Consensus of Death
Kenneth R. Brydon was awarded Third Place in Fiction in the 2015 Prison Writing Contest.
I sat in the heat of the lieutenant’s office; the sweat trickled down my ribs underneath my shirt. A desk fan pushed the hot air around the room. You’d think the prison could afford to put an air conditioner in here.
The gold bars pinned to her collar glittered as she leaned forward. “You understand why you’re being placed in Ad/Seg?” she asked.
“I’m being placed in the hole,” I said, “because my cellie killed himself.” I looked up at my tier cop, Franklin. He’d escorted me to the office.
The lieutenant nodded. She wasn’t sweating, but Franklin had large stains underneath both arms and his face shined. “He left a suicide note,” she said. “The investigation shouldn’t be long.”
“Yeah, Lieutenant,” I said, “but this still sucks.”
“I realize that, but you’ve done thirty-seven years, and you know the drill.” She turned to Franklin. “Make sure he gets his issue over in U-Wing.”
“No problem,” he answered. “Let’s go, Murray.” I stood and placed my hands behind my back. Cold metal embraced one wrist and then the other. He guided me to the door.
“Murray?” asked the lieutenant. We stopped. “Did you know why your cellie was in prison?”
“Yeah, sure.” I nodded. “I knew.”
Her lips pursed. “Okay,” she said. “See you, soon.”
We entered the prison’s main corridor. “Frank,” I said, “keep those idiots out of my property.” It was late, and the hallway was clear. This had been a long day, a thousand questions.
“They’ve got a security lock on your cell. It’ll be a minute before Investigations removes it.” I thought of the stash of weed hidden in my chess set. Franklin eyeballed me. “You worried about anything being found?”
“Me? No, I’m clean.” My jaw clenched. “Trying to parole, you know?”
He was a couple of inches taller than my five feet ten. “Okay,” he said. “Hate to see you get in a wreck.” We both had about the same amount of gray hair, being in our mid-fifties.
“Yeah, thanks.” We walked along in silence until we reached a door with the word “Infirmary” painted on it.
Franklin hit the entrance with the palm of his hand. It opened, and the cop looked from Franklin to me. “Need to get him cleared for lockup.” The young rookie held the door open while we entered.
The air inside the Infirmary was cooler. The cop sat down at the first seat behind a long counter. “What’s his name?” Franklin passed him the lockup orders with all the information he needed. “B number?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
He pointed to the cubicles on the right side of the room, “Go to number two.” Franklin wheeled me around and stopped. We stared at the exam table in bay one.
A white sheet covered the body. “Bye, Jake” I whispered. “Gotta be a better place.”
Franklin nodded and he whispered: “Amen.” He nudged me forward. “Come on.”
My gaze remained on Jake. “He didn’t have to do that.”
Franklin patted me on the shoulder. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“I don’t give a fuck about me,” I said. “This is a flea bite on my ass.”
Two nurses sitting further down the counter raised their heads. “I’ll be right with you,” said the female at the end. The other bent his head again and continued to study something out of view. His curly hair and round face made him look like a grown-up Gerber Baby. In a minute he let out a laugh. I leaned up against the exam table as the other nurse got up and entered the cubicle. “What can I do for you?” she asked.
Franklin pointed to me and said, “Murray needs a medical clearance for Ad/Seg.”
“Mr. Murray?” she asked. “Are you in pain?”
“No,” I said, “no injuries.” She ticked something off the paper on the clipboard she held. “I take 10 milligrams of lisinopril for hypertension, and that’s it … No respiratory problems, no diabetes … that’s it.”
“Not your first time being cleared,” she said. Her gray hair was straight and shoulder length; smile lines creased the corner of her eyes. “Okay, let’s get your vitals.”
The blood pressure cuff went on while a loud laugh came from the seated nurse. He turned to the Infirmary cop and said: “Why’d he take so long to kill himself?”
“Let’s get your O-two stats,” my nurse said.
Something pressed onto my finger, but I focused on the curly haired asshole sitting across from me. Franklin also stared. The young cop made a gesture, and the seated nurse turned to look our direction.
“Open your mouth, please,” the nurse said, a thermometer probe in her hand. I hardly noticed the tight squeezing around my arm. “Mr. Murray?” she said.
“Murray!” Franklin said, stepping in front of my view. “Let it go.”
The nurse said, “Mr. Murray, please open your mouth.”
Staring at Franklin, I slowly unclenched my jaw. “Now, under the tongue.” I bit down on it. In a couple of seconds a chirp came from the monitor. “Okay,” she said. “Have you been taking your blood pressure medication?” she asked.
“Yes.” My gaze dropped to the floor.
“He’s fine,” Franklin said.
“Not according to the meter …”
“I’m fine,” I said. “Would you, please, let me get the fuck out of here?”
“Murray, don’t …” Franklin warned.
She looked at me, and then at the escort. “I’ll refer you to the medical doctor for follow-up.”
“That’ s fine,” I said, “May I please leave?”
She hesitated again, but nodded. “You’re free to go.”
Franklin stepped to my side, exposing the male nurse. At first he stared at the computer screen, but when he looked at me, he grinned. “Let’s go, Murray.” Franklin’s tug interrupted my intended commentary. “Take the high road,” he said.
Passing the first bay, I looked to my cellmate again. He hadn’t moved. We stopped, and I said in a loud voice: “Goodbye, Jake. You deserved better.”
The Infirmary cop had the door open and was holding out my lockup orders. Franklin took them and we turned towards the U-Wing Ad/Seg. Franklin let go of my arm.
My breathing became heavy, and thoughts raged about what I shoulda and coulda… I blurted out, “Twenty years ago, I’d have jumped over that fucking counter—”
“Twenty years ago,” Franklin interrupted, “I would have put your ass on the ground before you got there.”
I took several more snorting breaths. My jaw flexed, and I spit. The newly painted cement wall was about four feet away; the blob landed about waist high. That made Franklin laugh, and he patted my shoulder.
I asked, “Who found him, Frank?”
“I did,” he said. “The cell door had your combo lock on it, and your privacy curtain was up in front of the toilet. But his feet were sticking out underneath like he was on his knees puking his guts out.”
“And he cut his own throat?”
“Yeah,” he said. Franklin shuddered. “He bled out into the toilet.”
“Maybe that’s the way to do it.” I laughed. “Nobody can say he was a coward.”
We walked a moment in silence before Franklin sighed. “Jake was a character.”
“Yeah,” I said, “even for a smack-talking Seahawks fan.”
He nodded and laughed. “Even for a Seahawks fan.” He took hold of my arm again as we came up on the door. “We’ll get you in a bed.” He pressed the call button.
Some young rookie opened the door, and we entered a rotunda. It was about the size of a two-car garage. He pointed. “You can put him in there.” He wore a bulletproof vest, or maybe it was knife-proof. We walked over to metal cages. The three by three by seven foot boxes lined up on a side wall. Extra large square coffins with mesh walls to hold the living dead. Franklin guided me into one, and the other cop closed and locked the door.
I turned around and stuck my hands up at the food port for my escort to remove his handcuffs. “Where’s your sergeant?” Franklin asked, putting away his set of manacles. The other cop nodded towards an office, and they headed in that direction.
I rubbed on my wrists a moment. Franklin soon exited, followed by a sergeant and two other cops; all of them wore vests. Sweat dripped from each of their clean-shaven faces. “They’ll get you taken care of, Murray.”
I gave Franklin a nod. “We’d let you have most of your cosmetics,” the sergeant said, “but you don’t have anything with you.”
“All I want is a place to lie down.” My legs were lead. “And an extra blanket if you can stretch it.”
The sergeant nodded. “We’ll get you set up.”
Franklin walked up to the cage. He stared hard at me. “You good?”
I laughed. “Do I got a choice?” He watched me intently. After a moment I took a deep breath, shrugging my shoulders. “Look, Frank, don’t go sending in a psych eval request.”
His eyes widened, but then he grinned. “Wouldn’t hurt you to talk to one.”
“A lot of fucking good it did Jake!” I said. Franklin closed his eyes and pressed his hand onto the cage. “Sons-a-bitches only wanted to medicate the fuck out of him!”
He pressed his hand against the cage. “Yeah, yeah, alright, Murray.” After another moment of silence, he spoke in a hard tone. “I’m going back to the Infirmary and finishing that conversation.” He gave me a wink.
I let out a satisfying snort. “Yeah, you do that.”
He slapped the cage and turned towards the door.
“You gotta strip out, Murray,” said one of the cops. I pulled off my clothes to do the naked Macarena—palms up, palms down, open the mouth, nothing behind the ears, hair too short to hide anything, lift the privates, turn around and show the soles of both feet, squat twice, bend over while holding on and cough loud.
After the security check, they gave back my white tee-shirt, socks, underwear, and handed me a white jumpsuit. “Here’s your tennis shoes,” he said, shoving them in; they’d x-rayed them a moment ago. The jumpsuit was stenciled across the back with “Ad/Seg.” I pulled it on, and tied it shut. “Got your bedroll, and a fish-kit,” the sergeant said, holding up a large plastic bag with bedding in it. A smaller bag was inside. They cuffed me and opened the cage. The bag was placed in my hands and we headed to the first floor entrance.
The moment we arrived at the gate screams started, “Hot water! Hot water!” I could see down the tier’s fifty cells. Fishing lines made of strips of bed sheets were being reeled in. “Hot water!” The points tied off on the strips looked like little white mice scurrying from one place to another. One of the escorts shoved the heavy key into the lock while someone close to the front screamed, “Pull it in. Pull it in.” A line scurried away from us as we entered.
One cop said, “Got you in the back.” It was much cooler on the cellblock with open windows running the length of the floor.
Passing by, almost every occupant stood at their doors. Four cells down, I made eye contact with a guy. His blonde hair was uncombed; he wore a straggly beard on his face.
“OG! What’d ya do?” he asked. His body odor wrinkled my nose.
“I’m innocent.” His eyes went big, while my escorts laughed. “I always wanted to say that,” I said.
“Get those mirrors in,” yelled the cop with the keys, “or we’re doing more midnight cell searches!”
Slivers of contraband plastic mirrors disappeared. “It’s an OG!” shouted a voice from behind.
One of my escorts barked out, “Somebody’s burning a wick on my tier!”
The acrid odor was strong. Guys would twist their toilet paper into cords ten feet long. The wicks would smolder for hours, hoping somebody came up with tobacco to smoke. We neared the back when I heard someone call out: “Gerry?”
My head jerked to the cell. It took a moment to recognize the unshaved face. He stood shirtless; the tattoos of pistol grips ran from his belly down into his boxers. “Hey, Larry.”
“What happened?” he asked as I walked past him.
“My cellie,” I said without looking back, “he killed himself.”
“No shit! Jake? He killed himself?”
“Yeah.” We stopped in front of an empty cell; two away from Larry. “They said I’d be out of here in a day or so.” Nearby hands and arms stuck out with faces pressed into the spaces between the bars.
“Fuck,” Larry said, “what made him do that?”
They opened the cell and I entered. The bag was tossed onto the bunk. “Get at me in the morning,” I said, backing up to the closed door to get the cuffs removed. “I’m dead-ass tired.”
“Yeah, sure,” Larry said. “They’re not saying you did it?” My escorts left.
“No, Larry.” I answered, “Standard procedure bullshit.”
A moment later the escort yelled out, “Put out that fucking wick!”
“Hey, OG!” someone asked from next door. “You got any tobacco?”
“Phil,” Larry said, “leave him alone.”
“I got nothing, Phil,” I said, untying the plastic bag to get at the bedding.
Someone shouted, “Hey, Larry, what’s up with the OG?”
“His bunkie killed himself, John. So let him alone.”
John asked, “What makes a guy do that?”
“I tried doing it one time,” piped in another voice from the other side.
My new housing was the same size as what I had shared with Jake, but without a top bunk. A stainless steel toilet sat in the back next to a stainless sink in the middle. I spread the sheet on the bed and tied the ends underneath the thin mattress.
“Mick,” John said, “your coward ass would never try that.”
After laying down the second sheet, I spread out one of the cotton blankets before rolling up the second as a pillow. “Oh, yeah,” Mick answered, “hit myself with a shot of dope that would have dropped a horse.” I sat down on the bed and began untying my shoes.
“So what happened?” asked a new voice.
John answered, “You know what the fuck he’s gonna say, Tony.”
I heard multiple laughs. “If God didn’t do it,” Mick answered, “who did?”
John said, “Whoever sold you that bunk heroin, stupid!” I stripped down to my shorts, wishing for a shower. “Carl,” he added, “tell Mick he’s full of shit.”
“You’re all full of shit,” Larry said, “and you need to talk about something else.” I pulled out the smaller plastic bag. The fish-kit had a roll of toilet paper, earplugs, toothpaste, toothbrush, a small bar of soap, and a comb.
“Man,” someone new said, “after I get out of this shit hole, we’re holding court in the streets. I’m not coming back to prison.” The toothbrush had a handle all of two inches. I went over to the sink and pushed the hot water tap.
“Whatever, Russ,” Larry said. “We all know you’re a cell-warrior. Now how ‘bout showing a little respect for the OG and shutting the fuck up.”
There was a lull in the noise while I massaged my gums with the limp piece of plastic, but it didn’t last long.
“Hey Phil,” John said.
“What?” he yelled back. The muffled tone said he wasn’t at his cell door.
“What’sa doing?” he asked.
“Yeah, Phil,” Tony shouted, “what’r doing?”
“Hey, Mick,” John shouted, “what’s the Bible say about pulling on the wanker?”
“Why,” someone said on the other side, “thou shall surely grow hairy palms.”
“Gotta be a shag carpet on Phil’s hand,” John said. I spit out the paste into the toilet next to the sink, laughing.
I pressed the electric button to flush the toilet. The noise drowned things out a moment as I sat on the bed. “Phil?” I heard Russ call out. “Phil?” He said louder.
In a nasally tone, John said, “Now, Phillip, I don’t think your grandmother would approve of what you’re doing.” I pulled the earplugs out of their tiny baggy.
“Yes, Phillip,” Tony said, “can you imagine the look on grandma’s face if she caught you?”
“No, Tony,” Phil answered at his door, “I can’t imagine, but can I check out that picture of your sister again?” I shook my head and grinned while rolling one of the foam plugs between my fingers.
“Hey, Phil,” John said, “Carl just got photos of his sisters.”
“Yeah,” another voice answered, “and all you Ferns can use Phil’s grandma.”
I pressed the rubbery foam into one ear while hearing Mick speak up, “Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was beautiful at age ninety.”
“Gotta photo, Mick?” John asked.
The sound was muted in one ear, and I busied working the second plug in. “Hey, John,” Carl said, “ain’t farm animals more your speed?”
“Fuck you, Carl,” John answered.
“Fuck you back,” he answered.
“Waaaa!” Phil said, “Did Johnny get his wittle feelwings hurt?”
There were hoots and more fuck-you’s as the second plug settled in. I slipped underneath the sheet and blanket while they continued. With one ear pressed down on the rolled-up blanket, I laid my arm over the other ear and cut down the noise to a whisper. It had been a long day, and I still had plenty to deal with in the morning. The image of Jake’s shrouded body crept into my thoughts as I drifted off to sleep, exhausted.
“Hey, you want your breakfast?” I sat up and stared at the cop outside the cell. He stood beside a cart stacked with brown plastic food trays. One of the rectangles sat in the cell’s food port with a carton of milk. I grabbed the tray and pulled off the top to reveal two boiled eggs, two triangles of pressed potatoes, a puddle of runny cream of wheat, and stewed prunes. They’d included a flimsy plastic spoon.
It was quiet. The hole slept most of the day, and passed the contraband and magazines all night long. “Larry, you awake?” I asked.
“Yeah, Gerry.” He sounded sleepy.
“We got showers today?”
“We will if they get off their lazy asses!” It sounded like Carl.
“You want to use my shower shoes?” Larry asked.
“Yeah, that would be cool. Thanks.”
“Hey, OG, if you’re not hungry, I’ll take your tray!”
“Just eat your own food, Phil!” John said. “If you didn’t jack off so much, you wouldn’t be begging.”
“I’m gonna eat it, Phil,” I said.
Larry said, “You know, the Captain’ll be coming to see you today?”
“When’s he do that?” I asked.
“Usually in the afternoon.” There was quiet for a minute before Larry asked, “Gerry, what happened to Jake?”
I’d finished peeling the eggs. “He gave up. Had enough of this fucked-up life.”
“What about family?” Larry was at his cell door. “Chance of parole?”
“He killed his wife,” I said. “He didn’t believe the Board would ever cut him loose.”
“How’d he do it?” John asked.
I stopped eating. “He slit his own throat.”
I heard a couple of shit’s and fuck’s.
I started on the cereal and prunes. Larry asked, “Did you find him, Gerry?”
“No, I was at Industries, behind the wall,” I said. “He wrote a suicide note. Jake gave me a clean alibi.”
John asked, “Larry, you knew the guy who checked out?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “Jake had in, what, twenty-five years, Gerry?”
“Twenty-six,” I said. My prunes and cereal finished, I drank down the milk and put the tray back onto the food port. “I’m gonna hit the sack.” I laid back down and was sleeping in a moment.
After the Mexican Federales had accepted the bribe to let me pass, I pressed hard on the gas when I heard, “Murray! You alive in there?” My head snapped up, trying to figure out what was going on.
“How you doing?” asked the figure at the cell door.
I sat up. “I’m in the hole, Captain.”
“We’ll get that straightened out today.” His shirt-sleeve had a row of hash marks from the cuff to elbow. “You keeping it together?”
“It would have been nice, Captain, if someone had asked my cellie that.” I stared at him, a bit pissed that he’d interrupted my trip to Mexico.
He asked, “Did you see it coming?” I opened my mouth, but said nothing.
“Your cell is part of an ongoing investigation,” he said, “so you’re going to be housed someplace else.” He gave me a look much as Franklin had. “You sure you don’t want a couple of days to sort things out?”
I laughed, rolling my eyes, and looked at him.
“We’ll get you a television, and make it livable?” he said.
Shaking my head, I said, “Get me back to my cell, my program, that’s all I want.”
“Hey, Captain Dixon, can you get me a television?” It sounded like Tony.
“Sure,” he said, “they’re installing televisions for all of you.”
“Really?” John asked.
“Fuck no!” he answered. Loud hisses of laughter broke out.
He looked at me another moment. “You’ll be out of here by noon; keep your head straight.”
“That won’t be a problem.” He didn’t wait for me to finish speaking.
“Hey, OG,” Phil said, “you got any magazines you can leave behind?”
“No, Phil, can’t help you there.” I wondered if maybe I should have taken the captain’s offer. “Hey, Larry?”
“Anything I can do for you?”
“Yeah, tell Cliff I want that bag of coffee the fucker owes me.”
“Okay,” I said.
Phil asked, “Any chance you could send us a couple of cigarettes?”
“Shut up, Phil.” Larry said.
“That won’t happen,” I said.
I stripped my bed down, putting it into a bundle, and I laid down to wait. Don’t know how long I had been asleep when I heard: “Murray? You ready?” Once the cuffs were on, I walked over and grabbed hold of my bedding.
I stood on the tier while they locked the cell door. “Take it easy, OG,” Tony shouted from the back.
“You guys play nice,” I said. The escort gripped my arm and we turned to exit. I saw Larry. “Cliff’ll get the message.”
“See you when I see you,” he said, waving.
Cliff’s neighbor stood at the front. “God bless, Gerry,” he said.
“Thanks, Mick.” I said. “Keep the faith.”
My escort released my arm as soon as we exited the tier, and removed the cuffs. “Didn’t expect they’d come off so soon,” I said.
“You’ve got an interview.” He pointed to the sergeant’s office.
The door opened smoothly. “What’s up, Lieutenant?” I asked, sitting down.
He nodded. “How’s it going, Murray?”
I shrugged. “Better than it was ten minutes ago.”
He wore the black jumpsuit of Prison Investigations Unit. “Guess you expected to see me?” he asked.
“I would have been paranoid if I didn’t.” I raised my hand, looking at my unshackled wrist. “This must be a formality?”
He looked down at an open file in front of him. Shaking his head, he said, “He didn’t mess around; did a home-run swing.” There was a photo on top; I didn’t try to look. Turning up, he looked sympathetic. “Was there anyone pressuring him?”
“Is that what his note said?”
He leaned back. “Why does a guy down over twenty-five years decide to check out?”
“Lieutenant, doesn’t the question answer itself?”
“Yes, and no.” He flipped over the photo to papers underneath. “He certainly wasn’t an asshole to staff. A good work record; plenty of self-help.”
I answered, “In eighteen months of bunking together, he never got a letter.”
He closed the folder and stood.
When I didn’t stand, he gave me a questioning look. “When it comes to Jake being pressured,” I said, “the man I knew wouldn’t put up with shit from anyone.” I stood, stretching out my arms while yawning. “When am I gonna get back into my cell?”
“You oughta have it back in a day,” he said.
I waited with the escort at my housing unit door. In a moment Simpson keyed it open. “Hey, Murray!” he said, “You’re back!” My escort left me in the care of the unit cop.
I slung the plastic bag over my shoulder. “How’s it going?”
“You know, the usual,” he said, “fighting crime, saving the world.”
“Yeah, same here.” I breathed deep. “Where you putting me?”
“We’ve got one with a lovely view of the beach,” he said.
“All I want is to take a shower and try and take it easy,” I said, cutting him off.
“You’re going into Two-Thirty.”
“Okay, thanks,” I said.
“Gerry!” Rick said behind me. I turned to see his eyes big, hand reaching out. “They cut you loose!” He wore sweat pants and a sleeveless shirt. He was tatted from knuckles all the way up onto his shoulders.
“Glad to be out of that madness,” I said, and walked past him
I headed up the stairs towards the cell with Rick following. “We were putting together a care package,” he said.
“Good, I can still use a few things.”
“Sure, we’ve got coffee, shower gear, anything else?”
“Perfect, Simpson put me in Two-Thirty.” After a long hot shower, I sat on my bed with a steaming cup of coffee recounting the journey. “ … so somebody said, ‘Really?’ and the captain says, ‘Fuck no!’” Rick and the young kid on the top bunk laughed. I was taking a long sip of the coffee when Cliff showed up.
“Hey, Cliff,” I said. He stood there with another face I didn’t know.
“Good to see you, Gerry,” he said. He reached into the cell and we shook hands. “You saw Larry?”
“Yeah,” I said, looking at what was in his hand, “and you’ve got his coffee.”
He threw the sealed plastic bag of instant and two candy bars onto my bed. “Can you handle this?” he asked. Cliff was skinny as a rail except for a gut that bulged out from a swollen liver. Medical had warned him that the Hep-C from shooting dope and drinking pruno was killing him.
I nodded. “Sure, the cop that walked me over said he’d take care of it.” Cliff and company didn’t move. “We still got business?” I asked.
His jaw flexed a moment. “You hear what Jake did to come to prison?”
“He killed his wife,” I answered.
Cliff said, “He also murdered his six-year-old son.”
I felt Rick and the youngster go tense. Cliff and his buddy stared at me. “Okay,” I said, “and that’s supposed to mean what?”
Cliff began to shift from one foot to the other. “Well, you know,” he said, hunching his shoulders and raising his hand palm up. “It’s just that somebody who does that, you know…”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “So why’s it matter now?”
Cliff leaned against the cell wall to stop his bouncing. “What were you doing living with a guy like that?”
I looked at the guy who’d walked up with Cliff. He had a goatee hanging halfway down his chest. “Excuse me,” I said, pointing my finger, “but this conversation doesn’t concern you.”
He smirked and opened his mouth to speak, but Cliff tapped him on the arm. “See me later,” he said. After another look at me, he walked away.
“I’m gonna go,” Rick said.
“Thanks again, Rick,” I said, and we shook.
He said, “If you need anything else, let me know.” Rick squeezed out past Cliff.
My bunkie vanished too. In a moment I said, “Tell your partner to mind his own fucking business.”
“Shit, Gerry.” He was once again doing the two-step. “It’s all out on the line what Jake did.” Cliff swallowed hard and said, “He’s a piece of shit.”
I shook my head. “Cliff! Weren’t you bragging a couple of months ago about sticking a shotgun into the face of a store clerk to rob him, saying how it scared the shit out of him?”
“So I never heard Jake bragging. Like it would be cool to see somebody shitting in their pants; thinking they’d be dead any moment.”
“What? I never killed anyone!”
I let out a raspberry. “Tell that lie someplace else.”
He put out his hand to me. “I’m just saying, Gerry, why would you live with a guy like that?”
“As opposed to what?” I asked. “You? Everything your family sends you in packages gets shoved into your arm.”
Cliff waved his hand. “Whatever,” he said and walked out of the cell.
I yelled after him: “Fucking right, ‘whatever.’” But he was gone. After three deep breaths, I stood up and faced my new cellie. “What’s your name again?”
The Bible stayed up a moment before he looked around the side to see me staring at him. He lowered it and said, “It’s Harold.”
“I’ll be out this cell come tomorrow. So if anyone gives you shit, tell’m to come talk to me.”
“Yeah, sure, I’m okay with it.” He raised and lowered the Good Book several times.
I finally dropped my shoulders and sighed. “Sorry, Harold.” I said, patting him on the arm. “You didn’t do anything.”
“Sure, Gerry,” he said. “Cliff’s the ‘piece of shit.’”
Simpson appeared at the door. “They want you at the Infirmary.”
“Okay, thanks.” I began to dress. “Blood pressure check,” I said. After dressing, I stuffed the coffee and candy bars in a paper sack. “I’ll get this over to Larry before dirt-bag changes his mind.” Harold smiled. He didn’t look like he could grow a beard. I took a step to the cell door and stopped. “How old are you?” I asked.
He worked his mouth a moment, as if shy. “Twenty,” he said.
“Shit, my coffee cup is older than you!” His laugh was genuine. “Hope Cliff doesn’t like it.” I fished out one of the candy bars and tossed it to him.
The same cop who’d walked me back answered the Ad/Seg door. After handing it off and a “thanks,” it was back to the Infirmary door. “Name’s Murray,” I said to the cop who opened it, “they called me.”
He pointed. “Go have a seat in Bay One.”
Could swear the outline of Jake’s body was still in the plastic of the exam table. I leaned against it. “Benjamin,” the cop said, “customer in Bay One.”
Someone answered, “Got it.” A moment later I was greeted with the smug smile of a curly haired nurse. The asshole from last night said, “Well, let’s see how your blood pressure’s doing today.”
“That won’t be necessary,” I said, and stood erect. “Had enough foulness for a while.”
“Are you refusing treatment?” he asked.
“From you,” I said, voice rising, “for damn sure.” The cop watched.
“You sure you don’t need that blood pressure checked?” He stood at a cabinet with his pen hovering over the clipboard. “You don’t want to drop dead or anything.” He whispered, “You know, like your cellie?”
“If you don’t get out of my face, you sanctimonious fuck,” I said, taking a step towards him, “you’ll be needing your pulse checked.”
“Hey, get back!” the cop shouted.
Benjamin raised his hands and stepped away. “That’s all you needed to say.”
“Put your hands on the table,” the young cop said.
I did as instructed, while my eyes remained locked on the nurse. I might still have taken that shit-eating grin off of his face, but common sense had returned. “I’m cool,” I said.
The young cop grabbed one wrist, bringing it behind my back. “It’s a bit late on that count,” he said, putting on the handcuffs.
The next day, I sat on the same bunk as the previous morning. The instant coffee foamed from the tepid water from the sink. It was quiet again; everyone was sleeping after another hard night of passing things. There had also been the mandatory farting contest with chili and beans for dinner. I heard steps, but my coffee held more interest. I took a swallow of the bitter drink while the front of my cell filled with the green of a uniform. “Hey, Captain.” I saluted him with my coffee before blowing away more of the froth.
“I’m ordering your release,” he said. “Be fucking glad Franklin’s my golf buddy.”
I rested the cup on my leg. “Am I still being written up?”
“After some conversation,” he said, “the nurse agreed to change it from ‘Threatening’ to ‘Disrespecting Staff.’” He pointed. “Keep away from him, understand?”
“Yeah, not a problem.”
He stared at me another moment, and, with a nod, turned and walked away.
I stood up and dumped the coffee into the sink. “Hey, Larry?”
“Yeah?” He asked in a groggy voice.
“Shoot me a line so I can give you back your cup.”
“It was partly my fault,” he said. “That asshole didn’t like my conversation either.” Franklin laughed. “Looks like we both’ll get written up for what we said.” He lifted his set of keys and unlocked the cell door. “You’ve got a letter,” he said.
“Thanks, Frank.” I watched him walk away before pulling open the cell door.
The squad had searched my area, a little, but I needed only to make my bed. Looking down into the toilet I saw a small reddish streak on one side. “Fucking bastards,” I mumbled. A flush told me it wouldn’t be that easy to remove. I filled my hotpot in the sink and plugged it in. Sitting down on my bed, I looked at the shelf underneath Jake’s bed. The wood of my chess set had a rich luster in the semidarkness.
“Oh, please,” I said, taking it down, “don’t let it be gone.” While Investigations would never “confiscate” anything without writing me up, I wanted to see it with my own eyes and get a doobie to smoke. It was a rectangle box, hinged in the center.
I placed it on the bed and opened it halfway. After digging out all chess pieces, I began working the bottom, shifting the panel slightly in one direction and then the other. After the fourth one, the entire bottom slid aside, exposing the secret compartment.
My mouth dropped open. “What the…” There was money, and underneath the money was the baggie with my rolled joints. I closed the lid and stepped over to the cell door. I pushed it open and in a casual manner, looked one way and then the other. Nope, no gang of cops about to rush the cell. “Who?” I asked, and went back in.
I lifted the lid again, and picked up the thin stack of contraband bills. There were ten of them, all hundreds. “Holy shit!” It was over a year’s pay. Beneath the money rested a small white sheet of paper.
My hand trembled picking it up. The neat handwriting read: “Gerry, sorry for the trouble. Hope your mom sees you parole. Respectfully, Jake.”