(Art by spoon+fork.)
The Jersey newspapers usually run national news in the front sections. Apart from high-school sports and construction kickback busts, there was almost never any local news.
Mr. Angrywall made the front covers of every newspaper that they let me have in my holding cell. Only his name wasn’t “Angrywall.” It was “Aggarwal.”
He had been growing several different kinds of marijuana in a few of the rooms on the top floor. Some varieties were new to the law-enforcement community.
Which included James O’Keefe. Turns out that wasn’t his real name. His real name was Shawn Johnson. He was a detective with the Narcotics Central Unit of the state. I found out later that they had put Johnson on me because I was evaluated to be the most at risk of recidivism. They wanted to see whom I would go to for more pot.
My court-appointed lawyer was a joke. He was a nervous Oriental guy named Chuck Shu. Yeah, I’m not kidding.
He encouraged me to “remember” some sort of story of how I saw Howard regularly get pot from Mr. Angrywall.
“Better yet,” he said, “say you went with Howard to buy pot from Mr. Aggarwal.”
“Chuck,” I told him, “I didn’t see shit. I have no idea where Howard got his pot from.”
“You’ve been apprehended in another drug-related crime, Sean. Under your prior conviction, that’s an, ah, automatic three-year sentence.”
“So you want me to lie?”
“Oh, no, no, no — don’t lie. But think harder. You might have forgotten. It could be suppressed deep down. If you can remember a certain scenario, and testify against Mr. Aggarwal, I can probably get you an immunity deal.”
“That means no time at all for me?”
“Yes. It could even make you a local hero. Mr. Aggarwal was found to have an extraordinary amount of marijuana plants and, ah, associated paraphernalia.”
“What kind of sentence is Mr. Angrywall looking at?”
“Probably 20 to 25 years. Ultimately, it could be reduced to 10, I think.”
“They wouldn’t deport him to India?”
“He’s a naturalized American citizen. They won’t deport him. Can’t, in fact.”
“What about Mrs. Angrywall?”
“Mrs. Aggarwal hasn’t been charged.”
“What’s going to happen to her?”
“I guess she’ll be visiting her husband on the weekends, heh.”
In my holding cell, I got back into reading, but not books. They let me have newspapers every day with the classified sections and personal ads left out.
They were saying Mr. Aggarwal may have been the sole source of the strong marijuana that was going around grade schools in Monmouth and Ocean Counties.
An editorial in the Asbury Park Press said that “Raj Aggarwal should have used his knowledge and intelligence for good, not evil.”
Some Indian kids had been beaten in school. One badly enough to be hospitalized.
The hotel and hamburger stand were both closed by the Shore Points sheriff.
They said that my role in the whole thing was as of yet unclear.
One paper profiled some jerk who had also been arrested under the Weed Out The Garden State measure and was now working in a gift shop, packing seashells imported from Mexico and playing organ in church on Sundays.
He said that being in jail was a wake-up call for him and that it would be a shame if it hadn’t straightened me out, as well.
They took me out of the cell and escorted me to an interrogation room. I expected Chuck to show up, but it was O’Keefe, or Shawn Johnson.
Something smelled good.
“I like chicken more. I feel guilty eating veal.”
He pushed the one marked “C” on the foil to a seat across from him. I sat down in the chair and unwrapped the sub. I felt moist warm bread push against the roof of my mouth and I almost choked on the first bite.
“Whoa, easy there! You’re like a dog, Sean!”
“I don’t drink out of a toilet,” I said. I didn’t have the balls to follow Howard’s advice.
We didn’t say anything else until we were both almost done eating.
“Now, I know you’ve had a chance to talk to your lawyer, Sean. You got a story you want to tell me?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Now let’s look at how things are, Sean,” Johnson said, finishing his sub and slapping the crumbs off his hands.
“Can I just call you O’Keefe? It’s hard for me to call you Shawn. That’s my name.”
“You can call me ‘Detective Johnson’ or ‘Mr. Johnson.’”
“Mr. Johnson, what kind of spot am I in?”
“You’re in a position to help put away one of the biggest drug lords in the history of our state, Sean. Aggarwal didn’t care who got hurt or how many families got destroyed.”
“When I think of a drug lord, I think of ‘Scarface.’”
“Yeah, he was another guy who came to this country, tried to get ahead taking the low road, so to speak. But now he has to face the music.”
“It’s just pot, Mr. Johnson. It’s not cocaine.”
“‘Just pot,’ huh? What if I told you that your late pal Howard was selling Aggarwal’s pot to kids at black schools? I’m talking about kids as young as nine. That coward sold it early in the morning before most adults in the neighborhood were awake.
“I can’t help but take this personally. You think black families don’t already have enough to struggle with? Now Junior’s coming home all doped up, stealing money from his mother’s purse for more when she hasn’t got enough to buy groceries?
“Then farther down the line, Junior’s going to have to smoke more and more to get to that high again. Then he’s going to try harder stuff.”
“Everybody I knew just stuck to pot.”
“I’ll bet nobody you knew was raised by a single mother who had to work two jobs to keep the family going.
“I don’t mean two office jobs, neither! I mean shit jobs! Scrubbing toilets, mopping floors, and everything on the graveyard shift! Getting paid like a parking meter! And then she has to keep juggling jobs because they keep finding someone who will work for even less!
“There you are coming in late, not knowing where you been and all high or strung out and she’s left out a dinner plate for you in the oven because she had to go to another job and she’s praying every minute, every day that you’re going to straighten out your life on your own because she’s too damn tired to beat you or even yell!”
“You’re shouting, Mr. Johnson.”
He inhaled and it seemed like a full minute before he let it out.
“I don’t mean to shout. I just get worked up.”
“I treated my mother badly, too,” I said. He nodded.
“Sean, you have an opportunity to break this cycle of cruelty, of racism. Don’t do it just for you. Think about the children.”
“Testify about what you know about Aggarwal selling marijuana to Howard, who then went on to sell it to kids.”
“I didn’t hear about anything about that.”
“You know Aggarwal was supplying Howard.”
“I don’t know for sure. Howard could have been in that room for the first time and Aggarwal killed him to keep him quiet.”
“Just say you saw them meet up, or Aggarwal came around the hamburger stand, slipped Howard a package.”
“It didn’t happen. I never saw him come by.” He leaned in close.
“Sometimes, Sean, you need a little lie to stop the bigger evil. For example, if I didn’t pretend to be your probation officer, I wouldn’t have been able to gain your trust and plant a bug on you.”
“The cell phone. I was recording you.”
“Ha, I used to turn it off. . .from time to time.”
“The bug was a recording chip hidden inside that worked if the phone was on or off. You talk a lot of bullshit when you’re high, Sean.”
“You can’t use any of that against me. You didn’t have my permission to record me.”
“Au contraire! As a convicted drug abuser, I had permission from the court to monitor your activities, your whereabouts and everything you ate, drank or smoked. Do we understand each other?”
I didn’t say anything.
“And how about I throw in Mrs. Aggarwal for the abuse of drugs, too? Be a shame to put such a sexy, spicy woman in jail.”
“What’s going to happen to Mrs. Angry–Aggarwal?”
“I knew you wanted to get with her. Kinda disappointed you didn’t.”
“Hey, I could’ve. She would’ve, too.”
“Of course. I mean, now, she’s going to hate your guts for testifying against her husband. But if you don’t fuck him over, you’re going to fuck her over.”
“I don’t want to fuck anybody over!”
“You have to fuck someone over! Welcome to the real world, Sean! You had enough practice fucking up your life and your mother’s!”
I wanted to hit him, but I was so mad I couldn’t even move. Mr. Johnson brushed his sleeves.
“Personally, ” he said quietly, “I’d much, much rather have Mr. Aggarwal fucked over. What do you say, Sean? Are you going to testify against him?”
I pushed my seat out and put my head on top my folded arms on the desk. Mr. Johnson shifted in his seat to hold eye contact with me.
“What’s going to happen to your recordings of me and Mrs. Angrywall?” I asked.
“I’ll have a technical difficulty and delete them.”
“I want a copy of them.”
Suddenly, Chuck burst into the room.
“My client has nothing to say to you!” he stammered.
Mr. Johnson smiled and crumpled up the foil wrappers and tossed them into a garbage can. He said, “We were just having lunch–a real good lunch.”
Then Chuck looked at the both of us and smiled, too.
(Part 19 next week.)