--- 3 ---
Kamikaze has been here nearly a week now and I’m still tryna figure him out. The guy is a seriously loose cannon. First he goes crazy aggressive with Edge, then he barely says a word the next two days. And now, he’s holding up the lunch line.
"Get moving," I snarl up at him. Today is macaroni, which is the only meal we ever get which actually tastes like food.
Wall and the Berger, standing between me and him, turn to glare at me. What? Kami’s been talking to the lunch guy for the last three minutes.
I can’t see the lunch guy; he’s behind a wall he just hands trays through. Fellow cons used to do the kitchen work, but there was an incident with food poisoning which the warden decided was intentional, so he hired these goons. He actually has to pay them minimum wage (as opposed to the ten cents an hour the cons got), and rumor has it that’s why he can’t afford to turn on the heaters. Anyway, so I’ve never seen the lunch guy, but Kamikaze is crouched down talking to him.
Finally, Kamikaze moves on, and by the time I finally get my lunch, I decide I deserve an explanation for the hold-up, so I follow him and his friends to their corner table. I’m not good pals with Wall or the Berger, but at this point I’m too mad to think about prison politics and alliances and who might notice I’m sitting with these three.
The Berger gives me a cold stare, but Wall is reading his Bible and doesn’t notice I’ve sat down. Kamikaze is scowling at his food.
I slam down my tray and take a seat. "What’s the big idea, Maxwell?"
"Can’t a man have a conversation?" the Berger asks.
"Not if it means I have to wait for my lunch." I dig in to my macaroni.
"It’s none of your business," the Berger says.
Kamikaze looks up from his food. "It’s okay, Jake. He can know." He looks straight at me. "I have a source."
Wall and Jake freeze, then look from Kamikaze to me and back.
Source. Excitement rides behind the thought. "A . . . source . . . for what?" I ask.
Kamikaze shrugs. "Whatever I want, he said."
"It was an old acquaintance of Kami’s," Wall explains. "From Odyssey."
"Acquaintance?" Jake hoots. "They sounded like best buds. Kamikaze recognized the guy’s watch when he handed the tray through yesterday. And then they started reminiscing. And as soon as the guy learned his old friend Richard was the Kamikaze everyone’s been talking about, well. He sort of whispered he’d smuggle in whatever ol’ Kami here wants."
"A real live mule," I mutter. "So? What are you asking him for?"
Kamikaze shoves his tray aside. "I’m tempted to ask him for some real food."
"Ask him for udon noodles," Jake suggests. "Not top ramen. Udon."
Wall looks up from his Bible and raises his eyebrows.
"I guess that would be an improvement," Kamikaze admits.
"No, no." The Berger lowers his voice and leans over the table, like we're discussing matters of national security or something. "Not to eat. I had a mule once -- one of the hacks -- and he snuck me a package of udon every day for months. They're soft noodles. So you layer them under your mattress and then it’s almost as soft as a real bed. I slept well for nearly three months before the other hacks found and confiscated them."
"That’s not a bad idea," Kamikaze says.
"What are you morons talking about?" I burst out. Then I continue in a hiss, "You have a source, Kamikaze. You could--" I break off.
"I could what, Jellyfish?" Kamikaze asks.
Wall and the Berger are looking at me now, and I don’t want them to hear.
"Never mind," I mutter, digging in to my macaroni. "Are you going to eat that?"
The rest of us eat most of Kamikaze’s food. My mind feels like it’s on a hamster wheel. With Kamikaze’s connection to this food server guy, all sorts of possibilities I hadn’t considered are swirling. There’s not a lot of people I’d trust with an operation like the one I’m contemplating, but Kamikaze has the guts for it -- and the connections. I wonder why he trusted me with the info about his source -- could he be testing me? Or maybe he can sense the kind of things I’m itching to plan, and maybe he wants to be a part of it.
I’m done with my food, but the buzzer hasn’t rung yet to herd us on to our next location, and I’m still hungry. I eye Kamikaze’s tray.
"You going to eat that applesauce?"
He kind of jumps, and then shoves the tray toward me. "No." And he’s giving me his glare again. Moody piece of work, my cellmate.
"So, tell me about Odyssey," I say, hoping he’ll stop glaring. "Big drug problem?"
"Big . . . ? Oh. My conviction. No -- more like a safe place to lose anybody tracking anything. I took the job in high school for the money. I only found out later that I was delivering psilocybin."
I snort. "All that time, and you thought it was gift baskets."
Kamikaze has the grace to look embarrassed. "All right, I -- I suspected. Sometimes it’s easy to ignore what’s right in front of you."
"What’s the big deal? You weren’t hurting nobody."
"Maybe. But the person I was working for is the one who introduced me to Regis Blackgaard."
I finish off the applesauce. "The guy in the paper."
Kamikaze jerks his head in a nod. "The rest of my convictions rightfully belong to him."
"How much did he pay?"
Kamikaze falls silent.
"I mean, for the computer stuff, the barn -- it was all for him, right?"
"I really don’t want to talk about it."
Regis Blackgaard. I file the name in the back of my mind. A guy who pays a guy to burn down a barn sounds like my kind of employer.
"Odyssey sounds kinda nice," I say. "Maybe I’ll go there sometime."
Kamikaze stands up and picks up his tray. "You wouldn’t like it," he says, and walks away.
If, theoretically, you existed, and if, theoretically, you looked down upon my (theoretical) existence, would you judge me worthy of pardon, or of punishment?
Jellyfish and I have hatched an escape plan.
Suddenly, I’m in your role, God. I can set myself free if I want to. But do I deserve it?
All this is, as I said, entirely theoretical. Because in the end all my guilt and inner turmoil means nothing. In the end, I don’t care what I deserve. I’m leaving. If I’m ever going to pay for my crimes, it won’t be here. It’ll be out there -- where Blackgaard is. Where I can get to him.
Jellyfish just up and told me he’d been planning escape for awhile and just needed an accomplice he could trust. I think it shocked him when he said it -- he looked surprised, the way I’d felt when I told him about Gavin Greenblatt my new source of contraband.
So far, I’ve gotten one box of matches and a package of udon from Gavin. (Hey, we might be planning escape, but if it doesn’t work, I might as well start my collection.) Matches aren’t allowed in here; smokers only get their cigarettes lit in special places at special times.
I’ve also grilled the Berger about what kind of smoke detectors the prison has and where they’re located. He was only too eager to explain that they’re ionization detectors, which means they go off at the slightest whiff of smoke -- lucky for us.
Meanwhile, Jellyfish has finally gotten work detail. Conveniently, it’s in maintenance work. Waxing and polishing the floors. Not in the cell-house, of course -- no, that’s kept nice and filthy for us cons. But the administrative corridors need to be spotless because real live human beings actually walk there. So Jellyfish managed to pick up the last pieces we need for our escape.
Now we’re just working out the timing. It won’t be easy with all the routine counts. Every four hours, the guards stop everyone where we stand to count us -- make sure all us cattle are still here and still breathing. Not that I mind -- it's the easiest way to tell what time it is. It’s just that I wish we didn’t have to stand still and quiet until they’re done counting us -- it takes about ten minutes for them to reach us on the third tier, and if we move or speak, they write us up. During the counts are the only times this place really quiets down -- and only then do I notice how loudly my ears are ringing from the ever-present echoes of other voices and the slamming metal doors of our cages.
The night after Jellyfish told me his plan, I dreamed again of Blackgaard’s Castle burning. Of my legs pinned under the machine, of the smoke filling my lungs. I heard someone -- I think it was Whittaker, but then it turned into Jellyfish -- yelling, "Hey Kamikaze! You can leave! Just leave, Kamikaze!" And I stood up, and a great wind rushed through the building and swept the fire up and away. And then the wind tore through the halls of Cellblock A, up to the third tier, springing cell 337 wide open. And I stood there, with the choice to leave or to stay. And then I chose.
--- 4 ---
I’ve got to hand it to Kamikaze. Once I let him in on my plan, he’s been in it all the way, never a hesitation. He did his part getting information from the Berger and matches from his mule. We’ve decided on a Tuesday five days from now, since the timing of lunch and garbage pickup matches up on Tuesdays. I’m antsy with the wait so I have something up my sleeve to make our last few days more entertaining.
First, I get the Berger to talk loudly about how much he loves fire. He and a select few others are learning some car maintenance and repair in a special privately-funded class, so I guide him into talking about how very nice it is to be so close to gasoline again.
"What are you doing?" Kamikaze demands at one point.
"Just wait," I mutter back.
Part of our escape plan involves the use of one of the highly flammable cleaning substances I smuggled up from the admin corridors after my shift on work detail ended. We’ll need some of the stuff to create a diversion this Tuesday -- but not all of it.
I skip lunch to lurk in the corridor. The buzzer buzzes everyone out of the chow hall, and I pull Kamikaze aside as he strolls past.
"What are you--"
We’re right at the corner cell, which happens to be Wall and Cali’s, where we can sort of hide. Behind my back I have what I’ve been working on, and clutched in my hand is one of Kami's matches. In the confusion surrounding the end of lunch, nobody is looking here -- and by the time they do, I won’t be the most conspicuous person.
I wait until the Berger is nearby, then strike the match on my knee, light my concoction, and toss it around the corner into Wall and Cali’s cell. The Berger exclaims, drawing all attention to him -- and to the burning cell behind him. Guards shout and run toward him, while Jake looks around frantically, not noticing me around the corner and behind the press of people who’re gathering. The fire alarms scream into action while the guards try to be heard over it, yelling for us to get in line. I look behind me, trying to find Kamikaze, but he’s down the hall entering the cafeteria again just before it closes.
The badges make us all line up and march us out into the yard where we stand freezing until they get the fire alarm to stop blaring.
I have to go to my work detail by the time we get back in, so I miss out on some of the aftermath of my prank. But I hear whispers from some of the hacks, about a long time in solitary for the Berger, about replacing some of Wall and Cali’s standard-issue items the fire had destroyed, about how the Berger had smuggled the flammable agents from his mechanics class, about how the mechanics class may have to be cancelled now. I snigger to myself, mopping the floor until I can see my grin reflecting back at me.
I can’t wait to exult in my prank with Kamikaze, the one person who will really understand its brilliance. But back in my cell that night, Kamikaze doesn’t look up from his notebook when I come in, just continues scribbling. I lean my elbows on my favorite bar, noting that the Berger’s cell is empty. I can’t quite see Wall and Cali’s from here.
Kamikaze snaps shut his notebook, throws it in his locker, slams his locker closed, and lies down.
A horrible thought dawns on me. He didn’t get the joke. He doesn’t realize its humor, its glory, my ingenuity. I thought he was like me -- bored out of his mind, up for a challenge. I thought he deserved better than this life.
I walk toward him.
"Stay on your side," he says from behind clenched teeth.
I snort. "Now who's juvenile."
He sits up, and the glare he fixes me with makes me stumble back over the line. Far over it onto my side.
"You could have gotten caught," he growls. "You could have gotten both of us caught."
"I made sure it was Baumberger they'd--"
"What if they’d decided Jake wasn’t the only one, and turned out everybody's cells?"
They’d have found our stuff, made escape impossible. I shrug. "It was worth the risk."
"Jake Baumberger is my friend." Kamikaze’s voice has gone deadly soft. "As is Chris Wallace. And isn’t Cali yours?"
I roll my eyes. "The Berger ain’t your friend, Maxwell. He’s somebody you plied for information about fire alarms. Wally isn’t your friend. You only helped him out on the off chance that his God was real and would reward you for your trouble. And Cali is some guy I play cards with." The lights go out without warning, like they always do at this time of night. I wait while some badges stroll by outside, then continue in a hiss. "People like you and me ain’t got friends, Kamikaze. We’ve got lackeys. And the only reason you and me get along is ‘cause we’re useful to each other."
Inside, I’m fuming. I’d hoped that Kamikaze was more than just another witless bumbler of Cellblock A. I’d thought he was. But if he can’t take a simple joke . . . no, not simple -- it was brilliant! I’m thinking now that maybe our entire plan won’t work out. I stare up into the darkness, hearing the usual nighttime cacophony of hushed conversation, snores, and far away weeping.
Finally, he speaks. "You didn’t use up all the combustibles, did you?"
"Of course not," I spit.
I smile. He may not have a sense of humor, but my cellmate is still my ally.
"The only reason you and me get along ‘cause we’re useful to each other."
I suspect we won’t be getting along for much longer. I’ve altered the plan just a smidge. I hope you approve.