TIME SPIKE – snippet 24:
Later, as he scrubbed the counter with the foul smelling mixture he had been given by Barbara Ray, James wondered what the nasty stuff was. Back home, when he cleaned the equipment at the firehouse, they used a bleach solution. This was not chlorine or alcohol based. The familiar odor of antiseptics was not present anywhere within the infirmary. Barbara, the LPN on duty, had told him they were out of the regular cleaners. They were using stuff from the machine shop and hoping it would do the job without causing too much damage. According to her, they were in the process of producing a little alcohol. So, hopefully, they would have at least one of the old tried and true products within a few days.
The infirmary had changed since he first arrived. Its six beds were now reserved for C.O.’s and inmates who were critical. Now, inmates needing non-intensive medical care were housed upstairs in what used to be the psych ward. The psych patients had been returned to the general population or moved to X-row.
The beds situated inside the holding cell just outside the examining room were occupied by two female guards and an infant. The C.O. with the baby was Kathleen Hanrahan. The other bed was occupied by a young and very pretty black woman who looked to be in rough shape. She had to be Elaine Brown, the one who took it in the gut right after the shit hit the fan.
There was also one patient tied to a gurney inside the examining room he was cleaning. The guy didn’t look like a guard or an inmate. And he looked like he’d been busted up pretty good.
After a few minutes, the man gave a small moan and mumbled something Cook couldn’t quite make out, so he moved closer, his heart in his throat. It had been a long time since he heard Cherokee. His great-grandmother was the last one he heard speak it, and she died when he was fifteen. But even so, he was sure that was the language the man was using. Its familiar rhythm caused his chest to squeeze tight in an ache for home.
It took him a minute to translate what was being said. The man was in pain. He was also thirsty. Cook looked around and found a cup, then filled it from the water pitcher sitting on the medicine cabinet. The old man gulped the warm liquid down in three gulps then gratefully patted his hand.
“How did you know what he wanted?” asked Jenny Radford, the nurse practitioner who ran medical. She was standing in the doorway. Captain Blacklock and Lieutenant Hulbert were behind her.
“He speaks Cherokee.”
“He is an Indian, then. I thought he might be.” Hulbert was nodding his head. “And you can understand him.”
Jenny’s grin was almost contagious. “Great!”
James shook his head. “Lady, you don’t understand. I was a kid the last time I heard someone speak Cherokee. I haven’t spoken it or heard it spoken in years.”
“Try,” said Captain Blacklock. “Try hard. I want to know who shot him.”
Cook shrugged and looked at the man. “Who shot you?” he asked in English. He had no idea how to phrase the question in the old language.
The old man looked at him then tugged at the straps holding him in place. He spat out a string of words and Cook shook his head.
“Go slow. I can’t catch what you’re saying unless you slow it down.”
The old man surprised him; he slowed down and repeated himself. He was now speaking so softly that James had to bend over and put his ear just a few inches away.
James still didn’t understand. He shook his head. “Say it again.”
The man repeated himself. Then, said it in English. Perfectly understandable, although the accent was odd.
James looked at Hulbert and Blacklock. He didn’t think they’d heard anything understandable, that far away.
So, he shook his head. “I don’t know what he said.”
“Take a guess,” Hulbert said.
Radford walked over and touched the old Cherokee’s hand. “I was watching you, and I know you understood what he said. So, tell us.”
James took a step back. Damn! What a day! He wasn’t going to tell these people anything. They were stupid—too stupid to realize the old man understood everything being said. Stupid and nuts. And the old Indian was nuttier. He was claiming Spaniards shot him!
Lieutenant Hulbert smiled, but it didn’t touch his eyes. “By the looks of you when you came in today, I would say you need a rest. I’ll send you back to your cell. You haven’t been here long. You haven’t had much time to get to know everyone. Or the way things work. Maybe we could let you have the rest of the day off; let you visit a friend. Luff, or one of the other boys in the cell house might invite you over for tea.”
The guards were no different from the cons. Everyone knew that. They would use you, then leave you to die. They were worse than wolves; they were vultures. Vultures that picked you down to the bones but kept their hands clean. You would be dead, but they could pretend their souls weren’t sullied.
But James didn’t let any of his anger show on his face. “You want something from me, I’ll give it. But you have to give me something first. I want a roommate transfer. I want…”
He thought fast, picking through the information he’d gotten since he arrived. A lot of it was just scraps and rumor, of course.
What James needed right now—needed desperately—was protection. That meant protection from one of the bosses, not the guards. Unless they kept you in solitary, the guards had no way to keep a man safe, and James didn’t want spend the next twenty years in solitary. Even if he got out alive, he’d be a jibbering nutcase by then.
He decided his best bet was Boomer. He was the only boss who didn’t care what race you were, as long as you weren’t full white. And he didn’t care what got you behind bars as long as you hadn’t done some kid. But even so, to be in his cell and not be one of his men, that could get you killed. It was a gamble, but it was his best chance.
“I want Boomer moved into my house, and no one knows why. And it happens today. Now. I don’t go back to my cell until he’s sitting on that bottom bunk. And you keep me here during the day, every day. You can let it out that I was an EMT in my former life.”
“You were?” Jenny sounded pleased.
“I think he’s lying.” Hulbert shook his head. “And we don’t bargain with the inmates.”
“Believe what you want. I don’t care. But if I tell you anything, especially what this guy just said, my life’s worth nothing. We both know that. Rats don’t make it. Besides, things are different now. You can strike deals. And if you had any idea as to what was happening behind those bars you would be stalking the walkways for anyone who’d ride your leg.”
Captain Blacklock gave a small laugh. “Maybe. But I’m not sure I need to deal with you. The way I heard it, you’re life’s not worth much one way or the other. We know about the fight with Butch Wesson.”
“You knew about it and didn’t do a fucking thing to give a fish a hand.” He gave the men in blue uniforms a cold stare. “It doesn’t matter. When I’m sent back to my cell I’m done. That bastard has friends, and they’ll be looking for revenge and to save a little face. So, why not send me back to a new roomie? You do that for me and I’ll sing like a bird.”
Blacklock returned the gaze calmly, for a few seconds. Then, shrugged. “Okay, you’ve got it. But you’ve got to have two roomies. We’re tripling everyone up.”
“Okay, then. The Boom and Adrian Luff.”
Hulbert chuckled. “Well, I guess that’d be one way to solve your Luff problem.”
James Cook shook his head. “I want to live. And if you haven’t noticed, I’m not some lily-white-ass. I either get the Boom on my side, or I die.”
Andy thought about it. Cook was right. The guards couldn’t protect him. They hadn’t even been able to protect the Martinez kid before the Quiver. Now, after it, no one was safe.
“Okay, kid. You’re in with Boomer. And if your records say you once worked as an EMT, you can have a permanent work posting here in the clinic. But I’m not giving you an upper-level Aryan to put between you and the Boom. You’ll have to work it out on your own. I’ll pull Paul Howard out of your cell for a few days. Six days, counting today. Then he gets popped right back in. The man is white, but he’s level headed and doesn’t mix with trouble. He and the Boom won’t become the best of buds, but they’ll be able to co-exist.”
He then gave Cook a little headshake. “Just for the record, we didn’t find out about the fight until it had already started. And by the time we got there, you’d ended it and were already gone. Believe it or not, I actually hope you live till tomorrow. But, just in case, what did this guy say?”
Cook shrugged. “Ask him yourself. He speaks English.”