Criminals are prickly revisionists, particularly the paranoid schizophrenics, so it is wiser to humor their delusions rather than risk getting hurt. This is not to say honesty does not have its place, but not as an end in itself. When convenient to do so, it is practical to tell the truth. That way, when it makes sense to lie, you are more likely to get away with it.
Each week, I conduct an orientation class for new probationers. I met Jimmy Wong at one of these classes. He was a moon-faced fellow, around sixty, with heavy shoulders and a frozen smile. As I talked to the group about terms of probation—obeying all laws, paying court fees, reporting to one’s probation officer—he raised his hand in the manner of a child eager to impress a teacher.
“Mr. Hemmings,” he said, “if a father is m-molesting his daughter, can Jimmy break his stay away order?”
“No,” I replied. “Leave that matter to the police.”
Obviously, a stalker, I thought. And not a very bright one. He had been assigned to my caseload a day earlier and I had not yet read his case file. But I already knew what his file would reveal: Narcissistic disorder with rescue fantasies. For stalkers with mental health issues, this was the boilerplate profile—a banality that failed to reassure me.
Pathological stalkers are hard to supervise: they tend to obey darker laws. And if you tell them what they don’t want to hear, they might decide to stalk you.
When I was done with the class, I told Jimmy to wait in the reception area. I then returned to my office and skimmed through his file. He was on felony probation for stalking, having tailed a high school girl who did not know him at all. For a week, he had followed her to school in his car, pestering her with offers of rides then driving off as she punched 911 on her cell phone. He was arrested after the girl spotted his car parked in front of her home. When the police cracked the trunk of his car, they found a Molotov cocktail. The pre-sentence report did not recommend probation, but a judge had given him a five-year grant of probation and a stay away order from the girl.
Finishing with his file, I brought him to my office. He sat mute as I read him his probation contract. When I was done, he looked at me curiously, as though he had just heard the sound of my voice. “W-would you like to come to my wedding?” he asked. “I can still get m-married, can’t I?”
“Yes, you can still get married.”
He clapped his hands and beamed. “Would you be Jimmy’s best m-man?”
Was he planning to “liberate” the girl from her father then turn her into his “wife”? Given the bizarreness of his rescue fantasy, that did not really seem far fetched. I tried not to frown. “Jimmy,” I stressed. “Let the police handle it.”
I wrote him a referral to Center for Special Problems, a cash-strapped city program on Jackson Street that handled mental health cases. A private therapist was out of the question. Private therapists charged steeply for their services and Jimmy was indigent and living in his car. Anyhow, most therapists were scared of stalkers and refused to work with them. But a city program, even an underfunded one, did not have the right of refusal. At worst, the program would put him on a waiting list.
I provided him directions to Center for Special Problems and told him to go there at once. After he left my office, I reviewed his file in more detail. He had a slew of police reports, all with the exact same modus.
He targeted teenage girls, usually in shopping malls. After complimenting their looks (“Jimmy thinks you’re pretty”), he offered to drive them wherever they wanted to go.
What was this predator doing on probation? Had the overworked District Attorney’s Office, desperate to clear its calendar, settled blindly for another plea deal? Since treatment was scarce for his type of disorder, I would probably have to lock him back up.
I phoned the girl’s father, coached him on victim safety, and gave him my cell phone number. I asked him to call me immediately if Jimmy Wong turned up on his doorstep. A half hour later, the father called me back.
I was not surprised by how quickly Jimmy had violated the stay away order. But I was rather stunned by his hubris. He had knocked on the door of the residence and cried, “Did you call for a cab?” And then he had hopped back into his car and pealed on down the road. The police, arriving a few minutes later, failed to locate him.
I logged the incident in his case file, then quickly devised a plan. As a stalker, he was certainly artless, but that meant he’d be easy to catch. Fortunately, he had a cell phone and I had copied down the number.
He answered my call on the very first ring; probably he had been expecting it. I feigned desperation. “Jimmy,” I said. “I need you real bad.”
“Y-you want me to rent you a tux?”
“I’m putting that molester in jail.” I said. “I just sent a squad car to his house.”
“You want a carnation for your c-chest?”
“I want your statement, Jimmy. How many times did he fuck his daughter? Unless we have a witness, we can’t keep that pervert locked up.”
“I-I’ll be there in ten minutes, sir.”
When he arrived at my office door, I placed him under arrest. “Not again,” he sighed as my partner, Ron Rosso, fitted him with the bracelets. He sang a song from My Fair Lady as we marched him off to jail. It was “Get Me to the Church on Time.”
Deputy Lockhart, a slim woman in her early twenties, was working the intake bay as we brought Jimmy Wong through the electronic door.
he was new to the job, having graduated from the Sheriff’s Academy only three months ago. As we unhooked Jimmy, she threw up her hands.
“Another nut case, Tom Hemmings?” she said. “You trying to drive me crazy?” Her nose was too blunt for beauty, but her eyes were mischievous and bright.
“Gotta keep you honest, ” I said.
She leaned on the intake counter, propping her chin on her fists. “I was about to have my morning coffee,” she pouted. “Whyja have to spoil that again?”
“Did you finish the book?” I asked. She had told me she was an avid reader so I was in the habit of recommending books to her.
“The Great Gatsby—yeah, I finished it. What a doofus! He never even got his dream girl!”
“His dream was already behind him,” I quoted.
“That’s not why he lost her!” she said. “He lost her because he was an asshole. Who in her right mind would marry a dork like him?”
“I’m getting m-married in the morning,” said Jimmy.
“Com’re, hon,” she replied. Gently, she rolled his fingerprints as I filled out the booking card. Before snapping his mugshot photo, she winked and told him to smile. Jimmy smoothed back his hair and grinned broadly.
I inventoried Jimmy’s property—two condoms, a porno book, and an empty wallet. I then walked him to the nurse’s station at the opposite end of the counter. While the nurse took down his medical history, I chatted with Deputy Lockhart. “Ya still wanna read my story?” she asked. She was taking a creative writing class at City College and was teasing me about reading her work. She had been offering to show me the story for weeks, but had yet to hand it over.
“When are you going to give it to me?”
She shrugged. “Keep your pants on, Tom Hemmings. It’s all about a mermaid and I gotta get the imagery right.”
“A mermaid,” I shrugged. “That shouldn’t take long. Mermaids are nothing but tail.”
She giggled. “Next time you bring in a nut case, I’ll let you see my tale.”
After the nurse cleared him for intake, I took Jimmy to a holding cell. He continued singing tunes from My Fair Lady as I scanned him with the security wand. “See you in court,” I said finally and I thanked him for reporting.
He nodded and smiled. “Jimmy likes m-mermaids,” he said.
Rosso nudged me with his elbow as we strode toward the sally port gate. “Why do you keep flirting with that blonde?” he asked. “There ain’t no doubt she wants it, Tom, but she’s young enough to be yer granddaughter.”
“I’m giving her food for thought,” I replied. “We’re going to have coffee together.”
“A big Italian sausage is what that bimbo needs.”
“I saw her eyeball your crotch,” I replied. “All she did was yawn.”
It was our usual male bonding humor, but I wanted to say something more. “She wants a man with some culture,” I said. “Not an Italian brute.”
As we stood beneath the security camera, waiting to show our IDs, Rosso thrust his hips back and forth. “She’s still gonna need an Italian, Tom. You can’t handle that much puss.”
I fanned myself with the booking receipt. “She might need you to cool her off. There’s some heat in this old buck yet.”
As Rosso stood there, rolling his eyes, I hummed “With a Little Bit of Luck.” I then flashed my ID to the camera and watched the gate slide open.
Two days later, Jimmy appeared in court. He quickly plead guilty to violating his probation and was sentenced to a year in county jail. The next day, I visited him on the psych range.
“You still gonna be my best m-man?” he asked as he peeped through the bars of his six-by-eight foot cell. The bars were chipped, the cell was bare, and the range smelled of vomit and piss.
“You should have asked the judge for a transfer.” I said. “To the Department of Mental Health.”
He grinned like a fox. “Jimmy took a s-sweet deal. I g-get to stay in ’Frisco and be near the one I love.”
“Your fair lady,” I joked.
“My w-wife,” he replied. “The jail chaplain promised to marry us.”
A few days later, there was a letter from him in my office mailbox. It was printed on jail stationery in sprawling, infantile handwriting.
You don’t have to worry about me any more. I’m not going to bother no girls. It’s Deputy Lockhart I’m going to marry. That woman is fine, fine, fine.
I dropped by the county jail that evening to tell her she had a stalker.
She laughed, “Jimmy Wong is the one who should worry. My boyfriend’s a street cop, ya know. He’ll knock his goddamn head off.” So she had a boyfriend—the thought left me cold. But I felt renewed hope when she handed me her story. She winked flirtatiously and said she would meet me for coffee.
As I rode home on the Caltrain, I started to feel rather tired. I tried to read her story, but sadly the story sucked. I would need a stronger enchantment than mermaids if I did not want to doze past my stop.
Opening my Kindle reader, I downloaded The Great Gatsby.
Do you have work related incidents that you weave (or would like to weave) into your writing?
Because of this background, the criminal element figures strongly in his stories. James' stories have appeared in multiple journals and have received three Pushcart nominations. His novels, The Siege and Call Me Pomeroy, are available on Amazon.
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