A Long Time Passing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 11

Law & Order

He waited with me outside the courtroom. He said we needed to talk and they took off my handcuffs and put me in his hands, but he sat, glasses down on the tip of his nose, going over briefs for another case. He never spoke to me and I figured I should be a good boy and not interrupt what must have been important paperwork.

"City Of Baltimore vs. Thomas Brittle," the court clerk read.

I stood as Mr. Morales played with his briefcase. I felt a little naked as the judge looked at the papers in front of him.

"Ah, Mr. Brittle, how nice of you to drop in to see us. I'd have brewed extra coffee if I'd known we'd have another opportunity to chat. Mr. Morales, did you explain to your client he should desist the activities which brought him in front of us the first time?"

"Your honor, the same circumstances exist in this case. We'd ask the District Attorney to consider that Mr. Brittle is doing some research. We understand the implications and acknowledge appearances might be deceptive, but Mr. Brittle didn't intentionally break any of Baltimore's laws."

"Is that guilty or not guilty, Mr. Morales?" the judge said, as the District Attorney moved forward.

"Maybe we can come to some agreement, your honor," Mr. Morales said.

"That's a guilty with qualification, Mr. Morales?"

"Your honor, this is the second time for Mr. Brittle on these charges and this time the party was under aged. There isn't any circumstance that might give us latitude for leniency on our part on these charges."

"What was the age? They've left it blank on my copy," the judge said, looking over the papers.

"We assume fourteen or fifteen, your honor. We haven't identified him and he isn't talking, your honor."

"How do you know his age? I've seen twenty-five-year-old that looked fifteen and conversely, I've seen a fifteen-year-old who looked forty. Step forward my learned prosecutor. Give me something to go with here. I don't want the ACLU down on me. I released this man on more the last time you brought him in front of me."

"Yes, there was a last time, and that's why we aren't willing to lie down on this one, your honor."

The two men stuck their heads together, seeming unable to come to a consensus. The prosecutor argued and the judge raised his voice but I couldn't hear what they were discussing.

"Your honor, I object to whatever maneuvering my colleague is up to. This is an arraignment, not a trial or search for evidence. We'll have plenty of time to get to that," Morales said.

"Back Mr. Robins. I cut you plenty of slack the last time you appeared before me, Mr. Morales, you'll need to be patient. This is your clients second appearance before me in a very very short period of time. You got all the benefits the first time around, it will be a little more complicated this time," the judge said.

"Yes, your honor. I want to know what the discussion was if it involves this case your honor," Morales said.

"Mr. Robins is asking for a psychiatric opinion. The fact this latest charge involves a minor, I tend to think it would be in Mr. Brittle's best interest if we have an informal report from a mental health specialist. I'll take your clients plea and stipulate the psychiatric report if you don't have any objections."

"The pleas is not guilty, your honor," Morales said. "We have no objection to an informal third party exam. I'll have my office set something up if that's acceptable to Mr. Robins."

"The people agrees, your honor," Mr. Robin's said.

"Fine, we'll meet here on this matter 30 days from today if that's okay," the judge said. "Mr. Brittle have the courtesy not to appear before me again in the mean time."

"Yes, sir," I said.

"Mr. Brittle, whatever it is you are doing, stop. If you do have the misfortune to appear before me again before this case comes to trial, I'll court order you into a 30 day state psychiatric examination. I was never fond of your writing style, but they never bothered me enough for me to want to detain you. Don't do anything to change that now, sir," the judge said, leaning across his desk toward me.

"No, sir, your honor," I said.

"Make sure you don't. Next case, please."

I was very glad to get out of the courtroom. Mr. Morales guided me out toward the benches that lined the walls outside.

"What's this all about, John" I said. "I'm not crazy."

"No, but no harm having that as a professional opinion and me not just taking your word for it. Your word isn't going to influence a jury, Mr. Brittle."

"You think we're heading for a jury trial?" I asked.

"I don't think so. Something tells me the DA wants to deal. I'm not sure why. The psychiatric test is probably to cover his ass in case you go out and murder some of Baltimore's citizenry."

"I'm not guilty, John. You do believe me?"

"I also believe the psychiatric report is in your best interest. We still talking first amendment rights here?" Morales asked.

"Certainly. I did nothing but talk to the boy. I did pay him and the boy that set up the meeting," I said.

"Don't tell me, the first boy you were arrested with," he said.

"How do you guess. Yes, I saw him on the street and he thought he could set it up for a price," I said.

"You paid him to set you up with a minor?" He asked.

"I paid him to arranging a meeting with a young man that tried to get into my car," I said.

"That's just great. We'll try to keep that little piece of information to ourselves. I don't think they want to go against your rights as a journalist. I've got to think they arrested you because someone set you up. I can't even begin to think who might have tipped the police to your activities," he said.

"I paid him to arrange the meeting," I said.

"Yeah, and the cops paid him to give you up. It's an old game. You aren't too street wise, Mr. Brittle. You should quit whatever it is you are doing. Speaking of which, we need to chat before preliminary hearings. I want you in my office, let me see," he said, balancing his briefcase on one knee lifted up as a desk, leaving through his calendar. "Next Friday. Eleven thirty. My office," he said. "I want to get all the details I might need."

"Okay," I said.

"In the mean time, I'll have my secretary find a psychiatrist that will make the report for us. Unless you'd rather find him. Not one you've been to before, someone you don't know. I don't want anyone to object and drag this out, Mr. Brittle."

"What makes you think I'd have seen another shrink," I said.

"Just a wild hunch. Don't use him, please. Call my office and let me know when and where. I've got to go, I'm late again. Please stay out of trouble, Thomas," he said, shaking my hand before dashing down the marble stairs.

I dreaded the ride home. There was no appetite for facing my wife. I wasn't too happy about seeing a shrink to appease the court either. I knew it wasn't going as easy this time as it had the first time I was arrested. She'd be wondering what was going on. I slipped into the house just before 1 p.m., looking vary much like the vagrant I felt like.

"I'm going to shower dear," I said, passing the living room where I knew she'd be waiting.

"I'll put some tea on, Thomas. We need to talk," she said, not making any attempt to greet me or to look up from her book.

I wasn't sure what I was going to say to her. The truth was all that occurred to me, but I knew she would sound a lot like Todd sounded. I didn't understand what I was looking for but I knew, whatever it was, my life depended on it in some respect. How I knew that, I don't know.

I stood under the hot shower and replayed the events of the last evening back in my head. I did it sequentially, looking for the clue I needed that would allow me to answer the question. There was none I was able to identify. I did remember passing the police car that pulled me over. I hadn't seen it at the time, but it was sitting on a side street as I passed. It pulled in behind me, following a block behind me until they switched on the lights to pull me over.

I now suspected they were waiting there for me to pass. They could not have seen the boy taking the money from the glove compartment. The night was clear. I hadn't been speeding or driving erratically. I was quite careful since I'd been stopped just the week before.

Why were they so interested in filling charges against me? I'd done nothing but exercise my rights as a journalist and an American citizen. I knew of no law against paying for information. It was how a journalist and many times the police themselves acquired information that was crucial in doing their job. I likewise knew of no law that said I shouldn't be concerned for the children of the streets.

There was also a piece of this puzzle that seemed to have gone missing. I needed to talk to this kid to solve the original mystery that had obsessed me and it seemed the cops were determined to keep me from it. What threat was I to them or to society at large? I merely wanted the answer to a question that now haunted me.

As difficult as my childhood had been at the time, I don't think I could have survived the streets. I was brought up in Baltimore and was aware of the game teenage boys played with their sexuality, closing their eyes to the older men that fell in love with them for an hour or a night at a time. It was part of the landscape and the police with backs turned pretended not to notice the large sedans from the burbs, entering the city on missions born of loneliness.

I couldn't have stood in the dark and waited for strangers to pick me up to take me to worlds I never knew? I was not ignorant of the cars that had stopped on the corners to pick up my friends, who would excuse themselves casually, dashing for open car doors, only to return a time later carry dollar bills they hadn't possessed before. I'd often taken my own pleasure from their wages of sin. I knew but never asked why. Was I like the cops and didn't want to know, or like the other boys who pretended their best friends were just going for a ride in a fancy car with guys they little knew but loved anyway.

The closer I got to figuring out how to solve the mystery the more it was intensified, hiding whatever was really behind it all. The more hidden it became the more determined I was to uncover its meaning. My time as a journalist taught me that the deeper a mystery went, the more it required exposure.

I dried my hair and put on my fluffy white robe that smelled like all outdoors. I felt the carpet on my feet as I went back down the stairs, pouring my own tea and offering to warm Kathy's before retrieving the sandwich she had made for me and then sitting down across from her.

She did not take her nose from her book until I had sunk deep into my easy chair which allowed me to experience the comfort it gave me, the first comfort I'd had that day. I sat there waiting as I had waited when I was a boy for my mother to start her inquisition, after long stoney silence. My half a tuna sandwich tempting me to just take one bite, but knowing she would speak as soon as I bit into it, and so I didn't take the nourishment my body was craving. I sipped my tea until the silence was ended.

"Would you like soup, a bagel, maybe a piece of fruit?" She asked not wanting to get right to her husband's latest indiscretion, which had him locked up in the local clink for the second time in as many weeks.

"No, dear. I might get something in a few minutes. I just want to relax and let the tea take hold."

"I was alarmed when Todd called. I thought we'd put this behind us, Thomas?"

"I let you think that but it seems to be something I need to take care of first. I didn't want to trouble you with it further," I said.

"You don't seem to be taking care of it at all. Do you know what it's like being called and told your husband is in jail? I didn't even know you had gone out. I can't take this, Thomas. I won't have it. I don't want this happening again. We have the kids to consider. Todd says you are risking your entire career," she said.

"Todd's full of more crap than a Christmas Goose. I've broken no law. I'm looking for information and the cops seem to think I'm up to no good. I've done absolutely nothing wrong."

"That's why you must sneak out in the middle of the night. That's supposed to reassure me that you are just doing some incidental research, Thomas? They wake me up to tell me you are locked up. It isn't incidental when you are the one given the message."

"I'm sorry about that. I didn't think it could happen again. No one is that unlucky," I said.

"They aren't arresting you for no reason, Thomas. You must be doing something. What does your attorney say?"

"Stop doing whatever it is I'm doing. About the same as you in fact, Kathy."

"Shouldn't you listen to him, Thomas? If you won't listen to me, please listen to him. I feel no good coming from this."

"Certainly I should but I can't."


"I can't explain it but I have no choice in the matter. I need to know why he is out there. I want to find out where he lives and why he got into my car that night. It goes beyond that. He knows something I need to know. I'm even more sure of it now that I've seen him a second time. He's familiar to me but I've never seen him before. He has something he wants to give me, something I need to have. I haven't figured it out yet but I will, and until I find out, I've got to pursue it."

"What could he possibly have that is so important?" She asked. "He's a boy for God sake. He couldn't know anything you need to know, Thomas. Walk away from it. For me, for yourself, end this lunacy before it ruins us," she said in the kinds of words she had never once used the entire time I knew her.

"I don't know. It has something to do with him being out there. There is something about him, no not him, it's difficult to explain. It isn't him but something about him. It's starting to haunt me. I can't sleep at night. I can't write until its resolve."

"Kathy, if I said you need to go back. What would you think?"

"Go back where, dear?"

"Just that. Nothing else. It is something he said to me. I thought he meant go back in the car. Back to where I picked him up. He said, you need to go back a few minutes after he got into my car."

"I don't know. Perhaps go back to where he came from."

"I didn't get time to think about it. I didn't understand it at the time he said it. I mean I wasn't listening, or hearing, in a way that made those particular words to stand out when they were being said. It stood out when I had the night to think about the things he had said. The context seemed wrong to me when he said it. Like nonsense people say some times that only means something to them. Go back to where he came from?" I said, trying it out. "Thanks, I'll consider that. Maybe back to where he lives or lived. Of course I don't know. I will find out, though. Court papers will identify who he really is."

"Hey, dad, what's up? You sick or something," Amy said as he passed the door.

"No, angel, just talking to your mother. Nothing important."

"In your robe in the middle of the afternoon. Your study burn down or blow up or what? I haven't seen you out here during the day since I was six," she said in fake surprise.

"We didn't buy this house until you were ten, angel," I said.

"Yeah, well, you're never out here until late, after we go to bed mostly. I was thinking you didn't like us much on account you avoided us."

"I don't, angel. I'm just stuck with you. No one said I had to be nice, too. I do feed you. Quite well might I add."

"Yeah, I suppose. You sure everything is okay? You look pale, tired, dad."

"Yes, don't you have something to do? It's not like you to have free time. Of course that's a misnomer as much money as it cost me to keep you and your brother out of my hair."

"I should have known. I was just getting used to the idea of you being out here and now you're going to run me off. We might never again meet like this. Maybe I'll see you again come the holidays, huh dad? Nice chatting with you, must off to spend some of your money now."

"Maybe! I might be busy earning a living so I can buy you your prom dress, angel," I said.

"You better work hard, dad. I want to the belle of the ball."

"And you shall, angel. You will be the best looking girl there, the best looking girl ever. One day you'll even be as beautiful as your mother," I said.

"Dad, I wasn't born yesterday. I smell some buttering up going down here. What have you done now?" Amy asked.

"Nothing to worry your little head about. Why don't you go tie up the phone for a few hours. It's time for the sales personages to be bugging the hell out of us."

"And you and mom want to talk," she said, brushing my hair back, swinging her hips in an exaggerated motion as she left the living room.

I heard her taking the steps two at a time like she had done as an adolescent. She was almost grown, ready to go out on her own. How time flies when you are….

"I don't want to go into it with the kids in the house, Thomas. I don't want them knowing. I never tell you what to do. Since we've been married, I've let you do it your way. I've even assisted you every chance I got. What I want you to do is get some help. I can't continue to sit by and watch this self-destruction take place. You make some calls and find someone to talk to about your obsession," Kathy said, showing as much anger as she ever displayed in front of me.

"It's already taken care of, Kathy. The judge wants to have my elevator checked. He wants to make sure it is hitting all the floors on the way to the roof. I think I'm safe, dear."

"You just see if there isn't something you can do to end this and end it now. Don't allow another phone call like that to wake me in the middle of the night. I won't live like that. I won't have you running around when I think you are safe at home."

"You've my word, dear. It won't happen again," I said. "I thought I could resolve it in a few hours but I know better now."

"I need more. I want you to find a doctor tomorrow. No excuses. No delays. Tomorrow, Thomas. I want you to open the can of worms you've so neatly kept closed all these years. It's time you got help with that. I've let it go until now. I've never asked you to deal with it, but it's time."

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