Tommy held the door open for Mary as she stepped in side. The sign by the register counter said, “Seat Yourself.” Together they selected a booth that looked out towards the Crescent City Harbor.
“Tell me again, why you selected this restaurant?” Mary asked.
Tommy looked up from his menu and said, “I just wanted you to know where I got arrested for stealing twelve hundred dollars.” Then he looked out the window at the row of fishing vessels gently rocking at their moorings. His mind wondered back to that September day so many years ago.
Clank, clank, clank; it was the sound of dishes being struck together as he worked quickly to scrape and spray them before loading them into the high pressure washer. He was a busboy and dishwasher.
The steam rose up and blasted Tommy in the face. He had long since abandoned his glasses so that he could at least see what he was doing.
The Captain, as he called himself, was at the grill, cooking the lunch orders one at a time and Tommy rushed out to clear another booth so that people could have a place to sit down. Lunch time rushes were always like this at the Captain’s Table Restaurant.
“Another double with jack cheese and the kitchen sink,” called out Carolyn through the din of voices and plates and the sizzle of the grill. She smiled at Tommy as he passed by her with another tub loaded down with dirty dishes and silverware.
The pace slowed eventually after a three hour dash. The lunch rush was over. The other two waitresses clocked out leaving Tommy to bus the tables alone and Carolyn to wait on any new comers to the restaurant. Captain Jack turned the grill duties over to the swing cook, George.
“Eh, Tommy,” came Jack’s voice from the back office.
Tommy set aside the dishes he was rinsing and walked the ten or so steps around the corner and into Jack’s office. “Yes?” he replied as he entered through the already open doorway.
Jack looked up from the pile of paper on his deck, “When you get time clean this crap up, would you?” Jack waved an arm over the desk and then stood up.
“Alright,” was the only response Tommy gave him.
Jack was not one to spend a lot of time in conversation with his employees. He had been in the Navy and preferred bark orders instead of ask please. His tone of voice was most imposing for a man nearly seventy years old and only five foot eight. Yet he got the results he wanted or that particular employee would find themselves without work.
This was Tommy’s second job. On most nights he could be found on patrol as a deputy reserve in the Klamath area. It was a non paying position which is why he had to have this job. Most days were spent at the Captain’s Table until the late afternoon, bussing tables and washing dishes, so he was used to the Captain’s imperious demeanor.
Tommy went back to his work station and finished up the plates he had stacked in the sink. He loaded them and turned the washer on. Meanwhile the Captain untied his apron and hung it up on the door hook as he stepped outside. As he did this he looked over at Dodi, the short order prep cook and said, “I’ll be back in about an hour.”
“Okay,” was all that she said as she continued to chop lettuce.
Tommy wiped his hands on his apron and walked to the back door. The coolness of the outdoor air was a refreshing change from the hot and steamy work area he had been in. “I’m looking forward to being off in a while,” he said as he stood in the doorway. He continued, “I don’t have duty tonight either so I get to sleep all night.”
Dodi looked up at him and smiled as she continued to chop at the lettuce. “How’s your sister doing?” she asked.
“I guess she’s doing okay,” Tommy responded. Marcy had been struck by a car as she walked along Highway 101 and now lay paralyzed from the neck down in a San Jose Hospital.
“Terrible thing for such a young girl,” Dodi continued.
“Yeah it is,” he returned and then wanting to change the subject Tommy said, I got to show you what I bought yesterday.” He turned and walked into the office he was directed to clean and where the coats and jackets and such were hanging and returned with an olive-drab sweater.
Dodi turned and looked at it, “Nice, it ought to keep you warn at night.” She returned to chopping.
Tommy went back and hung the sweater up. He thought to himself, “She wasn’t the least bit interested in it. At least she stopped talking about Marcy.”
He wondered back out and into the dining area, grabbing a wash bin from under the counter and proceeding to fill it with dirty dishes, silverware, glasses and coffee cups. As he was bent over wiping down the booth seat, Carolyn came over. She bumped him with her hip. He stood up and smiled at her, “How you doing?” he asked.
She smiled, “Any better and I’d have to scream.” She winked at him and headed back towards the kitchen area.
He liked flirting with Carolyn. Sometimes she stood so close to him that he could swear he could smell the soap she used when bathing. Often he had to shake the thought of her from his head be cause she tended to raise his excitement level. He promised that one day he would come in with his uniform on just so he could try and impress her.
He lifted the now full bin and carried it back to the sink area. He set it down and opened the dishwasher. It puffed out a gasp of hot steam and Tommy unloaded it, stacking each plate with its like and so forth.
Once that task was completed he moved on to the next thing to be done; rinsing and loading. As he continued to scrape the food from the dirty plates, rinsing them and then loading them into the washer, Carolyn came in. He was just closing the lid down and turning the washer on when he asked, “Do you want to see what I have?” He realized that he left himself wide open for a smart aleck comment and he blushed.
She quickly responded, “Is it your pet snake?” Her voice lilted over the word your making Tommy blush an even deeper red.
“I knew I said that all wrong the moment I opened my mouth,” Tommy said. Then he added, “I meant my new sweater.” He walked into the office and brought it out.
“Ooo, is that olive green?” Caroline asked. Then she added, “It goes great with your eyes. Makes them look green too.”
Tommy felt his face heat up.
Then she asked, “Is that for your uniform?”
“Yeah, as soon as I get the patches sewn on,” Tommy remarked back.
“Well, let me know when you want to put the patches on. I’ll do it,” she said.
Tommy was pleasantly surprised by the offer and responded with, “Thank you. I will.”
He walked back into the office and hung the sweater up once again on the rack. From the other room came the familiar voice of Kenny. He was Captain Jack’s grandson. He usually stopped by once a day to say hello.
“Howdy, Kenny,” Tommy half shouted from the office. “What’s happening?” he added.
Kenny poked his head around the corner and said, “Not much, how about you?”
“Just work,” was Tommy’s answer.
Kenny flopped down into his grandfathers’ chair and swiveled it around a few times. Tommy chuckled and headed back to the sink and the noise of the dishwasher. A minute later Kenny followed.
“Do you know how long it’s going to be before he gets back?” Kenny asked Tommy.
Yet before he could answer Dodi shouted, “He said he’d be back in an hour!”
Kenny went back around the corner and continued the conversation with Dodi, so Tommy walked back into the office and started cleaning. He stopped to pick up the broom and dust pan from behind the office door, which opened outward.
The office was not that dirty, just in need of tidying up. He quickly swept the floor over and picked up what little he had collected in the dust pan. Next he picked up the desk calendar and emptied the pile of papers into the awaiting garbage can. He pulled the garbage can liner out and neatly tied the corners into a knot. From there he walked outside and pitched it into the green dumpster.
Tommy hung the broom and pan back up just as the Captain walked in the door. The Captain picked his apron up off the door hook and put it on.
Meanwhile Tommy stepped to the dishwashing area. He looked around wanting to appear busy. He decided to empty the garbage can that contained all the left over scraps from the lunch rush. Besides it would give him a chance to go out into the cool, fresh air.
“Where’s it at you little son of a bitch?!” It was Captain Jack and he was standing behind Tommy with his hands on his hips.
Tommy was still busy unloading the dishwasher and he looked over his right shoulder to see who Jack was talking too. Tommy was surprised and asked, “Are you talking to me?”
“Yeah, I’m talking to you,” Jack responded, “Where’s it at?”
George stepped into the area and said, “Calm down, Jack.”
Jack glared at him and responded, “Calm down, my ass! I’m missing twelve hundred bucks!” He paused, adding, “And he took it.” He was pointing at Tommy.
Next he reached out and grabbed Tommy by the apron, jerking him forward. George grabbed the Captain around the chest and arms as Carolyn attempted to squeeze he tiny frame between Jack and Tommy. At this point the younger man gripped both of Jacks hands at the thumb and twisted them outward. This broke Captain Jack’s hold on the apron.
“I’m calling the cops,” Captain Jack shouted, but George held on to Jack as he struggled to break free. He dragged the Captain back into the kitchen.
Tommy could hear Jack yelling loudly at George, “I had twelve hundred dollars on my desk and now it’s gone and he’s the only one that’s been in there.”
“Are you sure?” George said, “Could you have taken it with you?”
“I didn’t take a goddamn thing!” Tommy finally exploded. He was angry and could feel himself shaking all over. Carolyn again placed herself between Tommy and the Captain. She was facing Tommy, looking at him. “I know I didn’t steal anything, Carolyn,” he said in a near whisper.
Without warning Jack burst out of the kitchen and walked through the work area and into his office. Everyone could hear him dial the telephone and then speak with a police dispatcher.
But before Jack had even gotten on the telephone a man had walked in the back door. He had been standing in the food prep area listening to everything as it transpired. He introduced himself and stated that he was with the company with which the Captain had his insurance. He stated, “Jack, your insurance will cover the loss.”
Jack came out of the office and pushed his way passed the insurance man. He headed outside and proceeded to climb into the dumpster. Within a minutes time he climbed back out carrying a brown plastic bag. He waved it at Tommy. “Thought you could out smart me you little bastard!”
He ripped the bag open and revealed a paper clipped set of one hundred dollar bills. “Threw it away, thinking you’d come back and get it later tonight,” he shouted.
He looked at Carolyn and stated, “It must have been on his desk or something.” She stared at Tommy with a puzzled expression.
Again the insurance man said, “You can still collect on your loss even though you’ve recovered it.” It was obvious that Jack was not listening as he recounted his money.
Kenny had been standing next to Dodi as Captain Jack walked in yet he had vanished at some point, but Tommy could not recall exactly when. “I wouldn’t want to stick around for this crap either,” Tommy thought as he realized Kenny had disappeared.
Tommy untied his apron and wadded it up. He tossed it on top of the sink and walked towards the office. Just as he reached the doorway and reached to get his sweater, Captain Jack rushed him. “Oh, no you don’t!” he said as he wrapped his forearm around Tommy’s head.
Out of instinct and training the young deputy reservist stepped back and unleashed an elbow into jack’s midsection, just below the rib cage. The older man let go immediately and backed away.
Tommy turned around, dropping the sweater, put up his hands in a fighting stance. “Come on, you want to have a go at me,” he taunted Jack. Jack backed farther away.
Tommy squatted down and picked up his sweater without taking his eyes off of the Captain. He thrust his head through the neck of the sweater and punched both arms into the sleeves. Then he pointed at Jack, “You touch me again and you’ll wind up in intensive care on life support,” he pause momentarily for effect and added, “Do you understand me?”
The sound of gravel crunching under the weight of tires could be heard outside. The police had arrived. Seconds later in through the opened door walked a sheriff deputy. It was an officer that Tommy recognized but did not really know. Soon a second deputy arrived.
They listened to what the Captain had to say. They spoke briefly with Dodi who said she remembered Tommy going in and out of the office several times including once to show her a new sweater. She reported to them that she found that to be odd behavior.
Meanwhile, Carolyn stood by Tommy holding his hand as they listened to what was being said. Tommy knew better that to reply to the comments because he felt certain that he would get his chance in just a minute or two. However he was wrong.
“This is all a bad dream,” he said to her as the second deputy requested him to turn around.
Tommy shuttered as the silver handcuffs clamped down like cold vice grips on his wrists. He did not pay attention to the deputy as he read him his rights. He was too busy thinking about his career as it faded away with each word of the Miranda Warning. He knew his dream of a lifetime spent in law enforcement was over as the echo of the cruiser door slamming shut resounded in his ears.
After making certain that Tommy did not strike his head as he was seated in the front seat of the cruiser and having secured his safety belt, they drove north on Highway 101. Not a word of conversation passed between the deputy and his prisoner. “At least I’m riding in the front seat and in the back like a common criminal.”
They pulled around back of the sheriff’s department building and waited as the sally port rose, allowing the cruiser inside. The deputy got out of the vehicle as the large metal grate squeaked and ground to a close. He then assisted Tommy out of his seat and together they proceeded up the short flight of steps.
The deputy rang the back door buzzer. The door popped open in response and they both went in with Tommy in the lead. This was standard operating procedure.
There was another door to pass through, however the duo had to pause long enough for the officer to remove his sidearm and deposit it in the weapons locker. The deputy pocketed the key and touched the button to signal that he was now ready to enter the booking area. The door unlatched and Tommy sighed heavily and hung his head from the embarrassment he felt.
He tried not to look up. He didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone for fear it might be someone he knew. Yet he was forced to look up as his mug shot was taken. Now he knew there was no going back. Tommy thought to himself, “That son of a bitch, Jack’s going to pay for this.”
Finally he was escorted to a cell, to sit and wait. “You want to make a couple of phone calls?” It was Joel Barneburg. Tommy had known Joel nearly all of his life even Joel was several years older than Tommy. Joel was one of the kids from Klamath.
“Hi Joel,” Tommy weakly replied. Then he answered the question that Joel had originally asked, “No, I have anyone I can call.”
“How about your old man?” he suggested.
Tommy snorted, saying, “Yeah and shame him too…no can do.”
“”Maybe he can talk to Peterson and get you O. R. d,” he continued to recommend. “Let me dial the number for you,” Joel offered.
Tommy felt an awful lump rise up in his throat and a sickness in his stomach. He lowered his head and said, “Okay.” He stood there on weak and trembling knees listening to the rotary telephone as Deputy Barneburg dialed it.
Tommy turned and walked to the far corner and sat on the long, three slat bench. The light green cell walls with its steel bars felt as if they were closing in on him. He buried his face as he felt the tears swell up in his eyes and spill over to rush down his cheeks.
“Tommy, your dad wants to talk to you.” Joel was holding the phone receiver through the metal grate towards him. He wiped his nose on his sweater and took the phone. The deputy whispered, “Remember its being recorded,” then he walked away a few steps.
Tommy put the receiver to his ear and said, “Hello?”
“What the hell’s going on?” was Dad’s reply.
He explained the situation as best he could. Then the senior of the two men each holding the telephone that connected them said, “I’ll call the Judge and see if I can get you released.” Then his father hung up the telephone.
Tommy reached over and put his end of the phone back on the cradle. The emptiness of the situation swept him up and he suddenly felt alone and hopeless. He walked back over to the bench and sat down, waiting for the next step.
“We need to talk,” stated Deputy Rodgers. He was opening the holding cell door. He motioned for Tommy to follow him. They walked into one of the three interrogation rooms.
Deputy Rodgers pulled a seat out for Tommy and invited him to be seated. Tommy sat down. The deputy did likewise.
The officer reached over and turned on the tape recorder that sat in the middle of the small table, which separated the two men. He spoke the time and the date and then repeated the Miranda Warning, requesting a response of understanding or not from Tommy. He told Deputy Rodgers, “Yes, I understand them.”
“You know you’re being charged with grand theft,” the deputy started, “and that’s a felony.”
“But I didn’t steal anything!” Tommy exclaimed.
The deputy looked at him for a few seconds and asked, “Did you throw the money out while cleaning the office or not?”
Tommy paused, trying to measure his words, “If it was on the desk like that old asshole said it was, then I suppose I did.”
“So you did throw it out,” the deputy redirected.
“Only if it really was on the desk in the first place,” Tommy repeated. Then he thought to add, “But I didn’t mean too.”
“Well if you didn’t throw it in the garbage, then take it out,” Deputy Rodgers asked, “then how’d it get out into the dumpster?”
Frustrated, Tommy said, “I already said I did it.”
Deputy Rodgers leaned back in his chair and said, “And I think you did it on purpose.”
Tommy did not reply. Instead he coldly stared the older man squarely in the eye. It was a stare down and finally the deputy blinked.
“Do you have anything else to say?” he asked Tommy.
“Nope,” was all that Tommy replied. He was thinking to himself that Deputy Rodgers had already decided his guilt. “He’s not even going to investigate,” Tommy finally said to himself.
“Guess we’re through,” Deputy Rodgers finally said. He reached over and turned off the tape recorder and pulled the cassette from the machine. He got up and left the room leaving Tommy by himself.
Within minutes the door opened and another deputy was motioning Tommy to come with him. Tommy got up and gently pushed his chair against the table and followed the officer. He led Tommy back to the holding cell and locked it behind him.
About half an hour or so, Deputy Barneburg came around to the holding cell door with a ring of rattling keys. He unlocked the door, saying, “You’ve been O. R. d.” He was smiling when he said it.
Tommy walked out of the cell and waited for the deputy to lock it back up. Then he followed Joel down the corridor and signed the receipt book to get his wallet and pocket watch back. Then Deputy Barneburg escorted him out to the sally port and watched as Tommy started walking towards home.
He felt sick to his stomach. He had to walk the two mile stretch alone with his own thoughts. He debated with himself whether he should visit Dad at work or not.
His mind reeled over the thoughts and images and all the possible outcomes as he walked passed KCRE. He muttered obscenities to himself as he came into view of the old high school where Mom had dropped out early to get married. He found himself retching in the far corner of the cemetery as he walked through the cold quietness of headstone upon headstone.
And instead of turning left on the trail that led homeward, he found himself on the right hand path walking towards Northcrest Motors where Dad was employed after retiring from the service. It was another risk he was taking as he felt certain he knew what Dad would have to say.
Fortunately, Dad was not there. He was out on a test drive with a prospective test car buyer. Tommy walked down the sidewalk and then cut across to the open field towards home.
His girlfriend would be waiting he thought to himself with no real pattern. Everything seemed broken. His entire life was broken and he could not see any way of fixing it.
She was standing in the doorway, her arms folded across over her breasts. Tommy could tell by her body language that things were not going to fare any better for him at home. She turned and disappeared inside as he passed by their mailbox.
“Cripes,” he said to himself, “News sure does travel fast in this fricking town.” Then with a sudden jolt of realization, he remembered that today was Mom’s birthday,
The feeling of sadness was palpable as he pushed the door shut to what he had once considered a happy home. Tommy wasn’t sure if he closed the sadness out or in as he locked the residence behind himself.
“Okay, this is how it’s going to go,” said Public Defender Wendy Kim as she started thumbing through the tan file. It had been nearly a week since Tommy’s arrest. He could not afford to hire an attorney since he had lost his one and only paying job. “They have a signed confession showing that you admit to taking the monies…”
Tommy leaned forward in his chair, gripping the edge of the desk in front of him and said loudly, “That’s bull crap!”
Ms. Kim snapped her head up and looked at Tommy. “You’ll watch your mouth…” she started.
Again Tommy cut her off, “Or what, you’ll send me to jail?”
She looked at her client in exasperation. Then she picked up the file that bore his name.
Tommy continued, “First off, I didn’t take the money and secondly I didn’t sign anything admitting to having done such a thing. What I did sign was a statement saying that ‘if’ the money was on the desk as Jack says it was then I must have thrown it out.” Tommy paused a few seconds and then added, “Besides that dumb-ass Rodgers never investigated any of this.” He breathed heavily as he finished.
The Public Defender just sat in her over stuffed chair thumbing through the folder on he hands. She paused on a single page, looking as if she were reading it. Finally she set the file down and withdrew the piece of paper, “This statement can be interpreted as a confession saying you took the money.”
“Who,” Tommy asked, “would be the one interpreting it this way?” He knew the answer even before she said it.
“The District Attorney,” she answered, “who else?” She paused again, “Look,” she leaned forward across her desk, “You’ve got two strikes against you. This statement and the fact that you are…were a deputy reservist.”
“Well, have I got anything in my favor?” Tommy responded questioningly.
“Yes,” she answered, “One thing: you don’t have a criminal record.”
There was long gap of silence between the two. Finally Public Defender Kim said, “My job is to keep you out of prison because that’s where the DA wants to put you.”
The DA that she spoke of was none other than Bob Weir. He had been an attorney in the area for a number of years. He was elected to the position the year earlier on a hard-line platform.
Tommy never felt he could trust the man because of all the personal problems he had caused his family. They were difficulties that town-folk seemed to know all about, yet nobody dared to mention.
“That’s politics for you,” Tommy told himself on more than one occasion. In Tommy’s mind that made District Attorney Weir a man with two sets of rules and therefore dangerous to deal with.
“So what you’re basically saying Ms. Kim, is that he plans to make an example out of me,” Tommy said.
She drummed her perfectly manicured nails atop her desk, responding, “I’m afraid so.”
Tommy left their meeting feeling as if everything were being stacked against him. He was being charged with a felony that he didn’t commit, by a District Attorney who held a private grudge for political gain. And now he was being represented by an under paid, over worked public defender who no longer cared.
Knock, knock, knock; it was the front door. Tommy got up and answered it. It was a Crescent City Police Officer. “Hi,” he started, “I, uh…stopped by to have a look at the rifle you have for sale.”
Tommy had a thirty-ought-six rifle that he was trying to sell so that he could pay for the possible court fines. He was asking five-hundred dollars for the Remington with its scope, sling and leather carrying case.
“Sure,” he said, “Come on in.” The officer came in and closed the door behind him.
Tommy’s girlfriend was standing just inside the kitchen and asked him, “Do you want a cup of coffee?”
The office answered, “No.”
Tommy appeared with the rifle, having already started to unzip the case it was in. “I’ve been asking five-hundred, but I’m willing to go lower,” he said.
The officer looked at Tommy with a sheepish smile, “Actually I’m not here to buy it,” he started, “I’m here to see if it’s stolen.”
Tommy stopped as he felt his face blanch with anger. “Get out of my house now!” he yelled at the suddenly stunned officer.
“But I thought,” the officer started to say.
Tommy interrupted him, “I don’t care what you thought! Get out of my house now!”
The officer protested, “Just let me check the serial numbers against the hot sheet and I’ll go away.”
“You can go to hell,” Tommy responded. “You come into my home and accuse me of stealing.” Then he shouted, “Get out!”
“I said no such thing!” the officer shouted back.
“You want to see this rifle?” Tommy queried. “Bring back a warrant next time!”
The officer turned and left the way he came. Tommy stood with his forehead pressed against the coolness of the wooden door as he listened to the patrol car drive away. He could feel himself shaking violently from anger. He could also hear his girlfriend who had retreated to their bedroom, sobbing behind the now locked door.
“Here’s the deal,” it was Wendy Kim on the phone, “I can keep you out of prison, but not jail.” For the last two months she had been busy attempting to get the written statement set aside, however Judge Peterson would not do it.
“Okay,” Tommy said hesitatingly.
She continued, “You’ll have to plead guilty to the grand theft charges and that will keep you out of prison.” She waited for Tommy to say something. When he didn’t she continued, “You’ll still get thirty days in the county lock up plus a fine and two years probation. But you’ll stay out of prison.” She paused again and still Tommy said nothing. “It’s either this or we take our chance with a jury and you could go to San Quentin for three years.”
“Let me think on it,” he replied finally. Tommy hung up the telephone after he said thank you.
The following morning Tommy woke up at 4:30. He had found work as a butchers apprentice and an al-around-whatever-needs-to-be-done employee for one of the few local grocery stores. This morning he had to go in and complete the task of waxing the aisles.
While he was toweling off from a quick shower, he heard the front door close to his neighbor’s home. His next door neighbor was also the owner of the duplex in which he and his girlfriend and her four year old son lived in. His name was Wilbur Little.
Tommy pulled on his underwear and took his shirt, pants and shoes out into the front room to get dressed. He pulled the curtains slightly and could see the outline of Wilbur’s Thunderbird car parked with its running lights on. It was on the corner facing the duplex so that the driver could see the front and side doors at the same time.
It occurred to Tommy at that point that Wilbur had every intention of following him to work. Tommy could only guess at the reason why he would want to do such a thing. Wilbur Little had already issued the couple an eviction notice the week before, so Tommy figured the man wanted to know where he worked so that he could tell Tommy’s employer about having been arrested.
Tommy took fifteen minutes to eat a bowl of cereal and drink his coffee. Then he pulled his gray sweat shirt over his head, took his bicycle by the handle bars and started out the side door.
He heard the car’s ignition as Wilbur started it up. Tommy decided to head up the street towards Highway 101. Normally he would have gone towards Northcrest Drive, but he had a little surprise planned for Wilbur Little.
The Thunderbird proceeded up the street behind Tommy. Tommy had taken off quickly and was forcing Wilbur to keep pace. He also knew that there were no side streets at least three hundred feet up the block.
Just as planned Tommy led the T-bird up the block. He slowed, letting the car to get close. Then he reversed his direction, racing towards Northcrest Drive. Tommy flew passed the car. He could tell that Wilbur was surprised by the move on the bike rider’s part.
Tommy did not waste any time waiting to see how Wilbur would get out of the situation. He turned and raced his bicycle passed the bus station and into the parking lot across from the car dealership Dad worked at. He pulled up beside a bakery truck and waited. It was not long before he saw Wilbur slowly cruise by searching for him.
“Now it’s my turn, you old goat,” Tommy said aloud as he pedaled as hard as he could to catch up with the slower moving car. He raced up beside the car and looked Wilbur in the face, then pedaled harder as the vehicle slowed even more. Finally Tommy was in front of the Thunderbird again.
Wilbur stayed right on his back tire as Tommy turned up the long hill leading passed the cemetery. Once again it was a trick, for as soon as Tommy made it nearly to the top of the hill, he switched directions on the surprised Wilbur Little.
Wilbur was caught at the top of the hill on a blind corner and could not just simply turn around. As for Tommy, he turned onto Northcrest and pedaled for all that he was worth until he made it to work. He did not see Wilbur again after that for as long as they lived in that duplex.
Tommy picked up the telephone and dialed the Public Defenders office. He was put through to Ms. Kim directly. “So you’re certain I’ll end up prison if I go to a jury trial?” Tommy asked as soon as she picked up the phone.
“I’m very certain,” she replied.
Tommy sighed, “Okay, let’s do this then.”
“Okay, I’ll get the ball rolling,” Wendy Kim replied and then she hung up the receiver.
Tommy sat there next to the kitchen wall with the telephone chord dangling beside his head. He felt depressed and was attempting to rethink everything about the situation.
“I could just walk into the harbor and that would end it,” he thought to himself. He knew what it was like to nearly drown since it had already happened to him twice before in his life. “All I’d have to do is relax,” he continued thinking, “I could put on my hip waders and that would sink me for sure.”
Suddenly the telephone rang. He picked it up, “Hello?” he answered.
It was his girlfriend. “I won’t be home tonight,” she said.
“Alright,” was Tommy’s reply. He had resigned himself to not asking why or where she might be spending her nights. He just accepted what was happening and hung up the phone. He would gladly watch over her little boy for the night.
“It was just two months ago,” he thought to himself again, “that everything was going great with us and now this.” He was thinking about the fact that they were no longer a couple and that he was living in this apartment as a means of having a roof over his head.
He sighed, got up and went to the back bedroom to check on the napping boy. He flopped down on the mattress across from him and fell into a depressed sleep.
He could hear the couple in the apartment arguing as he lay there snuggled up against his girlfriend. This was nothing unusual, for this always went on in the apartment down below.
But for some reason this early morning was different. The voices seemed angrier. There was more screaming and there was more banging. The voices were muffled as always but it was distinctive enough to the ear to know that one was female and the other was a male.
Tommy snuggled closer to his girlfriend. He was trying to forget the noises as they rose up from below. He felt warm and safe next to the warm he loved. He thought this over and over like a mantra, until he faded off into sleep.
Suddenly, something jolted him awake; a noise. Something that did not quite sound right and a chill ran down the length of his spine. The voices became suddenly clear and the sound of rushing feet came to Tommy’s ears as did the awful crashing of two bodies hurling themselves at each other in a violent struggle.
There had been an exploding crack from below Tommy and a pain that swelled inside him. He could not cry for help as he found himself to be breathless and unable to move.
From below, the struggling had ceased for they had realized what had happened. In their quarreling, the couple had shot their ceiling with the object for which they had battled.
Tommy lay in bed, feeling safe and warm next to the one he loved. That is until he only seemed to fade off into a restful sleep.
He jerked awake. It had only been a nasty nightmare. The gray and overcast sky had grown even darker with the approach of evening. Tommy needed to get up and fix dinner for his girlfriend’s little boy.
Thanksgiving and Christmas both passed in loneliness. He had lost his job only a week after having made the decision to plead guilty due to the fact that the Del Norte Triplicate regularly published arrests and court actions. Then he found out that the young woman whom he had taken to his high school’s senior prom had just recently died of cancer.
Yet Tommy was able to find work at the local fish foundry. It was the height of the crab season and he had to go tell his supervisor Terry that he would have to be quitting soon and the reason why.
“I understand,” Terry said though Tommy could sense he really didn’t understand at all. Tommy clocked out at the end of his shift that day only to find himself walking home in the rain.
The very next day he appeared in court with Wendy Kim. “You smell like dead fish,” was his attorney’s first comment. Tommy knew he smelled like the foundry; cooking, boiling baskets of crab legs and shells. It would be a week or maybe two before the odor would wear off. Tommy had no response for his lawyer.
Together they sat in the back of the court room, waiting for his docket to be called. Everyone else in the room had moved away from them. When Tommy realized this he leaned towards Ms. Kim and said, “You can go sit elsewhere so you don’t end up smelling like rotten fish the rest of the day.” She smiled and nodded her head from side to side indicating she had no intention of moving.
Suddenly it was his turn to stand before the judge. “Do you understand what is happening today?” Judge Peterson asked Tommy. He seemed so much older and more grey haired than he had recalled, thought Tommy as he listened to the judge speak.
Tommy cleared his throat and said, “Yes, your Honor.”
“Very well,” he replied, “You are sentenced to two years in State Prison, to be suspended. However I am remanding you over to county jail to serve out a thirty day term with a five hundred dollar fine and two years probation to be served concurrently.”
Tommy looked at Wendy Kim and then back at the Judge. He was given four weeks to set his affairs straight before reporting to the county jail. He felt himself jump slightly when Judge Peterson’s gavel rapped the top of his bench.
Tommy felt a great despair sweep over him as he walked his way home. The thought of suicide crossed his mind once again. “Anything’s better than going to jail,” he attempted to reason to himself. The thought quickly left him as he passed through the cemetery.
His mind wondered back to the storm driven night that he had the wits scared out of himself and how he was overcome with a sense of fear the following day. It was not all that long ago either.
Every night for the past month he had walked through the cemetery, and never once did Tommy feel nervous about the place. And that night was no exception.
Yet that night in question had a touch of Edgar Allen Poe in it, as winds howled and blew near freezing rain into Tommy’s face. But it was not unlike what he had encountered before.
Tommy was soaked by the time he had entered the gateway to the cemetery. The rot-iron fence squeaked gently as it stood sentinel like to the asphalt entry way. The rain had a nasty bite as it rushed in under Tommy’s hat. He braced himself against the wind and quickened his pace.
The trees waved back and forth, and he swore that under the strain of the hurricane like winds that they would snap and tumble down upon his head. Their flexing in the windstorm caused the street lamps to play out their light among the shiny marble faces of the headstones.
As he moved along the well worn foot path, it seemed to him as if one large eye were following his every foot step. “Okay quit scaring yourself.” He chuckled out loud. He realized he was letting his imagination get the better of him.
When he came upon the lone tree to the right of the path that he followed, he could see a tatter of white waving fairly high from one of its limbs. Tommy thought to himself as he drew closer, “It must be a reflection from the light in the through the trees.” So he paid no further attention to it. Yet as he got closer, it did not appear to be a reflection at all.
Being curious, Tommy hurriedly walked towards the object of white. As he did, he stumbled and fell to the ground. While on all four’s he looked back to see what he had stumbled over. It was a rock of no large size.
As he turned his thoughts back to the tree, Tommy could see nothing of the piece of white that had been hanging in the tree just seconds before. “It must have blown away,” he said to himself as he started to get up.
After fully regaining his feet and wiping the mud from his hands, he walked towards the tree. He looked up and could find nothing at all.
As he stood there for those few seconds, a chill over came him. He sensed more than felt another person close-by. He looked around and saw no one. “Time to get the hell home,” Tommy mumbled to himself as he started back towards the path.
However before he could make his body fully react to the thoughts his mind was commanding, he felt the light touch of a hand on his shoulder. Tommy jumped and spun away.
As he moved to defend himself in fear, he swung his right arm around hoping that his elbow would find its target. There was nothing there. He backed away, and took off running all the way home.
The sun shined brightly the following day. He and his younger brother Adam strolled along the path, through the cemetery. Tommy told him about the hand and together they decided it would be best to investigate.
As they came to the tree, Tommy found where he had tripped and fallen down. The marks, although eroded a great deal by the pelting rain and full of evaporating water where identifiable as hand and knee prints.
One set was directly in front of the tree. They were placed below an extending branch of the tree that hung over into the pathway. Tommy matched the footprints against his, finding a perfect fit. Adam followed this up by pulling down on the branch. It struck his older brother on the shoulder.
“So that’s your hand in the cold of night!” Adam said, poking fun at him.
“I guess so,” Tommy replied as they both laughed.
An old man, whom the two brothers had ignored as he casually trimmed the grasses from around the headstones, cleared his throat, calling attention to himself. Once they were both looking at him, he spoke, “Maybe it was a branch, maybe it wasn’t.”
Tommy asked, “What do you mean by that?”
“Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t,” he repeated. Then he added about fifty or so years ago a young woman named Miss Lillian hanged herself over the departure of her lover.” He paused, “Some say she’s still alive, at least in spirit and is attempting to get herself down out of the tree. Some folks say that every once in a while she’ll ask some unsuspecting stranger to helper. Maybe it was a branch, maybe it wasn’t.”
There was a long pause for words. The only sound that could be heard was a robin calling and the grass being broke off as the old man continued to work on.
He then arose to his feet and looked at the tree and then at the two young men and said, “I ought to know because I’m the departed lover, so don’t laugh to long.” With that he turned and disappeared between the aging headstones.
Tommy and Adam looked at each other, and then back towards the direction the old man had walked. Then they both stepped over to the headstone that he had been trimming around. Chills ran through both men as they read the lettering, “Miss Lillian Williams.”
“No, suicide wouldn’t do it,” Tommy said to himself. “I’m just going to have to suck it up and live with it.” He turned left and cut across the open field behind the apartment that he had rented for Dad and Adam. Now it was home to his brother and his friend named Robert, Dad and Tommy. “Four grown men trapped inside a two bedroom apartment,” Tommy sighed as he turned the doorknob and stepped inside.
He trudged up the stairs to the left of the doorway. Following the dark brown covered steps, he pushed open his bedroom door and gently closed it behind himself. There was nobody home and Tommy found himself full of loneliness.
He took the few steps to the edge of the bed and sat down. He sighed heavily as he pulled at his boots. Then he laid back and fell quickly into a depression sleep.
When he awoke it was dark out. The street light at the corner shined brightly through his bedroom window. At first Tommy felt hungry but that feeling subsided as fast as it came as he recalled the events of the day. Then his stomach turned over as and he felt sickened as he remembered that sharp, single rap of the judge’s gavel as he was sentenced to jail.
Tommy lay back on the bed again. He stared at the street lamp until he faded into an uneasy, dreamless sleep.
The sound of the judge’s gavel was quickly replaced by the metallic ringing of the cell door as Tommy stepped inside the jail. The eyes of the other nine inmates stared at him intently as he stood there.
Half a minute later an older man with a long and nearly white beard, save for the red moustache, approached Tommy. He held out his hand and said, “Welcome, Sonny. My name’s Pops.” Tommy reached out and grasped his hand.
Pops introduced him to everyone in the cell block including Lonny, who Tommy already knew from high school. Lonny had been a freshman when he was a senior. Then Pops pointed out which beds were open and invited Tommy to select one. He picked the top bunk farthest from the cell doors.
Tommy climbed up and lay down on his bunk. He looked around his new environment. The walls were painted a dull pink and lined with five double bunks on either side of a walk way. The bars to the windows were visible through a decorative cube glass that allowed a monotonous diffusion of light to fall on the floor in front of Tommy’s bunk.
The bathroom was on the opposite wall and near the cell doors. He could look in and see one of the commodes. The thought of the bathroom caused a shutter of revulsion to slip through him. He closed his eyes and tried in vain not to think back to the time he was arrested in San Francisco as a juvenile for being a Good Samaritan.
The cuffs were cold as the officer slapped them on his wrists. And Tommy was frightened, for he had no idea what was going on. It certain wasn’t his first time in San Francisco, but it was the first time he was being arrested. And he had no idea why.
“How old are you, you little son of a bitch?” asked the cop that was grasping Tommy’s arm. “Huh,” he grunted, “How old?”
“Seventeen,” Tommy answered.
“You lying little bastard,” he snapped at Tommy. “What’s your birth date?”
Tommy answered him.
“Sure,” is all he replied as he removed the young mans wallet. He thumbed through it, looking at each item in it with an abject curiosity. Then he looked at Tommy again and asked, “What did you say your birthday was?”
Tommy repeated himself.
The officer looked at his identification and then at Tommy and growled, “Lying little bastard.”
“But…” Tommy never got to finish as he was shoved up against the squad car and then into it. He thought to himself, “All this because I picked up a wallet and tried to call the police when I thought the guy was hurt.” He had fallen into a sting operation.
Tommy had always wanted to see the city but not from the back seat of a police car, especially with his hands linked together behind him. His stomach felt empty, yet he knew he had just eaten.
City light after city light whisked by and minutes seemed to be more like hours as they traveled to the precinct. It was a big, flat, lifeless cement structure called Central Division ‘A’. It looked exactly how Tommy felt.
Both officers in the front seat got out of the cat, leaving Tommy alone. He wanted to cry but he knew that would only make things worse. Then from the front door of Central ‘A’ walked a man, who peered into the vehicle window. He shook his head and walked away.
Another man came out and pulled Tommy from the car. Without any hesitation he yanked on the youth and half dragged him through the metal doors of the building.
By then the handcuffs were cutting into Tommy’s wrists and he complained. The officer who called himself ‘Sarge’ turned him around and tightened them further. Tommy whinced from the pain and he tried to force himself not to scream.
It was not much longer after that they were removed and Tommy found himself re-cuffed to a bar above a desk. It seemed as if he sat there forever before he heard another sound.
“What you got?” a voice asked in a room someplace next to him.
“A murderer,” replied a different voice, “switched his wife,” the voice continued.
Tommy could hear the sound of feet shuffling on the floor. They sounded drunk to him and he looked away as they forced an old black man through the doorway.
They cuffed the man next to Tommy. He smelled of stale whiskey and sweat, and said nothing. Tommy noticed that the man’s eyes seemed hollow and vacant. Tommy’s stomach nearly fell out as the man started to get ill.
“Well how do you like sitting next to a murderer?” Sarge asked. “He’s also a pimp and a pusher,” he included. “What a story you’ll have to tell all your little friends,” he added. Then he mocking said, “I sat next to a pusher, pimp and murder all in one night!” He walked out of the room laughing.
Tommy never said anything. He didn’t even look up at Sarge. He just stared at the floor beneath his shoes.
Minutes later he found himself being escorted by Sarge down a long corridor to an elevator. They went up and then walked the length of another chilly hallway awhich led into a huge room.
It was cluttered with desks, chairs and stacks of papers. Sarge placed Tommy against a wall as he spoke to a woman in a smallish window. It reminded the seventeen year old of a bank teller’s window and he envisioned Sarge being the kind of cop willing enough to cash Tommy in for a ‘gold star.’ Instead he led the young man through a side door by the window for finger prints and pictures.
Then it was back to the long, chilly corridors, void of life and decoration. The elevator ride downward made Tommy’s stomach feel queasy. He was still scared of the things to come.
“What’s going to happen now?” he asked Sarge.
Sarge looked down at him and grinned, “What the hell do I care?”
Tommy never replied.
It was back to the same room from which he had just left. The doors were familiar as was the bar. Yet the old black man was gone. Tommy wondered what had happened to him. He was even seated in the same place as before.
As he sat there Tommy started to take in some of his surroundings. This included the framed photographs in front and above him. It was pictures of officers who had lost their lives in the line of duty. While Tommy sat there, he read it over and over.
Soon a husky man approached Tommy. “You’re to come with me,” he stated as he unlocked the handcuff holding Tommy to the bar. Then just as quickly he cuffed both of his wrists together again.
He had Tommy firmly by the arm as he guided him out the front doors and towards an awaiting patrol car. He opened the back door and pushed Tommy onto the seat. He walked off around to the other side of the car where he met another man. The husky officer climbed into the driver’s seat and his fellow officer sat in the passenger side. When he looked at Tommy he shook his head saying, “Punk.”
Off they went, but to where, Tommy didn’t know. He just sat back and closed his eyes wanting to sleep but afraid too because he was afraid of what they might do next.
Soon they slowed down, and then started up a steep hill, steeper than all the rest. When they stopped, the officer riding in the passenger side said, “We’re here at your hotel.”
Tommy looked up hoping to see the hotel that he and the rest of his track team were staying at, however it wasn’t the same. This building had the same appearance as the Central Division ‘A’ building. He looked at Tommy and laughed at the cruel joke.
Out of the car again and into a wide hallway towards a pair of large doors, they escorted Tommy. The trio said nothing to each other; they stared straight ahead. The doors unlocked automatically and opened after one of the officers identified himself to the camera.
Once inside, the officers made Tommy remove everything from his pockets. They counted his money, writing it down and placing it in a bag. That bag was then dropped into a drawer, closed and locked.
Off to the cell block Tommy was taken, through a maze of corridors and rooms, colorful yet cold. All of the figures were struggling, portrayed heroically but violently fighting. As they continued the figures changed; the first group was White, the next group Asian and the last Black.
This is where they stopped. They had stopped in the middle of the all Black corridor, where the figures painted on the walls were fighting all Whites. Tommy could not help but stare up at the brutality of the scenes and realize where he was located in this system.
A large black man came walking up to them. He looked at Tommy then looked at the officer who still held my arm. Tommy felt the pressure intensify on his arm where he was being squeezed as the black man looked at the officer. Finally the silence was broken when the black man said, “But he’s white!”
“Yeah, we know,” said the fellow next to Tommy. He paused then included, “It’s the only open bed for the night.”
The black man shook his head in disgust, and then took Tommy by the arm. They walked down another hall that emptied into a mostly unfurnished room. He stopped Tommy and removed the handcuffs, and then he instructed the young man to take off his clothes.
Tommy did as he was told even though he felt foolish. He didn’t see the woman in the shadows as she giggled and said, “I love your body.” Her presents caused Tommy to jump.
“Don’t pay no mind to her,” said the big black man, “now go to the door over there and inside it to take a shower.”
Again Tommy followed the directions as he was instructed. All he could think about was the fact that there was a strange woman watching him shower. That bothered him more than the icy water.
As he walked out the woman was standing next to the door. She was a fairly heavyset black woman with a gap in her front teeth. She said, “I may visit you later, baby.” Tommy slipped passed her and back into the large room.
She had a jumper ready for him and instructed him to put it on. Then she guided him to a solid metal door and unlocked it. She smiled and pushed Tommy into the dark room. Once the door banged shut he found himself in complete darkness.
He couldn’t see a thing but he heard something moving. It was another person. Then there was a loud snore. Soon Tommy found himself a place in the room, a corner with his blanket, so that he could fall asleep.
Sleep did not last long as he found himself being beaten awake. Tommy heard a voice yelling, “Honkey! Get up, you damned honkey!” The voice belonged to whoever was striking Tommy with the broom.
Tommy jumped up and grabbed the broom by the handle, throwing it against the other side of the room. The man that had been hit him now grabbed Tommy by the throat and Tommy side stepped into him, throwing the attacker off balance and using his hip as leverage, flipped him head over heels to the cement floor.
The attacker rolled away and picked up the broom again and rushed at Tommy, striking him on the back as Tommy spun around to escape the onslaught. The second blow never reached Tommy, the counselor grabbed it, jerking it from his hands.
Tommy stood there stunned and bewildered. He asked himself, “Why did he attack me like that?” The answer came quick enough.
“What’s Whitey doing in my place?!” screeched the black kid to the counselor.
He just said, “Shower time.” Then he turned and walked out.
“I’ll kill you Whitey,” growled the kid.
Tommy said nothing as he slowly walked to the showers. Everyone in there was black and they stared at him. He just looked down, not wanting to be confrontational. Someone grabbed him and said, “You’ll never get out alive, Lily-white.” And then he spit in Tommy’s face.
Tommy lost his temper and smashed his fist into the side of his jaw. The boy went down like a rag doll. The rest of the kids stood there looking at the white boy as he started to back out of the shower area, then some yelled, “Get him!”
They grabbed Tommy by the arms and legs. They punched at him over and over again. They rolled him on the floor as they kicked him and spit on him some more. A voice in the crowd said, “We’re going to shove this soap up you, Snow-boy.”
Again, it was the counselor who came to his aid. He stopped the gang beating, picking Tommy up off the shower floor saying, “You’re a born trouble maker aren’t you?”
Tommy knew better than to say anything, it was useless in his mind. The counselor grabbed him by the arm and rushed him out of the shower area and back into my cell. He tossed Tommy’s jumper in after him and banged the door shut then locked it.
He just sat there on the blanket that he had been given the night before. He felt alone and forgotten. The only noise he could hear was his stomach complaining that he was ‘hungry.’ But soon he even forgot about that as he slipped into sleep.
Tommy had no idea how long he had been asleep, be when he was awakened he heard a voice asking if he wished to eat. He sat up and shook his head ‘yes.’
Groggily he marched to the dining hall, single file like the rest of the prisoners of this institution. Next he was given the command to sit. Unfortunately he had to sit across from the kid that he had punched out in the shower earlier that morning.
As they sat down their eyes locked. The kid glared at Tommy and he glared back, then they both looked away. They were served cold cereal from packages and while eating the guy who had been glaring at Tommy, spit in his food. Tommy felt sick and he lost his appetite.
As soon as breakfast was over the counselors made them stand shoulder to shoulder, then they discharged everyone to their respective classes. However Tommy was called back. He was excluded because he hadn’t had a physical examination. So again he was escorted back to his room, to sit there alone in solitary confinement.
For the first time, Tommy really looked around the room. It was almost barren, save the blanket that hung over the window as a curtain, using pencils to hold it in place. Under the window was a single mattress. It was small; way too small for its occupant.
The door was scratched and marked up with names and initials. “Julius is Jesus Christ,” one said. Another stated, “The Kid is King.” Tommy had to laugh to himself, “What are the King and Jesus Christ doing in a place like this?”
The door was unlocking and someone was coming in. It was the big black man from the night before. He said, “Come on, it’s time for your physical.”
Tommy did as he was told as he was cuffed and led down a long hallway to another large room. There was a nurse and a doctor waiting for him there.
The big black man sat Tommy down in a plastic chair and left him there. Soon the nurse came over to where he was seated. She removed the hard metal cuffs and asked Tommy several questions. He answered them.
Again he was seated alone. It seemed as if every time he had to wait, it was longer and longer. But this wait would not turn out to be as long as Tommy figured it would be.
Five minutes after he was left by himself, a man asked for him by name. He was speaking to the doctor and the doctor was pointing at Tommy. Hearing his name startled him because he had only been called ‘names’ and not by his correct name either.
The man was noticeably bald, although he wore a hat, walked over and stood in front of Tommy. He asked him his name and Tommy told him. He finally said, “You’re to come with me.”
Tommy stood up and placed his hands behind his back, he was prepared for the cuffs. The bald man quickly told Tommy that the handcuffs weren’t necessary. “You’re getting out; some one is here for you.”
Tommy looked down. But deep inside, he was smiling.
Off they walked, down the deep corridors, into the Black cell block. He unlocked the doors and as they entered, walking passed the black kid who tried to beat him senseless with a broom earlier in the morning. He just looked at Tommy and spit, calling him a ‘Honkey’ as he slid along the wall with his escort close behind. Tommy just laughed at him.
As they stepped behind the doors and into the cell block, Tommy could hear him yelling and spatting about his ‘lily-white’ features. He didn’t care because he was going free from this hate-filled atmosphere in less than thirty minutes.
As Tommy was handed his clothes he could see that the counselor was happy to see him go. But he knew it wasn’t because he was going to the outside world to be a ‘good guy.’ Tommy was glad to see me go because now his cell block would be peaceful once again. His troublemaker would be gone.
He dressed quickly, thinking that the quicker he dressed the quicker he would get out. As he pulled his tee-shirt on, Tommy thought how good it felt to get back into his regular clothes. He looked at the rough, worn out jumper as it lay on the cement floor.
The bald man was waiting for him at the desk as he walked around the corner. He smiled and said, “Let’s go.”
Tommy took a deep breath as he smiled back. He nodded at he counselor as he walked beside the bald man. There were all sorts of cat calls and jeering as they disappeared through the final doorway.
The man looked at Tommy and grinned. Then he chucked and said sarcastically, “I see you’re really popular around here.”
Tommy shook his head and laughed a barely audible laugh. Then he said, “Yeah, let’s get the heck out of here.”
The doors behind them clicked loudly and a feeling of relief rushed through Tommy like a heat streak. He kept walking and he never looked back.
Within a week Tommy adjusted as well as anyone could while lacking freedom and being confined to a cell block. The brassy ring of the jailers keys, the clank of the door as it opened and closed, the loud and hopeless clicks of the lock’s tumblers closing on all their freedoms, did not weigh on him as it first had.
The meals had a sameness to them as well. Their breakfast consisted of a watery oatmeal mush, luke-warm toast and nearly cold scrambled eggs with a strong cup of coffee and bitter orange juice. Lunches offered a slight variety from fried chicken to meatloaf. The same would be served for supper along with gravy and mixed vegetables. “Guess it’s better than going hungry,” Tommy said to Lonny. He smiled and nodded, taking another bite.
“So what are you in for Sonny?” Pops asked Tommy.
Tommy swallowed the food in his mouth. “I threw out twelve hundred bucks,” he answered.
Pops raised his eye brows, “Whoa, that’s a felony.”
“Don’t act so surprised, old-timer,” someone said from the other end of the table. Then they added, “Pops is doing time for taking swing at a Highway Patrolman after getting busted for drunk driving.”
Tommy smiled at Pops, “Did you make contact?”
“Naw,” returned the old man, “I was too drunk. I ended up fallen on my ass.” Everyone laughed at the comment. Then he added, “Sounds funny now, but at the time,” Pops paused to wash down a bite of bread with his coffee, “I broke my hip.”
Someone chimed in, “That’s why he gets the extra padded bed, there.” Tommy nodded as everyone continued to eat the meal that jail life offered.
Tommy kept himself busy during the daylight hours by doing exercises three times a day. He also read every book on the cell block’s library shelf. When he wasn’t reading or doing push ups or sit ups, he would write.
Paper was a precious commodity. He would use nearly anything to write on; toilet seat covers or toilet paper was the most available item. He had hoped that someone would come visit him. He had no way of calling Dad and his ex-girlfriend never returned his call. If someone would come by, he’d ask them to bring him a tablet or notebook of paper and maybe an extra pen or two. But no one came to see him on visitation days.
Tommy worked with most of the jailers and knew he could have asked one of them for a simple favor. He felt certain anyone of them would get paper for him if asked, however he didn’t want to tip his hand to the fact that he had once been a deputy reservist. He was fearful of what might happen if anybody in his cell block discovered this fact.
When he first entered the county jail as a convicted felon, Tommy was certain he was going to find someone who knew his secret. If anyone did know, they hadn’t let on and for that Tommy was thankful.
The door to the cell block opened and in stepped a jailer. He had his nightstick out and he held it defensively. Tommy realized this instantly. The jailer stepped to his left and behind him was a man still in handcuffs and leg shackles. The iron bars were unlocked and rolled back. The man in the cuffs and shackles stepped through the cell block doors, leading three more men in just handcuffs. Behind them were five more deputies, all with nightsticks at the ready.
Each man was uncuffed starting with the man closest to the iron bars. The last man uncuffed was the first new prisoner into the cell block. He rubbed his wrists once the cuffs were released.
The deputies closed and locked the doors as soon as they backed out of the cell block. Tommy continued to lie on his upper bunk and carefully kept an eye on the new prisoners. But he paid closest attention to the first one. “Something says trouble,” Tommy thought to himself.
Within five minutes the calm of the cell block was reduced to the sound of the lead prisoner talking trash. “Look here, mothers, he started, and “I’m in-charge here from now on!” He searched the block, looking for someone, anyone willing to challenge his words. Everybody ignored him, including the three that had arrived at the same time he did.
One of those three climb onto the vacant top bunk next to Tommy. He glanced over at Tommy, “He’s a pain in the ass and got us in trouble on our way over here.”
Tommy looked towards the new man and then back at the troublemaker. “Where are you from?” he asked.
“Redding, man,” he answered. “The place is over populated and they dumped him in with us.”
While Tommy and the newcomer continued to quietly speak, the troublemaker walked from bunk to bunk pushing on each mattress. “He’s checking for comfort,” Tommy concluded. He came to Tommy’s bunk and pushed down on it. Tommy didn’t move.
That’s when the troublemaker spotted Pops special made mattress. He walked over and pushed down on it. “This is the one I want,” he declared.
Pops was lying on his bunk doing his best to ignore the troublemaker just like the rest of the inmates. Then the troublemaker said even louder, “This is the mattress I want!”
Still Pops didn’t move.
Without warning, the troublemaker shouted, “I guess you didn’t hear me old man, I want your mattress!” With that he grabbed the side of the bedding and dumped Pops out of his bunk.
Pops smashed into the flooring with a sickening thud. There was a sound of a loud ‘snap’ and he cried out in terrific agony. Pops rolled on the cement floor holding his left hip, moaning in desperate pain.
Meanwhile, the troublemaker proceeded to roll up the mattress as if he could not be bothered with the pain he had caused the older man. No one seemed to move in the cell block.
Suddenly Tommy rose up, leaping from his bunk to the bunk next to him, sprang feet first at the troublemaker. The troublemaker had his back turned so Tommy’s feet struck him squarely between the shoulders, sending the troublemaker sprawling.
Immediately the cell block became a cacophony of noise as inmates erupted into shouting and screaming for Tommy to continue his unrelenting attack on the now stunned troublemaker. He pounded on the man with his fists, knocking him to the ground once again. And once he was on the ground, Tommy kicked him viciously in the head and ribs
The troublemaker tried to struggle to his feet; however Tommy smashed him back to the ground where he was subjected to one kick after another. The troublemaker crawled away from the brutal kicks, yet Tommy followed him, continuing to land one solid blow after another.
The noise level rose to such a point that a jailer to see what was happening. He saw Tommy hammering the troublemaker into the iron bars again and again.
By that time the troublemaker had been reduce to the motion of a feather pillow. He could no longer defend himself, yet this did not slow Tommy’s attack against him.
The iron bars clanked open and two jailers attempted to put a halt to the beating. Neither one expected Tommy to grab the door and slam it shut on the troublemakers head. They jerked it open only to have Tommy slam it on the limp man again. Then it happened a third time.
This was followed by a swift baton to the back of Tommy’s head. He was bent over the nearly lifeless form of the troublemaker. The blow stunned him momentarily, but it was long enough for five more officers to rush in and wrestle Tommy to the ground. When it was finished, Tommy found himself cuffed at the hands and feet.
Tommy laid there passively as there was not much else he could do. Two officers picked him up under the arms and dragged him out of the cell block. He was laid against the wall and held there by one of his jailers.
“What do you want done with this one?” a voice asked.
“The hole,” another replied.
With that Tommy found himself picked up again and dragged out of the cell doors and down the hallway. His knees were the only thing that touched the gray painted cement floor. As they rounded the corner, Tommy could see another officer standing by an opened door leading into a darkened cell.
He was laid down on his stomach and the cuffs loosened from his ankles. Seconds later he felt his wrists set free. Tommy knew that he dared not more for fear of being perceived as a threat by his jailers.
“Okay,” a voice commanded, “Inside, now!”
Tommy complied without hesitating. He did not rise up, but rather crawled on all fours inside the isolated cell. The door slammed with a sudden finality that left him in solid blackness.
He had no idea how much time had actually passed between the time the door first closed and the next time it fully opened. Tommy could only estimate that it had been over two days as he had been slipped six trays of food.
The first plate of food was hard to eat. It was not that it wasn’t palatable; rather he had difficulty finding his mouth in the pure blackness of that hole. Tommy found it to be frustrating and then somewhat amusing as he figured out that if he smelled the food it would be close to his mouth. Still this did not prevent him from making a mess by dropping food all about him.
When the door did finally open, the rush of light stabbed painfully at the back of his eyes, leaving him temporarily blinded. He could hear a calming voice though. It called his name.
He lifted his head and tried to focus in the direction from which the voice came, “Tommy, it’s time to come out of there.”
He rose up, using the wall as leverage and walked towards the voice that seemed lost in the bright light. “No, we don’t need to shackle him. Just cuffs in front,” the voice said.
It was Joel. He led Tommy down the hallway, pausing at another cell block while the officer unlocked the door. “We know what happened and I’m sorry you got tossed in the hole,” he said.
“Is Pops okay?” Tommy asked.
“Yeah, re-fractured his hip though,” Joel answered. Then he added, “He’ll be finishing his sentence in the hospital more than likely.”
“What about that troublemaker?” Tommy wanted to know.
Joel smiled. “You really kicked the crap out of him; fracture skull and jaw. They lost count of the number of stitches.”
Tommy sighed, “I guess I’ll get charged and convicted for that too.”
“Nope,” Joel responded, “You were defending Pops against an attacker.” He smiled then added, “We have plenty of witness statements.”
They entered the new cell block door. “You have four more days to go,” Joel said, behave yourself,” he smiled at Tommy, removing the cuffs and rolling the iron doors closed.
The loud speaker called out Tommy’s name and instructed him to be ready to be released. Within minutes an officer was there to open the iron bar doors.
Tommy followed him out into the hallway as he closed and locked the door to the cell block. A second officer stood directly behind him.
“Follow me,” the first one directed as he started down the hall. He stopped by a locker and opened it, removing a brown paper bag. The bag had been folded closed and then stapled shut. Inside it were Tommy’s clothes.
“You can change in there,” the second one motioned as he pointed to a blonde wooden door. Tommy stepped inside the room and proceeded to peel off his inmate clothing and replace them with his regular clothes. Within minutes he was changed and escorted to a window to collect his pocket watch and wallet.
Finally he was led out the backdoor and into the sally port. “Best of luck to you and don’t come back,” the first jailer said as he offered Tommy his hand. The two quickly shook and Tommy walked down the final three steps toward the large metal gate and his impending freedom.
The gate jumped to life with a squeak as it ground its way upward. Tommy did not wait for it to open all the way; he glanced at the officer and ducked through the sally port and into the awaiting fresh air.
He stood there for a few seconds, looking around. The sky was overcast as usual and slight breeze blew in off the harbor. Tommy took a deep breath and held it, letting it escape slowly. He had the strangest feeling that somehow he would always be on the wrong side.