DAY 1: It was warm spring day and
the sun was beating down on the gray concrete porch. Jack Cain was standing back in his
jeans and white t-shirt with the screen door open.
“Is Sara in?” Jack asked.
The man shook his head.
“She ain’t. May I ask who's asking?”
“Jack Cain. I reckon you ought to remember me, Johnny.”
be damned,” Johnny said, smiling. He opened the door wide. “Come on in.”
“Much obliged,” Jack said.
“I hardly recognized
you. You ain’t ever looked so clean.”
“Ten years in
stir will do that to you. It will either take the fight out of you or make you meaner.
Me it took the fight out of.”
There was an old brown couch with the back cushions missing. Jack sat there, in
the middle of the sofa, in the dark room. Johnny took a seat in the gray recliner across
from the television console. Phil Donahue was playing on the big Zenith. The television
set was three years old but still newer than anything Jack had seen in a decade.
“Look at my manners, you take some coffee?”
“Black if you
got it,” Jack said. His attention drifted back to the television set.
“Sure do. Will go and scare up Katy while I’m at it. She might be able
to tell you better where Sara’s run off to.”
The house was clean,
cleaner than Jack remembered Katy keeping house. Back before the trouble started, when
Sara was just a little thing and before he’d been locked up on the robbery charges,
Sara had kept dishes piled in the sink, dirty, the floor would be caked with mud, and around
the house, diapers would be stacked like a collection of jazz records.
was about to light a cigarette when Johnny came back in with his cup of coffee. He reached
the steaming cup to Jack and crossed back to the recliner.
“I done told Katy. Says she’ll be down in a minute. Word to the wise,
you might want to go outside to smoke that. Katy don’t care so much for smoking in
Jack sipped his coffee, sighed, and then said, “When did Katy become so proper?”
“Sara got the bronchitis bad back in grade school. Katy started making me
smoke outside then, quit smoking herself.”
“She still got
“No, sir, she cleared up back then.”
Jack sat his cup down on the table next to the sofa and saw the paper sitting there,
read the headline. That’s when Katy walked in, small and clean with her brown hair
a mess. She coughed in her hand and looked down at Jack harshly. Jack stood to meet her.
He reached a hand. Katy shook him off.
“You tell him no smoking in the house?”
lit up once,” Johnny said.
“Smells like he has,” she said.
“Go fix me a cup
of coffee like I like it, sugar. I need to talk with this man privately a minute.”
Johnny crossed the room and Katy took his seat on the recliner. She tightened the
belt on her robe and crossed her legs.
“You look good, Katy,” Jack said.
“Cut the shit.
What’s brought you up here, Jack?”
“Came to see Sara,”
Katy laughed. “Why the hell are you suddenly interested in your daughter?”
“Sara and I have been exchanging letters the last three years. I figured she
must have told you,” Jack said.
Katy shook her head, no.
“Well the letters stopped about two months ago.”
figures,” Katy said. “That’s when she got mixed up with that hood, Jimmy.”
“Where is she now?”
Johnny came back then, handing Katy a coffee white as snow. Katy winked at him.
“We reckon she took off somewhere with that boy,” Johnny said.
“Why would she do that?” Jack asked.
Katy sipped her coffee,
lowered her cup, and said, “Why the hell do young girls get mixed up with good-for-nothing
boys? Why the hell did I take up with you and you cooking crank and drinking all the time?”
“I couldn’t tell you,” Jack said. “Just stupid I guess.
Like we all were at that age.”
“Way I look at it, talking to you must have put some ideas in her head.”
“Got her thinking it was something else running around with a wild man, so
she had to go and find herself one like her father. She must have asked you plenty about
us, what we were up to at her age.”
“She asked some.
That wasn’t the only things we talked of. We talked about her going to college and
the like too.”
“Well she done gave up on college, the way I see it. Jack, you look good and
clean now but prison don’t soften men none. You had a baby and a wife and you had
to go off and act like a fool and do a fool thing like rob that place. Well you can’t
come back looking to play daddy.”
Jack stood. “You wasn’t exactly no mother of the year candidate.”
Katy stood from the recliner. She looked to Johnny and said, “Show our guest
out since he’s already standing. I’m tired and going back to bed.”
Katy walked out. Johnny turned to Jack and shook his head.
know how these women get. Let me show you out, Jack,” Johnny said.
Johnny stepped out behind Jack and they stopped on the steps leading down to the
“That boy has got family down in Indianapolis, if you want to go looking for
‘em. I wouldn’t know where to tell you to but they got some sort of funny sounding
foreign name. Sounds Mexican to me but is Italian I reckon.”
“Hate to go back to Indiana. I just spent ten goddamn years in that mess.”
“Best I can tell you though,” Johnny said.
Jack was on the curb outside about to open the driver’s door when Johnny hollered
down to him. He said:
“Esposito is the name.”
2: It was an
ugly day, cold and pouring rain. Jack was drifting in and out of memory, not truly awake
yet. In prison, he had tried to sleep as much of the time away as was possible. That was
a practice frowned on by the guards. This wasn’t prison though, no guards to worry
about here. He could sleep when he wanted. He rested in the small dark room until it was
well after noon.
The highway exit led to a gas station that jogged a bad memory inside him. It was
a small little brick filling station with a big yellow canopy over the pumps like the one
in Bloomington he had robbed. When he parked the Mercury, he half wanted to sneak in for
fear someone inside would be suspicious of him, but when he hustled up to the counter,
the woman working the register seemed friendly enough. She was an older woman with short
gray hair and big false teeth. She reminded Jack of some of his aunts, the ones who had
seen him inside, anyway. Of those relatives who had visited him, it was a short list; and
of the others, who all lived in Kentucky, he hadn’t seen in years.
bought a cup of coffee, black, and two packs of Chesterfields. When he climbed back inside
the car he turned the engine over and drank the coffee down fast and pulled on a cigarette.
He was in no rush to get to Indianapolis, being this far into Indiana was bad enough. Traveling
across the state had sent chills down his spine. It was like counting ten years’
worth of days down again, with every mile he clicked away.
In Indianapolis, he
had a lead on a Rocky Esposito, who lived near the suburb of Beech Grove. Rocky was the
right age to have a son the same age of Sara. Drawing on a Chesterfield, he asked himself
again what he thought he was doing. He smiled to himself, remembering Sara when she was
little, just the right size for packing around. Then he saw her in the prison visiting
room, almost ten, the last time he had seen her, when Katy had come in with Johnny the
second time saying she was filing for divorce, that she was in love with Johnny and wouldn’t
be back to see him with Sara. She only came back once on her own after that.
The funny thing about it now was that he felt sorry for Johnny. Johnny had worked
outside the mines in Harlan, growing up, never his friend but friendly.
Jack started the car and thought about Queen Katy and her special coffee, and the
way she liked the shower curtain left outside the tub.
he felt quite sorry for him.
DAY 3: It was a dead end street and the sun was shining down on the roofs
of the houses. Jack was in his car with the radio dialed down, some idiot on the radio
complaining about taxes. He finally switched the radio off when he saw the big man with
the bad rug come jogging up to the house, sucking air like a broken vacuum on the stone
steps. The man was top heavy, dressed in a gray tracksuit and his rug was on unevenly as
if the wind had caught it. Okay, Jack thought, give it ten minutes, go in, and catch
him before he jumps in the shower. Find out what he knows then blow. If it would only be
so easy, he thought. A car pulled up then, a blue Chrysler wagon. A middle-aged woman in
a church dress was driving. The woman climbed from the car and opened the trunk. The man
came out of the house, the top half of his tracksuit off, just wearing a white undershirt
now. The man and the woman started talking. An argument broke out, and then the man walked
to the back of the car and unloaded groceries. All this was going on and Jack was thinking
it was show. The man hadn’t been jogging, but he had been working out—with
a neighbor’s wife, somewhere getting a quickie—instead of with weights.
After that, Jack let his seat back. Let ‘em figure it out or fight it out,
he thought. It was close to dinnertime anyway, and if he got them after dinner, he might
find them in better spirits.
It was getting dark, as it still does in spring after dinnertime in Indiana, when
Jack woke. The big man was mournfully dragging two bags of garbage across the yard. When
he came back around the front of the house, sucking air again, Jack climbed from the car
and ambled over to meet him.
“Are you Rocky Esposito?” Jack asked him.
The man turned back
and grimaced. “This would depend on who’s asking. Are you here about that boy
“I done told the rest of Sam’s boys that I don’t know where the
hell he is. Don’t care. He phoned me two weeks back and said something about a hick
he’s dating, her having family down south somewhere. That’s all I know.”
“I happen to be that girl’s father,” Jack said.
Did she steal from you, too?”
“Wait a second,” Jack stepped back and said. “What’s this
“I’m going in, amigo. You want to know what she took, ask her. She’s
“Talk to me,” Jack said. “I don’t know how you feel about
your boy, but I want to see my girl, especially if she’s in trouble. If you know
where she took off, whatever you know you need to tell me.”
big man was back inside the house about to shut the door when the lady inside walked up
wearing her nightgown and stopped him.
“Who’s that?” she asked.
“Is he here about Jimmy?”
“Come on in,”
Jack stepped inside the dark house, took a deep breath. The house smelled like shellfish.
“Have a seat,” Rocky said.
“You need anything?
I can make coffee,” the woman said.
“Just some information
on what my girl’s mixed up in.”
Rocky said. He sat across from Jack on the couch.
“How bad does this shit stink?”
Rocky said. “The boy and your daughter there, they got in their heads to take something
that doesn’t belong to them, some expensive illegal things.”
“Cut the shit,” Jack said. “I just did ten years for armed.”
Rocky cleared his throat, stiffened in his seat. “Well, since I know you aren’t
so delicate, I may as well tell you.”
The woman walked out
and back in with a cup of coffee. She handed the cup to Jack. Jack sipped. The coffee was
“This was some serious drugs the boys up in Chicago just recently invested
in. They didn’t used to mess with
drugs. This is a new thing.”
“Go on,” Jack said.
“Well the kid was doing some street work for the higher ups. I ain’t
naming names and you wouldn’t know ‘em anyway, but these are the big guys and
he done stole from them. If I ever see the little bastard again I’m going to kick
his ass so hard he won’t be able to sit for a week.”
he left out loaded and my girl with him?”
“No offense, but
she didn’t sound so innocent when I talked to her,” Rocky said.
Jack stood, said, “You don’t know her.”
done ten years, you don’t know her so well yourself.”
cooled off. What the man had said was abrasive but true. He wasn’t a father to the
girl, and he couldn’t pretend to be one now. Now he was just concerned. He wanted
to find her, see if she wanted a father. She certainly needed one.
“You don’t know where they could have gone?’
shook his head. “Just like I done told you, Jimmy was talking about some family down
in Kentucky the girl has. You would know more about that than I do.”
Jack walked to the door. Rocky followed him. He reached his hand and Rocky accepted
“Thank you for your time,” Jack said.
“I worry about my boy too, believe me, but if you only knew the damn trouble
he’s caused this family, you’d understand why I feel the way I do.”
DAY 7: Richard answered the door in his
nightclothes. He was the older brother Jack hadn’t seen in fifteen years. The
man looked as ragged as the property: his unkempt beard, his unkempt yard. It all matched.
He invited Jack in and put on coffee, trash piled waist high inside the little house, the
table and the counter barely visible. The two sat at the table with the morning sun shining
in on them.
“So you did see her?” Jack asked.
“She and that boy came by. She told me I was her uncle and
that she was just passing through.”
“She mention any
“She didn’t let on there was any.
That boy asked me if I knew where he could unload some cocaine. Said they were getting
short on money. I told him I didn’t know anyone in Harlan could afford cocaine. Half
the county’s living on social security.”
“Did they say
where they were heading?”
Richard sipped his coffee, waited to answer. “That girl of
yours looked rough in the eyes, Jack.”
do you mean?”
“I know you must be worried enough already, to pile into
that old Mercury and come down here looking for her, but—”
“But I reckon
she may be using that stuff herself.”
“Well that ain’t
“No, it ain’t. You take another cup?” Richard stood from
the table. When Jack nodded, he took his cup with him and poured out two
steaming cups of thick, black coffee. He brought the cup back and sat it down.
He looked his brother over, smiled.
“What is it?”
“I believe prison took the devil out of you. You ain’t ever
“Where's the missus?”
“Took off. I got drinking that clear back a few weeks ago
and she took off up the road with her momma and sister.”
ain’t married I bet.”
and she’s still spouting the ills of liquor. Well Betty said she would come back
when she sees I’m on the wagon. Going on two weeks now, sober, so I reckon she’ll
be back for long.”
Jack finished his coffee. Richard finished his coffee. The
day grew brighter outside.
“You want me to fix you up a bed someplace? It
ain’t any good driving all night and day without rest.”
“I better hit the highway. So you don’t have any ideas where
she might have taken herself?”
a damn clue. You could try K-town.”
“Why not? It’s the biggest city around here.”
“All right. I better make leave with myself.”
“Don’t take fifteen years getting back to see me.”
“That road out there runs both ways.”
DAY 9: With no
better ideas, Jack walked the beach all day. It was close to dark and he was slipping his
shoes back on and walking back to his car. He was going to find a liquor store, buy some
beer, and go back to his room and plan his next move. Something inside of him was broken,
some missing piece that his heart skated around like a needle slipping the
In the Food Lion lot, he was parking when he saw a girl
about Sara’s age going in. The girl was tall and slim and had on a blue jean
skirt and a gray plaid shirt. The girl also had a black eye. Jack was dismissive,
he hadn’t started running up to girls Sara’s age asking their names yet, not
even the ones who looked like her, and wasn’t going to start.
the counter, inside the store, he unpacked his beer and two bags of shelled peanuts. The
girl he’d seen walked out as he slinked up to the register. The cashier, a short
stocky girl, was named Sara. Jack studied her
tag and half smiled.
“What is it?” the girl asked.
“Your name is Sara,” Jack said. “That’s my girl’s name.”
“Must be a common name around here,” she said. “That girl
just left was named Sara too. She told me when she saw my tag.”
“She was?” Jack said.
took out a twenty and tossed it on the counter. He almost forgot his beer.
“It didn’t cost that much,” the cashier said.
Jack didn’t hear her. He was in the lot trying to find Sara
when he saw her pulling away. She was behind the wheel of a rusted red
Chevette. She was alone. He tossed the beer and peanuts inside the Mercury and started
the car. He floored it. He caught up with the girl two stoplights down and about died laughing
when he saw her pull into the hotel beside his own.
He pulled the car next
to the Chevette in a hurry and opened the door. The girl looked back and recognized him
almost at once, she said, “Dad?”
dropped the door key and rushed to hold him. Jack gave her a long hard squeeze and stopped
himself from looking at the black eye. When the girl looked up and saw him avoiding it,
she welled up with tears. Anger rose inside Jack.
“Where's that boy?”
“He's out meeting
with some friends on the beach.”
“He left you here alone?”
“He did that to you?”
was an accident,” she said.
“What I do to him won’t be.”
“Daddy, don’t get upset. You don’t know Jimmy, the kind of
pressure he’s under.”
inside,” Jack said. He took Sara’s hand in his own and they walked.
the room was clean, didn’t look lived in. Sara sat on the bed. Jack sat beside
her. He didn’t know where to start.
“I thought about
you every day I was in there. When your mother stopped bringing you to see me it made time
go even slower.”
“Daddy, don’t cry.”
course he did. How couldn’t he? It was the first time in ten years he had heard
her say it. She wiped his face, gave him a kiss. He held her. He was holding
her by her shoulders about to ask his hard questions when the boy Jimmy walked in.
The boy was in cutoff jean shorts and had on a gray muscle shirt. He was sunburned and
his young muscles flexed as he moved.
“Who’s this?” Jimmy asked Sara harshly.
father, he's been looking for me.”
“Yeah, well, we don’t
need your old man butting in our business. We gotta split in the morning.”
done told us to run this stuff down to Georgia.”
“You ain’t going
nowhere with my girl,” Jack said. He stood from the bed. The boy kept his distance.
don’t. Let me talk with Jimmy alone a few minutes.”
looked back, and then he looked to the boy disdainfully. He walked out. He waited in the
lot for Sara.
needs to talk with you alone,” she said. “I’m going to run back down
to the store to buy some pop.”
fight with him,” Sara said from inside the car.
was on the bed watching television. “I have a business proposition for you. I know
you just got out. I know you’re tough.”
“What’s tough got to do with
have to take what I got to Georgia. I can’t take it down there alone. There has
to be someone driving and someone handing off, the way they want it picked up.”
“So you want to go in Sara’s place, right?”
“You’re her father. You ride with me down
there to keep her out of trouble. We ride we get to know one another better. You tell me
about the joint, I tell you about your daughter.”
don’t want to hear what you got to say about my daughter,” Jack said.
you want is rid of me, right?”
Jimmy said. He clicked off the television set. He stood from the bed, slipped
on his shoes and walked over to meet Jack. “Make a deal with you, you go with
me, and when we come back I split.”
“Are you serious?”
I got down on the beach today and realized I’m too young and good looking to
get married. I love Sara, I do, but I don’t want to get married and all that
“Spare me the speech. What time do we leave?”
go first thing in the morning. We take Sara to a new place in a new town and
then we leave.”
“Okay,” Jack said. “Is she going
to be all right by herself?”
“Yeah, we can register the new place in your name,
and I’ll phone my friends and tell them to keep watch.”
Jack said. “I’m going to my room. Send Sara over when she gets back.”
Sara came to Jack’s room after dark. She was in a short
skirt and long blue t-shirt. She looked melancholy. Jack hugged her and
together they drank Cokes from green glass bottles.
“Do you love this
boy?” Jack asked her.
“Of course I do. We're going to get married when he gets
“Don’t you worry about him and his lifestyle? You done seen
what it did to me, how it put me away and split your mother and me up.”
Sara laughed, sat her Coke down on the little laminated
tabletop beside the bed. She said, “Jimmy told me he's quitting all this as
soon as he gets back. He’s going to sell this stuff and move us out to California.”
“It ain’t that easy going out to California and making a
life. I wish you’d reconsider fooling around with that boy.”
“I love him, daddy.”
“I don’t know about that,” Jack said. He took
Sara in his arms and gave her a squeeze. When she left, Jack watched the neon
lights outside playing against the curtains. He didn’t sleep a wink.
DAY 10: They had delivered what they had to deliver
and had picked up what they had to pick up, a boxful of crisp twenty-dollar bills. Jimmy
was driving and Jack was sitting in the passenger seat looking down at the console. His
eyes caught the boy’s hip, the gun, still tucked there, a small caliber automatic,
and he winced. He said to the boy:
“When we stop in a bit for gas you ought to put that gun
“Are you nervous?” Jimmy asked. His brown eyes flashed.
“No, I just don’t want to see some cop ask you where you
got it, what you intend to do with it is all.”
Jimmy said, “good point. I’ll slip it under the spare in the trunk.”
“Bad idea, amigo,” Jack said. “That’s the first place they
would look after looking on you. I’ll hold it.”
“Why's that any better?”
they won’t search me,” Jack said. “I’m not driving.”
“Okay,” Jimmy said. “I get the point.”
It was getting close to morning and Atlanta was near, so
near the traffic was picking up and the radio stations were coming in clearer.
“So where are you taking off to when we get back?” Jack
“Nowhere,” the boy said with a laugh. “Who said I was
“You did. You
said if I helped you on this you would kick out and leave Sara behind.”
“I can’t leave Sara. We’re getting married. We talked about
it last night. Well, she did. She kept me up all night with it.”
“So you’re going to stay with her, huh?”
“Sure. She loves me.”
you love her?”
Jack thought it over. It was more than
a conundrum, a serious problem because the boy couldn’t be with his daughter. He
knew what it meant. He knew how it would end. He was worried now about his girl. Even in
the new room in the new town under the new name, he worried. Whom had he stolen the drugs from? Whose money was it? Would they ever stop looking
for the boy? Would Sara ever be safe if she was with him? No. These guys wouldn’t
quit. In prison, Jack had seen guys killed, killed for past debts, hits
paid for with cigarettes. There was no getting away. Sara would never be safe. Jack opened the glove box.
don’t think you should take the highway through Atlanta, too many cops. I saw an
alternate route that will take us around it.”
Jack smiled. “Turn a left when you see this next exit. I
just got thinking that if we stopped and that money was found we'd have some
tough questions to answer.”
“We make a pretty
good team, old man,” Jimmy said. ‘You’re the brains and I’m the
“Yeah,” Jack said.
car rolled on away from traffic, onto an old two-lane road that cut away from Atlanta into
clear backcountry, into a place so thick with trees and bush it looked and smelled and
felt like jungle.
“Stop the car,” Jack said. “I got to go.”
either out here or in the car. You want to ride back to Carolina in a pissy car?”
“No,” Jimmy said.
slowed the car to a stop and killed the lights. Jack walked around to the driver‘s
side of the car. Jack jumped. He turned to the boy and said, “Get out here fast,
you gotta see this!”
opened the door as Jack pulled out the pistol. When he crossed in front of
Jack, he turned to ask what it was and two shots cut across the Georgia dawn.
DAY 11: It was
a misty day. The lights on the big hotels along the shore didn’t show very far. The
beach was empty. There was no traffic on the roads and no faces gazing through the tourist
trap shop windows. In the motel lot, not quite seeing the ocean but feeling its power,
Jack stepped from the car slowly and stretched his legs. At room 114, the door hung
open. There were no sounds coming from inside the room, no lights on inside,
either. Jack moved slowly, like a surgeon at work. Finding the light he saw
Sara’s bloody hand stretched out across the bed, holding the telephone cord,
the cord cut. Her arms were limp. Her body was limp, cold, dead. Jack took
the girl in his arms and held her. He cried like a baby
and then he cleaned himself up, left the room, and called the police from a payphone on
his way out of town. When he reached Indianapolis on his way back to Chicago, he called
Enigmatic, outspoken, and angst-ridden, D.S.
Jones is a writer published in Black
Heart Magazine, Shotgun Honey, and the
Told You So Anthology from Pill
Hill Press. Visit thedsjones.com to learn more, or follow
him on Twitter @thedsjones.