Title: A prison make
Author: William W. Stuart
Illustrator: Virgil Finlay
Release date: November 20, 2023 [eBook #72179]
Original publication: New York, NY: Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, 1962
Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
By WILLIAM W. STUART
Illustrated by FINLAY
Any similarity between the hero of this Kafka-esque tale and Everyman who chooses the security of the horrible known rather than face the unknown, is not by any means coincidental.
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Amazing Stories July 1962.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
The man on the bunk woke, but not up. Not up at all. He didn't move, except for a sort of general half-twitch, half-shrug; didn't even open his eyes. Just past the black borderland of sleep in the miasmic, grey fog in which he found or failed to find himself, two things only seemed sure. One of these was that there was no hurry whatever about opening his eyes to his immediate surroundings. That could wait. He didn't know why but he knew it could wait.
He knew that. He knew also that he was a man. No doubt there. Not for an instant did he so much as suspect that he might be a small boy, a girl, woman, or some nameless beast. No; he was a man. Not an old man, either. A man and still at least reasonably young.
These things he felt he knew but he could take no very great satisfaction in them. It didn't seem a very extensive knowledge; basic, but not extensive. What about other, collateral data—such as his name, status, situation, condition and present whereabouts?
He couldn't seem to think. No, no, he hadn't lost his memory. He felt confident that all those things were clearly recorded there someplace. Only they were obscured, out there in that mist, out where it was hard to grasp them just now. After a bit, it would all come back to him.
In the meantime he lay there.
He twitched again, a reflective thing, no volition entering into it. The surface under him gave a little; a bed of some sort, must be. It seemed rather too firm, a harder bed than he felt he was properly accustomed to. Not too bad though. He could—he had, apparently, rested well enough on it. Sheets? He couldn't feel any sheets, only something scratchy; a blanket. And it didn't, come to notice, feel as though he were wearing pajamas; more like ordinary clothes. And—he wiggled his toes—socks, yes. Shoes? No, at least he wasn't wearing shoes.
Now where would a man, not drunk, of course he wasn't drunk, be likely to go to bed in a hard bunk, blanket, no sheets, all or most of his clothes on except his shoes? Could be some sort of an Armed Forces outpost or ... jail? The situation seemed to fit the pattern of a jail all too closely. And how would the fine young man he was sure he must be know all this about a jail pattern? Must have read it someplace; seen it in a show. Well....
He opened his eyes to a further greyness, only less thick than that inside. And there were bars in this greyness, there in front of him, heavy steel bars; on the sides, he turned his head, walls of solid steel plate. To the rear? He lifted his head and turned it—a damp, dirty concrete wall. Oh it was a jail all right. He was in jail, in a cell. He didn't, at once, move any more. From where he lay on the cell's single bunk hung by chains from the right side wall, he could see a narrow, concrete corridor through the bars in front. A bare light bulb shone tiredly in a dirt-crusted metal reflector in the corridor's high ceiling; grey light oozed in through a high, barred window. It must be early morning, he figured.
Probably it was morning, at that. But, as he found in later time, you couldn't judge it from that window. It had only two tones, grey light or black; night or day. It was a window remote from any sun and the grey day-time quality was subject to no variations, or at least none that he could ever classify or use as a basis of measurement.
Well, assuming as he did then that it was morning in jail, what was he, whoever he was, doing in jail? The detail of his past was still solidly fogged in. But he wasn't a—a criminal. Anything like that he would surely know about, remember. It must be a mistake of some sort. Or could he be in jail for some justifiable, thoroughly respectable sin? Income tax, price fixing, collusion, something like that, actually creditable rather than otherwise? No. He hadn't been through a trial, couldn't have been; and nobody ever went to jail for things like that except, perhaps, for a month or so and that after years of trials and appeals first.
Nevertheless, he was in jail. So? It must be an accident, a mistake of some sort. Of course. That would be it.
He sat up then, on the bunk. Shoes? He swung his stocking feet over the edge of the bunk and felt; bent down and looked. No shoes in sight. Well ... he stood up. Ow! That concrete floor was cold. But he wouldn't have to stand for it—on it—for long. Whatever the mistake or misunderstanding had put him in jail, he would straighten it out quickly enough. He walked to the front of the cell to grasp bars, one in each hand, the conventional prisoners' pose.
"Hey!" he shouted, "hey!!" He rattled the cell door, doing all the normal, conventional things. And, standing there shaking his cell door, he was a conventional, non-remarkable looking young man. Middling height, not short, not tall. Young, not more than thirty or so; not bad looking. Slim enough of waist so the lack of a belt didn't endanger the security of his pants. Naturally, they drooped and, naturally, he looked unshaven, dishevelled. But his suit was of good quality. Shirt—no necktie, of course—too. He might very well have been a young executive, caught in a non-executive moment. Probably, he was, or had been. But in jail there are no executives. He was only a prisoner rattling a jail cell door.
Turning his head and pressing against bars, he could look up and down the corridor outside. To his right, sighted through the left eye, it stretched, maybe a hundred feet, maybe more, to end in a right angle turn and a blank wall. The other way, some indeterminate, dim distance off, he could barely make out another barred door. There were, he could sense rather than see, other cells in neat, penal line on either side of his. Occupied? Yes. There were noises; grunts, yawns, mumbling, nothing distinguishable in the way of conversation but clear enough evidence that there were other prisoners. He was glad of that.
"Hey!" he yelled again, "hey, somebody. Come let me out of here, damnit." But nobody did.
After a bit he went back to his bunk and sat. Routine, he supposed, and rules. Probably it was too early yet. But certainly before long someone would come. They would have to let him see someone in authority; straighten this mess out fast enough then.
He stood and went through his pockets. Not much; but, at least, a crumpled pack with three cigarettes and one book of matches. He sat again and smoked. Patience.
Later, not long probably, he was roused from a dull torpor by a metallic clatter from the corridor. He leaped to his feet—damn that cold floor—and to the front of his cell. Outside, just one or two cells down from his own was a rig of some sort; some kind of a steam table on wheels, apparently. Anyway, it was steaming greasily. There were metal trays stacked at one end; buckets of one thing or another in apertures along its eight foot length. Breakfast? Something, anyway, being served up by four hopeless slatterns dressed in sack-like, brown and dirty white striped denim uniforms. The women whined and mumbled at each other as they dragged along, filling trays and tin cups from the containers in their steam table, passing them into cells, dispensers of the state's bounty, no benediction.
"Well now look at here, girls," said the lead witch, coming abreast of the man's cell, "looks like we got us a real juicy young buster, a nice gentleman prisoner type. Fresh meat, hah?"
They all screeched and squawked then, crowding to the front of his cell to look, exchanging viciously obscene guesses regarding his probable past history of despicable crime, present intimate personal condition, and future possibilities, all singularly unattractive. He gaped at them a moment in shocked disgust and then backed from the door of his cell to sit on the bunk, head down, not looking, trying not to listen.
"Yeah, that's the way it goes. He don't like our service; don't think what we got is sweet enough and pretty enough for his fine taste; not now, he don't. It's gonna surprise him some, ain't it, dears, how he'll learn to like our dishes and our room service after a little time, hah?" The first charmer hummed an unrecognizable non-musical bar or two and lifted straggling skirts high, higher to prance a misshapen dance step. The others cackled wildly.
"Show him Belle. Show him something to put in his dreams. He'll come around fast enough."
He squeezed his eyelids tighter shut.
"All right then, Sweetie, Jail-Birdie Boy," said Belle, dropping skirts. "Your appetite for our cell block service'll change. How d'you want your eggs, Bird-Boy?" She laughed.
He raised his head, dully. "Any way you feel like laying them, goddamnit," he snarled.
The harsh amusement dissolved. "A funny one? Did I say fresh meat, dears? Too fresh, hah? All right. Should we serve him a chef's special?"
The other two gruntingly pushed the steam table forward. One lifted a metal plate, something between a dish and a bowl, and scooped a ladle full of a greyish mess of whatever, mush of some sort. Edible? Conceivably. Then she reached into some nauseous recess of the table and brought out a stout roach, legs moving feebly. She dropped it into the mush. Number two drew a steaming cup of muddy liquid from an urn. Coffee? Well, it was a brown-grey, it had a smell, it wasn't soup. Coffee. The hag with the cup hawked gurglingly and spat into the cup. The third grinned evilly and dropped three slices of grey-white bread—grey was in everything—on the gritty corridor floor; stirred them around with her bunion cut left shoe; picked them up.
"Breakfast is served, Birdie. Juicy worms for the early jail bird." Belle opened the cell door. The man sat still on his bunk, staring fixedly at the floor. The stout slattern laughed, slopped the filthy bread on top of the expiring roach and Belle took the plate-bowl and the cup to slap them down beside him. "Breakfast. Bread's your lunch. Maybe you'll be gladder to see us by supper. No? Then tomorrow, or the next day; or the next." She backed out and clanged the cell door shut. "No tipping," she said. The others cackled. "Please ... no tipping."
They moved on down the row of cells. The man sat. Maybe he should have been more friendly; played up to them. Then he could have asked them ... something ... about seeing somebody, somebody in charge, a lawyer ... anybody. He sat a while, ignoring the filthy bread, the noisome mush and the grey-tan coffee slush with the yellowish blob of spittle on top. But it bothered him. Not that he wanted to eat. God no. His stomach growled; let it growl. He was too nervous, too upset to eat anything, let alone ... that. But his mouth, his throat were parched, cotton dry, a desert, a burned out waste of dehydrated tissue. Liquid ... damn them. He went back again to the cell door. Shook it. Yelled, a hoarse croak. No answer, except a croaking echo, the subdued mutter from other cells. He quit trying to yell. His throat was too dry; it hurt.
For the first time since waking then, he really looked around, checked over the rest of the cell. It wasn't fancy. The bunk, hard mattress, blanket. Bars, walls. And, at the rear of the cell, stark, yellow-white, unadorned and unlovely, was one toilet bowl, no wooden seat, just the stained enamel. To it and through from the dim concrete ceiling above ran a heavy iron water pipe. Just where the pipe met the bowl was the handle. He had seen it all before without taking real notice. A toilet. Hell no, he didn't need a toilet. He was all dried out, tensed, frozen inside. But ... he walked the three short paces to the rear of the cell. He reached out, down; took the handle, pressed it. Water rushed out in a roaring flood, bubbling and swirling in stained bowl. Slowly the flow cut down and stopped. He pressed the handle again; again the rush of water. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Water.
Sure, there was water, plenty of water. Water, water ... nor any drop ... to drink? No, Good Lord no; it was unthinkable. A man couldn't, not conceivably, drink water that came from such a thing. He would choke on it, strangle, die. But water.... He would die. The iron pipe above the bowl was sweating, tiny droplets. He pressed his tongue, his face against it. Water.
Damned little water there. He hugged the pipe for a while, breath coming in harsh gasps. And, as he gasped, his mind emptied, slowly to a blank, clear, unreflecting lucidity of, not thought, of direct motor response. A minute, two. Then, moving deliberately, not thinking deliberately, he turned back to his bunk. A dish. A cup of nauseating muck.
A little later he wiped his mouth with his sleeve and lit one of his two remaining cigarettes. The cup, rinsed, clean and filled with water, he had placed carefully down at the foot of the bunk on the inboard side. He sighed. His stomach rumbled. Food ... no, not that. He wasn't really hungry. Even if, maybe, a piece or two of the bread might be cleaned off a bit ... no.
He lay back on the bunk looking upward. Hm-m. There was something he hadn't noticed. Up there, maybe eight feet above the floor level, four under the ceiling, was a black box, about eight inches square by three deep. Standing on the bunk in his stocking feet, he could get to it easily enough. A wire ran from it into the ceiling. A speaker. At the bottom was a button. He pressed it. First, nothing but a faint hum. Then....
"Click. Good morning." It spoke with a coolly feminine-metallic voice, "welcome to the Kembel State Home of Protective Custody, Crime Prevention and Correction Number One-One-Seven."
"Jail," said the man, sitting back down on the bunk. "All it is, it's a crummy jail." It pleased him to tell the voice that, firmly and clearly.
"This," continued the speaker, "is a recording." The man shrugged. So what about it? "You have been admitted to protective custody here pending investigation, trial, review and ultimate disposition of your case. This is—click—Sunday morning. Sunday is a rest day. Cell block therapeutic work schedules are in effect Monday through Friday—click."
Work? What kind of work?
"You, as a custodial ward of the State, are entitled by law to representation of your own, freely selected legal counsel."
Ah! His lawyer would clear this mess up quickly enough.
"If you wish to name counsel you may do so now. Speak clearly, directly into your home-room sound box. Spell out name of counsel, home and business address, code, phone, and qualifications before the bar of this State. Click."
His lawyer? Did he have a lawyer? Who? Think, damnit, think. The sound box was silent except for a faint hum, waiting. But he couldn't think. The name Lucille came into his mind, but it seemed unlikely that Lucille could be a lawyer.
"Click." The box spoke out again. "You have no expressed choice of counsel. You have therefore opted to avail yourself of the privilege of representation by State appointed counsel. You are now represented, with full power of attorney, by State Public Defenders, Contract 34-RC, Hollingsworth, Schintz and Associates, Attorneys at Law. Counsel will consult with client twice weekly. Sunday and Thursday between the hours of 1500 and 1600."
Well, at least he'd get to see some kind of a lawyer.
"And now," the voice seemed to take on the faintest note of enthusiastic interest, "you, as a custodial ward of the State will need a clear understanding of how we live here at Kembel State Home One-One-Seven. A clear understanding of the rules and policies applicable to custodial wards of the State will enable you to avoid difficulties and misunderstandings during your institutional life. Please listen carefully."
He didn't, however, listen very carefully.
"Code One," said the voice, relapsing into a sing-song drone, "Section A, 1, (a): Internal, closed circuit broadcast of instruction and entertainment. Broadcast is continuous, daily from 0500 through 2300. Music and entertainment material, 1800 through 2300. Custodial wards are urged to listen to instructional material provided by the State for their benefit. Failure to listen to a minimum of seventy-two hours of said material weekly shall result in penalty, four credits for each hour of short-fall. Code One, section A, 1, (b): Care of home-room facilities...."
The voice droned on. The hell with that noise. The man got up and pushed irritably at the button under the speaker. It faded out in a faint, protesting whine. A lawyer. The damned voice had said a lawyer would come on Sunday afternoon. And this was Sunday. This afternoon then. He should be out by dinner time. He ... he was thirsty again. He got his cup from the foot of the bunk and drained the cool water with luxurious satisfaction. Plenty more where that ... never mind that. He closed a door of his mind with determination. Then he used the toilet hurriedly and flushed it three times. The lawyer, his lawyer would come. He lay back down on the bunk. Nothing to do but wait.
"Say! Say there, boy. Up, up! Nothing to do but sleep? Eh? Up, up. My time is valuable." The voice was harsh, rasping, but with an unsubtle touch of educated superiority in it.
The man in the cell sat up at the second "say," and was at the front of the cell clinging to the bars before the voice paused.
"What?" he asked, "What, what, what?"
What? It was still daylight. Still jail, too, no doubt about that. This must be the lawyer then. He blinked and stared through the bars; it was hard for a moment to focus in the grey light. The figure outside the cell looked something like ... what? A wheel chair? A man in a wheel chair? A ... now what in hell kind of a so-called lawyer was this? There was no man in the more or less wheel chair out there; only hardware, piled and assembled in a very roughly human shape. At the top were two lenses, eye-like except for being in a vertical line, mounted in a rounded, metallic container with a speaker and, presumably, sound receivers. Under that was a big, square, torso-sized, faintly humming black box. This rested on a—uh—conveyance, not unlike a wheel chair. Under the box was an electric motor and a reel of black wire. Attached to one side of the main box section was a single metal arm, a sort of skeletal framework of steel rods, jointed and with an arrangement of tiny wheels, pulleys and belts.
"Now what, for God's sake...?"
"Whup! Excuse me a moment, my boy," rasped the speaker. "Almost forgot my cord. Mustn't run down my battery here, and with two more clients after you." The motor under the black box whined. The wheels turned and the rig backed away from the cell. It rolled some ten paces back up the corridor; stopped; the metal arm reached, caught a plug at the end of the wire on the reel and plugged it into a socket in the far wall of the building. Then the thing rolled back to the cell, the wire unrolling from the reel to trail behind it.
"There!" said the speaker with a note of satisfaction. "Now, the case ... let's see ... oh yes. J7-OP-7243-R. Arrested on suspicion, vice and homicide squad random selection, brought in for subjective interrogation at 2200, night of the 14th last."
The prisoner's mouth opened and closed again. He had a few things to say to this mess of machinery. But this information concerned him. He would listen first.
"On the basis of clear data extracted, recorded and interpreted, charged with larceny; grand larceny; extortion; felonious assault; lewd and lascivious conduct; assault with intent to rape; rape...."
"No, no." The man gripped the bars. "No!"
"... and murder in the first."
"No! I didn't. I didn't do any of those things. I know I didn't."
"Ah?" inquired the speaker, "Splendid. It might make an interesting defense. How do you know you didn't?"
"I-uh-hell, I just know, that's all. Murder? Ridiculous. Rape? I mean actually using force, real force to ... no. I never dreamed of such a thing, of any of them."
"Never dreamed of such things? Oh come now."
"Of course I never...." Of course he had never done any of those things. Of course ... well. Dreams, hell, a man could have all kinds of crazy dreams. That didn't mean anything. A man couldn't control dreams. They didn't mean anything.
"Fact is, boy, you must have done those things or dreamed them. Where do you suppose they got your charges?"
"They put you through shock, electric and drug, and went through your mind. Amazing technical advances have been made recently. They extract virtually everything now. The process may have left your own circuits somewhat blurred—did you notice that?—but the accuracy of information obtained is complete; legal evidence, my boy. And these things with which you have been charged were all taken right from your own mind."
"But a dream doesn't mean anything. I never did any of those things."
"Of course the dividing line between fact and fantasy is indeterminate and the law does recognize a distinction, when it can be proven, although the trend is decidedly toward equating the intent with the act. Eliminates confusion, as you can see. Well, never mind boy. We shall make a fine case of this, legal history. You are in good hands."
"We ... you.... Now look here, damnit, you're nothing but a confounded robot."
"Computer, Pinnacle, Legal Model X 27, working title, Mr. Boswell. Boy, you are extremely fortunate. You couldn't get a finer legal mind anyplace. Programmed through the State Supreme Court library, shades of interpretation, judgment and emotional factors drawn from the minds of Mr. Hollingsworth and Judge Schintz, both very compassionate men. Circuits overhauled only last month."
"I want a real lawyer."
"I am your lawyer, boy, by law. Fortunate thing too, for you. I can see your case through. Mr. Hollingsworth—wonderful gentleman, of course—but even now he is, well, not as young as he used to be. Bad thing, to change lawyers in mid-case, eh? You are lucky, boy. You know the human mind is fallible."
"You almost forgot to plug in that silly extension cord."
"Service men are not what they should be. Some of those back motor circuits of mine, not properly rewired at all. But those are minor areas, non-legal. Why is your cell speaker cut off, boy?"
"That thing? It got on my nerves so I cut it off, that's why. So?"
"Turn it on at once. You can't afford to lose credits, boy."
"Boy ... m-mph. Your circuits are in bad shape, aren't they? You are going to want things, boy. Cigarettes—here's a pack for now, by the way. Books. Other-ah-little extras from the trustees from the women's division. With that mind of yours, from the charge sheets ... you buy things here with your credits and you are going to need them."
"How do I get...?"
"Do your work. Follow the rules. You earn credits. Turn on your speaker."
He turned it on. "You talk like I'd be here forever."
"Eh? Oh no. It will be less than that, eh? Eh, eh. Don't worry, boy. I'll be taking care of you. So. This is all the time my programming permits me to give you now. Till Thursday, eh? Good night, boy."
The wheel chair rig backed off, unwinking eye-lenses still peering at the man in the cell. The arm pulled the plug, the wire rolled back onto the reel.
"Mind the rules," the voice rasped, "earn your credits, eh? Be a credit to the firm. Good night, J 7." The machine rolled silently off. The prisoner stood clinging to the bars of the door. He was thirsty again.
Time serving, time served. Time.
J—or Jay—7, the man in the cell, wiped his mess gear with a denim rag, a nice match for his shapeless prison pants and the number-stencilled jacket he wore over a grey-white T-shirt. He belched sourly and made a face. Damn. Wednesday. The rice had been passable enough, but the stew was even more sour than usual. Thank goodness for the bottle of ketchup, resting now with an assortment of items on the unpainted wooden shelf hung neatly over his bunk with two strips of denim rag from his busily sounding off speaker box. Two credits, that ketchup. He belched again. Well, he could never have downed that stew without it. It did pay to build up those credits. Mr. Boswell, hardware or not, knew his business. And now at least he, Jay 7, knew his, the prisoner's business well enough. Well enough to get by.
As Mr. Boswell had said—and said—"we have to go by the rules of the game we are in, boy." Trying to beat them was beating on a stone wall. Three days in solitary that time he had stuffed his blanket in the toilet and tried to flood the place had taught him. Now his head was unbloody and bowed to the extent that seemed necessary. As Mr. Boswell had said, with soft harshness, on his third day, a Thursday, in solitary, peering down through the tiny grill with unwinking lenses, "If you think, my boy, that you are the one with a head that will prove harder than these concrete and steel walls you may try if you can bruise them; but this will not help your case."
The hard way, but only once. He learned the lesson. Now his cell—home-room—squawker stayed on straight through 0500 through 2300 every day. That brought four bonus credits per week. His cell was neat and clean; the toilet bowl gleamed, pure, sparkling white. Four more credits. And he did his work, in his cell, adding endless columns of surely meaningless figures, writing out political letters to constituents in a neat hand for all levels of elective officials of the State. Tedious work? Well ... in a sense; but it was a challenge, too, all those figures without an error, making the letters neat and appealing, and balancing properly on the page. It wasn't so easy. He earned his credits; made his quota, too, every day. Mr. Boswell was pleased with him. So.
He looked around him at his home-room with a certain clear satisfaction, if not pride. Now he kept his own mess kit, clean and shining. He had the shelf with ketchup, mustard; soap and shaving gear; tobacco and cigarette papers; a nice white enamel basin. And something more, too. Set into his water pipe, above the toilet bowl was a real luxury item—a faucet. Not many custodials earned that privilege but he had had it now for ... how long? Hard to say, to keep track. Quite a while now, anyway, but the pleasure in having it, in not having to use the bowl of the toilet for ... everything, hadn't worn off. He put his mess kit on his shelf, took his cup and went to draw a cup of water, for the joy in being able to do it, mostly. He drank luxuriously; carelessly spilled a half-cup of water into the bowl.
There was a tapping on the wall, left side, across from his bunk. He frowned and ignored it. That tapping from other cells never amounted to anything, never seemed to make any sense. He'd tried it himself, at first. For some reason, a vibration barrier, it wasn't possible to talk and distinguish words from one cell to the next. But tapping? It made no sense either. It was an annoyance and the hell with it. Except....
Jay 7 reached up over his head and brought down his mess gear; put it on his bunk in front of him; picked up his blunt knife and spoon. Overhead, the squawk box wound up a stirring speech on something by the governor and launched into the 1800 review of the rules. The sing-song voice started. Jay 7 began to rap a rhythm, simple at first, building into more intricate patterns, following the flow of the speaker. "Code One—tap, tap—Section A, 1 (a)—tap-tappety tap—." His head nodded. That was the only tapping that meant anything, a beat with a lift that a man could put himself into. His head nodded and he listened, absorbed, to his pattern of rhythm. He felt pretty good. Later he would feel better.
Sure. Sure he would. This was Wednesday, a Rec. night. Tonight, after supper, Belle and her Three Graces would make a night round. "Personal service"—if you had the credits. He had the credits. He'd take a fall—hell, a couple, why not—out of old Belle herself. Not that Belle looked any better than the others, but at least she put a little life into it. A couple of hours with Belle, twelve credits; a bottle, four more. All right, he had them. Tonight he was really going to make a night of it. Yeah.
Yeah. And the next day, Thursday, all day ... yeah! His head ached, stomach churned; that burning back of the eye-balls; the awful, tight-drawn humming of nerves. And on just one bottle? God, that acid-burn gin. No, old Belle had been in rare form and he got two bottles instead of one. But even so ... must be that stew the night before. Oh death!
He fought the day, his work, all day. He missed quota. The fingers were just a blistering mist before his eyes. He drank water and gagged on it. He paced his cell. He sweated. God! Could a man live like this?
"Boy! Say there, boy. Look alive, eh?"
Mr. Boswell, the old electronic shyster. It was afternoon, finally, of the everlasting, miserable day. Jay 7 looked up to watch sullenly as, the usual afterthought, Mr. Boswell rolled on off to plug in his cord; and rolled back. Made a noise, a harrumph-type, throat clearing, introductory noise. Mr. Boswell had no throat but he was a believer in certain niceties, form and procedure.
"Well now, boy. Let me see, where are we? Oh yes. Bring you up to date. My latest petition for further continuance pending a review of the transcr...."
Suddenly, it was all too much. Jay 7 was mad, furious. He, in a word, blew his gin-throbbing top. He was on his feet, shaking hands, white-knuckled, gripping bars. "Goddamnit!" he shouted, "Goddamnit, you rotten old fraud, I've had enough, you hear me? I got a by-God-bellyfull enough."
"Oh?" inquired Mr. Boswell, mildly. "Enough is enough, eh? But how can we be sure that alternatives...."
"All right, all right." Jay 7 wouldn't get anything out of him by shouting, he knew that. He was still tense and shaking but he managed to lower his voice to a tense, confidential whisper of appeal. "But I can't take much more of this. And the uncertainty. I've got to know. How much longer, huh? Please, please, Mr. Boswell, man to man ... when will the trial come? How much longer before we go to court, I—we—get my acquital, huh? Man to man, when can I walk out of here a free man?"
"Man to man? You are just a boy, boy. Show it all the time. Man to man? Well ... perhaps it is time you did grow up a bit. So. You want to know when you will leave here a free man? I'll tell you. Never."
"Never. Hasn't that been obvious from the start? Look. You know the charges, the evidence against you. In your actions, in your mind, either way you are guilty, boy. Regardless of the degree, you are guilty. The evidence is undeniable. You know better than I how guilty you are."
"You are so eager to leave here? Why?"
"Just to get out. To be free. Isn't that enough?"
"Nonsense, lad; nonsense. You are doing fine here, just fine. Look at it this way. You are here for the common good, yours and society's, in protective custody. You have made rather a nice adjustment. Quite nice, really. To accept it gracefully, gratefully, is best. And, with me as your counsel, there is no reason why we cannot hope to continue your case indefinitely—for years, for decades. Why...."
"No! No, they can't, you can't do that to me." A highly unoriginal protest. Mr. Boswell made a mild sound of disapproval. At such times he regretted the limitations of construction that did not permit him a shake of the head.
"Years? Decades? No! I can't stand it; I can't, I won't. I'll find a way out. I'll make a way."
"Suicide? Oh now, my boy, please. To take your own life? A shameful thing. And not at all fair to my firm."
"No, not suicide. I—I'll break out. Damn you, I will. I'll grab your damned wire—I can reach it from here; I'll pull your plug. You'll have to take me out of here or I'll let your juice run out and you'll die. Boswell, you're going to hide me under that machinery of yours and take me out."
"Oh? But my boy—what then?"
"Then I'll be out, that's what."
"Then you will be out. Out of here; out in the street; out of protective custody; outside the law. You would be alone then, lad; alone with your guilt, cast out, apart from society and the sound, stable order you find here. And would not every decent man's hand be against you? Think, my boy, what that means. Could you face it?" During these remarks, as Jay 7 clung, hot-eyed and shaking to the bars, Mr. Boswell had backed prudently well away, out of reach from the cell door.
"Yes! I don't care. To hell with you; to hell with all of them. I've got to get out of here. Come back, you coward. I tell you I've got to get out, out, out!"
Mr. Boswell backed across the corridor and pulled his plug from the socket. The wire rolled back neatly on the spool. "Time—no more time; other clients." He peered myopically through thick lenses back toward the cell. "Please, lad—it pains me to hear you talk so wildly."
"I've got to get out, you hear? Out!"
"Well, my boy, if it has become such a phobia with you and you feel you have got to do so foolish a thing ... why don't you just walk out?"
"Walk out? What in hell are you talking about? How can I walk out of this cell?"
"Now, now, boy. You are only in protective custody, to protect you from yourself, from an outraged society, you understand. That cell isn't locked. Never has been. You know that."
"That's a lie!" The man, Jay 7, threw himself against the bars, pressed against them, every muscle straining. "It's locked, locked. You can see. It won't open."
"Now, now," said Mr. Boswell again, starting to swing around on his wheels, "that door opens inward. You get your food through it, your work; the other—ah—amenities, girls ... eh? Nobody ever unlocks that door, isn't that right? They all just push it open. Right? Eh? It opens in."
"You lie. It's a damned, rotten, filthy lie." He was yelling, shaking, rattling the door; pushing at the door.
"Easy, boy," said Mr. Boswell, "easy now. If you say so ... perhaps you are right after all. So. We adjust, eh? See you Sunday. There are some details, questions of improper punctuation in the transcript of your involuntary confession we must go over; something we can use in the next preliminary hearing. Eh? Good night, boy." Mr. Boswell rolled off, smoothly as always, down the corridor.
Jay 7 quit pushing then, all at once and completely, and hung limply, two hands circling two solid bars, leaning heavily against the cell door. He sobbed once and then sniffed. He felt thirsty. So ... well, he had his cup, his own faucet. He could get a nice, cold drink of water any time he wanted it. He sniffed again and turned away from the barred door.