James Dwyer walked through the dank corridor of the county jailhouse. Holding cells lined both walls, filled beyond capacity. Prisoners were packed together awaiting either a hearing on bail, or transport to the state penitentiary.
Although Dwyer had been practicing law for nearly two decades, he rarely came into contact with prisoners incarcerated in squalid conditions. He typically met clients in more antiseptic conditions, interview rooms, and phone-exchange rooms with plate glass windows separating the attorney from the prisoner.
A mixture of floor cleaner and urine wafted out of the cells. He wrinkled his nose, anxious to get outside.
“Hey, Jimmy!” Someone called out from a cell on the right.
Dwyer didn’t recognize the gravelly voice. He scanned the holding cell, an indiscernible sea of convicts, merely dejected faces staring back at him. He paused only a moment to peruse them, and started on his way. Leather heels striking the concrete floor made the only sound.
A grimy hand smacked at the bars. “Hey, Jimmy!”
Stopping, he traced the filthy hand to an emaciated mug. Dwyer made eye contact with the jailbird.
“Jimmy!” The convict smiled, exposing decayed and missing teeth.
Another crystal-meth addict looking for a lawyer. Dwyer considered the inmate further. The man’s high forehead seemed familiar.
The convict nodded, grinning. His filthy mouth was god-awful. “I recognized you. Cousin Jimmy…”
“Raymond?” Dwyer finally recognized him.
“Heard that you’ve become a bigshot lawyer. Guys in here talk, and on the outside.”
Dwyer shrugged, not knowing what to say.
“Jimmy, maybe you could represent me? Help me out of a jam.”
Thanking back, Dwyer remembered Raymond growing up. He’d been older than Dwyer and the son of a local police officer. Ray’s dad had a collection of police badges. Later, Dwyer studied criminal justice in college and became a police officer before going to law school. He reconsidered helping Raymond out.
“See… You are thinking about it.” Raymond smiled, betraying a hint of arrogance.
The arrogance registered. Raymond had run around town with the best clothes and fancy haircuts. Believing he could get away with anything, Raymond had gotten in constant trouble and took a liking for drugs.
Dwyer shook his head. “Afraid that I’m not taking on court-appointed cases anymore.”
Raymond shuffled closer, pressing his face into the bars. “Come on Jimmy, we’re family. You owe it to me.”
“Owe it to you?”
“Sure, my dad’s the one who helped get you started.”
“Your father gave me a badge when I was nine years old. He talked about the job.”
Raymond opened his mouth wide, but couldn’t seem to come up with any words. A phlegmy smell floated from his gaping jaws.
And Dwyer just wanted to move on. “I’ve got a family to feed. You’re going to get representation from court-appointed defense counsel.”
Raymond turned bitter. “Aww, Jimmy… The big shot lawyer, can’t even help out his own cousin.”
Dwyer took a deep breath. The foul air snaked into his lungs. County lockup was a miserable place. Raymond pressed his face even harder to the bars, so indentations appeared on his skull. Nobody deserved these conditions.
A hopeful look crossed Raymond’s face. “Now, you’re thinking about it again.”
Somehow, the arrogance registered again. Raymond liked to be in control, and he enjoyed manipulating others. Dwyer remembered a few occasions of Raymond causing mischief and blaming it on him. He’d walk by Dwyer later gloating. An arrogant jeer, like the display behind the bars.
“I’m sorry Ray, you can’t afford me.” Dwyer grinned, and walked away.
“Jimmy!” A pounding on the bars followed. “Jimmy, come back! I’m sorry, I gave you a hard time. But I need some help, here.”
Dwyer kept walking and didn’t look back.
“Jimmy! Come back.” More rattling of the bars. “Screw you Jimmy!”
And then Dwyer reached the end of the corridor. He stood by the metal doors and glanced back at his cousin. Raymond’s emaciated face looking back at him, hopelessly.
The guard buzzed the door, and Dwyer stepped through and quickly made his way toward the exit at the end of the hallway. Stepping outside, he breathed in the fresh air, putting his cousin behind him, leaving Raymond in the past.