Chapter 49: The visitor

Bayside County had built itself a new jail, and it was the cleanest municipal building Tasha had ever seen. It gleamed in stainless and glass. Its huge white metal detectors seemed like portals to another universe, and in a way, they were. Purse inspected, body scanned, Tasha crowded into an elevator amid ragged, odiferous and forlorn visitors. She stepped out and let the crowd flow past her.

She stepped to the windows and looked out at a sparkling day. Some of these jailbirds would have ocean views, which would only add to their torment. 

Overseeing the visitors room was a nasty-looking guard in an elevated glass bunker. It could have withstood an assault by a platoon of Marines. 

“Rick Lowe,” she said into a the speakerbox.

The guard’s voice boomed out of the speakerbox. “Do I know you?” 

“Natasha Wolf.”

“No media,” growled the guard.

“I’m a friend,” Tasha said.

“Are you on his list?”

“I already went through this downstairs. Please?”

“All you people do is cause me trouble,” grumped the guard, and a buzzer went off behind Tasha. She mumbled her thanks and pushed through the glass door.

In the visitors hallway were eight stalls, which could have been mistaken for bank teller windows. Seven of those stalls were crowded on the visitor side. Tasha waited at the only empty one. A female guard’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker.

“Rick Lowe.”

Behind thick glass, an opaque door opened and Rick appeared.

“It’s not low,” he shouted over his shoulder, “it’s Lowe as in cow.”

He stepped up close to the glass, which seemed, but couldn’t have been, six inches thick. In this jail only sentenced prisoners wore jumpsuits, and Rick was was draped in the wrinkled clothes he’d been arrested in, a yellow shirt and dark trousers. He put his hands out in front of him in an attitude of prayer and said: “To what do I owe this magnificent honor?”

The glass was drilled with dozens of tiny holes to allow conversation. The holes had been drilled low, perhaps a sadistic attempt to make prisoners and visitors stoop to talk.

“How are they treating you?” Tasha asked.

Rick sputtered.

“I came to ask you a couple of questions,” Tasha said.

“Are you doing a story about my case?”

“Not exactly.”

“Can you get me out of here? Get me out and I’ll talk, I’ll tell you my life story if you want.”

“I can’t afford to bail you out, Rick. Do you have a lawyer?”

“Karen’s the one who should be in jail right now.”

“Public defender.”

“Karen should get you a real lawyer.”

“Karen should do a lot of fucking things, you ask me.”

“Look, I can put $20 in your commissary account, okay?”

“You seen the prices? Fucking candy bar is $2. Bunch of predators in here, and I’m not talking about the inmates.”

“Rick, you and Joseph Garland were in county rehab at the same time, back in June, 2015. Right?”

“Yeah. Can you get a message to Karen?”

“I can try.”

“Tell Karen to get her red ass up here.”

“I will phone her as soon as we’re finished talking.”

“What the fuck is keeping her?”

“What I want to know is…”

“You know, this place ain’t as bad as the old place. I remember the old dump had three guys, six rats and twelve cockroaches in every cell. But this new joint is worse too, because now there’s no smoking, and you gotta stand in this one spot in the yard if you want to…”

“Joseph Garland.”

“Yeah I knew the guy.”

“On June 11, 2015, the night Maureen Antonio was murdered…”

“The cops asked me a million times. I don’t remember. I don’t know if Garland was there all night. I wasn’t his fucking guardian angel, okay?”

“All right, let me ask it this way…”

“Guys got up to take a leak, go for a smoke, middle of the night, what do I know?”

“Think back to that now. Could you have sneaked out for a few hours, and come back before dawn unnoticed?”

“They got cameras. They got door alarms. They got a proctor at the front desk. It’s Bayside County, not the Mayo Clinic. Some guys are in there under court order. So no, unless your name is Charley Houdini, there’s no way.”

“So it’s unlikely that Joseph Garland sneaked out?”

“See, now you’re asking a different question. The cops wanted to know did I see Garland sneak out. Answer: No. But could he have sneaked out? Same answer. No. The cops didn’t ask that. They only asked what I saw, and I said, dudes, it was night, I was sleeping.”

“So you’re saying…”

“Maybe you could escape, but somebody would notice, for sure.”

“So if nobody noticed his escape, and cameras didn’t record it, it almost certainly didn’t happen.”

“Karen’s the one who should be in jail right now.”

“Why?” Tasha asked.

“I’d still be in Cali if it wasn’t for her.”

Tasha backed away from the window.

“Hey, where you going?” Rick said, his face turning red with rage. “I’m in here on a bogus charge. All’s I did was buy a phone. Is that a crime? To be dissatisfied with your new phone and try to sell it? It’s a crime now to be dissatisfied in America?”

next: Tasha probes