In the end I went.
It wasn’t like an old-fashioned court on TV with wood panelling and the judge sitting way up high. Just a small room in a modern building. Had a small judge’s bench kinda thing, and three rows of chairs for spectators. I sat as far in the back and off in a corner as I could, so none of the official people at the front would identify me.
They brought prisoners in from a side door and there was hardly space in front of the judge for them to stand when he questioned them. None of them had lawyers, but none of them were fighting the charges either. Most were there for being drunk and disorderly, minor stuff like that. A guy in a security-type uniform would read the charges out, the judge would ask the prisoner how he pleaded and the prisoner would mumble something — some of them seemed still drunk or stoned or just loony, like mental — and the judge would set a fine or jail term. Sometimes he’d set a later date and send the prisoner back to jail until then.
When Picket and Rog appeared, they looked not too bad, except grubby like they’d slept in their clothes and hadn’t washed. Picket was the worst, shaking a bit like a little kid up before the principal, and I wondered if he’d been picked on in jail. Rog actually seemed less spaced out than usual. He turned around to see us there and closed his eyes for a second like he was making sure we were real.
The man in the uniform read out a couple of weird names and I thought there was a mistake, until I realized those were Picket’s and Rog’s formal names.
Another man in a suit said, “Your Honour, the Crown is no longer proceeding on the charges of possession and trafficking in a prohibited narcotic. We wish to proceed solely on the remaining charges of vagrancy against both of the defendants who have been unable to provide any residential address and have apparently been living on the street.”
“You’re dropping the drug charges?” asked the judge.
“Yes, Your Honour.”
“Could you enlighten me as to why drug charges were brought and are now being dropped?”
“Apparently, Your Honour, the physical evidence is lacking.”
“You don’t have the alleged drugs.”
“So I have been informed, Your Honour.”
“How do you plead to the charges of vagrancy?” the judge asked Picket and Roger.
“We don’t live anywheres,” Picket said quietly.
“I’ll take that as a guilty plea. And you?” he said to Roger.
“Same thing I guess.”
“You guess or you’re pleading guilty to vagrancy?”
“Ten days or a hundred dollars each.”
“We don’t have that kinda money on us,” said Picket.
“It’s not a multiple choice question. You can work out the arrangements with the court officials.”
The uniform was calling out the next set of names. Picket and Roger didn’t glance at us before they disappeared through the door.
“Why didn’t they say where they lived?” I said outside.
“Didn’t want to give away our address.”
“Why not? Cops couldn’t do anything with it.”
“Have to ask Picket and Roger.”
But we couldn’t cause they weren’t coming out. We figured we could all of us get the two hundred bucks together for the fines but when we found the office that handled it the woman there told us it was too late. Picket and Roger had already decided not to pay it. They were taking the jail time.
I couldn’t imagine being in jail. Maybe cause of how I grew up or something, but it seemed like the worst possible thing that could happen to you. I couldn’t imagine being locked in a real jail with other real prisoners. Or deciding to be in jail when you didn’t have to. I’d rather die than be locked up.
When we got home we didn’t see the cops waiting for us until it was too late.
Gus and me were going down the side of the house. I kicked the gate open as usual and four cops in the backyard looked at us as we came in. I thought of turning and running but somehow I knew it wouldn’t work this time.
“This your dwelling?” one of the cops said.
They were standing around the shed. A gate we never used through the back fence was open and we could see patrol cars in the alley.
I was trying to remember if we had anything in the shed that would get us in trouble. Gus and I hadn’t smoked up there for a while. I think we’d sorta figured, without ever saying it, we weren’t smoking up any more. I didn’t think Billy was either. But there might be a roach or seeds left over. Maybe Picket dropped some. Maybe he stashed some there without us knowing. Maybe Roger and him told the cops.
“Are you living here?” the cop said again.
“We live in the house,” said Gus. “Whadya think?”
“What’s in here?”
“It’s a shed.”
“We got a report transients are living in here. Where’s the key?”
By this time the others who had gone in the front door of the house had heard the commotion and were watching at the kitchen door.
“Don’t you need a warrant for that?” Gus said.
“You’ve been watching too much TV.”
“I thought you said it wasn’t your dwelling,” said another cop. “What is it you don’t want us to see in there?”
“Nothing,” said Gus.
“Do we bust down the door?”
A cop was bringing a sledgehammer from a patrol car.
I had the key. I was still thinking. There couldn’t be anything in there but our gear.
I stepped up to the shed door and put the key in the lock. A cop pushed me aside, opened the lock himself and went in.
“Looks like someone’s been sleeping in here.”
“The three bears,” said Gus.
Two of the cops went through the shed, throwing everything outside. The others pulled open my duffle bag and Gus’s backpack and all three sleeping bags, searched through them and tossed every little thing on the grass. Our dirty clothes were spread all over, even our used underwear. When the shed was empty, the cop with the sledgehammer went inside and smashed up the bunks and threw the boards out too.
We just watched. We couldn’t stop them. They’d say they had reasons to think there were drugs there or something.
“Nothing,” said the cop with the sledgehammer.
“We should take this stuff in,” the main cop waved at our personal gear. “Have it inspected with a microscope.”
“Inspect away,” Gus said.
“Sorry, son. We had to do this. I have to warn you though, using this structure as a dwelling contravenes city bylaws. If we ever find you living here....”
In the end they just took the sleeping bags and drove off.
The others came out of the house and we all looked at the mess. And we all —
Shit, I’m not gonna make it.
I’m getting too … taking too long. Going on too long and now it’s finally … starting to.…
Quick. So I burned it all down and…. Oh so tired … I can’t….
Ah, no. Shit —