"That son of a bitch killed my girlfriend's sister!"
It took an unusually long time for the meaning of those words to penetrate Perry's brain. Forrest Gump here has got himself a Jenny! Was his first inconsequential thought before full comprehension – and a sinking feeling – came to him.
"Hold up there, Chief." Perry held up a hand, still holding a cotton swab. "Dexter's in here for multiple counts of rape – not murder."
"Jenna may have been holding the gun," Harry replied, rage coiled around every word, "But that bastard as good as pulled the trigger." He was looking straight ahead, unfocused fire in his narrowed eyes, mouth set in an uncompromising line. It was the first time since his arrival that he looked like someone who could survive prison.
But wait. "Jenna…?" The name rang a bell… Shit. "Jenna Lane?" Harry nodded, glaring at the door through which Dexter had departed. "The one whose sister's testimony landed Dexter here rather than in the California Men's Colony?" There was another jerky nod. "And that sister is your girlfriend?"
"Yes… at least, I think so… at the moment." Harry finally turned away from the door, confusion replacing some of the anger on his face. He looked up at Perry then, forestalling the scathing comment the larger man had been about to make. "Small fucking world, isn't it?"
Yes, Perry though, unable to break away from the raw, compelling emotions whirl pooling in Harry's deep brown eyes. A small fucking world held together by too many cruel ironies.
"You and Dexter seemed pretty friendly…" Harry's gaze now held a hint of accusation.
"Yeah. He enjoys the cruel ironies." Perry's obscure response was met with a questioning frown, but he chose not to enlighten his companion. His past with Harlan Dexter was none of Harry's business. "Oh, sure," he said more firmly, "he's Uncle Walt on the surface. It's usually too late that people find out he's Eisner. With a bunch of heavies for Mousketeers."
"I thought he was more of a beach blanket Katzenberg." Harry looked up at him now with a hint of a twinkle in his eyes and a humorous twist to his mouth. Perry found himself momentarily gaping, mouth open to laugh, but sound caught in his throat.
This, he realized. This was how the man was supposed to look. "Tha—that's not even close, goofball." Goofball? Perry winced inwardly as Harry raised an eyebrow. Even he knows that was weak. "Too blond and sleazy to be Katzenberg."
"How long have you been in here? Have you seen Katzenberg lately?"
"Some people have better things to do with their time than watching all the DVD extras for chidlren's movies."
"Well what did you do that was so damned important?"
"I was a-" Damn! How did the little moron do it? Perry's defenses were the walls of Troy – only he was not stupid enough to take in a fuck-off huge wooden horse. I guess a wooden ass is another matter… "I was a private investigator." Screw it. Perhaps answering a question or two, especially ones that made Perry sound more impressive, would shut Harry up for a while. Especially if his silent, wide-eyed response to that was anything to go by.
"A P.I.? You mean, like Jonny Gossamer?" Harry leaned forward on his stool, only to wince as the move no doubt caused his bruised ribs to shift.
"Jonny Gossamer? Please. Now, lift up your shirt." Harry looked at him suspiciously, lower lip between his teeth. "Fuckhead, I am not going to rape you in the infirmary. I just want to check your ribs." With a wide shrug, which caused another wince of pain, and a careless wave of the hand, the other man complied. "Anyway, Gossamer is for children."
"I read it in junior high," Harry said defensively as Perry began checking his ribcage. "I was never sure how he figured everything out. It was all so unconnected at first. He'd have these two cases that you thought were completely different and then it would turn out that they weren't. And-"
"Harry!" It took Perry a moment to remember to shut his cellmate up. I would never have supposed he would be so toned under his prison blues… No. He pushed on a bruise harder than was necessary, earning another wince… and probably a dirty look as well. "I'm sure the Hardy Boys stump you every time, genius. Come on! Even the guy who wrote Jonny Gossamer said he was a joke."
"Shut up. He was just a writer – what did he know?"
"More than you. But then again, so does the average fifth grader." Perry ignored the indignant sound his "patient" made at that. "Phillip Marlowe: that's a detective."
"Was he the one Cagney played?"
"It was Bogart, idiot." The happy thought of Bogey was enough to keep Perry from tearing into Harry too much over the mistake. "Humphrey Bogart…" His voice dropped to a near whisper and his eyes drifted from his cellmate's bruised torso to stare, unfocused, at the counter behind him.
"Right…" Perry looked back at Harry to see the man lowering his shirt, an odd look – as if he had just tasted something sour – on his face. "Um… so… women want him, men want to be him, and you want both… kind of thing?"
"Something like that…" He's taking my sexuality in stride… relatively. It was certainly not the kind of reaction Perry expected – or was used to on the inside. "Anyway, before you led us 100 miles away from the point of the conversation, I was going to tell you to keep your mouth shut."
"You mean the first ten times you said it didn't count?"
"I meant about your 'maybe girlfriend.'"
"Did you really just speak 'in quotes?'" Harry mimicked Perry's gesture, his moves exaggerated.
"Shut up," Perry responded, lowering the other man's hands and wondering if those two words were rapidly losing their meaning. "I'm trying to warn you here: don't let Dexter know you have any connection to Harmony Faith Lane. He'll use it against both of you."
"OK." Harry's voice and expression were serious again. "Thank you," he added with a small tilt of his head.
"You—you're…" Fuck. Get it together Van Shrike! "Your shit, unfortunately, lands in my front yard. I'd prefer to keep it clean. Now," he added, rising from his seat in front of Harry, "let's get out of here." Perry hated the smell of hospitals, doctor's offices and the like. It had too many unpleasant associations.
"Lockhart! Van Shrike!" A voice called, thankfully interrupting them. They both looked over to see Morales standing there with a doctor and an injured con standing behind him. The Latino was posed aggressively, but Perry could see the smile hovering around the edges of his tough guard face. "Time to get your asses out of here and back to your cell."
"Yes, boss," they replied in unison before following Morales out the infirmary doors.
"Y'all come back now, ya hear?" The guard said cheerfully in a terribly facsimile of a Southern accent once they were out of the room – and earshot.
"Are you asking us to injure ourselves!" Harry turned back and blurted out. Then, he covered his mouth with both his hands, looking fearful.
"No, of course not," Morales answered amiably. "Come back with anything. A hang nail even. Those doctors need something to do besides sit on their thumbs for State money."
Perry chuckled at that. "Furlough days again?"
The guard uttered a string of curses in Spanish before answering. "We're stretched thin, getting almost no time for breaks – and God am I glad I quit smoking! – because we have to take so many fucking days off, while they sit there in their little white room, sipping Maxwell House and chatting away like a pair of beauty school dropouts."
"What does that mean?" Harry asked looking between the two of them, utterly bemused.
"I'll tell you when you're older," Perry replied brusquely, making a shooing gesture with his hand. "Now move on. I'll be with you in a moment to make sure you haven't tripped over your own feet."
"Go." Perry watched him move away, then turned back to Morales, who was smiling at him. "What?"
"Oh, nothing. Just nice to see you getting along so well with your new cellie."
"First, cut the prison lingo – you know I hate it. Second, did you drive past a burning pot farm on your way to work today?"
"Oh, but you two looked so cozy back there in the infirmary." The smile was a full blown smirk now.
"Cozy!" Perry took a deep breath to prepare for a stream of invective, but then paused, lines from Shakespeare running through his head. Protesting would only make it worse. "Well, he said you looked like 'porn star Benjamin Bratt,' so I decided he couldn't be a total loss." It was Perry's turn to smirk as Morales raised a hand to his mustache, face shifting into a mock-wounded frown. It did not last long, though, as Perry remembered the rest of their conversation. "Seriously though, Tony." He dropped his voice down, leaning closer to his one time friend. "Keep an eye out."
"On him or for him?"
"Just – pay attention." The unease he had felt since Harry had first uttered Harlan Dexter's name had never really left him.
"It's sweet to see you so concerned about your new friend. My brother will be so pleased you found somebody at last!" Morales' words were light, but there was a wrinkle between his brows.
"Oh please!" Perry said, shaking his head both to reject the guard's ridiculous statement and to snap himself out of… whatever it was that had come over him today. "I'm a P.I., not a federal marshal." He turned then, starting to walk away.
"What the hell does that mean?" Morales asked, confused.
"It means I don't do the Witless Protection Program!" With that, Perry lifted his chin and strode briskly after his cellmate.