HE MANEUVERS THE CANARY yellow Lamborghini Espada through the tight curves of a two-lane county road, downshifts from fifth to third in a single swift motion, and turns onto the quarter-mile tree-lined drive that crosses the manicured acreage of his country estate. The tachometer needle leaps from three to six thousand RPM. He feels the gears mesh smoothly, hears the powerful, finely tuned
engine whine responsively. Martin likes that sound, that tawny wild cat’s cry. It makes him feel young again. His wife Millie admonishes that the sporty automobile is evidence of a creeping mid-life crisis, but he prefers to think it is evidence of his reverence for eternal youth.
He approaches his sprawling twenty-six room manor house of river rock and cedar beams and floor-to-ceiling windows with a warm and happy feeling. He’s been away a while. It is always a joy to return to where he does his best work. And today—today!—he feels certain he will finish at last!
He enters the attached garage, wheels his Lamborghini across the buffed and shiny black and white tiled floor and parks alongside Millie’s 1962 Rolls- Royce Phantom V Coach. It is more her style: sedate and respectable. He would see her soon, for brunch on the terrace—he was famished!—but first a good session in his cell.
He walks to a door in the far wall of the garage. He is dressed in tasseled tan loafers, pale green hosiery, khaki pants, a pale green polo shirt to match his socks and a straw hat—a boater with a brightly colored band. He is feeling gay, effusive, expectant. He opens the door upon a closet of mops and brooms and pails and paper towels and cans of cleanser and plastic containers of floor wax. From a hook in the right side wall of the closet hang a blue cotton work shirt, blue cotton pants and a tattered blue terry cloth robe. On the floor is a pair of
fuzzy slippers. He strips down to his polka dot boxer shorts. Above his slight paunch, in the center of his narrow chest, is a patch of curly white hair. On his left bicep in faded blue ink are the words Martin And Millie Forever encircling an old oak tree. He dons the work shirt and pants and the robe and the fuzzy slippers and hangs his more fashionable clothes from the hook. He closes the door, pulls an expanding protective gate across it, presses a red concave button in the wall beside the door and the door slides upward as the small compartment lurches downward.
FROM THE CORRIDOR OUTSIDE the cell of Crazy Carl come the pounding lyrics of a popular tune: Beat it, beat it, beat it! He sits at a gray metal desk hunched over a humming electric typewriter, fingers poised on the keyboard, staring at the page in progress. His hair is disheveled, his face unshaven, his soiled blue work shirt hangs limply on his slight frame and all around him his cramped quarters are in disarray: the stainless steel sink protruding from the concrete wall beside him is cluttered with greasy plastic dishes; the low lidless toilet bowl is unflushed; the concrete floor is strewn with castoff clothing: balled-up dungarees; filthy long john tops and work shirts; dirty socks; scuffed leather work boots and rubber shower shoes. The sagging bunk behind him is heaped with refuse: crumpled sheets of paper; clipped newspaper articles; the box of a jig-saw puzzle entitled, Where’s Waldo, its pieces scattered about; several issues of the tabloid, the National Inquirer, and the magazines,Omni, Newsweek, Business Week, House And Garden, Food And Wine andSunset. Piled precariously on the desk to the left of and behind the typewriter are the books, The Occult, A History; The Secret Doctrine; In Search of the Miraculous; The Book of Urantia; The Further Prophecies of Nostradamus; History of the Western World; Fairies at Work and Play; Outer Threshold of the
Inner Sanctum; Thus Spake Zarathustra; Tales of the Wayward Gypsy; Thought Forms and a copy of Gideon’s Bible. To the right of the typewriter is a pile of typed-upon pages, and behind that, from a plastic portable cassette player, Mick Jagger declares that he’s stolen many a man’s soul and faith. Pleased to meet you, he says. Hope you guess my name...but what’s troubling you is the nature of my game.
He looks to his left at the vertical slit of window in the gray metal door of his cell just as raucous activity erupts in the brightly lit corridor beyond: voices shout, doors bang open, a jarring profusion of music—rap, soul, hip-hop, country, rock—fills the air. Faces stream by, seen quickly, then gone. White faces, brown faces, black faces. He turns back round and stares anew at the page in progress, just as a hostile mocking voice bellows: Hey, Carl, Crazy Carl, you freak, you fucking geek, open the door, I’m gonna fuck you in the ass, you punk, you goofy mother fucker! The kid mutters under his breath, Yeah, you ain’t shuh shuh shit, mother fucker! You ain’t shuh shuh shit! He turns up the volume on the cassette player and returns his fingers to the keyboard. They wriggle in nervous anticipation. Etched into his knuckles in crude blue are the letters GOD IS DEAD. He stares at the page till his brows rise and his eyes flash, and he taps intently for a full-on minute, then pulls the paper from the machine and shouts triumphantly, Goddammit! I did it! I fuh fuh finished! I fuh fuh finished my fucking work! He pounds his fist on the desk, then re-reads what he’d written, his lips moving, and when he’s through he whispers to himself, I fuh fuh fucking did it!
He puts the page on top of the stack of pages to the right of his typewriter, then looks around the room at the cluttered bunk and the littered floor as though pondering what to do next. He gets up suddenly and slips his feet into his shower shoes, opens the door of his cell and sticks his head out. From down the
corridor a voice taunts: Carl, bring that booty down to my crib, boy, I got somethin for your tight ass!
A second voice remarks sympathetically: Buster, why you torment that boy like you do? Ain’t he got burden enough in this mortal world without you messin with his mind?
He a freak is why! Buster declares. He straight up mental! C’mere, Carl, you freak, come down to my crib. You can be my kid.
Fuh, fuh, fuck you, Buster, Carl says. You ain’t shuh shuh shit!
He leaves his cell, shuts the door behind him and walks up the corridor, his hands thrust deep in his pockets, his shoulders up around his ears.
Ain’t this a bitch! Buster’s voice bellows after him. Little freak say I ain’t shit! He straight up mental! They gone ship his sorry ass back to the Bug House in a minute!
MARTIN MUELLER WRENCHES THE flexible neck of his desk lamp until his humming electric typewriter is encompassed in a pool of light. At the perimeter of the pool, steam rises from his coffee cup, curls away and dissipates in a dark corner of his cell. He rolls a clean white sheet of paper into the big machine and pops a cassette into the portable player behind it: harp strings pluck pleasantly and a mellow voice croons that he’s lived a life that’s full; he’s traveled each and every high way. But more, much more than this, the crooner avows—I did it my way!
He puts his fingers to the keys. They tap tentatively, like those of a jazz pianist warming up, then fly across the keyboard in a flurry. At a knock on the door, they flutter to a halt like the whirling figure of a music box whose spring has wound down. He looks at his watch and thinks: That would be Willis. He looks over his shoulder: a black face bobs in the vertical slit of window in his
gray steel door like a balloon on a string, backlit by the fluorescent glare of the corridor beyond. The face grins foolishly. A hand waves a coffee cup in little circles. He pauses the cassette player, just as the crooner proclaims, I planned each chartered course, each careful step along the byway. He pushes his chair back, rises, gathers his tattered blue terry cloth robe around him, crosses the room in two short shuffling steps and opens the door. The pounding lyrics of a popular tune invade his room: Beat it! Beat it! Beat it! He regards his visitor, a lanky, angular, loose-limbed kid whose features seem to be dismantling, as in a Cubist portrait by Braque or Leger: crude braidings of bristly hair leap from his head like a small explosion has gone off between his ears; his lips curve downward on one side and upwards on the other; his left eye moves independently of the right and his teeth are too big for his mouth. He wears a frayed and soiled long-john top and long-john bottoms cut off above his knobby knees. He says, Gimmee shot a mud, pops.
Name’s not pops, son, the old man says, not unkindly. He is pleased that this surrogate Willis so resembles the original. What a find! How fortuitous that one with so unseemly a facade and so hang-dog a demeanor would have so nearly a twin. He fancies they must share a common soul.
The kid rolls his eyes and says, Gimmee shot a mud, Mr. Mueller.
You owe me a hundred shots already, young man, Mueller says in gentle rebuke.
I’ll tighten you up when I make store, old man. You know how we play it.
Mueller smiles and says, A familiar refrain, Willis. A man could do his time, come back for another crime before you make store.
Man, why you put me through these changes every day? Why do you come around with your hand out every day? Cuz you got it like a big dog! Got it like the Shah of Iran!
And what else, Willis...?
What else what?
You didn’t say the King of Siam. Your lines are: You got it like a big dog!
Got it like the Shah of Iran! Got it like the King of Siam!
Willis frowns and says: You got it like the King of Siam! Now is you is or
is you ain’t gonna come up off that mud, old man?
He holds out his cup. Mueller takes it. He turns to the gray steel cabinet
flanking his gray steel desk, reaches inside and pulls out a small white plastic container and a white plastic spoon. He puts the kid’s cup on the cabinet, unscrews the container top, and spoons a pile of brown flakes into the cup.
Willis says, Gimmee two shots.
Mueller adds another spoonful of coffee. He retrieves a container of sugar cubes and one of powdered creamer. He drops in two cubes and a spoonful of creamer, pours steaming water from the hot-pot on the cabinet and stirs.
Willis says, Gimmee two more sugars!
You’re pushing your luck, son, Mueller replies. He drops in two more cubes, crunches them with the spoon, extends the cup and says, Willis, my release has been approved. I go home in a day and a wakeup.
So you been saying.
I’m worried about you, Willis. What are you going to do when I’m gone?
Willis says indifferently, Do my time. What I’m sposa do.
I mean what are you going to do for coffee and for whams and zooms? Willis smirks and says, Find another mark like you to get over on.
I know you don’t mean that, Willis, but I’m sure you can take care of
yourself. I’ll miss your visits and your conversation.
Willis ignores the endearment. He gazes around Mueller into his cell at the humming electric typewriter and says, Whatchoo writin about, old man? I know you be steady typin and typin!
Mueller strokes his chin. He likes being asked about the nature of his work. He arrives at a new understanding of it each time he is asked, there being no single answer that encompasses the magnitude of his mission. He says, Willis, the subject of my work is none other than the Fragmentation of the Over-soul. Its root cause and its remedy. I’m attempting to solve a great mystery: Why are there so many human beings on this planet? Where do we come from and where do we go? Why do we come and go at all? And why are we all so different? Why are we not all the same?
Willis shakes his head and says, That’s a whole mess of wonderin why about nothin, old man.
Mueller replies, I don’t expect you to understand these matters at so early a stage in the evolution of your own soul, Willis.
Willis says, No, I can dig it, pops—you talkin about one love.
Profound Willis! A precise summation of a stupendous subject if ever there was one!
Willis shrugs. Mueller thinks it a stroke of genius on his part to have this surrogate Willis say, I can dig it, pops, when the original Willis had not been so astute. He says, Willis, come by my cell before I go. I want to give you my hot- pot and my cassette player and my television.
I might could do that, Willis says without enthusiasm. Thanks for the mud, pops.
He turns and walks up the corridor with a jerky limp, spilling coffee with every step.
MUELLER SITS BEFORE HIS TYPEWRITER and reads what he has written. He's not pleased but he knows the inspiration he needs is forthcoming. At a knock on his door, he looks at his watch and thinks: That will be Wilbur. He opens the door on a wiry, leprechaun-looking guy with a knobby chin, long nose and ears, and bushy brows shadowing eyes that flit left and right like roaches when the lights come on.
Wilbur, Mueller says.
Wilbur leans into Mueller’s cell and says in a quiet, croaking tone: I brought you something.
He glances up and down the corridor, unfastens the top two buttons of his blue denim work shirt, pulls out a manuscript and hands it quickly to Mueller.
What’s it about? Mueller says.
It’s called Travelling Man. This sinister dude tricks tourists all over the world into taking his picture with their camera. Mostly women, because he’s charming, a fucking Svengali! When they get back home, his image escapes from the camera and materializes in their world and he messes with them until their lives are destroyed...and he loves it, Mueller. He fucking loves it! His laugh is heard around the world!
Sounds terrific, Wilbur, but I may not read it before I go. My release has been approved. I’m out of here in a day and a wake-up. But I’ll read it first thing when I hit those bricks, and if it’s as good as you say, and I’m sure it is, you’ll see it in the pages of Playboy soon. I know the Managing Editor there. He owes me a favor. Not that your work needs special consideration. It is truly beyond.
As long as you like it is all that matters, Wilbur says.
There’s nothing you’ve written that I haven’t liked. Keep them coming. Send them to me. We’ll put together a collection. We’ll call it Ten From The Pen. Whatever. Here’s my address.
Mueller turns and puts the manuscript on his desk, scribbles on a blank sheet of paper, folds it and gives it to Wilbur, who puts it in the pocket of his work shirt, glances up and down the corridor and walks quickly away, his hands thrust deep in his pant pockets, his chin down and his shoulders up around his ears.
OUTSIDE HIS CELL A TORRENT of exuberant voices floods the corridor. He pauses his cassette player just as the crooner croons: I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried, I’ve had my fill, my share of losing. He puts his hands in his lap and closes his eyes and listens:
Leroi, get your monkey ass up! How come y’all tell me you goin to the gym, then you don’t go? Good for nothin lazy ass nigger!
That South House, they a buncha bums, man, straight up bums! Cain't play no hoop cuz they always be fightin with they own mother fuckin selves!
I told that chump, You jump in my shit one more time I’ll bust your mother fucking head, Jack!
Yeah, what he say?
He just be tremblin an shit, his pussy ass!
Hey Carl, Crazy Carl, you freak, you fucking geek, open the door!
I’m gonna fuck you in the ass, you punk, you goofy mother fucker!
A big fist bangs his door and a booming voice bellows: Hey, old man, open the fuck up!
Mueller looks at his watch and thinks: That would be Buster. He opens the door on a youthful African American the color of coffee with cream, with a
gleam in his eye that proclaims a penchant for mischief and violence. His massive torso fills the door frame.
Buster, Mueller says agreeably, what can I do for you?
I just wanna piss and moan, old man. Did I tell you about that bitch, Belinda, flappin her nasty pussy lips for my goddamn cousin?
` You did.
In the back seat of my Eldorado!
Yes, and then you say: When she sposa be home takin care a my kids! Buster says: When she sposa be home takin care a my kids!
And then you say: The Bitch!
Let’s say it together, Buster, on three: One...two...three...
Mueller and Buster recite in unison:
Did I tell you about that bitch, Belinda, flappin her nasty pussy lips for my Goddamn cousin? In the back seat of my Eldorado? When she’s supposed to be home takin care of my kids! The bitch!
Mueller says: Aahh...that is as pretty a piece of penitentiary parlance as
ever I’ve heard.
Buster says, Did I do good, old man?
You done good, Buster.
So tighten me up with a treat, Mueller! I’m hungry!
You’re in luck, Buster. I’m down to my last Twinkie but it’s all yours. Mueller retrieves a Hostess Twinkie from inside his grey metal cabinet and
says, Buster, my release was approved. I go home in a day and a wake-up.
Buster unwraps the Twinkie and says, So I hear...
I’ll make store one more time. Tomorrow. I’ll pick you up a whole box of
Twinkies. A farewell present. Or would you prefer Hostess Cupcakes?
Nutty Bars, Mueller. Get me some Nutty Bars.
All right. Nutty Bars it is.
Buster stuffs the Twinkie into his mouth. Mueller watches him chew. He
says, I’m almost sorry to go, Buster. I’ll miss your visits and your conversation. Buster smiles and says, I’ll miss you, too, old man. Thanks for the treat!
MUELLER PULLS THE PAGE from his typewriter and reads what he has written. He frowns. He balls up the page and throws it in the waste can. From down the corridor, an approaching voice rings out loud and clear: Extra! Extra! Read all about it! I want some pussy and I'm gonna shout it!
He looks at his watch and thinks: That would be Pauly. He pauses the cassette player just as the crooner inquires: For what is a man, what has he got?and answers himself: If not himself, then he has naught.
Pauly’s blond hair is long and straight, his hard blue eyes set firmly in a face that is youthful, yet lined with defiance. His sleeveless denim shirt hangs open on a bare chest emblazoned with a fierce bald eagle etched in blue, wings spread nipple to scarlet nipple. Clutched in its talons an unfurling banner reads:Harley Davidson Motorcycles. He is tall and rangy and rests his long arms inside the door frame, spread wide like the eagle’s wings. He leans his head inside the cell and says: Tomorrow night, Mueller. Berserker will hook you up. Two bricks of squares.
Marlboros or Double Os? Mueller inquires.
One of each.
Has he drawn a prototype?
Yeah, it looks good: Martin And Mollie Forever in a circle around an old
Millie. Whatever. Berserker will hook you up.
Will you be there, Pauly? Berserker makes me nervous. Broom straws through his nipples! Eating lizards on the yard!
I’ll be there, Mueller. Me and some of the boys. We’ll send you back to Mollie in a mellow state of mind. You smoke dope, Mueller?
Millie. No, I never have.
You will tomorrow. You can tell the old lady: I smoked dope with some real live mother fuckers, Mollie!
Millie, Mueller says. He smiles and adds: She would not approve.
Pauly smiles back. He raps Mueller in the chest with his knuckles and says, Tall Money Mueller, my new best friend. Sorry to see you go. But we’ll do you right tomorrow night. Come by my crib after yard and gym lines. Knock three times.
I’ll be there, Mueller says.
He likes how Pauly presents his lines. The staccato rhythm of the delivery. The certitude. He seems born for the part. Pauly turns and strides away, nearly colliding with Crazy Carl, who creeps up the corridor looking distracted and distraught. He says, Hey, punk, pay attention, you goofy mother fucker!
Carl steps back and says, You ain’t shuh shuh shit, Pauly! I’ll kuh kick your stupid ass!
Pauly, taller by half a head, laughs derisively and says, In your dreams, punk. He strides up the corridor singing: Extra, extra, read all about it. I want some pussy and I’m gonna shout it!
Carl approaches Mueller with a twisted smile and says, So, Mueller, how does it fuh fucking feel?
Mueller cringes. He doesn’t like Carl’s malicious tone. And he doesn’t recall that he would be asked how he felt. He says, Feel about what, Carl? About being released?
About being duh duh discarded.
Discarded? Whatever do you mean?
I mean I’m fuh finished with you, old man.
Finished with me? Fancy that!
You’ve served your puh purpose. Now you’re on your own.
I have always been on my own, son, and I’ve done just fine, thank you. You’re not going to ask what I’ve duh done?
All right, Mueller says cautiously: What have you done?
I fuh finished my fucking work!
Your work. Very well. Am I to ask what your work is about?
You don’t want to know, Mueller! It would turn your nuh notions of time
and space inside out. You wouldn’t know who you were. Or wuh when you were. Mueller feels uneasy. He doesn’t like that the kid is adlibbing this nonsense. And with such animosity! He holds out his hand and says, Son, if we
don’t have another chance to speak, it’s been a pleasure.
Carl ignores the hand. He grins maliciously and declares, You’ll be back!
I don’t think so, Mueller says. I’m not the recidivist type. One time around
is enough for me.
Carl leans in close. His eyes lock on Mueller’s and he chants, You’ll be
back! You’ll be back! Round and round you go, and when you stuh stop you’ll never know!
Mueller feels the effusion of Carl’s distracted state settle over him like a sinister fog. He steps back and says, I’ve got to go, young man. It’s been real.
Has it? I don’t think so! Anything but!
Mueller closes the door. Carl’s face lingers in the window, then drifts away. Mueller returns to his desk and attempts to read what he has written but is too distressed to comprehend. He puts the page down and stares into space. From the control room a raspy amplified voice announces: Eight o’clock count. Clear the day room. Clear the wings. Return to your cells.
The command is met with jeers:
Fuck you screw, you cain't count, you ignorant sumbitch!
Count this, pig!
Faces pass by Mueller’s window: Black faces, brown faces, white faces.
Doors slam shut. A jangle of keys approaches. Doors are opened and closed. Presently a green-clad guard with long narrow sideburns that come to rest in the shadow of his prominent cheekbones opens Mueller's cell, leans his head in and says pleasantly, Good evening, Martin.
Good evening, Woody, Mueller responds in kind.
Did you find it?
Your laundry bag. I brought it with the mail. You were out.
Mueller reaches under the bunk behind him and extracts a stuffed white
nylon sack cinched at the top. He probes inside and pulls out a pint bottle of liquor and a box of cigars. He says, Woody, you’re an angel in disguise!
Woody smiles smugly. A gold tooth flashes.
Mueller tosses the cigar box on the bunk and from the cluster of cosmetics on the stainless steel shelf above his sink selects a clean, clear empty pint container, unscrews the top, and the top of the liquor bottle, and transfers the contents steadily, with a practiced hand, the pouring reflected in the polished stainless-steel mirror above the shelf. Tucked in the mirror’s borders are two snapshots: one of a sprawling country manor house of river rock and cedar beams
and floor-to-ceiling windows, on the circular driveway in front of which a younger Martin Mueller in Khaki slacks, pale green polo shirt, tasseled tan loafers and a straw hat—a boater with a brightly colored band—leans against the fender of a canary yellow sports car, his leg crossed, his arms folded, a complacent smile on his face; the other of a smiling attractive young woman wearing a headscarf, in a swath of flowers in the shadow of a spreading oak tree, waving a gloved hand holding a trowel. In the warp of the metal mirror Mueller meets his own gaze. He smiles to himself and thinks these years have not treated him poorly. He thinks he remains rather dashing. He finishes pouring, hands Woody the empty container, and says, Woody, I have good news: my release has been approved! I’m out of here in a day and a wake-up!
Woody slips the empty pint bottle into the inside pocket of his jacket and says, That is good news, Martin. Like I’ve been telling the Missus, a man of your caliber should of never been locked up in this whore camp in the first place.
Mueller shakes his head. No, Woody, I’m not different from the others. We’re all cut from the same cloth.
Well, it won’t be the same without you, Martin. I guess I won’t be seeing you again.
Nonsense, Woody! Of course you will! You and the Missus will be our guests. We’ll wine you and dine you. We’ll take in a play! What do you say tothat, my friend?
Woody looks at the snapshot of the manor house in the mirror. She’d like that, he says.
There comes a pounding from inside closed doors up and down the corridor and the shouts of angry voices:
Hey, Woody, you lose count? Eight comes after seven, you dumb redneck sumbitch!
Hey, screw, you get fuckin lost or what?
You gettin your dick sucked?
Open my door, goddammit, I’m missing Rambo!
Woody says, Better go before I’m lynched, Martin.
Mueller says, You’ll be hearing from me, Woody.
Woody closes the door and continues the count. The jangle of his keys
recedes as he works his way down the corridor, grows louder as he works his way back up, and recedes again till the big door at the end of the corridor clangs shut. From the control room comes the announcement: Count has cleared. Count has cleared. Gentlemen, you are free to move about.
Doors bang open and voices fill the air. Mueller peels the crackly cellophane sleeve of the cigar box, flips the lid and pulls out a fist full of fresh long green panatelas banded regally in red and gold, slides them into one deep pocket of his robe, and slides the pint container and two empty plastic jam jars into the other. He un-pauses the cassette player as the singer sings: to say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels. Strings and horns rise to crescendo and the singer declares with conviction and pride—while Mueller stands straight and tall and sings along in a passable warbling baritone: The record shows I took the blows and did it my way! Horns and strings subside sweetly like the air after a storm and Martin and the singer conclude: Yes, it was my way.
HE SHUFFLES UP THE CROWDED CORRIDOR at the end of which he pushes open the heavy steel door and enters the Day Room. He surveys the scene, his senses keen to the sights and the sounds and the smells of it. Smoke drifts in the air like low-lying cirrus clouds. To his right, mounted high on the wall, a
television blares, beneath which an inmate stands on a folding chair flipping channels, while other inmates shout their preferences:
Play The Jeffersons, mother fucker!
Nu uh! Turn back Rambo!
No, Charlie’s Angels!
Man, fuck them holes! The Bulls playin Boston in the Garden at eight.
Hey, Simon, what time it is, man?
At a table in the center of the room, four men play cards. One responds
calmly, without looking away from his hand: Andrew, why you wanna know what time it is? There someplace you got to be?
Just what time it is, man, c’mon!
Time a bitch! Time a funky ho! Time a dream inside a dream!
Simon, Goddam! On your watch, nigger! What time it is!
Time a river! Time a sea! Time drown a nigger like you or me!
Oh, now you a mother fuckin poet!
I can bust a rhyme.
You can bust a rhyme, but you can’t tell time, nigger, so go fuck yourself! In the center of the room a shirtless, muscular African American, as dark
and sculpted as Mueller’s teakwood bar back home, sits on a folding chair, a threadbare white towel draped over his shoulders like a cape, his elbows on his knees, his fingers laced between his legs, staring intently at the floor between his feet. Mueller feels the man’s smoldering fury emanate like heat waves in July off the two-lane blacktop road that approaches his country estate. He is pleased to have found a player whose intensity equals that of his counterpart. Hovering about him, a cinnamon-skinned inmate with blue eyeshadow and a stylish head of wavy hair streaked with orange, in skimpy yellow shorts and lavender shower
shoes, braids his hair in tight, straight rows front to back. Oh, you gone love this, Botha, honey, she coos. You gone be sooo handsome!
Alone in the far left corner an elderly Hispanic with a patch of hair like dirty snow plays solitaire, his palsied hands shaking as they flip the cards.
On the far side of the Day Room is a glassed-in control room inside which Woody the Screw sits behind a stainless-steel panel reading a paper-back book, moving his lips. To the left of the control room is a bulletin board before which stands a thirty-something white inmate with curly dark hair to his collar, perusing memos. To the right of the control room is a wide door marked Mop Closet. At a table to the right of the door two black inmates, one portly and bald, the other slight, his hair flattened back and shiny in the manner of a Motown artist, are absorbed in a game of chess. And in the far right corner over a heavy steel door like the door at the end of Mueller’s corridor are the painted letters B WING.
Mueller strokes his chin. He wonders if the scene is not a tad too analogous to Edward Hick’s Peaceable Kingdom to stimulate a good session. Perhaps, going forward, an altercation to charge the atmosphere and invoke his muse was called for...but never mind; there will not be a next time if all goes well, as he expects it will today.
He crosses the Day Room and comes up alongside the young man perusing memos at the bulletin board. He says, Say, aren’t you Dean Davis, also known as Double Dee, who plays the part of the reporter Downtown Brown on the Vocational School commercials?
The young man smiles and says, My reputation precedes me.
Mueller extends his hand. I’m Martin Mueller, he says. I admire your work. It’s for a good cause. And I can see you’re making the most of your penitentiary experience. You seem actually to be having a good time. We have
that in common. Every moment is bursting with the possibility of profound revelation, don’t you think?
Davis shake’s Mueller’s hand and says, I’ll have to think about that.
I’d like to get to know you, Mr. Davis, but it won’t happen any time soon. My release has been approved. I go home in a day and a wake-up.
Good for you, Martin. I’m down to seventy-one days myself...not that I’m keeping track.
Perhaps we could meet up on the outside.
I’m not local, Davis says. I’m going back to California where I was born and raised and if I never see the Midwest again, it won’t be too soon.
Nonsense, Mr. Davis. I’ll fly you out. You’ll be my guest. We’ll make up for missed opportunities. Let me give you my number, and you give me yours.
Davis chuckles dubiously. Whatever, he says.
Mueller turns to the control room and puts his mouth to the stainless steel speaker grate and says, Woody, can I trouble you for a piece of paper and a pen?
Woody puts down his book and picks up a piece of paper and a pen and slides them through the concave opening between the glass and the counter. Mueller tears the paper in half and writes on one half and gives the other half and the pen to Davis, who writes in turn. They exchange halves. Mueller says, Do give me a call when you’re free, Davis. We’d love to have you, Millie and I. We’ll wine you and dine you. We’ll take in a play. What do you say to that, my friend?
I’d say life is good, Mueller. I’ll give you a call when I hit those bricks.
You’ll be glad you did, Davis, Mueller says. We’ll kick it about back in the day.
Davis exits the Day Room. Mueller removes the memos stapled to the bulletin board, a thick stack that he folds in half like a newspaper and slides
under his armpit. He pauses to eavesdrop on the conversation between the chess players at the table to his right. The slim one says impatiently, Quincy, you gonna move a piece fore the middle of next week, mother fucker?
Move when I be ready to move, Lloyd, the portly one says calmly, without looking up from the board.
Goddam, Quincy, a nigger could do his time, come back for another crime, fore you be ready!
Lloyd, how a man sposa think with you steady runnin yo mouth?
Jus move somethin, turtle ass mother fucker!
Mueller is fond of their affectionate repartee. It speaks of the brotherhood
of man. As he passes their table en route to the door to D Wing, Lloyd catches his eye. Hold on a minute, Martin, he says. I want you to meet my Cousin Quincy. Forty years on the street, he just caught his first case. Lucky he got assigned to this camp. I'm pulling his coattails about who's good to know on the block.
Pleased to meet you, Quincy, Mueller says. But I’m not the man to know. My release has been approved. I’m out of here in a day and a wake-up. But you’re in good hands with Lloyd, here. He’ll tighten you up.