From my novel in progress, Heather Girl. You’ve read part of this before, but I kind of like this guy, Booger. I hadn’t met him before he showed up at the funeral home. He wasn’t planned; he wasn’t in the story outline. Of course I didn’t really know much about Heather’s father, George. He had been in prison for ten years for the murder of his wife, Heather’s mother. I’m friends with Heather, but she never went to see her father in prison, so she was just as surprised as I was to see Booger show up at her brother’s funeral. And there he was, this fast-talking, not-so-bright Texan, telling Heather things she didn’t really want to hear. She had already made her mind up about her murderous father. She has no use for the other side of the story.
There was little to talk about. All had been said in the days before, so they sat quietly and waited. Heather closed her eyes.
The double doors to the large room were in the back and had been propped open, so there was no tell-tale squeak that she might have otherwise heard. The carpet muffled the footsteps that on hardwood or tile would have given notice as his worn cowboy boots clopped down the aisle. But as it was, she had no clue that anyone had entered the room, much less that he had managed to position himself just a few feet away, until she heard her father speak.
She thought it was just an expression of frustration of some minor annoyance that had caught his attention. Maybe a button was loose on his suit jacket. Maybe one of the lights in the ceiling of the funeral home was burned out. Maybe he was just bored. She didn’t even open her eyes. Then the voice she didn’t know.
He spoke in an energetic clip, combining the two words into one. By the time she opened her eyes he had slapped her father on the shoulder and was in the midst of a frenetic monologue that didn’t require any acknowledgement from George to keep going.
“You doing ok? Look at you in a suit. Beats that orange all to hell, don’t it. Me, I’m more country and western. Check this out.” He stuck his thumb in the gap of his shirt where the buttons usually are and pushed it toward George. “See them snaps? Mother of Pearl. Pretty slick, huh. That’s as bout as fancy as I’m going to get. Anyways, I got out a few days after you did and once I got settled down a bit, I wanted to look you up, make sure you was doing ok and all. I got a hold of your PO and she told me you was up here in Virginia and she told me all that happened and I came up here to tell you how sorry I was bout your boy. You was real good to me in lockup, Pops. Helped me keep my head on straight.”
“West Virginia.” She had been watching him, this ex-con, who was holding a new, stiff cowboy hat in his right hand and waving it as he spoke, as if he were trying to swat a fly. He seemed a little daft, this long-haired middle-aged man who hadn’t bothered to shave in at least a week, and she quickly surmised that he was very likely to return to lockup for getting in a bar fight or smoking weed on a street corner. Just didn’t seem all that bright. She looked back at the coffin in front of her.
“Beg pardon, ma’am?
“West Virginia, not Virginia.’
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry. I never was very good with geography.”
“Hey, Booger, you going to preaching today?”
Booger turned back to her father.
“No, Pops. Ain’t no preaching today. It’s Tuesday.” Then to Heather, “He never could keep his days straight. Course that ain’t unusual in lockup. You tend to lose perspective, you know.”
“I’m Darnell, ma’am.” She had no choice but to shake his hand and was surprised by his delicate, almost feminine touch. Prison tattoos, letters that looked like they were scrawled with a felt-tip pen spelled GOD on the first three fingers on his right hand, followed by an exclamation mark on his little finger. She tried to steal a look at his other hand but couldn’t see what she was sure would be the first half of the message.
“You his daughter?”
“Never knowed Pops had a daughter. Course he couldn’t much remember his boy, either. Pops was real good to me. You have a fine father, ma’am.”
“How was he good to you?”
He studied on the question and she could tell she wasn’t going to get much of an answer.
“It’s a bit of a story, ma’am.”
“We have time.”
“Ok. Well let’s see, then.”
There was a chair between Heather and Micah, and Darnell sat in it without asking. He reeked of cologne.
“These must be your boys.” He turned and shook their hands. “Call me Booger. I been called that since I was a kid. You can probably figure out why. Bad nickname but it stuck.”
The boys forced a smile but didn’t offer anything to the conversation besides their names. Booger leaned back in his chair and folded his arms.
“Anyways, let me tell you about Pops. I got into a little bit of trouble.” He stopped and laughed. “I guess that’s how all prison stories start, don’t they.”
Booger was the only one who found that amusing.
“So yeah. I ain’t never been in trouble like that before, but I got into some drugs and got busted a few times but I kept going back for more. And them drugs, Lordy, they get hold of you and won’t let go. You do anything to keep that feeling going. That’s where I was, just staying high all the time. Course them drugs, they ain’t free and even if I could have held down a job it wouldn’t had paid enough for what I needed, so I took to stealing. I just took stuff that people didn’t need anyways, least that’s what I told myself. Leaf blowers and trimmers and things like that. I was out one night, just coming down off a high and running around a neighborhood seeing what I might could take, and this feller comes up on me. Scared me. I had a shovel in my hands. Never could remember why I had a shovel. I couldn’t sell a shovel for nothing. Just never made no sense. But he scared me so bad I swung around and whacked him in the head. I didn’t ever want to hurt nobody and had he not snuck up on me I probably would have just run off. I wish I had.”
He stopped talking and Heather looked at him, then her father, who had fallen asleep with his chin on his chest. Darnell closed his eyes and bit his lip, and sniffed a little before he opened his eyes and continued.
“I didn’t kill him. Might have been better if I had. Messed up his brain real bad. That poor man ain’t worth nothing no more. If I’d killed him, maybe his family could get some insurance, and maybe they’d just put me on death row and I’d be dead by now, living with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, praise God.”
He looked toward her father and saw that he was asleep.
“He does that a lot. Anyways, they sent me up and I knowed I was going to have a tough time. I mean I was scared like I never been scared before. I ain’t no criminal and don’t know how to fight so I figured I’d just be somebody’s girlfriend, if you know what I mean. I don’t think I could of took that. So when I get there, I see old Pops, sitting by himself in the mess and I went over and sat with him. Best thing I ever done.”
“Why is that?”
“I didn’t know it at the time, but Pops was protected.”
“Yes, ma’am. Both ways. He paid the hacks and they passed some down to the cons and rounders. Pops was the gravy train, yes, ma’am, he was. Only I didn’t know it. I just sat down with Pops cause I didn’t think he would shank me right off.”
“The guards, ma’am.”
“He paid the guards money?”
“Well, yes ma’am, in a indirect way, I guess you could say. It was arranged on the outside.”
She shook her head. “McGhee.”
“George’s attorney. His trustee. McGhee. He’s the one on the outside that sent the money.”
copyright 2017, joseph e bird
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