38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl): Chapter Nine
Author’s Note: This is Part 9 of a series of posts serializing my novella 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl). For more information on the origins of this novella, including all disclaimers, and a complete chapter list, please see the announcement regarding this series.
Monday was a holiday—not that we would have gone to school that day if it hadn’t been. Pop still wasn’t home by the time we got up for breakfast. I didn’t get a lot of sleep. I don’t think anyone did. Ricky and Tony whispered a little before we got up, but they avoided their usual morning roughhousing. None of us wanted to get into any trouble.
When we slid into the kitchen at 7 AM, Mom hovered by the stove, waiting for the water to boil for her third cup of Maxwell House. She looked us over with tired, vacant eyes, then resumed her vigil in front of the kettle. Aunt Doris arrived moments later to help with breakfast.
Pop called at quarter to eight from the police station. Mikey and Billy were being held there until a lawyer could make it in to ensure that they said nothing to incriminate themselves. The cops didn’t even try to ask them anything. Pop wouldn’t let them anywhere near Mikey. Everyone knew Mikey. Everyone liked Mikey. Everyone understood what had happened, and why it had happened, and no one wanted to see Mikey go to jail for it.
But Johnny McAllister’s father was a bigwig in town. He was the branch manager for one of the banks, a long-time member of the local Elks Lodge, and good friends with the mayor. He had been a captain in the army, had fought in WWII, and landed at Gold Beach on D-Day where he received a Military Cross for distinguished service. He was well liked by a lot of folk. Dad had always said the McAllisters were no good when he was fighting with Cathy. Maybe it was because no one would ever be good enough for his little girl. Or maybe he had figured out Johnny McAllister, and knew that the good had been all used up by the previous generations of the family.
It was hard to get a lawyer on a long weekend, but one was eventually found—Robert F. Laidlaw, Esq. He wasn’t the top lawyer in town, but he wasn’t too expensive, and not-too-expensive was all we could afford. To have a lawyer, with the word ‘law’ in their name meant he had to be good—at least to a six year old. He was young and inexperienced, but not many lawyers in our area had experience with this type of crime. Dad and Billy’s father agreed to split the costs and to have one lawyer defend both boys. Looking back, that probably wasn’t a great move for Billy. He was tarred with the same charges and same verdict as Mikey got in the end, and he might have been able to cut a better deal had ratted on Mikey. But Billy wasn’t that kind of friend. He stuck with Mikey through it all. And it cost him everything.
The first week after the incident flew by pretty quickly. Mikey and Billy were both charged with 2nd Degree Murder, and bail was set unreasonably high. Mike had been making ten bucks a day on the road crew, which was pretty good for back then. The judge set the bail at ten grand. Each. Mikey and Billy stayed at the local jail, which was a hell of a lot better than getting shipped off to the county facility, or worse, up to the long-term-storage at Millhaven. Like I said, folks liked Mikey, and even the cops were looking out for him. But there was only so much they could do. Letting him go free wasn’t one of those things.
Pop went down to see Mikey every day. Mom went to the jail once, but spent most of her time with Cathy in the hospital. Going to the hospital every day broke mom’s heart. Going to see Mikey in that jail cell, just once, broke her soul. She was never quite the same. After that, her face always had some kind of a far off, pleading look, like she was locked in a cell herself, and couldn’t even ask for someone to let her out.
We kids weren’t allowed to go to either the jail or the hospital. Mom didn’t want us to see Cathy all hooked up to the tubes and bruised up. And there was no way we were getting anywhere near the jail. We went back to school on Tuesday, but Ricky and Tony got sent home by lunch for getting into fights. It wasn’t their fault, really. The other kids were taunting them, and there was no way they weren’t going to stick up for Mikey or Cathy. Brenda was a sobbing mess most of the time, and she ended up staying home a few more days more to get a grip on it.
It was a little different for me. Maybe word didn’t travel around so fast in the first grade, or maybe the kids were more intimidated by the teachers and knew it was time to be nice to me, so I didn’t get even the normal amount of playground taunting. And if they had taunted me, they would have had to deal with Davey, and he wasn’t putting up with anything. We’ve stayed friends pretty much ever since.
Cathy came home a week after the incident. She was busted up pretty bad. Rolls of gauze wrapped around her head. Her left eye had swollen shut. A long line of black sutures ran from her right eyebrow to her left eye, across the bridge of her nose. Ricky said she looked like Frankenstein. Mom gave him a pretty good wallop for that one.
I hadn’t known exactly what to expect. I thought, maybe, she might have a shiner. That’s all I’d ever seen anyone get before. I mean, I thought maybe Johnny had slapped her. Years later, once I was much older, I heard the whole story, and I completely understood why Mikey had flown off the handle and done what he had done. I still get a hot tingle in my chest, and the hair stands up on my arms and neck when I think about it. I don’t wonder why Mikey had beat the crap out of Johnny. I would have been in line behind Ricky and Tony to do the same things as soon as I was big enough had Mikey not already taken care of that business.
Cathy had snuck out of the house that night to go with Johnny up to the beach to hang out with a bunch of their friends. But they never made it out of town. Johnny had gotten it into his head that since everyone from town was up at the beach, that night would be perfect to go down to the lover’s lane behind the school, and to take it to the next level with Cathy. Only she hadn’t been let in on his plan, and she sure as hell hadn’t approved of it. She had been rebelling at home, and pushing it with Mom and Pop, but she was still a pretty good kid at heart, and she wasn’t quite ready to do what Johnny wanted to do.
But Johnny didn’t take no for an answer. He got a little grabby in the truck, and tried to take off Cathy’s shirt. She pushed his hands away, and tried to back him up, but there was no reverse gear in Johnny’s brain that night. He pushed a little harder, and got a little more forceful. She tried to scream, but he covered her mouth. When she opened the door to run, he pushed her hard to the ground and jumped out after her. He landed on top of her and smacked her head into a concrete curb. The impact stunned her. The little prick dragged her into the bushes behind the school and ripped off her clothes. When she got her senses back, she struggled and tried to push him away. But that set him off, and he started hitting her. Not once, but half-a-dozen times. At some point, he knocked her completely out. Then he raped her, and left her in the bushes. They say he went down to McCauley’s pub after that, three blocks from the school and had a drink, then took off for the beaches.
Cathy spent ten long, horrible hours lying there, semi-conscious, unable to call for help because Johnny had shattered her jaw. Blood from her broken nose covered her face. Four teeth had been smashed. At some point in the night, she managed to crawl out of the bushes just enough that Mikey had seen her hand as he was checking the town for her in the morning. At first he thought it was an old glove. It was blanched white, but it moved a little as he drove up, and he knew it was Cathy even before he got out of the vehicle. Mikey took her directly to the hospital and then went to get Mom from church.
All of this came out at the trial in mid-July. It wasn’t some grandiose trial like you see these days, or in the movies. It lasted two days. Local reporters covered it, and twice, we heard Mikey’s name on the radio. None of us kids were allowed into the court room—none except Cathy—and that was only for an hour or so while she testified. The broken jaw caused her to slur her words as she spoke. From what I heard, she told the story true, and if it had been a trial for Johnny McAllister, they would have strung him up right there and then. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Even Johnny’s father cried. But Johnny wasn’t on trial, and most of what Cathy said, though true, and as good a reason to kill someone there ever was, wasn’t enough to get Mikey and Billy off. The prosecutor took it pretty easy on Cathy; there was no need to do otherwise. No one had any doubt Johnny had been the one who did it to her.
When it came time for Mikey and Billy to testify, they did. They didn’t deny beating Johnny. By the time the trial came around, they were trying pretty desperately to cut a deal. Assault, possibly. At worst manslaughter. But for some reason the prosecutor held it at Murder Two. To this day, I don’t understand why. But then, Mikey’s my brother, and I didn’t think then, nor do I think now, that he did anything wrong at all. I would have done it myself.
Mikey and Billy had tracked down Johnny at a beach party near Picton. He wasn’t hard to find. His souped up truck was parked along the main road to the beach, like hundreds of other cars. But the paint job was one of a kind, and easy to spot.
They parked, walked towards the beach, and listened for the sound of the voices. He was as easy to find as the truck. Johnny was an obnoxious drunk. They waited for him to need to take a leak. The way he was drinking, they didn’t have to wait long. They grabbed him off the path on his way to the can, and beat him pretty good, but not enough to kill him, they swore to the judge. One of the other partiers found Johnny lying face down in the bush a half hour after Mikey and Billy had left. Other people tried to revive Johnny, but he was already gone. Sometime after the attack, Johnny had vomited, and since he was barely conscious after the beating Mike and Billy had put on him, plus the fact that he was drunk out of his skull, he choked on the vomit and died of asphyxiation.
They said the death was a direct result of the beating. Since Mike had planned to beat him, and that he and Billy had stalked Johnny before doing it, the assault was premeditated. When premeditated assault caused the death, murder was justified. They showed pictures of Johnny to the jury. He was beat up a lot worse than Cathy. Mikey and Billy both had their work-boots on, and those steel toes did one heck of a lot of damage. Johnny’s front teeth were gone, his ribs busted up. He had been kicked in the balls pretty hard, too. The trauma there had been obvious, even after death.
In the end, the jury had no choice but to find them guilty. I heard years later that there had been a lot of debate about justifiable homicide. But back then, that wasn’t an option. Twenty, thirty years earlier, everyone would have said he deserved it, and got what he had coming. But after the war, things got ‘more civilized’. Even the judge, an old coot who had seen the ‘uncivilized’ days, thought that Murder-Two was a little severe, but he was under a pressure to get tougher on crime, and this was a capital case. With Murder-Two, his only option for sentencing was mandatory fifteen to twenty five, with a chance of parole after fifteen. Billy got fifteen. Mikey got twenty.
Billy never made it out. He died in prison halfway through his second year, shanked with a piece of glass from a broken mirror in a prison-yard fight. Mikey beat the crap out the guy who did it during the fight, and his sentence was extended to the max, twenty five years—twenty five grueling years in that cesspool of society. I don’t know how he held it together. Mikey wasn’t built for being trapped inside a cage. I would have gone stir crazy after a month.
That was the summer of ’55. Eighteen years ago. And Mikey hadn’t seen daylight outside of the prison walls since. The parole board seemed to be comfortable to let him serve the rest of the twenty-five. In the spring of ’73, Mikey had seven years left on his sentence. Seven long, hard, years.
Pingback: Announcing a New Novella: 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl) |
“Mikey and Billy were being held there until a lawyer could make it in to ensure that they said nothing to incriminate themselves. The cops didn’t even try to ask them anything.”
The first part makes perfect sense. The second part makes me say “Wait–if the cops didn’t even TRY to ask them anything, why even bother to roust Mikey out of his house in the middle of the night?” This is pinging me again on the thing with Mikey’s truck: there’s a suggestion that the police consider Mikey a flight risk–which would explain their behavior–but the suggestion isn’t clear enough for me to actually take it as a strong hypothesis in the story.
“But Johnny McAllister’s father was a bigwig in town.”
Of course he was. This would be why Johnny could get away with being an alpha-dog asshole to begin with. Problem is that introducing this fact about Johnny’s father here makes it feel like a just-in-time justification for the trouble Mikey’s facing. It would be stronger to introduce this fact about his father way back when Johnny was first mentioned in the story, so that all along we’d have a more complete picture of Johnny as a socially-privileged, favorite-son figure who takes what he wants. That way, at the very moment that the cop said Johnny was dead, readers would have been able to jump to the conclusion that Mikey’s in it deep because Johnny’s dad has the means to lawyer-up and make sure Mikey gets convicted.
Basically, if we knew more about Johnny’s circumstances from the beginning, we’d be better able to get to this conclusion on our own, at the moment the cops delivered the news, _just like_ the characters in the story must have. I mean, Mikey’s parents obviously know all the common knowledge about the McAllisters, and surely Mikey does too, so they would have been hit with that realization immediately. Working it so that readers could also be hit with the same realization, at the same time, would build greater empathy between readers and characters. It would allow us to understand their emotions in-the-moment in a much stronger way than now, where we’re only exposed to this information after the fact.
“But Billy wasn’t that kind of friend. He stuck with Mikey through it all. And it cost him everything.” Well, this nixes my earlier idea that maybe Mikey was taking the fall for Billy.
“Years later, once I was much older, I heard the whole story, and I completely understood why Mikey had flown off the handle and done what he had done.” Sounds like anyone would. Makes me wonder whether Laidlaw went with a temporary insanity defense, and if not why not, and if so why didn’t it work. Guess we’ll find out.
“But for some reason the prosecutor held it at Murder Two. To this day, I don’t understand why.” Well, obviously Johnny’s dad applied pressure. But: “Sometime after the attack, Johnny had vomited, and since he was barely conscious after the beating Mike and Billy had put on him, plus the fact that he was drunk out of his skull, he choked on the vomit and died of asphyxiation.”
If that’s really how Johnny died, there’s no way a jury should have convicted on a Murder Two rap. They didn’t actually kill Johnny. Beating him up may have contributed to his death, sure, but that doesn’t fit the definition of Murder Two at all. Which means that a) the prosecutor was almost certainly pressured to hold to that charge, because he should have known Murder Two against well-liked defendants with an unpopular victim and that actual cause of death was a loser case, and b) the jury should have acquitted. The next paragraph tries to explain the conviction, “they said the death was a direct result of the beating,” but I’m not convinced. They can’t just say it. They have to _prove_ it, beyond a reasonable shadow of a doubt and all that. All Laidlaw really has to do is create doubt. Point out that Mikey and Billy didn’t make Johnny drink, and had he not been so drunk as a skunk, he would have lived. Bam. Acquittal.
I think your easiest fix is just to take out the choking on his own vomit thing. Maybe they left him alive, but he died of an internal hemmorage. Or he tried to crawl back to the beach for help, but collapsed face-down in the sand and suffocated that way. Basically, let him die in a way that doesn’t use his inebriation as a contributing factor.
whoa… hold on a bit
this happened, supposedly, in canada and through the freedom of information act
anyone here with a bit of effort should be able to PROVE the right or wrong of this.
go for it boys …
give us the links…
put up or shut up…..EH…..
The song and the story are a work of fiction. 12 Men did break loose in 73 from Millhaven, but the rest is all fiction. http://www.spinetinglermag.com/2010/04/28/crime-song-wednesday-38-years-old-by-the-tragically-hip/