Authors: Jamie Bowers
‘Not particularly.’ Joe replied as he glanced around to get used to his surroundings.
‘Just as well,’ Ken said as held the cigarette between his thumb and fore finger, ‘I had to trade for this and it’s all I have left.’ Joe looked at Ken with interest.
‘So who do you see to get something round here?’ Joe asked.
‘If I was you, boy,’ Ken replied as he took another breath from the cigarette, ‘I wouldn’t go around asking for stuff unless it’s urgent. The people who trade in here will ask you for anything and when they have you once, you are in their debt for the duration.’ Joe looked across the yard, wondering who does the deals and sees two men passing something discreetly between them.
‘I suppose it doesn’t hurt to know the man who has the tree with the forbidden fruits.’ He nods in the direction of the two men, ‘Is that him?’ he asked as Ken stubbed out the cigarette under his foot.
‘If you really want something, go to the big man there,’ Ken said as he pointed at the heavyset man standing in the middle of a crowd of inmates. ‘That’s Bruce. He’s been here longer than you can imagine and he has dealings with so many pies that he’s run out of fingers to put in them.’
Joe could see Bruce dipping his hand into his pocket and passing items to inmates around him and each one passing him something in return for payment. The guards stood at the top of the steps with their backs turned, it was obvious that they knew what was happening, but chose to ignore it. Joe stood from the concrete ledge, his gaze fixed on Bruce. Reaching out a hand, Ken grabbed Joe’s wrist.
‘Don’t do it, it will be your last bit of freedom if you talk to him.’ Joe looked down at the weathered hand holding the orange material tight to his arm.
‘I know what I want.’ Said Joe as he pulled his arm away and walked slowly towards the mass of men huddled around Bruce.
Fixing his eyes on Bruce, Joe limped across the dirt covered yard, kicking up dust with every step. He could feel the stare of Ken drilling its way into the back of his head, not knowing what was going to unfold. Joe got to the crowd and pushed his way into the middle, the men quickly made their displeasure known.
‘Get in line,’ one shouted as he was pushed away. Bruce turned his attention away from the inmate he was trading with. Joe could see that Bruce had a small handful of plastic bags in one hand, but was unable to see what they contained. In his other hand was a small amount of $5 bills that he had been taking in trade, held tightly between his fingers. Bruce placed the contents of his hands into his pockets and folded his arms as he stepped towards Joe. Standing at around six feet away, Joe still felt small in the shadow of the big man.
‘Why, if it isn’t the new blood, back from his vacation in the infirmary.’ Bruce said as he stared down at Joe, sweating in the morning sun. ‘It must be important if you step into my shop and push your way to the front of the queue.’ Joe looked around and could see nearly a dozen men standing shoulder to shoulder. If he wanted to walk away now, he couldn’t do it unless he wanted to be back in the infirmary. Brushing his hands through his grey and black slicked hair, Bruce questioned Joe.
‘Tell me boy, besides wanting to push your way in here for a closer look at the living legend, what does the new kid want from Brucie?’ Joe held his stare, not taking his eyes away from the colossal man that stood before him.
‘I need something, and I wanted to know if you can get it for me.’ Bruce smiled as he took a cigarette out of his pocket. Another inmate quickly jumped forward and held out a lit match for him.
‘There’s not a lot I can’t get and if I can’t get it, you don’t need it,’ he said as he took a large inhale of smoke and blew it up into the air above him, ‘are you going to spit it out and tell me, or are we going to stand here all day until I’ve guessed what it is. I’m all for playing games, but the thing is, I’m a busy man and I don’t like having my time wasted. So if you’re not going to spit it out, I have more pressing things to do.’ He turned his back to Joe and took a $5 bill from one of the men.
‘I want you to get me a gun,’ Joe exclaimed, ‘I want you to get me a gun and I’ll pay you more than it’s worth. Can you do that?’ Bruce turned his head in Joe’s direction.
‘Leave us alone, shops closed!’ He shouted as he looked around at the other men, ‘you heard me. The fucking shop is closed, so get lost!’ The inmates quickly dispersed, leaving Joe standing alone with Bruce.
‘You want me to bring you a gun?’ Bruce asked, rubbing his forehead in wonder, trying to understand the logic, ‘I’m not sure you know what you’re asking me for, do you?’ Still keeping his focus on Bruce’s menacing eyes, Joe asked again.
‘Can you get me one or not?’ Bruce stepped closer, taking another inhale of his hand rolled cigarette, stood face-to-face with Joe. He blew the smoke into Joe’s face as he spoke, trying to intimidate him.
‘I never said I couldn’t. But I will tell you that it won’t be easy and it won’t come cheap.’ Joe gave a small nod of acknowledgement; he knew that was going to be the answer.
‘How much?’ he asked.
Flicking the cigarette to the ground, Bruce placed his right hand around the side of Joe’s neck, pulling his head towards him. He whispered into Joe’s ear.
‘There are rules for anything I get for anyone. I take no responsibility for anything you’re found with. If you get caught, you’re on your own, if I so much as hear that my name is associated with anything that comes in here, you’ll be leaving here feet first. I don’t want to know what you want it for. If it’s for your buddies Dannio and Mike, a guard who beat your ass, or yourself, I don’t want to know. The less I know the better. Understood?’
‘Yes,’ said Joe as he tried to pull his head away. Bruce tightened his grip and whispered further, this time in a more aggressive tone.
‘The other thing is that you pay me up front for special items and in one go. That way I know you won’t fuck with me. You get that boy?’ He loosened his hand and Joe took a small step back, away from the foul odour that emanated from Bruce,
‘Is that the same for everyone, or just me?’ he asked.
‘This isn’t exactly a tin of snuff or a packet of smokes,’ Bruce said as he looked around to make sure nobody was listening, ‘you want a gun, and I want the money up front. It will then take me about a week to get it to you, and it won’t be conventional, so I want an unconventional price in my pocket.’
‘Three hundred dollars?’ Joe asked inquisitively, ‘that’s at least a hundred more than I could get one for from a pawn shop. And we all know that they charge more than they’re worth. I bet that’s more than your mark-up as well.’ Bruce smiled at Joe with a snide grin.
‘You’re smart kid, but I’m not stupid. My mark-up is usually ten percent; forty on one-off items but this is something different. I want five thousand from you, up-front, you get me what I want, and you get what you want.’ Joe pondered for a moment, biting his lip as he thought.
‘How would I get the money to you? Is there someone on the outside that I can get it to, and they keep it for when you get out?’ Shaking his head in disbelief, Bruce wasn’t impressed.
‘Do you think I was born yesterday? How do I know you aren’t going to try and pull a fast one with your buddies on the outside? You want the goods in here, I want the cash delivered to me in here, then, and only then do I start working my magic to conjure you up what you want. I don’t care how you do it, just get me the money and we start talking real business.’ Bruce stepped away and headed towards the men who he had been earlier trading with.
‘Now if you don’t mind, I have a business to run.’ He turned to the men and took the plastic bags back out of his pocket, ‘Where were we gentleman?’ he shouted as Joe was left standing by himself. Joe felt the large hand of Ken on his shoulder.
‘What have you just done?’ he said as they watched Bruce continue to take money from the inmates, ‘I wouldn’t mess with Bruce, not even if it meant to get what I wanted.’ Joe turned to Ken,
‘What are you so afraid of? I’m sure you can handle yourself against him.’ he asked.
‘It’s not him I’m afraid of,’ explained Ken, ‘you don’t know how many inmates and guards he has in his pocket, on his payroll. Believe me you do not want to get involved with him, no matter how desperate you are.’ Joe walked slowly towards the steps that led up to the door inside, speaking over his shoulder as he limped away.
‘It’s too late for the advice, besides, I know exactly what I’m doing.’ Ken shook his head in disbelief, wondering what was said between the two men and what agreement Joe has made.
As Joe reached the bottom of the steps, he stared up at the two guards who were looking all around the yard except for where Bruce was doing business. Taking a few steps up the concrete, holding the rail to balance himself, he felt a sharp pain throughout his body that quickly immobilised him. He quickly dropped to one knee as the pain worsened. One of the guards shouted down to him.
Joe turned himself away from the guard and sat on the step to gain his breath as the guard continue to yell.
‘No stopping on the steps. You’re either up or down, which one is it?’ Joe ignored the instructions as he didn’t have the energy to move any further. He could hear the guard walking down the steps as he continued to bark orders. ‘Are you deaf or stupid? I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. Now move!’ He pushed the sole of his boot into Joe’s back that made him stumble down a couple of steps, reaching his hand out to the rail to stop him going any further. The guard took two more steps; he was now one higher than Joe. Taking his baton with a firm grip in his hand, the guard pressed the end of it onto the nape of Joe’s neck.
‘You’re either going to move or I make you, there’s no stopping on these steps.’
Ken, who had previously taken his spot back on the concrete ledge, spotted the guard standing over Joe’s frail body. He heard the odd word coming from the guard but nothing that made him aware of the subject of the altercation. Quickly standing from his perch he walked across the dirt ground towards them.
‘What’s going on?’ he shouted as he got to the bottom of the steps. The guard looked up at Ken.
‘This don’t involve you, nigger,’ he said pointing his baton at Ken, ‘Now get back to your business before you give me a reason to bust open your coconut head.’ Not paying attention to the guard’s orders, Ken started to ascend the concrete steps.
‘Don’t take another step,’ the guard shouted, lifting his baton high above his head. Ken stepped up once more, to the step below Joe, who could hardly breathe from the pain he was carrying. Although he was two steps below him, Ken still towered over the guard. His stature intimidated the man in his pressed blue uniform. ‘You both need to move, now!’ The guard shouted with a shiver in his voice. By this point, everyone in the yard was watching the confrontation and the guard knew that if he didn’t show his authority, he wouldn’t last long in his job. He raised his baton higher over his head and quickly pulled it down with as much strength as possible towards Joe’s hand on the metal railing. Ken quickly reached out at the weapon, stopping it a few inches before it hit the fingers of an already struggling Joe.
‘That won’t be necessary. I got this.’ said Ken gripping the baton with one hand. The guard, grasped the baton with both hands, tried to pull it free from Ken’s hold but with no success. Ken let go of the stick, causing the guard to fall backwards onto the steps. He placed his arm under Joe’s and lifted him off the step. He held Joe upright and walked him back down to the yard area, his feet barely touching the floor; he looked like a doll in the arms of the big man.
The guard took to his feet and walked back to the top of the steps. Captain Richards was standing, waiting for him to return. He angrily grabbed the guard by the arm and dragged him inside the doors, slamming it behind him.
‘You think you’re going to survive like this?’ Ken asked as he propped Joe up against the cold grey ledge in between the other inmates.
‘I’ll be ok,’ said Joe holding his ribs to try and gain his breath, ‘I just need to take it easy.’ Just as Ken sat down next to him, the bell rang, indicating the end of yard time.
‘That’s it for today,’ said Ken pulling Joe to his feet, ‘everyone gets 30 minutes outside unless you’re one of the lucky ones who has a job in the garden or you get to go on work detail, but you need to be sucking off the Warden to get a deal like that.
Ken stooped down to Joe, lifted him up and tossed his arm around his neck. They slowly walked up the steps with the other inmates and through a door to a windowless, cold corridor. One by one the inmates were all ushered back to the cell block in an orderly line. Ken kept his hold on Joe, making sure he didn’t fall. Captain Richards stepped out from around a corner in front of them.
‘What have we done this time?’ he said as he looked Joe up and down.
‘He’s hurt bad, he needs to see the doctor,’ said Ken as he held on tight under Joe’s arms.
‘Well then, let’s get this man to the infirmary. Guards,’ Richards shouted as he signalled two guards from the side, ‘take him to see the doctor.’ The two guards grabbed Joe away from Ken’s side and carried him, dragging his feet behind him. Along the block, in front of his cell, Joe became weak and could feel his eyes getting heavy, eventually blacking out as they dragged his lifeless body into the elevator.
Once again Joe could see the morning sun shining through the window, a shadow cast across his face from the painted white bars. Lying on his side as the heat radiated on his face, he could hear the soft sound of a woman singing. He closed his eyes for a moment, imagining Gina singing to their daughter Mary.
‘Joe?’ said the voice softly, ‘Are you awake?’ It was Francis; she was sitting on the edge of his bed. He turned slowly onto his back, holding one arm across his abdomen.
‘What time is it?’ he said wincing in pain, ‘have I been here long?’ Francis pushed a tablet into his mouth and held out a cup of water.
‘You came in yesterday morning and have been asleep ever since.’ she said as he took the cup and sipped the water, ‘I heard you stirring about twenty minutes ago so thought I would bring you some painkillers for when you woke up. It seems like you need it.’ Joe passed the cup back to Francis and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
‘The pain is so hard’, he said as he tried to get more comfortable, ‘I thought I was getting better.’ Francis held the cup in her hand, staring down at the light reflecting off the water.
‘I don’t know what to say, Joe.’ she said as she rubbed her thumb around the rim of the cup, ‘Doctor Gable thinks there’s something wrong with you.’
‘I know,’ said Joe with a look of derision, ‘I can still feel the pain that was handed to me by the Warden and his goons.’ Francis placed the cup on the trolley beside her and reached for Joe’s hand. Holding it with care, she looked him in the eyes.
‘He thinks you have something more than a few bruises and a cracked rib, he wants to do some tests.’ Joe sat up as best he could.
‘What do you mean, tests?’ he asked, ‘Please Franny, what’s wrong with me?’ She held his hand tightly between hers and looked at him as his eyes welled up with tears.
‘I don’t know, Joe. But I’m sure he’ll help you, no matter what it is. And I’ll always be here for you.’ Joe could see that there was more to what was being said than the words coming out of her mouth, but also knew that he wasn’t going to get the answers he felt he deserved.
Standing up and pushing the trolley to one side, Francis took something out of her pocket. It was a small piece of paper that had been folded several times with care. She unfolded it and held it in front of her.
‘Do you know why you’re here, Joe?’ she said, looking at the paper clutched between her fingers. Joe looked at her as she stared down at the paper in her hands.
‘No,’ he said with eyes still filled with tears, ‘I just can’t remember. I know that Gina doesn’t want anything to do with me and she’ll probably make sure I won’t see Mary again.’ Francis walked around the bed and stood between Joe and the window, causing a dark shadow to be cast across his face.
‘Are you sure?’ she said as Joe squinted his eyes to see more than a silhouette.
‘I’m telling you, I don’t remember a thing. I just know that I wasn’t in court for long. What I do remember is that I got arrested at my home and was taken to hospital because I had some injuries.’ Francis looked at him with concern.
‘Who injured you?’
‘I don’t know it’s all a blur.’ said Joe as he rubbed his brow frustrated that he could not remember. Gazing up at the fluorescent light buzzing above his bed he had a sudden realisation.
‘Wait, I remember being in a fight at my apartment and I got shot by whoever was there, I think it must have been a burglar. That’s about it, before I was taken to hospital and then straight to court. I don’t remember much from the hospital besides the fact I slept most of the time. In court, I don’t recall what was being said while I was there; just know that I couldn’t see Gina, only a few people I didn’t recognise. Oh, and my brother was there, I think. But I can’t really be sure.’
Francis held the piece of paper out to him, he took it slowly with one hand and could see it was a newspaper clipping.
‘What’s this?’ he said as he lifted it to his eye level.
‘It was in this week’s paper. It’s about you, Joe. It says that you committed murder.’ Seeing a picture of himself dressed in his army uniform, the day he was shipped off to Laos, with the headline “Ex-Army Private Sentenced to 15 Years” He read the short article, muttering the words to himself:
Joseph Parcoli of New York City has been sentenced to fifteen years in Hampton Penitentiary for the murder of his wife Gina, 29 and their 12 month old daughter, Mary. Having returned to their home after celebrating Mary’s first birthday at the County Fair, an altercation between Joseph and his wife resulted in several gunshots being heard by passers-by. What the court heard was that Gina tried to defend herself with a gun from an onslaught by her husband. After what was described as a brutal attack, Parcoli shot her several times with his own gun, shortly before murdering their daughter in cold blood.
Joe dropped the clipping on the floor before he could continue, his eyes streaming with tears. He placed his hands over his face, not wanting for Francis to see him crying. Picking up the paper from the floor, Francis caressed his arm gently.
‘I want to know the truth, Joe. I hope you can trust me. Did you kill her?’ There was no response from Joe, only a deep, muffled sobbing sound. ‘Did you know any of this?’ said Francis as she gently touched the back of his hands.
Joe quickly hit her hand away. ‘Get Out!’ he shouted angrily. Francis didn’t try again to get an answer, she just stood up and pushed the trolley towards the door, stopping to turn and look at Joe once more.
‘I’m sorry, Joe. I’m sorry,’ she said as she pushed the trolley through the door, closing it behind her.
As she stood outside Joe’s room, Francis heard a bellowing scream from inside, drowning out the sound of anything else that was going on in the infirmary. Shedding a tear for the news that she had just given him, she was determined to help, but was not sure how that was going to be done.