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Chapter 4: Meeting McGill


       After breakfast in the dayroom we do the same lousy job of cleaning up, only this time without Tony. Kelly takes him out to the Intake hall. When Tony comes back, he struts around bulging up his arm muscles. "I know them goofy tests so good by now, I can do ‘em blindfolded ," he says to Pat, who's on his way out the door with Kelly.

       Without Pat to talk to, Tony settles for me. "Guess who's here? Three POs , all at the same time. Me, I get to see McGill right after lunch."

       Kelly comes out with his clipboard and says. "Hanson, Mr. McGill wants you next." Tony gives me a sour look , me getting in before he does. The way Tony makes it sound, McGill's the guy with the power , the one who can get me out of here. He'll probably take their side, though. He'll believe the judge , the sheriff and Roy Fletcher.

ThinkLink: Does waiting to talk to a principal or a teacher make you nervous? Why were you nervous?

       I squirm around in the chair outside McGill's office and lean forward trying to hear talking inside his office. I can't hear any words through the door, though. Then the guard down at the end of the hall looks up. So I sit back.

       McGill's door opens and Pat comes out, scowling and not sleepy-looking at all. "He says for you to wait. He's on the phone, now, talking to my mom." The guard walks over quick and takes Pat back inside, leaving me to look through the half-open door into McGill's office. All I can see of him is one really long, narrow shoe sticking out from under the desk. It's wine-colored leather, polished so bright the light catches it every time it wags back and forth. When I hear his phone click down, I bounce the chair around a little to remind him I'm here.

       "Hanson, you out there? Come in and close the door."

ThinkLink: Did you ever meet someone who was completely different from what you expected?

       McGill stands up behind his desk. I tip my head back and look at the tallest, darkest black man I've ever seen. I gotta admit I expected somebody fat and forty and white for sure. I look him over. There isn't anybody like McGill out around the ranch or in Wheatland . Maybe not even in The Dalles. He's like one of those guys in the magazine ads for whiskey or men's clothes. He's got on a navy blue jacket, a white shirt, red tie and gray pants. His gold ring has an M on it, big as a dime.

       "Yes, I played basketball -- at OSU . No, I didn't make it to the pros, hardly anybody does, and I'm six-six." He smiles and holds out his hand. "I'm Lucas McGill, your Parole Officer , probably as long as you're in the program, so we need to get to know each other better."

       He folds his grasshopper legs behind his desk. The office is so little, and there's so much of him, I stand by the door until he tells me to sit down in the other chair and I edge my way in. He opens a folder with my name on it and lines it up with the edge of his desk. Everywhere I go they got a folder on me.

       While he gets his desk just right, he looks me over good, too. Bet he's never seen a kid from a ranch before or a ranch even. "John, tell me about yourself. Do your friends call you Johnny?"

       "No, I'm John. Johnny's my dad."

       "I'll remember. Tell me about your father."

       "Nothing to tell." He taps a beat on the desk with a silver pen and waits. "I mean, he's not around."

       "OK, how about your mother? Where's she?"

       "At the ranch ... in Carroll County ... that's in Eastern Oregon ." I decide to go for broke. "I've got to get back. She needs me. We're planning on moving us off the ranch and I have to help her."

       "Tell me more about that."

       "She heard about a job she could get over in Hood River, and I've been trying to get her to take it. She says she can't, though, unless we get a place to live there. It's gonna cost a whole lot, two months rent and stuff like that."

       McGill taps some more. "Go on."

       Truth is, I think Mom's scared to make the big move. She told me why one night. "You don't know what it's like, John, being responsible for a whole family. Even if I find a job that would support us, I could get laid off . Then what would we do? This way, if your dad doesn't send us any money for months on end, at least we've got a place here on the ranch and food to eat."

       McGill flips over a couple of pages in my folder. "I see you got a job to help out."

       "Yeah. I was saving up for our move, but my boss, Roy Fletcher, let me go. Then I couldn't get him to pay me for the last week I worked. Everybody back home knows what a cheapskate he is. He was just holding out on me, hoping I'd give up because I'm a kid."

       McGill scratches his chin and waits some more. I'm getting real nervous now, and my voice squeaks. "How do I get out of this place?"

       "I'm glad you're already thinking about what it takes to leave Fire Oak. Shows a good attitude." He cracks a little smile. "That's what I'm here for, to help you make a plan to get through our program and on your way. There are several options ."

       I grab a big breath. This is more like it. "Yeah? When can I get out? What do I have to do?"

       "Slow down. One thing at a time. First, I have to do my homework. I need to know a lot more about you and what happened before we work out a plan."

       "A plan?"

       "Our goal is to move boys out of here as soon as we can. We'll decide which cottage you'll be assigned to here in Fire Oak and then where you'll go when you leave here. We have a number of places to send boys."

       I groan. "Places?"

       "One option is a forest camp . We have a farm home , two therapy-based homes , group homes , half-way houses , approved foster homes ."

ThinkLink: When have you asked an adult a simple question and received an answer that was complicated? Why was it complicated?

       "Wait. I don't get it. Doesn't anybody get to go straight back to their real home?"

       "Of course, if there's a good situation for them to go back to."

       "My mom will have a good place for me, soon as she can."

       "But in the meanwhile, there's this order from Judge Shields." McGill picks up some legal-looking paper from the folder.

       "That judge . He's a..." Better not say what I think of that bastard .

       "He's a judge from a rural county who doesn't want big-city problems. When we get kids from outlying districts , we have to work with their local standards . I'll call him."

       "So how long do you think it'll take, ‘til I can go home, I mean?"

       "Let's go over what happened."


        His voice gets soft and low. "What happened with Mr. Fletcher?"

       I slump down. I don't even like to think about it. McGill pulls his leg back and leans over the desk toward me. He's not going to stop poking around. "Have you been in trouble before?"

       "I took off once, two years ago, and the Cops caught me down at the California border. I was going to see my dad. The judge says that's no crime ."

       "It's not, it's a statutory offense by a minor, meaning there are rules against anyone under age running away. You're right, though. It's not a crime ." He looks at a couple more sheets in my folder. "I see it here in the report. You told the state police you were on your way to Texas to persuade your father to come back to Oregon with you."

       "Yeah, well, I figured my uncle Pete ran him off when he called him a no-good washout , and I wanted him to know we needed him and we didn't think he was a washout."

        "Let's get back to the present. What got you in trouble this time?"

       "I got arrested ." I remember the hoot from the guys when I said it was a big mistake, so I don't say that again.

       He's scowling now. "I know. Before that. I need to know the whole thing from you, not just what it says on paper. What kind of work did you do for this Roy Fletcher?"

       "I worked in his gas station for three months, four o'clock to eight, while he fixed cars or went to his place out back to eat dinner. I pumped gas, washed windshields , and when I wasn't doing that, I swept the whole place out. I worked hard." Busted my butt, but I don't tell McGill that. "Then he told me business had dropped off and he didn't need me anymore. Business looked same as ever to me, but he was the boss."

       Some boss. I clenched my fists. "He still owed me forty bucks. He told me he'd give it to me later, but every time I rode over on my bike to collect, he'd tell me he was short on cash."

       McGill nods. "Tell me the rest."

ThinkLink: Can you talk about a time you had to tell somebody about doing something bad? What happened?

       I've gone over it so often, it's like a rerun I've seen six times. "I don't know where to start."

       He looks at his watch. "We've got time. Just tell it the way it happened."

       I look down at the floor. "I rode my bike over to the gas station . It's a couple of miles from the ranch , over where our county road crosses the state highway. There's no real town there, just a couple of houses, a little grocery store and the gas station." I look up at McGill and he nods again. "When I rode up I couldn't see Fletcher, but all the lights were on and the door was unlocked. I figured he was around."

       "Then what?"

       "I called him. A couple of times. He didn't answer so I went into the office and sat down. I made up my mind I'd stay this time until I got my money." That doesn't come out the way I mean for it to. "I mean until he forked it over." That sounds worse. "Paid me what he owed me."

       McGill draws circles on a scratch pad with his silver pen. He doesn't say anything, waiting for me to tell the rest of it. "I was there ten minutes, maybe more. Then I got up and walked around, looking at stuff."

       "What kind of stuff?"

       I've been trying to put that night right out of my mind, but now I think about walking around the little office. I read the labels on the oil cans on the shelf over the back counter. I looked at the girl on the twenty-year-old calendar that's up over the cash register. Roy keeps it there to look at the picture. He calls her his Calendar Girl. She's in a skimpy swimsuit, and twisted around in a funny way with one hip up and both knees bent like nobody stands in real life.

       "What kind of stuff?" he says again.

       "I looked through the parts catalog on the counter. It's got grease all over it from Roy's fingers. Sometimes I think he never washes up. I really had to scrub hard to get the grease off when I got home from work."

       McGill wrinkles his forehead. "Get to what happened."

       "Well, I called Roy again. He still didn't answer. By this time I was standing in front of the cash register. I knew I better leave and come back when he was there, but I fooled around with the keys. I pushed the No Sale key and the cash drawer popped open." I looked up at McGill and explained, "It gives a ding and a bang when it comes open." I hope that'd be enough.

       "Go on."

       "I don't think I meant for it to ... to open ... but then I saw all that money. Roy'd been saying he was low on cash and there was a pile of bills in every slot. Fives, tens, twenties."

       I stare back down at the floor. When I look sideways at McGill, he's staring me right in the eyes. "And then?"

       "I pulled four tens out of the till. Just what he owed me, and I stuck ‘em in my back pocket." I try to look at McGill again, to see how he's taking it, but I can't look him straight on, so I look over his shoulder at a poster of Mt. Hood .

       "That's not the end of it, is it? How did Fletcher get hurt?"

       "I didn't hear him come in. Maybe he sneaked up to watch what I was doing." Then I finally figure it out. Roy'd been there all the time, probably hiding outside, right around the corner or behind a car in the shop area. He must have seen me coming and thought I'd go away if he ducked out of sight and didn't answer. Tightwad. I don't know why I didn't figure it out that night and get out of there while I could. I start to sweat, thinking about him out there -- watching me.

       McGill pushes. "How did he get hurt?"

       "He came for me with his fists up. I thought he was going to hit me. I pushed at him, trying to get past him and out the door. That's when he grabbed me and we swung around. He banged his head hard against the door frame." I try to look serious, but inside I grin. He'd dropped like a bag of beans.

        "I called the sheriff right away and told him he'd better get the guys from the volunteer fire department to come quick with their rescue truck. Roy's head was bleeding bad. I thought maybe he was dead, but while I was waiting for help he came to, cussing and yelling."

       McGill's just gotta believe I never meant to hurt Fletcher, or take what wasn't already mine. "I know it wasn't right, taking the money that way, and I didn't mean for Roy to get hurt."

       He clicks the pen and puts it down on the desk. We sit there, looking at each other.

       "I believe you mean that."

       "So I can go home?"

       "Not until you've earned your way out of here. I'm going to give you my best advice, and I hope you'll listen."

       "I'll do whatever..."

       "Stay out of trouble. And God knows there's plenty of trouble to be had here. The others will challenge you. They'll try to drag you into their schemes. But the only thing that'll speed up your release is for you to earn your way out of here. Is that clear?"

       "You bet. I'll do it faster and better than..."

       "Just stay out of trouble," he says, but not in a hopeful voice.

       More than anything I want him to believe me. "You can tell I don't belong here, can't you?" Tears sting my eyes and I blink hard and hope he won't notice.

       He smiles, just a little. "You're not our usual client , I can tell you that. I'll talk to you again before you go to a cottage. In the meantime, I'll work out a plan for you."

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 Updated on 9/30/03

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