Candace Meredith earned her Bachelor of Science degree in English Creative Writing from Frostburg State University in the spring of 2008. Her works of poetry, photography and fiction have appeared in literary journals Bittersweet, The Backbone Mountain Review, The Broadkill Review, In God’s Hands/ Writers of Grace, A Flash of Dark, Greensilk Journal, Saltfront, Mojave River Press and Review, Scryptic Magazine, Unlikely Stories Mark V, The Sirens Call Magazine, The Great Void, Foreign Literary Magazine, Lion and Lilac Magazine, Snow Leopard Publishing, BAM Writes and various others. Candace currently resides in Virginia with her two sons and her daughter, her fiancé and their three dogs and six cats. She has earned her Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing and Communications (IMC) from West Virginia University.
“The chamber is empty,” Hanns said from the desk. The night crew left the confetti on the floor from the day prior. Their inmate named Nightshade was let go. They threw him a party; the confetti was toilet paper bleeding with ink; many of them had fresh tattoos from their celebration. The night clerk reported the scene but the night crew let them have at it. Nightshade was a robust guy with wide shoulders, a hard physique and a giant. The chamber was left empty when he had gone away. He shared the space with two cell mates who were let go the same day; that’s how the inmates find their way to the chamber. It became open for exiting into the courtyard where they would have their fun; inmates were free to go out into the courtyard at their leisure on the last day of what would have been confinement. Nightshade earned his name in the fifteen years he stayed at the Western Region Institution which is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of Maryland. He was a skilled con-artist and bank robber. He lived for money. He staked out Casinos too. His birth name, Jaime Knoxville, didn’t make him a legend; hence, as he only came out at night he earned his name. He stalked victims who were carrying loads of cash and when they would exit their vehicles he would approach them with nothing other than his size and brute strength; he didn’t need a loaded weapon; he simply used brawn and brain to coerce money from unsuspecting people.
“Let me have that money?” He said with a gold tooth gleaming in the night, “I’ll be making this deposit for you, and after I take my cut you’ll never see me again.” Nightshade blended into the night with the darkness of his thick flesh. He blended into the darkness so much that it was like providing shade to the night; the darkest of noir. He didn’t drive a car and there was initially no way to track Jaime. His plain name did him no justice according to the inmates but Jaime was a perfect name for a long stretch to a degree that he was never a suspect. Jaime took the briefcase from a corporate attorney and made his way into the bank; he deposited half and kept the other half for himself; at the same time he scoped out the vault where the money was deposited; later into the night that same vault was robbed. The newspaper journalist dubbed him Night-Stalker but to the inmates that wasn’t befitting. Some of them wondered why he didn’t just steal all the money from the briefcase, “because twice that amount of money was concealed in that vault,” he later admitted in the days he served time for theft when he was not granted a way out through the chamber.
The man he robbed was Philip Wiseman, a corporate attorney who won millions in a case defending the power company. Jaime knew of that case and followed leads that were reported by journalists; the reason he was given his name – for stalking his victims before a crime was committed. Jaime watched the news and learned who the big names were in town. He lived and worked in Mississippi for the first twenty years of his life; then he traveled and ended up on the East Coast. He loved the water and was a friend to the surf. On the day he was arrested he was wearing swimming trunks and his noir skin glistened like oil in a frying Pan. That was his first arrest. And for that one he was let go. Jaime had an alibi who was an uniformed officer; Jaime claimed he was at the job when he was accused of stealing from the local bank. The officer verified that Jaime had been inside the café working when the officer stopped by for lunch; the officer certainly did not expect that Jaime could be at two place at the same time and that officer was correct; Jaime was working and could not be at the local bank at the same time. The local paper streamlined the headlines over all media when it was reported that the time recorded for the crime was false; the clock at the bank, and used to make out the time the theft a occurred had been reset the day prior during a power outage and no one had noticed. By the time they figured out the correct time the theft occurred Jaime had already been tried and was protected by Double Jeopardy: no man shall be tried twice for the same crime. Jaime was let go and the following day he moved elsewhere with the loot he had from the bank robbery.
It wasn’t a bank or a casino that would eventually land Jaime in jail. He often stalked victims who would be leaving the bank or casino and Jaime had them so scared they would sign their checks over in his favor. Jaime liked money. He liked to gamble but with gambling there were no guarantees and Jaime didn’t like to lose. Eventually he met a woman named Melissa Porter and he thought she looked like a doll. Her eyes shone so bright in a color of green against her ebony face and her hair laid down her back in locks of waives. He liked long hair and her green eyes were a shade of emerald he had never seen. Melissa met Jaime at a local pub where he worked tending bar and she was a guest at the counter which he stopped before her in awe of her beauty and a face of a porcelain-made doll.
“Hello,” he said casually.
“Hello,” she said back smoothly.
“What can I get for you?”
Mrs. Melissa Porter ordered a Mango Mojito and Jaime managed to snag her number. He was hooked. They met a month later after Jaime completed a heist at a casino in the next state; Charles Town was remote and he liked the small towns the best. He didn’t blend in exactly but he was overlooked as someone wanting to gamble. He began with cards and ended with the wallet of a wealthy race horse owner. He slipped the bills from within into his jacket pocket and managed to slip the bi-fold back into the jacket pocket, hanging from the chair, with his feet. He was smooth. Real slick. He snagged a few purses off women’s shoulders while telling them their shoes were untied; the women were working out and hadn’t suspected anything; he was simply holding their bags as they tied their shoes laces – laces he successfully stomped on to untie in the first place – when he approached them. He knew how to get ahold of money any way he could. Jaime would tell stories of being poor and women wooed on him; he got wealthier by telling stories and he earned their deepest sympathies hence becoming a con-man without a conscience.
But Mrs Porter was different. She was beautiful, tall and slender, and had a jawline that was sharp and elegantly pointed at the chin with dimples on each cheek. Upon meeting Melissa he felt relieved to have an honest job – she was that beautiful. She told Jaime she worked for her father’s business as a car refurbisher and mechanic; she worked the front desk. He told her his story of growing up in the Bronx with a single mother who worked in dry cleaning; he missed her deeply and thought of her often but the work took its toll and she eventually left New York to live with her sister in Jersey where she stayed and worked; Jaime was eighteen by then and went his own way – into gambling, conning and stealing but he told Melissa only of tending bar and wooed her in with stories of taking up college courses online in music; Jaime had a secret he shared with her – Jaime could sing in a deep country twang. Melissa was impressed; he sounded real, authentic and gospel. She was charmed by the man and he was in love.
Their first date was at the local restaurant that served Southwest cuisine and Jaime shared how he loved spicy food. Melissa smiled and her thin lips were painted over with lipgloss a shade of burgundy; he thought the color went perfectly with her attire and enjoyed the color palette; her matching purse and shoes made her appear elegant and put together well. Jaime took her out often and they became close as they got to know one another. Jaime made some money tending bar but he enjoyed living in extravagance and got a leased car that was a luxury item; Melissa questioned how he could afford such a flashy car.
“Very carefully, “ he said followed by a wink and she stopped asking questions. He picked her up from her day job and he took her to the theater, the park, the town and the bar. They were inseparable and Jaime got the wild idea to invite her along to the casino; she went along to watch mostly because she had never been gambling before. Jaime knew he’d have to win in order to win her over – or so he thought. Jaime won the first hand at poker and as she went to use the ladies room he could make another move; the woman beside him had a purse of flashy gold and within was a wallet; he simply reached in and placed the wallet within his jacket pocket; when he went to cash in his winnings he told Melissa he earned twice what he received. Melissa walked with him into the night where he thought about making a proposal – but thought too that it was too soon.
Melissa came from money too. Her father was in the car business and made a living refurbishing classic cars; he loved to purchase expensive paintings and liked that Jaime was musically inclined; he would need something special to earn Mr Porter’s affection. Guy Porter was regal in a dark suit and told Jaime of how hard he had it too; how at one time he lived in his mother’s garage and opened his business with a single lift and repaired body work at first. Jaime felt powerful in his presence too; not just because the money but the intelligence he exudes when they speak. Jaime thought of his mother; he called her and she thought her son was doing well; he did lead a dual existence – one that would steal and the other that worked hard. He taught himself how to mix those drinks using free online resources that he could only access on a government issued phone when he was nineteen. It’s the job he could take with him to any state. Jaime kept his cool for months until the day came when he felt he needed more cash; there was a pandemic and business went south. He found he had no work. Melissa invited him to work at his father’s shop. He took the job seriously learning how to make simple repairs first but the work was slow there too. Jaime concocted a plan to visit a neighboring state where there was a newly built casino aside the state park. He stayed in the pricey hotel that offered lodging for the golf pros. Jaime claimed he was a golf pro and earned a quick job as a concierge where he would lift luggage and make a quick heist; he convinced Melissa to move there as he had landed a new job. Melissa was adamant they would move back when the economy would piece itself back together – but that would be slowly over time. Her father’s business sat on bankruptcy and Melissa lost her job there too. She moved to the Western region of Maryland where they rented a small loft apartment.
Her suspicion grew with the size of the ring he showed her a year into the job.
“How can we afford that?” She said.
“Very carefully,” he said with a wink.
She learned not to ask questions; she felt they were lucky with his job at the hotel bringing bacon to the table. Due to the pandemic her father lost his business and downsized to a small home he could afford with his life savings – he was still financially independent – something Jaime longed for. Jaime figured out how to acquire jewelry and fine purses he would hock from the rooms he tended. He became jack of all trades and became a dealer at the casino; despite the heavy surveillance Jaime knew how to swiftly pick-pocket out of the eyes of the lens of the camera especially in the men’s room and in doorways and around corners where he would be left unseen.
Jaime earned thousands and those thousands became a million. The casino and hotel operators became suspicious as thefts were reported. It would be about that time when he would skip town but he didn’t know how to break the news to Melissa until one morning he just popped the question…
“What do you think of moving to Maine?”
“Move to Maine?” She said. What for?”
“Traveling. Sight seeing. Mountains. Snow. The landscape…”
“Okay I get your point but we don’t have to move to travel.”
She had a point there but he was also surprised she didn’t jump on the band wagon to leave Western Maryland until a light went off inside her…
“What about California?”
He had never thought about going to the west coast before.
“I like that idea.” He said and he shared the money he had with her.
“Where did you get all that money?”
“They tip me well at the hotel.” He felt bad lying to her. She just shrugged. They told her father first and left within two weeks. They bought a Jeep once they got to California after traveling by bus and stopping for sightseeing along the way. The Grand Canyon was immense to look at and Melissa hoped they would see Niagara Falls at some point. Jaime would take her anywhere and for that reason they got the best four wheel drive they could find. They went off-roading in Arizona and spent weekends in Vegas. Jaime had a whole new network of stealing to explore. He was slick at pickpocketing and skilled in coercing money from women; that also made Jaime feel guilty but there was nothing like having money – getting to do whatever they wanted when they wanted. Jaime wondered if they would have that kind of life if he wasn’t stealing and that answer was prompt in his mind: no. He enjoyed being independently wealthy and caring for the love of his life was even greater.
Night Stalker to the east coast became Money Bags in the west. Jaime despised the name. It wasn’t befitting for a skilled con artist. Money Bags was wanted for heisting women’s purses and belongings initially then the FBI decided the thefts were all related. Jaime had been restricted to the casino and hadn’t moved on to robbing the banks; he felt it was time yet again to move on but Melissa had disappeared. She left without saying a word and her belongings were simply missing. He was devastated and depressed; the days turned to weeks and he did not hear from Melissa. He didn’t know if she was dead or alive. It was when he got back to the east coast to visit her father when he was arrested.
“Where is Melissa?” He pleaded with her father as the authorities put the cuffs on his wrists.
“That’s for you to find out later.” Her father told him and shut the door.
Jaime learned there was only one witness to his crimes – a Special Agent by the name of Victoria Newman. He was put in a holding cell and was waiting for a lawyer to pay a visit when he caught word from within the Big House that he was duped by a con artist himself. Then he thought about Melissa – that she took off with all their belongings. Then he realized she had the money; he was so depressed he hadn’t looked until the day he was to leave to visit her father. His cell mate, Johnny Cloud, as he was called within the institution told him he needed to question a woman like that – then it all became clear. Everything he stole was in her possession and he wondered….
Johnny Cloud named him Nightshade … he was shady, and he mostly did his business at night – because it was the best camouflage when he took off on foot – the reason he never owned a vehicle initially – there was no way to trace him. But with Melissa he let his guard down. He took her to do whatever she wanted and kept stealing – she must have known where all that money came from.
But what happened to Melissa he thought while sitting within his cell he shared with three other inmates…
And Jaime learned Mrs Melissa Porter didn’t even exist because Melissa Porter was Special Agent Victoria Newman who had been collecting evidence all along.
“How did they know?” He asked her from behind the bars.
“They hired me for the job when you robbed that last bank.” She confided, “the camera only had the back of you but they needed to collect more evidence.”
“Then why California?”
“It’s pretty obvious why…”
“No it isn’t.”
“You could do your best work there.”
“Isn’t that entrapment?”
“No it isn’t. And they learned a lot from you there.”
The casinos added additional security measures when Jaime went off to California in the way of Special Agents who had been tracking him. Once they had what they needed Melissa Porter, or Special Agent Victoria Newman, presented her findings to the precinct and Jaime Knoxville was indicted on theft charges exceeding one million dollars. He was granted sixty years but with good time Jaime stayed in the slammer fifteen years. He earned his name Nightshade and his cell buddies were under his wing. They earned their share of good time. They talked of being clean on the outside; about how they could stay busy instead. Instead of theft. Nightshade talked of wanting a woman – but no woman was like Melissa – who didn’t even exist. He wasn’t sullen over meeting a woman of the FBI – it enticed him further – he thought about phoning her number. Perhaps she was single. Perhaps she loved him. He could dream. On the night of his release date they celebrated with confetti and cake and Nightshade entered the daylight the next morning with a bad conscience that he had been found out all along and that he should never have trusted anyone; all he had ever known was getting money until he learned about getting even. And that’s what he deserved; from all the women he stole from, it would be another who gave it all back.