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“Where the hell am I?” was the first words that came rasping out of Ritchie’s mouth when he woke up in a holding cell in the basement of a county jail. Two dim light bulbs flickered above him like the eyes of a dozing giant and Ritchie found that his shirt was covered in vomit. Squinting, and trying not to breath in the stench from the metal sink two feet away he picked himself off the floor and onto the bed. One of his shoes was undone and his head was spinning. Slightly shivering like a wet dog he curled up on the cold hard bed and rested his head on his knees.

“I said, where the hell am I?” exclaimed Ritchie, a little bit louder this time. He examined his gnarled knuckles and wondered if they could give him a clue as to how he got where he was. Ritchie’s throat was begging on its hands and knees for water. When he had cleaned his shirt a little (it was still smelled like a wet rag drenched in old milk) he looked around his confines. From the corner of the room was a voice that made the hair on his neck stand stiff like porcupine quills: “Why, if it isn’t Ritchie the Mama’s Boy!”

Acting quickly Ritchie undid his leather belt and wrapped it around his left knuckles. He was a Southpaw, so he’d rather risk breaking his right hand fingers or even his neck than his left wrist. “Who’s there?” snarled the short, stocky man. From the bed on the other side a huge form raised itself with difficulty; his head nearly touched the ceiling. Like a mound of jelly molding itself into muscle the massive man emerged from the shadows. He was six and a half feet tall, with a body that resembled an ice cream cone on steroids. The man’s beard was greased and slicked over his chest which was decorated with biker tattoos. But that wasn’t what made the man so intimidating to Ritchie. What intimidated him was that he had met this man before.

“Dresnok…guess you did end up here after all.” “How ‘bout you, Mama’s boy? Finally grown some balls, end up with big boy pants in a big boy prison, eh?” Ritchie didn’t remember a thing as to how he got there. “Last time I saw you you’d pissed in my locker back in high school.” “That weren’t me, Mama’s boy that was Bertie. Plus, last time I saw you was back at Frankie’s block party.” “You beat me up, crammed a wad of napkins in my mouth and made off with my car and girlfriend.” “Is that a fact? I forget the details.” “Well, I owe you one, man.” The huge man called Dresnok narrowed his eyes. “Why’s that?” “Because a week after that I started taking boxing lessons and a year later became the new Middleweight Amateur Champion.” “You’re welcome.”

Ritchie swung first, and his fist collided with Dresnok’s nose. The giant toppled backwards onto the filthy wet floor, and Ritchie pounded his old high school nemesis to a bloody pulp. When he was done he wasn’t even breathing heavily and unwrapped his belt from his knuckles and sat down on the bed, watching Dresnok gasping and blubbering on the floor. It had taken all of five minutes. Then, thoughtfully, he helped Dresnok back onto his own bed and gave him a half-hearted slap on the back. He turned to face Ritchie, and smiled through broken teeth, pus, and cartilage poking out of his nose. “Alright, my debts are settled. Have a go at me again and I’ll mop up the floor with your body. Let’s get off to a fresh start, shall we?” Numb, dazed, still horribly thirsty, and dizzy, Ritchie nodded and faced the giant.

“They brought you in here at around four in the morning. Two cops hauled you in here all drunk and covered with your own puke. Told me to let you alone, at least for a while. Of course I don’t know what you did,” remarked Dresnok, reading Ritchie’s mind. “What I can say, though, is that we ain’t in high school no more and the system is gonna lock us up. Follow me?” Ritchie nodded dumbly. He stared at his fellow inmate, the Nordic Beast, as his nickname used to be when he played football. “They’re gonna send both of us to Old Skint’s. You know the place- where a bunch of guards got in trouble for using inmates for target practice. Where the system sent that crazy Mexican guy who thought he was Jesse James.”

Ritchie finally opened his mouth to say “I read more books in a week than you do a year. Why the hell you telling me all this crap? None of us are gonna make it past week one.” “NO!” shouted Dresnok through a film of blood and fat lip. He walked over to Ritchie’s side of the cell. “If I didn’t need you I would’ve strangled you the moment the cops came in with your sorry little ass.” “What’s your proposition?” “You and me, we work as a team. You got the smarts, Ritchie. We start up our own gang and make our way up the system in Old Skint’s. I got the muscle.” “You’re ridiculous. A degree in economics won’t get me nowhere in the shark pool.” “Listen to the man with the street smarts for a while, will you? Mama’s boy, you know how to deal. How to strike deals, bargain, and parley. I can crack heads just as easy. What do you say?”

Comprehending the sheer danger of the situation that drove Dresnok towards, rather than away from Ritchie, the smaller man was slowly beginning to grasp the urgency of the situation. If they got locked down at Old Skint’s and went their own ways they were shark food. Relationships and trust took a long time to forge behind bars and could break with a change in weather. Dresnok did have a point- they already had a solid relationship, though that was forged through years of animosity and hatred. Ritchie still fixed Dresnok with a skeptical glance. “Who do we get protection from? Anyone backing us?”

That was when Dresnok roared his Viking laugh that Ritchie had heard so often before. “Lookit me. Take a look at my tats. You went to university after high-school. Think you’re a big shot? I rode with the Angel’s for three years and made some friends here and there. When we get to Old Skint’s they’ll set us up with enough cash to settle down. Then we’ll start doing some kinda jobs, and make our way up. That sound good?” “Hell yeah, Beast.” The Nordic Beast leaned back on his bed and smiled. “Always the Mama’s Boy, Ritchie. You ain’t changed a bit.”

When four police officers came in the mid-afternoon to transfer the two inmates, to their surprise when they mentioned “Old Skint’s” the two men, one huge Russian-looking fellow and a small, tough half-Italian guy began to chuckle.



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