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Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 5

The probation office was overheated, and Frenchy was really overdressed for it, even though he’d taken off his heavy jacket. He had to wait in an outer room that seemed like it must have been a hundred degrees for what seemed like an hour before his name was called.

He headed into the probation office. He hadn’t met the guy behind the desk before; he was a fat older guy with thin hair combed over a large bald spot, but he also looked like a guy it wouldn’t pay to fuck around with. “Strange to see you here, LeDroit,” the guy said. “I didn’t figure you for much before the deadline.”

“I was downtown and figured I might as well not waste the trip,” Frenchy replied.

“That’s good,” the balding guy said. “I’m Kent Derbyshire, and I’m going to be your probation officer.” He looked at an open file on his desk. “All right, I’m not going to be a real hard ass so long as you follow the rules and keep out of trouble. You will report to me once a week for the first month, and if things go well we’ll probably stretch it out. Are you back in school?”

“Thinking about it,” Frenchy admitted. “But Mrs. Wine over at the school said I should talk to you about the GED program.”

“We can do that, but let’s put it off for a minute. OK, here’s the deal. You’re going to be on probation until August 6. That’s only five months, but we’re going to play it like we have to. I see by your file that you’ve been ordered to do two hundred hours of community service. If you have it completed by August 6, then that’s that. If you don’t have it completed by then, your probation will continue until you have completed it. If you want to try to have it wrapped up by August, that’s about forty hours a month. We have projects going for community service during the week and on Saturdays. They’re administered out of this office, and this is where the records will be kept. If you want to keep it just on Saturdays, there’s no hope of you getting done by August, so you’ll have to put in some weekday sessions. Right now, these are things like shoveling snow off the sidewalks of elderly residents and doing some other maintenance work. When the weather warms up, there’s a lot of trash that needs to be picked up along the roads. If you have any ideas of things that you could do that would fall into the realm of community service, bring them to me or your supervisor. We’re always looking for fresh ideas.”

“Nothing comes to mind right now but I’ll probably think of something,” Frenchy replied.

“Good enough,” Derbyshire replied. “Now, this is under the assumption that you’re not working full time. If you do manage to come up with a full-time job and you’re keeping your nose clean, I can go to Judge Dieball and ask him to reduce the requirement so you can still do the requirement on Saturday and make your August date. Also, if you start working on a schedule that makes it difficult to make your probation appointment, you can let me know and we can work out a Saturday schedule.”

“Jobs are hard to find around here right now,” Frenchy observed.

“I know they’re hard and it makes it tough all around, which is why we don’t want to louse up a job with a probation appointment. If you’re not working and want to pile on your community service requirements and get them out of the way, that’s fine with me. Now, probation is just that – probation. You don’t want to break any of the rules, or you risk getting sent back to jail until August 6. Among those is the fact that you don’t want to get arrested for anything worse than a traffic violation or something like that. For instance, you don’t want to get caught with beer, whether you’re drinking it or not. It’s a misdemeanor for you as a minor to be in possession of it, and Judge Dieball will send you back to jail in a heartbeat over it, especially after that stuff that happened with the football players last summer.

“I see by your record that you like to use your fists, and that you were convicted of ag assault. That’s a serious crime, and another assault charge will send you back to jail to finish out your term without it going to court. I also see that you have several personal protection orders against you. If you approach any of those people, it’s also a trip back to jail. You will have to go back to court over that, but it won’t last long since it only involves a complaint being filed by one of the people who have a PPO against you. I monitor the police and sheriff’s complaints and like that, so I’ll know if you come up in any of them, even if they don’t inform me.”

Shit, Frenchy thought. That was going to put some real limits on the ass kicking that needed to be done. It was already bad enough without having Matt and Larry to help out, and this was just going to make it worse. “Does that mean I can’t hit back if someone tries to hurt me?”

“I’m not saying that, but if you are involved in a situation like that you’d better be ready to prove to me and maybe to the judge that you weren’t the one who started it,” Derbyshire said. “So you’d better be doing your best to keep your nose clean and hoping that it doesn’t happen. Since you’re on probation, you don’t get the benefit of the doubt.”

*   *   *

The visit with the probation officer was just about as depressing as everything else the last couple days, Frenchy thought as he headed out the door, but at least it put things a little more into order.

While the GED class had sounded like a good idea, it wasn’t going to work for keeping his folks off his ass, at least in the short run. The classes ran in segments, and while Frenchy hadn’t visited the Community Improvement Agency office, Derbyshire told him that the next segment wouldn’t be starting until the first of May. Whatever else happened, that wouldn’t work with his folks, at least till then. It was rapidly beginning to look like the best move he could make was to start in over at the school on Monday and hope that he could keep it together until the weather warmed up a little. If he couldn’t, if he got thrown out of school, it looked like there was a damn good chance that his folks would throw his ass out on the street as well.

If that happened, about the only choice he had was to go beat up someone like Alan Jahnke or Jack Erikson, so he could sit in jail till things warmed up. The odds were that it would be August before he got out, but at least it wouldn’t be so fucking cold then. He still would be without a car, without money, but if nothing else he had his thumb so he could hitchhike his way out of this goddamn town without having to report to a probation officer.

Getting the hell out of town seemed like a pretty good idea – maybe to someplace that was warm, so he wouldn’t have to live in this miserable cold if he were out on the street. Where that someplace might be wasn’t something he’d thought about, but he suspected he’d know the place when he found it.

If he decided to blow this town, he realized that it would be better to have some money in his pocket, more than the eight bucks or so he had right now. Hell, it would be even better if he had wheels, but getting wheels was going to involve getting money, unless, of course, he stole something. If he was running, he might want to consider that, he thought. Get a set of wheels that nobody would notice were gone for a while, maybe somebody on vacation, get the hell out of town and ditch it, then disappear from this damn place forever. After all, there really wasn’t shit to stay here for.

But getting money came back to that other problem, which was getting a job. Damn, if he could find a job, even a shitty little part-time minimum-wage thing, it would get his folks off his ass a bit and he might be able to build up something he could take with him when he left. That might even involve getting some wheels, maybe. If he had something like that, as soon as the probation was over with, along with the PPOs against him, he could go on a tear, kick some of the asses that really needed to be kicked, and then blow town.

Since going back to school looked like a direct route to getting thrown out on his ass, the only other thing he could think of to do was to go looking for a job. Maybe if it really looked like he was looking hard for one, his folks might cut him a little slack. If it failed, there was still the going-back-to-school option – and if that failed, he could still kick some asses sooner rather than later.

He had no idea where he was going to find a job, even a shitty little part-time one. The only thing that came to mind was that Clark Plywood had a reputation for being good to former football players. He knew they weren’t doing any real hiring out there, but maybe they’d be good for some part-time little something that would bring in the fifty a week he needed to keep his folks from chewing his ass ragged, and maybe a little more than that. At least it wasn’t much farther to walk to Clark than it was to go home.

It took a couple hours to get in to see Mr. Hotchkiss at Clark Plywood. At least the waiting room wasn’t as goddamn hot at the one in the courthouse, but Frenchy was still pretty hot and sweaty by the time he got called in to see the man. Frenchy was more than a little embarrassed to sit down in front of the older man and all but beg for a job, but it had to be done. He explained his problem, and said he hoped Hotchkiss could help out.

“Sorry, Frenchy,” Mr. Hotchkiss said as soon as he’d heard the story. “I’d like to help you, I really would. But the word came down years ago from Mr. Clark himself that we’re not supposed to give special consideration to football players anymore. On top of that, at the same time the word came down that we can’t do new hires of someone who doesn’t have a high school diploma, or at least a GED, so you’re screwed there too. I’m really sorry. I know you played the game and a few years ago when the economy was better that would have been enough, but considering the number of people we have on layoff and are willing to work shitty little part-time jobs themselves, I couldn’t hire you, anyway.”

“Well, thanks anyway,” Frenchy sighed. It was pretty well what he had been expecting the way things had been going, but at least Mr. Hotchkiss seemed to be sympathetic, which was more than some of the shit he’d taken today. “You wouldn’t happen to know of any other things that might be open, would you?”

“I don’t know,” Hotchkiss sighed. “Look, I think Clark has a bug up his ass on this, but he’s the boss and that’s the way things are. I used to play football once upon a time, and I have a soft spot for people who have played the game. You were a good player when things were bad, and I think that deserves some consideration.” He thought for a moment and said, “Look, I might know someone who would be willing to take a risk for you. I can’t promise anything, not even whether it would be part time or full time, but I can put in a good word for you with him and we could see what happens.”

This was about the most positive news Frenchy had heard since getting out of jail the day before. “I’m sure willing to look into it,” he said.

“I’m going to tell you right now that this is no piece of cake,” Hotchkiss warned. “It’s woods work, mostly unskilled, and probably minimum wage. You’re going to have to work your ass off or you’re going to be out the door, because the guy who runs the outfit isn’t the kind of person who takes shit off of anybody. I’ve had laid off people who were good workers here in the plant come back and tell me they couldn’t hack it, especially for what they were getting paid. But if he decides to hire you, and you work out good enough for him that he’ll give you a recommendation, well, if and when we get to do some new hires again I’ll give you strong consideration if you have that GED by then.”

It didn’t sound like all that good a job, but at least some money went with it. “I guess all I can do is call him up and see if it works,” he said.

“No calling him up, at least till evening,” Hotchkiss said. “He works out in the woods with the rest of his crew. You’re probably best off going over to talk to him at his home tonight. You know Sven Stromsen?”

“I’ve heard the name,” Frenchy admitted. “But that’s about all.”

“He lives over on Forest Street, out toward the end,” Hotchkiss said as he reached for a phone book. He took a slip of paper and wrote a street number and the phone number on it. “I don’t think he even has a company name, he just does business under his own name. About all I can tell you is to go talk to him, and he may have a need for hands. But I’ll warn you again: don’t fuck with him, because he isn’t the kind of person to be fucking with.”

*   *   *

Things seemed just a little brighter for Frenchy as he started down the street toward home. The job with this Stromsen sounded like it was going to be a real pain in the ass, especially out in the woods where it was not only cold, but fucking cold. But if it worked out at least he’d have some money in his pockets, and that could solve a load of problems. Maybe things weren’t sucking quite so bad after all.

It was getting along in the afternoon now, time for school to be letting out, and as he walked down the street he could see several cars with one or more kids heading home. He mostly was hoping that no one recognized him. If they did, they’d be laughing at him for having to fucking walk in the fucking cold, while they were all warm and dry and snug in their cars. Fucking dipshits, all of them, fucking laughing at him! Even the thought of it made him so pissed off he couldn’t wait to hit someone, teach them to give him some of the respect he deserved.

He was mad enough that he didn’t particularly notice a blue minivan loaded with kids pass him going the other direction, and only thought it slightly odd when the minivan came off a side street a couple blocks ahead and came toward him again. The van stopped less than a hundred yards away, and one kid got out, walked across the street, and started walking up the sidewalk toward him. The van started moving again, and came to a stop straight across the street from him.

Oh, shit, he thought. They’re fucking setting me up! Word must have gotten out that I don’t have Matt and Larry with me anymore, and now someone has decided to take advantage of it. But what the fuck was going on? That guy that got out separately didn’t look like he was big enough to try to take him on! Just a little shit, one of the fucking wusses that ran around the school . . . oh, fuck! That’s Alan Jahnke!

By now Frenchy had revised his list of who needed their asses well and truly kicked, and with his backstabbing former buddy Larry now at the head of it Jahnke had fallen to third, behind Jack Erikson. That didn’t mean he didn’t need his ass kicked as bad as ever, but who the fuck did Jahnke think he was to try and take him on?

But there was that van full of kids across the street, and out of the corner of his eye Frenchy could see them getting out. Yeah, he could kick Jahnke’s ass all right, but half a dozen others? It was exactly the same thing he and Matt and Larry had done to lots of kids over the years, but now it was being done to him. At least he could get in a couple good licks on Jahnke . . . but at the cost of heading right straight back to jail, just when there was the slightest hope that he could avoid it.

He glanced over his shoulder – there was no place to run backwards, and they could chase him in that minivan. The only other choice was to go to the side, between the houses, but the snow was deep there and he wasn’t likely to be able to run far very quickly. Besides, if he ran, those little shits would spout off all over school how they had made him run away from them in fear. That would mean that everybody would be laughing at him! He couldn’t fucking stand that!

About the only hope he had was to bluster his way through, and not kick the little shit’s ass like he needed – not that it didn’t move Jahnke back to the head of his list of people who needed their asses kicked at the earliest possible date. As Jahnke got closer, that seemed to be the only thing that could be done.

As the little shit got closer, all he could do was to say, “Hi, Alan,” in the friendliest possible manner and hope it worked.

“Hi, jail rat,” Alan sneered, sending yet another streak of anger up Frenchy’s spine. The little shit had no cause to be mouthing off to him like that! “Does that three hots and a cot shit agree with you?”

“You little fucker,” Frenchy snorted. “What makes you think that you can get away with talking to me like that?”

“Go ahead and hit me, Frenchy,” Alan grinned. “I won’t even try to hit back. All I or any one of the rest of us have to do is call the cops and you’re back in jail. Hell, we could send you back to jail right now, because you’re busting your PPO by talking to me, and we’re gonna have it on videotape.” He gestured across the street, where there were several kids standing. In a glance Frenchy recognized all of them – that fucking Jack Erikson, his zit-faced girlfriend Vixen Hvalchek, Alan’s goofy girlfriend Summer Trevetheck, that big fucking ox Lyle Angarrack, and that other big fat fucking ox Ashley Keilhorn. And yes, there were not just one but two video cameras pointing at him.

“You little fucker,” Frenchy repeated. “That’s the kind of shit I expected out of you. I ought to kick your ass on general principles.”

“It’s the kind of shit you’ve pulled over and over,” Alan sneered. “And I’m one of the people you pulled it on. Like I said, go ahead and hit me, Frenchy. I won’t hit back. You just got done doing six months for ag assault, so I’ll bet Judge Dieball will give you a year this time. That means the state pen, with all those black dudes trying to get their big diseased cocks up your tight little white-boy ass.”

Jesus Christ, by all that was proper Jahnke ought to have his ass kicked right then and there, and Frenchy was pretty well of a mind to do it, state pen or no state pen. He might get in two or three good licks – but Erikson and Angarrack weren’t all that far away, and the Trevetheck bitch was holding a baseball bat. In the time it would take to get in two or three good licks the guys would be all over him, like he and Larry and Matt had gotten all over other people. And they probably wouldn’t just put him down – with Erikson and that big fucker Angarrack holding onto him, even a little wuss like Jahnke could pound the living shit out of him with that baseball bat.

“All right, Jahnke,” Frenchy replied, folding his cards, however reluctantly. “What do you want?”

“It’s what I don’t want,” Jahnke replied. “I don’t want to see your fucking face anywhere around me from now till September. What’s more, I don’t want to hear of you beating up any of my friends or anyone else, or we’re going to come looking for you and haul your ass over to the jail ourselves. Is that fucking clear, jail rat?”

“You still deserve to have your ass kicked, you little fucker!”

“Is that what you want?” Jahnke said icily. “You need it even more, and we’re just the ones to give it to you. Like I said, go ahead and hit me. I won’t even hit back, but my friends might not be as kind as I am. You’ll still have your ass on the way back to jail anyway, except hurting more. Now either hit me or get the fuck out of here. I don’t want to see your ugly jail-rat face again.”

Frenchy flexed his fist. It was tempting, damn tempting – but out of the corner of his eye he could see the five kids crossing the street toward him, not hurrying, just taking their time, with the Trevetheck bitch still holding the baseball bat, swinging it lightly with a smile on her face.

Frenchy would still have liked to face the bunch of them down but his legs didn’t agree. All of a sudden he was heading up the sidewalk away from the group as hard as he could go, hearing taunts of “Pussy!” and “Chicken!” come at him among the peals of laughter – just like he and Matt and Larry had done when someone ran away from them. It was not goddamn fair! He was the one that was supposed to be respected, not a bunch of nerds who didn’t have any sense of the way things were supposed to be.

He turned a corner and kept on running, just to get out of their sight. My God, who ever had thought he would be running from the likes of Alan Jahnke? It was fucking humiliating, that was what!

Even worse was the fact that he knew that Ashley Keilhorn was about the biggest fucking gossip in the school. Hell, she probably had her cell phone out right now, spreading the word that no less than Frenchy LeDroit had run from a confrontation with Alan Jahnke! It’d be all over town in minutes, and by Monday everyone at the school would have heard about it and would be laughing at him. Jesus Christ, how could he even fucking show his face around there? There was no way, there was just fucking no way.

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To be continued . . .

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