Boy had appeared outside the cell several minutes ago, staring at Jake and mouth breathing through a half-smile that revealed widely spaced front teeth. Ragged denim cut-off shorts hung crookedly on his hips under a faded Hawaiian-print shirt. Thick, blunt-cut black hair swept back from a forehead, just above bushy eyebrows over the close-set eyes. Jake stared back, thinking that if all the evolutionists needed to prove their point was a missing link, he might be able to help them out.
“You have a name, Boy?” Jake asked. “I mean, besides ‘Boy?’”
“Uh-huh. You wanna know what it is?” He dropped his eyes so Jake did too, noting that the great toe on Boy’s foot, bare in flip-flops, was considerably smaller than the one next to it. Black hair curled over these toes and whorled over thick calves, pelt-like.
“If you want to tell me. Why does the sheriff always call you Boy if you have another name?”
Boy laughed, a nose-snuffling procedure Jake didn’t care to examine too closely. “Cause he don’t like my name.”
“What is it?”
“Carvel.” He snuffled again.
“You’re named for your father and he doesn’t like your name?”
“He ain’t my Pa, Carvel ain’t. He’s my uncle.”
“So you just work for Sheriff Harden—Carvel?”
“What would you like me to call you, Carvel or Boy?”
“Call me Boy. Sheriff is mad at my ma for me bein’ named Carvel.”
“So, did you want something? You already took my tray, you know. It was good food too, especially the cobbler. Sheriff’s wife make the cobbler?” Jake asked, wondering if the family style workings of this lock-up were patterned after Sheriff Taylor’s jail in Mayberry.
Boy closed his eyes and squinched up his face, apparently trying to concentrate or remember. Uh-oh, I shouldn’t have fired off two questions at once, Jake thought
“Ma made the cobbler. Made the meat loaf and cornbread, too. Sheriff don’t have no wife.”
“Well, it was delicious. Anything else?” Jake waited.
“No. Beans was store-bought.”
“I meant, did you have anything else you wanted to tell me?”
“You got company,” Boy proclaimed suddenly, a proud smile loosening his face.
“Good.” Jake said. “Are you going to bring whoever it is here, or do you have a room where I’m supposed to go.”
Boy held up his hand, like the ‘stay’ command for a dog, and shuffled away.
Jake sat down on his bunk and waited for his company. He hoped it was Denny. He glanced at the clock on the wall opposite his cell. It was 1:30 Wednesday afternoon now, and he hadn’t seen nor heard from him since he disappeared into the western sky last night.
Turco would seem like an unlikely friend, but he supposed he wasn’t in a position to be choosy. Learning some of his story helped make sense of the sadness Jake had recognized in the gruff fellow.
Turning himself in last night turned out to be fairly uneventful. He had walked in after regular business hours, and the only person there was Kurt Vogel, new to the agency. He had been assigned to watch the desk and listen for the phone while the agent in charge for the evening took himself out for supper.
Jake, following Denny’s instructions, identified himself and said he had surrendered to Denny Turco. Vogel indicated a chair and told Jake to wait. When Agent Gil Bosch returned, he seemed more interested in Denny’s whereabouts and his role in the so-called kidnapping than whatever was going on with Jake.
Something in his tone warned Jake to keep his mouth shut until his attorney could be there with him.
At 10:00 a.m. this morning, the lawyer showed up, the one Poppy and Denny had agreed was the ‘best man for the job.’ Jake was surprised. He had not been told that the best man for the job would be a 40-year-old African-American female.
Faye Waters, five feet 10 inches tall, carried herself regally, like a woman who knew who she was and who wasn’t going to take any nonsense from anybody. Jake thought as he gazed at her that now he knew what ebony meant, for her skin was deep black, with just a hint of gold on her high, well-defined cheekbones. Her profile, with its strong, jutting chin made him think of an African princess, borne aloft on a platform by brawny black men, their muscled arms shining with sweat and rung about with gold and silver. He trusted her instantly.
She listened carefully while he told her his story beginning with the moment Austin woke up and scared the sense out of him until now. She scribbled shorthand notes in the margins of the typewritten pages she brought with her, records from the telephone conversations she had had with Poppy and Denny. Now and then she asked a question or simply lifted her head to imply that a point needed clarification.
After about 45 minutes, she checked her wristwatch, put her notebook down and reached into her briefcase, retrieving another fat sheaf of papers. As she riffled through the pages she explained that these were faxed copies of court records from his earlier kidnapping charge. Although her questions came more rapid-fire then, she remained emotionless and efficient.
After about an hour and a half she terminated the interview and slid the stack of documents into her briefcase. She stood, turned, nodded to the waiting guard, and without a word exited through the opened gate. Even though she had offered no encouragement or indication what she might have been planning for his case, hope brightened Jake’s mental horizon for the first time in two years.
Boy had been gone for several minutes, and Jake had almost forgotten about him when he heard him flip-flopping down the corridor toward him.
“In here.” Boy said, and set a chair down outside Jake’s cell, and another, a few feet away, for himself.
Jake glanced up, expecting to see Denny.
The afternoon sun slanting through the window across the corridor from his cell cast her face in a shadow, but there was no mistaking that voice. And nobody else ever called him ‘Jakie.’
“Barb? What are you doing here?”
“She chartered a plane and flew here special,” a gravely male voice announced, “just to see you, isn’t that right Barbie-doll?” Denny emerged from around the corner. “Don’t you have something to tell him?”
Barb tapped a cigarette out of the pack and looked around for a light.
“Put that thing back. You can’t smoke in here. Now talk to the man.” Denny stood his most menacingly tall, folding his arms across his chest.
“How’d you meet up with this gorilla, Jakie?” Barbara stepped closer to the bars.
“It’s a long story. What are you supposed to talk to me about?”
Jake stood up and faced her close up for the first time in two years. It was then he saw discoloration around her left eye and what appeared to be stitches on her upper cheek. “What happened to you? Are the kids okay?” This had to be a nightmare.
“Who did that to you? Where are the kids, Barbara?” He had never felt so helpless. “Where’s Joey?” He wanted to wrap his hands around her neck and shake her until she answered.
“Steady, Bubba. Let her have her say. I’ll wait outside until you two have a chance to talk.” Denny took a couple of steps. “But I’ll still be able to hear you, Barbie-doll, so don’t leave anything out.”
Jake hadn’t seen his ex-wife since they stood before the judge together and heard the conditions of his probation. She had been triumphant then, declaring that she never wanted to see him again and that she would make sure Annie and Joey forgot what he looked like. Burned forever on his memory was the anger hardened in her face, adding ten years to her apparent age. Now, he noticed that she’d had her light brown hair cut short and spiked on top, the spikes bleached bright yellow. She was also thinner than he had ever seen her. He hoped the kids were eating better than she was.
“Where are my kids?”
“The kids are fine, Jakie. They’re with my mom.” She held her cheek toward him so he could examine her more closely. “See this? Well, you were right. Mike did this to me. When your gorilla, here, found me, I had just come home from the ER where I got stitched up, and Mike was on his way to jail. Not a minute too soon, either.”
“He’s in jail now? Are you sure the kids are okay? Does he know where the kids are? What if he posts bail and goes after Joey? He was the one who was beating him up, wasn’t he?” This last wasn’t a real question. Jake had been sure about this all along.
“I pressed charges against him, and I don’t know where he would find anybody to bail him out. He’s in for drunk and disorderly, DUI, and domestic abuse. And when you come home, you can sue him for a whole bunch more things that happened during the last two years.”
“When I come home? What are you talking about?”
“Listen, Jakie. I’ve been thinking. You gotta forgive me and come home. You come home with me and the kids and I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
Jake stared at her. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Are you out of your mind? Look around you, woman. Do you see where we are? We aren’t in Nebraska, anymore, Barbara! I’m locked up for kidnapping again, and I’m looking at heavy prison time now. All thanks to you and Mike, in case you think I haven’t figured that out.”
“I know, honey, and I’m really, really sorry. I’ll do what I have to do to clear your name. C’mon, Jakie.” She almost purred.
Her eyes were big and sorrowful and she was giving him the expression she used to use whenever she wanted something. It didn’t cut it anymore. In those days he’d called them “puppy eyes,” but the look wasn’t as cute as he remembered.
Tina. Now if Tina ever turned on the charm like that he thought he might be able to pry the bars apart with his bare hands.
“If I’m hearing you correctly, you’re saying you want me to move back home with you and the kids, just like it used to be?”
“Sure. We could be a family again. It’ll be like old times—like before. Annie and Joey would love that!”
Like old times. She evidently remembered them differently than he did. “Barb…”
“Oh, come on, baby. You know you still love me. You know I can make you happy. I know what you like.”
He didn’t know if it was the stitches or what, but he was embarrassed at her attempt at seduction. He just wasn’t buying what she was selling. What she was selling. The thought made him cringe inside. His thinking was so slow he felt as if his brain was lugging, as if it were trying to go uphill in high gear.
The kids. Joey and Annie. If going back to Barb meant he could be with his kids again, well that was worth whatever he had to do to make it happen. Probably the right thing to do. Besides, he’d already lost Tina.
“What about Mike? You two still living together?”
“He’s history. Forget Mike. He’s never getting anywhere near the kids or me ever again, I promise. I never really loved him, you know, not like I love you, Jakie.”
“We don’t even know how much time I’ll have to serve yet.” He couldn’t think straight. His brain felt hot inside his head.
“Oooh! The way you say that! I know you. You’re thinking about it, aren’t you? You’ll come home, won’t you Jakie honey! Wait until I tell the kids!”
He couldn’t believe what his eyes told him. She was actually jumping up and down and clapping her hands.
He tasted acid and wished he hadn’t eaten the beans and cornbread.
“Wait, Barb. Don’t tell the kids yet. Don’t set them up for disappointment.” He wanted her to settle down. “Like I said, we don’t know how much time I’ll have to serve—this boy Austin has family, too, you know—you never even asked about him—and we’ll need a lot of mercy from them and from the courts. I want to pray about it for a while before we talk to the kids.”
“You want to WHAT?”