I did two tours in Iraq and when I was there, I saw all manner of awful you’ve probably heard about on the news. When the other officers told me that when they saw Derek Turner on that day in June, they said it was the worst thing they’d ever seen. I didn’t doubt that it was the worst they’d ever seen, but I had a pretty strong stomach at that time, so when I saw him all covered in his daughter’s blood like that, I could take a second to think, gather my senses, book him, get him all cleaned up and get him prepped for questioning without losing my temper.
When we first saw him there, he looked white as a ghost. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. But he had these blotches of blood on his chest where the blood had seeped through while he was still wearing the garment. Most of it was on his hands and on his face. There was a small smattering, like a spray, along the side of his face and we concluded that was from the blunt-force trauma that killed the girl. The rest of it came from him cradling her after she had died. You see that pretty often: Someone kills someone close to them and then they immediately regret it. They hold the corpse, somehow thinking that if they give it enough love, they can undo the hurt they caused.
He never could undo that hurt. She was pronounced dead at the hospital less than an hour later. He was booked, we had him in the interrogation room, and he refused his right to have an attorney present during questioning.
I introduced myself. Said, “My name is Officer Glenn,” and offered my hand to shake it. I figured we had him, just a matter of time before he confessed, so I didn’t feel like putting on my “tough guy” face just yet. I’d save that for later, if he decided to act like a genuine criminal to me.
Mr. Turner shook my hand and he only made eye contact with me for a split second before looking back down at his hands he had splayed out there on the table. He still had traces of the dried blood underneath and around his fingernails.
When I asked if he was ready to talk, he took his time to answer. He fought back some tears and looked at me, eyes all red, swallowed and finally said, “Yes.” I asked if it was okay if I turned on the tape recorder to keep a document of everything we talked about and he just nodded. I offered him a cigarette—not supposed to do that, but I don’t mind breaking the rules if it means I can get home earlier and we can get to trial faster—and after he lit it, I hit “record” on the machine and let him do the talking.
Everything transcribed below is exactly as he said it to me.
My little girl was only three years old when she got sick. I couldn’t stand to look at her; it just hurt too bad to see her like that. She’d say, “Daddy,” and I’d say, “Yes, honey?” and I’d just look down and see this little girl in so much pain. Have you ever been so sad it actually, for real, made you feel sick? Like, you get a feeling inside you that’s so sad it hurts your stomach and you think you’re gonna throw up? That’s exactly what it felt like whenever I saw her.
Her mama left when she was only 6 months old. She kicked crystal for such a long time, but after little Chelsea was born, she’d tell me how “stressed” she was, always feeling anxious. It was, “Just one rock,” “Just one little bump,” and before I knew it she was back to her old ways all over again. Broke my fucking heart to see it like that. I didn’t want her around my daughter so I told her to get out, and boy did she. I don’t know where she went—I know she stayed with her mother for a couple months, got kicked out of there, and, truth be told, I don’t know if she’s alive or dead anymore. If I had to guess, I’d say alive. She was always good at scrounging shit together when it came to herself. Not so much other people, though.
Little Chelsea started getting sick only a week after her third birthday and whatever it was, it worked fast. One day she’s my little girl, the next she’s looking like a skeleton made up to look like her. I took her to the emergency room and they said her white cells, or whatever, looked normal. I pointed at my little girl and I asked them, “Does this look normal to you?” And they said no, it didn’t, but there wasn’t anything they could do about it.
They told me I needed to see a specialist and I called the number they gave me and they told me it would be three weeks until I could even see them. That’s just to see the specialist. There’s no promise they can ever help her, and without insurance… I just didn’t know what to do. What do you do in a situation like that? I just know if she was gonna make it that long.
I asked some girls in my apartment complex if they knew any, uh… home-pathic—homeopathic—kind of specialists, folks who can cure people with natural medicines, and they didn’t really know anyone who could help me. So I just asked, I said, “Do you know anyone who can help me? I don’t know what else to do.” And I really didn’t.
This girl who lives down the hall from me looked kind of nervous about telling me but she said that when things get like this, when there’s nowhere else to go and no one else to help, there’s these Mexican brujas, or witch doctors, or medicine women who can help you. She told me there was a woman on the west end of Roosevelt, out toward around 90th Avenue, in those project buildings that she’d heard about.
The bruja’s name was Carmen.
It took me one long night to make up my mind to see her. My daughter was wheezing and puking and she just looked at me and she asked me why this was happening to her. I had my sister watch Chelsea when I went out to see this Carmen woman. When I got to the building, it looked abandoned. It was skyscraper high, but it looked like no one had lived there since the 90s. There were all these old shopping carts out front, half buried in the dirt where they got rained on, the dirt turned into mud and they sank again and again, deeper and deeper, over the years.
The front door had one of those buzzers with a directory of everyone who worked there, but the names had faded front being in the sun for such a long time and the button was hanging by a few old wires. I just knocked on the door and waited. I was about to leave when the door finally opened and it was some young Mexican girl—I’d say 25—looking at me.
She asked me, “Can I help you?”
And I said, “Uh, sure, I’m here to see Carmen?”
She didn’t even say anything, she just held the door open wider and I came inside. She told me Carmen lived upstairs to put distance between herself and the people on the street. There were people inside, but there weren’t any cars parked outside. It was weird. I remember feeling really uneasy about it. It just didn’t feel right. They were just sitting in the lobby with bags of groceries and some of them were going in and out of the apartments.
We took the elevator and it made these ka-chunk! sounds on the way up. We got to a floor and it opened. The young girl told me, “The elevator stops here, we have to take the stairs the rest of the way,” and we hiked up another five flights.
When we got to Carmen’s floor, it was quiet. It sounded like when you go outside somewhere after it snows and everything’s all muffled by the snowfall. Even when I breathed, it sounded like it was quieter in my head than it usually is.
Down the hallway there was one door that was a different color. Every other apartment entrance was painted white, that kind of beige color, but hers looked like a wooden door that’d belong on a house or something. There was a big brass knocker and something on the door in Spanish, but I can’t remember what it said.
The young girl opened the door without knocking and called out as soon as she got in, something in Spanish. I heard someone else yell back and I just kind of stood there in the living room while the young girl went into this back room. She came back to me probably about a minute or two later and said, “My grandma will be out to see you in a second.”
I said thank you and sat down on the couch.
Sure enough, about a minute or two later this little old woman came out to greet me. She didn’t offer to shake my hand or anything but she looked me over and motioned for me to follow, and I did. I followed her into a room that was separated from the living room with a beaded curtain. On the other side of the beaded curtain, the young girl who it turns out was Carmen’s granddaughter was sitting on one side of this wooden desk where her grandmother joined her. I sat on the other side.
The woman Carmen said something to me in Spanish and her granddaughter translated for me. Her granddaughter said, “She wants to know what you need.”
“Well,” I remember saying. “My daughter is really sick and we don’t know what’s wrong with her. I took her to the emergency room and they said she looked fine, so they sent me to a specialist who I can’t afford and even if I could, I don’t know if we can last the three weeks.”
The bruja, Carmen, asked me to describe the symptoms and I told her that my daughter was losing weight, she couldn’t keep down food, looked white as a ghost and it just seemed to be getting worse and worse no matter what I was doing for her. I bought medicine, I burned sage, I prayed to God and the Lord Jesus to please, please help me but my prayers weren’t being answered and I was afraid that she was going to die.
Both of the women just looked at me for a long time without saying anything. The old woman, in particular, looked like she had something to say, but she was mostly saying it with her big, brown eyes. They… they seemed to look inside me, like she was seeing what I was thinking and feeling.
Finally, the old woman said something. The only word I could make out was “ojo” which I know means “eye.” When I was a kid, there was this malt liquor called Ojo Malo and it had a pretty high alcohol content and cost like $2. Fucked you up, too. Seriously.
Her granddaughter said to me, “She says it’s the Evil Eye.”
I didn’t know what that was.
“The Evil Eye,” she explained to me was, “A curse given to your daughter. Sometimes people give people the Evil Eye on purpose, but sometimes it’s on accident. Like, they look at someone jealously, and they think something bad, and that curses them.”
I asked, “How do I stop it?”
The woman Carmen grabbed my hand and she gripped it tight. I mean tight. It hurt when she grabbed it; she was digging her nails into my skin and everything. She whispered something while looking directly into my eyes, while I heard her granddaughter saying, “She wants to know if you’ll do anything for your daughter.”
Carmen repeated that word, in English. “Anything.”
I said, “Yes.”
Her granddaughter made sure, “Anything. We mean anything.”
“What are you crazy? I told you I’d do anything for my daughter to make sure she’s safe. I’d give my right arm for her.”
“Would you give your life?”
That really took me off guard and I had to think about it, but only for a second, and I told them both, “Yes.” I would too. I’d take a bullet for her.
The old woman gave me a bag of something and her granddaughter told me, “Go home. We talk about business later. Until then, you go home and you make your daughter drink this. It has to be hot. This will make four cups. She has to drink all four cups.”
I never felt happier to leave a place. The bus ride home took me about two hours to get home and the whole time I was wondering if I’d made a mistake. Did I do the right thing? Did I mess something up by going there? I kept silently asking God if what I was doing was right.
Across from me on the bus, I saw this old Indian man with a metal push-basket, like the ones you can buy at the swap meet and comes on wheels, filled with rosaries and he was just staring at me, not saying a word. I knew I didn’t do anything wrong, I was just trying to help my daughter, but the way he was looking at me just fade me feel so guilty. I tried to smile at him, but he didn’t smile back.
When I got off the bus at my stop, I walked home and my sister was standing over Chelsea’s crib and she was crying. My sister was just saying, “Oh, god, she’s getting worse. She’s getting worse.” I looked down and she was getting worse. Her eyes were completely red. Not like bloodshot, like the whites of her eyes had been painted red.
I said, “Fuck this!” I was just so fed up. I said, “Fuck this,” and immediately microwaved a cup of water to get it hot and added the mixture the woman gave me and had my sister hold Chelsea for me while I made her drink it.
Chelsea kept saying, “Daddy, I don’t like it!”
And I’d say, “I know, sweetie, but you have to drink it!”
My sister, she felt bad for Chelsea, so she tried to stand up for her and was saying, “Now, Derek, she doesn’t like it!” and that’s when I snapped at her a little.
I said, “I know she doesn’t fucking like it! But she’s gotta drink it! It’s medicine!”
Chelsea started crying and my sister looked really mad, and I felt awful for everything that was happening, but I made her drink it while she coughed and she gagged. It smelled awful, too. I don’t blame her for not wanting to drink it. It smelled like the way a rat might smell if it dies behind a wall and no one can get to it.
After that first cup, I let her lay down and she fell asleep. She actually went to sleep and it was deep. She was snoring and everything. I told my sister I was sorry and she said she understood. She left and I pulled up a chair and I must’ve watched Chelsea laying there for something like three hours. It was the first time in days I’d seen her sleeping without tossing and turning, or crying. It was… I felt good. It felt good to finally see her like that.
Over the next day, I gave her the other three cups (I gave her one more that night, another one the next morning and the last one in the afternoon). I can’t even begin to tell you—she got better. She got better, and I mean instantly. Over night! Or just about! It was Thursday when I gave her the first cup and Saturday morning, it was like she’d never been sick at all.
During that next week, I took her to the park, we went swimming, I took her to see her grandma. Even her grandma was just amazed. She didn’t want to tell me while she was sick, but she didn’t think Chelsea was going to make it. And it hurt to do it, but I agreed. I told her how scared I was that she was gonna die. It was a really good day. We were all just beside ourselves, so happy that Chelsea was doing okay. She was on my mom’s rug pushing around this little wooden train and I was thinking about how I didn’t think I could live without her. If she’d died, I don’t know if I could have survived it. I’ve read of people dying of broken hearts and I thought that might happen to me.
It was only two weeks to the day when Carmen and her granddaughter finally did show up to talk to me about payment, about how much I owed them for what they did for me.
I don’t know how they found me, but there was this gentle knocking at my door and when I opened it, it was the old lady tapping at it with a cane. Her granddaughter was right behind her, too, so I was just thinking, If you’re so weak and frail why don’t you just have the young one knock, then?
I let them both in and I said, “Come in, come in! Sit down, have a seat,” and I had them sit in my living room. I told Chelsea to go play in her room and asked the two Mexican women if they wanted anything to drink. They said no.
The older woman was still wearing the exact same thing I saw her wearing when I first met her, and the younger one was dressed a little nicer than the last time I saw her.
Seeing them, I was just so grateful for what they did for my daughter. I said, “I want to thank you for everything. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought my daughter was a goner, I really did. You should’ve seen her before you gave me that medicine, and… you saw her on the way in! She’s like new!
“So, what do I owe you? Anything you ask, I can do!”
I don’t work currently. I’m on disability on account of my back and for food, I get assistance each month. But whatever they wanted, I was prepared to pay—nothing illegal. There’s legal ways to get money little by little. You can donate plasma, you can buy things at a thrift store and sell them on the internet for a higher price. My sister’s a whiz at the internet, so I’d have her help me with that if it was something I ended up doing for some extra cash.
Both of them stared at their feet for a little bit before the older one started speaking and the younger one was telling me what she was saying. She said, “We didn’t want to tell you at the time. We wanted you to be happy and see your daughter healthy before we talked business.”
“What is it? What do I have to do?”
“The curse on your daughter was on purpose. Someone was trying to get back at you, we think.”
When she said that, I figured it was Chelsea’s mama. I don’t know that for sure, but if anyone were to do something like that to her on purpose, it’d be her mama. To get back at me. Our split wasn’t friendly, like I said, she got back on the shit and I said a lot of awful things about her. And I said if I ever saw her again or if she came back for my daughter, I’d kill her. I’m not sure if I really meant it when I said it, but it felt like I did… that I’d kill her, that is.
Carmen’s granddaughter was saying, “We don’t want money from you. Remember when you said you’d do anything for your daughter?”
“Whatever was after your daughter and making her sick wants someone else. It won’t take no for an answer and it can’t be bargained with. It wants someone’s soul. Because you made her better, you made a deal with it and it’s going to take what it thinks is owed to it.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“It wants your soul, Mr. Turner. Someone made a deal with it and its payment was your daughter’s soul. We made her drink that potion and we prayed for her and now it has a new deal: It wants you.”
“So what do you get out of this? This thing, this demon or whatever you want to call it, you stepped in so it doesn’t go after Chelsea, and it goes after me, instead. Okay. But what do you get out of it? That part doesn’t make sense.”
“Our participation in the deal has its own set of rewards you couldn’t understand. Whatever we got, we already got, and it goes beyond money or material rewards. From this point, we are outside of the arrangement and the only unresolved item is… you. Once it gets what it wants, I’m sure your daughter, Chelsea, will grow up to be a beautiful woman with a good husband.”
I gotta tell you: In all honesty, that news made me happy. They didn’t want money? Works for me! What little I have, it’s hard to part with so when they started telling me that my payment would be to some demon, I felt relieved. I grew up Baptist, and when I was a kid my whole family was really into it. I believe in God, I believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and I did not believe in demons, not like they say. I didn’t believe in the Devil like some long-tailed man with a beard who appears to you in person. To me, it’s always been a belief that the Devil was just sort of the feeling of Evil. He was responsible for torment and temptation, but he wasn’t just someone who could walk up to you and smell like sulfur. I thought if Hell existed, it wouldn’t be the fire and brimstone from the pictures in books. It would be something else we couldn’t understand as humans.
After they told me how I was supposed to pay for my services, I had to pretend to be real mad about it. I said to them, “Get out of my house! How dare you put that on me! Inviting that into my life!” I cussed, I hollered, I waved my arms around and I made a big deal about them being wicked themselves if they were somehow profiting, in some abstract way, on my own misery.
In English, the old woman Carmen, as best as she could manage, told me, “It’s not like that. This is not to hurt you. It was the only way to save her.”
I told them to get out and they did. I sat alone for a minute thinking everything over in my head. I have to admit, by the time they left and I had some time to think, it did scare me a little bit. The two of them said they could make my daughter better, and sure enough they did. I really hoped there wasn’t any truth to what they were saying.
Finally, I let out a sigh and went to the kitchen to pour myself a drink. Jack over ice is my favorite, with a little splash of water to cut the strength and lemon for flavor. After I finished it, I went and grabbed Chelsea and we played with her little toy train together in the living room.
I’ll always remember that day with me and her in the living room, both of us laughing together and making up little stories about where the train went, because it wasn’t until the next night when I heard her screaming in the middle of the night. It woke me up and I remember that the time was exactly 3:00 a.m. I remember that because she did it again. And then again. And another time. All those times were at exactly 3:00 a.m. I would run into her room and she’d be awake with her eyes as wide as the full moon, shining in the darkness and she’d be saying, “Daddy, someone’s in here!”
Kids have active imaginations. When I was young—I don’t remember this, but my brothers and my sister told me about it—I had an imaginary friend that I’d talk to that no one else could see. I told my daughter it was just like when she dreams, but she’s awake. It wasn’t real. But she’d be shaking with her hand pointing to the corner of the room, in the shadow by where the door was opened, and saying that someone was there and he wanted to hurt us.
I said, “Honey, shush, now, there’s no one here. We’re okay, baby.”
On that first night, I thought maybe she had an accident in the bed because it smelled awful. I checked the bed and I checked her pajamas, but it was clean.
Weird things kept happening and you better believe I never lost thought of what those two Mexican women told me about something coming after me as payment for letting Chelsea get better. I thought about it, but I never believed it. Who would want to believe such a thing? No matter how bad things get, no one wants to believe that it’s actually come to that until someone says so and says there’s no other way about it. You think the Germans thought it was bad as all that when they became Nazis? Probably not, they probably just thought it was the ways things were after things had been so bad for them for so long. Or, no one wants to think they have cancer until a doctor says so; before that, it’s just a little cough that won’t go away.
To give you an example of what kind of weird things would happen, I was sitting on my couch in the living room and I heard something in the kitchen like a loud bang. I went to go see what it was and there was nothing. I looked under the table. I looked inside some cabinets to see if a heavy cast iron skillet fell or something. Nothing. I figured maybe it was the fridge motor kicking on, I don’t know. When I got back to the living room to keep watching TV, the remote control was just missing. Gone. I always leave it on the couch cushion next to me, and suddenly it just wasn’t there. I checked on Chelsea and she was in her room, asleep. It couldn’t have been her. I even asked her the next day and she said she never left her room that night and I believed her. I never did find that remote control again, it just vanished.
Nights after that, after I’d be woken up by my daughter screaming bloody murder about someone in her room, I heard a sound in the living room, like someone kicked the door in. By my bed, I keep a baseball bat for emergencies. I used to have a gun in my nightstand, but since I live in such a small apartment, I didn’t want to keep one out of fear that Chelsea would find it and that’d be that. When she got—when she, when she got older I wanted to buy another one when she would have been old enough to be able to use one.
I grabbed the bat and I went out and I squinted like this so I could see better in the dark. Wouldn’t you believe it? I saw a son of a bitch standing right there, between the couch and the TV. I didn’t say anything in case he didn’t know I was there. I used the bat to give me some extra reach and I flicked on the light switch to see better so I could really wallop his ass. But, when the light kicked on, there wasn’t anybody standing there.
Was it my eyes playing tricks on me? Must’ve been, I figured. It’s not like the first time I thought I’d seen something that wasn’t there, like when you look out the window when you’re driving and you think you see a dead dog, but when you get closer it’s just a husk from a tree.
I flicked the light back off, but when I did and it was dark in the room again, the person I saw before was right in front of me! He was so close, all I could see were his eyes and his nose was up against mine and I could feel him breathing on me. I let out this scream I’d never heard myself scream out before, like, “AHHHH!!!” and I fell backward but before I fell completely on my back in the kitchen I turned the light back on and, like goddamned magic, he was gone.
Right then and there, I knew what those two women told me wasn’t bullshit and I knew I had to get out of there, so I woke up my baby girl and said, “We gotta go, honey. It’s time to leave this place.”
That time of night—and guess what time it was. It was just after 3:00 a.m.—the buses weren’t running yet, so we just walked. She was still so sleepy, so I threw her over my shoulder and did the lugging. We didn’t take anything with us; I expected to come back when the sun rose so that I could grab our shit when I felt like it was safe. We made our way to a Catholic church, where we slept a little bit more. It wasn’t Baptist, but it was the closest, and lugging a three year old is no easy chore. Plus, I felt safe inside and I figured God is God and if he’s gonna be picky about what door I go through, what chance do any of us have?
Chelsea slept in my lap and I leaned back against the pew and dozed off. We rose up only about three hours later and there was a priest looking at us and he smiled. I told him not to worry, we’re not homeless, we just had a weird night. Even though I know Catholic priests believe in that kind of stuff (or so I’ve been told), I didn’t feel like telling him my whole story. I didn’t want to start from beginning to end to have him think I’m methed out of my head and have him refer me to some homeless shelter on Van Buren.
When we got back to the apartment, I started planning what we were going to do. First, I was going to call my sister. She’d been so good about looking after Chelsea when she was sick, I thought she would be the best bet to give me somewhere to stay, but I didn’t know what to tell her. What could I say? I couldn’t tell her the truth. She’d never believe me. I thought, Should I say we’d been evicted? And I thought of that whole conversation: “Derek, you’re such a screw-up, I can’t even believe you did this!” And this, and this, and that.
What I decided to do was stay. If it was after me, it was going to follow me. If I stayed at my sister’s it was going to involve her, and I didn’t want that. So, I decided to make up another lie entirely.
I called my sister and I said, “Chelsea has to stay with you for a couple days. I’m okay, I just gotta settle something with some money I owe and I don’t want her around for a couple days while I get it sorted out.”
I didn’t entirely avoid the “Derek, you’re such a screw-up,” conversation, and I got plenty of it, but she agreed to help me. After, of course, she told me if I wound up in prison, she was going to adopt Chelsea and make sure I never got any visitation rights. I figured that was fair.
With Chelsea up at my sister’s, I started planning an attack. I bought rosaries, crucifixes and, God help me, I helped myself to some holy water from that Catholic church I slept at and sprinkled it around the bottom of the door. I bought some garlic, too, big braids of it and hung it from every room opening there was. I know that’s vampires, but I wanted to be safe. Better safe than sorry.
That very day, after buying everything and putting it all around my apartment, I went out to visit the bruja Carmen again to see if there was anything I could do. Anything at all. Her granddaughter came down once more to meet me at the main entrance, but this time she didn’t let me in. She just cocked her head and told me, “You didn’t take us seriously, and that’s your fault,” and I went back home on the bus with my tail between my legs.
Once again, I woke up at 3:00 at the morning because I heard someone knocking at the door. It went like this: Knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock, like that, with a pause and then, Knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock, and then it did it one more time. Three sets of 6 knocks. 666.
It was impossible to go back to sleep after that, so I just laid in my room and stared at the ceiling until I eventually passed out from exhaustion, too scared to move—even to go to the bathroom. When I woke up, the biggest crucifix I had, I had it on the door and it was on the ground broken in two. But, that was it. Nothing inside had been moved or disturbed. I grabbed some glue I had in the junk drawer and fixed it back into one piece and hung it back up. I sprinkled some holy water on the bottom of the door again before I went to bed that night. Same thing happened at 3:00 a.m. I woke up hearing some knocking, but nothing ever came in.
Next morning, there was the crucifix on the ground, broken in two again. This time it didn’t want to stay glued together (which was frustrating as hell), so I cracked open my piggy bank and went out and bought another one that was even bigger and hung it up in the broken one’s place.
And you know what? It stopped. After three nights, it stopped. I heard something about bad spirits hating the number 3 because of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. After three nights of it, there weren’t any more knockings on my front door, nothing disappearing from inside my apartment and I didn’t see anyone inside. I thought it was too good to be true, so I gave it another night to make sure.
I never slept so good. Well, I was scared as hell, but I didn’t wake up at no goddamn 3:00 in the morning. Two nights in a row with nothing like that other bad stuff happening. I woke up so happy, the first thing I did that day was walk the five miles to my sister’s house to go grab Chelsea, I was in such a good mood. I wanted to feel the sun on my face, the breeze in my hair and see the world in all its glory. It was a good morning.
It… it was… along with that memory I have of her being born, and us playing with that train in the living room, those are the memories I’m going to keep of my daughter forever. Those weren’t just some of the best moments I have when I think about her, they’re the best in my whole life.
My sister looked pissed when I got there, but Chelsea was so happy to see me, and me to see her, it was contagious. I know she won’t admit it, but I saw my sister crack a smile she pretended not to have. She lost it immediately and pulled me aside to give me the whole, “Remember what I said before, Derek, I will take her and you’ll never see her or me again if you fucked up again.”
I told her, “I know, I know,” and really meaning it. I wanted to make sure she didn’t think I was just blowing smoke up her ass, so I grabbed her shoulder and said it again.
Chelsea sat in my lap on the ride home she slept with her head against my chest. My heart was pounding because I was so excited about the whole day and the thumping and the pounding kept waking her up. I breathed in slower and tried to control my heart and make it beat slower so she could rest. I know she probably slept bad over at her aunt’s house. I never sleep well outside of my own bed, either.
When we walked in through the front door, when I think back on it, I remember it sounding like it did at the old woman Carmen’s complex… like it was too quiet, like everything that would ordinarily make a sound had a towel wrapped around. I sniffed the air and it smelled rank. I told Chelsea to go play while I grab the phone to call the super to tell her that something was definitely wrong with the pipes again because some shit water was getting backed up or something.
Before I even had a chance to grab the phone, I heard my little girl shriek.
I ran as fast as I could to get to her. She—and when I close my eyes I can still see this so vividly—was in the kitchen and I was in the living room and I was looking at her from the large opening between both rooms, and she was being held in the air. The thing that was holding her looked like a cloud. It didn’t look like a shape of anything at all. It looked like a storm cloud, with black smoke inside swirling around. Everything around it turned dark, like it was so dark that light that touched it just got absorbed. Like I said, it was shapeless, but where it was holding my little girl, I could definitely see an arm. The arm had a hand and a bicep and everything.
And it had eyes. They were the same eyes that met mine face-to-face that one night. But now, they were red.
Chelsea went to say, “Daddy!” but before she could say a word, I saw her mouth open and her tongue push up to the roof of her mouth right behind her little teeth, that thing picked her up even higher and slammed her head down on the corner of the kitchen table.
I’d never seen anybody die. One minute, we come home and we’re happy. The next minute, we’re both scared. And in the last, blood’s coming out of where her head got hit and she’s not moving. It didn’t even register when it happened. I didn’t scream, I didn’t yell; I didn’t even clasp my hands over my mouth or anything. I just stood there and I watched that thing stand there. It disappeared, and when it did it looked like when you blow smoke out from a puff of a cigarette. It just kind of fell apart and went out through the window.
I picked her up and I started lightly slapping either side of her cheeks because I didn’t think she was dead. I saw how much blood there was, but it didn’t make sense to me that she could be dead. I thought maybe she’d passed out or had a concussion, but I never thought dead. Not a chance. She’d come so close before, how could she be dead now?
“Come on, baby girl,” I kept saying. “You’re fine, baby. You’re okay.”
She kept bleeding and bleeding and I kept saying it and saying it and it didn’t make a difference. I think I must have been holding her for close to an hour before reality finally set in and I started bawling. I’d never cried like that either. Usually, when you cry, it’s from here in your throat. When I cried this time it was from my stomach, my lower back, my throat. The cry came from all over and it just spilled out my mouth and I couldn’t control it.
I finally called 911 and they sent you.
That’s my story.
By the time Mr. Turner had finished his story, he was weeping. He was completely inconsolable. He was falling out of his chair and flopped out on the floor like a fish, tearing away at his arms. I didn’t offer him a shoulder to cry on and I didn’t tell him everything was going to be alright. In my eyes, I was watching a murderer either express great remorse for his crimes, or pull off the performance of a lifetime. If what I was witnessing was the latter, sociopaths can fake human behavior very well when they have to.
He finally got his senses together enough to sit back in his chair and look at me. His eyes were red and swollen and his nose was so filled with snot, his right nostril would bubble and pop with every other breath he took.
I made sure the tape recorder was turned off before I told him what I thought of his story.
“Mr. Turner,” I said. “If that’s your confession, I would consider revising it. With that story, you’re going to get the death sentence. If you’re willing to confess, we might be able to offer you a deal, but if you’re unwilling, there’s nothing we can do before that judge, jury and eventual executioner.”
He said, “I know,” and nodded at me before looking down. “I don’t want to live.”
For his protection, when he returned to his cell after our questioning, we kept him isolated from General Population. Stories of honor among criminals is exaggerated in movies, for sure, but even still, most criminals don’t much like a child murderer. In jail, having killed a kid is like hanging a giant “Shiv Me” sign over your head.
We kept him on 24-hour suicide watch given his performance in the interrogation room, the very nature of the crime he was suspected of and for when he told me he didn’t want to live. If I’m being honest, I don’t lose much sleep when a criminal decides to off himself with a pair of his dirty undies or a bedsheet, but I want the conviction before he goes and does something cowardly.
There was a guard appointed to keep a close tab on him every couple minutes to make sure he wasn’t up to anything. He made sure he didn’t have shoelaces, anything sharp or any real free time alone to give himself an express ticket to the afterlife.
Somehow, despite all of our best efforts, he died on us.
The way the guard tells it is he was walking down the corridor for just a split second when he felt the temperature drop drastically. He started shivering and shaking and rubbing his arms to get them warm again. When he turned back around to start walking back toward Mr. Turner’s cell, he actually heard Mr. Turner yell out, “It’s here! It’s here!” At which point, the guard proceeded to double-time it down there to check and see that our suspect wasn’t having some sort of night terror.
As the guard approached the holding cell, he was overwhelmed with the scent of feces, which generally accompanies a death, as the bowels tend to loosen, and found Mr. Turner on the floor.
Officially, his cause of death was a heart attack, but the coroner more specifically said that he had died of fear. When the guard found him, his heart had almost literally exploded in his chest and whatever it was that scared him caused his hair to turn completely white. By the time of death, Mr. Turner no longer resembled a man. His skin had lost all color and took on a blueish hue. Coupled with his shock of white hair and eyes that had gathered blood in his postmortem, he looked like a caricature of a ghoul.
There have been cases that I’ve been appointed to that have bothered me afterwards. I still think about several of them from time to time, or even have nightmares about them and my wife has to reassure me when I wake up from them and I’m covered in a cold sweat. But what happened to Mr. Turner shocked me to my very being.
I went out to the area on Roosevelt and 90th Avenue where he told me he’d met with the medicine woman named Carmen. This was not official police business, this was for my own sense of closure. I found the building he spoke of and it looked exactly as he spoke of it: Skyscraper tall, with an army of shopping carts half-buried out in front. But, when I got there, there was no evidence it had any inhabitants inside to speak of, outside of a few vagrants who scattered as soon as I rolled up.
I took the stairs and checked the higher floors for an apartment matching his description. On the 10th floor, there was a room with a mismatched door that had appeared to be made out of an imitation wood material, but there was nothing inside except for debris and the occasional cockroach.
One thing that did strike me as odd was how quiet it was. Its location was intersected by two major freeways, but all I could hear were my own footsteps.