"Why didn't someone stop me?" he asked, as if he knew how to get a lighter sentence and make himself look like he had a disease. He was the disease.
His face pockmarked where acne once thrived, nothing else would have him. Chained hands and feet to an orange jumpsuit, he didn't look so big with his six foot two frame hunched over. I looked at him, but he looked down.
I thought I would get a certain satisfaction from his desperate words before the sentencing phase, but he felt more like some leach stuck to my memory, clinging, growing, and draining my life for everyday I was in court.
His words fell like dirty laundry down a bottomless chute.
Dirk killed my daughter, tortured and raped her. He had her in an abandoned barn for several days, one of those places where the road ended years ago, where the family moved on, and the grass had grown between cracks of asphalt. He took her on a dead end trip to his evil den, like predators do, and he killed her, my only daughter. She was seventeen then, now and forever.
A few women on the jury dabbed their eyes with tissues. Some seemed impartial and stoic. One young woman on the jury broke down with heavy sobs when they passed a picture of my daughter's mutilated body around for a closer look. She must have seen the cigarette burns all over her lifeless body, like tiny black craters.
My wife had a stroke, and after court I'd spend the evenings at the nursing home caring for her like you would a vegetable, a little water, a little sun, and a little talking to. You might say she exploded from within. These days she'd been communicating through the despair of her once adventurous blue eyes. Her life has been carved from the inside, hollowed out by that monster. Her soul has been waiting for sweet release.
The judge slammed his gavel calling for order. A courtroom packed with strangers waited to hear my speech as a victim. All eyes focused on me. Perhaps they have not heard from a chaplain as a victim before, someone who could one day visit Dirk in prison when he least expects it? The public doesn't know the power I wield. One day, I may stand before this pathetic creature when he walks from death row toward the needle that waits to drip into his veins and expunge his life.
May God have mercy on his soul? When the time comes, could I offer those words?
I grabbed the edge of the podium until my Knuckles turned white. A cold perspiration settled on my neck. I wanted them to remember the Annie I knew.
I tried to read a letter but tears got in the way. So I closed my eyes and went back in time. "When she left the house, riding on a storm like a gypsy, I should have stopped her. I was too busy hiding in my office like some self-righteous monk. I ignored my only daughter when she needed me the most. I should have stopped her that night, throwing myself between her and the road."
I held up a picture of her with a prom dress on, made of silk and the color purple.
"This is who I want you to remember. I want you to remember her smile, and imagine her as she once was, an unspoiled gift from God."
It got deathly quiet.
Dirk lifted his head and smirked at me.
But finally, I made everyone think more about Annie, and not that puke of a man.
Dirk would have to wait for me in the corner of his nightmare. I will seek him in the darkness where he lives, where the black mold grows beneath the leaky pipes. I will make him wait until I am the shadow in his sleep, until I am the voice in his wilderness, until he begs me for death.
On the highway I passed a billboard sign. Bold letters said: JUSTICE FOR ANNIE.
In front of a highway overpass an Amber alert sign was barely noticed, blackened and void of words.
"I talked to Annie today," I said to my wife in her wheelchair. She squeezed my hand as if she knew what I meant. Together we watched the setting sun.
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