I knew I was being silly. Joel still had thirty minutes before he was supposed to be home, but that didn't keep me from imagining all the horrible things that could have happened to him. I kept a book open and near by my chair so that I could pretend to have been reading when he got home. For the next twenty minutes I watched the clock as each new numeral appeared on its digital display.
The clock had just displayed 10:22 when the phone rang. I think my heart stopped and then started pounding so hard that I thought it would break my ribs. I raced to the phone and got it before it rang the second time.
"Hello," I answered, trying to sound calm.
"Dad, it's me, Joel. Can you come and get us?"
"Sure, son, where are you?"
"At the County Jail," he said, with a distinct sniffle.
"What... ? What happened? Why are you at the jail?"
"The deputy stopped Bran and then he took us all to jail. Can you come, dad? Please?"
"I'll be there in about 15 or 20 minutes. Are John and Shane there, too?"
"Yes. Hurry, dad, please."
We ended the call and I rushed to Hildy and Manfred's bedroom and knocked on the door. I could see that there was still a light shining underneath the door. A moment later Manfred opened the door. I explained as briefly as I could the situation and asked if they would listen for the boys in case they woke up. They agreed. I grabbed a jacket and my keys and headed out the front door.
I am usually pretty careful about obeying the speed limits, but tonight that was not the case. I even went through a traffic signal that was turning red as I sped through. Thankfully there were few cars on the road. I tried to call Eric first on his home phone, which was busy, and then on his cell phone. I got one of those annoying messages that said he was either out of the coverage area or the phone was turned off. I was able to contact Pauline Gordinier to let her know what was going on. She said she had received a call from John earlier. Eighteen minutes after Joel made the call, I was parking my car in the parking lot of the County Jail.
It was 10:40.
I didn't see Joel or his friends as I entered the lobby. I approached the deputy sitting behind the counter and told him who I was and why I was here. He picked up the phone, dialed a couple of numbers and spoke to someone. He told me to take a seat, that the arresting officer would be with me shortly. I took a seat and waited.
After five long minutes, I again approached the deputy behind the counter.
It was 10:45.
"Deputy Logan," I said, reading his name off his nametag, "I want to see my son and to speak with the arresting officer. What's the arresting officer's name?"
"I'm sorry, sir, I'll see what is holding him up. The officer's name is Deputy Smathers."
Deputy Logan left his post and went through a door to the right side of the counter. About a minute later he reemerged and signaled me to follow him. He led me to a small room and asked me to wait. He said he would bring my son to me right away.
I was still standing when the door opened and Joel was ushered in. "Dad," he cried, and threw his arms around me. "It's been horrible." I could see the tears starting to run down his cheeks.
"It's all right, now," I said. "Sit down and tell dad all about it."
With him still holding on to me, we sat down in two side-by-side chairs. In Joel's organized way, he began his narrative.
"We had just crossed the county line and stopped at that gas station to put in some gas. I chipped in. Bran said I didn't have to, but since he had been kind enough to drive, I thought I should. A county sheriff's car was sitting at the station, I guess looking for speeders. As we left, Shane saw the car pull out and start following us. Bran wasn't speeding or anything. He's a really good driver, dad."
"I know, son. Go on."
"Well, we had just turned off on Rebecca Creek Road to take John home when the sheriff's car followed us. We had gone maybe a quarter of a mile when he turned on his flashing lights and siren. Bran pulled over and waited for the guy to come up to the side of the car. The guy was really surly, dad. The first thing he said was 'Where'd you get this car?'. But he used a racial insult. Bran tried to explain to him that the car belonged to his foster dad, but the guy wouldn't listen. He just kept saying that Bran had to have stolen the car because a 'no-good blankety-blank' should be driving a new Lexus. The guy was really nasty. He told Bran to get out of the car and then slammed him up against the car. We tried to tell the guy that Bran was telling the truth, but he wouldn't listen. He just kept saying Bran had stolen the car and using that racial insult."
"What happened then? How did you all get here?" I asked.
"The guy, we found out that his name was Deputy Smathers, called for another car. When it came, Shane, John and I were placed in it and Bran was put in Deputy Smathers' car. They drove us here. I haven't seen Bran since we got here. They said the car would be towed to the impound lot. Do you know where that is? Eric's going to be mad."
"Don't worry about that, son. I think dad can handle that." I went to the door of the room and tried the handle. It was locked. I knocked on it and a female deputy came and opened it. "Come along, Joel," I said.
"I'm sorry, sir, but your son is in custody. He'll have to remain in here or be put back in the cell."
I took a deep breath to control my anger before I asked, "What has he been charged with?"
"Accessory to grand theft," she replied.
"How can he be charge as an accessory to something that never happened?" I asked, with some of the anger that I felt showing through.
"Sir, all I know is what's on the sheet. You'll have to talk to the arresting officer."
"You can bet I will," I said. "Please provide me with copies of the arrest records for all four boys. I'll need them to give to our lawyer." Then turning to Joel. "You go with her. I'll take care of things."
It was 10:56.
I went to the front desk and told Deputy Logan that I wanted to speak with Deputy Smathers. He paged the deputy and shortly received a phone call. Deputy Logan didn't look too pleased as he listened at the phone.
"Deputy Smathers said he will be with you in 20 or 30 minutes."
"Tell me, Deputy Logan, is Sheriff Richards in town this weekend?"
"Yes, sir, he was in earlier in the evening."
"Good," I said, pulling out my cell phone. I scrolled through my address book, found the number I was looking for and dialed it.
"Matt, this is Crane Johnson. Sorry to disturb you this late at night. I hope you weren't in bed." I could see Deputy Logan blanch when I used the sheriff's first name.
"Crane, it's good to hear from you. No, we haven't gone to bed yet. We had rented a movie and were sitting here watching it. What can I do for you?"
"There seems to be a problem here at the jail house that you might want to help solve," I said. I went on to describe what Joel had told me and to assure Sheriff Richards that Bran in no way stole that car. I then told him about the racial slurs Deputy Smathers had used. I could hear Matt cursing under his breath as I related the incident.
"Crane, I'm sorry this happened. Deputy Smathers is new to the department. Let me put on some shoes and I'll be there in ten minutes. I'll get this straightened out," he said.
It was 11:03.
While I was on the phone with the sheriff, Deputy Logan had picked up his phone and made another call. He had hardly hung up his phone when the door to the right of the counter opened and a burly deputy stepped out.
"You Johnson?" he asked, planting his feet apart and putting his hands on his hips.
"Yes, I'm Crane Johnson. You must be Deputy Smathers."
"Yeah," he said, with his lips curled in a smirk. "What do you want?"
"I want to know why you arrested my son and his friends?"
"Ain't it obvious? That boy," he put a heavy emphasis on the word boy, "had no business driving a nice car like that. Ni..."
"Don't you use that racial slur when speaking with me. Is that understood?" I demanded, glaring at the man and taking a step toward him.
"Oh, you're one of those, eh?"
"Yes, I'm one of those. Now explain to me what led you to arrest those young men."
"Suspicion of stealing an automobile," he answered.
"I understand the charges against them. What I want to know is what made you suspect the car was stolen. Did you run the license plate to see if it came back stolen?"
"No, but it could have just been stolen and not reported yet."
"Did you try to contact the owner?"
"No, but they were trying to elude me by turning off the highway."
"Did they tell you that one of the boys lived off that side road near the golf course?"
"Yeah, but kids'll tell you anything."
"You didn't try to verify what they told you before you arrested them?"
"No, why should I? I knew that they stole the car."
"Deputy Smathers, I cannot believe you are this ignorant. You have arrested four people for stealing a car that you don't know is stolen. You haven't even tried to contact the owner of the car to see if it's stolen. You haven't tried to verify the stories the boys told you. From what you've told me and what my son has told me, there was absolutely no reason for you to even stop the car, let alone stop and arrest them. If I were you, Deputy Smathers, I would be finding myself a very good lawyer. I can promise you that you will need one."
"Oh yeah, smart guy, you're lucky I don't arrest you for threatening a police officer. One more smart remark and I just might," Smathers said.
"Smathers," a voice from the front door boomed. We all turned to see Sheriff Matt Richards striding toward us. "What the hell is the matter with you? Crane if you will excuse us, I need to have a talk with Deputy Smathers." He grabbed Smathers by the arm and none too gently led him into an office with the sheriff's name on the door.
It was 11:14.
I decided to try to contact Eric again, hoping that he was off his house phone. He was. "Eric, it Crane. I'm at the County Jail."
"Oh, my God! What did you do to get arrested?" Eric asked, hardly suppressing a laugh.
"It's not me, you fool, it's the boys. They arrested Bran for stealing your car and the other boys for being accessories."
"That's ridiculous! What ever gave them the idea that Bran would steal my car that I let him drive? Didn't they even look at the insurance papers? Bran's name is on them as a secondary driver."
"There are a lot of things the red-neck deputy didn't do before he made the arrest. I think the only reason he made the arrest was because Bran is black. The jerk has made several racial slurs to both the boys and he was about to make one when he was speaking to me, but I stopped him."
"That son-of-a-bitch," Eric fumed. "I'm going to rip his nuts out and feed them to him. God, I hate it that Bran has to put up with this crap. Look, Crane, is there anything I can do? JR is in bed, but I'll get him up and be on my way. Damn, I forgot. I don't have a car unless I took Shane's, but I don't think he left the keys."
"Don't worry. I think things will get straightened out now that the sheriff is here. I'll give you a call if there are any hang-ups."
As I was talking to Eric, the female deputy walked up to me and handed me copies of the arrest documents. I waited a few more minutes before I walked over to the sheriff's office. I could hear Matt dressing down Deputy Smathers. Overcoming my desire to eavesdrop, I knocked on the door. The sheriff hollered for me to come in.
"I don't want to interrupt, but I wanted to tell you that I was just on the phone to Eric Levin, the car's owner and foster parent of Bran LeBeau, the boy who was arrested for stealing the Lexus. I told him what had happened and he is furious, as am I, that this incident even occurred. You can call him yourself or you can believe me when I tell you that I was present at Mr. Levin's house when the boys left with his blessing and the car."
"Crane, your word is good with me," Sheriff Richards said. "Billy Ray, you stay here while I try to straighten out your screw-up. I'll deal with you when I'm done."
Sheriff Richards walked over to Deputy Logan and told him to release all four boys and to call the impound lot and have the Lexus delivered to the jail.
"Matt, I want all records of the boys' arrest erased from the system. I don't want this incident ever to show up on any kind of records check that might be made in the future. I wouldn't want to get my lawyers involve in this, but I won't hesitate if that's what it takes," I told him.
"Don't worry, Crane, I'll make sure of it myself. I want to apologize to you for my deputy's conduct. I don't think he'll be a deputy much longer. He's still in probationary status, so he can be dismissed at any time with no recourse."
"The apology should really be given to the boys. This has not been a pleasant experience for them, I'm sure."
Just then the four boys filed through the door into the lobby. Joel and John ran to me, wrapped their arms around me and buried their faces in my chest. I hugged them and tried to soothe them. Bran and Shane walked more slowly toward us. When they got closer, I could see that Bran had a bruise on his left cheek. I motioned for him to come closer so that I could take a better look.
"Bran, how did you get that bruise?" I asked.
"That cop hit me. He hit me with his fist in the ribs, too," Bran said bitterly.
"Matt, did you hear that?" I asked.
"Yes, I did," Richards said, gritting his teeth. Then turning to the deputy behind the counter, "Logan, I want you to go into my office and place ex-Deputy Smathers under arrest for assault and battery. Put him in a cell, but take his gun and badge away before you do. Crane, I'll need to have this young man make a statement and file a complaint. I'll give him the forms that he can take with him to fill out. If he could bring them back some time tomorrow, I'd appreciate it."
"I think you can be assured that you will be receiving a visit from Bran and his foster dad tomorrow - and maybe their lawyer as well," I said.
"The Lexus is here," an older man said, as he came through the front door. "Where's Logan? I was supposed to give him the keys."
"I'll take them, Clyde," Richards said. "Thanks for expediting it."
"No sweat, Sheriff. It was still hooked up to the tow truck when Logan called. Gotta get back, ain't nobody at the lot."
It was 11:38.
"Bran, are you okay to drive?" I asked.
"I'm okay, Mr. Johnson, just a little sore."
"We'll follow you until we have to turn off to take John home. I'll call Eric and let him know you're on your way home."
"Thanks, Shane and I appreciate what you did for us tonight," Bran said, giving me a one-armed hug.
Joel and John climbed into the backseat of the car as we waited for Bran and Shane to get into Eric's. I handed Joel my cell phone and asked him to call Eric and let him know that we were on our way home. When he was done I told John to call his mom and let her know, too. This time the trip was considerably slower than when I drove it earlier. At our turn-off, I honked the horn once and received one in return from Bran.
At John's house the lights were still on and I saw Pauline looking out one of the front windows. As our car drove up their driveway, she opened the door and rushed to the car. She opened the door and grabbed her son in a bear hug. I thought she was going to squeeze the life out of him.
"Are you all right?" she said, finally releasing John and allowing him to breathe.
"Yeah, mom, it was just some stupid mistake. Mr. Johnson took care of everything," John answered. "It was a little scary, though."
"Is everything okay? I don't want John to have an arrest record," she said.
"The sheriff has assured me that any record of tonight's incident will be thoroughly expunged from the system. I did receive a copy of the arresting documents in case you might want to take legal action against the officer. Although you probably have a good case for pursuing 'official oppression' against the officer, it would only publicize the incident. In court you never know what will be revealed."
"I understand," Pauline said.
While we were talking, Joel and John had walked toward the front door of the house. Pauline's back was to them, so she didn't see the rather passionate kiss the boys exchanged. I could see it clearly in the porch light.
Joel returned to the car and got into the passenger seat. I said my goodbyes to Pauline and climbed into the car. "Thanks, dad, for what you did for us tonight. You always know what to do."
"You're very welcome, son. That's what parents do."
"And... Ah... Thanks for keeping Mrs. Gordinier occupied so I could say goodbye to John."
"You're welcome for that, also. She might not be as understanding even though she is aware that John is gay."
As we drove up to the front of the house, I told Joel to go brush his teeth and get into bed.
It was 12:27.
Hildy and Manfred were sitting in the living room dressed in their robes when we entered the house. "Joel, honey, are you all right?" Hildy asked, grabbing him and giving him a hug.
"I'm fine, just very tired," Joel answered, and headed for his room.
"Crane, tell us what happened. What was all this about?" Manfred asked.
I spent the next 20 minutes reciting the events of the evening. Hildy sat there shaking her head and making disapproving sounds with her tongue. When I finished, she said, "That man has been coming to our church. We met him but never got to know him that well. It's hard to believe he's like that. I'll ask around at church tomorrow to see what I can find out about him. Speaking of church, we had better get to bed if we're going to make the early service. Come on, Manny."
Although I was tired when I got into bed, sleep was a long time in coming. I took one last look at the clock.
It was 2:07.
I was definitely not ready when TJ, Chris and the twins landed on my bed Sunday morning. "Come on, dad, get up. We're hungry," TJ said, wrapping his arms around my neck.
I extended my arm and was immediately crushed by my other three sons. "I don't know, this is kind of nice here in bed," I said, giving each of then a squeeze.
"But dad, we're really hungry," Chris whined.
"Okay, give dad a chance to wash up. Make sure you've washed your hands and then go set the table. Dad'll be there in a minute to fix breakfast. Now, shoo!"
I took care of my morning ablutions and started for the kitchen. As I passed by Joel's bedroom, I quietly opened his door and peeked in. He was sleeping peacefully with a smile on his lips. I closed his door and continued on to the kitchen. On the way I tried to think of what would be the quickest meal I could fix for the boys. I took a quick inventory of the pantry, refrigerator and freezer before deciding on French toast and sausage. With the stove-top griddle I could fix eight slices of bread at a time. That meant that the four boys would each get a couple of slices and not have to wait while another was eating. I had seen that Hildy had purchased some pre-cooked frozen sausage patties when I checked the freezer. I spread four patties on a bed of paper towels and put them in the microwave. I would wait until the French toast was nearly finished before turning on the microwave.
The boys scurried around preparing the table and setting out the milk, orange juice, butter and syrup. They were sitting at the table with forks in hand when the first batch of toast came off the griddle.
It took a second round of French toast and more sausages before the four eating machines appeared to be full. I was drinking my first cup of coffee as the boys rinsed their plates and put everything in the dishwasher. I thought I would wait and have my breakfast with Joel when he got up. I figured he might want to talk about last night.
"How come Joel is still in bed?" TJ asked, slipping onto my lap.
"He was out late last night, so let's not wake him," I said. "Now, why don't you and your brothers go brush your teeth and get dressed? Maybe if the weather stays nice, we can go ride the horses this afternoon. How does that sound?"
"Okay!" he enthused, giving me a sticky kiss on the cheek.
I was pouring my second cup of coffee when a sleepy-eyed Joel shuffled into the kitchen. "Good morning, I didn't expect you to be up this soon," I said.
"'Morning, dad, I didn't either. The guys were making so much noise in the bathrooms, it woke me up. What's for breakfast?"
"Everyone else had French toast and sausage. If you like, I'll fix some for us."
"Sounds good," he said, heading for the refrigerator.
By the time Joel had finished his fourth slice of French toast and third sausage patty, he appeared to be fully awake. "Do you want to talk about last night?" I asked.
"Did you guys have fun? That is until the cops stopped you."
"Yeah, the movie was great. We were going to stop at Applebees for something to eat before the movie, but they were packed. We went to What-A-Burger instead. That was kinda crazy."
"Why was that?"
"Well, there were a bunch of girls in there with an older lady. I think it was one of their moms. They were sitting in two booths, but you could tell they were together. Anyway, the only booth that was empty was the one right next to the one with four of the girls in it. Why do girls giggle so much?"
"I don't know, son. What happened?"
"As soon as we sat down, they started pointing at us and whispering to each other. Then one of the girls, she looked like she was the oldest, started hitting on Shane. He tried to ignore her, but she kept it up. She even turned around and started talking to him. Shane was a little embarrassed, but he was nice to her and talked to her a little as he tried to eat his sandwich. We thought it was funny. Bran was really enjoying Shane's embarrassment until one of the girls started trying to talk to him."
"Didn't any of them try talking to you and John?"
Joel ducked his head before answering. "Yeah."
"Nothing, we just talked to them and ate as fast as we could. We finished our burgers and took our drinks to the car. We spent the rest of the evening teasing each other about our 'girl friends'."
"I'm glad you were nice to them. This will probably happen to you boys again. You're all good looking and will catch the eyes of many young ladies. You should cultivate female friends as well as male friends."
"I know, dad, but how do you put up with all that giggling?"
That was a question for which I didn't have an answer.