[Saki Aida] Deadlock – Chapter 3

by 9ave

Continued from Chapter 2.

“I can think of one good thing that’s happened since getting into prison,” said Matthew, his face still puffy from sleep as they headed back to their cells after breakfast. Yuto asked him what it was.

“I got into the healthy habit of going to bed early and getting up bright and early in the morning. Not like we really get a choice, though.”

Yuto had to agree. After roll call at six-thirty in the morning, breakfast was served starting at seven. Lights went out at eleven o’clock at night. He doubted that even teenagers followed such a regular routine.

During the day, most prisoners were kept busy with their respective duties or some other activity. Some took on jobs within the prison which came with a meagre wage, but it was a wage nonetheless; others attended counselling or programs for education and rehabilitation. Partaking in these tasks every day with diligence led directly to the chance for release on parole or a shortening of their sentence, called “good time”. As such, there were not many lazy prisoners who loafed around without anything to do.

“Are you getting the hang of things at work?” Yuto asked.

“I’m getting there,” Matthew nodded. Through Micky’s connections, he had been able to get a job sorting and delivering mail. As for Yuto, for now he helped Nathan in the library. Newcomers who requested jobs were often first placed in more labour-intensive departments such as cooking or cleaning. In that sense, Yuto and Matthew were lucky to make friends early on with senior prisoners who were willing to look out for them.

After second roll call in their cells, Yuto and Nathan headed to the library in the central wing together. There was already a cluster of prisoners waiting outside the door, waiting to talk to Nathan.

“Business is booming today as always. You never stop getting visitors, do you?” Yuto said.

“Everyone’s desperate to have their sentence shortened, no matter how slightly.”

A swarm of prisoners came to Nathan daily and formed lines as they waited for their turn to speak to him. Yuto was put in charge of sorting legal files and typing up documents, and was praised by Nathan for being quick to learn. This job reminded Yuto somewhat of his days in university when he had been an assistant to his professor.

“How are you feeling? Don’t strain yourself if you’re not feeling well,” Nathan assured. Nathan was a kind man, and he was always concerned about
Yuto’s condition.

“I’m alright,” Yuto answered. “I feel fine.”

Although he still felt unwell three days after the incident, the pain in his ribs was starting to settle down. He was relieved when it looked like he would be spared the bone fracture that he had feared. Even though his face and body were bruised black and blue, he still managed to follow Nathan’s instructions and carry out his work, since it didn’t involve much moving around.

He did, of course, feel the urge to run around looking for Corvus, but for now he had no choice but to gain a solid foothold and get used to life here if he wanted to collect any information at all. And even before that, he had to let his injuries heal – he had to remind his impatient self time and time again.

“I’m sure it’s far from easy to let it go, but you have to bear with it,” Nathan told him. “Impatience won’t do you any good.”

“I know.”

“In most cases, if you walk away from a fight in front of everyone, you’d be looked down on as a coward. That’s why inmates who are concerned about saving face or their manly reputations still go into fights knowing they’ll be put into solitary later. Their motives are understandable, but in the end those people only bring harm upon themselves. Yuto, make sure you don’t get caught up in the moment, either,” Nathan said, in a mild but firm warning. Although Yuto’s anger toward BB’s men still smoldered in the pit of his stomach, being with a pacifist like Nathan made him realize how stupid he would be to let himself get influenced by the mood around him.

Yuto’s liking for Nathan grew stronger the more he got to know the man. It definitely wasn’t easy to ignore the influence of others and keep a firm grasp on one’s own conscience and rationality, especially when so many unfair deeds went unpunished in this environment. Although Nathan looked serene and mild on the outside, he had a contrasting iron will on the inside.

The prison atmosphere was a combination of two extremes: apathy and hostility. Hot-headed or short-tempered inmates started fights over astonishingly insignificant things, whether it was for making eye contact or bumping arms, or talking behind someone’s back. The list went on.

“It’s saddening that there’s no other way to unleash their pent-up energy except to fight. Interracial conflict is the biggest issue right now. We’ve been in dangerous territory since the past year,” Nathan said glumly, after finishing his last interview for the morning.

“There was a dispute between the blacks and chicanos just last month, and a member of the black gang got stabbed. The Black Soldiers were enraged and attacked the boss of the chicanos, E. Libera, but they ended up being attacked in retaliation instead. Three inmates ended up with critical injuries. Libera was sent to solitary, but that was also to protect him from the black gang.”

“What do you mean?” Yuto asked, turning to Nathan from the bookshelf where he had been putting away a legal book.

“In the past, Libera also used to be the leader of the largest chicano street gang outside the walls. He’s a man with charisma. If he ended up getting murdered by the blacks, no doubt it would spark an immediate war. You know what happens when a fight breaks out during a ball game, right? Everyone pours out onto the grounds. It’s the same in prison. Anyone who stands by and just watches the riot happen is called a coward afterwards. That’s why if a riot were to break out, it would spread to every corner of the prison. And once the flame is lit, the war between the blacks and chicanos will spread from within Schelger Prison to the outside world. That’s why I hear Warden Corning is trying to persuade the leader of the Black Soldiers not to cause a war.”

“You mean BB?”

“No. BB isn’t the official boss yet. He’s still number two.”

“Who’s the real boss?”

“A man called Choker. He’s not even forty yet, but he’s fallen ill with terminal cancer and he’s bedridden in the infirmary. He’s dying, but he’s still respected deeply by the blacks. BB might act like he’s the boss, but he still can’t go against Choker’s orders, at least not publicly. So far, the Warden has been able to persuade Choker to keep things peaceful, and they’re looking for ways to avoid starting a war with the chicanos. But once he dies and BB takes the top spot, we have no idea what would happen. BB’s aggressive, and he’s inclined to fight. By the way, Dick is the one who takes care of Choker most of the time. He’s the only white man that Choker trusts.”

Yuto finally understood the meaning behind BB’s line in the cafeteria.

“Well, no one here would try to pick a fight with Dick, anyway, even without his connection to Choker.”

Indeed, it did seem like everyone kept a distance from Dick, now that Nathan mentioned it.

“Is that because they’re scared of him?”

“Yes. Not because he’s violent, but because he’s an incredibly good fighter. When Dick came in sometime last year, there was a man called Fat Thompson. Had a body like a wrestler. He was a roughneck, and even the gangs didn’t like to associate with him. Thompson took a liking to Dick the moment he came into Schelger, and followed him around mercilessly. Dick kept ignoring him until one day, Thompson attacked him in the showers. But Thompson was the one to get it in the end. At the end of a fierce fight, Dick broke Thompson’s neck.”

“And what happened to Thompson?”

“He died. Dick is definitely someone you wouldn’t mess with. He took down a man the size of a grizzly with his bare hands,” Nathan said with a wry smile. Yuto gazed at him in astonishment.

“Then Dick’s sentence must have been extended by a lot. Even though it was self-defense.”

“No, it wasn’t. The Thompson murder case still has no suspect. All the other inmates liked Thompson about as much as a cockroach. No one probably came forward to snitch on Dick. And ever since then, no one has tried to start a fight with him. He’s an eyesore for the gangs because he doesn’t try to get on their good side. But on the other hand, he’s not arrogant or boastful, either, so most inmates are civil to him.”

Although Dick was aloof, he also didn’t seem like the type to get involved in a brawl, which was why Nathan’s story came as a surprise to Yuto.

“…Dick told me to join a group. What do you think about it, Nathan?”

“It’s probably best that you do, for your own safety. If you’re part of a powerful group, no one will pick fights with you for fear of repercussions. But that doesn’t mean that you’re home free. No matter how cautious you are, trouble always comes uninvited. They’re like traffic accidents. No matter how much you drive safely and lawfully, that doesn’t stop someone from rear-ending you, does it?”

“You’re right.”

After finishing the morning’s work, Nathan stopped by the canteen, showed his ID card, and bought a carton of cigarettes. The payment was withdrawn from his registered bank account. Any wages one made while doing work in prison was also deposited into the account, which meant inmates who had no savings accumulated the money from their daily labour to buy cigarettes and everyday items.

“It’s a bit late, but here’s a welcome present from me,” Nathan said, offering the wrapped cigarettes to him. Yuto, who was a non-smoker, hesitated. But he remembered being taught that cigarettes substituted for currency here, so he thanked Nathan and accepted it graciously.

“I’ll give you a few examples,” Nathan said. “If you want to use the squash court, you give one box to Alonso, one of the upper members of Locos Hermanos, as a usage fee. If you want prohibited porno magazines, you give two boxes to my brother Micky. If you feel like a midnight snack, you give a box to one of the kitchen crew. There are many different ways to use these. Of course it helps to have cash, but unless you have a nice girlfriend who’ll bring you some, it’ll be hard to bring any into this place.”

Yuto was aware that considerable amounts of cash passed between hands in prison. Just like narcotics and marijuana, most of the cash came into inmates’ hands through the masses of visitors who came in every day.

As a former narcotics agent, it was easy for Yuto to imagine the ways in which these visitors smuggled cash and other items in. Things such as tiny folded bills or drugs wrapped in condoms were probably inserted inside the anus or vagina to be brought in, or even hidden inside heartwarming homemade cookies.

“Alcohol is hard to transport and not much gets around. Most prisoners turn to drugs, which can be enjoyed much more easily. Every time there’s a baseball or football game, people bet on the outcome. Enormous amounts of money are transferred, even within a cage like this. And the gangs control all of it. Some guards even co-operate with the gangs to make a little extra cash. That’s what this place is like – hopeless.”

Nathan invited Yuto out for some fresh air, and turned his steps towards the grounds. Inmates were clustered together in their respective racial groups. Nathan chose a relatively unpopulated place and sat down.

“Yuto, about what you said in the cafeteria. Is it true that you were falsely charged?” he asked hesitantly. Yuto looked at him. In Nathan’s hazel eyes he saw the flickering indecision of one who was approaching a sensitive topic. Yuto nodded without breaking eye contact.

“I’m innocent. The victim, Paul, was my best friend. I didn’t kill him. I’ll swear on it. I was framed. But there’s nothing I can do because the physical evidence was all there.”

“I see,” Nathan answered, his eyes dropping to his feet. He was silent for a while, as if deep in thought. Then, he looked at Yuto again.

“To tell you the truth, so am I,” he murmured quietly.

“What?”

“I was falsely charged, too. But I’ve been keeping it a secret from other inmates because it would create a rift between us. I was put in here two years ago for a murder I didn’t commit.”

Yuto was speechless at the sudden and unexpected confession. Nathan smiled sadly at his astonishment. It was a grievous smile of resignation.

“I was sentenced with matricide. My mother was the indecent kind. She slept around. But I still loved her. She was my only family. Someone broke into our house and shot her to death. At the time, my business had just gone down and I was neck-deep in debt. The police must have thought I killed her for her insurance money, and set it up to look like a thief had done it. They kept bringing up evidence that went against me, and didn’t even listen to what I had to say. It was unbearable.”

Nathan directed a faraway gaze at the inmates on the basketball court trying to steal the ball from each other.

“It’s true that everyone who’s brought in here is a criminal. They’re the misfits of society, the bottom of the bunch. But amongst them, there are those who’ve been given unreasonably severe sentences, or those who weren’t able to get a proper defence because they didn’t have the money. I wanted to help those kinds of people, and that’s why I’m doing what I do now. But I know some people would laugh. What can a guy do for others when he can’t even help himself, right?”

Yuto was deeply moved by Nathan’s aspirations. Even though they were in the same unfortunate circumstances, Nathan was acting for others. Mere kindness was not enough to pull off something like this. Yuto was ashamed of himself for lamenting his own misfortune and thinking only of being saved.

“Yuto, if you work hard and serve your sentence properly, it’ll get shorter. You’ve got fifteen years, right? If you’re lucky, you could be out on parole as early as halfway through. But in order to do that, you have to be a model inmate and not let yourself get caught up in this poisonous atmosphere. You have to make an effort to get out of here the earliest you can,” Nathan pressed. “―Now, let’s go to the cafeteria, shall we?”

Yuto watched Nathan from behind as the man got to his feet. He internalized the words that he had just heard. Seven or eight years, if he was lucky. Although it was half of his sentence, it was still much too long for an innocent man like Yuto.

He knew that he could never be the kind of noble person that Nathan was. No matter how much he struggled, he would never be able to demurely accept his misfortune.

Which left him with no choice but to find Corvus. There was no other way out of here.

 

Two weeks passed since the day he came to Schelger Prison. Yuto began to check up on the FBI’s list of inmates within the best of his abilities. But that didn’t mean he could simply walk up to them and start a conversation or sniff about their surroundings. He began by discreetly observing the targets when he saw them in the cafeteria or rec room, and confirming what kind of people they associated with.

Yuto made sure to keep his attitude strictly geared for investigation. He knew that bringing personal feelings or motives into his actions would cloud his judgement and make him lose his calm.

This was a special mission, assigned to Yuto Lennix, former narcotic investigator of the DEA. An undercover operation in prison to chase down an abominable terrorist. He felt like he’d become the protagonist of some third-rate movie, and nearly let slip a laugh of derision. But if switching his mentality to be on the job would help his situation turn for the better, so be it. He would become an awkward Superman or farcical Spiderman any day. So be it.

Micky had taken quite a liking to Matthew. They now did everything together, and Micky took good care of the younger man. Although Micky was a joker, the breadth of his social network was not to be taken lightly. Now that Matthew was known among the other inmates as Micky’s younger brother of sorts, his chastity still remained protected. However, he was still subjected to frequent ass-grabs made in passing, or crude pickup lines. Some inmates were particularly tenacious, making advances whenever they had the chance. But even innocent and unsuspecting Matthew appeared to have taken Yuto’s attack incident to heart, and was now cautious to the point of cowardly. Thanks to that, he had yet to be raped.

Yuto, on the other hand, lived every day in an eerily peaceful calm. For now it seemed he was free from the clutches of BB. None of the inmates subjected him to the routine newcomer-bullying, perhaps because BB had picked on him on his first day. In fact, most inmates seemed reluctant even to interact with Yuto, likely fearful of the danger involved with picking on BB’s prey.

“Yuto, let’s go to the rec room,” said Micky one day after dinner, as Yuto was reading a book in his cell. Matthew, of course, was with him. The rec room was an ideal location for inmates to mingle, and they could interact with other blocks without inhibition. Yuto agreed to go along, figuring he would be able to observe his targets if he found any there.

As the three of them set off together down the hall, Yuto looked out one of the windows and spotted Dick and Nathan outside. The two of them were sitting on a bench off to the side of the abandoned basketball court in the fading sunlight, immersed in deep conversation.

“Hey, Micky,” Matthew said. “There’s Dick and Nathan over there. Let’s invite them, too.”

“Leave ‘em,” Micky said dismissively, shaking his head. “When they’re talking in a secluded spot like that, it means they don’t want to be disturbed.”

“Why? Are they talking about something important?”

Micky cocked an eyebrow at him. “No, you idiot, they’re professing their love for each other.”

“What?” cried Matthew in astonishment. “They’re in that kind of relationship?” Micky snorted at his response. Matthew pouted when he realized that he’d been duped.

“That wasn’t fair,” he said sourly.

“No, no. I didn’t exactly lie to you. They’re not lovers, but they do get along really well. They’re ― how would I say it ― on the same wavelength. Nathan trusts Dick a lot, and Dick only lets his guard down around Nathan. They’re one of the few lucky people to have a best friend in prison.”

Now that Micky mentioned it, Yuto did realize that Dick and Nathan occasionally talked alone with each other like this. The sight of them wandering the outskirts of the grounds or sitting in a corner talking secretively, created a strange, exclusive mood about them.

“Oh, but it looks like they’re done. They’re coming this way.”

“The grounds are going to be locked soon. Alright, let’s give them a shout.”

Once Nathan and Dick came inside through the central gates, Micky invited them to the rec room as well. Nathan smiled and nodded, but Dick turned them down aloofly, claiming he was tired. But Micky was not one to give in easily.

“But it’s Sunday night,” he urged. “Let’s all go and have a good time. Come along. Come on.”

“Micky, I’d like to rest in my room.”

“Hey, man, Dick. Mr. I’m Too Cool For You. You can put on an act all you like, but you’re not gonna impress the dudes in here. No cute girls to gush over your I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude. Knock off the act and let’s take easy, eh?”

Dick finally gave in to Micky’s tenacity. “Alright, fine. Just shut up, okay?” he said, covering Micky’s mouth with a rough hand. Dick occasionally acted jokingly like this around Micky, who was boisterous and loved to fool around.

Every time he saw Dick like this, Yuto could not help but wonder why Dick acted so coldly around him. Dick’s aloofness toward Yuto had not changed, and even though they slept and woke in the same cell, they had yet to have a decent conversation. Although Dick was a man of few words, the fact that he could have long conversations with Nathan probably meant that he didn’t despise communication altogether.

Yuto had concluded that Dick simply did not talk to him because he didn’t like him. Yuto also did his best not to initiate unnecessary conversation, in case this was true.

However, it was unexpectedly stressful to have to behave as if a person didn’t exist when you were close enough to hear him breathing. On several occasions, Yuto wished they could at least break the ice enough to casually talk about the weather. He would settle for that, if being friends was asking for too much. But this sort of hopeful expectation was always dashed by Dick’s unfathomable and impenetrable attitude. The distance between them had not changed at all since the day Yuto first arrived in prison.

What did Dick dislike so much about him? Yuto didn’t remember saying anything particularly offensive to him, and he certainly had not earned a grudge by behaving rudely. True, he may have caused some trouble for Dick on his first day by getting injured, but he had been the victim. He wasn’t quite convinced that it was enough to warrant Dick’s aversion. Besides, Dick had been just as rude by pinning an injured Yuto on the bed. They were even.

If there was a specific reason for Dick not liking him, Yuto wished the man would come out and say so. But Yuto was not very inclined to be the one to ask Dick what he didn’t like about him. He felt like he would make himself vulnerable.

The spacious rec room was teeming with inmates, typical of a Sunday night. Micky spotted an open table with a hawk-like eye, and swiftly ran over to claim their seats. Yuto sipped on a lukewarm soda ― Micky’s treat ― as he took in his surroundings.

Some groups were engrossed in a game of cards. Other groups were enjoying spirited conversation. In the back, there were also billiard, foosball, and speedball tables, but those were dominated by the gangs. Inmates who could not participate distracted themselves from boredom by spectating the outcome of the game.

Sundays were still enveloped in the lively mood of day off from work, even in a place like this, cut off from the rest of society. In the morning there was Sunday service in the prison church for Christians, and factory workers were given the day off. Visitors also came in droves, and the entire mood of the prison was often giddy right up until the end of the day. Right now, two hours remained until the last roll call. On the surface, at least, everyone seemed to be enjoying the last precious hours of their evening off.

Micky took a pack of cards out of his pocket and proposed a game of poker. When Yuto asked if they were going to bet packs of cigarettes, Micky instead pulled out a handful of small coins from his opposite pocket.

“We’ll use these coins instead of poker chips. We’ll each get an equal number. Five-stud, but no other particular rules. Everyone has to participate in every deal. You’re allowed to check.”

“It’s hard to take this seriously when we’re not betting anything real,” Matthew let slip. Micky grinned slyly as he shuffled the cards.

“My dear boy, did you think we’d play a game of poker without betting anything? The number of coins you finish with determines if you win or lose. The loser has a punishment waiting for him: the winner gets to dare him to do anything.”

“Oh, come on, I don’t wanna do dares,” Matthew protested, but to no avail. The poker game began. All the members studied their cards as they put coins down or folded, round after round. A large portion of poker involved psychological strategies. Yuto carefully observed each of the four members sitting around the table. Micky scowled or swore exaggeratedly every time he looked at his hand, but he was most likely bluffing. Nathan wore a constant smile, and Dick wore a poker face in the most literal sense. Other than Matthew, whose expression was easy to read, it was hard to guess what kind of hand everyone had.

At the end of the third round, Yuto was in second place. Dick was first. Yuto did not want to lose to him, and his feeling of rivalry led him to step up the game. Yuto had a full house, and was confident that he could win. Micky, who was in third place, seemed be eager to win against Yuto, for he also went all in with the coins he had.

But when it came time for showdown, there was a plot twist that no one had anticipated. Micky’s hand was a straight flush.

“No way. You didn’t rig the cards when you dealt them, did you?” Yuto protested in disbelief, having lost everything so close to the end of the game.

“Why, I never,” said Micky, the victor, wearing a sly grin. “Well, I have the very best dare saved up for a sore loser like you. Yuto, go over to the sisters’ table, pick someone to your liking, and tell her this: ‘Madamoiselle, will you please let me kiss your beautiful hand?’”

“…You’re kidding, right?”

“There is no kidding in this game, my man,” Micky said firmly, throwing his chest out in triumph. Yuto threw a glance at the table of sisters. A flashy group of about ten people or so, their genders almost indistinguishable, chatted loudly as they dominated two tables. They were a gaudy bunch who stood out clearly from their surroundings.

By ‘sisters’, they meant cross-dressing gay men. The sisters always wore full faces of makeup with nail polish on their nails, and stood out in prison. Of course, they could not cross-dress to a tee, but they made diligent efforts to look feminine within the possible limits; they cinched the hems of of their prison uniforms to look slimmer at the waist, wore lace camisoles underneath, or wrapped large cloths around their waists like skirts.

“Go on, Yuto. Or do you not even have the balls to pick up a girl?” Micky teased. Yuto gave him a withering stare.

“But they aren’t girls.”

“If you ignore what’s between their legs, they’re all adorable girls at heart. And all of them love a good-looking man.”

No one in their group showed any sign of intercepting Micky’s mischief. Nathan and Matthew were busy trying not to laugh. Even Dick, out of all people, was smirking, watching to see what Yuto would do next.

Yuto swore inwardly as he continued to stare at the sisters. Then he suddenly noticed something. A man was saying something to an olive-skinned sister sitting near the wall at the farthest end of the table. The man was one of the inmates listed as a Corvus candidate. Joe Giverly, a resident of Block B.

Yuto instantly stood from his seat.

“Fine, I’ll go. I’ll get back at you for this, Micky,” he said, pretending to be grumpy as he headed toward the sisters’ table. The ladies instantly ceased their chatter as Yuto approached carefully. Their gazes raked up and down Yuto’s body.

“What do you want, boy?” said a plump black sister humorously. “Looking for a blowjob?” The group burst into raucous laughter. Yuto took a look around at all of the sisters and furtively looked at Giverly. Giverly appeared uninterested in Yuto, and continued to speak earnestly to the Latina-looking sister.

“Come on, Tonya. I didn’t mean no harm. Cindy was just having such a fit and making so much noise that I lashed out. I couldn’t help it. I’ll never do it again. Won’t you let me start over with her?” he begged desperately.

“You’ve got some nerve, haven’t you?” Tonya replied coldly, her voice husky. “How many times is it now that you’ve hurt her? Cindy’s had enough. She said she’s never going to be with a man like you again,” Tonya’s appearance was, in a word, eye-catching. Her age was hard to guess, but her long, glossy hair was tied back tightly at the top of her head. Her shapely face was already beautiful by itself, and was only accentuated by her modest makeup.

“Yeah, but…”

“That’s enough. Come near her again, and you’ll have to deal with me. Now get out of my sight. I’m sick of seeing your obnoxious face,” Tonya spat, turning her face aside in disdain. Giverly’s attitude took a sudden turn.

“Who do you think you are, huh, fag? Getting on your high horse because I’m showing you some manners? Think you’re above me now, huh?” Giverly’s temper snapped as he grabbed something out of his pocket. A small blade protruded from his fist – it was a small box cutter. Yuto swiftly grabbed Giverly’s arm.

“Stop it,” Yuto muttered into Giverly’s ear, holding him back with as much strength as he could muster. “Not exactly peaceful, are you? What do you think you’re going to do with that?”

“Who the hell’re you? Let the fuck go!”

“Calm down,” Yuto said to him. “What’s gonna come of this? ―Look, the guard is looking at you.”

Giverly gave a startled glance at the guard standing near the wall, and his face turned rigid when he realized that the guard’s gazed was fixed on them. He slowly began to make his way toward them, apparently noticing the change in Giverly’s attitude. Giverly was as stiff as a board.

“Hey, Giverly. What’s going on here?”

“N-Nothing, sir.”

Yuto furtively extracted the box cutter from Giverly’s hand as the man bumbled unintelligibly. He slipped the knife into his own pocket before the guard could notice.

“Show me your hands. Hurry up.”

He had escaped by a hair. Giverly cowered as he showed his open palms to the guard. The guard, still unsatisfied, gave Giverly a pat-down. When he found nothing on him, the guard let Giverly off with a verbal warning.

“I don’t want to see you causing trouble,” he said as he left.

“I’ll put this back in your pocket, but don’t go swinging it around again.” Yuto returned the box cutter to Giverly and patted him on the shoulder. “Temper cooled off a bit now?”

Giverly seemed to have lost all will to fight, and nodded with a pale face.

“Y-Yeah. I’m fine. I’ll get going so the guard won’t get suspicious.” Giverly strode away in a hurry, looking unsettled. Yuto watched him leave and mentally crossed him off his list of Corvus candidates. Giverly’s impatience and lack of foresight, along with his contrasting lack of backbone, made him anything but cut out to be a terrorist leader who stood at the head of a cult organization.

The sisters erupted into a storm of complaints once Giverly was out of sight.

“He’s so quick to lose his temper. What a hopeless case.”

“He can only act like that when people are weaker than him.”

None of the other sisters seemed to notice that Giverly had been trying to pull a knife on Tonya, but Tonya herself had noticed.

“Thank you for helping me back there,” said Tonya. “That was a close call. If he’d left a mark on my face, I would have had to spend every day in tears from the shock.”

Yuto turned to face her.

“You must be new,” Tonya said.

“Hi. I’m Yuto Lennix, from Block A.”

The olive-skinned sister kept her legs crossed as she turned up the corners of her lips in a seductive manner. It was as if she were fully aware of what kind of smile made her look most attractive.

“I’m Tonya. You’re the new boy who’s in the same cell as Mr. Handsome, Dick Burnford, right? I hear BB already claimed you from day one? Pity on you, being chased around by a beast like him. Is that cute butt of yours still intact?” There was admittedly something sexy about her teasing husky voice. Yuto felt like he was talking to an escort or a dancer whose voice had turned gravelly from days spent drinking and smoking.

“Safe for now,” he said, giving her a wry smile.

“So, something you want to discuss with me? I’m sorry, but I don’t talk business in the rec room.”

For an instant, Yuto wondered what she meant. But it didn’t take him long to realize what these ladies meant by business. Yuto shook his head in embarrassment.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“How can I help you, then?”

Yuto finally remembered what he had come for in the first place. The dare ― he had to ask one of them for permission for a kiss. Yuto decided on Tonya, and hesitantly broached the topic.

“I want to ask you for a favour. I know I might be being rude and intruding, but if you don’t mind, I was wondering if you’d, um… let me kiss your hand.”

The sisters, who had been listening in on their conversation, let out excited squeals. Yuto felt his face burn with embarrassment. He mentally damned Micky as he turned around to look at the man. Micky was on his feet and waving his arms around excitedly.

Tonya noticed Micky’s reaction and broke into a smile. “Oh, dear,” she said. “Did you lose a bet against that joker Micky?”

Yuto was equally grateful and relieved for Tonya’s sharp eye and understanding.

“I lost to him in a game of poker, and I have to do a dare.”

“I see. I don’t mind a kiss on the hand at all, but on one condition: you have to come to my cell tomorrow for tea. First floor in Block C, the cell at the very end. Understood?”

Yuto agreed promptly. The gushing sisters were attracting the attention of the inmates around them, and some were glancing this way. He was eager to get it over with and leave.

“Saturday after lunch, then. I’ll be waiting.” With that, Tonya held out her slender hand elegantly as a lady of nobility would do. Yuto took her hand, bent forward and gently pressed his lips against the back of Tonya’s hand. He felt no revulsion at all, despite the fact that he was fully aware that Tonya was a man. Perhaps it was because of her dignified beauty.

When Yuto lifted his face and tried to express his gratitude with a stiff smile, Tonya smiled back amiably as if she were talking to an old friend.

“Is Tonya the only one to get a kiss?” the sisters protested. “That’s not fair! Give me one, too!” They gushed like adolescent girls as they flocked around Yuto and clung to him. Yuto managed to manoeuvre his way out, getting somewhat rumpled along the way, and fled back to his table.

“What were you talking about with Giverly?” Nathan asked worriedly when he came back.

“I told him to calm down because his temper was getting out of hand,” Yuto said casually. Micky leaned in toward him, the picture of enjoyment.

“You’ve got balls, Yuto. You were pretty brave to ask Tonya for a kiss. You might’ve been dead if Libera wasn’t in solitary right now,” he said, clapping his hands in glee. Yuto gave him a questioning glance.

“Libera? The boss of Locos Hermanos? What do you mean, I might have been dead?”

“Tonya is Libera’s girl, but before she got with him, she used to be close with Henry, the boss of the white gang, ABL. To top it off, she’s pretty much the head of the sisters, too. You won’t find anyone prettier than Tonya in Schelger Prison, but you’re as good as dead if you try to make any moves on her.”

Yuto sighed. This was information he would have wanted before he did what he did. If he’d known, he wouldn’t have asked such a risky person like Tonya for a kiss. The last thing he wanted was to earn an unwanted grudge over something as trivial as a dare from a poker game.

“You should be fine,” Nathan smiled reassuringly. “Libera’s a guy with a big heart. Even if someone tries to flirt with Tonya, he’ll take it as a sign of how attractive his girl is, and he won’t get angry about it. But Henry Galen, on the other hand, you should watch out for.”

Yuto’s ears pricked at the last name he mentioned. Henry Galen was one of the people he was investigating. From what Yuto could make of his past history, Galen was a likelier candidate for Corvus than any of the others.

“What kind of guy is he?”

“The big guy over there with the shaved head,” Micky said, pointing at the billiard table at the back of the room. Yuto glanced over and saw a man he presumed to be Galen, holding a pool cue with one hand and his free arm around the waist of a pretty young man, whispering something into his ear. The young man, slender and delicate like a boy, rested his head on the towering man’s shoulder as if basking in his attention.

“He’s a white-supremacist neo-Nazi. Apparently he was in a right-wing extremist group before he got in here, so it’s ingrained in him. He’s an intimidating cold-blooded bastard. I’d be careful if I were you.”

“Who’s the guy with him?”

“Galen’s girl. His name’s Lindsay. He’s only been here for about a year, but he’s been able to get himself on Galen’s good side, and now he acts like some kind of queen. He’s like a prepubescent girl next to Tonya, but as you can see, Galen’s got bad taste.”

“Really?” Matthew butted in. “I think Lindsay’s way cuter. I’d go out with him if I had to choose.”

Micky gave Matthew a stern knock upside the head.

“You know, it weren’t for me, you’d be part of that gang of sisters over there, sashaying your way around prison. You’ve no right to be blabbering on about your preferences in women.”

Matthew sullenly shut his mouth at the scolding from Micky.

“Tonya invited me to visit her cell,” Yuto said. “Do you think it’d be alright if I went?” Micky swelled with pride at being asked for advice, and dispensed it with a grin.

“Must be the sisters’ tea party. No harm in taking part. If you’re scared of going into Block C by yourself, I’ll go to Tonya’s cell with you.”

“That’d be a relief,” Yuto gave Micky a smile, grateful for his consideration. All the while he wondered if there was any way he could glean information about Henry Galen from Tonya.

 

When it neared time for the last roll call of the day, Yuto and his group headed back to their cells.

“You calmed Giverly down pretty well back there in the rec room. He had a knife or something, didn’t he?” Dick said, standing in front of Yuto. They had finished roll call and Yuto was now reading the paper.

“You saw? From that far away?” Yuto asked in surprise.

“No, actually,” Dick shook his head. “I couldn’t see what he was holding, but I could guess from how he moved and how you stopped him. You took it from him and slipped it in your pocket when the guard came, didn’t you? Why did you cover for his ass?”

“Just because. No special reason.” In reality, Yuto had wanted to help Giverly because he sensed how agitated and fearful the man was feeling, not because he was a subject of investigation.

“You were staring at Giverly from the beginning. Were you interested in him?”

Although Yuto had no idea what kind of “interest” Dick was referring to, he was nonetheless impressed by the man’s sharp observational eye.

“Not really. He just wouldn’t stop talking to the sister I wanted to ask a kiss from. I was looking at him wishing he would get out of the way.”

Dick seemed to want to say something more, but appeared to change his mind and let it slide as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

“…You’re awfully talkative today,” Yuto commented. “What’s the matter?”

Dick shrugged. “I just felt like making conversation.”

“Yeah, but why?”

“Who knows. Maybe it’s because you’re starting to act a lot more like a proper inmate.”

“Is that an insult or a compliment?” Yuto scowled.

“That’s for you to figure out,” Dick said with a slight smile. “So, why did you choose Tonya for the kissing dare? Is it because she’s pretty?”

Yuto wasn’t about to tell him that he wanted to get close to her for information about Giverly. He thought of another excuse that would sound plausible.

“Tonya looked a little like my mother. Her name is Letizia ― she’s a chicana.”

Dick gazed at Yuto’s face with bewilderment.

“You’ve got Latin-American blood in you?”

“No, Letizia is my stepmother. She remarried my Japanese-American dad when I was ten. Letizia had a son from her previous marriage who was three years older than me. We spoke a mix of English and Spanish at home, and thanks to that, I can speak Spanish and Spanglish pretty much fluently.”

Spanglish was a mixture of English and Spanish used by Latinos living in the United States, almost a new language in itself.

“Where’s your family now?” Dick asked.

“My dad died in a car crash two years ago. Leti was prone to illness, so she moved to Arizona to live with her older sister for support. She took Lupita along, my twelve-year-old little sister, who was born to her and my dad. My stepbrother, Paco, is working for the LAPD.”

Two years ago, Yuto had lamented and grieved the departure of his father, who had died much too young. The grief had yet to fade, but one fortunate thing was that his father had died without having to see Yuto in such a state of degradation.

“Your brother’s a police officer?”

“Yeah. A guy with smarts who knows what he’s doing, unlike me.” Yuto felt like he had swallowed a lump of lead every time he thought of his stepbrother, so heavy was his heart when he thought of how Paco had to live as a police officer with a criminal for a brother. But never once did Paco blame Yuto for it. On the contrary, he had sent messages of encouragement over and over. Even after Yuto had been sentenced as guilty, Paco had told him through tears that he would still believe in him no matter what.

Yuto had first left home for college, and after graduating, had landed a job at the DEA in New York. That meant he was only able to see his family once or twice a year, but they were still irreplaceable to him. Despite their differences in skin colour and lack of blood relation, they still had an unbreakable bond that far exceeded those ties.

Yuto had strongly asked for Paco not to come in for visitations, since he would only feel worse seeing him in person. So instead, he received a letter from his stepbrother two days ago.

It talked about Leti, who was in the hospital from her bad condition. It talked about Lupita, who was living with her aunt and cousins and doing well. Paco informed him that he himself was also doing well. Once you feel ready, you let me know. I’ll go right over there to see you, the letter had said in closing.

“How about you? Where’s your family?” asked Yuto. Dick shook his head.

“I have none. I grew up in an orphanage.”

“I see,” Yuto murmured briefly. He knew he sounded cold, but he did not want to throw out halfhearted words of pity simply for the sake of social graces. Although they hadn’t known each other long, he could tell that Dick wasn’t the type to appreciate insincere sympathies.

“…So you’ve been alone since leaving the orphanage?”

“Pretty much. But once I was a grown adult, I had my own friends. I had lovers. But now I’ve lost everything.”

If Dick had lost everything dear to him because of prison, it was a hard story to hear. No matter how intimate you were with someone, that didn’t guarantee that they would still be accepting of a criminal.

Yuto was suddenly curious about what Dick had been sentenced with. What had he done to be put in here? How many years would he be in here for?

But at the same time, Yuto was hesitant to put his questions into words. For the majority of prisoners, this topic was a wound that they preferred to be left untouched.

The bell rang, signalling lights out. Dick climbed up to his own bunk. A few moments later, the lights were shut off.

Don’t nose around, Yuto told himself. Within these walls, there were some things that were better left in the dark.

 

Continued in Chapter 4.

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