Word spread quickly in the neighborhood. A guy was locked up in the jail. The front door to the police station was propped open and the door that usually closed the jail off from the hallway was open so any kid wandering inside could see the man behind the heavy iron bars.
It was late August and Mom was canning tomatoes. Frank already got it this morning for knocking over the garbage pail onto the kitchen floor. John said I better stay out of her hair or I’d be next. We were hot and bored but a walk uptown to see someone in the jail would be worth the doing.
The drinking fountain was at the back of the station, near the service counter at the end of a long hallway and about halfway up was the door that led to the jail. That was the excuse we used. We wanted a drink of water. I was seven, Frank was eleven, and John was thirteen. We stood out front and John gave us the plan. Don’t run, keep quiet, and act nonchalant, like we don’t know there is anyone in the jail.
Frank wanted to go in first. He walked real slow trying to get a good look into the jail as he passed. On his way back from the drinking fountain, he held his nose. “They got somebody all right,” he said, “and it really stinks in there.”
I went next. I tried to act nonchalant but my legs moved quickly down the long hallway. I got an eyeful of the criminal, though. He looked right at me. It was old man Jones. He was wearing a dirty, sleeveless undershirt and work pants held up with suspenders. They were his regular clothes. I was expecting broad black and white stripes with maybe a ball and chain on his leg. And Frank was right. The jail stunk.
John took a good long time walking past the jail. On his way back, he leaned into the doorway and said something to old man Jones. A policeman from behind the counter yelled down the hallway for us kids to get out and stay out. John said we were just getting a drink of water and took his sweet time getting out the front door. But we ran for it once we were outside.
We stopped at the drug store to catch our breath and have a cherry Coke. John said, “It sure was old man Jones and he is mad as hell. I asked him if he wanted me to stop the newspaper seeing how he’s in jail. He shook his fist and told me to leave him the hell alone.” Frank said Jones was stinking up the whole police station. John said he stunk of booze and he stunk like that every time he went to collect.
We wondered why he was in jail. We looked in the newspaper to see if the bank was robbed or if somebody got murdered. John said we should go collect for the paper from Mrs. Jones as long as her old man was in the slammer. She might tell us something. She was usually friendly when Jones wasn’t around.
We knocked a long time before she came to the door. She only opened it a crack and tried to keep her face hidden but we could see she had a black eye and her arm was in a sling. “Are you okay, Mrs. Jones?” John asked.
“I’ll be fine,” she tried to smile a little but her lip was swollen. “It was an accident, she said.” She looked so sad. We didn’t dare ask her why her husband was in jail. We didn’t even want her to know that we saw him. Frank and I kept quiet and John told her he would keep delivering the paper unless she wanted to cancel. Mrs. Jones said thanks, yes; she still wanted the newspaper delivered.
Frank said “What crappy luck for poor Mrs. Jones. Her old man’s a criminal and she was in a car accident.”
Don’t tell Mom or Dad, we agreed. Dad didn’t want us poking around town in other people’s business. Frank said not to tell no matter what. “Say we were hanging out at the drug store because that part was true.”
After supper it was my turn to help with clean-up. Mom washed and I dried. I couldn’t help it. It just came out. “Old man Jones is in jail,” I said. “And Mrs. Jones has a black eye.”
“Yea, I heard,” Mom said, “You kids better not have gone to the police station and saw him in jail.”
“They were talking about it at the drug store. We got a cherry Coke.” I said.
“That poor woman,” Mom banged the pan she was scouring, “I hope he rots in jail.”
Dad came in and Mom asked what he’d heard about Mr. Jones being in jail. “They’ve got that sonofabitch good,” he said, “and it’s about time.”
“Did he rob a bank?” I asked.
“For what that devil did, he’ll rot in jail.” Dad said. “You kids stay away from the police station, you hear?”
I reported this information to Frank and John. You better not have told, they said. “I didn’t tell, but Mom and Dad both said we better stay away from the police station,” I warned them. “Besides, he stinks enough already, I don’t want to see him rotting in jail.” They said anyway I was too little. But Frank and John were going to check once in a while to see if old man Jones was still rotting in jail.
Two days later the jail was empty. Frank and John went back a couple of times to make sure. John heard old man Jones was in Stillwater. “They sent him up the river,” he told us.
“Good,” said Frank, “he can stink up their jail now.”