It’s just after midnight at Rader Records on a sultry spring evening in Hathian, Louisiana, and Parnell Urquhart is going on an errand to spring a felon from jail. He’s going to do this much the same way a husband might run to the Clam convenience store to pick up coffee or Pamprin. He’ll pay bail in the currency of blood money and terror. Parnell has a long line of credit in this currency here in Hathian. But like that husband who pulls on his jacket and goes into darkness for the sake of his family, Parnell does his business out of love.
That is the big secret of Parnell Urquhart. The streets of Hathian swarm with whispers about him, but none of those whispers is any secret. They tell the story he wants to be told. But the real story of Parnell Urquhart is that as great as the horrors he suffers and inflicts, there is a great love that inspired it.
This may make Parnell the most loving man in Hathian. He is certainly the most feared. The story of his life is written in wounds. Behind every wound is a heart more vulnerable and raw than most.
The first record of Parnell Urquhart is a group home assignment. His parents’ names are unknown, but his father was the City of Brotherly Love’s most unloving neighborhoods. As for his mother, in many ways, Parnell has always been seeking her out in the women in his life.
1:00 am, March 26th, and Parnell is leaving the Hathian Police Department with two women. One is ‘Sadie’, the felon he sprung. The other is the woman identified by people on the streets as Nisaa. He dotes on her and she on him. They act around each other as if it is always a sultry spring night: They get coffee together, go on drives together, Parnell does bumps of cocaine off her breasts.
Cocaine is another great love, and so a great pain, in the life of Parnell. But there are many others. Here in Hathian, many lovely and lethal women wear the black, red and white armband of Parnell’s gang, the Rejects.
Women and cocaine: These are the loves that steer the life of Parnell. According to his file, #2323-555 in the Philadelphia Criminal Investigations Division, he was connected with a crack cocaine distribution as early as age 17. Crack cocaine is the poor man’s quick path to power, and so it is clear that even at that young age, Parnell was driven to take great risks for the sake of being powerful, being protected. Behind every climb to power is a will to control – to have one’s life secured in one’s own grip. And that same Philly CID file informs us of what inspired Parnell to risk so much suffering:
Jordana was her name. To the Robbery and Homicide Division of the Philadelphia PD, she is Case #6033: A female victim of a drug-related homicide, pregnant at the time of her murder. Parnell’s name is not in Jordana’s file. He was incarcerated for trafficking at the time. He would go on to make his mark in the way that Hathian best knows him – by inflicting terror and agony on her behalf.
File #2323-555 concludes with Parnell being a suspect in several murders of gang members belong to the gang believed to have murdered Jordana. After his release from prison, it appears that love of Jordana and the will to protect that love, to avenge it, compelled him to risk the loss of a part of his soul by taking lives. He would not risk losing control, and so his case file ends with parole violation: He fled the threat of prison in Philadelphia.
A sledgehammer is a peculiar tool. It is used in construction, for the purposes of breaking down old structures to build new ones. On January 19th, Hathian police confiscated a sledgehammer from Parnell Urquhart on a charge of assault with intent. He had been using it to break the body of another man.
The real mystery of this incident, and of the brutal stories whispered about Parnell Urquhart, is not that he was breaking another human being. Hathian drowns in violence. The mystery is what Parnell is building, and why.
To any who have walked Hathian’s main boulevard and spotted the armbands of the Rejects, it is plain to see that Parnell is building a family – the family he never had. Those armbands are distinctive; they are a declaration of solidarity. The same colors they sport – red, black, white – were used by the Nazis, a regime that had at the core of its political philosophy the nurture and defense of the family, the nation, at any expense. Those armbands declare that the Rejects are a united front, bound by blood.
Parnell is their pater familias – the family father. Matriarchs of this family come and go, but Parnell remains. If his behavior with Nisaa is any indication, he is a patriarch who loves his family unashamedly and totally. And if his behavior toward the threats of Hathian are any indication, he will nurture and defend his family, his nation, at any expense.
If one asks the wounded, cringing animal that Hathian has become about the man that broke it into submission, you hear a record of unspeakable horrors: Kidnappings, brainwashings, torture. Of all the gangs in Hathian, Parnell’s Rejects have the longest list of arrest records for savage public attacks. The message that they are sending is clear: We punish you. They have become Hathian’s stern father.
Worst of the stories about them is a technique of terror that has come to typify Parnell Urquhart: He cuts the unborn children out of mothers and consumes them. The mind goes to its knees at such an atrocity.
It can only wonder: What compels such a thought to enter a man’s mind and what will does it take to see that thought through to action?
The answer is: It comes from a father of an actual child who will do anything necessary to protect his child.
Skylla Jordana Urquhart is like many other children in Hathian. She fits in this broken city in her own broken way. She goes to school and she gets in trouble. But unlike other children, Skylla was born when she was cut from the dying body of her mother, the night Case #6033 died at the hands of gang members on the streets of Philadelphia.
In a broken city, the edges of a relationship rise into relief: Records of child abuse abound. This is not the case with the relationship of Skylla to her father, Parnell. No record of abuse appears. She is, by all indications, taken care of.
An illustration of Parnell’s character emerges, defined by these relationships: A loving father. A man who adores his gangs’ solidarity. A leader who will defend his people to the point of being characterized by the unthinkable atrocity of eating a helpless, unborn human being.
This picture is too clear to be drawn by an insane hand. The definition is clear: Parnell does the unthinkable because he wants to make attacks against his family, his love, unthinkable. He can do it because it is necessary. It is necessary because protecting his family is necessary.
It is 6am, March 26th, and Parnell Urquhart is standing sentinel in the parking lot of Rader Records. He looks like a warlord on the battlements of his castle: Hathian’s stern father, an eye out for misbehavior, arms crossed until they will open at the approach of someone he leaves. He wears a brown sweatshirt that almost covers his scars.
Admission records at Hathian General Hospital uncover what that sweatshirt almost hides. Parnell Urquhart’s body is almost entirely covered with marks: Marks of the injuries he has suffered being the shield for his tender and vulnerable heart. Marks of identification with the gangs and women he has given that heart to. He is defined by these marks.
At 6:15am, March 26th, he is hiding them. I go to approach him for this article for the fifth time, and his eyes don’t shift. His arms don’t open. He cares too deeply for two things – correcting disobedience against his fatherhood of Hathian and loving those close to him with all he has, at any expense – to give me any mind.
If I threatened that family, he would care enough to break me in such a way that I would consider threatening his love to be unthinkable. If I befriended his family, he would do whatever was necessary to keep me safe. But I have a deadline for this article. And what I want, to expose him and the tremendous vulnerability of his heart – a heart that feels too deeply to allow itself any risk – is something he will never want.
The Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center records Parnell as having occupied its walls for nearly five years. But Hathian’s streets tell a different story.
The stories about Parnell Urquhart have built concrete walls and barbed wire around him. They protect him and his family. But in doing so, they lock him away from the rest of the world: Lock him in the definition as a murderer, a monster, a man who does the unthinkable. He is imprisoned by his conviction of what is necessary. He is a prisoner of love.
So long as he lives in Hathian, Parnell will make sure Hathian is imprisoned by his love as well.