I looked at my hand, clenching and releasing, my forearm tensing, my veins and tendons popping with each movement. God, my nails were dirty. No matter how much I cleaned them, they’ll always be so fucking filthy. Too many times had it reminded me of where I began. Fucking nowhere, the slums.
“What?” I growled.
Michael flinched, the metal chair screeching backward.
“W-Wallace said he’ll send you the final payment, on time, when you get out. Do we have an agreement?” He gulped, his hand shaking with fear as he gave me the pen.
Jesus, you’d think after nine years Michael would grow a pair, or maybe just one fucking nut hair. With the guards watching us like hawks he knew that I couldn’t touch him. But he still acted like I was going to clock him at any second. He had no reason to think this way. Michael was simply a pussy, a little bitch, especially around me. It’s probably because he knows what I’m capable of. But still, one fucking nut hair was not too much to ask for.
“Make sure you emphasize, ‘on time.’ I would really hate to come out of retirement because my payment was late… again. You wouldn’t want me to pay you and Wallace a visit, now would you? Unless you’re going to miss me? Then maybe we can do brunch like old times?” I smirked.
I loved playing with Michael. Making his emotions bounce off the walls like a ball in a pinball machine, was one of my favorite pastimes. He made it too easy. I might as well have my fun today; after all, it was the last time I was ever going to see his sad comb-over and his greasy double-chinned face and puffy eyes ever again.
But, Michael was not as entertained as I was by our little game.
I couldn’t even get a smile from the motherfucker without him looking like he was gonna shit his pants. Then again, I towered over him like a skyscraper, and although I was lean, I had enough bulk on me that could take him on, and anyone else on in Tavernville for that matter. Everyone knew that.
I grabbed the pen, and double checked the contract for the hundredth time. Blah, blah, blah, okay here we go, ‘the final five million will be deposited no later than the day of your release.’
Okay, Jack likes what he sees.
I calculated the numbers in my head. Ten million to lie my ass off, another seven for each year I was in here, and lastly, five as a final ‘goodbye and thank you’ for all my hard work. The grand total being—drum roll please—twenty-two million in my account, not including my previous balance or the retail value of my new pad.
Best of all? It was all legal and traceable. Stocks, shares, and investments.
Wallace had given me more money than I expected. I would’ve been thrilled with ten or fifteen million because, let’s face it, with my history? I was definitely going to end up in prison one day. They called me Jack of all Trades for a reason. And lucky for me, I didn’t fuck up.
I never fucked up.
But Wallace did.
To help with his guilty and distressed heart, Wallace paid for my forgiveness and future happiness like wealthy parents paid for their children’s love. And you could bet your ass I was one happy camper. Sitting around the fire, holding hands, singing fucking Kumbaya kind of happy.
So, I’d like to take this moment of silence and thank Wallace Malt for not using his brain and ensuring my soon-to-be-retired lifestyle. My penthouse at The Bayne, slutty bitches all night long, and all the luxurious cars and clothes I’ve had on my mind on for years. Goodbye, Tavernville, the color orange, and your goddamn proud prison guards. And hello to my new life.
I skimmed the contract one more time, satisfied with my money and the rest of the rules I had to follow. The standard ‘you were never here’ and ‘please, don’t contact us’ regulations.
“Now, how can I trust Wallace?” I asked Michael, putting on baleful expression. True to form, Michael cowarded. “How will I know he won’t take my money after I get out of this shit hole?” I bit the cap of the pen.
“H-he hasn’t done it so far. Wallace owes you his life, Mr. Baron. You can’t possibly think that he’ll do that after everything you’ve done for him.” Michael hugged his briefcase tightly, hiding one of his chins behind it.
You’re such a blubbery fat fuck, Michael.
“True, he does owe me his life, and I could take it away if anything goes wrong.” I chuckled. Ripping the cap off the pen, I chewed on it aggressively and wrote my first name. I glanced at Michael when I heard him swallow loudly, his face looking like I was holding him at gunpoint. “Jesus, Michael it’s a fucking joke. I was fucking joking. Ha, ha, ha. Don’t worry daddy Wallace is going to be fine,” I mumbled around the cap.
If I wanted to, I could make his daddy’s multi-billion-dollar software company crumple in my hands like the underworld king I am, but I don’t want that. To be honest, I liked Wallace. I respected him, even if his dumbass I-was-in-love mistake was what sent me to prison in the first place. I don’t hate Wallace, not even close, and I knew he was going to miss me like the son he never had. I looked at Michael, Wallace’s actual and only son.
Yeah, there was no comparison. I was better, hands down.
But that didn’t matter. I got my satisfaction out of the contract in front of me promising millions of dollars and giving me the life I’d been dreaming of for the past eighteen years.
What does Jack want, you might ask?
A carefree life.
A life in which my only sin was sloth.
I’ve busted my ass since I was fifteen and now it was my turn to relax. I wanted rich people problems. Problems like: What meal I wanted to cook in my expensive gourmet kitchen or if I was feeling like a lazy piece of shit, which meal to order from the two Michelin star restaurant downstairs. Or, maybe, which outfit made me look like a work of art ready to be photographed. Or, most preferable, which girl should be sitting on my face, drowning me with her cunt, and which one should be sucking me dry while I thrust my cock down her throat.
I want those problems.
I want that life.
I deserve that exact fucking life.
Michael laughed nervously.
I rolled my eyes and finished the rest of my shitty chicken scratch signature.
Jack I. Baron.
“Sheesh, if Wallace were here he would have laughed. He always loved my jokes, but I guess I have to survive without him in my life.” I faked a disappointed pout.
Michael sucked in his thin lips, his favorite form of showing he didn’t know how to respond to me. His eyes wandered down my orange jumpsuit than back to my eyes that borderline matched my everyday outfit.
Michael cleared his throat before he spoke, “E-everything is ready for you when you get out Mr. Baron.”
“You sure about that Michael?” I handed the contract to him, but I didn’t let go of it. We played a little game of tug of war until I knew I was getting everything I asked for before my release.
“My Mercedes-Benz AMG GT? Black exterior and red interior? Marlboro’s? Newest phone? Wallet? My clothes? My original size thirteen Doc Martens? Those babies are my trademarks you know. I want my motherfucking babies…” I spoke grimly, my eyebrow raised; maxed out at its highest level.
Michael’s double chin jiggled harder with each nod, confirming everything was ready for my release.
“And most importantly my new place?”
Michael jiggled one more time. “Yes, your penthouse is ready, and all paid off by Wallace. 59th floor, suite one, and designed as you wanted. Black and white.”
Now, if we take into the account of the retail value of the penthouse, it would be safe to assume I’d lost track of my net worth. I leaned across the table, pried my laced fingers apart and playfully slapped Michael’s fat face.
I threw my hands up in the air as if I was getting shot at. “Aight, Diaz. Chill. I’m just giving my lover one last touch.” I leaned back in my chair, kissed the air, and winked at Michael. His breaths were so rapid; you’d think he just finished a six-minute mile.
God, I’m going to miss fucking with him.
“Word from the wise, Michael, grow a pair and stop being so fucking afraid of everything…” I waited for the visitor bell to ring and Michael jumped.
“Like the goddamn bell. Hey, Diaz? How do you say, ‘grow some big meaty balls’ in Spanish?”
I knew exactly how to say it. My last cellmate didn’t speak any English, only Spanish, so now, I’m fluent. That motherfucker liked to talk more than I did, and it was hard not to tune him out. The only reason I asked Diaz was because I loved fucking with the guards almost as much as I did with Michael. But Diaz never indulged me; yet, the new guard did.
“Cultivar algunas bolas grandes de carne?” the newbie spoke in a thick American accent. Diaz elbowed the new guard so hard he coughed through his pain.
I grabbed a pair of invisible balls in the air and looked Michael dead in the eyes before I slapped the metal table and watched his fat body flinch once more.
Oh yeah, I’m going to miss fucking with him.
“Well anyway, it’s been… decent, Michael. Hopefully, I never see you again, and I’m sure that goes both ways.” I saluted Michael sluggishly, got up, and followed the rest of the inmates dressed like carrots back to our cells.
Tavernville was one of Illinois’ low-security federal penitentiaries, and it had been my home for the past seven years, and do you wanna know the sad, fucked-up part?
It’s in my top three favorite homes.
I grew up in the system. Foster homes, group homes, abusive foster parents, were the details of my life for fifteen years. And none of the guards could compete with the insanity and strictness of my so-called ‘suitable parents’ given to me by the state. So, as soon as Link—short for Lincoln—my foster brother, got adopted. I dipped. I got the fuck out of the Baker house and lived in the shelters, abandoned houses, or the streets of Whole Park, Chicago. For weeks, that was the norm until I got the job that started it all.
Now, in two days, I’ll be a free fucking man. I’m done with the dirty and ready to be cleansed under a waterfall shower inside my dream place.
Don’t get me wrong, seven years in prison sucked. It was the boredom that had gnawed away at me. It got to me like the worst kind of death; slow and painful. But I can’t actually complain. I was set for the rest of my life, and now I wasn’t going to worry about a dime.
So, to that I say.
Bring on the fucking boredom.
Bring on the Shakespeare and Modern Economics textbooks I’ve read a hundred times. Bring on the kitchen shifts where I cooked my ass off and showed off my knife skills (under supervision). And bring on the fucking open showers where you just prayed that you didn’t drop the soap.
Bring it all on if that meant at thirty-three years old; I’m ready to live like a king in his goddamn tower. I was no longer a Peasant. I’d risen from the hollow emptiness and become a legacy built on blood, sweat, and tears—mostly just blood and sweat.
I grunted loudly as I rolled into my bottom bunk, my feet hanging off the end.
Above me, my cellmate, Fidget, let out a soft sigh but didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look at me when I came in. Weird. He always greeted me even if it was in the form of an adoring glance from those brown, puppy dog eyes of his. The kid looked up to me. I was like a big brother to him over the past three years. I’ve had many cellmates and friends (a term that should be used loosely) in prison, but Fidget was my favorite for many reasons.
One, he reminded me of Link, my foster brother, I hadn’t seen in eighteen years.
Two, he did as he was told. This worked great when we slaved over the hot stoves in the kitchen.
And three, he was from Scorch Side, Chicago, which was just as shitty as Whole Park. Nothing to gloat about. It just meant we had similarly stupid, wild stories to share from our teen years to fill the time.
I’ll be honest, I liked Fidget more than I thought I would. He grew on me over time but spending 24/7 with someone for three years will do that.
Fidget—Luke, if you want to be more formal—came to Tavernville when he was eighteen for arson and attempted murder. He got thirty-five years for a crime he committed back when he was seventeen.
Thirty. Five. Years.
The number itself was like a kick to the balls. Painful as fuck. When Fidget gets out, he’ll be wrinkly and gray at the age of fifty-three. To me, it was insane to think about. I’m sure if he had the money and the right connections to the big boys (like I did), Fidget would have gotten a good deal. Maybe only half of those years.
Fidget didn’t look like a criminal. Not saying criminals had a look—if they did, I would’ve been the poster boy—but they did have a feel. Or at least to me they did.
I’d seen and been around my fair share of men who’ve made me look like a saint. Fidget wasn’t one of them. Not even close. Sure, Fidget looked like a boy who liked to play with fire, but I don’t know. Attempted murder? The kid seemed so damn… innocent.
I tilted my head.
Then again, wasn’t everyone in prison innocent?
I know I am.
A smile cracked on my face as I traced the outline of Fidgets body like a drawing through the unbelievably thin mattress. I felt bad for the kid. The thirty-five-year sentence, sucked, but what was worse about Fidget’s life? The lack of visitors and calls.
They didn’t exist.
Fidget’s been here three years and nothing. But someone was looking out for him, giving him a few dollars to buy something from commissary. He bought himself a Snickers bar or bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or a cesspool cup of ramen, which always seemed to make him smile. Sometimes all you need was a little bit of food to bring back old memories of what life was like before prison. Fidget was probably thinking about his old friends when he ate that shitty food. Too bad his friends were the assholes and dirtbags who’d probably gotten him into this shithole.
I understand it’s a six-hour drive from Chicago to the middle of fucking nowhere on the border of Illinois and Kentucky, but visiting once a year wouldn’t kill you. Or the very least once every two years. I know my only connection to the real world was Michael or Wallace for legal reasons, but that’s something.
Fidget let out another sigh and started to toss his rock in the air.
He found that rock in the courtyard the first day he came to Tavernville. He didn’t go anywhere without it. He brought it with him to the kitchen, the showers, and even the shitter. He fidgeted—yep, that’s where he got his name—with that stupid rock so much all the sharp edges were dull, and the surface was glossy. It was probably going to turn into a pebble by the time he got out.
“Hey, Jack?” Fight’s voice, frail and shy. Nothing like him.
I punched his ass through the mattress, but he didn’t make a sound.
There were a few seconds of silence before he uttered, “How’d it go?”
I gave his back a solid punch, knocking a heavy breath from his lungs.
“Michael’s still a bitch but at least he’s good at it, I chuckled.
Of course, I didn’t tell Fidget about my new place, the money, or my crimes, aside from the reason I was in here. It was hard to keep that a secret in prison. People were naturally curious—I, being the most curious cat of them all, loved to poke around for the reasons why other cons were here.
Fidget said nothing.
I punched him again, this time lighter.
I knew the kid was going to miss me, but shit, it’s not like I wasn’t going to see him again. I would have the decency to visit him at least once a year and send him some cash. But, if we were realistic, over the years, I would forget about Fidget. I’d have my own life to worry about, and Fidget would have his… in prison. Sadly, that’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to lose touch. People say they’ll visit you and keep contact, but typically, humans are selfish fuckers. In the end, we want to deal with only our life. Our own shit.
“Hey, Jack,” he said again in the same monotone. Hopping off the top bunk, Fidget leaned on the wall. His jumper was unzipped at his waist showing off his white tank top and slender, toned arms. With my help, Fidget had been trying to bulk up, but he was still a slim thing. Still a kid.
I swear, in another lifetime Fidget could’ve been a model for one of those preppy clothing stores that tried to intoxicate you with their cologne when you walked past them. Like I said, he looked innocent with his wavy blonde hair, big black-brown eyes, and face made to be printed in magazines and plastered on billboards.
Fidget played with his rock, encasing it in his grip. “Can I ask you something?”
“No, I will not tuck you in and give you a bedtime story.” I rolled my head to the side to meet his deadpan glare.
“I’m serious, Jack.” He ran his nail into the rock so hard that his finger turned ghost white.
“Can you find my sister?”
I sat up, elbows on my knees. “Sister? You have a sister?”
He nodded. “Last time I heard she was looking for a place in Birch Park on Lavador Street on top of some Polish bakery. Mazowski? Kowalski? Lisowski? I don’t remember.” He bit the inside of his bottom lip as he did when he was nervous.
“That’s it? You just want me to find her?” I grumbled, my eyebrows on two different planes, one up one down.
He shook his head.
Fidget looked odd. His expression so dead I thought someone pulled the ‘off’ switch on him. He loved to talk, but he rarely spoke about his family members. I knew he had a deadbeat dad and druggie mom and aunt, but other than that. Nothing.
Well, except for that one time.
The first-week Fidget got here; he got drunk on some prison hooch and let his guard down. He told me about one of his most fucked up memories. The kind of memories everyone had but kept in a locked vault, ready to be repressed until we could convince ourselves it was a dream—a nightmare.
That was the most serious Fidget ever got. Mostly he talked about his comic books, kitchen recipes he wanted to try when he got out, or about the stupid shit he did with his friends.
“No, I need you to give her this.” Fidget grabbed an envelope from under his pillow and handed it to me. It was wrinkled and white and addressed to TINKS. All caps.
I shrugged, taking the envelope, but not knowing how to respond. Fidget’s my favorite cellmate, but, hounding down his sister to give her a letter? Not like I haven’t done this before, but I got that feeling in my gut. That same one, I got when I took a job.
I rubbed the back of my neck and let out a heavy sigh. Before I could answer Fidget spoke, “Listen, Jack, you’re going to get it easy after you get out. But me?” He shook his head. “The only thing I have left is my sister. I wanna know she’s okay. I want her to know that I know, and everything is fine. That it really is fine, and we need to talk.”
I examined the sealed envelope. A little more curious about the favor I’d agreed to do. “Find her and give her this?” I slapped the letter in my hand.
“Yeah, she’ll wanna talk to me after she reads it.”
“Okay. Sure, I can do that, Fidget.”
“Promise?” He pleaded, giving me the biggest brown puppy dog eyes I’d ever seen him pull.
“Just one more thing, don’t call her TINKS. That’s my thing.”
I shrugged. “Sure, whatever.”
Fidget crawled back into his bunk and got into fetal position, choking the rock in his fist as it hung off the cot. His body as stiff as could be.
Give her the letter?
I could do that.
Fidget fell into a deep slumber, his breaths steady and hush. He was right. I was getting it easy, and he was going to have nothing. No money. No education. No family.
I focused on Fidget’s all caps handwriting.
Punching his paper-thin mattress, I woke Fidget up. He jumped midair, dropping his rock. Before it hit the ground, I caught it. I petted the stone, rubbing my thumb against the smooth surface.
“What’s the girl’s name?”
Fidget dropped his head down. Eyes sleepy and glossy, wavy blonde locks a mess, and a dopey smile slapped his face.
“Ahri. Ahrianna Lore.”
“She hot?” I bit my lip, my words coated with one thought. Sex.
“She looks like me, Jack.”
I hummed. “A girl version of Fidget… I can get down with that. You’re fucking gorgeous.” I playfully slapped his face before he rolled his eyes and disappeared back his bunk.
“Good luck with that.” He scoffed.
“I’m taking that as your permission to fuck your sister, Fidget.”