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September 26, 2022

I Was Just the Sequel

By Dan Mulhollen

A small suite of rooms was built atop a now-abandoned factory, accessible only by an outside wooden staircase. The suite consisted of an entry with a hallway leading to the remaining rooms, a main office, a break room, and a storage room.

Four people were in the office, two men, a short, dark-haired woman, and a tall blonde. All but the latter were in denim. The blonde's wrists were bound and she was naked but for a thin white crop-top held up by a single strap -- the other dangling from her right shoulder as helpless as its wearer.

"Okay, as we talked about!" One of the men ordered, pushing a small digital recorder towards her. When she hesitated, he grabbed her hair and pushing her head into the table. "As we talked about," he repeated, shouting each word.

She closed her eyes and nodded. Then she picked up the digital recorder and pressed the "record" button

"Father," she said, in a soulless monotone, "I have no reason to believe I'll get out of this alive. Everything went wrong and they will kill me first sign that you or anyone else is about to launch a rescue."

"Tell them why we're doing this," Gino Massari, the older of the Massari brothers ordered.

"They said it is for Paulo. That you knew he was innocent. But you sent him to prison anyway, just to say you got one of them."

She looked over at Gino who smiled, a smug expression on his face. "None of my police training prepared me for what they did," she said, her voice breaking with the last two words. "But the worst has already been done, and I only have to wait for one of them to pull the trigger. Goodbye."

Gino took the recorder and turned it off. "Take her to her room," he said to the dark-haired woman. The woman did as ordered, pushing her onto the bed and saying she'd be right back.

Gino dialed the District attorney's home phone number and when voicemail started, played the recording.

"I say we kill her now," the other man said, after the recording stopped. He walked to the window and looking out at the dark, empty street. "We're running too big a risk keeping her alive."

"Claudio, Claudio, the older brother teased, "that would make it too easy for District Attorney Adelson. No, as long as she's alive, he will keep hope alive. That will make it much more sweet when he discovers her just-recently deceased body."

"It really doesn't bother you if we're killed in the process."

"I'd rather we make it out alive," he said. "But I'd rather Paulo be here with us sharing a bowl."

"I hate being this way," Claudio Massari said, pounding his fist into the window frame. "Can't we just get it over with?"

"Do you really want to kill her?"

"A couple hours ago ago, when she walked in, it would have been so easy."

"And now?" Gino asked.

"If we could get away with it, I'd rather just let her go. She smokes up, couldn't we make some sort of deal?"

"Her message is already on her father's voice mail. She said he usually wakes up around 5am and checks. It's too late, I'm afraid."

"How did this happen?"

"Emotion got to us," Gino admitted, his own passion cooling. "If we had thought this out, who knows?"

"I could only see Paulo in that cell, imagining her as one of his tormentors."

Gino said nothing, but sat there silently, the enormity of their actions pressing down on his conscience. "Sadly," he said, "men like the District Attorney have no remorse when they fuck up."

Arlene Massari returned to Holly Adelson's room carrying a pair of cut-off jeans. "Here, put these on," she said, tossing the cut-offs to her captive who was lying down on a cot; that and a filing cabinet were the room's only furniture. "No point in leaving you on display."

"Thanks," Holly said, slipping them on.

"Why?" Arlene asked. "Paulo stayed clear of his brothers' business. He was a fucking poet, for God's sake." She took a wire-bound notebook from the filing cabinet. "He wrote all that," she said.

Holly skimmed through the notebook, blankly staring at the pages.

"But your father was determined to convict a Massari, even one he knew was innocent."

"An eye for an eye," Holly said, an automatic cliché.

"Let me tell you something," Arlene said, her face turned red. "What they did to you tonight was nothing compared to what other inmates did to Paulo. Do you realize that? This short, skinny kid who never got as much as a parking ticket. Every fucking day he got it. They'd hear him crying himself to sleep and he got it worse. Then he tries to fights back, to stand up for himself, and is knifed to death in his cell."

"I'm sorry," Holly said, only slightly cognizant.

"And for what?" Arlene asked, ignoring the apology. "We never hurt anyone before all this. Claudio was the grower, and Gino the salesman. I smiled and looked pretty -- Gino said that helped sales." Then she pulled a joint out of her shirt pocket. "Is this worth Paulo's life? Is this worth your life?" She lit the joint and sat down on the cot beside Holly. We talked about legalization and were okay about paying taxes. Is this worth people's lives?" She passed the joint to Holly.

Holly took it and took a long drag and passed it back to Arlene. She remained silent for a few moments, still in shock over her torment, still feeling a new sensation to her -- humiliation. "I thought," she said, after another hit, "this would be some kind of adventure, going undercover, busting the bad guys. After the first few times, I thought I was safe."

"When your father announced he was running for mayor, Gino and Claudio were still in shock over Paulo's death. Oh they already knew you were a cop, but they never wanted to hurt you until then. They were just looking for a good way to blow you off. Then, just as everybody's red-hot for revenge, you stumble in looking to buy an ounce."

"Timing is everything in police work," Holly said, a little more life in her voice. You know what's truly fucked?" she asked. "If this were some sort of abstract debate between my father and your husband about legalization, I'd be taking your side. Now my body aches, not as bad as before, but enough to remember every time every time they hurt me...to remember every foul thing the three of you called me."

"Wanna know what really pisses me off about this? Gino couldn't just have Claudio do all the sick stuff, he had to join in, me looking on -- just to make you feel that much more like shit. So imagining him killing you didn't bother me that much." She laughed. "Ain't I a jealous bitch?"

"Does it bother you now?"

"No," Arlene answered, seeming to question herself. "Well, I'd be perfectly satisfied you ending up alive, but with a nasty case of post-traumatic stress."

Holly nodded, a grim smirk on her face. "You held back," she said. "Both wanted to force me to do you. But you backed away."

"I've been forced to do things," Arlene said. "The guy in eleventh grade I thought was in love with me. The uncle..." She stopped. "At least Gino has never raised a hand. Yeah, they run one of the biggest weed operations in the county. Yeah, Paulo was the only one to graduate high school. But they are not ignorant brutes!"

"I am truly sorry about Paulo," she repeated. "There's so much bullshit in the law. So many idiot voters who believe that bullshit."

"And your father would suck these people's cocks for votes."

"If he heard this conversation, he'd shrug it off as Stockholm Syndrome."

"Is it?"

"Maybe," Holly replied. "I really can't be sure of anything I'm saying or thinking right now. I know the Feds are all wrong. Schedule A my ass. Even my father knows that. 'People,' she said, repeating something he once told her, 'generally don't get violent so they can buy weed. But for someone who's been mugged or had their car stolen or house broken into for someone to buy heroin or crack, there's no difference -- it's all to buy drugs.'"

"And that justifies sending innocent, gentle people to jail? How pretty it must be in your world."

"Why do you hate me?" Holly asked. "This isn't just about Paulo. There's something about me you can't stand."

"Before today, I always thought you were just this rich clown. But before, when they started on you, I saw the silver chain around your waist, the wax job, all that just screamed out 'I'm rich -- I'm better than you,'. Hell, I remember when I was 18 and had to steal a razor for my underarms so I wouldn't embarrass myself at the prom. It's just the way you always seemed to take having things for granted. Even your cover story -- rich suburban girl who needed to sneak past her parents and gated community to buy weed."

"You're right," Holly admitted. "Until tonight, I was always Miss Lucky, good grades, a pony at five and a car at sixteen, able to skirt the rules everyone else had to follow. You know, I always reported less than I actually purchased to my father. I guess I felt I was entitled to a 'tip.'"

Arlene laughed with a hard cough at the end.

"And in truth," Holly continued, "my father did not know about tonight. "I was simply looking to buy some weed. I guess from the past purchases, I started to trust you people."

"Stupid rich bitch," Arlene mumbled.

"Yeah," Holly said, nodding. "Even right now, I'm both terrified and bored. Couldn't you ask them to hurry this up. If I'm to die, I'd rather it be while I'm a little baked."

"I'll go and ask," Arlene said, leaving the room. She returned a moment later, only long enough to leave a re-sealable plastic bag containing the marijuana, a book of rolling papers, and a cheap disposable lighter on the cot. Turning back she said, "You did pay for that, after all."

Holly didn't know if was sloppiness or compassion, but the entry and the unguarded door was less than twenty feet away, while the door to the office was closed. She grabbed both the the notebook and the weed, putting the latter in her pocket, and decided to chance it.

"So what are we doing?" Arlene asked, looking at her husband.

"Her father should have checked his voice mail ten minutes ago." Then he shook his head. "I don't know."

"I guessed as much," Arlene said. "I couldn't believe the two of you back there before."

"I can't believe it now," Claudio said.

"The past few minutes," Gino said, "I've been asking what would Paulo have done."

"He'd let her go and skip town," Claudio said. "He always had a thing for smooth blondes."

"He would," Gino said, his hands together, knocking on the desk.

"Well," Arlene said, "I think we're halfway there."

The police spotted Holly Adelson barefoot, sitting on a park bench about a half-mile from the warehouse. She was smoking one joint, and had two neatly rolled on her lap. She only said that she'd taken a wrong turn and ran into a group of men. After a trip to the ER, she was questioned for several hours, both by the police and by the District Attorney. While admitting to her ordeal, she said she did not mention any names.

"Adelson's Daughter Abducted, Tortured!" was the headline. After a week of daily therapy sessions, she gave her first press conference.

It was not what the media was hoping for. Instead of lurid details, she gave a coherent speech attacking drug laws, admitting to a sting operation gone wrong. "If it were legal, I would not have had to put myself in danger. This was an embarrassment to her father's political aspirations. But towards the end, she opened a wire-bound notebook and said, "I'd like to read a bit of poetry written by a man who died in prison last week named Paulo Massari.

"We don't know each other,# Just the cliches,# the palatable generalizations# that separate our humanities.

I can see you# sitting by the fireplace, sipping Cognac,# reading a Bible you say you believe.# But I have my doubts.

And you see me# sitting by the TV, stoned, stuffing my face,# all but illiterate.# A blight on the system.

No, I do not respect your self-professed hard work,# any more than you respect the realities# of what poverty is truly like.

You see, we are both bigots,# Not looking for truth,# Only seeing further proof# that our prejudices are correct."

A newspaper which had previously supported her father's candidacy for Mayor ran an editorial calling her "a spoiled rich girl who enjoyed what had happened to her." She got a retraction and apology for the latter part of the editorial. But her father's campaign was ruined, that same editorial calling his most recent statements "soft on crime."

He accepted his defeat philosophically, feeling some remorse for his daughter's ordeal. But he could not understand her reluctance to name her abductors, and there were almost daily dinner table arguments.

"What they did to me was horrible," she said, with a calm, detached bearing he found disturbing. "But two wrongs do not make a right."

"The difference is," he replied, "the law is on our side."

She shook her head. "You should never have gone after Paulo. Was becoming Mayor worth a man's life?"

"I'm sorry, but yes. We are a better class of people than they are. For that we have a responsibility to set an example -- and set people associated with wrongdoers as examples. It's tragic, but Paulo Massari died for his brothers' sins."

"Please write me out of your will," she said, standing up, leaving the table.

"Consider it done."

He quickly decided to ignore the request, but he realized there was now a distance between them that could last the rest of his life. He resigned as district attorney and went into private practice defending people he used to convict.

The Massaris packed up shop and disappeared. But every Christmas, Holly exchanged cards with an "Arlene and Family," who had moved to an area with more reasonable laws, and where her youngest brother-in-law would have still been alive.

One day, three years after her abduction, Holly was having a therapy session when her counselor, a thin woman in her late fifties, asked, "Do you think you'll ever be able to forgive the Massaris?"

"Maybe not for the nightmares," Holly replied, showing a bit of a smile. "But I realize they acted out of grief and anger."

"You could very easily pick up a phone and have them arrested."

"I know," Holly said, nodding. "Maybe if I totally broke down after that I might. Have I?"

"Your progress did hit a few snags early on," the therapist admitted. "But you've been able to move past the worst of it."

"Maybe at some psychic level I knew their hearts really weren't into it. It's just too bad so much of their bodies were."

"You know," the therapist said, frowning, "your father finds your gallows humor disturbing."

"If you can't laugh at how fucked up you are, what can you laugh at?"

The therapist tapped her clipboard with her pencil a few times. "Would you mind changing your sessions from monthly to once every other month?" the therapist asked, smiling. "I know you've kept a quite detailed journal. Have you considered publishing any of it?"

"No," she said, shrugging her shoulders. "The death of Paulo Massari was the real story. I was just the sequel."

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-10-24
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