Once your past puts down roots, it's not easy to clip yourself free.
I did it. I did it and I knew it was wrong. Haven’t slept through a whole night since. I knew it was wrong before, during and after. Long after.
Seven months ago, he approached me with the idea. A lawyer type with the French cuffs, the small, fancy glasses and a toothy smile so warm it had to be fake. He bought me lunch at Marcello’s over on Lake.
I guessed the dangling meat hooks and black-and-white pictures of slaughtered animals out front of the place were meant to put me on my heels. But what really got to me—how easily that smile of his fell into an icy, go-to-hell look.
Sitting in a private room, the lawyer told me he works for some rich guy, didn’t say who. Just that he’s an old money, Gold Coast–type. Socially awkward, spends all his time in his massive greenhouse.
The lawyer took his time getting to his pitch. We chatted about the Sox, could they keep it together. The Cubbies, Soriano, the new kid from Notre Dame, how none of it mattered because they are definitely working off a secret plan, a fresh way to break hearts. Then he got to it.
Honestly, I figured someone was loony, the lawyer, the rich guy, maybe both. I didn’t bite, not at first. Took me almost a whole week to get comfortable with it. Rationalize—that’s the word the marriage counselor used. An Oprah word, if you ask me. Anyway, I called the number on the card he left behind, told him I was in. Even though, like I said, I knew it was wrong. So why’d I do it?
Why else? Money.
I got child support for a kid I haven’t seen in about a year. I was down in Danville when he was born six years ago, and his mom’s still mad at me. Had every right for a while there, but I’ve been clean, straight and narrow since I walked out four years ago. That is, until this lawyer bought me a veal chop. My job, I love it but it pays like most jobs where you get your hands dirty. Steady pay, but never quite enough so you sleep easy.
Once I signed on, it took me about three weeks to plan it. I was careful. It had to be done right. I’d just come off two years’ parole and wasn’t making any plans to go back inside, leastwise not over something like this. It had to be done right.
Six months ago I did it right, but I knew it was wrong. Funny thing is, here I am doing it all over again just to make things right. Maybe then I can sleep the whole night through.
Let’s be clear, in the eyes of the law it’s wrong both times, then and now. They catch me, it won’t matter to them. Wrong is wrong, no matter what code—Oprah again, but code is also a big word in the joint. Then again, Oprah’s big in the joint. Go figure—anyway, it don’t matter what code I’m operating by. Law gets me, I go right back in, most likely for a long jolt. Which is why I’m being quiet here in the rich man’s greenhouse. Though at this point, I doubt there’s anyone around to hear me.
The rich man and his family are gone on their private jet, off to some place I’ll probably only ever read about. Just the help and security on the grounds, and most of them are all out front watching a big bag of fertilizer burn like a bonfire, wondering what the hell that’s all about. My diversion. Tossed a 90-pound bag of premium-grade fertilizer over the six-foot wrought-iron fence. Took me three tries before it made it over.
Then I reached through the bars, doused it with lighter fluid, leaving a trail out to the sidewalk in front of the mansion. Did the old cigarette-in-a-book-of-matches trick, like in that movie, Stalag 17. A real Rube Goldberg: Light the smoke, take a few puffs then tuck it into the book of matches before tossing it at the tail end of the lighter fluid, walking away like it’s nothing. Cigarette burns down, ignites the fluid, fluid catches fire running toward the big bag of fertilizer, fertilizer catches fire and keeps on burning. Everyone’s out at one end of the compound gawking, while I’m back here in the greenhouse, breathing in musty peat moss and sweating like a pig as I dig up a plant as old as the dinosaurs.