Excerpt from "The Sausage Makers Daughters" by A.G.S. Johnson
C h a p t e r O n e
February 14, 1972 — St. Valentine’s Day
How many deaths does it take ’til he sees that too many people—
“’Fraid it’s time.”
“Miss Czermanski, it’s time.”
Time? Speaking to me through
metal bars, a sad-eyed man in uniform interrupted me, singing softly to
distract myself. I focused on the jangling keys in his hand.
Oh. Time. I plummeted back to
reality—me locked in a jail cell. Mustering my indignation, I responded,
“Finally, you’ve come to your senses. You’re letting me out.”
Not that this jail cell
scared me—hell no. I’ve been clubbed, bruised, teargassed, arrested, and
jailed too many times to count. And I have the scars to prove it. It’s just,
well … so much happened so fast. That must be why I’m a bit rattled.
“Van’s awaitin’,” the jail
guard said, sliding open the cell door. Its crashing against the bars behind
it, metal on metal, provoked my reaction. I jumped to my feet, tugging an old
mothproofed coat over the other sartorial rejects I had dressed in. I looked as
ridiculous as my being locked in this cell had been. How will they justify
holding me? It was an outrage, and probably not even legal. Dad’s lawyers would
get to the bottom of it.
Charging from the cell, I
strode the cement corridor in the only direction possible, dead ahead. “I’m
more than ready to leave this creepy place,” I told the guard, “for good.”
Our footsteps echoed through
the empty jailhouse, the old guard’s plodding gait punctuating the rapid-fire
determination of mine until we reached a metal door. Once the guard unlocked
it, we were blasted by arctic air and blinding sunlight. “Go on ahead now,” he
prodded me. With my eyes adjusting, I stumbled toward a police van
materializing at the base of a stairway.
Three uniformed men, shifting
from foot to foot, waited beside a police van, their breath rising like smoke
signals on frigid air. I gulped in the bracing cold to quell a sudden uptick in
my pulse. One of my armed escorts offered me a hand into the rear of the van,
but I climbed in on my own. He trailed me in and sat opposite, absently
fingering his billy club. Doors slammed all around us, four consecutive
concussions, both heard and felt. The van rumbled forward, and my teeth
chattered as I fixated on his club.
I attempted conversation as
we crunched and slid over rutted snow toward the county courthouse. “So, how
long do these things take, Officer, normally?”
“Transfer to the courthouse?
No mor’n a few minutes.”
“No, I meant my appearance,
the … arraignment.” He shrugged with disinterest. Straining to see through the
chicken-wired windows, I attempted another tack meant to divert me from the
impending court appearance. Though clearly not my first, it would be my first
all alone. “Looks like we got more snow last night.”
“Couple inches’s all.”
“Right …” This was getting me
nowhere. Besides, I should rehearse. I had only to state my plea, that’s what
Dad’s lawyers told me—that, “and no more.” Not guilty, Your Honor. No way am
I guilty. Man, I am so not guilty. “Positively, unequivocally, not guilty!
Get real, Your Honor.”
“What?” The guard eyed me
through the slits of his eyes as his grip tightened on his club.
“Sorry. I was just practicing
my lines—you know, for court.”
The man shifted away to
further discourage small talk, his movement revealing a holstered gun beneath
his jacket. Like a billy club to the head, it struck me that all these security
measures—from the jail cell to his club and gun to his armed cronies in the
front cab—were meant to safeguard greater Wausaukeesha, Wisconsin from me.
As the significance sank in, I held back debilitating fear the way we did in
the old days, with a protest song, this one sung in my head.
How many times can a man turn
pretending he just doesn’t
My stomach clenched like a
fist when the van fishtailed to a halt in another razor-wired courtyard. At
least it would all be over soon. My secret mantra cycled through my head as I
exited the van. Bravado, my old friend, don’t fail me now.
With my security detail, all
three of them, I was escorted to a rear entrance of the Wausaukeesha County
Courthouse, a building seen throughout my childhood from a distance, but never
up close until today. Once inside, my entourage marched me through the ill-lit
bowels of the building to a secure waiting area they called “the green room.”
Seated amid walls the color of pond scum, I pondered the room’s theatrical
name. Was it intentional, this allusion to a backstage area where actors waited
to perform? Droll gallows humor?
“Kipe … Keep … K-I-P
Czermanski,” boomed a voice that filled the green room. Another uniformed
official had entered and bumbled over not my last name, which was a handful,
but my first. With him, the body count in the holding pen reached five—four
official-looking and armed men and me, one childish-looking female.
I rose, ditched the coat, and
tartly corrected him. “It’s Kip, like ‘hip.’” The officers gazed in obvious
surprise at the now revealed outfit I was literally stuffed into—a
nautical-themed white blouse with a navy blue tie and pleated skirt. Dad’s
lawyers assured me this mothball-reeking ensemble was the best my sisters could
pull together after the lawyers had judged everything in my suitcase at home
“unsuitable for the courtroom.” I cheered myself, thinking that looking
infantile was probably a good defensive ploy. All eyes in the green room
traveled downward to my feet and stopped. Oh crap, except for the combat boots.
Where did my sisters find them?
In a solemn tone I hadn’t
heard since I stopped attending Mass, the newly arrived official recounted
courtroom protocol for me. I tried to listen but fidgeted with my hair, my
clothes, and the damned boots, the protest song still wafting through my head.
“Okay, this way,” he said
when he’d finished. I prayed I hadn’t missed anything important and forced
myself in the direction indicated, chastising myself for allowing my habitual
free-associating to seize my attention when, more than ever, I needed to be
focused and present.
More echoing footsteps,
another dead end before a locked door, this one marked Courtroom One, which the
guard opened, and herded me inside.
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