Act II


Monday:

The bus hit another rut, and Jim groaned knowingly as the motion caused him to bump once again into the prisoner sitting next to him. With a shrug of his shoulders, he offered a look that said 'What'cha want me to do about it?' and received a cold glare in return. He wondered if they were ever going to reach Starkville; the bus was hot, stuffy and the smell...

Rubbing at his manacled hands, he was anxious for the ride to end and to begin his investigation. Twenty other prisoners filled the bus and he stared at their faces. Some had looks of indifference, some were angry, others scared, but none were familiar. He only hoped that Maggie Chandler had kept her word and transferred out those who knew him.

He glanced out the window and saw the prison coming into view. It looked like a cement fortress in the middle of a sea of green. Several miles of rolling hills and fields surrounded the prison, isolating it from the town of Starkville. The bus slowed as it approached the prison's gate, then after a short stop it continued into an inner yard.

With the exchange of paperwork, one-by-one, the prisoners shuffled down the bus's steps, their leg chains clanking with the movement, and were made to stand in line. Finding himself about midway in the row of orange-clad inmates, Jim noted the welcoming committee off to the side -- several guards and another man in a suit, probably the warden.

"On the line! Eyes front! You! Look alive!" a guard snarled. Short in stature, carrying an extra twenty pounds of weight, the man made up his shortcomings with the menacing look he wore on his face. "This is Warden Hanlon," he called out. "Man has something he wants to say to you."

The warden faced the new inmates. He looked more like a high-powered exec with his designer suit, long overcoat, and neatly coiffed hair than someone in charge of a prison. "Okay, gentlemen, it's no secret that you screwed up. That's why you're here. As for me, I don't care what you did. You already stood before a judge. Now, I'm here to give you a chance to get your lives back together." He paused, looking up and down the line, then said solemnly, "The choice is yours."

Hanlon walked away as the guard strutted in front of the prisoners, mouthing loudly, "Did you get that? I'm Sergeant Burnette and I own your asses. I'm your mother. I'm your father. When you close your eyes, you'll see me. When you open your eyes, you'll see me. I decide where you go, when you sleep, and when you get visitors." He stopped his tirade directly in front of Jim, but Jim kept his eyes fixed front, ignoring the presence of the guard. "Has anybody got a problem with that?" He stood, waiting for a response. When none were forthcoming, he asked again more forcibly, "I said, has anybody got a problem with that?"

A chorus of "No, sir," greeted the guard and he nodded approvingly.

With the welcoming speeches over, Jim found himself, along with the other prisoners, channeled through a maze of doors and hallways, eventually ending up at the receiving area. The inmates were each handed white boxers. Ordered to strip down, Jim quickly complied, slipped on the boxers and then rejoined the line forming against the wall. A young black man chuckled.

"What's so funny?" growled Burnette, getting in the inmate's face.

With downcast eyes, the youth mumbled, "Nothing."

"What?"

The black youth straightened up and said a little louder, "Nothing, sir."

"Do I look like I'm laughing?"

"No, sir."

"Because this place ain't a joke. Now you're going to join the others, and Officer Douglas," he said, pointing to a thin man with graying hair and a well-lined face, "over there's going to search you." Burnette raised his head and addressed the line of prisoners, "All of you. There'll be no talking."

To Jim, the whole process seemed endless, and he felt like a bull being herded from one place to another. One at a time they were searched and then hustled off for a quick medical evaluation.

The doctor sat behind a desk, a young black woman in a white lab coat, glasses perched upon the end of her nose. A stack of files rested next to her left hand. She removed the top file and began filling in the information, barely glancing at the man before her.

Jim stood in his newly issued boxers, hands behind his back, waiting patiently, all the time feeling like a specimen on display. He could see through the grated window the other inmates, dressed likewise, milling about the outer room.

"Hepatitis?"

He shook his head.

"Tuberculosis?"

Again, another negative nod.

"Syphilis?"

"No, thank you."

With that remark, the doctor finally put her pen down and took a good look at him, then picked the pen back up and checked off the appropriate boxes before continuing, "Any history of heart problems?"

"No, but, uh...one of your former guests said there were some decent people to be found if you looked. A Dr. Spenser for one?"

"Well, Dr. Spenser's no longer with us, but I'm his replacement, Dr. Wilder."

"Ah...well, you seem nice enough, Doc." He smiled.

Jim thought she was about to say something, but instead her gaze shifted toward the small interior window in her office. He followed her line of sight to see a guard, the skinny one called Douglas, watching them from the outer room. Quickly she closed the file and called out tersely, "Next."

Another inmate entered the room, and Jim realized that he was finished. Moving along, he lined up at the last stop. An old inmate stood by a service window; behind him, shelves lined the back wall with an assortment of state-issued prison clothes: underwear, socks, blue workshirts, denim jeans, and work boots. The monotony of the job was evident in the old man's voice as he repeated over and over, "Next man. What size?"


Officer Douglas escorted Jim through several gates and down a corridor. Now dressed and carrying a blanket and linens, Jim kept his eyes focused front, emotionless except for a slight twitching of his jaw, ignoring the inmates' catcalls and whispers as he walked by. He could feel their eyes checking him out, sizing him up. He was fresh meat.

Immersing himself deeper into the Curtis persona, he moved boldly; he knew not to make eye contact, to just keep walking.

Stopping in front of a cell, the guard gestured toward the opening. "Here's yours, right here, Curtis."

Jim glanced around, taking in the small 12-by-10-foot cell. "Home sweet home, huh?" Walking over to the bunks, he placed the bedding on the top one.

Douglas snorted. "Sense of humor. You'll need it." Leaving, the guard passed by a black inmate. "He's all yours, Turner."

Without turning around, Jim could feel the presence of the other man, large and angry.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

"I'm getting a bunk."

"That's mine."

Jim picked up the bedding and set it on the bottom bunk, saying casually, "No problem."

Now the voice was loud and heated. "I put down sixteen years in here. You just don't walk into my crib and act all comfortable, punk."

He turned to face his cellmate, not ready to back down yet. "The name's Curtis."

"You got a name when I give you one."

For several seconds, a minute -- Jim didn't know how long -- their eyes locked, each man apparently sizing the other up. Jim was the first to break contact. He knew he didn't need any enemies, but in prison there were no friends -- just people who wanted something. Turner looked like a 'gate gangster,' all talk and no action, trying to establish his control, especially with the other inmates watching on with interest from the corridor.

Softening his voice, he reasoned coolly, "Look, man, I don't have a beef with you."

Turner didn't relax, his body taut, muscles flexed; and he took a step closer to Jim, hissing, "You get in my face...we go to war."

Semi-acknowledging the remark with a shrug, Jim returned to making up the bottom bunk.


As Jim lay in bed, sleep being elusive, he tried to imagine himself back home. However, home didn't have starchy sheets and didn't smell like an old sock left for months in the bottom of a gym locker -- and it also didn't have hundreds of beating hearts in such close proximity. He scratched at a rash on his arm. Damn institutional laundry detergent! Scratching again, he tried to get settled, eventually rolling over and pounding his pillow.

Frustrated, he rested his head on his crossed arms and listened to the nighttime sounds. Extending his hearing, he allowed it to wander, searching for anything that might help in finding out what really had happened to Matt. Voices became clearer, drifting from different areas of the cellblock.

<Man, I got fifteen years on the back of my hand.>

<When I see my lady, you know what I'm going to do?>

<I'll trade you a blunt for some of that Jim Jones juice.>

Careful not to go too far, Jim reached out further with his hearing. A cell door creaked open and he winced at the grating noise.

<Let's go, Frazer. You're on the list.>

<No, I don't want to go, man.>

<You don't get a choice, Frazer. Move!>

<No, man, please. Pleeeaase!>

There was anguish in the man's voice, the panic palpable. Jim wondered where Frazer was being taken and what the list was that he'd mentioned. He stayed awake for a while longer, until all the sounds started to blend together, a dissonant mixture of noise, and he lowered his hearing. His eyelids drooped, now heavy with exhaustion, and after a few minutes he fell asleep.


Tuesday:

The loudspeaker blared with the wake-up call, jolting Jim awake. Wearily rubbing his eyes, he blinked several times, then sat up. Inwardly, he groaned at the time -- five-thirty A.M. -- too early after a night of little sleep. Scooting out of his bunk, he joined Turner at their cell door and waited for the head count. After the guard cleared the count, Jim made his bed and then got ready for breakfast.

Buttoning up his shirt, his stomach rumbled, and he wondered what he'd find on the menu. After the cell doors opened, the inmates made their way to the dining hall -- and to start another regimented day. Jim followed the flow of traffic, joining the others to wait in the cafeteria line. Food was dished out non-discriminately; a spoonful of this and a ladle of that were plopped onto plates and handed out.

Jim got his food and looked for a spot to sit -- some place where he could get a good view of the dining hall. A large man, with tattoos wrapping around both his well-developed biceps and looking to be part of the Aryan brotherhood, eyed him as he passed by with his tray. Now there was someone to avoid. What was his name? Vincent? Vinnie? No, Vinson.

Finding an empty table towards the back, he sat down and surveyed the meal before him. Watery scrambled eggs, a paste-like substance -- possibly oatmeal -- and soggy toast. Jim wrinkled his nose at the meal and turned down his sense of taste. Here goes nothing. Picking up a forkful of eggs, he shoveled it into his mouth.


His work assignment was easy enough, and Jim quickly fell into the routine. Making gutters and trim had never been a particular skill of his, but how hard was it to bend and cut metal? After lunch, he'd have some free time, and tomorrow he'd start his writing class. So far he'd discovered very little, but he had his ears tuned to the different conversations around him.

Camacho, a small Puerto Rican working nearby, tapped Turner on the shoulder. Jim picked up on their exchange, edging closer, slowly insinuating himself into the group.

"What's up, Camacho?" Turner asked, stopping his work.

Camacho glanced around nervously, then whispered to Turner, "You hear what happened to Frazer last night?"

Turner turned to face the Puerto Rican. "No, man, what'd that fool go and do now?"

"He hung himself in his cell."

Carrying a piece of aluminum over to the table, Jim interjected, "That's not what I heard."

Turner glared at his cellmate. "Who's talking to you?"

"I heard the screws drag his ass from his cell, kicking and screaming."

"Take some advice, punk. Don't hear."

Jim left the two men, retrieving another piece of aluminum, and paused as the work supervisor walked over to the bulletin board and posted a work order. Tightening his sight, he read the tacked-up sheet: 'Orangewood Hardware, November 21, 1997.'

Interesting, he thought. What kind of operations are they running here? And who profits?


Tuesday Evening, Major Crime:

Blair glanced around the bullpen noticing that most of the detectives had left for the night, which was good...it meant he wouldn't have to answer any questions as to why he was here or where Jim was. The light in the captain's office shone brightly through the blinds, the large shadow behind the desk indicating the captain was there. Of course, Blair knew that already. Simon was waiting for him.

Pausing a moment and then knocking, he gingerly opened the door in response to the gruff, "Enter." Blair moved toward the desk under the glare of the large man. Standing his ground with determination, he waited for the captain to make the first move.

"You just had to do it, didn't you, Sandburg?" Simon rose from the desk looking none too pleased. "You had to go behind my back."

Momentary remorse swept across Blair's face. "I'm sorry, Simon, if that upset you, but don't you see how much sense this makes? Who else could you get to replace Officer McFadden at this late date?" Blair firmly pressed his case. "I'm unknown and I'm a teacher."

"Well, I don't like it, but apparently I don't have a say in the matter. Maggie Chandler phoned after you contacted her." Simon removed his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose. "You'll be pleased that she agreed with you. You're set to go."

"Yes!" Blair couldn't suppress the exclamation, but upon seeing the frown on the captain's face, he quickly regained his composure.

Simon just shook his head. "You know how I feel about putting a civilian in this type of situation, an injured civilian at that."

"Hey, the fracture's almost healed," Blair hedged, holding up his casted left wrist.

"Yeah, well, I don't ever want you to go behind my back again, you got it, Sandburg?"

Blair simply nodded.

"Let's get to it then." Simon crossed back to his desk and sat down. Picking up a file folder, he pushed it across the desk.

Blair plopped in a chair and grabbed the folder. Glancing at the prison information, he found it hard to hide his smile from Simon. He did it! Jim might not be too pleased with the turn of events, but he had no say in it now. Blair had been so worried earlier when he'd heard about the officer from Detroit. It had been just luck that when he was checking up on Jim, much to the captain's annoyance, the phone call had come in informing Simon about the unavailability of his undercover cop due to appendicitis. His plea to volunteer as the replacement had been immediately turned down. Frustrated, Blair turned to the one person who could help him and that had been Ms. Chandler. She had no trouble accepting his offer to go into the prison.

Blair scanned the last few pages of the report in his hand. "So, is there anything else I should know, Simon?"

The older man sighed. "Yeah, Sandburg, and this time I want you to listen to me. Jim's life is depending on you."

"I know," Blair whispered beneath his breath before directing his whole attention to the captain and the rest of the preparatory meeting.


Stretching out on his bunk, Jim was glad that his first full day was over, but frustrated at his lack of progress. Another inmate dead, and he was no closer to figuring out what was going on. A lot of questions, but no answers. He sighed. The list. It had to have something to do with the list.

He thought back to his little encounter with Vinson in the workout room. That was one hell of a big guy! His upper arms had to be at least eighteen inches in diameter, and the man had been bench-pressing at least three hundred pounds easily. Vinson acted like he had the run of the whole damn prison -- him and his gang.

What had Vinson said to him when the large man realized that Jim had been studying him? Oh, yeah. 'You stare at me like that again...I'm going to put your eyes out.'

But Jim hadn't backed down; he stood his ground, returning Vinson's angry glare. He had remained cold and emotionless, showing no fear. Curtis was a lifer, a cop killer. Eventually, the skinhead walked away.

It was then that he had a good look at the workout room. What was up with that? The chain link fencing, high spotlights, and thick floor mats made it almost look like some sort of an arena -- a fighting ring. Nothing made any sense.

Taking his work assignment sheet out of his shirt pocket, Jim wadded it up into a small ball. He juggled it back and forth between his two hands, then bounced it off the bottom of the top bunk and caught it.

"Yo, Curtis," a low voice from the top bunk called out.

Jim tossed the paper ball and caught it again, then answered, "Yeah, Turner?"

"Watch your back with Vinson."

"I got no problem with him. I'll take him out as quick as I took out that cop."

"You took out a cop?" Turner exclaimed in a surprised tone, then snorted. "I thought I was stupid."

"What are you in for?" Jim asked, now curious about the black man in the top bunk. He thought it was interesting that this was the most conversation he'd had with Turner and they weren't even face-to-face.

"Held up a liquor store. Dude was in the wrong place, man." Turner paused. Jim could hear him lightly pound the mattress. "So was I."

"When you getting out?"

"Every year at my parole hearing, they trot out his widow. Long as she cries...you can find me here."

The silence lengthened between them, effectively ending the conversation. Getting up from the bunk, Jim tossed the paper ball into the wastebasket, then approached the window, drawn to it by the sounds of distant shouting. Piggybacking his sight to his hearing, he looked across to the opposite wing of the prison and saw lights and movements coming from the workout room. Then, like a sharpening of a lens, he could see the backs of people, arms waving, voices cheering, as they looked on -- watching something. Try as he might, fearful of extending himself too far and ending up zoned, he couldn't decipher the noise of the crowd or get past the wall of people to see what held their interest. Damn!

A clanging on the bars jerked Jim's attention back to his cell, and he turned to see a guard staring at the two of them.

"Lights out. Shut it down."

Listening to the quiet footsteps of the departing guard continuing down the corridor, Jim sat back on his bunk, hands in lap, quietly thinking. "What's the list?"

"Don't go there, man. Leave it alone."

"Or what? Or I'll end up on a rope like Frazer?"

Turner didn't answer his question; Jim heard him rolling over in bed. Turning out the light, he settled back in his bunk for another night -- another night of sounds he didn't want to hear and another night in a small, dank cell with four walls that seemed just a little bit closer.


Wednesday Morning:

Out in the yard after breakfast, Jim watched several inmates play basketball while off to the side stood the Aryan brotherhood, looking to all like Vinson was holding court with his entourage. He ignored the racist group and fell in step with Turner.

Turner nodded his head toward the skinheads. "The Aryan brotherhood runs this dump."

"You must have seen a lot come and go. Who are you aligned with here?"

"I'm aligned with myself."

"You know a guy who came through a while back named Matty Temple?"

The black man stopped walking and faced Jim. "What's it to you?"

"I knew him on the outside."

"What's up with all these questions? It's going to get you in trouble."

Before Jim could come up with a logical answer to Turner's question, the loudspeaker squawked announcing that break time was over and for all to report to their work stations. As Turner and the other inmates headed back in, Jim paused by the fence and observed a large delivery truck parked by the loading dock. That in itself wasn't necessarily out of the ordinary. Deliveries to the prison were made all the time. What was interesting was the fact that huge slabs of meat destined for the prison's kitchen were instead being unloaded directly from the truck onto a smaller van marked, 'Venturi Meats.'


Spying Burnette and Warden Hanlon standing in one corner of the metal workshop, Jim busied himself with several gutters while listening in on their conversation. The two were all cozy, head-to-head, discussing their latest business ventures. First there was Orangewood Hardware, then the beef, and now Sullivan's Depot. They had quite a racket running here -- a very profitable one. Jim felt a small degree of satisfaction. All the pieces were starting to fit together -- all that is, except for 'the list.'

Hanlon left, and Miller sidled past him, narrowing his eyes as he walked by. There was something about that con that Jim didn't like. Miller was weasel-like, slimy, quick to be your friend and just as quick to stab you in the back.

"I'm going to need more welding rods," he heard Miller tell Burnette.

The guard led Miller over to the storage area. "Turn away," Burnette commanded.

Miller turned around, and Jim focused his sight on the door of the storage area, watching Burnette tap in the code on the security panel. 6-2-6-8-2-3. He filed that number away in his memory. As the guard entered the storage room, Jim's eyes caught the sight of a tag hanging on the second shelf, fluttering. Following the direction of the air movement to a vent in the storage area, Jim saw what could possibly be a way to get to the outside. Something else to keep in mind, he noted.

The reverberating clang of a gutter being dropped drew Jim's attention away from the storage room and back to the work area.

"Move it, Liotta. You're slowing us down." Vinson loomed over the squatting man. "Squid breath, I'm talking to you. Why don't you just suck it up and pull your weight like the rest of us?"

"I'm s-sorry. I'm trying." Liotta picked up the gutter and set it on a table.

With both hands, the large inmate shoved the smaller one, shouting, "Not hard enough!"

Liotta went sprawling face first onto the hard cement floor. Walking over to the downed man, Jim gave him a hand up.

"Hey! Back off, boy scout!"

Returning to his table, Jim replied calmly, "I'm just trying to keep things moving along, all right?"

"Do I look like I need some help? I'm talking to you. What's your name?"

Now Vinson was right up in his face, inches away. Jim shrugged. "I don't want a beef with you or anybody else."

"You already got one."

Vinson leaned in closer. A thudding crack of a nightstick onto the worktable broke the tension, causing the two men to move apart.

"You two...dance on your own time. On mine, turn out product," Burnette growled, then walked away.

A buzzer sounded, announcing the end of the work period, and Liotta hurried out, first to leave the metal shop. Jim followed him into the hall and grasped the smaller man's forearm, asking, "Are you all right?"

Gasping, fear written across his face, Liotta answered, "Yeah, thanks for your help, but I'm a dead man. Vinson keeps saying it's a matter of time."

"What's his deal?"

"I was a trustee in the infirmary. I sold overstock pills to dealers outside."

Liotta continued down the corridor, and Jim kept in step, determined to find out more. "He wanted a piece of the action?"

"Yeah. But it wasn't mine to give. I had to say no. Why am I telling you this for?"

"Who signed the requisition for the overstock?"

"What's with the 'Q and A,' man?"

Jim wondered how far he should push. "I'm just trying to save your ass here."

He felt Liotta's eyes studying him, reading the sincerity in the offer. Liotta shook his head. "Well, forget about it. It's too late."

Leaning against the bars of a cell, Jim watched the small inmate scurry away like a little mouse, timid and scared.


Finished signing in, Blair heard a pleasant voice ask, "First day?"

Setting the pen down, he looked up from the sheet to see a professionally attired African American woman smiling at him. He smiled back self-consciously. "Ah...yeah. Shows, huh? I'm Blair Sandburg, the new creative writing teacher." Blair gestured around at the bars and gates. "It's a little overwhelming. Check-in, the security gates, guards and all."

"Well, you'll get used to it."

"Been here long?"

"I've been here about a month."

"And you are...?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm Dr. Wilder."

She held out her hand, and Blair accepted it, giving it a gentle shake. "Nice to meet you. Look, I was wondering if we could get coffee sometime. You could, you know, kinda show me the ropes."

Dr. Wilder's smile widened, then Officer Douglas appeared at Blair's side, and her smile quickly faltered. "I...ah...I don't socialize at work. Please, excuse me." She brushed by Blair and hurried away.

Puzzled at her hasty departure, Blair looked down the hallway where she'd disappeared, then at the guard.

"Class is waiting, Teach. This way."

Blair followed the craggy-faced guard, all the time giving himself an impromptu pep talk, until they stopped by a doorway. Peeking inside the classroom, he saw about twenty prisoners sitting at desks. They didn't look so tough, he thought with a little bit of bravado. He picked up his briefcase with his good hand and glanced inside the room once more.

"You coming or going?" Douglas asked, snickering.

He bit back a nervous gulp. Who was he kidding? They looked like they'd eat their own mothers for breakfast and then spit them out and chew them up all over again. Squaring his shoulders, he entered the classroom, ignoring the many wanton stares from the inmates eyeing him like a tasty morsel.


Jim rubbed his hand across his forehead hoping to dissipate the growing headache. He looked up and glared at the inmate sitting across from him. The guy was busy rapping out a tune with his pencil, and Jim's look only encouraged the man to tap harder. He didn't think any of the other inmates wanted to be here. Creative writing...yeah. The only reason anyone was here was to get out of work. At least this room was air-conditioned.

Placing his hands on his forehead, Jim leaned forward and closed his eyes. He was only on his third day here and already he was finding it harder and harder to maintain control over his senses. His senses were being bombarded by the constant stench, the unpalatable food and the noise...most of all the noise. It was never quiet, not even at night. There was always someone bellyaching, or fighting, or worst yet, crying. And then there was the metal shop. The loud screeching and grinding of the power tools against the aluminum could give anyone a headache, let alone a sentinel. He hated to say it, but Blair was probably right. He was nuts to attempt this. What he wouldn't give right now to hear Blair's voice.

"Good morning, gentlemen."

What the...? Jim raised his head up in surprise and disbelief. There standing at the front of the classroom was not the officer from Detroit but his roommate. Snapping his jaw closed, Jim hardened his face and hoped no one noticed his slip.

"I'm the new creative writing teacher. My name is Blair Sandburg. As you all know, this is a writing class. And as writers, we tell stories." Blair spoke clearly, but Jim noticed the false bravura, the slightly higher pitched voice, and the small tremors. "So who out there wants to tell me a story?"

The silence that greeted that question was painfully loud to Jim.

"Anyone?" Blair gestured to the class with his hand. Jim watched Blair for a moment searching for a volunteer. Yeah, right Chief...this isn't Anthro 101 where you can expect a pretty coed to come up with an answer. Seeing Blair's eyes moving in his direction, Jim quickly ducked his face behind his hand in order to avoid being called upon. Don't do it, Chief. Don't call on me.

"How about you, sir? Want to tell me a story?"

Shit! Jim straightened up in the chair and pointed to himself.

"Yeah." Blair smiled as he indicated he wanted Jim to respond to the question.

Oh, Chief, you are so dead when this is over and we get home. Jim nonchalantly shrugged and then deadpanned his answer. "I was born, I killed a cop, I went to prison. The end."

The other inmates hooted and whistled. Some even applauded Jim's remarks. It was agonizing for Jim to watch Blair struggle to get the class under control. However, Blair seemed to be unfazed by the men's comments and attitude, instead he kept plugging away at teaching the class. Little by little, Sandburg was able to stimulate some classroom participation, and Jim sat back to listen to his guide's voice. The tension of past three days faded away amid the cadence of Blair's words...

"So, for the next class, I want you to think about some personal incident and how you can expand it into a story. Class dismissed."

Jim jerked to attention at Blair's closing remarks. Amid the scraping of chairs being moved and the inmates exiting the classroom, Jim sat still as he tried to understand what had happened to the rest of the class. Anger flared as he realized he must had fallen into a light zone while listening to Blair's voice. Irritably he rose to find Blair standing next to him.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Jim hissed.

"Take it easy. Your guy from Detroit had an emergency appendectomy, so I volunteered. Banks said no, of course, so I got Maggie Chandler to talk him into it. So, here I am. I'm your new contact. Are you okay?"

Damn! Jim sighed in resignation, giving in to the worried look directed his way and shook his head. He couldn't fault the kid for caring and wanting to help. "Yeah, I am now." Jim paused before continuing, making sure they weren't overheard. "All right, look for the laundry bag from cellblock 'B' marked 'Curtis.' You got that?"

"Okay."

Nothing further could be spoken as a guard entered the room. "Beat it. School's over."

"Uh, thanks for the tip," Jim offered as an explanation for remaining in the room.

"No problem." Blair smiled.

As Jim left, he couldn't help noticing the guard giving Blair the once over. Hopefully nothing had been overheard. He didn't want what had happened to the previous doctor to happen to Blair. When he got out of here, he was going to have to give Banks a lesson on how to say 'no' to the kid and stick to it. Jim sighed. At least one good thing came out of it...his headache was now gone.


Blair returned to the desk, sat down, and began straightening his papers. It had gone surprisingly well after that rocky start. He knew none of the inmates really wanted to be here, kinda like when he got jocks taking his Anthro 101 course -- just another course to fill GER's -- no interest whatsoever in the class itself.

Checking through some past evaluations and educational records of the inmates in his classroom, he knew that he needed to look busy for the next half an hour -- kill a little time until he could retrieve Jim's update from the laundry room. Hopefully, he could slip in and out without being noticed.

And Jim, though angry, hadn't ripped him a new one, not yet at least. He'd actually seemed a little mellow during the class. Almost like -- No! Blair thought back to the class and Jim's behavior during the lesson, then dropped his head into his hands. A zone. Nothing heavy, probably just on the fringe of one, but Blair was sure that was it.

A noise brought Blair's head up, and he saw a large figure standing in the doorway. Why the hell's he roaming the hallway all free-like? Blair looked around for the guard, but he had somehow vanished. The inmate entered the classroom, closing the door behind him.

"Ah, Vinson, right?" Blair asked, remembering the inmate from the class. Standing up, he moved sideways along the desk, wondering if he could make a break for it.

Vinson said nothing, just moved closer until he stood directly opposite Blair.

"Did you want something?" Blair cringed. Oops! Definitely not a good choice of words. I'm sure this guy wants something. Just so it isn't a five feet-nine grad student. He felt small next to the giant of a man.

"Sandburg. What kind of name is that?"

Blair recognized what Vinson represented, the tattoos and the closely shaven head a giveaway. "Ah, Irish," he joked uneasily.

"Are you a Jewboy?" Vinson asked as he made a grab for Blair.

Dodging the large man unsuccessfully, Blair felt his good arm caught in a vise-like squeeze, the powerful fingers digging painfully into his muscle. Pulled chest-to-chest, he looked up into the steel-cold eyes of the inmate. Vinson was probably the type of child that got some sort of sick pleasure out of tormenting small animals, and he was sure that Vinson was getting enjoyment out of Blair's present discomfiture.

The door swung open, and both heads turned toward the approaching figure. Blair felt the grip loosen on his arm, and he relaxed as Officer Douglas entered the room.

"Vinson! Back to your cell."

"Teach here was just explaining the assignment." Vinson released Blair's arm, pushing the young man away. "Catch ya later, Teach," he called, strutting to the door.

As Blair watched Vinson leave with the guard following the large man out of the room, he pulled in a shaky breath and then sank wearily onto the chair. Oh, man. Rubbing his bruised arm, he looked out across the now empty classroom. Oh, man, oh, man, oh, man.

Act I

Act III