Joe Benson sat on the couch in his tiny studio apartment and looked at the pistol. He considered picking it up off the coffee table, putting the barrel in his mouth, and pulling the trigger.
Joe was forty-seven. Tommorow he had to start a one-year jail sentence. Joe had never been in trouble with the law before. If he chose to live, and go to jail, he would have a record the rest of his life. His court-appointed lawyer said that he was lucky, it could have been much worse. Joe thought it was bad enough. He was a little guy, afraid of being beat up or raped in jail. He had to choose.
Joe had been a cabbie for eleven years. He worked seven a.m. to seven p.m., four days on, three days off. It seemed like nothing at all when a fellow cabbie told him he could pick up easy money connecting businessmen arriving at the airport with hookers working the downtown hotels. For each John he connected he would get thirty bucks in cash. On a good week he could make maybe one-hundred and fifty. That's how his buddy put it.
Even a year earlier Joe would've passed. But Joe was just hanging on to his apartment. His neighborhood of twenty-two years was being gentrified. He could barely handle the new jacked-up rent. And he was burnt-out, more or less in every way. Plus, the whole thing seemed a little thrilling.
Joe thought back to the day he was arrested. The guy seemed like your average, tired, beaten businessman. Right up until two cop cars boxed him in and the undercover cop flashed his badge. Joe felt like he had been shot in the gut. The cops got him out of the cab, frisked him, slapped on handcuffs. He was booked, and released on his own recognizance. He was fired that day.
The whole ring was busted: one pimp, six hookers, and five cabbies. The DA was running for re-election on a "get tough" platform. He went after them. The local paper played it up. The assistant DA who handled Joe's case told him he could do three years if he didn't plead to a lesser. Joe's lawyer didn't care. Joe took the deal.
Joe sat in his studio and thought about his life. He drank too much coffee during the day, and too much beer at night. He ate too much red meat. He had a big belly. He was balding. He had two friends and no woman. Mostly, he just sat at home watching TV. He looked around his apartment. It was dusty and grimy. He never cleaned. It was enough to shave, shower, and brush his teeth.
In Joe's mind his crime barely mattered. But he had to choose.
I can't go on the run, Joe thought.
He sat there and stared at the pistol a long time.
He picked up the pistol and put it back in his desk drawer.
Hell, he thought, jail won't be that bad, I've been doing time for years.
copyright 2002 David Elsey