The sun was rising. Casting a beautiful glow of orange across the sky, as twilight, the crack between the worlds, faded.
I had everything I owned packed into my 1970 Plymouth Satellite. Ready to hit the road. A friend had promised a job would be waiting in Houston.
Mike and I shook hands and nodded. No words were necessary for this goodbye. But suddenly he did speak. A single question.
“Stearley, there’s been one thing I wanted to ask you all along. I don’t remember you putting that lock box in the car that night, where did it really come from?”
“Well Mike, I imagine you were just too busy loading up that monster of a stereo to see what I was doing . . .”
A few days had gone by since the arraignment and we weren’t really adjusting well to confinement. Each day, the nerves were worn a little thinner. We were quickly turning morose. Quick to self-judgment and regret. How could we have been so stupid?
And then the jailer appeared.
“You all just relax and step back from the door. One-by-one you, Stearley, and you, Mike, walk over here, turn around, and put your hands behind your backs so I can cuff them. Once you’re cuffed, I’ll open the door. And Tom, you just stay up against the bars at the back of the cell. Everybody got it?”
He wasn’t alone. Another guard was with him. At the ready.
But we weren’t going to be any trouble. All that would do is cost us, and our cooperation, so far, had already paid off in having one of the charges disappear.
We were led out of the cell block and to a small conference-style room. Both of our fathers were waiting, along with an attorney they had hired. We were grateful to see them, but also ashamed that they were there bailing us out. Maybe it would have been better to just stay in that cell.
But things were beginning to turn around for the better. We were going to be released, our fathers having put up the bond, but first our attorney was going to sit in on a meeting between us, one of the police detectives, and the prosecutor.
As the jailer removed our handcuffs, Don, our attorney, told us to be quiet and listen, and check with him before saying anything. “Anything.” I gave Mike a penetrating look to punctuate that point.
We were introduced to Detective Morse and Prosecutor Kane.
Morse was in plain clothes and we were told he’d been acting undercover for some time investigating the town’s drug trade.
Kane was a no-nonsense, zealous, lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key kind of guy. He had a reputation for not losing trials. Sloppy with details, but great courtroom performer. It was a bit startling to find ourselves sitting across the table from this guy, knowing our fates lay in his hands.
Kane started talking first.
“You guys are in a bit of jam, but from checking your backgrounds, you haven’t ever been before — that we know about anyway. In fact, Detective Morse here has never heard of you, and he knows all the major players in town. So, I’m going to tell you a little story and you can wait until I’m finished before you say a word.”
“It seems that Vince owed you guys, and others, some money. He wasn’t exactly a great businessman. And it seems that you went to collect. Now a burglary, legally speaking, means you broke into someone’s place for the purpose of committing another felony. In this case, that would be a robbery, by taking Vince’s stereo. But a robbery only exists if a person intends to permanently deprive someone of their property. And I think maybe the stereo was just going to be held as collateral. It would have been returned once the debt was paid. So, if there was no robbery, or intent to deprive Vince of his stereo permanently, then there was also no burglary. There was maybe a trespass and destruction of property instead when the back door was kicked in.”
“It also seems the investigating officers found an ashtray full of marijuana seeds at the scene, and that bag of pot you had, Mike, was freshly manicured. Meaning it didn’t belong to you, it was another item you took . . . to hold as collateral.”
“You’re probably wondering about your guns too. Well, since the home was vacant when you entered it, there’s nothing pointing to any type of illegal use of a weapon. While it was sloppily done, at least they were unloaded and not a threat to the arresting officers.”
“And since you coughed up the stolen property, and Vince hasn’t reported anything else missing, there’s no reason to search for anything else. No probable cause to get a warrant to search your apartment. For that matter, it seems Vince has disappeared and is not even interested in collecting his stereo.”
“Are you guys beginning to understand what I’m saying?”
“Now, I’m sure you’re wondering about this little fairy tale and how I have the magic wand to wave and make it all real. So, I’m going to let the good Detective here tell his little story now.”
“Hello boys,” said Officer Morse.
“I can’t tell you how much the police respect the way you guys handled yourself, most of it anyway,” he shot a little glare over at Mike. “That goes a long way with us, but putting an end to real crime goes even farther, and when I look at you two, the words ‘hard-core criminals’ doesn’t exactly jump to mind.”
“What good would it serve to put you guys away when you delivered what we wanted all along.”
Mike and I looked at each other, as puzzled as we were when the weapons charge went missing at the arraignment.
“I’ve been watching Vince for quite a while,” Detective Morse continued, “but just didn’t have anything solid on him. Nothing that could get me a warrant. But then you two came stumbling in, and you brought us that box.”
“It seems Officer Callahan dropped that box when he was carrying it to the evidence locker. And what do you know, it was wasn’t locked and it popped right open. I’m not sure what you thought might be in that box, but there weren’t any valuables and there weren’t any drugs. There was just paper. Written records. The names, addresses, phone numbers of people in four different states. And next to each name was a list of dates and transactions – what and how much exchanged hands.”
“So, you see, we kind of got our hands full right now going after real criminals. And you made that possible whether you planned on it or not. Why waste my time swatting at mosquitoes when I can trap buzzards?”
As if the timing was rehearsed, Kane took over again.
“When you go to check out today, you’ll be given back your clothes and personal effects. You’ll be given back your pistols too, not the bullets. And if you can think of anything else that might help out Detective Morse, you’ll have his phone number.”
“In a couple of weeks, we’ll talk about whether I want to be messing around with petty trespass charges. Now, I’ll leave you to have a powwow with your attorney.”
Kane and Morse excused themselves and then Don started in.
“I want you guys to go back to your apartment and clean up. And shut up. Don’t want you talking to nobody about nothin, except maybe Detective Morse, and you should talk to me first. Are we clear?”
We both nodded. Our dads looked content. Didn’t even give us a hard time. I guess they figured we learned a big lesson. They had let us sit in a jail a few days longer than they had to just to make sure.
So off we went.
I didn’t try to make contact with Office Morse, but I know Mike had a few conversations with him. After all, Mike was the one who knew Vince, not me. I was busy packing. The owners of the apartment complex we were in were kicking us out and I found a house to rent, temporarily, from a preacher who believed in second chances.
We both lost our jobs, but we couldn’t leave town yet, we still hadn’t heard from Kane about whether he was going to pursue any of the charges he had already filed, or any different ones. Finally, Kane set up another meeting.
Kane told us he was going to dismiss everything. “Without prejudice.”
“That means I can file these charges against you anytime before the statute of limitations runs. I had better not see either of you in here with so much as a parking ticket.”
Kane, the way he spoke and stared at you, had a way of burning his comments right into your brain. You wouldn’t forget.
Time to leave town. This saga as over. With no job to pay the rent, and no prospect of getting one after our moment of fame in the local newspaper, it was time to move on. I had rented the house month to month, so I gave the preacher notice we were leaving.
No one ever discovered we had taken those small fluffy crystals of 99.9% pure pharmaceutical cocaine or that pile of pills handed off when ever I passed Mike in that pharmacy window. The supplies of which were finally exhausted. And there were no criminal convictions to follow us where ever we might start over. But it would have to be somewhere else, at least long enough for those statutes of limitation to run.
And it was simply time for Mike and I to part company too. The bad chemistry had to end. Not being in his usual state of intoxication that final morning, he had thought to ask about the lock box. Yeah, just where did that box come from?
Was that box something I grabbed during the heist, or was it a failsafe? Sitting in my car the whole time? A prepared distraction in case things went totally south? An escape route if Mike or me failed to heed my earlier warnings to tone it down and reign it in? Get some control back over our wild rampage? Our increasingly reckless behavior?
And, just whose hand writing generated those “records?” Had the police checked?
Maybe Kane wasn’t the only one who waived a magic wand to make those charges disappear. But I wasn’t talking, I was heading down the road . . .
Disclaimer: As I’ve pointed out before, the same disclaimer made in Chapter 1 applies to every chapter of this story. *Parts of this story may be based in truth or fiction, or possibly a mixture of both. Any similarity to any actual event or to any person may be totally coincidental. Also, it’s easier to write myself into the story to tell it in both first and third person.
Photo: Dawn greets me on the road during one of many road trips. Dawn, the time of new beginnings. I’ve always loved the dawn 🙂
Prior Chapters: You can find the first seven chapters of this story here: