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THE BAR CODE

by Gina Gallo, guest columnist  [January 3, 2002]

 

 

[HollywoodInvestigator.com]  The smirking whore in the corner made it official. Not only had the cops made a serious mistake by arresting him; but they’d also thrown him in the wrong lock-up. What the hell was he doing behind bars with a woman?

They’d called him a faggot on the street. Stood glaring at his white Jaguar, at the flawless cut of his raw silk suit, and could barely contain themselves.

You some kind of fairy, boy? Ain’t you in the wrong part of town to come playing your sissy games?

Wrong part of town? He had no idea where he was. Confusing directions, a few wrong turns, and he was lost in the murky lair of West Side gang turf. Hooded shapes loitered on every corner, watched him with the confidence of predators circling prey. Faceless voices shouted above the Saturday night soundtrack of life on dead-end street. How had he gotten here? He was supposed to be at a wedding...

Blue lights flashing in his rearview meant help had arrived. The cops could tell him how to escape.  Maybe even escort him, just until he got back on the freeway.

Instead, they yanked him from the car. Dope dealer or pimp, they’d asked, shoving him over the Jaguar’s hood. Rough hands moved down his body, up his legs, through his pockets.

A quick search of the Jag produced an ounce of hydroponic weed, the new millennium’s healthier alternative high to home grown buds.

“What else you got, kid?” the bigger cop growled. “Better tell us now and save yourself some trouble.”

The other cop was flipping through his wallet. “Says here you’re Delroy Benjamin, with a Gold Coast address.” He glanced from the driver’s license to his frightened captive. “Is that you, or didja steal somebody’s wallet on top of everything else?”

“Everything else? What’s everything? I haven’t done anythi--”

“What you better do is shut your mouth unless we ask a question.”

“You did ask a question!” But it was hard to sound convincing after the cop found his coke vial.  Fear rose like bile, as bitter as his indignation. “I’m Delroy Benjamin. I’ve done nothing wrong and I don’t know how I got here.”

“Don’t worry, smartass. Only thing you need to know is where you’re goin’ ... to Hell if you don’t change your ways.” A sharp kick to his legs spread them wider, kept him off-balance as handcuffs were slapped on.

“This one’s only twenty-three,” one of his tormentors informed the cops who arrived with the paddy wagon. “A drug czar born every minute.”

“This is an outrage! I want your names! I’ll have your jobs--”

Someone’s ham-sized fist slammed a swinging right hook to guarantee his silence -- and oblivion -- for the ride to the station.

Now the whore watched as he retched in the corner.

“Don’t worry, honey. Always happens after an ass-kickin’. It ain’t nothin’ to be ashamed of.”

A deep voice for a woman, rough as bourbon strained through broken glass. Squinting through one swollen eye, Del glimpsed a stubbly shadow beneath the makeup. Perfect. Locked up who knew where, with some cross-dressing she-male, winking. If this freak tried anything...

“Relax, baby.  It ain’t that kinda party.” A bony hand large enough to palm a basketball patted the silver wig. “My name’s Capri, and the only men I’m into is payin’ customers.” Pursing orange-slathered lips, the whore nodded toward the wooden bench. “Why don’t you get up outta that mess and rest yourself. No sense sloppin’ in your own sickness.”

She -- or he, or it -- had a point. And judging by the way Capri’s nose wrinkled, it wasn’t lust that prompted his suggestion. But Del wasn’t sure he could move. Half the bones in his body must have been crushed after the cops stomped him. Whimpering, he struggled to his knees.

“Yeah, I can tell you ain’t a regular ‘round here. What is you, some kinda college boy?” A gold tooth bared in Capri’s version of a smile. “That’s right, honey. Crawl up on the bench. Catch your breath.”

 

 

Del’s head was spinning. Christ, his whole body was spinning, and it felt like he’d be sick again.

“Keep your eyes closed. You’ll get over it.” Capri spoke with the authority of many jailhouse campaigns. “It’s a shame, the way them cops do the young boys.” Hitching ragged fishnet stockings up coltish flanks, Capri shook his head. “I bet y’all ain’t done nothin’. Just goin’ about your business, am I right? I seen this happen too many times.”

The kid was too scared to speak. Too hurt to do much of anything but lay there and moan.

“Bet they didn’t even let you make a phone call, huh?”

Del couldn’t remember. There’d been only pain, flashes of light, heckling laughter.

“Yeah, well, that’s how it is ‘round here. Don’t expect no lawyer to be showing his face, neither. That ain’t how it’s done.”

Was that a moan -- or a mangled question from Del’s bleeding lips?

“Ain’t no such things as ‘rights’ once you’re on this side of the bars, child. Tomorrow morning, you’ll find out just what kinda rights you got. They’ll transfer your ass to County Jail, put you in a cell with some big ol’ boy gonna make you his bitch, and that’s all she wrote. Nobody be talking about your rights then.”

This time it was a moan -- a piteous whine as Del struggled to sit up. “N-no! They can’t--”

“Yes they can, hon. Happens all the time. ‘Specially to a nice-lookin’ young man like yourself. They see you got some education, maybe a little money, then they gonna mess with you. Tomorrow morning, you’ll be bachelorette number three.”

Del was blubbering, choking that preceded his tears. Blood-tinged rivulets tracked his swollen face.

“I know it’s awful, child. And ain’t nothin’ I can do to help, since I’ll bond out of here by morning. But there’s a way you can help yourself.”

“Kick somebody’s ass?” Del rasped. “Doesn’t look like that’d work.”

Capri’s eyes slid to the cell door, and the hallway beyond. No one in sight. He minced toward Del’s bench, perched on its opposite end.

Whispering, Capri leaned toward the sobbing man. “Don’t ever say I told you, but there’s a trick that’ll make them cops take you right outta this cell to somewhere you can get help. Play like you’re crazy. Pretend you’re gonna kill yourself. Makes cops real nervous -- especially if they know you got family that could start trouble for ‘em.

“Works every time.”  Capri ran a scarlet nail down Del's silk shirt.  “Last time I was in here, somebody tore his clothes and strung a noose.  He started screaming like he was gonna end it.  Cops came running, figured he was a nut case, and took him to the County Hospital.”

“I’m not crazy,” Del protested. “Don’t belong in jail or the psych ward.”

“Use your head then, child. Once you get there, the doctors will see you ain’t crazy. You call your family, get your lawyer, and they take you home. That’s how it works.”

In spite of the garish makeup, the whore looked sincere, was obviously no stranger to these quarters. Still, it was a far-fetched idea.

“What if it doesn’t work? What if they just come and kick my ass all over again?”

“They won't. There’s a police boss in his office out there, and the only thing he wants is peace and quiet. Somebody acts crazy, they go straight to hospital.” Glancing toward the hallway, the whore leaned closer. “It's a trick I learned in prison. Now I’m passing it on. Part of the jail code, y’know?  How else you think a fine thing like me lasted around them big brutish men?”

Del wasn’t familiar with the prison social climate, but odds were good Capri wouldn’t have survived long. Del fingered his shirt, wondering ... they’d taken his belt and shoelaces.

“You’re sure? You’ve seen this work before?”

“Every time, honey. All you got to do is put the noose around your neck and scream. Watch how fast they’ll come running!”

The shirt wasn’t hard to tear. Even with swollen hands, Del ripped it in strips, tied the square knots that Capri demonstrated. With his cellmate’s help, he looped it up around the cell’s top cross bar, slid the noose around his neck. And finally, balanced on the bench to effect his great escape.

Capri winked in benediction, Del’s signal to begin screaming.

“I can’t take it anymore! It’s over! I don’t want to live!”

His screams echoing off cinderblock walls, it was hard to distinguish the sounds that followed. Feet thundering down a long hall, shouts from somewhere ... the explosion of wood smashing against concrete -- the bench Capri kicked out from under him.

Resuming his position on the other bench, Capri patted his silver wig. He watched as the young man’s body lurched and twitched, stilling finally like a slack-limbed pendulum. Amazing that they fell for it every time.

Biting back his smirk, Capri’s face settled into an impassive mask. The blank look he’d use for the cops who now barreled toward his cell ... the one that meant he knew nothing, had seen and heard nothing.

Jailhouse apathy -- the oldest code of all.

 

Copyright © 2002 by Gina Gallo

 

Gina Gallo is a 16-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department.

She is author of Crime Scenes and Armed And Dangerous: Memoirs of a Chicago Policewoman, the latter optioned for a network TV series. 

 

 

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