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The Blind Run
By Brian Freemantle
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1985 Brian Freemantle
All rights reserved.
At first, in the early days and weeks and months, Charlie's immediate awakening impression had been one of the smell, the overnight urine and the odour of too many bodies too close together for too long. It didn't come any more. He'd become accustomed to it, he supposed. Like he'd become accustomed to everything else. Recognising the good screws from the bad screws. And the important prisoners, the hard bastards who ruled the jail, from those who accepted that rule. And the all male marriages, some happier and more contented than those he'd known outside, where the wife had been a woman. And the weapon making in the engineering shop: knives honed like razors and spikes sharpened to impale an arm or a leg, even a bone if it got in the way. And the use of tobacco for money. And the black markets that existed: marijuana was available, because he'd watched and smelled prisoners smoking it. He'd not seen the cocaine, but he didn't doubt that it was around because he'd seen the snorting and been offered it in the first month. And booze. Charlie knew he'd have to make a contact soon, to get a drink. It had been a long time. Too long.
The prison was never completely quiet: always something metallic seemed to be hitting against something else metallic. This morning it was a long way off, on a far-away landing and Charlie gave up trying to guess what it was. He lay with his hands behind his head, staring up at the barred window; in the growing light, it looked like a noughts and crosses board, set out in readiness. Early on he'd actually used the reflected pattern that way, a mental chequer board, playing games against himself. Not any more.
He wished he could remember, precisely, when the smell had stopped being noticeable. It was important – basic training – to count days and weeks and to record events within them that mattered. That was the way to survive. To stop being aware of time was the first step towards becoming institutionalised. And that wasn't going to happen to him. He knew the days and the weeks, even if he couldn't remember the smell: fourteen months, three weeks and five days. When he got up, it would be six days. Establishing a régime was part of the training, too; he always made the count as soon as he got out of bed. Fourteen months and three weeks and six fucking days! And not a word. No approach, no 'don't worry' messages in the cells below the dock. No nothing. So they'd done it to him again. He'd trusted Sir Alistair Wilson; thought him a good bloke, like the Director who had preceded Cuthbertson.
Charlie stirred, aware of the metallic sound getting nearer. At least he'd lived: perhaps Wilson considered the bargain ended there. He'd only pleaded for that, after all, Charlie conceded; just his life.
Charlie looked away from the window and its neatly divided squares, to the table bare of any personal mementoes and the stiff-backed chair and the pisspot he couldn't smell any more. This wasn't life. Or rather it was, the sort of life he'd read about as a sentence and not thought anything about, because when he was free to get up when he liked and go where he liked and do what he liked it wasn't possible to imagine what imprisonment for life meant. He knew now: Christ, didn't he know now!
Charlie swung up off the bed, feet against the cold floor, head forward in his hands. Stop it! He had to stop the despair because that was another collapse, like forgetting to count the days or remember what was important in them. Despairing was giving up. And he wouldn't give up: couldn't give up. He never had. He was a survivor. Always had been. Always would be. Couldn't break him. No way.
Never been this helpless before, though.
He stood abruptly, angry at the self-pity. Needing actual movement against it, he went to the table and took from the drawer the calender he was allowed. He was careful to sit, before making the inscription, and then circled the day which would give him his current total of imprisonment. Twelve years and nine months and one day to go unless he got parole. If he got parole. Three of the screws – three of the absolute bastards and one of them in charge of the landing – had told him the word was in and that he wasn't likely to get a hearing for years, even less a remission of sentence. He'd fucked the establishment. Now they were fucking him. Bastards, thought Charlie; real bastards. Always had been.
The sound on the landings had changed now, no longer a meaningless jangle but the slapping against the cell doors after the slop-out bell. Charlie swivelled from the desk and groped for his boots, wincing as he manoeuvred his feet into them. He didn't try to lace them but left them undone. He buttoned his trousers and secured the belt and finally put on his tunic jacket. He was ready before the key chain rattled against the door.
As it began to open, Charlie reached down for the pot. When he could smell it, the ritual had offended him; now it was automatic, just as it was automatic to shuffle forward and be by the door as it opened out on to the landing.
Charlie decided he would probably have been more disgusted if he'd had to share a cell. Not solitary, the governor had explained: apart from the cell, he was just an ordinary prisoner. It was just that there was no one else inside serving a sentence for a similar offence and it was sometimes difficult to gauge the reaction of the other inmates. Better to be safe in the cell, where he could sleep unprotected and safe from attack. But apart from that he would be treated no differently from anyone else. Charlie had thought it was bullshit at the time, like so much else; he didn't think it now.
He blinked against the brighter lighting on the landing and went flat-footed out to join the line towards the sluices. To Charlie's left, hung like spiders' webs between the landings, were the protection meshes to prevent from self-destruction a prisoner who could no longer fight the despair, or the death of those who had infringed an unwritten law and might be heaved over, to avoid the irritating forensic enquiry which might have disclosed the clandestine activity in the engineering shops. To his right the cell doors gaped, like the beaks of hungry, unfed birds. He couldn't miss the smell now: no one could, not even if they'd served twenty years and become accustomed to everything. Debris in a slowly moving stream of piss, thought Charlie. It was a fitting analogy.
Charlie had developed the prison walk, shoulders hunched and insular, his eyes away from any direct gaze and therefore possible challenge. He missed nothing, though. Never had. It was the beginning of the week and the shifts of the landing warders had changed; as soon as he rounded the bend, on the last run towards the sluices, Charlie saw Hickley and Butterworth.
They were two of the worst: bloody sadists. But clever sadists more obviously aware than the others that the prison was run by consent of the inmates and anxious to be friends with those who mattered, to the discomfort of those who didn't. Hickley, the one who'd told him there was no possibility of parole, was at the sluice entrance, so that he could control the approach and Butterworth was inside the lavatory, supervising the actual cleaning. Charlie's eyes avoided theirs; it was a precaution he had learned.
The challenge came, from Hickley, an arm thrust out across his chest, halting him and the line beyond.
'Got another one of you bastards,' said the prison officer.
Charlie knew he'd have to say something. 'Yes,' he said.
'Know what we did with spies in the war?' Hickley was ex-Guards.
'No, Mr Hickley.'
'We used to shoot them.'
Bollocks, thought Charlie. Hickley had never seen a spy in his life; probably hadn't even seen combat. Hickley was a base camp type, a coal whitewasher and latrine scrubber.
'I think we still should,' said Hickley.
Providing his didn't have to be the guilty finger on the trigger. Christ, how he'd like to have kicked the bullying bugger right in the crotch, thought Charlie.
'What's wrong with your boots?' demanded the officer.
'Nothing, Mr Hickley.'
'There isn't a regulation,' said Charlie, who'd checked.
'I like a tidy landing.' Hickley was shaven-headed and hard- bodied from exercise and had a sergeant's voice that echoed, so that everyone along the corridor could hear. 'Undone boots aren't tidy.'
Charlie said nothing.
'So lace them up.'
Charlie allowed the look, too brief for him to be accused of insolence but sufficient for the man who'd faced hostility on a hundred parade grounds to know he meant it. Then he knelt, cautious against upsetting either his pot or that of the man directly behind him, and secured his boots. He did it carefully, tugging each loop through its socket and taking his time over the knots; the murmuring and shuffling grew behind him and at last he was aware of Hickley's shift of impatience. Charlie went slowly on, adjusting and tightening the laces.
'I haven't tied them yet.'
'I said get up.'
Charlie stood, as slowly as he had descended, to confront the officer. Hickley's face burned red, except for the white patches of anger on his cheeks.
'Be careful,' said the man.
Charlie didn't respond.
'Very, very careful,' insisted Hickley. He stood back, to let Charlie pass.
There had been an audience inside the sluices, as well as out, grouped around the centre runway to see what was happening. Two, both long timers, smiled just briefly in appreciation. Butterworth, controlling the main gangway, recognised his colleague's defeat.
'Move on!' he said. 'Everyone move on!'
There was jostling and further delay, while the slowly moving line became organised again. Instinctively Charlie stopped by the main sluice, where it was widest and where there were most people, rather than go into one of the side drains where he would have been in a cul de sac.
'Move on,' insisted Butterworth.
Doggedly Charlie remained where he was, letting other prisoners swirl and spill about him. He'd been backed into more blank alleys than this poxy lot put together and he didn't intend the last day of the third month of his second year to start with some officially inspired thumping because he'd made some prison officer look a bloody fool. He was aware of Butterworth's apologetic look to his friend beyond the doorway.
He realised that Prudell, who occupied the adjoining cell, had kept dutifully close to him. A Hickley man, Charlie knew; had to be because Hickley sanctioned the cell changes when Prudell got fed up with whatever prisoner he was screwing and felt like a change. And Prudell had sufficient muscle to keep the landing running smoothly.
'Shaken but not stirred, is it?' said Prudell, indicating the pot. He was a squat compact man serving eight years for grievous bodily harm: he'd nailed to his own desk the hand of a man who refused to pay protection money for a bingo hall in Haringay. The victim was sixty-eight years old.
'Something like that,' said Charlie. He was ready for the push when it came, not just from Prudell but from someone passing behind so he was able to avoid most of the urine from his pot and that of Prudell's. Some still splashed on his trousers.
'Told you to move along, stop causing a jam,' said Butterworth.
Charlie put his pot under the rinse, scouring it out.
'Sorry about that,' said Prudell.
'Why not lend me some perfume?' said Charlie.
'Any time, if you're interested.'
Charlie picked up the line, going out past Hickley and back along the corridor. Inside his cell he looked down, disgustedly, at his stained trousers. Maybe it wouldn't last long, he thought hopefully. Then again, it might. Hickley had lost face and in a place as miniscule and insular as a prison that was something that grew out of all proportion.
Knowing he would have to avoid any infraction of the regulations, Charlie was ready at the first sound of the washroom bell but inside the ablutions he hung back, waiting for the shaving area he wanted, abutting the wall so that he only had to worry about one side and that in constant reflection. He maintained the caution in the food line, because there were urns with scalding water. The porridge was slopped half in and half out of his bowl. Charlie didn't protest.
He was as lucky with the seat in the mess hall as he had been in the washing area, with his back against the wall. He saw Prudell smirking two tables away: the companion was new, someone Charlie hadn't seen before. Dark and very pretty: Greek or Italian, maybe.
Charlie had started eating by the time Eddie Hargrave eased in beside him.
'Saw what happened at slop-out,' said Hargrave, his voice hardly above a whisper, talking prison fashion, lips practically unmoving. He was a greying, wisp-haired man who had been a schoolteacher outside. Charlie still found it difficult to believe that after murdering his wife Hargrave had tried to dissolve her body in a mixture of lime and acid, even though Hargrave had talked at length about it and why he'd done it, because he found her in bed with his brother. The brother had been the headmaster, responsible for the school curriculum roster: he'd given the man two free periods by mistake, instead of a history lesson which would have kept him at school. Hargrave had killed him, too. Hargrave was in charge of the prison library in which Charlie worked, as his assistant.
'The bastard picked on me.'
'You asked for it, Charlie, scuffing about like that.'
'Got bad feet.'
'You cheeked him: shouldn't cheek someone like Hickley. He's authority and you can't beat authority.'
That was something he'd never been able to learn, thought Charlie. 'Careful it doesn't involve you,' he said sincerely.
Hargrave shook his head. 'No one bothers about me, Charlie. I'm not one of the hard ones but there's a kind of respect for a lifer.'
'It'll pass,' said Charlie.
'Be careful, till it does. You've got a long time to go.'
'Yes,' agreed Charlie, distantly. 'Bloody long time.'
'Papers have already been delivered to the library,' said Hargrave.
Charlie mopped the last of his porridge from the bowl with a piece of bread. He supposed it was natural that Hargrave would want to talk about it.
'Did you know him?' asked the convicted murderer.
The name given throughout the trial, which he'd followed from the library papers, was Edwin Sampson, although if the man was the KGB agent the prosecution made him out to be then it would obviously have been part of the legend, the cover story to cover his time in England as an illegal.
'No,' said Charlie.
'Papers say he worked in security: thought you did that, too.'
'It was a long time ago for me,' said Charlie. 'And there's a lot of different departments.'
'They say he did a lot of damage.'
'They always do.'
'Word is that he'll come here, after sentencing.'
For the first time Charlie started to concentrate. 'Here?'
'That's the word from those who work in the governor's office; guilty as buggery, so they say.'
'Hickley said something, at the sluices,' remembered Charlie.
'That he was coming here?'
Charlie shook his head. 'Just something about having got another of us bastards. Makes sense of the remark though, if he were coming here.'
The bell sounded, ending breakfast. The departure from the canteen was slow, as usual.
'I want a drink,' said Charlie. Like Hargrave, Charlie kept his head bowed, so no one would see even the words his lips formed.
'That means Prudell: he's the supplier.'
'He'd shop you, Charlie.'
'I know that, too.'
Hargrave remained silent.
'I'd understand if you said you wouldn't get it for me,' assured Charlie.
Hargrave sighed. 'Money or tobacco?'
'How much do you want?'
'As much as I can get: I've saved up half a pound.'
'It won't be easy,' said Hargrave.
'I appreciate it, Eddie.'
'I mean it. We could share it; the booze, I mean.'
'Don't drink, not any more,' said Hargrave. 'Pissed when I killed the missus, so I don't drink any more. If I'd been sober I wouldn't have hit her so hard. Wouldn't be here.'
'It'll be there, if you want it.'
'What do you want?'
'Whatever there is.'
'I've heard there's whisky. And gin,' said the older man.
'Whisky, if there's a choice.'
The mess hall was almost empty now. Charlie and Hargrave stood at last and joined the line to file out.
'Thanks Eddie,' said Charlie.
Hargrave didn't reply.
The morning was spent re-indexing and replacing on the shelves the books that had been returned overnight but Charlie was ready long before the first borrowing period, the half an hour before the midday break. The dark-haired boy he'd seen at breakfast that morning with Prudell was the first one to enter the library.
Excerpted from The Blind Run by Brian Freemantle. Copyright © 1985 Brian Freemantle. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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