Read an Excerpt
By Neta Jackson, Dave Jackson
WORTHY PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2013 Dave Jackson and Neta Jackson
All rights reserved.
I'm usually willing to help out at Manna House, the shelter for homeless women where my wife works as a cook, but their idea of a Valentine's party is seldom as kick-back comfortable as watching the Super Bowl had been with my Yada Yada Brothers. So when my iPhone sounded its Law and Order ring, I welcomed the opportunity to leave my plate of tasteless white cake—definitely not something Estelle had baked—and slip out into the lobby.
I didn't recognize the number on the screen, but it was a Chicago area code, so I answered with a roll of my eyes. "Yeah, Bentley." Estelle bugs me about my gruff greeting, but soundin' like the cop I once was has knocked more than one telemarketer off his game.
"Hey, bro. How's it goin'?" The nasal twang was definitely not that of a brotha, but it sounded familiar.
"Uh ... Okay, I guess."
"Great! Roger Gilson here. Might have somethin' for ya."
Gilson ... Roger Gilson. Of course. "Ah, yes, Captain Gilson."
"But not with the CPD. Moved over to Amtrak."
"Amtrak ... as in trains?"
"Oh yeah. I cover from here all the way to the West Coast ... along with one other captain, that is. Can you believe it?"
"What happened to the CPD?"
"Ah, you know. Budget mess. The police pension fund doesn't look so secure anymore. But then you already know that, and that's why I called."
Gilson's Internal Affairs had helped me nail my corrupt boss about a year ago. But it's hard for any cop to like Internal Affairs, and I still wasn't sure I trusted Gilson. So I cautiously asked, "What's up?"
"Like I said, I'm at Amtrak now, and we're in a bit of a tussle with the TSA. They're all over us to tighten up security or they'll take over. But with the mess they've made of the airlines, nobody wants them running the nation's trains. Know what I mean?"
Sounded like Gilson had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. If the Transportation Security Administration took over security for Amtrak, Gilson might lose his job. "So ... why'd you call me?"
"You had some trouble with your eyes, right? Went blind for a while?"
"Yeah, I had a problem." A problem that'd scared me spitless because it might've been permanent. Had surgeries, wore eye patches for a while, even had to remain face down 24/7 for two whole weeks. It was a horror movie from which God alone had rescued me—but I didn't want to get into all that with Gilson.
"Anyway, I'm lookin' for a few men I can trust to work undercover. Know what I mean?"
He waited while I coughed off to the side to keep from laughing at him continually saying, Know what I mean? "Yes, Gilson. I know what undercover is."
"Well, we place undercover officers just about anyplace—in a station restaurant having coffee, sitting next to other passengers on trains, or in bathrooms mopping up."
"Ha! So you're lookin' for a black man to work undercover as a janitor. I don't think so—"
"No, no, no. You don't understand. I was thinkin', with you having been blind ... you can see now, though, can't ya?"
"Good enough." I could see just fine, but the man wasn't listening, so why explain?
"Great! Then here's the deal: you could work undercover as a blind man, wander anywhere ... even up and down the aisles of a train. I can see it now." I could imagine Gilson waving his hand through the air like he was painting a panorama. "You staring blankly here and there from behind a pair of wraparound shades, but actually seein' everything. Nobody would even notice you. Know what I mean?" He stopped.
The idea galled me. What was the civil rights movement about if it didn't include helping black people be noticed as valuable, contributing members of society? Finally, I said, "Yeah, I know what you mean, but like Jesse Jackson used to say, 'I Am Somebody!' But you want me to pose as a nobody."
"Ah, come on, Bentley. Don't play the race card on me now. We're talkin' undercover, and I'm tryin' to offer you something."
I snorted. "Gilson, you oughta be selling used cars, but this isn't for me." The doors from the shelter's multipurpose room swung open, and I was glad to see Estelle out of the corner of my eye. "Oops, here's the wife. Gotta go, Gilson. But thanks for thinkin' of me. You take care now!"
I didn't wait for his response. Just touched the red End bar on my phone. "Whew!" I turned to see Estelle's eyebrows arched high in question.
"Ah, just a guy from back in the day with the police department. Wanted me to come work for Amtrak."
"Hmph. Been askin' all over for you. But it's like the ladies don't even recognize you since you shaved your gray horseshoe beard."
"Whaddaya mean? Handsome black man, bald head, just about this tall, seen hangin' around here all too often, and they don't recognize me?"
"Well." She folded her arms and studied me dubiously. "With that little beard you got goin' on around your mouth there, they say you look more like Louis Gossett Jr."
"And that's bad? Come on, now ... Della Reese!"
Now she laughed. "Hey, you know I can't sing like her."
"But you sure can touch me like an angel." I winked, big.
She grabbed my arm and gave me one of those light-up-my-life grins. "Oh, come on, you. We're outta here." She glanced back over her shoulder. "Let someone else clean up the kitchen for once—we still got groceries to get, remember?"
I sighed. But with snow still piled high after one of Chicago's heaviest snowstorms, I didn't want to chance her getting stuck.
"Yeah, I remember, babe. Let me get our coats."
Twenty minutes later we were in the Jewel, and I was driving the grocery cart behind Estelle. We were paused in the produce section while she carefully examined each item before putting it into the basket when my phone rang. Gilson again. I was tempted to send him straight to voice mail, but I'd learned not to burn my bridges. Couldn't keep the sarcasm out of my voice though.
"What now, Gilson?"
"Ah, good. Now don't hang up on me again, Harry! I'm just tryin' to get you on the team here. And I've come up with a better idea. You worked K-9 for a while, didn't you?"
I hesitated. "Yeah ... I'm still certified, but that was before I joined Fagan's unit."
"Great, then you know how to handle dogs. We're trying to expand our K-9 unit. Had a young officer complete her training with the smartest dog I've ever seen, but now she's on maternity leave and not likely to return since her baby has severe birth defects. So we have a dog—cost us thousands—without a handler. How 'bout that?"
I frowned. "How 'bout what? You wanna team me with someone else's dog?"
"Corky's young and like I said, smart, very smart. She could make the transition."
"Wait a minute. Handlers are what? Officers? Sergeants? You'd bust me down from a detective?"
"Oh, c'mon. We can work somethin' out. Meet me halfway here, Harry. I'm tryin' to reel you in. I'm sure we could—"
"Gilson! Would you shut up a minute?" The man sounded like he was on too much Vicodin, and it felt good to tell him to shut up. I was a private citizen now who didn't have to kowtow to anyone.
There was silence ... for five seconds. "Sorry, Harry. Just gettin' into my creative mode. I'm a creative guy, ya know? That's what I love about this job. But seriously, we'd like you to come on board ... like all aboard." He laughed at his stupid joke. "It doesn't have to be K-9, but I'm puttin' together a team, and they have to have integrity. That's why I thought of you. You proved yourself when you stepped up to nail Fagan."
Matty Fagan had been my boss, corrupt as they come, shakin' down drug dealers and stealing their guns and dope to resell ... until I blew the whistle on him.
"Hey," Gilson continued, "how much were you makin' before we asked you to take early retirement?"
"Doesn't matter. I'm not interested." Of course I could use the money, but ... "Sorry, Gilson. Don't think I'm up to travelin' all over the country. I like trains and all, but I'm a family man now."
"Ah, but that's the thing! Sure, you go out on runs, but then you're home for several days where you can focus on—hey, I didn't know you were married! And kids too? Man, you work fast. But you'll actually get more time with the family. Plus the benefits are great, free rail privileges for you and the family. Think about that."
"Harry!" It was Estelle, twenty feet ahead of me with a gallon of milk in her hand. "What good's the cart if I gotta hold this?"
"Sorry, Gilson. But I really can't talk now. I'm in the store helpin' my wife with shopping. Like I said, family man!"
I shut the phone off and hurried to catch up.
* * *
I can hoof it with the best of 'em when walkin' or even joggin', but slow shoppin' is worse than snow shovelin' as far as my back is concerned. So when we finally got home, I flopped down on the couch beside my thirteen-year-old grandson, DaShawn, who was celebrating no homework over a five-day weekend by watching nonstop TV. The holidays hadn't been triggered by the huge storm, but for the kids it was as good as a "snow week." Thursday they were off for staff development, Friday for Lincoln's Birthday, then the weekend, and Monday for President's Day. You'd think they could have combined Lincoln with the other presidents, but not in Illinois.
Estelle was standing at the kitchen counter opening mail. "Harry ... here's one for you." She flipped an envelope my way, and I caught it like a Frisbee, glancing at the return address. From my son? Rodney's name was followed by a long inmate number and the address of the county jail on Memorial Drive in Atlanta. My shoulders sagged. How'd he get himself arrested again? I'd visited that gray-towered bastille on police business and knew it didn't qualify as anyone's "home away from home."
Swearing under my breath, I ripped the letter open and turned it away from DaShawn, glad for once that he was glued to American Idol. The boy didn't need to deal with his father being in jail again.
I'd been estranged from Rodney for over ten years until the Department of Children and Family Services brought me his son a couple of years ago—a grandson I didn't even know I had—while Rodney was in Cook County Jail. We'd managed a few contacts, and I'd lined up an attorney who got his case dismissed. Thought things were going better between us. Then he went down to Atlanta "to put his life back together." We texted a couple of times, and then he quit answering. Made me mad, so I quit trying.
I scanned his scrawl. He'd been picked up on a drug charge, but this time he wasn't claiming it was a bogus setup. "It was my mistake, Dad. I never should've—" Dad? He called me Dad? I sat up a little straighter and kept reading. Rodney said he'd completed a drug treatment program that qualified him for early release—middle of February—provided he had "suitable accommodations." Meaning he needed a place to stay. "But I don't really want to go back to staying where I was. I'm afraid I'd just get back into the old patterns. So, I'm wondering if I could come live with you guys for a while?"
I slapped the letter closed and looked around the room as if someone was going to catch me reading such an outrageous request. Slowly I opened the letter and reread the words: "So, I'm wondering if I could come live with you guys for a while?"
No way was Rodney gonna insinuate himself into our happy family! Wasn't gonna happen! Outta the question!
I started to fold the letter and return it to its envelope when I realized there was a second sheet of paper, a printed form from the Criminal Court of DeKalb County. Rodney had already filled in his name and inmate number at the top. All it needed was my name, address, relationship to the inmate, and a dated signature to create a formal invitation.
Of all the nerve!
I put everything back into the envelope and stuffed it into my pocket just as Estelle called, "Y'all shut that trash off and come to the table now. The pizza's gettin' cold."
We held hands and I said a blessing, pretty much the same short prayer I usually prayed, but the thought of what we were doing struck me as I said amen. We were a family, the kind of family I'd never provided for Rodney. His resentment of my too-busy life while I'd been a Chicago cop had taken its toll, and when I was home, I drank too much.
God had given me a second chance to be the kind of a father to DaShawn I'd never been to Rodney, and I wasn't gonna risk that by ...
I looked around the kitchen table. There was something wrong with this beautiful picture. I knew God had forgiven me, but that didn't mean the past didn't still hang heavy over my head.
"So," Estelle said in a voice meant to perk us all up as she poured Pepsi into our glasses from a two-liter bottle, "what'd Rodney have to say?"
"My dad? Did he call?" DaShawn's eyes went big as he tried to corral his mouth full of pizza.
I sighed and gave Estelle a thanks-a-lot look. "No, son, he didn't call. I got a letter from him today." I glared at Estelle, but she ignored my distress. "He's still in Atlanta, but—"
"He just wanted us to know he's okay, and he's thinkin' about us." What else could I say? "And ... and he wishes he were here."
DaShawn nodded with the understanding of a boy who'd been disappointed too many times.CHAPTER 2
Estelle's plus size bounced our bed as she flopped down beside me, half sitting up against the pillows. "So ..." She waited until I looked up from reading my Michael Connelly novel. "What did Rodney's letter really say?"
"Ah, not much. He's still in Atlanta." I shrugged and turned back to see how Detective Harry Bosch was going to catch the bad guys in the pages of my novel. I liked Harry ... especially his name.
"Harry Bentley, I'm a real person talkin' to you here, not ink on some dead trees. What did Rodney have to say? I know it wasn't good, 'cause I can read your body language better'n you can read that book."
I closed it reluctantly and sighed. "He's back in jail—"
"Oh no. Harry, I'm so sorry. How come?"
"Got busted for drugs, I guess. Says he's up for release. But this time ..." Don't know why I felt the need to defend him, but I pressed on. "This time he's gone through a drug treatment program, and ... and he even called me 'Dad.' "
"Really?" There was genuine wonderment in Estelle's voice.
"Yeah, and he signed it, 'Merry Christmas, Rodney.' "
She nodded slowly. "Well, that sounds hopeful—though he's a little late with the Merry Christmas." Estelle sighed like she'd just finished climbing the stairs to our little apartment. "Well, I sure do hope he can turn it around this time—not just for his sake, but for DaShawn. But Harry ..." She hesitated a moment. "I don't know how long it'll last unless he makes a clean break with his runnin' buddies. I had my doubts when he went down to Atlanta sayin' he was gonna hook up with some old friends." She shook her head. "He needs to get away from 'em—all of 'em, Harry!"
"I know." I nodded in agreement as Estelle tied a night scarf around her head to protect her 'do. "You're right. He needs help—" I grimaced. "—and that's the other reason he wrote. He, uh, asked if he could come stay with us. Actually, it's a requirement for his early release, someplace to go. He even included a form from the county he wants me to fill out." I watched Estelle's mouth slowly drop open. "But don't worry, babe. It ain't gonna happen."
She didn't speak for a long moment, and I wondered what she was thinking. Her fingers toyed with the edge of the sheet. "Well, that's right, of course. We just don't have the room. He'd be all up in our business—I mean, we wouldn't have any privacy, not to mention we gotta think of DaShawn now."
"I know, I know! It's an outrageous idea. Out of the question."
Estelle pulled the blankets up to her chin, staring blankly at the foot of our bed as she slowly nodded her head. I turned to look at the same nothingness and nodded my head in unison.
"Though ... you know, Harry, sometimes I wish we did have a big enough place where Leroy could come. I really do."
Long-term sorrow filled Estelle's voice. Estelle had an adult son too, but Leroy was schizophrenic and had nearly died in a house fire when he was trying to live alone. His burns were still not fully healed.
"I know, babe. But you know he needs to be in an institution where he can get his whirlpool sessions and those pressure sleeves put on—"
"But it won't be that way forever. He's almost healed."
Her pain about Leroy was deep. "The burns are almost healed," I said softly, "but he still needs full-time care, Estelle."
Excerpted from Derailed by Neta Jackson, Dave Jackson. Copyright © 2013 Dave Jackson and Neta Jackson. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.