H Is For Homicide Page 33


I turned my head, staring off to the left to avoid any visual contact. It had been a good ten years since I'd last seen the guy, but I didn't want to chance his recognizing me, blowing the cover I'd set up. I probably flatter myself.

I looked as respectable as the bum they were booking. I fancied I smelled better, but perhaps not. I've noticed that most of us don't have a clue what we smell like to other people. It's almost as though our noses blank us out in self-defense.

Kip buzzed at yet another locked door, and after a brief wait another female jail officer emerged from the women's side. Bibianna and I had our pictures taken in the kind of booth you see in Woolworth's, a sorry strip of poses appearing moments later in the outside slot. In mine, I looked like a suspect in a teen pomo ring, the kind of woman who'd lure the young girls with glib promises of modeling gigs. We moved into the women's booking area, where we approached a row of holding cells. I went into the first and Bibianna the second. The officer with me did a quick pat-down and then removed the handcuffs.

’’Lean up against the wall,’’ she said. Her tone wasn't unfriendly, but it was devoid of real warmth. And why not? I was just one more in an endless stream of jailbirds as far as she knew.

I faced the wall, arms straight out in front of me, leaning my weight on my hands, which were spaced about four feet apart. She did a second, more thorough, pat-down, making sure I didn't have any tiny lethal weapons concealed in my hair. She allowed me to take a seat on a bench along the wall while the proper papers were assembled at the counter to my right. When the booking officer was ready, I emptied my pockets, passing my phony driver's license, my keys, my watch, my belt, and my scruffy shoes through the window slot. There was something pathetic about the sight of my personal possessions, which were not only meager, but cheap as well. We began to go through the catechism that accompanies the loss of freedom. Personal data. Medical.

Employment. I said I was out of work, claiming ’’waitress’’ as my occupation. We went through the litany of facility and arrest data. I was being charged with assault, a misdemeanor, and battery on a police officer, which is a felony with a five-thousand-dollar bail attached. I assumed Bibianna was being booked on similar charges. I was offered the chance to post bail, but I declined, operating on the premise that Bibianna would do likewise. All I needed was to be stuck in jail while she found a way to get herself bailed out. I kept waiting for the booking officer to realize that my driver's license was a fake, but she didn't seem to notice. My few pieces of personal property were itemized and placed in a clear plastic boiling pouch, like a Seal-A-Meal. The whole procedure took about fifteen minutes and left me feeling unsettled. Oddly enough, I didn't feel humiliated so much as I felt misunderstood. I wanted to assert myself, wanted to assure them that I wasn't what I appeared to be, that I was really a decent, law-abiding citizen... on their team, in effect.

The booking officer completed her process. ’’You want to make any calls, there's a pay phone in the next cell.’’

’’I can't think who I'd call anyway,’’ I said, absurdly grateful that everyone was so polite. What had I expected, curses and abuse?

Padding along in my sock feet, I was taken down the corridor to the ID bureau to be fingerprinted. A second set of photographs were taken, front and profile this time. At this rate, I could put together a little album for Mother's Day. It was 2:13 A.M. by the time I was escorted to the drunk tank, a cell maybe fifteen by fifteen feet. A skinny white woman, with her back turned, slept on a mattress in the far comer of the room. There were no outside windows. The entire front wall was barred, with a lidless commode tucked into an alcove on the right. I've seen cells where the toilet seats are removed as well. I had to guess we were being trusted not to try to hang ourselves with this one. The floor was beige vinyl tile, the walls painted cinder block. There was a built-in bench running the width of the room with some one-inch mattresses rolled up and arranged haphazardly against the wall. I snagged one for myself and spread it out on the floor.

Bibianna arrived moments later, along with two other prisoners, a black woman and a weeping white girl in formal dress.

’’Hey, Hannah,’’ Bibianna said. ’’Old home week. This is Nettie.’’ She turned to the second woman. ’’What's your name, babycakes?’’

’’Heather.’’

Bibianna said, ’’Heather, this is Hannah.’’

’’Nice to meet you,’’ I murmured dutifully. I didn't have a clue about jailhouse etiquette. The skinny woman in the far corner stirred restlessly in her sleep.

Bibianna pulled a mattress off the bench and dragged it over toward me. ’’Nettie and me did a little county time about a month ago, right?’’ No response.


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