Read The Five Pearls Online

Authors: Barry James Hickey

The Five Pearls

The Five Pearls
Barry James Hickey
CreateSpace (2009)
Rating:
****

The Five Pearls belongs on the bookshelf next to The Outsiders, Holes, Catcher in the Rye, and To Sir With Love. A perfect read for teenagers and parents alike. Barry James Hickey's engagingly cinematic writing will make you laugh, cry and ponder. No child left behind in today's American education system? There are five this time. Hickey has created a truly memorable story with distinct characters carved from everyday life where everyone has a secret. With the help of a retired nurse, a dying man with a new identity, a terrible past and a hidden agenda changes the hearts, minds, and character of The Tadpoles; five angry, stubborn students forced into an after-school program. Barry James Hickey's world of disconnected quirky characters destroys the myth of the American melting pot and turns it into a salad bowl of mixed races growing up together with surprising and uplifting results. The Five Pearls leaves you begging for the story not to end.

Review

A bright book on hope and caring. 
Guy Tower (Howard, Colorado)
Barry James Hickey creates characters no one would at first sight, sympathize with, then imbues his characters with a magic formula, using acute observation of the human condition, sensitivity, honesty, imagination, love and hope. The result is a wonderful story, with timely revelations.

From the Author

How the novel evolved:
In my last year as a high school English teacher, doctors were running tests to see if I had leukemia. Meanwhile, I had a handful of frustrated teenagers trying piece together their current and future lives. It was a brilliant summer for all of us and my initial idea for The Five Pearls was born. I constructed five angry kids, based on the hundreds I had the pleasure of knowing from the past few years and came up with my final tale.

T
HE
F
IVE
PEARLS
a novel
BARRY JAMES HICKEY

- 1 This is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The Five Pearls
All Rights Reserved.
Copyright 2008 Barry James Hickey.

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

For contact information for the author, visit www.barryhickey.com
CHAPTER ONE

The tall and suntanned Superintendent walked with the freed prisoner towards the last gate to freedom. The prisoner toted his duffel bag. All that he owned was in it.

“Damned shame what the system can and can’t do, John.” “I can’t cry over spilled milk, Warden Rivers.”
“Well, if it was me, I’d sure as hell be taking it personal.

Locked up nearly fifteen years, then they cut you loose when the big bills start comin’. Board wouldn’t even let you in the damned prison hospice program since you were due for parole. My hands were tied. You know that?”

“I understand, warden.”

Rivers gestured with his meaty hand to a guard in a security shack. The gate in front of them buzzed and swung open automatically.

“Good luck, John!” the guard yelled out.

The prisoner waved goodbye to the man in uniform and continued with the Warden down a long ramp towards a parking lot. The big man was anxious for talk.

“Best I can do is that Mexico thing for you, John.” “I appreciate it, Warden. That little cut and dice will give me enough cash till the end game.”

“Of course, it never came from me.”
“Never.”
“You did a lot of good for a lot of men in here.” The

superintendent admitted. “You should be proud of that.” “Still doesn’t negate the fact that I killed three people,” the
smaller man shrugged.
“A little advice, John?”
“Sure.”
The Warden stopped and faced him. “I know all about what
you intend to do. But don’t try to fix what’s broken. Not with the time you have left.” He studied John’s tired eyes. “If I was you, I’d be making my peace with my maker. No time to
play shepherd to the sheep.”
“And a little advice for you, Warden Rivers? You’re a
humane man…”
“Sure, John.”
“It’s time to hang up your spurs, too.”
The released prisoner moved on ahead of his former
keeper.
The Superintendent nodded to himself as he caught up
with a few big strides. “Damned prison system nowadays.
Nothing more than a money laundering scheme for big
business and politicians. Shipping and swapping inmates from
one state to the next. It’s all about maximizing revenues. I’m
nothin’ but a damned flesh merchant with a calculator. Maybe
you’re right.”
They arrived at the gravel parking lot. It was visitor’s day
but only a few cars were parked there.
“You got someone to pick you up?” the Superintendent
said.
“I don’t know anybody in Texas. Heck, I don’t know
anybody anywhere anymore.”
“Well, the bus into town comes on the hour.” The Warden
glanced up at the guard tower and awkwardly wiped his hands
on his pants legs. “Well, all right then,” he said. “So I guess
this is goodbye…” He offered up a handshake. “You’re a free
man now, John. Don’t die alone.”
John shook his hand. “I’ll try not to, Warden.”
He carried his duffel over to the bus stop and sat down on
a cool metal bench under a lean-to that was supposed to be a
respite from the blistering Texas sun in summer. But it was
long past summer now and the wind in the air tasted like dirty
chalk.
A big sign was screwed to the fence next to the bus stop;
words printed in big blood red letters:

DO NOT PICK UP HITCHIKERS The Superintendent turned and started back towards the prison. The big man’s hands were clenched tight and he shook his head angrily, talking to himself. “Man will never see fifty. Ain’t life a bitch sometimes…”

He looked at his watch and remembered that there was an execution to preside over tomorrow and that he’d have to make a string of calls. Warden Rivers was getting mighty tired of the thin line that existed between the keepers and the kept…

CHAPTER TWO

A week had passed for the freed man. Texas and prison were already a distant memory. He was in Mexico now, in a small dusty town across the border. His weeklong hospital visit had been a blur. Waiting for a taxi outside the battered stucco building, the concerned Mexican nurse leaned the American against a sign pole.

“You need more rest,” she declared.
“No time.”
The stout nurse lifted his shirt and examined the long gauze

bandage near his stomach, shaking her head. “Already your stitches leak. If you are not careful, infection will set in. Then it will spread, then you will die.”

The once-handsome American laughed and his long gray hair danced around his shoulders. He pulled the drawstring tight on his duffel bag.

“We’re all going to die someday, sister.”
“But not today?” The nurse begged with a soft smile. “Not today Conchita.”
She stuffed two pill containers inside the small opening of

his duffel bag. “Take one of each every four hours. One is for the pain, the other is for infection.”
“Thank you.”
The kind woman placed two more containers inside his jacket pocket. “These are for your other problem - the headaches, nausea, and seizures. I wrote the instructions in English.” Conchita smiled at him. “Nothing else then, Senor. I am sorry you did what you had to do.”
“That kidney was the only thing I owned that still worked on a daily basis.”
She smiled softly. “Goodbye, then.” The nurse waved to a passing cab. It made a U-turn in the street and pulled up alongside the curb. She opened the cab’s rear door and kissed the American on the cheek. “Vaya con Dios, John.”
“Go with God?” he chuckled. “That'll be the day.”
The American clumsily slid into the cab and waved goodbye with a weak hand.
The taxi meandered into the thick of traffic down the dusty irregular street and was gone.
The nurse angrily turned and faced the hospital. She spoke bitter words from experience. “I hate my job.”
Driving down the street, the cab driver shouted towards the back seat over loud music blaring from a portable radio on the dashboard.
“Adonde, Senor?”
“The bus station for the States,” said John.
“Where in America you go?”
“Colorado.”
“Ah! Colorado! A beautiful place! Why are you in Mexico?”
“Business.”
The cab hit a pothole in the dry dusty road and slammed the American into the right passenger door.
“You better pull over,” John said through gritted teeth.
“What did you say?” The driver studied his passenger in the rearview mirror.
“I said pull ove…”
The cab driver slammed on the brakes but it was too late. The stranger in the back seat had already vomited on the floor.

Two days later, an old bus arrived in Trinidad, Colorado. A dozen Hispanics, mostly men, stepped off and retrieved their bags and satchels from the undercarriage before the old bus pulled out of the depot.

John sat in the last row of the bus, finally able to stretch out. In Mexico, before he boarded his first of three buses, he bought a cane, magazines, food and water. His duffel bag was propped in the corner under the dark-tinted window. It made for an uncomfortable, lumpy pillow. There wasn’t much else in it. Just an old oblong shoe box carrying important papers, three pairs of pants, a few shirts and belts, two pairs of worn shoes, toiletries.

He’d been riding buses for two long days now. Even with pills to pop, he was in constant pain from his surgery. There were other complications, too. Night sweats, strange twitching convulsions, and ringing headaches so bad he wanted to tear his ears off. But he was used to the absurd pains. They started months ago.

There it is again!
He felt a new, stronger convulsion starting up. John tried to open the pill bottle, the one the nurse told him to take for just such a thing. But his hands were unsteady with the lid. The pills spilled on the floor of the growling, moving bus.
He glanced to his right. A small Mexican boy with giant brown eyes had been watching him from a seat across the aisle in front of him ever since Texas. The kid slid to the floor from his seat and carefully picked up the pills one at a time. He studied the older man with a strange curiosity as the American struggled ineptly with small convulsions. A minute passed before the shaking stopped. The small boy pulled the empty pill container from the man’s hand and refilled it with all the pills from the floor but one. This he offered up to the American’s lips. John took the pill and swallowed it. The boy found a bottle of drinking water on the seat, opened it and offered that to the American, too.
“Thank you,” said the man, sipping down the water. “What’s your name?”
“Jesus.” The small boy winked at him and returned to his seat next to his heavyset mother. She was fast asleep.
John smiled one last time at the boy before pulling himself up to the window. He stared towards the West. A pyramidshaped mountain loomed in the distance ahead of him. It glowed with a purple majesty from the half-risen sun’s rays in the east.
“It is so big!” He heard the boy say from his own seat across the aisle. “What is it?”
“Pikes Peak,” the American said. “America’s mountain.”
“I am going to be an American someday,” Jesus whispered firmly.
“You can take my spot when I leave,” John said.
“Where are you going?’ asked Jesus, eyes widening.
“Far, far away.”
“After America, I will visit you.”
“Okay.” His pleasant blue eyes twinkled as he smiled at the boy.

Long minutes passed.
The voice of the bus driver interrupted over a loudspeaker. “Next stop - Colorado Springs. Prepare for arrival in fifteen minutes.”
John closed his eyes. He had one last chance to reflect before it was too late.
Why am I here
? Besides the deception, the fraud, his scheme was far-fetched.
No one cares after fifteen years. Maybe the Warden is right. Forget the past. Move on
. He caught himself and laughed
. Move on to what? A few months to live is all I got. I have to correct the past, have to rewrite a bad history.
He had done what he could from his jail cell. Found a guy inside who knew a guy outside. A guy he could trust. A guy who would float him the trip money for Mexico, who knew dishonest foreign doctors and an international rock star in need of a short-term organ transplant.
Arriving at the depot, John said goodbye to the little boy then freshened up in the bus station restroom. There was only cold running water in the faucet, so he skipped a clean shave. When he brushed his teeth, they hurt and his gums bled. After straightening his hair, his comb revealed at least two dozen broken gray strands. He stepped back and studied himself in the mirror, noticing blood seeping through his shirt from the bandage. He lifted the shirt, removed the bandage and cleansed the wound, applying antibiotic over the stitches. He pulled several paper towels from a dispenser, folded them together and pressed them over the surgical site. He pulled the tape off the previous bandage and jury-rigged it to stay on the new.
“That should hold me,” he decided wearily.
He opened plastic containers and took his medications. Then he studied his face. He seemed pale and gaunt with a hint of death. The shadows under his eyes were deepening into permanent grooves. He had lost ten pounds this month, ten in the previous. It was all he could do to keep some weight on. He studied his hands. They were Farmer in the Dell hands now. Wrinkled and spotted. He pulled on the back of his left hand. The skin didn’t bounce back. Instead, it hung up in a thin lizard-textured ridge.
He didn’t even want to take his shirt off. There were purple and red bruises on his body that he couldn’t explain. And with each day, he found more.
His cane as a walking brace, John left the bus station and carried his duffel bag down the street until he found a breakfast café. Eight dollars, three eggs over easy and a pot of coffee later, he was back on the street. A woman walked by on her way to work and gave him the time.
“Almost eight-thirty,” she said.
“Lady, I just paid eight dollars for breakfast. Is that about right?”
“You get meat with it?”
“Bacon.”
“Everything’s too expensive nowadays,” she complained as she hurried on.
He still had time on his hands. He found a nice bench seat, sat and watched the downtown foot traffic as people scurried into buildings like mice to the cheese. It had been a long, long time since he’d been a mouse.
My own fault
, he decided.
After an hour, he looked for a passing taxi, but none appeared. A passerby told him, “The best place to get a taxi is at the Antler’s Hotel. Two blocks up on the right.”
John carried his duffel bag to the greeter’s desk inside the hotel lobby and despite his disheveled look, the greeter called a local taxi company.
“Where to?” the driver asked when he arrived.
“Weber Avenue,” he said. “I’ll have a second destination after that.”
The driver looked back at the stranger. “You sure you can pay for this, bub?”
“If I can’t, I’m sure you can outrun me to chase me down.”
The cab driver laughed and switched on the meter.
Five minutes later, the cab turned down a street with residential and commercial buildings on either side. It arrived at the curb of a single-story bungalow. It used to be a house.
“Here we go, bub. Hogan Insurance.”
The stranger started out of the car with the bag.
“If you don’t mind,” said the driver, tugging at one end of it, “The bag stays. In case you don’t decide to come back. And in case maybe I can’t outrun you.”
“I understand.”
John abandoned the bag, exited the cab gingerly and hobbled towards the insurance office on his cane.
The house had a well-kept stucco edifice, painted white with red trim. With every step, he felt an excruciating burning pain in his abdomen. With the aid of his cane, he took the three short steps up the poured concrete porch and knocked on the door. He heard a gravel voice from inside.
“Come in.”
John entered the brightly painted hallway. To the right, through a sliding glass door, a reception desk was set up where a dining room once was.
“Back here,” the voice called again. It sounded tired.
John turned through the reception area and laid his eyes on Big Bill Hogan. He was a block of a man at six feet four and three hundred and fifty pounds. Hogan sat behind a big oak desk, stuffing down a stack of pancakes from a Styrofoam box.
“Based on the fact that you look half-dead, you must be John!” Hogan smiled.
His face was smeared with butter and syrup. He ran his sticky fingers through his thinning hair, crossed from behind his desk and squeezed his guest in a giant bear hug. When he released him, John nearly fell to the floor from the pain.
“What was I thinking?” Hogan laughed. He lifted his guest up and set him in a chair. As John caught his breath, Big Bill sat on his desk, reached for the pancake breakfast and resumed eating. “You look terrible,” he growled.
“It’s been a long week,” John said, his voice tight.
“I suppose so,” Big Bill chewed. “So. Show me…”
John lifted his shirt, exposing the blood-soaked temporary bandage on his abdomen.
“Yuck,” Hogan said. Half the food in his mouth uncontrollably dribbled out. “Looks like you’ve been stabbed! How big was that kidney you sold?”
“They wouldn’t let me hold it after the delivery,” John said.
“Sorry you had to sell it to a musician,” Hogan scoffed. “Another stoned rocker from the seventies.”
“The good doctor said it was his third transplant. The waiting list here in the States is too long, so he takes any donor he can get.” He rubbed his legs rapidly.
“What’s wrong with your legs?”
“Circulation problems. We get our money?”
Big Bill Hogan wiped his mouth off on a sleeve and set his food down. “Yeah, I got it all.”
He unlocked a filing cabinet, reached past a pair of whisky bottles, and pulled out a briefcase from the bottom drawer. He set it on the desk and opened it. Inside the briefcase were stacks of cash.
“After my expenses, you got about sixty thousand dollars left. You sure you don't want to sell the other kidney?”
John didn’t reply. He glanced in at the briefcase. There was no emotion.
“Guess I’d be tired too, after fifteen years of nothin’.” Hogan matter-of-factly returned to the filing cabinet. “I got you a new identity, just like you asked.”
“Good.”
Big Bill pulled out several plastic cards from the bottom drawer. “Your new name is John Battle. I let you keep your first name. Even got you a driver's license and social security card. You do remember how to drive?”
“We’ll see about that.”
“The whole kit and caboodle cost you two grand.”
John with the new last name of Battle reached into the briefcase and counted out two thousand dollars.
“How did you do on the rest?” John Battle asked.
“Piece of cake. Lucky for you, my uncle the Warden liked you. His office got me into Fed files I never heard of.” Big Bill Hogan reached into his desk and pulled out a folder. “I got past and present schools, group homes, foster care, psychological profiles, state, local county and city records, even medical bills.” He handed John the folder. “Where do we go from here?”
John flipped through the pages in the folder. “Can you get me pictures?”
“Pictures?” Hogan scratched his neck. “Not a problem. Then what?”
“Let’s see what develops.”
Hogan stood up and leaned over him. “Excuse me. Pardon my indiscretions, but I’ve been informed that you don’t have too much time left on this good green earth.”
John pulled out five hundred dollars from the briefcase. “Get me some photographs?”
“Will do.” Hogan grinned and collected the money off the table.
“What about living arrangements?”
Big Bill lifted an index card from the corner of his desk. “I got you into the Loomis House under your new name. Mrs. Powell there, she’s a retired nurse. She'll take excellent care of you. Knows your situation. She’ll respect your privacy and she’s grateful for the money.”
“How much a week?”
“A grand, plus the cost of your meds.”
John stared down at the briefcase full of money. “I hope this lasts.”
“Depends on how long you live,” Hogan reminded him. “Besides, there’s always new money to be had. If you think you might run short, let me know and I’ll make some calls.”
Battle closed the briefcase. “I get to keep this as a parting gift?”
“The case comes with the cash,” Big Bill smiled.
John took the case and grabbed his cane. He headed for the door. “Thanks for all your help, Big Bill.”
“Give me a couple of days. I’ll be in touch.”
The man with the new name of John Battle pointed his cane towards the filing cabinet.
“Don’t make the same mistake I did.”
“What do you mean?” Hogan was bewildered.
“Those two whisky bottles in the filing cabinet. Looks like a serious hobby.”
“I can handle it.”
“That’s what I said once. If you need help, just ask.” Battle moved towards the door.
“Hey, John? Promise me you won't sell any more kidneys!” Hogan joked.
Battle smiled wearily and left the office.
Big Bill watched him as he made his way back down the walk towards the waiting taxi. After the cab pulled away, he pulled a bottle of whisky from the filing cabinet and took a long swig.
“Dead guys give me the creeps.”
He put the bottle back and collapsed at his desk. It wasn’t even ten a.m., but as usual, he’d be on his heels by noon.

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