All I needed was to get arrested.
The better I feel about one of my ideas, the more likely it is to be wrong. I know that. I’ve had good ideas before, and they work out about half the time. However, whenever I’ve had a great idea, it’s a shitty day in a shit storm at the shit factory on shit street. On the great pie chart of plans, if you start with “Idiotic”: move ninety degrees to “Poor,” ninety more to “Mediocre,” then ninety again to “Good” and a final ninety to “Great.” It leads you to a disturbing conclusion. Now, if you were awake during geometry, and not living in Spicola’s dream world at Ridgemont High, you would know that adds up to: A perfect 360. “Idiotic” equals “Great.”
It’s been true throughout history. Idiocy and Greatness are often indistinguishable. Pharaoh has a great idea. “We’ll pile up all these stones and bury me in them. All my treasure will be safe.” Of, course, down at the Thebes grave robbers union hall, all the guys are giggling into their scarab beetle hash. “What an idiot. We’ll have it cleaned out by the Monday after the funeral.” Then the shop steward chimes in, “Wait, make that Tuesday, fellas, Monday is President’s Day.” Now tourists think the pyramids are great, and they are, I guess, but not because they did what they were supposed to do. On that basis they are colossal, idiotic failures. And their location sucks. It gets way too hot there.
Mister Christopher Columbus had a great idea. However, if you’re a Lakota Sioux he’s a fucking idiot! Orville and Wilbur had a great idea. That’s why I got strip searched by a minimum wage Gestapo agent after they found a nutcracker in my carry on. Plus, is it ever a great idea to fly to Lubbock, Texas? No, of course not. It’s idiotic.
I could go on talking about great ideas and idiotic results, but just let me mention one more. Just pronounce two simple syllables and my case is made. Great ideas are the same as idiotic ideas. One word: Iraq. Let’s move on, shall we?
I was absolutely convinced in every fiber of my being that this was my best, most clever plan ever. I needed to talk to Mikey. Maybe he could explain why I found his jewelry on the path up to the body. Maybe I would believe him. Maybe I would make People Magazine’s “Hundred Sexiest Men When the Lighting is Just Right” List.
Mikey was in jail. Only people in jail could talk to him. Now it seems so simple to some people; just go to the jail on visiting day. That’s a fine setup. Fill a condom with a file, a carton of cigarettes, a bong, and the paperback edition of “Copping a Plea for Dummies.” Put on my best Sunday frock. Probably wear the garter belt and the Wonder bra so the poor dear can have a small bit of comfort. Walk up to little Mikey, give him a brotherly tonsil cleaning hello sailor kiss, and slip him the condom that I have tucked under my tongue. And then we could have our nice little chat about Terri. So all I’d have to do is traipse on down to the prison and sign in. There’s the problem.
I’ve made no secret of it. I’m a convicted felon. State law, city ordinance, Vaporville tribal custom, and a couple of guards at the jail who I may have humiliated inadvertently on one or several of my stays, prevent me from being a legal, sanctioned, signed-in, official, thanks-for-dropping-by visitor. If I were to walk into the security office and ask for my jail hall-pass and say, “Please tell Mikey I’m here to see him,” there’d be more bells going off than in Rome on Easter morning. Jail officials would laugh so hard that one or two might make a clumsy mistake during my complimentary anal probe before they tossed me out into the parking lot. Personally, I like my strip searches to be calm and professional. So visiting Mikey was out.
Val could visit Mikey. But she didn’t know what I knew. She couldn’t “talk” to Mikey the way I was going to “talk” to Mikey. Besides, visiting day wasn’t until Thursday. I was too ugly to pass myself off as Val and too angry to wait.
I couldn’t “go” to jail. I needed to be “in” jail. That seemed so obvious. I’ve been in jail before. It’s no big deal. I was in prison once. That was a big deal. But we’re just talking jail here. They got cable in at the county jail. The HBO got canceled, though, because the guards were watching “OZ” too much, and too many inmates started acting like Tony Soprano.
Tirawa’s local law and order establishment is officially named, “The Richard M. Nixon Correctional and Community Center.” I kid you not. They named it after a guy who subverted the constitution, hired burglars, lied into the camera about his clandestine rendezvous with Laos, wagged his finger at us, “I did not have sexual relations with that country,” and never pulled a day of time. It would have made more sense to name it after one of the burglars… like Bernard Barker, one of the Watergate burglars and all-around schmoe. There was a real sad sack. He was stupid, loyal, and paunchy, just like ninety percent of the inmates and guards. It would have been a more appropriate name. Even when they put the new wing on the jail this year they ignored Bernard and named the addition after a local meat packing plant CEO who helped pass the food-stamp tax that financed it. That particular corporate pillar of the community is in a federal prison now.
The plan was elegant in its simplicity. Commit a misdemeanor, my specialty, serious enough to require a trip to the lock-up. It’s a little trickier than you think. Nowadays, the officer is as likely to write you a ticket as slap the cuffs on you. It saves them paperwork. But I knew what to do. You’re not dealing with an amateur here.
First, I had to get out of Vaporville. It’s the tough side of town, Tirawa’s dark underbelly. Vaporville got its name back during Prohibition when the smell of a thousand bathtubs making gin filled the neighborhood. If anything, the appelation is even more appropriate now, as the distinctive tang of ether emanating from the area’s meth labs swirls with every passing semi hauling away toxic waste.
Anything you do wrong in this neighborhood is automatically considered a felony. True. Expired plates, yelling at a spouse, illegal dumping, parking in a tow away zone, public anything, gang attire — that means any kind of baseball cap not worn in the manner that Cal Ripken wore his — littering, firebombing the Popeye’s Chicken, whatever little thing you do down here gets you a serious charge. The rationale is, “We got you now. And we know you’ve gotten away with a lot of stuff in the past. So let’s punish you because we know you deserve it.”
No, I didn’t want to get busted in Vaporville. I wanted to do something that would get me in for one night. I’d have my tete-a-tete with brother Mikey. Then Val would bond me out. God, I hoped she would bond me out. Like I said, it was a great idea.
It was four blocks to my place from Valerie’s. I don’t call it home. It was a two room “efficiency,” which means there was a bathroom and a kitchen/sleeping area. I hit the shower, using the last of the Irish Spring. It was just a sliver on the drain, but it worked. I put on some nice khaki pants and a Botany Bay Shirt. It was so rare to find clothes my size in a Porsche, but hey, sometimes I luck out. I tossed on a nice Orvis canvas jacket. I always kept my costumes in good shape. I headed out. I was never at the apartment very long. It depressed me.
I hoofed it over to Ahmed’s Messenger Service on Tenth. Right, I don’t drive. I mean, I can drive, but I lost my license some time back. Guess why. It’s the one law I try to keep. I don’t know why. Maybe respecting that one legal restriction makes me feel like I have a little integrity left.
Ahmed’s was a concrete block building with a lovely concrete yard on the corner of Tenth and Custer, surrounded by a Stalinesque ten-foot-high cyclone fence topped with barbed wire. The landscaping effect was complimented by a burnt out step van with a giant smiling chicken painted on the side of the charred box. The chicken’s grin was enhanced by pearly white teeth.
When I walked through the gate, which was always wedged, at most, halfway open, Ahmed himself greeted me. “S’lttle early for pond scum to be risin’ to the surface of the pond, ain’t it?”
“Ahmed, salaam allie oxen free.” My Arabic was rusty.
He was a little husky. O.K., Ahmed was fat. He weighed in around three hundred pounds and maybe made six foot. His shaved scalp was as pale as a Warsaw snowdrift. His full name was Ahmed X. Yablonski. He was originally from Poland, where he rebelled against his Communist puppet masters by reading Malcolm and watching smuggled Blacksploitation flicks. He decided he was black and emigrated to our shores when Walesa and the gang took over. In America, he said, “You can be whatever you want to be.” So Ahmed changed some of his name and became black.
After opening the messenger service, he did lots of things for lots of people. Suffice it to say, after a little rocky start, his sincerity carried the day. He did a dead-on Richard Roundtree. Most important, he acted like those heroes; Shaft, Super Fly, Freddy “the Hammer.” His word was his bond. When it was time to stand up, he stood up. He turned the movie cliches into a creed. Everyone around just accepted it after awhile. Ahmed was black.
“So, Tools, how ya’ doin’ this fine moanin’?” He called me “Tools” because, well, remember the old locks? My fingers were the tools.
“Life is good, Ahmed. Life is good.”
“Not what I heard. Yo skinny ass brotha’ killed the Head. Thas what I heard.”
“You think he did it?”
“I don’ think nothing, Tools. You know dat.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Listen, I do know dat they was here Sunday evenin’. They went to da back to watch a video. When I saw what kinda’ shit it was, I axed ‘em to get the fuck out. Yo brotha’ was yelling at her all the way to da car. They both sickern’ I eva’ thought. Shit.”
“Fuck. Don’t tell me — porn?”
“Bet your pale ass. Kiddie porn, Tools, kiddie.. fuckin’… hand job… porn.”
“Yeah, I heard.”
“Shit Tools. You knew ‘bout dat shit?”
“Found out last night. Listen, Ahmed, I can’t explain it to you now. Trust me. I’m going to kill the son-of-a-bitch.”
“I’ll kill him for ya. No charge.”
“No, this one’s mine, Ahmed.” It was nice of him but I had to refuse. Just talking about it made my head hurt again. Anger isn’t the word. Child pornography. Sick shit. The French Vanilla coffee from earlier was climbing up my gullet.
I know I’m a criminal. I steal stuff. But I never loot pension funds or scam houses from the elderly with rip-off siding loans. I don’t bankrupt companies and throw thousands on the street so I can retire to a gated estate in Boca Raton. I don’t sell drugs. I don’t overcharge for antibiotics or heart medication. I don’t steal elections. I don’t eat at restaurants with the word “Afghani” anywhere on the menu. I don’t start wars over oil. I don’t kill people. I have my moral code. I consider myself honest. And anyone, I mean anyone, who messes up kids deserves to die. Whether they hit them, starve them, or worst of all sexually molest them in any way, they should be disemboweled and roasted alive in the public square.
“Relax, Tools. Yo’ brotha was as ‘prized as I was. He didn’t want nuthin’ to do wid it. Thas what he was yellin’ at her.”
“That’s crazy. Terri wasn’t into that. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Jus’ tellin’ you what went down. Lotta stuff in this ol’ worl’ don’t make no sense.” Ahmed was a friend. If he said it happened, it happened.
“Ahmed, I need a ride.”
“You gonna’ go out and get me sumpin’?”
“Not today, bro.” Ahmed occasionally purchases items from me. Items of a mutually profitable nature. His nickname isn’t “Cyclone” for nothing.
“Where you wanna go?”
“Up to Northland.”
He rubbed his face, thinking. This was asking a very big favor.
“Let me get my shades. So many white folk up there, da glare botha’s me.” He laughed.
A couple of minutes later, we were in Ahmed’s black Lincoln Navigator. Leather seats, windows tinted beyond regulation, with enough power in the sound system to boil water on the woofers, it was a fine ride. Ahmed cranked up Busta’ Rhymes “Genesis” CD. It kicked in on “Pass the Courvoisier” and by the time “Break Ya Neck” hit, we were north bound on I-460.
The whole trip north, Busta is venting his Afro-rath that he recorded in Woodland Hills, California — originally the home of the gentle and now extinct Chumash Indians. Ironic. By “Make it Hurt” we were almost there.
The I-460 six lane monstrosity had been built to wall off Vaporville from downtown. Sure, they’ll tell you it was to give easier access to the airport and feed traffic into the city center in order to stimulate economic growth. But you and I know the real economic growth was in the hip pockets of the Tirawa gentry that bought up the big swath of the old neighborhood just before the bulldozers moved in. That’s the American way.
Regardless, it took us north to the appropriately named suburb, Northland. Also affectionately referred to as “Rich Land,” it was big houses, country clubs, toney restaurants, gallerias, and office parks full of plastic surgeons. I directed Ahmed, who, by the way, is Baptist, to the Rio Caliente Professional Center. Don’t even ask. Yes, you’re right, there is no “Rio,” and certainly, in November, no “Caliente” here in the Midwest. Hell, until the eighties there hadn’t been a Hispanic within two hundred miles since Coronado scouted out potential Stuckey’s locations in the sixteenth century.
Ahmed had turned down Busta’ just as “You Ain’t F***in’ Wit Me” got going. Nobody in this SUV wanted to attract any undue attention here on enemy ground. Ahmed’s face had morphed into “Polish Immigrant.” We were both sitting up straight. We even had our seat belts on…when in Rome.
Even his voice was different. “Here you go, chum. Have a nice day. Call me later.” Ahmed was smiling like an insurance agent.
“Thank you. Drive carefully.”
I closed the door and watched the Navigator pull away smoothly through the classy tree-lined parking lot and turn, blinker flashing, back onto the boulevard and away. I looked at the new buildings built from old brick, some probably salvaged from working class row houses in the bulldozer’s path. Ironic, but very nice indeed. I could smell money. It was time to get arrested.
Whenever I did “a crime,” I tried to pick out, and I hate the word but for now, a “victim” who deserved it, or at least one who could afford it. I didn’t give to the poor but I did rob from the rich. You have to remember, too, that “rich” is a relative term. Like society, I believe there are people who need to be punished, at least a little. My punishments were never severe. For instance, I never took personal stuff. I’d take the money but not the purse, the sterling frame but not the family portrait, the VCR but not the wedding video, etc., etc. Men who went to strip bars were fair game. Young women spending daddy’s money at trendy dance clubs were fair game. Doctors who had offices in Rio Caliente were fair game.
It was easy to find a doctor’s car. It was parked right next to the entrance in a spot marked “Reserved for Dr. Robinson.” I wondered what Mrs. Robinson was up to at home, koo koo ka choo.
I’m not a sexist. My feminist gal pal has cured that. I knew it was a male Dr. Robinson because the car was a Hummer. It’s the most ridiculous penile extension ever built by Detroit, or wherever the hell they built it. A Hummer is the civilian version of the Army combat vehicle that helped lead our troops to glorious victory over those Iraqi janitors, garbage men, waiters, and shoe salesman in Kuwait. The troops loved it.
Then came Georgie’s war, and after a few hundred roadside bombs, the troops didn’t like those HumVees so much. A friend who was in Baghdad says some of the G.I.’s started referring to the thin-skinned vehicles as “Pintos with Bullseyes.”
Hummers were big, too heavy for most rural bridges in the U.S., clumsy, sucked gas like a four wheeled sump pump, and ugly. But they had cachet. Hummers were yuppie hip. They had status. The sticker was upstairs from fifty thousand dollars. No Junior Leaguer was driving this bad boy, it had to be a guy who had too much money and too much money.
There were nice little benches on the walkway right in front of the Doctor’s masculine conveyance. Since it was a nice sunny day and around forty degrees, it wasn’t surprising to see a well-dressed blond, about fifty, not unattractive, sitting not twenty feet from the car. It was perfect. A witness.
The events to come crystallized in my mind. Visualization is critical to success. I would pick up a rock of some sort. My aim would be true. The windshield would fragment. The police would arrive. The nice lady would finger me. I would be politely handcuffed and removed from the scene on my way to interview my morally compromised brother in jail. All the pieces were in place.
I walked over to some yucca plants near her.
“Good morning. Nice day.”
She hesitated a moment, then smiled a great artificially whitened smile. “Yes, it is. Good morning.”
There was a lull in the conversation. Those can be so awkward, can’t they? But this was only for a moment, while I picked up a brick edger and walked over to the good doctor’s vehicle. I admired it momentarily, and then wound up and delivered. The brick hit right over the steering wheel and shattered the windshield. I walked back to the yucca and got another brick.
I smiled at my new blond friend. “A bit unusual for this time of year, don’t you think?”
Her mouth was open, then she smiled back, “Yes, an unusually nice day.”
The second brick caught the driver’s side window. I had my good stuff today. I always feel safe in Northland because the police are numerous and professional. It couldn’t have been thirty seconds before a patrol car pulled into the lot and headed my way. I stepped out to wave him down. It’s always a good idea to show empty hands when approaching a peace officer, even if you’re white.
The Black and White pulled up even with me. The window rolled down.
“May I help you, sir?” Great, he hadn’t been called. He had just blundered by. That complicated things a little.
“Yes, Officer, I’d like to report a vandalism incident.”
“What happened?” Unbelievable, I get the cop who wouldn’t notice a weasel in his pants.
Finally, the Hummer’s alarm went off. Those things are useless. Believe me, they never stop thieves like me. All auto alarms do is go off when the wind is a little gusty, wake up neighbors who end up hating you, or scare the hell out of your sweethearts when you lend them the car without training. The only thing they’re good for is to confirm earthquakes. But if you want to waste a couple hundred bucks, go for it.
Between the alarm and the squad car, a crowd had begun to gather. Officer Oblivious got out, adjusted his baton, and took command.
“What’s going on?”
“The windows on that fine car have been viciously smashed.” I gestured in the Hummer’s direction. I wasn’t taking any chances that he’d miss it. The smashed windows and the bricks, one on the ground, one on the dented football field-sized hood, were clearly visible. Maybe I should have brought along labels.
“Anybody see anything?!” He was yelling over the wailing alarm.
A man emerged from the well-dressed mob. Extended his arm and clicked. The alarm stopped. He was wearing a white lab coat. Ah, good morning, Dr. Robinson.
“What the hell!” He seemed upset. His hand slid across the hood over the indentation. I thought he was going to cry. He picked up the brick, looked at it, then dropped it like Ethics class in Med School.
“This your car, sir?” Officer Oblivious had forgotten me completely.
“Yes, yes it is. Who did this?” He eyed the lady on the bench who still sat there smiling. His eyes locked on hers, she returned the stare, then he broke it off like a dog in trouble. He stared at his shoes. The rage started in his feet and boiled up, turning his face Oklahoma clay red. “Officer, arrest that woman!”
This was going the wrong way. I needed to restore order.
“I did it, officer. I confess.” Everyone turned to look at me.
“You did, huh? Well then, sir, I am going to have to place you…”
“He didn’t do it, officer. I saw the whole thing.” The dame on the bench butted in.
“What did you see, ma’am?”
“A car load of kids drove by. It was a red car. They threw the bricks.” She was standing, approaching now. She was very high class. Like I said, fifty maybe, slim, tailored suede slacks, silk blouse, a well fit soft leather jacket. Nice looking, and more than that, she was very rich.
“Then why would he admit…?…” The cop’s wheels couldn’t turn this fast. Pretty soon his ears would smoke.
Doctor Robinson could only sputter something like, “Buuuh… Jusssst… Sheee…!”
The Missus gave him the eye. Then, with great dignity she proclaimed my nobility. “Because, as a friend, he was protecting me from any baseless accusations my ex-husband was about to make.” Well hello, Mrs. Robinson! This was too sweet.
The cop saw his way out. He took it. “Sir, it’s your car. Did you see her do it?”
“Did you see him do it?” He pointed at me with his baton.
“No.” Doc was really pissed now. He just looked at his penis, I mean his car, and I swear you could see him shrink. Cold water always has that effect on men. The duchess had just thrown a bucketful on him.
“Let’s fill out the report, sir.” He walked over to the victim, touched his elbow, and escorted him to the cop car. The Doctor got in the passenger side, the cop got in the driver’s side, and they got to work on the mandatory official report. Crowds don’t like paperwork. They were quickly getting gone. The last of them, a couple of cute nurses who probably worked for the Doc, were smiling, even laughing a little as they turned to go back to work. They seemed very happy about the whole thing. My time and effort hadn’t been completely wasted.
I looked at my new friend.
“Nothing more to see here, ma’am. Let’s move along,” I said. Dr. Robinson and the cop were busy with the paperwork in the squad car. No need to hang around. Not surprising, my original plan wasn’t going to work. I followed my anonymous co-conspirator across the parking lot. “Giving false information to an officer of the law in the performance of his official duties is against the law, ma’am.”
“You call me ‘ma’am’ one more time and I’ll take the little derringer out of my little purse here and shoot you in the kneecap.” She put her hand in her stylish little bag.
It was the cutest gun I’d ever seen.