By Walt Peterson
When I looked up from giving the guy CPR, Pony Boy was panicked. His eyes shot over to the hotel bureau with the wallet, the bottles of pills and the woman’s purse. I knew what his eyes were asking. It didn’t take me a second to shake my head—no. Then my eyes shot to the half-opened door of the hotel room. He looked confused, back at the loot on the bureau.
No, my eyes said, PB, we’re outta’ here! I rose fully and heard myself saying, “Ma’am, your husband’s gone. He died and is with God. Let’s all close our eyes to say a prayer.”
My pap was a preacher. I heard it a hundred times. The woman stopped crying. Damn, she—we all closed our eyes. I mumbled a prayer. Told her, “We’re plain clothes security—Miami Hotel Bureau. I’ll let you here with your loving husband, and we’ll alert the hotel manager; he’ll be up in a respectful time to help you further, ma’am.” I closed the door softly behind us and said to PB, “Let’s blow the fuck out of here, man.”
A few minutes before, we had come out of the hotel room adjacent to the woman’s and heard this cry for help. My homie was already at the staircase, but I had to see what was comin’ down. I went into the room. I should have just split. This old guy was on the floor with a heart attack. Both he and the lady were in their undies. My military training kicked in. I knew I should have split but I did a finger sweep. I cleared the man’s air passages and started to work out. He was not gonna make it, just like the kid who found the IED in Fallujah I worked on, but I kept trying because of her cries…the woman. Finally, I looked up and had to tell her he was gone. That’s when I saw Pony Boy’s eyes tellin’ me it was time to leave.
PB and I made it to the staircase and clattered down and out to the parking lot. There weren’t a lot of security cameras back then. Out on the street, we just shook our heads. Violating every rule of cat burglaring and still getting the goods. Definitely a Boy-Scout, Good-Deed Day. Maid Marian, our inside gal from the housekeeping department, did her job well, too. She’d told us, North wing on Four, then all the room numbers. She’d get her cut. Pony Boy was savin’ up his loot to open a rib shack, and me…so much for good intentions pavin’ the road to you-know-where, the pusher.
Next couple’a years, we got better, the jobs got easier and easier and my habit got harder and harder. Yeah, the crack house, if you’ve never been here. I fell down a flight of steps when one top step broke. Found myself at the bottom, the lower depths so to speak, on a sex-for-drugs mattress. And who knows what was spilled here. If Hell has a smell to go along with the run-of-the-mill tortures, this was it. I lay there with my tibia protruding, so stoned I couldn’t feel it much, but the whole place was like that: nightmare in a safe-house—right down to the mattresses. We used to stack mattresses against the walls in our safe house on the Afghan border for protection from bomb blasts. The crack house happened about a year before they caught me, again. I was glad they did. Some guys say it’s hard to get put back in prison, but that was the safest place for me. I began to admit that that night at the bottom of the steps but couldn’t help my habit. I threw myself a curve and couldn’t connect, and this was my third swing. Baby, I was a three-time loser.
It’s 1320 feet around the track in the prison yard—about 500 steps. Four times around is a mile, and I’ve got a thousand miles behind razor wire and stone walls on this track. According to the old heads, the record is five thousand. It may be horse-pucky, but I don’t want to be here in this prison long enough to set a new record. Some young bloods are on me about my grey hair and weight. A little winter fat to work off out in the yard since we are allowed out after chow. The military, like drugs, stays with you. Discipline. I’ll get tight and slim and forget about the grey showing on my sideburns. The young guys call me old head behind my back. Old Head, right. That’s what they are thinking. But I’m up for trustee and have been working with the guys in the yard on their problems. I’m going to try out for the prison baseball league again. First base or maybe even player-coach. It’s getting on to be Spring. I’ve seen the earth revolve around the sun behind these walls too many times. But, what the hell, the sun is above the walls till almost eight this evening.
I can do a few more circuits, and I need to tell you this, not a confession exactly, but my dad wasn’t really a real preacher. He’d show people a match-pack advertisement diploma from some hokey theological school. When somebody died in the neighborhood, he’d be there for the family and take me with him. He could quote The Book in a pretty deep voice. He didn’t care—black or white—if the family needed comforting, he’d be there for them. He was there for me in that Miami hotel room, too. Now I realize he’s showin’ me the way over these walls. He’s my way out.