A Backward GlanceChapter 9
Breakfast the next morning was pretty ordinary. Bowl of oatmeal, toast, bacon. Nothing fancy. Frank was already eating when I came downstairs. Ruby was there cooking, wearing a different robe than before, one that covered her all up, one that you couldn't see through.
"Ruby reminded me we forgot to get shoes for you when we went shopping. Maybe the two of you can take care of that today," Frank said. "If you think of anything else you need or you'd like to have, be sure to say so." He grinned. "I have money to burn." He clapped me on the shoulder. "I'll see you when I get back." Then he was out the door and driving away.
Frank wasn't a loud person, but as soon as he left, it felt like the house got really quiet. Ruby drank her coffee standing at the stove and didn't say anything till I was done eating.
"Would you like to go shopping right away this morning and get it over with?" She got a bottle down from the top shelf in the cupboard and poured herself a coupla fingers in a glass.
"I don't need to go shopping."
"No?" She sipped her vodka and looked at my shoes. "Your feet will begin to hurt one of these days. If they don't already. And you know he'll never let it go until we do what he wants. So we might as well just do it."
I pushed my chair away from the table and looked at my shoes. My boots had little holes on the sides where my little toes were pushing against the leather. There were a coupla places on the soles that were pretty thin. She was right, they were starting to hurt a little.
She walked up to me, didn't stop until she was standing close, between my knees, almost touching, so close her scent was strong, and I thought I oughta be able to hear her heart beating, but my own was thumping along so loud I could hardly hear myself think. Not that I was doing a lotta that. I was fighting a terrible urge to put my arm around her waist and pull her down on my lap, so I could reach her mouth.
She put her palm on my cheek, and then let her fingers slide down to my chin. Tilted my face up. I guess I'd been looking at something else besides her face.
I was sure for a minute she was gonna bend down and kiss me, but she didn't, all she did was look.
I didn't mean to do anything. I didn't intend to move at all, she was married to Frank, she belonged to Frank…..then my hand was at her waist……she covered mine with hers….and pulled it away from her.
"No, no," she said. "None of that." She smiled. "Not yet, anyway."
I had to take a deep breath and let it out quick. "Why're you doing this?"
She chuckled. "'Cause it's fun. Don't you think so?"
"Yes, you do. You like it."
"Mmm-hmmm. I'm a married woman. And you're a boy who likes to fuck. Or aren't you interested in that sort of thing anymore?"
"That's not what we're doin'. Is it?"
She didn't answer me. Her gaze moved from my face, downward….and there was something there for her to see this time, pushing at the buttons on my trousers. Her smile went away.
"Or am I wrong? Are we getting ready to do that?"
She looked at my face again. Just looking, not smiling. Not languid anymore. Whatever she saw there made her back away from me, put her hands behind her.
"No," she said. And then, "Not today." And she blushed suddenly.
Until then, I thought it was just me with a problem.
Yeah, she liked needling me. She had fun at my expense. But that wasn't all of it.
I could see her pulse thrumming in her neck. Her color was high, she looked warm and ready.
I was only fifteen. I'd had some experience, but not that many women. Usually I didn't know for sure what women were thinking. Couldn't tell by looking at a woman what she wanted. Hell, I still can't.
But that day, watching Ruby walk back to the stove, and down the rest of her drink, it wasn't hard at all to know what she wanted.
I figured it was about the same thing as I wanted.………………………..
We didn't go shopping. Ruby washed out her glass, put the bottle away in the cupboard, and went upstairs.
I went outside.
Frank's yard was really big, just like everybody else's in this neck of the woods. A lotta the houses had white fences around 'em and gates on the drives.
His neighborhood wasn't like any other neighborhood I'd lived in. Some places people are always outside, doing yardwork, or pretending to, so they can find out what everybody else is doing. Everybody's gotta know everything. No secrets in a neighborhood like that.
Some places I'd lived, it wasn't smart to be too curious. You knew not to ask too many questions, not to poke your nose into anybody else's business. Not safe. But you had to know enough about what was going on to stay out of trouble.
But here…..this almost wasn't a neighborhood. Everybody kept to themselves, but not out of fear; not out of consideration, either. It felt like……the reason people lived here was so they could be all alone.
No one cared one way or the other who Frank brought to live in his house. Nobody cared who I was or what I was doing there.
No one did their own lawn work (except Frank). No one sat out on their front porch. No one ever strolled down the street looking at everything like I was doing, either.
I suppose that's why the cops picked me up. I was walking, I was looking, and I sure as hell didn't look like I belonged there.
I didn't know either one of the uniforms. Never been picked up in this neighborhood. And they didn't believe me when I pointed to Franks' house and said I lived there. Didn't even bother to go to the door and ask, they just threw me in the car and took me to the precinct.
Feltzer was there, in the cell across from me. How he got way up here, I couldn't figure. He usually stayed downtown.
He was laying on his side on the floor, kinda off to the side. He didn't look too good. Real grey and pasty-looking. The longer I looked at him, the worse he looked.
The next time the uniform with the keys walked by, I said, "Hey, I think that guy's dead."
"Nah, he's just sleeping it off." He woulda walked on by without even checking.
"Well, he ain't breathing."
I halfway thought he'd just ignore me, but he didn't. He got another guy, and they opened the cell door. It was real clear when they tried to move him that he'd been dead a long time.
Sgt. Dougherty (the guy with the keys) called him a John Doe as they were loading the body on the cart.
"His name's Feltzer," I said.
"You know him, huh? What's his first name?"
"I don't know. Beckmann might."
"I don't have time to go chasing around---"
"Officer Beckmann. Downtown. And if you talk to him, you might tell him I'm in here. I think he'd be interested."
"You do, huh?" He didn't say if he was gonna call him or not. He just went out with Feltzer and the other guys, locked the cell door again, and left.
I wasn't too worried about being in here. Sooner or later I'd get somebody to call Frank. Or he'd get worried and try to get everybody looking for me. It wasn't like I was in a dungeon without a key. They might just let me out tomorrow, anyway. But if I could get out today, that'd be OK, too.
Compared to Ruby's cooking, lunch was slop. I tried to eat it, but ended up giving it to one of the other guys in the cell with me.
I was trying to eat supper when Dougherty came in and stood in front of my cell.
"You were right," he said. "Beckmann was pretty interested."
"You know, most kids your age would be kinda upset about seeing a dead body."
"Doesn't seem to bother you much."
"Seen dead people before."
"And most kids would be kinda scared about being in jail."
"You're pretty tough, huh?"
He shook his head and walked away.
I gave the rest of my supper to the same guy who ate my lunch, and watched him gobble it down. Kind of a funny thing---a few weeks ago, I probably woulda done the same thing. Wouldn'ta mattered what it was or what it tasted like. If it didn't move, I ate it. Hungry all the time, even when I wasn't on the street. Most families I'd lived with said they couldn't afford to feed me as much as I coulda eaten.
At Frank's, I couldn't eat everything Ruby put in front of me. I got to be full every meal, I could eat as much in between meals as I wanted. Right then, in jail, I was kinda hungry since I didn't have any lunch, but I wasn't starving, you know? Since I'd been at Frank's that hungry-all-the-time feeling had gone away.
Gave me a funny feeling, to think about it. How something about me coulda changed so fast. Parta me still hated to give away food, it didn't seem right; but parta me couldn't see filling up on this slop when Ruby'd have something delicious on the stove when I got back.
Right after they took the supper dishes away, I settled down on one of the bunks for a nap. Outsida the smell, I was lucky to be in a cell with just vagrants and winos. Nobody gave me too much trouble. There was a loud fight goin' on in one of the other cells. A cop---not Dougherty, he probably went home---yelled through the door, "Pipe down!" Then somebody started screaming that his arm was broken.
That's when the yelling started outside the lockup door. Frank. Wanting to know how come I was put in with common criminals, how come I wasn't out there waiting for him, how come he couldn't go back in the lockup to see me. I heard him threatening to call the Mayor, then the Commissioner. I was waiting for him to bring President Roosevelt into it, but he didn't go that far.
The cop was yelling back, but you know what, he opened the lockup door pretty damn quick. I was impressed. The guy with the broken arm was still screaming. All the winos were on their feet, muttering, getting upset, crowding up to the bars.
The cop yelled at Frank to stay out, but he didn't listen. He squeezed through the door as soon as it opened enough and ran into the hallway between the cells, looking in each one. He didn't see me, I was on the top bunk behind the winos, and he was kinda in a hurry.
He looked mad, his face was red, you woulda thought he was gonna spit nails any minute. He turned back to the turnkey and gave him a shove, saying, "I want that boy and I want him right now!"
Cops don't like that kinda thing. They don't like to be shoved. It's a good thing Beckmann was there to get in between 'em, or Frank mighta ended up behind bars with me.
Beckmann hung on to Frank. The turnkey stood in front of my cell and yelled my name. He pulled his sap outta his belt and acted like he was gonna hit somebody when he opened the door. The winos backed up.
As soon as I came through the door, Frank shook off Beckmann and made a beeline for me. I didn't realize until it was too late what he meant to do.
He threw his arms around me and hugged me really hard. "Are you all right? Did they hurt you?" I thought he was gonna kiss me for a minute. I could see Beckmann over Frank's shoulder, smiling.
"Jeez!" I said, and pushed Frank away. "What're you doing that for?"
"I couldn't believe it when Jeffrey told me you were in jail. Thank God you're OK. Are you OK?" He didn't give me time to say anything. "Thank God you weren't hurt. We've got to get you out of here. I was so afraid that was you when all the noise began in here." He put his arm around my shoulder and squeezed. "I'll have somebody's badge for this. What kind of a city is it when a law-abiding citizen can't walk down the street without being harassed?"
"Ruby was so worried. She didn't have any idea what happened to you. And then when Jeffrey called---" He looked around at the other cells. "It's abominable that they put you in here. Anything could have happened to you."
He looked at me.
"I'm fine. I been taking care of myself for a long time. You don't have to worry."
His forehead wrinkled up. "Yes, I do," he said, a little calmer. "Of course I do. I know you can take care of yourself. That's not the point. How can I not worry about you?"………………
Frank invited Beckmann to come back with us, but he said he had to get home. He clapped me on the shoulder, and got in his car and drove away. He was a good guy.
"The officer told us you identified a dead man in one of the cells," Frank said after we got in his car. "I'm so sorry you had to see a death. That should never have happened."
"I've seen dead people before."
"I wasn't scared or anything, if that's what you're worried about. We weren't even in the same cell."
"It's still a gruesome experience and not something you should have been exposed to. And someone you knew……"
Jeez. At this rate we were never gonna get home. "Frank. I spent three days sitting right next to a body. It's not scary. It's stupid to worry about a few hours with a guy across in a different cell."
He looked sad. "I forget about that once in a while." He reached over and kinda rubbed my shoulder. "I wish you could, too."