Furlough Blues, Part Three


This is a short story whose creative basis is a song of mine.

It never seemed as if Jerry Lowndes slept. The jail cell wasn’t exactly the Hilton, though neither had been the motel room where he and Laurie had been cavorting. His mind had been alive, considering the depth of the hole and paucity of ways to get out of it, but no solutions had presented themselves. It was going to hit the papers, most notably the one from which he was on furlough and would certainly soon be scuttled. Oh, it would look nice and polite in The Patriot, but other nearby rags wouldn’t be so discreet, and TV would get hold of it the way it usually did, by reading about it in the papers and then blowing it up out of all proportion.

Jerry had to admit, though, the proportion was pretty large.

He must have slept some. It was inexplicable that all the thought had taken up six hours of brooding and despair. If they were dreams, they were full of images of his sobbing daughter, reproachful ex, and the managing editor of The Patriot, who would surely be delighted at the opportunity to erase the sports columnist’s salary from the docket. They wouldn’t care about replacing his job, but they’d be ebullient at replacing his salary, knowing full well they could hire some wide-eyed, apple-cheeked lad, or some similarly guileless lass, to replace him for somewhere between thirty-three and fifty cents on the dollar. Jerry was in the clink. He’d been busted for pot, which was only, by the way, because Laurie had some. He hadn’t smoked weed in pursuit of anything but sex since he was, oh, thirty or so. He saw his predicament for what it was. He’d beaten the odds too many times, skated his way through a license check with his offhand affability, claimed he’d been desperately trying to get home to see a sick child or a dying mother, whatever it had taken to charm his way out of trouble. Jerry, for all his faults, was a charming guy, and, at long last, he had staggered, quite literally, into a fix where charm was irrelevant.

That hanging-in-the-jail-cell option wasn’t looking bad, but it was just Jerry being dispirited. Gallows humor had spiced up his columns on occasion. He wasn’t going to end it all. He just couldn’t figure out a way to make earth much better than hell.

Jerry figured the racket had something to do with breakfast, but the trusty, or jailer, or whoever he was, walked down the hall to where Jerry was thankfully confined alone. He opened the door.

“Lowndes?”

“Yes, sir, that’s me.”

“You’re free to go.”

There wasn’t much to the “processing.” They just gave him back what had been “on his person”: change, wallet, car keys, a plastic room key, a lighter, half a pack of smokes, and two condoms safely packaged and sanitized for his security and convenience.

Seeing Penelope Livermore at the counter would have seemed a miracle. She wasn’t there. A deputy was waiting.

“Jerry, how are you? Been reading your columns for years.”

“Why, thank you, sir.” Jerry was wary and disbelieving. The tag above the badge said the deputy’s name was Shingler. “What’s … the … deal?”

He ought to have been able to do better than that.

Shingler led him through the first of two double doors. The fifteen feet or so between them were vacant and thus private.

“Nothing ever happened,” Shingler said. “All charges dropped. As a matter of paperwork, they never existed.”

“So …”

“You won’t lose your job. If you do, you won’t lose your severance or unemployment eligibility.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“Me, too, Jerry, but you have got a commitment.”

“Oh?”

“Yep,” Shingler said. “I want you to meet me, oh, at, uh, five or thereabouts. I get off at four, you see. You remember the motel room where you got arrested?”

“Vaguely.” Jerry smiled.

“That’s where I’ll be waiting,” Shingler said. “That key in your pocket? It still works.”

“See you at five,” said Jerry, bewildered.

TO BE CONTINUED

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