NOETM - Day 1 (Evening-Night)
Of course, I decided to visit Amy. Despite that veiled threat in the speech, my aunt and uncle egged me on. And besides, the note in my pocket implicitly told me to.
In fact, it just so happened that visiting hours opened then, after the sheriff and his wife Ella had finished their outdoor activities (they, too, had to participate in the farm life) and had retreated to the jailhouse (Like in most country jails at the time, the sheriff and his family of 2 lived on the first floor).
I walked to the lonely jail; not a place I had visited very often, or anyone in this city for that matter. It had a deceptively cute looking cubical structure made of limestone, with cathedral-like barred windows peering out. The inmates were kept on the second floor, with a maximum capacity of 7. For the past several years, it had been more or less empty. In fact, its most common captive over the past 4 years was Amy, who often had to be held overnight following her theft and vandalism antics. Now she was back for, what looked like, a more extended stay.
As I stared up at the cube in the pink, I was hesitant to enter. It had been 4 years since I'd talked to her. But after standing there for a few minutes in conflict, and remembering yesterday's scene in the Aiken house, I swallowed my doubts, mustered up all my courage, and walked in.
As soon as I arrived, the sheriff knew I was there to meet its sole inmate.
"Yep, she's been as unruly as always. "Don't touch me!" and all that. You'd think I know better, but her injuries this time were pretty bad. Thought she'd let us, or a doctor, treat her. Not even close. "Don't touch me!" Lord almighty, that's the last thing you want to hear from her. Let me just say: We sure as hell knew not to touch her. You know she's a goddamn tiger. Looks slim as hell, but I've been here since this city was just a Fort on the frontier, and I've had a harder time with her than I had with some hardened criminals. God, I'm telling you, her nails are as goddamn scary as an Indian tomaha—anyway, we left her medical supplies and whatnot, and she treated herself. Looks like she's fine in that regard. Ella thought she'd have a better time. Boy, you should've seen what happened when Ella tried to enter her cell with breakfast. The girl just gave her the most indecent, obscene lashing. Poor Ella came back down with tears, hahaha. We know now not to enter her cell now. Just leave the meals and whatnot at the cell door and let her do her own thing. That girl's more defensive now than I've ever seen her. Like a cornered animal. Scary as hell."
Forget this. I'm turning back.
"Well, she's eating her meals. Ella's been leaving her some clothes too, and she's been changing into them. And, you know, this was cute. Ella went up to leave her lunch, and that girl—so quietly, so meekly—asked for some makeup. Hehe. Well, it's easy to forget she's a girl after all. Hell, I can relate. Might as well look good if you're gonna be stuck here who knows how long.
"I should stay as impartial as I can, but I'll tell you: She's a good kid. And this is coming from me. You know I've scuffled with her more than anyone else in town. But the more I've scuffled with her, the more I've come to know she's a good person at heart. Just needs guidance, structure, something like that. Nice to see you here, by the way. Didn't think no one would come after that horrific lecture. I remember seein you two playing together all the time as kids. Guess she's gonna figure out who her real friend is, eh? Heh, sorry, didn't mean to tease you. But, well, I mean it. Hope you can get through to her. No pressure."
"Actually, I just realized. I have a business meeting."
The sheriff took that as a joke. I suppose it's too late to turn back now.
I ascended to the second floor. Walking down the hallway, I checked empty cell after cell. Each cell had the same format: A barred window in the center letting in a tint of dark pink, and a bed on the far right corner. It wasn't until I reached the end of the hallway that I found the cell with what I was looking for.
There she was: huddled against the left corner with her knees tucked in. Her head was facing down against her knees, and her long hair blocking her face.
I suppose Ella had left her Pioneer clothing. She was dressed almost head-to-toe: A bushy nightcap above tight blue bodice from which ballooned long sleeves leading into white gloves. And a classically long skirt forming a dome on the gray floor underneath which hid her legs. I noticed an nightgown folded on the bed as well.
Noticing my presence, she looked up.
It was hard to make out her face in the tint, but it was her face: the same one that was beaming on the stand during graduation, except now with a decent amount of bandages, and—contrastingly—coated with even more makeup than when she was on the stand: beaming red lipstick and conspicuous blush, yet still looking somewhat tired, dead underneath. And yet, for some reason, my heart began beating. I suddenly realized that I had subconsiously trained myself to avoid looking at her face over the past several years, because, maybe, somehow the way it grew made me uncomfortable. But now, for the first time in years, we were alone, and that face was looking directly at me. And I didn't know what to say.
I am a worthless idiot that deserves to die.
She didn't respond, obviously, and looked back down, hiding her face under her hair.
I stood there, hesitating for a while, regretting that I had come at all. She clearly did not want to talk. Who did I think I was to come here? But then, suddenly,
"Wasn't expecting you," she said, bluntly.
"Well, I thought... Must get pretty lonely in here."
"Nah. I'm used to it."
She looked up, and turned her face away towards the window behind her.
"No kiddin'. It's nice in here," she said, "No one to bother you. No chores, no responsibilities. No folks asking you to hang out. I like bein' alone. All I have to do here is sit and do nothing. Doin' nothin' is kinda fun, honestly."
"You should throw a baseball through the barber's window and spend a night here. It ain't bad."
"Haha. Well, guess we're adults now. I learned that the hard way."
A somewhat cryptic comment, but I somehow understood what she was trying to say.
Another silence followed, which was broken, once more, by her.
"How've things been, Kev?"
"Well, I guess I'm good."
"Sorry 'bout your parents, again. I felt bad. They were super nice to me back in the day."
"No, it's fine. And, besides.. err.. I feel more sorry for your parents."
Woops. That might have been too insensitive.
"Hehehe, you can say that again. Can't wait for my turn."
Never mind. She has an even darker humor than me.
"Ah, right, guess you were gonna go down to Austin with Daddy, eh?"
"Daddy thought you were some hot shit, hahaha. Whaddya think? Are ya hot shit, Kev?"
"Not really. I think he was just thinking of my dad."
"Haha. I can relate. Met some 'great' Austin statesmen and some of 'em talk to me all like 'Aiken's daughter, huh? You're going places.' Like hell I am. The only place I'm going is to the gallows, heh. But Daddy really thought you were something, Kev. Talked about ya quite a bit."
"Well, he said good things about you too. About... err... how you're a good girl at heart and everything, and bright."
"Ugh! Well, that's Daddy for ya. Tryna 'hook us back up.' He was playin' politics even with us. Glad ya didn't fall for it."
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"Well, anyway, now what? What's your plan?"
"Um... Not sure..."
I hadn't thought about it at all.
"If anything," I said, "Well, your dad was working on... err something. Let's see, how much am I allowed to say..."
"Big Oil? Big secret?"
"Yeah. Told me about Sid Richardson, Clint Richardson, and the whole bunch. Well, nah. I dunno what his big secret was. He guarded it like piece-a treasure. Think about that: Didn't even tell his own sweet, gorgeous, smart daughter. I'm offended."
"I mean... it seems like you still know quite a bit."
"... Hey, Kev. Are ya thinking what I'm thinking?"
"..I think so."
We decided to team up: To combine our fragmented knowledge in an attempt to recover that secret, or, at least, find a way to break a story on the matter.
Aiken was very secretive about who his contacts were, and kept them relatively separate. So one of our orders of business was to try and figure out who and what that network consisted of.
"How big was Daddy's secret? Did he really think it could break through the Marsh empire?"
"Charles Marsh? Is he really that big of a deal?"
"He controls half the news industry in Texas."
"Well, according to your dad, my dad was friends with him."
"Yeah, my dad was too optimistic about that. You think 'friends' means anything? 'Friendship' means nothing."
Oof. Not like that, Amy! Not like that!
"You realize, Kev, the field that we're workin' with?"
"An oil field!"
"Hah! Right, right, Kev. And here, these 'friends' will coat 'emselves in gusher rain and stab each other in the back, come up the next day and say 'Wasn't me.' Talk about a minstrel show."
"Joiner cried on Hunt's shoulder one day and sued him the next. Y'know why Richardson befriended Murchinson as a boy? Cause Murchinson's dad was rich. There's a smackin' foundation for 'childhood friends'. Hell, like 'friends' means squat to anyone nowadays. 'Friendship' is just two people takin' advantage of each other."
An awkward silence, as she realizes her slip-up.
"Kev, y'know why I befriended you?"
"Cause you were poor."
"Listen, Kev. Think about Marsh this way: He made Sid Richardson, and he made Lyndon Johnson. You think he's gonna give up two of his greatest creations over an friendship?"
"How did he make Richardson?"
"Oh, shit. He didn't tell you"
"Well, shit. There's some missing info there. And I have no idea how we're gonna track down the sources for some of these stories. Marsh advanced Sid some money, guaranteed his loans or somethin' when Sid was living on scraps"
"How in the world did your dad figure this out?"
"Well, Daddy used to be a lawyer right? Well, he has friends up and down the pipeline, no pun intended, all the way up to the fed. When our little Siddy boy wasn't paying his debts, the they knocked on his door. And well, word got back down to my dad."
"Now how the hell do we blow open that one? I don't know the name of the federal agent. I'm sure someone knows, but who? Daddy probably had a plan, but he probably didn't count on dying like this. Now all we have is a buncha missing gaps. It's gonna take years to fill these in."
"Well, Charles Marsh knows. If we can get him to—"
"What did I tell ya, Kev?"
"If he knew Lyndon was sleeping with his wife..."
"That's blackmail. God, you guys are apes. Daddy really pokes his nose in the wrong places."
"Well, he wasn't advocating that we blackmail or anything."
"He was advocating by snooping for it, and bringing it up. Jesus, think of that poor girl. And poor Lady Bird."
Amy is a girl, after all.
I try to come at it from another angle,
"I mean, that 'poor girl'—wait, isn't she rich?"
"Champagne on the patio. Har har."
"Well, anyway. She wants Lyndon. And Lyndon wants her. I wasn't suggesting that we reveal the affair, but bring them together. It's love."
"Like hell love exists."
"First friendship, now love!?"
She became more animated the more we talked. She'd sometimes awkwardly waddle around the cell, strangely meddle with the wall with the tip of her shoe, then she and her skirt would drift onto the bed, where she would lie down in contorted, kiddish positions, hiding under the blanket curling up like a cat and waving her leg out like a snake. She'd go lean against the window, and stare out at the pink sky, the heels of her shoes tapping against the floor. Most of the time, she sat against the left wall of the cell, giving me a sideview of her face all but hidden by her hair. After a snarky remark she might brush her hair away and smirk at me, then let her hair fall back against her cheeks, effectively making a teaseshow around glimpses of her face.
"Hey, Kev, I just remembered. We're 18. Who are ya gonna vote for?"
"The Senate election? ...Probably Dies."
"He's so conservative."
"Right... Forgot that you were pretty conservative... Daddy used to complain about that, hehe. You know, your dad was pretty left."
"I'm guessing you're for Mann?"
"Yes and no."
"He's definitely my favorite candidate. But he doesn't stand a chance at winning."
"This election's Lyndon vs. Pappy."
"Last time I checked, Lyndon was nonexistent in the polls."
"Was that before or after Roosevelt's endorsement?"
"Ugh... Wait, how did that happen?"
"Jesus, Kev, I was so fucking pissed. I'm a Roosevelt gal, but he can really screw it up sometimes. I dunno, Kev. Mann's ten times a New Dealer than Lyndon ever was. Lyndon probably used one of his stupid tricks."
"Well, anyway. Let's say it's just between Pappy and Lyndon. Whaddya think?"
"Well, I think Pappy's going to win... But I'd prefer Lyndon at that point."
"I think Lyndon's gonna win."
"Pappy serves special interests, but doesn't know what the hell he's doing. Lyndon wields oil money like a sword."
"But Pappy is way more popular."
"Just watch, Kev. Lyndon's gonna win."
"It almost sounds like you're for him."
"Well, I'm voting for him. I'd rather him than Pappy."
"The daughter of James Aiken is voting for Lyndon Johnson. Put that in the headlines."
"I mean, you gotta do what you gotta do. Daddy was gonna vote for Lyndon himself."
"What a strange world."
At least Amy and I agreed on not liking Lee O'Daniel. I'll admit, in some way I was pleasantly surprised when his candidacy for governor took off, in spite of what the newspapers and political analysis deeming it infeasible. It was nice seeing someone "outside" of the system get into it. However, his actual governorship went as bad as I expected. He was simply incompetent. And I wasn't a fan of his extremely base populism. I'm religious, but using the "Ten Commandments" as a platform felt insulting to my intelligence. I would have much preferred someone cool and conservative in the governorship, like Coke Stevenso—
"Wait, Amy. I think I'm going to vote for Pappy."
"I want him out of Texas."
"Hey Kev. Who was your favorite president?"
"Oh, damnit. You're such a Texan."
"...Why do you say that like it's a bad thing?"
"We should've stayed in our lane."
"What does that mean?"
"You know what I mean."
"Who was yours then?"
"Lincoln. Or, hell, I'm a gal of the present. Roosevelt."
"I like FDR too."
"Or liked him. Not so much anymore."
"I mean, a third term is just... not right."
"What's 'not right' about it?"
"I mean, he's just breaking way too many rules! Okay, fine, there's nothing technically wrong with a third term, but it's just another step in a bad trend. Just look at that court-packing disaster: It's just proof that he just wants unlimited power."
"Or doesn't wanna be blocked by senile legacy Republicans."
"Or wants to tear apart the Constitution! I don't like Republicans either, but guess what? That bill got killed in the Senate hard, bipartisan."
"The Senate? You mean the most anti-reform institution in the federal government? Jesus, Kev. Whose fault is it that we're on the brink of another war? Whose fault is it that we haven't had a civil rights bill since the fucking Reconstruction? The Senate."
"A lot of 'civil rights' legislation shouldn't be passed."
"Ah, so you're racist."
"No, I'm a Constitutionalist! That's the point of the Senate. To protect the Constitution."
"More like protect big oil interests. Did ya forget what we're trying to do here?"
"Well, okay, the Senate has... It has problems. I admit. But you can't just throw the Constitution in the trash. It's what keeps people from becoming dictators."
"Y'know what I think, Kev?"
"Let's throw the Constitution in the trash."
"I think the entire American system—capitalism, 'democracy'—needs a complete overhaul. We need something that actually lifts people up."
"We already have it. Look, I like the New Deal as much as you do. Well, okay, maybe not as much, but—"
"We need something that wouldn'tve gotten us into this mess in the first place. The Depression, another war. Jesus, Kev. You can't say FDR's proof that the system works. He's runnin' around plugging holes in a sinking ship."
"That's what your dad's friend used to believe, but now he's—what was his name?"
"Heh. They're like political soulmates, heh. Or they were. Well, still got along well. Till yesterday, that is."
"O-oof. W-well, yeah. I mean, I know your dad disagrees. But here's a guy that used to believe those sorts of things, like Communism and all that, and then came to realize the best sort of change comes through the system. Our system. And now he's working with FDR."
"The FPC? Well, we'll see how he fares. With the oil lobby, I think he's fucked."
"Well, that's what we're here for."
"God, I hope, Kev."
"Hey Kev. Let's play a guessing game. Whaddya think Daddy's secret was?"
"Fuck if I know. Lady Bird's an actual bird?"
"Hahaha. How about, the KKK controls the AAA."
"The Hill Country is an oil field."
"The Hill Country is gold mine."
"In the Hill Country, money grows on trees."
"The Hill Country's a blasted heath."
"Hah! I get it!"
"Thank God. I'd slap ya if you forgot."
"No, you're locked up."
"Let's see.. Hoover was right."
"Harding knew too much!"
"The unreleased 'Bedside Chats'."
"Hahaha, nice! Alvin Wirtz is a vampire."
"Ummm, Ed Clark doesn't exist."
"George Brown's the 'Root' in Brown & Root."
"Ms. Daeth is dead."
"Well, Amy, here's the thing. What do you want? A revolution? How the hell are you going to get one? How are you going to make sure it doesn't get co-opted by bad actors?"
"Well, you're right, Kev. This is where Daddy and I used to argue so much. Not that he wanted a revolution overnight or anything, but he genuinely thought it could come somewhere in the horizon, like decades from now maybe. And I'm just like, nah, it ain't coming Daddy. And even if it came, the new world sure ain't gonna be pretty. I agree with what you were sayin' about Olds. I think he has the right idea. Hell, Daddy himself—'spite all his writings—was working through the system, not against it. I mean he's trying to get Rules to 'investigate' the issue, for Christs' sake. Daddy's such a hypocrite. Don't you think, Kev?"
"I agree, Kev, that the most practical way forward is through the system. But, listen, the more we go 'forward', I think, the more we're losing something. Like our soul, or something. I mean, we're doomed to go forward, so there's nothing we can do about it 'cept making it as smooth as possible. But the more we lock in to the future, the more likely a truly ideal society becomes impossible. That's what I think."
"That was the vaguest rant I've ever heard. You said absolutely nothing. What are you talking about? What do you mean by 'ideal' society? What does 'ideal' mean to you? Is there something you want beyond, say, the American Dream?"
She did not answer.
"Well, then Kev. If you're sooo scared of the spooooky 'third term', who do you think should be President?"
"I don't know... Garner?"
"Oh come on, what is it?"
"Nothin', Kev. It's just that... you're such a Texan."
"Why do you say that like it's a bad thing!?"
"Listen, Kev. Don't get the wrong idea. I adore Texas. Wouldn't rather be anywhere else. Back when we weren't poor, daddy took me to some other states. California, New York, the Capitol. It's all great, but it's nothin' like here. I'd like to go to Washington someday, make a positive change and all that. But I want my home to be somewhere here. Somewhere where I can build a big ranch. My dad wasn't much of a country guy, but I love that sorta life. I wanna build a ranch nearby a creek, maybe even a lake—somewhere where I can fish, deer, make my own food. With a lotta open space. Somewhere I can walk from one end to the other and marvel at the sights. I'm glad we are where we are, y'feel?"
"Well, I have similar visions. I'd also like to settle in a ranch."
"You, me. How about we build one together? Hehehe, just kiddin'."
I wanted to reach across the bars and punch her in the face.
"Man, Kev, my body hurts like hell."
"Ah, shoot. I guess you must still be recovering."
"Where does it hurt?"
It was getting dark. The pink had dimmed into a dark purple. Oddly, we hardly talked about her parents' murder. But just by talking to her, I knew she didn't do it.
I didn't even notice until afterwards that we didn't talk about it. We were too preoccupied drifting back and forth between working on our little project and talking about politics in general. Evidently, she was very interested in politics. It was a lot like talking to Mr. Aiken. It was interesting to see how Amy differed from her father. She was a little less radical, and more pragmatic. She would have made a good conversation partner over the years, had I actually tried to close the distance.
We began wrapping up our findings for the day. She actually knew a lot that I didn't, and I knew quite a bit of things she didn't. Aiken had, evidently, very carefully compartamentalized who received what information. It was nice to see that his daughter was privy to a good amount of it, though.
I looked at the list we made (using a pen and paper I borrowed from the sheriff) on people to contact, with notes and question marks next to some of their names. The point was to poke all of them and see if any of them had any scraps of Aiken's secret.
"Damn! I wish we had telephone lines."
"Guess you'll have to write 'em."
"Wait, Kev, hold on. Y'gotta be careful. Daddy was really careful with his mail. I dunno if he was just paranoid, but he didn't wanna refer to sensitive stuff in writing, y'know."
"You think just referring to the 'secret' would be going too far?"
"Damn! I wish we had telephone lines."
"Hahaha. Well, I guess we can try to phrase it in a way to make it discreet? Maybe we can try to draft some letters tomorrow. And besides, err, you don't have a plan for the summer, do ya?"
"Well, if you find yourself in Austin—or anywhere but here really, you can get it done."
"I dunno what you're planning to do, Kev. Just don't get stuck here, y'know what I'm saying? Hot potato and all that."
"Hey, you'll come tomorrow, right?"
There was just a hint of eagerness in her voice.
And a hint of relief, upon hearing my answer.
"Can ya believe we're talking like this, Kev? Daddy was always tryna get us chatting. Well he got what he asked for: Over his dead body. Hahaha."
Her sense of humor was way too dark!
By the time I left the Foster City jail, it was dark outside. I hung my head up as I walked back to my house. I couldn't believe the contrast between how awful I felt in the morning and how, now, I actually felt... good? I felt better after talking to her. And a small part of me hoped that she felt a bit better after talking to me.
I hated the cloudless sapphire, and I despised the overwhelming pink, but the starry night sky was always beautiful.