Act III


Wednesday, Late Morning:

Miller rolled the laundry cart through the cellblock calling, "Laundry! Laundry!"

One-by-one, inmates tossed their laundry bags into the cart. Miller chatted with a few, while others quickly stuffed their bags full with dirty linen and clothes. He liked this job much better than his time in the metal shop. This one gave him a little bit of freedom.

Pushing the cart along, he paused by Turner and Curtis' cell. That Jim Curtis. Damn! He looked familiar. Studying his features again, Miller knew that he'd remember the guy sooner or later.

Curtis placed his bag on top of the cart and offered a quick, "There you go."

Still wondering where he'd seen him before, Miller gave him a nod and continued wheeling the cart down the corridor. He finished with collecting the laundry for cellblock 'B' and headed toward the laundry area. Whistling all the way, he deposited the cart with the others in the laundry room. Finished with the chore, he decided that he had just enough time for a quick visit to the dayroom before lunch.


Blair watched from around the corner as an inmate left the laundry room, and then made his move. He hoped the cart for cellblock 'B' was there. He needed to grab the note and sign out before that guard came looking for him again. This cloak and dagger stuff wasn't exactly his style.

Several carts lined the one wall, and Blair hurried over to them and quickly found the one for cellblock 'B.' Setting his briefcase aside, he rummaged through the bags until he located the one marked 'Curtis.' Carefully looking around first, he reached inside the bag, pulled out the note, and then slipped it inside his shirt pocket, giving it a little pat. Relieved that the laundry room was still empty, he smiled and picked up his briefcase. Mission accomplished.


Wednesday, Early Evening:

As he sipped at the remainder of his now-cold coffee, Blair grimaced. Picking up the thermos, he shook it a few times, disappointed to find that it was empty, and set it back down on the seat.

He'd been parked on a hill overlooking the prison for most of the afternoon, about as close as he could get without drawing attention to himself. Nothing much was happening below. One van sat in the delivery area being loaded with what looked like meat products, and that was about it.

Disposing of the coffee cup, he shifted in the driver's seat and waited for a callback from the captain. Blair had called earlier, however once Simon knew that Jim was all right, the captain had cut off the conversation -- something about a mini crisis in the bullpen. That had been hours ago.

The shrill sound of the cell phone pierced the quietness of the car, first startling Blair before he quickly snatched up the phone. Thinking it's about time, he answered, "Sandburg."

Blair heard a deep sigh, and the weariness was evident in Simon's voice as he spoke, "Sorry about the delay. What did you find out?"

He fished around the front seat, finally locating the sought after slip of paper. "Okay. Jim saw trucks taking frozen meat from the kitchen, and hardware items are sold retail. Stuff the prisoners are working on. He thinks there's some black market going on. You know, I could go check out some of their delivery routes."

Simon's tired voice suddenly took on a sharper edge. "No, that sounds like detective work. Do I need to remind you that you are there to receive Jim's dispatches only? That's all I signed you on for. All right?"

"But, Simon --"

"No, Sandburg. Where are you right now?"

"Uh..." Feeling like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Blair mumbled sheepishly, "Outside the prison."

There was silence on the other end. He could almost feel the captain's frustration radiating through the phone, though no words were spoken. Finally, Blair heard the level, no-nonsense command, "I want you to head back to town. Go to the motel or get something to eat. Understand?"

"Got'cha," Blair agreed readily, then disconnected the call. Relieved that Simon hadn't chewed him out this time, he figured that maybe the captain was getting used to his little side trips off the so-called procedural path.

Turning his attention back to the prison, he saw the van leaving. Sorry, Simon, but who's to say I can't go in the same direction. Town's that way anyway. He started the rental car and as the van passed, fell in behind the vehicle.

The van made no stops along the way, but headed straight into town to the Starkville Restaurant. It parked in the back of the establishment, and Blair pulled his car into an open space nearby. With the window down, he watched the meat being unloaded and listened to the conversation between the driver and the restaurant owner.

"Here you go. Three sides of beef."

"Looks like it's all here," the owner said, as two kitchen workers carried off the last of the beef. Blair watched as the owner signed some paperwork and handed it back to the driver.

Tucking it away into his shirt pocket, the driver shook hands saying, "Pleasure doing business with you," then returned to the van.

Slouching lower in his seat as the van drove away, a familiar figure walked by his car and caught his eye. It was the young doctor he'd met earlier that morning. Quickly getting out of the car, Blair followed the black woman into the restaurant.

A nice-sized dinner crowd filled the restaurant, and Blair thought it was a good sign that the food there was edible. Even if talking to the doctor didn't pan out, he'd at least get a hot meal before returning to the motel. As he was being shown to a table, Blair spotted Dr. Wilder sitting alone. Stopping the hostess, he took the menu from her hand, offering a quick, "thanks," and then turned toward the young doctor's table. Acting surprised to see her there, Blair said lightly, "Dr. Wilder?"

The doctor looked up from her menu. "Ah...Sandburg, right?"

"Yeah. How you doing? I prefer Blair, though. This is the only place open besides the Dairy King."

She chuckled. "They roll up the sidewalks in this town at six o'clock. You'll get used to it."

Blair placed a hand on the empty chair at her table. "You know what? I hate eating alone. You mind if I join you?"

She nodded her head toward the chair, and Blair smiled as he sat down. "Thanks."

"So, how'd it happen?" The doctor pointed toward his cast.

"This? I zigged when I should've zagged." He grinned. "I was rollerblading."

Dr. Wilder nodded knowingly. "No wrist guards?"

"Guilty. I learned my lesson, though. I guess the hard way." He opened his menu and looked it over, saying casually, "You know, it's good getting outside of those walls once in a while, isn't it?"

"Truth is, you never really get away from it. This is a real company town."

You got that right, he thought and decided to push on. "I know what you mean. You wouldn't imagine where this place gets its beef from."

A look came over her face -- fear? -- and a shaky hand set the menu down, knocking over the coffee cup. "I'm sorry I'm so jumpy," she quickly apologized.

Blair leaned in, righting the cup, and asked, "What are you so jumpy about."

He heard her voice drop lower, slightly tremulous. "I...I shouldn't be getting into this."

"Sounds like you need someone to talk to." He softened his eyes, sending an expression of genuine caring, and hoped that the compassionate look would be an encouragement for her to talk.

Blair sensed a quiet acceptance as she seemed to be deciding how much to tell, and then she began to speak in a hushed voice, "I treat some injuries...from beatings...bad beatings. And knife wounds. And I'm not talking about homemade shivs. These are from hunting knives."

"You got any idea what's going on?"

"No. The inmates won't talk to me."

"Do you keep files? Records?"

"Who are you?" she asked suspiciously.

Backing off, Blair picked his menu back up, studying it. "Just a friend. You know, someone you can talk to."

After that, dinner passed quietly with little conversation. When they did talk, most of it settled on safe topics: school experiences, colleges, and their travels. Occasionally, Blair would catch Dr. Wilder scrutinizing him, apparently trying to figure out exactly where he fit into this whole scenario.

As they left the restaurant, now on friendlier terms, they walked by two parked vans. Quite a few people, people he didn't remember seeing in the restaurant, were now getting into the vehicles. Beside the nearest van stood one man having a smoke.

Dr. Wilder pointed at the tall man with graying hair and deep-set wrinkles. "See that guy by the first van? Douglas? He's a prison guard."

"Yeah. I recognize him from this morning. Maybe he's moonlighting or something."

They continued walking toward their cars, then the doctor paused, looking unconvinced by Blair's suggestion. "I see these vans several times a week."

"The same ones?"

"Yes. I don't know where they go."

They reached her car. Before letting her go, Blair took a card from his pocket and slipped it into her hand. "I'll tell you what. I'm giving you my cell phone number. You call me anytime. I'll be in touch."

Noticing the first van pulling out, Blair hurried over to his car. As the second van left the parking lot, he was right on its tail. Keeping his distance, he followed the two vans onto the same road he'd taken into town. After driving twenty minutes, he knew where they were heading.

Damn! Blair sat back in his seat, surprised. He was right back where he'd started -- at the prison. What were all those people doing there? What the hell was going on?


Nearing lockdown for the evening, the prisoners moseyed around the cellblock, some chatting, others making a few exchanges before they had to return to their cells. Sighing, Jim leaned against the bars near his cell and listened in on the conversations around him. One in particular caught his attention. Looking down the row of cells, he saw Turner and Camacho in a heated discussion. Camacho, clearly agitated, was swearing once again that he was on 'the list,' and Turner, using a level voice, worked his best to calm the hot Puerto Rican.

Deciding to try to find out more about 'the list,' Jim approached the two inmates. Camacho eyed him distrustfully, then waved Turner off with a, "Later, man."

Jim jerked his thumb in Camacho's direction. "What's going on with him?"

"I recall giving you advice about asking questions."

Turner took off toward their cell, and Jim followed. "It's 'the list,' isn't it?" Come on. Give me something.

Whirling around, Turner faced Jim. He stretched his height to the max, a good two inches taller than Jim's, and narrowed his dark eyes. "Back off. Hear what I'm saying? You got no idea."

Just then, Liotta skidded into the two, and Jim saw the fear etched on the little man's face. Pushing away, Liotta scrambled down the hallway as shouts began to echo around the cellblock.

"Liotta!" Jim called.

A forceful shove knocked Jim against the bars, and heated breath warmed his ear as Vinson growled angrily, "This is my world, Curtis!"

More bodies pressed around him, and Jim pushed his way past in time to see the large man storm down the hallway after Liotta. Inmates surrounded the timid man, preventing his escape, and someone handed Vinson a towel-wrapped object.

"You're getting it now, squid-breath. Right now!"

As Vinson opened the towel, Jim caught the gleam of the shiv. "No!" he shouted. "Liotta!"

Vinson grabbed the little man and shoved him into the shower room. Jim struggled through the hands that held him back, swinging wildly. He couldn't see Liotta, but he could hear the painful cry. Finally reaching the door, he punched out the one inmate standing guard.

Stepping through the opening, Jim saw Vinson holding a bloody knife and wearing a victorious grin. Different noises swirled around him -- shouts of inmates, clattering of feet -- gaining volume, as prisoners scurried around the grisly scene. Jim knelt by the fallen man, shocked, feeling so powerless at having been unable to save him. No, no, no! This wasn't supposed to have happened.

The smell of blood permeated the air, a sickly odor that was so thick he could almost taste it; and he found it hard to tear his sight away from Liotta's lifeless eyes. Another life gone. First Matty, then Frazer, and now...now... He could feel himself teetering on the edge; there was too much coming at him from all directions, too much input. Fingers grasped his shoulder and he gasped. Startled, he turned to look into intense brown eyes -- Miller's eyes.

The inmate hissed, "You don't want any part of this. I know who you are, Cop."

That three-letter word caught his attention, drawing him back from the verge of overload, leveling his senses. Jim schooled his face, taking on a harder edge, realizing he'd been right -- Miller was a snake. "I don't know you," he ground out.

"I'm the guy you didn't count on. I'm the one who slipped under the radar." Miller said it proudly, like he'd pulled one over on the cops.

Stay cool. Keep your cover, Jim coached himself. "You hard of hearing? I said, 'I don't know you.'"

"You busted my kid brother, Danny Ray Miller. A shootout. I was in the courtroom, front row. Every day I wanted to kill you."

Guards were now entering and securing the area, sending the prisoners into lockdown. Burnette approached them, shouting, "Lockdown! Move out!"

Jim realized that Miller held all the cards, it didn't matter if he was a cop or not, once the word was out, he was as good as dead. Hoping to stall for time, he asked, "What do you want?"

"I want out of here."

"What are you in for?"

"Nothing big -- fraud, counterfeit, forgery."

For now, there was nothing to do but agree. Tomorrow he'd get word out that he'd been made. "All right, I'll see what I can do."

"If you don't, every con in this place will know who you are."

Jim nodded, knowing that Miller would make good his threat. Now not only Miller, but also time was his enemy. He had to watch his step, and pray that Simon would move fast in getting him out of here.

Burnette came over to them again, slapping his nightstick against the palm of his hand. "I said, 'Lockdown.' Now, move, damn it!" He looked to the other guard and ordered, "Lock them up!"

~~~~~~~

Blair glanced at his watch again wondering what was keeping the doctor. He'd been sitting outside Starkville Prison since following the vans there. He hadn't seen any other activity after the people got out of the vans and would have left back to town if it hadn't been for the doctor's phone call. Apparently, she had gone back to the prison after dinner and something had upset her. She'd called him on his cell phone and asked for a meeting. So here he waited and nothing had arrived yet except for the rain.

From his vantage point, the dark prison walls mixed with the overcast night created a dismal picture worthy of a gothic novel. With the added rain, Blair could easily think of other places he'd want to be instead of parked near a prison. Actually, places where he and Jim could be together, safe places. Jim...Blair couldn't stop worrying about his friend in there. His brief contact with prison life had only increased his concern for his partner.

The glare of a car's headlights cutting through the drizzle caught Blair's attention. As the car pulled alongside, Blair quickly rolled down his car's window.

"Thanks for meeting me, Blair." Doctor Wilder looked genuinely relieved.

Blair, recognizing the young woman's need to trust someone, put his best face forward. "Oh, it's no problem." Watching the doctor glance back toward the prison, for a moment Blair thought she was going to bolt. He noticed her gripping the steering wheel tighter, her whole body tense. He was so absorbed in his observation of the woman that the next statement caught him by surprise.

"I think an inmate was murdered today." The doctor's voice trembled at the revelation.

"What? What happened?" Did she say murder? Blair's head was filling with the possibilities. Stunned at the news, he had to swallow to clear his throat before he could voice his next question. "Who...who was killed?"

"I don't know. All I know is there's a dead body and they won't let me touch the paperwork."

Blair sat there silently until he noticed the doctor's eyes upon him. Realizing that she was waiting for a response from him, he knew he had to continue the conversation. Later he could check with the captain...Simon would know something. "Uh...did you find anything on the other cases?"

"Oh, a few files." The doctor handed the files out the window to Blair. "But all the serious injuries that I treated...those files are missing."

"What about Dr. Spenser? The one who died in the car accident...did you see his files?" Blair asked hopefully.

Dr. Wilder sighed and shook her head. "No, but I'll look again."

His chest tightened with worry and disappointment. He needed the information so that he could get Jim out of that place. Jim had to be alive; he couldn't be that dead body. No way. "We need to find out if Dr. Spenser saw the same injuries that you did. Maybe that way we can link the evidence."

"Just who are you?"

Blair studied the puzzlement on the doctor's face, and then inwardly berated himself for slipping up with that last statement. "Just a friend. Just like I said."

A look of disbelief was directed toward Blair, then she closed her window and drove away. Blair hoped that she wouldn't ask questions about him at the prison. Simon would be furious to find out that he was still snooping around. Thinking of the captain, he grabbed his cell phone and punched in the number for Major Crime. Getting the captain's voice mail, he left a short message before sitting back to wait. He wasn't going to leave his 'stakeout' until he knew more. He had to find out the identification of the body.


Locked in their cell, they began their late-night ritual, stretched out on their bunks, pretending to sleep. Sooner or later one of them would speak first. It was easier to talk this way, disassociating one from the other, not face-to-face. Jim waited patiently, wanting his cellmate to break the silence. He didn't have long to wait as Turner began speaking; his voice, low and angry, cut through the heaviness that permeated the cell from Liotta's murder.

"The prize bull's going to feast on you, man. Be smart. Play the game or you'll be next."

Next for what? The list? "What do you mean, 'next'? What's up with you?"

"What's up with you?" Turner snapped back.

We're just dancing in circles. Frustrated, Jim asked, "What did Camacho do?"

"Nothing."

"Then why's he on the list?"

"Who said he was?"

Jim leveled his voice and stated the fact, "Nobody. You can see it in his eyes."

He got up and walked over to the grated window, looking out into the nighttime sky. The rain had stopped for a moment, but Jim knew that it would soon begin again. He could sense it -- smell it, feel it. Even see the dark clouds rolling and tumbling together in preparation for another downpour.

It didn't matter though; no stars could shine through the brightness of the security lights. Only a dismal black-gray painted the sky. But the yearning was there, to be out from these walls, to see the stars, bright and twinkling, and the sky as black as ebony. That's where he wanted to be, not here in prison, but outside, away from the despair of prison life, away from the death.

His hearing picked up the sound of a cell door opening at the end of the cellblock.

<Hey, man. What do you want?>

<Get up, Camacho. You're coming with us.>

<No! No way. I ain't going.>

<I said, get up punk! You're coming with us whether you like it or not. This is it for you, punk!>

Getting a small shaving mirror off the sink's ledge, Jim slid into the corner of the cell, against the bars, and angled the mirror in the direction of the voices. Looking at the reflection, he could see Camacho being led away by two guards.

<Get your hands off me, man. I can walk on my own.>

Camacho shrugged off the guards and straightened up, walking down the corridor, head held high. Jim watched as long as he could, only pulling in when the men passed by his cell, then moving back to continue to watch until they rounded the corner.

He moved over to the window, stretching out his sight and hearing. This time he knew where they were heading -- to the workout room. Already there was a loud commotion coming from there, and he could see people gathered around the outside of the fencing. It was a ring, but what was it used for -- boxing?

In the center stood Vinson, and then a gate opened. Camacho was pushed into the ring

<Come on, punk,> Vinson roared.

Scanning the crowd, Jim could see Warden Hanlon, and now people were cheering, placing bets. It started out as a simple fight, a few punches here and there. Then Vinson grabbed Camacho and violently threw him across the ring.

Camacho lay there stunned, shaking his head as if to clear it. Vinson didn't hesitate. The large man picked the Puerto Rican up and lifted him high over his head in an illegal move that could snap a man's back. Forcefully, Vinson tossed the man hard against the mat. Camacho didn't get up. His body remained unmoving, his head at an awkward angle.

<Yeah!> Vinson raised his arms in triumph. <Yeah!>

Jim pushed away from the window, shocked. A modern-day gladiatorial fight? Fuck! Why Camacho? Why Frazer? He dropped onto his bed, still stunned by what he'd seen. It was abhorrent. Unthinkable. His heart clenched when he imagined what had taken place in that room over a week ago, and his cry was for one more: why Matt?


Somewhere in the haze of sleep, Blair could hear the ringing of the phone. Darn, why doesn't Jim answer it? Yawning, he sat up dazed, confused at first to be sitting in a car, apparently out in the middle of nowhere. Searching for the source of the ringing, Blair finally located the cell phone on the car's floor.

"Yo," Blair mumbled. A loud, booming voice answered in response. While not comprehending the words, his brain, nevertheless, was able to identify the voice.

"Simon?"

"Sandburg, where the hell have you been?"

Blair winced at the harshness of the words. "Uh, Simon...didn't you get my message? I left one on your voice mail." The silence in response was all the answer Blair needed. "You know, Simon, you should clean out your mail box more often."

"Stow it, Sandburg, and answer the question."

Blair grimaced as he imagined the captain's retort when he told him his location. Hadn't Simon said earlier no detective work?

"Look, I hooked up with a new doctor at the prison. There's been a number of unaccounted for injuries she's trying to document. She said someone was killed earlier."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Someone was killed?" Simon's concern was evident. "Did she say who? Was it another inmate? A guard?"

"It might be an inmate, she wasn't sure. She thinks they're trying to cover it up." Blair paused, waiting for a reply. He could imagine Simon chewing on one of his cigars while mulling this information over.

"Look, it's too late to pull you out." The captain sighed. "I'm gonna leave you in there, but you stick to teaching. You could be jeopardizing yourself, not to mention Jim."

"Do you think Jim's okay?"

"I haven't heard anything from Maggie. We may not be able to find out anything this late at night. Listen, you call me tomorrow after your morning class and let me know whether Jim's there."

"Yeah, I hear you, Simon. I'll talk to you later, all right?" Blair disconnected the call and leaned back against the car seat. Looking at the windshield, he watched the rain hit the glass, each drop joining up with others, running into tiny rivers and tributaries. The gloom of the night matched the gloom of his soul. Disappointed that there was no news, Blair figured he'd better head back to the motel room. After all, he had a class to teach tomorrow. Wearily he started the car and turned the vehicle toward town.

Act II

Act IV