Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 23

The prison transport took forever, bumping over poorly paved back roads to make its way to the county jail, which sat in the middle of nowhere. Dad had been here after he attacked the judge, and I had to wonder if anyone would remember him, not that I really wanted them making the connection.

Intake was one of the worst humiliations of my life. I’d already been booked at the sheriff’s office, but I guess that wasn’t enough. They had me stripped and searched me all over, more intimately than any doctor ever had. Afterward, they put me in an orange jumpsuit, all of my clothes and things disappearing into wherever they held stuff from the outside world.

After another hour of medical screening and intake interviews, all by people who could care less what any of my actual answers were, I was led through winding corridors to a large, open room with rows of bunk beds and men walking around in every direction. I was given a bunk number and shoved into the room, and that was it.

Finding my bunk, I sat on the edge of it, still more in shock than anything else. I watched people walking everywhere, playing cards and socializing, trying to get a sense of the dynamics. Not that I wanted to interact with anyone. I just wanted to stay under the radar until my arraignment and hoped that Mr. Eaves could get me out on bail.

Of course, I wasn’t successful.

I saw them coming. A group of four white guys sauntering down the aisle toward me, like they were clearly used to getting respect. The way the other inmates got out of their way, they also clearly got it. The leader was a huge guy, his arms covered in tattoos with even a couple on his face. He was staring right at me, as they walked down the aisle, never breaking eye contact.

I stood up. I was still hurting, but if I needed to defend myself, it would be harder to do from a seated position. I waited as they fanned out around me, surrounding my bunk, like a pack of jackals. The big guy crossed his arms, muscles bulging, and glowered down at me.

“You’re new,” he said, a statement and not a question.

I nodded, keeping my expression neutral. “Yeah.”

“This is our block,” he said, jabbing a thumb at himself. “While you’re here, you’ll pay rent. We get half your commissary, every week.”

“I’d love to, but I don’t have a commissary, and there’s no one outside to put money in my account.”

I was trying hard to stay non-threatening. Yeah, I might be able to take them, but I might not. They weren’t high school kids and they weren’t my drunk father. These guys had been in more fights than I probably ever would be, and who knew what they were in for? If I could de-escalate, I would.

“That ain’t our problem,” one of his buddies said. “You better find a way to get something to pay us every week, or things are going to get very hard for you in here.”

“I’ve got nothing. I don’t know what to tell you.”

The leader glowered some more.

Eyes narrowing, he said, “You heard him. Find what you owe us or we can take our payment out in other ways.”

His meaning was unpleasantly clear, especially the way one of the guys with him leered at me. I didn’t back down and met his stare. These guys were like junkyard dogs. They could smell fear and would jump in the minute they sensed it. They were the opposite of guys like Harry. Standing up to them wouldn’t make them back down. They’d see it as a challenge, one they had to meet head-on.

“Listen. I don’t have anything to give you, and I’m only going to be here a couple of days. This place is yours. I’ll just stay out of your way.”

The leering guy grabbed the front of my orange jumpsuit. He was surprisingly strong, lifting me up slightly so I had to balance on my toes.

“You’ll stay in the infirmary.”

He dropped me, the impact making my sore ribs sting. I stifled a groan. I couldn’t show any weakness. Not that it was going to keep a fight from happening. I’d tried de-escalation, and it hadn’t worked. There was only one other way to deal with these kinds of guys, and in my current condition, I wasn’t sure I was up to the task.

“Last chance,” he said with a cold, evil grin.

I didn’t get it. I had nothing for these guys, so why were they still pushing? Maybe they just wanted me to agree and figure it out, or maybe they needed someone to make an example of. I couldn’t just agree, though. Yeah, I wanted to de-escalate, but once I gave in to them, they’d keep coming back, knowing I was an easy target.

I slowed my breathing, balancing on the balls of my feet. If this was going to happen, I had to move fast, taking out as many of these guys as fast as possible to drop the odds in my favor. I also needed to get mobile, so they weren’t surrounding me. Once I had some room to maneuver, I had a better chance.

The big guy clenched his fists; his buddies took a step back, apparently happy to let him handle it. I could feel that moment, right before violence breaks out. I kept my focus on him, trying to be aware of his friends in my peripheral vision, just in case they weren’t really letting him go first.

He was just lifting up his arm when a sharp whistle cut through the room.

“Hey! Break it up!”

We all froze, turning to see one of the guards coming down the aisle toward us. The leader’s expression soured, but he stepped back, the coiled muscles that had been ready to throw a punch relaxing. His buddies followed suit.

The guard glared at the group, then jerked his head at them.

“Get moving, Jones,” he commanded.

The big guy leaned in and, in a low growl, said, “This ain’t over.”

He then stomped off, back down the aisle, his group following in his wake. The guard gave me a contemptuous once-over and walked away, not saying anything else to me.

I stood there for a long moment, letting the adrenaline bleed off. That had been way too close. That many guys, who all most likely knew how to fight, it would have probably ended badly for me. I might have taken down one or two, but I didn’t have nearly enough training or experience to handle those odds, especially considering I was still injured. I’d also made an enemy minutes after getting here, which was going to make the next however many days a lot harder.

I sighed and sank back down onto my bunk, rubbing my side, trying to make the pain go away. I almost thought ‘Things can’t get worse,’ but that was almost certainly not true. I needed to just stay out of everyone’s way and try to be as inconspicuous as possible until my arraignment.

For the next several hours, nothing much happened. I stayed on my bunk and didn’t talk to anyone, although I kept my eye on where the big guy and his friends were, to avoid surprises. When we all lined up for dinner, I lagged behind, to the point of being yelled at by one of the guards. I was far behind the group, trying to get at the end of the line so that no one was behind me.

Dinner itself made me long for high school cafeteria food. It was all but inedible. I didn’t have much of an appetite anyway, so I picked at the bland, flavorless mush that I think was supposed to be soup or stew of some kind. The only thing it certainly was, was inexpensive to make.

I tried to lag behind again and saw the big guy doing the same thing. I guess he noticed me before and wasn’t going to let me get away with it twice. When the guard looked at me, I was certain he was going to yell at me to get in line first, which would have put the guy behind me. A bad proposition, especially if he had some kind of weapon.

Surprisingly, instead, the guard said, “Nelson. You have a visitor.”

I don’t know who was more surprised, me or the big guy. From what I was told at intake, I was under the impression that there were set visitation times and it had sounded like they wouldn’t do it right around meal times, while large groups of prisoners were moving around the hallways.

I didn’t have to be told twice, though. I got another glare from the big guy as I scurried after the guard, just happy to have a solution to my predicament. They didn’t lead me to some communal visiting room or a place with glass walls and little phones on either side, like you see on TV, but to a small room with a large mirror on one side and a metal table, kind of like the interview room at the sheriff’s station where I met with Mr. Eaves.

Inside sat Sheriff Gibbs. He was probably one of the last people that I expected to see, and I actually stumbled a little bit when I saw him, out of surprise. It had only been four or five hours since I’d seen him at the sheriff’s office, when I was put on the transport for the jail, so I couldn’t figure out why he was here. The guard pushed me through the open door and pulled it closed behind me.

The sheriff was watching me closely as I sat down opposite him, but it wasn’t hostile. If anything, I’d say he looked concerned, which was also a surprise.

“Sheriff?” I said, turning his title into a question.

“How are you holding up?”

I shrugged, still a little suspicious, “As well as can be expected, I guess.”

“I should have said this sooner when we were back at the station, but I’m sorry about your mother. I know you two had your problems, but I also know you loved her and I know this is difficult for you. Especially since you haven’t had a chance to really deal with it, what with getting arrested as soon as you found out she was gone. I don’t think anyone has actually given you any condolences yet, so I wanted to do that.”

The words hit me. Hard. He was right; I hadn’t really had time to process any of my emotions about Mom yet. As he mentioned her, the feelings started to bubble up, and I felt a lump growing in my throat. What I really wanted to do was just break down. I wanted to cry and scream. But this wasn’t the place for any of that. I had to survive being in here, I had to get out, and I had to defend myself against Aaron’s father’s latest attack. I didn’t have the luxury of dealing with my emotions right now.

I pushed the feelings down hard, trying to regain my composure. I’m sure the sheriff saw all of that play across my face, but he didn’t say anything. He just sat there, quietly, while I wrestled with my feelings.

“Thank you,” I finally said in just above a whisper.

“You’re probably wondering why I came down here since we saw each other early this morning.”

“I am, actually.”

“I talked to your lawyer about this some, but it’s been bothering me, and I didn’t feel right not talking to you about it directly. I wanted you to know that I did not file the charges against you myself, and I argued with District Attorney Campbell that you shouldn’t be charged, not unless something new came up in our investigation. I told him it seemed like a clear-cut case of self-defense, but I was overruled. I wanted you to know that.”

“I know. Mr. Eaves told me when I saw him this morning.”

“Good. I also wanted to give you a warning. Doug is out for blood on this one. I’ve tried talking sense into him, but he says he’s determined to make an example out of you.”

“An example? That’s...”

“I know. That’s what he said, but I don’t think that’s what he meant. He didn’t mean an example for this incident, I’m pretty sure he meant an example for anyone who might cross him again. I know you had that run-in with his son last year, and I know he’s always blamed you for that, but the way he talks, I think he’s convinced himself that you’ve directly challenged his authority. Honestly, I’m concerned that he’s not ... anyway, I’ve spoken to your lawyer already, and I’ve told him that I’m willing to do whatever I can to make sure you get a fair trial. I wanted to say the same thing to you. I know we’ve had our differences, but I still believe in justice, and this isn’t it. I’ll do what I can to help get you out of here.”

“Do you think ... do you think there’s any chance the charges might be dropped? Or that I might be found innocent?”

He made a face, pulling his lips into a tight line, and said, “I wish I had an easy answer for you, but I don’t. I might believe it looks like self-defense, but I’m not a judge or a jury, and it’s not my place to make that call. The fact is, no matter the circumstances, two people ended up dead. The law will have to determine if your actions were justified self-defense or not.”

That wasn’t what I was hoping to hear. My stomach twisted into knots. I dropped my gaze to the table, unable to meet the sheriff’s eyes.

“Honestly, if it were up to me,” he continued, “and I was judging based solely on the facts of that night, I think you acted to protect yourself and your mother. But the law doesn’t always see things so simply.”

I nodded, feeling almost numb.

“What I do want to do, though,” he said firmly, “is ensure that the District Attorney doesn’t allow his history with you to affect the case. I don’t intend to let him railroad you or put his thumb on the scales.”

“I appreciate that,” I said.

We were both quiet for a bit. He seemed as uncomfortable with the situation as I was, and neither of us knew what to say next. If I was going to be stuck in here, though, there was one thing I wanted.

“Do you think there’s any way Sydney could visit me? I just ... I could really use her support right now. And I know it would help put her at ease to see me, to know I’m okay.”

I knew he was always trying to protect his daughter, so I’d hoped by framing it as not just being about me, he might go along with it. It was a long shot, to be sure.

“That’s not a good idea. I’ve said before that while you might not be a problem yourself, you have a bad way of drawing problems to you. I think this proves that. Sydney’s a good girl, but she doesn’t always have the best judgment when it comes to boys. If you really care about her, I think the best thing you could do for her is to stay away from her. Your life ... it’s just not right for her.”

The source of this story is Finestories

To read the complete story you need to be logged in:
Log In or
Register for a Free account (Why register?)

Get No-Registration Temporary Access*

* Allows you 3 stories to read in 24 hours.