A Chance at a New LifebyRalphyNJ©
Note to the reader: For those unfamiliar with the word 'tushy: 'tush' rhymes with 'push'.
The door to the interrogation room opened and Detective Henderson walked in. He dropped a manila folder on the table and sat down, staring at the teenage boy who sat opposite him with arms crossed defiantly.
Scott Henderson's promotion to detective when he was 22, after only a few years on the force, had rankled the other patrol officers at the Third Precinct until they learned that his skillful questioning of witnesses at crime scenes had been crucial in some cases that might otherwise have gone unsolved and therefore the Division Chief had concluded that the young officer would be most useful in an investigative role. This morning, as so many revelers were waking to hangovers and regrets that they had celebrated the arrival of 2008 so immoderately, Scott was completing his first year as a detective.
Minutes passed. It became apparent to the teenager that this man was prepared to sit there staring at him indefinitely. The detective's unrelenting gaze became unbearable; the boy broke his silence. "Jason always tells us not to say nuthin without our lawyer."
"You have a lawyer?"
"He always gets one for us."
"Not this time. He used his one phone call to get a lawyer for himself. It won't do him much good, we have a solid case. He's going to prison; it's just a matter of how many years he'll be spending there. Anyway you don't need a lawyer, the District Attorney isn't interested in raking Jason's crew over the coals. Whoever agrees to testify at his trial won't be charged. Do you want the deal or should I have a lawyer appointed for you?"
The boy uncrossed his arms. "I'll testify. Jason would rat out any of us in a heartbeat."
"Smart decision. What's your name?"
"Not your street name, your real name."
Scott raised the folder and SLAMMED it back down on the table. "IF I HAVE TO PULL INFORMATION FROM YOU BIT BY BIT, THE DEAL WILL BE OFF! Now let's start again. What's your name? Your FULL name. And how old are you?"
For several moments, Alex sat stunned. Then he said: "Alexander Prentice. I'm nineteen."
"Why were you involved with Jason?"
"He paid me more than I could make anywhere else."
"And you needed the money for what? A drug habit?"
"No, I don't do drugs. It was for my mom. My old man split when I was twelve and she took three jobs to support me and my sisters. It was wearin' her down, she looked like hell. By the time I hit thirteen I couldn't stand to see her like that no more so I dropped outta school and went with Jason."
"I was a gofer: You know, go fer this, go fer that, hold his smack in case he got hassled by the cops, those kinda things. The money he paid me made it easier for my mom, she quit one of her jobs."
Scott consulted his folder. "You say you went to work for Jason at thirteen, yet none of you were seen in this area until a month ago. Where have you been for the past six years?"
Scott picked up the folder, rose from his chair and walked to the door. "When you decide to tell the truth, knock on that big mirror. I know just about every city and town in Colorado, there is no Fulton City."
"I AM tellin' the ... did you say Colorado?"
Scott stopped with his hand on the door. "Yes, where did you think you were?"
"Idaho! When Jason moved us I slept most of the way, I didn't know he took us to another state!"
Scott left the room. Half an hour later he came back and said: "Okay there is a Fulton City in Idaho, and their Police Department confirmed that Jason was operating there until last month."
"See, I told ya."
"Yes you did. What you didn't tell me is that you weren't just a gofer. I have your rap sheet, it was faxed to me along with the others. You have an arrest for soliciting. The police say a lawyer got you off on a technicality but the charge was legitimate. Was it?"
"That's covered by the deal, right?"
"The deal doesn't have to cover it. You can't be prosecuted in Colorado for something you did in Idaho. So were you turning tricks?"
"Yeah. Not at first, but a couple months ago I told Jason I needed more money so my mom could get down to one job. He said I'd make a bundle if he pimped me out, because I'm cute and there's men who would pay a lot for a quickie with me. He showed me where I would find the most Johns, and I worked that street almost every night until he moved us. He was right, I did rake it in. I even had money left over after I gave Jason his cut and gave enough to my mom for her to quit her second job. I guess I shoulda saved the extra money insteada pissin' it away on stuff I didn't even care about. I thought there would always be more. I was waitin' for him to finish scopin' out this burg so he could start me here. Hey what town is this?"
"Tilmont. We're three hundred miles from Fulton City. Why did Jason move you?"
"He said there was a cleanup campaign and it made Fulton City too hot for us. Three hundred miles, huh? Jeez."
Scott pushed a pen and a sheet of paper across the table. "Write down your mother's name and address." He made some notes in his folder and added the completed sheet when Alex slid it back to him. "That's all for now" he said, closing the folder. "I'm going to have a police officer take you to a hospital; I want you checked for STDs."
The officer kept Alex at the hospital after his examination, until a doctor came out and spoke to them. Addressing the officer, the doctor said: "You can tell your detective that the blood tests didn't indicate any sexually transmitted diseases." Then, turning to Alex: "That doesn't necessarily mean you're free of STDs, you might be in an incubation period. You should be tested at least twice more during the next six months. At present though, you're reasonably healthy except for being somewhat undernourished and slightly overweight. I suppose you've been living on junk food. Start eating better. And get more exercise."
The officer brought Alex back to the Third Precinct, where Scott told him: "I called your mother. She was relieved to hear that we're not pressing charges. She doesn't know about your sex work, does she?"
"She asked if you'll be coming home."
"Yeah, I will. Now that I'm nineteen maybe I can get a regular job that pays good money."
"You can use my phone to let her know. But you can't leave Tilmont yet, the grand jury is scheduled to hear the charges against Jason tomorrow and you'll have to be available in case there are questions. Then you can leave unless the prosecutor needs to keep you here for the trial. The up side is that as a material witness you get to stay in a hotel."
The only hotels Alex had ever been in were the rundown, 'hotsheet' places where customers would sometimes take him and book a room for an hour or two. Consequently he did not think of a hotel stay as an 'up side' - until he saw this hotel and his room – to him they seemed luxurious. "This place is boss! Thanks!"
"I'll pass your thanks on to the District Attorney" Scott replied. "Her office is footing the bill. That includes your food, and as your minder I'll be eating with you, which means I get to eat free as well."
No longer facing jail, Alex was cheerful and outgoing at dinner. He proved to be a very personable young man. Scott liked him.
Following the meal, Scott took Alex back to the hotel. "I'll pick you up at nine tomorrow morning."
Precisely at 9 AM Alex opened his door to Scott, who immediately told him: "Jason took a plea deal. There'll be no grand jury hearing and no trial, so you can leave this morning. The cross-country bus that comes through at eleven o'clock stops in Fulton City. I'll take you to the bus station after breakfast."
While they were awaiting the arrival of Alex's bus, Alex said: "You used a different credit card at the restaurant today."
"You're very observant. It's my personal card. No trial, therefore you're not a material witness anymore so the District Attorney has stopped paying. Breakfast was a going-away present from me."
Alex smiled at him. "Thank you!"
Never had Scott seen a more captivating smile. It caused him to view Alex for the first time without the narrow focus of a detective scrutinizing a suspect.
It was easy to see why Alex had done well as a rent boy: his clear hazel eyes, wavy chestnut-brown hair, and fresh-looking young face, made him quite appealing.
As Alex climbed onto the bus, he turned and said: "Thanks ... for everything."
Two days later, an officer came to the door of the squad room and called out: "Hey Scott, that kid you sent back to Idaho is in Reception. He's asking for you."
Scott went out to the reception area. "Alex, why are you here, Jason's case is closed."
"A bunch of reporters came to our house first thing this morning. They wanted to interview me. They showed my mom a newswire story about Jason and everybody who worked for him. It had all our names and everything about us. Did you tell them?"
"No! The only one I told the news media about was Jason! He's been arrested a number of times but until now he's always managed to weasel out of the charges. Word must have spread that this time he's not likely to skate, and it probably caused a reporter to go through the police files.
Alex had barely heard Scott's explanation, he was too agitated. "My mom said that when people find out what I did at night they'll treat the family like dirt. She said I had to leave. She said she's gonna take my sisters and move someplace where no one knows us. I asked all my friends' parents if I could stay with them while I look for a room; everybody said no."
"That's a lousy break, I'm sorry. But why did you come back to Tilmont?"
"I couldn't think of no place else to go."
"Alex, the job market in this city has been dead all year, you'd have no way to support yourself. I'll give you the names of some cities where you'll have better prospects."
"I wanna live in Tilmont."
Alex hesitated, but then he answered: "I wanna live near you. You're a good guy, you treat me like I'm not a piece-a-crap."
Scott had to admit to himself that he wouldn't at all mind having Alex nearby. "Alright. Tilmont has a Social Services agency, they should be able to do something for you." He glanced at a wall clock. "It's past their business hours, let's get you to a city shelter for the night."
When they got to the shelter, what they found was a filthy, crowded facility where the men's sleeping quarters consisted of a single room filled with rows of closely-spaced mattresses. Weapons were carried by a few of the ominous-looking characters who roamed the narrow aisles, a fact they made little attempt to hide.
"I can't leave you here" Scott said. "Let's go."
As they walked from the shelter, Alex asked: "What do I do now?"
"I don't know. There's another shelter but I'm sure it's as bad as this one."
"Could I stay at the police station until Social Services gets me set up? I seen empty cells."
"We're not allowed to board anyone who hasn't been charged."
They walked along for a few minutes. Then Alex asked diffidently: "Could I ... maybe ... stay at your place while I wait? I'll sleep on the floor, and I'll pay."
"Even if I were willing to let you stay at my house, how could you pay? I know you have almost no money left and as I told you, jobs are scarce around here right now. If you're planning to make money by turning tricks, don't try it in Tilmont or you will be sleeping in a cell but not as a guest."
"What if I do just enough to pay you? The cops would look the other way if you told them to, wouldn't they?"
"Then how about I pay by servicing you? I would do anything you want. You're gay, right?"
"What makes you think I'm gay?"
With a sly grin, Alex said: "I seen you sneakin' looks at my ass."
Scott laughed. "As I've said, you're very observant."
"So woddaya say? I got lotsa ways to drive you wild before ya cum."
"The answer is no."
"Because exploiting people is against my principles."
"Then where can I go?"
Scott stood thinking. He couldn't very well leave the boy homeless. "Ok you can stay with me for a day or two, while Social Services gets you something. Forget about paying."
At the end of Scott's shift, he took Alex home and showed him to the guest room.
"I appreciate this" Alex said, putting down the duffel bag that held the entirety of his worldly possessions. "How about a blow job?"
"I said forget about paying" Scott reminded him. "That includes not paying with sex." Then, seeing Alex stoop to tentatively feel the carpet, he added: "And did you actually think I'd make you sleep on the floor?"
Alex looked at the bed and smiled as he took a cigarette from the pack he routinely carried in his shirt pocket.
"Don't do that near me" Scott said. "Seeing people smoke makes me sad, I know what it does to them over time. How much do you smoke?"
"About a pack a day. I'll go outside."
The following morning, Scott dropped Alex off at the Social Services office on his way to the precinct. That afternoon, the Desk Sergeant notified him that Alex was back. He went out to Reception. "How did it go?"
"I had to fill out a buncha forms, then I had to wait for somebody to go through them. When I finally got called in they said I'm too old for foster care and I got no kids myself so they don't have nuthin for me. They said I should go to a shelter."
"Wait here" Scott said, "I'll see what I can find."
He went through the precinct asking everyone whether they knew of any organization that helps people who have aged out of foster care. "No luck here either" he reported when he returned. "That leaves only one choice: I'll keep you with me until I find you something. You can pay by doing housework ... and one other thing."
Alex grinned. "Did you change your mind about―"
Scott broke in before Alex could broach the anticipated subject. "You'll study for a GED certificate."
"It's a substitute for a high school diploma. Without it you'll have little opportunity for anything better than scut work. Sooner or later you'll get tired of slaving away for a barely living wage, you'll go back to crime, and before long you'll be serving your first prison sentence. I've seen the pattern, it's a tragic waste. So while you're living in my house I'll require that you study for the test. If you're sensible you'll keep up the study even after you get your own place. Do you need time to consider my offer?"
"No. I'll do it."
"Alright, then you can stay with me until I find you somewhere else to live. To make sure you understand exactly what I expect from you, I'm going to draw up a formal contract."
Scott took Alex to his desk, drafted the contract, and held it out to him. "Let me know if you have questions or if you object to anything."
Alex made no move to take the contract. "I trust you. Give me a pen and I'll sign it."
Scott pushed the contract against Alex's chest. "Read it. Never sign anything you haven't read ... and understood. And always get a copy."
Alex began reading. He looked up. "This says I'll get an allowance."
"That's right. If you have some spending money, you won't need to get it by ... other means."
Alex read the rest of the contract and said that he had no objection to anything.
"Did you note the clause prohibiting you from engaging in any criminal activity, specifically including sex work?"
"Yeah. It's fine with me, I don't want to do that anymore."
Scott took him to the precinct Records Clerk, who was a notary, and they signed in her presence. She skimmed through the document and her eyebrows rose. Having seen Alex's police record when it was telefaxed from Fulton City, she turned to Scott. "I can't notarize any document unless I'm convinced that all signatories are of sound mind. This says you're taking him in. Will you agree to a psych exam?"
Scott raised his hand as if to slap her. "Wise ass."
Smirking, the Records Clerk notarized the contract.
Scott made a copy and gave it to Alex. "This constitutes a legally-binding promise. Don't think that once you're in you can slack off."
"I won't slack off."
At the house, Scott handed Alex some clothes. "These were left by a former (he paused) friend. They'll fit you, he was about your size. Toss out the clothes you've been wearing, they're ready for the rag heap." He pointed to a door. "That bathroom has a shower. After you've changed and stowed your things, come find me and I'll give you a tour of the house."
As Scott was leaving the room, Alex called: "Detective Henderson?"
Scott turned. "Yes?"
"Thanks for the clothes. And thank you for letting me stay here."
"You're welcome. And when we're in the house you can call me Scott."
The last stop on the house tour was the well-equipped exercise room. Alex was awed. "Could I―"
"Yes" Scott answered before Alex had finished his request. "Just put whatever you use back where you found it."
"Settle in. Tomorrow we'll go over your household chores and I'll get you a GED study guide. We'll also need to work on the way you speak: You won't make a good impression at job interviews if you say things like 'I seen' or 'don't have nuthin'. And the word is 'yes', not 'yeah'. Got it?"
"Yeah. I mean yes."
Alex did not slack off: He kept the house clean, read the GED study guide between chores, and every evening after washing the dishes he went through one of the sample tests at the back of the book. Scott let him watch television for an hour on weekdays and three hours on Saturday and Sunday. Their program preferences differed, so Scott never joined him.
One weekend, the TV listings included a film that Alex thought might interest Scott. He said he intended to watch it.
He smiled when Scott came into the living room at the start of the film and joined him on the couch.
As they sat watching the film, Alex slowly inched closer until he was sitting next to Scott. It did not escape Scott's notice; he put an arm around Alex. Alex put a hand on Scott's thigh. Scott kept his eyes on the screen as he lifted the hand, gave it a friendly squeeze, and moved it away.
The message was clear: Scott's enfolding arm was meant as a simple gesture of affection, not a call for anything more. That bewildered Alex: Nothing like this had ever happened to him. His father had largely ignored the children, and although his mother had done her best to provide for him and his sisters after their father left, she was not a demonstrative person: the closest she ever got to affectionate behavior was to grip Alex's shoulder and shake it approvingly when he brought money home. Some of his customers had treated him with tenderness, but that was part of a business transaction. He had come to believe that like everything else in his life, affection had a price. With Scott, however, that rule didn't seem to apply. Scott's arm around him gave him a warm feeling, and it was not merely physical.
He rested his head against Scott's shoulder.
Scott made no objection. They sat that way through the rest of the film.
The GED material was coming easily to Alex. Then he reached the mathematics section. "I'LL NEVER GET THIS!" he shouted in frustration, throwing his pencil on the table.
Scott was sitting across the room, reading. "One of these days it will click in your mind" he said without looking up from his book.
Alex groaned. "No it won't. I just don't get it."
Scott put the book down and walked over to him. "You can do this. I'll go through it with you."