The first time I landed in jail was for nearly killing hundreds of people at the age of ten; it would’ve given me the infamous distinction of being the youngest mass murderer of all time. Although those deaths would prove to have been unintentional, I’d nevertheless secure a place in the annuals of horrific crimes committed by children. A train named The San Diegan running back and forth from Los Angeles to San Diego is the second busiest commuter in the country, and that name along mine, my brother Bobby, and the Perez brothers, would forever be acknowledged in the same breath associated with juvenile delinquency in America.

            These were the Johnson years when our world depended on mechanical engineering and computers were still in their infancy. Therefore, digital exactness did not exist when human oversight or error (usually on the spot) oftentimes resulted in disastrous repercussions, much different from today when a hacker can deliver global catastrophe without leaving his bedroom.

            One morning headed for Catechism, I noticed the lock on the railroad switching mechanism laying there unclasped on the gravel like a forgotten child. I should have reported the oversight, but devilry got the better of me, and instead, pulled the lever that connects this track to the adjacent track carrying trains traveling in the opposite direction. One rightfully would expect an alarm in case of such a misstep, or some other precautionary solution, but there wasn’t one, someone had dropped the ball, and unfortunately we were there to pick it up.

            The railroad tracks ran perpendicular to Amerige Park, a historic baseball field where a barnstorming Babe Ruth once obliterated baseballs, and our own Walter Johnson hurled fire before joining the Babe in baseball’s first group of inductees into the Hall of Fame. Right next door is the Fullerton Boys Club, my home away from home, and where I had the honor of competing with Gary Carter, another future Baseball Hall of Famer. Nestled besides it is St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where our holy Sacrament indoctrination waited that Saturday morning of scheduled Catechism.

            If anyone needed salvation, it was us kids hell-bent on trouble; our Catechism books are in the bushes and our hands free. For the most part, I was an obedient boy who had recently discovered naughty behavior, a tad above being curious, much like what fibbing is to just kidding. Miguel and Hector were brazen spirits of imaginative creativity. Hector once prostrated and lifted his legs to put a flaming matchstick to his ass and cut a fart transforming himself into a human torch.

            Adept at filching vending machines, disabling combination locks, replaying pin-balls games, retaining dirty books, and never got caught sneaking into Angel Stadium. Now those were lofty accomplishments, and that morning when we discovered the wayward lock, I saw the opportunity to earn myself a little bad boy respect.

            Our police station stands one block from the crime scene, and thank goodness because from there came a cop car crossing these tracks at precisely the moment of me flipping the switch. I might have returned the lever to its rightful position but the jolt of his loudspeaker scared the shit out of us, and we ran off. We fled through the park fence and hid behind the first house in Fullerton (Amerige House) from where we could see the swarming authorities examining the neglected apparatus and discussing this horrendous mistake. Behind Fullerton’s birthplace, we begged for forgiveness, offering God the solemn promise to fulfill our First Holy Communion obligation and Confirmation, too. On opportunity of their preoccupation we ran to St. Mary’s Church whose doors never close like the Kingdom of God never closes for the pious and deserving.

            She was a sight for guilty eyes with her beaming cross and storied belfry holding the silent bells gearing up to sing. Besides her gift of divine intervention, the church would be the right place to hide taking into account the Boys Club has not yet opened. The main entrance handles never appeared so mighty and again I’m the one to grapple the shaft that opens the doors for the ultimate change in opposite directions. This time there’s nothing, no motion, no smooth cooperation; I can’t believe it and again pull, nothing, the doors were locked. The four of us together tug with no avail and realize that God is not ready to forgive and will not allow passage. We huddle and plea and try again, no, the door will not budge, sorry, God has halted us cold in our tracks.

            A mini strip mall is the nearest structure and our best option for cover. By now the cops must be closing in and by sheer luck we find the least likely of stores already open. It’s an ice-cream parlor which normally would not be our first choice because they are very expensive. Ice-cream cones at Thrifty’s were five cents. Without much of a choice we enter and order ice-cream cones. Patrons are visible from outside, and when we see the cop car pull up, we know our time has come. The policeman’s eyes are as cold as ice, not ice-cream, clear, frozen, solid ice.

            “Well, well, well, eating ice-cream like if nothing,” said the young cop.

            Our world comes crashing down on the sweet spot and without batting an eye Miguel is pointing his sticky finger at me.

            “He is the one that moved the railroad track.”

            “I don’t care about that little boy, all for one and one for all,” said the cop.

            “Is everything O.K. officer,” asked the proprietor.

            “These kids switched the railroad train tracks.”

            “Oh boy, that’s a capital offense isn’t it?”

            “Ya bet cha,” said the policeman, throwing icicles at us again.

            “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it,” I said.

            “You can tell the judge that,” said the policeman. “Come along now.”

            In a chain-gang we follow the policeman and toss our ice-cream cones into the trash. I sneak one last lick before mine goes in. The ride to the station takes five minutes and soon we are in the same holding tanks where killers, robbers and rapist are held.

            “Good morning, Sammy,” said our policeman to the jailor.

            “What are these guys in for?” asked Sammy.

            “They switched the railroad train tracks.”

            “Good Heavens, anybody hurt?”

            “Nothing has been confirmed.” He gives us a disgusted look. “Good thing I was driving by and caught these kids in the act.”

            “Now that’s the luckiest thing I ever heard.”

            “I understand there was a train,” said the cop. “Just up ahead.”

            “And so what happened?”

            “Well, I’m not sure, Sammy. But I heard they radioed and tried stopping it.”

            “Thank God for radios, officer.”

            “These four here are in some hot water alright.”

            “The judge will probably throw the book at them.”

            “They’ll never see the light of day.”

            “So small, look at them.” Sammy shakes his head. “Now that’s a shame.”

            You can bet that we were bawling like little babies, when a buzzer goes off and a red light starts blinking, Sammy looks up at his monitor; I can tell he doesn’t like what he sees.

            “This is turning out to be a bad day.”

            “What’s going on?” asked the cop.

            “They’re bringing in Mad Dog Washington.”

            “Not again.”

            Sammy puts on his holster belt and the cop clutches his.

            “Sorry boys,” Sammy says to us. “I’m going to need that holding cell.”

            Our cop gets busy. “We’ll hold these four characters in the interrogation room.”

            Sammy pops open the door, and they shuffle in Mad Dog, a big muscular white man of stringy hair everywhere, wearing an eye-patch and shackled. Our crying cranks up to a higher level.

            “What’ch you got here, Sam?” asked the Mad Dog. “Fresh meat?”

            “Railroad train track switchers, Mad Dog.”

            “Well if I hadn’t heard it all, I’ve never even done that.”

            They parade us through and I turn to see Mad Dog before

            entering the interrogation room.

            “See you boys in the big house,” says Mad Dog and winks.

            We’re seated at a table with a disgusted detective. Our policeman has left but returns with three other curious cops.

            “Well here they are,” says our cop to the others.

            The sight of them brings on another round of tears, at which point we start pleading.

            “I’d be crying too,” said one cop. “If I was never going home.”

            “They’ll never see their parents again.”

            The detective reaches for a briefcase and finally speaks. “Got something for you wise-guys,” he says, and throws our Catechism books on the table. “Every seen these before?”

            “Yes,” I whimper.

            His look solicits an answer from the others.

            “Sure,” says Miguel.

            “A huh,” says Hector.

            “Yep,” said Bobby.

            “Sir, we told Jimmy not to pull that train switcher,” said Miguel.

            “That’s not true, Mugger,” said Bobby.

            “We didn’t say nothing, Miguel,” said Hector, upset at his brother.

            “I didn’t mean to do it,” I said. “I was just playing.”

            “Doesn’t matter,” says the detective. “If one dummy does something stupid, everybody pays.”

            “That’s attempted murder isn’t it,” asked one cop, adjusting his holster.

            “First degree,” said the detective, still sitting with us.

            “What a waste of lives,” said another cop.

            “They’ll be old men before they get out,” said another. “Shame.”

            “If, they get out,” says the other. “If?”

            The officers are reinforcing the fear of God into us. Everyone leaves except the detective and us sinners looking for solace inside the dirtied covers of our Catechism books. “Read the part about Thou Shall Not Kill, boys,” he says.

            “Oh please, please, I’m so sorry,” I cried, and the others join in.

            At that moment, a policeman enters and borrows the detective’s ear. They exchange whispers and the cop walks over to stand at attention next to the table.

            “Listen up you,” the detective said to us. “Jimmy and Bobby your Mother is here. It was a miracle that nobody died. Come with me, I will take you to see her.

            “My Mom?” I asked, looking at Bobby.

            “Mom?” said Bobby.

            “Yes, your Mother little boys,” said the detective. “Miguel and Hector, this officer will guard you until I return. No funny stuff huh?”

            “Yes sir,” said Miguel.

            “O.K. officer,” said Hector.

            The hallway was like a cave sprinkled with beasty-eyes in the dark. Cops showed their dismay at the sight of us. The walk is longer than anticipated, and I’m thinking we’re going to a visitor’s chamber. For a minute Amerige Park comes into view and I imagine Babe Ruth’s homers crashing through these Mediterranean windows. The sight of Fullerton Boys Club hurts because I’ll never see the inside again. And St. Mary’s Catholic Church brings home what this whole nightmare is really all about. The minute we hid those Catechism books was the moment we found our downfall. The stern detective brings us into the lobby where our Mother sits near the double-doors of freedom. We’re going home. Our marathon crying extravaganza is miraculously approaching its sun flushed finish line.

            When we get home, my Mom had us pray for forgiveness at her flaming altar. We fully confessed to past weekends of cutting Catechism and it became apparent those absences have put us behind and in order to complete the requirements, we’ll have to start over. What happened after that? I don’t know, but we never registered for classes again, and I never made my First Holy Communion and neither did Bobby. But somehow, we did make our way back to the Fullerton Boys Club. Thank God.
J.A.GomezM (Jaime Armando Gomez Montoya) was born in Mexicali, Mexico and raised in Fullerton, CA. Love of stories has been his passion with theatre as the vehicle. He graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a B.A. Theatre Arts 1982. Community College Teaching Credential 1989. Instructor Fullerton College. He has worked primarily as a playwright.
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