Friday, November 05, 2004

Chapter One, continued

Martha looked down at her hands, twisting her wedding ring around and around. She wasn't really there. She wasn't anywhere. Martha had left a long time ago.

She wondered where she went. And why.

No, she knew why.

But she did wonder if she would ever find her way back again.


Detective Arnold jumped in excitedly, boiling over with enthusiasm. "What d'you mean, you've been expecting this? Is your mother a violent person? Have you witnessed acts of violence from her before or have you yourself been ..."

Detective Bronson stepped quickly inbetween Detective Arnold and Abe. "Now, Detective, that's not really ... uh, we're not going to go there, okay? Listen, it's been a long day for everyone." He put his arm around Abe and started to steer him out, toward the lobby. "I'm sure Abe just wants to do what he has to do, to get his mother taken care of as best and as fast as he possibly can. Right, Abe?"

Abe was putting one foot in front of the other, shaking his head, hanging his head, so sad, so sad.

He was sick. He had no money. George was the rich land baron in the family. And he hated that man. They hated each other with a passion that went beyond words. Abe wasn't even allowed on the property. It was a tense situation, for everyone.

He wasn't even allowed to visit his own mother. If they wanted to see each other, be with each other, they would have to secretly arrange for a meeting time and Abe would drive over, park way down the road, pulling off the highway onto a cleared section of forest, and wait. Sometimes for over an hour. His mother would have to make sure she could sneak out, sneak away to join her son, without being seen leaving. Otherwise, if she was spotted by either one of the workman, or her husband, there would be questions. Even though they liked each other, Martha and the workmen, they knew they had to report anything "suspicious" to their boss. Immediately.

They felt terrible doing that to the woman who lovingly fed them lunch every day, good food, made with a kind heart and years of experience in the kitchen, always brought out to them wherever they were working, in all kinds of weather, faithfully, every day, the only perk they appreciated that made working for this man tolerable, doing a job only convicts would do, clearing land, pulling stumps, digging ditches, and yet, here would come her smiling face, with hot food, they could smell her coming, their mouths watering, her warm, cracked hands, ladeling out carribou stew and fresh scratch biscuits, or grilled mooseburgers big as a plate, with home fries, made with gold yukon potatoes she dug up from her very own garden.

God damn! they hated doing that to her, snitching. It made them feel like rats. Dirty, diseased rats, in a sinking ship.

So Martha had to sneak away. Martha didn't drive. Not that she couldn't drive. But she and George had made an "agreement" that he would be the one to do all the driving in that family, right from the beginning of their courtship. He had made it sound so gentlemanly, such a quaint custom, so it didn't really bother her at first.

She had even enjoyed her ride into town that morning, to the police station. It was a very pleasant drive to town, her first ride in a real police car and she had the whole back seat to herself. She felt very safe. Protected.

Now Abe was wondering how in the hell he was going to not only retain a lawyer at this hour, but how he would get her out on bail, how he would take care of her. He had no money. He barely made enough to make ends meet, living from paycheck to paycheck. He lived in a one-room cabin, with no running water, no plumbing, just an outhouse and a wood-burning stove. Typical lodgings for students, musicians, and people who liked to live that famous "Alaskan Experience," hunters, trappers, mushers, miners, ... and tourists.

He was lucky if he could get his little pick up truck started every morning, to get to work. Work!

Maybe his boss would give him an advance. He'd been a loyal, dependable employee at the Clearwater Marina for the last five and half years. He started working there as an apprentice and shop boy a few weeks after his mother had re-married and moved into her new husband's home.

Abe had always been close to his mother, had always spent a lot of time with her, and it didn't take any time at all for his new step-father to make it clear he didn't want any "no-good, lazy-ass, good-for-nuthin' beatnik relatives hangin' around his place, eating up all his food and taking advantage of his generous nature."

Abe snorted at the thought.

Detective Arnold rushed up to his side. "Did you remember something? Anything at all, that could help us with our investigation? Your mother hasn't been very forthcoming, if you know what I mean."

Abe looked at the nervous little man with a glare. "I'll have to get back to you on that," and walked out of the police station into blackness.

"We better go tell Martha her son is trying to help her and you'd better back off, Detective Arnold."

Detective Arnold hadn't graduated that long ago, from the police academy down in Anchorage, but several large busts to his credit, even though he just happened to be at the right place at the right time, when he had pulled over suspected drunk drivers in his curious interpretation of "probable cause" and after rifling through pockets, glove compartments, trunks, lifting out seats, and peering under hoods, his eager beaver proboscis had led to big arrests -- and a meteoric rise to detective status, thereby saddling the slow-natured, easy-going Bronson with a new partner who acted like a yipping chihuahua.

Even though Detective Bronson was generally a "Just Say No" kind of guy when it came to drugs, he thought Dectective Arnold could benefit from a liberal prescription of doggy downers.

The two extreme natures of said partners made very for long days on the force. Bronson had lately picked up the very annoying habit of constantly sighing and Arnold was in a perpetual state of pout.

The two detectives entered the interrogation room. Martha looked pale. She looked very fatigued. She was obviously in pain. She groaned every time she moved in her chair.

Concerned, Detective Bronson said, "Now, Martha, your son is out right now trying to find you an attorney so we can get your bail posted. But until we can get an arraignment, which won't be until tomorrow morning, you are going to have to stay here. Do you understand?"

Martha looked up into his face with a pleading expression. "Abe? My son Abe is here?" Her voice cracked with a brittleness of aged paper. She looked around to the door and the mirror, peering into the glass as if she could see through to the other side. "Where is he? Where is my son?"

"He's gone to find you an attorney, M'am, like I said." He reached out and touched her shoulder, breathing in a subtle aroma of lilac. His grandmother used to wear that fragrance.

"Are you okay? How are you feeling? Can we get you anything?"

Martha almost smiled. These boys were so polite.

"No thank you, Sir. I'm just so ... sore, from sitting up so long. I would really like to lay down."

"Okay, M'am. We'll call down for a female officer to come up and get you. We'll put you in a cell, just for tonight so you can lay down and get some rest and by tomorrow morning, I'm sure you'll be on your way back home."

Martha's eyes grew hard. Wide. Frozen. She stopped breathing because her throat closed up, puckered into a tight knot. Her eyes darted around the room, her head shook back and forth in a worrying motion, her lips moved in silence, no words or sound escaped.

Detective Bronson put one of his big hands under her arm and the other around her shoulder and lifted her up, as gently as he could, out of the chair. She was so stiff he could hear her bones creak but she seemed not to notice. She was preoccupied.

Thinking she was fearful of the metal bars, of spending a night in an actual jail cell, Bronson said, "There, there now. No need to worry. The cell will be very comfortable, I assure you, M'am. I hear the beds are soft, it's dry and warm and quiet, it's not in the main part at all, you will be close by yet far away from the main population. You'll be fine. And if you need anything, all you have to do is call out and the female officer on duty will get you anything you need. I'll be sure to tell her. Okay? Do you think you can manage that? It's just for a few hours. It will be morning before you know it."

Martha looked into his face, deeply. She looked into his eyes, down into his soul. She regarded a strong man in front of her, a big man with a big heart, a real Gentle Man.

She nodded, too tired to hold her head up any longer. She shuffled out of the room, into the hallway where they were met by the female officer pulling night duty in charge of the holding cell.

"Now Phyllis, you take real good care of Martha here, she's had a long day and she's tired. She gets whatever she needs, okay? I gave her my word you'd take special care of her."

Phyllis looked perplexed. She stood there in her crisp, starched uniform and spit-shined shoes, polished badge, hair up under her hat, gun, baton, cuffs, mace, flashlight and ammo belt on her hips. Lean and mean, this was not why she joined the force, to lock up little old ladies.

She looked at Detective Bronson with a puzzled face. Then she looked at Detective Arnold, who shrugged his shoulders. She looked back at Detective Bronson and knowing she couldn't put this old lady in the general lockup with the hookers, drunks and drug dealers asked, "Just where am I supposed to put her?"

Detective Bronson tilted his head back and in a quiet voice, looking down on this officer said, "I told Martha we would put her in a special cell, just for overnight. She's far away from home. Her son is out right now calling to find an attorney to retain and since we can't get her arraigned till morning ..." He looked down at Martha's drooping head and shoulders. "I figured we'd give her a special place to lay down and rest while she's waiting."

He lowered his head, jutted it forward in the officer's face and said, "Is that all right with you, Phyllis? Can you think of a special place, just for tonight, so Martha can get some rest?"

Phyllis took a step back, adjusted her belt, making all the hardware clang and cleared her throat.

"I think I know just the place, Detective," wondering how he knew about the cot behind the duty cage that was hidden behind a mess of broken and stacked office chairs, next to the evidence cage where they kept all the stolen property and confiscated dope.

It's hard to stay awake all damn night in that creepy place, she thought, nothing much ever happens anyway, and an inconspicuous twenty minute stretch out on the hidden cot is sometimes just what it takes to make it through these crazy-ass shifts.

"Come on, Martha. Let's leave these crusty old men behind and let you go get some sleep. I think I can even rustle you up a toothbrush and a nightgown."

Detective Bronson stuck both hands in his pockets, rocked back on his heels, and shook his head, as he watched Martha shuffle down the hallway.

Abe was on the pay phones across the street from the police department. He had a calling card his mother had given him for his birthday but the minutes were slowly being eaten up by "connection charges." He was blowing sixty cents every time he dialed a number, not including the minutes he used up listening to recorded messages.

He had nearly gone through the phone book already, only getting answering machines. It was the middle of the night and this town was not exactly what he thought of as a metropolis.

Population comes and goes in this town, depending on what new "projects" are in the works. Still, he guessed there probably weren't more than 100,000 people, in the entire North Star Borough, including all the outlying areas and small satelite towns surrounding. He would have to find a 24-hour bail bondsman. He flipped to that section of the yellow pages, not even knowing if there were such a thing in Fairbanks and pulled on his thin fall jacket. He hadn't expected to be here so long when he got the phone call from Detective Bronson and he had dashed out quickly, leaving his thick winter coat, gloves, hat and boots at home, still in the arctic entryway to the cabin. He zipped the jacket up tight as he could under his chin and blew warm air into his cupped hands.

It had begun to snow.