(Story prompt: Dreams that don’t let go)
In 1956, I got six months in the can for trying to knick a pack of cigarettes from a pocket in the bus stand. The magic of cleaning out a pocket, they’ll tell you, lies in the fingers. Me?
“It’s in the tongue. The old gift of the gab. Because your fingers sure can’t knick a man’s mind.”
“Then how did you end up in Montgomery County?” he asked.
“You see that kid by the desk, Jay? Officer Brookes. Turns out he wanted to take the bus that day.”
“He saw you?”
“Sure did. Heck, he saw straight through me. Had me by the arm. Wouldn’t make much of a cop if any randy could take a quick tour in his pockets, would he?”
He laughed like I had heard no man laugh in prison. Heck, I wasn’t sure if it was allowed in there. But I wasn’t complaining; four months and eight men later, I had finally finished my story without having to repeat it. The world didn’t throw many bright ones in prison. No, sir. The bright ones played rainbow outside; in here, we got bits of grey backdrop.
Jay was sharp and he was important on the outside. I figured after I was out that he’d done college. Socieitologics or some junk of the sort I can’t care about. But I could tell with him from the start. He wasn’t your average monkey mouth.
He had a nettling politeness about him. And man was he a thinker. He wasn’t a goddamned river. And he sure as heck wasn’t a mirror. But this kid sure liked to reflect.
What really gave it away, though, was the number of ‘meetings’ he took at the hands of the Lieutenant.
In Montgomery County Jail, any thief worth his nickel was up on the first floor. Second tier got murderers, and up top, ‘The Penthouse’, was reserved for the special departments – arson, genocide, necrophilia.
We were on ground floor. On the MCJ hierarchy, we were considered so petty and incompetent that they practically put us in the vicinity of every exit. So why did the Lieutenant have any business with Jay in the interrogation room? I was willing to bet it had nothing to do with the reason he was inside in the first place: driving 30 miles an hour in a 25 zone.
I couldn’t put my finger on it. So I trusted my magic maker again.
“The Lyoot really loves you, huh?”
He donated a half-smile to my jibe. A smile that – our well-lit floor showed – was damaged at the edges.
He said, “My father never let love get in the way of a beating. So it’s not out of the question.”
“Well, that’s a start. I’ve been meaning to ask you what your story is.”
This time the expression was much more in character.
“I’m not sure it’s different from yours in any way, my friend.”
“I’m in for over-speeding. You got 6 months for petty pick-pocketing. We are in an isolated cell. It’s no coincidence, my friend, that even in here we are the unmentionables. Our stories are the same, in here as well as out there. The only difference is that they don’t go out of their way to call us African-American.”
There was truth in what he was saying, but there was more to it than this. There was more to him than me.
“Heck, then why don’t I have special appointments with the Lyoot? You have something he wants?”
Brookes interrupted us from outside.
“Jay! In the IR — now! You know the way.”
Jay responded to me.
“Ah, I doubt if I can add to his repertoire. I have things he has. Things his boss has – and his boss. They probably have more of it –“
“You hear me Jay Arrrrrr?”
“- than I do. The reason I have special appointments is because they don’t think I’m entitled –“
“Get out here!” There were footsteps.“- to it. They can’t imagine such a thing! I have an education! I have a cause and I have support –“
The door flew inwards with the words, “Martin f*cking Luther!”
“- I have a dream!”
Then they took him.