Saturday
Aug162014

Forever Starts Now - Chapter 1

Growing up in the rough and tumble world of The Hill, Ross Connel had learned at an early age to use his wits. From petty crime to gang warfare to the hostile reality of the juvenile detention facility, he had seen it all.

But now the judge's sentence - 10 to 30 years - was about to send the street smart eighteen-year old into uncharted territory---eluding the police captain who wanted to help him, while protecting the attractive young hostage who insure his freedom.

 

 

 Chapter 1

 

DOWNTOWN - OCTOBER, 1972 - With a grating squeak the heavy steel door opened, spreading a widening shaft of soft light through the musty basement confines of the ancient County Detention Building. A single grey-uniformed attendant entered the cell-lined corridor, triggering a wave of restless activity among the half dozen inmates. One by one shadowy figures roused themselves from the depths of afternoon boredom and rose from their cots.

“Hey Barton, where the hell is my lawyer?” demanded an angry prisoner, his face pressed between the bars of the first cell. “Hasn’t he called back yet?”

“Don’t yell at me, fellow. You’ll hear about it when he calls. Chances are he’s spending his time on a case he can expect to win.”

“Hey Barton. You got any roach spray out there?” came an irritated call from across the cell block. “These damn bugs are driving me crazy.”

“Ask for first class next time.”

At the far end of the corridor, in cell number nine, the single young inmate lay quietly on the hard cot, apparently unmoved by the stir of activity. With his hands folded under his head he stared blankly at the rough concrete ceiling. Only when the attendant stopped in front of his cell did the prisoner lower his gaze to the row of bars that stretched across the front of the cell---watching impassively as Barton pulled the key ring from his belt and unlocked the bulky cell door.

“It’s time, Connel.”

“I thought it must be,” Ross Connel answered. Swinging his legs over the edge of the cot he paused to run a hand through his shaggy brown hair, then got to his feet. “I was kind of hoping they’d forget about me.”

“Not likely. You’re the star attraction today.”

Ross walked to the sink that hung on the back wall of the cell and filled the dented tin cup from the tap. He drank his fill, then set the cup on the rusty metal shelf and said quietly, “Let’s go.”

Barton held the cell door open as the young prisoner stepped into the bare corridor. There, looking straight ahead, Ross managed a clenched-fist salute to acknowledge the calls from his more vocal cellmates.

“Don’t let them get you down, man.”

“Give ‘em hell, Ross.”

“Tell McIntire to stuff it.”

“We have to go upstairs first,” Barton said as he nudged the youngster down the corridor. “Have to change uniforms. It’s a new county regulation---a clean set of blues for sentencing.”

“Damn big of the county,” Ross muttered. The encouraging wisecracks faded, lost in the quiet of his self-conscious exit. Nodding silently to the last of the cell-bound faces, he moved to the door leading from the cell block.

Once in the service elevator the pair were whisked upstairs to a designated changing room off the main hallway. There Ross stripped off his faded denims and pulled on the stiff new jeans and gray tee shirt that Barton laid out on the table. The words---Property of County Detention Service---stenciled boldly across the front of the shirt brought a grin to the boy’s lips.

There was no escaping the irony. Like most young men on The Hill, Ross had grown up wearing CDS shirts. “Cold Dog Shit.” they called them. Harvey’s, down on Third Street, sold the crudely printed copies for three dollars apiece. “You’re saving a few bucks this time,’”he told himself. “And getting the real McCoy.”

Slipping into the oversized blue denim jacket, Ross turned to study the crisp young figure staring back at him from the mirror on the closet door. In slacks and a sport shirt there was nothing tough or sinister about him. At five foot six and no more than one hundred-forty pounds it was hard to imagine he could intimidate anyone.

On a quiet street corner on The Hill, hanging out with the other guys, no one would have mistaken him for the “ruthless, street-hardened thug” the prosecuting attorney had described. There was, however, something about the stiff formality of the county uniform that made him feel harder---perhaps more menacing---more like the “hoodlum” the jury had been told about.

Ross turned as the door behind him opened and a tall, heavy set man entered the room. Nodding to Barton the man stepped aside as the attendant left the room. Then, tilting his head, the newcomer paused to study his client through thick, black-framed glasses.

“So what’s the word, Mr. Donaldson?” Ross asked as he buttoned his jacket.

“I don’t have a clue, son. That’s what we’re here for. How are you doing? Are you ready to face the judge?”

“Not really.” Taking the cigarette the attorney offered Ross sat down on the edge of the long, bare desk. While Donaldson looked on the boy lit up and watched as the smoke curled up toward the open transom. Then, offering no excuses, he slipped the half-full pack of smokes into his pocket.

“I’ve got a bad feeling,” Ross said. “That old bastard is going to nail my ass to the wall. I can tell. It’s the way he looks at me. It’s going to be five to ten years, sure as hell.”

“No need to dwell on the dark side, son. Let’s hope for something better. I think we presented a good case, under the circumstances.”

“What does that mean---‘under the circumstances’? What are you saying?”

“Your record, of course.” Donaldson set his papers down and looked into the boy’s face---a telling move for someone who seldom made direct eye contact. “I told you that from the start that when a judge sees a eighteen year old with string of convictions like yours, my job gets a lot harder.”

“But they were all petty stuff. You told them that yourself. Besides, they were all juvenile offenses. That’s what you said.”

“Never mind what I told them. That’s part of my job. The fact is, car theft is not petty. Neither is breaking and entering. This may be the first time you’ve been charged as an adult, but you can bet that Judge McIntire has been looking closely at you priors---all of them. I can do my job. But I can’t erase the past.”

“You Public Defender guys give me a pain,” Ross protested, rapping his fist on the table for emphasis. “You take some poor slob with hard time behind him, a guy who can’t get anyone else to defend him. You go through all the motions, then blame the guy’s record when you can’t get it done.”

“Were you expecting to beat the charge? Is that it? You got nailed on the spot, with the gun in your hand. And I’m supposed to bail you out---get you off. Is that what you were looking for?”

“Naw. I don’t mean that,” Ross replied. His eyes turned to the floor and he stammered apologetically. “I know you did what you could. I didn’t mean to sound like you didn’t. It’s just that in the end what you did doesn’t mean a damn thing. It’s the judge who makes things happen, who gets his way. And McIntire knew from the start what he intends to do with me.”

Donaldson sat his briefcase on the floor, walked to the boy’s side and grasped him by the shoulders. There was a fresh sternness in his voice. “Ross, it was the jury that said you were guilty. Don’t be blaming McIntire for that. We both knew that would be the verdict. 

“All I could do was present the facts in a way that might influence the judge to go easy on the sentencing. We’ll know in a few minutes how well I did that. I told you up front that assault with a weapon and attempted armed robbery are tricky convictions. According to the book they can get you anywhere from two years to life. It all depends on how the judge put the pieces together.”

There was a moment of silence as Ross struggled to digest Donaldson’s  blunt explanation. He lit another cigarette and took a deep drag. It tasted good after weeks in the cell, where smoking was prohibited. When he turned again to the attorney, his words could scarcely be heard. “Like I said, I’m betting on five to ten. The more I think about the way he’s been eyeballing me, the more I’m inclined to think it will be ten.”

“Come on, boy. Don’t be so damn gloomy. I doubt the old guy will go for more than five,” Donaldson said. He pulled a comb from his hip pocket and handed it to Ross. “Comb you hair before we go in.”

“Got to look nice for the judge, eh?”

“That’s one thing you won’t have to worry about at Preston City. They don’t go for long hair up there. About three swipes with the clippers and that’ll be gone.”

Ross smiled weakly and ran the comb through his hair. There were bound to be a lot of things they would not like about him at Preston City. And he knew for sure there were things about the place that would not please him. But then, no one was bothering to ask for his opinion.

A moment later Barton led the young inmate through the side door and into the courtroom, past the now empty jury box to the long defense table. Donaldson trailed behind, stopping to talk briefly with the court stenographer before taking a seat beside the boy. Looking over his shoulder Ross peered self-consciously at his mother, who sat alone in the back of the room. She acknowledged his uncertain grin with a weary smile that could not conceal her tense anxiety.

Across the aisle Ross saw Captain Bill Wilson of the Third Precinct sitting beside old man Kinley at the Prosecuter’s table. The captain flashed an unenthusiastic little grin, while Mr. Kinley sat stoically, staring straight ahead. The old man’s head was wrapped in a narrow white bandage covering what had been the ugly wound on his right temple.

Ross paused to conclude that the injury must have healed by then. If so, the prominent bandage must be a prop to impress the court. At least Kinley was able to get around. For a while it had sounded like he might not survive. More than once the thought of that possibility had sent shivers down the boy’s spine. If the old man had not pulled through there would surely have been a life sentence on McIntire’s mind. There would be no five or ten years for that.

Looking back again at his mother, Ross was suddenly aware that someone was missing. Jim was nowhere in sight. After sitting beside his mother throughout the two and a half day trial, it was not like his brother to avoid the sentencing session. After all, Jim had been Ross’ only visitor during the long pre-trial weeks. 

During his lengthy incarceration his mother had not been willing to view her second son through the cold, plate-glass security of the visiting room, so Jim had been his only contact with the outside. At one point during their second visit the boys had whispered excitedly of an escape plan. During his last visit Jim had talked in hushed tones of a new scheme. But now, there in the courtroom, he was nowhere to be seen.

Ross turned to face the front of the room, his stare locked on the high-paneled bench from where Judge McIntire would orchestrate the cruel ceremony. The cocky little bastard was so well protected, he told himself. So fortified from attack. He could remain above the combat taking place before him---encased in his stained-oak armor. In contrast, the plain and frail desk where Ross sat was so vulnerable, so transparent.