Grady was the oldest kid on the tier and close to being shipped to an adult facility downstate. Being tier-rep—the fuck-boy go-between for the staff and inmates—had perks: the Youth Counselors shot him a leftover fast-food burger on occasion, and twice, in yard, dropped the tail-end of a blunt by him. Grady’s favorite YC was Swenson. Word on the compound was he came to Mastic Park Juvenile Correctional Facility after a run-in at Attica with a shit-coated shiv. Or some shit like that. Swenson was respected, being a stand-up guy, and not giving a flying fuck when you rolled the bones for cee-lo or staged a death-match between two black widows in a Dixie cup.
But Swenson was a slightly sadistic fuck, and got off betting on how long it would take a newbie to catch a beat-down, or worse.
“That fish, Ronald Something-or-other-O-Witz: he’s not only a Jew-Boy, but a rich, Long Island Jew-boy,” Swenson said, planted on his ass in the YC station. He tossed Grady a confiscated copy of Playboy. The centerfold was a Latina with an ass rounder than the moon, so he figured Grady would give him the inside scoop.
Grady stood in the cage-like vestibule between the YC station and the tier. It was lockdown, just after count, so he didn’t have to worry about being overheard. And being the quintessential snitch, he’d mastered the art of coupling talebearing with reticence. “Word on the ‘pound is he’s short-eyes. That true, Mr. Swenson?”
“You know I can’t divulge what’s on his papers. But I hate kiddie-diddlers. There’s no chance of rehabing perverts. So, I’m taking extra-long smoke breaks when that kid showers, if you know what I mean.”
“Nard housed the kid yesterday morning. Rolled up to him at breakfast. Nard just looked at his scrambled eggs and was like, ‘Run that shit, punk-ass motherfucker,’ and Jew-Boy just slid them eggs onto Nard’s tray. Didn’t even look up, so fucking soft.”
“Yeah, I give him a week,” Swenson interjected. The overhead fluorescent lights flickered as if on cue.
“Bet you he won’t make it three days, Mr. Swenson. Three, if lucky.”
“Ah, too short. Nard’ll take at least seven to do it. You gotta understand the mindset of a psychopath. Nard likes to savor the torment, like a sado-fucking cat with a mouse. Work the nerves before going in for the kill. Like when he knocked out One-Eyed-Dennis’ glass eye. He waited eight days to sucker punch him. Nard’s a buck-40 soaking wet, if that, but has mitts made of cast-iron, and is gorilla-strong, I swear. Fucking psychopath. And the more scared the fish, the longer he makes ‘em sweat it out wondering ‘when?’ Yep, nobody in this rat-hole gets gruesome like Nard.”
Wagering with Swenson made Grady feel like a big shot. Not to mention there was that Latina to rub one out to after lights-out. “I bet a week of double broom-duty to that Playboy it will be three days or less.”
“Bet. Whoever’s closer to D-Day wins. Any rate, my station needs a good sweep.”
Mastic Park Juvenile Correctional Facility was an old fortress pinioned between the foothills of the Adirondacks and the filthy little waves of Lake Ontario—a gray husk wrought of steel and cinderblock under grayer skies, which enshrouded 300-some-odd sullen youthful offenders who rotted away there.
Ronald had been at Mastic five days, spending most of his time in the rec yard, blending into the crumbled remnant of a wall that stretched from the weight pit to the chin-and-dip bars. The older YC’s, including Swenson, said the old wall was left behind as a reminder that Mastic had history, a real history beyond shank fights and riots, dating back to the Civil War. (But this was refuted by the volunteer history teacher Mr. Larry. He claimed the War Between the States never made it that far north, and concluded the state was simply too cheap to remove the wall.)
It was just another day at Mastic. Two games of basketball were running, and three punks, their pants worn backwards, cheered at the black flesh streaming up and down the courts. Righteous Wisdom Allah stood in mid-yard surrounded by his Five-Percenter followers, listening as he explained how the white man was grafted to be a race of devils. And several yards away, two Puerto Rican boys huddled under the guard tower, swapping secrets on how to render by fire newspaper to ink for stick-and-poke tattoos. It was an afternoon in which chaos seemed to blend fluidly into the drone of the rec yard. It was the afternoon Nard confronted Ronald as he sat on the crumbled wall, staring obliviously, staring past the guard tower, past the clouds, into the limitless inane beyond the razor-taped walls.
Righteous Wisdom Allah stated, on record, that, “Nard was just being Nard. You know, playing the hard-role, biffing the white boy upside his head like, ‘What up, motherfucker? Now do something, punk-bitch!’ White boy just sat there looking soft and then…the shit happened so fast—he just ghosted Nard. He stood all calm-cool-collective-like and stuck him in his neck. The shit happened so fast.”
Nard was interred after a cursory autopsy; Ronald was shipped to an adult correctional facility that had a 24/7 lockdown accommodating minors. NY State Youth Division officials inspected the rec yard thoroughly and ordered the immediate removal of the old wall and its hidden rebar steel that weaved snakelike through its core. “Just a stockpile of shanks,” a senior official remarked, leaving the yard.
Swenson declared the wager a draw and snuck the Playboy with the bubble-butt Latina into Grady’s lockbox for the hell of it. Unfortunately, Grady didn’t get a lot of time to enjoy the magazine; he was shipped downstate two days later.
Bio: James Zahardis has recently begun to write genre fiction. His stories have been published in 365 Tomorrows and Flashes in the Dark. He holds a PhD from the University of Vermont in Chemistry (2008) where he is currently employed as a research scientist and lecturer.