Monday, July 15, 2013

The Fugitive

Here's an old story from the upcoming "Laws and Loves" collection.






I am a fugitive. I was also a lawyer.

I was still on the lam as I parked in a dirt parking lot next to an abandoned white car and breezed through the metal detector in a courthouse somewhere in New Mexico.  Little did the guards know that stashed in my pocket was a crumpled, but very active, arrest warrant from a small town in California.

Ironically, I was in court to plead my client to a charge of concealing identity. Unlike Harrison Ford in the film of the same name, I wasn’t even a very good fugitive.  I had left the California authorities with my forwarding address.

My rap sheet wasn’t very long or very cinematic. When I’d lived in LA, I’d left town on a Friday afternoon to visit with an old girlfriend up north. LA was a jealous mistress and wouldn’t let me leave; traffic on the 101 seemed to stretch all the way to San Jose.  As I stared out, utterly impotent, at the belching exhaust of a shiny silver BMW, every beckoning cliché of the open road raced through my mind.  As if it was fate I switched to a classic rock station and heard a familiar refrain:


Get your motor running,

Head on out the highway,

Headed for adventure,

Or whatever comes my way. 


            "Born to be wild," I sang along with the chorus.


A hundred miles out, the traffic finally thinned and I was in open country at last. It was dark, but I could still make out the outlines of the brown, barren hills. I felt the bounds of civilization loosen just a little as Southern California ended and the Central Coast officially began. A billboard proclaimed a restaurant was “famous for pea soup.”

            “I hate pea soup,” I muttered under my breath.

As if he heard me, a California Highway Patrol squad car edged out onto the road just in front of me.  He drove at a constant rate of fifty miles an hour.  I had out-of-state license plates, so I slowed and stayed right behind him for a few miles, always careful to stay below the speed limit.  I swear that I gave him far more room than the Silver BMW back in LA.  Suddenly he pulled off the road and let me pass.  I breathed a sigh of relief -- Too soon.

A moment later his lights whirred and it all began.

“But I wasn’t speeding,” I protested when he came over.

“No one said you were speeding,” he said, handing me a ticket to the tune of a hundred and fifteen dollars.  “You were following too close, and that’s even more dangerous.”

I was a lawyer after all. “I plead not guilty,” I said. “Set a court date.”

He was polite and efficient and quickly let me back on the road and I didn’t think anything more about it. I then moved back to New Mexico.


Two months later, long after I had forgotten my visit to the land of pea soup, I received an official-looking letter.

 “Dear Sir/Madam:” it began.  “This department has a warrant for your arrest . . . . This letter does not preclude arrest on warrant at any time.”  The bail was 340 dollars. By the way, did I mention that I had two hundred dollars in my checking account at the time?

This was the real thing.  Given the advent of national computers, I could be thrown in jail anywhere in the country and spend hard time with gangsters and serial killers.


            I called California immediately. If they wanted me, they’d have to bring me in. Hopefully, the media would be there as I walked defiantly into the jail, as vendors hawked Free Jon Miller t-shirts as the cameras rolled. 

            Unfortunately, they wouldn’t extradite me, the bastards.  They told me my only choices were to fly out there to fight the ticket or pay it and be done with it.  

By the time I had finished talking with the California authorities, it was too late to go to the bank to get the check. I had to lay low for a while until the heat died down, or I could still make a break for it.  I called a few friends to see if they’d drive around the back streets of America with me, eat frozen burritos at 7-11 and sleep in stolen cars in old trailer parks. They all politely declined.

My mind quickly envisioned a screenplay. Given the recent trend of movies about people on the lam from the law and America's fascination with the dark side, I came up with Natural Born Tailgaters. Two messed-up kids travel around the country, and follow other cars too closely. 

I couldn’t pay the ticket the next morning either, since I was stuck in court on that concealing identity plea.  I could hardly ask the judge for a postponement for my client on the legal grounds that I was an outlaw.  I scanned the gallery and saw anxious defendants waiting for the law to come down on them.  I clenched my fist in solidarity.

            As I waited with my client, I glanced at a beautiful, sad-eyed woman with tall proud hair, who strained for glimpses of her boyfriend as he was brought in from the jail. 

            “Why go for local talent?” I almost said, reaching into my wallet to show her my warrant. “I’m bad. I’m nationwide.”

Although no words were said, she looked at me strangely as if she sensed that there was something different about me, something dangerous.  She smiled. I nodded at her. I then hurried up to the bench as my client's case was called.  After we did the plea, I explained to my client the twenty-seven or so conditions of his probation, and the consequences of even the most minor violation.

 “One bad urine and I’m sending you up,” his Probation officer had said on the way out. By paragraph seventeen of the probation agreement, a life of crime didn’t sound like fun anymore -- especially if you got caught.

My client paid me the rest of the money he owed me. I felt a sense of relief. I could finally pay off the debt.  Who says crime doesn’t pay?

I left court and drove briskly to the bank, excruciatingly careful not to drive too close, purchased a money order and sent it to California, certified mail.  And yet, I will always remember, that for a short while I was a wanted man.

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