The wave of heat from the house fire flushed Andy Fluke’s sweaty face. He stood, unblinking, with a blank stare, as the flames engulfed his home. Smoke and soot swirled through the air. Police officers set up barricades that kept the curious onlookers back. And out of danger. The firefighters worked feverishly, trying to bring the fire under control.
While some firefighters operated the fire truck hoses and shot water streams at the flames, others used axes to chop down anything that could fuel the fire. The police and fire vehicles blocked off the street from both ends.
Someone in the crowd yelled, “Did the Flukes make it out?”
The officer shrugged. Then the question spread through the group.
Someone yelled, “Where are the Flukes?”
The crowd chanted, “Where are the Flukes?”
“Hey, wait a minute. There’s one of the fluke boys over there.”
A group of people rushed over to Andy. As people gathered around, they began to bombard him with questions.
“Where’s your family, boy?”
“Where’s your Dad, Mom, and Brother?”
Someone reached down and grabbed him by the shoulder. “Did your family get out with you? Tell us! Tell us!”
Andy stared vacantly. A police officer noticed a crowd forming around Andy. The officer walked over and asked, “What’s going on here? Who is this boy?”
“He’s Andy Fluke. He and his family live in the house that burned down.” A woman said as she instinctively wiped Andy’s face with the bottom of her apron.
“And who are you, Mame?” the officer asked.
“Oh, I’m Mrs. Taylor. I live across the street. Doris Fluke is my best friend. Andy and my—”
“Okay, thank you, Mame.” The officer placed his hand on Andy’s shoulder and asked, “Where are your parents.”
Andy kept staring at his house.
The officer bent down in front of him. “Andy. What happened to your parents?”
Tears filled Andy’s eyes as he whispered, “I killed them.”
As Dr. Abigail Marrero walked towards her office, her supervisor, Dr. Thomas, motioned her over.
“Dr. Marrero, may I see you in my office for a moment.”
“Of course, Sir.”
When Abigail stepped inside the office, her stomach tightened. Family Court Judge Tess Tally sat at the conference table. In Abigail’s twenty years of working in the Child Pyschiartriry Unit of the Children Protection Services of New York, only twice a sitting judge had paid an official visit. Once, to reprimand someone, the other, to terminate someone.
Abigail swallowed deeply. “Good morning, your honor.”
“I’m sorry to intrude before you’ve enjoyed your coffee,” she said, glancing at the Starbuck’s Venti Caffe Americano Abigail held in her hand. “You’ve been an expert witness in my courtroom many times, and I’ve admired the way you’ve given testimony. So after my staff did a background check on you, I made my decision.”
“Your decision? About me?”
“Yes, doctor, I tell you this in the strictest confidence. Have you heard of the 13-year-old Arsonist Andrew Fluke who has confessed to setting the fire that resulted in the death of his family?”
“Yes, it’s been in the papers and on the internet.”
“Yes, but what’s not in the media is the state attorney is contemplating charging Mr. Fluke as an adult..”
Judge Tally paced the floor as she shook her head.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, Your honor. Do you want me to decide Mr. Fluke’s mental competency? You know, I don’t think a child should be charged as an adult.”
“Yes, Dr. Marrero, we’re aware of your feelings. But you are one of the state’s leading Abnormal Child Psychologists. Moreover, you have a reputation for being honest and fair. So your opinion will be invaluable.”
Abigail licked her lips.
“The state attorney and I agree you have the right mix of expertise and compassion. Please agree to examine the boy?”
Abigail extended her hand. “I’ll do my best, your honor.”
Three hours later, at 11 o’clock, Andy Fluke was delivered to Abigail’s office. Having never seen him, Andy looked nothing like Abigail imagined. In fact, she didn’t know he was Black. The Flukes, his family, were white. He was slight for a 13-year old. He sat across from her dressed in Brooklyn’s Crossroads Detention Center uniform with his head bowed. His legs were crossed, hands folded in his lap. His hair was black, curly, and long.
“Good morning, Andy,”
Head still bowed.
“How have you been? My name is Doctor Marrero, and I’m here to talk to you. Would you mind talking to me?”
With his chin pressed against his chest, he said in low tones, “I ain’t got nothing to say you or anybody.”
Abigail walked from behind her desk. She smiled at Andy’s corrections officer, who peered through the office door window. She leaned against the edge of her desk
“I read your file, Andy. Up until now, you had no prior incidents. What happened?”
“Nothing happened. I just killed them, that’s all.”
“You just killed them for no reason. Oh, come on, Andy. You’re too smart for that. You had a reason. How did the Flukes treat you? They were mean and nasty, I bet. And Timothy, the older boy, probably bullied you all the time, huh?”
Andy’ssquirmed in his seat. He shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Tim never bothered me. He was my big brother.”
Abigail picked up his file. “It says here that they adopted you when you were one year old. Out of all the children in the orphanage, they picked you. They must have loved you a lot.”
Andy pulled his hands out of his pocket and steepled them.
His breathing became heavy. He looked at Abigail.
“Yeah, they did. My family did love me.”
Abigail read from his file again. “You went to St. David’s High School. You have to be pretty smart to go there. And it says here you were a B-plus student. Pretty good.”
Andy buried his face in his hands.
In a soothing voice, Abigail asked, “Well, if they were so good to you and treated you well, why did you kill them? I promise you’ll feel better if you tell me. Maybe, you’ll even be able to sleep at night.”
Andy jumped up from his chair and shouted, ” I don’t deserve to sleep at night! I killed my father, mother, and brother!”
Nostrils flaring, Andy marched towards Abigail. ” I should have died in that fire!.”
Now, they were nose-to-nose. “It’s my fault my family’s dead!”
The burly correction officers burst into Abigaiils’ office. He grabbed Andy by the back of the collar and yanked him to the floor in one motion.
As he restrained Andy, he looked and asked Abigail, “You okay. Doc? Want me to take him back to Crossroads?”
Andy laid on the floor and sobbed uncontrollably. Abigail leaned down to talk to him. “Andy, do you want to go back to Brooklyn? Or do you want to try again?”
“I’m going to ask the officer to let you up. But another outburst like that, and I’ll be forced to send you back to Crossroads. Do you understand?”
Andy looked at her and nodded.
“Are you sure, Doc?” The officer warned.
“Yes, officer. I think Andy will keep his word.”
“Okay, if you say so. But I’ll be right outside looking through the window. Just in case.”
The officer lifted Andy and placed him in a chair. Abigail waited a few moments for Andy to compose himself. Then, Abigail pulled a seat closer to Andy.
“Andy, may I ask you something?” Abigail asked while she offered Andy a tissue.
Andy wiped his tears away and stammered, “Y-Yeah.”
In a calm voice, Abigail asked, “Unfortunately, your parents died in that horrible fire. You say you killed your family? Did you set the fire?”
Andy turned his eyes away and stared at the floor.
Abigail leaned closer. “You see, Andy, the fire inspector’s believed the fire started in a faulty electrical outlet, a plug, in your house’s family room. They didn’t find any evidence of arson.”
“I don’t care what they say. I killed them.”
“Andy, your family died from smoke inhalation. Why do you think you killed them?”
For a few moments, they looked into each other’s eyes. Then, suddenly, Andy collapsed onto Abigail’s lap.
Abigail gave him a minute, then sat him up. “What happened, Andy?”
Andy got up and stood behind his chair. “My dad smelled the smoke first. He ran to everybody’s bedroom to warn us. He yelled, “Let’s go, everybody!”
We had an escape route. We were leaving the house when I snuck back to my room to get my baseball cards. My family tried to find me, but there was smoke and fire everywhere. I heard my family calling for me, but I couldn’t find them. I got real scared. So, I ran out a different way. My family died looking for me! It’s my fault they died! I killed them!”
Abigail rushed over to Andy to kept him from collapsing.
“It’s alright, Andy. It’s going to be alright now.”
Andy buried his face into Abigail’s shoulder.
Abigail gently led Andy back to his chair.
“Listen to me, Andy. I know you feel guilty about what happened to your family. Your family loved you. They wouldn’t want you to suffer. I’m sure they would tell you, Andy, it’s not your fault. ”
“But I feel so guilty. I should have—””
“I know, Andy. Guilt can make you feel bad, but Andy, what happened is not your fault..”
“I ran out the—”
Abigail reached down, pulled Andy to her, and said firmly,
“Andy, it’s not your fault.”
Abigail held Andy close and whispered, “It’ll be okay."
“It’ll be alright, Andy. Let it out. And Andy, keep repeating, it’s not my fault.””