"Commissioner," Greenleaf asked, "does the State of New Hampshire have a gallows that could be used if the court ordered Mr. Bourne to be hanged?"
"Not anymore," Lynch replied.
"Would it be correct to assume, then, that there would be an additional outlay for the taxpayers of New Hampshire if a new gallows had to be constructed?"
"What specifications are needed to build a gallows?"
The commissioner nodded. "A floor height of at least nine feet, a crossbeam of nine feet, with a clearance of three feet above the inmate being executed. The opening in the trapdoor would have to be at least three feet to ensure proper clearance. There would have to be a means of releasing the trapdoor and stopping it from swinging after it has been opened, and a fastening mechanism for the rope with the noose."
In a few short sentences, Gordon Greenleaf had recentered this trial from the woo-woo touchy-feely freedom-of-religion aspect, to the inevitability of Shay's imminent death. I glanced at Shay. He had gone white as the blank sheet of paper framed between his chained hands.
"You're looking at no less than seventy-five hundred for construction and materials," the commissioner said. "In addition, there would be the investment of a body restraint."
"What's that, exactly?" Greenleaf asked.
"A waist strap with two wrist restraints, made of three-thousandpound test nylon, and another leg restraint made from the same materials.
We'd need a frame-basically, a human dolly that enables the officers to transport the inmate to the gallows in the event of a physical collapse- and a hood, and a mechanical hangman's knot."
"You can't just use rope?"
"Not if you're talking about a humane execution," the commissioner said. "This knot is made from a Delran cylinder and has two longitudinal holes and a steel U-clamp to fasten the rope, as well as a noose sleeve, a rope in thirty-foot lengths, knot lubricant..."
Even I was impressed at how much time and thought had gone into the death of Shay Bourne. "You've done a great deal of research," Greenleaf said.
Lynch shrugged. "Nobody wants to execute a man. It's my job to do it with as much dignity as possible."
"What would be the cost of constructing and purchasing all this equipment, Commissioner Lynch?"
"A bit less than ten thousand."
"And you said the State of New Hampshire has already invested over a hundred thousand on the execution of Shay Bourne?"
"Would it be a burden on the penitentiary system if you were required to construct a gallows at this time, in order to accommodate Mr.
Bourne's so-called religious preferences?"
The commissioner puffed out a long breath. "It would be more than a burden. It would be damn near impossible, given the date of the execution."
"The law said we were to execute Mr. Bourne by lethal injection, and we are ready and able to do it, after much preparation. I wouldn't feel personally and professionally comfortable cutting corners to create a lastminute gallows."
"Maggie," Shay whispered, "I think I'm going to throw up."
I shook my head. "Swallow it."
He lay his head down on the table. With any luck a few sympathetic people would assume that he was crying.
"If you were ordered by the court to construct a gallows," Greenleaf asked, "how long would it delay Mr. Bourne's execution?"
"I'd say six months to a year," the commissioner said.
"A whole year that Inmate Bourne would live past his execution warrant date?"
"Why so long?"
"You're talking about construction going on inside a working penitentiary system, Mr. Greenleaf. Background checks have to be done before a crew can come to work inside our gates-they're bringing in tools from the outside, which can be security threats; we have to have officers standing guard to watch them to make sure they don't wander into insecure areas; we have to make sure they're not trying to pass contraband to the inmates. It would be a substantial burden on the correctional institution if we had to, well, start from scratch."
"Thank you, Commissioner," Greenleaf said. "Nothing further."
I rose from my seat and approached the commissioner. "Your estimate for constructing the gallows is about ten thousand dollars?"
"So in fact, the cost to hang Shay Bourne would be one-tenth the cost of executing him by lethal injection."
"Actually," the commissioner said, "it would be a hundred and ten percent. You can't get a lethal injection chamber at Nordstrom with a satisfaction guarantee, Ms. Bloom. I can't return what we've already built."
"Well, you needed to construct that chamber anyway, didn't you?"
"Not if Inmate Bourne isn't going to be executed that way."
"The Department of Corrections didn't have the lethal injection chamber available for any other death row prisoners, however."
"Ms. Bloom," the commissioner said, "New Hampshire doesn't have any other death row prisoners."
I couldn't very well suggest that in the future we might-no one wanted to entertain that option. "Would executing Shay Bourne by hanging affect the safety of the other inmates in the prison?"
"No. Not during the actual process."
"Would it impinge on the safety of the officers there?"
"And in terms of the personnel-there would be, in fact, less manpower needed for an execution by hanging than an execution by lethal injection, correct?"
"Yes," the commissioner said.
"So there's no safety issue involved in changing Shay's method of execution.
Not for staff, and not for inmates. The only thing you can point to as a burden on the Department of Corrections, really, is a cost of just under ten thousand dollars to construct a gallows. Ten thousand lousy bucks. Is that right, Commissioner?"
The judge caught the commissioner's eye. "Do you have that in the budget?"
"I don't know," Lynch said. "Budgets are always tight."
"Your Honor, I have here a copy of the budget of the Department of
Corrections, to be entered into evidence." I handed it to Greenleaf, to
Judge Haig, and finally, to Commissioner Lynch. "Commissioner, does this look familiar?"
"Can you read me the line that's highlighted?"
Lynch settled his spectacles on his nose. "Supplies for capital punishment," he said. "Nine thousand eight hundred and eighty dollars."
"By supplies, what did you mean?"
"Chemicals," the commissioner said. "And whatever else came along."
What he meant, I was sure, was a fudge line in the budget. "By your own testimony, chemicals would only cost four hundred and twenty-six dollars."
"We didn't know what else might be involved," Lynch said. "Police blocks, traffic direction, medical supplies, extra manpower on staff... this is our first execution in nearly seventy years. We budgeted conservatively, so that we wouldn't find ourselves short when it actually came to pass."
"If that money was going to be spent on Shay Bourne's execution no matter what, does it really matter whether it's used to purchase Sodium
Pentothal... or to construct a gallows?"
"Uh," Lynch stammered. "It's still not ten thousand dollars."
"No," I admitted. "You're a hundred and twenty dollars short. Tell me... is that worth the price of a man's soul?"
Someone once told me that when you give birth to a daughter, you've just met the person whose hand you'll be holding the day you die. In the days after Elizabeth was born, I would watch those minuscule fingers, the nail beds like tiny shells, the surprisingly firm grip she had on my index finger-and wonder if, years from now, I'd be the one holding on so tight.
It is unnatural to survive your child. It is like seeing an albino butterfly, or a bloodred lake; a skyscraper tumbling down. I had already been through it once; now I was desperate to keep from experiencing that again.
Claire and I were playing Hearts, and don't think I didn't appreciate the irony. The deck of cards showcased Peanuts characters; my game strategy had nothing to do with the suit, and everything to do with collecting as many Charlie Browns as I could. "Mom," Claire said, "play like you mean it."
I looked up at her. "What are you talking about?"
"You're cheating. But you're doing it so you'll lose." She shuffled the remaining deck and turned over the top card. "Why do you think they're called clubs?"
"I don't know."
"Do you think it's the kind you want to join? Or the kind that you use to beat someone up?"
Behind her, on the cardiac monitor, Claire's failing heart chugged a steady rhythm. At moments like these, it was hard to believe that she was as sick as she was. But then, all I had to do was witness her trying to swing her legs over the bed to go to the bathroom, see how winded she became, to know that looks could be deceiving.
"Do you remember when you made up that secret society?" I asked. "The one that met behind the hedge?"
Claire shook her head. "I never did that."
"Of course you did," I said. "You were little, that's why you've forgotten. But you were absolutely insistent about who could and couldn't be a member of the club. You had a stamp that said CANCELED and an ink pad-you put it on the back of my hand, and if I even wanted to tell you dinner was ready I had to give a password first."
Across the room, my cell phone began to ring in my purse. I made a beeline for it-mobile phones were strictly verboten in the hospital, and if a nurse caught you with one, you would be given the look of death. "Hello?"
"June. This is Maggie Bloom."
I stopped breathing. Last year, Claire had learned in school that there were whole segments of the brain devoted to involuntary acts like digesting and oxygen intake, which was so evolutionarily clever; and yet, these systems could be felled by the simplest of things: love at first sight; acts of violence; words you did not want to hear.
"I don't have any formal news yet," Maggie said, "but I thought you'd want to know: closing arguments start tomorrow morning. And then, depending on how long the judge deliberates, we'll know if and when Claire will have the heart." There was a crackle of silence. "Either way, the execution will take place in fifteen days."
"Thank you," I said, and closed the clamshell of the phone. In twenty-four hours, I might know if Claire would live or die.
"Who called?" Claire asked.
I slipped the phone into the pocket of my jacket. "The dry cleaner," I said. "Our winter coats are ready to be picked up."
Claire just stared at me; she knew I was lying. She gathered up the cards, although we were not finished with our game. "I don't want to play anymore," she said.
She rolled onto her side, turning her face away from me. "I never had stamps and an ink pad," Claire murmured. "I never had a secret club. You're thinking of Elizabeth."
"I'm not thinking of-" I said automatically, but then I broke off. I could clearly picture Kurt and I standing at the bathroom sink, grinning as we scrubbed off the temporary tattoos we'd been given, wondering if our daughter would speak to us at breakfast without that mark of faith. Claire could not have initiated her father into her secret world; she had never even met him.
"I told you so," Claire said.
Shay was not on I-tier often, but when he was, he was transported to conference rooms and the infirmary. He'd tell me, when he came back, about the psych tests they ran on him; about the way they tapped at the crooks of his elbows, checking his veins. I supposed it was important for them to dot their i's and cross their fs before the Big Event, so that they didn't look stupid when the rest of the world was watching.
The real reason they kept shuttling Shay around for medical tests, though, was to get him out of the pod so that they could have their practice runs. They'd done a couple of these in August. I'd been in the exercise cage when the warden led a small group of COs to the lethal injection chamber that was being built. I watched them in their hard hats. "What we need to figure out, people," Warden Coyne had said, "is how long it'll take the victim's witnesses to get from my office to the chamber. We can't have them crossing paths with the inmate's witnesses."
Now that the chamber was finished, they had even more to check and double-check: if the phone lines to the governor's office worked; if the straps on the gurney were secure. Twice now, while Shay was at Medical, a group of officers-the special ops team, who had volunteered to be part of the execution-arrived on I-tier. I'd never seen any of them before. I suppose that there is humanity in not having the man who kills you be the same guy who has brought you your breakfast for the past eleven years.
And likewise: it must be easier to push the plunger on that syringe if you haven't had a conversation with the inmate about whether the Patriots would win another Super Bowl.
This time, Shay had not wanted to go to Medical. He put up a fight, saying that he was tired, that he didn't have any blood left for them to draw. Not that he had a choice, of course-the officers would have dragged him there kicking and screaming. Eventually, Shay agreed to be chained so that he could make the trip off I-tier, and fifteen minutes after he was gone, the special ops team showed up. They put an officer pretending to be
Shay into his cell, and then one of the other COs started a stopwatch.
"We're rolling," he said.
I don't know how the mistake happened, to be honest. I mean, I suppose that was the whole point of a practice run-you were leaving room for human error. But somehow, just as the special ops team was escorting
Fake-Shay off the pod as part of their training, the real Shay was entering
I-tier again. For a moment, they hesitated at the door, gazing at one another.
Shay stared at his faux counterpart, until Officer Whitaker had to drag him through the door of I-tier, and even then, he craned his neck, trying to see where his future was heading.
In the middle of the night, the officers came for Shay. He was banging his head against the walls of his cell, speaking in a river of gibberish. Usually, I would have heard all of this-I was often the first to know that Shay was upset-but I had slept through it. I woke up when the officers arrived in their goggles and shields, swarming over him like a clot of black cockroaches.
"Where are you taking him?" I yelled, but the words sliced my throat to ribbons. I thought of the run-through and wondered if it was time for the real thing.
One of the officers turned to me-a nice one, but in that instant I could not grasp his name, although I had seen him every week for the past six years. "It's okay, Lucius," he said. "We're just taking him to an observation cell, so he doesn't hurt himself."
When they left, I lay down on my bunk and pressed my palm against my forehead. Fever: it was a school of fish swimming through my veins.
Once before, Adam had cheated on me. I found a note in his pocket when I went to take his shirts to the dry cleaner. Gary, and a phone number.
When I asked him about it, he said it had only been one night, after a show at the gallery where he worked. Gary was one of the artists, a man who created miniature cities out of plaster of Paris. New York was currently on display. He told me about the art-deco detail on the top of the Chrysler
Building; the individual leaves that were hand-fastened to the trees on
Park Avenue. I imagined Adam standing with Gary, their feet planted in
Central Park, their arms around each other, monstrous as Godzilla.
It was a mistake, Adam had said. It was just so exciting, for a minute, to know someone else was interested.
I could not imagine how people would not be interested in Adam, with his pale green eyes, his mocha skin. I saw heads turn all the time, gay and straight, when we walked down the street.
It felt all wrong, he said, because it wasn't you.
I had been naive enough to believe then that you could take something toxic and poisonous, and contain it so that you'd never be burned by it again. You'd think, after all that happened later with Adam, I had learned my lesson. But things like jealousy, rage, and infidelity-they don't disappear.
They lie in wait, like a cobra, to strike you again when you least expect it.
I looked down at my hands, at the dark blotches of Kaposi's sarcoma that had already begun to blend into one another, turning my skin as dark as Adam's, as if my punishment were to reinvent myself in his image.
"Please don't do this," I whispered. But I was begging to stop something that had already started. I was praying, although I couldn't remember to whom.
After court had adjourned for the weekend, I took a trip to the ladies' room. I was sitting in a stall when suddenly a microphone snaked underneath the metal wall from the cubicle beside mine. "I'm Ella Wyndhammer from FOX News," a woman said. "I wonder if you have a comment about the fact that the White House has given a formal statement about the Bourne trial and the separation of church and state?"
I hadn't been aware that the White House had given a formal statement; there was a part of me that shivered with a thrill to know that we'd attracted that much attention. Then I considered what the statement most likely had been, and how it probably wouldn't help my case at all. And then I remembered that I was in the bathroom.
"Yeah, I've got a comment," I said, and flushed.
Because I didn't want to be ambushed by Ella Wyndhammer or any of the other hundred reporters crawling over the steps of the courthouse like lichen, I retreated into a foxhole-okay, an attorney-client conference room-and locked the door. I took out a legal pad and began to write my closing for Monday, hoping that by the time I finished, the reporters would have moved onto a fresher kill.
It was dark when I slipped on my heels again and packed away my notes. The lights had been turned off in the courthouse; distantly, I could hear a custodian buffing the floors. I walked through the lobby, past the dormant metal detectors, took a deep breath, and opened the door.
The majority of the media had packed up for the night. In the dis tance, though, I could see one tenacious reporter holding his microphone.
He called out my name.
I forged past him. "No comment," I muttered, and then I realized he wasn't a reporter, and he wasn't holding a microphone.
"It's about time," Christian said, and he handed me the rose.