Boys Will Be Men

 

E. G. Fabricant

 

From Matters Familiar. A recently-divorced father sharing custody of his young son learns about parenting in an unlikely place–Death Row.  Adult language.

 

“Can Mommy come live with us again?”

Chad Wilcomb’s shoulders sagged as he switched off the coffeemaker. He turned. His six-year-old’s eyes shimmered above his cereal bowl like tiny blue Christmas balls. “Chuckie, we’ve been over this a million times. No; Mommy’s not going to live with us any more.”

Chuckie frowned into his milk. “I don’t like two houses and Mrs. Sherwatter – she smells funny. Mommy has day care; she doesn’t need no babysitter at night.”

“‘Any‘—’any’ babysitter,” Chad said. “Daddy and Mommy have different jobs. Sometimes Daddy has to work late or go away. Finish your Lucky Charms. I gotta drop you and get to the office.”

As he swiped up his keys from the hallway table, the phone rang. “Hello?”

“Hi, dear.” It was the “ex”—Lana Margo McCarthy. “I’m glad I caught you. Don’t forget Chuckie’s appointment at Dr. DiPassini’s at four; I’m pretty sure he’s got a cavity. All that sugar weekend mornings, no doubt.”

“Shit. “

Silence.

“I forgot. Look, can you cover it? I got a full day today.”

“Goddamn it, Chad. I’ve run through almost all of my sick leave as it is.” She paused, and sighed. “Listen. Did Chuckie bring up getting back together again?”

Chad turned toward the wall as Chuckie emerged from his bedroom, struggling with a backpack strap. “Yeah. He said something this morning.”

“Did you talk to him about it, Chad?”

“Yeah—sorta.”

A longer pause and deeper sigh. “Do you ever really hear that kid?”

“Gotta go,” Chad mumbled, and hung up. Modern woman, three names. I should have known better.

“Why me?”

Chad sat and propped his feet on Tim Ireland’s desk in the open, grammar-school chaos that was theSacramento Independent Review.

“What I got from his mother’s letter was that he saw the piece you did on the temple bombers and decided you were fair.” Tim grinned. “Go figure. Maybe he used to be a ‘subscriber.'”

“Ha. Good, boss. Okay—so Charlie Don Morton, convicted local rapist and murderer, wants to give our little lefty rag an exclusive before he gets put to sleep at San Quentin in three months. That about it?”

“Not entirely. Two conditions.”

“Oh?”

“One, he wants the piece to be ‘first person’ – you know, ‘Charlie Don Speaks.’ Your ruminations and purple prose in sidebars only. Two, he wants you as a media witness.”

Chad used his best Ted Baxter voice. “Won’t giving a felon an ‘open forum’ compromise our journalistic integrity?”

“Listen, wise-ass. This is a no-brainer, a coup, if we can pull it off. Set all your other stuff aside. I’ve already gotten the Department of Corrections’ new guidelines. You work on whatever phone calls you need and a visitation request, and I’ll get started on getting us into the media pool. There’s one slot for a weekly and Morton’s local, so we should have a shot. A guy I used to play racquetball with works in CDC’s legislative office, which might help.”

Any lingering bonhomie evaporated.

“Get on it, Chad,” Tim said.

Chad leaned into Tim’s doorway. “Here it is. Under the Department’s media policies, non-‘random,’ face-to-face interviews and recording devices of any kind are prohibited. Inmates can make outgoing, recordable collect calls ‘according to their privilege group’—Death Row being the most restricted. I can visit only after I get CDC Form 106, ‘Visiting Questionnaire,’ from Morton, return it, and wait for the prison to approve it. Realistically, that’ll take four to six weeks—just on their end.”

“I should write him immediately,” Chad continued, “since their search of a Number 10 envelope and a one-page letter for ‘contraband’ also can take four to six weeks. I’ll give him the Review’s number, and you’ll authorize all charges. I’ll ask him to try to call me at least three weeks in a row, since each call will be monitored and restricted to 15 minutes, and I’ll ask his permission to record the calls. A pal of mine teaches speech at Sac City. He’s willing to send Morton a blind syllabus on public speaking”—Chad glanced down—’’Tell Them About Yourself: Organizing Your Thoughts into Words.’ I’m hoping he takes the hint and works on what he wants to say ahead of time. Permission to launch, Captain?”

Tim shrugged. “Hey—with any kind of luck, we might wind up a test case. Go for it.”

Chad slouched in the visiting area, waiting for the condemned man to be brought down. His annoyance at the prosaically absurd visitation rules and the going-on two hours of intake and boredom had given way to idle review. He paged through his mental photocopies of research and notes. (He’d had the foresight to ask for and get his prison-issue paper and pencil already, before he started to sound too much like a reporter.) Four hundred twenty-seventh of 601 sentenced to die in California since 1978. One of 595 on Death Row, of 578 men at San Quentin. First scheduled execution since Robert Lee Massie, March 2001. Convicted November 1988 for the murder and mutilation of a prostitute in North Highlands the Christmas before. Time on Death Row, 13 years, one month—slightly above average.

 

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