My name is Rex, and I am innocent. But do you think anyone believes me? Not a chance. They show up in the middle of the night. They grab me, drag me outside, and throw me in the back of their car.
“Who are you?” I ask in a panic. “What have I done wrong? Where are you taking me?” They ignore me as though they can't understand what I am saying. They take me to a strange building, take my picture, then throw me in a cage and tell me to be quiet. My mind frantically searches for a reason. None presents itself.
“What about my family?” I yell at the men as they leave. “I'm innocent!”
Laughter erupts from the cage on the other side of the room.
“Yeah, take me too.” Yells a flat face from inside a cage. “I'm innocent too.”
I glare at him, and he glares right back. I finally walk away from this futile posturing, and lay down. Thoughts still race through my mind. Slowly, like a thief, sleep sneaks up on me, and drags me off to its dark world.
I wake to the sound of banging. A man in a uniform is going around from cell to cell, shoving trays of food through the hatches in the doors. At least I think it's food. The look and smell don't resemble food at all. I ask the officer what it is, but he has already moved on and is feeding the other cells. I slowly try a bite, then quickly spit it back out.
‘Vile glop!' I think.
“I can't eat this!” I yell to the officer, but he just ignores me.
“What's the matter Mr. Fancypants?” I hear a voice yell. “Too good to eat what the rest of us have?”
I look across the hall to see my flat faced ‘friend' from last night.
“Are you too high class to eat what us low lifes eat?' He says. “Well let me take care of that for you. Garcon'!” He yells to the officer. “We need an order of steak tartar back here right away.”
The block erupts with laughter.
“Hey pretty boy!” He yells at me. “If you ain't hungry, send your food my way.”
The laughter intensifies, but not for long. I take my tray and dump it on the floor in front of me.
Silence falls over the block like a heavy curtain.
“You'll pay for that, pretty boy.” He says with menace in his voice. I turn my back on him, go to the back of my cell, and lay down.
“That's not too smart there partner.” A voice says from the cell next door, in a long, slow, drawl.
“What's not smart?” I ask, more out of exasperation than curiosity.
“Messin' with Butch.” He answers. “Ya see, he runs this here block, and crossin' him ain't the way to stay healthy for very long.”
“You will, if he gets ahold of you.”
“But he can't.” I say. “He's over in that cell, and can't get to me.”
“You got a lot to learn, boy.” He says, shaking his head.
Just then, the officer comes back, gathering up trays and putting them on his cart. When he sees my overturned tray, he's angry.
“This is your first tray, so I'll give you this one.” He says, while wiping up the mess. “From now on, if you do it again, I'll let it sit until you eat every bite. You got that?”
Then he moves on, angrily mumbling about ungrateful something or other.
“Boy, you makin' lots of friends in here.” My neighbor says.
“It doesn't matter.” I say. “I'm just waiting to get out.”
“Get out?” He says, laughing. “Son, there's two ways you get out of this place. Someone comes to get ya, or they take ya out.” He says, inclining his head toward the officer.
“Someone will be here to get me.”
“What's your name, boy.” The neighbor asks, still chuckling.
“Rex. What's yours, old timer?”
“Well, folks 'round here just call me Dollar.”
“Dollar? Why do they call you that?”
He leans close to my cell and lowers his voice.
“Do you like a mystery, boy?”
“I suppose so.”
“Good, I'll tell you about my name later.” And with that, he ambles to the other side of his cell and lays down.
I just watch him go.
‘I've got to get out of here.' I think as I lay down on my bug infested bed.
I wake to the banging sound again. The officer gives me the evil eye, as he slides me my tray. I try to force down a couple bites of today's glop. It doesn't taste as bad as it smells. I still only eat half of it, and give the rest to Dollar.
“Thank ya kindly, son.” He says.
Even the officer seems pleased that my tray is clean, and better yet, he doesn't have to clean anything up.
“That's a good boy.” He says.
‘Wow!' I think. 'Could you be any more condescending?'
But I just smile, which for some reason seems to upset him.
“You're tryin' too hard, boy.” He says. “You just ignore them and they'll ignore you.”
“You're lucky, pretty boy.” Butch says. “If you had smiled at me, I'da ripped your throat out.”
I turn my back on him again.
“You're doin' the right thing, son.” Dollar whispers. “Don't let him bait you.”
I walk over and lay down.
“That's right, pretty boy.” Butch says. “Slink over in your corner.”
‘I hate this place.'
I'm awakened in the middle of the night by a tremendous racket, but it's not coming from this block. In fact, everyone in this block is silently listening.
“Dollar, what's going on?” I whisper.
“It's the females.” He whispers back.
“Females? I didn't think there were any here.”
“Oh yeah.” Dollar says. “They keep them on another block.”
“So what's wrong with them?” I say. “What are they yelling for?”
“Us.” Dollar says.
“What do you mean, ‘us'?”
“They want to tease us.” He says. “They know we can't get to them, so they call out to us.”
I can't believe it.
“That ain't right.” I say.
I try to pull conversations out of the raucous noise, but all I can catch are brief phrases.
‘Come on over baby…'
‘…Show you a good time…'
And something about 'doggie style'.
The boys are eating it up. They're practically drooling, listening to the females go on and on. Then a new noise interrupts their thoughts. There is a banging sound of wood on metal, coming fron the female block, and an officer yelling, “Quiet down!” as he bangs on their cages. The boys are not happy. They start yelling challenges at the officer.
‘Bring that over here!'
‘I'll show you what to do with that stick!'
‘Leave my girl alone!'
Once the females quiet down, the officer obliges the boys. He enters our cell block with a nightstick and an attitude. The boys respond with as much noise as they can make. I just lay in the corner and watch. Dollar isn't so lucky. He is standing silently near his door. However, the officer is so bombarded with noise that he isn't thinking straight.
(Rage will do that to you, I know from personal experience.) He doesn't see an inmate quietly observing, he sees an inmate within reach, on a rowdy block. He swings his stick with fury, and it impacts in Dollar's face with a sickening crunch. Dollar falls instantly, and a pool of blood quickly grows from his injured face.
“DOLLAR!” I scream, as he goes down. But the officer doesn't even pause. He keeps moving down the row, swinging his stick at anyone who happens to be too close to their door. After the block quiets down, I continue to call for help. The officer comes back to my cell, not happy that I am still being loud. He is so enraged that he doesn't even notice Dollar laying unconscious on a red floor.
“You wanna play do ya?” He says, unlocking my cell. He comes at me with his stick, but I am furious and ready. I lunge straight at him, and grab him by the throat, causing him to howl in pain. He brings his stick down with brute force on the top of my head.
The stars come out early that night, as I struggle to stay on my feet. He loads up for another swing, but I throw my entire body at him, grabbing the stick and ripping it out of his hand. Shocked at losing his weapon, he throws a crushing punch into my jaw, weakening my knees, and making me drop the stick. He presses his advantage, kicking me in the midsection. I try to roll away from him, but he launches his boot into my exposed ribs. I feel a crack, along with blinding pain. I know I am quickly losing this fight. I try to duck his blow, but he smashes the stick into my shoulder. One more blow to the head, and my eyes grow dim. I'm not awake when he stands over me and rages,
“When I say quiet down, I mean quiet down!”
Then he gives me another kick, which I don't feel until later. He locks my door , and leaves to tend to his injuries.
I wake up, feeling like I've been run over by a freight train. I try to get up, but my head is thumping. Someone starts spinning the room every time I get to my feet, and gravity yanks me back to the floor. I try to get up again.
“You better just stay down, boy.” I hear a voice quietly say.
“Dollar?” I say, trying to force my eyes open.
“No, it's not Dollar.” The voice says softly.
The blurs start to form into recognizable shapes.
“Butch?” I say.
“Yeah, it's me.”
He starts at a noise coming from the end of the block.
“Close your eyes and lay still.” He whispers.
I don't argue, mostly because at the moment, all I can do is lay still.
I hear someone walk up to my cell and just stand there.
It seems like they stand there for a long time, waiting for something, then suddenly leave.
“What was that about?” I ask Butch.
“That was the officer you fought with.” Butch says. “You hurt him, and I guess he was looking for some payback.”
“You're kidding, right?” I say. “Look at what he did to me.”
“Doesn't matter to them.” Butch says. “They can hurt us, but we're not allowed to hurt them.”
“That figures.” I say, with a defeated air.
“You done good, kid.” Butch says softly.
I looked at him, surprised.
“What happened to ‘wait til I get a hold of you!'?”
“You stood up for one of us.” He says. “You've got guts, kid. I'm proud of ya.”
“Thanks.” I say sincerely. “But all I did was try to get help for Dollar.”
Then it hits me like a jolt of electricity.
“Dollar!” I cry, trying to get up. I manage to crawl over near Dollar's cell. All I could see inside was a large dark red stain on the floor.
“Where's Dollar?” I yell.
Butch look at me with sad eyes.
“They took him, kid.” He says lowering his head. “It doesn't look good.”
“What will they do to him?”
“They'll try to patch him up, but they won't try very hard.”
“And what if they can't patch him up?”
Butch doesn't say anything, just turns away.
“Sorry kid. That's how it goes here. You go out the front door, you go home. You go out the back door…” He fades off. “Either way, you never come back here again.”
I try to focus on what Butch is saying, but my head is hurting, and I slowly drift off to sleep.
I wake to a new sight. Visitors. A family is standing at Butch's cell. They're hugging him.
“That's the one.” They say, smiling.
The officer opens the door and escorts them out the front door. Butch looks back at me.
“Good luck, kid.” He says.
I can't seem to find the words to answer.
The rest of the day, the blanket of depression settles over the whole block. We've lost Dollar and Butch in just two days. The only upside to the day is my injuries are feeling a little better. I can stand and walk around my cell again. Suddenly the block opens. In walks the officer with another family. I look dully at them, and recognition sparks in my mind.
‘I don't believe it.' I think excitedly. ‘It's my family! They've finally come for me!'
I'm so excited, I could just burst right out of this cage. They slowly walk up to my cage, but something's wrong. They aren't smiling. The father is holding his little girl. I catch a glimpse of a long, bandage wrapped around her arm. I remember that I did that. We were playing, and things got out of hand. I never meant to hurt her, it just sorta happened. Maybe they're here to take me back. Maybe five days in this prison was my punishment. They're standing in front of my cell, just looking at me. No one is reaching out or trying to hug me. They're looking at me like an old couch, deciding if they should keep it or throw it away. I better try to suck up if I want to go home tonight. I give them my best smile. Their reaction surprises me. The little girl buries her face in her daddy's shoulder and begins to sob. The father's face is a mixture of anger and horror.
“That's the one.” He says to the officer. Then they quickly turn and leave.
“Wait! Wait!” I yell. “Come back! Take me with you!”
The officer escorts them out, looks back at me, smiles, then slams the door.
I stand frozen in place, staring at the door. They left me here. I can't believe it. Maybe they just went to sign paperwork. Maybe they just want to surprise me. The door opens a few minutes later. The officer walks in alone. He comes to my cell holding something.
“Well buddy.” He says. “Looks like it's just you and me.”
I stare past him, toward the door.
“Oh no, the family ain't gonna rescue you. They want you here.”
It can't be true.
“You and me, we're gonna take a little walk.”
He quickly opens the door, and puts restraints on me. I try to fight it, but he caught me off guard. He uses the restraints to drag me out of my cell. Two other officers help him take me out. We start down the hallway, but we're heading for the back door.
“This is wrong. This is a mistake.” I try to tell them. But they only pull harder. I try to fight against them, but my feet can't gain any traction. They drag me down a hallway to a very well lit room, and lay me on a table. I try to run, but they hold me down. I fight as hard as I can, but they're too much for me.
“Better make sure you've got a muzzle on this one, doc.” The officer says.
“Just hold him still for a moment, and we won't need a muzzle.” The doctor says.
I feel a sharp pain in my buttocks. I want to fight, but my will seems to be drifting away.
I feel tired.
My eyes are getting heavy.
Already I can barely keep them open.
One final thought drifts through my mind.
‘Tell the little girl, I'm sorry.'
Rex was buried in a field out back. It was nothing elaborate, just a plot of ground that had been cleared. Dozens of roughly cut stones were already there. They all had one word names that had been carved into them with a hammer and chisel. Names like ‘Fido', Spot', and ‘Fluffy'. The only good thing you could say came out of this is, Rex was buried next to a stone that said, ‘Dollar'.