The Pub Aftermath, Chapter 4
Doreen was out of circulation, no longer bustling between tables to serve guests at The Pub. These days she was living at the Florida Correctional Institute, the first all-female prison in Florida. The worn plywood sign from the fifties showed the old logo peeking through thin layers of paint. Despite a name change and a few facility modifications, the institution maintained its reputation as a cesspool of corruption.
Had she been aware of the video surveillance equipment in place at the restaurant where she’d worked, she might have avoided a six-year sentence in an eight-by-ten cell. But the video evidence left no doubt making it unnecessary to conduct a time-consuming investigation of arson, typically difficult to prove. She’d taken a plea bargain after theft charges against her were dropped.
“But her involvement in the theft is clear, as well,” the Prosecutor insisted, baffled by Dick’s inexplicable unwillingness to press charges for the theft.
“She’s suffered enough,” Dick told him.
Although her sentence was less than she might have received with a jury trial, it wasn’t likely Doreen would be returning to her waitress job anytime soon. The question of who had paid a private attorney to defend her remained unanswered but there was speculation.
When she’d set fire to the kitchen, her motives had come across as watery and vague. Counselling with the volunteer prison therapist revealed Doreen’s deeper levels of anger that she usually hid under a layer of indifference.
“I just wanted the Head Chef to take the blame,” she told the prison shrink.
“Was that George?” Doreen nodded. “Did his innuendoes and groping seem to warrant such a dramatic response?” she asked.
“The big oaf had it coming,” she said crossing her arms.
“It seems to me your affair with Bob, he was the manager before Jason, right? That Bob was the real issue.” Doreen picked at a broken fingernail.
“You risked everything by helping him take the cash from the restaurant’s receipts,” the volunteer repeated what she’d already been told.
“We’d put aside a huge nest egg,” Doreen practically spat the words. “I thought he loved me. But that was before he took off with everything but me.”
“Uh, huh,” she nodded at the revelation. “Go on, tell me the rest.”
“We could’ve spent a lifetime together,” she’d said, “somewhere warm and tropical. But now I’m here, rotting away in this awful place,” Doreen seethed.
“I think we’ve reached a good stopping place,” she told the distraught inmate. Looking at her watch, she said, “We’ll meet again next week.”
Folsom Prison Blues
For reasons Joe didn’t quite understand, she decided to visit her former coworker at the prison. She often wondered who’d show up to visit if the situation were reversed. Maybe she’d get an answer to why Doreen left Joe’s purse alone when she raided the office cash. Not that she wasn’t grateful. It simply came as a surprise; an unexplained alliance in a sea of hostility.
Joe fulfilled the requirements to get on Doreen’s list of ten eligible visitors by listing herself as a former prospective employer. The background check was no problem, the results coming quicker than imagined. Joe selected her outfit based strictly on the approved clothing list. Shoulders covered, she picked a non-revealing fabric and wore no spandex which seemed weird but not an issue. She replaced her usual miniskirt with an ankle-length dress she’d made herself out of a cheerful calico print. Despite her preparations, she grew nervous during the long drive to Ocala and began to question her reasons for the visit; something just out of reach of her conscious thought. Empathy? Guilt? She didn’t know.
She planned her travel to arrive no more than fifteen minutes before her scheduled visit, parked her car in the designated area and secured it like the rules required. Pulling at the door handle, she fought a sudden urge to start the car and drive away but brushed it aside. She crawled out of the Volkswagen and walked to the gate marked "Facility Entrance."
Signing in, she recognized a familiar name on the short list of approved visitors which made her even more squeamish about coming. Following a pat-down search in the main area, she was ushered through a metal screening device at the entrance to the visiting area. Her gift box of shampoo, underwear and sundries for her former coworker, had been confiscated by the Institutional Duty Officer who pointed to a sign above his head. It read, “Visitors are not allowed to bring any items in to give to inmates.” The Officer assigned Joe a security locker.
“Store that stuff in there, along with your purse and car keys,” the guard told her. Afterward, Joe was escorted to a stark white area with divided cubicles, each with two molded chairs bolted to the floor. Half of the room lay beyond a thick piece of clear Plexiglas affixed to a laminated counter-top dividing the space lengthwise. Cubicles were formed every four feet by side walls on which a telephone hung on either side.
Joe took a seat and waited. It wasn’t too long before the door on the other side opened and a guard marched Doreen out. Wearing institution-issued trousers with black boots and a long-john type shirt under a loose-fitting top, she took a seat at a swivel chair opposite Joe’s. Doreen looked like she’d aged ten years since Joe had seen her last. With no makeup or cosmetics, her looks revealed the harsh realities of prison life.
Joe lifted the receiver and held it to her ear. Doreen looked at her for a moment before lifting the phone on her side.
“What brings you to Paradise?” she asked. Joe forced a smile.
“I’ve been thinking about you lately,” she told Doreen. “I’d hoped to bring you some girl stuff you might not be able to get here.” Doreen’s cold eyes studied her. Joe continued, “You know, shampoo, hygiene products, moisturizer.”
“Thanks,” she finally said. “They won’t let you.”
“Yeah, I found that out the hard way.” She fingered the key to the security locker she’d put in her pocket. There was a moment of awkward silence before Doreen spoke again.
“What’s that hanging around your neck?”
“It’s just a kind of foreign medallion on a gold chain,” Joe told her. “One of my favorite things, although, I don’t wear it too often.”
“Did you go to my house and steal it?” the woman on the other side of the Plexiglas asked.
“No, of course not!” Doreen’s animosity surprised her, but not too much. They’d never been that close. Joe imagined her former friend was putting on a tough act for the sake of her fellow inmates.
“I’m guessing that Dick gave it to you, then,” Doreen sneered.
I Want To Know What Love Is
Joe was stunned. Her face flushed and she shifted in her chair. She watched the Visiting Escort Officer glance over at the raised voices.
“Why would you say that?” she stammered trying to keep her voice low.
Joe had kept the secret of where she got the gift, not even telling her family when they asked.
She thought back to the night they’d been to a restaurant up the coast. Joe served as designated driver when he wanted to “explore the competition” – his excuse to overindulge on rich food and have a few drinks. She had no qualms at abstaining from drink if she could drive the powerful and sporty Maserati. She’d stopped the car at the usual drop off point, a few blocks from where he and his wife lived. Dick had unexpectedly reached across the car and slipped his hands around her neck pushing her hair to one side. With more dexterity than she’d given him credit for, he clipped something behind her head, then, arranged her hair back into place. Joe lifted a medallion hanging from a long gold chain and took a look.
“What’s this?” she’d asked.
“Just a gift,” he’d said. “No obligation.”
After a moment, he added, “Just don’t wear it at The Pub.” She didn’t ask why, knowing it probably had to do with keeping secrets from his wife. He’d winked, turning both of his eyes into puffy slits, then, he’d gotten out of the car and walked home.
She was brought back to the moment by Doreen’s next words.
“Because I have a necklace exactly like it.” she said.
The rest of their visit was strained by the discovery that they were not unique in Dick’s favors. After a few awkward moments, Joe stood up to leave, promising to come for another visit. Doreen held up a hand.
“I’m sorry. Please, don’t go yet,” she implored. “It’s been a while since I talked to anyone from my old life. I’m out of practice.”
They shared a few more moments together, exchanging stories from their days at The Pub, laughing about some of the regulars they’d served, mostly reminiscing about how things were before Jason.
“I’ll try to put some money in your commissary account,” Joe told the inmate. “Maybe you can get some things you need.”
“We have our own system of bartering,” the inmate told her with a sly smile.
They parted after a few more minutes with Joe’s promise to visit again. But Joe knew then that she would never return.
On the long drive home, she thought about the other people she’d worked with at the restaurant. It had been only a few months, but it seemed like years since she took the job as bookkeeper.
Joe thought about the entertainers that Jason had fired along with Tom. Like Chris and Lynnette. She’d heard that Chris had found work at the Holiday Inn as a musician, with Lynnette working the day shift as a lunch waitress. Their plans of heading to Key Largo had fizzled out. Between ongoing repair on their rattletrap car and their recreational habits sending their paychecks up in smoke, they lived on the edge of poverty. Their oldest daughter would be starting school in September. Lynnette once told Joe, she craved stability in her life, not like she’d had as a child, changing schools as frequently as her mother changed boyfriends.
With Chris’s help, Joe’s on again – off again boyfriend, Tom, also found work at the Holiday Inn’s Two-Tone Lounge. His notoriety as a murder defendant put him ahead of other musicians scrambling for work in the tiny town. Locals and tourists who’d followed the trial stood in line to be in his audience. He kept his stage name rather than his real name, Marlon Monroe, figuring Tom Knowles had better crowd appeal. It had been a touchy point with Joe who’d had no idea of his real name, something that came out during his arrest and trial.
Management at the Holiday Inn capitalized on the musician’s notoriety offering Tom free room and board to accept the job. That was enough to convince him to move out of the tiny efficiency where he’d been staying. The landlord who’d had enough of tenant complaints about noise coming through the thin walls was ecstatic.
Joe thought about their relationship which cooled more with each passing day, another reason she was keen on leaving town. If it wasn’t his flimsy excuses for showing up late or his constant flirting with groupies, that night she’d gone to visit Tom at the Two-Tone Lounge had convinced her. Between sets, as she stepped off the elevator, she'd seen a woman walking away from his hotel door. She stood stunned as the door swish closed. Joe didn’t recognize the woman, and as usual, Tom denied anyone had been in his room. But when he stepped into the bathroom, she’d found cigarette butts in the trash with a color of lipstick that wasn’t hers.
She had decided not to tell Tom about her plans to leave town. Let him find out for himself, she thought. That image brought a quick but sad smile to her pretty face. She drove the rest of the way home in a state of reflection, determined to make a new start of her life.
To Continue Reading
- The Pub Aftermath, Chapter 5
Joe's job at the restaurant is coming to an end when she gets a new offer along with some shocking news about her former boss.
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© 2019 Peg Cole