A day later, Bobby returned to his corner of the yard, a sheltered spot between some bleachers and the concrete yard wall. In the summer, they would enjoy the shade and bet cigarettes on chess and cards in between the softball games, but in the winter, there was nothing to do but huddle around the steaming laundry vent and deal.
A few scarf-wrapped faces looked up as he approached. He saw Freddie, a short, brownish armed robber doing twelve to eighteen, George, a muscular, bald, white car thief doing ten on a weapons charge, and Carl, a thin, four-eyed black man doing life without parole for a double murder. The way they sat reminded Bobby of the regulars at Ward's. Those regulars had given him a send-off barbecue, steel drum chicken and beef brisket, when he left. He wondered if there was a parallel to that inside the joint, then scrunched his face and forced his voice to a casual level.
"How's it hangin'? We waitin' on anybody?"
Carl nodded at him. George and Freddie looked at each other. Carl replied, "Only Rufus, as usual."
"He'll be here. Firebugs show up late, but they always finish the job."
Carl and Bobby laughed. George and Freddie remained silent. Carl spoke again. "You hear a senator's comin' by?"
George spat. "Yeah. Some ivory-tower faggot from Chicago. And we all gotta cut our rec time short to hear his half-coon ass talk about how to give us hope for a better life." He and Freddie laughed.
Carl stayed silent, then changed the subject. "I hear you're gettin' out."
"You heard right. One week left."
Carl gave a soft whistle. "Sheee-it. What I'd give to be in your shoes. Any clue what you'll do outside?"
"There was a piano bar that I always liked watching the Packers at. Maybe I'll go there, shine some shoes, pour some beers."
"And pick up the ladies, no doubt."
"You got that right. Can't wait..."
"...speaking of ladies, here comes a pretty thang. Hey, you wanna see what a real man can do?"
Bobby heard Rufus' voice from behind. "Real man? Nigga, I seen your wang, all I got to say is... I don't smoke."
George and Freddie snorted. Carl was silent, then laughed, a deep belly laugh. He went on. "Alright, since we're all here, let's get down to brass tacks. George?"
The bald man withdrew a stick from the laundry vent and began drawing in the snow. First an H, then four circles next to it, then an E. E Wing's Aryan Brotherhood needed four hundred grams of heroin. Bobby made a mental note, then nodded at George, who rubbed out the snow with the sole of a boot.
Freddie was next. Same deal, but with his Mexican homies in C Wing.
Rufus was next, six hundred grams of meth for his black brothers in B. But when he finished and rubbed out his message, he hung on to the stick and began writing a different message. NEW MAN. C. J. R. Then the word 'ROSES'.
The five were silent for a moment. Then Carl rubbed out the words and broke the silence. "You made paper too?"
Rufus nodded. Carl suddenly drew him close in a bear hug. "You done me proud, boy. From the moment I laid eyes on you, I knew this day would come. Send my regards to the Madison Street brothas on the outside."
"Thanks to you too, brotha. If it hadn't been for you, I never would have made it through B Wing alive." Carl nodded, then pushed him away and handed back the stick.
There was a moment of silence. Bobby smiled. Freddie looked awkward. George spoke. "That the CJ kid doin' twenty for apples and watermelon?"
Rufus nodded. "The password is - " he pointed down " - but I didn't tell him how we write on no snow, so if he c'mere and do that he snitchin', and you let Carl do his thing."
Bobby and Carl nodded. Freddie and George did not. George spoke again. "We can't use him. He shorted some friends of mine last year. Word got out. I kept my end of the deal, had to crack skulls to keep my friends from digging a hole in your friend."
Rufus blinked. "Last September? That was when CJ's baby brother took two in the chest and he had to kick in for the operate - the operation. Plus he made yo' boys whole, with juice, when time came."
George was firm. "The reason doesn't matter. I don't want to babysit a deadbeat."
Freddie chimed in. "Me neither, hombre. Can't afford to, not when we the main man for half this joint."
All three then turned to Bobby. Bobby glanced at Carl - he was looking at his feet, no help there.
Freddie went first. "When you set this up, you said there were three rules: one, nobody asks where the dope comes from and nobody asks where it goes after. Two, nobody was gettin' a hole dug in 'em unless they were snitchin', and the only one diggin' holes is our friend Mister C. Three, anyone who shorted - either buyin' or slangin' - was out and could never come back, even if the shortin' happenin' long ago."
Rufus shot back. "C'mon, man, you can't - "
George cut him off. "You're trying to make us bend the rules here. We can't. We bend it once, we'll bend it again, and pretty soon they won't mean anything at all."
Bobby eyed George. "Let's give Rufus a chance to speak. Rufus, George and Freddie have a point. Are you sure about this CJ guy?"
"CJ been my runner for two years now. He ain't never fucked up a count, never stole off a package, never did some shit that he wasn't told to do. He been straight up." George cleared his throat. Rufus ignored him. "Even if he was late once, he still the only one on my end that can take the size we movin'."
George and Freddie looked at each other. Freddie spoke with a slight smile. " Why don't we do this. I'll take on your size, Rufus, and pass it to CJ. Once I see he as straight up as you sayin', mi esse negra, I'll introduce him to the group."
Rufus looked at Freddie with an expression of unvarnished anger. Above his eyebrow, a vein began to pulse. Carl looked up, glanced at Rufus, and then looked straight at Bobby, mouthing the words, "now, motherfucker".
Bobby placed a hand on Rufus' shoulder, then turned to look at Freddie and George. "Freddie, that sounds okay when you say it, but think about what'll happen. Either you'll make a cut off CJ's size or you won't. Both ways, CJ and his crew will think you are, and they're going to distrust you right from the start. Every day you don't give up the connect will be another day that distrust deepens. Not only that, your own crew will think you're taking a cut from CJ's end without letting them have a taste. Eventually somebody -" Bobby let his gaze linger on Freddie for a moment "- will get hurt, the screws will get wind, and this whole thing will be worthless."
Freddie bit his lip in an oddly feminine gesture. George still looked defiant. Bobby guessed he wanted to say he could take on CJ's size, too, and knew Rufus would throttle him for even suggesting the Aryan Brotherhood control the supply for black inmates. So Bobby changed the subject.
"Speaking of this whole thing, I find it funny none of you care to know what'll happen after I'm gone." George's face suddenly flushed. Freddie looked sideways, then looked down. Rufus and Carl looked amused. Bobby turned to George. "Unless, of course, you already have alternate arrangements." George's face crumpled as if he had just taken a right hook. Bobby lasered in. "I'm transferring the connect to Carl. From now on, he'll hook up their runners with your runners, and if you got any problems, you go to him. But as my final decision, I think CJ's fine. He fucked up once but he won't fuck up again. If he does, he's out - and - I will personally compensate. Are we all clear?"
Rufus and Carl grinned. George nodded, slowly, the muscles in his neck flexing as he did so. "So it goes. Carl, I look forward to working with you." Freddie was silent, then chimed in as well. "Good to hear your connect will still work with us, padrone."
Then Rufus made a joke, Bobby laughed, Freddie followed with another, and the five were walking towards the prison gym to hear a speech.
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