THE JAYWALKER • by Tom Britz

Dressed in his festive orange attire, Niles Davenport follows the jackbooted, uniformed police officer down the boisterous hallway en route to his new weekend digs. His mind reels as he notices the thick gray metal bars that keep the current population in check.

Niles figures if Michigan lawmakers studied basic geometry he wouldn’t be here. He assumed everyone knew the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Yet, they called it jaywalking and the judge in his all abiding wisdom saw fit to give him a weekend to think about his criminal behavior.

“Looks like you got a wild one there, Frank,” someone yells.

“I bet the streets are breathing easier, now you’ve nabbed him,” another opined.

He hears this and other chatter as he’s led to the waiting cell down this interminable hall. For all he knows, there are hardened criminals — murderers, rapists, bank robbers and other jaywalkers, just waiting to torment him. They all look mean and disrespectful and truth be told he’s nervous as hell.

The keys on the huge ring in Frank’s hand make a loud jangling sound as he unlocks Niles’ new front door.

“Step inside,” he says. Niles just barely crosses the threshold when the door makes a reverberating crash as it’s slammed shut and Frank re-locks it.

As Niles turns around he gets his first glimpse of the dregs of humanity that are going to be his comfort and solace in the coming days. He’s not comfortable. They look… mean.

There are five others in this oasis amid the concrete and iron. Two of them look as if they haven’t bathed or met a razor in weeks, a razor that worked on their face, that is. Two others are lying on their bunks loudly snoring. The fifth sits in the corner reading a Bible. This gent lifts his head and snarls, sending Niles immediately to the bunks.

There is an unoccupied bunk, the top one, of course. Niles stares at it, trying his best to will himself afloat with no luck whatsoever. There is no way out, but to climb. Trying not to disturb the log splitter on the bottom bunk, he heaves himself up, then for the next few moments lies with eyes closed, trying desperately to teleport out of there, but that doesn’t work either, so he opens them.

Not two inches from his nose is Charles Manson, or at least a reasonable facsimile.

“What brings you here, boy?” he rasps.

Figuring he needs to impress this Manson look-alike, Niles says, “I killed a man.”

A look of disbelief and total respect crosses his face and Niles knows that he’s scored some major points.

‘What about you, Chuck?” Niles asks.

“Who you callin’ Chuck? My name’s Tim,” he says. “I’m in here for non-payment on my alimony.”

“What?!” Niles blurts incredulously. If ever there was a cold-blooded murderer, Niles was looking at him.

Tim raises his right hand and says, “On my momma’s grave.”

“In fact,” he continues, “I’d bet that you are the only man-killer in here. That guy readin’ the Bible’s another alimony skipper. The guy ‘neath you is here ’cause his dog bit the mailman. And those two over there,” he points, “tried robbin’ a donut shop and you won’t believe this, but there was a couple of cops in there. What are the chances, huh?”

Niles having already made his bed can’t see any way out of it, so he knits his hands together, feigns a yawn and cracks his knuckles. “Do you play checkers?”

Tom Britz says: “I am a writer. It was basically a sorting out of private ambitions, having given up on my first career choice of Major League ballplayer and my second, an astronaut. Never got the hang of Indian Chief or even a Tinker. I have been a factory rat but never really cared for it. Too lazy to work and too nervous to steal. I am a writer.”

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