Jake Bonner is a carnival roustabout. He has no permanent home. During the summer carnival season, he sleeps in a truck, blows up balloons, and helps set up and tear down rides. In the off season Jake likes to travel. He normally spends his nights during his travels in Salvation Army Shelters. Jake has been arrested many times but he has never broken the law. This will soon change when he jumps down from the boxcar that he used to travel to the small Ohio town, where he gets in a bar fight with a local mobster who wants to rent him him the bar stool that Jake happens to be sitting on. The law arrives and Jake ends up in jail. The driving force of Jake’s life, is the fact that he believes man is only happy when he owns nothing other than a toothbrush, and his garments. Additionally, Jake refuses to accept abuse in any form. These beliefs cause Jake much trouble. The bad guy that he had the fight with catches him, and finally gets Jake bum rapped into the Penitentiary in Moundsville, W. Va. Later, Jake is released by a crooked lawyer who wants him do do him a favor. Finally, Jake tracks down down the bad guy and bum raps him onto the same penitentiary where he did his time. This, and all my tales, is a “stick in the hand” book. My readers are easily guided into my books, so as to suspend all the doubts they learned in the little red schoolhouse, to freely follow my tales.
Targeted Age Group:: 15 to 90
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
It was the tales I heard about the penitentiary in Moundsville, W. Va. that inspired this story. The conditions the inmates were forced to live in were worse than the French Devils Island. Due to the groups like the KKK, The Satan Worshipers, The Black Panthers, and the Neo-Nazis, murders were a common occurrence. I also wanted to give voice to the inner kindness of ultra-tough, helpless people forced to exist in impossible conditions because of thieving, high-salaried politicians.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
For me, characters are never a problem. There are many nameless souls secreted in my head screaming for attention. My job is to decide who gets into print. But they do need to bring a story with them. In most of my eleven novels, I find it necessary to loan some of my personal experiences to my character, but even so, they sometimes become stumped because we never make an outline. For me and my characters, every day is an experience. So it was with Jake Bonner. When he jumped out of the box-car and saw the locals picking up rubbers off the ground, he had no idea how he was going to get to the penitentiary.
Saloons all have one thing in common. They stink. Beer, cigarette smoke, and the dim lights don't help to cover up any of it.
I grabbed the first stool on the right after I came in the door, near three other customers already sitting three stools away from my stool. The barkeep was a woman, maybe a little on the heavy side and wearing a stained apron that had once been white.
“What'll you have?” she said in a flat voice.
"Schlitz," I said, only just a wee little put out by the unfriendly greeting, and maybe I was making excuses for her. Like uh, bad day, too many beer cases to haul in, or maybe her daughter-in-law? What the hell. Most bartenders greet you with a nice friendly voice, and it was right in the middle of my amateurish breakdown of her outlook for the day when the guy on the next stool spoke to me.
"Hey, Bud. You're sitting on my stool."
“My stool dummy. You're sitting in my seat.”
Aw shoot, I thought. I'd been in this little Cambridge town for less than a half hour and already I'm being rousted. Well, yeah. So what? He maybe thought he was picking on a sissy. He was wrong. But that's okay. I knew him better than he knew himself. He was a murderee. One of thousands just like him. A guy that goes around starting trouble until some poor fool finally kills him. He likes to pick on mild-mannered looking guys, that he figures are easy to shove around. Like me. In time, he'd probably pick on the wrong guy, and end sending him to the hospital where he'd die. Oh, maybe he wasn't blooded yet, but in time he would get his bones, and from my first inspection of him, he'd most likely get caught the same as most of them do.
The thing about this guy is that he probably didn't know yet the extent of his true potential. This is the guy, that causes people to buy firearms, that they take home, and lock in a box before they put it in the top drawer of their dresser, and won't realize how foolish they were until a guy breaks into their living room.
Trouble with this guy was the very last thing I wanted to see on my list of things to do for the day.
The bartender set my bottle of beer on the bar and reached for my money.
"Could I have a glass, please?" I said, and I no sooner got it out of my mouth, when she shoved it in front of me. I picked it up, turned it on a thirty-degree angle, and poured it nearly full, and then before I could drink it, I heard the guy snicker. Slowly, I tilted the glass and took a drink, then just as slowly, I used my forefinger to point to the next stool between us.
“This yours also?” keeping my voice submissive.
“Bet your sweet ass punk, but I have been known to rent my stools out to strangers.”
“How much?” I enquired.
"Ten bucks an hour," and I could see the sneer on his face at the same time I noticed that his buddies were whispering things to him. Egging him on, I guess and did I really want to do this.
There were three of them, for Christ's sake. I just wanted a beer, and I sure as hell wasn't intending to get a bunch of lumps on my head. The smart move to settle this mess was to grab a quick swallow of my beer and haul ass out the door.
He had an almost anxious look on his ugly face. Like a guy with a really good poker hand about to drag in the pot. The bastard wanted me! Our eyes met, and he didn't flinch even a little, and that's when I noticed the little scars around his brows. He was a tush hog…a barroom brawler. But then somehow I got the notion that I might be dealing with a team.
“Ten bucks, huh?” I said, “but sadly, I feel that if I would contribute to your little stool renting enterprise, that I would puke in my beer, so I got to say no.”
“Jive ass mother licker, I'm gonna' fuc…”
He didn't get it all out, because he was swinging his beer bottle at my head, but what cut off his cursing was the blood spurting from his nose, when I jammed the heel of my palm into it before I grabbed his head and slammed my knee into his chin.
When I let him go, so I could attend to his buddies, he sank like a wet rag at my feet. Then I had to jump over him so I could kick the first of his buddies in the chest with my feet. He staggered backward to land in one of the booths just as the other guy was throwing a punch at my jaw. It didn't land.
One of the very first things my old jiu-jitsu teacher had taught me was how to break the arm of a guy throwing a punch. When I made my move, I could hear the crack, but I never did learn how to determine the difference between the breaking of an arm and the dislocating of a shoulder. Both sound the same.
The bartender was screaming, and the guy with the busted arm was doing the same. I took another swallow of my beer while I tried to understand what the bartender was yelling about.
“You dumb ass fool,” she yelled.
“These guys are all connected. You're in deep shit. Get your ass out of here, and then clear the fuck out of town, and I mean right now. Go!” and she made a shooing motion with both her hands.
Connected? I stared down at them. Hmm…they sure as hell didn't look like mob guys. More like working men, even ditch diggers. The guy that had tried to rent me the bar stool was a big guy, and dressed all in blue jeans and shirt and his eyes were fluttering open as I studied his ugly face. All three men were in their forties, and the guy I was looking at had his hair cut in white sidewalls.
I tilted my glass and finished it and went out the door. Indecision. Man, my head was full of it. But one thing for sure. She would call the cops, and they'd be small-town cops full of piss and vinegar. No way to get away from them, nowhere to run. This was their town, and they'd know every nook and cranny and get me quick. Damn it. I sat down on the curb.
I would wait.
It must have taken maybe three minutes before I heard the siren. It's almost always the same in every town. The wailing of it starts out very low and builds to a deafening scream, and if you're standing close enough to it, you'll want to cover your ears with both hands.
The lights were flashing on the gumball machine when they careened around the curve, after leaving the bridge in like two seconds, they slid to stop right in front of me so I had to lean back to keep the door of the car from hitting me. Both the bulls dashed inside, and both were carrying their shit sticks.
They would break up a fight. The bartender hadn't told it all.
It didn't take long. One of them still carrying his head beater came out the door and walked over to me.
“You the guy mixed up in that fight?”
“Stand up and use your hands to lean against the car.”
I did it and felt his hands quickly running over my body, and as soon as he was done he told me to stand up straight and put both hands behind my back so I complied, and just that quick I was a prisoner in the little town of Cambridge, Ohio.
The cop opened the back door and put me inside the car, then after talking to the other cop on his collar microphone, I saw him come out of the saloon and walk over to the car.
“We need an ambulance,” he said to his buddy,” and then he looked at me resting in the back seat. He's messed three of them up bad. They need the hospital.”
I watched the cop talk into the mic again and figured he was calling the station to order the ambulance, and all the time he was staring at me.
“Thought I saw Abe Roster in there on the floor,” the cop who had put me in the car, said to his partner. “So damn much blood, I couldn't tell for sure.”
"Yeah it's Abe, and the other guys are Marcello's guys too," and he looked at me again, and I could see him slightly shaking his head, like in sympathy, but I had to be mistaken. Cops don't sympathize with barroom brawlers, and then it came to me.
Connected! The bartender said connected. What did she mean? Hell, this wasn't the east coast. Those guys in the bar. They weren't wise guys. Shute, this was just a wee little town in the middle of nowhere.
Bum lay Ohio, famous for scattering rubbers all over the railroad tracks. Somebody's sure as heck messed up, but then, who is Marcello, and why does he have tough guys working for him?
The siren again. The windows on the car were almost closed, but I could still hear it, far off but coming fast. I'd be a minute before they got here, and then maybe the cops would move me. Where? Well, most likely the lockup.
No matter what they found out about the fight inside the saloon, they had to keep me until I saw the judge. Then, it would be time to tell my story. Story? Hell, it was simple.
A guy tried to rent me a bar stool!
The jail was right in the police station, or rather in the same building, but to get there, you had to walk through the part where the cops were passing through, and secretaries were working. There was a lot of activity.
Guys and women making hasty notes, and some of them typing on several machines. There was a desk, bigger than all the others near the entrance door, and that's where they booked me.
"This is just a routine," one of the arresting cops said. "We got to do it because it's the law. We can't take a citizen, off the streets and put him in jail without making a written record of it. As of right now, you are arrested. The judge will see you in the morning."
"Right now, I need your basic information, like your name, etc. so what is it?”
“Jake Bonner,” I said, and the other cop who was now sitting in a chair at the desk tapped a few keys on his keyboard, and suddenly I became a written public record in the city of Cambridge, Ohio.
“Oh c'mon man. Everybody's got to live somewhere. Where is the last place you lived?” He just stood there with this perplexed look on his face. He'd done it all before.
Some prisoners would not cooperate. Some wouldn't even give their name so as yet he wasn't mad at me. Soon that would change.
“A Salvation Army flophouse back in Indiana.”
“What's their address?” and now he wasn't so perplexed. His prisoner had given an answer. Not exactly what he wanted, but he could see that I was cooperating.
"I just don't know. After a while, they're all the same. Kind of run together in your head."
“Step up on the scale, he said pointing to it, and I did it while he read my weight and height.
"One six-five, and six foot one," he said to the guy doing the typing. Then he went on. "No visible tattoos, scar on the right underside of the chin, and one over the right eye, in the eyebrow. No abrasions from the recent fight. Hair black, and eyes blue. Nose a little off-center. Somebody might have moved it for him.That's it."
“Get his age,” the typist said.
"Twenty-six," I said. "Born December nineteenth, nineteen twenty-nine."
“Give me your wallet.”
“Don't have one,” I said
"Where do you keep your driver's license, and your folding money?"
“Don't have a license, and I carry my money in my pocket.”
The cop typist rolled his chair back away from the desk. “No wallet, no driver license, no home address. Do you have any luggage?”
"What's that sticking out of your shirt pocket?"
“Toothbrush,” I said. Only thing I've ever owned.”
"A toothbrush…and you own nothing else?"
“Nope, just needed nothing.”
"That makes little sense."
"Well, it's all a state of mind. Once you realize that anything you own is also something that you will have to take care of, it's easy to convince yourself that you don't need it"
“Where do you work?”
“I'm between jobs.” and right then, I decided. Getting these guys exasperated would not win me any favors, so I told them what I could.
"During the summer months, I travel with a carnival, and I sleep in the truck we use to haul our tent. I do that from the end of January, down in Florida, and then we travel up the east coast to Canada, until we come back down South in the late fall, and then we shut down on the first of November.”
“That's why I don't need a home address, and why I don't need a license to drive a car. I always travel by bus or train, and sometimes I hitchhike and since this isn't my first arrest you can look me up and see I don't break the law.”
The guy in the chair stared at me for a couple seconds. “Where'd you learn to fight?”
"I'm a Carny mister," I said. "I was born a Carny, and I been one all my life, except the time I spent in the service. The military taught me a couple of things, but most of my experience I got out behind the tents."
“What's your job in the carnival?”
“Most of the time I sell balloons. I also help put up and tear down the rides.”
“Balloons? How the hell do you sell a balloon?”
“I put air in it,” I said and I couldn't help but smile, “but first, I blow up some heart balloons, and stuff them inside the big balloon. Then I write happy birthday, and the customer's name, on the outside of the balloon, with an airbrush and charge them four bucks for eighteen cents worth of balloons.”
“Damn,” the cop said, “that's almost illegal. What'd you do in the army?”
“Marines, and I can't talk about it.”
“Can't, or won't?”
“Those guys you beat up. They're kind of special people. Nobody ever messes with them. You might find it advisable to leave town as soon as we turn you loose.” Then he moved his chair back in typing position and spoke to his partner. “Take him on back to lockup.”
Jails are all the same. This one was what I call, an all in one. That is. The bullpen is a part of the individual cells instead of being separated. The arresting cop opened the door and stood aside so I could enter. He didn't shove me either, which didn't surprise me. Most cops simply can't resist shoving a prisoner, but the guys that arrested me didn't seem the type.
The first thing I noticed was that I wasn't alone. There was a card game going on over against one of the outside walls, and there were a few guys just walking around the corridor which encircled the two lines of cells.
I pulled out one of my smokes, lit it, and then took a couple steps in the game's direction. Maybe I'd just watch them for a little while until someone spoke to me.
Jailhouse protocol. Don't speak until you're spoken to and don't look anyone in the eye. It's a challenge. It didn't work.
"Hey, boy. Gimmie one of your smokes," and he was suddenly right in front of me, and there wasn't all that amount of space between us. I didn't hesitate. Automatically I reached in my shirt pocket and pulled my pack back out and offered it to him. It's just common courtesy.
Smokers all over the world know they can always ask a stranger for a cigarette and get it. I had time to study the guy as he was reaching for the pack, but not long enough to understand his intentions. He didn't take out a cigarette. He just put the pack in his shirt pocket and walked away. I followed him but stopped short when I felt the arm snake around my neck.
His buddy was behind me and I could see the cigarette thief grinning as the guy locked me in a Japanese stranglehold. I should have panicked, but I didn't.
Old Joe, my jiu-jitsu teacher from long ago, had told me at the very beginning of his lessons. "I'm from Singapore," he said, "and the stuff I will teach you is what we teach the girls, but never fear. Nobody, and I mean just nobody, can beat our girls.”
Anyway, the Jap stranglehold is a death trap for most people unless the guy doing the hold just wants to yoke you out.
Joe had taught me three ways to get out of it. I used the one he said was the most dangerous because you might just break your own damn neck doing it, but the advantage was that it put you in close contact with your assailant.
Quickly, just before he applied the lockdown on me, I spun around to face him, and that put my face right up against his. He still had me in the hold when I bit his nose, and I didn't let loose either when he let loose his hold. Fact is, I ended up with a face full of blood and some flesh in my mouth.
The cigarette thief was still standing there in shock, while all the guys at the card table just stared at us. It must have taken me four or five steps to get to the bastard, and when I did the side sweep kick to his knee, he quickly grabbed it, lowering his chin to make a nice target, when I kicked him in his face.
Both of them were now screaming. I jerked my cigarettes out of the thief's pocket, and pulled out another one, and lit it to replace the one I had lost when the guy put the stranglehold on me.
I needed some water. The blood on my face, and the bits of flesh in my mouth…I could feel the onrush of vomit.
I had to get it off…but somewhere down the corridor that led back to the police office, I could hear the sound of footsteps. The cops had heard the guys screaming.
Quick as I could, I stepped into the first cell right near the card table and found the sink. Then just as quick… I turned on the water and splashed my face, then I did it again and just kept doing it until I felt the hand grab my shirt collar. It was a cop. The guy that had arrested me.
“Hell Bonner,” he growled. “You some kind of animal.
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