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Biding Your Time
His home was an eight by eight cell block of dank concrete. A rectangular window sat just out of reach, trending towards the cobwebbed ceiling. In the far left corner rested a moth eaten twin bed, soiled by the last “guest”. Opposite it was a ceramic bowl that served not only as a waste disposal, but gave the room its signature foul scent. The boy stared out of the black bars. He refrained from touching anything but the floor since he had been shoved into the room an hour earlier. He already knew every crack in the floor and the number of insects scuttling across the room’s interior. In his mind he pictured the hallway, seeing his cell door indicated by the number 134, ingrained in his mind as permanently as the etching in the doorway.
“Hey kid,” a hoarse voice called from the right. “I know you’re in there. You’re a bider too, huh? Smith said something about killing that congressman’s kid.”
Opening his mouth, the boy was surprised at the creaky voice that spoke his words. “How…how did you know?”
“When you’re a long term bider, and spent so much time in here as I have, you learn to get on the good side of the guards. Smith gets bored after the first hour and gets to talking about current trials. He wants ta be a lawyer.” After waiting for several minutes there was a shuffling and clang of knuckles against metal. “Oh come on kid. Talkin’ makes the day pass quicker and you have less time ter think about your troubles. Tell me about your family.”
“Well, I’ve got a little brother.” The boy answered reluctantly, but after a pause he felt the burden he was carrying slump against his shoulders. “His name is Trevor and he’s nine years old. He wants to be an astronaut when he grows up.”
“Yeah, somewhere I guess. I’ve been in the system since I was Trev’s age. Dad used to drink, got real angry on poker nights. One day I didn’t get home quickly enough from school. Trevor can’t walk now, has to use a wheelchair.”
“Sounds like you been a good brother.”
“I’ve tried, but I screwed it all up now. Trev has to go through the system again and switch schools. It’s hard enough for a regular kid, but they pick on him, you know? Now he doesn’t have anyone to protect.” His voice rose in frustration and he grabbed one of the bars, the shock of icy metal soothing his fiery temper. “I screwed up.”
“How’d ya manage that?” The man croaked softly.
“We were in a hard way, Trev and me. He got real sick and needed a doctor. One day he was burnin’ up and twitchin’ all over. I didn’t know what to do so I took some stuff from one of those little pharmacy places. Just the medicine and some food, that’s all. I left what money I could on the counter, but those cameras caught me and they confiscated the lot, let me off with a warning. Trevor never got his medicine.” His mind began to outpour images of a twisted little boy, red cheeks and sweat drenching his body and of a man and woman watching television, ignoring the cries of anguish. His hands subconsciously formed fists. “We had these foster parents, Pam and Frank. Pam liked to make shortbread for the church and prune her garden. But she couldn’t handle bad or sad things, you know? Whenever someone mentioned a flood or a shooting she’d change the subject. They never watched the news, never went to the hospital. When Trevor got sick she just ignored him, like he didn’t exist. I told her to get the doctor, but she just kept ignoring me. When he started getting spasms and fits I slapped her. I screamed, “What’s wrong with you! Can’t you see he’s dying here! You gotta do something!” She just looked at me and said, “Nothing is wrong Daniel. Go do your homework.” And Frank just watched, never said a word.
“I ran away after that, tried to get Trev his medicine, but that didn’t work. Eventually I got a doctor; he was a dad of one of my friends. He’s got epilepsy. I had to sneak in his medication so Pam wouldn’t find out and then I left. I guess I thought I could get some money and my own place and bring Trev over later. Got a job as a cashier and started saving a bit. I made some friends with other dropouts. We liked to egg houses and graffiti billboards on our nights off. Those times I would feel a little better, just me and my buddies having fun. I thought a little bit of what you like won’t hurt you. Guess I was wrong.” He shook his head, wondering why he felt led to confess his entire life of failure to a nameless and faceless person. Yet the talking somehow made it easier, his burden was no longer his alone to bear.
“One of my buddies had an older brother in a gang. He liked to brag about all the good times we were missin’ out on. A month later, we were all in. It was like having a family. We all looked out for each other. We started with a few initiation runs: filching, vandalizing, roughin’ another gang up. Then we got the guns and the drugs and things got more serious.
“I have a real knack for breaking in. I always know where to enter and get out. Never been caught or anything and I have a straight shot too. Pretty soon I got a reputation. After a month or so we got a call from one of our clients, said he wanted someone stealthy and quick to do a big job. I was nominated. Thought it would be a drug dealer dispute or something. Nope, he wanted a killing. I wasn’t too fond of the congressman either. We had marked enough of his posters as proof, but I didn’t want him dead. I tried to back out, but I was chosen and if you break from the job you’re dead. So it was either him or me.” He sucked in his breath, closing his eyes as he spoke. “But I guess you know the rest of the story. I was sent to his office last night, just a simple point and shoot deal. No one else was around. He was working late, preparing his speech. I opened the door, gun cocked and saw movement. I shot out of instinct, didn’t look before I fired. His son was on the floor, bleeding from the hole in his chest.”
His hands began to shake and he stared at the open palms, recalling the crimson blood that had covered them just hours ago. “He wasn’t supposed to be there!” He howled, his voice reverberating through the empty hall. “You know what he was holding in his hand? A little rocket ship! I bet he wanted to be an astronaut too!” He sunk against the wall, sliding to a crouched position in defeat. His throat was sandpaper and trails of saltwater streamed down his cheeks. He sat like that for a while, trembling with the sudden unleash of emotions toiling inside of him.
“Hey 134, I think I have some good news for you.” A deep voice stated. The boy looked up, swiping his arm over his face, meeting the gaze of a guard.
“Are you Smith?”
“Sure am. Warren and I go way back, he’s been here nearly a year waiting for his trial.” Smith said, jabbing his thumb to the cell to the right. “But I think you don’t have to wait nearly as long, if my sources are correct.”
“When are they moving it to?”
“Tomorrow, they’re waiting to see what the boy’s doctors determine.”
“Doctors? But I thought…there was no way he could have surv-“
“Well he made it through the night, lucky for you...Daniel, am I right? Yes, turns out it wasn’t fatal and he’s been stable so far. It looks like he might pull through after all.”
The boy stared, dumbfounded, his mind gradually accepting the possible miracle.
“You know what this means, right?” Smith smiled.
“You might not have a life sentence. In a few years you may even be able to get out on good behavior. Maybe even take custody of your kid brother.”
His mind raced at the almost intelligible possibility. He allowed himself to revel in the moment, picturing a bright future. Closing his eyes he shook his head. Sighing, he breathed. “Guess I won’t know until tomorrow.”
“Hey,” a voice called from the right. “Looks like a lot better than today though, right?”