The Jackson Cage

There's a difference between jail and prison, just as there's a difference between boys and men.

But to get to either one, you must go through the cage.

The Jackson Cage by Chris Leek

I walked over to the wall and took a lean. Rule one is keep your back to it; nobody can jump you through concrete.

A police cell ain’t prison and holding tanks are the same all over. I knew that better than most. I’d been in them since I was fourteen and the cage had taught me more than my piece-of-shit old man ever did; it was the one constant in my world. The smell of body odor mixed with piss and regrets; the hard stares from empty eyes. The same four walls of misery, no matter if you were in Carson or Chattanooga.

I looked around for a friendly patch and struck out, that was nothing new either. Nomad is a hard ride and I was a long way from church.

This tank was a Saturday night special; local PD had scraped the shit off their shoes and locked it away for the weekend. There was an AB limp-dick stood at the far end, his sweat-stained wife-beater revealing arms and a neck covered with crooked symbols of white-powered hate. It took a special kind of idiot to ink the 88 on his jugular and feel good about it. I saw him checking out my cut when I walked in. My top rocker tells its own story, and ole Alice Baker here should know better than to fuck with the 1%, assuming of course he could read.

The other end of the cage was Barrio turf. Soul patches and sideways looks from three Mexicali street soldiers. These smart boys had done the math and figured the numbers made them top turds in this shitter. They were fist bumping each other and giving me the stink eye.

I gave it right back.

I wasn’t looking for trouble with white or brown, but rule two is, don’t flinch. Fear is like blood in these waters and sharks could smell it a mile away.  

The rest of the congregation was a bottom draw mix of drug store cowboys and third generation white trash. They clung to the walls like fat girls at a senior prom, praying nobody asked them dance. Their eyes searched the floor hoping to find salvation in the cracked tile.

“Hey, motorhead, I like your boots.”

The shout came from south of the border. I ignored it.

“Hey, I’s talking to you.”

The Chola with the biggest hard-on moved towards me with a ghetto swagger. You know the drill, arms held wide, palms face up, head weaving from side to side like he was dodging bullets.


The look on his face told me it wasn’t everyday he got told to go fuck himself. Maybe he was somebody back home in his sewer—the undisputed king of two crapped-out city blocks full of dead ends and bad deals.

In here, he was pissing me off.

A viente! Now, you gonna bleed bitch.” 

Rule three: there is always someone with a bigger nut sack than you.

I had learned long ago to only pick the fights I could win, or at least those I could walk away from. Jose here was young, dumb and full of cum. He already had the chalk outline drawn around him; all I had to do was provide the crime.  

He opened up and swung at me like a rusty screen door. I blocked it with my forearm and ducked inside, working his kidneys with three sharp jabs and making sure he would wake up pissing blood in the morning. He buckled, but I’ll give him some dues, he didn’t fold.

His hombres were cheerleading  but neither of them seemed inclined to join in. Everyone else was just enjoying watching a good old-fashioned ass-kicking. It was time to take Jose to school.

I feigned with a right and then drove a hard left into his gut. This time he folded in half. I grabbed a hunk of his greasy hair and mashed a knee into his nose. He tried to scream but it came out all mangled. I let him go and he slumped to the floor. 

School was out.

He lay amongst the stains and the lung butter, gasping for breath; his face a grade school painting of snot and blood. I glanced over at the cop sat behind the booking desk. He was time served with dog years spent breaking up bar fights; risking his life for a dime-bag narc bust. His 30K a year and the lousy health plan added up to exactly how many fucks he didn’t give.

He was looking anywhere but in here.

“You like these boots, Ese?” I said and kicked out Jose’s smile.

That’s the final rule, number four: If nobody’s looking, fuck the rules. 

Chris Leek is part of the Zelmer Pulp team that recently gave the world “Hey, That Robot Ate My Baby!” There’s no need to thank him. His crime fiction had been published by: Out Of The Gutter, Near To The Knuckle and All Due Respect, Shotgun Honey, Spintingler Magazine and Grift Magazine He still has all his own teeth and will work for beer.