I thanked her and took the form over to a nearby table. When I got there, I wiped the sweat away from my forehead and tried to focus on filling out the paperwork. The form mostly consisted of questions about my identity, the identity of the person I was going to visit, and whether I’d ever committed a crime or been to jail. Since I was clean on that front, it took very little time to complete.
After double-checking Marco’s prisoner number at the top against the note I’d brought with me, I went back to the visitor’s desk and handed my ID over with the form.
The attendant took it with a smile and entered the information from the form into the computer. I watched her work, keeping one eye nervously on the women who had gone to the next stage where they were patted down by a female prison officer before they were allowed into the visiting area.
Every second was bringing me closer to seeing the man who had destroyed my life. I knew he had the answers I needed. I just had to get through this and I would start to understand things again. I’d be able to start over anew with Hunter. We would be happy again.
The woman at the visitor’s desk was speaking to me. Shaking my head, I gave her my full attention.
She pursed her lips. The previous friendly demeanor looked somehow strained. “You’re here to see Mr. Peralta, correct?”
I cleared my throat. “Yes.”
She pursed her lips and turned away. “Okay. One moment please.”
I shifted awkwardly as she got on the phone and began speaking into the receiver. What was all this about? Was Marco in segregation or something after all?
After a couple minutes, she nodded and hung up. She put two fingers in her mouth and whistled for another guard’s attention. His head turned and he came over quickly. He was a heavily muscled, dark-haired man with beady eyes and a buzz cut.
“Daryl,” she said, “can you take this young lady to CR One please?”
Daryl nodded, apparently not needing any more clarification about his orders. “Follow me,” he said.
As I followed him, my scalp began to prickle down to the nape of my neck. Why were they taking me somewhere different than everyone else has gone?
Was Daryl going to pat me down? A female had patted all the other women down, which I would definitely prefer. I didn’t want to be felt up by some strange guy.
We got to the room. Daryl turned the knob and opened the door, stepping back to hold it for me. I held my breath and stepped in. Once I was in the room, he flipped the lights on for me, closed the door, and walked away. I could hear my pulse throbbing dimly in my ears.
What is going on?
I stood there, not knowing what to do as I listened to his retreating footsteps. The room had concrete walls that had been painted a creamy off-white and contained a single table with two chairs on one side and one chair on the other. The table was woodgrain laminate, the chairs black plastic. I took a seat on the side with two chairs, figuring the other side had to be the one for the inmates.
It wasn’t until I was seated that I realized how small the room was. The table was maybe eight feet in length and four feet wide. It took up the majority of the room. There wasn’t much more space than was needed to scoot back your chair and get around the table. Marco and I would be in close quarters. I thought about where the prison guard would stand while Marco and I were talking. The palms of my hands felt moist with sweat. I wiped them against my jeans.
Without any windows, I began to feel a little claustrophobic. There wasn’t even anything on the walls. This room was just a concrete box. My heart pounded against my ribcage.
I looked down at the table legs. They were bolted into the ground. I nodded to myself and looked at the door, but I didn’t hear anyone coming. I supposed it took a while to go and get the inmate.
There was nothing to do but wait.
And wait. As I scanned the walls I noticed a clock above the door that nearly touched the ceiling. Once I’d become aware of the ticking noise, I couldn’t get it out of my head.
I took a deep breath and tried to settle myself down. The clock ticked. My breaths became more shallow. I caught myself clenching my jaw. My tongue went between my teeth. I bit down. My hands were shaking and I couldn’t steady them. I tried to tell myself that it would be okay. This would all be over soon, I’d get my answers and be on my way.
Footsteps came down the hall. I closed my eyes and tried to slow down my breathing, but my throat felt like it was closing off. The world began to spin like a top.
The door opened. I jumped even though I’d been expecting it. A man in a cheap-looking charcoal suit came in and closed the door.
He had wavy, black hair that was going gray at the temples and brown eyes. I couldn’t read his expression and a jolt of panic surged through me.
“Lorrie Burnham?” he asked. His voice was raspy, like he smoked cigarettes by the pack every day.
I nodded, and he sat down.
“Lorrie, I’m Michael Rizzo with the Prison Bureau. I understand you are the stepdaughter of Marco Peralta. Is that correct?”
A shiver ran up my spine when I heard Marco’s full name coming from someone else. “Yes,” I answered shakily.
He nodded and clasped his hands together in what seemed to me to be a nervous gesture. My chest tightened until I was afraid I would need to lie down.
“Your stepfather was found hanging in his cell earlier this morning.”
The room spun around me and my stomach felt like it was in freefall. “Marco?”
“Marco Peralta, yes. I’m sorry for your loss.”
His words came from far away.
“But how?” I asked, trembling.
His hand came up to his mouth for a moment as if covering his expression. “For what it’s worth, when they found him, he had a smile on his face.”
I stood up, my legs unsteady. The news finally hit me, a dull throbbing pain starting in my gut. Panic seared through my chest and tears stung my vision. There would be no answers. I wouldn’t be able to confront Marco and find out the reason everything had happened. There was nothing.
My heart hammered in my chest and I couldn’t breathe. Sweat beaded on my back and I felt droplets slide down my spine, sending shivers through me.
Michael shot up to his feet and made his way to the door. “You can stay here,” he said quickly. “I understand this has come as quite a shock.”
“No,” I said, barely able to muster a whisper. “Please let me go.”
The room was too small and I couldn’t stand another moment trapped in here.