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The show was never really clear on how Keller got involved in 'Operation Toby' and I was always curious about what else could have been behind that little smile of Keller's after Beecher woke up from his nightmare. Here is my take on that. I own the rights to nothing related to the show, nor do I own the rights to "Intolerance" by Tool. I just did this for fun.
"No one is innocent'" '"Tool
The bitch in the hack's uniform at the front of the room had been going on about the rules to follow and the classes to take for so long that to Keller it sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher. Her name was Officer Whittle-me or Diddle-me '" some fucking thing like that. Whatever her name was, Keller had already discovered that there was no charming her. He had tried for a few minutes to meet her eyes as she talked, acting as if he was fully absorbing everything she was saying, but really hoping that she would pause for just a minute in her monologue to notice just how nice those bright blue eyes of his were, or that he had a nice set of shoulders. He had even tried pinching his chin idly in hopes of drawing attention to the cast on his arm and maybe extracting a morsel of sympathy. No luck; Whittle-me was immune to it all. He wondered for a second or two if she wasn't into guys, then shifted his gaze to the cast on his arm, surveying the crisscross terrain of the fiberglass that held the whole works together while she went on flapping her gums. Only once had Officer Whittle-me stopped to ask sharply if he was paying attention. He had given a noncommittal "uh-huh" in response, and she had resumed her lecture. There were other people in the holding cell, but he paid them no mind. They all looked as bored and washed up as he was.
Keller heard his name and looked up. "Huh?"
"I'm going to get your sponsor and I'll be right back," Whittle-me said, her voice almost drowned out by a harsh buzz. The gates into the part of the prison she kept calling 'Emerald City' rolled back and she slid through them.
Sponsor' he thought idly as they clanked shut again. Must be what they call the poor bastard they've assigned to me to showme where to shower, shit, and sit for all these classes.
He began to focus on the cast again. Really looking at it like this conjured up the memory of the motorcycle accident that had resulted in him getting it' the memory of botched robbery, of shooting that clerk dead before he had a chance to fire his big bad shotgun' about all the drugs he had done before he got on that bike in the first place' and mostly about the eighty-eight years in Oz that now awaited him on the other side of that gate.
Eighty-eight years'. Eighty-fucking-eight years'
The number rolled around in his head in strange, swirling movements that would have made him nauseous had they been projected on a screen in front of him. Every once in a while he would look at the gate, and the numbers would stop swirling in his mind for a second or two. Then they would flash in his head in a frightening shade of red, filling every part of his mind's eye and looming over him like some horrible version of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. There was no getting around it this time. He was going to die in prison.
"Fuck," he whispered to himself.
He'd been thinking about that number all night long before his transfer to Oz, and he had barely slept a wink. His jaws opened in a yawn and then snapped shut. He gave his head a little shake as if to clear his thoughts. The cast was itching and all he could do was wiggle his fingers in hopes that maybe that would do until he could get his hands on a pencil or a toothbrush that he could shove down in there to scratch that maddening itch.
There was another sharp buzz and the gates were rolled back again. Whittle-me was coming back in again, followed by a guythat was maybe half a head taller than her. His hands were shoved into his pockets, and the look on his face was as blank as the dark t-shirt he was wearing. The man's sideburns were long and ended in two straight lines just below his cheekbones. They were connected by a goatee that surrounded a mouth that was nothing more than a colorless slit below his nose. For some odd reason, the man's wavy hair reminded him of a lion's mane.
"Chris Keller," Whittle-me said, then cast a glance over her shoulder at theguy who stood just behind her. "Tobias Beecher. He'll be your sponsor in Emerald City. He's going to show you the ropes."
Keller turned a bit and looked at the guy again. All that hair and that tough-guy beard distracted him for a bit, and then he was able to lock eyes with its owner. The look on the man's face changed from blank to the classic jailhouse look, and Keller knew he was being sized up. But for some reason he couldn't tell exactly what it was that he was being sized up for, which was both discomforting and exciting. Keller was a master manipulator and accordingly an expert reader of people's expressions. Usually he could tell right away what someone was thinking or feeling, and he'd used that to his advantage on more than one occasion. Hell, it had worked twice on one ex-wife. It had also worked in that seedy gay bar in Chelsea where'
Keller felt his face muscles relax at the memory and started to see the number eighty-eight spin in his head again. Hetightened his gaze on Beecher's eyes, and the swirling stopped instantly. The number eighty-eight vanished like a coin in a magician's hand. No sooner had it gone, his special instinct kicked in and information that Beecher had no idea he was broadcasting came flooding into his mind. Keller could tell that Beecher had not been here in Oz for very long, but the look in those eyes told him that something pretty bad had happened to the guy and now he was trying to hide it behind all that facial hair and that "don't-fuck-with-me" expression on his face. For an instant, he could have sworn that the beard disappeared, the hair magically shortened itself into a tight, conservative style, and a pair of glasses appeared on his face '" glasses that covered up a pair of eyes that were giving up hope for redemption for every hour that he spent in Oz. Then the eyes behind those imaginary glasses twitched and the image broke apart, revealing the man standing in front of him right now.
Keller knew as he stood up to follow the guy into Emerald City that he was going to have to be ready for one of two things '" either a man who was really ready to blow a fuse and go batshit at a moment's notice, or a simpering pussy hiding inside that crazy-guy costume who would at some point emerge and come seek him out for protection from the boogeyman that had gotten him before. As ugly as it could possibly get, Keller hoped Beecher was crazy. Crazy he could probably deal with, but not a pussy... not right now anyway. The crazy guy could also be smart enough to be a good ally; the pussy would just be a thorn in his side. He also knew that this was one of several things he was going to have to find out as soon as possible. Keller had done time before and already knew that the first order of business was always finding out who was in charge of what behind that gate. That also included trying to figure out where this guy Tobias Beecher played into that scheme of things.
Balancing a pillow, a blanket, some toiletries, and a couple of towels that looked coarse enough to sand wood on the arm without the cast, Keller walked beside Beecher through Emerald City trying to gather as much information as he could. The usual little bits of it were getting through. Some of it was just common sense based on previous experience, and some of it he knew would learn in time. Beecher, however, who was only a step or two ahead of him had gone back to being a dark mystery. He kept watching the people around him to see who made eye contact with him or hailed him as he walked past. No one did. In fact, it seemed that a few eyes quickly diverted as they walked past. Keller didn't like it at all. It was confirming the idea that whatever it had been that pushed Beecher close to the edge or whatever Beecher had done in response had been bad enough to make people look away lest they actually send him right over it. But he was also watching Beecher too, and had never seen a man who was both enjoying the fact that people were keeping their distance and also dying from loneliness because of it. Keller was usually much faster at figuring out the reason behind shit like this and the fact that he couldn't right now was frustrating.
But it was also exhilarating!
He was always drawn strongly to two different kinds of people: the ones that were very easy to read and therefore easier to manipulate, and the ones that eluded him and made him want to try harder so that he knew how to play the game' and it was always a game. Bonnie, whom he had married and divorced twice, was of the first type. Beecher was falling into the second category, and Keller was finding himself more and more intrigued because very little was getting clearer and what was only added to the mystery. Even the way Beecher walked with his eyes straight ahead, saying nothing was hard to resist.
Hard to resist? Shit, it was fucking sexy!
It was pretty fucking sexy in Chelsea too, eh?
Keller grit his teeth and hauled himself back to the present moment.
Beecher pointed to the right at an open door and gave a little ground as Keller walked past him into the pod. But for the plexiglass walls, it was your typical two-man cell with a sink, a crapper, and a bunk bed. The bottom mattress on the bunk was bare. Perfect. Keller liked the bottom bunk. Now it was time to see what his new roomie really was beneath the shell.
"So, you a fag?" he asked. The question came out sounding conversational and cool, like he was asking Beecher for a smoke. It was exactly how he was hoping it would sound.
Beecher stopped outside the door, his jaw set. "No," he snarled. "You?"
Keller set his stuff down on the bed, looked back at Beecher, saw the crack in the other man's veneer, and silently applauded himself. Success! He visually measured the distance between himself and Beecher. It was about six feet' not far enough to shout but definitely not close enough to converse in a normal tone of voice. Beecher was doing neither. The answer came effortlessly to Keller right then; Beecher had been raped. He had been raped repeatedly and violently, and probably by several of the guys in here. The other inmates were either looking away because he had indeed fought back in a way that shocked them all and now they were keeping their distance. Keller wondered not too casually just how Beecher had retaliated and realized he had to play his next hand carefully. Even so, he was eager to press on. He absolutely lived for this kind of thing. He paused long enough to watch some color flush into Beecher's face and relished at the thought of the next discovery. His own face was perfectly calm.
"I do what I have to," Keller finally answered.
Beecher smirked and after a pause began to chant, "Rats in the garden' catch 'em Towser! Cows in the cornfield' run, boys, run! Cats in the cream pie'stop her, now, sir! Fire on the mountain' run, boys, run!"
Keller looked up, totally caught off guard. Of all the things Keller had been expecting, that response was about as far away from anything he could have imagined. He now knew that Beecher was crazy, but it was the wrong kind of crazy, definitely not the kind you wanted to ally yourself with in here. It was the kind that conjured up memories of the freaky twitching movements Charles Manson made with his face during some interview he had been granted years ago. Beecher hadn't moved from his spot in the doorway, but now his teeth were bared and the veins in his forehead were quite visible. His face was red-going-on-purple. Keller quickly looked out the plexiglass in the corner to see if anyone was watching them, waiting to see what kind of mayhem was about to take place. None of them were. The window to his left only offered a view of the empty adjacent pod.
For the first time ever, Keller felt unsafe' and trapped.
Trapped with a crazy man.
Beecher tittered from the doorway and then stood there, his lips pulled back in a grin that Keller liked even less than the fact that no one was making eye contact with him as they walked to the pod. He, of course, had no way of knowing that Beecher had been deliberately acting like this and was in fact taking a great deal of satisfaction and security from the fact that people were recoiling from him in fear and uncertainty. All he could see was a man inches away from implosion or explosion because his ass had been used too hard for too long. Had Keller had any idea just how long and how hard or had even an inkling of the humiliation Beecher had endured up to that point, he might have played this game a little with a little more finesse. But he had not, and now he was standing there feeling like he was now being marked. That, more than anything else, turned Keller inside out. In a way, it was worse than seeing the veneer crack and a blubbering weakling come out. Much worse.
Beecher turned on his heel and walked away, that maniacally satisfied grin never leaving his face. Keller watched him go, and it was only after the man was out of sight did he realize his dick was so hard that it was aching.
"Hello there," came the soft coo from the doorway.
Keller, who had been shelving his toiletries and making his bed in hopes that some kind of activity would make his cock deflate and his mind stand still long enough to figure out his next move, turned and looked at the queen in the doorway. Having lived in New York for a while, Keller had seen his share of ugly ass transvestites, but this one took the cake. Queenie had tied his shirt in the front so that it exposed a navel that was surrounded by a sickening amount of belly fat. The mop of curly hair was shiny with some kind of liquid or gel, probably from the stick of deodorant each inmate had been given. The shoes were clunky high-heeled sandals that pushed the queen's calves up into unsightly rounds that merged into even fatter thighs. And the makeup' oh shit, the makeup. Even a clown wore less! Keller's ex-wife Bonnie had been a very large woman, maybe a few pounds heavier than this freak, but she at least had some style. This guy was over-the-top in fabulosity and loving it. It made Keller's stomach turn like it had with'.
No, don't go there.
"You've gotta be kidding me," Keller groaned. He was also silently grateful that the erection had finally gone away.
"Well, nice to meet you too," came the sassy reply.
"Look, I don't care if Beecher did tell you that I was a fag," Keller said. "It's not going to happen, so just fuck off!"
The queen's lip curled up in a sneer and he made a clicking sound with his tongue. "Oh, I love it when they talk tough and dirty."
Keller advanced toward the door, and was glad to see the queen take an involuntary step back. "Are you fucking deaf?" His voice was icy cold.
Queenie's hands went up. "Hey, I'm only here to give you a warning."
"What?" Keller demanded.
"That if you are gay, you're going to want to keep your dick holstered around that crazy fuck, if you know what I mean."
"You mean Beecher?"
"Well, who the fuck else would I mean?"
"I think I've already figured that part out," Keller said, turning to go back in to the pod. "Thanks anyway."
"What you think you've figured out isn't even half of it, sweetie!"
Keller stopped. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"I mean that if you are hoping for a mouth-hug from Beecher tonight or any other night, don't do it. The last guy who tried to get head from Toby ended up with half his dick lying on the floor."
"You're full of shit," Keller declared.
One neatly shaped eyebrow went up. "Am I?"
Keller's people-reader snapped itself on and he stared directly past Queenie's makeup into the pupils of his eyes. What he saw was disquieting. He knew at some level that Queenie was telling him some bit of gossip that had already been around Emerald City and was therefore exaggerated, but he could also tell that the queen had met those eyes wild eyes of Beecher's and had also seen those veins pulsing in the center of his forehead. He had probably heard Beecher rant a nursery rhyme or two as well. It was enough to convince him that what he was hearing was not too far from the truth.
Bitten the guy's dick off? No, probably not.
Bitten him hard enough to draw blood? A lot of blood? Quite likely.
Maybe bitten off a piece of the guy's cock?
Keller felt his back straighten as memories of a cold winter night on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 20th shortly after New Year's sneaked in. He quickly had them shot on site by the brain police. He blinked and looked at Queenie whose eyes were now glowing with a horrible satisfaction as he realized that Keller was not only registering what he was saying, but also believing it.
Queenie went on, secretly enjoying the fact that he was getting this big brute to take him seriously. "He also threw a chair through one of these glass walls and blinded the guy who made him his prag shortly after he got here. Pinned him under a bench in the gym and took a shit right on his face, too."
Keller's eyebrows knit together as he tried to imagine something that disgusting, but then his breathing stopped and he went zero at the bone.
Prag? Did this fat fairy just say 'prag?'
Another sickening wave of memories hit him, and it was worse than the swirling eighty-eight or even those first few months in New York City.
"His what?" Keller asked, not realizing he had said it until the words had passed his lips.
"Prag," said Queenie, enunciating the word carefully. "Around here, it's what they call'"
"I know what it is!" Keller snapped.
Queenie was not put off pace by Keller's reaction. "Then you should also know what to do as far as Beecher is concerned," he said. "I don't know why they picked you of all people to move in here, given that the last cellie he had was in a wheelchair and couldn't roll Beecher over on his belly to fuck his ass. Perfect pair, if you ask me."
Keller said nothing. His mind was still caught on that word 'prag.'
Queenie, who had probably never been met with such attentive silence before, showed his teeth in a grotesque smile. "So if I were you, I'd start sleeping with my eyes open," he said. With that, he minced off, his arm swaying and the palm of his hand parallel to the floor.
Prag' of all the fucking words'
Keller sat down on his bunk, closed his eyes, and wondered just how this whole fucking situation could possibly get any worse. He had no idea that it already had.
Keller had to get out of that pod because now he was feeling trapped in there even without Beecher standing in the doorway spitting nursery rhymes at him. Now he sat at one of the industrial round tables in the main room into which all the pods faced. There was a checkerboard painted on the surface of this one, and Keller found himself staring at it with the same intensity with which he had been looking at a similar pattern on his cast. It beat thinking about the number eighty-eight or the ease with which the word 'prag' had rolled off that queen's tongue. He could only remember hearing it one other time in his life' and from one other person in his life too.
So much for figuring out who was in charge of what behind the gates of Oz. Seemed like all anyone could talk about was Beecher.
His musing was interrupted by something he saw moving just past the table's edge. He looked up and saw the hack drawing nearer. It was another blonde like Whittle-me, only this one was male and as big as an ox. His thumbs were hooked idly in a belt that was laden down with all kinds of neat gadgets that could stop Keller in his tracks or slow him down should he decide to dart from the table. Keller quickly measured how far his hands were from any of them, and deemed himself safe for the time being. But the hack was still getting closer, and moving right toward him. Keller sat there poised. He may have been quick-witted and fast, but this dude was big and armed.
"You Keller?" the hack asked. His voice was a booming but smooth baritone that probably made the glass in the pods rattle when he shouted.
Keller's eyes fell on the hack's badge. METZGER it read. Well, now that he knew who wanted to know, Keller figured that there was only one question to ask. "Why?"
"New guy," Metzger observed, "and they put you in there with Beecher, huh?"
"Yep," Keller said. Man, the hacks too? Jesus, was he ever going to stop hearing about this guy Beecher? About how crazy he was? Enough was enough already!
"Well, I saw your name on the paperwork today," the hack went on. "But I figured it was you the moment I saw you."
"Yeah? How's that?" Keller asked dryly.
A tiny, knowing smile touched the corners of Metzger's mouth. "Because you look utterly overwhelmed. I mean, trying to take this place in on day one is one thing, but trying to take in this place and Beecher?" The hack whistled and shook his head. It was a poor attempt to look sympathetic. Keller saw right through it. "Hell, I'd be overwhelmed too."
Keller looked back, saying nothing.
Metzger's thumbs came out of his belt and he spread his hands. Damn, they were huge! "And hey, if the last person I'd heard it from was that freak," he said, pointing to a corner where Queenie was sitting on a table with his legs folded and his hand flailing, "I'd really be overwhelmed."
Keller didn't like hacks who got too chummy too fast, and something about this guy was not quite right. The people-reader was sending him staccato alerts. But something else interested him more for the moment. "How did you know'" he began.
Metzger retracted the finger that was pointing at Queenie and jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the guards' station behind him. It commanded the entire wall and the entire second floor. The hacks could sit there and see everything, and here in this fishbowl it was easy to do just that. Keller even noted as he shifted his gaze back to Metzger that his and Beecher's pod was still quite visible from that station. The staircase that led up to it ran right in front of their door, but blocked nothing. Keller realized that they'd be able to see in there if something went down, but took no comfort from the thought. Now his eyes were back on Metzger who looked as if he were awaiting some sort of response.
"Oh," Keller finally said. What else was there to say really?
Metzger folded his arms in front of him. He had a neck like a tire and a fearsome set of shoulders, but the look on his face was calm. A bit too calm, it seemed. Something was brewing behind those icy blue eyes.
"Look Keller," he said after a second or two, "I'm not trying to be your best friend or anything here..."
"Good," Keller interrupted.
Metzger went on speaking as if Keller had never opened his mouth. "But sitting out here by yourself is only going to make it worse. You're really going to overload then. And trust me, if you are on the road to overload, you won't wanna be sitting here when the Homeboys decide they wanna play a game of bones at this table."
"I can handle myself," Keller said.
"Yeah, but maybe they can't handle themselves," Metzger said, raising his eyebrows. "I'm just saying that it might be good for you to just head to the library for a bit if you want some peace and quiet to get things sorted out in your mind."
"Yeah," Metzger said. "Perfect place if you ask me."
Keller was less than an inch away from telling this hack that he fucking hadn't asked him, but one more look at the size of the man and all the shit that was hanging from the belt convinced him that he'd better play it cool. Metzger simply raised his eyebrows and nodded approvingly. Keller had some idea that he was supposed to take a hint from that, but had a tough time grasping what it was. Was he subtly trying to tell him that the Homeboys, whoever the fuck they were, were definitely going to start a fight with him if they found him at their table and that maybe he'd better move along? Could be. Even so, the hack was right about one thing, though he hated to admit it. He was overloading. All anyone seemed to talk about was Beecher' Crazy Beecher'. Crazy, dick-biting, face-shitting, nursery-rhyme-chanting Beecher who was both his sponsor and his roomie. More than anything else, a break from that would be nice. He sighed at last and got to his feet.
"Want me to show you where it is?" Metzger offered.
"Nah, I got it." Though Metzger may have just saved him from having to get in a fight over a stupid table, Keller had no desire to be seen walking around with a hack. He was already Crazy Beecher's cellmate. Why make it worse by giving people the impression that he was already latching on to a hack for help? He was no blubbering bitch.
"Okay," Metzger said.
Keller started walking away and Metzger started following him. It made Keller nervous. Was this guy going to escort him there anyway? Keller steeled himself a bit and kept moving, hearing Metzger's boots thud on the floor a few feet behind him. When they got to the staircase that landed just outside of Keller and Beecher's pod, Keller heard the rhythm of Metzger's pace change to a steady thump-thump which could have only meant that the hack was going up the stairs to the guards' station. Keller let out a quick sigh and proceeded.
Keller stopped and took two steps backward until Metzger was in sight again."What?"
Metzger was about halfway up the stairs. "Don't worry about Beecher," he said. "It won't be long before you know what to do."
A broad grin surfaced on Metzger's face, and Keller felt a chill crawl down his back. There was no good nature in that smile; there was something quite sinister in it. He didn't move from the spot he where was standing until Metzger had resumed his climb and was well out of sight.
"Why, Keller! Isn't this a hell of a surprise!"
Keller whirled around in a quick about-face and found the way out of the library blocked by two guys his size, one of whom had the trademark shaved head of the Aryan Brotherhood. They had come out of nowhere and were staring him down, practically daring him to try to muscle his way past them both.
He shook his head, closed his eyes, and snorted in disbelief.
"No, stay a while. We've got a lot of catching up to do, you and I."
Keller opened his eyes and turned around to face Vern Schillinger who was seated facing the door at the long end of a table in the middle of the room. His feet were propped up on another chair that had been turned to face him, and in his hand was a styrofoam coffee cup. Except for the fact that the bald spot had gotten larger and the lines on either side of his mouth had gotten a little deeper, the man had barely aged in the twenty years or so that had passed since Keller had last seen him. One thing was different; he now had a wretched scar slightly distorting the shape of his right eye. But even with the scar, the sly expression stamped on his face was exactly the way Keller remembered it. He also remembered how that look would remain stamped on his face while he brought an incredible amount of brutality and misery on someone who was unlucky enough to be born anything other than white, Anglo-Saxon, and Christian. No matter how loud the screams of the victim were, that sneaky, sadistic grin would never change.
Keller had first made Schillinger's acquaintance at the age of seventeen when he had been thrown into a cell in Lardner with an enormous black guy who was determined to use him as both a tackling dummy and a jizz receptacle '" more the latter than the former. One day, Schillinger pulled the black guy off Keller, where he had been in a storage closet trying to make a deposit in Keller's ass and a withdrawal from his jugular vein, and beaten him into unconsciousness. Keller received protection from Schillinger from that day forward, but naturally, protection came with a price. Thus for the entire time Keller was incarcerated in Lardner, Schillinger had him under his wing' and his thumb' and also his own body. It was a hard and humiliating education for Keller, and it hardened him a lot more than he would have believed. On the other hand, Keller's stint in Lardner as Schillinger's prag was also the reason that his people-reader was as keen as it was and his skills for deceit and manipulation were as convincing as they were. Those skills had served him well in Lardner, and even Schillinger had believed himself to actually be in control many times, not knowing that he was being conned into doing several of the things he did for and with Keller during that time. Those skills had also served him well outside of prison for a while, but they had been obscured by the copious amounts of drugs he had started doing not long after he had arrived in New York City. As a result, he was now in prison again '" Oswald, this time '" facing eighty-eight years.
And Schillinger again.
Schillinger looked Keller up and down and smiled. "Well look at you," he remarked. "All grown up."
Keller glared back and said nothing. He wanted to storm the old Nazi prick and kill him right where he sat, but he knew that Schillinger was still incredibly tough and wouldn't just sit there and let him try. It didn't even matter that his bitches, Hans and Franz, were standing right behind him ready to pounce. Schillinger would have broken his other arm at the very least.
Schillinger cocked his head to the side and looked perplexed. "Why Keller," he said, "I'm getting the strangest feeling you aren't happy to see your old pal Vern after all these years."
Keller spat on the floor.
Schillinger regarded the glob of spittle for a second, then sat up and put his feet on the floor. "Well at least one of us should show some manners," he remarked. "Here, why don't you have a seat?"
Keller found himself being propelled by Hans and Franz towards Schillinger's side of the table and shoved into the empty chair across from him. As Hans and Franz backed off, Keller's eyes fell on the styrofoam cup in Schillinger's hand. Something told him that it didn't contain a beverage, and he was actually relieved when he saw Schillinger set it on the table next to him.
"You know, Keller, I really don't understand the attitude," he commented. "Here I am trying to help you out on your first day in Em City and you're acting like such an ungrateful prag bitch."
Hearing Schillinger say the word 'prag' made Keller's stomach go sour. It was a much worse feeling than the dread that had filled him when he heard the word come out of Queenie's mouth. "Help me?" he asked, realizing it was the first thing he had said to his old Lardner bunkmate in nearly twenty years.
"Yes," Schillinger said, a slight smile touching his features. "Just like old times."
"Ah," Keller said, knowing exactly what was coming next.
Schillinger leaned forward a bit as if to disclose to Keller some juicy secret. "See, I don't know if you've heard already or not'"
"But my pod mate is crazier than a shit house rat and you're worried about my well-being," Keller chimed in.
"Something like that," Schillinger agreed.
"Bullshit," Keller said.
"Alright, I'll just cut to the chase, then," Schillinger conceded. "I want him dead. It's a matter of honor."
"I could care less about your honor, Vern," Keller replied. He looked over his shoulder at Hans and Franz. "Besides, you don't need me."
"Oh, but I do."
Schillinger smiled. It was almost possible in that moment to believe his heart wasn't black and full of hate. "'Cause you're the most charismatic motherfucker I've ever met."
Keller smiled back. "Oh, you're just saying that."
"No really," Schillinger went on. "You can '" and indeed do '" charm the pants off just about anyone."
"And why would I want to charm Beecher's pants off?" Keller asked.
"Oh, you don't have to get them off, though you're certainly welcome to if you want," Schillinger said, sitting back and glancing quickly at Keller's crotch. "You've just got to get the prick to trust you unconditionally. The more he trusts you the better." Schillinger shrugged and the grin broadened. "Hell, if you can make him fall in love with you, that'd be even sweeter."
"For your honor," Keller added.
"Don't worry, Keller," Schillinger replied, "I'll make it worth your while."
This time it wasKeller's turn to lean forward. It was also the first time that Keller noticed how relatively fresh that scar was around Schillinger's eye. "You know, Vern," he said quietly as Schillinger leaned in to meet him halfway between the two chairs, "he uh' he chants these weird little rhymes and sayings."
Schillinger's smile was back. He nodded. "Yeah, I know."
"I'm supposed get to someone that whacked to trust me?"
"He will," Schillinger said. "If you even act like you hate the Aryan Brotherhood as much as he does, you will have made a friend in that guy."
Bits of his conversation with Queenie were coming back to him too now, and a sly grin of his own appeared on his face. "Yeah, but have you really heard some of the shit he says?"
"Which nursery rhyme was it this time?" Schillinger asked, looking interested.
"Well, it was one I had never heard before," Keller said. "More like a moral to a story than a rhyme. It was something like: 'An eye full of glass in Vern's hand is worth two piles of shit on his face.'"
Schillinger's smile collapsed and Keller's broadened. It was as sweet a success as seeing the first crack in Beecher's faade. The next thing Keller saw was the wall and the bookcase to his right as Schillinger delivered an eye-watering smack to his face. He had put his whole arm into the blow and, for a second, Keller actually thought that the old bastard had knocked a few of his teeth loose. He shook his head, trying to get his eyes to focus again and rubbed at his cheek.
Schillinger pointed at the cast on Keller's arm and said, "You're sure going to look funny trying to jerk off with one of those on each arm."
Keller knew saying anything else was going to bring trouble, but he just couldn't stop himself. "At least half of my dick won't be bitten off and lying on the ground."
Schillinger rolled his eyes and shook his head as if he were disappointed. "Funny you should say that," he remarked. He looked up at Hans and Franz. "Hold this prag still for me, will you?"
Keller barely had time to move before he found himself in a headlock and his unbroken arm wrenched behind his back. He struggled and tried to pull Franz's arm from around his throat, but the cast would not let him get a good grip. Hans delivered a swift, sharp elbow to Keller's gut, and as Keller cried out he threw all of his weight into Keller's lap. Keller landed back in the chair with a thud. Franz was digging his chin into Keller's shoulder and Hans was digging his needle-like elbows into the meat of his thigh and pulling back on it until Keller's legs were spread as far as he could get them. Keller flailed his free leg, but could get no leverage out of it. Franz gave the arm behind Keller's back another twist and Keller screamed.
"Sit still, cocksucker!" Franz hissed, digging his chin in a little deeper.
Keller ceased his struggle, and three pairs of eyes went to Schillinger who sat in his chair, placidly tracing the rim of the coffee cup with his middle finger. His face was set in that way that all three of them '" especially Keller '" knew all too well.
"Did you know they deliver the New York Post to this fucking place?" Schillinger waved his hand, dismissing the question. "Of course you didn't. I'm just saying that they do. Not really sure why, though 'cause it's a fucking rag. Politically conservative, which is nice, but second-rate journalism at best. Still, every once in a while, they do trip over a very interesting story. For example, not too long ago they were covering a really grizzly series of killings in Chelsea. You hear about those?"
Keller froze and felt his breath stop in his neck.
Schillinger sat back and put his elbow on the edge of the table, holding the coffee cup near the side of his face. "Yeah, apparently three little faggots who all had the same fag bar in common in that neighborhood were all found beaten and dead within a month of each other." Schillinger took a quick peek in the cup and then looked back up at Keller who was still restrained but no longer fighting back. "The article said that they had all been tortured before they were killed." His eyes went wide, and then he added, "One of them had his balls cut off! Can you imagine how shocking that must have been to find a murder victim in one room and his balls in a coffee cup just like this one in another?" Schillinger took his elbow off the table and held the cup in front of Keller's face. Then he held out his hand with the palm facing up and turned the cup upside down over it. Something fell out, and Keller began to squirm and fight against the two Aryans who were restraining him again.
The blade sitting in Schillinger's palm was small and crude, but very sharp and very much a serious piece of weaponry in his hand.
"You know how much a guy bleeds when you cut off his balls?" Schillinger asked, setting the coffee cup aside and securing the little shank between his fingertips. His sly smile reappeared as he turned back to Keller. "Ofcourse you do."
Keller thrashed uselessly against the two men's embrace, his eyes wide and dry. "Motherfucker!" he screamed.
Schillinger clamped a hand over Keller's mouth and held the blade less than an inch away from his eye. "Shhhhhhh."
Keller stopped squirming. His eyes went back and forth from the shank to Schillinger's face and back again. He was breathing through his nose in audible, shuddery sniffs. He knew he was closer to death than he had ever been in his life, and expected to see a lifetime of conning, thievery, crime, and killing pass before his eyes. Memories of the Chelsea murders flashed before them instead, complete with sounds of screams and pleas for mercy that at the time had been blunted by the all the drugs. The number eighty-eight looming large over him was absolutely peachy in comparison to them.
Schillinger stood over him, the shank steady in his grip. "Now let me explain something to you, Keller," he whispered. "Metzger is right outside the door, so don't even think about yelling for help. He may be a hack, but he's one of us and if he does come in, he will stand by and watch while I give you a sex change. Got it?"
Keller nodded, glancing at the shank again.
"Good boy," he said, uncovering Keller's mouth and reaching down and unbuttoning the top of Keller's pants. Keller wanted to tell Schillinger to stop, that he would help pull the string on Beecher, and that nothing was more valuable to him than Schillinger's honor, but he knew if he made a sound, he was going to lose both his tongue and his balls. Instead he watched in horror as Schillinger knelt down, pushed his other knee aside, and lowered his zipper.
Schillinger looked up and held the shank up for Keller to see. "Now's the moment of truth," he declared. "What's it going to be?"
There really was no other choice. "I'll help you," he gasped.
Schillinger looked at him speculatively. "You sure? I mean, just a minute ago you were telling me that you could care less about..."
Keller screwed his eyes shut. "I was wrong! I'll do it!" he cried.
The pause that followed seemed like an eternity. Slowly he opened his eyes and saw that Schillinger was standing up. The blade was no longer poised for cutting but was still pinched between his fingers. The look on his face was smug, as if he had known Keller would snap under this kind of torture. He probably had known it all along.
"Let him go," Schillinger said to Hans and Franz.
They released him, and Keller plopped back into the chair feeling the layer of sweat that had formed between his skin and his clothes for the first time. One of Aryans slapped the back of his head making it rock to the side, but Keller made no fight back.
Schillinger was back in his chair, the smug look never leaving his face. "See what happens when you coperate? All your difficulties go away just like that."
Keller sat there panting, saying nothing.
Schillinger pointed at Keller's crotch. "Close your fly and then listen while I tell you how this is going to play out," he ordered.
Keller did as he was told. A part of him was disgusted with himself for collapsing under the fear, but the survival instinct and the part that knew what Schillinger was capable of was squishing that part underneath its boot.
"Now listen up," Schillinger said.
"I'm listening," Keller said, his breathing slowly returning to normal.
"Beecher works for Sister Peter Marie, the psychologist here in Oz, and will be taking his lunch in about an hour. It's Tuesday, so he's going to be making a phone call like he always does to his attorney. Not sure why. I think he's trying to work out something so that he can see his kids." He dismissively waved his hand again. "Doesn't matter why. Point is, you're going to go wait in line to use the phone at that time too. I'm going to have Mark Mack waiting outside the door. He's going to tell you that it's going to cost you ten dollars to use the phone or something like that. You punch him in the gut. Someone else '" I'll figure out who in a bit '" will jump on you trying to start a fight. That'll bring Beecher out of the phone pod. He'll start pounding on that guy until one of the hacks breaks it up." He looked past Keller and said, "Has Metzger left?"
Hans cracked the door to the library and peered out. "Yeah," he finally said.
"Then it'll probably be Whittlesey," he noted. "You let her break up the fight. Once everything quiets down, you tell Beecher that you owe him for that."
"Then what?" Keller asked.
Schillinger shrugged. "Then you just keep turning on that classic Keller charm until he trusts you," he answered. "Like I said, the more he trusts you, the better. You just leave the rest of the planning to me and focus on your part. I'll let you know when it's time to spring the trap."
"What makes you think Beecher's going to come to my rescue when this fight starts?" Keller asked.
"I told you," Schillinger said. "He hates the Brotherhood, and anyone else who hates the Brotherhood is on his good side. Besides, he sailed over the edge so long ago that I don't think he could possibly resist a chance to fight with one of my boys."
"Can't say I blame him," Keller said, regretting it the minute it came out of his mouth.
Schillinger held the blade up. "Don't get mouthy, Keller! You were doing so well a second ago."
Keller held up his hands apologetically, and the blade went back down. There was a beat of silence, and then Keller said, "One question."
"How do I know you're not trying to set me up to get killed?"
Schillinger looked thoughtfully at the ceiling. "Hmmm, good question." He sat there like that for a second or two, then looked back at Keller with a sticky smile. "You don't."
Keller snorted and shook his head. "Goddamn it."
"I'll make you a deal, though," Schillinger said, picking up the coffee cup. "If you get through this first part with the phone, you will never see this blade or this cup again." He held both up and dropped the shank into the cup with a small flourish. He set the cup back on the table and leaned in. "You go through with the rest of 'Operation Toby' till it's done and nobody will find out about what happened in Chelsea... not from the Brotherhood, anyway. I promise."
Keller knew that Schillinger was many things that were contemptible, but he was also a man of his word on matters like this. True, it often cost the other person their soul to get Schillinger to be a man of his word, but once he had your soul, he kept his promises. Keller didn't need to rely on his people-reader to figure that out. He knew this because he was exactly the same way; he had, in fact, learned to be such a man from Schillinger. Still, it embittered him. He was stuck being Schillinger's bitch again after all this time... and over a crazy man he didn't even know. However, the payoff was not ending up on Death Row for the killings in Chelsea.
Schillinger raised his eyebrows. "Well?"
Jesus Christ, I don't want to do this.
Tough shit. He's got you by the balls... literally.
"Alright," Keller said at last.
Schillinger sat back, satisfied at last. "Good. Now go back to your cell for a bit, get settled in, and then go make your phone call in about half an hour."
Keller nodded and stood up. He felt spent and emotionally defeated as he headed for the library door past Hans and Franz who were smirking at him.
"By the way, Keller?" Schillinger called.
Keller turned around.
The quintessential Schillinger grin was back on his face. "You look good. Really filled out well over the last twenty years. Too bad you're still a prag."' With that, he and the other Aryans started to laugh at him.
Keller felt his lip curl up and his teeth grind. He walked out of the library, swearing that if he got through all this, he would get revenge on Schillinger, even if it took him every one of those miserable eighty-eight years he had in this shit hole.
Keller lay in the dark listening to the bedsprings above him squeak and croak as Beecher grappled with a vicious nightmare. Once, Keller had gotten out of bed, ostensibly to get some water, but really to see if the man was whacking off and practicing a new rhyme in a hushed voice. After quietly slurping up a handful of water at the sink, he had looked in the mirror and seen Beecher in the reflection. He was definitely asleep, but his face didn't look so crazy anymore; it actually looked frightened, as if Beecher were pleading through his closed eyes for safety '" the one thing he was hoping Beecher wasn't going to do this morning when he met him. Empathy had never come easily to Chris Keller and he didn't even know the what the word meant, but now he felt it partly because he knew that the man was suffering under a tremendous mental freight but also because he knew what Schillinger had planned for him. Knowing that he was going to have to deliver Beecher to it as well only intensified the feeling.
Incredibly, the fight Schillinger had staged outside the phone pod had gone almost exactly as the son of a bitch had planned it. Well, not exactly... Keller had taken the liberty of backhanding Mark Mack squarely in the face instead of punching him in the gut. He had also taken a great deal of pleasure in hearing the bone and cartilage of the guy's nose snap. As he looked at the blood pouring out of the man's nose, he suspected that someone from the Brotherhood, maybe even Mack himself, was going to seek him out for retribution for that, but he didn't care. After nearly having his balls cut off by the Brotherhood's leader, he found that he could probably take whatever was dished out to him in response for that action. Knowing Schillinger the way he did, he figured that Vern would probably see it as a fair turnabout for what had gone down in the library and would let it slide. But that was a small matter.
After Whittlesey broke up the fight and escorted Mack to the ER, he turned to Beecher, who was wild-eyed and panting, and told him that he owed him just as he was supposed to do. Beecher had regarded him for a second and then said, "I didn't do it for you, pal. I hate those Aryan fucks." Then he stormed off.
Me too, Keller had thought as he watched Beecher go.
But on the heels of that thought came images of Beecher throwing a chair through the glass of Schillinger's pod and blinding him in one eye followed by images of Schillinger pinned under a weight bench with his face covered in shit and Beecher cackling triumphantly above him. Whatever fear Keller had of Beecher and his insanity was suddenly uprooted right then and a huge crop of respect had started growing in it's place. You had to admire the risk the guy was taking for standing up to Schillinger and indeed the whole Aryan Brotherhood with such a devil-may-care attitude after being tortured by them for as long as he had been able to take it. Keller couldn't recall ever quite having the gumption to do so himself in Lardner, and certainly had not had it when Schillinger had a razor inches away from his balls. It was probably that admiration that also evoked empathy in Keller later that night, but as he watched Beecher disappear down the hallway back to Sister Peter Marie's office, all he could think about was how fucking hot that guy was for being so damned ballsy.
He felt his cock twitch, and then suddenly was hit with the realization that he was still going to be allowed to keep what was twitching. Thinking he might fall over if he didn't start moving, he had stumbled away from the phone pod, forgetting to make his own call, and gone back to his pod to regroup.
For the rest of the afternoon, Keller wondered if Schillinger was going to give him four shades of holy hell for not making a phone call, but at dinner that night he had gotten his answer when a torn piece of a paper napkin was dropped into his creamed corn (or what he thought was creamed corn). The spiky handwriting on it was unmistakably Schillinger's, and the message was four words long: No coffee for you. Keller had eaten the piece of the napkin with his next spoonful of the yellowish goop, knowing that he now to go all the way through with this to save himself from ending up dead courtesy of the State of New York.
Now as he lay in bed, listening to Beecher fight a losing battle with his dream demons, Keller finally understood that the only bitch in that pod was himself. No denying it. He realized that when he had told Beecher that he owed him, he may have been following Schillinger's script, but now he was going to be indebted to this guy if he somehow managed to survive whatever Schillinger had planned for him. He didn't like being beholden to anyone, but he hated being beholden to someone who really did deserve respect... especially if he had to kill him.
I don't want to do this, Keller thought for the second time that day. I don't wanna march this guy in to his death.
Another voice, one Keller had never heard before, spoke up then: ' Maybe you don't have to.
Keller froze. That voice was so clear, he actually thought someone was speaking aloud. "What?" he whispered in the darkness.
Maybe you don't have to, the voice said again.
What do you mean?
Maybe you don't have to send him to his death.'
What the fuck am I supposed to do instead?
What the hell for?
Because if he's dead, he's never going to be able to help you get back at Schillinger for all this, and you, boy, are going to need the help of someone utterly unafraid to take that big a risk if you're going to take on Schillinger.
He almost sat up in bed, struck by the idea. Could it work? Could he actually pull it off? Could he get this guy to help him get back at Schillinger even after he broke him?
Are you kidding? the voice answered back. Schillinger said it yourself; you're the most charming motherfucker around. Of course you can! If you can get three women to marry you '" one of them twice '" then you most definitely can do this.
This is going to take some serious planning, Keller thought.
Well shit, said the voice, you've got eighty-eight years to figure it out.
But what about him? Keller wondered. He may be getting out soon.
The response was quick. Start getting the facts tomorrow, and start getting them fast. You're going to need this guy and time may be of the essence.
Keller started getting excited. It was the same feeling he got as he planned the fleecing of the fools he was going to leave in his wake. It was a rush like no other; it totally beat whatever drugs could do.
In the bunk above him, Beecher was screaming himself awake. The cries brought Keller to his feet. Beecher was sitting up in bed, drenched in sweat and reeking of terror. Chris put his hand on Beecher's knee. "Hey! Hey! What ha..."
"Don't touch me!" Beecher barked, swatting Keller's hand away.
"I was just wondering..." Keller began a second later, not realizing the arm with the cast on it had drifted into Beecher's perimeter as he spoke.
Beecher put his hand on the cast and shoved Keller as hard as he could. "Hey, keep your fucking hands off me, you fucking faggot!" he screamed.
Keller backed away and looked at Beecher, not sure of what to do or say. The new voice in his mind spoke up unbidden: Don't take it personally. Just back off. Give him his space. Remember you're going to need him later. If you do it now, he'll get that you respect him.
"Alright," Keller said, retreating. "Alright." He sat down on his bunk and slipped under the blanket again. A second later, he could hear Beecher crying silent tears.
That's right, Keller thought. Let it out, man. Just get those scary demons out so that you can be the crazy, fearless motherfucker I need to get back at Schillinger. I'm going to have to hurt you to get there at first '" badly, in fact '" and I'm sorry, but I will make it up to you. Someday, somehow, I will make it up to you. I told you I owe you and I do.
Keller smiled in the darkness, knowing this was the start of one hell of relationship with Beecher. As he rolled over on to his side, the most incredible thought slashed through his mind: What if I do fall in love with him?
One final time the voice spoke up: Well, wouldn't that be poetic fucking justice for those gay guys in Chelsea?
Seeing the humor in that, Keller's smile broadened and he drifted to sleep.
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