The fact that I was getting released early was partly due to good behaviour, but mostly because of an act of incredible stupidity that meant that I was placed into an environment that then led to the good behaviour.
It had begun in the yard, where most of these things begin. Leroy hadn`t exactly been a friend of mine, but we were acquaintances, and we had what was most important in an institute such as this – respect for one another.
I still don`t know whether it was a racial thing, or just sheer jealousy that Leroy was out within a few days, but 8-Ball and Chicken (don`t ask!) had obviously had it all planned out. 8-Ball started it. He was the far larger of the two, and whilst Leroy stood up to him (as you must if you intend to retain your reputation and ensure you wont be physical and mentally used and abused for the rest of you sentence) Chicken came at him from behind with the shank.
Why I did it I still don`t know. God knows, no-one with a rational bone in their body would want a sharpened spoon slicing through their intestines, but for some reason I found I couldn`t just stand there and watch it slice through Leroys kidneys. My body was in between the shank and Leroy in the blink of an eye, and as my guts and blood poured over Chickens hand, I stood and watched his eyes bulge and his knees go weak when he saw me standing there looking at him.
Leroy came to see me in the hospital ward. There was incomprehension on his face as he looked at me, having been told about the state of my injuries. It was nothing I wouldn`t recover from, but that recovery would be a long one. This was to my credit ironically, for as I have said, this comfortable and safe environment then led on to my good behaviour and subsequent early release.
"Why did you do that for me man?" He asked.
I shrugged. "Maybe I`d have done it for anyone."
"Yeah, maybe. Let’s hope we never fine out."
I smiled. I think that up until then he had genuinely had me marked as a racist who had a grudging respect for his size and reputation – now he knew different.
There was an awkward silence for a while. Leroy grinned a huge embarrassed smile, all white teeth and big muscular black face. He turned serious then. "Look man, I`m not good at thank-yous-"
"No need," I said.
"No, seriously. No one ever did nothing like that for me. I owe you. I never owed nobody nothing before. If you ever need anything…."
I struggled to sit up. "Leroy-"
"No man, just let me say this. Maybe you`ll never need a favour. Shit, I never asked nobody for nothin’ in my life. But if you do need anything," he just shrugged.
We were silent for another moment. "What`re you going to do?" I asked. He was out in less than a week now, and he`d always been a violent man, a criminal - same as me.
"Same as I`ve always done I s`pose. Except I wont get caught this time."
I nodded. At least it wasn`t the same old "I`ll go straight this time" shit.
We shook hands. We both knew that he wasn`t going to be a regular visitor. He`d said his bit. He turned, walked out of the ward, and I never saw him again.
My turn to leave came eventually, and as with Leroy and all those that had gone before me recently, I had to do one last open counselling session with Rose. God, how I hated that know-it-all fuck head. I would swear to this day that he`d have done that job for zero wages, such was the satisfaction he got out of belittling us, of telling us how useless and worthless we all were. Every now and then it was apparent that he had just attended another course of some sort, for he would be there at the front of the room, full of a sort of self important energy, dying to show us how much better than us he was. The day I left was one of those days.
He smiled his sick smile when I walked in. "Mr Alexander! Welcome. I gather it will be your last session – for a while at least!" He always felt he had to get the last word, the last dig. I wondered if a compliment or nice word had ever left his lips. But today was "good behaviour" day. There was no way on earth I was going to give him the enormous satisfaction of even trying to impede my departure from prison. I simply sat down without a word.
"OK gentlemen, lets get started. Now I know for a fact that a lot of you are going to find it hard to get into this session. You`ll find it hard for the same reasons you`ve found it hard to succeed in the real world that decent people live in." It always amazed me this fucker had lived this long. Surely any decent parent would have killed him at a very early age, offspring or not.
"It`s going to be hard," he continued, "Because you have to be honest both with yourself, and about yourself. This is a particularly apt lesson to be receiving on your last session by the way Mr Alexander." I nodded, thinking "Get on with it prick, I have a freedom to get to."
"Life," he said with a dramatic pause, "Can be boiled down to basics. The need for food, oxygen and survival. A persons life, and individuals life, indeed your lives, should be able to be explained with a single word! I want you to think about that for a minute. What word, what one word, would you describe yourselves as? Because until you can be honest and describe yourselves with a single word, you will never amount to anything!"
I looked round and saw some people shift uncomfortably – they were the ones who were listening or who gave a shit. Most of them simply stared into space. Rose knew the ones who were responsive, and he started on them first. They gave lame answers such as "thief", or "robber". A huge Italian looking guy who must have been new was proud when he said "killer". There was a roar of laughter when some joker said "innocent".
I hate to admit it – I honestly and truthfully do – but the question did have me wondering. Rose, the fucker, must have seen and enjoyed the thoughtful expression on my face.
"Care to tell us your one word Mr Alexander?"
"It`s time for me to go, Mr Rose Sir." I stood and made my way to the door.
Rose was still giving that sickly smile I would have loved to smash from his face. "So don`t you have a word, or are you too scared to tell us?"
I suppose any psychologist worth an ounce of shit would be able to tell you that a comment like that will stop even the hardest con in his tracks. I was right by the door, and I turned slowly, the whole room quiet, expectant.
"Yes, I have a word for you Mr Rose."
"I`m sure you do Mr Alexander. But the word I want is not for me – it`s for you." There was a long pause. "Well? What`s the one word to describe yourself Mr Alexander?"
The look as his smile vanished off his face is one of the few good memories I have in this world now. But it was good. I remember it coming to me in a flash, the whole room laughing at the jerk as I turned and left.
"FREE!" I said.
I left prison on the 14th of May. On the 13th of May, everything I had loved and worshipped in this shitty world stopped breathing for ever. Life`s like that.
A few days after I got out I lay on a patch of green grass in the graveyard, staring at the sky. It was a truly beautiful day, but the sky was blurred, as was everything else to me – the tears in my eyes refused to roll down my cheeks, but neither would my eyes clear.
Danny had picked me up from prison, and I knew by the way he was shaking that he was more scared than I had ever seen him. He burst into tears when I asked where Sam was.
Sam and I had been childhood sweethearts. She had stood beside me on the several trips inside I had done, and though I seriously doubt she had stayed faithful all that time, she was discrete. No-one ever told me that she`d been seen out, and I never asked – not them, and certainly not her. It was a sort of unspoken agreement that everyone could live with. Anyway, she was always there for me when I came out, always at the gate waiting. When she wasn`t there this time I knew something was wrong.
I didn`t want to know details, I wasn`t interested. The fact that she was dead was enough. I told Danny to take me to see her, and he did. He drove in silence. The time for questions would come later.
For a few days I just disappeared, save for the visits to the probation officer that I had to make. I knew him from before, and almost unbelievably we got on quite well. I had talked about Sam before, and he seemed genuinely upset at her death. I can`t say that the news made him go easy on me, but he did relax. He was shocked that I`d turned up at all after finding out.
A couple walk past, arm in arm. A graveyard always seems to me to be the sort of place to be quiet, sad and contemplative. This couple were openly happy. I had probably done more years inside than they were old. The lad looked at me and smiled. "You`re a lucky man," he said.
"Oh yeah? How do you figure that?"
"There are people dying to lie down there!" He laughed. He`ll probably never know how close to being the next person to permanently reside here. I had an almost uncontrollable desire to kill him, to kill someone, to smash something. There was a rage inside me born out of the simple injustice and irony that life can deal out. The Man upstairs hated me, and he was having a fucking good giggle at my expense right now.
The couple walked off and I lay there going over the details of my conversation with Danny. Sam had always been on the fringes of the law, if not completely on the wrong side of it. But her offences had always been relatively minor, and though she had had a few appearances in court, she`d never been sent down. When Danny, Reg and Tony had been let down by their getaway driver at the last moment, they pleaded with Sam to drive for them. A simple job, in and out, with a 10% share if she helped them out.
They guess it must have been the driver they had hoped to use, Simon "legs" Vardy, who grassed them. They were only in the bank seconds when they knew it was a set-up. The cops were there, armed and waiting when the gang decided to cut their losses and get out. Danny wasn`t sure what happened after that. Bullets had flown, people had screamed. Both Reg and Tony had been caught because they went to assist Sam when she caught a bullet. Somehow Danny had got away in the confusion, and as always there were plenty of people to say that he`d been in the pub with them all afternoon.
"I swear though Jim, if I thought I could have helped or saved her, I would have gone back too. I swear on my life –"
"You are doing Danny!" I said.
He stopped short then, and despite the fact that we had been friends for over ten years, he knew that if I knew different then, or if I ever found out different, I would kill him. There was nothing else to say, and to his credit he left it there, not trying to weasel his way out of it.
"What are your plans now?" He asked.
"Now? Now I don`t have any fucking plans. All I wanted to do was see Sam, get laid, have a good time for a while, catch up, you know?"
He nodded sombrely. "We could still go out, grab some women –"
"I don`t know. Maybe later. Look, do you have a gun I could use?"
He seemed nervous at once. "A gun?"
"Yes, a fucking gun Danny. Do you have one I could borrow?"
He nodded. "I have a Smith and Wesson model 66 at the house. You can borrow it if you like."
"That`s the .357 one the FBI use, right?"
Danny nodded again. "The ammo ain`t so easy to get hold of. I had ten rounds, but I lent it to Big Jacko, and he used five of the ten I had."
Big jacko earned his name because he was one of the biggest, hardest fuckers any of us knew. The fact that he had used a gun meant he was due to come up against some seriously well armed people. "How many`d he cap?" I asked.
"Eight, all with the gun."
"But you said he only used five rounds!"
"He did. The other three he beat to death with it. Took me a fucking hour to wash all the blood off the thing, but the mood he was in, I wasn`t going to ask him to do it!"
We pulled up outside Dannys, and went in to get the gun. It felt good in my grip, even though the knowledge that being caught with it would cost me more years than I was ready to face right now. The .357 round was a real man stopper, and even a shot to the leg or shoulder would prevent any further attack from even the biggest gorilla.
"Anything else I can help you with Jim?"
"Yeah, I need to borrow your car for a while."
"Yes Danny, your fucking car. You got a problem with your hearing lately?"
Danny was clearly unhappy about all this, but I wasn`t in the mood to be polite or friendly.
"What do you need my car for?"
"Well the last time I checked, I didn`t have one. Nor can I afford to buy one, and as nicking one will end my right back in the joint, I want to borrow one."
"Are you going to need it for long?" He whimpered.
"Every minute you stand here whining is a minute longer I`m going to need it. Now give me the fucking keys Danny."
He handed them over somewhat reluctantly, and I thanked him – somewhat reluctantly.
He swallowed heavily. "Hey Jim - the gun. You going to use it?"
"Nah." I said, then turned, left, and got into his car.
When you`re part of the underworld, hiding from someone else within the same world is not easy. People talk to their own kind. I had an empty feeling inside me due to the loss of Sam, and I desperately wanted someone to pay for it. Someone was going to die – and that person was Legs Vardy. I suppose, now, looking back with a somewhat more rational mind, that that was an unfair decision on my part. At the time though it seemed just and fair. If he hadn`t have bottled out, Sam wouldn`t have been there in the first place to get shot.
One could equally argue that Danny or one of his cronies should have been my first choice for having asked her, but I`d been in similar situations where a job was imminent and an emergency stand-in was required to pull it off. Some of my choices in such cases had been less than smart too!
Later that night I laid naked between two leggy blondes, neither of whose name I could remember. They were eager to earn another handful of notes each, but the underground circuit was coming to life at this hour and I had work to do, so I dragged myself away and set out into the night.
Some seedy places that your average punter would not walk out of with his wallet (maybe not even his life) were visited within the first few hours. Maybe (though I hate to admit it) Legs had a better standing and reputation in this world than I did, or maybe the people I asked genuinely didn`t know where he was, but for a while I got no leads to his whereabouts at all. Finally though, someone told me to try Nick James (who liked to call himself Nick the Greek after a film he`d seen, but he was no more Greek than I was!).
"If anyone knows where Legs is, it`ll be Nick."
"They queer or something then?" I asked.
"Shit no. Legs ain`t gay. They`re just thick as thieves." I left the guy to laugh at his own joke.
The answer to why I had been unable to locate Legs came within a few seconds of thrusting the revolver into Nicks groin. He was out of the country on holiday, and was due back within a few hours. Legs had pulled off a big score recently, and with an airtight alibi he`d actually paid a couple of women to accompany him to Ibiza for a wild week while the heat died down. Stupid fucker had probably spent half of what he got on the two women in that one week.
After forcing Nick to drink a whole bottle of scotch (without too much resistance I noticed!), I settled myself down in the flat they shared, amused at first at Nicks whining about not being invited on the jaunt himself, before he fell into a drunken slumber and proceeded to annoy the shit out of me by snoring for the next few hours.
At last though, my efforts were rewarded. Legs had ditched the women (or they had ditched him), and he stumbled into the room still wearing shorts and a flowery shirt. He stared at Nick for a few seconds, evidently annoyed that his buddy was in no fit state to go out partying, until he suddenly noticed me – and the gun.
For a second he stood there just frowning, and then I was actually impressed when he put down his suitcase and crossed to the drinks cabinet, calm as you like, to pour himself a drink. He kept his back to me, but even had there been a gun in there (and there wasn`t – I`d already been in there to get the scotch) it`s only in films that people spin, shoot, and live to tell the tale. When he turned to face me he did it slowly, so as not to give the wrong impression and get blown away before he found out if there was still a chance to walk away from this.
"Do I know you?" He asked, taking a sip of whatever he`d poured.
"Jim Alexander," I said.
"Hmm. I`ve heard of you. Thought you were inside."
"I got released."
"Evidently! But you`re out of luck. I`ve spent almost all of what I got, and the rest I owe to people even you wouldn`t want to steal it off."
"I don`t want your money."
This worried him. His hand began to tremble, and he had to put the glass down. I still don`t know why I didn`t shoot him there and then. You see it in the films, and you think ‘shoot him you stupid bastard’, but that would have been too quick I think. I wanted him to know why, to know it was coming, and to beg.
But life is crap – and things didn`t work out that way at all. Maybe it would have been better if I simply had shot him.
"Before I empty this revolver into your guts, I want you to know who did it, and why."
His legs went weak and he went to speak, but found he couldn`t.
"Ten days ago you were supposed to do a job, but you cried off. The guys pulling the job had to get someone else to stand in for you. They chose my girl. That would be bad enough, seeing as she was shot and killed right outside the bank – but I`ve been told that you informed!"
He put his hands in the air in front of him to stop me. "Whoa! Wait. Stop right there." His voice had returned for some reason, and he wanted to babble now. Good.
"Tell me why Legs. Tell me the truth and I may just shoot you in the head and be done wit it."
"I don`t know what the fuck you`re talking about."
I`ve never really been a good shot, and it`s easier to miss with a short nosed gun than many people think. My shot blew out a large chunk from his upper thigh, the sound of the gun loud enough to wake Nick from his drunken coma. Legs fell to the floor screaming, and knowing that there would be no attack from him now, I crossed the room to make sure my next shot didn`t miss.
"Listen man! Honestly, I don`t know what you`re talking about. I was never even asked to do that job with Danny. Honestly! I didn`t even know about it until after the shoot out."
This stopped me. He saw the look on my face and carried on. "It was only ever the four of them. You ask!"
"So why tell me otherwise?"
"You stupid fuck! Why`d you think? Danny has been fucking Sam for months man!"
You can`t describe the feeling. Gutted, wretched, breathless – none of these, yet all of them. And sometimes you know things to be true, even when you dearly want them not to be.
I left Legs screaming and moaning about how he was going to die from blood loss, and went back to the car.
The pub was full. Police were not welcome in this sort of place, and even undercover ones could be sniffed out by this crowd more efficiently than by a pack of blood hounds. I saw Danny straight away, tucked in a corner by the large window, seated at the best seat in the house – the one that offered the best view.
I still wanted to believe that it wasn`t true, that Legs had lied to save his ass, but when Danny saw the look on my face, the look on his told me what I wanted to know.
No time for talking this time, not in a public place. The first shot took him in the guts, even though I`d aimed higher. The pub went silent in a second, and the second round drilled through his head and killed him instantly – his own gun being his death, and he collapsed onto the table, blood, brains and bits of bone all over the window and other nearby customers.
I crossed quietly to a phone at the bar, unhampered by anyone, and spoke quietly into it for a moment. By the time I`d finished the first cars were pulling up outside.
I`d made my decision very consciously on the way to killing my friend. Society has a set of rules that governs the way we should live. I had made my choice, and had decided to live outside those rules, paying the price whenever I was caught. But it was too late for me now. Everything that had once been important to me, Sam, my friendships, every-fucking-thing, was now gone. I wasn`t prepared to go on trying to live in the shitty world that 90% of people seem to like so much. I didn`t fit in. My rules and those of society wouldn`t, and couldn`t, meet.
I had become institutionalised I suppose, and I decided to retreat to the one place where I knew I could live. I had a good reputation inside that would stop me getting fucked around too much. I`d have a room with maybe only one other person in, a colour TV, food, an exercise yard, plenty of books to read – so much more than I could have outside. I would be locked away until I was almost sixty – but by then I might have changed, and maybe at that age I will be ready to fit back into the world.
There was no siege, no stand-off. I surrendered straight away, and within days I was back to my old world, the prison that felt more like home to me than anywhere else. There would only be one small problem – but that was in the process of being sorted!
"Mr Alexander! What a surprise!" Rose, the fucker, was taking this with unbridled joy. "It`s been what, almost a whole month? So short in fact, that I still remember your one word. ‘Free’ wasn`t it?" He laughed. "And what would your word be now?"
"Home", I said instantly, and this disappointed him hugely. "What is your word?" I left off the ‘Sir’ deliberately – shit, what the fuck was he going to do to me?
"Mine is ‘alive’" He replied, un-perturbed.
I laughed so long at that one that he stopped the session early and left.
Life is crap. But it`s also ironic. That Rose`s word was ‘alive’ was the ultimate proof of this to me. For I had made a phone call from the pub straight after killing Danny. Old Leroy owed me a favour. And Mr Rose would not be ‘alive’ after midnight tonight!