| DEMONS AND DARKNESS
| Sixteen-year-old Harmony
Hammerschmidt had fantasized several different ways of killing Uncle
Bob in the three years since being abandoned by her mother on his
the top floor of a three-flat on Chicago’s far west side. In fact she
entertained three murderous fantasies specifically.
| The first involved killing
only Uncle Bob. She would simply wait for some Saturday afternoon when
Aunt Rosie was gone with the kids, Melissa, 12, and Jerry, 13, and with
Uncle Bob passed out drunk on the couch, beat him to death with Jerry’s
baseball bat and flee.
| The second fantasy entailed
the exact same scenario with the difference that Harmony would hide in
the hall with the bat until Aunt Rosie returned with the two monsters.
In the moment of stunned surprise when the three found the hideously
beaten Uncle Bob, she’d sneak up from behind and with a series of quick
wacks crush their skulls as well.
The third fantasy
locking the two brats in their bedrooms with wedges under their doors,
dousing Uncle Bob and Aunt Rosie with gasoline as they slept, flipping
lighted match on them and bolting out the backdoor.
With a sigh
Harmony finished peeling the last potato, cut it up into the water in
the pan on the stove and turned on the heat before Aunt Rosie’s squawk
the bubble of her dark dream. “You’d better check that roast again. You
know how your Uncle Bob gets when you overcook the meat,” she warned
from the couch where she lay sprawled like a beached whale 16 hours a
day puffing cigarette after cigarette while watching an endless stream
of soap operas and TV talk shows.
“Yes, Aunt Rosie,”
Harmony sighed. Turning to the oven, she opened it and peered inside.
Like she could tell anything from looking at the roast! Like
she had x-ray vision and could see through to the center to see if it
was properly pink! She had followed the directions in the cookbook and
if Uncle Bob or Aunt Rosie didn’t like the way it came out Aunt Rosie
could start making dinner herself for a change. And breakfast, too. And
Melissa’s and Jerry’s school lunches as well.
| “How’s it look?” Aunt Rosie
asked the moment Harmony closed the oven and turned to the pile of
dirty dishes in the sink.
| “Like a roast in an oven,”
Harmony wearily replied, turned on the water and squirted dish washing
liquid into the sink.
| “Don’t get smart with me,
young lady, or you can go find somewhere else to live. We were nice
enough to take you in when your mother dumped you, now you just shut
your mouth and earn your keep. Understand?”
| “Yes, Aunt Rosie.”
Auntie and Uncle weren’t looking out for the abandoned child, they were
using her. And sadistically abusing her. In fact the whole family was.
And enjoying it immensely.
| It had been a chilly, wet,
late September afternoon a month before her thirteenth birthday
when her mother had told her to go up to Uncle Bob’s and wait, assuring
Harmony she’d only be a few minutes. The “few minutes” turned out to be
forever. Harmony identified her from a police photograph a week later.
Her mother had died in a car wreck somewhere in Texas.
| Harmony never really
knew her father, but had the vague memory of him that a three-year-old
might, like the time he rapped her across the mouth for spilling her
milk. Perhaps it was her most vivid childhood memory because that was
the morning he left and never came back.
| That had been 13 years ago. But
now, at 16, Harmony Hammerschmidt was a “looker” with large, blue-green
eyes, even white teeth, full sensuous lips and a dimpled smile that
melted the heart of every boy at school. A slender, blossoming figure
and long golden locks the color and texture of young corn silk were her
| Harmony heard the
door open and turned just as Jerry, Melissa and Uncle Bob burst into
the kitchen, the two kids jabbering excitedly about their day at Great
America Amusement Park. “You should’ve been there, Harmony,” Jerry
breathlessly exclaimed, “the corkscrew roller coaster was awesome!”
Melissa put in.
| Forcing a smile, Harmony
nodded, inadvertently catching the familiar wicked gleam suddenly
alight in Uncle Bob’s eye. Damn. She shouldn’t have smiled. It seemed
to incite him. Harmony studiously turned back to the dirty dishes
heaped in the sink but it was too late. In three quick strides Uncle
Bob crossed the linoleum-tiled floor and with an open-handed slap,
smacked Harmony hard, her head bonking off the corner of the kitchen
cabinet. Bursting into tears and clutching the side of her head,
Harmony turned away sobbing, “What was that for?”
| Snotnosed smirks on
their faces, Melissa and Jerry giggled while Uncle Bob shrilly
bellowed, “That’s for whatever you did today that I don’t know about!
your ballin’ and finish your chores or I’ll really give you something
to cry about!”
| “As a matter of fact the
little smartass was getting sassy with me just before you came in,”
Aunt Rosie squawked from the couch, “so she had that one coming
and she knows it!” To her children she said, “Jerry, Melissa, you’ve
got some time before dinner so let’s hit the books.”
| With a last cruel giggle for
Harmony, both kids said, “Okay, ma,” and scampered off to get their
schoolbooks. Returning to the living room, they plopped down at the
coffee table in front of the TV.
| Fixing himself a tall
whiskey and soda, Uncle Bob called from the kitchen, “Wanna drink,
| “Sure,” she
called back. “Heavy on the ice.”
| Harmony finished with the
dishes, set the table, opened a can of cat food and plopped it on a
saucer, set it on the floor near the door by the water dish and kitty
litter box, tossed a salad, whipped up mashed potatoes, put it on the
table with the gravy and peas and called out none too loudly, “Dinner’s
| Taking their places at the
table, the family was quiet, tense, every anxious eye on the master of
the house as he sliced roast beef. Four slices later Uncle Bob laid the
carving knife and fork down and glared at Harmony for one long, silent
| “Yes?” Harmony’s whimper
was barely above a whisper.
| “The meat is overcooked again.
It’s supposed to be pink in the middle,” he informed her evenly.
| With head bowed and tears
welling up, Harmony replied in a voice that trembled, “I’m sorry, Uncle
Bob. I cooked it three minutes less than last time.”
| “Well, Harmony, I’m sorry,
too. But until you can learn to make a decent roast I don’t think you
| There was an almost audible
sigh of relief around the table. There would be no violence
tonight. No plates of food breaking off Harmony’s head or the roast
across the room. Uncle Bob apparently hadn’t enough whiskey in him
| “Okay,” Harmony replied
gratefully. The miserable creep. He knew roast beef was one of her
favorites. But at least he hadn’t thrown it at her. Nor was she being
sent to her room. At least she could still have some of the mashed
potatoes and gravy, peas and salad, thank you. She was hungry.
| After dinner the rest of the
family gathered before the TV while Harmony cleared the table and
washed, dried, and put away the dishes. Then, from the edge of the
living room she timidly asked, “Is it all right if I take a shower,
|Sprawled in his favorite easy chair, Uncle Bob looked up. Slurping his fourth whiskey and soda, he had to think about that one. “Okay,” he grunted, “but don’t take too long. You’re always wasting water.”|
| “I won’t,” Harmony
promised and immediately headed down the hall to the bathroom.
| She carefully chose
the times when she requested a shower. With the bathroom doorknob
broken off and not even a hook on the inside, her cousin Jerry, and
sometimes her uncle, had a habit of coming in while she was showering
the flimsiest of pretexts drawing the shower curtain aside with a
need to talk to her. One time her uncle even grabbed her arm and told
to turn around and look at him. Now with everyone gathered in front of
TV maybe they would leave her alone.
| But it was not to
be. The sadistic games the entire family played on her were beginning
to develop sexual overtones. God only knew where these games would end.
Thirteen-year-old Jerry had his own ideas about that. So did Uncle Bob.
Stumbling into the kitchen to fix his fifth whiskey and soda, he
the dirty cat food saucer on the floor. Immediately enraged and
he slammed his empty highball glass on the counter.
| Everyone looked up
from the TV, his wife asking with a frown, “What’s wrong?”
| “Harmony didn’t finish
washing the dishes.”
| “Well get her butt out here
and make her finish! She knows better than that!”
| “Ya damn right I will!”
Uncle Bob huffed indignantly and stormed down the hall. Kicking the
bathroom door open with a bang, he stomped into the room, snatched the
curtain aside, grabbed Harmony by the hair and yanked her
from the shower. Marching her down the hall and through the living room
to the kitchen, he stopped in the doorway, pointed at the dirty saucer
and screamed, “What’s that!?”
| “What?” Harmony cried, burning
with humiliation, the giggles of Jerry and Melissa in her ears as the
two scrambled to their feet to watch.
| “The cat dish!” Uncle Bob
shouted, “you left the dirty cat dish on the floor!”
| Naked, wet, shivering,
Harmony tearfully explained, “But it still had cat food in it when I
| “Well it doesn’t now! Wash
it, and when you’re done with that mop up this water you dripped all
over the floor.” Roughly shoving her, he ordered, “Now get to it!”
|Tearful, humiliated, resentment burning in her soul, the whole smirking family watching, a naked Harmony snatched up the saucer, washed it, crossed to the closet, retrieved a mop and mopped up the water, then fled wailing down the hall to the bedroom she shared with Melissa. Diving beneath the covers, she pulled a pillow over her head and lay their sobbing.|
* * *
| Tossing and turning, Harmony
groaned. With quickened breath she managed to stifle a shriek and sat
bolt-upright in bed, the sheets damp, her face hot. The nightmare of
Uncle Bob and Jerry taking turns at her while Aunt Rosie and Melissa
egged them on was too close for comfort. Suddenly Harmony knew what she
had to do.
| It was dark. Quiet. After a
moment she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and looked at the
bedside clock glowing amber. Eleven-thirty-five. In the shadowy gloom
three feet away she could just make out the lump of covers that was
in the other twin bed.
slipping from the blankets, Harmony quickly dressed in the dark,
with jeans, rust-colored sweatshirt, and sneakers. Being careful not to
rattle the coat hangers, she took her denim jacket from the closet,
it open on the floor, tossed an extra change of clothes on it, her
hairbrush and Bible, folded the jacket into a neat little bundle and
tied it off with the sleeves.
|Quiet as a church mouse Harmony picked up the bundle, crept to the door, opened it a crack and peeked out. Aside from the steady ticking of the grandfather clock all was dark and still. With a glance at Melissa she stepped out, eased the door closed and slipped down the hall to the kitchen.|
| Setting her bundle on the table,
Harmony tiptoed to the utensils drawer, slowly pulled it open and
in the faint glow of the street lamp outside the window, withdrew a
butcher knife. The same knife Uncle Bob had used that evening to carve
the roast. Smiling with the thought, Harmony turned to the kitchen
unlocked and opened it a crack, then turned and crept back down the
clutching the carving knife.
| At Uncle and Auntie’s
bedroom door she hesitated momentarily, listening, took a deep breath
and gently eased it open. The darkened room was filled with the
snarfling snore of Uncle Bob and the labored breathing of fat Aunt
Rosie. The smell in the warm, closed-up room was revolting like rotting
butter. But that didn’t matter now. Nor would it ever matter again.
| Barely breathing, Harmony
tiptoed to the mirrored dresser where Uncle Bob always laid his keys,
change, and wallet. Keeping her eyes on Uncle Bob, Harmony snagged the
wallet, retreated to the hall, eased the door closed and crept back to
kitchen. Setting the knife on the table, she stuck the wallet in her
pocket, grabbed her bundle, and gently closing the door behind her,
out into the balmy May night.
| She hurried through the
backyard to the garage to the alley where she paused long enough
to dig through the wallet. Finding $43 dollars, Harmony pocketed the
cash, tossed the wallet in a dumpster and set off at a brisk pace down
| At Grand Avenue she turned
west. Without a specific destination in mind all Harmony knew
was that she was going to put as much distance as fast as possible
herself and Uncle Bob. And she damn well might not stop until she felt
the Pacific Ocean lapping at her toes.
| Harmony had been hoofing it
at a steady, determined pace for nearly an hour and it was well after
midnight when she made River Grove, the first suburb west of the city
proper. There, a seedy-looking, unshaven man with long, greasy hair and
a dirty gray trench coat suddenly reversed direction, crossed Grand
Avenue and started following her.
| He probably
forgot something, just remembered, and is going back to get it, Harmony
silently assured herself. But then, why had he crossed the street?
She picked up the pace a little.
| When Harmony checked again, her
increased speed had not increased the distance between her and the man.
In fact the distance between them had decreased. Okay, Harmony
said to herself, fake him out. At the next corner she turned right onto
a residential street. If the man followed she was going to walk up to a
house like it was hers. That would put him off for sure.
| Walking quickly, in fact
just short of a run, the next time Harmony looked back she was shocked.
Not only had he followed her, but he must have run to catch up the
moment she had been out of sight around the corner. With fear-borne
adrenaline pounding through her veins Harmony looked back again and her
heart leapt to her throat. Only some 20 feet away, the dirty, unshaven
man was running straight for her!
|Tucking her bundle under one arm like a football, Harmony bolted across the street, jumped a picket fence, ran between two houses and cut across to the next block with nary a look back.|
| SCREWED AND TATTOOED
|As the prosecutor droned on Quentin caught himself dozing for the third time. He struggled with a wide yawn and made a halfhearted attempt to straighten out of his slouch, the admonishment of his mother to sit up straighter in court echoing through his mind like a song that wouldn’t quit. “It might help,” she had said over and over again during the past two weeks of the trial. And she really believed it. That was the funny part. Quentin smiled with the thought.|
| The world called him black
but he was actually the color of hammered bronze. He had a wide,
friendly smile that revealed two rows of even white teeth, a prominent
nose with large, flared nostrils and deep brown eyes set close
together. His jet-black hair was close-cropped with twin lightning
bolts that looked more like Nazi “SS” insignia carved to the scalp on
the left side just
above the ear. Despite his mother’s pleas he had refused to alter his
hair style for the court sessions. “My haircut don’t matter!” he had
insisted. He was dressed neatly if simply in a tan suit,
dress shirt open at the neck, black loafers and dark brown socks. He
| Having recently completed a
three-year stint in the army, 21-year-old Quentin was already
registered to attend college in the fall. Although football-player-size
with a chest like a beer barrel and biceps that could break a rusty
chain, he wouldn’t be going out for football. Or basketball either. He
was an artist. He
sculpted in clay and was good at his art because he loved it. Because,
in a way, it was something only he could do. Something that he
in his mind and shaped with his hands, lovingly, carefully, until it
| Quentin felt an elbow
nudging his side. Snapping awake, blinking against the harsh light,
he suddenly sat up straighter. “Quentin,” his lawyer whispered, “the
judge is addressing you. Answer him!”
| “I said,” the judge
repeated tediously, “have you anything to say for yourself before I
read the verdict?”
| The verdict? Oh yes, he had
plenty to say. But what good would it do? Would it change anything? The
judge was white, the jurors were white, his lawyer was white, and
the prosecutor was white. Quentin felt very black in a white world. He
locked eyes with the judge and slowly shook his head.
|“Very well, then,” the judge responded, looking down at Quentin over the tops of his bifocals. He picked up some papers and began reading in a tired monotone.…|
| The bar was packed, wall to
wall people. A good, hard rockin’ band was kickin’ out some heavy,
foot-stompin’ jams. Although Quentin was the only black in the place he
didn’t feel conspicuous. Having grown up in Wheaton, a predominantly
upper-class suburb of Chicago, he was quite comfortable around large
of whites. In fact most of his friends were white. And other than a few
racial slurs and fistfights years ago when a child in grade school,
rarely had any trouble. Tonight would be the exception. The exception
would change his life forever.
| Wendel Globstuel,
assistant manager of a Cicero super-market, mentioned to a friend that
the nigger was looking for trouble just by being in the place. Wendel
looked tubby in his bright-yellow Shazamm! T-shirt, and his
horn-rimmed glasses and mustache were comical. He drove an SUV that
in second and hadn’t had an oil change in 38,000 miles. And Wendel
he was hot stuff. He didn’t know his foxy looking, just a pinch
wife cheated on him Friday nights when he worked late. And he didn’t
she was about to goad him into a fight he would lose.
| Being 6' 2"
and well-built, Quentin moved among the tables and people like a
friendly giant, nodding and waving to friends as he made his way
through the crowd. He stopped to talk to some friends and didn’t hear
him a nigger, nor did he see Wendel’s wife dip her napkin in her scotch
and soda, wad it up, and whip it at him, catching him splat on the left
| Quentin turned to see
who the culprit was, immediately dismissing Wendel and his group. They
were much too old for such nonsense. But right next to them were three
guys and their dates, all looking barely old enough to be in the
place, all swigging beer, their table littered with numerous empty
Dragging a hand across his cheek confirming the assault, he asked in a
knowing voice, “Okay, so who the wise guy?”
| They shook their
heads, motioning to the neighboring table. Just then another wet,
wadded-up napkin bounced off his other cheek. Quentin whirled around
and stared at Wendel and his group. Six middle-aged adults. Drunk,
laughing, Wendel’s wife in the act of wetting another napkin in her
drink. Catching Quentin’s eye, Wendel snarled loudly, “What’re you
lookin’ at, boy!?”
| For a moment Quentin was
confused. He hadn’t asked for it. “Someone threw somethin’ at me,” he
said in a low, embarrassed voice.
| “What, boy!?”
Wendel yelled, angrily shoving his chair back and standing up.
| Pointing at Wendel’s wife,
Quentin firmly replied, “The chick threw somethin’ at me.”
| “Don’t talk to my wife like
that, nigger!” Wendel bellowed for the audience that was quickly
|“I didn’t say nothin’ ’bout your wife.” Quentin retorted.|
| Figuring he had the kid on
the run, Wendel made a move towards him, fists clenched. “Apologize to
my wife, boy!” he screamed hoarsely.
| Quentin glowered.
Surprising some and bringing satisfied smiles to all, he looked the
man dead in the eye and said evenly, “I ain’t your boy. Your boy’s at
| “Don’t smart-mouth me,
nigger,” Wendel snapped, “or I’ll knock you right on your ass so help
me God!” Then he quickly returned to his seat.
|Glaring down at the man, Quentin stood with hands on hips, legs apart, “Then step outside, bitch,” he said tightly.|
| “You wanna fight?”
Wendel asked, his voice rising with the sudden realization that he was
in this alone. Then he got a bright idea. “Okay,” he said with renewed
confidence, “I’ll go outside and fight with you.”
| “Fine,” Quentin replied,
then turned on his heel and made his way through the crowd for the exit.
A grinning Wendel took a
moment to look around his little entourage. They smiled back at him.
half-shake of his head he rose from the table and sighed, “Ah well,
I’ll just have to teach this nigger a lesson.” With that he turned and
shoved his way through the crowd.
| Wendel was a
43-year-old wimp. He went to the toilet and combed his hair. He
returned a little less aggressively, dusting his hands together and
saying proudly, “I guess that takes care of him.”
| “Oh Wendel!”
his wife blubbered, slurping at her scotch.
chuckled. “What the heck, it was nothing.”
| Yes it was.
It was cold outside. Quentin gave the man three minutes and when he
didn’t show, yanked the door open and went back inside muttering, “I
ain’t puttin’ up with this bull!” He made his way straight to Wendel’s
table and ordered, “Get yo’ ass outside, bitch!”
| Knowing a fight in the bar
would be broken up in a matter of seconds, without warning Wendel leapt
from his chair and lunged at Quentin. They toppled backwards across a
table and crashed to the floor, scattering drinks and guests in all
directions. The band played on.
| Wendel came
out on top astride Quentin. Punching him square in the face with his
right, he was winding up for the second punch when Quentin managed to
give him the heave-ho. Struggling to regain his dominance, Wendel
slipped in the mud and the blood and the beer spilt on the floor,
planting his fat face square on the jagged edges of a broken glass
bottom. Trying to get
up, blood spewing from the ghastly wound, he slipped yet again and
on his butt where he sat shrieking like a woman, “My eye! God help me,
I lost my eye!”
| Slipping and sliding
in the puddles of disgust and broken glass, a blood-splattered Quentin
just managed to regain his footing when four cops came through the door
like gangbusters, two of which immediately grabbed Quentin from behind,
slammed him face-down across a table and snapped the cuffs on. The
third helped Wendel to a chair while the fourth called for an ambulance
his portable. And before you could say Jack Splat it was all over.
| “Hey, officer!”
one onlooker called, “the black kid didn’t start it, the other guy did.”
| “Yeah,” someone else
| Ignoring them, the
officer who called for the ambulance shouted, “Okay, everybody clear
the way, I’ve got an injured man here!” He moved forward clearing a
through the crowd while his partner followed, guiding a stunned and
Wendel by the elbow.
| The other two cops yanked Quentin
to his feet and shoved him roughly towards the door with a terse,
“Okay, man, let’s go.”
| Quentin suddenly sat up straighter
in his chair. “What?” he whispered hoarsely.
| “Ten years,” his attorney said
drily. “You’ve got ten years in Stateville for assault with a deadly
weapon. You’re going to Joliet. You shouldn’t have taken his eye out
with that broken glass bottom. If it hadn’t been for that maybe I
gotten you off.” The young court-appointed attorney looked down at his
hands. “I’m sorry, kid, I did my best.”
| Quentin was
frightened, his eyes wide with disbelief. “How long do an appeal take?”
he asked as he wiped his sweaty hands on his trousers.
| His attorney was already
packing up. “We’ve exhausted all our appeals, Quentin,” he said
heavily, truly sad he had lost because he sensed Quentin had been
truth all along. “Unless new evidence comes up,” he paused, hating to
say it, “there’s nothing more I can do.”
| This was it? Prison?
Quentin could hear his mother crying somewhere. “But I didn’t do
nothin’!” he cried, throwing his hands up in exasperation. “I told ya,
the man fell on the broken glass bottom, I didn’t stick ’em
| The judge immediately
rapped his gavel, declaring loudly, “Quiet, son, this court is
|Then, as if caught in a nightmare, his heart sinking like a stone, officers were leading Quentin from the courtroom to a waiting van.|
|To see more works by this author|