“I think it’s time that someone did something,” said Jennifer. (Jen for short.)
We were having our weekly prayer and share meeting in Sharon’s living room, and the pale pink carpeting was driving me nuts. It seemed that Sharon (the pastor’s wife) had insisted on pairing the new carpeting with chartreuse sofas. Finally, Sharon had pulled the look together with bright pink and yellow plaid curtains. The curtains were pulled back from with windows with cheap sunflowers from Jen’s arts and crafts store, Sonshine Creations.
Anyway, the pink carpeting didn’t have one solitary stain on it, and that was the thing that that was driving me nuts. (Well, that and the additional fact that I was three months pregnant.) I studied the pristine Precious Moments figurines on the fireplace mantle, and wondered how she kept the carpet so clean. Also, when did she find time to vacuum? (Did she keep the living room spotless by wrapping the entire thing in plastic when no one was looking?)
“Penny for your thoughts, Miss Lawyer,” said Jen.
“What?” I said, coughing on a dry bit of carrot cake. My name is Rachel, I thought.
“I told you she wasn’t listening,” said Diane. “You can tell she’s with child.”
“I’m pregnant,” I said, resisting the urge to throttle Diane. “And I wasn’t daydreaming,” I added. “I was praying.”
Amber nodded. “I daydreamed all the time when I was pregnant. It’s a miracle I didn’t forget a step, and fall down the stairs. Thank the Lord that Jeffrey was born safe and sound. Did you know he’s the the most advanced student in his class?”
“Yeah,” muttered Diane, as she stuffed a bite of doughnut into her mouth, “that’s because he was held back last year.”
“What did you say?” said Amber.
“Nothing,” said Diane. Sharon’s cat, Jasper, ambled by and Diane scratched underneath his chin.
“What’s that awful smell?” I said.
Sharon smiled. “Oh that,” she said. “That’s just Jasper passing wind.”
“That smells exactly like my husband’s gym shorts!” said Jen. “What have you been feeding him?”
Sharon stirred her iced tea with a long-handled spoon. “Well,” she said, thinking, “he is fond of corned beef from the can.”
At that moment, I wanted to sprint to the toilet and puke my guts out. I wondered what the color scheme was like in Sharon’s bathroom.
“Jen,” I said, “I desperately need to use the toilet. What did you want to do something about? I don’t want to throw up all over this nice carpet.”
“Well,” she said, we’re putting together an action committee, and we’d like you to join. With all of the violence in our neighborhood, it’s time to protect the less fortunate.”
Diane sighed. “Just spit it out, Jen. Can’t you see Rachel’s three shades of green?”
I flushed the toilet, and returned from the bathroom. I was still dizzy, but no longer sick to my stomach.
“Well, what do you think?” said Jen.
I sighed, and used a napkin to wipe the sweat from my forehead. “I think an action committee is a great idea in theory. But, what you’re talking about....isn’t that vigilantism? I smiled and looked around the room. “I mean, I like Batman, but what Batman does is illegal.”
“That’s what I thought she’d say,” said Diane.
“Oh, shut up Di,” said Amber.
“Make me,” said Diane, as she wrapped up a leftover piece of carrot cake and carefully inserted it into her purse.
Amber shot up from her seat by the coffee table, and assumed what I guessed was the attack position from her weekly cardio kickboxing classes.
“Bring it, bitch,” she said. “Mr. Trang says I’m his best student.”
Diane quietly sipped her herbal tea. “He only says that because you’re sleeping with him,” she said in a sing-song voice.
“Aiyo!” shouted Amber, as she lept into the air and kicked Diane’s purse away from Diane’s feet.
Immediately, Sharon and Jen sprang forward and pulled Amber away from Diane.
Amber grimaced like a prize fighter, and spat on the immaculate carpet.
“Ladies!” said Sharon. “You should be ashamed of yourselves! What would Jesus think of your actions?”
Diane took a compact mirror from her pocket, and rearranged her hair. “He said, in your anger do not sin. I didn’t do anything wrong to Miss Taibo. She’s the angry one, and she’s probably taking ‘roids to boot.”
“Are you juicing, Amber?” said Jen. “If you are, let us know. We can get you into rehab and--”
“I’m not juicing,” interrupted Amber, rolling her eyes. You should definitely check Diane’s purse for drugs, though. She’s got roofies in that ridiculous Marc Jacobs bag of hers.”
“What?” I said, accidentally spraying carrot cake crumbs all over the front of my new maternity dress. “Surely that’s not true.”
Amber grinned. “Check inside her bag.”
I hesitated for a moment.
“Well, go on,” said Jen. “I don’t know about you all, but I want to know what’s in there...just out of curiosity, of course.”
I took a deep breath and exhaled. “Okay,” I said. “We live in a democracy, don’t we? Are we all in favor of a quick check?”
Everyone nodded except Diane. “You won’t like what you find,” she said.
“For heaven’s sake,” said Sharon. “I’ll open it.” She grabbed the purse and shook out the contents: one lipstick, one Cath Kidston wallet, and ten orange bottles of prescription medicine.
Sharon grabbed a small bottle from the carpet. “Rohypnol," she read. “Aren’t those roofies?”
"Oh no," said Jen, as the color drained from her face. "Please tell me you didn't, Di."
"Told you that you wouldn’t like it,” said Diane. “How else did you think I was going to keep him quiet?" said Diane. "Sing him a lullaby?"
Slowly, Sharon dabbed at the remnants of Amber's spit with a napkin. "I thought you were just using a bit of Nyquil to make him more...um...manageable," she said.
Just then, I heard the unmistakable sound of a man screaming.
"Very funny," I said. "Whose husband is joking around in the basement?"
"Oh dear," said Sharon, who had just finished scrubbing Amber’s spit from the carpet, "I think we'd better show her."
"I’ll second that," said Amber. "We definitely need her legal expertise.”
The basement smelled like spoiled hamburger meat, and I used my shirt sleeve to cover my nose and mouth. It was very dark and dim until Sharon pulled the chain of a low-hanging light.
"Help me," said a man in filthy jeans and a rust-stained shirt. "These women are crazy."
"Quiet, Phil," said Amber. "Remember what happens if you make any noise?"
"Yes," said Phil. "I remember." Tears streamed down his face. "I'll be good from now on; I promise."
"Oh God," I said. "I know you. You work at the hardware store. Why have they got you tied up down here?"
"I don't know!" said Phil. I knelt down to untie him, and that's when I noticed that the rust stains on his shirt were congealed bits of blood.
I began to feel faint.
"Why did you do this to him?" I said. "This man has done nothing wrong."
"Nothing wrong?" repeated Diane. "This is Phil Harrington."
"So?" I said.
"Oh honey," said Sharon, as she carefully retied the gag around Phil's mouth, "he's the head of the Ku Klux Klan around these parts."
Jen ran her fingers through her hair. "He's also responsible for the kidnapping and murder of those two African American high schoolers."
It was my turn to roll my eyes.
“Yes, but how do you know that Phil was the murderer, and not, you know, a friendly neighborhood hardware man?"
Phil moaned, and Amber kicked him in the face. I heard a sickening crunch as her boot met the bridge of his nose.
“Amber!” I screamed. “Don’t hurt him.”
“Why?” said Amber. “Didn’t Jesus say an eye for an eye?"
“That’s the old testament,” I said. “Jesus never said that.”
“Whatever,” said Amber. “It’s still in the Bible.”
“That’s not justice, though!” I said. “Not in a democratic society.”
"Justice?" said Amber, as she picked up a red container of gasoline, "What about justice for those two kids? Phil came into the fitness center about a month ago, bragging to his CrossFit buddy about killing Mark and Andrew. If we don't get justice for those young men and their families, who will?"
Utterly exhausted, I sank to my knees. “This is wrong,” I said. “In court, I've wanted to be judge, jury, and executioner. But cruel and unusual punishment just doesn't work, especially in a free society."
Amber sighed. “Who said we live in a free society?” she said. "If Phil's case were to go to trial, all he'd get is a slap on the wrist. He'd do about fifteen to twenty years of a life sentence, and then he'd be paroled."
"Will you join us?" said Jen. "Like I said, we need an attorney on our team. In case we get into trouble, later.”
“We don’t want to go to prison or anything,” said Sharon. “We’re not criminals.”
I thought about my life. Didn’t I keep saying that I wanted to make the world a better place? And didn’t I want to bring my child into a world with fewer monsters?
I sighed, rubbing the bridge of my nose with my thumb and forefinger. I’ll join you on one condition,” I said.
“What’s that?” said Jen.
I smoothed my dress over my bump. “I can’t be physically involved in any executions.”
“Oh right,” said Sharon. “I get it. You can’t defend us in court if you’re an eyewitness.”
“That’s right,” I said.
“So you’ll join us?” said Jen. Her pupils were dilated, and her face had an unnatural glow from the light in the basement.
“Great!” said Amber. “After we take care of Phil, let’s go upstairs for virgin daiquiris. I brought some fresh ginger for that special kick.”
“Well that sounds gross,” said Diane. “Count me out.”
“Stop bickering, you two!” said Sharon.
“Right,” said Amber, rolling her eyes. “Who wants to pour the gasoline over Phil? I think we should use the whole container, just to be safe.”
“Not in my house!” said Sharon. “You’ll burn down the whole neighborhood!”
“Just use a little bit,” I said. “That’s my advice.”
“Thank you!” said Jen. “I just knew you’d be a great addition to our group. See you at church next Sunday!”
“Yes,” I said, as I walked up the stairs. “See you next Sunday, and may God have mercy on our souls.”
“Amen!” said Sharon.
Outside, I jogged to my car and shut the door, before the stench of Phil's burning flesh could reach my nose.