(Author's Notes: Okay, word of warning? There wasn't a lot of material I could find on what it is actually like INSIDE a psychiatric unit in a prison. So I had to combine what I do know of a local psychiatric unit I dealt with about eight years ago with what I've seen of prisons. It is probably NOT accurate, but just chalk it up to 'Experimental program that isn't going to work out apparently'. Ahem.
This was an extremely HARD chapter for me to get out, and yes it is shorter than the other chapters, but there wasn't much more for me to write on it. So it stands as is.
Third arc will continue the story. Probably will start up in August once I'm settled in my new house and get the kids back into school)
"Boy, do you ever stop talking?" John House looked over at the other inmate across the table from him. The old man was irritated, and cranky as he moved his spoon around his mashed potatoes that had come from flakes rather than honest real potatoes as they would have with his wife cooking.
He'd been moved from one building to another earlier in the week, but from what he could see there wasn't that much of a difference between them. He was still with other prisoners, only difference now was that about once a day he was escorted to speak with a doctor and he was schedule to speak with a group once a week. Group therapy. What joy.
"Who you callin' boy?" The man across from him glared, his eyes narrowing as his lips twisted into a snarl. "You tryin' to start somethin'?"
"No. But you've been yapping since you sat down." John glared back, not afraid to meet his eyes in return. "Can't you just sit there and eat like most people?"
The guards were above them, watching them from a higher vantage point and the inmate across from him flicked a look up before looking back down at John. "You better watch yourself, old man. You don't want to be startin' something you can't finish." He whispered, his lips still twisted in disgust for the older man.
He was heavily tattooed. The ink scarred over in places, as though he'd somehow cut over the old after the tattoos were originally done. But it wasn't scarred completely, making it look like it was almost an accident. But it made no sense that an accident would have only happened precisely over the tattoo on his chest. He was big and beefy, and his dark skin glistened with sweat as he was somewhat challenging the old man.
"I assure you, I can more than finish anything..."
There was a call that it was time to leave the lunch area. Silverware was always counted. In a lot of ways, it was like being in the service, in that his day was very structured. At least, that was what John told his cellmate after a few days. The little man wore glasses, and seemed very unassuming. Nervous, and almost afraid of John. Christopher Baccalieri.
The first night in his new 'room', John had asked what the man was in for. Taxes? Fraud? Jaywalking? So 'wimpy' that it was hard for anyone to believe he could be in for anything but the most accidental of crimes.
The little man shook his head nervously and stammered that he was in for murder. He was being evaluated because he had been prone to blackouts before the event and couldn't actually remember killing the other man.
He'd sat on his bunk, twisting his fingers together as he looked down at them. John snorted and shook his head, commenting that he couldn't see it himself. Asked what the weapon had been.
Gun, of course. The great equalizer. It didn't matter your gender, size, or ability. So long as you could aim in the right direction and pull the trigger, you had a good chance of taking down your target. It wasn't foolproof, true, but since there were sometimes more accidental deaths than purposeful deaths it was a good bet that the odds were with you.
They rarely spoke more than a few words to each other each day so far, but as John stretched out on the bunk above him, his roomie tentatively asked. "Do you think... um... well... do you think they'll believe us?" He asked quietly. It was easy to imagine him biting his lower lip and blinking watery eyes behind his glasses.
"Why? Aren't you telling the truth?"
Chris could hear the amusement in John's voice, and he frowned. "Does the truth ever matter? I mean, you can tell the truth and still not be believed." He stared up above him, as though he could see through the mattress.
"That's because everybody lies. And because everyone lies, it is easier to believe you're being lied to, first. Guilty until proven innocent." John snorted in the amused tone. "What does worrying about it solve? Just keep to whatever game plan you and your lawyer have, and let the rest sort it out."
"Easy for you to say, you're in for what? Aggravated assault? I'm in for murder. I could get the death penalty." Chris said, with barely restrained fear. His voice shook and he had the desperate quality of a man that knew he was doomed, but hadn't quite accepted it as yet. "Im going to get the death penalty!"
"Do they have you on film?" John asked snidely. "I did my thing where there was a camera. I still can't believe I lost control like that." He sighed. The mattress shifted slightly above Chris. The sigh had been heavy, filled with irritation.
"So you really did lose control?" Chris asked quietly, his hands behind his head as he continued to watch the bed above him.
"Yeah." John said quietly and sighed again. "I really did lose control. Doesn't happen often, but it did that time. Did you really blackout?"
Chris clicked his tongue and said. "I had a blackout that night." He told him. Of course, that was after the fact, but it wasn't as though Chris was going to trust John not to rollover on him by making a deal. "I've had blackouts since I was a teen. Never know what goes on during them, not 'nless someone tells me."
"What causes them?" John asked, though he didn't sound really all that interested. Chris could almost hear what John was thinking. 'Just an excuse to do what you want, and get away with it.'
"Nerves." Chris sighed. "I've always been the nervous sort. Even when I was young, and my cousins would all come over for a big family dinner? I'd get nervous and never be able to eat. Bobby, he's a big eater. Used to eat my portion. Nice guy for the most part. But just being in the same room with him made me nervous sometimes. I think he's dead now."
"You talk a lot when you're nervous too, don't you?" John still sounded faintly bored.
"I'll shut up." Chris offered, turning over on his side, trying to think of what else to do. He'd hoped that John would open up a bit to him, if he opened up first.
"Nah, I'm bored. You might as well talk." John told him to Chris' relief. Chris mouthed thank you to the ceiling, thanking a higher power. "So guess it's natural you're worried and nervous about what they are going to decide on you, huh?" John asked.
"Well, yeah. I'm all tied up into knots about it." Chris told him, rolling onto his back again and looking up at John's mattress. He folded his hands over his stomach and tightened his fingers tightly while crossing his ankles. "Aren't you worried, at all? I mean, they have you on tape and everything. And didn't I hear they are trying to investigate you for like, murder and stuff?"
"They won't find anything." John told him confidentially. "It's all coincidence and timing. Even if they can prove I was still around when whomever died, they can't prove I did it. It's all just smoke and mirrors. No proof. No. Not worried in the least about any investigations. As for being on tape? Yeah. They got me on that. But I have a good case for Post Traumatic. And I was stressed. My son had just told me he was cutting me out of his life, and that he was involved in a relationship with a guy. One two punch for me."
"Do you actually have it?" The younger man asked, curious. "I mean, not like I'll tell anyone if you don't. If you ask me, you're too uh... there should be some kind of cut off limit on age to be in a place like this. Prison isn't the right place."
"Yeahhhh, like I'm going to tell you anything different other than what I tell my doctor?" John chuckled. "Sorry, not going to fall for that. I didn't fall off the truck yesterday, kid."
"What you think I'm going to roll over on you and try to get off myself? It wouldn't even work if I tried it. Besides, people that roll over tend to end up dead. I want to live." Chris told him in a near mutter. "It isn't worth my hide to do something like that. For all I know? You're connected."
"Connected to what?" John honestly sounded confused.
"You know." Chris didn't quite whine the words. Surely this guy wasn't naive about this kind of thing? This was New Jersey for cryin' out loud!
"Know what? I have no idea what the hell you're talking about." John, leaned down and peeked at him from the top bunk. "What are you rattling on about?"
"You know... connected." He hissed the words, looking around to make sure no one was watching them. "To the mob, or something. This is New Jersey you know."
John laughed at him, flopping back down on his mattress. "You watch too much television, kid. I'm from Kansas. A retired Marine. I'm not even from around here. Who the hell would I be connected TOO?"
"Just can't be too careful. You never know sometimes. One of the many things that make me nervous around here." Chris said almost fearfully again. Playing up the 'I'm harmless' aspect. 'I have more to fear from you, than you from me!'
"Chances are, anyone that's told you they are 'connected' are lying their ass off and trying to scare you." John sounded amused from his perch above Chris. "If there were that many mobsters in this state, you'd have no normal people. Most ridiculous thing I've ever heard..."
"True." Chris said carefully, a trace of a smile on his lips. The man had absolutely no idea, did he? He truly was a redneck hick. Nor did he realize that his son had made an ally a couple of years back to one of the big guys. "Mind if I ask a personal question though?"
"You can ask, doesn't mean I'll answer." John told him with a loud snort. Chris made a face underneath him. What a rube.
"What was it that pissed you off the most about your son? Was it that he told you he didn't want to see you anymore? Or that he um... well... you know." Chris asked thoughtfully.
"That he's a fairy?" John finished for him. "I don't know. Guess I didn't like either. But I've fought all my life to try and keep my family the way it should be, and then to have the boy tell me that he was destroying it all at this late date? All my hard work? That it meant nothing? Why? You trying to tell me you're a fairy too?"
"No. No. No. I have a... well... had... a girlfriend." Chris said quickly. "Homos don't really last too long where I'm from. I mean, it happens? But it ain't something you talk about, you know? But nah. I'm not. No. If it happens in your family, you kind of try to hide it. They get married, have kids, and keep it on the 'down low', I think is the phrase. But no no no. I'm not a queer."
"Worried I'll beat you up too?" John teased lightly. "Don't worry. I don't need any more trouble. What happens to the homos if they don't last long where you're from?"
"Well." Chris said carefully, making a calculated risk as he confessed. "If they don't keep it down, and quiet? If they bring it into the open? They tend to end up dead. This one guy? Vito? He didn't even bring it out into the open on purpose. He had a wife, two kids, the whole thing. But he got caught out, and... before anyone realized it? He was yesterday's news. Someone killed him."
"You know who did it? Might be able to use it to your advantage with the DA?" John asked, once more leaning over and looking down at Chris.
Chris shook his head quickly. "No. No! And even if I did? I want to keep on living I wouldn't tell anyone! No. I have no idea. Just know that Vito is dead, and buried. You just don't do that kind of stuff where I come from! And if you do? You keep it secret."
"They do that with everyone? Or just those in the 'family'?" John asked, raising a brow and giving Chris a considering look. "You're connected, aren't you? Feeling me out or something?"
"Me? Connected? No." Chris denied, shaking his head giving him a nervous laugh. "I ain't got the nerves for it, and they'd never let me in. You know? Not that I'd want to. I'm just a lowly accountant. And it's more of a family thing, yeah. Vito's brother in law was really pissed when he found out. Not that I'm accusing him, or anything. Would never do that. But that was his little sister that Vito was cheating on. She could have ended up with AIDS or something, you know?"
"So someone outside of the family? They'd just... ignore it? Or what?" John asked, laying back down, sounding far more considering.
"Guess it would depend. I imagine so. There'd probably be far more murders in this state, on the same principal which you stated not everyone would be connected." Chris said with a trace of humor. "So, guess you'd have to say it is tolerated outside of the family. Or those that were useful, helpful... whatever. Owed them a favor, maybe?"
"So, in your family, say you had a brother. Would he have ended up dead? For being a homo?" John asked, making the bunk squeak as he move around above Chris.
"Would depend." He repeated. "I think it would just depend."
"What he did with his life. Cause, you know, there's useful people out there. They say hate the sin, love the sinner? You know? And if I had a brother that was smart, a doctor, and was owed favors by a bunch of people? He'd probably get a pass. If he was more like, say, me? He'd probably be dead." Chris' laugh was rather rueful. "A case of what you know, who you know, and what you can do for others. I guess."
"Does that mean you think I was wrong or right about what I did?" John sounded confused from above Chris.
Chris smiled wryly again and slowly shook his head, knowing that John couldn't see him. "I think, it isn't up to me to decide. I always kind of in the end figure, god will sort it out, after we're all dead. You know?"
For the rest of the night, it was quiet, though John nor Chris were asleep. Once in a while, John would make a sound like he was going to speak, but then he never did. He jumped down at least once to use the toilet and gave Chris a tentative look. Chris looked so nervous though, that John looked more confident as he climbed back onto the top bunk, leaving Chris to his thoughts.
Each day was much like the one before it. Even down to the places they sat when it was time to eat. John on one side, beside him Chris, and across from them both two men that looked like they could have been heavyweight champions had they not been criminals.
Chris kept his head down, appearing too scared to look them in the eye while John just seemed to be ignoring them altogether.
But the two men were glaring at John. Always glaring at him.
Chris knew why. It had started pretty much the day John had arrived for evaluation. He had a habit of calling people 'boy'. And considering the race of the two men on the other side of the table, they had not taken it too well.
One of them, Chris knew had once been on Death Row before somehow getting a reprieve. His strange tattoos were a source of wonder, but Chris still hadn't gotten the nerve to ask him about them directly. Reminded him kind of like one of them Tribes that practiced scarification. But right now? He looked like he was wanting to take his spork and practice on John.
Apparently, he'd had a kind of tumor that made people aggressive. The man had killed his girlfriend as well as a few others, but then a couple of years ago, they discovered and removed it. A doctor had testified to the effects and with another year of discussion and legal wrangling his lawyers managed to get him off the Row and put into a program. He was seeking treatment for anger issues as well as guilt and grief from his actions before.
Chris unconsciously moved a little to the side, as though to indicate 'just because I'm sitting here, doesn't mean I'm with John House as a friend'.
It had only been in the last day or two though, that the men had started to exchange words with one another. Almost as though to attempt to provoke John into doing something. So far, it had been a bit of verbal sparring that reminded Chris of the playgrounds of the world. He kept expecting one of them to bust out with 'No, you!' or 'I know you are, but what am I?' but so far so good, no one had quite stooped that low... yet.
"So, heard your fag of a son was getting out of the hospital today." One of the big men said, smirking in John's direction. "Wanna bet that is what they want to talk about in group today? How does it make you feel knowing your son takes it up the ass?"
Those that overheard them, laughed. But it was the man directly in front of John that watched him the closest. Well, him and Chris.
"Figure about the same as your dad feels, knowing you do." John countered, seemingly disinterested as he poked at his food.
The bigger man's eyes narrowed. "I bet I know your problem. You're jealous. You want it yourself..."
He never got farther than that, because he managed to push the button just right to make John jump up. He was leaning over the table, an arm pulled back, fist made. The guards blew the whistle and things were being locked down. Chris ducked under the table. The table was jarred and jostled as the two men struggled with each other. The guards were calling out orders as they struggled to regain control of the area. Other prisoners either stepped aside, holding their hands up to show they weren't involved, or they began to throw down with others, using the moment as an opportunity to riot. Doors were being locked down, the area isolated.
Chris crawled out the other side of the table and looked up to see the tattooed man quirk the edge of his lips into a smirk and nod. John was being held to the ground now, at the edge of the table. He was being pounded on, and Chris felt the sharp piece of plastic being pressed into his hand as the huge black guy held up his hands and went to stand with them against the wall. Seemingly no longer part of the riot.
For a moment, Chris wondered if he'd even need to use it. The man's face was bloodied by now, and he was old, after all. But then, he figured that the money wouldn't be funneled to him if he didn't keep his end of the bargain. He might never see the money, but his kid would. He snagged John's foot, pulling him further under the table. The guy that had been pounding on him let him go, going to stand by the wall, also putting his hands up, calling out that he was giving up. He was done. Chris only had about a minute to finish his job, if that.
He plunged the end of the sharpened toothbrush into the old man's body, having aimed well. A gush of blood told him he'd struck his target. He pulled him further under the table, hoping the riot would last at least another couple of minutes. He slipped out the other side of the table, and turned to face the opposite wall, back pressed against the glass. He nodded, and another man, a 'guard' who was in pay, turned on a small hand held penlight, directing it at Chris' eyes. In seconds, Chris knew nothing more as he went into a seizure, falling to the floor.
The riot ended up on the local news, edging out the news that supposedly Greg House and Robert Chase were being released from the hospital. There was no information as yet on fatalities, but there was information leaked that people had been injured.
Both men were watching the news, when it came across the wire. It didn't immediately connect to Chase that it was where John had ended up. No, not immediately. Nor did it with House at first.
But then he was flipping through the channels and trying to catch all the news sources, listening to the reports, and that is when Chase put it together.
For hours, nothing more was reported on the prisoners. Toward evening, Chase was even beginning to think it hadn't had any effect on their case.
That is, until the phone rang.
And then, then he watched as House answered the phone and stood silently listening to the person on the other end.
"I see." House said softly. "All right. You too." He slowly hung up the phone and turned to Chase.
"It was mom." He paused. "It's over."
"The riot?" Chase asked, wanting clarification.
"No. Well, yes. But that's not what I meant. I mean... it's over. All of it. Dad is dead. He was killed in the riot."
"What?" Chase felt his mouth drop open.
"He pretty much started the riot. Tape shows him throwing the first punch. It's over. He's dead."
Chase watched House limping out of the room, quietly, wanting to be alone.
It was over, sure.
Only, it would never be truly over. Because, the feelings were still there. This was just a new beginning, in a lot of ways, for new problems. Nothing was ever over.
Perhaps, it was better to say things had changed.
This chapter was over in their lives, but it was just the beginning of another.