I was the first graduate of FIRST. That’s Fairfield Inmate Reentry Shop Training. Me, Ronnie Pitts, the guy everyone said was too slow and stupid and impulsive. Wonder what they’d say now if they knew I had my own shop, all the contracts with the cities and towns. They don’t know how good they got it. My folks, Mrs. Thierry, Mr. Goodloe… they all depend on me and my contracts and I bet they don’t even know it. If it weren’t for me, one of ‘em could have a heart attack or a fight with her husband and no one would respond. I fix those vehicles. Me and no one else.
Okay, not just me. I employ three other guys in my shop. All of ‘em are FIRST graduates, too. They do good work.
All except one. Tommy Butler. Him I don’t like. Haven’t liked him since I set eyes on him, which was just before he graduated. I didn’t want to hire him, but he was the only FIRST graduate this year, would be for the next two years at least. My parole officer, George—he’s not my parole officer anymore, but I still talk to him ’cause he’s a good guy—says I don’t have to keep him on. I just have to watch him, and I can let him go for any reason I want ’cause it’s my business. That’s George’s way of telling me I don’t have to be the man I was when I got into prison. But guys like Tommy, I know it’s not so easy to fire them. They make trouble, you’re not careful. Spill your leftover oil in the backyard, make an anonymous call to the EPA and say you’re not disposing of it properly. Yeah, I know punks like him.
I took George’s advice and started watching Tommy like a hawk after he came to work for me. I watched him change the oil and rotate tires and all that stuff. And I didn’t let him work on the cop cars. I never told him he couldn’t, I just made sure I assigned ‘em to someone else. Tommy had a look in his eye, see. A look that told me he was here for a reason, and not the same reason as me or anyone else.
I don’t care what the FIRST policy is—no inmates with drug histories or a problem with authority—Tommy looked like the kind of person who ould fake out a parole board, work-release board, whoever the fuck he needed to to get what he wanted. Crafty. So it didn’t surprise me none to come in one day from a parts run and see him workin’ on a cop car.
I should’ve told him to find something else to do. But he was up to his elbows in the job, which I found out he’d taken because Louie got sick and went home. What was I going to say? So I just walked by and reminded him. I said, “Anything happens to that car, you know where you’re going.” I knew he heard me. I saw him smirk.
Nothing happened to that cop car. I don’t know if it ever would’ve. But after that I made it a point never to leave before I made sure the men were at work on their assignments. A few weeks later I was closing up when George swung by. “Got
something to tell you ’bout that kid Butler,” he said.
“What?” All my radar went up.
“Well, look. He was in the joint for carjacking. First offense. No resisting arrest, no red flags for the FIRST program. But when he was 15? Busted for assaulting a cop.”
“I talked to the cop. I asked around, Ronnie, because you said you had a gut sense about this kid and I think your gut sense is as good as mine. Well, almost. Anyway, this cop, Fred Brewster, told me this kid was a real piece of work. Said he stabbed him with a knife, kept muttering, ‘Die, pig,’ even after Brewster’s partner disarmed and huffed him. Then he shut up and didn’t say another word.”
“How the fuck he get into the program?”
“Who knows? Bribes, sweet talking, desperation on the part of staff to do something with him. Anyway, Ronnie, I never told you this. If you heard it, it wasn’t from me. Capisce?”
“Sure, man.” I knew there was a reason I’d kept in touch with George.
Trouble was, getting rid of Tommy wouldn’t be so easy. It’s a garage, accidents happen all the time, but I’d have to make it look like an accident so no one could ask any questions. I thought about it for geeks. Fucking with the exhaust system for the fire trucks, electrocution, acetylene torch accident. None of ‘em seemed to fit. It
got so I was spending so much time thinking about this problem, I was coming in late, taking longer breaks than I realized.
George noticed. That was why he took care of Tommy for me. I came in one morning to find him standing over Tommy, his gun smoking. Tommy had two neat taps in his chest, a not-so-neat pool of blood spilling all around him. “Found him rousting your petty cash, Pitts. He wouldn’t keep his hands up. So I shot him.” George nodded. “Righteous. Now call 911 and let’s get on with your life.”
He never told me whether it was really righteous or not. I never asked. Doesn’t matter. I owe him. This business is the only thing I’ve ever done right with my life. Nobody fucks with that. Especially not a punk like Tommy Butler.