Amanda Marks had a vivid dream. She watched as two men, strangers to her, carried a wooden box to the edge of a precipice. The box looked heavy; it took two men to carry it. They were in an unfamiliar desert landscape. Amanda thought it looked like the surface of the moon. Amanda knew the Anza-Borrego desert. It was near her home. This place was strewn with huge boulders, each big enough to challenge expert rock climbers. The cliff over which the men heaved the weighty box led down to more boulders. It was early morning, dark as twilight.
A fog of lingering fear followed her to the breakfast table. Her brother Forest saw her expression and asked, “What’s wrong with you? You look like you just escaped the clutches of Beelzebub. Is he still gaining on you?”
Amanda’s widowed father sat at the head of the table, which seemed too large, now that his wife was dead. He said, “What’s wrong, Mandy? Bad dream?”
“Yeah, a nightmare, and I can’t shake it.” Amanda’s father was Bernard Marks. His law firm was Marks and Fielding, soon to be Marks, Fielding and Marks, when Forest joined it.
Amanda was an actor who worked for theaters from Seattle to San Diego. She and ten other Thespians took an improv class from Maurice Manning, who had once been famous as the director of a Manhattan company called ‘Three Witches.’ “The name comes from the Scottish play,” he said.
Theater people cherish their superstitions. Those include the imprecation that one must not utter the name, ‘Macbeth’ anywhere besides on the stage where the play is performed. Saying the forbidden name will bring the forces of evil charging in. Demons with saber teeth and flying witches bearing horns on their heads will plague, not only the one who said the name, but everybody in the building. Hence, Maurice Manning’s use of the sobriquet ‘the Scottish play.’
That afternoon Manning told his improv class, ‘One of you must direct a scene, using two others. Tell them the setting and their tasks, and let them at it. Who will be director?” Amanda wanted to exorcize her dream-vision, so she raised her hand. She chose a couple of men, whom she told, “You have to carry a heavy wooden box to the edge of a cliff, which we’ll say is here.” She went to a section of the room, “You must carry it between you. It’s too heavy for one.”
“How big should we make it?”
Amanda surprised and disconcerted herself by saying, “As big as a coffin.” Then she said, “You’re going to tip it over the cliff. Figure out how to do that.” The actors consulted briefly, then enacted Amanda’s story. It didn’t help her to get rid of her malaise, but she praised their work. “Looking over the edge to watch the box fall was a nice touch, Rob.’ And, “I liked your wiping the sweat from your face, Henry.” She wanted to cry, but didn’t let herself.
At home, her dad and her brother were watching the six o’clock news before dinner. Sydney, the family Australian Shepperd, sat at Forest’s feet; “That’s the news from Los Angeles. Some hikers in Joshua Tree National Park came across a grizzly sight today. Here, among these boulders, they found the body of a man, lying in the shattered remnants of a wooden box. The man has been identified as Fareed Billings. His wife gave the police this picture of him, and they passed it to us. If you think you have information about this case, please call the police Commissioner at the number on the screen, or email him at the address that you see.”
Amanda allowed herself to cry now. Forest asked, “What’s going on, Sis?”
“I saw him being dumped over that cliff.”
“What do you mean you saw it?”
“In that nightmare, or vision or whatever; and I’m going to call the Commissioner.”
The Police Commissioner was a handsome African-American called Kwame Davis. He said, “Come in to my office, Ms. Marks.” Amanda saw a spare, utilitarian room, whose only concessions to the decorative were a desk, which looked as though the Eames’ could have designed it, and some Daumier prints, making fun of lawyers, which Amanda’s father would have liked; “Sit down Ms. Marks. You know, I don’t discount the insights of psychics. They can be useful, as I hope yours will be. What do you have to tell me about Joshua Tree?”
Amanda sat nervously, “I saw two men tipping that box over the cliff.”
“In a dream?”
She shook her head. Amanda gained confidence from his respectful questions’ “It was a vision. I saw it while it happened.”
“Can you tell me about these men?”
“I’ve thought about that. They seemed like ordinary guys in jeans and sweat shirts. They were shivering because early dawn is cold, even in the desert. Oh yes, I think one was Latino.”
A local television channel kept a stringer at the police station. She was allowed to read interview reports. She took more than a passing interest in Amanda’s story, and told Chauncey Clark about it. She also gave him the email address for Amanda. Chauncey Clark fancied himself as the local Charley Rose. He interviewed minor celebrities, including sports players who weren’t yet famous or on the way down the ladder. He wrote to Amanda, “We understand that you had a vision of those involved in the Joshua Tree murder. Will you come on our program to tell our audience what you saw? You will be compensated, of course. Yours, Chauncey Clark.”
Amanda printed out the letter, and showed it to her father and Forest. They were at the dinner table. To give himself time to think about the letter, Bernard Marks bantered with the house keeper. He said, “Your cooking has improved, Rosa. Have you been watching Martha Stewart?”
“What could I learn from that bruja, Senor Marks? How to make jail bird stew?”
Bernard turned to Amanda, “Chauncey Clark’s program emphasizes the sensational, Mandy. If I were you I’d refuse his offer.”
Against her father’s advice, Amanda sat on a couch in Clark’s studio. She had worked in a soap opera, but this format was new to her. Clark sat at a desk and talked to the camera, “This young lady is Amanda Marks. She had an amazing experience. One morning she had a waking dream—well you tell it, Amanda—“
Amanda felt the camera’s eye on her. Because she was an actor, she knew how to use her feelings and experiences to affect an audience, but keep herself under control. Being in the camera’s gaze was exhilarating. She seemed to grow larger. She said to the camera, ‘I was so scared. I had to watch while two gangsters heaved a coffin over the edge of a precipice. I wanted to get out of there, but I couldn’t.” She gave the performance of her life.
The Marks family had a swimming pool in the back yard. Amanda, Forest and Sydney were lounging beside it. That is, Amanda and Forest were lounging, they had deck chairs. Sydney trotted between them, trying to get someone to throw his tennis ball. Forest asked, “How do you feel about having gone on Clark’s show? I think you exploited your own being, your essential self. What do you say?”
“I’ve been thinking about it. Mom would agree with you. Dad does agree. Clark gets people to exploit themselves. Damn him!” Then she said, “Come on Sydney, let’s go in the water. Bring your tennis ball.”
Amanda’s morning visions showed her mundane things, like people cooking breakfast or driving to work. She was afraid she would be forced to watch someone burn herself, or a horrendous car crash. Neither of those things happened. It was the lull before the whirlwind.
Amanda had to witness a rape. She was in Kwame Davis’ austere office. She paced the floor, almost shouting, “Why did she let him in? She should have said, ‘No, you can’t use my phone. Don’t you have a phone in your pocket? Go away!’ and slammed the door in his face. But he was well- spoken. He called her, ‘Ma’am.’ And he was baby-faced, almost pretty. I watched him go to the door, and I watched her admit him. I tried to yell ‘no,’ but I couldn’t. I drifted in to the house after him. He stopped calling her ‘ma’am.’ He advanced on her. He said, ‘I’m going to do you, bitch!’ Then he grabbed her and threw her to the floor. He got on top of her. He pulled down her pants, put his mouth over her screaming mouth, opened his fly and raped her. Then he strangled her.” Amanda was exhausted by the effort of telling this. She was sobbing.
Kwame Davis gently embraced Amanda’s shoulder and led her to a chair. He said, ”He strangled her so she couldn’t bear witness against him, but there was another witness, you;” He went on, “I have to do this, Ms. Marks. I have to ask you questions.”
“Please tell me about where you were when this happened. What was the outside like? Was there a driveway?”
“Yes. It curved up to the front door, and went on to the garage.”
“What about the yard?”
“Grounds I’d call it. A big front yard by a very large house.”
“Where do you think this very large house is?”
“Why here of course. Southern California. It was a Spanish style hacienda.”
The Commissioner said,” I wonder why nobody else was home, to rattle around in that large hacienda. I think the perp counted heads, when he chose the place, and stood in the bushes until he saw the others leave. Then he made his move.”
Amanda stared in wonderment, “I’m glad my mind doesn’t work like yours.”
“I have to think like a perp, Ms. Marks. You know the old saying, ‘Send a thief to catch a thief.’ I’m not a criminal, but I must plan like one.” Then he asked, “Amanda, are you willing to look at a line-up? I want to bring in all the sex offenders known to us and have you survey them.”
Chauncey Clark called Amanda’s cell, “Hi Amanda. A little bird told me about your rape vision. That’s sensational, girl! We need to set up a time for you to come in, and we’ll tell the home folks about it.”
“No Mr. Clark. That would be wrong. It’s vulgar and exploitative. I can’t understand why I did your program before. Goodbye Mr. Clark”
“Don’t hang up on me, you little bi’. We can work things out Amanda. We’ll talk—“
“No we won’t. I’m not going to titillate their aging libidos. No, I won’t do it”
“Okay Ms. Marks. I’ll tell my loyal fans that your claim to have seen a rape is false, and that you’re a dirty-minded, lying pervert, you fucking bitch!”
Amanda said, “Do your worst, Clark;” but she was scared.
The Marks family was at the dinner table. Amanda said, “It looks like Clark’s followed through on his threat. I’m getting hate email.”
In order not to respond too impulsively, Bernard said, “Don’t feed Sydney at the table, Forest.” Then he told Amanda, “You did the right thing. Hold on to that, Mandy.”
Six months before all this, Amanda’s mother Linda, was driving home on the freeway. She got on to a ramp, saw a man standing on the road in the middle of the speeding cars. She swerved to avoid him, and plowed into the stone wall.
In the hospital, Bernard sat by her bed, watching her die. She asked, “Did I avoid him?”
“That fellow standing among the cars, gesticulating; “Then Linda Marks, wife and mother, died.
Bernard found out later that there had been no pedestrian on the ramp.
Chauncey Clark’s fans didn’t content themselves with nasty emails. They became Clark’s Raiders. They scrawled ‘sex-mad,’ ‘dirty-minded bitch,’ and worse on the Marks garage door.
And they yelled. Forest and Sydney came out to scare them off. Sydney barked and strained at his leash. They ran, but came back.
Commissioner Davis sent police to disperse the merry pranksters. He also sent a car for Amanda. This was the time for her to see the rogues gallery.
“This is one-way glass, Amanda. You can see them, but they can’t see you.” The men had been taken from their rented trailers and shabby rooms in SRO hotels. They shuffled into the room where Amanda could view them. She stood at the glass. “Take your time.”
“I don’t need to. He’s the baby-faced one!” She pointed.
“Amanda, I thank you so much. If we have to ask you to testify, will you do it?”
“If you protect me, I’ll do it. I’ll be scared, but I’ll do it.”
At home, beside the pool, Amanda told Forest, “I think Mom had what I have. Poor Mom! I’ll learn to manage it. I won’t let it manage me, or lead me into bad company again.”
“Does Kwame Davis count as bad company?” Amanda punched Forest’s arm, which caused Sydney to bark.