The Flea Pit
Goldstein arrived very fast. He got Tom out within an hour the bail was small and he paid it.
“They don't have a case, it’s pathetic really," Goldstein snapped. "There are hundreds of shoes like yours of your size in this state, it’s one of the most common sports shoes there are. Why don't you com your wife?"
Goldstein took out a flashy, silver little com unit. It had Mont Blanc inscribed on its outside.
Tom threw open the little device and spoke his home number at the machine.
Annie's face appeared instantaneously.
"Tom, I’ve been worried sick, I didn't know what to do. I went to Ronnie’s. What’s going on? Where are you?"
"Don't worry honey, it’s all going to be alright. I’m on my way home. I’ve been released. I’ll explain later.”
"How long until you’re home?"
Goldstein held up five fingers.
"About five minutes Annie. Hold on, I’ll explain it all don't worry."
Annie's face looked grave and concerned.
"Annie, it's okay honestly.”
Tom handed back the com to Goldstein.
"Nice," said Tom with a glint in his eye.
The car was on auto mode and the two men stood sitting opposite each other. The darkened world slid past them filtered by the dark glass.
Goldstein leant forward in his seat and took a deep breath.
"Can we consider our little favour complete now?" Goldstein asked.
"Well, that rather depends Mr. Goldstein. Let’s hope that this little matter with the police is settled for now, in which case I think we could say we are quits, but if they call me in again, then I’ll call you in again."
Goldstein face did not display any emotion.
"I think, I’ve been reasonable and I think we’re even?"
"I think I have been more than reasonable Mr. Goldstein, don't you?" Tom replied.
Goldstein dropped his head.
"Good, now we’ve got that straight," said Tom. "As I said to you, if I need your help again, I’ll ask for it."
They approached Tom's block. He looked up and he could see Annie beaming. Her arm was waving. From his angle it looked like it was independent of her body.
"Bye for now, Mr. Goldstein."
"Yep," said Goldstein as he closed the door.
Tom heard Annie clattering down the stairs as he was running up them.
They met on the first floor landing. Annie’s eyes were puffy and red. She ran like a child into Tom's open arms.
"I've been so worried and I've been angry at you for not tellin' me what's been going on, why didn't you call me Tom?" Her head uncurled from Tom's chest and she looked up at Tom pleadingly.
"Let’s go upstairs, I'll explain it all up there, I don't want to here."
Tom could almost feel the neighbours ears waggling trying to find out what was going on. Annie became aware of an open door across the hall, which shut mysteriously when they started to move off. Tom took Annie's hand firmly in his and kissed her on the head. He squeezed her hand.
"It’s all going to be okay, I know it is," he whispered in her ear.
He felt her little shaking body relax. They went upstairs together in silence. More new graffiti. Quite pretty in fact: someone had painted a picture of what looked like a whale emerging from the surface of dark soil. It smiled inanely.
"Someone been takin' the funnies," said Tom.
Annie put her hand on the pad outside their house and the door clunked reluctantly open.
Tom collapsed on their sofa. It had been expensive once, like most things in their flat, the place didn’t go together but it definitely felt homely. The foam curled around his pert buttocks.
Tom rubbed his hands over the purple velvet, here and there little pieces of stuffing were poking out of the cloth, like sprouting yellow daffodils. He stretched his legs out and plonked them on top of a fading orange plastic footrest. It had the picture of the sun and the moon embossed onto the plastic.
"Aah! It's good to be home. Shall we have a beer to celebrate? "
"No, I'm okay,” Annie replied, “I'll have some Coke. Can you please tell me what's been goin' on? "
Annie watched Tom opening the recyclable plastic can and heard the whoosh of the brown liquid as it swirled around in the glass.
"I haven't told my parents, about you being pulled back to the station again, but I was going to, I didn't know what to do. I came home in the end..."
Tom brought over the drinks to Annie and smiled.
"Listen. Let’s get this all straightened out."
Tom lay the glasses very deliberately down on the floor and turned to his wife whose eyes were filling up with tears.
"I'm sorry Tom, but this last week…You being in hospital and then them taking you away and I didn't know..."
"Hey, it's okay honey. It's all okay. The police made a mistake," Tom said wrapping his arms around her.
"But what did they want with you?"
"You know Ralph from the factory. He was found dead last Sunday. "
"Yep, I heard about that. What has that got to do with you? "
"Nothing, but, they are under pressure to find out who did it. You know about Goldentooth?” Annie nodded, “Well, he thinks or thought that I did it. He’s the lead on the case. "
"Why Tom? Why on earth would they think you did it?"
"Well it took me a while to work it out. Ralph was murdered on the night I went out bowling, so I’ve no alibi for that night and I got drunk, I can’t remember much. I think Jack was too, but they think that I killed Ralph, so I could get promoted. No one else was in the running. "
"But that's crazy. How could they think you would do something like that?"
"They’re desperate, clutching at straws. Goldentooth wants to nail someone for it so he can look good. So they took me in and questioned me the first time when they picked me up. They beat me up Annie."
"They beat me up while I was being questioned. That’s why I was in hospital, that's what I was trying to tell you. That’s why I needed a lawyer. They did it just for fun, I think. "
"Oh my God, Tom. How can they do that? "
"They can't, well shouldn't but, well, I can't prove anything. I talked to the lawyer I was given. I can't prove anything. The other guy who was with Goldentooth won't talk."
"How do you know?"
"Goldstein knows most of the people down at the station. This other guy’s terrified of Golden tooth."
"They could have killed you, Tom! And you mean that we can't do anything?"
"And why did they take you back in again?"
"They found some prints, shoe prints by the car where he was murdered, they’re the same as mine."
"But what does that mean?" said Annie, tears freely running down her face.
"Nothing, honey. It means that someone with similar shoes as me was around the car where Ralph was murdered. There are hundreds of people with shoes like mine. It doesn’t mean anything. That’s why they released me. Aside from the fact that I didn't do a goddamn thing, it's not enough evidence to hold me for anything, that's why I got out."
"Do they still suspect you?"
"No, not now I don't think."
Tom went quiet for a moment and looked out of the window. "I think they’ve got another suspect now. Anyhow, there’s hardly anything against me."
"Will they want to call you back in?"
"I don't think so Annie, but I can't be 100 % sure."
Annie fell silent absorbing what Tom had told her.
"I'm sorry Tom, I should have let you explain in the hospital I was just doing what they asked me to do. Let you rest. I'm sorry, I should have asked, should have let you talk, I was dying to know what was going on but you were in such a bad way."
"It's okay honey. It's okay, it's finished with for now."
"We must be able to sue them, something, file a complaint."
"I will file a complaint," said Tom "but I’m not sure it’ll come to anything. In fact it may do us more harm than good. "
Annie shook her head in disbelief.
"But we can't just let them get away with it Tom, I mean we just can't."
"I know Annie, but I don't know what else we can do. I don't want to sound like a chicken but I don't want to aggravate Golden tooth anymore."
"Didn't Goldstein say there was any chance we could sue Goldentooth? What’s his real name anyway? "
"He said we could try. We can file a complaint, but there are no witnesses. It’s their word against mine. In these cases they normally rule in favour of the cops."
"What, when they know how corrupt they can be?"
"Yep Annie, that's the system."
Annie got up and walked to the window and looked at the factory.
"It's their fault," she said pointing out the window, "If they hadn't pushed you out of a job, then you wouldn’t have been out that night and nothin' would have happened."
Tom got up and put his arm around his wife.
"It doesn't help thinking like that honey. What’s done’s done. I’m still here. We can fight, but it won’t change what happened. It’s in the past, we need to leave it there."
"But don't you feel angry Tom? Don't you feel it's not right?"
"Of course I do, honey, but I've kind of gotten used to it." Tom sighed. "I don't know what else there is that we can do. We are still here and we may as well let it go."
"But I don't wanna' just let it go," Annie pleaded.
"I know, neither do I, but we can't do anything else."
Tom took a sip of his beer. He felt good to be home. He felt a surge of pride.
"I can't remember Annie. It wasn't important."
Annie seemed to be composing herself.
"It’s good to have you home, I've missed you," she said quietly.
"Missed you. When I went into the hospital and saw you there, I didn't know what had happened."
"What did happen that night?"
"I don't know Annie, honest to God, I don't know. Guess I must have fallen over and banged my head. When I woke up the police picked me up and I could not remember nothin', still can't. "
Under normal circumstances, Annie would have told her husband that he had been stupid and irresponsible, because she felt so protective of Tom. Not today.
"It's just good to have you home. Tom. I can't tell you. I've been so worried. I went out to Ronnie's today for a few drinks on my own. I felt, well you know, like I was all alone in the world, I didn't know what to do, or who to turn to. I tried to get myself together, but I just ended up worrying more. I tried to call the station, but they just said you were in for questioning. They wouldn't let me know any other details. Can you imagine what it would have been like the other way around? How worried you would’ve been? I had no one to talk to; I didn't know what to do. It was just...terrifying."
Annie started to sob again, tears of relief that wouldn’t be abated. Tom held his wife for ten minutes stroking her hair. Tom felt good. He felt strong, he felt like he thought a husband should feel. For the first time in a good while things would come right. He closed his eyes.
The viewcom started to ring. Annie stiffened.
"Who’s that?" she said, with the look of a hunted animal in her eyes.
"I don't know honey, it's probably your Mom or someone. Let me get it."
"No, don't go," said Annie clasping her husband.
"Annie, look, it's okay, let's answer it."
Tom strolled over to the viewcom and flicked the switch.
"Hi, Tom, how are you doin'?"
It was Cam Foster, Ralph's old boss. He was in charge of Operations for the whole of Carlton.
"I'm okay, said Tom."
"I heard you’ve been in hospital. That right?"
"Yep," said Tom non committally.
Tom could tell by the expression on Cam's face he was unsure whether to ask him why.
"You alright now?" he said after a pause.
"I'm fine. I, well, I just had an accident and banged my head quite badly."
"Ah huh. But you’re okay now?"
"Yep fine, doctor said I was fine. They were just keepin' me in as a kind of precaution."
"Heard some rumour that you got beaten up, that right?"
Tom was silent for a moment.
"So what can I do for ya?"
"Well, Tom, guess this kind of strange, you bein' laid off and all," Cam started apologetically. “I had two reasons for callin’, one to check you were okay and the other...”
"Yes?" said Tom confidently.
"Well, now Ralph isn’t about, we thought you’d be right to do his job, seein' how you know more about that part of the plant than anyone else..."
Out of the corner of his eye Tom could see Annie's ears pricking up and she was unconsciously moving closer towards him.
"You sayin' you want me to come back?"
Cam looked vaguely embarrassed.
"Yep, we are Tom. Look we said we’d probably be able to have you back anyway. This is a little sooner than we thought. I'm sorry about what happened but you know that's the way things go sometimes. Hope you don't have any hard feelings."
Tom feigned a look of surprise.
"We'd give you a small raise and then you’d get a bigger one after a few months when you’d settled into the job."
Tom hesitated. He was enjoying this, savouring the moments like drops of water entering a parched, dry mouth.
"Well, what do you say? Tom?"
"I'll have to think on it a bit."
"Why sure, Tom, you think on it, but I will need to know by Tuesday what you want to do."
Tom could see by Cam's expression that they’d expected him to say yes straight away. It was a good game to play, as there really were very few people who knew that section of the plant very well. The only other guy who knew it as well as he did was Jack Robinson. Tom smiled.
"Listen, thanks for callin', Cam. I'll get back to you. Okay?"
"Sure Tom. And you take it easy. You've got my number haven't you? You can send me a wire at home if you want."
"Okay, I'll be in touch. See ya."
Cam disappeared from the screen. Tom smiled knowingly. Annie was tugging at his arm.
"What did they say? What did they want?" said Annie urgently.
"They offered me Ralph's old job."
Annie threw her arms around Tom and placed a warm kiss on his mouth. Her breath was sweet and slightly musty.
"Why didn't you say yes straight away?"
"Well, Annie, I figure if we hold out a bit they might give us more money."
"Are you serious? You’re not bein' stupid, windin' me up?"
Annie started to dance on the spot, her little arms waved around. She screamed with joy.
She hugged Tom and the two of them started to jig around the flat like excited kittens with a new ball.
"Tom you clever son-of-a-gun, you've done it! You’ve done it! Ha, so it all comes right. You deserve it. We deserve it. Yeeeeaaahh! Yeeeeeeee!"
Annie jumped up in the air on the sofa and landed lying down.
Annie was now wearing that puppy dog expression which she put on when she wanted something.
"Does that mean?"
"Does that mean we might be able to afford some kids?"
"It might, I'm not sure we would be able to get the best but we would certainly be able to have some now."
"Yeeeeeeeeeesssssssssssssssssssss!" shouted Annie as tears of joy started to stream down her face.
She suddenly sat up.
"C'mon, let's celebrate, let's go and see a movie. We haven't been to the movies for at least a year, c'mon what do you say? "
Tom picked up his wife in his arms and spun her around.
"I say yeah!"
"C'mon let's go. What do you 'wanna see?"
"That new romantic comedy with Melanie Fields."
"I thought you might say that," said Tom vaguely sarcastically.
Tom picked up Annie and walked with her down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs he put her down and embraced her.
Annie didn’t like being kissed in public usually; at least that’s what she said. Secretly she loved it, it made her feel desirable. Not that there was anyone much around but that didn’t matter. They both felt like they were surfing a wave of money and happiness.
Tom had a roller coaster of a week but he’d tried to keep it under control. When the plan had come to him it had been impulsive but he knew he had to follow it and here they were basking in the sunshine of the hottest days of the year.
Iowa knows only two temperatures well. Damned hot or damned cold. In the middle is that moist warmth that temperate climates think is summer and in Iowa it’s a short-lived sabbatical.
The sun made every little bit of metal garbage on the street glitter, making the whole street shimmer, as if the street thought it was time for Christmas decorations. They walked hand in hand past the burgeoning flowerbeds, with their waiting argosy of foliage, the odd rose was out, but that was all.
They watched fondly as the children played in and around the buildings of the blocks. They were playing space raiders and defenders, a kind of kiddie version of Senax. They shot at each other with benign green lasers, which made the air above the pathways glitter with green.
A group of kids were going down a small hill on what looked like some sort of un-motorised vehicle, which they had pieced together, from various bits of bicycle and iron. An older boy was shouting instructions from the top of the incline and waving a stick around as if, by magic, this would make the driver do as he was told. It didn't. The boy skidded out of control and swerved into a pile of boxes, which had been neatly stacked by the garbage area. As he hit them the boy emerged smiling, his face covered in some shiny black liquid, which could have been oil. His teeth looked especially brilliant as he howled with laughter. The older boy was chastising him, shouting commands from the top of the hill.
"We’re going to have one of those!"
"I hope some better ones!" said Annie.
"Do you think it is worth all the agro?" Tom said jokingly, gesturing towards the boyish mischief-makers who were receding into the distance.
"You know it will be Tom. You will make a great Pa, you know that."
Tom looked dreamy.
"Someone to play ball with..."
"Not if we have a girl."
"We'd better decide soon."
"Shall we toss for it, let fate?"
"No, I think we ought to make a decision?" replied Annie jauntily.
"What do you want Annie?"
"I haven't dared think about it."
Tom gave Annie a knowing look.
"Annie, I know that you know that that just isn't true."
Annie looked at the floor sheepishly.
"Yep, I have decided you are right."
"Not telling" said Annie childishly. "You first."
"Not telling," said Tom.
They walked together in an understood and humorous silence.
"I'll tell if you will tell,” said Annie peevishly.
"Won't tell," said Tom and prodded his wife gently under the arms where she was ticklish.
"Stop that," wailed Annie querulously
"No!" said Tom and started to chase Annie down the street, he could catch her up quite quickly, one thing his parents had done, strangely, was give him a better than normal running speed. He never really had worked out what the full intention of them doing that was. Maybe he was supposed to have been really athletic but they had never had the money to invest in going the whole hog.
Annie knew it was useless. Tom deliberately ran one metre behind Annie, Annie was squealing and the local kids were watching them parentally.
Tom caught her and she wailed with a mixture of horror as she tried to wriggle free from Tom's strong ‘tickling fingers’ as she called them.
"Get off! Get off! Haeeeeeeeeeee! Stop it! Stop it! Haeeeeeee get off aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh. Stop it! Stop tickling me!!! "
Annie's mascara, which she had fixed, was running off with Annie's little tears. It looked like micro flows of lava, weaving its way across the semi-porous surface of her face.
When Tom did finally desist, she looked a complete mess.
"Now look what you've gone and done!"
She stamped her foot.
"Don't suppose you know what time the film starts do you?" asked Tom while his wife opened her bag to find her mirror.
"Nooop," she said as she put on new lipstick.
"Shall I find out there's a public com over there?"
"No, Tom, let's not find out, let's just go and see, hey?"
"Hi!" shouted Annie suddenly.
A small figure in the distance waived back at them.
"Who is that?"
"Don't know," said Annie, "She is always around and so we just say hi."
"And you don't know her?"
"Well why don't you go up and say a big hi?"
Annie looked pensive.
"Why not?" said Tom his spirits lifted into the realms of impulsiveness.
"And why not?" he shouted as he cupped his hands around his mouth.
"Tom, people are watching," said Annie with a mixture of embarrassment and approval.
It was a long time since she had seen Tom like this. In fact, not since they were first married had she felt this complete and utter all-embracing sense of careless, liberated elation. Their beatitude could not have been better timed.
"Who cares?" said Tom.
"I care... a bit anyway."
They wandered on towards the high street. Most of the shops here were little, struggling to survive. Nearly all the shops had moved out of town, except for Sears and a few others. This was ultimately a bit stupid because now all that happened was that the traffic and congestion got really bad on the edge of town around the malls, on the trunk roads, which most needed to be clear.
So some retailers were starting to move back into the middle of town again because it was freer of traffic and rents were cheaper. In fact most of the child centres had moved back into the middle of town.
They looked down from the top of the high street. It was a long, straight road with ageing phone poles, which still stood on either side. There were no wires anymore, so they just stood there, like a relic from the recent past but without the glamour or splendour of the pyramids. After all, they were just tree trunks. Not much of a comparison there, but they were still there. Even some of the old wires hung, like wasted, gone beyond its sell by date, technological moss.
They wondered down the high street peering into shop windows. There was no one much about. It was Sunday and the shops in town closed on Sunday. God knows why, just a little tradition that still managed to exist. The shops on the edge of town were all open.
Some of the shop windows had little holograms in, with pretend staff, while others had what looked like old cash dispensers in the windows, which gave a three dimensional image of the goods inside. If you wanted to buy, you inserted your card and the product was delivered. That got around the little tradition of closing; there were a few hologram browsers peering earnestly into the machines, which were spinning little glittering images.
"It always looks better on a hologram than when you actually get it," said Annie as she looked up from the picture of the knife rack that was in front of her, "don't you think?"
"Yep, it’s like baseball looks more professional on TV than in real life. Do you want it?" asked Tom
"Well I think it’s the wrong colour really. The magnetic strip is green it won't go with the other stuff."
They were fairly close to the movie house now, it was a squat round building with little slit windows in like a castle, it was always on the verge of closing. As they approached the ticket area a corpulent woman was slumped in a small cubicle, intermittently blowing half- hearted pink bubbles in the air, which deflated rather sadly.
"Two for Venus, please. When is it on?"
"It's already playin' honey. Been on five already, that bother you?" she drawled.
"No," said Tom, getting another look inside the woman's mouth.
"You gotta card?"
"Okay. Here you go. You want something?"
Tom looked over at Annie who was looking over at the food. Annie patted her tummy and she shook her head. Armed with tickets they entered the circular movie house. They had tickets right at the edge of the arena. The three dimensional film flickered in the centre. Venus was a pretty crap film. A couple fell in love, went to Venus on honeymoon and had some adventures.
It didn’t matter. Tom and Annie sat in a contended zombie state on the back row, Annie occasionally nuzzling up to Tom's chest like a friendly horse trying to get some sugar.
The whole theatre only had about twenty other people, couples who were making out to various levels. In the brighter scenes Tom thought he could see the breast of the woman sitting over the other side of the theatre.No wonder this movie house was given the name, "The flea pit."