Monday, July 5, 1954
Mildred’s Diner just isn’t the welcoming place it once was. Looking forward to a nice breakfast, including that chewy bacon that Nick and Carter both love, they’re asked to leave. Mildred has gone back to Texas and word is they “ain’t welcome.”
But it’s a sunny July day, so Nick puts the top down on the Roadmaster and they head across the Golden Gate to Sausalito for eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee. But it seems like trouble follows them along the way and, before they know it, Nick and Carter are sitting in jail for vagrancy.
After making bail, the whole team is on the job figuring what the heck is going on in sleepy Sausalito while also chasing down the missing Mildred, who may have been kidnapped or worse!
I stretched out on the cot and thought about the day. It had been rough, there was no doubt about it. As the sheriff’s deputies were leading us out of the courtroom, I saw my father looking shocked and upset. Lettie was holding his arm and whispering something. But, for the first time that I could remember, I felt an affection for the old man. I smiled and hoped he saw it.
I knew the worst that could happen is that we would do three months. I’d been in the Navy. I knew what it was like to be confined to small spaces. And the Marin County jail wasn’t San Quentin. It was smaller than the Dougherty County jail in Georgia had been. I’d been a guest of theirs for a couple of nights the year before.
I turned on my side and looked at the brick wall. It was faintly illuminated by a streetlight outside. There was a small window, covered with simple horizontal bars, that was about two feet square and that let me see the street outside. The cell was slightly above ground level. There was a warehouse across the street with a loading dock that had been busy at the end of the work day.
The clothes I’d been given included a thick cotton undershirt, a button-down denim shirt, and a pair of dungarees. I was allowed to keep my BVDs. The shoes I was wearing had obviously belonged to someone else. They didn’t have my size, so these were too big. They smelled. I had taken them off when I was led to my cell and had only put them back on when dinner was called.
All of Carter’s clothes were too small and that included his shoes. When we were walked into the small mess hall, or whatever they called it, he came in line with the men from his row of cells. I got a momentary glance at his feet and saw that he was walking on the heel of the shoe and that his feet stuck out about an inch.
My row was seated on a long bench in front of a long table. We sat in the order we were marched in. I was at one end of my side, since I was in the last cell of my row. The man next to me didn’t speak and neither did I.
Carter was on the other side of the table in the middle. I counted twelve men on his side. I tried to look down my row to count, but was called out to keep my head down when I did so. So, I followed instructions.
The man across from me looked like he was recovering from a bender. He was having a hard time eating anything but the soup.
The food was basic. There was a bowl of vegetable soup, a piece of bread with a small pat of butter, a surprisingly tender piece of boiled beef, and a pile of mushy boiled carrots. There was no salt or pepper to be tasted or to be had. The butter was the only flavoring of any sort. The food wasn’t horrible. It would do.
As I ate my soup, I managed a couple of glances at Carter. He smiled and I replied in kind. After dinner, I’d stayed in my cell stretched out on my cot, not sure what to do. At some point, Carter had walked up to the door and asked how I was doing. I sat up, he walked in, and sat down next to me. We sat there for a long time talking about childhood antics again, like we had in the Sausalito jail. At one point, he’d leaned into me. Even though there was no one around, I leaned back for a moment and then mentioned how we ought to be careful. He’d sighed and leaned away.
An officer came by and told Carter to get back to his cell for the nightly check and light’s out. As he left, I whispered, “I love you, Chief.” He smiled and only nodded in reply as the officer was standing outside waiting for him.
As I began to drift off, I could hear someone singing. I couldn’t quite catch the tune, but it continued until several voices began to protest. There was a sharp metal rap somewhere and suddenly everything was quiet.
. . .
At some point in the night, I woke up and relieved myself in the uncovered toilet. A roll of brown toilet paper sat on the floor next to the white porcelain base. The toilet was in the corner next to a small sink. There was a cake of rough soap on the sink’s small lip. I turned on the cold water tap, the only one available, and washed my hands. The soap stank of lye. It reminded me of the kind we’d made ourselves in New Guinea. I knew there was a county farm somewhere. I wondered if the prisoners made their own soap out there.
I sat back down on the bed and wished I had a cigarette. Everything had been taken from me when we were processed, including my beat-up old Zippo. For some reason, I was missing that more than anything.
My cot was pushed up against the wall. I pulled my feet up off floor and sat with my legs crossed. As I’d been doing since the hearing ended, I played the events in the courtroom in my head over and over again.
Obviously, O’Connor had been coached. His and Wildman’s testimony had been designed to match, point by point. O’Connor was just a good cop, doing a good job, according to the psychiatrist. Wildman was helping good cops do their best to deal with the intolerable problem of the male homosexual on the prowl. It was a situation that had to be dealt with. All reasonable men and women could see that was the case.
The judge was a piece of work. From his question about Uncle Paul, he’d made it clear where things was going. The stunt of making Kenneth ask to approach while Weissech just wandered around at will was one piece. The ridiculousness of the way he handled Weissech’s objections was another piece. I wondered, however, at the objections that Weissech didn’t make. I thought there might be a glimmer of hope there.
I was convinced that O’Connor had perjured himself. I had no proof, but he had to know who we were.
As he’d testified, I kept thinking about what Dawson had said. There was something wrong there. He’d been on the force for nineteen years and yet this Mountanos, this kid, was a shoe-in for police chief. I wondered what the real story was.
Wildman was definitely one of us. He might not have been in the life, but he was the very definition of a male homosexual. His idea about “cop as daddy” seemed to me to say more about him than anything else. What was the real nature of his relationship with O’Connor? The sergeant had something odd going on somewhere but I didn’t think he was one of us. Was O’Connor aware of this thing and trying to help the man, while also fixating on the man as his own kind of daddy? I didn’t think that made any sense. I was sure the doctor was the older man.
I wondered how I would fit into his analysis. I sure as hell had a disaffected relationship with my father. But I didn’t have time to form an unnatural attachment to my mother, since she left when I was only 7 years old. Of course, as had been pointed out to me, I tended to like other people’s mothers more than their own children did.
I was grateful for Lettie’s presence in my life. I’d known the woman just about a year and I considered her my mother, even if I still couldn’t bring myself to say that word. I had been deeply touched by the fact that Mrs. Jones had come back to San Francisco. I was captivated by Mrs. Kopek, who was a mother to not just Ike but just about any chickadee she might come across. She would have rescued half of Eastern Europe, given the chance.
Were these unnatural attachments? Or were they lines of affection, formed by circumstance and proximity? Was I disaffected from my father because I preferred the men in my life to be strong, kind, and loving and he was none of those? Or was it because there was something wrong with me? Or him? Or both?
I tended to take any psychological theory with a heave dose of salt. It never seemed to me that anything was just black or white.