Six people carry the coffin out of the black hearse and proceed to walk onto the grass. They walk a few yards, followed by a bunch of people dressed in dark colors, until they reach a six-foot deep hole in the ground in Forest Lawn Memorial Park-Hollywood Hills, which is in Los Angeles, California, near Griffith Park.
The plot itself has a nice view. Anyone looking north from here can see Disney Studios and NBC Studios and Warner Brothers Studios and a large portion of the city of Burbank. There are well over one hundred people here-friends and relatives and even people who had never met the deceased before. The funeral procession was not that long-the family was able to have the viewing and the funeral in the same place. People even pitched in to help pay for the expenses. The sun shines down on the people gathered around the coffin, reflecting the personality of the person who is being buried here today.
Everyone agrees that this is such a tragedy. For the person in the coffin was a young woman, twenty years of age, with hopes and dreams and who once had her whole life ahead of her until that fateful night last week that led them all here.
She loved life. Always cheerful, she can make people focus on something other than their troubles. Her biggest love was music; she was in a band that had recently signed a record deal, and nearly finished their debut album. Now she is gone.
And her death is truly a tragedy, for her life, her future, came to an end in a manner of minutes.
From what the funeral guests know, it was a chance encounter in the laundry room of her apartment building with a man whom she had never met, whom she had never heard of. That man made a choice.
He attacked her. He forced himself upon her.
And he killed her.
Everyone there is at a loss on how someone could do something like that to her. Everyone there is at a loss on why her life, her dreams, her future, had to end in such a manner. Everyone is at a loss on how such an ugly crime can happen to such a beautiful person.
The funeral goes as planned, everyone says their speeches memorializing this woman whom they now say goodbye forever.
Then the coffin is buried, lowered into its final resting place. Pressure waves carry the sound of sobbing many many yards. "Why, God, why?" is asked by more than one person. A bulldozer then pours dirt into the hole, covering the coffin.
After that the funeral guests all leave, some of them still sobbing heavily.
One man was not at the funeral earlier today. One man who loved her, loved her more than anything else in existence. One man who is now trapped in a dark reality with no way out. One man who knows another side to the story.
Andrew Curtis lies down on his bed, only barely aware of his surroundings. There could be a war going on just outside the building and he would not notice.
Darlene is gone. And she will never come back.
He lost her forever.
He replays his memories of her, a girl whom he spent a quarter of his life with.
He does not remember when he first noticed her. Perhaps it was while walking to one of his classes in high school, or during one of his classes. She did not particularly stand out from the other girls back then.
Until that day.
He was on the sophomore basketball team. He was playing a game when his right knee caught a basketball. He had to go to the hospital.
And she visited him there. They talked for a while, and immediately hit it off.
They began hanging out, both in school and out of school. He remembers that first date with her a few weeks after his injury. He was still in crutches. She eagerly introduced him to her parents. They then went to a pizzeria. And she was home by 9:00.
Then came parties, school dances, and the senior prom. Finally, graduation came. He remembers her in the cap and gown. He graduated with honors, she just graduated.
They then went to Pacific Southwest University. His education was paid by a full academic scholarship from some chartiable foundation; her education was paid by her parents. He chose criminal justice; she chose music. They lived in different dorm buildings their freshman year, and then they managed to get apartments in the same building.
He remembers that night last week when he proposed to her after a nice steak dinner in her apartment. "Darlene Jenelle Garland, will you marry me?" he remembers saying. He remembers giving her the engagement ring with her name engraved on the inside.
He remembers how he felt when he was with her; how she never failed to lift his spirits.
He remembers that most awful night. He remembers seeing the flashing red and blue lights from his window before he was about to go to sleep. He remembers seeing the police just outside the laundry room.
And he remembers seeing her body on the stretcher. He remembers thinking she was just unconscious; that she will be all right. But he listened, and knew that this was a homicide investigation, that she was dead.
He remembers hearing that the suspect was hiding in a downtown warehouse. He drove over there with her car and went after him.
He broke the arms and legs of the man who did this horrible deed to her. He was about to break the guy's neck when the police came in and shone their lights in the dark warehouse.
He remembers the face all to well.
A near-lethal overdose of radioactive steroids healed his knee injury and gave him super strength, super endurance, and super speed. He decided to become a fighter in a cable television show called No Holds Barred, which airs on the USA Network. He remembers seeing that man running in his direction. He remembers hearing a security guard asking for someone to stop the man. He remembers standing back and watching as the obese, out-of-shape security guard chased after someone much faster.
He remembers saying, "And you could have paid a visit to Jenny Craig."
Andrew Curtis, the Crusader, let that man get away. He let that man get away to rape and kill Darlene.
Newspaper reports confirmed that Darlene had been raped before she was killed. He can only imagine the shock and horror she felt when this man whom she never met or heard of forced himself inside her.
From his classes in criminal justice, he had an idea of the tumultous feelings of fear and shame rape victims go through during the rape.
And he knows that was how Darlene was feeling in the last moments of her life.
It is all his fault. He could have stopped him. He could have stopped him back at the locker room in the Grand Olympic Auditorium, stopped him from going to the laundry room in his apartment building.
He did not stop him.
And now she is dead, murdered in a brutal crime.
As he lies down, he wonders if the radioactive steroids circulating in his bloodstream will kill him. He is not afraid of that. Death will relieve him from the awful pain he feels in his grievously wounded soul.
He prays for death, for ultimate relief.
Melvin Jenkins and Sandy Brewster go to the Coyotes' Den, a diner in Pacific Southwest University, to eat lunch. Darlene's funeral yesterday is still in the back of their minds even as they order burders and fries and a Coca-cola and a Sprite.
Darlene was the one who introduced Mel to Sandy, about a year ago. After a few weeks, they started dating. It seems so long ago, but she was alive last week.
Mel then sees Andrew, sitting by himself with his head down.
"Hi," he says to his friend from high school. "You weren't at the funeral yesterday."
"I didn't feel like going."
"Her mom and dad was wondering why you didn't show up. Why you weren't even at the viewing earlier this week?"
"I loved her. I loved her more than anything else. She was my life. And she's gone forever." Andrew gets up and leaves the diner.
Mel looks at the door where Andrew exited. Sandy had told him during the first day of the viewing at the Forest Lawn Mortuary that Andrew and Darlene got enegaged the night before Darlene was murdered. He wonders if his friend will ever get through this. He wonders if his friend will ever find comfort or happiness again.
Andrew is back at the Grand Olympic Auditorium as the Crusader. He had hoped fighting would at least distract him from his titanic grief.
It does not.
He sees his opponent, a man dressed like a ballerina with butterfly-like wings glued to the back. He is not even half-focused on the fight, and he takes a few blows.
Finally, he takes a powerful kick to his chest. It does not faze him or even dizzy him, but its momentum pushes him over the ropes. Before he can regain his balance, he falls out of the mat.
"And the winner by ringout is the Fairy!" shouts the emcee. The crowd cheers loudly, Andrew barely notices.
Big Mike, the producer of No Holds Barred, talks to the Crusader. "Everyone loses once in a while," he says. "At least you get the two hundred dollars."
"I lost more than you can imagine," replies the Crusader.
The Crusader changes back to Andrew Curtis, removing the black hooded costume with the white cross on the front and back with a blue button-down shirt and Levi's jeans.
He looks around the locker room. This is where he first saw the man who would take away his hopes and dreams in a brutal, savage rape and murder upon the only person he ever loved.
He quickly leaves before the memories overwhelm him.
The next day, Andrew Curtis walks around in a haze. He has nothing to do this day. He is in emotional turmoil, the same turmoil he has been in since that awful night.
He briefly focuses on his surroundings, a crowded sidewalk next to a busy street. He can see cars, trucks, vans, and buses going in both directions.
He then notices a man and a woman, obviously a happy couple, walk as the man has his arm around the woman's waist and the woman smiling at her love. The sight rubs more salt into the grievous wound in his soul.
After about three hours of wandering the streets, he comes across a building, a familiar building. He had not been in this building in two years.
He is at a loss. Emotionally and physically, he has been wandering aimlessly, hoping for relief.
Now he looks at where it began.
He walks in, his head down.