Authors: John Shirley
Winner of the Bram Stoker Award and the International Horror Guild Award
“One of our best and most singular writers. A powerhouse of ideas and imagery.”
“Readers who enjoy living a little dangerously are likely to appreciate the sheer, headlong exuberance of Shirley's imagination.”
âSan Francisco Chronicle
“Astonishingly consistent and rigorously horrifying. All his stories give off the chill of top-grade horror.”
âThe New York Times
“Shirley writes at the neon-lit frontier of sensory experience.”
“Snapping, snarling, vigorously wrought drama. Shirley writes splendid stuff.”
“Everybody's favorite genre outlaw.”
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Karen Joy Fowler
John Shirley Â© 2013
This edition Â© 2013 PM Press
Series editor: Terry Bisson
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Printed in the USA on recycled paper by the Employee Owners of Thomson-Shore in Dexter Michigan
Outsides: John Yates/
Insides: Jonathan Rowland
For my wife, Micky, all my love.
“Minor offenders who cannot pay a fine or fee often find themselves in jail cells. And felony offenders who have completed their prison sentences are often sent back to jail when they cannot pay fees and fines they owe because they could not earn money while locked upâ¦. The right to counsel is rarely brought up.”
âThe New York Times,
July 13, 2012,
“Return of the Debtors' Prisons.”
JUST REMEMBER HOW
much it hurt when they put the tracker in there. âThis isn't going to hurt,' he says.
that! It hurt! But at least
used a local â¦”
“You don't need a local, you're numb all over now,” Whore Tense said, poising the homemade scalpel over Rudy's ass.
“The fuck I am! A little drunk and slightly opiatedâow! Motherfucker, Whore, that
Rudy was lying naked face down on the bunk; Whore Tense had just started cutting into the fat of Rudy's ass-cheek. “Stop being a baby,” she said. “Actually I'm almost there already â¦ won't have to cut into muscle â¦ sometimes they put it too deep â¦ used to be easy to get 'em out when they put 'em right under the skin â¦ my first one was in my forearm here, what an ugly bump they made on your skin â¦ I still have a scar â¦”
Rudy figured Whore Tense was talking just to keep his mind off the pain. She was a kindly sort.
They were in Rudy's cell, with one of the red imitation-wool blankets hanging over the window in the door to block the cameras and the guard patrol's view, and that was good for a while, anybody checking the monitors would assume they were having sexâwhich was usually tolerated during certain hours.
Rudy could hear blood tip-tapping onto the floor as she dug the prisoner tracing device out of him. “Don't sound like you're catching that blood,” he muttered into the pillow.
“Always miss some. You paid for the clean up, I said I'd clean it up, don't worry about itâ”
“Keep your voice down! Hold on now. Almost â¦”
The pain ebbed a bit. There was a clack of instrumentsâthe stolen tweezers probably. Then another jolt of agony â¦ and it receded, became a mere throb.
“I got it!” Whore Tense announced breathily, turning it into a squeal.
“Now comes the big fun. Sewing me up â¦”
“No, I got sealant spray and a skin clamp â¦”
She pilfered the wound-closing materials from infirmary storage. Whore Tense's prison job was assistant to the clinician in the pod's infirmary; she was a former RN. She had been Jose Mendoza when she was an RNâwhen she'd gone about as a he. Transgender, she'd gone by Hortense on the outside; in Statewide she got dubbed Whore Tenseâwith a slight pause between the wordsâand she went along with the joke.
As Hortense, she'd gotten into debt behind hormone treatments, breast implants, loans to pay for the sex re-assignmentâfor the operation she never got. She didn't get the hormones here; there were no transgender rights in Statewide. This was Arizona, not California. So Whore Tense had to shave, and lost some body softness. But she got hold of some makeupâmade some herself when she had toâand managed her look.
Rudy felt the clamp's pinch and the sealant spray, and hoped it would stay in place. He doubted it.
She cleaned the blood off his ass with Purell wipes, talking to him the while. “Steve'll be here in an hour, what he told me. I got to go to Spanish â¦ That boy Doggy going to be there, he sits right in front of me on purpose, I know he likes me â¦”
Whore Tense had been raised by second-generation punk rockers; her dad was Hispanic but he'd never taught her the lingo. She was learning Spanish at a prison class, something about roots. Rumor was that the ed-unit was closing down the Spanish class soon because the lockiffers figured people used it to help them escape into Mexico. But
who got anywhere near the border? The state of Arizona was one big privatized prison, so it was just more prisonâprison roads, prison buildings, prison fencesâbetween this section and the border. Impossible to know if anyone got through all that. News was censored and Statewide went out of its way to withhold information on the maze of buildings outside pod 775. The ones who were caught in escape attempts went to ARU, the Absconder Recovery Unit, or just never came back at all and the lockiffers made sure you were told they were “shot going over the wire.” Or, “the worm crunched 'em.”
Steve claimed they could get there jumping a robot train, if they could work down the roads ten miles or so. Only, it seemed to Rudy that, chances were, Steve was full of shit. Unless he wasn't.
Whore Tense gave him the sippy cup; wincing, he lifted up on his elbows, drank a little of the Vicodin mix. “Ugh.”
“Don't drink any more, mess with your head too much. You got to keep it close to clear.”
He lay back down, head on his arms, drifting into a dream that wasn't a daydreamâbut it was half fantasy â¦ Mexico â¦ a Cantina â¦ black-eyed women â¦ and then Steve was hissing in his ear.
Rudy opened his eyes. “You're here too soon, hodey.”
“You've been laying there more'n an hour.”
“I have? Whoa. Stoned.”
“Get over it. We got to move.”
“About that â¦”
“Don't pussy out on me.”
“Man, this shit hurts. How am I going to climb anything?”
“You're going to have some pain while you do it, so fucking what.”
“Where's the Ho'tense? What'd she do with the tracker?”
“She took it with her like she's supposed to. It's being passed around the yard. So you'll register as bein' out there. You're committed, Rudy.”
“I could take the tracker back.”
“And what, Rudy? Stick it in the wound?”
“I don't know â¦”
“Come on, get the fuck up.”
Groaning, Rudy pushed himself up, turned to sit on the bunk, wincing, leaning his weight on the unwounded half of his ass. “Ow.”
“You don't think
all about ow, too, Rudy? I had it done same as you, hodey-man. I got almost no fat on my ass, either. I'm standing here like a hero.”
“You're some hero â¦”
Steve was lean as ropes tied to broomsticks. He had a hollow-cheeked face, deep-set eyes, was missing his front teethâhe always seemed to find a way to get hold of methâand his arms were spiraled with blue tattoos shaped like barbed wire and devil faces; he had a tuft of beard extending from his pointy chin; his hair was stubble.
Rudy was taller than Steve, and softer, chunkier, hairier. They'd both been working out to prep for the run, but Rudy hadn't made as much progress as he'd hoped.
Slowly, achingly, Rudy got dressed. “I don't know, Steve. Jeezis fuck, hodey, you're five years younger'n me.”
“You're not even fifty yet.” Soon as Rudy had his orange prison-issue pants on, Steve turned to pull the curtaining blankets off the bars. “Just cowboy the fuck up.”
Rudy groaned. “What time is it?”
“Almost zero hour, kumquat.” Steve sometimes called people
for no reason anyone could figure out except maybe tweaker humor. “And it's got to be today. It's Sunday, crew's not there and maintenance door is still unlocked. Those pipes'll still be sittin' out. And it's almost dark.”
This time of year, it'd get dark pretty damn soon. Someone would be carrying his tracker chip back here, in a few minutes, as prearrangedâthey'd toss it on his bunk. The tracer program would think he was bunked up â¦
Rudy shook his head but let Steve lead him out of the cell, down the tier, and down the stairs. The pain in his buttock chewed on him as he went, taking a bite with each step.
He glanced at the digital clock over the guard booth. Had to be now. They were both privileged for free passage within area A and B for another half hour â¦ and no longer than that.
Keep going. One foot after the other, man.
Rudy was still doped up as he walked mechanically alongâonly coming to himself when they got to the dig site, where the enclosing walls cornered on the southeast side. The chilly air and a sharp smell of turned, damp earth brought him out of the fog. He thought of graves, and stared into what seemed a grave â¦ and then realized it was a trench for a pipe that hadn't yet been laid, just inside the corner.