Walking Into Clouds

by Rick Beck

Chapter 23

People Power

The courtroom had become a battle ground with the state's attorney squaring off against my father, who stood between Mr. Pelham and his desire to punish Cody severely. The only man big enough to demand order in the court sat quietly behind us, watching the near brawl as it broke out.

I'd never seen my father angrier than he was upon seeing Cody's battered face. Clearly in contempt of court, my father and I waited for the Honorable John Henry Robinson to fall on us, but for a reason I'll never understand, he didn't.

At first contemplative while he let us wrangle, he asked to see my father's written communication with Cody's attorney, Mr. Morgan Grant. The judge watched my father write it and hand it to Mr. Grant. He seemed oblivious to the argument between Mr. Pelhan and my father, because he began to sense something larger was at hand.

The judge was correct in the conclusion he reached. The sour words passing between my father and Mr. Pelham were less interesting than my father's message to Cody's attorney. Being a judge, he knew when the attitude in his courtroom changed.

"What did you write on that pad. The judge watched you pass the pad back to Mr. Grant," I said.

" I wrote that Morgan was to file a lawsuit on Cody's behalf if Cody didn't leave the courtroom with us today. I also wrote for him to prepare a statement that we'd distribute to all the media we could get to talk to us. I especially wanted them to get pictures of Cody's face before the legal system squirreled him away in an effort to prevent a media circus developing around his condition after being in the hands of the law for five days. In short, he was to raise hell to get public opinion on Cody's side."

I was sure my father would have gladly met the state's attorney in the middle of the courtroom to fight for Cody's release. I had seen nothing get under my father's skin as much as the orderly march of the legal system. My father wanted to protect Cody and get him out of the hands of people who allowed him to be seriously beaten. What he wrote on the legal pad told Morgan Grant the moves that would follow a bad ruling by the judge.

The courtroom finally fell silent. The judge didn't even have his gavel in hand. He sat on high listening and thinking on ways to disarm the combatants in front of him without starting a riot.

"The recess is over, ladies and gentlemen. The court will come to order. I mistakenly, and wrongly, assumed this hearing would take fifteen minutes. I stand corrected. Because there are so many people here who have Cody's best interests at heart, I intend to hear from each of you. I will make the final decision about what is the proper coarse of action concerning Cody. This has never been in question," John Henry said. "If I make a ruling today, and that is the plan, I better not hear a word from anyone in my courtroom. I am the judge and this is my courtroom. I've shown great restraint not having several of you in custody for your conduct. As this is a hearing, the rules are somewhat more relaxed, but the free-for-all is over. If there are any questions about that, ask them now, because the recess is over and court business will now be conducted."

No one said anything, Mr. Pelham seemed ready to gleefully tattle on my father. "He's standing. He's standing," and my father had stood up to get a better look at Cody's face when he looked up.

John Henry glared at Mr. Pelham. He didn't speak. He glared.

It would have been humorous in high school, but this wasn't high school, and the stakes weren't far too high. I knew my father was taking a stand. He intended to do whatever was necessary to get the right outcome for Cody. He stood to be sure that the judge and the state's attorney understood the message he was sending.

Dad continued to stand and he clearing his throat to be certain there were no more outbursts before he said what he had to say.

"You may speak, Mr. Thomas. I want to see if you intend to assist the defense. It's the proper place to start. Go ahead," the judge said.

"I'm not assisting the defense, your honor. I'm paying for the defense and I intend to find out what happened to Cody. He left my house Friday evening a handsome, motivated, well-mannered young man. He was going into town to sit with a sick friend," my father said.

"Oh, give me a break. I bet he helps little old ladies cross the street, whether or not they want to go," Mr. Pelham said.

The states' attorney's hand came up as if to catch the words before they got to John Henry's ears.

"I'm not standing. I'm not," Mr. Pelham said as he sat down.

"I'm sorry, your honor," he said, trying to redeem himself.

0 Thomas condones? One would think there would be a little more concern for the laws that have been broken by that young man and his transvestite escort, who took him into that bar. Why were they there? Did you know this was where Cody was heading? Sick friend indeed."

Mr. Pelham pointed directly at Cody. He continued looking into the center of the table in front of him.

"Are you standing, Mr. Pelham. Are you yelling at me?" John Henry asked.

"He's standing," Mr. Pelham said, pointing at my father.

"I didn't tell him not to stand, and you, as an officer of the court were given precise instructions that you continue to ignore. Now sit down and shut up, Mr. Pelham. I'll not tell you again," the judge said, after turning a deep shade of red. Mr. Thomas, in all fairness, Mr. Pelham has posed a relevant question. Did you know Cody intended to be in a bar and what reason could he have for being in one."

"Your honor," my father said respectfully. "Mr. Pelham has proved he lacks any sign of decency when it comes to this boy. I can't give you all the players in this drama, but I can tell you that my son knows where Cody was and who Cody was with. My retort to Mr. Pelham is, if Cody was in a bar, he had a good reason for being there. It had nothing to do with alcohol. Why not let my son tell you what Cody left the house to do. He drove Cody last Friday night. Then, if you want to know what took place, once you establish where he was, Cody can tell you if you give him that opportunity. I realize Cody is a juvenile. I realize he has no voice in a hearing that will decide his fate. No voice except the one you give him, your honor."

Cody looked toward my father.

"Sounds reasonable," the judge said. "Mr. Thomas Jr., you have the floor. No outbursts or emotion filled dramatics. You may speak."

"Arthur Vandilla is Trans. She is one of Cody's best friends. She performs under the name of Vanilla at the Review. She impersonates Aretha and Billie Holiday," I said.

"That sounds interesting," John Henry said, putting his hand over his mouth once he said it.

"It does," my father said.

There were titters in the courtroom. None came from Mr. Pelham.

"That is what I know about Vanilla. On Friday evening I took Cody to Floyd Dollar's apartment. I did not go up. Floyd Dollar is a well-known architect. He has been ill since I've known him. He is a quiet intelligent man. Cody has taken me with him to his apartment, before Floyd got sicker, and Cody cooked for him. Vanilla taught Cody how to cook and Floyd does eat what he prepares for him," I said.

"Friday evening I didn't go up to Floyd's apartment. He had become too sick for me to just hang around. The plan was for me to pick Cody up at Floyd's Tuesday morning before work," I said.

"We both work at Hitchcock's Market. It's not a big store and I've worked there since I was thirteen. We needed a part-time stock clerk to help me, and Cody took the job six weeks ago. He didn't miss a day of work until Tuesday. I was very disturbed when Cody didn't meet me as was our agreement. Cody had never missed meeting me where and when he said he'd meet me. It wasn't until Mr. Small looked into Cody's whereabouts that we found out that he was arrested. Then I began to worry that I'd never see Cody again. That's what I know, your honor."

I sat down. Cody was looking at me. His left eye was closed. He had a fat lip and the left side of his face was seriously bruised.

"May I inquire what your relationship with Cody Cozy is?" Mrs. Marcum asked.

I looked at my father. I looked at Cody. I looked at Mrs. Marcum.

"I love him," I said.

"And how old are you?" Mrs. Marcum asked.

"I'll be twenty soon, but I'm nineteen," I said.

"Aren't you a bit old to be hanging around with a sixteen year old?" she asked.

I began to laugh.

"You should ask Cody if I'm too old. He's more mature than I am. He's smarter than I am. He's also talented, if you care about that sort of thing. I've learned a lot from Cody. I'm just glad he doesn't see me as terribly boring," I said.

Cody tried to smile. There was a slight sparkle in his eyes.

Judge John Henry Robinson missed nothing in his courtroom. He listened to every word I said and he knew the entire story about Cody and me without asking a single question, and I didn't care.

How I felt about Cody was on the record.

"I want to hear from Cody now. You can sit and tell us what happened starting Friday night after Clete left you off, Cody," John Henry said. "There will be no interruptions while he speaks."

The judge glared directly at Mr. Pelham.

"I... I found out that Floyd had become seriously ill on Thursday when I talked to my friend Vanilla, after work. I work with Clete at Hitchcock's Market. Vanilla had a busy weekend and she asked if I'd sit with Floyd, because she worried he might be nearing the end and she didn't want him alone," Cody said, swallowing hard.

Mr. Grant poured a glass of water from a pitcher in the middle of the table. Cody took the glass from him and drank, closing his eyes as the swallowed the water.

"Floyd was the worst I'd seen him. I was frightened that he'd die on me. I love Floyd. I've known him for a few years. He's always been nice to me, no matter how sick he was," Cody said.

"I tried to get him to eat some soup, but he refused it. I fixed him a cold glass of ginger ale. It was one of the few things that kept nausea away," Cody said.

"Why didn't you dial 9-1-1?" John Henry asked. "Get him somewhere that could take care of him."

"Floyd doesn't want to die in a hospital. He specifically has let us all know, he doesn't want that. I wouldn't go against that, but I was very scared. I sat with him through the night. I couldn't sleep. His breathing became more and more labored. I was sure he might die, but Saturday morning his breathing became easier. I was sure the crisis had passed and while he slept I made chicken soup. There were pieces of chicken from a meal I fixed him Tuesday evening. He didn't eat much so there was plenty of chicken for soup," Cody said.

"Floyd didn't wake up by the time he'd usually be awake. I sat beside his bed and listened to him struggling to breathe. That afternoon I did dial 9-1-1. The rescue squad is a couple of blocks away. They took him to Memorial. I went in the squad with him. I sat with him in the emergency room, but they tried to run me out. I wanted to be there if he woke up. I wanted to tell him that I couldn't stand it any longer. I had to get him help. Maybe if they saved him, he'd come back again, be OK for a few more months or even longer."

Cody drank more water and he felt his fat lip with careful fingers.

"After Floyd was seen in the ER, he was sent to the hospital's ICU. They wouldn't even let me in the door. I was told to go home and check on Monday morning when regular hours would begin with the new week. There would be no visitors allowed until then. I walked to Vanilla's from the hospital. I was lucky that Vanilla was home. I told her about Floyd and she said I did the right thing. Floyd could get better and he belonged in the hospital. We'd visit him Monday or after I got off from work on Tuesday," Cody said.

"But you didn't call the Thomas's to tell them where you were," John Henry asked with concern.

"I didn't have their phone number. Clete and I were always together. He never thought to give me the number and I never thought to ask for it. I knew where to meet Clete on Tuesday morning and I wanted to be with Vanilla because we were Floyd's closest friends," Cody said.

"Vanilla was finishing a gown that one of the other performers at the Review would wear on Sunday afternoon's performance. Vanilla was going to introduce a new Billie Holiday song. She sang it for me a few times. She has a lovely voice. She's building quite a following at the Review. People come from all over just to hear Vanilla."

"That's quite a range," John Henry said, stopping himself in mid-thought. "Why those two singers? They are nothing alike."

"Vanilla says her voice is more similar to Aretha's voice. It's easier singing her songs the way Aretha sings them, but Billie Holiday is a piece of her. She says she doesn't really sing Billie's songs. Billie Holiday lives inside of her and inside of her songs. It's how she explained it to me."

"Quite amazing," John Henry said. "Go on, Cody. You're doing fine. We want to hear what happened at the Review on the Sunday morning in question."

Mr. Pelham glared at the judge during this exchange. When the judge got to the events that took place at the Review, Pelham smiled.

"Vanilla had two gowns to carry to the Review. One was for her and one was for Barbra Streisand. I don't know her street name. I told Vanilla I'd carry one of the gowns and that way she wouldn't need to take a cab and spend money she didn't have. She agreed and we got to the Review around ten thirty. We carried the gowns in and hung them up in the dressing room where the performers dressed. When I walked back out of the entertainment area, I encountered a cop who seemed mad as a hornet. He began manhandling me in an attempt to put handcuffs on me. Vanilla came between me and the cop when I turned out of his reach. She was trying to explain what I was doing there," Cody said.

"You were about to leave when you were accosted by the officer?" John Henry asked.

"No, I intended to watch Vanilla and Barbra rehearse their numbers. Then I was going to leave. It's the only time I get to see Vanilla in costume while she sings."

"You didn't know it was illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to be in a place that serves alcohol?" John Henry asked.

"Sure! The bar wasn't open. The bar is closed on Sunday mornings so the girls can rehearse. Big Lil doesn't want anyone getting a gander at the performances without paying to see them. The bar opens at noon. I'd have been gone long before the alcohol was served, and they don't sell alcohol where the stage is. The customers can come into the entertainment area with a drink, but they can't buy drinks in the entertainment area. Big Lil thinks it's safer that way," Cody said. "Those things along with the fact I don't drink should mean something. I don't drink because my father was a drunk and I don't want to be anything like him."

"Do you know the hours liquor is sold at the Review, Mr. Pelham?" John Henry asked.

"Doesn't matter, your honor. The establishment serves liquor. A minor child, such as Cody, is forbidden to be where alcohol is being sold. It's an open and shut case. He needs to be punished," Mr. Pelham said. "Then he'll stay out of bars until he is of legal age."

"Your honor, I can answer your question if you like," Luther Small said from behind me. "I talked to Big Lil yesterday, during my investigation of what happened to Cody."

"Ah, Mr. Small, we haven't heard from you yet. This is not a trial. It is a hearing. So I will let you tell me what you know about this incident. You are a licensed investigator I assume?"

"I am, your honor. For the past seven years," Luther said.

"I'll take your word for it," John Henry said. "Go on."

"It be double hearsay, your honor, but I talked to Big Lil. She owns the Review. She talked to the people who were present while Cody and Vanilla were being arrested. I can tell you what Big Lil said."

"I'll accept that. You talked to the owner of the Review," John Henry said. "I can request she appear in front of me if I need any clarification. Go ahead, Mr. Small."

"Big Lil got a summons from the same police officer, Officer Lansdale for the record. She talked to her staff and she was told the gate that separates the bar from the entertainment area was closed and padlocked. She was told that Officer Lansdale barged into the Review from the backdoor. He'd seen Cody enter the bar with Vanilla. When Cody came out of the entertainment area, Officer Lansdale arrested him. When Vanilla tried to explain that the bar was closed and Cody was only helping her carry gowns into the establishment, she was thrown to the floor and arrested for interfering with an officer. Big Lil was pretty PO'ed about the entire deal. She was certain her license would at least be reviewed and she didn't care what Vanilla and Cody were doing, they shouldn't have done it in her bar."

"Changes the complexion of things a bit," John Henry said.

"Changes nothing in the eyes of the state," Mr. Pelham said.

"If Cody drank, he couldn't get a drink if the bar was closed and padlocked," dad said. "Don't you have any empathy, Mr. Pelham?"

"The state doesn't have empathy. We have laws and laws need to be enforced. Officer Lansdale did his duty and enforcing the law."

"Why do I recognize the name Officer Lansdale?" John Henry asked.

"I'm sure I don't know," Mr. Pelham said without being asked.

"I can answer that," Luther Small said, standing back up.

"You are full of information. What do you know about the officer?" John Henry asked.

"Officer Lansdale has been involved in two infamous raids on the Review. Both times the charges in the two cases were dropped for lack of evidence. Officer Lansdale also arrested Cody Cozy two years ago. The case was also dropped because of lack of evidence. He seems to have a history, your honor. Pardon me for saying so."

"I'd say. Mr. Pelham, what say you on Officer Lansdale."

"He's a zealous officer who cares about the law, your honor," Mr. Pelham said.

"Maybe a bit overzealous when it comes to Transgender folks?" John Henry asked.

"I think not, your honor. He's a good officer," Mr. Pelham said.

"I'm sure you do. I find this story troubling. A young man leaves the Thomas house to go to help a friend. This friend is quite ill and he ends up in the hospital," John Henry said.

"We should check out the facts, your honor. What is the name of this mysterious friend," Mr. Pelham asked.

"Floyd Dollar," Cody said. "He's at Memorial hospital, or was the last time I saw him."

"He was released from Memorial yesterday, your honor, and Floyd is resting at home," Luther Small said.

"The Architect?" Mr. Pelham questioned. "He's got...."

The states' attorney sat down and shut up.

"AIDS," John Henry said. "You can say it, Mr. Pelham. I hardly think you can catch it by saying the word AIDS."

"He's HIV+. Once the drugs became available it changed the nature of AIDS," Mrs. Marcum said. "I've heard Mr. Dollar speak about being infected early in the epidemic. There were a tiny number of men with AIDS who never took ill. They carried the virus but never got sick. Mr. Dollar was one of those. The years, the wear and tear the drugs take on the body have him sicker now than he's ever been, but I know him. I take Cody's word for the events he described. He is prone to silence but not to lying as far as I can tell."

"Thank you, Mrs. Marcum," John Henry said. "While were at it. Does this boy need to be in custody, or do you think he should be allowed to carry on with the life he seems to have built out of hard times. Should I be punishing or complimenting him."

"He works. He seems to be living with a properly functioning family," Mrs. Marcum said. "Being in a bar that wasn't open and the fact he doesn't drink indicates his arrest was unfortunate. We have many children in our custody at present, adding more when there's no reason to do so will simply mean no more pressure applied to the system in this case. It would be my recommendation."

"He's studying to take his GED. My mother was a teacher and she's getting him ready to take the test. She says he could pass it but there are still things she hasn't covered in the book they sent," I said.

"It confirms the positive influence this family has on Cody," Mrs. Marcum said.

"How do we know he doesn't drink," Mr. Pelham said. "All teenagers drink. You're jumping to conclusions on the word of a child. I realize Mother Teresa is dead, so Cody ain't her. He needs to be punished and that's why he's here."

"He told us the truth," Mrs. Marcum said. "In spite of what's written about homeless youth, I find they are honest for the most part, if you are respectful to them. Sometimes, if we are willing to listen, they tell us what we need to know. Treat them like they are criminals and they'll act accordingly. Because a child has bad parents doesn't make him bad. A child on the street because of bad parents isn't going to be attending school. If the system was more flexible, more responsible to homeless children, we'd allow them to enroll in school, where they can take advantage of their potential. Locking them up for failing to be in school is counterproductive. Cody no more belongs in jail than you do, Mr. Pelham, and that's what I decided after having all of an hour with him before the hearing today."

Mrs. Marcum was direct and to the point.

"My sentiments too, Mrs. Marcum," John Henry said. "I participate in the punishment of abused children and I don't like it. A little TLC might turn a lot of them into productive citizens. Locking them up is barbaric, but we don't have the money to care for them, so we say that holding them is beneficial, when it isn't. Calling them delinquent for having bad parents is unfortunate. The youth on our streets are a far different problem, requiring a far different solution than orphaned children or children removed from bad parents who can't care for them because of mental illness, drugs, or alcohol," John Henry said.

"It seems there are more and more homeless kids each year and declaring them delinquent for not going to school or for failing to live with their parents, who have failed parenting, simply fills our institutions. Children shouldn't be punished for fleeing bad homes. If they are thrown out of those homes, there should be services to help, not hurt them," John Henry said to Mr. Pelham.

"It's a problem that could use some scrutiny, but as long as there are funding cuts for the most essential human needs, the problem of homeless children becomes more acute, and it's another way we use law enforcement is solve social ills. We don't solve these problems, we get them out of sight. We fill our institutions with our problems, except our institutions are becoming budget busters, and the people's problems still haven't been addressed," Mrs. Marcum said. "I can't tell you where Cody fits into this comedy of avoidance, because I know nothing about him. How do I recommend a best course of action?"

"Your honor, picking the wrong parents shouldn't cost a child like Cody a chance at having a good life," Mr. Grant said. "The idea it does is reprehensible, your honor, and you know it. Cody has managed to make a like for himself, don't punish him for it. If you do, we'll fight you every step of the way. He deserves better."

Mr. Pelham had turned an interesting shade of pink, but he didn't say anything about what his adversaries had to say.

"I've heard all I need to hear concerning Cody being in a place that serves alcohol. I am leaning toward asking the state's attorney to vacate this charge. It's the only thing between the boy and his freedom," John Henry said. "I have one condition to impose. I'd like Mr. Thomas to be responsible to see that Cody keeps on the right path. Mr. Thomas, are you willing to be responsible for Cody?"

"Your honor, I don't like it. I don't think this case has been resolved," Mr. Pelham said.

"It's resolved when I say it is, Mr. Pelham. May I show Mr. Pelham what you wrote on the legal pad now?" John Henry asked.

"By all means," dad said.

"Mr. Pelham, approach. You wanted to read this a half hour ago. You should read it before you decide to say anything else," John Henry said.

Mr. Pelham read. He looked at Mr. Grant. Then he looked at my father. He placed the legal pad back in front of the judge.

"I have no objections. The state has no charges it wishes to pursue against Cody Cozy.

"Vanilla?" Cody asked. "She didn't do anything but try to explain the situation to the cop. He slammed her on the floor and handcuffed her. I don't know if she still has a job but Big Lil won't raise a finger to help her," Cody said.

"Mr. Pelham?" John Henry said.

"I'll see the charges are dropped and that she is released from custody," Mr. Pelham said with resignation. I think it is in the best interest of the state to remove the summons for the owner of the Review and I'll consider the matter closed."

My father stood to answer the judge.

"Your honor, you've asked me to take custody of Cody. I'm aware of how he has been abused. At thirteen his drunken father beat Cody half to death. He told his son that he'd kill him if he ever saw him again. It's not the kind of parting gift one expects to give his child. My son met Cody a few months ago. He brought him home and introduced us to him. He added a spark of energy that hadn't been present in my house since Clete was a boy. Cody isn't only smart and handsome, he's talented as well," dad said.

"Cody has taken a terrible situation and he found a way to survive it. My son has told me about Vanilla and Floyd, and there's a man who taught him how to use his talent to entertain people. These are extraordinary people. How a thirteen year old boy can find his way to not only survive a terrible situation but to learn and thrive is no less than remarkable. I don't know Vanilla or Floyd but I bet they're the salt of the earth. You want me to take custody of Cody and you'll release him today, but I've spoken to Cody's attorney about this. I want him to explain it, because he knows the law. He looked into it for me, once I realized Cody's future might depend on Mr. Grant. Morgan," my dad said.

Morgan Grant stood at the defense table.

"Your honor, in view of what has been said here, and in view of what has been done to Cody, I move to have a hearing to emancipate Cody Cozy. He has done a remarkable job of taking care of himself. The state has had custody of him for five days and he looks like he's been used as a punching bag. There should never be another situation where Cody finds himself in the hands of people who cannot or will not protect him. I'd further move, since you are familiar with Cody's case, that you handle his emancipation hearing. I think this is the proper resolution. This will assure that the Cody Cozy matter ends in your court. Thank you, your honor."

Mr. Pelham gritted his teeth and remained silent.

John Henry sat back in his chair.

"The young man has a birthday tomorrow," John Henry said. "I suppose it wouldn't be imprudent to give him an early gift. I'm releasing Cody to the custody of Mr. Thomas and I'll schedule the emancipation hearing for next Wednesday afternoon at 1 p.m. This court's adjourned," the judge said.

John Henry disappeared through the door behind his dais.

I wasn't sure what just happened.

All I wanted was to get my hands on Cody.

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