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©1999 - 2012
Edward D. Reuss
All rights reserved. Including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any form

 

THE BAR CODE

The smirking whore in the corner meant it was official.  Not only had the cops made a serious mistake by arresting him; but they'd also thrown him in the wrong lock-up. What the hell was he doing behind bars with a woman?

They'd called him a faggot on the street. Stood glaring at his white Jaguar, at the flawless cut of his raw silk  suit and could barely contain themselves.

You some kind of fairy, boy? Ain't you in the wrong part of town to come playing your sissy games?

Wrong part of town? He had no idea where he was. Confusing directions, a few wrong turns and he was lost in the murky lair of West Side gang turf. Here, hooded shapes loitered on every corner, watched him with the confidence of predators circling  helpless prey. Faceless voices shouted above the Saturday night soundtrack of life on dead-end street.  How had he gotten here? He was supposed to be at a wedding, dammit, and somehow....

Blue lights flashing in his rear view meant help had arrived, finally. The cops could tell him how to get out of here. Maybe even escort him, just until he got back on the freeway.

Instead, they yanked him out of the car. Dope dealer or pimp, they'd asked, shoving him over the Jaguar's hood.. After that, he wasn't sure what happened next. Rough hands moved down his body, up his legs, through his pockets.

A quick search of the Jag produced an ounce of hydroponic weed, the new millennium's healthier alternative high to home grown buds.

"What else you got, kid?" the bigger cop growled. "Better tell us now and save yourself some trouble."

The other cop was  flipping through his wallet.

"Says here you're Delroy Benjamin, with a Gold Coast address." He glanced from the driver's license to his frightened captive.

"Is that you, or didja steal somebody's wallet on top of everything else?"

"Everything else? What's everything? I haven't done anythi -"

"What you better do is shut your mouth unless we ask a question."

"You did ask a question!" But it was hard to sound convincing- especially after the cop found his vial of coke. Fear rose like bile,  as bitter as his indignation.

"I'm Delroy Benjamin. I've done nothing wrong  and I don't know how I got here."
"Don't worry, smartass. The only thing you need to know is where you're goin'....and that's to Hell if you don't change your ways." A sharp kick to his legs spread them wider, kept him off-balance as handcuffs were slapped on.

"This one's only twenty-three," one of his tormentors informed the other cops who rumbled up in  the paddy wagon. "A drug czar born every minute."

"This is an outrage! I want your names right now! I'll have your jobs -"

But  someone's ham-sized fist slammed a swinging right hook to guarantee his silence - and oblivion - for the ride to the station.

Now the whore watched as he retched in the corner.

"Don't worry, honey. Always happens after an ass-kickin'. It ain't nothin' to be ashamed of." 

A deep voice for a woman, rough as bourbon strained through broken glass. Squinting through one swollen eye, Del glimpsed a stubbly shadow beneath the make-up. Perfect. Locked up who knew where with some cross-dressing she-male who  now winked companionably. If this freak tried anything.....

"Relax, baby. It ain't that kinda  party." A bony hand large enough to palm a basketball

patted the silver wig. "My name's Capri and the only men I'm into is payin' customers."

Pursing orange-slathered lips, the whore  nodded toward the wooden bench.

"Why don't you get up outta that mess and rest yourself over there. No sense sloppin' in your own sickness."

She - or he, or it - had a point. And  judging by the way Capri's nose wrinkled, it wasn't lust that prompted his suggestion. But Del wasn't sure he could move.  At least half the bones in his body must have been crushed after the cops stomped him.  Whimpering, he struggled to his knees.

"Yeah, I can tell you ain't a regular 'round here. What is you, some kinda college boy?"

A gold tooth bared in Capri's version of a smile. "That's right, honey. Crawl up on the bench.

Catch your breath."

Del's head was spinning. Christ, his whole body was spinning, and it felt like he'd  be sick again.

                       "Keep your eyes closed. You'll get over it."   Capri spoke with the authority of many jailhouse campaigns.   "It's a shame, the way them cops do the young boys. Drag 'em in here, beat 'em half to death."  Hitching ragged fishnet stockings up coltish flanks, Capri shook his head.

"And I bet y'all ain't done nothin'. Just goin' about your business, am I right? Yeah,

I seen this happen too many times."

It was clear the young kid was too scared to speak. Too hurt to do much of anything but lay there and moan.  They were always like that at first.  Better to let him calm a bit, wait until that ragged breathing settled, until he was  sure Del was  listening.

"Bet they didn't even let you make a phone call, huh?"

Del couldn't remember. There'd been only pain, flashes of light, heckling laughter. Everything before that was a blur.

"Yeah, well, that's how it is 'round here. Don't expect no lawyer to be showing his face, neither. That ain't how it's done."

Was that a moan- or a mangled question from Del's bleeding lips?

"Ain't no such things as 'rights' once you're on this side of the bars, child. And tomorrow morning, you'll find out just what kinda rights you got. They'll transfer your ass to the County Jail, put you in a cell with some big ol' boy gonna make you his bitch, and that's all she wrote. Nobody be talking about your rights then."

This time it was a moan, - a piteous whine as Del struggled to sit up. They couldn't keep him in this hell hole. And there was no way they could send him to County - was there?

"N-no! They can't -"

"Oh, yes they can, hon. Happens all the time. 'Specially to a nice-lookin' young man like yourself. They see you got some education, maybe a little money, then they gonna mess with you. Tomorrow morning, you'll be bachelorette number 3."

Del was blubbering now,  choking sounds that preceded his tears. They tracked  in blood-tinged rivulets down his swollen face.

"I know it's awful, child. And ain't nothin' I can do to help you, since I'll bond out of here by morning. But there's a way you can help yourself."

"Kick somebody's ass?" Del rasped. "Doesn't look like that'd work."

Capri's eyes slid to the cell door, and the hallway beyond.  No one in sight. Unfolding his lanky frame, he minced toward Del's bench, perched on its opposite end. Dropping his voice to a whisper, he leaned toward the sobbing man.

"Don't ever say I told you, but there's a trick that'll make them cops take you right outta this cell to somewhere you can get help." An even lower voice, now a confidential murmur barely heard about Del's sniffling.

"All you gotta do is play like you're crazy. Pretend you're gonna kill yourself. Makes cops real nervous - especially if they know you got family that could start trouble for 'em."

Capri ran a scarlet nail down his silk shirt.

"It works every time. Last time I was in here, somebody tore up his clothes and strung a noose around the bars. Then he started screaming like he was gonna end it all. Cops came running, figured he was a nut case, and took him to the County Hospital."

"I'm not crazy," Del protested. "Don't belong in jail or the psych ward."

"Use your head then, child. Once you get there, the doctors will see you ain't crazy.

You call your family, you get your lawyer, and they take you home. That's how it works."

Del watched the nodding whore. In spite of the garish makeup, he looked sincere, was obviously no stranger to these quarters. Still, it was  a far-fetched idea.

"What if it doesn't work? What if they just come and kick my ass all over again?"
"They won't," Capri told him. "There's a police boss in his office out there, and the only thing he wants is peace and quiet. Somebody acts crazy, they go straight to the hospital."

Glancing toward the hallway again, he leaned closer to Del.

"This is a trick I learned in prison. Now I'm passing it on to you. Part of the jail code, y'know?  How else you think a fine thing like me lasted around  them big brutish men?"

It made sense, Del decided.  He wasn't familiar with the social climate behind prison walls, but the odds were good that Capri wouldn't have survived long. He fingered the fabric of his shirt, wondering. They'd taken his belt and his shoelaces. His suit jacket would be too difficult to rip, so....

"You're sure? You've seen this work before?"

"Every time, honey. Just stand up on that bench and start shouting some craziness. All you got to do is put the noose around your neck and scream.  Watch how fast they'll come running!"

The shirt wasn't hard to tear. Even with his swollen hands, Del was able to rip it in strips, tie it into the square knots that Capri demonstrated.  With his cellmate's help, he looped it up around the cell's top cross bar, slid the noose around his neck. And finally, balanced on the wooden bench to effect his great escape.

Capri winked at him in benediction, Del's signal to begin screaming.

"I can't take it anymore!" he bellowed. "It's over! I don't want to live anymore!"

As his own screams echoed off the cinderblock walls, it was hard to distinguish the sounds that followed. Feet thundering down a long hall, shouts from somewhere....and the explosion of  wood smashing against concrete - the bench Capri  kicked out from under him.

Resuming his position on the other bench, Capri patted  his silver wig.

He watched with interest as the young man's body lurched and twitched, stilling finally like a slack-limbed pendulum. Amazing that they fell for it every time.

Biting back his smirk, Capri's face settled into an impassive mask. The blank look he'd use for the cops who now barreled toward his cell. ..the one  that meant he knew nothing, had seen and heard nothing. Jailhouse apathy - the oldest code of all.

Copyright 2001 by Gina Gallo
Visit Gina's website at www.gallostories.com
Gina's new book, ARMED AND DANGEROUS: MEMOIRS OF A CHICAGO COP
(Forge Books) has just been released.Copyright © 2001 by Gina Gallo - www.gallostories.com

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