Forked Roads by John Francis Istel
“How many candles do you see? Mother? How many? Can you see how many? Sit up.“
Waking by Karin C. Davidson
“‘Sleep, sleep, sleep,’ my mother says. But I cannot help thinking about waking the next morning.”
The Box by Greg Bottoms
“Danny Glover—a fourteen-year-old white kid from Smithfield, Virginia, not the actor from…”
Swept by Emily Vizzo
“Startling, this body-bump of asterisks finding its way…“
Sea Lion by Emily Vizzo
“The stink of him came to me first, a salty hit of kelp…“
Mario’s Grocery Has No Cameras by Chris Mink
“In lane twelve a young mother wearing…“
During the Tornado, I’m Thinking of Stars by Sara Henning
“They’re calling them sisters, funnels grafted…“
The Dead Wait on the Living to Go on Living by Kim Garcia
“The chairs wide-mouthed and silent in each others’ presence…“
Mountain Aubade by Kim Garcia
“Inside a blue-cupped palm, yellow tipped mountain, wild dogwood, pine…“
Mending by Ruth Foley
“For once, I am not thinking of a place…”
Doubt is the angel of our time by Ruth Foley
“Of any time, I’d wager—any movement…“
Cleansing Flights by Ruth Foley
“The temporary unfurling of the rhododendron…“
Pitcher by Will Cordeiro
“I’m such a flirt…“
Wild Horse / Wild Deer by John Casteen
“Deep beneath the night, its lidded vault of stars…”
Figure by John Casteen
“As in, cuts an elegant…”
I Saw You by JC Bouchard
“I saw you on the roundabout…”
Danny Glover—a fourteen-year-old white kid from Smithfield, Virginia, not the actor from Grand Canyon and the Lethal Weapon movies—was called many things after what happened: monster, Satan, sicko, pervert. He was never called what I think he most was: a frighteningly numb kid with an often empty house and lot of time on his hands.
I went out to his divorced mother’s new home the day of the discovery. I’d heard about it on my newspaper-issued police scanner. The cops had taped everything off, a wide perimeter around the house, maybe a half acre. No one would talk to me at first. Not a big surprise. Journalists are pariahs in many circles and situations.
In most crime novels—certainly contemporary ones—if there is a reporter, as either the main or secondary character, he has some relationship with a policeman who feeds him information and thus moves the plot along. Life is different. The cops only wanted to talk to the press, me, when the press, I, could put out information that would help their investigation. The cops were also, hate to say it, often deadly inarticulate, befuddled even. The more you deal with American institutions—the cops, the courts, city hall, public schools—the more you wonder how the republic keeps the lights on, and the more you understand the fatalistic, end-times vibe that courses like a virus through so much communication and mood these days. As Baudrillard wrote in his cultural-theory-meets-prose-poem, America, which I read before I was a crime reporter, back in my days as a burnt-out Ph.D. Lit. student: “All of [the] activities here have a surreptitious end-of-the-world feel to them.” Indeed.
That first day after what happened out there in Smithfield—among suburban tract homes set against peanut and cotton fields and pig farms and 80% humidity—standing in a brand-new suburb of quickly-erected, vinyl-sided two-stories, the cops ignored me. They went about their business behind the crime-scene tape, said “no comment” a few times. I watched for maybe an hour, leaning on the hood of my Honda Civic, notebook in hand, No. 2 pencil behind my ear.
I walked around and knocked on doors. I talked to the neighbors.
From three different neighbors—a young Air Force officer, a prim pastor’s wife, and a smiling retiree in golf attire from head to toe—I was able to learn the accused boy’s name, Danny; his age, fourteen; and the names of several of his friends and the school he attended. All three also told me a body—dead for perhaps a week, rumor had it (and rumor turned out to be right)—had been found inside the house, in a large box, and carted out on a stretcher, zipped up in a black body bag.
Danny Glover and his best friend, Whit McHenry, had planned to skip school on a Friday to meet up with two girls, twelve and thirteen, to have an orgy. I won’t use the girls’ names here, given the circumstances, but Whit’s name ended up in the paper, in both the crime section, where I published five clips on the case about six years ago, and then in the obituary, where he was celebrated as a first-class kid who loved fishing and his two Dobermans, Bishop and Truce, and his grandmother’s chocolate-peanut butter cookies and fried chicken. Who Whit McHenry was—who Virginia Corrections Department prisoner 47733 Danny Glover is—is a mystery. People, criminals, I’m telling you, they are unknowable in the end. But I’ll tell the story of what happened, and maybe you can come up with some sensible conjecture as to their deeper characters and desires.
The orgy had been planned over social media, through the once-popular MySpace. The two girls considered themselves to be virgins, but both were willing to perform oral sex, and one allowed anal sex to happen on more than one occasion with two older boys from the high school football team. One of the two football players evidently had convinced this girl that she could remain “pure” in this way, and both of these boys were later found to have beaucoup megabytes of hardcore porn on their school-supplied laptops, which landed them in community service and some token gender-sensitivity therapy.
Whit and Danny got off the bus at school that Friday, then walked toward the building, then around the building, then through the woods, and out onto a rural route punctuated by three new suburban developments.
Things happened. Things didn’t happen. I found out more than I wanted to know about the sexual relations in interviews and court transcripts. But I’m not going to be graphic about teenage sex here in this recounting. I’m going to be telling some grim tales in this book, so whenever possible I’ll bypass gratuitous titillation and depravity. The important thing to this case—to what happened between Danny and Whit—begins on the walk home from one of the girl’s houses, which started at about 4:30 in the afternoon.
It was hot, almost ninety, when the boys walked their usual way back toward Danny’s house, which was almost always empty because his mom worked two jobs (as a real estate agent and an upscale hotel bartender), and he had no other siblings. (Whit had an unemployed father, an ill grandmother, and two younger sisters at his house; his mother, who had recently left the family and lived in Newport News, was at work cutting hair at a salon and spa.)
An excerpt from the court transcripts:
Prosecutor: Do you know the reason you did this?
Danny: Whit was making fun of me.
Prosecutor: Making fun of you how?
Danny: I wouldn’t do stuff with the girls.
Prosecutor: What sort of stuff?
Danny: Like get naked with them.
Prosecutor: Like Whit did?
Danny: Yeah. Whit and the girls took off their clothes and were on her couch, one of those big L-shaped couches, and they wanted me to but I didn’t feel right.
Prosecutor: You didn’t feel right in what way?
Danny: Like kind of sick and like nervous and shit. And stuff. Sorry. And they wanted to, like, take pictures. That was crazy. I wouldn’t do that.
Prosecutor: So afterward, on the walk home, Whit made fun of you?
Danny: He called me gay. Or he was like, “Dude, you’re a fag.” He said I had to be gay and he kind of thought that before and now he knew. He said he was going to out me like, tell people, put it up on MySpace. He said the girls were going to tell all their friends I was like gay but I’m not. I just felt like sick and like nervous and all the lights were on and I didn’t even know the girls that well and Whit was buck naked and I didn’t want to sit there with him like that because that shit did seem gay.
Prosecutor: He humiliated you, then? Or he was threatening to shame you, to embarrass you?
Danny: I guess.
On the way back to Danny’s, the boys walked across a newly constructed overpass, which was about half-finished. Since this was a Friday afternoon, it struck me as odd that work crews wouldn’t be there. I checked up on this later. Evidently some of the recent work had jumped the gun on the required permits, so the construction company had all operations stopped until the following Monday when some paperwork regarding regulations could be dealt with. Empty construction site. Completely out of sight from the nearest open road about a quarter-mile away.
Prosecutor: You pushed Whit?
Danny: Yeah. I did. He was laughing and calling me “faggot” and saying he was going to tell everyone my big secret. I kind of think the girls were in on it maybe. I know they said they weren’t, but I don’t know. He was being a jerk, man. So I pushed him in the back when we were on the edge of the overpass, where there was no rail and like the floor or the ground or whatever was that metal rebar stuff, like they hadn’t done the concrete yet. I said shut up and then I pushed him but not that hard. He stood on one foot for a few seconds and tried to keep his balance, and then he fell off.
Prosecutor: That’s when he fell twenty-five feet to the gravel of the unpaved road. That’s when he broke both of his legs and all the ribs on his left side.
Danny: Is that a question?
Danny climbed down to where Whit lay, writhing in agony, screaming that his legs were broken, that he couldn’t move, was having a hard time breathing. Whit pleaded for Danny to go call 911. Danny ran, then jogged, then walked about a mile to a 7-eleven convenience store, the kind that peppers Hampton Roads. He was panicked, sweating, but strangely, according to witnesses, seemingly not in a hurry.
And once inside the store, he began to think about his predicament. Whit was going to spread rumors about him. The girls were going to spread rumors about him. If he helped Whit now, then what? He’d get in trouble. He’d be a laughing stock, a fag. He walked around the 7-Eleven for five minutes, according to the clerk working that day. Then he sat on the curb out front for about half an hour. Then he walked home because, he later said, he needed time to think, and since Whit couldn’t walk or move much he could try to come up with a plan.
Once home, he watched TV for an hour. Later he played his PlayStation, a game called “Command and Control,” in which a soldier, you, tries to fight his way out of an Afghanistan-like battle zone of villages and chalk-dry mountain sides and brown people.
His mother got home at 7:30 p.m. They ate hamburgers and fries together from the nearby Wendy’s while watching super-fat, humiliated Americans on a show called The Biggest Loser. They had to laugh at how fucked up and distraught the hideous blimps were, weeping and gelatinous and exposed, as they stood on a scale being scolded by a centerfold in workout tights and a jog bra. The camera made one- and two-second forays across the hot woman’s breasts and abs, the soft cavern at the bottom of her ass, the space between her firm thighs, before jumping back to deep navels and skin rolls and clogged pores and anxious sweat. “What will they think of next?” his mother said. “They could kill people on TV,” Danny said. He laughed. “That would be weird.” His mother looked at him. She said, “You saying that is weird, Danny. Eat your hamburger, psycho.”
His mother went to bed around 11:00 p.m. He knew what he had to do. Some of the people on the TV show they had been watching should have been killed, he thought, and he let that idea travel around his adolescent brain for awhile until he concluded that there were circumstances when the death of someone made sense, was necessary. Or at least was no loss to the world or anyone in it.
Later, in court, a psychiatrist for the defense said that Danny had an atrophied sense of compassion, that he could easily devalue human life without much internal ethical or moral conflict. She considered this an aspect of a potential mental illness, perhaps a sociopathic personality disorder, but she also thought that kids like Danny from broken homes without much parental guidance could sometimes get themselves twisted up and confused, especially if they lived on a steady diet of media, like Danny, that included porn, slasher movies, and violent video games. Danny’s mother wept in court when this was said, even though she knew it was coming as part of the defense strategy to try to get his sentence reduced.
He waited two hours to be safe. At 1:00 a.m. he set out for the construction site. He took a wheelbarrow and a black tarp from the back corner of his yard, near a new shed that looked like a tiny, red farmhouse. He walked through his dead and dark neighborhood, then along a desolate road, then through a field toward the unfinished overpass, the silhouette of which he could see against the ash-gray sky like some weirdly tipped ribcage of a desiccated animal.
He planned to strangle Whit. But when he got to him, Whit was on his side in the dirt, unmoving, forehead against the ground, about fifty yards from where he had landed in the fall, a long, snake-like drag mark showing his route to the final resting place. Danny pulled his shoulder, tipping him onto his back. Whit’s skin glowed white in the moonlight. His eyes were open. Danny called his best friend “the biggest loser” and spit on his face. I know this because he said so in court under cross-examination.
Later, the autopsy showed that Whit had died from extended, untreated shock and heat stroke. The coroner testified at the trial that his death may have taken three or four hours of baking in hot sun, that his blood pressure most likely dropped to dangerous levels, that his fever spiked to perhaps 104 or 105 degrees, and that finally he went into heat stroke and then cardiac arrest. Dying from these kinds of injuries—broken ankles and ribs, sunshine—was almost unheard of nowadays. So, strictly speaking, he died because he was abandoned by Danny.
Danny parked Whit in the wheelbarrow behind his house, near the shed, the black tarp draped over the dead body. He figured hiding the wheelbarrow was more suspicious than leaving it out. Who in a new, suburban neighborhood assumes there is a body under the tarp in someone’s cleanly mown backyard?
He was sweating from the long, strenuous push from the overpass. It was 2:45 a.m. Not one car passed him on his body-retrieval trek. He went inside and took a shower and went to bed. His mother slept through it all. She worked twelve, sometimes fifteen hours some days and spent much of her time at home barely conscious or asleep, shut away in her room, in their nice, new, barely affordable house.
The next morning Danny had breakfast with his mother—waffles and bacon. It was a Saturday, and she planned to go out to run errands and grocery shop. He said he was tired and would stay home.
“An end-of-the-world feel,” Baudrillard wrote. Can’t argue with that as I comb back through these old case files from my newspaper days.
Danny wrote on MySpace: “disrpkt? I’m a str8up killa!!!!!!”
The two girls saw this but thought little of it. It was cryptic and strange, contextless, as it appeared online. Who assumes a kid, even a lost kid, is capable of such a thing? The girls let it go for days without much thought.
Danny called Whit’s house and told his ill and medicated grandmother that Whit was picked up by his mother for the week over at Danny’s. All was well. He’d see everybody next week. Danny knew Whit’s mother and father went months without talking or seeing each other (by design). This would give him time to think.
It took exactly seven days before two uniformed cops showed up to one of the girl’s houses because Whit’s family had filed a Missing Persons Report. I’m not sure how this happened (Whit’s family would never talk to me), but I assume the mother and father finally spoke to one another for some reason. It was half an hour into the interview before one girl, thinking about Whit missing for a week, mentioned the MySpace post. The cops checked it out online, then contacted some other cops, and a crew of five headed over to Danny’s. This post and the girl’s story amounted to “reasonable cause” for a search of the house. Danny was cool, looked a little surprised, and then invited the officers in.
The house smelled faintly of a dead animal. The smell swelled stronger as cops made their way down the hall toward Danny’s room. But Danny’s mom had had a busy week and had barely been home long enough to think about the smell or ask Danny about it.
In Danny’s bedroom, inside of his walk-in closet, there was a large box for the new stove his mom recently bought and had installed. Inside the box was Whit—bent, crammed down, bloated, and rotting after being dead for seven days—covered in powdered laundry detergent and sprayed with cologne and air freshener. I arrived a few hours after this discovery. And like I said, the cops wouldn’t let me near the house or talk to me. I talked to the neighbors.
Danny was later convicted of second-degree murder and received three years in a juvenile detention center, where he was treated for several different possible personality disorders.
He is twenty now, tall and gaunt and always dressed in black biker boots and jeans. He receives disability pay for his diagnosed mental illnesses. He lives with his mom, in the same house, and as far as I know he sleeps in the same room where he kept Whit’s body in the stove box in his closet.
Prosecutor: What did you plan to do with Whit’s body?
Danny: Bury it.
Danny: After I kept him for a while.
Prosecutor: Why would you keep him?
Danny: I was still mad at him.
As for the two girls, Danny had wanted to kill them as well; he admitted this while incarcerated and undergoing therapy. But he couldn’t figure out how to do that and have a reasonable chance to get away with it. By the time Danny was released, he was deemed sufficiently rehabilitated and had caused no trouble during his time in juvenile detention. He had been a model inmate—quiet, bookish. Perhaps he will never commit another crime, perhaps not.
The two girls are in college, one at an elite university on a full merit scholarship, and one at a nearby state school where she is studying Education. When I called each of them recently to ask about Danny and Whit and the day of the murder, they both hung up on me the second I told them who I was. Nobody involved in a crime wants to hear from a journalist years later.
The other day I drove by Danny Glover’s mom’s house. I wanted to see it again, to refresh my memory. In the driveway was a wheelbarrow with a folded black tarp in it.