[Saki Aida] Deadlock – Prologue + Chapter 1
Yuto strained his ears as he lay in the darkness. Amid the footsteps, he could make out the sound of metal clinking against metal. His heart leaped with expectation ― what if? ― but he sternly told himself not to get his hopes up. How many times had those footsteps brought him disappointment these past two weeks?
“Yuto Lennix. Wake up.” A sharp voice rang out in the cramped cell of the detention centre. Yuto opened his eyes and stared at the blank wall.
“I told you to wake up!” commanded the deputy sheriff in an irritable voice. Yuto slowly raised himself from his bed and turned his face toward the figure beyond the metal bars.
“Get over here and hold your hands out.”
Yuto did as he was told, went up to the metal bars, and held out his hands through the space in the middle. The deputy sheriff handcuffed him and opened the metal grate.
“The bus is leaving in an hour. Get your physical done and get changed.”
“Where am I going?” Yuto asked quietly.
“Schelger Prison,” replied the deputy sheriff, business-like. Yuto sighed in relief. He had been worried out of his mind about being transferred to the wrong prison due to some error.
“Tough luck. You’ll have to live with it,” said the deputy sheriff, apparently misinterpreting Yuto’s sigh. It was no wonder. No criminal would be glad to find out they were being transferred to a notorious maximum-security prison. But for Yuto, Schelger Prison was the one and only place that would save him.
“Hey, so how many times have you been locked up?” whispered the Caucasian young man sitting beside him. The blond man who had boarded at San Jose looked no older than twenty. His anxious face still retained some boyish innocence, and he looked like a high-school student pale with car-sickness.
“First time,” Yuto Lennix replied. He glanced at the young man briefly before turning his face forward again. The front and back of the prisoner transport bus was divided with metal fences, and security guards stood on both ends with rifles, keeping watch on the prisoners within the vehicle.
“It’s my first time, too,” said the young man. “Talk about unlucky. I can’t believe I’m being thrown into the Schelger Prison, among all places! Isn’t that where―”
“You! No talking!” barked a voice behind him. The young man hastily shut his mouth.
A mood of dread enveloped the bus as it carried a load of about twenty prisoners in orange jump suits, heading straight north along the Interstate.
The bright April sunlight streamed in through the fenced windows, in stark contrast to the dark and clouded hearts of the prisoners. When would be the next time they would see the light of day? Yuto found himself growing sentimental as he narrowed his eyes and watched the scenery slip by.
After a while, the bus arrived at its destination. The Schelger State Prison, located in California, was even larger than what rumours said. An immense expanse of land lay before him, the acreage of which he could hardly begin to estimate, all surrounded by miles and miles of fencing. Around the top part of the fence was an obscene amount of spiralled barbed wire, which was probably charged with high-voltage electric current.
The bus stopped temporarily in front of the gates. The guards in the surveillance towers on each side of the gate stood with their fingers on the triggers of their rifles, ready to fire. This intimidating sight convinced Yuto once and for all that this very place was the most guarded maximum-security prison in the States, with a history of over a hundred years. Approximately two thousand and five hundred prisoners served their sentences here.
The gates opened and the bus lurched into motion once more. It trundled around the spacious grounds surrounded by wire. There were basketball courts and squash courts, and prisoners in blue denim clothes could be seen loitering in large groups.
The bus stopped in front of a large building. The guard in front opened the cage. They were instructed to get off the bus one by one. A Caucasian guard with sharp eyes and a hooked nose greeted them outside the bus, barking at the lined-up prisoners like an army sergeant from Hell.
“Welcome to Schelger State Prison!” he shouted. “First off: here, the word of the prison guard is absolute. I don’t care what kind of important job you had out there, or how much of a badass gangster you were. Once you’re inside the walls, it doesn’t matter. Don’t think you can get away with any rebellious attitude while you’re here. Disobey orders or show suspicious behaviour, and most likely you will be shot. See that gun tower over there!”
The guard pointed to a surveillance tower in the middle of the grounds. A prison guard with a rifle was looking out.
“Let’s say a commotion happens on the grounds. A warning shot will be fired into the air. If you hear a gunshot, you are to get down and lie on your bellies. Any gunshots you hear after that will mean that someone has been shot. All of the guards in the gun towers here are expert shots who spend three hours each day shooting rounds. Keep that in mind!” the guard snapped menacingly, before commanding them to file inside the building. Yuto and the rest of the prisoners began to shuffle forward like pitiful cattle being herded in, their hands and feet in shackles. The prisoners watching from the other side of the metal fence began jeering at them.
“Hey, blondie! How’d you like to be my bitch? I’ll come visit you later!”
“You look like you’re asking for a good time!”
They were showered with one vulgar taunt after another as they walked past. A black man called out to Yuto.
“You! You yellow bitch, yeah, I’m talking to you.”
When Yuto glanced at him, the black man grinned and banged the wire fence. He wore a wool hat pulled down just above his eyes, with a silver earring on his right ear. He was heavyset and looked to be in his late twenties, with an impressive physique like that of a professional football player.
“I’ve never fucked a yellow chick before. You’ll give me a taste, won’t ya? I can’t wait to tap that sweet ass,” the man said before sticking up his middle finger. Yuto gritted his teeth against the humiliation and averted his eyes from the black man. From now on, he would probably experience countless other instances of the same kind of taunting and insults. If he let his anger get to him every single time, he wouldn’t last.
Since there were no women in prison, young men with pretty faces were the first to get preyed on. Yuto was twenty-eight, but he knew that those of Asian backgrounds were often seen as younger. That was why he had purposely refused to shave since he was put into the detention centre. He didn’t know how effective his unruly facial hair would be, but he had to defend himself in any way he could against unnecessary troubles.
They were put through a physical check as soon as they entered the prison. The physical examination was thorough, and they were stripped naked and examined right down to their anuses. It would have been unbearable humiliation for Yuto if this had been before he was arrested. Either he had gotten used to it from the long days in detention, or his emotions had simply numbed, for he did not find it particularly distressing.
Yuto had become a prisoner from the moment he had been sentenced as guilty. Like a well-behaved dog, he opened his mouth and stuck his tongue out when he was told, and he bent over and opened his legs if he was told to show his ass. A prisoner was not entitled to the most basic of human dignities.
He changed into the prison uniform provided for him and was going through prison admittance procedures in a separate room when the door suddenly opened and a man came in. He was an older man wearing a three-piece suit. The officer in charge stood up in haste.
“Warden Corning. Is something the matter?” he asked.
“Just on patrol. It’s an important part of my job to know what’s going on in this place, after all.” Corning threw a glance at Yuto, who was also standing, before reaching for the documents on the desk.
“So, you worked for the DEA before you got arrested, is that right?”
Yuto did not answer him.
“This man is the prison warden! You answer him!” barked the guard in charge.
“…That’s right,” Yuto replied.
“Tell me about the work you did,” Corning pushed further.
“I was an investigator,” Yuto answered flatly. Corning furrowed his brow and shook his head.
“It’s a shame. A guy like you, persecuting crime on the front lines, ending up a criminal himself. I hear you’re in here for murdering one of your own. Can’t go much lower than that, can you?”
Yuto was careful not to look Corning in the eye. He did not want the man to sense the violent anger that was coiling in the depths of his heart.
Killer of his own kind – it was an insult that Yuto found hard to bear. Yuto, in fact, did not murder his colleague, Paul McLean. Paul was Yuto’s partner and best friend. Yuto could say with conviction that, apart from Paul’s family, no one had mourned more deeply over Paul’s death than him. That was how important Paul had been to him.
As DEA investigators, the two had disguised as drug dealers to infiltrate a drug-smuggling ring in New York. Over the course of one year, they penetrated deep into the organization and had finally succeeded in arresting the person at the top. But the glory was short-lived; two weeks later, Paul was stabbed to death in his house by an unidentified killer.
Paul was four years Yuto’s senior, and was a competent investigator. He was the calm and collected partner who stood solidly behind Yuto even in his occasional moments of reckless haste, never one to cower away and always one who could develop a highly sophisticated action plan. Yuto looked up to Paul more than anyone, as a fellow man and as an investigator.
He was a man with whom Yuto could entrust his life – then came his death. Yuto was crippled by shock when he received the news, but what awaited him was further tragedy.
For reasons unknown, Yuto’s fingerprints had been lifted from the murder weapon, a kitchen knife left at the scene. The police arrested Yuto under suspicion of the murder of Paul McLean. The knife thrust before him by the detective during his interrogation was indeed Yuto’s kitchen knife, which was supposed to be at his house. Yuto protested desperately that someone must have stolen it from his house when he wasn’t home, but the police continued to accuse Yuto based on a witness statement they had gotten saying that Yuto and Paul were seen arguing at their local bar the night before the murder.
Occasionally, Yuto tended to butt heads with Paul over investigative tactics. It was true – that night as well, the two of them had gotten drunk and had an argument that was loud enough to draw the attention of those around them. But the argument had been none of the sort to leave either of them with a grudge. These rows were a common occurrence for them.
The police did not trust a single word of Yuto’s side of the story. He had no alibi since he lived alone. The circumstances were much too disadvantageous for him. Yet Yuto stubbornly continued to deny the accusation, believing that a proper investigation would eventually uncover the truth.
However, the unbelievable occurred when his house was searched afterwards. Cocaine was found and seized – cocaine he had never possessed. The police jumped to the conclusion that Paul had discovered Yuto’s cocaine use, which sparked their argument and led Yuto to murder Paul as a way to shut him up. Under that assumption, the police laid scathing criticism upon Yuto.
Someone must have sneaked into his apartment, taken the knife, and hidden the cocaine. There was no doubt about it. It was clearly a well thought-out and premeditated crime. Throughout the brutal questionings he was subjected to by the police, Yuto insisted that the drug-smuggling ring had likely murdered Paul and framed him as revenge for being unmasked. Even during the arraignment, Yuto continued to plead not guilty.
The murder of Paul McLean was taken to trial by jury, but the twelve members were ruthless in their decision. Yuto was pronounced guilty. The jury was made up of eight Caucasians, two African-Americans, and two Latin-Americans. Perhaps he would have been sentenced differently if he were Caucasian. For the first time in in his life, Yuto cursed the fact that his skin was not white.
Racial discrimination was rampant in the courts. For example, if an African-American murdered a Caucasian, he was far more likely to be sentenced to death than if a Caucasian had murdered an African-American, or if an African-American had murdered another African-American. In America’s court system, a Caucasian life was more precious than any other kind.
“But you lived in New York and got arrested there. Why were you transferred here?” Corning asked in perplexity. Currently, the state of California prohibited the transfer of inmates from other states. Yuto felt his heart jump, but maintained a veneer of indifference.
“My family lives in LA, so I requested to be placed in a prison nearby,” he said quietly. “But all the prisons there were full, so I was transferred here.”
Corning dismissed his answer with a sniff and a nod. “They’ve got serious overcrowding in LA,” he conceded.
Once the procedures were over and Yuto made to leave the room, Corning called him back.
“Lennix. Police are the enemy for inmates, but so is the DEA. Make sure you keep your previous work under wraps at all costs. I will not tolerate any disputes in my prison. In here, you’re just a prisoner like the rest of them. Caged and fed, like cattle. Actually, you lot are even less than that because you can’t be sent to the slaughterhouse to be eaten. Everyone in here is worth less than cattle. Something to think about when you go to bed at night.”
His verbal abuse was unthinkable for a warden, a person of his position. Yuto was disgusted. If the guy at the top thought this way, then the prison guards below him probably followed suit.
After that, Yuto was given a medical check and an explanation of the rules of the prison. HE was given his photo ID card with his inmate number, and supplies such as blankets and toiletry items. Yuto’s inmate number was 40375. Apparently he had to give this number and his name to the guard during the lock-up and roll calls that occurred five times daily.
“Yuto Lennix, Matthew Caine, follow me. Your cells are in Block A, west wing,” commanded the young prison guard. The other name he had called, Matthew Caine, belonged to the boy who had spoken to him on the bus. Matthew, apparently glad that they were together, gave Yuto a look of relief as he carried his things in his arms.
Matthew not only had a boyish face, but was also small in frame. From the looks of it, he weighed about 110 pounds. The top of his head came up to Yuto’s eyes. Yuto was five feet and seven inches, which meant Matthew was probably shorter than that.
The guard told them he was in charge of Block A as he walked ahead of them, and quickly turned around to look at Matthew with a cryptic smile.
“Caine, you’re an unlucky man. The west wing is full of violent criminals and long-term inmates. Normally someone with a two-year sentence would be sent to low-security in the east wing, but unfortunately it’s full over there.”
Matthew looked like a student who had been given a detention by his teacher. He looked at the guard with a restless mix of anxiety and dissatisfaction.
“But I’ll be transferred to the east wing if there’s a vacancy, right?”
The guard was noncommittal, saying it depended on the timing.
“No way,” Matthew murmured weakly. Yuto felt sorry for Matthew’s plight. There was no way the lust-hungry inmates would leave such a boyish newcomer alone.
Yuto himself was also in a similar situation, but he had pride in himself for the five years he had worked as a narcotic investigator. The majority of his missions were sting operations and undercover missions, which were the most dangerous. He had concealed his identity to slip into criminal organizations and face off with violent drug dealers. Thanks to his experience and his self-assurance, even in this situation he managed to keep his cool without giving in to the weight of anxiety and despair. But Yuto was also well aware of the fact that his former work, although for him an emotional crutch, was also baggage which would provoke unneeded hatred toward him in prison.
Block A was located in the farthest end of the west wing. Yuto stepped through the unlocked gates and was overwhelmed at the sight which spread before his eyes.
The left side of the gigantic atrium-like space was occupied by sterile floor-to-ceiling metal cages. The endless line of cells extended to the back of the wing and rose four storeys high. In front of the cells on each floor was a steel-grate passage surrounded by fences that came up to the waist. Several inmates rested their arms on the fences, eyeing the newcomers, Yuto and Matthew, with eager curiosity.
On the opposite wall were surveillance passages that looked like balconies, called gun rails. The passages were small, about three feet in width, and were situated at the same height as the second and fourth storeys. From there, the guards could observe the cells across.
“Caine, you’re in that cell on the first floor.”
Matthew cautiously approached the cell that the guard had pointed out.
“Howes, you’ve got a newcomer. Take care of him, will you?”
An elderly black man sitting on his bed took one look at Matthew and threw up his hands exaggeratedly.
“Oh, Lord, Guthrie! Are you kidding me? That’s a white boy!”
The guard laughed, saying it was no joke. He shoved Matthew from behind into the cell.
“The geezer and the kid. You’ll make a good pair. Cause any trouble and you two’ll be sent into solitary together. Lennix, you’re on the third floor.”
As the guard climbed the stairs, Yuto posed a modest question as he followed behind.
“Aren’t the cells separated by race?” Segregation was illegal, regardless of the place. The Supreme Court prohibited the separation of prisoners by race in state prisons. But it was hard to believe that prisons actually complied to this rule. Interracial conflicts were a significant issue. Just in the previous year, a conflict between blacks and Latinos in one Los Angeles prison had escalated into a riot involving two thousand people.
“There are no restrictions in common facilities. As for cells, we have whites in Block B, Latinos in Block C, and blacks in Block D. Overflow prisoners and those of other races are put into Block A, here.”
Yuto was slightly relieved to hear that. If these prisoners were safe enough to be put into mixed-race cells, it probably meant they weren’t radical racists or excessively violent.
“You Chinese?” asked the guard.
“No. Japanese-American,” Yuto replied.
“Japanese, huh. Don’t see much of that here. Your cellmate is Dick Burnford. White. Not someone you’d trust, but you can rest assured he’s not racist.” The guard walked halfway down the passage before peering into the dimly-lit cell.
“Looks like the man’s not in. You can use the top bunk. Your things go into that cabinet there. You can ask Burnford about the rest.”
Once the guard was gone, Yuto put his things on the bed and took a sweeping glance around the room. On the right side of the cell was the bunk bed, and at the back was a toilet with a simple plastic curtain and a small sink. Above the sink were two small wooden cabinets.
The stained, unhygienic mattress was thin and hard. The grey walls were darkened with years of dirt which made it impossible to guess what colour they had been originally. The barred windows were so small, they barely let in any of the midday sunlight.
But what wearied Yuto the most was the size of this space. From the lack thereof, one would guess it had been a single occupancy cell before. He felt suffocated already just from the idea that he would be forced to live every single day in the presence of a man he didn’t even know. Yuto gave a great sigh in his dark cell.
“Hey, can I come in?” Yuto turned around to see Matthew standing at the entrance, wearing an awkward smile. “Let’s get to know each other. I’m Matthew Caine. You’re Yuto, right?” he said with a shy smile.
Yuto inwardly sighed again. He could understand that the boy felt lonely at his first stint in prison, but when he thought about what lay ahead, he preferred that the boy not get too attached to him. Yuto had enough on his plate with his own matters, and that didn’t include taking care of his newcomer friend.
Matthew didn’t seem to sense Yuto’s dismay as he came into the cell and sat down on the bottom bunk.
“Matthew, don’t sit there,” Yuto warned.
“Why not?” Matthew asked in innocent surprise.
“That’s not my bed.”
Matthew stood up looking baffled.
“What happens if my cellmate comes back and sees some newcomer sitting on his bed?” Yuto explained. “Neither you or I have any idea if this guy is lenient enough to let you off.”
Matthew hunched his shoulders. “You worry too much,” he said. “If he’s offended, I’ll just apologize.”
Although it was none of his business, Yuto began to feel seriously concerned for Matthew. This boy was not only easily frightened, he was also imperceptive and slow to get the hint. He would probably not survive long here, in this prison rampant with aggressive inmates.
“Anyway, enough of that. Did you see this guidebook?” Matthew said incredulously as he reached for the booklet on the bed. The guide, given to them earlier, explained in detail the rules of prison and punishments for engaging in prohibited acts.
“Under prohibited actions, it says murder. Can you believe they actually have to write that out? That’s so funny.”
“That probably goes to show how much violence actually occurs.”
“Oh, come on. Even with this much surveillance?” Matthew said, wide-eyed. Yuto had just thrown him a pitying glance when they heard a voice from the passage.
Yuto whirled around to see a young man standing at the entrance of the cell.
“Hey, fellas. Welcome to Block A, west wing. I’m Michele Ronini. I live at the very end of this floor. You can call me Micky. Nice to meet you,” he said, holding his right hand out.
Yuto gave his own name and they exchanged a short handshake. Matthew seemed to warm up to Micky’s friendly manner. An open and unreserved smile spread across his face.
“Nice to meet you also,” he said as he firmly returned Micky’s handshake.
Micky was a cheerful man with a pointed nose and pronounced features – Italian looks, as his name would indicate. The tips of his naturally-curly dark brown hair stuck up in all directions. He seemed to be about the same age as Yuto himself.
“I’m Matthew Caine. You can call me Matthew,” the boy said. “So, what did you mean by twenty-three people?” he asked. Micky leaned against the wall and gave a casual answer.
“The number of prisoners killed here last year. A rough calculation puts it at about two people per month. Injuries, on the other hand, from fights and all that – happens every day.”
Matthew’s face tensed. Micky clapped him lightheartedly on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry,” he added jovially, “you’re more likely to get into a car accident outside.”
Continued in Chapter 2.