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Authors: Donald E. Westlake

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Put a Lid on It

BOOK: Put a Lid on It
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2002 by Donald E. Westlake

All rights reserved.

Mysterious Press books are published by Hachette Book Group,
           237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

Visit our Web site at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com
.

The Mysterious Press name and logo are registered trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

First eBook Edition: April 2002

ISBN: 978-0-446-55443-5

Contents

Dedication

Chapter: 1

Chapter: 2

Chapter: 3

Chapter: 4

Chapter: 5

Chapter: 6

Chapter: 7

Chapter: 8

Chapter: 9

Chapter: 10

Chapter: 11

Chapter: 12

Chapter: 13

Chapter: 14

Chapter: 15

Chapter: 16

Chapter: 17

Chapter: 18

Chapter: 19

Chapter: 20

Chapter: 21

Chapter: 22

Chapter: 23

Chapter: 24

Chapter: 25

Chapter: 26

Chapter: 27

Chapter: 28

Chapter: 29

Chapter: 30

Chapter: 31

Chapter: 32

Chapter: 33

Chapter: 34

Chapter: 35

Chapter: 36

Chapter: 37

Chapter: 38

Chapter: 39

Chapter: 40

Chapter: 41

Chapter: 42

Chapter: 43

Chapter: 44

Chapter: 45

Chapter: 46

Chapter: 47

BY DONALD E. WESTLAKE

NOVELS

The Hook • The Ax • Humans • Sacred Monster • A Likely

Story • Kahawa • Brothers Keepers • I Gave at the Office

Adios, Scheherazade • Up Your Banners

THE DORTMUNDER SERIES

Bad News

What's the Worst That Could Happen? • Don't Ask

Drowned Hopes • Good Behavior

Why Me • Nobody's Perfect

Jimmy the Kid • Bank Shot • The Hot Rock

COMIC CRIME NOVELS

Smoke • Baby, Would I Lie? • Trust Me on This • High

Adventure • Castle in the Air • Enough • Dancing Aztecs

Two Much •
Help
I Am Being Held Prisoner

Cops and Robbers • Somebody Owes Me Money

Who Stole Sassi Manoon? • God Save the Mark

The Spy in the Ointment • The Busy Body

The Fugitive Pigeon

CRIME NOVELS

Pity Him Afterwards • 361

Killy • 361 Killing Time • The Mercenaries

JUVENILE

Philip

WESTERN

Gangway (with Brian Garfield)

REPORTAGE

Under an English Heaven

SHORT STORIES

Tomorrow's Crimes • Levine

The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution

and Other Fictions • A Good Story and Other Stories

ANTHOLOGY

Once Against the Law (coedited with William Tenn)

My old friend Mickey Schwerner, who was murdered with James Chaney and Andy Goodman on a berm in Mississippi the night of June 21, 1964, by a group of political cretins, once in conversation described the American two-party system to me in these words, with which I have never found reason to argue: “It's the same old story,” he said. “The moochers versus the misers.”

This is for Mickey. Forest green.

1

T
HE ELEVENTH DAY
Meehan was in the MCC, the barbers came around to 9 South; two barbers, a white one for the white inmates, a black one for the rest. Each dragged a chair behind himself, with a guard following, and they set up in opposite triangles of the communal room, which was shaped like a six-pointed star, the cells outside that, in two facing lines in sword hilts sunk into five of the star's crotches: the exit to the concrete room where the elevators came was at the sixth.

So that was another difference from state or county jugs; no separate room for the barbers to ply their trade. After eleven days, Meehan was thinking he might write a monograph on the subject, was already writing it in his head. Never put anything on paper in stir: that was one of the ten thousand rules.

Of course, the primary difference between the Manhattan Correctional Center, which was where bail-less federal prisoners in the borough of Manhattan, city and state of New York, waited before and during their trials, was the attitude of the guards. The guards thought the prisoners were animals, of course, as usual, and treated them as such. But in this place the guards thought they themselves were not animals; that was the difference.

You get into a state pen, any state pen in the country—well, any state Meehan had been a guest in, and he felt he could extrapolate—and there was a real sense of everybody being stinking fetid swine shoveled into this shithole together, inmates and staff alike. There was something, Meehan realized, now that he was missing it, strangely comforting about that, about guards who, with every breath they took, with every ooze from their pores, said, “You're a piece of shit and so am I, so you got no reason to expect anything but the worst from me if you irritate my ass.” These guards here, in the MCC, they buttoned all their shirt buttons. What were they, fucking Mormons?

Meehan had never been held on a federal charge before, and he didn't like it. He didn't like how inhuman the feds were, how unemotional, how you could never get around the Book to the man. Never get around the Book. They were like a place where the speed limit's 55, and they enforce 55. Everybody
knows
you enforce 70.

Shit. From now on, Meehan promised himself, no more federal crimes.

And this one was a wuss, this one was so lame. Him and three guys, whose names he would no longer remember, had a little hijack thing, off a truckstop, Interstate 84, upstate fifty miles north of the city, there was
no way
to know that truck held registered mail. Not a post office truck, a private carrier, no special notices on it at all. The truck Meehan and his former allies wanted, from the same carrier, was full of computer shit from Mexico. Meehan wasn't looking forward to making that plea to some jury.

But in the meantime, for who knows how long, here he was in the MCC, downtown Manhattan, convenient to the federal courts, thinking about his monograph on the differences between federal and non-federal pounds.

There were a number of ragheads on 9 South, Meehan presumed either terrorists with bombs or assholes who strangled their sisters for fucking around, and they all lined up to get their hair cut by the white barber. Johnson, a white inmate who'd been friendly and palsy with Meehan since he got here and who Meehan took it for granted was a plant, came over to help him watch the barbering, the two of them seated at one of the plastic tables in the middle of the communal room. “Every time,” Johnson said, “those guys are first in line, get their hairs cut, never does any good.”

Meehan, polite, said, “Oh?”

“Their hair grows too fast,” Johnson told him. “It's something about the sand or something, where there's no water, you look at these guys, haircut haircut, end of the day they're back the way they were, they still look like a Chia toy.”

“Chia toys take water,” Meehan said.

“And sparrows take shit,” Johnson said.

What was that supposed to mean? Meehan watched the piles of curly black oily hair mount up around the raghead in the chair, like they were gonna finish with a Joan of Arc here, and it occurred to him to wonder, as it had never occurred to him to wonder in a state pen, how come barbers were such a total criminal class. Everywhere you went, the barbers were inmates who happened on the outside to be barbers, so this was how they made bad money and good time on the inside, but the question was, how come so many barbers were felons? And what kind of
federal
crime can a barber pull? Maybe what happened, every jail around, whenever a barber was gonna finish his time, the word went out to the police forces of the world, keep your eyes on the barbers, we need one May 15. Could be.

A guard came into the block. His tan uniform was so neat, he looked like he thought he was in the Pentagon. Maybe he really was in the Pentagon; who knew?

The guard came over to Meehan: “Lawyer visit.”

That was a bit of a surprise. There wasn't much Meehan and his lawyer had to say to one another. But any distraction was welcome; rising, Meehan said, “I'm with you.”

Johnson, friendly and genial, said, “Expecting good news?”

“Maybe I'm being adopted,” Meehan said.

Turned out, he was.

2

T
HE FIRST THING
Meehan noticed, the guy wasn't his lawyer. His court-appointed lawyer was a frizzy-haired skinny Jewish woman, maybe forty, dressed in that hairy crap they do, might as well be a chador, big golden hoop earrings for that feminine touch. And the second thing he noticed, the guy wasn't a lawyer at all.

But this was the place where the felons met up with their mouthpieces, down here on 4, a honeycomb of cubicles of leaded glass embedded with chicken wire, all the doors and door frames black metal, desks and chairs black metal, everything metallic and tight, everything you touched made a sound like the guillotine. Nice place.

“Come on in, Meehan,” said his non-lawyer, gesturing from where he sprawled at the small metal table in the small glass room. A tan manila folder in front of him on the table provided a wan touch of color.

The guard stood behind Meehan, there was nowhere else he planned to go, so he shrugged and went to sit in the metal chair opposite the ringer, not bothering to read the tab on the folder, while the guard shut the door and went away, to give them as much privacy as you ever get in a place like this, which is none.

The ringer said, “How you doin, Meehan?”

Meehan lifted his right hand. First he did a come-to-me beckoning gesture, first finger, right hand, then he did a writing-on-a-pad gesture, then he put that hand palm down on the cool metal surface of the table.

The ringer was quick; at least there was that much. He reached into his gray-green checked sports jacket and came out with a small lined notepad and a retractable pen. He put both on the table near Meehan's hand, and Meehan opened the pad, past several pages of tiny unreadable black-ink notes, found a blank page, and wrote on it, “You're not a lawyer.” Then he turned the pad so the guy could read it.

Which he did, scanned it quickly, nodded, shrugged, and said, “Ms. Goldfarb was reassigned to—”

Meehan held up his hand. When the guy stopped, Meehan slid the pad back, underlined the
a
, faced it around to the guy again: “You're not
a
lawyer.”

This time, the guy actually studied what Meehan had written, then gave him a look that was curious, nothing more. He said, “Why do you say that?”

Meehan shook his head. He wasn't going to get along with this guy. “I didn't say it,” he pointed out, “I wrote it.”

“All right,” the guy said, “why did you write it?”

“Because you don't say things in here.” That was another of the ten thousand rules.

“Well, you've started,” the guy said, “so go ahead. Why do you believe I'm not a lawyer?”

Meehan thought it over, and decided: what the hell. He said, “There's two kinds of—What do I call you?”

The guy seemed surprised. He said, “Jeffords.”

“Okay, Mr. Jeffords. There's two kinds of lawyers come in here, boy lawyers and girl lawyers. The boy lawyers know they're representing scum, and they want to be thought of as something better than that, so they dress over the top, like a really successful Moscow pimp. Two-thousand-dollar suits, four-thousand-dollar watches, gold rings, Italian shoes the Pope couldn't afford. They don't get haircuts, they get coiffed, and they want you to know it.” This was another monograph he'd done in his head. Continuing from it, he said, “Girl lawyers got a different situation. They can't come on like sexual beings, not in a place like this, so they go for the dikes-on-a-camping-trip look, your baggy wool slacks, bulky Irish-knit sweaters, Beatles haircut. None of them, boys or girls, dress like you, like you're going to a neighbor's barbeque. And none of them sprawl, like you're doing, they all sit up straight, because they're at work. The guy on this side of the table slouches, the guy over there sits up. Nobody sprawls. Also, and not least, there's your briefcase.”

BOOK: Put a Lid on It
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