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By Tom Mitchell
Copyright 2011 Tom Mitchell
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
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All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Neil crossed the prison lobby and came to a halt at the metal detector outside Control, a room encased in bulletproof glass and outfitted with TV monitors, two-way radios and banks of telephones.
A guard with a ruddy complexion addressed him through a grille. “We’re locked down, I need to see your identification card.”
He got out his wallet and held up a photo ID: Massachusetts Department of Correction, Neil McGuire. His hair was short in the picture, taken two years earlier when he started working at the prison. Since then he had let it grow long. And lately the circles under his eyes had darkened, making him look older than his twenty-eight years.
“Your pal came through ten minutes ago,” the guard said, writing on a clipboard. “No going beyond the ad’ building.”
“What’s the problem?”
“Stabbing. Hewitt, Charles. Did you know him?”
Neil didn’t respond.
“Shower room, blood everywhere.” The guard glanced over his shoulder at a black guard, then leaned close to the glass. “Colored boy.” He searched Neil’s eyes as if he could read another man’s thoughts. “Step through,” he said, redirecting his gaze.
Neil placed his keys and pocket change on a tray, and carried his leather portfolio through the metal detector. No beep.
The guard waved him on.
Numbed by the news of Charles Hewitt’s murder, Neil watched his shoes lead him down a narrow cinder block corridor. A massive steel door rolled sideways and he stepped into a windowless box with a surveillance camera up in one corner. As the door clanged shut he pictured a rat crouched in the start box of a maze about to run a bewildering labyrinth.
The door on the opposite wall opened with a rush of cold air. He followed an icy walkway to the administration building. Inside, he passed the empty visiting room and climbed a set of stairs to the second floor.
Bernie, his partner, was nowhere in sight. He decided to try the records room. Their supervisor had been politicking for an office in the administration building for nearly two years. No results yet. When they weren’t able to borrow an office, they had to meet with inmates on the first floor in a supply room, surrounded by mops and pails and cartons of toilet paper.
No one looked up as he entered the records room; the clatter of typewriters made it difficult to hear anybody come in. He sat up front in a wooden chair next to the coffee urn.
A telephone rang. “Records, Diane speaking.” She was new, still giving her name when she answered the phone.
He turned his attention to the coffee urn, filled a Styrofoam cup and dropped a dime in the collection mug. Then he took out his appointment book. Friday, February 2, 1973: two new men set up for the afternoon, have to phone the wives and reschedule; Charles Hewitt at eleven—scratch Charles.
Hard to get used to it, people dying before their time.
Almost a year now since his kid brother got killed in the war. His mother didn’t seem to remember much about the soldiers who came to the house or what they said, and she waited a whole week to let him know Richie was gone. After his first tour in Vietnam the two of them got drunk one night. Richie’s war stories left Neil with searing images of adrenaline-stoked rampages, young soldiers turned hellhounds avenging the deaths of buddies. Not home six weeks, he re-enlisted. Combat had gotten into his blood. On the second tour his letters all began with “How’s everything on the home front?” He didn’t say much about himself and less about what he was doing. Sometimes he might describe the countryside, or a sunrise. Mostly he asked for news about goings-on back home.
Neil clenched his teeth. A year since Richie’s funeral. It seemed longer.
And now Charles Hewitt was dead, the prison in a lockdown. Guards scouring the place for weapons, body-searching every man, cell by cell. They’d find plenty of weapons, always did; the risk of getting caught without a weapon far outweighed the risk of getting caught with one.
Then it struck Neil, he might be the only person working there who knew why Charles Hewitt was murdered. The prison locked down and here he was, camped out on a chair in the records room drinking coffee, knowing full well what got Charles killed.
A hand on his shoulder startled him. “Guess you heard,” said a familiar voice with a Southern accent.
“Yeah, Bernie, I did.” Neil got up from the chair and faced him.
Bernie was a couple of inches taller and heavier set. Rimless glasses and a full beard gave him an avuncular presence that belied his age. He continued in his Carolina drawl. “Glenn wants to talk to us, says an investigator from the state police might want to ask some questions, or the assistant warden, wasn’t sure who.”
“You go ahead. I’ll be with you in a minute.”
“Sid’s driving out,” Bernie added, turning to leave. “He wanted to be in on the meeting.”
The wooden chair left Neil with a stiff neck. He rolled it gingerly back and forth, finished the coffee, and thought about what to say if the subject of his notes came up. For once he was glad they didn’t have an office. The notes were at home, there’d be time to change them. Sid was an easygoing supervisor but—now with Charles murdered—he’d be irate if he found out what went on their last session.
Bernie stood waiting outside Glenn’s door. Lettering on the frosted glass read Chief of Rehabilitation Services. When they entered, Glenn, in his customary three-piece suit, straightened the papers on his desk and motioned for them to sit down.
“Gentlemen,” he said, giving them a patronizing nod, “I’ll ask that you not discuss any of this outside the prison. Neil, you were seeing Mr. Hewitt?”
“And his sister.”
Glenn consulted a sheet of paper. On the wall behind him was a Master of Social Work diploma from Boston University. Next to it, a framed photograph showed a younger Glenn proudly pumping the arm of Joe Vollmer, two-term ex-Governor, currently back on the front page for his indictment in a highway construction scandal. “…Esther Johnson, a sister, is listed as next of kin.”
“Oh? She didn’t mention you. I conveyed the news by telephone, a painful task.” Glenn’s gaze lowered reverently. He took the opportunity to adjust the silk handkerchief in his breast pocket. “I’ve touched on this briefly with Bernie. In my experience these investigations can become rather complex. You understand that public discussion of Mr. Hewitt’s affairs would be neither appropriate professionally, nor would it serve the best interests of justice.”
“I understand.” Yes, Glenn, I understand what a pompous ass you are.
“Good. As professionals, we all grasp the importance of keeping this in the family.” He bared his teeth in a cloying smile. “Sid’s on his way. A state police investigator may want to interview you, Neil. From your sessions with Mr. Hewitt you could be privy to facts that bear on the investigation, improbable but one never can tell. When Sid arrives, as I advised him when we spoke, you’re welcome to use my office. Questions, gentlemen?”
Bernie and Neil exchanged glances. “None right now,” Neil replied. “We’ll wait down in the cafeteria.”
* * *
“Here he is, Bernie. At last.” Neil pushed away a half-empty coffee cup.
In his fifties and overweight, Sid tramped stiffly across the cafeteria’s checkerboard floor. “Where do all the friggin’ cars come from on Fridays?” He looked at Neil. “Too bad about your man, Neil. We’ll talk upstairs.” He did an about-face and led the way.
Sid tilted back in Glenn’s swivel chair, peeled the cellophane off a cigar, and lit up with the silver lighter he kept in his jacket pocket. “You form attachments,” he began, “it’s natural. When I was first in this business, I took one of my state wards to a Red Sox game. The kid had a terrific time. Next day, a Sunday”—Sid paused to catch his breath—“the little putz throws himself in front of a streetcar. Had me depressed for months.”
Neil shrugged. “Charles Hewitt and I never really connected.”
“Not surprising, hard to get through to these guys.” Sid turned to Bernie. “I don’t recall us going over any of Hewitt’s sessions.”
“We haven’t. Neil’s talked to me about him some.”
“I was scheduled to see him this morning.”
“How about a quick summary.”
“I started meeting with him and his older sister, Esther, three months ago. After release he was going to live with her and her husband.” Neil rubbed the back of his neck. “He was twenty-five, in for dealing heroin. He’d done close to four years of a ten-year sentence, got denied his first time up for parole. Didn’t say much in the sessions. Real aloof.”
Sid reached for an ashtray.
“Early on, we got into some family history but lately we talked mostly about getting a job and the situation at Esther’s. Her husband and Charles didn’t hit it off; she was worried about that. The husband had lined up a job in an auto body shop but Charles didn’t want any job his brother-in-law helped him get.”
Bernie looked at Neil. “Weren’t you starting to tell me, a few days back, you had an interesting session with him?”
“Oh, right. Last Friday Esther phoned and canceled. Car trouble. Charles asked if we could meet without her. I made an exception to our rule, figured it would be okay. He opened up a bit, said he was tired of the drug scene. Recently his old girlfriend started coming out for visits. She’s attractive. I saw them in the visiting room. He wanted to marry her.” Neil thought about how much he should say. “We talked more about the auto body job. Why not give it a shot, I said. He knew he wasn’t going anywhere without a job lined up, told me he’d reconsider it. At the end of the session he even thanked me.”
Sid studied his cigar, rolling it between his fingertips. “When a man’s time gets short, there’s often men who’ll try to make trouble for him, out of jealousy, to settle a score, or whatever. Hewitt mention anybody giving him grief?”
“No, nothing like that.”
“You‘ve got good notes of the sessions?”
Sid gestured toward Neil’s leather portfolio, propped up against the leg of his chair. “Let’s have a look at your notes. The investigator might want them for the record.”
“The file’s in my desk at home,” Neil said, doing his best to sound frustrated.
“We should go over your file—pain in the ass, not having an office out here. How about we get together tomorrow sometime?”
“On the weekend? It can’t wait till Monday?”
Sid’s face darkened. He looked at Bernie, and back to Neil. “Neil, a man’s been murdered. The one thing we can contribute to the investigation is your notes. All I’m asking is we go over the notes, make a copy for us and offer the originals to whoever’s in charge of the investigation, that’s all.”
“I understand, Sid. But Monday morning would be a lot better for me.”
“Okay then, first thing Monday. Let’s get together out here, eight thirty sharp. Bernie, I’d like you here too.”
Glenn’s phone rang. Sid answered it. “Kaminsky here. …We did. …Don’t think so. …Fine, Glenn, we’ll be right down.” He hung up. “A state police detective would like to speak with us in the warden’s office.”
The warden’s secretary offered them coffee, which they declined. A placard on the reception area wall admonished visitors NO SMOKING. Sid, minus his cigar, had already started to fidget. Neil inquired if there was a telephone he could use to cancel his afternoon appointments. She let him use one of hers. Then Bernie made a call.
Finally an intercom box squawked out something unintelligible, and she led them into the warden’s office, a large room with windows that looked through a chain-link fence into the prison yard. The warden sat unsmiling behind an oak desk, the assistant warden sitting at his side, not three feet away—Tweedledum and Tweedledee, a pair of jut-jawed Dick Tracy clones. Glenn and a well dressed man Neil presumed was the state police detective were seated on a couch.
Glenn did the introductions: Warden Sanders, Assistant Warden Cox, Captain Jack Garrity of the state police, Sid Kaminsky, Bernie Rosenkranz, Neil McGuire.
Sid had been introduced to the warden before but Neil and Bernie were meeting him for the first time. The warden and his assistant shook their hands without getting up, while Captain Garrity stood to greet them. Garrity was as tall as Bernie, bull-necked and round-faced, with the ready smile and firm handshake of a seasoned politico.
The warden pointed them toward chairs. “Sid, I hear you and Glenn go back a ways.”
Sid grinned. “Long ways, hey Glenn? Met at BU on the GI bill. Glenn was the brainy one. Me? If it wasn’t for Uncle Sam, I’d still be driving a cab. We sure had some good times back then.”
“Bet you did,” said the warden. “Heady days, those were, after the war. Wish we had time to chat but I wanted to give Jack a chance to go over a few things. Then you boys can make this a three-day weekend.”
Captain Garrity sat with a spiral notebook balanced on one knee. He turned to Neil. “Glenn tells me Charles Hewitt and his sister were being seen in counseling by you, Neil.”
“Right, he was planning to live with her when he got out.”
“If you don’t mind, Captain,” Sid interrupted, “some background on our program, what it’s designed to—”
“I don’t need—”
“A brief explanation. We provide family counseling to inmates coming up for parole, get their family members out to the prison before release.”
“Sounds like a good concept.” Garrity bobbed his head acquiescently and turned back to Neil. “How long were you seeing Hewitt and his sister?”
“Three months, nine or ten sessions. Not every week. If his sister couldn’t come out, we’d cancel the session. Like last Friday, she left me a message her car wouldn’t start.”
“Then you hadn’t seen Hewitt for two weeks?”
“Actually, as things turned out, I did see him last Friday. Got her message too late. Ordinarily when the family member cancels out, I’ll ask a guard to phone the cellblock so the inmate doesn’t come over to the ad’ building for nothing. Anyway, Hewitt surprised me, said he’d like to talk if that was okay with me.”
“I see,” Garrity said. “Then it was a week ago you met with him alone for…how long?”
Neil cleared his throat. Relax, he told himself, be cool. “Our sessions last fifty minutes.”
The answer occasioned a puzzled look from the assistant warden toward his boss. From what Neil could make out, the warden ignored him and continued to leaf through a thick manila folder on his desk.
“I should explain one thing here,” Neil went on, “we have a rule if we see a man without his wife he isn’t allowed to discuss their relationship. You know, so we don’t get caught in the middle? But with a sister I didn’t think the rule was that important.”
Garrity nodded. “And what did he talk about?”
“About wanting to change his life, stop dealing drugs, even stop doing drugs. This past month, since around Christmas, his old girlfriend started to visit. Getting back together with her was important to him.”
“In your opinion, she was a positive influence?”
“Absolutely. She warned him it was either her or drugs. They were thinking about getting married.”
“Did he ever tell you he was in any kind of jam?”
“Beefs with other inmates?”
Neil shook his head no.
Garrity jotted something in his notebook. “…Far as you know, he wasn’t in a gang?”
“From what little he told me, he kept pretty much to himself.”
“Anything else you can think of, Neil, from your counseling sessions, from talking with his sister, or plain old intuition, anything that might relate to the stabbing?”
Neil looked down, allowed several seconds to tick off in order to appear extra conscientious about the answer he gave, then looked up. “Not a thing, Captain.”
Garrity turned to Warden Sanders and Assistant Warden Cox. “Other questions?”
The warden tapped a pen on his desk pad. “Wouldn’t appear Hewitt was the type who’d tell his woes to a counselor.” He flipped shut the manila file folder and glanced at Cox.
Neil sensed some friction between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Sid spoke up. “Warden, we keep comprehensive clinical notes of our sessions. Neil’s notes are at home—we don’t have an office out here yet—but we can bring Hewitt’s complete file out on Monday, sooner if you’d prefer.”
“Want to see their file?” the warden asked Garrity.
Sid straightened up in his chair. “Where will you be on Monday, Captain?”
The warden pointed to Glenn. “Bring Glenn the file, he’s our liaison man. He’ll be in constant touch with Jack throughout the investigation.”
“That’s best,” Garrity agreed.
Warden Sanders set the manila folder aside and looked at his wristwatch. “Noon already. Chow time. Thanks for your assistance, boys. Sid, nice seeing you again.”
Sid went over to the warden’s desk and shook his hand, then shook hands with the assistant warden and Captain Garrity. Dutifully, Bernie and Neil did the same. When Garrity shook Neil’s hand, he gave it a viselike squeeze and held on longer than Neil anticipated.
* * *
Bernie, Sid and Neil walked out of the administration building together, across the icy concrete walkway that led to the steel box, and past Control, where an older guard behind the glass acknowledged Sid with a friendly wave.
By the time they reached the parking lot, Neil felt lightheaded with relief. Under the circumstances he had acquitted himself well, he thought. The art of prevarication took practice. And over the weekend he’d be getting more practice, rewriting his notes.
Sid lit a cigar and invited them to lunch, on him. Neil begged off, claiming he had no appetite, which conveniently was true. Bernie said he’d been trying to lose weight. So the three of them went their separate ways.
Neil drove his old Saab home on autopilot, his mind on other things. He needed to fix his notes. If he had consulted with Sid about his last session with Charles Hewitt, none of this might have happened. Everything discussed in these sessions will be held in strictest confidence, he boasted to inmates, in strictest confidence. He kept his promise at least. Besides, he wasn’t getting paid to spy on people. A hundred years from now they’d be killing each other in prisons, nothing he did was going to change that.
A package had been left on the front porch, addressed to the landlords. The only thing in the mailbox was his roommate’s
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