JVAREN KNOCKED LIGHTLY AND ENTERED THE DARK ROOM with a basket of fruit. The card brought get-well messages from the congregation of Little Creek Baptist Church. The apples and bananas and grapes were •wrapped in green cellophane, and looked pretty sitting next to a rather large and expensive arrangement of colorful flowers sent by the concerned friends at Ark-Lon Fixtures.
The shades were drawn, the television was off, and when Karen closed the door to leave, none of the Sways had moved. Ricky had changed position, and was now lying on his back with his feet on the pillows and his head on the blankets. He was awake, but for the last hour had been staring blankly at the ceiling without saying a word or moving an inch. This was something new. Mark and Dianne sat next to each other on the foldaway bed with their feet tucked under them and whispered about such things as clothing and toys and dishes. There was fire insurance, but Dianne didn't know the extent of the coverage.
i ney spoke in hushed voices. It would be days or weeks before Ricky knew of the fire.
At some point in the morning, about an hour after Reggie and Clint left, the shock of the news wore off and Mark started thinking. It was easy to think in this dark room because there was nothing else to do. The television could be used only when Ricky wanted it. The shades remained closed if there was a chance he was sleeping. The door was always shut.
Mark had been sitting in a chair under the television, eating a stale chocolate chip cookie, when it occurred to him that maybe the fire was not an accident. Earlier, the. man with the knife had somehow entered the trailer and found the portrait. His intent had been to wave the knife and wave the portrait, and forever silence little Mark Sway. And he had been most successful. What if the fire was just another reminder from the man with the switchblade? Trailers were easy to burn. The neighborhood was usually quiet at four in the morning. He knew this from experience.
This thought had stuck like a thick knot in his throat, and his mouth was suddenly dry. Dianne didn't notice. She'd been sipping coffee and patting Ricky.
Mark had wrestled with it for a while, then had taken a short walk to the nurses' station, where Karen showed him the morning paper.
The thought was so horrible, it seared itself into his mind, and after two hours of thinking about it he was convinced the fire was intentional.
"What will the insurance cover?" he asked.
"I'll have to call the agent. There are two policies, if I remember correctly. One is paid by Mr. Tucker on the trailer, because he owns it, and the other is paid by us for the contents of the trailer. The monthly rent is supposed to include the premium for the insurance on the contents. I think that's how it works." This worried Mark immensely. There were many awful memories from the divorce, and he remembered his mother's inability to testify about any of the financial affairs of the family. She knew nothing. His ex-father paid the bills and kept the checkbook and filed the tax returns. Twice in the past two years the telephone had been cut off because Dianne had forgotten to pay the bills. Or so she said. He suspected each time that there was no money to pay the bills.
"But what will the insurance pay for?" he asked.
"Furniture, clothes, kitchen utensils, I guess. That's what it usually covers." There was a knock on the door, but it did not open. They waited, then another knock. Mark opened it slightly, and saw two new faces peering through the crack.
"Yes," he said, expecting trouble because the nurses and security guards allowed no one to get this far. He opened the door a bit wider.
"Looking for Dianne Sway," said the nearest face. There was volume to this, and Dianne started for the door.
"Who are you?" Mark asked, opening the door and walking into the hall. The two security guards were standing together to the right, and three nurses were standing together to the left, and all five appeared frozen as if witnessing a horrible event. Mark locked eyes with Karen, and knew instantly something was terribly wrong.
"Detective Nassar, Memphis PD. This is Detective Klickman." Nassar wore a coat and tie, and Klickman wore a black jogging suit with sparkling new Nike Air Jordans. They were both young, probably early thirties, and Mark immediately thought of the old "Starsky and Hutch" reruns. Dianne opened the door and stood behind her son.
"Are you Dianne Sway?" Nassar asked.
"I am," she answered quickly.
Nassar pulled papers from his coat pocket and handed them over Mark's head to his mother. "These are from Juvenile Court, Ms. Sway. It's a summons for a hearing at noon today." Her hands shook wildly and the papers rattled as she tried hopelessly to make sense of this.
"Could I see your badges?" Mark asked, rather coolly under the circumstances. They both grabbed and reached and presented their identification under Mark's nose. He studied them carefully, and sneered at Nassar. "Nice shoes," he said to Klickman.
Nassar tried to smile. "Ms. Sway, the summons requires us to take Mark Sway into custody at this time." There was a heavy pause of two or three seconds as the word "custody" settled in.
"What!" Dianne yelled at Nassar. She dropped the papers. The "What!" echoed down the hallway. There was more anger in her voice than fear.
"It's right here on the front page," Nassar said, picking up the summons. "Judge's orders." "You what!" she yelled again, and it shot through the air like the crack of a bullwhip. "You can't take my son!" Dianne's face was red and her body, all hundred and fifteen pounds, was tense and coiled.
Great, thought Mark. Another ride in a patrol car.
Then his mother yelled, "You son of a bitch!" and Mark tried to calm her.
"Mom, don't yell. Ricky can hear you." "Over my dead body!" she yelled at Nassar, just inches away. Klickman backed away one step, as if to say this wild woman belonged to Nassar.
But Nassar was a pro. He'd arrested thousands. "Look, Ms. Sway, I understand how you feel. But I have my orders." "Whose orders!" "Mom, please don't yell," Mark pleaded.
"Judge Harry Roosevelt signed the order about an hour ago. We're just doing our job, Ms. Sway. Nothing's gonna happen to Mark. We'll take care of him." "What's he done? Just tell me what's he done." Dianne turned to the nurses. "Can somebody help me here?" she pleaded, and sounded so pitiful. "Karen, do something, would you? Call Dr. Greenway. Don't just stand there." But Karen and the nurses just stood there. The cops-had already warned them.
Nassar was still trying to smile. "If you'll read these papers, Ms. Sway, you'll see that a petition has been filed in Juvenile Court alleging Mark here to bea delinquent because he won't cooperate with the police and FBI. And Judge Roosevelt wants to have a hearing at noon today. That's all." "That's all! You asshole! You show up here with your little papers and take away my son and you say 'That's all'!" "Not so loud, Mom," Mark said. He'd hadn't heard such language from her since the divorce.
Nassar stopped trying to smile and pulled at the corners of his mustache. Klickman for some reason was glaring at Mark as if he •were a serial killer they'd been tracking for years. There was a long pause. Dianne kept both hands on Mark's shoulders. "You can't have him!" Finally, Klickman said his first words. "Look, Ms. Sway, we have no choice. We have to take your son." "Go to hell," she snapped. "If you take him, you whip me first." Klickman was a meathead with little finesse, and for a split second his shoulders flinched as if he would accept this challenge. Then he relaxed and smiled.
"It's okay, Mom. I'll go. Call Reggie and tell her to meet me at the jail. She'll probably sue these clowns by lunch and have them fired by tomorrow." The cops grinned at each other. Cute little kid.
Nassar then made the very sad mistake of reaching for Mark's arm. Dianne lunged and struck like a cobra. Whap! She slapped him on his left cheek and screamed, "Don't touch him! Don't touch him!" Nassar grabbed his face, and Klickman instantly grabbed her arm. She wanted to strike again, but was suddenly spun around, and somehow in the midst of this her feet and Mark's feet became tangled and they hit the floor. "You son of a bitch!" she kept screaming. "Don't touch him." Nassar reached down for some reason, and Dianne kicked him on the thigh. But she was barefoot and there was little damage. Klickman was reaching down, and Mark was scrambling to get up, and Dianne was kicking and swinging and yelling, "Don't touch him!" The nurses rushed forward and the security guards joined in as Dianne got to her feet.
Mark was pulled from the fracas by Klickman. Dianne was held by the two security guards. She was twisting and crying. Nassar was rubbing his face. The nurses were soothing and consoling and trying to separate everyone.
The door opened, and Ricky stood in it holding a stuffed rabbit. He stared at Mark, whose wrists were being held by Klickman. He stared at his mother, whose wrists were being held by the security guards. Everyone froze and stared at Ricky. His face was as white as the sheets. His hair stuck out in all directions. His mouth was open, but he said nothing.
Then he started the low, mournful groan that only Mark had heard before. Dianne yanked her wrists free and picked him up. The nurses followed her into the room and they tucked him in the bed. They patted his arms and legs, but the groaning continued. Then the thumb went in his mouth and he closed his eyes. Dianne lay beside him in the bed and began humming "Winnie the Pooh" and patting his arm.
"Let's go, kid," Klickman said.
"You gonna handcuff me?" "No. This is not an arrest." "Then what the hell is it?" "Watch your language, kid." "Kiss my ass, you big stupid jock." Klickman stopped cold and glared down at Mark.
"Watch your mouth, kid," Nassar warned.
"Look at your face, hotshot. I think it's turning blue. Mom coldcocked you. Ha-ha. I hope she broke your teeth." Klickman bent over and put his hands on his knees. He stared Mark directly in the eyes. "Are you going with us, or shall we drag you out of here?" Mark snorted and glared at him. "You think I'm scared of you, don't you? Let me tell you something, meathead. I've got a lawyer who'll have me out in ten minutes. My lawyer is so good that by this afternoon you'll be looking for another job." "I'm scared to death. Now let's go." They started walking, a cop on each side of the defendant.
"Where are we going?" "Juvenile Detention Center." "Is it sort of a jail?" "It could be if you don't watch your smart mouth." "You knocked my mother down, you know that. She'll have your job for that." "She can have my job," Klickman said. "It's a rotten job because I have to deal with little punks like you." "Yeah, but you can't find another one, can you? There's no demand for idiots these days." ^ They passed a small crowd of orderlies and nurses, and suddenly Mark was a star. The center of attention. He was an innocent man being led away to the slaughter. He swaggered a bit. They turned the corner, and then he remembered the reporters.
And they remembered him. A flash went off as they got to the elevators, and two of the loiterers with pencils and pads were suddenly standing next to Klickman. They waited for the elevator.
"Are you a cop?" one of them asked, staring at the glow-in-the-dark Nikes.
"No comment." "Hey, Mark, where you going?" another asked from just a few feet behind. There was another flash.
"To jail," he said loudly without turning around.
"Shut up, kid," Nassar scolded. Klickman put a heavy arm on his shoulder. The photographer was beside them, almost to the elevator door. Nassar held up an arm to block his view. "Get away," he growled.
"Are you under arrest, Mark?" one of them yelled.
"No," Klickman snapped just as the door opened. Nassar shoved Mark inside while Klickman blocked the door until it started to close.
They were alone in the elevator. "That was a stupid thing to say, kid. Really stupid." Klickman was shaking his head.
"Then arrest me." "Really stupid." "Is it against the law to talk to the press?" "Just keep your mouth shut, okay?" "Why don't you just beat the hell out of me, okay, meathead?" "I'd love to." "Yeah, but you can't, right? Because I'm just a little kid, and you're a big stupid cop and if you touch me you'll get fired and sued and all that. You knocked my mother down, meathead, and you haven't heard the last of it." "Your mother slapped me," Nassar said.
"Good for her. You clowns have no idea what she's been through. You show up to get me and act like it's no big deal, like just because you're cops and you've got this piece of paper then my mother is supposed to get happy and send me off with a kiss. A couple of morons. Just big, dumb, meatheaded cops." The elevator stopped, opened, and two doctors entered. They stopped talking and looked at Mark. The door closed behind them, and they continued down. "Can you believe these clowns are arresting me?" he asked the doctors.
They frowned at Nassar and Klickman.
"Juvenile Court offender," Nassar explained. Why couldn't the little punk just shut up?
Mark nodded at Klickman. "This one here with the cute shoes knocked my mother down about five minutes ago. Can you believe it?" Both doctors looked at the shoes.
"Just shut up, Mark," Klickman said.
"Is your mother okay?" one of the doctors asked.
"Oh she's great. My little brother's in the psychiatric ward. Our trailer burned to the ground a few hours ago. And then these thugs show up and arrest me right in front of my mother. Bigfoot here knocks her to the floor. She's doing great." The doctors stared at the cops. Nassar watched his feet and Klickman closed his eyes. The elevator stopped and a small crowd boarded. Klickman stayed close to Mark.
When all was quiet and they were moving again, Mark said loudly, "My lawyer'll sue you jerks, you know that, don't you? You'll be unemployed this time tomorrow." Eight sets of eyes looked down in the corner, then up at the pained face of Detective Klickman. Silence.
"Just shut up, Mark." "And what if I don't? You gonna rough me up like you did my mother. Throw me down, kick me a few times. You're just another meathead cop, you know that, Klickman? Just another fat cop with a gun. Why don't you lose a few pounds?" Neat rows of sweat broke out across Klickman's forehead. He caught the eyes darting at him from the crowd. The elevator was barely moving. He could have strangled Mark.
Nassar was pressed into the other rear corner, and his ears were now ringing from the slap to the head. He couldn't see Mark Sway, but he could certainly hear him.
"Is your mother all right?" a nurse asked. She was standing next to Mark, looking down and very concerned.
"Yeah, she's having a great day. She'd be a lot better, of course, if these cops would leave her alone. They're taking me to jail, you know that?" "What for?" "I don't know. They won't tell me. I was just minding my own business, trying to console my mother because our trailer burned to the ground this morning and we lost everything we own, when they showed up with no warning, and here I am on the way to jail." "How old are you?" "Only eleven. But that's not important to these guys. They'd arrest a four-year-old." Nassar groaned softly. Klickman kept his eyes closed.
"This is awful," the nurse said.
"You should've seen it when they had me and my mother on the floor. Happened just a few minutes ago on the Psychiatric Wing. It'll be on the news tonight. Watch the papers. These clowns will be fired tomorrow. Then the lawsuit." They stopped on the ground floor, and the elevator emptied.
HE INSISTED ON RIDING IN THE REAR SEAT, LIKE A REAL criminal. The car was an unmarked Chrysler but he spotted it a hundred yards away in the parking lot. Nas-sar and Klickman were afraid to speak to him. They rode in the front seat in complete silence, hoping he might do the same. They were not so lucky.
"You forgot to read me my rights," he said as Nassar drove as fast as possible.
No response from the front seat.
"Hey, you clowns up there. You forgot to read me my rights." No response. Nassar drove faster.
"Do you know how to read me my rights?" No response.
"Hey, meathead. Yeah, you with the shoes. Do you know how to read me my rights?" Klickman's breathing was labored, but he was determined to ignore him. Oddly, Nassar had a crooked smile barely noticeable under the mustache. He stopped at a red light, looked both ways, then gunned the engine.
"Listen to me, meathead, okay. I'll do it to myself, okay. I have the right to remain silent. Did you catch that? And, if I say anything, you clowns can use it against me in court. Get that, meathead? Of course, if I said anything you dumbasses would forget it. Then there's something about the right to a lawyer. Can you help with this one, meathead? Yo! meathead. What's the bit about the lawyer? I've seen it on television a million times." Meathead Klickman cracked his window so he could breathe. Nassar glanced at the shoes and almost laughed. The criminal sat low in the rear seat with his legs crossed.
"Poor meathead. Can't even read me my rights.
This car stinks, meathead. Why don't you clean this car? It smells like cigarette smoke." "I hear you like cigarette smoke," Klickman said, and felt much better about himself. Nassar giggled to help his friend. They'd taken enough crap off this brat.
Mark saw a crowded parking lot next to a tall building. Patrol cars were parked in rows next to the building. Nassar turned into the lot and parked in the driveway.
They rushed him through the entrance doors and down a long hallway. He had finally stopped talking. He was on their turf. Cops were everywhere. Signs directed traffic to the DUI holding tank, the jail, the visitors' room, the receiving room. Plenty of signs and rooms. They stopped at a desk with a row of closed-circuit monitors behind it, and Nassar signed some papers. Mark studied the surroundings. Klickman almost felt sorry for him. He looked even smaller.
They were off again. The elevator took them to the fourth floor, and again they stopped at a desk. A sign on the wall pointed to the juvenile wing, and Mark figured he was getting close.
A uniformed lady with a clipboard and a plastic tag declaring her to be Doreen stopped them. She looked at some papers, then at the clipboard. "Says here Judge Roosevelt wants Mark Sway in a private room," she said.
"I don't care where you put him," Nassar said. "Just take him." She was frowning and looking at her clipboard. "Of course, Roosevelt wants all juveniles in private rooms. Thinks this is the Hilton." "It's not?" She ignored this, and pointed at a piece of paper for Nassar to sign. He scribbled his name hurriedly, and said, "He's all yours. God help you." Klickman and Nassar left without a word.
"Empty your pockets, Mark," the lady said as she handed him a large metal container. He pulled out a dollar bill, some change, and a pack of gum. She counted it and wrote something on a card, which she then inserted on the end of the metal box. In a corner above the desk, two cameras captured Mark, and he could see himself on one of the dozen screens on the wall. Another lady in a uniform was stamping papers.
"Is this the jail?" Mark asked, cutting his eyes in all directions.
"We call it a detention center," she said.
"What's the difference?" This seemed to irritate her. "Listen, Mark, we get all kinds of smart mouths up here, okay. You'll get along much better if you keep your mouth shut." She leaned into his face with these words of warning, and her breath was stale cigarettes and black coffee.
"I'm sorry," he said, and his eyes watered. It suddenly hit him. He was about to be locked in a room far away from his mother, far away from Reggie.
"Follow me," Doreen said, proud of herself for restoring a little authority to the relationship. She whisked away with a ring of keys dangling and rattling from her waist. They opened a heavy wooden door and started through a hallway with gray metal doors spaced evenly apart on both sides of the corridor. Each little room had a number beside it. Doreen stopped at Number 1�� and unlocked it with one of her keys. "In here," she said.
Mark walked in slowly. The room was about twelve feet wide and twenty feet long. The lights were bright and the carpet was clean. Two bunk beds were to his right. Doreen patted the top bunk. "You can have either bed," she said, ever the hostess. "Walls are cinder block and windows are nonbreakable, so don't try anything." There were two windows-one in the door and one above the lavatory, and neither was big enough to stick his head through. "Toilet's over there, stainless steel. Can't use ceramic anymore. Had a kid break one and slice his wrists with a piece of it. But that was in the old building. This place is much nicer, don't you think?" It's gorgeous, Mark almost said. But he was sinking fast. He sat on the bottom bunk and rested his elbows on his "knees. The carpet was pale green, the same type of commercial blend he'd been studying at the hospital.
"You okay, Mark?" Doreen asked without the slightest trace of sympathy. This was her job.
"Can I call my mother?" "Not yet. You can make a few calls in about an hour." "Well, can you call her and just tell her I'm okay? She's worried sick." Doreen smiled and the makeup cracked around her eyes. She patted his head. "Can't do it, Mark. Regulations. But she knows you're fine. My goodness, you'll be in court in a couple of hours." "How long do kids stsy in here?" "Not long. A few weeks occasionally, but this is sort of a holding area until the kids are processed and either sent back home or to a training school." She was rattling her keys. "Listen, I have to go now. The door locks automatically when it's closed, and if it opens without my little key here, then an alarm goes off and mere s Dig trouble. So don't get any ideas, okay, Mark?" "Yes ma'am." "Can I get you anything?" "A telephone." "In just a little while, okay." Doreen closed the door behind her. There was a loud click, then silence.
He stared at the doorknob for a long time. This didn't seem like jail. There were no bars on the windows. The beds and floor were clean. The cinder block walls were painted a pleasant shade of yellow. He'd seen worse, in the movies.
There was so much to worry about. Ricky groaning like that again, the fire, Dianne slowly unraveling, cops and reporters glued to him. He didn't know where to start.
He stretched on the top bunk and studied the ceiling. Where in the world was Reggie?
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