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Let the Trials Begin
He that goes to law holds a wolf by the ears.
-- Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy
I wandered into a library last week and decided to do a quick bit of reading on The Law, which has caused me some trouble recently. It was a cold, mean day, and my mood was not much different. The library was empty at that hour of the morning....It was closed, in fact, but not locked. So I went in.
Far up at the top of the long stone staircase I could see a small man gesturing at me: waving at me, shouting....But his voice sounded crazy and scattered, like the screeching of a cat or the sound of beer bottles exploding in a garbage compactor. The only words I could hear were OUT and NIGHT.
When I got about halfway up the stairs I stopped and raised both hands. "Don't worry!" I shouted. "Police!"
He shuddered and fell back, saying nothing. His eyes were huge and a shudder ran through his body as I approached. "No problem," I said to him. "Just routine police work." I flashed my gold Special DEA Agent badge at him, then reached out to shake hands, but he moaned suddenly and leaped away...and as he collapsed awkwardly on the cold marble floor I saw that his left ankle was encircled by a heavy steel band that was strapped to a black box.
"What the fuck is that thing?" I asked him, reaching down to help him up. But he scuttled away again; and then he hissed at me.
"You know what it is!" he whimpered. "You filthy murdering pig!"
"What?" I said. "Are you crazy?" Then I jumped down on him and grabbed his foot so I could bring him a little closer. He uttered another sharp, terrified cry as I slid him across the smooth floor and pulled his ankle up to where it was right in front of my eyes.
"Be quiet," I said. "I want a look at this thing in good light." He struggled briefly, but I quickly stepped over his leg and hyper-extended his knee until he went rigid, then I braced him and examined the box. It was a standard-issue Body Beeper with a lock-on ankle bracelet -- one of the New Age tools now available to law enforcement agencies everywhere, for purposes of electronic House Arrest for those who have been brought within The System, but for whom there is no room in the overcrowded jails, pens, and prisons. The United States of America has more people locked up than any other country in the world, including Cuba and South Africa. Our prison system from coast to coast is bulging at the seams, and hundreds more are being crammed in every day -- more and more of them saddled with the mandatory Sentences and No Parole Provisions that came in with the first Reagan Administration, which began only ten years ago, but it seems like twenty or thirty....
Indeed. But that is another very long story and we will save it for later....So let's get back to the library and my new buddy, the unfortunate Prisoner that I seized and captured by accident at four o'clock in the morning when I caught him wandering aimlessly through the hallways of a massive public building with his eyes bulged out and his spine like rubber and probably his nuts on fire, too, because he had nothing to say for himself and no excuse for anything.
He was a loser. A wimp full of fear, with no pride and sure as hell no Money....But I let him go anyway, and we talked for a while in the Men's Room about his problem. We were both nervous, so I went out to the car and got a bag of warm beers, along with a wooden pipe about half-full of good marijuana.
Soon we were both in a better mood, and I told him I was not really the Police, but just another good old boy with a yen to Read Law for a while and a few hours to spare before my next court appearance.
He was a first-time offender from Phoenix, serving work-release time in the Library on a six-year Attempted Rape charge that happened when he wandered into the Ladies' Room at the airport and got in a fight with two Mexican women who said they were paid police informants and turned him in as a Sex Offender when the airport police finally ran him down in a false doorway at the far end of the Lost Luggage hangar and dragged him away in handcuffs to the Red Carpet Club where they subjected him to a loud and humiliating Strip Search and beat him on the kidneys with iron gloves.
He was innocent, he said, but it made no difference....When they finally got him to jail he was charged with nine felonies including Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer, Gross Sexual Imposition, and Possession of 2,000 Marijuana Seeds that fell out of the lining of a suitcase he had borrowed from his son, for the trip.
That night he was beaten severely in the holding cell by a gang of sodomites who took all his cigarettes and then kicked him into a coma.
After thirty-three days in the jail hospital, he was assigned to a public defender who laughed at his case and called him "shiteyes" and said it was all a matter of money.
Ten weeks later, he was assigned to another lawyer who said he had no choice but to plead guilty and take his medicine like a man.
"I was lucky," he said. "I almost got sixteen years." He grinned happily and stared into my eyes.
"As it is now, I'll only have to do five."
He was broken; a niggardly shell of a man, so afraid of the Law and the Cops and the Courts that he felt lucky and grateful to be serving only five years instead of sixteen -- even though he was innocent. But now, after two long years on his knees within The System, he no longer missed standing up.
It made me nervous, so I started pacing around in circles on the white tile floor and jabbering distractedly at him from time to time....I was thinking; my mind was running at top speed, scanning and sorting my options. They ranged all the way from Dumb and Dangerous to Crazy, Evil, and utterly wrong from the start.
"Do you keep any whiskey in this place?" I asked him. "We need whiskey. My brain is getting hazy."
He stared at me for a moment. Then he smiled vaguely and stood up. "Sure," he said. "I think I can put my hands on a pint of Old Crow." He chuckled. "What the hell? I could use some whiskey, myself." He slid down off the marble washbasin where he'd been sitting and shuffled out of the room. He moved quickly and almost gracefully, but the ugly black box on his ankle slowed him down and caused him to walk with a limp.
I sat on my own basin and drank our last warm beer. What the hell am I doing here? I wondered. I am a Doctor of Journalism and a Man of The Cloth. Why am I slumped in a bathroom at the Public Library at four o'clock in the morning? Drinking whiskey and smoking marijuana with a soul-dead convict who might be taken back in jail at any moment?
"What's your name?" I asked him as he returned with a half-finished pint of whiskey in a brown bag.
"Andrew," he said. "They call me Andy."
"Okay, Andrew," I said. "Give me that whiskey and stand back. We are on the brink. Yes. I have an idea."
He tossed me the bottle and I drank deeply, then handed it back to him. "Don't worry about having this stuff on your breath when they come for you," I said. "I have a new electric toothbrush out in the car that will sterilize your whole thorax in ten seconds. I also have some very fine cocaine downstairs in the car, which you might want to use when your eyes start looking like they do now...." I slapped him on the leg and hit the Old Crow again. "Hot damn, Andrew!" I barked at him. "We are warriors. The time has come to rumble!"
He said nothing. The bottle of whiskey was tilted high over his face, and I could see that he was finishing it off....So what? I thought. We can always get more. The whiskey stores opened at seven, and I didn't have to be in court until ten. There was plenty of time to do anything we wanted. Many wrongs could be righted in five hours if we had the right tools....
"Well, Andrew," I said to him in a high-pitched mournful voice. "I hate to be the one to tell you this...I don't want to hurt you, but -- "
"No!" he shouted. "Please don't kill me!"
I seized him quickly by the hair and jerked him off balance. His eyes rolled back in his head and then he went limp. "Stop whining!" I snapped. "I just want to tell you about a legal axiom."
"Bullshit," he croaked. "You're a goddamn vicious maniac!" He jerked out of my grasp and leaped away, then he braced on the balls of his feet, and bashed me in the stomach with a frenzied right hook. "You bastard!" he screamed. "Get away from me! You're a paranoid psychotic!"
"We are going to Court, Andrew. We are champions! We will crush them like cheap roaches! TODAY'S PIG IS TOMORROW'S BACON!" I spun suddenly and hurled my green beer bottle so fast across the room that it exploded against the wall like a glass bomb before he even saw it happen. BANG! Whirling like Quisenberry and catching a runner on the nod at second....Fantastic speed and accuracy, no reason at all, but Andrew went crazy with joy and I had to subdue him physically and give him a chance to calm down. It was almost dawn. "Where are the telephones?" I asked him. "Where is a fax machine? We will kill the ones who eat us, and eat the ones we kill!"
We had no choice.
I moved quickly for the door, but he stopped me. "Wait a minute," he said. "We're almost out of whiskey."
He was right. The Old Crow pint was empty except for a few drops down in one corner, and the bars would not open for three hours.
"Don't worry," he said. "I know where there's more. Upstairs in the president's office."
"Wonderful," I said. "We can't run out of whiskey at a time like this. Go get it. We'll need everything we can get our hands on, before this thing is over."
He chuckled and tried to sprint off, but the thing attached to his ankle made him stumble. "Goddamnit!" he screamed. "I'd kill to get rid of this thing!"
"Don't say that," I snapped. "We are innocent men! We are working within the system...and besides, I think I have some good crank outside in the car."
He went upstairs to loot the president's office, and I went down those long marble steps, once again, to where my Jeep was parked in front of a fireplug on the street. Hot damn! I thought. This will be a very fast day....
It was still raining. There was no other sound on the street. Only rain in the elm trees and the fast lazy slap of my brand-new white low-cut Chuck Taylor All-Stars on the sidewalk. I felt like a polar bear, and I wanted to hear some music.
The big weird Jeep was still there, lurking peacefully under the trees and almost invisible in the mist and the hanging Spanish moss....It was huge, but it had no color. It came from the factory with no paint -- only a dull stainless steel finish that soon faded to a filthy shade of yellow and millions of tiny reddish pits all over the hood and the doors and even the Panzer-style undercarriage.
"These holes are not rust," the pompous little factory rep assured me. "What you see here is priceless chemical development that was applied to this vehicle only after fifty-five years of careful research at our secret Color Lab in the Milanese Alps....So you must be patient," he warned. "This process takes time. It involves the slow liberation of Astro-Bacteria, which is frequently lethal to laymen. And which did, in fact, end the life of the tragic genius who first invented it, a man named Squane from Austria."
Well...maybe so, I figured. It was ugly and pitted all over with millions of festering poison pits, which boiled and bubbled constantly and infected all those who touched it....
But it was a full-bore Lamborghini hot rod, a monstrous thing that weighed 5,000 pounds with bulletproof glass and twelve cylinders with a top speed of 125 miles an hour and a .50-caliber machine-gun mount behind the driver's seat....One night on the Big Sur Highway I beat a Porsche 928 from the Carmel Bridge to Nepenthe by nine minutes, mainly because I beat her like a cheap hound on the curves. It was a small woman driving the 928 and she went all to pieces when I passed her at 110 on the Bixby Creek Bridge and then squeezed her into the sand dunes....
Why not? It happened to me once -- in Sacramento, when some Japs in a brute Lamborghini ran me down on The Parkway like I was standing still, then bashed me repeatedly at top speed until I finally lost control....It was one of the ugliest moments of my life and I'll never forget it. Those tattooed swine! I should have had them locked up, but I was helpless.
After that, I got one of my own, for $150,000.
But that is another story, and I was too busy that day to even think about it. Dawn was coming up and it was still raining and I had to be in court at 9 o'clock and, ye gods, I still had this freak to deal with -- this gutless zombie with a beeper on his leg who obviously needed help, and somehow I was it.
How had it happened? I slid into the Lambo and locked the heavy armored door behind me....What dangerous craziness had plunged me into this situation? All I'd wanted to do was hang out in the library for a while and read some Law.
But somehow I wound up with Andrew on my hands. They had railroaded him into jail for five years, and now I was his only hope. One way or another, I had to get him into a courtroom situation where he'd be able to confront The System on its own mean terms. Put him on the Attack, instead of always on his knees....Right. And we needed to get that goddamn beeping manacle off his leg.
Indeed. But first things first. Calm down, cool beer, and relax with elegant music...and yes, ah ha, the Crank. Andrew was looking a bit limp, and we would both need special energy for the ordeal I knew was coming....Once I broke him out of jail, as it were, I would be responsible for him until my lawyers took over. They were good, and I felt sure they could get him a new trial. Never mind this jail bullshit. He was innocent. He never had a chance....But no more. The worm had turned. My man Andrew was about to know what it felt like to go into court like a warrior and beat the swine to death with their own rules.
I felt good about this, very calm and focused as I buried my face in a silver bowl of pure speed and snorted until my whole head went numb and my eyeballs seemed to be fusing together....I punched the music up to 600 watts and felt the Jeep shudder nicely as Lyle Lovett came on....Thank god this thing is soundproof, I thought, or we might have a serious police problem.
Which is something I like to avoid. But it is getting harder and harder. These are bad times for people who like to sit outside the library at dawn on a rainy morning and get ripped to the tits on crank and powerful music.
As I walked back to the library I remembered Bobby Kennedy's words: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
But not me, Jack. Whatever I was doing that morning, it was sure as hell not "nothing." I was about to pluck an innocent victim from the jaws of The System....Hell yes! I thought. Thomas Jefferson would be proud of me today, and so would Bobby Kennedy....
The crank was taking hold, which caused me to think rapidly in odd mathematical terms and suddenly understand that Thomas Jefferson had been dead only 142 years longer than Bobby Kennedy which is not a long time in places like Egypt and Cambodia and approximately the same, in fact, as the life expectancy of the average American woman by the year 2015.
I was brooding on these things as I bounded up the long gray steps and found Andrew fretting nervously on his slab in the Main Floor Executive Men's Room. He had some rumpled-looking Xerox pages out in front of him, but he quickly gathered them up as I entered.
"Where the fuck have you been?" he snarled. "I'm about to go crazy! They expect me back at the jail in twenty minutes. I'm doomed." He eyed me sullenly and lifted a quart bottle of Southern Comfort to his lips, sucking it down his throat so fast that his eyes rolled back in his head and I thought he was passing out.
"You bastard!" I yelled. "Give me that goddamn bottle! I want you on your toes when we go to court. You're about to face a life or death situation!"
"Screw you," he said. "You're crazy as a goddamn loon. I should have had you arrested the minute I saw you."
I gave him a quick Pre-Frontal Lift and bounced him off the mirror, then I seized the whiskey bottle from his hand as he slumped to the floor...."Get a grip on yourself, Andrew," I said.
I gave him a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill and watched him snort almost half of our whole stash into his head like a bullet. He choked desperately for a few seconds, then leaped to his feet and fixed me with a wrong and unnatural grin. I could see that he was going sideways. "You fool," I said. "You took too much."
"Fool?" he screeched. "Nobody calls me a fool." He laughed distractedly and lurched at me, but I shoved him away.
"Calm down," I said. "We have serious business to do."
"Business?" he shouted. "What kind of business?" He lunged at me again, but I could see that he was going into spasms. "You business bastard!" he jabbered. "I know what kind of business you're in! Yeah! Take care of business, Mister Businessman!" Then he scrambled up to his wet marble ledge above the urinals again, clinging to a pipe with one hand and fumbling in his pocket with the other.
"Be careful!" I said. "We'll both be fucked if you fall down and split your goddamn skull before we get to court."
He stared at me for about twenty seconds, saying nothing. Then he reached down, demanding the whiskey, and unfolded the wad of Xerox pages that he'd been reading so intensely when I came back from my run to the Jeep.
"What court?" he yelled. "What are you -- the judge?"
Ye gods, I thought. What now? This poor fool had been in jail for so long that he can't handle the crank and the whiskey and freedom all at once.
"Who are you?" he screamed. "What do you do for a living?"
"Never mind that," I said. "Right now I'm your skyhook -- so come off that goddamn ledge and let's get some of this stuff on paper. We don't have much time."
"Paper?" he screeched. "What are you -- some kind of writer?" He laughed harshly. "You want paper, shiteyes? I'll give you some goddamn paper. Yeah! I'll give you writing, you asshole! If you think you're a goddamn writer, get ready to drop to your knees."
Then he lifted the crumpled pages up to his eyes and started to read, but I cut him off.
"What is that stuff?" I asked. "Give it to me."
He smiled disdainfully and jerked the papers out of my grasp. "Stuff?" he said. "You call this stuff?"
"Okay," I said. "What is it?"
He hesitated, then smiled happily. "This is my writing!" he said. "This is my stuff! This is probably the best stuff ever written in English! And it's mine! I wrote it when I was in jail -- like Ernest Hemingway."
"Ernest was never in jail," I said. "At least not like you. He never swept floors in a library at night with a beeper strapped to his ankle." It was cruel, but I felt the time had come to rein him in, to flog him back to reality. But he was getting hysterical, so I let him read on.
"Stand back!" he yelled. "I am the most amazing writer in the world! I wrote this one night in the jail library, when nobody else was watching!"
"Wonderful," I said. "Read your crazy shit."
He hurled the whiskey bottle at me, but it missed and went into the stalls, where it exploded against a wall and left glass all over the floor....Jesus, I thought. This place will be a bitch to clean up in the morning -- or even explain. Well, I guess I can't rightly explain this mess. Don't ask me how it happened. I swear. This place is normally so clean this time of the morning....We have convicts at night, you know. They clean the whole library, spic and span. But good God almighty. It's so ugly and horrible now that I can't stand to even see it!
Andrew ignored the explosion and began reading his work, in a loud and menacing voice. He had obviously done this more than once, probably in solitary confinement....I listened curiously as he launched into the thing and started to get wound up. It was something about electric storms and Benjamin Franklin. But I was not really listening. My mind was on court.
Meanwhile Andrew raved on, rolling his eerie phrases like a man gone wild in a trance, and I began to pay more attention....Jesus! I thought. This is pretty good stuff. I recognized a certain rhythm, a weird meter of some kind that reached me even if I wasn't listening....It was strange. I had a feeling that I knew it all from somewhere, but I couldn't quite place it....
Soon I felt a queer humming all over my body, like falling into music, and for a long minute or two I actually liked Andrew again. He definitely had a feel for words, almost like an idiot-savant. By the time he was halfway through I was ready to give him money.
Copyright © 1990 by Hunter S. Thompson