Carson stared down at his hands. He’d just been finger printed, photographed, and given the opportunity to make a phone call. They’d taken away his cell phone, his wallet, and the keys to a Mercedes he no longer drove. He didn’t mind giving up the keys—they were part of a bad memory.
He tried to remember Nasser’s phone number. He’d left his card on his bedside table in his apartment. He was reaching for the phone book, or what resembled one, with its cover torn to shreds and various bio forms growing from it, when he noticed a large ad above the pay phone: IN A LEGAL JAM? BETTER CALL SAM—SAM NASSER! The phone number was right underneath. He left a voice mail for Nasser, hung up, and was led to a holding cell.
He now sat on a long bench in a cell full of other men. There was silence in the room. The men, just like Carson, were contemplating the law they had broken to get them into this cell. An occasional cough or shuffling of feet broke the silence. Most were hunched over or leaned back against the wall. One man snored softly, perhaps sleeping something off or choosing to sleep off the reality of the cell.
There was a single toilet in the room; a dull silver fixture with no lid that dared any man to use it in full view of the others. Beside it was a matching dull silver sink with no soap or paper towels. Carson thought these facilities made a bus station toilet look glamorous.
The cell floor sloped toward a large drain in the center. The intent of the design seemed obvious. Whatever the men brought into the cell would be hosed down each day. Carson stared at the drain. The grate was rusting; a black fungus grew around its edges.
He thought of that term he’d heard from doctors, “circling the drain”—now he could see it. He was no longer dying, but he wasn’t living either. In the past forty-eight hours, he’d gone from a man given a second chance to one who was wasting that chance. He felt like those people he’d seen in Las Vegas, standing over the roulette table, a drink in one hand, yelling “spin the damn wheel,” after they’d piled all their chips on one number.
He hunched over, put his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. He assumed the posture of a defeated man. He was waiting for his lawyer to come, just like the others in the room, to see what he could do to help him. In the meantime, he’d dwell in his own pity party.
“I’ve seen you before,” a voice said beside Carson.
Carson rose up slowly, taking his head out of his hands reluctantly. It was comfortably cradled in pity; he didn’t want to move it. He looked at the man beside him. He’d seen him when he first sat down. The man looked strange, but it was the only seat available on the bench.
The man was black with a weathered face, long gray hair that shot off in many wiry directions as if trying to pick up satellite channels. His beard was shades of black and grey with shiny beads woven into it. A patterned poncho hid his arms. His legs were encased in leather leggings wound with leather straps. His feet were in sandals made from tire treads attached together by some miracle of twine.
Carson nodded at the man. He didn’t smile. He didn’t want conversation; he wanted silence so he could sink deeper into his own despair, pulling his pity over him like his own comfortable blanket.
“Um huh, sure, you’re that Carson Winfield guy. The big shot real estate guy . . . yeah that’s you, all right,” the man said.
There was no getting away from it. Carson needed to reply, to make some kind of statement to resume his depressive state. “Sure, that’s me,” he said. He smiled weakly at the man, hoping that was enough to end the conversation. He put his head back in his hands.
“What happened to you?” the man asked.
Carson leaned back and turned to the man. Here was a man who looks like he’d been sleeping under a bridge or living in a cardboard box, and he was asking what had happened to him? The question seemed ridiculous.
The man stared at him, twirling a bead in his beard. Waiting for the answer.
“It seems I’ve been subjected to a series of unfortunate events,” Carson said.
“Ah . . . I see . . .” the man said. That seemed to quiet him for a moment. He twirled a different bead in his beard and then commenced to stroke his beard as if Carson had given him important information.
“You’re out of tune with your life . . . you haven’t found your rhythm,” the man said after several minutes of thought.
Carson glared at the man. How could he question his life? This man was obviously out of tune with the world. The statement was sheer nonsense—it didn’t deserve a response, but he couldn’t risk angering the man, or make him go into some kind of crazy rant that would get Carson into more trouble, or draw attention to him.
“Maybe you’re right. Thanks for the comment,” Carson said with a forced smile.
“Yeah, I know you don’t want to take advice from a crazy homeless man,” he chuckled. “But I tuned out this unreal, crazy world many years ago. I tuned into reality and found my peace . . . I call it the eternal flow.”
Carson shook his head and looked at the man. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, sorry, and I guess I probably never will. If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to sit here quietly and await my fate.” He hoped that might be enough to stop the talking and leave him along.
The man’s arm jutted out from under the poncho, nudging Carson. “Now that’s your problem. You are letting life determine your future, instead of getting in tune with the flow of your life and determining your own.”
Carson looked around the cell. The other prisoners were listening with interest. There was nowhere else to move on the benches; he had to endure this conversation. He could stand, but his ankle still hurt. He needed to engage with this crazy man as delicately as possible.
He turned to the man and in as calm a voice as he could muster, he asked, “Now, have you determined your own life . . . Mr. . . . ?”
“Isaac Pennyworth is my name. And yes, I have determined my own life. I was once one of the top stock brokers in Los Angeles. I wore the most expensive suits and lived in Beverly Hills next to the celebrities. Many of them were my clients. But I knew I was out of sync . . . out of tune with myself . . . with my own life. One day I walked out of my office, and I just kept walking. I walked all the way into the hills around the city. And do you know what I found?”
“No, Mr. Pennyworth, I don’t know.”
“You can call me Isaac.”
“Thank you, Isaac. No, I don’t know what you found, please enlighten me,” Carson said dryly. He was hoping this exchange would show the men in the cell how crazy this man was and that they could all go back to silence.
“I found the inner flow of life,” Isaac said with a smile. He had perfect white teeth. His dark brown eyes sparkled as he continued. “I also found that one must not use one’s mind to assess one’s problem but to let the flow of life happen. Life knows what it wants to do with you. You, my friend . . .” he placed his hand on Carson’s knee, squeezing it for effect, “are going against the flow . . . that is why you’re here.”
Carson looked down at the man’s hand on his knee. He didn’t want to confront the man, but he was getting annoyed—he was invading his space. “Isaac, if you’re so in touch with the flow, then why exactly are you here in this cell with the rest of us?”
Those words got Carson a round of approving noises from the rest of the men in the cell. A series of “Uh hum’s,” and, “That’s right,” and someone in corner called out, “Crazy old fool.”
Isaac took his hand off of Carson’s knee. He didn’t seem to hear the other men or bother to acknowledge their comments. “Why, my brother, I’m obviously here to give you this message about the eternal flow.”
Carson shook his head, “No, I mean why did you get arrested and put in here? Why didn’t your eternal flow guide you—why didn’t it keep you out of jail?”
Again the other men voiced their agreement with Carson. Carson was enjoying this. He was using the old man’s words against him. The other men in the cell were on his side; he felt in his element. The verbal sparring match felt good.
“You don’t understand. I’m not here on any charges,” Isaac said. “I’m just here to give you a message about the flow.”
The other men began to laugh. Carson looked over at them with a smile, his eyes wide in mock amazement at Isaac’s statement.
The cell door opened. A policeman stood there with another man to put in the cell. “You about done, Isaac? We’re getting overcrowded today, and we could use your space.”
Isaac rose up and adjusted his poncho. “Yes, officer, I believe my work here is done. Thank you. I’ll be leaving now. Tell the sergeant that I thank him, and the flow thanks him.” Isaac walked out of the cell, down the hallway and to his freedom.
The policeman watched him as he walked away. “That is one crazy old man. He shows up here about every month or so and says he has a special message for someone and would we mind placing him in the holding cell for an hour or two.” The policeman shook his head. “Yeah, kind of crazy, but he helped out the sergeant once, and this is how he said he could repay him.”
The other men became silent. They looked at Carson as someone who’d been singled out by some strange force of destiny. Someone muttered, “That big shot probably didn’t get the message.”
Carson was about to put his head back in his hands to wallow in his despair when another policeman yelled his name at the cell door. “Carson Winfield, you got a visitor; come with me.”
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