He speared a piece of praline with a gilded fork. "You think he'll talk?"
"Nah." The other diner wiped her mouth, leaving a trail of cherry lipstick across the white cloth.
"Really? He could barely keep his shit together at his own damn parole hearing."
"Hah. That's because I reminded him we still have Lamarr on a leash."
The first diner dropped his fork. "You sick fuck."
"Well, you were the one who said imprisonment and divorce proceedings both magnify a man's love for his children. And we both know the new foster parents are such busy, busy people, always coming home late."
"And if push comes to shove, how are you going to get that piece of trash here?"
The other diner examined her Riesling, then set it down without drinking. "Our friend Lamarr likes the white meat. Guy can't get it where he's at, and he can't get to where it is, not with the Interpol Red Notice hanging above his head. All we have to do is tell the gentleman what's for dinner, and tell him he won't get caught sneaking a bite."
"All *you* do. I want no part of that."
She gave a shrug in response. The other diner spoke again.
"Wait a sec. I thought you said you don't know where he is."
"I don't. But I can find him. Probably in Asia. Or Latin America. Teaching English... and keeping his skills sharp."
"Bah. Of course you have him figured, I forgot you were a -" The first diner started shaking his head. "Jesus Christ, you were a cop. And now you're... weren't you the one that caught him in the first place?"
"I was a detective. But only from nine to seven, plus overtime." She made a quick gesture for the check. "That being said, I learned enough. And Lamarr is a good student."
Bobby heard him before his gurney even reached the recovery ward. It was the other inmate from the hearing.
"You fucking dickless loser! I'll get you for this, wait, no, no, please - "
There was a sharp, pinging, thwack. By now, Bobby knew that was the sound an aluminum baton made against unclothed skin. Bobby heard a long wail. Then an overweight, pockmarked Iraq veteran the inmates called Big Al flung open the door and shoved in the bed on wheels with one smooth motion.
The guard stood in the doorway for a moment, addressing a body strapped face-down to the gurney. "If I hear so much as a squeak - " he tapped his baton against the doorframe and smiled. Then he slammed the door shut and stomped down the hall.
The other inmate rubbed a crooked, smashed nose against a bloody wad of prison orange that served as a pillow. When Big Al's heavy steps retreated out of earshot, Bobby spoke, softly.
The other inmate lifted his eyes and saw Bobby and flushed with embarrassment. Then he turned his face away, groaning as he did so. "I - I'm sorry."
Bobby traced his eyes over the other inmate's body. Most of the man's salt-and-pepper hair had been shaved away and replaced with lines of stitches and a large, blood-soaked bandage. Under a stained gown, his skin had turned yellow. Nylon restraints crisscrossed arms, legs, and torso, even though one of the ankles and both hands were in misshapen lumps of brown plaster. The man still smelled of piss - overlaid with an unhealthy amount of isopropyl alcohol. Bobby began to feel something he hadn't felt in years.
"Phil, right?" The other man nodded. "You want me to put in a word with the screws? Tell them to go easy on you?"
Phil's voice quavered. "No, don't. Please, don't."
"I - I can't tell you."
The man started crying again. It went on for a few minutes, rising in pitch to full-throated wails, then falling into quiet, wracking sobs, then rising again. Bobby found himself suddenly worried, worried that Big Al would hear the man and come back, but no one came. When the other inmate was back in one of the quiet phases of his crying game, Bobby spoke.
"Dude, what's wrong?"
The man stopped crying, turning, cautiously. His gaze had hardened a little. "You little bastard. They sent you here. I say a word, you'll tell'em I snitched and... and..."
Bobby snapped. "So you're in a world of shit. Boo-freaking-hoo. Everyone here is. All of us here in Pontiac have our own little sob story to tell. But I get it, even though you're getting out after the first quarter when everyone else is staying for overtime... you've got it worse than most. So tell me, Mr. Three-to-Six for Pencil Pushing, what is it? Some bull queer making you shit blood? Your wife sleeping with your golf buddy? Your Colonial in Lake Forest sitting on the chopping block?"
The man looked confused for a moment, then spoke, carefully measuring his words. "They - they didn't say you'd make paper for getting me to talk?"
"No dude. I already did. I get out in a week. They got nothing on me." The man eyed Bobby. Bobby eyed him back. "So you afraid they'll nail you for something else if you open your mouth too much?"
Phil shook his head, smearing more blood across the jumpsuit. "If it were only that simple."
"Whaddya mean by that?"
"What I'm about to tell you - you tell no one."
"You're not the first one who's said that."
Phil's gaze hardened - "I'm serious. You tell anyone, I'll kill you."
"You're not the first one who's said that, either."
- and softened. "But I need you to help me, once you're out."
Bobby smiled. "...and I'll bet you won't be the last one who says that."
Phil ignored the joke, went on. "When you get out, you need to find two people for me. Michael Robert Swanson and Abigail Catherine Swanson. In case you're wondering, yes, they're my son and daughter. Then you need to get them to Robert Jarvis in Phoenix. They should know how to find him, he's their grandpa. Oh - and once you've found Mike and Abby, do not let them out of your sight."
Bobby blinked. "Where are they now?"
"I don't know. Illinois Child Protective Services took them. They're probably with some foster parents. If my prayers have been heard, they're still together."
Bobby bit his lip, furrowed his brow. "You... uh, you do realize I'll be a parolee, which means I can't leave the state. And... how should I persuade Illinois CPS to transfer custody to an ex-con?"
Phil shook his head so hard one of his stitches opened with an audible pop. "Don't. Whatever you do, do not ask anyone there about Mike and Abby. Don't even let them know you're looking. Just find the two and get them to Phoenix."
"...then how should I get them to leave their foster parents?"
"Just take them."
"I - I know. I'll pay you. I'll wire twenty payments of at least fifty grand each to a bank account of your choice a week after they reach their grandfather."
Bobby laughed. "A week, eh? Why not a month? Or a year?"
"Well, wait... what?"
"What I mean is, no wonder you're in deep shit. You must be fucking retarded. I'm about to get out - about to get on with my life - and you just tried involving me in a criminal conspiracy. If anything happens, you've just made me - what do they call it - an accessory before the fact. And you don't even have the goddamn common courtesy to pay in advance."
"...you want cash now? I'll pay. I'll pay you now, just tell me - "
"No. Don't talk to me."
"But I never told you what was going on."
Bobby laughed again, and this time, it was mean. "I'm not interested anymore. If you talk to me again, I'll ask Big Al to show you exactly what he did to earn that dishonorable discharge. But since I hate the screws for what they did to you, I'm going to keep my mouth shut for free. Now fuck off."
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