This Rough Magick

Hours later, in a back booth at Galahad’s Table, Ileana Tassiopulos was on her second cosmo when Phoenix Trinidad slid into the seat across from her.

“I’m glad you called,” Phoenix said. She sipped malbec from the glass in front of her. “And thanks for ordering my wine.”

“Don’t thank me,” Ileana said. “You’re paying for this dinner. It’s part of my fee.” She pushed a menu across the table and after another hefty swallow set down her glass. “I figured we needed to talk without having it recorded.” Then she drew in a long breath. “You knew, didn’t you? You knew why she did it.”

“She told me up front,” Phoenix said. “I didn’t want to compromise your evaluation.”

“Still they found her competent to stand trial.” 

“Just like Gloria Trask…”

Ileana narrowed her eyes. “Why do I know that name?”

 “Forty-odd years ago she killed all four of her children, to drive out the demons that possessed them. She carved religious symbols in their bodies and wrapped them in white robes for the trip to Heaven.”

“My God!”

“But her insanity defense went nowhere, and the case has haunted her lawyer for years. Jonah Landsburgh, my senior partner.” Phoenix shook her head sadly. “He says those were the days when being Black meant you were seen as too dumb to be crazy. And any woman who did something so evil… Well, she spent most of her life in prison, in gen pop, before compassionate release a couple years back. From all accounts I’ve read, she endured sheer torture. That’s not justice.”

“Which is why you didn’t toss Bonnie to a public defender.” Ileana swallowed. “Prison would eat her alive, but guilty or not guilty, she can’t be permitted to re-enter society.”

“A mental facility would be best but it could be a long shot,” Phoenix said. “How fine is the line between delusion and faith? Especially today, in a climate where religious freedom is being used to do questionable things. As crazy as this country has been the past few years, how many people in the current jury pool would be true believers enough to think she did the right thing? How many would dismiss her mental health as irrelevant?” Phoenix downed the last of her Malbec. “Insanity is a legal term that means the mind is incapable of determining right from wrong. A tricky plea when a person believes strongly she was doing the right thing.”

Ileana opened her own menu. “You’re definitely going to need my help.”



Edgar Award-winning playwright, novelist, and essayist Gary Earl Ross is a retired University at Buffalo professor. His staged plays include The Scavenger’s Daughter, The Mark of Cain, The Guns of Christmas, The Trial of Trayvon Martin, and Matter of Intent. His books include the story collections Wheel of Desire, Shimmerville, and Beneath the Ice, the novel Blackbird Rising and the Nickel City mysteries with PI Gideon Rimes. Ross lives in Buffalo, called the Nickel City after the buffalo head nickel. 


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Monday, July 3, 2023 - 20:00