The address was burned into his forehead or, at least, that’s how Foster felt. 7121 San Fernando Drive. Boise. A halfway house. The flight from DFW to O’Hare was a bit stressful and resulted in a couple trips to the passenger toilet facilities to unceremoniously deposit stomach contents into whatever was facing his face. Flying, it seemed at the time, was something Foster seriously wanted to stop doing. But, as the flight progressed and the Soothease tablet the stewardess gave him began its miracle, Foster soon sat back and drifted off into merciful sleep.
O’Hare was not stressful as it was confusing. If his luggage was following him, Foster hadn’t really cared. He needed, desperately, to get into a comfortable airplane seat and get back to sleep. He stopped at the United Airlines check-in and informed them that he was medicated and would they notify him physically when his flight was boarding. Another miracle was manifested in that the airlines clerk actually did notify him.
The flight from O’Hare to Boise probably occurred, Foster concluded, as he walked along the passenger corridor to awaiting taxis and public transit. Airport announcements and the occasional advertising seemed to agree that, for Foster, Boise was where he was at. The public transportation had ValleyRide written all over it and the driver helped him find his way to his new home.
“Hi. I’m looking for Mr. Meyer.” Foster handed him the “Welcome to Rising Sun Sober Living/Halfway House” letter to the young fellow sitting in a small corner of the living room in a detached corner-lot house in an exclusively residential neighborhood. It wasn’t so much a house as it was somebody’s home. In the brochure, it had advertised 8 beds in a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home, super clean and warm house. It was as advertised. The onsite manager was advertised to be very compassionate and firm. Perhaps he was. The residence, itself, was claimed to be close to many of the downtown points of interest. It boasted of a flat screen tv, computer, phone, wireless internet, and a BBQ, all for $400 per month. The green painted door color-matched the grass and huge oak tree standing guard over the little home. The back yard, viewed while walking from the distant bus stop to the front of the house, was small and almost impassable due to its crunched up pose against its corner neighbor. But the front yard made up for its lack of a practical back yard. As huge as the oak tree was, a diminutive sprout of a tree struggled next to a couple squared off shrubs and a thoroughly cracked concrete driveway leading to a two-car garage flanked, itself, by a covered car port. It was somebody's home. A family lived here. Perhaps in the atrophied back yard, there was a tiny Chihuahua or a rabbit hutch hidden in the shadows.
Once past the heavy green front door, a small living area held a large cloth-covered sofa, two arm chairs, a fake fireplace, a small coffee table, some inconspicuous unidentified indoor plants and the resident teenager.
Foster studied the desk and lamp while he pondered the uncomfortable silence. “Can you tell me where I can find him?”
“You don’t need to.” The blonde, mop-headed, hippy, drug-dealer, teenager had not even looked up from the small television sitting beside his very small desk.
“Oh, I was told that Mr. Meyer was who I needed to check in with.”
Foster just stood in the tiny plush-carpeted living room and stared at the blonde fluff atop a red flannel shirt and cut-off blue jeans. He took an educated guess, “You’re Meyer?”
“Yes, I’m just here from…”
The blonde mop shook a bit and exposed two beady, bloodshot little eyes and interrupted Foster.
“I know where you are just here from. You’re in the upstairs room at the end of the hall, left, no roomie yet. The room on the right belongs to someone who works nights, sleeps days, and gets a bit ornery at day noises. No roomie for him, either. Supper is in an hour, pizza and cokes. There are two letters for you on the table near the door. First is the sign-in and welcome crap that you need to read and sign before you go up. The other is, I think, from your PO. Give me your sign-in once you sign it.”
Foster signed as needed and handed the blonde mop-headed Meyer the paper. Curiosity forced out the question, “Meyer is a pretty unusual name. European?”
“Yeah, German so I’ve been told. Or used to be until us Americans distorted it. You vegetarian?”
“No, not really.”
“I am so one of our pizzas tonight will be all veggie. I am pretty sure you don’t have a laptop but once you get one, I can get your net login for you and you’ll be up and running with that. There’s the house computer over by that desk but it runs Windows XP and is the slowest thing ever graced with a keyboard. Oh, and we got two new bikes but both of them are taken. There’s a 10 speed that I know works well you can use. Your PO can issue you a 31-day local pass for the bus.”
Back to his television, the blonde German mop-head left the planet leaving Foster alone with his letter from the Parole Officer.
Fourth Judicial District
Main Office, District 4
Parole and Probation Unit
8752 W Fairview Ave
Boise, ID 83704
Telephone: 208 327 7008
Fax: 208 327 7351
Robert A. Foster
You are hereby directed to present yourself at the office of Steven Hill at the above address at 9:00 am, Tuesday, May 3, 2011. Failure to appear will be construed as…”
Foster read no more. He didn't need to. He knew he would be at that office, at least, a half hour before the meeting, even if he had to walk there.
The afternoon eased quickly into the night with the wondrous entertainment of a 32-inch flat screen private television until the call for supper was given. Mop-headed German Meyer had the pizza out and cooling just as two wordless lumberjacks walked in, dropping lunch buckets and safety vests on the floor near the front door. While they might not have been actual lumberjacks, the description seemed to jump into Foster’s mind. The pizza was quite a bit different from the pretend pizzas that he had been occasionally eating in Texas. The only problem was, with his day’s lost meals, Foster could not get enough pizza to satiate him although he surely did not want to appear hoggish. Not in front of two lumberjack like people. Not a word was spoken until one grunted around a mouthful, "Damn good one, this time, Blake." They disappeared downstairs while Mop-head German Blake Meyer stepped outside to rummage in the garage.
But, back up to the KTVB television programming (NBC!) eased Foster’s remaining hunger. KBOI was CBS and had a competing programming lineup that had him jumping channels all night long.
Sleep came late into the paid commercial programming of potato peelers and exercise toys. The TV had a timer which Foster had played with to get it to alarm him at 7:00 am, three hours hence. Three hours sleep would be enough, he thought.
It wasn’t. He fell asleep on the ValleyRide bus and missed his stop by a couple stops. The driver pointed to the LED flashing sign and said that all the stops were displayed as well as the bus PA speakers announced each stop loudly. Foster thanked the driver, got off and walked the few blocks back to the Parole and Probation Unit. The walk helped him wake up.
Foster approached the security guard stiffly, “Steven Hills office?”
“Mr. Hill won’t be in until 9:00. You can sit in the coffee shop,” he nodded at a small counter and some chairs and tables, “or you can come back when his office opens.” The clock above the elevators read a bold 8:15.
“Coffee it will have to be. I sure need a cup right about now.”
Steven Hill just had to stand over six foot four. He towered over the office furniture that appeared rustic and miniature as he motioned Foster to enter with him. He wore an old gray cardigan pullover sweater under which blared a deep red shirt and matching tie. Wide circles of glasses rimmed in golden metal perched on a fat nose and magnified two grayish blue eyes that began an intense inspection of Foster. Smooth gray pants dropped neatly down to out-of-place pink tennis shoes.
He noticed Foster staring at them as Hill rounded out of sight behind his desk. “Pull up that chair in front of my desk here. Let’s chat a bit, okay? You like my shoes?”
Foster smiled, “Pink.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, “I lost a bet with my daughter. Wal-Mart had them on sale for $12 bucks and, well, I have to wear them for the entire week.” As if to complete the “warm-home, friendly giant” image, Hill pulled out a dark brown smoker’s pipe and bit down on it lightly, teeth clacking against the plastic.
Foster sat but remained silent. Hill waited a moment, as well, as he continued to scrutinize his new customer.
He began, “You are supposed to ask what the bet was.”
Foster blinked, “Uh, okay. What was the bet?”
“Who can memorize the capital city of each of the 50 states first.”
“Which state stumped you?”
“Missouri. Jefferson City. I didn’t study. Small price to pay to get the little miss to learn her capitals.”
“I thought it was St. Louis.”
“Google it.” Hill smiled.
The pipe remained unlit and affixed to Hill's clenched teeth as he spoke, "So, tell me something about Robert Foster that I don’t know. They call you Bob?”
“Robert, Bob, Rob, Bobby, Robby, and once I got called Rod. Robert is usually what I go by.”
“I’m Steven. No Steve. Just Steven. Anyway, welcome to Boise. You settled in at Rising Sun?”
"Yes, sir. I was quite surprised that it is a home, not a halfway house."
“I’ve seen it, but I have no cases who live there. Just you.” Hill cleared his throat, removed his pipe, regarding it thoughtfully. He continued softly, “You are their first rapist. There may be some neighborhood issues with you but nothing too intense, I would imagine. Of course, you are not to associate with any of them, is that clear?”
“You okay with a GPS anklet?”
“I agreed to it on the form you sent.”
“Well, forget it. I’ll know where you are without it. That’s my job. If I get busy, later, I may get you to put one on. But, for now, you won’t need one because I know where you’ve been, where you are, and where you will be all day and all night. In fact, I know more about you than you do. I know how you think before you think it. You go adrift on me and I’ll send you back to Texas. And, believe me, I’ll know it.”
Foster just sat in silence. Let him get his blustering off his chest, he thought. Without patronizing him, pump him up a bit.
The pipe got parked between teeth again and Hill asked, “You don’t believe me?”
Foster sat mute.
“Well, Robert, let me startle you. I was expecting you here so I scribbled a little note on a piece of paper last night before I went home. It was a prediction. On it, I wrote a number. Now, pick a number between one and twenty.”
Foster smiled, “Not between one and ten?”
Hill did not return the smile. “If you want, we can make it between one and ten. Choose.”
“But now I could choose one from above ten, right?”
Hill was expressionless, “Are you testing me, Robert? Choose.”
“What is it?”
"There is a small notepad page underneath my out basket." Hill pointed with his pipe. "Pull it out from there and read it to me, please."
Foster read aloud, "I knew you would pick the number 12." He stared at the handwritten note, held it closer to his eyes and read it silently. Then he looked up at Hill, puzzled.
“Allow me to startle you more,” Hill challenged.
Foster stared back at the note paper, unbelieving. Hill continued, “Do you know anyone named Melissa?”
Foster looked sharply at Hill, face flushing a bit.
“Yes?” Hill insisted.
Foster replied softly, "Yes." Of course, he knew a Melissa. He knew a Janet, as well.
Hill spoke with paternal moderation, “Your charges were rape, Robert. That’s in the court records. I have access to those. But nowhere is Melissa mentioned, is it?”
Foster shook his head. Did this stranger Parole Officer know? How could he know?
Hill answered his unspoken question, “I told you, I know you better than you do.”
Foster squirmed in the uncomfortable office chair.
“I know you were sexually involved with Melissa. I know that Janet, her mother, charged you with raping her, not Melissa. I am pretty sure I know why, too.” Hill paused. “Don’t worry, Robert. You can’t be charged with molesting Melissa. I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here to make sure you remain honorable. I am very good at what I do. That’s why they assigned you to me. I can read you like I read the court records.”
Foster muttered weakly, “How do you….” He stopped dead. Baffled.
“I told you. I know you. A great man once said, ‘And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.’ You might think you can hide things from me and, perhaps, for a few moments, you can. Not for long.”
Foster twisted the note paper with the prediction on it for a moment. “You know why Janet claimed I raped her?”
“I think I do. I know that you never actually raped Janet. You care to discuss it? I’m telling you, you can’t be charged with anything involving Melissa. But, if you want, you can consult an attorney and have him contact me. I’ll explain the situation and he can assure you that you can’t be charged with molesting Melissa.”
In the thirteen years that Foster had sat in prison, no one had ever connected him with any kind of involvement with Janet's 7-year-old daughter, Melissa. Until now. Foster thought that the magical prediction of his guess of the number 12 might have been just that, a magic trick. But to know about Melissa was impossible. Nobody but Janet and Melissa, herself, knew about the sexual encounters.
Hill sat back in his creaking chair, bit down on his pipe again, and spoke through closed teeth, “You are a pedophile, Robert. I know just like I know the sun is shining. My job is to ensure you are a non-practicing pedophile. I want you to know that the least side step you take from the line straight and narrow, I’m going to feel it in you. My job, then, will be to send you back to Texas. I could cheat and lie to bring that about if necessary. But it won’t be necessary because I can send you back to Texas simply by expressing my opinion to Idaho’s judicial system. Do you follow me?”
Foster nodded, “I have every intention of complying with my parole agreement.”
Hill flipped open Foster’s folder packet and asked, “Employment? It says you took chef’s courses in Texas. You want to work at McDonald’s?”
Foster knew it was a trap, “No, they don’t pay very well. I had in mind the cookie bakery over on Overland that I’ve been writing to. Mrs. Demster has assured me that I have a job there if I want it.”
“Your file doesn’t mention any Demster’s Bakery.”
“She owns Wendy’s Gourmet Cookies.”
“Oh, yes, here it is. Mrs. Demster is the manager there?”
“No, she owns the place and works with two Mexican brothers. I will be running the dough machines, cleaning them, repairing them, and stuff like that.”
“Great. I’ll give her a call this afternoon. That okay with you?”
“I wasn’t able to give her your name but she’ll be expecting contact by someone about me.”
The remaining of the interview went as Foster had been warned about. What surprised him was the lack of a GPS anklet. Nevertheless, he left the parole and probation office relieved that the interview was over. He headed back to Rising Sun for a long needed sleep session.
The days had drifted busily by as Foster readied himself for his new job. Mrs. Demster had, indeed, been contacted by Steven Hill but all went well. Foster would start training Friday morning, 2 a.m. with his shift being 2:00 to 10:30 am weekdays. Because he was to be acting in a dual capacity as dough man as well as mechanic, Foster’s pay rate was rather high. And, the shop, being rather small, was non-union which suited him well.
Thursday thrilled Foster as he went, first, to a Master’s match at the Boise Chess Club near where he would be working. The match went quickly in favor of the defending champion, ending around 8:30. This left time to catch a movie at the local theater having a Thursday Discount night. The movie, Winter’s Bone, was a good one, leaving Foster content and ready for the next day's work just two hours after the movie let out. He walked to work through the deserted streets, bracing against the glare of streetlights and occasional car headlights as they passed. Just blocks from the cookie factory, Foster could see the buildings change from retail to manufacturing. Crossing the street to approach his new workplace, Foster noted with amusement that the city had zoned the factory fence-to-fence with a residential subdivision similar to the one in which his halfway house was situated in. Boise, it seemed, was pragmatic with its zoning policies, bending to the whims of whoever had the most development money.
Foster walked to the back entrance of Wendy’s Gourmet Cookies, dimly lit by one lonely bare light bulb, and stepped to the door beside the loading dock. Curiously, it was open. He opened it further and walked in. There he was met with a barrage of Spanish by a fellow wearing a shirt pocket label, “Julio”.
“Hola Sr. Foster! Has llegado en el momento justo para arreglar mi carretilla!” (Hello, Mr. Foster! You have arrived at the right time to fix my truck!)
“Su montacargas? Qué hay de malo en ello?” (Your truck? What’s wrong with it?) Foster looked about at the dingy, dimly lit loading dock.
From animated gesturing and loud Spanish, Foster soon discovered that Julio’s forklift was jammed and locked into reverse and had inadvertently been backed into a huge mixing machine.
Pedro, Julio’s brother just stood and regarded Foster critically, “Ella nunca dijo que era un pinche gringo.” ("She never said it was a gringo.")
The night wore on as Foster got to know Julio, a barefaced older Mexican sporting a bright orange hard hat, a grease smeared extra small safety vest and similarly smeared gray overalls barely containing his wide girth, who constantly spread infectious good humor. Pedro, in contrast, dressed in a hairnet, white cotton gloves, and white smock that loosely draped his wiry frame. He taught Foster new Spanish vulgarity by the minute.
At 7:30 a.m., the three of them, Foster, Julio, and Pedro, took lunch in the small parking lot next to the loading dock. Julio and Pedro promptly climbed separate stacks of scrap freight pallets, dropped washcloths over their eyes and took a siesta. Foster, munching on a couple oatmeal raisin cookies, watched the procession of school kids marching from the residential access through the fence, off to their appointed morning school bus stops. Apparently, the school bus stop was beside the cookie factory.
At 10:30 a.m., Mrs. Demster wandered back into the mixing/freight dock area to personally welcome Foster. Her Germanic accented English was heavily influenced by German grammar rules but Foster could follow most of what she said.
“Herr Foster, ve vill get along very guut, I sink. Yoor verk ist wunderbar. Be here Monday morgan.”