Wednesday, October 7, 2009

One Tree City (pt.2 of 13)

I'm sitting in jail, and there are no windows. There's not much of anything. I've been in for three years, which isn't so bad considering the tally marks on the wall when I got in this place. They're supposed to repaint for a new occupant, like you're some high class renter, but they don't. Anyway, so I lied when I said there wasn't much of anything. There are tons of scratches on the wall. What's the term for the way you tally numbers up to five by making four vertical and then crossing 'em? Well that's them. Hundreds. It's a well-loved cell.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I'm no longer in option one. I was writing from option one last time. Well, it was a mix of option one and option two. Now, it's closer to two, and I definitely don't fit option one circumstance. Capiche? Excellent.

I'm sitting in my cell. Ok, I'll start that again.

I was sitting in my cell staring at the tally marks when Loony Jake walked by on his way to his daily twenty minutes of solitary in the indoor yard. Why people call it a yard is anyone's guess. It's not a yard. It's half of a basketball court with some old bonsai tree in the corner. I think the tree was supposed to be a joke. Like it made the yard a beautiful place of zen and peace. Bullcrap.

Anyway, Loony Jake was on his way to the yard when he shot me a glance and said "I've got something for you when I get back." I didn't really take too much notice of it. Neither did the two guards.

On his way back from the yard, Loony Jake didn't even look at me. He didn't say anything either. I wrote it off as Loony Jake. He's name is Loony Jake, there's a reason.

Well now I know, write or wrong, that there's a reason. Then I thought I knew. Anyway, three weeks after his failed promise he gets out of solitary, not the yard, but real solitary and he visits me in the mess. Three weeks later.

I usually sit alone. It's amazing that there's space to sit alone when you're eating. The movies would like you to believe that there's chaos and hell at chow time. Really, people just want to eat and be left the fuck alone. Like me.

"Hey Jazzy." He said.

"Leave me the fuck alone, Loony Jake." I said.

"I could do that, but I don't think you'd want me to. Here." And he rolled me an orange. An orange.

Maybe you don't know this, but you don't get oranges in prison. You could use the citric acid to poison someone or concentrate it and burn through cement. Seriosuyl though, I'm kidding. Though those might be possible. The reason you don't get oranges is because they're pretty and they taste good. Like me. Neither oranges nor I belong in prison.

"No shit." I said.

"Yeah, it's like you. Pretty and it tastes good."

"No shit," I said again. What is this? Does Loony Jake read minds? "How do you know I taste good?"

"I don't. But I know you think you do. Prissy little ballerina."

Woah. Loony Jake wasn't talking as Loony as usual. He sounded more like the regular crowd. So I listened.

"Do you want me to save this for later?" I asked him.

"Seriously Jazzy. It's like you. It's pretty and it doesn't taste good."

I think at this moment that I like Loony Jake. "So what is it?"

"It's an electron ball."

I shake my head.

"An electron ball?" I have no idea what that is. But I bet it doesn't look like an orange.

"Yup. An electron ball. My employer wanted you to have it, for free. With his compliments. It's a mighty expensive thing, this ball."

"I have no doubt. Wait. Your employer? You're employed?"


I look at him for a long moment. I stare into his wily eyes and check the pock marks on his face. This man has been around. I mean around. He knows more than I do and he's conning me into something for conning me from something I own. Or something like that. Now that he's gotten me to like him, he wants something from me. Typical. Just like the regular crowd. I think I should be done listening now, but I'm hooked. Plus, I'm not going anywhere.

"What do I do with it?"

"Ah yes, his compliments and some instructions. First, to know how it works. Are you ready for this?"

I shake my head but mostly out of disbelief that I'm having a conversation with a lunatic than from an unwillingness to participate in whatever's about to happen. Murder One, remember? I'm in here for life. "Go ahead," I say.

"You know electrons. Not personally, but at least of them?"

"I do."

"Great. I do too. You may now kiss the bride." He leans in closer as if to kiss me, which is more the Loony Jake I know, but then he whispers. "Once we start this, we finish it, got it? This ends with you dead or out of prison." And then he backs off and keeps talking as if nothing happened. One doesn't whisper in prison. Not for long, usually not conspicuously. Loony Jake gets away with a lot.

My mind wanders for more than I want it to, but I catch back up with him at the word Tauon.

"—tauons. They have the same charge as an electon, but a much much greater mass." He paused for a second or so, I must have been checked out for a while, but with the threat of death, I wasn't going to apologize.

"I see." He continued. "You checked out for a moment. What I said earlier is true. They call me Loony, but only because they can't keep up. So you gotta keep up Jazz-man. We’re counting on it. Now listen. I was at tauons. They're in the orange."

"The orange that’s not an orange."

"Exactly. For now just know this is the most expensive orange you've ever seen. The time and money getting the charge into the micro-capacitors in there. Damn son. Anyway, Tauons are hard to catch, and when someone bites into that, their face will be ripped off."

No one I know of has ever bitten into an orange without peeling it, and I say so.

"Right, right. Of course. So when he peels it, you make sure you're not in the direction of the first tear."

"Fine, I see. And how do I get out of the cell?"

"The tear will destabilize the electron configurations of the atoms. Think super intense radiation. But not to worry, you won't be killed in the process."

"If I'm not in the way?"


Now, he was sounding like Loony Jake. And I guess he knew it. Done, he stood up, leaving the orange of course, and left.

Now I guess he split because he doesn't ever want anyone bored with him. He's always on the go. And I'll tell you, I wasn't bored later that evening when I watched Dean Cooper's face do a weird puff of dust then melt off. Yes, melt off. The right side. The whole head puff of dusted, and the right side melted.

As you can guess, I took the orange.

I put it on the little outcropping above my bed.

So now we're at later that day. And you should know that one of the guards always comes by after the Center has locked us down for lights out. For whatever reason they do it. Even though the Center's locked us down, they do it. Even though the Center controls everything and there's nothing we could do in our cells to hurt anyone, they still walk by.

Dean Cooper especially. He loves the last round of the day. Dean's the reason that Handover Correctional is called One Tree City. The bonsai in the solitary rec room? It was his idea.

I remember that he used to say it was like a Christmas tree. That the bribes left underneath were like Christmas. That the inmates at Handover could be happy that they got Christmas whenever they wanted at any time of the year, that is, if they could pay the price.

So The Coop's doing the round tonight and he looks through my bars and I suddenly realize that I've been set-up. I realize that Dean's here because it's some kind of sting. That maybe Dean's clamping down on the black market here at One Tree. I neglected to mention earlier that the reason Loony's only recently been out of solitary (he's an old dude) is since he killed a guy. A guy in prison. The other dude deserved it though, so the guards took it easy.

Anyway, Dean says to himself, I can hear it because he's facing me, "I never let that orange in here."

That makes my mind race. The Coop sees everything that comes through the black market at One Tree. Dean Cooper is the black market at one tree.

It's important to know that all guards have an override to get into the cells. There's a central shut down, but if someone's got to get into a cell, the last watch on duty can do it without calling in. The last watch can pull a lot of shit without it getting reported. Every call to the Center is reported.

"Hey Sassy Jazzman Teague," he calls to me. "Where'd you get that orange?"

It's always better to play stupid. More people than not actually buy into it, probably because they think they're smarter than you.

"What orange?" I say.

"The one above your head, genius. Throw it to me."

Sometimes, being in a cell, can be a twisted kind of power. "Watchman Cooper," I say, "I don't know what you're talking about."

He takes his key and slips it in the lock. The bars slide open as I stand up and put my hands against the empty wall opposite my bed.

"You going to stay there?" Cooper asks me.

"You’re the boss, boss. I'll stay just like this." I crane my head over though, to watch him. For some reason, I take Looney Jake's warning seriously enough to not want to be near Dean's first peel.

He picks the orange up off the small shelf. It's conspicuous, for sure. Namely the orange color next to the pale sick whites of my stall—pardon me, I meant cell. Cooper tosses it in his hands once, and squeezes it a little bit. He's just as convinced it's an orange as I was.

"You mind telling me where you got this?"

"That orange? I don't know, I picked it up at the cafeteria. Fruit, for a fruit, right?"

He's unconvinced. "Yeah." He says. "Right."

He gets a look on his face, one that means he's ready to make a deal.

"I tell you what Teague. I get to keep the orange, and you get to stay out of solitary for a week."

"What?" I say. This doesn't deserve solitary. "Solitary? That's steep."

"Yeah Jazzy," He turns and looks at me with the power trip eyebrow furrow that no one wants to look at, mostly because it's ugly, but also because it does its job. "I want to know how you got this fruit past me." He smells it again. "It didn't come through in a rectum."

I shake my head. I wouldn't ever want something that big in my rectum. Ever. "You're right there," I say. "I don't think it did."


That's the last word he says. "Fine."

It's weird to watch someone die as they finish a sentence. It's not like most movies. It's like those unpopular movies that you never see because they don't make death something more than it is.

He peeled into the orange, and then, well, and then he just stopped speaking. That, and his whole face poofed like a dusty dandruff ball and then the right side of his face from the top down to his chest turned into a kind of goo and melted to the floor. Both he and the goo hit the floor at the same time, actually.

That's when I said

"Holy fucking shit."

Which is a phrase in the English language that really means:

"Huh. Apparently my brain is incapable of processing what I just saw, so I'm going to spill something out of the orifice I eat with that is as language in pure form related to shit from an asshole as red hot chili peppers are out of an asshole in whole red hot chili pepper form when you can't metabolize red hot chili peppers so you don't have time to react to the consequence of eating them so they come out whole red chili peppers."

Or something.

Also, apparently Dean Cooper, marvelous man of procedure that he is, had left the cell door open, which one thing one never does when doing spot prisoner checking, lest he pull a one over on you and get out.

So I, as quickly as wits allowed, pulled my non-goo(ed) and alive person together and slipped out the door.

"That went quite well." Said Loony Jake, standing in front of me.

"Perhaps it did," I said. "I mean. Holy fucking shit." I said. "What exactly is it that went, exactly?"

To which Looney Jake said, "Follow me."

So I did.

Now, for some unknown reason, solitary at One Tree is in a corner cell. My opinion is that corner cells as solitary are a waste of prime real estate. But no one cares about my opinion. Not even Looney Jake.

See, Looney Jake was locking us into solitary. The solitary door is off The Center. It's manual. Two locks that each click (and yes, these do click) behind you if you get stuffed inside.

My opinion was that we shouldn't close the door to solitary behind us.

Looney Jake said, and I quote, "I didn't ask for your opinion."

Ok, so that's not quite the same as not caring. But it's close.

With The Coop dead. And the two of us locked in solitary. And me totally confused. And not only confused but really anxious and a little scared. I feel a breeze.

"What's that?" I ask.

"It's a breeze." Says Looney Jake.

"Yeah, from where?"

The lights are on in the cell. It's the same super pale, almost white sick green color as the rest of them. Usually the lights in solitary are off.

Looney Jake points to the corner. "Push it."

I walk over to it and reach out, not to push the wall, but to feel the air. It feels like one million dollars. I don't give two shits about inflation, one million dollars is a lot of money, and that's what the breeze feels like.

After I feel the breeze, I push on the corner. It's not cinderblock, by the way, it's steel in solitary, so you can kill yourself if you bang your head against it. No joke.

Sorry, I put a tangent in there. That paragraph, as another try, should be read more like this one.

After I feel the breeze, I push on the corner. It's a solid wall of steel, or rather, it's supposed to be. My hand pushes through it. It crumbles to dust and I start coughing badly, not my hand, the wall. The wall crumbles to dust and I cough. It's a bad cough. The kind you get when you inhale small particulates you know are going to give you cancer.

"Wow," says Looney Jake. "Sorry. I didn't expect it to be that soft. Try covering your mouth with your shirt."

I hate people who vocalize an idea at exactly the instant you have one in your head. There should be a word for that and it should be cooler than déjà vu, because when it happens, it's really freaking annoying. Plus, the idea would have been better even three seconds previous to my coughing fit.

In any event, Looney Jake takes his own advice and covers his face with his shirt and pushes the whole corner down. There's dust everywhere, so I cover my face. Rather than wait for the dust to settle, which would have been a good idea, I walk through it.

And fall ten feet onto the ground.

With itchy eyes and a chalky mucus filled mouth I uncover my face to accept the outside world. There's still twenty yards and a barbed wire fence until freedom. But it's a nice feeling, that freedom feeling, even if it's clouded with fear, anxiety, and wonder.

Looney Jake lands next to me. "Don't just stand here. Run you ballerina!"

Jake runs straight out, he's quick. Much quicker than he should be at his age, especially with the amount of time he's spent not moving very much at all.

I follow him.

He tosses two oranges up at the towers to our sides and there's an intense flash of light.

"Sorry about that!" He yells from in front of me, but blinded by the light, I can't see.

"I can't see you!" I call out.

"Shut up and keep running!"

For a brief moment I think that if Looney Jake is setting me up to fail now in front of the guns, then he's a genius and I'm the hugest dupe ever. Though gratifyingly, I have taken part of the most improbable jailbreak ever. Anyway, in that moment I almost decide to run back toward the prison and plead innocence.

But only almost. But it's a really close almost! But it's still an almost.

Besides, why would anyone run back to prison when they just got out of jail free?

When my sight returns to me I'm on the other side of the fence.

There are some sirens behind us. And yells. All things considered our getaway was rather soundless, so comparatively the night sky is just beginning to wake up.

There's a hummer when we stop.

And a driver. A lady driver. A beautiful lady driver.

"Get in," she says.

So, I do.

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