The clock read 3:58 AM when she first smelled the smoke. By then, it was too late. Too late for a lot of things. The world had changed forever, arcing towards disaster like the Titanic hitting the iceberg. All over now except for the sinking. No going back.
It was I who started the fire. The house didn't burn, just her painting, one of the six copies of Leonardo's Mona Lisa. I knew the alarms would stop the house fire - but the painting would be toast. That, however, was the lesser of my crimes.
"Throw him in with the other assassins."
That's how we ended up as three assassins in a cell. Me, Mark David Chapman (John Lennon's killer) and Yolanda Saldívar (killer of popular Hispanic singer Selena). What a doomed lot we are.
Their eyes upon me were at first suspicious, vacant and curious all at the same time. I could bear to look at no one and slunk to a corner of the cell.
"Who did you kill?" asked SK (Selena Killer). I was in far too much pain to answer, the wound still open and fresh.
"Leave him alone," urged LK. "At least there's another now."
Oh, what small comfort that is. As in no comfort at all. I wanted to scream my lungs out but who can I blame but me? For many a long while there I tried to Rashomon my way out, twisting perspectives until it suited me. In the end, you just run out of stories, and you're left dangling with the truth. That's how you end up confessing.
LK never lifts his head up. He sits with his knees up around his head, a human tortoise. SL was unkempt and ugly, exactly the opposite as her one time idol. It was clear each one was beaten down with the idea of self-recrimination. Like Judas before them, they knew suicide the only honorable way out. But they remained, hoping against hope. The feeling was one as if being left on a distant planet to die, unknown to the universe.
Since I wouldn't confess, SL felt she needed to get the ball rolling. "She was the most beautiful person I ever met, inside and out. But she wasn't perfect! Everyone wanted to be just like her, sexy and talented. But not everyone can be that way! Her music will live forever. But you can't expect to have that to offer, now can you?"
Getting a glimpse of the continual argument in her head frightened me. It echoed mine. Then I saw her wind down as a robot running out of power. She was drained by the eruption. That was her only repose from the torment. As her energy comes back, so does the arguing.
LK remained catatonic. A one time Beatle fan who perverted to Christianity derided Lennon as an arrogant hypocrite. So he put a very Christian bullet in him. He constantly refers to himself as "Cain who killed Abel" and he too can find no rest, no way of undoing.
I realized I must tell my story too. "I burned a copy of the Mona Lisa, a betrayal right there in her own home."
"You broke in like a thief?"
"I am a thief but she had given me a key."
"So it was her trust you broke?" Well, at least I didn't have to explain what that experience was like to these two. But their hunger showed liked hyenas and I was the dying carcass to be ripped apart.
"Yes, but it gets even worse. She was going to sell it and give me half the proceeds."
"Why the hell you burn it then? That just crazy, crazy!" scorched SL (who had been caught embezzling from Selena).
I paused to gather myself. "No one had ever done anything like that before. Not for me, anyway. I'd never even thought it possible. How was I deserving? I was just...overwhelmed."
"Yes, I never thought he could be my friend, either."
"Nor she mine!"
It was if I was hearing my story for the first time too. "She thought I was worth it. She knew of my life of crime and with that money I could go straight. I guess I was afraid. After getting the money we'd find out if I really was somebody or still some loser outlaw. What if she sold the painting and found out I was a worthless shit?" No one answered out loud. "I was never worth her time but somehow she believed I was. God, I was in a bind."
"We know," the pair replied in unison.
"It's insane now that I say it out loud. I knew burning the painting was wrong but I convinced myself that betraying her was the best thing for her, to get me out of her life. With the painting gone there could be no way I'd be exposed and she'd expel my worthless ass from her life as she should. Shit, why didn't I just walk away when I could?"
"Amen!" the pair replied in unison.
"Was only a matter of time before I got caught thieving, continuing the old ways I so loathe. I could have been saved. I could have been a contender. I keep going back and forth in my mind: was it just my imagination she'd forever reject me after she saw the real me? I can't get it out me head. Both answers roast me alive. Yes-no, yes-no, over and over and over. I'm going out of my mind."
"Welcome to our world," the pair replied in unison.
LK says time has lost meaning. That horror is slowly creeping into me too. What's left to do? Nothing that I can see. The three of us never operated on the principle of having hope. But maybe there was hope until we erased it. We just had to be right - even when we were in the wrong. The sun shall rise no more.