Chapter 27: Standing Watch

Sometimes the best laid plan is simple; other times not so much.

Terry and Greg came into the dorm carrying their belongings, looking for their new bunks. After they got settled, I had Gary call them over to the table.

Terry had put new meaning to “drunk and disorderly.” On a nightly bar hopping excursion, he and nine friends went on a beer run, then proceeded to the local golf course. After driving their trucks through the locked gates, they each loaded up a golf cart with beer and sped off onto the deserted course. With the beer laden golf carts, they turned donuts and played bumper cars. When the police arrived, only Terry was found, passed out in a crashed golf cart.

Terry sat grinning at me from across the table. His bulging arms were crossed, and decorated heavily with ink. The ink was western in design, mostly tribal cow skulls. He told me about his professional rodeo career. He rode for over a year, until he was tossed into the air and gored through the chest by a bull. At this he stood and pulled off his shirt, proudly displaying his scar where the horn impaled him. It had missed his heart by two inches. We clapped in admiration.

Greg was odd to place. He was my age and skinny. His face reminded me of a skeleton with the skin stretched over it. His smile set me on edge – his teeth were long and gangly.

He was arrested for being in possession of a homemade bomb. Knowing the type, I always approached him with respect. Greg would have an odd way of speaking.

In a slow low voice that almost always seemed on the edge of a full out scream, he explained what led to his arrest.

“This girl that I know dumped me, she did, so what did I do but do my best to scare her ass, I did. Made a bomb I did, but I got caught because I was stupid, I was.”

Gary instantly nicknamed him “Sharp Death Tool.” SDT instantly took a new liking to his new name.

“A Sharp Death Tool needs to stay sharp,” he would chant while working out. He read incessantly and out loud. From time to time I noticed what I had mistaken for him talking to himself, was actually him reciting random passages of books that he had read. His IQ was off the charts, and it showed through his oddness. He was a master at chess.

Most of our days were spent around the table. We would draw or play chess, but would mostly make fun of the other inmates in their room. We would watch a group of inmates discussing something and make up the dialogue that they were saying. Usually this consisted of the insertion of small furry rodents into unmentionable areas.

One morning, the four of us were at the table engaged in a game of “Eavesdropper,” watching four tangos discuss something at their own table:

Tango 1 (as played by yours truly): Say, man, where can I get some gerbils?

Tango 2 (Gary): I don’t know dude. I think 23 bunk used them all up.

Tango 1: Damn it, and I was feeling awfully fruity today. . .

Tango 3 (SDT): Then you should try using pineapples, you should!

Tango 4 (Terry): Sideways!

Our loud laughter got their attention, The tangos all looked our way. We instantly put up a show of acting nonchalant. One of them stood up, and began walking our way.

SDT grabs a sharpened pencil and gives me a look. I shake my head, and he put the pencil away.

“Hey, Guero, come to the table real quick, we need to talk to you. ”

Fuck. We had been caught disrespecting a family. I Gary to stay frosty and went to meet with the offended Tangos. I sat facing them, the fourth was standing behind me. I was trying to keep him in my peripheral vision, while still looking like I was paying attention. He actually heard us, just had a request. I was asked to temporarily move to the Tango table so they could make tattoo ink. The idea was that we would better obstruct the view of the picket into the room. I accepted the request happily and went to break the news to the other woods. I put on my best “Ohh shit, we are all going to die” face before returning to them. They looked at me speechless as I quietly sat down and whunked my head into the metal table. I lost composure when Gary started getting seriously worried, he called me an asshole, but we were all relieved.

The process for making tattoo ink is follows. You take a strip of paper towel about an inch wide by about four sheets long and soak it in baby oil. The oil soaked paper goes into a tin can. The paper towel is lit on fire and the can is placed under a paper bag, and slid under a bunk.

The idea is to keep the smoke contained within the bag. During the firing process, the Tangos would take turns sitting by the bag, keeping the fire lit, and most importantly, by keeping the paper bag moist by continually flicking water at the bag with his fingers from a cup. After a few hours, the flame would be doused, and the soot on the bottom of the bag was scraped together and collected by ID cards. This was the ink used for tattooing.

We stood watch for the Tangos, and gave warnings that guards were going to enter by yelling a loud police siren call. This was quickly picked up by the rest of the dorm. As the guard got closer, it would sound like police cars converging at the scene of a crime. As soon as the door to the dorm cracked, all sound stopped and we would all act normal.

The guard would do his business, which usually meant changing the TV channel or doing a count. After we gave the all clear, the water would quickly be poured on the bag, and our watch would resume.

As a joke, I had the chess set out with pieces from three other sets placed on the board. I noticed a guard coming near our dorm and gave the call. The dorm erupted in silence as he came into the dorm. The guard was one I knew well. He was friendly and would like to come into the dorm and banter with the inmates. He noticed the chess game and began walking over.

“Yhatzee!” I said as I took one of the three kings on the board.

“You sank my Battleship, you did, I am a Navy man after all,” said SDT.

The guard looked confused as he walked out of the dorm shaking his head. He was in with us for only a few minutes, but the damage had already been done. The bag erupted in fire underneath the Tango’s bunk, and quickly there was smoke everywhere.

The fire alarms went off.

All four dorms were evacuated and we had to line up in formation on the REC yard. An hour later, we were allowed to return to the dorm. It had been shaken down while were gone. The guards sent for the six inmates who occupied the corner and transferred them to other dorms on the unit.

That night, the person who was supposed to be watching the bag was dropped in the empty corner.

I lay on my bunk listening to the grunts and meaty thuds, dozing.

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