They were Salvation Army style, from the 1980’s or maybe earlier and smelled of mothballs. Gallo went behind a screen and exchanged his prison clothes for the street clothes, such as they were. They didn’t fit well, but he cinched the belt to the last notch and – good enough.
a fictional short
His pasty prison complexion, the result of being inside too long, a face scarred and prematurely wrinkled told a tale that would fill volumes, but John Gallo didn’t speak much about himself or anyone else. As he processed out of the California State Prison, Corcoran, in Kings County, he had to endure meetings with the prison staff including social workers.
The first one, a homely Mexican social worker with a plastic nametag that read, “Mrs. Gonzales” pinned to her blouse looked him up and down and then invited him to sit in one of those curved, uncomfortable plastic chairs. He sat when bidden, holding small bundle of books. She looked at his file, suitably thick for a man who’d spent the past twenty years in the same facility. A few years before that, he did a year at Holman Correctional Facility in Escambia County, Alabama.
“How was your time here at Corcoran, Mr. Gallo?”
John shot her a you-have-to-be-shitting me look, “Officers killed more inmates here than any other prison in America. I’m glad that I wasn’t one of ‘em.”
She gave him a disturbed stare and then went on with her processing. “It’s a different world out there, Mr. Gallo.”
John Gallo stood five-foot nine, remained lean and hard through strenuous exercise and had no prison tattoos. He had not affiliated directly, though friends of his rewarded his continued silence with heroin smuggled to the Black Guerilla Family, Public Enemy Number One (PNI) and the Mexican Mafia in prison in his name. As a result of that pipeline, inmates left the silent and alert Joe Gallo alone. So did the guards.
“You did your whole sentence, never requesting parole.”
Gallo resisted a sarcastic retort.
“We have some clothes for you.”
Lieutenant Gus Kirk handled intelligence for the prison and had been in that position for the past decade. He found Gallo interesting, thus he bumped the usual out-processing guard and handled the business himself.
“You and I never spoke much, did we John?”
“I don’t think we ever passed a word until now, Lieutenant Kirk.”
“You’re not Italian, are you?”
“No, I’m Scots-Irish.”
Gallo tore open an envelope with his property in it. The Mont Blanc pen wasn’t in it. Neither was his Rolex. No surprise there. He didn’t beef the theft. Just signed for the contents.
“I did a lot of research on you.” He wanted to wait for Gallo to respond but knew that he would have waited a long time, so he continued. “Your family name is Gallows, and your grandfather and great grandfather were in the business of going from town to town building scaffolds.”
“A man has to make a living.”
“And they changed their name from McGillycuddy to Gallows. Your great uncle was Valentine McGillycuddy, an Indian agent and attending surgeon to the Indian war chief Crazy Horse when he died.”
Gallo didn’t respond.
“Your father, a brick mason, shortened your surname from Gallows to Gallo.”
“You’re quite a genealogist, lieutenant.” Gallo handed him one of the books he had been carrying with him. One Hundred Ways to Disappear and Live Free by Jim Curtis. Even though Gallo had no plans to disappear in the classic sense, he thought that passing him the book, popular with most inmates, would be a good way to mind-fuck the lieutenant.
“You’re reputed to be part of the Italian Mafia, John, but you’re not, are you?” John shook his head, ‘no’, and smiled faintly. “Stay out of trouble, John. It would be nice not to see you back here. There won’t be a parole officer dogging you to stay straight.”
When John walked out of the door and them through the gate, he looked up at the blue, cloudless sky. Freedom. Nobody showed up to meet him. The State of California gave him a Greyhound Bus ticket to anywhere in America, one hundred dollars in US currency and a voucher for the local bus. It roared up the street, trailed by a cloud of blue-black diesel soot and stopped on King Avenue, at the curb outside of the prison to take him to Fresno. He left the worn out clothes that they gave him to wear in his entry back into society next to the bus bench and boarded. A woman across the aisle from him adjusted her baby so that it could breast feed discreetly. Gallo watched her. She caught him. He winked. Disgusted, she covered herself and the baby with a blanket. It made him laugh. He hadn’t laughed much during his life on the inside of the wire.
Fresno, much like San Francisco, felt and looked like an east coast city that was uprooted and dropped in California. It had that sour, run-down Phili-Baltimore-style depressing vibe downtown by the bus station. Everyone Gallo saw was black, and was either peddling their ass, a narcotic or both. It hadn’t changed in the twenty years that he’d been inside. Fresno is Fresno. He avoided the place like the plague in the old days and hadn’t planned to be there for long.
It didn’t take long for him to walk to the flophouse. He counted the wooden steps up to the second floor, stopping at 11, leaned down and pulled up a stair board. Reaching inside he felt, grabbed and withdrew a steel box. He opened it and pulled out a Kimber Colt 1911 semi automatic handgun with four loaded magazines and a box of ammunition. There was nothing old about any of it. His people dead dropped it as soon as they heard of his release. The name on the driver’s license was Robert M. Heidt, with an address in Anaheim. A safe house. He wondered how they got a recent photo of him to put on the license. It wasn’t from any potential source that he could identify. There were credit cards in the same name, a nice wallet and two thousand in twenties. The cards and the license would pass muster. They always did.
He’d asked for a sedan, but the keys in the box were to a new gray GMC Yukon, parked in front of the flop house. He hadn’t driven in twenty years, but he would make do. At least the seats were leather. As Gallo pulled away from the curb, it felt as if somebody hit the Yukon from the rear and the jolt sent him into the steering wheel and an expanding air bag. Except there was no air bag, and no steering wheel. No Fresno street scene. Only a gray ceiling. “Get down off that top bunk and give big papa some love, sugar britches.”