Barnham sauntered to the doorway of the cafeteria, his uniform bulging around his beefy frame, and surveyed the lunching prisoners for a moment before turning to the guard who stood watching over them. Meddows felt the move was a bit arrogant—he was on watch, he should be spoken to immediately—but new guys often took a little while to adjust to the hierarchy. “Which one’s Chaney, then?” Barnham asked importantly, with a sneer.
Meddows nodded towards a table near the center of the room. “Sittin’ alone, with the sandwich.”
Barnham’s lip curled up even more contemptuously. “Well, he don’t look like all that, do he?” he declared with a hint of a smirk.
Meddows snorted, at the guard not the prisoner. They had an infamous lot here and they didn’t hire amateurs to look after them, but even the well-trained and –experienced guards often came in with a bit of curiosity about some particular prisoner they’d read about. It wore off after a while, fortunately. “Here, what you doin’?” Meddows asked sharply when Barnham started to head towards the prisoner with a determined expression.
“Warden wants to see him,” Barnham explained, with superiority at his mission.
Another thing that Meddows should have been told right away. “Wait ‘til he’s done with his lunch.”
Barnham started to scoff uncertainly, then outright glowered when he realized Meddows wasn’t joking. “What are you on about?” he demanded.
“He don’t like his lunch interrupted,” Meddows emphasized. He’d seen the consequences of such behavior too often to feel embarrassed about pointing it out, even if it did seem rather indulgent. “It agitates him. Wait ‘til he’s done eatin’.”
“You his boyfriend or something?” Barnham said derisively. “Warden wants to see him now.”
Meddows eyes narrowed at the remark and he shrugged. “I warned you,” he decided. Barnham made a dismissive noise and headed towards the prisoner he’d asked about. There’d be two people in the infirmary soon, Meddows figured, catching the eye of some of the other guards to alert them to the brewing situation. Blokes like Barnham had to see to believe—or rather, feel—and as for Chaney, well, he was a crazy b-----d whom Meddows had little sympathy for. He didn’t like to see any of the prisoners unnecessarily antagonized, as it always made more work for him down the line, but maybe in this case it wasn’t unnecessary.
“Chaney,” Barnham announced, swaggering up to the table. The prisoner was not a large man; his prominent nose and penetrating gaze, and the scar running down his cheek from the outer corner of one eye, were the only features that made him distinguishable in a crowd. Even then he probably would have blended in; that was what he preferred to do.
Now he glanced up from his sandwich, looked the new guard up and down, finished chewing, and replied. “That’s me.”
“Warden wants to see you,” Barnham relayed, somewhat dismayed not to see the prisoner look at least a little uncomfortable.
“Okay,” Chaney replied, taking another bite of his sandwich.
The guard waited a beat, but the other man didn’t move to get up. “Now, Chaney!” he prompted. “On your feet!”
Chaney gazed at him speculatively as he chewed. Prisoners at nearby tables, who were keenly aware of the guards’ movements, began to move away quickly, which should have given Barnham (another) clue.
But it didn’t. “Chaney—“
He swallowed his bite. “I’ll come after lunch,” he decided calmly.
“You’ll come now,” the guard insisted sharply. Was he really going to have to lay hands on the prisoner to get him to move? That would mean more paperwork.
“After lunch,” Chaney repeated coolly. “Promise. First thing.” He started to take another bite.
Barnham gave in and put a hand on the prisoner’s shoulder. “I said now—“ But he didn’t get much farther than that, because Chaney spun under his hand and attacked. Several vicious blows were dealt out, the lunch tray and its contents went flying, and the other prisoners—no pussycats themselves—crowded around cheering and betting.
More guards pushed their way in, wrestling Chaney to the ground and pinning him there. His arm stretched out, groping across the floor towards the bloodied Barnham, or maybe just his half-eaten sandwich, and an overzealous guard struck it hard with his baton. For the first time the prisoner seemed to be in real pain and he was soon subdued, curling up around his damaged limb. From the outskirts of the fray Meddows just shook his head.
Chaney was a few days late for his appointment with the Warden. “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie,” the older man clucked when the prisoner was led into his office, sporting fresh cuts and bruises and one arm in a sling. “I’m very disappointed in you.”
There were several clicks as Charlie’s legs and good arm were chained to his chair. Only once he was secured was the guard allowed to step outside the office door. “He interrupted my lunch,” Charlie pointed out, with a narrow gaze. “I don’t like havin’ my lunch interrupted.”
“I know, I know,” the Warden sighed. “But we were going along so well, and now we’ve got another ugly incident to add to your file. You’ll spend some time in the hole for this,” he added, in a regretful tone.
Charlie slumped in his chair a little. Solitary confinement didn’t bother him as much as it did some of the other prisoners, but it was terribly boring. And when he was alone in the dark with nothing to do, strange thoughts sometimes came to him, thoughts that disturbed and confused him.
“But,” the Warden went on, seeing an opportunity, “maybe there’s something you can do to avoid that.”
He had the prisoner’s attention. “What’s that, then?”
The Warden looked down on a file in front of him. “Seems there’s a doctor who’d like to talk to you—“
Charlie rolled his eyes. “Another doctor?” he scoffed. “Forget it, I’d rather have the hole.”
“Now, Charlie,” the Warden chastised. “This one’s gone through the Prison Board and everything, to get permission to talk to you. Though why anyone would be so interested in you I can’t imagine…”
“Well, he can’t if I don’t give permission,” Charlie pointed out correctly. “And you can’t coerce me into it.”
The Warden looked as if he didn’t like these rules. “’Spose you’re right about that, Charlie,” he agreed. “But I can punish you for the incident in the cafeteria. Unless of course you demonstrate your willingness to be a productive member of society. As best you can from in here, anyway.”
Charlie narrowed his eyes at the Warden. The games played in prison were not especially complex, and he had certainly been incarcerated long enough to learn the rules. “Fine,” he decided after a moment. Talking to another shrink wouldn’t put too much of a dent in his under-crowded schedule, after all. “Where do I sign?”
The Warden smiled benevolently and turned the file around so that the piece of paper faced Charlie. The guard came back in at the Warden’s signal and unchained Charlie’s good wrist so he could sign the document, snatching the pen away from him the moment he was done. Wouldn’t want to leave him with a weapon, after all.
“Good lad,” the Warden praised, gathering up the papers. “Dr. Ross said she’d start as soon as you agreed, so I guess you’ll be seeing her tomorrow.”
Charlie paused, unsettling the guard who’d unchained his ankles in preparation for leaving. “Her?” he repeated, with sudden interest.
The Warden frowned seriously at this. “Now listen here, Chaney,” he began severely, the previous buddy-buddy demeanor gone, “we’re not gonna have any problems here, like you’ve had at other prisons. Precautions will be taken. You won’t be able to get away with anything.”
Somehow, he feared the prisoner was just going to take that as a challenge.
“Knight to F-7,” Charlie decided thoughtfully. The man across from him obligingly moved the specified piece, then contemplated his own next move. Charlie had already plotted out his next series of moves, so his attention wandered to the rest of the room. It wasn’t terribly interesting, either, but occasionally there were open books—or files—he could glance at that people didn’t think he could see.
The man moved his piece with some hesitation. “Checkmate in six moves,” Charlie predicted. He didn’t really take delight in such feats anymore; as impressive as they seemed to others, he found them all too easy.
“Six moves? What?” the man scoffed. “No way.” So they kept playing. “I guess you’re goin’ to see this Dr. Ross tomorrow,” the psychiatrist commented idly.
“So it seems,” Charlie agreed. “Rook to G-5.” He couldn’t move the pieces himself, as his good hand was chained to the chair in which he sat. “You know her?”
Dr. Edwards glanced up at his patient, who had been declared incurable by greater minds than his but still had to be seen once a week. “No, never met her. She’s got a solid rep, though. Head traumas.”
Charlie made a noise that suggested her interest in him was now clear. “Rook to H-7.”
The piece was moved. “Oh. D—n,” the doctor muttered in disappointment. “I see it now.” Charlie at least did not lord his accomplishments over the other man—though really, Dr. Edwards reflected, it would be foolish to feel inferior to a man who was incarcerated for several times the length of his own life. The doctor sat back in his chair and looked his patient over. Right now the man seemed calm, nondescript even. Unless you met his eyes—which tended to blaze with a disturbing green intensity. “Warden wants me to make sure you behave yourself with her,” he admitted. He couldn’t keep the whiff of ridiculousness out of his tone when he spoke.
“You’re not gonna be in there,” Charlie replied, more of a statement than a question. “So how does Warden think you’re gonna manage that?”
“I’ll be talking to Dr. Ross,” Edwards went on, more soberly. “Any problems, the sessions will end. And she won’t be getting a key, that’s for sure. You’re gonna sit tight in your chair for her, like you do everywhere else.” A corner of Charlie’s mouth quirked up suddenly, as if he found that prospect an amusing challenge. “This is serious business, Charlie,” Edwards warned.
“I’m just thinkin’, it’d be quite a feat, is all,” Charlie replied. “I’d be the first person convicted of committing rape while I was chained up.” Edwards sighed. “Well, I would,” Charlie insisted. “Chains or not, who’d believe me over a posh lady doctor?”
“Well just keep that in mind when you meet her,” Edwards warned, “and if you behave yourself maybe it won’t come to that.”
“I’ve got too much charisma, that’s the problem,” Charlie decided with a grin that would be impish, if it weren’t so chilling.