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Chapter 21: Tony

     


ThinkLink: Have you ever known someone who seemed to be a loser, but then turned his/her life around and did something good with it?

       I wander through the warehouse district and then into a neighborhood where I can buy a sweet-roll and a glass of milk. And use their bathroom. In the phone booth on the corner, I look up the number for Pleasant View Nursing Home . I ask for Tony Richards.


       "He should be finishing his shift about now. Let me see if I can catch him."


       "Tony, here." He sounds as cocky as ever.


       "It's me. John. Uh, Cowboy. Pat told me where you'd be."


       "Hey, Cowboy. I'm getting off work. Want to meet me at the fountain in Tellman Park ?"


       He tells me the bus to catch and where to find it. I ride until I spot the park. Dark clouds hang low and a chilly breeze cuts through my jean jacket. The fountain's easy to find, but I don't see Tony. On the other side of the fountain, four black guys are shooting baskets on a cement court. When I get close, one of them breaks away and lopes over to me. I don't see that it's Tony until he's almost up to me. His hair's short and he's wearing a white shirt and white cotton pants. He leans over to the ground and picks up a jacket and we walk along a path through the park.


       "Man, you look terrible. Where'd you sleep last night? A skunkworks?"


       I look down at my filthy jeans. My hands are as cruddy looking as Roy Fletcher's ever were.


        Then I look at Tony, dressed in white shirt and white pants. Spotless. He looks down at them. "I'm an orderly . Part of my training. McGill got me into a practical nurse class at the community college ."


       "Nurse?"


       "Yeah, Cowboy, they got men nurses. I figure I'll be an LPN in a year or so. Get my license and get a good job."


       He slows down. "McGill gut-punched me this time. He said maybe I was institutionalized ."


       "Yeah?"


       "You think I am? institutionalized ?"


       "How do you tell?"


       "Like I keep going back to Fire Oak. Like I play their game because I really want to be locked up." He spits on the sidewalk. "Now ain't that dumb?"


       "Don't you think you can make it on the outs ?"


       Tony looks off and says real soft, "Sure I do. Can't I do anything I want to?" Then he grins. "So I guess he's right. I'll be in an institution, but it'll be a hospital. He's got it fixed so I stay in this half-way house while I go to college."


       "So what happened to being the world's best burglar ?"


       "See those guys I was shooting hoops with? Last week, Slicer was our fifth guy. You know him at Fire Oak? He got shot breaking into a house on Gaylord. Took it full in the face. Game's rougher now."


       "You're the one who couldn't wait to get to the big time. Get to the pen."


       "That was jive."


       l stare at the scar on Tony's forehead, the one that cuts a slash from his hairline down to his eyebrow. "Is that what you got when you ran from Fire Oak?"


       "Yeah. Gives me a mean look, don't it?"


       "I thought. I mean you said me and you…"


       "Yeah, well, that was talk too. Better off on my own."


       "Everyone was talking about it."


       "Figured they would. He struts back and forth in front of the park bench where I've parked myself, telling me what happened, acting it out for me. How he got out a message to a pal who stole a car and pulled it up in front of the Ad Building, motor running.


       "I waited for the lunch bell. First one out. Walked right by the front office and waited until the guard turned to talk to somebody. Ran to the front drive, jumped into the car and we was doing sixty before we hit the highway. Trouble was he'd swiped an old compact and couldn't get it to go any faster. They had a patrol car coming down the same stretch of highway we was on."


       "Yeah?"


       "Man, was he burning rubber . We turned off on a side road, trying to lose him. That's when we flipped over in a ditch and I went straight into the windshield ."


       "Hurt bad?"


       "Could've bought the farm, like you country boys say. Came to in the emergency room . A doc sewed me up and left me laying there while they took care of my man. I sneaked into a bathroom and was going out the window into a bush when the cop who was still around saw me splitting and got hold of me."


       Tony hangs his head and holds out his wrists, acting like he's being caught right now.


       "They call McGill?"


       "What else? Spent four weeks in Franklin West in lock-up. That's when I decided I'd be better off out here. How about you?"


ThinkLink: If you were in a foster home, what kind of people would you pick to be your foster parents?

       We walk along the path toward a picnic area. Tony sits down on another bench and I slouch down next to him. I look over at a house across the street from the park. A woman shakes out a floppy rug over the side of her porch rail. Two little kids on trikes race down the sidewalk, squealing and laughing. An old man with a came goes slow and careful up his front walk and into the house. I know for sure, that's where I got to be. In a house, with a family, going to school. Being a regular kid.


       "Hey, Cowboy, where'd you go off to?"


       "Huh? Oh, yeah." I tell him about Pat, my job, the house on Emory Street, the raid. "I don't know where to go next." I look up at the sky. "Looks like rain and I don't know where to crash tonight."


       "Can't take you to my place. Can't bring anybody in. What about the shelter? Get there early and get a spot."


       "Somebody there'd know me."


       I thought I was doing so much better than the other guys in the Square. I had a job. A place to stay. Only the job was a rip-off and I was living in a drug house. Now I'm out on the street same as them.


       "Your Mom'd take you back. Worth a try."


       "I screwed myself on that one. Told her new husband off. Now he'll never let me go there."


       "Relations? Old pals?"


       I try to think of some kid I knew in Carroll County or some of my dad's relatives in California I've never even seen.


       "Come on, man. There's got to be some sucker that'd take in a bad boy like you."


        "There's one place I haven't tried."


       "Yeah. Where?"


       "The librarian who used to be at Fire Oak said she and her husband take in foster kids ."


       "That's it then," Tony says. "That's your answer."



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 Updated on 9/30/03

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