Read Three Sides of the Tracks Online
Authors: Mike Addington
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Crime, #Thriller & Suspense, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Thriller, #Teen & Young Adult
Sides of the Tracks
Dedicated to Mickey Dunn
A loyal, lifelong Friend
2014 by Mike
Although inspired by real
events, the contents herein are a work of fiction and do not represent or
depict any person, living or deceased, or actual event; and any similarity to
any person, place, or event is purely coincidental.
Three Sides of the Tracks
The Friendship Is Born
Caroline’s tiny legs trembled, and her hand shook as she pushed open the
school door, a door that opened onto a new world. She glanced back nervously,
but her mother had pulled away to allow another car at the “drop off” point.
After one more deep breath, she found her way to the principal’s office despite
keeping her eyes glued to the floor most of the way.
A stern woman wearing brown-frame glasses with silver protrusions on the
upper corners that looked like wings to Caroline leaned over the counter and
glared at her. The brilliant red lipstick moved, but Caroline didn’t hear. The
lipstick was so thick it had rubbed off on the woman’s teeth, which reminded
Caroline of the clown at the circus last fall . . . or maybe—
A ruler smacked the counter. “What is your name, young lady? Are you
deaf?” the clown said.
“Caroline. Caroline Whitaker, ma’am.”
“Speak up. I can’t bear to hear a child whisper. I swear, if y’all aren’t
yelling like banshees, you’re shy as turtles. “Now,” the woman said, an air of
finality in her tone, “
is your name?”
Caroline took a deep breath. “Caroline Whitaker. I’m in the third grade.”
say you are, but that doesn’t mean you are to me. I’ll
have to look it up.
you and your mother have registered properly.
Where are you transferring from?”
“Russell Elementary School.”
The woman lifted her chin and looked down at Caroline. “Russell,” she
said, the word spoken to match the look of disdain on her face. “Are you sure
you’re supposed to be
Lee Elementary, you know.
Entirely different than Russell. Yes, entirely different.”
Fingers swept across the keyboard. “Caroline Whitaker.” The woman
scrutinized the computer screen for a long while, giving Caroline the
impression she was trying to find something wrong.
The red lips smacked twice, and the woman exhaled almost as a sigh.
, appears to be in order. Do you think
you possibly can find your way down one hall to the fourth classroom on the
“No manners, I see. A mark of character, you know.
character.” The ogre’s red lips smacked again. “ ‘Yes, ma’am’ would have been
The woman thrust a slip of paper at Caroline. “Your teacher’s name is Ms.
Olson. Give this to her and follow instructions.
Caroline tried to keep her hand from trembling as she reached for the
slip. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Yes, ma’am, what?”
“Yes, ma’am, I can find the classroom,” Caroline whispered, then, just as
the red lips opened, she added, “Thank you.”
The woman jerked on the bottom of her blouse and raised her chin. “That’s
better. Now, speak up, child. Mercy. Run along. Run along. You’re late as it
is. You can’t be disturbing Ms. Olson’s class.”
Caroline picked up her backpack. She and her mother shopped everywhere
trying to find one like it. One with the Wall-e design.
The door to Ms. Olson’s classroom was open, so Caroline stopped at the
doorway and tapped timidly on the frame.
Ms. Olson stopped in midsentence. She looked at Caroline and smiled.
“Come on in, young lady. I’ll bet your name is Caroline Whitaker, isn’t it?
I’ve been expecting you. Well, come on,” she said again since Caroline seemed
rooted to the spot.
Caroline felt all eyes on her. She snapped out of the frightened trance
and lurched forward, her legs trembling again.
She held out the slip of paper. Ms. Olsen took it and laid it on her
“Honey, just find you a seat, but, first, do you want to tell us a little
bit about yourself since this is your first day at a new school?”
Caroline froze. Without looking up, she knew everyone was staring at her.
She tried her best to keep from crying, but felt a tear on the corner of her
eye. She prayed it wouldn’t run down her face.
“I’m Caroline, . . . and . . . and . . . this is my first day.”
The class giggled.
Ms. Olson waited a few seconds. “Well, Caroline, just go ahead and sit
down. It’s hard to come to a new school all by yourself. Now, class, I want
everyone to make Caroline feel at home. Caroline will tell us more about
herself when she feels like it. Won’t you, Caroline?”
Caroline could have hugged Ms. Olsen, but the best she could do at the
moment was nod. She saw a seat on the second row about halfway down and walked
to it and opened her precious backpack, taking out her set of pencils and
colored pens and a writing pad.
She heard snickers and giggles.
Ms. Olsen continued her outline of the class schedule then a bell rang.
Students leaped from their desks and started running for the door.
“Slow down. No running, now,” Ms. Olson said, clapping her hands
Caroline let the others run past her then stood up timidly and headed for
the door. She followed the horde to the playground.
Groups of girls clustered together, some playing tag, others on the
A swing was unoccupied, so Caroline sat and swung slowly, the heavy
feeling overwhelming all else.
Five girls walked toward her.
“Where did you get that skirt? I saw one just like it when the man who
cuts my daddy’s grass came by with his daughter. It looked just like yours,”
the girl said and the rest laughed and hugged each other as if the girl who
spoke had said the funniest thing imaginable.
Caroline’s head drooped, and the swing slowed.
“And those cute little shoes. I simply must have my mother buy me a pair
just like those.”
The group burst into laughter again.
Caroline felt the tears welling up as she fought to hold them back.
The girl in the swing next to Caroline jumped off and left before the
gang of girls made fun of her too. She knew that the group were all from the
wealthiest families in Benton, a point they made sure everybody knew and one
that certainly made them special. If you weren’t part of their group, you were
A boy jumped on the swing and began swinging.
“Why did you come to our school anyway?” one of the other girls said.
“You don’t belong here. We never even heard of you before, so you must not be
anybody. And the way you look and dress, we don’t want you here. Why don’t you
go to another school? You can’t pass here anyway. You look stupid. Are you
going to cry, little baby?”
Caroline held onto the swing’s ropes with one hand and wiped tears away
with the other. She tucked her chin deep into her chest to hide her face.
“Lois, come here a minute,” Caroline heard the boy on the next swing say
as he hopped off and walked a few feet away.
“What do you want, Danny? I don’t have time for the likes of you either.”
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll come over here.” The boy’s voice
held such menace that Lois gave in.
“Oh, okay, but only to keep you from bothering us any more. What do you
want?” Lois said with a feigned air of indifference and annoyance.
When Lois was close enough, Danny said, “I know about you and Tommy Lewis
showing your underwear down in the auditorium closet last week. If you don’t be
nice to the new girl, I’m gonna tell everybody.
Lois’ face turned red. “I did
do any such thing, Danny Taylor.
You’re making that up.” Lois said it in a low voice though, so Danny knew his
friend hadn’t lied.
“Okay, then you won’t mind if I tell everybody, will you?”
“You’d better not, Danny Taylor. I’ll never ever speak to you again if
you do.” Lois stomped her foot and pointed a finger at Danny.
Danny laughed loudly. “You stupid girl. You and your friends. Nobody
cares whether you talk to them. You just think they do. Okay, then, I’ll see
you later. I’ll go over and mention it to Tommy. I bet he’ll tell me all about
it. Guys like to show off, you know. Before school’s out today, everyone will
know. See ya’ later.”
“Wait. Wait,” Lois said and grabbed Danny’s arm.
“Not a word of that is true, but some of these low class kids might
believe it and hurt my reputation. If you promise me you’ll never say a word
about it ever again, I won’t bother the girl—whatever her name is—again.”
“Uh uh, that’s not good enough. You’re going to go over and tell her
you’re sorry and then be friendly and introduce her to some other kids. I’m
sure she won’t want to hang around with you and your little group very long
once she meets some other kids. You just be nice to her for a couple of days
and don’t make fun of her anymore. That’s the deal.”
“Danny Taylor, you are a . . .”
Danny wagged his finger and started walking off again.
“Oh, okay,” Lois said, stomped her foot one last time and walked to her
group. A few minutes later, they approached Caroline and told her they were
sorry. Soon, they were all on the swings.
Lois looked at Danny and gave him a murderous look.
Danny smiled and walked off.
Although Caroline’s head was down the entire time this was happening, she
heard parts of it and knew something transpired to cause the girls to all of a sudden
become friendly. She knew they weren’t really her friends, but she was so
relieved when they stopped picking on her that she gratefully accepted their
abrupt change of behavior. The other kids saw Lois and her friends with
Caroline; some said hello during lunch and the next recess.
Caroline stood outside waiting for her mother to pick her up when she
felt a presence beside her. She turned to see the boy who had coerced Lois.
“I’m Danny,” he said with a smile.
Caroline couldn’t help herself. She stared at the boy’s upper lip, a part
of which was twisted and scarred. Without realizing what she was doing, she
reached out and touched it.
“You satisfied?” Danny said angrily.
Caroline snapped from her trance and shamefully lowered her eyes. “I’m
sorry. Are you mad at me?”
“It’s okay,” Danny said, regretful of his outburst. He knew how it felt
to be an outsider.
“It was like that when I was born. Mean people call me a hair lip, but I
don’t know why. Momma says they’re just stupid people. You can touch it again
if you want.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I didn’t mean to make you mad.”
“I know. It’s just, well, nobody’s wanted to touch it before. Kids seem
afraid of it, like I’m a freak or something.”
Caroline took Danny’s hand. “Don’t say that. You’re not a freak. You’re the
nicest boy I know. I don’t know why I touched your lip. My hand just reached
out before I knew it.”
Danny squeezed her hand. “It’s okay, really. I know you didn’t mean
nothin’ by it. Friends?”
The first real smile of the day came to Caroline’s face: the smile that
charmed all who met her. “Friends. Friends for sure. Especially since you made
those mean girls stop picking on me. What did you say to the really mean one,
Danny grinned. “That I’d tell everybody her and Tommy Lewis were being
naughty in the auditorium if she didn’t leave you alone. She tries to bully
everybody else because her daddy’s rich, and she acts so snooty. Nobody likes
her, but she has a way of making people feel bad, so she gets her way.”
“Except for you,” Caroline said.
“Me and a few others. We don’t care about her rich daddy.”
“Is your daddy rich?”
“No, but my mother used to be. My grandparents are, or that’s what people
say. They got mad at my mom for some reason, and they don’t speak to her
anymore.” Danny’s head drooped as he said the last part.
“That’s not nice,” Caroline said.
“Nah, but I don’t worry about it.”
“Oh, there’s my mom,” Caroline exclaimed. “I’ll see you tomorrow.
“You bet, Caroline.”
Jessie roared into the gravel parking lot and slammed on the brakes. The
Lincoln skidded to a stop. Deadhead and Iggy burst through the cloud of dust
obscuring the front of Sure Fire Bonding Company.
“Didn’t expect you, boss,” Deadhead said.
“You seldom expect anything, knucklehead,” Jessie replied, a nastier than
usual scowl on his face. “Get inside. I want to see the books. Show me the
paperwork on that pervert.”
“The principal?” Iggy asked.
“You got another one? You’d better not. One million dollar loss is
Jessie studied the paperwork. A million dollar bond on Lewis Caulters, a
high school principal accused of molesting several of his students. Boys no
less. Girls, he could understand. Not condone, but understand. But
Jessie shook his head in disgust.
“When’s the last time you saw him?”
“Two weeks ago at a preliminary hearing. Judge put it off for a couple of weeks
‘cause of a motion. Then Caulter didn’t show up at the next one, which was two
“Sure Fire Bonding ain’t gonna get stuck for a million dollars, I’ll tell
you that. You let that S.O.B. get away, and I’ll make your asses eat it.” He fixed
each one with a scowl, his small eyes squinting to mere slits.
“I’m sorry, boss, but we been stakin’ out the house. Goin’ by his clubs.
Country club. That snooty golf club he plays at. His sister’s.”
“What about his high and mighty wife? You been trailing her?”
“Sure, sure, Jessie, we been doing all we could. Re . . . Remember, I did
call you about it before I went on the bond,” Iggy said, holding his hands up
in a placating manner and shrugging as if he were at a loss as to what else to
do, hope and fear intermingled.
Jessie’s face darkened even under his normally dark complexion and tan,
which he worked hard to maintain at a certain level. Vanity was not the least
of his flaws.
The fear in the eyes of chain gang-toughened Iggy stroked Jessie’s ego,
and he lowered his tone. Iggy did make him a lot of money, and he was street
smart, despite his rough exterior and the nickname Jessie hung on him:
short for Ignorant. Jessie did it just to put him down. “I expect you to know
what you’re doing before you call me—”
“I thought I did. It was just . . . just such a big bail. I mean, you
know, I couldn’t go on a bail that high without calling you. You’d have kicked
my ass out the door.”
“Oh, it’ll be worse than that if you don’t find this perve. Okay, enough
about him. We need to see about another one. Do a little
Jessie chuckled. “Bring your ’quipment with you too. That guy in Tucker is too
far behind on his payments. Over three months now. We need to shake him up a
little. There’s several in that neighborhood who owe us. Reminding folks keeps ’em
Iggy nodded and opened a closet door. He grabbed a sawed-off pool stick,
a hole bored in the big end and stuffed with lead, both ends heavily wrapped
with electrical tape. He tossed Deadhead a 2-foot-long, braided leather strap,
similar to a riding crop but more limber.
“You want us to bring our caps?” Iggy asked, referring to cold weather
caps with side flaps they used to hide their faces, which they sometimes wore
when performing an eviction: “prompting,” as Jessie called it.
“No, I want them to know who it is. We can’t have Sure Fire Loans getting
a bad name. In fact, I’m coming with you. Y’all go by the yard first and get
the tow truck. Meet me at that convenience store by the entrance.”
Jessie swung the Lincoln out of the parking lot in south Atlanta, drove
through downtown—quiet on Saturday—to Decatur Street then turned north for
Tucker, a suburb of Atlanta.
The Lincoln turned into a convenience store adjacent to the housing
development, which was no more than five years old, with houses in the 300
Ten minutes later, the tow truck appeared.
Jessie rolled down his window. “Turn on all the flashing lights when you
get in the development. I want the nosy bastards looking out their windows.”
Jessie drove into the subdivision of well-kept homes with the tow truck right
behind him, its yellow and red strobe lights flashing and the truck’s horn—taken
from a big-rig 18-wheeler—bellowing loud enough to rattle windows.
Doors sprang open, and people rushed outside to see what the ruckus was
Preston Gowens’, the delinquent client, house was several blocks into the
subdivision, and, by the time Jessie’s entourage arrived, Preston was outside,
gaping at the circus-like caravan. He saw the lettering on the truck and knew
at once the show was aimed at him. His face reddened with embarrassment followed
by rage as he strode toward the street.
Jessie’s Lincoln bounced over the curb, and he applied the brakes just
enough to stop
he hit the mailbox and knocked it over.
Preston yanked on the Lincoln’s door handle, but it was locked.
Jessie smirked and exhaled a plume of cigar smoke in Preston’s direction.
An enraged Preston slammed his fist against Jessie’s window but the glass
held and Preston stepped back to kick it out.
Iggy and Deadhead raced from the truck and jumped him from behind. Iggy grabbed
his arms as Deadhead kicked his legs from under him.
Preston clawed the big six-foot-one, 250-pound Deadhead down with him and
pounded on his face. Blood spurted from Deadhead’s nose and split lip.
Preston pushed himself upright but, before he could stand, the lead end
of Iggy’s pool stick cracked against his skull and Preston’s knees buckled like
a deflated balloon.
Jessie stepped out of the Lincoln and looked around. “This man owes me
money and don’t wanna pay,” he said in a loud voice, turning as he spoke to
give each of the bystanders a good look at who was talking. “I hate when it
comes to this, but we all have to pay our bills. Even in these tough times.” He
shrugged as if it were all out of his control. “I tried to help him, and this
is what I get for my trouble,” Jessie added. “Just can’t be good to some
He knelt, pulled out his handkerchief and held it against Preston’s
bleeding scalp for a few seconds before handing it to the fallen man. “Keep
pressure on it. Should stop in a minute. You might need an aspirin or two
though,” he added with a chuckle.
“Son of a bitch,” Preston mumbled.
Jessie patted him on the shoulder. “Make sure you come by and see me next
week, or you’ll be calling me worse than that. Just so you know I’m not that
bad of a guy, I’m gonna knock a little off your interest because of that knot
on your head.”
He poked Preston with the toe of his shoe. “But if I hear any sirens on
my way out, the price is going back up. You hear me?”
“Get the hell outta my yard. You’d better not ever come to my house again
Jessie laughed. “Let’s go boys. I think Mr. Gowens here knows where we
* * *
Jessie left Iggy and Deadhead and drove to Marietta, in the northern
section of metro Atlanta. A cinder-block building with a sign reading “Sure
Fire Check Cashing” sat off to one side of a strip mall. Cameras on the roof
covered every inch of ground around the building. On each side of the lobby
were two-foot-square, blacked-out windows with a four-inch-wide by one-foot-long
metal panel five feet above the floor bisecting the windows. Inside that panel
was a sliding metal bar that could be opened only from the inside to allow
someone access to fire a weapon into the lobby. And there were plenty of
weapons from which to choose.
A worker shielded by bullet-proof glass looked at the few customers and
satisfied there was no threat buzzed open the door for Jessie.
Two large men and a stocky woman took the customers’ checks and deducted
anywhere from ten to eighteen percent depending on what company issued the
check. Government workers received a better rate because of the low risk and
number of workers. The people who came here couldn’t get bank accounts for one
reason or another or just didn’t like banks. They didn’t like Sure Fire either
but had no other choice, considering the exorbitant rates others charged.
“How’s business?” Jessie said.
Wanda shifted the heavy .44 Magnum pistol in her belt and turned around.
She pushed a ledger toward Jessie.
His eyes wandered down one page then he flipped it over and scanned the
A hundred twenty grand today and they were still coming in. Probably hit
two hundred thousand before midnight when he closed. He’d clear ten percent of
that after overhead.
“What about yesterday?”
“Better,” Wanda said. “Three hundred twenty-one, plus.”
Jessie walked over and stood between her and Jimmy, put a hand on each
one’s shoulder. “Might have to give y’all a raise if it keeps up like this,
He waited a second for effect. “Naaahhhh,” he said and laughed heartily.
Wanda and the others smiled, used to Jessie’s humor.
They might not get a raise, but, if something came up and they needed
money, Jessie never hesitated. He’d pull a roll of hundreds from his pocket and
Not too long ago, he’d come in on a day just like today and saw Wanda in
tears. Her mother had died after wasting away with cancer for the last two
years. Jessie pulled out his wad and didn’t even count, just separated a couple
inches of hundreds and handed the money to her. “For the funeral,” he said and
never mentioned it again.
Anybody planning to rob Sure Fire would have to kill Wanda first, and
that wouldn’t be so easy to do. Same with the other two.
“Well, looks like I don’t have to worry ‘bout y’all. See you later,”
Jessie said and left.
* * *
Jessie pinched one nostril and snorted through the glass tube, breathing
deep. Slumped in the chair with his head back and a euphoric expression on his
face, he jutted his lower jaw to stretch the skin and pushed it upward in a
vain attempt to stop the sagging. After a few minutes, he reached for the can
of Budweiser and gulped what was left. The mahogany walls of
vibrated with the sound of Lynard Skynard. Two, six-foot vertical Bose speakers
sat in the far corners of the room and throbbed out the beat. He never tired of
the old songs.
He opened a desk drawer, brushed aside one of his pistols, which were
stashed throughout the house, and unlocked a small lockbox. He withdrew a small
ledger, eyes wandering down the pages. He loved to look at his assets: He’d
reach 25 million soon. The numbers on the ledger made him feel more powerful
than the cocaine. After all,
was really what counted.
At the last page, his mood changed, and he banged the table with a heavy
fist. A million dollar charge off for that scumbag in Atlanta who had run
off—skipped his court date, which made his bonding company liable for the bond.
Jessie’s hand trembled with anger as he reached for the Crown Royal. He
heard a tap on the door before it eased open.
Caroline’s golden hair hung tangled down her shoulders as she stepped
through the door. “Daddy, are you okay?”
A smile sprang to his face. “Yes, baby, I’m fine. Just business. Got a
little too excited.”
Caroline perched on an armrest and laid a lazy hand on his shoulder. “Why
don’t you come up and go to bed so you’ll feel good for church in the morning?”
“In a little while, baby. Just have a few more things to go over,” Jessie
said, not quite ready to give up the coke and whiskey for the night, even for
Caroline remained still a few more moments but decided not to mention
the alcohol she smelled. He would just get defensive, irritable. She yawned
then pecked him on the cheek as she stood up. “Okay, I’m going back to sleep.
Come up soon, okay?”
“Sure. In just a little while. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine for church.”
Caroline smiled faintly and nodded. “Yeah, with a little help from your
cocaine,” she told herself as she shut the door behind her. She didn’t like to
confront him with it. Although she hated the way he bullied her mother—and
everyone else for that matter—she had a soft spot for him because she knew how
much he loved her. She was probably the only thing he did love, except for the
money of course. She wondered which he would choose if he had to: her or the
money. She guessed it would be the money.
Jessie; his wife, Marie; and Caroline sat in their usual seats halfway
down the middle section of pews in the First Methodist Church of Benton,
Georgia, 45 miles southeast of Atlanta, Jessie sitting next to the aisle where
he could make his getaway as soon as the service was over. They arrived about
ten minutes before the service began, Marie’s revenge for Jessie waking her up
at three-thirty in the morning when he finally came to bed. Since he was too
hung over to think straight and bother checking the clock, she had fussed all
morning that they were running late.
The preacher made a beeline from the front and stood over Jessie with a broad
and practiced smile. “Jessie, Jessie, how are you?” he said as he grabbed
Jessie’s hand and began pumping. One look at Jessie’s bloodshot eyes, and the
preacher’s moved to Marie and Caroline. “Beautiful morning, isn’t it Marie? Miss
Caroline, how are you?”
Caroline nodded and smiled.
“Yes, it is a fine summer day, Reverend Holcomb. Good to see you,” Marie
The preacher gathered his courage and leaned down. “Jessie, could you
come by the office one day this week? Anytime would be fine.”
Jessie scowled. “You want to see me or Tom?” he said referring to Tom
Chambers, his accountant.
Marie overheard the exchange and jabbed Jessie with her elbow.