Big Brother
 Wine and Spirits
 Keeping it Reel
 White Noise
 Fist Deep
 Bar Crawl

Thumb Out (an excerpt from a novel)


The driver, H, did most of the talking on the ride, which seemed longer than it actually was because of some heavy rush hour traffic along this stretch of highway. He was Saudi Arabian, a good-looking, thin man in his early thirties, and had been in the country four years. He had worked at the blood bank for over a year, and he had a few beefs with the law, who had stopped him several times during his employment. H claimed he was stopped because of his Arabian looks, and that even when he presented his papers – all in legal order – he had been detained.

Simmer thought that there might have been something to the claims, particularly after the events of 9-11. There had been plenty of stories of Arab-Americans being harassed all over the country.

Simmer, with a beer buzz on, looked as sympathetic as he could. The man would probably have similar problems for a few years to come, as long as the U.S. had troops over in the Middle East.

H stressed the fact, again and again, that his people were good people; they were people who helped others because that is what their religion dictated to them. By helping others, they helped themselves in the eyes of their God. It was a way of life for his people.

H took Simmer into Paterson, New Jersey, and Simmer immediately thought of William Carlos Williams, the doctor and poet who wrote a long poem with the city’s name as the title. Of course, things had changed since the poet had written about the place; yet Simmer wondered what, if anything, had remained essentially the same. He had read some of the Paterson poem years before but couldn’t recall any of it, remembering some of Williams’ shorter poems instead.

H took Simmer to his home neighborhood and pointed out two street corner places – a café and restaurant – where Simmer could talk to truck drivers who might give him a long ride.

“Go in and tell them that I dropped you off,” H said, though Simmer wished that H would step through the door with him. “These are good people. They will help you. Trust me.”

Simmer very much wanted to trust the man with the warm brown eyes and the flashing smile. In fact, he knew H wasn’t trying to steer him wrong. The man, like the city bus driver before him, had good intentions.

Yet, upon entering the café, Simmer knew things weren’t going to work out for him here. The people looked curious as to why he even stepped into the place, in this neighborhood. They didn’t see too many white men around here, and not one with a knapsack and wearing casual summer wear, as if he had just stepped out of a sporting goods ad.

Simmer was immediately aware of a pungent aroma of food and he heard Eastern music. He saw some dark skinned men sitting at tables, talking, and he noticed some of them looking him over. Simmer smiled at a woman behind the counter and almost bowed his way out the door.

He didn’t even bother with the other place, but instead set out to find a market, for a beer, and then an on ramp. He found the market, but not the ramp.

Dee took him to sit under some trees near to the highway, and Simmer could hear the traffic, but he never did see the ramp. By then it was too late to thumb anyway. They sat on some litter-covered ground and shared the pint of vodka. Both were already quite drunk, for Simmer had bought a bottle earlier. That one Dee and a friend of hers had helped kill. All Simmer was sure of was that he was in some part of Paterson.

Dee was a skinny black woman with red dye in her hair and make-up on her face to make her look younger, but up close one could tell she’d been around the block a few times. This very one, and a few others around it, no doubt. She had the sadness of hard experience in her brown eyes, but life on the street hadn’t killed all the warmth in her. She, like Simmer, was a drunk, but she didn’t mind being friendly when she was. She was curious as to what brought this “white boy” to a Black-Hispanic neighborhood in Paterson, New Jersey, and Simmer was happy to tell her a story – one of which he was almost convinced of himself.

He was on his way to Houston to visit his friend, Karen, who had cancer and was undergoing treatment and needed company. She had little family in the area and had been feeling depressed of late. Simmer, the true friend, was on his way out to cheer her up over the winter months. It was a story that touched just about everyone Simmer had told it to – particularly women when he mentioned the breast cancer.

Dee was no exception. She leaned on him and told him everything would be all right.

“You’re doing the right thing,” she said. “She needs somebody. And don’t say she’s dying.” This when Simmer mentioned that Karen might be, and that she might not have that much time ahead of her. “Don’t say that word. Don’t think like that.”

I try not to, he thought. He tried not to think about anybody he knew dying. Yet just recently an old school friend of his had past on, and thoughts of death had been with him for a few days, with Karen and her cancer coming to the fore. It seemed that the doctors may have gotten it all by taking the one breast, but you never knew when it came to that and all of the chemo treatment that went with it.

“I’m going to give you this for good luck,” Dee said, putting a small silver necklace around his neck. It had some kind of charm on it that she said would give Simmer good luck on his trip.

“Thank you,” he said, touched. “I won’t take it off until I get there. And then I’ll give it to her as a present from my friend, Dee, in Paterson, New Jersey.” She liked that.

Dee was thinking about one more drink, but Simmer was almost tapped. He gave her his last dollar and a half.

Dee thanked him for the good time and told him she was going to help him. She took him down a nearby side street and knocked on a door. It was opened by a serious looking black man, whom she stepped close to and said something that Simmer didn’t hear. The man looked at Simmer and then back at her.

“C’mon, where’s he gonna go around here?” she said. “I’ll make it up to you.” A smile and touch of his arm.

“Okay,” the man said, and he opened the door further.

“Go with him, baby,” Dee said. “He’ll take care of you.”

Simmer thanked her, trusting her in his alcoholic haze. The man led him, by flashlight, through what was clearly an abandoned building at one time, through dark and ruined looking rooms with objects that Simmer couldn’t make out. They went through a couple of large rooms, walking on concrete, before starting up some stairs. The guide led the way expertly through this surrealistic setting; their steps echoed. It reminded Simmer, drunk, of some of the amusement park horror houses he went into as a kid, and he half expected someone in costume to jump out at him.

But he had another surprise waiting for him on the third floor. After going through another door, Simmer saw a candlelit room with mattresses on the floor, a table and chairs, and empty bottles and cans scattered about. The living quarters: a squat.

The man, fairly tall and muscular, pointed to one of the mattresses.

“You want a blanket?”

“I don’t think I’ll need one,” Simmer said, sitting on the mattress, with his pack next to him.

“Here,” his host said, tossing a blanket from another mattress. “You might need it later.”

Simmer thanked him and lay back exhausted. He had done quite a bit of walking that day and it hadn’t done anything for the blisters on his feet. He thought about removing his sneakers to let his feet air out, but he passed out before getting around to it.

When he came to, the candles were out and he was confused as to where he was. It came back to him when he felt his pack. He thought he heard the breathing of someone nearby – presumably the man who had walked him up here. He felt in his pocket for the usual bottle but it wasn’t there. Shit, had he spent everything he had? He at least had his wallet on him. Without question, he was still drunk and he decided that he wanted to move – somewhere. He stood up with his pack, but the other man was awake.

“Where you going, man?” he asked.

“Out somewhere,” Simmer said.

“That’s not a good idea,” the man said. “No man, why don’t you go back to bed? There’s nothing out there now.” The man got up and guided Simmer back to his mattress.

“Maybe you’re right,” Simmer said, suddenly seeing the man was right. He was in no condition to go anywhere. He and the other man chuckled as he lay down again.

When he woke up and saw daylight coming through a window – a pale grayish light – Simmer had the feeling that this day was going to be the biggest test of his trip so far. After a quick check of his wallet, he saw that he was broke. The money that was supposed to have gotten him at least halfway to Texas was gone, in Jersey. Paterson, NJ to be specific, but he didn’t know exactly where that was on the map. He realized he didn’t have a map.

The other guy was up early too. He had to find work, he said. And he led Simmer down through the old, mostly empty ruin of a place that was as gray and dismal looking as the morning they stepped out into. A brisk breeze hit them as they stood on the walk in front of the dirty brick building (something left over from a prosperous era). Simmer thanked the man; they grinned at each other and shook their heads, and they were on their respective ways.

On rounding a corner of the small street, Simmer immediately recognized the yellow sign of the liquor store he’d been in the previous night. He saw the small, tightly packed streets running off from the busy main street that already had traffic, both people and cars, on it. He now could see the highway in the daylight, and the place that had been privately dark for Dee and him the night before (now only ugly and littered). He still, blessedly, felt the alcohol, for his head didn’t hurt – yet. It was then he noticed – thinking it was a bug on his neck – the necklace charm Dee had given him. What the hell, he’d keep it on, though he didn’t care for jewelry.

Getting out of Paterson wasn’t easy. Just about all the traffic taking the nearest ramp was headed for New York, or in that direction. He had to walk the small old streets looking for another ramp, asking directions from several people. He noticed how the prosperity of another time had now fallen into urban decay, an overcrowded, dirty looking place with a history. He even noticed a stone castle on a hill, mostly hidden by trees, and that could have been a symbol for that past, almost completely obscured.

Finally, he caught a ride, and Simmer was thrilled for a short time, only to be suddenly disappointed at where he was left off, on the side of I-80, with branches of highway going off in all directions. All he could see were curving overpasses around him, as the air from the passing traffic almost blew him over. His hat blew off and he had to run thirty yards to get it, his bag swinging wildly over his back.

Simmer knew he wasn’t supposed to be here; it was strictly illegal for anyone to be walking along the interstate. Yet he wasn’t sure where to go. The highway forked, and the driver had gone north, letting him off here, with no off ramp in sight.

A truck with lights on it pulled up, and Simmer wondered if this was some kind of new cop vehicle, but it was an emergency truck of some kind. The driver had a surprised smile on his face and he shook his head.

“What you doin out here?” he asked, as Simmer held on to his hat.

“I just got let off about two minutes ago,” Simmer said. “Do you know where the nearest ramp is?”

“The nearest ramp?” The man still had a little smile on his face. “The nearest ramp’s about ten miles up that way.” He pointed down I-80.

“Ten miles?”

“It’s quite a ways up there.”

“Oh, man. I was thinking maybe a mile.” Simmer looked back down the highway, east, expecting to see the law appear any time. He looked back at the driver with a hopeful expression. The man still had that stupid little smile on his face.

“You better not let the state troopers catch you out here,” he said.

“I know,” Simmer said, with a grin of his own. He waited for the offer of a ride, but it never came.

“They’ll put you in jail for that.”

“I know.”

The truck started moving.

“Well, good luck, man,” the driver said, still shaking his head. The truck moved along in the breakdown lane.

That fucker, Simmer thought. Granted it wasn’t an emergency, but the man clearly wasn’t busy at the moment.

Simmer looked off to the side (he had no choice) and he did see a ramp in the distance, on the highway going north. He could see an overpass. If he could get over there without the cops seeing him, at least he could get off the highway and think what to do next.

He did it and ended up in an industrial park full of buildings with mirror-like windows you couldn’t see through and company names he’d never heard of. He went into one building and asked for directions to the closest route west. After some thought, two office workers gave him directions that put him on a road that was quite pleasant indeed, and not that far away. Simmer went by a scenic park with a brook running through it and then on along a wooded road toward 46 West. He passed a large group of ducks in someone’s yard, and eventually he found himself walking parallel to the Passaic River. He felt lighthearted in getting away from the highway and one of its busiest stretches. This is what he’d been after, the country away from the interstates.

He fingered Dee’s charm with a smile. He had no money and no “prospects”, and he liked it that way. He didn’t know what he was out here for but he was healthy and he could move well and he was quick to laugh. He had the thick green of trees around him and the river nearby if he wanted a bath. When he got to 46, he’d stick out his thumb.

Simmer decided he’d knock on a few restaurant doors too if he had the chance; he might get a night’s work. As he moved along, he somehow knew he had it made. He felt truly good about himself and his life, and he knew that feeling only came along once in a while. He thrived on it now and it put some bounce in his step.

He reflected on how unpredictable life was. In this one day he had woken up in an abandoned building squat, walked through quite a few city streets, been let out of a car on a major interstate, and was now walking along a picturesque, tree shaded road. And the day wasn’t anywhere near over.

He had a long way to go to Houston, but that city was useful as a projected destination. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see Karen, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to settle down just yet. It was just fall season. There was no rush in getting to Texas. Once there, the trip was over. He wasn’t in any great hurry to settle into another routine.

Simmer saw one of the big, nationally known retail stores and thought he could find a bench to sit on in front of that and stay dry. He could sit and nurse a spiked coffee, read poetry and watch the people going in and out of the store. There was even a nationally known fast food restaurant inside the store where he could get his coffee.

It was going to be an uncomfortable night for him. Not only was it going to rain through the night, but a damp chill had set in. Simmer was a little wet now as he stepped into the crowded store. It took him a few moments to adjust to the bright lights and the bodies everywhere.

Simmer went to the restaurant and got his coffee. In the restroom, he added vodka. Then he sat at a table (one of two available) and took out his book. Yet he knew he wouldn’t get much reading done in this place. Next to the restaurant was an arcade area, and the sound of games (the explosions, gun fire, barking voices, music and other sound effects) couldn’t be ignored. Simmer heard a Beatles’ song playing over the sound system. And then there was just the general noise made by hundreds of people making their way here and there in a very large building. This store was busier than any other he had ever seen; he had a good slice of working to middle class America in front of him, from the old and crippled to crying infants, families, couples, groups of teenagers, people at the tables around him just shooting the shit over coffee. Simmer could see that it was a gathering place to socialize for many; the store was their destination for that night, as it was for him. Of course, in this part of the country it was a predominantly white throng.

Simmer had his coffee, read a little poetry, and then decided that the lights and the noise weren’t what he wanted. He decided to go back outside to see if he could find a quiet place to sit and wait for the store to close. He had the idea that he would go behind the building then and look for a place to sleep. He had done it behind other large stores such as this many times. Often, there were parked truck trailers next to the loading docks and he could crawl under one of those to get out of the rain.

At the side of the building, Simmer saw a roofed structure with picnic tables under it, a break place for the employees. It didn’t have much light around it, or not enough to read by anyway, but it would do.

He sat at the end of one table and listened to a small group of employees talk about the job as employees everywhere talk about their workplace. Most of it was complaining of course, with some gossip thrown in, and it made Simmer smile to hear it. He remembered being part of group sessions like this on the many jobs he’d had over the years, the gathering of disgruntled employees. Feeling overworked and underpaid, but not knowing how to get away from it.

The big topic this night was the loss of power at the store earlier that day, apparently the effects of the storm. Apparently there had been difficulty with the computerized cash registers. Simmer was a little surprised that a big store like this had been affected at all. Usually, there were emergency generators to fall back on.

Anyway, the few, powerless hours that afternoon provided the excitement for the day and the talk reflected it. Simmer had his shoes off, airing his feet out. He had done more walking than he wanted to that day, and it might have been a frustrating day overall if he hadn’t gotten that last ride with the trucker. That ride had topped the day off nicely, talking to a friendly guy like that and making good distance at the same time.

The driver had asked him one question before he got out and Simmer still thought about it now. The man wanted to know if Simmer was a religious man or not. Earlier in the ride, the driver had mentioned that he considered himself to be a good Christian man, and those words came back to Simmer. Though the man hadn’t come across as the preaching type; he hadn’t mentioned it again, and there was only that question at the end of the ride.

Simmer told the driver that he had never been a church going man; he wasn’t raised in that kind of family. He had been to church shelters around the country and attended services there, and had even looked into the Bible now and then. But none of that really affected him. He believed in being the best man he could be in his dealings with others, and that any goodness he had would rub off on the next person. He tried to keep some kind of faith in that way. A way of making a better world.

As far as God went, well, Simmer believed that was a private affair between an individual and whatever deity he or she believed in, and the same with atheists and their non-belief on the other side of the coin. He thought that strong beliefs like that were the right of every individual, but he distrusted soapbox orators, politicians and preachers. He didn’t like things thrust on him, and when they were he was immediately on his guard.

The driver nodded his head to that answer and smiled.

“Some people I know are in church all the time,” he said. “And still they know nothing about being a Christian. And then I meet someone like you who never goes to church and I’d bet you’re closer to it than most of them. I sense that.” And he wished Simmer well.

Simmer thought about that now as he sat by the big store, listening to the chatter from the group of employees gathered next to him. The truck driver may have been right. Simmer did like to think that he had a spiritual side, something to help guide him along in being the best man he could be, or to get him to try anyway. He knew he had always had a conscience, and that would be with him for the rest of his days. There was no shrugging that off like a piece of clothing.

The group of employees went back inside. The steady rain continued. Simmer had his only sweatshirt on and he decided to put his one pair of long pants on – his sleep outfit. He pulled the pants on over his shorts and was just buttoning them up when some other employees came out. One older woman had seen him buttoning the pants, but she didn’t say anything.

Simmer sat back and listened to this new group talk. He even took a surreptitious hit off his bottle. It wouldn’t be long now; the employees were already discussing the store’s closing procedures. If there were no place to sleep behind this store he would find another near here. It shouldn’t be too hard on a night like this in a small town. A darkened doorway behind one of the businesses, some cardboard or newspaper for cushion.

He had put his sneakers back on and was thinking about another drink when a man suddenly stood in front of him, a heavyset man with a big nose and big lips, pointing a finger at Simmer.

“Are you the one with your pants down, playing with yourself in front of my little girls?” he demanded.

It took Simmer a few seconds to realize the man was serious, and then a few more seconds to see that he was angry on top of that. Angry enough to stand right in front of him and appear ready to swing on him.

“What?” Simmer said, his mind working furiously now as adrenalin shot through his body.

“You had your pants down over here.”

It suddenly occurred to Simmer that someone had seen him pulling his pants on a short time before (What had it been, twenty minutes or so?).

“No, I never had my pants down. What are you talking about?”

The big-shouldered man stared at Simmer as if undecided about whether to hit him or not.

“I’ve just been sitting here, minding my own business,” said a nervous Simmer, glancing at the employees sitting at the other end of his table.

“You stay right there,” the man said, still pointing his finger. “I know who you are. Don’t think about going anywhere.”

He walked off toward the store entrance.

“I got no reason to go anywhere,” Simmer said, to no one in particular. Yet this sudden turn in his night had shaken him. Sure, he remembered pulling his pants on over his shorts, but he hadn’t been undressed, or playing with himself, as the man said. And who had complained anyway?

He looked out at the parking lot and the many wet shiny vehicles parked in the rows. He saw nothing but dark windows.

Faster than he expected, the big angry man (he looked like a construction worker) returned with a Hispanic man with a walkie-talkie. Behind that man came another with his caller in his hand. Store security. One of the walkie-talkies crackled from someone talking.

The big man stood in front of Simmer again, as if to prevent him from dashing off into the night. Another security person arrived at the scene. There was no doubt that this was the big excitement for the night.

“My little girl saw him with his pants down out here. She said he was doing something at her.”

Simmer looked at the Hispanic man, who appeared to be in charge.

“I never did anything like that,” he said, but then turned his eyes back to the man in front of him.

“Out here playing with himself,” the man said. “Scared the hell out of my girl.”

It looked like he would swing now, and the Hispanic man sensed it also. He stepped forward and put his hand on the man’s arm, which the angry man quickly shrugged off. He stepped closer to Simmer, who didn’t know what to do as he was pinned against the table essentially. He was ready to throw his arms up in front of his face anyway.

The Hispanic man tried to pull the other back and Simmer’s accuser pushed him away.

“Get the fuck away from me, man!” The big man balled his fists at the security man.

“Okay, okay,” the security man said, holding his hands up. “Just don’t hit him on the property. Okay? We’ll call the cops. John, call the state police.” This to one of his assistants, who moved off quickly. Now, a couple more guys from security appeared. It must have been the whole squad, Simmer thought. They stood in a half circle around him to discourage any thoughts of escape, apparently. Simmer’s accuser, after a last angry look at him, moved off down the sidewalk to where a woman and two girls stood against the building. One of the girls, the oldest, looked to be twelve or thirteen, the other a couple years younger. The mother, a blond woman in her thirties, had an arm around each of them.

Simmer felt a little sick now. His night had all too suddenly turned into a serious nightmare. So much for a few quiet hours to himself behind a building. The thought of the state police becoming involved really made him nervous. A felony charge? Jail time?

Looking around, Simmer realized that a small crowd had gathered, and that every eye was on him. He didn’t look at any one face for long, for he sensed that none of them would be friendly. When he looked at the Hispanic security man, the guy looked away from him, staying professionally distant. Simmer heard one of the store employees mutter something about him being drunk.

That’s all, he thought. I’ve got a buzz on, sure. But I didn’t have my wanker out in front of some little girl. I didn’t have my pants down in any way. There was obviously a misunderstanding.

At that moment, Simmer knew things looked bad for him. He was a stranger on foot, or a tramp with a backpack, and he wasn’t exactly sober. Yet though he was nervous and a little worried now waiting for the law, what held Simmer up in those long minutes was the fact that he knew he was innocent of the charges. He didn’t have any guilt working through him. He had to believe that things would work out.

The two cops showed up – detectives in suits – and asked where the guy was. Simmer was pointed out and the detectives hustled him up against the building.

“Hands on the building!” one of them barked. “Spread your legs.” The other one patted him down.

This was the show the crowd waited for, like an episode from one of the TV cop shows so popular these days. Criminal apprehended. Hancuffed and stuffed into the backseat of the cruiser. Get the pervert out of here.

Simmer saw the big angry father talking with one of the detectives, who nodded his short, styled haircut to everything the man said. Yes, things didn’t look good for him: a local yokel “justifiably upset” and protective of his young daughter’s innocence. Which girl was it? Simmer wondered.

The state police barracks was a few miles away, outside of town, it seemed. They took Simmer in through the back door, and into what looked to be a small office room with florescent lighting, one desk and two chairs. They stood him in one corner of the room, where a shackle was attached to the floor, and they cuffed him at the ankle. They must really think I’m dangerous, he thought.

The two detectives left the room, and Simmer was left to look at his dirty blue bag sitting on the table. A sad and rumpled looking bundle under the bright light. He only hoped they didn’t find his bottle, for he had the feeling he would need it if they ever released him this night.

“Okay, Henry,” said one of the detectives, a few minutes later. “Let’s sit down and have a talk about what happened. We can take this off you.” The cop unshackled Simmer and gestured for him to have a seat at the table. The cop sat opposite him. He had wide-open blue eyes that stayed wide open as if he were continuously surprised by something.

Simmer related to the detective what had happened outside the store. He told of how he had come to be there and about his hitchhiking trip west.

“And you don’t know the trucker’s name who dropped you off?” the cop asked.

Simmer didn’t.

“And you’ve never been here before?”

“Never. I’d only been here a couple hours at the most when it happened.” He mentioned the exact ramp the trucker had dropped him off at.

The detective mentioned that he had talked with a couple of the store employees, and a couple of them said they had seen him with his pants down. Simmer explained that he was actually pulling a pair of pants on, as he did every night when it got chilly.

The detective wanted to see the color of Simmer’s shorts (dark blue). He wanted to know why the fly to Simmer’s pants was halfway down.

“It always does that,” Simmer said. “Thrift store pants. They don’t fit right.”

And this guy thinks my whole story is as thin as my pants, he thought. He knew they were doing a thorough check on him in the other room.

Still, he knew the cops wouldn’t find anything on him and he knew he was innocent of the charges against him. His mistake had been to slip the pants on outside the building and not inside in the bathroom, but he just hadn’t thought of someone sitting in a car on this rainy night.

The wide-eyed detective left the room for a few minutes. Simmer felt like reaching into his bag that was next to him and having a drink, but he figured they had a camera on him.

The other cop came in and asked if he wanted a coffee or a soda. Simmer accepted a coffee.

Then Wide Eyes returned and resumed questioning. He said that a store employee claimed to have seen Simmer with his ass showing. Simmer maintained that he had never exposed his ass or his private parts at anytime; he mentioned the fact that the lighting was poor under the shelter next to the building. Perhaps someone thought they saw something, he suggested.

“If I had done something wrong, why would I hang around?” Simmer asked.

It seemed to him that he was making a positive impression on the cop, although the guy was a hardened pro, no doubt about that. He was the senior man of the team and had most likely participated in hundreds of interviews like this. He was looking for any weakness or crack in Simmer’s story, and he also threw in questions about Simmer himself, trying to get some kind of “personality profile”.

Simmer decided right away that the best course would be to stick to his guns and be straight with the cop. He had nothing to hide, so why act in any way to suggest that he did? It was the cops’ job to try and dig something out of him and the questioning would take some time. Wide Eyes assured Simmer that he hadn’t been arrested for anything. They just wanted to get to the bottom of this. At one point, the cop told Simmer (a little exasperated by that time) to calm down, that there was no reason to get excited.

“I’m just asking you some questions, Henry,” he said. “I’m trying to keep things at a certain level here. If you keep getting worked up, I’m going to have to turn things up on you. You don’t want that, do you?”

No, Simmer definitely didn’t want that. A real grilling would probably involve the other cop too, and neither of them friendly at all to this outsider thumbing through their town. They could make things miserable for him, he was sure of that.

“So you maintain that at no time while you were on store property did you expose yourself to anybody or pull your pants down?” the cop asked, for the third time at least. “You didn’t wave your cock at that girl?”

And that is what Simmer maintained; he hadn’t wavered from that. In fact, he hadn’t seen the girls until after store security arrived.

“Okay, well, we’re going to have to look at the store tapes and see what they show,” Wide Eyes said, before leaving the room again.

The other cop came in again and asked Simmer if he wanted a refill. Simmer accepted some water and a pack of crackers, for he didn’t know how long this was going to go on. For all he knew he might spend the night.

The store tapes might show him taking a drink, but they would definitely clear him of the exposure charge. The tape would show the girl’s story for what it was, and the same for the father’s reaction. A typical small town redneck, Simmer thought. He had known plenty of them growing up in his small town. The kind that were quick to react, and violently, before they had all the facts. Perhaps the guy had a few, after work beers in him too, which Simmer wouldn’t have been surprised at.

Wide Eyes had suggested that Simmer had been alone with one of the girls for a few minutes, which Simmer emphatically denied. He could only imagine what kind of case they were trying to build against him, fed by details from the self righteous father and the young girl swept up in the sudden excitement. Simmer hoped that the father, tired of the whole thing and thinking about work the next morning, would let it drop. He hoped that the girl would be honest about what she saw.

As far as the store employee who supposedly saw him with his ass out went, well that person was just a bullshitter. No one has a navy blue ass, and that was the color of his shorts. That person had strayed from the harmless gossip of the store to false verification of a serious charge. Simmer wondered if it was that woman who saw him buttoning his pants.

Finally, after the longest wait yet, Wide Eyes returned with a manila file in his hand – the official report typed out, Simmer figured. The cop exhaled slowly as if he were tired too and wanted to go home.

“Henry, we’ve established now that you didn’t intentionally expose yourself to anyone, or make any obscene gestures at the girl.”

The daddy must have gotten the truth out of the girl, Simmer thought.

“We know that now, Henry,” Wide Eyes said. “But we think that at some time while you were putting your pants on, somebody saw your ass. We’re not saying it was intentional. Your shorts might have slipped down accidentally. All we’re saying is that your bare ass might have been exposed.” He looked at Simmer, and now that look was almost a tired glare, as if he were saying: “C’mon, Henry, let’s get this over with. We’re all tired. Just admit to this one thing.

Earlier, the man had said that one of two things could happen for Simmer: either he could walk out of that place or he could be taken to jail. Now the cop was asking him to admit to this “accidental” exposure, yet did that mean he would still walk out?

Besides, there was no exposure at all. Why should he compromise?

Simmer insisted that his shorts had never fallen down; he had a belt around them. Wide Eyes repeated his questions again, and then finally got up from the table.

“All right, Henry,” he said. “I guess we’ll have to keep trying to get to the bottom of this.” He sounded disappointed.

Simmer had become frustrated too. What did they have to get to the bottom of? The charge of willful exposure had been dropped, apparently, and so why cling to this other “accidental” thing?

Simmer did appreciate the fact that the other detective – the younger one – kept checking on him as far as refreshment went. He attributed this to the fact that he hadn’t been officially arrested for anything; he was a “guest” for the moment.

At last, Wide Eyes opened the door and stood there.

“Okay, Henry, you ready to go?”

Simmer didn’t move, not sure what the man meant. Was he being released or was he going to a cell?

“It’s time to go,” the detective said. “You can leave now.”

Simmer picked up his bag (it had been quickly searched by the younger detective) and stepped out of the room into the hallway. He felt like asking what had happened, but decided to let the detective explain.

“I’ll give you a ride back to where you were,” Wide Eyes said.

So he was going to be released, or so it seemed. Simmer didn’t want to get too excited until he was dropped off and saw the cop’s tail lights in the distance. He couldn’t help but wonder if the questioning wasn’t over. Were they up to some kind of trickery? Were they taking him back to the store to go over things again?

No, that was just his tired mind working overtime. Wide Eyes did indeed take him back to the store, and then he retrieved Simmer’s bag from the trunk and handed it to him.

“The reason I’m not arresting you, Henry, is that I sensed some truth in what you told me. I’m not saying I was completely convinced, but I did sense some truth there.”

“Sir, I didn’t lie to you,” Simmer said.

“You weren’t bullshitting me about anything here tonight?” Wide Eyes looked just as serious as he had back at the station. This man’s lifework dealt with people in trouble, and many who lied about circumstances and details, no doubt. It was his job to ferret out the truth.

Yet in this case he had it. Simmer looked him right in the eye.

“I know you have a job to do,” Simmer said. “But I just want you to know – man to man – that I didn’t do anything wrong here tonight.”

And that was good enough for the detective.

“Where you going to spend the night?” he asked, for it was still drizzling.

Simmer pointed to an all night restaurant just down the road.

“I think I’ll sit in there and drink some coffee.”

The detective nodded his head, wished him a good night and drove off. Simmer turned and looked at the employee shelter that a few hours earlier had been the scene of his trouble. If he wanted to he could have stretched out on one of the benches and rested, but he wanted to get away from the place.

Actually, he just went down the street, close to the ramp he’d be standing on in the morning. He sat behind a hair salon, on some newspaper, and slowly sipped his vodka. At least they had left him that. He had the feeling that he wouldn’t sleep much, if at all, in the coming hours, and he was right.