk? He identified himself by lurking fearfully just at the edge of the prosecution table; a narrow man narrowly restraining his urge to dart forward and give you one final lick. If he asked you to take the six gold studs out of your right ear, you ignored him. Under the harsh court lights the scars on your shaved skull stood out like crop circles.

Who had scarred you with what horrid runes? I knew it for a message of possession in an ancient, forgotten language. You spoke in a deep, gravelly, rumbling voice. I cocked a fascinated ear. I had never heard more than your whisper.
“Zachary Tobin, T – O – B – I – N. 882 Spruce Court, Colorado Springs.”

I was stabbed by a stiletto of jealousy. You lived somewhere, slept in a real bed, perhaps with – some other one. Even mentally, I can’t bear to share you. But you looked at no one in particular as you gazed out over the audience with your sad, soft eyes. When you finished speaking you set your strong jaw with its dimpled chin as if waiting for the blow.
“How old are you, Mr. Tobin?”

“I’m twenty.” You looked older. But you are an old, old soul.

“And how old were you at the time of the crime that is the purpose of this trial?”
“I turned fifteen the week after.”

I was having difficulty concentrating on your words because your mouth is so beautiful. You drank root beer that night, don’t you remember? Root beer flavored vodka. Sassafras-scented kisses.
“What is your connection with this case?”

Your voice fell to a whisper, concealing its raw, coarse edge of power. Did you think you would frighten us? You were always so considerate. You offered me a condom. Only one! I have always regretted allowing you to use it.
“My father is the murderer.”

The courtroom swelled like the sea and expelled the seas’ gusty sigh.
“Do you mean the man who—“

“No leading questions, Mr. Wilmot,” barked O’Hara, pacing like an angry panther. Bypassing the astonished judge completely. Justice blinked at us helplessly with its flattened, flounder eyes.
You spoke again. “Barry Tobin is my father. He pled guilty to shooting Rafe Zanelli.”

Mr. Wilmot patted his pockets as if congratulating himself that his sleek, racecar construction had already bypassed a bump in the road. “Were you living with your father at the time of the murder?”

“No. I stayed over some nights but I never really lived with him. My parents never married, and although I only lived a few miles away from my father, I hardly ever saw him. But he did pay some my Mom some money and he always said he wanted me to have his name. When I entered high school, that’s when he really started taking an interest in me. He began lying in wait for me after school, giving rides home and offering me dinner.”

“What did he talk about on these trips?”

Such a slow lift of your sardonic brow! You looked straight into the prosecutor’s eyes as if you were alone with him. You never looked at us, the people you were sent to sway. Your body must remember me.

“He said I was a sucker to stay in school. That there was money to be made, things to do.”
“What was your reaction to this?”

“Mostly I tried to ignore him.”

“But you liked spending time with him, isn’t that right?”

“Sometimes. He wasn’t so bad when he was alone. He complimented me the way I looked, how big I had gotten, although he didn’t like it that I was taller than him. Said people would think I could take care of myself even if it wasn’t true. But get him around other people – ” A raggedy breath prevented you from saying more. My stepfather was just the opposite. He was awful all the time, but at his worst alone with me.

“How would he behave around other people?”

“Like he always had to put me down, like I was threatening him just by existing. Like he had me under his thumb. Then I’d find my own way home.”

Rebel! Told you!

“Did he ever actually offer you a job?”

“He did.”
“And what was it?”

“He wanted me to find someone.”

“Find who?”

“Rafe Zanelli. He had a picture and some addresses, but he said the guy was being elusive.”
“Did he tell you why he wanted to find Rafe Zanelli?”

“Yes. He said someone had put a contract out on him.”

“To kill him, do you mean?”

“That’s what he meant.”
“Did he say why?”

“Yes. He told me the guy was a dangerous child abuser and he said people like that never change and the child’s family wanted him dead. He said that when you have a pest, you come to the Exterminator. That’s what he called himself, the Exterminator.”

“Had your father ever killed anyone before?”

“He bragged a lot. He said he’d killed people for the Mafia.”
“None of this is binding on my client,” protested O’Hara.

“I’m getting there, your Honor,” said Wilmot. “Obviously the witness can repeat what his father said to him about murder. I don’t offer it for the truth of the matter.”

“Just don’t range too far, Mr. Wilmot,” said the judge, determined to assert whatever control remained to him.

Wilmot asked, “Did he ever mention the defendant in this case?”
You looked at her, I thought with some coldness, and she gazed piteously back at you.

“Not by name. But there was one time we stopped outside The Walnut Brewery. He pointed out Mr. Haymaker through the window. He was having dinner with a lady.”
“Can you identify that lady in court today?”

You gave her a long deep look, as a man who takes his obligations seriously. You did not make love to her with your eyes, the way you celebrated my naked body on your birthday night. I am still proud of what I have to offer.

“It was the defendant. My father said, “That’s the lady.” And I asked him, “What lady?” And my father said, “That’s the lady the hit is for.” Then he used a – vulgar word about her relationship with Mr. Haymaker. What she was to him.”

“We can imagine what he said. How long had you known Mr. Haymaker?”

“All my life. He was a good friend of my father’s.”
“Did he ever come over to your father’s house?”

“No. Not when I was there. They always met out somewhere. Sometimes when I was along.”
“Were you ever actually introduced to the defendant?”
“No. “

“So did you accept the job he offered you?”

“Why not?”

“Well, I thought it was fake. And I didn’t want to get in trouble. What I told him was, I had no wheels. He gave me a motorcycle. But it was pretty unreliable. And I still wouldn’t look for that guy.”
“Why not?”

“I just didn’t believe him. He bragged so much.”
“What other kinds of things had he bragged about?”

“He had his girlfriend believing he’d been trained to kill by the Special Forces, but I knew they’d never take him because he was a felon. Once he told Mr. Haymaker he had offed two men who cheated him in a drug deal, but later I found out those guys were still alive. He told different stories all the time. It was hard to trust anything he said. He was high a lot.”
“You knew your father sold drugs, didn’t you?”

“Yes. He never made any secret out of that. He thought it was cool. He was wheeling and dealing the whole time we were driving around.”

“But you didn’t report him?”

“Me? No.”
“Why not?”

You shifted uncomfortably, and for the first time looked up at the exit. The marshals stood against the doors as if you might suddenly make a dash for it. They judged you guilty solely because of the way you look. That’s how important looks are. They make us think we know what’s going on. Welcome to the universe! It must be your size making everyone afraid of you, because you have such a sweet, sweet face.

“Because he was my father.”
“Did you use drugs with him?”

“He never gave me any. I guess that turned out to be a good thing, because I probably didn’t have the self-control then to turn him down. But at the time I thought it was all part of his ragging on me.”
“You saw your father use drugs?”

“He always kept reefers in the glove compartment, and sometimes, if we were at what he called “a stakeout”, he would light one. If I went to his house at night, he and his girlfriend used coke. Sometimes crack. Then they would get crazy. He would have sex with his girlfriend in front of me. Once he took me to a devil worshipper’s club. He said he was a devil worshiper. I kept trying to stop him hitting his girlfriend; but then she would hit me. He’d also get very paranoid. His slogan was, “Get them before they get you.” I learned if he took me to his place I’d have to get the hell out of there, even if I walked ten miles.”

“Did he ever hurt you physically?”

“When I was smaller. I was seven when he had a friend of his hold me down so he could carve this pentagram into my head. He called it the mark of Cain. It bled like crazy.”

“Did you go to the hospital?”

“My Mom took me to the emergency room. They said the scars could be lasered but the hair would never grow back. That’s why I keep it short.”

You rubbed your head as you spoke. I remember the feeling; like a blurred brand on an animal’s hide.

“What did your mother say about it?”

“She said not to have anything to do with him. Take money. Nothing else.”
“You didn’t listen, did you?”

“Nah.” Said sheepishly.

“So what was his reaction when you wouldn’t take his “job”?

“He took my motorcycle away. Got mad.”
“Did your father ever pull a gun on you?”

“Lots of times. He’d say, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out.” He had plenty of guns.”
“Did he carry guns in the car?”

“Always. He had guns everywhere. He loved going to gun shows. He was always buying and selling guns with sketchy people. “

“Tell me about the guns he kept in the car. Can you remember any specific ones? “
“He had a Tek9 he was very proud of, but it never really worked right. Kept jamming. A couple of Colts – one was a .38. A pearl-handled .22 he said belonged to somebody famous.”

“Some bad-ass. I forget. He wanted me to handle all of them, get a good look at them, try them out. It never occurred to me that he was trying to get my prints on them. He could be devious.”
“So you found yourself along for the ride while he was looking for Rafe Zanelli?”
“I didn’t really know he was doing it. He talked about it for so long before he did anything I figured he was just bleeding Mr. Haymaker. He would drive by a house and say, “There’s his house.” And I said, “Who?” And he said, “That guy we’re going to kill.”

“What did he tell you about the planned hit in January of ’09?”

“He told me Haymaker cancelled it.”
“Did he say why?”

“He said Haymaker wasn’t getting along too well with the ladyfriend. He said Haymaker was too smart a guy to risk everything for a girl who didn’t put out.”
“Then what happened on March 20, 2009?”

“He picked me up after school and we went driving, like usual. Stopped for some dinner.”


“Did you stay in or takeout?”

“We took sandwiches out, so we were eating while he drove. When he was finished he lit a joint. I asked him to drop me at the Mall where I was supposed to meet my friends, and he said he would after he had an appointment with a guy.”

“Did he say what that was about?”

“An appointment about selling a motorcycle. I said “My motorcycle?” He said, “I got rid of that one.” He said I hadn’t done nothing to earn it. He said maybe he was going to buy another bike. Might give it to me. Like an idiot, I said, What do I have to do? I was getting sick of his rides and I wanted to be free of him. He clopped me on the side of the head and said, “Watch and learn.” So we pulled up at the Radisson just off I-25. A guy in a ratty green car was waiting for us in the parking lot.”

“What can you tell us about the car?”

“It was a green Yugo with the back seat missing. It had the battery out where you could see it. The outside was spattered with rust primer.”

“Did you recognize the man?”

“He looked familiar, but I didn’t place him at first. He stuck his head in my father’s window and said, “Want to see the bike?”

My dad said, “Let’s go.” He didn’t hide from the guy that he was smoking a reefer. The guy said, “Follow me” so we started driving down 25 south.”
“Had you figured out who he was?”

“As we were driving I put it together. I said, “That’s the guy. Isn’t that the guy you’re supposed to kill?” He just grinned at me. Didn’t answer directly. We were driving along the road – the guy’s car was making a hell of a racket, and suddenly my father pulled into the rest area, flashing his lights. So the Yugo stopped and backed up to us. The guy got out of the car. My father took out his gun.”
“Which gun?”

“The Colt .38. I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m going to do him here.” Then he turned to me and asked, “You want to do it?”

“What did you say?”

“I said no. He called me a name.”

“What was it?”

“Can I say? Pussy.”
“Then what happened?”

“My dad got out of the car with the gun behind his back. I heard him say some words like “gas station.” Then he lifted the gun and shot Zanelli. Zanelli turned and my father shot him a lot more times. He fell.”

“How many times?”

“I don’t know. A lot of times. I think he unloaded the gun.”
“Were there cars driving by?”

“Not then. I’m sure nobody saw. He got into the car and handed me the gun.”
“Did you take it?”

Anyone could see the slow flush burn across your skull.

“Yes,” you said, seeming surprised that anyone expected you to do anything else. “He threw it at me. I had to take it. It was hot and scorching. I had never seen anybody guy really shot before. Up until that last minute I just didn’t believe it would happen.”
“Then what?”

“We drove right over the dude’s dead body. Two big bumps. My father kept driving, then when we got to the bridge he said, “Throw it out as far as you can.”
“Did you?”

“Yeah, right into the river. I realized as long as I was holding it my father would act like this was something we’d done together. I was relieved to get rid of it.”

“Mr. Tobin, you witnessed a murder. Why didn’t you report any of this to the police? Why make them come to you?”

You looked away. You said, “Afraid of my dad. He says his friends are everywhere. And it sure could be true. Everyone uses drugs. Even in the police.”

My fingers hurt from clutching the rail in front of me. Why don’t you tell? They always want to know that, after. If anyone asked me, I would have given the same answer.
“Did you see your father after that?”

“Not for a few weeks. I tried to stay away from him. Mr. Haymaker paid him and he went to–“
“Objection!” O’Hara up and shouting.

“Just tell us what you know of your own knowledge.” Mr. Wilmot purred.

“I didn’t see my father for two months. When he came back, he looked me up. He told me Mr. Haymaker paid him and he went to Miami. Then he lost the money and came home. At that point, I already knew I had to leave. I didn’t want him to know where I was going.”
“Which was where?”

“I had a chance for summer work construction on a hotel in North Carolina. I thought I might be able to figure out a way to stay down there. Drop out of school if I had to. The next thing I heard was my dad was arrested. The police came out to see me in North Carolina.”
“What did they say to you?”

“They told me my dad said I’d done it. I was scared to tell them anything. They brought me back in shackles. My Mom got me a lawyer through Legal Aid, and when I told him the story he made a deal; told them I was a witness but couldn’t say anything without immunity. Then I told them the whole story. I didn’t hold back. I didn’t have to turn my dad in, they already had him. And he is a very dangerous guy, so probably he should be off the streets. After what I said, they booked him.”
“You told them about getting rid of the murder weapon?”

“Yes. They dragged the river but they didn’t find the gun.”

“And you have cooperated with the investigation all the way along?”

“Has anything you’ve said been revealed to be untrue?”

“Your witness.”

Had you really the shooter? You didn’t seem like such a smooth liar, but of course that’s the way the best liars seem. I couldn’t make up my mind.

O’Hara stood looking at you, playing his “I know who you really are” game. You looked back, very brave. I was so proud of you.

“Mr. Tobin, you’re aware that your father still says you did the shooting?’

“I believe he’s told everybody a lot of different stories.”
“What’s your reaction to this current story?”

“He doesn’t like the jail he’s in. He’s trying to get out.”
“Do you visit him there?”

You laughed incredulously. “Hell no.”
“Why not?”

“Believe me, he doesn’t want to see me.”
“Do you hate your father?”

People did ask me that question. Sometimes they said father, sometimes they said stepfather. Doesn’t make any difference to them. The counselor asked that at school. Do you hate your father? I said no. That was easy. Easy to stop hating someone after you’ve killed them.

You said, “Not now.”
“But you did before?”

“I hated him when I was a little kid, when he hurt my head, when he went away. Later I tried to like him, because he seemed like he wanted to get close to me. When I realized he was just using me, that he used everybody, I hated him again. After the murder I was afraid of him. Now that he’s locked up, I feel sorry for him. I wouldn’t say I’ve forgiven him yet but I don’t hate him any more.”

I knew you must be lying then. What truck have we with “forgiveness?” That’s a bullshit word. Lucky for you O’Hara didn’t ask you what if your father was standing right before you now and you had the gun, what would you do then? What would you have said if he asked you that? You’ll never have to lie to me. I know how it really is.

“Have you heard your father thinks he should be judged insane?”
“Is he insane?”

“Objection. Not qualified to answer.” Wilmot bristled forth.
“I’m just asking for his opinion,” O’Hara pleaded to the judge.
“He can give his opinion.”

“No,” you said flatly. That appeared to surprise O’Hara.
“But you’ve described the actions of a crazy man.”
“He knew what he was doing.”

“Let’s go back to the night you saw the defendant – ” he put his hand on Karen’s shoulder, “Dining with Mr. Haymaker. Did your father say at any point that she asked for the murder?”
You shook your head. “He said the hit was for her. That’s all he said.”
“And he never mentioned her again.”

“Just to say they were having a thing. An affair.”
O’Hara sat down, seemingly satisfied. But Wilmot wasn’t. He rose back up. He had a sword to wield.

“In your signed affidavit, didn’t you use slightly different words? “
“I can’t recall the exact words I used.”

“I draw your attention to the highlighted portion of this document. Will you please read what you said here?”

“I said my father told me, “She has Haymaker by the balls. He’s completely pussy-whipped. He’d kill his mother for her.”

“Thank you.” Wilmot sat. But O’Hara rose again.

“You have immunity, correct, Mr. Tobin?”
“That’s right.”

“What’s it predicated on? What do you have to do for it?”

“Tell the truth.” You shrugged. You were the only witness I saw during the trial that didn’t seem the least bothered or threatened by O’Hara.

“Not change your story, isn’t that it?”
“That’s it. Because my story’s the true one.”

And then they freed you. As I watched you blast through the swing doors, I was in a fever to see you again. I wrote down your address, but it was burned into my brain. Because a piece of me went with you. I know you did it. You took that gun from your father and you shot that man and now you’re killing two birds with one stone. Pretty smart. Your father recognized you as a killer, someone who could act instead of brag. If your father had it in him to be a killer, he would have done it long before.

But your secret is safe with me. This so-called “justice” system can do nothing for you. I am the only one who can free you.

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