© 2017 Anthony D Darden
I have never considered myself a hero. It would seem unfounded and far from the truth. And to be honest, it would seem impossible in anyone's mind. Even mine. But here I was sitting in a jail cell feeling good about myself. Maybe the best I’ve felt in years. For the first time, I didn't mind sitting behind bars. I had been here a million times before. I was considered a career criminal, a loser. Of my thirty-two years, seventeen of them had been behind bars. And so deserving I must admit. I've done some pretty dumb things. I can't say I've had a luxurious criminal career. Far from it. I had been forewarned. One more strike and that’s it.
Now here I was, three strikes out, sitting here with a big smile on my face, eating a steak sandwich and drinking a soda the guard had slipped illegally through the slot in the door. Plus, he had dropped off some commissary that had been collected and sent to me with gratitude from fellow inmates who had heard the news. To them, I had made a great sacrifice.
When they came, I was ready. I did not resist. I did exactly as they ordered. “Put the gun down, lay on the floor, and put your hands behind your head.” Reservation of not being taken alive gone right out the door. Maybe in different circumstances. But this time, it was like exhaling. A calm peace swept over me. I felt something real and endearing. Something I had never felt in all my thirty-two years.
When I saw her, I fell in love. So beautiful and innocent. She looked at me and smiled. “Hi”, she said shyly. “Are you here to take me home?”
“Yes, you are going home. Are you okay?”
“I think so. I’m just hungry and want to go home.”
I looked her over carefully, and then removed her from the dog cage. I picked her up and she latched onto me, wrapping her arms around my neck and holding on for dear life. I felt her body trembling. A tear broke and ran down my cheek. I nested her head on my shoulder so she wouldn’t see my emotional state. “Now, you’re going to have to be very quiet and do as I say, okay.”
“Okay”, I heard her whisper in the pit of my neck and squeezing tighter.
I held her close and looked around the room. The old office was dingy. It had not been used in years, an old discarded warehouse that was secluded two miles off the main road. No one would ever think to look back here. It was falling apart. The windows were boarded up. The few that didn’t have boards was broken and laced with overgrown weeds. I would have never found it, except for the fact I had used it, back in the day, to store hot cars.
When he called, I was home. It was 6 am. I had not seen 6 am for a year now. I usually slept till noon. I would not have answered the phone if not for the persistent ringing. Finally, I reached over and grabbed it off the nightstand.
“The one and only.”
“This is Jeff.”
“Not ringing a bell.”
“Still not ringing a bell.”
“You dated my daughter eight years ago. Janus Lawson.”
I sat up quickly. “Janus. Yes, I remember her. How is she? Is something wrong? Why are you calling, Mr. Lawson?” Everything kicked in at the same time. Janus had been the love of my life until she dumped me 8 years ago, while I was in prison. When I was released, I went looking for her. She was long gone, without a forwarding address.
“Janus is dead.”
The shock that ran through my body left me fighting for breath. I was sure I wasn’t hearing right. I swallowed hard. “Could you repeat that.”
“Janus is dead. She died 5 years ago from a pulmonary embolism.”
“I’m sorry to hear that”, I finally said. I was confused. “Why are you calling me, Mr. Lawson?”
“I need your help. It’s very important.”
“Why me Mr. Lawson? I haven’t seen or heard from Janus in 8 years. And the last time I talked to you, we were at each other’s throat.”
“It is very important Buddy. I’m sure if Janus was still with us, she would be making this call herself.”
“Because 8 years ago, when she left you, she was pregnant. You have a daughter.”
Talk about being floored. I was flabbergasted. And for the first time in my life, speechless.
I jumped in the shower while fresh coffee was brewing, still not believing what Mr. Lawson had told me. A daughter kept playing repeatedly in my head. I wondered what she looked like. If she looked anything like her mother, she was a beauty.
I made my way to the address Mr. Lawson had texted me. I cut a forty-five-minute drive into thirty-minutes. Mr. Lawson met me at the front door, looked around cautiously and ushered me quickly inside.
“Thank you for coming”, he said. “I didn’t know what else to do. And I’m afraid to call the police. They said they would kill her if I did. I can’t take that chance.”
“Do you know who took her?”
“I’m not sure. But I do have an ideal. After you went to jail Janus was seeing someone else for a short period. His name was Tim Rochester, a local spoiled rich kid. Said he went to school with her. But after he found out she was pregnant, he ended the relationship claiming she was trying to trap him. The relationship didn’t end well, and he started bad mouthing her all over town. He used to call her every day to harass her. I will never forget that voice.”
“So, what makes you think it is him?
“Like I said. I will never forget that voice. Tim Rochester is no longer the spoiled rich kid. His father lost all his money and is serving sixty years for a Ponzi Scheme. The family became local pariahs, and Tim became a druggie and took to the streets. He is involved in anything and everything. He was in the newspaper two years ago. A big kidnapping case that made international news. He was acquitted because witnesses disappeared. No charges could be brought against him because he was sitting in jail the whole time. It’s believed he’s in with a local gang called the Scorpions. They specialize in extortion, drugs, and kidnapping. The gang has been shaking down the town for years now. People are afraid.”
“Are you sure it’s him?”
“Like I said. I will never forget that voice. It’s engraved in my mind. The same voice that ran my daughter out of town. I will never forget it.”
I knew a lot of the Scorpions from being in and out of jail. A few had been good friends. But to say clean and out of jail, I avoided contact with anyone that was trouble. I knew they had a clubhouse in the city. The Wayby Room, a private pool hall where they hung out. Danny Fights was the leader. A fitting name, and just as dangerous. I remember Danny as the local drug boy in school. Weed, pills, go to Danny. He had evolved after high school, from a small-time dealer to a feared and believed to be killer.
I made a few stops first to gear up. Old friends were shocked to see me. “Man, I thought you had given up the life”, one had said. “Anything for you, Buddy”, another had said. “I owe you. I’d be in a grave rotting if not for you.”
I made it back to town. Two hours later I was making my way through the doors of The Wayby Room. Familiar faces popped up and greeted me with handshakes and brotherly hugs. Danny was happy to see me. “My brother! How long has it been? Go grab us a bottle and a few glasses”, he said to the fine girl sitting on his lap.
“It’s been some time. Since prison.”
“So, what brings you this way? Tired of the straight life? Need a few bucks?”
I waited until he poured us both a drink. Held up the shot glass. “To old times.”
“To old times”, he repeated.
“I’m looking for someone. Tim Rochester.”
“Can’t recall the name.” He held his composer, but I could see it in his eyes. “Personal business,” he asked after pouring us another shot.”
“An old friend.”
“I see”, he finally said. “Wish I could help. Isn’t that that rich kid from back in the day?” He said matter-of-fact.
“You know he’s not rich anymore. Heard he packed up and left town. He owes you money?”
“So, where you know Tim from?”
“He dated a friend of mine some years ago. I’m trying to locate her. I figure he knows.”
“I see”, Danny finally said after trying to read me. “This girl got a name?”
“Janus Lawson. She dumped me in prison.”
The look on his face said it all. “Doesn’t ring a bell. Can’t remember much about the rich kid other than I heard he left town after his father went to jail.”
“I heard he had joined the club.”
“I would have known that brother. I would have had to approve it. No matter how low on the totem pole.”
I picked up the bottle and poured us another shot. “Listen hear, Danny. I’m short on time and patience. Me and you go a long way back. And right now, I’m in a murderous mood. I’m ready to kill anything moving, including you right now if I don’t get the answers I need. Your men may get to me, but not before I put a bullet in your head. Tim Rochester has my daughter, and I’m willing to do anything to get her back. So, you can be straight with me, and I walk out that door. Or, I end our friendship right now.”
“I didn’t know”, Danny had confessed. “I had nothing to do with it. He’s on his own, I promise you. I would never sanction something like that.”
I knew he was lying and just trying to save his own ass. It’s hard not to lie with a desert eagle pressed up against your temple. He was quick to give up the location. I figured I had a thirty-minute head start before he showed up with his crew. Then all hell was going to break loose.
I held her tight and had just made my way to the SUV I had parked out back, when I heard the first explosion. Then there was a second screaming explosion moments later. Then the quietness told me they were regrouping. I put her in the SUV, made her promise to stay down, and geared up. I hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, and promised to be back. I made my way back inside and set up. If they were going to get to her, they would have to come through me first.
I saw the third explosion. Blood and body parts flew everywhere. They had made it inside. I saw two teams split up. Danny the leader signaled his men to move in different directions. They tried to flank me after I fired off a volley of rounds, only to trip more explosions. By the time the police showed up, Danny and two of his crew members were the only ones left. Tim had been killed in the first explosion.
I felt relief as they handcuffed me. She was safe, and that’s all I cared about. When they walked me to the SUV and open the door, she leaped onto me and hung herself around my neck, squeezing tightly. The officer, having a little empathy, released the handcuffs so I could hold her in my arms. I kissed away her tears until she stopped crying and trembling in my arms. I tried to hold the tears back, but I couldn’t. I cried and held on, until her grandparents showed up. It was only then she let me go. They both thanked me repeatedly, and held me close until it was time to go. They promised they would bring her to see me. And even got me a lawyer, who said I would most likely only have to do three years for the illegal firearms.
“You’re a hero”, he said. “An unlikely hero, who not only saved a little girl, but the people of this town.”