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     ROBERT CRAIS: THE TWO MINUTE RULE
     
                                     excerpt two

PART ONE

86 DAYS LATER

1.

     "You're not too old. Forty-six isn't old, these days. You got a world of time to make a life for yourself."
     Holman didn't answer. He was trying to decide how best to pack. The entirety of his personal possessions were spread out on the bed, all neatly folded: four white T-shirts, three Hanes briefs, four pair of white socks, two short-sleeved shirts (one beige, one plaid), one pair of khaki pants, plus the clothes he had been wearing when he was arrested for bank robbery ten years, three months, and four days ago.
     "Max, you listening?"
     "I gotta get this stuff packed. Lemme ask you something--you think I should keep my old stuff, from before? I don't know as I'll ever get into those pants."
     Wally Figg, who ran the Community Correctional Center, which was kind of a halfway house for federal prisoners, stepped forward to eye the pants. He picked them up, and held them next to Holman. The cream-colored slacks still bore scuff marks from when the police had wrestled Holman to the floor in the First United California Bank ten years plus three months ago. Wally admired the material.
     "That's a nice cut, man. What is it, Italian?"
     "Armani."
     Wally nodded, impressed.
     "I'd keep'm, I was you. Be a shame to lose something this nice."
     "I got four inches more in the waist now than back then."
     In the day, Holman had lived large. He stole cars, hijacked trucks, and robbed banks. Fat with fast cash, he hoovered up crystal meth for breakfast and Maker’s Mark for lunch, so jittery from dope and hung over from booze he rarely bothered to eat. He had gained weight in prison.
     Wally refolded the pants.
     "Was me, I'd keep'm. You'll get yourself in shape again. Give yourself something to shoot for, gettin' back in these pants."
     Holman tossed them to Wally. Wally was smaller.
     "Better to leave the past behind."
     Wally admired the slacks, then looked sadly at Holman.
     "You know I can't. We can't accept anything from the residents. I'll pass'm along to one of the other guys, you want. Or give'm to Goodwill."
     "Whatever."
     "You got a preference, who I should give'm to?"
     "No, whoever."
     "Okay. Sure."
     Holman went back to staring at his clothes. His suitcase was an Albertsons grocery bag. Technically, Max Holman was still incarcerated, but in another hour he would be a free man. You finish a federal stretch, they don't just cross off the last X and cut you loose; being released from federal custody happened in stages. They started you off with six months in an Intensive Confinement Center where you got field trips into the outside world, behavioral counseling, additional drug counseling if you needed it, that kind of thing, after which you graduated to a Community Correctional Center where they let you live and work in a community with real live civilians. In the final stages of his release program, Holman had spent the past three months at the CCC in Venice, California, a beach community sandwiched between Santa Monica and Marina del Rey, preparing himself for his release. As of today, Holman would be released from full-time federal custody into what was known as supervised release--he would be a free man for the first time in ten years.
     Wally said, "Well, okay, I'm gonna go get the papers together. I'm proud of you, Max. This is a big day. I'm really happy for you."
     Holman layered his clothes in the bag. With the help of his Bureau of Prisons transition supervisor, Gail Manelli, he had secured a room in a resident motel and a job; the room would cost sixty dollars a week, the job would pay a hundred-seventy-two fifty after taxes. A big day.
Wally clapped him on the back.
     "I'll be in the office whenever you're ready to go. Hey, you know what I did, kind of a going away present?"
     Holman glanced at him.
     "What?"
     Wally slipped a business card from his pocket and gave it to Holman. The card showed a picture of an antique time piece. Salvadore Jimenez, repairs, fine watches bought and sold, Culver City, California. Wally explained as Holman read the card.
     "My wife's cousin has this little place. He fixes watches. I figured maybe you havin' a job and all, you'd want to get your old man's watch fixed. You want to see Sally you lemme know, I'll make sure he gives you a price."
     Holman slipped the card into his pocket. He wore a cheap Timex with an expandable band that hadn't worked in twenty years. In the day, Holman had worn an eighteen thousand dollar Patek Phillippe he stole from a car fence named Oscar Reyes. Reyes had tried to short him on a stolen Carrera, so Holman had choked the sonofabitch until he passed out. But that was then. Now, Holman wore the Timex even though its hands were frozen. The Timex had belonged to his father.
     "Thanks, Wally, thanks a lot. I was going to do that."
     "A watch that don't keep time ain't much good to you."
     "I have something in mind for it, so this will help."
     "You let me know. I'll make sure he gives you a price."
     "Sure. Thanks. Let me get packed up here, okay?"
     Wally left as Holman returned to his packing. He had the clothes, three hundred twelve dollars that he had earned during his incarceration, and his father's watch. He did not have a car or a driver's license or friends or family to pick him up upon his release. Wally was going to give him a ride to his motel. After that, Holman would be on his own with the Los Angeles public transportation system and a watch that didn't work.
     Holman went to his bureau for the picture of his son. Richie's picture was the first thing he had put in the room here at the CCC, and it would be the last thing he packed when he left. It showed his son at the age of eight, a gap-toothed kid with a buzz cut, dark skin, and serious eyes; his child's body already thickening with Holman's neck and shoulders. The last time Holman actually saw the boy was his son's twelfth birthday, Holman flush with cash from flipping two stolen Corvettes in San Diego, showing up blind drunk a day too late, the boy's mother, Donna, taking the two thousand he offered too little too late by way of the child support he never paid and on which he was always behind. Donna had sent him the old picture during his second year of incarceration, a guilty spasm because she wouldn't bring the boy to visit Holman in prison, wouldn't let the boy speak to Holman on the phone, and wouldn't pass on Holman's letters, such as they were, however few and far between, keeping the boy out of Holman's life. Holman no longer blamed her for that. She had done all right by the boy with no help from him. His son had made something of himself, and Holman was goddamned proud of that.
     Holman placed the picture flat into the bag, then covered it with the remaining clothes to keep it safe. He glanced around the room. It didn't look so very different than it had an hour ago before he started.
     He said, "Well, I guess that's it."
     He told himself to leave, but didn't. He sat on the side of the bed instead. It was a big day, but the weight of it left him feeling heavy. He was going to get settled in his new room, check in with his release supervisor, then try to find Donna. It had been two years since her last note, not that she had ever written all that much anyway, but the five letters he had written to her since had all been returned, no longer at this address. Holman figured she had gotten married, and the new guy probably didn't want her convicted felon boyfriend messing in their life. Holman didn't blame her for that, either. They had never married, but they did have the boy together and that had to be worth something even if she hated him. Holman wanted to apologize and let her know he had changed. If she had a new life, well, he wanted to wish her well with it, and then he wanted to get on with his. Eight or nine years ago when he thought about this day he saw himself running out the goddamned door, but now he just sat on the bed. Holman was still sitting when Wally came back.
     "Max?"
     Wally stood in the door like he was scared to come in. His face was pale and he kept wetting his lips.
     Holman said, "What's wrong? Wally, you having a heart attack, what?"
     Wally closed the door. He glanced at a little note pad like something was on it he didn't have right. He was visibly shaken.
     "Wally, what?"
     "You have a son, right? Richie?"
     "Yeah, that's right."
     "What's his full name?"
     "Richard Dale Holman."
     Holman stood. He didn't like the way Wally was fidgeting and licking his lips.
     "You know I have a boy. You've seen his picture."
     "He's a kid."
     "He'd be twenty-three now. He's twenty-three. Why you want to know about this?"
     "Max, listen, is he a police officer? Here in L.A.?"
     "That's right."
     Wally came over and touched Holman's arm with fingers as light as a breath.
     "It's bad, Max. I have some bad news now and I want you to get ready for it.”
     Wally searched Holman’s eyes as if he wanted a sign, so Holman nodded.
     “Okay, Wally. What?”
     “He was killed last night. I'm sorry, man. I'm really really sorry."
     Holman heard the words; he saw the pain in Wally’s eyes and felt the concern in Wally’s touch, but Wally and the room and the world left Holman behind like one car pulling away from another on a flat desert highway, Holman hitting the brakes, Wally hitting the gas, Holman watching the world race away.
     Then he caught up and fought down an empty, terrible ache.
     "What happened?"
     "I don't know, Max. There was a call from the Bureau of Prisons when I went for your papers. They didn't have much to say. They wasn't even sure it was you or if you were still here."
     Holman sat down again and this time Wally sat beside him. Holman had wanted to look up his son after he spoke with Donna. That last time he saw the boy, just two months before Holman was pinched in the bank gig, the boy had told him to fuck off, running alongside the car as Holman drove away, eyes wet and bulging, screaming that Holman was a loser, screaming fuck off, you loser. Holman still dreamed about it. Now here they were and Holman was left with the empty sense that everything he had been moving to for the past ten years had come to a drifting stop like a ship that had lost its way.
     Wally said, "You want to cry, it's okay."
     Holman didn't cry. He wanted to know who did it.

© 2006 by Robert Crais


   
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