Smiling

This is a short story I wrote just before my last post about mysteries.  In fact, this story sparked the discussion in that post, as I tried to figure out if this would work.  I’m still not quite sure, but I’d love to hear your reactions to it.  It’s a little darker than I usually do— not as much humor, definitely.  I don’t think it’s my best work, but it’s definitely unique for me, and I hope you enjoy it.  Bonus points for unraveling the mystery.

They took my picture today.

I write this on a piece of notepaper the warden gave me.  I’m allowed to write one letter home, to you; but I’m not sure if this will get to you.  They will try to read it, but even if they do, it won’t be in time.  The mail here is notoriously slow.  And if they do read it, it will not get to you, for I will be in a different cell, possibly a different jail, pending further investigation with no contact allowed.  I will disappear, and they will be victorious.  But that is only if the mail is not slow.  It will be.

I was captured yesterday, trying to sneak a bribe to the warden.  Never mind that he took it— it was a foolish plan, ready to fall apart the moment it began.  I was easily caught.  I was sick, never a good thing on a job, and that slowed me down enough that they caught me before I had gone ten steps.  They slapped me straight into solitary confinement, then transferred me to a shared cell with a man named Sam.  Sam used to be a con artist, but turned thug the moment they put him in the slammer.  No inmate goes near him now, and he’s supposed to be in solitary, except the warden thought I’d be a good cellmate.  Sam’s been fine so far— we’ve met before.

You might be wondering why they’re so adamant I have a bad time here.  All I did was question the warden’s already stained reputation for justice— why would I be so cruelly treated?  Well you might ask, since I haven’t seen you in five years.  You probably didn’t know I was a criminal ‘til you got this letter.  If you get it.  Well, the warden has it for me anyway.  Like Sam and I, we’ve met before.  A couple years ago, I stole a sample of “edible metal”— a small batch that could theoretically enclose a micro-transmitter or some such technology.  The warden caught me on the way out— he was still in the field then— but couldn’t detain me because, without evidence, I’d done nothing wrong.  I had swallowed the metal, knowing it would be reusable once it reappeared.  It made me slightly sick, but it was worth it.

No, the warden doesn’t like me all that much.  He isn’t quite experienced enough not to make things personal between himself and his convicts.  I almost pity him, the way things will go down after this.  But not that much.

But let me tell you how I met my friend Sam.  He was a con man, as I said, but that’s not all.  He was a small fellow, shrimpy but sharp— always, even here in the prison, using his intellect instead of physical charm or strength.  He was a skilled actor, as well as a highly accomplished computer technician.  He worked on remote mechanisms mostly, making them smaller and smaller.  He once created a button that would open electronic doors, which he used every time he went to a grocery store.  Never mind the doors were already automatic.

Sam was a little obsessive, however— he idolized many of the great escape artists of the past, but thought the one trick they missed, never even attempting it, was getting free of a state-of-the-art prison without a trace.  I worked with him a while, encouraged him, for an entirely different reason.  He wanted to emulate and outdo all his heroes.  I wanted to make an example, to make the prison system better.  You and I both know why.

The warden knows Sam’s history, of course— minus my involvement, which was secret.  He made sure to make Sam’s cell the best in every way.  Electronic everything.  The locks, the lights, even the toilet.  He gets no visitors, no gifts.  He has his own fish-eye camera in the corner, with no blind or dead spots, protected by plexiglass.  Sam may have gotten himself into prison for this trick, but the warden meant to make sure he never came out.

If only they took the same precautions with everyone.  If only they had thirty years ago.  You remember, don’t you?  Or have you blocked it out like everything else you don’t like, everything else you knew about him?  The father who vanished from his cell to reappear at his home, finding the children he never loved gone?  The father who tracked us down afterwards?  Perhaps the prison could have taken better care to keep him under lock and key, the certified psychopath with three past restraining orders and an attempted murder.  Perhaps they could have seen it coming.

That’s why I’m here.  I think you’ll appreciate it, showing them at last how much they miss in their pride and arrogance.  I think you’ll enjoy seeing it unfold as we, Sam and I, escape forever.

I was sick today.  Had to throw up on my bed and clean it myself.  Sam could barely keep from laughing out loud— but that would have brought the warden.  No, we don’t need him yet.  Not until it’s time for you to turn on the TV and see what we did.  See what happened after years of work, the culmination a mere press of a button.  You’ll love it.

I had my picture taken today.  Beneath the scowl of my mug shot, you could see, just barely— I was smiling.

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