Wilmer Denton was annoyed. It was less than thirty minutes to lights out in D wing at Lorton and he was distracted by thoughts of his visit from Agent Frank Craig and the kid. Murtowski, wasn’t it? Wilmer rubbed his eyes and set down his little scrap of paper and the toothbrush with ash on the end. Severe budget cuts made access to art materials impossible, and he hated it. Plus, other prisoners, ever nosy, would want to know what he was drawing, and he couldn’t have that. The jury-rigged materials made it so much harder to calculate necessary acceleration rates – and, interestingly, impact ratios – but he couldn’t concentrate, anyway. Goddam FBI agents and their questions. His mind drifted, specifically to a time when he wasn’t in D wing at Lorton Prison.
It was the mid-Seventies and he’d had much better hair. Wilmer loved his hair then. He kept it in a pretty well-trimmed afro, neat, classy. That, along with some wicked sideburns, and you could almost mistake him for an intellectual Denzel Washington. Looks to match his brains – oh, how the ladies had loved him. He missed his old look. He missed driving his little convertible MG, too. Missed his light-brown leather wingtips, polished to a high gloss, missed some of his better Brooks Brothers jackets, the summer weight ones that went with anything, missed this one particular pair of slacks that fit like a damn dream. Wilmer always looked so sharp, so classy. He missed his old pad up in Northeast, missed cruising around the city, enjoying life. His mind came back to what he really missed: hanging out with his brothers, talking politics and city gossip – they had been a good team and he had loved that they were proud of him.
Wilmer was the oldest, the one who set the example, and he knew it, even as a young man. He was the educated one, the one who’d gone to college, gotten the degree, gotten the advanced degrees. He thought of the irony, him the brainy one, the good looking one, the one to set the example, he thought of the irony now of his successful brothers on the outside and him doing hard time in prison. Some example. But it wasn’t like that. They knew the score, the importance of his serving the time, what it signified for their family.
His mind drifted and he allowed himself to feel nice for a bit longer, still really being someone in the family who was important, who was needed. Wilmer remembered a fishing trip with his brothers and one of his cousins. By that time the Denton Brother’s father had long disappeared and they were older now, practically grown men. Standing on the old dock by the river, talking to his brothers, telling them about his big dreams. He’d go to college. And then go to graduate school. And maybe even become a doctor – a Ph.D. Education was Wilmer’s dream. They stood on the dock fishing, he and his brothers and his cousin, and they listened to Wilmer talk and talk. He’d come back to D.C. and teach probably, and dress nice, and drive a nice car. He’d be popular with the ladies, and if his punk ass brothers were good, maybe he’d share the wealth a little. Ha, ha, they laughed and laughed and teased Wilmer about his educational ambition, but they loved him, and they looked up to him. In that moment he still remembered, clear as day, he felt like the strongest, most important man in America. He loved his brothers. If only he hadn’t started with the cocaine.
Oh, screw it, he loved the coke, too.
Wilmer loved snorting coke and he loved dealing coke. It was so easy, and so profitable. Why wouldn’t you do it? He remembered, too, approaching his brothers about the two fat men who’d contacted him. He’d already started, a bit, the dealing. That he picked up at American University. A professor had approached him, asked him if he knew anyone, anyplace he could get some, you know, drugs. Fuck this guy, Wilmer had thought at the time, racist, presumptuous asshole. In fact, the professor was racist and presumptuous. But he was also Wilmer’s first customer. Wilmer hadn’t known anyone who dealt drugs personally, but he knew some guys who knew guys. Christ, just because he was black and grew up in D.C. didn’t automatically make him a felon. It took him about two weeks to get to that point. He hooked up with a guy who dealt coke in Southeast. At first, Wilmer did it to get an ‘A’ in the course, not that he needed to bribe anyone with drugs. After that, it was for the money. Turns out the professor had friends. Within a year, Wilmer had expanded from the campus back towards downtown. He temporarily handed his operation over to his brothers – who were happy to take up the job in Wilmer’s stead – while he went to Yale to get the M.F.A. That’s where he picked up the habit, which he brought back to D.C. It was providential – a coke habit developed along with an ivy league education and a good job to go right along with it.
Wilmer was wondering about how to expand his little operation, both to his buyers and to his nose when the Harlan Brothers contacted him.
Wilmer shook himself out of the dream and rubbed his eyes. It was quiet, and he was thankful for that. The lights clicked out systematically and D wing went dark. Lights out! came over the loudspeaker, and he hid his mathematical calculations pages in the post of his metal bed, and lay down on his back, creaking and moaning as he went. Tired, a tired old man, just resting his eyes for a minute now, in the dark. Haggarty was gone now. He was grateful for that. The lie to the boys had worked. King Dog, one of the original badass motherfuckers, had hit up Wilmer early right during dinner, a mountain of a man with tattoos so old and wicked you couldn’t even tell what they were anymore.
“Down there talkin’ to the man, I see,” King Dog had said, sitting himself next to Wilmer at chow time, his posse all around for protection. Clack, clack, trays hitting the table, plastic dinnerware scraping into hash and bologna and carrots and something jellied.
“’S’right,” Wilmer said, not looking up, a sign of respect to King Dog who in fact he actually did respect. The sound of feeding mouths was all around him, almost a warning itself.
“I know a motha fucka ain’t comin’ after one a’ my boys,” King Dog took a mammoth bite of hash. He was asking Wilmer about the visit right off the bat. Word got around fast in D wing. They knew he’d been to see the feds and King Dog was asking if they’d asked at all about anyone in his crew.
“No suh. No, I ‘spect not.” The other inmates knew how Wilmer really talked, but were more comfortable when he made the effort to sound a little more street.
“I know a motha fucka ain’t comin’ in fo’ none a’ my bitches,” meaning one of the prisoners King Dog used for… pleasure.
“No suh. ‘Spect not, either.” He didn’t think King Dog had a sexual affinity for Haggarty.
“Hmmm,” King Dog was trying to decide if he cared about anyone else. He didn’t but he asked, anyway, “Know a mutha fucka ain’t comin’ fo’ yo’ sorry ol’ ass, heh.”
“Heh-heh,” Wilmer let out a genuine chuckle. “No, not for my sorry ass, King.”
King Dog was silent for another minute, finishing his meal in around five bites total, cleaning the tray. For a moment Wilmer thought that maybe he wouldn’t bother to ask.
“Who a mutha fucka come in fo’ then?” This was going to be critical – life and death, actually – because if King Dog’s bullshit detector went off, it’d be the end for Wilmer. And a bullshit detector becomes finely tuned in prison. It has to or you will die.
Wilmer took his time, took a mouthful of sour, over-steamed carrots, chewed, and breathed out. He slowly, slowly, looked up at King Dog, who was uncomfortably close, sitting right next to him, looking back. The King’s meaty arm touching Wilmer, just barely. It was intentional, just to remind him of the limitless power that was only barely contained right next to him. Wilmer didn’t blink, kept chewing. Watching the smile – not too much, just enough, barely there, and the breathing, had to keep the breathing steady. The big bastard would sense the minute you started talking too fast or breathing too heavy. Bullshit. Then they’d come out with clubs made out of towels and soap and probably a shiv. Break some ribs, and at Wilmer’s age, probably die by morning.
“You know that boy, piss-smellin’, next to me?” Wilmer blinked once, swallowed – Good, good, he thought, so far, good. “Haggarty, his name is. You know him.” Pushing the big man just a hair, a little light smoke up his ass to keep the roles defined. King Dog, the big deal, sure, a big guy like you, you remember this guy, right? Sure you do.
“I know dat pissin’ mutha fucka. Alright.” King Dog contemplated the tray, and Wilmer breathed a sigh of relief. Were King Dog to make him go further in the lie it would almost surely result in the beating or even the murder of Haggarty, and Wilmer didn’t want a lockdown now. Lockdown would not be good.
“What’d a mutha fucka say ‘bout that pissin’ mutha fucka?” Dammit, the curiosity was too much for King Dog. He had to know what the feds wanted.
“They wanted to know,” Wilmer took a last bite of wet, pathetic hash, and looked deadpan at King Dog, “if that mother fucker was fucking potty trained.”
There was a beat, and then a laugh – a big one – from King Dog, followed immediately a half-second later by laughter from the posse, which in turn sparked noises, laughter, grumbling, curses, yelling, from the general population in the mess hall. Finally one of the guards bleated the air horn over the PA system, their way of telling the inmates to cool it.
“Alright, then, you crazy old mutha fucka. Alright.” King Dog stood up and his posse stood up right behind him, watching his back. Wilmer would wait until later to breathe a sigh of relief. King Dog walked past Haggarty a few tables away with the other crazies and gave him a hard eye. And a hard eye from King Dog was enough to make any prisoner shut up and think about things for awhile. Wilmer was fairly confident King Dog wouldn’t try anything with Haggarty. Haggarty was low priority, a waste of time. He’d get beaten or get shivved and there’d be lockdown and an inspection. Everyone’s cell would get turned over, weapons confiscated, porn confiscated, contraband confiscated. It would take months and months to build up the collection again. Why waste the effort on a piece of shit like Haggarty? Besides, the look from the baddest mother fucker in the prison was enough to shut him up for a few nights. Wilmer, falling asleep, was grateful for it.
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