• Broadkill Review

"Waiting for the Noun" by Paul García


Joe walks past the grey-painted cinder block walls and numbered steel doors to introduce himself. The young corrections officer staring at video screens ignores him, finally looks up. “Yes?”


Joe speaks slowly, to not need to repeat himself, “Joe Martínez. Interpreter. Here for a U. S. Probation interview. Prisoner’s name is Arturo Luna Baez. Defense Attorney’s Mike Howell. Probation Officer’s Jim Hayes. He probably entered the back way, through the garage.”


“Okay, sir. Nobody’s here yet.”


“I’ll sit and wait.”


Joe stows his coat, money and metal in a locker, pockets the key, and takes a plastic chair. He puts on reading glasses and works on his clipboard’s invoice until Mike Howell arrives. “Hey, Joe! How ya doin’?” Howell is a big man bundled up for this below zero spell with the earflaps of his fur-lined ushanka tied up at the crown. He pulls it off, exposing a shaved head, and bites off his mittens. “Cold enough for ya?”


Joe looks over his reading glasses, stands, shakes hands. “Mike. It is chilly.” He nods toward the corrections officer. “Told ‘em we’d be here.”


Mike says, “And I called. Let’s see.”


Joe sits back down.


Mike, still in his overcoat, approaches the guard. “My name’s Michael Howell. I’m here to see Arturo Luna-Baez.”


“And you are?”


“His attorney.”


“Why don’t you have a seat.”


They sit and wait. A C. O. comes through with two inmates happy to be heading outside to shovel snow. Joe and Mike make small talk. Howell is a golfer. “Had my clubs regripped.”


Joe only nods.


“Some have it done every winter.”


Joe knows miniature golf, when his daughter Lucy was little, summers, years ago. “You must miss golf.”


“I’ll hit a few on Florida courses soon. Haven’t seen cold like this for ages.”


“Good for splitting firewood. Tap it with the axe, splits like a diamond.”


Mike looks as if he has a bad taste in his mouth. “Haven’t burned wood in years.”


“Sometimes, below zero like this, you just show it the axe, and it splits.”


Mike says nothing.


For a while, Joe’d been wary of skin heads but Mike, if anything, was even a little too deferential, was simply a nice guy, without that guarded, frozen anger, like permafrost, and Joe’s caution eased. He asks, “Why do you shave your head?”


“Lotta guys doin it. Low maintenance. Shave while I drive.”


Joe nods. They’re killing time. “I’d get shaving cream everywhere.”


Mike smiles with his eyes. “Beamer has a dispenser.”


“Makes sense, I guess. Jim from Probation shaves his head.”


“As does my client, Mister Baez.”


They make light talk about matters unrelated to the case, but neither is good at idly hanging around a county jail. Joe gestures toward the wall clock. “Been sitting here a while. Hayes might already be in there with your guy.”


“Let me see.” Mike approaches the C. O. at his desk, stands there a moment. “We’ve been waiting quite a—”


“You’re the lawyer looking for the one with the foreign name? We can’t find anyone named Mártinez.”


“Mister Martínez is the interpreter. The inmate’s last name is Baez.”


Joe stares at the wall, doesn’t bother pointing out the prisoner’s surname is Luna. After five minutes, the guard calls out. “Mister Howell?”


“Yes.”


“Baez, the prisoner you want, is with Federal Probation.”


Howell lets a beat pass. “That’s why we’re here. They’re waiting for us.”


“Okay. You can go in now.”


The steel door’s innards clank and Joe pulls it open. They enter a cinder block corridor with heavy Plexiglas on either side. The door slams behind them. They stand in the corridor. Howell mutters, “You’d think they’d keep track of prisoners.” A tin speaker announces “lawyer and translator to fourteen.” The steel door’s interior mechanism clanks and Mike pulls it open on a small area of grey steel tables and stools anchored in the cement floor where they meet—


“Jim Hayes, U. S. Probation.”


“Mike Howell, Defense Counsel.”


“How you doin, Joe?”


Joe shakes hands and regards Jim’s glowing pate. “Fine. Good to see you.”


Howell greets the prisoner. “How are you today?”


Joe stares at the Defendant’s shaved head and begins work. “¿Cómo está hoy?”


“Bien.”


“Fine.”


As they arrange themselves around the steel table, Joe glances again at Hayes’ pattern baldness stubble. Luna and Mike at the Initial Appearance were no big deal, but here, three of them! He’d always tried to conform; just speaking another language can look too ethnic for popular taste, a liability. Growing up in Manhattan’s cultural soup, he made conscious effort to lose any accent. A chameleon, he dressed conservatively, got haircuts, knew he had to be squeakier and cleaner. But there are limits to fitting in. Sitting with the three glossy domes gleaming under fluorescents, Joe feels like a cast member of Hair.


Howell tells Luna, “Mister Hayes will interview you and write a report for the sentencing judge, which he’ll submit with recommendations. I’m here to protect your interests by advising you not to answer certain questions, if necessary.”


Joe renders that. Luna nods. “Está bien.”


“That’s fine.”


Hayes has waivers for the prisoner to sign. “These are to allow my access to records