Your Satisfaction is Guaranteed:
He that goes to law holds a wolf by the ears.
-- Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy
I wandered into a library last week and decided to do a quick bit of reading on The Law, which has caused me some trouble recently. It was a cold, mean day, and my mood was not much different. The library was empty at that hour of the morning....It was closed, in fact, but not locked. So I went in.
Far up at the top of the long stone staircase I could see a small man gesturing at me: waving at me, shouting....But his voice sounded crazy and scattered, like the screeching of a cat or the sound of beer bottles exploding in a garbage compactor. The only words I could hear were OUT and NIGHT.
When I got about halfway up the stairs I stopped and raised both hands. "Don't worry!" I shouted. "Police!"
He shuddered and fell back, saying nothing. His eyes were huge and a shudder ran through his body as I approached. "No problem," I said to him. "Just routine police work." I flashed my gold Special DEA Agent badge at him, then reached out to shake hands, but he moaned suddenly and leaped away...and as he collapsed awkwardly on the cold marble floor I saw that his left ankle was encircled by a heavy steel band that was strapped to a black box.
"What the fuck is that thing?" I asked him, reaching down to help him up. But he scuttled away again; and then he hissed at me.
"You know what it is!" he whimpered. "You filthy murdering pig!"
"What?" I said. "Are you crazy?" Then I jumped down on him and grabbed his foot so I could bring him a little closer. He uttered another sharp, terrified cry as I slid him across the smooth floor and pulled his ankle up to where it was right in front of my eyes.
"Be quiet," I said. "I want a look at this thing in good light." He struggled briefly, but I quickly stepped over his leg and hyper-extended his knee until he went rigid, then I braced him and examined the box. It was a standard-issue Body Beeper with a lock-on ankle bracelet -- one of the New Age tools now available to law enforcement agencies everywhere, for purposes of electronic House Arrest for those who have been brought within The System, but for whom there is no room in the overcrowded jails, pens, and prisons. The United States of America has more people locked up than any other country in the world, including Cuba and South Africa. Our prison system from coast to coast is bulging at the seams, and hundreds more are being crammed in every day -- more and more of them saddled with the mandatory Sentences and No Parole Provisions that came in with the first Reagan Administration, which began only ten years ago, but it seems like twenty or thirty....
Indeed. But that is another very long story and we will save it for later....So let's get back to the library and my new buddy, the unfortunate Prisoner that I seized and captured by accident at four o'clock in the morning when I caught him wandering aimlessly through the hallways of a massive public building with his eyes bulged out and his spine like rubber and probably his nuts on fire, too, because he had nothing to say for himself and no excuse for anything.
He was a loser. A wimp full of fear, with no pride and sure as hell no Money....But I let him go anyway, and we talked for a while in the Men's Room about his problem. We were both nervous, so I went out to the car and got a bag of warm beers, along with a wooden pipe about half-full of good marijuana.
Soon we were both in a better mood, and I told him I was not really the Police, but just another good old boy with a yen to Read Law for a while and a few hours to spare before my next court appearance.
He was a first-time offender from Phoenix, serving work-release time in the Library on a six-year Attempted Rape charge that happened when he wandered into the Ladies' Room at the airport and got in a fight with two Mexican women who said they were paid police informants and turned him in as a Sex Offender when the airport police finally ran him down in a false doorway at the far end of the Lost Luggage hangar and dragged him away in handcuffs to the Red Carpet Club where they subjected him to a loud and humiliating Strip Search and beat him on the kidneys with iron gloves.
He was innocent, he said, but it made no difference....When they finally got him to jail he was charged with nine felonies including Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer, Gross Sexual Imposition, and Possession of 2,000 Marijuana Seeds that fell out of the lining of a suitcase he had borrowed from his son, for the trip.
That night he was beaten severely in the holding cell by a gang of sodomites who took all his cigarettes and then kicked him into a coma.
After thirty-three days in the jail hospital, he was assigned to a public defender who laughed at his case and called him "shiteyes" and said it was all a matter of money.
Ten weeks later, he was assigned to another lawyer who said he had no choice but to plead guilty and take his medicine like a man.
"I was lucky," he said. "I almost got sixteen years." He grinned happily and stared into my eyes.
"As it is now, I'll only have to do five."
He was broken; a niggardly shell of a man, so afraid of the Law and the Cops and the Courts that he felt lucky and grateful to be serving only five years instead of sixteen -- even though he was innocent. But now, after two long years on his knees within The System, he no longer missed standing up.
It made me nervous, so I started pacing around in circles on the white tile floor and jabbering distractedly at him from time to time....I was thinking; my mind was running at top speed, scanning and sorting my options. They ranged all the way from Dumb and Dangerous to Crazy, Evil, and utterly wrong from the start.
"Do you keep any whiskey in this place?" I asked him. "We need whiskey. My brain is getting hazy."
He stared at me for a moment. Then he smiled vaguely and stood up. "Sure," he said. "I think I can put my hands on a pint of Old Crow." He chuckled. "What the hell? I could use some whiskey, myself." He slid down off the marble washbasin where he'd been sitting and shuffled out of the room. He moved quickly and almost gracefully, but the ugly black box on his ankle slowed him down and caused him to walk with a limp.
I sat on my own basin and drank our last warm beer. What the hell am I doing here? I wondered. I am a Doctor of Journalism and a Man of The Cloth. Why am I slumped in a bathroom at the Public Library at four o'clock in the morning? Drinking whiskey and smoking marijuana with a soul-dead convict who might be taken back in jail at any moment?
"What's your name?" I asked him as he returned with a half-finished pint of whiskey in a brown bag.
"Andrew," he said. "They call me Andy."
"Okay, Andrew," I said. "Give me that whiskey and stand back. We are on the brink. Yes. I have an idea."
He tossed me the bottle and I drank deeply, then handed it back to him. "Don't worry about having this stuff on your breath when they come for you," I said. "I have a new electric toothbrush out in the car that will sterilize your whole thorax in ten seconds. I also have some very fine cocaine downstairs in the car, which you might want to use when your eyes start looking like they do now...." I slapped him on the leg and hit the Old Crow again. "Hot damn, Andrew!" I barked at him. "We are warriors. The time has come to rumble!"
He said nothing. The bottle of whiskey was tilted high over his face, and I could see that he was finishing it off....So what? I thought. We can always get more. The whiskey stores opened at seven, and I didn't have to be in court until ten. There was plenty of time to do anything we wanted. Many wrongs could be righted in five hours if we had the right tools....
"Well, Andrew," I said to him in a high-pitched mournful voice. "I hate to be the one to tell you this...I don't want to hurt you, but -- "
"No!" he shouted. "Please don't kill me!"
I seized him quickly by the hair and jerked him off balance. His eyes rolled back in his head and then he went limp. "Stop whining!" I snapped. "I just want to tell you about a legal axiom."
"Bullshit," he croaked. "You're a goddamn vicious maniac!" He jerked out of my grasp and leaped away, then he braced on the balls of his feet, and bashed me in the stomach with a frenzied right hook. "You bastard!" he screamed. "Get away from me! You're a paranoid psychotic!"
"We are going to Court, Andrew. We are champions! We will crush them like cheap roaches! TODAY'S PIG IS TOMORROW'S BACON!" I spun suddenly and hurled my green beer bottle so fast across the room that it exploded against the wall like a glass bomb before he even saw it happen. BANG! Whirling like Quisenberry and catching a runner on the nod at second....Fantastic speed and accuracy, no reason at all, but Andrew went crazy with joy and I had to subdue him physically and give him a chance to calm down. It was almost dawn. "Where are the telephones?" I asked him. "Where is a fax machine? We will kill the ones who eat us, and eat the ones we kill!"
We had no choice.
I moved quickly for the door, but he stopped me. "Wait a minute," he said. "We're almost out of whiskey."
He was right. The Old Crow pint was empty except for a few drops down in one corner, and the bars would not open for three hours.
"Don't worry," he said. "I know where there's more. Upstairs in the president's office."
"Wonderful," I said. "We can't run out of whiskey at a time like this. Go get it. We'll need everything we can get our hands on, before this thing is over."
He chuckled and tried to sprint off, but the thing attached to his ankle made him stumble. "Goddamnit!" he screamed. "I'd kill to get rid of this thing!"
"Don't say that," I snapped. "We are innocent men! We are working within the system...and besides, I think I have some good crank outside in the car."
He went upstairs to loot the president's office, and I went d...
Songs of the Doomed: More Notes on the Death of the American Dream (Picador Books)
Thompson, Hunter S.
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