The man's eyelids fluttered as a stream of sodium thiopental flowed into his veins, a mocking smile still on his lips. None of the four technicians on the other side of the wall through which the intravenous tubing passed knew which of the plungers each of them pressed was delivering the drug to the prisoner, and they were never told. Each had an identical set of the injection devices used to send the lethal trio of compounds to the condemned man: the sodium thiopental that was now rendering him unconscious; pancuronium bromide, which would stop his breathing; and potassium chloride, to induce the cardiac arrest that would finally cause his death.
Tom and Laura Gold watched in silence from the witness room adjoining the execution chamber. As soon as Briggs had been rolled in strapped to the gurney he would die on, he had seen them watching him through the plate glass observation window. He grinned at them, yellow teeth in a sparse beard, and silently but distinctly mouthed a word: "Whore!"
Laura would have fallen back had Tom not been supporting her with a firm grip across her back and shoulders. She recovered, and the two of them watched stonily as the execution team checked the restraints that held Briggs to the gurney and inserted intravenous tubes into his arms. The team then retreated to the anteroom to join the warden and await his orders. Briggs' head was not restrained, and he turned to look at the Golds with a leering grin.
Now, as the warden directed the successive steps of execution in the anteroom, Lester Briggs lay still, his eyes closed, his grin collapsed and gone from his slack mouth. After fifteen minutes Scanlon, the grim-faced medical technician, declared the prisoner dead, and a curtain was drawn across the observation window as the gurney was wheeled away; the wall clock read 1:17 AM. Tom and Laura made their way to the visitors' parking lot, their lawyer intercepting the news media who had been waiting outside the prison for a statement.
"It doesn't help, you know," Laura said, holding back her tears. "The death of that animal won't bring her back."
"I know," said Tom. "It's the law, though. It's justice."
"It's just more killing," said Laura. "And it won't stop other psychos like him from doing the same thing." She stopped and looked away. The tears came. "I miss her," she sobbed, "I miss our baby so much!"
He took her in his arms and held her. "I know, I know," he said, "I do too." He stroked her hair gently. He was weeping quietly.
Laura's sister Amy was waiting for them inside her car, which was parked next to Tom's. Tom opened the door for Laura to get in. "Won't you come back with us?" Amy said. "Just for a while, anyway? This is a hard day for everybody."
"No," said Tom. "I'll come by in a day or so. I think I really need to be alone now."
"You sure?" said Amy. "Sure you don't want to be with us and talk things out?"
"Thanks, Amy," Tom said. "But not tonight. I'll be in touch soon, I promise."
She reached out of the window to give his hand a squeeze, then pulled out of the parking lot. Tom watched them go and then left in his own car. Tom and Laura were no longer together. Often even the strongest marriages are unable to withstand the loss of a child.
A dirt track not far from home led into the woods and then to meadows on both sides, textured by late summer asters and goldenrod. Milkweed pods were releasing their feathery seeds, and Becky reached for them as they floated on the afternoon breeze.
"See those red berries over there, mixed in with the yellow?" asked Tom. "Mom likes those. Shall we pick some so she can make an arrangement?"
"Yeah!" said Becky, and bounced eagerly in her backpack carrier as Tom cut several branches of the bittersweet and handed them back to her. "Pretty!" she exclaimed.
"Don't eat them," Tom warned. "Remember, some pretty things are yucky to eat!"
"I won't Daddy. I remember."
They took a path that led down to a stream that flowed into the lake behind their house, a quarter of a mile away. Tom pointed to the wetlands on the other side of the stream. "That's where the froggies live," he said. "In the spring there will be lots of baby frogs, and they like to sing, really loud!"
They started back up the path the way they had come.
"Daddy, do you think the baby froggies will sing to me?"
Memories die last.
The extent of Briggs' insanity wasn't fully evident at the trial. That came later, after his conviction, with the leaking of his barely legible "manifesto" to the press. He maintained that God had commissioned him to wage holy war against the "new harlots of Babylon", in which he was to seek out and destroy "all them young sluts and Jezebels" that made the world unclean. This had to be done before "are Loard" would come again and bring the Rapture. And how would he know who were the new harlots? "That's easy," he told one reporter who had managed to secure an interview with him. "Like God told me, they're the ones who get you all hard and stuff when you look at them! They give you unclean thoughts, like, and that means the Devil's behind it, and he's the enemy of our Lord. That's how I know what I gotta do, God's work." He had taken Rebecca as she walked home alone after visiting with a friend. "Just askin' for it," he said, "just askin' for it."
Briggs did not testify at his trial. His public defender weighed the merits of justifying an insanity plea with a demonstration of his client's clear derangement against the more probable outcome of disgusting and outraging the jury with his obscene and, to some, blasphemous rants. So Briggs contented himself with sitting quietly next to his lawyer during the proceedings, and occasionally looking around at the spectators in the courtroom. When he first caught sight of the Golds he grinned and flicked his tongue at them. After that Tom came alone.
The only other disturbance Briggs caused during the trial came when crime scene photographs were circulated among members of the jury. Briggs stood up and said that he wanted to see them, too. "The defendant will take his seat and remain quiet!" the judge had ordered. When Briggs repeated that he wanted to see the pictures, two police officers hurried to the defense table and forced him back down into his seat. For a few seconds he glowered at the judge. Then he watched the jury, studying their faces as the photographs were passed from one to another.
The pictures were taken in Briggs' basement apartment, where eleven-year-old Rebecca Gold's nude body had been found tied to a metal bed frame. Her knees were bent, held in place with duct tape around her shins and thighs, her wrists bound to her ankles. A wooden rod had been taped between her knees to hold them apart, and a rope kept them pressed to her chest. She had been gagged with a single strip of duct tape across her mouth. The medical examiner gave the cause of death as exsanguination, the result of vaginal bleeding caused by multiple sexual assaults over a period of six days, the time that had elapsed between her disappearance and Briggs' arrest for indecent exposure in a public park, which led to a search of his premises.
Briggs sulked for the rest of the afternoon. He had so wanted to see those pictures.
The jury returned a guilty verdict after two hours' deliberation. After the verdict was read, Briggs turned to the jury box and made an obscene gesture. At his sentencing, when asked if he wished to make a statement, he said, "I was doin' God's work. Teach them parents a lesson, too, lettin' the little slut walk around like that."
"It is never easy to pass judgment on another human being," the judge said. "But in this case, Mr. Briggs, you've made it easy." The sentence was for death by lethal injection.
"Welcome, a warm and wide welcome to all of you, my brothers and sisters in Christ! I am pastor Eustace Grimes, and I thank you all most humbly for your attendance here at our weekly 'Sin and Salvation' program, where we give voice to the glory of our faith in God and to our pride in our great nation. For verily I say unto you, my friends, God has smiled down upon this land, and upon his faithful servants, and because of all of us in congregations like this across the land he has made America his holy bastion, his Capital of Christianity in this world!
"But, oh, my friends, it is a sad and woeful world we live in, with evil and sin abroad in this land that we love! You have only to open a newspaper, or turn on the television you are watching at this very moment, to realize that the Devil is busy at his work – yes, my friends, the Devil! – the very enemy of God! – busy right now, busy endeavoring to pervert the souls of those he fears most, the Christian Soldiers of America! Wars and blasphemy are everywhere, but not only that: what are we to make of this lost soul who was condemned last week, condemned to die the death for his sins and his shocking actions against a child of God? For surely, he must die and he shall die at the strong hands of our just guardians of public order – do we not read in Matthew 22:21 that we must render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's? And what is of Caesar, if not the law of our great land, the law whose righteous power is itself descended from the very laws of God? Yes, although he began as a devout member of our congregation, his weakness allowed him to be won over to the side of the Dark One, and it is the will of God that he be executed for this transgression, and so shall it be done. It is only charitable that we ask God to have mercy on his soul – but in truth, I shudder to think of what is waiting for him!
"We weep for the poor child who was taken from her family – we mourn greatly, although we are comforted by our certainty that she resides now in Heaven, glorying in the bliss of the Lord, surely happier as handmaiden to God than she could ever be in our sorry world. But we are troubled still: how do such things come to pass, what causes such corruption of the soul? It is the Devil's work, surely, but the Devil needs help to do such things, he can't do it alone. The reason, my friends, is that the Devil is a destroyer, not a creator – there must be something, some weakness or hint of corruption, something that he can get his teeth into in order to work his evil. It's like he's a sculptor, and he needs some foul, stinking clay he can shape into abominable graven images.
"So where might the Devil find this foul clay to work his evil with? Well, my friends, we need look no farther than the first page of the First Book, the Holy Bible itself! In Genesis 3:1 we read of the Serpent who taught Eve how to tempt Adam. But to tempt him with what, you ask? Why, with sin, of course, with the very first sin. And what was that first, that original sin? It was the sin of lust, my friends, the temptation of the flesh! In our Lord's prayer itself, in Matthew 6:13, Jesus begs God to protect us from such temptation. But if Adam, the first man, the great-granddaddy of us all, could be tempted like that, what chance did this weak-minded criminal have in his struggles with a lust-soaked world?
"For our world is indeed soaked and steeped in lust! You need only visit any of our great American shopping malls to see why the Devil has been so busy. As you make your way among the shops you can't fail to notice the legions of young girls who congregate there, traipsing about in clothing that vilely mocks all standards of Christian decency! In First Timothy 2:9, we read that women are to adorn themselves in 'modest apparel', in 'flowing' garments that do not reveal the contours of the body. Is that what we see on these girls at the mall? No, my friends, it is not; instead, we are shocked to see them playing the harlot without shame in short skirts and tight dungarees, hurling modesty aside and into the face of God! Is it any wonder, my friends, that God has given the Devil free reign to corrupt Christian men against their will, and to incite them to lustful deeds? Is it any wonder that the permissiveness and immorality encouraged by the atheists and secular humanists in the liberal media have caused our young girls to behave in ways that invite attack and bring God's wrath down upon them? Look to your daughters, Christians, and teach them the ways of the Lord: for I say unto you, Christian values, Christian decency, is the only defense against the evil loosed upon our world by the fallen Eve!
"Thank you for your attention, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Ours is indeed a wicked world, beset with sorrow. But with your prayers and your generous donations to our ministry we shall not fail to make America over into the shining Christian Nation on the Hill – one nation under God! – that she is destined to be!
Tom awoke groggily in the morning, aware of something pressing into his back. He rolled over and looked towards Laura. Then he saw that Becky was lying between them, sound asleep, curled up in her pink Dr Dentons, her thumb in her mouth. Laura was already awake, resting her cheek in her hand as she looked down at their child.
"Bad dream, I guess," she said. "Enough to drive a five-year-old to a safer harbor."
Looking down, Tom thought that the way his and Laura's bodies were curved around the little girl did in fact suggest a protective harbor, warm, impregnable walls against all harm that might threaten her. They watched her until it was finally time to get up and face the day.