“That’s the thing about this city, it’s a cesspool,” Hal said.
“Harsh,” Toby said.
Hal glanced up. He did not try to hide his disappointment. He’d
been expecting Cutter.
“Truth,” Hal replied. “Just the truth. Where’s Cutter? I asked for
Toby flashed the goofy awe shucks grin that made Hal want to
To keep his hands busy, Hal fished for a cigarette. His pockets
were empty, which made him angry. He clenched his jaw and
worked at tamping his anger down. There were consequences for
“If you think it’s so bad here, why don’t you just move on?” Toby
Hal flashed Toby a warning look.
Toby ducked his head. He didn’t like making Hal mad. More than
that, he didn’t want to make Cutter mad. No one wanted to make
“Where you lookin’ to move on to?” Toby asked, hoping a show of
interest would earn him some points.
“The word is looking, with a ‘g’,” Hal hissed. “Use proper English
when you speak, or don’t speak at all.”
Toby ducked his head and kept his lip zipped.
Hal rubbed two fingers together, “Moving on takes money,” he
said. “Do you think I have that kind of cash?”
Toby kept quiet and waited.
“Hell no, I don’t have the money I’d need to make a move,” Hal
said. “And do you know why? I’ll tell you why. Because the men in
charge keep guys like us down.” Hal stuck out a hand, fingers curled
into a tight fist, thumb extended. “They keep us pinned under their
thumbs,” Hal moved his fist, thumb down, in a grinding motion.
“And, to do that, they’ve got to keep us broke. We have got to fight
back, or we’ll spend our lives being ground down. Is that what you
want? You want to be ground down by the fat cats?”
Hal jabbed a finger in the air. “What we need is a plan.”
“Plan?” Toby asked.
Hal nodded. “I was going share this with Cutter, but he’s a lazy
ass. You want in?”
“I don’t know, Hal,” Toby said with a grimace.
“You don’t know?” Hal growled. “You don’t know?”
Toby shook his head. “I’ve got to steer clear of trouble, you know
that. The judge said he wouldn’t go easy if I didn’t keep my nose
clean and I believed him. That’s a chance I don’t want to take. I
don’t think you’d—"
Hal leaned close. “You got caught because you were a dumb ass,”
Hal said. “If you don’t have a plan, you’ll get caught every time," he
tapped the side of his head. “You’ve got to be smarter than the
guys coming after you. You have got to plan. You should have
learned that lesson by now.”
“You didn’t plan ahead,” Hal said firmly. “That’s why you got
caught. You were a dumb ass.”
“I guess,” Toby mumbled.
“No guessing about it,” Hal said. “I’ve got a plan and I’m willing to
let the right guy in on it. I thought Cutter would be my guy but now
I’m giving you a shot. Are you telling me you’re not the right guy?”
“I’m sayin’…saying I don’t want trouble,” Hal moaned, shifting
from foot to foot. “Prison is bad, Hal.”
“It’s not bad here?” Hal looked around contemptuously.
Toby glanced around and shrugged. “Well sure,” he said. “But at
least here a fella’s got options.”
Hal hawked and spat, delivering a fat green glob between Toby’s
feet. “You believe you have choices because they want you to
believe you have choices,” Hal said. “This place is a trash heap, and
the people who run it keep it that way because guys like you are
afraid to take what you need.”
“I don’t want no trouble,” Toby mumbled.
“Nobody wants trouble,” Hal said. “Nobody wants to be broke;
nobody wants to be the hamster in the wheel.”
“We got a hamster?” Toby asked, his face brightening.
“No, dumb ass. Man, you can be dense. I don’t know why I bother
talking to you.”
“Don’t get mad,” Toby said. “I don’t know why you get so mad.”
“I get made because you are a dumb ass,” Hal said. “I get tired of
having to explain things to you all the time.”
“I’m sorry,” Toby said. “I don’t mean to be a dumb ass. I want to
help you with your plan, Hal. I do. I know you wanted Cutter, but he
wouldn’t come. He said you’re not the boss of him. You can boss me
though. Tell me your plan. I’ll do whatever you say, and I won’t ask
Hal cocked his head to one side and pursed his lips.
Toby held his breath and waited.
“Well,” Hal said.
Toby blew out his breath. His head felt floaty, which made him
“You’re sure you want in on this?” Hal asked.
Toby wiped the grin from his face. “Yes!” he said. “Yes, I want in.
What’s the plan, Hal?”
Hal grinned. “It’s stupid simple,” he said. “But don’t let the
simplicity fool you.”
Toby shook his head. No sir, he would not let the simplicity fool
“The plan is, we bust out of here and along the way, we take what
Toby nodded and waited.
“That’s it,” Hal said. “We need money, we take it. We need a car,
we take it. We need clothes, food, a damned pair of shoes, we take
them. We don’t hesitate. We don’t worry about details. That is the
beauty of the plan. Sweet and simple. You in?”
“Sweet and simple,” Hal said again.
Hal narrowed his eyes.
“Do you have questions?” Hal asked.
“I’m just wondering…I mean, I’m not sure what…”
“Spit it out, dumb ass. What are you trying to say?”
Doctor Daniel Dane repressed a sigh and said, “Time for a reality
check, Hal. Your name is Halbert Tobias Cutter. You are an inmate
at this facility. You are serving a life sentence without the
possibility of parole. You do not suffer from Dissociative
Personality Disorder, though you continue to try to convince
me that you do, which is a waste of your time and mine. It would be
in your best interest to come to terms with your reality. You are,
after all, responsible for the actions that placed you here.”
Hal squinted at the small man behind the large desk and said,
“That’s the thing about this city, it’s a cesspool.”