Chapter 5 – Big Jake
Mike returned home and spent hours in Becky’s room. Just sitting on the floor with his back against the wall. He had never been In Becky’s room since she got older, he kept himself away from his sister and mother. Almost like he didn’t want to intrude in their world so that he would be left alone in his. Now he went in to see his sister’s room, he just sat there looking at her bed, and her clothes which had been left on her bed and dressing. He could smell her perfume and saw her tennis racket hanging on the side of her wardrobe. He allowed himself a few tears, as he realized how much he missed her and wanted her back in this room. He wanted to take that bullet, to be lying in the hospital bed with tubes attached to his veins, why Becky? She had never hurt anyone, she was the sweetest person you could ever meet, she deserved the very best but she got nothing. Mike then thought of Jenny, the night she called him, maybe to say something. Now he will never know. Mike lay awake, still wearing his jeans and shirt, thinking where Jen is at this moment? He thought about her lying in a ditch somewhere or maybe she is locked up in a room, hands and feet tied and mouth gagged. Mike remembered all those years ago, when a young girl was kidnapped of the street. She was later found dead, her hands and feet tied together and a piece of cloth stuffed in her mouth. He saw her picture in the paper and it scared him so much, he would have trouble sleeping. He just imagined how her last few days would have been like, those few hours or minutes before she died. Just wondering what she would have been thinking, whether she had any hope of surviving or whether she just accepted her fate. Pa’ definitely accepted his, now maybe it’s time we accepted ours.
Mike remembered Uncle Jake, and that he had to go and visit him in the morning. He didn’t want to go but he felt this need to meet Uncle J. Mike was trying hard to sleep hoping that if he slept long enough then things would change when he eventually woke up.
Mike woke early the following morning. He came downstairs and peered into the lounge. Ethel was there reading quietly, as Mike was about to leave the room, she called him ‘Come in son’. Mike always wondered how she knew when he was around, even if he was real quiet, she just sensed it. Mike came into the lounge ‘Ma, I’m just off now’. ‘Where you going, to the store’? Ethel asked as she looked at Mike over her glasses. Mike sat down next to her, ‘Nah, I need to go somewhere else’. Ethel looked at Mike, it was that piercing look, the one which mothers always give when you are not telling them the truth. Like they have X-ray vision, and are looking inside you and seeing what was there. ‘Ok but you got to start going to the store again, it’s our bread and butter. We can’t expect Hugh to be there on his own every day, and with Jenny missing he probably isn’t going there either’. Mike nodded as Ethel looked away from Mike, ‘I’m tired son, you know there is only so much a person can take. My baby, she’s so young and they say she can’t walk again’. Ethel began so sob, tears were flowing down her face as she began to cry and Mike stared helplessly at her. He had never seen her like this, it felt like something had happened to her, she was giving up. Mike searched for something to say but couldn’t find it.
‘Ma, you got to take control, she’ll be ok’. It sounded lame and Mike knew that even as he said it. He began to feel angry inside, he just needed a break, something to go right for once, that’s all. Ethel stopped crying as she wiped her tears away, ‘Those Cunninghams have always brought ruin to this family. I lost my son to them and now Becky too’. Ethel turned to look at Mike, ‘I don’t want you to be like him, to be like Gabriel and want to solve everything with a gun’. Mike looked at Ethel as she spoke to him in her stern and firm voice, ‘I blamed your father for Gabriel being the person he was. Just because your father could no longer do a full day’s work down at those mines, he began taking Gabriel with him. He was only ten years old. Never even had a proper education, doing a man’s job in those dangerous tunnels down below. He would come home, his face and hands black, so dirty I would have to scrub and scrub. Then I would see his cuts and the blood on his hands and legs’. Mike had never heard Ethel talk about Gabriel like this but it was almost like she needed to today, just let it all out. Mike put his arm around Ethel, ‘it was meant to be. Isn’t that what the bible says’? Ethel smiled ‘I don’t know, don’t even want to go to church anymore. I didn’t give my kids any time, never protected Gabe from that hellhole his father took him to and never listened to Becky. I had no time for her you know and maybe even you never had a proper mother. I never talked to you about that night, when you saw your father take his own life’. Ethel’s tears began to flow as she shook her head, ‘I wanted to be a good Christian but I never thought about being a good mother’.
The road to the State Penitentiary was a long one, it was outside the local county and was one of the largest state prisons. Mike thought about his Uncle as he drove down the highway, trying to remember Uncle J. He couldn’t remember much except that he would come to visit their home occasionally and that there would be a lot of fighting every time he was around. Uncle J and Mike’s father never got along that well, they were both head strong and would seem to dis-agree about everything, Uncle J was the younger brother who had left the family at a young age. He got married to a younger girl and left the family home to work on her farm. Mike’s father; Shane, never forgave his brother as their father had cancer and died soon after. They also had a sister who became a nurse and went to live in Ohio. She never got married or had any kids, she tragically died in Mexico at the age of 45. The Martyn family were no strangers to tragedy, even going further back the Martyns were either killed in war or died in some other tragic or even suspicious circumstances. It was almost like tragedy was part of the family inheritance, just gets passed down from one generation to another. Mike remembered his father say about Jake after one of their many fights ‘Jake is a no good thug, a bad influence on my kids who only brings trouble’. This is why Ethel hated Jake Martyn. She hated him because Gabriel loved Jake and looked upto him, whatever Gabe did he wanted to do it like Uncle J. Ethel would ask Gabe may times why he didn’t want to be more like his father who earned an honest living. Instead Gabriel chose to be Uncle J, a loud and charismatic hustler who seemed to have all the wrong connections, whatever happened to Gabriel was many peoples’ fault including Uncle J’s.
Mike drove upto the check post, where he gave ‘Jake Martyns’ name and his own name as the visitor. Mike parked up in the visitors’ area and made his way upto a line of people, who had all assembled outside the main gate. Mike knew they were all visitors, common people with different accents who all waited patiently for the gate to open. Mike looked up at the huge prison walls, the barbed wire which covered the height of the walls and the large tower where guards stood with automatic weapons. Mike looked around the prison walls like a child who just entered ‘paramount studios’, wanting to take in everything, hoping to remember every part of it to tell his friends later. As the congregation were led inside by two officers they were taken to a waiting area where they had to empty their pockets and put all the contents through a machine. Everyone were also frisked before having to remove their footwear. Mike had never been through this even when he had been arrested by the local cops few days back. It seemed excessive but this must be the way at the big prisons. Mike looked at the guards who stood around holding their rifles and semis, it seemed like they were staring at Mike and saying ‘you will be here one day’.
Mike sat in the meeting area, a large room where many tables were laid out. There were three chairs around each table, and the visitors sat on their own table waiting for whoever it was they had come to see. Mike sat wondering how Uncle J would look like, in fact he wouldn’t even recognize him if he walked past. Mike looked at the different people sitting on the tables around him waiting anxiously for their loved ones to appear. There were many young ladies, some of them had small kids with them and Mike looked at their faces, they were wearing masks of make up to hide the pain underneath. Mike looked at the kids, some were babies but others were old enough to know where they are, he shook his head thinking about the memories these kids will be left with. Mike looked at some of the older people who were probably here to see their sons, he thought of his Ma crying for Becky. The door at the side of this room opened and the residents of this place came inside, all wearing orange uniforms, prison guards were lined up at the edges of the room. Mike looked at these convicts as they hugged their loved ones and there was suddenly a large injection of noise and commotion in the room. Mike looked at these men, all felons from across the state who were probably guilty of different crimes. Mike thought about their punishment, taking away their freedom so that they could only see their loved ones from across a table. Mike couldn’t really imagine how hard it would be to meet someone you love for thirty minutes then have to leave them here and go back home. ‘Hey Mike’. Mike looked up and saw a big man about 6ft 5, standing in front of him. ‘Uncle J’? Mike allowed himself a smile as he stood up not knowing whether he should shake Uncle J’s hand or give him a hug. Uncle J put his huge hand in front as Mike shook his hand and Uncle J then hugged him tightly. Mike felt something as Uncle J hugged him, he felt love, a sense of belonging to something, being part of a family. Maybe that’s why these people come here to feel the same thing. Uncle J sat down across the table to Mike, ‘Man, you look good, I knew it was you, those blue eyes, Martyn eyes gave it away’. Mike laughed as he saw a tear in Uncle J’s eye. Mike was thinking of something to say as Uncle J gave him this beaming smile. ‘Uncle, you ok’? Uncle J laughed slightly ‘I ain’t ok but I can lie to you and say I’m great. How’s your Ma’ and my little Becky’? Mike’s heart sank again as he thought of Becky, ‘Their ok’.
Mike lied, he had to because he was ashamed to tell his legendary Uncle that Becky got shot trying to protect her older brother. Uncle J would ask him one question ’What the fuck were you doing when Becky got shot’? Mike would have no answer.
Uncle J just stared at Mike, smiling ‘Mike so good to see you man, a young man now, you remind me of how I looked. Mike, you guys are the only family I have, if only I could come and see you guys if I get out. I would love to see Becks and your Ma’. Mike smiled at Uncle J, as he could feel the sincerity in his words, even though Uncle J had never really been close to them. Suppose being in prison changes a man.
‘Uncle J, you got any kids, wife’?
‘I got married twice, never worked out and I got two sons from my first wife but don’t know where they are’.
Mike looked around and he saw some of the brutish looking men turning into soft daddies as they were holding their kids, playing with them.
‘You don’t miss not having your kids come’?
‘I never wanted that, even if I did my kids have never known me’.
Mike knew that Uncle J missed human contact, not having his family come and visit when everyone else sees their loved ones from time to time.
‘I just wanted to speak to you guys and I’m so happy you came here’. Mike didn’t see that ‘Big Jake’ legend in the humble man sitting across the table to him, he had heard a lot about him from the neighbourhood, many stories of how Jake was hired by gangsters to do ‘jobs’ and how he buried people in the forest late at night etc. Some of these stories were probably fake but many were true. However Uncle J, seemed a lot different to ‘Big Jake’. He had a small beard and tattoos on his arms, and he spoke in a lowered tone.
‘A man needs to feel his own blood around him, nothing can replace that, family is important especially as you get older’.
‘Uncle J, when you gonna get out’? Mike asked not expecting it will be any time soon.
‘I don’t know, I have a parole hearing in six months, who knows’? Mike was quiet as he seemed like there wasn’t much else to say to a man he hardly knew but Uncle J seemed relaxed and content, this was surprising especially for someone who was incarcerated with an uncertain future.
‘Mike you got to stay good. I wasn’t there for my family. I left my father who was dying and my kids never cared about me either. Now I am dying’. Mike looked at Jake, he didn’t look like a man who was on his last legs ‘Dying, what do you mean’?
Uncle J looked down, ‘I have a brain tumor, it can’t be operated on and the docs say I have probably six to nine months. I may be given parole on this basis and come home to spend last few months with my family. Except I got no family except you kids’. Jake’s eyes filled up again, ‘Ask your Ma’ to forgive me, what happened to Gabe was not my fault’.
Mike looked at Uncle J, he knew that even though Ethel never said but she blamed Jake for how Gabriel turned out, even Jake knew this.
‘How were you to blame’?
Uncle J held back his tears, ’Gabe got in with the wrong people, people I knew. He became a ‘soldier’ for one of the crews on the East side. I let him in’.
Mike looked at Jake, he knew nothing about Gabriel working for a gang and Uncle J’s involvement, ‘Gabe was part of a crew’? Uncle J said nothing for a moment, ‘Yes Mike, I don’t know what your Ma’ told you but your brother was no choir boy. He was like me, because that’s what you got to be to survive. Or at least that’s what I use to think, but I am not so sure now. Gabe is gone, and me, I am dying in prison’.
There was a silence as Uncle J contemplated his life for a moment. There was an alarm that sounded, as Mike turned around to see what it was, ‘Five minutes left, then you got to go’. Mike faced Jake, realizing that tragedy had befallen him in more ways then one, his punishment wasn’t taking away his freedom it was more than that. Uncle J was being punished with a slow death, knowing he would die in these orange clothes and with a roll number. ‘Mike you got to do one thing for me, I wouldn’t ask you if I had someone else but I haven’t’. Mike had heard similar words before, Uncle J was sounding like Hugh and that all turned into a disaster. ’Mikey I have an associate, a friend his name is ‘Antoine’. He comes to see me but he ain’t come for a while. I got to see him’. Mike rolled his eyes ‘Look Uncle J…’, ‘Mikey, just give him a message to come and see me’.
‘So where is this guy’?
Uncle J looked at the guards and said in a quiet tone ’There’s a place on the ‘Strip’, it’s called ‘Live by Nite’, just give whoever you meet behind the bar this message ‘Tell Ant Man, J is fishing’.
Mike knew this sounded like a scam, something which wasn’t legal and was probably dangerous. ‘I can’t go there Uncle J. I’m sorry’.
‘Mikey please, do this for me’.
‘I can’t, I’m sorry’.
Mike looked at Jake, as Jake smiled slightly, ‘Mikey do this man’. Uncle J was sounding alot like Hugh. The visitors started to get up as Mike stood up and shook Jake’s huge hand, Jake hugged Mike and whispered ‘I got your back’. Mike looked at Jake as the guards were leading everyone out of the room, he was still trying to work out what Jake meant. How has Uncle Jake ‘got his back’. It didn’t really make sense but what did make sense was what happened to Gabe.
Mike made his way down the corridor towards Becky’s room, he realized that he lived in his own prison. All people are in prison, some for their crimes and others for their past and some simply for their weaknesses. There is no freedom for those on the ‘inside’ or those on the ‘outside’. Mike reached the end of the corridor and saw Emily sitting outside, she stood up and hugged Mike as he walked upto her. Mike felt that warm feeling again like when Uncle J had given him a hug in the Penitentiary. ‘Becky is awake and she’s comfortable’. Mike looked at Becky’s room, where the curtain was drawn, ‘the nurses are inside, Ma’s just gone home for abit, I told her to. She looked exhausted’. Mike looked back at Emily, she was so pretty, even when she was sad, she had that glow. Her look would warm your heart, she made even this darkest of nights seem so bright, ‘thanks Emily for being here’. Emily smiled, ‘don’t be silly, I’m family’. Mike looked down, overcome by pain, or just by raw emotion, he felt as though God had spoken to him, he felt like he wanted something in his life to hold onto, that smile Emily had, her warmth, just someone like her who would make everything worth it. ‘Emily, I love you, I really do’. Mike shed tears as he sat down, Emily knelt next to him, ‘Mikey, I love you too, all of you mean so much to me’. Mike looked up at Emily, she never understood what he meant, he didn’t love her like an older sister, or like a friend but he loves her the way a man loves a woman.
The nurses came out of Becky’s room, ‘We’re done’, the nurses walked back up the corridor. ‘Mike, you should go inside, see Becky’. Mike looked up at the room, he couldn’t do it, he didn’t know how to face Becky, he would have to read her eyes, see the emptiness in them, just like those faces at the prison, those families who came to see their loved ones who were condemned. Mike got up and walked towards the door, opening it slowly, he saw Becky lying there still covered by all those snakes and needles, she had an awkward neck brace on and she was still. As Mike approached her bed, Becky’s eyes moved in his direction. Mike sat down next to her without saying anything, he needed to say something to his sister, anything, just had to say something to break the silence. Mike had never been anything for Becky, he had never got to know her, or cared about her, even when she needed him, he was never there. He was either too drunk lying on the steps outside the house or chasing ghosts in the forest. Becky’s eyes became watery, he watched tears run down her pretty face. ‘Hey Becky, how are you feeling’? Becky smiled but even that smile caused her pain, she lifted up her right hand and Mike held her hand gently. He began to cry, ‘Becky ……’ Becky spoke in a quiet tone, almost like a whisper ‘Mikey don’t, it’s good to see you’. She squeezed his hand, Mike looked at Becky’s face, she looked pale and very weak but she was trying so hard to be brave. Mike kissed Becky’s hand, ‘you’re gonna be fine, you will be out of here soon’. Becky’s eyes were closing, she looked tired, and was trying to open her eyes but lost that battle as she was falling asleep. Mike was still holding Becky’s hand, watching her fall asleep, she looked so peaceful.
There was so much to say. I wanted to tell her how much I missed her, how much I needed her to come home, to be Becky again. I wanted another chance, just one more chance and things to be like they were. I never cared no more about what happened to Pa’, or that forest but I just wanted us to be together, Ma’, Becky and Me.
Mike sat there on the chair staring at Becky as she slept, he thought of all that scum locked up in the Penitentiary for crimes of murder, rape, child abuse and whatever else. They still had better lives even in that prison, they can still feel alive, walk around, eat, sleep but Becky…... Mike stood up and walked out of the room, looking back at Becky, visiting hours were over.
‘Does she know what the doctors said’? Emily looked down as she replied to Mike, ‘They told her, she knows. Mike I gave my statement to the cops but it’s not looking good. Kevin was released on bail today. I don’t know how but Vincent’s father is back in town and he pulled some strings’. Mike said nothing as he walked up the corridor, Emily came running up behind Mike, ‘Mikey, don’t do anything stupid. That’s what they want, Ma’ needs you, okay’. Mike stopped as Emily held his arm from behind, ‘Emily what would have Gabe done? How about my Uncle J, if he was here, would he have sat around worrying about what the law are gonna do with him, how about my father, you don’t think he would have gone down to the cellar, dusted his rifle down, grabbed his cartridges and not gone looking for every Cunningham in the town’?
‘Where are they today’?
Mike turned to face his Ma. Ethel stood there, ‘Gabriel is no longer here, he was gunned down by the sheriff’s department who hunted him down like a dog, and your Uncle Jake was disowned by his family for being a criminal who only ever cared about himself. He is now in prison serving a life sentence and your father, a brave man, found refuge in that barn where he turned his own rifle on himself’. Ethel raised her voice in anger, ‘I only have you Michael, that’s it. I don’t even have God anymore’. Mike looked at Ethel and walked right past her, not knowing whether he was going home or going to find Kevin Cunningham. He walked out of the hospital and sat in his wagon for a moment, looking back at the hospital, deciding that he would never come here again.