Jowd sat, head bowed, hands at rest in their restraints. He’d eaten his cold, lonely last meal, taken one final look at the pictures of his family, crumpled the dirty white napkin with its red smears of ketchup and grease. He had left the dingy cell without resisting. Soon, finally, it would be over. The guards would come in and clean out his cell. His worn, pain-stained smock would be thrown away, and the canvases he’d created, with the exception of one, would be gessoed over, left a blank slate for some unknown other to fill with hopes and expectations that had no place in the garbage bin of his life. And he himself would be nothing, released at last from the prison of mind and body. Not a shocking conclusion, really. His lips curved underneath his beard. Perhaps a little shocking.
The guard watched him, faint smile twitching on an otherwise unremarkable face, eyes veiled behind sunglasses. At last, he spoke, voice echoing unpleasantly in the maw of the dim chamber.
“Prisoner D-99, do you have any last words?”
Jowd thought. He’d said what he wanted to say to Lynne and Kamila in his final phone call. He firmly shunted thoughts of other friends, other loves, other promises, and other times away. They were gone and there was nothing he could say or do now that would bring them back. He shrugged and shook his head no. Let silence be his final gift and reward.
The guard’s face twitched, smile slipping. “Nothing? No words for an old friend, Detective Jowd?”
Jowd gave the guard another look. He didn’t recognize him; all the guards in this prison looked about the same to his uncaring eyes. The sunglasses were unusual, granted, but still he had no particular recollection of this guard. He’d thought none of the guards knew his name, but he supposed his notoriety spread the tales of his deeds to places he’d rather had stayed unsullied, like this chamber.
“I suppose you wouldn’t recognize me now,” the guard said. “But it doesn’t matter, Detective. I remember you.”
“From where?” Jowd’s own voice surprised him. He’d thought his curiosity was as dead as he was about to be. Silence to the end, ha, but he never could resist a mystery.
“From the park, Detective. A little girl, roasting sweet potatoes. A falsely-accused criminal. A hostage. And a death. Ring a bell?”
“Yomiel, wasn’t it?” Jowd remembered. There was a canvas in that empty cell now, the dead man’s visage printed firmly and indelibly in the surface. For that one, Jowd had used impasto and a palette knife, stacking the paint on layer by layer, carving the dimensions of Yomiel into the world as he carved himself out of it. The man’s face haunted his dreams and his paintings, finding his way into every empty corner. There was certainly never a shortage of negative space.
“I am indeed.”
“Haha! Yomiel’s life was stolen away that day in the park, so who are you really? Some other traumatized child in the park? Don’t remember you, I’m afraid. I would have given you a badge too, if I’d known you were there.” He looked around. Was this some strange elaborate prank on the death row inmate? The darkness was too profound to see much beside the lone guard. Where was the guard’s partner? Surely he was here somewhere?
“I don’t need your stupid. Plastic. Badge.” the guard said, smile now replaced by a petulant frown. “I don’t need your condescension, Detective Jowd. I want your contrition.”
“So very sorry for being born. There. You have it. Can we get this over with now?” Jowd opened a hand, gestured it as much as he could toward the lever.
“Do you think it’s really that easy, Jowd? That you can glibly say you’re sorry and I’ll let you die, as I let him die? As you let me die?” The guard stepped back, hand flung dramatically out, pointing at the crumpled bulk of the other guard’s body.
“That would be nice.” Jowd closed his eyes. There was nothing he could do about the madman, who would kill him or not, as destiny took him. He was betting on death. He waited for the silence of it, but his contemplation was broken by the guard’s voice, grating over clenched teeth.
“Apologize, Detective. Apologize to Sissel.”
“Yomiel’s fiancée? Sorry, Sissel. ”
“You remember her…? Well. It’s not nearly enough. It would never be enough. Never say her name again. You don’t deserve her goodness. Her innocence.” The guard began to pace, footsteps jerking but continuous, wringing his hands.
“Look, Yomiel, if that’s who you think you are. I’ve got an appointment, so could we move on here?”
“People died because of you, and that’s all you can say? I died. Sissel died. Your wife. All because of you. You worthless piece of—“
“If you’re going to keep telling me things I already know, I’ll get bored,” Jowd yawned. “I didn’t think dying would be this drawn-out.”
Yomiel, if indeed he was, stiffened and then pounced, shoving his face into Jowd’s. “You—I’ll show you drawn-out. I’m going to kill you, Detective—“
“—but I won’t stop there. Guess who was first? Your cute little protégée, all grown up. A detective in her own right, I heard. Don’t worry. It was fairly quick. I didn’t care if she suffered. That brat was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a cold, lonely death, in the rain, but she felt very little pain. And her last words? ‘Detective Jowd.’ She thought of you. Isn’t that nice?”
Jowd paled. “Lynne? Lynne’s dead?”
“Oh, yes. And then, your dear little daughter. Kamila, wasn’t it? She looked so much like her mother. Too bad she got in the way. I was going to leave her alive, but, well. I’m afraid my associates had other plans. Too bad. I’m sure she was a sweet little thing. You know her last word? It was ‘Dad.’ Two for two, Detective.”
“You’re lying.” Jowd spoke through gritted teeth as the guard went implacably on.
“And, of course, I have to finish off the evening with our friend in the white coat, the one who accused me in the first place and started this whole mess. I can’t delay too much longer here, I’m afraid. That famous white coat of his will be redder than the ketchup you inexplicably love so much when I’m done. I wonder if his last words will be of you as well?”
“Leave Cabanela out of this,” Jowd roared, losing his cool at last, beginning to struggle against the restraints. “You have me. You killed Lynne. And—and Kamila.” His gorge rose, but he forced the nausea down. “You have the revenge you wanted.”
“Oh, not yet, detective.” The guard leaned down, leering. “I want your whole family dead, but I especially want you to know who killed them. Do you know who killed your wife?”
“I did.” Jowd said it firmly, meeting the guard’s eyes. He would hold onto the truth and keep that silence unto death, whether Kamila had gone ahead of him or not.
“No, Detective. I did.” The guard’s faint smile slipped back into place and he whirled, taking his place by the lever. “You killed my love with your negligence and your partner’s incompetence. And so I killed yours. All of them. Isn’t that fair?” He put a shaking hand on the lever, fingers twitching as he grasped it. “I even took a direct hand, out of—shall we call it respect? Not that you deserve it. No, let’s call it honesty. So much more honest than you, Detective Jowd. At least when I do a job, I’m willing to get my own hands—well, spiritually speaking anyway—dirty.”
Jowd growled inarticulately, straining at the clamps on his wrists and feet. If he could get free, save at least one—
“Don’t worry. I’ll give Inspector Cabanela your regards.” Yomiel pulled the lever and the rickety, dusty chair short-circuited then exploded, killing Jowd and the guard’s body instantly.
Yomiel’s spirit waited in the dark for a few moments as the screams began, Jowd’s body cooling beside him while water dripped and sparked in the residual shocks from the chair. He considered speaking to the spirit, but the clock was ticking. Last words were overrated anyway. Job done, he slipped from core to core, leaving the prison and D-99 to rot.