When I was nine years old a prisoner escaped from the reformatory on the outskirts of town. My little brother Hooby, who was six at the time, thought we should thread a wire across the bottom of the threshold.
“That way when he tries to get in the house he’ll trip and fall and we can club him with the baseball bat, tie him up, and haul him off to jail!” Hooby said.
“Hooby, that’s stupid!” I said.
“He probably won’t even come to our house anyway cause our dad’s the deputy sheriff. And if he does come to our house none of us are strong enough to take him!”
“I am!” said Hooby. “And Daddy is too! And Daddy can shoot him with his policeman gun! Pow pow!!”
“Daddy’s not here dummy.” I said. “And I know how brave you are. You ran home screamin and cryin when Mrs. Delaney’s Chihuahua chased you home from school.”
“Awe, you don’t know nuthin,” said Hooby.
Then he just plopped himself down in the big arm chair and pulled his knees to his chest, placed his chin on his fists, and sat with a scowl on his face.
Just then I heard the back door creak open and the screen door slam. Hooby and I were home by ourselves since Daddy was working. We didn’t know where our mom was. She left us a long time ago.
“What was that?” Hooby asked.
“A noise. Duh.” I said.
Then we heard footsteps. They sounded like big feet to me. Like the heavy sound a boot makes when it’s being worn by a grown man and being walked across a wood floor. The footsteps got louder and closer and Hooby ran and hid behind a curtain while I stood frozen; I was like a deer in the headlights if ever there was one. When the predator at last made his appearance he didn’t look anything like I’d imagined. He was a tall, man, with a slender build. He had salt and pepper hair with more pepper than salt and the oddest style I have ever seen. His hair was cut short and parted on the side and careful styled with hairspray (obviously), so that the front sticks out like a cliff about four or five inches from the forehead. He was wearing a tanned uniform with freshly polished cowboy boots, a gun in a holster and a badge.
“Daddy.” I said.
“Well yeah. You look like you thought it might be somebody else.” He said.
Hooby came out from behind the curtains.
“We thought you were the man who escaped from the reformatory, Daddy.”
“I’m sorry I scared you kids. I just wanted to come home and see if everything was all right here at the house. Now I don’t want you to worry about anything. Just keep the doors locked. I’ve got somebody watchin the house at all times. I wish I could stay home with ya’ll, but I can’t. I have to work. I have to help catch this guy and put him back where he belongs.”
“Daddy” I said. “What did he do?”
“He killed a man who walked in on a 7-11 he was robbing in Angleton.” Dad said.
“I thought they gave you death row for that, daddy” Hooby said.
Hooby and I were more familiar with some aspects of the criminal justice system because dad kept up with everything that was going on with it, so we were always exposed to it.
“Hoob” This escapee, Bobby Plant (that’s his name), did get the death penalty for his crime. But last year the death penalty was declared to be against the law. So all the people on death row got commuted to life.” Dad said.
“There’s a life row?” Hooby asked.
“Not exactly.” Dad said.” It’s called life because it means that’s how long a person will probably be in prison.”
“How did he escape?” I asked.
“It appears he made some kind of false bottom in a laundry basket. He worked in the prison laundry. I just know he couldn’t have escaped if he was still on death row. All prisoners are worthless if you ask me. A bullet only costs twenty-five cents. I think they should all be lined up and shot right in the head. Problem solved.” Dad said.
Dad never had a problem saying exactly what he thought. His unique take on freedom of speech got him in trouble on more than one occasion in his life. Dad carefully walked around the house checking to make sure all the windows and doors were secure. Then he went outside and walked all around the house with his really really bright policeman flashlight that is not only good for seeing in the dark, but also for busting windows, heads, or whatever needs busted.
I was trying to watch Dad from the backdoor of the laundry room, but it was too dark. Then I saw the door to the shed open and sure enough someone peaked out as if to see if the coast was clear. I knew they couldn’t see me from where I was watching. The shed door closed again and I knew I needed to act quickly.
“First, I need to tell Dad.” I said to myself as I put my plan into action. “Then I need to call the police. And Hooby. He needs to hide some place safe. But where?” My mind was all over the place. “Oh I know. I’ll send him over to Mrs. Delaney’s.”
Hooby had fallen asleep in the big arm chair while he was watching “The Carol Burnett Show.”
“I may have to pour water on him to wake him up.” I thought.” “Hooby. Wake up! Do you understand me. Wake up now!!”
I shook him and he started to stir. Whew.
“What’s wrong?” Hooby asked.
“You need to get your shoes on and run out the front door and run to Mrs. Delaney’s house as fast as you can. Tell her I sent you and I’ll explain later. Can you do that?”
“Yeah” Hooby said.
He was sleepy, but he understood the urgency and he got out the door fast and ran down the street.
“I should call the police now.” I thought. “Then I’ll find dad. That way if anything goes wrong the police will be on their way.”
After I called the police, I quietly crept around back to see where dad was. It was dark and I couldn’t see anything, but I figured I’d see his flashlight and find him easy enough. When I spotted Dad, he was just about to open the door to the shed where I saw Bobby Plant hiding a few minutes earlier. I knew dad was careful, but I figured if he knew the guy was in there it would eliminate the element of surprise.
“Daddy” I said quietly.
I didn’t want to startle him.
“Katy!” What are you doing out here? Get back in the house. I’ll talk to you inside.”
“No!” I said with a sense of urgency that at least made him pay attention to me.
Dad walked a little closer to me and I whispered to him what I saw. I didn’t want there to be any chance that Bobby Plant would know we were on to him or that his hideout was a deputy sheriff’s shed.
“You did good, Katy. Now run on in the house and call down to Mrs. Delaney’s and make sure Hooby made it down there okay.”
I went back inside through the laundry room and as quick as I stepped inside I was captured like a Venus fly trap catches a fly. I never saw it coming. Suddenly my short small body was being held against a larger body and his big hand easily covered my mouth and nose and it smelled like salt and dirt. About the same time I saw the flashing lights of the police cars outside. It was starting to look like Dad and the other cops were going to open the shed and find the same thing Geraldo Rivera found years later when he opened Al Capone’s vault.
“You need to keep quiet kid, if you like breathin. You dig what I’m sayin.” Bobby said. “I’m gonna let you go and when I do you don’t run away and you don’t scream.”
I nodded that I understood.
“What are ya doin in here?” I asked.
“I’m hungry. I came in to get somethin to eat.” Bobby said.
I cautiously walked over to the bread warmer on the stove with Bobby sticking very close and I took out a plate that my grandma had put in there to keep warm for my dad.
“It’s meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans.” I said. “Me and my grandma snapped the beans ourselves. She taught me how. You better eat it quick though.
“Oh yeah. Why’s that?” Bobby said.
He asked the question with his mouth full while he was stuffing his face with the dinner that was meant for my dad. Dad was not going to be happy that a prisoner ate his supper.
“Cause you know you are gonna get caught soon and have to go back to the reformatory. You can’t stay out here anymore no matter how much you wish for it.”
“Is that so little darlin? And what makes you think you know so much about what I can and can’t do?” Bobby said.
He was finishing up his plate of food and I rinsed it off in the sink. Neither Bobby nor I realized it, but the police spotted us in the house and were surrounding the entire house with men. The phone rang.
“Don’t answer that.” Bobby said.”
“I have too.” I said. “Otherwise if it’s my dad he’ll get worried and come inside. “Hello?”
“Katy. It’s your daddy. Try not to be scared. We’re gonna catch Plant. We see him. Does he have any weapons that you can see, honey?”
“No, daddy.” I said.
“That’s good.” Dad said. “You just sit tight. This won’t take long. I love you.”
“I love you too, Daddy. Bye.” I said.
Bobby and I sat down at the dining room table. Sitting there at the table with Bobby Plant made me feel the dichotomy of the situation although at the time I wouldn’t have explained it just that way. Our dining room with its round oak table and white linen napkins and tassels on the curtains was the safest and warmest place I knew. Now I was sitting here with a deadly criminal and I was his hostage. I was in the most danger I had ever been in as long as I’d been alive. Some how I managed to keep Bobby engaged in conversation which distracted him from worrying about getting captured. He didn’t even notice when two officers came in from behind and grabbed him before he ever knew they were there. I’m glad they didn’t have to shoot him.
That was a long night for me and for dad. Until now, I don’t suppose I have ever told anyone about that night. I just hadn’t thought about it. Dad still thinks we oughta just shoot prisoners in the head and be done with them. Some people just refuse to change I guess.