[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] It’s amazing how different your perception of time feels when you’re inside the justice system. For Jeff Toussignant it had gone very fast once that nosy cop started asking questions about what had happened to his parents that he couldn’t answer without breaking into a sweat. Rose Lieberman quickly poked holes in his story and got him to confess in fairly short order. I guess that shows what a lousy actor he was, being unable to stand up to scrutiny. A good thing he never pursued acting as a career and switched to writing instead. Except for me, I guess. Not that he was all that successful as a writer, you understand. After all, being “successful” involves at least a little bit of being able to pay the bills. No, Jeff had never made much of a living off his art. He’d had to rely on his other skills to get by.

It killed him inside to have fallen so short as to become the archetypal struggling author who makes ends meet by waiting tables. And moving furniture. And driving shuttle buses. And doing all manner of odd jobs in between which he would write stories and poems, submitting at least one new piece of work every other week.

But you know, at least it didn’t kill him on the outside. Unlike what happened to me.

He’d been published, yes, but mostly in journals and websites that didn’t pay very much, if at all. Still, the one thing he refused to do was write just to get paid, so he never tried to do freelance writing – he was proud to say he’d never written a single line of ad copy. Too soul-sucking. Better wait tables and not sully his art with crappy prose.

He had never understood why those millennial kids with lots of attitude and zero talent could make a fortune peddling shitty books about their life in reality television, or whatever it was that the Girls woman, Lena What’sHerName, did for a living. He secretly had a look at her book when he was in the bookstore once, and almost hurled right there in the aisle. The book was called Not That Kind of Girl but it was all about a girl who was exactly that kind of girl, it was so stupid Jeff wanted to go slam his head on the nearest wall. And yet here she was, selling hundreds of thousands of copies, for a book about her sex life. And she wasn’t even pretty. Gawd.

Meanwhile, real artists like Jeff Toussignant struggled. He didn’t mind not making a fortune, he was fine with that. But he sure wished he didn’t have to work so hard driving so many shuttle buses to pay the rent on top of paying half his parents’ living expenses. It was hard, no two ways about it.

He was angry, and his anger was deep. But while Jeff had a demonstrated ability to commit acts of violence – or, at any rate, to hire someone to commit acts of violence on his behalf – he was not a hardened criminal. In fact he’d never once before done anything illegal, unless you count working under the table here and there. Jeff really resented paying taxes on his meagre income. He figured since he didn’t have kids in the school system and tended to avoid doctors’ offices and hospitals like the plague, he wasn’t a financial drain on the system so the system should let him keep the money he’d sweated – literally! – to earn.

So, yeah. Jeff Toussignant was a normal guy with mediocre talent who had a rough go of it, and who one day snapped and ordered his parents be “suicided”. That was a crime alright, but in his mind it wasn’t really. It was more like an act of self-defense, sort of like when a beaten woman offs her husband while he’s got his back turned. His crime, if you insisted on calling it that, wasn’t premeditated in the sense that most people understand when dealing with cold-blooded murder. It was closer to a crime of passion, if you could honestly call “rage” a passion. Maybe you could. He’d given the matter a great deal of thought. He researched his options and carefully went about hiring the best people he could find for the job that had to be done.

He never expected to get caught, and consequently hadn’t prepared any kind of story for that eventuality. Which meant that once he was discovered, he quickly crumbled. He gave no resistance to his arrest, and made no fuss at all as they took his prints, mug shots, and otherwise processed him for prison life.

From the moment the prison door clanged shut behind him, time had seemed to stop for him. He’d never, in his 47 years on this planet, been arrested and he knew nobody who’d gone through this process. He’d never been to a prison, even as a visitor. All he knew about life as an inmate in the justice system came from television or the movies. For the first time in his life he was genuinely doing something original. Hey, maybe he could write about this… It’d be an amazing read; getting to know life on the inside… from the inside, but from a complete outsider. His mind raced with possibilities. All those details about prison life that most people don’t know anything about, such as how long everything took once you got in there. And how much like limbo the whole place felt. He assumed limbo felt like a giant void of nothingness.

Now that he was a ward of the state, after being formally charged with two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of his parents, his life was suspended. How old would he be when he got out of there, if he ever did? He couldn’t tell. It was like someone had hit the pause button on his life while the rest of the world continued to spin without him. It was the weirdest feeling. Yep, he would definitely have to write poems about it.

One thing prison life was good for, especially in a low-level institution (he wasn’t deemed dangerous to society, after all, it was only his parents he’d wanted to kill), was thinking and writing. So he thought, and wrote. About his life, about his decision to have his progenitors put to indefinite sleep, about whether he regretted doing it now that he’d been caught.

It took some time, but fortunately time was the one thing he had in abundance these days. In the end, he decided he would confront his situation head-on. He was done hiding, he was done pretending he was fine, he was done behaving as though his problems were due to his nature, not his nurture. Or rather, his lack of it.

He was going to tell his story.

****

Nathalie was poking at the peas on her plate without eating them. Marc had taken her out to the steakhouse for her birthday dinner. They were supposed to go to the movies after, but now he wasn’t so sure. She didn’t look like she was in the mood for entertainment although goodness knows she needed a distraction from the ongoing saga of her family’s demise.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” She’d been brooding for a few days and he didn’t know what to do about it. “I can tell you’re not OK. I’d like to help you feel better, but I don’t know what’s bothering you, other than the obvious,” he said, nodding his head sideways, annoyed at his inadequate level of empathy in the face of so much grief, “and I don’t want to make it worse by guessing wrong. Can you help me help you? Please?”

She shrugged. Truth was, she was still confused about how she was supposed to feel about Marc’s involvement in the investigation that led to her brother’s arrest for her parents’ death. On the one hand, she was supposed to feel like he’d done the right thing by investigating it, for it was wrong that her parents should have been killed, but on the other hand the fact that Marc had gone to talk to the police officer investigating the case had resulted in her only remaining relative thrown in jail. Now maybe the cops would eventually have found out about her parents and Jeff might be exactly where he was now without Marc having had to do anything, but still, she was conflicted about the matter.

“Look,” she finally said, “you know I’m conflicted about this whole thing, and I don’t really want to be pushed around on this. I think I have to work through my feelings one at a time. I appreciate that you want to help, I really do. But I think I need to process this myself.” She had said those words, which she’d rehearsed earlier that afternoon, without looking at him in the eye. She was still having trouble coming to grips with the fact that it was a hell of a lot better to look up rather than down at her peas, but it was something beyond her abilities right at the moment. Man, she hated this.

Yes, it was wrong for Jeff to kill their parents and he ought to be punished for it, but at the same time she was horrendously sad at the prospect of having to visit her brother in jail for the rest of his life. And that’s not saying anything about how hard the trial would be. Actually, hard wasn’t the right word. It would be torture.

“I went to see Jeff at the jail yesterday,” Nathalie said, still poking at her food.

“You told me, yes.” He waited for more, but nothing came. “Is there something you want to talk to me about?”

She wanted to scream, not talk. But she forced herself to spit something out.

“He wants me to testify in his defence.”

“Oh.” He should have thought of this. He fumbled for the right words. “And… what did you tell him?”

She looked at him, which made him feel relieved. One thing he had learned over the years on his job at suicide prevention that also applied to married life was that once you got an eyeball-to-eyeball connection, you could do a lot more good than when you were stuck trying to get the other person to acknowledge you.

“I didn’t say anything. He asked me twice to testify in his defence and both times I just sat there with my mouth open, nothing coming out of it. I just don’t know what to do…”

He took her hands and held them tightly in his. “Listen, honey, it’s normal for you to be upset and confused about all this. I’m upset and confused, too. You don’t have to promise him anything. I know he’s your brother and you love him, but he’s also accused of murdering your parents. You don’t have to defend him, and you don’t have to accuse him. I do expect you’ll need to testify at his trial; I’m sure the crown will want to hear from you, and the accused has the right to counter-interrogate all witnesses. That’s how the system works. Even if your brother admits to the crime, he still has a right to a full defence. But that doesn’t mean you need to be in anyone’s corner. When you testify at a trial, especially a criminal trial for murder, your only obligation is to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And yes, I realize I sound like a bad Hollywood movie.”

She smiled. How she loved that man.

[next chapter]