Three square meals a day, luxurious heating and air conditioning comfort, fresh linens, hot showers – what more can a man ask for?
But I’ve done my time here.
Blue-shirt staff slams my door shut, metal clanging and keys rattling. Blue-shirt waves good night, and I smile like a good patient should.
Once his back is turned I surreptitiously spit my pills onto the ground. Grind them to a fine powder with my foot, and sweep it into the dust on the floor. All they see on camera is a crazy old guy sliding his feet on the floor.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
Down the hall, the drone of staff giving report – shift change – is interrupted by a burst of laughter. Applause. One of them got engaged. Goody.
The hall lights suddenly dim, must be eleven o’clock. Lights out and locked down. In the next cell over, Wayne moans. Unearthly sound. Curtis prays – to God, or Allah, or the Devil himself, no one knows – harsh whispers of pure gibberish. They’re all crazy. But not me.
I know what they say about me. Old Joe seems harmless enough, wouldn’t hurt a fly. Looks a little like my grandfather. But they don’t know.
Footsteps echo down the hall. Keys jingle. I flop down on my cot and pull the blanket over my body, covering my face like a shroud. Still, rhythmic breathing. Once the footsteps pass my cell I peek out.
Female on the key tonight. I wait.
Down the hall Dave swears at her. “Bitch. Cocksucker.”
“You just lost ten points.” Keys rattle.
“Another ten. Anything else?” She’s standing in the middle of the corridor, hands on her hips, laughing.
“Go to hell.”
“Ten more. Looks like you won’t have TV for a month.” I can hear her smile.
With a strangled yell and metallic clang, Dave throws himself at the bars. Arms reaching out, flailing, trying to grab anything within reach and drag it up to the bars. Then, you’re his.
Last time he got a new guy. Nearly chewed buddy’s nose off by the time staff got there. That’s his trick. He lures you in, insults you, pisses you off enough so you forget where you are. And then you’re his.
Me, I have my own tricks. And I never forget where I am. I never forget anything.
It was 1975 when I got my first hitchhiker. Sweet blonde thing, thumbing a ride on the side of the highway. She was heading out west. She never made it.
Back then I was driving a black Dodge Challenger, my first real car. Gleaming chrome, rear spoiler, it was sex on wheels. Chicks dug it. I was busy that summer. I got three more hitchhikers after blondie there. Cops didn’t bother looking too hard, just called ‘em missing persons and figured they were busy prostituting somewhere.
The last one was a royal pain in the ass. Big girl, heavy set. Kept fighting, even after I chloroformed her twice. Finally I got so pissed off I just brained her with a shovel. Not much use to me now, so I just kept chopping. Those other girls were a little bit better. They lasted a few weeks. Then I’d get tired of having them around, crying and bleeding and all that. So I’d finish them too.
But all that was long ago. And I’ve been keeping busy since. Always careful. Crafty, that’s me.
Not like Syd, over on O-8, he kept bits and pieces of his girls lying around, like a goddamned trophy hunter. It was the smell that finally did him in. Neighbours complained. When officers came to investigate they had to wear full hazmat suits. Betcha they were surprised to see Syd’s living room strewn with festive garlands made of human entrails. Rotting skulls turned into ashtrays. Full uterus complete with growing fetus in his fridge. Syd’s been here since.
Like me. But I’m smarter. They wouldn’t have got me except I got too soft. It was spring of ’82 when I got that little girl. ‘Bout four years old, cute little thing playing on her front lawn. Pretending to make a flower garden.
I told her I was looking for my lost puppy.
She never stood a chance.
Well, the cops didn’t let up on that one. By the time they found us, there wasn’t much left of her.
Between her parents sobbing on the stand and the decomposed body parts some pissant found encased in cement in my basement, I knew I was done for. Looking at life without parole in the cellblock jungles of the jail system, getting my asshole shredded by guys named Dick, or this place. I chose this place.
Pleaded not criminally responsible, by reason of insanity.
Been here since.
It’s not a bad place, just full of crazy fuckers. Like Wayne, down the hall. Poor guy don’t know whether he’s coming or going. Naked, covered in shit and screaming in his room; he’s a poor son of a bitch – no hope for him at all.
But you gotta watch him. That bastard’ll rip your eyes out.
He nearly got another one a few years ago. Staff was showering him, trying to get the piss stink off him. Wayne was tied to the walls, screaming bloody murder. New staff leaned in a little too close and good ol’ Wayne slipped his pinels. Soft leather cuffs must of stretched in the water or something.
Wayne grabbed Buddy lightning quick. By the time the charge nurse came running down the hall, hypodermic needle in hand, a half dozen staff were slipping and sliding in soap bubbles trying to drag Buddy away from Wayne, like taking a chew toy from a pitbull. There wasn’t much left of Buddy there, face was munched up something fierce. Don’t think they ever found his ear again.
Good one, Wayne. Never liked that blue shirt bastard anyway.
Now me, I know how to play nice. Staff just escort me to the shower room, hand me fresh towels, sweet as you please. Like hotel room service.
I got all my levels. So I got privileges.
I get to go to the tuck shop with staff escort. While staff chitchat, I pilfer candy bars. Pay for a couple, then give the rest to the boys. Poor Dave don’t get nothing otherwise; staff say too much candy upsets his diabetes. I sneak him a couple Milky Ways. Dave’s a good guy. Not getting out anytime soon though. The judge doesn’t look kindly upon crimes against family members.
Staff don’t like him too much either. Not me.
Heck, I’m practically a hero around here. It was yours truly that hit the code white button in the lunchroom when good ol’ George went after that new charge nurse. Don’t know what she was doing sitting in the lunchroom, anyway. Guess they were short on staff that day.
Anyway, nursie was helping pass out meal trays, and just as George was reaching for another juice, she told him no. He had enough already.
You don’t say no to George.
I was working on my applesauce when George went after her. Knocked her out cold with a metal tray, then straddled her, just pounding on her. Fists mashed her face up something good, wet slap, slap of her head hitting the concrete floor. Not much left of her.
The other staff in the room jumped on top of George and tried to choke him out. Blue shirt was screaming and swearing. But he wasn’t getting anywhere. George is a tough nut.
By then I had enough of dinner theatre, and decided to call the code white. Violent person. I punched the alarm button on the wall and the siren wailed.
The building rumbled as all available staff filled the lunchroom. George got flattened, then marched back to his cell. They threw him in so hard he bounced off the back wall and hit the floor. Got up, bloody nosed, snivelling and demanding first aid.
The old blue-shirt bitch, face like a brick wall, says to him, “You’re talking, ain’t ya?”
“Then you don’t need first aid. See you in an hour.”
Anyway, staff think I’m some sort of hero for calling the code. I get to go for walks on the grounds with my own personal escort, not just yard time like the rest of those poor souls walking in circles behind razor wire. They trust me.
0700 – Lights on.
Staff drop by my cell to make sure I’m awake and ready to go. Big day today. I have an appointment.
You see, my hearing aid’s been bugging me. Cutting out and all that. I only had those hearing aids for a while now, after a couple months of saying “huh?” and “pardon” whenever staff tried to talk to me. One trip to the audiologist later, and I got a brand new set of hearing aids, fully paid for by the government, and that I don’t need at all.
Today I dress carefully, taking out my best clothes. Fill my pockets with stuff I don’t want to leave behind. Like the razor blade I swiped a few days back.
Old man, fumbling in the showers, it was easy enough to con staff into giving me a second razor. First was defective after all, missing the blade. Funny that. Guess that’s what you get when the government buys cheap plastic razors from Japan.
Now I have a road trip. Two staff escorts and a driver. I’ll be wearing handcuffs and shackles. Safety precautions, you know.
Staff will want to stop at Tim’s, buy me a coffee. Special treat. Laughing, maybe we can go to McDonald’s after. I do like their Big Macs.
Staff are a good sort, escorting me into the audiologist’s office with a jacket neatly folded over my cuffs. Preserving my dignity and all that. Once I shuffle inside the exam room, they’ll remove them. Staff stand around, supervising.
The audiologist is a cutie, she gently places her hand on my forearm as she leans over to check my hearing aids. Tells me that this won’t hurt a bit. Calls me sir.
I stare at her cleavage.
I hand over the hearing aids and she turns her back, fiddling at a small worktable. Replacing the batteries, just in case.
Loose blonde curls escape a pony tail, trailing across the back of her neck. I finger the razor blade in my pocket. Hard edges, wrapped neatly in a tissue, sharp and ready to go.
It would only take one good slice, dragging it through the soft skin of her neck – she’d bleed out before she knew what hit her. Then staff would be on me like a ton of bricks.
I squirm in my seat. Clear my throat, “Uh, staff. Gotta pee. Old man problems.”
Blue-shirt says to the audiologist, “Where’s your washroom?”
Her back still to us, she waves, “Across the hall.”
Blue-shirt asks, “Do we need restraints?”
The staff look at each other, then me. I shrug.
“Nah, we’ll walk him in there.”
Unshackled, I follow blue-shirt’s large shoulders as his buddy keeps a firm grip on my elbow. Walking escort.
After staff quickly survey the washroom – single toilet and sink, window the size of a breadbox high up on the wall – I am allowed in.
I shuffle in and lock the door behind me.
It doesn’t take much. Upside down garbage can to give an old man a boost, window screen popped out, and I’m pulling myself through the window. Luckily there’s no passersby to see a scrawny old man tumble onto the asphalt below.
Bruised, but nothing broken, I’m up and running. Across the parking lot the driver’s reading a newspaper in the van. Following the fence line, I duck into some shrubbery and hop into somebody’s back yard.
I imagine those two blue-shirts standing guard outside the washroom. Waiting for who knows how long before they finally break down the door. Surprise.
But I’ve done my time.
Liz McAdams is a short (again, we’re talking height, not word count), sharp writer living in the wilds of Canada. Her work appears on Yellow Mama, Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey and other places around the web. You can find her at https://lizmcadams.wordpress.com/