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Jack McMannus
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drjacobs2.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan 2014

The Changing Fortunes of Dr. Jacobs

Jack McMannus

                 

His life for the next five thousand days would be hell. The guards on top of those towers would make sure of that. Dr. Robert Jacobs looked out the bus window as they pulled through the back gates of the prison. He’d have to make it through the next two weeks and adjust, which was going to be the worst part.

God, I don’t belong here.

“Move it along prisoners, you’re not sightseeing!” shouted a guard so big he made the rifle he held look like a toy.

Dr. Jacobs hated it when people shouted, and now to have to listen to them and obey them was unfathomable. He took small steps to mimic the other prisoners in leg irons strung together in front and behind him. Anyone looking at the string of prisoners could see he was the odd man out, his small frame a caricature against the bigger, rougher looking inmates. The new inmates filed off the bus and shuffled along a red line on the ground towards a door at the back of a red brick building.

“Here, fishy fishy!” a big ugly inmate with no front teeth said, trying to push his thick body and face through the bars. He and other prisoners stood in the yard behind a fifteen foot high fence. Saliva flew out of his mouth when he yelled.

Indistinguishable cat-calls came from others who had gathered inside the yard close to the bus to watch the new inmates get processed.

“Prisoners, keep your eyes forward!” boomed the big guard.

“Get your stinking eyes straight ahead scumbag,” screamed another guard an inch away from the doctor’s ear. “You’re not on holiday!” 

The Dr. flinched and moved forward, his eyes went to the ground in front of him.  

One prisoner close to the gate inside the yard stood stoic, protected by a circle of his men. He stared at the new inmates stumbling over each other to get through the door to processing. His eyes never blinked, and his black hair was trim and neat, slicked back with jell.

The sounds of the yard faded behind Robert when the inmates filed into a big empty room and the steel door slammed shut behind them with a loud metallic sound. He watched from the corner of his eye as the door shut and he became aware of the absence of sunlight.

***

“I told room service I wanted a steak medium rare, a baked potato and a small dinner salad.” Dr. Jacobs said. He stood against the back wall of the six by six cell with no window; the only ambient light coming from a slit at the bottom of the steel door.

“I know this isn’t what you’re used to Doc, but I’ll bring you a slice a cheese cake and a coffee for desert when you’re finished with this,” Jarvis said, ”just give us a whistle.”  The young guard laughed and slid the tray into the small cell opening at the bottom of the door.

“You crack me up Doc.” Jarvis said through the door. “I put a small piece of cheese on your plate for your friend too.”

“Thanks Jarvis, you’re my favorite oppressor.”  Doc’s voice echoed inside the chamber. “Did you bring me that medical journal I wanted?”

 “Doc, you know you can’t have anything to read in solitary; stop hitting guards and you’ll be able to read your journals again. After two and a half years of coming in and out of solitary you should know that.”  Jarvis half shouted, and then added, “Yeah, I found it for you Doc, when you get out tomorrow I’ll give it to you.”

Dr. Jacobs tried to visualize Jarvis standing on the other side of the thick steel door.

“Thank you, Jarvis.”

“Bon a petit, Doc.”

Doc grabbed his tray off the concrete floor and sat down against the wall opposite the door and set the tray on his lap, he threw the piece of cheese in the corner. Here you go buddy, I hate to eat alone. Now, to dig into this masterpiece of culinary delight. I see we’ll be having breaded veal cutlet with a string bean salad; last time I had that I was at the Tip Top Inn with Judy. 

What I wouldn’t give to hold her again. I hope what’s his name appreciates that face. A guy could lose himself in that face. Such a beauty and a good woman, always faithful, well to me she was, I’m sure of it, maybe not; but ignorance is bliss right?

I really need to stop having conversations with myself, it’ll ruin my stay at The Inn.

Dr. Robert Jacobs laughed out loud and the two guards down the hall looked at each other and went back to their card game.

I hit Ol’ Harry pretty hard to get in here; I hope he forgives me this time. He did last time. If he hadn’t of followed me down here to the hole the other guards would have beat me even worse. God bless that guy.

Doc wadded up half a piece of bread, shoved it in his mouth and took a sip of water.

He was fixed on a puddle in the middle of the cell when movement caught his attention in the darkness. A mouse scurrying down the length of the cement wall, it held a piece of cheese in its mouth and was headed for the hole in the corner. Doc put his hand over the hole to barricade its access and then used his other hand to trap it in the corner.

 Not so fast, my little friend.

Doc picked up the mouse by the tail and placed him gently on his pant leg.

“How’s my only friend doing today?” He whispered through his whiskers. “it took my eyes a couple of days to even see you when I checked in.”

 How’s your day in this stank-hole? Getting enough to eat I hope?

He stared into the mouse’s black eyes.

The wife and kids are good at home? I use to have a girl too, she was gorgeous. What’s that you say? Good, good, little guy, you know we’ve only got one more day on this vacation and then they’re going to break us up. I don’t know if we’ll see each other again so forgive me if I get emotional on you.

I should tell you about my story before they let me out of here tomorrow; about how a young doctor who had the world by the tail found himself locked up in a shithole of a place and as soon as that happened his pretty young girlfriend married his best friend. Well, she didn’t right away, that is true; she only did it after I asked her to stop wasting her time coming here for visits.  Do you want to hear about that, little guy?

 “That’s not even the best part of it.” He whispered, staring at the wall opposite his spot on the cold concrete.

“No, I don’t blame you; I wouldn’t want to hear it either.”

Robert laughed out loud and it echoed down the hall; the two guards in the shack looked up again from their card playing and then at each other.

“He’s turning crazy as a shithouse rat.”  The first guard said as smoke drifted up off the tip of his cigarette.

“He’s been here for near three years now and in and out of solitary ever since. Give him another week in that hole and he’ll be crazier than that.”  Jarvis said, trying not to laugh and snuffing out his cigarette. He laid three cards face down for his opponent and gave himself two.

“Wait till he’s out in general population tomorrow; he’ll wish he was back in that stanking hole, I guarantee it.” Both guards half-laughed, and Jarvis half-grimaced feeling sympathy for Doc.

“Jokes aside, I feel damn sorry for the guy, Will, he was sharp as a tack when he got here, and then he had to go and get himself thrown in the hole to protect himself as soon as he was processed.” Jarvis said.

 Will lit a cigarette and picked up his hand. “Do you think he did it?”  He said.

“Did what? Killed the mayor? No, I don’t buy it, Docs too genuine.” Jarvis said shuffling the deck. “There are a lot of guys in here that could con you out of everything you own, Will, but that guy? There’s not a dishonest bone in him. Besides that, he’s not the one that shot him, Doc was just trying to save him.

 I’m pretty sure the mayors’ friends needed a scapegoat, so they tied him to the mob with bogus evidence.  Poor bastard sure doesn’t deserve the sentence he got”

                                          ****

 

        The next morning Robert was lying on his rack after his release from the hole the evening prior. The medical journal lay open face down across his chest. The thin mattress was the softest thing he’d felt in three months, but he stared at the ceiling all night unable to sleep. Bill Saunders, his cell-mate, didn’t look at him or speak and kept himself busy in the cell shuffling his belongings around.

 

They went to mess and ate breakfast at seven, and then came back to the cell for another thirty minutes before leaving for their assignments. Bill mustered up the courage to say something.

 

“Don’t show ‘em any fear, Robert, you know you’re going to take a licking but it’ll go worse for ya if you show ‘em fear.”

 

“I’ll try not to Bill, thanks for your words,” Robert said trying to sound brave; but the lump in his throat betrayed him.

 

“At the least, you’ll take a beating, but try and put up a good fight and you’ll be…” 

 

He wished he’d stop saying “beating” and “licking”.

 

Robert didn’t hear the rest of what Bill was saying. His voice faded into the background of his own thoughts as he turned out of the cell and walked down the cell block.

 

He moved slowly towards the laundry room, almost tripping on nothing in particular, just a miss-step of his traitorous legs. The lights above him illuminated his way with a cold, concrete feel. His bladder was full and he had to go bad but he decided to wait until he got to his work station.

 

Tomorrow’s my birthday. They’re probably going to kill me; day before my birthday. My month vacation in the hole is over and now I’m going to pay for it.

 

He reached the laundry room where the other inmates stopped their work; they turned and looked at him, some eyes showed pity, others were just glad it wasn’t them. He noticed right away there were no guards in the laundry room.

 

 Robert’s legs began to shake while he walked over to his laundry station where the big basket of dirty towels waited.

 

I hope it’s quick, I hope it doesn’t last too long and I get knocked out first.

 

                                               ****

Robert labored to get into his routine and focused on washing dirty towels in the bin in front of him.

 

 “You know what I hate Doc?” a familiar voice said behind him.

 

Robert jumped, wheeling around, trying to keep his knees still. He looked into the face of a man with power and complete control, handsome and very strong with slicked back hair. His eyes stared at Robert, unblinking.

 

“No wh..”   Before he could answer a fist slammed against his face knocking Robert’s glasses across the laundry room and sending him to the floor; he lost control of his bladder. His world became chaotic with pain and flashes of light and then it came crashing back into him, he stayed on the floor and tried to focus on the voice that spoke.

 

“I’ll tell you what, you defiant bastard! I hate pompous educated snobs that think they’re better than me!!” said Big John Llorens, looking at Robert with contempt and then disgust when he saw the wet spot spreading across the front of Robert’s prison pants.

 

“I’m not…I don’t think I’m..”

 

“Shut up,” Two of  Big John’s gang members snatched Robert up off the floor.

 

“Wait, I don’t want to...”

 

Robert felt a blow to the stomach and one to the side of the head causing his world to go dim, he hit the concrete floor again. Dizzy and weak, another kick to his rib cage sent the air rushing out of him. The pain was far away now; at the far end of a dark tunnel. The pain spoke to him from the small dim light at the end.

 

“All I wanted you to do, Doc, was make our lives a little easier and smuggle in goodies from some or your colleagues outside the walls and you couldn’t do it. Not only did you not try but you acted arrogant; like you’re better than me.  Like you didn’t want to help out our little community.

 

Well that hurts my feelings, and it pisses me off! You could have been ‘our’ Doc, you could have had the good life here, and time would have gotten a lot easier on you. I could have consulted you on health issues: you could have prescribed me a diet.”  The two gang members laughed. “We could have been buddies, Doc.”

 

I want to close my eyes now, I want out of this game …

 

“No, no, no, no. You’re not going to pass out on me yet, I want you to see this coming, Doc. Pick him up!” The other inmates in the laundry room watched not saying a word, a few made sour faces when they realized Doc had pissed himself.

 

Please don’t, please, I’m not ready…

 

“Do him, and do him slow, I want his life to ebb out on the concrete floor.” Big John Llorens of the Poletti family said to his two goons holding Robert up. One of the men held Robert under his armpits while the other stood in front of him brandishing a thin sharp piece of metal with a small wooden handle and sharpened to a razors edge. The handmade shiv might have been a piece of bed stripping or once part of a woodshop tool.

 

The other goon stepped squarely in front of Robert and pushed his head back exposing his neck and poised the cutting instrument next to the skin on his throat.

 

“Say goodbye Dr. Jacobs,” said the other.

 

“Wait!” both men looked at Big John Llorens whose eyes darted around the room without focus.  “Did you say ‘Dr. Jacobs’?”

 

“Yeah, boss,” said one of the big men holding Robert waiting for the cathartic moment.

 

“What’s your first name Doc?” Big John asked leaning over to look up into Roberts’ face.

 

“Robert” Doc barely managed to get out.

 

“Take him back to my cell and lay him on my bunk.” John said looking at nothing in particular. The two big men carrying Robert walked past the other inmates in the laundry room back to John’s cell. No one said a word.

 

                                              ****

 

“Would you like another sip Doc?” asked Big John, holding the cup of whiskey up to Robert’s lips. It smelled like the good stuff.

 

“Yes, I would.” Taking another small sip, the pain in Robert’s head was starting to dull to the point of acceptance.

 

“Doc, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry about busting you up. Anything you want, anything in this world I can give you, you just ask, it’s yours! Understand?”

 

“Yes, thank you.”  He took another small sip from the cup.

 

  I’d like to see my furry friend again.

 

Big John studied Robert’s features. He wet a clean white cloth in the small sink in the cell and dabbed it on Robert’s cheek and then handed it to Robert who was propped up on his bunk. Robert wiped his mouth and forehead.

 

“Doc, did you work at a clinic on North First Street about eight years ago?”

 

“Yes, I did.”

 

“You saved my sister and nephew, Doc.” Big John searched Robert’s face. “I didn’t know it until I heard your real name. In here, everyone’s got a nickname and I just knew you as Doc; I didn’t know your full name. I had no idea you was the same Doc that saved my Sis and little nephew.”  Big John wiped a tear away before it could betray him. “Holy Moly, this don’t get no stranger. It’s a good thing my man heard your name from that guard, Jarvis.

 

Here my kid sister had went and got herself into trouble about eight years ago. She was so embarrassed that she couldn’t face the family. She hid out by the water front and when she had the baby she came to your clinic and it was a breech, do you remember?”

 

The whiskey was working its magic and Robert felt comfortable enough to open up a little.

 

“Yeah, there were a few girls that came in from time to time. If I remember that time frame there was a baby boy I delivered that was a breech. The mother was young, dark hair, slight build. She gave me a surname of Poletti. I can’t be sure that was her real name, in such circumstances girls often give phony names. I remembered her because of the name she gave.”

 

 “That’s her! I’m surprised she used the family name.” Big John’s eyes widened. “She could have bled to death, you saved her, and my nephew! I looked up your name after she came home and told us the story with my little nephew still wrapped in a blanket.”  It was Big John’s turn to take a sip of whiskey. “She said you were a good doctor and took good care of her. I found out you worked at the clinic part time and had your own practice downtown. I always wanted to go and thank you for it, but,” he looked down at the cement floor, “well, you know what happens, life gets in the way.”

 

Big John smiled while he panned his arm out around the cell and said, “Incarceration is inconvenient.”

 

“Then I heard you worked on that filthy scumbag mayor that up and died on you, and I felt bad for you Doc, I had no idea that bastard would wind up on your table, and the next thing I know his cronies are connecting you to the family business and sending you here, like you had something to do with it. This is beyond coincidence!” Johns smile was as big as he was.

 

“Hahaha! You’re lucky I finally heard your full name Doc! I don’t want to tell you what I was planning but I swear with God as my witness that I’ll make it up to you! Anything you want, you just ask Doc. Can I get you anything?”

 

“Tomorrow is my birthday,” Robert said a little sheepish, “I could use more of this.” He held up his cup. “And I was thinking…”

 

“Hahaha, you got it my friend! I can call you my friend can’t I Doc?”

 

“Of course you can.”

 

“Good, you can call me John, just plain ‘ol’ John. I’ll get you a couple of bottles of this tomorrow.” he said pouring more whiskey into Dr. Robert Jacobs’s cup and pouring himself one too.

 

“Okay John.”

 

“I’m going to tell you a little secret also; it might give you some resolution. We’ll call it an early birthday present.”

 

“Sure John.”

 

“I was the one that gave the order for the hit on that son-of-a-bitch Mayor, right from here; then I read in the newspaper’s that it was you, Dr. Robert Jacobs, that worked on him that night.” Big John looked down at the cement floor a little embarrassed. “I wish it could have been different, Doc but my guys outside gave the job to a rookie and he didn’t finish it like he should have. He thought he’d killed him and that’s why he walked away, a bullet that close to the heart doesn’t usually leave a man alive, I’m just sorry you got mixed up in it.”

 

Now it was Robert’s turn to be surprised.

 

I love surprises, after all, tomorrow’s my birthday.

 

“I have another request John.”

 

“What is it Doc, just name it.”

 

“When I was in the hole, I made friends with a furry little creature, I’d like to retrieve him so he can be with me, out here in general population, I think he’d like it much better out here.”

 

Big John was silent and looked at the seriousness of Robert’s face, and wondered if Doc was all there, and then he spoke.

 

“Sure Doc, I’ll get the guards to take us to the hole tomorrow and we’ll find your four legged friend. Have a little more of this.” Big John poured Robert some more whiskey, two fingers this time and he thought about something. “I’m going to do you one better Doc, I’m going to have my lawyer get you out of here. I’ll give him a call tomorrow. If anybody knows you didn’t have anything to do with the Mayor’s murder, it’s me. He can’t do anything for me, the Feds made sure of that, but you, you don’t need to be here any longer, Doc.”

       

Birthdays don’t get any better, Doc thought, and smiled for the first time in three years.

 

                                               Epilogue

 

That afternoon, all through cellblock H could be heard a drunken rendition of Happy Birthday toYou when the prisoners had three hours of common time among themselves, and again, no guards were there to break up the festivities.






Jack McMannus is 50 years old and currently working as a Systems Engineer, living in the Puget Sound area north of Seattle. However, he considers his real job a daydreamer like he’s sure all writers do.

He spent 4 years in the Marine Corps and has held a lot of different jobs, including shoveling horse manure, working in an Animal Clinic, driving a Taxi, digging ditches with a hand shovel and finally, but not last, an engineer at a telecom company near Seattle.

Those were and are how he makes his living, but his passion is, and always will be, writing. Even though he’s only lately been published, he’s been writing his entire life and just recently began to submit his work for publication.

In Association with Fossil Publications