by Jessica Wren
The jail cell was stuffy and dark. April Rogers had a thin blanket, a flat pillow, and the jail-issued shorts and cotton T-shirt given to her to sleep in. Her tender skin felt scratchy against the bed linens. Her cell-mates, three other boisterous women of various ages, were talking and laughing as if they were at a cocktail party rather than incarcerated in the county jail. Please shut up, she begged them in her mind but did not dare say anything. All April wanted to do was get some sleep. Since her arrest earlier that afternoon, everything had gone by in such a blur that the fact that she had been arrested for murder had barely sunk in. Her state-appointed attorney had been blunt with her in a meeting. She had been charged with first-degree murder, and would be sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole if convicted.
April shifted, trying to get as comfortable as she could. The other women continued their loud conversation. She wondered how her brother, Kaleb, who had also been arrested, was doing. It’s all my fault, she thought as the tears formed in her eyes. I’m sorry, Kaleb. She had tried to tell detectives that Kaleb had nothing to do with the grisly killing, and that he had only been present because his injured leg prevented a quick escape. But Mason, Evelyn, and Vicente had told detectives another story. April hoped they were getting the living crap beat of them by other inmates. Five people, April thought, and she couldn’t help it; the tears ran down her cheek in a steady stream. Five people in jail, and one dead.
Suddenly the other women got quiet. “It’s her first night here,” one whispered.
“Better she learn now how things work around here.”
April felt the blanket being yanked off of her, and the pillow pulled out from under her head.
“Hey!” April protested weakly, evoking amused guffaws from the three others. As two pinned her to the ground, the largest of the three pulled off her shorts and panties, and then the other two pulled off her T-shirt. The state had not yet issued her a bra, so April was left naked and with no bed linens. In spite of the stifling warmth of the room, April felt chilly.
“How old you is?” one inmate asked.
“Fifteen,” April whimpered.
“And you bein’ charged with murder? Girl, you done threw your life away.” The inmates snickered derisively as they got in their own beds, leaving April naked on a mattress with a thin sheet. “G’nite.”
The thought that April would be in jail for the rest of her life hit her like a large stone, and she wept as silently as she could.
April put the ice pack Kaleb gave her against her swollen, bruised cheek. “This is it,” she told her brother. “This is the last time.”
“Good,” Kaleb said. “Dump his sorry ass. April, honestly, I don’t get why you put up with him.”
“Me neither, but no more. Enough is enough.” April logged on to her Facebook account using her Iphone. “I’m sending him a message now breaking up with it. I know you’re not technically supposed to do that, but…”
“No, don’t,” Kaleb said. “Tell him to his face. Don’t make him think you’re scared of him. Hey, if you want, I’ll go with you. I’ll get Mason and Vicente to come along, too.” April refused, out of loyalty to her brother, to admit that she secretly despised her brother’s friends. “Sean would have to be a special kind of stupid to try anything with us around.”
April glanced at the profile of her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, Sean Jenkins. In his latest selfie, he was posing pretentiously, as if he were a high-profile gang member instead of a pathetic poor boy from rural Florida. As if he didn’t just smack his girlfriend in the face just because he was high on drugs and full of hate. Sean was hanging out the passenger side window of a car that April recognized as belonging to Erica Heath, a girl that Kaleb was inexplicably in love with. The caption on his selfie read Stoned outta my fukking mind.
Instead of unfriending Sean, as April had intended, she quickly closed her browser so Kaleb wouldn’t see the picture. “Alright,” she said. “Let’s do this.”
It was noon the next day before April logged onto her Facebook account again. After the confrontation, during which Sean merely laughed in April’s face and walked away, April and Kaleb went to the home of Evelyn Walenty, Mason’s cousin. Mason, who had been staying with Evelyn, his aunt, and a roommate named Vicente Gutierrez, had been Kaleb’s best friend since childhood. April hated the trio. Mason Barrett had been arrested multiple times for assault. He and Evelyn had been jailed for beating their grandmother so savagely that the elderly lady had to have stitches. When April dared to ask, Evelyn told her that her grandmother had refused to allow Evelyn’s recently-paroled fiancé to live with them.
“You never turn away a family member in need,” Evelyn has said with a ferocity that frightened April. True to her word, Evelyn had granted her unruly cousin a room in the house she shared with her mother. The mother offered no objection, whether out of fear, indifference, or the same sense of family loyalty was unclear, but was equally silent when the pair brought in Vicente, who had been the cellmate of Evelyn’s long-forgotten ex-fiancé.
April and Kaleb had crashed at Evelyn’s place and ended up spending the night. The next morning, April looked at her phone and noticed, with a twinge of sadness, that neither her mother nor her stepfather had called, sent a text, or inquired about their whereabouts in any way. It wasn’t always like this, April thought. Before Dad died, when we were a real family, Dad would’ve kicked Kaleb’s ass for hanging out with these losers. And as an afterthought: Mine too for going out with Sean.
Browsing through her Facebook newsfeed, April noticed that she was tagged in Sean’s status update: Hey, guess what? I’m single. April decided she’s Mason’s ho now! Good riddance to bad pussy! I’m done with that crack-smoking beeyotch.
“Kaleb, look!” April waved her brother over. The siblings read the comments together. One in particular stood out: Nah, bro. She her brother ho LOL. The commenter was Erica Heath. So it is true?? Someone commented, to which Erica replied with a winky-faced emoticon. “How immature is this?”
“Just block him, April, “Kaleb said. “Don’t get involved in this bullshit drama.” April complied.
“He’s part of a terrorist cell out of Jerez,” Mason said. The two turned around; Mason’s expression showed no signs of levity.
“Who, Sean?” April asked.
“Yeah,” Mason said. “He’s helping to collect volunteer suicide bombers to send into every capital in every state. The only way he can be stopped is if he’s killed.”
“The only collection Sean is involved in is the Cans of Whoop-Ass Drive,” Kaleb said. He and his sister were giving each other ‘is he for real’ looks. But April, unable to resist the new chance at a comeback, temporarily unblocked Sean and responded to Sean’s post: Better a ho than a terrorist. Someone just said u were a suicide bomber. Why don’t u go blow ur own stupid ass up?
“I don’t know, Kaleb.” April was unsure why, but a pain of fear ran down her spine. Could what Mason said really be true? “He was expelled for calling in a bomb threat.”
“You got my probation officer asking me all kinds of dumb ass questions about me being a terrorist.” Sean was furious as he confronted April on the front porch of her home. Kalen stood by in the event his intervention was needed. “That’s low even for you, April.”
April hated to admit it, but he had a point. In her heart, she felt she should have just blocked Sean and been done with it. It was Saturday, and although Sean wouldn’t be present, it was a relief nonetheless that she wouldn’t have to run any risk of seeing his friends in the hallways.
“You’re the one all up on Facebook calling me a ho and shit,” April countered. “Look, why don’t you just leave me alone? I’ll delete the comment, but really, it’s over. You said yourself you were done with me.”
“Ah, hell, no!” Sean said, making an aggressive move. Kaleb stood up abruptly as a warning. “It ain’t over until I say it’s over. You got that? And ain’t no way in hell I’m letting that faggot Mason take my girl. I may have traded you up for a better ho, but that don’t mean Mason’s gonna get away with making me look like a bitch like that.”
“First of all,” April said icily. “It’s over because I said it’s over. Point fucking blank.” April glanced at the house net to hers and noticed that her neighbor, a kindly old lady named Mrs. Nichols, was watching the scene unfold through her window. Great! “And second, I’m not Mason’s ‘ho’ and he didn’t ‘take’ me. Not that it’s any of your business. And as far as Mason making you look like a bitch, I’d say you’re doing a great job of that all on your own.”
“And I’ll make sure Mason knows you called him a faggot,” Kaleb added.
“Tell him, I don’t give a fuck!” Sean said. “Get him over here now. If he’ got the balls to fight me. If not, I’ll set his house on fire with everyone in it! That wetback Vinny should never have left the Mexico. Hell, if it were up to me, all Mexicans would be round up and shot.” Mason was right about him being a terrorist! And he’s racist, too. Sean had been known to get into fights, but had never threatened anyone’s life to April’s knowledge. She wasn’t no fan of Vicente, but he didn’t deserve to be murdered, especially simply for being of Mexican heritage. That was just stupid.
April noticed that Kaleb was texting, presumably Mason. “Tell him yourself,” she spat. “I’m not dealing with this childish bullshit anymore. Stay away from my house or I’ll get a restraining order.”
Sean laughed out loud. “Like a piece of paper from the county judge is gonna stop me.” But he left nonetheless.
“Who were you texting?’ April asked.
“Mason,” Kaleb said.
“Please, Kaleb, let’s just stay away from this and not fuel the fire anymore. Sean isn’t even remotely worth it.”
“He called Erica a ho,” Kaleb said, abandoning his usual soft-spoken demeanor. “It’s on now.” April sat down on a patio chair, wondering what he even saw in Erica Heath. Erica was the dictionary definition of ‘tramp.’ She wore slutty clothes, partied too much, and loudly bragged to anyone who would listen about the number of boys she’d let bang her. April had no idea why her brother was so smitten with her.
About five minutes later the Eufala police showed up. Now what? “Miss, your neighbor just called and said you were being ‘roughed up,’ as she said. Are you alright?”
“My ex was here. No big deal. He didn’t rough me up, just started shooting off at the mouth.”
“No, it is a big deal,” Kaleb said. “Sean Jenkins threatened my sister.”
“Sean Jenkins?” the police asked. “We just spoke to him today. Would you be April Rogers?”
“We would appreciate it if you would come to the station with us. You too, young man.” the officer addressed Kaleb. “Are your parents home?”
“My mom’s at work, but my stepdad’s home. Want me to get him?”
“Yes, please,” the officer said. “And don’t worry. We’ll take care of the threats made by Sean.”
“You really need to be careful what you post online,” the officer said sternly. “Posting false information of that magnitude is called libel, and telling someone to blow himself up is, at best, cyberbullying, and at worst, could result in serious criminal charges if he were to actually follow through.”
“Yes, sir,” April said meekly.
“Just a second, officer,” April’s stepfather, Thomas, said. “This guy called my stepdaughter a ‘ho’ and has been accused of dating her brother. Isn’t that cyberbullying as well?”
“It is. But from a legal standpoint, there has to be a direct threat or repeated communication, which would fall under Florida’s harassment laws. Calling someone an ugly name isn’t a crime. But telling someone to blow themselves up, that just might be a criminal offense. Now, April, we really aren’t interested in ruining anyone’s life over a petty teenage lovers’ quarrel. Plus, to be honest, our department is reluctant to prosecute cases involving nothing more than speech. The First Amendment carries far more weight. Of course you know, that works both ways. My advice to you would be to block him from your social media, and call us if he approaches you physically again. Now, are you sure you don’t want to tell us who that ‘someone’ is who told you Sean might be a suicide bomber? There have been small terrorist sleeper cells discovered in Jerez.”
“There was nobody,” April said. Remembering Evelyn’s ominous warning about turning on family deterred any thought of snitching on Mason. “I just made it up because I was angry.”
Kaleb offered no counterargument. April had counted on him not wanting to get his best friend in trouble. Instead, he played the card that they had withheld from police until that moment. Since their father died, April and Kaleb had shared a bond that was almost telepathic in nature. They could intuit each other’s thoughts and feelings. No doubt their closeness was the source of the rumors of an incestuous relationship, but for the moment it worked to their advantage. When April thought let’s not tell them about what Sean said until the right time, shoe was fully confident that Kaleb would pick up on her thought and act accordingly.
“Direct threat, you said?” Kaleb caught April’s eye, who gave him a silent nod of approval. “Sean told us he was going to set the Walenty house on fire and kill everyone inside.”
The officer and Thomas seemed taken aback. “Why didn’t you say this earlier?”
Kaleb ignored the question. “He wants to kill Mason Barrett because he thinks April’s going out with him, which is not true. But he also wants to kill Vicente Gutierrez. Sean specifically said ‘That wetback Vinny should never have left the Mexico’ and ‘if it were up to me, all Mexicans would be shot.’ Vicente’s not even from Mexico. I don’t know if Sean has anything against Evelyn or her mom, but Sean doesn’t care.”
The officer sat pensively for a moment. “We will definitely have another conversation with Sean as well as monitoring his social media activity. We’ll also question Mason and Vicente to find out of any threats have been made against them. Did anyone else hear Sean make that threat?”
“No,” Kaleb said weakly. “Not unless Mrs. Nichols heard it.”
April never left Kaleb’s side at the hospital. He had a concussion, multiple stiches, and a hairline fracture in his right leg, courtesy of Sean and a gang of friends. For the first time, April felt grateful to Mason; if it weren’t for his and Vicente’s timely intervention, Kaleb’s injuries could have been a lot worse. Sean and the other assailants were quickly arrested for aggravated assault, but Sean was out on bond in a matter of hours. Meanwhile, April discovered, to her horror, that the war of words between Mason, Kaleb, and Sean had continued. April’s brother and ex-boyfriend had agreed to meet for a one-on-one fight, but Sean had cheated and brought back-up. Fortunately, Evelyn, who turned out to be a skilled strategician, had advised Kaleb and Vicente to wait, hidden, and ready to intervene if needed.
“That way,” Evelyn had explained, “Kaleb doesn’t look like a punk for bringing Mason and Vinny to beat up Sean for him. But he also does have them if Sean proves he can’t face Kaleb like a man.” April couldn’t help but feel a newfound kinship with her brother’s unseemly friends.
Because the fight occurred at Kaleb’s house, and o one suspected it had been pre-arranged, Kaleb was not charged. That was one bright spot.
“I told you to stay out of it,” April said softly, although she knew Kaleb’s beef with Sean wasn’t over her but over Erica, who had not so much as sent Kaleb a text during his hospitalization.
Kaleb smiled at her through the haze of painkillers.
“Mason came up with a cool idea to get his ass good,” he said. “But we’ll need your help.”
The more April thought of Mason plan, the more she liked it. Kaleb had been released from the hospital the previous day, and they immediately set into motion the plan Evelyn called “April’s Fool.”
“We couldn’t have picked a better day for it,” Evelyn said, giggling. “April’s Fool” would be the title of the video, which will be posted on YouTube and shared on social media as often as they could get, would be the perfect vengeance against Sean. Not only would Sean be humiliated on a viral level, he would walk directly into the trap himself and prove his assertion about being ‘done’ was complete crap. April found herself giggling along with Evelyn. “It’s go time.”
April sent Sean a text: I’m tired of all this. Tired of fighting. Maybe we should work things out. She knew Sean wouldn’t be able to resist the bait, if for no other reason, to give Sean the illusion of being able to dump her on his terms.
Better b just us, Sean texted back within minutes. If ur bro or any of his friends try to jump me…just 2 be sure, I’m bringing my mama’s gun.
“Shit!” April said. “Guys, he says he’s bringing a gun.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Vicente said. “He’ll be checked at the door.”
It will be just u and me. I sent M, E, V, and K out so we could talk in private. Meet me here in an hour.
U R living with them?
Have 2. Mama and Tom kicked us out of the house. After pressing ‘send’ she added U R still with Erica? Not only would this give her plan more credibility, it would also help ensure that Erica wasn’t involved. The April’s Fool video wouldn’t be nearly as believable if her supposedly pining ex-boyfriend showed up with a whorish-looking girl on his arm.
Don’t have 2 be. U know I always wanted u. April stifled her anger. Wanted? Not loved, not even liked. Sean ‘wanted’ her, as if she were a possession to be acquired.
Ahh, that’s sweet. So u will be here in an hour?
If not sooner, babe.
April did not respond to the last text. She simply waited by the door while Evelyn hid with a camera, and the males stood by in other rooms in case Sean needed to be taught yet another lesson about treating April with a veneer of respect.
Sean showed up after around forty minutes.
“I made some lunch,” she said sweetly. “Chicken salad sandwiches.” Sean did not thank her, but only sat down to gobble up the lunch she’d made. So far, he was not appearing to be interested in a reconciliation, only a free lunch. If April’s Fool was going to succeed in humiliating Sean, April would have to swallow her revulsion and try to seduce him.
“I was hoping it could be like before,” she said smoothly. “When we would have fun together and…and.” She could not bring herself to admit on video to her physical relationship with Sean, especially after hearing rumors that he’d given another girl chlamydia.
“Mmmm-hmmm,” Sean said, his mouth full of bread. April decided to try a different approach, although doing so made her feel like a traitor to her brother.
“I’ve been wanting to tell you this since you beat the hell out of Kaleb,” she said. “I mean, I’m his sister, not his mother. He may be older, but he doesn’t have the right to order me around. He thinks I’m his maid. I have to cook for him and help him with his chores and his homework.” Good thing I’m not planning to run off to Hollywood, she thought. I’d never make it as an actress. Her statements were true, although she didn’t mind helping Kaleb around the house. It was worth it to have a personal bodyguard, and besides, without her help, Kaleb would surely flunk out of school and be stuck in Eufala forever. He might even marry Erica Heath. That thought alone was enough to get April to do all his homework for him and help him cheat on his tests.
“April, just cut the crap. I know you better,” Sean said. “Whatever it is you’re up to, it ain’t gonna work.”
“So why don’t you just tell me it’s over?” April said. “Maybe that’s what I want. Closure. You said yourself it wasn’t over until you said it was. So if you don’t want to get back together-”
“Hey, I didn’t say that,” Sean said. April bit her lip. She detested these mind games, and began to question if April’s Fool was worth the effort.
“..then I’m giving you a chance now to just dump me so we can both go on with our lives,” she continued as if she hadn’t heard him. “I’m tired of all this Facebook crap. I’m tired of always fighting. I want to be happy, Sean. I want you to be happy, too, whether it’s with me or someone else.”
“I’ll dump you when I feel like it,” Sean said mockingly. April’s Fool had failed. There was no wat they were posting the video. It was time to end the conversation and get Sean out of the house.
“Fine, then. If you want to obsess over me nonstop, always worrying about who I’m with, talking all kinds of shit about me on Facebook as if I can see it after blocking you, then be my guest. I’ve given you the chance to work things out in a mature way. I should have expected you wouldn’t be mature about it. But as for me, I won’t spend any more time thinking about you. And if I want to go out with Mason or Vinny or the President or even my brother, then I will and I don’t get a damn what you or any of your buddies have to say about it.” April had dropped the act and was speaking from the heart, but then something unexpected happened. Sean, realizing that April had gained the upper hand, resorted to his repulsive seduction techniques.
“Ah, babe, I was just kidding,” Sean said. “You know how I am.” He reached for her hand, which made April’s skin crawl. “All I want is my baby girl. Erica was nothing. I was just trying to make you jealous.”
“Everyone kept telling me you were posting about me all the time. They said it meant you still liked me. If that’s true, then we can make a brand new start. What do you say?” Maybe the video was still salvageable after all.
“Not as long as your living with Mason,” Sean said, apparently having sensed the façade.
“I’ll get my parents to let us back in the house. I can get Tom to do anything I want.”
“Ok, then. Once you’re out of here, we can start going back out again.”
“Can I get a kiss?”
Sean leaned in to kiss her, something April had to put a stop to, especially because he still have chunks of food in his mouth. She discreetly looked at the storage closet in the dining room, where Evelyn was hiding and secretly filming, to catch her eye. “Sean?”
Sean jerked back. “What the hell?”
“That’s right,” Evelyn said as she appeared with her cell phone camera. “Now who’s the punk?”
“You are both bitches. You and all other women!” Sean screeched.
“Keep throwing a tantrum, Sean. Everyone on Facebook’s gonna love this.” April said serenely.
“Hey!” Sean yelled out as if startling, and then she realized Vicente was frisking him. “Get your hands off me!”
“Where’s that gun you said you were bringing?” Vicente said mockingly. Kaleb appeared from the back room, and everyone enjoyed a good laugh as Sean grew red in the face with fury. In a helpless rage, he yelled out a string of obscenities, which only made everyone laugh harder. April’s mirth was short-lived as a sense of apprehension came over her. Where’s Mason?
The sound of a gun rang out, cutting off everyone’s laughter in an instant. Sean yelled out in pain before dropping to the floor.
Mason stood in the entrance to the kitchen with a shotgun in his hand.
“I don’t know where Mason got the gun,” April told the homicide detectives.
“Where he got it doesn’t matter,” the detective said. “We have video evidence, provided by Evelyn Walenty, that you were present when Sean was killed. Reviewing the evidence, it appears that you lured Sean to Evelyn’s house under the pretense of getting back together. And your very bitter breakup with Sean was public knowledge. And just last week, you accused Sean via Facebook of being a terrorist, telling him he should “blow his ass up,” and then later told Eufala police that you’d make that up out of anger. We know that’s false, by the way. Mason Barrett has been raving since his arrest about how Sean was a suicide bomber who needed to be taken out. Now you want to say you weren’t aware that Mason was planning to gun down Sean, burn his corpse, and dump his body in the marsh? Come on!” April thought she would be more scared, but she felt numb, and strangely calm.
“No, sir. We were planning to play a video prank on him after he beat up my brother,” April said, remembering her mother’s advice to tell the truth.
“We questioned Mason, Evelyn Walenty, and Vicente Gutierrez separately. They all said that you and Kaleb were an active part of the plan to kill Sean. Your part, they said, was the text invitation. You said the two of you would be alone. You said your parents had kicked you and Kaleb out of the house and that was why you were staying at Evelyn’s house. You also told police that you had made up the story about hearing Sean was involved in terrorism. You heard that from Mason, didn’t you?” The detective glared at her, but in her state of numbness, April couldn’t bring herself to feel fear for herself. Her mind was preoccupied with Kaleb, who was being questioned in another interrogation room. “You’re a liar, April.” April felt her cheeks burn hot. Her plan to be honest had backfired as badly as the April’s Fool prank.
“The fact that you ran home and got your stepfather to help you clean up the crime scene doesn’t look good for you, either,” the other detective pointed out.
“I sent Tom over there to help get Kaleb out,” April countered. “His fight last week caused him to have a fracture in his leg.”
As soon as April saw Sean on the floor, clutching his wounded thigh, she fled out of pure instinct. She had ran about two blocks before remembering Kaleb was still in the house and at the mercy of Mason, who had started yelling ‘Die, terrorist, die!”
She had been specifically instructed by police not to have contact with Sean. Could she even count on them for help? She didn’t want Kaleb or even Sean to die. She would just have to swallow her pride and go to the police although she mistrusted them.
Her father was shot in cold blood by a psychotic police officer, who at his trial insisted that April’s father tried to blow himself up with a homemade bomb in a crowd. The officer was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The officer had been a twenty-year veteran, and the whole ordeal left April and her family pariahs in Eufala. Her mother had sought solace in Thomas Sapp, a convicted felon. Maybe I should get Tom to help first, April had thought. The police, who made almost weekly trips to the Walenty house, would undoubtedly take their sweet time getting there. Tom would at least be able to subdue Mason long enough to get Kaleb out, and he was closer than the police department in any case. Kaleb’s life was her first priority, and whatever got him out of the path of a gunman, even if the gunman was his trusted best friend, was the route April planned to take.
“Wait right here. I’ll go get him.” April was relieved that she had made the right decision. The second April told him Mason had a gun and had shot Sean, he grabbed his car keys and left without asking questions. There would be hell to pay later, but at least Kaleb would be safe. If Tom could save Sean’s pathetic life, even better.
April sank down on the living room sofa. Mason had snapped. She remembered Kaleb telling her he had taken medication for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but she had never seen him act in a way that suggested he was unstable. Mason Barrett had seemed like all the other wannabe thugs who hung around Eufala. As for Sean, it seemed a stretch that he would be involved in terrorism, and more so that he would be actively recruiting others for some cell of nobodies in Jerez. If the leader of this cell—if it in fact existed—had any brain matter, he wouldn’t trust Sean to take out the cell’s garbage, let alone entrust him with the task of recruiting. Mason and Sean talked a lot of shit, but at the end of the day, all they did was fight each other and beat up on vulnerable people just because they could. The only explanation was that Mason was as crazy as the cop who’d killed her father had been.
Why are they taking so long? April thought before succumbing to exhaustion and falling asleep on the sofa.
“You don’t mind if I join you, do you?” a stately woman wearing a mauve suit walked into the interrogation room. “I am Cynthia Joseph, Ms. Rogers’ attorney. I take it you have read Ms. Rogers her rights and advised her she has the right to counsel?”
“April is not under arrest at this time,” the detective said.
“Then kindly excuse us so we can have some alone time,” Mrs. Joseph said with such authoritativeness that the two detective slinked out. “Now.” she seated herself directly in front of April. “I would first of all like to make you aware that your brother and the three others in the home have been arrested and were charged with first-degree murder. Your stepfather has been charged with accessory after the fact. I have to be straight with you, April. Mason, Evelyn, and Vicente are facing the death penalty. They aren’t going to care about you or your brother. Plus, Kaleb sent a text to someone named Erica Heath that said what do you think of your man now? Just before Sean Jenkins died. Unfortunately, your arrest is inevitable, as there is ample evidence against you.” April felt sick. The numbness she had experienced earlier was faded after she heard Kaleb and Tom were under arrest. “Kaleb has corroborated your story that you fled the scene after the first shot was fired, but that’s not going to work in your favor.”
“What can I do? I never meant for Sean to get killed,” April said, panicking for the first time.
“You have several options. But first, let me explain something. In Florida, there’s a thing called felony murder. What that means is that if, in the act of committing a felony someone dies, you are considered just as guilty as if you had intentionally killed them. In Kaleb’s case, the felony in question is aggravated stalking. Over the course of three days, Kaleb sent twelve texts messages to Sean Jenkins inviting him to fight. You didn’t help yourself when you agreed to this stunt or when you told Sean to blow himself up. The fact that you sent your stepfather in instead of calling the police doesn’t look good, and the fact that you ignored the police’s request not to contact Sean. He didn’t communicate with you in any way after the confrontation on March 26, did he?”
“No, ma’am.” The enormity of her screw-up was starting to feel like a ton of bricks on her back. “What’s the penalty for felony murder?”
“Life without parole,” Mrs. Joseph said bluntly. “Kaleb isn’t eligible for the death penalty because of his age, and neither are you, assuming you’re charged.” Did she just say prison for life? Over a prank video? When Kaleb didn’t even shoot anyone? When I didn’t shoot anyone? How is that possible? April fought off the terror as long as she could, but after a few measly minutes, collapsed in tears into Mrs. Joseph’s arms.
“What the hell is going on?” April was awakened by the shrill voice of her mother, Tina.
“Huh?” April, disoriented, asked.
“Tom and your brother are in the county jail, and Sean is dead.” The memories of the ordeal, of Sean on the dining room floor with a bullet in his thigh, of Mason standing there with the look of a madman as everyone else stood by in stunned terror, all came crashing down in a second. “Young lady, whatever it is you know, you better tell the police. If you tell one single lie, then there won’t be a damn thing I or anyone else can do to save you.”
It was only after arriving at the police station that she had been informed of the terrible truth. After shooting Sean in the leg, Mason had waved his shotgun around and threatened to kill anyone who ‘aided the terrorist.’ He had forced the others to drag Sean to a recliner and watch as emptied the shot gun into Sean’s body. Mason then lit the body on fire, all the while ranting about how he prevented a suicide bombing in Tallahassee. Tom interrupted the scene with his arrival and was forced at gunpoint to participate in the clean-up process.
The detectives won her trust long enough for her to make the fatal mistake of confessing her involvement. They had made it seem like Mason was a psychopath and everyone else was an unwilling victim, which had caused April to let her guard down. Once she admitted she lured Sean to the house, they turned on her like a pack of carnivorous birds on a dead deer.
“What are my options?” she asked Mrs. Joseph once she’d calmed down.
“Well, because you made no threats to Sean Jenkins, I can see what I can do about getting your charges reduced to involuntary manslaughter. But that’s provided the timeline of events that you and Kaleb provided are the ones the prosecutors choose to believe. Is there any way you can provide me with a time stamp of some kind to prove what time you left Evelyn Walenty’s home, or what time you reached your home? A passerby called 911 to report a fire inside the home. If you can prove that you were home when the call was placed, I’d have a better chance.”
“What’s a time stamp?”
“On a cell phone, a photo, or a text. If you used any of the above in your home, or using your home’s wireless data, then you have a time stamp.”
“No, ma’am, I fell asleep. I meant to text Kaleb, but I was afraid if I did, it would set Mason off.”
“Kaleb is the only one vouching for you at the moment. If the state attorney doesn’t accept my plea deal, I will try to arrange a joint trial for you and Kaleb so you won’t have to testify against each other, and ahead of everyone else’s so they’d be stupid to not plead the Fifth. The problem with that plan is that the others are being encouraged to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty. By doing so, they have nothing to lose and nothing to prevent them from testifying against you.” April hung her head. How in the world did things so completely and utterly wrong? If only she had taken Mason’s statement that Sean needed to be killed more seriously. If she had only listened when advised to stay away from Sean. If only she had not agreed, out of a temporary misplaced sense of loyalty, to participate in an asinine prank. If only she had called the police immediately instead of dwelling on her own misgivings and her father’s unfortunate miscarriage of justice. If only…if only….if only….April straightened up. She couldn’t change the past. It was time to follow her own advice and be mature about things. She would have to fight and be strong to preserve herself and Kaleb.
“I guess we have to take it day-by-day, don’t we?’ she asked. Mrs. Joseph nodded sadly.
April did not sleep. After she had exhausted all her teas, she lay in the dark thinking as one inmate, a large woman, snored loudly. She did not regret her decision; the state attorney had accepted April’s plea deal but could not allow the same for Kaleb. You won’t go down alone, she told him via the quasi-telepathy they shared.
“Then I’ll take my chances and go on trial with Kaleb,” she told her lawyer. Mrs. Joseph looked at her as if she had lost her mind, and April wondered if maybe she had.
“Honey,” Mrs. Joseph said, “Vicente has already plead guilty at his arraignment and was sentenced to life without parole. His conviction was certain and would have likely been given a death sentence if he hadn’t made the choice he did. Mason’s attorney is working on a hearing to determine his competence to stand trial. Evelyn is has decided to take her chance at trial. The only witness I can call in your defense—your stepfather—isn’t exactly a model citizen and may not be believable in the jury’s eyes. And the prosecution will certainly call Erica Heath to the stand. What do you think she’ll say? Consider this carefully, April. You’re taking a huge risk.”
“Whatever they think Kaleb is guilty of, then I am equally responsible.”
“You told me you knew nothing about his fight that led to his hospitalization.”
“I didn’t. And it’s also true Kaleb had his own problems with Sean that had nothing to do with me. But if it weren’t for my text messages, Sean would still be alive today. That much is true. And I won’t walk if Kaleb goes to prison. That wouldn’t be right.”
Mrs. Joseph looked at her with semi-admiration. “I’ll put up my best fight for the two of you. I can’t make any promises, of course, but I will do my absolute best. And for what’s it worth, I believe you. I do believe it was a prank that got out of hand, and that Mason Barrett shot Sean in cold blood.”
“Or because he truly believed Sean to be a terrorist sympathizer.”
Lying on her hard jail cot, naked and shivering, April remembered how she had first met Sean. He was twelve, a pipsqueak little kid, who had nonetheless hung around her house all the time. But he wasn’t there for April. He was there for Danny Rogers, leader of Jerez Fishers of Men. April had always intentionally ignored this odious aspect of her late father’s characters. The Fishers of Men, wholly dedicated to the asinine cause of racial purity, had declared he had lost his job to an illegal Hispanic. The fact that he had in fact been fired for showing up to work drunk and his replacement had not been Hispanic did nothing to challenge his views. Though her father had never spoken openly about such things in front of his children, April had heard rumors that the Fishers of Men routinely broke the feet of Hispanics in Jerez and surrounding areas to prevent them from working.
“We’ll have to blast them off the face of the Earth,” April overheard her father tell a young Sean. “When the time comes, will you be ready?” She did not know how Sean responded, or how Mason got wind of the rumors. Perhaps Sean had run his mouth a little too much, or Mason heard it from someone else.
After Danny’s death, the Fishers of Men continued without interruption under new leadership. At least that’s what April heard.
Would you be willing to betray Daddy for our freedom? She asked herself, and knew Kaleb would be thinking the same thing. She thought of a lock box in her mother’s room, one that Tina guarded like a rare treasure. What about Mama?
Yes, an intuitive voice in her head responded and she knew it originated in Kaleb. We can’t bring Sean back. At the very least, we can prevent more needless deaths.
So we’re in this together?
April felt tired from the sleepless night before. Judging by the dark circles under Kaleb’s eyes, he didn’t pass the night much better. The three met before their scheduled arraignment in the conference room with Mrs. Joseph. April looked at her lawyer. Her thick, dark hair, her cinnamon-colored skin, her coffee-colored eyes, and her distinctive bone structure identified her heritage.
“Didn’t you used to be Cynthia Rodriguez?” she asked.
Mrs. Joseph appeared taken aback. “Yes,” she said.
“Were you by any chance related to Andres Rodriguez?”
“He was my uncle, yes,” Mrs. Joseph’s eyes brimmed with tears. “Died in surgery after having his feet smashed up.”
“The Fishers of Men,” April said. “We have information that can take them down for good.”