“Well, what do we have here?” A prisoner sat down next to Blade Slater with a tray of food. “Looks like Doubting Thomas has himself a new friend.”
Blade looked across the table at his ‘new friend’ with a smile. “Ever since Goat Herd here started readin’ the Bible, he’s been callin’ me Doubtin’ Thomas.”
Extending a hand across the table, the newcomer introduced himself. “The name’s Guntherd Schenthtzen. Some folks around here find it easier to remember my prison number, 689214—or, for the numerically challenged, Goat Herd works too.”
After looking to Blade who gave an almost imperceptible nod of approval, Joonter reached out his hand to find a deceptively firm grip from the otherwise scrawny looking Guntherd. “Paol Joonter.”
Not comfortable in how much he should say, Joonter decided to keep his communication with other prisoners as succinct as possible, since he still wasn’t sure of the intricacies of proper communication with inmates.
“Sharp dresser,” Guntherd said matter-of-factly.
Paol looked down at his prison garb and then scanned the rest of the cafeteria. With a look of confusion, he found it to be no different than any other prisoner in the commissary.
“What Goat Herd here is tryin’ to say,” Slater clarified for his cellmate, “is that you is pretty well groomed. Short hair. Clean shave. No tats. It gives yer wardrobe a different appearance, like it’s newer than the rest of us.”
Eyeing Joonter with suspicion, Schenthtzen announced, “I hear there’s some fancy-pants three-piece-suit businessman due to arrive soon. That would be a real boon for those of us in a position to help him learn the ropes and keep him safe, if you know what I mean.”
With a disgusted look on his face, Blade turned to face their uninvited guest, “Since when do you have any power to protect anyone ‘round here? You may be able to herd some goats, but you know that wolves eat goats, dontcha?”
Guntherd pushed his tray a few inches away from him and stared down at the blank table in front of him. “Are you threatening me, Thomas?”
Turning back to cut a piece of his Salisbury steak with his spoon, Blade attempted to defuse the situation. “Be reasonable, ‘214. You was the one to suggest to extortin’ money from my friend here.”
“I ain’t doing nothing different than what you’re doing? You’re just trying to pick his pocket by being his friend.”
Could this be true? Could it be that Blade was trying to get on Paol’s good side to receive favors in the form of extra money for the commissary? Or was this Guntherd character really good at manipulation. Paol wondered if he had let his guard down with his new cellmate and was too quick to abandon the rule Warron had given him to “trust no one!”
“No matter,” Blade stated shrugging his shoulders. “Joonter ain’t worth nothin’ anyway.”
“You’re lying, Slater!”
“Let me rephrase my sentence,” Blade responded in measured tones. “He ain’t worth nothin’ in here. Fo’ the last three days, Paol’s been followin’ me ‘round to learn all ‘bout the prison. In three trips to the commissary, he ain’t bought nothin’. So, I asked him, ‘why ain’t you buyin’ nothin’? He says, ‘I ain’t got no money.’ So, I asks, ‘Whatcha mean? Every prisoner’s got money. We all work, we all get paid—not much, but ‘nough to buy stuff.’ And you know what he says?” Slater turned back to Guntherd who was still looking at the table.
Blade went on after pausing long enough to know that Schenthtzen wasn’t going to respond to the question. “He says, ‘I arranged with the warden to send all of my money to my family.’”
“This stuffed suit’s family doesn’t need any money,” Guntherd pointed an accusing finger at Paol. “You are full of—”
Slater raised his hand to cut off Schenthtzen before he could complete his sentence. “I ain’t full of nothin’, ‘214, ‘cuz you won’t let me eat my meat and potatoes. You see, Paol ain’t sendin’ money to a needy family. He’s a smart man, and he learned how to survive tough competition. That business survival instinct is servin’ well in prison. The reason he’s sendin’ his money home, is ‘cuz he knew he’d be a target. If he ain’t got no money, he can’t become prey to nobody, includin’ you, Guntherd. Sorry to disappoint, but you might wanna spread the word that Joonter ain’t worth nobody’s time.”
As prisoner number 689214 stalked off with his tray of food untouched, Paol looked Blade in the eyes and gave a grateful nod. In the commotion of the courtyard after lunch, Paol got a chance to ask Blade about the exchange.
“But we haven’t even been to the commissary once, Blade.”
“I only go on Mondays, but Goat Herd don’t know that, ‘cuz his commissary schedule is different than ours.”
“I suppose this means that I won’t be able to buy anything while I’m here,” Paol opined, “but that appears to be better than the ugly alternative that I just witnessed back in the cafeteria.”
“I thinks you just need to wait a few weeks. Once Goat Herd’s intel makes the rounds, you’ll be hands off, and the dust of the newness will settle down. Then, you should have no problem buyin’ anythin’ you want. But, you might wanna give it to me for safe keepin’ until we get back to the cell—just in case we pass one of Guntherd’s goats.”
That night, as Paol lay sleepless in his bunk, he couldn’t help but think that he dodged a bullet already in his brief tenure at the penitentiary. He wondered how many more close calls he’d have with prisoners, but at least for now, he was grateful for the quick thinking of his cellmate.
How could he have such bad luck to end up in prison in the first place, and yet have such good luck to be led to the most helpful person in the entire prison? And how is it that a self-educated young man from the ghetto could be so important to the well-being of a post-graduate engineer and successful businessman? It all seemed so ironic. Perhaps it was fate. Maybe fate led Paol here to become acquainted with Blade. Perhaps Warron would soon find the evidence he needed to bring the case to justice once and for all, and when released, the roles would be turned. Whereas Blade Slater was Paol Joonter’s savior in prison, Paol would be there to protect Slater as he adapted to society in his post-prison life.
Paol gave up belief in something divine years ago. But for the first time in ages, Paol could see potential purpose—fate-guided purpose—to his ordeal. In the long dark hours of the night he wondered if there really was something called fate, and if so was it fair and balanced? Did it have the foresight to turn even the ugliest of present situations into meaningful futures? Or was fate just the godless embodiment of hope that he needed to cling to in a meaningless world?