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Chapter 5: Taylor Cottage

     


       He's going to let me go home. McGill as much as said he'd work it out. I have to tell somebody. Tony's staring out the only window at a little patch of grass and the blank wall of another building. Thug Randy has his head in an old comic book. Pat's leaning back on the plastic-covered couch, his eyes half-closed. He'll have to do. Talking to a zombie's better than talking to myself.


       "McGill's gonna let me go home."


       Pat's eyelids flicker. "You just got here."


       "He said he was going to call some people. Make a plan."


       Pat snorts. "He always calls. Everybody that comes in here gets a plan. He's just building a file on you."


       "But he said there are other options ..."


       "He said the regular stuff. Same ol' same ol'." Pat sits up and scratches behind his ear. "How old're you? Sixteen?"


       "Fifteen."


       "So he can keep you six years, 'til you're twenty-one. It's the law ."


       "He can't do that. Besides, he could see I don't belong here."


       "Wanna bet? A guy got hurt, didn't he? While you was doing the gas station job."


       "It wasn't like that."


       "Sure." He leans back on the couch and closes his eyes all the way shut.


       Twenty-one? Six years? I'm still trying to deal with it when Tony walks up. "How'd McGill treat you, farm boy?"


       "They can't keep me here Ďtil I'm twenty-one. Can they?"


       He crows. Really crows, crows like a rooster. "Gonna lock you up permanent , huh?"


       I splutter but not much comes out.


       "Don't shit a cow. They can't keep you in here forever. You got rights. You got a lawyer? They got to let you have a lawyer."


       "Oh, yeah, my lawyer." I think about Jackson making out wills and land contracts for a living and him fumbling through his briefcase at my hearing . "You know what he told me? I'm lucky my hearing was before the next election ."


       "The voters get to vote on sending you up?"


       "Sort of. Something about fixed sentences . There's a list. You do one of them and you do the time . Do the crime , do the time. That's what they call it."


ThinkLink: Have you ever had a nickname you didnít like?

        "Tough shit. Maybe I'll start reading the papers." Tony leans back and stretches. "Hey, man, you really live on a ranch ? I say we call you Cowboy."


       Geez, I think, anything but Cowboy.


       "Your ranch have cowboys and horses?"


       "It's a wheat ranch . We used to have a couple of horses, but Pete and Red, they're my uncles, drive a pickup . We run some cattle , small herd."


       "See? That makes you cowboys. Me, I'm a city guy. Look for the action."


       "No cowboy stuff. Mostly we plant wheat . We grow it. We harvest it. Next year we do the same."


       Tony shrugs. "Say, Cowboy, what else you got on your record ?"


       "Me? Nothing."


       " Jaywalking ? Cutting school ? Hey, Girlie, maybe you're too goody for here. Play that up big with McGill next time you see him. Melt his heart."


       "I got a runaway ."


       "More like it." He grins. "Maybe you and me can get out together, pull some stuff. You could be a lookout. You know, the innocent -looking guy standing out on the sidewalk. How're you at..."


       "You can get me out of here? I get to go with you? What if McGill finds out?"


       "Don't sweat it. He knows we'll all be on the run if we get a chance. You play your cards right maybe they'll put you in Taylor Cottage with the rest of us." He looks me over. "I don't know. Taylor guys don't usually have Assault on their sheet. Maybe they'll stick you in a high security unit ."


       After four long days of me sweating it out, McGill finally calls me back. "We got approval from Administration to try you out in Taylor Cottage. It was a close call with Assault on your record . Don't brag about it. And don't get in fights. Remember what I'm saying."


       "But I thought. . . I mean, you said you'd make some calls."


       "And I did. These things take time."


       He looks down at my folder. Taylor, Smalyor. I can see he's not going to let me go home, so where does it matter where I'm going?


ThinkLink: Did you ever have to decide whether to tell on somebody for doing something bad? What did you do?

       

The next morning Kelly walks me over to Taylor Cottage. He stays right behind me, close as my shadow, ready to pounce on me if I take a wrong step. The sun's warm on my head and I feel like a prairie dog that's come up out of his hole. We walk past old two-story cottages toward low brown buildings that look like one-story houses, only bigger.


       Kelly drops me off and I stand by Davis, the cottage manager, at the front door of Taylor while he answers an intercom on the wall. "OK on this end," he says. He opens the front door waves at a man standing at the door of the building Davis says is the school. The man waves back and herds a line of kids toward the cottage. I see Tony and Pat and two other guys I recognize. "Always stay in line and always stay with staff," Davis says.


       "Hey, Cowboy!" Tony says as he comes in, slapping at my arm like we was buddies. Pat looks wide-awake for a change. He grins and sticks his hands out for a slap as he goes by.


       "Watch that," Davis calls after them. "You've got thirty minutes recreation out in the yard. Basketballs are out in the bin on the walkway."


       "How about the Ping-Pong stuff?" a kid asks.


       Davis hands him a canvas bag. "Look out how you use those paddles. Mr. Ferguson is outside with B-wing kids. I'm watching you A-wings."


       I follow out the door and around the corner to the concrete that goes all around the cottage. I lean back against the wall, and Pat comes and squats down beside me. "I got my first-level privs today," he says. "My mom and brother get to visit Sunday. I sure want to see my bro." Pat smiles big. "Him and me got a deal."


       Tony's leaning up against the wall on the other side of Pat. "Some deal," he says. "Last time he came he was going to bring a whole carton. All he brought was some rolling paper and a baggy of dried-out tobacco . And they took that off him at the Ad building."


       "Wait," Pat says. "You'll see."


       Tony leans over me. "Fetch me a basketball, Cow Manure." He cackles. "You get it? Bull Shit. Cow Manure. He spits off to the side, but the spray catches me.


       I pull a ball out of the box and toss it to Tony, who runs off toward the basket. "What's wrong with him?" I ask Pat.


       "He gets pissed when guys talk family. He ain't got one and he don't want to know about anybody else's."


       "At least I got my Mom," I say. "You got a dad?"


       "Three," he says, "but I ain't seen any of Ďem for a couple of years." He smiles, looking like Momma's little angel. "Good thing for them. I'm big enough to take 'em on now."


       Tony comes back over, slams the basketball right in my gut and runs back to the basket. "Over here, one-on-one," he calls back. I look around at Davis. He nods, so I trot down under the hoop. "Let's see what you can do, Cowboy," Tony says, back to his usual self. He arches the ball up and it falls through the net, clean and clear. I catch it on the rebound, and go back a step to get my balance. Something slams into my back.


       "Get outta my way!" someone yells. I look over my shoulder at short, squat Randy. He pokes me in the ribs. "You're so good at Assault . Show me how good you are. Come on, come on. I'll take you out in nothing flat."


       I whip around to face him. I been waiting for this to happen. I stick my face into his and say something dumb: "You and who else?" Randy clenches his fists but he keeps them down by his sides. He presses in closer so his face is right up to my chin. His sharp nose and little eyes he squints up into slits make him look like a weasel . I look for Davis, but he's facing the other way. I put my fists up. I don't know if I can beat him, but he's not going to let up on me 'til I try.


       Ferguson comes up from the other side. "What's going on here?"


       Randy steps back. "Nothing, Mr. Ferguson. This new guy just ran into me, shooting baskets, you know. Everything's cool."


       What a phony . I take a step toward Ferguson to tell him what happened, but Tony gives me a hard look and mouths "no."


       I use Randy's words. "Everything's cool."


       Ferguson walks away and Randy whirls around and snarls at me. "Hey, country boy, you was going to snitch on me. That's not smart. I go down, you go down. I ain't afraid of lockup , and I'd be crazy about taking you with me." He pulls his face away from mine and runs back toward the basket.


ThinkLink: Can you think of a place or situation youíve been in where people divided up into groups? Are there ever times when you want to get away from people and be alone?

       I walk back over to the wall and squat down next to Pat. "I didn't even see him coming. Why's he got it in for me?"


       "Randy? He takes you out he gets a name. But you better never snitch at least unless you're sure you're bigger than the other guy and you got bigger guys on your side. Only use it when it pays off for ya."


       "Don't staff want to know?"


       "Nah. Everybody's out to get a snitch , even staff, 'cause snitching makes more trouble for them, so watch it. Your best deal is to get Tony to let you run with him and me and our guys. Randy don't mess with us."


       "I figure it'll be better if I'm on my own."


       "Nobody makes it on his own. You stick with Tony. He's the top guy ."


       "What if I mess my chances up with McGill?"


       "Are you kidding me?" Pat rolls his head around. "You're in Taylor, ain't ya? You gotta run with somebody. Nobody crosses Tony and gets away with it. Then there's Randy and his guys. They're the middle ones -- you know -- the punks." He stops and scratches his arm hard. "I itch all over," he says. "The punks are scared to start anything with us, so they stomp on the wimps and the little guys. They're on the bottom and they don't cross nobody. So where you going to be?"


       "Tony acts like he thinks I was going to tell Ferguson. But I saw him tell about the kid who swiped something off Kelly's desk at Intake."


       "That's different. We was all wanting to get outta there, and he figured the kid would ruin it for us. Tony takes care of us is all. 'Sides, the kid had to learn not to make trouble for us. See?"


       "I guess."


       Pat turns his head and looks at Tony, who's come up quiet on the other side of me. "If Cowboy's no wimp, he can hang with us, right Tony?"


       "Maybe." Tony half-closes his eyes and stares down at me. "What you made of, country boy? Swiss cheese, right outta the dairy ?" He laughs. "You got to be tough to hang out with us."


       Better to be with Tony than Randy. "I'm no wimp."


       "So what's it gonna be, Cowboy?"


       "It's cool -- just so I don't lose my tag." I figure that'll make Tony mad again, but he just laughs and walks off.


       Davis calls from the front door. "Time's up. Back inside." Everybody groans. "Come in and wash up. Watch your step."


       Watch it. Watch it. That's all anyone says around here. I gotta watch out for all the rules, watch out not to get in trouble. Watch out that no one beats me up. I shuffle along in the middle of the line.


       Inside, B-wing is setting up for dinner. "We got breakfasts this week," Pat says. "Next week we switch." He stumbles along looking zonked out again. I figure out his zombie routine is an act he pulls to get out of doing stuff. He turns it off and on like a light bulb.


       We line up outside the bathroom. Davis stands in the doorway and four guys at a time go in to pee into a trough. There are two stalls down at the end, but only one kid at a time gets to go down there. I wait until I get a turn. I go into a stall and just stand there as long as I figure I can get away with it. The toilet is the only place I can be alone.



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 Updated on 9/30/03

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