“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

sock him.

    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

lashing out.

    “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

Cutter mad.

    “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?”

    “No, I—"

    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.”

    “Yea, but…”

    “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

dumb questions.”

     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

we want.”

    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?”

    Hal stared.

    Toby waited.

    “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.”

March 16, 2021 22:48

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