Authors: Patrick McGhee
Cover image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This book is a work of fiction. Name
s, places, characters, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is a coincidence.
The words of the folksong,
I Know Where I’m Going,
and the hymn,
Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,
are in the public domain as is the scripture quotation from
The Book of Ruth.
Copyright 2011 by William P. McGhee
All rights reserved. Except as permitted by law, no part of this work may be reproduced, transmitted, or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Life is always changing. Nothing is constant. Sometimes, the changes are gradual. We don’t notice them until months, or even years, down the road. At other times, events can quickly change the direction of our lives, creating a set of circumstances we might never have chosen or imagined. Though we may not be able to recall the details or go back to relive the experiences, we will pack away, in our minds, certain images of extraordinary happenings–those unforgettable moments that drive us, energize us, and make us who we are.
It had been a slow afternoon for Wally Jackson at the State Employment Bureau. The waiting room was nearly always packed with clients, even on Fridays. Today appeared to be an exception. Wally wondered if unemployment had somehow vanished overnight. There was little chance of that. Perhaps, people were getting ready for the weekend and would let their difficult situations wait until Monday. Wally admonished himself for being cynical. His mind was overloaded. He was dealing with something that always mixed up his feelings. Tony Danforth was back in town and had moved in with an old girlfriend.
The rush-hour traffic on the four-lane between Brockton and Poplar Hill seemed to move slower than the afternoon at work. As driving does not allow for deep thought, Wally took a break from his confusion and concentrated on the road. He felt fortunate that there were no accidents to clog the highway, no traffic-jams due to someone’s flat tire or car trouble. Things like that could back up the traffic as much as a mile.
This thoroughfare was a project of Senator Homer Fishburn. The Senator had never anticipated suburban Brockton expanding along the highway almost as fast as the pavement could be laid. He had just wanted a big road to help him win big in the next election. The county commission insisted on naming it the Fishburn Expressway. Like other politicians in this part of the state, they knew if you promised to name something after the Senator, it would get built. It did not matter what it was or how much it cost. Wally could have entertained himself with conjectures of things that might have been built, but never made it. This would have to wait for another day. He was tired and Tony Danforth was back in town. That was enough.
Wally was thankful when he could see the apartment complex where he lived. He pulled into the parking lot, shut down the engine, and headed for his place on the third floor. As usual, he took the steps. It was healthier; it took less time. He used the elevator only for company and for transporting heavy or bulky items
As Wally stood at the apartment door fumbling for his keys, the phone began to ring. He inserted the key into the lock, opened the door, and tossed his briefcase into an armchair. The phone rang the second time. Darting across the living room, he was able to snatch the receiver on the third ring. A recorded greeting started, “This is World Tel-Link with a collect call from Tony Danforth, an inmate at Highland Regional Jail. The call may be monitored or recorded. To hear the charges for this call, press nine. To reject the call, press seven. To accept, press three.”
Wally’s breathing became deeper and more rapid as he fumbled with the phone to press the number three button. The voice greeting continued, “Your call is being connected.”
Wally said, “Hello.”
Tony’s raspy voice followed. “Hey, I’m in jail. I’ve been here for three days. I tried calling before. Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
Wally replied, “There used to be a block for collect calls on it. This morning I went to the phone company’s website and took it off. I don’t know why, but I had this feeling that I had to do it, and do it today.”
“I’m sure glad you did. Nobody wants to accept my calls, not even my mom. She accepted
and told me I am embarrassing the family. She said my step dad is pissed. She told me not to call again till next week. It’s long distance. It’s expensive. Your number is local. It’s only eighty-five cents for fifteen minutes.”
“Listen Tony. When we talked before, you told me about some trouble. Is that why you’re in jail?”
“No,” Tony snapped. “It’s my girlfriend. She has this order against me so I can’t come to see her. Then she gets weepy because our daughter keeps calling out for me. She invites me over to see Liza. That’s my daughter’s name. I stay a couple of days. Then, we have this humongous argument, and she calls the police. The magistrate won’t set bail. He says I violated a conditional bond, and I have to stay in jail till it runs out. Can you help me? You work for the state. You’ve got connections. Please, help me out of this place. It’s awful!”
“I work in the State Employment Bureau. We don’t get involved in family matters. We just help people find jobs. I
have some connections in family court. The judge is my friend. We go to the same church. I could talk to him, though it might not do any good. I don’t know anyone in magistrate court.”
“Talk to anybody. Tell them you have known me for fifteen years and I am a good kid.”
“Kid? You’re thirty-three years old.”
“You know what I mean. You’ve known me since I was a teenager. I’m not a violent person. I never pushed you around or threatened you. Do you remember when she threw me out once before, and I stayed with you? I think I told you that she’s a stripper. She has caused trouble for every guy she ever dated. We can’t get along. She’s mental, I tell you! If it wasn’t for my daughter, I wouldn’t even want to be around her.”
“You’re right. Since you started dating Sarah, there’s been constant trouble. You can’t keep a job. You’re stressed out all the time. I remember when you were a fantastic salesman. You sold more motorcycles than anyone at Cycle City. They loved your work. You made more money from commissions in three or four months than I got paid in a whole year.”
“Yep,” Tony’s voice boomed with pride, “I did that two years in a row. They even put me in charge of the exhibits they took to festivals all over the state.”
“Then, you and Sarah got serious. Everything seemed to go wrong. You even quit coming to see me.”
Tony became sad. “I know. I didn’t call you. I just left you hanging. But, hey, she was a stripper. Tony Danforth was dating a stripper. All my buddies thought I was all right–not into anything strange. Some were even jealous.”
Wally became nostalgic. “Hey, do you remember when we first met? You were eighteen and I
was twenty-three. You looked up to me like I had it all together. I was fresh out of college and you were just out of high school. Truth was, I wasn’t much more grown up than you. I did have a steady job and a paycheck, but you had more experience in other things. We’ve got a history, don’t we? It’s hard to think of a time when I didn’t have you in my life.”
Wally and Tony talked until the voice from the telephone greeting interrupted them, “You have sixty seconds remaining for this call.”
“Hey, Tony, will you call me tomorrow evening?”
“You mean you want to run up your phone bill with these collect calls? You want to talk to a criminal?”
Wally snapped, “Oh, shut up and quit putting yourself down. I want to talk to you. Unfortunately, this is the only way it’s going to happen. Call me tomorrow!”
Tony spoke softly, “I love you, Wally.”
That is what Wally wanted to hear, but he was not expecting it. Tony had never said
before. Wally closed his eyes; he sighed; he replied, “I love you, too, Tony.”
The rest of the evening Wally could think of nothing but the phone call. His mind wandered when he tried to watch television. He fidgeted. He couldn’t concentrate enough to read the news on the web. His evening walk through the friendliest neighborhood in Poplar Hill was a washout. He cut it short and went back to the apartment. It was Tony, only Tony, on his mind.
Wally gave up and got ready for bed. He crawled under the covers and turned off the light; he lay there on his back. Though he tried, he could not close his eyes and fall asleep. He gazed toward the ceiling and began to think of happier times. He sighed as he remembered an event just three weeks ago, one that forever changed his feelings about Tony and their relationship.
At thirty-eight, Wally looked younger than his peers. Daily walks and avoidance of fast food kept his weight down. Average height, average build, average guy–that depends. Looking at Wally from the outside, there was nothing to make him stand out. His clothes were conservative. He could blend into any crowd. He had a pleasant voice, a kind face, and a smile that put people at ease. In Wally’s mind, however, lay a confusing network of feelings, some of which were apt to override intelligence and good sense. He was compassionate. He loved deeply. He was gullible.
Wally had worked for the Employment Bureau in Highland County for seven years. He was an audit clerk. The pay was average; the state employee benefits were excellent. He didn’t have to deal with clients, just the numbers. That pleased him.
Before this job, Wally had been a reservations clerk in a motel. And, before that, he had tried teaching school. He gave it up after two years. It wasn’t the students or the parents. It was the administration’s dim view of any employee who didn’t adhere to the customary local practices of politics, religion, sports, and sex. Wally messed this up when he remarked, one day, in the teacher’s lounge, that he was weary of those who kept trying to pair him up with single female teachers. He didn’t have to say the rest. The matchmakers figured it out.
Wally was gay. He was also a Christian. People doubted that the two could exist together. Wally insisted that he had prayed for God to make him like everyone else, but God didn’t do that. He asked God why he was gay. God didn’t give an answer. Instead, he gave Wally the gifts of peace, acceptance, and strength. Wally often thought back to his childhood. He could remember hearing his grandfather say, “God deals the cards; we play the game.” Wally felt this was true for his own life.
Wally believed it was wrong for him to hit the bars and attend wild parties. He could not allow himself to have one-night stands. Any relationship had to be based on love. This wasn’t always easy for him. Sometimes he got off the path. He always came back. Wally was certain that his prayers were heard and answered.
Wally went to church every Sunday. He often read inspirational books and his Bible. He loved gospel music. He had taken piano lessons as a teenager, and then organ lessons. Now, he was able to put it all to good use. He was the organist at the church where he grew up. Life was good. Wally was happy–most of the time.
Tony was in a minimum-security pod at the regional jail. One feature of that pod was a media room. Inmates could watch television until time for lights out. Since they got only one channel, jail personnel would often show a movie on videotape or DVD. After the phone call, Tony went to watch TV, but didn’t absorb what was on. When it came time to go to his cell, he formed the blanket into a makeshift pillow, lay on the sleeping mat, and found himself staring upward, unable to go to sleep. He was thinking of Wally. It was nice of Wally to accept the call. He liked Wally. Did he want to become attached to him? It was a decision he would have to make one day. It would be tough.
Tony kept his dark-brown hair cut short and sported a nice set of sideburns and a well-trimmed goatee. He had intense brown eyes. When he smiled, which wasn’t often, he showed perfect white teeth–the kind in toothpaste commercials. Tony was average height, average weight. He worked out and had developed an athletic build. He was a trendy dresser, always neat, always projecting a fashionable appearance. Except for a tattoo of his girlfriend’s name on the right side of his chest, Tony’s body seemed to be perfectly endowed and without blemish.
One part, however, appeared to be a bit more endowed. It was something to be discussed in small groups, to be envied. Tony wasn’t bashful about it. He often paraded around the locker room at the gym with nothing on his body, just looking for his towel. He was always the one to suggest skinny-dipping at the campsites beside the lake. He would be the first one out of his clothes and into the water. As a result, his peers had first-hand knowledge of what caused that tantalizing bulge in his jeans.
Tony was attractive, desirable–a hunk–and he knew it. He was moody–often melancholy, sometimes overly optimistic. He was at his best at work or socializing in a group. One-to-one relationships were a problem. A partner might become devoted to Tony, only to discover that Tony’s perfect body was not enough to keep things going. This didn’t seem to bother Tony. He could always use his good looks to get someone else, and he did–over and over.
Tony had been to every bar within fifty miles of Brockton. He was welcome in so many beds that he no longer needed his own apartment. He was able to carry his entire seasonal wardrobe, and most other belongings, in a suitcase and a duffel bag in the trunk of his car. When the seasons changed, he simply went to his mother’s house and swapped out the clothes from a footlocker in the attic. Suitcase, duffel bag, footlocker, car, and a small bank account with a debit card–these were all that Tony owned. He rented a post office box to receive bills that he often did not pay. He listed his mother’s house in Springfield as a physical address. He was always short on money, always on the go. No one but Tony and God knew where he might turn up next. He had been satisfied with this lifestyle until a few months ago, until he had become closer to Wally, until he had noticed that Wally seemed to be at peace and was strong in his beliefs, no matter what happened. Tony craved what Wally had. He needed this in his own life, but he was reluctant to settle down, to give up a set of friends who had no commitments to anything.