THE NATIVE GUYS HAD BEEN PLAYING Ping-Pong again. The shells

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4 T H E D A Y B E F O R E THE NATIVE GUYS HAD BEEN PLAYING Ping-Pong again. The shells of the broken balls were scattered on the painted concrete floor of the prison rec room. Some of them simply did not have a fondnesss for the nuances of the game of table tennis. Quinn had witnessed the gentlemanly clip-clop exchanges of the ball devolve into frustration and hysterical laughter several times as they smashed ball after ball into the concrete wall. As trustee in charge of inmate recreation, Quinn had to care about this. It was his responsibility to replace damaged equipment, which was hard to do when your budget was almost zero. He had to be fair to everyone. So now, to see the fresh shipment of three canisters of new Ping-Pong balls shattered on the floor like broken eggs was disappointing. Quinn actually didn t blame his fellow inmates for their behavior. They probably hadn t grown up with an appreciation of British parlour games. He himself had never touched a Ping- Pong paddle until he arrived at the Galaxy Minimum Penitentiary, but you tried to change, to grow, to evolve from the bad things that brought you to this place and to cultivate an appreciation for sport and politics, and art, and your fellow man. Or whatever. As trustee, Quinn was expected to feed this 1

5 R I C K H I L L I S line of malarkey to the other inmates in Galaxy Minimum, and to do his best to lead by example. Despite everything that had happened, this actually wasn t that hard to do. Three native guys, probably the Ping-Pong perpetrators, were clustered in the corner of the rec room, warbling off-key lyrics to a painful rendition of Folsom Prison Blues, and pounding the strings of the rec room guitar. God, Quinn was sick of that song, but in here, the Man in Black was still the man, and Folsom Prison Blues along with the one called Why Me, Lord? were the anthems of guilt, despair, and longing. Quinn observed the guy hammering down on the strings that he had personally replaced only a week ago at the cost of eight dollars. He now saw broken wire dangling from the pegs. The guitar was already down to the four heaviest strings. The native guys saw Quinn scowling and began to giggle. Quinn forced a smile. It seemed like the right response, but, even after all this time, he didn t claim to understand prison culture. He didn t get, for example, why Alvin Bear did what he did the previous night and he couldn t ask these three because they would just laugh at him and play dumb. There was a code in here. You didn t rat out a brother. At the far end of the rec room a few muscle-bound inmates with shaved heads milled around the weights. Big Ron Bale, his massive arms bursting from the sawed-off sleeves of his t- shirt, was prone on the bench press under a bar with at least three hundred pounds on it. Quinn walked over and watched him rapidly hoist and lower the bar. When the big man s arms began to look rubbery, Quinn positioned himself at the head of the bench and put the first two fingers of each hand under the bar and chanted, Come on! All you! All you! One more! as Bale, red faced, struggled with the last few reps. Bale clanked the bar into its metal holds and sat up, blowing hard. He held out his hand to Quinn so they could execute their complicated, private handshake. 2

6 A P L A C E Y O U L L N E V E R B E What up, brother? Bale asked. Quinn nodded at the minstrels and Bale laughed, his teeth flashing above his salt and pepper goatee. Then he eased himself back down on the torn vinyl of the bench. You hear about Alvin Bear? Alvin Bear is a dumbass. Quinn placed his fingers under the bar again and frowned. He only had two months more to serve before he would be paroled, after twelve years inside. He didn t need trouble. But the Alvin Bear situation might be trouble. HUGH EMPEY HAD HIS DOUBTS from the get-go, but in the warden s job you had to be forward-looking and open-minded and so on. That was why he wound up with a full-time recreation manager in the prison and why he had given the green light to this ridiculous pre-release canoe trip idea. He liked Leggett, but the kid had some weird new-age tree-hugging ideas from his schooling. The warden knew the inmates, especially Bale and Jimmy Memphis, would manipulate the hell out of the young guy. That was why he wanted Knutson to drive them up there, to play tough cop and to remind the boys they were still in federal custody. Empey didn t know how Knute would take that news. When he d phoned this morning to tell him about Alvin Bear running, he was pretty sure he could have heard Knute s laughter from across town without a phone. But the details of Alvin Bear s flight were kind of funny. The boy had gone through the three-strand barb wire fence that boxed in the minimum security pen, and had run across the fields the five kilometres to the small city of Galaxy. If he hadn t gotten lost trying to locate the liquor store, he probably would have made it back in time for bed check and no one would have been the wiser. But he did get lost, missed bed 3

7 R I C K H I L L I S check, and the police were notified. By the time Alvin made it to the outskirts of town, the streets were crawling with cruisers. He was caught in their headlights on his way back to the prison with three bottles of rye whisky which he had purchased with pooled inmate funds for tomorrow s canoe trip. When he was lit up in the cruiser s spotlight, he stopped, uncapped one of the bottles and downed most of it on the spot. They took him to emergency to pump him out and now he was on his way back up to the Big House at Prince Albert where he would get a few more years tacked on to his sentence and that would be the end of minimum security and night-time jogging for Alvin Bear. Knutson limped into the warden s office. He poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot on the counter and stirred in some powdered creamer. He blew into the cup to cool it and took a sip. So what s the deal? he asked. It s still a go. Don t bullshit a bullshitter. I want you to take them up there and bring them back. Me? When are they coming back? I got a life too, you know. Take them up tomorrow morning and in six days pick them up. Hey, come on, it s a scenic drive. It s a holiday. Hell, take your golf clubs if you want. I don t know. I don t agree with it. I don t like Leggett or what he s doing. I know and you re probably right, but it s the wave of the future. You can tune him in on the way up. I ve tried, but he isn t listening to me. Help me out, buddy. Why would he listen to me? The warden made a point of staring at Knutson s ruined leg, stiff as a stilt. They had worked together in the Big House when the riot happened. Empey, an assistant warden then, got out but Knutson was caught in a locked corridor. The cons 4

8 A P L A C E Y O U L L N E V E R B E knocked out some teeth, broke some ribs, shattered his hip, his lower back and right knee. Now he had a metal hip ball and futuristic knee and a permanent distrust of the criminal class. Okay, so Bear s not coming. Bear s back inside. So who have we got in this goat rodeo? Toby Salamander, who shot his mother in the face, Ron Bale, who knifed a guy in a motorcycle fight, Peters who banged little boys, and Quinn. And Jimmy Memphis. Oh, for chrissakes. Well, what can possibly go wrong? Just remember this is the wave of the future and you re part of it and you will be rewarded. Right now the future s looking kind of short, Knutson said. IN THE CONCRETE WEIGHT AREA, Bale was still hoisting the bench press bar, huffing in oxygen as he lifted it and eased it back down to touch his swollen chest. So I guess with the Bear not coming, the fishing trip s gonna be a little less joyous. The one thing about the canoe trip that worried Quinn was the paddling part. Six days of it. He needed to get in shape and had about sixteen hours to do it. As Bale grunted, hefting the big bar bell, Quinn found two mismatched twenty pound dumbbells in the pile, propped his back against the cement wall, already feeling exhausted. But he curled them, enjoying the burn as he watched Knutson struggle his way down the rec room stairs and limp his bulk past the Ping-Pong table toward the weight pile. Knutson still wore a uniform and was technically a guard, but he always drew administrative duties. What the hell is this? Knutson asked, swinging the shoe of his bad leg and scattering shattered Ping-Pong balls against the wall. I know, said Quinn. 5

9 R I C K H I L L I S That s taxpayers dollars! I know. I m at a loss. No, you already lost, said Knutson. I know. Big time. Clean this shit up. The native guys were still plunking away on the broken guitar: Lord help me, Jesus, I ve wasted it So help me, Jesus, my soul s in your hands. Steadying himself on his good leg, Knutson barked at them, Clean this bloody mess up! This is a corrections facility, not the Grand Ole Opry or some half-assed disco lounge! When the native guys giggled, Knutson limped over to them and there was a discordant twang of tortured strings as he ripped the guitar away from the guy playing it and pretended to smash it against the painted concrete wall. And that, said Ron Bale, on his back now on a pad to do sit ups, is the day the music died. Knutson pivoted to face Quinn. Don t you got someplace else to be right now? His datebook s been pretty empty lately, Bale said. Shut up. He s got a date. Leggett wants to see you outside. Now! OUTSIDE, LEGGETT STOOD OVER A mound of camping gear, taking inventory for the canoe trip. Quinn noticed new rucksacks, orange life jackets, paddles, folded piles of denim jackets and cargo shorts, sunglasses, waterproof rain ponchos, sleeping bags, and canvas running shoes, along with bags of groceries nuts, berries, pancake mix, bacon, blocks of cheddar cheese. The canoes were already strapped down onto the trailer rack hitched to the Corrections van. There s the man, Leggett said. So what s the word? 6

10 A P L A C E Y O U L L N E V E R B E Quinn assumed Leggett had called him out to discuss the Alvin Bear situation. Maybe Ron Bale was right. Maybe the trip would be cancelled. About Alvin, Quinn said to Leggett, I don t know why Leggett waved him off. Hey, listen. Don t beat yourself up about that. You can guess you know what s going on inside a man, but you don t know for sure. No one does. Half the time a person doesn t have a clue themselves what makes them tick until push comes to shove. We re just lucky it happened here and not up there where he ends up drowning or hurting himself. I just think I should have known what was going on. I think I should step down as trustee. A lot of other guys have done more time than me and deserve it more, Quinn said. A car stopped in the visitor s parking lot. It had a small canoe lashed to the roof rack. Leggett smiled as a woman got out. She looked at Quinn and instinctively, self-consciously, Quinn knotted the blue bandana he wore around his neck to cover the thick rope of scar tissue that ran across his throat from one ear to the other, still bright purple after a dozen years. Listen, Leggett said, turning to face Quinn, looking him in the eye, I read your file. I know your story. And I know you re the man for the job, okay? I need your help up there. Now, excuse me for a minute. He broke into a jog toward the woman s car. Over his shoulder, he said, Start loading this stuff up. Tomorrow s going to come early. The woman wore jeans and a jacket and her long black hair was pulled back in a severe bun. Quinn wondered who she was and what was going on. Someone else was seated in the car, a boy it looked like. He just sat there, staring from the passenger seat out the windshield. He didn t get out. The woman was beautiful and Quinn couldn t look at her anymore. He grabbed an armload of camping supplies and shoved them into the back of the van. 7

11 R I C K H I L L I S BUT WHAT WILL I DO? Toby Salamander s voice came out a small, high-pitched whisper as though it was being forced through a pin hole in his neck. What s going to happen? Quinn had been pacing the dorm hallway that night, an unwritten responsibility he took upon himself as trustee, and he d heard whimpering from the old man s cell. Bad sign. It meant he was shaking it rough, thinking about time and going haywire. It happened a lot to inmates near the end of a long sentence. The different world out there, the lack of routine, was too much to handle. Back in the Big House, guards had put guys like that in the hole as a favour, so they wouldn t have the opportunity to self-destruct and get more time tacked on. Quinn suspected that this was not what had happened with Alvin Bear, though. Alvin had not been shaking it rough. It was something else. He knew it for sure now. After supper Quinn and Bale had walked out to double-check the ropes on the canoes and Bale had begun to whisper shit at him, something about a plan. Quinn had closed his eyes and blocked out the distant rumble of Bale s voice. Okay, Bale had said. I ll keep you in the dark. But there s more going on than you know. You better understand that. Quinn sat next to Salamander on the cot now and said, Nothing s going to happen, Sal. You re gonna like it. You re just gonna live. But what if I see a punk rocker on the street? Or a hip hopper? What am I supposed to do? You don t do anything, Sal. For one thing, I highly doubt you ll run into either one in Galaxy, but if you do, remember that they re just people. Just like you or me. You walk by them or if you want you nod and say hi. People are just people, Sal. Okay? He patted the old man s shoulder. Okay? Salamander nodded, snot dripping from the narrow beak of his nose. Good. 8

12 A P L A C E Y O U L L N E V E R B E But Salamander started to weep quietly again. I don t want to go. His knobby shoulders were shivering in his white t- shirt. There s nothing out there to be afraid of. No, I mean I don t want to go tomorrow. You mean on the canoe trip? I don t want to. Quinn put his hands on the old man s shoulders to quiet them. Of course you do. A lot of people would pay good money to go on a trip like this one. Clean air, clean water, wide open spaces. It ll be fun. You like fishing, don t you? I don t know, I never done it before. Well, it s a blast. Let me tell you about it. You cast your hook into the water, right? You don t know what s down there, but the chances are the big one is, just lazing around at the bottom. You want that lunker to notice your hook, so you move your hands and wind in a little line, spinning the lure so it looks like a small delicious meal. Quinn saw a quiver on Salamander s lips. He could picture it and was trying not to smile. Then all of a sudden, boom! He takes your hook and the rod jumps in your hands, and you pull back on it and it bends double and the classic fight begins. Man against fish. And you play him and he plays you, and if you outsmart and outlast him, you reel him in and you wonder what will come out of the water. And then there he is, the lunker. You clean it, fillet it, and cook it over a campfire in butter. You know about cooking. Can you imagine anything better than fish fresh from a clean, cold river? No. But Salamander had started sniveling again. Then what s wrong? I don t know how to cast. Quinn went over to the corner where Salamander had neatly organized his gear for tomorrow and brought the cheap government-issued fishing rod and the little plastic case of spoons and lures back to the cot. 9

13 R I C K H I L L I S Here, you hold it like this, see? He put the cork handle in Salamander s hand and put his hand over Sal s. And then you press this button here and move the rod back like this move your arms, Sal and then throw your arm forward, taking your thumb off the button at the same time, and... The little rubber plug on the end of the line sailed out and thunked against the wall. And that s it. Try it by yourself. Practice. Salamander dropped the rod and flopped back down on his cot with both hands over his face. Quinn thought for a second, then said, There s something else I didn t tell you, Sal, something I think you might like. The idea had just come to him. Salamander rolled over and looked at Quinn. What? he said. You know the trip ends on Mission Lake, right? On the sixth day, said Salamander. Exactly, well there s a little church there called White Chapel where the trappers and Indians and everyone used to go in the old days to pray. People still go there. People who do this canoe trip always go in to give thanks. So I need to ask a favour. What? Would you give a sermon to us when we get to White Chapel? Would you do that for us? Toby Salamander sniffed and sat up. I ve been working on one in my head, he said. So do you mean you ll do it? Salamander looked deadly serious now. He picked up his round wire glasses from the small nightstand that doubled as a clothes chest and opened his tattered Bible. I need to work, he said, dismissing Quinn with a wave of his hand. Thank you, my friend. Quinn stood in the doorway. Don t work too late. Tomorrow comes early. Salamander did not respond. He was whispering something at the wall that was meant for someone not of this world. 10

14 A P L A C E Y O U L L N E V E R B E THE CORRIDOR WAS COVERED with grey indoor-outdoor carpet and there were no doors on the rooms so that the guards could watch you sleep on their nightly rounds. Quinn tried not to look through the openings as he passed. No telling what you might spot somebody doing in there. He passed Alvin Bear s room. The bed had been stripped and Alvin s running posters were gone, and he no longer existed. Quinn rounded the corner and saw Jimmy Memphis standing in the doorway of Peters room, peering inside cockily, his well-lubed Rockabilly hairdo hard and shiny on his skull. He was a big talker, the sort of liar who could probably pass a lie detector test because the fantasy of himself in his head was so much more real than real life. Among Jimmy s many lies and fantasies was that his name was Jimmy Memphis and that he hailed originally from Memphis, Tennessee, where he had supported himself since he was sixteen by running drugs to Canada on his beloved Harley soft tail motorcycle. When he wasn t doing a drug run, he was back in Memphis, either laying down tracks in Sun Studios or jamming on stage in B.B. King s bar. He had been well on his way to being a sought-after session musician when he got stopped at a bohunk Canadian border crossing in the middle of nowhere. They had a fucking drug dog there? Are you kidding me? Jimmy Memphis half laughed, half screamed when he told this story, which happened, unsolicited, often. Out on the bald prairie? Anyway, as the story went, he got sniffed out. In the ensuing chase, he ended up on a gravel road where the Harley jackknifed. When he woke up a few days later, his left hand was broken. The nerves to his baby finger had been ripped apart. That was why the finger stuck out like that; it was dead, he couldn t feel it. He should just whack the thing off, he would tell the other inmates, and one day he would. Whenever he 11

15 R I C K H I L L I S said this, several inmates would always volunteer to do the job right then and there, and he would tell them to take a hike. As trustee, Quinn had access to some of the inmates files and the truth of Jimmy Memphis was that he wasn t Jimmy Memphis. He was James Feldman. His father was a prominent Midwestern businessman who disowned him after James began his career as a petty thief when he was fourteen and had begun to make juvenile hall his second home. This incarceration was his first major beef and it wasn t for running heroin, or horse, as he referred to it. It was for helping an old woman struggling with her groceries, accepting her offer for a cup of tea, and then beating both her and her invalid husband almost to death. He departed the scene with sixty dollars in cash, a coffee maker still in the box that they had planned to give to their daughter for Christmas, and an old age pension check that he stupidly tried to cash a few days later for his grandpa. He got five years for that, but had served only three, and was already going to be back on the streets in a month. Everybody knew all this. Everybody knew everything inside. But nobody called Jimmy Memphis on it. Quinn understood that. That was what you did. You did your own time. They let James Feldman keep on pretending he was Jimmy Memphis. It was entertaining. But it bothered Quinn that Ron Bale liked the jackass and was such a poor judge of character. JIMMY MEMPHIS SNAPPED HIS HEAD around, paranoid, at the shuffle sound of Quinn s sneakers on the carpet. But when he saw it was only Quinn, he broke into a grin, took his hand out of his pocket and pointed into Peters room, laughing silently. His grin was so big, Quinn half expected a couple of the whiteheads that dotted the scarred cheeks of his gaunt, ferret-like face to pop. Jimmy Memphis inserted his hand back into his pocket, the dead finger poking outside like a broken spoke. 12

16 A P L A C E Y O U L L N E V E R B E So Jimmy Memphis was look-out, which meant Ron Bale was in Peters room and that was not good. From behind Memphis, Quinn peered into the room. On the floor there were a few books strewn about, pages torn and flung. Peters sat quietly on the edge of his cot as Bale shuffled through his collection of three or four CDs. He took one out of its case. This is a good one, he said, I like this one. But you should take care of your stuff, man, this is scratched. Quinn saw that Bale held a large three-pronged fishing lure, a red and white spoon. He scraped it across the CD. Now, that s just a damn shame, he said and flung the CD at Peters, who ducked his head as it sailed into the wall and dropped onto the bed. Bale was so intent on his mission of scratching the rest of the CDs and flinging them around the room like Frisbees that he didn t notice Quinn out in the hall. When he finished with the CDs, he turned to the portable player that Peters had just purchased, everybody knew, after months of saving. I thought you liked this CD player, said Bale. He turned it in his hands, admiringly. Sony. Good name. Peters said nothing, just stared ahead at the bare wall in front of him. I said something to you. Don t be rude. We re just having a conversation. Do you like this Sony CD player or don t you? I do, Peters whispered. Then why, Bale said opening the lid and snapping it off its hinges, are you breaking it? He dropped the pieces of it to the floor and smashed his foot into it, sending out shards onto the carpet. Then he picked up the red and white spoon from where he d set it and turned again to Peters. Why are you looking at me like that? Did you just see something? No. You sure? Yes. 13

17 R I C K H I L L I S Bale held the spoon between his thumb and forefinger and dangled the prongs of the hook next to Peter s right eye, which was darting back and forth in its socket. You know the reason you shouldn t come on that fishing trip? Do you? Peters silently tried to squirm away from the hook, but Bale clutched his chin in one of his big meaty hands to hold it steady. He moved the hook closer. It was then that Peters spotted Quinn behind Jimmy Memphis. His eyes locked on Quinn s. They were wide, begging him to do something. Quinn walked away. Just keep me in the dark. 14

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