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Crime Fiction Speculative

The Rose

The heavy metal doors locked into place. A loud clang echoed against the dingy prison walls. Immediately, the lights grew dim. This prison held no more than two hundred inmates at one time—every bed in use. He plopped down upon the thin, worn-out mattress, ignoring the impulse to scream. Sometimes confinement within the grey three-by-five cell could drive a person insane. Under the flattened pillow lay hope: a worn calendar full of slash marks, one for each day served. Five more and then freedom. He closed his weary eyes. A quick prayer emanated from his dry, cracked lips. He knew he did wrong. Punishment was the consequence. Forgiveness had to be earned.

Gary Foley shoved the tattered sheets back into the safe spot. What would he do when his time came to be released? How would he survive? Returning to his hometown would be difficult.  He asked himself a thousand times—always the same answer. Before his untimely involvement in a bank robbery gone awry, he had a decent job as a hair stylist. In fact, good behavior and skillful hands gained him the privilege of working within the prison barbershop. He had no right to complain. His stay at Bottom Rock—a minimum security prison—could have been much worse.

“Counting the days?” sounded a timid voice.   “Anxious about starting over in the place where your downfall began? It won’t be easy Gary…especially in a place like Reeds Point where your neighbors…well, are sometimes more than just neighbors.”

Gary glanced up from his bed. The man barely stood five feet, four inches in flat shoes. A long white coat hung to his knees. His slightly darkened skin blended easily into the sturdy, thick bars. He crossed his arms. Bright white teeth gleamed in the dim light. He remained unmoved by Gary’s rough exterior—shadowed square jaw, thick neck, wide shoulders, muscular arms filled with tattoos and six-foot build—knowing full well the reason he hid behind the jagged façade.

“Dr. J, what brings you to my neighborhood?” asked Gary. The prison physician forced a chuckle.

“Why, Gary, you know as well as I, any prisoner eligible for parole must have a full examination before leaving. We don’t want any bad publicity, now do we?” The doctor narrowed his dark eyes.

“Dr. J, I only have positive things to say. After years of contemplating my wrongdoings, I know it was sheer stupidity that put me behind bars.” Dr. J hesitated slightly before nodding.

“You’ve come to terms with yourself; it’s a good sign, Gary.” Gary thought for a brief moment he saw a flicker of interest in Dr. J’s eyes. Just then, a tall guard approached the cell.

“Stand up, Foley. Step back and turn around. You know the drill.” Gary hauled himself up and did as he was told. The handcuffs tightened on his scarred wrists. Minutes later, Gary was sitting on a cot inside the infirmary. Dr. J checked his vitals.

“Seems you’re fine,” he said, stepping back. There was a long, awkward silence. “Gary, the outside world, including Reeds Point, has changed quite a bit since your incarceration. Word of advice: You need to soften a bit.”

“What do you mean, doc?” asked Gary, his forehead crunched in confusion.

"I mean, the rough and tough get nowhere. Look to your feminine side,” he said with a wink. Instantly, Gary’s face flushed. He knew all too well about femininity. The fact that he was gay had been deeply submerged for years while a prisoner of Bottom Rock. 

“Take, for instance, that tattoo you have on your arm. Long, sharp thorns surrounding one of the most beautiful flowers in the world—the rose. A lot like you, Gary.”

Gary’s jaw clenched. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Dr. J!” he exclaimed. “Maybe you should stick to medicine and leave the mind games to someone else. Okay, we’re done here.” He swung his legs off the cot. Seconds later, the guard rushed in.

“We’re finished,” Dr. J said. “You may take Mr. Foley back to his cell.” Gary turned around and placed his hands behind his back. The cuffs fit snugly.

“Good luck, Gary, and remember my advice,” insisted Dr. J. Gary did not bother to turn around. His movements were slow and mechanical. Once alone inside his world of solitude, his eyes welled up. How could Dr. J have known about his true sexuality? Or did he? Gary quickly dismissed the doctor’s wild suspicions. He hid his secret before and would do it again.    

The next five days were routine as usual. Gary gathered his few personal items and placed them in the small plastic bag. His jeans and white t-shirt felt tight. His body mass increased during his term in prison. Two guards escorted him outside the prison gates. An old college friend waited in a new silver Chevy Impala. Gary turned his eyes one last time to Bottom Rock.

“Come on, buddy!” called the man from inside the car. “Family and friends are waiting at our old hangout in town.” Gary took a deep breath. His heart raced with a strange new fear: fear of the unknown. Fear of going home. He slowly slipped into the cushioned leather seat. Relaxing music seeped from hidden speakers.       

“Will, I appreciate…” His good friend cut him off.

“You’d do the same for me, dude. Besides, it gave me something to write my dissertation about—inside the walls of prison,” he said with a cocky smile. Within minutes, they were driving down a two-lane highway heading for Reeds Point.

“You can stay at my place until you get your feet back on the ground,” Will continued. “Have you thought about what you might like to do…you know…work-related?” He tapped the steering wheel. He looked young with his short brown hair, blue polo shirt, and khaki shorts.  Unlike Gary with deep ridges that deepened with each passing year behind bars.

Gary hesitated before answering. “I’d like to get back into doing hair…in a professional salon,” he mumbled, shifting uneasily. “There used to be one near the center of town.” 

“Actually, the salon is thriving and, if I remember correctly, you were pretty good with a pair of scissors.” Suddenly, Will’s lips twisted. “Look, we’ve been friends a long time. So, I’ll just come right out and say it. You’re going to have to tone it down a notch…lose the thug look. Lindsay Atkins owns the place and she doesn’t put up with…with…” Will’s voice trailed into silence.

Gary exhaled. He could do this. His fears lessened a bit. Suddenly, the doctor’s words echoed inside his mind. Dr. J had been right—he really was, without a doubt, just like a rose. 

September 17, 2022 19:47

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1 comment

Ross Dyter
20:14 Sep 29, 2022

I liked the story, particularly the non-stereotypical hairdresser. Critique wise, I found some of the doctors dialogue didn't flow naturally when read aloud. Also a minor point there was an ellipsis when it should have been an em dash for someone being cut off “Will, I appreciate…” His good friend cut him off. Overall I enjoyed it.


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