[Saki Aida] Deadlock – Chapter 4
Continued from Chapter 3.
After lunch, they went through a lock-up and roll call. When the cell doors were opened again, the block resumed its usual chatter. Countless voices, footsteps, music, and sounds from the television melded together into one familiar din that filled the whole building.
Yuto was washing his hands at the sink. While he was at it, he looked into the mirror and casually swept his hair back. His overgrown hair and beard were, admittedly, starting to look unattractive.
“Lennix, no use in preening and getting your hopes up. Tonya’s a faithful one. Not gonna happen.”
Yuto looked blankly at Dick’s reflection behind him in the mirror.
“What’s not gonna happen?”
“I understand. You’re starting to miss women. I know how you feel, but I wouldn’t go near her if I were you. She’s not someone you can handle.”
Dick appeared to be under the mistaken impression that Yuto was visiting Tonya out of some ulterior motive. It offended Yuto enough to make his temper rise.
“Stop being an idiot,” he snapped. “That’s not why I’m going to see her.”
Dick ignored his protests and nodded sagely. “No need to get defensive,” he said. “I won’t deny it – Tonya’s beautiful. No one’s to blame for feeling that way. She pulls it off so perfectly looks-wise, you couldn’t tell her from any other woman.”
“I told you it’s not like that,” Yuto said shortly. “―What, are you jealous? Because a newcomer like me got invited?”
“No, unfortunately, because I’ve also been invited to Tonya’s cell. So we might as well go together. You don’t need to ask Micky. I’ll escort you to Block C instead.”
Yuto hastily trailed after Dick as the man strode swiftly out of the cell. He had no idea what was happening.
“So you’re going to visit Tonya, too? Are you friends with her?”
“Close enough to get invited to the occasional tea party. I hardly go, but this time Tonya asked me to come with you.”
Yuto could see why the sisters would be all over a handsome guy like Dick, but what surprised him more was that Dick had agreed to the invitation. When Yuto told him so, Dick gave a wan smile.
“I just thought it’d be a pity to let an ignorant little boy like you go all by yourself. The sisters’ tea party is more horrifying than you can imagine.”
Yuto felt a sudden creeping fear at Dick’s threatening remark. What if he were to get attacked by the sisters and stripped naked the moment he set foot inside Tonya’s cell? No, that was going too far, even for them, he told himself.
Matthew came running up to them when they descended onto the ground floor.
“Yuto, Dick! Where’re you guys going? Tonya’s place? Can I come? Take me with you!”
“No,” Dick said flatly. “No uninvited guests allowed.”
“I’ll ask if you can come next time,” Yuto reassured him. With that, he and Dick left Block A together.
“I don’t know if the kid is starting to get used to prison, but he’s starting to let his guard down too much. I saw him walking with a chicano inmate the other day.”
“What’s wrong with that? Can’t he talk to a chicano?”
“I didn’t say that. But the whole group is restless and irritated lately because Libera hasn’t been released from solitary.”
Every prisoner seemed irritable to a newcomer like Yuto, but he figured Dick was sensing the more subtle changes of mood within the prison.
“Libera is Tonya’s lover, right? He isn’t out of solitary yet?”
“No. Libera’s influence over the chicanos is immense. If they let him out and he got killed by the blacks, it’d cause a riot that would spread to every prison in California. And that wouldn’t be the least of it. That’s why the guards are having a hard time deciding when to let him out.”
“People won’t think I’m hitting on Tonya while her boyfriend’s locked up, will they, if I go to her tea party?”
Dick laughed it off and said Yuto was taking himself too seriously. Yuto pursed his lips reproachfully. “I didn’t mean it to sound like that. I’m just trying to avoid unwanted trouble.”
Dick had since opened up a lot more after the incident in the rec room. He no longer seemed to mind responding to Yuto’s comments, and in turn Yuto could let his guard down and be more like himself. It no longer felt awkward to be alone with Dick.
The two of them went through a security check upon arriving at Block C. The guard seemed oddly careful while giving Dick a pat-down. Dick was no troublemaker; even if he did cause trouble, he certainly did it out of the public eye. Neither was he the type of ruffian that the guards always had their hands full with. But perhaps his impenetrable calm gave off some foreboding aura that made him seem unpredictable.
Indeed, there was something unique about Dick’s presence. He could look relaxed, but he was still on guard and fully aware. He had an aura about him that made people step aside and make way when they crossed paths. He was intimidating although he made no effort to be. Their fellow inmates were likely not the only ones who sensed a brewing danger radiating from Dick.
“Haven’t you gone to say hi to Fei yet?” Dick said, turning to him once they passed through the gates. Yuto recalled the piece of advice that Dick had once given him about the Chinese boss, who was also a senior inmate of Block A.
“I did, but I didn’t ask to be a part of his gang.”
“I know we’re both Asians, but we’re from different countries. We obviously think differently and have different customs. I was born and raised here as an American. I’ve never affiliated myself with any specific ethnic group. Just because we’re the same skin colour, there’s nothing to guarantee we’ll get along, right?”
“I can see that,” Dick acceded, “but skin colour is important in prison.” Unlike their last disagreement, Dick did not refute Yuto outright this time, and here he was even accompanying him to the sisters’ tea party. Yuto wondered if this was a sign that he had earned at least some acknowledgement from the man.
“Then I’ll ask you something,” Yuto said. “Going by your argument, Block C should be conflict-free ― but is it? They’re all Latinos, but you’ve still got the Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and everyone else. You still have cultural differences between the same Spanish-speaking peoples. Either way, conflict is bound to happen.”
Ethnic groups formed their own clustered communities even outside the walls of prison: the Mexicans came together in California and Texas; the Puerto Ricans in New York; the Cubans in Miami. Even in an enclosed and unusual environment like prison, Yuto found it hard to believe that people would easily tear down the barriers of race and live harmoniously together.
“You’re right,” Dick agreed. “I guess if the blacks and whites disappeared, we’d be seeing conflicts amongst Latinos themselves next. But for now the number of chicanos far outweighs everyone else, so that probably won’t be an immediate problem.”
It was natural for people to band together to protect themselves, and the easiest way was to band together based on skin colour. Inmates had no choice but to rely on a visually obvious common identity.
The prison was like its own miniature society. Currently the number of Latinos in the United States had fast exceeded the African-American population to become the largest minority in the country. And out of those Latinos, the majority were chicanos. Naturally, they were also the most influential group in prison.
“Just to let you know,” Dick said as he stopped in front of the furthest cell and turned to face Yuto. “There are no racial conflicts in the cell we’re about to enter right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, brown, or yellow ― everyone gets together and runs their mouths off about men, food, and fashion. Are you ready?” he said, as if to herald an impending battle. Raucous voices could already be heard seeping from the cell, but a cloth covering the entrance blocked the view of what was going on inside. When Yuto nodded tensely, Dick stood at the entrance and called out quietly.
“Ladies, would you be so kind as to let us into your secret garden?”
The cloth was swiftly pulled back to reveal a black sister who cooed and visibly melted.
“Girls,” she called, “Dick is here! So is the young gentleman who kissed Tonya’s hand!”
A chorus of screams followed, and a countless number of hands reached out of the cell to yank Dick and Yuto inside. Although Yuto had steeled himself somewhat, he was still struck speechless by the scene before him. It far exceeded what he had imagined. The cell appeared to house two, and was far more spacious than the cell that Yuto and Dick shared. But crammed inside were about ten sisters, all fighting for space. He felt dizzy from the strong smell of cosmetics and perfume that filled the air.
Dick and Yuto were thoroughly jostled and felt up by the sisters, almost like movie stars surrounded by rabid fans, as they made their way through the cell. They received the occasional welcoming kiss as they were spun around and finally forcibly separated and sat down apart from each other on the two beds. The sisters then fought amongst themselves for seats beside either of them.
“It’s so wonderful that you could come, Yuto. And Dick, I’m glad to see you, too,” Tonya smiled at them serenely from her seat at the back of the cell. Yuto was handed a brimming cup of tea and finally felt his heart begin to settle.
“Help yourself to some cookies, too,” Tonya offered. “I made them myself.”
Yuto had no idea where she could have gotten the ingredients or baked them, but Tonya’s cookies were pleasantly sweet, crumbly, and flavourful.
“Tonya, when will Libera get out?” Dick asked.
“Soon,” Tonya said, lighting a cigarette. “But once he comes out, it’ll because for a whole new set of problems.”
“Choker isn’t planning anything against Locos Hermanos. It’ll be alright.”
“I hope so. BB hasn’t been taking Choker seriously these days. We can’t let our guard down.”
As the two were engaged in serious conversation, Yuto was keft helpless in the hands of an older sister sitting beside him, who was busy touching and stroking his face to satisfaction. The plump sister’s eyes were shining as she brought her makeup-laden face right up to Yuto’s.
“Ladies,” she exclaimed loudly, “don’t you think this boy would look better without the beard?”
The other sisters raised voices of assent, one after another. Yuto himself had no choice but to smile wryly in response. He already knew his facial hair didn’t suit him.
“I know!” the sister piped up. “Why don’t we shave it off? Hm, kid?”
“What?” Yuto protested. “No, I don’t think that’s―”
“Hear, hear! Shave it off!” The sisters shrieked as several of them teamed up to push Yuto down against the bed. Yuto was convinced that it was a joke
until he saw one of them approach with a razor and shaving foam. He frantically turned to Dick for help.
“Dick! A little help here!”
“I agree with the ladies,” Dick said. “Might as well shave off that unappealing stubble of yours.”
Yuto’s face turned rigid at being abandoned by his only ally.
“I don’t see why you shouldn’t, Yuto.” Tonya said. “Frankly, I don’t think facial hair looks good on you, either.”
That was the finishing blow. Abandoned now even by Tonya, Yuto resigned himself to his fate. Come what may, he thought. Once he stopped resisting, the sisters proceeded most gleefully to lather foam all over Yuto’s face and shave off his beard while chattering animatedly. They finished off by wiping his face clean with a wet towel.
“See? Look at this cutie-pie now! What were you thinking, hiding such a pretty face with a beard?”
“And your skin! It’s so smooth, ugh, it makes me so jealous! I can see why men would be all over you!”
That’s why I was growing a beard ― so they would stay away from me, Yuto came close to retorting. But he knew it would only make him look bad to say it now. He kept his silence as he absently stroked his clean-shaven chin.
“All done now, Yuto,” said the sister. “Look, Tonya. Isn’t he handsome now?”
Tonya widened her eyes and let out an exclamation of surprise when Yuto sat up.
“Wow,” she said. “You are quite something, handsome. I’m surprised. Aren’t you, Dick?” Tonya turned to the man for agreement. Dick’s astonishment was apparent on his face. An unlit cigarette hung from his mouth.
“…You’re right,” he nodded. “He had a good facial structure to begin with, but I didn’t expect him to look so different without facial hair.”
It was unbearable to have Dick staring at him. Yuto covered the lower half of his face with his left hand.
“Stop looking at me,” he mumbled in a muffled voice.
“What’s to be bashful about?” Dick sniffed derisively. “You’re acting like a girl who’s had her bra snatched.”
Yuto felt his cheeks burn, but not from anger. It was from intense embarrassment. He felt uneasy showing his clean-shaven face; it felt akin to standing stark naked in front of everyone. None of the people here had seen him without his beard, after all.
The mood was lively for a while on the topic of Yuto’s face. Yuto was eager to glean some information about Henry Galen from Tonya, but it was difficult to find the chance. He cast his thoughts around on how broach the topic, and was still doing so when the curtain was suddenly swept aside to reveal a young man.
He was the pretty man who had been with Galen earlier. The man took an imperious sweeping glance around the room. When his eyes fell on Dick, he suddenly grinned.
“I see you’re visiting, Dick. No wonder it was noisier than usual.”
“Hey, Lindsay. How’s it going?”
Lindsay was not wearing makeup like the other sisters, and wore her prison uniform normally. The lack of embellishments was not due to her lack of fashion sense; on the contrary, she seemed to be flaunting her confidence in her beauty ― as if to say she knew she was already more beautiful than anyone here.
The black sister who had shaved Yuto’s face spoke up.
“Lindsay,” she said sharply. “What do you want?”
Lindsay threw a cold glance at her, then turned to Tonya, instantly rearranging her face to look earnest.
“Tonya, listen to what happened to me. Just the other day, I gave in and went to bed with Sammy Porter because he wouldn’t stop bothering me about it, and guess what? He didn’t even pay up! It’s unbelievable, I’m furious! Won’t you talk to him for me?”
“I can’t believe what you’re doing,” Tonya said in exasperation. “You’re still selling yourself when you have Galen? You know the trouble you’ll get into if he finds out, don’t you?”
“I’ll be fine. But won’t you ask Sammy to pay up for me? I’m sure if it’s coming from you―”
“No,” Tonya said coldly. Lindsay’s face fell instantly. “You know, if you were a poor sister who’d been raped, or had an incident with a non-paying customer, I’d put myself on the line to stand up for you. But you’re out there still doing business when you’ve already got a man who can take care of your every need. I don’t have time to be taking care of whores,” she spat. “Come talk to me again when you’ve cleaned up your act.”
Lindsay glared at her, her eyes fiery with wrath.
“Oh, is that so? Fine. I won’t ask you for favours anymore. I know you’re still sore about losing Galen to me. Aren’t you ashamed of holding such a petty jealous grudge against me?”
Tonya appeared unfazed, but the other sisters were quicker to rise to anger.
“You shut your mouth, pussy!”
“You think Tonya’s still attached to a piece of shit like Galen?”
It was as if someone had prodded a hornet’s nest. Lindsay seemed overwhelmed by the storm of insults, and angrily turned on her heel and walked out. Even after she left, the sisters’ wrath showed no signs of settling.
“Ugh, the nerve of her! The bitch gets under my skin! Tonya took such good care of her, and this is how she repays her.”
“I hope Galen finds out she’s been whoring so he can kill the brat and be done with her!”
Yuto observed the sisters venting out of the corner of his eye as he nonchalantly started a conversation with Tonya.
“Galen’s the leader of ABL, right? What kind of guy is he?”
Tonya shrugged and ground out her cigarette. “Sentenced to life with no parole. He murdered three black men. He’s certainly got the smarts to be the boss of an organization, but he makes a dangerous boyfriend. He’ll murder someone and laugh while he’s doing it ― he’s vicious. He’s nice and sweet on the outside, which is why Lindsay probably underestimates him. But she’ll come to regret that soon.”
A brutal man who wielded the leadership skills to head an organization ― the glimpse of Galen’s face which Yuto had gotten in the rec room last night overlapped with his impression of a ruthless Corvus. If he were alone with Tonya, Yuto would have liked to cut to the chase and ask her if Galen had a burn scar on his back. Although it wasn’t in his records, it was possible that he had gotten a burn after getting into prison.
The tea party wrapped up sometime later. The sisters all flocked to Dick and Yuto for kisses and handshakes before they reluctantly left Tonya’s cell. Every sister gave Dick a somewhat bashful smile. Dick patiently played the perfect prince for the ladies, maintaining a smile and gentlemanly manner as he dealt with each and every one of them. It was an unusual sight considering how brusque he usually was.
“Nice to the sisters, aren’t you?” Yuto said, his voice slightly tinged with criticism. Dick instantly wiped the smile off his face and looked at Yuto with the usual cold, expressionless eyes.
“It’s a man’s job to be kind to a lady.”
“Like you’ve got any right to say that.”
“Dick knows the kind of pain the girls go through,” Tonya said. “No matter how well you go about your business, selling yourself comes with its share of violence. That usually means frequent visits to the infirmary.”
Yuto could not help but feel a mixture of regret and pity at Tonya’s words. Although the sisters acted cheerful and carefree, behind the scenes they experienced staggering hardships that came with living a life in the shadows.
“Thank you for coming today, Dick,” Tonya said, kissing him on the cheek.
“I enjoyed myself, too,” said Dick, returning her kiss. Tonya gave Yuto the same farewell before letting a humorous smile grace her features.
“What?” Yuto asked. “Is there something on my face?”
“No, quite the opposite,” said Tonya. “You actually look pretty cute without your beard. How old are you, really? Around twenty-five?”
“Give me a break, Tonya. I’m twenty-eight.”
“Oh, really? You’re only a year away from Dick, then,” Tonya said, looking back and forth between the two. Then, she showed a smile even more enthralling than before. “You’re different types of handsome, but you’re both just as attractive. Seeing you stand together like that makes me almost forget that I’m in this dreary hellhole.”
“Falling hard for Tonya, Lennix?” Dick murmured in a teasing voice as soon as they left Tonya’s cell. Yuto was weary at having the joke rehashed again, but also a little glad that Dick was beginning to warm up towards him. So, instead of showing his displeasure, he decided to wear a purposely indifferent expression.
“I’d say you’re the one falling for her. That’s why you keep teasing me about it.”
“I agree, Tonya’s pretty attractive, but unfortunately I’m not interested in ladies.”
Yuto was at a loss of how to interpret those words. He furrowed his brow as he looked at Dick.
“Do you mean that as in, you’re not interested in fake women?”
“No. I mean exactly what I said. I’m gay.”
Yuto was more exasperated than surprised at how casually Dick had just come out to him. “Did you really want to say something that important in a place like this?” He couldn’t believe that Dick had the guts to divulge his sexuality mid-walk, in a hallway filled with inmates walking back and forth. These issues were supposed to be extremely delicate. Yuto had always believed they had to be handled as carefully as a live bomb.
“The fact doesn’t change, no matter where I say it.”
“It does matter. What if someone were to overhear?”
Rape was rampant in prison. It wasn’t uncommon for inmates to enter romantic relationships for protection. But once a man was known as gay, he was often seen with a critical eye. Although hardly logical, homosexual relations in prison were only accepted because they were seen as substitutes in the absence of women. Sex was the same. Although inmates were accepting of the sisters, a normal-looking homosexual man was shunned almost to an abnormal degree, and was often called “homo” or “fag” behind his back.
“I didn’t think you were the type to blabber about yourself,” Yuto criticized.
“Stop being absurd, Lennix. I was only being honest.”
“And I’m telling you you should be more careful,” Yuto said angrily.
“You’re an odd one,” Dick replied with a shrug. “Normally you’d expect someone to be shocked or creeped out if he found out his cellmate was gay. I didn’t think I’d get a scolding for being too chatty. Didn’t see that coming.”
Yuto felt his temper rise even more as he fixed Dick with a glare. “Stop shitting with me. I don’t discriminate toward minorities and I don’t hold any prejudices against people’s sexualities. That’s not how I work. But if you ever try to come after my ass, I’ve got my own ideas on what to do with you.”
“Oh? And what are you going to do?” Dick said, looking like he was thoroughly enjoying himself. Yuto pointed his index finger squarely at Dick’s nose.
“I’ll break your cock in half so you’ll never be able to use it again.”
Although Yuto had meant to sound intimidating, he had gone a little overboard with his forcefulness. Much to Yuto’s dismay, Dick responded by snorting and bursting into laughter which was hard enough to make his shoulders shake.
“What’s so funny?” Yuto snapped.
“I mean, look at you, you just―”
Yuto’s pride was shredded to ribbons from being subjected to such laughter from a man who rarely even smiled. He left Dick to his own made to storm off, but was grabbed by the arm from behind.
“Hey, don’t be so mad about it, Lennix,” Dick said.
“You never stop making fun of me, do you, you bastard? The pretty face doesn’t give you a free pass to do whatever the hell you want.”
“I know it doesn’t. And I don’t always make fun of you.”
“Liar,” Yuto retorted. “On my first day here you made some joke and said you’d protect me if I agreed to be your bitch. And don’t say you don’t remember,” he said accusingly.
“I was half-serious about that, actually,” Dick said with a straight face.
“I thought I’d be nice and make a sacrifice for my poor fellow roommate who was being preyed on by BB. No one would make a move on you if we pretended you were my girl.”
“You’re horrible, you know that? Did you think I’d appreciate being picked up out of pity?”
“What, you’d rather I pick you up because I was serious about it?” Dick said without missing a beat. Yuto felt like throwing his hands up in frustration. Dick had a comeback for everything he said. This man of few words was apparently a smooth talker once he was in the mood to argue.
“Well, I figured you’d say no, anyway,” Dick said. “But now you’ve learned the hard way how important it is not to let your guard down in this place, right?”
“Oh, you bet,” Yuto said sarcastically. “Thank goodness I share a cell with a wonderful guy like you to teach me.”
“No need to be such a sour puss.”
“You can thank yourself for that.”
Perhaps Dick was not as bad as he thought. But he certainly wasn’t a good guy, either.
“Hey, I know I’m not exactly the ideal companion,” Dick said, “but that’s just how I am.”
“Oh, good, you know you have a problem. Work on fixing it. Oh, and Dick, don’t even think of making eyes at me. Ever.”
“I won’t. You’re not my type, anyway. It’d be lot more fun trying to pick up a kid like Matthew.”
Yuto wasn’t sure whether to be glad or offended. He maintained an unimpressed expression as he tossed a glance at Dick.
“What?” said Dick innocently. “You don’t believe me? I’ll swear to God if you want me to.”
“No, I’m atheist.”
Dick was a funny guy once he opened up. But much of him was still shrouded in mystery, and it was hard to grasp what kind of person he really was. Yuto wondered if he would understand Dick better someday, when they were close enough to be completely honest with each other.
Some deeply-rooted force seemed to make Dick turn people away and maintain a distance with them. Yuto could see the same trait in every inmate in varying degrees, but in Dick’s case it was different. He didn’t put up walls with an obvious pessimistic attitude, nor did he obstinately refuse to interact with others in the uniquely stubborn way that inmates did. Although Dick was willing to let in those who approached, he also seemed to take a subtle step back each time, making the distance feel unchanged.
Yuto’s handsome, cold-eyed cellmate was a man filled with mysteries. He lingered in Yuto’s mind and was a bothersome existence. Like Corvus, but for entirely different reasons.
To be continued