Get busy living or get busy dying. Same holds true for fighting, too.
Or maybe we should go with ... 50 eggs? No man can eat 50 eggs!
Or maybe we should go with ... 50 eggs? No man can eat 50 eggs!
Goodtime by Paul Newman
A buzz like an eight-hundred-pound hornet echoed down the tier and bounced off the sheet metal walls. A moment later every door down the hallway clicked and the metal gates slid open.
A voice shouted: “RECREATION. EVERYBODY OUT. SANCHEZ, JONES, GET YOUR ASSES TO THE DUTY DESK.”
Miguel sighed. Sometimes he was Miguel, sometimes even Magoo, but whenever he was Sanchez it wasn’t good news. He slid into his low-tops and shuffled up the hallway.
Sammy was waiting at the desk; Miguel knew it would be him. Gene was likely to tell you about his grandkids, and Fred just liked to bullshit, but Sammy was usually good for some blood.
“I’m disappointed in you Sanchez, you should have known better.”
Miguel knew the game; he even bowed his head when he answered. “Sorry, Boss. It’s the smoke, you know. I just can’t quit.” All this shit over a two-inch rollie. Not a razorblade taped to a toothbrush, not a cell phone: just ditch-weed rolled up in toilet paper.
“They want me to send you up to the seventh floor.” Sammy shook his head. “There goes all that goodtime you earned, too.”
“Come on boss, you don’t want to do that.”
Miguel knew Sammy was full of shit. Knew that he hadn’t even reported it. Sammy smiled, just like Miguel knew he was gonna. He smiled and looked down at his clipboard, “Well, maybe we can work something out.” Miguel sighed. His knuckles were still scabbed over from the last time, but there were worse things than bloody knuckles.
Sammy laughed. “A’right, go get ready. Time for Thunderdome.”
Miguel made his way back to the cell. He fished out a commissary Milky Way from under his mattress and chewed on it. It was just a few minutes more until rec-time was over and everybody hustled ass back to the tiers before the CO’s came and spot checked the cells. Another angry buzz filled the hallway and the doors ground shut.
Minutes later, the door to cell three popped back open and Miguel headed to the exercise quad. That was the “correctional science” name for the center-square shoebox created by four halls of cells overlaid like a tic-tac-toe board.
Casper was there waiting. There was a puddle on the concrete at his feet where he’d already pissed himself. The observation windows were full of faces, a dozen men in black tactical jumpsuits and a few like Sammy in shiny white uniform shirts. They laughed and grab-assed and shoved at each other for a better view.
Miguel looked over at Casper, “Looks like it’s you and me, bro.”
There wasn’t any answer, but the smell of piss and flop-sweat barbed Miguel somewhere deep. The fear in the air tickled his gut before it settled in his fists and twitched. Miguel felt bad for the kid, bad for his own reaction, bad for what he knew had to happen next.
Miguel found Sammy’s face in the window. “Hey, Boss? If I hit this kid, he’s gonna puke on me!”
Sammy grinned and shook his head “Then you gotta stick and move, boy. Stick and move.” The chain link over the windows rattled as they all laughed.
Miguel brought his hands up and started in. Casper’s eyes got wider but his hands were still dead weights dangling at the end of whiskey-dick arms. Miguel got close and leaned in and whispered: “Quicker you go down, quicker it’s over. The hole beats the shit out of the hospital.”
Casper didn’t answer, didn’t nod, didn’t fight. Instead he folded up his legs and sat down right in the puddle on the bare concrete floor.
“Fuck that!” “Get the little pussy up!” The shouts bounced off the walls and Miguel saw Sammy move out of the window. Metal ground on metal and the heavy door opened. Sammy had his baton out and he was looking at Miguel.
“Naw, boss. All I said was I told him was to say a Hail Mary. You know, just mind-fucking him.”
Sammy wasn’t smart enough to know if he should believe it or not but he didn’t give a shit either way. “Whatever the hell you said, you shouldn’t’a said it. It’s your ass if he doesn’t bleed. Get him up off the floor.”
Miguel reached down and grabbed the front of Casper’s shirt and pulled. The young man’s legs followed along for the ride and left him standing. Miguel looked over at Sammy one more time; he saw the man lick his lips to keep from slobbering all over his shit-eating grin.
Miguel tried to go easy, the first one went to the gut, maybe he could get away with one to the gut and a couple in the ribs and call it good. As soon as Miguel felt the first punch land he remembered to move out of the way but it was too late; the damn kid puked all over the front of him. The faces in the windows were laughing at him now.
The anger climbed on top of him and became everything; Miguel felt another punch in his knuckles before he even knew he threw it. He felt something crumble in Casper’s face but by now it was too late; he liked it.
Miguel let go of the front of Casper’s shirt and let him fall. He kicked and caught the boy once in the belly on the way down then he kicked and kicked again and again, digging hard up under the ribs. Miguel was home; familiar ground and familiar blood and the calming white-noise that filled the space behind his eyes. He didn’t stop until someone grabbed his arms from behind in a bear hug and spun him around; it was Sammy. “A’right, enough. Enough.” Sammy was laughing as he spoke. “Go wash that shit off yourself and clean up.” He pushed Miguel toward the door where a pair of black jumpsuits waited to take him back to his cell.
Miguel pulled the shirt over his head, tried not to let anything wet touch his face, then stood and stared down where Casper was curled up. The half of his face that showed was the busted half; meaty and wet.
“Sanchez, I told you to get your ass back to the tier.”
Miguel dropped his shirt on the ground. “I’m done, Sammy. I’m tired. Send me up to seven, I’ll sleep the rest of my time.”
“Are you shitting me? No trustee means no goodtime. You want to give that up?”
Sammy shrugged. “Good enough for me.”
The baton got him behind the knee, then again over a kidney. Miguel went to his knees then face down on the hard floor. His shoulders wrenched up and back and he felt the cuffs go on. Cold, always cold like they keep ’em ready and waiting in the freezer.
“Can’t send you up to seven now, Sanchez. We got an assault here. New charges means you gotta go to the hole. There goes all that good time, too. You’re movin’ the wrong way, motherfucker. Movin’ the wrong way.” Sammy laughed like that was the best part of all.
Miguel tried to get his legs under himself when they lifted but they yanked too hard anyway and pulled him across the floor and out the doorway. Miguel was moving the wrong way and he knew it, but he hoped that maybe now he could figure out another way to go, even if it meant starting from the hole.