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Capital Justice

It wasn't enough that he terrorized me, that he'd beaten me badly enough to require hospitalization more than once -- he had to debase me, too. He spit on me and called me a worm for cowering before him. Well, I knew precisely when the worm turned, I just didn't let on. It wasn't cowardice anymore, but a matter of choosing the right moment to assert myself.

In this life, timing is critical. Sometimes, it's even lethal.

***

My escort gestured for me to follow him. "Right this way, Mrs....uh--"

"Bailey," I said.

Was he kidding? Who could forget that name, considering why we were there?

"Yes, Mrs. B--"

He couldn't bring himself to say it. He hadn't forgotten, he just didn't believe I was entitled to it now.

I took pity on him. "Why don't you just call me Joy?"

He looked shocked. Like I'd said something obscene. The irony of my name hadn't escaped me, either. There hadn't been much joy in my life since I was a young sound engineer in a studio where the great Scott Bailey had come to record a commercial, and turned my foolish little head.

"Yes...fine," my escort said. He mopped his brow with a limp, balled-up handkerchief. Not the first time he'd used it that morning. "Well, you can sit anywhere you like in this section...uh...,Joy. Except for the roped-off area, which is reserved for the media."

Naturally, the media would turn up in record numbers even for this milestone in the life of the inimitable Scott Bailey. Especially this one.

I settled into a seat that proved to be inappropriately comfortable, it seemed to me, and thought about that beating. Neither the first nor the last, certainly--but the one that had determined the future for all of us--me, Scott assuredly, and especially, Daniel.

***

I had frantically dialed 911. "My ex-husband is breaking down the door. Help me, please. If he gets in, he'll kill me this time for sure."

The dispatcher confirmed the address. She should have known it by heart, she'd heard my pleas often enough. Not that the police had ever stopped him.

The door burst open, spraying splinters from the shattered frame like a load of buckshot. Scott paused in the opening, his muscles pulsing. The massive physique you saw on the screen wasn't some camera trick, no stunt double, either. Scott Bailey's body was a lethal weapon.

Yet one real life aspect did differ from the movie version. That wasn't the sexy, smiling face of the People covers that loomed over me, but a more familiar and infinitely more frightening one. Rage had twisted the features of the public Scott Bailey into the monster I knew and feared.

Scott's fist shot at me like a projectile, too fast to duck. I heard my tooth crack, as pain radiated from it. Blood spurted everywhere.

"When you gonna get it, Joy? You belong to me. If I can't have you, nobody else better, either."

I shouldn't have said anything, but anger filled me, too. "Why do you always sound like a character in some Grade B movie, Scott?"

He didn't say anything, he just picked me up and hurled me at the wall. After that, I was too stunned to speak.

The sound of sirens drawing near gave Scott the signal to switch to his public personae. He flashed that famous grin to the patrolmen who approached the shattered door.

"Just a little family matter, boys," Scott said, giving his hair a rakish toss. "Nothing to worry about."
The younger officer hesitated. "Are you okay, ma'am?"

Scott fielded that one for me. "She's fine. Bet I don't have to tell you guys how hysterical women get around that time of the month." He punctuated his remarks with a conspiratorial wink.

Indecision still tugged at the younger officer's features, but his partner's loyalty wasn't the least bit divided; I heard him ask for Scott's autograph as my ex-husband led the men charged with protecting me back to their cars.

They had never objected to anything he did to me. Not now. Not even when he heated the Jacuzzi nearly to boiling and kept me there at gun-point until my skin blistered, while shouting, "Hot enough for you, Joy?"

They wouldn't take any action against him until he killed me, if then. Daniel was right. I'd never be free of Scott as long as he lived.

***

How funny that sounds echoed so loudly in here. Like a cathedral, or the bottom of a well. In a moment, I'd hear the sound of that Scott's door sliding open, of metal against metal.

My heart began to race. The thought of seeing him again, even where I knew he couldn't hurt me, caused bile to burn a path to my mouth.

Oh, God--wouldn't it ever end?


***

Ironically, it was Daniel Corrigan's presence in my life that gave me the incentive to free myself from Scott. Ironic because when Scott learned about Daniel, he tightened his hold on me. He could have his other women -- he had even during our marriage -- but I was his property. Not even a divorce decree could change that.

I often wished I had met Daniel first. But who was I kidding? Back then, I would have dismissed Daniel as a computer nerd. I wouldn't have noticed the caring in the steady, intelligent eyes, or laughed at the warm, humorous asides that flowed through his shy smile. Shallow as I was, I considered Scott Bailey's attributes the measure of a man.

Now I would give everything I'd ever have to be able to share with Daniel just a fraction of the time I squandered over Scott. Why do we always learn what matters when it's too late?

***

Two sets of footsteps approached now. One was Scott's--I'd take the sound of that thud to my grave. Fear still clutched my throat.

I felt all the eyes in the room on me rather than the door Scott would soon enter. I looked up, met a few of them. Even now, after all that had come out, some of them still blamed me for my role in bringing their beloved Scotty B. down.

What if, at the last moment, they found that none of them could bring themselves to condemn him? What would happen to me?

***

I didn't take a cent when I left Scott. All I wanted from him was my freedom. My old boss at the recording studio gave me my job back, even though computers had changed everything in the time I was gone. But I worked hard, and now I was the best engineer there. That was where I'd met Daniel. When he came to make some modifications to the sound system he had developed, I was ready for a good man.
Two days after that 911 call, Scott came to the studio. He was like a beloved king gracing his devoted subjects with his presence. His Highness sucked them in so well, that when he yanked me out of my chair by the hair, few even winced.

"My maid quit today, Joy," Scott said.

Employees were always leaving him. They felt the brunt of his temper as well, but the media never listened to their stories, either.

"It's your fault that I have to deal with this crap, Joy. If you were home where you belong, it'd be your job. So you're gonna clean my house until I can find someone else."

He dragged me out of there in front of everyone. I could see, from a few shocked faces, that some estimations of Scott dimmed then, but most of the eyes just avoided mine. Why do so many people prefer to align themselves with the bully rather than the victim? Does it make them feel less cowardly?

The worm turned in that instant. Daniel, who has an adage for everything, was always saying, "Joy, life is too short to live in fear." He should know.

In that moment, I could have stood up to Scott, and damn the consequences. But something else Daniel had said the night of the last beating also struck me. I knew I'd have to pick the right time and place and manner to strike back. I'd only get one shot.

So I didn't resist when Scott smacked me around in the parking lot. Nor when he pushed me out of the car in his driveway and threw his keys at my face. Instead, I debased myself by crawling to his house, where I vacuumed his floors, pulled the loose hairs from his brush, and cleaned a lot of blood from a shaving cut or a bloody nose from the sink. One last time.

I comforted myself with the memory of inflicting a small wound on Scott's hand when I grabbed for it to keep from being shoved from a moving car. But it wasn't enough.

***

Scott stepped through the door. Despite my control, I jerked. It was always a shock, when I hadn't seen him for a while, because I forgot how physically perfect he looked. I never forgot how twisted he was inside.

As if he'd let me.

He spotted me, and lunged. "You bitch -- you're why I'm here. But you'll see. They'll listen to me -- I'm Scott Bailey. I'll kill you, Joy."

His escorts had to restrain him or Scott would have carried out his threat. He seemed oblivious to the sounds of shock in his audience, obviously believing his faithful fans would forgive him any level of savagery. Well, why not? Most of them had often enough. But you'd think he'd remember what happened the last time he made threats against me in front of the few witnesses that took them seriously.
Though where would I be if he had?


***

Just days after my involuntary servitude in my ex-husband's home, I lay in Daniel's arms. Peace, the first I'd ever really know. I wished I could keep that feeling with me forever, and treasured it all the more because I could not. We hadn't made love that night; Daniel was too tired again. But it didn't matter -- we lived it.

"You see that I'm right, don't you, Joy? We have to do it. It's the only way you'll be free," Daniel said.

"I can't bear to think what it'll do to --"

He put his fingers to my lips. I tried to be strong, but one tear rolled down my cheek. Daniel wiped it away with a kiss.

"Life's too short for regrets, Joy. Promise me you'll remember that."

I nodded that I would, and I would try to make it true.

"Why don't you get us some of that champagne? Let's toast your impending freedom."

"Now...?" I could hear my own voice quivering.

But the light in Daniel's eyes, when he nodded, was sure and serene.

I went to the dresser, where I'd left the champagne bucket when I came to bed. As I listened to the sounds of Daniel taking the remote in his hand, I tried to compose myself, but my emotions were raw.
A shot suddenly blasted through the closet door. I turned back to the bed in time to see Daniel's frail body hurled against the headboard. He didn't move again.

I couldn't say when I started screaming, just that I was still screaming when the police finally arrived. They found me back on the bed, clutching Daniel's lifeless body, his blood smeared over both of us.


Despite his attorney's claim that the police had rushed to judgment, the case against Scott was strong. All those 911 calls established the motive. The trace evidence of hair and fibers showed he had been in my closet, even without my incoherent statement about seeing Scott flee the room after the shooting. A few drops of Scott's blood, found on my bedroom rug--a room he'd claimed never to have entered--which a cut on his hand could have produced, further damned him. And I gave the police the tape I'd made of our last conversation, in which Scott threatened to kill both Daniel and me. They even found a rifle smeared with his fingerprints tossed in the yard.

The clincher proved to be Scott's attempt to establish an alibi. He claimed to be at home in the company of the latest addition to his entourage. Apparently, neither of them expected a California Highway Patrolman to come forward to claim a copy in his ticket book proved, at the time of the shooting, the yes-man had been fifteen miles away getting a speeding ticket.

Still, the case wasn't a slam-dunk. He was their beloved Scotty B., after all. At the start of the trial, hero-worship glazed the jurors' eyes. But as it went on, they listened and watched. When they returned from deliberating and refused to meet Scott's insistent eyes, I knew we had chance.

Though no one had ever believed me before, those twelve good men and women did -- and found Scott James Bailey guilty of murder in the first degree.

Justice for Daniel, and for me.

***

"Dead man walking." That was what the guard had shouted when he took Scott from his cell. I might believe it when I saw it.

It sure wasn't true now. It took four guards to pull a kicking-and-screaming Scott into what they call the Green Room at San Quentin Prison. Eventually, they managed to strap him down, though they didn't silence him. His repeated roars that he was innocent were loud enough to drown out the rising sounds of nervous agitation in the observation room, even after the chamber had been sealed.

I watched the warden's hand hover over the phone at his side. The Governor could still call with a reprieve. It wasn't over yet.

The sight of the doctor inserting the lethal injection drip into Scott's vein stunned us all. I held my breath, though my heart pounded in my ears. Silence fell over the room like a shroud.

Scott said no more, but his eyes found mine and bore into them like lasers. My own answered with a defiance he had never seen, sending a message only he could read. Our eyes remained locked in that struggle--until his lids began to droop, and his head slumped forward. I watched his chest fall. It never rose again.

I didn't exhale until the doctor emerged to declare Scott James Bailey -- celebrity charmer and wife beater -- dead.


***

The guard who had escorted me into the observation chamber on Death Row at San Quentin returned.
"The warden has arranged for you to leave through the back gate. If you'll just come with me, Mrs.--"

He still couldn't bring himself to address me by the great man's name. To his mind, despite the evidence, I had used the State to kill my ex-husband.

How funny -- he was right.

I had.


I flew back to Los Angeles that day, and holed up in my house, and waited. For what, I couldn't say. Some world crisis, another media event -- anything that would drive the interest in Scott Bailey from the front pages.

It didn't take long. It would have angered Scott to know how quickly the public forgot him. To be sure the circus had left town, I tested the waters. I announced my intention to take a long driving trip, rattling off a varied itinerary to any member of the media who would listen. No one cared. Joy Bailey was yesterday's news.

Only then, did I break into the storage space I'd sealed over the night Daniel died. I removed the rifle stand I had set up in the closet according to Daniel's instructions, and the remote control he'd used to operate it, and put them into the trunk of my car. The stand found a place next to the vacuum cleaner bag I'd taken from Scott's house the day he made me clean it, which I had used to create evidence of his presence in my bedroom. I also tossed in the small vial of blood I'd scraped from his sink.

I removed the master tapes from which I'd made that final damning threat that worked against Scott in court. I'd been taping him for years in the hopes that someone would take his threats seriously. The volume had never impressed anyone. I thought one specific threat, obviously carried out, might work better. It had. Since Scott had always put my abilities down, no one knew what a good sound engineer I'd become. With my skills and Daniel's equipment, not even the experts knew that tape had been spliced.
I planned to take all of the things I'd used to build a case against Scott, and rent a boat somewhere along the coast, and drop them all in the deepest part of the ocean.

Then I'd make a quick call to Daniel's old boyhood friend, now a Highway Patrol officer, to thank him for writing a speeding ticket on a car that had been stashed in a garage miles away. He risked his job for me. Not that it would ever come out. The perennial house guest has built a talk show career from it. He'll tell anyone how he tried to give his good buddy, Scott Bailey, an alibi, only he forgot about the ticket. By now, he probably believed it himself.

I checked the storage area one last time before I'd reseal it with drywall and paint. Funny, but there was a cassette tape in the corner that I hadn't put there. I popped it into my tape deck. Tears sprang to my eyes when I heard Daniel's voice.

"If you're listening to this, Joy, then our plan must have worked, and you're free from Scott forever. Don't fret about me. We both knew how fast the cancer was spreading. Given the choice of spending those last days in agony, or using them to give you a better life -- there was no choice."

I clutched Daniel's tape to my chest, trying to convince myself it would be okay to keep his last message. But I knew it would have to be dumped with the rest.

What I'd always cherish was the knowledge that Daniel had loved me enough to trade his last days for my future. I'd also have his personal clichés to guide me for the rest of my life.

One sprang to mind. "Nuts to living well, Joy. Take it from a dying man -- just plain living is the best revenge."

Daniel was right. I would lord over Scott that I was alive while he was dead for the rest of my days, wherever he was. As if there could be any doubt.

Hot enough for you, Scotty B.?
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