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Monday morning, March 26, 2001
"You are the most despicable wretch on the earth!" Brianna shouted at her mother. "Youíre a liar, youíve lied to me about everything! I hate you!"
Kristen Warren remained still as she sat at her kitchen table by the window, looking down at the people walking under the streetlights below. She was all fought out. She had nothing to say to her daughter or her ex husband except goodbye.
"I hope you rot in hell!" Brianna screamed, as her father silently and gently put his hand on her shoulder. As she cried, he turned her around and without looking back, they both left together.
Kristen remained emotionless. She feebly refilled the red plastic drinking cup in front of her a third of the way with warm orange juice and the rest with the last of the vodka. The fifth of Popov was empty and there was no more in the house. Kristen grabbed the bottle by the neck and threw it at the door, shattering glass all over the kitchen.
Monday morning, March 21, 1983
After only three years of marriage Kristen Warren came to the cold conclusion that her husband was cheating on her. She was not one to take personal assaults lightly. She vowed she would get revenge.
David Warren was a car salesman at Country Ford Lincoln Mercury in downtown Vineland New Jersey. Kristen was used to her husband working long hours. He worked on commission and it was not uncommon for him to work twelve-hour days. As of late however things seemed askew to Kristen and she was getting suspicious.
She rarely ever telephoned David while he was at work. In the past several days however Kristen called the dealership specifically to see if what she was thinking could possibly be true. She called for him between six oíclock and nine in the evening on those days, not telling anyone that she was Davidís wife. Each time she was told that he was not available or had left for the day.
She had known for as long as she had known him, that David liked to gamble. He liked to frequent the casinos in nearby Atlantic City and played black jack almost exclusively. He enjoyed gambling and because it had been years since he got himself into any trouble with it, Kristen had no real objections.
Lately though, in the past two or three months she was getting phone calls at home during the day from various banks and credit card companies. When Kristen would mention the calls to David, he would tell her not to be concerned and that he had "already taken care of the matter".
For as long as David and Kristen lived together he was in control of the family finances. Kristen always welcomed the arrangement because she knew nothing about managing money and financial matters. David was the breadwinner of the family and what he made (either by sales commission or black jack winnings) was his to manage. Kristen had always trusted her husband to provide for the family, but now she questioned their financial well being and their marriage altogether.
The couple was married 1980, just a few weeks before the birth of their daughter Brianna May. Kristen had noticed in recent weeks that David was arriving home later and later at night. When asked of his whereabouts David would defensively tell Kristen that he was with a customer.
When he was at home, David loved to play with his daughter who he cherished deeply. He would usually have at least one weekend day off every week and sometimes on those days, David liked to have her to himself for the whole day. He would tell Kristen to go visit friends or do something that she enjoyed on her own. He was giving her a break from her daily mothering duties. He was a good father. Kristen would often sit in a barroom on those days and get drunk.
Both David and Kristen were aware of the fact that they were not talking to each other very much as of late. When they did it sometimes seemed like they were on two different planets. Neither of them cared much to listen to the other.
David was twenty-four years old. He was of average height and had dark hair and a trimmed beard, always wearing gold rimmed glasses. He decided early on that selling cars was a relatively fast and easy way to make some credible money.
Kristen was also twenty-four. She had shoulder length light brown hair and stood a little over five feet tall. She was attractive and in good physical shape. Except for a very short time in a nursing home working as nursesí aid, Kristen never held a job.
David and Kristen had known each other since they were in grade school. They were high school sweethearts and they moved into an apartment together soon after graduation. There wasnít another couple around who knew each other any better than they did. Or so it seemed.
It was six oíclock PM and David had been home from work for about an hour. He seemed nervous and agitated to Kristen. It had been raining hard all day long and not very many people were out looking to buy a car that day. David informed Kristen that he had to leave because he had an appointment with a dentist he had called during the day, complaining of a bad toothache.
He changed from his work clothes (shirt, dress pants, and a tie) into jeans, a black T-shirt and baseball cap. He also put on his new pair of white Nike running shoes.
It was hard for Kristen to tell exactly what her husband was up to, especially when he said that he would be home right after he got his tooth fixed. That wouldnít leave much time to do whatever he was really doing she thought. Because he wasnít dressed up in a suit or sport coat, he obviously wasnít going any place too important. She thought for a moment that maybe he really was going to the dentist. He told her that his appointment was at six thirty and he left the house at around six fifteen.
As soon as he drove off in his car, Kristen reached into the refrigerator and grabbed a can of beer from the very back of the bottom shelf. By the time David got home two hours later, Kristen drank the five cans of Budweiser that she had hidden behind the leftovers in the refrigerator. After putting Brianna to bed she went to bed as well.
Kristen was pretending to be asleep when David came into the bedroom. She knew that it was too early for him to go to bed, but she wondered why he got undressed and changed into other clothes before he left the room to go watch TV in the living room.
Kristen was sleeping when David got into bed at midnight and put his arm around her, holding her close to him before he fell asleep.
By the time Kristen awoke the following morning, David was at work and Brianna was jumping on her back wanting to eat breakfast. When she stood up from the bed to follow Brianna to the kitchen, she saw that David had left the clothes he had worn to the dentist in a pile on the floor. Looking at the pile more closely she could see that the pants and shoes were soaking wet and full of mud. Kristen was very curious to know what happened but she would have to wait for David to come home from work to find out.
Brianna had been fed and was sitting down on the living room floor watching The Muppets on TV. Kristen washed a load of laundry, including Davidís wet and muddy clothes. Sesame Street was over and Kristen clicked through the channels on the remote to find something else for Brianna to watch. As she did, she stopped suddenly on a local news channel that was showing videotape of man robbing a convenience store. Kristen stopped in her tracks and looked very closely at the man holding a pistol at the man behind the counter. The man with the gun on the television screen looked like David. They reported that the store clerk was shot dead.
The news anchor announced, "A witness told police that the suspect tripped when he ran out of the store and fell into a rain filled pothole. The witness said that he then dropped the gun, a thirty-caliber pistol, and fled on foot. Kristenís heart was pounding.
"If you have any information on this suspect," the man concluded, "Please call the Vineland Police Department or the state police. Once again the suspect is a white male in his twenties. He is around five feet ten inches tall, wearing dark clothes, white sneakers and a black cap. He has dark hair, a beard, and was wearing glasses."
Kristen immediately called her brother Bob and told him what she had just seen on TV. Not that Bob could do anything about the matter, but Kristen had always depended on her older brother to help her with any problem she may have. She asked him to drive over and pick her up a six pack of Budweiser on his way, a twelve pack if he wanted any.
Bob never particularly cared for his brother in law David, but he had no serious problems with him. The main trait that often irked Bob was Davidís never ending bullshit stories. He liked to brag and no one ever knew if he was lying or not. In social situations his talk was usually of his adventures in Atlantic City and the huge sums of money that he customarily won.
The issue before them at that moment was what to do or say about Kristenís discovery, if anything at all.
"OK, what reason do we have to think that the guy on the videotape could be David?" Bob asked her.
Kristen lit a cigarette and opened her first can of beer. She got a pad and a pencil and sat at the dining room table with Bob. Brianna was taking her afternoon nap.
"You didnít see the video footage," Kristen said. "Theyíre probably not going to show it again until the five oíclock news. You have to see it."
"What else?" Bob asked.
"They said it happened at eight oíclock and David was not home then," she began. "He said that he had a dentist appointment."
"Can you come up with a reason to call his dentist and somehow mention his appointment?" Bob asked.
"I donít even fucking know who his dentist is," she told him. "Thatís not everything though, thereís more."
"Why in hell would David rob a Seven Eleven store and then shoot someone?" Bob said. "Itís ridiculous Kristen."
"You know how he gambles. I think he borrowed and lost a lot of money and heís in trouble. Weíre in trouble," she said. "Heís fucking around on me too."
"How do you know that?" Bob asked.
"Heís hardly ever home anymore," she told him.
"Is that it?" Bob asked
"And I found a condom wrapper in the laundry," she told him. "Speaking of laundry. When he came home last night his clothes were wet and dirty."
"I donít follow you," Bob told her.
"They said on the news that the guy fell in a pothole as he was running away," she said. "He dropped a thirty eight caliber hand gun there and took off."
Bob remained silent for the moment.
Kristen added, "David owns a thirty eight. Wait." She walked to the nearby hall closet and reached up on her toes to the top shelf. She said, "He always kept it in this shoebox up here, inside one of the black dress shoes." When she opened the box and saw the pair of black dress shoes, she also saw that there was no gun in either of them.
It was almost five oíclock and Kristen was waiting with her brother for the local news to come on. She knew that David could possibly come home at anytime but if things were to be like they had been, it would be at least another four hours. They did not want to be caught watching the news when David came through the door.
The robbery at the Seven Eleven was the first story on the news and Bob got to see the videotape for himself. It looked to him like it could be David without using any imagination whatsoever.
"The production quality of the videotape isnít very good," Bob remarked. "Maybe we should go down to the police station and ask to see it more closely?"
"I donít know what to do," Kristen said as she opened another can of beer. "Heís a totally different man from the one I married. Itís fucking creepy at times Bob."
"What do you want to do?" Bob asked her. "Itís your decision not mine."
"Why is it just my decision?" Kristen asked defensively.
"Because heís your husband," Bob raised his voice. "Donít get me in the middle of this."
"Youíre responsible too Bob," she shouted.
"Say itís not David weíre talking about here. Say the guy in the video looked like a neighbor or one of the guys at work. Would you call the police?" she said.
"Heís scaring me nowadays," Kristen added as she began shaking with nerves. "We donít even know each other anymore. After being together for so long I guess we just ran out of steam."
Kristen wanted to talk so Bob listened. "Itís been almost six months since I first noticed that something about David was changing," she said. "It was around then that he started getting real moody and secretive. He pretty much keeps to himself unless heís playing with Brianna. He never talks to me anymore. We havenít had sex in over six months. Heís hiding something. I know heís cheating on me."
With Brianna in tow, Bob drove Kristen to the Vineland Police Department at six PM. David had not arrived home yet. The woman at the desk told them to have a seat and that a detective would talk to them shortly. Bob and Kristen sat down on a long deaconís bench in the hallway as Brianna was playing with a policewoman.
In less than a minute, two men in sport coats and ties met them and directed them into a conference room. Brianna allowed herself to be separated from her mother so that the policewoman could watch her while Kristen answered questions.
Both policemen looked very young; the taller darker man was Detective Ron Bennet and the shorter man was Sergeant Gary Gaylord.
They all sat down at the table in the middle of the room and Detective Bennet began writing on a yellow legal pad. He began, "So Mrs. Warren, we understand that you think you may know the man on the videotape you saw on the news?"
"He looks like my husband," Kristen said bluntly. "If I could see the tape again more closely I would know better."
When asked about the events that led up to that point, Kristen explained. She told the police the time that David left the house, what time he got back, what color clothes he had on and that he had a thirty-eight-caliber pistol that was now missing.
When asked about a possible motive, Kristen them about Davidís gambling.
"Before we see the video," Detective Bennet said, "We would like to ask you a few questions." After getting all of the standard personal information out of the way (full names, addresses, and telephone numbers), Detective Bennet asked, "Mrs. Warren is your husband left handed or right handed?"
"Heís left handed," she answered without hesitation.
"Did you notice in the video which hand the suspect was holding the gun?"
"Not really. The left I think. I didnít think about it," she said. There was a few seconds of silence and then Kristen pulled out Davidís black baseball cap from her handbag.
"He wore this hat," she offered. "I thought maybe someone could tell if it matched the one the suspect was wearing."
Sergeant Gaylord spoke up asked, "Could you tell me again what he was wearing when he left the house?"
"He was wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt, white running shoes and this cap," she said. "Oh yes, I forgot to tell you. When he came home later, his clothes and shoes were wet and muddy. I threw them in the washer the next morning."
Kristen also told the police that when David changed out of his wet clothes, she saw a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye but that she hadnít spoken with him since he left to go out that night.
There was a knock on the conference room door and in rolled a television and VCR. With the lights off and no one speaking, Sergeant Gaylord played the surveillance video six times, a couple of times in slow motion.
With consideration taken for the poor clarity of the picture neither Kristen or her brother Bob could say that the man on the TV screen was definitely not David. They agreed that the black hat they possessed certainly did look like the one on the tape. The man on the video held the gun in his left hand.
A call went out from the station to locate and bring in David Warren for questioning. He was most likely driving a black 1983 Lincoln Town Car with a dealerís plate attached. He was probably somewhere between Country Ford and his home.
Kristen, Brianna and Bob were on their way back from the police station as David was on his way to the station. For a quick moment Kristen felt a pang of guilt as she imagined David being fingerprinted and having his mug shot taken. When her thoughts quickly focused on the realism of the situation at hand she was not sorrowful for going to the police. David was a troubled stranger to her now. It was not up to her to decide Davidís guilt or innocence she thought. If she hadnít contacted the police she would have felt guilty of something. The fact that she could believe David was capable of committing such a crime was reason enough to do what she did.
His one telephone call was to Kristen. David was crying as he explained to her what had happened to him. He was being held for suspicion of armed robbery and first degree murder. Kristen was to look up the phone number of his lawyer Tom Shaw, and tell him to go to the jail. David also told her to call his boss and tell him that he wouldnít be into work the next day. No details were to be given he said.
The next morning at the county courthouse, David Warren was arraigned and formally charged with armed robbery and first-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty. Kristen was not present. With his lawyer asking the judge for a reasonable amount of bail to be set, David was more shocked and dismayed when he was denied bail altogether.
Monday, March 15, 1993
David Warren had thus far served ten years of a life sentence in prison with no chance for parole. Since the night of his arrest David had always maintained that he was innocent. He now did everything he could just to keep his sanity. Other than Tom Shaw and his parents on rare occasion, David had no visitors since his incarceration began.
He was fortunate enough to get a job in the prison kitchen. In a short amount of time David went from washing dishes and scrubbing pots at a pay rate of fifteen dollars a month, to being a full-fledged cook making thirty-seven dollars and fifty cents a month.
Soon after Davidís conviction Kristen divorced him and moved with Brianna to Newburgh New York. Kristenís plan was to settle into a place, any place where nobody knew them and they could start over fresh. She got into her car one day with Brianna and everything she could take with her. She drove due north until they arbitrarily stopped in Newburgh. Kristen was not going to subject herself or her daughter to any negative talk or ridicule because of the crime that her husband committed.
Kristen never told Brianna that her father was in prison. Instead the girl was made to believe that he died in a car crash when she was very young. Now thirteen years old Brianna had no recollections of her father.
Kristen and her daughter lived on Montgomery Street in Newburgh. Kristen rented an apartment in a quaint historical section of the city but not far from a few of the distressed sections. While working long hours as a waitress at the Carol Lee Diner for almost ten years, Kristen had little time for her daughter. Since Brianna was ten years old she was often alone at home to take care of herself. When Kristen had time off from the diner she often chose to spend it in the company of several different men throughout the years. Those times when she could get a sitter she enjoyed going out to the local bars and clubs.
It started around the time that she was thirteen and fourteen that Brianna went from being an excellent student to being an absentee most of the time. In two short years Brianna had been suspended from school three times for assaulting other students. She was arrested one day for attacking a teacher and was subsequently expelled from school altogether. When she was not in a detention center or a group home (where she had gone several times) she would spend her days hanging out on the streets with unsavory company smoking pot and drinking.
Damned David! Kristen was not at fault in any way for her daughterís actions. Her fatherís side of the family had all the nuts and criminals. His mother (Briannaís grandmother) was manic-depressive. If David hadnít been sent away to prison there would be none of these problems Kristen thought.
Kristen had thrown out every picture of David that she had many years earlier. Brianna didnít remember her father and had no idea what he looked like. On rare occasion Kristen would think about sitting down with her daughter and telling her the truth about her father. As time went on however that seemed harder and harder for her to do. David was never going to get out of prison so there was no reason to involve the girl with him. Kristen believed that it would be easier for all if Brianna had a dead father rather than one who was a convicted murderer. There would be no visitation and no reason for false hope that he would ever get out of prison.
Brianna was sixteen years old when she decided that she had no need for school at all. She was physically mature and despite her street tattoos and body piercings she was an attractive young woman. She had cut off her long strawberry blond hair and replaced it with a short spiked mass of strange colors and shaved temples.
Monday March 17, 1997
At this time mother and daughter were living eerily parallel lives. Kristenís most regular boyfriend moved into their apartment, as Brianna had all but moved in with her boyfriend in his motherís house.
His name was Jeff and he was nineteen years old. Brianna was seventeen years old and pregnant with his baby. Jeff worked at Jiffy Lube and his mother said that Brianna was welcomed to stay with his family anytime and for as long as she wanted to. In essence she was saying that she was willing to raise the baby. There was talk for awhile about Jeff and Brianna getting married. However, Kristen told her daughter not to get married right away because Brianna was covered under her motherís medical insurance at work. If she got married then Brianna and her baby wouldnít be eligible for medical coverage.
It had been fourteen years since David first entered prison gates. He was originally sentenced to serve his time at Bayside State Prison in Leesburg New Jersey. At this maximum-security prison he spent his first ten years of incarceration. In 1993 he was transferred to Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill New York. The reason for the transfer was not made known to David. Fishkill was ten miles from Newburgh.
After eight weeks of pregnancy Brianna had a miscarriage. Soon thereafter she and Jeff called it quits and Brianna moved back in with her mother. By then Kristen had broken up with her live-in boyfriend as well.
For the next three years mother and daughter were like two hurricanes on a direct collision course. They lived together in the same tiny apartment that they moved into when Brianna was three years old. They fought constantly.
Brianna refused to go to school - anywhere, and she was not holding down a job or planning to. For a time she was terrorizing her mother on a regular basis. She had her friends over to the apartment whenever her mother was at work. Some of these Ďfriendsí were hard-core urban delinquents who sold drugs and were associated with the notorious Crips street gang.
Kristen had no control over her daughter and was in no way able to discipline her. By this time Kristen was drinking very heavily - daily and had all she could do to take care of herself.
A sadder day finally came. After working almost fifteen years as a waitress at the Carol Lee Diner, Kristen was fired for going into work one morning intoxicated. Kristen had spent the weekend on a drunken binge with a young male friend who was closer to Briannaís age. On Monday morning she found herself with the jitters, shaking terribly and too ill to go into work. Instead of calling in sick for the day and staying home, Kristen decided that she would be fine after she drank a half-pint of vodka and a little orange juice.
At Downstate Correctional Facility David was a Ďgrade fiveí worker, the highest level of success that an inmate could reach while holding a job in the prison. He was the assistant to the head chef and by then was learning everything he could about culinary arts. He genuinely enjoyed cooking for his fellow inmates regardless of the wise remarks and complaints he had to listen to. David was now earning close to fifty dollars a month.
David knew that if he didnít have the job, his days in prison would be much more unbearable than they were. Keeping busy kept his mind off of his hideously unfortunate life. Over and over, days and days, months and months he thought about how such a thing could happen to a man.
On that one particular bizarre day in March of 1983, David instantly lost his wife, his daughter, his home, his job and his freedom for the rest of his life. Oneís worst nightmare couldnít compare to Davidís reality. He often amazed himself at how well he handled his life after being dealt the fate that was bestowed upon him.
Monday January 1, 2001
It was New Years Day and it wasnít much different than any other day except that Kristen had an excuse for being hungover. Brianna sat at the kitchen table by the window, looking down at the people on the street below. She was smoking a cigarette and she was dressed in her black and white waitress uniform.
Brianna was twenty-one years old and had narrowly survived her tumultuous teen years. Almost from the day her mother was fired from her job Brianna took over supporting herself and her mother. Other than the small Social Security Disability check that Kristen would get monthly for her severe depression, Briannaís tips paid the bills.
Everybody at the Carol Lee Diner knew Brianna since she was toddler. The owners of the diner as well as the employees and some of the regulars knew and cared about Brianna and her mother. Kristenís boss told her that she could come back to work anytime she wanted after she got help with her alcoholism. In the meantime a more grown and mature Brianna filled her motherís shoes, often pulling double shifts waiting tables at the restaurant.
Breakfast for the 1300 inmates was over and after cleanup it was time for David to jump on the lunch production. It was nine oíclock when one of the correctional officers entered the kitchen looking for David. When approached by the man David was told to stop what he was doing and to go with him.
Within a couple of minutes David realized that he was being escorted to The Wardenís office. The guard remained silent. He had been to The Wardenís office only one since he had been at Downstate and that was for the standard introductory and welcome meeting.
David was perplexed. He had no idea what The Warden wanted him for. As far as he knew everything was the same as it ever was. When David and the guard reached the door reading: Granger T. Matthews Warden, the guard opened it without knocking and led David in.
To his astounding surprise, there sitting across the desk from The Warden was Tom Shaw, Davidís lawyer. Tom stood up suddenly, smiling and at that very instant David knew that there was good news for him.
"David!" Tom exclaimed. "Youíre a free man!"
David suddenly felt lightheaded and dizzy. This was unbelievable; it couldnít be he thought. Tom slid a chair over to him and told David to sit down.
The Warden explained, "Mr. Warren, my heart goes out to you. A great injustice was done to you and I hope that those who erred will ask for forgiveness and make things right." David was elated, but as he stood and hugged his lawyer all he could do was cry.
There was a man who was being detained in the Salem County Jail in Woodstown New Jersey. He was wanted for armed robbery of two convenience stores in the area. The suspect was a disheveled white male approximately forty years old with glasses, short gray hair and a goatee. The man had many drug related offenses on his criminal record and was under the influence of various intoxicants when he was taken into custody. He was extremely agitated and gave the two attending police officers a difficult time as they led him to his cell and tried to settle him down. He was calling them Nazis and told them that he would have them both fired because he knew the governor.
Also being held at the jail was an older man in his sixties, wearing a gray suit sans the necktie. He was in the very next cell. The man had been stopped by police earlier that evening and arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Once the policemen left the cell area the rambunctious prisoner calmed down a bit and attempted conversation with the man in the suit.
"Bastards!" he said. "They all oughta be shot!"
He directed his statements to the man in the suit but the man didnít say anything.
"What they get you for?" he asked the older man.
"DUI." was all he said, not wanting to get into a discussion.
"You know, I been in trouble since I was a kid," the younger man said. "I just got outta prison six months ago after seven years. Looks like Iím goiní back."
The man in the suit took off his jacket and rolled it up to use a pillow. He tried lying down to rest on the cold steel slab jutting out from the wall. There was no bed or blankets in the cell and a bright spotlight continued to shine into the manís face. He needed to sleep off his lingering inebriation but was unable to due to the circumstances.
The other man continued talking. "Ya know I ainít been in this part of the country in almost twenty years," he said. "I got a brother in Vineland so I been stayiní with him since I got outta prison." At this point the man was talking and not caring if the man in the suit or anyone else was listening or not.
The constant babble coming from the next cell was annoying to the man in the suit but there wasnít much he could do about it.
"Yeah," the younger man continued, "Last time I was here, I pulled a stickup at the Seven Eleven in Vineland and high-tailed it the hell outta Jersey. I ainít been back since."
When the man with the suit heard that, he suddenly got interested. "I remember that," he said. "The kid behind the counter was shot and killed."
The other man said nothing.
"They caught the guy who did that though, as I remember," he said.
"Well that one wasnít me," the ex con said. "I mightaí shot up somethiní to show Ďem I wasnít fucking around but I never killed nobody."
The man in the suit was a local businessman who lived in Vineland. He resided there for the past forty years and he had only heard of that one time that the Seven Eleven in town was robbed (and a clerk was killed).
The following morning while the man in the gray suit was nervously pacing the floor by the front desk waiting for a ride, he stopped one of the officers there and told him what the man in the next cell said to him.
While the armed robbery suspect was still in custody, further investigation (and evidence) as well as a taped confession, brought a new light to the eighteen-year old crime. An innocent man who spent almost twenty years locked behind bars for a crime that he did not commit was soon to be released.
Monday February 26, 2001
It was a very bittersweet moment when David was escorted to the gates of the prison and set free. He had arranged for a cab to come pick him up and take him to Newburgh, the next town west over the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.
Departing former inmates were given two hundred dollars upon their release. With that and his modest savings from his job as a cook, David wasnít in bad shape he thought. He bought some new clothes and rented an efficiency apartment for a month at The Imperial Motel. David knew he would some day return to Vineland New Jersey but he was not in any hurry. He knew that he would have to go back to see what was left from twenty years ago and try to make sense of it all. In the meantime he was going to find a job cooking somewhere and try to ease back into life on the outside.
ĎHave you ever been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor in which a fine in excess of $50 was imposed within the last 10 years?í was the question David had to answer on the job application. Just having walked out of prison after eighteen years, David Warren could honestly and proudly write down ĎNoí. He got the job and started work the next day. David was the new breakfast and lunch cook at the Carol Lee Diner.
On Davidís first day at work he punched in his time card at five thirty in the morning to train for his new position. The Puerto Rican chef Emesto who was training David introduced him to everyone working the breakfast shift. There was another cook in the kitchen and a woman who was baking pies. There was a short middle aged mentally retarded man washing dishes and four waitresses.
Emesto told David everyoneís name but he was never one to remember names very well. He easily remembered that the dishwasherís name was Frank because there was a dishwasher at the prison named Frank. He remembered that the bakerís name was Eva because his grandmotherís name was Eva and she used to bake pies. David remembered that the young waitress with the strawberry blonde hair pinned up in the back, was Brianna because his daughterís name was Brianna.
After a week or two he knew everybodyís name and was settling in quite comfortably. He enjoyed his job and was exuberant just to live in the free world. Each afternoon when his shift was over he would walk to his apartment and take a nap for awhile. When he awoke he would decide what he was going to do that evening. He would go out to eat, walk around, maybe see a movie or look around in stores that were selling things that hadnít been invented twenty years ago. Sometimes he would just stay in and read or watch TV.
On one particular afternoon the lunch shift at the Carol Lee Diner had ended and some of the employees were preparing to leave for home. David was standing in line at the time clock by the back door with a couple of waitresses who were also punching out for the day. The young girl with the strawberry blonde hair - Brianna, was in front of David not aware that he was right behind her.
When she pulled her time card from the card rack and proceeded to stick it in the clock, David caught a glimpse of her name printed on the top. As she reached up to put her card back in the slot that it was in David saw it close, clear, and sharp. Her name was Brianna Warren.
Suddenly David examined her face looking for tell tale features that he could possibly remember were also possessed by a three year old. His heart started to beat hard and fast. His mouth went dry.
"Brianna," David spoke out. "Your last name is Warren?"
"Yes it is," she answered smiling as she was putting on her coat. "Why do you ask?"
"My last name is Warren too," he said, trying to be calm. "May I asked how old you are?"
"Sure, Iím twenty one," she answered. Thatís the age that Davidís daughter was now. He kept going with his line of questioning.
"Is your middle name May?" he asked.
Briannaís smile quickly turned into a gape in her face. She nodded silently.
David could hardly contain his excitement at this point. His voice got louder trembling a little and a few of the folks were listening in.
He asked, "Brianna, do you happen to have two small birthmarks side by side right under your belly button?"
Brianna shrieked and cried out, "Oh my God! Oh my God! I donít believe it! Who are you?"
For one quick moment David felt his knees go weak and almost buckle out from under him.
Brianna was shocked and horrified and confused. She had her hands over her mouth and began shaking while the other waitresses stood by her watching the scene unfold. Then suddenly, it hit her like a thunderbolt out of nowhere. She knew from her mother that her dead fatherís name was David.
Brianna fell to her knees and passed out on the spot. David caught her before her head hit the floor. He sat her up as he kneeled beside her and she came to in a minute. When they both got up from the floor and Brianna gained consciousness, she threw her arms around David and cried uncontrollably. He held her tight and cried also while almost everyone in the restaurant stood by with their mouths open and watched in total bewilderment.
Father and daughter sat down for an elegant candlelight dinner at The Beacon House just over the Hudson River. It would be the first time that they had a meal together in over eighteen years.
David explained to Brianna what had happened to him. He told her that he had no idea why he was arrested and how he was convicted for a crime that he was nowhere near and had nothing to do with. Brianna was listening intently to her fatherís story.
What caused him the most strife he told her was wondering why he lost all contact with her and her mother. Brianna was starting to get upset but she didnít want to erupt in the dining room of the restaurant. David wanted to learn everything he could from his daughter that could help bring closure to his atrocious eighteen-year ordeal.
"I guess my memory doesnít go back any further than when I was five," Brianna told her father. "All my life I believed that my father was dead." She held back the tears. "I donít remember you at all," she said.
"You never saw any pictures of me that your mother had?" he asked.
"No, there were no pictures," she said. "Mother never kept pictures." Brianna was now ready to tell David about her mother.
"My mother is a hopeless drunk," she began. "Itís awful." David remained silent and listened closely.
"She canít work anymore. Sheís on Social Security for her depression, and she takes that money and buys liquor with it," Brianna said. "I have no control over her and she refuses to get help for her drinking."
"How long has she been like this?" David asked.
"Sheís been drinking as long as I can remember but sheís really gotten bad in the last two years," she said. "Sheís a witch and I donít think that I can love her anymore. I hate her." Brianna started getting agitated so she took a deep breath.
"Those are pretty harsh words Brianna. The woman is your mother. Sheís sick, she has a disease. She needs you to love her, youíre all sheís got" David said.
"I have finally had enough," she said. "Iím just going to move out and let her fend for herself."
"So why havenít you moved out already?" David asked.
"Because sheís so goddamn pathetic I thought that she would die if I moved out and left her alone," Brianna said. "But now after this, I hope she dies a painful death. Sheís a liar and sheís evil."
David was about to take a fatherly role to Brianna for the first time in both of their lives. Still not understanding why Kristen deserted him when he was arrested eighteen years ago and not knowing just how instrumental she was in his arrest, he offered words of advice to his daughter.
"You know Brianna sometimes you just have to forgive those who cause you anger and pain," he told her. "How do you think I survived eighteen years behind bars when I knew that I was an innocent man?"
Brianna said nothing but the look on her face said, "I donít think so".
David continued, "You have no other choice but letting them get the best of you or retaliating. If you let them get to you that will do nothing but eat you up inside. If you retaliate youíre probably going to cause a much bigger problem."
Brianna remained quiet and somber as she looked at her father with tear filled eyes. He took her right hand and kissed it. The calamity was over.
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