“I was in the lunch line. I wasn’t bothering anybody. This little fat guy in front of me kept mumbling something. He seemed like he was getting pissed. I think he was saying there weren’t enough carrots.”
“So you could tell he was having an episode.”
“You mean he was starting to lose his shit?”
“Yes, Raph. Same thing. Having an episode.”
“Did you call for help? Tell any of the custodians?”
I laughed. “That makes them sound like janitors.”
“Words matter. Using the right ones can create a more positive environment.”
“If you say so.”
“I do. Now continue.”
“No. I didn’t tell the apes. Guys talk to themselves all the time. I think some in here might be crazy.”
“Don’t be a smart ass.”
“Hey, you wake me up, schedule me for touchy-feely class, I’m going to be a smart ass.”
She wrote on her pad then turned the paper to me. It had a big number one in the upper left corner.
“Okay that’s strike one. You saw trouble and you didn’t call for help.”
“Come on, Chief. Dudes in here are always babbling. They don’t lose it.”
“If you were in doubt, you could have moved away from him.”
“And go back to the end of the line?”
“Or move just a few spots back.”
“Then the asshole behind me would have said I was cutting in front of him.”
“What happened next?”
“He started throwing rolls at the cooks.”
“And what did you do?”
“Isn’t there a camera where you can watch the whole thing?”
“I already did. I need you to tell me what you were thinking, so we can discuss.”
“I made sure I didn’t get hit.”
She wrote on the pad again and held it up for me. “Strike two. You saw inappropriate action and you didn’t try to get away.”
“I was hungry.”
“And it was kind of funny. He had good aim, pegged one lunch dude between the eyes. Maybe he should have played baseball or something. Been a pitcher. I’m on strike two, right?”
“Then he flipped up his tray and the soup and hot veggies hit me in the face.”
“So did you run away?”
“It hurt like hell and I got pissed off.”
“Raph, did you run?”
“You saw the video.”
“Nothing made you attack him. You could have run away.”
“Chief. That’s not fair.”
“We’re going through this step by step, Raph. Let me read you the incident report.” She looked down at her papers. “Guest A grabbed guest B by his hair and forced guest B face-first into the sneeze blocker.”
“Well, I was angry.”
“Do you know how hard you have to hit those things to break them? They’re made of the same stuff as a car’s windshield.”
“What can I say? Everything went red.”
“That’s an expression Raph. People say that when they’re angry, but they don’t really see red.”
“I do. I saw red and I lost control. If it happens to other people, why can’t it happen to me?”
“Because you can’t control other people,” she said. “And then?”
“I don’t remember much. That happens when I see red. When I get super pissed off.”
“All right,” she said, “I don’t have all day. I’ll tell you what happened.”
She couldn’t win. I always had the advantage. If I could just stretch out the time, I could wear her down. She had other guests to see, a caseload, and a life outside the country club. Me, I had a lifetime. Three lifetimes if you count my sentence.
“After you broke his nose and the sneeze blocker, you threw him to the floor and started kicking him and jumping on him. Quote, guest A leapt in the air and brought his feet down on the head of prone guest B. Don’t tell me you don’t remember that.”
“And when they surrounded you and yelled to stop, do you remember that?”
“I thought I only got three strikes.”
“You’re an over-achiever. Now shut up. Do you remember when they hit you with the shocker?”
“Yeah. It hurt. A little.”
“And what did you do?”
“A little dance?”
“No Raph. You kept fighting, jumping on Dillett and kicking him. Strike five. You had five opportunities to prevent this from happening, but you didn’t.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t four? What if my first kick to his head was the one that had killed him?”
She blushed and her face tightened. Score. Maybe next time she’ll think twice about waking me up.
“Raph, I have just one question. The big question. Do you realize what you did was wrong?”
“I don’t think you do. I think you’re just saying what I want to hear.”
“You’re the one who gave me training in how to be a normal person.”
“Did you talk to your lawyer?”
“Well they’re probably going to add on some time.”
“Add some time to three life sentences. Poor me.”
“It reduces your chances of parole.”
“I was never going to get parole anyway.”
“I want you to accept responsibility.”
“I do. I killed him.”
“I want you to regret what you did.”
“I want you to see that what you did was wrong.”
“There’s a wonderful piece of wisdom that goes like this: You can’t control what others do, but you can control your reaction. I tell that to a lot of the other guests, too.”
“So it would apply to Dillett, not just me, right?”
“So why didn’t he control his reaction to what I did by not dying?”
“Raphael, you need to learn about consequences.”
“I understand them, but what about consequences for Dillett? Why aren’t you giving him a hard time?”
“I would have if he had lived. And what did I just say? You can’t control him but you can control yourself. I’m trying to tell you that you have a choice, Raph. You always have a choice.”
“I don’t. I’m here. I’m never getting out. It doesn’t-”
“It doesn’t what?”
“You were going to say it doesn’t matter. Then you stopped. You change your mind on that?”
Chief was a worthy opponent, but I didn’t like her being able to see inside my mind. It was the only place I could hide.
“It does matter what you do, Raph,” she said. “No, you don’t have some choices, like getting out of here, but you have choices inside your limits. We all do.”
We stared at each other for a while.
“I can tell you’re thinking something,” she said. “Share or I’ll keep talking.”
“What’s karma?” I asked.
“Yeah. Karma. I heard the word the other day, I’m not sure what it means. I looked it up, but the dictionary my partner keeps just said some crap about being born after you die.”
“You actually looked it up?”
“Yeah. What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing, Raph. Just you’ve never been curious. I didn’t expect you to. That’s good.”
“So what is it?”
“Karma. Well, most people use it to mean that what you did comes back on you. It can be more involved. Like in some religions about being born again until you live life right, but basically that’s the idea. What goes around comes around.”
“So how does it work? If I steal a car, who steals my car? The same guy? How is he going to know who to steal from? And what if he steals the car I just stole from me? Am I off the hook? Or do I have to go re-steal it? When does it end? Or does it go in a circle?”
Chief laughed. “I don’t think it works that neatly. It just means at some point, what happens to you is based on what you did. Based on decisions. Decisions. You. Make.” She tapped her red fingernails on the table with the last three words, like she was poking them into my head.
“So who keeps track of all this? God?”
“God? I didn’t know you believed.”
“I didn’t say I did. I’m just trying to figure out how this karma thing works.”
“Want me to get you books on it?”
“Nah, it sounds like a bunch of crap. If karma was real, that would mean every guy in here locked up someone in a cage. The shit we did was different, but we all got the same punishment.”
“And if you got me a book, would you face karma for killing the trees?” I asked.
“Holy shit, Raph. It’s zero to sixty and back again with you. Let’s talk about this visitor you had.” She glanced in her folder. “Who was she? Records say it’s a Miss Shannon Petrone. How do you know her?”
It wasn’t surprising Chief had the records, but I was still caught off guard it came up. Hopefully she didn’t notice my shock.
“I never met her before,” I said.
“What did she want to talk about?”
“She had the wrong person.”
“Says here you spent a half hour talking.”
My face suddenly started throbbing. She gave me a little smile, like she knew she had me.
“Dillett killed her son,” I said.
Chief waited a while. Took a sip of coffee.
“So she mentioned karma.”
“I just don’t want you thinking that you did the right thing.”
“Why not, Chief? The prick killed her kid. She seemed really happy.”
“Raph what you did was wrong. Can you just admit that?”
“You know what I think?”
“Chief, I hate when people ask that. Of course I don’t know. And usually when people say that, it means they’re about to tell you, like it or not. So no, I don’t know what you think, but you’re going to tell me, so don’t tell me you’re going to tell me, just tell me.”
She stared at me for a while. “Have I ever told you how much I love my job?”
“I just want to remind you to stay out of trouble,” she said. “What you do comes back on me, too. Maybe you don’t care about added time, but what about the damage you do to me?”
“How do you get hurt? You didn’t do anything.”
“That’s exactly right. I didn’t do anything. I failed to notice an imminent threat. Then you act out like this, my boss comes to me and says, ‘Why didn’t you recommend advanced therapy? Shouldn’t you have known he was unstable? You’re his social worker.’ They blame me for not stopping you, for not noticing you were on edge.”
“You couldn’t have done anything. It was something that just happened.”
“No one said karma was fair.”
She turned in her seat and waved to the apes. They moved to my side and started assembling my jewelry.
“Don’t forget your anger management class,” Chief said, smiling.
“Our holy lord Jesus set me free. Through him all things are possible. Just give your life over and-”
Blah, blah, fuckity-blah.
Chief’s revenge was working better than I expected. I knew this anger management meeting was going to be boring, but if I had known how boring, I would have curled up and let Dillett pour his whole steaming hot meal on my dick until it fell off.
“Raphael?” Chief turned to me. “What do you think of Edward’s statement?”
Edward was a snotty mess, his fat quivered as he stared at the floor and slapped his hands on his knees.
“It is what it is,” I said. That was one of my favorite normal person phrases. It said nothing. It was kind of like saying ‘I don’t care’ or ‘it’s your turn,’ without saying it. I smiled at Chief.
“Thank you my brother,” Edward said, wiping away his tears, “Thank you. May Jesus smile on you as he has smiled upon me.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Who would like to share next?” Chief asked.
She looked around the small circle. It was me, Chief, some nacho named Rodrigo, Edward gay-for-Jesus, and some huge muscle beast with Nazi ink all over him. I’d never seen him before so I figured he was a new guest of the country club.
Chief had introduced him as Duke Cutler, but he wanted to be called, “Cutler. Just Cutler.”
He had torn the sleeves off his orange wear. His hair was blond-white buzz cut. A huge swastika was tattooed where his neck met his shoulder, and a portrait of three stern-looking dudes rode up his forearm. Hitler was the only face I recognized. His face was scarred, lines running across the bridge of his nose and mouth, almost like a tiger claw had raked him, drawing red lines on either side of his gray eyes. His muscles were bursting out of his shirt sleeve holes.
He looked pissed off, but Nazi dudes always did. It’s got to hurt when you say you’re the best and you keep on ending up the loser.
We all kept our heads down, hoping not to be called out.
“And how about you, Raphael?” Chief said. “Edward was brave enough to share.”
“Praise Jesus!” Edward yelled.
We all ignored him. Even Chief. She went on. “Raphael, what thoughts are on your mind?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I’m bored out of it.”
Rodrigo chuckled. Edward tilted his head back as if he was looking through the ceiling.
“Now Raphael, you will not be excused until you demonstrate that you-”
“Praise Jesus!” Edward screamed, “Praise him!”
“Until I do that?”
“Thank you Edward,” Chief said, “But please give someone else a chance to talk.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” Edward said. “I’ll be quiet.”
Cutler the Nazi shifted in his seat.
“Praise Jesus!” I yelled.
“Praise him, brother!” Edward yelled back.
“Now control your anger,” I said, wagging a finger at Chief.
“You need to show you can control yourself,” she said, “And it’s clear you cannot. Now share with the group your thoughts and how you’re going to fix that. Tell us what’s on your mind.”
“I’m looking forward to when this ends. That’s what’s on my mind.”
“You know time goes slower when you aren’t living in the moment. Be here now.”
“Where else am I going to be?”
The Nazi shifted again, like a kid who can’t wait to leave class. Rodrigo chuckled.
“Now is the most important time you have,” Chief said. “You don’t have to wait to make positive changes.”
“Be here now? That’s terrible advice. If some poor bastard is taking it up his ass, and he’s living in the moment, then all he’s going to know is being raped. Shouldn’t he think ahead to when the ass-raping stops? I mean, come on, Chief. That’s just cruel.”
“You know, Raphael, you’re not one step closer to being out of this class. Not. One. Step.”
“I thought it was a good question,” Cutler the Nazi said.
“It’s not your turn to speak.”
Chief turned to Rodrigo and said, “Let me ask you.”
Those were the last words I understood. as they switched to Spanish.
Cutler’s face started turning redder than the Nazi flag. Chief and Rodrigo babbled on.
“Oh, fuck!” Cutler exploded. Rodrigo jolted, almost knocking himself out of his chair.
“Speak English, wetback,” Cutler yelled. “This is goddamn America!”
“Duke!” Chief yelled, “You will be quiet. Now!”
“I will not have it. Both of you!” She pointed at me and Duke. “We are here to listen and learn. If you can’t do that, then I’ll have to choose some other method of discipline.”
“How can I listen when you’re speaking caveman?” Cutler asked. “How hard is it to learn the language of this country?”
The buzzer sounded. Recess was over. That meant so was this stupid class. See, Chief? You can’t win. We always have time on our side.
No matter how often you ‘be here now.’
Chief turned to Rodrigo and kept talking in Spanish.
Cutler the Nazi leaned toward me, “Hey brother. Tomorrow during recess, meet at the bleachers.”
“I’m getting our kind together.”
Chief stopped her nacho-babble and turned to us.
“You two better watch yourselves. I’ll make your life hell. Pure. Hell.”
“Jesus will save you!” Edward yelled.
I didn’t say a word.
My legs were still wobbly. Walking along the outer trail of the pigpen felt good. Or it would have if I wasn’t limping to prevent cracking the burns Dillett had caused. After being in the pit a week and unable to walk far, the burns had healed stiffly. Now I was cracking them open with each step.
But at least I was back to the familiar routines of the country club.
Back to the easy business of dying slow.
For some reason I had decided to stop by the meeting Cutler the Nazi had mentioned. Was it boredom? Curiosity? I don’t know. I’d lived with those a long time and they never motivated me.
So why, then? Normally I’d brush off stupid shit like that. I never wanted to be in anyone’s dumb little club, be it a gang or a religion. Yet, this time was different. Maybe filling my head with a different type of bullshit would take my mind off of Miss Shannon’s pointless questions. Or maybe I’d gotten addicted to hearing bullshit like hers and Chief’s and I wanted to try some Nazi variety. If I crammed them all in my head, then none could be louder than the others.
A collection of guys was gathering at the bleachers near the weight-lifting area. All of them were white. They didn’t seem to know each other that well, so they were just hanging out, not much talking. The only one who showed any excitement was a skinny guy with a clipboard, and he made up for everyone else. He was running about writing things down, chattering with small talk. He was happy as a fly eating shit. Twitching like an insect, too.
Herding us rice cakes onto the bleachers was apparently a lot of fun for him.
“Hey, brother, what’s your name?” the skinny guy said.
“No, Raph. Short for Raphael.”
“All right. I’m Andy Wurz -something.” He said his real name, but I didn’t catch it.
“Nice to meet you,” I said, playing the normal person.
“Have a seat, brother.”
“Damn. I knew my mom was a slut, but I don’t think we’re related.”
He didn’t laugh, but some guys nearby did. Good enough.
The bleachers were getting crowded, so I stood off to the side. Cutler was standing by the weights, with a much scrawnier guy, but just as inked up with Nazi icons. They were both waving their arms. Something had them fired up. They looked over at the bleachers and shook hands, then did that half-hug shoulder-pat thing that guys do because they think it makes them look less gay.
I wanted to tell them it wasn’t working.
A small line had formed as dudes started to check in with skinny guy. The bleachers were filling up.
“Good stuff,” Cutler said out loud but not to anyone. “A full house.”
Then he lay back on the weight bench and started lifting. It looked to me like he was benching three hundred pounds, easily. Repeatedly.
“All right,” Andy the clipboard guy said, his Nazi master pumping iron behind him.
“Welcome brothers. My name is Andy Wurz-whatever, and I’m the Secretary of Order. Thank you for devoting your valuable time to come to this important meeting.”
Cutler was grunting and turning red, still lifting.
“I’m here to take attendance, and keep order,” Andy said. “And that’s all. I’m not going to waste your time like some tongue-wagging politician. So, without any more talking, let me introduce Mister Duke Cutler.”
He stepped to the side and held out his hand like he was introducing a band. The whole thing was queer. When this Andy guy mentioned Cutler, his voice got a little higher pitched. The way he turned and flipped his hand over was a little too graceful. He tucked his clipboard in his armpit and clapped. Loudly. Those of us on and around the bleachers gave him some half-ass applause.
I chuckled at the stupidity of it, and that Andy had called our time ‘valuable.’ That was a good one. All we had here was time. Too much of it.
Cutler kept lifting weights.
There were around twenty of us, just watching him work out. Sweat stains appeared on Cutler’s orange tuxedo.
I kept hoping he’d drop the barbell and it would land on his head and crush his skull. Instead of whatever entrance he was going to make he’d just lie there with a stupid surprised look on his face as he died.
That would be hilarious.
Cutler grunted and hurled the weight to the side where it crunched on the concrete.
“Fuck yeah,” he said as he sat up and wiped a towel across the back of his neck. He stood, threw the towel aside, and he walked up to us.
He nodded to his butt-buddy.
“Thank you, Secretary Andy.” Then he looked at all of us. “Thank you all for coming. Welcome brothers. It’s so great to see you all here, united.”
If this didn’t get good soon, I was out.
“So, what would you say if I told you someone was out to kill you?” Cutler asked, pacing slowly before us. “What would you do if I said someone was out to take everything that’s yours?”
“You,” he pointed to a guy in the front row. “What would you say? Would you want to know his name? Would you want to kick this guy’s ass? Kill him?”
“Hell yeah,” the guy answered.
“Exactly. Self-defense is natural. If someone steps to you, you fight back. Right?”
A few guys mumbled, “Yeah.”
“Damn right. Well right now, these browns, blacks, yellows, you name it, every color in the crayon box is sneaking into our home and taking everything you own.”
“You!” he yelled, pointing at a different guy. “They’re banging your girl. You!” he pointed at another. “They’re double-teaming your daughter. You! They’re after your sister. And you! They’re after your mom.”
“They’re taking everything you got and not even saying gracias before they bring their whole family to live in your home. And by home I don’t just mean your apartment or house. I’m talking about this country. Our country.”
Positive grumbles all around.
“Now I know you’re saying, ‘Brother Cutler, I don’t give a damn. I don’t have any allegiance to this nation. The law of this land is what put me here.’ Believe me. I’m the same way. I have no loyalty to this country any more, but I do have allegiance to this,” he held his fist down low in front of us and pinched a small patch of pale un-tattooed skin on his forearm.
“This flesh and blood binds us all. We, you and I. We are the mighty white race. The ones who changed the world. We are all a part of it, my brothers. Each and every one of us.”
Suddenly I was thinking of Miss Shannon.
Cutler’s eyes vibrated with the same crazy intensity as hers, like they were dipped in oil, the whites glazed. The only difference was that his expression was serious, not the goofy joy of someone who thought she was talking to an angel.
They both believed.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Cutler said. “This is just more preaching from a con. Well let me tell you, that’s what they want you to think.” He pointed toward the apes on the walkway above when he said ‘they.’
“They don’t ever, ever want you to demand respect. But guess what? You do. You deserve it and more. The blood of the greatest minds and the strongest warriors of the entire world flows inside you, my white brothers.”
He banged his fists on his head, like he was losing his mind to rage.
“Sure, you could say you don’t care about what this country has become. But why give up? It’s ours. We’ve got to defend it. Chase these invaders out!”
Most of the dudes around me were letting out little grunts of “Hell yeah,” and “Damn right.” Each one louder than the last. Clipboard Andy was off to the side, nodding his head. Cutler was pacing faster and faster, his strides longer until he could cover the distance of the bleachers in three steps, pivot on his heel and head back. He was jumping a little, throwing his arms down by his sides, punching into his palm.
The noise around me was growing. Two sniper apes on the watchtower wall had come together and looked down on us, chatting. One reached up to his shoulder and pinched his walkie-talkie, cocking his head to the side, saying something.
“This is our country!” Cutler yelled, “Not theirs. They crapped all over their dump of a homeland and now they want to come here, take our land, take our jobs, fuck our women, corrupt our children.”
“Damn spics!” someone yelled.
“Right on, brother,” Cutler said back. “But I’m talking about all of them. They all come crying, running to us. Because they know we’re the best. Whether they’re coming from Mexico or Puerto Rico or Africa or the Middle East or India or whatever sewer they bubble out of, they all complain they don’t need our help, but as soon as they do, they’re on our doorstep.”
The other guys were cheering, now, clapping. Some were leaping up, punching their fists in the air. I don’t know what they were getting so excited about. Even if I bought any of this garbage, what good was it going to do? People steal all the time. Can’t get mad just because someone does it to you.
That would probably just be your karma, right?
“So now you’re all wondering what the hell we’re going to do about it, right? I won’t lie. We’ve got a lot of work ahead.”
That quieted them down. It was fun to yell, but who the hell wants to do work?
“We’re the minority in here, and soon we’ll be the minority out there!”
His face was bright red. The swastika on his neck turned from black to purple.
“But we’re outnumbered by the filthy horde. So our we have to be smart. We have to be organized. That’s our advantage. The lesser races are no good at that. They’re only good in wild packs of freaks.”
With all the jumping and yelling going on, no one noticed that I laughed. Booker was the furthest thing from a disorganized freak. And Big X ran a smooth, calm operation. I tried to look over to the other corner of the yard where they held office, but it was too far away to get a good view. Was that why Cutler chose this spot? That didn’t seem very brave.
“We’re going to form our own bloc. We’re going to unionize. We’re going to petition the warden. We’ll even write our Jew bastard governor. We’re going to start making demands for better living, and respect for our culture. Enough fried chicken and nachos. Let’s get some goddamn American beef in here.”
Cutler kept going, but I was distracted by a lone nacho who broke away from the walking path and headed over to the weights. He sat down on the bench Cutler had been using. I noticed it and a couple other guys did too. They were whispering and chuckling about it.
The scene reminded me of high school. The teacher would be talking and some dude would be behind her making a face and she’d have no idea. Cutler was still raving, his face all wrinkled rage, pumping his fist.
Meanwhile, behind him, the nacho was exploring which weights to use. He tried to lift the one Cutler had been using, but couldn’t move it. So he went to a different bench and lifted a barbell with only one small weight on either side.
Andy Clipboard spoke up. “Uh, Duke?”
“What is it, Secretary?” Cutler said, “I told you no interruptions.”
Cutler turned around. The nacho didn’t even see him. He just kept lifting, rocking back and forth.
I could see Cutler tense up. He turned his head to the side and put his finger to his lips. He tiptoed toward the nacho, who kept lifting.
We all started whispering.
“Aw man, here he goes.”
“What you think he’s gonna do?”
“Poor little nacho.”
Cutler crept close, a head taller than his prey and much more muscular.
The nacho kept lifting.
The apes on the wall were watching and chuckling as well.
“Hey!” Cutler yelled.
The nacho jumped, and the weight went flying, clanging against the rack. He stumbled and had to prop himself up on the bench.
Everyone on the bleachers cracked up, including me.
The nacho flopped around on the bench, trying to get his balance, but Cutler was over him.
“This spot is for white people!” Cutler screamed. He towered over the tiny nacho, and bent down so his nose was almost touching the little guy. “White people only. Do you understand me? Got it?”
“Si, si, si,” the nacho said, holding both hands up, palms out as he backed away.
“See what?” Cutler yelled. “The only thing I see is a turd not fit to be a human being. And certainly not fit to be using our equipment.”
The guys around me were hooting and hollering.
“Kick his ass, Cutler!”
“Make some taco meat!”
Cutler looked like a gorilla the way he jumped about, his arms flexed, elbows out.
The smaller nacho guy started jabbering in Spanish, his head down, submissive. He kept backing away but crashed into the rack of weights.
Cutler leaned down, his hand next to his ear. “I can’t understand you,” he screamed. “Speak English! Asshole! This is America!”
Even from several yards away where I was sitting, I could see the spray of spittle flying.
“Si, si, si.”
The nacho turned and scampered away. Cutler kicked out as if he was booting the guy in the ass.
Our small crowd cheered. Some stood up and clapped like rich pricks at an opera. I’ll say this for Cutler, he was interesting to watch. The ape looking through the scope chuckled and lowered his rifle.
“Thank you,” Cutler said as he came back to us. “That’s what we need to do more of. Stake our claim. There’s no reason we can’t take this place over in just a few months. Hell, weeks if we really get going. Now come on. You!” he pointed to one of the guys up front.
“Get on the bench. You’re going to start lifting.”
The guy stood up.
“Secretary!” Cutler yelled.
“Yes, sir!” Andy the scrawny clipboard guy yelled out.
“Record how much each man can lift. We’re going to start tracking and helping them with their progress. White is might! Might is right! Right is white!”
Everyone stared at him.
We all mumbled what we thought he said. Everyone mixed up the rhyming words, but the volume got the message across.
Andy pulled out his tiny notebook and noted the first guy’s name. We all gathered around the weight-lifting bench.
“I don’t think I can lift as much as you,” the dude said to Cutler.
“Don’t worry about me, brother. Make your race proud.”
Cutler took off the weights. The guy lay down and lifted. I was making my way to the edge of the crowd around the bench. I’d seen enough.
“Secretary! ” Cutler said. “Record for this man, thirty pounds, five reps.” Cutler clasped the guy’s hand and pulled him up. “Next time, same weight, more reps. Can you do it?”
“Say yes sir! White! Might! Right! ”
“Yes sir! White! Might! Right!”
The next guy lay down to lift. Andy the clipboard jockey took down his name and counted what he lifted. I backed away.
Cutler kept yapping.
“White! Might! Right!”
The bell blasted over them, drowning out the chant.
The crowd dispersed quickly. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to get sweaty with a bunch worked-up dudes.
“We’ll get the rest of you tomorrow,” Cutler yelled after us. “We meet at the same place, same time. Every day. Today the change begins.”
I barely heard him. I was hauling ass for the lunch line.
Booker woke me up with his yelling.
“What the hell? Damn apes! Come on!”
The suite was brighter than normal because of the sun blasting in. I must have overslept.
“What’s going on?” I said.
“It’s way past first bell,” Booker said. “They skipped breakfast and they’re still not letting us out.”
“If I knew, I wouldn’t be yelling.” he was standing at the bars, ledgers tucked under his arm.
I turned over, my muscles and skin still stiff, but healing. The tiny knives stabbing me with every movement had lost some of their sharpness. Even my body was forgetting about Dillett.
“I got shit to do today,” Booker yelled into the hall, pressing his face between the bars of our suite.
His screaming kicked off a bunch of others. There’s something about us cons. Once one of us gets yelling, everyone has to join in just to join in. Like dogs barking.
“Let us out!” Booker yelled.
“It’s time to go!” someone screamed.
“Open up! Open up!”
The screaming formed into a chant.
“O-pen up! O-pen up!”
A herd of apes went running by, heading away from the main guard station, past our suite and down the courtyard until we could no longer see. Their bellies bounced in time with each step. They pressed their hands on their belts, some reaching for their mace, others for their club. The walkie-talkies they wore on their shoulders were all squawking, but we couldn’t make out the words.
I could hear the apes yelling and then a single voice yelling back.
It sounded like a typical argument with a con who had lost it.
“All this because somebody’s having a hissy fit?” Booker grumbled.
One of the apes sprinted back the other way.
A roll of toilet paper soared out and down from one of the suites above us, its paper tail flailing.
I swung my feet to the floor, putting my weight on them slowly. By the time I got to the gate with Booker, there was a full trash storm in progress. Stuff was raining down as the apes bolted back and forth, yelling and pointing, ignoring the debris all about them.
Booker banged his fist on the wall.
“Damn it. Come on!” he yelled out into the hall.
My back twitched, reminding me of stomping Dillett’s head. I sat down on my bunk.
“Relax Booker,” I said. “We’ll get out. Someone lost it.”
“I know you’ll be fine sitting all day, doing nothing,” he said. “But I’ve got a lot to do. It’s cash out day, people want their money for their bets. You ain’t got responsibilities.”
“Well you don’t see me complaining, do you? Or yelling at the bars. So tell me what those responsibilities are doing for you.”
“Shut up, Raph.”
More shouting echoed down the hall. First it was a lone voice, then a lot of the apes replying. Then guys started making noise, banging their bars, hooting and yelling.
“I don’t know, Booker, this sounds serious. You’ll be waiting a long time.”
“I said shut up. Rule one, Raph.”
“Fuck rule one. You ain’t doing your books.”
“I need some quiet, all right?”
“You ain’t gonna get it now that you set off the whole place.”
He sat at his desk, threw his journals down and leaned over, face in his hands.
“Lord, why you doing this to me?”
“You know,” I said. “They say that everything happens for a reason.” I didn’t try to hide my smile.
“Yeah well whatever the reason, it ain’t helping me. Someone shoots you in the head and takes your money. They did it for a reason. That make you feel better?”
“Exactly what I’ve been thinking.”
Apes kept running by, back and forth, back and forth.
“Man, we’re not getting out at all today,” Booker said. “I bet someone died.”
“Let’s hope so. Be a waste if this is all for nothing.”
“Raph. Shut up.”
“I’m sure we’ll get out soon.”
Just in time to prove me wrong, an ape’s voice came over the country club intercom. “Guests, may I have your attention, please. Due to a recent incident, there will be no outside recess today. Thank you for-”
Whatever else he said was drowned out by curses and boos.
“Aw, you gotta be kidding me,” Booker said.
Apes were now walking instead of running, their faces grim. One ape got clocked in the head with a toilet paper roll. He pointed up to where he thought it came from, and bolted up the stairs, two of his buddies with him.
Booker leapt up from his desk and ran to the bars.
“Hey! What happened? You gonna tell us?”
“Don’t you worry, guest,” a guard answered. “It’s not your problem.”
“I got a right to know.”
“No you don’t. It’s confidential.”
“Whole block gonna know after next recess. There ain’t no secrets in here.”
The ape broke away from the others and approached Booker.
“You talkin’ back?”
“Good. Now just wait there.” He laughed and moved on.
I thought it was pretty funny, too. Well maybe not funny, but sometimes being an asshole counted as being funny.
Booker turned away from the bars.
I wrapped my sheet around my head to shut out the noise and went back to sleep.
When I woke up, the noise had died down. Judging by the sun lancing through the building, it was afternoon. Booker was at his desk, staring at the newspaper.
The country club had accepted the lockdown. A couple of the nacho janitors were using long brooms to clean up the crap thrown into the courtyard.
Lunch carts and mail carts were making the rounds.
I could hear squeaky wheels getting closer.
Booker stood up and stretched.
“God damn finally,” he said. “Something to do.”
“Sounds like Nick,” I said to Booker. “He’ll give you some answers.”
“Damn it. I ain’t talking to that freak. You ask her.”
“Him. What are you afraid of? He ain’t contagious.”
“She wrong. That’s all I need to know.”
“Just call him Nick. You don’t have to be afraid.”
“This ain’t the day to be bustin’ my balls, Raph.”
The cart rolled to a stop in front of our cell.
“What’s up, Nick?” I said.
Nick was a fat dude with a crew cut. You would never guess, but he had been a woman once. Now she looked like any other ape in this place.