“We’ve gotta play this right,” Bobby told me. “You know how to lie, don’t you baby?”
“I guess so, man,” I responded cautiously. Something told me that Bobby would have his own ideas about the correct approach to deception. My expectations were not disappointed.
“You want consistency without complexity. Don’t add unnecessary details, but know what the details are in case someone asks. Don’t volunteer any more information than they ask for. Basically, just don’t try too hard,” he giggled a little bit, but quickly pulled himself together. “So what’s the story?”
“Officer Patrone has been a friend to you, but you think that he did you dirty on some deal that I don’t know anything about,” I recited the brief narrative he had given me. “You’re pissed off and about to snap. That’s all I know.”
“Good start,” Bobby mused. “It seems like a good start. There’s not enough story for you to fuck it up.”
Of course, he didn’t tell me where it was leading. By the way he giggled when I talked about the man with the clipboard, I knew that that guy was the target. He was a prisoner as well, but he had some kind of special status. I didn’t ask anyone about him. I didn’t want to tip my hand.
I had another hint after I gave the news to the guy at the counter in the cafeteria. He nodded to me with a face that never seemed to change, and delivered the news to the man with the clipboard. He looked up at me briefly as a form of acknowledgement, and I took my seat.
As I began to eat, I saw Bobby come through the door. Officer Patrone was on duty, standing at the back of the room. Instead of picking up a tray and going to the counter, Bobby headed straight for him. The two stood close together and exchanged words. I caught the man with the clipboard’s eye, and turned my attention to Bobby. After a minute of whispering he turned away with a massive scowl on his face. As he stormed off, Bobby kicked one of the tables, knocking some trays to the floor and causing no small amount of commotion. Two guys grabbed Bobby from behind and then it started. I couldn’t really make out what was happening from my vantage point, but it wasn’t hard to figure out how a couple of cons would react to an emotional display that deprives them of their midday meal.
The guards waded in, yelling and banging their sticks on the tables. The crowd quickly dispersed. Beaten and bloody, Bobby lurched forward as officer Patrone put his hand on his shoulder. He howled like a wounded animal, turned, and punched Patrone in the stomach. I winced when I saw it. I knew the guy had a temper, but he knew the rules better than anybody.
They hit him in the legs first, and knocked him off balance. When he went down, three officers started punching Bobby while another two held him against the ground. The crowd began to cheer and jeer at the same time, and slowly melted away as people returned to their food. The excitement was over. After smacking Bobby around for a while, they dragged him to his feet and hauled him off to the hole.
When I went back to my cell that night, I was confused. Bobby had a plan. Bobby always had a plan. I didn’t know this from experience, but my gut told me it was gospel truth. I paced around after lights out, unable to sleep. After a while, something occurred to me. He must have planned what I saw in the cafeteria. He might not have told me so I didn’t give the game away, but there was no way he could have predicted how long he’d be gone. I searched my bunk and found nothing. Cautiously, oh so cautiously, I crawled up to Bobby’s bunk.
I couldn’t help myself from glancing up at the door as I searched. I knew that there was heavy, bulletproof, magnetically locked glass between me and the hallway outside, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Bobby might come in at any time and catch me. When I reached underneath his pillow, I found a carefully folded piece of paper. I drew it out slowly, climbed down to my own bunk, and opened the note. Of course, I thought, Bobby would leave me instructions. He wouldn’t just leave me hanging with my dick in the wind.
Bobby’s ‘instructions’ to me consisted of one line, presented in the form of a question. “What are you smelling my pillow for, faggot?” Bobby’s note demanded to know, in surprisingly elegant cursive script.
I paused for a moment to admire his handwriting, for another to curse his obnoxious self-satisfaction, and for a third to wonder if I should put the note back and pretend that I hadn’t searched his bunk. I decided to smoke one of Bobby’s cigarettes instead. He wasn’t the only one who could be a spiteful prick. I didn’t really smoke, so I coughed quite a bit. Within minutes, a guard was banging his stick on the door. I looked up and sheepishly put it out. I had forgotten to hide it the way Bobby did. That didn’t matter. My cellmate had one less smoke now. That was all I was trying to accomplish.
Bobby was pretty upbeat when he came back the next night. Nobody had seen him all day. It was a pretty quick turn in the hole for hitting a guard, but they had obviously made the time count. Not that you could tell. In spite of his cuts and bruises, his bloodshot eyes, and soaking clothes, Bobby was giggling as usual. I guess being hosed with icy water and pepper-sprayed off and on for several hours can have a restorative effect on some people. “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” Bobby informed me. “Winston Crutchall said that. Smart guy. Loved cigars. Hated Nazis. What’s not to like?”
I stared at him for a moment. “Yeah man,” I said. Mostly because I wasn’t sure what else to say.
“He was kind of weird about Jews, though,” he reflected, as he started rummaging through his things for dry clothes.
I couldn’t resist. “That was his sister,” I reminded him.
“Yeah, baby,” Bobby said. “Now you’ve got it.”
The next day, when I showed up at the counter for lunch, the man with the clipboard gestured for me to step aside. So I did.
“What have you got?” he asked me. His voice was tense. He sounded excited.
I knew my lines. I was getting better at lying. “Bobby’s still pissed off. He says that ‘the others’ are siding with Patrone, man. I don’t know what others, but I tell you this though,” I leaned in closer and dropped my voice to a whisper. “That man’s ready for something. He started working on a new shiv, man. Some heavy metal. He been wearing those mags under his clothes, too.”
The man with the clipboard gestured frantically to the guy at the counter. “They’re not protecting him,” he hissed. These two were getting sloppy. It was loud enough for me to hear.
“What about my end?” I demanded. “I’m gonna want some of that pussy before we go any further with this, man.”
I’d never been with a hooker before. Ever. I hadn’t even been inside that long. Six weeks or so. I wasn’t desperate, but I had been thinking about it. I was hungry for it. The man with the clipboard glanced at me, and reached into his pocket. He handed me a plain envelope that felt hard in my hand.
“Pick one,” he told me. “Initial the back of her picture and give it to me tomorrow. If you keep doing a good job, you get more.”
I pocketed the envelope and grabbed my tray. They had really loaded it up. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I sat down to eat.
Bobby was pleased with me too. “They’ve gotta take a shot at me,” he explained. “This doesn’t work if they don’t.”
“What’s up with you and Patrone, anyway?” The extra food, the sense of fooling the man with the clipboard, and the promise of a good lay had given me a sense of confidence. I knew that there was more to what Bobby had planned for me, for us, but that night, I didn’t care. It had been a while since I felt like everything was starting to go my way. I was still locked in a cage at night, but things were looking up.
“What did I tell you about questions?” he sighed. “Did you get paid or what?”
“Soon, they say,” I tried to keep it out of my voice. Bobby laughed. I should have known, really. Bobby knew the man with the clipboard a hell of a lot better than I did. He knew the deal. Honestly, I think he let it go because he was impressed that I lied to him. That sounds crazy, but that’s Bobby.
“Don’t let him stiff ya,” he giggled. “If anyone’s doing the stiffing, make sure it’s on your end.”
Yeah, I really should have known.
He went to sleep after that. I lay awake and wondered what he meant. When I was absolutely sure that he wouldn’t wake up, I pulled the envelope out of my pants and started thumbing through the pictures. I was almost to the end of the stack when I found her. I had a couple set aside as possible picks, but when I found Tanya, it was all over. Big brown eyes, hair the colour of coffee and cream, and best of all, those sexy little freckles on her cheeks. I knew I had hit the jackpot. I flipped the picture over, wrote on the back, and stuffed them all back into the envelope.
That night I dreamt for the first time since being inside. In my dream, the man with the clipboard was a blackjack dealer in a strange, dark casino. Emergency lights maybe, and half darkness, as though the place had been shut down. Even so, it was filled with people, gambling, drinking, laughing, and copping feels in the dark. I saw Bobby there. At first I thought he was running the whole show, but then I noticed him playing dice. I tried to talk to him, but every time I thought I was getting close to him, elbowing my way through the crowd, I would catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye and he was across the room. The man with the clipboard glanced at me, and gestured that I should come and play at his table. I went to the roulette wheel instead, and woke up soaked in sweat.
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