Now, at fifteen he was a looming 6’ 8” – the proverbial gentle giant with a friendly smile and soft, sonorous voice. Even when he was first arrested he’d stood 6’ 2” tall. His transcripts also stated that when he entered the juvenile institution he had a wild temper, but that he calmed down soon enough when he got acquainted with his new surroundings and was no longer exposed to drugs. The only recorded infraction during his stint at the detention and reform facility told of an incident that occurred between him and a senior juvie who’d dropped the n-word and falsely accused him of hogging contraband. One punch and the foolish bully landed in the infirmary with a broken jaw. From then on the correctional officers often encouraged him to help keep the youths from fighting, which he did if it was justified and would keep his friends from any further unnecessary penalties.
During the year he spent with us he continued his new found passion for bench pressing, reading and studying. He could already bench over 350 pounds. As his case manager I saw his potential and was determined to help ease his way back into the community. A relationship of trust developed between us and over time I also found myself calling on him to help sort out arguments between some of the other delinquent students. He had a gift for finding the right words to resolve arguments, and when the need arose, he used his muscle power to stop fights. Nobody dared to stand up against Ken, not only because of his intimidating physique, but because he’d gained everybody’s respect. I felt good about writing him a favorable recommendation for a prestigious high-end school from which he hoped to graduate with a 4.0. He had the smarts to match his solid 260 pound frame. After he received the long awaited acceptance letter he came to visit me in my office one last time.
“Yeah, I killed my girlfriend,” he said after a few minutes of friendly banter, “but I want you to know it was an accident.” His usual smile faded and he looked stern. “That’s what I came to tell you. I was wrongly accused of murder. I was loading my stolen 9mm Luger when it went off. Still don’t know how it happened. Sure, I shoulda been more careful, but I was high on meth at the time. Anyway, I got such a fright that I pulled the trigger again and shot her two more times. I loved her like a sister. She cared for me when my Mom was on crack and my Dad… well, you know…I had many dads – all duds. But what was I gonna do, a black kid from the streets of Harlem? The public defender persuaded me to plead guilty in exchange for a lenient plea bargain. So I did, and I guess it’s served me well, because it got me off the streets and gave me another chance – but I didn’t murder her!”
Ken broke out in a sweat, and because it was obvious that he was reliving a painful memory, I interrupted him, saying it’s all water under the bridge and that he should forget the past and focus on the future. Instead, he lifted his two large hands as if he was preparing to spar, shook his head and shouted, “No, hear me out!” He paused, dropped his fists and sighed, continuing in a lowered voice. “Sorry, man, but here’s the thing – and I gotta tell you – I killed two other guys for which I was never caught.” Ken looked me straight in the face, gauging my reaction. “Yeah, I was angry, but I knew what I was doing when I shot them. But my girlfriend… that was an accident!”
He got up, smiled again and shook my hand like he was shooing off a swarm of pesky wasps. “Figured you had to know… you’ve done so much for me.” I thought I saw tears in his eyes, which kept me from contacting the police regarding Ken’s statement about the murders, though I was required to do so by law.
Two years later I received a card from him letting me know that he’d graduated with honors and that he was thinking of moving out west. For twelve years I heard no more from him till last week when I received a manila envelope from Missouri. It contained a newspaper cutting about a “Hero Priest” who’d risked his life running into a burning house and saving two children. In the photo that accompanied the article I recognized an older, but still smiling Ken, shaking the Fire Chief’s hand. In the paper’s margin, scribbled in red pen, were the words: Every Sunday when I give my sermon I think of you. Two down and one to go – know what I mean? God bless, Ken
Eric G. Müller is a musician, teacher and writer. He has written two novels, Rites of Rock (Adonis Press 2005) and Meet Me at the Met (Plain View Press, 2010), as well as a collection of poetry, Coffee on the Piano for You (Adonis Press, 2008). Articles, short stories and poetry have appeared in various journals and magazines.