Chapter 36: Charlie Butler
It turned out that Mike had one of the easiest jobs. The boy named Davis was cleaning the barbeque, which Mike had noticed he had been sweating over an hour with. This job would have probably been very easy if it wasn’t for Charlie who kept telling him that the grills weren’t clean enough. Mike wondered if Charlie didn’t know that grills were supposed to be black. He had even instructed Davis to clear out the coals with new ones, a task that Mike found to be completely pointless. Davis also was a bit cluMs..y on his feet and spilled the first bag of coals all over the back porch. Charlie yelled at him for over an hour about it and Mike seemed to think that he was pleased to have an excuse to yell at someone.
After cleaning the porch of all the soot, Davis went back to the barbeque. By the time he was done, the thing gleamed in the sun as if it was brand new. Sweat beads pouring down his face, he waited for Charlie to inspect. No one ever went to Charlie; Charlie came to you. Charlie looked at the barbeque and laughed. Davis didn’t know what to say. He really hoped he was done.
“Ah, it’s a piece of shit anyway,” said Charlie and he heaved the barbeque off the porch and onto the grass. “Just bought a new one anyway. Grill’s much better. Well, you can clean the oven now.” Davis didn’t say anything as he stared at the wreckage at the bottom of the porch stairs. He followed Charlie silently into the kitchen, feeling as if he had just lost his life in that barbeque.
It seemed this was the sort of treatment you expected from Charlie Butler. Mike hadn’t seen the entire Davis scene, but what he had seen made him realize never to be seen by Charlie. He took extra long with the garbage in order to not have Charlie assign him a new chore.
At 12:00 in the afternoon, Mike got a half an hour lunch break and then was scheduled back to work. Everyone sat at a long table and helped theMs..elves to a large pot of onion soup. As Mike filled his bowl, he noticed no steam came out of it and when he brought a spoonful to his lips, he knew why. The soup was cold.
“You’ve got to do something absolutely amazing in order to not be served this shit,” said Mark as he finished his soup. “Sometimes Charlie might be nice and give you something good to eat. But like I said, you’ve got to do something amazing to get that privilege.”
“Has anyone ever earned Charlie’s respect?” asked Mike.
“Once, but no one would speak to him. Others tripped him up in his chores and just made this place worse hell for him than it already was, but behind Charlie’s back of course.”
“Charlie ever notice?”
“What happened to him?”
Mike didn’t say anything more.
“Yeah, not pleasant. Hung hiMs..elf too.”
Mike looked at his half finished bowl of soup. He suddenly wasn’t hungry anymore. Mark didn’t say anything more to him as he left the table and Davis was sitting right across from Mike, so Mike decided to talk to him. Davis was now cleaning the oven and told Mike all about the barbeque. It seemed to Mike that Smiley’s Home from the outside was for people to believe it was a well-made and respectful establishment in order to hide all the dark secrets within its walls. Welcome to Shawshank, thought Mike as he left the table.
At home, Ian was thinking of a plan in order to get Mike out of Smiley’s Home. Right now, he was sitting at the dinner table with his parents.
“I don’t think Mike should have been thrown in a group home; he was just protecting his girlfriend,” said Ian’s father as he scooped up some mashed potatoes onto his plate. Ian just nodded.
“Well dear, if you were the judge, what would you have done to Mike?” asked Ian’s mother.
“I would have said Mike was not guilty and that Bradley should go to the group home.”
“Why?” questioned Ian’s mother. “You weren’t there.”
“Why are you against me?”
“I’m not against you; I’m just saying that if you’re questioning the judge’s decision you should go up to the police station and tell them your point of view and maybe they’ll think of letting Mike out.”
“That’s a great idea,” said Ian’s father, excited.
“That’s what I’m going to do, dad,” said Ian, now thinking that his mother’s advice was pretty good.
“Well, tell me how it goes, son. If it doesn’t work, I’ll force it out of them,” said Ian’s father chuckling. Ian nodded. Maybe there was a chance of him getting his friend back.
Mike was thankful that he never saw the gleaming balding head of Charlie Butler as he carried the garbage bags to the back of the dumpster behind the group home. There were so many garbage bins to empty that he didn’t have time to really notice anybody as he continued his chore. At 7:30 P.M., dinner was served. Mike had to admit, it was better than lunch: cold kidney pie. Of course, if it had been heated up it would at least not taste like frozen meat. He ate beside Mark again. Mike noticed that every time a meal was served it was only the young offenders who were eating. Charlie Butler or even Steven James never appeared.
“They eat in their own private kitchen,” said Mark when Mike asked him.
“You’re kidding,” said Mike in bewilderment.
“Of course. This shit’s only for us. It’s our own fault that put ourselves there. Why should we be rewarded with anything, especially decent meals? They have been punished serving us, which they feel is downright cruel. So really, for their punishment, we’re punished. Am I making sense?”
“Yeah, they eat much better than us. Sometimes they might even go to restaurants and leave us alone. They don’t really care what happens to us. As far as they’re concerned, we’re not their responsibility.”
“But if one of us said, fled, wouldn’t the judge crack down on them?”
Mark nearly spat out the cold meat he was chewing. He spoke as soon as he swallowed the chunks that nearly dislodged his windpipe.
“Are you kidding? The judge and Charlie are best friends. He’d probably make up some bullshit story on how they tried to serve us but one squeezed out of their clutches. Believe me, any lie, the judge would believe.”
“He knows all the judges?” asked Mike incredulously.
Mark shook his head.
“We were all tried by the same judge, Matthews. I believe it’s only Matthews’s cases that sentence any young offender to this shithole.”
“Why hasn’t the judge found out about the truth of this place?”
Mark had to chuckle at Mike’s ignorance.
“You think Charlie’s that stupid? Think about the bullshit name and saying. If he had his way, we’d be living in some rundown shack that didn’t have a name or saying. Charlie and Steve would probably visit us about once a month. It’s only because of the judge that we have such great living conditions.”
Mike was impressed at Mark’s knowledge about the group home.
“You seem to know a lot about what goes around here.”
“I’ve been living here for almost a year now. I was the first sentenced here.”
“What did you do?”
At this, Mark shovelled a spoonful of meat into his mouth and didn’t speak until he swallowed.
“I’d rather not talk about it. Anyway, see ya Mike.”
At this, he quickly left the table. Mike nodded to the empty seat. Just then, the Smitherson boy walked in. Mike nodded towards the empty seat beside him. The boy sat down with a smile of thanks and put the last small pie onto his plate. Mike knew the pie was probably even colder than the one he was eating.
“I’m Mike,” he said as the boy ate a piece of the pie.
“Mitherthon,” said the boy through mouthfuls of pie.
“Hi,” said Mike curious as to why the boy wanted to be addressed by his last name. The boy chewed his food and swallowed.
“At least that’s what everyone calls me,” he said pouring hiMs..elf a glass of water from a large jug. “Think they want to make it perfectly clear whose son I am. It’s become sort of a joke around here. Well, you probably wouldn’t know, but my dad’s the manager of the store you robbed.”
Mike spat out the remainder of his pie onto his plate.
“How do you know that?”
“Please. We may be shut out, but some of us still watch the news and read the paper once in a while. Besides, it was Charlie who let us read it in the first place chuckling to hiMs..elf as he left. ‘We’re going to have fun with him’, I remember him saying. He already knew you’d be here.”
“Yeah. But to be honest, I can’t really see you shooting someone, let alone rob a store. Oh yeah, the press had a field day with that. In their eyes, you were the ultimate young offender. Shooting someone and then robbing a store; it was like icing on the cake.”
Mike could imagine. He hadn’t even looked at any of the papers after he had shot Bradley. “Still, you’re alright. Shouldn’t be long before you’re out. Just do the work and don’t piss Charlie off. You never know, you might even get out early.”
“Well, maybe. If you do, say ‘Hi’ to my dad for me if you don’t scare him off the premises. I had to laugh when I found you had robbed his store. Deserves it.”
“What did you do?”
“Oh you know this and that: broke windows, damaged people’s cars. I was the first to even graffiti all over the walls of my high school. Yeah, I was a real badass, I guess. My dad was so relieved when I got sent here. It’s because of me that he hates teenagers. Though, he never really raised me properly. All he cared about was his stupid fucking store and the money he was making. Bastard. Kudos to you. You’ll probably be the reason I’m sent overseas; never to be seen again.”
“Oh,” was all Mike could muster.
“Well, don’t feel bad. I don’t give a shit. I’m thankful to know that I won’t be seeing him again. Anyway, I’ve got two months left and I was sentenced for six. He can’t really hold me here longer.”
“You were sentenced for six months?”
“I wouldn’t be shocked. That’s what most people are doing here, maybe a bit less. You have the smallest sentence here. The law’s fucked, I tell you.”
“Well, I was a real problem child. Like I’ve said, my dad was happy to get rid of me. Second here after Mark. And listen, I don’ t really know what you’re like, but if you’re curious about what sort of shit sent us here, never ask Mark.”
“I already did,” Mike said guiltily.
“Well, I have a feeling he didn’t tell you. I wouldn’t either.”
“Why, what did he do?”
“Killed his girlfriend.”
“What?!” cried Mike in alarm. There were only two more boys still eating and they turned towards Mike.
“Jesus, keep your voice down,” said Smitherson in a hushed tone. “Not everyone knows, you know. Frankly, I think me and now, you, are the only ones.”
Mike looked back at the two boys who had turned their heads and had continued eating.
“Sorry,” Mike said, still not believing what he had just heard. “It just makes no sense. I can’t see Mark as a killer.”
“Believe me, no one can. Don’t think he did it.”
“How do you know?”
“Well, from what I’ve heard, it seeMs.. as if the only evidence the cops ever got was that his fingerprints were all over her. Well, mine would be too if my girl had just been murdered. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. She hung herself. He never saw her do it of course. Actually, it was her mother that called. His girl had called him an hour ago telling him she wanted to show him something. Never expected that. Her mother walked in, when he saw her; it was like some stupid murder mystery. I tell you, the law’s fucked. He was here a month when I got here. Man, Charlie was enjoying his company. Wouldn’t believe what he made him do. Kicked him around and I mean literally kicked. The guy was like vermin to him. Mark was a wreck when I got here. I was his only friend; told me everything. But I have to tell ya, can’t believe why he’d date that girl in the first place. He’s a nice guy. Doesn’t deserve it.”
“Don’t you think someone’s going to believe that he’s innocent?”
“Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve told you? The law’s fucked. No one cares, except you and me. Besides, even if they figured it out now, it wouldn’t matter. He’s already served most of his time. Even if they gave him some bullshit compensation it wouldn’t matter, the damage is done.”
“I just still can’t believe they would think him guilty. There’s hardly any evidence on him.”
“What the fuck do I know? I’m no lawyer. But it seeMs.. everyone was against him, including his own folks. Not much you can do to go against it. Think the judge tried him in the public’s interest. Everyone he sends here, he believes can change and be well, ‘not criminal’, I guess. It’s the reason Mark only got a year.”
Mike nodded. He felt sorry for the redhead. He had become a sort of friend to him. He realized he wasn’t the only one that seemed to be disrespected by the public.
“Shit!” said Smitherson, glancing at his watch. “It’s nearly eight. Charlie won’t be happy to know we’re still here.”
Mike looked at the now vacant tables. “Got to get back to those beds. At least I didn’t get toilets. Bitch to clean and disgusting. Someone shits here as much as he walks, I’m telling you.”
“I’m done,” said Mike ignoring Smitherson’s fretting.
“Well then I’d suggest you go to your room or something. Don’t want Charlie catching you. He’ll probably be up there soon. You still need to be assigned a tutor.”
“Yeah. You think we just got work and no play?” said Smitherson mockingly. “Everyone has a tutor. The law still wants us educated but the shit people give us, it’s more like we’re teaching them. Course, I don’t mind. So just go to your room, stay there, and look busy. Charlie’ll yell at you but that’s it. You’re still new. Gives you a day to settle before he finds your breaking point and believe me, he’ll find it. It’s the only reason you got fucking garbage. Tomorrow, you’ll be working shit like the rest of us. And when you work in the front, you’ll be given a uniform.”
“Like the one Steve wears outside?”
“Exactly. And he only wears it outside; won’t wear it in. Neither would I; it’s more of puke green. The uniform’s really to show a sense of professionalism like that boarding school shit. Made to look like we fit in and have a sense of purpose. More bullshit for the public. Inside, Charlie doesn’t give a fuck if you work in a shirt smeared with mud. As long as you do the work, he’s happy. But not really, he’s only happy when you’ve suffered.”
Smitherson looked at his watch again. “Ah, fuck, it is eight! See ya, Mike.” Then he left.
That night Cindy got a phone call.
“Hey Cindy, its Ian.”
“Why are you calling me? It’s ten o’clock in the evening,” said Cindy, yawning.
“I know, but I have a plan to get Mike out of the group home.”
“Can’t we talk about this tomorrow?” asked Cindy hopefully.
“No, you don’t understand, we’re gonna try my idea right now. See you outside of Antonio’s Pizza Parlour.” Then he hung up before Cindy could reply.