Sample chapter from Jimmy’s
~End of Innocence~
1977 Mad Dog 20/20
“Don’t you move! Don’t even flinch or we will shoot you!!” is what I woke up to.
“What the fu—” My eyes came open to see three different guns pointed at us. All of them were revolvers, with big open holes at the ends of their barrels and big slugs showing in their cylinders.
We had slept hard, the owners had come in earlier just to look at the place and found all the cigarette butts we’d left in the front of Terry’s cabinet and where Melvin and me had been sitting. Then he had followed, little, slimy, puke spots all the way back to where he discovered us sound asleep. At which point, he went and called the law.
“Come out of there you two. With your hands up,” a burly uniformed flatfoot ordered.
Between the cops’ opposing aftershaves of Brute and Old Spice, and the stench of died vomit that emanated from Terry, I felt nauseous. No more Mad Dog for me either, I thought as I came stumbling out of the closet.
“How did you boys break in here?” they asked next.
“I didn’t break in, there’s a piece of cardboard over a hole in the window by the back door. I just reached in and opened it. I didn’t break anything,” I said. The homeowner confirmed that I was telling the truth so the officers decided to only charge us with trespassing and hauled us off to the El Paso Juvenile Detention Center.
Terry’s parents came and got him and before I could figure a way out of there, Kelly, my city caseworker sprung me, picking me up in her little, brown, 5-speed Renault. She knew my troubles at home and told me that if she wasn’t afraid of getting in trouble that she would just let me come live with her. But, instead, she took me to a group home that they were just opening. She told me that some other kids and me would be the first ones in it.
When I got there, I knew the place could never hold me. It did have an eight-foot fence around it, but it was just a, single story building with two regular wings to it. Plain white brick and stucco. It must have been a converted clinic or office building in another life, because other than some heavy duty grates on the outside of the windows, and of course that fence, there were no other visible obstacles to overcome.
Once inside, I could see the walls were covered in dark wood paneling and there was a tight knit, blue-gray carpet throughout. A step up from the concrete walls and tiled floors of the few other juvy places I’d been. I found out that one of the winged hallways was for housing boys and the other for housing girls. There was a common dayroom and kitchen area in the center. Right off of the dayroom was also where the staff had their offices, so they would be in a strategic place to ensure that there were not any infractions of the ‘No fraternization between the male and female residents’ rule going on. As if you could keep teenage boys and girls apart in the same building with anything short of a machine gunner and concertina wire. And with me in the picture, that might not even be enough. Girls… they had climbed right up to the top three of my priorities list; right up there with showing off and bucking authority.
Kelly wasnt kidding about it just opening. This was the second night that they’d had kids in the place and they only had three other boys and two girls.
The girls Roxy and Beth, were both fifteen and both, very pretty. Beth, may have had a slight edge on Roxanne in that department with her doe shaped dark eyes and long brown waves, which fell down the middle of her back. Roxy had shoulder length blonde hair, and ocean blue eyes. She was shorter than Beth, but I could tell right off was the stronger. They were friends on the ‘outside’ from the westside of the mountain and were there together. Roxy, was the more brazen of the two and the tougher nut to crack, so naturally she was the one I liked the most. However, with them not knowing me and finding out that I was only thirteen, Ben and Jerry being fourteen, and the only older boy, Derrick who was sixteen—but a complete dork, the girls were a little snooty. Still flirty, but with an air of superiority that they thought their age automatically entitled them too. However she acted, I knew Roxy, and maybe Beth also for that matter, still liked me. But, me being the youngest and the other boys — you could tell Roxy went out with, were probably a couple years older than her, Roxy was stuck putting on her uppity front.
Well, age is really only relative to the years you’ve been alive and in no time it was obvious that I was not your average thirteen year old. My life experiences had me at every bit of sixteen and a fairly streetwise sixteen at that, or at least that’s what I thought anyway. Not that we weren’t all a little beyond our years in our own ways; except maybe Derrick, but now thinking back on it, probably him too. Different kids had different things going on growing up and some had it a whole lot worse than I did, but not everyone responds to their issues of life in the same ways or develops through them with the same attitude.
Anyway, all I’m saying is that I fit in right away and actually after looking over the windows in our rooms, I was the architect of a great master plan to escape the bonds of oppression and tyranny that ‘the man’ was subjecting us to. Because I did not like to conform, or be confined by societys conceptions of what was acceptable or unacceptable behavior for me… (sound of a record scratching!) Okay, okay, thats bullshit. The truth be told, I just thought it would be cool for us all to disappear between one bed-check and another; leaving the house parents/guards to find not a single one of us in their place. Thereby, proving that I was smarter than them — ha.
Jerry and Ben became my immediate friends and co-conspirators. They went to work on Derrick, while I was able to pull up on Roxy and Beth in the Dayroom.
They were just standing there together giving me the eye as I walked up in my most confident swagger. “Hey, Tough Girl,” I directed at Roxanne. “I think I can get those screen-gates open on our windows. Do you want us to come around tonight and get you guys, so we can all get the hell out of here?”
Beth looked at Roxy, worry drawing her brows together, “I dont know Rox—”
“Thats what I thought. Never mind,” I said, cutting her off, and starting to turn away…
“Oh yeah, Tough Boy, if you can get us out, hell yeah we’ll go,” Roxy shot back, defiantly sticking out her chin.
I stopped and looked at them.
“But Roxanne, were already in trouble,” Beth interjected. She seemed almost fragile, furtively glancing over Roxanne’s shoulder.
“Dont worry, Beth. Jimmy here is more blow than show I’ll bet.” Rox said it to her, but was staring at me with a challenging glint in her bright blue eyes. As if to say — there it is, show us what you got!
“Fair enough,” I countered, “but if I show up at your window tonight, you two are coming, right? And… I get a kiss,” I added with a cocky but sincere grin.
“I dont know about the kiss, but we’ll come. I pinky swear,” Roxanne said and held up her hand with her pinky finger sticking up.
What? Oh well, I hooked her pinky in mine, shaking it and then moving away, because the staff was starting to pay too much attention to our low-toned conversation. I heard Beth say: “What if he does? Can we go home and check on…”
I moved too far out of earshot to hear anymore, or Roxanne’s reply.
No sooner than we had made our little pinky pact then the staff sent us to our own wings for the night. There were six two-person rooms in each wing three on each side. Roxanne and Beth were in the same room, the last one on the right. Jerry and Ben stayed in a room together also, theirs was the last one on the left at the end of our hall. Derrick and me were roommates, right across the hall from them.
When I stepped into the room, Derrick said, “Jerry told me that you can get those window louvers off and get us out of here. Is that true?”
Derrick was the oldest, and the biggest. But, he had a slack look in his face and fat lips that reminded me of this goofy German kid I rememberd when I lived over there. With his wispy blonde hair, he just looked — off.
“If I can, are you gonna go?” I asked.
“Well, I want to go to my grandmothers. Shes sick and my mom and dad don’t care. They could come get me out of here if they wanted to, but I’ve gotta know I can make it before I try. If I got caught and ended up in more trouble without seeing her, it would make my grandma worry and get worse,” he told me. I could see genuine concern in his pale eyes, while he fidgeted with his hands. Derrick was a geek, but I get the grandmother thing. Maybe, he actually wasn’t such a dork after all.
“Look out the door,” I said. “If no one is coming, I’ll show you, then you can decide. Jerry and Ben will be over here after the cop looks in on us. Then were leaving. Come, or stay, its up to you.”
Derrick stepped over to the door, looked out, and then came to stand beside me. The window was closed and I wasn’t going to open it this close to count. But, if you knew where to look you could see clearly enough through the pane, my pre-emptive strike on the gate that covered our windows.
It was a screen/louver combination. It had a metal frame, with a screen attached to the inside and two or three-inch wide metal louvers, on the outside, that slanted down for rain to run off. These were spaced about every three inches or so giving us a real nice view of the ground. The whole thing was attached to the window frame with normal, free-swinging hinges, so it could be opened to clean the windows from the outside. The other side was secured with pad locks at the top and the bottom. The whole thing wasnt all that well thought out to begin with, but on the face of it, I guess it seemed secure enough for kids.
I pulled a flat butter knife I had swiped from the kitchen area, out of the side of my pants. “You see?” I asked, pointing to the hinges through the glass with it’s rounded end.
“I don’t see anything…” he said with a stupid look on his face.
Maybe he was a dork after all, I thought. “The hinges, dummy.”
He finally saw what I was showing him. The hinges were just screwed to the outside of the window frame, straight across to the frame of the gate, leaving the hinge accessible in the middle. In the case of our hinges, you could see that there was only half a hinge pin still holding either of the two hinges together. The rest of the pin was sticking up, ready to be easily pulled when it was time to go.
“Oh heck! How did you do that?” he asked.
I said: “With this,” and slapped Derrick in the chest with the end of the butter knife. “Jeez, Derrick! You cant be that dumb.” I then told him that we needed to act like we were trying to go to sleep when the staff came around to check on us. So we took our shirts off and climbed into our beds with the rest of our clothes on, and lay there under our blankets to wait.
“Im not dumb,” Derrick mumbled quietly from his bed.
“What?” I questioned.
“Im not dumb, Jimmy. Its just my dad doesnt talk to me or do anything with me. My grandpa used to try to show me things, but he died. My father doesnt even like me around, so I just dont know stuff.”
Oh man, I thought, I dont want to like this kid, but. I get the dad thing too. “I didn’t mean it, Derrick, and I’m sorry about your granddad, and your pop. Now hush.”
“Okay. Can I still leave with y’all?” he asked.
“Yes, now be quiet before they come.” I laid there for a few minutes before the house parents came, thinking about which was worse, being beaten by your dad, or being completely ignored.
The door opened.
I rolled over and looked at the, short, barrel-chested Mexican that was working that night. “The light stays off after 10 p.m! And no talking!” He said full of attitude.
Sure thing, dick-weed, I thought as he closed the door. I heard him open Ben and Jerry’s door and announce the same set of rules to them. I was going to enjoy burning this guy and the girl working with him wasn’t much different. The only thing that would make it better, is if we had a full house to take out of here with us, leaving them with their thumbs up their asses.
When I heard him go into the bathroom down the hall, I was up putting my shirt back on. “Come on, ‘D’. Get up,” I was saying, about the time Jerry and Ben came creeping in. Those two were no slouches, they were right up there with me on the ‘getting down to business’ scale. “You guys come here and help me,” I said while I slid the window open as silently as I could. I had already shown them what was up. So, when I reached out with my butter knife to knock the pins the rest of the way out, Ben grabbed the bottom of the frame and Jerry grabbed the top to keep it from falling. The top pin came right out, the bottom one we had to wiggle a little. When the pin was free, the hinges slid apart.
“Get out there, Derrick and hold the screen so it dont make no noise,” I directed. I felt the breeze on my face and caught a sent of city nighttime smog, as we pushed the grate out.
“Why do I have to be first?” he whined, stepping back with a look on his face like I’d just asked him to kiss his sister.
“Oh for f***s sake! Because you’re the biggest dickhead. Never mind, you’ll probably screw it up anyway, I snapped at him. You all give me a little gap so I can slide through and I’ll hold it for you from the outside,” I told my other two cohorts.
They leaned out and gave me some room and I slipped up onto the windowsill, turned around facing them, and slid down between the screen frame and the wall. Once I was out, I grabbed hold of the gate and pulled it open using the pad locks as surrogate hinges. The screen still didn’t want to open far, but it was more than enough for Ben, Derrick and Jerry to come through. Once we were all out Jerry slid the window shut from the outside. For a second I tried to stick the hinges back together and realized that we were lucky not to have made any noise so far as it was. Not wanting to push our luck, I just closed it as far as it would go and let it down slowly until it caught on the locks. I left it there hanging, cock-eyed and sprung.
I turned and could see by the moonlight the excited smile on Ben and Jerry’s faces. I grinned back. I loved being out at night when I wasn’t supposed to be. Derrick, on the other hand, just looked scared. I felt kind of sorry for him, but damn he was a weenie.
“Lets go get the girls out,” I said.
“Why?” Derrick asked. “Lets just get out of here.”
I looked at him. “Derrick, you need to take off now. Go and see your grandmother, because I’m liable to beat you up if you don’t,” I threatened him quietly. Derrick had a hurt look on his face, that I felt a little pang of guilt over. But, really…? We all ran quietly around the building to the other wing, where Roxanne and Beths window was.
Their window covers were the same setup. I even had easier access to the hinges from the outside than I did from the inside. I tapped on the girls window lightly with the tip of the butter knife and before Roxy could even get to the window to open it, we heard the racket of someone going over the fence behind us. Son-of-a-bitch! What a selfish prick I thought, as Jerry, Ben, and I, froze in our spots listening to make sure that the noise Derrick had made going over the fence, hadn’t been heard.
Everything seemed all right, but we needed to hurry. Roxy cracked the window.
“Is that you, Jimmy?” she asked.
“Who else are you expecting, there Einstein?” I asked, smiling at her through the small gap. “Is it cool? Weve gotta hurry.”
She told me that the female staff member had checked on them five or ten minutes before, so I went to work on her bottom hinge. When I got it started, I just pulled it all the way out.
“Pretty slick there, Mr. Jimmy,” I heard Roxanne say from inside. Come on, Beth. He’s got this.”
Beth was already standing beside Roxy, stuffing some of their junk in a bag, not looking hesitant at all now. I couldn’t reach the top hinge from the ground, so instead of messing with it, I just had Jerry help me pull the bottom of the grate out while Ben kept watch. This bound up the top hinge and the pad locks, but we were able to make a foot and half gap for the girls to shimmy through. Beth came out first with Rox bringing up the rear. When they were both clear, I reached under and slid their window shut as well. I was hoping, when the staff checked on us next, that it would take the two androids who were standing watch over us a few panicked and confused minutes to figure out that we were even gone from the building.
“Wheres the other one?” Beth asked.
“What?” I looked at her, confused.
Her and Roxanne were even prettier out here in the moonlight. They seemed to glow from the inside adding to the effect. They had changed into t-shirts, jeans and tennis shoes. I smiled, Roxanne knew I was coming. In this light they kind of looked like a couple of Charlies Angels. Roxanne’s blond hair was cut a lot like Farrah Fawcetts was back in the day and Beth had the Jaclyn Smith thing going on.
“Yeah, where is the bigger kid? I thought we were all going,” Rox followed up on Beth’s question.
“He already split,” I said.
“Shit…” Ben told them, “Jimmy told that dork to hit the road, cause he didn’t want to come get you guys.”
“Really? Thanks for not leaving us. Heres your kiss,” Roxanne said giving me a quick peck on the lips. “You earned that, I guess.”
“Whatever,” I said, “I want a real kiss, but lets get out of here first.”
Ben and Jerry were already finding the best and quietest place to go over. It wasn’t hard. It was just a regular, although tall, chain-link fence, with no barbed or concertina wire at the top and no gun towers with spotlights. Terry said the corner would make the least noise, so over the fence we went.
Once on the other side, we all ran down the block, keeping mostly to the shadows as we went. We come up on a park and cut down into it. We held up when we found a fairly secluded spot near a rock garden, which was also shielded from the moonlight by a few trees.
“Okay, where are we going?” Ben asked.
“I dont know where youre going,” Roxanne said, “but me and Beth are going back over the mountain. Everybody we know is over there and Beth needs to check on her mom, she drinks a lot and she needs to make sure shes alright.”
“Don’t tell them that, Rox. They don’t need to know—” Beth was saying, when Roxanne cut her off.
“Beth, honey, it ain’t no secret. Besides, we’ve all had parent problems, I’d bet.”
“You got that right,” Ben and Jerry said, almost at the same time. Jerry went on to say, “With me its my dad. He stays drunk since my mom died. Sometimes I’d find him passed out on the couch. He’s got a half a dozen scars on his chest where cigarettes have burned holes through his shirt to his skin. He pisses himself a lot and a couple times he even shit his pants. I’d tell him ‘Come on, Dad’ and try to clean him up, and he’d try to fight me and not even know it. He’d tell me how much he loved my mother and cry. Its sad. I love him, but I can’t deal with it, or stay with him, so I leave him to my aunt.”
“Really,” Beth asked. I could see that she was looking at Jerry a little bit differently; kind of warmly, even. Huh? Go figure, I thought. Jerry wasnt ugly, but he wasnt a good looking guy either. He had shaggy brown hair like mine, however, he was kind of, long and gawky. Nevertheless, Jerry was a good kid and I could tell hed sparked something in Beth.
Ben was short and stocky with hair cut down, damn near, to a crew cut. He didn’t elaborate on his problems and neither did I. Even though, Roxy looked at me when she made her comment, like she kind of wanted to know my story…
Instead, I said: “Well, don’t you think they’ll look for you over there?”
“Nah,” she answered. “We were just in there because we got caught shoplifting and they couldn’t get a hold of Beth’s mom, and my parents don’t even live here anymore.” She looked down and kicked a piece of gravel that had fallen out of its place in the garden. It was a nice night and somewhere not far off, I heard a nightbird calling out.
“What do you mean they don’t live here anymore,” I asked. “Where did they go?
“She looked back to me, I guess they went back to Colorado. I was a run-away when they left. Now I mostly live with my friend Julie and her mom.”
“Damn, Roxanne. That was a sorry thing to do,” I said, the other two boys seeming to agree. I thought I saw a darkness flicker across Roxanne’s face.
“Not really,” she shrugged, faining indifference. “My dad drank, too, but he didn’t pass out, let’s just say I’m glad they’re gone. Besides, my boyfriend is going to marry me when he turns eighteen and none of this will matter.”
Boyfriend? No wonder shes a tough nut to crack. She thinks shes in love with someone else, I thought. It kind of sucked since I liked her, but now I knew she liked me, too. She wasnt to good for me, she just had a boyfriend!
“Okay. I say we stick together; for now anyway, and try to get the girls home. What about you guys?” I asked the other two.
“Its a long way to the other side of the mountain,” Ben replied, then he grinned. “We need to steal a car or something.” I’ll give you three guesses as to why he was in the group home. However, I agreed with him.
Jerry, shyly shuffling from foot to foot, peered over at Beth. “I think we definitely should stick together,” he said. It was hard to tell in the limited light, but I believe that tall gangly kid – was blushing.
So, having made the decision, I breathed in deeply, savoring the scent of the night. Under the trees in this little oasis the aroma was of green yucca plants, although, it was still laced with the bitter bite of the unerlying concrete and asphat of the city. But it smelled like freedom, nonetheless. We looked off toward the dark horizon. Where, we could make out the even darker shape of the mountain that we had to cross… every bit of ten miles away.
TO BE CONTINUED……