Jake Burns had no business attempting what he was. His parents had raised him better. Unlike some other kids he grew up with he was not allowed to roam the roads late as a teenager. He never shoplifted so much as a gumball, got into fights or showed disrespect to any adults back home. The first time he drank alcohol was at a fraternity rush party during his senior year of high school. As any rational person could tell, he had no training in crime and therefore had no business trying. But there he sat at eleven thirty in the darkened bedroom on the second floor of his house peering through closed blinds at the last cars leaving the Redwood restaurant across the street.
After grilling Ashley about the layout and alarm system at the restaurant, he had decided to break in through the small window in the ladies room. From there he had only to walk into the dining room, take the video recorder out of the hostess podium and get back to his house to plug it in and watch. There were no motion sensors in the dining room because there had been so many false alarms that Terrance decided to disconnect them. Only the kitchen was heavily guarded and it wouldn’t be bothered.
He waited and watched until finally at ten past twelve he saw Terrance’s Range Rover pull onto Thirty-A. Jake gave himself an extra thirty minutes for safety and then, walking softly even through his own house, he started out on his mission. He walked around the backside of the market and then across a deserted Seagrove Road as far from Thirty-A as he could without walking through the neighbor’s property. He crept lowly across the restaurant parking lot and leaned against the building under his entrance. He pulled a credit card out of his pocket and worked it into the gap between the frame and the window to release the latch. It was a trick he had learned from Tommy Allen a while back when things started going missing from his store. The deputy showed him with ease how simple it was to do, explaining to Jake that he had better get real locks if he wanted to sell his groceries rather then give them away. Jake held his breath as he slid the card from one side of the latch to the other. He smiled when he felt the window give under the pressure of his hand. Putting the credit card back in his pocket, he pulled his body up and slid through the window climbing the wall with his feet for leverage. He arrived inside ending up upside down on top of the vanity.
He righted himself and pulled a flashlight out of his back pocket. He turned it on to get his bearings in the dark room. Finding the door to the hallway, he slowly opened it. His flashlight illuminated a large photograph of Terrance hanging on the wall directly opposite him. Jake jumped in a quick panic mistaking the picture for the man. Recovering after realizing what he was looking at he smiled. He felt pride in breaking into the business of a man so egotistical that he would place billboards of himself in the apparent hope of impressing women. Jake slowly crept through the tables and chairs of the dining room to the podium near the front door. He pulled on the handle but it wouldn’t give, it was locked. He reached up to the nearest table and took a knife from one of the place settings. He jammed the knife into the door and tried to pull it open. The knife bent then broke. A loud gasp escaped his mouth at the sound of the metal breaking. Examining the broken knife with one hand, he pulled out his flashlight with the other and used it to scan the locked cabinet. His hand reached up onto the table for another knife. This time he used it to pry the hinge pins out of the other side of the door. They came out stubbornly and he slowly worked the door out of its hole. The flashlight beam revealed a stack of neatly pressed and folded table cloths filling the cabinet. He tumbled them out to find it otherwise empty.
Jake pressed the butt of the knife against his forehead trying to determine a plan B. The room had no other cabinets that he could see and only two doorways, one to the restroom and the other to the kitchen. Ashley had made it clear that the kitchen was as secure as a bank so an unplanned trip into it was beyond possibility. That left him with only one option: convince the Sheriff’s office that they had to get the video. He stood up then smiled again.
He made his way back out the way he had come. Once safely outside the building, he pinched the window frame and pulled it back into place as best he could. After getting back home, he went straight to his liquor cabinet. He poured a man’s drink and took it and the bottle it came from up to the rooftop deck. At that point he was willing to call it a night. The phone inside started ringing and he brought the glass to his lips to shield him from any more problems. Hearing it stop, he brought the glass down mostly empty. But then it started back. He cursed and plodded down the steps to answer it.
“Jacob, I need your help.” It was Lars’s voice and from the sounds in the back, he was calling from the bar.
“What’s the problem, Lars?”
“It’s your friend, Hoss. He’s gotten himself in to some trouble and if you don’t get over here, he’s going to end up in jail.”
“Okay, I’m on my way,” Jake said and then hung up the phone. He found his keys and headed out the door. The clock said one thirty. “So much for a good night,” he said.
He neared the High Tide and could tell it was going to be worse than a usual Hoss-related incident. The narrow street and all the parking places in front of the bar were filled with groups of people milling around. They stood in groups all making a large perimeter around a small cluster of people. The distinct drunken shouting of Hoss was clearly audible above everything else. Jake parked on the shoulder a block away and walked towards the shouting. He ran into Lars before he reached the center.
“Sorry, Jake. I think you’re too late.”
“Sheriff’s already here, huh? I told him he was gonna get arrested if he kept on picking fights,” Jake replied.
“Well, if it makes you feel better, he didn’t really pick this one. A couple of yahoos were speeding down the street and they hit a dog. They stopped, saw what had happened and tried to take off. Evidently, Hoss jumped out of some bushes onto the hood of their truck. He reached into the driver’s open window and ripped the keys out of the ignition. He threw them over there in the brush,” he said pointing to where a deputy was searching with a flashlight. “They had some words and it disintegrated from there.”
“Jake! Help me out man!” Hoss yelled.
Jake looked up and saw his head bobbing up over the crowd.
“Thanks, Lars. Sorry about the mess.”
“This, this is nothing. It’s outside of the bar at least. Two weeks ago we had a ska band from Mobile playing in here. The guitarist goes crazy, jumps behind the bar and starts smashing everything in a green bottle. He was terrorizing the place screaming, ‘I can’t breathe!’ over and over again. That was a bad night, especially for the Tanqueray and Heineken.”
Jake shook his head and laughed then shook Lars’ hand and headed for Hoss. When he reached the center, it was a pretty sad sight. Hoss stood handcuffed next to a deputy. On the ground in front of him lay the dog, eyelids half open and blood dribbling from its mouth. A woman, apparently the owner of the dog, sat next to it slowly rubbing its back and saying its name. A couple of feet away stood the truck. In front of its dented hood sat two teenagers, eyes swollen, noses bleeding and shirts ripped. One thing was certain, you do not want to get on the wrong side of Hoss.
“Jake, tell this dude to get those things off me. I didn’t do anything!” he ranted.
“Mister, you calm down and shut your mouth or I will subdue you,” the deputy said with one hand over his holstered taser gun.
“Hoss, shut up,” Jake warned. Then to the deputy he asked, “What’s he charged with?”
“Disorderly conduct right now. Those two boys are too afraid to press charges against him, but I can assure you we’ll work something else up.”
“Those two little pansy dog killers don’t have any right to charge me. What about charging them with murder? Or at least being stupid asses!” Hoss yelled, his voice beginning to go hoarse.
“Hoss, shut your mouth,” Jake said slowly. “Alright, I’m going to get some bail money. Where will you book him?”
“At the Seagrove Road Annex,” the deputy replied.
“Ok, Hoss, you better stand down, cause if this gets any worse, they’ll take you up to Defuniak Springs and I’m not making that drive tonight to bail you out.”
“Yeah, sure I’m cool. But those two little punks better start sleeping with one eye open from now on.”
“Settle down, Norman,” Jake said pointing at Hoss.
“Have you been drinking, sir?” the deputy asked Jake smelling the liquor on this breath.
“No sir,” Jake said.
“You’re sure? I smell alcohol.”
“No sir, must be that one,” he replied pointing at Hoss.
“That’s good, there’s been too much in the way of drunks on the road tonight.”
He returned to his car and drove back to the market. He went into the office and pulled some fifties out of the safe. The booking process would take a while so he found the drink he abandoned. After emptying it he started a new one. The clock slowly turned its hands until it was time to go. He picked up his car keys, then cupped his free hand over his mouth and blew. The suspicion of the deputy at the High Tide meant it was best to walk, the short distance from the market to the Sheriff’s office. He dropped the keys and left.
“I’m here to post bail for Norman,” Jake told the desk officer at the Sheriff’s annex.
“Name, please?” he asked.
“Just a minute.” He got up from behind the desk and walked back to a small office. He reemerged shortly with Deputy Allen, who was wearing his uniform shirt with blue jean and tennis shoes.
“Hiya, Tommy. I like the tennis shoes, kinda gives the uniform a beach feel. Maybe you should go back to shorts and sandals instead.”
“Funny, Jake. I was in a rush to get down here. Busy night for South Walton law breakers.”
“Yeah, its pretty crazy. I wanted to post bail for Hoss.”
“Sorry. I can’t let you do that. Not with what happened tonight. .”
“I understand ya’ll are upset about this, but it wasn’t really his fault. You know how he feels about dogs.”
“Cares more about them than people from what I hear.”
“Ok. Well, can I talk to him? Try to get him to remain cool until the morning.”
“Sure you can, Jake. Come on back.” He held his arm out to show him to the cell.
“Pretty funny having a jail cell in a double wide, huh, Tommy?”
“Yeah, Jake. But we’ll have to make do until the permanent annex is built,” he said. Deputy Allen opened a door that led to two holding cells. In one sat the two teenage boys, bandaged and wearing plain white t-shirts. In the other sat Hoss. The cells were every bit as temporary as the building that contained them. They were the standard dimensions of real jail cells but instead of metal bars, the walls were chain link fence. Along the two opposite walls of each cell were steel dormitory cots that had been bolted into the vinyl tiled floors.
“You want to step inside, Jake,” the deputy asked opening Hoss’s cell.
“Thanks,” Jake replied walking in.
Deputy Allen closed and locked the cage behind him then started reciting the Miranda rights to him.
“Whoa, Tommy, what’s this all about?” Jake asked surprised.
“You dropped this in the Redwood Grill tonight,” Tommy Allen said holding up Jake’s credit card. “When Terrance brought it to me two possibilities came to mind. One that a lady acquaintance of yours dropped it while using the restroom earlier in the evening. Sounded unlikely that you would give someone your card and just say, ‘Go on. Buy yourself a fancy meal on me.’ Then number two occurred to me. I showed you how it was done. Hope that doesn’t make me an accomplice. And you wanted to see that video tape from the night that Eden died. Puts you in a bad spot. By the way, that doesn’t include the accident you had in there. I’ll just leave ya’ll here tonight and we’ll get to work figuring all this out tomorrow. Ok, gentlemen?”
He left and closed the outer door behind him. Jake stood dumbfounded behind the cage door staring at some spot in the empty space between it and the outer door the deputy left through.
“Hoss Man, B & E, I’m impressed,” Hoss said from his cot. “You always seemed smarter than that to me or, at least, more afraid of risking that nice little life that you have. What was it with you and that girl anyway? Ya’ll must have had what they call an intimate relationship. What do you think boys? You think my man has what it takes to score with a teenager?”
The two boys sat quietly in the adjoining cell trying to avoid any contact with Hoss, protected or not.
“Ah, you little punks wouldn’t know anyway. Can’t drive, can’t fight. Just a couple of retarded poster children for animal cruelty.”
“Knock it off, Hoss,” Jake said coming out of his trance and moving to their cell’s other cot.
“Knock it off. Knock it off? That doesn’t sound like any hardened criminal I know. C’mon Jake, you’re in the big league now, let’s hear you talk like it.”
“Yeah, I graduated. But where are you? Still doing the same petty crap you’ve been doing since high school. What’s that make twenty years? That’s two decades. In two decades, Bill Gates went from skinny little computer geek to rich enough to immunize every child in Africa. I bet your Dad, Dr. Leeds, still makes the payments on that nice big shiny truck of yours. In two decades, Gandhi went from being a lawyer for the poor to leading a quarter a billion people out from under British rule. You? You can’t even keep half a dozen guys working for you. I graduated. You haven’t even managed to fail yet.”
Hoss jumped up off of his cot and grabbing Jake’s shirt with both fists swung him up around and slammed his back against the chain link cell wall. “Ease up, Hoss Man. You’re not that tough yet.”
They stood eye to eye both taking heavy breaths. It looked like it was going to be a fight but then Hoss smiled. He released his grip on Jake’s shirt and said, “Yeah, a regular jailhouse dog.” He went back to his cot and laid down. Jake pulled down on the tail of his shirt to straighten it and then leaned his head back against the fence.
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 20