RAGE - a short story by Dr. Shahzad Rizvi
The actor pulled out the number nine club from the golf bag that he always kept on the passenger seat next to him, and swung it at the young man who had cut him off. With his car’s top down, the young man had no protection and the club hit him hard on the head. Blood oozing from his temple, he slumped over the steering wheel, setting his car horn blaring. Traffic stopped and everyone craned his neck to see what had happened. A paparazzo, who had been trailing the actor, jumped out of his car and began clicking photos from different angles. A local station’s news crew quickly materialized and began filming the scene.
The shriek of a siren grew closer and closer. A police car came into view, weaving its way through the crowd that had gathered. The policeman came out, took stock of the situation and shifted the body just enough to stop the horn. It now slumped to the side. He put his fingers on the wrist of the young man and shook his head. A few minutes later, the emergency squad arrived. After a preliminary examination, a medic announced, “He’s dead,” and took the body off to the Alexandria Hospital morgue where a pathologist would give an official report.
“I killed him! I killed him! Arrest me,” the actor shouted. The policeman did not need much coaxing. He read him his rights and took him away, with the paparazzi, the news crew and a mob of thrill-seekers in hot pursuit.
The police’s biggest challenge was not to find the killer, but to track down the next-of-kin of the young man who was cooling in the morgue. What they discovered was that he was 19, enrolled in the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University and lived with his mother. But where was the mother?
Barbara was visiting Scotland. She had had an exciting day of watching the Edinburgh Festival and an evening at the Tattoo. Now, she had returned to her hotel room and was feeling a little tired and lonely. She and her son had planned this trip for a long time, but at the last minute he had changed his mind. She wondered what he was doing at this time. It must be early evening in the Virginia suburbs. I’ll talk to him a little later after I settle down, she said to herself. She called room service and turned on the TV.
The first item on CNN News was about the film star Bob Nichols killing a young man in a road rage incident. This time, he’s really done it, Barbara thought, sadly. It’s really too bad. Ever since she was a young girl, she’d had a crush on the actor. Her son would often tease her, “What’s this with you and Bob Nichols? You worship him and he doesn’t even know you.” She’d laugh it off.
She was in the middle of putting on her nightgown when an image came on the television. She was stunned. She began to choke and couldn’t breathe. Then she screamed and couldn’t stop. There was an insistent knock on the door and the telephone rang steadily.
At that hour, there wasn’t a single flight from anywhere in Scotland to the United States. She took an overnight train to London and took the first morning flight to the U.S. Seeing her cry and refusing to take any food or drinks, the stewardesses grew concerned and kept coming around to ask if they could do anything. Even the captain came over to ask after her. Through her sobs, she said, “My son has been killed.” There was nothing anyone could do. There was nothing that could be done.
All through the flight, she saw images of her son’s life. He was such a cute, adorable little boy. There had been happy times, and there had been difficult times. It was not easy to be a single parent. And then there was the issue of having him out of wedlock. Even in this day and age, there were some people who had prejudices against it. She couldn’t care less about them, but she couldn’t bear her parents’ subtle and disapproving looks and comments. They did love her son, though.
The plane landed and people began to leave, but she sat in her seat lost in her thoughts. When finally she came out in the terminal, she was startled by a crowd of reporters. The flashing cameras were too much for her tired and sleepless eyes. Right and left, questions were being thrown at her, which she had no desire or energy to answer. When a reporter asked, “Barbara, will you be asking for compensation from Bob Nichols?” she felt like hitting him. She finally found refuge among her parents and friends who had been pushed to the side.
Leaving the airport, her mother said, “Forgive me, my dear, if I ever made you feel bad about having Bobby.”
“We just wanted to know who his father was. Poor child, he needed his father as he was growing up. He had me, of course, but it wasn’t the same,” added her father.
“But now, as they say, it’s water under the dam. It takes a long time to heal from the death of a child. We know; we suffered a lot when your brother died in the car accident. My only hope is that we can find some way to comfort you,” said her mother.
At the morgue, the body was unmistakably that of her son. She couldn’t bear to see it, this battered shell all that was left of her beloved boy. She told the doctor, “His body will, of course, be sent to a medical school. That’s what he wanted. That’s what he used to say, but I couldn’t imagine then that I’d be doing it.” She broke down and was taken away, supported by her parents.
The trial of Bob Nichols was a media circus. Hundreds of reporters and television crews descended on the courthouse in Alexandria, across the river from Washington. Nichols’ movie studio put together a strong defense team—even though the actor strongly objected. It lined up many Hollywood legends to come down to testify. The studio didn’t want to take any chances. As it was, it was losing a million dollars a day, with shooting on his new movie halted.
The date came and the trial of the year began. During the court proceedings, Bob Nichols stole the prosecution’s thunder by doing their work for them. As the defense team helplessly watched and the movie executives seethed, the actor told a hushed court that he was guilty as charged. As if that was not enough, he proceeded to smash his own character by cataloging the anguish that his anger had caused to other people. This time it had gone too far, extinguishing a promising young life. Something had to be done, and done soon, to stop it. The jurors listened intently to the self-directed tirade and went into their sequestered deliberations in great bafflement.
The media passed its own verdict: Guilty of first degree murder. There was premeditation and intent. There was no element of accident in the act. There was a pattern. And by the admission of the accused himself, the deed had been done by him, and by none other than him. He was even warning the judge and jury that if he were not stopped, he might do it again. For hours, the reporters churned the case in their brains and all came to the same conclusion.
The jury, on the other hand, had a tough time reaching a verdict. First of all, each juror had seen Nichols on the screen at some time or other—and the kind, gentle characters he portrayed had left an indelible impression. Second, his self-condemnation in the courtroom, his remorse, and the repentance he felt, had won them over. He needed help more than punishment, they thought. Locking him up for a long time would take him away from the wonderful work he was doing in films. Besides, he was involved in so many causes—most of them benefiting children. Furthermore, he’d done years of patriotic service, raising the morale of American troops by entertaining them in war zones.
The verdict finally came down as second-degree murder. Nichols was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment, five of them suspended. He was to spend six months in a psychiatric hospital under intensive supervision. In passing sentence, the judge lectured him to control the rages which had dogged him all his life, marring a brilliant career. If the loss of this young life would not open his eyes, then she didn’t know what would.
Barbara was finally coming out of a deep depression. After agonizing through several sleepless nights, she decided to visit Bob Nichols at the Mental Health Institute. Several times, she thought of changing her mind, but she stuck with her decision.
Nichols thought she’d be yet another fan coming to see him, but when they came face to face, neither spoke for a moment. Then Nichols said, “It’s been a long time.”
“Yes, Bob, a very long time.”
“So have you.”
“Oh, Lord. For the better, I hope. I feel I’m a different man after that horrible experience.”
“I read the statement you gave in court.”
“When I woke up in the morning, after that night we’d spent together, you were gone. You left behind no name, no phone number, nothing. I looked for you everywhere, but I couldn’t find you. In the end, I assumed that you must be a married woman and didn’t want to be found.”
“Being a movie star, I was sure you wouldn’t care about me. Girls like me must throw themselves at you all the time.”
“Oh, no. In fact, all these years, I’ve thought of you and wondered about you.”
“So you remember how we met?”
“Like it happened yesterday. You cut me off on the road and in a rage I came at you with my golf club. But you didn’t realize your peril. You were shrieking with joy and said ‘Bob Nichols! I’ve had a crush on you since you were a child star and I was a little girl,’ and you stuck a pen and paper in front of me and asked for my autograph. I forgot all about my anger and found myself giving you the autograph and asking you out.”
“But my son—I mean, our son—was not so lucky.”
“What are you saying?”
She broke down and couldn’t answer him. He grabbed hold of her shoulders and shook them. “Answer me! You said, ‘Our son.’ Did I have a son? Answer me.”
“Yes, yes, you did…we did…from the night we spent together. The young man you killed—that was our son.”
“Oh my God, oh my God, this is not happening. Why didn’t you tell me? You knew how to find me. It’s not fair. It’s not fair!”
“Because you’re movie royalty. I couldn’t see my poor boy fitting in with your Hollywood life.”
“You owed it to me to tell me that you were carrying my child!”
“I thought you’d think that I was trying to trap you. Don’t some women try to trap the rich and famous that way?”
“You couldn’t be more wrong. I always wanted to get married and have a family. But no woman wanted me because of my temper. Most Hollywood people go through multiple marriages. I’m one of the few actors who’s never married. You were wrong about me…you were dead wrong. I fell in love with you that night. I wanted you…God knows, I wanted to marry you.”
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.” Tears were rolling down their cheeks.
“Our son cannot come back, but we can make a life together. Wherever he is, he would like us to do that. He would like his parents to come together. For his sake, for our sakes…would you have me? Would you marry me? Would you give me a second chance?”
“Everyone deserves a second chance. Why should we be an exception?”