A Part of Something by Evan Lowes
A Part of Something by Evan Lowes
Many rose to their feet as the applause started. I had taken them through my time in prison for a crime I didn’t commit. One wealthy woman wiped away tears. I had stared into her eyes while I talked about my parents dying while I was inside. How they never saw my name cleared, I couldn’t wait to hold her cheque in my hands.
I left out the back door and jumped into my car. I never stay afterward to shake hands. Everyone wants to say a few words which distracts the crowd from the donation table. My staff, the true heroes of the organization will fill me in later on how we made out.
Back at my apartment I pour myself a drink and flick on the ten-o clock news. Killing time before my right-hand man Chris calls telling me how much the donations total. I can never sleep until I find out. They’re doing a feature on a man who’s recently had his conviction overturned. the government gave him a 25.5- million-dollar payout as an apology for 23 lost years. I had an idea. my cell phone began ringing. the staff had finished tallying the donations together. I hit decline, that could wait.
“Hey Roy, sorry to call so late”
“You’re right it is late, call the office tomorrow”
“Don’t hang up, I’ll give you twice you’re rate if you can find me contact information before midnight”
“What’s the name, I’ll email you in an hour”
“Gil Stewart, a recent release from prison.”
Roy hung up, for a private detective he didn’t ask me many questions, but that’s what I appreciated about him.
The information arrived an hour later. I poured out the rest of my second drink and went to bed, it’s going to be an early morning.
Although I’ve never been in here before, I’m not surprised about what it’s like. The beat-up looking people I walked past outside the building made me suspect this wasn’t going to be a classy establishment. I’m wearing ripped Walmart jeans, and a high visibility jacket to try and fit in. It doesn’t seem to be helping, I had never been in here before, they didn’t know me, they didn’t trust me. No matter how shitty my clothes looked I wasn’t going to be able to change that.
“Excuse me miss, miss, can I get a Budweiser?” I asked
“Hold on goddammit!”
It’s a strange place for a millionaire to hangout, maybe it was nicer before he went to jail.
Finally, after about two hours he walked in. He’s wearing an old jacket and baseball cap, both tattered. He’s pale, perhaps a symptom of spending his afternoons in this dark bar. As luck would he have it, he’s also alone. Sitting at the bar 4 stools away from me.
Soon as he sat down, I stood up to go the bathroom. Taking my beer with me. when I walked back in, I closed the gap between us by taking the stool two away from him. I played it cool for about 15 minutes. During this I noticed the bartender being much friendlier with him. becoming a millionaire made him a good tipper, I guess.
“Hey aren’t you the guy just out of jail?”
“C’mon man don’t be like that, I know that you are, I saw the feature they did on you on TV.”
“I’m trying to relax; I’m not going to sit here and discuss something for the one-thousandth time. I’d much rather forget it, so do me a favor, go back to your barstool and leave me to it.”
“Alright, alright I got it. I’d love to buy you a beer, but I know how you feel, I’ll leave you alone”
“How could you know what it’s like.”
“Because it happened to me too.”
At this, I threw cash down on the table, grabbed my coat, and began to walk out.
“Wait a minute, what do you mean by that?” he asked.
“I also spent time in jail for a crime I did not commit. I only did twelve years but I can still understand why you would want a moment of peace. I bet like me when justice was finally served, all the friends who didn’t think about you at all while you were in jail. Now they’re hanging around you all the time, trying to edge into the frame while you’re on the news. Five minutes of conversation then they come up with a story about how bad they need your money. They saw on the news about the money the government gave you, and couldn’t you spare fifty thousand dollars?”
“Yeah, that’s about what it’s like”
“Listen, I’m going to leave you alone now. But I want you to know I’m not another one of those people, that I’m not a liar. Do me this one favor pull out your phone and google me.”
“There’s no need, I believe you. Besides, I haven’t gotten around to getting a cell phone yet.”
He regaled me with stories about his time in prison for two hours and ten drinks. The angry waitress hovering over us all the while. A couple of men at the end of the bar who don’t know who he is, and don’t care were getting frustrated. Finally, she went over to them. Now I could talk freely.
“What are you going to do now that you’re out? I know you don’t have to work. But what will fill your days now?”
“I don’t need to work, but I should. I need to keep my mind occupied. I don’t want to spend the remaining years of my life sitting around thinking about how many of my best years were wasted. But I’m too old to do the back-breaking labor I used to do. I don’t know what happens next. What do you do anyway?
“After they let me out, I spent a few years angry all the time, never accomplishing anything, just bitter”
“I know what you mean”
“Right, I decided to put my anger to good use. I took the money from my restitution to start a foundation. One that fights these corrupt bastards. We have cases all over the country. We’re helping to fight for the wrongfully imprisoned, and we’re winning.”
“You do this yourself?”
“No, there’s a team of people who’ve never been in our shoes. But fight as if they have. Some of the smartest and most talented folks who donate their time, to give guys like us a fair shot. They’re who I wish I had access to when I was in jail. I wish you could meet them.”
“Well, why not? Nothing I need to do today.” He said.
A quick taxi ride over and we walked into the office building, Gil now looking for the first time at the way I’m dressed. I’m hoping I won’t look like a phony, considering we’re in my office surrounded by workers in sharp business attire.
My costume of an out of work construction worker seems quite out of place now. We both came out of a dark grimy bar, where the only light came from neon beer signs. To a spotless, all-glass office, the afternoon sun blinding us through the windows. Compounded by the beers we had been pounding all afternoon.
Making the rounds with my staff, they all fill him on the different cases they’re working on. John, a criminal defense lawyer filled him on his latest case.
He had tracked down footage of a 19-year-old named Rick who had been found guilty of murder, on security tape at a Walmart. That makes him 20 miles away while it was taking place.
He then met Robert. He was working on an online campaign to raise the funds to hire more lawyers to work on Rick’s case.
Then I began looking for Chris, he’s been my right-hand man since I started this six years ago. He does much of the day to day stuff like finding and choosing cases to work on, keeping financial records and other things while I’m busy the face of the organization.
All the lights are off in his office when Gil and I walk up. Unusual, he strongly believes in what we do here. Pulls all-nighters in the office to make sure the job gets done. Never takes a day off.
“Is he sick?” I asked his secretary
“I don’t think so. He must be on the verge of pulling off something big. He’s been talking on the phone and pacing around his office all morning. Then he took off right after you called to say you’re coming in” She told me.
“Did he happen to say what he’s working on?”
“No, I tried to ask him but he was in too much of a hurry.”
Chris has an encyclopedic knowledge on every good thing we’ve ever done here. listening to him tell a few stories about the work he’s done will make a donor out of anybody. although I’m pretty sure Gill’s sold.
“What do you think, this something you would like to get involved in?”
“I mean I’ve met a lot of you here today that I wish I would’ve met twenty years ago. But they’re all lawyers and computer geniuses. why would you want a guy whose last job was on a construction site twenty years ago?”
“They’re smart but none of them have lived lives as we have. They don’t know what it’s like to be in prison and to be completely innocent. to have kids and spouses and parents of your own that can’t see you anymore. That begin to doubt that you’re innocent after so many years, that’s why we need you.”
“But what would I do?”
“You could be another face of the organization. The only way we can fight this corrupt system. And bring the innocent home to their families is through donations. You’re a prime example of why we need these donations. You have a chance now to turn your experience into something positive. The mission of ending of false imprisonment.” I told him.
“Ok, you’ve got me, I’m in. How do we start?”
“We need to put you on a tour of the country giving speeches to wealthy potential donors. We can bring in big donations this way. But to do this right we need to promote, this costs money. I propose that I put up fifty thousand dollars of the foundation’s money if you match me. Afterward once the donations begin rolling in. I’ll give you back the money before we begin putting it into the foundation.”
“Fifty thousand dollars? I appreciate what you guys do here, but I don’t know if I can spare it.”
“I understand, I’m asking a lot of you here, it’s an idea that just came to me. But it’s an exciting one all the same. You don’t have to answer me right away. Although I’m going out of town for a month to focus on an important case. And if you agree now, by the time, I’m back we could be ready to start.”
“Alright, you’re right I’m being selfish. I want to get involved.” He said.
He pulled out his chequebook and filled one out for me. I thanked him, then led him out the door. “we’re going to do great things together” I told him. Then he collapsed into a taxi. I cashed it then bought myself a steak dinner.
The next morning the sun woke me well after I usually wake up. Although an unwelcome interruption all the same. I reached over and grabbed myself a glass of water. Thanking myself for having the wherewithal to bring it with me to the bedroom last night.
I polished it off and decided to take the rest of the day off, looked around my bedroom and felt pride in the life I had built for myself. My bedroom’s like my office with glass walls from floor to ceiling, white carpet and furniture.
Although my favorite part is the view of the city skyline. Most days I enjoy it on my balcony with a coffee. But today the sunshine lighting up the room and gleaming off the glass coffee table was too much to bear. I clicked the remote and rolled over into bed while the blinds cut out the light. Ready for more sleep.
Until I’m disturbed by an unwelcome sound. The phone ringing.
“This is Catherine of the Free Press; I’m calling about a story we’re writing about you.”
“Listen I always appreciate the publicity you guy give us, but can’t this wait a few hours?”
“I’m afraid that it cannot. This story will go live in a few hours with or without a quote from you. But I’m giving you the option now to give a quote as a courtesy. We’ve received financial records from inside your organization. They show most of the donations you receive seem to disappear. We’ve also been doing some digging and can’t find any record of you spending time in prison. How do you respond to these claims?”
I hung up and tried to enjoy what I assumed would be one of my last days spent in my apartment.
Copyright Evan Lowes 2020