Brandon’s Boys

Chapter 5
Lamar Takes a Turn

            Newly ordained Father Bradley Lamar Todd was assigned to St. Martin de Porres Parish, located in the predominantly black section of Clifton west of downtown.  He was to assist the elderly black pastor, Father Alexander Wright.  This was the largest predominantly black parish in the diocese.  Lamar was assigned the 11:00 Mass because the Pastor was accustomed to rise early, and liked the earlier Masses.  He certainly did not object to that.  But he also heard confessions on Saturdays from 3:30 to 6:00, and that was seldom very uplifting.  The same tales of failure and woe time after time.  Lamar did, however, have a big heart, and his advice and admonition soon made him popular with the parishioners, which also meant his lines got longer.  He also gave more interesting and uplifting sermons than did Father Wright.

            In addition to his official duties at St. Martin de Porres, when Brandon Dowling completed organizing Brandon’s Boys as an incorporated entity, Lamar, with diocesan permission, accepted the role of chaplain and member of the Board.  It was this combination which led to the next additions to the rolls of Brandon’s Boys.

            Among Lamar’s regular congregants was Mrs. Eudora Brooke.  She was a woman in her early fifties, obviously having not had an easy life, but she managed to maintain a positive attitude.  She always thanked Lamar as she left church, whether on a Sunday or during the week, as she attended just about every day.  It seems she worked in the afternoon and evening, so she was available for Mass every morning.  More than once during his first month on the job, Mrs. Brooke complimented his sermons.  She was not one he would easily forget.  It was also pretty obvious that she had problems, and rumor in the parish said her children and grandchildren were among the worst of them.  She did have one daughter, Melissa, who often came to Mass with her, but there were others Lamar never saw.

            On Sunday, August 2, after the 11:00 Mass, Lamar was invited to have dinner at the Brooke residence.  He gladly accepted, as the housekeeper and cook at the rectory did not work on weekends, and neither Father Wright nor Lamar were any good in the kitchen, so this usually meant eating out or sandwiches.  Eating out got expensive, and Catholic priests were not well paid, so he gladly accepted the invitation.  After dinner, though, Mrs. Brooke asked to speak with him on a private matter.  Lamar smiled, and repeated to himself the old saying, ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch.’

            While her daughter Melissa did the dishes, Mrs. Brooke led Lamar into her parlor, where she showed him some family photos.  This was leading up to something, he knew.  She paused over the picture of a young teenager and his friend, then said both of them were her grandchildren.  The older boy was now 15.  He was named Leon Luttrell, although he called himself Rapper.  His mother, one of Mrs. Brooke’s daughters, had died some years ago, and his father was in prison for armed robbery.  Leon was presently in juvenile detention, also for robbery, and for carrying a concealed weapon, as he had a switchblade on him when arrested.  The younger boy was another grandson, a cousin of Leon, named Clarence Brooke, a son of Mrs. Brooke’s son Frank, who was in the Army.  Clarence called himself Bruiser, but he definitely did not look it, being smaller and lighter than Leon.  Clarence was with his mother, but Mrs. Brooke tisk-tisk-ed and said she feared the mother was involved with illegal drugs.  She had no job, and lost the last three for failure to show up when she was scheduled.  The boy was only 12, but she suspected he was getting into drugs as well.  All this led up to an appeal to Lamar to help the boys.  Of course, he agreed to do what he could, and obtained whatever information she had on them and their addresses.

            Back at the rectory, Lamar spoke with Father Wright about the boys.  He shook his head.  They had been fine boys as youngsters, but as they grew up, they grew away from the Church, and got into increasingly serious trouble.  There was rumor that Leon got a girl pregnant, and that both boys were into drugs.

            On Monday, Lamar went to the juvenile detention center, and asked to speak with Leon.  Things did not go well from the outset.  When Leon was brought in, and saw Lamar’s Roman collar, he exclaimed, “Aw fuck!  A fucking priest!  My mamaw sent you, didn’t she?”

            “Yes, Leon, she did.  She thought I might be able to help you,” Lamar said, refusing to take offense at his rudeness.

            “The only way you can help me is to get me out of here,” Leon said.  “And my name is Rapper”

            “That may be what you’re called, but your legal name is Leon, isn’t it?” Lamar asked.

            “Legal, smeagal.  Who gives a fucking shit about legal?  Rapper’s my street name.  That’s who I am,” the boy insisted.

            “Okay, if I call you Rapper, can we talk about what to do about your situation?” Lamar tried.

            “My situation is that I’m in juvie, and with the fucking lawyers the court assigns, I got no chance of getting off,” Leon said.

            “You were caught robbing a store, right?” Lamar asked.

            “Yeah.  I didn’t see one of their fucking mirrors, and the clerk saw me stuff some things in my pocket, so when I got ready to leave, there was a fucking cop waiting for me,” Leon admitted.

            “And you had a weapon?” Lamar continued.

            “Got to.  A man in my position has got to be ready to defend himself,” Leon asserted.

            “And what was it you stuffed in your pockets?” Lamar asked.

            Leon grinned.  That actually made him quite attractive, although up to now he had been scowling and trying to look tough.  “So, there’s something you don’t know, is there?”

            “There’s lots I don’t know, Rapper,” Lamar admitted.

            “Well, I’ll fill you in.  It’s on the rap sheet anyway.  Cigarettes and ... something else,” the boy said.

            “Something else?” the priest asked, raised eyebrow.

            “Oh, shit!  What the fuck!  A fucking Hershey bar,” Leon said.

            “You like chocolate, do you?  So do I,” Lamar grinned at him.

            “Okay, so I like chocolate.  That don’t mean anything, does it?” Leon asked assertively.

            “Just that you have excellent taste in sweets,” Lamar grinned again.  “Now, with all this, why do you think you should get off?”

            “Other dudes get off.  It don’t matter whether you did it or not.  All that matters is whether you got a good lawyer or not,” Leon asserted.

            “But this time it’s serious, isn’t it,” Lamar pushed.

            “Yeah,” the boy sighed.  “Not my first time.  I could get sent to the state juvie, and I hear that’s tough.”  Then he seemed to puff himself up.  “But I’ll do okay.  I’ll be like my dad, and be one of the bosses at the lockup, and have other losers do the dirty work.”

            “You think so?  What if it doesn’t work out that way?  What is the other guys are bigger and tougher than you?” Lamar questioned him.

            “No!  That won’t happen!  I’ll be the meanest fucker in the place.  Go away!  I don’t want to talk to you no more!”  With that, Leon jumped up and banged on the door.  His jailer came and took him away.  Lamar had much to think about.

            Over the next two weeks, Lamar visited Leon three times, each time running into the same brick wall.  He would not even consider a future beyond being the toughest guy in the prison, and then the meanest guy in the neighborhood.  His father was like that, and he would be, too.  Lamar got Chad and Anjali Pennington to check out the situation.  The theft was relatively minor, but the court-appointed lawyer was not interested in exerting himself on Leon’s behalf, and Leon’s attitude did not help.  They also identified Leon’s father as Mike Luttrell, who was serving seven to ten for armed robbery, a repeat offender.  He was in the state prison, located about forty miles from Clifton.  He and Leon’s mother had never been married, but he had shown some interest in the boy.

            Meanwhile, Lamar was also following up on the other grandson, Clarence Brooke, who called himself Bruiser.  He was only able to see the boy once before he ended up in the hospital.  That once was unavailing, as Clarence refused to admit there was anything wrong with his life.  But, on Saturday evening, August 8, Clarence was badly beaten by unknown assailants, and ended up in Clifton General Hospital.  When Mrs. Brooke told Lamar about this on Sunday, he promised to visit later that afternoon.  In the hospital, he found a Bruiser who was the bruised.  Clarence had a broken arm, but most of the rest of his problems were cuts and bruises.  He was hostile and did not know why he could not go home.

            On Monday, Lamar went to see Stephanie Williams, as he was told by the hospital that it was Child Welfare which did not want him released.  Stephanie called in Caleb Marlow, who was known to Lamar and who was Clarence’s case worker.  They talked and shared information, as they all knew and trusted each other.  Caleb knew Clarence.  He had tried to talk to him several times.  The boy had an exaggerated sense of his own strength and importance.  He had also offended a couple of really mean local pushers by trying to horn in on their business.  He was getting that from his mother, who was pretty hopelessly addicted.  They would not release him because they feared that if he went back to his home, he would be beaten even more severely, this time perhaps with permanent damage.

            “What if he goes someplace else, someplace safe?” Lamar asked.

            “Oh, that would be no problem.  But who will take in a boy with his record and his attitude?” Stephanie asked.

            “Brandon,” Lamar replied.

            They all looked at each other, as though the heavens had opened up, and a voice had revealed  a great truth.

            “You get Brandon to agree, and you got a deal,” Stephanie said.

            Lamar went directly from Stephanie’s office to Brandon’s place, but, of course, at that particular time in the summer of 2009, Brandon and Chris were on the European River Cruise vacation with Lamar’s and Chris’s parents.  He talked to Aunt Luisa, with Ben Spalding, who was kind of Brandon’s sub while he was away, and like Lamar a member of the Board of Brandon’s Boys, and with Anjali Pennington, also a member of the Board.  He sent Brandon an extensive e-mail.  The next day, Lamar received a reply, sent to all five other members of the Board, saying, in effect, he would trust their judgement.  They agreed to give it a try, if the other boys were willing.

            So, Lamar met with Daniel, Colby, Bobby, and Mike.  They all knew Clarence, although they knew him as Bruiser, and thought the name hilarious, as he just was not all that tough.  They thought he was full of himself, a real goof-off, and probably into drugs.  But, after conferring among themselves, they agreed to give it a try.  “After all,” Daniel said, “we didn’t look like a very good bet when we got here, either.”

            Then, Lamar returned to the hospital.  By this time Clarence was really antsy, wanting out, and wanting to do something besides lie in bed and watch television.  Lamar brought Daniel with him.  The two boys began by trading insults, but they clearly understood each other.  Lamar and Daniel convinced Clarence to give it a try.  It did not take a lot of convincing.  He was desperate to get out of the hospital.  Lamar diplomatically excused himself to go talk to the hospital administrators, allowing Daniel and Clarence to talk privately.

            “Is it really the way the priest says?” Clarence asked.

            “Pretty much,” Daniel replied.

            “School, and no drugs?” Clarence sounded uncertain.

            “Come on, Bruiser.  Do you want to spend your whole life getting the shit beat out of you?  You know damn well you’re no bruiser.  You might have balls, but you’re not stupid.  These guys treat you good.  And you’ll make something of yourself and not just talk, either,” Daniel told him.

            Clarence started to object, then he reconsidered.  He knew he was no bruiser, and he got beat up far more often than he liked.  Okay, he’d give it a try.

            Stephanie Williams and Anjali Pennington arrived, and some papers were signed consigning one Clarence Brooke to Brandon’s Boys group home.  Lamar drove Clarence, Daniel, and himself back to Chestnut Street.  There, Clarence was barely introduced when his grandmother arrived in a cab.  That expense indicated how important she thought this to be.  She hugged Clarence and cried, and told him to behave, but she had to get back to work.  Clarence was embarrassed by that, but Colby said, “Hey, at least you’ve got somebody.  We don’t, except for Brandon and Chris, and Aunt Luisa, and Aunt Barbara.”

            So, Clarence began to settle in.

            Rapper remained to be dealt with.  By the third week of August, Lamar realized he was getting nowhere, and so had to try a different approach.  The City Councilman from the district where St. Martin de Porres was located, and where Leon’s official address was located, was no help at all.  When Lamar asked for his support, the answer came from an aide, asking for a donation to the Councilman’s campaign chest.  So he wrote that source off.  With help from the members of the Board of Trustees of Brandon’s Boys, or at least those who were available, and keeping Brandon and Chris informed by e-mail and a telephone conference, Lamar got in to see Leon’s father.  He drove to the site of the prison on Tuesday, August 18.  There, he met Mike Luttrell.  When Mike was ushered into the interview room, he was bandaged.  Lamar explained why he was there.

            “He needs your support, and your advice at this time,” Lamar insisted. 

            “What can I do.  I’m not exactly free to go to juvie and give the boy some advice,” Mike said.

            “I’ve run into a brick wall.  Every time I try to talk to him, his answer is that he will be fine.  He will grow up to be just like his father,” Lamar said.

            “Just like me?” Mike asked with some surprise.  “Why would he want to be like me?  I’m a loser.  I keep getting caught.  And here in this place I keep getting beat up.”

            “Leon says he will be a boss, in jail and in the neighborhood, like his father,” Lamar related.

            “That boy is crazy,” Mike declared.  “Look at me.  Do I look like a boss?”

            “Isn’t there anything that can be done about you getting beat up?” Lamar asked.

            “Yeah.  There’s a minimum security place, where this kind of shit doesn’t go down, from what I hear.  But I’d need a decent lawyer to get transferred, and I can’t afford that,” Mike said.

            “You cooperate with me about Leon, and I’ll see to the lawyer,” Lamar promised.

            “You got it!  I’m tired of looking like this,” Mike said.

            Lamar called the guard, and got permission to photograph Mike in bandages, with bruises showing.  Lamar also got a note from Mike to his son.  All it said was, ‘Dumbass, listen to this priest.  Dad.’  He also deposited some cash in Mike’s account, so he could get a few extras.  Then he went back to Clifton, and again contacted Anjali, and through her, Kevin Rafferty.  If the Mayor of Clifton asked for a hearing, he would get it.

            Armed with the note and the photograph, Lamar went to the juvenile facility again on Friday.

            “You again,” Leon said when he saw Lamar.

            “Yeah, me.  I’m not giving up on you, Rapper.  I like your grandmother, and I promised her I’d help.  I went to see your father on Tuesday,” Lamar reported.

            “My dad?  You saw my dad?” Leon showed interest.

            “Yeah.  We had a nice talk.  I think maybe I can help him a little, too,” Lamar said.

            “Dad doesn’t need help.  He’s important,” Leon proclaimed.

            “Here, Leon,” Lamar said, purposely using his real name.  “This is a note from your father, and a picture of how he looked when I saw him three days ago.”

            Leon looked at the photograph.  He turned away.  “That’s not my dad.”

            “Look more closely.  Read the note,” Lamar insisted.

            Leon studied the photo.  He could not deny it.  It really was his father, wrapped in bandages and bruised.  And he recognized the handwriting on the note, and even more the address ‘Dumbass.’  That’s what his dad always called him when he was being particularly dense.  Leon stared at the picture, then at the note, then back at the picture.  Then he broke down crying.

            “Tell me about Dad,” he asked.  After Lamar discussed his visit to Mike Luttrell on Tuesday and added what he was doing to get Mike transferred, Leon asked, “How come you can get the Mayor in on this?”

            “He’s a friend of my folks.  I guess I’ve know him for most of my life,” Lamar told him.

            Leon considered this.  Then he made up his mind.  “Okay, what do you want me to do?”

            As a result of that conversation, the manager of the convenience store where Leon had been arrested agreed to accept payment for damaged goods, and dropped charges.  Leon was released to Brandon’s Boys group home until he turned 18.  Mike Luttrell was transferred to a minimum security facility, and wrote to thank Lamar.  Lamar took Leon to see his father.  Leon’s grandmother visited and embarrassed him just as she had his cousin.  And things started to get better.

            Of course, both Clarence and Leon were taken to Todd Medical Clinic, and given thorough check-ups.  They were also given batteries of tests to determine their level of schooling, and began lessons.  Much more pleasantly, they were taken to the mall, and re-outfitted from head to toe, and given all the additional aides a boy might want for his grooming.  Clarence got into a fight with Mike when the younger boy told him his breath stank, but he lost, and began to use toothpaste and mouthwash.  Both boys were also added to the bill at Mike’s gym.  That’s why Clarence, although older, lost to Mike, because Mike had been working out for months.

            By that time, Brandon and Chris were back from their summer vacation, and met their new wards.  The week after they returned, Brandon and Chris took all six of the boys to the World Championship Horse Show, and the following weekend, August 29-30, they were in Springfield, Illinois, for Chris’s performance in the Centerline Dressage Classic.  The next week, they spent time on the Farm, and even the newcomers learned to ride.  This was all part of their ‘rehabilitation’ according to the official record, but it did not seem like school to the boys.  Kevin Rafferty, Mayor of Clifton, came to the group home and spent an evening with the boys.  He even brought another message for Leon from his father, who Kevin had visited the day before.  State Senator Bernard Seagraves came and talked to them, and they then went to Frankfort and witnessed the Senator in action at the state house.  Police Chief Gerardo Hernandez came and talked to them.  They watched all of Brandon’s movies, and when Craig Crews visited, he also spent some time with the boys.  Col. Tremoyne, retired Marine Commander of the ROTC unit at the University,  came in uniform to talk to them.  All this counted as part of their education, and it worked, in that the boys realized that they were going nowhere on the streets, but now had an opportunity to make something of themselves.

            When Leon and Clarence told their grandmother about Kevin Rafferty’s visit, and he  spending about three hours talking with them, she wept.  “I just knew Father Todd would be the one to save you boys.”