A Long Time Passing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 17

Knuckle Ball

Dr. Jordan was sitting outside the courtroom when we arrived. I introduced him to Mr. Morales and they huddled over to one side as I watched from a bench near the courtroom door. The two men shook hands as they finished.

Seeing them there, I was sure they were both my age. I'd looked upon them as younger men, but both were graying and wrinkling much as I was doing in my mirror. Both were handsome and well groomed. I suppose that was to impress their clients where as I had no one to impress, and so I didn't take a lot of time dressing up. That was something else I liked about being a writer.

I felt a bit disconnected from the proceedings. First John Morales cornered someone at the prosecutor's table. The man seemed disoriented and filed through papers in his large leather briefcase. He kept apologizing and seemed repentant. Morales seemed agitated and ill tempered, though I couldn't hear what the disagreement was about.

"What was that all about?" I said.

"Nothing new. They don't have the information we need so we can interview their witnesses. He doesn't want to talk about a deal because they just gave him the case. He needs to review the notes before he makes any decisions. He says he hasn't had time to do that."

"Wouldn't it be better to be prepared when you come to court?" I asked.

"Yes, but they keep us off balance by being ill prepared. Changing attorneys between court appearances is a ploy."

"What are they after?"

"I just don't know, Mr. Brittle. In this case we've got to wait for them to tell us."

I perked up when Francis Horace Crumb was called to testify. I did not see Slim as my eyes surveyed a small gathering that sat behind me. I assumed there were people waiting for other proceedings but not many as compared with my other two court appearances.

"I'm Andrew Short for the People, your honor. I've just been given the case this morning. Mr. Robins was unable to appear and the People want to move forward in a timely manor. You have the statements from the arresting officers and I'll be calling one witness to make the case this morning."

"People call Francis Crumb to the stand," Mr. Short said, watching him move to the witness chair.

"What do you do for a living. Mr. Crumb?"

"I'm self employed," he said with a straight face. "I'm an entrepreneur."

"Mr. Crumb, you've been arrested six times in the past year for prostitution. Do those arrests have anything to do with your entrepreneurial duties?"

"I don't count those. I do offer my services to interested parties."

"But prostitution is your main source of income, is it not?"

"That and a little of this and a little of that," he said, being as evasive as possible.

"You were picked up by a gentlemen you were familiar with and he asked you to provide him with the services of another boy, did he not?"

"I was," he said.

Each time he spoke he leaned until his lips were on the microphone before he spoke. He seemed pleased when he heard the echo of his voice through the courtroom speakers.

"Do you see that man in the courtroom?"

"Yeah, that's the guy," he said, happily pointing me out.

"Had you met the man before the night he asked for this service?"

"Yeah, we was arrested together a week before then."

"In other words he picked you up before and then at another time he asked you to secure the services of an under aged male for him."

"Yeah. That's what he done all right."

"That's all. Your honor, you have the statements in this case. I won't call my other witnesses at this time. The People have met their burden. I think you'll agree this case should be carried over for trial."

"Not so fast, your honor. We have been unable to secure a proper address on Mr. Crumb or the boy who was arrested with my client. We don't even have a name on that witness. We've received no cooperation from the People."

"We won't be calling the minor male," the prosecutor said, after half standing at his seat to answer Mr. Morales. "Our case isn't hinged on an act but the intent of the accused. The young man has been through enough and we have no desire to drag him into court."

"My phone calls to the prosecutor's office, Mr. Robins, the original prosecutor, have gone unanswered. I'd like to ask their witness a few questions and get him to stop at the defense table to give us an address where we can have access to him. I reserve the right to call the unidentified male as a witness and want him identified for the defense."

"Mr. Short, how do you respond to this lack of cooperation with Mr., ah, Mr. Morales?" the judge said.

"I've just gotten the case. We have no objections to a few questions for clarity or the request for the witness address. I don't have it in front of me but we'll see that Mr. Morales gets it. As I said, our case is about intent, your honor."

"Mr. Crumb, you were arrested with my client before, correct?" Mr. Morales went right to the witness box.


"You never came to court on that charge, did you?"


"Why is that?" Mr. Morales asked.

"I was cut a deal for me to testify against him," he said, indicating me with his head but not looking at me.

"Did my client ever ask you for any kind of physical contact with him?"


"Did he pay you?"


"What did he pay you for?"

"Talk. Guys pay for lots of things," he said.

"He never touched you?"

"No, he didn't."

"How is it you are a witness in this case since my client was picked up with another boy. The boy I believe you located for him, Mr. Crumb?" Mr. Morales said.

"Your honor, this isn't trial. I think Mr. Morales has asked enough questions to elucidate him to the facts. He can interview this witness all he likes after we bind him over."

"I was told if I assisted the cops they'd cut me a break in another misunderstanding I was involved in," he said, talking over the prosecutor and seemingly wanting to get it in.

"Your honor, with all due respect, there is no case here. My client is a journalist who is concerned for the plight of the young men that haunt our streets at night. Men like Mr. Crumb. He questioned Mr. Crumb but never touched him. He had an interest in a younger boy, because of his age, and sought to interview him about his presence on the street. Mr. Crumb obliged and in spite of being aware that Mr. Brittle was a journalist collecting information, the People and the police worked to entrap my client in a web they created for him. I don't agree that any burden of proof has been met here. Free speech is still the right of every American."

"That's all we have, your honor. We aren't at trial. It isn't required to prove our burden only present it, which we've done," Mr. Short said, almost but not quite standing up this time.

"I'll be the judge of that," the judge said, smiling at his own humor. "Mr. Morales, we've heard enough from this witness. He can stop at your table and provide you with his address or make arrangements to meet with you. The burden has been met in my opinion and this case will be bound over."

"Your honor, we once again want to ask the court to instruct the prosecution to give us the information on the boy my client was arrested with in this case. Since the People aren't calling him, the boy my client was arrested with, we'd like his name and address. Talking, as far as I know, isn't a crime yet, and this boy will verify that my client did nothing but talk to him."

"You should have the information you request. Mr. Short, see he has what he wants. I think we need more from the boy he was arrested with. I'll carry the case over but don't come to court without substantial evidence as to this man's misconduct. Do I make myself understood, and don't fail to cooperate with Mr. Morales. He has a job to do."

"Your honor, could I have a moment before we conclude?" Mr. Short said. "I've only just gotten this case, so I'm a bit behind this morning."

"Mr. Short, you don't come into my court a little behind. You may approach. Mr. Morales, can join us if you are about to say anything mildly related to this case. It's time we let him in on what's going on."

"Yes, your honor," Mr. Short said, extending his arm to invite Mr. Morales to join them.

"Your honor, I have Mr. Brittle's psychiatric report. Dr. Jordan, who filed the report, has also come to see that there are no questions about his findings," Mr. Morales said, as he approached the bench.

"Where is he? Stand up! Step forward please. How say you about the mental health of the defendant, my learned friend?"

Mr. Jordan stepped up beside me looking quite official in his dark blue suit and burgundy tie.

"I've submitted a report and wanted to make myself available if there were any questions. Mr. Brittle has certain typical childhood issues that have impacted him as of late, but his mental health is quite good. He isn't a danger to himself or to society in general."

"He's a pretty normal guy?" the judge said.

"He is, your honor," Mr. Jordan said.

"If that's all you had to say. Thank you for your expertise."

As the judge started chatting with the two lawyers, Dr. Jordan turned to give me a reassuring pat on my shoulder.

"Hi," Francis Crumb said, standing in front of the table. "You want my address, huh?"

"Hi yourself. You set me up for the cops," I said without doubt in my voice.

"Yeah, man, I had no choice. They were holding shit on me. Tagging you got me off the hook. I didn't mean for you to go down on anything. It's the law of the jungle, man."

"Yeah, well, you might be off the hook but I'm not. You know I never touched you," I said.

"Sure, hey, I got something for you. Slim said you'd pay good money for it. This 'll make you feel better."

"What?" I asked.

"Nah, don't work that way. Fifty bucks up front. He told me you'd pay fifty bucks for it," he said, leaning over close to my face.

I reached into my jacket pocket and fished out my wallet. I laid two twenties and two fives on the desk, keeping my hand wrapped around the bills as he fished in his pocket for my purchase.

"I don't think you should be talking to him," Dr. Jordan said, leaning over the desk with us and whispering in my ear as he glanced toward the judge as he spoke to the two attorneys.

Jingling loudly he removed the object, tossing it on the desk next to my hand, Francis collected the fifty dollars and was putting it into his pocket as I looked to see what my money had bought me.

"Your honor, he's talking to the witness. Get away from there. You give the attorney your address. Don't speak to the defendant," Mr. Short vehemently objected to our lack of decorum.

"Mr. Crumb, wait for this attorney and speak only to him, please," the judge ordered.

My eyes focused on the object on the table. It was a set of dog tags. They weren't unlike any pair of dog tags I'd seen made at novelty shops while I was in school. These were different. They were bent and discolored. They looked as though they'd been drug under a car and run over a few times for good measure. Fifty dollars for a set of beat up dog tags. I'd been taken again. Then, I picked them up and read what was pressed into the metal.

>Michael K. Clark, blood type, 0, religion, no affiliation, followed by a long string of numbers, 2393------. Why would the boy think I wanted these dog tags? What was he doing with them? It made no sense to me at all.

It took me a few seconds to digest what I was looking at. The dog tags dropped into my lap when I tried to pick them up. My shirt felt incredibly tight around my neck and the pit of my stomach churned once before the bottom dropped out completely. I felt dizzy and hot and I stood up, thinking it would help me catch my breath and slow my heart, grabbing for the beat up dog tags, they again slipped through my fingers and clattered to the floor, bouncing under the table. I started to bend in order to reach for them and felt all the blood rush to my head. I pushed past Dr. Jordan who stood next to me. I slipped his grasp and moved toward the exit.

"I've got to get out of here. I can't breath," I said weakened. Dr. Jordan bent to retrieve my errant purchase.

I was on my way out of the back doors, when the judge yelled, "Mr. Brittle, this court is still in session. Mr. Brittle take your seat." I heard no more because of the upheaval in the hall as I moved toward the marble stairs. The only thought in my mind was to get to the stairs and outside into the brisk morning air so I could breathe again. Searching for daylight and outdoors when I hit the bottom step, I halfway expected police to stop my escape, but no one seemed interested in my departure.

Being outside was no better than being inside. The exhaust and stale air hung close to the ground, gagging me. My lungs seemed to be deficient of air and lacked the capacity to discover some new source. I stopped to lean against the soiled front of an old gray building, holding my heart and thinking it might burst. I was still dizzy and I felt faint. I needed to get out of Baltimore. The town was closing in on me.

I looked back toward the courthouse thinking someone might be after me, and I went down the next street to make it impossible for them to see me if they did come looking, taking a circuitous route back to where I left my car. I sat behind the wheel shaking. My insides were in turmoil and my brain was in some sludge of a fog. Where to go? What to do? First I had to get out of town.

"Keith," I heard myself say. "Keith?"

It was a shock to see the name of a long dead friend on a set of dog tags. How did anyone know? There was no connection between him and I then and who I was now. He was long gone from Baltimore before I left. When I left Baltimore he was already long dead or so I was told. I'd buried his memory with the memory of my childhood.

Once I was an adult, I moved on, leaving everything to do with my childhood behind me. Keith was only remembered in the context of his name. He was one of the boys in my neighborhood. He was my best friend. He died or so I thought, never having any proof of it. Never having any way to confirm it.

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