Chapter 1: Release
The prison transport bus dropped Cade Harrison off in the middle of the city. He slowly began the fifty block walk back home to his old neighborhood. His chin was covered with three days of stubble and he smelled heavily of tobacco smoke. His thick sandy brown hair looked as though it could use a good washing, and his steely grey eyes appeared empty and hollow.
As he rounded the corner of Merchant Street on the last leg of his journey, his nostrils were filled with the old familiar smells of the neighborhood. Some things never changed. The brownstones that lined the narrow street had been divided and renovated on the inside into various sized dwellings over the last sixty years. The outside of the buildings looked about the same as he remembered, aside from all the boarded up windows and the heavy colorful streams of graffiti.
Cade soon found himself walking beside the old tenement style houses that had been erected just beyond the brownstones. He continued at a steady pace until he came upon the house he had grown up in. Finally there it was, looming large before his eyes. As he approached the old run down house, he noticed two unkempt children running around inside the yard. One was a boy about eight-years-old, and the other was a girl who looked to be about five-years-old. In the back of his mind it registered that the two children he saw were likely his.
He looked up just in time to see a thin woman with dark hair appear in the doorway of the house. "Get your asses back in here," she yelled at the children, but they paid her no heed and continued to squeal and run around all the more.
Cade realized the woman was his wife Callie. She hadn't changed much since the last time he had seen her. He slowly opened the rickety wire gate and began making his way up the crumbling cement walkway toward the house. The woman looked up at him in disbelief. "Cade?"
"Cade's home!" Callie called, and soon other people from inside the house began to gather on the rickety old porch. The two unruly children in the yard stopped running around and stared. Cade could barely remember who was who anymore, but he recognized his mother Annie, and his step-father, Seth. Those were two people he would never forget.
"God dammit!" Seth said with a frown and then he leaned over and spit his chew into the dirt of the front yard, where there was supposed to be grass.
Cade's mother Annie immediately rushed out to greet her son and excitedly threw her arms around his neck, "Oh my God! Welcome home."
Cade slowly embraced his mother as she bounced against him with excitement. Cade had been in prison for close to five years, so it had been a long time.
"I'll be god dammed," Seth shook his head with disapproval, "I guess it's about damn time they let your ass out of that fucking place."
Cade had forgotten what a shit hole his home had been. The only time in his life he had ever felt somewhat normal was during the six months he had spent in foster care while he was growing up. Other than that, he had run the streets and become a hoodlum. From a very young age he had always been in trouble with the law.
Callie had nothing but bad memories of her life with Cade. They shared a violent past, but part of her still loved him, and she hadn't bothered to divorce him.
Cade noticed a boy on the porch who was about sixteen-years-old. He assumed the boy must be his youngest brother Quinn. Cade's other siblings and step-siblings appeared to be long gone. Quinn sneered at him, "He's not getting his room back," Quinn said emphatically.
Seth snickered, "Of course not!" Quinn had the distinction of being the only child that Seth and Annie had produced together, so he always received preferential treatment from them.
Cade turned as a thin, pale, blonde haired girl slowly made her way out onto the front porch to join the others. Her eyes were cast down nervously and Cade realized she must be his daughter Ashley. He had heard that Ashley's mother had died about three years ago from a drug overdose and the child welfare system in all their misguided wisdom had sent Ashley to live with his mother and stepfather.
"I hope you brought some God damn money with you," Seth said, "There's nothing to eat in the house."
"They don't give money to prisoners," Cade said, even though he had applied for a release grant prior to his discharge and had some money tucked deep inside his pocket.
Seth suddenly realized Ashley had come out on the porch. "Ashley Goddamn you," Seth raged at the shy eleven-year-old girl and then he chased her back inside the house and Cade heard the familiar sound of the belt. "I told you to clean up this place," Seth raged in between smacks.
Cade tightened his jaw. There was no doubt in his mind that Ashley would have been better off almost anywhere else besides this God forsaken house and neighborhood.
Cade wasn't sure why Callie was there. He had warned her to stay as far away from Annie and Seth as possible. His eyes fell upon the two children who had been playing in the yard. His son had been a toddler when he left for prison and the little girl, allegedly his daughter, hadn't even been born. He wasn't entirely certain he was the father of either of the children, even though Callie claimed he was. Cade looked at the two urchins, "What are their names again?"
Callie laughed, "You never did have a very good memory for names. This is Jessica," and she pointed to the five-year-old girl, "and you remember Harley," she put her hand on the shoulder of the eight-year-old boy. She nudged them toward Cade, "This is your daddy." The kids shied away from Cade and held onto their mother.
Cade chose to ignore the children for now and he followed his mother inside the house. The stench inside the house caused Cade to wretch a little and he felt as though he might vomit.
"Cade honey," his mother Annie appeared to be sober, but he couldn't be certain. "Can I fix you some Campbell's soup?" She offered. Cade looked around at the filthy kitchen. There wasn't a clean pan or dish in sight and he wondered what she would cook the soup in and after that, what she would serve it in.
"For God's sake Annie," Seth said with venom, "You want to fix your jailbird son soup? What about me? I'm your husband for Christ sake."
Cade could hear Ashley sobbing from the bedroom, and he briefly wondered if he should do something about it. But at that moment, he felt nothing inside; no sympathy or empathy of any kind for anyone. Mostly he felt dead. That's what being in prison had done to him.
Callie decided it was time to break the ice. She took hold of Cade's hand and led him into one of the nearby bedrooms. It was obviously her bedroom and she shared it with her kids, "C'mon, I haven't even seen you in ages," she smiled seductively once they were inside the bedroom and the door was shut. The room was filthy. The bed was a mess and there was clutter everywhere. Callie looked up at him with half-closed eyes, "It's good to see you again baby."
Cade could tell she was trying to come onto him. "C'mon," she said and she began to unfasten his pants, reaching inside and pulling out his dick. She quickly knelt in front of him and placed his soft dick in her mouth and began to suck him. He pushed her away, "Stop it," he said in annoyance.
She looked up at him in surprise, "You used to love it when I gave you head."
"Leave me alone," he said quietly and then he reached down and tucked his dick back inside his pants and zipped up his fly, and took out a cigarette. "How long have you lived here?"
"Awhile," Callie said vaguely. "I tried to stay away like you told me, but I had no place else to go."
Cade suspected she had slept with countless men while he had been in prison, since she had slept with plenty of men before he went to prison. Her dark hair and bloodshot brown eyes made him wonder if she was high; for some reason he couldn't tell.
"Maybe it's true what they say about men and prison," she said bitterly after he refused her advances, "They all turn queer."
Her words filled him with rage and he angrily grasped her and glared down into her face. She always knew how to push his buttons. He felt as though he was going to hurt her, but he stopped himself.
She shook herself free of his grasp; "Jesus Cade," she scoffed and lit a cigarette.
Cade lit a cigarette and then walked back out to the kitchen. "Want that soup?" His mother asked when she saw him.
"No thanks Ma," Cade said in a tired voice, and his wife Callie walked up behind him and attempted to put her arms around him from behind. He shook her away, "Why don't you make yourself useful and help my mom clean up this fucking pig sty of a kitchen," he said to Callie and then he breathed a heavy sigh, "I'm going out to buy some food to cook for dinner."
"Ha!" Seth snickered, "Now you're talking!"
Callie pouted, "This kitchen is not all my mess! Why the fuck should I clean it up?"
"Clean this kitchen the fuck up!" Cade said bitterly, "I'll be back."
Callie's memories of Cade were not pleasant ones. She wondered why she wasn't already sprawled out on the kitchen floor. She looked over at Cade's mother Annie and began helping her make a pretense to clean up the kitchen. It was a huge disaster and the reality was that it would take several days to even make a dent. Seth watched Callie and Annie begin cleaning and glared at Ashley, "Help your grandma clean up this shit." As Ashley walked into the kitchen, Seth tripped her with his foot and laughed with amusement as she stumbled until she was able to catch her balance.
"Stop it Seth," Annie said, but it was clear she didn't really care.
Cade puffed on his cigarette and stared at the two children Callie claimed were his, "Are you sure they're mine?"
Callie pretended to be offended by his words, "Of course they're yours! I've got the paternity papers to prove it."
Cade was overwhelmed and he wasn't sure how to react to anyone or anything. He had been out of prison less than 24 hours and it was a bit overwhelming. "I want to see those paternity papers," were the last words he said to Callie as he turned on his heels and headed out the front door and away from the disastrous house to buy a few groceries.
Cade paused as he rounded the corner at the end of the street. He leaned against a nearby building and closed his eyes. He couldn't believe what a nightmare he had returned home to. He reached inside his pocket and felt the envelope that was folded in half containing papers that meant a lot to him. He kept it hidden deep down inside his pocket. Those papers were his only hope of escape.
He finished smoking his cigarette and then turned to continue down the sidewalk, but he paused when he heard small footsteps behind him and when he turned around he saw it was his son, Harley, shyly approaching him. "What are you doing here?" Cade demanded in irritation.
Harley stopped dead in his tracks. "M-ma said you m-might n-need h-help, you know, to c-carry the groceries," Harley said nervously. His son's dirt smudged face and filthy clothes were disgusting. Cade squatted down and looked at his son; a son he barely remembered. He realized he must have looked a bit like Harley at his age, filthy and neglected. He reached out and put his hand on Harley's shoulder. "You've grown up some since I saw you last," he said.
Harley grinned at his dad and in that instant Harley decided he liked his dad. He smiled sheepishly and his face reddened.
"C'mon then," Cade motioned and headed down the street with Harley on his heels until he reached the corner market. The owner of the store recognized Cade immediately and was a bit nerve wracked seeing him again after all these years. Cade still had a bad reputation around the neighborhood.
"Give me three pounds of hamburger," Cade said approaching the meat counter.
"Which kind," The butcher said.
Cade didn't know they made different kinds of hamburger. "The cheapest," Cade said and he watched as the butcher wrapped up the meat. Then Cade took the package and looked down at Harley, "Open up your arms."
Harley held out his arms and Cade placed the package of meat in them and then he grabbed some canned vegetables and a few other items, including hamburger buns, and walked up to the cash register. After he paid for the groceries, Cade and his son Harley carried the groceries back to the house. The whole way home Harley was concerned that someone from the neighborhood would spot them with food and rob them before they made it home, so he walked fast.
When Cade brought the few groceries inside the house, Seth was pleased to see the food until he realized Cade hadn't bothered to buy any alcohol. "You couldn't even get some Pabst?"
Cade just looked at his stepfather with a blank expression and lit a cigarette.
Callie, Annie, and Ashley had managed to clean up the kitchen a little, but it was difficult to tell what had been cleaned. They were happy to see the food.
"Let's have some hamburgers," Cade said.
Seth was jealous that Cade had provided them with food. "Wow ground beef. What are you going to do for an encore, lobster?" Seth was still as miserable as he had always been. Cade's mother Annie had married Seth when Cade had been five-years-old, and the misery and beatings had begun from there. Cade didn't hate anyone more than he hated Seth.
When the hamburgers were cooked and ready to eat, the kids devoured them as if this was the first meal they had eaten all week. Cade wondered how long it had been since they had eaten. He suddenly remembered what it was like for him being young and living in filth, feeling hungry and resentful all the time. His daughter Ashley was so skinny that her cheek bones jutted out. "Take it easy," Cade said as he watched Harley nearly choke from eating his hamburger so fast, "Don't inhale it."
"This is a good thing you did," Annie smiled affectionately at her son and her husband Seth gave her a look of disgust.
"Yeah," Seth scoffed, "He's a prince. Where's all my fucking money for taking care of your brat kids and wife all the time you were locked up?"
Cade wasn't sure how Seth justified this arrangement as taking care of anyone or anything. "I'm sure the State gave you plenty of welfare money to cover your expenses while I was in prison," Cade quipped.
Seth scoffed, "You're nothing more than a big fucking loser."
Cade chose to ignore his stepfather so that things wouldn't escalate. As he watched his children eat, he realized the easiest thing for him to do would be to walk away. He could easily leave in the middle of the night and never look back.
After dinner, they watched a little TV on the fuzzy old television, and then everyone went to bed. Cade sat in the dark living room on the cockroach infested couch because there was no room for him to sleep except with Callie and he didn't want to. He sat in the dim light of the room, staring off into space and he realized that he couldn't stay there any longer.
He got up off the couch with the intention of leaving, but when he got halfway out of the front yard, he remembered the look on Harley's face and then he thought of the emaciated appearance of Ashley. As dead as he thought he was inside, something inside of him made it so he couldn't leave. He turned around and walked back inside the filthy house and sat down on the couch. He would wait until morning, and then for better or worse he would take all of them with him, including Callie, and leave. He wondered if he had lost his mind.