Frank Spooner’s Last Words
by Charles C. Cole
Chu Stillwater, former weekend anchorman turned daytime reality host, adjusted his plaid clip-on tie. The lights felt football-stadium bright, and the room was ridiculously small, not much larger than the interview room at a police station.
Frank Spooner, convicted murderer, lay strapped on a sophisticated operating table, as prepared as he could be to meet his personal almighty. He was hooked up. He was blindfolded. In a moment, he would be broadcast LIVE.
“Before we start,” said Frank in a dry whisper, “promise me there’s nothing in my teeth; I don’t want to embarrass myself on national TV.” He smiled extra-big for easy inspection. The chin strap hung loose, waiting for the end of the interview.
“You look fine. Like a movie star. I wish I had your cleft chin.”
“Let’s do this, for America. And make sure my mom gets the check.”
Chu settled down into his pre-adjusted leather stool and leaned forward, the image of confidentiality. “I apologize ahead of time if I come across as a jerk when the camera’s running.”
The director called out, “We’re LIVE in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.”
“We don’t have time to hear your full life story, Frank. And, honestly, we’re not that interested in the good things you did. Because, sorry to say, they were pretty much eclipsed by the bad, weren’t they? So, for the viewing audience, tell us, what was the last night of your life like? How does a convicted killer on death row spend his last precious hours?”
“We made a deal,” said Frank, “and the warden stuck to it. I figured by not appealing, I was saving the state a quarter of a million dollars easy, money that could be used to help school kids and disadvantaged families. All I wanted was a home-cooked meal and the love of a good woman for one night and a nice set of clothes — name brand, you know — to go out with a little class. Not dignity, but class.
“And the guards, I just wanted them to treat me, the last week, like a real human being. No spitting on my food. No shoving me on the stairs. No bragging about the obscene things they’re going to do to my corpse. Right: you won, I lost. So be a good winner, not a sore winner.”
“Did you get what you wanted, Frank? Was it everything you hoped for?”
“I don’t know if this woman was a professional, but she was a complete stranger, and she had no reason to be so generous with her time and with her affection. Maybe she just felt sorry for me because it was my last night in this world.
“And the meal, oh my God! I never felt so stuffed. I ate like my Uncle Vin at Thanksgiving. It was embarrassing the way I shoveled it in. I meant to write a ‘thank you’ note to the chef. I just wanted a little Italian food: gnocchi, like my mom makes, you know, with home-made sauce with sausage chunks tossed in.
“And the clothes! I don’t know what kind of deal they got; somebody snipped the labels. I think that was a little rude, to be honest. But I’m pretty sure that these are some fancy threads.
“I’m sorry that it’s a one-way ticket for the clothes, diaper or not. They tell me you kind of ‘let yourself go’ when the juice runs through you. But maybe they could sell them online and give the money to charity, my parting gift to humanity.”
“Any remorse for the crimes that you committed, for the people’s lives you shattered? I have to ask.”
“Come on!” Frank snarled. “That’s not what we’re here to talk about. But yeah, I’m sorry. I was impulsive and stupid. I didn’t do it with intent, with anger. I’m not a serial killer. I’m a violent volcano; it’s in my nature. It was just... Something snapped.
“Oh, well. Now I get to think about the last bad thing I ever did: thanks a lot. Damn, excuse my coarse language. And now, this is it. This is the moment. The priest wanted to give me last rites, but we both know I don’t deserve them. Just doing his job for Jesus, I guess.”
The production assistant, squatting low in the corner of the room, off-camera, flashed both hands thrice: thirty seconds of air time to go. Chu nodded, hoping it came across as “thoughtfully compassionate” to the folks at home.
“And you had a good time last night, Frank? Was it worth it?”
“Yeah. Sure. And this guard, Philly, he taught me how to play backgammon. I never played backgammon before in my life. It was amazing. I was pretty good, too. He didn’t have to do that.
“You know it’s a tricky thing, if you ask me, what they do here, meting out justice but doing it in a quality way, through negotiation. These people, they’re getting their vengeance, any minute now, too. So I go out with a smile, that’s it. Does that take the sting out of it? I’m still losing my life, you know.”
“Any last words?” Chu asked.
“The lady — I don’t know her name — she was an artist, had me crying like a baby, half-mother and half-prostitute and half-shrink. I’m afraid I lost my composure and I really wasn’t performing at my best, but I want her to know it wasn’t her fault. She tried awfully hard, stubborn like Inspector Javert in that musical prison movie. I was distracted with the big day. I don’t want to gush in front of the cameras, so tell her, tell her God’s got all sort of angels, and she should count herself one of them.”
“This is Chu Stillwater. We’re going to cut to a commercial while the lethal injection is applied. When we come back, we’ll talk to the experts. Though we don’t condone or forgive what he did in this life, we wish Frank Spooner safe passage into the next.”
Copyright © 2014 by Charles C. Cole