“Me? I don’t know. Let me think.”
Taylor leans back against the wall, raising the stool on two legs. He stares at the ceiling and the fan whirring slowly, silently around.
“I suppose you’ve got to go with pleasure first.”
The word makes him smirk.
“Yeah, some pleasure. For example, there’s a restaurant I really love—you know, that Italian down by the docks? Simple, friendly. And the best veal parmigiana you’ve ever tasted. I go there at least once a month, but it never gets old. I can taste it now.”
He licks his lips.
“And wine. I love wine. I know a bit about it, too. On my salary, though … I can only afford the really cheap stuff. So if I knew I only had one week, hanging onto my savings wouldn’t be an issue. So I’d buy myself something French—a Château Margaux maybe. And I’d finish it in one sitting. I know—vulgar, right? But then I wouldn’t care, would I?”
The idea brings a brief laugh—not caring would throw up many possibilities.
“That film Scent of a Woman? You know, the one with Al Pacino. The scene where he gets his guide to help him drive a Ferrari—‘cos he’s blind, isn’t he? I love that scene. I’d do that, too—hire a Ferrari for the afternoon and just go screaming down the highway. The speed of that thing! Not caring if you crashed, not caring if you got caught. That would be something.”
He rocks forward, as if he were in the car, slowing down.
“Man … a Ferrari. That’s one helluva beautiful car. Then there’s that other scene in the film—where Al goes to a hooker. But it’s not just any old street hooker. No. He’s got money he won’t be needing, ‘cos he aims to commit suicide later, remember? So he goes to a really top-class one. We don’t see her, but we can imagine. She’d be like a Ferrari on legs … fine lines, but with curves in all the right places. I don’t do hookers, but with only a week left, and no time to feel the guilt, why not?”
A fly settles on his arm and he slides his hand up behind it, catching it as it takes off. He squeezes his fist tight and throws the lifeless body down onto the gray tiles.
“Yeah, forbidden pleasures. That would be the time to try them. Like, you know … I’ve always been curious but terrified at the same time: heroin. I’ve had people in here—wrecks of people—who’ve gone beyond the pleasure to the need. But when you can get some sense out of them, they’ll tell you about the first times—the golden warmth, the euphoria, the sense of being … free of all cares. Yep, I think I’d give that a go for sure. No time to get addicted, y’see. No time to get destroyed by it.”
He nods his head, agreeing with himself. But then his face goes serious, a trace of shame settling there.
“But you know, after all these little binges, the one thing that would give me the most pleasure, the deepest pleasure, would be to spend time with my family.”
Now he breaks into a full, sunny smile, lighting him up like a neon sign.
“I’m not married, I think I told you. And I live with my ma and pa and my little sister, Nancy. But it’s good—I don’t feel trapped or frustrated. Quite the opposite. I’m free to do what I want, but when I want to be with them, it’s real good. There’s a lot of love in that house. So yeah, I’d spend time with my family for sure.”
He takes a pack of Marlboro out of his shirt pocket and removes two cigarettes. He lights them and passes one through the bars. The man on the bed sits up and nods a “thanks.”
“What about you, Billy Joe?”
The young man scratches the stubble on his chin, takes a deep draw on the cigarette and exhales smoke in a long sigh.
He shakes his head gently, looking down at his white slippers.
“I ain’t got much. I ain’t got hardly none. I got some uncles and aunts up state, and some cousins, but they don’t have nothin’ to do with me, on account of my pa, who was a bad lot. My ma … well she died young. Yeah, heroin’s a bitch all right.”
He takes another draw on his cigarette and spits on the floor, spreading it out under his slipper.
“But then there’s my brother …”
He pauses, his eyes darkening. Taylor waits for him to continue, but prompts him when he doesn’t.
“You’re twins, right?”
“Right. Twins. Identical.”
Taylor leans in, close to the bars.
“There’s something I’ve always wanted to know. Is it true what they say? That you have … like … a psychic … or a spiritual connection?”
Billy Joe thinks about the question, then spits on the floor again.
“Maybe, in the past. Then this. No psychic or spiritual connection put me in here.”
Taylor is about to ask another question but Billy Joe pre-empts it.
“It was him what done it, y’see. I’ve never been in that bar in my life. And I sure as hell never killed nobody. No, he done it all right. And the funny thing—though it ain’t as funny as all that—is that he used me as his alibi. He said that he was where I was, and I was where he was. There was witnesses, too. And he’s always had the gift of words, know what I mean? He spoke his filthy lies and they believed him and not me. So here I am.”
Taking a long draw on his cigarette, Taylor looks hard into Billy Joe’s eyes. He is a good judge of character, Taylor, and he is prepared to believe the man. But he knows there is no chance of a reprieve from the current Governor, not with elections coming up.
Taylor looks at his watch, stands up, adjusts his holster and dons his hat. His shift is coming to a close, but before his relief arrives, he wants to know something.
“So, Billy Joe.” His voice is reverential now, with a note of sympathy. “I’ve been doing all the talking. Tell me—what would you do with this week … if you could?”
Billy Joe stares at the fan on the ceiling, his voice even and cool.
“Why, you know … I’d search out that dirty sonofabitch.”
Now he looks over at Taylor, grins.
“And I’d gut him like a goddam catfish.”
Along the corridor, a buzzer and the metallic clang of a door herald Taylor’s relief.