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Revenge is a dish best served cold. 

In The Gutter, it pays the bills.

Cuffs by Paul Heatley

Sometimes, the correction officers forget to double-lock the cuffs.

If you behave yourself, keep your head down, and you’re no kind of threat to them, the cuffs are for little more than show while you’re being transported.

The links are easily popped. A comb will do the trick. A comb can be useful for a lot of things. Keep one end intact, use the wide teeth to get the cuffs open, and sharpen the other end to a point. Keep it on yourself at all times. Keep it fucking hidden.

They send me down for breaking and entering, for assault. It’s against my ex-wife, but I didn’t beat her as bad as we made it look. She knew about it. That’s why the kid, our kid, wasn’t home, but at her grandmother’s. The black eye, the split lip, and busted eyebrow were all for show. The screaming was so the neighbours would call the cops, which they did.

My ex pressed charges. I knew she would. I told her to. That was what we worked out.

See, now the family's cared for. The rest of their lives, money is no longer an issue.

The rest of my life, I’m gonna be behind bars. I’ve made my peace with that.

Big John was head of the Brotherhood. His son runs it now since Big John got locked up for conspiracy to kill an undercover cop.

Thing is, that cop has a brother. His brother’s a C.O. That C.O. has an issue with Big John.

The CO would shove and trip Big John, even threw him down some stairs once and busted up his ribs. Big John weathered it at first, but after a while he got sick of the shit. They came to blows. The rest of the officers came rushing in with riot gear, beating Big John within an inch of his life. He spent two months in a hospital cot.

Big John has toed the line since. He’s kept his head down, been all “Yes, sir. No, sir.” But he’s been waiting. He sent word to his son that the C.O. motherfucker had to go. No blowback.

No blowback on anyone but me.

Now it’s my turn to wait and bide my time.

They take me out of my cell. To the gym, to the yard, and the showers. I affiliate with no one. I behave. “Yes, sir. No, sir.” I’m polite. My eyes rarely leave the floor. I’m no threat to them. When they flip my cell, they don’t find a thing.

I’m not a threat, so my cuffs aren’t double-locked.

It’s almost time.

A comb. That’s all it takes. On one end, I snap off the teeth and sharpen it to a point. On the other end, I keep the teeth.  

My mom comes to visit. She knows why she’s here. She knows what’s going to happen.

Big John’s C.O. takes me to the visiting room.

“How’re you doing?” Mom says. I can see in her eyes she knows what’s coming. She’s not going to see me again for a long time. Her jaw is clenched and her chin is raised. She’s trying to stay strong.

I tell her I’m fine.

“Are you ready?” she asks.

I tell her I am. I’ve had a long time to get ready. Then I ask her if the Brotherhood is keeping up their end.

“Yeah,” she says. She clears her throat, fighting back tears. “They are.”

I nod and take a deep breath. It’s time.

On the way back, Big John’s C.O. single-clicks my cuffs. The comb is tucked in my waist. We’re up on the gangway, almost back to my cell, when I pull out the comb and pop the link. I spin and stick the comb in his neck.

The first shot takes him by surprise. He falls back against the railing, hands to his throat. Blood sprays down on the inmates below.

In the cells around us, men yell, scream, grab their bars, and jump up and down like they’re trying to tear loose and start a riot. Toilet paper flies.

I stick him in the stomach until he drops his hands from his throat, then go back to his neck. He has to die.

If he doesn’t die, the Brotherhood won’t take care of my ex or my kid. 

I stick his neck until I’m covered in his blood and his eyes roll back in his head.

Even though he’s dead, I keep sticking in the sharpened comb until the other officers arrive in their riot gear and beat me down with their clubs. 

When I’m down, they stomp me and break my bones. I probably won’t walk again without a limp. I don’t feel it because the C.O. is dead. It’s done. I curl up, close my eyes, and wait for it to be over.

Big John will keep his word. If he doesn’t, I’ll stick him in the fucking neck, too.

Paul Heatley has appeared online and in print for a variety of publications including Thuglit, Crime Syndicate, Horror Sleaze Trash, Shotgun Honey, and Spelk. He is the author of An Eye For An Eye, published by Near To The Knuckle, and has a novella due with All Due Respect in May. He lives in the north east of England.