Thaddeus: Justice: Chapter One

Thaddeus looked out over the motorcycle's handlebars. Towering up from the horizon, thunderheads heaved and tore, moving ever nearer. He could smell the desert rain, so he decided to stop, nurse a sandwich and coffee, and wait out the coming squall. He took the next off-ramp.

The Harley's straight pipes blatted at the cut-throughs rock walls. Coming upright on the bike, Thaddeus leaned back, smiling at the music made by the two-cylinder power plant. He twisted the throttle and rapped it for the far-off chickenhawks until they danced like kites. He laughed; another great day on two wheels.

At the stop sign, both feet went down on the pavement. To his right, a restaurant. Ahead ten miles sprawled a middle-of-nowhere Arizona town. He didn't want to wait; the storm would catch up in five minutes, and it would be best to be inside, dry and coffee'd up. Besides, he was hungry now. Riding long distances always made his hungry. Turning right, he leaned into the curve.

It was close to noon when he stepped inside the cafe. The air was greasy and the diners very loud. Flatware jangled in the bus boys' trays. Just like he predicted, the restaurant smelled of burnt eggs and greasy hamburgers. All tables and booths were crammed with whites, Mexicans, and Cochise Apaches. Everybody was watching everybody else as if waiting for a brawl or dance to break out.

Coming across the restaurant, looking for an empty table, he didn't notice the one very dark man seated off to his left. The man worked with his fork and a dinner roll at the hamburger patty and rice on his plate. His chocolate eyes remained downcast even as he chewed and swallowed. Clearly, he was avoiding all eye contact. Nothing was said to anyone, no smiles at the baby in the next booth, no refill requests to the wandering waitress with the stained coffee pot. His name was Kamel Yousef, but Thaddeus wouldn't know that for some time yet. He walked on past the man, headed for the counter.

As he walked up to the counter, a booth of cops turned to study him. They watched as the biker shook his head and allowed a small smile. The moment was the same everywhere: cops hated bikers and bikers hated cops. And cops hated bikers when they were alone and most vulnerable. As he passed by their booth, they rolled their eyes and shrugged, traded a look among themselves, but then returned to their conversation.

Had the cops run his license plates they would have learned his name was Thaddeus Murfee. But they didn't run his plates; at least not just then.

He spied a stool that would place the cops at his back and allow him a clear view of the entrance. It would do just fine. The waitress behind the counter glanced his way. His looks made the corners of her mouth turn up. He was still youthful though he was chasing thirty-five years of age and she liked what she saw. The cops witnessed the moment and scowled. Heads shook in disgust.

Thaddeus headed for the lone stool. The diners on either side made room as he straddled it. He folded his hands and waited.

Waitresses scurried back and forth like soldiers defending their wall from starving invaders. He smiled; it was always the same everywhere he stopped: hunger, followed by hot food, followed by a green slip, followed by plastic. Then on to the next town and the next.

Finally, she stopped across from him, the red-haired one. Gum popped; she clicked her pen while she stared at him and waited. She did not attempt to hide it from anyone who might be watching: she was attracted, and she was interested. The cops nudged each other. One of them threatened to confront the biker and ask to see his driver's license. But the restaurant was no place for that. They stayed in their seats.

“Burger and fries, medium well.”

“Hon, there ain't no medium nothing in here. Everything's burned just the same.”

He nodded. “I can do that.”

She made a mark on her order pad and stepped closer. “Couldn't help but notice that belt. That real turquoise?”

“It is.”

“Where from?”

“Navajo reservation. The kachina—” he stood and pulled outward on the buckle, showing her, “is a Navajo kachina. Not a holy one like the Hopis. But this guy is used in healing ceremonies.”

“Lift your jacket and turn around.”

He did as requested.

“How many conchos?” She asked.

“Eight.”

She whistled appreciatively. “Nice. Like the tight leathers, too. What's your name, Hon?”

“Thaddeus.”

“Whoo, somebody's mama knew her Bible.”

“I'm not one of the original apostles.”

“Hon, you don't have to tell me. I don't expect that Thaddeus ever rode a Harley.”

He sat back down. He hadn't paid any attention to the cops. But they paid attention to him. They watched the belt show-and-tell and then turned to roll eyes at each other. They shook their heads. One city cop, the largest and youngest of the four officers, nodded. It was on.

Red returned in five minutes with his order.

“Gonna be around long?” she asked. She wasn't embarrassed by the implication of her question.

“Naw. Headed south. Way south.”

“Mexico?”

“Yep. Wife's down there with the kids.”

The redhead stepped back. “Lucky her.”

“Naw, lucky me.”

“If you say so. That burnt enough for you?”

“It'll do. Are we out of ketchup?”

She moved to the back counter and returned with a red squeeze bottle.

“Help yo-self, Big Time.”

“No big time here. Small change is all.”

“If you say so, Sugar. If you say. Be right back.”

She stepped around the counter and went behind Thaddeus, summoned to the booth where the cops were finishing up.

“Who's Rapid Roy?” asked the largest cop.

The waitress retorted, “Who's asking, Ralphie?” She punched the cop playfully in the shoulder, and he feinted as if struck by Muhammad Ali.

“Me, that's who,” said the cop. “Who is he?”

“Some guy passing through. Why do you ask?”

“Just watching the fashion show. Was it you asked to see his ass?”

She shook her head in disgust. “It wasn't the ass—though that wasn't bad, either. It was the belt he's wearing. That thing set him back at least two grand from where I'm sitting.”

“Two grand! Holy—”

“Yes, and you assholes leave him alone when he leaves. He wasn't showing off. He was showing me the damn belt. We okay?”

“We are if you are, sugar,” said the deputy across from the cop.

The law enforcement officers smiled gleefully. Their eyes glittered with anticipation.

Thaddeus chewed his burger and washed it down with coffee. He wiped his mouth with a napkin when he was finished and worked at the grease on his fingers. He pulled another napkin from the dispenser and repeated. Red came by. She scribbled on her pad then laid a green ticket before him. She had drawn a heart with an arrow through it. Her name and cell number were off to the side. “Call me if you stay,” she had written underneath. He smiled and pushed up from the stool. The cops were gone by the time he approached the cashier. He paid with a ten, returned to his seat and plopped down the leftover bills for the redhead. She wasn't around. He lumbered away from the tiny stool then walked outside.

The rain squall had blown through, leaving the parking lot puddled. He stretched. Overhead, the sun was shining, He cupped his hand over his eyes, looking east. He could make out a squall line across the eastern sky, black and slanted like a wash on watercolor paper.

Thaddeus threw his leg over the bike, pulled the machine upright and kicked back the side stand. The electric starter caught instantly; it would, the bike was a 2017 model with less than a grand on the dial. Walking it back from the curb, he began turning the risers. The bike came around, and he dropped it into first gear and putted away.

Out to the freeway, onto the asphalt heading east at 70 per. Nothing illegal, lights all working, helmet law obeyed, no tailgating, no antics to bother anyone. Pure joy.

Miles down the road, he was just passing by the town of Mendota. It was maybe a quarter mile off to his right. He knew what it would look like: sleepy, shuttered and barred storefronts since the copper mines had fled; old women and old men porched out, waiting for the mail and counting the days until the next check; a city hall populated with ex-prom-queens still chasing the glow of five, ten, twenty years ago. And cops coming and going—ex-football players, crewcut and brown, sunglasses, and ballpoints, heavy on the swagger—looking for someone they haven't cheated with yet. Thaddeus was glad to avoid the place, rapping his pipes on the freeway as a “No thank you!”

Which was when he saw it. A single flash, first, in the lefthand mirror. Then both mirrors filled with red and blue strobes. A hulking figure behind the wheel of the squad car. He was all hunched forward, maybe smiling, too far to know for sure.

Thaddeus came down off the overpass and slowed, pulling into the emergency lane. Flashers blinking, side stand poking into the hot asphalt, Thaddeus turned to watch the cop approach. He smiled pleasantly at the man.

Up beside him strode the cop, cocksure and frowning. He looked to be ten years younger than Thaddeus—maybe twenty-five, twenty-seven. In his uniform with hat, he stood six-two. He thrust his barrel chest forward and rested his hand on his holster. His fingers toyed at the strap release.

“You got a gun, boy?” were his first words to Thaddeus.

“No, officer. Look, I—”

“Whoa up, Nellie. You'll speak when I ask you. Let's get that up front. Roger that?”

“Roger,” said Thaddeus.

“All right, climb off that iron and lead us back to my squad. Place both hands on the hood.”

Thaddeus did as ordered. He thought it odd that he would be frisked for what should only have been a minor traffic stop. So minor, in fact, that he was clueless why he'd been pulled over. But the lawyer in him knew about these small towns. They needed their fines just to exist now that the jobs were all gone.

“Any knives or needles? Anything that might cut me or jab me?”

“No, sir.”

“If you're lying, it's your ass, boy.”

He came up behind Thaddeus and patted him down. Then he came back upright and began thrusting his hands into coat pockets then pants pockets. He removed Thaddeus' wallet, money clip, and loose change. There was nothing else. He reached around and unclasped Thaddeus' belt buckle. With one hand, he whipped the belt out of its loops as one whipping a long snake up off the ground. The turquoise and silver flashed in the sunlight. He coiled the belt and opened his car door without taking his eyes off Thaddeus. He tossed the belt casually onto the passenger seat.

“I wasn't going to hang myself over a speeding ticket. That wasn't necessary.”

“Who said anything about a speeding ticket? You were driving reckless, boy.”

“What, rapping my pipes on the overpass?”

“That and them lane changes a mile back, crossing lanes repeatedly.”

“Officer, there were no other cars front or back as far as I could see. Maybe five miles either way.”

“Oh, and the law takes a backseat whenever you decide?”

“What's that mean?”

“It means you get to make up the rules as you go along? Multiple lane changes without signaling, unnecessary noise, seventy-five in a seventy? All okay because you say so?”

“I thought you bent the rules on speed. I thought seventy-five was inside the margin of error.”

“Whoo—ee listen to fancy talk! Margin of error—I like the sound of that. We'll see if it holds water with Judge Montoya.”

“There won't be a judge. I'll just plead guilty on the back of the ticket, send in the fine and go on with life. Sorry but wiser.”

“Don't work like that, genius. I gotta haul you in while we run your plates.”

“I can follow you on my ride.”

“No, the bike stays here. I'll send a flatbed because it's gonna be confiscated.”

“You can't confiscate my bike for a minor traffic violation. That's against the law. Nor can you take me into custody. I'm allowed to sign for the ticket and go on my way.”

“Says who, genius?”

Thaddeus shook his head. “Says me. I'm a lawyer, and I know these things.”

“A lawyer! Whoo-ee we got us a big fish here! Let me tell you something, mister lawyer. I don't give a goddam if you're a priest out of the Vatican. Everyone has to bail out of a felony charge after he goes before a judge. I don't know what cereal box your license came in, but that's how it works around here.”

“Did I hear you correctly? You said felony?”

“Hands behind your back!”

Thaddeus complied, and the cop slipped a pair of silver bracelets around his wrists.

“Felony? Did you say felony?”

“You can read all about it in the court papers. Now take a deep breath and climb in.”

The cop swung the rear door open. Thaddeus slowly climbed in and leaned back against the cuffs. They tore at his wrists. He cringed as the car turned into the slow lane and carved around the Road King. It might last an hour until someone grabs it and carts it off, he thought. He turned around and looked out the back window. Abandoning the bike was almost too painful to watch.

They lurched across an emergency vehicle pull-through. They sped back and maneuvered onto the off-ramp. Then a left at the stop sign and off to the City of Mendota, Arizona.

The city consisted of two blocks of storefronts, two stoplights, a town square with a few pickups and SUVs parked randomly here and there, and side streets leading into whitewashed neighborhoods. Coming into town, waiting at the first traffic light, the cop up front waved to another cop crossing in front of them. 

At the second stoplight, they were on the far side of the town square. The cop made a left and drove slowly down to the end of the street. They pulled up to a squat brick building with antennas sprouting haphazardly from the roof. Several law enforcement vehicles were parked out front. A maple tree spread its branches over the walkway leading to the entrance and the Mendota Police Department sign. They turned in at the last open spot. The cop waited impatiently while Thaddeus slid out of the backseat. He jerked the prisoner wholly upright then roughly turned him around and prodded him toward a side entrance marked LAW ENFORCEMENT ONLY.

First came booking. Thaddeus posed full-on then sideways for the camera, then the cuffs came off for fingerprinting. “What's his name?” the desk clerk asked the arresting officer.

“Uh, Grant Smith.”

Thaddeus looked up, alarmed. “No, look at my ID. I'm Thaddeus Murfee.”

“No you're not,” said the arresting officer. “You're Grant Smith. Use that name, Harold.”

Harold nodded and furiously pounded his keyboard. Once the booking was complete, Thaddeus was shown down a long hall to a jail cell and pushed inside.

“You'll be going before Judge Montoya within twenty-four hours,” said the arresting officer.

“What am I being held for?” Thaddeus asked. “All misdemeanors in this state are bailable offenses, and I'd like to post bail now. You really can't hold me like this.”

The cop—turning away—turned right back. “Come again?”

“I said you can't hold me like this. I have a right to bail out of here.”

“Listen to the genius,” laughed the cop. “Mr. Lawyer is unhappy.”

A jailer appeared behind the arresting officer. He pushed by. Thaddeus sized him up: a big, burly guy with a gray-haired chest, cop blues but no necktie. The gun on his hip was almost as long as his arm. He looked Thaddeus over then produced a ring of keys off his belt. He opened the cell door and stepped inside.

“Disappear,” he said over his shoulder to the road cop. The arresting officer did as he was told. The door at the end of the hall closed behind him.

“Someone said you're a lawyer, boy.”

“I am. And I'd like to post bail and get on my way.”

“Well, why don't we take you across the street to the court right now and get that done?”

Thaddeus moved toward the cell door. “I think that's exactly what the law requires. And thank you for this.”

The prisoner swung his hands behind his back to receive the cuffs. The burly cop slipped the silvers around Thaddeus' wrists. Then he asked, “Too tight?”

“Just a little,” Thaddeus said, “If you could just—”

Without any warning, the cop yanked a sap out of his utility belt and swung at Thaddeus' head. The sap caught him just forward of the left ear. He cried out unintelligibly and crumpled to his knees. His mind went blank, leaving him unable to form any thought, unable to speak or defend himself. He raised his arms. Then he slumped forward, resting on his forehead and knees, off-balance and defenseless, unable to get up. He raised his head and tried to speak. The cop swung the sap a second time, catching Thaddeus flat across the nose. When the cartilage shattered and the nose collapsed, blood went everywhere. Thaddeus' black T-shirt and the front of his leather coat were sprayed with a thick red blood that spurted from his nose. He fell onto his side and instinctively raised his legs. So, the cop struck a third time, bashing Thaddeus' right knee. Bones cracked, and the leg jerked uselessly. This time he didn't move.

“Please,” Thaddeus muttered through the blood and pain and the darkness inside his head. “Please.”

“Please? Why don't you run over and file papers in court, Mr. Lawyer? Maybe that will save your stinking lawyer ass.”

“I didn't…do…anything…wrong,” the prisoner managed to say. “Please. A judge.”

“Oh, you'll get to see Judge Montoya soon enough. But you'll wish you hadn't, not after he hears how you attacked me in this cell and I had to defend myself. Judge Montoya hates violence. And he hates lawyers, too, by the way. He used to be one himself, but they pulled his license. Now you just lie there and try to sleep it off.”

“Please, I—”

This time the sap caught him across the ear. His eyes closed and his body pitched onto the floor, wholly out of control. He wet his pants but wasn't aware. 

When the cop was satisfied his prisoner was unconscious, he stood upright and moved the toe of his Tony Lama against the prisoner's hands. Then he applied the full weight of his massive body to the hands. Bones crunched, but the prisoner made no outcry.

“Now write up some papers,” the cop laughed. “Let's see how that works with those hands.”

He removed the handcuffs. He hurried outside the cell, where he paused and, grabbing the badge above his heart, ripped his shirt open as if he had been attacked. There would be photographs, evidence of the assault he'd had to fight off.

“A good night's sleep provided courtesy of Delmar Crivets, Mr. Lawyer. Nitey-night.”

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