Gravel crunched under my feet and a lone black bird cried overhead. The sky was an uninterrupted blue, even the clouds were avoiding this place. There were a few other people making this depressing trek with me, but no one spoke. Neither did I. Each of us was here for our own reasons, but I’d bet money no one wanted to be here.
We only had this place in common.
A place that smelled vaguely of stale sweat and the long forgotten alibis of those who’d likely never had real ones to start with. It just so happened to also house a section of humanity that the rest would rather have forgotten about too, along with the false excuses and shitty justifications they’d all offered at some point. It was only an hour’s drive outside of town, but to the society who lived within the stone fortress, it might as well have been on a different planet.
A faded sign above the forbidding gate read ‘Welcome to Cypress Creek Penitentiary.” The sign continued to rattle off a long list of rules, documents to be presented to be allowed entrance, and listed strict hours during which visitation was allowed.
The rules of conduct were imprinted on my brain even though I’d only been visiting here for a few years. My driver’s license was clutched in my palm for positive identification, and I only ever visited on Saturdays, so I knew what time I had to be out. I also knew there would be no one else visiting the inmate I was, so I wouldn’t be asked to leave earlier. Unfortunately.
Dear old dad’s not so popular these days. The rest of the family didn’t come out here to see him, so it was up to me to make sure that he saw some family. One out of five sons wasn’t a great score, but it wasn’t like I could force my brothers to come.
I sighed and shoved my hands in the pockets of my jeans, leaning against the chain link fence that kept even visitors in line where the authorities wanted us and could watch us through their cameras.
As I often did, I’d arrived a little early, though hell if I knew why. I waited along with the rest of the family members and devoted friends of the inmates for the low beep of the alarm to indicate visitors would now be allowed entry. I submitted to the security checks, held out my arms to be patted down by the same guard who did it every time I visited, and yet still seemed to believe that one of these days I might try to sneak in contraband, and then proceeded to the sign in counter.
A lovely routine to repeat at least one Saturday per month. I often wondered what my mama would’ve said if she could see me here, if she knew why I was obligated to come here as often as I could find the time. It wasn’t all that hard to imagine her reaction though. Why? It’s his own fault he’s in there. Stay away.
“Identification please,” the guard at the front of the room demanded when I reached him. He was a carbon copy of all the other guards scattered about the room. Easily as tall as I was at six feet, four inches tall, his hair was cropped short and his eyes were small, regarding me closely as if he expected trouble.
It was a reaction I’d become accustomed to from my father’s custodians. Not that it surprised me all that much at first either. I’d been told I cut an intimidating figure. As a former lineman on the football team back in high school, I’d kept in shape since.
Since I couldn’t do anything about my build or height, I squared my shoulders and stared the guard down as I wordlessly handed him my driver’s license. With nothing more than a cursory glance, he waved me through reluctantly once he’d checked his register. I was on there as an approved visitor, whether he liked it or not.
Fifteen minutes and a series of locked steel gates later, I was sitting on one side of the glass partition that separated inmates from the visitors.
A nervous looking girl, probably around twenty-one or twenty-two, sat to one side. It was clear that she wasn’t used to the drill yet, but even she looked twice when my father was brought into the room.
Roy Lovett was what some might have referred to as a silver fox. It was a quality that he used to his advantage every opportunity he got and had ultimately had a hand in the activities for which he’d wound up behind bars. He was also a fairly recognizable face. While most wouldn’t think criminal when they saw my father, politician wouldn’t have been a surprise. He’d once been a rising star in Georgia politics, but he’d gotten swept up in his own press and let greed get the best of him.
When people thought of criminals, they didn’t think of men who looked like Roy.
Think again, world.
My dad’s head was up, his chin jutting forward as he entered the room. He didn’t smile when he saw me. He simply nodded once and headed in my direction, sinking into his chair and reaching for the phone on his side of the partition.
I lifted my phone off its cradle and stuck the cold plastic against my ear in time to hear my dad’s greeting. “Jeremy, good to see you.”
“You too, dad.” And it really was, in a strange sort of way. I might have a mother lode of mixed feelings about my father, but I still cared about him. If there was one thing I’d learned in this mess, it was people could surprise you. Good people could do bad things, and bad people could do good things. Humans were the opposite of one-dimensional. As much as I hated what had happened to put him in here, he was still my father. There was a part of me that was always worried about what he’d look like the next time I’d see him, if there would even be a next time…
“Everything going okay in there?” I’d heard stories of what happened inside, just like everyone else, but my dad never said a word about whether those stories were true or not.
As expected, he waved a hand dismissively and sat back with the receiver cradled between his ear and his shoulders, his arms folded over his broad chest. “It’s fine. They’ve got me in isolation from the general population for now.”
“Isolation?” I sat forward. This was news to me. Propping my elbows on my knees, I met my dad’s light blue eyes and watched as a wall came down over them.
“It’s nothing. Standard procedure.” A muscle in his jaw ticked. It wasn’t standard procedure, not according to that twitch in his jaw. It was the only tell my dad had. And even then you’d only know it if you knew him really, really well.
But I wouldn’t meddle. Not because I didn’t care, but because Lovett men didn’t do things that way. We protected each other fiercely when we could, fought each other every step of the way if we disagreed on something, but we didn’t specialize in talking through shit. Though I chose not to ask, I’d worried his high profile would create problems for him behind bars and wondered if that was why he was in isolation.
“Okay,” I finally said. My father visibly relaxed when I didn’t push for more information. “Any other news I should know about?”
“You mean other than the trip they’re letting me take to Hawaii next month?” he joked, but his heart wasn’t in it. Something was bothering him, but he would tell me about when he was good and ready to do it. “Let’s not talk about what’s going on with me. There’s no news. How’re things out there?”
He gestured vaguely beyond the single grimy, barred window in the visitor’s room. “How’re my boys doing?”
There was no resentment in his tone when he asked about my brothers, nor would he ever beg me to speak to them on his behalf. He’d made his peace with my brothers’ lack of communication far as I could tell.
“We’re all good. There’s not much news out there either. I’m still working with Doc.” My father nodded. I’d been working residential construction for a local company since my football career went up in smoke going on ten years ago.
It was a solid, stable job. Not one that would ever see me leaving Cypress Creek, but like my father had made peace with my brothers not coming to see him, I’d made peace with staying in Cypress.
“Doc still talking about retirement?”
I nodded, thinking about my boss. A former military man who spoke about as little as I did, he’d been a good friend to me in recent times. “Yeah. Says he’s getting too old for this shit and he’s ready to start kicking back for once. Doubt he’ll ever do it.”
“He’d go crazy if he tried to sit still for too long,” my father agreed, nodding as a small smile played on his lips when he thought about Doc. They didn’t know each other well, but Roy respected Doc for giving me a job, and letting me keep it after everything that had happened. Some in town might not have done the same.
“As for the others,” I decided to start with my second oldest brother in the update line-up, purposefully avoiding the oldest. “Beau is, well, he’s Beau. He’s good. The firm just gave him another promotion. They worship the ground that man walks on.”
My father nodded, pride filling his eyes as I spoke about his thirty-two year-old son. Beau was an architect and a really successful one at that. He was well-liked and respected in the community despite who our father was. I doubted people even thought about Roy when Beau was in the room. He could play to any crowd as well as the best politicians could.
“Another promotion,” my father remarked. “That boy’s becoming a force to be reckoned with. Always said he would be.”
“Yeah, I guess he is.” Since I didn’t have any other news on Beau, I decided to move on to my middle brother. “Evan’s good too. He’s still working in the shop, nothing new to report there.”
Evan was thirty, a mechanic who had a natural talent for working with his hands. He was generally a laid-back, carefree guy. At first, I’d thought he’d come see our dad with me, but he’d shrugged and told me no. Before the shit hit the fan, he’d been closest to our father, if only because he took over his mechanic shop when our father ran for mayor and then flew high into the State Senate.
He didn’t offer any excuses, but he didn’t need to. I got it. Evan didn’t let things get to him, not anymore. He took life one day at a time and did his best not to take anything too seriously—dad’s offenses and incarceration included.
“Did he ever finish that custom job for the mayor?”
I shouldn’t have been surprised that my dad remembered about the job Evan had been working on last month, but it did. He always played it so cool during my updates. I kind of assumed he was only half listening, but he then he’d ask me about some small detail the next month and I’d be reminded that he really was listening.
“He did. His client was very happy with it.” At least that was what Sonny, our youngest brother, had told me. I hadn’t seen or spoken to either Beau or Evan for a while. Most of these updates I gave our dad were from information I’d gotten from Sonny.
“Glad to hear it. Evan’s always been mighty talented with those hands of his,” my father said with a grin. It was strange to see him take so much pride in their accomplishments, even from in here.
He’d never say it, of course. But I could see clear as day each time I visited. “How’s Sonny?”
At twenty-six, Sonny was the youngest of the Lovett clan. He was a cop and a SWAT Team member with an old soul. Though he was two years younger than me, it was a running joke that he should’ve been the older, if not the oldest, brother.
“Sonny’s great. You know him, he’s working hard. Kicking ass and taking names. Kid’s got balls, that’s for sure.” Sonny didn’t have it easy as a cop, what with our dad being one the town’s most hated. He worked hard enough to do the jobs of three men to make up for it, but he never complained about it. It just wasn’t in his nature.
Our dad nodded his agreement. “He’s a stubborn one.”
Silence fell between us for a minute. The reason for that silence had a name: Tyson Lovett. My oldest brother and Cypress Creek’s favorite District Attorney, so hailed for having been part of the team to have put his own father in prison.
Eventually, my dad broke the heavy silence. “What about Tyson?”
I suppressed a sigh and dragged my free hand through my hair, the other gripping harder on to the receiver I was holding. “Tyson’s fine. Same shit, different day. I saw his picture on a ‘Citizens for Justice’ flier the other day. They’re some community organization that believes in letting the people in town know about the everyday heroes fighting for their safety.”
I couldn’t quite keep the bitterness out of my tone. I knew my brother had a job to do, but I still didn’t know or understand a lot of what had gone down during my father’s trial, and Tyson refused to talk about it. It left a lot of lingering questions between him and the rest of us.
My father echoed my sigh and glanced at his feet. After a beat, he swallowed down whatever he had going on in his head about Tyson and squared his jaw, steely determination replacing the pride and brevity that had been there while we’d been talking about my brothers. Whatever it was that had been bothering him earlier, he was ready to talk about it now.
“We don’t have much time left before they’re gonna haul you out of here. So I’m going to ask you a question and I need you to be honest with me. Have you been approached by anyone you don’t know recently?”
He shook his head, lifting his eyes to mine with a hard gaze. “Listen to me, Jeremy. You need to keep an eye out for yourself out there.”
“Okay?” My dad wasn’t the paranoid type, yet his eyes were suddenly darting from side to side and his voice had dropped. Weird.
“I’m being serious. People are going to come after you, after all of you.”
Maybe he’d become the paranoid type, yet I wasn’t a fool. I knew I probably didn’t have a clue who the hell my father had brushed up against in the messy bribery schemes that sent him here. Despite a sense of unease rolling through me, I gave myself a mental shake. I could take care of myself.
“Consider it done,” I said, mostly for his peace of mind. My words didn’t seem to mean much for that as Roy was still on edge.
“Thank you.” He glanced toward the clock on the wall to the side. “One last thing before you have to go. Has someone named Ken made contact with you?”
Ken? “No. Who’s that?”
My father looked relieved, shaking his head as he rose from his seat. “No one. Just keep an eye out, okay?”
“Okay.” I stood from my chair, leaning over to keep the receiver to my ear to say goodbye before I left. “I’ll see you, dad.”
“See you next time, Jeremy,” he said, placing his receiver back in its cradle as he turned away from me and waited to be escorted back inside.
I went through the motions to leave, yet another process. It was good to get out. It was damn near suffocating in there. I filled my lungs with a deep breath of air when I finally made it back to the parking lot.
jody sutton says
Think I’ll read it.
Aisha Dubose says
This was real intriguing. Now I want to read the whole book!❤