by Nigel Daring
Bar line imprimaturs creased tender flesh, his soft palms pained from the duration of the squeeze against callous metal. His focus forward, he refused to even glance behind. What he so scorned lingered in the background, dangling tease waiting to shatter high-society pretensions. He's just a criminal; he's got a record, not a radio song, not the one to commend Wall Street portfolio like former days. He was an insider, played the numbers, racked the profits; they called him genius ‘till his brilliance turned suspicious, gains just much too auspicious.
"Hey buddy, let go of those bars. You're not superman. You're not going to break us out of here," said the politician. He'd been prospectus primus, the darling of the party, all-American straight shooter with a wife that made adolescents hard. He slithered through the cacophony offered by prying media, vociferous skeptics, punditry … seemingly unscathed, quite honestly admired, often sired (by colleges, banquets, the like). He seemed above the fray, until they found he was gay, had some past indiscretions, had long been under clandestine investigation. He pocketed campaign contributions for excursions with lovers, male prostitutes with whom he'd rendezvous, gave them extras to keep the lie to which he'd been helplessly enslaved.
"I'm worried about being in the same cell with you. You should be with the girls," said the doctor and once-touted jewel of a deprived family. He had been only the second to grace college not for the drinks and girls, and the first to embrace a medical facility extensively without a sob and somber story. He had been sheltered from the streets, so when the streets came in cool pleats, a tie, a sweet lullaby, he had no inkling, ripe for the picking. "Throw on your signature, after all you're a doctor, who would figure? Get some fix for some addicts, get in the mix…," said the abettor, who was also the F.B.I.
"You know doc, I could do with some of that stuff you were peddling right now," said the math teacher, still incredulous, puzzled by his predicament, unable to figure this great problem. He'd always been a shy guy, passed over by the crowd as a nerd, the geek who never got girls, or any girl. None found him cute, not even his mother, a born loser … until this attractive one said so, wanted to make a play. He said, "Okay" to the student.
"I had a fight with my girl, but I really mean woman, teach, wooh-man. Don't get excited, freak," said the office manager, the employee of the month, the beloved of underlings, the admired of supervisors, the first in the door but last to leave. He was the ideal until the cops walked in on a fully-attended general staff meeting, removing him in cuffs, Mirandizing him within reach of the microphone, which lucidly carried the inflections of every tone. His girlfriend made a complaint of domestic violence and threats against her life, showed up at the precinct with fist bruises and cuts from a knife.
"Hey, you wanna take a swing at somebody, you should try me," said the construction worker. A true laborer he was, working two jobs, one the official, the legal, tax-paying; the other an on-the-side, off-the-books gig. They're strictly separate, but he mixed them with some pilfering; some tools and materials mysteriously missing, lost, by hidden camera he got caught, paying the cost, embarrassment to the wife and kids he'd been laboring to put forward in the system. Still, they loved him.
"Muscle man, maybe you and me could go in business when we get out. I've got a plan man," said the recidivist. His parents were poor. He never knew both because his father left when he was a child. His mother had to work several odd jobs just to get them by – no child support payments; where the man went, she never knew, he just flew. She never had time enough for the boy, but when she did she taught him well. She still had dreams he could be a top-notch Wall Street millionaire, a politician, a doctor, a teacher, an office manager, or a construction worker at the very least.
But he fell in with the wrong crowd, picked up some substance habits, got into petty crime, misdemeanors, and later, a few felonies. He knew these walls; they were a second home. He was the most comfortable, said "What's up?" to guards and officers like old friends. There were more like him inside, and when they heard of his history and plans, they became congregants and inevitable co-conspirators. They conversed loudly, to which the Wall Street professional, politician, doctor, teacher, office manager, and construction worker chided in unison, "Shut up, shut up you low-lifes, good for nothing bums."
To which one responded, "We're in the same cell."