The Apartment

Chapter 9

The night's rest was cut short early the next morning by a loud and insistent pounding at the door. Not expecting anyone, the seven boys pulled on clothes, and Chay answered the door. Outside it were a uniformed policeman, a woman in a business suit, and Mrs. Schwartz. "See, I told you it's just boys here, with no adult supervision. You need to take 'em away and lock 'em up," Mrs. Schwartz said vehemently. "Loud music at all hours of the night, people coming and going at all hours — I never saw the like!"

Ray felt a sense of panic. He knew what the cops' jobs were, and it was a foregone conclusion that he'd be taken in and most likely sent back home, almost certainly to be 'sent away,' whatever his father had meant by that. Andy and Pauly were tensed up as well, he noticed. Peewee for his part was terrified, and making it obvious. Mikey reached out and laid calming hands on the shoulders of the three teens, then pulled Peewee up against him, lending him moral strength and a sense of protection.

"Let us do our jobs," the woman in a suit said acerbically to Mrs. Schwartz.

"My name is Officer Kowalski," the uniformed cop said, "and this is Sergeant O'Brian of the Youth Bureau," gesturing to the woman with him. "May we come in?"

Chay and Mikey paused. Donny, still dealing with a bit of sleep deficit from his all-night vigil, was in no better condition.

"I suppose I should inform you that it would be easy to get a warrant, given the complaint, so make it easy on yourselves and let us in," Kowalski told them.

Donny nodded. The stress on him was evident. The little Asian boy, though, was strangely calm. Chay acted almost as if he'd been expecting this, sooner or later, and was playing out an assigned role. Ray really wondered about that.

"What exactly is the problem, officers?" Donny asked, visibly trying to remove cobwebs from his mind.

"Well," Kowalski said, "this lady here has a list of allegations we probably should check out. But the key ones seem to be a noise complaint, a boy riding a bicycle illegally on the sidewalk, and offensive language from several of you."

"I am here because most of you are too young to be arrested as adults, so any charges that may be proferred against you would be through the Youth Bureau, and also because the complainant alleges there is no adult supervision here."

"I see," Donny said, crestfallen.

"Okay, let's start with the noise complaint," Mikey said. "The apartment above Mrs. Schwartz is occupied by three college students; I've met them. If you check their apartment, you'll find a quite high-end sound system, including some big, and loud, speakers and a sub-woofer that literally makes the floor vibrate. Over there" — he pointed — "is what we have for music. The CD that is presently in it is traditional music of our friend Chay's people; I'll ask one of you to go over and remove it gently, as it will be tough to replace. Probably the loudest thing we own is Three Doors Down, or it might be my old Motley Crue CD."

"If one of you will go to the door of Mrs. Schwartz's apartment while the other one puts in the CD of your choice and turns our player up full blast, I think that will adequately dispose of the noise complaint."

Kowalski and Mrs. O'Brian looked at each other. "I suppose we have to check out their side of things," Kowalski said.

Mrs. O'Brian nodded agreement. "You go over there and listen," she said.

"Roger," he agreed, and walked out the door. Mrs. O'Brian did as Mikey had requested, turned the CD player up, and held her ears. The result, while loud, was not unreasonably so. After a minute, Kowalski returned. "I could hear it outside her door, but not at annoyance level. When I stepped into the hall, it was barely audible, even knowing what to listen for. I guess they're clear on that one."

"Peewee, what about the bike?" Donny asked.

"I did what you told me!" the 11-year-old said vehemently. "You told me the old biddy had complained again about me riding on the walkway, even though I never did it if she was outside. So I always walk it back to the alleyway or out to the street, just so she won't have any reason to bitch." He got a chagrined look. "Except once, last week. The garbage truck was coming down the alley and almost hit me, so I rode it in onto our sidewalk before I got off. You aren't gonna lock me up for that, are you, ma'am?"

Mrs. O'Brian got a motherly look on her face. "No, son, it sounds like you've been doing what you're supposed to, and that one case is called defensive biking, avoiding an accident. Did you report almost getting hit by the driver of the garbage truck?"

"N-no. Should I have?"

"Well, it's his job to watch out for kids when he's driving, just as much as yours not to ride where he's driving. You weren't obliged to report it, but legally you could have."

"Hey, nobody'd believe a kid anyway!" Peewee's tone was not derisive; he was simply stating facts as he knew them, and it took Mrs. O'Brian aback.

"Well, I'm one person that does believe kids who are telling the truth," she said. "I'm sorry you've met people who don't."

Peewee looked skeptical, and stayed quiet. His sense of panic had lessened, but he was still extremely scared.

"All right," Kowalski said, "what about the offensive language?"

Chay drew a breath and stepped in. "I think we were all raised to respect our elders," he said. "At least it was ingrained in me from an early age, and I know that's true for Pauly, Andy, and Ray as well. And I have no reason to think it isn't true for the others. But Mrs. Schwartz here has been constantly berating all of us since we first moved in here, and a lot of what she's had to say, if my uncle had heard it, he would have declared blood feud against her. We treated her with respect until she repeatedly insulted us, and after that avoided her as much as possible. I doubt there's any law that says there's a minimum age at which you can lose your temper at repeated insults."

"So you're saying none of you ever instigated a confrontation with her, but may have responded in kind to insults from her?" Mrs. O'Brian asked, obviously making mental notes.

Your parents would never approve of this," Mrs. Schwartz said to Donny. "And certainly not you bringing some little foreigner in."

Kowalski looked at Chay. "Tsis txhob ntshai kuv," he said clearly.

"Thov koj rov qab hais dua," Chay replied.

"Tsis txhob poobsiab. Txhuayam kuj mus tau zoo lawm," Kowalski said with a smile. "Kuv tsis dag koj. Txhob txhawj txog qhov nws hais."

Chay broke into a smile himself. "Ua tsaug koj pab kuv. thov lub ntuj foom koob hmoov rau koj," he said.

Mrs. O'Brien, Mrs. Schwartz, and the other six boys were looking at Kowalski and Chay with equally incredulous expressions.

"My wife and I adopted a daughter," Kowalski said by way of explanation.

Ray's mind was spinning: first the cops showing up at all, then something about Donny's parents, whom he'd never met, and then Chay and the cop talking in another language. "What did you say to him?" he demanded.

"Oh, quite a bit of politeness," Chay said, "but it boils down to, he told me things would be all right, not to pay attention to what she said." Kowalski nodded agreement.

"We do, though, have to clear up one thing," Mrs. O'Brian said. "So far, I haven't seen any custodial parent or guardian present, only seven boys, most of them clearly underage. I'm afraid...."

"Just a minute," Chay said forcefully.

He turned to Donny and said, "It's time. We've had this argument a hundred times. But it's come down to the wire, and either we lose everything, or you trust me, and trust them."

Donny's eyes flashed. He made as if to argue, looked at the cops and at Chay's defiant, caring face, and visibly deflated. "You're going to do what you're going to do," he said in a defeated tone.

"Thanks," said Chay. "You won't regret it." He gave Donny a somewhat wan smile, then turned to the cops and said, "I believe that the custom is that you're allowed a phone call to your attorney?"

Kowalski, amused, mutely nodded to go ahead, while trying not to break into a smile.

Chay pulled out his cellphone, punched in a number, let it ring, and said, "Mr. Christenson, please. Just tell him it's Chay, and it's extremely urgent."

A pause, and a baritone voice. "Yes, Chay? What is it?"

"Gil, a Sergeant O'Brian from the Police Youth Bureau is here with a pretty decent uniformed officer. That Schwartz bitch from next door called them in. She's hinting that she may have to take us into custody as underage kids without adult supervision."

"Can he hear me, Chay?

"Yes, and she's a woman."

"Is that an accurate assessment of the situation, Sergeant?"

"Yes, Counselor, it is." Sergeant O'Brian seemed taken aback by this call; Ray wondered what was up.

"I'll be right there, Chay. You and Donny tell them the bare minimum you need to. No one is to leave that apartment before I arrive — no one! Inform the Sergeant that any attempt to take custody of any of you will be met with the full resources of the law. Did she hear that?"

Mrs. O'Brian looked shocked at this. She nodded; Chay said, "Yes, she did," with a nervous chuckle.

"All right; give me a moment." The voice at the other end quieted and became distant, as if he was holding the phone away from his mouth. "Henry, would you mind continuing this after lunch? Donny's boys need me — now!"

Indistinct noises came from the phone, then "I'll be there within ten minutes. No one is to leave, in custody or otherwise. Got it?"

"Got it," Chay said happily. "Thanks, Gil!"

"Gilbert Christenson is your lawyer?" Sergeant O'Brian asked Chay.

"Not exactly," Chay said with a secretive smirk. "I'll follow his instructions, and leave what gets said in his hands." He then went mum, and the two officers. looking shaken, imitated him. Ray was thoroughly confused by this point, and it didn't get better.

A minute later, Chay's cellphone beeped. "Yes?" he asked after glancing at the display.

"Have you added anyone since Andy? the same voice asked.

"Yes," Chay answered.

"Okay, I need a full legal name."

"Ray, what's your full name?" Chay asked with his trademark open smile, that promised the nervous Ray, 'Everything'll be all right.'

"Raymond James Benoit. But...."

"Will you trust us, Ray?" Chay asked, his eyes asking 'Please' of Ray. "Trust me and Donny?"

"I'm sorry, Ray; I've been trying to avoid...." Donny spoke up.

"Let it be, Donny," Chay said urgently. "Leave it in Gil's hands; you know, better than anyone else, how much you can trust him. He asked us to, so let's do what he said."

"Got it. On my way!" came from the cellphone.

"Well, I need to be doing my laundry," Mrs. Schwartz said, acting like she was now looking for a reason to leave.

Kowalski looked at her with undisguised dislike. "I have no legal grounds to detain you here, Mrs. Schwartz," he said. "But Attorney Christenson made it quite clear that he expected that no one would leave until he arrived. That would include you. If you choose to leave, I can't stop you. But I suspect it would be in your best interests to stay."

Sergeant O'Brien nodded agreement. "At the moment, we're here in response to a complaint you made, one that includes some objectively false information, going on the basis of what we've learned since arriving here. I would advise you to stay put."

Peewee giggled at Mrs. Schwartz's discomfiture on hearing this. She glared at him; Mikey drew him even closer and glared back in defense of him.

The tension grew as they waited. Officer Kowalski twice began to ask questions; Sergeant O'Brien shushed him both times. "Think of what the Miranda warning says, Stan," she said after the second time. "We've at least constructively been informed by an attorney that he wishes to be present for any further questioning. I'm not too anxious to face a disciplinary board on a charge of violating a minor's constitutional rights; what about you?"

Kowalski's hand gesture indicated he conceded her point, but wasn't happy with it. He muttered something under his breath; Chay giggled.

The outside door opened and closed firmly and resoundingly. Loud footfalls from the hall outside ended with a knock on the door.

"Come in," Chay called out.

A tall blond man with the build of a basketball player and dressed in an expensive-looking suit opened the door and strode in. With a sob, Donny ran to him and hugged him tightly; the man hugged him back as warmly.

"Officers, my name is Gilbert Christenson. I am attorney ad litem and legal guardian to the boys residing in this apartment," he said flatly in a voice that brooked no argument.

Sergeant O'Brian adopted a very neutral tone. "Not that I doubt your word, Counselor, but I trust you'll have evidence to prove out that statement?"

"Of course; right here," he replied equally 'correctly', handing her a folder. She looked through it. Gil looked at Chay. "Judge Markham would like to see you in chambers, at your early convenience." He smiled at Chay.

"I'll just bet he does!" Chay answered with a saucy grin.

"Ray?" Sgt. O'Brian said; he looked up, surprised at being singled out. "How long have you been staying here?"

"Don't answer that, Ray," Gil counseled him. Turning to O'Brian, he continued, "It's a commonplace of child placement law that clearing up custody placement can often lag behind actually finding a child a place to live by as much as a week. At least, that is the argument I would use if you chose to press that issue." With an airy gesture, she conceded his point.

"In that case, the paperwork seems to be all in order, sir," she said. "But I would not be doing my job if I did not at least attempt to ascertain why it appears that you have not been present here to provide necessary discipline and nurture to these boys."

"That's a fair question," Gil replied. "For purposes of custody, Donny here functions as my on-site agent and employee, the designated caregiver in residence. He is of legal age under this state's laws to work in that role in a residential care setting such as this."

"I should see evidence of that..." O'Brien said consideringly.

"I'm afraid that's something I didn't think to bring," Gil said. "I can have it for you tomorrow."

"Just as soon as the ink's had a chance to dry?" she asked, with a warm smile turning the comment from insult to shared joke. "I'll take your word; it won't be necessary. Though do have it ready in case my superiors or a court wants to see it." She paused, thinking. "I believe I am satisfied that the premises meet the legal minima for appearance and custody."

"Look, I do not want to be the fly in the ointment here," Kowalski said, "especially picking up on part of her motivation for the complaints. But when I make out my report, I need to deal with the 'coming and going at all hours' item on the original complaint. Would you boys be willing to help me out there and give me the proper answers to close this complaint out?"

"I think we can do that," Donny said. "One thing you'll notice, Sergeant, is paperwork for one boy who is not here: Jack. Jack is currently in the hospital owing to many-on-one violence. He is a few weeks from his sixteenth birthday, and does have a tendency to stay out too late. I've been working with him to try to improve his self-image and lifestyle choices, but it's an ongoing process. Chay and I are old enough not to be affected by curfew, though we tend to stay in most nights. The other boys, who are underage for curfew, nearly always are, as well, and if they are out, we have an informal system where they let us know where they're going to be and why. It lets them build freedom, judgment, responsibility, and maturity, while satisfying the legal requirements."

Ray's head was spinning at hearing all this; from the looks on their faces, Andy and Peewee were in the same boat.

"As for visitors," Donny went on, "Ray, why don't you list off who all has been here, other than the eight of us, since you arrived? It may help our two police persons with their reports." He gave a broad smile.

Ray was startled at being brought to the fore again, but tried to remember. "Well, first there was Mr. Travers...."

Chay spoke up. "Jonathan Travers and his wife Mary are members of the Outreach Commission of Andrews Memorial United Church of Christ, of which Pauly here is a member. Some of the rest of us have attended with him from time to time. Mr. Travers stops by on a regular basis to see if we need help and to drop off supplies the church has collected to help us. Go on, Ray."

"Then there was Doctor Van ... I don't remember his full name."

"William VanBauern is Associate Director at the outreach clinic, and made a house call when Jack was beaten up." Gil volunteered this information. The two cops did a double take at a doctor making a house call. "He serves as physician of record for residents here, and has examined all of them."

"And Dorothy; that's all I remember," Ray finished.

"Dorothy Storm is Pediatric R.N.P. with the clinic. She made the follow-up visit on Jack that led to his being admitted to the hospital." Donny's voice was flat.

"Obviously a group of reprobates that no one could blame a fine upstanding citizen like Bernice Schwartz for getting upset about their visiting the neighbors." Gil's sarcasm was thick enough to balance Peewee on. "Speaking of which, Bernice, I don't believe I've seen a receipt for last month's rent yet."

"Well, I had some unexpected expenses," Mrs. Schwartz began.

"Which has been the case every month, during which you bought a new large-screen TV and a new oak dining room set," Gil said. "I'm afraid that dog won't hunt this time. But it's not my call to make. Donny?"

"I've always tried to get everyone to get along with her," Donny said. "I just don't know...."

Chay spoke up, with more anger than Ray had ever seen in the Asian boy's face. "She almost got the guys taken in, right, Sergeant?" Mrs. O'Brian nodded. "And while I've told you that you needed to level with the guys and depend on their trust that you've earned, that doesn't mean I wanted to see you forced into it. Now you get no choice. She destroyed your dream, Donny!" Chay seemed almost to be pleading with Donny.

Whatever Chay had meant by that seemed to hit home with Donny. He turned to Gil and said, "Do it."

Gil opened his briefcase and rummaged briefly through it. He pulled three pieces of paper out of a folder, and handed them to Kowalski. He then pulled out a cellphone, punched in a number, and said, "Edgar? Gil. You know the buildings I'm managing for the Kirkland estate? I'm there now, and need you here immediately with a couple of padlocks."

He turned his attention back to Officer Kowalski, who was smiling at what he'd seen on the paper. "You noticed the date on the Order to Vacate or Bring Current?" Kowalski nodded. "And there's the proof of service. Under the provisions of Section 43(c) of the Tenancy Code, as an officer of the court, I now require you to execute the Order for Eviction."

"I accept your instructions, Counselor, and will duly execute it as instructed," Kowalski responded formally. "And may I say that I am pleased to help the man who is helping young Chay here?" He turned to Mrs. Schwartz. "Madam, will you kindly accompany me next door, so that you can pack a few personal items?"

"What do you mean?"

"I presumed you would want to take along a few changes of clothes, and perhaps any important papers, before you leave," Kowalski explained.

"Why would I be leaving, for heaven's sake?!" asked the surprised Mrs. Schwartz.

"Because you're being evicted, and your former apartment will be padlocked as soon as you and I are through in it," the policeman replied.

"I recommend you contact the Tenant Assistance Program at Social Services downtown. What you can recover of your possessions and what can be kept to pay off your back rent is quite complex, and they're equipped to walk you through it," said the ever-helpful Sgt. O'Brien.

"Come on, lady, unless you don't want anything but what's on your back," said Kowalski, taking her arm firmly.

"Where do you expect me to go?" she asked Gil.

"Elsewhere," he replied. "You've had more than adequate chance to bring your rent current, and instead you've spent your money on luxuries, and to add insult to injury, literally, tried to destroy something that your landlord put a great deal of work into. I'm glad he's seeing reason."

Kowalski, losing patience, then marched her out. Sgt. O'Brian said, "Well, I believe I've covered everything I need to, and I have no issues that would require further questions of you or these young people. I'll give Kowalski some backup and then be on my way. Here's my card," at which she gave her business cards to Gil and to Donny.

As she walked out the door, Andy put his hands on his hips and looked at Donny and Gil. "Twenty-four hours ago, I would have rather died than say this, but it feels like you've been conning me, Donny. Who's this guy, how does he claim to have authority over me and Ray, and to make it simple, what in the frog is going on here?"

"Those are totally fair questions, Andy," Gil said. "First, everything you heard since you came here is the truth — just not the whole truth. Second, everything we said to the cops was the truth too — just not the whole truth."

"But they contradict each other!" Ray said, with a little heat and a lot of confusion.

"No, it just sounds like it, when you don't have the whole picture. Donny's been adamant that nobody but he, Chay, and I should know the whole story of how this place works, because it would scare away the very kids he wants to reach, like you two for example. And I've backed him on that; I know what he and Chay went through, and how distrustful they were, so I can understand why the idea that I have legal custody of you scares you. But let me emphasize that that's all it is — a legal fiction, to protect you in situations like this, not an excuse for me to be the all-knowing adult who controls your life, whether you like it or not. Donny's in charge here; that's the way he wants it, and what I agreed to when we set this up."

"Now, sit down, all of you, and the three of us will tell you the real story."

To be continued....

Author's Note: Surprise! Please welcome Gilbert Christenson, Attorney at Law, to the story cast. I'll bet few readers expected that outcome when the police showed up.
I've carefully left Chay's ethnicity vague: "...from one of those little countries you learn about in geography and promptly forget about, and a minority even there." However, to use actual dialogue between him and Kowalski, I used the Hmong people of Vietnam, known to us older people who remember the Vietnam War as 'the Montagnards'. This is not to say Chay is Hmong, a culture I'm not closely familiar with (and which does not have the 'eldest male's word is law' custom), only that he (and the Kowalskis) speak a Hmong dialect, as do several small related ethnic groups from the Annamese mountains. What they say to each other is as follows:
Kowalski: Tsis txhob ntshai kuv – "Don't be afraid of me."
Chay: Thov koj rov qab hais dua – "I beg your pardon." (as a courtesy phrase, in this case)
Kowalski: Tsis txhob poobsiab. Txhuayam kuj mus tau zoo lawm – "Calm down. Everything is all right."
Kuv tsis dag koj – "I'm not lying to you."
Txhob txhawj txog qhov nws hais – "Don't be bothered by what she says."
Chay: Ua tsaug koj pab kuv – "Thank you for your help."
Thov lub ntuj foom koob hmoov rau koj – "May God bless you."
I felt it would be better for them to use a real language to each other than to make up faked dialogue in a made-up language. Thanks go to the Madison Area Technical College website and its online English-Hmong phrasebook for the dialogue here; any errors, however, are mine, not theirs.

Editor's Notes: I hope the next chapter will come along pretty soon. It seems to me that what we really need is the real story. I can hardly wait.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher