a patsy: the unofficial story
dale shigella smiles. ‘that sal,’ he says. ‘he was a character. maybe cruder than most people around here liked, but i always thought he was a good one.’ shigella resumes his reclined position in his chair as he reaches back into his fonder memories of america’s most recent convicted assassin.
‘there was the time i got called up to his floor because he had accidentally microwaved his breakfast burrito with the foil still on. when i opened that door, man, did the smoke come pourin’ out!’
‘of course he never directly fessed up to it, but he came up to me later on that day after the fire department had gone and asked to make sure everything was ok. kind of like a child would. i said, ‘it’s gonna be fine, sal,’ and i could see how relieved he was.’
dale laughs and sips his coffee.
‘he was always good for a laugh too. and not just the unintentional kind, though he was always unlucky.’
‘he had this joke about mr. gilchrest’s wife that’d make most women’s skin crawl, but some of the guys just loved it.’
‘the best though was when mr. gilchrest’s assistant–his boss’s assistant–came in while sal was in a full-on performance. he was up on the table thrusting his hips and kinda moaning and what not like he imagined mrs. gilchrest would. all the guys were laughing until we saw her. but sal didn’t see her at first. you know the story: after completely embarrassing and incriminating himself, sal finally saw the assistant. of course he hopped off the table and tried to apologize.’
‘i hear he had to pay the gal $800 to keep quiet. i hear sal’s wife didn’t like that payoff too much. he couldn’t catch a break.’
when asked about the details of the joke, dale just laughs and says, ‘i don’t know that my wife’d like me to ever mention anything about it where my name’d be tied to such filth. but between you and me, be sure to ask sal about it because it’s worth it.’
he sips his coffee and winks with a grin on his face. but in an instant dale’s smile leaves.
he tells me he’s remembering the senator’s body down on the stage. her head pouring blood.
‘even from across the street,’ he says, ‘you could see the lake of blood. at first everyone just looked at her, kind of uncertain what had happened. i mean, one minute she’s speaking and people are cheering and the next she’s down with a bleeding hole right in her face.’
he looks into his palms and shakes his head. he says, ‘and she’d been such a pretty old girl.’
‘so i guess all that silliness about sal is beside the point stuff now though,’ says dale. ‘they say he’s guilty of murder. that he’s some sort of terrorist. it’s tough to imagine, but this ain’t the first time i’ve been burned by the truth.’
back inside the walls of the penitentiary, sal’s elbow sits on the metal table and his palm is propping up his doughball round head. he looks tired. he says the solitary confinement is wearing on him.
‘i just don’t know what to do with myself in there,’ he says. ‘there’s nothin to do. sleep. stare at the walls. sleep. stare at the walls. i think about my kids and my wife a lot, but mostly that just hurts to do.’
‘after a while, my head always goes back to that day and ways to prove that it wasn’t me who did it. but,’ says sal, ‘i’ve already learned that’s gonna be tougher than i ever thought possible.’
‘that’s why i’m in here. that’s why the real killer’s still out there,’ says sal pointing to a place beyond the walls.
‘all i’m guilty of,’ he says, ‘is taking a crap in the boss’s private bathroom. i know it was wrong. i shouldn’t have done it. but if i knew that one mistake would land me here, i’d have worn a diaper.’