TIME SPIKE — snippet 20

 

TIME SPIKE – snippet 20:

 

 

Chapter 16

 

 

            Adrian Luff sat on the floor of his cell next to the bars, a mirror angled so he could see what was happening in the corridor. It wasn’t much. The corridor was empty. The only things he could see were the mesh-covered light hanging from the ceiling and the gray metal door at the end of the hall. The door would be locked. He was the only prisoner inside the cell house. The others had been moved.

            He listened to the silence and checked his watch once more. He’s late. The sonofabitch is always late.

            Adrian looked like a mild mannered accountant. Which is what he had been, in fact, before the cops dug up his basement and found the bodies encased in cement. His short, sandy hair, pale skin and pale blue eyes were combined with little open features that inspired trust. He was clean-shaven and soft spoken. Things had worked out fine, would have continued to work out fine, except he forgot his manners. One time. One slip. And the old bag he offended had focused her binoculars on his house day and night till she caught him. And turned him in.

            For a long time, he hadn’t understood what happened. It kept him awake at night. Tossing and turning. Trying to decide what had aroused her suspicions. Then one morning, listening to the prison wake up, he remembered his mother. She was one of those soft-spoken, little women who wouldn’t say shit if she had a mouth full of the crap. He was in fourth grade and she was at school again. He had spouted off to the teacher who had turned him in to the principal—and that’s when they found the girlie magazine tucked into his binder. The magazine had been stolen, but no one noticed that. They didn’t ask how a kid his age could come up with the thing. They glossed over the smut rag, shrugged it off as pubescent curiosity, and concentrated on his foul language. On his lack of manners.

            Yes, he was young. But not too young to learn. And that was the last time his mother ever came to school in disgrace. After that, her son was a pleasure to have in class. Such a nice boy. A hard worker. So polite and well mannered.

            Two years later, when the school was vandalized, no one looked at him. They tried to pin it on other boys. The loudmouth boys without manners.

            And thinking of that day, remembering what he learned, he finally understood what went wrong. The neighbor hadn’t gotten suspicious. She was just pissed off at him. That’s why she’d spied on him, hoping she would find something she could tell the neighbors about, or better yet, the cops. She was simply offended. She didn’t care about the old man and old woman buried under his basement. She didn’t care about the social security checks direct deposited into an account he accessed each and every month. She was just out to get him.

            The only thing that had kept him from getting the death penalty was his insistence they were dead by natural causes. He’d been their landlord and had just taken advantage of their deaths. He’d been careful, so the autopsies couldn’t prove any different, and the lawyer had gotten him a plea bargain. He would pull a double dime train—two ten-year sentences served back to back.

            That first year behind the bars had been the worst. The innocent looking face that helped him on the outside had almost gotten him killed behind bars. Almost. But not quite. A month after the unfortunate incident, just before he was discharged from the infirmary, he had been offered a place in the nursery. He had turned it down. Protective custody was worse than death. It was solitary confinement for the duration of a man’s sentence. No. Twenty years of hiding in fear wasn’t in him. So, he turned things around. A knifing here, a rumor there, a bribe slipped into an open hand, and when there was nothing else that could be used, blackmail. He learned the system and then worked it. Working other prisoners had been tough at first. But he caught on. The guards hadn’t been so tough.

            They wanted to believe in people. Oh, some of them were hard-asses, pricks. But that was okay. They were predictable. And that’s all you really needed. You just had to know how they would react in any given situation.

            You had to know who could be bought and for what price. Sex, drugs, money, power—or maybe it was something on the other side of the coin—the feeling of being useful, of being needed. A savior to some poor man’s damned and tormented soul.

            He could feel himself calming and concentrated on his breathing. Panic is what landed him in prison. He couldn’t afford to do it again. When old Mrs. Haywood asked him what he was going to build with all the cement he bought, he should have been polite. He should have told her it was for a patio. Or a sidewalk. Not, “It’s none of your fucking business!”

            But he had learned. A man with something to hide can’t drink. And that was the second piece to the puzzle. The reason he forgot his manners. A half-pint of Jim Beam.

            Now he smiled and waited for the door to open. He waited for the man dressed in a light blue shirt, dark blue pants and shiny black shoes to step into the corridor. He thought about the guards and what he would do and how he would handle things if he had their job. If he were a guard he would have no pity. No grudges. No bad habits.

            Then he thought about the kitty-kitties, the women guards. He liked the sound of that. Women guards. He didn’t use the term female, not even when talking to himself. And he never called them bitches unless he was talking about them to another prisoner. He wondered what it would be like, being a woman and walking these halls. He knew what it would be like if he was a guard at the women’s prison. Those little connets would love him. He gave a soft chuckle, then adjusted his mirror.

****

            “Glad you could make it,” Adrian said. “I was getting nervous, afraid something went wrong.” He kept his voice light. None of the irritation showed. None of the anger or impatience.

            “Yeah, we had another meeting and it ran over.” The man stuck his arm through the bars and dropped a small package no bigger than a cigarette lighter into Luff’s hand. “I don’t know who’s the bigger fool, Andy Blacklock or Joe Schuler. But I guess it doesn’t matter as long as they stay that way.”

            Luff pulled himself to his feet using the bars. “What was the meeting about?”

            “You haven’t heard?”

            Luff shook his head. He had heard, but he wanted it confirmed. It sounded just too good to be true. Blacklock was letting the prisoners out of their cells once a day. He was going to give them time to dump their chamber pots—fancy ass name for an over-sized tomato soup can—grab a shower, and get a little fresh air and exercise. The non-violent inmates in good standing were even being allowed to volunteer for work details.

            And all the bosses had agreed, no one was going to mess it up. The first man to slime one of the guards, died. Before the Quiver, it was fun to see a guard gunned down with piss or shit saved by a bored con. But not now. Getting out of the cell for a little while was too damn important. Everyone knew it. Those with brains knew they had better watch those without them.

            He shook his head again. “You know how it is around here. I’ve heard a few bits and pieces, but didn’t believe none of it. It was way too stupid a move, even for them.”

            Terry Collins leaned in close even though there was no one to hear what he had to say. “Well, you better believe it. Believe every word. And smile. Smile nice and big. Show your teeth, baby, because we’re about to bite em’ in the ass!”

            Luff smiled. “When?”

            “Soon If your boys do job right, we’re about to change the way this place is run.”

            “When?” Luff was having a hard time controlling the anger Collins always stirred up in him. “When do we move? I have to know so I can make sure my people are in place.”

            “Your people?”

            Luff hesitated, trying to decide how to respond. Collins was one of the crazies. Not off enough to be spotted, unless you knew the type really well. Collins was a sadist. A Bible thumping whacko who used scripture to justify whatever it was he was doing or not doing.

            The man was nuts. But he was also cunning. An operator. Collins loved twisting the knife on someone weak, but he loved sparring with the strong even more.

            So Adrian shrugged. “My people. If you want them, you have to take them.”

            Collins laughed. “So serious today, baby. So serious. You should be happy. It’s not everyday a man gets to be a part of history in the making.”

            “When do we move?”

            “Soon, I told you. I have to see how many guards are going to be on and where. There’s a lot of planning with something like this. When I get it figured out, I’ll let you know. Then you and your boys can get ready.”

            “What happened at the meeting?” Adrian allowed a little of the agitation to show. Not enough to send the man off in a huff, but enough to get a response.

            “Blacklock and Schuler just saved us a hell of a lot of trouble. It’s as though they know what is coming down, and are going out of their way to help us out.”

            “How?” Adrian Luff hated begging for answers. He hated trying to sort through Collins’ bullshit to come up with what was happening.

            Terry Collins lost his grin for the first time since entering the corridor. “Soon, this empty wing will be full of prisoners. The list I gave Hulbert has been approved. So the men you told me you wanted are in the process of packing up their old cells and getting ready to be marched across the yard to their new home.” He looked at his watch. “They should start arriving in about fifteen minutes. Andy Blacklock’s own orders, the stupid bastard. And once the move is completed, the sign up sheets for work crews will be passed out. And we’re not just talking about the infirmary. The lists are for the whole ball of wax, even the machine shop.”

            Luff nodded. His sources were dead on the money. That meant they were probably right about the other bits and pieces of gossip flying through the pipeline. “I hear we got company last night.”

            Collins frowned. “Yeah. They found some shot up piece of shit out in the woods. The fucker can’t even talk English.”

             “Too bad. If he could talk, we might find out where he came from.” Luff didn’t give a rat’s ass about where the fish came from. He came from somewhere. And he had been shot. That meant there were others out there. And for right now, that’s all he needed to know. Other people meant other opportunities.

****

            That night, Adrian Luff lay in the dark, listening to the sounds of three hundred men breathing, snoring, coughing, farting and spitting. Collins still hadn’t given him a day or a time. And no details on how the coup was going to take place. Nothing except, “Be ready. I’ll unlock the gates. We’ll use the guards’ own guns to take over the place.” Nothing but bull and shit.

            But he had filled the tier with the men Luff asked for. Twenty cells, three men to a cell, sixty men in total: his personal crew. Collins was a waterhead. He thought he was going to rule the roost once the lid came off. He thought they would forget he was a badge just because he was the one who opened the gates. But even fools had a use. And sometimes they could give you information that would come in handy.

            And sometimes they gave you something to worry about.

            “It’s as though they know what is coming down, and are going out of their way to help us out.”

            Why would Collins say that? What would make him think it? Could it be true? Did they know? Were they setting them up? If they were, why?

            He considered one possibility. Blacklock and his people wanted them all dead. They wanted them to revolt so they could just gun them down. That way they wouldn’t have to feed the convicts.

            He rolled over on his bunk and looked out between the bars. No. That wasn’t the right answer. If they wanted them dead all they would have to do is quit feeding them. There was a war going on. That was obvious. Either the Muslims, Arabs or Chinese had come up with some new weapon, and the prison had taken a hit. They had been blasted right out of middle-America and into wherever they were. Captain Andy Blacklock had no one to answer to. He could do anything he wanted to do, and no one would care. So why were they still alive? Why hadn’t he ordered them shot?

            Adrian rubbed his head and tried to think. He needed information. And he couldn’t count on Collins to give it to him. Besides, he didn’t want the bastard to know what he was thinking. Ducks like him loved to quack; it made them feel important. But they tended to spook easy. He needed someone else to supply him with gossip. Reliable gossip.

            Mentally, he went over the list of inmates already on work detail. He figured the infirmary was the best bet for getting reliable information. That posed a problem, since he didn’t have anyone working inside it.

            There were four prisoners who worked the infirmary. Two were high-ranking rugheads. No way he would get anything from one of them. The third hung out in Boomer’s corner. He wasn’t the man’s galboy, Boomer didn’t lay the track with anyone. But he took care of his boys. He was retired—a lifer—so he didn’t have anything to lose. Each time he went off, he’d do the hole and the thorazine shuffle for six months, then he’d be back in the general population looking for revenge. No. Adrian didn’t want to mess with that. They didn’t call Tim Bolgeo “the Boom” for nothing. The little bit of information he was after wasn’t worth getting 10-10’d over. The last guy Boomer labeled a poacher got greenlighted. The contract hadn’t taken forty-eight hours to be filled. The man was a crazy. But he was a crazy who paid well.

            It would have to be the fourth one, the Indian.

            He had run the guy’s tags as soon as he showed. He had been transferred in just three days before the Quiver. His name was James Cook and he was an unknown. But the word was he was an amateur. This was his first trip and he was an independent, and that meant he hadn’t been schooled. He could be used. He was also in the cell house, just one tier up from him and was scheduled to work the infirmary’s afternoon shift.

            But he’d have to be softened up first, and softened up good. Luff needed full cooperation and he didn’t have time to screw around with the usual slow and easy methods.

            Luff scribbled a quick note, stuck it in a tin hooked to a thin rope, and whipped it into the next cell. “Work this over to Butch. As soon as the screws open the gates for supper, I’ve got something I want him to do.”

 

About Eric Flint

Author and Editor
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