Fiction: Steve Sanders


On a Sunday afternoon in the middle of football season, I ride with Emily to visit the condemned man’s family.  This is probably for the best since I’ve lately come to realize that football games are what those in the program refer to as one of my triggers.  The family lives a couple hours west of Nashville in a methamphetamine wreck called Garance.  The town is encircled by tract houses, a nine-hole golf course, and two Wal-Marts, one off exit 59, the other off exit 62, and the city proper looks like it’s recovering from a spring cylone.  Boarded Dairy Queens, unmowed parks, and flat-tired vans with faded bumper stickers.  My kid beat up your honor student.  Kerry/Edwards.  We pull in front of a house with an artificial lawn that looks like a worn out putting green.

Emily brushes her hands through my beard and rests her hand under my jaw.  “You okay, darling?”  This is a question she asks me often.  The beard I’m still getting used to.

“Doing fine and cherry wine.”

“This could get weird.”

“I loves me some weird.”

At the door, we’re greeted by an exhausted looking blonde in her twenties.  Around her eyes, she’s developed dark patches but otherwise, Emily will tell me later, she has really good skin.

“Hi, Kayla.  I’m Emily Littlejohn.  We’ve spoken on the phone.”

“Oh yeah,” Kayla says.  She backs off just enough to let Emily inside.

“Who’re you?”

“This is my boyfriend, William.”

“Billy,” I say.  “Or Bill.  Whatever.”

“You a lawyer too?”

“No,” I say.

“He’s studying for the bar.”

“I’m with her.  I can go sit in the car if you like.”

There are many reasons I don’t want to be here.  For one thing, I’m not studying for the bar.  I have yet to finish law school and I’m not sure I’ll be allowed back if I try.  More important, there are the things I know about this condemned man that Emily does not.

In the early hours of July 16th, 2003, Dwayne Ronald Brewer, then 23, was trying to sleep alone in his garage apartment two blocks away when he heard a loud noise that sounded like a break in.  He grabbed the Sig Saurer that he kept beside his bed, just as his survivalist father did.   When he stepped out of his bedroom, in only his underwear, he saw two men.  The slouch of their shoulders and stiffness of their arms meant they were strapped.  Dwayne Ronald Brewer squeezed off four shots, two at each head, the way his father taught him.  It was to his great misfortune that he killed both men, Ryan Reynolds and Eladio Jimenez, both Tennessee state troopers who were in his house with a warrant sworn in confidence by an informant who indicated that Mr. Brewer was in possession the ingredients and equipment for a meth lab and a stockpile of weapons.  To the jury that convicted him, it did not matter that Brewer wound up being in possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana—not even possession with intent, not even in Tennessee—and a few assorted pieces of paraphernalia, nor did it matter that the only weapon he possessed was the single Sig, for which he had a conceal and carry permit.  Otherwise no weapons, drugs, or even allergy medicine were found on the premises.  The jury convicted him after less than four hours of deliberation and a day later sentenced him to die by lethal injection at Riverbend MSI.  These things Emily knows.  In fact, she related them to me on our first date.

“Who’s there?” The voice is old and angry and worn out.

“Hi, Mrs. Brewer,” Emily yells over Kayla’s shoulder.

“Oh, Emily.  Come on in.”   With that Emily walks past Kayla and into the living room.

The taupe carpet is worn thin in spots and the room smells like cigarettes and stale biscuits.  Emily hugs the older woman, Ronnie Brewer’s mother.  “How’s Arthur, dear?” Arthur is not her son sitting on death row, but the son’s dog, a German Shepherd Emily has agreed to take care of until, in her words, things get sorted out. Needless to say, this is not in her job description.

“He’s good, ma’am.”

“Now who’s this?”  Mrs. Brewer’s walker, I notice, has two hollowed out tennis at the bottom.

Emily pauses to introduce me and retell her fib about my studying for the bar exam.  For the next twenty minutes, Emily updates them on the status of the appeal.  Given the neutral expressions on the women’s faces, I’m guessing things are unchanged since the last time they spoke.  Suddenly I hear a deep wailing.  Kayla sits crying and hunched over on the sofa, her eyes mascara wet.  “I miss him so much,” she says.

At this moment, I feel an acute craving, the most intense longing I’ve had in some time.  My skin tingles, my throat feels dry, and I would kill a child for a glass of beer.

Emily turns left and puts her arm around Kayla.  “Of course you do, sweetie.  It’s okay.”   Kayla by now has collapsed into Emily’s chest.  She strokes the girl’s hair behind her ears.  “It’s okay. It’s okay.  He’s coming home.”

This is where I want to laugh, but Emily catches my eye.  With a weeping mother at one shoulder, and a weeping baby-mama at the other, Emily tilts her head toward the empty seat on the couch next to Kayla.  I sit on the sofa and suddenly both my hands are clenched, locked between the fingers, with the thin-fingered and dry-skinned Kayla on my right and the plump, arthritic on my left.  Emily keeps an eye on me and we pray.


There’s still daylight left when we get back to Nashville.  It’s a mild October day and Arthur the dog is behaving well.  To those, like me, who love her Emily has told the story of Ronnie Brewer repeatedly and each time, I ask her the same questions.  I try and convince her to take a step back from the lives of the Brewer family.  We repeat an argument we’ve had before.

“So,” I say.  “He shot two cops.”

She takes a quick drag from a Camel Light.  “Yes, William.  But he didn’t know that when he fired the shots.  He was protecting his property…”  Her shoulders stiffen when she talks about “Ronnie” and she gestures wildly with her hands.

“But he shot two cops with an unregistered firearm and he was high at the time.”

“Jesus, William.  Put yourself in his shoes.”

“Don’t call me William.  And there is such a thing as luck in life.”  I would like to add, for instance, that my parents had bad luck when the semi truck driving eastbound on I-40 hit a patch of ice and spun and lost a tire that shot across four lanes of highway and straight through the windshield of my father’s Toyota Tundra, but that would be self-pitying and I was told in recovery that pity is a drug far stronger than alcohol

“Don’t be a child,” she says.  “And you’re an asshole.”

They say that when the facts are on your side, argue the facts.  When the law is on your side, argue the law.  When neither is on your side, yell really loud and pound the podium.  Emily isn’t one to yell, but you get the idea.  Still, I don’t mind her emotional defenses, because—and this is no exaggeration—she saved my life.  Emily is Ronald Brewer’s legal counsel.  He’s a pro bono case of Actual Innocence, a pubic interest firm for whom she has been toiling for the last three years.  They are sworn to take up the cause of every condemned man in the U.S. prisons.  Even after three years of frustration and slave wages, she still thinks she’s going to be the one to set the innocent man free or at the very least give some sort of dramatic appeal to the state supreme court, the valiant fighter for the lost cause or something like that.  She’s either unaware or doesn’t care that Actual Innocence owes its existence to the guilty conscience of its founder, the lead defense attorney for last century’s most notorious wife and waiter killer.  Neither option would surprise me.


I met Emily a year and a half ago after a meeting, just after my release, those early days when I still had to wear sweat bands to cover my scars.  Before the group I introduced myself and my disease, and shared my experience of going to the liquor store with a phony list of names in hand so the clerks would think the two cases of beer and two bottles of whiskey was meant for a party full of people and not for me to drink alone and of stashing cold beers in my night stand before I fell asleep to help me out of bed in the morning.  I saw her watching me from the back of the room.  She wore thick librarian glasses and her hair was tied up fashionably with strands that fell into her forehead.  She appeared to be tearing up.  She had a swan neck and, at first, with her dark hair, her olive complexion, her brown eyes I took her to be Italian.  Afterwards I bummed a cigarette from her.  “Camel Lights,” I said.  “Just like my mother.”

She smiled and said she liked the way I shared.  Over coffee, I learned she was not in fact Italian but Native American.  On her Oklahoma driver’s license, instead of listing the name of a town, it said Cherokee Nation.  I asked her what it was like growing up on a reservation.

“Depressing,” she said.

“I know about depressing.”

“What do you know?”


Here’s what I know about depressing:  I’m a hairy guy.  In that manner, I take after my father.  Five o’clock shadow at noon, that sort of thing.  The last few years I became preoccupied with the closeness of my shave.  Constantly I rubbed my chin and my sideburns for any trace of stubble.  At first it was a harmless fixation like chewing your nails. I became convinced that a bad shave would sink every interview.  When the five-blade razor came out after the Super Bowl0, I thought it might save me, but after a few weeks, I was back to the constant worrying over my face.  I started taking a razor and shaving cream with me everywhere   At restaurants I would excuse myself and shave in men’s room stalls.  Then one afternoon, I saw an ad for a straight razor in Esquire magazine.  I spent an obscene amount of money and ordered it, along with a camel’s hair brush, and an oak lathering dish.  One shave in the morning and my face stayed baby’s ass smooth for thirty-six hours.

One day in February I got home from class early.  I had my first beer just after four and my seventeenth six hours later.  I stumbled into the bathroom and opened my shaving kit.  I drew the tip of my index finger softly over the surface of blade and smiled at the sight of the sudden crimson blush. I sucked the blood away, savoring the metallic taste. What happened next was ruled a suicide attempt, and if you argue the facts, I admit, it’s easy to come away with that impression.  Especially given what the doctor’s referred to as my extenuating pressures—law school, market saturation, six-figure student loans, my parents’ passing.  But I swear it wasn’t like that.  I was drunk and dumb and I just wanted to see more blood.  I rested the blade on my left wrist and drew sideways.  My straight razor managed to accomplish something that a hundred casual swipes with the Gillette Fusion never could.  Soon after I fell to the tile of my bathroom floor.  In the scheme of things, it was luck that rent near Vanderbilt had skyrocketed to the point where I had to settle for one-bedroom apartment in a poorly constructed duplex with exceptionally thin floors and walls.  My tumble resounded with a thud in the bedroom of my downstairs neighbor, a medical student named Pradeep who had on several occasions expressed his frustration with my fondness for hip hop at late hours.  Making good on a number of previous threats, Pradeep called the police.

“I woke up,” I told Emily.  “Four days later.”

“Oh, William,” she said.  We had met only this once, two hours before.  At the meeting I had introduced myself as Bill, the name on my business cards, though to myself and what friends I had left, I was and always would be Billy.  It wasn’t that tough to guess my Christian name, I admit, but still the way she said it, stretching it out to three syllables, iambic, with the stress on the ill and the am.  It sounded like I was hearing my own name for the first time ever.  She took my hand in hers and ran her thumb along the sweatband.  “Can I feel it?”

I nodded.

She slid back the elastic and fingered the five inch long path of still-raw scar tissue and, as she did, she kept her eyes on mine.  At one point, she bit her lip as if to suppress a smile.  When she was done, she said thank you, but her hand, soft and bony with long, ringless fingers, did not retreat from mine.  “Are you okay to get home?” she asked.  “Do you need a ride I mean?”

I had my truck with me, but I said yes anyway.  That night I stayed at her house, a quiet place on the north side of town with spare furnishings and more candles than a Catholic church.  Within days I had a toothbrush in the medicine cabinet and two weeks later my ties were hanging in her closet.  Last week, I drove to Memphis.  My late father owned a chain of pawn shops there, and I met with a friend of his, a diamond wholesaler who sold me a 1.09 karat stone set in white gold for the reasonable price of the remainder of my life savings.  I carry the ring with me everywhere torn between my fear that she might find it and my fear that I may lose it.  I’m waiting for the right moment to present itself.


The dog is asleep and Emily sits at the kitchen table, surrounded by law books, accordion boxes, an open laptop, clipped stacks of papers, and a burning halogen lamp.  She’s changed into a pair of running shorts and her feet are curled up beneath her, lotus style.  “How’s it going?”

“Good,” she says, nodding. “Real good.  There are two precedents we can argue on the false affidavits.”

The thing about Emily is that she may be the most compassionate, selfless, lovely person I’ve known in my twenty-six years.  But she is not a good lawyer.  She keeps working the original warrant, though I keep telling her that does not matter.  Two police were shot.  No judge is going to question the word of two dead detectives any more than they’d set fire to Old Glory in open court.

“Have you looked into the competency of counsel?”

“He had Gary Albert.” Emily says this in a tone that suggests that settles the matter.

Between Emily and I there still secrets.  Another thing they tell you in recovery is that a person is as sick as their secrets.  That’s when I understood the old quandary about lawyers and addiction.  It all seems simple now, one of those elusive bits of obvious that only occurs after you quit.  If you keep secrets for a living the sickness sets in pretty deep.

Every relationship has its share of things left hidden.  Some of them fall by the wayside—for instance, I never did hike to the base camp of Mt. Everest when I was nineteen, and Emily’s has had the good sense not to bring it up since the time I mentioned it.  As it goes, that lie isn’t a deal breaker.

Here’s one that might be: Gary Albert, lead counsel for Ronald Dwayne Brewer, is a friend of mine.  Friend may not be the right word, actually, but for a thousand dollars I couldn’t come up with one better.  It’s the kind of secret I’m obligated to keep and it wouldn’t be such a big deal if Emily wouldn’t have let herself get so attached.  In any case, I know him well and I know some things about him that could help secure, at the least, a new trial for Ronnie Brewer.

Gary is fifty-seven years old, a beautiful man with gray hair and a movie star dimple in his chin.  He is a legend in legal circles around Nashville, and he went insane around the same time I did.  He and I were roommates for thirty days at the Mercer House.  At the time of his admission, he was twice divorced and on the verge of disbarment.  A jailhouse lawyer of unwavering liberal politics, Gary liked to tell stories.  He told me about his twenty-two for twenty-four streak of acquittals when he worked at the P.D.’s office in Davidson County.  “The best part of it is,” he would say. “Fifteen of them were as guilty as Dillinger.”

“Nice,” I said.  “Bet you could have gotten him off too.”

He laughed.  “Too easy.  Not worth my time.”

Twenty-two for twenty-four as a public defender in Tennessee.  It’s hard to do a feat like that justice.  That’s like DiMaggio’s hitting streak only if DiMaggio had been blind in one eye. A couple of weeks in, after we knew each other a little better, he told me about picking up his twins from soccer practice with a Big Gulp cup full of Dewars between his legs, and about bribing his son twenty dollars to lie to his mother about stops at the liquor store.  He told us about the last few years, when he would start drinking at ten and show up for court seven beers into a twelve pack.  “Good Christ,” he said.  “I argued death penalty cases sweating gin from every pore.”  He told me about fugue states and throwing up blood during recesses.  After our month in Mercer House, we hugged, he gave me his card and wrote his private e-mail address on the back.  “I want to hear from you,” he said with a slight tinge of desperation in his voice.

It’s been over a year since Mercer House, and I feel bad for not having called him until now.  He’s agreed to meet me at Ruby’s, an ancient, legendary barbeque that overlooks the Cumberland River.  It’s still hot in Nashville and the air-conditioning is barely functional.  The tables have red-checkered cloths and wooden chairs and the walls are covered with photographs, a mixture of great moments in Tennessee sports history and autographed headshots of celebrities who have paid a visit.  Kevin Dyson, Dabney Coleman, Wilford Brimley.  I’ve never been a freak for barbeque, but living with Emily, who’s been a vegetarian since she was twelve, has made me crave for a tender slice of brisket.  More importantly, this is Gary’s favorite place and I want him to feel comfortable.

Gary ambles through the swinging front door and it takes a second for him to spot me.  An R.L Burnside song blasts from a static overhead speaker.  It’s bad you know. He’s tanned and wearing a ten-gallon cowboy hat and it’s a good sign, I suppose, that this far out of the cooler he’s retained his sober glow.  I stand to shake hands.  “No, no,” he says.  “None of that shit.”  He spreads his arms and leans forward to hug me around the shoulder bear tight.

“Hey, Gary.”

“Hey there, Grizzly Adams,” he says, laughing.

“You know me and razors.”

“Don’t you even be joking about that.”  After an awkward beat, he says: “You look good, Billy.”

“You hitting on me?”

“Don’t flatter yourself, shitbird.  Only your sister.”

“Better my sister than my mom and my mom’s not bad.”  When he removes his hat, his hair falls nearly to his shoulders in long salt-and-pepper wisps, almost as though sobriety has unleashed his inner radical.

“Let’s eat,” he says.

We order a full rack and pitchers of water from angry waiters and talk for an hour about how tender the ribs are, about Vandy and Tennessee football.  When I tell him that Peyton Manning molests children, he reminds me that the Commodores haven’t beaten the Vols since Truman was president.  I ask after his kids and he asks if I’m seeing anyone.  I tell him about Emily, but I don’t tell him what she does for a living or who she represents.  We talk about the oddities of sober life.

“Like I just always assumed that when you worked out and sweat gets in your eyes,” I say.  “That the sweat just naturally burned like chlorine.”

“Right,” Gary says.  “Or fucking battery acid.”

“Turns out that’s not the case, you know.  So that part’s nice.  I can jog without going blind.”

The thing about recovering alcoholics is that we still go out for drinks.  We’ll go out for coffee and ice cream and barbeque and we raise a glass of whatever it is we’re drinking, even after AA meetings.  Especially after AA meetings.  Some in recovery take up gardening or Buddhism and try to do everything but rewrite their DNA.  Others still act like drinkers just without the drink.  Gary Albert and I are two such people.  Right now, I would only have to say, Let’s hit Lower Broadway and in an hour we could be doing tequila shots at Tootsie’s, but for now, at this moment, everything is okay.

“Hey, listen,” I say.  “Something I’ve been meaning to ask you about.”  I have tried my best to make this sound casual.  The narrowed expression on Gary’s face tells me he doesn’t buy it for a second.


“A friend of mine,” I say.  “Works for Actual Innocence, working on Ronnie Brewer’s appeal.”

“What about it?”

“I just thought…” Gary’s eyes narrow even more.  Another thing about lawyers is that they’ll admit to anything—alcoholism, poor parenting, lying, whatever.  But any self-respecting attorney will sooner register as a sex-offender before they admit to having ever mishandled a case.  Gary Albert made this admission once to me in confidence, but his piercing gaze tells me it’s not one he’s likely to make again.  “Thought maybe you could help out?”

“What?”  He clenches his fist, not, I’m pretty sure, because he might get violent, but because he has to squeeze away a tremor.  Either way, it’s the same essential impulse.  “Help you out like what?  Give you a ride out to Riverbend or something?”

“Don’t be an asshole, Gary,” I say.  “I just thought you could do it as a favor.  To me.”

“I ain’t aware of any favors I owe you, son.”

To this I have no response.

“I put two-hundred hours in—unpaid hours, mind you—for that, that…”  He pauses for a second.  “That piece of shit.”

I say nothing, take a sip of water, and feel my phone vibrate in my pocket.  It’s a text message from Emily.  Darling, I love you.  Get home soon, darling. “I got to go” I gesture toward the waiter.  “I’ll get this.”

“So that’s it then?”

“That was my lady,” I say.  “I got to get home.”

Gary grabs me.  “Goddamn it, Billy.  I busted my ass for him.”

The waiter brings the check and eyes the two of us suspiciously.  I hand him my Visa, doing my best to give the impression that nothing’s wrong, as though I don’t have a desperate, disgraced, possibly insane man clutching my bicep.  “I’m sure you did,” I say to Gary.  “I’m sure you did.”

“I never slept,” he says.  “Not like it matters any fucking way.  Jesus Christ, he killed two cops.  You could retry that sonofabitch a hundred times and ninety-nine juries would convict him.”

“You okay to get home?”

“Everybody thinks this is so easy.  You go away, they stamp you clean.  But everyone knows and you’re tainted.  And then assholes like you have to come back around and throw that shit in my face. Man that was from before.  Before.  You don’t do that to your friends.”

“Gary,” I say.  “All I asked is if you could help out my friend.  It’s clear the answer is no.  Sorry to mix business with barbeque.”  I stand to leave, but Gary clutches my arm tighter.

“Billy,” he says.  “Are you my friend?  Tell me, please.  Are you my friend?”


Before I go home to Emily, I drive a few a circles around town out past the Opry Mall and the Ryman Auditorium.  I gas up and get a drive-thru wash for my truck.  Before I can think too long about the consequences of what I’m about to do, I hit the name on my speed dial.  This is for Emily I tell myself, for the best.  It rings once.  “John Henchman.”  The familiar voice sounds unusually professional.

“Hench,” I say.

“Dolla Dolla Bill, yo.”  Hench’s voice is so loud I have to hold the phone a few inches away from my ear.  He’s carved out a low paying career for himself as the last full-time writer left at Nashville’s alternative weekly, but, years after graduation, he still greets me like it’s Saturday night at the Sigma Chi house.  “How you doing, Ace?”

“Never better,” I say. “Never better.”

“Hey, me and some boys are going to hit Buster’s tonight.  Watch the Titans.”

“Yeah, I don’t really do that any more.”

“Oh shit,” he says.  “That’s right.  I’m an asshole.”

“You are an asshole,” I say.  “But not for that.”

He laughs.  “So.  What’s it going to be then?”

“I have a story you guys mig0ht be interested in.”

“Yeah, you and half the state there, Bildo.”

“Hear me out,” I say.  “For friendship’s sake.”

“Five minutes.”

“It’s about this guy over at Riverbend.  Death row.”

“He black?”


“What’d he do?”

“Shot two cops.  And he did it.”

“My interest is waning, Billy.”

“I’m Mr. Anonymous right now,” I say.


“I can’t tell you how I know this, exactly,” I say.  For the next half-hour we talk, I talk mostly and tell Hench most everything I know about Gary, repeating almost verbatim things he told me at the Mercer House, about how much he’d had to drink every day.  I give him a few a pertinent names at the courthouse, people with long memories, axes to grind, acute senses of smell.

“Well, well,” says Hench.  “I feel bad that I didn’t get you anything.”

“Call Actual Innocence.  They’ll give you all the particulars.”   I hit end on my phone and drive back to Emily’s.  It’s after dark before I pull my truck alongside the curb.  Inside I find her seated on the living room sofa, barefoot, her glasses resting atop her head.  “I was worried,” she says.

“I had some loose ends to tie up, Baby Doll.”

“Were you drinking?”

“No, Mom.”  It occurs to me now that Gary was right, that you never escape this stigma.  “I sure wasn’t.  I wish you’d ask me that a few more times though.  A broken goddamn record.”

“You’re the one who sliced yourself open like a fucking haggis, William. Not me.”

“You’re right.  You have no problems.  I don’t think you’ve ever had a problem.”

“Shut up.  I’m going to bed.”

“I mean.  We met at a meeting did we not?  I told you about my problem, my disease.  But you’ve never told me anything about yourself.”

“Are we competing here?  I told you about my family.”

“Yes you did,” I say.  “You told me about their problems.  Not yours.”

She says nothing.

“I want to get married,” I say.  “I bought a ring.”


It’s a year later when I return to Garance.  The Brewer family home appears unchanged.  If anything, more paint is peeling.  I take Arthur the German Shepherd to the front door and ring the bell.  When Mrs. Brewer answers, she does not recognize me, but her face lights up when she sees the dog.  “Arthur,” she yells.  “Ronnie come here.”  She returns her attention to me.  “Hi.”

“Hello, ma’am.  I’m Billy.  We met before.  I had a beard.”

“Oh yeah,” she says.  “You look so young now.  Where’s Emily?”

This is a simple question with a complicated answer.  It goes something like this.  Hench’s article, citing a number of anonymous sources, did everything but fit Gary Albert for a straight jacket.  In the days that followed, Gary did everyone a favor by getting arrested for Wet and Reckless on I-65. After that the big boys at the Actual Innocence headquarters in New York took things over and argued for Brewer on the basis of incompetent counsel and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati voted 2-1 to overturn his conviction.  Ten days ago, Dwayne Ronald Brewer left Riverbend Maximum Security Institution a free man, pending the Davidson County D.A.’s decision about whether or not to retry, which they almost certainly will do.  More than likely they’ll get another conviction and the whole process will start all over again.  But for now Ronnie gets his dog back.

“Emily couldn’t be here today,” I say.  “She’s not feeling well.”  This is a lie, but lies are something I’m becoming more comfortable with each day.  Just before Hench’s article ran, I told her everything, my friendship with Gary, my role in the article.  I wasn’t sure what I was expecting exactly.  Not gratitude.  Relief maybe.  In any case, she told me was going to Memphis for a few days and wanted me gone when she returned.

“Oh, I am sorry.  She’s such a lovely girl.”

“She is.”

“Hey, hey, Arthur,” says a male voice I take to be Ronnie.  “Missed you, buddy.  Yes I did.”  From inside, he waives at me.  He smiles broadly, the strange, exaggerated smile of a man who has been spared death.

“Ronnie, this is…”

“Billy,” I remind her.

“Billy.  That’s right.  He was an attorney with Emily.”  Again this isn’t true, but I don’t bother to correct her.

“Come on in, man,” he says.  I wonder how much he knows about the possibility of being retried.  “Grab a seat.”  Ronnie’s hair is shorn close to the scalp and his skin is deathly pale, the consequences of his years spent in isolation.  “So you knew Emily, huh?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I wondered what happened to her.”

After the article’s appearance, Gary checked back into the Mercer House for further treatment.  Around the same time, Emily resigned from Actual Innocence.  I’m not sure when it was that she visited Gary Albert for the first, but, from what I hear she’s visited him more than once.  “She moved on,” I say.  “Emily moved on.”

“That’s a damn shame,” he says.  “She was a sharp girl.”

“You know, Ronnie,” I say.  “There are some in this life that only care about people when they’re suffering.”

“What’s that?”  He scratches the dog’s ears.


“You want a beer, man?”

“Sure,” I say.  “Sure.”

He nods toward his mother.  “You want to get us a couple of beers?”

“Get em yourself, Ronnie,” she says.

“You got the Silver Bullet?”

“Hell, no,” he says.  “I don’t touch that Colorado piss water.”

He steps into his kitchen and returns a second later, two bottles of Lone Star to each hand.  He gives me one.  I twist the cap off my first drink in a thousand days.  “To freedom,” he says.

I raise my bottle to toast the man I set free.  “Cheers.”


STEVE SANDERS is a proud member of the Boston University Creative Writing class of 2008.  He currently lives in Houston where is he pursing his PhD in Literature and Creative Writing and working on a novel.