The Day the Bulls Came
by Patricia Farrell
I wouldn’t be going to school this day or for a week afterward and for our services, each of us would be given $7.
Every day from 8 am to 3 pm we arrived by overheated subway. We were led by armed guards to the room where, locked in, we were virtual prisoners, waiting for our turn to be called as witnesses to be questioned by three defense attorneys.
Yes, they’d given him three public defenders. Quite unusual under any circumstances and I don’t, to this day, know why he required that many. Could they have been working pro bono or was this an opportunity for a career-making high-profile case that drew them in?
The newspapers were devouring every detail they could eke out of anyone near us or the case. We were forbidden to talk to anyone. My older sister threw a sweater over my head to cover me as we left each day, and the photographers scrambled for any shots they could take. I was being protected as she had always protected anyone in our family.
Flash bulbs exploded as though we were at a Hollywood premiere and the densely packed crowd tried to hold us back for more photographs. Headlines were the life’s blood of the newspapers and we had provided the material for quite a few articles as the trial wore on.
Murderer or “baby killer” were two favorite headlines and with a young girl as an eyewitness, papers were selling out. All three of the local papers featured the trial and the killer. But we knew none of it because we were mandated not to look at television or read any newspapers or speak to anyone about the trial.
There was no escape for us from the witness room, either. We were locked in and, if you needed to use the restroom, you were accompanied by a guard who then stood outside the door. I won’t deny that, for me, this was more than disquieting.
Noontime was the one break in the day as two armed guards came to escort us to the coffee shop across the street from the courthouse.
“Okay, it’s time to eat. Let’s go,” he ordered us as he opened the door.
The short walk wasn’t without incident as reporters and photographers pushed for access and the guards held them back with their batons. A crowd was always waiting for us when we emerged from the front door and then down the polished steps to the walkway and across the street.
The air in the coffee shop was thick with blue cigarette smoke and the smell of stale tobacco and frying grease. The reporters and staff ate, smoked and gulped down iced tea or coffee. Ash trays were filled to the brim even before we entered and the tables themselves carried the burns of cigarettes and cigars carelessly placed there. This wasn’t a place you’d choose for lunch by any means, but it was convenient and cheap, and the city ran a tab for witnesses in trials.
“Order a hot meal, dear,” our landlady coaxed me as she leaned over in a conspiratorial posture and whispered close to my ear.
“They’re paying for it, so you might as well have a good meal.”
I was sick to my stomach from the anxiety and experience of the trial. How could I eat anything? Just the thought of food was making me sick, and I had lost weight already from my lack of appetite.
When the food arrived, it was a slab of Salisbury steak swimming in a thick dark brown goop, an ice cream scoop of mashed potatoes and a large helping of bright green peas and orange carrots. The color of both the peas and the carrots stood out in sharp contrast to the rest of the unappealing mess.
I toyed with the food, pushing it around with my fork, eating just a bit of the mashed potatoes and hoped that the guard would signal that it was time to return to our wood-paneled dungeon. As for the rest of my luncheon companions, I was totally oblivious to them and they might as well not have existed at all. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the guard move uncomfortably, shifting his weight a bit and I knew we would be free at last.
“Okay,” he said in a somewhat stern tone as he hovered over the table, “time to go back. Finish up and let’s go.”
Why were we here and how had it all begun—the murder? It would be almost three decades before I could pry any of the grisly story out of my mother. Yes, I’d gotten her to drink two orange blossoms drinks and she was a woman who never drank, but this drink was the means to open the story up to me. And it was a horrific story that I carry to this day as though it had just happened.
The meals, the witness room, and the bloody tale my mother would tell are all written in my memory banks like some grim detective story. Oh, BTW, in our neighborhood, the police detectives were called the “bulls” and when they came someone was going to get a beating. The bulls were feared. That day they swarmed into our home, took over the phone and began documenting the scene of the killing.
A little three-year-old boy had been murdered by his father in the next-door apartment. The bathroom was bathed in his blood and my mother was called to help with the “accident” of the child falling out of his crib, a terrible lie.
Our house had a connecting basement to their cellar; this was where he intended to burn the evidence. He couldn’t pry the door open to access the furnace in our basement and his plan was thwarted. Instead, he tried to stuff the bloody blanket and clothing into an open space beneath the overhead boards, that didn’t work, either.
The story would be told to me this day as we sat in a quiet seashore restaurant with large open windows and a fresh breeze filling the room. A shore dinner had been deftly placed before my mother, and she picked at it as she related the details—many which I’ve managed to hide from myself.
How did it end? He was found guilty of manslaughter, sentenced to prison and the boy’s mother said she would wait for him. Wait for the man who murdered your son? My mother couldn’t believe it, but that was the woman’s decision.
Afterward, I would return to elementary school, and everything would go on as before.
About the Author
P. A. Farrell is a psychologist, author of self-help books (McGraw-Hill and Demos Health, and KDP), was an editor for PW, writes for multiple Medium publications, has a Substack (https://drfarrell22.substack.com/), a website (drfarrell.net), and a Twitter account (@drpatfarrell) and has published in Cafe Lit, Humans of the World, Down in the Dirt, Ravens Perch, ScarletLeaf Review.