Authors: Jamie Bowers
Before he knew it, the door was slammed shut, sending the room into complete darkness. Joe took a few seconds to try and get his eyes adjust, but it was no good, no light was getting in. He pulled himself forward from the floor onto his hands and knees and slowly crawled around the room, feeling as he went. He found nothing but himself occupying the dark tomb. ‘One week in the dark,’ that’s what Tanner said before Joe was hauled down here, and he wasn’t wrong. Joe figured the room was approximately six feet both ways with perfectly square walls. At the base of the wall opposite the door were two large, cold metal hoops partially buried into the concrete. These were probably used to shackle the more animalistic inmate that would only bark and not sit on command.
Standing up slowly, trying not to pass out from the pain he was already in, Joe continued to map out the room, running his hands across each wall as high as he could reach. Nothing, the walls just felt cold and dusty to touch but there wasn’t anything else he could find. He began to think to himself what had happened, trying to relive the moments that led up to him being dragged down here. Was the Warden sending him a message? Or was it a message to the other prisoners? All that Joe knew was that he was not going to get any answers whilst sitting in the dark, he had to wait until he was in the light again before he could find out. He decided to try and get some sleep but without a bed or blanket it wasn’t going to be easy. He sat up in the corner of the room leaning his back on one wall and resting his head on another just waiting for the moment that someone came through the steel door to take him back upstairs.
Still sitting in the same curled up position with his head resting on his knees. Joe remained awake, unaware of what time of day or night it was. The sound of the lock on the door startled him but he was too stiff to move. The light slowly crept into the cell like the light from the dawn sun hitting the ground for the first time. Pushing his feet against the floor to slide his back up the wall, Joe could see the silhouette of a man standing in the doorway. The light was so bright that he could only see a shape and not a face.
‘Are you hungry?’ it was the Warden, possibly trying to look like a caring man, although he’s the reason why men end up down here. Joe didn’t respond as his throat felt so dry from inhaling the dust all night and his body had not yet awoken yet. The Warden spoke again, this time with a bit more assertion, ‘Are you hungry, Parcoli?’ Joe nodded his head whilst shading his face with one hand from the light.
‘Yes sir,’ he said in a faint voice. ‘I am.’
Tanner turned and looked at someone outside the room. ‘Did you hear that boys? It sounded like the fart from a field mouse.’ He started to laugh and the sound of laughter from other men echoed its way into the windowless cell. Taking another step forward, Joe reached out his hand and could see that the Warden was holding a metal tray with a few items of food including mashed potatoes, peas, a small portion of pale fatty meat and a cake that looked hotter and drier than the desert. What Joe really wanted was the drink, a cold refreshing can of Coca-Cola. It looked so tempting and he could see beads of condensation slowly make their way down the side of the can and onto the tray. As Joe stepped closer to the door Tanner stepped away. Joe knew that this was some sort of trick so he stopped before the light.
Laying the tray on the floor, Tanner grinned. ‘What’s the matter, son? Are you not hungry?’ Joe slowly stepped forward and put his feet into the light. He could hear the guards out of sight talking amongst one another. ‘Not yet boys, wait until I make the first move.’ Of course, thought Joe, it had to be Richards leading the dogs. He knew that this was all a trick and there was no way that they would let him have this food.
‘What’s with the mind games?’ asked Joe as he stepped further into the light. Tanner lifted his hands in disbelief.
‘What mind games, Parcoli? I am just here to bring you some food. You’ve been in their nearly 24 hours now and I thought you could do with some nourishment.’ Joe looked Tanner in the eyes and could see the devil inside, knowing that this was not a good deed.
‘This is a trick,’ said Joe as he inched backwards back into the shadows, ‘as soon as I step out of this door your wolf pack will have a field day.’ The Warden smiled and picked up the can of Coca-Cola from the tray on the floor.
‘This is what you want isn’t it?’ he said offering it out in Joe’s direction, ‘I’m sure you’re thirsty. But if you don’t want it I’m sure it can go to a good home.’ Joe remained in the darkness making sure not to buckle under the pressure.
Richards stepped out from around the corner and stood in the doorway next to Tanner, holding his baton firmly like it was permanently attached to his hands. He looked into the cell as Joe looked back, contemplating how hungry he really was. Is it worth taking a beating in the hope you may be able to have something to eat and drink?
Tanner looked outside the cell to the other men. ‘Lock it up. I want to teach this ungrateful piece of shit that charity doesn’t come easy in Hampton.’ Suddenly the door slammed shut and Joe was thrust into the darkness once more, the chatter from the guards outside were no more than a mumble through the solid door. Joe banged his fist on the door as hard as he could but there was no response from the outside. He knew that if he wanted to survive he would have to come up with a plan of action or he would be dead before he could spend another night in cell 335. At that moment, when his fists became too painful to keep up the banging on the door, Joe remembered the envelope that Tanner had given him. With everything that had been going on, he forgot all about it. He slipped his hand into his pocket and took out the envelope. Not being able to see, he had to feel as to what was in it. As he ripped the edge he quickly put his fingers in to feel for something. It was empty; he couldn’t feel anything other than the envelope itself. He screwed it up and tossed it onto the floor.
Screaming with anger he beat his fists once again against the door, shouting for the Warden. ‘Come back you piece of shit! I’m going to fucking kill you!’ Joe had never felt so angry in all of his life. After several minutes of taking out his aggression on the door, Joe knew that he wouldn’t see anybody else soon so decided to save his energy and took his place once more in the corner of the floor leaning against the wall.
Joe had no idea how long he had been in the hole for but figured it must have been at least two days since the Warden’s last visit. The longer he spent in there, the more he kept asking himself the same questions, ‘Are they going to leave me here to die? Have they forgotten about me?’ Joe started to sing to himself in some attempt to retain his sanity. He remembered back to when he was in the army. His sister sent him a record when he was stationed away in Laos. The label was yellow with brown writing that said ‘I Heard It through the Grapevine’. He would listen to it every night whilst lying in his bed before going to sleep. The song reminded him of his sisters beautiful laugh and the gorgeous smile that she wore every day. This was the determination that he needed whilst in prison. He closed his eyes as hard as he could and began to sing softly;
Ooh, I bet you’re wondering how I knew
‘bout your plans to make me blue
with some other guy you knew before
He started to shake as each word came out, his dry voice crackling with each change in note. As he got further into the song, his voice got louder and he started to tap his foot and nod his head to the beat, ‘Don’t you know that…’ He stood up, still with his eyes closed and sang as loud as he could, ‘I heard it through the grapevine,’ he began to dance as if he was Marvin Gaye standing on stage singing to crowds of people. The more he sang, the more he moved, the more he moved the more he enjoyed it. When the song ended, he would start it all over again as if it was never meant to have a conclusion.
After several hours of dancing and singing, he was interrupted by the sound of the lock on the door. It swung open quickly and three guards made their way into the cell. Joe backed up to the wall and tried to resist but he couldn’t. The men dragged him out into the corridor and pushed him down to the floor. His face hit the concrete causing a cloud of dust that covered his head and blurred his vision. Looking up, he could see a faint outline of shoes in front of him. Being pulled to his knees he brushed the dirt from his face and saw the Warden standing over him smoking one of his expensive cigars.
‘It’s been three days now, Parcoli. You need to think what you’ve done to be here.’ Joe stood up and stumbled to one side.
He propped his shoulder against the wall. ‘I don’t deserve to be here and you know it.’ Tanner stepped towards Joe, taking a big inhale of smoke from his cigar and blew it in his face.
‘I am here to prevent trouble,’ he said, ‘and when I spot a troublemaker, I will cut them off before it happens. A bit like when you castrate a dog before it goes after the bitches. You see, Parcoli, you failed the test. You don’t trust anyone in here especially your master.’
Suddenly, Joe realised what he was referring to. ‘The envelope, you bastard. You tricked me.’
Tanner nodded a signal to the guards and before he knew it Joe was pinned face first against the wall and being struck across the back with fists and batons. He screamed in pain for them to stop but pleas were not going to help.
Tanner took off his jacket and handed it to one of the guards. ‘Take off his shirt!’ he said whilst gripping his cigar between his teeth and rolling up the sleeves on his crisp white shirt. One of the guards grabbed the collar of Joe’s orange shirt and tore it from him like it was a piece of paper, burning his neck as it was quickly removed. Another ripped his white vest from his skin and tossed it to the ground. The guards stopped the beating and stepped away as two of them kept Joe restrained to the wall by his arms. Tanner stepped up and took a fast swing with his right fist to Joe’s lower back, so hard that it pinned him to the wall and paralysed him in pain. Again he swung, this time with his left fist into the side of Joe’s ribcage. Again and again, fist after fist pounded its way into Joe’s torso making him weaker by the second. His body became limp and he started to lose consciousness. The guards let go of his arms and Joe fell to floor, the only sign of life was the bubbles of blood forming in the corner of his mouth and the slow movement of his blinking eyes. Joe was frozen in pain and could only see a blurry outline of the feet around him. He saw a boot come towards him and kick him in the face to end the torture.
Trying to use all of the energy he had, Joe forced his eyes open but struggled to see anything beyond the blurry haze caused by his damaged vision. Straining to move his body, his muscles flinched as he winced in pain. Slowly, his eyes focussed and he could see clean, white walls and what appeared to be an intravenous drip hanging from a hook. Confused, he tried again to move his body. Feeling extreme pain all over, he started to remember the beating he had been subject to and realised he must be in the prison infirmary. He began to move his hands and could feel bandages around some of his fingers preventing them from moving. Carefully lifting his head, he could see bandages covering most of his torso and right arm as well as his right leg. Reaching up to his head, he could feel a bandage covering his left ear and dried blood across his brow above his swollen eye. Just as he tried to grasp the reality of everything, a young nurse walked in.
‘Why hello there,’ she seemed very pleased to see him awake as she placed a small tray of medical objects on a trolley. ‘I was wondering when you were going to join us Joe, it’s been a while.’ Joe rubbed his eyes to try and get a clearer image of the woman. Wearing a very neatly pressed uniform, the nurse looked very well presented. Her dark, shoulder length hair was immaculately trimmed, framing her soft, porcelain cheeks.
‘How long have I been here?’ Joe asked as the nurse stepped over to the side of his bed and perched herself on the edge.
‘It’s been five days now, we were starting to get worried.’ Shocked with the answer she gave, Joe tried to sit up.
‘Five days? What the hell happened? The last thing I remember is getting the shit kicked out of me by The Warden and his goons.’ The nurse took a warm wet cloth from a bowl on the side and began to dab his face.
‘Well, we aren’t told what happens to men brought in here. When you came in you were you were unconscious with blood draining out of every inch of your skin.’ Joe put his hand on his bandaged stomach and coughed in pain which made it feel worse.
‘When can I get out of here?’ he asked as he looked at the sunlight out the window obscured by the steel bars.
‘That’s up to the doctor and matron. But judging by how weak you seemed when you came in and the state of your injuries, I’d guess it would be a while.’ Joe wasn’t pleased about this answer and lay back on the bed in dismay.
‘What’s your name?’
The nurse seemed uncomfortable to answer his question. ‘Francis Johnson, but my friends call me Franny.’
Joe looked her in the eye. ‘I need you to do me a favour Franny,’ Francis felt awkward to acknowledge a response and glanced at the door to make sure there was nobody around.
‘I can’t smuggle you anything in if that’s what you’re asking, I’d lose my job. I can’t do anything for you, sorry. I have to go now. There are other patients that need me and I’m late.’ She hastily put the cloth on the side and turned to go.
Joe quickly grabbed her wrist. ‘I don’t need you to bring anything in.’ he exclaimed, ‘I just need you to get a message to my wife. Please, I need you to let her know that I’m fine and that I’ll be okay. If she knows I’m here, she will only get upset.’ Francis felt for him and knew what he was getting it.
‘Well, I’m not sure if they tell families when their loved ones come in here, like I said, we don’t know anything. How can I get a message to her? We get searched on the way in and out. If I get found passing a message for an inmate I’d get fired. What if your wife tells someone and the prison find out?’
Joe thought for a moment and then it came to him. ‘What you can do is say that you are the wife of another inmate who has asked you to pass on the message. You don’t need to write anything down as it’s easy to remember where you’re going. Do you know the Coliseum Cinema in the city? Francis nodded her head in acknowledgement, ‘Well, across the street is an alley with a sandwich shop on the corner. If you go down the alley and look for door number four, that’s where Gina lives with our little girl Mary. The apartment is above but the door is on the ground floor, you can’t miss it.’ Francis saw the physical and emotional pain in his eyes and knew that Joe was appealing to her good nature.
‘What if she has come to see you and they’ve told her that you’re here?’ Joe closed his eyes, refusing to look at Francis.
‘I don’t remember much but I remember that the day I came here my brother said to me that I would never see her or my daughter again. She won’t visit but I know that she still cares for me, even if it’s just as the father to her child. Francis put her hand on Joe’s cheek and pulled his face towards her in an attempt to get his attention. Joe opened his eyes but struggled to see due to the tears obscuring his vision.
‘Joe, listen,’ she said as she held his head, ‘I finish in just over an hour and when I do I will get off the bus one stop early to go and see your Gina and tell her something nice. She will know how much you love her.’
Joe grabbed her hand and stroked his thumb across the palm. ‘Thank you, Franny’. He could barely get his words out as he became choked up with emotion. Francis picked up the tray and the cloth from the trolley and walked out the room.
She got to the door and turned back to face Joe. ‘I will tell the doctor you’re awake. He will be happy to see how you survived.’ As the footsteps of Francis got further away, Joe stared out of the window and thought about everything that happened up until he came to prison. He remembers some of the court hearing, but for reasons beyond him, he does not remember any details. He recalls the judge’s words that sent him here but is struggling to know anymore.
Just as Joe started to think deeper, a voice comes from the corridor. ‘Hello, Mister Parcoli. It’s good to see you.’ It was the doctor; a medium height man in his early fifty’s with short white hair, reading a file which Joe assumed was his. He spoke in a very thick English accent which made him possibly seem more professional than he maybe was.
The doctor continued to speak as he kept reading the file. ‘I’m happy you have decided to join the land of the living but must say that I didn’t think you’d make it this far. To be honest, if I was you, I would have let the good lord take me. From the injuries you sustained I would think that you have pissed off a lot of people and next time you may not come to me, you may go straight downstairs. Believe me, Mister Parcoli, you don’t want to go there because it’s always cold and the coroner’s jokes are awful.’ Joe looked at the doctor as he paced around the room.
Not paying any real attention to what he was saying, Joe leant forward and interrupted. ‘Do you know why I’m here?’
The doctor looked up from the file and nodded towards Joe, ‘Of course I do, I was here when the guards dragged you in, and you were practically sliding on your own blood all the way in.
Joe shook his head as that wasn’t the answer he wanted. ‘No, Doc, I mean do you know why I’ve been sent to prison? Do you know my crime?’ The doctor looked at him puzzled, took a chair from the corner of the room and sat it next to the bed.
‘Why do you ask? Surely you know why you’re here, don’t you?’ Joe reached his hand to the Doctor, trying to grab the file from his hand.
‘I honestly don’t.’ he said with a shake in his voice. Pulling the file away from Joe’s grasp the doctor sat on the seat and questioned him further.
‘Tell me, what do you remember about what happened before you came here?’
Joe sat up, using every ounce of strength, grimacing in pain from the effort. ‘I don’t know, I can’t remember much from the last few months since I came back from the army.’ The doctor took a pen out of his top pocket and started to make notes in his file.
‘Tell me something, Joe. Have you experienced any memory loss,’ he continued to write as Joe spoke.
‘I remember going back home with my wife and daughter, we had been to the fair to celebrate my little girl’s birthday but other than that I don’t really recall. I know I went to court and some hotshot lawyer started throwing a lot of words around about self-defence and cold blood but don’t even know what it was about. I think my mind was elsewhere, but I can’t think what would have been more important.’ The doctor folded up the file and gave a slight sigh as he looked at Joe. Eager to know, Joe was adamant in knowing what the doctor knew. ‘Tell me everything you know about me.’
‘Well, Joe, I am only reading what they gave me but it says here that you have been sentenced for murder.’ Joe sat up straight in his bed; the shock was far more overpowering than the pain he was in.
‘That can’t be right! Who was I supposed to kill? When was this? How come I don’t recall this?’ Joe slowly slumped back onto his bed, his eyes filling with emotion.
The doctor stood up and stepped over to the side of the bed. ‘It doesn’t tell me any details Joe but I really need to look into these memory losses you have been having. Have you seen anyone about it?’
Joe swallowed the lump in his throat and took a deep breath. ‘No one knows about this, hell I didn’t know. I just thought my mind was tired from the army and I needed some time away. They sent me home because of some stress of the job but I didn’t think it was a big deal.’ The doctor leant forward to Joe and offered his hand. Slowly reaching out, Joe shook his hand as the doctor introduced himself.
‘I’m Doctor Gable, and I am going to help you the best I can. First thing I will do is contact the army and get your medical records from them.’
Joe gave a small smile. ‘Thank you, Doctor Gable. Can you at least tell me who I killed?’
Gable opened the file again to check. ‘It doesn’t say but if you’re the guy I read about in the news, it was two people, but I can’t remember who. But you know that the papers never use all the facts, just what sells the print. They won’t let me see your prison file because apparently it doesn’t concern me. All I’m here for is patching you up and sending you back. Don’t worry, Joe, I will help you.’
Joe sank back into the bed and rubbed his brow with his hand in disbelief. ‘Are you sure that was me?’
Gable looked at Joe with nothing but sympathy. ‘I might be wrong Joe. I will see what I can find out but I need to be careful because it can be my job on the line. If the Warden caught me even talking to you about anything other than asking you to cough he would have my balls up the flagpole.’
Reaching out in gratitude, Joe shook Gable’s hand. ‘Thanks, Doc.’ Gable quickly changed into professional mode, stood up and walked towards the door. Stopping as he pulled on the handle to close the door behind him, he looked over to Joe.
‘I will be back tomorrow to see how you are doing’. He closed the door slowly and Joe turned over in his bed to face the window. The pain of his injuries didn’t bother him as much as the news that he is a murderer. With his eyes filled with tears, he eventually drifted to sleep, his mind swimming with emotions and thoughts.