I hate waking up in jail.
Usually, it happens to me without warning. One second I’m having a good old time, women on my arms, a happy buzz in my brain — the next, I’m waking up in jail. It’s a terrible thing. The first time it happened was a nightmare.
I was twenty-one years old. I had just decided that law school was not for me. It’s a strange place, law school. They teach you how to lie for other people. That’s so dishonorable. Lies are personal, intimate things, that just don’t belong in one’s professional life. After I figured out what was going down, I lost interest. I withdrew. My dad said I quit.
Two months later, a flying squad of fearless defenders of all that is right and good burst into my little house on Eighteenth Street. I was well into the writing of a play entitled, “The Grasshopper Steps Lightly,” set in an alternate history where we had won the Vietnam War. Next to my bed, stuck into the IBM Selectric typewriter, there was a sheet of paper. At the top it said, “Act Three: Spiro Throws a Victory Parade.”
It was about three or four in the morning. I had just passed out — too much Quevas. The cops came in every window. The next morning, I woke up in jail for the first time.
They found four or five marijuana seeds in my shirt pocket. Since it was such a small amount, I wasn’t subject to the death penalty. I only got five years. So off I went to the lovely state correctional institution in Indian City.
I really learned a lot in prison. I learned that the Indian City High School Mascot is an Indian. The Indian City Indians played on a field I could see from my cell, just beyond the razor wire. It was a charming setting for a high school stadium. I became a fan. It was a lovely little town. They have “The Big Chief” drive-in theater with a twenty-five foot tall fiberglass “Big Chief” statue. He has a big war bonnet on, and he’s clutching a tub full of delicious buttered popcorn available at the concession stand. There’s a “Happy Squaw” laundromat, “Little Papoose” day care, “Indian Maiden” beauty shoppe, and a “Sit n’ Bull” bar and grill.
It was a historical fact that actual Native-Americans had never lived in the area. That was because the land was swampy. The bugs were thick. The snakes were ill-tempered. And most of the indigenous chipmunks were rabid. The few real “Indians” who drifted into the poorly-sited settlement after the white conquest left quickly for aesthetic reasons. Indian City was ironic to the core.
It was a typical prison, and I had all the typical experiences. One day a guy laid my forehead open with a steel pipe. I didn’t pass out, but I bled a lot. And I remember after he hit me, all I could think about for two days was whole wheat toast. Odd. Anyway, I spent thirty-one months there.
The experience changed my life. I wasn’t a middle class kid anymore. I wasn’t a playwright. I wasn’t a member in good standing of society. I was no longer on the career track. I was an ex-con. I was unemployable. As it turned out, it was all for the best. I found out that I really liked working for myself. I became an entrepreneur, or thief, whatever.
Where was I? Oh yeah, I hate waking up in jail. But this morning, I was glad to see the sun burn through the haze from the plastics factory. I was going to court. I would stand at the bar of justice. I like bars. I was getting out. I would be free to find Torey. God, Torey! It flooded back all at once. It’s tough being a parent. O.K., so I hadn’t been much of a parent. Just grant me this, the biological imperative had kicked in. I had to find my kid. I’d kill if I had to. That was better. Anger felt a lot better than the helplessness of overwhelming worry. I wanted to punch somebody. I didn’t. I wanted out of jail – bad.
I brushed my teeth with my finger. I had forgotten to pack an overnight bag. Smoothed down my orange jumpsuit. It’s important to look good in front of the judge. And paced around the pod, staying close to the door so I could be first in line for the bus to the courthouse. That’s silly, because your case comes up when it comes up. But I was like a kid waiting to ride Space Mountain at Disney World. I wanted to be the first tyke on the ride.
The bus trip was boring. No windows. I think they’re afraid we’ll see too much and plot an escape. Whatever, by ten, we were all individually handcuffed to a long bench in a marble hall. I was right under a statue of General Hiram Dumpe. It’s pronounced “dumb-pay” — officially, at least. The main east-west street in Tiriwa is named Dumpe in his honor.
I sat in the shadow of this giant of history until ten forty-five, when they finally called me and a bunch of other dregs of society into the courtroom. It was meat grinder time.
The bailiff calls a name and somebody shuffles forward. Somebody mutters something that gets lost in the general hub-bub and the echoes in the room. A guy in orange listens as a lawyer, usually a public defender, whispers in his ear. A fresh-out-of-Texas-Tech Law School prosecutor makes a bored gesture, then the judge mutters something inaudible, and the orange guy is shuffled out through another door. Then the process is repeated, and repeated, and repeated. It’s the meat grinder. They called my name. I dutifully shuffled past the railing, trying to affect an attitude of respect for the majesty of the law and the gravity of the situation. I yawned.
The defender today was Sally Rosemond.
She knew me. She knew Valerie and I were an item. Actually, she knew a lot more than that. Let’s just say, Valerie and she were good friends, formerly very good friends. As for our romance, she didn’t approve. She just looked at me and sighed.
“I hope you did something that deserves capital punishment.” It seemed to me that this was not a very professional way of treating a poor, disenfranchised client.
“Sally, nice to see you. Is your leather dominatrix costume at the cleaner’s again?”
“Sure, but I have the ball gag with me. Care to try it on?” She liked me. She just didn’t want to admit it.
Our witty repartee was interrupted by the rookie prosecutor. I didn’t really listen until he got to the last part. “Your honor, charges having been dropped, the state has no further interest.”
I was going to give Mattie Robinson a big kiss.
The judge gave me the once over. The Honorable — I know better — Samuel Quisling, no wonder his folks left Norway, didn’t like me much. He couldn’t prove anything. He shouldn’t have been where he was with who he was, and he shouldn’t have left that stuff in his car. He was powerful, but he was powerless, and he dropped the gavel.
Being rebuffed in my attempt to give Ms. Rosemond a grateful hug, I was about to turn when I felt some bad vibes. The hair on the back of my neck bristled. There, to my left, shit! It was Miss Vomit, the court reporter. She was still mad at me. That incident with my lawyer, Cuddigan, and his projectile vomiting was so fresh in her mind she could smell it. Her eyes, behind thick lenses, were giving me the X-ray look. Her fingers flew across whatever you call that little court reporter thing. Nobody was talking. What was she writing? I imagined it was something like, “Can’t you people see that this slime should be thrown into a medieval oubliette and starved to death? J’accuse!” It was creepy. The bailiff removed my cuffs, and I went back into the hall a free man. On the way out, I tried not to turn my back on Ms. Vomit. You never know these days.
I still had to ride the bus back to the jail to get my stuff and be processed, but that wouldn’t take long. I’d be back on the street by one o’clock. Another dangerous criminal set free by the dictates of our bleeding heart constitution.
Standing in the hall, I saw the obese figure of the so recently recalled officer of the court, member of the bar, Mister Poorly Timed Regurgitation, Thad Cuddigan. He looked bad. Then I remembered. He’d been sober for a month.
Thad was talking to “Slow Joe” Kensington. The taller D.A. was impeccably dressed and looking down at Thad like a Roman Noble deigning to give a poor plebeian a crust of his valuable time. Thad was chewing hard on the crust, acting like it was dessert. He knew his place.
It was an intense but brief encounter, and then with a Caesar-like wave of his hand, Kensington turned away. The D.A. put his arm around the shoulder of a distinguished looking priest who had been waiting for the commoner’s audience to end. All my best buddies from the Dreamy Fish were in the house.
I don’t know why it had taken so long – a trick of my abused cranial circuitry perhaps – but I sudenly placed the cleric. It was Father Leo – way before monsignorhood — Leo Shuldik. Yesterday, when he pulled his “kiss my ring” stunt, I’d been too amused or too looped on wine to lock onto the guy. Leo Shuldik; sure, he’d been spiritual counselor for senior students at the seminary. I remembered him. Just a bit orthodox, he had preached against Communism and the Vatican Council. Glum Karl Marx and jolly Pope John XXIII were both equally suspect. The always viligant Father Leo hated birth control, English language Masses, women who learned to read, Galileo, uppity poor people, and automobiles that were any color but black. I had finally put the Monsignor in his proper historical context.
Other assorted facts popped up. I had a vague memory of reading about Shuldik as the Bishop’s enforcer. As chancellor of the Diocese, the good Monsignor was, in fact, acting bishop. Our current shepherd was deep into dementia, though no one dared actually say that. Archbishop Kunkler had given a famous sermon about his goldfish being eaten alive by fungus a few years back. Shuldik had been flown in by the Vatican the next day. I’d had all these facts in my head the whole time. My mind only seems to work spasmodically. Seminary, asshole, Chancellor and DA, I filed the information on top of my mental clutter.
Kensington’s eyes accidentally found mine. There was a flicker as he tried to remember… No, his memory was as bad as mine. I’d looked familiar from his encounter with Mattie and me at lunch the day before, but he didn’t make any connection. The two noble men, Kensington and the Monsignor, walked off, deep in conversation.
Since the royalty had meandered off, I felt free to intrude on Thad, who was still working that crust pretty hard in his head.
“Well, if it isn’t my dear brother’s mouthpiece.”
“What a pleasure to see you, too.” He looked me up and down. I think he did, anyway. It’s always hard to tell with Cuddigan. He’s so fat his eyes are somewhere at the bottom of these slits on either side of his pug nose. “And what a pleasure to see you dressed in orange.”
I held up my un-cuffed hands. “Only temporarily. My driver will fetch me in a nonce. Listen, Thad, how’s it look for Mikey?”
“Can you say bad…sure you can.” He did a passable Mr. Rogers.
“You know he’s innocent, don’t you?”
I think he rolled his eyes. “Oh, but certainly. You should know, Tools. All my clients are innocent.”
“He couldn’t have done…”
“I don’t have time for this. Listen, rest easy.” He placed one meaty paw on my shoulder and picked up his briefcase with the other. “I’ll do my best for Mikey.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
He pulled his hand away and started to leave. “You are a son-of-a -bitch.”
“Sorry, Thad. Wait!”
He turned back. “Listen, I’m working on a plea that’ll keep him above ground. Just stay out of my way.” Then, very softly, “I’m not some monster. I do my best.” He did his best to walk away proudly. I almost felt sorry for him.
Then it hit me. Have you noticed how I keep getting hit by things? He was going to do a plea bargain. At best, Mikey would be gone for over four hundred years. Our justice system doesn’t deal in truth. We all learned that when O.J. returned to the golf course. The system isn’t concerned with justice. The goal is to make a bargain. Courts are part of capitalism. How else would you expect them to work? Like all markets, sometimes they work well, sometimes people get screwed in a big way. Capitalism produces Cadillacs and Pintos. Some are surrounded by luxury, others are sputtering human torches in Nero’s garden. You can argue about it, but that’s the way it is. For all the problems, you’re still better off here than in Haiti.
I was going to have to deal with reality here. The reality was that the system was not going to save anybody. That’s not how things work. I had to do what needed to be done, and that’s not natural in America. Here we hire people to take care of the kids, to cook our pizza, to put poison on the lawn, to manage our money, to clean the toilet. If I looked in the yellow pages, there would be no company listed that cleaned out this kind of latrine. I needed to buy some good yellow plastic gloves, because it was up to me.
I was determined to find Torey. Clearing Mikey, and dealing out a little justice for Terri, were strictly secondary. The thing is all of it was all tied together now. And somebody really wanted it all dead and buried in an expeditious manner. I had to find Torey quick.
As for what I intended to do to Torey’s tormentor, well, that wasn’t a fully formed plan yet. That bit of revenge was just bubbling away in my brain under the mental heading: “Torquemada.” It was an odd feeling. Being “determined” to do anything besides drink, steal, and diddle Val was foreign to me. But there it is.
At the jail, I got processed. There are worse things that can happen to you in the joint. I changed back into my nice “go to Northland” outfit from the day before. I adjusted my gold Patek Phillippe watch — funny, I hadn’t had one when I was booked. It looked like Cuddigan’s. Go figure. I walked out the front door. Never hurry out of a jail. It’s bad form to rush away. My shoes stepped into the sunshine of a beautiful November afternoon. There wasn’t a cloud in sight.
Except for the one at the bottom of the steps, standing beside a red Neon with a tattered Garfield the Cat suction cupped to the rear passenger side window. The omnipresent cartoon feline was down to three legs. How many did I have left to stand on? I wondered.
looked really pissed.