The footsteps are coming back. A bowl of distasteful food is almost thrown in my cell. I look at the new comer for a second. He is disgusted by me. It is all too obvious. But then, there is something else in his look. It is a glitter I have seen in the past. Fascination.
I am a freak to them. Those who work for the prison never stop glancing at me. Each time I return the glance, they turn away, uneasy. It all started two weeks ago.
The bell had rung, so I went to open the door. Waiting at the threshold was a police officer who began reciting the Mirando rights. He was ridiculous, you could get from the tone of his voice that he had been waiting to say that. I felt just like I was in a lame TV show. I surrendered “without opposing any resistance” to quote this stupid line. The moment I put a foot out of home, an entire herd of cameras was on me to film every moment of my life as a prisoner. That is how it started. Once the media had a grip on it, it could never stop. I remember the frontpage of the Herald Tribune on that day. There was a drawing taking half the space. It was representing me holding a knife, my arm as if I was showing how strong it was. It was entitled: “He did it!” I could not resist smiling when I saw it. The article that followed was filled with shock and horror. The journalist insisted on the contradiction between my public image and my recent crime. He seemed sincere and I could not help grinning at how revered I used to be.
This mediatic storm went on, but I missed most of it behind barres. I was confronted with another type of troubles. I was duelling with a far more frightening species of monsters. Lawyers.
I received, even I the deepest of my cell, an entire battalion of them. They always said the same things, as if an unknown director had carefully planned those scenes. I remember one encounter that exemplifies this very well, at least at the beginning. It was when I met Anthony Johnson.
“Hello, I am Anthony Johnson, I will be your attorney and defend your cause.
-I have heard this assertive tone a lot these days. I am afraid you come after too many of your colleagues! It did not work for them, I see no reason it would work for you.
-Listen, I don’t think you understand the difficulty of the situation at hand. There are so much proof, people are no longer asking themselves if you will go to jail, they are wondering how long you will serve. Your fame won’t help you, on the contrary, it ruined everything. Only weeks ago, people loved you so much they were insulting and fighting one another to get a chance to part of your show. However incredible their love for you was, their hatred is ten times superior. If you walk free, if it ever happens, I am not even sure you will arrive home alive. So, do you want my help, or do I leave you in this shit?”
I looked at him for a minute, carefully observing everything I could. He talked exactly like his peers. Of course, he was a much better orator than many of them, but he said nothing more than I already knew. I felt like he was hiding something though. There was something more about him. Behind the classic speech of a random lawyer hid another approach. I wanted to know more about this mysterious Anthony Johnson. But I suspected he would not just answer my questions, I had to force him.
“Well Anthony – classic way to destabilise someone, use his first name without his authorisation- you are not helping me there. What you told me, I already know. I master every of your tricks to convince. It used to be my job. And when you shout like that, I see a man who just wants to get a lot of my money. So, you either tell me something interesting or you cut the crap, get the shit out of here and tell your friends not to come.”
He turned around as it was predictable he would. He walked away. I had no intention of calling him back. He stopped.
“Oh, you know what? You’re right- said he with the anger tainting his voice- let’s cut the crap. The truth is, I don’t understand. Most of my colleagues see you as a bag full of money. I see you as a huge question mark. Why the fuck would a man as acclaimed, famous and adored as you are commit a murder while he was sure to get caught?”
As he spoke, I remembered that precise night. My wife having a bath. Silently, hidden by the half-closed door, I was watching her. I had a knife in my hand. She was beautiful, water ran over her naked legs and hips as she washed the soap away. Her long brown hair fell on her breasts. Her deep blue eyes were lost, as in a moment of wonder. My hands shook, I was hesitating. Why? Anthony was right! That is the most important question. Why? Her eyes shouted the same questions as I pulled her head back and let the knife run around her throat. Why?
“Hey, you still here?
-Yes, sorry I was lost in my thoughts, I heard myself answer. You are right Anthony, “why?” is the proper question. Let me show you the world as I see it.”
I paused and came closer to him, as I would have come closer to the camera. Professional habit, I guess.
“I was young and ambitious when I began working for TV. It worked out pretty well. No, worse than that, everything worked out perfectly. It seemed like every mistake I made was at the origin of something good happening to me. My show began to become very popular and I hence became all the more influential. Each time I committed a crime, don’t worry- said I as I perceived his surprised look- my wife was the first murder I committed. So, each time I committed a crime, I simply had to dedicate an entire show to it. No need to hide, lie or flee, the journalist is always innocent. There is no novel in which the journalist is guilty, haven’t you noticed? The best way to hide something is to put it in plain sight. You don’t believe me, do you? Well, then, let us take an example. You know my wife was the daughter of a banker?”
He nodded as he lit a cigarette. He had seemed almost shocked when I had pronounced the word “crime” for the first time. Just as the rest of the world. I loved the look of surprise that lasted a long time on his face. Now, the fire of interest burned in his eyes.
“Yes- he answered- the bank had been robbed just before you met her. Your show ran interviews with almost every member of the family. It was the first time in my life I had seen so many people show empathy for such a wealthy family.
-Indeed, we followed the work of the police as well. The truth about this story is that I was a member of the team which broke in. And the funniest about that is that I wore no mask when we did the robbery, I stared at the CCTV for a long time to make sure they knew who did it. I wanted to know if my luck would turn.”
At that precise moment, I started laughing. I could not resist it. I could not stop it either. In the midst of two giggling crises, I continued:
“But no, they did not arrest me. My father in law came to me. He proposed me a deal. I would give him free publicity by covering the robbery with my show, and in exchange he would burry any proof against me. No one would know. And no one did. The wedding almost seemed like the signature at the end of our deal.
Anthony Johnson sat, leaving his wallet by the side of the absolutely uncomfortable mattress that I had to use as a bed. He said nothing. If I had his curiosity before, I had now his full attention.
“And then- I went on- I had to discover the full extent of my immunity. At first, I thought it was my network protecting me. But the further I went, the more I realised my chance was due to me only. You see, a man who is well dressed, well educated, and who is charming and convincing enough; well, he can get anything he desires. That is what I did. At the beginning, I justified my actions as a sort of scientific experiment. The problem is that there is a sort of addiction to crime. You do it because you can, and then there is no stopping it.” b
Anthony stepped in.
“What do you mean? What offense did you commit? I mean- there he took an uneasy tone- I can understand that there was a sort of collusion with your father in law but surely, all crimes cannot be covered up! You got caught for your wife’s murder for example!
-Slow down Anthony, one question at a time, and I think you do not quite get it when it comes to the murder I committed. But, first things first, what offense did I commit? Thousands! But let’s focus on the one I consider to be my favourite, the moment I realised my words could offer me the world.
It was during a party. My father in law was there. We were exchanging on the various things one could if one could talk his shit out of the different slanders. And then, he started a bet with me. It was weird, to be there, betting as teenagers do. But after all, weren’t we crime mates? I guess there are not many persons who can say the same about their father in law. Such was the bet, I had to steal one of the ladies’ jewellery and bring it back to her so as to win her favours. Given the very poor defences she opposed my assaults with, she must not have loved her husband that much. I fought for the first kiss of course, but once I had won that, I was almost surprised. She led us to a room away from the party in itself. Before I could make a move, she was undressed. And I will not give you her name, of course, but let us just remember that when it came to sexual practices she was very imaginative. Such treasons are not that surprising in the social group I lived in, I reckon. People marry one another to ensure their wealth, not the satisfaction of their heart. I won the bet and cheated on my wife for the first time this day. It is not an offense juridically speaking of course, but I found it very instructive about the hypocrisy of those we name the “high-society”. After that, I went on with the fun and committed offences without even bothering to hide them. Insider dealing, aggressions, money laundering. You name it, I did it! And God I loved it!”
There I went into a sort of mental laughter that even scared myself. Anthony remained completely even. More than that, I perceived something else in his look that frightened me. He was more than interested, it seemed like he was calculating, and carefully planning something.
“But why do you care Anthony?
-Let’s say, you are interesting. And I am intrigued by your story.
-It is a bit more than that, isn’t it? Your colleagues were much swiftly rebuffed.
-You are right, I was really wondering why you did it. To be honest with you, I studied Law for one reason, being able to find loopholes and always “talk my shit out of it”. My idea was that, in theory, there could be no better criminal than a lawyer. But I was wrong, I did not get any of the fun, while you enjoyed every bit of it. So, I have two questions that you will answer and then I will leave you. We both know there is no point trying to defend you and I did not come for your money.”
I was a bit shocked, I must admit, but, after all, if life had taught me one thing, it was that life was never as polished as it seems.
“What are your questions? Said I in voice that I meant assured.
-What is it in your wife’s murder that I did not get?
-Ah, there we are. I was not arrested because I had gone too far. I was arrested because someone wanted me to burn down. My wife had been dead for five hours when the police arrived. The murder had been brought to their attention three hours before. Why do you think it took them so long? No cop wanted to arrest me. Someone manoeuvred for five hours in the dark, to make sure I would be arrested. I don’t know who it is.
-OK, second question, what triggered this vicious circle, when was the first moment you felt the pleasure of overcoming things?
-The same way everybody did I guess, as a child. I was at my mother’s, a friend of her had come to watch over me. The cat tried to enter my room, I hated it when it did that. I threw a pillow at the door as hard as I could. It snapped on the cat and killed it. I took the corpse and threw it out the window. Then I faked all the tears I could. My mother’s friend came back and consoled me about this “tragic accident”, she never suspected what I did. And I loved this feeling.
– So, what do you think is the difference between you and a random citizen? How are people different from murderers?
-The only difference between me, a murderer, and a simple guy is opportunity. Simply opportunity. Forget about moral or religious codes. And if we are not a nation of bloody assassins it is because most of us never had the opportunity to kill. That is all.”