Baltimore Works

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Baltimore Works


It wasn’t like he had never been to a funeral before. But as he slouched forward in the splintery church pew, listening to the minister’s prayer for the dead, Scott seemed to get lost in the proceedings. His mind was somewhere else, thinking about a time not too long ago when his mother had been the one sitting beside him, grieving with him, and not the one he was preparing to bury.

This experience of saying goodbye to someone, of losing someone he cared about, wasn’t what had unnerved him. Being in this church, with its stained-glass windows, white walls, and blood red carpeting, this wasn’t what was turning his stomach. He had seen so many friends sent off like this that he had gotten used to it. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t remember when it had hurt like this. He knew it was because she had always been the one to sit beside him here. No matter how familiar death had become in his life, she had always come with him to say his goodbyes. Her more fragile hands had always held his as they sat and watched the proceedings. Physically, they had been so much weaker than Scott’s, but they had never failed to comfort him.

His hands running through his ruffled blond hair, Scott leaned his head back, looking around at those who had gathered to pay their final respects. Eyes glancing to the side, he saw his little brother holding onto their grandmother, clutching onto her as if she were their only remaining lifeline. In many ways, he envied Wyle. He was still young enough to think that everything would be okay, that over time everything wrong would be right again. Wyle was so young, though. He hadn’t lived long enough to experience all the awful things that life offered kids who grew up like they did.

He suddenly noticed his grandmother looking over at him as if she were reading his troubled thoughts. Quickly, so she wouldn’t see the contempt he held for her in his eyes, he averted his gaze. He sat there, head leaning back completely, eyes closed in an attempt to hide his tears. No solace would be found like this, either. Darkness only helped to remind him of what he had lost, of what had happened over the course of the past week.

He wasn’t stupid. He had grown up in a bad way, and he was a fool to think that his life had a chance of turning out good. Of all the things he had envisioned happening to him, though, this had always been far from his mind. He had come home from a day of deals and doings to find the boys in blue taping his home off. At first he hadn’t been worried, the old man ran a shady drug ring out of a back room, but with every step closer his stomach had bottomed out more and more.

When he had finally reached the edge of the chain-link fence that barred him from entry, he knew that this wasn’t just like other times. As he stood there with his heavy winter jacket sliding off of his shoulders and down to where it hung from his elbows, he finally understood that feeling of dread that had been brewing in his deepest parts. A black van was parked in the middle of all the cop cars. He knew this van, he had seen too many of his friends tossed into plastic bags and carried off in this van. A hiccupping sob escaped him as one of the blue squad cars drove away and revealed the stark-white lettering on the side of the black vehicle: “Medical Examiner of Baltimore.”

It was then that he had charged through the tape and broken through the arms of those who had tried to hold him back. As he rushed up the stairs, tears fell from his eyes, and he smelled blood in the air. Flinging the door to his row-house open, he hadn’t even registered the detectives in their suits as they screamed at the patrol officers to get him the hell out of there.

Even when they started to drag him out from the doorway, Scott’s eyes had remained frozen on the form before him. His mother lay prone on the kitchen floor, blood oozing from a gaping hole on her side, her face viciously swollen and beaten. He could tell she wasn’t alive, and had wanted to scream out, tell them to get their damn hands off of him, but he hadn’t. Years of always trying to be the toughest kid in the neighborhood had dissipated into nothingness, and it took every ounce of his being not to crumple to the floor under the weight of the scene before him.

He had cried, though. He cried as they took him out the front door and sat him in the back of a squad car. He sobbed on and on as a faceless man with a badge told him his mother was dead, and that there was nothing they could have done to save her.

He was crying now, too, as the robed man standing at the altar sent his most sincere sympathies to the family of the dearly departed woman. He began to cry even more as this man, a man who had never known his mother, continued to talk on about what a wonderful woman she had been in life, and would continue to be in her afterlife. He felt himself losing it as the minister asked those who had gathered to pray for her two sons, as they had a long road of recovery ahead of them.

What the hell did he know anyways?

Sometime later, he was woken out of his seemingly catatonic state as a gentle but firm hand grasped his shoulder. Startled, it took him a moment to regain his bearings and look up to the person standing over him. Worrying that his grandmother would see him cry, he quickly tried to blink away the tears remaining in his eyes. When his vision cleared, he was looking up into the concerned face of his Uncle Mike.
Scott pushed himself up from the pew, momentarily relieved that he hadn’t really embarrassed himself. He tried to shake the numbness from his body as he glanced around for signs of anyone else.

“Ceremony ended a couple of minutes ago. Father Destry led everyone out of the church and on to your grandmother’s,” Mike said, noticing his nephew’s worried glances. “You must’ve dozed off. Don’t worry, though, I was feeding everyone some lie about how you were just lost in thought. Frankly, I’m shocked they bought it, huh?”

“Yeah, Grandma thinks I’m like Mom--no brains.”

“Hey, don’t get into that now, okay? There’s gonna be a bunch of people waiting back at the house.”

Feeling the older man’s arm around his shoulders, Scott let his weaker frame welcome the support that he didn’t have the energy to ask for.

“It’ll be okay, I promise.”

His head nodding to show some kind of acceptance, he walked with his uncle out into the world that had come to cost him so much.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The ride back was peacefully uneventful. Seated in the front seat of his uncle’s jeep, Scott let his head rest against the window’s cool glass as he watched downtown Baltimore drift by in splashes of orange and brown.

In his younger years, before everything had turned to hell, he had always enjoyed taking long drives with his mother. They had gone anywhere and everywhere together. Most of the time it had been to escape the old man, but sometimes it had been just for themselves. Everything had been so much better back when it had been just the three of them. Even with his father throwing a few punches now and then, they had managed to keep their heads above water. It hadn’t been until Wyle’s birth that they had begun to sink.

That’s when things had gotten really bad for them. Before Wyle had come along, the fact that his father spent all their money on booze and drugs hadn’t mattered so much. Mom had worked a couple of shifts at a convenience store down the street. She had hidden the money when she could, and the two of them had managed to stay clothed and fed for the most part. The only thing that had made it so hard to live like that had been knowing how well-off his grandmother was and how his mother refused to ever ask for her help. She had been too proud and too unwilling to admit that her husband was an abusive, drug-pushing alcoholic. She had never allowed the older woman to see the scars and bruises that the man she had been warned to stay away from had given her. Whenever Mike had come to ship Scott in between the warring women, she had dressed him up in long sleeved shirts and baggy cargo pants so that all signs of his father’s rage had been neatly hidden away. Actually, for a while it had all worked out pretty neatly.

Then she had gotten pregnant.

Wyle was on his way and soon she was out of a job and still without the support of her mother. Scott had tried the best he could to make some extra cash by doing something that he had vowed never to do. What had started out as playing lookout for some corner dealers had turned into a part-time job as a dealer himself. He had begun to spend more time outside on the cold streets than he had at home or at school. All the money coming in had been great and as long as he was careful to not hand his mother a wad of hundreds, she believed he was a stock boy at the market a few streets over. Of course, he should have known it was too good to be true. Eventually, she found out. For the past twenty years she had been forced to be suspicious of where all money in their house came from and he could still see himself walking up to that car with the tinted windows, expecting to find a buyer and finding his uncle Mike instead. Reaching across the seat, Mike had popped open the door and Scott had gotten in without an argument. He actually had kind of hoped that Mike would turn him in to the Narc Division right then, that they had just kept driving beyond the row-house that stood on the corner of McCarthy St. and Danvers Blvd. As soon as he had gotten into that car, he knew that anything the state of Maryland threw at him would be far lenient than what had been about to happen.

His mother’s crying had been a part of growing up. He was always both thankful and remorseful about that. Like he had with taking a hit, Scott had learned early to fight back any pain associated with seeing her cry. There were those occasional times when that had made him feel like some kind of an emotional black void, but for the most part, he had been thankful for it. But up until that day, he had never been the reason for her tears. He would never allow himself to forget how she had fallen back into their living room chair and pushed him away when he had tried to apologize. She had told him he had better not turn out like his good-for-nothing asshole of a father, and he had once again tried to tell her how sorry he was. That he had only been trying to help. How else would they have survived? But the sight of her tears as they had fallen like waterfalls from her red eyes and hollowing guilt he could feel gnawing at his stomach lining had drawn his surrender. He told her he would quit dealing, go back to school, and get a part-time job.

When she looked at him then, she hadn’t believed him, of course, but the way her blue eyes had visibly softened told Scott that she had appreciated the lie. She had taken the cash he had offered her and hidden it away. It would have been pointless for her to try to keep him clean. All she could do was tell him to stay safe.

They had gone on for months like that. The more her stomach had grown, the more time he had spent on the corner dealing. Every new day on the street had pushed Scott further into a life like his father’s, and he even remembered the man once saying how he had started out playing lookout, running a few errands, or dealing a little bit of dope, but that he had gotten too addicted to the life and the drugs to ever quit. Sometimes Scott had worried about that. Sometimes he reminded himself that he was doing this only to make his mom and the baby money and that he would be out soon. On those slower mornings, where he had time to think, he had leaned up against his corner’s brick wall, closed his eyes, and let his mother’s warnings echo around inside his head. Or he had tried to envision himself, maybe fifteen years older, as his father, coming home drunk and beating on the woman he knew he loved and the kids he had given life to. He had hated those mornings and preferred those when he didn’t have any time to think. He had always preferred the mornings where he pulled up the hood of his jacket, stuffed his hands into his pockets and did what he was there to do. His situation required him to ignore his conscience and his fears and to just do what needed to be done in order for money to flow in.

A faint but persistent beeping had begun to break through Scott’s memories and jolted him back into reality. Turning his head towards the sound, he saw Mike reaching for his beeper. As he pulled it free from his waistband, he eyed the number and swore.

“Shit. They know I’m supposed to be off today. You mind making a quick stop at headquarters so I can tell them to get lost?”

“Nah.”

“I can always just ignore the damn thing. I can take you back to your grandmother’s.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Scott went back to leaning his head against the window, and waited until he heard the familiar sounds of tires on cobblestone and the squealing of police sirens as they peeled out of the motor pool, no doubt on their way to save the world. His uncle was a homicide detective here. He put on a sports coat and tie every morning and spoke for the dead in a city boasting the second highest murder rate in the country. Scott knew that he should be bothered by the fact that he would now probably spend a day normally reserved for mourning, instead surrounded by paperwork and people seemingly unaffected by death, but he was having a hard time bringing himself to care.

He found himself moving in a trance as he came in through the familiar double glass doors. November air brushed coolly against his partially exposed neck as the doors swung shut. He stilled momentarily, savoring the feel of the chilled air against his warm and clammy skin. He had been inside this building many times. That feeling of the air against his skin was surfacing memories of his mother dragging him into this very same building at all times of the night to bail out his father. It never mattered what time of day or night the cops had called her because she always wanted him home so they could at least outwardly look like they were a normal family. If Mike had happened to be working, she dropped Scott off at his desk and told him to behave while she was gone. Mike would always tell him that his dad was just sick or that he had come by to visit. Mike had always lied for them.

“Are you coming, ‘cause you can just wait out in the car if you want. It’s not gonna hurt my feelings or anything.”


“No, yeah, I’m coming. I just kind of zoned out. Sorry.”

“Yeah, well, today’s kind of a day for zoning out, I guess, and you don’t have to be sorry. Call me crazy, it’s just that sometimes I worry about you and those little breaks you take from reality.”

Mike had been walking toward him the whole time. When the older man’s hand reached up to ruffle Scott’s already disheveled hair, Scott suddenly pulled backward from the friendly gesture, lifting a finger and pointing it accusingly in his uncle’s face.

“You don’t have to worry about me, okay? I don’t need that. I’ve been taking care of myself just fine for sixteen years. I don’t need your concern!”

The words spat out of his mouth and he batted off Mike’s hand as it reached for his shoulder. He was so sick and tired of people trying to console him. It all seemed like pity when it came out, and he didn’t need that. Especially not now.

His voice squeaking with rage, his verbal assault was continuing completely unaware of the audience of cops and otherwise handcuffed onlookers who were stopping to listen in on the very public and very loud screaming.

“Only seems like you guys were around when it was something big, something you couldn’t just sweep under the rug so easily! Where the hell were you when Dad would come home drunk and beat on Mom or when he used to use Wyle as an ash tray? Were you too busy to drop in when you knew damn well that he was running drugs out of the back room? You’re a cop for Christ’s sake! Yeah, you got no problem with helping complete strangers and their families, but when it’s your own sister and her kids, let’s just forget about it, right?”

He was feeling hot. His temperature was rising and his cheeks were burning with rage. Eyes from every direction were boring holes into his body. Some were waiting to see what would happen next, some were gazing backward at him as they returned to whatever it was that they had been doing before he had broken down. He wanted to turn and scream at them all, tell them to mind their own damn business, but he didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing that they were getting to him. The world, or so he felt, seemed to be waiting to see what would happen next, and the two at the center of it all stood frozen in time, unsure of how to react.

He could only will himself to look across the space and into the eyes of his uncle. Why the hell had he gone off on him like that? Out of all the people to do that to, it had to have been the one person who didn’t treat him like he was some no-good street punk.

God, he was such a screw-up. Covering his face in his hands as the hustle and bustle of the world picked up around them, Scott sank to his knees whimpering. With the cold linoleum below him, he felt that for the first time since his mother had died, the world was not going to bottom out beneath him. He pulled his hands across his face and through his hair, trying to erase the past three minutes from his mind.

It was almost as if ages passed before he heard Mike’s footsteps coming toward him from across the floor and he inwardly flinched as a tentative hand reached out and touched his shoulder. More than anything, he wanted to disappear right now. He didn’t want to look into his uncle’s eyes and see the pain that would surely be there. Pain that he had caused. All he could bring himself to do was to stare at Mike’s dark blue tie that was dangling unceremoniously in between them. He wanted to reach out and pull the bigger man to him.

They were still in the middle of the open station house, right outside the doors leading into the squad room where Mike’s coworkers would undoubtedly be hiding porn magazines in each other’s desks or running illegal background checks on neighbors who kept them up all hours of the night.

He had to have lost it here.

“I’m sorry,” he managed to say as he blinked through the tears threatening to overflow. “I’m sorry. I know that none of it was your fault, I just…” Hiccupping sobs were choking off his words and racking his body until he felt his uncle’s arms tightening around him.

“Shh…shh…shh. It’s okay, Scotty. Hey, I wasn’t always there when you needed me, I know. I know, and I’m sorry. It’s okay. Not your fault.”

He let the sturdier man pull him to his feet and tuck his head under his chin. Scott let his body calm down as Mike began to soothingly rub his hands up and down his back. Pulling away, Scott tried to speak but found his voice incapable of complying.

“Shh...it’s okay. We’ll talk about it later, alright? Let’s go find a place to sit down where it’s a little bit quieter.”

Roughly brushing away the remnants of tears, he let himself be led into the next room. As they passed through the swinging double doors, Scott absently watched as everyone who saw them stopped what they had been doing. Those who had been laughing suddenly became silent. All conversation, work-related or not, seemed to come to a halt as the two grieving men walked into the pale blue squad room. Those who hadn’t been facing the door, almost as if taking a cue from the stoic faces of their coworkers, plastered on their sympathetic expressions before daring to turn around.

Scott could see past their fake faces. Their smiles were forced; some even looked uncomfortable turning the corners of their mouths up as he walked past them. He saw right past those awful grimaces and right into their sorrow-filled eyes. He hated when people looked at him like that. He hated it when people pitied him. Distaste he could take because he was used to people looking at him like he was filthy. When people looked at him like that, it just made him want to explode. He didn’t need their pity. When he had been younger, his grandmother had always looked at him like that. She would see the bags under his eyes, or a bruise peeking out from underneath his sleeve when he reached for something at dinner, and you could see it on her face. He had never wanted or needed that from her, and he certainly didn’t want or need it from these guys. Pity was just a cop out. What he needed right now was for them to be treating him like they always did. What he could really use was for someone to toss him a football, and tell him to go deep. He wanted someone to sneak him a porno magazine before Uncle Mike saw it and took it away. He wanted things to be like they always were when he came here. Here, he should be just another one of the guys.

He didn’t want this. Not from them.

Before he could say anything, Mike’s boss made his way over to them. Clapping his hands together and announcing in his raspy baritone that murder victims weren’t going to be solving their own deaths, Lieutenant Davenport managed to quell the rising storm in Scott. Momentarily, anyways.

As the lieutenant stood before them at Mike’s desk, Scott took a seat in the swiveling chair and nodded his head in greeting when he heard his name spoken.

Not even acknowledging either man as they told him they’d only be gone for a minute, he leaned his whole body back, listening to the squeak of the padded chair, as it tensed under his weight. He spun himself around in circles, waiting until he heard the lieutenant’s door close before sitting himself upright, and turning the chair so he could watch their interplay.

Even thought he couldn’t hear a word they were saying, Scott still watched the two intently. He knew his uncle well enough to translate the man’s actions into feelings. You spend a lot of time around someone and it just kind of happens. Maybe the blood connection had something to do with it too, but he’d never had it with anyone else in his family. Not unless he counted her.

Pushing his mother’s face out of his mind, he tried to refocus on the two men he had been watching. Through the open blinds, Scott could see his uncle declining a seat and remaining standing with his hands on his waist, pulling his suit jacket back just a bit. Mike stood, listening to his boss, nodding his head when he understood what he was being told, and shaking it to the side when he didn’t. He was watched as Mike brought up one hand to his head, as if to run it through his hair in frustration, only then remembering that he had gotten his normally shaggy blond mop trimmed very short a few days back.

His uncle turned from his boss, as if not wanting to hear something he had just said. Like he was trying to block it out. Then Scott noticed he wasn’t just staring aimlessly out the window; he was looking directly across the squad floor to where he was sitting.

Feeling the all-too-familiar sting of dread wash over him, Scott tried to will himself from the chair. He didn’t know why, but he couldn’t be here anymore. Something about the way Uncle Mike was looking at him was digging into his core, telling him he didn’t want or need to hear what was about to be revealed to him. Pushing up from the armrests, he swallowed back the bile rising in his throat. Then his legs turned to liquid beneath him. Closing his eyes, he sank back into the chair. Defeated. There was no escape.

Seconds later he could feel their shadows hovering over him, and he opened his eyes. They had both come. Hadn’t even asked him to join them in the office. Maybe it was better out here, though. Less confining.

Crouching down before him, Mike put his hand on Scott’s knee and looked him straight in the eye. Scott plastered on a face of defiance, forcing himself not to be a coward. This wasn’t anything new. He had gotten bad news before. Hell, he had gotten the worst goddamn news in the world only recently.

He was thankful when a light squeeze on his knee pulled him from his tumultuous thoughts.

“Hey Scotty. Look...you wouldn’t happen to know where your dad’s been recently, would ya?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It had been weeks since that day. Weeks since the day his mother had been torn from his life. Weeks since the day his father had been named the chief suspect in her murder. Weeks had passed, evidence had been gathered, witnesses questioned and now he found himself once again uncomfortable, near tears and wearing a suit. If he closed his eyes hard enough, Scott saw the minister in white robes and not the judge in her black robe; he saw his mother’s casket and not a jury of strangers. And when he squeezed his eyelids tighter, he couldn’t see his father. He searched his memory for any signs of the man and he wasn’t there. Not in any pew, not at the reception afterward. He hadn’t even been at her wake.

All doubt of his father’s guilt had slowly evaporated over the past few weeks, and seeing him seated before a judge chased away any remnants of Scott’s willingness to believe that his father wasn’t capable of something this evil. Any lingering loyalty had been washed away by the tidal wave of information that had been uncovered by Baltimore’s finest. Now he had to force himself to relax, to make sure he didn’t lunge out of his seat and attack the man who had ripped away the most important person from his life. He felt his uncle shift closer to him as the verdict was read, and his body welcomed the new source of warmth. Mike’s arm reached behind Scott and ruffled the back of his hair before falling to rest on the bench behind his shoulders. Scott leaned back into the embrace and silently thanked his uncle for being there.

Guilty. The most bittersweet moment of his life. For a moment, Scott stood and watched as the officers pulled his father from his seat and dragged him back behind the closed doors at the front of the courtroom. The rest of the audience had begun to leave the courtroom, not even caring to make sure that this murderer was really taken away. Scott wanted them all to see it. He wanted everyone to watch his father’s final walk, to have their last memory of him be this moment. He wanted them to be able to reassure him that this had finally ended.

“Hey, you son of a bitch!”

Everyone in the courtroom had turned and looked Scott’s way. Even the bailiffs escorting his father had stopped in their tracks and, prisoner in hand, turned toward him. Scott could feel Mike’s hands clasping down on his shoulders, trying to pull him from the room, but his face was focused on the man in handcuffs, the other man being held back.

Scott waited for him to say something, to say anything, but he remained oddly quiet. He was going to let Scott say whatever he wanted. And that’s when Scott knew that there was nothing that could be said. He shrugged out of his uncle’s grasp, turned on his foot and walked through the courtroom doors.

The breath of fresh air that hit as he emerged from the concrete courthouse cooled Scott down immediately. He had given up what was probably his only opportunity to ever say anything to his father and, although he knew he would regret it sometime, being able to walk away was something that was, in the end, far more important.

The harsh rays of the sun were beginning to beat down on Scott, but he stood there remembering how his mother had always told him not to talk back to his father. She had been right, of course--if he had ever said anything bad to him, he would have gotten beaten pretty badly, but had she ever known it would apply to a moment like this?

Ignoring Mike’s gesture to get into the car, Scott took off down the street. As he walked, cars on the street seemed to stop moving so fast as they passed him. The people near him walked almost as if in slow motion as his whole world seemed to trail off into the background. Somewhere, he was aware of horns honking and the conversations around him, but right now all he could focus on was putting one foot in front of the other.

Created: Jun 27, 2010

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