He’d always ask for tea, to the mockery of his drunkard cellmates, always nudging him when they thought our backs were turned. They assumed for a while that he had gotten caught on purpose, that he was there to smuggle them the goods behind the bars. After all, he was Kilo, and that meant booze in all the wrong places. But he’d politely shake his head, and promptly get a fist to it. About five times it took, and a new cell just for him, to get the boozers to lay off. Even with his right eye swelling, he had the look of a smile to him. “Can’t get mad at the feisty, can you?”
The trial was quick. He had a name to him, after all, and them ‘leggers were getting more bold. A message had to be sent, the judge claimed, but the tone in his Mississippi drawl suggested something more chauvinistic to me. He wasn’t even invited to his own sentencing.
I asked him if he wanted his coat as the tumblers of his cell door clanked open. “Thank you, but no. Not the look I want to go out on.” I shrugged. He glanced with that smile-not-smile. As he strode past the boozers, their silence was the deepest mourning I’d ever witnessed. I imagined the silence of the same intensity as the funeral procession of Lincoln. The irony of the thought stung my heart.
My desk sat next to the door, and as I reached for the knob, his hand rested over mine. “My good sir, is that a camera?”
The fat, black leather casing winked the window light toward me. “Yup. That’s new, Brownie they call it. Told us to keep one in the station for big cases. I’m still getting the hang of it, though.”
“Well, would you like some practice?”
I stared at him a moment. “Sorry?”
This time, a genuine smile cut across his face. The points of his cheeks rose alarmingly so, you’d think he’d poke his own eyes out if he smiled any wider.
“I figure I haven’t gotten the luxury of the courtroom, the least I can leave them is a mugshot. Let’s saunter out back a moment, if you don’t mind delaying my snapped neck a few minutes longer.”
It was certainly a casual affair. His suspenders just taut enough to hold to his thin shoulders, his tie obediently paralleling them down his center. The cuffs of his well-worn shirt anchored just under the elbows, just to make sure the work they’d seen would show on this film. He joked that he must blend too much with the side of the station, it’s dark door frames and dirty white, weathering siding. I couldn’t help but smirk that his head started in the same place as the black roofing behind; I wondered if he had planned it. I snapped a couple frames as he took a paced, sweeping glance of his surroundings.
“You got what you need?”
“Yeah, I think so,” I murmured.
Kilo Ken was hung until dead on August 24th, 1918. He swayed in the wind the same way he had walked up to the gallows, elegant and rhythmic. Even as he bloated, it still looked like he was enjoying the moment, smiling at the world from beyond the veil. I still look at those mugshots, the first and last photographs honorably buried in my bottom drawer and guarded by the old Brownie. He sits there, his back to himself, glancing around my dingy office, contemplating my life like it matters, knowing the lie on his face will not disappoint me.