Beyond its humor, color and adventure, Daniel Hallford’s Tattooed Love Dogs is a powerful social document. The book is a collection of short stories about ex-cons and repeat cons, their values, their ways of talking, their entire world. These are slices of a life that goes on all around and within regular society, yet remains almost totally beyond society’s field of vision. The actions and thoughts of many of these characters seem unbelievable, and might actually be unbelievable, if it weren’t for the fact that all the stories are based on the author’s real life experiences as a teacher and parole officer for the California Department of Corrections.
Excerpts from TATTOOED LOVE DOGS
All excerpts copyright©2004 byDaniel Hallford
When the cops came to Delaney’s apartment in the Fillmore they were pissed off. Walking up five flights didn’t help either. The elevator was broken and it was the third time this month they had been to the place, a decaying 1920s faded brown stucco. The interior was a depressing welcome of chipped wainscoting, peeled plaster and lath walls that revealed old rotten boards underneath. The stairs creaked under thin carpeting, a dirty, purplish expanse of thread. The stairwell reeked of vinegar, cooking oil and burned curry from the Filipino and Hindu kitchens which put the building in jeopardy of fire. The stench smothered them. If they weren’t familiar with the smell of death they would have sworn a body was decaying in a corner someplace.
The first call, earlier in the month, was about a spousal abuse that a neighbor had called in and the second was about child neglect. On the spousal abuse thing they couldn’t find any blood or bruises, and nobody claimed to have hit anybody: just a lot of hollering and screaming that disturbed the building, igniting wild chattering in incomprehensible foreign tongues. On the child abuse there wasn’t much to be done. The three kids were dirty and wearing clothes that looked like rags. The one bedroom apartment hadn’t been cleaned in months but the kids said they hadn’t been beaten, they weren’t hungry, went to school every day and no one had touched their privates. The only crime was poverty.
Little girls ages ten, eight, and seven, who in their small lives were continually overwhelmed by the selfishness of adults who were supposed to guide them. Three little girls left out in the open with no cover and support to protect them.
This time, the two cops, Hagarty and Smith, accompanied a parole agent. The family was used to seeing them both: two emotionless blocks in uniform. Not much older than Delaney himself, though both were in better shape with thick forearms and hands they held away from their belts like gunslingers. Delaney was a skinny house painter with wiry red hair and bloodless white freckled skin. His arms were sticks, covered with scabs from injection marks. He wore paint splattered clothes and shoes that smelled of turpentine. Delaney’s worthless younger brother had given this address as his residence of record, but had never reported to the parole office. The parole agent called them for assistance in an attempted pickup. When they got there the three kids ran around playing hopscotch and Delaney’s butt was parked on a broken down recliner. Delaney’s old lady, Theresa, was in the back bedroom.
“Looking for your brother, Delaney,” Smith began. “Any idea where he is?”
Delaney didn’t look too happy, frowning like a weasel.
The same two cops on his turf, itching to detain him again.
“He never showed up here officers,” he answered, acting mystified.
“He never wrote you a letter, called you up or otherwise contacted you in the last three years he’s been down?” the parole agent asked.
Delaney got up and moved to a ripped and sagging velvet couch covered by a thin blanket in a living room filled with a mish-mash of reclaimed junk furniture: a three-legged coffee table, a duct-taped recliner, a couple of framed and torn pictures on the wall, two lamps without shades, their weak bulbs barely lighting the near dark.
Delaney scratched his chin, as if thinking.
“Never. In fact the only thing I heard about him is from my mother. She told me last week that he just got out. Ain’t heard a thing from him.”
Delaney was happy with the way he answered the questions. He felt that lying was one of his strong points. He could lie very well and make it sound like gospel. The problem was when he dealt with the law they never believed him no matter how good he sounded. To them it was a given. He lied. And when they caught him in it they made him pay. He tried anyway. They made it obvious to him again that they knew the truth.
“Mind if we take a look around the place, you know, just in case?” Smith asked with the minimum of politeness.
Delaney shrugged. It would be useless to say no. They’d been here before and were looking for anything to make a case against him. Maybe a little weed here or some crank over there. He’d been in prison, and since the parole agent was here, he knew they considered this place subject to search and seizure without any kind of bullshit search warrant. They were gonna do it whether he said yes or no. “Go ahead,” he answered. He just hoped the old lady had hidden their stash good enough. Otherwise, he was going, she was going, and the kids would go into the custody of CPS.
“You ain’t gonna find nothin,” he said annoyed.
“Thanks,” Smith answered.
They asked Delaney to stand up and turn around, hands behind his back. They cuffed him and sat him down in the recliner. That made the girls stop. They looked at their daddy and the oldest and taller one asked why.
“Don’t worry, Sweetie,” Smith said. “We’re looking for your uncle, you know, your uncle Todd. Todd Delaney?”
The girl, about eight years old with startling blue eyes, didn’t say a thing. She wanted to, but held back, the mouth opening slightly and closing and a quick shake of the head that said no. But the smaller one spoke up:
“Uncle Todd? I saw Uncle Todd last week, he was…”
“Be quiet, Kath!” Delaney said while sitting painfully on the cuffs. “She ain’t seen nobody! Todd don’t live here and he never been here.”
“I’m not talking to you, Delaney,” Smith said. “I’m talking to Kath.”
Smith tried to ask her again. He removed her from sight of her father into the hallway and tried to coax her in as gentle voice as he could, but no dice. Delaney had given her the warning and she went with it. She didn’t want to displease her daddy.
Officer Hagarty walked back into the bedroom and found Theresa. She appeared to be waking up from a deep sleep on the unmade bed. He flipped on the light switch and she sat up on the bed. Her jaw was puffy and had a dark purple bruise. Her left eye was blackened. Hagarty didn’t remark on it but asked: “Could you please step out to the living room, ma’m?”
She came into the light slowly, looking extremely tired. She wore a wrinkled, threadbare housecoat. She was barefoot and overweight, not by much, but enough to want it hidden by the faded mumu. Her hair was stringy and glistened as if she’d been sweating. She winced as she sat on the couch. Delaney nodded to her.
“Hey, baby,” he said to her. “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing, okay?”
She nodded back.
“What’s up honey?” she asked.
“Nothin’, don’t worry. These guys are lookin’ for Todd. We ain’t seen Todd since he got outta the pen, right?”
She nodded again.
“No,” she said. “We heard he was out a couple a weeks ago, but he hasn’t stopped by here.”
The officers offered nothing. They began their search in the dimly lit bedroom, turning over everything, including the mattress, rifling every drawer, searching every pocket of every piece of clothing strewn in the closet and on the floor, tore up every loose floorboard and even fished in the toilet tank in the bathroom.
The parole agent watched the family in the living room and tried to make small talk with the girls.
“Where do you go to school?” he asked each of them. “What’s your favorite subject? Who’s your favorite teacher? What’re your names by the way?”
Finally, he asked Theresa: “How’d you get those bruises?”
It was a question Theresa knew was coming. She was prepared. She held a cigarette in her hand to steady her nerves. She’d thought about it over and over since the cop woke her up. The girls looked at one another, then at their mommy and their daddy. They were nervous and fidgeting all of a sudden. Wanting to help their mommy but not knowing what to do. Should they lie? Should they tell the truth? They had lived lies so long that they were trapped in their inability to make things right.
“I fell down the stairs,” Theresa answered simply and exhaled a lung full of smoke as she looked down at the floor.
Delaney smirked and nodded in agreement.
The youngest girl, Kath, the one who knew where her Uncle Todd was, giggled nervously.
“Yes, she fell down the stairs,” she parroted in confirmation and relief. “She fell down the stairs!”
“Did you go to the hospital and have it checked?” the parole agent asked. “It looks serious.”
A pained, downturned smile slowly crept across Theresa’s face.
“It only just happened. I was laying down hoping it would be all right but it got worse. Honey,” she said looking at her husband. “When these men leave, can we go to SF General? I mean, it hurts real bad and I think I should see someone.”
Delaney nodded, a cloud of innocence in his eyes.
“Yeah, honey, we’ll go,” he replied with fake concern.
The cops came out of the bedroom, stood the family in the corner and turned everything in the room over. They even unzipped the seat cushion coverings and turned them inside out, squeezing the foam pillows. When they finished they had found nothing.
Delaney was happy. He had cheated the fuckers again. He wanted to tell Theresa she did a good job in hiding the stash. But part of that ability to lie made him acknowledge nothing, say nothing, do nothing in front of these people. Maybe he’d tell her later how sorry he was. That it had been an accident. That he’d gotten mad and didn’t mean it. She’d appreciate that.
Smith motioned for the parole agent to step outside into the stairwell for a moment while Hagarty talked to the family and kept an eye on them.
“We know this shithead beat her,” he said. “No trace of the brother, but we know he stayed here a couple a nights. We found some of his release papers from Pelican Bay. Let me call dispatch to see if we got any warrants out for shithead. We called two weeks ago when we were here, but nothin’ came up. Maybe somethin’ will this time.”
“I’ll put a warrant out for the brother when I get back to the office,” the parole agent said.
Smith nodded and ID’d himself to dispatch, speaking into his shoulder mike.
“Control, this is Silver 63. Need a warrant check on a white male, DOB 7/23/71, named Roger Delaney. That’s Delaney beginning Delta.”
“Copy Silver 63. Male white, DOB 7-23-71, name Roger Delaney,” came the reply.
The female voice from dispatch was scratchy but clear, anonymous and impersonal. After a minute’s silence it returned.
“Silver 63, have warrant issued on 4-16 for male white, DOB 7-23-71, name Roger Delaney. For six-six-six PC.”
Smith looked at the agent and smiled. “Copy.” He said into his shoulder mike.
“Bingo!” Smith sounded elated. “Shithead goes to jail. Do not pass go.”
They walked back into the apartment and Hagarty looked at them inquisitively.
“Good news?” he asked.
“Good news,” Smith answered. “Mr. Delaney is going to jail.”
“What?” Delaney yelled out. “I ain’t done shit! You can’t take me to jail!”
“You are correct, Mr. Delaney,” Hagarty answered. “You didn’t hide a fugitive. You didn’t beat your wife. She just told me she fell down the stairs. But you do have a warrant out for your arrest. Am I right partner?”
Hagarty looked to Smith for the answer.
“You are correct, Officer Hagarty,” Smith replied looking directly at Delaney. “A warrant for a failure to appear it seems. Were you supposed to be in court, Mr. Delaney? Something about a petty theft with a prior a couple of months back?”
“This is bullshit,” Delaney shouted. “You can’t do this to me! I got a family to support! They need me out here. Tell ‘em kids, tell ‘em not to take Daddy away!”
“You’re talkin’ to the wrong people, Mr. Delaney,” Smith answered. “Tell it to the judge.” He said Mr. Delaney because he didn’t want to call him shithead in front of the kids.
The kids, however, didn’t want Daddy to go away and all of them broke into tears.
“No Daddy, no! Don’t take our Daddy away! He’s our only Daddy! We love him! Tell them momma! Tell them! Tell them not to take Daddy away!” they cried almost in unison. They rushed Delaney as he stood up, arms cuffed behind his back. They grabbed at his pants and his dirty t-shirt, and tried to hold on without letting him go. Delaney didn’t discourage their tears, their little hands clutching him tight. He played them shamelessly. Maybe the officers would show him a little sympathy and let him go just this once.
Theresa tried to hush the girls, calm them in such a way that they understood that Daddy would be home soon. She pulled each one of them away from Delaney and sat them on the couch while he tried to appear his pathetic best.
“Daddy will make bail by tomorrow,” she explained to the girls. “When he gets out we’ll be a family again. Okay? It’s no big thing girls. Don’t cry.”
“Yeah, girls, yeah.” Delaney responded going along with the ruse.
The little girls, their dirty tennis shoes dangling over the edge of the sofa, moaned and sighed at the impending separation. Each was at loss for what to do. Each wanted responsibility, and blame, for their Daddy’s leaving, and, unlike their mother, each felt his presence was vital to their happiness and sense of togetherness. Delaney cried with the girls while standing there in cuffs.
The officers let him kiss each one of them, bending over, the metal biting into his wrists.
“I love you, Kath.” he said to his youngest.
“I love you, Lauren and Sara…” he said to the two oldest.
They kissed him back.
“I love you, Daddy.” they said.
He tried to kiss his wife but she was too weak to get up from the recliner. She waved him off. She knew she didn’t have money for bail, or for anything else. Any money they ever got Delaney spent on drugs and whatever else he wanted. Now he’d just stay there until he had served his time. She hurt too bad to care about him anymore.
The officers marched Delaney out and urged Theresa to seek medical attention. They offered to call her an ambulance, but she declined. On about the third floor, with two more to go, Delaney lost his footing at the top and slipped out of the officer’s grasp. He landed head first on the first few steps, somersaulted twice, and twisted to a soft landing on the second floor. The officers rushed to him, to make sure he was all right. They picked him up and straightened his clothes out. Delaney was groggy and tried to say something.
“At least he’s conscious,” Smith said.
“You pushed me,” Delaney mumbled.
They walked him down to the next landing, one up from the foyer. As they hit the top, they positioned him in such a way that he wouldn’t somersault, but roll like he was falling out of an unfolding carpet. Hagarty booted him in the ass. He made a racket on the thinly carpeted stairs, like wooden sticks bouncing off iron latticework. When Hagarty and Smith reached him he was unconscious. They revived him with smelling salts, figuring he was good enough to dump in the back of the patrol car instead of calling for an ambulance.
“These skinny dope fiends never get hurt.” Hagarty said
The parole agent caught up with them as they carried Delaney out the door. He’d stayed behind trying to convince Delaney’s wife to go to the hospital, but she refused with a hostility that he couldn’t understand. He helped them load Delaney without asking any questions.
Back upstairs the girls’ sobbing subsided. They were confused. They knew their mother was in charge of everything now that Daddy was gone. But she was in pain. Her ribs hurt, her jaw was swollen and her eye was closing. He had beaten her because she wouldn’t let him know where the stash was. Coke and weed, enough to keep Delaney happy for a few days. But she wasn’t hiding it from him: she had flushed it.
She didn’t want to go through it anymore. She didn’t want the girls to see it anymore, and she was willing to suffer the consequences. Only they hadn’t gotten to the part where she told him that she flushed it. He’d knocked her unconscious and she was sleeping it off. He wanted to question her again but the cops had arrived and took him away. Even though her bones ached worse than ever, the weight of the emotional world suddenly lifted off her. The girls huddled around, soothed and comforted her.
“We want Daddy back!” they cried.
She didn’t know how to tell them Daddy wasn’t coming back; that she would take them away and make Daddy a far and unpleasant memory, that she would kill Delaney rather than let him touch her again.