On the day of Hochner’s sentencing, Ilka’s mother brought her the newspaper article with tears streaming down her face. She didn’t have to read it; the headline told her everything:
Burger King Killer Sentenced to Death on Nine Counts of MurderFor the first time in three months, Ilka smiled. For the first time in two weeks, she spoke.
"I want to go see him."
Her mother was stunned. "What?"
"I want to go see him. I have to ask him something."
"Ilka, sweetie, I don’t know if you can do..."
"Of course I can. Will they let me? Sure they will. Can I handle it? I don’t know. But I have to find out."
"Honey, I don’t think that it’s a good idea."
Ilka looked at her mother, more emotion on her face in one glance than there had been since the day she woke up without her left leg. "Mom, I’ve been waiting for this. Please, I want to go. I have to go."
Ilka’s parents were unhappy, but how could they begrudge their wheelchair-bound daughter her one wish?
Her father made the arrangements, and on a sunny Tuesday morning, he drove Ilka down to the county jail so she could meet Louis Hochner. Her father wanted to go with her to the visiting area, but Ilka insisted she go by herself.
Her arms were tired by the time she got to the end of the stark white hall. She presented her ID to the guard at the door, and when the opening alarm sounded on the door to the visiting area, Ilka jumped.
"You all right, miss?"
"Yep. How long do I have in there?"
"Ten minutes to talk to the prisoner."
Ilka nodded and wheeled herself into the room. There were other people sitting around, mostly women with babies on one side of the glass, screeching into the phone. On the other side were men in orange, chins in hand, listening with empty eyes and sad hearts to their baby mamas, wondering when the hell their ten minutes would be up. She handed her appointment card to the guard leaning against the wall and he handed it to another man who walked behind the glass and through another door. The first officer indicated a space at the glass and Ilka wheeled herself into it.
She was staring at the door on the other side, waiting for Hochner to appear, and for a moment she felt the twitch in her missing leg like she could just get up and run. She looked down. The left leg of her jeans was tied in a knot against her thigh. She wasn’t running anywhere.
Another alarm buzzed and Ilka’s head snapped up. Hochner came through the door followed by a solemn looking guard. The bile of fear rose in Ilka’s throat and she swallowed it down. She gripped the side of her wheelchair. Hochner looked shorter than Ilka remembered, and then she realized that he was in a wheelchair, too. The guard wheeled him into the table on the other side of the glass from Ilka and stepped back against the wall behind the prisoners.
Ilka and Hochner stared at each other. For a moment, neither of them knew what they were doing there. Ilka reached for the black handset and Hochner did the same. They held their handsets to their ears and kept staring.
"Who are you?" Hochner finally asked. Ilka flinched. She had expected his voice to be angry and bellowing like it had been in the Burger King. Instead, it was deep but soft, almost concerned. He had the same creased brow as he had in the mug shot that had been broadcast on the news, but now he looked more concerned than angry.
"My name is Ilka. You shot me in the leg. They cut it off."
Hochner looked at Ilka’s eyes and a shiver blew through her. "I’m sorry," he whispered, lowering his head in shame.
Ilka fought back tears. "It’s okay."
He looked up. "It is?"
Ilka nodded. "They said you have a weakness for whisky."
Hochner shook his head. "Those fucking assholes, they sold me out."
"They went all the way against the Bum Code of Ethics, telling the police I was a drunk."
"My dad is, too."
Hochner picked at a scratch in the table. Ilka pulled the receiver close to her ear and leaned into the glass between them as though he might hear her better. "We’re human, you know."
Hochner looked into Ilka’s face. "Humans don’t do what I did, usually."
"We all make mistakes. You lost your legs, too."
"How old are you?"
"Twenty-four. How old are you?"
"Forty-six. They’re gonna kill me."
"Why did you murder ten people?"
"Hey, it was only nine. That old lady dropped dead of her own accord."
"Was it all just for money for whisky?"
"Scotch. It’s scotch. And no. Have you ever had a Whopper from Burger King?"
Ilka nodded, smiling. "Oh man, they’re good. I was eating one when you… you…"
"Yeah, well, I was hungry. And all I wanted was a Whopper, you know, with extra onions."
"I always liked mine with extra pickles and mayonnaise."
"Oh, I hate mayonnaise. But I wanted a Whopper that day."
"So why didn’t you just come and buy one instead of blowing the place to bits?"
"When you’re broke and hungry, you’ll do anything for some food. I asked the girl for a Whopper and she said no and I told her I was gonna rape her ass with the shotgun in my pants and I showed her the stock and she screamed so I shot her."
Ilka and Hochner both leaned closer to the glass between them. Their noses were both almost touching. He had blue eyes. She had dark roots around the perimeter of her blonde head.
"Hochner, was it worth it?"
"Why did that little cunt scream when I said not to?"
"A man’s arm landed on her chicken sandwich."
"Two minutes," the guard leaning over Hochner’s shoulder mouthed at Ilka. She nodded.
"We gotta stop soon," she said, leaning back in her wheelchair. Her palms were sweaty.
"Why did you come here, Ilka?"
She shrugged. "I originally came to tell you how awful you are, but I saw you in a wheelchair, too, and I saw a man. Just a man. A man who didn’t testify on his own behalf, but who is clearly insane. And they never knew. They let homeless people speak on your behalf. If you had testified, they would have known that you were crazy."
"I want a Whopper for my last meal. You think they’ll do that?"
Ilka nodded. "Do you have running dreams?"
Hochner smiled. "Yeah, I do. They’re great. I dream I’m running on the beach."
"I dream I’m running into your arms."
The guard came around and put his hands on Hochner’s wheelchair. Hochner strained his neck to the receiver as the guard started to pull him away.
"Are they warm, at least?"
The guard pulled the wheelchair back and Hochner threw the receiver at the glass. Ilka jumped and yelled, "LIKE HELL! HOT LIKE HELL!!"
Jessica E. Lapidus is a writer from Jersey City, NJ.