Extension of Mercy: (A Short Story)
Jack Trawler walked over to the room where Lonnie Laptham, a punk drug dealer, was being held. A female colleague handed Jack a folder and spoke to him, nodding at Lonnie through the one-way glass. Jack glanced at Lonnie and drew his eyes to the folder, skimming the contents.
As she spoke to him, Jack said "Um hmm," at intervals, his eyes never leaving the folder. He thanked her and went in to see Lonnie.
"Hi, Lonnie," Jack said, sitting down on the other side of the table. He made a few awkward, nervous sounds and gestures before coming up with, "I've heard a lot about you." He tapped the folder. "I am sorry we have to meet under these circumstances."
Jack could tell that Lonnie was sorry to be meeting him under these circumstances as well. He just didn't have the strength to say so. Lonnie looked so scared. They always did, sitting there, alone, in the absence of their crews to look tough in front of.
"In many ways," Jack said, "you're an impressive young man. Tell me, Lonnie: Did you ever think you'd end up here, in this position?"
Lonnie was looking at the floor. He shook his head. No he had not. They never do.
Jack said, "Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Or something stronger? Anything?"
Lonnie shook his head. He didn't want any coffee, tea, or anything stronger.
"Are you hungry?"
Lonnie shook his head again. He couldn't keep anything down.
Jack sighed. "Alright, just a few questions." He opened the folder. "Your full name is Lonnie Arkady Michel Laptham?"
That was right.
"Current address: 142 Richter Road, Jackson, Arkansas?"
Jack Trawler went through other details like that: background, family, where he went to school, and the like.
"You're an only child with your mother living in Scranton, Ohio. Is that right?"
Lonnie nodded. "Yeah." There was no use lying. The man clearly knew Lonnie's background backward and forward. He was just confirming what he knew.
Jack closed the folder and steepled his fingers in front of him. "Does your mother know you sell dangerous narcotics to children, Lonnie, spoiling the minds and lives of this country's future?"
Lonnie just sat there, staring at the floor.
Jack slammed his palm on the table top. "Answer me! Does she know you're a drug dealer?"
Lonnie's head jerked up. His head, neck, and shoulders were twitching now. "No, no, no.... She don't know nothing."
"What does she think you do for a living?"
Lonnie grinned. "She thinks I'm a professor of chemistry at some college."
Jack was even supplied with Lonnie's college transcripts---yes, he had gone to college and done quite well. Jack opened the folder again and glanced at Lonnie's transcripts. Impressed, he nodded and said, "Yeah, you might've made it at that. Like I said, you're an impressive young man in many ways."
They chatted like that for a while. Jack took it easy, worked at winning Lonnie's trust. He gently probed the area he was particularly interested in, but when Lonnie reacted evasively, Jack backed off and didn't press him.
Jack Trawler was a patient man. But it was time to get this thing done.
"Lonnie, what made you think you could rip off The Man and get away with it?"
Lonnie exhibited the classic deer-in-the-headlights look, his mouth falling open. "I..I...I didn't..."
Jack waved him off. "Don't lie, Lonnie. Don't even open your mouth. That was a rhetorical question, son."
They sat in silence for a couple of minutes. Jack looked at Lonnie as though he were very, very, very disappointed in him, as indeed he was.
"Here's the deal I'm prepared to offer you, Lonnie. I'll kill you quickly if..."
Lonnie's whimpering, pleading, denials of guilt, of even knowing what Jack was talking about, interrupted him.
"Lonnie, stop it!" Jack slammed his palm on the table again. "Now look, you know and I know that your staying alive is simply not an option at this point. Don't kid yourself. You know who we're talking about here. Let me finish.
"Now, all we're looking for is closure in this matter Lonnie. If you tell me where the money is or what you did with it, I will kill you quickly and painlessly. You won't feel a thing. You will not be shot; you wll not be stabbed; you will not be strangled; you will not be drowned; you will not be electrocuted; you will not be burned or frozen; you will not be buried alive; you will not be thrown out of a window. Nothing like that."
Lonnie had winced with each thing Jack had said they would NOT do to him.
"There won't be a mark on you. It'll look like you died of natural causes. Your body will be placed where you will easily be found, in a nice hotel we already have booked. Sorry we won't be able to get you back to Scranton. Your mother will give you a nice funeral. It'll be tragic for her, of course. No parent should have to bury her child. But at least she won't have to think you were mixed up with dangerous criminals."
"How do I know you're telling the truth," Lonnie said.
Instead of laughing, instead of pointing out that Lonnie was in no position to bargain or make demands, Jack said, "Look, Lonnie, it's like I said: All we want is closure in this matter. The money is a small thing to us; its the princple of the matter, as you know. Just tell me where the money is or what you did with it if you blew it all, and the rest will go easy for you just like I said."
"Why would you show me mercy?"
"Why not?" Jack said. "I do this because I want to make a lot more money a lot quicker than I could making an honest living. I've never been good about holding down a nine-to-five, but I'm not cruel. There's no need to torture you."
"What about setting an example?" Lonnie said.
"You have to set an example," Lonnie said, "so nobody else tries this... whatever you think I did again."
Jack was wearing a sad smile. "You've thought a lot about this. It might have been better for you if you'd made these calculations before... But that's neither here nor there. Look, why don't you sit with your thoughts for awhile." Jack rose. "I'll be back in an hour."
An hour later Jack returned, and Lonnie agreed to tell him about it.
The story was tired, pedestrian, common, boring, predictable, and any other adjective you want to name for pathetic. The money was gone with little hope for even a partial retrieval. It seems that Lonnie had met this flash-in-the-pan woman who'd turned his nose up, entranced him, said she wanted to marry him. They were supposed to "run away together." Jack worked hard to suppress his irritation.
She was to go ahead first, with the money, naturally. When Lonnie had arrived at the designated rendevous point, she was not there. Lonnie never saw her again. Not only was he out of luck, out of money, out of the girl, he was almost out of life.
Jack said, "Thank you, Lonnie. Oh, would you like a last meal?"
"What?" Lonnie said.
"Yeah," Jack said, "anything you want. There's no hurry."
Lonnie asked for barbeque chicken, mashed potatoes swimming in butter, stringbeans, blackeye peas. For desert he asked for sweet potato pie and vanilla ice cream and coffee.
Jack agreed and saw that the food was provided.
It was a Sunday afternoon in the fall. Lonnie remembered that a couple of football games were coming up that he had wanted to watch. Could a radio or television be set up for him?
Jack agreed to this also and saw that a television was provided.
Jack Trawler turned out to be as good as his word. Three hours later, after the food and the games were finished, he returned with a needle. "I'm just going to give you this shot. It'll put you to sleep."
Resigned, Lonnie started to roll up his sleeve.
"No, take off your shoes," Jack said.
Lonnie shrugged and took off his shoes.
Jack administered the shot between the second and third toes of the right foot. The medical examiner will have no reason to look there.
"It will look like a heart attack," Jack said. "But don't worry, you will be in a deep, anesthetized sleep by then. You won't feel a thing."
"Okay," Lonnie said.
"Why don't you lie down, Lonnie. Stretch out, relax."
As Jack left the room Lonnie said, "Jack?"
"For what?" Jack said. "Taking your life?"
"For at least feeling bad about it," Lonnie said. "For being a human being... or... at least as much of a human being as possible under the circumstances."
Jack said, "Well, I guess you were as much of a human being as you could be under the circumstances as well," and left the room.
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