Chapter 10: A Town without Pity
"How can we keep love alive
how can anything survive
when these little minds tear you in two
what a town without pity can do"
Gene Pitney ~"Town without Pity"
"Guess what," Bonnie said wryly, "I forgot my umbrella again, Lucy."
Ernest stared at her standing on the threshold of the infirmary, soaked to the skin and dripping water onto the floor.
"Bonnie, you're soaked!" Lucy exclaimed, getting up from her desk.
"I don't suppose you still have that set of clothes," Bonnie asked hopefully.
"I'll get something; go on into my office," Lucy said, shooing her in. Then she hunted up a blanket and clothes and passed it through the door, and a short while later Bonnie emerged in a prisoner's getup and with wet hair.
"Just like my first day here," she said, taking her seat beside him. "Except you didn't see me looking like something the cat dragged in." She blushed. "I'm always a mess, it seems."
"No, you're not," he said.
She shrugged. "Not here, maybe."
Suddenly, gorgeous music wafted out of another section of the infirmary.
Bonnie sat up straight and stared. "What is that?" she asked breathlessly.
"Webb Porter," Lucy said. "And believe it or not, he just started a few days ago."
"What?" Bonnie demanded.
"He has a genius level IQ," Lucy said, "and I tried music therapy to cure a ringing sensation he has in his ears, and it seems to be working."
Bonnie slumped back into her seat. "Working," she repeated. "I'd say 100% success, Lucy."
"Thank you," Lucy said, smiling.
"Does the music bother you?" Bonnie asked suddenly, turning to Ernest.
"No," Ernest said, thinking about it. It wasn't overplayed or uneven in rhythm; it didn't grate. It was quite beautiful. "Not at all," he said.
"That's wonderful," Bonnie said with a huge smile.
And he shyly smiled back.
As they sat there and listened to the music –Lucy had gone to watch Porter (who had previously been a screamer; the music must have helped with that, Ernest thought) –Bonnie slowly laid her head on his shoulder. He became very aware of the thumping of his heart and her heart, as they slowly synchronized. He unconsciously held his breath. This moment was too precious to shatter with something as trivial as breathing.
All too soon for his liking, the beautiful and haunting music came to an end, and Bonnie sat up, sighing.
"Oh," he said, needing to keep her close, to somehow hold onto her. "Here. Happy Birthday." He pulled something wrapped in paper out of his pocket.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, taking the present from him. "You didn't have to get me anything, Ernest –"
"I wanted to," he said, cutting her off.
She just blinked at him for a moment, but then seemed to gather herself and whisper, "Well… thank you." She carefully undid the wrapping, which was really just newspaper, and he watched her eyes go wider and wider. "Oh, Ernest, it's lovely!" she exclaimed.
The chain he had traded for. It had been someone's old dog tag chain. And he had taught some new enterprising prisoner how to make a gun in exchange for getting a hole drilled into the little lump of pyrite that now hung on the chain.
"I remembered you liked yellow," Ernest said.
"Oh, I do," Bonnie assured him. "Thank you!" And before he knew it, her arms were around him, and he was hugging her back one-armed. The hand cuffed to the bed wasn't much use.
She smelled like floral soap and rainwater, and he couldn't think of anything better than this.
She pulled away from him as Lucy's heels clicked into the room, and she held out the necklace to let Lucy put it on her, which she did, complimenting it nicely.
But he could feel Lucy's narrowed eyes on him and Bonnie the whole rest of the afternoon.
As Bonnie left Lucy's office at the end of the day, holding her borrowed clothes, she stopped in surprise. She had never seen this man before.
"And who might this little lady be?" the man asked in a genial voice, but Bonnie felt like there wasn't anything nice in his eyes or his face.
"I'm Bonnie," she said. "I come and read on Tuesdays." Though they hadn't been reading much lately. Ernest had, slowly but surely, gotten better at talking, and they did more of it now.
"Bonnie, this is Warden James," Lucy said.
"Pleased to meet you," Bonnie said politely.
"Likewise," he said.
"Bye, Lucy," she said, walking quickly towards the door. She didn't want to talk to that man, and she didn't quite know why. "Bye, Ernest. Thanks." She flashed a grin at him and touched the necklace around her neck as she left.
He nodded but didn't smile. She figured he probably didn't like that man either.
"And how long has this been going on?" Warden James asked Lucy in a quiet voice as they stood at the end of the hall.
"Nearly six months," Lucy said. "I think it has worked well; Cobb seems much more relaxed and open around people than before, certainly…" she trailed off.
"But you have… reservations?" The Warden asked, fishing.
"Well…he does seem a bit… attached… to Bonnie, but it's certainly nothing harmful at all; it's quite natural to form attachments –"
"Dr. Sengupta," the Warden interrupted her, "I can't be having some girl just walk in to my prison whenever she feels like it."
"Her visits are scheduled –"
"Yes, they are, aren't they?" he asked. "Every Tuesday, like clockwork. And now Fridays."
"What?" Lucy asked, frowning.
"Her name has started showing up in the visitor logs," he said. "Visiting Cobb. Does that sound healthy to you?"
"Warden James –"
"Does it sound natural for a girl her age? Doctor Sengupta, I cannot allow this to go on. It's for her own good."
"Sir, there really is no harm…"
"Is there, Doctor? Can you honestly say that this girl is just a generous soul come to lighten some of the burdens of our inmates with her reading?" The Warden asked. "Is she just here to do her good deeds?"
Lucy stood there silently.
"I'll make the arrangements. I'll put different men on the door and restrict Cobb from having visitors. The whole thing will be taken care of with no fuss. It'll be better this way, Doctor. We can't have anything like this here at Alcatraz."
The next Tuesday, the guard on the door was someone she had never seen before, and he wouldn't let her through.
"I come all the time," Bonnie said, exasperated. "Go ask Dr. Sengupta or Dr. Beauregard if you don't believe me!"
His glance was very suspicious, but he shut the door and went.
Bonnie fidgeted outside, looking back and forth at the high walls and barbed wire around the prison proper. Had somebody gone sick? Was that why there was a new guard? She fiddled with the necklace made of fool's gold. It was lovely, and it was her favorite of all her presents.
She had given up trying to convince herself that she didn't care for Ernest the way she did. He was sweet, and intelligent, and handsome in his own way. Yes, he had done very bad things. She wasn't dumb; she knew that. But if he hadn't done those things… he wouldn't be Ernest.
"Dr. Beauregard says it's all right," the guard came back and said, grudgingly.
"Thank you," Bonnie said, irritated that it had taken so long. She slipped past him and found herself with an escort to the infirmary. "Really, I know the way. I've been doing this for days and days."
"I've got orders, Miss," he said.
"Fine," she said, lengthening her stride and entering the infirmary before him.
"They almost didn't let me in," she told Ernest, but stopped at the completely shocked look on his face.
"They –they told me you weren't coming," he whispered.
Bonnie frowned, sitting down. "Of course I was coming. Who said that?"
"Lucy," he said. "She said… that you had gotten tired of coming."
Why would she say such a thing? And the guard wouldn't let me in at first… "No," she said, taking his free hand. "I don't know why she said that, but she's wrong. I promise."
"Why do you keep coming, Bonnie?" he whispered.
Why did she keep coming? She had started coming to figure it out, hadn't she? "Well," Bonnie said, her throat going dry, "Because… because I –"
Lucy stood in the door staring at her in shock. "How did you get in here, Bonnie?"
"The guard almost didn't let me in," Bonnie said. "Why did you say I wasn't coming anymore, Lucy? I never told you such a thing."
"Bonnie, you can't be here," Lucy said, going to her desk.
"Why?" Bonnie asked, confused.
"You're not allowed to," Lucy said shortly.
"Says who?" Bonnie demanded, unconsciously clenching Ernest's hand.
"It's a prison, Bonnie, you can't just wander in an out when you please," Lucy said. "The Warden can't have it."
"But Lucy, didn't you tell him? Couldn't you explain that –"
"No, Bonnie. I'm afraid you have to go," Lucy said, pursing her lips. "Mr. Hastings, could you escort Miss McAllister out?"
"You mean I can never come back?" Bonnie demanded, her voice cracking. "That's not fair! Lucy!" The guard motioned to another man outside, and they both came in. "Lucy, you know me!" Bonnie exclaimed. "Why?! Don't touch me," she said, standing and shoving the guards away as they tried to reach for her.
"Bonnie!" Ernest demanded.
She glanced at him, and her gaze was panicked. "Stop it!" she said as the guards laid hold of her and started to pull her from the infirmary. "Lucy, why didn't you fight for me?!" she screamed, digging her heels in. Lucy wouldn't look at her.
"Bonnie!" Ernest said again, getting up as well as the handcuff would let him. "Bonnie!"
Bonnie grabbed onto the bars at the door of the infirmary and held on. She would never be able to see him again, never! She'd never be able to tell him… she had to say it. Had to. "Ernest, I love you!" she yelled, right before her grip was wrenched from the bars and the door slammed in her face.
The guards escorted her out of the prison and to her house, and stayed to explain the situation to her parents. She didn't know what they had said. She was too busy crying bitterly in her room.
"Tommy?" Bonnie exclaimed as said man burst into her apartment and shut the door behind him, breathing heavily. The library was closed on Sundays, so she had come back after her shift at the café. "What's going on? Are you okay?"
"I will be in a minute," he said, catching his breath.
She hadn't seen him in a while –just for a few minutes the week before. But an envelope with more cash and a birth certificate and Social Security card had been slipped under her door since, so he had been looking out for her. She waited for him to stop gasping for air, staring at him. She had suspected whatever he was doing wasn't strictly legal. The very fact that he wouldn't tell her was a big tip off. "Tommy, is somebody after you?" she asked.
"Sorry I had to come here, Bonnie, but I don't think anybody knows about you yet. I had to find a place to lay low."
She pushed a chair towards him and he sank into it. "What do you mean, yet?" she asked.
"They might after this. I'm sorry."
"You might not have to say sorry so much if you'd just tell me what's going on," Bonnie said.
Bonnie huffed and sat down on her bed. "You can stay," she said quietly.
"Don't mention it."