The man with the clipboard was dead before the end of lunch. When he keeled over, cheers went up all over the cafeteria. Guys started jumping on the tables and yelling, the kitchen went berserk, the guards had to call in back up to calm the situation down. I glanced up at Officer Patrone. He wasn’t looking at me.
A few days later, Bobby came back. He still had no eyebrows. His arms were pink and soft, having just been peeled. Otherwise he looked pretty good for a guy who had recently been engulfed in flames. He showed up after breakfast. I couldn’t wait for lights out. The suspense was killing me. I wanted to tell him what I had done. I wanted to know what happened to him. I had so many questions, and this time, I was going to get answers.
“I’m not gonna lie to you, baby,” Bobby said, lighting a cigarette and getting ready to do his usual routine with the mattress. “It’s been a rough couple of days. Especially since your friend got whacked.”
“Why is that, man,” I felt like giggling now, but that was Bobby’s department.
“Well, seems to be that he was going to testify against some friend of mine,” Suck. Blow. Suck. Blow. “He cut some kind of deal for protective custody and early release if he would play ball. Deal was supposed to go through the day it happened. It was a federal thing, so of course all hell broke loose,” Suck. Blow. Suck. Blow. “This friend of mine, see, he doesn’t have many friends around here. Just me.”
“Just you, man?”
“Just me. Of course, I was wrapped in gauze and chained to a bed in the infirmary at the time. You’d think that would be enough for these cocksuckers,” Suck. Blow. Suck. Blow. “But still we had to spend three days playing twenty questions before they gave up and hit the road.”
“They wanted your friend bad, man?”
“Real bad,” Bobby giggled. “That guy thought he was safe because they stuck him away here. He knew I was the only one who even heard the man’s name.”
“We gonna keep it that way, right man?”
“Yes indeed,” Bobby confirmed. “We most certainly will.”
I thought about this for a little while. Something was beginning to dawn on me, but I didn’t trust my voice yet. I had a question, but I wasn’t sure quite how to phrase it.
“Tanya says that you’re a sweet guy, but baby, you gotta understand, she’s a working girl,” Bobby said, casually. “She’s got her own way to go, know what I mean?”
“Yeah man,” I said, slightly dazed. “I guess I do.”
“I know, I know, she’s got those freckles. But she’s not the only one, trust me,” Suck. Blow. Suck. Blow. “There’ll be others. Maybe next time though, and this is just me talking, but maybe next time you don’t worry about making her think you’re a hard case.”
“I…” but that was as far as I got.
“I’ve never been in love myself, so I don’t know much about these things, but I’d say you’re pretty lucky that you didn’t get caught this time. Of course, the man paid off a couple of guards to look the other way on your behalf, so they knew you two were tight. You were never a suspect. Not with lil’ ol’ me hangin’ around.”
“I guess you got a point there, man,” I had to admit.
Bobby put out his cigarette. We were both quiet for a while. I thought he had fallen asleep, when suddenly he said, “hey! I got a question for you.”
“What you wanna know, man?”
Bobby leaned over the side of the bunk, his upside down Cheshire grin hanging like a crescent moon in the darkness. “Are you bored?” he asked.
“No man,” I grinned back. “I’m not.”
“Didn’t think so,” Bobby giggled.
Then he rolled over and went to sleep.
I had a lot to think about. There was blood on my hands now. Why didn’t Bobby just pay somebody to stick the guy, like everyone else does in this place? Why get me involved, and involved so deeply? Why take a chance on a plan like that? Just to liven things up a bit? Really?
Then I remembered what Bobby says about questions, and closed my eyes.
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