Johnny Winslow was a simple man, all he wanted from life was a wife and a family and a job to support his family and that was what he had; he worked selling tyres to rich fat men who didn’t know how to change the tyres on their shiny Cadillac’s, fat women with creaming children at their feet who likely hadn’t walked anywhere in years and gullible elderly women who didn’t really need new tyres. He was happy, his life was simple; he was providing for his family which was about to grow by one, his wife Sally was pregnant and he was over joyed however his joy was short lived when he arrived at work the next day ready to spread his news and instead found out that he was going to be laid off. Johnny didn’t know what to do, job’s were spars even in the biggest cities for a man who had no education and very few qualifications never mind a back alley town like Bishop Danced. He was terrified, lost and he had no idea how he was going to tell his wife. He needed to think of another way and one night as the bright blue summers day gave way to the violet, amber hues of the evening air something popped in to Johnny Winslow’s mind, an idea that would hopefully return his life to the simple, happy living that it had been, Johnny Winslow was going to rob a bank.
He planned for only a short time, needing to carry them out quickly, he ensured his wife was safe by telling yet another lie and sending her to stay with her parents and then he dug out his father’s old colt, something he had so coveted when he was a young boy, something he had used to shoot innocent tin cans and green bottles when he was a teenager and now that he was a gown man and going to be a father himself he would used it to protect and provide for his family. It felt heavier than he had remembered though it was more likely that this was due to the fact that he hadn’t held it since his father had passed away when he was 16 years old. He twirled it in his hands warming the cool metal becoming familiar with it, reality hit him in the stomach and nausea swept over him when he finally realised what he was about to do, he drank to calm his nerves, drink after drink until his head swam slightly and then he tucked the into the waist of his jeans and set off into the blackest night he had seen in a long time. There were no stars, no moon swam in the midnight lake that rested above the world, to light the streets below and until Johnny had reached the centre of town there was very little light to guide his way and he soon became lost. Johnny ended up outside a busy bar, people swimming around him; he had not, in his inebriated state, considered that banks were not actually open in the dead of night and when he realised he seethed with anger. God had flipped him off again, Johnny’s anger grew as he watched people jostle around as though they had no care in the world, haemorrhaging money on over expensive drinks and outfits that cost more than his month’s rent and bills. He absently reached for the gun in his waist band and before he realised what he was doing he held it high in the air, pointed it toward the empty sky and fired, he wondered where the bullet would go as he moved the gun and pointed it into the hysterical crowd, most of whom were fleeing. He thought of the bullet tearing into the blackness above, ripping jagged holes, allowing the bright white light of the universe to flow through but no light fell upon him as he yelled at the crowd,
“They took my job, they took my life from me!” he swirled around in an uneven circle shooting again into the darkness above him, “My life is filled with 100 problems and you know nothing of them, nothing as you swan around as though the world were your oyster well believe me it will not be forever!” he screamed “98, I have 98 because you know what I still have my wife and my child” he corrected and as he thought about his wife and child his mind cleared slightly, if he didn’t run from this place he was going to lose them. Unfortunately Johnny’s clarity had come too late as a sharp blow struck the back of his neck and his hands were yanked behind his back, the gun dropping to the floor and spinning frantically without a hand to hold it. Johnny Winslow was under arrest.
During his trial Johnny sat quietly, he waited for his wife to come but she never did and when the judge, who was renowned for being mean with his sentencing, called his name Johnny’s heart sank, he knew his life no longer going to be simple or happy and it would be a long time for it to even consider returning to that.“Johnny Winslow you have conducted yourself in a selfish and reckless manner, you endangered the lives of others and have more than likely broken your wives heart, 98 problems are no excuse for this behaviour, for the terror you have caused, 100 problems maybe...” a chuckle ran around the small court room causing Johnny’s cheeks to flush bright red, hot and heated, “Quiet. Now we’ll meet in the middle and call it 98 and a year, Johnny, 99” the judge finished banging his gavel. Johnny did not speak, he did not cry or break down, he simply accepted his fate.
From then everyone referred to Johnny Winslow as Johnny 99.
“I can’t believe the old man’s still going, he must be 89 now; everyone talked about Johnny, we all knew about him even though none of us kids had met him, by the time I was born he had already paid off 25 years of his sentence and when I met him for the first time he was 60 years old, greying and haggard. He had been released after 35 years when the prisons had over-flowed with scum and those who were even close to being upstanding citizens were released. He was sat on his porch, this falling down, rotting, in need of a lick of paint porch, I could swear that with each drink his chain sunk lower into the wood, the first few times I visited Johnny I went only to see his chair fall and him tip backward spilling his beer over his shirt but he never did. He would tell that story to anyone who would listen to him and to me he told his war stories, the stories of his prison term, the things he had to do to survive but one thing he said would always stick with me,
"Gunner, there are things in life that will warp your mind, change the way you see things show you people for who they really are, these things will break your soul, fillet it and shove it back down your throat, they will shred you and then they will build you back up, build you into a man, a man ready to fight”
As she watched him tell the story of Johnny 99 she saw something in him that she believed had not existed for many years, love, Johnny 99 had been like a father to him, a mentor and he was the reason that the Gunner was returning home. His eyes had softened as he relayed Johnny’s story but they quickly took on their hardened glaze when he noticed her staring at him, she looked away,
“Let’s go, now” he spat standing and throwing down a crumpled handful of dirty money. She stood quickly and ran after him, he terrified her but he had just showed her a softer side of himself, a human side, something that made her trust that he really was their saviour.