Posted in A Moment in My Life

“I Befriended a Fugitive”

A Moment in My Life – Tuesday, February 2, 2021

It didn’t take much. In a fraction of a second, everything I thought I knew fogged over with a blanket of betrayal and a loss of confidence in my ability to judge a person’s cover. I struggle with trust issues while praising God for the way things turned out.

I forgot all about this incident until this weekend when I turned on the TV, and there was Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground airing. I figured I’d watch for just a little while. This series is my vice. There is no such thing as just a little while. Note to self: don’t even start watching. The character Gabe reminded me of the Jazzman. He used to play his saxophone at the Embarcadero Bart station lobby, where we greeted each other every morning and every afternoon during my commute. I knew him only as Jazzman, a friendly, kind, old black man playing his instrument to earn a living. The thing that impressed me about him was the single fact that he was a busker earning his tips instead of panhandling. 

Seeing this classily clad gentleman in his long black wool coat and classic black hat seated on a plastic milk carton swinging a jazzy piece from his old sax while his instrument case lay opened at his feet was a welcomed sight that everything was all right. It became easy including him in my life, and one year I handed him a Christmas card with a twenty inside. He reciprocated with a Christmas card he wrote, “You are my Carnegie Hall,” but not personalized. He never knew my name.

He was like an old friend or trusted uncle; you count on being there every day. I looked forward to seeing him. When he wasn’t at his post, I worried about him and prayed that he wasn’t sick and nothing terrible happened. Instead, he was doing a gig elsewhere. I had never become attached to a street person in that way before. I genuinely cared for him to the point where I planned on inviting him home for Thanksgiving dinner so that he had someplace to go. I had it all planned out and cleared it with my husband. As with the best-made plans, my plan foiled. Jazzman was nowhere to be found for me to extend my invitation. 

I didn’t know then what I know now. In hindsight, I’m glad my guardian angel was watching over me. I don’t know where Jazzman was when I was looking for him, but it was neither here nor there. He never knew my plans, and that’s good. Soon after my foiled invitation, he didn’t show up at his post for a couple of days. One morning, a small crowd huddled in front of a piece of paper taped to the bulletin board near Jazzman’s post that piqued my curiosity. I joined the group for a look, and my mouth fell open at the words on the notice. I stood immobilized, rereading every word in disbelief—The Jazz Man was arrested for murder! 

After a couple of decades of being on the lam for first-degree murder and fraud, the U.S. Marshalls finally caught up with Jazzman, and he was in their custody. He had been indicted in April 1988, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest for murdering his ex-wife execution-style. He fled before police could catch him. He survived by hooking up with women with kids, stealing their social security numbers, and using names from men he met along the way. He evaded arrest a couple of times by changing his name and location, always managing to stay a step ahead of the untouchables.

I would never have guessed this sweet old man was capable of any of these crimes against him, but what do I know about this man? An empty chill filled the cavity where my heart used to be. It was like learning your elder relative had been lying to you your whole life, and worse yet, wanted for unthinkable crimes. I couldn’t hate Jazzman, but my heart broke for him. Even so, I wanted to believe that he had turned his life around and trying to live right, but he played his cards with his own rules and now has to pay the price to cover his debt. Although Jazzman was a part of my every day, and my story might have been entirely different. I am grateful for my guardian angel and the hedge of protection around me the whole time I befriended a fugitive.

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