“Guard, do you mind?” I said, motioning. “We need to be alone.”
“Of course, Mr. Mason,” the guard said as he closed the door behind him.
Seeing Oldtimer in orange prison clothes and flip-flops brought me back to the first night I spent in prison. Part of me wanted to slap the fuck out of Oldtimer for getting himself locked up again, but then again, I understood how the streets work. I understood you got to stick up for yourself. Damn the consequences. It’s about demanding respect, not asking for it.
“What the fuck, Oldtimer?” I said. “What are you doing here?”
“I had to,” Oldtimer said. “I told you if I ever saw the son-of-a-bitch again, he was dead.”
“Lower your voice,” I said, waving both arms. He’d just confessed to first-degree murder. And I’m trying to tell the judge it was a crime of passion. I can’t have these loose words floating through the jail.
I leaned in. “Don’t ever say you wanted to kill him,” I whispered. “We’re trying to claim it was a crime of passion.”
“Crime?” Oldtimer said.
“I probably saved other victims.”
“And, you might be right, but we got to fix this.”
“I’m not claiming a crime of passion.”
“Before I walked in, Dizzy said he’s seeking the death penalty.”
Oldtimer stood to his feet and paced the room. “The death penalty.”
“That’s what he said.”
“And you believe him?”
“Let me help you, friend.”
Oldtimer returned to his seat. Tears spread his cheeks.
“Think of what your daughter would have you do.”
Oldtimer nodded as if the reality of his situation were setting in, and there was no way out.
“I’ll do whatever you say, Brent.”
I nodded and released the panic in my stomach. “Now…tell me what happened.”
“You sure you wanna…”
“We both came from the streets,” I said with the street-smart face I’d worn in prison. The one I turned on when Oldtimer and I fought racists, both black and white, on the prison yard. The face I used when my foster mother died. The face I’d worn when the cops told me dad wasn’t coming home.
“It’s like this Jason Franklin, a Republican…”
“Had to be.” I laughed and then we laughed together.
“I hate to be graphic.”
I crinkled my eyes.
“Right…I keep thinkin’ you’re one of those uppity white boys in that suit.”
“That’s not me,” I said, lighting a cigarette.
“Jason raped me for about five years.”
“You tell anyone?”
“Who I’m gonna tell?” Oldtimer said. “Had I ratted the fuck boy out, I’d be teased, and you know it.”
“Let me worry about your defense.”
“I ain’t tryin’ to claim a crime of passion.”
“We have no choice. I’m not letting Dizzy put you on death row.”
“Wouldn’t you have put me on death row?”
I swallowed a lump in my throat, and my mistakes hit me as if a head-on collision.
“I never put a black man on…”
“You’re better than that, Brent,” Oldtimer said.
“Maybe I’m not.”
“Kid, you’re the only one I trust. I ain’t got no one else.”
“I’m going to get you off,” I said.
“Promise me!” Oldtimer said as he clasped my hands.
“I want a fast and speedy trial.”
“We need more time to put together a case,” I said.
“I can’t stay in this bitch for long. If I’m found guilty, I’ll take my punishment like a man.”
“You won’t be in here long.”
“We have court tomorrow.”